Refers to characters and events from The Bad, the Good and the Ugly, and The Bad, the Good and the Ugly: Part Deux.
Disclaimer: The boys are the property of MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy Entertainment. I do not own them or make money from them but oh boy if I did...
Characters: Vin, Chris, OCs and Ella Gaines.
Please Note: A highly trained stunt dawg was used in the first scene and no dawgs were harmed during the writing of this fanfic.
Feedback: I very much hope you will let me know what you thought!
"That thing's getting bigger."
"Cowboy?" puzzled Vin Tanner.
"That," said Chris Larabee, glaring at the creature resting across the tracker's feet as pale eyes glared back.
"Course he is, he were only a bit more than a pup when I first had him."
"Don't you mean cub?"
"Ya need eyeglasses, Cowboy?"
"He'll hear ya. Don't offend him."
"What do you do with him when you visit the Stacy Ranch?"
"Do with him?"
"Do you chain him up in the barn?"
"Hell, no. He'd chew through the chain. Then the barn."
"You don't expect me to believe Cousin Elvira allows that in her grand ranch house?"
"She does an' she quite likes him iffen the truth be told."
"As Ezra has remarked before, she must have no olfactory sense."
"Sense of smell."
"Hell, she says you smell."
"ME?" Larabee could almost swear the long-haired animal was laughing at him and he didn't mean the one wearing the buckskin.
"Cheap cheroots, cheap whiskey an' even cheaper women. I think she's sayin' yer cheap, Cowboy."
"And what about you?"
"I think she likes my manly smell."
"Horse sweat, buckskin sweat and dog sweat?"
"Told ya he's a dawg. Nice ta hear ya admit it."
"'Night, Cowboy. An' dawgs don't sweat they pant."
In the darkness of Larabee's cabin Vin Tanner smiled. Savage was definitely winning Chris over. After all here they were, when not so long ago Chris had decreed Savage was not to visit his horse ranch with Vin. The fact was Savage never left Tanner's side. So much so no one even noticed him any more. Well, maybe a few strangers or the odd miscreant who found certain appendages making their way between Savage's jaws.
Not that Savage did much in the way of obeying Tanner. When told in Comanche to stay he would if he felt like it. When told to get off the blanket he only lifted his head and yawned. Tanner didn't demand anything of Savage and Savage didn't demand anything of Tanner. No food was forthcoming from his man's hand, no treats in reward for duties carried out or training followed. They just drifted along together. Bound by unfailing loyalty perhaps?
In fact the only person Savage openly adored was Mother York, who fed him often and saved him treats. Patting his head and talking to him continuously. When she wasn't doing exactly the same to Tanner, including the head patting.
Savage growled softly a sure indication someone or something was moving around outside. Tanner was instantly awake and his hand reached for his sawed-off.
"Larabee," he whispered urgently.
In the darkness both men listened intently.
"At least five of 'em," muttered Tanner. "What they tryin' ta do wake the dead?" he said as a muffled crash came from the rear of the tiny cabin.
Chris Larabee strained his ears to hear what it was Tanner could hear. "Fire!" he hissed as he smelt burning.
The two peacekeepers cannoned out of the cabin door. Tanner disappeared around the back and raising the mare's leg shot the would-be arsonist in the chest. Walking slowly towards the injured man Tanner rapidly levered another round into the sawed-off and fired again and again. Continuing even after the gun was empty then he hit the corpse in the face with the butt end of the Winchester before reloading. He heard three shots from Larabee's gun and he turned back to join his friend.
"Got all four?" asked Larabee.
"There's five," insisted Tanner.
"No four," insisted Larabee only realizing he was wrong when both men heard the harsh click of another rifle. Larabee spun around and fired as Vin yelled out a warning.
A dark furry shape had already hurled itself at the fifth gunman it's jaws locking around the man's throat. Too late. A Larabee bullet had already found a target.
"NAW!" cried Tanner as Savage fell in a heap. His side matted with blood shining black in the moonlight.
"Dear Lord! I'm so sorry, Vin."
"He ain't dead," said Tanner, kneeling by Savage's side as the animal's breathing became more and more ragged.
"There's nothing we can do for him, Vin. You'd best end it for him now."
"Naw," insisted Tanner drawing his hunting knife. "Boil some water an' get me some light."
Larabee knew that tone of voice. Tanner wouldn't give up until Savage was long past dead. With a long audible breath Larabee did as he was asked. Tanner carried Savage into the cabin and cleared Larabee's table with the sweep of his arm.
"Saddlebag," rasped Tanner.
Larabee smiled in spite of himself. Nathan Jackson had packed certain items into both the men's saddlebags before they rode out together. Like a mother hen looking after her chicks Nathan always hoped they wouldn't be needed but with Thunder and Blue Lightning riding together invariably Nathan hoped in vain.
Larabee held the lamp over the table until his arm ached only moving the light when Tanner instructed him to. The look of grim determination on the tracker's face warned Larabee not to again voice his opinion of the hopelessness of the situation. Instead he watched as Tanner soothed the creature with words in a language Larabee had no understanding of and dug out the bullet. The animal's pale eyes were glassy and his tongue lolled out of the side of his mouth but he remained still as Tanner cleaned and stitched the wound.
"Well?" asked Chris, desperate to know in spite of himself.
"Don't know yet."
"He was trying to save me," said Larabee guiltily.
"Naw, he don't like ya that much, mebbe he was jus' hungry."
They sat side by side as the dawn arrived.
"I'll go see to the bodies," said Larabee as Tanner stared unblinkingly at the table and it's bloodstained occupant.
Outside in the crisp early morning air Larabee drew a deep shuddering breath. He dragged the four bodies into a line in front of the cabin. Looking down at the fifth gunman he turned and spat at the sight of the ripped open throat. Savage indeed.
From behind the cabin he dragged the body of the man Tanner had killed and laid it alongside his fellows. Larabee looked at the six bullet wounds and the smashed and bloody face. Savage indeed. Larabee understood the reason for it. It had been the flame that had enraged Tanner. Larabee had known Tanner would target the would-be-arsonist first.
Ella Gaines had leaked into the landscape Larabee acknowledged. Ella Gaines had money Larabee acknowledged. Killers came cheap Larabee acknowledged. Ella Gaines liked fire.
Yes, Ella, sometimes I think of you at night but not in the way you think about me. I feel my hands around your throat. I hear you beg. I hear you scream for mercy. I too become the savage.
Tanner came out of the cabin his face buried in his hands.
"We'll bury him out here under the shady tree if you want, Vin."
"Yeah? Ya'll do that fer him?"
"He was a good dog."
