Chapter 10
"What time you got, Ezra?"

"Approximately two minutes later than it was upon the occasion of your previous inquiry," the gambler retorted shortly. Even though he was staring straight ahead, out through the bars at the front of the cell, he could feel Chris's gaze boring into his side like twin lances tipped with ice. He bore the stalemate for all of a half-minute, then dragged his watch from his waistcoat pocket. "It is 11:05. Three minutes since you last inquired. Fancy that."

Baiting Chris was perhaps one step short of suicidal, but he was on edge and that never did good things to his temper. It was more than half-an-hour past the time when Josiah and the others should have arrived, and the night outside remained peaceful and untroubled.

Glancing sideways, Ezra found that Chris had gone back to the front of his cell and was glaring with such fixed malevolence at the row of windows that overlooked the street that the deputy on duty was twitching nervously under its weight. Ezra would have reminded him of the stupidity of upsetting their captor right now if he'd thought it would do any good. As it was, he could only hope that the action was growing so familiar to Mandrell's men that they would find nothing out of the ordinary in it.

Chris had finally stopped his endless pacing, but now Vin had taken up his restlessness and was moving aimlessly around the cell. At least he had a better reason for it than temperament. He was trying to loosen up muscles stiffened by his fall and subsequent inactivity. Occasionally, he caught his breath in discomfort when he made a wrong move, but aside from his bandaged hands and the scabbed-over cuts on his face, there were no obvious symptoms of his injuries.

He drifted over to the wall beside Ezra's bunk and stayed there. When the gambler looked up at him, uncomfortable with having the man hovering at his back, he found Vin watching him with the frank curiosity that so often filled his blue gaze. Vin had a discomforting way of looking at a man as if he were actually looking through him, checking out not just the surface but all the private layers of thought and intention that hid beneath it. No matter how many times Ezra told himself that was nothing more than a foolish fancy on his own part--and in spite of the fact that he considered Vin too guileless to understand what he found, even if he had possessed such preternatural sight--the idea never failed to disconcert him.

"Something bothering you, Ezra?"

"Under the circumstances, I would class that as a highly asinine question, Mr. Tanner, wouldn't you?"


Ezra shot him a quick, disconcerted look. "Nothing is wrong with me which a swift and successful change of scenery will not cure."

"Glad to hear it." The bounty hunter gave him an amicable grin, then stiffened suddenly and tilted his head to listen.

"Something's happening," he said, in the same almost-soundless voice.

"I didn't hear shots."

"Not gunfire. Something else. Dunno what."

Ezra didn't snap at him for the meaningless comment because he, too, could hear shouting voices filtering in through the brick walls. The words were lost, but excitement was audible in the tones, and there were too many people involved to be justified for the time of night and the customary somnambulance of this small town. The deputy tilted his head back to listen, too, then smiled to himself and went back to the game of solitaire he was playing, apparently disinterested by the cause of the disturbance. Ezra took that to mean he understood the cause of it, and when he glanced up at Vin, he saw the same belief evident on the bounty hunter's face.

"Something's gone wrong," Vin said quietly.

"So it would seem."

Vin looked over at Chris and got a slight nod in return, agreeing with the assessment. Drifting close to the intervening bars, Chris murmured, "I don't like the sound of that at all."

"Think we're on our own?"

"I think that bastard's too damned smug for this to be anything we'll like." Chris did one swift lap of his cell, then leaned against the bars again, looking straight at them so they were reading his lips more than hearing the words themselves. "Better assume we're on our own, and that we need to get out of here--now."

"Could pretend one of us is sick?" Vin suggested. "Considering what was for dinner, it wouldn't be that much of a stretch."

Ezra favored him with a glare that held genuine disappointment. "Might I point out, Mr. Tanner, that that ploy was aged and careworn long before Julius Caesar conquered Britannia?"

"Where's Britannia?" the bounty hunter inquired. There was a glimmer buried deeply in his blue eyes to suggest he wasn't as unenlightened as he chose to let on. Rendering the question rhetorical, he continued, "It may be old, but it still works."

"Against complete and utter dolts, perhaps, and only then if the dolts in question have some vested interest in the continued survival of their prisoners. Allow me to remind you that our captors do not. Allow me to also remind you again that they are expecting trouble."

"You got a better idea?"

