The Unknown Form

by Gill Armitage

When a stranger hits town, Ezra shows more interest than he should. His problems increase as a spectre from his past shows up seeking revenge. Can the stranger help? Will Ezra escape his past and his future unscathed? Will the Seven ever be the same again?

Size: Approx 300K

It was mid July and the heat was oppressive, almost unbearable. Despite it though the town of Four Corners bustled with people. Towns folk, cowboys and drifters moving up and down Main Street all going about their business. All were watched at different times and from different places by the seven men that took care of the town.

Buck Wilmington was the ladies man; some would say the scoundrel. To those around him he spent most of his time and efforts trying to wend his way into any woman's heart. He was tall and handsome and knew exactly what to say and how to say it to get almost anything he wanted from the fairer sex. On occasion this had worked too well and he had been known to run as fast as possible in the opposite direction if a lady took his advances to heart. He enjoyed fishing but did not want to be the fish. He had no intentions of being caught. But woe betide anyone who hurt one of his friends, he could turn from being a smooth talking cad into a wild cougar in the blink of an eye, he was fast on the draw and as accurate as he needed to be.

He was stood outside the cigar shop savouring a new brand when he noticed the large spotted horse and dusty rider coming down Main Street, headed for the livery. As per standing orders from Chris all strangers were to be checked on to find out what their business in town was and how long they were staying. There had been too many new faces in the last week. Buck collected Vin from the front of the saloon and headed in a leisurely stroll down to the livery. They walked into the cool dark of the stables and after waiting for a few seconds to get accustomed to the dark they began to look around for the unusually distinctive horse.

"Are you sure it was a Palouse Buck?" asked Vin, who had only ever seen one before now and that had been in New York, it had been owned by a very rich businessman who bred distinctive, rare animals. His one and only trip to the East had been enough to keep him out West the rest of his life. He had found out that there were not many Appaloosas around and were therefore expensive to own. When Buck had approached him at the front of the saloon and described the animal it had peaked his interest.

Vin Tanner, the Texan was the quiet one, he had lived with the Indians for a while and amongst other things he was a fair tracker and an excellent sharpshooter. He had a healthy respect for the land and everything in it. His one true soft spot was for Nettie Wells, an elderly lady living out of town with her niece. He had become a close friend and confident to Chris, a balance almost, but given the right circumstances could be deadly with a gun or knife.

"I know a Palouse when I see one Vin, they ain't exactly comin' out of the woodwork around here are they, besides its our job to check it out."

As they moved deeper into the stables Vin stopped Buck by touching his arm and then pointed to the stall second from the end. The animal stood calmly chewing from the manger. Buck came up from behind and gently laid his hand on the animals back sliding it up and over its neck. The horse was large for it's breed, 16 hands at least with mostly a solid mousy brown colour except for its rump and hindquarters, which were white with splotches of brown here and there.

"Yep it's definitely an Appaloosa, and a damn fine animal to boot. It's been ridden long and hard but it sure is in good condition. The fella that owns this sure knows how to treat a fine bit of horse flesh." His hand moved over to the right side of the animal, his fingers tracing the brand. The letter R with two lightning bolts through the middle. "Unusual brand, hard to fake," he mumbled almost to himself.

If anyone had been looking at that moment they would have thought Vin had fallen in love. His hand was gently caressing the back and hindquarters of the large animal as if it was china.

"Excuse me!" the voice came from behind and startled Buck into drawing his gun; he relaxed when he saw it was Tiny, the livery owner.

"Can I help you two?" said the slightly startled man.

"The fella this horse belongs to where's his rig?" Vin was drawn to the back of the stables where Tiny pointed. Slung across the rail was a beautiful hand tooled black & tan saddle. There was a scabbard for a rifle and to his astonishment an empty holster designed into the rear left side of the saddle for a gun and a knife.

"Buck this here is an expensive rig, I ain't never seen a saddle like this afore." Buck turned to Tiny and asked if the stranger had said anything.

"Yeah, he asked how much it was long term to keep his horse here and where the best place was to bunk down, I told him where the Ritz hotel was and after he rubbed his horse down I guess he headed in that direction."

"Come on Buck, lets go check him out, I reckon Chris is gonna be interested in this guy."

+ + + + + + +

The stranger's name was B J Roslin; at least that was what the register said at the hotel. The clerk said he had paid for a week up front, "wanted a room on the front top floor if he could get it, well it was there so I let him have it, I dun right didn't I Mr Tanner?"

"Yeah sure, there's no problem, just checking him out, bein' as he's a stranger an all."
He was about to turn and leave when the clerk added "it was kind a strange…"

"What was?"

"Well he asked for a bath, didn't want to go to the bath house wanted one bought to his room, and hot water."

"Maybe he just wanted a peaceful bath, I know I sure wish I could get one know and again." Buck looked at Vin and added "don't say it, I know it's usually my fault. I can't help it if the women in this town always have something urgent to say to me when I'm havin a bath." Vin had to turn away quick so that Buck would not see the big grin that crossed his face. Buck was always having trouble with the ladies one way or the other.

"Come on, lets report this to Chris and get back to watching main street OK, we can talk to this fella later, I'm sure he'll be out to get food and a drink at some point."

+ + + + + + +

B J watched from the window as the two handsome young men left the hotel. Turning to look into the room B J was pleased to see that the bed was large and looked clean and comfortable, a bed was something that B J had not slept in for several months, it had been sorely missed.

A knock on the door turned out to be the bath and hot water that had been ordered. The clerk had looked amused at the idea but had arranged it none the less. With the money he was getting paid he had no reason to refuse.

Once undressed and settled into the hot welcoming water B J began to muse on what to do that evening. Food was definitely on the menu as a grumble erupted from the now empty stomach. The saloon had looked like an interesting place to get some entertainment, a drink, a game of cards maybe.

Who had those two men been? The local law possibly, checking up on a new face. B J would have to be extra careful around them.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra Standish was seated at his usual table in the saloon, at first glance most men would have seen a gambler, a man dressed so finely to be almost out of place in that rough little town. A man who would take your money without pause, who would con you out of everything you owned just because he could. He was a handsome man without a doubt, not tall but lean and muscular. What many people failed to see was a man who could take care of himself. The guns he carried were not just for show, he could use each one of them to the deadliest extent that they were designed for and he was fast, faster than even his friends realised.

Earlier that evening two local cowboys had joined him for a game. He had decided to take it easy on them as he knew they were family men and could not afford to lose too much, but hell he was gonna take some of there money, just to teach them a lesson if nothing else.

