Part of the Magnificent Little Britches series
The original episode Manhunt was written by Rick Husky and Tim John.
This version was made much better with Marnie's help.
It was early and the ground was still damp from the morning dew. A slight chill lingered in the air, even though the sun had been up and heating the earth for a few hours now.
"You should drink." The young Indian held the flask up to the girl's mouth and made her take a sip. She was very weak, but they had to keep going. "Take another, I'll make more later."
He heard a sound, and knew what it was before he looked up. How could he have been so careless? He had been too focused on the girl, and now they were surrounded by white men. One of the men stepped from behind the rock, cocked a rifle and called out, "You okay, Claire?"
There was nowhere to run and even if he could get away, Claire wouldn't be able to keep up. There was nothing they could do but give themselves up. For now.
"We're taking you in," the man said.
Another man moved up beside the first. "One way or another."
Buck kept his rifle pointed at the young Indian as Francis Corcoran secured his hands with a rope. They'd talked Corcoran into riding along with the search party. He was a good man, and Buck couldn't deny he'd been a big help tracking the past two days. They'd left yesterday around noon, and found the Indian and the girl this morning - less than a day of actual searching.
Pretty near everyone in the area had heard the news about an Indian who'd kidnapped a young, white girl. Some folks were praying for the girl's safe return, while others were chomping at the bit to see the Indian brought to justice. Before they'd left town, a few of the men had gotten themselves so riled up that Chris had needed to toss them into jail just to settle things down some.
'Justice will prevail', Ezra had assured the crowd that had gathered to send them off. Buck was there, now, to make damn sure that it did prevail. He tugged at the rope to make sure it was secure, then hoisted the Indian, none to gently, up onto his horse. There were no fancy words Mary Travis could write that would make folks feel sorry for this one. He'd been caught outright, and there was no way he could deny it. No excuse existed for an Indian to steal a little white girl away from her home and family.
The Indian hadn't given them much of a fight when he'd been caught. He might be only half grown, but Buck wasn't about to let down his guard. Ezra helped the girl, Claire Mosley, up onto her horse. She looked thin and frail, kind of sickly, like a strong wind might blow her away, but she'd insisted she was fine. He wondered what the Indian had done to her, and why she seemed afraid to tell them anything. She was safe now; she had no reason to be scared of the Indian any longer. If he tried anything now . . . well, that would save them all a lot of time and trouble.
Part of the reason the town was stirred up was because the accused was an Indian, and that made the crime more frightening to the average person. The Indian ways were a mystery and there were too many horror stories out there, whether real or invented, that tended to bias public opinion. Personally, Buck had nothing against the Indians, except for the fact that sometimes, in his opinion, they tended to get off a little too easy. It didn't seem right that an Indian could be sent back to their tribe for judgment, instead of being punished according to the law, like any other criminal.
Vin watched from the livery as Buck and part of the search party rode down the main street toward the jail. It hadn't taken them long to find Claire Mosley and the Indian boy. Only yesterday morning, Reverend Mosley had ridden into town, shouting that his little girl had been kidnapped by a renegade savage. Buck and Mr. Captain Cor'con had left right around lunchtime to go out searching for them. Vin tried to get a glimpse of the girl to see if she was okay, but it was hard to tell.
The Mosleys had a small ranch, not too far away, but they didn't spend much time in town. Vin didn't know them very well, but he knew that the reverend and his two kids traveled all around, setting up a big tent wherever they decided was a good place, so they could hold revival meetings and faith healings and such.
The Reverend Mosley was kinda famous around the territory because he liked to work with the Indian tribes. Up until now, Vin had assumed he got along okay with them, but now he wasn't so sure. A while back, Mr. 'Siah had taken him to one of the revival meetings and Vin remembered seeing some of the Indians helping him out during the service, walking folks into the tent, passing around the plates full of money and other things.
Vin had been more than a little amazed to see the preacher actually heal an old Indian who claimed to be blind. He'd raved to Chris and the others about the miracle he'd witnessed, but he'd been able to tell that they hadn't really thought it was so amazing. When Vin had talked 'Siah into taking him again, a couple days later, he'd seen the preacher heal a younger, crippled Indian who had to use a crutch to walk. Vin had thought that was equally amazing until he'd recognized the Indian as being the same one who'd been blind the week before. His appearance had been a bit different, but Vin could tell it had been the same man because he had the same jagged scar over his eyebrow.
Vin was pretty sure God could heal whomever He wanted to, even though He hadn't healed his momma, or JD's . . . or saved Miz Chris and their little boy. Sometimes, he wondered why God did the things He did, why He left boys without their mommas, and pas without their boys. When Vin had asked Mr. 'Siah if bad things happened to some folks 'cause they didn't have good enough faith, Mr. 'Siah had got a real funny look on his face. Then, he'd sat down and pulled Vin onto his lap and told him that, sometimes, it's hard to have faith, and hard to understand why bad things happen to some people and not to others. He'd said that God wants us all to have faith in Him, not only so we get the things we want, but faith to believe that God knows what He's doing, all the time, even when bad things happen. It's easy to have faith in the good times, but the real test is having faith during the bad times, too.
It was a subject that Vin still wondered about from time to time, but he was pretty sure he had it mostly figured out. He wasn't real sure, but he thought maybe having faith in God was kind of like the faith he had in Chris, and Buck. Even though sometimes he didn't agree with them and he didn't care much for their rules, he was pretty sure both of the men cared about him and JD. He was also pretty sure that most everything they made them do, even the bad things like peeling potatoes and mucking out stalls, was to help him and JD grow up right. Maybe trusting that someone would do right by you, no matter what, was what faith was all about?
He wasn't so sure he had any faith in The Reverend Mosley, though.
Vin moved closer to Chris so he could get a good look at Chanu. The young Indian accused of kidnapping was not just any Indian; he was the son of Chief Ko-je. Vin didn't know the boy, but he knew of the tribe. He was fascinated with Indians, not as much as JD, who sometimes wanted to be one when he grew up, but he loved to listen to their stories and legends, and was fascinated with their knowledge of nature and the land.
Although the town's folk already thought the boy was guilty, Vin wasn't quite so sure. This tribe was not a violent one. If they had been, the preacher and his family would have disappeared, or been found dead, a long time ago. They would never have allowed the preacher and his family to get so close to them in the first place. It didn't make sense that one of them would all of a sudden want to harm the preacher's daughter.
"Mary," he heard Chris say, "you know, it won't be too long after the rest of that posse gets back that this situation's likely to get out of hand."
It didn't escape Vin that Chris had called it a search party yesterday, but now he was calling it a posse.
Mary nodded, "I'll wire the judge today but it'll take him at least three days to get here."
The townsfolk were already getting out of hand, Vin thought. They were standing all along the walkways, on both sides of the street, yelling and calling the Chanu mean names.
"We're gonna hang him!" one of the men standing along the street shouted. "We don't have to take this kind of stuff."
"We're gonna hang you till you're dead," another one added, and Vin ducked in time to escape being hit by a rotten vegetable, but another one hit Chanu in the shoulder a moment later.
"Could be a long three days," Chris said quietly, moving to shelter Vin from the people on the street. They watched Buck as he escorted the prisoner to the jail then headed for the Clarion.
When they got to Miz Travis' place, Vin worried for a moment that Billy would be home and one of the grownups would suggest they go play together. Vin thought Billy was an okay kid, but he didn't really feel like playing, right then. After looking around the house and not seeing any sign of Billy he relaxed a bit, although a part of him wondered why he hardly ever saw Billy Travis around town.
"You got bruised up real good," Nathan said to Claire, "but you should heal up in a few days, as long as you take it easy."
He heard footsteps on the porch outside, but before anyone could go to the door, it opened and the Reverend Mosley and his son just walked right in.
"Claire!" Reverend Mosley cried, "Sweet lord, you're safe. We've been worried sick."
"What did he do to you?" her brother said, sounding hostile, like he usually did. "You okay?"
