The town of Four Corners stewed lazily in the heat of a summer afternoon. The street was nearly deserted, and those folks who were moving around did so with grim purpose, getting their business done so they could head back into the shade. Their faces were becoming familiar to the lean, blond-haired man who lounged in the shade of the saloon's front canopy. He saw the Widow Potter emerge from the general store--which she had been running alone since Lucas James gunned down her husband--and head off down the street. As she passed Harmon Conklin, a spineless worm of a man who had wanted to let James go free, she made a point of looking the other way.
Jeb Clayton who ran the livery stable emerged from the saloon, and tipped his hat hopefully to the gaudily clad girl who was heading into it. When she smiled in return, he turned around and followed her back inside.
It had been years since Chris Larabee had stayed in one place long enough to be surrounded by familiar faces. That thought alone might have pushed him into moving on, but the truth was, there was nowhere he wanted to go. Besides, he was a Federal employee these days, earning $1 a day plus board even when he did nothing more than sit around on his ass and scare off the "bad elements" with his presence and his reputation. So there he sat, with his feet propped up on the edge of a horse trough, whittling away at a hunk of wood and pretending he was making something more useful out of it than a pile of kindling which blew away as fast as he peeled it loose.
A shout from down the street and the hoofbeats of a four-horse team heralded the arrival of the weekly stage from Ridge City. As soon as the big vehicle lumbered to a halt in front of the freight office, the driver jumped down. He pulled open the passenger door as he passed it on his way to the back of the stage, and a moment later, a female head, crowned by red hair and a jaunty, lace-trimmed hat, popped through the opening. The passenger made a dubious survey of the distance to the ground, but both the driver and the shotgun rider were absorbed in unloading cargo, so she was forced to jump down on her own.
Twitching open a frilly little parasol to protect her face from the sun, the young woman stood on the dusty street and turned slowly in a circle. Chris grinned at the puzzled frown she gave Four Corners while her eyes were travelling from one end of town to the other and back again. Most likely, she was wondering where the rest of it was. As she started off on whatever business had brought her to the middle of nowhere, Chris kept an appreciative eye on her retreating figure while he mulled over the possibility of retreating to the relative coolness of the saloon's interior. His conscience decided he owed it to Judge Travis to stay sober until sundown, so when the little redhead--the most interesting sight to pass by all day--vanished into a shop, he just went back to whittling and watching the world drift by.
Sometime later, Chris's neutral expression darkened to a frown as a young man wearing a gray derby hat swaggered into view at the far end of the street. As he did several times a day, Sheriff J.D. Dunne was out patrolling his own personal domain. Short and exhaustingly energetic, J.D. looked like precisely what he was: An Easterner who had read too many dime novels, and come west in search of adventure. Twin ivory-handled pistols dangled from his belt, a long gun was balanced casually across his shoulders, and the badge pinned to the lapel of his citified suit glinted silver in the afternoon light. J.D. was twenty-one years old--that was what he claimed anyhow--and Chris wouldn't have bet a plug nickel on his chances of making it to twenty-two. As if trouble couldn't find a man quick enough on its own, J.D. downright advertised for it.
<None of your concern.> It was an easy thought, but in spite of his own better judgment, Chris was growing to like the kid. J.D. brimmed over with enthusiasm and heart, and it was too bad there was barely a lick of common sense in his head to back them up. He wasn't stupid, so given a bit of time he'd learn--but only if he lived that long. Unfortunately, Chris wouldn't have put much money on that either.
Sauntering past the freight office, J.D. tipped his hat politely to a woman who came out of the building and crossed his path. He was just taking a curious look at a pile of boxes the stage driver had unloaded and left sitting in the street when the peaceful afternoon went all to hell.
A dozen men on horseback came tearing into town past the church, whooping and hollering, firing their guns at random into the air. From the looks of them, they were cattle hands from one of the outlying ranches, and whatever they were celebrating, they had been at it for a while. Some of them were so drunk they could barely stay in the saddle, and their gun handling was on par with their riding. Not being greenhorns, the good citizens of Four Corners got themselves to the nearest cover in a hurry. Cowboys out on a spree usually turned out to be more of a nuisance than hard-core trouble. They wasted a few bullets, picked some fights, then went back to their cows, leaving nothing worse behind them than a few blackened eyes and broken windows.
