"Are you three sure you can handle things around here?" Chris asked.
Ezra, Vin and JD reassure Chris and Buck that they can.
Buck sighed. "Josiah and Nathan will be back in a couple of days. Please, don't go and get yourselves hurt too badly."
"Yeah, like falling off the General Store's roof, or run down by a herd of cattle, or shot through by an angry gambler at losing all his money." Chris glared at the three youngest of the peacekeepers.
"I's watching yer back, Cowboy when I fell of that roof," Vin defended himself.
"How was I to know those men were going to start a stampede down Main Street," JD huffed.
"I do not force anyone to sit at my table for a game of chance. One look at my attire should tell them I am a professional," Ezra stated.
Chris sighed. "Just watch yourselves. I don't want to get a telegram from Mary or anyone else in town telling me one of you boys are badly injured or God forbid, dead. You hear me?"
"We hear ya, Chris," Vin said.
Both Ezra and JD nodded their agreement.
"Good," Buck said then nudged his horse into a walk and he and Chris headed out of town.
Mary watched as Chris and Buck rode out of town and sighed. She knew what kind of trouble the three youngest peacekeepers can get into by themselves. She didn't want to think about what kind of trouble they could get into together. She promised Chris she would keep an eye them. She just hoped nothing too serious was going to happen while the other four were gone.
"What are they worried about?" JD asked his two companions.
"Don't know JD."
"Nor do I, Mr. Dunn.
The three men enter the saloon. No one noticed the two men across the street watching the goings on.
"Hey, Pa?" The younger looking one called back to an older version of himself. "There's only three of them peacekeepers."
"The Kid, the Gambler and the Bounty Hunter," the other man said.
"Really?" The older man came from the stables. "Boys, this is going to be as easy as licking butter off a hot knife." The older man grinned.
A fourth man joined them. "Pa? How are we going to get that Tanner feller away from the other two?"
"In due time, Paul. I have to think. We have two days before the Preacher and Colored man shows up."
The father and his three men walked about the small town. They ended up at the saloon. Inside, the Father saw the three men sitting in back of the saloon drinking and playing cards. He didn't want to confront Tanner with the other two there. He and his boys were going to have to get the Gambler and the Kid away from Tanner. He thought when he heard about the bounty on Tanner's head that he and his boys were going to take on all the peacekeepers of this town. He was relieved to find out, other than Tanner, they only had two peacekeepers to get rid of.
"Rudy, do you think you could cause some kind of ruckus outside?"
"Sure, Pa," Rudy answered then went outside.
"Larry, go sit in that game. When Rudy causes his ruckus, I want you to prevent the Gambler from helping the other two."
"Sure thing, Pa," Larry went to do as his pa told him to do.
"What do you want me to do, Pa?" Paul asked.
An evil grin spread across the father's face. "You Paul, you’re going to take Tanner out."
"When and where?"
"I'll let you know when the opportunity arises."
Soon after Larry joined the card game, gun shots could be heard outside. The three peacekeepers stood to see what was going on. Larry let JD and Vin pass him, but stood to block Ezra. "I'm sure they can handle it."
Ezra glared at the man in front of him. "It is my duty to this town to see to it that it remains safe. Now step aside so that I may do my job."
Larry smiled. "Don't think so." Larry then produced a wicked looking knife and stabbed Ezra in the stomach. "Nothin' personal, we just don't want ya to get in the way."
Ezra's sleeve rig was in his hand in seconds when the knife was thrust into his gut and he pulled the trigger. The bullet went into Larry's stomach. Both men collapsed to the floor.
Outside the saloon, Vin and JD saw that the corral to the stables was open and a young man not much older than them was shooting off his guns off and scaring the horses. Vin and JD ran toward the corral to stop the man. Vin looked back and noticed Ezra wasn't with them, then he heard a gunshot that sounded a lot like Ezra's derringer. JD heard it and waved Vin off to go and help Ezra. JD shot into the air to turn the heard of horses down an alley. The young man was determined to make the heard go down Main Street, he didn't see the lead horse change directions. JD saw that the man was about to get trampled on and ran to get the man out of the way but was not fast enough. He then saw the trouble he was in. He tried to get out of the way but still was trampled by the last few horses.
