Part 3
Chris and Buck had just left the saloon and were making their way to the hotel when Chris suddenly stopped dead in his tracks, a stunned look on his face. Following his gaze, Buck looked in the direction of the hotel.

Vin and Ezra had just come through the hotel doors. Vin was laughing at something and Ezra slapped him on the back, his gold tooth glistening as he grinned.

"Well I’ll be a beavers chewin’ log!" Buck uttered in amazement.

Chris couldn’t help but smile at that.

"Maybe Josiah was right Buck, looks like Ezra and Vin had a nice l’il chat don’t it?"

"Sure does ol’ pard." Buck grinned.

Chris made a mental note to ask Vin about the night’s events in the morning. That’s if he’d tell him. Damn sorry excuse for a Texan could clamp his mouth shut like his lips had been sewn together if he didn’t want to share his business with anyone. Yep, he was gonna keep a very close eye on this turn of events. He could not help but think that things were going to take a downhill slide where this was concerned.

He continued to watch as Vin and Ezra went their separate ways. Vin headed for his wagon and Ezra made his way towards them. As he passed them he tipped his hat. "Good evening Gentlemen" he said, a satisfied smile on his face, as he headed for the saloon.

"Gonna get yerself a headache screwin’ up yer forehead like that ol’ friend."

Buck’s voice penetrated Chris’s thoughts and looking at Buck he replied "Yeah, and you’ll get a headache when the bullet from my gun hits yers pard."

Slapping his hand on Chris’s back, Buck threw his head back and laughed as they walked on and entered the hotel. It was time for sleep. It had been a long, hard day.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was thankful it was getting light outside as he lay in his wagon, staring up at the canvas roof. He had been awake most of the night. He was still a little wary of closing his eyes, afraid of what would happen if he did, and so had determined to stay awake, every now and again jumping as his tired body tried to shut down.

He had been thinking on Ezra’s suggestion as he waited for daylight. Changing from disbelief that he had allowed himself to be talked into such a crazy idea, to hope that it might just work and he would be able to finally rest easy and get the sleep he so badly needed, without the threat of another onslaught of bad nightmares.

Vin heard movement outside the wagon. His brow furrowed for a moment and then his expression relaxed as he sensed who the intruder was. He grinned.

The canvas at the back of the wagon was pulled aside and a black clad figure began to climb in.

"Ya could knock ya know." Vin drawled, raising his hand to shield his eyes from the daylight that entered the wagon through the drawn back canvas.

Chris glanced at the tracker as he finished climbing into the wagon and, noticing his discomfort, he released the material, closing out the offending light.

"Would if ya had a door cowboy," he replied, sitting down.

Vin gave the gunslinger what Chris had come to refer to as the ‘Tanner Look’ and snorted. "Them’s ma clothes yer sittin’ on pard," he drawled.

Chris nodded his head. "Mighty comfy they are too." He said, shifting around to get more settled.

"Iffen ya crease ‘em ya can dang well get ‘em straightened out agin’."

Chris looked at Vin and grinned. "Hell Vin! Since when did you worry about whether yer clothes were creased."

"What ya tryin’ ta say?" Vin pushed himself up onto his elbows, noting the headache that still persisted from the day before. He closed his eyes until the thudding in his head turned to a dull throb.

"D’ya get any sleep last night?" Chris asked, noticing the circles under Vin’s eyes.

"Iffen I did or didn’t s’got nothin’ ta do with you." Vin was a little angry at the question. Hell! He didn’t need a nursemaid!

Chris sighed, closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead with his hand. Looking back at Vin he said "Look, I didn’t come here for a slangin’ match Vin. I wanted to have a talk with ya."

"What about?" Vin knew what it was about but he didn’t want to make this too easy. Then maybe folks wouldn’t be so quick to pry into things that didn’t concern them.

Chris was getting exasperated. He had seen Vin in this mood before and it did not bode well.

"Look Vin. I’m just worried for ya is all." He held the trackers gaze. "After what happened in the saloon last night, and then I saw you and Ezra leaving the hotel mighty friendly an’ all. Well, I just wanted to know you was okay."

