Chapter 7 (b)
The cabin was dark and musty, but had obviously been used by the gang recently. The place didn’t look lived in; there were more subtle signs of habitation that Vin’s trained eyes spotted easily.

Those eyes scanned the room as he was dragged through it; but not to much advantage. The blows to his head were winning and he could feel the fever he’d been fighting was beginning to win too. Joe dragged him roughly through the room, and his injured leg connected with the corner of a chair, sending a pain through his thigh so intense that he saw white stars before his eyes. It was the clearest thing he’d seen for a while.

They went through a door at the other end of the cabin and Vin decided he’d really had enough when he was thrown hard to the wooden floor by the bed. His hands were grabbed roughly behind his back and bound tightly with rope, and he felt the rope being tied to one leg of the heavy bed. His eyes shot daggers at Joe as the outlaw tied his legs firmly together at the ankles.

"That should hold ‘em ‘til the boss decides what we’re doin’," Joe said to Cleet as he straightened up and looked at his fellow outlaw.

"Reckon Jake’s gone plum crazy m’self. What the hell we draggin’ these along for. I don’t like the feel o’ this, Joe."

The two men headed towards the door. "Well, guess Jake’s got a plan, he always does," Cleet replied, before the door was closed and bolted behind them.

Vin looked around the dark room. He narrowed his eyes, trying to locate Ezra and Somers in the small bedroom. He spotted Ezra first, tied the same way he was to one of the legs at the head of the bed. There was no way in hell he could see how badly Ezra was hurt, but it worried him that the gambler had been so quiet. He’d been unconscious for a long time. The only reason he was sure that Ezra was still alive was the fact that he’d heard small moans coming from the con man as they rode along. He recalled how quiet the four outlaws had been; the tension in the air could have been cut with a knife. It made him feel a little smug that they’d foiled the gang’s plan.

He mentally shook himself. He had to stay focused. How many times had he told himself that today? He shivered, he was soaked through to the skin, and the buckskin he was wearing was not going to dry quickly. His head was pounding and he took a deep breath, knowing he had to keep alert, this was no time to give in to his body’s protestations, his healing would have to wait.

"Ez?" he whispered, noting how dry his throat was.

There was no reply.

"Ez? Can ya hear me pard?" Vin tried again.

"I can, if it’s any consolation," John Somers' voice came from behind the sharpshooter, and Vin surmised that he was tied to the opposite side of the bed to he and Ezra.

"Good t’ know I got conscious company," Vin replied.

"Mr Tanner, I feel exactly the same way, what do you think they will do?" Somers responded.

Vin didn’t answer immediately. The moment Somers began talking. Vin’s heart leap frogged. Did he hear right? Or was he mistaken? He knew he had a little fever, but he was sure he was still sharp enough not to get that confused.

"Ya know m’ name. How?" he finally managed to ask.

Somers mentally kicked himself. Damn it! Tanner didn’t miss a thing. "I overheard one of those men in the saloon."

Tanner thought it over. No, that wasn’t it. Even if he had overheard in the saloon, his instincts were alerting him to danger. He summoned his strength and took a wild guess, feeling an irony rising in him.

"Yer a bounty hunter…" Well he’d said it, if he wasn’t he would want to know why Vin would come to that conclusion, and if he was…well if he was, then he was right.

Somers shook his head in defeat. What did it matter. Hell, he didn’t know what was going to happen now, everything was spiralling out of control, and for the first time in his life he felt helpless.

"Yes Mr Tanner, I am. I’ve heard about the way you can sum people up quickly, but I really believed I’d beaten you."

Vin smiled his crooked smile, despite his predicament, which had suddenly taken a new twist. "Reckon ya would’ve too. If things’d gone different," he heard Somers chuckle, and Vin’s smile stayed in place as he leant his weary head back against the bed.

"So, what was yer plan?"

The bounty hunter thought for a moment. Should he be speaking so freely with his prey? He still saw the five hundred dollar reward in his minds eye, although it was getting a little faded. Ah, what the hell, they were probably going to be dead soon anyway.

"I was watching you in town. Waiting for a time when your friends were safely out of the way. I soon figured out it wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. So when I saw you all going to the Grain Exchange I decided to listen in the best I could, and try to adapt my plan."

"So ya overheard us talkin’ ‘bout the stagecoach?"

"Yes. When I heard you were riding shotgun I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I didn’t hear the reason for you being on the stage, I just figured you were filling in. So I decided to be on the stage and take you at my first opportunity. I was also glad to see you were not quite yourself, I knew it was an added advantage."

"So, why’d ya act so darn annoyin’?" Vin asked, closing his eyes.

