The Past Redeemed

by Sue Bartholomew

Parts 1-4 | Parts 5-8 | Parts 9-13 | Parts 14-17
Parts 18-21 | Parts 22-25 | Parts 26-29 | Parts 30-33 | Parts 34-37

Part 14

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

The hard soles of Chris's boots grated roughly on the rocky desert soil as he paced endlessly back and forth. His hat was off, his blonde hair disheveled and falling in his eyes. He didn't care.

Behind him some distance away, at the campsite, he knew Nathan was treating Vin. God, he knew he'd never forget the sight of the bloody, unconscious tracker being brought in over Nathan's saddle. Chris had thought sure he was dead, and for one horrifying moment Chris himself had felt dead as well.

But no, Nathan had assured him, Vin was alive but badly injured. Chris had helped the healer lift his friend to the ground; there were still smudges of Vin's blood on his coat, staining his black garb even blacker. Vin was so pale and still, his clothing ripped to crimson shreds. He looked as if he'd been attacked by a cougar.

Now, behind him, Nathan was cleaning the wounds and stitching up his friend, his brother, and all Chris could do was wait. The anxiety was overwhelming; he was consumed with such furious energy that he felt he had to keep moving or he would die from the pressure. It was driving him insane.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

My fault, he thought as he whirled around to continue his short journey among the desolate clearing. If I hadn't killed Eli Joe, Vin would be free and whole, and we'd be back at Four Corners drinking whiskey and playing cards.

Now he was paying for that instant of killing rage which had cost Eli Joe his life, and possibly Vin's as well. And Chris knew that if that happened, he would never be able to live with it.

It swept over him again, that familiar burning passion, and for a moment he reveled in it, as if it were the well-known embrace of a returned lover. He wanted to find the bastard who did this to Vin and simply gun him down. No trial, no pretense at justice. Just shoot him down cold. He'd done it before, lots of times, years ago, for something as minor as a cross look. All thoughts of justice were forgotten; he wanted to kill the son of a bitch. As the fury boiled through him, Chris felt he could do it with his bare hands.

He sat down heavily on a rock and rubbed his face with his hands, fighting down the demons which screamed inside of him. It felt so good to indulge in that wasteful hate, the rage which fed on his soul and only grew stronger. He had lived on it for years, but now - now he could see how it was threatening to devour him. It had already cost Vin a chance at freedom. He did not want to risk it costing him anything more.

Chris sat still for many moments, beating back the fiends which clawed at his mind. Desperately he strove to calm the surging anguish searing his heart, and the dangerous impulses they provoked. Old memories stirred with the familiar urgings, of the dark days when Chris obeyed every reckless whim which arose, heedless of cost or consequence to himself or anyone else. It was a time he deeply wanted to believe was gone for good, and it was this desire which gave him the strength to fight back against the compelling darkness.

He glanced back at the camp, but what spread out before his mind's eye was the town of Four Corners. It was there that the darkness had begun to recede, he realized, and it was for that town and the people in it that he had to make sure the darkness kept its distance. His men - they had given him their trust and friendship, and without even realizing it those gifts had slowly begun to heal a place in Chris's soul which he had believed would remain forever crippled. They had fought hard in the name of justice, and he could not allow himself to betray them by allowing his passions to drive him into the arms of lawlessness.


He looked up, abruptly pulled from his reverie. Nathan was hurrying towards him, wiping his hands on a ragged cloth.

Fear twisted Chris's gut, more fear than he had ever experienced before. He couldn't even bring himself to ask, and simply waited for Nathan to deliver the news.

"He'll live," Nathan said quickly as he walked up to Chris. "He'll have t'travel in the wagon for a while, til he gets up the strength t'ride again."

Chris sighed as a tremendous weight rolled from his shoulders; the rage subsided, mostly anyway. He raised his eyes to the healer and said in a low, husky voice, "Thank you, Nathan."

Nathan smiled. "Don't thank me - Vin's as stubborn as they come. Take more'n a few scratches t'count him out."

Chris shook his head in agreement and looked away, too overcome with relief to trust his voice any further. Nathan turned and began walking back towards camp, and Chris followed him, overwhelmed with a desire to see for himself that Vin would live.

Vin was propped up by the fire, lying on a bedroll, his back leaning on a rock padded with blankets. His shirt was off, his chest and arms swathed with bandages. Purple bruises were forming on his face and body, their ugly forms clearly marked against his pale skin. His eyes were closed, but upon Chris's approach they opened a little and he gave the gunslinger a groggy smile.

"Hey, cowboy," he rasped. Chris crouched next to him and nodded, his green eyes bright with relief.

"Y'look like two miles of bad road," Chris replied.

Vin winced. "Feel like it, too. But the other feller's worse off, trust me."

"I believe that," Chris said firmly. "Anybody we know?"

Vin leaned back and sighed, trying to think. "Nobody I ever seen before. Sure knew his way around a knife, though."

The thunder of hoofbeats reached their ears, and Chris looked up to see JD and Josiah riding back, dusty and tired.

 "Searched a mile around, Chris," Josiah said as he reined in Prophet. "Didn't see a thing."

"How's Vin?" JD asked, leaning forward in Hero's saddle to see.

"Just a few briar scratches, JD," the tracker called with forced cheerfulness. "I'll be fine."

"We best get on the trail," Chris aid, standing up. "If we're a target we'll be harder t'hit if we're movin'. JD, go clear out a space in the wagon for Vin; Josiah, I'd like you t'scout around when we start, make sure we're not bein'' followed."

Both men nodded and rode off to prepare for the trip. Chris looked back down at Vin and crouched next to him again. "Feel up to travelin', Vin?"

The tracker gave him a drowsy chuckle. "Hell yes, if it means I can find that fellar an' pay 'im back for this. With interest, like Ezra would say."

Chris studied him for a moment, the light in his eyes one of vast relief. His brother was indeed still alive, and would fight to stay that way. He knew he could expect nothing less from the enigmatic bounty hunter, and the realization strengthened him for the trial ahead.

"You go on an' rest up," Chris said as he rose, giving Vin a swift pat on the shoulder.

"I'll see he does," Nathan promised, ignoring the good-natured groan from Vin. "We'll be ready t'move when you give the word."

Chris nodded once, his face settling into harder lines. "All the words I got now are for Yates," he said with thinly disguised fury, and strode away.