He looked up as a stranger in a buckskin jacket came through the swing doors, the first thing he noticed was he was a lefty or a south paw as some put it. His gun was hanging on his left hip. The holster was even more decoratively tooled than his own. His hat was black with what looked like turquoise and leather entwined around the crown. The jacket was tailored and the shirt was white and crisp clean and actually looked to be two sizes bigger than the man inside it. The trousers were jet-black good quality material and very tight around… <his legs were very shapely for a man>. Ezra shook his head, <you need to bed you a woman soon Ezra>, he said to himself, <your starting to scare me>.

The stranger walked up to the bar and ordered a beer, then sat down at one of the tables opposite Ezra. His face was clean shaven with a well shaped jaw, that was virtually all he could see as the strangers head was kept down and the hat covered most of his face.

What did surprise Ezra were the hands. Being a gambler he naturally noticed peoples hands. It had saved his life and a good deal of money on many occasions. The fingers were long and slender; the nails were short but well looked after and clean. That was unusual in itself, most cowboys, drifters, farmers or even town folk had dirty and broken fingernails, it was a trademark of the land. The bones in the stranger's hands were also small as well as the wrist. He shook his head again, as the thought came to him that they were more like a woman's hands. <You seriously need to get out more>, he looked around almost in desperation, none of the saloon girls were free so he turned back to his game and concentrated on winning a few dollars from the hard up cowboys at the table with him.

The saloon suddenly got crowded as the other six regulators or lawmen for Four Corners headed up by Chris Larabee walked in, each of them acknowledged Ezra as they walked up to the bar and ordered whatever they were drinking that night.

Chris Larabee was the undisputed leader of the seven. His Colt .45 Peacemaker with bone handles and the silver conchos on his gun belt were the only things he wore that were not black. To anybody who chose to cause trouble in his town he was like the devil himself. To his friends he was an enigma, bad tempered one minute and with a smile the next that would melt even the hardest of hearts. Buck Wilmington was the only one who truly knew the man inside. He had known him for many years, had been as close to being a part of his family as anyone could. But Chris had changed since the death of his wife and son and it had taken a long time for Buck to pull him around from the path of self-destruction he had ended up on.

"Well gentlemen, I believe that's me done for the evening, duty calls." Ezra rose and walked over to Chris. "I assume Mr Larabee that I am now on night watch. I once again protest at having to cut into my earning time at the tables when it is the most lucrative."

"Protest noted Ezra, but you were warned last week that you would have some night watches to do, it's only fair, now quit bitchin' and get out there." Chris was not in a particularly savoury mood that evening; too many new faces had turned up over the last few days for no apparent reason. Keeping an eye on all of them was causing a strain even in the usually happy go lucky Buck.

JD jumped forward, "Ezra wait up, I'll come with ya, I could do with a little air." JD Dunne was the youngest of the seven; he was also the town's official sheriff. He had arrived from New York, full of the joys of youth and eager to make his mark on the west, he had grown up with stories of cowboys and gunfighters and since his arrival in Four Corners had proved that he had learned a lot. He was deadly fast with the twin guns he sported and equally proficient with both hands. Being the youngest he was fiercely protected by the other members of the team, Buck especially cared for him as if he was a brother. Trying to get them to take him seriously was a full time job for JD.

Vin noticed the stranger as he got up to leave and took in his appearance within a second.

"Hey Josiah, another south paw," he said in a quiet voice. Josiah turned and noticing the stranger for the first time seemed to look twice as if seeing something the others hadn't.

"Something wrong Josiah?" asked a concerned Vin having noticed the look on Josiah's face.

"No." Josiah paused, then looked over at Vin "Just the way he walks is all, it's nothin'."

+ + + + + + +

B J walked up the sidewalk from the saloon noticing the two lawmen as they crossed the street just ahead. The alleys were dark and it was quiet outside, which was a big change from the hustle in the saloon. B J's attention was snatched by a movement of the shadows just ahead. Realising what it was B J shouted ahead and immediately drew the six gun hanging from the fancy rig. A man came out of the alley up ahead sporting a gun; it was aimed in the direction of the two men. Without thinking B J fired winging the man in his left arm. No one noticed the second man coming out of the shadows ahead of Ezra and JD until it was too late.

JD felt the jolt of the bullet before hearing the sound. He was spun around with the force and ended on his back, he looked down to see a blossoming red mark on his lower left side. Funny there wasn't any pain; in fact it was numb. JD looked up as he heard the boom of two guns almost in unison. Ezra and the stranger both had their guns up and aimed just behind him. He turned his head to see a body twist and fall almost in slow motion.

Within moments the street was crowded with people as they streamed out of the saloon and nearby establishments. Nathan was hovering over JD. "I'm fine honest, I can't feel nothing," pleaded JD as three sets of hands lifted him and moved him slowly towards Nathan's clinic.

"I just want to check you out JD there's a whole lot of blood for nothing." JD looked down again to his side and as if seeing it for the first time gasped as a shot of overwhelming pain coursed through his body. "What happened? It didn't hurt a moment ago, what happened?" the worried strained voice of Buck could be heard through the mist of pain.

"Just shock JD, you'll be fine. He will be fine won't he Nate?"

Back on the street Ezra was still standing where he had been when he had heard the shout. Chris was stood next to him. "What happened Ezra?" He put his hand on his shoulder. A concerned look crossed Chris' face. He almost looked like he was in shock.

"We just crossed the street when I heard a shout, I turned back in time to see that gentleman," he pointed to the stranger in buckskins "shoot that fella comin' out of the alley by the saloon. I was about to question him as to why when I heard JD shout I just reacted and fired. It would appear he did the same."

"Chris." Josiah was knelt by the man who had come out of the alley. "He's still alive, just nicked on the arm, must have passed out." Chris walked over glancing momentarily at the stranger they had seen in the saloon. He was standing over the wounded man with his gun still out. As he reached the prostrate man he gave him a slight nudge with his boot. The man groaned and woke up starring with wild nervous eyes at the three men towering over him.
"Who are you? Why d'ya come after my men?" The man could see he was cornered with no chance to escape. This was not what he had bargained for.

"We was paid mister, he wanted ya hurt or dead it didn't matter." His wild eyes flicked to Ezra.

"Who did?" Ezra moved to stand next to Chris. "Who wanted me dead?"

"I don't know his name, he was some rich fella down in New Orleans said to come north and find a fancy dressed dandy working in some back of the woods town called Four Corners."