"I believe I may have." Still bereft of his deck of cards, which were lost somewhere in one of Vin's copious pockets, Ezra took to worrying at the heavy ring on his left hand, turning it round and round his finger in pointless circles. His nervous fingers had always been his worst enemy when running a con, one of the few external mannerisms he found devilishly hard to control. Even though he saw Vin's lazy gaze tracking the movement, he made no attempt to still it. "We do have one advantage of which our congenial hosts are not aware."

"Oh, yeah?" Chris inserted, fixing him with a doubtful scowl. "And what exactly would that be?"

Shifting to put his back fully towards the deputy at the front of the jail, Ezra simultaneously whooped out a loud, extended fit of coughing and flexed his wrist, catching the derringer expertly as it slid into his hand. Even with the covering noise, the spring sounded excruciatingly loud in the quiet room, but he heard no betraying sounds from behind him to signal that the deputy had heard it. Vin's eyes widened briefly in surprise, and he glanced over Ezra's shoulder to confirm that their captor wasn't paying them any mind. By the time he'd relaxed again, the small weapon was tucked safely back into its hiding place.

"How the hell did you get away with keeping that?" Chris demanded.

"Marshal Mandrell duly relieved me of my gunbelt and a sleeve gun. It didn't occur to them to search for more," Ezra said casually. "I find it useful to have a spare in my boot."

"Exactly how many guns do you carry, Ezra?" Vin inquired, fascinated.

"Enough, I hope."

"Two shots won't give us much of an advantage," Chris said doubtfully.

"Maybe it will," Vin countered. "Don't know many men that'll take a bullet voluntarily if they've got a choice--not even to follow orders." He studied the man at the front of the jail thoughtfully. "Guess it depends on if he's more scared of his boss or more scared of dying. Worth a try, but we'll have to get him closer than he is now. Don't have much range on a gun that small, not if you want to hit what you're aiming at. Besides, it's the key we need, not him. If we shoot him with the other man still outside and us still locked in here, it won't get us anywhere. You got a plan, Ezra?"

"I may have. The question is, has either of you gentlemen ever experienced any propensity for the stage?" Ezra didn't wait for an answer, because it would give that nagging, internal voice even more opportunity to call him a fool. He did have a way out, one that he was fairly certain would work, but it was playing far too close to the truth. Chris didn't trust him at the best of times. He would never believe Ezra's original intention had been other than betrayal, because betrayal was what he expected.

<Who's to say he's wrong, if matters had gone a different way?> the voice of his counter-conscience inquired maliciously. <You're still betting on the winner. You just happen to think that's going to be Larabee. Would you be doing any of this if you thought he'd be the one to lose?>

"What have you got in mind?" Vin asked, reminding him he had no time to waste on pointless soul searching.

"We don't know if what is happening outside has anything to do with the others, but one way or another, Mandrell will be expecting an escape attempt. Fine. I am about to betray your nonexistent plans to our friend over there." He gestured toward their guard with a sideways jerk of his head. "You will need to make an unsuccessful attempt to stop me. Note that I say 'unsuccessful.' We need him to open the cell door to let me out."

"That's no better than one of us playin' sick. He'll know it's a trap."

"Not if we play our roles with true inspiration." He cast a nervous glance at Chris, adding more truth to the net he was weaving around himself. "It is not unknown that there is little good feeling lost between Mr. Larabee and myself. I anticipate they will find it entirely believable, should I decide to throw in my lot with them in order to save my own life."

The other two men had been watching him closely while he talked. Surveying their expressions, Ezra found repudiation on Chris's, but a kind of curious approval on Vin's.

"Worth a shot," the bounty hunter commented. When Chris made a harsh grunt and shook his head, Vin went on, "We don't have much time and we don't have any options. Ezra thinks it'll work, I'll go along. It's his kind of game."

Chris hesitated a moment, but the sounds outside where getting louder, more urgent. Still no gunfire, but none of them needed it to know that something was seriously wrong. Their time might be running out.

"How do we start?" Chris asked finally.

"We already have. The man would need to be deaf and blind not to realize we have been talking amongst ourselves in a highly conspiratorial manner for some time now." Ezra's lips twitched in a tense smile. "All we need to do is somewhat increase the volume and urgency. If you will kindly follow my lead, Mr. Tanner."

Vin nodded, then started slightly in surprise when Ezra's voice, which had been a quiet murmur, rose into a harsh stage whisper.

