The following characters were created by the authors of this story:
The day before New Year's Eve, Maggie was sitting at a table in the saloon with Ezra, Buck, Nathan and Inez. It was quiet in the saloon and they were speaking of general things. How well Christmas had gone; how the weather had turned colder and the like.
Casey had gone to Eagle Bend to visit with family friends who lived there. Josiah had taken her on the stage the day after Christmas. She was going to stay there for a month. Maggie was relieved that Casey was settling in well and their first Christmas together; (her, Josiah and Casey) had been a happy one. JD had seemed a bit out of sorts after Casey had left but Vin had been keeping him busy working part-time out at the spread Vin had inherited from Nettie Wells.
At that moment a man came through the batwings doors. He was bundled up against the cold. He was tall with sandy colored hair and a beard a shade darker. A nice looking man, he appeared to be in his early 40's. He glanced around the room and caught sight of the group at the table. Inez was facing the doorway and was about to stand and ask if he needed anything when his gaze fell to Maggie, whose back was to him, her auburn hair loose and hanging down her back.
The stranger said, "Maggie?"
Maggie turned to glance over her shoulder. Ezra, who was sitting beside her, noticed that her eyes widened and heard her sharp intake of breath. She started to stand and put her hand to her throat. She whispered, "Samuel?" She started to sway and Ezra caught her as she fainted.
Nathan jumped up and ran over to Ezra, "Let's get her in the back room. Buck, go find Josiah."
Ezra picked Maggie up and carried her to the back of the saloon, Nathan following as Buck ran through the batwing doors, giving the stranger a quick glance as he passed him by.
"I'm sorry," the stranger said, "I didn't mean to startle her like that. I thought someone would have wired her."
Inez stood up and looked quizzically at the man, "It's all right. Come in and have a seat. Who are you?"
"My name is Samuel Lewis," he said, "I'm Maggie's brother-in-law," he replied.
Inez said, "I don't think that would cause her to faint."
"Well," he started, "I was reported killed in Gettysburg during the war - she hasn't seen me in a long time."
Inez nodded, "That would do it. I'm sure she'll be all right. I'm Inez Recillos, a friend of hers. Have a seat - do you want a drink?"
= = = = = = =
Josiah and Buck ran into the saloon. Josiah headed for the back room and Buck headed over to Inez, who was behind the bar. Inez told Buck what the stranger had said. Buck turned to glance at the man who was seated at a table, in the process of removing his coat, hat and scarf.
In the back room, Maggie was just coming around as Josiah came in. Nathan was kneeling beside her, Ezra looking over Nathan's shoulder.
Nathan said, "Maggie, are you okay?"
Maggie blinked, "I think so. What happened?"
Ezra said, "You up and fainted, I'm afraid."
Nathan added with a glance at Josiah, "That stranger came into the bar and called your name. You said 'Samuel' and fainted dead away."
"Oh my god," she whispered.
Josiah knelt down beside her, took her hand, "I'm just glad you're all right, honey."
Ezra said, "Who is that man, Maggie?"
Josiah helped Maggie to sit up and she said, "Ez, if I'm not mistaken, he's my late husband's older brother." She paused a second and then added, "But he's supposed to be dead."
= = = = = = =
When Maggie, Josiah, Ezra and Nathan came out of the back room, they found Samuel seated at a table with Buck and Inez. Samuel stood as they came over.
"Sam - is it really you?" Maggie asked.
"It's me, kid," he said. They hugged each other.
"Well, I see you've met Buck and Inez. Sam, this is my husband, Josiah Sanchez," Maggie said.
The two men shook hands, "I'd heard you got married again. Congratulations. Pleased to meet you, Josiah," Samuel said.
"And you, Samuel, thank you," Josiah said.
"This is Nathan Jackson and Ezra Standish," Maggie added. They shook hands.
"Let's sit down," Ezra said. They all took seats.
"Sam - what," Maggie started.
Samuel raised his hand, "I'm sure you have a million questions," he said with a small smile, "I was in Texas for a while and then in Arizona, fighting the Apaches with the Army. I did my two years. After that I traveled, working wherever I could find a job. I'm on my way to Snellville - was just hired for a job there. I went back home and heard about some of what's happened over the last 15 years. I think I aged old Mr. Clancey about another decade." He chuckled. "Maggie, you're gonna be mad at me when I tell you this, but I deserted in Gettysburg."
Maggie furrowed her brow, "Why?"
"Maggie, it was hell. I couldn't take it. I was loosing men every time I turned around. I was getting sick of ordering men to their death. When our artillery wagon took a shell, me and a couple of other fellows figured that was our way out. We ditched our uniforms and made our way West."
"Everyone thought you were on that wagon when it blew up," Maggie said, "Why didn't you ever try to contact your mother? When David was killed in Selma, she just gave up. She died six months after David did."
"I couldn't. If they'd found me I'd have been hung. I heard about David - remember Norris Blake? He moved to California and I saw him when he passed through Arizona after the war was over. He told me about it. Believe me when I tell you it's killin' me. They gave me a pardon for fighting the Apache's in Arizona," Sam said.
"That doesn't make it right, Sam," she said, "Your parents went through hell thinking they'd lost both of you."
"Is my father still alive?" Samuel asked, "No one has heard from him."
"I don't know," Maggie said. "After your mother died he took up with Amber Stevensen. He married her and they moved to South Carolina, after the war was over. I think that's where Amber was from. Last time I heard from him was 3 years ago. I've written to him since then, but I've never gotten an answer."
"He married that floozy?" Sam said, laughing. Across the table, Buck was suppressing a grin.
"Sam, she's your stepmother now, so you better watch what you say," Maggie chided, "I think he was just lonely. Are any of the other boys still with you?"
"Chauncey is, and Louie, and Drake," he replied. "They're still back home. Going to meet up with me here in a couple of days because they wanted to see you."
"Chauncey and you will never be apart. I swear, you two are like an old married couple," she smiled, and asked, "Do they know I got married?"
Sam nodded and said "Yeah," quietly. He paused for a moment. "I saw Marie when I was back," Sam said.
Maggie looked a bit out of sorts for a moment. Then she said, "You know, she was the one person who was convinced you weren't dead. At the memorial service, she kept saying she knew you were alive. All thorough the rest of the war, she checked every wounded soldier brought into the hospital. When the war ended, she'd go sit out on the old road and ask every soldier that passed if they knew you. Sarah and I would take turns sitting out there with her so she wouldn't be alone. It wasn't until a few months later, when Jonesy returned home - he'd been at Andersonville - and he said you'd not been with the boys who'd been captured - only then did she start to give up hope. She was really disappointed that they hadn't found your body to be buried. She kept saying that to me - 'At least you know where David is'. She keep hoping for a long time that you'd come back. She finally got married around the same time Sarah did."
"Maggie, what happened to Sarah? I heard talk around town but no one would tell me anything that made any sense," Sam asked.
Maggie looked at her lap for a moment. She felt Josiah take her hand and he gave it a squeeze, "It was bad, Sam. She and her son were murdered," Maggie said. "They were shot in their home and then the house was burned to the ground. She got married about 10 years ago. I came down here to see my brother-in-law after my grandmother died and ended up staying. You'll meet my brother-in-law; his name is Chris Larabee..."
"WHAT?" Samuel said, "Larabee?" He looked upset.
Maggie looked at him, "Yes."
Sam said, "She changed her name to Sarah Larabee? Her son was Adam?"
"Yes," she said.
"Do you know a woman named Ella Gaines?" Sam asked.
Maggie stared at him, her eyes widening. "Yes - what do you know about her? She hired the man who killed Sarah and Adam - she'd known Chris a long time before and was crazy with jealousy - she. . ," Maggie said.
"Oh my god....Christ sakes," Samuel said, "Maggie, I swear to God I didn't know it was our Sarah." He has tears in his eyes; he looks extremely agitated.
