Western Medicine

by Kati

Chris sat at his own private table at the back of the saloon; a bottle of whisky was within hand’s reach. Nobody who desired to live for the rest of the day dared come within ten feet of the table. The gunslinger was in a bad mood.

He had jut-received news that Seminole brave, Cheveyo, was going to survive. Kate had showed up about a half an hour later and had helped Nathan dig the tree branch out of the man’s stomach. He hadn’t expected the girl would show her face in town again.

He looked up when Vin sat down in a chair next to him.

“Want to take a break from town Cowboy?” Vin asked.

“You proposing some kind of vacation?” Chris asked.

“I am going to take the doctor out to the Seminole village.” Chris’s face clouded over once again.

“You’re wasting your time. She’s never going to change. Last night proved that she doesn’t belong here.”

“She came back to help Nathan. I think that’s a pretty good sign that the girl wants to change.”

“You don’t really know people like her Vin. I’ve seen her type a hundred times before. Rich people who make you seem like you’re their best friend, than drop you when somebody with more money and better social class comes around.”

Vin slammed his hand down on the table.

“You bastard! Have you even taken the time to really talk to the girl? That kid’s got a heart the size of Texas! You’ve never given her a chance. You had your mind set against her since the moment that you saw her.” Chris didn’t answer. He took a huge swig of his alcohol. Vin knew he was fighting a loosing battle. He got out of his seat and headed for the saloon doors.

He tried to smile when he saw Ezra and Kate waiting for him outside. Kate was sitting on the back of the roan horse she had been renting. Ezra was holding the reins of Peso. The horse was fidgeting and tossing his head around. Ezra gritted his teeth. His arms felt like they were going to rip right out of their sockets.

“Mr. Tanner, kindly come get your evil spirited equine before I shoot him!”

Vin laughed as he took the reins form Ezra.

“Stubborn old cuss,” Vin scolded the horse, but neither Ezra nor Kate missed the affection in his voice.

“Getting attached to that old mare?” Vin asked. Kate patted the horse’s neck.

“Ginger’s not the wild mustang that I was hoping to own when I came out west, but she’s a sweet old girl.”

“How long are you planning to stay with the village?” Ezra asked.

“How ever long it takes,” Vin said with a smile at Kate. The girl hung her head. Ezra patted the girl’s hand in reassurance.

“Than we won’t expect you back for a while,” Ezra said. Vin kicked his heels and Peso took off at a comfortable walk. Kate followed a few feet behind him. Ezra watched them go until they were they were out of sight. He silently wished the two of them luck.

+ + + + + + +

Kate groaned as she collapsed on the buckskin blankets.

“Are you sick doctor?" the older Indian women next to her asked as she leaned over the girl.

“No Nascha, I am just fine. Other than the fact that I just ate way to much.” The girl lifted Bidzil, Nascha’s two-year-old son onto her lap. The second the little boy had ran up to Kate, he had stolen the girl’s heart.

Vin had been right, the trip had worked wonders on the girl’s mindset. She had never felt welcomer in a strange place before. . She knew part of the reason was she was a friend of the Magnificent Seven. She also has a small inkling that Vin had talked to several of the villagers about the situation.

There was one thing that nagged at the back of the girl’s mind. Most of the villagers were the women, children, and old men. Most of the men were away on a hunting party. She wasn’t sure how she would react when the men who looked like her father’s murderers would return. She and Vin had already spent a week at the village. Vin was making plans to return to Four Corners in a few days. Kate silently hoped that they would avoid seeing the hunting party all together.

Just as she was drifting to sleep, a voice called from outside the hut. She opened her eyes to see Nascha talking with fast with Una. She could only pick up a few words they were saying. She looked at Una’s face. The girl was a year older than her and the beauty of the tribe. She finished her conversation with Nascha than rushed out of the hut.

“Hurry and get up doctor,” Nascha said excitedly. “The hunting party has come home!”

Kate felt her stomach drop. Nascha picked something off the ground and threw it at the girl. It was a sewn green and orange poncho.

“Put this on. It has grown very cold outside. Leave the child inside.” Nascha rushed outside. Kate slowly put the poncho on over her head. She walked outside with a feeling of dread. She walked to where the whole village had gathered. Vin found her and went to stand by her. He squeezed her hand. Kate looked up gratefully. She felt better now that Vin was there.

They both watched as the braves slowly walk into the village. Their horses were loaded with slain deer and other animals. Kate expected them all to be smiling and laughing after a successful hunt. There wasn’t a smile on one face.

”Something’s wrong,” Vin whispered in her ear as he pointed to last horse. There were no animals on the last horse, but something was moving around. Una ran forward screaming in her language. Kate recognized one word, “Ahote!”

Vin startled at this too and followed the girl. The rest of the village followed them. Kate hung in the back, not quite sure what she was supposed to do.

“Kate, come here!” Vin called. The girl walked through the crowd. Kate got her first glance at Ahote. She almost turned around and ran. The man could have been the twin of the man who had murdered her father. She forced herself to look again. No, Ahote was very different looking, but the main thing was there was no hatred or coldness in his eyes. She saw the bandage wrapped around his stomach. He had no shirt on in the freezing weather, but Ahote was sweating.

“This man is the village’s bravest and most revered worrier,” Vin told the girl. “He was shot in the side by an arrow during a hunting accident. There is nothing that any of them can do.” There was a pleading look in his eyes. “Can you try to help him?” She looked at Una whose look was even more pleading than Vin’s.”

