A Pleasant Day for a Stroll, err, Ride...
Chapter Sixteen: A Pleasant Day for a Stroll, err, Ride...
“If it becomes necessary to escape, I will never stop to pose dramatically and toss off a one-liner.” ― The Evil Overlord List
Xander sipped at his coffee, watching the street outside the Sunnydale Arms main dining room. He wasn't quite as paranoid as the other night – they had a table where they could see out through the front windows, if not exactly within direct line of sight from them.
Excellent coffee. The Arms put on a truly fantastic lunch buffet. Brunch. Late late breakfast, early lunch, whatever.
He glanced over at Cordelia, sitting across the table from him, also looking out the windows. Xander grinned... there hadn't been a foursome – not that he'd had any real expectations, just a joke – but he and she had managed to have a memorable night. She caught his glance and lifted an eyebrow at him.
"And what are you
grinning at, Hyena Boy?" Cordelia asked him, her tone arch.
"Most beautiful girl in Sunnydale, I'm thinking," he said.
She had on another pair of the British fox-hunting riding pants and boots this morning. In dark red, with a matching tailed coat and high black boots that matched her Stetson. And she looked like why the riot started, as he'd heard his dad tell his mom once, back when things were good between them...
"But you so might
be a bit biased," Cordelia said, starting to smile back.
"Nah." Xander shook his head. "And any competitors are taken, anyway."
A street car went by towards the Fort Halleck end of town, drawn by a pair of nice looking dapple gray Percherons. The banner along the upper edge and rear said: Gunn's Livery, Main Street Trolley. Damn. Gunn must be doing a pretty nice business, here. And also damn: Sunnydale back now had the makings of a nice, prosperous town.
Get Wilkins and his cronies out of it, and stop it from turning into a haunt and feeding ground for monsters.
"Last night was... something," Cordelia said, smiling at him over her coffee cup. "I can't believe it keeps getting better."
"Gets much better, I may die," Xander said, smirking back at her. "But it beats a lot
of ways to go that this town wants to provide for me."
Cordelia shivered slightly, nodding. Over at his apparently usual table, Wilkins was having brunch also, with Edna May across the table from him.
He raised his coffee cup to them in a slight toast. Xander nodded back.
"Shall we?" Xander took out his wallet and laid a couple of bills on the table.
"Might as well," Cordelia said. "No sense in putting it off."
They'd already paid the porter to have their belongings delivered to the Livery Stable, and their morning purchases, along with a note and a tip for Gunn and Isabelle to have them loaded onto their wagon rental for them. Like she said, no sense in dawdling about.
The waiter bustled over, with Mr. Haversham, the Arms manager and part-owner behind him.
"Compliments of the Sunnydale Arms, Mr. Harris, Miss Chase," Haversham said, smiling at them.
"Ah. Consider it a nice tip for the waiter," Xander said. "And if you'd see," he added, glancing at the waiter, "that a portion gets back to the chef, we'd appreciate it."
"Certainly, sir," the waiter said, smiling broadly. "And thank you, very much. Mr. Nightlinger will surely appreciate it, also."
wish that you would reconsider checking out today, sir, madame," Haversham said. "And extend your stay with us."
"Would be nice, but," Xander smiled, shaking his head.
"We had plans to visit with Rory and his family while we're here," Cordelia said. "But it has been lovely here, thank you."
"No, thank you, madame," Haversham said, with a smile and a slight bow. "It has been our pleasure. And do please visit with us again. I'll make certain that our staff knows to extend you and Mr. Harris every courtesy."
"Thank you," Xander said, smiling back.
"Wow," Cordelia said, her eyes following Haversham and the vanishing waiter. "I don't think... I don't think I've ever
gotten this kind of a reception anywhere in our
Sunnydale, not even with Daddy
. And he
had interests in half the town."
"Apparently, they like us," Xander said, his expression bemused and a bit stunned, as was Cordelia's. "Or they like our celebrity status and notoriety."
"No. They like us
," Cordelia said, nodding. "I can tell
when it's genuine."
"I'll bow to your superior skills there, then."
Outside, beyond the front doors, Xander tilted Cordelia's Model '92 back over his left shoulder and slipped a two dollar bill into the palm of Mister Beauregard, the late late middle aged black doorman, getting a broad smile.
