by Allison

Josiah paused in his hammering to wipe the sweat from his brow with the handkerchief in his pocket. The September sun was still hot at this time of day, but the air was clear and had a hint of fall crispness, so he found he didn’t mind working on the church’s badly decayed roof at all.

All in all, one of the Lord’s more beautiful days.

His pleasant thoughts were interrupted by a stream of muttered, but particularly eloquent, profanity coming from the sidewalk below. With a frown, he leaned over, immediately recognizing the black hat of the leader of the seven peacekeepers.

“And what has provoked language like that on this fine day, Brother Chris?” he called down with a raised eyebrow.

The black clad gunslinger glanced up. “Uh, sorry about that,” he mumbled toward the sky, looking guilty. Josiah wasn’t sure if the apology was directed at him or was perhaps intended to extend further upwards, but deciding God wouldn’t mind if he handled this one, he smiled benevolently.

“Apology accepted, but what—or who—in the world has you so riled, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Oh, it’s a ‘who’ all right,” Chris practically growled. “And I’ll give you one guess as to which particular ‘who’.”

Josiah didn’t even need one guess. There was only one person he knew of who could rile Chris so completely. Plenty of people could make their hot-tempered gunslinger angry—heck; Ezra did it on an almost daily basis. But only a certain long haired sharpshooter was likely to rouse this type of vitriol.

Josiah sighed. “And what has brother Vin done now?” he asked with some amusement.

“Dam—uh, dang fool is bound and determined to ride to Eagle Bend and retrieve those prisoners. In spite of the fact that we’ve had at least three reports of bounty hunters in the area. I swear that man is the most stubborn thing alive.”

Josiah privately thought that there was at least one other person he could name who might challenge Vin for that title, but he felt it was more politic not to mention it at the moment.

“Our young brother is a bit obstinate,” the preacher conceded and Chris gave a disgusted snort.

“Ha! Wish he really were my brother, 'cause then I wouldn’t be having this problem now. I tell you Josiah, my pa wouldn’t’ve put up with any a’ this nonsense. Vin would’ve learned pretty quick not to try any sass on him or Pa would have hauled him out to the wood shed and tanned that mulish streak right out of him.”

“Well, have you told Vin straight out that you don’t think he should go?”

“Of course I have! He just gives me that big ole’ grin and tells me he’ll be fine.”

Josiah sat back and removed his hat, running a hand through his grizzled hair. “Maybe he just doesn’t understand how concerned you are.”

“Well, hel…heck, Josiah, I’ve been yellin’ at him half the mornin’. I even threatened to shoot him if he kept up his talk about going.”

“And would you?”

Chris seemed perplexed. “Would I what?”

“Would you actually shoot him?”

Chris looked up at the older man as though he was crazy. “Well, ‘course not, Josiah.” His eyes narrowed in concern. “You know, it’s probably not good for you to be up on the roof like that. A man can get mighty touched working in this kind of heat.”

Josiah smiled.

“Don’t worry, I’m fine.” He sat back on his haunches and stared down at Chris. “In fact, if you ask me, you’re the one that seems confused. Why should Vin pay any attention to threats that the both of you know perfectly well you have no intention of carrying out?

Chris frowned. “Well, what else am I supposed to do? He ain’t no kid, no matter how much he might act like one. Not much I really can do if the dam…darn fool won’t listen to sense.”

Josiah scratched his chin. “No, Vin ain’t the type of man to let words sway him if they’re not backed up by actions. It seems to me that if you want to persuade him to stay in town, you’ll have to think of some sort of penalty you can actually implement.”

Chris thought that over for a minute. “You mean blackmail him?”

“Blackmail is an ugly word. I was thinking more along the lines of some type of consequence. Perhaps something unpleasant that our young brother would be anxious to avoid at all costs. And more importantly, something you would actually be willing to enforce.”

Chris Larabee mulled over Josiah’s words for a while and then he smiled.

Now to most people, Chris’ green-eyed glare was the scariest thing they’d ever seen, but for Josiah, the sight of that half-lidded smirk made a chill run up his spine and caused him to fear for their stubborn tracker.

“You know, that’s a terrific idea, Josiah. And I think I have just the thing.” Chris tipped his hat and headed back toward the saloon, his step almost jaunty.

Muttering a brief prayer for stubborn gunslingers and willful sharpshooters, Josiah turned back to his hammering.

A short time later, his work was again interrupted by another colorful burst of profanity, this time in multiple languages.

“Vincent Tanner, is that you swearing in front of a church?” he demanded from above in his most commanding voice. He hid his grin as Vin started; no doubt thinking that God himself had spoken to him from on high. Realizing that it was just Josiah, Vin blushed.

“Sorry,” he muttered upwards, and once again, Josiah chose to intercept the apology.

“It’s all right. I’m sure God’s heard worse. Now, what seems to have provoked this annoyance?” Josiah asked, though the former preacher was willing to wager he already knew.

“It’s Chris,” Vin said heatedly, yanking his hat off and running a frustrated hand through his shaggy hair. “He won’t let me ride to Eagle Bend to collect those prisoners. He’s sending Buck and JD instead.”