Vin ran into the saloon in time to see Ezra and the man that joined their card game crumple to the floor. Vin ran to where Ezra lay on the saloon floor.
"Ezra!" Vin yelled as he ran to where Ezra lay.
Vin didn't make to Ezra. Instead, he was stopped by someone grabbing onto him. Vin turned to face who it was stopping him from getting to his friend. He looked up into the face of a mammoth of a man. "You’re coming with us, Tanner."
"Like hell I am." Vin tried to pull his arm out of the man's grip, but with no luck. Vin looked back at Ezra's lifeless body lying on the floor. The older man that was standing next to the mammoth rushed over to the man Vin knew as Larry.
"Larry? Larry, Speak to me, Son!" the man yelled and shook his son's shoulder, but got response. He then looked down at Ezra and took the knife from Ezra's stomach and plunged it back in. "That's for killing my boy."
"NOOOOOO!" Vin yelled. The man holding him just laughed.
This enraged the Texan to the point of wanting to kill the old man. Vin took this moment to kick out at the man's knee and head but him in the nose.
Just then Mary came into the saloon. "Vin, JD's been hurt by a stampede of horses," Mary said then noticed Ezra's lifeless form on the saloon floor.
"Mary! Run!" Vin shouted.
Mary did what she was told and ran out of the saloon and headed to the stables. In the stable, Mary found one of Tiny's extra horses already saddled. Mary grabbed the reins and mounted the horse. "Thanks Tiny."
"Hey, I needed that horse to go after the ones that got away," Tiny yelled after her.
Mary didn't hear Tiny's words. All she knew was she had to catch up with Chris and Buck and bring them back to town.
Mrs. Potter ran to JD when she saw Mary run into the saloon. While she was looking JD over she heard Vin shout for Mary to run. By then her son had joined her. When Mary ran out of the saloon and into the stable, she knew something was up. Then when Mary rode out of town like the devil was after, Mrs. Potter and her son got JD into her store. Then she told her son and daughter to look after him while she sent a telegram to Josiah and Nathan.
In the saloon, the man holding onto Vin started to go after Mary. "Let her go. We have who we came for. Where the hell is Rudy?"
"Don't know Pa. He shoulda been back."
"I know this, Paul." The old man rubbed his bristled chin. "I'll go check on ‘em. You stay here with Tanner."
Vin wanted to go to Ezra and check to see if Ezra was alive. No, needed to check on Ezra. He knew he had to get away from this man. With the old man outside, he could only go up. He would lose the man on the roof tops. Then make his way back to Ezra and hoped he wasn't too late. Then there was JD. He had to check on JD. Vin kicked at the man's knee again with everything he had. A smile appeared on Vin's face when he heard it snap and the man yelled out in pain. Vin then brought his knee up to the man's face when he went down. This gave Vin a few seconds to check on Ezra. Vin felt Ezra's neck and felt the faint beat. He looked up just then to see the old man come through the bat winged doors of the saloon then over to Paul who was rising up off the floor and going after him. Vin made a dash for the stairs then out a side window and up to the roof. Paul was right behind him, limping. The old man went out the bat wing doors, looking up to the roof tops for any sign of his son and Vin. Paul grabbed onto Vin's ankle just as Vin got up on the roof. Vin kicked Paul in the face. Paul screamed and let go of Vin. Vin then scrambled to his feet and took off across the roof. As he reached the edge of the roof, the old man fired a gun at him. Vin ducked the bullet, then turned to run in the other direction, but Paul was up on the roof staring Vin down. Vin knew he could jump to the other roof without the old man shooting him. Paul was blocking him from running and jumping to the roof from that side. Vin smiled and ran straight at Paul. As Vin hit the man to knock him over the edge, the man grabbed for Vin, so both men went over the edge.
