Each Deed of Shame
by The Buffalo Gals
Main Characters: Vin, Chris
Some violence, a lot of angst.
Size: Approx 260K
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Vin Tanner had watched the same three men walk past the bank four times in the last hour. Something was going to happen and someone could end up getting hurt if he didnt stop it.
He got up from the chair hed been lounging in outside the jailhouse, his graceful movement hardly noticed by the passing townsfolk. He scanned Main Street, looking for one of his six companions.
Ezra Standish was standing outside the hotel, talking to Mary Travis. They were so deep in conversation they didnt notice Vin waving to them.
Ezra could talk the hind leg off a donkey. Vin muttered.
There was no point looking for Buck; the ladies man had boasted, less than an hour ago that he and Miss Katie were taking a ride out to Silver Lake.
Wont see him again today.
Chris Larabee was in the saloon, still nursing the gunshot wound hed received out at Ella Gaines ranch. Vin presumed the gunfighter was also wallowing in self pity, which wasnt any concern of his. But should it be?
Ah at last
JD and Josiah were striding towards him; both men grinning from ear to ear as they chatted amiably.
Whats wrong Vin? JD asked when the tracker hurried them towards him.
Somethin gonna happen at the bank. Wed best be ready.
JD blanched; the last time thered been an attempt to rob the bank hed accidentally killed a woman.
JD, go get Chris, hes in the saloon. Vin could see where the youngsters thoughts were heading. Men Josiahll take a walk over there. Maybe seein usll put the robbers off.
JD, dont run, dont want to spook em.
The boy nodded as he hurried to find Larabee.
That the hombres? Josiah nodded discreetly towards the three dubious characters walking once more by the bank.
Maybe one of should be in there, just in case.
Reckon we should wait fer back up. Vin didnt want to put anyone in unnecessary danger.
Dont think theres time. Josiah indicated towards the men; one of which was courteously opening the door for Gloria Potter and her children.
Josiah Vin hissed when the affable preacher followed the robbers into the bank.
Damn it damn it! The younger man cursed, Why dontcha listen.
Vin dared to glimpse through the window. As yet the robbers hadnt made their move. He could only hope Josiah wouldnt do anything reckless.
Whats the problem?
Vin had been so intent on what was happening inside the building he hadnt noticed Chris approach.
Think theres gonna be a robbery. Josiahs gone inside.
What! Chris seethed. He dragged Vin away from the window. Why did you let him go in there alone?
I there was no time for explanation, they needed a plan, now. But before Vin could speak, gunfire erupted from inside the bank
+ + + + + + +
Main Street looked different, uncluttered, now that the old wagon Vin Tanner called home was gone.
It hadnt moved far. Yosemite had harnessed a mule to it and driven it around back of the livery stables.
Out of sight, out of mind. The large man had grumbled, making certain his point of view was heard by the likes of Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington.
The quiet blacksmith could only hope that one day soon Vin Tanner would return for his belongings, but it was somehow very doubtful, seeing how the amiable Texan had been treated.
Yosemite was unimpressed by the way Tanner had been hounded out of town by certain folk in Four Corners, one of them supposedly the trackers best friend.
Weve done that young fellah wrong. he told anyone willing to listen, however his voice had been drowned out by the very folk Vin Tanner had put his life on the line for, time and time again.
Yosemite had studied human nature long and hard over the years. He could pass judgement on any man based on the way they treated their horse.
There were no better man than Vin Tanner, he commented to the equines in his care. I know it, and you know it shame were the only ones around here with any horse sense!
+ + + + + + +
Chris Larabee stared into the empty glass and contemplated pouring another shot of redeye from the bottle by his hand.
Wont fill itself, pard. Buck Wilmington joked as he walked over to Larabees table near the back of the saloon.
The gunslinger glanced up at his old friend; he was not amused.
Its the best friend I have, the gunslinger replied, extolling the virtue of the liquor, it never lets me down!
The words hurt Buck. For many years hed presumed he was Larabees best friend, however a certain young Texan with a bounty on his head had moved in on that position without even trying. Although it had hurt Buck at the time, hed kept his peace and had altered his opinion after he saw how Chris Larabee had changed due to the likeable Vin Tanner.
Buck couldnt despise anyone who could help the gunslinger come to terms with his past.
However, now that Vin had left town, Larabee was quickly returning to the bottle and the demons it brought with it.
Chris, if ya feelin that bad about Vin, why dontcha go after him?
Aint feelin bad more like guilt. And even if I did go after him whos to say hed come back with me?
You both spoke out of turn pard, but that aint to say we werent all wrong to hound him like that.
Chris listened to Bucks steady words before replying.