"Sam - what is it - what are you talking about?" Maggie said.
"This Gaines woman - she just hired a bunch of us to do a job for her, but that's not the story she's telling. She wants this Larabee fellow found. Says he has committed several murders, including her husband; she claims Larabee killed his wife too, and is now using his peacekeeper status as an excuse to prey upon other unsuspecting victims." Sam said.
Maggie raises her hand to cover her mouth. She shares a glance with Josiah.
= = = = = = =
Josiah takes Buck aside. "Buck," Josiah said, "Get over to Chris' place and send him into town. Let him know what's happening."
Buck nods, "This is pretty bad, Josiah."
"At least we know it's coming. Get moving." Josiah replied.
Buck took off.
= = = = = = =
Samuel is sitting at a table alone, while Inez brings him a meal and she sits down to chat with him.
At another table, the seven sit with Maggie. Chris and Buck brought Vin and JD back to town with them too.
Maggie is clearly shaken up by Sam's arrival and the news about Ella Gaines.
Chris is looking intently at Maggie, who he sits next to. "What do you think?" he asks.
"I don't know," Maggie says. Chris looks at her. She gives him a pained look, "Chris, I'm telling you this is too soon. I don't know if we can trust him or not."
Across the table, Buck says, "You've always had good instincts, Maggie - what does your gut tell you?"
Maggie looks over at Buck, "It's him. I'm sure of that. My gut is telling me to trust him. He was genuinely shaken up when I told him about Sarah. He didn't make the connection because of the different surname. But-" she pauses.
"What?" Josiah asks.
"If it was anyone else but Ella Gaines involved. . . My gut says to trust him but my head says this could be a trick. What could be more heart wrenching than David's brother rising from the grave?" she replies. She takes a deep breath and blows it out - shakes her head, "That bitch," she whispers. "I could take a knife to her and...." She leaves the rest unsaid but her face is grim, staring off at something unseen.
Josiah takes Maggie's hand and squeezes it. She knows he is trying to tell her to stay calm.
Josiah looks at Chris and says, "Do you think Ella Gaines has any idea just who Sam is? That he's related to Margaret?"
Ezra interjects, "If Mr. Lewis is telling the truth, she may not know. That could be an advantage to us."
Chris doesn't reply but he looks thoughtful.
Maggie says, "I'm going to wire Judge Travis. Have him check out the story of the boys being pardoned. He could do that, couldn't he?" she asks Chris.
"Yeah, he could confirm that for us," Chris says, "That'd be a start. If they haven't been pardoned, it would give us an excuse to lock them up - hold 'em here if we need to."
"Chris, I think we should keep an eye on Sam until we know for sure." Maggie said, "I think we need to be ready for trouble. And Sam says the other boys will be here in a couple of days."
"How well do you know these fellas, Maggie?" Vin asked.
"I grew up with these boys. I've known them all my life. With the exception of the time they've been gone since the war. That's what concerns me. But they all knew Sarah. When I knew them back then none of them would have been involved with Ella Gaines - they'd want to see Sarah's killer brought to justice as much as any of us, but - I just don't know what's been happening to them over the last 15 years. Could they have changed that much? I wish I could give you a definite answer. Sam has always been such a straight arrow - I don't know. I need more time to be sure," Maggie said. She stands up, "I'm going over to the telegraph office. I'll be right back."
Nathan says, "I'll go with you, Maggie."
"Sure," she says. Maggie walks over to Sam, pats him on the shoulder, "Sam, I've got a quick errand to run. Don't rush, take your time and enjoy your meal. Inez is a great cook." Maggie winks at Inez. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
"Okay, Maggie," Sam says, "Don't worry about me; Inez is good company."
Inez smiles, "Well, thank you, Sam."
Maggie meets Nathan at the batwing doors and they start down to the telegraph office. Maggie looks at Nathan. "You wanted to speak to me about something, didn't you?" she asks.
He nods, "Yes. Have you ever fainted before?"
She sighs and shakes her head, "No, never in my life." She stops walking and takes a quick look around. Quietly she says, "Nathan, I know what you're thinking and you may be right."
"How long?" Nathan asks, quietly.
"I've only missed one cycle so far," she whispers. "I haven't even said anything to Josiah yet because I wanted to be sure."
He smiles, "Okay, I won't say anything to anyone. But try to take it slow. Come over to the clinic when you can and we'll check."
"All right, I will. Thanks, Nathan. I appreciate your concern - you're a true friend."
At the telegraph office, Maggie sends the telegram to Judge Travis. Telling him all she can remember about the boys, their rank, unit, etc. Asking him to check Sam's story about fighting with the Army in Arizona. She tells the telegraph operator that the information is private and she wants any reply only released to her or one of the seven.
= = = = = = =
After Sam finished eating, Josiah takes him over to the barber shop as Sam wants a shave. He has his beard shaved but keeps a goatee, trimmed short. When they are finished, Sam checks into the hotel to get some sleep. Josiah says he and Margaret will come by later and they can all have dinner at the restaurant. Josiah goes back to the saloon and talks to Chris and the others, tells them what room Sam is in and they all agree to take turns keeping an eye on the hotel.
Maggie and Nathan are standing with Josiah outside of the saloon. Vin and JD have headed back out to Vin's spread. Chris and Buck are just sitting around outside the jail, deep in conversation. Ezra has remained in the saloon.
Maggie tells Josiah that she sent the telegram to Judge Travis. Then she asks him if she can speak with him privately. Nathan smiles, taking the hint and says he will see them later.
Maggie and Josiah start to walk down the street toward the church. He looks at her, "Something else is wrong, isn't it?"
She slips her arm through his, "I wouldn't say wrong exactly." She glances around. "Let's go inside the church first, where we can have some privacy."
They enter the church, which is empty, and take a seat in one of the pews in the front.
She took a deep breath and blew it out. She took his hand and held it. "Well, you know I fainted earlier. I've never fainted in my life. And I skipped my last menstrual cycle. I don't know absolutely, but I could be pregnant." She looked up at him; saw the knowledge dawning on his face while she spoke. He pulled her against him, tightly and kissed her.
"Margaret, honey, that's wonderful news," he said, smiling. "It's what we've both been praying for."
She leaned her head against his chest. "I'm so happy, Josiah. I'm just not sure the timing is perfect with this news about Ella Gaines and all."
"Does anyone else know?"
"Only Nathan - that's why he came with me to the telegraph office. He was concerned about my fainting earlier. He wants me to go over to the clinic at some point. But he won't say anything."
Josiah nodded, "Let's keep this quiet then, at least until we know for sure." He stroked her hair and they just sat quietly. Maggie closed her eyes. She suddenly felt worn out.
= = = = = = =
Chris had alerted the some of the towns' folk to Ella Gaines resurfacing and advised them not to discuss this with any strangers. He was going to sit down with Sam when his friends arrived and see what he could find out. Chris and Maggie were both hopeful that Sam and the others would be agreeable to helping them capture Ella Gaines, but they'd have to proceed with caution.
Throughout dinner, while she listened to Sam telling Josiah stories about their childhoods, Maggie kept thinking about how different her life was from what she'd imagined over 15 years ago. When she married David, she'd thought they'd be together forever. Obviously, David had had other ideas on marital fidelity, but Maggie had thought she, David, Sam and Marie would always be settled and close. Marie had been one of Maggie's closest friends when they were girls. While Maggie would still consider Marie her friend, the loss of David and Sam during the war, Marie's marriage and the birth of her children, and Maggie's family responsibilities had caused them to drift apart.
As Maggie thought about leaving home to come visit Chris in Four Corners ten months ago, she had known at the time, deep down in her heart, that should would never return to that first home. She hadn't planned on staying in Four Corners originally but she knew a different phase of her life was starting and home just held too many bad memories for her. Chris' encouragement that she stay on and settle here had been a shining light to her. She wondered if Chris had realized that.
