"Little Britches" Universe

Buck dragged himself from bed and finished the morning chores before hitching a buckboard to return to town. Vin still picked at his food, but at least he'd returned to speaking again. Perhaps it was only the place and the darkness that had affected him. The ride into town was unusually quiet, JD falling victim to Vin's mood and only asking a few questions.

Nathan's news hadn't been what Buck wanted to hear. The journey had been taxing on Chris and his fever had returned during the night.

“One at a time Buck. Chris' fever only broke a short while ago so he's not really awake yet.”

Buck decided to take JD in first for a quick visit, then he could leave Vin to sit with Chris as long as he wanted to.

“Come on JD, we'll say a quick hello to Chris.”

Vin stood aside without a word and watched as they disappeared behind the closed door. He was surprised when it opened after only a few minutes.

“You gotta be real quiet Vin,” JD instructed him

Vin scowled at what he felt was a rebuke from his younger cousin.

“I know what I'm supposed to do JD.” Vin brushed past Buck and moved over to the bed.

Nathan watched Vin move over knowing he'd be disappointed that Chris wasn't awake. The night fever had been wearing and Chris hadn't managed more than a faint greeting for JD before drifting off again.

“He was just too tired to stay awake Vin,” Nathan explained.

“'s okay.”

Vin wasn't bothered by the arrangement. While Chris was asleep he could stay close. He climbed into the hard chair pulled close to the bed and reached out to lay his hand on the pillow beside Chris' face. He was careful to barely rest it there, not disturbing the sleeping man.

“Vin, don't wake him,” Nathan warned.

Vin bit his lip, so damned tired of instructions. He took his hand away and folded his arms over his chest, studying the face before him instead. He'd thought if would be easy to go back to the beginning when he kept his distance. He sighed deeply. It just wasn't fair.

“Time to go Vin. I'll make sure you boys know as soon as Chris is awake for visitors.”

“I'm not bothering' him Nathan.”

“It's still better if you go for now Vin.”

Vin couldn't find Buck and JD outside so he went in search of them at the jailhouse. He found Buck flicking through the wanted posters.

“Vin, you finished your visit.”

“Nathan told me to go.”

“Well we can visit again later.”

“Come on Vin you can be a bank robber and I 'rrested ya.” JD pulled Vin in toward the cells.

Vin eyed the cell. “No.”

“Awww come on. It's your turn to be the bad guy.”

“I don't wanna play.”

“Mr Wilmington?”

“Morning Ezra. Boys will you be quiet or play outside.”

“Mr Wilmington, this telegram came for you after your departure, however as you indicated you had located our wayward travellers I didn't feel the need to forward it.”

Buck took the missive and read the few words. “No doesn't matter, but thanks anyway Ezra.” Buck waved the paper in Vin's direction. “The sheriff sent a wire Vin, didn't you know?”

“I didn't think he would.”

“You just had to ask him. You've got to learn to trust people Vin.”

Vin turned away from Buck but found he was facing an empty jail cell. The sight of the bars caused him to shudder and brought back the anger from that day. He ground his teeth at the unfairness of it all. He'd asked and asked. Pride had stopped him short of begging. Vin turned back to defend himself but stopped. If Buck didn't think he needed to send the wire, then he'd be mad to find out Vin had spent a night in jail trying to do just that. His shoulders slumped. He'd tried his best for Chris, and it hadn't even been needed.

Buck crumpled the paper and tossed it onto the desk. It skidded off and Vin retrieved it, unfolding and reading the words. Buck didn't need it but Vin had worked hard for it and wanted to keep it. He smoothed the paper, folded it and slipped it into his pocket.

Vin called to JD to play outside. He didn't want to be near the jail anymore. Ezra watched the curious behaviour. He was hoping for some replies to his enquiries before the end of the day.

“Mr Wilmington!” Buck looked up to find Tommy Rawlins at the door.

“Ahh what now?” Tommy was the youngest of the neighbor's boys currently helping him out.

“Sunfire is down. John sent me to get you.”

“Damn.” Sunfire was one of the new brood mares. They couldn't afford to have problems now. “Ezra?”

“I'll continue to monitor Mr Larabee's progress through Mr Jackson and send word if the situation varies in any way.”

