An Innocent Man

by Angie

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+ + + + + + +

Chris rolled over on the bunk and sat up. The deputy opened the cell and handed him the bag of food and the thermos. He had already checked it and knew that it held only plastic utensils. He knew that Libby would know what to put in the bag when they had a prisoner in the jail.

The food was good and hot. The coffee was strong and black and he sipped it as if it were nectar from the gods. In a separate container was a baked apple dish that put him in mind of Vin. It was wickedly sweet and he savored it after he finished the rest of the food.

+ + + + + + +

The team returned to the motel to get a change of clothes for Chris and to await the arrival of the special carry permits so that they could reclaim Vin’s gun. The courier knocked on the door of the room and handed them a thick envelope of papers and collected a signature. In the envelope was a sheaf of paper for each of them bearing the seal of the state. Tucking them into their jackets, the team set out for the jail.

Sheriff Wilhelm stepped out of his patrol car just as the big suburban pulled into the parking lot. The men left the vehicle and headed for the door.

“Where do you gentlemen think you’re going?”

Buck turned to face the sheriff who stood with his thumbs tucked into his gun belt. The hard blue eyes drilled into the tin god who challenged him and he took a step forward. Nathan and Josiah held him back.

JD stepped forward.

“Sheriff Wilhelm?” He read the name on the man’s shirt pocket. “We’re friends of Chris Larabee and we brought him a change of clothes. We’d like to see him. We also wanted you to know that we have special carry orders for our firearms. We don’t want to make any trouble.”

The earnest look on the young agent’s face was enough to pacify the hardened man for the moment. He nodded and held out his hand. JD surrendered the sheaf of papers with one hand and the bag of clothes for Chris with the other. The sheriff took only the papers and opened them. After scanning the order, he handed the paper back with a curt nod.

“I’ll allow you a brief visit. I’ll have to ask that you not approach the cell.”

The team followed the sheriff into the jail. Chris came immediately to his feet. Nathan and Josiah moved to restrain Vin and Buck as they headed for the bars. A long, awkward silence followed as the team stared at their leader in the cell. Larabee looked rough. It was obvious that he had not slept well the past two nights.

“Are you all right?” The hazel eyes were locked on the pale blue ones. Vin nodded.

“Just worried about you, cowboy. How have you been?”

“I’ve been better. What does the judge say?”

“He’s arranged for a lawyer for you. As soon as you’re arraigned, …”

“They did that yesterday afternoon. Their judge ordered me held without bail. They set a court date for three weeks from now.”

“Three weeks!” JD’s voice was strident and tinged with rage. Nathan’s hand rested on the young agent’s shoulder, a reminder to remain calm.

Chris tried to turn the conversation around by inquiring about the assignment they had just finished. Buck gave stilted responses as he continued to glare over his shoulder at the two lawmen that were eavesdropping on their conversation.

“We brought you some clean clothes and your shaving kit.” JD offered.

“Thanks kid.”

The sheriff cleared his throat. “I think you need to go now, gentlemen. You can come back for an hour this evening.”

Vin whipped the sheaf of papers out of his pocket and handed it to the deputy.

“I want my gun back, now.” Hostility dripped from his words.

“Vin! That isn’t helping! They’re just doing their job. Don’t make it any harder that it has to be. We may be together for a while.”

The chastised Texan accepted the gun and shoved it into his holster. “I’m sorry, Sheriff.”

As Vin left the jail, the others followed him. They piled into the suburban and sat quietly for a moment. The pent up frustration was thick as they tried to figure out what to do.

“Where was that bar you went to that night? Maybe someone there will remember something that could help.” Josiah suggested.

“Until we know what the evidence is that they have against him, we don’t even know what questions to ask.” Nathan volunteered.

“How about where they found the car? Do you know where they were found?” Buck asked.

Vin clenched his fists against his head. “I don’t know! They took me up some gravel road. They wouldn’t tell me anything! He left me at the motel and went back to the bar for that girl. I shouldn’t have let him go back! This is all my fault!”

Josiah reached around the seat and placed his arm across Vin’s chest. He could feel the rapid heartbeat and breathing, he knew that the young man was deeply stressed. They drove back to the motel and filed into one room together, drawing support from each other.

