Standing in the open doorway, Charles Warner noted the empty bed. "I see you’ve already sent the young man home."

Nathan looked up from his packing. "Morning, Doctor Warner. Come on in," he met Charles half way and shook his hand. "Can I offer you some coffee?"

"Oh, no thank you, Mr. Jackson. I had plenty at the restaurant… My wife is busy packing the items that she retrieved yesterday, so I thought I’d come on over and talk to you about this case of yours."

The healer chuckled, "Didn’t quite think of James as a case," he offered the doctor a seat in his big chair.

Making himself comfortable, Charles Warner smiled. "No… I suppose that’s a word we doctors use to prevent ourselves from becoming too involved with our patients." He watched Nathan as he pulled over a chair and sat down. "And you, Mr. Jackson are a man who can not detach yourself from those that you heal."

Nathan smirked and raised his eyebrows. "No… don’t suppose I’m much good at that."

"And I don’t use the term ‘heal’ lightly, Mr. Jackson. The scars on the boy’s leg will fade over time. And, maybe I might have been able to do a nicer job, with the right equipment…"

"I just did the…" Nathan tried to interrupt.

But Charles Warner was not accepting back talk today. He interrupted right back, "Let me finish, Mr. Jackson."

The healer nodded his head and looked at the man intently.

"Maybe I might have been able to do a nicer job, with the right equipment… and maybe not. But that’s not the important point, Mr. Jackson." He sat forward in the chair and looked at Nathan. "You saved that boy’s life, Mr. Jackson, as well as the leg." Looking around the room he grinned. "And on top of those two, very important facts… you did it here, in this working environment."

With a nod of his head, Nathan again acknowledged what the doctor was saying.

"Take it from me, Mr. Jackson. Being here… under these conditions." He again motioned to the clinic. "Even the best of qualified practitioners might not have been able to accomplish what you did with that boy… And with many others, I’m sure."

As the impact of the doctor’s words hit home, Nathan cleared his throat and lowered his head. He had always felt grateful, each and every day, for the skill that had been put in his hands. But this kind of recognition coming from a qualified doctor, was more than he had ever expected.

"If you ever need a reference, Mr. Jackson. I’d be happy to offer mine."

Nathan nodded his head slowly. Looking back into the doctor’s eyes he smiled sincerely. "Thank you, Doctor Warner." He offered his hand, "Thank you."

Shaking the offered hand again, Charles slapped the healer on the shoulder. "Now," he changed the subject. "I’d like to take a look at the reference text you used when you initiated the draining technique that you spoke of yesterday."

"Oh, yes, sir," Nathan replied, getting to his feet. He walked to the small collection of books that he had on his desk and returned with the largest. Handing the text to Charles he sat back down.

Warner immediately recognized the book. "Where on earth did you obtain this manual, Mr. Jackson. This book has only been available for… perhaps four months. And here, out west… At the moment, it can only be found in some limited surgical facilities."

Nathan was indeed surprised by the declaration. "Came from New York City," he replied slowly.

"You have friends in influential circles then?"

Nathan shook is head, "No, sir… don’t quite know who it came from actually."

Charles frowned, "But it came to you?"

"Yes, sir… My name’s inscribed inside the back cover."

Flipping the manual over, Charles Warner read the gold lettering he found inside the hardbound manual.

~~ Doctor Nathan Jackson

Four Corners, New Mexico ~~

"Well, that certainly appears to for you, " he acknowledged. Looking at the healer again he smiled. "But you still don’t know who send it to you?"

"No, sir… Only clue there is, is the writing inside the front cover. But I ain’t figured that out neither."

Turning the book once again, Charles opened it to the front cover page and read the eight words printed there in an elegant handwriting script.

~~ Thank You

for the life of my niece ~~

Charles smiled and raised his eyebrows. "As I just said, Mr. Jackson. It appears that you have saved many lives during your residence here." Closing the book he moved his hand over its cover. "I envy you your associations, sir."

As he looked about the room once more, Doctor Warner’s eyes came to rest on the healer. "Never lose your love of life, Mr. Jackson… it’s the one thing that will empower you in your quest to save lives." Doctor Warner handed the manual back to Nathan and smiled again. "And Mrs. Watson is correct. You don’t need a piece of paper on the wall to prove that you deserve the respect of a doctor. There is one thing that all doctors have in common, and that’s our gift to heal. And on those terms alone, Nathan Jackson, you merit at least an honorary title. Whoever your friend is in New York, I think he acknowledged that, the day he sent you that reference text."