“Thanks Ez. Come on boys, we need to head back home.”

The buckboard rattle back into the yard and Buck started unhitching the horses as soon as they stopped. “I've got to see to Sunfire. Do you think you two can keep out of trouble for the next few hours?”

“Can we fish?” JD asked.

“No, you can't go to the river. You have to stay close to the house.”

“Awww, but Buck,” JD complained kicking at the dirt.

“No buts.”

JD soon found himself bored when he couldn't convince Vin to play. His grumbling stomach told him that lunch time had arrived but Buck didn't appear.

'Come on Vin. I'm hungry.” It was a complaint from JD that Vin found difficult to ignore although the thought of food still made him feel slightly ill. Vin pulled a loaf of bread from the crock and told JD to bring the cheese over. He sawed away at the bread producing an oddly angled slice. The cheese proved easier to cut and soon a slab like sandwich was assembled.

“Here you go JD. I think you'll need both hands,” Vin suggested as JD tried to pick it up.

“It's too fat.”

Vin pressed down with the palm of his hand flattening the bread. “There.”

JD picked up the now manageable mound and took a mouthful. “ 'Fank you.”

Vin put the bread and cheese away not interested in food for himself.

Buck finally finished in the barn having succeeded in getting the mare back on her feet and eating again. He found the remains of lunch in the kitchen, pleased that the boys had taken care of themselves while he'd been busy.

“When can Chris come home?” JD asked.

“When Nathan says it's okay. It should only be a couple of days. Vin?”

“Got chores.”

Buck sighed as the boy disappeared out the door at just the mention of Larabee.

“Will you play Buck? Vin wouldn't play with me.”

“Vin probably doesn't feel like playing because he's worried about Chris.”

JD was confused at that. “You said Chris was comin' home?”

“And he is,” Buck reassured him.

“So he should be happy.”

“You'd think so wouldn't you,” Buck mumbled in reply. “How about we hunt down some lizards?”

Buck directed JD's hunting toward the barn so he could keep an eye on both boys. He could see Vin through the doorway where he stood brushing down Peso. Buck was surprised at how patiently Peso was standing considered what little exercise and attention the horse had received recently.

Dusk found Buck serving a simple supper of bacon sandwiches and large glasses of milk. The workload was catching up with him and the boys were easily satisfied with simple food. Vin had picked at the sandwich but Buck didn't have the heart to force him to eat.

Vin sat by the fire, watching JD and Buck from the corner of his eye. JD was curled up contentedly in Buck's lap listening to a story. He felt the tears build but he was determined not to cry.

“I'm goin' ta bed,” he mumbled, hoping to escape.

Buck was surprised at the sudden departure as Vin moved away to his room. “Vin, you can sleep in Chris's bed.”

Vin ignored him, throwing himself onto his bed and burying his face and his tears in the pillow.

Later, Buck found his sleep disturbed for a second night. This time he knew what the sounds were as he heard the faint footsteps and the rustling of covers from the direction of Larabee's room.


Nathan watched as his patient finally roused. Larabee had slept comfortably through the night with no return of the fever. Nathan smiled broadly as the green eyes finally cracked open, the lips moving slightly around silent words. Nathan raised Chris' head a little to let him sip water.

“Welcome back…again.”

Larabee took an aching breath trying to piece his memories back together. He knew he was home, although he didn't recall the journey. One thing came first to his mind.


Nathan could see Larabee's eyes were clear and he was definitely back to stay this time.

“He's fine Chris.” Nathan doubted that the man remembered that question had been asked and answered a number of times in the last two days. He reached forward quickly but was too late to stop the groan as Chris moved to sit. “Don't think about trying that again,” Nathan warned.

Chris' hand fell to the bandages, tracing the edges that wrapped around his chest. “Shot.”

“It went through, but took out a rib going in and coming out. You were very lucky so don't push it by moving around.”

“Where's Vin?”

“Buck took him home. I need you to drink this for me.”

“No.” Chris managed short sentences around the shallow breaths. “Stay awake.”

“This is just to help with the pain, it's not a sedative. Bringing you home so quickly didn't do you any favors.”

Chris heard the apology and reassured him. “Rather be home.”

“You feel like eating.”