"Physically, she seems fine except she's got some bruises and a banged-up knee," Nathan assured them. "She's got a cough, too, but a few days of bed rest ought to take care of that."
"What?" Rafe shouted, getting in Nathan's face. "You touch her?"
Vin looked to Chris, sure that he wouldn't let that dumb bully get by with talking to the doc that way, and he wasn't disappointed. "Don't you mean, thank you?" Chris said, his voice cool.
"Rafe," his pa said, trying to calm him down. Vin figured what he really needed was a good, hard tanning. "There's enough hurt to go around without your vicious tongue." Then he turned his attention back to Claire. "I should never have let you be anywhere near that reservation. He didn't . . .?"
"I'm all right, Papa," Claire told him, her voice sounding a little stronger than she looked. She coughed, and Vin looked more closely at her face, she was very pale with dark smudges under her eyes. Vin thought she didn't look like she was in too good of shape, at all.
"Maybe you ought to take her home?" Chris suggested. "She looks like she could use some rest."
"Yes," Mosley agreed, helping the girl to stand. "Yes, of course."
The Mosleys supported Claire, each putting an arm around her as she hobbled across the room.
"Wait a second." Nathan bent down and picked up a leather-covered flask she'd apparently left behind, in the chair. "Is this yours?"
Mosley's face grew hard, his lips thinned and he no longer looked like the saintly man he'd been a minute ago. He glared at his daughter and said, "Did he give this to you, Claire?"
Claire was breathing harder, and Vin could hear it rattle in her lungs. She didn't say anything, or even look at her father, she just kept her eyes fixed on the floor.
"Claire?" He reached out and grasped her arm. "Tell me the truth. Did you drink any of this poison?"
"No, Papa," she finally answered in a thin, shaky voice.
"Mr. Mosley," Nathan stepped in, "she needs to get some rest."
"Yes," Mosley replied and just like that he changed back into the kind, caring father. "Come along, Claire," he said and gently guided her toward the door.
"Mr. Mosley?" Mary hesitated, then stepped forward, wringing her hands like she wasn't sure what to say. "If I can do anything . . .."
"Pray for me, Mrs. Travis," he answered. "Pray that I may find forgiveness."
Mary gave him a little smile and nodded. "You will."
"I don't know," he said in a sorrowful voice, "I've devoted my life to bringing the enlightenment of the Lord to those people. If this is my reward . . .."
Vin watched them leave, then turned to look at Chris. What the preacher said had sounded kinda sad, but there was just something about the man that didn't set right with Vin, and he just couldn't find it in himself to feel sympathy for him. He wondered if Chris felt sorry for him, but he couldn't tell by Chris' face.
Mosley had said he'd devoted his life to enlightenment, so Vin figured enlightenment must be something real important - like faith. He wasn't quite sure why the reverend thought 'those people' needed enlightenment, and why he thought he should devote his life to it when, from what Vin could see, it was his faith that needed working on.
"Mr. 'Siah?" JD tugged on Josiah's sleeve to get his attention. "Is it true that this Chanu is the son of the chief?"
"Yes, son, it is." Josiah replied, as he lifted JD up to sit on a barstool. "Guess I'll finally get a chance to meet him."
JD's eyes went wide with awe. "Meet him? Are ya gonna go up to the res'vation?"
"Somebody's got to tell him we got his boy. Yeah, figuring on staying a few days in case anybody gets any idea about breaking him out."
"Can I go, too? Can I? Pleeeeeease?"
"Well," Josiah rubbed his chin thoughtfully and squinted his eyes. "You'd have to give me your solemn promise to be good, and respectful, and to obey everything I tell you."
"I promise, I promise!" JD bounced on the stool.
"Hmm . . .." he pretended to think it over some more as JD squirmed in anticipation. Finally, he said, "I suppose it'd be okay, as long as it's okay with Chris and Buck."
"Yaaay!" JD would have bounced right off of the bar stool, if Josiah hadn't caught him.
"For starters, how about you drink all your milk," he said as the barkeeper set a mug in front of the boy. "I was hoping for a better calling card but . . . the Lord does work in mysterious ways."
"Don't bother with that preacher talk up there." At the sound of another voice, both Josiah and JD turned their heads to find Rafe Mosley leaning against the bar, looking surly. "If the great bible-thumping Owen Mosley can't turn them, don't think you can."
Josiah took a long draught of his beer then shrugged, "I ain't interested in turning them."
"All you fellas are mighty high on yourselves, ain't you?" Rafe Mosley continued, "I heard about your reputations and I ain't impressed. Dodge City -- I had me a run-in or two myself."
JD rolled his eyes when he figured out that Rafe Mosley was trying to act like a tough guy in front of Mr. 'Siah. He was known as a bully, and apparently, since he was almost as tall as Mr. 'Siah, he thought he could bully grown ups as well as kids. The thought of it made him grin, and the knowledge that Mr. 'Siah could pound the big bully into dust, gave him all the courage he needed. "A reper-tay-shun gots to be growed into . . . dummy," he told the older boy, matter-of-factly. "And you got a long ways to go." Then he turned away, grinning into his mug of milk, until he caught a glimpse of Josiah's face. "Well," he said defensively, "he does!"
Josiah shook his head, trying for all he was worth not to burst out laughing. He glanced over the top of young JD's head and met Rafe's eye. "Why don't you go tend to your family, son? " he suggested, hoping to avoid any trouble.
Mosley narrowed his eyes; apparently he didn't appreciate the suggestion. "You worried I'll, uh, throw down on you?"
"Not half as worried as you should be, son."
JD hadn't seen Mr. Chris step up to the bar, and he could tell Rafe hadn't, either. He smiled feeling doubly brave, and took another swig of his milk. Mr. Chris sure could be scary sometimes, especially when he spoke in that calm, quiet voice.
Rafe backed toward the door, but not without getting the last word. "I'll be watching you," he threatened, then hurried out before anyone had a chance to respond.
Of course, that didn't matter to JD. "Ooh! Ooh! We're shakin' in our boots," he called out, anyway. Then, as he took a swig of milk, he caught the men on either side of him watching him. He glanced up, still grinning, with a white milk mustache across his upper lip. "We're shakin' in our boots. Ain't we?" Chris' mouth twitched and he looked away, but Josiah just kept staring at him with a funny look on his face. "What?"
Josiah shook his head and after downing the rest of his beer, finally said, "Never mind. Finish your milk."
"Chris? I'm heading up to the reservation," Josiah told Chris. "You think it'd be okay if I took Trouble, here," he nodded to JD, "along with me?"
"You sure that's a good idea?" Chris gave him a doubtful look.
"Right now, it's probably more dangerous for the boys here than it would be out there. He'll be safe, don't worry."
Chris grinned. "I was more worried about the poor, unsuspecting Indians."
JD huffed indignantly. "I promised I'd be good!"
"That, you did," Josiah replied, then said to Chris, "You want me to take Vin?"
It hadn't been that long ago when Vin had chosen to stay with Nettie Wells rather than go back to town with him. Chris wasn't sure he was ready to go through that again, but if Vin really wanted to go, he wouldn't stop him. "You can ask him if he wants to go."
True to his word, JD was on his best behavior the entire way to the reservation, of course he'd been asleep for the better part of the journey, something for which Josiah was thankful.
The boy had rambled a bit, at first, about how he was going to be an Indian when he grew up, or else a sheriff, or a gunslinger -- the fastest draw in the west, to be exact, but he'd dozed off pretty quick, after that. The quiet ride had given Josiah's mind plenty of opportunity to wander. He usually appreciated being alone with his thoughts, but not when his thoughts kept taking him back to a past he'd rather forget.
