by SoDak7

Warning: Violence, swearing

Characters: Vin, Chris

Dusk in Four Corners found six men seated at various places in the Standish Saloon. JD, Buck and Chris shared a table in the back corner while Nathan and Josiah were sitting across the planked floor at another corner table. Ezra was, of course, sitting in his usual spot; that being on the raised platform shuffling and dealing his cards to anyone who wished a game of poker. Supper having been consumed earlier in the evening the men were enjoying smokes, drinks and conversations. The saloon was full of people tonight, the tone jovial. Much needed rains had come to the area the past few days ending a particularly parched spring season and so there was a lot of celebrating going on. Regulars rubbed shoulders with strangers but all were looking for nothing except some fun and wetting their palates. The six peacekeepers felt it necessary to be around since there were many strangers in town, but so far, everything remained quiet and respectful.

The saloon doors opened just a crack and the seventh member of the peacekeepers came inside stopping at the entrance to accustom his eyes to the smoky dimness and to see where his friends were seated. Heading to the front to put in his order for supper and to grab a beer Vin Tanner leaned up against the bar, called Inez over and told her what he wanted. When he finished speaking to her and started drinking his beer, an older man sidled up next to him and began talking to the ex-bounty hunter.

"Think that old man knows Vin? JD asked no one in particular nodding his head toward the tall, well-built older man that came to stand right next to their friend.

Buck turned around in his seat and squinted through the haze at the two. "Don’t know JD, might just be someone wantin’ to strike up a conversation. Lots of people in here tonight. Best we keep our eyes on him though, you never know." Buck turned back around and glanced at Larabee to gage his reaction on the old man and Vin. He knew Chris had seen Vin come in, had watched him walk through the crowd to the bar and had, more than likely, seen the stranger move in close to the tracker. The black hat hid the better part of his friend’s face but Buck knew those eyes didn’t miss a thing. And right now those eyes were saying that they didn’t like what they were looking at. A slight movement of the head had Buck up and moving to the bar near the right side of the older man. Josiah and Nathan seeing the move and noting the intense look on Buck’s face, stopped their conversation and moved into better positions to get their guns out if need be. Ezra excused himself from the game he was playing and came down one step, leaned on the railing and waited to see if his services were going to be needed. JD still sat at the table with the gunslinger watching with growing anticipation as he looked back and forth to the men at the bar and at the man seated near him. He noted that Chris had pushed himself back from the table some, when he had done that he didn’t know, and he wasn’t for sure what was going on-- he hadn’t seen a thing that would give a clue that there was something amiss. But seeing how the other men were tensed and ready, he rested his palms on the handles of his guns also ready to back his friends for whatever reason.

Chris had watched his good friend come through the swinging doors, glance in his direction and head to the bar. He’d also noticed an older, taller, stocky man make his way over to Vin and stand next to him. What he saw and didn’t like was the way the Texan’s body had tightened when the old man had turned his head and said something to him. That was what had kicked his defenses in. He sensed Tanner must have known this man and was for some reason tolerating his closeness to him and whatever it was that was being said. But he could tell by Vin’s body language that he wasn’t happy about it and Larabee was going to make damn sure this stranger wasn’t going to try and pull something on his friend.

JD watched as Larabee’s eyes narrowed even more and the mouth clamped down harder on the cheroot. He glanced over to the bar to see what was causing such an emotion when he saw Vin straighten up as if to leave and noticed the old man had put his hand on the tracker’s arm as if to stop him from leaving. The instant Vin twisted his arm out of the stranger’s grasp Larabee was on his feet, the cheroot stub sizzling in Buck’s abandoned glass of beer as he headed toward the two men. Buck had moved up right behind the old man, Nathan and Josiah both stood up right where they were and Ezra came down one more step but still keeping a height advantage. The loud conversations and laughing ceased as the crowd parted like the Red Sea for the man in black as he crossed the room never taking his eyes off the Texan, pulling his duster back, his hand near the colt that rode high on his hip.

+ + + + + + +

"Problem Vin?" Chris asked in a deadly soft voice looking from his friend to the stranger.

"No, no problem," Vin answered, never taking his eyes off the older man standing in front of him. "Reckon I said my piece, weren’t gonna stay long anyway." He turned to leave nodding to Larabee, trusting the man to watch his back for him.

"Wait a minute boy! I ain’t done talkin’ to ya yet, the stranger called to Vin, taking a step forward as if to follow him.

"Oh, I think you’re done alright," Chris said stepping in front of the man blocking him off.

The old man looked from the tracker’s retreating back to the man who stood in his path. Noting the piercing angry glare and the gun on the man’s hip, he took a step backward and nearly tripped over another man that was standing right behind him.

"Whoa there, old timer," Buck said catching the man as he stumbled. "Maybe you should just have yourself another drink and forget about this."

"You all cain’t tell me what to do! If’n I want to talk to my only grandson then, by god, I will," the old man spouted off pushing himself away from Buck and started to head toward the batwing doors.

"Maybe you didn’t hear me," Chris hissed out stepping into the old man’s space. "You’re done talking to him for the night…"

"Who the hell are you anyway?" challenged the man who claimed to be Tanner’s grandfather. "Oh, I see," he said, squinting his eyes at the man dressed in black and then turning around noticing the other men that stood ready to come between him and his kin. "You all part of a gang, is that it? My grandson riding with a pack of outlaws? Figures," snorted the old man. "He was never much good for anything else." Turning around and heading back to the bar the old man never saw the murderous look on Larabee‘s face. One step toward the old man and Josiah was there coming between the gunslinger and Vin’s alleged grandfather.