Chris shook his head slightly. “No.”

“Too bad. I was only asking to be polite. I've been keeping this broth ready for you.” Nathan could see the argument coming. “If you want to be awake for any length of time you need to build your strength up.”

Nathan was pleased when Chris managed to eat a little. He could see the man was trying to fight sleep.

“I'll wake you when they're here Chris.” He could see the fight still in those eyes. “I promise Chris. The next face you see will be Vin's.”

Nathan watched as Larabee finally let go then went to find a messenger to ride out to Buck and make sure his words held true.

The early morning message was the best news that Buck could hope for. He didn't think that Vin could take much more of this. The lack of food and sleep was beginning to tell on the already slight boy.

“Nathan says Chris is awake enough for a proper visit today.”

“There's lots needs doing here. I should stay. I've missed a lot of chores this week.”

Buck had thought Vin would be thrilled at Chris improving like this. “Chores can wait Vin. We'll ride in, so you've got ten minutes to get ready.”

Vin scowled at Bucks departing back. How was he supposed to keep to the plan if they kept pushing him at Chris. He was supposed to keep out his way.

“I wanna ride with Vin,” JD complained.

“Well I think Peso might keep Vin busy today, so how about you ride up front with me.” Peso hadn't been ridden recently and was making his opinion known. Buck kept a watchful eye on Vin just in case it became too much but Vin somehow always managed to keep the horse in hand.

Buck could see JD was disappointed at riding this way so he handed over the reins to the boy to let him have some control. JD chatted happily with Buck, excited at the prospect of visiting Chris again. Buck kept turning back to watch as Vin trailed behind them.

Vin tried to slow the trip as much as possible but it still ended with him tying Peso up in front of the clinic.

“Buck, send Vin up! Chris has been asking all morning for him,” Nathan called.

As promised, Nathan had woken his patient at the arrival of his family. He'd even been talked into helping Larabee to sit in the bed propped up against the pillows.

Outside, Vin eyed the long flight of stairs with trepidation. If Chris was asking to see him then he must want to tell him it was all over. He felt the pressure in the center of his back as Buck gave him a little push toward the first step.

“Mr Tanner does not look too eager.” Buck turned at the sound of Standish's voice.

“I don't know what's gotten into him the last few days.”

“Perhaps this will enlighten you.”

Buck took the telegrams from Ezra and read through their contents.

“What's this?”

“I had a most curious conversation with Mr Tanner the other day in the stable. I felt a few enquiries were warranted of the events in Clear Creek.”

“I was there,” he exclaimed. “I picked him up. How could this be?”

“From whom did you collect Mr Tanner?”

“From the Sheriff, no wait. I went to the Sheriff but he wasn't there. Vin found me. He just came out from one of the side streets. Jail?” Buck looked up at Nathan's closed door. “He hasn't said a thing about this and why do they keep saying orphan in this?” he demanded shaking the offending papers.

“I noticed that aberration. Read the second response.”

“Larabee was unaccompanied? What the hell did they think Vin was? Baggage?”

“Not his son, and it would seem by his own words.”

“Well Chris wouldn't just say something like that. He must have had a reason. The Sheriff said Vin was held as a hostage. Chris would try to avoid Vin being used against him, maybe make like he's unconcerned.”

“Well that may be true, but I doubt Vin appreciates the difference.”

Buck sighed and remembered all the looks he'd been receiving. “He never said anything to me. Could he think that I don't care either?”

“He told me he'd lost everything.”


“Our conversation in the stable. He told me he'd lost everything, but I didn't understand what he meant.”

Buck crumbled the papers savagely. “I think we do now.”


Nathan had told him Vin was fine, but this didn't look fine to him. He saw before him a pale face, the usually brilliant blue eyes dull and underscored with dark smudges. This was a shadow of his Vin.

Vin dragged his feet as he approached Chris, dreading the outcome.

“Vin, what have you been doing to yourself?”

“Me!” Vin gasped at the unfairness of the question.

“Vin, come over here.” Vin shuffled a little closer and Chris snagged his shirt cuff and pulled him in. Nervously Vin jerked away causing Chris to groan at the pull on his damaged ribs.