The truth of the matter was that Reverend Owen Mosley reminded him entirely too much of his own father, a man who'd preached relentlessly on the wrath of God, the evils of the flesh, of sin and death, fire and brimstone. He'd put fear in many a soul, but Josiah couldn't remember ever hearing his father talk about love. Josiah and his sister had grown up with an image of God as an angry, vengeful being and they'd both tried, unsuccessfully, to obey out of fear of his wrath. And then both he and his sister had given up trying. To this day, he still had trouble relating the God he'd grown up with to the God he'd come to know, the God who loved the world so much that He gave His only son, so that even though we all fall short, none need perish.
Since he was being honest with himself, he couldn't deny that whenever he looked at Mosley's son, Rafe, what he saw was himself as an angry young man. The memories unsettled him, reminded him of things in his past that he'd never come to terms with, and most likely never would.
It was early evening, when they finally arrived at the reservation. The minute JD woke up and started talking, an image of the boy bouncing around, chattering up a storm all night long popped into Josiah's head. Why? he asked the Lord, why did you let me let him sleep so long?
After he dismounted and lifted JD out of the saddle, an older man with graying hair and an air of authority came to greet them. Although, he'd never met the man before, Josiah immediately knew he was Chanu's father, Ko-je, the chief.
"You are the new missionary?" the man questioned.
Josiah shook his head and smiled. "Me and my missionary ways parted company a long time ago. Name's Josiah."
JD grinned up at the chief. "I'm JD!"
"I know," Josiah said, patting JD on the head. "Been wanting to sit down and talk to you. Unfortunately, what I got to talk to you about now ain't good news."
He admired the man's ability to remain calm. "Chanu is dead." He made it sound more like a statement than a question.
"No, but... he's been caught and he's going to stand trial for kidnapping." He hated to say that almost as much as he would have hated to tell the chief his son was dead. Most likely a trial would lead to the same conclusion.
"Bring him here," the chief said, with a tinge of hope in his voice. "If he did this, he'll be punished by tribal law."
"Afraid the people up there ain't going to agree to that. Sorry."
"They don't understand."
"I believe I understand." He tried to anyway. What would it be like to have strangers come onto your land and tell you that the way you live, and everything you believe in is wrong? To be forced to accept their god and their laws over your own.
"You know my son's reasons?"
"No . . . but I know what it's like to have a bible shoved down your throat . . . how mad that can make a man."
"Just a second, son," he said glancing down at JD then back up to Ko-je. "See, my father was a missionary, just like Mosley. Did his work for a while . . . till we broke."
"Your God . . . came between your father and you and between me and Chanu. Your God should find better things to do with his time."
Josiah smiled, deciding he already liked the man.
"Mr. 'Siah!" JD tugged at his sleeve, squirming impatiently.
"I gotta go!"
~ * ~
Buck came out of the saloon, surprised to find it was nearly dark outside. He wondered if JD and Josiah had made it to the reservation, and tried to swallow the worry that seemed to rise up in his throat. JD was perfectly safe with Josiah, and the ex-preacher had been right, the reservation wasn't any more dangerous than the town, right now, maybe even safer. JD was in good hands, probably having a great time out there on the reservation. He was probably having so much fun that he didn't miss Buck at all.
Taking a deep breath, he tried to focus on something other than JD having a great time without him, something other than Josiah, and not himself, tucking JD in to bed that night. Damn, what was wrong with him? How had he let himself get so attached to the kid?
He was thinking seriously about heading back to the saloon to drown his sorrows, when he spotted Vin sitting alone outside the jail. The older boy was staring out at nothing, the expression on his face was pensive, a little more so than usual. Vin was a deep thinker, more serious, he thought, than a boy Vin's age ought to be. One of Buck's greatest pleasures had become teasing and cajoling Vin Tanner into acting like a kid. Right now, he hoped that maybe they could comfort each other.
"Hey there, little pard." Buck ruffled the boy's hair and sat down in the empty chair beside him. "What are you lookin' so serious about?"
Vin shrugged, still staring ahead. "Nothin'. I's just thinkin'."
"Oh, yeah?" Buck grinned, wondering what could possibly be weighing so heavily on the boy's mind. Then it hit him that Vin probably didn't understand a lot of what had gone on earlier today . . . or maybe he understood too much? His grin faded, and he leaned closer to Vin. "Thinkin' about what?"
Vin licked his lips, then looked up at Buck with squinted eyes. "About Chanu."
Buck nodded. "I see."
"I's just thinkin' . . . well, he musta had a reason for doing what he did."
"I saw the look in that girl's eyes when we found her, Vin." Buck leaned forward in his chair, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He needed to keep his voice gentle, so Vin didn't think he was mad at him, but he also wanted to make sure to get his point across. "She was scared out of her wits. I can't think of any reason that would make that right."
Maybe not, Vin thought, but if Chanu had wanted to hurt Claire, there'd been a lot of time for him to have done so before they were caught. The simple fact that they'd been caught didn't set right with Vin. If Chanu had wanted to disappear he could have gotten rid of the girl and been long gone. But he'd kept her with him, taken it slow and easy. Why would he have done that, unless . . . he'd been taking care of the girl? And why would he bother to take care of her if he only wanted to hurt her?
Had Claire been scared out of her wits of Chanu, or had she been scared because they'd been caught? Whatever the reason, things just didn't add up, in his mind, anyway. When he had mentioned some of his thoughts to Chris, Chris had at least admitted that he felt they were being left in the dark about some things. That meant, in his mind, anyway, that Chris wasn't entirely sure what Chanu was guilty of, or if he was guilty of anything.
"D'you think . . . if Chanu was white, would the townsfolk all be actin' so mad? If he was white, would they be ready to string him up?"
Buck thought for a moment, and then had to admit to himself that he wasn't sure. At least, he wasn't sure what the townsfolk would be thinking. He couldn't imagine that he'd be thinking any differently than he was, though. Any boy who hurt a young girl like that deserved whatever he got. "I don't know, Vin."
"Maybe the folks would be thinking he'd made a mistake, or that the two of them had made a mistake?"
"The two of them?" Buck was surprised that Vin would think such a thing. Still, he reminded himself that Vin was just a little kid, and tried to keep the anger from his voice. "Vin, I reckon you're too young to understand what most likely happened out there, but I can tell you this: Claire Mosley was scared out of her wits, and I think it's just plain wrong to blame her, or accuse her of anything in this case."
Vin couldn't help shrinking down in his chair. He could tell Buck was angry, although he was trying not to sound like it. He didn't want to make him angry, but he couldn't help wondering about these things.
Buck let out a harsh breath, then not knowing what else to say, he asked, "Ain't it getting close to your bedtime?"
"I'm waiting for Chris."
Buck raised an eyebrow and leaned closer. "Chris know that?"
Vin wasn't any good at lying, so he tried just giving Buck a steely look, like one he'd seen Chris give before.
"Well, alright then." Buck ruffled his hair again and stood up. "I'm gonna head on over to the restaurant and see if I can get Miz Percy to fix me up a late supper. You sure you want to wait for Chris?"
Vin just nodded, but added a smile before Buck walked away.
Vin knew that, like most of the townsfolk, Buck had already found Chanu guilty. But he also knew that Buck's reasons for doing so were a little bit different. Buck couldn't see past what seemed like a clear-cut case of a man kidnapping an innocent, young girl, because Buck couldn't stand it when girls got treated badly.
It seemed like Mr. Ezra didn't care too much for Chanu, either, and Vin wasn't so sure why that was . . . except Mr. Ezra didn't like to see folks hurt, even though he tried to pretend that he didn't really care about nobody.
He got up and went into the jail, pausing to listen to Chanu chanting what sounded to him like a sad, kind of lonesome song.
Mr. Nathan was sitting at the desk, reading, but he looked up from his book and smiled at Vin. "Things quieting down out there?"
Nathan shook his head, looking a little sad, a little disgusted.
"Miz Percy made fried chicken," Vin said temptingly, hoping to cheer the doc up. He couldn't help but lick his lips at the memory of how good it had tasted. "If'n you want to go get some, I can watch the place for a while."