But dominating her thoughts was Ella Gaines. If the boys would go along with the idea of capturing her, it should be easy. Including her, that was 12 against 1 - wonderful odds. But what else did Ella have up her sleeve?
Josiah and Maggie walked Sam back to the hotel after their meal. The next day was New Year's Eve and Maggie asked Sam to come over to their house for dinner. She teased him about shaving the beard but told him he looked more like himself now without it. Sam shook hands with Josiah and gave Maggie a kiss on the cheek and they said their goodnights. Sam went into the hotel to turn in. Josiah and Maggie started walking toward home. They wore warm coats against the evening chill.
Josiah looked down at Maggie at one point and said, "I don't think you were with us at dinner tonight."
She looked up at him and said, "I'm sorry. I just can't stop thinking about Ella Gaines."
Josiah nodded, "I know. That's what worries me."
She looked confused, "What do you mean?"
"I know you. You'll put yourself right in harms way to catch her."
She swallowed. He was right and she knew it. "Yes, I would. After losing Adam, I want to know our child is safe from her, too." She took his hand and held it, "Don't worry. I'm not going to run off half-cocked after her all by myself. Whatever plans we make, we make as a team. If there's something you don't want me to be involved in, I'll respect your judgment." Then she smiled and said, "But if she's shows up on our doorstep, all bets are off."
He nodded, gave her hand a squeeze, "I can accept that."
= = = = = = =
Two more days went by. Maggie received a telegram from Judge Travis. Sam was telling the truth. They had all served with the Army in Arizona and received a full pardon for their desertion in Gettysburg. Judge Travis had contacted one of their superior officers and he wrote glowingly of the boys, especially Sam. Sam had been cited numerous times for bravery.
As Maggie spent more time with Sam, she felt he could be trusted. Josiah had liked him immediately and told Chris he felt confident that Sam was on the up-and-up. Josiah had spent some time alone with Sam and he'd felt Sam's righteous indignation at Ella Gaines. While Sam didn't know Chris well, he'd known Sarah. Maggie's version of events was enough to convince Sam that Ella Gaines was a liar and a murderer. Sam told Josiah a number of things in confidence. Sam had known that his brother had been a bad husband to Maggie. Sam said he always felt Maggie stayed with David because of the war. But that Maggie had never betrayed her marriage vows and had always been a good wife to David. Sam said that if David had lived through the war he was certain Maggie would have divorced him and rightly so. Sam said Maggie had never lied in all the years he'd known her and he had a great deal of respect for her.
When Sam told Josiah he'd do anything to help them capture Ella Gaines, Josiah felt Sam was sincere. Sam was sure the other boys would feel the same and they'd do anything Chris asked of them.
After Maggie shared the telegram with Josiah, she said she wanted to go find Chris.
Maggie found Chris in the saloon. Maggie pulled the telegram from her pocket and opened it. As she handed it to Chris, she said, "I received this from Judge Travis earlier today."
Chris looked up with interest and took the telegram. He looked it over. "Well," he finally said, "That's pretty impressive. It seems Sam has been telling us the truth about their pardons."
"I've been spending quite a bit of time with him. I think we can trust him. Josiah had a long talk with him yesterday and he said Sam really wants to go after Ella Gaines. We'll certainly have a numbers advantage," Maggie replied. "Chris, you know I'll help you in any way I can."
Chris nodded, "I know that, sis."
"I guess I'll see you tomorrow morning?" Maggie asked.
"Yup, I'll be there," he replied.
"It's starting up, Chris. Let's hope this is the beginning of the end," Maggie said.
= = = = = = =
It was early morning. In front of the hotel, Maggie sat with Josiah and Sam waiting for the stage to arrive. The boys were due this morning and Maggie realized she had butterflies in her stomach. She wondered if she was nervous about seeing Chauncey. Couldn't be because it had been so long ago. Not wanting to have any secrets from her husband, she'd told Josiah that Chauncey had beaued her about during her 16th summer. He'd given her her first kiss that summer and she thought she might have been in love with him. But that he's gone off to college that fall and returned engaged to someone else. That had been the end of it. She remembered that Chauncey had a knack for getting under her skin like a burr.
But Maggie felt they were close - so close to catching Ella Gaines, she could taste it.
Across the street, in front of the saloon, she saw Ezra, Buck and JD. She knew they were curious about these men. Chris and Vin were sitting in front of the jail. Nathan wasn't around and Maggie suspected he was over at the clinic. The plan was that Maggie and Sam, along with Josiah, would speak to the boys first, alone, and then Chris wanted sit down and make definite plans - the twelve of them together. Chris had similar concerns to Josiah's about Maggie's involvement but he felt, for now, she would bridge the gap between the two groups of men. What actual role she's play in Ella Gaines' capture was still to be decided.
The stage coach rounded the bend and stopped in front of the hotel. There were only three passengers. The first one off the stage was Louis Rolfson. He was tall and incredibly thin. Dark hair and dark eyes, but smiling and friendly looking. He looked incredibly pleased to see Maggie.
"Maggie - you haven't changed a bit. It's so good to see you," Louis said as he gave her a hug.
"Louis - you haven't changed much either - I would have known you anywhere," Maggie said, smiling.
Drake Andersen was next. He was rather stout with dark hair, graying at the temples. He gave Louis a shove and said, "Hey, enough." He hugged Maggie, too. "I see you haven't gotten any taller," Drake teased.
Maggie laughed, "And you haven't gotten any thinner." It was an old joke between them.
The third man hung back a bit, watching the greetings of the first two. He was about medium height, dark hair and blue eyes. An extremely handsome man. When Drake released her, Maggie looked over at him.
Maggie said, "Hello, Chauncey. It's good to see you."
"Hello, Maggie. You, too," Chauncey said. He walked over to her and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. "You look different."
"Well, a lot of time has passed," she said, trying to shrug off his comment. It was so like Chauncey, not to say she looked good or bad or anything - just different. 'What on earth did that mean', she thought.
Turning Maggie took Josiah's hand. "Fellows, I want you to meet my husband, Josiah Sanchez. Josiah, this is Louis Rolfson, Drake Andersen and Glenn Chauncey - but don't call him Glenn, he can't stand it." Josiah shook hands with the three men. Louis and Drake were immediately friendly, saying they were glad to meet him, congratulating them on their marriage. Chauncey however, seemed to be holding back, scrutinizing Josiah a bit more than was warranted. Maggie didn't know if Josiah realized it but she did and it bothered her. At least Chauncey shook Josiah's hand but he was more formal about it.
Sam stepped forward and greeted his friends. He said, "Look fellas, something has come up - it's bad and we need to sit down and talk about it right away. Why don't you all get settled in the hotel and come across the street to the saloon. This can't wait - it's important and it concerns Sarah Connelly. She and her son were murdered and Maggie needs our help to catch their murderer."
The three men looked shocked. They all looked at Maggie. Chauncey seemed the most shaken of the three.
"Maggie," Chauncey says, "You know we'll do anything you need."
Maggie nodded, "Thank you. Go get settled and we'll meet you when you're ready." Maggie, Josiah and Sam headed across the street.
Louis looked at Drake and Chauncey, "Can you believe that? Sarah was murdered - who the hell would murder Sarah Connelly?" Drake looked at Louis and shook his head. Chauncey was looking toward the saloon, his eyes watching Maggie as she crossed the street.
Sam and Josiah went into the saloon to get a table. Maggie stopped out front to speak with Ezra, Buck and JD.
"Well," JD said, "What do you think, Maggie?"
She glanced across the street, saw the three men disappear into the hotel, "They said they'd help us, JD. We can only hope they will."
"What was the problem with that last one, sis - didn't seem overly friendly if you ask me," Buck said.
Maggie shrugged, "You must mean, Chauncey. He tends to be moody and a mite standoffish. I would have thought that he might have grown up after all these years."