Vin stopped, horrified at hurting Chris. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry.” He turned to escape but was unable to leave Chris if he was hurt.

“It's all right Vin. I'm okay.” Chris took a careful breath, clutching his arm tight against him. “Just come and sit down here.”

Vin just seemed to wilt before his eyes. “Vin, what's happened?' Chris was anxious to know what had caused the changes he saw before him.

Vin set nervously on the edge of the bed near Chris. “I don't know.” Vin was too tired to fight, too tired to care why, too desperate to have it all back at any price. “Tell me what it was, I won't do it again, please.”

“I don't know what you've done Vin.”

Vin couldn't get any more words out, the pain in his chest let nothing more than a squeak escape. He couldn't fix this if Chris wouldn't tell him what it was. Chris realised Vin was starting to move away and instead wrapped an arm securely around his chest. He ignored the pain as he pulled Vin back to rest against his chest.

Vin's fingers curled up around the restraining arm but he held the arm in place rather than pushing it away.

“I'll stay out of your way. I'll stop followin' ya everywhere. I didn't mean to be a bother.”

Chris wished he could raise his other arm to embrace Vin as the small voice became more distraught. Instead he leaned over and lay his cheek on the top of Vin's head.

“You're never a bother Vin.” Chris didn't know where this was coming from.

“You said I was. You said I follow ya 'round. Ya said ya ain't my pa.”

Chris finally remembered what had set this off. The words had seemed the right thing when a pistol had been held to Vin's face.

“Vin I only said that to try to protect you. I didn't want him threatening you because of me.”

“But you said it!”

“I said it, but I didn't mean it.”

“You SAID it.”

Chris felt the weight on his arm increase and he supported the boy as what little energy Vin had left seemed to drain from him.

“I couldn't do it,” he confided.

Chris bent low as Vin's voice dropped lower. “Do what?”

“I couldn't give ya up. Even if you didn't want me, I still wanted to be around you.”

“I never meant those words. I promise you'll never hear them again.”

Chris urged Vin to turn in toward him and stretch out alongside him. He moved his arm from around Vin's chest to cup the back his head and cradle him in against his shoulder.

“You don't look like you've been sleeping.” He felt the answer as Vin shook his head. “Close your eyes for little while Vin.”

Vin could feel the arm holding him close, the strong shoulder under his cheek. Tears started to burn in his eyes and scrubbed them against the cloth under his face. Chris felt the movement and suspected the cause, moving his hand to rub soothingly across the narrow back.

He had only intended to remove the threat from Vin, not cause the pain himself. He took a shuddering breath himself at the thought of dying and those being the last words Vin would have heard from him.

Worry and illness had taken their toll on the pair and both stayed entwined, falling into a comforting darkness.

Buck had waited impatiently but Vin failed to reappear. Finally he climbed the steps and slipped quietly into the clinic. Seeing the two together, Buck decided the rest of the story could wait and started to back out.

Larabee's eyes opened at the movement in the room. Buck nodded to the smaller figure laying against Chris.

“You two okay?”

“We will be.”


Buck decided to join Ezra at the saloon. He could see the gambler already had a drink, but he ordered another anyway. He kicked the chair away from the table and sat down, sliding the extra glass over.

“Don’t think I thanked you Ez.”

Ezra watched the big man lean forward on his elbows, no sign of the usual ebullience.

Buck finally raised his head. “How could I not notice, not even ask? You took one look and saw there was something more.”

“Young Mr Tanner doesn’t show a lot, and I am perhaps a little more familiar with those habits.”

“But still, I thought he knew he could turn to me, that I’d help him even if Chris wasn’t here.” Buck idly slid his empty glass back and forth.

“What he thought he knew was turned upside down by Mr Larabee himself.”

“Chris might have done that unintentionally, but he’ll fix it. Now what the Sheriff did, that was intentional. He didn’t lift a finger to help Vin. I’d like to do a little turning upside down there,” Buck growled.

“Physical violence, while having some appeal will achieve nothing. Assaulting an officer of the law will find you behind the same bars that Vin faced, only you’ll be there far longer. The Sheriff, such as he is, broke no law so you would be in the wrong.”

