With the last rays of sun dying in the glare of the rising moon Vin led the way toward Murray's ranch.
He was frustrated that he hadn't found any weaknesses in the ranch's perimeter that would help.
But Chris and Ezra's plan was sound it was the odds that concerned Vin.
It wasn't that they hadn't faced greater odds before. They had and had beaten them.
This time just felt different somehow.
A tap on his shoulder jerked Vin from his thoughts.
"Time for phase one."Chris ordered nodding toward the looming buildings.
The tracker nodded and kicked his horse into a gallop.
+ + + + + + +
Richard Murray glanced up from his dinner as Jarod entered the living room,"Grab a plate,Jarod. There's plenty left in the kitchen."
"No thanks,not hungry."Miller replied as he sat down next to his boss.
Inbetween bites of steak Murray studied the younger man. Out of all his employees Jarod had been with him the longest. Was the he relied on the most.
"Something going on I should know about?"Richard asked breaking the silence.
Miller shook his head,"No, all the horses are secured. McSwain, Shannon, and Krieg are on patrol."
"So what's bothering you?"Murray asked as he took a sip of water.
"Nothing,"Jarod replied at Murray's dubious look Miller relunantly continued,"I just don't like the fact that Hobson and Matthews came back empty handed."
Murray glanced at him fork in mid air,"Not necessarily. They confirmed that the fire was successful in destroying the McAlister woman's saloon and that the Cooper situation was under control."
"Its just that I've heard of this Larabee."Jarod replied,"He can be a real mean son of a bitch, especially when one of his gang is put at risk."
Murray chuckled,"You put far too much faith in what people say, my friend. Larabee doesn't have a gang. He's just a two bit drunk who occasionally leads a bunch of hired guns to break up a few drunken cowboys. If Larabee decides to show his face here its nothing we can't handle."
+ + + + + + +
A few feet from the southernmost fence of Murray's property Vin dismounted his horse.
Ducking under the fence, the tracker quickly covered the thirty feet of ground to his target. Crouching next to the small building Vin pulled a match from his pocket.
Despite the wind that had picked up the match caught fire quickly.
Vin quickly moved away from the small storage building which was now ablaze.
Phase one of their plan was complete.
Vin could only hope the rest of it went as smoothly.
From his vantage point behind a cluster of bushes on the east side of Murray's property Ezra waited.
His patience was rewarded when cries of alarm rose from the cowboys throughout the ranch.
"Control it before it gets to the barns!"
The conman smiled as he stepped away from his cover. It appeared Vin had done his part now Ezra had to use that distraction to do his.
Standish ducked quickly under the fence and headed toward the main house.
Thirty feet from the main house Ezra spotted the first barn. Darting a glance over his shoulder to make sure the coast was clear Ezra pulled the heavy door open and stepped inside.
The seventeen horses stabled inside began to paw at the ground and whinny at the stranger's entrance.
"Easy,my friends."Ezra said softly,"You're about to gain your freedom."
+ + + + + + +
JD felt like he was about to crawl out of his skin.
Funny, he had never understood that expression untill now.
It wasn't fear....he had been afraid at the Semoile village. This was something different that he couldn't quite put his finger on.
He just knew that if they didn't do something, anything within the next five minutes he was going to go crazy.
The young sheriff glanced at Chris and Buck who flanked him on ethier side. Neither had said more than five words since they had got into position on the west side of the Murray property.
"This is taking too long."JD muttered as he took a annoyed swipe at a few bangs that had fallen free of his bowler hat.
Buck glanced at him,"Hasn't been that long. Should be seein' Vin's signal any minute now."
JD was about to reply when Chris held up his right hand,"There's phase one, let's move."
JD watched the flames engulf the small building for a few seconds before scrambling under the fence to catch up with Buck and Chris.
+ + + + + + +
Over the thunder of hooves of the exiting horses Ezra could hear gunshots.
The conman doublechecked his ammunition before quickly exiting the barn. He was barely two feet from the barn before a bullet whizzed by his ear. Ezra fired off a shot in the general direction he thought the shot had come from and dove to the ground.
He didn't stay there long however as he lept to his feet and took cover by the left side of the barn.
As his green eyes scanned the surrounding darkness for Chris's signal Ezra heard footsteps behind him.
+ + + + + + + ********************************************************
"When was the last time you ate anything?"Nathan asked quietly as he approached Josiah.
Sanchez shook his head wearily as he leaned back in the chair,"I'm alright,Nathan."He studied his friend for a moment,"Why don't you get some rest? I'll look after the Judge."
Jackson shook his head as he leaned against the corner of the dresser,"I'm used to goin' on no sleep."
After pulling the blanket up farther around Orin's shoulders Mary stood and leaned against the wall by the window. Her blue eyes found Josiah's weary face.
"Did Chris say when they'd be back?"The young widow asked softly.
Josiah shook his head,"Might be a few days. They were going after the man who framed JD."
+ + + + + + +
"What's going on out there,Jarod?"Richard Murray asked as both men rose from the table as the ranchhands shouts drifted into the house.
Miller shrugged as he scurried to look out the front window,"Looks like a fire started in one of the storage buildings."
Murray nodded,"Well go help them contain it before it costs me more than supplies."
Jarod nodded,"Yes,Sir."He replied as he quickly left the house.
Richard stepped forward to look out the window. It was only then that he heard the gunshots. Only then could he see the signs of a battle being waged in his front yard.
Murray smiled as he turned and sat back down to finish his dinner,/This might turn out to be an interesting evening after all./
+ + + + + + +
/I'm gettin' too old for this./ Buck Wilmington thought wryily as the trio moved along the right side of Murray's property.
They had only made it ten feet from the fence when Murray's cowboy's realized the fire was a distraction. They split up, half moving to douse the flames and the other spreading out to find the intruders.
The only advantage that Buck could see they had was Murray's group didn't know how many they were fightin'.
Buck could only hope they wouldn't find out untill Ezra took care of his part of the plan.
"Ezra better hurry up."Buck muttered to Chris as the three of them dove for cover behind a small wagon.
Larabee leveled his gun and fired several shots before ducking back down as a new barrage of gunfire found its mark,"Relax,Buck,everything will go as planned."
Buck glared at him,"Has anything ever gone as planned with us?"
"Sure it has."Chris replied as Buck returned fire.
"Name once."Buck asked as he slid back behind the wagon.
"Well there was that time in Sweetwater...."Chris replied as he peered over the wagon's edge trying to find Murray's gang in the darkness.
Buck scoffed,"Sweetwater?! The wagon we were protectin' broke an axle. On top of that Ezra nearly got himself hung for tryin' to con the local blacksmith out of the deed to his gold mine."
Chris glanced to his left,"JD, help me out here. I know there was at least once......"The blond man trailed off when he realized the youth wasn't with them.
"Damn!"Buck swore as he moved away from the cover of the wagon to scan the area around them,"Now where the hell did he go?"