"Why, thank you, young sir," Beauregard said. He bowed slightly and tipped his hat to Cordelia, who beamed at him. "And I gather that you are taking your leave of our fine establishment?"
"For now," Xander said.
"A pity, that," Beauregard said. "Do, please, return at your leisure and pleasure. I believe you will always find the doors of the Arms open to you and the young Miss."
"As Mr. Haversham so informed us," Cordelia said, smiling. "It's been a pleasure."
"Pleasure is all ours, madame," Beauregard said, bowing again.
They caught the opposite bound trolley to the budding rail station end of town, stepping off outside of the Livery after it made the turn before heading to the end of what would one day be Riverside/Barton, and turning to head back uptown.
"Penny for your thoughts," Xander said, noticing her pensive expression.
"Sure they're not worth a full nickel?" Cordelia said, smiling at him. "Just thinking... I could maybe get to kind of like it back here. If
we, like, found out we were stuck here or something."
Xander nodded. The left corner of his lips quirked up into a half grin. "But I thought you'd, like, miss mini skirts, bustiers, halters, and kerchief tops?"
"Well," Cordelia made a dismissive gesture. "The Raging Teens are coming up, and the Roaring Twenties." When Xander raised an eyebrow, she said, "Flapper skirts and much
racier fashions for women. And some Edwardian stuff can be extremely elegant. Male Edwardian dress, too," she said, smiling wickedly.
"Yeah," Xander said, nodding like he had clue one what she was talking about. "And late Victorian mores don't seem to be stopping Veronique and your Aunt from being daring and looking like complete knockouts."
"Oh, gods no," Cordelia said, nodding. "I am so
glad you saw and insisted on that Spanish gown for me, wow."
"It'll knock Rory's eyes out at dinner," Xander said, grinning. “And I was mostly looking forward to peeling you out of it later, anyway. Thinking about getting you some of those little dance hall outfits that Brett has the girls at the Paradise wear... ”
He dodged a halfhearted swat from her, laughing, Cordelia laughing as well, and then she sobered suddenly.
“Not so good an idea, maybe, doof,” she said, frowning. “Don't think I'd be able to look at it for a long time without seeing Harmony lying in a pool of her own blood, and Brett... ”
Xander nodded, putting his arm around her and kissing her temple. She turned toward him, tilting her face up for a real kiss, and their entry to the stables got delayed for a bit...
Oz and a tall, shaven head black man who looked to be in his early thirties were loading the last of Cordelia and Xander's gear – their saddles – into the cargo box at the back of the mountain wagon as they came inside. Nice
looking quartet of Bays, Xander mused. Oz looked up and nodded, giving them a small smile. The black man nodded also, coming over with his hand out.
"Gunn," he said. He looked mildly surprised when Xander took his hand without hesitation. and introduced himself, Cordelia as well, smiling broadly back at them.
"Well, damn," he said. "Beauregard said
both of you were good people. Guess he was right."
"We may not be good
," Xander said, "But we like to think we're friendly."
"And we don't like to think skin has anything to do with people,
" Cordelia said. "That's just so... pre-Civil War.
Gunn snorted, grinning at her. "You'd get an argument from some."
"Bring it," Xander said. "No one can out argue Cordelia Chase." He winked at Cordy, and she returned it.
"Well, except for Dude and John T., it seems," she said.
Nod. "Everything's in except the rifles," Gunn said. "Oz and I figured Mister Harris here might have some thoughts on those."
"Xander," Xander said. "Mister
Harris was my dad. “And... huh. Scabbards in the back, and sling the rifles behind the seat, with the bandoliers." He nodded to Cordelia's drilling and hefted her Winchester. “We'll keep these up front for the event of any unpleasantness."
"Will do that," Gunn said. His eyes narrowed. "Are you expecting any?"
"No," Xander said.
"And if you'll excuse us," Cordelia said, "There's a pair of horsepokes over there we need to talk with."
Xander followed her gaze to where Glenn was leaning patiently against his trail saddle while Kevin fiddled with the stirrup leather on his Walker saddle.
"All right," Gunn said. "No hurry on getting it or the team back. Rory takes good care of stock."
