Meanwhile, back at the hotel, Grundy was keeping an eye on the bank. At last he saw the workmen gathering their sawhorse and other equipment and walking off.
He turned and strode over to his bag on the dresser. Extracting a pouch, he was about to do something with it, when there was a knock at the door.
"Its me! Buck!" a voice called.
"Just a minute," Grundy replied, hurriedly repacking the pouch into his war bag Then he moved to the door, gun in hand. "Wilmington?" he inquired.
"Yes! All right open up," Buck urged. Worry added touch of exasperation to his voice at the delay.
Grundy complied, commenting, "No use taking any chances."
"Vin been back yet? Buck asked, as he entered the room.
"No, isnt he with you?"
"No, we split up."
"Well, I havent seen him since you left."
"He was supposed to meet me back here twenty minutes ago. I went lookin for him, but couldnt find him."
"Any sign of the Kerrigans?"
"No," Buck answered shortly, his mind preoccupied with Vin.
"Well, their times running out."
"Huh?" Buck questioned distractedly.
"Nearly two-thirty. The bankll be opening up."
However, at that moment Grundys bank draft was well down the list of the ladies mans priorities. "What the devils keeping Vin!" Buck exclaimed worriedly. Hell, Chrisll kill me if anythins happened to Vin, he thought.
+ + + + + + +
Still playing around on an old wagon and abandoned crates, the two boys stopped their game and silently watched the three grimfaced men stride purposefully from the storage building. As soon as they were out of sight, the lads hurried inside, full of curiosity to see what was in there. They immediately spotted Vin lying flat on his back barely moving. Quickly they turned and ran for help.
+ + + + + + +
Back at the hotel, Buck and Matt continued to discuss the situation.
"Seems to me," Grundy commented, "if thered been any shooting wed have heard it."
"Maybe they surprised him. Jumped him," Buck suggested.
"No, folks would have seen that. Wed know by now or wed have heard something."
Buck frowned. "I dont like it, Matt. Its been almost an hour already."
"You want me to go look around?" Grundy offered.
"No, you stay here. Wait til that bank opens."
Just at that moment, the irate tones of the hotel; manager were heard through the door. "Wilmington, I know youre inside. Open this door!" He knocked hard. "Wilmington!"
Annoyed, Buck flung open the door. "Now what do ya want, Firth?" he snapped.
"Will you please tell me what is going on here?"
Buck fought down a rude retort and tried a placating comment. "Now look well be out of this in a little while."
However, the self-important man was not so easily appeased. "Well, I guarantee the sheriff will hear about this. Shooting! Jeopardizing the lives of the hotel guests! No telling what "
He was cut off in full flow, when Grundy emerged from the room and snarled menacingly, "What do you want, little man?"
"Wh-Wh-Whos this?" the manager quaked, cowering back before the man.
"Hes a friend of mine visitin me in my hotel room, which I paid for," Buck added for emphasis.
"Well, Im refunding your money. Take him and your other friend Tanner and get out of here."
"Vin?" Buck questioned, grabbing the man by the lapels in his urgent need for information about the tracker
"Hes outside. Whatever the trouble is its fallen on his head," the manager observed with malicious pleasure.
+ + + + + + +
Buck started along the corridor heading for the front door. "Not that way. The side alley entrance," the manager sneered. "I certainly couldnt let him go through the lobby," he added self-righteously.
Buck rushed downstairs to the alley door to find a man holding a badly battered Vin, who was out on his feet. The man had one of the trackers arms over his shoulders and his arm locked around Tanners slender waist. "Some kids found him, Buck," the cowboy explained.
"Ill take him," Buck said, reaching for the slight form. He hooked Vins left arm over his shoulders, gripping the wrist.
"Hes been beat something bad."
"I cant have this sort of thing going on in my hotel," the manager insisted.
Buck rounded angrily on him and ordered, "Ya go get Nathan Jackson. Now move!"
As the manager scurried off, Buck half-carried, half-dragged the tracker inside and up to the room.
He eased Vin carefully down onto the bed, saying, "There ya go," and began to examine his injuries. The tracker was bleeding from the nose. His lip was split and his face already dark with bruises.
"Yer goin to be all right, Vin," Buck murmured comfortingly, although he doubted that the tracker could hear him.