"Dawg? Ya know he ain't no dawg."
"He deserves a proper grave."
"Guess we should wait 'til he's dead first though."
"He isn't?" Larabee wondered why he wasn't more surprised. Then again he knew Savage lived for Tanner.
"Licked my hand an' drank a little water, Cowboy."
"I'm so sorry, Vin."
"Hell, Cowboy. Mary's right when will ya stop blamin' yerself?"
"When she's dead."
Tanner filled an enamel bowl with water from the water barrel. He paused and looked at Larabee. Larabee looked back at him. The fact was Savage never left Tanner's side. So much so no one even noticed him any more. The fact was Tanner never left Larabee's side. So much so no one even noticed him any more. Well, maybe a few strangers or the odd miscreant who found certain appendages full of bullet-holes.
Not that Tanner did much in the way of obeying Larabee. When told to stay he would if he felt like it. When told to get off the blanket he only lifted his head and yawned. Tanner didn't demand anything of Larabee and Larabee didn't demand anything of Tanner. They just drifted along together. Bound by unfailing loyalty perhaps?
But still when it finally came time to make his choice whether to live again or die. Larabee would choose to live again because he had finally found someone else to live for.
"Hell, ya both got barks worse than yer bites," muttered the tracker with a wry smile before putting half the water in Larabee's coffee pot and giving the other half to Savage.
She looked at her face in the mirror. Teasing her bangs into curls around her face to try to give the impression she was robust and healthy. When indeed she was gaunt and ashen. Alva Jane closed the moth-eaten curtains to prevent the harsh sunlight revealing the ravages of consumption. She no longer resembled the woman on her own Wanted poster. Wrapping the torn robe around her thin frame she hurried down the stairs to meet her next customer. She no longer found work in the best bordello's, she was forced to ply her trade in the cheapest saloons. A dollar a poke if all the other prettier girls were busy elsewhere.
Alva Jane barely recalled a time when she had been anything more than a toy for men to use. Her own father had used and abused her until he had shuffled off this mortal coil. Then Eli Joe had taken his place until he too had grown tired of bedding his pubescent half-sister and sold her to the first of many border town brothel keepers.
Answering the bellowed summons she reached the foot of the stairs and was slightly surprised to see a extravagantly dressed woman waiting there. Alva Jane was un-shockable when it came to the proclivities of others it would not be the first time she had serviced a woman but not in such an unsanitary place as this cathouse. She led the the way back along the uncarpeted passageway to her room.
Once inside she waited for the woman in the feathered hat to voice her wants and peccadilloes. The woman looked disdainfully about the room and impatiently tapped her heeled boot on the bare floorboards. Reaching into her bag she tossed a thick bundle of bank notes on to the bed. Alva Jane fell on them like a vulture.
"What do you want me to do, sugar?" Alva Jane asked shrugging off the robe.
"Firstly, I want you to cover yourself back up. Your body isn't worth that amount of money to anyone. I want a man."
"Well, we are occasionally able to arrange such entertainment but it will take a little time to set-up."
"I want Uriah Pinkney. I understand you know where he is to be found?"
"Why should I help you?"
"Do you wish to hand the money back?"
"No but Uriah may need some persuading. He is an artist, he won't work for just anyone. You will need me to handle the negotiations."
"Hardly. Once he hears the name Vin Tanner I have no doubt he will crawl out of the woodwork and bite my hand off."
"Vin Tanner?" asked Alva Jane.
"What grudge do you hold against Vin?"
"He came between myself and my beloved husband."
"I'm Mrs. Chris Larabee."
"No, he's a widower," Alva Jane disagreed. "His wife was named Sarah Connolly."
"That was only a brief hiatus in our relationship. Now, Uriah?"
"What do you intend to with Vin?"
"I am confused as to why you think it is of any concern of yours."
Alva Jane hesitated over her answer. What concern was it it of hers what happened to Vin Tanner at the hands of Uriah? Vin Tanner had been the one and only man in this sorry world who had ever treated her like a human being. Showed her a modicum of respect even as he had paid over his money just like the rest. She realized now she had clung to that and allowed herself to believe he had real feelings for her. How was a woman like Alva Jane to recognize love when she had never come across even a shred of it in her entire life time? She had mistaken the common decency other women had the right to expect as something far more.
Hadn't he made it clear, even in his delirium, that he loved another woman and always would? She owed him nothing. Not even the testimony that might help clear him of Eli Joe's murder. So she took the money then Alva Jane told Ella Gaines exactly where to find Uriah.
"You will need more men. A regiment," Uriah told Ella Gaines.
"Uriah. Leave the planning to me. You just sharpen your lancet or whatever you plan to use."
"Things have changed some. He has more family now and have you any idea how formidable his six friends are? They regard him as a brother."
"I have made the acquaintance of those men before. I only need concern myself with my beloved Chris. That sniveling lapdog, Tanner, is your problem and your reward."
"I think you are underestimating Tanner and Larabee."
"Believe me I when I say I never underestimate Chris. He's a real man," smiled Ella but she wisely recruited a regiment anyway.
Chris Larabee was dragged down from his horse and as much as he kicked and cursed he was tied up. Slung unceremoniously into the back of the wagon he overheard the man in charge talking to the others.
"Well done. We got them all even the sharpshooter, Mrs. Larabee will be pleased when we gets to the mine. I reckon it will get us a bonus from The Culpepper Mining Company!"
Writhing around in the wagon Larabee gained a better view from out of the back of the wagon. He saw his men tied together following on behind the wagon. The last thing he saw before losing consciousness was Vin Tanner minus his hat and that a livid red mark almost covered the right side of his face.
"Uriah?" Vin Tanner would have recognized that high-pitched voice anywhere.
"Those incompetents hurt you?" asked Uriah leaning over the table and examining the tracker's bruised face.
"Nuthin' but a scratch or two," answered Tanner pulling his head away. "Ya gonna untie me?"
"Ah, you are as stoically brave as ever but no, I'm not," replied Uriah checking the ropes securing Tanner to the table for a second and then a third time just to be sure.
"Listen, however much that she bitch is payin' ya I kin git ya double," promised Tanner, willing to mortgage his soul to escape and try to find Chris.
"A thousand dollars."
"Can get ya more than a thousand, real easy."
"No, you misunderstand. That's how much I'm paying Mrs. Larabee to spend this special time with you."
"Don't call her that! Ya ain't ever ta call her that! She ain't fit ta be called that!" yelled Vin furiously.
"Shush now. Look at the treats I have in store for you," said Uriah in a soft inviting voice as he lifted the snow white cloth from a tray of gleaming medical instruments that Nathan Jackson would have coveted.