“I'll bring it back in a couple of days,” Elena's voice said from the stable doors. “No need for my niece and her beau to make a special trip, or Rory.”
“Aunt Elena?” Cordelia turned, her eyebrows going up. Xander touched his hat brim, giving her a slight bow from the shoulders. “What are you doing here?” Cordelia said.
Cordelia's aunt was dressed for travel, in a fitted riding skirt, vest, high necked blouse, hat, and over jacket. Edwardian, like Cordelia had mentioned? Xander had no idea – he just knew she looked as hot as Cordelia...
He had a pretty good clue now what Cordy might look like in her late thirties or early forties and, damn
, but he liked the mental image.'Yum, oh my yes,'
Still Small said. 'Think we done picked good, dude. Whatever both of those recipes are, someone needs to start mixing them up in economy sized batches.
“It occurred to me that I haven't seen that old thief Rory, or Beth and Sarah either,” Elena said, “Except in passing when they came to town, since I returned shortly after you two went on the run.” She smiled, “Decided it was high time I did so, and came to hitch a ride with you two.”
In addition to her travel wear and handbag, she had a pair of valises, and what looked to be a sixteen inch barreled version of Cordelia's Smith & Wesson with a detachable shoulder stock. And an elegant pistol belt with a holstered regular length S&W, looped over the butt stock of the Model 320 rifle...
“Well, you're definitely welcome to,” Xander said, Cordelia nodding at her from beside him. “But beware that the weather might get anywhere from partly loudly to raining bullets if things go badly.”
“Oh, believe me, I'm not exactly a stranger to that,” Elena said, smiling. “Ask John T. about Rio Lobo sometime.” She gestured, “And do go and speak with your friends. I'll watch over things here for you.”
Cordelia nodded, and they headed towards Glenn and Kevin.
"All right, you two," Cordelia said as they came up. "What are you up to now?"
"Why hello, Miss Cordelia," Glenn said, smiling. "Lovely day for a ride, isn't it?"
"What he said," Kevin said, bringing the stirrup down from over the saddle.
"Suspicious little gal, isn't she?" Glenn said, looking at Xander.
"Not so little," Xander said, grinning at them.
"And not so suspicious, either," Cordelia said. "I'm just getting to know you
"Damn. She's onto us," Glenn said.
have a point, at that," Kevin said.
"Got business up east and north of town, towards Ojai, today," Glenn said. "Thought we might ride along until the road split at Casitas Trail."
"More the merrier," Xander said, easily. "Why, is there some attraction up that way we're unaware of? Or planned festivities?"
"Huh." Cordelia's eyes narrowed. "I noticed a curious lack of Dude and John T. out and about this morning."
"Well... " Glenn said, pushing back his hat. "They weren't kidding about being prepared for a siege. And Dude, Chance, and Chollo might be a mite unpopular this morning, in certain quarters."
Kevin nodded. "Mister Stillwell and Mister Maitland's riders blew into town in the wee hours and set up shop. They have, I understand, little groups at the roads leading in, with a few of Sheriff Bob's deputies at each."
"Uh huh. Doubt they're bothering people leaving town on legitimate business, especially if they figure they're not coming back," Glenn allowed.
"Yup. Notice that Bronco Billy's Wild West packed up early and moved on to Santa Barbara this morning," Kevin said. "They must not like the weather here."
"Saw that," Cordelia said, frowning. They had seen the show's wagons, carts, riders, and stage heading up the street on their way out while they were out shopping...
"Ayup. Exciting times," Glenn said. "Vince, though... Vin was showing the flag out at the Paradise earlier. At least at one of the poker tables, anyway."
Xander nodded. They'd seen him when they stopped by to pay their respects and ask about Brett. Not Tor, nor Heidi, but it was awfully early for those two...
"All right," he said, his eyes distant. "We need to tie off the horses to the back of the Spring Wagon, and check and make sure the big rifles are stowed properly. Then we'll be ready to head out to Rory's."
Cordelia gave him a smile, but her eyes were troubled, and Xander didn't think his were any better. His smile didn't feel any more genuine than hers looked, either.
"Whoa," Xander said quietly, easing the four Cleveland Bays back to a walk. He set the butt of the '92 Winchester against his hip, angled up. Wouldn't take much to drop the barrel level and blow someone out of a saddle...
