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"To Soar Above The Clouds" (Gen) Part 3
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Magnificent Seven Fiction (Chris/Vin)
"Poet's Heart" (Gen)
"To Soar Above The Clouds" (Gen) Part 1
"To Soar Above The Coulds" (Gen) Part 2
"To Soar Above The Clouds" (Gen) Part 3
"To Soar Above The Clouds" (Gen) Part 4
"To Soar Above The Clouds" (Gen) Conclusion
"A Face To The Reason" Prologue (Slash - Chris/Vin, Buck/Ezra)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 1-2 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 3-4 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 5-6 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 7-8 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 9-11 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 12-13 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 14-16 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 17-19 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 20-22 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Epilogue (Slash C/V and B/E)

Enter subhead content here

"To Soar Above The Clouds"

By: Myristica

Myristica63@gmail.com

 

Part 3

 

The saloon was filled with people, laughing and carrying on and getting drunk.  Dan had a hard time keeping up with the demand of drinks.  Ezra assisted, but more out of the energy filling the room than an actual desire to serve.  JD was the guest of honor.  To support their friend during his celebration, Chris and Vin managed to forgo their feelings of being stifled in a crowd of people and worked their way through the throng to offer their congratulations.

 

"Hey!  There you two are!  You missed them calling me as the winner!" the youth said with a mixture of pride and disappointment.

 

Vin shook his hand and clapped him on the shoulder.  "JD, Chris and I were backstage.  We watched the whole thing from there."

 

JD's eyes widened with surprised joy.  "You did?  Really?"

 

"Sure did, Kid," Chris said as he smiled and gripped the youth's shoulders from where he was standing behind JD's chair.

 

"Have a drink, you two!  On me!  Dan!  More whiskey!"

 

"Shouldn't you be saving that twenty dollars for something more important?" Buck asked as he took a bottle of the whiskey they all ready procured and poured Chris and Vin a shot.

 

"What's more important than sharing with my friends?"

 

Buck gave him a reminder look and coughed, gesturing with his head to Vin.  JD looked up at Vin and suddenly remembered what he could use the twenty dollars for.  He had been discussing with Buck the possibility of having Vin teach him sharp shooting.  For that, he would need a new rifle.  "Oh, that's right," he said, slumping.  "I completely forgot."

 

"What did you forget, JD?" Josiah asked as he took a swig from his own glass of whiskey.

 

"Nothing, Josiah.  It's not important now.  But, hey, I can still afford to buy you all another round of drinks.  It's not everyday a man wins twenty dollars without having to work for it."

 

"But you did, JD," Nathan said.  "You got up in front of a crowd of people and recited."

 

"What our eloquent speaker chose to read is what I would find most interesting," Ezra said as he brought over two more bottles of whiskey.

 

JD shrugged, embarrassed.  "Just some Shakespeare, like Buck did that one time."

 

Buck put his arm around JD's shoulders and gave him a slight hug, laughing with pride.  "JD, tell 'em what speech you gave."

 

"Well, it wasn't anything really, just the Queen Mab speech.  I was interested in reading it after the three of you recited that scene last week."  He gestured to Buck, Josiah and Vin.

 

Vin raised his eyebrows, then smiled.  "JD, what ya' did took a lot of guts."

 

JD grinned.  "It did, didn't it?"

 

They all chuckled.

 

Josiah raised his glass.  "A toast!  May courage never fade in the hearts of the youth."

 

"Hear! Hear!" they all echoed as they saluted JD and drank.

 

Vin set his glass down and looked at Chris.  "Reckon I'll turn in.  Mornin' watch comes early nowadays."

 

Chris nodded to him.  "See you then," he said.

 

Vin left the saloon, leaving the crowd and the laughter behind.  It had been a good night.  There weren't too many of those in his life, but this one ranked right up there with the end of the war, and finding a friend in Chris and the others...and Marcus.  Tomorrow he would introduce the others to Marcus.  It would be good for the actor to meet more people, to know that not everyone would judge him on his appearance.

 

++++

 

After Vin left, the rest of the Seven decided to try their hand at a game of poker, when Hathaway and Mary came strolling into the saloon with another woman.

 

Those in the saloon who had attended the play that evening recognized the woman as the actress who played 'Ophelia'.  Her portrayal of Ophelia's death scene in Hamlet had literally caused a mass outpour of tears even from hardened cowboys and stoic, unemotional farmers.

 

The moment she entered the saloon, Miss Cynthia Stewart received a standing ovation.  The actor who had played Hamlet, a one Geoffrey MacLeod, turned from where he stood at the bar.  When he saw Cynthia he smiled and raised his glass of whiskey to her in a respectful salute.

She graciously bowed to the recognition of both Mister MacLeod and the other patrons.

 

Chris did little more than observe.  It soured his stomach a bit that Mary was on Hathaway's arm and the actress was on the other.  Why that scene bothered him he couldn't say.  Maybe it was because Mary was real...what you saw with her was what you got.  The actress, though admittedly beautiful and gracious in manners and sophistication, seemed to be too sophisticated...almost to the point of being phony.

 

The other members of the Seven applauded and JD joined in standing with them, cheering and whistling.

 

Chris slowly stood out of decency, but he did not applaud.  He caught Mary's hard look.  Obviously she was displeased over Chris' lack of acceptance of James Hathaway and his troupe of actors.  What could the gunfighter say?  The only real person out of the bunch Chris had met so far was Marcus and Hathaway seemed to be doing his best to paint a bad image of the man.  Well, if there was one thing Chris would not stomach it was being dictated to.  Other people's opinions were fine and many times he would open himself up to listen to those opinions, but when it came down to making his own decisions, other opinions didn't matter.  The conclusion Chris had come to that night was that he liked Marcus.  Marcus could help Vin in some small way with his talent, and he didn't come across as nothing less than real.

 

If Hathaway had a problem with Vin seeing Marcus why did he not just come up to the tracker and say so?  It galled Chris when a man couldn't confront another regarding whatever problem existed.  Instead, Hathaway went to Mary, pulled her into this, using their friendship as a lever.  It also galled Chris that so far all he had to go on was a gut feeling.  Hathaway may be a snake in the grass, flicking his tongue, but the fangs had not sunk in...yet.  Chris would stand perfectly still, watching and waiting.

 

The actress, Cynthia Stewart stood among them like a queen.  She was dressed in an emerald green gown with gold embroidered designs.  A white lace shawl graced her shoulders and her chestnut brown hair was pulled to the side in a tail, clipped with what looked to be a diamond comb.  She soaked in the adoration and applause and greeted many of the patrons who came up to her.  "Gentlemen, gentlemen, I thank you, but I simply must refresh my parched throat.  If I may kindly ask for clear passage to the bar?"

 

The men took off their hats and were quick to offer her a hand to escort her to the bar.

 

Buck marveled at the attention the woman was getting, not noticing the whispers going on behind him between Josiah and Ezra.  "I'm telling you, Mister Sanchez, within two minutes."