"Why don’t you go and talk to Vin. Could be he needs someone to listen about now," Josiah said softly trying to keep the angry leader from doing something they both knew he’d regret. When Larabee refused to give ground Josiah then added, "Vin don’t know about the telegram yet, reckon he needs to know what’s going on."

Chris tore his eyes from the stranger’s back , looked at Josiah and gave a quick nod. Locking eyes with Buck, Chris sent him a message to keep an eye on the man and to keep him away from Vin. He turned around quickly sending the long black duster billowing out behind him and strode out the batwing doors slamming them against the walls.

"That went well," Ezra said to no one in particular as he winced at the sound of splintering wood.

+ + + + + + +

Chris found his friend at the wagon he called home. He figured the astute man heard him coming, his spurs jingling as he clipped along the boardwalk. He stopped along side the back of the wagon watching as Vin shoved gear into his saddlebags, his actions quick and forceful. Not hard to tell that he was upset.

"Grandfather huh?" Chris had guessed that the minute he’d looked into the old man’s face. Same eyes as Vin, same jaw line. Wasn’t hard to put the two together as kin.

"Yeah. Ma‘s pa. Don’t know what the hell he wants, ain’t gonna hang ‘round to find out neither."

"Want me to get rid of him?"

Vin hesitated in what he was doing , a small grin beginning to form. Keeping his eyes on his task at hand he asked, "What’er ya gonna do cowboy? Call him out?" When he didn’t receive an answer he glanced a look at the gunslinger. Chris’s head was down, face obscured, running his fingertips along the edge of the wagon tailgate. He saw the shoulders give a shrug and then the serious face appeared.

"Well, he is wearin’ a gun," he said with a glint in his eyes and then gave a grin to match his friend’s. He shrugged again and the smile faded. "But if you don’t want him here Vin…"

"Aw…hell, you can’t kill him Chris, he is my kin even though we parted ways a long time ago. Reckon if I just head out fer a spell, he’ll get tired of hangin’ around and leave. ‘Preciate the offer though," he said as he gave a wink.

"Maybe he knows about the bounty. Would he take you in to collect?"

"Wouldn’t put it past him." Vin blew out a sigh and said, "Hard to believe a woman like my ma could come from a man such as him. It just don’t figure."

Chris had no idea what to say about that. He didn’t know much about Vin’s past--just that his ma had died when he was a young boy. From that point on he had no idea what had happened to his friend, what kind of a life he’d had. He did know he’d spent some time with the Indians somewhere along the line. Vin wasn’t one to talk much about his childhood, hell, about anything. He just had to figure that there was bad blood between the two Tanners for some reason. If Vin wanted to tell, he’d listen, otherwise he’d just do his best to keep out of it, unless of course, his friend’s life was in danger.

"Need ya to know we got a telegram from Judge Travis. Said the Copper brothers and their gang robbed a stage headed to Driscol City. Might…might be headed this way." Chris hated to bring the subject up but he didn’t want to hold any information back from the tracker. He put an emphasis on the word ‘might’ allowing him to feel like he could leave, although he wouldn’t take any bets on that. Vin was dedicated to his job. They all were.

"Damn," Vin muttered as he tossed the saddle bags down .

"Don’t have to stay Vin, could be they won’t even head this way. I’m sure they know the town is protected. You wanna leave, ain’t nobody gonna stop you, we’ll all understand."

Shaking his head Vin replied, "Wouldn’t do that Chris, be like runnin’ out on ya when ya need me and I couldn‘t live with that if anything happened to you or the boys. I’ll hang around. Don’t mean I gotta talk to him though." He picked the saddle bags back up and prepared to walk away.

"Got a floor you can rent cheap for the night."

"Thanks cowboy, but I reckon I’ll stay in the barn loft. Don’t think I’ll be gettin much sleep tonight anyway. Wouldn’t want to keep ya awake with my tossin’." Vin gave him a nod and began to walk away. Taking a few steps he stopped and turned back around to face his friend.


"Yeah, Vin."

"Don’t ever turn yer back on him okay?"

"Alright Vin," Chris said as he nodded to him and watched as his friend turned away from him once again and headed to the livery. Wonder what the hell that’s all about.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee re-entered the saloon heading back to his table. He noticed the old man, Tanner’s grandfather , sitting at a table with Josiah and Nathan, drinking from a bottle, hands gesturing as he talked. Buck pushed away from the bar and came to sit with the gunslinger, JD and Ezra making their way over to the table as well.

"Nice old man, just the kind everyone would want for a grandfather," Buck said sarcastically, pulling out a chair and sitting down heavily.

"He hasn’t said anything decent about Vin yet, don’t see how Nathan and Josiah can sit there and listen to him," JD said as he glanced back at the three men. "Can’t even believe he’s actually his grandfather."

"Oh, it’s his grandfather alright or some such relative, one can see the lineage just looking at him, but I agree Mr. Dunne. The man seems to be a vile if not crudely inept form claiming to be of human origins."

"Vin say anything?" Buck asked as he mused over the cheroot floating in his glass of beer.