"That's crazy. I tell you, sir, that all you are going to succeed in doing is getting us all killed. I don't know--"

Belatedly finding his cue in the gambler's eyes, Vin cut him off sharply with, "Shut up, Ezra. You're only going to--"

"I'm going to put a stop to this right now," Ezra returned, as he jumped to his feet and headed for the front of the cell.

This time, Vin knew exactly what was expected of him. Demanding, "Get back here and shut up!" in a furious tone, he made a grab for Ezra's shoulder and tried to pull him back down. The bounty hunter's bandaged fingers prevented him from getting a clean grip, and his breath caught audibly in discomfort as Ezra roughly shrugged free.

"Deputy, I need to speak to you immediately!"

Mandrell's man looked over at him, suspicion and curiosity written on his blunt features. He had to know of the arrangements Ezra had made with his boss, but this wasn't the warning he was expecting, and he was plainly uncertain what he should do about it.

"Immediately, if you please," Ezra repeated, pitching his voice low and urgent. "Believe me, you want to hear what I have to say."

Vin made another grab for him. This time Ezra let himself be turned, then brought his fist up into Vin's solar plexus with enough force to evoke an audible thud, and a whoof of surprise and discomfort from the bounty hunter. Staggering backwards a few steps, Vin regained his balance before he ran into the wall, and snarled, "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Casting my bet on the winning side," Ezra admitted, throwing a tense glance over his shoulder to see what the guard was doing.

The deputy had risen to his feet and had come halfway to the bars. He wasn't as much of a fool as he looked, because he was still openly uncertain about approaching any closer.

"Unless you want your boss to be extremely angry with you, I suggest you help me now," the gambler prompted loudly, dodging aside as Vin aimed an awkward attack at him, more of a slap than a punch because of his inability to close his fist. Vin made another grab at him, getting enough of a grip on his coat that Ezra couldn't shrug free without leaving his lapels. The two men struggled briefly, then Ezra threw a high, wide punch that made a solid connection with the bounty hunter's jaw. Vin's eyes rolled back in his head, and he crumpled, landing in a limp heap on the floor.

Wincing and controlling the urge to try to shake some feeling back into his numbed hand, Ezra whirled back to the bars.

"Let me out of here!" he demanded urgently. "I have to speak to Mandrell! Now!"

Chris was staring at him through the bars, just too far away to reach him. His face set in a dead, cold glare, he breathed out the promise, "Do this and you're dead," through clenched teeth. Even knowing the words were for the guard's benefit, Ezra felt a shiver walk up his spine as he remembered the last time he had faced that expression.

Whether it was Ezra's final demand or Chris's threat that made the decision for him, the deputy nodded, grabbed the keys and came over. Keeping his pistol levelled on Ezra, he shoved the key into the lock, turned it, then backed up.

"Come on out, slow and careful. I dunno what the hell you're up to, mister, but it'd better be damned good."

Ezra obeyed, wary of the weapon, moving in a careful semi-circle around the man so that he automatically backed up a step. That brought him closer to Chris's cell, and Chris lunged at the bars so suddenly that the man jumped in surprise and whirled, tracking the new threat with the barrel of his .45. Before he realized Chris couldn't--quite--reach him, he had the barrel of Ezra's derringer in his side.

"What the hell?" He stared down at the tiny-but-deadly weapon. "You're bluffing."

"Do not count on it, my friend," Ezra told him, with perfect honesty. He shot an uneasy glance at Chris, to assess whether Chris was wondering at the deputy's words, but the gunslinger's eyes had switched to Vin, who was simultaneously climbing to his feet and biting loose the end of one of his bandages.

"You got a pretty good punch there, Ezra," Vin informed him, as he began to hastily unwrap his hands.

"Let me assure you, I prefer not to practice fisticuffs." Ezra relieved their former captor of his weapon and kept it. "They ruin the hands... And I do apologize for the discomfort. It had to look authentic."

"Felt damned authentic, too." There was no rancor at all in the comment. Tossing the long strips of cloth in a heap on the cot, Vin slipped through the cell door and headed straight for the front of the jail, and its supply of weapons.

"You've made a damned stupid mistake, Standish," the deputy growled. "You should've never--"

He didn't get any farther, because Ezra brought the edge of his acquired .45 down on the side of the man's face with as much strength as he could muster. He felt bone collapse beneath the pressure and flinched in revulsion. The man's angry denunciation changed to a wail as his hands came up to cradle his broken jaw. He staggered backwards until he ran into a wall.