"So you would dismiss me as of no consequence…a fool. I wanted you all to believe I was just a city man who was stopping by."

Vin smiled tiredly. "Ya sure sound like Ez with them five dollar words yer usin’. Were ya raised by wolves too?"

Somers laughed again. "Ez? The gambler right? The injured man?"

"Yeah," answered Vin quietly. He thought of another question. "Ya drew attention to yerself durin’ the hold up. Why?"

"I acted without thinking. I knew everything was going to hell, and acted on the spur of the moment," Somers replied, still amazed he was having this conversation with the man he was going to drag back to Tascosa to face a noose.

"I know a man who’d have a few words t’ say ‘bout actin’ without thinkin’," Vin said, partly to himself. His heart sank as he thought of Chris. Was he alive? He was brought out of his wandering thoughts by another voice.

"I knew you were a despicable low life excuse for a human being."

Ezra had been awake for a while. He’d listened to the voices that came out of the darkness, but was in too much pain and felt too weak to say anything until that moment. But it hadn’t stopped him thinking.

Why was Vin talking so freely with this man? They were holding a conversation almost like they were old friends. It was amazing what a dire situation caused people to do. When the reality sunk in that Somers was a bounty hunter, out to capture Vin, Ezra had suddenly found his voice.

"You okay Ez?"

Ezra wasn’t sure how to answer that question. He felt terrible, but he didn’t want to tell Vin that. He surmised that Vin had enough to worry about. The gambler frowned. What made him think Vin would worry about him? Well, he had been worried about Vin, so maybe, just maybe.

"I believe I have been shot, Mr Tanner," he replied weakly.

A glint came into Vin’s eyes. "Ya come to rescue me Ezra?"

"Yes, Mr Tanner." Was the wry response.

"Thanks Ez, ‘preciate it pard."

"You are most welcome, Vin."

Vin chuckled again. He felt drunk. Oh boy, was he ever in need of some of Nathan’s horse piss. But first they had to escape…But how?

"D’ya reckon you two could mebbe help me t’ lift the bed? If we put our weight against it and try t’ stand up."

The other two men sighed heavily. Hell, was he ever clutching at straws.

* * * * * * *

In the main part of the cabin, candles had been lit, and two of the gang members were having a heated discussion.

"C’mon Jake. The hostage thing ain’t us. We steal and rob and kill when we have to, we don’t hold prisoners." Seth took another sip of his coffee. He was getting angrier by the second; Jake just would not listen to reason.

"That long haired one in there probably saved our hides."

"Saved us? Half of us are dead," Seth answered irritably.

"Yeah, but their friends…" Jake nodded towards the closed door to the room housing their hostages. "…are likely to be more careful now."

"If they weren’t here. It’s likely they wouldn’t be on our tail like you seem to think they are."

Jake stood up quickly and walked to the window, running his fingers through his hair. "They would have followed us anyway. Think about it, Seth. Why were they there? To stop us, right?" he waited for Seth to nod, he didn’t but Cleet and Joe, who were sitting quietly, listening to the argument, did.

Jake sighed tiredly. "Look. We can take ‘em as far as the border, and leave ‘em there."

"Jake, yer blowin’ hot and cold. First ya wanna shoot ‘em, now ya wanna keep ‘em alive." Seth received no response, so he continued. "We should kill ‘em now." The older man leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms.

Jake resigned himself to the fact that Seth would never change his mind. He didn’t reply again, and Seth watched as his leader gathered up a sheet, tearing it into strips. He put the cloths under his arm and then picked up a bowl of water and a jug with one hand, and two candles and a bottle of whiskey with the other. Seth’s mouth turned up in his all too familiar sneer. "Ya gonna fix up their wounds?"

"Yeah I am. No need for ‘em to suffer any more than they have to."

"Yer soft."

Seth sat up quickly in his chair as Jake approached him.

"Next time ya say that, I’ll shoot ya."

"Hell Jake, ya wouldn’t know where the trigger was on yer gun."

Jake stared hard at the older man for a few seconds and then turned on his heels and walked towards the door in the back of the room. "Joe, open this door for me."

* * * * * * *

Vin lifted his head with a start as the door to the outer room opened and a pale light entered the room. He watched as someone stepped further inside and closed the door behind them. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust as two candles were lit and set on the table beside the bed.

"Oh joy, more outlaws," Ezra sighed as he too watched the man moving about the room. "The silent kind too it seems…Is anybody else hot?"

"Ez, ya got a fever. Keep quiet, pard," Vin told the gambler. The fact that he also felt hot was neither here nor there. He’d been thinking of ways to escape, but had so far come up empty.

