Notes: Book used for proverbs is A dictionary of American proverbs by Wolfgang Mieder (editor)
Chris had woken late and gone without breakfast to catch up on feeding the horses before leaving for work. He ran back into the house to get changed, collect his coat and grab some papers he needed. When he came back out to get in his car five minutes later, he heard the horses whinnying and moving about restlessly. He threw the papers and coat onto the back seat of the car, before making his way over to the barn.
"Dammit, what's the matter now? What else can go wrong today," he muttered to himself angrily. He was going to wish he hadn't asked.
He stepped inside and was grabbed by the scruff of the neck and pushed up against the wall opposite. He grunted as his head connected with the brickwork, momentarily stunning him. He struggled trying to get free, but that led to him being slammed against the wall again, only harder.
"What do you want?" he managed to gasp out.
"You helped fit my brother up for a crime he didn't do. You're gonna pay for that. His name was Brad Mitchell. Remember his name? Or was he one of many?" the man asked, shaking Chris to make sure he had his attention. "He was on death row for years and was executed yesterday. You murdered him and I'm gonna make your life a misery." Chris could feel the man's warm breath against his cheek as he talked up close to Chris's ear.
Chris wracked his brain to recall the name. It suddenly came to him. The case had been about ten years ago when he had been a rookie. Mitchell had been convicted of killing a prominent businessman's wife. The evidence against him had been convincing.
"Yeah, I remember him. He was seen at the crime scene by a reliable eyewitness. The evidence was pretty conclusive."
"It was all lies," the man screamed, becoming increasingly agitated. Chris grimaced at the loudness of his voice and tried to move away.
Chris's mobile rang making the man flinch and relax his grip slightly. Chris took advantage and whirled round to face his attacker. He punched him in the face and drove him backwards. After the man was over his initial shock he started fighting back and he was a dirty fighter. Chris knew a thing or two about defending himself but he was being tested to the limit. Cuts had opened up on his face and he was feeling bruised already. He made a concerted effort and forced the man backwards towards the wall. The man looked behind him and saw no escape. However he did spy an old branding iron which Chris kept on the wall as an ornament. He backed up quickly and grabbed hold of it, swinging it back towards Chris as he did so. Chris sidestepped quickly out of range. He tried to find a weapon he could use too but nothing was close to hand. The man approached again and Chris ducked, trying to get inside his defences. He didn't move quickly enough though and the branding iron caught him a glancing blow on the side of the head sending him to his hands and knees. The man raised the iron above his head and brought it crashing down on the back of Chris's head again. Chris fell without another sound, coloured spots dancing at the edges of his vision before he succumbed to the blackness. His mobile rang again, the man searched Chris's pockets, found it and threw it to the ground before crushing it under his foot. He dropped the branding iron and ran out of the barn.
Vin had arrived at work and was surprised not to find Chris already there. They had agreed to have an early meeting to go over a case that was coming up for trial. He phoned Chris's mobile but got no answer. He disconnected, staring at the phone, tapping his finger against the handset as he wondered where Chris was. He always had his mobile on him, why wasn't he answering? Vin decided to try again later, but he still received no answer and the ringing tone was cut off abruptly. He tried the phone in the ranch house itself but was no more successful there. Buck walked into the office and noticed the puzzled look on Vin's face.
"What's up, Vin?"
"I was s'pose to meet Chris here early. He's not here and not answering his mobile or the ranch's phone. He always lets me know if he's gonna be late. I think something's wrong."
"What time was he due in?" asked Buck, becoming anxious himself.
"Well, it's 7:45. I guess you're right. Let's go out to the ranch. I'll leave a message on his desk in case he turns up here." He also left a note to let the rest of the team know where they were.
They went down in the elevator and got in Vin's jeep. Vin drove as fast as he could out to the ranch. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, muttering "Come on, come on" whenever he got caught at lights or in traffic.