Perry went thru the bag of clothing and checked everything before giving it to Chris. He also gave him the deck of cards that one Larabee’s men had pressed into his hand on their way out. The blond chuckled at the cards.

“Ezra. Bless his heart.” At least he could play solitaire on the bunk.

The lawyer sent by Judge Travis, Charles Wayman, arrived just before lunchtime. He went directly to the jail and demanded to speak with his client in private. Deputy Davis directed the man to the interrogation room and told him to wait there. He returned to the cell and pulled out his handcuffs.

“Is that really necessary? I’m not going to give you any trouble.”

“Just doing my job. Sheriff Wilhelm would have my ass if I transfer you without them.”

Resignedly, Chris put his hands thru the bars and accepted the shackles. They were not overly tight and Davis was not unnecessarily rough. The cell was opened and Larabee was escorted back to the little room where he had started out. The cuffs were removed in the room and the door closed behind them.

“Mr. Larabee, Charles Wayman, Leftler, Wayman and Stern, your boss is my son’s Godfather. Would you sit down and tell me as much as you remember about the night the young woman was killed?”

“We were at the bar. I had a few beers. I took Vin back to the motel and came back to pick her up. We went for a drive.”

The images swirled in his head. Dancing with her, kissing her, the smell of her, making love to her, he shuddered as it all came crashing back onto his memory.

“We made love in the car.”

“Consensually? You didn’t force her?”

“God no! I would never! She was, I mean we, no, I didn’t force her!”

Wayman drew out the folder he had gotten from Smalls. Drawing a deep breath, he began to lay out the photos and slide them over to him.

“This is the body of their evidence.”

Chris shuddered as he was confronted again with the pictures. The car, the trunk, her body, a close up of the bruises on her neck, close ups of other bruises, pictures of himself looking dazed as he sat in the cruiser. Only one picture was in color, a picture of Wyn that had been taken by a professional studio.

“My God! Sarah! What have I done?” The blond dissolved into gut wrenching sobs and lowered his head to the table.

Two hours later, Wayman knocked on the door to the motel room. Josiah invited him in and JD jumped up to give him the chair nearest the table. Six pairs of eyes waited expectantly for the man to begin.

“Have they told you anything at all about the case against Agent Larabee?” All heads indicated ‘no.’ “Then you haven’t seen the crime scene pictures?” Again ‘no.’ “These aren’t easy to look at.”

The pictures were passed around the room. Vin and JD showed the strongest reactions to the black and white photos. The color picture didn’t appear to faze them but it caused Buck to gasp and jump to his feet.

“This is the woman? This is the one they say he killed? It’s not possible, he couldn’t have hurt her.”

“What makes you say that, Agent…?”

“Wilmington. He couldn’t have killed this woman because she looks just like his wife.”

“Would that be Sarah?”

“Yes, how do you know about Sarah?”

“He cried her name before he went all to pieces on me. I couldn’t get any useful information out of him after that.”

Josiah took the picture from Buck’s hand and studied the beautiful woman. Nathan looked over his shoulder and his heart ached for Chris. To have found a woman who looked so much like the love he had lost only to lose her and be blamed for her death must be horrible. Ezra accepted the picture when it was handed off and studied the face.

“What about his gun? He didn’t mention getting it from the sheriff.”

“There was no report of a gun found at the scene. I will go back later this afternoon and try to get more information from him after he has eaten and rested. Is there anything you can remember, Agent Tanner?”

“I was shooting pool with one of the locals. She was at the jukebox. They danced. Wait, there is something I remember. Willy told me to warn Chris to be careful because he was dancing with the deputy sheriff’s girl.”

“As in Deputy Davis? The guy from the diner this morning?” Buck asked as he came to his feet. The urge to do something was building in his chest.

“Maybe they have more than one deputy.” JD offered.

“They never read me my rights. They wouldn’t let me make a phone call until after I gave a statement. They questioned Chris without anyone present, even after I told them not to question him. What if they didn’t read him his rights? Can’t you at least make them release him on bail until the trial?”