Next to him on the seat, he saw Cordelia had done the same with her drilling, and nodded approvingly.
"Whosa a good girl!" Xander murmured, and got a heated flash of hazel eyes for his trouble.
while I'm holding a gun, twerp," Cordelia said, but she was smiling...
“My oh my, what do
we have here,” Xander said.
Elena leaned forward, looking over their seat. “Hmm. Apparently, Wilkins and his friends do have the town locked up. That's Dillon Marsh, one of Wilkins 'special executive assistants'.”
“With a pair of Munroe's deputies,” Cordelia said.
“Hah. And I wonder if we'd had a chance to raise a few more bandanas,” Xander said, “If I'd recognize any of those others from that bunch of Maitland and Stillwell riders that hit us last night.”
They continued on at a walk to the little group that was not quite pulling road block duty, Kevin high stepping his black Walker on their left, and Glenn ambling his gray to the right. Heh. Four guns, that looked like mostly cowboys more than gunfighters. And a pair of Munroe's deputies with Winchester '97 pump shotguns. And one thirtyish, dark blonde haired guy wearing faded blue Cavalry pants with suspenders, a blue checked shirt, and a long brown coat, with a tied down rig. Holding a Winchester '66 as old as Vince's but shinier against his hip, pointed up. He
looked like a gunsel.
And, damn. Just how many Deputies did Munroe have, anyway?
Lot of cheap tin in this town...
For all the real law this county seemed to have, anyway. Munroe must hand out those stars like candy. Maybe he gave out bubblegum cards with every badge.
Despite the danger of the two shotguns, Xander decided that Mister Cavalry Pants died first if it all broke sideways. He'd count on both Kev and Glenn to deal with the two deputies, along with Cordy.
Both of them, Kevin and Glenn, were riding with rifles carried lazily across their laps, anyway...
Mister Cavalry Pants broke loose from the side of the road and came trotting out to meet them, the two deputies flanking him on either side and slightly back. Nice looking sorrel paint Quarterhorse. Xander smiled and nodded to him.
It wasn't a nice smile. This one showed all the canine teeth and the hairy points on the ears.
“Howdy,” Mister Cavalry Pants said as he rode up, smiling broadly. He touched his hat brim to Cordelia, and again to Elena, his smile broadening. “Miss Elena.” Xander felt his own going a bit lopsided. “Nice day out.”
“It is, at that,” Xander said. Kevin and Glenn nodded, not saying anything.
True enough, they each watched a deputy, apparently trusting Xander and Cordelia to deal with Mister Cavalry Pants.
Xander suddenly just felt tired. Tired of stress, tired of killing, tired of watching people die, tired of this hellish town, tired of bullshit... and definitely, infinitely tired of Mayor Wilkins and his crap. And already way past
tired of Captain Cavalry Pants.
He suddenly no longer really gave much of a damn about sliding peacefully out of town giving the impression he was heading out and away from Wilkins' business and affairs. Oh, well, he'd never been really wedded to that mindset, anyway...
“Truly is,” he said. “Might I ask what brings you folks out this way?”
“You might,” Xander said, nodding. He felt his eyes narrow and his lopsided smile grow a bit broader, showing a bit more pointed tooth. Next to him, he heard Cordelia suck in a breath, and out of the corner of his eye he saw her grip on the drilling tighten fractionally.
Cavalry Pants, what was it Elena called him? Marsh? Narrowed his eyes a bit also, studying Xander with sudden interest.
“All right, then,” he said, his smile also broadening a bit. “What is
it that brings you folks out this way on such a wonderful early afternoon?”
“Got business out that away,” Xander said. “None of yours.”
“Aw, now,” Marsh said. “There is no call to be being like that, son.”
“Man said it was none of your business, Marsh,” Glenn drawled. “I'd take him at his word and vacate some roadway.”
“Glenn Scott,” Mister Cavalry Pants drawled back. “Am I to assume that you are questioning our rightful interest in people's entry and exit from our township?”
“You can assume whatever the hell you want to, Dillon.”
“Mr. Scott,” the deputy on the right, the one that Glenn had never removed his eyes from, shifted a bit uncomfortably. “We're not in the city limits now, and you're in our rightful jurisdiction. It is just a simple question the man asked.”