When they pulled up outside the ranch house, they saw Chris's car was still parked outside. When they tried the door to the house it was locked, but Buck found the car unlocked and saw the items Chris had thrown onto the back seat. Vin headed to the barn and Buck scouted round outside the house.
Vin stepped inside the barn where he could still hear the horses moving around restlessly. He saw Chris laid flat out on the floor, face down and ran over to him.
"Buck," he shouted. Vin saw the head wound and also the branding iron laid beside Chris. Chris's hair was matted with blood and when Vin turned him over he saw the damage that had been done to his face.
"Where are you, Vin?" Buck called.
"In the barn."
Vin handled Chris as gently as he could, holding his head above the ground until he was resting in Vin's lap. The sharpshooter wiped the dirt from Chris's face and felt for a pulse. He relaxed slightly when he found one. Buck came careering in the doorway and dropped to his knees beside his oldest friend's body.
"Get an ambulance," Vin ordered.
Buck pulled out his phone and ran out to Vin's jeep to get a first aid kit, while he called. He returned and hurriedly opened the kit, pulling out various bits and pieces and started to work on Chris's injuries.
"Jeez, what did they hit him with?" Buck demanded, worry evident in his voice.
"This branding iron I 'spect. It's got blood on it," Vin replied, pointing to the offending item. He put the iron in a bag for evidence, they might get some prints off it that would be useful.
The ambulance arrived and Buck went with Chris, while Vin followed in his jeep. He phoned the other members of the team as he drove to tell them what had happened. He told them he would ring again when he had more news. Although the rest of the men would have liked to have gone to the hospital too, they all had heavy workloads.
Chris was examined and had stitches put in his head wound and his other cuts were cleaned up. He was put in a room in ICU for observation as he was still unconscious and likely to remain so for a while. Vin and Buck entered his room and sat in chairs on either side of his bed.
"Hey pard. Good job you got a thick skull and not much in your brain or you could have been in serious trouble." Buck watched Chris's face for any reaction. He hoped talking to him would bring him round sooner.
"Wonder who did it?" Vin pondered, as he turned a cup idly round and round in his hands.
"Perhaps he just disturbed a thief and got more than he bargained for. We'll have to wait until he wakes up to know for sure."
The other members of the team came and visited when time allowed during the day. Buck and Vin stayed all day. Chris finally resurfaced late in the evening. The first indication was a low moan which started Vin from his chair where he was lightly sleeping. He stood up and leaned over the bed to see if Chris was awake. Chris shifted in bed uneasily and raised a hand towards his head. Vin caught it before he could disturb the bandages.
"Buck," he called to his sleeping companion. Getting no response, he looked around for a missile to throw. His eyes alighted on a paper cup and Vin sent it flying over the bed to hit Buck on the head. Buck sat up straight trying to figure out what had woken him. He looked up at Vin and saw him grinning slyly and he then noticed the cup in his lap.
"A simple 'Wake up Buck' would have been enough," he complained, picking up the cup and placing it on the table next to the bed.
"Tried that, didn't work. You snore louder 'n Concorde, it's a wonder Chris stayed out as long as he did."
"He awake?" Buck asked eagerly, getting up and approaching the bed.
"God, I wish I wasn't. Do you have to talk so loud? I've got a can full of stones being shaken around inside my head, without you adding to it," Chris mumbled.
"Well, you just rest easy. You're lucky your head's still on yer shoulders after the hit you took."
"We were hoping you could tell us that," Buck said.
Vin continued, "I got worried when you were late for work and couldn't raise you on the phone. We came out to the ranch and found you splattered on the floor of the barn with a branding iron next to your corpse."
"That explains the headache then." Chris winced as he spoke.
"You get some sleep and don't worry. It'll come back to you later," Buck reassured him, patting his arm.
Chris closed his eyes and was asleep in an instant. Vin left the room to phone the rest of the team to give them the latest. Buck stood watching Chris for a while and then retook his seat. Vin returned with some drinks and they settled down to wait for him to wake again.
"Brad Mitchell!" Chris said suddenly in the early hours of the morning. He had woken and the name had just come to him.