“I can try. I will request another bail hearing. Maybe Judge Travis can put some pressure on this Judge Cross and get him to reconsider bail. Since they aren’t using a confession to hold him, I don’t know what I can make from denying his Miranda rights. I’ll look into it and get back to you this evening.”

Chris lay on the bunk wallowing in despair. Wyn had looked so much like Sarah that it made his heart ache. That she was dead only served to make him feel worse. The feel of her and the smell of her were burned onto his brain and he wanted to reach inside and rip it out, if only to remove the guilt he felt over being unfaithful to his beloved wife.

+ + + + + + +

Johnny hefted the gun and pointed it at the beer bottles lined up on the fence. He pulled the trigger and the bottle exploded, spraying beer all over the place. Grinning like a fool, he shoved the weapon into his pants and pulled the stocking cap from his pocket. He even had the place picked out, a little gas station in Altamont.

Seth Fielder fired the gun at the target and pulled the trigger three times in succession. He walked down to the hay bale and looked at the paper target, all three shots only tore a hole the size of a quarter in the paper. He smiled in satisfaction as he shoved the gun into his boot.

+ + + + + + +

The lawyer showed up at the jail again that afternoon.

“Before I speak with my client, can I ask you a couple of questions, Deputy Davis?” When Perry nodded, he guided him away from the cell and out of earshot of Larabee. “I’ve been told that the dead girl may have been dating the deputy sheriff, would that have been you by any chance?”

Perry laughed and shook his head. “Oh yeah, we dated, in high school. Her brother Johnny said that to people who showed an interest in his sister. It pissed her off and gave him the jollies. She wasn’t seeing anyone recently that I know of.”

“So her brother Johnny was at the bar when she was dancing with my client?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Thanks, Deputy. Can you bring him over here so we can talk again?”

Chris sat down at the table and stared at Wayman.

“Did you remember anything else? Do you remember if they read you your rights when they arrested you? When did you see your sidearm last?”

“I didn’t kill her. We made love in the backseat and I passed out. I took off my holster and put it on the front seat before we started. I don’t even remember being arrested. The first thing I remember is this room. I woke up with a horrific headache. Did the guys see the pictures? Are they all right?”

“They’re worried about you. They saw the pictures. Buck said she looked like …”

“My wife, Sarah. That’s what drew me to her. She looked just like Sarah did when we started dating.”

“That could be a problem. How long ago did your wife die?”

“Three years ago. How is that a problem? I would never have harmed Sarah or Wyn because she resembled Sarah.”

“Have you ever had black outs from drinking? Have you ever gotten into a fight in a bar while drunk? Have you ever been arrested for problems arising from your drinking?”


“Which one?”

“All of them. After my family died I kind of crawled into a bottle for a while. I got drunk and picked fights. I would wake up in my car or in a hotel room or in my bed and not remember how I got there. Buck picked me up off the floor of every bar and tavern in Denver for a few months. I haven’t been that drunk since the time I put him in the hospital with my fists.”

The team showed up at the jail just before suppertime. Sheriff Wilhelm reminded them not to approach the bars and then he retreated to the farthest corner of the room where he could still watch them. Snatching chairs from the nearby desks, Josiah and Buck sat down. JD and Vin sat against the wall as close as they could be to the bars without being able to touch them. Nathan and Ezra leaned against the desks.

“How are you doing, cowboy?” Vin’s sharp eyes took in every worry line as well as the dark circles under Chris’s eyes.

“I’ve been better. Are you all right? I don’t want you blaming yourself for this. You took me back to the motel, I left on my own.”

“I should have let you drive thru without stopping.”

Vin, …”

“Gentlemen, attempting to place blame at this junction is futile. What is important now is that we focus on finding the cretin or cretins responsible for the young woman’s death. We need facts and names, not guilt and blame.”

“Brother Ezra is right. We need to find the person who killed the girl. Have you remembered anything else that might help us in our investigation?” Josiah’s calm voice eased the tension in the group.

“Buck, they’re probably going to call you as a witness.” Chris said as he sank back onto the bunk.

“I was in Denver when she was killed!”

“Not the defense, Buck, the prosecutor. They know about the drinking bout I had after Sarah and Adam died and they’re using it to make me look guilty.”

