Standish stood in the growing shadows and watched as a young man and a young woman walked to their horses and rode out of town. Casey had called Ezra over as the couple exited the restaurant and, as planned, she had requested that he let Josiah know that JD would be late for his duty shift that evening. It wasn’t until he caught the look in his young lady’s eye, that Dunne had quit protesting and agreed to go for a quiet ride in the clean, cool night air. Cold or not, Casey had insisted that she’d keep JD warm.

Pulling the pocket watch from his vest, the gambler noted the time and looked around before spotting Buck heading down the street towards him. "Good evening, Mr. Wilmington," he greeted cordially.

"Hey, Ezra," the ladies man replied happily. Stopping in front of the southerner he frowned. "So tell me again where these men were"

Standish smiled as they walked towards the livery. "The men were camped out on the west side of Clarence Hilliard’s property."

"By the stream?"

"Yes, Mr. Wilmington, where the main road and the stream intersect. I informed them that they were occupying private property and advised them to be gone by sundown."

"Alright, Ezra," Buck nodded as they arrived at the livery. "I’ll ride out and make sure they’re gonna."

"Your unwavering optimism towards your duty is a credit to your name, Mr. Wilmington." Standish commented as he turned to leave.

"Yeah," Buck huffed. "You can carve that on my tombstone."

Ezra frowned. "No time soon… I hope." Smiling as Buck shrugged off the remark and began to saddle his horse, the gambler turned towards the jail and retreated back into the shadows.

As Standish waited for Buck to ride out of town, he observed several townsfolk glancing out of their windows. He knew the time was drawing near and counted down the minutes on his watch. Finally, he spotted the ladies man head south out of town and made his way up towards the sheriff’s office. Standing outside he waved to Mary Travis as she stepped outside the Clarion.

Mrs. Travis waved back and pulled her shawl around her shoulders before venturing into the street. Her slow march down the center of Main Street would be the signal the townsfolk were waiting for. They would soon be gathering, very quietly, at the grain exchange for the town meeting Mary Travis had called.

Seeing that their plan was working perfectly, the southerner took a deep breath and turn to enter the jailhouse. His final task for the evening would be to distract the remaining peacekeeper on duty. Making his entrance loudly, Standish smiled and closed the door behind him. "Good evening, Mr. Sanchez."

Josiah looked up from the book he was reading and frowned. "Ezra… "

Taking up the seat across from the preacher, Standish smiled. "I have arrived to deliver a message," the gambler began


"Yes. There will be a delay of approximately one hour, before Mr. Dunne arrived to man his post."

Raising an eyebrow, the big man repeated his query, "Oh?" Setting his book down he leaned forward to hear the excuse he was sure was coming.

The southerner smiled. "Actually… I do believe the ride after dinner was Miss Wells’ idea. And I’m sure it took Mr. Dunne more than a few minutes to catch the glint in the young lady’s eye."

Having seen the look on Casey Wells’ face yesterday, Sanchez could only smile.

Larabee set his cup down and gazed quietly at Vin. There were a million questions Tanner could have chosen to ask and Chris wouldn’t have hesitated to answer them. This, on the other hand, was unexpected. The gunslinger couldn’t fathom why this particularly query might cross Tanner’s mind. "Vin?" the blond said questioningly.

The tracker closed his eyes. "How ya know Sarah was the one?" he repeated again before lowering his head.

Taking a long, deep breath, the gunslinger stood, took a few steps towards the fire and stared at the flames as they flickered about. And as he continued to watch the dances of light he heard a familiar sound…

Sarah Connelly giggled like a schoolgirl as she appeared from the darkness into the circle of light. The campfire her gentleman had thrown together was small, but it would keep them warm in the coolness of the October air. "You gonna make me sit in the dirt Chris Larabee?" she asked coyly.

The young man glanced up from the fire and smiled at the creature before him. He had grown closer to her as the months had passed. And even through the objections of her father, Larabee had spent more and more time with this young lady. His stare drifted back to the flames as his thoughts recalled that fateful day he had first seen his intended.