"Shut up both of ya," Jake ordered as he knelt beside Ezra.

"What ya doin’ to ‘im?" Vin asked worriedly as he saw Jake reach for something on the table. He relaxed when he heard the sound of water moving around in a bowl.

Jake winced as he pulled back the bloody shirt from the injured man beside him, the bullet looked to have gone straight through the man's side, so he decided to clean the wound as best he could and move onto his next patient.

"I would be obliged if you would find it within yourself to stop trying to help me, and help another instead," Ezra groaned loudly as the expected pain hit him like a thunderbolt. The cool water against the wound in his side was soothing and excruciatingly painful at the same time.

"An’ I’d be obliged if ya shut yer mouth," Jake answered, taking the cloth away and replacing it with another. This one was doused in whiskey, and Ezra cried out in pain as it hit his wound.

The room became eerily silent; the only sounds heard being gasps from the gambler and water splashing in the bowl.

Jake stood finally and, picking up the bowl, moved to the window. Opening it slightly, he threw the red coloured water out and closed the window securely once more.

Ezra felt the bandage that had been placed around his middle, and closed his eyes. He felt better he had to admit, he just felt as though he’d betrayed himself a little by letting this miscreant help him.

Vin watched as Jake poured fresh water into the bowl and moved over to kneel beside him. He tensed as the outlaw reached out towards his injured leg. "It’s fine. Leave it be."

Jake’s hand stilled over the younger man’s leg. "Let me clean it for ya. It’ll feel better, and might stop it being infected."

Vin looked at the man at his side for a few seconds and then nodded resignedly. He leaned his head back once more against the bed. Why was he helping them if he was going to kill them? He didn’t dare believe that they would actually get out of this in one piece without having to escape; that was too good to be true. But if they were going to die, why was the head of the gang helping them? It was all too much to think about now, Vin knew he couldn’t fight his injuries forever, but he had to at least try. He decided to keep himself focused by talking. "Why’d ya bring us with ya? Ya could be in Mexico by now," he asked tiredly.

"Aah!" he sat up quickly when Jake tore his trousers open to get to the knife wound. "Could ya take it easy?" He felt himself shivering again; his wet clothes were not helping his situation one little bit.

Jake carried on working as he answered Vin’s question.

"Needed to meet up at the cabin. See who survived your friends guns." He shrugged. "You were our insurance."

Vin nodded. "Yer men are out of control."

Jake continued to work on Vin’s leg. "Shut up," he said not looking up from his task.

Vin persisted, making Ezra wonder if the tracker had a death wish. "Yer not a cold blooded killer, I’d guess ya don’t like killin’."

"Want me to prove I do?" Jake glanced up at his patient, not ready for the steady blue eyes that looked straight at him.

"Ya don’t," Vin stated with a certainty.

"Oh Lordy," Ezra groaned. Damn, he was hot, and getting hotter by the minute as he listened to Vin trying to get them all shot.

Vin continued, sensing he was right. The outlaw seemed flustered, and was working quickly to finish bandaging Vin’s leg. "Why didn’t ya leave us, and just head out?"

"I knew you and your friends would come after us. We needed somethin’ to protect our backs. You were our protection."

Jake reached for the bowl and stood up. The insight of the man at his feet had unnerved him. Was he really that transparent? He shook his head, wondering what it was about the long haired peacekeeper that made him speak so freely around him. "Get some rest. Looks like yer friends killed the rest o’ my men. We’ll be makin’ an early start."

He turned quickly and picked up the whiskey with his free hand. He kicked the door twice and when it was opened by one of his gang, he walked out of the room and the door closed behind him, blowing out the candles and leaving the hostages once more in darkness.

* * * * * * *

Buck and JD broke camp early, as soon as the sky was light enough for them to see. JD had started the day in an optimistic mood, but after an hour of not being able to find the trail, he was despondent again.

They were riding alongside a small river, and, although neither of them voiced their thoughts, they both knew they would probably not be able to pick up the trail again if the outlaws had travelled through the water.

Something else was bothering Buck, there had been no sign of Ezra. He comforted himself by thinking that Ezra was still following Vin closely but it didn’t stop the nagging at the back of his mind that was telling him another of their friends was in trouble.

"JD? Anything?" Buck finally dared to ask.

"No. Nothing," the younger man replied. He turned a sad face to Buck. "Think we’ve blown it Buck. We’ve lost the trail for good."

Buck sighed and opened his mouth to speak when his horse stumbled. "Easy boy," he whispered quietly, as he sensed the panic rising in the animal.