Ezra shook his head, "Poor upbringing. It always shows in a lack of manners."
She glanced down to the jail. Saw Chris watching her and she nodded to him. "Don't disappear, fellows, I'm sure we'll be needing you all soon." Maggie went into the saloon to join Josiah and Sam.
= = = = = = =
It took some time for Maggie to tell the story. She explained how she met Chris and Buck. Chris and Sarah falling in love and getting married. Adam's birth. Sarah and Adam's murders. About her father coming to Four Corners. Buck writing to her about her father's death and later about Ella Gaines. And finally, about Maggie's moving to Four Corners herself after her grandmother's death. Louis and Drake laughed when she told about the seven women protecting the town. She spoke about her and Josiah's marriage and all the way up to Sam's arrival in Four Corners. She did not mention anything about her possible pregnancy. She didn't want any of the four men to mention it, even by accident, to Ella Gaines so she felt it was better left unsaid.
Sam had already heard the story, but Maggie noticed that Louis, Drake and Chauncey seemed very surprised by the tale. But she could tell they were all upset about what had happened to Sarah.
When Maggie finished, the four men looked at each other. Maggie held Josiah's hand under the table watching them. Sam said, "Well?"
Chauncey said, "We'll help you, of course."
Drake said, "Absolutely. Mrs. Gaines needs to hang."
And Louis said, "Yes, whatever you need from us. Anything to catch Sarah's murderer."
Josiah went off to gather the rest of the men into the saloon.
"Maggie, are these the fellows that Jock Steele wrote about?" Drake asked, after Josiah had left.
Maggie nodded, "Yes."
Chauncey said, "Maggie, I can't believe you took up with these men - seems pretty dangerous if you ask me."
"Chauncey, you are so misinformed - getting your information from a dime store novel," Maggie said. "These are some of the best men I know. And one of them happens to be my husband, so mind your tongue."
The others chuckled and Chauncey looked uncomfortable.
Chris, Buck, Vin, Ezra, JD and Nathan returned with Josiah. Maggie made introductions all around and everyone sat. There weren't enough chairs at the table, so Buck took a chair from another table, turned it around and straddled it. He purposely placed his chair so he could see between Maggie and Josiah, but back from them a bit. After he sat, he put a hand on Maggie's shoulder and gave her shoulder a squeeze. Maggie glanced over her shoulder and smiled warmly at Buck. Chauncey, who was sitting right across the table from Maggie, noticed, as Buck had meant him to.
"We're going to meet her in Snellville at the Cattle Baron Hotel," Sam said. "We're supposed to be there by January 5th. She said to just check in, there'd be rooms ready for us and she'd meet with us after we arrived.
"The Cattle Baron? I know the proprietor of that establishment - one Preston Wingo," Ezra said, looking thoughtful. "Perhaps we could obtain his assistance."
Chris asked, "Has she hired any other men besides the four of you?"
Louis said, "Only Big Swede."
"Big Swede? Who the devil is that?" JD asked.
Louis laughed and looked at JD, "Just like the name implies. He's big, blonde and stupid looking. Drives her coach but he's a hell of a shot."
Drake added, "Yeah, he's the only one we have to be worried about. We've seen him shoot. He likes to show off but he's good."
Buck grinned, "Well, he may be good but he hasn't met us yet."
Maggie asked, "Has she suggested any plans at all for finding Chris? Or said what her intentions are when she finds him?"
Sam glanced at Chris, "She made it pretty clear she wants to kill you."
Chris nodded, "I expected that."
"But she's concerned about the other six fellas here," Drake said, "She's been trying to think of some way to 'cut you from the pack' as she puts it."
"Yeah," Louis added, "Get you somewhere alone where she can deal with you."
Sam said, "Josiah and I have been talking about this. I had an idea but it would involve Maggie."
Maggie glanced between Josiah and Sam. This was obviously news to her. "What did you have in mind, Sam?" she asked.
"When we get down to Snellville, I'd like to tell Mrs. Gaines about Maggie. But not tell her about Maggie's marrying Josiah or anything like that. Just about her being Sarah's sister, my sister-in-law, and that Maggie came down here and has a real problem with Mr. Larabee's story about what happened to Sarah, Adam and Hank."
Maggie smiled, "So you want to con her?"
"But I'd want you to come down there, meet with her and convince her that you have Chris' trust and can get him to a private location where she can 'get him'," Sam said. "Of course, we'll control the location and all of you will be there. It should be pretty simple for the 12 of us to take out Swede and capture Mrs. Gaines at that point."
"It sounds almost too easy," Maggie said. She looked at Josiah, "And you don't have a problem with my being involved?"
Josiah smiled, "Well, you wouldn't be going alone. We were thinking maybe Linda might agree to go with you."
Sam added, "This might make Mrs. Gaines feel our numbers are even - just in case there was a problem and we ran into the other men while she was getting her revenge on Mr. Larabee."
"Do you think she'll buy all this?" Maggie asked.
Josiah said, "She will if you can do a good job of acting like you really have it out for Chris."
Maggie turned and looked at Chris, "What do you think?"
Chris looked back at Maggie, "I do think it can work. But I'm concerned about your safety. Sam, can you be sure any meetings are held in a public place, like a saloon or a restaurant? I don't want Ella to get Maggie off alone somewhere and trying anything."
Maggie added, "Sam, tell her that I want you and Linda at any meetings we have, too."
Sam nodded, "We're leaving tomorrow. If she goes for it, I'll send you a wire to tell you when and where to meet us."
Buck said, "Wouldn't it be easier for all of us to go down there and just nab her?"
Chris said, "We don't know where she is right now. She could have this Big Swede character or someone else keeping an eye on Snellville for her. We go riding in and it's as good as a public announcement. She'll do her disappearing act and we won't find her." Chris looked at Vin, "What do you think about a meeting place if we can get her up here - somewhere near Four Corners?"
Vin thought for a moment. Then he said, "We'd want a place that would conceal us but where we could pick off targets if need be." He looked back at Chris, "What about your old ranch? The barn is still standing, and there's a rise, and a wooded area surrounding the property; give us plenty of cover."
"A bit of symbolism there, Vin?" Nathan asked.
"Nope. Just thought it might be a good spot. It's away from town so not a lot of worry about anyone being caught in the cross fire. Anyone who isn't meant to be, that is," Vin replied.
= = = = = = =
Maggie invited Sam, Chauncey, Louis and Drake over to her house for dinner with her and Josiah that evening. Maggie noticed that Chauncey seemed more relaxed, maybe because there were fewer people around. She'd forgotten that he could be extremely moody at times. Probably in her youth and inexperience, it had not been something she paid attention to. It had been a long time since he'd been her beau and now she was married to a grown up. She smiled to herself thinking that made her appreciate Josiah all the more.
Chauncey actually smiled at one point as they relayed tales of their adventures in Texas and Arizona. They sounded like they'd been happy there except for being homesick. And all of them made comments about how much home had changed. Maggie asked them what plans they had after this was over. The only one who did was Sam. He said he was thinking of going down to South Carolina and seeing if he could find his father. Maggie gave him the address she had but warned him that she only knew it had been a good address about three years earlier. Sam still felt he should at least make an attempt to locate his father.
All ended on a happy note. Maggie asked them if they wanted to meet her and Josiah at the saloon for breakfast before they left and they did. The stage was due around 9am so they planned on being at the saloon by 8am.
= = = = = = =
After Sam and the others had departed, Maggie waited, perhaps a bit too anxiously, for a wire from Sam. Actually, she was not the only one. Ezra, Buck and JD made a habit of checking in at the telegraph office when Maggie wasn't around to see if Sam had wired. On January 7th, a wire came for Maggie. Buck picked it up and took it over to the church where he'd seen Josiah and Maggie earlier in the morning.
Maggie was cleaning the pews and Josiah had his tools out and was working on a door frame when Buck ran into the church. They both looked up at his arrival.
