Big Lie, Small World

by JIN

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Part Four: Vin
I can feel him holdin’ my hand again.

Things have been so twisted up in my head fer so long now – I have a hard time knowin’ what’s real and what isn’t.

But I know that Chris has been holdin’ my hand. And I know it’s helped more than all the fussin’ and botherin’ Nathan’s likely wearin’ himself out doin’.

Aw hell, when did I become a man who needs another man t’ hold his hand?

I must be gettin’ some better if I can think about that, I guess. Been too tired and too sick t’ care much before.

I don’t remember much, but what I do remember is pretty clear.

I remember the rain and the lightenin’. I remember the . . . rope.

I remember Chris callin’ my name. I tried to turn my head and see him . . . tried t’ tell him . . .

I remember wakin’ up on the trail and him tellin’ me somethin’ about me bein’ dead. That don’t seem right, but like I said, my head’s all twisted up.

I remember him sayin’ he meant what he said – about me makin’ him a better man. Don’t reckon I’ll ever figure that one out, even when my head is screwed on straight again. Ain’t possible, from where I’m sittin’.

And I remember seein’ Miss Nettie’s beautiful face peering over me. Yeah, I know, not many would describe her as beautiful, but then, most folks just don’t know how t’ look.

I can feel his fingers tighten their grip just a little, and I curl mine up a bit tighter, too. Feels so damn good t’ know he’s here, and I wonder if I should just open my eyes and open my mouth and tell him that the only reason I’m still breathin’ is because he’s been holdin’ my hand.

Probably just embarrass us both.

But there’s somethin’ kickin’ around in my mind about this bein’ dead business.

I try t’ take a breath and open my eyes, but it hurts. I think I might be moaning.

"Easy, Vin," he says.

Folks that don’t know the real Chris Larabee – well, they just don’t know the real Chris Larabee . . . how soft he can be when he wants t’ be.

It’s temptin’ t’ just give in t’ that soft voice and the rough fingers that are moving in little circles across the top of my hand.

But I open my eyes anyway.

It takes me a minute to focus, but gradually I see him lean forward and look squarely at me. He’s sizin’ me up – seein’ if I’m really here or lost in some nightmare again.

I make it easy on him. "I’m here," I say, although it sounded better in my head than in real life, I guess.

He gets me a drink of water and it still feels like it’s going down over a damn porcupine in my throat, but it’s better than it was. I nod and I say, "Thanks." That sounded a little better, I think, but he still has that pinched look that tells me I’m not doin’ as good as he’d like.

Never seen a gunslinger go on the worry like him.

"What . . . happened?"

I probably should have narrowed it down it a little more than that, but it occurs t’ me that I have no idea how I got from hangin’ by a rope in Texas – t’ here.

He sighs. I wish everybody would quit doin’ that.

"They tried to hang you. JD shot you down. I told them all you were dead. And we brought you back here."

Now see, that’s what I like about Chris. He just says it like it is. Can y’ imagine one of the others tellin’ that story? "Well, now Vin – they came into the jail and dragged y’ out . . ." It’d take every one of ‘em at least an hour t’ say what Chris said in less than a minute.

But wait a minute . . . back up. There’s that part about bein’ dead again.

And he’s turned his head away from me, which is always a bad sign.

"Chris? They think . . . I’m dead?"

He nods.

And then finally he turns t’ me.

There’s more.

"Vin . . . as far as Texas is concerned, you’re no longer wanted." He pauses and then he says kinda low and slow, "and that’s all we’ve told anyone."

Now he’s lookin’ at me like I’m supposed t’ understand what that means, and I’m thinkin’ maybe I’m not here after all – maybe I’m still in that place where nothin’ makes sense.

So I sigh. "I don’t understand."

He looks down. "Vin," he says, "there are some folks in this town that don’t like you much."

I laugh. Out loud. And damn, it hurts. He jumps up because I’m clutchin’ my chest, but I manage t’ spit out, "Just . . . sit . . . down . . . I’m fine."

He rolls his eyes. So maybe he didn’t believe me this time.

He waits until I’ve caught my breath and goes on. "If they find out that you didn’t get off – that Texas just thinks you’re dead, they’re likely to let folks there know it ain’t true. And you know what would happen then?"

Yeah, I know. They’d come after me and finish what they started – and maybe take a few others along with me.

"But," I say, "you lied . . . to the entire town?"

He sort of shrugs and says, "We didn’t exactly lie – just withheld information."

Ezra must have come up with that. I’d recognize his line of bull anywhere.

"All the boys know?" I ask.

He nods.

So they all lied. Fer me.

And it’s not really over.

Oh God, it’s not over at all.