Vin broke the eye contact with his friend, looking anywhere but at the concerned face staring at him. He knew Chris wanted to help but for some reason he just couldn’t open up to him. Not yet.

"I’m workin’ through it." Was all he said.

Chris’s heart sank. He knew he wasn’t going to get anything out of Vin right now and it hurt him. Yes, it hurt to think that he was not helping his friend but Ezra obviously was.

"Ezra’s helpin’ ya?"

Vin was not ready to share any information with anyone yet. Not even Chris.

"Yeah. He’s teachin’ me how ta beatcha at poker." The mischievous look in Vin’s eyes made Chris grin.

"It’ll never happen pard."

Chris stood, making the wagon rock slightly at the sudden movement.

"I’m gettin’ breakfast. Gonna join me or are ya gonna lay here all day?" he asked.

"I reckon I could eat some breakfast." Vin replied pushing himself to his feet. A wave of dizziness caused him to grab the side of the wagon.

"Hell Vin, I’ve seen dead horse’s lookin’ better than you cowboy." Chris remarked.

Vin glared at him. "Yer full o’ nice things ta say aintcha?"

Chris said nothing as they climbed from the wagon.

"I’m tired is all. Ain’t slept much lately." Vin added as they began to walk.

Chris, walking alongside Vin, gave him a sideways glance. "Ya gonna be alright cowboy?"

"Yeah, I think I am Chris," replied Vin, hoping Chris knew that meant he didn’t have to worry. "I’m gettin’ it worked out."

"I’m glad pard." Chris said as they entered the saloon. Surprised at the feeling of jealousy he felt once again, knowing it was Ezra who was helping Vin and not him.

+ + + + + + +

The next few days were hard on everyone. Vin was distant and had a haunted look in his eyes and Chris was beginning to think that he had been right and Ezra had just made matters worse.

Ezra was thinking the same thing. Now and again the Vin everybody had come to know would emerge from behind the hooded blue eyes, but most of the time Vin took himself off on his own. He never used a lot of words, but lately he had spoken even less, and when he did there was a hint of something no-one could put a name to in his voice. Desperation maybe? Ezra was hoping he had not made Vin’s problem worse. He was pretty sure Vin was thinking about the poem and so was reliving all the events he was trying so hard to extinguish.

In some areas nothing had changed. Buck was still persistent at trying to help JD with the love letter he wanted to write to Casey, and JD was still adamant he wanted to do it alone. So they fought on and off all the time. It was on one of these occasions when things took a turn. Whether it was for better or worse remained to be seen.

"JD. I know it’s hard to accept help, ya want ta write it yerself. But I really can help." Buck was brow beating the young sheriff again as six of the seven peacekeepers were seated once again in the saloon. Vin had been notable by his absence as was usual over the last couple of days.

"Too late Buck, I wrote it already." Five pairs of eyes turned to look at JD.

"Ya have Brother? Well done Boy!" Josiah exclaimed slapping JD on the back.

Buck would not be put off. "Well alright then. Show me." He said.

"Nah. It’s between me and Casey." JD smirked. "Now for once and for all, leave it alone Buck."

Buck was about to open his mouth with another retort when a growl came from his left.

"That’s enough Buck. Ya heard ‘im, now leave it be before I take the damn letter and make ya eat it!"

Chris had had enough of the subject. He had been listening to it on and off for a week and it was playing on his nerves. He had other things on his mind. He missed the quiet, calming influence of Vin. Vin managed, without hardly saying a word, to help him keep his temper under control and his blood from boiling. The elusiveness of the tracker had taken its toll on Chris too.

"Can’t do that Chris. I’ve only got one copy and I don’t wanna have to write it again." Everyone turned to look at JD who was staring calmly back at the gunslinger. He gulped, suddenly realising that he could be playing with fire here.

Chris glared back at him.

JD opened his mouth to speak, but only managed to issue squeaks.

Nathan thought it was time to calm everyone down.