“You’ve come a long way Kate, but this is the true test,” Vin’s voice was so low, only she could hear it. She knew that he was right.

“I will do by best," she said. ‘You need to bring him someplace warm. Her orders were acted upon instantly.

Almost a full day later, Kate was sitting alone by the table where Ahote was sleeping. Well, he wasn’t really sleeping. He had passed out during the operation. Kate had kicked her self for not remembering to replenish her chloroform stock. He hadn’t opened his eyes since.

She had sent everyone else away so the man could get some peaceful sleep. She was surprised how much they had complied with her demands. She had never gotten such respect. She had commented on it to Vin. He had told her it was because the Seminoles had known that she knew what she was doing. He had left along with the others. The tent flap opened. Vin was standing in the doorway with a tray of food.

“You’ve got to eat something,’ He told her as he walked in. He placed the plate of food on her lap.

“How is he?” the tracker asked.

“That wound was fairly easy to stick up, but it was infected pretty badly. The infection is what is causing his high fever and sickness. There is not a whole lot I can do for that, other than feed him some of Nathan’s herbal remedies," she sighed. “The rest is up to Ahote. It depends on well his body can fight off the infection.

“I always meant to ask Nathan about that, but never got around to it. Why do people get such high fevers when they are sick?”

“Fevers aren’t always a bad thing as long as they don’t get to high. It’s the body’s way of fighting off the infection. It’s never been proven, but several experts believe that heat kills the infections in the body.”

Vin nodded his head, “That actually makes sense. There aren’t any medicines out there that can help the body?”

“So far no, but I have a feeling one will be discovered soon. Lately, people have been making medical breakthroughs every couple of days.”

“Water?” a voice croaked. They both were startled to see Ahote trying to sit up in bed. Vin got up and gently pushed him back down.

“Vin?” the sick man asked.

“Yeah it’s me,” he answered. Kate moved along side of Vin with a cup in her hand.

“I remember you. You were the one that stopped the pain.” The girl smiled as she gave her patient a spot check. His eyes were almost fully alert. It appeared that is temperature had dropped significantly She handed the glass to him. He took it with shaking hands. Somehow he managed to get the water to his mouth.

“Can I see Una?” the man asked.

“If you promise to stay quiet,” Kate said. “You need to rest in order to get your full strength back.”

Vin hid a smile as he went out to look for the Indian girl. He wondered if Kate realized how much she had sounded like Nathan. Kate left the tent so the two could spend some time alone. A few minutes later Una came out. There were tears in her eyes. She hugged Kate tightly.

“Thank you,” she said to the girl. Kate smiled. She wished she could express in words how she owed Una so much more.

“I am glad to help,” she answered. Una had taken her necklace off her neck and handed it to Kate.

“None of us have any money that would be of any value to you.” Kate was going to say that she didn’t need anything, but Una shoved it into her hand. Kate looked down at the turquoise stone bird.

“This bird has blessed me with good luck, may it do the same for you.” Kate never got a chance to respond. Una had run off.

Vin walked up to her. “Ahote can be taken care of his own people now. I don’t like the way the weather as changed. We will have to head back to Four Corners before it snows. We will leave after you get a few hours of sleep.”

Kate nodded her head. She never thought she would be saying this, but she wished she could stay in the Seminole village.

+ + + + + + +

Vin pulled his coat closer around his neck. He let Peso pick his way through the few inches of snow that had just fallen. Winter had finally arrived. He looked over at his riding companion. She was currently playing with the turquoise necklace around her neck. The tracker smiled. The trip to the Seminole village had served its purpose.

The tracker had watched the hatred and anger disappear from the girl’s eyes over the last few days. The pain of her father’s death would never really leave her, but Kate no longer blamed it on every single Indian that she met. Kate looked up and met the man’s eyes. She didn’t need to say anything. Vin saw the look of gratitude in her eyes. He nodded his head in acknowledgement.

“Congratulations Doctor Rogers, you are now fully prepared to open up your practice in the Wild West.”

Kate beamed. She opened up her mouth to respond, but a loud whizzing noise past her ear caused her to shut it fast. The bullet landed right in front of Ginger’s front hoofs. The horse reared up on her back legs in terror. The motion caught the unsuspecting girl totally off guard. She fell over the horse’s side inches away from the terrified beast’s trashing hooves. Now free of her rider, Ginger took off running in the direction of Four Corners.

There were several large whoops and hollers. Vin looked over his shoulder and saw three men come tearing out of the woods to his right. Their horses were in a full gallop. As quick as lightening, Vin reached out his hand and pulled the girl in front of him. A bullet landed right where Kate had been thrown.

Peso took off at a full gallop without much urging from his master. The shells were flying all around them.

“Take the reins!” He handed the leather straps to the girl. He took out his gun and started firing random shots over his shoulder. He wasn’t sure if he had hit any of them or not.

“Head for the woods over there!’ Vin told the girl. Kate was forced to yank hard on the horse’s head. The turn was so tight, Vin had to grab onto the girl’s shoulder to keep from falling off. He dropped his gun in the process. He swore loudly. There was no way he could risk going back to get it. Their only chance lay in Peso now. He leaned down urging the horse to move faster. He wasn’t sure how long they had run or where they were. The trees that whipped by were a blur.

