Ezra shoved Colleen behind him to protect her from the sparks as Vin threw his arms over his head to protect his face.
Tanner studied the burning wood. It had landed at a ninety degree angle wedging itself between the railing and the wall completely cutting off Vin from Ezra and Colleen.
+ + + + + + +
/I'm getting too old for this./Josiah thought ruefully as the trio rode hard for Coral Canyon.
Every bump in the trail reminded Josiah of the bullet wound in his left side. Nathan had done his best to patch up the wound with the little time he had to do it in.
Josiah sent off a silent prayer, hoping that HE would watch over JD until they arrived.
+ + + + + + +
An ominous creaking from the wooden ceiling spurred Vin into motion. The tracker opened his mouth to speak, but his voice was strangled by the thick smoke.
Vin blinked water from his eyes as he struggled to regain his voice enough to speak.
He had to warn Ezra and Colleen.
Finally his throat cleared and he took a step forward,"Ezra, get her out of here! The roof's going to go at any minute!"
The gambler's green gaze instantly went to the ceiling above him then back to his friend,"Mr. Tanner, surely there's a way for all of us to...."
Vin shook his head,"No time to argue,Ezra. Get her to safety, I'll find a way out."
A burning piece of wood about the size of a shingle broke free of the roof and landed at Ezra's feet. His mother had taught him a long time ago how to read the odds of any situation.
If they were going to swing the odds in their favor he would have to get Colleen to safety.
Even if it ment leaving his friend behind.
Across the burning barricade Vin saw the gambler hesitate,"Go!"He shouted ignoring the smoke that threatened to clog his lungs.
Ezra turned and grabbed Colleen's right arm forcing her to turn around.
Colleen stopped and looked back at Vin,"You can't possibly be thinking of leaving him here?!"She demanded as she broke free of Ezra's grasp.
Ezra glared at her slightly,"I am doing nothing of the sort, but we are of no help to Mr. Tanner if we perish ourselves."
Colleen glanced back at Vin to see he had turned and started down the hallway in the opposite direction. She turned back to Ezra and allowed him to lead the way back to the storeroom.
+ + + + + + +
As soon as they were on the roof near the makeshift ladder of crates Ezra ripped off his handkerchief mask allowing fresh air to flood his burning lungs.
Colleen was standing next to him.
No, she was on her knees, head bowed, eyes tightly closed.
Without speaking Ezra gently placed a hand on her shoulder and helped her rise to her feet. He could feel the heat on his back and knew they were not out of danger yet.
Colleen started to back down the ladder but nearly fell as a coughing spasm racked her small frame.
Ezra quickly reached down to steady her,"Can you make it the rest of the way?"the gambler asked quietly,"Its only a few more steps."
The brown haired woman nodded tightly as she completed the journey down the ladder.
A few minutes later Ezra joined her on solid ground. He glanced back at the second floor and saw that the flames had now consumed nearly three fourths of the area.
Over Colleen's head Ezra saw the faint rays of dawn just beginning to color the sky.
Time was running out.
For both JD and Vin.
"Are you alright,Colleen?"The man Vin and Ezra had encountered earlier asked anxiously as he scurried over to the pair.
Colleen nodded as she placed a hand on the man's right arm,"I'm alright, Michael. Thanks to Mr. Standish and his friend. They're both quite the hero."
Michael nodded as he turned his attention to Ezra,"Mr. Tanner asked me to gather as many townspeople as I could. Unfortunately four was as many as I could rouse out of bed at this hour. For what its worth they've formed a fire brigade out front....."
Ezra tuned the man out as he recalled Colleen's words.
He wasn't a hero, never claimed to be.
This town may have cost them JD, but Ezra refused to loose another friend to it.
Squaring his shoulders he headed back toward the makeshift ladder of crates, ignoring Colleen's inquires.
+ + + + + + +
Vin Tanner was beginning to hate smoke.
He had made his bandanna into a mask in an attempt to keep the smoke out of his lungs.
But the makeshift mask did nothing to protect his eyes. The smoke was making them water so badly he could barely see where he was going let alone which door led to freedom.
Vin estimated he was about twenty feet from where the barricade had cut him off from Ezra and Colleen. He knew he was rapidly running out of time.
He didn't need to see to know the fire was close at his heels. He had to find a way out now or he'd never find a way out.
The tracker stopped at the next door and turned the handle, praying it wasn't a closet. Once inside the small room Vin used the back of his sleeve to clear his vision.
The room he had stumbled into appeared to be a small office. A oak desk sat against the left wall and a short bookcase lined the right.
Vin looked out the window and realized the roof he and Ezra had used to get in didn't reach this far.
With no other choice Vin picked up the desk chair and smashed the window. Not bothering to clear away the shards of glass Vin grabbed a hold of the window sill and vaulted out.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was two steps away from the makeshift ladder of crates when the second floor collapsed in a brilliant burst of sparks and debris.
The walls surrounding the first floor shuddered violently but didn't fall.
The gambler threw his hands over his head to protect himself from the falling wood and glass.
Once the dust cleared Ezra glanced behind him and saw Michael helping Colleen to her feet.
Satisfied that they were unhurt Ezra scrambled to his feet. His green eyes scanned the rubble looking for any signs of movement.
All that greeted him was the dancing of the flames.
Ezra turned at Colleen's voice,"Are you alright?"
Colleen nodded but a movement behind Ezra interrupted her reply.
Ezra caught the look on her face and glanced over his shoulder.
"This town always this lively?"Vin Tanner asked as he walked toward them brushing ash off his jacket.
Relief washed over Ezra as he approached his friend,"Mr. Tanner, you have more lives than a cat."
Vin smiled grimly as he took off his hat in a futile attempt to shake it free of ash,"I think I just lost a few."He glanced back at Colleen,"Everyone alright?"
Ezra nodded as he gestured toward the main street,"Yes, and I suggest we vacate to higher ground before we loose the rest of this establishment."
As the three quickly made their way out of the alley and toward the small group that was valiantly trying to put out the fire Michael pulled Ezra aside.
"I just wanted to thankyou for saving Colleen,"The older man said quietly as he gestured toward the darkened houses that surrounded the saloon,"The Murray gang has this town under such a cloud of fear that they wouldn't move to save a family member let alone a neighbor."
Ezra nodded,"I am just glad that we were able to be of assistance. How long have you lived in Coral Canyon Mr.?"
"Anderson, Michael Anderson. I've lived here about six years."
"Were you here about a week ago?"Ezra asked.
Anderson picked up on Standish's train of thought,"When that poor child was killed? Yes I was. I unfortunately had a front row seat to the whole debacle. It was my bank they decided to rob that day."
Ezra's eyes lit up,"You own the bank?"
Anderson shook his head,"Forgive me I phrased that poorly. I don't own the bank Mr. Peterson does, I'm the clerk."
Ezra glanced behind him and saw Vin working with the fire brigade the gambler quickly caught the tracker's attention and motioned him to join them.
Once Vin had joined the two men Ezra turned back to Michael Anderson,"Now Mr. Anderson tell us exactly what happened that day and don't leave anything out. No matter how small it seems."
Anderson looked at them warily,"Why are you so interested in a little girl's death?"
"A friend of ours was falsely accused of her murder,"Vin replied quietly,"He's going to hang tomorrow if you don't tell us everything that happened."