Chris stared at Ezra, taking in the uncharacteristic brutality of the move, able to see the gambler's disgust even if he couldn't quite interpret it. Ezra's eyes met his very briefly, then darted nervously away.

"Get me out of here," Chris demanded, then caught the ring of keys as Ezra tossed them at him without getting closer. Reaching through the bars, he fitted the key in place and turned the lock. Mandrell's deputy was still on his feet, but he barely put up a fight when Chris dragged him into the cell and tied him to the bars with a strip torn from Vin's bandages.

"That was too easy," Chris commented when he joined the other two as they were retrieving their weapons.

"Perhaps Lady Luck was smiling on us tonight." Still avoiding his eyes, Ezra gestured toward the lamp that burned on J.D.'s desk. "Be careful of the lamps. Wouldn't want the wrong silhouettes on the windows."

Vin silently approached one of the windows, following Ezra's unnecessary advice without even thinking about it. He shifted the yellowed blind aside with one finger, checked outside quickly, then eased it back into place.

"One man out front," he reported softly, rejoining Chris as the gunslinger was strapping on his black leather holster. "Just sitting out there, not paying any attention to whatever's going on."

"What is going on?" Chris pulled out his long-barrelled six-gun and automatically checked that its load hadn't been tampered with.

"Can't see. Nobody in the street, but I can still hear yelling. Sounds like it's over there somewhere." Vin waved his hand towards the rear of the building. He had already slipped his mare's leg into its thigh rig, and he was busy loading cartridges into the magazine of a Winchester rifle he'd grabbed from the wall rack. The action was so much second-nature to him that he could have done it in his sleep, but right now he was slow and awkward, his damaged hands a liability even without their encasing bandages.

"You ready?" Chris asked when he finished. He had been watching the bounty hunter's movements without comment, assessing his present limitations.

At Vin's nod, he slipped to the side door that opened into the adjoining alley and silently removed the wooden brace that prevented it from being opened from the outside. Vin, meanwhile, blew out the lamp that was mounted beside the opening, then they waited for a minute, eyes closed, regaining as much night sight as they could with the lights from the office area still burning behind them.

"Figure they got someone watching this door, too?"

"I would," Chris returned, wryly. "But there aren't a lot of choices."

The bounty hunter nodded agreement, then asked, "On three?"

"One... two... three." Chris pulled the door open just wide enough to allow a body to slip through. He gave Vin a second or two to get clear of the opening, then followed, dragging Ezra after him when the gambler hesitated.

The narrow alley beyond was dark and apparently deserted. Its opposite side was bounded by an old general merchandise store that had been boarded over for as long as any of them had been in town. Vin's eyes flitted along its wall, taking in a door crossed by a pair of nailed-on boards, then rose to scan the roof. The instant he caught a whisper of movement where none belonged, he tapped Chris's shoulder, pointed upwards, then glided across the alley to throw himself into the shadow of the store.

By the time Chris and Ezra had joined him, he had confirmed that the jail house roof was empty, as were those on the far side of Main Street, or at least the small slice of them he could see.

Chris raised one finger and pointed upwards, asking if the watcher was alone. Vin nodded, then grinned and shrugged, adding with that silent pantomime that he was willing to guarantee nothing. Chris gestured "wait here" in equal silence, then vanished down the alley before Vin could protest. He wouldn't have been much help anyway, so he stayed where he was, flexing his hands as he tried to get a feel for how much use they'd be if he got himself into a fight. He shouldn't have any trouble shooting; climbing or a hand-to-hand dust-up were pretty much out of the question. Trying to grab Ezra during the brief staged altercation in the cell had been bad enough.

He shot a sideways glance at the gambler, who was close beside him, hidden within the shadow thrown by the outside staircase that snaked up the building. The escape plan had been his, and he'd played his role in it to perfection, but there was still something eating away at him.

<Maybe he's still regrettin' he didn't high-tail it out of town when he had the chance,> Vin decided, letting it go for the moment.

A few brief, harsh sounds marked the scuffle on the roof above them, and in another couple of minutes, Chris was back down the stairs. Putting his face close to Vin's he breathed, "Caleb Brewer's place is burning. Looks like most of the town's out there, but they aren't going to save it."

That explained the noise and the pall of smoke that hung in the night air, thicker and of a different pungency than the normal mix of campfires and stoves. With a sigh of frustration, Vin accepted another killing they had failed to prevent.