At a serious loss for words, the healer just sat and gazed at the doctor before him. He smiled and nodded in agreement. Deep down, Nathan knew that he understood what the man was saying. Deep down, Nathan could not deny that Doctor Charles Warner had acknowledged his skill and, all but called him an equal.

"Telegram for Mrs. Warner. Mrs. Karen Warner," Walt Simpson announced to the small gathering outside the stagecoach office. Like most of the townsfolk, Mr. Simpson knew Joseph Langdon’s older daughter was in town. And like most, he knew that the Warners were leaving on the noon stage.

Mrs. and Mrs. Warner were standing on the board talking with Ezra Standish when Karen heard her name being called. The surprised look on her face was matched by that of her husband.

"Over here, Mr. Simpson," the gambler summoned with his hand.

Walt ventured over to the trio, "Mrs. Warner?" he questioned the lady present.


"Telegram from San Francisco, ma’am," Walt handed the lady a slip of paper.

"Thank you."

Mr. Simpson nodded, "Ma’am." He quickly departed.

Karen looked at her husband questioningly as she unfolded the paper and read it.

"It’s from Johnson and Brown."

"The law firm handling Joseph’s estate," Ezra said matter-of-factly. He’d received a few documents from them himself.

Charles Warner nodded in acknowledgement as he waited for his wife to complete her perusal of the telegram.

"It would appear that you will be having company within a few days, Mr. Standish," Karen finally spoke.

"Miss Langdon will be arriving sooner than expected?"

"No," Mrs. Warner handed the paper to her husband. "It seem as though Katrina has requested an examination of the property be completed prior to her arrival. A surveyor has already been dispatched from Denver, and should be arriving shortly."

"Your sister appears quite thorough in this endeavor," the gambler said thoughtfully. This was perhaps something Ezra himself, might request, if he were ever fortunate enough to be willed such a sizable estate.

Doctor Warner shook his head. "Sounds to me like she’s already plotting something."

"Oh, please, Charles." Karen protested. "At some point in all of this, we have to believe in her."

"Excuse me for saying so, Mrs. Warner," the southerner interrupted. "But your father must have had some reason for leaving his ranch to your sister. At dinner last night, you yourself said that she might be up to the task."

"I was trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, Mr. Standish."

Charles huffed. "And with Katrina, Mr. Standish… there is always doubt."

"Alright, ladies and gents," the stagecoach driver announced in a loud voice. "Stage is leavin’ shortly. Let’s get aboard."

Noting the driver and his words, Mr. Warner looked back at Ezra and smiled. "Time to go home, my dear," he voiced to his wife as he smiled at her too.

As several other passengers began to board the coach, Karen held her hand out towards Ezra. "Thank you for all that you have done, Mr. Standish. And thank you for being such a good friend to my father."

The gambler gently kissed the lady’s hand. "Joseph Langdon was a good man, Mrs. Warner. It was my greatest pleasure to have known him, and it is my honor to accommodate his last wishes." Letting go of the lady’s hand, Ezra turned to Charles and offered his hand to the doctor.

Shaking hands, Charles spoke strongly, "I have no doubts that Joseph chose the right man for the job, Mr. Standish. Thank you again for taking care of things."

The gambler tipped his hat as Doctor Warner took his wife’s hand. Assisting her into the coach, he followed her aboard and sat beside the door.

Seeing that his companions were comfortably in their seats, Ezra approached the small window. "I do hope that you have a safe trip back to San Fransisco, Mr. and Mrs. Warner... One last question though, if I may."

"Thank you, Mr. Standish." Charles acknowledged the pleasantry. "And your question?"

"Seeing as you are unable to inform me as to when Miss Langdon will arrive…"

Leaning over her husband, Karen smiled. "I’m afraid Katrina runs on her own schedule, Mr. Standish. She’ll arrive, when she arrives,"

Returning the smile, the gambler continued, "And as we are unable to identify that exact moment in time, might I trouble you to describe Miss Warner, so that I may recognize her when she does grace us with her presence."

Closing the stage door, the driver tapped it to insure its tightness before climbing aboard the rig.

Having watched the driver do his job, Charles returned his attention back to Ezra. He offered a gentle laugh and a sly smile. "’Grace you with her presence’, may not… be the words you want to use, Mr. Standish. And no description will be necessary when the time is at hand. When Katrina arrives… the whole town will know it."

