"Would you gentlemen care for some coffee," Lydia asked of the men gathered outside her home?

"No thank ya ma’am," Dunne replied as he tipped his hat. Sanchez smiled at the woman, while Larabee acknowledged both the request and the reply with a similar smile. Martin looked lovingly at his wife and grinned. No one expected her to wait on them but he knew she liked to be helpful.

Martin watched as Lydia went back into the house just as their son came running out.

"Slow down Cody," she suggested in a motherly tone.

"Sorry ma." The boy looked at his mother as she smiled and ruffled his hair.

"You stay out of the way now … ya hear? And don’t go wandering off either. It’ll be time for school soon."

"Yes ma," he replied slightly disappointed about what he might miss. Mrs. Haynes smiled again at her son and went back into the house. Cody turned and looked at the three men as they talked to his father. He recognized all of them, although he’d had no real opportunity to interact with any of them. Billy Travis knew these men though. Oh, he’s so lucky the boy had thought to himself when his best friend told him tales. Like all boys their age, some of them were probably tall tales, but Cody still loved to listen.

The big man was their preacher. He knew Mr. Sanchez on sight and wasn’t afraid to talk to him. Pa said he really wasn’t a minister anymore, but Ma argued the point and said a spiritual man of any sort was better than none at all. Ma usually won these kinds of debates. Her logic really couldn’t be disagreed with though. Even Pa gave the preacher praise for some of his services now and then.

The man in black was Mr. Larabee. Billy had told Cody that he was a famous gunfighter who didn’t do bad things anymore. Since his grandpa had hired Chris and the others, he only did good things now. Even though he knew Billy really liked the man, Cody wasn’t sure of him himself. He figured he’d just watch and decide on his own.

Then there was Mr. Dunne. Most of the boys in town wanted to be just like JD. He was so lucky that all of those men let him ride with them and let him be one of them. Cody wanted to be that lucky when he grew up. To be a member of a group like the seven would just be the best thing in the whole world. Oh, JD was just so lucky.

The boy wandered slowly passed the men and towards the workshop. He could see the fourth peacekeeper mulling around the chicken coop and he wondered what exactly he was looking for. First he examined the torn fencing and then he got real close to the ground and ran his fingers over it very lightly. As the child watched he saw Mr. Tanner get even closer to the earth with his face.

"What he doin’ pa?"

Martin looked at his son and then followed his gaze towards the hen house. After looking at Vin Tanner curiously he looked back to Larabee for an explanation. Chris glanced at the tracker and then back at the boy.

"He’s tryin’ ta pick up a scent son."

"Did the Indians teach him that Mr. Sanchez?" Cody moved back slightly and looked at the older man as he asked the question. He wasn’t sure if he liked talking to the gunslinger, but he knew he could trust the preacher.

Josiah smiled as he thought on the question. He put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

"Well Cody… I reckon’ Mr. Tanner there knows a lotta things. Suppose the Indians he lived with might ‘a taught him quite a few interestin’ tricks. All men can learn from one another no matter where they come from. Just cause ya don’t rightly know about what someone’s doin’, don’t mean you gotta be afraid of it."

"Is he helpin’ us."

"The best way he knows how," Josiah smiled and tilted his head.

The boy considered the words then motioned towards Tanner again.

"Here he comes."

The four men moved to meet up with the tracker as he headed over towards them. Cody stayed back a little, but wanted to be close enough to hear what was going on. Larabee looked at Vin questioningly as Tanner just shook his head.

"They’re a pack alright, but they ain’t no wolves Chris."

"What else ‘round these parts runs in packs Mr. Tanner," Haynes asked. The apprehension was clear in his voice.

Vin looked at his leader and then back at Martin. He lowered his head momentarily in thought.

"They ain’t from around here Mr. Haynes. Reckon they’s a pack of wild dogs. Right mean bunch too." Tanner looked up at the man then back at his friends.

"Don’t usually see that much blood unless they’s fightin’ among themselves. Likely means they ain’t figured out who’s the boss, which means they’re more dangerous than most."

"What’s a wild dog Vin," Dunne asked. He’d never heard the expression before.

"Society’s throw aways," the preacher piped in. He turned away from the men and looked towards the chicken coop.

"People are just too domesticated to realize their own faults sometimes brothers. We love ‘em when they’re young but neglect ‘em more as they get older. Soon we’ve forgotten all about their wants and needs. So much so that they gotta take care of their own."