Buck leaned back in his chair, exhaling heavily. “Doesn’t stop me from picturing it. Still the man’s gotta be over fifty so there’s not much satisfaction in flattening him. I could shoot him, somewhere painful but not deadly,” Buck suggested hopefully.

“Then what? Claim it an accident? Where is the penalty in that?”

“Hell Ezra, you think he should just get away with this? I can’t believe I stood there talking to the bastard!”

“Mr Wilmington, it didn’t occur to you that the Sheriff hadn’t ensured Vin’s safety and well-being because you would never consider leaving a child to fend for themselves. Regardless of his belief in Mr Larabee’s claim, he clearly knew that Vin was alone in his town.”

“So, what can we do?”

“What do you know about this Sheriff?”

“I hardly spoke to the man. He asked about Mason, the guy who shot Chris. Guess he was looking through the wanteds for easy pickings.” Buck sat a little straighter at Ezra’s interest.

“A man at the end of his working life is always looking to finance his retirement. Let me consider the matter. Rest assured, he will regret the day he ignored Mr Tanner’s request for help.”

Buck watched curiously as the gambler left the table, nodding to Nathan in passing.

Nathan joined Buck at the table only to be informed of what he’d also missed on their arrival and departure from Clear Creek. He was as surprised as Buck. He’d focussed on Chris when they’d arrived, no more than glancing at Vin and assuming his withdrawal was due to his worry over Chris.

“I’m going to talk to them both and ask Vin the questions I should have days ago.”

Nathan heard the self-blame in the voice. “I was there too Buck. I assumed he’d been cared for as well.” Nathan stood, scraping the chair backwards. “Come up to the clinic soon. Chris is doing well and we should get this cleared up quickly for both their sakes.”

Nathan pushed the door to his clinic open to check on his patient. “Don’t tell me that doesn’t hurt,” he commented when he saw that Chris was awake with Vin sprawled over him. “Let me move him.”

“He’s fine Nathan, let him sleep.”

“I should check him anyway.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

Nathan would leave it for Buck to explain all that had gone on without their knowledge. “He’s not been eating very much lately. I’m just going to make sure it’s nothing serious.” Chris looked increasingly worried. “I’m sure it’s only because he’s been fretting.”

“Do you have to wake him?”

“’m awake,” the muffled voice grumbled.

Nathan moved in quickly as Vin started to shift position, not wanting the boy to put too much weight on the injured man. Nathan easily lifted Vin and shifted him down to the foot of the bed where he sat scrubbing his eyes to clear the remnants of sleep. Nathan then helped Chris to straighten, resettling the pillows again to support the damaged ribs.

“Stay there Vin and take your shirt off please.” Nathan stopped the boy as he’d begun to climb off the bed.

“Why?” Vin asked suspiciously.

“Because you haven’t been eating. Have you been sick or had any pain?”

Vin wasn’t sure what he’d been feeling. He hadn’t actually been sick, he’d just ached a lot. “No, it’s fine.”

“Well let me check anyway. Shirt,” Nathan indicated with a flick of his finger. Nathan proceeded to press gently at Vin’s stomach and abdomen. Chris looked over, worried as Vin jerked away, covering his mouth with his hands to stifle the sounds as Nathan’s probing progressed.

“Nate?” Nathan smiled to reassure Chris and pulled Vin’s hands away. He demonstrated again as he pressed Vin’s side, the giggles no longer hidden behind the hands.

Nathan discreetly looked over Vin’s back, running his hands down the boy’s arms and legs with no sign of flinching. There were no bruises or scrapes to be found, only the blisters on Vin’s hands the outward sign of his days in Clear Creek. Nathan rebuttoned Vin’s shirt. “Buck wants to stop in for a few words.” Nathan saw the frown return and knew Chris hadn’t missed his extra inspection. He escaped quickly and left Buck to the explanations.

“What’s going on Buck?” Chris asked warily.

Buck sat in the hard chair by the bed and Vin stayed on the end of Chris’ bed.

“Vin, Chris and I need to know what happened when you were in Clear Creek.”

“Nothin’ happened.”

“Vin,” Buck prompted.

“Well nothin’ important happened.”

“After Chris was shot Vin. Where were you?”

“I went to see Chris. I went with the Sheriff. I didn’t run away,” he defended quickly.