"What's that, Chris?" Buck asked, confused after being woken by the outburst.
"That's the name of the man's brother. The one who hit me."
"How come you know the brother's name and not your attackers?" Buck frowned. He rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand to wake himself up.
"Brad Mitchell was convicted of murder about ten years ago. I was a rookie and it was my first big case. The evidence was convincing. He was seen leaving the murder scene by a witness. Anyway he was convicted and it seems he was executed recently. His brother says he was innocent and came to give me grief."
"I'll get someone to check it out," Vin said. He left the room and called JD. After a long wait a sleepy voice answered the phone.
"Hey, kid. Sorry to wake ya. Can you check something for me? Chris was attacked by the brother of a man he helped to convict of murder. The murderer's name was Brad Mitchell. Can you verify that he was executed recently and find out his brother's name? He seems to have got it in for Chris, he claims Brad was innocent."
"Yeah, sure thing. I'll get onto it now," JD said, instantly awake. He rang back within the hour with news.
"Vin, a Brad Mitchell was executed on Wednesday. His family were running a campaign trying to get him a retrial. They'd protested his innocence from day one. He had three brothers, so I can't say which of them attacked Chris."
"Thanks, kid. That's great. Have you got addresses? Figure we ought to pay them a visit."
JD gave Vin all three addresses. They were all in Denver. Vin went back into Chris's room and relayed the news he had received.
"Chris, can you describe the man who attacked you so we can try to identify the correct brother."
"Well, he was thick set, about my height, black hair. Just an average looking guy."
"Okay, we'll visit them all and see what we can learn," Vin said.
He left the room and rang Ezra. Ezra, definitely not a morning person, was not pleased to be woken at the crack of dawn.
"Mr Tanner, this had better be worth it," he said sourly.
"Sorry, Ez. I know you need yer beauty sleep. I just wondered if you could come and keep Chris company while Buck and I go to check somethin' out?"
"With pleasure. I will be there post haste. I can join our illustrious leader in a nap there."
Buck and Vin left Chris in Ezra's capable hands an hour later and went in search of the Mitchell brothers.
They went to the first address on the list and knocked on the door. A middle-aged woman opened it.
"Mornin', ma'am. Could we speak to Mr Mitchell please?" Vin showed her his ID.
"He's out of town on business. What do you want with him?" she said sharply.
"He may be able to help us in a current investigation. Where is he? Can you give us a contact number, or is he due back soon?" Vin watched the woman closely, she seemed on edge.
"He should be back this afternoon. He's been in Houston." The woman frowned, looking uneasy.
"Could you get him to ring us? Here's my number. It's quite urgent. Thank you for your time."
Buck and Vin walked back to their car.
"What do you think? She seem okay to you?" Vin enquired.
"Yeah, I think so. Everyone's a bit unsettled when they get a cop on their doorstep. They immediately feel guilty for some reason, or expect to be told bad news."
"I just hope she thinks it's only her husband we want to see and doesn't ring the others. I don't want them pre warned of our arrival. Let's go and see the next one on the list before the bush telegraph gets to work."
The other two brothers gave alibis which Vin and Buck checked and verified. They had been unable to discount them on looks alone. All the brothers seemed to be very similar in appearance. Buck and Vin made their way back to the first address to wait for their suspect to return. They parked outside the house on the opposite side of the road. After two hours they saw a man coming down the sidewalk towards them. He crossed over the road in front of their car and went up to the house. Vin and Buck got out and followed him up the path.
"Who's asking?" the man said brusquely, turning towards them.
"ATF agents' Tanner and Wilmington."
Mitchell's face drained of colour and he turned and ran away across the garden. Buck ran to head him off along the road while Vin followed Mitchell. They ran back towards the road and across one intersection. Mitchell kept looking behind him, but he wasn't making much headway in his escape bid. He turned and looked towards Buck who was haring down the road on the other side to intercept him. Buck shouted a warning but Mitchell ran out into the road without looking and straight in front of a car. The driver blared his horn and there was a screeching of brakes. Smoke came from his tyres as he tried desperately to stop. Mitchell rebounded off the hood and went up and over the top of the car eventually landing in the middle of the road.