"Not much. Was packin’ to head out for a couple of days. Told him about the wire."

"He sticking around?" This question coming from their youngest lawman.

"Said he would. Want everyone to keep an eye out though. Don’t want them alone together if it can be helped."

"I take it our compatriot doesn’t entirely trust his apparent kinsman then." It was a statement not a question, all three knowing from the confrontation earlier that there seemed to be no love lost between the two men.

Chris squinted over at the table where his two men were still sitting with the old man and said nearly in a whisper, "And neither do I."

+ + + + + + +

Half an hour later found Vin’s grandpa wobbling up the stairway to his room above the saloon floor. Soon as he reached the top step, Nathan and Josiah came over to sit with the other three lawmen who hadn’t moved except to refresh their drinks.

Nathan blew out a sigh as he pulled up a chair between Chris and Ezra and Josiah pounded a fist on the table coming to sit in between JD and Ezra.

"Man sure has a lot of issues," the big ex-preacher man said, shaking his head.

"And most concern Vin," added Nathan. "He sure is filled with a lot of hate."

"Blames Vin for just about all his troubles including ones he ain’t even thought of yet, Josiah said as he tossed back Ezra’s drink. Had to sit on my hands fearin’ I was gonna tear his head from his neck."

"How could you sit and listen to that? I would have left him a long time ago," JD said defensively. "Ain’t right. A man sayin’ bad things about Vin. His own grandpa for cripes sake."

"I’m sure they were just trying to gleam as much information as they could Mr. Dunne. Doesn’t mean they had to enjoy any of it."

"All I know," Nathan said, "is that I don’t think Vin should be left alone with that man."

"What? You don’t think Vin could take that old man?" JD asked incredulously.

"Don’t think Nathan is talkin’ about the physical side of this son, more like the harm that old man could do emotionally to Vin. Most times, words hurt worse than the beatin’ a man takes."

"Specially if it comes from his own kin," Ezra said, rolling his empty whisky glass around by it’s bottom rim. "I think I know somewhat of how that feels."

Five men nodded their agreement knowing where Ezra was coming from. The sixth man sat back and looked at his men.

"It’s settled then. We keep an eye out for this Copper gang and on Vin’s grandpa. You see Vin out walkin’, ridin’, eatin’, drinkin’ or whatever, one of us stays with him. He ain’t gonna like it much, but I don’t trust nor do I like that old man. Agreed?" He pushed himself away from the table amidst the murmurs of "you got it" and head nods. "See you boys in the mornin’." And with that he left.

Ezra jumped and winced as the irritated man in black again abused the doors when he left the saloon. "Good lord. If he keeps this up, I’m going to have to buy new ones by the end of the week."

"You could always do like they do in Purgatory Ezra," JD said, trying to keep a straight face. "Just hang some of those beaded things for a door."

The look Ezra gave JD caused the young man and the rest of the men to erupt in laughter. Ezra gathered himself up and said, "Excuse me gentleman, and I use that term loosely, but I think I’ll go see if there is more intelligent life somewhere else in this establishment." He left them sitting there snickering and headed back up to his platform arena.

+ + + + + + +

Early morning found Vin and Chris sitting in their usual spot right outside the saloon enjoying some coffee and very little conversation. Wasn’t long and the rest of the peacekeepers filtered in around them. Plans for the day were discussed and each man went about his business except for the original two. Before long they heard footsteps coming from inside the saloon. Vin’s grandfather stuck his head out over the batwing doors and seeing his grandson stepped out onto the boardwalk.

"Wanna talk to you boy. Time you quit runnin’ from me. Why don’t ya face up to me like a man?"

Chris started to rise from his chair but a hand to his arm stopped him. "S’alright Chris. Say what ya need to and then leave me be," Vin said, looking directly into his grandfather’s eyes, the eyes so like his own.

The old man looked down at Larabee, cocked his head and said to his grandson, "Why don’t we go somewhere that we kin talk in private?"

"This here is as private as it gets. Take it or leave it. Ain’t nothin’ you have to say to me that Chris can’t hear."

Old man Tanner huffed out a breath and said, "There’ll be a time boy, there’ll be a time. I’ll catch you alone and then we’re gonna have us a talk."

Vin stood up to leave saying, "Reckon if’n ya don’t want to talk then, I got me some things to do." Turning to Chris he said, "Think I’ll go out and scout around, see if I cut any trail from that outlaw gang."

"Alright. Watch yer back," the man in black replied and gave a dip of his head.

Vin sent him a nod in return and stepped off the walkway, heading toward the livery and was met by JD who also was going the same direction. Both disappeared into the stable deciding to ride out together.

The old man swung his gaze back to Larabee. "I know what you’re doin’ gunslinger. You can’t protect him all the time. I’ll get to him , mark my words."

Chris eased himself up from his chair, and stepped up to the grandfather. His eyes were cold and hard and when he spoke it was in a lethal whisper. "That a threat? Cuz if it is I’ll throw you in jail for threatenin’ an officer of the law. Then I’ll wire up Judge Orrin Travis and have the prison wagon come and haul your ass off to some prison so damn far away from anything livin’, you’ll wish you never breathed the name of Vin Tanner."