“No Vin, we didn’t think that.” This was turning into an interrogation. Buck turned to Chris for a moment. “The problem Chris is that no one believed you and Vin were family.” He could see Chris start to explain again. “No, no, we understand why you said that.”

Vin’s was suddenly very interested in the blanket that lay over Chris’s legs. He plucked at the small tufts of fluff.

“So you saw Chris?” Buck asked.

Vin shook his head. “Wasn’t allowed. They said Chris was too sick and I wasn’t to ask for money.”


“For a wire. The Sheriff wouldn’t believe me and I didn’t think he was gonna find you.”

“But you did send a wire.”

“Only after I earned the money. I snuck into the doctor’s house to get the money from Chris, but the lady there caught me and called the Sheriff.”

“Lady’s not the word I’d use,” Buck growled quietly to Chris. A little louder he prompted. “Which is where the jail comes in.”

“Jail?” Chris looked to Vin in surprise.

“They thought I was trying to steal your money and gun. I wasn’t,” he denied.

Chris cleared a space next to him and Vin moved up to sit close. Chris stretched an arm out to embrace the narrow shoulders. “We know you weren’t doing anything wrong. It was the sheriff who was wrong to put you in jail.”

“I was plenty mad because he wouldn’t help and I don’t much like jail, but it wasn’t important.” Vin just couldn’t see what they were so upset about. Vin shook his head in confusion at the adults. “It’s not like it was a closet or cellar and the Sheriff yelled a lot but he didn’t hurt me. He came back and let me out just like he said he would.”

Chris put his hand up to stop Buck. “Vin, it’s not the size of the room or how long you were there. The point is that he locked you in. You didn’t do anything to deserve being locked up like that.”

Vin looked from one to the other, frowning slightly. Didn’t they know? “Some folks don’t need a reason.”

Chris sighed sadly. “I think we have to do something about raising those expectations of yours Vin.”

Vin looked down at himself but saw nothing amiss. “Nothin’ wrong with m’spectations.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Buck pinched an arm lightly. “I think a scrawny little thing like you needs to build them expectations up some.”

“Don’t tease Buck,” Chris warned, holding his own smile in.

“Ain’t scrawny…I’m…I’m…,” he finally found the word Ezra used. “Svelte!” That brought matching grins from both men.

“Svelte are you? Is that one from Ezra?” Chris asked.

“Yeah, he said it was like being skinny.”

“Well I don’t think he was describing you Vin. Let’s just stick with skinny,” Chris suggested.

A loud growl from Vin’s stomach stopped any more conversation.

“Do you think you can eat now?” Chris asked.

Vin nodded with a grin. “Yeah.”

Buck fished around in his pockets and retrieved some coins. “You take these and collect JD from Mrs Potter. You can both buy something from the bakery.”


“Anything.” Chris stopped Vin’s departure, tightening his grip on his shoulder for a moment. “I’m sorry you had to provide for yourself but you did a good job. I’m very proud of you.”

Vin blushed slightly before disappearing out the door. Buck waited until the door closed then finally looked up at his old friend.

“God I’m sorry Chris. He’s been home days and I never even asked what had happened to him.”

“It’s not your fault Buck. I started this whole thing.” Chris paused for a moment, his eyes hardening. “You given any thought to this, particularly that Sheriff?”

Buck heard the hard edge in the question. “I’d love to go back and show them they were all wrong.”

Chris shook his head. “No, I’m not putting Vin out on display. I won’t ever deny him like that again, but I’m not going to advertise either. Mason decided on grabbing Vin, others might too. I don’t want to draw attention to Vin and make him a target.”

“I understand Chris. Ezra and I have had this discussion.”


“Yeah. He was the one who suspected that there was more to all this. He seemed to have an idea about what to do.” Buck could see that the long day was taking its toll on his injured friend. “Rest for a while, pard,” he suggested as Chris struggled against sleep. He helped Chris slide down lower in the bed. “I’ll send Nathan up.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Chris, do what he says. We want you back home as soon as possible.”


Chris was returned home a day later under strict orders to continue resting. A quiet moment on the porch was interrupted by the arrival of a telegram from town. Buck glanced at the contents then smirked.