The mustached man hissed angrily. It was bad enough that Chris was being accused of murder, but to have his drinking brought up again was opening an older, deeper wound. He remembered all too clearly the last time he’d tried to pull his drunken friend out of a bar.

+ + + + + + +

It had been months since the funeral and Larabee was still so sodden most of the time that he couldn’t find his ass with both hands. All the bartenders in the area had Buck’s cell phone number on speed dial. They had all learned to read the warning signs. Somehow it never failed that some young hothead would have to challenge Chris in some way and a fight would break out.

It was a snowy, miserable Monday evening. The blond had been at the tavern since noon and was several sheets in the wind as he sat in the corner booth, alone. If the truck driver had known that Chris could barely see beyond the edge of his table, he might have ignored the angry scowl, but he decided to challenge it and the trouble began.

Buck had just finished the report on a multi-car accident and was preparing to go back into service when his cell phone rang. It was Mike from the Tip Top Tavern, Chris was scowling at a trucker and things were getting nasty. He flipped on the lights and siren and rushed to try to prevent the brawl he knew was brewing.

A gleam came off of the big belt buckle that appeared at the edge of his vision. ‘Why would anyone need a buckle that big?’ Chris pulled the beer bottle toward him and took a big swig. His eyes narrowed as he sought to eliminate the annoying point of light.

“I asked you a question, mister. What in the hell are you looking at? Are you stupid or something? Answer me!”

The trucker reached out and grabbed the man from the booth and jerked him to his feet. It took a couple of tries for the drunken man to get his legs under him. He smelled like a distillery and carried several days’ growth of beard on his face. The hazel eyes were unfocused and the man seemed to have little coordination left.

Buck slid the car right up to the door and barreled out. Racing into the tavern, he immediately spotted the trouble. He wasn’t quick enough to prevent the first blow delivered to Larabee’s jaw. The blond crashed into the wall. The jarring seemed to clear his head and he charged the trucker with a cry of rage. Wilmington managed to get between them and tried to hold Chris back. The trucker, seeing the badge and gun, immediately backed down and slunk out of the tavern.

Even before he knew what had hit him, Chris slammed his fist into his friend’s jaw. Buck saw stars for a moment before he realized that the blond man’s rage was now turned on him. Holding his hands up in front of him in a placating gesture, Wilmington tried to coax his friend into a calmer mood.

“Come on now, Chris. It’s over! He’s gone. Let me take you home, okay? You’ve had enough to drink for one night, let me take you home.”

“Leave me alone, Buck! You aren’t my father! I’m a big boy and I don’t need you looking after me all the time! Just leave me alone!”

The last four words were punctuated by a hard flung right fist. Larabee exploded into a hitting frenzy. Buck felt himself bodily slammed into the wall and then the hard edge of a table drilled into his kidneys. A chair entered his field of vision just before it struck his shoulder. Thru the haze in his mind, Wilmington could hear Chris raging against the universe.

“… let them die like that? I loved them! My son, my little boy! He was just a kid! Why? Why them and not me?”

“Chris, calm down. I don’t have any answers for you. Let me take you home.”

A pair of fists closed on Buck’s shirt and he was flung into the jukebox. The shattering of glass penetrated his mind as the pain in his back increased tenfold. He was barely conscious and fading fast. The last thing he remembered was the pained and enraged hazel eyes just before the fist connected with his jaw again sending him into a table and then darkness.

He awoke in the hospital two days later. A concussion was the least of his injuries. His kidneys were badly bruised and he had deep cuts on his back from the jukebox. His jaw was fractured, as were several of his ribs.

He refused to press charges and the owner of the tavern refused to press charges after Buck paid to replace the damaged jukebox. Chris sat in jail for a week until Wilmington was released from the hospital. Larabee had dried out during that time and had done some serious soul searching.

They drove out to the cemetery where Sarah and Adam were buried and Chris made a promise to the three of them that he would never allow himself to get so out of control again. He turned a corner and began to pull his life together.

+ + + + + + +

“Buck?” Josiah laid his hand on Wilmington’s shoulder. They had been talking to him for the past few minutes without getting any response.