Yates smiled to himself as he sat against the wagon wheel, watching the excitement unfold around him. He was not the least bit concerned about the attack; he knew it was Hanley. They were coming to free him, and all he had to do was wait.

So they got Tanner, he mused as he scratched at the stubble on his face. Good, maybe he'll die. Yates wanted Tanner to die, just because he knew how much it would hurt Larabee. The fact that he despised Tanner as well only added to his anticipation.

Look at them, he thought as he watched that preacher riding out again to patrol. Breakin' their necks to keep the law when it was so much easier and more profitable to ignore it. Yates had learned long ago that it was the outlaws who had all the fun and kept all the money, and who didn't want that? Those damn marshals and deputies could spout that garbage about justice all day, but Yates knew it was all just an excuse. They were simply too cowardly to take risks and grab what they could for themselves.

"All right, Yates, I want some answers."

Yates looked up calmly to see Larabee striding towards him, hat off, his green eyes flashing with anger. Yates didn't flinch; he knew this man couldn't touch him.

"I ain't got nothin' t'say," Yates replied, and pulled his hat over his eyes as a signal that the conversation was over.

Within two seconds the hat was whipped violently from Yates' head, and Larabee had grabbed his collar and was hoisting him halfway into the air, his furious countenance less that two inches away. Yates was startled, and, he had to admit, a little frightened now.

"Don't gimme that bull!" Larabee spat, his eyes wide with passion. "I think you know who attacked us an' almost killed Vin, an' I want you to start talkin' NOW."

"Now how the hell would I know that, Larabee?" Yates said, regaining some of his sass. "You think I know every bandit gang around here?"

"Ain't no bandit gangs way out here," Larabee snarled, tightening his grip on Yates' collar. "That bunch followed us, an' I think it's you they're after. I should just kill you an' save 'em the trouble."

A slow smile oozed across Yates' face. "You want to - I can see that. But you ain't like that no more, are you? Got a shiny badge an' a Judge's blessing. You don't just shoot down men in cold blood like you used to."

"I ain't forgot how," was the fiercely whispered reply, before Larabee threw Yates back against the wagon wheel.

Yates gathered himself up again, highly amused as he watched Larabee's struggle reflected in those glaring green eyes. "Yeah, you proved that with Eli Joe, didn't you? Bet it felt real good t'put a bullet in him. Just like old times. Or is this whole lawman thing just a cover, so you can be a killer and get away with it?"

Larabee stared at him for a minute, and Yates briefly feared he'd gone too far, and that he was about to be shot. But Larabee simply crouched down in front of him and slowly leaned forward, until they were once more almost nose to nose.

"You wanna keep on bein' a smart-ass, Yates? You go right ahead." Larabee smiled, and that smile sent an involuntary shiver up Yates' spine. "Cause it might be fun t'see how many of my old habits I can remember. But I don't think you'd like it too much."

Larabee stood. "It's your choice," he said, and threw Yates' hat in his face with violent force before walking away.

The outlaw scowled at Larabee's back. Damn lawman, he thought sourly, pulling his hat back on. We'll see how uppity he is after Hanley an' the boys ride in. Bet he won't feel so high an' mighty when he's bleedin' his guts out on the ground.

Yates folded his arms and leaned back against the wagon wheel, not wanting to take notice of the fact that he was shaking.

Part 15

"You stupid IDIOT!"

Hanley's furious words echoed off the cave walls, as did the sharp cracking sound his fist made as it crashed across Trent's jaw. The younger man went tumbling to the ground from the force of the blow, landing with a heavy grunt. Around him stood or sat the rest of their group, their forms erratically lit by the dancing flames of a small fire as they passively watched Hanley beat their comrade. Ezra was the only one missing.

A short distance away Pony sat treating Dark Sun's wounds. Her small hands moved skillfully as they cleaned and bandaged the bloody cuts coverinh his upper body, her thin lips pursed with concentration. The patient never moved or uttered a sound as he stared into the fire, and Pony kept her attention focused on her work, not at all unnerved by the young man's complete detachment.

Hanley's huge fire-lit form towered over the fallen dandy, an orange demon trembling with fury.

"What the HELL were you thinking?" Hanley roared, grabbing Trent by his bloo d-flecked collar and shaking him violently. "I told you not to tangle with them yet, damn you! Now they know we're here, and Dark Sun almost got killed!"

"I didn't think they'd see us!" Trent shot back, one hand wiping at the blood which trickled out of his mouth as he lay on the ground. His clothes were disheveled, his face marked with forming bruises. "I would've had that kid's throat slit in no time if that clumsy Southerner hadn't blown our cover!"

"Don't go blaming Standish for this!" Hanley growled, pacing around Trent like a hungry tiger. "At least he knows how to follow orders. Now thanks to you, they'll be doubling their patrols, and it'll be a damn sight harder to get close to them."

"Yates probably told 'em who we are," Stan added, glowering at Trent. "They'll call out the Army. An' I ain't gonna let 'em take me back t'prison!"

"Oh c'mon, Stan, they're out in the middle of the desert - there ain't no Army here," Pony chided as she tied off the last of Dark Sun's bandages.

"But they won't be that way for long," Hanley said angrily, still pacing. "They're closing in on Tascosa, an' we have to get them before they reach it."

He sat down on a rock and rubbed his chin with one huge hand, deep in thought. Trent slowly dragged himself to his feet; the others glared at him but offered no assistance. Throwing a deadly glare at Hanley, the young man picked up his battered silk hat, wiped his bleeding mouth on his sleeve, and sat down, not daring to look at his comrades.

"Okay," Hanley said finally, stirring. "We'll have to stay out of their way for a day or so - let them relax a bit and think we're gone. They'll be coming up to Dutchman Pass soon - we can take them there as planned and there'll be noone to help them."

"Good," Lew, the hired gun, muttered as he nervously fingered his weapon. "Glad things are heatin' up. This job's been pretty borin' so far."

"Oh, it's about to get very exciting," Hanley promised him. He glanced at Trent and walked up to stand in front of him.

"As for you," he breathed, "one more stunt like that and I'll have Dark Sun disembowel you alive." He reached down and gathered Trent's collar in one hand, lifting him slightly from his seat. "Understand?"

Trent's eyes widened and he glanced to where Dark Sun sat in the shadows, a cool motionless figure watching it all. He turned his head back to Hanley and nodded, a smoldering fury in his eyes.

"Good," Hanley said casually, pushing Trent away and ignoring him as the young man toppled from his rock. "We'll follow our targets at a good distance. Lew, you an' Stan go keep an eye on our friends - and watch out for patrols. I don't want any more mistakes."