Sanchez turned back to look at the four men and frowned. His gaze rested on the kid as he concluded his statement.

"And so much so, that sometimes they forget they were ever civilized at all."

John Dunne looked at the preacher as he considered the words. He could hear the irony in what Josiah had said. JD understood that he was talking about dogs, but somehow he recognized the similarities between the animals and their supposedly much more civilized owners. He had seen people neglect or abused. He’d seen older folks forgotten by their family and friends. He didn’t like to think on things like this…

"Like the ones we talked about at school?" Cody chimed in.

The men look around at each other questioningly. None of them seemed to know what the boy was talking about.

"Are they gone Mr. Tanner," Haynes asked anxiously. He was sure he hadn’t mistaken the seriousness in the tracker’s tone.

Larabee too looked at Vin for an answer. The last thing they needed in Four Corners was a pack of wild dogs roaming around endangering people and livestock.

"Reckon I’ll take a ride around and see what I can find. Chances are …," he looked at the men cautiously. "They ain’t goin’ no place when they know there’s a free meal ta be had around here."

"All right," Chris acknowledged none too happy with the news. The four men followed the gunslinger’s lead as he headed towards their horses.

"Mr. Haynes …," he began as they arrived at the fence where the horses were tied.

"I’d suggest you stay close to your family, and secure all the animals in the barn tonight."

Martin understood the warning and confirmed his understanding with a silent nod of his head.

"Which way you headed," Larabee questioned Tanner. The tracker looked back at the chicken coop then lifted his head indicating west. The gunslinger immediately took on his required leadership stance.

"JD, you go with Vin. If you happen close to any homesteads while you’re tracking ‘em, make sure you let folks know what’s goin’ on."

"Right Chris," the kid affirmed as he and Vin got on their horses and rode out.

"Josiah you head east." Larabee mounted up in unison with the preacher then continued his train of thought. "I’m gonna head back ta town and round up the others. Let anyone you see know what’s happened, and warn them about mindin’ their livestock."

"Is there’s anything I can do Mr. Larabee" Martin asked?

Chris smiled at the request, but shook his head.

"Take care of your family and animals Mr. Haynes. Stay safe until we can deal with this."

The gunslinger indicated for the preacher to head on out then tipped his hat towards the carpenter and rode out himself.

"Be careful Mr. Larabee," Martin whispered to himself before turning back to find Cody. He looked around nervously then called for the boy to follow him as he went back to the house to retrieve his rifle.

The three remaining peacekeepers were gathered in the sheriff’s office getting their instructions from Chris Larabee. He was buried waist deep in his customary leadership role and as usual, performing flawlessly.

"… and Ezra."

Standish looked up from the saddlebag he was putting extra rounds into.

"Make sure you ride as far north as the plateau. "

The southerner considered the statement for a moment. Chris should have known that Ezra wouldn’t forget Joseph Langdon. The two had become ‘friends’ over the last year. Well … as close to a friend as the gambler had let anyone get.

Joseph was somewhere in his late fifties and definitely a stubborn cuss. Standish was fond of the old man and figured he’d be just as independent and just as stubborn should he live long enough to reach this respectable age.

Langdon lived alone on his extensive acreage, and because the property was bordered on three sides by either steep rock or water, there weren’t a lot of places for his cattle to run. Joseph employed several of the locals to check on his herd, four days a week, but they didn’t live with him at the ranch.

His wife had passed on several years before the seven came to Four Corners and his children weren’t around either. The gambler knew Langdon had two daughters, although Joseph only ever spoke of his eldest. Apparently Karen and her husband came a few times a year and brought his grandchildren to visit.

Katrina, on the other hand, hadn’t been seen in several years and Langdon seemed to prefer the arrangement. He had once described his youngest child as a tempest. An out-of-control wild fire with whom he butted heads every time they were in the same room together. Joseph only spoke of her the one time, and then he had told Ezra to mind his own business.

Standish smiled and nodded his head in acknowledgement of the Larabee’s order.

"Buck you ride south out past the Wells place. See if Nettie and Casey want to come in to town until this is dealt with. Inform the rest of the homesteaders then help Nettie back if she’s inclined."

"Alright Chris," Wilmington affirmed as he gathered up his rifle and headed for the door. Just as he was about to open it, the door swung open and Mary Travis walked in with Martin Haynes right behind her. It was obvious to all that she was anxious.