“Sorry, I was lost in thought. I won’t let them use Sarah and Adam against you like that, Chris. You have my word on that.”

“I know, Buck, I know.” Chris had seen the unfocused gaze and knew what his friend was remembering.

The hour passed too quickly as the deputy brought supper and told them they had to leave. As a group, they stood, staring at their leader before turning reluctantly to go. Vin hung back a minute longer, staring at Chris with longing in his eyes. After getting a nod from the blond head, he finally followed the others.

The diner was nearly deserted when they arrived. Libby had already pushed the tables together and rearranged the chairs. A pitcher of tea and glasses of ice was waiting on the table. She called out to them as they came in.

“Have a seat, I’ve got everything ready. Do any of you want coffee?”

She set the food out family style on the table. A large platter of fried chicken, a bowl of mashed potatoes, green beans and carrots and a basket of fresh-baked bread arrived before them. Leaning close to Vin, Libby whispered.

“I have some more of the baked apples for dessert.”

The food was good and the men made short work of consuming it. Another pitcher of tea and a carafe of coffee disappeared. There was very little conversation at the table, each man lost in thought. When Libby put the bowl of hot, baked apples on the table, mouths watered.

Gentle smiles broke out on the faces of the other men as Vin dug into the dessert. The young man had a vicious sweet tooth and was definitely enjoying the ‘comfort food’ the waitress brought to the table. When they had finished eating, Libby approached the table again.

“Is there anything your friend likes in particular to eat?” She had rested a hand on Vin’s shoulder as she spoke and he smiled up at her.

“Chicken and dumplings. His wife used to make them on Sunday.” The Texan’s voice was soft as he offered the suggestion.

Buck felt the bitter tears burn in his eyes and yanked his napkin from his lap to wipe them away. The kindness the woman was showing them was tearing down the wall of anger he had been struggling to keep around his emotions.

Josiah paid for the meal and they came to their feet to leave. He couldn’t suppress the smile that split his face when Vin and then JD hugged the matronly woman. They went back to the motel to clean up and tried to watch television. Buck called the judge to find out what was happening from his end.

“I’m sorry, Buck. Apparently, this Judge Cross in one inflexible son of a cuss. He won’t budge an inch on anything. I have requested a hearing of the superior court but it will take a couple of weeks to get in before them. I also wanted to warn you that their prosecutor had gotten hold of the records of Larabee’s arrests following the deaths of his family. I have a feeling they’re going to use them against him.”

“We know. They’ve already hinted at that. We have to try to find out what happened to his gun. Whoever took the gun is probably the same person who killed the girl.”

“His gun is missing? Why wasn’t I informed of that?”

“We only found out today.”

“Damn! If anyone is killed with that gun it will be very bad for Larabee and for the ATF. You have to find that gun! See if the car was dusted for prints. I’ll send you what little they have released on the investigation. They aren’t looking very hard.”

“Why should they? They have Chris.”

“How are the others holding up?”

“We’re okay. They’re letting us see him a couple of times a day. He looks tired.”

“Just be strong. We’ll get thru this.”

After hanging up the phone, they watched some banal program for a while before retiring to bed. Vin seemed to rest easier thru the night. Ezra slipped out of the other room and drove up to the bar where the whole mess started. He had a couple of drinks while he watched the patrons shooting pool and throwing down beer. They ignored the well-dressed man for the most part.

The next few days passed much the same as the first. The team visited with Chris for an hour in the morning and afternoon. The lawyer didn’t return. He was trying to ply the higher court for a re-hearing of the bail situation. A courier or Fed-Ex brought a package nearly every day filled with the information that the prosecutor was gathering to use against Larabee.

+ + + + + + +

Johnny leaned back in the seat of his car, smiling broadly. He had hit two gas stations in Sparta and a liquor store in Crossville. It was easy. He just waived the gun in the cashier’s face and they handed over the money and cartons of cigarettes that he demanded.

+ + + + + + +

Buck and JD had made an appearance at the bar two nights in a row. They shot a game of pool and had a couple of beers and watched people. They were being stymied by the lack of cooperation from the sheriff. The rental car had been released to the rental company and it had been sent out before it could be dusted for prints.