The two men rose and obeyed, neither of them sparing Trent or Dark Sun a glance as they left. Hanley made his way to where Pony was washing out some rags.

"Can he fight?" he asked her gruffly, looking at where Dark Sun was hunched over in the shadowsstaring at nothing. His body was rocking gently back and forth in a slow, rhythmic motion.

She shrugged. "Yeah, I think so. He's gotta rest up, but he probably won't. Says he can put himself in a healin' trance an' be ready t'move by mornin'."

Hanley grunted. "He may drop dead at his leisure long as he's able to help us get Larabee and his damned crew." He glanced around. "Where's Standish?"

Pony stood. "He went outside while you was whuppin' Trent. Said he had some things t'think about. I think he feels bad for trippin' and shootin' his gun."

Her boss shook his head as he walked past her. "Not half as bad as he'll feel if he does that again."

Pony eyed him with worry as he stalked away, then went to carry out the basin of dirty water and see if she could find Ezra.

Ezra sat alone on a rock just outside the cave, the hot afternoon wind softly ruffling his brown hair. His hat was in his hands, his supple fingers idly running along the smooth brim, around and around. Although Ezra's eyes stayed fixed on the horizon, he saw nothing of the red-yellow rocks or desolate plains which stretched before him. His gaze was directed deep within himself, and he sat as oblivious to the view before him as if he were blind.

It had all seemed so clear just a few days ago. He was going to leave Four Corners and his false friends behind, strike out anew, and regain the riches he had lost. He had been determined to shuffle off his old associations like a soiled shirt. Now it appeared such an action would not be quite so easy.

Could he believe it, when JD said he was sorry for what had happened? Not so long ago he would have scoffed at any such declaration, but - the boy seemed sincere, and there was no way he could have known that Ezra was listening. And Josiah too had seemed contrite. Suddenly hating them was not as easy as it had been.

But - but - dammit, if they really felt that way, why didn't they say so? Ezra asked himself as the old anger flared again. If they could face bullets without flinching, they could certainly deliver an apology.

JD's words drifted through his mind: "He should've let us know what was goin' on, Josiah. It almost feels - like he didn't trust us enough t'tell us."

Ezra chuckled bitterly - as if they couldn't see what was happening to his saloon! What did JD expect him to do, come and ask for their help when it was their fault his business was failing? Ezra Standish did not crawl to others begging for assistance. He stood alone, and if need be, fell alone.

That firm assertion rang emptily in his heart, where before it had sounded with certainty. Ezra frowned to himself and studied this fact. It was true, wasn't it? He had never needed anyone before, and didn't now. Nothing that had happened to him at Four Corners could have changed him that much.

But still...He glanced behind him at the cave, and thought of Hanley in there beating the hell out of Trent. None of the others in the gang seemed interested in stopping him. Other images drifted across his mind's eye, Hanley shooting that man in the back, the open greed and viciousness of the group, their casual abuse of the child Pony. They were men without restraint, but worse, without honor.

And Larabee's group...Ezra tilted his head, running one hand through his hair as he thought. They were rough, wild men, but he could not say they were without honor. He had seen them, time and again, place their lives on the line for a mere pittance. They all had their own dark secrets and blood on their souls, yet still retained the humanity to give a damn. Ezra had known enough lawmen who cared nothing for justice to see that Larabee and his men were not cut from the same coarse cloth. He had not realized how rare the spirit of their circle had been until now, when he was outside of it.

He thought of the sight of Dark Sun riding back, covered with blood and almost dead. Ezra could still feel his gut burning with horror at the questions his mind instantly raised - who had Dark Sun been fighting with? Had he killed one of them? He had spent what seemed like an eternity in suspenseful agony while the blonde youth was grilled by a furious Hanley, his tale told without any signs of emotion or pain as Pony stitched him up. Dark Sun had fought another long-haired man - Vin, Ezra realized - but didn't kill him. Relief had washed through Ezra then, although he had to hide it carefully.

Now he had to wonder where such strong feelings had come from. Two days ago he was hating these men and resenting Vin. Yet when he believed them to be in danger, he could not repress the sensation of concern which overpowered the anger. It was as if he were still bound to them, and a threat to their safety was a threat to his as well.

Ezra fidgeted and gazed over the baking rocks, puzzled by the conflicting emotions welling in his heart. He was still hurt and angry over what had happened, but he found himself missing that shining circle. Perhaps it was not as closed to him as had imagined. JD and Josiah, at least, seemed to regret their actions. Nathan didn't seem to, he noted bitterly, but that was hardly surprising.

Another side of his soul gave reply to his musings; should he really be so careless with his heart again? These men had had their chance with his association, and had clearly demonstrated their disregard for it. Only a fool would return to such a situation, and Ezra was no fool. The guilt which apparently tormented JD and Josiah was not strong enough to drive them to apologize to him, was it? None of them had offered him so much as a token of regret. It would be naive of him to return to their company purely on the basis of sentimentality.

And now their lives were in danger. Ezra felt a strange terror surge through him at the thought that Chris and the others might be killed, an emotion strictly at variance with the anger he still felt towards them. His instincts shouted at him to escape, but his common sense intervened. Not only would Hanley kill him, but he would be cut off from any further knowledge of Hanley's plans. And Pony would be left behind, doubtless fated to go on believing that taking care of yourself was all that mattered.

A belief Ezra himself had once sworn by.


He turned to see Pony climbing up the rocks towards him. He quickly composed himself, putting his troubling thoughts aside for the moment. "Has your leader tired of flailing our young compatriot?"

Pony grunted. "He could wear both arms out an' still not beat any sense into Trent. After this is over he'll probably just shoot 'im."

He studied her. "And you would have no remorse over such an act?"

She seated herself on a neighboring rock and gave him a puzzled look. "Hell, no. Why should I?"

He considered his answer. "I merely assumed that your association might have sparked some kinship among yourselves."

She chuckled in disbelief. "That crew in there'd slit each other's throats for ten dollars."

Ezra eyed her carefully. "Even you?"

She glanced at him, then looked away quickly, as if embarrassed. "I thought once that maybe I'd found a family. Learned the truth fast enough. Like I told you, nobody cares about nobody these days."

They were silent for a few minutes.

Ezra leaned forward on his knees, idly twirling his hat slowly in his hands. "I knew some men once who might change your mind on that score, my dear. They were no saints, believe me, but justice meant more to them than something to be sneered at."

