AU - OW crossover with The High Chaparral
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: Due to RL pressures I haven't been able to research this fic as well as I would have liked, so details such as the postal service, money etc are all my own, and hopefully won't distract from the story. Thanks to Helen for the beta work.
Main characters: JD, Buck, Ezra and Vin, some Nathan, plus most of the High Chaparral cast.
High Chaparral: If you've seen this show, let me just outline the set up and main characters. The High Chaparral is a large ranch on the Arizona Mexico boarder. It is owned and run by Big John Cannon, aided by his brother Buck, son Blue, second wife Victoria and her brother Manolito. Victoria and Manolito's father is the very rich and powerful Don Sebastian Montoya. John and Victoria's marriage was a political alliance, his first wife (Blue's mother) was killed by the Apache, not long after the family first arrived in Arizona.
Feedback: Yes please
"Damn, I'm tired," JD admitted, as they crossed the boarder back into America.
"Yeah I know what you mean," Buck admitted. Even though it was only mid afternoon, some how the long trip down into Mexico was finally catching up on the two of them.
+ + + + + + +
When Rodrigo Fernandez had turned up in Four Corners no one paid him much attention, not until Inez's panicked but muffled screams woke Buck and sent him running to the back of the saloon. If he had been only seconds later Rodrigo would have raped Inez. The only charge they could actually bring against him was assault, until the Judge sent a wire to Mexico. Rodrigo Fernandez turned out to fit the description - right down to the very distinctive scar across his belly - of one Hector Lopez, wanted for the rape, torture and murder of six young women all along the Mexican side of the border. It took time to get all the paperwork sorted before he could be returned to face trial. None of the men was interested in the handsome reward they would get for him, but would collect it nevertheless. Who was going to go south proved to be a problem.
The Mexicans insisted that a duly sworn officer of the law bring Lopez in. That meant JD had to go, but he couldn't go alone and he needed someone who spoke Spanish. That meant Josiah or Vin. But it was too risky for Vin to go, $500 was tempting enough north of the border, south it was a fortune and if the Rurales got hold of him it would be almost impossible to get him back. So Josiah was set to go - until his ladder finally gave up its battle with woodworm and three rungs broke under him. Luckily the worst damage was a sprained ankle and a badly bruised tailbone, but he wasn't going to be sitting a horse for some time! That meant Ezra had to go. His Spanish wasn't as fluent as the other two but it was still more than Buck, JD, Nathan and Chris put together!
Ezra was less than trilled about a three week trip south with Buck, JD and the loathsome Lopez, and he said so, repeatedly. So when he took to his sick bed the day before they were all more than a little suspicious, but Nathan had to admit he was genuinely unwell well with a fever. Hopefully it was just a passing chill, but to embark on a long journey now would be dangerous, even fatal.
"Me an' the kid 'll be fine," Buck assured. "Josiah can write out anything real important an' he's taught me how t' say 'I don't understand you, can you get someone who speaks English please.' We'll be okay." Chris wasn't so sure, but he had little option, with Josiah and Ezra out of action and Nathan busy with them and other patients, he and Vin were going to be run off their feet for a while as it was.
"Yeah okay, just watch the little rat will you?" he finally conceded.
That hard look came into Buck's dark blue eyes, that look of burning intensity that few people ever saw in the normally fun-loving, easy-going Buck. It was a look he reserved for those he most despised, anyone who hurt his family, children or women. And to Buck, Inez fell into two of those categories.
"Don't you worry pal, I'll kill the little shit before I let him get away."
It was no idle threat.
With two horses, three mules - two for their supplies, one for Lopez - they set out. It was an uneventful trip, they kept their prisoner handcuffed at all times - at night he was also in leg irons that Tiny had made especially for the trip. Once in Nogales they had the great good fortune to encounter a cantina owner who spoke reasonable English, who was more than happy to help out for a small percentage of the reward. Thus after a nine day trip, and having sold the mules, the two lawmen headed north again.
+ + + + + + +
"Well we'll be in Tucson by tomorrow, where I suggest we find a livery, a bath house, a boarding house and some place to eat - in that order."
JD looked over his shoulder, at Buck and grinned.
JD took off his new hat and ran his hand through his dark hair. After nearly two years his old wool suit had finally been repaired and darned as much as it could be. So, as a surprise on his twenty first birthday, the others had purchased him a new wardrobe. A dollar a day didn't leave much for presents but JD got a new shirt, a new pair of pants, a new jacket and a new hat. It had taken some time, but several nasty cases of sunburn had finally persuaded JD that there were times, like now on a long trip, when he needed a broad-brimmed hat. But his most prized possession was his leather vest. Buck had given it to him.
"Here JD," he had started as he handed it over, when he had managed to get the young sheriff alone that night. "I can't wear this no more, so you can have it, someone might as well get some use out of it."
JD had examined the vest, it was well-worn, the leather soft and supple, but it clearly was much too small for a man of Buck's size. JD frowned up at his friend; more than a little puzzled why was Buck carrying around a vest that can't have fitted him since he was about fifteen? People sometimes joked that Chris and Vin could read each other's minds, but Buck and JD weren't far behind.