Vin told me, not so long ago, that Four Corners was a haven for him. Because he knew one of us would always be watchin his back. He stared once more at the empty glass. I managed to take everythin away from him.
We all did pard. Buck rested a hand on Larabees shoulder and gently squeezed it. Its time to bring him on home Chris.
The gunslinger nodded his head, his blond hair falling over sad eyes, Maybe youre right.
Before we go chasin after him though wed best get over to Nathans. Josiahs come round and hes askin fer Vin.
Why didnt you say so before! Chris pushed the whisky bottle away and wiped his mouth. Guilt gnawed at him over Josiah. Hed been so busy punishing Vin, hed almost forgotten the injured preacher.
As Larabee strode purposefully towards Nathans clinic, he recalled the events of the day that had turned sour for the Seven.
+ + + + + + +JD Dunne charged into the saloon, shouting out Chris name.
Larabee put down his whisky glass when he heard the tension in the kids voice.
Whats wrong JD?
Vin told me to come and get ya. He reckons three men are bout to rob the bank. JD garbled his sentence out in one large gasp.
He does huh? Chris threw some coins onto the bar to pay for his drink. Best be goin then, cause Vin Tanner is always right.
By the time Chris reached the bank, Josiah had already entered the building.
Chris couldnt stop himself from asking Vin, Why did you let him go inside alone?
Tanner didnt answer the question. Chris wanted to shake the answer from him; demand to know why Vin had allowed the preacher to walk into danger alone.
Fathomless eyes turned towards the gunslinger.
Tell me! Chris raged silently
Tanner looked away.
Chris felt the bile rise in his throat, his heart missed a beat; was it guilt in the trackers eyes? Before he could answer his own question, gunfire erupted from inside the bank.
Larabee couldnt believe the bank robbers had tried to out-shoot him and Vin. Nevertheless, they had, and lost. The gunslinger wondered who else had lost their life.
When he found out a short time later that Josiah had been seriously injured, Chris had continued to take his anger out on Vin Tanner, blaming him loudly for Josiahs predicament. From then on, things had gone from bad to worse
+ + + + + + +
Wilmington followed Larabee into Nathans clinic and found JD and Ezra already there.
The fine scar above Josiahs right eyebrow had already begun to heal as had the shoulder wound. Hed been in and out of fevered consciousness since the day of the shooting, and had made little progress. Theyd managed to feed him a fine gruel to sustain him, without Josiah really knowing what was happening.
To see him sitting up, his eyes clear and looking around in awareness, brought a collective sigh from the men standing around the sick mans bed.
Nathan was grinning from ear to ear as he fussed around the preacher.
Ya need tget some proper meals in ya now. Ill ask Inez to bring some food in to ya. And I dont want ya leavin this bed til I say so.
Josiah frowned at all the fuss; he wasnt used to it. Nathan, accordin to you Ive been here over a week! I need to get movin howdy boys he searched the four smiling faces of the newcomers. Why yall grinnin, aint you ever seen a sick man before?
Weve been worried about ya Josiah. Wilmington boomed. Shouldve known that skull of yours is too hard tcrack!
Chris Larabee sat down on the edge of the bed. Weve all missed you.
Yeah, yer the only one that can understand Ezras fancy words! JD joked, his smile widening when Ezra threw a scowl his way.
Ah personally have missed your witty conversation, Mr. Sanchez. JD is correct in his assumption, you are the only one here acquainted with the finer points of the English language.
Why thank you, brother. Josiah couldnt fail to notice Vins absence. Wheres Vin? I have to speak to Vin. The preacher looked solemn as he spoke to Larabee, I bet hes blamin himself for what happened. He noticed Chris pained expression. I knew he would. Werent his fault men my pig head Chris?
Vins gone Josiah I forced him out of town, the gunslinger admitted sadly.
Now hold on stud! Ywerent the only one tjudge. Guess we all had somethin to do with it.
Some of us are as guilty as others by keeping our silence. Ezra added shame-facedly.
You let him go! Josiah slammed his fist onto the bed.
You bein shot it was a culmination of things. I used you as an excuse, Josiah. It werent the right thing to do.
Wheres he gone? We have to bring him back! The preacher started to pull the covers back, Where are my clothes!
Hold on there! Nathan gently pushed Josiah back onto the bed. You aint goin nowhere
Dont try and stop me, none of ya
Josiah youve only just come round, yer weak from lack of food Nathan looked towards Larabee for back-up.
The gunslinger felt the same urgency as Josiah to go out and search for Vin, and he understood the preachers need to be there when the tracker was found. However, he also understood Nathans concerns about the older man.
The others waited for Chris decision. They were ready to ride. Ezra had been waiting for this moment since Tanner had left town.