Silence reigned for a moment and then it seemed as though the old man was going to challenge Larabee, but the look and the stance told him he’d never win, not this time. With a glance seeing his grandson and another riding out of town, he shot a glare at the man in front of him, turned on his heel and headed back into the saloon. Who the hell were these men anyway, coming between a man and his grandson? Well, there were things he wanted Vin to hear, and he would bide his time. Sooner or later he’d find him alone and then he’d give him a good piece of his mind and anything else he deemed necessary. Damn that boy, damn them all!

+ + + + + + +

An hour later JD and Vin came hustling back into town with the news that the Copper gang was headed their way. Guessed there to be about a dozen riders the tracker had said. After seeing to it that the town’s folks were off the streets safely behind locked doors, the seven men took their positions along Main Street. Each man took a particular spot, careful not to catch each other in a cross fire, but effectively protecting all parts of the town. Vin chose the high ground, as he usually did, his sharp shooting skills keeping the odds evened up no matter how many outlaws came into their town. Hit ‘em high and hit ‘em low was what the seven men did and they were hard to beat especially on their own home front. Chris Larabee stood in the middle of the street, duster pulled back, right hand close to the colt at his hip daring any man to try and take his town. He’d give them a chance to throw down their guns, always gave them a chance, but truth be known, he’d be mighty disappointed if any outlaw gang did that. He enjoyed the thrill of the fight and that feeling came in part because of the trust he had in the men that fought along side of him.

This time was no different. The Copper Brothers and their gang came charging into town and stopped when seeing the deserted streets and one man standing before them-a man who seemed to challenge them with just one look. Then he told them what their options were. And that’s when all hell broke loose. Within ten minutes- ten long minutes- it was all over. More than half of the outlaw gang lay dead, the others either wounded or holding their hands high in surrender.

Josiah ministered to the dead and Nathan tended to the wounded while Ezra, Buck and JD hustled off the rest to jail. Chris headed to the telegraph office to wire the Judge that the Copper Brothers and their gang wouldn’t be holding up any more stagecoaches or banks. Vin told Larabee that he’d head out and scout around just to make sure they were all gone.

Walking into the livery Vin headed to Peso’s stall apologizing to the animal about having to take him out again so soon. Throwing the saddle blanket on his horse he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up knowing that someone was behind him. Turning quickly bringing up the mare’s leg in one smooth move, he leveled it on the intruder--his grandfather.

"Gonna shoot me boy?" he said, putting his hands in the air and cocking his head. "Mebbe that’s what you’d like to do anyway. Is that how you want it?"

"You should go back to your room, it ain’t safe out here yet…not till I make sure there ain’t nobody else hangin’ around," Vin said, keeping his gun trained on the man.

"Worried about me now huh? Well, that’s mighty touching. You kin put that thing away," he gestured to the sawed-off in his grandson’s hands. "Jest came in here to talk to ya, that’s all."

The Texan hesitated for a minute before holstering the gun, deciding he may as well let the man have his say. After all, he was kin. But he wasn’t going to let his guard down, he’d done that too many times when he was a little boy and he had learned the hard way. This man, his mama’s father, was a brutal man. He’d heard it with his ears and he’d felt it with his body when he was very young. He’d put that all behind him a long time ago learning from The People that some men were just born to hate, just as some were born to love but each man had it in him to change and he had to make a decision on what kind of man he wanted to be. It was in his power to be however he wanted to be--and that had given him a feeling of freedom that no man could ever take away from him. Not even this one, not any more.

+ + + + + + +

"Ya done good out there boy. Kinda surprised me some bein’ outnumbered and all. This gang of yourn is pretty handy with their pistols."

"Ain’t a gang Grandpa, we’re the peacekeepers in town. Hired by a Judge to protect this place."

"Well then, ya done alright fer yerself then ain’t ya boy? Yes sir, never figured you’d be one to turn out workin’ fer the law what with yer own name bein’ on a wanted poster. Hell yeah boy, I knowed all about that," he said as Vin’s head snapped up at that statement. "What do ya think yer ma would think of that? Huh? You always bein’ the apple of her eye and all? Thinkin’ maybe she’d be turnin’ over in her grave at that notion. You done her wrong boy, you tarnished up the Tanner name."

"I’s innocent, never killed that man and I reckon she knows that ‘bout me. Don’t matter to me what you think," Vin said, holding his head high and meeting his grandfather’s eyes.

The old man stood shaking his head. "Ya know boy, it was yer own fault she died. If she didn’t have you hangin’ on her skirts she coulda gotten married to a decent man who would have taken good care of her, but she couldn’t do that. Not a man around that wanted a woman with a bastard child. All yer fault boy."

Vin felt the sting of those words, they hit him hard even though he knew in his heart they weren’t true. His mama loved him, he knew that, she had told him so over and over again and she would never have lied to him. She told him she didn’t need anyone as long as she had him. He was her "little man" and she knew he would always take good care of her. He couldn’t help it she got sick, the doctor tried everything he could to save her, but it just wasn’t to be. She died. She left him and he had to go and live with this hateful man--his grandfather.

"Is that why you came all this way, tracked me down, to tell me that? To tell me somethin’ you told me over and over again when I’s five years old? Already heard it ol’ man. And yer just as wrong now as you were then. Mama loved me, she told me with her dyin’ breath and I’ll never ferget that. You’ll never take that away from me. You were the one who left her, never givin’ her a helpin’ hand and she bein’ yer only child. I’ll never understand how someone so kind and sweet could be sired by such an ungrateful man." He stopped talking to let his temper simmer down before carrying on. "Now, I got some things I need to do so you might as well leave. I ain’t afraid of you nor yer words no more Grandpa. I ain’t a five year old kid that you can yell and beat at. I got me a place in this world and some good friends to back me."

