The Train

by Heather F.

Part 8
Chris woke because of the uneasy feeling that had settled in his gut. Something was wrong. The gunslinger lay quietly in his bedroll listening to the sounds of the other men. Josiah’s snores vibrated through the car competing with the turn of iron wheels and rushing wind through an open window.

Who opened the damn window?

That explained the early morning chill and dew that covered everything. Buck’s soft snores rang to Larabee’s left near the second bench. Chris let his eyes roll around the small compartment without moving anything to indicate he was awake. JD slept on Buck’s right. The boy was curled in a ball under the canvas of his sleeping roll.

Nathan claimed the far corner as his own. The healer sought some refuge from Sanchez and Wilmington’s snores without realizing he himself contributed to the nightly cacophony, as Standish had labeled it. Not that he was an innocent either.

Chris slowly eased himself to his elbow, guns in hand. His left hand lay covered by his blankets while his right brazenly brandished a weapon. No strangers or undue danger lurked in the car.

The morning sun weakly lit the compartment but offered enough light to see by. Two bed rolls lay discarded.

Chris sighed. Tanner was most likely on the roof. The damn tracker just didn’t like enclosed places if he could avoid them. The gunslinger found no fault with the man…only wished that Vin could feel at ease with them as a group.

The second bed roll had been neatly rolled up and put away.


Larabee shook his head in exasperation. The stupid, idiotic, foolish, one track mind, moronic, imbecile. Gawd Damn man can’t even leave the Gold alone for one night.

Chris whipped his bed roll back and climbed to his feet. He holstered his gun and started pulling on his boots.

" ‘Ey Chris whatcha doin’?" JD pushed himself onto one elbow and rubbed tiredly at his eyes. Larabee made it a point not to look at JD. It was times like these that Dunne appeared closer to a boy than a man, and Chris did not want that kind of responsibility. Not at all.

"I’m gonna shoot that lazy son of a bitch in the ass," Larabee pulled one boot on with a grimace and reached for the other.

"Ya want some help?" Dunne pulled his bangs out of his eyes and placed his hat on his head. He never could figure out why Chris never looked at him square in the eye in the morning. Made JD self conscious as all get out…he didn’t know what it was about him in the morning that had Chris skirting so far away from him. Maybe he did have bad halitosis like Buck claimed.

"Nah kid he don’t," Buck’s scratchy voice spoke from under his own bed roll. "Chris don’t want no witnesses when he nails Ezra’s hide to the wall."


JD watched as Chris lunged for his second boot and pulled that on with a grunt.

" ‘Ey Buck, ya wanna go up to the Engine car?" JD climbed to his feet and kicked lightly at Buck’s side, "come’n maybe the Engineer will even let us drive…or something."

Buck lay quietly for a moment before answering, "Sure kid." Wilmington climbed slowly from the warmth of his blankets and peered around the car. His tired eyes landed on Larabee as the gunslinger stood and swung his coat over his shoulders.

Damn the car was cold…Who the Hell opened the window? Buck stared accusingly at the sleeping Sanchez.

"Ey, Chris," Buck’s hesitant call had Larabee pausing and turning around, "don’t kill’im right out…listen to what he has to say," Wilmington figured everyone deserved the benefit of the doubt…well alright not everyone, and probably not Ezra…but that was the least friends could do for one another. "Then go ahead and shoot him."

Chris took a deep breath and slowly let it out. He rubbed his chin for a bit and then nodded in agreement. He would hear Standish out…

Buck and JD headed out the door and along the narrow toe holds worked their way toward the black Engine car. Wind tore at their clothing and billowed their coats. The two lawmen carefully shuffled their toes and finger tips down the outside of the cars.

JD’s grin lit the morning.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah rolled onto his back and replayed the conversation with a smile. Chris would no more shoot Ezra for breaking into the Gold car than….Sanchez paused…thought about it again….he quickly unfurled himself from his blankets. Standish might be in danger.

Jackson sighed and contemplated starting a pot of coffee. Creating a small fire on a wood floor didn’t seem like the best idea but if Chris was going to be doling out punishments, and it seemed from Josiah’s sudden actions that it might be plausible, it would be good to have something boiling. Coffee or water. It didn’t matter to Jackson at the moment. Though he would prefer coffee.

Damn it was cold in here…Who the Hell opened the window?

Jackson shook himself clear of his bed roll and sat up.

"Josiah hold up," The healer spoke up halting the big man’s charge toward the Gold car.