The bullets were missing their targets, but Vin could tell that their pursuers were gaining with every stride. Peso was running as hard as he could, but the valiant little Indian pony was tiring fast. The horse was just too tired from the already long day’s ride. Kate was about to turn the horse to avoid him crashing through the fast moving river up ahead. Vin grabbed onto the girl’s small hand.

“We have to ford it,” he said in her ear.

“That’s suicide Vin! If one of us falls into that cold water, we are a goners!"

“It’s the only chance we’ve got,” he said calmly Kate dropped the reigns and let the horse plunge into the steam. The splash from the close to freezing water sent chills through both the humans.

Halfway through the stream, Peso stumbled on an unseen object. Kate was thrown forward on the horse’s neck. She managed to grab a chuck of the horse’s black mane before she slid into the water. There was nothing for Vin to grab onto. He tumbled of the horse into the freezing water. The fast moving current pulled the man downstream.

“Vin!” the girl screamed. She urged Peso to keep going. The horse gathered her feet and kept pushed on. Both horse and girl were oblivious to the shots that were being fired at them from the other side of the bank. The men didn’t dare risk fording the stream.

What seemed like hours later, Peso’s hoofs finally hit solid ground. Kate turned the horse’s head and headed downstream desperately searching and calling out Vin’s name. She was finally rewarded with a weak response about a mile downstream.

Vin had been pinned between two rocks. His head was barley sticking out above the water. Kate jumped off the horse and grabbed the rope that Vin always kept on the saddle. Ignoring the man’s protests to stay onshore, she tied on end around her waist and the other around the saddle horn. She jumped into the water. The chill of the water was totally unexpected. She lost her breath for a few seconds, but mustered up the strength to keep going. She used the current to her advantage. She let it pull her down towards Vin.

Before the man could say anything, she started to try and push the rock away. It was heavier than she thought. It didn’t budge an inch.

“Kate, get back to shore. There’s no reason for you to kill yourself too,” Vin gasped. The girl ignored him. She threw her shoulder into the rock again. Kate was never sure where the strength to move the rock had come from, but it scooted aside just enough. Vin squirmed his way out of the tight corner. He grabbed onto the rope and the girl. Kate was starting drop to the bottom. Both of their supply of muscle was running low. They would never make it back to shore.

They had only one hope left. Vin pulled hard on the reigns to get his friend’s attention.

“Pull Peso, Pull!” he yelled. Whoever said that animals don’t understand humans was an idiot. The brave little horse dug in his hoofs and started backing up. “That’s it boy! Keep gong!” Vin encouraged his horse. A few minutes later, Vin felt himself wash up on solid ground. Both of the humans lay on the ground for a while gasping for the air that neither one of them thought they would ever get again.

Peso nuzzled Vin’s face. Vin sat up and patted the horse’s muzzle. “If anybody calls you and stubborn old cuss again, I swear I’ll shoot him for you.” Vin looked over at Kate. She had managed to sit up, but was shivering furiously. Vin realized how cold he was too.

“We got a half an hour before we freeze to death,” the girl said through chattering teeth,

“It will probably be faster because we are wet.”

“Vin! Kate!" a voice called from the other side of the River. Both of them looked up to see Buck and Chris standing on the other side of the river. Vin looked up at the sky and said a silent Thank You.

“I promise that I will never doubt you again,” he said to clouds.

“Hold on, we’re gong to cross down where it’s shallower!” Chris called. The two men galloped down the side of the river. A few minutes later, the two men had dismounted and were rushing towards Vin and Kate.

“What happened? Chris asked.

“We fell into the river, what does it look like?” Vin shot back.

“Explain later,” Buck interrupted. “Right now, we’ve got to get you to warmed up. Chris we’ve got to build a fire.” For once, Chris didn’t argue with having to take orders. He jogged into the woods.

“First of all we’ve got to get the both of you in dry clothes.” Buck got up and pulled a sack off of Pony and Lady. He tossed them to his shaking friends.

“Doesn’t matter who gets what. Both sets are going to be too big on you either way.”

A few hours later, a blazing fire was going on a few feet away from the water. Kate sat holding her arms by the fire. She could just imagine what she looked like in the five sizes to big black shirt. She wrapped the horse blanket tighter around her shoulders. It had never felt so good to be warm in her life. Buck handed her a cup of coffee. She made a face at him.

“I don’t care if you like it or not. It’s my turn to play doctor and I say you need something to warm up your insides.” Kate took the cup and took a sip trying to ignore the bitter taste.

“Someday someone’s going to invent flavored coffee," she said. Buck laughed quietly. Both of them were speaking in whispers. Neither one wanted to wake Vin up. She started to play with necklace again.

“Where did you get that little treasure?” Buck asked.

“One of the Seminoles gave it to me after I stitched up her husband. She told me it would bring me good luck. Guess I used it up today.”

“What are the chances that Chris I would be hunting a few miles away from where those bastards started chasing you? It’s a good thing Vin dropped his gun too. God, that guy never drops his gun,”

They both jumped slightly when a pile of sticks was thrown onto the fire.

“Buck we’re going to need some bigger logs,” Chris said above them.

“Aw hell Chris, if we make this fire any bigger, we’re going to burn the stars right out of the sky.” The look on Chris’s face was unmistakable. Buck jumped to his feet.

“Than again, I suppose there are to many stars up there anyway.” The other two watched the man get up and walk into the woods.

