Trouble Comes to Watsonville

by Mallory & Linda A. Murdock

Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction. The Magnificent Seven characters belong to CBS, The Mirisch Group, MGM, and Trilogy Entertainment.

Sequel to: The Other Seven

Notes: This story takes place about 4 months after "The Other Seven" and is not related to Lady Killers

Ready to come home after rescuing the Governor, Linda Ann Murdock, was a Bounty Hunter by choice. Turning her pale horse towards the sun and she headed for the town of Watsonville. Watsonville was a small mining town that was about 20 miles away from Four Corners. Her greenish blue eyes scanned the horizon as she reflected over the events of the past two days while Blue, her horse, galloped across the dusty roads. Her return trip from Texas took an unexpected turn when The Governor of Texas just happened to be a passenger on a stage that was being robbed. The state of Texas was very grateful to her for protecting the governor and taking care of the robber. But Linda didn't want their gratitude. All she really wanted right now at this very moment was her nice comfy bed and a hot bath.

As the evening sky turned scarlet her thoughts turned black as she remembered her mother. She was only four when scarlet fever took her mother from her. She barely remembered her kind mother, a princess from the Kiowa Indian tribe, and that her name was Running Flower. Her father, Joe Murdock, loved his wife dearly and raised Linda as the best he could. By teaching her to ride and shoot while he was Marshall of Watsonville, but he had been shot in the back during a robbery attempt at the bank six years ago.

Linda let out a quite sigh as she crested a hill and looked over the quiet town when suddenly a loud explosion broke the stillness of the night. "Come on, Blue," she stated as she raced her horse down the hill and into the town to see what happened. There standing in the midst of chaos was the current Mayor/Sheriff of Watsonville, Matt Johnson, and his two deputies, Sam and Ben. Raising her rifle as she galloped into the town as they gave chase to the Carter Gang that had recently robbed the bank, leaving six dead and four wounded.

The Carter's were a large gang; more than 20 strong, Linda recalled as they came across the gang after their 10 mile run. The gang was hiding in a box canyon, laughing and having a good time. "Those bastards," Ben stated as he slowly reached for his gun.

 "They don't know that we are here - keep quiet," Linda whispered as she pushed back a piece of her sandy blond hair and looked over the men below.

They got into position and then Sheriff Johnson hollered out, "We have you surrounded - throw your guns out and there won't be any trouble."

The leader, Conner Carter, yelled, "Come and get us!"

Linda had a suspicion that something was not right. Just before she got the words out of her mouth, the gang started shooting from all sides. The posse did manage to kill five and wound four in the gang.

The posse had been pinned down for three hours when suddenly it got very quiet. There were wounded among the posse as well. Sheriff Johnson got up and told one of his deputies to check out the situation and the deputy came back to say the gang was gone. Sheriff Johnson says they'd take the dead and wounded back to Watsonville.

Linda turned and looked into Sheriff's Johnson's pale blue eyes, "I want to try to track the gang. The tracks show they were heading in the direction of Four Corners."

 Johnson looked down at woman he had become to think of a daughter. "All right, Lin, but be careful," he cautioned her as he began to round up some of the gang. "I don't want you to try to take on the gang by yourself. When I get back into town. I'll wire them seven peacekeepers in Four Corners and warn them of the threat."

Linda nodded her head and turned Blue towards the town of Four Corner's as she began tracking the Carter's. It took her four days but they had criss-crossed their tracks and now on the fourth day a hard rain was hindering any tracking at all. The rain had stopped for now as daylight slowly began to break through the clouds as she rounded the bend of Four Corners. She rested for a few minutes before she continued on to town. She decided that a night or two in a hotel would be a welcome break.

Chris, Vin and Buck were sitting outside the jail. Ezra and JD were just coming out of the saloon.

Seeing Linda riding in, Chris turned to Vin and says, "Better make yourself scarce. I think this may be that Bounty Hunter that Sheriff Johnson wired us about. No need to take any chances." Vin nodded and slipped down the alleyway around the side of the jail.

Chris got up and started walking towards her.

Linda says, "I'm Linda Murdock from Watsonville."

Chris says, "Chris Larabee. You the bounty hunter Sheriff Johnson wired me about?"

Linda nodded, "Yes, that's me."

"Any luck with your tracking of the Carter gang?" Chris asks.

"No - I've been out there for four days. They criss-crossed their tracks and this morning it started raining. Last clean tracks I saw were about five miles outside of Four Corners. They may still be in the vicinity," Linda says.

Chris nodded, "Johnson wired me about the robbery. We've been keeping up our patrols several times a day. I told Johnson we'd keep him posted if any sightings are reported. Is there anything you need from us?"

Linda says, "I need to get a room at the hotel and get good nights sleep."

Chris nodded, "Hotel's right across the street, livery just down a piece farther."

Linda nodded and says, "Thank you." She turned her horse and headed over to the hotel.

Buck came up to Chris" side. "That the bounty hunter?" Buck asks.

"Yeah. Lady bounty hunter - what's the world comin" to, Buck?" Chris replied, shaking his head.

+ + + + + + +

The next day the sun was shining again.

Josiah stood talking with Becky Wilkes, Sarah Larabee's widowed sister whom Josiah has been courting these past four months, on the front steps of the church. Chris smiled over at Becky as he rode by on his horse and tipped his hat but did not stop. Becky nodded to Chris as he rode by with Linda.

"Who's that woman with Chris?" Becky asks, after they had passed.