That might have been the case again, if Four Corners' new and thoroughly wet-behind-the-ears sheriff hadn't decided he needed to handle the situation.
"J.D.!" Chris yelled, as the kid whirled and ran straight in the direction of trouble. "Take cover!"
As usual, his advice was ignored. J.D. began to shout something at the cowboys, but his words were lost in the din of whoops and random gunfire. When he finally realized they were paying him no attention whatsoever, he swung his Winchester carbine down into firing position. Knowing J.D., he expected the sight of the gun to intimidate them into calming down. Instead, one of the mounted men swung his horse around, found himself staring down a rifle barrel, and did what came naturally.
The bullet caught the young man somewhere mid-torso and flung him backwards into a hitching rail. He rebounded off it, staggered a step or two, then pitched forward to land on splayed knees. Wavering visibly, J.D. touched the blood that was already starting to spread across the front of his waistcoat. For a long moment, he stared at his red-stained fingers with wide-eyed, this-ain't-how-it's-supposed-to-happen disbelief, then he slowly curled forward around himself and collapsed in the dirt.
The kid had fired his rifle in reflex when the bullet struck him, and by blind luck, the shot found a target. A reeling cowboy dropped from his saddle before he even knew he was in danger. One of his companions yelled a curse and took aim at J.D. to finish him off, but Chris picked the man out of his saddle before he could pull the trigger.
After that, it was all-out war.
Ten minutes after the first shot was fired, the street was dead silent again. The fight had barely lasted long enough for Buck Wilmington to show up and help Chris send the surviving cowboys out of town in a disorderly retreat.
"What the hell was that all about?" Buck demanded as he limped up beside Chris, who was standing in the middle of the street, watching them go. He was limping because he was barefoot, wearing nothing but the pair of dungarees he'd dragged on over his union suit, midway between grabbing his gun and exiting Blossom Call's bed.
"Some drunk cowpunchers came riding into town on a tear. J.D. tried to..." Chris had forgotten about J.D., partly because he had other things on his mind, partly because he figured the kid was as good as dead, whether it happened now or later. He turned and strode back down the street, wondering where the hell Nathan was, and if he'd heard the commotion.
As soon as he spotted the slight figure sprawled in the dirt, Buck muttered, "Oh, hell..." under his breath and lit out ahead of Chris at a run.
J.D. still lay where he had collapsed. Mary Travis knelt beside him, murmuring a stream of meaningless reassurances while she held a folded cloth against his chest with both hands, putting pressure on the wound in an attempt to stop the out-rush of blood. As he approached them, Buck shoved his way roughly through the gaggle of onlookers who had gathered to watch the show, and dropped to his knees on J.D.'s other side.
"Where the hell is Nathan?" Buck shouted the black man's name into the air, then leaned over the small figure sprawled in front of him. "J.D.? Can you hear me, son?"
The kid didn't answer. His eyes were open, but he didn't seem to be aware of what was happening to him. Spasmodic shivers wracked his compact frame, and his breath shuddered in and out in irregular gasps. His vest and white shirt, which Mary had shoved up out of the way to expose the wound, were soaked through red. By the looks of it, J.D. was beyond whatever rough-and-ready help Nathan could give him, but he deserved better than to die in the dirt.
Chris tapped Buck on the shoulder. "Take him on over to Nathan's place. Nathan is probably helping Josiah with the church. I'll fetch him."
"I don't think he should be moved," Mary Travis ventured, gazing up at him.
"Can't exactly leave him here, can we?"
Very gently, Buck slid his arms under J.D.'s back and legs and lifted him up as though he were a child. The young man made a small, breathless noise when he was moved, but it was more from fear and disorientation than pain. The pain would come later--if he made it that far.
"Easy, son. Everything's gonna be just fine," Buck lied blithely. "Now, look here, J.D. how many times am I gonna need to tell ya? Ya gotta learn when to duck. If ya don't, then stupid, awful things are gonna happen to you."
Burdened by J.D.'s weight, he levered himself awkwardly to his feet, then started down the street towards Nathan's combination living quarters and surgery. As he walked, he continued to prattle a steady stream of nonsense to his semi-conscious burden, not even noticing himself what he was saying.
Chris turned toward the church, intending to seek out the black healer, then saw that Nathan was already heading toward them at a run. The crowd of on-lookers were beginning to drift away, most of them heading down the street to where three dead cowboys made a better sideshow than a blood stain soaking away into the dust. Mary continued to hover, seemingly unsure of whether to follow Buck or return to her newspaper office.