"Now alright, all of ya." He began. He did not get any further as the exchange was interrupted by a new addition to the saloon.

Vin stepped inside the dark interior and immediately spotted the other six men at their usual table.

Hell! Just my luck, they’re all here! He thought, as he took faltering steps towards the men. They watched him approach. He had been so elusive lately that they all wanted to check out how he was doing. They were not too happy with what they saw. Dark rings were under his eyes and his brow was furrowed like he was 100 years old. He walked slouched over and it was clear to all of them that he was carrying a heavy burden on his young shoulders.

"Here. Sit down afore ya fall down!" said Nathan as Vin approached, pulling out the empty chair beside him.

"Thank ya kindly Nathan." Vin drawled. His chest tightening as he realised the interest he had created by his presence.

Looking from one to the other of the men he leaned back in his chair.

"Yer lives so borin’ ya gotta stare at folk?" he asked.

"Hell! We was just wonderin’ who took our young lively Vin and put an old cowpoke in his place." Buck’s eyes sparkled as he uttered the quick response.

JD’s eyes widened in disbelief at the brass of the scoundrel. Vin could shoot him where he sat! But he wouldn’t. He knew that. Buck was his friend.

Vin reached forward in his chair and picked up the beer in front of Nathan.

"Mebbe the same person that told ya ta grow that moustache yer sportin’ there pard. I reckon he’s got a sense o’ humour!" Vin leaned back once again in his chair and took a long swig of the beer.

Five men erupted into laughter at Vin’s words. He certainly hadn’t lost his ability at sharp wit, that was for sure.

Ezra remained silent, an unreadable look on his face. He was worried. He had caught the fleeting glance Vin had placed on him during the last exchange. Did he want to talk to him? Maybe this was it and the tracker had finally decided that Ezra had put him through enough and he was going to take him somewhere quiet and shoot him.

Chris had noticed the glance too. Only he could read it better than Ezra. Vin wanted to talk and was trying to figure out how to do it without drawing too much attention. He wished, not for the first time, that he knew what was going on and what the big secret was. But he figured he’d find out eventually.

"So Vin. Where ya bin hidin’ yerself?" Buck’s voice broke into Chris’s thoughts and he glared at his old friend for his untactfulness.

"Ain’t bin hidin’, bin around and about all the time." Vin drawled, taking another long sip of beer.

"Well, I would love to sit and make conversation with all of you but I find I need some fresh air."

Ezra stood up, pushing his chair away from the table. He could feel a tension in the room that had arrived with Vin. He did not know if he was part of the problem, but knew he could not remain there any longer. Tapping his hat at no-one in particular he walked from the saloon.

"Well, what’s got Ezra’s britches in a knot?" Nathan questioned. "He couldn’t get outta here fast enough."

Vin leaned forward and placed the beer he had been drinking on the table. "Don’t know if it’s what’s botherin’ Ez, but it is kinda stuffy in here. Reckon I’m outta here too." He stood up, purposely not meeting Chris’s eyes, and left the saloon.

The five remaining men sat in silence for a few seconds.

"Well. Wonder what that was about?" JD was as inquisitive as ever.

"Dunno kid. It’s gettin’ more curious around here every day." Buck replied, noticing that a new tension had replaced the old. Glancing at Chris he found the source. The gunslinger was sitting rigid in his chair, looking at his beer and grasping the glass so tightly Buck was afraid it would shatter.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra stood on the boardwalk outside the saloon and took a long deep breath. The fresh air was cool on his face and the tension began to leave his taut body. He began strolling along the street, taking more deep breaths.

"Thought we’d never find a way outta there, Ez."

Ezra’s heart jumped into his throat and he felt his whole body leave the ground at the sound of Vin’s voice over his shoulder. He closed his eyes and concentrated on catching his breath before turning to face the tracker.

"Mr Tanner…….er..Vin. I would like to request that, for the good of my health, you will refrain from sneaking up behind a person."