"What’s wrong Mary?" Larabee asked quickly.

"Mr. Haynes just told me what happened. He brought Cody into school today instead of letting him walk."

The four peacekeepers looked back and forth at each other as they realized what the widow was getting at.

"How many others?" the gunslinger asked. He was clearly alarmed by the prospect of more children heading into school by themselves and on foot.

"The Cooper children haven’t arrived yet, and James and Claire Watson aren’t here either."

"Nor David O’Malley," added Haynes.

"Mrs. Benson said Julia Mackenzie and Sarah Hillard aren’t here either. They normally walk in together."

Obviously realizing that the children would be their first priority, the peacekeepers changed their itinerary quickly.

"I’ll ride out towards the Mackenzie home and see if I can find the girls," Ezra announced as he headed for the door.

"I’ll get David O’Malley," Nathan volunteered as he followed Standish out.

"Buck …" the gunslinger directed his oldest friend.

"You get the Watson children." Wilmington nodded and headed out while Larabee turned his attention to Martin Haynes.

"Mr. Haynes do you have your buckboard?"

The carpenter nodded his affirmative answer.

"Can you follow me south Mr. Haynes. There’s four Cooper children and I’d appreciated it if you could give me a hand."

"Of course Mr. Larabee. Anything to help."

Haynes and Larabee moved out the door, but Chris stopped when Mary caught his arm.

"Be careful," she whispered.

The gunslinger smiled and lowered his head. As he looked back into her face she could tell he was back to business.

"Let folks know what’s goin’ on, and tell Mrs. Benson not to let the children go home until someone comes to pick them up."

Mrs. Travis nodded her understanding as she watched her favorite blond attend to his duties. She felt safer just knowing Chris Larabee was in charge.

Claire Watson was not a typical nine-year-old girl. She had three big brothers to follow around and most days you could find her doing just that. Her mother was constantly telling her to act more lady like, while her father just sat back and watched his tomboy daughter get into scraps and scrapes just like her older brothers. Heaven and finally blessed them with a girl, but she was proving to be just as much a boy as her siblings.

"Come on James," she called back to her twelve year old brother. "We’re going to be late if we don’t hurry."

The youngest of the Watson boys was more conservative than his older brothers, and definitely more so than his sister. He normally sat back and observed a situation before he went on in, and his instincts for people and situations were normally right on the money. Right now, James Watson was getting a strange feeling and he didn’t like it one little bit.

"Claire come back here," he demanded of his sister, as he looked at the small stand of old trees they were approaching. The girl was about a hundred yards in front of him and he didn't like the distance between them.

"Oh, all right," she called back. "I’ll wait."

Claire walked a couple of feet off the dirt trail and set her lunch bucket down by a big tree that sat off all by itself. She gazed up mischievously at the low branches and then looked back at her brother as he crested the small rise in the distance. Without a second thought, the young girl hiked up her dress, stuffed its length in her waistband and grabbed a hold of the first branch she could reach.

As James drew closer to his sister’s location he shook his head.

"Ah, come on Claire. You just said we was gonna be late. This ain’t no time to be climbing trees. How ‘m I supposed to ‘xplain to Mrs. Benson if you get all dirty."

"You don’t need to explain stuff for me. I’m big enough now ta do my own ‘xplaining. Besides …"

As the boy arrived at the tree he gazed up at his sister, some fifteen feet in the air.


"Oh, I was just watchin those dogs over there." She pointed to the stand of trees.

James turned quickly to look in the direction his sister was pointing. He could see about six or seven dogs coming out of the tree line. It looked to him that there was a few more standing in the shadows.

"What ‘s you suppose they’re doing out here all alone?"

"Shhhhhh Claire," the boy called out as he watched the two lead dogs intently.

"Don’t you shhhh me," she called back obviously a little annoyed with her brother’s attitude. "I’ll talk whenever I …"


The girl looked down at her brother angrily. She was about to yell back, but was distracted by his body stance. He seemed to be eyeing the dogs purposefully while trying to reach for the branches of the tree.

James Watson was becoming extremely nervous as he watched the dogs. They didn’t move around like any dogs he had ever seen. They seemed to be trying to circle his position as though attempting to close him in.

Suddenly he found himself remembering that article in the Tribune they had talked about in school last month. The story informed folks about a wild dog pack that had been killing livestock around Eagle Bend. The focus at school had been the animals that had been abandoned by their owners and were therefore forced fend for themselves. Mrs. Benson probably never even thought to discuss what the children should do if they found themselves approached by those same animals.