"Ma gave it to me, last present I ever got from her," Buck admitted. "Dumb I guess, I couldn't do it up after year, an' I haven't been able to get into it since I was seventeen, but I just kept carrying it around."
"Buck I can't " JD had begun to protest.
"Sure you can, it'll look good on yah, used to look mighty fine in that myself." Indeed the old vest was very similar to the one Buck wore himself sometimes. "I'd rather you had it than it just got stiff and useless, or I lost it someplace."
"Are you sure?" JD asked.
"Sure kid, I'd like you to have it."
Since neither he nor Buck were wearing their jackets, as it was far too hot, they rode side by side in near matching tan leather vests. JD would never admit it, but it made them look more like brothers than ever, and that made him feel good.
+ + + + + + +
The two friends entered a shallow canyon, it wasn't very deep or particularly high, but there was high ground on either side of them. Buck was speculating about the women in Tucson, and boasting that it would only take him ten minutes in the town to know which lady would be his bed partner for the night.
"Buck you're so full of horse shit it's a wonder the women can't smell you from here and all run away now!" JD declared.
"Now boy, what did I tell you ab "
Without warning a single shot rang out and Buck was catapulted forward off his horse to land on the sun-baked, rock-strewn ground with a sickening thud.
"Buck!" JD yelled even as he pulled his gun and swung down from Milagro.
Beau had run a short distance down the trail, as JD squatted by Buck, while still covering the area, looking for the shooter. Blood was seeping into Buck's blue shirt over his left shoulder and arm, more blood was running freely down his face, though JD couldn't see from were.
"Buck?" JD gave him a gentle shake, "come on, wake up."
A second shot sent a spry of dust and small stones up into JD's face as the bullet hit the ground between him and Buck. Milagro skittered away up the trail in the same direction as Beau.
"Drop the gun!" Someone yelled from above him, the voice had a thick Mexican accent.
JD swung around, gun still in his hand, looking for the shooter.
"Show yerself, yer coward!" JD shouted up.
Another well aimed shot hit the ground just inches from Buck's head "Drop the gun!"
JD swung around to see a man with a bandanna over his face riding toward him, leading Buck's big grey. He had his gun out and aimed at JD. In truth JD knew he had no chance. They has ridden into a trap, and all he could do now was do as he was told and hope Buck survived. Reluctantly he laid his gun down.
The masked man indicated his other gun and JD carefully picked it out and tossed it to one side. Finally the second man, also masked, also with a bandanna over his face stepped out from the rock about half way up the canyon wall. The blindfolded JD then made him mount up on Beau, which meant his feet didn't reach the stirrups, and tied his hands to the saddle.
God Buck I'm sorry, he silently lamented as he was led away, leaving his grievously wounded friend to the mercies of the unforgiving desert.
+ + + + + + +
Had Buck lain in the canyon for very long he would no doubt have died from blood loss and dehydration, but not an hour later two men rode up from the boarder.
"What the hell, Uncle Buck, look!" Blue Cannon shouted as he urged Soapy forward.
Once Buck Cannon had patched up the big stranger as best he could, they got him on to his horse, a pretty bay they found grazing a short distance up the trail. Then as Buck led the wounded man, tied to his saddle, slumped and unresponsive, Blue rode as fast as his palomino would take him for the High Chaparral. It was almost dark as the buckboard clattered down the trail to meet them.
Once they made it to the ranch, Victoria took over. She ordered them to carry the patient to Blue's room since it was the closest, then shooed everyone way except Vaquero.
While she and Vaquero worked to save Buck and get him settled in bed, the others had been trying to find out who he was, firstly by going through the contents of his pockets.
The first thing Blue found was money - a lot of money.
Manolito looked up. "How much is a lot?" he asked.
"Over $100 in gold."
John whistled softly. "Guess he wasn't robbed then."
"So it seems, so why was he shot?" Mano asked.
Just then the ranch foreman came in with a pair of saddlebags. "Here Boss," he addressed Big John. "Though you'd want his things." He nodded his head at the stairs leading to the bedrooms.
John looked into the bags, rooting past the spare shirt and such, then he came to a leather pouch. Opening it he scanned the papers then tossed them at Manolito. The young Montoya frowned until he realised all the papers were in Spanish. After a few minutes reading he looked up.
"These are prisoner transfer papers, it confirms that a Sheriff John Daniel Dunne of Four Corners "
"I've heard of that place, its up north of here," Buck put in.
"Has delivered a prisoner, one Hector Lopez, a rapist and murder, to the Mexican authorities, and collected the reward." Mano continued.
"Well, I guess since he wasn't robbed Mr Lopez must have had some very pissed-off friends," Buck speculated.
"Does look that way. Blue?"
"First thing you ride into town, send a wire to this Four Corners, they should know what's happened, man might have family waiting on him."
+ + + + + + +
"Well?" John Cannon asked, as his wife finally emerged, blood on her apron, and wiping a stranger's blood from her hands. He had to admit he didn't like his wife doing this kind of things, yet it made him love her even more.
"I am no doctor, but the bullet wound is not so bad, it passed straight through. He has lost a lot of blood but I do not think the bone is broken. But he has not woken and I am worried that it is because of the wound to his head." She shrugged. "We will see. It is in God's hands now."