"Next stop, Watsonville," the driver called out as he released the break and set the rig in motion.

Several other people waved as the stage departed, while Ezra Standish stood and watched quietly. Unsure of exactly what Charles Warner had meant by his last comment, the gambler wondered if the words were offered in jest or if they were, in fact, the doctor’s version of a warning.

Seating himself beside the tracker, Larabee offered a greeting following a few long seconds of silence. "Afternoon, Vin."

Tanner fingered the hat on his head and lifted the brim to reveal his eyes. Yet his baby blue orbs weren’t focused on Larabee, they continued to stare straight ahead. There was another minute of silence before he spoke. "Was wonderin’ when you was gonna say somethin’. You been watchin’ me since lunch."

Chris lowered his head in a moment of acknowledgement. They had indeed known of each other’s presence since the gunslinger appeared on the jailhouse porch an hour earlier. The blond had sat in silence and watched the reclusive tracker hiding behind his hat. Chris thought on the preacher’s words from the night before, and realized that they were true. Larabee had been so busy comforting Mary Travis since her ordeal that he had failed to see the mood Tanner could sometimes be found in lately. "You wanna take a ride?"

Another long pause preceded Vin’s words. "Reckon Josiah would be a little… upset if I headed out right about now."

Chris glanced at the sharpshooter questioningly.

Vin just stared out into the street. "’Course, I’d be with you… so he might not follow me this time."

Chris couldn’t help but wonder about what Vin was implying, but he also didn’t want to be distracted from the conversation he was planning on having. "Thought maybe we’d ride on out ta my place and come back tomorrow."

There was yet another long pause.

Larabee stood up and stared at the hat that occupied his best friend head. "Meet you at the livery… say, in about an hour?"

Staring at the gunslinger’s knees, Tanner couldn’t help but admire the tenacity that Chris exhibited when he was on task. Pursing his lips, Vin just nodded his head, then watched in silence as the black jeans in front of him slowly turned and walked away.

Five heads turn to look at the door to the Clarion News as it swung open. Ezra Standish was surprised to see so many lovely women staring back at him. He closed the door and walked over to Mary’s desk. "You do have me completely at a loss, Mrs. Travis." Looking around at the gathered women, he tipped his hat. "Good afternoon, ladies."

"You’re not supposed to ask any questions, Mr. Standish," the newspaperwoman replied.

The gambler removed his hat. "Yes, ma’am, but you did request that I advise you of an opportunity, and I believe it will be upon you tonight."

Mary glanced at the other ladies excitedly, "That soon?" she questioned Ezra.

Standish gazed at the ladies, "May I speak freely?"

Mary smiled. "Everyone here knows, Mr. Standish."

The gambler raised an eyebrow. "Then perhaps I should be availed of some more detail so that I may assist in a greater capacity."

"Ain’t gonna happen, son," Nettie Wells said happily.

Ezra looked at the widow curiously, and smiled. "I see… well, yes," he cleared his throat.

"Why is it that tonight would be a good choice, Senor Ezra?"

Glancing at Inez, before refocusing on Mary, the southerner continued. "As you are aware, Mr. Jackson has departed in search of his lovely Miss Rain."

Several heads nodded.

"In addition to that departure, Mr. Larabee has just informed his remaining associates that he, and Mr. Tanner, will be out of town until noon tomorrow."

"That sounds like the opportunity you have been waiting for, Mary." Miriam Thatcher acknowledged.

"Yes," she agreed apprehensively, "But we’ll need to work fast." Glancing around at the group, her eyes once again, came to rest on the gambler. "Can you arrange to keep the other three busy, Mr. Standish? Around… 9 p.m. perhaps?"

The southerner furrowed his brow. "This would be a great deal easier, if you could explain your intentions, Mrs. Travis."

Taking hold of Ezra’s arm, Mrs. Wells answered for Mary, "I told ya, Mr. Standish… it ain’t gonna happen." Walking him to the door, she continued, "Now you’d best get ta plannin’ if’n yous gonna distract them boys tonight."

Glancing at the ladies one more time, the gambler replaced his hat, "Yes, of course," he said flatly. Admitting defeat wasn’t easy for the southerner, but he regretfully accepted that he would get no more information out of the gathered women. "Good day, ladies," he tipped his hat and departed.

"I kinda like the way you put that, Aunt Nettie," Casey Wells spoke up. "Makes it sound like we’s doin’ somethin’ excitin’."