Vin grinned, his heart lighter than it had been for the past hour. "Sorry Ez. Just the way I am I reckon. But ah will try and…." He thought for a moment. "….refrain from sneaking up on ya."

"I would be most grateful." Ezra replied. "Now Mr…….Vin. Why would you wish us to leave the saloon?"

"I’m ready Ez." Vin looked intently at the gambler.

Realisation and relief struck Ezra all at once. "Aah! You are ready to dictate your verse to me."

"Yeah, I am." Vin’s voice became quiet and his eyes dulled a little. "But I don’t want any folk around."

"Of course Mr…..oh heavens……Vin. We must find somewhere private." He thought for a moment. "How about our favourite rooftop?"

"Sounds fine ta me Ez." Vin clapped his hand on Ezra’s shoulder as they headed for the hotel.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah looked around the table at the other four peacekeepers. Dear Lord! Please let this turn out favourably! He thought as his eyes rested on Chris. His position had not altered since Vin had left the saloon. You could almost cut the tension with a knife.

"What time do we have to meet at the sheriffs office Chris?" Josiah asked, hoping to distract the gunslinger.

Chris’s head snapped up. He had been so far away in his thoughts that he’d forgotten where he was. He was annoyed at himself for letting the situation with Vin get to him. Vin was a grown man. He could handle his own problems in his own way. He knew where Chris was if he needed him, and obviously, right now, he didn’t. He just wished he could get rid of the feeling of impending doom.

"In an hour I reckon." He said, looking at Josiah.

"Should someone go tell Vin and Ezra?" asked Nathan.

"If anyone can find ‘em." JD added. He was fed up with all of the strange atmospheres around lately. Sometimes he felt out of the loop. Like everyone else knew something he didn’t, and he didn’t like it. He was one of the seven wasn’t he? So why couldn’t he figure out what was going on like the rest of them obviously could. Or so he thought.

"They won’t be far away JD". Chris said looking at the young sheriff. "They know about the meeting."

JD sighed and nodded. Yeah, he was definitely out of the loop.

+ + + + + + +

Vin and Ezra had managed to sidle past everyone at the hotel and got themselves seated on the roof without being spotted.

Ezra took a notebook from his pocket and, looking at it, his heart sank.

"Em…..Vin. I must apologise for my stupidity. I should have ensured that I had something to write with before proceeding to the roof."

Vin closed his eyes and sighed heavily, causing his chest to tighten. He could feel a tightness ascending up his throat, he leaned forward and was soon consumed in a coughing fit which caused a fine film of sweat to form on his face.

Ezra went to his knees at Vin’s side, rubbing his hand over the sharpshooters back as he had seen Nathan do before.

"Vin? Are you alright? Should I go and fetch Nathan?" he asked in concern as he continued to rub Vin’s back.

Vin continued to cough but raised his hand to indicate he did not want Ezra to find Nathan. He needed that like a hole in the head. In fact, right now, he would prefer a hole in the head!

The coughing eventually subsided and he leaned back once more against the wall, resting his head against the cold stone.

Ezra remained kneeling beside him, watching him intently to ensure he was alright. "Vin, I apologise profusely if my stupidity caused you this discomfort."

"It’s alright Ez." Vin rasped, almost afraid to speak in case it aggravated his throat again. "It’s not yer doin’, I felt it comin’ on fer a coupla days. This dang chill’s hauntin’ me, it’s left me one heck of a cough."

"You can say that again my friend." Said Ezra, moving to once again sit beside Vin. He picked up the note pad he had dropped to the floor when he had gone to Vin’s aid, and put it back in his pocket.

"I don’t know if I can hold myself together much longer Ezra. I need to get this out now."

The pain in the raspy voice made Ezra flinch, and he mentally kicked himself for not thinking of ensuring he had a writing implement.

"Vin. I can’t promise I will get the words exact, but, if you relay them to me now, as soon as we extricate ourselves from this place, I promise you I will immediately write them on paper."

Vin felt relief flood through him. He knew if he didn’t do this now he never would. "Ez, as long as it’s close, it’s good enough fer me pard." He closed his eyes, concentrating on holding down the cough he could feel crackling on his chest.

