Vin threw himself against the wall of the barn to avoid being shot by the bullet that flew from Ezra's derringer.
Tanner glared at the gambler,"Don't you look before you shoot somebody?"
Ezra smiled grimly as he moved his gun away from Vin,"My apologies, some habits die hard. One of the first things my mother taught me was that if someone's coming from behind they're ethier going to steal your wallet or stab you in the back....better to shoot first and worry about the consequences later."
Vin shook his head,"I'll remember not to sneak up on you."
Ezra turned his attention back to the gunfight,"Might be a wise idea."
"Have you seen Chris?"The tracker asked as he reloaded his rifle.
Ezra nodded as he ducked another bullet that hit a little too close to home,"I have not seen Mr. Larabee per say but he is making his presence heard quite clearly."
Vin fired three shots to give them some cover,"Let's head toward the main house. See if we can circle the wagons around these cowboys."
Ezra nodded in acknowledgment and moved away from the barn.
+ + + + + + +
Before Chris could say anything Buck started to double back to the fence where they had come in.
Wilmington was half hoping they'd find the kid lying in the mud with a bullet wound.
The other option Buck didn't want to think about at the moment.
He had thought he had taught the kid better than to challenge an enemy on his own terf.
But his gut was tellin' him that's where JD was.
"Find anything?"Chris asked as he came to a stop next to the fence.
Buck shook his head as he turned to look at the main house,"Knew I should have handcuffed him to a post somewhere."
Chris glanced at his old friend,"He would have come anyway and you know it. He's going to have some backup if he wants it or not. Let's go."
+ + + + + + +
Twenty feet from the growing fire at the storage building Vin and Ezra spotted the first group of cowboys.
They were only eight in number but they still outnumbered Vin and Ezra.
Not that it mattered.
Ezra tapped Tanner on his shoulder while gesturing to four cowboys closest to the building,"I believe those four are intoxicated."
Vin smiled,"That'll make this easier."
As part of the plan they had discussed earlier Vin hugged the shadows as he worked his way to the opposite side staying close to the fence as he made his way around the small group.
Ezra stepped into the light making sure all of the cowboys could see him. He put on his most winning smile,"Gentlemen, it looks like you could use a hand."
One cowboy, a man in his mid-twenties with shoulder length blond hair lunged forward grabbing Ezra by the right arm dragging him forward.
"Who the hell are you?!"The man demanded as he leveled his revolver at Ezra's head.
Standish merely smiled as he glanced at the group who had stopped their attempt at putting out the fire to come to their friend's aide,"A friend offering assistance to your firey circumstance."
The blond man shook his head,"I ain't never seen you before so you're no friend of ours."
"Maybe not,"Vin Tanner said as he stepped out of the shadows his rifle raised,"But he's a friend of mine so I suggest you let him go."
+ + + + + + +
JD paused on Murray's back porch as a wave of dizziness washed over him. He steadied himself against the wall as he closed his eyes for a moment.
/This is not the time to loose it./JD chidded himself as he raised his head.
Once the lightheadedness passed JD double checked his ammunition before quietly entering the house through the back door.
He winced as the wooden door creaked loudly as it closed.
JD glanced around the small kitchen and relaxed slightly when no one came in to investigate the noise.
As he walked around a huge oak counter JD paused not sure which way to go. To his right was a small hallway that led to a cooking area that contained a large fireplace and a small wooden door beyond that JD assumed led to the outside or a pantry.
To his left was another corridor that after a few feet wrapped around a corner of the wall and in the dark the youth couldn't tell what was on the other side.
/Only one way to find out./JD thought as he started to walk around the corner.
About ten feet down JD found another wooden door. This one didn't have a doorknob but swung back and forth easily under his touch.
Obviously built to allow the kitchen help easier access to the main part of the house.
Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves JD pushed the door inward. Once inside the large room he saw a fire burning in a small fireplace on the left wall. As his eyes adjusted to the light he saw a dark haired man sitting in a high backed leather chair to the right of the fireplace.
"Come in, Mr. Dunne."Richard Murray said quietly as he took a sip of whiskey,"I've been expecting you."
+ + + + + + +
The cowboy with the gun at Ezra's head chuckled at Vin's threat,"You and what army,boy?"He gestured to his friends who now had their guns drawn,"As I see it we got you outnumbered so you best turn around and go on home."
Vin stepped forward,"Not till you let him go."
Three of the other ranch hands moved forward and surrounded Vin.
Suddenly the sound of three more gun hammers pulling back ricocheted through the darkness.
Vin didn't have to turn around to know who it was.
"I believe he asked you nicely."Chris Larabee stated as he and Buck stepped out of the shadows to flank Vin, both with gun's drawn.
Wilmington nodded in agreement as he stepped forward,"I think it would be in your best interest to put down your guns."
+ + + + + + +
Murray turned to face JD as he set the crystal glass down on a small table,"Please, have a seat. Would you like some whiskey? Or I might have something else more to your taste."
For a long moment JD didn't move. He just stood there staring at the man who had turned his life upside down.
The man who had taken a little girl's life and now was sitting by a fireplace as if nothing had happened.
In a voice more calm than he felt JD leveled his gun at Murray and said,"Richard Murray,you're under arrest for robbery."
JD wished he could have said murder but there wasn't enough evidence to connect Murray to Marilyn Cooper's death.
Murray was there and in charge of the bank robbery but unless Murray confessed to ordering the man to fire there was nothing JD could arrest him on.
Murray stood and knelt in front of the fire place. He calmly took a small metal rod and poked the fire. The embers sizzled and popped before the flames came to life again.
"You are mistaken my young friend."Murray replied as he stood and retook his seat,"I never robbed anyone."
JD blinked as he stepped forward,"I think the people who had money in the Coral Canyon bank would dispute that."
Murray shook his head,"I never robbed anyone. I was only taking what was mine."
"That wasn't your money."JD replied.
Richard smiled,"Yes,my friend,it was. You see the people of Coral Canyon and I had an agreement. Each month they would pay me a small amount of money to ensure their protection."
JD's eyes narrowed at Murray's statement,"They stopped paying so you decided to take it from them."
Murray nodded as he picked up his glass of whiskey and took another swallow,"Yes,that's a rather harsh way to put it but that's what happened."
Before JD knew what he was doing he lunged forward and slapped the glass out of Murray's hand.
The glass smashed against the brick fireplace in a million pieces.
+ + + + + + +
With the cowboy momentarily distracted by Chris's sudden appearance, Ezra punched the man hard in the stomach.
The cowboy doubled over in pain as Ezra ducked away from his arm and moved behind him. The gambler grabbed the ranchhand's wrist and yanked it behind his back forcing the younger man to drop the gun.
"Your timing is impeccable as always,Mr. Larabee."Ezra commented as he shoved the blond cowboy toward Vin and the others.
Buck walked toward the conman,"Ezra,you think you can handle these yahoo's on your own?"
Standish glared at his friend slightly,"Yes I believe I can handle these gentlemen. Is there another pressing matter you need to attend to?"
Buck's eyes flew to the well lit main house,"Yeah, keepin' JD from gettin' himself killed."
Before Ezra could reply Buck turned and disappeared into the darkness.
Chris turned and looked at Vin,"Vin,stay here and see if you two can find the rest of Murray's men. I don't want him to be able to call on any backup."
Tanner nodded before turning away to help Ezra.