"Believe it or not she is a bounty hunter. Her name is Linda Murdock." Josiah looked thoughtful. "She's on the hunt for a group calling themselves 'The Carter Gang'. They were the ones that robbed the bank in Watsonville a few days ago, remember? They sound pretty nasty if you ask me. They could still be in this vicinity. She'd been tracking them but lost their trail in that rain storm yesterday. They seem to have disappeared but they were within five miles of Four Corners at one point."

"A lady bounty hunter - now I bet that gets Chris" dander up." Becky smiled. "Are you coming over for supper tonight?"

Josiah grinned, "Where else would I be, darlin"?"

+ + + + + + +

Becky returned to her house later. She had bought the old Miller place, just off the main street of Four Corners shortly after she'd arrived in town. When Becky stepped into her house, she felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She froze for a moment. Becky looked around but didn't see anything unusual. She left the front door open and walked to the kitchen in the back of the house. That's when she saw the window was broken. Becky turned to run and practically ran straight into a tall dark haired man. She backed up and was grabbed from behind by two other men.

"Damn it," she says, struggling, "Turn me loose."

The dark haired man moved close to her. He looked her up and down. Leaning very close to her, he reached for one of her breasts and squeezed it hard. She began to scream and one the men behind her covered her mouth. She continued to struggle and managed to kick the dark haired man hard in the shin. She wanted to knee him but her long skirt encumbered that. The dark haired man only laughed.

Then he says, "I got a message for you to deliver to those seven men." Reaching down to his belt he pulled out a knife. Her eyes widened at the sight of it. The man caressed her right arm. He leaned so close she could feel his breath on her face. As she felt the knife stab her in her right arm, he whispered through clenched teeth, "Tell 'em the Carter Gang wants to be left alone. We know they're helping the bounty hunter. Tell them to mind their own business. If they don't, tell them next time it will be your lovely neck."

One of the men behind her shoved her hard to the floor. Becky began to scream as they ran out the back door.

There were footsteps on the front porch, "Becky - Becky!" She heard her name called - it was Nathan.

"Nathan, in the kitchen!" She cried, breathlessly. She was shaking and sobbing.

Nathan charged in, followed by JD. "Oh my God," he says. "JD, go find Chris." Nathan knelt beside Becky as JD ran out of the house.

+ + + + + + +

As JD rode past the church he yelled, "Josiah, get over to Mrs. Wilkes, she's been hurt." He didn't say more but put the spurs to his horse and flew. Josiah dropped his tools and ran toward Becky's.

JD pulled up in front of the saloon and charged in. Chris was sitting at a table with Linda, nursing a beer. Buck and Ezra were laughing at the bar. Buck noticed JD first. "JD, what's wrong?" he asks.

JD breathed deeply, trying to catch his breath, "It's Mrs. Wilkes - she's been attacked back at her house - Nathan's there."

As they jumped up, Linda looked at Chris and saw the look on his face, "Who is JD talking about?" she asks.

"My sister," Chris says as he sprinted for the doorway. Linda followed him, Buck, JD, and Ezra close on her heels.

+ + + + + + +

When Chris ran into Becky's kitchen, he found her sitting on a bench. Josiah was behind her, straddling the bench, an arm around her waist and Nathan was sitting facing Becky while tending her arm.

Josiah looked up at Chris and Linda - the others were all looking in from the doorway. "Seems a few of the Carter's paid Becky a visit," he says. He looked angrier than Chris had ever seen him. Becky felt his arm tighten around her waist.

"Damn," Chris looked concerned as he moved over to Becky. "Are you okay, sis?" He asks gently.

"No, who the hell are those guys?" She asks, looking at Chris.

It was Linda who answered, "They're a bunch of vicious, no- good outlaws."

"Becky, this is Linda Murdock. She's a bounty hunter who's been hunting this Carter Gang," Chris says, "Linda, this is my late wife's sister, Becky Wilkes."

"Sorry to meet up under such unpleasant circumstances," Linda says.

Nathan looked up, "Chris, I'm going to have to take Becky over to the clinic - this arm is going to need some stitches, I'm afraid. If you've got questions for her, ask 'em now."

"How many were there?" Chris asks.

"Three. They went out the back door when they were done. I only got a good look at one of them." Becky says.

Chris nodded to Buck, who ran out the back followed by JD.

"Just tell us everything that happened," Chris says.

"I came into the house and it didn't feel right. I don't know how to explain it. I came into the kitchen and saw the window was broken. I turned to get out of here and there was a tall dark haired man standing right in the doorway, where Ezra is standing now. Two other men grabbed me from behind."

"What did he look like?" Linda asks.

"He was tall, built like Buck. But he needed a shave and a bath. He was just - creepy looking." Becky replied.

"That'll be Connor Carter, their leader. I told you about him - they call him 'Cutthroat Carter"; a real sweetie that one."" Linda added.

"He says he had a message for the seven men. He says to tell them that the Carter Gang wanted to be left alone and that he knew you were helping the bounty hunter. He says you should mind your own business." Becky continued.

Linda and Chris shared a glance. Linda looked down at Becky, furrowed her brow. "There's more, isn't there?" Linda asks.

Becky looked at her, flushed; she looked away and nodded.

Linda knelt down in front of Becky, put a hand on her knee, "Chris, clear some of these men out of here for a minute."

Nathan had bandaged up Becky's arm, "Don't move this arm now. I'll wait out on the porch."

"Ezra, go with Nathan. I'll be out in a minute. If JD and Buck come back, tell them to wait, too." Chris says.

Linda glanced at Josiah. "I'm staying," Josiah says, firmly.

After the room had cleared, Linda looked up at Becky, "OK, tell us slowly. Remember, these Carter's are lower than dog meat. I know it's hard but I have to know everything."