With no doctor for over a hundred miles, Victoria had take on the role of medic for the ranch, and she, like all of them, knew that a man who hit his head could easily die. Sometimes they never woke up, others woke up and seemed fine only to collapse and die a day or so later.
"What have you found out?" she asked.
John quickly filled her in.
"There is something you should know," Victoria said with a frown.
"Senor Dunne was shot in the back."
+ + + + + + +
JD's captors tied his hands behind his back, blindfolded him and boosted him up onto Beau. All his questions went unanswered, in fact the only time they responded to him at all was when he asked for water. Beau suddenly stopped and a canteen was pressed to his lips, after he'd gulped down a few mouthfuls it was pulled back and his dark, silent ride continued. How long it took he wasn't sure, but they climbed, he knew that, and it started to get dark. Eventually they stopped, he heard his captors dismount and then someone took hold of him and pulled him down. JD had long given up asking what they wanted from him, but now he was worried about what they might do to Buck's horse.
"Please take care of my horse," he requested.
The only response was to shove him forward. He couldn't be sure, but it felt like they were in a building. One of the men clamped a hand down on his shoulder. It turned out this was to steady him as they descended some stairs The steps seemed to be stone, and from the feel of them well warn, the steps went down steeply. As they got to the bottom someone grabbed his head and made him duck, presumably under a doorway. Seconds later the rope around his wrists was cut and he was pushed forward. Even as he was stumbling to keep his balance and bouncing into a wall he heard a door slam.
"Hello?" JD called out, there was no reply, so he reached up and pulled the blindfold off.
He was alone, or at least he thought he was because he was in the dark. Somewhere above him he though he could see a pale patch of - something, but other than that it was pitch black. Fighting down his panic, he stretched out his hand and pressed it to the wall behind him, then started to explore his prison. It proved to be about four paces by four, possibly circular. The ceiling was arched and low. The door felt like it was wood, but it held firm when he pushed, kicked and battered it. Near the door was a bucket, no need to guess what that was for. Other than that, the room, cellar or what ever it was, was empty. JD slid down the rough wall to sit on the cold earth floor.
He was scared, confused, worried about Buck and angry, he wanted to yell, cry, and shoot someone, all at the same time. Just then his stomach rumbled.
"Hey, how about some food?" he called out, but no one answered.
+ + + + + + +
Victoria Cannon shooed the ever faithful Vaquero to bed and settled down beside her patient. Buck - or John as she knew him - hadn't moved, or so much as flinched. She had taken care of enough wounded men to know she could easily lose this one. If they didn't start to wake up after a few hours, they often never did.
"Come Senor, come back to us so we can say hello," she whispered as she laid her hand on his cheek, but there was no reaction.
She looked around to find Buck Cannon in the doorway, a cup of coffee in his hand.
"I though you might like this?" He raised the coffee.
"Oh, that is kind, Buck. Come in."
Buck regarded the man he had helped to rescue. "He sure is a big one, reckon he must be near as tall as Big John."
"Two big John's," Victoria commented.
"Yeah. He gonna make it?"
"I don't know, if he would just make some sound, move, groan. As it is "
"As it is, you will stay with him no matter what." Buck smiled and then bent to kiss his sister-in-law on the cheek. "Youre an angel, Victoria."
+ + + + + + +
Eric Johnson wrote as the wire came in, his hand made quick and accurate by long years of practice.
TO: LAW FOUR CORNERS
FROM: W CANNON
SHERIFF DUNNE SHOT - STOP - HIGH CHAPARRAL RANCH TUCSON - STOP
Snatching up the wire Eric headed out of the telegraph office in search of one of the town's regulators. Since it was still early he didn't expect to fine anyone at the jail, since the cells were empty, so he headed across the street to the saloon where the Seven usually ate. Sure enough there was Tanner, out front drinking coffee.
"Mr Tanner, I brought it straight over, knew it was important, do you want to send a reply?" he blurted out as he thrust the paper into Vin's hand.
Vin shifted uneasily. "I'll come over with a reply as soon as I can," he said hesitantly, before turning and heading inside.
Since Chris was out at his cabin, and he had seen Nathan ride out at first light, Vin headed upstairs to Ezra's room, rather than run the length of the town to wake Sanchez.
"Come on Ez!" he bellowed as he pounded on Standish's locked bedroom door.
After what felt like hours, Ezra finally opened the door. "Mr Tanner, it's the middle of the night, this had better be good."
Vin didn't bother to point out the sun had been up for over an hour. "Here." He thrust the wire into Ezra's hand. "Read this fer me."
Ezra scanned the paper, his look of annoyance turning to concern as he read it out loud.
"What about Buck, how bad is JD hurt, is he even alive?" Vin asked.
"I read it all, thats all it says."
"Damn okay, you get dressed, I'll tell the guy to wire back and say someone is coming, an' then go get Chris, you get Josiah, meet us at the jail."
Not giving Ezra time to reply, Vin just turned and left again. By the time they were all at the jail, Nathan, who had simply taken Ben out for a morning ride, was back.
"Okay," Chris began, pulling his hand through his hair. "Nate I want you to go, shot sounds like he's alive, otherwise it would say killed." Nathan nodded. "I take it Josiah still can't ride?"
Jackson looked over at the big ex-priest.