"You self righteous bastard! You kill yer own mama, then you put shame upon her name and you have the nerve to stand there and tell me it’s my fault? That I should have done more! The man was shaking with rage but he sucked in a deep breath and pulled himself under control. He wanted his grandson to relax around him, to make that one mistake and then he would teach him a lesson he’d never forget. He took in another deep breath, gave out a sigh and spread out his hands as if placating his grandson.

"Damn, but I didn’t want this to happen son. I let my temper get the best of me again, but yer right. You ain’t a little kid anymore, yer a grown man and probably a good one at that. I just been keepin’ this anger inside of me so long, it’s festered and I had to get it out. Sorry boy, I jest can’t seem to leave it be. I came all this way to see you, to try and hurt you like I did long ago, figured you hadn’t suffered enough, but maybe I’s wrong, maybe you have suffered enough and I need to leave it at that. What do ya say boy? I’ll just take my leave now, you go on about yer business and save your little town here. I’ll leave on the stage first thing in the mornin’. That suit ya."

Vin nodded his head, keeping a wary eye on him. "Suits me fine. Too bad it had to end like this. Yer call though."

"I know boy, I know. Like I said, it’s just been festerin’ but yer right, I wasn’t around neither. Reckon maybe I should start thinkin’ about what I could have done differently, take some of the blame onto myself." He hung his head, the picture of self condemnation. "Be seein’ ya son, won’t be botherin’ ya no more." He turned around to leave and walked out of Peso’s stall.

Vin watched him as he headed toward the livery entrance. Then he let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding in. He felt hot and sweaty, the anger had rolled off him like steam but he had fought to control his temper. Wouldn’t have done any good to get in an all out argument with the man, it wasn’t going to change the way he thought. Nothing would. There would always be bad blood between them. Vin just hoped it was the last he saw of his grandpa. Hell, he didn’t even seem like a grandpa, there was so much hate between them. Born to be enemies he guessed. His grandpa had chosen his own path just as he himself had chosen his. He turned back around to finish what he had started with Peso.

Grabbing the saddle with both hands to take it from it’s stand he was caught with his defenses down. With both hands in use he had nothing to defend himself from the blow that came across his lower back. Dropping the saddle and reaching for his back with his left hand he was dealt another solid blow to that arm and the pain and force of it knocked him to his knees. He turned in time to see the ugly rage on his grandfather’s face as he brought the wooden handle down on the side of his face and neck. Bringing his hand to that injured area he was left wide open to the punishing blows to his left side, hips and legs. All he could do was curl up and try to protect his face and underside.

The raging man dealt blow after angry blow to his own grandson’s body. So caught up in his emotions he ignored the frightened horse that was becoming more panicked with each strike to his owner’s body. Peso began pacing in the stall, tossing his head up and down. His nostrils flared and he began to bounce up and down on his front feet, first in tiny motions and then as he got more agitated he would rear higher, his hooves flailing about. Call it animal instinct, call it anything you want, but the gelding seemed to realize it was one of his own that was being hurt. He laid his ears back and came at the two legged animal with the stick in it’s hand. As the animal with the stick looked up at him with surprise and fear, Peso dealt "it" a blow with his deadly hooves. As long as the two legged animal made a move or a noise he kept pounding until "it" lay completely still. His own two legged protector wasn’t moving any either even after giving "it" a nudge with his nose. Continuing his pacing, tossing his mane, Peso kept an eye on the two things laying in his straw whinnying out for some more of the two legged creatures to come let him out.

+ + + + + + +

Chris had finished up his telegram to Travis, waiting on a return reply as to where the remaining outlaws were to be taken and was headed to the jail. Nathan and Josiah, with the help of some of the men in town, had taken the dead outlaws to the undertaker. The wounded had been tended and were sitting in the jail cell where the peacekeepers all met up.

"Anybody seen Vin yet?" Chris asked as he came in the door looking for his friend.

"No. Where’d he go?" asked JD.

"Checkin’ outside of town makin’ sure there weren’t anymore of the gang around."

"Hmmm…," said JD, spinning his hat on his fingers and catching the inside of his lip with his teeth.

"What does that mean kid? You got somethin’ to say, just spit it out," Buck told him.

"It’s just that I don’t think I saw Peso ever leave, not that I might have…"

Chris swore, threw the telegram on the desk, turned and ran out the door, five other men hot on his heels.

Nearing the livery they could hear the whinny of a horse and the answering calls from the others. Pulling their guns, Chris directed Ezra, Josiah and Nathan to take the back while he, JD and Buck pushed their way into the front entrance. Knowing instinctively that it was Peso that was causing the ruckus, Chris headed directly to his stall. He was not prepared for what he found.

+ + + + + + +

"VIN?! Dammit to hell! VIN? SHIT! JD, see if you can calm Peso, be careful though. Josiah? You and Buck drag the old man outta there when you get the chance, the smell of blood is probably causing half of that horse’s panic. I’ll get to Vin. Ezra? Keep that back door open so JD can take Peso out into the corral. Nathan? Nathan…"

"Gone to get his supplies," Josiah stated, his eyes staring at the mayhem before him.