 

"Pull that watch out, Ez, keep track.  I still say five minutes."

 

Ezra reached into his vest pocket and pulled out his watch.  Chris and JD looked at each other.  The youth was grinning almost to the laughing point, and Chris just shook his head, a bemused grin on his face as well.  They sat down, but Buck refused to turn his gaze away from the gorgeous woman before him, now standing at the bar with admirers all around, offering to buy her a drink.

 

Hathaway and Mary both took a table to the side of the saloon and sat down.  Mary refused to look Chris' direction.  She and James melted into quiet conversation.

 

Chris ignored her.  Two could play at this game.  Besides, at the moment, the current bet going on between Josiah and Ezra was more entertaining.

 

"Boys, if you'll excuse me, I feel the need to rescue that fair damsel from the gawking stares of these wet-behind-the-ears pups," Buck said as he stood from the table.

 

"Huh?" JD looked confused.

 

Chris muttered to him.  "Josiah lost the bet."

 

As Buck left the table to make his way through the throng, Ezra held out his hand.  "That'll be two dollars, sir."

 

Josiah grumbled and reaching into his suit pocket he pulled out two coins.  He placed them in Ezra's hand.  "I thought for sure he would wait for the men to thin out," the preacher mumbled.

 

Ezra grinned.  "I will place another bet, saying that the woman will not adhere to Mister Wilmington's advances and not pay him the time of day."

 

Chris looked thoughtful.  "I'll take that bet, Ezra."

 

Ezra looked at Chris with surprise.  "You, Mister Larabee?"

 

Chris pulled out two one-dollar bills.  He set them on the table.  "Put up or shut up," he said.

 

Ezra rested the two coins he had just received onto the pile.  "You're on, sir."

 

They continued to watch.

 

Soon the actress had her arm hooked through Buck's and the scoundrel was escorting her out of the saloon, nodding once to his friends as he did so.

 

Ezra was dumbfounded.  "A woman of her esteem, actually leaving her admirers to head out into the night with such a ruffian as Mister Wilmington.  I do believe I have seen it all, now."

 

Chris reached for the money.  He pocketed his two dollars and slapped the coins into his palm.

 

Ezra sighed.  "You, sir, have an unfair advantage."

 

"That would be?" Chris asked.

 

"You've known Mister Wilmington longer than any of us."

 

Chris smiled and handed the two coins back to Josiah.  "Consider this a donation to the church, Josiah."

 

Josiah grinned.  "Under those circumstances, I'll accept with delight, Chris.  Thank you."

 

And thus ended the evening's laughter and joking.  Within ten seconds the men who had been 'oooing' and 'awwwing' Miss Stewart were now gathered around the bar listening intently to Dan tell his story of how he had seen a disfigured and scarred actor perform for him in the saloon.  "He was amazing.  I'm telling you.  You never would have thought it by lookin' at him, but he was truly able to act."

 

"And you're sayin' he was covered in scars?" A man asked with a furrowed brow.  "Burn scars?"

 

Dan nodded.  "His whole left side of his face looked hideous, but he quoted pieces I ain't never heard before.  And he did it with such style, it was like not seeing those scars at all."

 

"Well, listen to that fellas, there's a freak in the bunch!" another man laughed.  He turned and walked over to Hathaway's table.  "Is that true, Mister Hathaway?  You got yourself a deformed actor in your party?"

 

Chris turned his eyes to the man at those words and watched intently what Hathaway would do.

 

"Well, sir, it is true we do have a stage hand among us who was burned in a fire awhile back..."

 

"Stage hand?" the cowboy said and turned back to Dan.  "I thought you said he was an actor?"

 

"He did act," Dan protested.  "He put on a show right in front of me and Mister Tanner and Mister Larabee."

 

The cowboy turned to Chris.  "Hell, I'd like to see that for myself.  A scarred actor performing.  If that don't beat all."

 

Chris slowly stood and glared at the man.  "The actors' name is Marcus.  And he's as fine an actor as any of those you've seen tonight."

 

Geoffrey MacLeod snickered.  "Used to be, Mister Larabee.  And how would you know?  I don't recall seeing you there to watch the rest of us exercise our talent tonight."

 

Chris smiled at the actor, but it was not a friendly smile.  "I take it you were the one in the lead role tonight?"

 

Geoffrey bowed to him.  "Geoffrey MacLeod, at your service."

 

"I doubt I'll be needing your service, MacLeod, except for one thing.  An answer to a question."

 

MacLeod grinned, amused.  "By all means."

 

"Marcus indeed must have been a wonderful actor.  I'm even willing to lay odds that he offered you training in the part of Hamlet tonight."

 

Geoffrey's grin soured to a look of contempt.  "What are you suggesting, sir?"

 

"I'm suggesting that you wouldn't be half the actor you are without his help.  Am I right?"

 

"Well, I..." Geoffrey started to sputter.

 

Chris turned to Hathaway.  "Isn't it true that among some acting troupes those with the greater experience train the novices?"

 

Hathaway glared at Chris.  "Yes, it is, but..."

 

"Then, Mister MacLeod, I would think twice before insulting a man who mentored you."

 

"Mister Larabee, you speak of things you know nothing about."

 

"Really, Mister Hathaway?  Seems to me that's a little like the pot calling the kettle black."  Chris put on his hat, tipped it to Mary who only glared at him as he left the saloon.

 

Josiah, Ezra, Nathan and JD all exchanged looks.  What the hell had just happened?

 

++++

 

"Are you sure it's all right for us to come in here when it's closed down?" Buck asked Cynthia as they entered the meeting hall.

 

"Of course it is, Mister Wilmington.  You did say you wanted to discuss my performance tonight, didn't you?  What better place than here?"

 

"Well, I was considering a more...secluded area."

 

"The rest of the troupe are at the saloon, and the hall is very quiet.  I assure you, we won't be disturbed."

 

They entered the hall and found the stage lights still on.  Cynthia was pulled into Buck's arms and the tall man gazed into her deep blue eyes.

 

"You are the most exciting woman to come through here in a very long time, Miss Stewart."

 

She reached up and pulled his head down into a kiss.  "Call me Cynthia," she whispered.

 

"Oh, Cynthia.  I was lost in your performance tonight.  I wanted to mount the stage and rescue you as you were dying.  It moved me."

 

Cynthia giggled as they melted into another kiss.  "You're moving me as we speak, Mister Wilmington."

 

"Call me Buck."

 

The sound of footsteps on the stage could be heard and Buck broke his kiss to glance up.  He saw a man with his back to them, pulling down the set decorations.   "I thought you said no one was here," he said.

The man slowly turned to his right at the sound of voices.

 

Cynthia turned to see who the man was and sighed with disgust.  "Oh, him?  He's nobody.  Marcus, you haven't struck the set yet?"

 

The man lowered his head.  "As you can see, Miss Stewart, I am only one man, and the set is large.  It will be another hour as yet."