“What?” Chris demanded. Telegrams were rarely good news.

Buck handed it over silently.

“Sheriff McKane? He’s asking real nice if we arrived safely, including Vin? Why does he give a damn now?”

Buck grabbed the paper just as Chris started to ball it up. “No, I need to show that to Ezra.”


“All a part of his plan. We had a reply ready to send back and just about now the good Sheriff of Clear Creek should be regretting not asking about Vin earlier.”

“What’s he done?”


Ezra departed Four Corners on the same afternoon that Buck, Chris and Vin discussed all the events in Clear Creek. Their hands had been tied in that Vin had not been treated illegally, nor did he show any physical harm. Complaints were likely to be ignored so Ezra relied on handling matters his way. All that was required was identifying the thing that a person most desired and removing it or supplying it as the situation dictated. Ezra had occasionally passed though Clear Creek as the saloons were large and the gaming tables busy. He’d not had the misfortune to cross paths with the Sheriff before. He flipped through his stack of cards and found a suitable one. Tethereing his horse outside the jail he crossed the sidewalk and boldly stepped into the office.

“My good sir, as the upholder of law and order in this township, perhaps you can assist me in locating someone. I’ve been searching a number of months and now believe he is in this region of the country.”

McKane looked the stranger over. If he was some sort of bounty hunter then he was the flashiest one he’d ever seen. He stood out like a sore thumb in that red jacket. “Got no interest in bounty hunters. You do your own looking.”

“Bounty? You are mistaken. Quite the opposite in fact.”

McKane squinted at the neat white card that was presented to him. The bold black letters read Stawell & Sullivan, Attorneys at Law. “Lawyer? You drummin’ up trade?”

“I am attempting to locate the young recipient of a quiet sizable bequest. Given the nature of the estate our client has provided a substantial reward for the location of this child.”

“What child, and how sizeable?”

“$500 for the location of the child. Proof positive information only. This is a reasonable facsimile, although it's drawn when he was a little younger. One to two years at the most.”

McKane unfolded the paper to reveal on ink drawing of a familiar face. McKane smiled slowly at his good fortune. “Seen someone similar. You got a name?”

“Vincent Tanner.”

“Yeah I’ve seen this boy.”

“Good, good, where may I find him?”

“He was around here a couple of days ago.”

“So you know his current location?”

“Well, not exactly.”

“I’m afraid I need exact information.”

“There were some telegrams that came in from Four Corners asking about him. Kid probably moved on. He said he was from around there.”

“Well I’m sorry, but the stipulations are quite specific. The reward is for locating the child or positive information of his location. Rumor and speculation are of no assistance.”

“I told you where he is. That money should be mine,” he demanded.

“No. As I said, the reward cannot be for speculation. You can’t confirm his present location at this time?”

“But I can. Just give me a little time?”

“Can you recommend a reputable establishment where I may dine.”

“Grand Hotel down the end of this street serves a good meal.”

Trust that kid to be trouble even when he wasn’t here. McKane thought about the last time he’d seen the boy. It was the morning when he’d released him from the cell. He was still getting uppity about Larabee and wiring Four Corners. McKane stopped at the doctor’s house an asked about the day Larabee left. Mrs Beaumont recalled them asking after the boy but had taken little notice if he’d left with them. There was only one way to be sure. He considered his words carefully and the walked toward the telegraph office.

He paced back and forth until finally a reply arrived. Vin Tanner was with Chris Larabee and now living in Four Corners. He took the evidence and headed eagerly to the Grand Hotel.

Ezra watched the sheriff’s confidant stride, the paper clutched in his hand.

“I have the proof. That reward is mine.”

“I’m sorry, but you’re too late. I met a gentleman at lunch who resides in Four Corners and confirmed the whereabouts of Vincent Tanner. He is now the eligible recipient of the $500.”

“You said I just needed proof.”

“Yes indeed, but you did not provide that proof first. If you knew his location when I first enquired then of course the money would be yours. You are however, too late. I intend to depart immediately for Four Corners, so good day to you.”

McKane kicked at the dirt as he watched his money riding away. He crumbled the telegrams and threw them to the ground. He should have known better than to get involved in anything with that kid. Tanner was just trouble with a capital T.

The End

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