Quite by chance, the young man had wandered into their peaceful little Oklahoma town several months before. Making his way westward from Indiana, he had happened upon this, the most exquisite example of womanhood that he had ever known. Sarah Connelly made Chris’ green eyes sparkle. She had never once backed down to the hell raiser since they’d met. Her quiet, unassuming manner had somehow stolen the fire that once drove Larabee down the long road to anarchy.

She had changed the course of his life with her gentle actions and quiet way. The sound of her voice made his heart flutter and her laughter made him smile more than he knew he ever could. Then, in those quiet, seductive moments when she purred in his ear, his whole body sprang alive with desire. But most of all, Sarah Connelly was a strong woman who’s resourcefulness and tenacity surprised her young man to no end.

"Penny for your thoughts," she whispered quietly. A long moment passed with silence. Realizing that she hadn’t taken her young man’s attention away from the flames, Sarah’s smile wavered. "Chris," she called softly. "Chris…"

"Chris," Tanner tried again to gain Larabee’s attention.

The gunslinger’s stare faltered and he turned back to look at Vin.

"I’m sorry, Chris… I shouldn’ ‘a asked such a…"

"No," Larabee interrupted his friend as he laid a hand on Tanner’s arm and sat back down. Wrapping both hands around his coffee cup, the gunslinger continued. "It’s alright, Vin…" Chris looked into the cool blue eyes of his companion and smiled. "It’s been almost six years." Closing his eyes briefly, he looked back and continued. "I…"

"You don’t gotta…"

Setting his hand on Vin’s arm, Chris interrupted once again. "Tanner, would ya shut up and let me talk." Larabee snapped.

The tracker was clearly surprised by the tone in the blond’s voice.

The gunslinger tapped the tracker’s arm before taking hold of his cup once again. "I think we’re friends. Don’t you, Vin?"

Tanner nodded his affirmative. "Near as I can figure."

"Well a friend just asked me a question and I’m aimin’ ta answer the best I can… if he’d let me get a word in edgewise that it."

That wondrous Tanner smile slowly made its way over the tracker’s lips. He nodded his head once again.

Stanley Johnstone tapped the gavel down loudly on the desktop in an attempt to quiet the room full of people. "Order, please," he called out. Repeating the actions several more times, the townspeople stopped chatting amongst themselves and gave him their full attention. "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen."

Mr. Johnstone looked around the room to make sure most people were present. As the head of the town council, he was the closest thing Four Corners had to a mayor, but didn’t like that title much. Along with his wife Edith, he ran the bathhouse in town. This qualified him for a seat of the committee, and he had been voted in as chair before he knew it. The other members of the board were all fellow merchants, as required by their charter. Virgil Watson, owner of the hardware store held the first position. Clarence Smith who, along with his brother Daniel, owned the Livery and Feed, was seated next to Stanley. Lewis Sanderson owned and operated the town’s restaurant with his wife Emma. Thaddeus Perkins held the final position. He owned and operated the Gem Hotel along with his wife Abigail.

"This is a farce," Hiram Nechaus yelled from the back of the room. "Mary Travis and her pops already done all the handling, we don’t got no say in the matter."

"I’m… not so sure Judge Travis would like the new name you have for him," Virgil Watson said loudly.

Andrew Watson stood and cleared his throat. "And as for the arrangements, that have already been made… there were more than a few names on the nomination, Mr. Nechaus," he looked at the man seriously.

"One hundred fifty six, I believe," Martin Haynes added from his seat.

"Well, like I said," Hiram continued. "All these things been decided already. How come we’s gotta have a meetin’ ta discuss it more."

"Mrs. Travis," Stanley Johnstone called on the newspaperwoman. "Would you care to address the meeting and explain what exactly is happening?"

Mary got to her feet and moved to the front of the room. Turning to look at the assembled crowd, she smiled faintly. "Thank you all for coming this evening. I know it was on short notice, but I only received word from the Judge two days ago." The widow took a deep breath before continuing. "A little more than four weeks ago, one of our friends, and a good neighbor to us all… drew up an application. She spent several days traveling around collecting names for that petition. And then she sent it on to Judge Travis for his endorsement. The Judge added his signature and recommendation to that document and forwarded it to the governor."