“Can I sit here?” Chris asked. The girl shrugged her shoulder without looking at him.

“It’s been a free country for almost a hundred years now," she answered. Chris sat down with a sigh.

“I talked to Vin," he started to say. “He told me how you jumped into the river to get him out of that rock. You saved his life you know.’

“I know he would have done the same for me, if our places had been switched. Friends watch each others backs.” An uneasy silence fell between the two. Both of them sat watching the fire burn for a while. Finally Chris broke the silence.

“I am not a man who usually makes apologies for my mistakes. They don’t come very easy to me.”

Kate turned and looked Chris straight in the eyes. Both of them were trying to read what the other was thinking.

“Why don’t you try Mr. Larabee?” Kate said quietly.

You aren’t going to make this easy for me are you?

“Listen Kate, I haven’t been fair to you since the second I saw you. You were not afraid to stand up to me when you knew what the right thing was. Not many people have ever done that before. It drove me crazy when my friends and the members of town quickly accepted you. You didn’t do anything to deserve the respect that I saw in their eyes, I will admit that I was slightly intimidated by you. That’s quite an accomplishment. I decided in my mind that you were a rich little brat who would backstab us the moment something better came along.’ Chris noticed the hurt expression in the girl’s eyes. He surprised even himself when he took the girl’s hand.

“Like I said I created the whole thing in my mind. I see now that you had no intention of ever doing that. You saved the live of an irreplaceable person in my life. You deserve more than I can give you Katherine Rogers. The best I can offer you is an apology, and my extreme gratitude, and the respect that you earned since the day I met you.”

The girl turned her head. “I don’t think I deserve those things Mr. Larabee. I did nothing to disprove the assumptions that you had made about me. My father said I could be a little devil when I want to be.”

Chris started to laugh. It wasn’t the cynical, mean one that the girl was used to hearing. Thus time the laugh was full of good cheer and humor Kate had no choice, but to smile.

“I’ll agree with your father on that one, but God knows I deserve it. What do you say we start over? Let’s forget everything that’s happened leading up to this moment.

“Sounds like a good idea to me," the girl smiled as she took a swig of the coffee. Chris laughed at the expression on her face.

“This stuff tastes like mud and horse manure mixed together," she complained.

“What do you expect from good ole’ Buck. He never could make anything other than a can of beans. Hold on a few minutes and I’ll make you a decent cup.

Neither one of them had noticed the Vin had woken up. He never opened his eye, but the smile on his face went up almost as high as the flames of the fire.

+ + + + + + +

JD was the first one to greet them when the four riders and three horses rode in from the town.

“What happened?” JD asked.

“Tell you later kid,” Buck broke in. “We need you to put out a warning to the town. Those women stealers are getting closer and closer to Four Corners. Let the women know that they shouldn’t leave the outskirts of town without a male escort.”

Kate snorted from behind Buck. “Some of the women are better at taking care of themselves than many of the man in this town.

“She does have a point,” Vin agreed with a nod of his head. “But you can never be too careful.”

Kate let out a huge yawn. “I can’t wait to walk to that hotel and sleep for a week!” JD smiled as he looked at Buck.

“Can we tell her now?" he asked. “Go tell Mary to print that warning out and join us out there," Chris said to JD.

“Don’t show her until I get there!’ JD yelled over her shoulder. Kate looked at the three men.

“What’s going on?" she asked. She took Buck’s hand as he helped her off Lady. “Well Doctor, it occurred to us that we have been extremely rude, well not counting Chris.”

Vin almost broke out laughing when he saw the hint of a blush on the Chris Larabee’s face.

Buck pulled a bandanna out of his pocket.

“Is that that thing clean?” Chris asked. Buck looked the piece of red cloth over and smelt it.

“It seems okay to me,” Buck answered. “Turn around Kate," he ordered the girl.

“What are you going to do?" she asked.

“Well you see, this present wouldn’t be a surprise if we let you see it right away,” Buck answered. “So if you would please turn around. Kate sighed heavily, but she didn’t argue. Buck tied the bandanna around her eyes.

“Not so tight Buck, that hurts!" the girl cried.

“Sorry, but we don’t want you to see anything.” He loosened the knot a little bit.

“How many fingers am I holding up?" the man asked.

“Seven?” Kate guessed.

“Cheater, you can see!” Buck exclaimed.

“Buck, she can’t see anything. None of us have all day you know," Chris said from his horse. He handed Pony’s reigns to Vin who had offered to take the horses back to the livery.

“Head to the end of town. You won’t believe what they did to the place," he whispered to the Tracker. Vin smiled and headed to the livery.

“Now Doctor Rogers, if you will kindly take my arm I will guide you down to your little surprise.”

Kate hesitated. “I don’t trust you. You’ll likely lead me straight into a tree.” Buck let out a mock sigh.

“I thought you had more trust in me than that. After I saved you from freezing to death.”

“I do believe that I am free to offer my arm.” Kate jumped at sound of the new voice. “Perhaps my escort will suffice.”

“How can a girl refuse that southern charm,” Kate laughed. Ezra lifted her arm and started to guide her down the street. He gave Buck and evil smile.

“That man is asking to get shot,” Buck grumbled. Chris laughed quietly.

“You head on down there. I’ve got to head my room really quick. I’ll meet you down there.” Chris started to walk to the hotel without any further explanation. Buck sighed and trotted off after Ezra and Kate.