As the hounds drew closer, James touched a branch with his outstretched hand. He didn’t want to take his eyes off of the lead dogs, but he couldn’t get into the tree without turning around. Unfortunately, he figured that he would have to go now, or he wouldn’t have enough time to get up safely.

With lightening speed, James threw his lunch bucket towards the two dogs and turned to climb the tree. Leaving the pail for their companions, the pack leaders charged headlong at the young boy as he left the ground and pulled himself up towards the branches.

Claire Watson screamed for all she was worth as the lead dog flew through the air and grabbed her brother’s leg. She watched in horror as the second dog waited for his chance. She looked around desperately trying to find something, anything to throw at the animal that held her brother. Spying a dead branch a few feet below her she started to climb down.

Although evenly matched in weight, gravity was aiding the dog in its efforts to pull the boy from his perch. James could feel himself slipping. He tried to get higher but the branch below him gave way as he pushed against it with his free leg. The pain from his injured limb shot threw his whole body as the animal adjusted his bite. James desperately looked up to his sister and felt himself cringe as he realized she was climbing down instead of up.

"Go back," he tried to call out, the agony obvious in his voice.

Claire ignored her brother’s plea as she reached out for the dead branch and secured it in her grip. Edging down a few more feet she positioned herself directly over the dog as it snarled and tried again to drag her brother from the tree. Careful of her aim she called out.

"Don’t move James."

As the shock and blood loss became greater, the boy was slowly starting to lose his perception on reality. James looked up at his sister and smiled as he realized what she was attempting to do. He mustered some strength and readied himself for another push should she be successful in her efforts. He nodded his head to show he was ready, then watched as the large piece of wood came hurtling towards him.

Catching the wild animal by surprise, the dead branch hit directly on the top of the dog’s head and sent him wincing back with a yelp. He landed against the second dog and they were momentarily distracted by their internal conflict. Fighting off his competitor, the second dog lunged for his turn at the victim, but it was too late. The boy was safely out of reach.

James had succeeded in pushing himself up to the next branch when the dog had let go of his leg. His sister’s helping hand was now coaxing him further into the tree. Slowly the children made their way up about twelve feet in the air then Claire gently settled her brother against the trunk of the tree and looked at his leg.

Blood was dripping steadily from the wound and already soaked through the material of his torn pants. The girl realized she had to do something to stop the flow. When her other brother Tommy had fallen from the barn roof last year and broken his leg, Mr. Jackson had said it was a good thing her Pa stopped the blood flow when he did. With the bone sticking through the skin the way it was, Tommy wouldn’t have lasted very long with that kind of blood loss.

Claire reached down and tore two large strips from her petticoat. She hated the thing anyway, so she didn’t mind seeing it shredded like this. Smiling at the cloth she began wrapping it around James’ leg as tight as she could. She looked out through the trees when she heard the dogs snarling at each other. They appeared to be fighting over the contents of the two lunch pails. Happy that the animals were momentarily distracted, Claire turned back to look at her brother.

"It’s gonna be alright James," she said confidently as she started to wrapped the second strip around her brother’s leg.

"They can’t get us up here."

The boy’s grip on reality was slipping even more, but he managed a small smile.

"You did real good Claire," he whispered as he looked out towards the animals.

"Reckon you betta keep a watch out for anyone passing by." He winced in pain as she tucked in the second strip.

"We can’t stay up here forever."

The young girl looked at the paling face before her and understood what her brother was saying. He was losing blood and soon might lose consciousness. She moved along the branch and tried to get her arm around his waist. Cuddling James as close as she could, Claire looked out to the horizon in hopes that she might see someone … real soon.

Jackson rode into town with David O’Malley in the saddle behind him. Coming to a stop in front of the exchange he helped the boy down then followed quickly behind.

"Go on inside David," he directed the boy passed Mary Travis, as she stood by the door.

"Who else is back?" he asked expectantly of the widow.

"No one yet," she answered anxiously. Looking back at Mrs. Benson she shook her head.

"I don’t know what could be keeping them."

"Maybe a full load," the healer replied as he spied Standish coming in from the other end of town. Julie Mackenzie sat behind him while Sarah Hillard rode in front. Sandwiched between them, the gambler didn’t look at all pleased with the situation he found himself in. He smiled a greeting to the schoolteacher as he reined in his horse in front of her.