Mary looked towards the third row and smiled at the lady she was referring to. Glancing around the room, she continued. "Accompanying that petition were grounds for consideration that some of you," looking around the room, the widow smiled, "offered as justification."

There was a moment of silence before Miss Recillos spoke from her seat. "You will tell everyone what the Judge has said, Mrs. Travis."

The newspaperwoman smiled at Inez, before pulling a telegram from her pocket. She glanced at the waiting audience before reading the words. "From… Orin W. Travis, circuit court Judge, New Mexico Territory. To… The citizens of Four Corners, care of, Mrs. Mary Travis," again the lady looked out at the expectant crowd before continuing. "Your petition, and all accompanying documentation, was passed to the governor of New Mexico three weeks ago. After careful consideration, a decision has been reached. It is my honor to inform you that your petition for recognition has been well received by the governor and his council. A member of his staff will be present on the day requested, so that the award may be bestowed."

The room erupted in cheers and applause, and Mary stood and watched as most people congratulated each other and shook hands.

Sliding down from her horse, Miss Wells ground tied the animal and walked the few small steps to the tree.

"Casey… I like being out here with you and all," Dunne stuttered. "But I gotta get back ta town. Josiah’s gonna be mad that I ain’t there ta take my shift anyways."

The young woman looked at the man from the tops of her of her eyes and smiled coyly. "Just a little while longer, JD," she replied. Lifting her hand she beckoned him from his horse to come sit down beside her.

The kid looked at his young lady with trepidation. Sanchez had hinted at Casey’s thoughts yesterday, and then this evening, she had suddenly asked to have dinner with him. An apology for the way she had acted was her excuse. And now, to top it all off, they were out for a ride in the cool November air when he should be back at the sheriff’s office doing his shift. JD didn’t know whether to be worried about Casey’s intentions or mad at her for making him late for his responsibilities.

Dunne jumped down from Haven and ground tied him next to the other horse. Looking back at Miss Wells he smiled only slightly when she tapped the spot beside her. "Just fer a bit, Casey. I gotta get back," he reiterated as he stepped closer and sat down.

Knowing that she was on a mission, the young woman turned her back to Dunne and looked up at the night sky. Judging the time by the position of the moon, Casey figured she needed to keep JD busy for a least forty-five minutes before they made the trek back into town. Inching backwards, she leaned into his shoulders for warmth… and comfort.

Feeling the heat from her body, Dunne responded as most men would in the same situation. Wrapping his arms around the woman before he could think about it, JD suddenly realized what he had done. "Eh, sorry," he apologized, and removed his arms.

Retrieving the wayward appendages, Casey looked over her shoulder and smiled. "Don’t be silly, JD," she objected. "We can stay warm together."

Not quite knowing where this was going or what might happen next, Dunne stuttered again. "If you’s cold, Casey… we should go back ta town. Miss Nettie’s gonna wonder where you’s at." There was no doubt in his mind that he was nervous at the possibilities available to the couple.

"Aunt Nettie will be busy with Mrs. Benson for a while longer," she turned in JD’s arms and cuddled into his shoulder. "And I’m plenty warm sitting here… with you."

Feeling the warmth radiating from her young man, Casey relaxed and the distraction she was supposed to be accomplishing slipped from her mind. Her senses took in the man beside her. The hint of dust and sweat she could smell on his clothes reminded her that he was indeed a man. She could hear the strong beat of his heart in his equally strong chest. Reaching up to caress his face, Casey could feel the stumble on his chin. It was rough, yet there was something about it she liked. It was just another one of those things that made JD so masculine… and attractive.

Slowly, Miss Wells raised her head and looked into the beautiful dark hazel eyes of the man that held her. They remained frozen in each other’s stare for the longest time before Casey smiled softly at JD and ran a finger across his lip. There was only one sense that she had not experienced from her man.

Dunne too had lost track of his good intentions. Taking the night shift from Josiah, seemed a lifetime away on JD’s list of priorities at the moment. Right now he just wanted to be here with Casey. Right now he just wanted…

There had been too many days and night lately that John Dunne had spent thinking about a certain lady that he kept good company with. She had most certainly become a distraction that he couldn’t ignore any longer, yet he didn’t quite… know what to do about it. Oh, now Wilmington, of course, had tried to give the kid advice. But JD hadn’t managed to tell Buck that he had no previous experience in the art of love… let alone, lovemaking.