"We are child," Nettie replied. "Thanksgiving is observed so that we can give thanks for the precious things we have in life. And it’s about time this town observed that custom properly."

"And we have a week before this is to happen?" Inez questioned. Although familiar with the traditional holiday, it was not one she had yet experienced herself.

"Two, actually," Miriam Thatcher corrected. "Fourteen days," she looked at Mary expectantly, "I hope that is enough time to complete your plans."

"You have friends in high places. No?" Miss Recillos asked honestly.

"Orin has been a wonderful help. He believes in this strongly too. Now all we have to do is inform the town council tonight."

Getting down to business, Nettie set the tone. "So who exactly do we need to speak to before the council convenes."

Mary pulled her chair out and sat down. Gathering a pen and paper, she began to write. "We need to get as many of the petitioners there as possible. Let’s make a list and split up," she suggested.

Four heads nodded in agreement, and the ladies set their plan in motion.

"You wanted ta see me, Chris?"

Larabee glanced up at Sanchez as he secured his saddlebag. There was a moment of silence. "You been followin’ Vin around, Josiah?" The curiosity was clear in the gunslinger’s tone.

The preacher lowered his head, trying to think on his feet. He cocked his head, "Let’s just say that a little bird told me ta keep an eye on ‘im. Not ta let him wander too far until the time was right."

The gunslinger turned to look at Sanchez, "A little bird?"

The preacher only smiled.

Vin broke the silence. "With Nathan gone, and us… Should we be leavin’ town?"

Larabee turned to see the tracker behind him. His horse trailed close behind. Turning to gather his own reins, the gunslinger mounted up. "Reckon twenty four hours won’t make much difference."

A flash crossed Tanner’s mind and he lowered his head.

Chris too dipped his head as he read the recollection in Tanner’s thoughts. Slowly Larabee lifted his hazel-green eyes to meet Vin’s sky blue reflections. They looked at one another for several long seconds before Tanner’s gaze shifted. He climbed on his horse aimed it towards the end of town.

"Reckon that boy’s got a whole lot ‘a somethin’ on his mind," Josiah said from the porch. Looking thoughtfully at his leader, the preacher continued. "See what you can see, Chris… but don’t push him none."

The blond looked at Sanchez curiously again.

The preacher looked Larabee in the eye and smiled. "Maybe I got myself one of them feelin’s ‘a yours," he shrugged. "Maybe intuition… But I do know there’ll be someone else who’s gonna see ta ‘im sometime soon… And I think I might know someone who knows when."

Shaking his head, Larabee’s questioning eyes made the preacher smile.

"When I get all the pieces to the puzzle, Chris… You’ll be the first ta know."

The gunslinger resigned himself to the fact that Sanchez was talking in riddles and would tell him what he needed to know when the time was right. He tipped his hat to the big man and turned Spirit to follow Vin out of town. He couldn’t help but wonder what exactly was going on though.

"They gone?" JD asked as Sanchez came into the sheriff’s office and closed the door.

"Might I suggest that we divide the assignments presently, so that we may know what is expected of us in the next twenty four hours?"

The ladies man huffed. "You can’t just never say things straight, can ya Ezra? What’s the matter, you got a game goin’ on tanight?"

"Actually, no, Mr. Wilmington. I just thought perhaps it would alleviate any potential bickering."

"Bickering… we don’t…"

"Ezra’s right, Buck," the preacher interrupted. "Sooner we lay out a new schedule, the sooner we can get back ta what we was doin."

Dunne sat forward in his chair, "Well I’m supposed ta take the night shift, but Chris was supposed ta do the rounds tonight."

Buck glanced at Josiah, "Well, I can do that. Don’t make much difference ta me."

"No scheduled rendezvous’ this evening, Mr. Wilmington?"

The ladies man got to his feet and walked around the seated southerner. "I reckon it… ain’t fittin’ for a man to indulge… all the time," he announced seriously.

"Dry spell," the kid laughed.

‘NO," came Buck replied forcefully before calming his voice. "Just being sensitive to the needs of others, is all."

"It would appear that, Mr. Wilmington has the same reasoning no matter which side the preverbal coin lands on."

The ladies man offered a stern look to JD and Ezra as they enjoyed themselves at his expense. "I’ll be taking the night patrol, Josiah," Buck miffed. Opening the door, he continued, "But I ain’t gonna take no more funnin’." His comments were concluded as the door slammed behind him.