Larabee turned to face the other men. Nathans right Josiah, its gonna be a long hard ride, and you aint fit yet. He didnt give Josiah time to argue. Were leavin at dawn tomorrow and we dont come back without Vin.
Yes! Buck slapped JD on the back, knocking the youngsters hat off.
If we are taking to the wilderness trail, Ah will have to make certain changes to mah apparel. Ezra hated to see his fancy vests and jackets covered in trail dust.
Ya mean yer gonna wear chaps? Buck asked jokingly.
Hardly, Mr. Wilmington. Mah wardrobe does not contain such items. The southerner replied drolly. Ah think a drink is required to celebrate Josiahs return to good health and our momentous decision to go in search of our errant tracker.
You buyin Ez?
If Ah must. Ezra replied haughtily. As usual, he was the only one with enough money to buy a round of drinks.
Well come on then! Buck placed an arm around Ezras shoulder and led him towards the door. You comin JD?
The youngster started to follow, then stopped to look at Larabee. Chris?
You go, take Nathan with you
Before the healer could remonstrate, Chris shut him up. Nathan, you aint had a break since Josiahs been shot. Go Ill stay here and watch over him
Make sure he stays in bed! Nathan ordered as he put on his hat and coat. He was glad of the respite, though hed never complain about tending to any of them.
Ill be back in a while, bring ya some dinner back, Josiah.
Still angry at Chris and Nathans decision that he wasnt well enough to go in search of Vin, Josiah managed a smile as the healer hurried out of the clinic. Nathans a good doctor but he does fuss so. The preacher settled back against the pillows. Whats on yer mind Chris.
Am I so transparent? I owe you an apology Josiah.
Me? I thought you were savin that fer Vin?
Ive been so wrapped up in my own misery I havent been here for you. I never once asked about yer condition. You were the excuse I needed, then I forgot you.
Chris, I wouldnt have known if you were here anyway, Josiah explained with a smile. Yaint got a bottle hid away have ya? he asked jovially.
Shot of whisky would do me more good than any of Nathans medicine.
Ill smuggle you some in, later. Chris managed a wry smile.
I wouldnt slow ya down. Josiah tried to argue his case once more. However his argument looked frail when he settled back on the pillow and closed his eyes. Hed only been fully conscious for just over an hour and was feeling weary. Guess I know when Im beat.
Want me to go?
No I want to tell you what happened at the bank.
You dont have to. Chris replied, worried that Josiah would over exert himself.
Yes I do. I want to make it clear that Vin had nothin to do with me gettin shot. The preacher turned his head and stared out of the grimy window. He told me to wait til JD had fetched you but when Mrs. Potter and her kids went inside, I had tfollow.
+ + + + + + +Josiah walked over to Gloria Potter and in whispered tones told her to forget her business with the bank and take the children outside.
The sturdy middle-aged woman was sensible enough to understand something was about to happen. Shed lost her husband to a killer, she didnt want to lose her children the same way.
She began to shepherd the youngsters towards the door, but her son, whod heard part of the whispered conversation stared at the three strangers keenly and said in a loud voice,
They dont look dangerous to me Ma!
The men panicked and drew their guns.
This is a hold up! one of them yelled, his voice shaking with nerves.
We aint afraid tshoot, said another.
Josiah knew enough about human nature to realise their threats were empty.
Listen boys, you dont really mean to hurt us. He was unarmed and hoped this might help avert any bloodshed.
You you stay there Mister. The youngest member of the trio warned, his gun hand shaking violently.
Son, if ya do anythin stupid, youll never leave town alive.
We will if we take hostages! the youngster answered with bravado.
Josiah noticed the bank manager reaching for a gun hidden under his desk. It was all going to end in unnecessary bloodshed if he didnt do something soon.
Please give me your guns. he pleaded as he reached out.
At that moment the bank manager found his courage and fired his gun towards the robbers.
+ + + + + + +
His damn bullet hit me in the shoulder! Josiah grumbled. I lurched forward and the youngsters gun went off. Caint recall a thing after that.
Hoping to fill in the blanks, Chris said, Accordin to Mrs. Potter the gang argued amongst themselves. One of them snatched the gun off the manager and hit him across the face.
I shouted out and gave em fair warnin. Mrs. Potter reckons they were determined to escape. Afterwards Vin kept sayin we neednt have killed em.
He was right. They were inept kids. Maybe if I hadnt have interjected youd have been able to get em to throw down their guns. Me gettin shot scared em.
Mr. Wilson shot you. Why didnt anyone say so?
Maybe they didnt realise. It all happened so fast. Josiah closed his eyes again.
This time Chris stood up. You get some sleep.
Thanks Chris. See you in the mornin, before you leave. Oh, if ya see Nathan, tell him a shot of whisky would do me the world of good.