She studied him. "Them men you talked about before? I thought they crossed you."

He shifted a little, still uncomfortable at the memory. "Yes, well, their manners may have been lacking, but their convictions certainly were not. I saw them risk their lives many times in the name of justice."

Pony looked at him for a moment, and Ezra thought he saw a yearning to believe lurking beneath those brown eyes. Then she shook her head, the hard veil dropping once again.

"I never heard of no such thing," she said firmly. "Only justice men care about is the kind they make for themselves. Like Hanley wantin' t'kill Yates."

So that's it, Ezra thought, although his face betrayed no recognition of the name. "Is that what we're doing in this charming backwater?"

Pony nodded. "Them lawmen killed our leader Eli Joe, an' we're avengin' his blood."

Ezra looked up at her and put his hat on. "They might not take kindly to being attacked. Suppose it's your own blood that gets spilled?"

She gave a careless shrug. "Then I reckon I'll be dead."

His green eyes saddened as he looked at this young girl who was already so tired of life. "This Eli Joe must have been very special to you."

"Ha!" Pony barked. "He was a scum like the rest of 'em. He found me on the streets an' took me in, but it weren't out of the goodness of his heart. He didn't have none."

Ezra frowned. "Then why die for nothing?"

Pony pondered the question and looked at him seriously. "Beats livin' for nothin'."

After an awkward moment of silence she slapped him on the arm. "Now c'mon, before Hanley comes lookin' for us. He don't want anyone out here where we might get spotted."

She turned and began climbing quickly back to the cave, as if trying to escape any further conversation. Ezra rose and followed her, his heart and mind still in turmoil.

Part 16

The hot afternoon sun glared through the worn - out curtains of the cheap rented room, but neither of its two residents were bothered by the brightness, or the heat it created. As they rolled and pitched on the cheap iron bed, the amount of light in the room was among their least concerns.

Finally the woman stopped and sat up, wiping her brow with one hand as she pulled at the strap of her tousled dress with the other. "Say, darlin'," she breathed, "how about another drink of that there whiskey?"

Her partner grinned at her, although age had robbed him of many of his teeth. "Sure thing, Miss Molly - that's what it's here for!" He grabbed a half - empty bottle from the rickety table beside the bed and handed it to her with a smile. "But don't go gettin' drunk before I get my money's worth outta you."

She emitted a somewhat forced laugh and took a swig before replacing the bottle. "Don't you worry on me, Mr. Adams, I know just what I'm doin. Say, sugar," she purred as she settled back down next to him, "you know you talk in your sleep?"

"Yeah?" Adams replied with amusement, then chuckled. "Guess I have been told that."

"You sure do," she giggled. "Who's this Larabee fella?"

Adams made a disgusted sound. "He ain't nobody, darlin'. Some no - count hired gun. Just like that Wilmington guy."

"He must be simply an awful man," Molly said in an impressed tone as she stroked his thin gray hair.

"Shit, honey, he's nothin'," Adams spat. "Wait a bit, you'll see. You won't be hearin' 'bout him no more."

Molly gasped. "You gonna jump 'im?"

Adams paused. "Well, not me. They didn't think I'd be able t'handle it. Can you believe that?"

Molly laughed. "Not after last night!"

She gave him a hungry kiss, which he returned with relish.

 "So this Larabee's gonna get his, huh?" Molly mumbled around his lips. "Can I come and watch it? I never seen a man jumped before."

Adams snorted. "Aw hell, that's gonna be a long way from here. Ever hear of Tascosa?"

"No!" Molly breathed in a completely brainless voice, disengaging her lips from his. "Where's that?"

"In Texas," Adams replied, and Buck saw him put his arms around her with an anticipatory smile. "That's where Larabee's goin', and we're gonna take 'em before they get there, smack dang in the middle of nowhere at a gorge name of Dutchman Pass. No place for 'em t'hide." He laughed.

"Sounds like Larabee ain't the only one you're after," Molly observed.

"Nope," was the proud reply. "It's Larabee's whole gang we're after, me an' some other men he's crossed. We'll have us some mighty fine trophies when we're done. Maybe I'll take you down t'Mexico with me, an' you can be my gal. That'd show that damn Wilmington up good. Huh!"

"This all sounds so violent and awful," Molly said as she propped herself up on her elbows. "Why on earth do you want to hurt them poor men?"

Adams glared at her and sighed. "Dammit, gal, I ain't payin' you t'keep askin' me stupid questions. I don't figure I'm through my twenty dollars yet."

Anger flashed through her dark blue eyes for just a moment, but it was quickly replaced by a sweet, brainless smile as slid back down towards him. "Oh, I'm sorry, angel pie." She kissed him. "I'll just shut my silly li'l mouth."

"You do that," Adams said in a muffled voice. "I hates talky women."

"I'm sorry," she mumbled. "Tell you what - you close your eyes an' I'll give you a nice big surprise. How's that?"

"Now them's the kind of words I like, gal."

He closed his eyes, smiling in anticipation as she slid from the bed.

"Can I open 'em yet?" he asked impatiently after several minutes had passed.

No reply.

"You there, gal?"


Startled, he opened his eyes wide to find himself staring down the shiny silver barrel of a Remington. The hated eyes of Buck Wilmington were glaring down at him, full of anger and suspicion. Molly stood behind him, and behind them both was the open door of the room's small, empty closet. Before Adams could say a word Buck grabbed his collar in a vise - like grip.

"Got a few questions for you, friend," Buck growled in a deadly whisper.

Adams' glare was just as lethal. "Go to hell," he spat, and grabbing the half - empty bottle of whiskey smashed it against Buck's skull. Buck staggered back, momentarily stunned; seizing his chance, Adams' hand dove under his pillow, withdrawing a small revolver. He leapt to his feet and lunged for the door, pausing only long enough to point his gun at Buck and fire one bullet at his adversary. Buck toppled to the floor as Molly's scream rent the air, while Adams thundered down the wooden stairway and disappeared.

One painful eternity later, Buck opened his eyes, blinking against the harsh afternoon sun shining across his face. His left arm hurt like hell, and he groaned.

"Buck? Can you hear me, honey?"

"Ooooh," Buck groaned again, trying to sit up; he saw through swimming eyes that he was in his own room, and someone was bending over him. "Molly girl?"