Sanchez laughed quietly to himself. "Alright, Ezra… seeing as how you didn’t volunteer fer anythin’, suppose you can have the night off."

Standish got to his feet. "After I have completed the afternoon patrol, of course."

He headed for the door.

"And you’d best get yerself some rest too, John Dunne. 9 PM will come soon enough."

Ezra made a conscious note of the time Sanchez expected the kid to return. Knowing this was going to cause a problem in his plans, he departed quickly to make alternate arrangements.

"Yeah, you’re right," JD noted as he watched Standish leave." He got to his feet and walked towards the door. "Everything’s gonna be quiet this time… right?"

The preacher’s gaze settled on the young man in front of him. There was little doubt in his mind what the kid was thinking about, and there was also little doubt that the worst of time rarely happened to the same folks twice under the same circumstances. "Just like in September when we split up ta deliver that prisoner. Everythin’s gonna be just fine, JD."

The kid nodded resoundingly, smiled and walked out of the office door.

The ladies man sat outside the sheriff’s office and watched his favorite kind of wild life move up and down the street. Main Street seemed to have an over abundance of female activity this afternoon, and Buck gazed upon the scene curiously

"Somethin’ must be mighty interesting to hold your attention like that," Sanchez questioned as he sat down beside his fellow lawman.

‘Well, if you can make sense of it, be my guest."

The preacher frowned and looked about.

Noticing that Josiah didn’t see what he did, Buck tried to make it a little easier. "Look over there," he indicated across the street.

"Miss Inez seems to be in her usual friendly mood," the preacher noted as he watched Miss Recillos speaking with Donald Granger and his assistant. The two men nodded to the lovely lady and went on their way.

‘Yeah, but watch…"

Sanchez frowned again then returned his gaze to Inez. He watched her looking around the street, then his eyes followed her as she made her way to the Hardware Store and greeted Virgil Watson.

They spoke for several minutes before Mr. Watson called to Bernard Allen as he came out of the post office. Another conversation ensued before Mr. Allen glanced over at the peacekeepers on the porch. Quickly realizing that they were being watched, he hid his face and quite obviously informed his companions of the observation they were under. The trio quickly said their good-byes and went their separate ways.

"What do ya make of that?" Wilmington asked.

Josiah glanced at the ladies man and smiled. "You been acting like a lawman too long, Buck. Polite conversation among townsfolk ain’t nothing ta get suspicious about." Another look in Wilmington’s direction, and the preacher knew that his friend was now focused on something else. He followed the gaze and found himself watching Mary Travis talking with Gloria Potter outside the general store. "Ain’t nothing unusual about Mrs. Travis and Mrs. Potter talkin’, Buck. They do it most ever day."

Still there was no answer, and Sanchez watched the ladies man as he gained his feet and looked towards the other end of town.

There were a few moments of silence before Buck spoke. "And how many times in an average day do you think Nettie Wells has the need to talk to Hiram Nechaus and Hans Heidegger?" The ladies man turned back to Sanchez and raised his eyebrows.

Josiah turned to look down the street. He knew that Mr. Nechaus didn’t spend much time in town these days. Since the death of his wife, he’d stayed away from Four Corners as much as possible. And seeing that JD had been cleared of any wrongdoing in Annie’s death, Hiram had little, if anything, to do with the seven peacekeepers. He also did his best to avoid anyone who associated with them as well. Yet there he was, talking with Nettie Wells. "Seems to be quite a discussion they’s havin’," the preacher noted the body language and hand gestures.

"Don’t suppose Hiram’s ever gonna see that it was an accident."

Josiah lowered his head. "If you were in his shoes, Buck… you’d have a hard time with it too."

The ladies man nodded and tried to refocus. "So ya see what I mean, Josiah. Them women folks are up ta somethin’… I just know it."

"Well, Buck… I’ll have ta trust yer judgement on that one. Ain’t another man in this town that could contest your closeness with the ladies. Now if you could just get inside their heads instead of their…"

"Good day, Mr. Sanchez," Miriam Thatcher quickly blurted out before her ears heard too much.

The preacher jumped to his feet and tried his best to distract the older woman from anything that she might have heard. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Thatcher. Is there something that we can do for you?"

Buck too had straightened his stance at the unexpected arrival of the lady. "Ma’am," he tipped his hat as she glanced his way.

"I was wondering if you gentlemen would be able to assist me," she questioned as she moved through the door into their office.