He turned back to look at JD. "Reckon we need to stop, and decide what to do, kid," he said quietly.

JD’s head shot round. "We can’t. We gotta keep lookin’. We’ll find ‘em Buck I know we will. We have to."

Buck frowned; he was getting an uncomfortable ride all of a sudden. "Hang on JD." He stopped his horse and dismounted.

JD reluctantly stopped too. "Buck, come on. We can’t give up. Vin wouldn’t give up on us." JD’s voice was desperate.

The ladies' man was walking around his horse, looking at the animal’s legs.

"What’s wrong Buck?"

"Not sure, just checking." Buck bent down and lifted one of his horse’s hooves. "Ah, shit. No."

"What?" JD jumped from his horse and went to stand beside his friend.

"He’s cut his hoof up, look. Must have trod on somethin’ sharp back there." Buck put the horses hoof once more on the ground. "Gotta go back to town and change horses, JD."

JD hung his head. "You go, I can carry on."

"No." Buck had had enough pussy footing around. "I ain’t leavin’ you out here alone. There’s enough of us missin’ already. We both go back to town, get fresh horses, and come back out."

"He could be dead, already. They both could. You just wanna go back and see if Chris is okay. You don’t care about Vin and Ezra. Hey, you could have your friend back, without Vin buttin’ in."

Anger rose like a forest fire inside Buck’s chest. He grabbed JD by the shoulders and shook him. "Now you listen here boy, and you listen good. I care about Vin and Ezra as much as you do. Don’t you think it’s tearin’ me up inside? All I can think of is what’s happenin’ to ‘em. So don’t you go off tellin’ me I don’t care; I do, more than you’ll ever know," he continued to hold the younger man's shoulders, but his anger ebbed away slightly as he saw the tears glistening in JD’s eyes. "Yeah, I’m worried about Chris, it’d be good to see if he’s okay. Nothin’ I want more than to hear ‘im bellowin’ at us again, and glarin’ all over the place. But I know he’s in good hands JD, he’s safe. And I know Ez and Vin ain’t. But we gotta think right here, boy. We need to go back."

JD stared intently back at his mentor and finally his shoulders sagged. He nodded his head twice, walked over to his horse and climbed once more into his saddle. "Let’s go home. Sooner we get there, the sooner we come back."

Buck smiled a small smile and climbed carefully onto his horse. "May have to ride in the saddle with you in a while JD," he told the young Sheriff.

"Just as long as you don’t sing," JD replied.

They turned their horses and headed for home. Not noticing the cluster of trees on the opposite side of the water, hiding a small clearing. A man walked out from behind one of the trees and lowered his gun. He turned and walked back towards a cabin, to tell his boss what he’d seen.

* * * * * * *

Chris hadn’t had a bad night. He still had a fever but Nathan and Josiah between them were managing to keep it down. The healer had managed to get the gunslinger to take some laudanum, to help him with the pain in his shoulder, and Chris’s two friends were pleased with the way things were going.

"I’m gonna head out after breakfast, Nathan," Josiah informed the healer.


The two men turned to see Chris trying to sit up.

"Chris. Stop that now." Nathan rushed to the gunslinger’s side and tried to ease him back onto the pillows.

"Help me sit up, or I go with ‘im." The green glare still managed to unnerve the healer and without saying a word he reached for more pillows.

Between them, Josiah and Nathan soon had Chris in a sitting position. He rested his head back on the pillows, berating himself for the thousandth time for getting shot. "Guess no-one’s turned up then," he said tiredly.

"Sorry Chris, no," Josiah answered, handing the leader a cup of water.

The blond sighed, and gasped, clutching the bedclothes in pain.

"Easy there now. It’s gonna be okay," Nathan soothed.

Chris shot him an angry look. "You don’t know that Nathan. So don’t bother sayin’ it. I’m finished with positive thinkin’." He clenched his teeth as pain soared through his shoulder.

Josiah and Nathan shared a look.

"I’m goin’ now Chris. I’m gonna say we’ll see you soon. ‘Cause I’m not through with positive thinkin’." Josiah opened the clinic and stepped out, smiling as Chris’s soft voice caught his attention.

"Sorry Josiah."

Casting a look back towards the bed, the ex preacher grinned his famous toothy grin at the injured man and then closed the door behind him.

Chris looked back at Nathan, an apologetic look on his face. "I’m angry

with myself, Nate," he offered as explanation for his rant.

"No need ta be Chris."

"I didn’t think any of it through. The plan was hopeless. A few days ago,

I was tellin’ Vin to take a step back and think before he acts, and I didn’t take my own advice."