Tanner heard the familiar rattle of metal against metal as Uriah picked up a pair of surgical scissors and began to cut off Vin's favorite red shirt with them.
"Hell, that were nearly a new shirt."
"Sorry but I'm sure you couldn't be trusted to undress yourself without putting up a fight."
"Thought ya wanted ta crucify me?" Tanner asked, keeping his voice low and steady as Uriah peeled back his clothing.
"Ah, if there was only time for that," sighed Uriah. "What wonderful skin you have, Adonis. So smooth and soft but remarkably resilient. The burns I gave you are barely visible. I see you have gained a few more scars since our last meeting."
"Flattered ya remembered," drawled Vin.
"I dream about your body night and day," smiled Uriah.
"I dream about yers too."
"You do?" asked Uriah excitedly.
"Roasting on a spit mostly."
"You seem determined to break my heart," tutted Uriah selecting a scalpel and holding up to the light.
"Supposin' I said I'd leave here with ya iffen ya helped me free Chris first?"
"Ya could take me wherever ya wanted keep me alive fer as long as ya liked. Get yer thousand dollars worth outta my hide. Ya can do that can't ya? keep me alive while ya do what ya want?"
"I could keep you alive forever. You do understand that don't you?"
"We gotta a deal then?" he rasped.
"Why? Why would you sacrifice yourself for a no account gunslinger like Chris Larabee?"
"Because he once looked across a street an' trusted me."
"That's what all this is about, trust?"
"I was nuthin' when I stepped down inta that street with him. Was nuthin', knew nuthin', had nuthin'. When I walked by his side I thought mebbe, jus' mebbe, I could one day be sumthin'."
"Can I trust you, Vin?"
"Help me save Chris from that gorgon an' I swear ya can."
Slowly Uriah untied the ropes.
"There's jus' one itty bitty problem, Uriah..." began Vin Tanner rubbing his sore wrists.
"Chris, sweetheart. You must eat something."
Larabee pulled the pillow over his head and refused to even look at Ella.
"Look at me, Chris." She sat on the edge of the bed and stroked his back lightly. "This nightgown is the finest silk all the way from Paris, France. Don't I look good in it? Don't you want me?"
"Hell, no." Larabee's growl was muffled by the pillow.
"I know you are being chased by that blonde bitch from the newspaper office. I saw the way she looked at you. That frigid mare is no love match for a virile stud such as you, Chris."
Chris replied with a harsh laugh.
"I know you find me beautiful, Chris, you won't be able to resist me much longer."
"Beauty? That's the last thing I see in you, Ella. Beauty was what I saw in the eyes of the son you murdered, Ella. Beauty was in Sarah's heart, her smile, her graceful walk, everything about her was beautiful. When I look at you I see only a grotesque. A hideous mask of deceit and ugliness hiding pure evil."
"We could have our own children, Chris. Beautiful boys and girls, as many as you want."
"Ella," he sneered with disgust, "you're too old."
She recoiled back from the bed. She had fully expected him to curse her for the deaths of Sarah and Adam but she hadn't foreseen this. She turned to the looking glass for reassurance. She spent a great deal of money on preserving her youthful appearance. She was sure she looked exactly the same as she had when they had first met. She still had her suitors, the rich Romeos who pandered to her vanity. She had saved her heart all these years for Chris and Chris alone.
Well, she'd prove to him how beautiful and irresistible she still was. Chris had hurt her and she knew precisely how to hurt him in return. By now she had fully expected to hear Vin Tanner screaming in agony at Uriah's hands, sure that on hearing his friend's suffering Chris would submit to anything. Now she had another use for the buckskin tracker. She would seduce Vin Tanner in the room right next door and let Chris hear it all.
Uriah and Vin hurriedly made their way up the basement steps to what Uriah assured Vin would be freedom, only to be greeted at the top of the stairs by Ella Gaines.
"Uriah? Bored so soon with Vin?"
"I was intending to string him up outside," answered Uriah attempting to think on his feet. "For the night. Weaken him some for tomorrow."
"Uriah, other than his gaping shirt there doesn't appear to be a mark on him. What have you two been doing all this time? Holding hands?"
"I...I w-was---" stammered Uriah, eying the gun she held and stepping up to shield Vin.
"Perhaps you intended to bore him to death as you do me," smiled Ella Gaines before raising the gun and shooting Uriah, sending him tumbling back down the basement steps.
Grabbing the handrail, Vin heard the shot and Uriah landing with a deafening crash at the foot of the basement steps then only silence.
"Uriah was vastly overrated," complained Ella waving the still smoking gun at Vin. "He promised to make you scream."
Vin allowed her to take his arm and lead him up the grand staircase and inside what he presumed was the room next to her own bedroom. Vin was almost certain Chris was her prisoner in the room next door. The tracker sat down on the bed, sure Ella would have to put the gun down at some point. He listened for even the slightest sound of his friend's whereabouts.
"Tell me, Vin, why aren't you married?" asked Ella chattily, while taking a seat on the bed beside him.
"Ya what?" he rasped.
"I never really noticed you before but you are a very handsome young man," she said slipping her hand inside his open shirt and caressing his bare flesh.
"A regular Adonis," he drawled.
"I wouldn't go quite that far. Oh, then again maybe I might," she added her left hand burrowing it's eager way into his pants. "Do I frighten you, Vin?"
"Are you sure?"
If it wasn't for the fact it might antagonize her and endanger Chris he would have fallen back on the bed helpless with laughter. Only one woman had ever frightened him and then only because she bedazzled him. Made him fear losing control, something no other woman could do. Ella was even more insane than she sounded if she thought she could seduce him.
"So, Vin, why aren't you married?"
"Ain't the settlin' kind," he drawled.
"Neither was Chris once but he's ready to settle down again now. Tell me, Vin, have you had many women?"
"A gentleman never tells."
"Mmm, you're very young. Have you ever known a woman of experience?"
His skin crawled at her touch but still he looked towards her without reacting, his blue eyes cold. "A whore like ya?"
She pinched his tender skin cruelly but she was determined to have him. "A mature woman? One, who say, has had a husband and knows how to keep a man interested? How to slowly initiate him into new pleasures? Do you know any women like that?" she cooed seductively into his ear. "Would you like to?"
Standing up and slipping the straps from her shoulders she let the expensive silk pool at her feet and stood waiting for a sign of his admiration. Vin felt the draft of the finest silk slithering down her nude body. A thought as disgusting to him as watching a snake shedding it's skin. For a brief moment Vin almost felt sorry for Ella. She was willing to humiliate herself merely to try and make Chris jealous. She was hopelessly pathetic.