Kate felt her feet leave the gravel from the town street and enter the snow. Ezra stopped her.

“Hold on second darling. I will make sure that everything is ready.” Kate’s curiosity had been growing since the start of the short walk. By this time, she was ready to scream. She heard a door open and slam. She could distinguish two pairs of boots stomping on wood. Ezra returned to her side shortly.

“I apologize for the delay. Shall we continue?” Ezra took her arm once again and led her through the snow. Kate recognized the voices of Buck, JD, and Vin behind her.

“Watch you step my dear,” Ezra said. Kate stepped up the wooden step before Ezra stopped her.

The blindfold was quickly untied from her eyes. Once her eyes had adjusted to the light, she found herself in front of a door. There was a black plaque inches from her nose. She quickly read over the gold engraving:

Certified Medical Doctor
Specializes in everything from gunshot wounds to broken bones

Kate gasped. She was standing in front of the rundown building where she and JD had run to the day of the windstorm. This was the same house that she had commented would make the prefect spot to open up a practice. She took a step back. Te house didn’t look run down anymore. The old rotting paint and been replaced with a light brown. The windows had all been fixed and the roof no longer sagged.

“Well are you just going to stand there and gawk at the door, or are you going to take a look inside?” Josiah laughed. The girl opened the door and waked in. The walls had been painted a cheery white. The hardwood floors had been washed and shined. The medical supplies that had been left in Ridge City were all neatly placed on new shelves and counters. The little room off to side held a bed and her trunk of personal belongings. There was a small fire in the fireplace warming the room. Her diploma was hanging on the wall in a mahogany frame. It was the exact replica of the drawing that she had drawn for JD.

She turned to the six men standing behind her. They all had an expectant look in their eyes. She tried to find words to express her gratitude, but her throat tightened up Tears started to well up in her eyes. Buck took a step forward and wrapped his arm around his shoulders.

“Those better be tears of joy," he asked. Kate finally found her voice.

“This is wonderful!" she cried. The men started to laugh. Buck squeezed her shoulders and let her go.

“How did you…? I mean why… but," the girl stuttered. Josiah laughed.

“Why don’t you have a seat Kate?” He pointed to one of the red chairs by the window. “Ezra spent a long time picking out the right fabric.

“He was pretty obsessive about it actually,” Nathan laughed.

“The first thing people will see when they walk into that door is the furniture. It is extremely important to make a good first impression.”

“Somehow I don’t think they’ll care what color the chairs are when they’re bleeding to death," Buck said. Kate sat down in the chair. Josiah started to talk.

“Well, we decided a long time ago that we didn’t want you leave Kate. You already established yourself as a valuable member of our community. When other towns heard about your skills, we knew that they would scoop you up from under our noses. We just didn’t know what to offer you to get you stay, but than you told JD about your dream for this old place. We had the solution to our problems. The second you left with Vin, we got to work on this place. Buck rode out and got the rest of your things from Ridge City.”

“You did all of this by yourselves in two weeks?" she gasped. “These things must have cost a fortune. It’s not right that you did all of this.”

“Well we had lots of help. Seems like lots of the townsfolk want to keep you around for a while too," JD said. “As far as money goes, most of these things were donated. Ezra covered most of the rest of the cost.”

“I consider it a good investment,” Ezra told her. “I expect that you will repay me with more than I put into this place.”

“I will never be able to repay you for all this Ezra. It would take me three lifetimes.”

“Only one lifetime expected Doctor. That lifetime should be full of saving us all from the injuries that never seem to cease. If you can get us all to the ripe old age of sixty, I will consider your debt repaid.”

The door flung open letting all the cold air in. Chris walked in. His face was as menacing looking as the storm clouds.

“I have a bone to pick with you Miss Rogers.” Kate sunk low in the chair. She had thought that they had settled this last night. Buck shot a worried glance at Vin.

“I am not quite sure what I have done wrong Mr. Larabee?" she answered. Chris’s face lit into a smile. A smile that none of them except Buck, had ever seen before. Buck recalled that smile from a very distant memory.

“You are turning my men into a bunch of old softies.” He paused before he continued, “I may not have helped build this place, but I can offer you my own special gift.” He handed the girl a box. She took it surprised at the weight. Buck recognized the box. Chris had shown him what the box contained a while ago. She took off the lid and lifted up a shiny black Colt .45. Buck remembered when Chris had bought the gun for Adam when he was older. The box had been on the back of Pony when they had seen the remains of the fire.

“If you are going to live out here all alone, you’ve got to be able to protect yourself," he told her as she admired the beautiful gun.

“You know what a terrible shot I am," she answered.

“Well I can’t teach you without a decent gun," he told her. She ran her hand over the trigger.

“Thank you Chris," she said. She turned to Nathan.

“This is going to be your place too.”

“Are you sure Kate,” Nathan asked. He had hoped the girl would ask him.

“We’ve proven that we work well together. I wouldn’t want it any other way," she said.

“Oh Kate,” I almost forgot. This wire came for you today.” JD pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. She read over it quickly.

“Its from Fort Davis. They want to know when I’m coming," she said.

“JD, tell them that I have other plans and they should find another doctor.”

They all cheered.