 

"Marcus?"  Buck asked as he approached the stage.  "You're Theodore Marcus, aren't you?"  Buck tipped his hat to the man.  "Name's Buck Wilmington.  I've heard about you.  I'm friends with the men you met last night."

 

Marcus almost turned completely to Buck in surprise.  "Really, Mister Wilmington?"  He caught himself and lowered his head.  "I am pleased to meet any friend of Mister Larabee and Mister Tanner.  Your friends also include Mister Dunne and the healer Mister Jackson?"

 

"That would be right."

 

Cynthia grabbed Buck's arm.  "Let's go back to the saloon, Buck.  I'm suddenly very thirsty again."

 

"Wait, Cynthia, please."  He turned back to Marcus and drew closer to the stage, holding out his hand.  "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir."

 

Marcus kept the left side of his face hidden as he knelt down and shook Buck's hand with his right.  "The same to you, Mister Wilmington."

 

Cynthia walked up to Buck and took his hand.  "Buck, please, let's leave Marcus to his work."

 

"I'm sorry.  I interrupted something.  I can come back later," Marcus stood.

 

"No, no wait!  We're the ones interrupting you.  We can leave."

 

"Yes.  Let's do that, Buck.  Let's leave."  Cynthia pulled on his arm.

 

Buck held out his hand again.  "Mister Marcus, I was told of your accident.  I can't tell you how sorry I am."

 

Marcus lowered his head.  "Thank you."  He slowly turned and showed Buck his scarred face.

 

Buck did not turn his gaze from the appearance.  He kept his hand out.

 

Marcus reached for it.  "I'm grateful, sir."

 

Buck shook his hand and smiled at him.  "I hope to see you again, Mister Marcus, before you leave?  There is much we could talk about regarding your craft.  It was something my mother wanted me to get involved in at one time, but...well, my life took another direction."

 

Marcus smiled and gripped Buck's hand tighter.  "Thank you.  You would do me the honor of such a conversation."

 

"No, sir.  You would do me the honor."

 

Buck released his hand and allowed Cynthia to start leading him out of the hall.

 

"Good night, Mister Wilmington.  Good night, Miss Stewart," Marcus said.

 

"Marcus," she replied without looking at him.

 

Buck felt the coldness she conveyed to the scarred man and stopped.  He turned her to face him.  "Something going on between you two?"

 

Cynthia rolled her eyes.  "We were together once.  It's over."

 

"I see," Buck was starting to get a feel as to where this woman was coming from.  "And what ended it?"

 

She laughed.  "You must be joking, Buck.  You saw his face."

 

Buck turned to see Marcus disappear behind the set.  He could see the slumping shoulders and the stature of a defeated man.  He sighed.

"Yes, Miss Stewart, and I can now see you."  He put on his hat and tipped it to her.  "I believe you can find your own way back to the saloon."

 

He turned and walked out of the hall leaving Cynthia looking after him her mouth dropping to the floor.  "No gentleman has ever turned his back on me!"

 

He called over his shoulder.  "And I can honestly say I have never turned my back on a lady.  Not even now."

 

It took a few moments before Cynthia Stewart realized she had just been insulted.

 

++++

 

Vin and Chris met outside the jailhouse as the early morning mist swept over the sleeping town.  All was quiet...a far cry from the night before.  "Sleep well?" Chris asked as Vin stepped onto the porch, buckling his gun belt around his waist.

 

The tracker nodded.  "You?"

 

"Uneasy."

 

Vin shot him a glance.  "Why's that?"

 

"After you left the saloon last night, there was talk about Marcus.  Seems Dan told some folks about him.  Didn't leave out the scars.  Hathaway didn't help matters either."

 

Vin sighed.  "Reckon there'll be trouble?"

 

"Well when people don't understand..." he let the thought trail off.

 

Vin looked up and down the street.

 

"Guess we better warn Marcus," Chris suggested.

 

"Let him sleep fer now.  He had a good night.  Hate to ruin it fer him."

 

The two leaned opposite each other against the jailhouse porch poles.  Vin sighed.  "Well?"

 

Chris echoed the sigh.  "If Marcus is insane then I'm the President of the United States."

 

Vin smiled, shaking his head.  "Ain't never figured ya' fer the speech makin' type."

 

Chris allowed a lopsided grin; then he remembered the envelope inside his coat pocket.  He reached in and pulled it out.  "Mary wanted me to give this to you."

 

Vin reached out and took the envelope.  "Much obliged."  He stuck the envelope in his coat pocket and continued to lean, not bothering to give Chris an explanation.  Chris would learn, soon enough, what Vin was planning.

 

The gunslinger sighed again.  "Meet back here in a half hour?"

 

Vin tipped his hat and the two separated to go about the business of patrolling the streets.

 

++++

 

Marcus worked steadily the next morning on the set for that night's performance of 'Romeo and Juliet'.  He was behind the backdrop going through the supplies when he noticed how they were running low on a few things.  He closed his good eye and sighed.  "Jenkins," he whispered and shook his head.  Turning, he headed back toward the office where Hathaway was busy with paper work.  He knocked.  "Mister Hathaway?"

 

Hathaway refused to look around.  He kept his attention on the sales receipts in front of him.  "What is it, Teddy?"

 

'Teddy'.  Hathaway was the only one who called him 'Teddy' knowing the actor hated the use of it.

 

The leader of the troupe looked up from his work and turned a frustrated look to Marcus.  "Well?  Speak up!  I haven't got all day."

 

Marcus swallowed.  "Jenkins forgot to restock the materials the last town we were in.  I've run out of supplies for the stage decorations."

 

"So?  What do you want me to do about it?"  Hathaway turned back to his work.

 

"I thought you would want to send him to the hardware store."

 

"Can't you go?  You can walk, can't you?"

 

"Mister Hathaway, you know I would prefer not to..."

 

"What you prefer or what you do not prefer is not the issue.  The building of the stage takes priority over your insecurities.  Just cover your face and use your hat like you normally do."

 

"But it's Jenkins' responsibility to see to the purchase of the supplies."

 

"And it's your responsibility to see to it the stage is completed and ready for each performance.  Besides, I've sent Jenkins ahead to the next town on our itinerary."

 

Marcus remembered his words to Vin the night before; I don't feel ashamed of my appearance anymore.  He suddenly knew he had hope enough to go to the store, obtain the supplies and not give Hathaway the satisfaction. "Then, you are giving me permission to leave the hall?"

 

"We all have our duties, Teddy.  I suggest you handle it."

 

"Very well, sir.  I take it there has been an account established with the hardware store?"

 

"Yes, Teddy," Hathaway sounded exasperated.  "As always."

 

"I was merely clarifying.  I'll leave right away."

 

Hathaway stopped what he was doing.  He turned a surprised look to Marcus.  "You're serious about this aren't you?"

 

Marcus shrugged.  "It's as you said, we all have our duties, sir."

 

Hathaway looked dumbfounded and speechless.  Marcus smiled inwardly and turned, leaving the office doorway with a new sense of pride in his step.