Surprisingly Vin spoke, although it was clearly not in response to Wilmingtons words. "Said he was a killer," Vin mumbled.
"Now just take it easy, " Buck soothed.
"Sh-Sheridan Bank," Vin gasped.
"Lie still, Nathans goin to be here," Buck said, hoping to calm Vin.
However, the apparent raving continued, "Killed a man."
"Hes out of his head. Hes taken a mean beating," Grundy opined.
"Itd hafta have been all three of them," Buck observed. He knew one man would have been highly unlikely to be able to take the tracker in a fair fight.
"Better see if you can find some smelling salts," Grundy suggested.
Buck hesitated, unwilling to leave Vin in such a state.
However, Grundy said, "Theres nothing that you can do here that I cant. You get the salts. Maybe you can hurry the doc along."
As he went to leave, Grundy put out a hand to stop him. "Buck," he appealed, "dont do anything foolish like going after them Kerrigans alone."
However, there was no reasoning with Wilmington. After seeing what the Kerrigans had done to Vin, he wanted blood. "Thats just what Im goin to do as soon as Nate gets here," he retorted. With that he stormed off in search of the smelling salts.
Grundy locked the door and then turned as Vin mumbled disjointedly, "Gotta find out robbed a bank killed a friend of theirs shot shot him find out find out Buck Buck "
Poor Vin was so far gone that he had not realize at first that Buck had left the room. Fighting pain and the threatening darkness, he kept desperately trying to tell him what the men had said, hoping Buck could help him make sense of everything.
Finally, having received no response from Buck, he forced his eyes open to see why Wilmington had gone quiet. His vision was fuzzy, but he could see a buckskin coat. Not only had Buck left, but Grundy himself was in the room.
He shuddered. He had no reason to believe the Kerrigans over Grundy and yet and yet He tried to push his doubts aside. Hell, the man had saved his legs and possibly his life. He deserved some trust. However, he would have felt better if Buck had been there.
It was just so hard to concentrate and reason things out. He felt so confused. He knew nothing against Grundy apart from what the Kerrigans had said and they had only words to support their claims. Yet what on earth could be the Kerrigans motives in making up such a story? His head was spinning and there was a swirling mist before his eyes. Painfully raising himself on one elbow, he asked, "Where is he?"
Matt pushed him gently back down. "Hes gone to fetch a doc," he replied.
"Matt " Vin started, gasping for breath.
"Rest easy, Vin."
"The Kerrigans "
Grundy interrupted, "Well take care of them later."
Vin tried to raise his head, wincing as he did so. "Th-They said you killed a man," he gritted.
Grundy ignored the statement. "Dont try to get up," Matt said solicitously, pushing him flat once more.
"Is it true?" Vin persisted. "Is it?" he asked urgently, when Grundy made no reply.
"You dont mean to ask such a thing, do you, boy?" Grundy asked, his voice casual and yet with a strained note to it.
Vin was not to be deterred. "They said that ya were goin to rob a bank."
"Take it easy, Vin," Grundy soothed.
"They said a lot of thins," Vin continued doggedly.
"Course they did, but you dont believe them, do you?"
"They said they are goin to turn ya over to the sheriff."
"You wouldnt take their word against mine, would you?" The trackers persistence began to grate upon him and his voice was taut.
Hearing the change of tone and aware that at no point had Grundy actually denied the Kerrigans accusations, Vin tried to rise, only to have Grundy force him back down on the bed. "This is going to help you relax." He then picked up his back and got out the buffalo drug.
Vin now knew for certain that the man had spoken the truth, but was unable to move to stop Grundy. He watched helplessly as Grundy approached, drug in one hand and knife in another. Almost casually, Grundy applied the drug to the knife blade. "No harm. Just a little cut. Youll sleep a little while."
Who knew what a substance that could drop a buffalo in thirty seconds could do to a man, however small the dose? Vin stared at Grundy in mounting horror. It was not in his nature to go down without a fight, but his various injuries precluded even a token resistance
Grundy moved slowly towards him. Vins mind was noiselessly screaming at his body to move, but he could not summon the strength to even raise a hand to defend himself. He lay helplessly watching Grundys approach.