Ezra would be easier to handle without an audience to play too.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra circled the inside of the Gold car. His mouth hung open, his hands hung limply at his sides. His emerald eyes dilated and glazed over as he searched the small compartment with a bewildered look of awe.

"Geezus Christ, Ezra," Larabee stormed into the car and stopped.

Ezra circled in place one more time before turning and staring mutely at Larabee. He moved his jaw to speak but nothing came out. He pointed half heartedly at the space around himself but his hand seemed too heavy. He dropped his gaze to the fiendishly simple lock in his hand.

"Its empty…." Ezra stared at Mr. Larabee, "Its empty…my Gold…My Gold is gone," his slow stuttering speech was laced with incredulous Dixie tones.

Larabee ignored the stammering man and took in the empty car. His anger spiked to a quick boil. The Judge didn’t trust them?…Or was it something else?

"My Gold," Standish mumbled again as he checked the darkened compartment one more time. Perhaps there was a secret panel he had missed, in the wall or perhaps the floor. He started stomping his boot heel on different planks trying to discern a change in pitch.

Larabee watched him for a moment, "Ezra what the Hell are you doing?"

"My Gold, Mr. Larabee, My Gold is gone," Ezra paused and then snapped his head up, "It was never here…A ruse!….the man pulled a ruse on us." Bewilderment and shock bled way to professional awe and then humility, "that old curmudgeon lied to me," Ezra stared up at Larabee in new found shock, "us!….he lied to us…the Judged lied," Ezra once again stood in place and peered around the car, "is there no end to his treachery?…I work a dollar a day…for this?" He swung his arms wide encompassing the empty rail car. "He lied!…" Ezra stared at Larabee in bewilderment, The Judge lied…Is there no one in this world with an once of Dignity?…The Judge…Travis…misled us…The shame…oh the shame…what will Mother think? Ezra turned his back on Larabee muttering to himself, "she’ll never know…perhaps she was in on it?" he paused mulled it over and dismissed the foolish thought, "hardly…but he lied…the Judge lied…of all people…"

"Ezra?" Chris’s sharp tone had the gambler turning back to the gunslinger. Larabee pinned the gambler with a stare. When Standish returned his look Chris spoke again, "shut up." Larabee felt the same sense of being used. The same disbelief that the Judge had lied to him…to them. Not trusted or a lack of faith that they could do the job? Surely he knew we would have made the trip anyways…Hell without half the troubles if they had known no Gold existed…Or was he using them?

"We must tell the others," Standish pocketed the lock cleanly, taking any obvious evidence of his clandestine activities and hiding them from sight. No sense pouring salt into a wound…or so it is said.

"Buck and JD are up at the engine car and Vin’s on the roof again," Larabee answered stepping further into the room. The sliding door behind him slid shut with a bang as the train started climbing a hill. Larabee ignored the sudden absolute blackness, instead his mind focused sorely on the idea that the Judge had fed them misinformation and took the edge away from them. Mislead them and sent them into a situation that they did not have full disclosure on…what a man don’t know could get him killed.

The tiny compartment stewed in the pitch darkness.

"Ahh Mr. Larabee?"

"Shut up, Ezra," Larabee warned, "don’t tell me you’re afraid of the dark." A sneer laced his words. The damn Judge lied to them…why?

"The dark is hardly disconcerting to me, Mr. Larabee," the snide remark matched the sneer, "it’s the fact that you allowed Messrs, Wilmington and Dunne anywhere near the engineer’s station that has caused me some alarm."

The two men could feel the train pull itself up over the incline. The wheels chugged for purchase, the strain on the hitches almost visible to those inside the cars.

A plateau was reached and the heavy work of the cars diminished. Then the decline. The train picked up speed. Ezra reached for an unseen wall as he felt the train accelerate.

"Do you really think it was wise to let Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Dunne to…." His words were abruptly cut off as the darkened world in which they found themselves violently overturned and rolled….end over end.


+ + + + + + +

Nathan knew something was wrong a fraction of a second before it happened. He heard Tanner yell a warning, heard the tracker scream for them to hold on and then the world suddenly exploded.

In a surreal moment, it seemed as if Josiah floated in mid air before being slammed into the wall of the car.

+ + + + + + +

Ten men watched in nervous excitement as the small Train plowed into the section of missing tracks. A bare spot in the open sloping prairie grass spelled doom for the Engine, its wood car, and two cargo cars.