"If you will be so kind as to assist me with these two lovely young ladies Mr. Jackson."

Julie and Sarah both giggled at the reference and smiled at Nathan as he helped them down. Once both girls were safely on the ground they ran off inside the exchange still giggling. Ezra dismounted shaking his head all the while.

"I wasn’t aware that the utterance of a few kind words could provoke this kind of reaction in females of such a young age."

"Just what did you say to ‘em Ezra?" Jackson asked as the southerner secured his horse.

"I simply mentioned the possibility of danger and that two such lovely young women shouldn’t be left to the own mean when a gentleman happened by and recognized their need of assistance."

Mary smiled to herself as she listened to the gambler. Given the right circumstances, words that poetic might make her blush, let alone two eleven-year-olds. She shook her head as she commented.

"Perhaps you should consider the vulnerable age at which those two young ladies are at Mr. Standish. I dare say the word blossoming applies … for more than one reason."

Mrs. Travis bowed her head and then looked over at the schoolmistress. It was clear that the woman had similar thoughts on the subject. Victoria Benson was a widow, and had only been in Four Corners a little more than two months. She was still getting used to folks around town. The seven peacekeepers generally seemed acceptable to her standards, but she wasn’t that comfortable with them yet. A couple of them in particular didn’t sit well with her.

She gave Ezra another disapproving look, turned and followed the girls into her makeshift schoolhouse. Mary traced the teacher’s movements with her eyes then looked back at the gambler. She tried in vain to hide the smirk on her face. Standish too was smiling covertly. The moment was lost as a voice called from down the street.

"Nathan. Ezra … anyone seen Buck yet."

Mrs. Travis looked up to see Chris riding in, just ahead of Mr. Haynes. Martin’s buckboard was loaded down with the four Cooper children. Mary moved around to help Jacob and Martha down as they came to a stop at the school. Ruth and Peter got down by themselves and helped their smaller siblings into their temporary school.

"Nothin’ from Buck yet," the healer answered once the children were all inside.

"The Watson farm is only a couple of miles out of town," Mary commented. "What could be taking so long."

The three peacekeepers all seemed to be thinking the same thing as Ezra and Jackson mounted up. They were about to head out and find their wayward friend when their attention was once again drawn to the far end of town.

Buck Wilmington rode like the wind as he came into town from the north. He felt sick to his stomach as he yelled for Nathan Jackson to come quick. He’d made this ride before with another young man’s life hanging in the balance. He hollered for Nathan again.

Some ten months ago it had been JD Dunne whose life depended on his speed, now it was James Watson who needed a fast horse and a good healer. Buck prayed that they could give him both as he arrived at the clinic. Quickly dismounting, three sets of hands offered to take the boy as Wilmington handed his young charge off to Larabee.

"Up here," Nathan directed as he rushed up the stairs. Chris was close behind.

"What happened?" Standish asked as he followed the lady’s man up the stairs. Nathan too looked for an answer as his leader set the child on his worktable.

"Found Andrew at his homestead. He told me that James and Claire had taken the short cut along Cutter’s Trail… We found ‘em up in a tree about a mile out ‘a town," he recounted, trying to catch his breath. The shock of their discovery was weighing heavily on Buck’s mind. So too was the insistence of the boy’s father that Wilmington could get his son to Nathan faster than any plough horse ever could.

"Chased about a dozen of them dogs off. Guess they was lucky they found the tree when they did…"

Wilmington looked the three men in the eye and shook his head is disbelief. He backed away as Nathan busied himself cutting away the stripes of cloth and examined the wound carefully. Buck felt lightheaded. Sick to his stomach. He quickly headed for the door and made a hasty retreat.

Andrew Watson hurried through the opening several minutes later and looked intently at the healer. Claire followed right behind, with Mary Travis in tow.

"Dr. Jackson …?" the anxious father called out as he looked at the exposed wound on his son’s leg.

Nathan looked at Chris and silently asked him to clear the room. Larabee tried to usher the family outside as Watson protested.

"It’s alright Mr. Watson," Jackson tried to console the man.

"Give me some time," he smiled his reassurance to the distressed father and nodded his head.

"Go on now."

Mary Travis took Watson’s arm and tried to distract the man from his son. She smiled softly and guided the man and his daughter out of the door. Chris followed and closed the door gently behind them.