"Is he going to be all right, do you think?" She started to wipe her hands on the printer's apron which covered her dress, but caught herself before she added blood to the ink stains which liberally spattered the garment.
"Probably not," Chris returned bluntly. Stooping down, he retrieved J.D.'s derby from the ground where it had fallen. The kid would either want it back, or he would want to be buried with it.
Mary scrubbed her fingers together, disliking the feel of J.D.'s blood, and trying to get it off without actually wiping it on anything. She didn't even realize she was doing it.
"Yes, ma'am," Chris agreed neutrally.
Mary rounded on him, transfixing him with the full weight of her disapproval from blue, blue eyes. "Doesn't this kind of thing bother you at all, Mr. Larabee? Not even when it's a friend of yours who may be dying?"
"'Course it bothers me, Mrs. Travis, whether or not it's a friend. The thing is, I know there ain't a hell of a lot I can do about it." He touched his hat to her politely, and headed down the street to deal with the dead cowboys.
+ + + + + + +
J.D.'s breath rattled out in a low moan as Nathan inched his forceps deeper into the wound. The young man had passed out when Nathan cauterized the big blood vessel that was pumping away his life, but he wasn't out deep, and there was no guarantee he'd be lucky enough to stay that way.
"For Chrissake, Nathan, are you planning to dig around in there all day?"
Nathan ignored the question as he was trying to ignore Buck's restless pacing. That wasn't easy when his "surgery" was a small room, and the big man seemed to fill most of it with his nerves and his constant movement.
Several agonizing moments later, he still hadn't found the slug, so he picked up his knife again to widen the incision, praying he wasn't doing his patient more harm than good. The bullet had entered J.D.'s body on the left side below the ribs. He wasn't wheezing or coughing blood, so it had probably missed his lung. Trouble was, there were all sorts of other vital organs in there, and Nathan was none too sure of their arrangement. There had been no time for fine anatomy lessons in an army field hospital, just a lot of cutting and bandaging, and leaving the rest up to God. More often than not, God hadn't bothered to intervene.
J.D. jerked violently as the knife blade sank into his flesh. His eyes flared open, huge and wild with fright, and Nathan barely had time to get the knife clear before the young man screamed and arched up off the mattress. Leaping to the far side of the bed, Buck grabbed J.D.'s forearms and threw his weight across his legs to pin him in place. He and Nathan both started talking to the kid, trying to calm him, but there was no rationality in J.D.'s terrified gaze. He was running on instinct, sobbing in blind panic as he struggled to escape the pain tearing through him and Buck's imprisoning hold.
He had lost far too much blood to be able to maintain the frenzied burst of strength. No more than a minute after he started to fight, J.D. lost consciousness again as abruptly as he'd regained it. Buck heaved an audible sigh of relief when the kid went limp, but he didn't release his hold, just settled down carefully on the edge of the bed where he wasn't too much in Nathan's way.
"You want to hurry up and get this over with, Nathan?" Buck demanded harshly. More softly, for J.D.'s oblivious ears, he murmured, "That's good, son. You just keep on sleeping. Nothing out here you want to feel right now."
"You can say that again." Bleakly, Nathan eased the bloody knife back into the incision. Digging around blindly like this, it was only a matter of time before he hit something vital. He knew damned well he shouldn't be operating at all, not on a bullet buried in the critical no man's land between the kid's chest and his belly, but getting the lead slug out of him would improve the odds, maybe even give J.D. a fighting chance.
Nathan was just about at the point of giving up when he finally felt the faint shudder of metal against metal, and eased the forceps open to capture the lead ball. It dragged free amidst a gush of blood that splattered his face, nearly blinding him before he could get a cloth in place to halt the flow. Holding it with one hand, he dropped the battered hunk of lead and the forceps onto a waiting dish.
"Did you get it that time?" Buck demanded.
"Yeah, I got it. Here, help me."
He grabbed Buck's hand and slapped it down against J.D.'s chest to hold a cloth in place over the wound, then went to retrieve the heated knife which was ready on the stove. Waving Buck back out of his way, he pushed the hot blade into the incision, hardening himself to ignore the stink of burning flesh and the sizzle of blood burning away against steel.