Ezra looked shocked and miffed at the same time. "I assure you sir I am no dandy, just because I choose to dress as a gentleman in this rough uncivilised country does not make me a dandy." Chris almost had to hold Ezra back as he saw his temper rising. It was amazing to see such a little thing as a word get such a reaction out of the usually calm demeanour of the gambler.

"Josiah get this piece of trash off my street, he can wait in the jail until Nate can see him, mayhaps he'll bleed to death afore he gets there." Chris turned to the stranger who had been standing quietly to the side. His gun was now holstered. It took only a few seconds for him to look the man over. He was 5ft 8in approximately, of slight build, tanned skin and clean-shaven, he had strikingly blue eyes. He could see a wisp of blonde hair under the expensive hat. In fact all the clothes he was wearing were either very practical or very expensive. The gun and hip holster were also expensive, well worn but looked after.

"I'm obliged for your help Mr…?" he paused waiting for a response.

"Roslin, B J Roslin." The voice was quiet.

"May I ask what your business is in town and how long you're planning on staying?" Chris looked around him as he waited for an answer, he was glad to see the townsfolk moving back into the saloon off the street.

"I was informed there was a small ranch just outside of town on the market, I plan on buying it and settling down, any objections?"

"None as far as I can see, was you planning on a job as well?" Ezra moved to stand next to Chris, he was looking quizzically into the face of the man.

"Not at the moment, but I may soon, I've been a tracker, pretty good with a horse and a gun." B J turned to look at Ezra and added "Also been known to win a hand or two at the gaming tables."

"I'd be happy to play a hand or two with you sir." Ezra had obviously come out of his stupor. "Especially after you just saved my life most possibly." He grinned under his hat, his gold tooth catching the light from the saloon window. <His eyes were real blue>, mussed Ezra. He mentally shrugged off the thought.

"Maybe later, if you don't mind gentlemen I would like to return to the saloon for the meal I was planning on having before all this started." Ezra nodded his head as the man tipped his hat and turned back to the saloon. He waited until he was out of earshot, then turned to Chris.

"Well what do you make of him. Slightly outré don't you think?" Chris looked up quizzically into Ezra's face.

"Slightly what?"

"Different, unusual."

"Why couldn't you have just said that the first time." Chris shook his head; amused once again at some of the things Ezra came out with.

"I thought I did." The two men looked briefly at the departing stranger and turned together to sort out the dead man lying in the street. Chris' attention was drawn to searching through the pockets of the man who had shot JD. His inside jacket pocket revealed a wad of bills that amounted to nearly $100.

"Well someone sure paid him a lot to kill you, any idea who it was Ezra?"

"From New Orleans, it could have been one of many, I have so many friends! In that fair town." Chris chuckled to himself; thinking that with the kind of friends Ezra had his life would never be boring.

"Go fetch the undertaker, I'm gonna check on JD." Chris headed off to Nathan's clinic. Ezra turned and with a last look towards the saloon and a shrug of his shoulders, he headed to the undertaker's office.


B J finished the meal that had been ordered, paid and headed back to the hotel room. Standing in front of the mirror over the wash bowl she took off her hat allowing her long blonde hair to fall out over her shoulders and looked firmly at the face looking back.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid, what were you thinking, your supposed to keep a low profile, blend in stay out of trouble until you get the ranch, but no." She unbuckled the gun, took off her jacket and eased off the shoulder holster that held a small colt. Laying back on the bed she thought how she was going to stay out of the way until the Land office opened on the Monday morning. It wasn't going to be easy, she still needed to eat and although her funds were plentiful at the moment she would need to boost them soon. She did not want to have to wire back home to her lawyer in New York to get more money just yet. Her allowance only stretched so far, she had another five months to wait before money ceased to be a problem forever.

She would have to be careful of the one called Ezra, she had seen the way he had looked at her, was it possible he knew she was a woman and not the man she was pretending to be. In some states it was not looked on too favourably for women to dress in men's clothing. At any other time or place she would not have minded his eyes being on her.

Dammit what was wrong with earning a living the way men did. She was every bit as good as an Indian when it came to tracking, she had lived off the land for months at a time, surviving on her own wits. Her skill with a gun was unheard of for a woman, she may not be as fast as some but she always hit what she aimed at. She had been able to ride since the age of four and had helped her Father with his three stud farms outside of New York. He had a passion for the breeding and rearing of rare horses that had been passed on to his daughter. Dudley her Appaloosa was from one of those farms, he was the first horse she had tamed from a foal.

It wasn't her fault she had been born a girl, something her Father had taught her was to stand on her own two feet and make a life she wanted, not the one that society said was fittin' and proper for a lady. After her Mother had passed away suddenly when she was eight years old she had pretty much lived in men's clothes, they were much more practical around horses and they were a darn sight more comfortable.

The ladies of New York had scoffed at her apparel and her lack of feminine ways. That was why she had moved out west when her Father had died five years ago. She would be twenty-five years old on December 7th and would inherit her Father's estate, a very wealthy estate as far as her lawyer was concerned. Until then she intended to live her life the way she wanted. Her every intention was to re-locate her Father's business and settle in this area. When she inherited she would be wealthier than many of the women in New York and could be as eccentric as she chose. Her lawyer Mr Simmons had agreed that it was prudent to scope out new areas for the Stud Farms so had allowed her slightly more of an allowance on occasion than her Father had stipulated. It was he who had found out that a suitable site was up for sale near Four Corners.

Mr Simmons had never voiced his opinions over her apparel or the way she now lived her life; in fact he generally encouraged her. That part of him had always surprised her because he had always come across as an old fashioned gentleman. She would have to ask him one day why he treated her differently to other women he knew.

Out here she could be what she wanted. Even though she had to hide the fact that she was a woman to all around her. That wasn't a problem, in some cases it was fun. That Ezra fella was mighty attractive, she would enjoy being around him. She could still feel the shiver that had gone through her when she had seen those green eyes staring at her. She would have to be careful around him as well, things could get out of hand.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan was working over JD when Chris walked through the door of the clinic; he looked at the black man marvelling at how an ex slave could gain so much knowledge about medicine and surgery. He knew that Nathan had worked with a field surgeon during the war and had gained most of his expertise there and had also learned that the healer knew a lot about knives and swords having learnt that from his previous master. He was good with a gun as well and had been known to use his knives for more than healing when the occasion had presented itself. He shook his head at the dedication this man had to the group of lawmen and the town.

Buck and Vin were both looking on anxiously from the far wall. Buck looked as pale as JD at that moment, Chris knew the feelings he had for the young man on the bed, he was like a younger brother to Buck and consequently was watched over very carefully by him.

"Nate, how is he?" a worried look crossed Chris' face at the amount of blood on JD's clothes.