Nathan turned to Standish and shook his head.

"Give me a hand Ezra," he indicated to the wound as he rolled up his sleeves. The gambler removed his jacket and pushed up his cuffs as they prepared to tend James Watson.

The man in black stood out back of the stables in silence, and watched his oldest friend. Wilmington sat quietly in the meadow with his hat in his hands. He was clearly lost in thought. After several long minutes Chris decided it was time to talk. The lady’s man lowered his head to his knees as Larabee approached.

"What’s up Buck?"

Receiving no reply, Larabee knelt down and tried again.

"Buck," he called, this time resting his hand on Wilmington’s shoulder.

The lady’s man pushed his friend away gruffly then watched as the gunslinger landed on his ass.

Normally Chris might have expected at least a soft smile, but there was nothing. Buck looked at his oldest friend blankly.

"I don’t think I can do this no more Chris," he turned his face away.

Larabee moved closer and tried to console his friend.

"You’re doin’ just fine Buck. Things like this ain’t easy, but Nathan is doin’ what he can. The boy ‘ll make it."

"Ain’t just the boy," he replied harshly.

"Last year it was …"

At that moment Chris realized where his friend had gone. He knew in his gut that Wilmington had put up a wall after JD was shot that first time. It had taken time for them to bring him back. Things had been going well until it had happened all over again five months ago. Yet the second time was different. He was clearly holding something back, but no one was certain if he understood that himself. He distracted himself by being everyone’s guardian more than usual. Seemingly trying to cool tempers and settles disputes without being asked. All the while he was evidently ignoring his own needs.

Chris looked at Wilmington and shook his head. This thing with James Watson had brought to the surface, all that Buck had tried to hide, but the gunslinger knew they didn’t have time for this right now. He tried to concentrate.

"Right now I need you focused Buck," Larabee was all business in his approach.

"These people need you to do your job. We can discuss this later. Right now I need you to ride south and warn the homesteaders. The gunslinger got to his feet and turned away.

"Maybe there ain’t gonna be no … later," Wilmington called back as his best friend walked away. Chris heard the words, but continued on his way and tried to ignore the implication.

Andrew Watson watched in silence as his wife sat beside the healer’s bed holding her son’s hand. She was a strong woman and Andrew loved her dearly. He smiled for her, as she looked his way. Mary Travis distracted them both as she entered the room carrying a lunch tray.

"How’s he doing Margaret?" the widow asked of the older woman.

Mrs. Watson smiled.

"He’s starting to get warm. Dr. Jackson said he might. I’ve given him some of the herb tea he left …," she faded off as she again gazed at her son.

"If Nathan thinks he’s going to be fine, … then he will. He may not be a real doctor …"

"He’s just as good in our book," Andrew put in to the conversation as he moved closer to the bed.

"If he hadn’t been around when Tommy shattered his leg …"

"Mr. Watson…" Mary started to say.

"James is gonna be just fine … just you wait and see," he smiled as he moved behind his wife and rested his hands on her shoulders.

Mary nodded her head and smiled as she set the tray down on the small table and left the Watsons to be with their son.

Standish reined his horse into a slower pace as he approached the Langdon home. He studied the scene carefully as he got closer. He could sense that something was wrong and he didn’t care for the feeling one little bit.

The barn door was half open and so was the front door to the house. There were no horses in the corral and the milk cow was missing from her pen. A strange, eerie silence seemed to hover in the air.

As Ezra got closer to the barn he spotted the cow laid out rather unceremoniously beside the barn. It was obvious to the gambler that she had been attacked and mauled viciously. He drew his weapon and guided his horse towards the house.

"Mr. Langdon," he called out anxiously as he made his way east, around the grand oak tree.

"Joseph. It’s Ezra Standish." He looked around anxiously.

"Joseph can you …"

The gambler lowered his head solemnly as he saw the subject of his search laid out in a similar manner as the milk cow. The pain of realization and regret were clearly visible on Ezra face as he accepted the horror of the old man’s fate. The feelings were quickly forgotten as he searched the horizon to see if he was safe to dismount. Satisfied that he could get down from his horse he did so, then holstered his pistol and retrieved his bedroll.

Despite the condition in which he found the gentleman, Standish took his time and bundled the old man comfortably in the bedroll before bending to lift the body and deliver it to the house. As he did so his horse shied away nervously.