"Know one that's a real ball a blue lightning an' she plumb wore out two husbands but I reckon they died happy," he rasped. Hoping the woman in question would forgive him for taking liberties with her reputation as smiling he added, "An evil, dried up, murderin' bitch like ya is can't hope ta hold a candle ta any a the real fine women me an' Chris have a deep respect fer."
And he wasn't all that surprised when Ella shot him, in fact he would much prefer that to the feel of her hands on his body.
However, he was surprised when the gun stuck. He made a grab for it and wrestled her to the floor. He wasn't prepared to make any allowances for the fact she was a woman, not when she was a mother and child killer. The last thing he heard was Chris pounding on the wall and bellowing angrily as Ella's guards rushed in to drag him back to the mine but he had the satisfaction of knowing he had at least made her feel pain.
She crossed the street and joined the two women standing outside the saloon. "Any news?" they asked in unison their accents so different. One an attractive Mexican the other a city accent.
"None at all," Mary Travis told Inez Recillos and Elvira Stacey almost apologetically.
"How long have they all been missing now?" asked Elvira.
"Nearly three days," replied Mary.
"Why, they are men and men do sometimes go astray," pointed out Elvira, "It's the nature of the beast," she laughed.
"Yes but they promised to come straight back and take over guarding Libertyville while Jake and Orlando are away," said Mary primly, having no desire to dwell on Chris Larabee's need to still go 'astray' down in Purgatorio.
All three women watched as Casey Wells exited the hotel with Nettie Well's comforting arm about her shoulders. "It would seem some have given way to despair already," said Elvira sympathetically.
"Maude Standish arrived on the stage yesterday and she casually asked Casey Wells how J.D. Dunne was and the girl dissolved into tears before her very eyes," confided Mary.
"Well?" snapped a voice.
"Still no word, Mother York," answered Elvira bravely.
"I meant what you going to do about it?" snapped the old lady.
"There doesn't seem to be anything we can do," admitted Mary.
"Saloon!" ordered Mother York waving her walking stick at Nettie and Casey inviting them to join them, "All of you now!"
They entered the saloon more from from shock than obedience.
"Scat!" commanded Mother York and the few hardened early morning drinkers rushed out. "We have to find Sugar Plum," she said decisively.
"Us? But we're only women," said Mary wondering how Mother York dared to refer to a man like Vin Tanner as 'Sugar Plum' in public.
"Perhaps some of my ranch hands could mount a search?" suggested Elvira.
Old Mother York's voice was tinged with annoyance, "Casey bring Maude in here. Go on run along child! A bunch of men get themselves lost and you propose sending another sorry bunch to get lost looking for them?"
"I don't think Cousin Vin merely took a wrong turning," snapped Elvira hotly.
"Hellcat," cackled Old Mother York affectionately. "Now listen up! We have to find them and soon," said Mother York as Casey returned with a much intrigued Maude.
"But we're only women," protested Mary again.
"Only women? Hark at you! Let me see what have we? A cool headed intelligent blonde, the best rifle-woman in the Territory, a cheater, a green kid, a gray-haired wise old owl, a barkeep with animal magnetism to spare and I can take a turn at healing."
"Ain't no tracker," pointed out Elvira with a wry smile.
"No but you are almost as good as Vin is at finding trouble. Where were they last seen?" she turned to ask Mary.
"They left Watsonville on time and were last seen in a little town a few days ride from here," answered Mary.
"Then that's where we'll start."
"Start? Start what?" asked Mary.
"Who exactly is going to be looking?" asked Mary.
"The seven of us. Now---"
"The seven of us? We can't drop everything and just ride out after them!" interrupted Nettie, her dander up.
"Why not? They would do it for any one of us," Mother York stated flatly.
"We must!" sobbed Casey.
"Don't take on so child," sighed a defeated Nettie. Relieved to be voted down as twice in the last two days she had almost set out to look for her boy alone.
"I'll ride in Nettie's wagon, the rest of you get hired horses from the livery and charge them to Elvira's account," announced Mother York.
"I think I should hire a carriage," announced Maude.
"Think what you like but you'll be riding a horse same as the rest. We made need to move fast and we can't spare more than us two old women getting left behind," ordered Old Mother York. "Elvira, I'll need a shotgun and Casey will need a carbine."
"A shotgun, Mother York? Does that mean you've found your long lost spectacles at last?" asked Mary Travis as Elvira, followed by an eager Casey, left the saloon.
"Hell, no. So don't any of you sneak up behind me!"
They rode out of town before noon. An odd assortment of women all with a common goal. It had been decided Mary, Elvira, Casey and Inez would ride astride wearing long dusters and wide brimmed hats hoping to pass for men from a distance. However, Maude had refused to ride anything other than side saddle so she was mounted on Merry Thought and Elvira was riding one of her own ranch horses. A splendid silver gray called Sage because he seemed to know everything that was expected of him without aid from his rider.
Their disguises were hardly capable of fooling a blind man. Mary and Inez only succeeded in looking more feminine and Maude protested bitterly about having to dress like Nettie. Elvira's height, her easy confidence in the saddle and Casey's charming boyishness made them only a little more convincing. In spite of this they arrived unmolested in the small town within three days.
"I am a hundred years old you know, I need a helping hand occasionally, Elvira, help me down," ordered Mother York. "We need three double hotel rooms, one with a cot for Casey. See to it, Maude. I shall share with Elvira. Mary and Inez can share. Nettie, Casey and Maude can take the other room. Nettie and Casey, see to the horses. Mary, change clothes and try that newspaper office over there and the telegraph office too for information."
None of them thought to demur as they hurried about their allotted tasks.
"Elvira, change clothes and try the bank. Inez, my dear, please walk me to that little cigar shop before you stop Maude booking the presidential suite and charging it to Elvira."
When they all met up again in the tiny hotel, now full for the first time in it's history, Mary was hardly able to speak. "It's Ella Gaines!" she said her face a white mask of pure rage, "She has been recruiting gunfighters from all over the territory."
"Ella Gaines?" Elvira looked strangely pleased at the prospect of coming face to face with the harpy. "The bank manager told me The Culpepper Mining company has recently purchased a run-down ranch not far from here."
"I know," said Mother York. "I got more than a cigar at the store."
"They must be there!" cried an excited Casey. "Let's ride!"
"We can't attack a ranch by ourselves and hope to free them," pointed out Maude.
"True but I don't think we need to," said Mother York. "On the property somewhere is a played out mine. I have a strong suspicion that is where our boys are. Elvira, do you think you could safely take a ride out there in disguise and reconnoiter for us if I got you a map?"
"A map?" asked Elvira wondering where on God's green earth they could obtain a map.