The old man heard his son scream when he went over and fell at least two stories. He found both Vin and Paul lying on the ground, motionless. The old man couldn't believe he had lost all three of his boys. He walked up to where his son and Tanner were lying in the alley. They both looked to be dead. He bent down to pull Tanner off his son and dragged him off behind the saloon so no one would see the body then made his way back to his son, then to the undertaker to make arrangements for his sons.
+ + + + + + +
"I wonder how Vin, Ezra and JD are doing back in town?" Buck wondered.
"We haven't been gone that long, Buck."
"Oh, I know. I was just wondering."
Chris shook his head.
Chris and Buck were in no hurry to get to Eagle Bend. They were picking up a package. A little bit later, maybe fifteen minute, they hear the thunder of a horses hooves coming up fast on them.
"Someone's in a hurry," Buck said, looking behind them. Then he saw the rider. "Looks like Mrs. Travis."
Both men stopped when they heard their names called. Buck and Chris look to one another then turned their horses to face Mary.
"I'm so glad I caught you before you got too far," Mary said, breathless.
"What's wrong, Mary?" Chris asked, alarmed.
"There's trouble back in town," Mary said, tears streaking down her face. "When I left to come and get you, JD got trampled by a heard of horses. When I went to get Vin and Ezra from the saloon, a mountain of a man had a hold of Vin, and..." Mary raised a shaky hand to her lips as tears fell unchecked.
"And what Mrs. Travis?" Buck asked, afraid he already knew the answer.
"Ezra was lying on the saloon floor, dead." The last word was barely above a whisper.
Chris spurred his horse into a run and headed back to town as fast as his horse could go. After thanking Mary, Buck was chasing after Chris.
Back in town, Mrs. Potter had Tiny and a couple of other men helping her to get JD into the clinic. Inez needed help with Ezra. She feared he would make it. She saw Vin go to the roof then made her way to Ezra. She told the other bar keep, Ben, to go look for Mr. Tanner. He may be in need of help. Ben grabbed the shot gun Inez kept behind the bar.
Ben came in through the back door of the saloon "The old man dragged Mr. Tanner's body behind the saloon."
"Bring him in here," Inez ordered.
Ben ran to get some help with Vin. Mrs. Potter entered the saloon as soon as she heard about Vin and Ezra. She went over and check Ezra. He was still alive. When Ben brought Vin into the saloon and was laid next to Ezra, Mrs. Potter check on him.
"I wish Senor Jackson were here. He'd know what to do," Inez said when she brought over the pot of hot water.
Gloria laid a hand on Inez's. "I have sent for him and Josiah. Mary rode off after Buck and Chris.
Inez nodded and then spoke something in Spanish that Gloria didn't understand, then crossed herself.
A short time later, Chris and Buck come riding into town and stopped in front of the saloon and entered. Chris turns pale at seeing Vin and Ezra lying beside one another, unmoving. Gloria and Inez looked up when they heard the slap of the batwing doors open and closed. Two women got up from where they were attending to Vin and Ezra when Chris and Buck approached them.
Gloria laid a hand on Chris's arm. "They're both alive. JD's in the clinic. From what I can tell, JD's busted up his right leg pretty bad. He has a lot of bruises. One real nasty one on the side of his head. Vin busted up his arm and shoulder and has some bruising." Gloria then looked down at Ezra. "Ezra has been stabbed a couple of times. The second went in deeper than the first. Mr. Jackson could tell you more of their injuries then I can. I have already sent for them."
"Who did this" Chris asked, barely containing his anger.
"That would be me and my sons, Mr. Larabee," the old man said and pointed a colt .45 at Buck and Chris.
Chris and Buck turned around to face the old man. "Who the hell are you?" Chris asked.