+ + + + + + +

Kate laughed as the sprightly little colt jumped around in the snow. She stopped walking and admired the shiny copper coat of her new horse. The snow was so high it covered up the animal’s white boots. She tugged on the lead rope and the horse started to walk in a straight line. The sound of his hoofs sounded like the solid beating of a drum. His hoofs had earned him the name, Cadence.

The horse was nothing but a scrawny body and long legs, but he would grow up to be a beauty. Chris had done a nice job picking him out.

She heard footsteps coming behind her. She automatically reached for the gun that she now carried with her at all times. She was still a pretty bad shot, but she was improving with practice. A strong hand grabbed onto her wrist causing her to drop the gun and the lead rope.

“Now miss, is that the polite way to greet someone new?” The girl whirled around and was greeted by a set of yellow teeth. The man was about three times her size. A large hat covered his hair and eyes. She didn’t need to see his complete face. This was one of the men that had chased her and Vin. She kicked back hard. The man doubled over in pain. Kate tried to run, but two strong arms grabbed her around the waist. She hadn’t realized there was another man. Kate’s captor was smaller than the first, but he was just as strong. He stuck his big hand on the back of her neck and squeezed. The girl fell limp into his arms.

“She’s a little fighter isn’t she Ryan?" the smaller man asked. The other man nodded his head.

“Pretty little thing too. Makes hanging out here for the last few months worth it. She’ll bring in a nice profit from those Mexicans.”

Cadence was snorting from terror and anger. He knew something was wrong with his mistress.

“Good looking colt. Should we take him with us Brett?" the bigger man asked.

“No, we got to move out of here fast. When those men in town find out that this one is missing, we better be half way to the border.”

The colt had enough. He sprinted off towards town.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was in his usual spot by the jail, but this time he had company. Mary was standing beside him talking about the latest news from the city. He broke off the conversation when he saw Cadence running into town. He got out of his seat and went to grab the colt. Buck had seen him too and went to help his friend.

“Little beast got away from her didn’t he?” Buck laughed. Chris patted Cadence’s muzzle. The horse seemed to calm down under the trained hands. Chris laughed.

“Sure seems that way doesn’t it? I’m going to go put him in the stall. Make sure to tell Kate where he is when she comes back looking for him.” Buck nodded his head in acknowledgement. Chris picked up the lead rope. Cadence dug in his heels and refused to move. Chris pulled a little harder, but the horse refused. Cadence started to toss his head around and rear up.

:”What the hell?” Buck asked dumbfounded. Chris walked up to the excited horse. He got down on his knees and looked the horse in the eyes. Buck watched his friend try to understand the animal. He had seen Chris do it a hundred times before on his ranch. Chris and horses just understood each other. He had seen the mutual understanding between his friend and Pony. Chris stood up.

“Something happened to her,” he stated standing up. Buck was going to ask how he knew, but was interrupted when a second horse came tearing down the street. This time it was a full-grown horse with a rider.

Nettie Wells collapsed out of the saddle. She would have hit the ground if Buck hadn’t been close enough to catch her.

“Buck, they’ve got Casey!" she cried weakly.

“Who’s got Casey?” Buck asked. He noticed the huge bump on the side of the old women’s head.

“Those bad men on the poster, they broke into our house about two hours ago. I don’t remember much. I think one of them hit me in the head with his gun. When I woke up, Casey was gone!”

“Are you sure Miss Nettie?” Buck asked. The women nodded her head.

“I didn’t get a good look, but I thought I saw another girl tied on a horse out side the window.”

The poor woman was completely exhausted from her ordeal and the hard ride to town. She passed out in Buck’s arms. Seeing the woman like this was something new for the two men. Nettie was usually the strong one. She was the one that usually offered the words of reassurance.

“Buck, get her over to Nathan’s and then meet me in the livery. Try to find everybody else and have them get ready for a long ride. I am leaving in ten minutes. I’m not waiting for anybody.”

Buck nodded his head. He knew Chris meant it.

+ + + + + + +

The adrenaline was pumping in the men’s blood as they saddled up their horses. Those bastards had taken two young girls who had done absolutely nothing wrong. As they tightened their saddles, each man was making his own vow. Those men would pay dearly if anything happened to the girls.

JD was the last one to walk into the livery. He shoulders were slung over and his faces revealed a downtrodden look.

“What the hell look you so long?” Chris asked. “Ezra had already got Maverick saddled up for you.” JD looked up at Chris in surprise.

“Don’t you want me to stay and guard the town?”

“The town managed without us for a long time, I think they’ll be fine for a few days. We know that there are at least six deadly men out there. We will need all the good men we can get," he paused, “Besides I think Casey will want to see you," he added.

JD beamed as he took the reigns from Ezra. He leaped into the saddle. Chris let Vin set the pace. Vin needed to search for the two-hour trail.

“Nathan is Nettie going to be alright?” Josiah asked. Nathan nodded her head.

“Physically, yes. She’s got a bad bump on her head, but a few days of sleep should cure it. I don’t even want to think how she’ll end up physically if something happens to Casey.

“We’ll find them," Josiah said firmly. “I have a good feeling that God is on our side.”

“I sure hope he is,” Ezra said, “We are going to need all the Divine Power that we can get.”

“Why?” JD asked.

“I happened to see an article about these men in a different newspaper. It appears that nobody had returned home after they have been kidnapped,” Ezra answered. He saw the terrified look on JD’s face. “Of course, these men have never seen like the likes of Chris Larabee and his men," Ezra added.