Sanchez and Wilmington looked at each other curiously before following the woman inside.

Racking his brain was not something Ezra Standish had been required to do of late. Even that little con he’d successfully pulled off in Ridge City two months ago hadn’t been too hard to accomplish. But only Nathan and Vin had be unknowing participants that time. Now Mary Travis was asking him to distract all of his associates. Only in this way could none of them participate in the special town meeting that she was secretly calling. And the fact that Standish was on his honor to neither tell about, nor attend the meeting, made the southerner even more suspicious.

As he rode back into town from his patrol of the neighboring homesteads, the gambler had resigned himself to the fact that he could not keep Sanchez and Dunne occupied sufficiently. Especially since Josiah would most likely be at the church in the evening. And as the town meetings were always held at the grain exchange, right next door, he would most certainly be alerted to its happening.

Spotting Casey Wells speaking with Virginia Elliot, Standish reined in his mount and walked on over to the young women. The gambler had clear admiration for Virginia. He knew how much tenacity it took for her to staying active in town after the imprisonment of her father for Steven Travis’ murder. Both Mother and daughter had strong constitutions. The friendship Casey and Nettie Wells had shown them was refreshing and even Mary Travis held no ill will towards the two women.

"Good afternoon, ladies," the southerner greeted.

Both women acknowledged the greeting with smiles.

"Ah, Miss Wells… I wonder if I might have a word with you," Standish said coyly as he dismounted. Trying not to be too obvious, he motioned for her to leave her current conversation and join him at the end of the walk.

Casey and Virginia completed their pleasantries and parted company. Miss Wells quickly joined he gambler and spoke quietly. "What is it Ezra… things ain’t goin’ as planned."

"Your recognition of the predicament is quite accurate, Miss Wells. I believe I am in need of your assistance. And given the fact that your Aunt is… as outspoken as she is… I feel your absence at tonight’s assembly would be acceptable under the circumstances."


Checking for prying eyes or ears, Standish looked at the young lady again. "You are not as needed at the council meeting as your Aunt, so I believe your absence will not be missed if you are otherwise occupied distracting Mr. Dunne."

"You want me ta keep JD busy tonight?"

Standish smiled. "Yes."

"Well, why the heck didn’t ya just say so, Ezra?"

Shaking his head slightly, the southerner continued. "Mr. Wilmington would not normally depart for his patrol until around 9 PM. I will be informing him shortly of a perceived problem at the Hillard property. This should sufficiently speed up his departure."

"What do ya need me ta do?"

"I thought perhaps, you could think of a way to distract Mr. Dunne through the evening. A nice dinner perhaps…"

Casey smiled. Holding out her hand she asked her question matter-of-factly. "And you’s puttin’ up some money towards this dinner?"

Reaching into his pocket, the southerner pulled out some notes and reluctantly handed them to Miss Wells. "Might I suggest that you cap off the evening with a ride in the moonlight afterwards. I believe this would suffice in extracting Mr. Dunne from this location and divert his attentions elsewhere."

With hands on her hips, the young woman scowled. "I hope you ain’t implying nothin’ by that," she objected sternly.

"Why, of course not, Miss Wells… I was merely suggesting ideas along those lines."

Casey’s momentary anger mellowed as she thought on the possibilities of spending an evening with JD. "How long’s I gotta keep him busy?"

"His requirement is to serve on night shift this evening. Mr. Sanchez is expecting him at nine…"

"But that’s when the meeting…"

"Exactly my point, Miss Wells. If the… changing of the guard… happens as scheduled, then there is a strong possibility that both Mr. Dunne and Mr. Sanchez will be alerted to the assembly."

"So what you gonna do?"

"If you can keep Mr. Dunne occupied until 10 PM, I will arrive at the office and notify Mr. Sanchez, with Mr. Dunne’s apology, of course, that he will be an hour late."

‘You think Josiah will buy that?"

"I… have sufficient topics of interest to keep Mr. Sanchez occupied for the time necessary."

"Better him than me," Casey muttered to herself.

Standish raised his eyebrows at the comment, but let it slip off his shoulders. "Do you think you can occupy Mr. Dunne sufficiently, Miss Wells?"

Casey smiled to herself, "Yeah, I think I can manage that."

As he studied the gentle smile that grew on the young woman’s lips, Ezra could imagine the thoughts going through her head. "Good," he voiced happily. "Then I shall inform Mrs. Travis to await my signal before she initiates the assemblage."