“Deputy, as far as I'm aware, we're not breaking any laws,” Glenn said. “And unless you want to charge that we are, where we're headed is none of your nor Interim Mayor Wilkins' affair.”
Kevin shook his head slightly, also watching his deputy. “Be a damned shame were it to come a loud noise just because a man can't seem to go on about his legitimate business unmolested.”
“And I'm feeling kinda tired of all this,” Xander said, nodding. “And I'm real good at making loud noises.”
Glenn smiled, no more pleasant an expression than Xander's. “Now, Dillon, you want to take these nice lawmen and clear a path? Or should we just ride through you, or possibly over, once you've hit the ground?”
Marsh stiffened, but his eyes never left Xander's. After a long, frozen moment, he smiled a bit more broadly, touched his hat again, and said, “Gentlemen, you heard the man. Clear them some road.” He looked at Glenn, deliberately removing his eyes from Xander's. “I'd not pass back this way, Mr. Scott,” he said.
“Expect I'll do as I need to, Mr. Marsh,” Glenn said. “Assuming I have unfinished business back in town.”
“You just do that.” Marsh nudged his paint over and sidestepped it out of the road, the deputies doing likewise, and pulled up at the side of the road, facing them. “Y'all have a right nice day, now.”
“Hoo boy,” Xander heard Cordelia breathe, next to him.
Elena leaned forward again. “You certainly have a flair for the dramatic, Alejandro. But I cannot fault your taste in the enemies you choose to make.”
Cordelia shook her head, looking at Xander askance from the corner of her eyes. “You make us any more, Xander, and we're going to have to hire a secretary to start taking appointments.”
“Kind of reminds you of the Territories, does it?” Xander said, reminding her of their recent maybe fictional, maybe not, sojourn in Australia.
“It does,” Cordelia nodded. “It really does.”
"Heh. How many gunsels does
Wilkins have on his personal payroll, anyway?" Xander asked, once they were past and out of earshot without any shots being fired into their backs. Glenn looked over and grinned.
"You mean other than O'Toole's little bunch, now less two?" Glenn asked. "Oh, lessee... Trick, Marsh there, who's pretty good, man name 'o Trask who's real good, and a tall negro gal with a nice Stevens and a long barreled target pistol who's also pretty good."
"Another one like Trick?" Xander said, his eyebrows going down.
"Naw. Don't think so – she goes out in the sun," Glenn said. "And there's maybe three or four second stringers left after that fracas last night. Not many."
"And Fat Bob?" Cordelia said. "How many deputies?"
"Oh, I'd say about a dozen and a half to two dozen, more or less, less two from last night," Kevin called over, Glenn nodding agreement. "Munroe's been hiring them from any hangers on who can handle a gun, or looks like they can for the past year or so."
"Plus Stein and a couple of his top hands," Glenn added, "Who, I'd say are kind of iffy as to how far they'll back Munroe and Wilkins if push came to shove on anything Stein felt real strongly about."
"Huh. And the two outliers? Stillwell and Maitland?" Xander asked.
Kevin shook his head. “Maitland – the Bar-G – has thirty hands. And twenty four guns that are on the books as hands. Stillwell has...” he looked over to Kevin, raising his eyebrows.
“Oh, call it a bunch of miners who can use guns, but aren't gunslingers, and a dozen or so mine security cops. And around two dozen gunsels.” Kevin smiled. “Less a few in both groups now.”
“Uh huh,” Glenn said, “Plus the first stringers you're already familiar with – Deke Matthews, Slade, Lazenby, Sharp, and a couple of others: Alex Courtland, Josiah Hedges.”
“I've heard of Hedges,” Xander said, slowly.
“And Dewell McKay,” Cordelia said. Xander nodded. He was oddly reluctant to really consider the soft spoken McKay one of the opposition for some reason. They'd encountered him a few times since the shoot, mostly at the Paradise, and he'd been unfailingly polite and friendly.
“I do hope you brought enough party favors, dear,” Cordelia said, “In case the locals decide to throw another jamboree such as they did in the Territory.”
Xander shook his head. "We're gonna need a bigger boat," he said.