Soft hands restrained him, trying to push him back down. He saw that it was indeed Molly, looking a little more weary than before. Her sleeves were rolled up and small spots of blood flecked her faded blue dress. "Course it's me. You best lie still, he winged ya pretty good."

Buck sighed, put a hand to his head, then sat up quickly, fully awake as he looked around. "He - where'd he go?"

Molly shook her head as she sat back, her tight black curls dancing with the motion. "Reckon he's gone. Couple of the townfolk looked all over for 'im, but he's plumb vanished."

"Hell he has," Buck breathed, swinging his feet over the side of the bed. "He's gone to t'kill Chris an' the others."

"Now Buck honey you just stay out," Molly breathed anxiously as she saw Buck wobble a bit. "You're still woozy, an' God knows y'can't ride with your arm like that."

Buck glanced down at the bandage which was wrapped tightly just above his elbow. "Darlin', I've pounded the trail with two broken arms. This here's just a scratch, an' it'll take more'n that t'keep me here when my friends are in trouble."

He stood, a tad unsteady at first, but by the time he'd gathered his coat and hat his stride was firm, and he took the stairs two at a time.

"But Buck!" Molly called as she trotted down the stairs after him. "How on earth will you find them?"

"Chris told me what way they were takin'," Buck called behind him as he clambered down the steps. "Reckon I'll just ride like hell an' rely on the ol' Wilmington luck."

They arrived at the first floor, Buck talking as he shrugged on his coat. "I got to get someone t'watch over things while I'm gone, an' then I'm hittin' the trail. That Adams fella means t'do Chris harm, an' besides - " he looked at her seriously - " he still owes you twenty dollars."

He gave her a brief, firm kiss, then dashed out the door. She watched him go, a little dazed but definitely impressed, then turned to make her way back upstairs, her heart saying a silent prayer for the handsome gunslinger and his friends.

The sound of horses' hooves and the rattle of a ramshackle wagon filled the hot desert air as the small party made its way through the desolate landscape. The setting sun cut long ebony shadows across the rugged plains and sharp - edged grasses, and bathed the travelers in a brilliant yellow -orange light. Chris's black duster billowed as he rode a circuit around the riders and the wagon, keeping an eye on the surrounding rocks and mesas, looking for trouble.

They could be anywhere, he thought angrily as his horse kicked up large plumes of golden dust. Despite their caution, they'd been bushwhacked, and Chris was determined not to let it happen again.

"See anything?" he yelled to Josiah as the preacher rode over to him from the other side of the trail.

"Nope," was the terse reply as a dust-covered Josiah pulled alongside Chris. "Whoever they were, they're either long gone or damn good at hidin'."

"Got a feelin' they're still tailin' us," Chris said above the hoofbeats and clatter of the wagon as he looked at the surrounding landscape with concer n. "keep a sharp eye out."

"As always," the preacher said in a good-natured tone as he tapped the brim of his hat.

Chris nodded and rode on, reining in just behind the wagon. Vin lay in the shaded vehicle, propped up on his elbows and watching the barren landscape go by. His hat and shirt lay by his side, and Chris frowned at the tracker's still-too-pale complexion. But at least he was conscious now.

"How you doin', Vin?" he asked, trying to keep Valor in pace with the rolling wagon.

"Feel like a damn baby ridin' around like this," Vin griped. "Wish Nathan'd let me ride."

"Maybe tomorrow," Chris said, unable to suppress a grin at his friend's impatience.

Vin looked up at him. "Hey, I think I might know who cut me up."

"Yeah?" Chris yelled as Valor danced a bit. "Who?"

"While I was livin' with the Indians I heard tell of a white feller who'd been raised by some Sioux," Vin replied, his blue eyes becoming distant. "They said he went crazy an' killed the family that raised 'im, then lit out. That fellar had yellow hair just like this one - reckon it's the same. He sure acted plumb crazy."

"Hm." Chris looked off and was silent for a few minutes. The sun was almost set, the sky overhead a riot of deep azure blues and royal purples tinged with gold. Then his gaze swung back to Vin. "It's about time we tried to loosen Yates' tongue a bit. if he don't wanna talk by the time we reach Tascosa this whole trip will be a waste of time."

Vin sighed, a disgusted look creeping onto his boyishly handsome face. "I been tryin' t'think what we can do, but even a punch'd show. We can't have 'im tellin' no jury we beat the confession out of 'im."

Chris shook his head, squinting into the sun and dust. "Maybe with scum like Yates we don't need to use force."

Vin tilted his head. "What you thinkin' on, Chris?"

The black-clad gunslinger turned a smiling face to his friend. "Most men like Yates are just cowards at heart. Reckon all we need t'do is give 'im somethin' t'be afraid of."

Vin smiled as well.

Far away from Chris's group, Hanley and Lew sat watching the tiny figures of their prey, unwilling to get any closer for fear of encountering the patrolling gunslingers.

"What you think?" Lew finally said, after they had been observing the distant party for some time.

Hanley frowned, his eyes still on the diminishing forms. "I think waiting til they reach Dutchman Pass will only give them more time to find us." He looked at Lew, his eyes hard. "There's been a change in plan," he said simply, and began riding back towards camp. Lew eyed the endangered line of riders with anticipatory glee, then whirled and followed his boss.

Buck bent over the neck of his horse, urging the beast onward as they tore across the darkening desert. He looked up at the sky, now turning a deep purple, and silently rejoiced at the sight of a full moon. With its light, hopefully, he could reach Chris and the others before they were attacked.

He'd hoped to overtake Adams - if that was his real name - but had seen no sign of the older man. Probably taking a different route, Buck surmised, wincing as his wounded arm protested the violent jostling it received. But he couldn't think on that now - his only goal was to keep riding as long as he could, and find his friends before it was too late.

"How long are we gonna sit on our asses? This is ridiculous!"

Trent's irritated voice bounced off the cavern walls, earning him looks of annoyance and boredom from his compatriots as they waited for Pony to finish cooking dinner. Only Hanley and Lew were missing; the rest were lounging around the wide-mouthed cave, cleaning their weapons.

"Don't carp too loud, Trent," Pony said as she poked the fire over which roasted two good-sized rabbits. "It's your fault they spotted us."

Trent made an explosive sound of anger and pointed at Ezra, who was busy mending his jacket. "The hell it was! Standish is the guy who shot his gun off. If it hadn't been for him, that kid'd be dead right now and we'd have one less gun to fight."