Another wail of agony tore from J.D.'s throat, and he struggled feebly to escape. Buck started talking to him in a low-pitched litany, but this time there was nothing reassuring in the words. His voice raw with pain, Buck cursed J.D.'s brains, abilities and common sense in terms Nathan had never heard from him, even when he was drunk. The diatribe blazed on until Nathan tossed the blade aside and washed out the bullet hole with a measure of whiskey.
When he was finally freed from the necessary torture, J.D.'s frenzied cries waned to a ragged, low-pitched sobbing. As they slowly faded to silence, Buck dropped his hold on the young man and jumped to his feet. He stalked to the door, and for a moment Nathan thought he was going to leave. Instead, he just slammed both fists into the wood, then whirled on his heel and came back.
"Goddamn I hate this."
"Never gets any easier," Nathan agreed in a tired voice. He picked up a tin cup which was sitting on the table beside the bed and started to tip its contents into the wound.
"What the hell do you think you're doing now?" Buck's hand closed roughly around Nathan's wrist, and dragged his hand aside.
Automatically, Nathan fought against his grip, but when Buck didn't free him, he eventually just relaxed his arm.
"Look," he explained patiently, "it's all right. It's just sugar."
"Sugar? This ain't a cup of coffee, Nathan, it's a goddamned bullet hole."
"I know that, Buck. It's an old trick. Helps keep the wound clean, makes it heal faster. My people been using it as far back as anyone can remember." He didn't wait to hear Buck's reaction to that comment, just plowed on. "And before you go dismissing it, I seen army surgeons using it during the war, too. I don't claim to know why it helps, but it does."
They glowered at each other, neither of them willing to give ground. Finally, with visible reluctance, Buck let go of his arm and stepped back so that Nathan could finish what he'd started. He packed the wound with white crystals, set a row of neat stitches along the line of the incision he'd made, then had Buck support J.D. while he wrapped the young man's torso in strips of boiled cotton. When they were done, Buck settled J.D. back against the pillows and looked over at Nathan expectantly.
"I've done all I can do," the black man told him. "The rest is up to him."
"You think he's gonna make it?" A note of pleading crept into Buck's voice, even though he knew it was stupid to expect Nathan to give him anything more promising than the conclusion he could draw for himself. They both knew how slim the chances were that the kid would recover.
"Nothin' we can do but wait and see," Nathan returned neutrally. "He won't wake up for a while--" he caught J.D.'s hand as it reached aimlessly for the wound, and held it until the kid sank back into oblivion "--so why don't you go help Chris clean up the mess out there. Looks like the undertaker's gonna have hisself a busy day."
Buck drifted over to the window and stared down at the street. Twilight had settled over the town while Nathan worked. Lamps glowed through the windows of the saloon and the hotel, but most of the shops were already darkened for the night. The street itself was nearly empty, just a few people heading home or toward the saloon. Four Corners had gone back to its usual business, the afternoon's incident so much a part of normal life that it was already long forgotten.
"Just what we need," Buck grumbled, then glanced back at the small figure in the bed, wondering if they were going to need another pine box before they were done. "This damn town sure does seem to attract trouble."
"Sure does," Nathan agreed. "I guess that's why the Judge is willin' to pay us to look after it."
The healer nodded towards the door. "Go on, git. I won't know anything for a few hours, maybe tomorrow morning. I don't need you wearing a hole in my floor 'til then." He gestured toward Buck's bare feet. "If nothing else, you better go find your boots 'fore her husband does."
"Guess you're right," Buck agreed, but stayed where he was.
With a mental shrug, Nathan left him to make up his own mind on the matter. He cleaned J.D. up, pulled a sheet and quilt up over him to keep him warm, then collected the mess of discarded instruments and bloodied rags that had accumulated beside the bed. He wiped his instruments and put them aside to be sterilized, then picked up the young man's stained and perforated suit coat off the floor, and held it up in front of him. There was an old, much-washed bloodstain--someone else's blood--on the front, a permanent reminder of J.D.'s first taste of battle in the Seminole village. This time, the blood was all the kid's own, and there was lots of it. The garment didn't look as though it could be salvaged, but Nathan didn't want to argue about it if J.D. survived, so he put it aside with the rest of his clothes. He'd just get them washed and see what happened.