Nathan raised his eyebrows and tried not to laugh outright. "Is that right?"
"Sure." How hard could it be?
"Well . . . that's nice of you to offer, but I don't think it'd be a good idea." He'd end up fried, himself, if Larabee came around and found Vin here, alone.
"There's two sets of bars 'tween me and the prisoner," Vin said with a little annoyance. When would everyone realize that he wasn't a baby?
"Well . . .." Mr. Nathan licked his lips, looking from the cell to Vin to the window. If he hurried it would only take a few minutes. Nothing could happen in that short of time. "Okay, I'll be back in five minutes, or less." He pointed a finger at Vin. "You sit right here, and don't even think about going near them bars, y'understand?"
"'Course I understand."
Mr. Nathan left reluctantly, looking over his shoulder once more before closing the door. Once he was gone, Vin approached the bars.
"Thought ya might be hungry," he offered, timidly holding out some of the chicken he'd snuck from his own plate and wrapped up in a napkin. "Your father's being told where you are. If you want to, I can get him a message."
Chanu said nothing. Only gave him a disgusted look.
"People think you took the girl so's you could hurt her, but you'd have done that long 'fore we found you if that were so."
Chanu turned his back, still silent.
"Nobody asked Claire yet, but I bet when they do . . .."
Chanu spun around, fury in his eyes. "Why talk to a foolish girl who lies like her father? Who promises my people things they will only get after they die? Who tries to destroy our spirit, our ways? The missionary steals from my people so I steal from him."
"The judge who's coming to town, he's a good man. He might understand."
Chanu gestured to the package in Vin's hand. "Food."
He tried to reach through the bars to hand the food to Chanu, but his arm wasn't long enough. He glanced at the key hanging on the nail and then at the door, thinking Nathan would be back any second. What would it hurt if he just opened the outer door so he could hand over the food?
The key was too high for him to reach so he pushed the chair from behind the desk and climbed up. The chair squeaked and wobbled but he managed to steady it and keep his balance as he reached up for the ring of keys. As soon as he had the ring in his hand though, the chair tipped back and slid out from under him. He tried to regain his balance even as he felt himself being thrown to the floor. He felt pain as his head hit something hard, then everything faded to black.
From behind the bars, Chanu winced as he heard the thunk of the boy's head hitting the bars. He tilted his head, trying to see whether or not the kid was okay, and it was then that he noticed the key ring had landed between the two sets of bars. All he had to do was reach through the bars and grab the keys.
When he was free, adrenaline rushing through his body, he knelt beside the still unmoving boy. He pressed his fingertips to the side of the boy's neck and felt the steady beat that meant his lifeblood still flowed.
He stood and went to the window, feeling guilty for leaving the boy, but also knowing this would be his only chance to escape and get to Claire. It was dark, but the streets were not empty, so he hurried to the back, and thanked the spirits and Claire's God when he saw nobody out there. He was cautious, silent, making sure to draw no attention to himself as he crept behind the buildings. He waited patiently for the right moment to sneak into the stable and open the stall where his pony was being held. As he led the pony out the back way, he wondered again why the white men put their ponies behind bars, like their prisoners.
Chris entered the sheriff's office and stopped in his tracks at the sight before him. Nathan was crouched over a small body that was lying on the floor, in front of the cell.
"Vin," Nathan tapped his cheek, gently. "Can you hear me?"
Chris felt his heart skip a beat as he hurried to kneel down beside them. "What the hell happened?"
"I found him laying here. It looks like he fell off the chair, over there," Nathan explained, pointing to the chair laying a few feet away. "I was only gone for a few minutes." He scrubbed his hand over his anguished face. "Damn, I shoulda known better than to leave him here, even for a minute."
"You're right," Chris said, harshly. He knew Nathan felt guilty enough already, but still . . .. "You should have known. What were you thinking?"
"I just ran out to grab some supper and bring it back here. I told him I'd be right back and to stay away from the prisoner."
"In case you haven't noticed, Vin isn't so good at following orders. He's better at coming up with reasons to disregard them."
"I know, I know. I didn't think--"
Vin's eyelashes fluttered and he let out a soft moan.
"Vin, can you hear me?"
"Chris?" The boy reached a hand up to touch his head then struggled weakly to get up.
"Careful, take it slow," Nathan instructed helping him sit with his back against the bars.
A few seconds later, Chris glanced up to see Buck come strolling into the office, followed by Ezra. As soon as Buck caught a glimpse them -- of Vin -- he was there, kneeling, with a hand on Vin's shoulder. "What happened?"
Vin squinted up at all of their faces. They looked worried, but intimidating, and he wished more than anything that the ground below him would just open right up and swallow him. Unfortunately, his wish didn't come true.
"Well, we seem to be short a prisoner." Ezra drawled, as he glanced at the open cell door, but he crouched down to look at Vin, with a flash of concern in his eyes that Chris would never have expected to see. "Is he okay?"
"I think so," Nathan answered, as he gingerly touched the back of Vin's head.
"Ya got a good sized lump back there," was Nathan's official diagnosis.
Chris looked at the empty jail cell, then at Ezra. "Ezra, you get outside, stay posted. Nobody comes in here, and nobody knows anything."
It was then that Vin seemed to put things together. His eyes grew wide and he turned to look back at the empty jail cell, where Chanu had been the last time he'd looked. "Where is he?"
"Gone," Nathan answered.
"Aw, son of b--"
Buck coughed loudly, making Vin wince. "I wouldn't finish that sentence, if I were you," he warned, then turned to Chris with a hard glint of anger in his eyes. "I knew that kid was no good, Chris, but to hurt a little child like this . . ." Buck shook his head. "We can't let him get away."
"But, he didn't hurt me--" Vin wanted to explain that he'd fallen, that Chanu hadn't hurt him, and remind them all that he wasn't no little child, but Chris cut him off.
"I'll go after him, you stay put," Chris ordered. "When they find out he's gone," he nodded toward the door, "it's gonna be hard to keep things under control."
Nathan put a hand on Chris' arm. "If we keep a guard outside, the townsfolk will still think we got Chanu. That'll buy us a little time."
"Maybe." Chris knew it wouldn't buy them too much time, though. "Nathan, you take Vin up to your place. Don't let him out of your sight."
Nathan glared at the boy for a second before lifting him up. "Never again."
Chris waited until Nathan and Vin were out the door then he started checking his weapons. He glanced at Buck. "I'm going out to Corcoran's place, see if I can get him to ride out to the reservation with me at first light."
"Corcoran's staying at the boarding house."
"Okay, good." That would save him some time.
"Chris, you don't think he'd be dumb enough to try and hide out at the reservation, do you?"
Chris just shrugged a shoulder. He had no idea where Chanu would run to, but if he was a scared kid, he'd probably want to be somewhere he felt safe. "We have to try to keep a lid on this for 24 hours. If you don't hear from us by then, you'll have to form a posse."
Chanu had ridden into the hills, keeping out of sight from anyone who might be on the road. He'd planned to sneak Claire out of the house during the night, like he had before, but there had been lights in the windows all night. The sun would be up soon and he still hadn't figured a way to get Claire away without being seen.
The Mosley ranch was just down the hill, a stone's throw. She was so close but still so far from him. He prayed to the spirits and to her God that she was okay, that her father hadn't hurt her. His own father had never struck him or his brothers - with words or with fists. His father was not the sort of man who took out his anger on his children. But Claire's father was not like his father, and that was why Chanu had to get her away.
Once, she had told him that a good person should have no fear of death -- that there was no sickness, only joy in the place she called Heaven. He believed her, but he also believed that a good person should have some joy here, too. Claire wanted, more than anything, to see 'the ocean'. And Chanu wanted, more than anything, to take her there -- to give Claire joy.
It was just after the sun had come up that he noticed the activity down at the Mosley ranch. He watched a man lead horses from the barn, and then another man, Mosley, come out of the house carrying a bundle in his arms. It was Claire, he knew, and obviously she was not well. What had her father done this time?