Suddenly Grundy thrust the knife into Vins arm. Wincing at the sharp new pain and biting back the cry that rose unbidden to his lips, the tracker struggled briefly to resist the drug, his mind crying out silently for Larabee, the one man upon whom he could always rely.
"Dont fight it, boy. Dont fight it."
"It is true," Vin breathed.
"You and Wilmington have been a lot of help, Im obliged to you."
"Theyre goin to find ya."
"Not likely," Grundy returned complacently. He had successfully lived on his wits for so many years, he had come to feel he was too smart to be caught out by anyone.
"Ya wont Ya wont get away with it," Vin rasped. He knew that was true. Larabee would not rest until Grundy was dead and he feared how the gunslinger would react once he had achieved his purpose. He knew only too well that life would hold no meaning for him if Larabee was to die and he hoped desperately that the reverse was not true.
Try as he might to resist it, the drug was too strong for him. He lapsed into unconsciousness.
Nathan and Buck arrived soon after and the healer immediately began to check Vin over.
"He just went under all of a sudden," Grundy explained.
"I should have done less talkin back at Nettie Wells place when the Kerrigans first rode up," Buck observed somberly.
Nathan completed an examination of Vin and then turned to Buck. "Buck, Im almost certain theres no concussion."
"Well, what do we do. Nate?" Wilmington questioned.
"Best leave him here right now. Im going over to the clinic for something. Ill be back in a few minutes."
"None of this would have happened, but for me," Grundy said sadly.
However, apportioning blame was not Wilmingtons style. Only one thing concerned him. "As long as hes all right."
"Buck, you wait here."
"Yer not goin after them alone?"
"No, no Im Im going to see if the sheriffs back yet. Ill be back."
Grundy moved slowly out onto the street and carefully surveyed his surroundings before striding quickly through town to the livery stable. He was in need of a diversion and knew just how to obtain one.
At the livery, the blacksmith was working on his anvil.
"Afternoon," Grundy greeted.
The man started and then said affably, "Oh, howdy, mister."
"A friend of mineleft my horse here earlier. Buck Wilmington."
"Oh yeah, the big bay with the white stocking."
"Yeah, thats the one."
As he led the way to the horse, the man said, "Thats a mighty fine lookin animal yave got there, finest one Ive seen for some time."
"Yeah, hes a good mount."
"You wouldnt consider sellin him, would ya?"
"Fraid not, weve sorta got used to each other."
"Yeah, I had an Appaloosa once and I felt the sa " the liveryman started, only to crumple to the ground as Grundy brought the butt of his pistol down on the back of his head in a vicious blow.
Grundy then took a lantern off the wall and spread its fuel around the straw, adding something from one of his flasks for good measure.
+ + + + + + +
Meanwhile, Nathan had returned to the hotel with a bottle of medicine. "Dont know if this is going to work or not," he commented, as prepared a syringe.
"What is it?"
"Its called digitalin."
"Are you sure hes been drugged?" Buck asked, wincing in sympathy as he watched Jackson inject the fluid into the trackers arm.
"From the looks of him I think so. It shows in his lips and in the pupils of his eyes."
"Where would the Kerrigans get it?"
"Theres no telling. It isnt hard to come by. Some of the boys in the war got stuck with laudanum and the like."
"Oh, so ya think one of them uses it, huh?"
"How long does it take this digitalin to work?"
"Well, if it is going to work at all, only a minute or so, but he isnt going to be able to do more than talk some." As he spoke, he gently raised one of the trackers eyelids once more, hoping to observe some response.
+ + + + + + +
Grundy moved to the doorway of the livery to check what was happening outside, while casually lighting his pipe.
A cowboy approached him.
"Hi, looking for the blacksmith?" Grundy asked, in a friendly tone.
"Hes gone off for some coffee. Hell be back in twenty minutes or so."
"Thanks a lot," the man said and wandered off.
Satisfied that the coast was clear, Grundy moved back inside and set the straw alight. Aided by the accelerants, the fire took a quick hold.
Back in the hotel room, Nathan was laying a damp cloth on Vins forehead, closely watched anxiously by Buck.
The tracker was starting to move fitfully.
"Hes coming around," Buck said.
"Yes, hell be all right now. You can go look for your friend." Nathan was aware that Buck had been torn. He could not leave an unconscious Vin, but he was very worried about Grundy. Men who would so brutally beat and then drug someone were clearly as dangerous as Grundy had said.