"JD? You ready?"

"Yes sir, ready as I’ll ever be," the young man stated, keeping his eyes on the panic-stricken horse.

"He comes after you, you get the hell out of there you hear me JD?" Buck said, the anxiety heard in his voice.

"He won’t hurt me, he’ll be just fine," JD said as he headed into the stall, hands up, talking in a low voice, trying to calm the animal. "Easy boy…easy. You know me…know I won’t hurt you. Easy now Peso…that’s a good boy…" JD continued his soothing litany slowly calming the animal.

Behind JD, Chris quickly moved to Vin’s side, moving around back of him. Putting his arms under Vin’s, he pulled the unconscious tracker into the far corner setting him up against the wall and then squatted close to his friend nearly covering his body with his own as he looked back to see how JD was doing.

"…easy now…that’s right boy…it’s gonna be alright…see? We’re gonna clean this up and then I’ll take you outside. Okay boy? Sure… you’d like that wouldn’t you? Buck?" he whispered softly, keeping his back to the men, his hands holding onto Peso’s bridle. "You got him out of here yet?"

"Just another minute JD and we’ll have him out," Buck said as he and Josiah picked up the badly mangled body that was Vin’s grandfather.

Peso snorted and almost pulled out of JD’s grasp as the big horse watched the two creatures move the other one out of his space. His head held high, he pranced around the thing that held tightly to him, trying to get out of his stall. Out of the corner of his big bugged eye he saw another two-legged creature bending over his protector friend, but this creature didn’t seem to be hurting "it" any.

Once Josiah and Buck had removed Mr. Tanner’s body out of the stall and away from the area, JD took Peso, or rather Peso took JD out of the stall. Heading down the alleyway, they went out the door Ezra was holding open. Once outside in the corral JD let loose of the high strung animal. Peso continued to snort and toss his head, throwing in a few bucks now and then since he had more room to move. Not hard to tell he was still slightly agitated.

"How is your arm Mr. Dunne? I thought there for a moment he was going to separate it from the rest of your body."

"Me too Ez. It’s okay," JD replied shaking his arm out to get some feeling back into it. "He sure wanted to get out of there in a hurry, don’t blame him none. I hope Vin is alright."

"Let’s go and have a look, shall we?" Ezra could tell JD was hesitant to go back in, as was he, but their services might be needed and their first concern was for their injured friend. Coming back inside they watched Nathan bend down over Vin’s grandfather and saw him shake his head to Josiah and Buck. Picking up his medical bag he went into the stall where Chris and Vin still were, the other men following right behind him.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee had taken Vin’s kerchief off and was carefully wiping the bloody face of the unconscious man. He wasn’t for sure where the cut was or if there was more than one, so with infinite care, he administered to his best friend.

"Chris? Anything you can tell me?" Nathan asked, squatting beside his patient, taking the limp wrist and checking the pulse. It was weak but steady. Laying Vin’s hand back down he heaved a sigh and began checking with his eyes the damage that had been done.

"Was layin’ on his right side," Chris began, as he took Vin’s chin in hand and turned his head to see more of what he was cleaning. "Curled up, like maybe protectin’ himself from gettin hurt or stomped."

"Don’t think it was the getting stomped that he was protectin’ himself from," Buck said, as he found an axe handle minus the axe, laying under the straw. Son of a bitch musta been beatin’ on him with this. Got blood on it."

"Peso musta gone crazy with all that goin’ on and attacked the old man," Josiah mused. "Probably didn’t like what was happenin’ to his master. Horses can sense things like that."

"Yes well, had the noble steed been quicker to deal out his punishment our compatriot wouldn’t be laying here in a state of battered unconsciousness."

"Didn’t do a thorough enough job on the bastard the way I see it," Buck hissed out. "He’s still in one piece. How ‘bout I just drag him out there and let Peso finish the job?" he asked of no one in particular.

The men knew Buck was blowing off some steam, hell, they were all incensed by what the man had done to his own kin. Although it was an ugly and violent death the old man suffered, not one man in the building had any sympathy for him and secretly they hoped that he didn’t die instantly but was allowed to suffer some pain and terror before his life was ended.

"Nathan?" JD asked softly. "Is he gonna be alright?"

"Cain’t tell much till I get him upstairs, but it looks like his left side took the brunt of the attack. His hand is bruised like he was maybe wardin’ off the hits. No doubt the rest of him is bruised pretty bad too. Breathin’ sounds good though, so maybe no broken ribs. You took a chance movin’ him like ya did Chris, but I know you had to get him outta the way."

Larabee hadn’t said a word while the rest of his men shared their thoughts on the matter. Truth be told, he’d been half scared to death when his saw his friend laying, curled up, and still as a dead man. He thought he was dead, his only thoughts of getting his friend out of harm’s way before any more damage could be done to him. His hands had finally stopped shaking when Nathan had showed up. He wasn’t sure if it was because he was scared for Vin, or because he was filled with rage at a man who would do this to his own grandson. Maybe it was a little of both. For a minute there he liked Buck’s idea of taking the old man out and letting Peso finish him off, hell, he’d even help carry him out there. But…for some reason, he knew Vin wouldn’t appreciate their thoughts, wouldn’t want any more to happen to his Grandpa, hell, he’d probably figure out some way to turn this around and feel guilty about bein’ alive while the old man died.