Vin dropped to his knees beside him and checked to see if he was still alive. He was, but barely. The car had been travelling at speed and had no chance of avoiding him. The driver got out to see if there was anything he could do.
"Shit, get an ambulance," Vin shouted to Buck.
"Well, he proved his guilt by running away," Buck growled before calling for the paramedics. He then phoned Ezra at the hospital to tell him what had happened.
The ambulance arrived and Vin went with Mitchell, while Buck went back to tell his wife about the accident and offer a lift to the hospital.
Vin and Buck entered Chris's room to find him wrestling with Ezra. He was uttering profanities as Ezra tried to keep him in bed. He had just been told what had happened to Mitchell.
"Let me up, you fancy talking asshole."
"Mr Larabee, lay down or I shall be tempted to call the nurse and suggest colonic irrigation," Ezra gasped out. Chris immediately became contrite, allowing Ezra to settle him back onto the bed. Although Chris was not at his best Ezra had still found it hard to control him physically.
"Oh Ezra, that's pure torture," complained Buck, squirming at the thought, although he was also smiling at the image.
"Well, it's his own fault. He said asshole, so I thought it was a fitting punishment," retorted Ezra with a wicked look on his face. He was panting slightly after the tussle and he wiped a hand over his brow.
"Well done, Ez. I'll know how to control him next time," laughed Vin.
"Mr Tanner, I sincerely hope there won't be a repeat performance," Ezra replied, fixing Chris with a hard stare.
"How's Mitchell?" Chris asked breathlessly.
"In a coma. He ran straight out in front of it. His wife's with him and talking of law suits."
"Oh great, that's all we need. You're sure he's the one?"
"Yeah, he matched your description and he knew why we were there or he wouldn't have run away. Plus the fact that his brothers had good alibis."
"Well she won't have a leg to stand on. He was resisting arrest," Chris said firmly.
"I've asked the doctor to let me know if he wakes up, so we can question him," Vin informed him.
Two days later Chris was allowed to leave the hospital. He still felt dizzy occasionally, but things were definitely improving. Mitchell was still in a coma and they didn't know if he would survive.
Chris went back to work and immediately asked for the case files on Mitchell's trial to be found and sent to him. He wanted to make sure that the conviction had been sound. He sat at his desk and poured over the information. The desk and floor around him were littered with boxes of papers and files.
The phone rang suddenly jolting him back to the present. He answered it.
"Mr Larabee, this is the hospital. I'm afraid I have to report that Mr Mitchell passed away half an hour ago without regaining consciousness."
"Thanks for letting me know," Chris replied, slowly putting the receiver down and staring into space.
Buck put his head round the door and asked, "Can I get you anything Chris?" He got no reply. He stepped into the room, closed the door and walked over to Chris.
"Chris? What's wrong?"
Chris started, he hadn't heard Buck at all. Buck repeated his question.
"The hospital just rang to say Mitchell died."
"I'm sorry Chris. How are you getting on with the files?" Buck asked, trying to keep Chris from dwelling on Mitchell's death.
"I haven't come across anything yet. I'm still expecting to find something, but I dare say it's just my suspicious mind."
"Take a break, I expect it'll jump out at you if you leave it for a while."
"Yeah, you're right. Fancy going out for lunch?"
"Looks like it," Chris said wryly.
Chris had another session with the files after lunch. He rubbed his temples, he was getting a headache and he still hadn't found anything out of place. He leaned back in his chair, stretching his arms over his head while sighing loudly. The phone rang.
"Don't start looking into the Mitchell case. I'm warning you. It won't be good for your health."
"Who is this?"
"Just take heed of what I said." The phone went dead. Chris sat staring at the handset before placing it back in the cradle, frowning as he did so.
Vin had been walking past the office door and saw Chris's expression.