Seth and his friends were playing pool on one of the tables when Buck and Vin came in the next night. They scowled at the strangers when they approached the other table and began to rack up the balls. Randy and Jeff made a point of bumping the Texan as he was setting up for his shot. Tanner took a deep breath and waited for the men to move away before taking his shot. Glares and barely veiled threats were traded between the two tables as the games continued. Jeff’s brother Gill showed up a few minutes later and joined the game.

Buck moved between the tables to make his shot. Randy and Gill were standing between the tables watching Seth make his shot.

“Excuse me, son, would you mind moving over a smidge so I can make a shot here?”

Randy sneered at him. The tension escalated until Vin accidentally jabbed Seth with the pool cue as he was breaking the rack.

The bartender had been watching the trouble building between the strangers and Seth and his gang. He saw Seth deliberately move to accept the jab of the young stranger’s cue. Picking up the phone, he called the jail and asked for help.

The fight broke out with ferocious intensity. Seth grabbed Vin by the back of his jacket and pulled him away from the table with one hand while punching him in the face with the other. Buck immediately tried to come to his defense only to be blocked by Randy and Gill.

Jeff caught Vin and held him while Seth let loose a hard left to the Texan’s midsection. As the air was driven from his lungs, Tanner lashed out with his foot, striking his attacker on the thigh. Throwing his weight back against the man holding him, Vin hoped to gain the freedom of his arms.

Buck felt the pool cue slash across his back as he tried to get to Vin. He stumbled, falling into Gills arms and was immediately shoved away before getting a right cross to his chin. Randy rabbit punched Wilmington in the kidneys, propelling him back toward the other man who drove an uppercut into his stomach.

Sheriff Wilhelm pulled his pistol and fired it into the air. All six combatants froze, Buck sliding to his knees gasping for air and Vin bracing himself on the edge of the pool table as his vision darkened dangerously.

Although he had never had the need for them, the sheriff had a gross of the new, plastic restraints that were used in riot control situations. He had shoved a handful into his coat pocket before leaving the jail.

“Up against the wall, all of you! Move! NOW!” He kept his gun trained on the men.

Slowly, reluctantly, all four of the locals moved to the wall where the pool cues were kept. The two strangers were not moving, they remained close to the pool tables. Knowing that they were carrying guns, he called again.

“You two, against the wall! MOVE!”

Finally, the younger man moved to help the older man to his feet and they moved to the far wall, away from the other four. The door behind the sheriff opened and the deputy ran in.

“I got here as quick as I could. What happened?”

The bartender answered, loudly. “It was Seth and his crew. The strangers didn’t start it. They were just shooting pool and Seth got in the way.”

Wilhelm handed Davis the plastic cuffs.

“I’ll cover you. Secure all of them and we’ll straighten it out at the jail.”

The deputy moved to quickly secure Seth and his friends before moving to the two ATF agents. He could tell that the older man was more angry than hurt by the tension in his shoulders.

“Just take it easy. I’m going to secure your hands and then I’ll take your weapon. Don’t make this any harder than it has to be. The bartender vouched for you so you’ll be released in short order.”

Perry had kept his voice low so the others would not hear as he eased Buck’s hands into the plastic cuffs. He could tell that Vin was in worse shape by the way he held his arm protectively over his ribs as he leaned against the wall for support.

“Take it easy, kid. Just let me do this and we’ll be done.”

He reached around for the young man’s arm and heard the sharply indrawn breath. Perry turned the man and pressed him against the wall. He eased the 9mm from the shoulder holster and shoved it in the back of his pants before securing Vin’s hands in front of his body. Turning the other agent, he took the second gun and stepped back.

“Okay, let’s get them over to the jail.”

Seth and his friends tossed hateful grins over their shoulders at the ATF agents before Wilhelm shoved them toward the door. Perry steadied Vin as he moved them toward the door. The sheriff put all except Seth into his cruiser. He shoved the ringleader into the front of the deputy’s car and slammed the door.