Becky still seemed to hesitate.

"Rebecca, it's alright," Josiah says quietly, "They can't hurt you now, honey."

Becky swallowed, "I know he did this to get a rise out of the men. Before he pulled out the knife, he - he grabbed my breast, hard - squeezed until it hurt." She caught a glance at Chris and saw his eyes darken over. "Then he pulled out his knife and cut my arm. After he cut me, he says to tell them next time it would be my 'lovely neck". They shoved me down to the floor and left. I just started screaming and that was when Nathan and JD turned up." Josiah's arm felt like iron around her waist. She shook her head and says quietly, "If only I'd had my gun."

Linda looked up at her, "If you did, you might be dead now. They don't leave too many victims alive." She stood and looked at Chris, "I told you they were animals."

"Josiah, can you take Becky over to Nathan's and stay with her?" Chris asks, "I don't want her to be alone."

"Sure, Chris." Josiah got up and helped Becky to her feet.

"What are you going to do?" Becky asks; she looked concerned.

"Show these Carter's that we don't scare easy." Chris says, "Don't worry, sis. Just get yourself over to Nathan's. I'll come and see you later." He touched her left shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

Josiah put his arm around Becky and helped her from the room.

Chris crossed over and shut the back door. "That Connor is going to wish he was dead when I get through with him." Chris says to Linda.

"Becky was right; he got a rise out of you all right." Linda replied, "Can I ask you something?"

"Yeah." Chris says.

"At the saloon you says she was your sister. Then you says she was your late wife's sister. What's that story?"

Chris smiled, "Well, she is my late wife's sister. She moved here a few months ago. But she and I are all the family each of us has left. As far as I'm concerned, Becky is my sister - blood ties or not."

+ + + + + + +

JD and Buck came back to Becky's house. Buck wasn't happy - he wished Vin had been with him but Chris had wanted Vin to keep a low profile while Linda Murdock was in town. "Sorry, Chris, we couldn't pick up a trail. They criss-crossed their tracks but we made a circuit around town - I think they're gone."

They left Becky's house shortly afterwards.

"Chris," Linda says, "I'm going back to Watsonville. You boys stay here with your sister. The Carter's are bad news and I won't risk any other lives. If you try to help me, Connor will come back for your sister, so don't leave her. Unfortunately, he's very attracted to Irish girls. Something about their coloring - the fair skin, green eyes and auburn hair. One of the women he killed during the bank robbery looked like that and there were others before her. I think Sheriff Johnson should get in touch with the Army on this. I'm going to wire him and then I'll be leaving within the hour. Thanks for trying to help."

"I think this is our decision. Don't leave until I can speak with everyone." Chris says.

"I'm not making any promises."

She left Chris and went into the saloon. Inez was tending bar. "I need some food and a bottle of Tequila for the trail." Linda says.

Chris came in and moved to a back table to have a drink with Ezra, Buck, and JD.

Inez says, "You leaving, Miss Murdock?"

"Yes, I am." She noticed Chris was talking to the three men. As she was gathering up the items Inez brought to her, she saw that Josiah, Nathan and Becky had joined Chris" table.

Linda left and headed across the street to the hotel.

About an hour later, JD walked out front of the saloon to look for the bounty hunter but he didn't see her or her horse. He came back into the saloon, "Chris, I think the bounty hunter has gone."

Chris ran out through the batwing doors but it was too late. There was no sign of Linda.

He headed over to the hotel. Chris asks the desk clerk, "Where is the lady bounty hunter?"

"The Bounty hunter left about 30 minutes ago. She left a message for you, Mr. Larabee." The desk clerk reached back and pulled out an envelope that he handed to Chris.

Chris tore it open and read, "Chris - I'm sorry about what happened to your sister. But this is my problem, not yours. I will just have to tend to it myself. Sorry for the trouble. Yours truly, Linda Murdock."

Chris went back over to the saloon.

"What's wrong, Chris?" Becky asks.

Chris read the note to everyone.

"She's feeling guilty about what happened to Becky," Buck says.

"Well, she shouldn't," Becky says, "It wasn't her fault."

Chris told them what Linda has says about Connor and that they shouldn't leave Becky alone.

"Just my luck. Let me guess - you want to go after them. Well, I guess I'll just have to tag along," Becky says. She glanced at Nathan and Josiah with a grin - "It's a good thing I'm left-handed so I can ride."

Chris says, "It's 20 plus to 9."

"Well, what do you suggest, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra says, with a grin.

"Go help this young Bounty hunter or stay out of it." JD spoke up.

"I don't like those odds," Both Buck and Becky says at the same time - then looked at each other and broke up.

"I say we go," Becky says, grinning at Buck.

Josiah nodded, "Yeah, I'll go. I can keep an eye on Rebecca that way." He smiled at her.

The others nodded, "Yeah, we go together."

Buck asks, "What about Vin?"

Chris thought about that, "I'll talk to him. I don't know if Murdock is aware of the bounty on his head. It will have to be his decision if he comes along."

 Chris talked to Vin. Vin felt it was more important to stop the Carter gang than to worry about the bounty on his head. He was willing to go along and see what happened. Vin told Chris if there was any trouble in Watsonville with his identity, he'd skedaddle.

As the group was preparing to leave, Judge Travis and Mrs. Potter appeared. The Judge says, "I'll stay in town and keep an eye on things until you return."

Mrs. Potter added, "Just be careful."