Larabee rested a hand on the door. You aint got a chance in hell.
Oh, I dont know. Dont worry Chris, youll find Vin.
It wasnt finding Vin that worried Larabee, it was persuading the younger man that all the cruel words Chris had spoken werent meant; it had been his anger talking.
Larabee headed straight for the saloon once hed left Josiah. He needed a drink the whole bottle!
Hey Chris! Buck called over to him when he walked into the saloon. Ezras still buyin!
Chris shook his head. Aint in the mood fer company. He wandered over to the bar.
Nathan looked up from the meal he was enjoying. Josiah alright?
Yeah Nate dont hurry, he was sleepin when I left.
Best thing for him. Glad you backed me up about tomorrow. The ridin would kill him.
Whats wrong Chris? Wilmington had followed Chris over to the bar.
The gunslinger regarded him sadly. Josiah told me what happened at the bank.
Chris quickly explained the nature of the shooting.
What else? Buck prompted.
Vin was right; they were just scared kids. They didnt deserve to die.
They were robbin the bank they had guns. You couldnt have known
Vin did and I ignored him. Makin a habit of that just lately.
They all knew he was referring to Ella Gaines.
Chris, youre paid to uphold the law, you did that.
They were kids Buck, I could have handled it different. Chris asked the bartender for a shot of whisky and downed it in one go. They died because I wanted to prove Vin wrong.
That bitch has a lot to answer for!
Ella? Chris asked his long time friend. I was a fool Buck. You tried to warn me and I didnt listen to you.
Hey stud, you were hopin to find a new life, settle down again. Ya didnt want me or anyone else spoilin that. Buck ordered two more drinks then led Chris over to an empty table. Ya gotta let Ella go. I know shes an evil bitch that wants puttin down. But shes standin there tween you and Vin which means shes still winnin.
Chris nodded in agreement. Shell come back, I know that. But next time Ill be ready.
Buck reached across the table and patted Larabees arm. Well all be ready. She caint take the seven of us on.
Larabee wasnt so certain. Ella Gaines was a she-devil of the worst kind. She wouldnt be satisfied until all those who stood between her and Chris were dead. Keeping his thoughts to himself, he smiled grimly at the ladies man.
Thanks fer your support Buck.
Ready to join the others now? Buck indicated to Ezras poker table. The southerner and JD were looking at Chris worriedly. Nathan had taken his leave and returned to the clinic.
Yeah. Need to make plans fer tomorrow.
Any idea where to start lookin?
Well ride out to Nettie Welles. Vin wouldnt leave without visitin her first.
Give JD a chance to make up with Casey.
Chris raised any eyebrow. Thats if shes willin to listen, he said with a smile.
JD and Casey had fallen out over JDs treatment of Vin. The girl idolised Vin as she would an older brother. She wouldnt have a bad word said against him.
Later in the evening when the bar had emptied, Buck Wilmington nursed one last whisky before walking over to Miss Katies house. She was the young woman hed been courting the day of the robbery.
+ + + + + + +Buck didnt know about the aborted robbery until late evening when he drove Katie bank into town. Theyd borrowed a buggy from Yosemite for their day out.
The contented cat smile he wore soon disappeared when JD ran to him as he helped Katie from the vehicle.
Buck! Josiahs been shot at the bank hes hurt real bad. Nathan and Chris are with him Vins to blame!
Huh? Vin shot Josiah? Buck asked, confused by the boys garbled explanation.
No but it was his idea to send Josiah into the bank when the robbers were inside where ya goin Buck?
Wilmington turned to the youth. Im escortin Miss Katie back to her door. Then I have to return the horse and buggy back to Yosemite.
Whatever had happened during his absence, Buck Wilmington was too much of a gentleman to abandon the young lady in the street.
Ill see to your horse. Once youve took Miz Katie home go to Nathans. Chrisll want to see ya!
After saying goodnight to the attractive young woman, Buck made his way to the clinic. He took the stairs three at a time.
The room was nearly in darkness, just two low burning candles illuminated the area around the sick mans bed.
Nathan Jackson was asleep, exhausted. Hed managed to make himself comfortable in one of the chairs. Chris Larabee sat in the other.
How is he Chris? Buck winced at the glare Larabee gave him.
Enjoy your day, stud?
Hey Chris, if Idve known there was gonna be trouble Id never have left town this mornin. Ya know that. Buck asked again, Hows Josiah doin?
Chris rubbed his aching eyes. Hes lost a lotta blood. Its touch and go.
God damn it! Did ya get the bastards that done it? Buck neared the bed and saw the fine sheen of sweat covering Josiahs face.
Yeah, theyre dead. Three kids aint sparin no tears for them
Whats this I hear about it bein Vins fault?