He moved closer, crouching in the brush, needing to get a better view. To his horror, they draped and secured the bundle over one of the horses, then mounted their own and slowly made their way down the road, toward town.
When they were out of sight, Chanu got back on his horse and headed in the opposite direction, toward home. His body felt numb, but his soul cried out in anguish.
The first hint of sunlight had just made its appearance in the eastern skyline when Chris knocked on the door to Francis Corcoran's room at the boarding house.
"Could use your help," Chris said to the groggy man who opened the door. "The Indian you guys brought in got away last night."
"Of course, allow me to get dressed." Francis yawned and scrubbed his hands over his face. His years of service in the military had trained him to be awake and ready to move out with very little warning.
"Didn't know you were staying in town," Chris said, leaning against the doorframe. Corcoran had been building a homestead a few miles outside of town, and spent most of his time there.
"Well now," Francis smiled, looking completely alert as he grabbed his shirt from the back of a chair. "I thought you might have need of an extra hand. I saw the way the good citizens reacted when we brought in the prisoner and decided to stick around, at least until the judge arrives."
"Appreciate it" Chris nodded, then stepped back into the hall when the man went to the water basin. Although they all got along with Corcoran, considered him a good man and were thankful to have him around, Chris sometimes felt a little uncomfortable in the man's presence, especially when he thought back to the circumstances under which they'd all met. "Uh . . . I'll be waiting downstairs."
Corcoran nodded, a look of understanding in his eyes. "I'll be down directly."
~ * ~
Buck was not especially happy with the little farce they were trying to pull off. Not that he didn't agree they had to do something to keep the folks from getting all stirred up, but he wasn't convinced this was the best plan. Of course, he'd been sitting outside the jail most of the night, so he'd had plenty of time to consider other options, and hadn't been able to come up with a single one. He only knew that by holding off on gathering a posse, they were taking a big chance that the Indian kid would get away, and he just couldn't figure out why Chris would take that chance.
He'd overheard Chris tell Vin that there were some things about the situation that didn't add up, but Buck couldn't understand what things he was talking about. Even though it had been him, not Chris, who'd caught up to Chanu and Claire the first time, Chris had seen how scared that poor little girl had been when they'd brought her back to town. He'd seen the bruises with his own eyes. How much more evidence did he need?
As he watched Chris and Francis Corcoran get ready to ride out, he couldn't remember a time when he'd felt so uncertain about his old friend's judgment. But, he'd given Chris his loyalty, and his word, so he'd play by Chris' rules, go along with the little deception, and make sure the others did, too. For now, anyway.
Buck was surprised when Ezra walked up beside him and handed him a cup of coffee.
"What are you doing up so early?"
"Taking over for you," Ezra answered, making it obvious he wasn't happy about it. "Personally, I don't see the need for this ruse."
"I'll tell you the one thing we don't need," Buck replied, hoping to convince himself he was making the right choice, "we don't need this whole town getting all riled up 'cause Chanu is gone. It could get ugly." Then, unable to help himself, he grinned. "And I do hate ugly."
Buck and Ezra sipped their coffee, looking out at the street, watching the little town come to life. Just as it appeared Chris and Francis were about to mount up, Buck spotted two riders coming slowly down the street. "Damn," he whispered, getting to his feet when the riders halted in front of the undertaker's.
"You best brace yourself, Buck. I think things are about to get ugly," Ezra murmured, then he walked past Buck and over to the Mosleys.
"What happened?" Chris asked as he approached the family.
"Claire's dead," the reverend answered in a tight voice, making the words sound like an accusation against Chris.
Rafe dismounted and walked right into Chris' space. "That Indian killed my sister!"
Chris was stunned. What could he say to that? He was the one in charge of the town, whether he wanted to be or not, and a prisoner had escaped from his jail. If Chanu had gone out and murdered Claire Mosley last night, then that girl's death was on his hands and there was nothing he could say that could fix that. "If he's guilty, he'll pay."
"If he's guilty?" Rafe Mosley's eyes went wide with astonishment. "What do you mean if he's guilty?"
"Rafe!" his father said sharply. "This isn't the time!"
"I'm sorry . . ." Chris cleared his throat, feeling more uncomfortable than he could remember, "for your loss. I'll do my best to see to it that he stands trial, and you get justice."
"I don't know if that good enough, anymore," the elder Mosley growled then turned away to lift his daughter down from the horse. Ezra stepped up beside the man, and offered to help. Begrudgingly, the reverend placed the limp body in the gambler's arms and allowed him to carry her into the undertaker's.
Chris turned to the man he'd been planning to ride out with. "Let's take a little ride out to the reservation, give Josiah the news and see if we find any sign of Chanu along the way."
"And the others?"
"They're going to stick around here, for now . . . at least until we have a chance to check out the reservation, and warn Josiah. If we don't find him, we'll have to get a posse together as soon as we get back." Chris pushed aside the guilt, and the empathy -- the grief and anger over his own losses that was never far from the surface -- and began making a mental list of the things that needed to be done.
Josiah had been up for a couple of hours when JD finally yawned and sat up in his bedroll. Chris and Francis Corcoran had already been there, bearing the bad news of Claire Mosley's death and Chanu's escape. They hadn't stayed long, and before they'd left to scout around some more, Chris had warned him that the townsfolk weren't yet aware of Chanu's escape, but as soon as they found out there'd most likely be trouble.
Trouble seemed to follow him around, these days, he mused, as JD plopped down beside him.
"Mornin', JD," Josiah said, looking down at the bowl in his hands. He had no intention of finishing its contents, although he hadn't been able to figure out what to do with it, until now. "I'll bet you're hungry?" Smiling, he handed over the bowl, knowing JD would eat anything that didn't eat him first. The dish had been tasty, and he would have finished it himself if he hadn't learned of the key ingredient.
"Yeah, I'm starving!" JD took a huge mouthful and grinned. "Mmm, 's good. What is it?"
"Uh . . . it's Indian breakfast food." Josiah winked at him. "Careful, don't spill it."
He watched as the boy took another huge mouthful, then patted him on the shoulder and stood up. "You finish your breakfast and I'll be right back."
"Where ya goin'?"
"Just over there," he gestured to the place where Ko-je was standing, a contemplative look on his face as he gazed out over the land. Josiah wasn't sure if the chief was hoping his son would come home or hoping he wouldn't.
"If you know where your son is, now would be a good time to tell me."
Ko-je glanced at him, a hint of a smile in his eyes. "What do fathers know of their sons?"
"You said he won't come here," Josiah pressed. "I figure you know more."
"A feeling," the chief admitted.
"Ko-je . . . if we get to him first, we could save him. You're his father. You gotta do what it takes to protect him."
"Did your father try to protect you?" Ko-je questioned.
Josiah thought about it for a moment. Over the years, the bad memories had almost completely overshadowed any goodness his father may have had, but maybe . . .? "In his own way, yeah."
"And like most sons, it angered you."
"Look . . . my father is dead." He didn't want to continue rehashing the past, not now. "I'd like to keep Chanu from being the same."
"Your father's spirit walks with you. That's why you're unbalanced," Ko-je said calmly, as if his son wasn't in any trouble at all. "It's too heavy on your shoulder."
"This ain't about my balance," Josiah said, trying to keep his voice calm. "This is about Chanu."
Ko-je gave him an enigmatic smile. "All things are connected."
JD was getting bored. Mr. 'Siah was talking to the chief again, he'd been doing that a lot, and JD was finished with his breakfast. He'd decided that Indian breakfast food was pretty good, but not as good as Miz Percy's flapjacks with maple syrup. He looked around the camp, wondering what to do next.
There was a tent that he'd been keeping his eye on. For a while now, smoke had been rising out of the top of it, lots of smoke. At first he'd thought it was on fire, but surely if it was someone would have done something about it by now. There were people all around but none of them seemed worried. They weren't acting like there was a fire, so he wasn't sure what to do.