Vin stopped Peso. He jumped out of the saddle and picked something up. They all recognized it as Kate’s gun.

“Should have taught her how to use it better,” Chris grumbled.

“She didn’t even get a shot off,” Vin told him. “The whole story is written here in the tracks. We’re lucky. The snow will make tracking the bastards down a piece of cake.” He started to point the various sets of footprints.

“Kate and the colt were walking this way. The colt spooked and headed back to town. These two sets of boots must belong to the two men that cornered her. Something happened that they had to carry her. There aren’t any of her footprints leaving this spot.

“If they touched a hair on her head…” Chris growled. The rest of the sentence was lost in the wind that had just blown up.

“ Vin jumped back on Peso. The horse broke into a fast canter. The others followed close behind.

“A few hours later, it was obvious the see that the men were heading south. The temperature had risen a few degrees and the snow was slowly disappearing. The footprints were becoming harder and harder to detect. Finally they disappeared all together. Chris yelled out in frustration. It echoed throughout the canyon.

He turned to Vin.

“Well, tracking is no good now.” The comment had come out harsher than it was intended too.

“There are other ways of tracking Chris. They are just harder to find," Vin answered quietly.

“And our faith that you will find them is undeniable,’ Ezra answered trying to make up for Chris’s remark.

Vin got up and started looking around for anything that would show where they were headed. He glanced at the twigs of the dead bushes. A few of them had bite marks where buds should have been. He felt the twigs. They were still wet. Vin learned two very important things from the bush.

“This way guys," he said. “Their horses stopped to have a little snack. I think it was about four hours ago. We are getting close. The tracker had no idea how close they really were.

+ + + + + + +

A yell reached the ears of the eight person traveling party. The two captive girls were placed on horses with their hands tied behind their backs. Ryan was leading their horses. Each girl was silently plotting ways to escape, but none of them seemed plausible.

There was no way that two girls could escape from six men whose size and strength could easily match their Preacher friend’s.

Every one of them jumped as a loud yell reached their ears.

“What the hell was that?” The man at he back of the line, Joey, asked.

Brett rode his horse to the edge of the canyon. He looked down and swore.

“Those lawmen are faster than I thought. We have to move faster. From the way the men cowered from him, it was easy to detect that he was the leader. He looked over at Kate.

“What are you grinning at?" he asked.

“Just thinking how pleasurable it will be seeing you hanging from a noose," she shot back. Brett grabbed her face between hands.

“I can show you a pleasurable experience sweetheart," he said. He was rewarded with spit right in the eye. He raised his hand. Kate closed her eyes expecting to hear and feel the cracking of her jaw.

“Wait!” Casey yelled. “Those Mexicans aren’t going to want a girl with a bruised face.”

“She’s right boss,” one of the men said. Brett sighed and lowered his arm.

“Try something like that again, I will find other way to punish you that won’t appear on the outside.’ He moved back to the front of the line and broke into a fast gallop.

Kate shot a grateful look at Casey. Casey nodded back. Kate saw that she had crossed her fingers. The older girl did the same.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan could feel warm Mexican air start to blow across his face. Tiny beads of sweat were starting to stream down his face. Every time the temperature rose, so did the healer’s anxiety. The warmer temperature meant that girls’ doom was getting closer. He knew that once the girls were sold across the border there was no hope of ever seeing them again.

They had been riding for almost four days now. Only stopping to get a few hours sleep and rest the horses. Nathan saw that his comrades’ faces revealed the same thoughts that he was feeling. The desperation was beginning to settle in. Every single one of them knew they were close, but close wasn’t going to help Casey and Kate.

He looked over at Josiah whose lips were moving soundlessly. Nathan guessed that he was saying a silent prayer.

“We are going to ride through the night,” Chris called. ‘We’ll get stop at next town and ask for information, then we keep going. They’ll stop for the night and we’ll catch up to them by morning.”

JD sighed. Chris had been saying stuff like this throughout the entire trip. They had yet to even catch of glimpse of the men they were after. He looked up at the moon that was slowly rising.

+ + + + + + +

Kate glanced at the moon as it slowly took its place in the night sky. One of the men had been decent enough to give her a blanket. The blanket had been purchased, along with other supplies at the last Texas town before crossing the border. Her hands were tied behind a tree. Casey was alongside of her. Most of the men were sleeping, except for two that were keeping the night watch. They had heard the men talking that they would reach the trade-off point by tomorrow afternoon. Each girl felt the dread fill up her stomach, but each tried to remain strong for the other.

‘Nineteen years doesn’t seem enough time to enjoy freedom does it?”’ Casey asked. Kate nodded her head. She had never really gotten to know Casey while she had been in Four Corners, but she could see that the two of them would have been friends. They were close to the same age and had the same fiery spirit.

“They’ll never take away our freedom Casey. I promise that we will find someway back home.” It was an empty promise. Kate knew Casey didn’t believe it, but it had sounded good in both of their ears. She turned her head when Casey didn’t respond. Her mouth opened wide when she saw a familiar chestnut horse ride up the camp. The rider put a finger to his lips. The image of the rider was not all what the girls expected.

“Hola, cualquiera Está despierto?" the man called out in Spanish, but it contained a familiar accent. The night guards were on there feet with their guns drawn. The man held up his hands. The girls couldn’t hear the conversation, but they saw the results. The man was invited to sit down by the fire and somebody went to wake Bret up. He was dressed in a rainbow colored paunch and a pair of black pants. He looked like he had just left a Mexican Fiesta. The man winked at the two girls.