Earth exploded into the air like a storm surge boring into a seawall. The Cowcatcher burst through the spring dirt cascading, earth, rock and grass into the air. A cloud of mud and debris blocked the Engine car from sight for only a moment.

The momentum buried the black car deep into the earth, scarring out its own deep grave.

The wood car toppled to the side, acting as an anchor in its own right, twisting its hitches and melting the metal with the abuse. The empty Gold car, lighter than those that pulled it and pushed from behind, sailed like toy boat shoved too hard by an over zealous child.

The U connections snapped, the lines tore free, and the car, air borne only briefly, skimmed along the side of the toppled wood car, casting a screeching hail of sparks into the air. With a deafening shriek of metal on metal, the Gold car careened forward no longer hindered by the slow pace of its front two cars and tugging mercilessly at the lagging caboose, snapped its last tether, freeing itself and the passenger car, just before splashing into the still waters of a large pond.

The Gold car floated for a short time before listing precariously to its front left, or as a floating vessel, listing toward the bow and port side, with the stern rising in the air.

Bubbles rushed to the surface and popped like fish feeding in a frenzy.

The car began to sink…and then stopped.

The passenger car’s front wheels dug grooves through the thick metal of the wood car. Its belly high-centered on the fuel car’s twisted distorted hitch. The mangled U connector tore a ragged hole through the underside of the over shooting rail car slowing its forward thrust.

The passenger compartment, gutted and spitted like a butchered pig over a stake, teetered for a moment on the hitch before casting to the side. Almost cautiously at first, like an aged Elephant that wishes to lay down. The passenger car lost its grace when gravity caste its tethers and the car slammed to the earth with a dull thud.

The clearing suddenly quieted. The sound of death perhaps.

+ + + + + + +

Vin Tanner blinked a few times wondering why puffy white clouds against a sharp blue sky should seem so intriguing to him. Words played through his head. Circled and then somehow mumbled out through bloodied lips.

I wish that I had known you when, as a child, I knew
That friends were all I'd need to build my life.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra Standish pushed himself to his hands and knees sloshing through water. He blinked repeatedly and rubbed his eyes against his upper arm. Unable to find his equilibrium he tumbled back into the water. He struggled upright sputtering in silent shock as he tried to get his bearings in an ink black world.

"My God I’m blind…" he paused and shook out one hand trying to free his silk shirt of water and then the other, forcing the once free hand back in the water, much like a cat trying to walk from a puddle without getting its paws wet, " I’m blind…and wet…could this get any worse?"

"Don’t forget," Larabee’s voice mumbled from somewhere to his left, "there isn’t any Gold."

"Mr. Larabee," Ezra turned his head in the direction of the voice, "Shut up."

There was a soft moist chuckle, "Make me." Chris himself could see shooting stars that zigged and zagged with every eye movement he made. Dizziness assaulted him as vertigo threatened to spill him back under the thigh high water.

+ + + + + + +

Buck Wilmington staggered to his feet only to fall back to his hands and knees. Blood adorned one arm, the left one…the one that did not want to support his weight. It should hurt, or so he figured, but it didn’t…. yet.

Wilmington pushed himself to his feet again. The smell of freshly upturned soil assaulted his nostrils. It reminded him of Chris and Sarah’s home. He smiled and then recognized the taste of blood in his mouth. The smile waned. He toppled to his side, one leg raised and bent in the air…

What happened?

He rolled onto his stomach and clawed to his feet , only to fall back to his side. The world tilted crazily out of focus and gyrated both left and right as well as up and down.

What happened?

His hand brushed a hat…a brown hat….foolish looking hat…foolish on everyone but Bat Masterson…..JD?


Wilmington let out a primal growl and threw himself to his feet, "JD!"

His head burst in starlight at the sound of his own voice.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan Jackson rolled onto his stomach. He lay on one of windows…fresh mud saturated his shirt and stomach….he lay on the open window. Who the Hell opened the window this morning?

The healer raised a shaky hand to his head. A shard of glass embedded his palm. Blood oozed around the wound. Jackson stared at it in curiosity. It should hurt more… shouldn’t it? He mulled over how it got there?

With a sense of self detachment, he pulled the glass from his palm. It kept coming and coming…amazing it didn’t seem as if his palm was two inches deep. How deceiving.

Nathan clawed his way to his feet using the ceiling of the car that now sat on his right as a support.

Where was everyone?

Then he remembered an image of Josiah floating…..

Dear God.