"Are ya sure?" He still did not feel right leaving Vin.
Buck headed for the door, but came to an abrupt stop when a weak voice gasped out, "B-Buck". He hurried back and sat down on the bed, leaning over Vin.
"Hey, you gave us a scare, pard."
Vin knew he had to tell Buck what had happened, to warn him where the real threat lay. He struggled to speak, but could not seem to get his tongue to work. Finally, he managed to force out the word, "Grundy "
However, Wilmington interrupted, to say reassuringly, "Grundys all right. He went down to see if Chris, JD and the others have got back yet. Now ya rest easy. Nate says yer goin to be okay."
However, Vin would not be pacified. With considerable effort, he forced the words out. "It was Grundy."
"What was Grundy?"
Frustrated at his inability to explain and Bucks obtuseness, Vin muttered an Indian word.
"What?" Buck asked. He was sure that the tracker was still out of his head.
"Cheyenne hunting drug," Vin explained.
"What about it?"
"Kerrigans were right."
"Right about what, Vin?"
"Grundy. Hes g-goin to rob the b-bank," Vin gasped.
At that moment, a townsman shouted, "FIRE!"
The sound penetrated the liverymans consciousness as he struggled to wake. He opened his eyes, and seeing the flames, moved to free the horses.
While frantic citizens formed a bucket brigade, Grundy made his way to the bank. Soon he was forcing the manager to open the safe at gunpoint. "Hurry up! Hurry up!" he ordered.
That done, he knocked the man over the head with his pistol, before turning to the teller and snarling at him, "Now you open your mouth, mister, and youre going to get worse than that."
As he emerged from the bank, he heard one of the Kerrigans shout, "GRUNDY!" to alert the other two to his presence. The three then began firing at him. He quickly fished in his bag for a small container and hurled it in their direction.
Buck appeared on the street just as the missile left the outlaws hand. Having seen a similar arm movement when Ezra and Vin were at work with sticks of dynamite, Buck automatically dived flat and was showered with bits of splintered wood from the building the outlaws explosive had hit.
Seeing Grundy about to mount, Buck rose to his knees and shouted, "GRUNDY, STOP!" In answer, Grundy fired at him, hitting him in the upper left arm. The outlaw then rode off.
Wilmington headed up to the hotel room to get Nathan to wrap his arm before pursuing Grundy.
"What makes you so sure hell go to his wifes place?" Jackson asked.
"Im not all that sure, but its the only place I can think of."
The tracker lay helplessly listening to Buck talking to Nathan about his plans. Sure Grundy was only one man, but he was a killer and Buck was hurt. Vin knew he could not help Buck. Hell, he could not even sit up. In a faltering voice, Vin begged, "B-Buck, wait for Ch-Chris will ya p-please."
Buck heard the plaintive note. He knew that Vin would never have begged for himself, and was only doing so out of concern for him, but he was not going to risk losing Grundy. No, that bastard had to be caught. "No, it might be too late," he replied firmly.
"Well, at least take some men with you," Nathan said. He shared the trackers concern, but did not feel he could leave Vin to accompany Buck.
"No, if Im wrong I dont want Mrs Grundy mixed up in this," Buck explained, as Nathan helped him ease his coat over his bad arm. "Shes been spendin all these years livin him down. I dont want the whole town to know."
That was Buck Wilmington all over. He was always kindly towards others, but if a woman was in any way threatened he was prepared to go to any length to protect her. The tracker was all too aware of that and was desperately afraid that Wilmington might have met his match in the ruthless killer. "The K-Kerrigans couldnt take him and th-there were three of them," Vin argued.
"Then wish me luck, partner."
Vin did, but he could not voice the words. His throat was choked, as he battled desperately to try to force his uncooperative body to move. He could not let Buck go alone, but it was hopeless. He tried to tell Nate to leave him and go after Buck, but the effort was too much and he slumped back unconsciousness again.
+ + + + + + +
As Buck had suspected, Grundy had gone to his wifes homestead. "I kept my promise. Martha, Ive come back."
"Youve kept your promise," she agreed, without enthusiasm.
"And Ive got the money."
"And now?" she questioned.