 

++++

 

When Chris and Vin finished their patrol's they headed over to the saloon for some breakfast.  Josiah, Buck and Ezra were sitting at a table, all ready eating, and JD was coming up the boardwalk.  "Mornin," he said to the two friends as they reached the doors.

 

"JD," Chris replied with a nod.

 

Vin just nodded to him and let the youth go in before him.

 

They each took their seats and relaxed.  The food was brought over, Inez already knowing what they each would have, and set the plates down in front of them.

 

"Thank you, Inez," Vin said as he started to cut up his one egg.

 

The woman smiled sweetly at all of them, except for Buck.  "Enjoy your meals, seņors," she said as she turned and went back to work without paying Buck a second glance.

 

The scoundrel sighed.  "That woman is enough to make a monk second-guess his vows."

 

"You still moonin' over her, Buck?" Nathan laughed.  "Do yourself a favor and let it go.  It's obvious she ain't interested."

 

Buck ignored the pending ribbing over his attraction to a woman who wouldn't even look at him.  He turned his attention to another subject and furrowed a brow at what was on Vin's plate.  "One egg and one

piece of toast?  That's all you're having, Vin?"

 

Vin shrugged.  "All I need."

 

"Boy, someone's got to talk to you about your way of eating," Buck said with a shake of his head.  "You're all ready about to dry up and blow away."

 

Vin gazed at his plate as he stuck a forkful of egg into his mouth.

 

"What's wrong with my eatin' habits?" he asked.

 

"That's just the point, Vin.  They're all wrong.  It ain't healthy for you to eat so little."

 

Vin glared at him.  "You ain't my mama."

 

Buck snapped his fingers.  "It's your metabolism!"

 

JD looked at his friend quizzically.  "Thought that was your problem, Buck."

 

Buck cast the youth a hard gaze.  "What I have is Animal Magnetism, JD.  I'm talkin' Vin's metabolism."

 

Ezra shook his head, chuckling.  "I wasn't aware you were acquainted with two such large words, Mister Wilmington."

 

Vin rolled his eyes, but his half-smile said he was finding this exchange amusing.

 

Buck glared at Ezra.  "I'm not as ignorant as ya' might think, Ez.  Vin's metabolism is all out of whack.  Tell 'im, Nathan."

 

Nathan nodded.  "Could be right, Vin.  All you do is lean, walk like you don't have a care in the world, sleep like you do, and eat like we're all on rations.  I reckon if this town was hit by a tornado, it wouldn't shake you up none the least."

 

Vin shrugged.  "I am what I am, Nathan."

 

"Spoken like a true philosopher," Ezra piped in as he took a sip of his coffee.

 

Josiah and Chris just ate while they listened.

 

Buck scooped a couple of pieces of bacon onto Vin's plate.  "Have some meat, there, Junior.  It will make me feel better."

 

"Can't," Vin replied as he finished off his toast.  He handed the pieces of bacon to Chris and stood taking his plate to the bar.  "I'm full."

 

"Full?!" Buck cried out.  "How can a man be full on one egg and one slice of bread.  The boy is sick, Chris.  You better have Nathan check him out."

 

"Vin's Vin, Buck.  Leave him be."

 

"That's right, Bucklin, leave me be."

 

"Josiah, you're a man of wisdom, help me out here," Buck pleaded.

 

Josiah shrugged.  "As long as Vin doesn't keel over during a gun fight, I reckon he can eat the way he wants to."

 

Vin tipped his hat to the preacher and gave him a small grin as he reached over and took the mug of coffee Inez poured for him.  "Thank ya', again, Inez."

 

"My pleasure, Seņor Vin," Inez replied with a smile; then she went back to her duties.

 

Buck sat back.  "Here I am, just tryin' to show I care and all I get is grief."

 

JD reached over and patted Buck's stomach.  "From the looks of things, Buck, you could eat for both you and Vin."

 

"Uh-oh," Chris muttered.  "That's gone and done it."

 

"What are you sayin', Boy?  That I'm getting fat?"

 

JD shrugged, "Well, your clothes are fittin' a bit tight around the middle, there, Buck."

 

"See?  What did I tell you?  Grief!"  Buck looked at Chris imploringly, but the gunslinger shrugged as he sipped his coffee.  "You started it," he said, simply.

 

Buck's look turned into daggers.

 

"Mister Wilmington, I could share with you some eating secrets that would eliminate some of that obvious paunch in your stomach.  They are truly magnificent..."

 

"Ezra?"

 

"Yes?"

 

"Shut up!"

 

JD decided it was time to change the subject.  "You all coming to the recital tonight?"

 

"Recital?" Vin asked.  He came back over to sit down, sipping his coffee as he did so.

 

"That's right, our resident actor has been asked to perform the piece that helped him win that twenty dollars last night," Ezra said.

 

Josiah smiled.  "I remember hearing something about that being part of the contest.  Congratulations, JD."

 

"Well, I'm hoping you all will come to see it.  It will help me to know you fellas are out there."

 

Vin leaned back in his chair.  "Reckon I'll be there, JD."

 

The others echoed their assent and JD beamed.  He then turned to Vin.  "Will that Marcus fella be there, too?"

 

Vin and Chris exchanged glances.  Chris shrugged.  "He's part of the company, JD.  I reckon he'll be there."

 

"Good, cause I want to meet him.  Buck met him last night and..."

 

"You did, Buck?  When was that?" Nathan asked.

 

"When I took that...actress..." he almost sneered, "to the hall last night.  Marcus was there, working away, and I got a chance to meet him.  He seems like a very interesting man."

 

"He is," Vin said, quietly.

 

"What can you tell us about him, Vin?" Josiah asked.  "Chris seems rather tight lipped about the subject."

 

Vin shrugged.  "Marcus is helpin' me with my readin', is all.   He's a poet, I reckon."

 

Chris pushed his plate away and wiped his mouth with his napkin.  He took another sip of coffee.  "Has he talked about the fire at all?"

 

Vin looked thoughtful.  "Not much.  Seems to be eatin' at 'im, though.  Kinda hopin' he'll talk about it today, but I ain't gonna push 'im."

 

Chris nodded solemnly.  He knew what it was to keep secrets locked away himself.  Vin looked over at his friend and saw the far away expression.  Chris felt the gaze and glanced up.  (I'm all right, Vin.) The silent message was sent.

 

Vin nodded.  He knew where Chris' thoughts were straying to...the fire that had taken his wife and child three years before.

 

"How badly is the man disfigured?" Ezra asked.

 

Vin tensed.  "It ain't what a man looks like, Ez, it's who he is."

 

Ezra's eyes widened.  "I meant no offense, Mister Tanner.  Obviously he is a man worthy of respect, to garner such from you.  I was merely trying to ascertain if you believe there will be trouble from the citizens who might not understand the way we do."

 

Vin's tension eased and his face softened.  "Reckon he'll be all right.

Long as he keeps to hidin'.  Somethin' he's been doin' fer awhile now."