"I can ride, but not far and not fast, I'd slow you down," Sanchez answered for himself.
"Okay, then Vin and - since he seems to be fully recovered - Ezra, will go with you. I still want a Spanish speaker down there and I can't leave Josiah here all on his own."
"Chris - I can manage," Josiah assured.
"I know, but until we know what's going on, I want at least two of us here, for all we know this is a trick to get us all out of town."
"Mr Larabee, you are beginning to think like me, sir." With that Ezra gave Chris a two-fingered salute.
"Shut up Ezra and go and pack." Chris looked up at Vin. "How long?"
Vin though on it, taking Nathan would slow them, he wasn't as experienced a rider they were, and he was a lot heavier, besides Ben was getting on a bit.
"We need to get spare horses and we can't take Ben." He looked over at Jackson. "Sorry Nate, he's too slow."
"Yeah I know, truth be told I'm gonna have to think about retiring him," he admitted.
"There's a home for him at my place any time," Chris offered.
"You can take Cardinal, if I need to ride I'll take Ben," Josiah offered.
"Ok, so if Tiny can supply three other fast horses and we can make at least fifty miles a day, maybe sixty, then four days, maybe less," Vin confirmed.
"Fine, you go and get ready, I'll talk to Tiny, Josiah get over to Potters and start getting the supplies together."
Josiah was moving stiffly to the door when Ezra called to him. "I will be with you as soon as possible, do not purchase anything until I get there."
"Why?" Josiah asked.
"Because what I call essential and what you call essential are two different things."
"Ezra, you need to save weight on this trip."
"Sir I am fully aware of the urgency of this journey, but I cannot ride all day on an empty stomach, please wait for me."
+ + + + + + +
JD hadn't slept, his dark prison was cold, as he sat and occasionally lay on the floor the cold seeped into his bones, that and his fear kept sleep at bay. And as the night drew on he became more and more thirsty and hungry. He had worked out that the light patch high above him was the sky, once his eyes were accustomed to the dark he could even make out stars. Eventually the stars faded and the patch of sky began to lighten as dawn broke. JD strained to hear but no sounds penetrated down into his prison. As the first shafts of sun managed to reach the little hole above him he was able to take in his prison. It seemed to be in the form of a bottle with a long narrow neck. The opening wasn't covered by any grill or shutter, but since it was at least fifteen feet above him it didn't really need one. The walls of the cell seemed to be carved from the living rock. The door was heavy and as solidly shut now was it was the night before.
"Hello?" he shouted up. "Can anyone hear me?" There was no reply. "What do you want with me?" Still there was silence. "Look, the Mexicans have Lopez now, I can't get him back, I don't have any money, I can't help you - at all. Please let me go!" There was no reply, no movement behind the door, no shadows blocked out the sun, no face looked down at him. "Please?"
Eventually he sat back down on the cold earth floor, it was still cold, the sunlight didn't reach even half way down the walls. He guessed at noon the light might reach the floor and he planed to stand in the light and be warm, even if it was only for an hour. Slowly he undid his empty and useless gun belt and used the buckle to scratch a single line on the wall beside him.
+ + + + + + +
"To W. Cannon, thats me, from Law Four Corners. Coming." Blue looked up from the wire at the man in his bed. "Sounds like you have friends who care."
Buck didn't move or respond. Blue shrugged and pushed the paper back into his pocket. Victoria had been persuaded to go to bed by Big John, and Blue had volunteered to sit with the injured man. There weren't any pressing jobs on the ranch at the moment, and that usually meant his father insisted he take on the most boring, dirtiest, most tiring routine maintenance jobs he could find. Sitting in his room watching over the patient seemed infinitely more fun than cleaning the wagon harness or making new adobe bricks. He was of course only allowed to watch the patient once his step mother had given him chapter and verse about how to care for him and what to look for. When Victoria had first come to the ranch, so soon after his mother had been killed Blue had hated her, but not for long. She had saved his life, she never once tried to be a mother to him the way his own mother had been, she just got on with being a dutiful wife and running the house. He finally accepted that neither she nor his father had any choice in the marriage and he was happy they had found love together. None of it made his relationship with his father any easier, but at least he now had a friend in Victoria, and had gained a new 'uncle' in her somewhat wild brother Manoltio.
Afternoon was moving toward evening, Blue had been working on his drawings, adding colour to some of his sketches and practising his life and portrait drawing on Buck. Now, as he put down his sketch book and stretched, he noticed a change in the man in the bed. Quickly hiding the drawings and equipment he called for Victoria.
"What has happened?" she asked as she came to the door.
"He moved, I swear Victoria, he moved."
Victoria beamed as she brushed passed him on her way to her patient. Blue followed her, it was wonderful to watch how tenderly she cared for this stranger, as tenderly has she had cared for him, any of the men who were wounded and even wounded Apache.
"Well now John, are you going to come back to us?" she asked as she laid a hand on his cheek. "Now, what is this?" She moved her hand to his brow and frowned. "You have a fever." With that she pulled back the sheets, pulling up the corner of the bandage over the large exit wound. Cursing in Spanish, she replaced the bandages covered him up again.
"What's wrong?" Blue asked.
"There is infection, I did everything I could to clean out the wound." She shook her head sadly.
"Not your fault, who knows how long he was there before we found him."