Seeing some movement finally from the tracker and hearing a soft moan, Chris pulled back from what he was doing, letting Nathan take over. Turning his attention to his men he told a couple of them to take the old man over to the undertaker’s place so that Vin wouldn’t see him like he was.

As Josiah and Ezra left to carry out that command, Buck and JD came in closer to their wounded friend.

"Easy now Vin, just take it easy…you’re gonna be okay," Nathan said softly to the man, knowing that when he came conscious he was more than likely going to try and get up.

The men watched as their friend slowly came awake watching as the eyelids tried to stay open. Finally they were rewarded with seeing the blue eyes open, looking at them and then around the area, confusion clearly written on the handsome face.

"Take it easy Vin," Chris said, keeping a hand on the tracker’s shoulder. "Just give yourself a few minutes."

The Texan blinked a couple of times looking into his best friend’s concerned eyes and then gasp in pain as he tried to move his left leg. "Damn," he hissed out.

"Don’t be movin’ nothin’ yet Vin, don’t know how bad yer banged up. Let me check you out some here first," Nathan said as he began checking out the leg and then moved to the hip and arm.

Vin rested his head back against the stall wall, closing his eyes as he tried to tune out the pain coursing through his body.

"You remember what happened ?" Chris asked him.

A shake of the head, a wince and another oath muttered. Damn but he hurt all over. What the hell had happened? He remembered coming into the stall and getting Peso ready to ride, but then he got sidetracked…got to talkin’ to…oh shit! The blue eyes flew open and his hand grabbed for Chris. He needed to get up, needed to get out of there, had to get them all out of there before that crazy old man hurt them, beat them…

"Easy Vin, easy, it’s okay…you’re okay," Chris said, seeing the panic in the eyes and felt the grip on his arm. "It’s all over Vin…he ain’t gonna hurt ya anymore…you’re okay…yer safe…it’s okay."

His body relaxed and his eyes rested on Buck who patted his leg and nodded his head. "You’re gonna be fine pard, just fine."

"My…my grandfather," he whispered and licked his lips. "Where…where is he?

Buck met the squinted eyes with a forlorn look of his own, then looked to Nathan and to Chris, both men avoiding answering the question right away. Finally he saw Vin’s eyes look to Chris.


At the sound of the hurting voice, Chris looked at him, knowing full well he’d never lie to this man, so he told him the truth.

+ + + + + + +

"I’m sorry Vin, he’s dead."

They watched as their friend put his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. Even though none felt remorse for the grandfather, they did feel bad for Vin. They figured he didn’t have much family to begin with and had so few possessions, that anything he considered his, was very important to him. And even when it seemed the tracker and the old man couldn’t come to any kind of an understanding, he was still kin, still a Tanner and Vin was never a man to take anything like that for granted.

The men were taken from their thoughts as Vin’s head snapped forward, eyes and right hand going to his gun and his knife. I…I didn’t…I didn’t…kill…"

"Easy Vin," Chris soothed, putting his hand on the Texan’s arm. "You didn’t do anything Vin, it wasn’t you…and no it wasn’t me, " he said as Vin looked him straight in the eyes and lifted his chin a notch. "It was Peso."

"Peso? Peso killed him?" But…how…why?" Confusion in the eyes again.

Nathan answered his questions this time. "Looks like your grandfather was…well was beating you and from the way it looks, Peso stopped him by stompin’ him."

"Aw hell. Where is he…my grandfather? And," he said, looking around past Chris, "where’s Peso? You didn’t have ta put…"

"Now, take it easy Vin, Josiah and Ezra took your grandfather to the undertaker and JD put Peso out in the corral," Buck informed him.

"He was pretty upset about the whole thing, pretty scared I think," JD said. "Maybe I should go back out and check on him again."

"Thanks kid, for…for takin’ care of him, ‘preciate it."

"S’kay Vin, don’t mention it," he said while getting up to head back outside.

On his way out he met Josiah and Ezra coming back in.

"How’s he doin’ JD?" the big man asked.

"He talkin’ and he’s breathin’ good, but he’s awful sore."

"Does he know that his grandfather has expired?"

"Yeah, Chris told him. Told him it was Peso that killed him too." The young man shook his head. "I guess I just feel bad for Vin even though I didn’t like his grandfather at all. I’m not even sorry he’s dead." He shrugged his shoulders. "Guess that doesn’t sound right, but he was so mean to Vin."

"Don’t worry lad, I don’t think you are alone in those thoughts," Ezra said trying to console him. "Least now our friend doesn’t have to fear any more retribution from that heinous man. I say good riddance to the man, but I wouldn’t say that in front of Vin."

"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away." Josiah spoke and then added in a low voice, "and I’m glad he tookth away this one."

All three men stood for a minute before Ezra broke into their thoughts. "Yes well, lets continue on here Josiah, perhaps we can be of some use. JD?"

"I’m heading out back to check on Peso again."

As the young man left to do his job, Josiah and Ezra stepped back into the stall to check on their friend. Kneeling down in front of him they checked him out asking questions of the healer when Vin was too tired to answer.

"Vin?" called Nathan. "Vin? Stay with me now if you can. We need to get you up to the clinic. Think you can stand?"