 

"But he did come out of hiding last night I hear?" Nathan asked.

 

Vin nodded.  "Yeah.  Figured it couldn't hurt since everyone was at the play last night.  He seemed to enjoy hisself."

 

JD looked intrigued.  "Wish I could'a been there to see him perform, Vin.  Dan was praising him up one side down the other."

 

Vin smiled warmly.  "Well, Dan seemed to be pleased Marcus was willin' to perform just fer us three.  Reckon he never thought he'd get a private showin'."

 

Josiah finished his last bite of egg and pushed his plate away.  "I remember reading about that fire.  Hathaway lost his son, didn't he?" he asked.

 

Chris nodded.  "And from what I can gather, though I can't prove it, he blames Marcus for his son's death."

 

Vin smirked with disgust.  "Marcus wouldn't hurt a fly," he said.

 

"Maybe not now, Vin," Chris pondered.  "But what about before the fire?"

 

"You're talkin' hearsay, Chris.  All ya' know is what Mary told ya'.  We haven't even heard Marcus' side of the story, yet, or fer that matter Hathaway's."  There was an edge of warning in Vin's tone.

 

Chris raised his hand in surrender.  "I know, Vin.  Calm down.  I'm not accusing Marcus of anything.  It's just...if we can help him...we have to know what happened."

 

Vin lowered his head.  "And if'n he don't want no help?"

 

Chris sighed.  "Then we let it go."

 

"What exactly did Mary tell you, Chris?" Nathan asked.

 

"She said that Hathaway told her Marcus is crazy.  Neither of them think Vin should be hanging around him.  I think Hathaway's talkin' out of the corner of his mouth, but we're on the outside looking in."

 

Vin shook his head.  "Marcus had plenty of chances to hurt me yesterday, when I went fer my first lesson.  He did nothin' but be a friend."

 

"Still, Vin, being scarred like that and coming through a terrible experience can sometimes cause a man to...well...not be right in the head," Nathan said with compassion.

 

Vin shot him a glare.  Nathan knew about the scars on Vin's back and how he got them.  "Horse shit, Nathan.  You're just sayin' that 'cause ya' don't know 'im."

 

Nathan nodded with understanding.  "Course it would all depend on how strong the man is, too, whether he maintains control or not."

 

"I say we meet him, then," JD said.  "Today."

 

Chris and Vin exchanged surprised looks.  "Been thinkin' 'bout that all ready, Chris.  I could ask 'im.  If he already met Buck I'm sure he wouldn't mind meetin' the rest of y'all."

 

"I say we go straight to the horse's mouth," Josiah said.  "Let's judge

for ourselves."

 

"Indeed," Ezra said.  "It would behoove all of us to meet the man who has obviously become a kindred spirit to our own Poet Laureate of Four Corners."  The gambler lifted his cup of coffee to Vin in a toast.

 

Vin gave him a lopsided grin.

 

Chris chuckled as he lit a cheroot.  He caught Vin's grin again.  (What are you laughin' about, Cowboy?)

 

"Hathaway," Chris answered Vin's silent question.  Then he gave the tracker a look that said: (Just thinking what Hathaway would do if he found out we're not listening to him.)

 

Vin snorted.  (Hell, he'd blow steam from his ears.)

 

Chris nodded with a grin.  (Reckon he would.)

 

The other members of the Seven saw the looks exchanged between the two friends and sighed.  The Silent Communication was becoming so much the standard norm for those two that no one paid it any mind anymore.

 

++++

 

The owner of the hardware store was a middle-aged man by the name of John Harding.  He was working on stocking some goods on a shelf when Marcus walked in.  "Good morning to you, sir.  I was wondering if you could assist me with obtaining some supplies for the Hathaway Acting Company?"

 

"Why certainly, sir."  Harding put away the final can of putty on the shelf and turned, wiping his hands on his apron.  He looked up and saw the scarf-covered face.  He stopped and stared for a moment.  "Is there a problem, sir?" Marcus asked.

 

"Uh...no, no problem at all."  Harding ran a hand through his wispy graying hair and cleared his throat.  "Now, what can I get for you?"

 

Marcus pulled out a list and handed it to the owner.  "If you have any of these items available?"

 

Harding took the list and checked it over.  "Yes, I believe this will not take but a few minutes, then you can be on your way."

 

Marcus allowed a smile.  He was making the man nervous, but he understood why.  "That will be fine, sir, but there is no hurry."

 

Harding nodded shakily and hurried to behind the counter where his other shelves were located.  He began to pull items from their places when five cowboys walked in.  "Mornin', Harding!  We need some supplies," a big man said.  He was tall, about six-one, with a thick brown beard and bushy brown hair.

 

Harding turned to see who was walking in.  The man with the scarf was standing at the counter, waiting patiently.  "Howdy, Tom.  You boys going on another trail drive?"

 

"That's right," the big cowboy said.  "Gonna be gone about six months.  Need to fix our wagon 'fore we head out."

 

"I'll be with you just as soon as I take care of this customer."

 

The big man looked Marcus' direction.  He saw the hat and the scarf.  Curious, he walked over and looked at Marcus from his left side.  "Ain't seen you in town before," he said.

 

"I suppose not.  I'm with the acting company.  We just came in a few days ago."  Marcus did not turn to look at the cowboy.

 

"Is that right?  Well, you must be one of them actor fellas, then?"

 

"No.  I'm the one who sets up the stage."

 

"Ya' don't say?  Mighty fine clothes for a man who does carpentry."

 

Harding turned and hurried to get the supplies Marcus wanted.  He could sense trouble was brewing and he wanted to nip it in the bud as quickly as possible.  "Tom?  Why don't you and the boys start gathering what you'll need.  I can take care of you in a few minutes."

 

"That's all right, Harding.  I can talk to this man here while we're waitin'."

 

Marcus still did not look at him.

 

"Somethin' wrong with your face, Mister?  I think it's downright impolite not to look a man in the eyes when he's talkin' to ya'."

 

"Forgive me, sir.  I don't mean to be rude, but..."

 

The cowboy laughed.  "He don't mean to be rude, boys!" he called out to his companions.  "Looky here!  We got us a scarf covered gentleman!"

The other cowboys began to gather around.  Marcus felt his body tense under the scrutiny.

 

"Tom, just leave him be, now.  He's not doing you or the others any harm," Harding said.

 

Marcus maintained his composure.  "Please, Mister Harding, if you will just see to my list?  I can be on my way."

 

The cowboy named Tom reached out and grabbed the list from Harding's hand.  "What do we have here?  Oh, I see.  You need some brown and blue paint and a pound of nails and some putty.  Let's see if we can't help this sophisticated gentleman out, boys."

 

Marcus locked eyes with Harding who just stood there, uncertain what to do.

 

The taunting men dispersed, all except Tom, and combed the store for the items on Marcus' list.  Tom leaned closer to Marcus.  "We heard that acting company had a freak among 'em.  Ya' wouldn't by any chance be him...would ya'?"