"Josiah?" ….he waited a heart beat…. "Josiah!" Jackson began searching through the debris and broken furniture in their car.

+ + + + + + +

But whether thoughts of then or now hold true,
The thought of staying close pierces like a knife.

Vin sighed. He really wish the poem would stop. It was kind of depressing and the sky promised a nice day.

The point is that to stay here is not life,
It's fighting to be what you think I should be
What binds me here is Penance, a vow, and strife,
In this darkest night at last all this I see.

I may not be as strong as I should be
I cannot wait for morning's light to go ...
To change to "I" from what so long was "we" ...

The tracker tried to raise a hand to his head. It felt unusually heavy. The words kept stringing along. Didn’t he have Ezra write this down for him? Where was that slithering snake anyhow?

A true soliloquy is not for show.
I leave you in this world - I don't belong ...

Wishing I were staying, could truth be known.
I leave you in this world - I don't belong ...

Wishing I were staying, could truth be known.

Tanner sighed…well if he was going to leave, he would have to get to his feet.

With a groan, he rolled onto his stomach and worked his way onto all fours. Blood dripped on his hand. He stared at his knuckles and watched as big droplets of blood splashed onto his muddied fingers and then ran in a lazy fashion down the sides of his hand.

He contemplated the blood for only a moment before staggering to his feet. He fought for his balance for a moment. Closing his eyes nearly sent him crashing to his knees. He leaned a shaky hand against a nearby tree trunk.

He took a ragged breath and felt a twinge of bruised muscles, perhaps ribs. He surveyed his surroundings carefully trying not to move too fast, trying desperately to keep his balance.

I leave you in this world - I don't belong
Wishing I were staying, could truth be known.

Tanner turned his attention to the gentle slope to his right. The soft wavering of prairie grass in the delicate breeze of early spring lost all peace and tranquility at the base of the slope.

The earth had been gouged and scarred. Worse yet, a small train lay partially buried in the soft spring mud. The black Engine’s cowcatcher lay hidden under an unbroken crest of up heaved dirt. The wood car lay on its side, its cargo scattered, its sides torn.

The last car lay partially atop and on its flank.

A fourth car lay half submerged in a small lake.

Tanner took a faltering step toward the wreckage.

He stumbled and fell, pushed himself back to his feet and fought his way down a slope that at any other time would not prove an obstacle to him.

The others. What of the others?

He fought gravity, fought the dizziness, the vertigo and the roaring in his ears. Pale blue eyes shimmering in a moisture all their own and refused to shift their focus. Cars lay partially piled and strewn about like a discarded child’s toy.

They had to have survived… They wouldn’t fall to outside forces would they? Never. Maybe from the inside out, they would tear each other from inside…but never from outsiders…never from the handy work of a daring thief or cowardly ambusher… Even Marshal Bryce could not keep them separated for long…Josiah was right…They belonged together…

Forced apart, they would find their way back together like wolves separated by a long fearsome hunt. Had they decided to go their separate ways, like wolves abandoning a pack, or chasing one of their own out, then the severance would court with permanent overtures.

Tanner ran without thought to his own injuries, he raced toward the strewn cars with a fear knotting his insides. A fear that had a familiar but un-welcomed tinge, the fear of a sole survivor, surviving when all one knew was lost in tragedy.

Across the torn grass, and deluge of upturned mud, two names tore through the wind.

Wilmington’s, "JD?!" merged with Jackson’s frantic, "Josiah!?"

Like the soulful cries of pack members searching for their missing members, the names rang into the area with a panicked intensity and startling fear.

Tanner’s heart lurched. He sprinted onward, sliding his Mare’s Leg from its holster. He would address his terror and fight it with the only physical means he completely understood.

I may not be as strong as I should be
I cannot wait for morning's light to go ...
To change to "I" from what so long was "we" ...

Like Hell…Vin Tanner cursed. He had never felt stronger, more determined.

He raced down the slope tripping and tumbling to hands and knees only to recapture his balance and race onward. His heart lurched into his throat making it difficult to breath. His chest burned and damaged muscles cramped. He choked on his breath as he struggled to hold the un-sheathed Mare’s leg. He tried to convince himself, Ezra and Chris would be fighting in the half submerged car…JD would be blaming Buck for wrecking the train and Nathan and Josiah would wait in judgment of which of the others would get their necks wrung at their hands.… They were going to be fine…

They had to be…Vin Tanner had no intentions of letting the others leave him, not before he was good and ready.