"It's on it's way here but it may take a little time. Oh! Perhaps not, he's keener than I thought. Don't leave me alone with him I'm too old to play kiss chase."
They swiveled their heads to see an old man almost as bent over with age as Mother York enter the hotel with rolled up papers under his arm. They exchanged toothless grins and two gray heads bent over the maps.
"How sweet!" sighed Casey who had been overdosing on romantic dime novels again.
"Granddaughter," Mother York waved Elvira over and pointed out the mine on the map.
Elvira found the map a hundred percent accurate and the mine was easily found. She wished she had a spyglass as she looked for signs of life. She would have to get a little closer. Leaving Sage ground tied she slithered down the grassy bank towards the mine. Once again Mother York had been right. Elvira Stacey had no skills as a tracker but she found trouble almost as easily as Vin Tanner did.
One of the hazards of dressing as a man was that you could expect to be meted out a manly share of violence when mistaken for a man. As they struck her her hat flew off and her long wild hair tumbled down from it's combs probably saving her from being beaten to death by the two men patrolling the area surrounding the mine.
In the brief glow of the lantern some of The Larabee Gang saw another man with long hair thrown face down on the hard earthen floor of their makeshift prison. As the lantern light faded away there were a number of pain filled groans from the prone man as he rolled over on his back. Buck reached out in the dark with bound hands and was rewarded with a smack.
"I might of guessed you would be the one to grab hold of me there, Buck Wilmington!"
"Cousin Elvira?" chorused six surprised men.
"Wait a minute then we can greet each other properly," she struck a match as she spoke and they all heard Vin Tanner groan.
Six dirty faces appeared from the darkness. "Here lucifers, Ezra." She pulled a knife from her boot, "Which of you wants to be first?"
"I need to look Vin over," said Nathan Jackson holding out his bonds for her to saw through first.
"Vin? Where does it hurt?" asked the healer reassuringly. Knowing how Vin hated dark, closed in spaces and admiring the younger man for fighting his fear in silence.
"It don't, Nathan. I's fine 'cept... I'm blind," whispered the tracker.
Elvira stopped sawing and passed the knife to a horrified Buck so he could free J.D. Dunne along with the others. Ezra Standish struck another match and Vin didn't react to the hand Elvira waved at him.
"Ya wastin' lucifers on me, Ezra?" drawled the tracker, his keen hearing unaffected.
"We have to get ready they'll be back for me soon," said Elvira. "I don't think they have had much female company for the last few days. I expect they'll get over the shock of my men's clothes and decide I can provide some entertainment," her voice shook but not from fear she had no thought for herself. "I only saw four of them. I guess all four won't arrive to collect me so we should be able to overpower them." She pulled a sketch of the map out of the pocket of her duster and almost passed it to the tracker out of habit, instead she passed it to Buck. "As Chris is absent I presume Ella Gaines has Chris?"
"How did you know it was Ella Gaines?" snarled Buck.
"This mine is the property of The Culpepper Mining Company. There are seven of us looking for y'all." She told them all she knew while never taking her eyes away from Vin's.
"Casey is here looking for me?" JD asked, trying to disguise his delight and failing.
"Yes, Nettie is here looking for Vin, Inez is here looking for Buck although I couldn't possibly guess what she intends to do to him when she finds him! Maude is looking for an angle as usual but she'll be glad to see both Ezra and Josiah. Old Mother York says she can't face another winter of her rheumatism without Nathan and Mary is looking for Chris."
"And you?" asked Josiah Sanchez.
"I am looking for Ella Gaines because she has tried to hurt all my friends more than once. I'm going to get hold of her by her scraggy as..." She was interrupted by a lantern's light shining under the door.
The two guards had only time to hear Elvira purr, "Why, howdy boys," before Buck and Josiah took them down. The next two didn't even have time to hear that.
Now armed, the prisoners made their way to the mine entrance. Leading the way, Elvira attempted to guide Vin back through the maze of tunnels before she realized he knew the way better than she. Once outside she was asked to show them the location of the ranch house.
"How many guns have we now? Four?" considered Buck.
"Five if they didn't frighten Sage away," added Elvira.
"Five between six of us."
"Seven of us," argued Elvira. "I want that Gaines woman to know what pain is."
"Six," said Vin. "I'll only slow ya up. A blind sharpshooter's no good ta anyone."
"Seven. No one gets left behind," insisted Buck.
"Inez spent some time chatting to the barkeep back in town there could be as many as fifteen to twenty men. We have no way of knowing exactly how many men the Gaines woman recruited. She may have brought her own men with her too."
"Hell, we've beat similar odds," Buck smiled at Vin.
Vin heard the smile in Buck's voice and smiled back, "We need more guns. Two more would do it."
"We have three shotguns, another Winchester carbine, a derringer and an old Spencer carbine back in town," said Elvira.
"I'll go get 'em while the boys watch out that Ella don't move Chris," decided Tanner.
"We have the one horse between us and we are going to let a blind man ride off on it? No offense, Mr. Tanner, but that is the most ridiculous notion I have ever heard," claimed Ezra.
"Blind or not I kin still ride. I kin find the trail ta town an' it ain't far. I'll keep the sun to m' right 'til I hear the noises a the town up ahead."
"No, too risky," said Buck thinking the sharpshooter might be able to send help back if God was doling out miracles that day but then he would keep on riding. A blind sharpshooter was of limited use and Vin Tanner was not the kind of man to be a burden to his friends. Buck could not imagine the pure Hell of explaining what had happened to Vin to an irate Chris Larabee.
"Sage is a good horse put him on the trail and he'll follow it. That's all we need to do is put him on the right trail." Elvira was remembering how it was Vin who had done most of the guiding in the labyrinth of the mine.
Buck glared at her wondering how to make her aware of his fear without Vin hearing. She looked at Buck and silently mouthed, "He won't leave town until he knows Chris is safe."
Vin knew he was being discussed, the loss of one sense heightened his other senses and he knew Elvira was communicating with, presumably, Buck. They thought he might keep riding and yes, he would once he knew Chris was safe. They didn't realize he could wait in town and still somehow know immediately the minute Chris was safe, leaving him free to ride away.
Although still not convinced Vin could find the town Buck reluctantly agreed.
Elvira guided Vin to the place she had left a patiently waiting Sage and retrieved her Winchester from the horse's saddle, "Vin, swear to wait with Mother York until we all bring Chris back," she asked softly as she pressed the sketch of the rendezvous point into his hand.
Damn her! He was giving no such undertaking!
"We don't want to lose you. You are more to us than just a sharpshooter."