+ + + + + + +

They rode hard to make it to Rock Outcrop, about 12 miles out of town, where Linda had made camp. She had come upon a rattlesnake sunning itself on a rock and she shot it in the head. She was skinning it for dinner when she heard the hoof beats coming. She watched from the rocks. As they drew closer, Linda noticed Vin and Ezra coming up the hill followed by the other five - she was surprised to see Becky as well, then thought that Chris was probably just taking her advice to not leave Becky alone. Instead of being angry, she was wholehearted glad they had ignored her wishes.

As they rode toward her, Linda says, "What are you doing here?"

Vin spoke up, "I'm Vin Tanner. We are going to help you and Sheriff Johnson with the Carter gang. Talk to Chris when he gets here."

Vin and Ezra started to deal with horses and gear.

As Chris rode up with Becky, Linda says, "Mr. Larabee, what are you doing?"

"We've come to help," Becky replied before Chris had the chance.

"I won't be responsible if you get shot and killed." Linda added.

"I don't expect you to be." Becky retorted, "But we are going to help you anyway."

Becky dismounted, took her saddlebags and handed her horse over to Vin and Ezra. She headed for the fire and Linda noticed she started cooking the dinner Linda had laid out along with some other food items she'd brought along; a big pot of beans, wild rabbit to go along with the rattlesnake and biscuits.

Ezra grinned, "There's coffee, my dears and it's got whiskey in it!"

Linda looked at Chris and says, "You make a habit of this?"

Chris grinned, "All the time."

Linda moves down and gives Becky a hand with dinner.

+ + + + + + +

Linda sighs. The morning comes too quickly. It's very early when she awakes, before sun-up. Everyone is still sound asleep except for Vin who probably had the last watch of the night.

Vin grins up at Linda, "Morning - sleep well?" he asks.

"Better than I have in a long time," she replies.

She stokes the fire and adds more wood to it, gets the coffee on.

Becky gets up from beside Josiah, where she slept. She moves over to Linda, puts a hand on her shoulder. "Morning," Becky says quietly, "Everything alright?"

Linda smiles up at her, "Good morning. I should be asking you that."

Becky motions to her right arm, "What this? A little sore, but fine, thanks."

Becky walks over to Vin. "Morning, Vin. Want to take a break?" Linda notices that Becky has a rifle on the crook of her left arm.

Vin replies, "Good morning, Becky. Yeah, if you don't mind, I could use a break."

"I'll keep watch for a while," Becky says with a smile.

Vin gets up and with a tip of his hat to both ladies, trots over to some bushes up the hillside and disappears.

Becky takes the seat he vacated and keeps watch over the valley below them.

"When Vin gets back," Becky says over her shoulder to Linda, "I'll be happy to make breakfast for everyone."

"Thanks," Linda replies, "I'll get it started."

When the coffee is ready, Linda pours a cup and brings it over to Becky. Becky grins at her, "Thanks, tastes good."

Linda squats down beside Becky, "How long have you known Chris?"

"Oh, a long time. More than 10 years now," Becky says.

"He was married to your sister?" Linda asks, "I don't mean to pry but I don't know that much about him."

"Yes, he and my sister were married. I met Chris and Buck back at a shooting competition in my hometown. I was the one who introduced Chris to my sister." Becky hesitated, "My sister and my nephew were murdered."


"Almost four years ago."

Buck gets up and strolls over to the women. "Morning, Ladies" he says, "I could go for some coffee." He grinned at Linda.

She looks up at him and smiles, "Well, there's the pot - go help yourself."

Becky laughs. As Buck moves off, Becky says, "I think you and I are going to get along real well."

Vin comes back down the hill to see both gals laughing. He glances at Buck and wonders what happened.

+ + + + + + +

As Linda saddles up her horse, Blue, he knickers to her. As she is about to mount up, Becky walks over to her, "Where are you going?"

"I have to tend to something, just give me 30 minutes leave, will you?" Linda replies.

Becky looks puzzled, but shrugs, "Okay."

"Thanks." As Linda rode off, she was eating a biscuit.

Buck walks up to Becky, "Where is Linda going?"

"Women's business, I guess, why?" Becky asks.

Buck seems to grin.

Becky shakes her head, "Buck, get your mind on business."

Becky suddenly looks around at the seven men watching Linda leave. Vin and Ezra start to saddle up everyone's horses and get the gear together.

Chris was kneeling down drinking his coffee when Becky walked over to him.

Becky says, "She's unique, isn't she?"

"Yes, but I don't like that she is a bounty hunger, it's not right for a woman." He just looked up at Becky and half smiled.

"The times are changing, Chris," she says.  "That's changing a little more than I'm ready for, sis," he replied.

+ + + + + + +

Becky had cleaned up the cooking utensils and packed everything up. The men were getting the horses ready and getting water for the trip. Becky noticed that Chris and Vin had left ahead, probably to keep a watch on the trail, make sure they weren't going to run into anything unwelcome.

Josiah came over to where Becky was watching the preparations for departure.

"I've hardly had a chance to get you alone," he says with a smile.

"Well, circumstances unfortunately," she replied. "I wouldn't worry; we'll have plenty of time."

"How's your arm?" He asks.

"It's actually feeling pretty good. The stitches are holding up well. Nathan does good work." She looked at him a little more closely, "Don't worry. I'm planning on staying close to you." She touched his arm.

He glanced around and saw everyone else was occupied. No one could see them behind Becky's horse. Josiah moved close to her and kissed her. She looked up at him and smiled, "How long do you think we'll be in Watsonville?"

"Depends on what we find there. If this gang is as big as the Bounty hunter says, we probably won't be able to take them alone." He shook his head, "But if we can find them and scout things out, it will help the Army when they go in. We'll just have to see what happens."