All thoughts of poetry fled before his anger and determination.

+ + + + + + +

"What the Hell happen?" Chris pressed his palm to his forehead hoping to push back the growing headache. White stars on a changing black background whirled, swirled and dipped with a nauseating irregularity. He was going to be sick….

Standish raised an eyebrow, "Surely you jest." The gambler shot the gunslinger a scathing look taking comfort in the absolute darkness that hid his face, "what did you think would happen when you let Mr. Dunne and Mr. Wilmington drive this behemoth?"

Ezra slapped the icy water in frustration, "we apparently lost the ability to stay on the tracks!" His shoulders and legs ached as if he had run along side the train and not rode as a passenger. Muscles twinged and pulled with every movement.

Larabee leaned against the wall of the car and ignored the Southerner. Too bad Vin wasn’t locked in here with him.

Were they locked in?

"Ezra can you get the door open?"

His query was met with silence….then an exasperated sigh, "Oh, now you want me to open the door?" Standish waded through the water to where he thought the door should be, "first don’t touch the door, Standish, stay away from the door, put the lock back on the door…" He mumbled none to quietly to himself.

"Ezra," Chris paused trying to find patience…and failing, "don’t make me shoo

t you."

"Oh by all means let’s not waste any ammunition on the likes of me," Standish’s sarcastic remark was muffled under the sound of him sloshing through the water.

"Knew you would understand." Larabee’s smirk was hidden by the inky blackness.

Part 9

Wilmington found the tweed coated arm, then the limp hand. The gunslinger dropped to his knees and closed his eyes, "Oh God JD…OhGodJD…PleaseNotJD." With resolve and dread he had not felt since the War, Buck Wilmington started digging through the dirt and mud hoping he was not unearthing a corpse.

He cursed the ineffectualness of his own left arm. It worked, but weakly. His left arm seemed unable to follow the frenzied demands of a panicked mind. Fingers refused to flex properly, the elbow resisted any kind of extension and his upper arm and neck burned.

He uncovered a shoulder…attached to the arm…and then the face. Black bangs hung over the eyes effectively shielding them.

Buck reached out with a shaky hand and fumbled for the neck, for the juggler. He pressed too hard. He felt nothing. "Oh God No…Not JD.." he slackened his touch and felt the slow but steady beat of a strong pulse. "Thank you….dear God Thank you…" Buck Wilmington dropped his head to his chest and closed his eyes in prayer, letting tears of relief clean streaks of mud from his face.

+ + + + + + +

"Josiah?!" Nathan flipped an overturned bench and then another that lay buried below it.

His efforts were met with a groggy, "Thank you brother."

"You alright?"

"In one piece," Sanchez patted his own chest once Nathan freed his arm. He smiled his huge grin at the healer, "Everything seems attached."

"Thank God."

"Yup…that too."

"Come’n let’s go find the others," Nathan offered his hand down to his large friend and hauled him to his feet.

Josiah swayed slightly, forcing the healer to guide him for a few shaky steps. The two men lumbered and crawled from their mangled car.

+ + + + + + +

Vin did not slow his pace until he reached the car closest to him. He stuttered to a stop not sure he wanted to rush to a scene of mangled bodies, especially of friends. The Mare’s leg was gripped tightly ready to battle anything he did not like…marauders, death…anything.

His apprehension slipped when two forms unfolded themselves from the car.

"Josiah, Nathan!" Tanner picked up his jog and closed the distance on the two men. The Mare’s leg slung down to his side in a partially relaxed grip…A tentative smile quirked is lips before grim determination took its place.

"Ya doin’ alright?" He directed his question at both.

"Right enough," Sanchez answered taking quick inventory of the tracker and then focusing on the wreckage before him. Dear God.

"The others?"

Vin merely shook his head. He didn’t know.

+ + + + + + +

Buck worked JD free of the mud and clinging grass. With one arm and bull determination, he dragged his young friend from the shallow grave that tried to swallow him whole and alive.

The pain of a fractured arm paled miserably with the agony of potentially losing JD.

Dunne moved slightly and moaned.

"Hold on kid…jist hold on," Wilmington swung around on the balls of his feet, still in his squatting position, "Nathan!" he paused again. A deafening silence rang his ears. "Nathan!" Please don’t let him and JD be all that survived…Not that…Please not that…

He cradled his left arm, unconsciously, protecting it within the nook created by his midsection and squatting upper legs. The arm throbbed in synchrony with his pulse, but not enough to distract him. The pain drummed in the background a warning to its searing intensity that was yet to come forward.