Cordelia looked at him, nodding, her eyes wide. Xander laid the Model '92 back across his lap and clucked to the Bays, moving on out.
"Well, I believe that this is where we part company for now," Kevin said, once they'd reached the split for Casitas Trail and the road leading out towards Ojai. "Cordelia, Elena."
"Ma'am," Glenn said, touching his hat brim to each of them and smiling.
"Can we expect to see you two out at Rory's also?" Cordelia said, her eyebrows lifting. "To... look at some more stock?"
"Possibly so," Kevin said.
"If we do, we'll do it by way of the Cord Ranch," Glenn said. "We might have a bit of business to conduct with him."
"Vaya con dios, you two," Elena said.
"Likewise," Kevin said. "You people take care, now." He and Glenn clucked to their horses and moved off along the split.
Cordelia shook her head, smiling at their retreating backs. "Likewise, idiots."
"Good men," Elena said, "And genuinely good people."
"They are that," Xander said, starting the team up again. "And good friends, even on short acquaintance."
"Sometimes," Elena said, "You find that you've known someone your entire lives and beyond, even though you may have only met them yesterday. It happens like that, with certain people."
Cordelia nodded, looking pensive.
Xander gave her a bit, and then glanced sidelong at her, his eyebrows raised. "Nickel?" he asked.
She looked over, smiling. "Oh... " Cordelia waved vaguely. "Just thinking, doof. I suddenly realized that I – we
– have more real
friends here in the past several days than I think I ever
had back home in seventeen years
. It made me thoughtful all of a sudden."
Xander could almost feel Elena's interest at the comment sharpen, but he ignored it. He nodded, starting to open his mouth.
Cordelia cut him off, shaking her head. "And no, not even you, Will, and Buffy the last year or so. Willow and Buffy were never really my friends, not really, and neither of them ever really liked me very much," Cordelia said. "Not even as little kids, in Willow's case. And you... " she shook her head, adding, "You and me have always been more than friends, even when we hated each other and fought all the time."
"Yeah," Xander said. "Not arguing. What we had was always something unique."
"Yeah," Cordelia smiled at him. "I think if we hadn't fallen apart in third grade, we'd have been like Topanga and whatshisname, on that Boy Meets World show, you know," she said, "Growing up in love and probably so not
waiting until we were married to do something about it." Her eyebrows drew down and she frowned at him sidelong, “And you'd so
ever mention that to anyone, ever.
"Uh huh," Xander said, laughing. “Just don't want anyone to know we might not have hated each other, like, always?”
“No, jerk,” Cordelia said. “I don't want anyone ever knowing I watched Boy Meets World, jeeze.”
“Hah! Deal,” Xander said, nodding. "Must not damage the cool factor, yup. And... We damned near did something about it that day we got stuck together on the beach."
"Oh, gods yes. Midsummer's Eve," Cordelia said. "If we hadn't, like, been fifteen
and terrified to go any further. But it was
of a slap slap kiss kiss makeout session."
"That it was," Xander said, noting Elena's curious expression and sharp interest. "Elena? We'll explain all of this to you and Rory, later. Let it go for now?"
"Certainly, Alejandro," Elena said. "But I must admit, you and my niece definitely have my curiosity aroused."
Cordelia looked at him curiously, an eyebrow raised. Xander shrugged, "Of anyone I know, Rory will listen and believe, no matter how outlandish it sounds. And he might not have anything to recommend, but he'll at least give some food for thought. And... I trust your aunt."
He did, he realized, suddenly. All of his memories, from home and the fake ones from here, told him that Rory in either universe, was someone he could always take anything to and be heard out. And his memories from here
said that Elena was the same way...
Cordelia shook her head. "I'm not arguing, Goofy. It sounds like a plan."
Okay, I've said that I really hate doing these in mid story, and I do. But in this case, I'll make an exception...
I'm moving this weekend, ending up heading to a different city on Monday. So, sorry folks, but there probably won't be another update on this story until after the 3rd when Mediastream hooks up our internet connection in the apartment in Durant.
Don't worry, though: as I've stated, the story is
finished, so you will
be getting the full thing as I get it posted. And i even have it backed up in final draft form in several places, so I won't lose it or "And Another Thing" should catastrophe strike.
See ya'll after Wednesday.