"Maggie, you got a wire," Buck said, breathlessly.
Maggie threw a quick glance at Josiah and she hurried over to Buck's side. Taking the wire from him, she tore it open and read it. She smiled.
"Well?" Buck and Josiah said, almost as one.
"Seems like she took the bait. Sam wants Linda and me to go down there tomorrow," Maggie said.
= = = = = = =
That evening, at their home, Maggie was getting things together for the next day. Seeing as she was supposed to be the grieving daughter and sister, she decided to wear all black. She had a black dress and bonnet she would wear. She and Linda should be able to make it back the same day so she was not carrying anything other than a good sized hand bag. She decided to wear her wedding band. Let Ella Gaines think she was still mourning her first husband, David, as well. That might make a stronger impression.
She noticed Josiah sitting on the bed watching her prepare for the next day. She moved over toward him and leaned down to give him a kiss.
"Are you sure you're okay with this?" She asked.
He smiled up at her and drew her down on to his lap. "I'm fine. Just natural concern, I'm sure," he replied.
She snuggled up against him. "It will be fine. A quick trip and back that same day. We're not going to take any chances. If she's not going for it - well, we won't hang around. Ezra wired that man he knows, Wingo? Linda and I are going to check in with him when we get there. Then Wingo will wire you one way or the other when the afternoon stage comes. If we don't check back in with him - at least you'll know there's a problem."
"That isn't very reassuring, honey," Josiah replied.
"Sorry, preacher, best I can do at this point," she teased.
"Are you taking a weapon?" He asked.
"Yes - Ezra loaned me his derringer, just in case. I can wear it under my jacket. At least it's something. I didn't think it would be very seemly to wear a side arm." She leaned back and looked at him, "It will be all right. Sam wouldn't have wanted us to come there if he wasn't sure everything was under control."
= = = = = = =
In the morning, Linda and Maggie took the stage to Snellville. Chris and Josiah were there to see them off. While Josiah and Maggie were saying goodbye, Chris took Linda aside.
"Linda, you know I don't have to tell you that this could be dangerous. Ella Gaines could be pulling a fast one. Don't hesitate to get Maggie out of there is you sense trouble," Chris said.
"You don't need to be concerned, Chris. I'm going down there with my eyes open," Linda replied.
"Will you be here to meet the stage?" Maggie asked Josiah.
"Naturally - where else would I be?" He replied with a smile.
Maggie turned and looked at Chris. "Who are you sending after us?"
Chris looked quizzical, "What?"
"Come on, Chris," Maggie said, "What do you take me for? I know you'll have somebody trailing us. Is it Vin?"
Chris nodded, "Yup. He's going to stay out of sight but he'll be nearby if there's trouble."
Maggie nodded, "Good."
Josiah gave her a quick kiss and helped her up into the stage. Linda followed. There were other passengers sitting across from them, just persons passing through who had gotten on the stage before its stop in Four Corners. Maggie leaned over Linda and said to Chris and Josiah, "We'll see you both tonight."
"Have a safe trip," Chris said.
"Have no fear, Mr. Larabee," Linda replied, "All is well in hand."
Chris and Josiah waved good-bye to the pair as the stage moved out.
Maggie looked out the window and saw Buck and Inez in front of the saloon. They waved good-bye to her. She waved to them and knew they were wishing her well.
Chris looked at Josiah, "Do you still think this is a good idea?"
Josiah looked a bit concerned.
= = = = = = =
The stage coach made two stops before it reached Snellville. The other couple on the stage had departed at the last stop and no one else got on. The driver leaned in and said, "Not much longer, ladies. Next stop Snellville."
As the stage moved out, Maggie turned to Linda. "You all right?" Linda asked.
She grinned, "I'm just nervous. Can you do me a favor?"
"Anything you wish," Linda said.
"Stay close to me and if I start getting too emotional or you think things are not going well, give my arm a squeeze. That will be a signal to me to quiet down. I'll pull my handkerchief out and cry or something. You can just tell her that I've been very disturbed by all the events that have happened - something like that. I'm just afraid when I get near that woman that I won't be able to hold myself back," Maggie said.
"That I can do. Don't worry - it's all going to go smoothly," Linda said.
The stage reached Snellville. Maggie had never been there before. It was a much larger town than Four Corners. Sam was waiting for them when the stage pulled in.
After they greeted him, Sam said, "I have a wagon. We are to drive to the next town, called Warren's Landing - that's where Mrs. Gaines will meet us. They day after we got here, she sent Big Swede to move us over to the hotel in Warren's Landing. She's got part ownership in a saloon and gambling hall there. We are to meet her there and then I'll bring you back here to catch the afternoon stage."
Maggie said, "Can you wait just five minutes? Linda and I have a quick bit of business in the hotel. We'll be right back."
"I'll be waiting," Sam replied.
Maggie tapped Linda's arm and led her across the street to the Cattle Baron Hotel. At the desk, Maggie asked the clerk for Mr. Wingo. The clerk said, "Are you Mrs. Lewis?" To Maggie's nod, the clerk said, "Please come with me to Mr. Wingo's office; he's been awaiting your arrival."
They were ushered into a richly appointed office and there behind the desk sat Maude Standish's former suitor - short, stoat Preston Wingo. Wingo stood at their entrance. The desk clerk closed the office door behind him as he left.
"Are you Mrs. Lewis?" Wingo asked.
"Yes. How do you do, Mr. Wingo," Maggie said.
"Charmed," Wingo said, shaking Maggie's hand.
"This is my friend, Miss Murdock," Maggie said.
"Very nice to make your acquaintance, Mr. Wingo," Linda replied.
"A pleasure, Miss Murdock," Wingo replied.
"Mr. Wingo, we are pressed for time but we did want to let you know we had arrived. We are being taken to a gambling hall in the town of Warren's Landing and we should be back in time for the 4pm stage," Maggie said.
"Yes, I will send a wire off to Mr. Sanchez right now," Wingo said, "And if you don't return at 4pm, I'll let him know."
"Thank you, Mr. Wingo," Maggie said, "We certainly appreciate your assistance."
"Well, my dear, any friend of Maudie's boy is a friend of mine," Wingo said, with a smile.
"We'll be taking our leave now and thank you," Linda said.
= = = = = = =
It was a short trip on the wagon to Warren's Landing. Sam told Maggie and Linda that Ella Gaines had been extremely interested in meeting Maggie. Sam said he did not even have to mention a plan for getting Chris as that came up from Ella herself. She had asked Sam if he thought his sister-in- law might be willing to help them. Sam said he told Mrs. Gaines a lie that he knew from Maggie there had been grumbling among the seven and some of them were tired of Chris' leadership and lies. Ella Gaines had seemed overjoyed at this news.
Maggie smiled, "Well then this is even better - we'll let the entire thing be her idea. We'll just suggest a convenient place for the revenge to take place."
= = = = = = =
Sam pulled up in front of a large Gambling Hall and Saloon. It was an expensively appointed and large operation. Linda was in awe, looking at the many poker tables. Maggie gave her a poke and said, "No time for that now, Linda."
In the back of the Saloon was a grouping of rooms behind thick, red drapes, drawn closed for privacy. In front of one, Maggie saw Chauncey, Louis and Drake. They did not speak at Sam, Maggie and Linda's approach, but simply nodded. Chauncey drew aside the drapes and looked inside. "They're here," he said.
A familiar voice said, "Please, send them in."
Sam led Maggie and Linda inside a room lit by several oil lamps. Coffee, tea, whiskey and a variety of baked goods sat on a side table. A circular table in the center of the room, covered with a lace table cloth was where Ella Gaines sat. She was dressed in a fiery red dress, her hair plied on top of her head and heavy diamond earrings hanging from her pierced ears. She was carefully made up and looked quite attractive.
She smiled at their entrance. Behind her was a large man, blond and very unattractive. 'Must be Big Swede,' Maggie thought to herself.