Vin groaned weakly as he sat in the car, it hurt to try to lift his feet off the ground. Perry gently lifted the booted feet and set them into the car. Buck glared hard at the young man in the front seat as soon as he was put in the car. Davis noticed in the mirror that the younger agent was still clutching his ribs as he slid down so he could lean his head against the seat.

The sheriff got out of his car and walked over to the other car. He jerked the front passenger door open and pulled Seth out of the seat roughly.

“Take them to their motel. Drive someone over to the bar to pick up the vehicle and get back here. I’ll take care of things until you get back.”

Nathan and the others stepped out of the room as soon as they saw the police cruiser outside of their window. The deputy opened the rear door and lifted Vin’s feet out of the car. He took hold of the plastic restraint and popped it with his pocketknife.

“You’ll want to help him out of the car.”

As the deputy moved to the other side, Nathan ran to Vin’s side. He could tell that the Texan was in considerable pain. The arm guarding the ribs was a dead giveaway that he was having trouble breathing.

“What happened?”

“Bad break on the pool table. I hurt, Nathan.”

As Perry popped the restraints from Buck’s wrists, he felt the big man tense. The deputy all but jumped away as Wilmington exploded out of the car and held out his hand. There was no mistaking what he wanted. Davis reached around and pulled both weapons from his pants and offered them to the angry ATF agent.

Buck glared hard at the man before moving around the car to help the younger man into the motel room. Josiah felt the keys strike his stomach and caught them by reflex. Perry motioned toward the front seat as he closed the rear door and moved around to get into the car.

“What happened?”

“Seth Fielder and his crew picked a fight with your men. The bartender said they started it and your men weren’t at fault. I have to get back to the jail to help straighten this out so I’ll just drop you at the bar and be on my way.”

“Thank you.”

+ + + + + + +

Wilhelm shoved Seth into the interrogation room before going back for the others. He pulled Randy from the front seat and put him in the cell with the ATF agent. Shoving Gill and Jeff into the other cell, he reached thru the bars and released their hands. He then released Randy’s hands and left them to go to Seth.

A wicked grin lit Randy’s face as he looked at the older man in his cell.

“You’re the one who killed Wyn. How did it feel to choke the life out of her? Did she beg for her life?”

“I didn’t kill her.”

“That isn’t what we heard. I wonder how you would like it if someone beat and strangled you? Will you beg for your miserable life?”

Chris came to his feet to defend himself. The young man sprang at him and they grappled. He felt the hands that reached thru the bars and strained to push away from the other cell. The kid was shorter than Larabee but he was wiry and strong. Suddenly, his back touched the bars and he felt a meaty arm around his neck.

Gill tightened his grip on the older man as his brother reached thru and caught the man’s right arm. Pulling it thru the bars, he twisted the arm until the man cried out. Randy used his fists to pepper Chris’s chest and stomach with blows.

The sheriff glared at the arrogant young man sitting at the table. Seth Fielder was a troublemaker. His father owned the factory where most of the people in the county worked. The boy had never worked a day in his miserable life. He was an ugly bully who beat up his girlfriends and threatened anyone who got in his way.

“What happened out there, Seth?”

“They were shoving us around! We were there first! We were just playing a little pool.”

“That’s not the way I heard it. The bartender says you started it.”

“Those feds got you whipped, sheriff? I thought you had more balls than that.”

Perry pulled into the parking lot and got out of the cruiser. He had only just glanced thru the window and his blood ran cold. The Franklin boys were holding the ATF agent while Randy bludgeoned him with his fists. He couldn’t get into the jail fast enough.

“Sheriff Wilhelm! Get out here! They’ll kill him!”

The sheriff looked up at the cry from the deputy. As he came to his feet, Seth jumped up and slammed into him. He bounced off of the wall and fell. The kid kicked him in the gut and he rolled to protect himself.

Seth waited for the sheriff to try to get up again. He knew what the others were doing and he intended for it to go on for as long as possible. His dad would bail them out and they would get off, they always did. He kicked the sheriff in the ribs as he got to his hands and knees.