"I tell you," he muttered aloud as he set the pile of garments out of his way, "if J.D. wants to keep lookin' like Bat Masterson, he's gonna have to order himself another suit from back east."
"Bat Masterson, my ass," Buck grumbled. "No more looking like an idiot is what you mean. Only thing worse than that suit is his stupid hat."
"You ain't had much luck convincing him of that," Nathan pointed out with amusement. Buck was just about the most easy-going man Nathan had ever met, but he had a way of complaining about anything and everything when he was upset or worried, and right now he was plenty of both.
"Can't convince the damfool kid of much of anything, starting with the fact that he don't belong out here," Buck rattled on. "Ain't even got enough sense to haul his pint-sized ass behind something solid when the lead starts flying. It's a goddamned stupid way to die."
"He ain't dead yet," Nathan contradicted automatically, "so don't you go burying him before his time. J.D. may not be too sensible, but you gotta give him that he is stubborn as hell."
"Yeah," Buck agreed, with a quiet little snort of laughter. "He sure is that."
The outside door swung open, and Chris Larabee filled the opening. He didn't come inside, just propped his shoulder against the doorjamb and stayed where he was. He asked after J.D., but his interest in Nathan's answer was perfunctory. His mind was focused elsewhere.
"Vin and I finished checking out those cowboys," he told both of the other men. "We caught a couple of their horses. They're carrying Stuart James's brand."
"Oh, that's just great." Buck brushed absently at the bloodstain which had soaked into the chest of his longjohns while he was carrying J.D. "Lemme guess? One of them dead cowpokes was James's son or his other favorite nephew or his best foreman or some damfool thing."
Chris gave a quiet chuckle. "Not as far as we can tell."
"Well, that's something, anyway."
"Maybe. But I don't think James is going to be too happy about it, no matter who they were."
"Well, then he ought to know enough to keep 'em out of town when they're drunk and looking for trouble," Buck grumbled.
"Unless he sent them in to town to start trouble," Nathan suggested.
"That possibility has crossed my mind," Chris admitted.
"Hang on a minute." Buck straightened up with a jerk. "You telling me one of them yahoos shot J.D. on purpose?"
Chris shook his head slowly. "I doubt it. I saw how it happened, and it didn't look planned. But for the rest... I don't know. We've been expecting some sort of trouble out of James. He's a powerful man, with powerful friends. He's built himself his own private empire, and we invaded it. We took away some of his power."
"An' it just don't seem likely he'd watch his nephew hang, then go on about his business like it never happened," Nathan agreed. "But what good would it do him to send in a few of his hired hands to shoot up the town?"
"None that I can think of." Chris shrugged a shoulder. "It's probably nothing more than what it looks like. Just a bunch of cowpokes with too much whiskey and a bit of time off." He straightened away from the doorjamb, and took a step backwards into the open air. "I just wish they'd worked for someone other than Stuart James."
"Hang on, Chris, I'll come with you." Buck started for the door. As he passed the foot of the bed, he stopped to look down at J.D.'s still, pale form, then raised his eyes to Nathan. "You be sure to--"
"Don't worry," the black man interrupted, "if there's any change at all, I'll let you know."
"You do that." He nodded farewell, then departed in Chris's wake.
+ + + + + + +
The compound around Stuart James's hacienda-style ranch house was nearly as much of a town as the settlement of Four Corners. The sprawling house itself sat amidst a maze of buildings which included stables, kitchens, bunk houses--even a fully working blacksmith's shop. On those rare occasions when James chose to venture forth from his private fiefdom, he preferred to bypass the neighboring towns entirely. They came and went, and there was little in them that was of interest to him. If he needed more company or entertainment than he could provide for himself, he went to Ridge City, which was large enough to have a railhead, some pretension to culture, and even a couple of decent theaters.
A tall man of advancing years, James's once-spare frame had thickened, and he walked with the support of a brass-handled cane, but he remained straight-backed and proud. Leaning only lightly upon the cane, he strode past the ornamental fountain at the center of the compound, acknowledging the greetings of friends or employees, playing the role of host without giving it any conscious attention. Nearly half-a-hundred men had gathered for this bare-knuckle boxing tournament, and a scattering of fancy women had been hired to entertain them. Most of the men were on his payroll, but several of the neighboring ranchers were in attendance, plus a few unfamiliar faces who might have come from anywhere. There were prizes to be won in the ring--James found that the expenditure paid for itself in other ways--and over the years these events had become less of a private party than a public fair.