It was his idea Josiah go in the bank. He didnt wait for any help. Vin always knows whats right, don't he Buck? Has to make decisions ...this time he was wrong and Josiah could die because of him."
I cain't see ... Buck's words were cut off.
You werent there Buck. You didnt see what happened.
Well Im here now. Want me to sit a spell with Josiah? I can see ya wincin in pain.
Larabee grimaced. Im fine. Cant do with everyone askin questions. You could have some supper up for me and Nathan and a bottle.
Sure pard. Catch ya later.
Wilmington gave Inezs Chris order then wandered over to the table where Vin sat alone.
Want some company pard?
Larabee say ya could talk to me?
Hey pard, I thought ya might like ttalk. And Chris aint my keeper. Buck had never known the younger man speak with such venom.
Sorry Buck guess Im feelin sorry fer myself.
That aint the Vin Tanner I know talkin. Buck poured them both a shot of whisky.
Guess ya aint heard the news.
Oh I have. Just dont believe it. Youd never put Josiah, or anyone of us, in danger.
Well I did, Vin spat out his guilt. I let him go in the bank to face down three robbers I stood outside Im a coward Buck, must be, everyones sayin so.
Hell Vin, dont get so melodramatic. Buck had a suspicion that Vin had been drinking for quite some time. Josiahll soon recover then everythinll blow over.
Too late fer that Buck. I wish Josiah well. Hes a good man. Vin lurched to his feet. Wont never be the same around here fer me. You stand by Chris, Buck. He needs someone he can trust.
Wilmington watched the younger man sway out of the saloon and thought it wise to follow him back to his wagon. He started to get of his chair only to be forced down by a hand on his shoulder.
Ahll watch over him Buck. It is better Ah be tarnished by my association with Vin, than you mah friend.
Ezra, you do have a heart.
True, but Ah will deny any knowledge of it, if you should ever mention my good deed tonight.
Buck had hardly seen Vin after that night. The tracker became more reclusive as the days passed.
Wilmington never thought Vin guilty of anything other than perhaps neglect, but if the tracker was unwilling to stand up for himself, Buck could not help him.
And so everyone, except Ezra thought that Bucks silence was another pointer towards Vins guilt.
+ + + + + + +
Mary Travis looked up from the article she was writing. Chris Larabee stood in the open doorway to the Clarion office. Chris whats wrong?
Were goin after Vin. Chris put up his hands in surrender. Dont say its about time. I know
Mary stuck out her chin and asked, What made you change your mind?
Finally came to my senses. About a lot of things. Larabee replied honestly.
Mary suspected he meant Ella Gaines. However, she respected Chris enough to keep her thoughts private. Hed talk, if and when he was ready.
It had hurt Mary when Chris had followed the Gaines woman without a second thought for the town or Mary. She knew the other men were in it for the money, but with Chris it was personal. He and Ella went back a long way; they had a history a spark. Mary couldnt fight that.
Shed heard through snippets of gossip that hed made up his mind to stay with Ella Gaines, until the morning he found out her awful secret.
When the seven men had returned to town, with Chris seriously injured, Mary hadnt known what to think especially when Vin, Buck and JD had ridden out again immediately.
It had taken her a few days to gather information. No one wanted to talk to her; it was Chris story to tell.
Eventually he explained everything to her; how Ella Gaines had been responsible for his familys murders. Shed wanted to hug him then; shed never seen Chris so broken.
Shed hoped that once Vin returned, Chris moods would improve.
Sadly, this was not the case and the friendship he shared with the quiet tracker began to deteriorate. The tension culminated with a massive argument in the street.
Things had been said that day by both men; private grievances that must have been festering for several months. But far from clearing the air between best friends, the argument worsened the atmosphere. Chris tongue had stung and hurt Vin Tanner worse than any whip. Mary had seen the look on the Texans face when he rode out of town; his spirit had been broken.
I hope you find him Chris, however, knowing Vin, hell make it difficult for anyone to track him.
Aint comin back without him Mary. Larabee warned. He reached out for Marys hand that still rested on the desk, then snatched it back. There were bridges to mend between them, once he had his best friend back by his side.
Best be goin. The boysll be waitin for me.
Mary nodded and smiled sadly. She let the gunslinger go before whispering, And Ill be waiting for you.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan Jackson stood on the balcony outside his clinic and waved goodbye to his four friends. He silently wished them well with their search for Vin.
Nathan had been quick to chastise Vin when Josiah had been hurt at the bank. He didnt think the Texan had been cowardly in allowing Josiah to enter the bank alone, but that Vin had shown bad judgement.
Aint like Vin, hed remarked to Chris Larabee. Aint never known him put others in fore himself.
Well he did this time Nathan. The gunslinger had been adamant in his condemnation of the bounty hunter.