She nodded. Just then, JD called out, "Chris has left - wants us to catch up with him!"

She pressed herself close to Josiah and kissed him again. "If things are quiet tonight, let's spend some time together in Watsonville - alone. Okay?"

"I like the sound of that," he grinned.

+ + + + + + +

When they arrived at Watsonville, Linda leads them to the livery.

"You can board your horses here. The hotel is just up the street. Just tell them you're with me and they'll fix you right up." She nodded up the street, "I have to go check in with the sheriff and see if there's any news on the Carter Gang."

Chris nodded, "Okay, we'll go get settled in. Tell Sheriff Johnson I'll come by and see him shortly."

"Okay," she says and rode off.

Stopping at the jail, she hitched her horse and walked inside. Sheriff Johnson, a big friendly looking sort, looked up from his desk and stood when he saw her.

"Glad to see you - I got your wire." He says.

"I stopped for a break in Four Corners. Unfortunately I lost the tracks in that rain storm. Don't worry about me, I'm fine." She nodded toward the papers she saw on his desk, "Any word on the Carter Gang?"

"They appear to have lit out of this area. There was a report that they were seen in Purgatory, but nothing has been confirmed." He shook his head, "Twenty some men - well I guess their numbers are down a bit after our last encounter, but still, that is too many for us to try to take."

"I've brought the seven men from Four Corners back with me."

He nodded, "I sent a wire to Major Stevens over at the Army post. He's going to come into town next week and he'll meet with us to discuss what they can do to help."

"Next week?!" She looked incredulous, "Do they have any idea just how dangerous these characters are?"

"You can't be going down to Purgatory and chasing after a gang - we got no authority there." He says, "That's Mexico for crying out loud - there ain't nobody going to help us there."

She sighed, "This is just awful." She dropped into a chair, "So we're just supposed to sit here and wait until they strike again and then go after them?"

"Linda, we are doing the best we can do right now. Folks around here are scared. I think after the posse left they worried that the Carter's could double-back and try something else."

"Conner and two of his thugs attacked a woman in Four Corners. She's with us, too. He left her alive so she could tell the seven to stay out of it and not help. She's related to one of the seven, the leader, Chris Larabee."

Johnson nodded, "I've heard of him. Supposed to be a hell of shot."

"That's what I hear. Where are the other deputies?"

"Since we've been back, I've been having them ride patrols. Keeping a presence on the streets. It is helping the town folks be a bit more relaxed. I kept on the fellows I deputized to go after the Carters so we have patrols every day, all day."

"That's going to get expensive." Linda commented.

"Judge Travis wired me. He's approved any funds we need." Johnson says, "He's up in Four Corners; told me to wire if we need anything. I'd like to keep you on as a deputy, too."

Linda nodded, "That's fine with me. Oh, Chris Larabee is getting a room at the hotel and then he says he'd come to see you. But, I need a bath. Anything else before I go get cleaned up?"

"Nope, that's it." Sheriff Johnson walked over to her and put a hand on her arm. "Don't fret none. Go get some rest and we'll talk tomorrow."


+ + + + + + +

Linda took her horse over to the livery and headed for the bath house. She found Becky was already there with the same idea.

"Living on the trail is not exactly my cup of tea," Becky commented.

"Well, you get used to it if you do it enough," Linda replied.

"I suppose that's true of anything."

There were hot tubs of water ready for them. Becky was removing her chemise, her back to Linda when Linda noticed the scar on Becky's back.

"Whoa - how did you get that?!"

Becky looked at her and seemed embarrassed. "It's a long story. Let's just say I got in my father's way one day when he was giving my sister an undeserved beating. That was what I got for sticking my nose in."

Linda looked incredulous.

Becky continued, "He wasn't always like that. He had some severe mental problems prior to his death. He was very angry over my sister and Chris." Becky climbed in the tub and leaned back. "But I have to ask you something - and that's not to tell Chris. My sister didn't want him to know about that episode."

"Does it matter now that they are all dead?" Linda asks.

"I suppose it doesn't, but why upset Chris any more?"

Linda nodded, "How long have you been living in Four Corners?" She settled into the next tub.

"About four months now. I had been taking care of my grandmother before that. After she died I went to see Chris and he talked me into staying. Well, he had some help in that." She smiled.

"Josiah?" Linda suggested.

"Yes." Becky nodded.

"Are you two - together?"

"He's been courting me, if that's what you mean. I was married once before - long time ago - he was killed in the war - that was back before I met Chris. But my first husband, well, he was not - a good husband, let's say."

"Going to get married again?"

"If Josiah asks me."

"How long have you two been courting?"

Becky chuckled, "Happened kind of quick. Since about a week after I got to Four Corners."

"Long enough for things to move along," Linda says.

"I think they will." Becky replied, "What about you?"

"No - there's no man in my life right now," Linda says.

+ + + + + + +

Linda and Becky walked back to the hotel together. At the front desk, the clerk looked up at their entrance.

"Miss Murdock," he says, "one of the men that just checked in here left you a note." He handed it over to her.

Linda tore it open and read. She looked up at Becky, "They are over at the saloon. Want us to join them for something to eat."

= = = = =

At the saloon, Chris told Linda and Becky that he'd seen the Sheriff.

Chris nodded, "Sounds like he has things under control for the moment."

Vin says, "What should we do?"

Chris shrugged and looked at Linda, "What do you need from us?"

"Well, there are reports that they are down in Purgatory. But we have no jurisdiction there. The army is sending out a Major next week to meet with Sheriff Johnson. Guess they think five people murdered aren't enough to get riled over." She shook her head.