"He's lost a lot of blood but the bullet went through, I don't think it hit anything vital." Nathan straightened up to ease his back and then bent down again to begin stitching him up. "Time will tell, but I think he will be fine". As if on cue a moan was heard from the injured man. Chris, Buck & Vin almost jumped on top of him in their haste to make sure he was ok.

"Who hit me?" moaned a weak and confused JD. "Who ever is sitting on me get off."

"Wake up JD, wake up, come on now quit scarrin' us." Nathan gently patted the young mans head with a cool damp cloth as he spoke softly to him, trying to coax him out of his dreams.

"I'm awake, Nathan get that thing off me, I'm ok… I think!" The last was said in a gasp as he tried to move and felt a searing pain through the left side of his body.

"Let that be a lesson to ya. Now stay still and do as your told, always getting y'self into trouble when my back is turned, what am I gonna do wid ya boy". This was from Buck, although he sounded harsh, his words were coated in concern for the boy, yes at the moment he was no more than a boy, lying in that bed.

"Yes Ma." said a sheepish looking JD. The others in the room turned slightly to hide the grins that covered their faces whenever Buck chastised JD.

"Nathan when your finished here, and only when your sure he's ok, can ya take a look at that weasel that shot at JD & Ezra, he's messin' up my jail bleedin' out of a scratch in his arm." Chris was not too concerned for the man in the jail; he just hated having to clean up after them.

"Yeah sure Chris as soon as I have this young man stitched, bandaged and asleep" he looked around him at the three men in the room. "I'm sure one of these fine fellas here will watch JD when I'm done."

Buck leapt forward. "There ain't no need for any o you guys to stay I'll make sure he behaves, or else." he gave the now sleepy looking JD a stern look.

+ + + + + + +

An hour later Josiah caught up with Ezra back in the saloon; he was sat at his table playing of all things solitaire.

"What's wrong Ezra, no takers for a game?" He had never seen Ezra playing solitaire especially when there were so many new faces in town to fleece.

"Yes well, I was just thinking about that B J fellow that just happened to be there to save my skin this evening, solitaire helps me think, put things in order, you know?" Josiah could see that Ezra was on another planet. It concerned him that this incident had affected him so much.

"Yeah I know," he paused, "What sort of things are puzzling you about him brother?" Ezra looked over at the large kindly faced man. He grinned.

"There are some things a man does not talk about Mr Sanchez, I believe my thoughts at this time are best kept private. No offence intended."

"None taken, but don't sit there pondering too long, Chris says you still have 4 hours of your watch left."

"Yes I suppose I must fulfil my duties to this town even though it cuts in to my social pleasures." Ezra sighed and pushed the chair back as he rose.

He walked out onto the now deserted street and turned south towards the church. He had the oddest feeling he was being watched and turned to scan the doors and windows around him, he did not see the curtain move on the upper floor of the hotel. He shrugged his shoulders, told himself it was just the evening's events that had put him on edge and continued his patrol of the main street.

+ + + + + + +

The preacher watched quietly as Ezra left the saloon. For a moment he had hoped that the gambler would open up to him, but he had pushed too hard and the shutters had snapped closed again. One day he would get to know the real man behind the façade.

Josiah was a big man, some would say not handsome but with a face that told a thousand stories. His shear size frightened many wan-a-be outlaws into re-considering their chosen careers. He had been a preacher once in his past and still held solidly to many of the dictates of that profession. He was a good listener and a good friend to those he let in. He was also fiercely protective of his flock as he put it. He rarely wore a gun around town but knew how to use one, his chosen side arm was actually a large ten inch blade, he could use it deftly and had proved that to more than one criminal in the past.

He caught sight of Chris & Vin as they left Nathan's clinic heading to the jailhouse. "Chris can I talk to you about this B J fella?"

"Sure Josiah, what's troublin' ya?"

"Well I'm not sure really, it's little things like the way he moves, the way he talks. That rig of his and that horse, I went down to the livery and had a look after Vin & Buck described it, I ain't never seen such a high bred animal round these parts afore."

"Well just because the man is unusual doesn't mean anything's wrong, he may be from the East that would explain the mannerisms and certainly the horse." Josiah could see that Chris was trying to convince himself of his own words. Maybe he was right, maybe they were just a little jumpy after the shooting. He decided to let it lie.

"Yeah well maybe your right Chris, I'll be turning in now, see ya in the morning." He turned and headed towards the church, leaving Chris and Vin pondering on the things he had said.

After Josiah had left, Vin turned to look at his friend as they continued to walk. "Being from back East don't explain away how good he is with that gun, you only get that good from a lot of practice and real use." he paused, "I ain't never seen no one from back East that good."

"JD's from back east, he's good." Chris stopped in his tracks just before reaching the door to the jail. "Vin I was thinkin', we could do with a hand around here on occasion, you know when we have to leave town. I was thinkin' of asking this B J Roslin to fill in on occasion. Like you said, he's mighty handy with that gun, doesn't seem the type to fly off the handle. What do ya think?"

"Hell Chris that's an almighty big responsibility you puttin' on a mans shoulders, especially when ya don't really know him or who he is. I agree he looks after his horse, his rig and hisself but that don't make him reliable enough after only one day knowing him." Vin had to admit to himself that having only met the man briefly he did like him. Something about him put him at ease, but something also told him that there was more to this man than met the eye.

After a few moments of silence Chris responded. "Yeah, ya may be right, we'll see what happens over the next few days or so."


The next few weeks proved to be enlightening to the seven lawmen. The man who had shot at Ezra & JD was sentenced to six months in prison and escorted to Denver. Two other strangers were run out of town after creating a ruckus at the boarding house, they had had a few too many to drink at Diggers Saloon and had torn up two of the rooms. They were fined and summarily kicked out of town.

B J Roslin managed to get to the Land Office on the Monday morning. She secured the purchase of the property approximately 10 miles out of town and then wired her lawyer in New York to send money and arrange to have the stock and some of the ranch hands sent out to set the place up. She trusted these men as they had been with her Father for 10 years and knew who she was and how she lived her life. The foreman and his second were loyal men and had vowed to keep her secret when she had left. Her plans were to start breading some of the horses with the local hardy stock to produce an animal of quality and endurance as well as continuing to improve on the Appaloosa breed. Only the Indians seemed to take pride in owning Appaloosa's. Since the steady decline of the Indian nation the Appaloosa had been seen as a symbol of something bad and was therefore hunted down and killed in many States. Her Father's dream had been to save the breed and introduce the Appaloosa to the upper gentry of society.