"We go away! Start over!" Grundy announced excitedly, adding fervently, Ill never leave you again as long as I live."
"No?" Grundy thought he must have misheard.
"Youre too late. Ive had all this time to think. Theres nothing left. Youre too late."
"But its for you and Tina," Grundy protested, taken completely aback at her reaction. He clutched her shoulders and peered in to her face, but there was no softening there.
"I mean it! No!" she stated adamantly.
"You cant! I did this for you. All those years Ive got no excuse for them, but this was for you."
"What was for me?"
"Martha, please come with me," he pleaded.
"What have you done?" she asked suspiciously.
Ignoring the question, he implored, "For the last time, will you come with me?"
However, she stood firm. "Go, Matt! Whatever it is dont bring it down on us."
Defeated, Grundy mounted and rode on as Buck appeared on the nearby hill.
A few minutes later Martha calmly watched as Buck pulled his horse to a halt in her yard. No words were exchanged. Buck spotted Grundy in the distance and took off in pursuit.
As he closed on Grundy, the latter tried to shoot him, but his shots went wide. Buck lay low over his horses neck and kept after him.
Realizing Buck was not going to give up, Grundy dismounted and hastened into an old mine to hide. However, he was not fast enough because Buck spotted him disappearing.
Hearing the hoof beats stop, Grundy knew that Wilmington had seen him, and so prepared to dispose of his enemy. Rummaging hurriedly in his bag, he produced another small flask of explosive material, and as Buck neared the mine entrance, threw it out at him.
Buck immediately scooped it up and hurled it back.
Grundy took the full impact of the blast.
Buck warily entered the mine looking for Grundy. He found him pinned under some timbers. He lifted these off, but the blood coming from Grundys mouth indicated that the man was doomed and both knew it. "No No more wanted," Grundy gasped. "Itll all end here."
"Theres only one way it could have ended," Buck replied.
"Folks hereabouts they they dont have to know for Marthas sake for Tinas sake "
"No, Grundy, they dont have to know," Buck promised.
The outlaw was fading fast. "War bag," he managed. "War bag!" he repeated urgently.
Buck looked around, and spotting the bag, picked it up.
"Inside pouch," Grundy gasped.
Buck fished around and found a wanted poster. The poster stated that Grundy was wanted for robbery and murder and offered a reward.
"See See she gets the reward, Buck," Grundy begged, his voice fading. "Dont let her refuse it."
"All right. I will."
"Im worth more dead than alive," Grundy announced sadly and then died.
+ + + + + + +
A couple of days later, under the watchful eyes of the other members of the Seven, Buck and Vin said farewell to the Kerrigans as the latter boarded the stage.
Clay Kerrigan observed, "Well, I guess we shouldntve rode in that day all steamed up."
Buck agreed, commenting, "Yeah, a little talkin would have saved a lot of trouble."
Amos held out his hand to Vin. The tracker took it after the smallest of hesitations. "Im sorry for what happened."
"Yeah, so am I," Vin replied.
"If youre ever up Sheridan way, well sure try to make it up to you," Luke promised.
"Yeah, Ill hold ya to that."
"Thanks again," Clay said, as he climbed aboard the stage.
"So long," Buck said.
Buck signalled the stagecoach driver that all were ready and the stage pulled out. Then he turned to Vin and said, "Id sure rather face one of Grundys grenades again than see Mrs Whitmore right now."
"Didnt Nettie tell ya? We went over there yesterday. Nettie talked her into taking the reward money," Vin said.
"No foolin? Howd she manage that?"
"Well, it wasnt easy, but Nettie convinced her that it was the way Grundy wanted it."
"Im glad," Buck smiled.
"Yeah, well I hope ya stay that way."
"What do ya mean?" Buck asked suspiciously. The tracker had clearly been up to something.
"Well, she decided to put a new roof on the place paint the house up some."
"And so?" Wilmington asked.
"So I told her yad go over next week and do it for her," Vin explained innocently.
"Ya told her I would go over there and do it for her?" Buck echoed, stunned by the trackers effrontery.
"Yeah, Id help ya, Buck, ya know I would, but Is been a mite poorly lately. "
The other five broke into laughter at the horrified look on Bucks face, as a grinning Vin Tanner hurriedly took refuge on the boardwalk beside Chris Larabee.
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