"The injured man opened his eyes once again settling on Josiah’s face this time. "S’iah?"

"Yes, Vin. What can I do for you?" the ex-preacher man asked. "You want me to help you up?"

Vin shook his head "no," the action causing him to wince again and draw in a ragged breath.

"Wanna give…give my grandpa a decent burial. You…you say some words over him?"

"I’d be honored to say some words over your grandpa Vin."

"’Preciate it S’iah." He licked his lips and gave a short nod. "Now I’s ready to get up." He took a hold of Chris’s forearm as Nathan came around from behind and together the two men got him standing up. If you could call it that. He was mostly leaning into his black clad friend who held him protectively.

"Chris? Don’t think I can…can…" and that’s all there was as the tracker slumped further into Larabee’s arms losing consciousness.


"Got him Chris."

"We’ll take him up the back way," Chris said as Josiah shifted the tracker’s body in his strong arms.

Nathan picked up his black bag while Buck and Ezra went ahead to open the back livery doors. JD joined them and slowly the men made their way up the stairs into the clinic where Nathan could better see and tend to his friend’s injuries.

+ + + + + + +

Two days later found Vin riding in a rig driven by Chris taking him out to the place where the tracker had wanted his grandfather buried. It wasn’t far from town, located near a stream by a growth of massive cottonwood trees. The seven men plus Mary, Nettie and Casey were in attendance. The latter three never meeting Vin’s grandpa, but coming out of respect for their friend.

Vin stood near the gravesite, Chris standing near him giving support, both physical and emotional. The bruised body could only handle so much in a day and the ride out in the country had already taken it’s toll.

Josiah stood tall at the head of the grave with his Bible open. His deep rumbling voice gave Vin some words of comfort telling him that no matter what had happened, Mr. Tanner was a child of God and even though He may not have liked what His child had done, he was still loved by his creator. Josiah finished by reading Psalm 23 which Vin had said was his own personal favorite.

Chris bent down and grabbed some soil handing it to Vin to toss into the grave. As the dirt hit the pine box Vin almost fell in as he peered into the hole.

"Whoa there Vin," Chris said as he caught him before he fell. "What’s wrong?"

"The box, don’t know how he got in a box."

"Reckon the undertaker put him in there pard," Buck said, with grin. "They’ve been known to do that with dead people."

Chris shot him a glare over the tracker’s back.

"Ain’t what I mean. I mean…well, you have ta pay to get a box, an I didn’t pay fer no box."

"Maybe your grandfather had some money on him," JD said, "and Mr. Locker used it to pay for the casket."

"Undertaker doesn’t have a right to just take somebody’s money and use it for their own cause," Nettie said trying to help Vin figure out the mystery. "Maybe somebody just donated it for him, after all you’ve done for the people of this town, I’d say it’s the least they could do."

"Don’t like ownin’ somebody somethin’. Don’t like havin’ debts to pay."

"Perhaps as Mrs. Wells stated Mr. Tanner, it may have been merely a gift and a gift is to be taken and used and appreciated, the what and why for is not to be challenged or quibbled over. I would suggest you take it in the manner that it was given and that is obviously as a present to you for your kinsman.

"You sure seem to know an awful lot about this Ezra," Nathan pointed out as the rest of the group looked at the con man.

"Merely stating the obvious gentlemen…and ladies, of course. Now may I suggest we retire to the sanctum of refreshments and leisure," he said. "I think Vin could use a little of both."

JD gave Buck a confused look to which the ladies man whispered to him, "goin’ to the saloon."

The young man nodded his head, put his bowler hat back on and followed his friends to their horses and buckboards.

"You ready Vin?" Chris asked. "Don’t have to go yet if you don’t want to."

"Reckon I’m set," Vin said, with a nod of his head. "Ain’t nothing more ta say that Josiah ain’t already said. Jest wished…jest…aw hell…don’t matter no more anyway."

"Matters what’s in your heart Vin. Nothin’ you can do about the way he felt about you, but you have the power to think on him any way you wish."

Vin glanced at his best friend for a moment, nodded his head again and said, "Then I reckon I’ll just think on him as my grandpa and be thankful he helped create such a sweet and lovin’ woman that ended up to be my ma."

"Sounds about right to me Vin," Chris said, amazed at the depth of his friend’s heart and soul. The Texan’s simplistic ways and views astounded him at times. It’s what drew him to the man in the first place. There was so much to Vin, but yet, there wasn’t. You got what you were seeing, no pretenses, no bull, no trying to pull punches. Just out and out honesty and loyalty. That was Vin, that was his best friend.



Nathan was standing by the buckboard ready to lend a hand if Chris needed more help to get Vin aboard. Finally settling the tracker, Chris crossed behind the wagon going to his own side. Passing in front of the gambler he dipped the front of his hat to him and gave him a wide grin before climbing into the seat.

Hearing the soft chuckles of his comrades, Ezra spread his hands as if to say "what?"

"You are such a fraud, you dandy man," Nettie said to him as she clucked at the team of horses to start her rolling.

"Gotcha Ez," Buck said as he gave him a wink.

"There’s even a sparkle found in pyrite, brother," Josiah informed him as he gave him a ear splitting grin.

Nathan rode by shaking his head, "Never ceases to amaze me."

"Buck? What’s going on? Buck?…Hey, Buck…wait up!!"


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