Mr. 'Siah had told him to stay put, but the tent wasn't very far away, so maybe it would be okay if he walked over and peeked inside. Maybe everyone was too busy to notice it was on fire and if that was the case, they'd be glad he gotten up and 'vestigated.
He wasn't sure what to do with his bowl, so he set it on the log. He'd tried to ask one of the ladies where the dirty dishes went and all she'd done was smiled and nodded and pinched his cheek. Rubbing his cheek, he decided that Indian ladies were a lot like regular ladies with that pinching the cheek thing.
At the entrance to the tent, he looked around to see if anyone was noticing him, or anyone was noticing there might be a fire, but all the people just kept doing the things they'd been doing all morning. Grown ups were always busy, he thought, no matter if they were Indian grown ups or regular grown ups.
As soon as he poked his head inside, his eyes went wide with astonishment. "Hey!" he shouted to the men sitting inside, "Fire!" He pointed to the roaring fire and shouted again, "Hey, it's a fire!" but none of them paid him any attention. Then he noticed that all the men were naked! Maybe their clothes were on fire, and they were too embarrassed to run outside? But, he couldn't let them burn to death, even if they were naked. "Fire!" he shouted to one of the ladies nearby, but the lady just nodded and smiled, like the other lady had, only she didn't pinch his cheek.
"Don't you speak English?" he shouted at yet another lady, who he found washing dishes. He pointed into the tent. "There's a fire in there!" but she just smiled, too. On the ground, beside her, he spotted something he could use. If nobody else was going to do anything, he supposed it was up to him to save the poor, naked guys.
"Sorry," he apologized, picking up a large, clay pitcher. He rushed over to a barrel and filled the pitcher with water, glancing back at the lady once, hoping she didn't think he was stealing it. Carefully, he carried the full pitcher over to the tent, ducked inside and heaved the water into the flames. He turned around, ready to run back for a refill and there was Mr. 'Siah blocking the doorway.
"John Daniel Dunne, what are you doing?"
"Mr. 'Siah," he tried to explain, "There's a fire!"
Josiah took the pitcher out of the boy's hands and, not knowing what else to do with it, set it on the floor. When JD went to reach for it again, Josiah pointed a finger at him and ordered, "Don't!" Then he cleared his throat and with a forced smile, tried to apologize. "Please, excuse the boy. He knows not what he does."
JD opened his mouth to protest, but Josiah lifted him up and carried him out of the tent.
"I was just trying to put out the fire!" JD sniffled.
"I know that, JD, but the thing is, they don't want the fire put out. The fire makes it hot inside the tent, and that's how they want it to be. It's a sweat lodge."
"A sweat lodge?"
"Yes, they want it hot, so they can sweat."
JD curled his upper lip. "But why would they want to get sweaty?"
"It's a purifying ritual to harmonize themselves with nature. It's sacred," he tried to explain, "and you need to do me a favor, and show a little bit more respect."
"Sorry." His thrust his lower lip out. He hadn't meant to be bad, or not show respect. He'd only wanted to help.
"It's okay, I know you thought you were helping, but next time, ask me before you do something like that."
The two of them sat down on the log he'd been sitting on before. JD sighed, looking back at the tent. "Mr. 'Siah?"
"Did you . . . did you see . . . they was all naked?" he whispered, loud enough to wake the dead.
"Yes, I noticed that," Josiah whispered back, just as loudly.
"I was wonderin' . . . I thought maybe they burned up their clothes?"
"No, JD. I'm pretty sure they didn't do that."
"Oh." JD nodded. "Well, then how come they was naked?"
Lord, Josiah prayed, give me answers. None came to him, although, he was sure that he'd heard the Lord chuckle. "Well, I suppose they just like to be naked."
"Oh, okay." JD sat quietly with his chin propped on his fist and a thoughtful look on his face.
When JD asked nothing more, Josiah's mind went back to the puzzling conversation he'd had with Ko-je. He couldn't understand why the man was being so mysterious about his son's whereabouts, and he couldn't understand what any of this had to do with his relationship with his own father.
A few minutes went by before he realized JD had stood up and was in the process of trying to unbutton his shirt.
"What are you doing?"
"Takin' off my clothes."
JD shrugged, glancing toward the sweat lodge. "'Cause I like to be naked, too."
Back in town, Vin was feeling cooped-up. And he was also sad and worried, and his head was aching something fierce. He turned over on the cot that Mr. Nathan wouldn't let him get off of and let out a heavy sigh.
"Vin? How are you feelin'?" Nathan asked for the hundredth time since he'd gotten back from the undertaker's.
"Fine." It was sort of a lie, but there was no way he was going to tell Mr. Nathan the truth. He'd rather have his head explode than have to drink any more of Mr. Nathan's tea. No wonder Buck called it bad names.
He gazed absently around the room, wondering where Chris and the others were, and what JD was doing, and whether Chanu had been caught yet. Would they lynch him? He knew Chris wouldn't allow that, but what if something happened to Chris? What if . . .? He squinted his eyes when he spotted the beaded leather flask setting high up on a shelf. "Mr. Nathan," he said, rolling off the cot. He stood up and walked unsteadily over to the shelves.
The flask was just beyond his reach, but he was prepared to climb if necessary. Nathan picked up the flask before he could. "You don't need to go knocking that head of yours, again."
"Ain't that the stuff Claire had?"
"Yeah, it is."
"What is it?"
"Well, it's just some herbs, and roots." Nathan opened the flask and allowed Vin to take sniff.
"Ugh." Vin made a face and pushed it away. "Smells awful . . . just like that medicine you gave me last night."
"That's because it's probably the same thing, far as I can tell." Nathan held the flask to his nose and sniffed it curiously, then dabbed a little on his finger and tasted it. "Tastes the same, too."
Vin didn't want to find out what it tasted like, he already knew. "Buck says it tastes like horse p"
Nathan cut him off with a look.
"Well, I'm just sayin'," he looked at the healer with big, innocent eyes that suddenly narrowed in thought. "Mr. Nathan? You said Mr. Mosley told you Chanu poisoned Claire."
"Yeah." Nathan shook his head. When Mosley had ridden into town with Claire's body, accusing Chanu of killing her, none of them had thought he'd meant Chanu poisoned her. Chris had headed out to the reservation without that piece of information, probably thinking the kid had killed her in some violent way. If he'd poisoned her, it would be much more difficult to prove.
"Well . . ." Vin continued speculatively, "do ya 'member when we was at Miz Travis' house, when they first found Claire? When you asked Claire if this stuff was hers, Mr. Mosley seemed real mad. He called this poison, 'member?'
"Yeah," Nathan said slowly, beginning to understand.
"Do ya think . . . could this be the poison Chanu gave her?"
Nathan thought about that for a moment. The leather and beading was definitely Indian craftsmanship, and he was all but certain the flask contained the same herbal remedy he often used to treat symptoms from lung ailments to pain -- a remedy he'd learned of from the Indians. Could be that the preacher Mosley was mistaken about the poison, but if this was the poison he was accusing Chanu of giving his daughter that would mean he'd known about it beforehand . . . which would mean that Claire had probably already been pretty sick . . . even before she'd been taken away by Chanu. "I don't know, Vin, but I aim to find out."
Josiah watched as two women fussed over JD. One put a thin strip of leather around his head; the other tickled his nose with a feather before she slid it into the headband.
Ko-je stood beside him, his eyes on the women and JD. "You fought with your father," he said as a statement, not a question.
"Yeah, we fought. More than we expected." Josiah shrugged. He hoped the man knew what he was doing, and that his own son would still be around to fight with him, after this was all over. "I didn't think he practiced what he preached."
"Then you are like Chanu. He feels the same way about me."
"Well, maybe when he gets to be my age he'll regret that like I do."
"It is our belief that each person has their own path. I did not honor Chanu's path. I failed in my belief just like your father failed in his. Balance has been lost. We must find it again."