"A blind tracker's the latest toy fer a rich woman?" he mocked bitterly.
"You'd be the perfect whipping boy," she snapped back before composing herself. "We could find an expert doctor, at least let us try everything before you leave us. Before you break Chris."
There, she had him with those four words and he knew she knew it.
Elvira never was one for crying, it was a hideously disfiguring, waste of time in her book but she brushed away her tears as he rode down the trail.
Time was a funny thing, thought JD, sometimes an hour or two was much longer than an hour or two. It was so long since Vin had left for town. True enough he had to reach town somehow and then find the women. Then one or more had to travel here with the guns and find the rendezvous point. It all took time and after all they were only women.
So he was surprised when in record time Mary, Inez, Maude and Casey arrived. Buck smiled at his alluring reinforcements his eyes unable to stop admiring Inez who looked amazingly good in a trail stained duster. The smile rapidly faded when the ladies refused to surrender the three shotguns and the Winchester.
"More rifles are on the way here in the wagon with Mother York and Nettie," reported Mary.
"Where's Cousin Vin?" demanded Elvira. Damn, had they not read the note she had scribbled on the back of the map warning one of them to stay with Vin?
"Riding in the wagon with Mother York and Nettie fussing the life out of him," Mary reassured her.
"Heck, is he mad with you about the note!" giggled Casey. "Downright sneaky he called it. Serves him right for trying to pretend he was alright. He had us all thinking he could see until we read the note and Aunt Nettie held him down while Mother York examined him."
"Nettie keeps hugging him and he wriggles like a worm on a hook," Inez forced a laugh but was unable to hide the sorrow in her voice.
"I don't how much use we will be but we have seven spare Winchester rifles in the wagon and some extra horses," said Maude.
"How were they obtained, Mother?" asked Ezra suspiciously.
"Don't you dare question me! I am your mother."
"I see, Mother dearest. You stole them."
"No. It's only that Elvira hasn't paid for them yet," Maude smiled glad to have used her invaluable finely honed skills to the women's advantage.
The wagon rumbled into view and they hurried to meet it. Nettie passed out the rifles and extra ammunition as they greeted Vin.
"Ya gotta plan, Buck?" asked Vin.
"If the ladies find some good cover then open fire on the front of the ranch house keeping the Gaines men busy we can attack from behind the house, get inside and find Chris. It doesn't matter if you hit anyone or not just lay down enough fire to keep 'em pinned down and busy."
"I kin do that much. I'll join the women," agreed Tanner. "Reckon the ladies will take care of a few of 'em fer us."
"I'm coming with you," said Elvira to Buck, calmly levering a round into her Winchester.
"Cousin Elvira, yer the best shot with a Winchester we goin' ta have up there so I want ya with me," pointed out Vin.
Buck looked at Vin with an expression of relief on his face as Elvira hesitated before nodding her agreement. In place, the women watched as the five men moved towards the rear of the ranch house.
"Let's get the ladies in place," said Buck relieved Tanner wasn't insisting he joined the men too.
"What kin ya see?" asked Vin, flat on his belly between Elvira and Nettie.
"Two men with rifles on the veranda, both looking bored," reported Elvira.
"We should have Mary and Maude concentrating on covering the bunkhouse keeping any reinforcements pinned in there," suggested Nettie.
"Reckon that's good thinkin'. Think ya can hit the men on the veranda?" asked Vin.
"Like licking butter off a knife," answered Elvira with a wry smile. "If they stand stock-still!"
"Nettie take the one on the right an' Cousin Elvira the one on the left. Nobody else open fire until ya see the two men on the veranda react. Ladies, there's a strong breeze coming in from the left, fire at will," ordered Vin.
Buck heard the women open fire and quickly led the men inside the ranch house. They heard the sound of glass window panes being smashed and gunfire being returned. The servants quaking in the kitchen were ordered into the pantry and locked in as the five peacekeepers proceeded through the house. Buck waved Ezra and Nathan up the stairs as JD and Josiah followed him towards the rooms at the front of the house.
Five men crouched before the windows returning fire as wildly as the women. They never expected to be attacked from behind. Upstairs Ezra and Nathan had safely cleared every room but one. Carefully extending a hand Ezra tried the doorknob. It was locked and an answering bullet splintered the door panel. The two men heard the easily recognized sound of Chris Larabee's drunken laughter as Ella Gaines tried to hush him up.
"It's all over, Ella, send Chris out," called Ezra.
"No, we belong together!" cried out an hysterical Ella.
"The ranch is overrun, Ella. We have your men rounded up so let Chris go," shouted Nathan.
From outside the room the men clearly heard the sound of the sash window sliding upwards.
"She's escaping through the window?" Nathan asked Ezra.
Ezra kicked at the door, when no returning shot was fired he risked putting his hand through the splintered panel and pulled back the bolt. They entered the room as Ella disappeared through the window leaving behind an empty room.
"Hold your fire!" called Elvira as a black clothed figure emerged from the window over the veranda, "That's Chris! Ella is behind him!"
"She must have a gun on him," pointed out Nettie. "What shall we do, Vin?"
"Where are they exactly?" asked Vin.
"On top the veranda. She's going to have to turn her back to climb down. I can hit her from here," said Elvira with relish.
"Ya sure?" asked Vin his fists clenched in frustration at not being able to see. "Sure ya won't hit Chris?"
"Oh Lordy! He's drunk! See how he's waving that bottle about," cried Nettie. "He'll fall off if he doesn't be careful! Hold your fire, Elvira. Wait!"
From the window Ezra called out, "Ella, put the gun down and let Chris back inside!"
"Ella, we have a sharpshooter's sights trained on you from up there, you have no chance of getting away. Put the gun down!" instructed Nathan.
"Tell Vin Tanner to stand up and hold his rifle above his head where I can see it and I'll let Chris live," replied Ella as always her keen sense of self-preservation intact.
"My dear lady, a gentleman does not bellow instructions halfway up a hill!" replied Ezra.
"Then send the boy sheriff with my instructions. I want a fast horse, to see Vin Tanner stand up and all you men to promise I can safely leave then I'll let Chris live. Other wise we'll die together!"
Nathan hurried back down the stairs and JD was dispatched to deliver Ella's message. It would make no difference but it might keep Ella from shooting Chris. Ella steered Chris towards the edge of the veranda and holding the gun on him instructed him to get ready to help her climb down.
"I can hit her from here," insisted Elvira.
"No!" said Vin and Nettie at the exact same moment.
"JD's coming!" shouted a very much relieved Casey, glad to set eyes on the young man again.
"She wants you to stand up, Vin," JD quickly started to explain.