"Mrs. Lewis," Ella said, standing and walking over to shake her hand, "It is very nice to see you again."
"And you, Mrs. Gaines," Maggie replied. "I'm so pleased you remembered me."
Ella turned and looked at Linda. Maggie said, "Mrs. Gaines, please allow me to introduce a close friend of mine, Miss Linda Murdock. Linda, Mrs. Gaines." The two women shook hands. Maggie added, "Linda knows about what has happened. She came along with me for moral support."
Ella smiled, "Please, have a seat."
Ella returned to her place in front of Big Swede. Linda and Maggie took seats across from her. Sam sat on Maggie's right.
Ella said, "I understand from Sam that you've seen Mr. Larabee in Four Corners."
Maggie nodded, "Yes. There have been some recent tragedies in my family. My grandmother had died and she left Mr. Larabee a small inheritance. However, previous to that, my father - you'd met him, Mr. Hank Connelly - had gone there to see Chris and he was killed under very mysterious circumstances."
Ella nodded, looking sympathetic, "I'm so sorry for your loss. You said 'mysterious circumstances'? Do you feel his death was- "
"Mrs. Gaines - I believe, after conferring with several persons in Four Corners, that my father was murdered," Maggie said.
"No!" Ella acted shocked.
"Mrs. Gaines, when Sam told me he had seen you, I remembered that you had met with my father several months before my sister, Sarah's, death. She also died under mysterious circumstances. I was not privy to your conversation with my father - however, I wondered if it had something to do with Mr. Larabee," Maggie said.
"Yes, I'm afraid it did. You see, my late husband, Mr. Petrie, was shot - supposedly, according to a very poor excuse for a sheriff - in a robbery attempt. However, his wallet contained $200. It was not taken, nor was his jewelry. I think he was also murdered," Ella said.
Maggie drew in a breath, "You don't think Mr. Larabee-- "
"Yes, I do. Chris was very angry about my marriage," Ella said.
"Mrs. Gaines - I have to ask - were you warning my father about Mr. Larabee?" Maggie asked.
"Yes - I heard he had married and I feared for your sister's safety. However, I had no idea where they were. Your father was able to tell me. I wanted to warn your sister. Chris is - well - quite violent," Ella said.
Linda said, "Mrs. Lewis and I have been meeting secretly in Watsonville trying to find any information about the deaths of her family members - we can't speak in Four Corners, as the 'walls have ears'."
Ella nodded, "You must mean those other six men."
"They are always around. Prying into other peoples business. Some of them are such ruffians and lowlife's," Maggie said. "However, I do know that at least two of them are not happy being under Mr. Larabee's leadership. They have told me they feel there are times when he abuses his authority." She sighed, "If there was only something more we could do."
Ella smiled. She leaned forward and said quietly, "I do believe there is a way to stop Mr. Larabee and end this misery. But I would require your assistance."
Maggie and Linda shared a long glance and smiled at each other.
"What would you need us to do?" Maggie asked.
= = = = = = =
Maggie and Linda tried to contain themselves until they were on the wagon with Sam and out of sight of the town of Warren's Landing. Then they laughed with glee.
"Can you believe her reaction when I suggested bringing Chris to his old ranch and disposing of his body in the graveyard there? She was actually salivating at the thought," Maggie said.
"Her underhandedness knows no bounds," Linda replied.
Sam said, "You both did a good job. I think she was completely taken in."
"Well, you'll have to wire us, Sam and let us know just when we are to plan this event," Maggie said, "And the sooner, the better."
"I'll speak with her as soon as I get back," Sam replied.
"Tell her to pick the day and time. We'll be sure Chris is there," Linda said.
They reached a small, wooded area and Maggie heard a bird call. "Sam," she said, "stop the wagon." Maggie hopped down and said, "Stay here - I'll be right back." She disappeared behind a few trees. Vin was there.
Vin said, "I see you heard my call. Just checkin' in."
Maggie smiled, "Everything went okay. We're on our way to see Mr. Wingo. Vin, I think we've got her."
= = = = = = =
After Maggie and Linda left, Ella Gaines returned to the office she occupied in the back of the gambling establishment. She was there for a few moments when Big Swede came in and shut the door behind him.
"What do you think, Swede?" She asked.
"Fairly straightforward. If it's just the three of them, it will be easy," Swede replied.
"I'm concerned about these men we've hired. Sam being Mrs. Lewis' brother-in-law - well, he might not want to go along with our plan," Ella said. She thought for a moment. "Can you hire more guns?"
"Yes," Swede said. "How many do you want?"
"Three or four more ought to be fine," she replied.
"I know some men," Swede said.
"Don't tell Sam or the others about this. Have the extra gunmen trail us to the ranch and stay out of sight. Tell them to only act if there are problems," she said.
Swede nodded once and left.
= = = = = = =
Maggie and Linda made a stop in to see Mr. Wingo. Since they had some time, they had a bite to eat with him in his office at his invitation. Maggie asked him if he could send a wire to Josiah and let him know they were on the 4 pm stage. Also to say in the wire 'the walls of Jericho are about to fall.' Mr. Wingo looked confused, but said he would take care of her request.
Maggie and Linda were the lone passengers on the stage as it left Snellville. Linda looked at Maggie and said, "I didn't understand that message you sent to Josiah about Jericho?"
Maggie grinned, "That was a code we made up - just so he can let Chris know it appears that Mrs. Gaines fell for our con."
Linda smiled, "You've picked up the con game quite well, Mrs. Sanchez. You had me convinced you wanted Chris dead."
Maggie said, "Well, it was surprisingly easy. Every nasty thing I said about Chris was really about Mrs. Gaines. Come to think of it, you did a pretty convincing job, too. I like when you told her the 'walls have ears'."
"Thank you," Linda replied.
As they rode on, Maggie leaned back on the seat of the coach. Linda noticed she looked tired and the seats of the coach were not very comfortable.
"Are you all right?" Linda asked.
"Yes. I'm just a bit tired, that's all," she replied. Quietly Maggie added, "You know she's going to want to kill us, don't you?"
Linda nodded, "Yup. There's no way she'll want you or I walking away."
= = = = = = =
Maggie was happy to be home. She felt a great sense of relief when the stage coach pulled into Four Corners. It was late, well after dark when she and Linda stepped down from the coach. She looked around for Josiah. She saw him in front of the jail, speaking to Vin. Maggie waved to them.
Linda said, "I'm going over to the saloon to get a drink and something to eat."
Maggie smiled, "Sure, Linda. Thank you for today."
Linda said, "If you don't mind my saying so, I think you may have missed your true vocation."
Maggie laughed, "Linda, really!"
They said good night and Linda headed to the saloon. Maggie made her way over to the jail. She moved close to Josiah and he put his arm around her and gave her a kiss.
Maggie said hello to Vin.
Josiah smiled, "I hear things went well in Snellville."
Maggie said, "Yes, it went better than I could have expected. Actually we didn't meet in Snellville at all but a town called Warren's Landing. She thinks the entire plan is her idea. Couldn't have asked for a more perfect scenario. Now I just have to wait for a telegram from Sam confirming a date and time - then we'll be all set."
Vin said, "I take it you've never hunted a bounty before?"
Maggie said, "No, but I have no interest in any bounty. This is strictly a personal vendetta."
"Where did Linda take off to?" Josiah asked.
"The saloon. You should have seen this gambling hall Ella Gaines owns. It was quite a place. Linda was chomping at the bit to get into a game," Maggie said with a grin.
Vin said, "If you'll excuse me, I think I'll head over to the saloon as well." He tipped his hat.
"Thanks for today, Vin," Maggie said. Looking up at Josiah, she said, "Did I miss anything?"
"No. Been pretty quiet here without you," Josiah replied. "Are you hungry? Want to get something to eat?"