"That's not important. What is, I'm here to take Tanner back to Texas."
"You're a bounty hunter?" Buck said as he advanced on the old man.
The old man cocked his gun. "Don't come any closer, Mr. Wilmington. I don't want to have to kill you or Mr. Larabee, but I will if I have to."
"You are not taking Vin Tanner back to Texas," Chris growled.
"You going to stop me? I don't think so. Tanner and his two friends killed my sons," the Old man said. "Now step aside so I can get to my dead son and Tanner."
"That ain’t going to happen," Buck said through clenched teeth.
The Old Man laughed. "Sorry, but it will even if I have to shoot my way to do it."
Just then the Old Man's face changed. Then his gun fell from his hand when he dropped to the floor on his knees then fell forward. Chris and Buck noticed the blood oozing from the back of the Old Man's head. Chris and Buck smiled when they looked up from the Old Man's body to see Mary standing with a small log in her hands.
Mary was only few minutes behind Chris and Buck. She saw them go into the saloon. She went to the stable to return the horse to Tiny. Tiny told her about Vin and the Old Man. He also told her Gloria sent for Nathan and Josiah. Mary saw the Old Man walk into the saloon when she left the stables. She had to do something quick. Mary ran to the Clarian. Inside, she looked around for some kind of weapon to use. All she saw was the pile of wood near the wood stove she used to cook and heat the place with. She grabbed one of the smaller ones and tested its heft. "This should do," she said out loud to herself then left. She made way to the saloon. She heard the man laugh and tell Chris and Buck he was going to shoot his way through them. She lifted that log in both her hands and with everything she had, she hit the Old Man over the head. She was about to do it again when the Old Man dropped to his knees. She then looked down at the body in front of her then back at Chris.
Chris went to Mary and took her into his arms after he took the log and threw it off to the side. Mary wrapped her arms around his waist and cried into his shoulder. Chris rubbed her back as he held her close.
"I was so scared," Mary said when she stopped crying. "He was going to kill you. I couldn't let that happen. Not after they killed Ezra."
"He's not dead, Mary. Ezra is still with us," Chris said quietly.
Mary looked up into Chris's face. "He's not dead?"
"Nope," Chris shook his head. "But if we don't get him to the clinic and soon, he will be."
Chris looked back at his two men when he heard a moan coming from one of them. "You okay?" Chris asked Mary.
"Yes, now go. Vin and Ezra need you more than I do."
Gloria, Inez and Buck all heard the moan as well. "Oh no you don't," Buck said when Vin started to sit up. "Just stay where you are. What the hell happened here?"
"Buck?" Vin said when he looked up into Buck's face. "I thought you and Chris left"
"We did," Chris answered. "Can you walk?"
"I...I...think so," Vin stuttered.
With Buck's help, Vin was able to stand, although a bit wobbly. Gloria took over helping Vin to walk to the clinic. Buck went to the caretaker to get his basket so they could get Ezra to the clinic. Tiny and Virgil from the hardware store helped Buck and Chris to get Ezra into the basket. Tiny and Virgil had taken the basket with Ezra and headed to the clinic. Buck looked back at Inez who was slamming glasses on the counter. He told Chris he would meet him at the clinic. Chris nodded and left with Tiny and Virgil.
"Inez, Darlin'. You okay?" Buck asked then sat down at the bar.
Inez turned to him and threw the towel she had in her hand down on the bar. "Me? Am I okay?" Inez huffed. "No. I was here when that man stabbed Senor Ezra. I couldn't do a thing about it. I was helpless." Inez took in a deep breath then let it out and went back to wiping down the bar. "Nothing. I did nothing."
Buck could see Inez was holding back her tears. He went around the bar and took the rag from her and sat it down on the bar then turned her to face him. "You don't have to be brave. If you need to a shoulder, you can have mine."
"You was not here."
"I am now," Buck said then pulled Inez to him.