Vin grinned. "Hell, fer all the good it will do her!" he said bitterly.
"Cousin Vin, no. What about her men?" asked Elvira.
"There didn't seem to as many as we expected, no one returned fire from the bunkhouse. Could be we got them all rounded up," answered JD.
"No, it's too risky," insisted Elvira.
"Cousin Elvira, it might be m' last chance ta do somethin' useful ta help Chris. Let me do this one thing. Let me be a man once more afore y'all commence ta leadin' me around like a helpless babe."
"Bah! Damn stubborn fool. Go ahead, get yourself shot see if I care. Nettie, if you get a clear shot take it. I'm not watching this," snapped Elvira as she made her way back down the slope towards Mother York and the wagon.
"That is one touchy female," rasped Vin standing up with his hands held high in the air.
"There," said Ezra, "put the gun down now, Ella!"
"Help me down, Chris, one of you fetch me a horse as we agreed."
From the corner of the ranch house Buck slapped the rump of a horse, watching as Ella mounted up before escaping from them yet again.
They all congregated inside Ella's ranch house all relieved to see a safe Chris slowly sobering up thanks to Nettie's strong coffee.
"Hell, ya stink, Larabee. How long ya bin drunk fer?" asked Tanner.
"Ever since I got here...days. She told me she had you all imprisoned and she'd kill you one at a time if I didn't stay. She sent most of her men away once she had you all. Time and time again she said she would kill you all if I tried to leave so I stayed but I was damned if I was bedding her! What's wrong with you?"
"Me? I's fine."
"Let me take a proper look at you now, Vin," ordered a concerned Nathan.
"What's wrong with him, Nathan?" asked Chris, suddenly fully sober.
"Now don't fret, Cowboy," answered Vin, "I's havin' trouble seein' is all."
"You're blind?" gasped Chris.
"Reckon it's a relief not ta see yer ugly face, Cowboy."
"Vin! How long has he been like this, Nathan?"
"I kin still talk fer myself. I saw ya throwed in the wagon. I reckon last thing I saw real clear was Ella's men takin' ya away afore we was taken in ta the mine then things got sorta murky."
"Murky?" asked Nathan.
"Yeah," answered Vin.
"Does that mean something, Nathan?" asked a concerned Chris.
"Mebbe if I was a proper doctor it would."
"You escaped from Uriah while you were blind?" marveled JD.
"Had ta fess up ta him I ain't able ta see," admitted Vin. "I hid it from Ella easily enough."
"Hellfire," growled Chris vowing that would be another action he was going to make Ella pay the price for one day.
"We should give Uriah a decent burial," said Vin.
"We might consider it if we could find the body of Torquemada's apprentice," said Ezra. "Perhaps Ella's men disposed of it."
"Where's Cousin Elvira?" asked Vin suddenly.
"I don't know. Who saw her last?" replied Nathan.
"I saw her ride away on Merry Thought," admitted Mother York. "Madder than a nest of ticked off hornets."
"How did you know she wasn't here?" asked Nathan hopefully.
"No rose perfume in here but some outside," said Vin, his head cocked to one side. "Two women coming through the door around about, now!"
Ella Gaines rocketed into the room aided by Elvira's riding boot. Chris sprang to his feet as Ella sprawled on the floor in front of him.
"She shot me, Chris!" cried Ella in a pathetic voice. "Your men promised I could leave safely! She was waiting down the trail for me!"
"In case you haven't noticed, Cousin Elvira isn't one of my men," laughed Chris.
"Chris," whined Ella down on her knees. "She called me vile names, slapped and punched me! She made me bleed! I think she broke my nose. She kicked me!"
"Not nearly hard enough!" said Mary advancing on Ella as she scrambled to her feet and cowered behind Chris.
Ella shrieked as Mary and the other women dragged her out of the room.
"Why, I do believe Mary is about to forget what a very prim and proper lady she is! Any of that coffee left? Or shall I make some?" inquired Elvira as Ella's screams continued all the way up the stairs, punctuated by loud bumps and bangs.
"Oh! Allow me, dear lady," laughed Ezra, pouring her a fresh cup.
"Perhaps I should tend to Ella's bullet wound?" suggested Nathan tentatively.
"No!" answered seven voices, "Leave her to Mary!"
"Hell, Nettie, not another doctor? I's seen five an' they all done exactly the same. They can't find no cause fer it. Cousin Elvira ain't goin' ta give up 'til I's been looked over by ev'ry doctor in the land!"
"You ungrateful pup! You want that we should all give up on you?"
"I git around awright. Peso knows his way ta town an' back. I kin smell the saloon as soon as I reach town."
"Peso knows a bounty hunter when he see one does he?" scolded the old lady.
"He sure does it's jus' that he cain't do much about it!"
"She's here. Now put your new jacket on and mind your manners. I won't have my boy insulting a lady," she said, as she kindly buttoned up his jacket for him not realizing how useless this small action made him feel.
"Nettie? Is Cousin Vin ready?" called Elvira from the carriage.
"Hell yes he is, Elvi, an' he ain't lost the power of speech," retorted Tanner appearing on the porch.
"Less of your lip, Tanner," ordered a stern voice.
"Chris? Ya brought Chris along ta plague me?" he drawled.
"I'm fed up of having to wrangle you into the carriage on my own. I'm certainly not traveling on a train with you all alone," said Elvira.
"A train?" rasped Vin.
"This doctor is too special to travel in from the city."
"City?" Vin rasped again.
"There he goes with that annoying habit of repeating everything," complained Chris.
"Iffen I could see ya, Larabee, I'd repeatedly punch ya one on the kisser!"
"If you had four good eyes, Tanner, you still couldn't land one on me!"
"Boys!" Nettie admonished. "Now, Vin, behave and don't act up for Cousin Elvira," she said as she hugged him. "I love you, son. Good Luck."
"Aw, Nettie," he sighed all hope gone.
They sat and waited together outside the doctor's office. It was a long wait.
"Are you crying?" he asked.
"Shut up," she snapped.
"Hell, I didn't even know you could do that."
Chris Larabee handed her his bandanna.
"I don't need that."
"Yes, you do."
"Of all the times Cousin Vin's pa had to go and get himself shot he had to do it now," complained Elvira. Blowing her nose before handing back the wet bandanna and putting her rosary beads to her lips. "I promised that Vin would be cured by the time Jake was up and walking again."
"You do know if Vin ever finds out this is a head doctor and not just a medical doctor we are both dead? He'll find some way of shooting us both down."
"It was all Ezra's idea and a good one, Chris. I had us three travel here then no one else need know what kind of doctor he is. If there is no physical cause what else is there to try?" she asked.