Wilmington scanned the empty area, searching shadows created by tipped cars and scattered blocks of fire wood. Everything remained ominously still.

Then something moved.

Three silhouettes stretched from behind the wreckage.

"Thank God." Wilmington turned his attention back to JD, "Jist hold on Kid, Nathan’s comin’….he’s comin’ kid… hold on."

+ + + + + + +

"Damn it, Ezra," Chris shoved the gambler out of his way, "git out of the way."

"Oh, by all means," Standish slunk back to the other corner, "be my guest. When you grow tired of trying to untwist steel, perhaps you can enlighten me why we are on this fruitless endeavor of a mission?"

Chris strained against the jammed sliding door. He paused and counted to ten, faster than he had ever done in his life, "Don’t make me regret not shooting you earlier."

"Do you realize Mr. Larabee," Ezra intoned moving softly to the side, hoping to present a somewhat difficult target should Mr. Larabee decide to pull his gun, "that you have only two forms of expression?" There was a slight pause, "Yes, it’s true….one, of course, is the threat of violence while the other is the actual act of violence…does your mother know about this rather lack of emotional range?"

"Ezra…" Larabee hissed between clenched teeth…why him off all people?…Why get locked in a half submerged car with Standish?

"Because, I would wager," Ezra slid quietly in a different direction, "that it will eventually lead to digestive difficulties."

Chris forgot about the door and started stalking the gambler.

Ezra slinked to the far corner and wondered what possessed him to act in such an irrational manner.

+ + + + + + +

"He gonna be alright Nathan?" Wilmington peered over the healer’s shoulder.

"Don’t know," Nathan took a breath, "hit his head pretty hard, don’t feel anythin’ else broken…don’t think he’s got bleedin’ inside but ain’t no way to know fer sure…" Jackson met Buck’s gaze, "jist gonna have to wait and see."

Buck muttered a soft damn. He swung his gaze from Nathan to JD and then over the Josiah and Vin. The two men climbed on top of the partially sunken Gold car.

Please let Chris and Ezra be ok…

Nathan seemed to read his mind. "Come on," He nudged Buck in his good arm, "let’s git’im moved over to them trees…whoever dug up them tracks can’t be far behind."

Wilmington nodded never taking his eyes off the two men now crawling over the Gold car.

+ + + + + + +

"Now, now Mr. Larabee," Ezra held his hands up in a defensive posture as he circled away from the sounds of the prowling gunslinger, "there is no need for violence…We are all comrades…"

"Ezra, I’m just gonna drown ya part way…not enough to kill ya…just enough to shut you up long enough to give me a break."

The gunslinger snapped out an unseen hand and latched firmly onto Standish’s coated shoulder.


"Good Lord."

"Not going to help you this time."

A clunk followed by what sounded like footsteps made both men pause and stare up at their ‘new ceiling’.

"Chris?….Ezra?" Josiah’s voice.

"Down here!" Ezra shouted out pulling himself free of Larabee’s grip. Maybe there was a God.

"You boys alright?" Vin.

"Hurry up," Chris answered, "or Ezra’s gonna meet with an accident."

Josiah’s deep chuckle bounced off the outside walls.

After a few moments of scraping and groaning from above, the end door of the Gold car swung open.

Vin peaked his head in, "Hey Cowboy, y’all didn’t go ‘n killed Ezra did ya?"

"Hardly Mr. Tanner," Standish muttered keeping a safe distance from the dark gunslinger.

"Everyone else?"

"In one piece, more or less," Tanner paused, "JD’s roughed up a bit."

Both Larabee and Standish sighed in relief. Perhaps not only was there a God but true Miracles as well…

"Come on…I reckon we’re gonna have company in no time," Tanner extended his hand down to Larabee. Standish stood back and waited his turn.

The gambler caste a speculative eye around the now dimly lighted compartment. No Gold…Indeed…No Gold at all…Cruel…absolutely Cruel…

+ + + + + + +

Vin led them away from the train wreck toward a small stand of trees where Buck and Nathan had carried JD. His ribs and chest had begun to complain in earnest.

"Someone tore up the tracks," Tanner finished saying as they gathered around Dunne.

"Anyone see the Engineer?" Jackson asked as he looked up from checking Buck’s suspected broken forearm.

The four men paused.

"Shit." Vin headed back toward the wrecked Engine.