"Johnson mentioned that. A couple of us could go down to Purgatory, have a look around and just see what's going on. I know some people there." Chris says.

Linda started to speak but Chris interrupted, "And no, I do not think it would be a good idea for you to come along. Purgatory is not the place for a woman, I don't care how heavy armed she is."

Chris looked around that table. His eyes met Becky's. He says, "I want you to go back to Four Corners. Josiah, take her back tomorrow. I think Nathan, JD and Ezra should go with you. Buck, Vin and I can go down to Purgatory. We can see what's what and either wire the Sheriff or just stop by here on our way back."

Josiah nodded, "I'll take care of things." Under that table, he gave Becky's hand a squeeze.

Chris looked at Linda, "Does that sound alright?"

Linda didn't look too happy, but nodded, "Your plan sounds okay. I think the townsfolk would like to have as many deputies around as possible right now, anyway."

"Well, if that's settled, let's get some grub." Buck says.

+ + + + + + +

Later in the afternoon, Linda took Chris and Vin around town. Chris had been to Watsonville before but was just always passing through so never really spent any time in the town. He saw that she was quite proud of all they'd accomplished. She introduced Chris and Vin to several of the other deputies they met as they walked around the town. Vin was relieved that no one seemed to recognize his name.

+ + + + + + +

It was getting dark. Becky and Josiah had spent most of the day walking around town as well. Checking out shops, the church and the local scenery. At dinner time, they stopped in the restaurant next to the hotel and had a light dinner. When they finished, Becky says, "I guess we should think about turning in if we are going to ride back to Four Corners in the morning."

He reached over and took her hand, "I finally have you alone. The last thing I want to do now is leave you in your hotel room and say good night."

She smiled shyly at him, "What did you have in mind?"

"Well, I have been thinking about something for a while. After the other day in Four Corners when you were attacked, I've been thinking that it was foolish to put it off any longer."

She looked at him quizzically, "What are you talking about?"

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small draw-string pouch. He opened it up and emptied the contents into his hand. He took her hand and kissed it. "Rebecca, I want you to marry me," he says as he slipped a ring on her left hand.

She looks at him - she is happy but clearly surprised, not expecting this turn of events.

She takes a deep breath and blows it out, "Josiah - I do want to marry you, but I want to tell you something first." Josiah had an instant of concern, but she was smiling, so he relaxed a bit.

"When I first came to Four Corners," she began, "It was to see Chris because my grandmother had left him some money in her will. Chris wanted me to have it but, you see, my father had left me some land he owned up in South Dakota. There was a silver strike there, so I have money. I'm not millionaire, but we won't have to worry about money for our future."

Josiah smiled, "You were worried about telling me that?"

"Well, I wasn't sure who I could trust and when you started courting me, I wanted to be sure you were interested in me. Even before that, Chris suggested that I not make it common knowledge, more for my safety, I think."

Josiah nodded, "A wise precaution."

Becky squeezed his hand, "Do you know what this means, Josiah? You don't have to worry about Hannah anymore - there'll always be money for her care. And we can fix up the church anyway you want - and,"

"Wait a minute," Josiah says but he was chuckling. "Here I am trying to be romantic and propose and you want to talk about money."

She blushed and then smiled, "Well, by all means, let's be romantic."

He leaned over and kissed her.

 Darkness was falling. Linda walked the streets alone. She was feeling lonely. It was a feeling she'd never experienced before.

She noticed Becky and Josiah coming out of the restaurant. Josiah had his arm around Becky and they were pressed close together talking. From where she stood across the street, she couldn't hear what they were saying, of course, but their manner toward each other would make it evident to anyone that they were in love. It looked like they were headed for the hotel. At one point Josiah stopped, leaned down and gave Becky a kiss that made Linda envious. 'I want that feeling, too," she thought.

+ + + + + + +

The next morning, Becky and the seven men are standing in front of the livery, horses packed and ready to go.

Chris is talking aside with Josiah. He quietly tells Josiah about what Linda had told him about Conner Carter. "Josiah, we have no idea where this gang is right now. I need you to stay with Becky. Don't let her convince you that she's fine on her own or anything. I don't care about any gossip in town, sleep on her parlor floor if you have to but stay with her."

Josiah says, "That's not going to be a problem anymore. I told you I was going to propose to Rebecca; well I did last night and she accepted."

Chris paused, smiled and looked genuinely happy, "Well, congratulations. I'm happy for you both."

"Thanks," Josiah replied, "But try to look surprised when Rebecca tells you - I think she wanted to be the one to give you the news."

"I will. How soon?"

"We haven't talked about that yet, but I'm going to speak with Judge Travis when we get back to town and see when he's available. I'd like it to be soon."

Vin notices Linda as she comes over to say good-bye. There is something about her that's different today. A glow about her face. Did he just not notice it before or is it something new?

Linda says quietly to Vin, "I know about you."

"What are you talking about?" Vin asks.

"I know there's a bounty on your head." Vin freezes, but Linda continues, "I also know you are not guilty. I've spoken to the Governor of Texas. I'm trying to get you pardoned."

Vin looks surprised, "Do you think there's a chance of that happening?"

"Yes. When you are finished in Purgatory, come back here and see me. I should know something by then."

Ezra is standing near Becky; they are in the process of mounting their horses. Ezra gives Becky a wink and looking over at Buck, Ezra says, "So, Mr. Wilmington, you must be disappointed."

Buck looks over at Ezra, "Disappointed? About what?"

"Well, about not being chosen to be one of Mrs. Wilkes bodyguards escorting her back to town, of course."