"If this one can't help?" asked Chris.
"Then we have to carry on best we can. Following him around like we do now, making sure he doesn't disappear on us all."
"Once I finish extending the cabin he can stay out there with me most of the time."
"That will be so much better for him than being shunted between my ranch and Nettie's place. He gets bored of us women fussing around him. When he dropped his soup spoon on the floor it took him what seemed an age to find it again. I hated to just sit there and watch him struggle. It's a constant fight for me not to do every little thing for him. To hold back so he feels some measure of independence. Why, I don't know much longer I can stand being cruel to be kind."
"I can't even imagine what it's really like for him. He suffers with dark, closed in spaces and he must feel he's going to be trapped in one forever."
They both stood up as the door to the doctor's office opened. The doctor shook Vin's hand and beckoned Elvira inside his office.
"I saw a saloon on the way here, let's get a drink while Cousin Elvira settles up with the doctor," suggested Chris.
Vin didn't reply but he let Larabee take his arm and lead him out of the building and down the street.
"Here, whiskey, Pard."
"Why did y'all do that?" Vin rasped.
"Make me see a head doctor? Do y'all think I'm crazy? Hell, Chris, I'm blind not loco."
"No, Vin, we just felt we had to try everything even if we didn't think it would do any good. We can't stand to think there was more we could have done."
"So ya givin' up now? That was the last doctor?"
"Is that what you want?"
"Hell, yes. I'm tired, Chris. Tired of bein' poked an' prodded. Tired a folk's sympathy. I jus' want ta get on with it."
"My life such as it is. Mebbe Tascosa."
"No! Not like this!"
"Do ya know what it's like sittin' in the dark ferever waitin' on bounty hunters?"
"No. We can keep you safe."
"Fer what? Ta sit on yer porch an' weave baskets or some such? Cousin Elvira already takes m' gun an' knife away. Nettie almost ties me ta the table leg in case I wander off towards the river. It ain't no life fer a man like me, Chris. No life at all."
"A man that can tell women apart by their scent? A man that can hear Ezra dealing from the bottom of the the deck? A man that knows the birds and animals by the sounds they make? A man who is cared for by one of the most beautiful women in the Territory?"
"She can't care fer me like this an' I ain't wantin' her ta feel only pity fer me."
"Even a blind man can see you mean more than that to her. Tell me, Vin, what is it exactly you can't do any more? Feel the wind on your face? Drink whiskey with men that respect you? Ride Peso beside a man proud to call you brother?"
I can't see yer face, Cowboy, that's what hurts me the most. I miss ya.
I'm right here, pard.
They each grasped each other's forearm.
"Oh please! Why, am I playing gooseberry again?" she purred.
"Yeah," laughed Vin. "I mystify yet another Doc?"
"No, this one says you are faking!"
"The hell he does!"
"Says we should hold you down and tickle you until you admit it!"
"Take me back up there I'll show him fakin' it! What do he really say?"
"It's hasn't got a real physical cause. No blow to the head. No swelling on the brain."
"Then there's no cure?" interrupted Larabee.
"He didn't say that. What he said was if we could work out what initiated it we might cure it. He suggested you see him once a week, Cousin Vin, darlin'," explained Elvira.
"Naw, I's have ta think 'bout that. I's had a bellyful a doctors lately."
"Yeah, but this one seems to understand what's wrong, Pard," coaxed Chris.
"Mebbe after I hears Ella Gaines found guilty in court I'll try it," conceded Tanner.
The Judge banged his gavel down several times, "Silence! Is that the verdict of you all?"
"It is. Guilty without a doubt."
"There is no need to say anymore, thank you. Ella Gaines Petrie, you have been found guilty of kidnap and various other crimes. I hereby sentence you to fifteen years in Yuma prison."
"Please, Chris, wait for me! I'll write to you everyday!" called Ella over her shoulder as she was dragged away, her face still bruised and scratched.
"I'm right sorry they couldn't charge her with the murders a Sarah 'n' Adam, Cowboy. Like the judge said jus' ain't enough evidence fer it ta hold up in court," said the Texan. "Ev'ry witness is dead."
"I need a drink," growled Larabee.
"I'm just sorry I wasn't a better shot with that carbine. I should have known she didn't have a heart and aimed for her goddamn head," muttered Elvira.
"Y'all did everythin' ya could. Wouldn't be here now iffen y'all ain't come a lookin' fer us," said Tanner.
"Yeah, I'm thinking I might go missing again," said Buck. "It was an unbelievable experience being rescued by women! Next time though maybe you could all dress up a little fancier?"
"Promise me if I needs rescuin' ag'in ya'll wear that right purty dark red ridin' habit an' ya suit that gaucho hat real fine," Tanner drawled in Elvira's ear.
"Sure, lover," she answered before turning to look at him her face full of hope.
"What ya starin' at, Larabee? I got drool on my face?" grinned the tracker.
"Wouldn't surprise me the way you're slobbering over Cousin Elvira. Wait, you can see?" Chris hardly dare hope it was true.
"Hell, it's sorta murky but I guess so. It started comin' back when the judge banged down his gavel on the guilty verdict."
"What can you see?" barked Larabee.
"A damn ugly cuss with blond hair glarin' at me. Mebbe I'll jus' keep my eyes closed up tight when yer around."
"You want two black eyes, Tanner?"
"You understand any of it, Nathan?" asked Chris Larabee.
"Well, I read up on it some. Not that much is known about it. The mind's a funny thing."
"How can it go suddenly like that and come back just as suddenly?"
"The city doctor said it needed a trigger. Knowing that seemed to help Vin, he was much more his usual stubborn self when I got him back to the ranch," murmured Elvira ignoring Larabee's sideways look. "I think he couldn't stand to see you with Ella Gaines knowing what she was capable of and that was the trigger. When Ella was sentenced to be locked up in Yuma prison perhaps it was the relief of knowing you were safe at last that acted as a trigger again."
"Could be," replied the healer.
"My wedding to Orlando Flynn is taking place next month. I'm only glad Vin will be able to set eyes on his new brothers and sisters for the first time," added Elvira.
"Where is he now?" asked Chris.
"Fixing the roof on Nettie's barn," replied Elvira airily.
"My stars and garters!" sighed Nathan.
In a convent hospital ward, Alva Jane read the newspaper report featuring the trial of one Ella Gaines. Tearing up the letter addressed to Judge Travis containing the dramatic 'deathbed' confession of her collusion in the murder of Jess Kincaid, she hastily began another letter. Alva Jane was sure Ella Gaines would pay and pay well for the details concerning Alva Jane's tried and tested, foolproof method of escaping from Yuma Prison...