Inez let Buck pull her into his arms and hold her while she cried and then pushed away. "I had better clean this place up."
"How about I help ya after I've seen ta JD, Vin and Ezra?"
"Si, I would like that," she said wiping tears from her eyes.
Buck smiled down at her, nodded and then left.
Buck was half way to the clinic when he heard Josiah's baritone laugh. He turned to see Josiah and Nathan riding into town and ran up to them. "Nathan! You’re needed at the clinic."
Nathan and Josiah heard the panic in Buck's voice. "What's up Buck?"
"JD got trampled by a herd of horses, Vin fell off the roof of the saloon, and Ezra's been stabbed twice."
Nathan looked over at Josiah then hurried to the clinic as fast as he could.
Josiah sighed then followed Nathan. Buck ran the rest of the way to the clinic. Inside, Buck was finally able to see how bad JD was.
Nathan shooed everyone out of the clinic except for his patients and Josiah. Then he looked at Ezra first because he had the worst injuries. Then he went to JD. When he got to Vin, who was the only one able to stand on his own. Hours had passed before Josiah came out to let them all know about the three injured men.
"Ezra has lost a lot of blood as you seen in the saloon. Nathan got him stitched up and now it's up to Ezra and God. JD's legs were pretty badly busted up. He has a couple of busted ribs and good size cut in his hair line and has a concussion. Vin has a couple of bruised ribs as well as broken ones. They’re both going to be sore for a while," Josiah sighed. "Ezra hasn't come around yet."
"What about JD? Is he awake?"
"Yes Buck, he is."
Buck and Chris went inside to see for themselves. JD was on one of the beds with both legs splinted, a bandage around his head, and his left arm in a sling. Vin was sitting up on the extra cot Nathan keeps in the clinic. Both men were talking to one another when Chris and Buck came in. Chris stood at the end of the bed Ezra was lying in.
"What happened?" Chris asked.
"Bounty Hunters, Chris," Vin sighed. One of sat in on a game with JD, Ezra and me. We heard some gun shots outside and got up to see what was goin' on. The one that played poker with us stopped Ez from goin' out with JD and me. While JD and me were headed fer the corral where another one of um was stirrin' up the horses, we heard Ezra's gun go off. JD told me to go and help Ez. So I did. I saw Ez and the man fall to the floor together and I was grabbed when I went to see if he was dead or alive. I kicked the guy that had me and didn't get any wheres. Then Mary came in and said JD got trampled. I told her to run."
Chris nodded. "That's when she came after me and Buck."
"Well, then I kicked the guys knee hard enough I heard it snap. I was able ta get away. The only place I could run to was the roof. The guy followed me up there. I tried to jump to another roof but his Pa was down on the ground a shootin' at me so I ran at the guy ta knock him off the roof. He grabbed as he's going over and we both went over. The next thing I know, I's waking up in the saloon lookin' up at Buck."
Chris looked to Nathan. "When would these two be able to leave"
Nathan shrugged. "Depends on Ezra."
"What does Ezra have to do when they can leave?" Buck asked.
"Cause we ain't leaven till Ezra is okay," Vin answered.
Buck looked down at JD. "Why ain't you saying anything?"
JD rolled his eyes. "It hurts to talk," JD answered and rubbed his jaw.
Chris shook his head and left. He headed for the newspaper. He wanted to thank Mary for what she did.
Mary heard the bell above the door. "I'll be right out," she called from the back rooms she and Billy used as their home.
"It's just me Mary," Chris called out to her.
Mary came through the back entrance. "How are they?"
Chris told her what their injuries were and how bad they were. "I'm grateful for what you did."
"I had never killed a man before and don't want to do it ever again," Mary sighed.
"I don't know how trouble keeps finding those three. It's getting to the point I can't leave them alone. JD is still young, but Vin and Ezra?" Chris shook his head.