Which was all well and good, but . . . "Can't we find Chanu first and then balance ourselves?"
"I shouldn't preside over this my child's last rites." The Reverend Mosley's voice trembled with grief and anger. "Someone with love in his heart should speak, someone with forgiveness. That's what Claire would've wanted, what God would want, but I am not that person. I have nothing but rage in my heart."
"She was a good girl, Reverend."
Mosley barely acknowledged the attempt at kindness. "I gave everything I had to help those people but that wasn't enough, no. They had to take my darling girl from me. They all ought to burn in hell!"
Mary Travis put a hand on his arm, hoping it would help calm him down before things got too far beyond their control. "Mr. Mosley, please . . .."
But, Mosley ignored her. "There's a murderer who could be hiding on the very reservation where my sweet Claire did her ministering."
"That's right!" Rafe added his own fuel to the fire. "I say we find him! Hang him!"
"No, don't do this!" Mary pleaded. "You can't condemn a whole people for the actions of one."
But, Owen Mosley was beyond reach. "If we allow this atrocity to pass, how many more will we face? Whose child is next to an early grave?"
"Let's smoke 'em out, boys!" Rafe shouted, a blood-thirsty gleam in his eyes.
Around them, many angry voices began to rise, and Mary knew that the worst was about to happen, and it would take a miracle to stop it.
Nathan knew Vin's head was still hurting, even though he kept insisting he was 'fine'. Even so, he allowed the boy to ride along with him to the village -- mostly because he figured if he didn't, Vin would somehow manage to follow him out there anyway. The alternative had been to tie him up and lock him in a closet and he just hadn't been able to do that, this time.
As they neared the village, Vin suddenly went stiff behind him. "Nathan!"
"What? What's wrong?"
"Look!" He pointed to the left, to an outcropping of boulders barely visible through the dense, dried out brush. Nathan dismounted then pulled Vin down and placed the reins in his hands.
"You stay here, Vin," Nathan ordered firmly. "I mean it, now."
Vin nodded, having every intention of obeying as he watched Mr. Nathan move away through the brush. He stood, perfectly still, right where he'd been told to, hardly moving a muscle . . . until Mr. Nathan was out of sight. Then he started to worry.
Nathan silently crept up behind the boy, hoping to take him by surprise. He raised his gun, not really intending to use it, just hoping to keep him from running off again. "I gotta take you in, Chanu."
"Just kill me," Chanu said quietly, without turning around.
"Kill me," Chanu repeated, his voice raising. "Do it."
"I didn't come out here to shoot you," Nathan said, trying to keep his own voice calm.
"Just kill me! I do not care anymore."
"We know you didn't kill her."
At the sound of Vin's soft voice, Nathan instantly regretted not tying him up and leaving him behind. Nathan was about to convey that to the boy when Chanu turned around to face them.
"She is dead because of me." His voice sounded flat, hopeless, but the look he gave them begged for them to deny the words.
"You took her 'cause you wanted to help her," Vin said, knowing now that he was right.
"You gave her medicine," Nathan surmised in a gentle voice. "Not poison."
"She was sick and you were just trying to help her," Vin tried again when Chanu refused to answer. "Weren't you?"
Chanu tried to turn away from them, but Nathan stepped forward and grabbed his shoulders. "Listen to me, son, you're this close to hanging from the end of a rope. Now, tell me what's going on."
Vin didn't think he'd ever seen Mr. Nathan really mad before, but when Chanu raised his chin, still refusing to answer, the usually calm and gentle healer looked almost as scary as Chris did sometimes.
"Why'd you take her away?" Nathan gave him a rough shake. "Tell me, so we can help you, damn it!"
Finally, Chanu's eyes filled with angry, bitter tears. "I didn't hurt her! I loved her! I just wanted to help her! I wanted her to be happy!"
They were quiet, giving him a little time to let out some of the grief he was carrying, and then to gather his wits. But time was running out. "Chanu," Nathan said, when the boy seemed a little more in control. "You got to tell us everything so we can help you."
"I want to go home," he said quietly, as if he didn't mean to say it aloud.
"All right," Nathan agreed. "Do you think you can tell us on the way?"
Chanu looked up with surprise, but he nodded. "Yes."
Meditation was good for the soul, Josiah knew, but he was having a hard time keeping focused. He had no idea how Ko-je could manage to be so still and calm when his son was in so much danger. When he couldn't stand it any longer he cracked open an eyelid and grumbled, "Hope you're getting something 'cause I'm coming up blank."
"You're not listening."
"Been accused of that before." But, to be honest, he wasn't exactly sure what he was supposed to be listening for.
"By your father."
"He tell you that?" Josiah asked, suspiciously.
Ko-je smiled. "Just a lucky guess. He will speak to you when the anger is gone."
"I ain't angry at him." It was hard to stay angry with a person when they weren't around any longer.
Well, he admitted to himself, maybe that was true.
"The spirits say . . . that I should trust you."
"Shoot, I'm with them." Now, maybe they'd get somewhere. "This about Claire Mosley?"
"Yes, and her father."
"What do you mean her father?" he questioned. There was sick feeling in the pit of his stomach - he could almost guess what the chief was about to say.
"My son is not responsible for Claire Mosley's death. He went against my wishes, just as Claire Mosley went against her father's wishes. They are both guilty, but only of choosing their own path."
"Go on. I'm listening."
"Claire Mosley was not well, before she and my son knew each other. Her father brought her here because he believed the warmer . . . climate would be more healthy for her."
Josiah nodded. He'd heard that before. Many folks came west because of the climate.
"Her father would not allow us to help her. In his eyes, our medicine, perhaps all medicine is poison. I told Chanu we must abide by her father's wishes, but . . . children, they do not always listen to their parents."
"No, they surely don't."
Chris was already tired and more than a little frustrated. He and Corcoran had been searching for hours and still hadn't found any sign of the escaped prisoner. There were so many tracks, shod and unshod, that it was hard to tell which might be Chanu's.
They'd decided to head out to the reservation, after stopping in town to check on things. Outside the sheriff's office, he saw Buck and Ezra, standing beside their horses, obviously ready to ride out. "Where you headed?"
"Thought we'd go after a murderer since no one else seems interested," Ezra told him, giving him a look of contempt.
"That's a load of bull."
"Look, Chris," Buck stepped forward, "it ain't right to keep holding off," he reasoned. "We need to find that boy and bring him back and you know it."
Chris was about to agree, and give them the go ahead to get up a posse when an obviously distraught Mary Travis came running toward them.
"Chris! I tried to stop it, but there's too many of them!"
"Stop what, Mrs. Travis?" Ezra asked.
"They're headed for the reservation," she said, breathlessly. "To burn it down."
Chris glanced quickly toward the clinic, thankful that Vin was safe up there, with Nathan. "We better move," he told the rest of the men. "Corcoran, can you stay here? I need someone to keep an eye on things, just in case."
"Alright." Corcoran agreed.
"Mary?" Chris touched Mary's arm. "Can you do me a favor and check on Vin? Tell him I'll see him later?"
Mary tilted her head and gave him a look of confusion. "But, Chris, Nathan headed for the reservation a couple of hours ago, and he took Vin with him."
"We're gonna burn the village to the ground!"
Josiah said a silent prayer as he listened to the angry voices draw nearer.
"We're gonna find that Chanu!"
"I got my rope. I can't wait to hang him."
Ko-je smiled serenely as the threat grew more imminent. Josiah glanced incredulously from the mob, to the calm, peaceful man beside him. "I don't see as there's much to smile at, Ko-je."
"Things are as they should be," the chief assured. "The spirits have sent help."
"Help?" JD asked, worried as he clutched Josiah's leg.
"I told you to stay inside, JD." Josiah gave him a gentle nudge toward the tent he'd been ordered to stay in. "Go."
JD disappeared into the tent, just as Rafe Mosley, all spit and vinegar, approached them. "Where's Chanu?"