Ezra nodded. "Whenever you are ready, my friend." He said, sensing that Vin was struggling with more than his emotions. Lord! He wished he would go and see Nathan about that cough.

"I’m ready Ez." Vin knew what he wanted to say and only wanted to say it once so he hoped Ezra was paying attention.

"As I am, Vin." Replied Ezra, closing his mind to everything else in the hope that he would remember the words Vin was about to relate to him.

"Like a breath of wind on a warm summers day, you enfolded me with your arms and sent the monsters away." Vin’s voice came in a hoarse whisper as he continued. "Then you were gone. The blue sky faded, the white clouds turned stormy…"

Ezra’s heart clenched as he continued to take in the words Vin was relaying to him, and he knew that they were words he would never forget and would have no trouble transferring to paper from where they were embedded in his memory.

+ + + + + + +

Buck let out a slow relieved breath as he saw the two men leave the hotel. He headed quickly towards them, calling to them as he went.

Ezra and Vin spun around as they heard their names being called.

"What is the panic Mr Wilmington?" asked Ezra as the scoundrel reached them.

"Darn it you two. I’ve been lookin’ all over for ya. There’s a meetin’ in the jail you should be at."

"Heck, I fergot all about that." Vin exclaimed. He removed his hat and ran his forearm along his brow. Replacing his hat he looked at Ezra. "Sorry Ez. S’my fault."

"On the contrary Mr Tanner. I am about to make it worse." Looking at Buck he added "I have urgent business at the newspaper office Mr Wilmington. You two go ahead and I shall be there momentarily."

"Ez. Ya don’t have ta do that now." Vin knew Ezra did not like to face Chris’s wrath and did not want his problems to cause the gambler strife.

"Oh Mr Tanner, indeed I do." Replied Ezra as he tipped his hat and walked off in the direction of the newspaper office.

"Well hell and tarnation! What we gonna tell Chris?" Buck was exasperated.

"I’ll handle Chris." Vin said tightly as he tried to control another cough. "Let’s go afore the jail explodes!"

+ + + + + + +

Chris’s head snapped around as he heard Buck’s laughter outside the door. His eyes were sparking with fury as the door opened and Buck and Vin entered, both laughing.

"Glad yer havin’ fun." He ground out as he eyed the two men standing in the doorway.

"No ya ain’t, yer mad as hell at us." Rasped Vin. Not being able to hold back the cough any longer, he leaned his hand against the door frame as another bout of coughing racked his body.

"Hell and damnation Vin Tanner! When ya ever gonna learn." Nathan rushed to Vin’s side, grabbing his arm and patting him on the back.

Vin turned watery eyes on the healer as he finally got the coughing under control.

"Ain’t never gonna Nate. Jist ain’t in ma nature." He managed to rasp as a chair was dragged along the floor and he was pushed into it.

He looked up to see Chris’s steely gaze on him. Hell, he wasn’t gonna be intimidated by some ornery gunslinger! Reaching in his pocket he pulled out his harmonica.

"Now Vin. I don’t think that’s wise after what jist happened." Nathan admonished, reaching for the instrument.

Vin drew his hand away. "’m fine Nathan," he drawled. "B’sides, we gotta wait on Ezra, so we can’t start the meetin’ yet." He looked past Nathan to stare straight at Chris.

Chris’s eyes flashed with anger for a second and then his anger dissolved as he took in the look on Vin’s face. Defiance. Playfulness. Damn tracker was playing with him! He saw Vin raise the harmonica to his mouth.

"Oh boy!" he said in almost a whisper as he waited for the noise to erupt from the instrument.

"I gotta practice to get it jist right." Vin’s eyes never left Chris’s face as he began to play random notes from the harmonica.

"Then Mr Tanner, you will be practising into eternity."

All eyes turned to the doorway where Ezra stood, looking slightly flustered. Vin lowered his harmonica and grinned. "Hell Ezra! Ya look worried about somethin’. What’s troublin’ ya pard?" Vin’s eyes sparkled with mirth. He had not felt this good for a long time. Now, if he could only get rid of the cough.