Nathan hadnt realised how far Chris and Vins friendship had deteriorated until the morning of the argument. The healer had been taking a break while Ezra sat with Josiah when hed heard the two normally quiet voices raised in anger.
Hed abandoned his half eaten lunch on the table and followed the other customers from the saloon to see the showdown.
It had distressed Nathan to see Chris and Vin remonstrate against each other so violently. He owed them his life, and had been ready to step in and halt the contretemps, until Buck had stopped him.
Leave em be, Nathan.
I know. Hurts me to see em like that, but maybe some things need to be said.
The healer hadnt shared Bucks views, however he bowed to Wilmingtons judgement.
A few hours later, Vin had called into the clinic, his saddlebags slung over his shoulder.
Come tsay goodbye Nathan.
Never thought youd run away. Nathan had said it more harshly that he meant to.
Guess I aint much of a friend, runnin out on ya. Vin had replied falteringly. I hope Josiah pulls through. Hes a good man. Will ya tell him for me?
Why dont ya wait around and tell him yerself!
Caint stay where Im not wanted. Vin had stood by Josiahs bed side for a few moments before leaving the clinic.
Once Vin had left town, Nathan noticed Chris slipping further into the whisky bottle. The healer silently cursed Ella Gaines. Shed nearly broken Chris Larabee and had managed to splinter the friendship between two good men.
Nathan turned back to the clinic. What the hell are ydoin outta bed! he strongly chastised Josiah.
Wanted to see the boys off. Said a little prayer. Im hopin Godll be their tracker and show them where our lost lamb is.
Nathan caught hold of the shaking Josiah before he dropped. Gonna say a prayer mself, then Im gonna ask him to help me keep you tied down!
Josiah chuckled. Think yer askin fer too much there brother! The preacher was determined to be up on his feet by the time they returned with Vin Tanner; maybe that would alleviate the Texans guilt.
+ + + + + + +
Nettie Welles picked up her old Spencer carbine and stepped out onto the cabin porch.
She recognised the four riders coming towards the house; knew they meant her no harm. But that didnt mean she didnt fancy shooting them from their horses!
Chris Larabee; the moody gunslinger. Normally she welcomed him warmly. However, hed broken the cardinal rule of hurting her precious Vin Tanner!
Buck Wilmington, the sweet talking ladies man. He could usually wrap Nettie around his little finger; make her act like a blushing girl. But not today!
JD Dunne, the boy who would one day be family; if he lived that long. Thered be no welcome smile for him!
Ezra Standish, the southerner that hated getting his hands dirty. Nettie felt like mothering that boy almost as much as she did Vin. She couldnt work out the reason, and it vexed her. He was too uppity by half and didnt like the meaning of hard work. The complete opposite of Vin, yet in the same instant very much alike.
What you wantin Mr. Larabee? there was no hospitality invite in her question.
Were searchin for Vin. Thought you might be able to help us.
And why should I do that? Nettie asked fearlessly.
Because you want whats best for him so do we.
The elderly woman accepted Chris words. They all looked suitably contrite.
Best step inside then. Caseys in the orchard. She told JD before he could ask.
Ezra Standish always felt uncomfortable in Netties presence. She could read him like an open book. On more than one occasion hed felt a pang of jealousy when hed seen how she mothered Vin. Oh to have a mother like her.
Buck fidgeted nervously. His charm didnt seem to be working on Nettie. Of course, anyone who said a word against her boy, was fair game to Nettie Welles.
Chris Larabee waited in silence for the coffee to be poured. Nettie was a wily old bird, she wouldnt speak until she was ready.
Well then Mr. Larabee Nettie settled into the chair opposite Chris. You were askin bout Vin.
He came to see you.
Nettie nodded. Sure did. Took me by surprise, turnin up like that.
Nettie began to recount her story. She only hoped Vin would forgive her for giving up his secrets.
+ + + + + + +Nettie Welles glanced at the dejected figure standing in her doorway.
Well son, you gonna stand there all day? Yer lettin the cold in.
Sorry Miz Nettie. Vin advanced into the homely cabin and closed the door behind him.
Fall had set in early and with it came the cold winds from off the mountains.
Sit yself down son while I pour yout some fresh made coffee.
Nettie had taken a shine to Vin Tanner the moment hed offered to escort her to the hotel, on the day shed ridden into town asking for help.
Shed only heard rumours about the seven men protecting Four Corners and didnt really expect any assistance from them. How wrong shed been. And after the trouble with Guy Royale had been resolved, shed managed to get the shy Vin Tanner to open up. Shed been proud when he told her she reminded him of an older version of his mother whod tragically died at a young age.