He’s more worried than ever now . . . wonderin’ what I’m thinkin’ about all of this. Wonderin’ what I’m gonna say or do.

Ain’t nothin’ to do just yet.

Except sigh one more time . . . and close my eyes.

+ + + + + + +

Chris knew the moment that reality had wormed its way into Vin’s muddled brain. It was like a light flickered, then dimmed, then went out completely in his anguished eyes. He heard the tracker sigh as his eyes slid closed . . . leaving the blond to ponder on it all alone, again.

How many times had he promised Vin he’d take care of this? How many times had he promised himself?

He reminded himself that they had one card left to play. One pretty widow who knew the truth could change it all for Vin.

In mounting frustration, the blond jumped from up from the chair and began to pace the room. Why hadn’t he pushed her harder? Why hadn’t he listened to Buck?

He was so busy berating himself that he didn’t realize he was no longer alone until a soft voice brought him to a stunned halt.


"Mary?" He turned towards the door where the woman had just entered the room.

She shifted uncomfortably and said, "I guess you didn’t hear me knock. Is it all right if I come in?"

Nodding, Chris remained standing, his gaze momentarily drifting towards his sleeping friend before settling back on the blond woman.

Hesitating briefly, Mary held out a note to the gunman. "This just came. I think it might be important."

With a scowl, Chris took the telegram and quickly scanned its contents.

Mary could see by the way Chris closed his eyes and pulled his hands through his hair that it was bad news. She just wasn’t sure how bad . . . or what it meant. When the wire came through from the sheriff in Tascosa, she just happened to be in the office, and just happened to hear what was said.

But it made no sense – unless things were not as they seemed . . . unless there was more to what happened in Texas.

"What does it mean, Chris?" she asked.

He looked up at her as if he’d forgotten she was even there. "Nothing," he answered shortly.

Standing her ground, Mary responded, "I don’t believe you."

There were a lot of things she didn’t believe when it came right down to it, and she was prepared to stand there all day if that is what it took to get to the bottom of whatever the seven men – or at least six men – were hiding.

Chris met her eyes then and asked in a low voice, "Would you mind staying with Vin for a few minutes?"

She was surprised by his request, and even more by the sadness she saw in his eyes. "Of course I will, but Chris . . ."

"Mary," he cut her off, "please?"

She nodded, but vowed she would be discussing this with gunman later. If something was going on that affected this town, she had a right to know about it.

Chris mumbled a quick, "Thanks" – then headed off to find Buck, kicking himself the entire way. He should have known this would happen.

As luck would have it, Buck and Nathan were both heading for the clinic when Chris spotted them. Pulling them aside, he handed the note to Buck.

Buck’s eyes narrowed as he groaned. "Damn! We should have seen this comin’."

Nathan looked at both men and waited for an explanation, but all Chris said was, "Get the others. We need to talk."

Chris kicked an errant stone that lay in his path, but he really felt like pulling out his gun and shooting somebody. If only Conklin would give him a reason.

It wouldn’t change the fact, though, that Vin’s Divine Intervention had run out.

+ + + + + + +

I can hear them all talkin’. Lots of sighin’ goin’ on, too, and I ain’t even awake t’ be causin’ it.

At least, they don’t think I am.

"We just continue on as we have, Gentleman. Nothing needs to be said. Rest assured, the fair citizens of our humble village have already moved on to more provocative topics."

Ezra. Don’t have any idea what he’s talkin’ about, though.

"I don’t know, Ezra, things like this just don’t stay secret for long."

JD. He’s right about that – because he’s usually the one that lets the cat out of the bag. The kid can’t keep a secret t’ save his life. Wonder what secret he’s talkin’ about.

"The boy has a point . . . one lie tends to lead to another, and before you know it – it all goes to the devil . . . and we’ll all be burning in hell right along side him."

"Well hell, Josiah, could y’ be a little more pessimistic here?"

Buck. He sounds mad.

"I don’t get it, Chris – how do you know that this sheriff thinks Vin is alive?"

Nathan’s here, too. I’m surprised. He’s been in the room all of five minutes now and hasn’t even tried to pour somethin’ down my throat. Must be serious.

"Because after he says that that . . . woman has left town, he tells us to stay here and ‘be safe’. Those are the exact words he used when we were discussing Vin the first time I met him. He told me Vin should hop a boat and cross the ocean if he wanted to ‘be safe’. He knows, but he’s going along with it for now."

Chris. He sounds upset. The sheriff knows what?

Oh. That’s right. I’m supposed to be dead.

Or is it that I’m supposed to be free?

Oh shit. I’m dead in Texas, but I’m free in town . . . I think that’s how the lie goes.

And the sheriff knows the truth.

And Mrs. Kincaid is gone . . . the only one who can set it all right is gone.