Mary faced him. "How old do you think Vin and Ezra are?" Chris looked at Mary like she had just grew a second head. "Chris, Vin and Ezra are not that much older than JD. The only difference is Vin and Ezra has had a hard life and had to grow up faster than they should have. They were not allowed to have the childhood that JD had. Vin and Ezra didn't have the love of a mother every day like JD had. Stop and think. Gloria and Nettie saw it the first time they met them. Why do you think whenever the three of them are left alone the women of this town watch over them? They know how young Vin and Ezra really are. You and the rest of the men need to see that.
Chris thought back over the years he knew Vin and Ezra. There were times when they seem as young as JD, but he didn't pay it no mind at the time. "Ezra does look a lot young when he's sick or hurt and has to be up in the clinic, like now. I thought it was just my mind playing tricks on me."
Mary laid a hand on his arm. "No, Chris. Your mind wasn't playing tricks on you. He is as young as he looks."
Chris nodded. "Thanks, Mary"
"Any time," Mary said then kissed him on the cheek.
Chris left and went back to the clinic to sit with Vin and JD to watch over Ezra.
+ + + + + + +
JD, Vin and Ezra were sitting outside the clinic when Chris came to see how they're doing. "Boys. Ezra, Does Nathan know you’re out here?"
"Boys? We ain’t boys, Chris," Vin corrected.
"Yes. I know he's out there, Chris. He was told he could sit out there if he behaved himself," Nathan said from within the clinic.
Chris sat next to Vin. "Really? Then how come I can leave Josiah or Nathan here alone, nothing happens. Hell, even Buck don't get in half the shit you three do. Whenever you and Ezra go out alone, something always happen. I know I said no falling of roof tops, no getting trampled and no pissing of gamblers."
"Mr. Larabee, Chris, you told me not to get shot through by a losing gambler. I was stabbed," Ezra pointed out.
"Yeah, and you said no stampeding cattle. It was horses, not cattle." JD grinned.
"And ya said I's not to fall off the general stores roof. I fell off the saloon's roof," Vin added.
"So, when are ya going to let watch over the town again?"JD asked.
"Never!" Came the answer from four different directions. One from inside the clinic, Nathan. One from below, Josiah. One from the stairs leading up to the clinic, Buck. And the last one from Chris.
"I've come to fetch JD," Buck answered the questioning looks.
"Your chariot has arrived, Mr. Dunn." Ezra grinned.
"Haha, Ez. Very funny."
With Josiah's help, Buck got JD down the two flights of stairs to a waiting wheelchair.
Chris looked from Vin to Ezra.
"Is there something on your mind, Mr. Larabee?"
Chris sighed. "Yes there is Ez. It's something Mary told me the day all this happened."
"Please, enlighten us," Ezra said.
Chris thought for a moment. "How old are you?"
Ezra raised an eye brow. "Excuse me?"
"What kind of question is that, Cowboy?"
"The same one that I want an answer from you. It has come to my attention that the two of you are not that much older than JD."
"So, ya don't think we can do our jobs?"
Ezra sighed. "26."
Chris and Vin looked at Ezra, surprised. "I thought I'd have more trouble getting that out of you, Ezra.
Ezra just shrugged his shoulders.
"I'm 24. I can still track anything needed trackin'," Vin said.
Chris patted Vin's knee. "I know that Vin." Chris stood up and left.
Ezra and Vin watched Chris leave. Vin looked to Ezra. "What was that all about?"
"I assure you, Vin. I have no idea."
Vin and Ezra went back to talking.
Chris met up with Buck and Josiah
"Hey did they tell you how old they are?" Buck asked.
"Yeah. Ezra's 26 and Vin's 24. Did you ask JD?"
"Yep. He's 21."
Josiah nodded. "Figures."
Chris and Buck look to Josiah. "How?" Chris asked.
Josiah took a long swig of his beer. "We're like their big brothers.
Chris and Buck just groaned.
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