Victoria nodded, but her attention remained on the men in the bed. She took his large hand in her petite one. "I will have Vaquero make up a poultice, we will draw out the poison, you just concentrate on waking up." In response Buck shifted, his head moved a little to the left and a soft moan escaped his lips. It wasn't much but it made Victoria happy and she smiled benevolently at him.
+ + + + + + +
Going by the sun, JD reckoned it was almost noon, his prison cell had warmed up a little, but not much. As he sat, cold, board, scared and miserable the meagre light above him was suddenly blocked as something blocked the small opening in the roof. The blockage turned out to be a bucket; it was lowered down to him on rope. Thanking God under his breath, JD called up to his benefactor.
"Hello? Thank you, can you let me out? Can you tell me what they want with me? Please?"
By now the bucket was on the ground, inside it JD found a canteen of water, some tortillas and a small block of very tough beef jerky. Even before he had unloaded all of the food the bucket began to rise again.
"No wait! I don't have it all! Hang on!" JD desperately grabbed the bucket and pulled the last tortilla out.
The bucket rose as silently as it arrived and disappeared. No one spoke to him, no face appeared at the small opening. Holding his precious bounty to his chest, JD sat down on the floor again and drank greedily, then suddenly he stopped - what if this was the only water he was going to be given? The need to conserve water forced him to stop. The tortillas he ate, they wouldn't keep, so he might as well enjoy then fresh. The jerky he saved, it was so hard it was going to take him a long time to eat anyway, it would help to stave off hunger. The silence was unnerving, if he forced himself to be still, he could hear the wind and just occasionally a bird, but that was all.
What would the others do? JD asked himself. Vin hated to be confined and he hates small spaces, so he'd most likely be going crazy. Josiah would pray, I can do that - Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Bless us now and at the hour of our death. Amen. Nathan? Hum, Nathan hates to be locked up and he hates a mystery, Nate would be angry, but until there was something he could do he'd bide his time. Chris would be mad as all hell, probably beat down the walls all on his own - but I ain't Chris. Ezra would take out his cards and play solitaire, I don't have any cards, I'll have to see what else I can do to pass the time. Buck - oh God please let Buck be okay - Buck would try and see how he could help himself.
With his spirits raised a little, JD placed the jerky in his pocket and took the belt buckle he had used before and made a mark on the wall at the lowest point were the sun touched it. Then he removed his boots, in the barren cell, where even the insects didn't venture it was safe, and used the sole of this boot to beat the ground flat and smooth, that done, he used the buckle to scratch his full name in the dirt. Then he sat back and tried to make as many words as possible from the letters in John Daniel Dunne. By the time the light was failing, he had made six more marks on the wall, the beginnings of his own sun dial. With no light to play his word games, he made himself do some stretches and push ups. No one came, no more food or water was delivered, but he was feeling stronger, whoever they were, whatever they wanted from him, he wasn't going to let them beat him down.
+ + + + + + +
Over the next two days Vin, Ezra and Nathan rode as hard as they could, swapping horses every four hours, only stopping to eat and rest once a day. As well as their food, they carried corn with them to give the horses the extra energy they needed. On the second night they stopped in a small town, and were able to replenish their supplies and get a proper night's sleep, but they never let their pace drop.
JD managed to complete his sun dial, he played the word game, he worked out, he prayed. Once a day the food bucket arrived, delivering water, jerky and tortillas. He never saw anyone, no one spoke to him. His beard itched, he stank, the bucket in the corner stank, flies were beginning to be attracted to it, and his stomach was beginning to complain at the lack of food. But he believed he would be found, the guys would come for him, all he had to do was keep going.
Buck's fever rose, the infection burned in him like a fire, yet he was also beginning to recover from the head injury. Where there had been only silent blackness now there were voices, they were muffled and disjointed, but they were there. Occasionally there were shadows. He tried to respond to the voices but no one seemed to understand him. The pain hadn't been that bad, but now it seemed to burn through his shoulder.
"Come on John, try to take some water," Victoria coaxed, lifting his head and holding a cup of water to his slack lips.
John? JD? Was JD there, was he hurt? Buck needed to know his friend was alright. He tried to call out to JD, to ask the women who had spoken where JD was, but no one seemed to understand.
Vaquero helped Victoria hold Buck down as he once more became agitated. "What is wrong with him Senora?" he asked in Spanish.
She shook her head sadly. "He is sick and confused." She placed the cup back down and waited for Buck to run out of energy and rest easily again. "Hush Senor Dunne, hush," she soothed, wiping his brow with a cool cloth.
"Where's JD?" They were the first words Buck had spoken that were actually understandable. His eyes fluttered, and unfocused, dark blue eyes tried to make sense of the blurred images around him.
"Sheriff Dunne?" Victoria placed her hand on the side of his fever heated cheek.
"Where?" Buck asked, desperate to know where JD was.
"You are at the High Chaparral Ranch, you are safe now," Victoria assured.
Buck was confused, he didn't care were he was, where was JD? "No, JD, please." That was all he managed to say, before his strength gave out.
"Guess he's goes by 'JD'."
Victoria looked up to see her husband standing in the doorway. "So it would seem."
"How's he doing?"