"And whose idea was it to attack that youth in the first place?" Ezra asked dryly without looking up. "Against our leader's instructions, I might add."

"Yeah, Trent," Stan agreed from where he lounged on the floor, hands behind his head. "Hanley was about to shoot you for that, ya know."

"Yeah, well, what about Dark Sun?" the young dandy retorted, nodding at the still figure who sat in the shadows at the far end of the cave, engulfed once more in his healing trance. "He jumped one of 'em, for God's sake, and almost got killed. I don't see nobody chewin' HIM out."

Stan grunted. "That's cause we don't want slit throats. "'Sides, he did good - almost killed that lawman he fought."

None of them noticed Ezra as he winced.

"You couldn't even stick the guy you went after," Stan concluded.

Trent sputtered and threw his hands up. "I get no respect from this group! I should go back to pickin' pockets in Tuscon."

"You want out, Trent, I'll happily oblige."

The cavern fell silent at the sound of that stern voice, and the group watched quietly as Hanley and Lew entered the fire - lit circle. The large man's black eyes glittered with menace as he regarded his young hired gun.

"Course, you might not like it all that much," Hanley continued, frowning at Trent's obstinate glare. Then he swept them all with steely eyes. "Listen up. There's been a change in plans."

The outlaws gazed at him in casual interest, Ezra in dire concern.

"We were gonna jump them lawmen at Dutchman Pass, but they won't get there for three days yet, and we have to stop them now before they find us. About a day and a half's ride from here is the river - they'll have t'ford that, an' we'll catch 'em out there."

"Sounds good t'me," Pony said in a disinterested voice as she stuck one of the rabbits with a knife. Clear juices dribbled into the fire, landing with a loud hiss on the flaming wood.

"I want patrols at night to keep an eye out," Hanley went on. "Stan, you ride out tonight, Standish tomorrow night. Next day we finish our work an' head for Mexico."

"Woo! Bout time," Trent yipped, twirling his gun with a smile. "Think I'll pay that kid a visit when we attack. This time he won't know what hit 'im."

Lew, the hired gun, laughed as he sat by the fire. "Hell, where's the fun in that, fancy-pants? You gotta make 'im suffer first. It's what revenge is all about."

"They'll suffer all right," Hanley swore as he sat on a rock and took off his hat, staring into the fire with an expression of grim determination. "I don't care what you all do, or how you do it, but before we ride to Mexico I want all of those men and Yates dead."

Trent laughed. "Sounds like we have permission to be creative," he said with a happy smile.

"I can hardly wait," Lew agreed, and laughed as well.

General murmurs of assent passed among the group. The only silent members were Ezra, who sat quietly lost in thought as dread knotted his stomach, and Dark Sun, who remained in the shadows, his half-naked body gently rocking back and forth, his eyes staring into the darkness, as wild and driven as ever.

Part 17

Chris stepped carefully over the rock-strewn ground as he made his way towards the campfire carrying his bed roll and a canteen. Nearby, Vin, JD and Nathan were getting some much-needed sleep, and somewhere out in the moonlit darkness Josiah was on the lookout for any more unwelcome visitors. Yates was in the wagon, securely tied against escape. After a hard day's ride, all was finally quiet. Except for Chris's heart.

He walked softly into the orange glow, and was surprised to see Vin awake and sitting up against a rock staring idly at the star - strewn skies. His shirt was off, exposing his carefully bandaged chest and arms. Chris sighed with brotherly impatience and walked over.

Vin saw him and nodded at the sky. "Full moon," he said, a trace of humor in his voice. "Might explain all this craziness we been fightin' lately."

Chris sat next to him and offered the canteen. "More likely just the old craziness gettin' worse," he observed.

"May be," Vin assented before accepting the canteen and taking a swallow.

Chris watched him for a moment, noticing how stark the cuts and bruises on his face appeared in the dim light. "How you feelin'?"

The other man sighed as he wiped his lips on his bare arm. "Still plumb lousy, but I reckon I can ride. Figured I'd try it tomorrow, if Nathan don't shoot me for it."

He handed the canteen back to Chris, who took a drink himself and nodded. "Good. Sooner we get to Tascosa the sooner we can throw Yates to the judge there an' get your name cleared."

Vin smiled a bit as he regarded his friend. "Well, the man's about as friendly as a cornered rat."

"He's about as charming as one, too," Chris griped, putting the canteen down. "Came this close to puttin' a bullet between his eyes."

Vin grunted as he leaned back, putting one arm behind his head as he looked upward. "You stopped yourself, that's the important thing."

Chris took a deep breath, his green eyes quiet in the flickering firelight. "Guess so," he said thoughtfully, staring into the gyrating light. "Still scared the hell out of me."

"Got no cause t'be scared, Chris," Vin said, turning his head slightly to look at his friend. "The fact Yates is still breathin' proves that."

Chris sat silently for a moment, then clasped his hands together and leaned forward a little, resting his chin on the folded fingers as he gazed into the fire. "You ain't known me for all that long, Vin. After Sarah an' Adam died, I didn't care nothin' for nobody. Hell, I might've been one of them bounties you were after, what with all the men I've shot an' all the places I tore up."

Vin smiled a little, his blue eyes full of sympathy as he watched Chris closely.

The black-clad man swallowed. "I thought for sure that rage would kill me, but it didn't. That just made me angrier. Been a long time since I put a bullet in a man just for the fun of it, but I remember what it felt like. Felt like my heart was just a mess of ice that wouldn't never feel nothin' again." He shuddered and ran one hand through his loose blonde hair.

Vin studied Chris carefully, then softly said, "But you ain't that way no more, Chris. We all know that."

Chris shook his head, despair in his eyes as he looked at Vin. "I don't, Vin. Sometimes the killin' rage comes on me, an' it takes all I got t'beat it back. That's what happened with Eli Joe."

Vin nodded in understanding, his face grim.

"Only thing is," Chris continued, directing his eyes anywhere but at Vin, "I can't be sorry I shot him. I'm sorry he ain't alive to clear your name, but when I thought he was going to kill you..." Chris trailed off, his voice choking. He looked down at the ground. "I was never so glad t'shoot nobody in my life, an no matter how I look at it, that doesn't change." He looked back up at Vin, the turmoil plain in his face. "An' that's what makes me wonder if the killer in me is really dead after all."

He sighed and sat back, frowning as he watched the fire.