"We need to find Josiah and the others," he whispered back. "Find out what went wrong." The addendum, "Find out if they're still alive," remained unspoken but understood between them. "You want to take care of the man out front first?"

"Not until we've looked around a bit." Chris shook his head. "We go out in the street, anyone can spot us. Besides, we've got a little something to take care of first."

He had already examined the latch on the side door of the mercantile and found that the lock had been broken. That was no surprise. There were more than a dozen abandoned buildings in town, and most of them had provided transitory homes for squatters at one time or another. He pushed the old door open slowly, wary of rusted hinges, and saw an empty storeroom beyond. Vin watched him with a puzzled frown but didn't comment.

"In there." The demand was aimed at Ezra, who cast a worried glance at both of them and demanded, "What?"

"In," the gunslinger repeated, emphasizing the demand with a sharp sideways jerk of his head. When Ezra reluctantly obeyed, Chris ducked through the boards to follow him inside. Vin followed and pushed the door closed behind them with equal caution. The room they were in was dimly lit by moonlight, which drew knife-edged banners of silver between a couple of small, high-set windows and a floor that was a half-inch deep in the ever-present dust.

"Look, what is--" Ezra's sentence ended in a whoof of dispelled breath as his back impacted with the wall. With one of Chris's forearms pressed to his chest, and a Colt pressed into the bony ridge above one of his eyes, he regained it in a shaky, audible whoop.

"Now," Chris told the gambler before he could voice any protest or denial, "I want to know what happened back there. I want the truth, and I want it quickly, because I've got a lot to do tonight, and if killing you is part of it, I don't have a lot of time to waste."

He grinned down at the smaller man, easily putting more threat into that seemingly friendly gesture than most men could pack into a scowl. Watching him from a couple of steps away, Vin didn't move to intervene. The threat wasn't a bluff, and he could feel anger smoking off Chris in waves, but it was ice cold and the gunslinger had it well within his control.

"I don't--"

"Better tell us the truth, Ezra," Vin advised quietly. "It's been eating at you, anyway. That plan you came up with, about pretending to change sides... It shouldn't have worked."

"Then why did you go along with it?" Ezra inquired.

"Because you knew it was going to work. No doubts at all. And that means you had some kind of deal going with Mandrell."

Chris shot the bounty hunter a quick, surprised glance, confirming Vin's guess that Chris hadn't figured that part out, at least not until he'd heard the guard's words. They might have words about it later, but for the moment, Vin's only response was a neutral shrug.

"Only thing that made sense."

"Why didn't you say something?" Chris snapped.

"Ezra's smart. I figured he'd make the right choice." When Ezra's bright, pale eyes came to his face, Vin gave him a companionable smile.

"If only because Mandrell was bound to double cross him?" Chris queried. The Colt clicked loudly as he uncocked it, thrusting it back into his holster at the same moment he released his hold on Ezra and stepped back.

Ezra made a display of straightening his clothes, which were already far from pristine from two days of wear and the fact that he'd slept in them. "There is no possibility whatsoever of your believing me, but that fact had very little to do with it."

"Then why'd you do it?" Vin wondered.

"Do what, Mr. Tanner? Given the choice between dying on the spot and making a deal with the devil, I chose the deal. I had no intention at the time of keeping it." That assertion was a lie or the truth, depending on which part of his conscience or pragmatism or soul was answering.

"What did he want from you?" Chris demanded, ignoring his final statement completely.

"He knew you'd attempt to break jail as soon as you determined what was going on. I was to warn him, so he could have men in place to prevent it. It would have given him an excuse to kill the others, but he had special plans for you, and he wanted you safe and tucked out of the way while he fulfilled his contract."

"'Safe'?" Chris echoed, sarcastically.

"Precisely. On the loose, you'd try to stop him. Behind bars, there was no danger of you getting killed or of killing any of his men until he was ready to deal with you."

"What the hell does he want with me?"

"What does one gunslinger usually want with another?" Ezra demanded with heavy irony. "The gilded opportunity to mount your head on his trophy wall."

"I'm not a big name, even around here."

"I have no idea which of your singular qualities attracted his regard. Nevertheless, I would place a substantial wager that you are the reason why he accepted this employment. I have heard things about this man--"

"So have I."