But none of that seemed to matter anymore. An instinct was guiding him now. An instinct, which he neither understood, nor questioned, but allowed it to guide him nonetheless. Reaching up to take hold of his lady’s hand he returned her smile. Kissing her fingertips before returning her caress, Dunne looked deep into Casey’s eyes. Slowly he leaned towards his lady and kissed her.

Chris took another deep breath. There was a pause. "I ain’t much fer thinking on things, Vin," Larabee began as he shuffled in his chair. He looked at the sharpshooter and smiled. "Suppose we ain’t much different in that…"

Tanner raised his eyebrows. "Most men’s the same... near as I can figure."

Chris nodded in agreement. There was a long pause as he thought on his next words. "Suppose women are like most things in life. There’s right… and there’s wrong."

Tanner looked at his friend questioningly. And as they exchanged looks, the simplicity of Chris’ message hit him. "And every man decides what’s right… or wrong for himself?" he said quietly.

The gunslinger could only nod his head.

There was another long silence. Nothing new in a room occupied by Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner, but this time there were unanswered questions… and tension too.

The blond downed the last of his coffee and looked at the empty cup. Glancing back at his friend he stared. "You thinkin’ about a woman, Vin? Is that what this is all about?"

Vin closed his eyes before bowing his head slightly.

Larabee was beyond curious and tried again to get the tracker to talk. "Ain’t seen you around town with no ladies lately."

There was another long silence.

"It ain’t proper ta ask…"

"Ask anyways," Chris interrupted quickly. Besides wanting to keep the tracker talking, the gunslinger was more than interested if his best friend was finally showing signs of setting down roots.

More silence.

"Sarah weren’t the first…"

There was a long pause as the gunslinger got up to retrieve the coffeepot.

"Or the last…" Tanner concluded.

Larabee took a deep breath and pursed his lips. Moving away from the coffee, Chris reached for the cupboard and retrieved his whiskey. He set it in the middle of the table before heading out the door. Nature was calling the gunslinger, but more importantly, he needed a few minutes alone.

The tracker stared at the whiskey for five long minutes before pouring himself a drink. He filled his friend’s mug too before re-corking the bottle. Staring at the liquid in his cup he took a small sip and let it go down slowly.

The door opened and closed. Chris warmed his hands by the fire before taking his seat once again. Taking hold of his cup he swirled the liquid around inside before drinking it. He took in the aroma before setting the cup back on the table. "Well… I was like most young men I suppose… a working girl showed me the ropes."

Like he’d done a thousand times before, Vin smiled weakly and offered his concurrence. He’d pretended to be ‘like most young men’ so many times, it almost didn’t seem like a lie anymore.

Chris sipped on his whiskey some more. "There’ve been others since," he smiled and cocked his head. "What is it they say… a man has needs," he raised his eyebrows slightly.

Tanner nodded his concurrence once again. Only this time he truly understood what his friend was talking about.


"A woman ever make you mad enough… that you wanna hurt her, Chris?"

Larabee stopped, mid sip, and slowly lowered the cup to the table.

Seeing the clear agitation on his best friend’s face, Tanner swallowed hard. "I mean, anyone beside Ella Gaines," he quickly added.

Larabee momentarily closed his eyes as he ran his hand across his mouth. Vin’s question had hit a nerve, but Ella Gaines hadn’t been the woman whose bruised and battered face came to his mind. Chris emptied his cup of its whiskey. He knew he wasn’t willing to have that conversation with anyone, any time soon. He tried hard to block out the images that flashed through his mind, and steered the conversation to what Vin expected. "I tried ta kill that bitch, Vin," he growled quietly. "But I’m sorry ta say I didn’t hurt her much though… not really."

Judging for himself that Larabee’s reaction to the question, and his answer, didn’t quite match, the tracker stared at the gunslinger questioningly.