"Anything wrong?" he asked.
"I've just been warned off looking into the Mitchell case."
"Well that means there must be something in the file that confirms Mitchell was innocent. Did he say not to investigate further or were you threatened too?"
"He said it wouldn't be good for my health."
"Well, one of us better stay with you at all times. I'll sort it out with the others," Vin said, ducking back outside.
When Vin returned, Chris was sitting at his desk with his head in his hands rubbing his temples wearily. He looked shattered.
"Yeah. What if he was innocent? I sent him and his brother to their deaths."
"Don't go there, Chris. It won't help. Might not be true anyway. Come on, I'm your first bodyguard, I'll take you home. Nathan will come out to join us tomorrow."
They left the office building, heading to Chris's ranch. Vin checked the ranch house and surrounding area before allowing Chris out of the car. Nothing was out of place. They spent a quiet evening playing cards and watching TV. The next morning Vin went to check around outside and found a dead animal with its throat cut on the doorstep. Blood was pooled under the body. Chris who was standing just inside the door went pale and Vin ushered him back into the kitchen. Vin went back outside and found some tracks. He followed them back into the trees where he found tyre marks. He knelt and studied them closely, they seemed fairly fresh. He stood and looked into the trees but could see no vehicle. He decided to get back to Chris.
He turned towards the house and had just taken one step when he was suddenly flung forward onto his face. He felt pain in his back. When he looked at his hand after feeling his back, he discovered it was covered in blood. He had heard no shot, so the sniper must have been using a silencer. He lay still hoping his attacker would think he was dead and leave. Chris fortunately could not see Vin from the house and had not come out. After waiting what seemed like ages he finally tried moving. No other shot sounded and he slowly got to his feet, staggering slightly as he did so. He moved over to a tree and leant against it, head resting against the truck, regaining his breath and trying to find the energy to move again. The pain in his back was getting worse. Every breath sent a stab of pain through his body.
He finally felt able to move and walked slowly towards the house. Chris let him in, not knowing what had happened and caught him as he pitched forwards.
"Vin, what happened?" he asked anxiously as he found the wound and lowered Vin gently to the floor.
"Someone took a pot shot at me."
Chris checked him over more fully. The bullet didn't seem to have hit anything vital but it was still in him. Chris sat back on his heels, sucking in a breath through his teeth while he wondered what to do next.
"Do you think the sniper is still around?" he asked Vin.
"Don't think so. He didn't fire again when I got up, hopefully he thought I was dead and left."
Chris looked at his watch. "Right I'll ring Nathan. He should be on his way over now anyway. I don't want to chance going outside yet."
Chris pulled out his mobile after moving Vin onto the couch and treating his wound.
"Nathan, it's Chris. Vin's been shot. Are you on your way over already?"
"Yes, I'm about ten minutes away. How bad is he?"
"He's been hit in the back. The bullet's still in there, but it doesn't seem to have hit anything vital. It hasn't gone in too deep."
"Ring the others. I think we'd all better stay with you now," Nathan instructed.
"I'll ring Travis and let him know what's going on. We may need a safe house, seeing as he knows where I live. Whoever *he* is."
Nathan turned up soon afterwards and started treating Vin's injury. He had lost quite a bit of blood despite Chris's first aid and was now semiconscious.
"When the others get here I'll take him to the hospital. The bullet needs taking out. I don't want to go now and leave you on your own," Nathan said, placing a hand on Vin's forehead while he talked. It felt warm.
The rest of the team eventually came and Nathan went off with Vin. Ezra and Buck did a search of the ranch to see if anyone was still hanging around. Travis had told Chris he was going to arrange a safe house for them and for their case loads to be taken over by another team.
The phone rang and Chris answered before anyone else could.
"How's your friend?" the voice enquired.
"He's fine, no thanks to you. Why did you involve him, it's me you want." The other members of the team looked towards Chris, sensing something was wrong.
"I just wanted to let you know I was serious. He happened to be my way of communicating that. Keep clear of the Mitchell case if you want your other friends to survive."