According to her Lawyer Mr Simmons (a man who had known her since birth) it would take up to 4 months for the ranch hands and the stock to reach her. They would have to be driven carefully as they were expensive animals and hard to replace. She also knew that at least six of the mares chosen to come out to Four Corners were with foul, so extra care would be needed. That four months would give her time to settle in and get the ranch ready. It would also give her time to assess the lay of the land and the townsfolk.

Each weekend B J would come into town to collect supplies, have a real hot bath at the hotel. (The desk clerk was getting used to the unusual requests of 'the stranger'). She would pick up supplies and fill a wagon she had bought from the livery. The Saturday afternoon she would have a decent cooked meal. Anything she didn't have to cook herself always tasted great, and then she would spend the evening in the saloon playing cards with Ezra Standish mostly or one of the other six men who took care of the town. She always went home with more money than she came in with, but never from Ezra, no matter how many times she played with him she never won. That man was good, in more ways than one. She began to learn a lot about gamblin' from Ezra and he had no qualms about teaching her.

The thing that puzzled most folks was the fact that B J Roslin spent most of the Sunday morning in church. People were curious as to what B J talked about all those hours to Josiah. No one had dared ask Josiah yet and he wasn't telling.

Of course to all those around her she was still a man. She had taken great care to ensure that that was what they saw. She had even taken to darkening her face and chin with make-up to make it look like the first signs of an unshaved face. So far things were working well.


The second weekend she came to town there was a gunfight in the street. A group of men had ridden in to town on the Thursday evening and had been getting steadily drunk since then. Chris and Vin had warned them that any problems would be dealt with severely. They just hadn't listened.

About two hours after B J had ridden into town on the Saturday morning she had felt the tension in the air and had stood out on the porch in front of the general store. The storekeeper was putting together her list of supplies.

She turned her head as the first shots were heard in the back of the saloon, her gun was in her left hand in the blink of an eye, she turned and crossed the street toward the trouble. The voice in the back of her head was telling her to back off and leave it to the lawmen, but she somehow knew she needed to help. She kept her gun low and next to her thigh, out of sight to any who would be looking.

A flash of light caught her eye and she looked up to a room above the bathhouse. Whoever was in the room had not seen her as she stood under the overhang for the sidewalk. The barrel of a rifle could be seen clearly from where she stood. She turned and saw Buck and Ezra coming out of the Sheriff's Office, they had not seen the shooter in the upper room and from their angle would not see him until it was too late.

Without thinking she ran into the street raised her gun and fired through the fluttering curtain. She knew she had hit her mark when the rifle fell from the window. She heard Ezra and Buck coming across the street to her and turned to join them in whatever trouble was left. All three turned as one to head back to the saloon where gunfire still erupted.

Ezra turned to her "Thanks B J, looks like you were in the right place at the right time, I…" She never heard the rest as a sudden searing pain went through her upper left arm. The force turned her and she landed in the open arms of Ezra. As if practised all three turned as one and fired their guns into the open window.

The man who had been hidden there toppled unceremoniously out of the window and landed with a thud that told all he was dead.

As the dust settled the three were still fixed in position. Buck was in a slight crouch; Ezra was on one knee his left arm around B J's body holding her where she had landed. All three still had their guns trained on the window waiting as if there might be another shooter.

After a few seconds Ezra lifted B J to a standing position. "I'm fine Ezra," she said struggling to get out of his arms. Being that close was more than she could handle. "It's only a scratch, see." It was indeed only a bullet score along the fleshy part of the upper arm, but Ezra knew all too well that the shock from even such a small wound could be serious.

"Wait here for Nathan, we'll deal with this." He felt suddenly protective towards this man.

"Oh yeah, like you would have dealt with that if I hadn't been here, I'm coming. I'm fine honestly, it's not even bleeding anymore." Within moments the trouble was ended, two men lay dead in the saloon by the hands of Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner, three more had been wounded by Ezra, Buck and B J and had given up their guns. Nathan fixed up a ricochet scratch on Chris' head and then put a bandage around B J's arm. He agreed that the wound was superficial and nothing to worry about.

That evening she sat with Ezra, Buck, Vin and JD playing poker. Her arm was sore but she had had worse aches than that after putting up fences and cutting down hay all day. "How's your side JD?" she asked him while the cards were being dealt.

"Fine now, hardly feel a thing. I been meaning to catch up with ya to say thanks, I understand it was you practically saved our bacon out there two weeks ago and today."

"Well I wasn't the only one out there, Ezra was there as well, he would have saved the day if I hadn't been there most like." Ezra looked up from his cards, their eyes met momentarily, she quickly looked away. This was getting worse; maybe she shouldn't come in to town anymore.

"Well thanks anyway, and you Ezra." JD went back to musing over his cards. Buck and Vin noticed that Ezra remained quiet. It was most unlike him not to react to a compliment or a thank you from anyone. They eyed each other quizzically and returned to the game.

Over the next few months B J's routine became normal to the townsfolk and the lawmen of Four Corners. On two further occasions she was needed to help with trouble. Her skills with a gun were becoming as common place as the seven men who protected the town.

Yet no one suspected her of being anything other than the man she portrayed. At least she hoped no one suspected.

END OCT, Saturday Night

One Saturday evening in late October, Chris came up to her in the saloon, she had just helped Ezra clean out a couple of young upstarts who had drifted into town mid week expecting to find an open town to fleece by cheating at cards. The two of them had not needed to cheat and had come away clean and healthy by more than $20 each.

"What can I do for ya Mr Larabee?" It tickled her to see the look in Ezra's face when she mimicked the way he spoke.

"I need your help with something, if I can." Curious she stood and walked with him to the bar. Collecting a beer she turned and waited for him to tell the rest.

"I need someone to go with Ezra to pick up some papers from Ridge City. Me, Tanner and Josiah have to go escort some prisoners for the Judge won't be back till Thursday next week. Nathan has to stay in town due to that Windell woman about to give birth and well, Buck and JD as you know hightailed it out of town yesterday when Millie's Father took a dislike to Buck's advances." He looked at her with an almost desperate plea in his eye.

"Why does Ezra need help to get papers, sounds like an easy enough job to me?"

"Ordinarily he wouldn't but, well you may not know this but lately whenever Ezra has gone out alone he's gotten himself into trouble of one kind or another. I was just hopin' that if you went with him you may be able to keep him from trouble."

It sounded like a great chance to make a good impression, but that little voice in the back of her head started to nag telling her about the risks involved being alone with Ezra, not to mention the need to keep up the front of being a man.