 

Marcus gazed down at the counter.  It was not the first time he had an encounter with the likes of such men.  He knew what would happen next.  He could defend himself easily.  His training as an actor required him to learn how to fence and to box in order for the fight scenes to look believable.  He knew he could easily dispense of these men and be done with it, but because of his face, he had to restrain himself.  If he lashed out violently he would be not only considered a 'freak', but a 'violent freak' as well.  Chris Larabee would be ordered by the town to lock him away and throw away the key.  It wouldn't matter that these men had taunted him into a fight.  A freakish appearance was always associated with a freakish mentality, no matter the peaceful heart that lay under the ugliness.

 

Marcus forced himself to not give in to his desire to lash out or leave the store.  He had Vin and Chris' respect...he did not want to lose that.  So, instead he turned the tables on the cowboy.  "Yes," he replied.  "I am the 'freak' as you so callously put it.  Would you like to see what I really look like?"  In an instant Marcus stripped off his hat and scarf and turned to the cowboy.

 

Tom flinched and stepped back a few feet, "Whoa!"

 

The others moved in closer to see.  Another one, smaller than Tom, but still a good size with straight blond hair and a rugged face grimaced when he saw the scars.  "Damn!  You're an ugly cuss ain't ya'?"

 

"Yes, Gentlemen.  And I can get uglier should the need call for it."

 

The blond man turned to his friend.  "Tom, is this ugly freak threatening us?"

 

"Sounds like it to me, Joe."

 

"Looks like we need to teach him a lesson, then."

 

Marcus glared at the two men in front of him, knowing perfectly well there were three others behind him.  "Mister Harding if you would please leave.  I do not wish you to be hurt."

 

Harding could not move.  He had seen the scars as well and was frozen in place.

 

"Now that wasn't nice, freak.  You scared Harding half to death," Tom said, stepping closer.  "I guess we really need to teach ya' a lesson now."

 

The five men pounced on Marcus and began to pummel him.  One of them grabbed the can of paint that Harding had procured for Marcus and took a hammer from a shelf.  He broke into the lid and opened it; then he poured the blue liquid over Marcus' head.  "That should really cover ya' up, now, don't ya' think?"

 

The five men dragged Marcus outside and threw him into the middle of the street, where he landed, the dirt of the ground mixing with the paint.  Marcus tried to pull himself to his feet when two of the men grabbed his shoulders and arms, assisting him.  "You want to get up?  We'll help ya'!" they said, laughing.

 

Tom came up and began to slug Marcus in the gut.

 

Mrs. Potter came out of her store to see what was happening.  She saw the paint covered man being beaten and screamed.

 

++++

 

When the scream reached the saloon, Chris and Vin looked at each other.  In an instant they were out of their chairs.  "Marcus," Vin said over his shoulder as he ran out of the saloon, Chris at his heels.

 

The others quickly followed.

 

When Vin saw what was happening, his only thought was to get Marcus to safety.  "LEAVE HIM ALONE, YOU BASTARDS!" he yelled as his feet slammed the ground.

 

The burst of speed caught Buck and the others by surprise.  Neither of them had seen Vin move so fast.  Quietly, yes.  Quickly, even more so, but with the speed of  lightning?  "Damn, that kid's fast," Buck muttered under his breath, as they headed toward the fight.

 

Joe pulled out a rawhide quirt and began to beat Marcus over the head with it.  Marcus fell to his knees covering his head with his arms.  The leather strap connected with his scarred head and he crumpled to the ground.

 

Vin saw red and leapt through the air with a yell of rage.  He tackled Joe to the ground.  He pulled the strap from Joe's hand and began to use it on him.  "YOU ASSHOLE!" he shouted with fury.  He continued to lay the quirt to Joe in a violent assault.  "DAMN BASTARD!" he yelled.

 

The other cowboys moved off a few feet and started to draw their pistols when the rest of the seven converged on them with pistols drawn.  "Put 'em away!" Buck yelled.

 

Chris turned to see Vin still lashing the other cowboy.  "HOW DOES IT FEEL?" Vin yelled with rage.  "HURTS DON'T IT?  MAYBE YOU'D LIKE SOME MORE?"  The anger that propelled Vin's movements was a shock to Chris.  He had never seen Vin react in such a violent manner.

 

Marcus removed his arms from over his head and saw what Vin was doing.  He reached out.  "Vin, no!" he pleaded.

 

Chris ran over to Vin and pulled him off the whip-marked man.  "VIN!  He's had enough!" Chris yelled as he desperately dragged Vin away.

Vin struggled against Chris' hold, but the gunslinger wrapped his arms around Vin's and locked his hands together over his friend's stomach.  "VIN!" he shouted.  "LET IT GO!"

 

Vin yelled and kicked with frustration and rage.  His hat fell from his head as he struggled.  His eyes were wild and unfocused.  He was like a feral animal.

 

The rest of the Seven looked at the scene with concern.  Many of them had seen men go berserk before, they just never thought they'd see it happen to Vin.

 

"VIN!" Chris shouted, keeping his hold tight around his friend as Vin continued to struggle.  "Ease up, Pard!  Ease up!  It's me, it's Chris!"

 

Marcus looked over at Buck who walked over to kneel by him.  "Don't worry, Mister Marcus.  He'll ease up in a minute."

 

Josiah walked over to stand a few feet in front of Vin who was breathing like a trapped animal.  "Vin?  Come back to us, now.  It's

over."

 

"Listen to Josiah, Vin," Chris whispered.

 

JD walked over to Nathan.  "What's wrong with him?"

 

Nathan knew, but he wasn't at liberty to tell.  He shook his head.  "Can't say for sure, JD.  Something must have triggered a memory."

 

Vin's eyes, widened with anger, gazed at Josiah and he heard Chris' voice penetrate his enraged mind.  He began to ease his struggle and his breathing grew more even.  "That's it, Pard, just ease up, now," Chris continued to coax.

 

Vin began to focus again.

 

"Vin?  You back with us?" Josiah asked.

 

Vin hung his head.  "Let me go, Chris," he whispered.

 

Chris kept his hold tight.  "You all right?  Don't want you going off again."

 

Vin, his head still lowered, shook it.  He took in deep breaths.  His body was trembling as he tried to calm down.  He dropped the quirt.  "Need to see to Marcus.  Let me go."

 

Chris slowly released him, watching him closely.  The man Vin attacked jumped to his feet.  "I want that man in jail, Larabee!  He was gonna whip me to death!"

 

Chris turned Vin over to Josiah who rested a hand on the tracker's shoulder, keeping him from bolting into a fit of rage again.  Chris then grabbed Joe by the shirt and seethed into his face.  "You're just damn lucky he got to you before I did!"  He shoved Joe to the ground.  He turned to the others.  "Get the hell out of town, before I lock you all up!  And if you ever lay a hand on this man again," he pointed to Marcus.  "I'll take a whip to you all myself!"

 

The cowboys gathered up Joe and his hat and headed for their horses.  In seconds they were riding out of town.