Pride had prevented him from cancelling today's event, but it brought him no pleasure, just a slow-burning anger which left no evidence on his cold features. The last time this same group of friends and employees had gathered, a gang of gunfighters had invaded his home and carried his nephew, Lucas, away to Four Corners to face trial for murder. In the privacy of his own thoughts, James did not deny the likelihood that Lucas was guilty of the charge laid against him. Lucas had been nothing but trouble his whole life. But he had been blood kin, James's responsibility since his younger brother's death. His guilt or innocence did not enter into the matter, nor did it alter the need James felt to avenge his death.
On the far side of the boxing ring, a big bull of a man with a neatly trimmed gray beard stood talking to one of the hired women. As soon as James spotted him, he changed course in that direction.
"Judge Cahill," he called amiably, when he came within earshot. "I trust you're being well entertained."
"Indeed. Quite a spread you've got here, Stuart." Cahill patted the woman's cheek, gave her a paternal smile, then sent her on her way. "The stories I've heard haven't been at all exaggerated I see."
"I'm glad you think so. My father was one of the earliest settlers in this region. It has taken his lifetime and mine to build this ranch into what you see before you."
"Most impressive. As I've told Ben Hicks many times, this territory needs men like you to keep it growing."
<Men like me to keep the political coffers filled,> James amended silently, without resentment. Cahill was a reasonable man, which was to say his priorities owed nothing to abstract idealism. He had made it well known to the powerful ranchers of the territory that he was a tool to be used--for the right price. This was the sort of man--the sort of politician--with whom James was comfortable dealing. If Orrin Travis had been this sort of man, Lucas would have still been alive, making himself useful, instead of rotting in his grave with the bruises of a hangman's noose around his neck.
"Is something wrong, Stuart?" Cahill inquired solicitously, studying the wave of frustrated anger that passed across the rancher's face. "You look a mite peaked."
"I just had a thought that didn't agree with me," James replied. "One I hope that you, my friend, are going to help me put to rest."
Cahill gave him a smile which was blinding in its insincerity. "The arrangements we discussed are already well underway."
"Another week. Certainly no more than two." The big man smiled again, this time at his own thoughts. "Orrin Travis and I have, shall we say, locked horns in the past. It will give me great personal pleasure to assist you in taking him down a peg or two."
"You're sure this man, Mandrell, can handle the situation? Larabee has quite a reputation."
"You've done your own investigations, I'm sure, since we first talked about the possibilities. Mandrell has never failed. He'll do what you need."
"I trust you're right, Judge." James patted the big man amiably on the shoulder, and made a grand gesture, indicating the path which led up to the main house. "Come inside, and we'll talk about it. I have a stock of French brandy laid in. I would enjoy sharing it with a man of refined tastes, such as yourself."
As they started towards the house, a disturbance at the edge of the corral caught James's eye. A half-dozen of his range hands had just ridden in at a gallop, and were gathering around the foreman, talking excitedly. Catching the attention of a cowboy who was crossing the yard, James ordered, "Toby, go find out what that's all about."
"Yes, sir." The cowboy hurried away. Almost as soon as he reached the crowd, he headed back again, with the ranch foreman, Ned Tucker, pacing beside him.
"There's been a bit of trouble, Mr. James." The foreman shot an uncomfortable glance at Cahill, who was listening with interest, but James signaled for him to continue. "A few of the boys got liquored up this afternoon and took a ride into Four Corners."
"I have made it clear that that place is off-limits to everyone for the time being."
"Yeah, well..." Tucker shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. "Like I say, they got liquored up, and I guess they forgot... There was, um... There was some shooting."
"How many of my men are dead?" James asked, with fatalistic cynicism.
"Three of our boys." Tucker named them, then added, "Plus that kid old Judge Travis has been payin' to pretend like he's the sheriff."
Tucker shrugged. "Tom Gibson put a bullet in him 'fore he died. The rest of the boys saw him go down. Ain't no way to be sure if he's dead. You want me to ride into town and find out?"
"No. Not at the moment."
"Somebody's gotta go in to bring the boys home."
"Leave it until tomorrow, Stuart," Cahill interrupted, before James could answer. "We need to talk first. We don't want to do anything hastily right now. It could upset our future plans."