"Well I don't know, I'm expectin' the delivery of ma horses any time soon."

"I'll leave word for Buck and JD to explain to your men if they get here before your back. I really could do with the help." She began to feel embarrassed, the man was almost begging. Surely Ezra wasn't as hopeless in these situations as he was making out.

"Ok, Ok, when do we start?" She turned and looked over at Ezra, he was gazing curiously at the two of them wondering what they were up to.

"As soon as I've spoken to Ezra, tomorrow morning would be great. You should be back by Friday at the latest. Don't worry," he added as she started to protest. "I'll make sure the boys look over your place a couple of times to make sure nothing is out of place OK?"

Sunday, November 1st

They had been riding for nearly four hours before either of them said a word.

"That's a fine piece of animal flesh you have B J. May I ask how you came by him?" B J glanced over at Ezra and then with a smooth pat to Dudley's neck answered.

"Dudley was the first foal my Father ever gave me, I raised him, trained him and when my stock arrives I will be putting him to stud to breed more."

"How did you come by such an unusual and may I add very exquisite saddle, I don't think I have every seen the like, even in my home State of Georgia?"

"It was made from a design I gave the saddler, I decided that you could never have enough places to put a gun or a knife for that matter, it has proved fruitful in the past. I also thought that he could make it as comfortable as possible for myself and Dudley as I would be using it a great deal." She looked over at him feeling slightly uneasy, was this an interrogation. Had Chris Larabee told Ezra to question her?

"How come you're not riding your usual horse, what was his name?" She had noticed that morning but had not mentioned it. Normally, from what she had heard, Ezra was almost inseparable from his horse.

Ezra looked over at B J. "Chaucer, that's his name, Chaucer. He came down lame two days ago. An inflamed cannon bone so the liveryman said. With no qualified animal doctor to check him out I decided it would be best for him to rest up. I was therefore forced to part with good money for this flea bitten nag. I only hope it can get me there and back again."

B J laughed to herself; Ezra was certainly one to enjoy his comforts and to make sure all around him knew what his comforts were. From the first day of knowing him she had sensed that the man had a deeper meaning to him, that his friends did not truly know him.

They rode on into the early evening in silence, not strained silence but comfortable no need to talk silence. Ezra pulled up and pointed ahead to a series of shallow caves.

"We can camp there for the night, it's slightly off the straight path to Ridge City but it's the only decent shelter for miles. I've been here before there's a modicum of water in a shallow trough at the back of the cave; it fills up every time there's a storm. It's not particularly deep but we can light a fire with brush that grows around here. It should keep us warm enough tonight. If we start early tomorrow we can be in Ridge City by evening."

B J watched as Ezra spoke noticing the obvious hatred he had for the words 'starting early'. She had come to realise in the last few months that Ezra rarely woke before eleven am.

The difficulties of being out in the wilderness with Ezra had not been as bad as she had envisioned. Due to the colder nights now they did not remove clothing when they retired for sleep. The problem of how to relieve herself without notice was solved by the use of a hollow clay pipe she had found at the general store. She had trimmed it down so that it would fit her securely; she would then quietly hide it after use in her jacket inside pocket without notice.


After the first night out on the prairie she was becoming uncomfortable with the bindings she used around her chest to hide her shape. There was nothing to be done for it, so she suffered in silence. What she wouldn't give for a hot relaxing bath right now.

She recalled the one and only time her Father had made her dress up, as a lady. Her Aunt Elizabeth was visiting from San Francisco and would have been appalled to find her niece Bettina Jane in anything other than the latest fashions. Those latest fashions had included a steel corset tied so tightly that she had been unable to take a deep breath for the five days her Aunt had visited. The day she left she had vowed never to wear one again. As the hours wore on the bindings round her chest resembled that corset more and more. She shifted in the saddle and moaned when a fold caught her skin.

"You Ok?" asked Ezra.

"Yeah, just aching from all the riding and that last lot of fence holes I dug out on Friday. I was hoping to get a long good soak in a bath Sunday but this little trip put paid to that."

"Digging fence holes, no work for a gentleman. When do your ranch hands arrive?"

"Hopefully within the next two weeks, barring any problems. They did have six mares with foal when they left, early pregnancies so that shouldn't hold them up." Ezra stopped his horse, took off his hat and wiped down his forehead with a handkerchief; he rubbed the inside of the sweatband and replaced his hat.

"This little trip hasn't put you behind has it, I mean in getting ready for the horses?" She looked over at him wishing she could remove her hat. Her hair had been the only thing she had not compromised on when changing her appearance to a man. She was still a woman and had great pride in the long tresses of naturally curly blonde hair that she had. Keeping it hidden under her hat was a constant nightmare. Pins and ribbons helped but never for long.

"Nah, the work on the corrals and stables is done, I was just finishing off the prairie and the markers around the cabin. If the men get there before I get back they can finish that."

Their business in town was completed by Tuesday afternoon; they both decided a good night's rest was in order. They would start back in the morning. Ezra sent a telegram to Four Corners that afternoon stating that they had the papers and would be back by Thursday night. "How come you need to telegram Chris, doesn't he trust you?"

"Well as to that I will not comment, but Mr Larabee does insist on knowing where his men are at all times. He feels more at ease that way. If there is one thing I have learned being around Mr Larabee it is that you keep the man nonchalant and propitious as often as possible. The alternative is…" he paused and looked at B J and shuddered. "Well let us just not go down that route shall we." The look on Ezra's face told B J that he had been down that route several times and had not liked the outcome.

After a hot bath and a night's rest in a soft bed, the two travellers were on their way back to Four Corners just after sun up. Ezra as usual hardly spoke a word until the sun was well up in the sky.

WEDNESDAY, Midday, Nov 4th

He was slightly ahead of her to one side when suddenly his horse went down heavily. A split second later she heard the double boom of shots from a rifle.

Her own rifle was out of its scabbard within a moment trained on the direction the shots had come from, she fired three shots in rapid succession, hopefully that would keep their heads down long enough for her to check on Ezra. Hanging low in the saddle she shifted her gaze over to the still form of the horse and the moaning moving shape of the con man. He was alive at least. She would have to move soon in order to check his condition and to get him out of the line of fire. After a few seconds she slid the rifle back into the scabbard, removed her gun and dismounted slowly, she moved carefully to Ezra's side.