Ezra gave Vin an exasperated look and went to close the door.

"Leave it open would ya Ezra? It’s too darn hot in here." Buck asked.

Ezra shrugged and moved into the room, his eyes finding Chris’s, and he was surprised to see that there was no threat in them.

"Well now maybe we can begin." Chris said, picking up some paper from the desk.

Everyone’s attention was once again drawn to Vin as he began coughing again.

"Vin, ya need some of the herbal tea I got in the clinic." Nathan was kneeling beside the chair Vin was seated in.

Vin swallowed and got himself under control. "After the meetin’ Nathan, I promise." He said. "Go ahead Chris, I won’t interrupt no more."

Chris looked hard at Vin, the concern showing in his face. Finally he nodded and continued. He handed some pieces of paper to Buck to pass around the room.

"These men have been robbing banks in the area. They’ve been heading this way, so we gotta be ready for ‘em." Chris paused and looked around the room. "They’ve been shooting up the town’s too, left a few casualties behind ‘em so the Judge wants ‘em caught fast before anyone’s killed."

Just then the telegraph officer ran through the door and handed Chris another piece of paper.

"It was urgent Mr Larabee. Thought you should have it right away."

"Thankyou." Chris’s eyes dismissed the telegraph officer who left quickly.

The men waited patiently as Chris read the message. They were all a little fidgety, it was hot in the confined space of the sheriffs office. Ezra took a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his face.

"What’s this I see? Ezra sweating?" Buck teased.

"My dear Mr Wilmington. A gentleman does not sweat. He perspires." Ezra retorted placing the handkerchief back in his pocket.

They all grinned except Chris who had been reading the telegram. Looking up from the paper he said "Panic over, they caught ‘em in Eagle Bend."

"So the meetin’s over?" Nathan asked.

"Looks that way." replied Chris.

"Good! Then I can take Vin to the clinic and give him some of my tea."

Vin groaned. "Nate. I ain’t coughed for a while now. ’m sure it’s fine."

"Go Vin." Chris’s voice begged no arguments, not even from Vin.

"Alrighty, I’m goin’. Hell! S’like bein’ ten years old agin."

Vin was still complaining as he and Nathan left the jail.

Buck moved away from the wall he had been leaning against and made his way towards where Ezra and JD were standing. "Hell JD! Don’t ya ever tidy this place? Paper all over the floor." He said as he stooped down between the two men and picked up a piece of paper lying on the floor.

Turning it over he glanced over it. "Hey! JD! Looks like I’m gonna git to read that letter of yers after all boy!"

"Give it here Buck, I’m warnin’ ya. Don’t!" JD exclaimed in panic, wondering how the hell he’d managed to drop it.

Buck sidestepped. Holding the paper over his head he began to read it aloud.

+ + + + + + +

Vin and Nathan had not gone far when Vin suddenly stopped.

"Now Vin, come on. Ya know ya need help with that cough. Now don’t go givin’ me any trouble."

"I won’t Nathan." Vin replied, preoccupied. He felt in his pockets. "Aw heck! I’ve left ma harmonica. I’ll be along Nate, jist gotta go git it."

Nathan sighed as he watched Vin head back towards the jail. Damn stubborn fool! If he laid as much thought to his health as he did to that darn harmonica he wouldn’t be so sick now!

+ + + + + + +

"Like a breath of wind on a warm summers day, you enfolded me with your arms". Buck read from the paper. Looking at JD he said "Hey kid! This ain’t half bad!"

JD looked puzzled.

Ezra’s eyes widened in horror as Buck began to read. His hands went to his pockets. All he found was a handkerchief where the paper he had put there earlier had been. Oh God! It must have fallen out when he took out the handkerchief! Realisation hit him like a thunderbolt. He stepped forward as Buck continued to read.

"You enfolded me in your arms and sent the monsters away."