Josiah feigned ignorance. “Yes, I believe he did mention something about prisoners needing to be picked up,” he remarked casually. “Is it a problem if Buck and JD go?”

“Well, no,” Vin grudgingly admitted, “but there ain’t no reason I can’t, either.”

“I believe I also heard some mention of bounty hunters in the area. Seems like a pretty good reason to me.”

“Aw, hel..heck, Josiah, I can take care of myself. But just try tellin’ that to ole’ high and mighty Mr. Larabee. You’d think I was still some wet behind the ears kid, greener than JD by the way he carried on,” he said, folding his arms and scowling.

“I don’t think that’s the case,” Josiah said, refraining from mentioning that Vin’s posture was making a mockery of his statement. “Brother Larabee takes the safety of all those under his leadership seriously, but you know he’s got a special worry where you’re concerned.”

“I don’t need his fussin’. I ain’t no baby and I told him so.”

“So, you’ll be going despite Chris’ orders?” Josiah asked, hiding his surprise that Larabee had failed in his effort to keep Vin in town.

Vin scowl deepened and he suddenly found the dirt at his feet worth studying. “No, I ain’t going,” he admitted with a sigh.

“I see. And how was Chris able to convince you to remain behind?” Josiah asked offhandedly, though he was burning with curiosity.

“Aww, that dam…darn Larabee don’t play fair. He tole’ me that if I go ahead to Eagle Bend, he’s gonna make me take the town patrol for the next month—with Ezra!”

Josiah couldn’t help but wince at Larabee’s creativity. For a shy man with a taste for wide open spaces like Vin, having to take the town patrol, which involved traveling no further than the limits of Four Corners and stopping to speak with all the shopkeepers, would be pure torture. Especially since all of the women in town took it upon themselves to scold and fret over the young tracker. And dragging an equally reluctant Ezra along would make the job even more unpleasant.

But Vin wasn’t finished.

His glare deepening with indignation, he continued. “And not only that, he also threatened to tell Miss Nettie that when I go to dinner at her house, I stuff all that spinach and other green stuff she serves down my boot when she ain’t looking.” He glanced up at the older man, worry clear on his face. “Lord, you know how she is about wasting food, Josiah. She gets wind of that, she’ll be after me with her wooden spoon and I won’t be gettin’ no more of her pies and cakes for dessert!”

Josiah managed to nod in sympathetic agreement, knowing Vin was correct about the older lady’s ire, but he was biting the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.

Apparently their esteemed leader had well and truly thwarted their tracker, and without the necessity of threatening bodily harm!

Josiah shook his head in commiseration. “It seems like Chris really has you over a barrel this time, Vin,” he said, once he was sure he could speak without chuckling.

“I don’t know, Josiah. Larabee’s gettin’ downright devious in his old age. Hel…heck, I never paid him any mind when he was threatenin’ to shoot me, but this…wonder how he came up with this?”

Josiah wisely refrained from answering the question, hoping that Vin was just thinking out loud and wasn’t really waiting for one. There was no way he wanted to admit his own role in Chris’ plan.

“I’ll bet Ezra gave him the idea. Man’s as conniving as a mama with six daughters to marry off,” Vin continued, still speculating.

“That he is,” Josiah agreed heartily, feeling not a bit of guilt since at least part of Vin’s statement held a good bit of truth.

“Yeah, this has ‘Ezra’ written all over it,” Vin said, sitting down on the steps of the church, his pensive look indicating that he was planning some sort of horrible payback for their conman and gambler.

Deciding that in this case, discretion was definitely the better part of valor, Josiah reached for an extra hammer. “Well, since you’re not going anywhere Vin, why not climb on up here and give me a hand,” he said, tossing it down to him.

Vin caught it easily in spite of his preoccupation. “I don’t know, Josiah. Think maybe I should go have a little chat with good ole’ Ezra.”

Now it was Josiah’s turn to frown. Though he had no regrets about helping Chris, he didn’t relish the idea of Vin becoming aware of the fact. “Nonsense! Get yourself up here and get to work. This old church needs your strong back more than Ezra needs your strong words.”

“I was thinkin’ on a little more than just words, Josiah. A man ought not stick his nose in where it ain’t needed,” he added darkly, reminding Josiah once again that in spite of his youth, Vin could be a formidable enemy.

“All the more reason to work out some of that anger. Remember, “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord,” Josiah admonished, praying silently that Vin would indeed remember that adage if the truth ever came out.

Vin glowered, indicating exactly what he thought of that particular sentiment. When he continued to make no move to join Josiah, the preacher grew more insistent.

“Now, Vin. Or I just might make it a point to seek Miss Nettie out next time she’s here in town myself,” Josiah said sternly.

The look of outraged betrayal that Vin gave him was enough to make him wonder if he had pushed their volatile tracker too far, but nevertheless, the younger man sighed heavily and climbed up to the roof without further argument, though he continued to complain vigorously.

“This whole town’s full of sneaky, lowdown busybodies. It’s a pure wonder that a body can go a minute without someone telling him what he can and can’t do.”

Josiah smiled to himself as he picked up his own hammer. Grumblings aside, Vin was safe, Chris was happy, and Ezra was in no danger of retribution—at least for the next hour or so.

Yes, it surely was one of the Lord’s more beautiful days.


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