He came by to visit her regularly, often hed help around the farm, sometimes staying overnight. He never said much, though he did inform her of the bounty on his head.
When the fake Marshall had taken Vin away, Nettie had feared for his life. Yet she knew Chris Larabee wouldnt let Vin down; they were to peas out of the same pod.
The sorry state Vin was in now was due to the gunslinger. Casey had kept Nettie well informed about the problems Vin was suffering in town. Her niece had shown JD the door when hed dared to say a wrong word against Vin.
Hows Josiah doin son? Nettie asked kindly, wondering if the amiable preacher had taken a turn for the worse.
Vin winced at her question. About the same. Nathan says if his fever dont come down Vin couldnt finish the sentence. I come tsay good-bye Nettie.
You runnin away son? she asked the same question hed heard from Nathan.
Guess I am. Men Chris we had words. I can cope with the others lookin at me like Im a but not Chris. He reckons Im guilty, that that I always think I have the right answer.
This stem from that Ella Gaines woman? Everyone in town knew about her!
Some somethin I said to Chris too. Shouldnt have Vins shoulders slumped in defeat, his energy drained.
If yer determined to leave I cant wont stop you. But not tonight Vin Tanner. Tonight you stay here, rest yerself ready. I dont want my boy goin out there alone and unprepared.
Nettie would never forget the look Vin Tanner gave her. It spoke of hopelessness and despair. She only wished she had the strength and the years to banish the evils away.
The following morning she rose early, but not early enough. Vin Tanner was gone.
Nettie stepped out onto the porch and whispered into the gathering wind.
You take good care of that boy, God. Hes one of the good ones.
+ + + + + + +
While Chris and the others listened to Netties story, JD searched for Casey, determined to make peace with her.
The pretty young woman was in the small orchard, gathering up the last of the years good apples.
Why are you here JD?
Shed seen the riders coming down the trail and her young heart had fluttered at the sight of JD Dunne. However, until he paid penance about the remarks hed made to her about Vin Tanner she would not show the dark haired young man any favours.
Were goin searchin for Vin. Thought your Aunt Nettie might know where hes gone.
Oh, so youre gonna follow him and torment him some more!
No! JD sometimes forgot how feisty Casey could get. No were hopin Vinll come home with us.
Casey stopped munching on the apple shed been eating. You mean that?
Does that mean youre sayin Vin did nothin wrong? Casey pushed, her smile broadening when she saw JD blush.
Im sayin that Chris thinks we were a mite hasty dont mean to say ooof! JD ducked as a half eaten apple hit him in the middle of the chest.
Aint you man enough to admit you were wrong? Casey accused as she readied another missile.
Very well! We were wrong. I was wrong .were missin Vin.
Casey smiled gleefully. Shed won! She walked primly over to JD, stood on tiptoes and kissed his flushed cheek. Thank you.
Taken aback by the intimate gesture, JD stepped back, open mouthed.
Still filled with devilment Casey stuffed one of the good apples in his mouth then ran off towards the house.
JD wanted to explain to Casey why hed turned on Vin. It had taken the youngster a long time to understand it himself. However, now hed thought it through, he would explain it to Vin, once they caught up with him.
+ + + + + + +
The youngster had frozen when hed heard gunfire inside the bank. He was still haunted by the death of Miss Annie and would be until his own dying day. Was there now another innocent victim lying within the building?
Nathan pushed past him, his old medical bag clutched firmly in his hand.
Let me through! he yelled at the people in his way.
The commanding voice brought JD out of his reverie. The youngster followed Nathan through the crowd.
Whos been shot? he asked Vin Tanner.
The tracker stared back at him as if not understanding the question. Huh? Josiah its Josiah.
Oh no .. is he is he dead?
Vin shrugged automatically. Dont know got to get these bodies off the street. The Texan walked over to the undertakers.
JD was shocked by Vins lack of concern. Didnt the tracker care?
Then he heard snippets of gossip filtering from the bank. It was Vins fault that Josiah was injured Vins fault.
An unexpected feeling of relief swept over JD. This time he wasnt to blame. People wouldnt be staring at him with accusing eyes.
It had been several months since Annies death and although most folk had put the shooting down to an unfortunate accident he still saw the occasional accusational stare.
Well from now on any guilt would be laid at Vins door. And JDs blunder would finally be forgotten.
The boy felt concern for Josiah. The older man had been a great comfort to JD after the accident. The preacher and Buck were the only two members of the Seven to sympathise with him; to show any concern for his feelings.
Ezra had been completely wrapped up in his own selfish troubles. Nathan had been consumed with guilt over not being a good enough physician to save Annie.
Chris and Vin? Theyd been more concerned with Achilles Thompson, twin brother of the dead robber.