Vin was silent for a few moments, then spoke, his words soft. "I run across a lot of cold-blooded killers in my day, Chris, an' I can tell you, you ain't one of 'em, at least not no more. The fact you're worried about it says you still got a heart, an' that's what you got t'hang on to."

Chris folded his hands again and turned his gaze to the fire. "I been lookin' for peace for a long time, Vin. Thought I'd finally found it with this job. Now I'm wonderin' if I'll ever have peace again, or if the demons'll win out after all."

The other man regarded him for a moment, then sighed. "That's somethin' only you can figure out, Chris. But I know who I'd put my money on."

 He gave the gunslinger a quiet smile, then directed his gaze back at the blazing stars overhead. Chris smiled a little at this statement, then leaned back and returned to staring into the fire, increasingly lost in thought as the silence of the warm desert night enveloped them both.

The pounding of the horse's hooves as it thundered along the moonlit desert plain was matched only by the terrified thudding of the heart in its master's breast. Gray had been riding like the devil since leaving Four Corners, but had lost none of the fear which ate at him as he flew along.

He wasn't even sure why he was trying to catch up to Hanley and the others. They would certainly shoot him for botching this assignment. But he had to leave town after shooting Wilmington, and there was nowhere else for him to go.

A smile spread over Gray's stubbled face. It had been a stupid thing to do, but it sure felt great putting a slug in that young Yankee. Maybe he killed him, that would be even better. The fear eased a bit as a warm, satisfied feeling flowed through his tired body. All the youth and handsome looks in the world stood little chance against a bullet. It felt good to remember that.

Maybe if he told Hanley he killed that last lawman, Hanley wouldn't shoot him. A small hope struggled to life in his chest as he thought on it. Then they could go kill the rest of them, and Gray could get his share of the money and run to Mexico. Maybe this would all work out after all.

He looked up to see the purple-pink light of dawn tinting the eastern sky. He should reach them soon, if he didn't stop too often. Then, he thought with a smile, we'll see that Wilmington has plenty of company in Hell.

Gray rode on, entertaining himself with the memory of killing Buck Wilmington.

Pony scowled as she guided her horse down the untraveled desert trail beside her fellow outlaws. It had been an early morning for all of them, and now, with the sun almost at noon, they had been riding for almost six hours. Yet in all that time, she had not heard Ezra mutter one word.

She rode along, listening to her comrades argue and brag and keeping an eye on Dark Sun to make sure he wasn't swaying in the saddle. Ezra, she noticed, was riding towards the back of the group, with what looked like a sad expression on his face.

For some reason, she felt worried about this, and since no one in the group was paying any attention to her she had plenty of leisure time to puzzle out the situation. At first she shrugged it off - he was just a hired gun, she'd seen plenty of those, why should she care about this one?

But still, she found herself glancing at him, just every once in a while, to see if he was all right. Then she'd catch herself and look away, her mind yelling at her to mind her own business. Despite his fancy words he'd turn out to be like the others.

Her brown eyes wandered over to where Hanley and Stan were talking rather heatedly, to where Trent was bragging to Lew about all the men he'd shot, and Dark Sun riding stiff and silent. No, she thought, she had to admit she really didn't think this Ezra guy was like them. None of them ever cared what happened to her like he seemed to, or tried to protect her. She recalled that when Hanley had shot that deserter in the back, everyone else just laughed, but Ezra - well, he almost looked like he thought it was wrong. This was so unusual that Pony was dying to ask him about it.

But Ezra didn't seem to want to talk anymore, she sighed to herself as she eyed him again. He was still riding silently along, his eyes staring at something only he could see. Maybe he's gone crazy, like Dark Sun, she thought, and shuddered. But no, that wasn't it. He looked sad. But they were going to get rid of their enemies and maybe even make a few dollars. Why would that make anyone sad?

Pony turned her eyes back to the road, frowning. She should stop this, it would make her sloppy and careless. Ezra would soon be dead, or gone, and his fancy words would be so much wasted air. Another nice dream faded by the glare of the unrelenting sun.

"Still," she thought as she glanced back at him, "still maybe I better check on him. If he's going loony it'll put the rest of us in danger."

With this excuse firmly in mind, Pony wheeled her horse around and trotted up next to Ezra, who continued to stare thoughtfully at the road ahead.

She slapped his arm. "Hey!"

Ezra jumped and looked at her in surprise, as if he had just awoke from a dream and was unsure of where he was. Then he managed a feeble smile and tipped his hat, but said nothing.

"You're sure quiet today," Pony chided him. "Finally run out of them fancy words?"

Ezra chuckled a little and looked away. "My apologies, my dear," he said, "I find myself hardly in a talkative mood today."

Pony grunted. "You better not be thinkin' on runnin'. You'll have a bunch of bullets in your back."

Ezra shook his head. "Rest assured I am not in danger of absconding from your charming group," he said, putting a slightly sarcastic spin on the final few words. "I was merely in contemplation."

Pony gave him a curious look. "'Bout what?"

He glanced at her, and Pony thought he looked almost startled. Something else was lurking there too - he looked like he was in some sort of pain.

"Is it them friends of yours you was talkin' about?" she guessed.

The look of surprise grew on his face, and he smiled a little. "You are remarkably astute, Miss Pony."

She stared at him, uncertain how to react to both the word and the compliment. At least it sounded like a compliment. "I am? Is that a good thing?"

Ezra shrugged. "It is to some. To others it causes only grief." He sighed and looked away.

Pony watched him for a moment. "You gonna kill 'em?"

He looked back at her abruptly, his expression slightly stunned. "I beg your pardon?"

"Kill 'em," she said simply. "Whenever someone crossed Eli Joe, he always made sure they got killed. Thought maybe that was what you were thinkin' on."

He continued to look at her for a few moments, and she could not tell what he was thinking.

Finally he shook his head and faced forward. "My anger may be kindled toward them, my dear, but it has not flared quite as high as that."

"Well, why not?" Pony demanded, amazed. Every time any of her comrades had been crossed, they killed because of it. "They done you wrong, didn't they? Why don't you want t'get even?"

Ezra seemed to think hard on this answer, and when he finally spoke his voice was almost too low to hear over the pounding of the horses' hooves.

"Because these men were once my friends," he said evenly, " and though they are far from flawless, I do not believe their sins to be mortal ones."

Pony felt herself getting a headache. "But they crossed you. Don't that mean you ain't got t'care about 'em no more?"

There was a pause before Ezra said, "That, my dear, is what I am trying to decide."


She looked up to see Hanley waving at her.