 

Vin pulled from Josiah's side and hurried to Marcus.  He knelt down in front of him, nodding to Buck his thanks.

 

Buck stood and walked over to Chris, gesturing to Vin.  "Remind me never to get on his bad side," he whispered.

 

"Yeah.  It's always the quiet ones," Chris agreed with a smile.  The smile was more to relieve his tension than it was to spark any humor.  He saw no humor in what had just happened.  He turned to the crowd that had gathered.  "The shows over!  There's nothing more to see here!  Go on about your business!"  He then picked up Vin's hat and walked over with Buck to squat down beside Marcus.

 

Marcus looked up at Vin with concern.  "Are you all right, Vin?"

 

"I should be askin' you that, Marcus."

 

"Nothing some soap and water can't fix, my friend."

 

Vin looked at Chris.  "Can ya' keep the people away so I can get him out of here?"

 

Chris nodded.  "Vin?"

 

The tracker looked up at Chris and the expression his friend gave him was clear.  (We should talk.)

 

(Now's not the time.)

 

(Not now, I know.  But...)

 

(I'm all right, Chris.)

 

Chris just looked at him, and not even a silent word was heard in that expression.  But Vin knew Chris would not let what happened go without confronting it.  And to be honest, the tracker didn't blame him.  Vin had lost control.  As ashamed as he was of that fact, he couldn't take it back.  He knew Chris wanted an explanation.  Hell, he wanted one as well, but it was true that now was not the time.  What mattered most was seeing to Marcus.

 

Chris patted Vin on the shoulder.  He handed him his hat.  "Get him down an alley, away from prying eyes as fast as you can.  No telling how many others won't understand."

 

Vin and Chris took Marcus by the shoulders, and stood, helping Marcus to his feet.  "Let's get ya' cleaned up.  Ya' sure you're all right?" Vin asked.

 

"Just get me out of here, Vin, and I'll let you know."

 

Harding ran up to them.  "Your hat and scarf, sir?" he handed them to Marcus.

 

Marcus started to reach for them when he saw the paint.  Vin took them for him.  "Thank you, Mister Harding," Marcus said.  "The supplies I asked for?"

 

"I'll see that they're delivered to the hall right away.  Don't worry about the mess.  I'll charge it to those boys."

 

"I'm sure they will not take kindly to that, Mister Harding.  I would not want you in danger of retaliation.  Just charge the can of paint to our account as well.  I would feel better about that."

 

Harding looked surprised.  "Why...thank you, sir.  Oh and here's a can of turpentine and some cloths to help you wash off that paint.  That's on me, by the way.  No charge."

 

Vin took the can and nodded his appreciation to Harding.

 

Marcus held out his hand to Harding then pulled it back.  "I would shake hands with you, sir, but..."

 

Harding grabbed Marcus' hand and shook it, in spite of the paint.  "You need anything else, you just come to my store, Mister...?  I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."

 

"Theodore Marcus, Mister Harding."

 

"Well, Mister Marcus, you just come to my store any time.  I'll take care of you proper."

 

"Thank you.  I will."

 

Harding released Marcus' hand and smiled as he walked off.  Marcus just looked amazed.  Vin put a hand to his shoulder.   "Ya' just have a way with people, don't ya'?"

 

Marcus held out his hands, and noticed the paint covering his arms and the front of his clothes.  "Well, at least some people, Vin.  Those that matter."

 

Vin smiled as he put on his hat.  "Let's get ya' washed off.  I don't think that I-talian fella' had ya' in mind when he painted the Blue Boy."

 

Marcus looked up at Vin amazed.  "You know of art, Vin?"

 

"Some, I reckon."

 

"Then it appears we have yet more subjects to discuss."

 

The two didn't seem to notice the six men gathered around them, making a human shield to keep people from getting too close.  Some craned their necks to get a look at what was rumored to be the man spoken of in the saloon the night before.  The six men waved them on their way.  "Go on about your business, Folks," Josiah bellowed out.  "Nothing to see here."

 

The people slowly dispersed and went on their way, whispering among themselves.

 

Buck walked up to Marcus.  "Let's get you in this alley.  I'll walk with ya' till we get back to the hall."

 

"Thanks, Buck," Vin said as they hurried over to the nearest alley.

 

Before Vin headed down the alley he turned to Chris and tipped his hat to his friend.  Chris returned the gesture, but the look in his eyes was far from relaxed.  As Vin walked away his only thought was: 'Trust me, Cowboy, I don't know what happened anymore than you do.'

 

++++

 

As Buck led them back behind the buildings, he kept his eyes out for anyone wanting to interfere.  "Wanna tell us how it started, Marcus?"

 

"I was buying supplies for the company when those five men entered.  They didn't appreciate the fact I was hiding my face.  They tried to goad me into a fight.  Seems they were told of some freak being involved with the actors.  They simply did not take kindly to me."

 

They came upon a barrel out back of one of the buildings and Vin set Marcus down.  "Let's get ya' cleaned up a bit, before this paint dries in your hair."  Vin poured some of the turpentine onto one of the cloths that Harding had given and began to wash it through Marcus' hair, removing the paint as much as he could.  "This stuff won't hurt your face will it?"

 

"No, Vin.  Continue, please.  This paint is most discomforting."

 

Buck kept a look out.  "I'm sorry this had to happen, Marcus," he said as he watched Vin wash the paint from Marcus' face and hair.

 

"Don't be, Mister Wilmington.  I've suffered much worse from less

feeling fellows than those."

 

Vin sighed, shaking his head.  "There was talk in the saloon last night.  Chris told me that Dan spoke about ya'."

 

The look in Vin's eyes told the actor all he needed to know.  "And he did not forget to tell them of my appearance, I take it."

 

"That's right.  Dan didn't know no better, Marcus.  From what Chris says, he was simply amazed by the fact ya' look the way ya' do and could act so well."

 

"So...he was praising me, but the people he spoke to didn't hear of my acting ability...they only heard my description."

 

"Reckon so," Vin replied sadly.

 

Marcus nodded.  "That would explain the obvious interest in my person."

 

"I'm sorry, Marcus.  If I had known Dan would take to spoutin' his mouth off..."

 

"Like you said, Vin.  He didn't know any better.  It's not the first time this has happened.  Don't worry yourself over it."

 

"But...I wanted ya' to meet my other friends, proper like."

 

Buck watched this exchange with wonder.  Vin was acting like a little boy who wanted to bring a new friend home to his family.  The scoundrel had to smile at that.  In many ways, that was exactly what it was like.  It was like the tracker was excited, full of anticipation, eager to find out what more he could learn.  Gone was the silent, subdued young man.  In his place was a young kid.  Hell, it's like he's seein' the world for the first time, Buck thought.  Then on a more somber note, Buck realized that maybe Vin hadn't had any cause to be so excited before.  We owe you one, Marcus, he thought.  Thanks for showing Vin there's more to life than just constantly lookin' over your shoulder.

 

Marcus looked up at Vin, curious.  "The large man who helped you back there, Vin.  Who is he?"