"Buck stop!" Ezra’s legs were like lead. He couldn’t seem to move as quickly as he wanted to.

Chris looked on, a frown on his face. He knew that something was not quite right here.

"Then you were gone…" Buck continued, creasing his eyes to make out the scrawled words. "The blue sky faded, the white clouds turned stormy…" Buck’s brows furrowed. This didn’t sound like a love letter.

Just at that moment their eyes were drawn to the doorway, where Vin stood, his body tense. His face was etched in a pain so intense it seemed like it was going to seep out through all the pores in his body like a smoky black fog from hell.

Chris stood up from where he had been seated in the chair. "Vin?"

There was no response.

Ezra walked towards the tracker. "Vin, let me explain." He said as he reached for Vin’s arm.

Vin turned his gaze to Ezra, who could almost see Vin’s eyes flashing with the anger he saw there. Before Ezra knew what was happening Vin made a fist, pulled back his arm and sent a heavy blow to Ezra’s jaw, sending him sprawling on the floor.

The other men rushed to help him up, all dazed and confused at what was unfolding before their eyes.

Seeing Vin turn on his heel and walk away, Chris ran to catch up with him.

"Vin." He said reaching for his arm.

Vin spun around. "Jist let go o’ me Chris. Now." Vin spat out, his voice quiet and lethal.

"What’s going on Vin?" Chris tried again.

Vin replied in a low growling drawl. " Leave me be Chris. I mean it." He wrenched his arm free from Chris’s grasp and stalked up the street.

Chris knew better than to follow. He would let him calm down first. But what the hell was going on? Looking back towards the jail, his fists clenched tightly at his sides , he made his way back there. The townspeople parted as he approached, running to escape the hurricane that was Chris Larabee.

+ + + + + + +

Everyone back at the jail was stunned as they helped Ezra to his feet.

"What the hell just happened?" Asked Buck, the paper still in his hand.

"Buck. The poem isn’t mine." JD was sure he had figured out what had happened.

"No it’s not!" Ezra stated snatching the paper from Buck’s hand. "It’s Vin’s."

The realisation of what he had done struck Buck like a bullet. He felt like he had been gutshot. A pain started to form in his chest like a herd of wild buffalo had stampeded over him. "Oh God! Oh God! What have I done?" he whispered as he reached for a chair and sat down.

Chris had heard what had just taken place from the doorway. With a growl from deep in his throat he lunged at Buck, grabbing him by his clothes and pinning him against the wall.

"When will ya ever learn Buck?" he growled into the scoundrels face.

"I didn’t know Chris, I swear. I thought it was JD’s. You were here. You heard."

Chris stared hard into Buck’s face. He knew he shouldn’t be mad at him, but he needed to vent his anger somewhere and Buck was the likely choice. He would talk to Ezra later he decided, as he caught sight of the gambler rubbing his jaw. By God he would get to the bottom of this! But now he needed to find Vin. He pulled Buck away from the wall, glaring at him, and slammed him against it again before releasing him and heading out of the jail.

+ + + + + + +

Vin headed for the livery. He felt hot with rage and humiliation. Ezra had done it again. He had played him for a fool and, boy, did he have success! Well, no-one would have a chance to hurt him again. He was getting out. Now!

He entered the livery, hot tears stinging his eyes, and welcomed the cool air inside and the dark interior.

As he headed towards his horse he was racked by another fit of coughing. Heck! He could do with some of Nathan’s tea right now! When the coughing subsided, he continued towards his horse.

As he reached the stall he noticed Chris’s saddle hanging on the wall.

Chris would follow him, he was sure of that. But he didn’t want anyone to find him. Taking out his knife he reached for Chris’s saddle and cut the girth, making sure that Chris would see it had been cut. The last thing he wanted was for Chris to have an accident. But it would slow him down some while he searched for another saddle. He stroked the soft leather of the saddle, a feeling of regret in his heart. "Goodbye cowboy." He whispered.

He wrenched himself away and began hastily saddling his horse. Climbing up into the saddle he rode out of the livery and out of town.

He didn’t look back.


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