"Oh I am well aware of the uncomfortable odor," he commented to his horse as he tried to calm it. Grabbing the loose reins, he took a few more steps towards the house then stopped. Ezra cautiously eyed the surrounding landscape. He couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but decided the tool shed was closer than the house.

Several more purposeful steps and he reached the small building. He set Joseph’s body down long enough to secure his horse to the support beam then turned the door knob. His horse let out a panicked snort and Standish turned quickly. He caught sight of shadows moving around the barn.

"Easy there," he whispered to the horse as he quickly delivered Langdon’s body to the safety of the tool shed and secured the door behind him. Quickly he untied his horse and mounted up just as the shadows developed into full blown, snarling dogs. For a split second he thought about how James Watson had secured his fear long enough to get to that tree. Ezra set heels to hindquarters and provoked his horse to a full gallop. Cutting across the grass, the dogs moved to intercept, but were quickly left behind as the gambler made a hasty return to Four Corners.

"I reckon theys got ‘a be somewhere northeast of town. Just don’t see no way of tellin’ which way theys come or gone with them using the same route all the time." The tracker was conveying information to Sanchez and Jackson as they waited outside the jail for the return of the other peacekeepers.

"So you can’t tell anythin’" Nathan questioned.

"Fresh tracks is easy to spot, but the old ones is all mixed up."

The preacher watched as Tanner rested himself against the support beam. He was clearly disappointed with the signs he’d found. Not being able to convey accurate information to his friends was obviously frustrating the man greatly.

"Well at least we know the general area they are keepin’ to," Josiah commented trying to ease Vin’s perceived failure. JD joined his friends from inside the jail. Holstering his weapons he smiled as he looked down the street.

"Looks like Buck managed ta convince Nettie and Casey ta come on in," JD said happily as he stepped off the boardwalk. Together the four watched as Wilmington followed the buckboard down the street. Nettie reined the horses in and smiled at Vin.

"Afternoon Miss Nettie," he greeted the spunky old lady with the familiar Tanner smile.

She, in turned, tipped her head, before turning her attention to her niece.

"We’ll get settled in at the hotel Casey and then you can see about them patches you were eyeing."

"Alright," the younger Wells acknowledged her aunt’s directions as she smiled at Dunne.

"Thank ya Mr. Wilmington," Mrs. Wells looked over at the lady’s man and smiled.

He tipped his hat and smiled in response, then watched as the buckboard started to depart. Casey and JD exchanged fading glances as the distance between them grew.

"Anything from Chris or Ezra yet," Wilmington questioned Josiah.

The preacher and tracker shook their heads in unison.

Buck lowered his head before turning his attention to Jackson.

"How’s the boy Nathan?"

The healer took a deep breath before answering. The nature of the wound was the thing bothering him the most. The chewing and tearing of undefended bone and tender muscle had caused a lot of damage.

He’d stopped James’ leg from bleeding the way it had been, and had stitched the internal tissue, exposed muscles and most of the skin. The fluid coming from the damaged bone and surrounding area was a problem. He knew that this kind of injury was susceptible to gangrene.

Recalling something he read a few days before, the healer had sought out the guidance of his new reference material. He didn’t have any of those fancy surgical drains the book spoke of, but he’d left a small portion of the leg partially unstitched. That, along with elevating the patient’s upper body, seemed to be allowing the damaged tissues to shed the excess fluids they created to help in healing themselves.

"Reckon I can keep things under control enough ta stave off infection, but I can’t promise I can save the leg," he recounted unemotionally. "That kinda damage is prone ta gangrene. I just hope that new book’s tellin’ me the right thing ta do." The ‘drainage cavity’ he’d left open went against all that he had learned previously. He took another deep breath and shook his head.

"I’ll do what I can though."

"You always do brother."

Jackson smiled his thanks to the preacher and nodded his head before returning his attention back to the lady’s man.

"You alright Buck?"

The seriousness in Wilmington’s face was read by all in attendance. The kid couldn’t help but feel responsible for the way his friend was feeling. The attachment the two shared appeared to be on precarious ground right now. This incident with James Watson was clearly causing Buck to re-live some bad memories.


No one had noticed Larabee arrive. They all glanced at their leader and tried to refocus on the matter at hand. The gunslinger dismounted and secured his horse before heading inside the sheriff’s office. He motioned for his men to follow. They all complied with the request, although Wilmington was slow to accompany them.