"Damn, Chris . . . I’m so sorry. I should’ve handled her different from the beginning. Or I should have gone after her sooner."

Why is Buck sorry? This ain’t his fault. None of this is his fault.

"Not your fault, Buck. Besides, we all could’ve done things differently."

You’re right about that, Chris.

"So . . . what do we do?"

JD again. He’s not liking this.

Neither am I.

I suppose I could open my eyes and throw in my take on it all.

If I knew what my take was.

"Let me express my sentiments once more: we are under no obligation to do or say anything. We simply let the matter, for lack of a better word, die."

Ezra again, and now they’re all talkin’ at once. And I’m rememberin’ why I don’t say all that much.

Might be time to pull these eyes open.

I don’t even get the chance to push the fog away before Nathan’s right there, holding a cup up t’ my face.

I shake my head and he shakes his . . . and sighs.

"Cut that out, Nathan," I say. Now I’m feelin’ bad because I barked at him and I can tell by his face that he don’t know why.

Chris is right there, and that seems funny because I was sure he was on the other side of the room a minute ago. I look up at his face and he gives me this sad, little frown.

So I say, "It ain’t your fault, either, Chris. Y’all done what y’ could."

Now it’s real quiet. Too quiet.

Buck comes over and grips my shoulder and he says, "I’m not givin’ up, Vin. I’m gonna go see that judge and tell him what I know."

"I don’t reckon he’ll take much store in yer word, Buck – once he finds out y’ lied about me," I tell him.

His face falls for a second, but then he tells me, "Well then, I’ll just have to find that lyin’ . . . female, and bring her back."

"We’ll all go, Vin," JD offers.

But I look at Chris and he looks at me, and we both know. She’s long gone.

"Thanks," I say, and I close my eyes again because I just can’t face them all right now.

Nathan says they need to go on and let me rest, and Chris says we should leave things alone for now.

I hear them muttering real soft as they go out the door, but I can’t make out the words and I don’t care.


I keep my eyes closed, but I answer, "Yeah?"

"I’m sorry."

I feel tears wellin’ up, and I know if I look at his face . . . I’ll start cryin’ like a baby and won’t be able t’ stop.

So I nod and I reach fer his hand, and fer just a few more minutes – I’m a man who needs another man to hold his hand.

Epilogue: Vin

It ain’t that hard. I always did wear somethin’ around my neck, so it ain’t that hard t’ cover it up. Nathan says it will go away eventually. Says this annoying cough and the limp I can’t get rid of will, too.

He says I have t’ take it easy fer another month. There’s a time that would’ve made me plumb crazy . . . would’ve felt like prison. But I came too close to the real thing t’ feel that way now.

Don’t know what t’ do with myself, anyway.

Don’t know what t’ do about any of it.

I thought about runnin’ out, since I still can’t stomach the thought of anyone gettin’ caught up in my troubles. But that don’t seem right, after all the boys ‘ve done fer me.

And I keep thinkin’ about that night when Chris asked me not t’ go through with the hearin’ . . . that look on his face. He looked like losin’ me just might break him after all. I can’t figure it, but I guess maybe I ought t’ stick around, just in case.

I guess maybe I want t’ stick around. I guess maybe . . . sometimes . . . I want t’ believe that the lie will work.

At least until I can figure out what t’ do about it . . . until we can figure out what t’ do about it. Guess it’s about time I brought my head around t’ the fact that seven is a whole lot more than one . . . and that Josiah’s pretty damn smart.

So fer now, we’re all livin’ with the lie.

It’s a big lie.

Made even bigger because the man who said it never lies.

I’d live and die on Chris Larabee’s word alone.

And that hasn’t changed. I know why he did it, and I’m grateful. Not so much fer me, as fer him and JD. We’d all three be in our graves right now if he hadn’t told those men I was dead that night.

Of course, I know he mostly did it fer me. I never will understand why he thinks it’s so important t’ have me around.

So important that the man who never lies would lie . . . twice.

I’m still havin’ trouble with that second one. I don’t like goin’ along with it, but the problem is - if I let everyone know the truth now, they’ll know that the others lied.

Lied fer me.

You see how that is? One lie leads to another.

It all started with Eli Joe. One big lie.

Then Rachel Kincaid.

And then it was Chris.

And now it’s me. Lettin’ it go on is the same as sayin’ it. Can’t hardly look Mary in the eye . . . or Casey or Mrs. Potter.

Or Nettie.

How long y’ figure I can keep it from her? What kind of man have I become that I’d even try?

One of these days, it’ll all fall apart. Texas will figure out I’m not dead, and this town will figure out I’m not free.

Because even though it’s a big lie . . . it’s a small world.

The End