Larabee returned the sharpshooters look with his own. "First you ask me about Sarah… then about my… first… and now women… and anger. I don’t understand, Vin."

Tanner swallowed down the last of his whiskey and set the mug down loudly. He began to rub his fingers together and pursed his lips. "I…I don’t reckon I do neither," he looked at Chris.

Looking across the table at his friend, the gunslinger was at a loss for words. He understood the mindless working of the fingers as agitation. The tightness of Tanner’s lips told Chris that Vin was serious about… something. A sudden wave of compassion hit the blond like a ton of bricks. For the first time in their relationship, Chris felt sympathy for the tracker.

Sanchez glanced across at the gambler. "What’s so interestin’ out there, Ezra?" he asked. For half an hour the preacher had watched as Standish alternated his attention between his solitaire and the window.

Trying to look uninterested, the gambler smiled. "I was just keeping a watchful eye out for our young Mr. Dunne. I would imagine he should be along shortly."

"Well, if you’re so interested, Ezra," Josiah got to his feet, "Why don’t you just volunteer to fill in for JD him until he get here. That way I can head to my room and finish my book in peace." Moving towards the door, the preacher raised his eyebrows when Standish stood in his way.

"My dear, Mr. Sanchez. I thought perhaps… there was a question you had… for which only I held the answer."

Josiah frowned.

"Yesterday’s conversation, I believe," the gambler tried to remind Sanchez.

Thinking for a minute, the preacher rubbed his chin. "About Vin?"

Standish smiled and motioned the big man towards his chair.

Following the gambler’s gesture, Josiah returned to his chair and made himself comfortable. Watching Standish seat himself in the opposite chair, the older man skewed his eyes. "It’s not like you ta volunteer information, Ezra. What are you up to?"

"I do believe I am offended by that implication, Mr. Sanchez. As always sir, I am at your service. I would hope that you would know that by now."

Josiah only huffed at the statement. "So," he leaned over the table, "You know what’s been botherin’ Vin lately."

Ezra took a deep breath, "Well, not exactly, Mr. Sanchez… but I have made an interesting observation over the past four months."

Josiah raised his eyebrows. "Since he got back?"

Standish nodded and smiled. "Yes. Since his return, Mr. Tanner has climbed to the roof of this very building four times," he motioned to the ceiling above their heads.

"Nothin’ new in that, Ezra. You know Vin likes ta go up there ta be by himself…"

"Indeed," the gambler agreed. "But each time, it has been to stare at a moonless sky."

Josiah sat back slowly. "The cusp of the new moon?" he questioned.

Nodding, Ezra watched curiously as Josiah breathed deep. The big man retrieved an envelope from his breast pocket and took out the letter in contained.

The preacher scanned the text quickly and found the sentence he had been puzzling over for some three months now.

Keep him close for six cycles before you let him roam free.

Keep him close for ‘six cycles’…

Still staring at the letter, he spoke out loud, "The cycle of the moon." Josiah looked up at Ezra, "Four times you said?"

"Only four times that I have observed. Of course, that is only since his return from…" Noticing the growing grin on the preacher’s face, Ezra stopped in mid-sentence. "Is this information of some relevance, Mr. Sanchez." Focusing on the letter, the gambler frowned. "From whom might that communication be?"

Taking note of the switch of conversation, Josiah quickly folded the letter back into its envelope and just as quickly replaced it from whence it came. He smiled at Standish, "Yeah, Ezra… you’ve… filled in a piece of the puzzle, shall we say."

"Would you care to enlighten me, Mr. Sanchez?"

Josiah smiled his broad toothy smile, and Ezra knew instinctively that he would get no further in his questioning. "Then a game of cards before you leave?" he suggested, pulling his trusted deck from his vest pocket.

Pleased with the information that he had received, Sanchez nodded his head. He would indulge the gambler for a while. After all, he owed his fellow peacekeeper a favor, whether the man knew it or not.

"Can I have a show of hands, please" Stanley Johnstone asked of the assembled crowd. "All in favor."

Most of the hands in the room moved into the air, and Virgil Watson stood up to take a count. Several minutes passed before he nodded his completion and gained his seat.

"All opposed."