Victoria looked back at her patient. "The fever should break soon, I hope, he is very strong."
"And tall and good looking?"
Victoria tilted her head to look at John, then smiled. "Yes he is, and so are you."
"Well I'm glad to hear it."
"When will his friends get here?"
Big John moved further into the room. "Buck reckons that it'll be another two days at least."
"Did Mano and Buck find anything?"
Manolito and Buck had ridden back to the canyon were they had found Buck in an attempt to find out more about what happened to him.
+ + + + + + +
On the third day after the shooting three things happened. Buck's fever reached a crisis, Vin, Ezra and Nathan arrived at the ranch and so did a letter.
Victoria sat up the whole night, she bathed Buck down to try and keep him cool, she spoke to him, told him to hang on, he wasn't alone, his friends were coming. He had been restless for most of the night, but sometime around three in the morning he became still. His breathing became laboured and erratic.
"Come on Sheriff, hold on a little longer," Victoria encouraged as she moved the cool rag over his chest.
The bedroom door opened to reveal her brother-in-law, he was carrying a jug of freshly drawn well water. Without any words being spoken he emptied the basin she had been using and replenished the water.
"Anything else I can do?" he asked.
She sighed. "Well, a coffee would be most welcome."
"That I can do. He gonna make it?"
"I hope so."
Buck, though now lost again in a fever induced haze, hung on to the soft feminine voice, that was ever present, she kept speaking to JD, so where ever he was he was close, hanging on to the soft voice, meant staying close to his young friend. Not long after dawn the fever finally broke, and Buck began to rest more easily.
+ + + + + + +
The three law men from Four Corners arrived in Tucson in the late afternoon. Under normal circumstances Ezra would have relished a thriving town like Tucson, but not today, they had to find out who W. Cannon was and where the High Chaparral was. They placed their hired horses in the livery and saddled their own, familiar mounts, before heading for the sheriff's office. The sheriff looked at the telegraph and quickly assured them that the Cannons were respected ranchers and if their friend was there he was in good hands.
"So how do we find this place?" Nathan asked.
"Well if you head south out of town, until wait!" The man suddenly got up and headed out of the small jail to speak to a good looking young Mexican, who then followed him back into the jail. "Gentlemen, this is Manolito Montoya, he lives at High Chaparral."
Mano tipped his hat and gave them his best smile.
"You're looking for the Sheriff Dunne?" he asked.
"Yeah, can you take us to him now?" Vin asked.
"Of course, let me just pick up the mail, I'll meet you at the livery." Mano was already turning to go, when Vin stepped in front of him.
"What about Buck?"
Montoya looked puzzled. "Who?"
"Buck Wilmington, he was travelling with JD."
"We only found the Sheriff, one man, one horse."
"Damn," Ezra swore.
+ + + + + + +
The sun was setting as the four of them galloped into the ranch compound. Warned by the lookout on the roof, Big John, Blue and Buck came out to see who was riding in so fast with Manolito.
Even as he was dismounting, Mano was beginning the introductions. "Senors, may I present the patron of High Chaparral, John Cannon, his brother Buck and his son Blue." He turned back to the new arrivals. "These gentlemen are from Four Corners."
"Howdy." Vin tied Peso to the hitching rail and thrust his hand out. "Name's Vin Tanner, this is Nathan Jackson and the fancy fella is Ezra Standish." Vin indicated his two companions.
"How do you do sir." Ezra shook John's hand.
"Thank you for looking after JD, can I see him?" Nathan asked.
"I'll show you," Blue offered. "He's in my room."
Nathan grabbed his bag and followed the young man inside, with the others all trooping behind them.
+ + + + + + +
Victoria looked up from her book as Blue entered the room with a tall, black man.
"Victoria, this is Nathan, he's a friend of "
"Buck!" Nathan pushed past Blue with Vin and Ezra hot on his tail.
"Buck? Where the hell is JD?" Vin demanded, looking back at the Cannon men still outside the room. "You said you hadn't seen Buck," he accused Manolito.
"Senor, I don't know what you are talking about, this is the man that Buck and Blue found."
"Yeah? Well that is Buck Wilmington not JD Dunne," Vin explained.
Nathan was already making a visual examination of his friend. For her part, Victoria was looking both confused and ready to protect her patient from this intruder.
"Senora?" Ezra came around to stand at the head of the bed.
"Mr Jackson is a skilled healer, Buck could not be in better hands," he assured.
"Oh." She smiled at Ezra a little nervously. "Well if I can help in any way."
"Ma'am?" Nathan's question drew her back to Buck. "Did you stitch the wounds?" By now Nathan had the covers pulled down and had peeled back the bandages.
"Si, I mean yes." Victoria was now peering down at the large, ugly exit wound, it was still angry and inflamed looking, but not as bad as it had been during the night.
"It's an excellent job, I couldn't do better myself," he complemented.
"Oh, well I don't have any real training you understand, I just do my best."
"It's all any of us can do."
As Nathan and Victoria began to talk about Buck's wounds and treatment, Vin gestured to Ezra to pull back to the door. Once they were out in the corridor Vin wanted to know everything that had happened. Big John suggested they move to the great room were they could sit down, have a drink and sort out what was going on. He explained about the papers they found in the saddlebags on Milagro.