"Who the hell do you think you're dealing with. I don't back off just because I've been threatened. What's your fucking name?"
A hand appeared over Chris's shoulder, took the receiver from his hand and disconnected the call.
"Brave move, pard," Buck whispered from where he stood with Ezra on the other side of the room. "I wouldn't get between Chris and an opponent when he was getting up a head of steam."
"I concur, Mr Wilmington. Mr Sanchez, however, is a veritable man mountain and is more likely to get a verbal lashing than a physical assault," replied Ezra in an equally quiet voice.
Chris swung round angrily, coming face to face with Josiah.
"What the hell did you do that for?" he shouted.
Josiah put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. Chris was always quick to anger, so Josiah decided to try his calming influence.
"It's no good getting him even more riled up or letting him know how upset you're getting. Calm down. We brought some bugging equipment with us in case he started calling here. We can try to trace where he's calling from. Hopefully he'll phone back. Keep it calm and keep him talking. What did he say this time?"
"He said he shot Vin to make sure I understood he was serious. He warned me to keep clear of the Mitchell case again. If I didn't, he would hurt someone else."
JD has been setting up the equipment. He had just finished when the phone rang again. Josiah looked at Chris and said, "Remember, try to stay calm."
Chris took a deep breath before answering.
"Chris, it's Nathan." Chris let out the breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding. He put a hand over the mouth piece and whispered "It's Nathan" to the others, while shaking his head at JD.
"He'll be fine. They're keeping him in overnight because of the blood he lost. What shall I do with him when he's released tomorrow?"
"We're getting a safe house. You might as well meet us there. I don't want any of us alone. It's too dangerous. I'll call tomorrow and give you the location. Can you stay with him tonight?"
"Yeah, sure I can. See you tomorrow," Nathan said before hanging up.
No other phone calls were received that night. As they were leaving the ranch anyway, the equipment would be returned to the office. It had been worth trying anyway. Chris wondered whether someone was watching the house and had seen the rest of the team arrive. They might have decided to leave well alone now that Chris had protection. Ezra and Buck patrolled throughout the night but found no signs of intruders.
Chris made a few more arrangements. He asked for a patrol car to come by the property every so often to make sure things were alright. Chris asked Josiah and JD to take his horses over to his neighbour's ranch. He had agreed to look after them while Chris was away.
The next morning Chris and the others went to the office. Chris rang Nathan and told him to come and meet them there and they could all go to the safe house together. When the whole team had assembled Chris got them to collect equipment and supplies that would be needed. He decided to take the case files with him so he could continue trying to work out why he had been warned off. He looked at the pile of post on his desk and saw one was a private letter. He looked at it fleetingly before throwing it into one of the boxes of case files. He would take it with him and read it later.
Vin had been left in Chris's office as he was still in some pain and he had been told not to lift anything. Chris returned from his task and found him asleep on the couch. He squatted down in front of him and shook his shoulder to wake him and make sure he was okay.
Vin opened his eyes and mumbled, "Oh Larabee, I was just having a dream 'bout the most gorgeous girl. Why d'ya have to wake me up?"
"I wanted to make sure you were alright. It's time to go anyway, so you'll have to put yer fantasies on hold for a while."
Vin pushed himself upright with a moan and sat on the edge of the couch until he could summon the energy to stand up. Chris stood up and watched Vin with concern.
"Are you sure you're alright?"
"Yeah, quit fussing." Vin stood as he talked and Chris put a hand out when he wobbled.
"I'll quit when I know you're not lying to me," he growled. "Just accept help when it's offered." Why did Vin never admit he was in pain?
"God you're as bad as Nathan," Vin moaned.
They made their way out of the office and met up with the others in the parking lot. They took two cars with them and travelled out of town. The safe house was about eight miles away. Josiah and Buck checked around before giving the go-ahead for the others to go inside. They unpacked the cars of all the equipment they had brought and settled in.