Becky puts her hand over her lips, fighting a laugh.

"Why would I be disappointed about that?"

"Because of course Mr. Larabee only wants the best."

Buck gave Ezra a dirty look. He didn't have a retort and it angered him more than Ezra's remark. He put the spurs to his horse and moved over toward Vin and Chris.

Becky glanced over at Ezra, "Oh, you are wicked. I think that's why we get along so well."

"Thank you, my dear," Ezra replied, with a tip of his hat.

Chris rode over toward Becky with Josiah. Chris moved close to her and leaning toward her says, "Don't worry. We should be gone a few days and then we'll be back in Four Corners."

She nodded, "Take care of yourself."

"You, too, sis." He grinned.

Josiah and his group says their good-byes; Becky waved to Linda and says, "Come by Four Corners sometime when it's not business."

Linda smiled, "I'd like that."

Josiah, Becky and the others rode off.

Linda moved toward Chris and looked up at him. "Will you come back to town soon?" she asks.

"If we find any news in Purgatory, I'll come straight here to see the Sheriff." He grinned, "If you should have any problems, wire Josiah in Four Corners. You probably won't be able to reach us in Purgatory."

She looked at him, "Be careful."

"I always am. Watch your back," he says, tipping his hat. Chris nodded to Vin and Buck. Vin and Buck called good-byes to Linda and they rode off. Linda stood in the middle of the street watching until they disappeared.

+ + + + + + +

All was quiet in Watsonville. Two days after the seven left, all hell broke loose. About 15 of the Carter Gang came into town, from the opposite direction that Chris had headed out in. The Carters wanted to start trouble again. Sheriff Johnson and his deputies were ready for them, or so they thought.

The Gang had snuck in over night and cut the telegraph wires. In the morning they robbed the Wells Fargo stagecoach. As Linda rode over with the deputies, she came face to face with Conner Carter. Her gun jammed and as she reached in her rigging for her rifle, Conner pulled a gun and shot. She managed to duck but he still winged her on her right shoulder. Carter calls to his men and they ride off. Linda pulls off her bandana and stuffs it over the wound under her shirt. "Let's go," Sheriff Johnson calls to the deputies. They ride out in pursuit.

Johnson and his deputies went after them, but two of the deputies were killed. Sheriff Johnson was badly wounded. Linda was lucky but her right shoulder burned from her previous wound and her bandana was bloody. With their numbers diminishing, she decided this was not the time to try to capture the Gang. Sheriff Johnson needed medical attention immediately and she was certainly in no shape to track the Gang herself. She made sure Johnson was securely on his mount and she would take him back to town. She wished there was a good tracker among the deputies. She told two of the deputies to follow the Carter Gang as best they could but to stay out of sight. Get back to town when they discover where the Carter's had made camp.

+ + + + + + +

Chris, Vin and Buck had no luck in Purgatory. There was no sign of the Carter Gang and no one in Purgatory would talk about them. Chris had decided that it was foolish for them to remain and they should head back to Four Corners. Vin asks Chris if they could make a detour to Watsonville on the way back, he explained what Linda had told him about a possible pardon. Chris agreed they could do that. They could also see if Linda had any news about the Carters.

+ + + + + + +

When Chris, Vin and Buck rode back through Watsonville, there were bodies lying in the street. Loose horses, some trotting and some walking.

Vin spoke up, "Damn! Chris - what happened here?"

Smoke from the guns was still in the air. A dozen men lay dead or dying. Unfortunately, only a handful of them were members of the Carter Gang. Town folks were riled up. Some were packing up wagons and planning on getting out of town that very day.

"We've got to find the Bounty hunter," Buck says. They headed for the Sheriff's office.

Linda was in the Sheriff's office, lying on a cot in one of the jail cells. Chris hurries over to her, silently wishing that Nathan were with him. One of the deputies is sitting near Linda; he doesn't look too well himself.

"What happened?" Chris asks and he kneels down beside Linda's cot.

"The Carter Gang, about 15 of them, came into town. They robbed the Wells Fargo stagecoach," the deputy replies.

"Buck, get over to the telegraph office. . ."

"You can't send any telegrams." The deputy interrupts, "The Carters cut the lines last night. We can't get any messages out by telegraph."

"Damn," Chris says, angry. "Where's Sheriff Johnson?"

"Over at the doctor's office - he's hurt bad." The deputy continued, "They are coming back. In two days there will be a gold shipment coming in and they says nobody better get in their way or they'll be dead."

Chris looks at Buck and Vin.

"Buck, get back to Four Corners," Chris says, "Get them here as fast as you can."

Buck nods and runs out the door, mounts his horse and takes off.

Chris turns to Vin, "We'd better try to get these wounded fixed up as best we can."

Linda stirs and sits up.

"You okay?" Chris asks.

She nods, "I took a bullet to my right shoulder. I'm just so tired."

+ + + + + + +

Back in Four Corners, Becky has just come from the clinic, where Nathan removed some of her stitches. She still has several but her arm is feeling better. She just can't shake the feeling that something is wrong in Watsonville. She decides to stop at the telegraph office. She asks to send a wire to Linda Murdock in Watsonville. The message is short, 'Is everything alright? Had a feeling there might be trouble - stop. Becky".

The telegraph operator tries to send the message. And tries again. And again.

He looks up at Becky, "The message is not going through. I think there is something wrong with the telegraph line."

"Keep trying," Becky says, "I'll be back."

She lifts her skirts and takes off at a run for the church.

Becky runs in the church, "Josiah!" she calls.

Josiah comes out of the back room, smiling, wiping his hands on a towel, "Hi, honey." Then he stops, moves toward her, looking concerned, "What's wrong?"