"So were the hell is JD and why is he on Buck's horse?" Vin asked no one in particular.
"I have no idea, but if we can help in anyway we will," John offered.
+ + + + + + +
"Well now Buck, what kind of trouble have you got yourself into this time?" Nathan asked softly as he very gently rolled the big man back, after examining the entry wound in his shoulder. "When did the fever break?" he asked Victoria.
"In the early hours of the morning, but he hasn't woken yet," she explained with evident worry.
"Well he's still very weak from the fever and that head injury, besides you don't know how to talk to Buck," he added with just a hint of amusement. "Right Buck?"
That sounds like Nathan, what's Nathan doing here, where's the lady with the nice voice? Where's JD? Buck needed answers to his questions and tried as hard as he could to claw his way out of the blackness.
"You know, Senora Cannon is a mighty fine-looking lady, and she wants to say hello. Come on Buck, open those eyes and say thanks."
I'm trying Nathan, I'm trying, but I'm so tired. Where's JD, he was there, wasn't he?
"We need your help now, we need you to tell us what happened to JD."
Victoria listened and watched the very tender way the black healer coaxed his friend back to them.
"J D?" Buck's normally velvet soft voice was no more than a whispered croak.
"Come on Buck, open your eyes for me," Nathan encouraged more strongly.
Buck frowned, his eyelids fluttered a few times and then finally, blearily, unfocused deep blue eyes opened. Victoria filled a mug of water, and while Nathan lifted Buck's head she held the cup to his parched lips.
"Gently, gently," she chided softly as he began to gulp down the water.
Blue eyes moved to her, and he slowed his swallowing, finally she pulled the cup away.
"Thanks" he croaked.
"You are most welcome, Senor Wilmington."
"Buck," she acknowledged with a smile.
"Buck, do you remember what happened?" Nathan asked urgently. He hated to do it, because it was clear Buck was going to fall asleep any moment and sleep was what he desperately needed, but they needed to know.
"I, we were coming home, there was a canyon?" he asked, unsure he was remembering correctly.
"Yes, they found you in a canyon, what happened?"
"Don't remember, I was in the canyon with JD and then here. Where's JD?" His eyes darted around the room. "He was here, I heard his name."
"I am so sorry Buck, there was a misunderstanding, your friend is not here," Victoria explained sadly.
"Not? Where?" Buck's eyes darted back to Nathan. "Where is he? Nate?"
Nathan hated to do this, Buck was already weak, and no doubt in pain. "I'm sorry Buck, we don't know were he is. Is there anything you can remember?"
"No, I Nate we gotta find him!" With that Buck tried to get up, only to be pushed down by both Victoria and Nathan. "Please Nate," he all but begged.
"We will, we'll find him, Vin and Ezra are here and we'll find him. You rest now."
"But I he 's just a kid " For all his undoubted resolve to help find his young friend, Buck's strength was giving out on him.
"I know Buck, but you need to rest now." Even as he spoke Nathan watched his friends eyes close and he relaxed back into the pillows.
Victoria had watched the interaction between the two and Buck's distress, it was clear how much these men cared about each other.
"Is JD Mr Wilmington's brother?" she asked.
Nathan sat back and smiled wearily. "No, they're not brothers and JD isn't as young as you might think listening to Buck, but they are very close and Buck sees it as his job to protect JD - like a big brother."
"Sounds like JD is a lucky young man."
"Let us hope so, because I think we are going to need luck to find him."
+ + + + + + +
That evening JD's daily bucket of food and water arrived on time, two tortillas and a hunk of jerky as it had been every night, but this time there were four canteens of water not one. No one answered his please for information. His nagging fear that he was going to be abandoned to this hole in the ground jumped ten fold at the sight of canteens, why would his unseen captors suddenly give him all this water unless they weren't going to be there anymore?
"Look, just tell me what you want? Please, whatever you want, if I can do it I will. Just don't leave me down here!" he shouted up.
As usual there was no reply. He slumped down, pulling bits of the tortilla off and eating slowly, he had been getting cramps during the day as he got hunger and hungrier, now he had a permanent headache and sometimes he felt weak and light-headed.
"Why me?" he asked out loud. "What did I do? I just wanted my own life, I wanted to see what was out here? I'm sorry Mom." For the first time he wanted to give up and give into to his misery. Get a hold of your self John Daniel! he chided himself. Chris wouldn't give up! I can't get myself out so I have to stay strong until they rescue me. I left a clear enough trail, Vim 'll find it. Sitting on Beau, hands tied to the saddle, boots not reaching the stirrups, blindfolded, no control over the reins he had no chance to escape, but every time he felt the terrain under him get steeper of rougher, he urged Beau on. The big horse would instantly respond, sometimes he would stumble. That day they should have reached Four Corners, Chris would begin to worry, soon, maybe tomorrow he'd start looking. Might take sometime, better ration my water, he thought.
+ + + + + + +
Victoria and Nathan had join the others in the great room and updated them on Buck's condition, now they were all having a drink, while the evening meal was being prepared.
"Oh John, I forgot this." Manolito pulled the now somewhat crumpled letter from his pocket.
Big John frowned. "What's this?" he asked of no one in particular as he opened it.
The small sheet of paper had been neatly printed in block capitals.