Perry pulled his gun and shouted for Randy to stop but the three young ruffians only laughed and went on with their brutal attack. He looked for the sheriff to come out and help him but he couldn’t see what was happening in the interrogation room. Davis had just made up his mind to go into the cell when the door opened behind him.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah wanted to talk to the sheriff and deputy again about what had happened at the bar. He was troubled that his friends had been treated so poorly if they were not the antagonists. As he entered the jail, his heart leapt into his throat. Three young men had Chris against the bars and were beating him while the deputy looked on.

Pulling his gun, Josiah shouted at the deputy.

“Don’t just stand there! Stop them!”

Davis put his gun on the desk and grabbed the keys to the cell. He unlocked the door and was shoved out of the way as the graying man moved into the cell. Grabbing Randy by the back of his shirt, the big man slammed him into the brick wall and watched in satisfaction as the boy slid limply down to the floor.

Spinning back to the bars, Josiah grabbed the arm that was choking Chris and twisted it cruelly. Gill screamed as the pain ripped into his shoulder. Josiah smiled as he heard the telltale ‘pop’ as the arm was dislocated. Only then did he release the arm and shove the kid away. Jeff had immediately backed away from the bars and was cowering in the corner.

Josiah caught Chris as he slumped, unconscious, against his chest. He eased the blond man onto the bunk and turned on the prone form of the other person in the cell. He grabbed Randy up by his shirt and stepped out of the cell with him.

“Open the other door! Do it now!”

The loud, angry bass voice shook the deputy out of his reverie and he opened the other cell door. Josiah dropped the unconscious boy onto the concrete floor and smiled again as his head seemed to bounce before settling.

Returning to Chris, he began check him for injuries. His hands carefully unbuttoned the shirt and laid the material aside. With a knowing touch, he checked the ribs and found none broken, thankfully. He would be badly bruised but that would pass in a few days. Larabee’s face was swollen from the blows to the head.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan’s temper boiled over as he tended to Vin. At least two of his ribs were cracked, judging from the guarding that the young man was doing during the exam. He didn’t have anything to use for bandages because he hadn’t thought to bring his first aid kit. Josiah had gone for their vehicle and hadn’t gotten back yet. JD had brought a bottle of Tylenol and Jackson pressed four of them into Tanner’s hand.

Buck had a couple of nasty bruises on his back as well as several fist-sized bruises on his chest and stomach. He didn’t appear to have anything broken, though. JD and Ezra fussed over him on the other bed while Nathan tended to Vin.

+ + + + + + +

Perry went to check on the sheriff. When he entered the interrogation room, his heart pounded furiously. Wilhelm was on the floor and Seth was kicking him in the side as the sheriff tried to protect himself. Davis grabbed the kid and slammed him into the wall before dragging him out of the room and toward the cells. Taking his handcuffs, he clipped one to Seth’s wrist and the other to the bars outside of the cell his friends were in. He then ran back to tend to the sheriff.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra slipped out of the motel and jogged down to the pharmacy he had noticed tucked up next to the grocery store. He picked up the things he thought Nathan would need and dumped them on the counter. He glared at the woman at the register until she looked embarrassed under the scrutiny.

“Is there a doctor in town?”

“Doctor Flowers lives just up the street. There’s a sign on his porch.”

“Thank you.” He added a flashlight to the items on the counter and paid for everything.

After dropping the supplies at the motel, he went in search of the doctor. He saw the sign just as the man dashed out of the door and toward a car.

“Excuse me, are you the doctor?”

The doctor looked up in fright at the man jogging toward him in the darkness. “Yes. Can I help you?”

“I have a friend at the motel who needs attention. Would you be willing to come and see to him? We will be glad to remunerate you for your time.”

“I’m on my way to the jail. The sheriff and one of his prisoners have been injured. As soon as I finish up there I will stop at the motel.”

“Which prisoner, do you know who was injured at the jail? One of the men the sheriff is detaining is a friend of mine.”

“You’re one of the ATF agents?” When he saw the man nod, the doctor gestured. “Hop in. I may need a few more hands when we get there.”

With the things that Ezra brought back, Nathan was able to tape Vin’s ribs to protect and support them. The Tylenol had taken the edge off of the pain and the Texan was dozing lightly. Buck was too angry to rest; he just sat, scowling at the television.

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