Josiah and Ezra followed with Chris just behind them. Larabee fought to place his feet squarely on a grass covered ground that he perceived to bulge and heave. The wooziness had not relented.

"Chris," Jackson climbed to his feet. The blood that dribbled down the side of Larabee’s face did not look too bad but the healer saw no need to let the man push himself especially if there was a potential fight in their future. Instead, the healer settled for scrutinizing the wound from a comfortable distance. Though his first instinct would be to wipe the blood matted hair out of the way, Jackson knew that gesture could be met with potential violence. The bleeding had stopped and the pupils were equal, for now that would have to satisfy the healer. He would not, however, risk the lives of the others, not when it could be prevented.

Jackson stopped Larabee with a soft word, "I think its best you stick with Buck and JD…" the healer held up his hand forestalling any arguments, "Buck’s got a bum wing, JD can’t defend ‘imself and if someone comes in here gunning they ain’t got no one to watch over’em…besides if that Engineer is still alive I’ll do’im more good than you."

Jackson didn’t give Larabee a chance to reply and trotted after the other four men.

+ + + + + + +

The ten outlaws came on the scene later than they expected. The Comanche had been watching them for days. Jamie Richardson did not dare try and persuade his men to ride under the noses of the Indians. Though Gold was a great motivator, it would do no good if they were staked to a wagon wheel and slowly roasted alive.

Richardson had never seen it happen, had never witnessed such brutality but like most white men, he had heard the rumors, and sometimes in the dead of night, out on the prairie, he was sure he heard distant screams.

Now, however, a good hour after the train derailed, his men galloped down on the wreck.

They expected to find no survivors.

The first bullet knocked the rider to his left out of the saddle, Richardson thought the thieving Indians beat him to the booty.

When a second rider tumbled over the back of his horse, Jamie Richardson realized someone survived the wreck.

To his left, he noticed Seamus Sullivan hugging low to his horse’s neck. The fool Irishman was egging his horse on, into the line of fire.

Richardson didn’t argue it. If Sullivan wanted to draw fire, let him, more Gold for himself.

The now Eight riders, swooped in on the others.

+ + + + + + +

Vin Tanner took up a position behind the engine. With practiced calm, he simply squeezed the trigger to his rifle and systematically knocked riders from their horses.

Josiah shoved Nathan out of harm’s way and dove for cover himself drawing his own guns.

Standish found himself somewhat in the open. He drew his Colt, firing over his shoulder as he ran for the woods, away from Larabee, Wilmington and the incapacitated Dunne.

Chris pulled his own gun, "Buck, git JD out of here," Larabee slid from the trees leaving his oldest friend to protect their sheriff. The gunslinger had no doubt, even with a busted up wing, that Wilmington would not be able to protect Dunne or one of the others if need be. Fact was, Buck Wilmington would protect any one of the others if they were unable to protect themselves. A hero, perhaps, if one read one of JD’s Dime Novels. Chris knew better.

Buck worked on instinct, his gut drove him when his brain should have had him turning tail time and time again. Buck didn’t think he was a hero…just a friend. He did for JD what Buck knew the other would do for him. With his broken arm hooked up under JD’s armpit and his good arm latched to the youngster’s other shoulder, Buck Wilmington did as he would always do if given the chance. He acted to protect and save a friend. It was simply what friends did….simple at least for Buck.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah heard the distinctive bark of a fading Colt. He chanced a quick peek over his shoulder and watched in silent admiration as the gambler pulled a rabbit and led some hounds on a hunt.

"Damn fool’s gonna git hisself killed ‘fore he ever gits rich," Nathan spat out in a mixture of admiration and dread.

"He’s rich beyond ‘is wildest dreams," Josiah remarked, "He just doesn’t know it yet." He punctuated his statement with a wicked grin.

Jackson did not bother pondering the idiosyncrasies of his old friend.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee drew some riders into his field, drawing them away from Buck and JD.

+ + + + + + +

Tanner fired quicker, shaving time from his aiming.

+ + + + + + +

Riders pulled up slightly taking more time to shoot than to race forward.

Richardson started giving his men orders to flank the survivors.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee quickly read the change in tactics, "Head to the woods…Josiah! Nathan! Follow Ezra…draw them off!"

Nathan stared at the dark gunfighter for just a moment, "Ya think he’s afraid Ezra will circle back around and try for the Gold himself?" Jackson let a chuckle roll from his lips as he reloaded his revolver.