"We were all there, makin’ the plan Chris. I had this talk with Josiah last night y’ know."

Chris raised an eyebrow. "You did?"

"Yeah I did." The healer smiled. "Reckon we’re all tellin’ ourselves the same thing, and beatin’ ourselves up about it."

"Least you weren’t the ones who told Vin to step back and ponder," Chris said wryly. He raised his eyebrows and his voice went up a notch. "Can I have some water, Nate?"


Chris sipped from the cup Nathan held to his lips, relishing the cool fluid as it went down his throat.

"You should get some sleep," the healer told him.

"Yeah, I should." Chris shut his eyes and was immediately in a deep sleep, so he didn’t see Nathan slide to his knees on the floor, lower his head, and begin to pray for the lives of his missing friends.

* * * * * * *

"Are we gonna have this conversation again Seth?"

The four outlaws were sitting around the table drinking coffee and making plans for the day. They’d all slept fitfully, and realised by morning that they were the only ones left in their gang.

"Yeah we are Jake. Until you get it through yer head we gotta kill ‘em."

"What is it about them ya don’t like Seth?" Jake stood up and walking to the hearth, threw the remainder of his coffee away.

"They’re trouble. And you know it. We’ll never be rid of ‘em, they’re bad luck."

"And you think that by killin’ ‘em we’re gonna be home free?"

"Yeah I do."

Jake stood staring at Seth for a few seconds and then turned to look through the window. He was weary. Bone tired in fact. His gang was almost non-existent, the men that were left looked like they were planning a revolt and a scrawny Texan with long hair and piercing eyes that dug into your soul had made him step back and look hard at himself.

He bowed his head and shook it from side to side. He was lost. Didn’t know which way to turn. One thing he did know though was that he’d finished with this life. He was going to start again, afresh.

But that didn’t solve the problems he was having now. He started to feel angry, more from frustration than anything else, but anger none the less. He looked over to the table by the window and his eyes fell on the Texan’s gun. Maybe he did know what to do, to end this fiasco once and for all and to get the hell away from there.

He walked towards the window and when he reached it he turned back to face Seth and the others who were watching him expectantly.

"Ya know what Seth? Yer right," Jake said finally.

"Ya kidding." The older man couldn’t believe his own ears.

"No I ain’t. They gotta die. I wasn’t thinkin’ straight. There’s no other way round it."

Seth stood up quickly. "I’ll go do it now."

"No." Seth watched as Jake picked up the gun Cleet had taken from Vin the day before. "I’ll do it."

The older man narrowed his eyes. Could he trust Jake to do it?

Jake moved towards the bolted door. He turned back to look at the three men who were watching him closely. "Ya know the stash ya keep askin’ me about? The one from the last two bank robberies?"

"Yeah, ya wouldn’t tell us where the money was," Cleet answered.

"It’s right here, below the floor. There’s a cellar, look under the mat in front of the stove."

The three outlaws scrambled to where Jake had indicated, and sure enough under the mat was a door. "You three go find it, careful it’s dark down there. There’s three sacks. I’ll meet you out front. But be careful, remember the two Joe spotted earlier, they might come back."

He watched as the three men disappeared through the hole in the ground, and then turned and unbolted the door.

Jake walked into the room and closed the door behind him. He stood looking from one bound man to the other until his eyes finally rested on Vin.

"This has gone on long enough. I blew this one, it’s time to stop."

The three men stared at Jake, who had their undivided attention.

"I’m a robber, that’s all I ever wanted to be. I never wanted to kill anyone. When I set out, I knew I would, but I hated it every time. That’s why I always took time over my plans, so they would work without causing too much death. I hate bein’ violent."

"You gave a very good impersonation of it yesterday," Ezra noted.

The outlaw turned to look at the feverish gambler. "I had to put on an act for my men, I always have to. But it’s wearin’ me down. I can’t do it anymore."

"What ya gonna do now?" Vin didn’t like the look in Jake’s eyes. He was defeated that was for sure, but there was a determination in there too. A shiver went through him, and he knew it wasn’t only from the feel of his still wet clothes against his skin.

"You’ll be my last mistake. It ends now." Jake walked over to where Vin sat tied up on the floor. He raised Vin’s gun and the three trussed up men’s eyes grew wide as he readied it to fire.

Seth stopped what he was doing as a shot rang out. He was clutching a sack of money and he and the other two outlaws were looking for the rest.

A grin spread across his face, and grew wider as he heard a second shot and then a third. He’d killed two birds with one stone. His patience had paid off, the money was now in his hands and those low life peacekeepers and that whiney passenger were dead.

Now there was just one more thing left to do.


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