"I'm hungry, but if you don't mind I'd just as soon go home. I got some sleep on the stage coach, but I'm exhausted," Maggie replied.
"Then let's head home," Josiah said.
= = = = = = =
That night, Maggie and Josiah sat up late in their kitchen. She told him everything that had happened in Warren's Landing. Maggie was convinced they'd fooled Ella Gaines.
"She really wants to get Chris," Maggie said, taking a sip of milk. "Now she's blaming him for killing her third husband. She's smooth or possibly deranged - anyone who didn't know about her would be totally taken in. She tried to convince me that she came to see Hank so she could find Sarah and warn her about Chris. She said Chris was 'quite violent' and very upset over her marriage."
"Chris thought that she might have had some mental problems but he was never sure. She seemed to have made up an entire fantasy life for the two of them that had never happened," Josiah said.
"She's dangerous, Josiah. The sooner the law deals with her, the better I'll feel," Maggie said.
"And how are you feeling, by the way?" He asked, smiling.
"I'm feeling wonderfully. I've been getting a bit tired in the afternoons but otherwise I'm fine. Josiah, I'm almost sure now that I'm pregnant. I'm going to go see Nathan tomorrow but I'm already convinced."
"When do you think the baby is due?" He asked.
"Probably about mid-August." She smiled, "Hard to believe a year ago I was thinking that I was going to wind up an old maiden lady all alone and look at me now."
He took her hand and kissed it. "Remember when we began courting I told you I didn't believe in destiny?" She nodded. He said, "Well, I think I was wrong. I think if any two people were destined to be together, it was us."
"We do seem to be an awfully good fit," she agreed.
"I've been thinking about our future," he said.
"In what way?" she asked.
"With a baby on the way I was thinking that maybe this would be the proper time for me to bow out of my peacekeeping duties," he said.
"Do you really want to quit?" she asked. "Or are you suggesting this because you think I want you to?"
"Wouldn't you rather I stop?" he asked.
"Josiah, I don't want you to stop protecting this town if you don't want to. You don't need to change in any way for me. I'll support you with anything you want to do. I'll go anywhere you want to live. 'Whether thou goest, I will go'- well, I feel that way - if I hadn't I wouldn't have married you," she said. "I don't want to be responsible for your bowing out. That has to be your decision. But don't feel that I am against what you do in any way. I knew when we began courting that this was your life. Believe me, I've always accepted that. And I'm proud of you and all you've done here."
He nodded, "All right - since you feel that way. We'll just see what happens in the next few months."
"If Judge Travis doesn't need the seven of you at some point - have you ever thought about what you'd want to do?" she asked.
"Honestly not since before we were married. Now everything has changed. If that happens, we'll make the decision together," he said.
"Fair enough," she replied, "Do you want to turn in?"
"Yes, I do," he said. They stood. He put his arms around her and gave her a long kiss.
"I missed you today," she said.
"I missed you," he said. "I'm glad you're home."
= = = = = = =
When Sam's wire came, Maggie stopped and read it in the telegraph office. It only said, "Saturday, 8:30 am."
'That's tomorrow,' Maggie thought, 'doesn't give us much time.'
She headed off in the direction of the saloon to see if anyone was there. She found Ezra, Buck and Chris playing poker. She sat at the table and said, "I just got a wire from Sam."
They all looked at her. She continued, "Tomorrow - 8:30 am.."
Chris nodded, 'We'd better get everyone together and finalize our plans. Let's meet back here in a half hour."
They scattered to find Linda and the other four men. Since returning from Snellville, Linda had been staying at the hotel in town, waiting to hear from Sam.
An hour later they were all gathered around a table in the saloon. Chris had a large sheet of paper in front of him and with a pencil had done a rough sketch of his former ranch. He marked initials for everyone's position.
Chris pointed out positions as he explained, "Buck, I want you and JD down in the barn before sunup. Put your horses in the back stalls, make sure you close up the barn door, and get up in the loft. You'll be able to get a good vantage point from there. Vin, Josiah, Ezra, and Nathan will all be in their spots up on this ridge - I want you boys up on the ridge by 8. Sam and his group will be coming from this direction. Linda, Maggie and I will be coming from the opposite direction - the three of us will meet up here at the saloon to ride out there. We're supposed to hitch our horses and go to the cemetery by 8:30 and then Sam will bring his group in."
Maggie looked at Chris' sketch and said, "That's makes the three of us really good targets out there in the open."
Chris said, "I know; it's the only part of the plan I don't like. If any shooting starts, just hit the dirt. There's really no where we can go for cover. There's the picket fence around the graves but I don't know how much cover that is going to provide. But if I know Ella Gaines, she's going to want to come down there and chat before she kills me. Linda, when she's in sight, you make a big show of drawing your sidearm and holding it against me - then take my sidearm out of my holster. I'll have another couple of guns on my back under my coat that she won't see. I'll start to give you hell and you just order me to shut up. Just be good and loud."
Buck grinned, "How come Linda gets to have all the fun?"
Linda turned and looked at Buck, 'I'd be more than happy to exchange places with you, Mr. Wilmington. I don't relish the idea of being used for target practice if it comes to that."
Buck said, "Don't worry - Maggie'll be there to protect you."
"Thanks, Buck ," Maggie laughed.
= = = = = = =
Chris rode into town early on Saturday. He saw Maggie and Linda sitting in front of the saloon talking, their horses ready and hitched there too. They were both dressed in riding skirts and wearing side arms. They both looked over at Chris when he approached and stood.
Chris smiled, "Morning. Are we ready?"
"Good morning, Chris. I'm ready," Maggie said with a smile.
"Morning, Chris. I'm as ready as can be," Linda replied.
Chris smiled at Maggie, "There's something different about you today, sis. You are just glowing."
Maggie froze and looked at Chris. 'Did he know?' she thought. Carefully she said, "Thanks, Chris. Guess I'm just excited about today is all."
Chris nodded, "It will be good to put this behind us once and for all."
Linda and Maggie mounted up. The three of them started riding towards Chris' former ranch.
When they arrived, Maggie looked around but she couldn't see Josiah, Ezra, Nathan or Vin anywhere on the rise. 'They must have good cover,' she thought. She didn't see their horses either. She knew they were here. As they went on down toward the cemetery, she looked at the barn. It appeared quiet.
"What time is it?" Maggie asked.
Chris pulled out his pocket watch and said, "It's just now quarter past the hour. Remember what I told you both and keep your eyes open."
They rode on slowly and reached the cemetery. They dismounted and hitched their horses to the hitching post that was in front of the remnants of Chris' house.
They made their way over to the cemetery. Linda stayed back a few paces behind Chris and Maggie.
"How are you feeling?" Chris asked.
"Nervous," was Maggie's reply. She looked down at the graves - 'maybe it was appropriate that it end here,' she thought.
Some time went by. It was very quiet in the early morning. Then they heard it. Hoof beats and a carriage. They appeared on the rise in front of the cemetery.
"Okay," Chris said quietly. "Here we go." Chris pointed up to the hill, and turned to Maggie as though he was asking who the riders were. The riders and carriage continued down the hillside toward them.
Linda drew her gun, came up behind Chris and stuck the gun hard into his back. "Maggie, take his gun," Linda said.
Maggie reached for the gun in Chris' holster and took it. Maggie only had one gun in her left holster so she stuck Chris' in the empty right holster of the gun belt she wore.
"What the Hell are you doing?!" Chris yelled.
"Keep quiet," Linda said, loudly.
Chris spun and looked at Linda. Linda pointed the gun directly at Chris and said, "Back away, Larabee."
Maggie could see Ella Gaines, leaning forward in her carriage. She looked excited.
"What are you two up to?! What's going on?!" Chris yelled.
"Shut up!" Linda yelled back.
The riders and carriage pulled up. Big Swede stayed on the carriage. Sam, Chauncey and Louis dismounted and came around the front of the carriage with their guns drawn. Drake jumped off his horse and came around to assist Ella from the carriage.