"Chanu is not here," Ko-je answered with amazing calm.
"Tell us where he is!" the kid demanded.
Josiah wasn't sure what good one man could do against a bloodthirsty crowd, but he had to try something. "You good Samaritans ought to think about taking this party out of here."
"You call yourself a man of God but you're a heathen!"
He'd heard those words before, in an almost identical voice. So, he said what he wished he'd have said, all those years ago, and surprised himself when he felt no bitterness, or resentment. "Well, we can't all be as pure as you. Can we, Mr. Mosley?"
"I'm going to search this reservation till I find him, and then I'm going to find a tall tree," Rafe announced, feeding the frenzy. "Come on, boys! Let's tear this place apart!"
Buck waited for the right moment, then he and Ezra stepped forward, cocked their weapons. "You folks go on home. There's nothing here for you."
"Don't let these gun slinging scoundrels prevent justice!" Reverend Mosley roared. "They're sinners! All of them!"
Ezra couldn't help but smirk. "Was that intended as an insult?"
Buck feigned a look of insult. "I believe it was."
Rafe suddenly stopped in the middle of the chaos and jabbed a finger in the air. "Pa! It's him!"
Buck glanced in the direction Rafe's finger pointed, and to his astonishment, there was Nathan walking beside the young Indian. When he noticed the small familiar figure walking between them, he suddenly felt his chest constrict and couldn't seem to pull enough air into his lungs. Good God! What the hell was Vin doing in the middle of all this?
"Buck! Buck! They got Chanu!" JD exclaimed and Buck nearly fainted dead away when the second boy dashed toward him, hollering his name. All he could do was grab this one and shove him behind his back, but Vin --
"Chanu didn't kidnap Claire!" Vin shouted in a surprisingly loud, authoritative-sounding voice.
Chris swore, his gut churning at the sight of Vin riding in to the camp. If the boy didn't get himself shot, Chris planned to shoot him as soon as they got home.
"That's right!" Nathan called out, stepping in front of Vin, hoping to draw attention to himself. "The two of them ran off together."
"How dare you!" Reverend Mosley roared, instantly silencing everyone.
"You got proof?" Chris asked Nathan, somehow managing to sound calm and in control.
"Just the truth," Vin declared, pushing past Nathan again. Chris decided that first he'd bend him over his knee and then he'd shoot him. And then he'd shoot Nathan.
"You said Claire was poisoned by Chanu, but she weren't poisoned by nobody!"
Nathan put his hand on Vin's shoulder and gave him a meaningful look. "Is this the poison you're talking about?" He held out the flask for everyone to see.
"We aren't going to listen to this, are we, boys?" Rafe yelled, trying to get the crowd going again.
"This is the same remedy I've given most of you. Herbs and roots for pain, or a cough." He uncapped it and took a swig. "There ain't nothing poisonous in here, or you'd all be dead."
"Claire was already sick, wasn't she?" Vin spoke up again, looking straight at the reverend.
"That's a lie!"
"Didn't you come out here hoping the clean air would make her better?" Nathan repeated what Chanu had told them, trying to keep any accusation out of his voice.
"No," Mosley vehemently denied. "It's a lie!"
"They tried to help her," Vin said sadly, "but you wouldn't let them."
"We don't need any help from these heathens!"
Now it was Chanu who stepped forward and spoke, his words and face filled with grief and despair. "You locked her in her room! You wouldn't let her have food or water! You--" He lunged for the reverend, but was quickly hauled back and restrained by his father. Ko-je wrapped his arms around his son and pulled him into a firm embrace.
The reverend seemed stunned for a moment, then he cocked his head and turned intense eyes to the crowd, as if beseeching them to understand. "Prayer and fasting . . . to purify the soul."
"Going without food and water is the last thing that girl needed," Nathan said with authority. "She needed rest and care. The medicine they offered her, the medicine Chanu gave her probably helped a little with that cough she had, maybe took away any pain she mighta been feeling."
Chris watched as the 'good' reverend's rage rekindled itself.
"In the name of the Lord, I'll send him to the devil where he belongs!"
Nobody, except Chris, was expecting Mosley to draw a revolver from his coat and aim it in Chanu's direction.
There was one shot then Mosley dropped the gun and fell to his knees, groaning and clutching his freshly wounded hand.
"Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," Josiah quoted, walking closer to the reverend. "In front of God and all us sinners tell us she didn't beg for your help."
"No! No. You're wrong! She was fine until we got here! He poisoned her!"
Josiah had a sudden flash of memory. His own sister's punishment and enforced penance. "Tell us you didn't beat her, lock her in a dark room for days at a time, with no food or water, alone, sick, with no one to care for her."
"Spare the rod, spoil the child! Any punishment that I meted out was for Claire's own good! It was his fault!" he tried to reason, but it was easy to see that the crowd was no longer with him.
Rafe stepped forward, his anger replaced with bewilderment. "Pa?"
"Rafe, it isn't what you think! He corrupted her! He turned her against us! Against God! He poisoned her mind and her body! He's a demon from hell!"
"You kept saying if she was good, if she just had more faith she'd get better, but Claire was the best person I ever knew. You were wrong. You're the one that killed her!"
Josiah could hardly stand to watch any longer. He put a hand on Rafe's shoulder then gestured toward Mosley. "Take him to the jail, for now."
"Let's go, Mr. Mosley." Josiah watched as Mosley was led away. It was doubtful that he'd ever go to trial, but it would do his soul some good to see the man sit behind bars, for a spell -- at least until the judge got there. And after that . . . well, word of mouth traveled fast. He imagined by the time the story got around to everyone, the reverend would be guilty of strangling his own daughter with his bare hands.
He thought of Claire Mosley, and of his own sister, and wondered which of them was better off. Then he glanced at Rafe, who was standing still, looking younger and more helpless than Josiah had ever seen him look. He'd always regretted the mistakes he'd made in his youth. Now, as he looked at Rafe Mosley, he wondered if the lessons he'd learned from those mistakes could turn out to be a sort of redemption, after all.
Buck had squeezed then scolded both of the boys, and now he stood a few feet away from Vin, watching as the boy admired the small leather bag Chanu placed around his neck.
"Vin? Whatchya got there, pard?"
Vin walked over to him, beaming as he held up the adornment for Buck to see. "It's a medicine bag. Chanu said it'll help protect me."
"Well now," the image of Vin walking into the angry mob popped into his head, "I reckon a man can't ever get enough of that."
"And it'll give me strength."
"Huh." Buck glanced over at Chris. "I reckon that might come in handy, too."
Vin followed his gaze and gulped. "Yeah, reckon it might."
"So, uh, where's JD?"
"Well, he's riding back with Josiah. They were having some sort of deep discussion, something about sweaty houses and burning clothes."
"So, you want to ride back with me?"
Vin glanced at Chris again. After everything had settled down, Chris had hugged him real tight, for a long, long time, and when he'd pulled back, Vin had thought he saw tears in Chris' eyes. Then Chris had told him he loved him, which had made him feel real happy. In fact, he couldn't rightly remember a time when he'd felt as happy as he had at that moment. But then Chris had gone and ruined it all by telling him how much trouble he was gonna be in as soon as they got home, and how it was unlikely he'd be able to sit comfortable anytime soon.
At the moment, Chris' expression seemed even blacker than his clothes. "Uh . . . yeah, okay. Thanks, Buck."
The seven mounted up and Chris led them leisurely out of the camp. JD was settled in front of Josiah on the saddle, still trying to convince him that people shouldn't have to wear clothes if they didn't want to.
As they passed Ko-je and his sons, Josiah saluted the chief, at the same moment the feather JD had been wearing in his hair came loose. "My feather!" he shouted, lurching sideways and almost sending them both to the ground. Josiah managed to grab the feather while keeping them both in the saddle, then he looked at Ko-je and grinned. "Good thing I got my balance back."
Next: Interlude: Leaving Town