"Ezra, Ezra how bad are ya hit?" she knelt down and gently rolled him over. There had been no movement from the low hills where the shots had come from so she re holstered her gun. The bullet had hit him high in the right shoulder; she turned him gently to check his back. Damn it was still in there. She would have to get it out. But not here, it was too open, too exposed to trouble. The cave, she would have to get him to the cave they had shared on the trip down. She reached into her saddlebag and took out a heavy handkerchief she always carried; she rolled it and pressed it into the wound. Ezra moaned and tried to move away from the pain.

"Ezra, you need to stand, can you do that?" he opened pain filled eyes and nodded slowly to her. "I need to get you on my horse, we have to get out of here now."

"Ok, I - I'll try, not sure I'll be much help to ya." His slurred speech and frequent gasps were a testament to the pain he was in. After what seemed like hours of struggle she was finally on the horse with Ezra slumped in front of her. At first Dudley resisted the extra weight but after a moment of coaxing he turned in the direction she wanted to go.

Several times she had to stop to give Ezra water from her canteen. She had managed to briefly check Ezra's dead horse but the canteen had a hole in it where the first bullet had struck going straight through to the poor animals heart. So they were down to only one canteen and at least six hours of riding until they reached the cave.

She was not convinced they were alone. Whoever had shot Ezra would not give up until they were both dead. Her eyes were constantly scanning the horizon and their back trail. She saw dust rising in the distance on several occasions but could not be sure that it was just the wind.

By early evening B J knew she would have to get down from the horse, her arms and back were aching from having to hold Ezra and the reins and his body temperature had been rising steadily. She desperately needed to cool him down. He had better not die, she had too much she wanted to tell him. Things she wanted him to know.

By her reckoning the cave should only be another two maybe three hours ride away. With a resolute sigh she kicked Dudley to continue and gritted her teeth against the ache.

Just as it was starting to turn dark she noticed the outcropping of rocks ahead and the slight rise in the land, the cave was just behind the small hill, she urged Dudley into a faster walk, they both needed to get off the horse. Finally they reached the base of the small cave; she pulled Dudley to a stop and with a big sigh thought through her next moves.

She took her feet from out of the stirrups and swung her right leg behind her. Her thought had been to slide Ezra off the front of the saddle when she was on the ground. As she twisted to dismount, Ezra's now unconscious form toppled with her, she felt herself slipping but didn't have the strength to stop it. They landed on the hard ground with Ezra on top of her. When she tried to push him off a sharp pain went through her left side. She drew in a deep breath and instantly regretted it as the pain from what could only be a broken rib ripped through her body, she stayed there panting in short breaths to stop the dizziness that surrounded her. She would be no good to Ezra if she passed out, and would be unable to protect them from whoever had shot at them.

After what seemed an age the pain subsided enough for her to gently roll Ezra off her. She stood slowly and reached to the back of the saddle for the bedroll. As was natural to her she had reached with her left hand, the pain in moving her arm nearly toppled her over and would have done if she had not grabbed for the stirrup to steady herself. Being left-handed she did most things with her left hand. After a few minutes she tried again with her right hand.

Oh God she thought if there was to be any trouble from the hidden shooters she would not be able to do any accurate shooting, she was only a fair shot with her right hand and had never been able to hit much accurately with it. Ezra moaned and stirred at her feet, she turned to see his eyes open and looking at her. "Where are we?" he said, almost too faintly for her to hear. "What happened?" he gasped in pain as he moved.

B J turned from the horse to go to him but didn't get there. Her world turned black as what seemed like a fist struck her on the temple. Ezra watched as if in a dream as B J first moved toward him and then jerked, twisted and fell to the ground. The black hat suddenly went spinning off as the crack of a rifle shot was heard. A mass of blonde hair erupted from the hat. <Why did B J have so much hair, and so blonde? >

The sound of horses jolted Ezra out of his daze. Blind instinct took over as he twisted, reached for his gun and shot the two riders dead from their saddles before they could fire any more shots. Their frightened horses sped off into the distance and soon disappeared. He didn't seem to notice as the gun slipped from his fingers and dropped to the ground. It was much later before he realised how impossible that shot should have been. On the ground with a bullet in his right shoulder and a fever to boot, by any stretch of the imagination he should have been unable to move. An innate survival instinct that had saved his hide on numerous occasions had taken over. He was simply not ready to die yet.

He turned to see B J moving, her eyes opened and after a few seconds blinking and clearing her vision she unsteadily got to her feet. "Come on Ezra, we need to get you in that cave, we need the water and a fire before long." She hadn't realised that her hat was gone, she moved on shear will power, the waves of dizziness passing over her as she helped Ezra to stand.

"B J, what … I…ahh that hurts, easy would ya. Are you…?" Ezra continued to glance up at her as they moved slowly and painfully into the cave.

After she had settled him in she returned to Dudley and led him slowly into the back of the cave. She had noticed it was just high enough to accommodate him. It would be safer for them both to have the horse close, and it would add extra warmth to the cave when it got dark. She removed the bedroll and the canteen and placed them next to Ezra. She then slid out the rifle from its scabbard re loaded it and placed it on the ground. By now her head was throbbing unmercifully and her side stabbed her every move she made. She had to remove the saddle before she could stop; it would make Ezra more comfortable if he could rest against it.

She turned and looked at Ezra for a moment, his eyes were closed and his face was red and sweaty. As soon as the saddle was off she would need to get his temperature down. She knew enough about medicine to know that a fever could kill. She turned back to Dudley and proceeded to undo the girth, she pulled on the saddle but was not prepared for how weak she was and felt herself fall backwards as the saddle slipped from Dudley's back and fell on top of her. Any other time or place she would have laughed at herself for getting into such a predicament, but now she gasped as a new added pain joined in with the chorus of other aches and pains her body had suffered. She pushed the saddle away from her and with a grunt of pain as her broken rib protested moved it over to where Ezra lay. She gently lifted his head and awkwardly pushed the saddle in under him so that his head and shoulders rested on the side.

She gave herself only a few moments rest before getting together the makings for a fire; she found some rocks, made a ring and then set too lighting the brush. After five minutes the fire was blazing nicely. She reached to the left rear of her saddle and withdrew the long hunting knife she kept there. She placed it in the centre of the fire; next she untied Ezra's neckerchief and soaked it in the pool of water from the back of the cave. She spent upwards of an hour cooling his neck, shoulders and upper chest. She cleaned out the wound and using the sterile hot knife probed and found the bullet. After removing it she again cleaned the wound and bandaged it using the only wrappings she had, some of those from around her chest.

By this time she was feeling warm herself, she was out of breath and her head was now pounding along to the beat of her heart. Every breath and every small move brought new pain. She covered Ezra with the blanket and laid down next to him in the hope that a little rest would ease the pain in her head at least. She reached up to his head and brushing a stray lock from his fevered brow whispered into his ear. "Don't die Ezra, I love you." At some point she drifted off to sleep.