"Perhaps, but you, obviously, were not truly listening. Ethan Mandrell does not do what he does for the monetary remuneration. He does it because he enjoys the contest itself. Every task that he accepts has two goals: the one which he has been paid to achieve, and a secondary one that he constructs for himself. In Texas, it was the challenge of toppling a rich Spaniard whose private army was held to render him immune from attack. I assume the victor's trophy for that particular competition is that somewhat overblown silver horse. On this occasion, he is being paid to achieve certain ends that Stuart James has set for him. I believe the reward he has chosen for himself is the opportunity to kill you in single combat, with all the appropriate protocols being observed."

Chris glanced at Vin, asking a question with his eyes. Vin replied with a shrug that acknowledged he was willing to take Ezra's explanation at face value. In this particular case, he put more faith in the gambler's assessment of human nature than his own. He had never understood men whose lives were driven by needs beyond the goals of everyday life, but he knew they existed. In his years of drifting around, he had encountered more than a few of them.

"So you were supposed to make sure I stayed out of the way until he was ready for me?" Chris inquired, turning his attention back to Ezra.

"In exchange for eventual immunity from prosecution. You are to be the finale. When the jurors are dead, and the town is broken, then Mr. Mandrell gets to enjoy himself. You are dessert, Mr. Larabee, and we have just thrown off the order of the courses."

"Good. Why'd you decide to do it this way?"

For once, Ezra met his hard gaze straight-on. There was no subterfuge visible in his eyes as he shook his head and huffed out a short, humorless laugh. "You are quite right. I am not such a fool as to believe he would have honored his portion of the bargain. Besides, the fact of the matter is that I dislike him considerably more than I dislike you."

"I'll try to be flattered."

"You do that." Ezra made a sharp, impatient gesture, indicating the door. "Can we leave now?"

"In a minute... Why didn't you tell us what was going on?"

"Would you have believed me?" Their eyes met for a long minute of silent communication, Ezra's filled with mocking defiance, until Chris finally answered the question with a shrug. "Exactly. I was rather hoping to arrange things so that the matter never came up for discussion. It would have been more comfortable for all concerned."

"Didn't want us to know you'd made the right choice?" Vin inquired, in a tone of friendly mockery.

"I don't need your approval, Mr. Tanner."

"Just like you don't need Nathan's thanks?"

"Precisely. Can we leave now?" Ezra repeated impatiently. "As you say, we have things to do."

This time, Chris gave him a small nod which might have indicated approval or apology or damn-all else, then he turned and prowled towards the door.

In the alley, Chris paused briefly, then headed away from the street, following the sounds and smells of the fire. As he reached the rear corner of the building, he halted abruptly, seeing movement ahead of him in the darkness. By the time Vin came up beside him, he had recognized the two men moving stealthily through the night by their silhouettes.

Taking a chance, he hissed, "Josiah! Nathan!" in a soft but carrying whisper.

In an eyeblink, he was looking down the barrels of two six-guns, then both men relaxed as they recognized his voice.

"Chris!" There was laughter in Josiah's deep voice. As he reached them, with Nathan close behind, he thumped Vin on the back so hard that the slight bounty hunter staggered sideways a step. "Might've known you lot didn't really need our help. Do I want to know what happened?"

"Later," Chris said shortly. "You tell us." He nodded toward Brewer's yard.

"It was burning before we saw it, but it isn't hard to guess, is it?"

"Where's Buck?"

Josiah hesitated, rubbing a callused hand over the beard stubble on his chin before he answered, briefly recounting Buck's disappearance, and what he'd found in J.D.'s room.

"Why would they need hostages?" Chris wondered aloud. "Everything's going their way."

"Maybe they don't need hostages." Vin's gaze drifted towards the tower of flame and smoke that was visible above the out buildings.

"No!" Chris informed him, the tone so hard and adamant that Vin shrugged and let it go. "Split up. I want every one of those bastards accounted for, understand?"

"We're not even sure how many of them there are," Josiah reminded him. "He's using some of James's cowboys as ringers while his own men work behind the scenes."

"I don't care. Right about now, we can assume that every man who isn't out staring at the fire or helping with the bucket brigade is one of Mandrell's. If you aren't sure, tie them up to something, we'll sort them out later. And find Buck and the others! Nathan, you go with Vin. Josiah, take Ezra. You two have a better idea of what's been going on out here than we do."

"Think I should stick with you," the bounty hunter suggested quietly.

"Go with Nathan," Chris returned harshly. "And stay away from Mandrell! He wants me, he's damned well got me."


"Stay away from Mandrell," he repeated, then turned and disappeared into the darkness.

Chapter 11

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