"Is no Gold," Josiah fired covering for Jackson.

Nathan snapped his head up.

"Brothers Ezra and Chris were trapped in an empty car," Sanchez remarked as he reloaded his gun while Nathan covered him.

"Judge lied?"

"Looks that way." Josiah did not need to see Nathan’s face to read the incredulous expression.

"You ready?"

"As I’ll every be." Josiah gave Nathan a confident smile. No crows haunted his visions. The two men broke from their cover and dodged from one piece of shielding to another.

+ + + + + + +

Sullivan came upon the trapped Engineer. He squeezed the trigger and put an end to the man’s slight plea for help.

Sanchez fired a furious volley of rounds at the Irishman on the big roan.

Nathan pushed Sanchez ahead through the trees.

The two men split up.

+ + + + + + +

Vin and Chris covered Buck and JD’s escape before they too weaved their way to the stand of Ponderosa pines. The two lawmen fired over their shoulders as they dodged from their half-hearted pursuers.

+ + + + + + +

Richardson and his men pulled up the chase before entering the surrounding trees. They weren’t after men, only Gold.

Sullivan, the fool, could run himself to the ends of the earth for all Richardson cared. If Seamus was not back before they divvied up the Gold he lost his share.

Jamie Richardson sent two of his men to check the cars, as he himself watched the seven law men scatter to the winds with the rest of his men in pursuit.

Richardson was pulled from his jovial revelry when one of his men came out the wrecked cars shaking his head, "Ain’t no Gold boss."

Richardson cocked his gun and aimed it at the man.

"I ain’t lyin’…there ain’t no Gold."

The leader sat astride his horse, anger bubbling through his veins. He stood in his stirrups and hollered to his men, "Don’t kill’em…we need’em alive to find the Gold."

Men stopped their horses…even the fanatical Sullivan. The men turned and stared at the leader of their little group.

"They hid the Gold…bring’em back alive." His words were hissed in a fiery anger that traveled clearly across the now quiet clearing.

Men spurred their horses with new intent.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra cut through the trees not even thinking about stopping, tired legs or fighting for breath. None of these thoughts dogged him at the moment. Instead, he raced on ahead hoping that the sound of hoof beats that echoed behind him fell further behind instead of gaining.

These fools were after the Gold…they wouldn’t chase him for long. Chris had already had the others leaving the immediate area. In a bit, Ezra would circle around and try to meet up with Chris and the others. Until then, he did his best to keep his body from any unnecessary perforation by lead foreign bodies. He hoped his pursuers realized they were leaving their non-existent Gold in a clearing and not continue this foolhardy chase through the woods.

A bullet whistled nearby and buried itself in a pine tree.

So much for hoping.

He slid down an incline, heels out front and palms braced behind his back. He sluiced down the gravely incline between narrow rough cuts of clay and over hanging trees. Roots and rocks alike tore at his clothing. The Judge was going to reimburse him this time. His rapid descent slowed as the incline leveled out. The gambler leaned forward, allowing his momentum to push him back to his feet. He tore across the clay covered ground and headed East.

A horse paused at the top of the ‘slide’. A bullet kicked up dirt to the Southerner’s right. Ezra tossed his arms over his head and twisted his torso away but kept on running.

He cut through trees, weaved under and over branches and bolted with speed at any break in the undergrowth.

The gambler was peering over his shoulder when his peripheral vision caught the jiggered outline of an edge to his left.

An edge…an edge? The visual did not fit with the picture in his mind’s eye.

Perhaps a ledge? …. A Ledge!

He tried to slide to a stop, wheeled and wind milled his arms and tried to bring to a standstill, his forward momentum. He dropped to the ground hoping to grind himself to a halt.

He slid, over sandy, gravely, ground, rocks tore at his hip and back, raised his coat slightly and bunched it under his arm, but he still slid.

Right over the edge.

He was a goner…most definitely a pre-mature end…a potential financial success stamped to a close.

The shame.

He fell.

Then something yanked him back. Stopped his mid air aerodynamics.

A miracle… An angel watched over him.

Standish gazed up, a dimpled smile on his face, his best, to greet his guardian angel…..He was indeed blessed…Mother occasionally said so. And she only lied on occasion…well perhaps more than on occasion, but usually for a good cause…

With thoughts tumbling through his mind, the gambler managed his best appreciative smile. An Angel…His smile faltered….Mr. Sanchez?

Well, one must not look gift horses in the mouth or so they say. The smile plastered itself in place.


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