She is trying to catch her breath from the run, "Something is wrong in Watsonville. I just tried to send a telegram to Linda and it won't go through. The telegraph operator thinks something is wrong with the line." She clutches Josiah's arm. "Josiah, don't think I'm crazy but I have had a bad feeling all morning that something is wrong there. There's trouble."

Josiah looks thoughtful, "You want to go back there?"

"Yes, will you take me?" She asks.

He nods. "Go to your house and get ready. I'll go round up Ezra, Nathan and JD - we can be on our way within the hour. Meet us at the livery stable when you're ready, okay?"

+ + + + + + +

Two hours later they are moving at a fast clip toward Watsonville. Becky checked at the telegraph office just before they left Four Corners, but the lines were still down. She has a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. She is surprised that the others do not think she's crazy but seem to take her feelings without question. She is happy they have such trust in her.

In the distance, Ezra spots someone riding toward them. "Rider," he calls, from his lead position. Then looking closer he yells, "It's Buck!" Ezra puts the spurs to his horse and takes off toward Buck; the others follow.

When they reach Buck, he seems surprised to see them. "Chris sent me to get you. The Carter's came back to Watsonville. It's bad." The other four men all look over at Becky.

"You were right," JD says to her.

"I wish I wasn't," she replies quietly. She looks at Buck and says, "I had a feeling something was wrong. I couldn't get a wire through - something is wrong with the lines."

Buck nods, "The Carters cut all the wires before they attacked."

"Is Linda alright?" Becky asks.

"She's hurt as are several of the deputies. They're going to need Nathan's help." Buck replies.

"Then let's get moving," Josiah says.

They put spurs to their horses and take off.

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Vin have been trying to make Linda and two of the deputies comfortable. Chris checked in with the town doctor but he has been overwhelmed with the wounded and is dealing with the more serious injuries. Sheriff Johnson is in bad shape and requires most of the doctor's attention.

At that moment, Becky runs in, followed closely by Nathan.

Vin looks up surprised, "How did you get here so fast?"

Nathan is kneeling beside Chris, "Becky had a feeling something was wrong."

Becky nods, "I tried to send a wire earlier but the lines were down. I've had a feeling all morning that something was wrong." She looks at Nathan, "What do you want me to do?"

"Get that hot water for me and have the bandages ready. I'll need your help dealing with these injuries," Nathan says.

Becky hurries over to the stove and pours the hot water into the basin that is next to it. Vin has torn up a sheet to be used as bandages. Becky comes back over and says, "Excuse me," to Chris. Chris gets up and looks at Vin, "I think we're in the way here. Nathan, we'll be right out front if you need us."

Chris and Vin go out front and see Josiah and the others.

Chris looks at Josiah, "How did she know?"

Josiah shakes his head, puts a hand on Chris" shoulder, "I've learned never to question women's intuition, brother."

+ + + + + + +

Chris has had the men walking around Watsonville, warning the towns folk that the Carter Gang plans on returning in two days. Chris doesn't know if they can protect the town but they will try. In the meantime, he feels families should look at getting out of town or staying home until this is over.

After a while, Nathan walks out of the jail. He nods to Chris and Vin; they both run over to Nathan.

"Well?" Chris asks.

"They are all going to be alright. Fortunately, nothing was life threatening," Nathan shakes his head.

Vin goes into the jail while Chris remains out front, talking to Nathan. Becky has pulled a chair into the jail cell and is sitting next to Linda's cot. The other two deputies occupy two other cells. Becky looks up at Vin's approach, smiles.

"Do you want to sit with her for a while?" Becky asks. Vin nods.

Becky leans over Linda, "Vin is here. I'll be right outside if you need me."

Linda whispers, "Thanks."

As Becky gets up, she puts a hand on Vin's arm and whispers to him, "Let them get some sleep right now, okay? They all need to rest."

Vin nods but he's looking at Linda, not Becky. Becky leaves.

Vin sits in the chair and leans over to take Linda's hand. She looks up at him and smiles. Then she closes her eyes and goes to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Becky joins Nathan out in front of the jail. Chris disappeared down the main street to talk to the other men. Nathan tells her what the deputy says about the Carter Gang coming back in two days. Becky nods and says, "I don't think the seven of you will be enough if they bring the entire gang, no offense."

Nathan sighs, "I have a bad feeling that you're right."

Becky looks thoughtful, "How far is the Army camp from here? Can we get to them and back in two days?"

Nathan shakes his head, "No, it would take 4 days round trip - even without making any stops. Too far for them to get here in time. If we only had the telegraph."

"What can we do?" Becky asks.

"Chris has us telling the townsfolk to either leave or stay home until this is over," Nathan says, "But it sounds like he wants to stay put."

"What? And get slaughtered?" Becky says, incredulous.

Nathan says, "Look, I don't know what he has in mind yet. Let's just wait and hear his plan."

Becky says, "Okay - I'm sorry, but I'm worried about Linda staying here. She's in no shape to fight these men."

Nathan smiles, "Don't fret. I know you're upset."

Becky asks, "How soon would Linda be able to travel?"

"What do you mean?" Nathan asks.

"Well, if Chris is going to stay, I think it would be safer for me to take Linda back to Four Corners. If the Carters find her here no telling what they'd do to her. I don't think they'll let her walk away next time. That Conner Carter seems to have a real grudge against her," Becky replies.

Nathan looks thoughtful, "We just have to see how quickly she recovers. The wound wasn't too bad but she rode after she was shot and lost some blood. I'll know better in a few hours."