JD had hoped that Chris Larabee would at least speak with him, pass on words of wisdom. However, when the townsfolk had voiced their feelings about JD being a Sheriff, Larabee hadnt stood up for him.
JD wondered if the gunslinger would support Vin Tanner. From the gossip filtering through to him the answer was no.
JD knew now that hed reacted in a selfish, petty way. Hed wanted to make Vin suffer the way he had.
Im sorry Vin you didnt deserve to be treated so badly.
+ + + + + + +
Chris hope that Nettie would know Vins whereabouts had been dashed. The old girl was as much in the dark as he was. If Chris were to find Vin Tanner hed have to use his instincts.
The four men rode in silence, though JD had a smile on his face now he and Casey were friends once more.
Dya think wed be better splittin up? Wilmington asked as they came to a fork in the road.
Larabee shook his head. I aint even sure were travellin in the right direction Buck. Im workin on instinct.
Hell, thats fine by me stud! Just thought we could cover more ground if we split up.
Ah think we should travel together. Ezra stated loudly.
Whys that Ezra? Larabee turned to the gambler.
If when we find our errant tracker, it would be more appropriate and fitting if we ask his forgiveness as one, happy family. The sardonic words were softened with guilt.
Ygot a good point there Ez. Wilmington admitted solemnly.
Whats the next town along from here?
Well make for there. Send a telegram back to Four Corners. Send one to Eagle Bend too.
Caint see Vin travellin that way Chris.
The seven men were not popular with the Sheriff of Eagle Bend.
Neither can I, but it wont hurt to ask. Larabee hunkered down lower in his jacket.
Buck acknowledged that the conversation had ended; the four men dropped back into silence.
Ezra Standish pulled up the collar of the brown woollen jacket he was wearing. It wasnt his usual style of coat; something more appropriate for the weather.
He hated being away from the comforts of town; any town!
He only hoped Vin Tanner would appreciate the ordeal Ezra was putting himself through to find his friend.
Friend, Ezra didnt think he had the right to call himself Vins friend. How could he when hed allowed Vin to be treated so callously.
You are a coward, the gambler admonished himself as he tucked his horse in behind Buck and Chris mounts. Let them face the fierce zephyr attacking the six riders.
Ezra recalled the day of the bank robbery, it would be forever etched in his mind.
Hed excused himself from the delightful conversation he was having with the equably delightful Mary Travis when hed heard the gunfire.It had to be the bank; the building drew danger to it, like bees round a honey pot. Ezra very rarely used banks; he found the banking system as distrustful and illegal as his own forms of malpractice.
He reached the bank just as the foolish robbers were attempting to escape. His own gun was not required. Chris Larabee, though still recovering from his own gunshot injury and Vin Tanner the towns sharpshooter, soon despatched the miscreants.
Ah see Ah am too late to assist. Ezra commented as he checked the lifeless bodies, disturbed to see that underneath the dirt and stubble they were no more than youths of JDs age.
Goin to write that on yer tombstone. Chris growled.
They dead? Vin asked.
Undeniably. Ezra didnt like the look of guilt in Tanners eyes
Dont be mournin over them. Larabee hissed in pain. Hed twisted his gut awkwardly during the one sided fight.
Werent no need tkill em Chris. Vin stepped past the glaring gunfighter and into the shadowy confines of the bank.
Ezra followed, uncertain of the mayhem he might find.
The staff and customers were huddled together in one corner.
Everyone all right? Vin asked as he walked towards them.
All of us except Mrs Potter nodded towards the figure lying face down on the dusty floor.
Josiah! Ezra was first to reach the preacher, perturbed by the pool of blood spreading from under Josiahs chest. Someone send for Nathan, now!
Vin started to kneel next to the incumbent body but was harshly pushed away by Larabee.
Stay away from him!
It surprised Ezra when Vin didnt defend himself. The tracker turned away and stumbled out of the door muttering, Ill get the bodies moved.
That was uncalled for. Ezra bravely censured the unrepentant Larabee.
Why? Its his fault Josiah got shot! the gunslinger spoke loud enough for everyone in the bank to hear him.
Ah can hardly .
You werent here Ezra, you dont know what happened. Where the hell is Nathan!
Comin through! Jackson bellowed as he pushed by the crowd gathering in the bank doorway.
Ezra stepped away to give Nathan the room to work. As he waited for Nathans diagnosis on Josiahs condition, he could already hear the whispered allegations being thrown at Vin Tanner.
Larabee said it was Tanners fault.
Well Larabee should know.
Reckon Tanner mustve chickened out; sent the preacher in alone.
Tanner aint no coward!
Well theres no smoke without fire.
Ezra stared at the black clad gunfighter riding in front of him.
You certainly stoked the fires of hell that day Mr Larabee!