There was silence in the room as the people either choose not to vote or bowed their heads to hide their eyes from those that did. Virgil Watson wrote a number on his paper.

"Any one abstaining?"

Several hands went up at the back of the room and again, Mr. Watson wrote a number down.

"A moment please," Mr. Johnstone announced before sitting down. The council conferred on the numbers for a minute before Stanley stood back up and quieted the townsfolk again. "Ladies and gentlemen."

The room quickly silenced.

"As the majority of the population has agreed to the public presentation, Mrs. Travis will wire the Judge in the morning, telling him of our concurrence." Stanley looked at Margaret Watson and smiled. "As a matter of public record… let it be known that on that day, the citizens of Four Corners are encouraged to publicly give their thanks to the seven peacekeepers, to whom we owe… our continued way of life."

A small round of applause sounded.

Mr. Johnstone waved the room quiet again. "And also, as a matter of public record… let it be known that on this Thanksgiving Day, the citizens of this community shall bear witness to the presentation of the Governor’s Medal of Valor… to those same seven men."

There was another round of applause.

Quieting the crowd, once again, Stanley Johnstone continued. "And with the vote, and proclamation, ladies and gentlemen. I now declare this meeting… adjourned."

"If it’s a lesson on women you want, Vin… you come to the wrong man. Reckon Josiah might know a thing or two about…"

"Josiah, ain’t in love," Tanner looked at Chris sincerely, "Is he?"

Larabee’s eyes widened, "And I am?" he asked just as seriously.

The sharpshooter sat up straight in his chair, "Ain’t ya?"

The blond huffed. He understood the tracker’s confusion. Truth be told, he was just as bewildered as his friend. Oh, not about his feelings for Mary Travis… he was sure he definitely had an emotional bond with the pretty newspaperwoman. Chris just wasn’t sure he could say he was in love with the lady. "It just ain’t that easy, Vin."

There was a moment of silence before Tanner spoke, "But it was with Sarah?"

The frustration towards their conversation was beginning to show on Larabee’s face. He rubbed his palms together, locked his fingers, and set his chin on the folded hands that waited in front of him. A long moment passed as Larabee slipped in and out of deep thought. Each time he was about to say something, he would take a breath, and then nothing would come out of his mouth.

"The right and wrong?"

The gunslinger laughed a little at the simplicity of the words Tanner spoke. ‘Yeah, Vin. Sometimes the right, is so right… that you know it straight away." He smiled across the table at his companion. "Other times… it takes a while."

"And it ain’t got nothin’ ta do with… how much you want ‘em… or if you agree…?"

Larabee took a moment to remember, and a gentle smile creased his lip. "Sarah… I…" The blond bowed his head. "I wanted no other woman… like I wanted my wife… But we had our share of arguments, Vin." Looking back at the tracker, Chris continued. "Oh, she could make me mad…" he laughed a little, "but she only disagreed with me for my own good." Larabee smiled at Tanner. "She was always right."

The tracker could hear the love Chris spoke of in the man’s voice. It was clear that Larabee had known the deepest love imaginable, and Vin was envious for just a minute. But as the gunslinger’s final words buried themselves in Tanner’s consciousness, the smile slowly wavered from his face. "What would you have done, Chris… if she were wrong… wrong for all the wrong reasons?"

Casey Wells broke the embrace that she and JD had held for more than a few minutes. Each time their lips parted, they found themselves trading it for yet another, deeper, more passionate kiss. Looking into Dunne’s eyes she drew her hand up to block his next attempted embrace. "JD, I… I."

"Oh, Casey," the kid blurted out, "I didn’t mean ta…"

Miss Wells put her hand on the young man’s lips and quieted his confessions. "Ain’t nothin’ we didn’t do together, JD," she whispered coyly.

He returned her telling smile.

Glancing up at the sky, Casey judged the time and realized how late is was getting. "I reckon we should… be gettin’ back ta town."

Dunne’s eyes widen as he realized they’d been out here for quite a while. "Oh yeah," he pulled his arms from around the young woman.

"And Josiah is waitin’ on you, ain’t he?"