"Looks like it's time t'rustle us up some lunch," she said, pulling out her gun and checking the chamber. "Maybe some food in your stomach'll make all that thinkin' easier t'do."

She gave him a tight smile and rode off to find something for them to eat, grateful to be able to drop the conversation. She had understood none of it, and the talk seemed painful for Ezra. When people hurt you, you hurt them back - it was as simple as that, or so she'd always thought. When Ezra felt like talking again, she'd have to ask him what it was about these so-called friends of his that made them so hard to give up.

Maybe then she'd know why she felt so jealous of him.

Chris and Vin walked with purposeful strides towards the rear of the area where their party had camped for lunch. Vin carried a hard roll and a pewter plate of chili, as well as a canteen; Chris bore a similar ration, plus one extra. The grim expressions of determination worn on their dusty faces went unnoticed by the man they were seeking out; Yates only sneered at them from the spot where he sat, handcuffed hands dangling lazily on his knees as he leaned casually against the wagon wheel.

"Was wonderin' if you was gonna let me starve this time," the prisoner groused.

An icy smile crept across Chris's face as he tossed the roll to Yates and dumped the second canteen on the ground beside him. "You ain't gettin' off that easy, Yates."

Yates narrowed his beady eyes as Chris handed him the plate of food. "You boys figurin' on roughin' me up, huh? Reckoned that was your style. I know about the judge in Tascosa, he ain't the type that takes to renegade lawmen beatin' up their prisoners." He chuckled as he shoved a forkful of food into his mouth. "'Sides, it won't do ya a lick o' good. I know what I heard an' didn't hear, an' Tanner here's as guilty as sin."

Chris and Vin exchanged serious looks, and they both crouched in front of Yates, Vin rubbing his chin with one hand. "Now, y'see, Yates, Chris an' me was talkin' 'bout what t'do with you. It ain't no use pretendin' you didn't hear Eli Joe confess to them killins, 'cause we both know you did. You was standin' right there."

The only reply was a sullen glare and silence as Yates wolfed down his food.

Chris sighed. "Told you, Vin. Looks like y'got no choice."

Vin sighed as well and took off his hat. "Yep. Was really hopin' it wouldn't come t'this," he said in a sad tone laced with regret.

Yates looked up, uncertainty in his eyes. "What, you gonna whup me? That figures. Go ahead, you'll just get me in good with the judge, an' you'll both wind up hanged."

A somewhat eerie smile slid across Vin's face as he shucked off his leather jacket. "Oh, I ain't gonna whup you. Lord, when I'm through with you you'll wish it was just a whuppin'."

"Oh?" Yates was starting to look worried, his food now totally ignored. "Well - well, you just mind yourself. That judge sees even one mark on me, you're both dead."

Vin was now rolling up his sleeves in a very lazy manner, appearing to enjoy the preparations immensely. "You ever been with the Comanche, Yates? Or the Sioux, or the Cheyenne?"

"Redskins?" Yates blurted. "Hell no, they give me the creeps."

"Figures," Vin nodded, finishing his right sleeve and unbuttoning his left. "Well, I sure do. Spent lots of time with 'em, in fact. They got some very interestin' notions on how t'get information from a man." He smiled again, his blue eyes shining.

Yates gulped and pressed up against the back of the wagon wheel, no longer hiding his fear. "I heard of the things those savages do - you think the judge'll put up with me comin' in all burned and sliced up?"

Vin slowly rolled up his left sleeve, the smile still on his face. "You only heard the half of it, Yates. There's things they do no white man outside their circle ever knows about. The really *awful* stuff. An' none of it leaves the slightest mark."

Yates's eyes bulged from his head.

"See," Vin continued in a soft, lethal tone as he leaned forward, "they got ways to cause the most horrible pain that don't leave no trace at all. If I wanted to, I could dislocate every joint on your body just by twistin' the right places. Or make your head hurt so bad you'll be screamin' to die, just by pressin' a couple spots. They taught me ways t'make you think every bone in your body's broke. All without a scratch."

Yates stared at him, a slight trembling seizing his body. "I don't believe you," he finally sputtered. "You're makin' all this up."

Vin grinned and cracked his knuckles. "I was really hopin' you'd say that."

Yates let out a yelp and looked at Chris, who had not moved since Vin began talking. "You gonna let him do this to me?"

Chris shrugged. "Y'had your chance, Yates." Chris stood and looked at Vin. "Just make sure he stays sane for the trial."

"Cant make no promises," Vin said as he inched towards Yates. "Last man I did this too went plumb crazy from the pain in five minutes." He reached for Yates' elbow.

"Wait!" the prisoner shrieked.

Vin stopped, and he and Chris looked at him keenly.

"You thinkin' on changin' your mind?" Vin asked in a sharp tone.

Yates swallowed, sweat standing out on his brow. "May - maybe."

Chris stepped before him, his green eyes studying the man closely. "You gonna tell that Judge that Eli Joe killed that man, not Vin?"

Yates looked at them both with wide eyes for a few moments, his mind's turmoil evident in his face.

"Guess not," Vin said, and reached for him again.

"All right, dammit!" Yates hollered, shrinking away. "Just get away from me!"

Vin leaned forward, his expression hard. "All right *what*?"

Yates gritted his teeth and looked away, obviously angry at himself. "I'll -cooperate."

There was a pause, then Vin picked up his hat and jacket and stood.

"I was kinda hopin' you'd hold out longer'n that, an' let me have a little fun," Vin said as he pulled his hat on over his long golden-brown curls.

Chris slapped Vin on the back. "Well, there's always the *next* prisoner. Enjoy your lunch, Yates."

With that, the two men turned and walked away.

After they'd gone out of Yates' earshot, Chris looked at Vin. "Don't take much t'scare a coward, does it?"

Vin shook his head. "Lucky for us. Hope he's scared enough t'keep his word."

"Well, you were pretty convincing," Chris replied.

 "Yep." Vin pulled on his coat as he shook his head with a quiet smile. "Almost believed it myself!"

Yates watched his tormenters go with hate - filled eyes. The fear had fled, replaced by anger, at himself for giving in and at them for their stubborn refusal to stop badgering him. It was easy to promise Larabee whatever he wanted now, because he knew he'd be free soon, and his words would count for nothing.

Just wait, Larabee, Yates thought as he took a drink from the canteen they'd left. They're coming to free me, and when they do, it'll be you who'll be screaming to die. You and your whole damn gang.