Tanner nodded,"I've never seen a fire spread that fast. Ezra and I almost didn't get Colleen out of there before the roof fell in."
Larabee glanced at the remanents of Cooper's gang clustered in the two jail cells,"She have any idea who would want to burn her out?"
Vin shook his head,"She didn't name any names but she didn't hide her distaste for Murray."
Chris nodded as he turned to look out the window,"Murray definitely has this town under a cloud of fear."
Vin stood,"If we go after Murray we can kill two birds with one stone. Clear JD's name and give this town a new lease on life."
+ + + + + + +
"Put some more muscle into it!"Richard Murray shouted as he sat on the top of coral,"This isn't a kitten you're tryin' to ride!"
The sandy haired man in his late teens glared at his boss as he wiped sweat from his brow. Even though the sun had just started to peak over the horizon it was already promising to be another hot day.
The sandy haired cowboy stiffled a sigh before turning his attention back to the white horse he was trying to break in.
Jarod Miller came to stand at the left of Murray,"Isn't it a little early for this?"
Murray grinned his gaze never leaving the wild horse,"You know my motto Miller, 'You waste daylight you waste money' and you know how I hate to waste money."
Jarod absently tipped his hat back as he leaned against the fence,"Heard from our contact in town."
"How are things in beautiful Coral Canyon?"Murray asked.
"Quiet for now,"Jarod replied,"Larabee's peacekeeper's showed up and prevented Cooper from killin' the kid sheriff."
"Should we be concerned about this?"Murray replied.
Miller shrugged,"I don't think they're a threat to us but we should keep an eye on them."
Murray nodded absently,"Send Hobson and Matthews into town,I think we need a few supplies."
"Right."Miller replied as he climbed down off the fence and headed back to the main house.
+ + + + + + +
A frown crossed Buck's face as he watched JD sleep.
The kid had regained conscienceness about a half hour before but had quickly fallen asleep.
Wilmington barely recognized the younger man. JD's face was thin and drawn from lack of nourishment. His skin pale from being cooped up inside for days on end.
The noose Cooper had put around the kid's neck had created a nasty purple and black bruise which stood out harshly against JD's pale skin.
Buck sighed wearily as he glanced around the empty room. Josiah had left earlier to make sure Colleen and Anderson were staying somewhere safe and to wire Mary about the outcome of their dealings with Cooper.
Wilmington stood and walked slowly over to the small window. Wind whistled through the broken glass where the rock had smashed through the night before.
/This town sure had a lot of fear in it/Buck thought sadly as he glanced out at the virtually empty street,/Though Four Corners was pretty much the same way before Chris pulled the Seven together. Hopefully they could do the same for this little town./
Buck turned his attention back to JD as he returned to his seat in the small chair.
The gunslinger pulled the plaid blanket up around the kid's shoulders before settling back into the chair.
He wasn't sure when but JD had become as much a part of Buck's family as Chris was.
Buck couldn't picture his life without ethier one of them.
"You just rest,kid."Buck said softly,"Ol' Buck will take care of everything."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra Standish stood looking at the burned ruins of Coral Canyon's saloon with sadness.
It was a shame that such a wonderful establishment had to fall under such unruly circumstances.
But more than that Ezra knew that this place had been more than Colleen's livelihood it had been her connection to her father.
Things like that couldn't be rebuilt.
"Recalling your brush with a fiery death,Mr. Standish?"Colleen McAlister asked with a grim smile as she came to stand at Ezra's left.
"Hardly."Ezra replied as he turned to face her,"I was thinking of you actually."
Colleen raised an eyebrow as she looked from the rubble to the conman and back again,"I've been compared to a lot of things,Mr. Standish, but burnt wood is a new one."
Ezra couldn't help but chuckle as he shook his head,"On the contrary Ms. McAlister,I was merely wondering if you were going to rebuild this establishment. And there are far more beautiful things one could compare a lovely lady such as yourself too but they would fail in comparison to your beauty."
Colleen blushed slightly before turning her attention back to her father's saloon,"This place was more my father's dream than my own. I'm not sure if rebuilding is the best idea."
"This town does have quite a bit of potential."Ezra replied,"It would be a shame to see such a worthy opportunity go to waste."
Colleen shook her head bitterly,"There's no opportunity as long as Richard Murray has his grubby little paws on this town's lifeline."
Ezra smiled,"Oh I have a feeling Mr. Larabee may want to do something about that."
+ + + + + + +
Josiah Sanchez entered the sheriff's office relieved to see Chris was still there.
"Something wrong,Josiah?"Larabee asked seeing the troubled expression on the big man's face.
The former preacher crossed the room while saying,"I'm afraid our situation just got a bit more complicated."
Chris took the yellow telegram from his friend and silently began to read the short message from Mary.
Larabee glanced at Vin,"Gather the others. I want a meeting here in ten minutes."
Without asking a single question the tracker stood and left the building.
+ + + + + + +
Buck glanced up at the soft knock at the door. The gunslinger looked back at the youth and saw he was still asleep.
Standing Buck walked over to the door and opened it to reveal Vin.
"Vin."Wilmington said in greeting as he stepped back allowing the younger man to enter the room.
Tanner looked past Buck to JD's still form his brown eyes dark with sadness,"How's he doin'?"He asked softly.
Buck sighed wearily as he rubbed a hand over the back of his neck,"He's asleep, probably the best thing for him right now."He looked back at the tracker,"Why do I have the feeling Chris didn't send you here for a progress report?"
Vin shook his head,"Chris wants a meetin' at the jail in ten minutes."
Buck heard something in Tanner's voice,"Somethin' change?"
Vin shrugged,"Josiah brought Chris a telegram a few minutes ago."
"What'd it say?"Buck asked.
Vin shook his head,"Don't know but from the look on Chris's face its not good news."
Buck glanced back at JD's still form,"I don't want to leave the kid alone. He hasn't really woken up yet."
Vin nodded,"I think we can arrange for Collen to sit with him while you're gone."
+ + + + + + +
Ten minutes later five men gathered in Coral Canyon sheriff's office.
"What's goin' on, Chris?"Buck asked impatiently breaking the silence.
Larabee glanced at his old friend standing by the doorway as he held up the telegram Josiah had brought him earlier,"Got a wire from Mary. The Judge is sick, Nathan thinks he might have been poisoned."
"Cooper?"Ezra asked from his spot by the window his green eyes flicking over to the group of men in the jail.
"A man like the Judge could have a number of enemies."Josiah interjected softly.
Chris nodded,"Could be, Josiah, but the timin's just too coincidental for my taste."
"Thought we were goin' after Murray?"Buck asked seeing where his old friend was headed.
Chris nodded,"We are, but the Judge's time is runnin' out. We need to find Cooper first."
"Shouldn't be too hard."Vin replied quietly,"He hasn't left town yet."
+ + + + + + +
It turned out Vin's theory had been correct. Martin Cooper had been very easy to track down.
After inquires at the General Store and the church they found Cooper sitting alone in the nearly deserted hotel bar drinking whiskey.
With a pointedly warning look toward Buck, Chris motioned for the others to stay back while he approached Cooper.
More than anyone else of the group Chris knew what the man was feeling. He knew what it was like to loose your soul to a bottle.