Chris turned slowly. His eyes met with Ella's. She was smiling.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't Mr. Larabee. What a surprise to find you here," she said.
"What the HELL are YOU doing here?" Chris asked.
"I've come to see you, lover, that's all," she replied, sweetly. "Aren't you happy to see me?"
"No," Chris said, thorough gritted teeth.
Ella's eyes narrowed, "This has gone on long enough." She walked back toward the carriage and with Drakes assistance, climbed back into it. She looked at Big Swede, nodded. Turning back she said, "Mrs. Lewis, Miss Murdock, I do appreciate your kind assistance, but I do not wish any witnesses who can get word back to the other six men about what took place here today. Swede, kill them all." Swede started to reach for his gun.
At that moment, both Sam and Linda shot Big Swede. As he fell from the carriage, Ella looked at Linda. It was clear she was stunned.
"What?" she started to say.
Chris pulled a gun from behind his coat, "If there's any killing going to be done today, Ella, we're going to do it. Consider yourself under arrest."
Ella looked at Maggie. Maggie's gun was also drawn and pointed at Ella.
Maggie said, "Did you really think I was going to turn on my family?"
Linda grinned, "It would appear, my good Mrs. Gaines that the con has turned back on you."
Ella started to scream, "NO!"
At that moment, shots started to ring out from the direction Ella's carriage had approached.
"Hit the dirt!" Sam yelled.
Everyone dropped. Sam looked at Chris, "She must have had more men up there in the hills. She was talking about hiring more guns. Dammit. I'll try to work my way up there with the boys." Chris nodded.
Sam worked his way around the carriage and motioned to Chauncey, Louis and Drake. They started to make their way up the hill using any cover they could find.
Chris turned to look at Linda and Maggie and saw with relief that they were down on their bellies watching the goings on. Up behind them, Vin, Josiah, Ezra and Nathan had appeared and they were returning fire. There appeared to be three or four more men up in the hills that Ella had brought along.
No one noticed that Big Swede was moving. He reached out for the gun that was still in his holster. He couldn't get a shot at Chris but Linda and Maggie were well within his sights. He began to line up a shot when suddenly a gunshot rang out from up in the hills. The group in the cemetery turned just in time to see Big Swede take a bullet right between the eyes and go down. Chris grinned, knowing the shot had come from one of the other six men.
Ella had grabbed up the reins to the carriage that Big Swede had dropped. She slapped the horse and took off.
Maggie saw her and jumped up. Crouching, she ran for her horse, mounted and took off after Ella. Behind her, Maggie could hear Chris screaming her name. Luckily, she was not hit by any of the bullets that were flying through the air.
Chris got up and mounted his horse. He could hear the bullets whipping past him but he ignored them and took off after Maggie and Ella. Linda got up and followed Chris on her own horse.
It didn't take long to subdue the additional men Ella had brought. Sam waved to Josiah. "You'd better get after them!" Sam called. "We'll take care of things here."
Josiah, Vin, Nathan, Ezra mounted up and started after Chris. As they passed the barn, Buck and JD joined them.
Chris was pounding away on his horse. He rounded a bend and saw Maggie up ahead of him. She had stopped in a clearing and had pulled her rifle from its rigging. She put the rifle up to her shoulder and fired. He thought at first she was trying to shoot Ella, but as he got closer, he realized she was shooting at the spokes of the carriage wheels. She hit one and Chris saw the carriage start to wobble. He grinned and called "Nice shooting, Maggie" as he flew past her.
Maggie put her rifle back in the rigging just as Linda caught up with her. They grinned at each other. Just then, Josiah and the others rounded the bend.
"Wait here!" Josiah called, as they passed.
Maggie and Linda looked at each other. Maggie could tell Linda wanted to go along with them but they could see everything in the clearing as the trail dropped down away from them. Maggie stood up in the saddle to get a better view.
Ella's carriage was in serious trouble. The wheel Maggie had hit was wobbling badly. Ella seemed to be having trouble controlling the horse that pulled the wagon. As the wagon wobbled, it loosened the spring bar that held the harness in place.
Chris was catching up with the carriage. Up ahead, he could see that the clearing dropped away and they were approaching the cliff.
Chris called out, "Ella! Let go of the reins and jump out! You're going to get killed!"
Ella was leaning forward, on the edge of the seat, holding onto the reins. Ella glanced over her shoulder at Chris. She looked defiant.
As the carriage got near the drop, the horse suddenly pulled to the right. The harness broke away and Ella fell back into the carriage. The horse kept moving away from the drop.
Chris reined in to a halt as the carriage flew off the drop. It seemed to be moving in slow motion. The carriage moved forward and arched down and plunged into a ravine.
= = = = = = =
They collected Ella's body from the bottom of the ravine. The seven met up with Maggie and Linda and returned to Chris' former ranch.
At the ranch, Sam and his friends waited for them. Three of Ella's gunmen, among them Big Swede, had been killed and two gunmen were wounded and tied up.
Chris and Sam looked at each other. Sam saw Ella's body covered and tied to the carriage horse but he did not ask what happened.
Chris said, "I don't know how to thank you, Sam."
Sam smiled and said, "My pleasure, Mr. Larabee. Sarah was family to me, too. We did it for her."
The pair shook hands warmly.
Maggie was standing close to Linda. She put a hand on Linda's arm and gave it a squeeze. "Nice acting," she said.
Linda grinned, "Thank you - my true calling was the stage, but I gave it up for all this."
Chris walked over to the pair. He gave Linda a kiss on the cheek, which obviously surprised her. Maggie handed Chris back his gun, which he spun around on his finger and slid cleanly into his holster. Then he grabbed Maggie, swung her around and gave her a long hug.
Maggie looked up at Chris, "I can't believe it's finally over," she said.
Chris nodded. He kissed the top of her head. Maggie hadn't seen him look this happy in a long time.
"Not too shabby, Linda," Buck said, walking up to them.
"Please, Mr. Wilmington, do not use the word 'shabby' in any connection to my name," Linda said, with a laugh.
Buck clapped Linda on the back and laughed too.
= = = = = = =
Back in Four Corners, Buck went off to the telegraph office to wire Judge Travis of Ella Gaines death and the capture of the two gunmen.
The two surviving gunmen weren't hurt bad. Nathan treated them and they'd been deposited in cells in the jail. Vin, Ezra and JD had taken the three dead gunman to the undertakers and returned to the jail.
A short time later, Maggie was sitting out in front of the saloon with Linda, Sam and Inez. Chauncey, Drake and Louis had already gone into the saloon to get a celebratory drink. Sam was telling Inez what had happened that morning. Maggie was feeling a bit melancholy, thinking about Sarah.
Nathan walked over to the saloon. "Maggie," he said, "can I speak with you a minute?"
Maggie stood up, "Sure, Nathan." They walked down the street a few steps.
Linda watched them curiously. She couldn't hear what they were saying, but after a moment, Maggie took hold of Nathan's arm, a big smile on her face. She gave Nathan a hug and kissed him on the cheek. He laughed. Sam also was watching, wondering what was up.
Maggie looked down toward the jail and her eyes met Josiah's. She was still smiling. She left Nathan's side and started walking toward the jail. She passed Linda, Sam and Inez without a word. Buck had come back from the telegraph office and asked Inez what was going on. Inez looked at Buck and shrugged.
Josiah was walking toward Maggie. When she reached Josiah, she said something to him. His face lit up and he picked her up and hugged her tightly. Sam and Inez looked at each other. Linda got up and with Buck and Nathan, walked over to the pair. Nathan was smiling, too. Chris, Vin, Ezra and JD approached from the other side.
When they were all gathered around, Maggie looked at them all with tears in her eyes and said, "We're going to have a baby."
There were hugs and kisses all around.
Buck said, "What a day - I don't think we can top this one!"