HOW'S YOUR SON CANNON? WANT HIM BACK? THAT'S GOING TO COST YOU
John read it twice, looked over at Blue then back at the letter. "This is some kind of joke," he stated, clearly irritated.
"What is it?" Buck Cannon asked.
"Here, read it."
Once he had the paper, Buck read it out loud to the others.
"Want me back? Where am I meant to be?" Blue asked, somewhat bemused.
"May I?" Ezra reached out for the letter.
Once he had read it and handed it on to Nathan, he asked John for the envelope.
"What do you think?" Vin asked.
"Posted in Santa Fe three days ago, the day after Buck was found." Ezra turned the paper over again.
"Same day he was shot," Nathan reminded.
"Sure?" Vin asked.
"Sure," Buck stated. "The way he was bleeding he'd have been dead if he'd been there more than an hour."
Vin studied the older man, he'd already decided the Cannons were people he could trust. Buck had the look and manner of a man who'd seen enough bullet wounds to know what he was talking about.
"What do you reckon Ez?"
"I believe that whoever shot Buck kidnapped JD believing him to be young master Cannon. And when this was posted at least, still did believe that. Now, since they couldn't have shot Buck in that canyon and been in Santa Fe the next day, we are dealing with at least two people. Presumably the shooter sent a wire to his or her accomplice in Santa Fe."
"Her? Surely you don't think a woman could do anything like this?" Victoria challenged.
Ezra just looked at her over the letter, incredulity writ large all over his face. "Why not?"
She was about the challenge him when she noticed the other two men from Four Corners looked at her in much the same way.
"As I was saying," Ezra looked back at the letter. "whoever did the shooting must have sent a wire from somewhere relatively close. How many telegraph offices are there within a days ride of that canyon?"
"Tucson," Mano stated immediately.
"No, too many people know you there, somewhere more out of the way."
"Tombstone or Benson," Buck supplied.
"Do you have a map?"
As they gathered around, Big John pulled out a large map and spread it out on the dining room table.
"But why would anyone think your friend was me?" Blue asked.
"You are about the same age and stature, although JD has dark hair. He was riding on the same road, at approximately the same time as you, in the company of an older man called Buck," Ezra explained.
"Hey that's right," Buck exclaimed.
"I'll need to see this canyon, where you found Buck," Vin stated.
"Mano and Buck checked that place out, they didn't find anything," Big John pointed out.
Before any of the Four Corners men could counter him, Manolito offered to take him out there at first light. It was clear to him, and probably Buck, that Tanner had spent some time with at least one tribe and he was more than happy to admit his tracking wasn't as good as most Indians.
"Thanks, can someone go into town and send a wire tomorrow?" Vin asked.
"I'll send one of the men, just write out what you want sent and where." John offered. "The question is, who would want to kidnap Blue?"
"The letter stated that it would cost you to get him back, I would surmise that they are looking for money, are you as wealthy as this house would suggest?" Ezra looked up.
Suddenly there was an uncomfortable silence in the room.
"Let's just wait and see how much they ask for," Big John finally stated guardedly.
+ + + + + + +
Buck woke slowly and painfully. His head pounded and his shoulder was on fire.
Buck squinted, trying to get uncooperative eyes to focus.
"Where are we?"
"Ranch called The High Chaparral, remember?"
Thinking was hard enough, remembering was near impossible, but painful as it was, he couldn't stop the memories flooding back. Nathan watched sympathetically as Buck struggled to get the memories in some kind of order. Finally he nodded, as Nathan helped him to sit up.
"There have been developments," Nathan admitted. There was no point trying to hide anything from Buck, Chris had instructed him long ago, that when dealing with Buck it was imperative to always tell him the truth. Buck listened in silence, it was clear he desperately wanted to help, but he was a weak as a kitten and he knew it.
"Promise me you'll tell me everything, no matter what," was all he asked, when Nathan had finished.
"You have my word."
Just then there was a gentle knock at the door. Victoria came in carrying a tray.
"Well good morning," she greeted. "You are looking a little better Senor Wilmington."
Buck couldn't help it, she was a woman, and worried and sick at he was, he smiled at her. "All the better for meeting you ma'am." Then he frowned. "Have we met?"
She placed the tray on the bedside table. "Si Senor, on several occasions."
"Buck, this is Mrs Cannon, your host's wife, she's the one who saved your life," Nathan explained.
Buck's smile was back. "Well I surely am grateful ma'am and please call me Buck."
"So you said last night, I should have remembered. Now " she picked a cup from the tray. "Mr Jackson has made you some tea." Buck groaned, narrowing his eyes at Nathan.
"You needed it and you know it, so don't even start with me," Nathan countered.
"And I," Victoria continued. "have chicken soup."
"Well that does sound a mite more appetising, but I'm not really very hungry."
"Buck," Nathan began, but Victoria held her hand up as she sat on the edge of the bed facing the patient.
"Senor, Buck, I know you are worried for your friend, everyone will do everything they can to help find him, and you can help too. Buck's head, which had been down, came up. "You can help by getting well and strong, and to do that you have to eat."
Deep blue eyes, filled with worry and pain locked onto hers and he nodded, taking the cup of tea she held out. "They have to find him."
"They will," she assured, laying her hand over his.