Chris took up residence in one room and sorted out the case files again. He put aside those he had already looked at and started on the next box. After an hour he started on the box into which he had thrown the letter from the office. He picked the letter up and opened it. There were several sheets of paper in it. He was just going to put it aside to read later when he saw who it was from. It was from the eyewitness in the Mitchell case. He started reading it and by the time he had finished he was literally shaking. He spread out the pages on the table and the looked at the rest of the package.
Buck came in to see how Chris was getting on. He took one look at his friend and closed the door behind him. Chris looked up. He was very pale.
"Chris? You find something?" Buck asked as he approached his friend.
"I didn't have to. This letter was delivered to the office this morning. I just opened it. Jesus Buck, he was set up, just like his brother said." His voice cracked and he wiped a shaky hand over his face, finally putting his head in his hands. Buck hadn't seen Chris look so upset for a long time.
"Hang in there, pard. I'll get you a drink and then I'll see what you've got," he said, putting a hand on Chris's shoulder. He turned and left the room quickly, nearly colliding with Vin outside. He steadied Vin, holding his arms until he had regained his balance.
"Sorry, hope I didn't hurt you. Can you leave Chris alone for a while, Vin? Tell the others will you? It seems Mitchell was innocent after all and he's taking it awful hard."
"Okay. Is there anythin' I can do?"
"No thanks, I'll just get him something strong to drink. Hopefully Ezra's come equipped." Buck headed off to find the undercover agent.
"Ez, you got any whiskey on you?" he asked, when he tracked him down.
"I thought you were more of a beer man."
"It's for Chris. He needs a bit of TLC. I'll tell you about it later."
"Well, that's different." Ezra reached into his jacket and produced a hip flask.
"Thanks Ez, 'preciate it." Buck turned and hurried back to Chris, collecting a mug from the kitchen on the way.
On entering the room he flicked a look towards Chris. It didn't look as though he had moved a muscle since Buck had left him.
"Here yer go, Chris," he said, placing the mug on the table by his elbow.
Chris reached out a shaky hand and picked it up. He downed it in one go.
"Whoa, take it easy, cowboy. Ezra only buys the strongest. It won't do you any good to lose yourself in a bottle."
"How would you know?" Chris answered belligerently, his mood now angry rather than upset. Buck had seen him like this before and he knew he would be difficult to handle. He passed the flask to Chris, giving in to the inevitable. Chris nursed it as he sat at the table, taking the occasional sip. Buck took up the contents of the letter and read them through. He sighed when he had finished. He picked up the discarded mug and held it out to Chris, who looked into Buck's face and smiled sadly. He poured some whiskey and Buck drank it down quickly.
"It goes all the way to the top then......the deception, I mean."
"Yeah, I thought my boss was whiter than white. Just shows you can't judge a book by its cover," Chris conceded.
"What are you gonna to do now?" Buck asked.
"I'll try to get Mitchell a pardon, although it won't right the wrong. Can you get a few of the boys to arrest everyone involved? Whether Sellers, the witness, gets treated lightly for finally confessing, will be up to someone else. Personally I'd lock him up and throw away the key." Chris sounded tired and slightly drunk from the whiskey. He suddenly stood up, anger surging through him. He swept some of the papers that were on the table onto the floor with his arm and kicked a box of files over. Luckily Buck still had the vital evidence in his hands or else they would have been lost amongst the pile swept aside.
"Why don't you get some sleep?" Buck suggested. "I'll see to anything that crops up."
"What bloody good will that do? Do you think everything will look brighter in the morning? Don't be so naive Buck," Chris snapped sarcastically.
"Well just calm down then," Buck said apprehensively. He could tell there was trouble brewing. Chris couldn't keep a lid on his temper any more and blew his top. He started throwing furniture around. There was not much in the room anyway and it wasn't long before almost every bit was broken. Buck had moved to the far side of the room, hopefully to safety. He contemplated locking the door so no-one would come in, but he thought he may need a quick exit the way things were going. There would be no reasoning with Chris in his present mood.