Back at Four Corners no one was any the wiser as to the predicament Ezra and B J had found themselves. Buck had received the telegram sent by Ezra so was not expecting them back until Thursday evening.

JD had managed to calm Millie's Father so he and Buck had come back into town. They had been out that day to check on B J's Ranch. It was beginning to look like something. They had both seen the place about 6 month's prior and had noted how run down and busted up the place looked. Buck noted how much work B J had done on his own.

Mid week was usually pretty quiet at Four Corners and with Chris, Vin and Josiah not expected back until Thursday afternoon, the place almost seemed empty.

The only interesting thing of note that had happened was the arrival on the stagecoach of a gentleman that almost topped Ezra as far as rich fancy clothing went. He was an elder gentleman maybe in his early to late fifties and had two younger more plainly dressed men with him. At first glance Buck could tell that those two were gun hands, possibly hired protection for the obviously rich man.

The gentleman made his way to the hotel, checked in and disappeared to a room. The two hands split up, one stayed in the hotel lobby and the other went to the saloon.

As was expected, Buck checked the register for the man's name. Mr Jethro Rawlins from New Orleans. He made a mental note of his name, tipped his hat at the man sat in the foyer and left to find JD. He was getting hungry it was close to suppertime and Inez was serving chicken pie tonight. He also had a late date with a certain young woman.


The next morning JD was walking across to the jailhouse when the liveryman called to him. "Yeah Tiny what can I do for ya?"

"I thought you might want to come and take a look at somethin' for me. This morning when I opened up I found two saddled horses stood out front, not tied just stood there. Looks to me like they turned up late last night, they're all lathered up and one of the saddles has blood on it."

At the word blood JD turned and instantly marched with the older man down to the livery. Upon arrival he checked over the two horses, he had not seen them before, so was much relieved. At first he had feared that one or more of his friends had come across trouble. A search through the saddlebags revealed a telegram. It read:
[left four corners Sunday] stop [arrive by Tuesday deal with them both] stop [boss arrives Wednesday] stop

JD puzzled over what was written, he turned and told Tiny to clean up the horses and stable them and then left to find Buck. At this hour in the morning Buck would still be in bed. The problem was he could well have a lady friend with him. It was never the same one for long and JD had given up trying to understand his friends need for so much female companionship. He had described it once as a gift a sort of animal magnetism. The ladies could not resist him he said.

He knocked roughly on Buck's door, put his ear to the wood and listened. He heard a sharp intake of breath, a grunt and a rustle of sheets.

"WHAT?" came back a loud disgruntled voice.

"Buck it's JD I need to speak with you. Now."

"I'm a little occupied at present my friend, can't it wait?" he heard a woman's voice through the door.

"No I don't think it can Buck, I think there's trouble."

"What do you mean you think, there either is or there ain't, which is it?" the woman's muffled voice was sounding more and more strained.

"I don't know, you need to see this Buck, I'm serious."

"Ok, Ok I'll be out shortly, wait downstairs I'll be there as soon as I can." JD turned and walked down the hallway and then the stairs. He was stood out on the porch for ten minutes before a ruffled looking Buck followed by an even more ruffled looking Millie exited the building.

JD stood with his mouth agape firstly at Millie and then at the sheepish looking womaniser. "Buck, how could you. We only just finished calming her Father down two days ago, he already expects you round there this weekend to paint the front of the house, what are you gonna promise him this time if he finds out your still messin' with Millie?"

"I know, I know, she's just… I mean… well… I can't help it. I think I love her."

"That's what you said about Suzanna two weeks ago and Bethany the month before that."

"Yeah well, anyway what was so urgent?" JD chuckled; Buck couldn't change the subject fast enough. He showed him the telegram he had found in the saddlebags. He related everything the livery owner had told him.

"Let's head on down to the telegraph office shall we, see if we can't clear this little mystery up." All thought of Millie had vanished from his mind as they marched down the street. Someone was in trouble and they needed to find out who.

+ + + + + + +

At first the telegraphist did not want to help, quoting rules and regulations about privacy and that he could lose his job. When Buck pulled his gun and placed it gently on the counter he became instantly co-operative.

"Let me see, yes that message was sent on Monday morning."

"Where to?" Buck fingered the gun almost absent-mindedly. The clerk gulped and checked his notes. "It was sent to Ridge City office, they confirmed receipt."

Buck and JD exchanged glances; almost wishing they were not thinking the same thing. "Who sent the message, what was his name?" The clerk started to protest but this time Buck picked up the gun, cocked it and aimed it right between the small mans eyes. "I ain't arguing with ya, now tell me."

+ + + + + + +

Seconds later Buck was headed toward the hotel at a rate of knots that JD found hard to keep up with. At the counter he reached over and grabbed the register ignoring the protest of the clerk behind the desk. He scanned the names, found the one he was looking for and turned and headed for the room. Without even knocking he took his gun out and kicked in the door. Before the half-asleep man could even reach for his gun Buck was on top of him with the barrel of his gun almost down his throat. He shoved the telegram into his face and in a low menacing voice asked, "Who was this meant for, who's the target?" The man's eyes darted from side to side; he gulped realising the situation he was in.

" Ezra Standish and any one else with him. Look mister I was only paid to send the telegram that was all."

"JD help me throw this piece of trash in jail." JD took the handcuffs out of his waistcoat pocket; Buck pulled the man from the bed and pushed his arms behind him. He snapped the cuffs on him and led him down the hall and across the street to the jail. All the while the man was complaining about having no clothes or boots on. It was a cold morning and his long johns did not afford much protection.

After locking the door to the cell, JD stepped outside to find Buck waiting on the porch. He was looking at the telegram again. "I wonder who the Boss is, says here he arrives Wednesday that was yesterday?" He pondered it for a moment and then turned to JD. "We'll have to worry about that later, for now you hightail it up the trail and catch Chris, he shouldn't be too far out, he's due back today, then head up towards Ridge City. I'm gonna start out now, hopefully I'll cross their path before anything happens. Have ya seen Nathan?"

"Yeah he's back at the clinic, Mrs Windell gave birth late last night, healthy boy by all accounts." JD turned to go he hesitated and added, "Do ya want me ta get him? There may be trouble, ya could use his help." Buck thought for a second.

"Yeah, go get him, if there has been trouble we may need him."

An hour later all three were riding, JD to fetch Chris and the others, Buck and Nathan to head off any trouble, if they could, before it started.