Bret quickly emerged from under the tarp

“And who are you?" he asked.

“Before I continue, do you prefer Spanish or English?’

“Can count all the Spanish words I know on one hand,’ Brett answered.

:”Very well I will use English, although Spanish is the more refined language.”

“You don’t look very Mexican to me,” Brett said eyeing his visitor.

“I moved five years ago, where I now work for my current employer.” The answer seemed to satisfy Brett.

“Please sir, won’t you take a seat beside me?”

Kate smiled. Ezra Standish never failed to gain the upper hand even when he was conning a man in the face of danger. She wondered what tricks the man had up his sleeve.

‘My employer heard about that you had two very lovely young American girls that you were taking across the border. He sent me to take a look at them and maybe possibly purchase them for his own use.”

“These girls have already been bought," Brett answered. Casey felt something cold touch her hand. She turned her head to see the smiling face of JD. He motioned for her to stay quiet.

“He is willing to pay double the amount if I find them to be satisfactory.”

“Double?” Brett’s eyes lit up.

“Yes sir. That would be twice as much as the proposed sum,” Ezra answered as if growing bored with conversation. “But I do have to see these girls first and seeing them on the ground tied to a tree is not sufficient.”

It took a moment for Brett to realize what the man was saying.

“Oh right. Joe, Steven, Bring the girls over here. Casey tensed up.

“Just play along. Everything will be fine,” Vin whispered in her ear. He had crept along side JD.

“Yes, I think my employer would approve of this sale. Both of them are quite stunning. A little dirty and scrawny perhaps, but I think once they have been cleaned up and properly fed, Chris Larabee would be quite happy to keep them under his guard.”

The look on the criminal’s face when Chris Larabee appeared beside him was a memory that Ezra would never forget.

“You do nice work, Ezra,” Chris said. He pointed his gun straight at Brett’s head. “And there are lots of people who are waiting to get their hand on you.. Brett looked around for his men. He saw them being led forward by the rest of Chris Larabee’s men. He realized the game was up.

“You don’t understand,” Bret tried to plead. “I had no choice, these men in Mexico made me do it, they threatened to kill me and my family if I didn’t bring him these women.

“Which is why you were going to sell us to the highest bidder,” Kate said.

“Games up pal, and it looks like you lost,” Buck laughed. He pulled out his knife. Brett started to shake.

“I wouldn’t waste getting my knife dirty on you. I’ll leave that to the American justice system. But if you make one bad move, I’ll carve pit your heart and feed it to the buzzards.”

Buck cut the ropes that were binding the girls hands. Casey basically fell onto JD who was standing nearby. Kate closed her eyes as she sat down on the ground.

“Are you alright?” Buck asked. Kate opened her eyes and nodded. “Almost makes a girl want to head back home to her mansion where you can hire men to guard you.” The men looked at each other. They had expected this, but they wanted to do everything in their power to stop this from happening.

”Kate, nobody is going to let this happen to you again," Josiah told her.

“We will do whatever it takes, even if means following you around every day,” Buck said.

“Kate, I know you are made of tougher stuff. Don’t let these men scare you. We need you in Four Corners. You belong with us now," Chris said.

Kate opened her eyes and saw the serious expressions in all the men’s eyes.

“I said almost! The thought if returning to Denver never crossed my mind. During this entire time, the only thing I wanted to do was return to Four Corners I got people there I have to take care of.”

Buck put his arm around the girl’s shoulder. “That’s out girl.”

+ + + + + + +

“So we knew that we didn’t have much time left. We lucked out when we got to the town. The storekeeper told us that a group of men had stopped by earlier and bought a bunch of supplies. He told us that the men were talking about taking it easy for a night, because the lawmen had given up. We, well Ezra came up with this plan that one of should pretend that we were going to by the girls. Chris made him be the man who went into the camp first. We dressed him up in these funny looking clothes and…”

“How many times is that now?’ Nathan asked. Most of the members of Team Seven had gathered around their usual table. JD was at a different table. It had become his custom table to tell the story about the last few weeks to whoever would listen.

“I lost count when the number surpassed what I could count on my fingers and toes,” Josiah laughed.

“Leave him alone,’ Vin broke in. “He’s saving us a lot of trouble.” The other men looked at him in surprise.

‘Please explain how listening to ourselves being blown out of proportion countless times is saving us trouble,’ Ezra said taking a bite of his supper.

“At least he’s not telling one of his stupid jokes or reading is a chapter from his latest dime store novel,” Vin answered. Nobody could argue with him. The saloon door

opened. Chris walked in and sat down at the table.

“I thought Kate was coming to meet us for dinner,” Buck asked.

“Seems Mattie Stevenson went into labor a month early. She said not to wait for her,” Chris said sitting down in the chair next to Vin.

JD had slowly made his way over to the table after the size of his audience had dwindled. He pulled out the last novel that had just come in the mail. They looked at him with terror in their eyes

“Aww guys, I’m not going to read it or anything,” JD said reading their eyes. “I just wanted to ask you a question about it.” He opened up the book to the last page.

“The company that makes these books is having a contest. They are looking for the most exciting happenings in the Wild West. What do you think about me submitting what we just did?”

JD’s answer was a collective groan.