Reaching for his horse, Standish smiled at the woman still lost in thought, "Good evening, Miss Wells."

Casey barely noticed the gambler’s departure. She was too busy thinking about the things that she could do to occupy some time with a certain JD Dunne.

Larabee had spent most of the afternoon sitting on his porch… trying to read. Outwardly he appeared to be concentrating on his novel. On the inside however, he was concerned. Two and a half years ago he had met this longhaired, reclusive sharpshooter and they had become fast friends. Somehow they shared an unquestionable, unexplainable bond. Yet there were things, Chris still didn’t understand about the younger man. And this was clearly evident as different reasons for Tanner’s mood crept in and out of the gunslinger’s mind.

Chris didn’t know exactly what was bothering Vin, but he did know that a little time away from Four Corners was usually enough to calm his friend. Or at least get him back to being the tracker they all knew. The blond could only hope that this was the case today.

Tanner appeared to have been occupied most of the afternoon. Few words had been spoken after the pair had arrived at Larabee’s shack. Vin had wandered a few hundred feet away from the little porch. He sat down underneath the big old tree that grew there and from what Larabee could observe, appeared to be attempting to cipher something. Much time had passed before the tracker either grew tired of sitting or frustrated with his scribing. Tanner had spent more than two hours just walking in the wide-open spaces around the tiny cabin.

Brushing the wild grasses with his hands as he moved about, Vin was a spectacle to see. Even Chris could appreciate how ‘at peace’ the tracker appeared as he walked in the tall grass, with the gentle breeze calming his thoughts. As the gunslinger had watched, it seemed that the wind might actually be talking to his best friend. A soft, warm, inviting smile had crossed Larabee’s lips. An expression that had long since been absent from his face.

Finally, when Vin had grown tired of walking, he went to soak his feet in the stream that ran out-back of the Larabee residence. Chris caught sight of his barefooted friend walking over to the corral, and he couldn’t help but grin again. He knew that the tracker had spent the afternoon doing one, very important thing. Tanner had breathed in the clean, fresh, unoccupied air that he loved so much.

Setting his book down, Larabee got to his feet. He secretly hoped that this afternoon would be all that the tracker needed to get back to being himself again. "You gonna stay out there all night too?" the gunslinger called to his best friend. As he watched Tanner with his horse, Chris bowed his head. He glanced back at the other man and nodded gently. Only a man such as Vin would give such a profound name to his horse.

Tanner smiled at Serenity and patted him on the head. "That man’s gonna worry himself sick, if you don’t talk me outta this mood," he whispered to his horse.

He received a loud snort in reply.

The tracker smirked again and slipped the gelding the sweet grass he held in his hand. "I know… he’s only tryin’ ‘a help." Turning to look at Chris, he waved. "But… he can’t give me what I want…" Vin whispered slowly.

Larabee saw Tanner pick up his boots and head toward the shack. He smiled again before going inside to make them some supper. The sun was low on the horizon, and as was common for this time of year, there was already a hint of chill in the air.

The tracker’s boots landed inside the open door and Chris looked up from the kindling he had just lit. He heard Vin’s chair squeak as he pushed it back on two legs. The gunslinger grinned before busying himself warming some supper.

Tanner sat on the porch until Chris called him inside for the meal. He slipped his socks and boots back on before joining Larabee at the table, but said very little as they ate.

After dinner, the gunslinger cleared away the pots and dishes and cleaned them while Tanner fixed up the fire and lit the lantern. Bring another load of wood inside, Vin piled it neatly in the corner as Larabee put away the dishes. Hauling two mugs out from the small cupboard, Tanner poured two cups of coffee and waited at the table for his friend to join him.

Chris could see that Tanner was a million miles away as he sat down at the table. Vin was staring at his coffee cup, but he couldn’t see it. He caressed the brim of the mug with his fingers, yet he couldn’t feel it in his hands. "Where are you, Vin?" Larabee whispered.

Realization came to Tanner slowly. He glanced at Chris momentarily before taking a deep breath. Recognizing that he’d been caught daydreaming, Vin only smiled before bowing his head.

Silence between these two men normally spoke as much to their understanding as a thousand words might to others. Yet in the long silence preceding the trackers question, Chris couldn’t comprehend any meaning. He sipped at his coffee and waited patiently.

Raising his head to look into the eyes of his best friend, the tracker’s face showed no emotion. "How’d ya know… Sarah was the one for you?" he asked quietly.