"Oh yeah," Dunne repeated with more urgency. Quickly forgetting their previous activities, the kid gained his feet and ushered Casey over to their horses. "Reckon Josiah’s gonna be some mad when we get back," he commented as he helped the woman up before climbing aboard his own mount. "You’d best find Miss Nettie and stay clear."

"Oh, I think Josiah is a forgivin’ man, JD. He ain’t gonna be too mad at ya." Casey smiled and set her horse in motion.

"I hope not," Dunne called out as he followed the young woman along the trail.

Larabee took in another deep, long breath and released it slowly. He pursed his lips together and leaned on the table to look his friend in the eye once again. "Ain’t nothin’ Sarah could ‘a done ta make me wanna hurt her, Vin."

There was a silence as Tanner studied his leader’s eyes. He shook his head. "I didn’t mean it like that, Chris."

There was a short pause. "Well, then what did ya mean?" the gunslinger whispered. "None ‘a this is making’ much sense, Vin." He poured some more whiskey into his cup and then added more to Tanner’s mug.

The sharpshooter nodded his thanks as Larabee leaned back in his chair and sat waiting for an answer that might make at least a little sense.

"I… How can…" Tanner shook his head. "I guess it don’t matter…" He took a drink from his cup.

"It matters, Vin… If there’s somethin’ botherin’ ya that much… it matters."

Emptying his mug once again, the tracker stood up and looked at his best friend. He shook his head gently and allowed the corner of his lip to curl. "Reckon I’ll be turnin’ in now. I’m gonna sleep under the stars."


"Ma bedroll’s outside," he turned for the door and opened it.

"What’s got you all tied up in knots, Vin… or is it who…"

There was no emotion on his face as Tanner glanced back at Chris. "Night, cowboy," was all he said before the door closed behind him.

The gunslinger ran a hand through his hair and across his mouth once again. Reaching for his cup he swallowed down the whiskey, and looked at door. "Night, Vin?" he whispered. The worry in his voice had not disappeared.

All seemed quiet as Casey and JD rode back into town. A few people could be seen on the street, and the music coming from the saloon indicated all was in good order over there.

"Night, JD," Miss Wells spoke quietly to her young man as she moved her horse closer to his. Leaning forward she waited.

Realizing that Casey was waiting for a goodnight kiss, the kid looked around nervously. "Someone might see," he whispered.

"So… ain’t like it’s a crime or somethin’," she smiled.

JD smiled back and checking to see that no one was watching, leaned in and kissed his young lady quickly.

Casey Wells smiled coyly before turning her horse down the main street.

Dunne shook his head and dismounted. Walking Haven to the livery he was surprised to see Yosemite. "Evening," he greeted.

"Evening, Mr. Dunne," the stable man replied. "I’ll take care of yer horse, sir."

"Thanks," the kid patted the horse and smiled at the big man. Heading back down the street he noted Casey’s horse waiting outside the boarding house where Mrs. Benson now resided.

Stopping outside the jailhouse he took a deep breath and entered.

"Well, well… if it ain’t John Dunne come to assume his post."

"Geez, Josiah, I didn’t mean ta be so late. We was just… I mean I was just…"

"Ain’t no need to explain, JD," the preacher smiled and got to his feet. "You’re here now, and that’s all that matters."

"Anythin’ I should know about?" the kid asked, trying to stay refocused on business.

"Nope," Josiah sighed. "Things been mighty quiet tonight. Buck ain’t back from his rounds yet, and I reckon Ezra should be in bed by now."

Dunne frowned, "Ezra… in bed so early?"

Sanchez moved towards the door, but stopped to continue the conversation. "Said somethin’ about his tasks bein’ completed and too much stress," he shook his head and opened the door. "Who ever knows with Ezra."

JD laughed. "Yeah, maybe one of these days…"

Sanchez cocked his head at the thought. The gambler did seem to be more like them on occasion. Some days more than others, of course. "Maybe," he sighed. "Good night, John Dunne."

"Night, Josiah," the kid called out as the big man closed the door. Frowning at the comments Sanchez and Standish had made, JD shook his head and settle into the chair behind the desk. Looking once more at the closed door, he smiled, pulled a dime novel from the desk draw, and began to read.