 

"That'd be Josiah Sanchez.  I think you and Josiah would become good friends, too.    He can tear a man in half if he's so inclined, but he can also calm a man's spirit in a manner the likes of which I've never known before."

 

"He sounds like a good friend," Marcus replied in almost a whisper.

 

Vin nodded.  "He's one of the best, that's fer sure."

 

"Vin, it would be an honor to meet the men you have surrounded yourself with.  They all seem to be men worthy of respect."

 

"We can meet them at the hall, if ya' like."

 

"I believe that would be the most prudent place."

 

Vin looked at Buck.  "Would ya' bring the others to the hall, Buck?"

 

"You sure you two will be okay?"

 

"Fine, Mister Wilmington."

 

"Go on.  We'll be there just as soon as I finish up here," Vin said with a nod.

 

Buck tipped his hat to Marcus.  "Meet ya' there, then," he said and took off to find the others, the smile never leaving his face.

 

When he was gone, Vin continued with washing the paint off of Marcus.  "Need a hand puttin' the stage sets up?"

 

Marcus saw the hopeful look in Vin's eyes.  "You needn't feel obligated to help me, Vin."

 

"I don't.  Just enjoy your company."

 

Marcus smiled.  "It has been a long time since anyone has said those words to me, my friend."

 

"Then if you don't mind my sayin' so...those who can't say those words to ya'...are missin' out."

 

Marcus grinned.  "Come, my friend.  I have new faces to greet."

 

++++

 

The rest of the seven gathered around the stage in the abandoned hall.  JD was pacing nervously.  "Calm down, Son, you're makin' me dizzy," Buck said with a smile.

 

JD threw up his hands.  "I just hope I don't go saying anything stupid to him."

 

Buck pulled JD to his side and they both leaned back against the stage.  "You'll do fine."

 

Josiah and Ezra were seated on the chairs in the front row center.

 

Chris was at the end of the stage, sitting on it with Nathan beside him.  "You did just fine the night we first saw him, JD," Nathan said.  "I can tell he took a shine to ya'."

 

"He did?" JD asked, surprised.

 

"Course he did," Buck said.  "Don't sell yourself short, Kid."

 

JD shook his head.  "I ain't short," he replied.

 

"You know what I mean," Buck chuckled.

 

The sound of a door opening caught their attention.  "Here they come,"

Chris said as he jumped down from the stage.

 

Vin entered first.  He saw they were all there, waiting.  "Thanks fer

comin', boys."

 

"Vin, we wouldn't miss this for the world," Josiah said.

 

"I concur," Ezra commented.  "It's not everyday one of our own is tutored by one of theater's finest."

 

Vin held his hand out to the side, gesturing.  "Marcus?"

 

The actor stepped forward.  His coat was no longer on him, probably to be cleaned of the paint later.  The scarf and hat now covered the actor's face and head.

 

Josiah and Ezra stood and approached to stand with the others.  The preacher held out his hand.  "Mister Marcus, it is a pleasure, sir."

 

Marcus shook the outstretched hand and smiled.  "You are Josiah Sanchez?"

 

"Indeed I am."

 

Vin took his place at Marcus' side and gestured to each of the men.  "This here's Ezra Standish.  Of course you met Nathan Jackson and JD Dunne the other night, and Buck last night."

 

Marcus shook each of their hands in turn and greeted them by name.  "It is a pleasure to meet Vin's friends.  Mister Wilmington, thank you for your assistance awhile ago."

 

"Don't mention it, Marcus."

 

"And may I say that the pleasure is all ours, Mister Marcus, I assure you," Ezra replied.

 

"Thank you, Mister Standish.  Mister Dunne, I offer you my congratulations on your winning recital."

 

JD looked down, abashed.  "Thank you, Mister Marcus.  Buck, Josiah and Vin inspired me to go through with it."

 

"Indeed?  Well, I was told Mister Wilmington and Mister Sanchez could be actors in their own right."

 

"Now, I wouldn't go that far, Mister Marcus," Josiah said, grinning.

 

JD looked as if an idea struck him.  "We heard that you performed last night in the saloon?"

 

"Well," Marcus chuckled.  "I managed to quote a few areas of the Bard last night, yes."

 

"Would you do us the honor of gracing us with your talent, sir?" Ezra asked.

 

"Well, I..."

 

"Please, Mister Marcus?" JD asked with the hopeful look of a child.  "Vin tells us you bring words alive.  I'd really enjoy seeing you perform."

 

Marcus gazed at JD for a long moment.  "I would have to reveal my face in order to do that, Mister Dunne.  What you saw on the street is a

scarred face covered with paint."

 

"Please, call me JD, and there's no reason to hide from us, sir.  We all were told what happened to you."

 

"Mister Marcus," Ezra said.  "Mister Tanner's judgment of character, in my opinion, is beyond reproach.  If he has found within you a kindred spirit, then you are welcome among us."

 

Josiah put a hand to Marcus' shoulder.  "It would honor us, sir."

 

Marcus looked at each man in turn.  Vin nodded to him, encouragingly.  Chris did as well.  He then turned back to JD.  "My appearance may frighten you."

 

"I've seen men with burn scars before, sir.  No one knows this, but my uncle was horribly burned in a barn fire ten years ago.  You won't be showing me anything I haven't all ready seen."

 

Vin looked at JD with admiration.  He leaned over to whisper in Chris' ear.  "Remind me to put that kid on the top of my Christmas list."

 

Chris smiled.  "Only if you remind me to do the same."

 

Marcus raised his hands, palms up.  "If the majority of this room wishes me to, then I shall perform.  But I do so under certain conditions."

 

"What would those be?" Nathan asked.

 

"That Mister Sanchez, Mister Wilmington and Mister Dunne perform with me."

 

Josiah's eyebrows raised.  "Are these conditions non-negotiable?"

 

"In the strictest sense of the term, Mister Sanchez."

 

"Then speaking for myself, I humbly accept."  Josiah bowed slightly to Marcus.

 

"Hell, if Josiah can do it, so can I," Buck said.

 

JD looked as if he was turning green.  "You...you want me to perform...with you?"

 

"Indeed, JD.  After all you did win the recital competition.  What better way to grace us with your talent?"

 

JD swallowed hard.  "What about Vin?"

 

"Vin is tired of sharin' his so-called talent," the tracker spoke of

himself.  "It's high time y'all entertain me fer a change."

 

Chris lowered his head, stifling a chuckle.  Sometimes the words coming out of Vin's mouth surprised him.

 

Marcus grinned.  "I am willing to reveal my vulnerability to you, JD.  Are you willing to do the same?"

 

JD straightened his coat.  "Well, seeing as though you put it that way, reckon I got no choice."

 

Buck clapped his hand to JD's shoulder.  "Reckon you don't at that, Kid."

 

Marcus removed his hat and then looking at each man, he slowly removed his scarf.

No one flinched.

 

(TBC in Part 4)

Click here for Part 4

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