Murray's eyes flashed dangerously as he lept from the chair and threw JD against the wall next to the fireplace.
JD's gun clattered to the floor.
"No one,"Richard stated as he pressed his forearm hard against JD's windpipe,"Comes into my home and attacks me. Especially a young pup playing Sheriff."
From somewhere JD found the strength to push Murray away.
Caught off guard by the sudden move Murray toppled backwards several feet crashing into a chair.
In one move JD reached down and grabbed his gun as he moved away from the wall.
"Do you even think about the little girl who lost her life that day?!"JD asked as he cocked the hammer back as he walked toward Murray.
Murray slowly got to his feet,"That was an unfortunate accident."
JD shook his head,"It wasn't an accident. If you hadn't decided to rob the bank she'd still be alive! That little girl deserved to live and I'm going to give her justice by ending your worthless life!"
"I didn't kill her."Murray protested as JD pressed the gun against Murray's head.
"That's not how I see it."JD replied as he slowly pulled the trigger back.
"JD."Buck called as he stepped into the room Chris right behind him,"Don't do this. He's not worth it."
JD kept his attention on Murray,"Stay out of this,Buck."
"No."Buck replied as he came to stand to the left of the chair Murray had been sitting in earlier,"I'm not going to stand by and let you throw your life away."
"Who gets to choose,Buck?"JD asked softly as he pushed Murray into the center of the room.
Buck glanced at Chris before repling,"Choose what,JD?"He asked as he took a step toward the pair.
"Who lives and who dies."JD said as he moved the gun from Murray's head to his chest,"Why did that girl die and I get to live?"
Buck frowned,he had to get the kid out of here,"JD....."
The youth ignored him turning his attention to his hero,"Do you have an answer,Chris? Why did my Mother die? Why did that little girl loose her life? Why did you loose your family?"
Chris stepped forward,"I wish I knew,JD."He replied softly,"I've been asking myself that question for three years. Its why I nearly killed myself by the bottle. Don't let his mistake darken your soul,JD. You can still walk away from this."
Larabee's words seemed to penetrate the rage that JD was trying futilely to keep in check. The youth faltered for a moment removing his attention from Murray to Chris.
That was all the opportunity Murray needed.
Before Chris or Buck could react Murray snatched JD's gun from his hand and moved around JD so he had the youth in a vice grip with the weapon pointed at JD's head.
Buck's eyes narrowed sharply,"That was a mistake,Murray."
"Perhaps."Richard Murray replied as he tightened his grip on the youth's throat,"But your friend is my passage to freedom."
Larabee kept his gun trained on Murray,"You think we came here alone,Murray? You won't get two feet out that door without a bullet in your brain."
Wilmington took a few steps forward hating the fear that was in JD's hazel eyes,"Let the boy go,Murray. You won't hang for robbery but you will for murder."
Murray ignored Wilmington as he dragged a struggling JD toward the front door. Once there Murray tried to shove JD into the room, but JD whirled around and grabbed Murray's wrist.
Unfortunately it was the hand that held the gun.
By the time JD regained his balance Murray had a grip on the gun also.
Murray's hand on top of JD's both claiming the right to the weapon.
JD's left hand reached for the barrel of the gun trying to point it away from both of them.
At that moment the gun went off.
"JD!"Buck shouted as he and Chris rushed forward.
Wilmington could only watch helplessly as both men stiffened and fell to the floor.
Murray landing on top of JD.
"JD?"Buck called anxiously as he knelt next to the youth. Dunne's face was pale and his eyes were tightly closed.
Chris kicked the gun away and pulled Murray's still form off of JD. It was then that Larabee saw the blood.
It was Murray who had been shot,not JD.
"Buck!"Chris called gaining his old friend's attention,"The bullet hit Murray."
/Thank God./Buck thought as he looked back down at JD. The youth's eyes were still tightly closed but his color was starting to return.
"JD?"Buck asked softly as he eased the youth into a sitting position against the wall,"Son,its Buck. Everything is alright. Its over. Its all finally over."
Several long moments passed but JD finally opened his eyes. They focused on Buck for a moment before landing on Larabee.
"He dead?"JD asked in a hoarse whisper as he looked down at the blood on his shirt.
Chris shook his head,"Looks like a flesh wound,bullet hit his leg and went through."
Everyone glanced up as Vin and Ezra raced into the house guns raised.
"Everyone alright?"Tanner asked quietly as he looked from Murray's still form to JD and back again.
Chris nodded,"Everyone's fine. How are things on your end?"
Ezra lowered his gun,"All of Mr. Murray's accomplices were accounted for and are now residing in the locked servant's quarters."
"Good."Chris replied as he hauled Murray to his feet,"Let's get out of here."
Two days later Ezra Standish found Colleen McAlister sweeping away debris in what remained of her saloon.
The gambler gingerly stepped over a batch of broken glass as he walked to the center of the room,"Should you be here?"
Colleen glanced up as she leaned the broom against one of the remaining tables,"Have to start cleaning up sometime,Mr. Standish. Most of the fire was contained to the back of the building and the second floor so it was safe for me to start cleaning up in here."
"So you are planning to rebuild then?"Ezra asked.
Colleen nodded,"As you said earlier, Mr. Standish this city does have possibilities. My father knew that when he came here the least I can do is stay and make sure his dream is a success."
Ezra took off his red suit jacket and picked up a spare broom that was leaning against the wall,"Let me offer my assistance."
"I thought you and your friends were leaving today?"Colleen asked as she walked toward him.
Ezra smiled,"Trying to get rid of me?"
Colleen returned his smile,"No,just trying to keep the facts straight."
On impulse Ezra reached up and gently brushed a stray brown hair away from her face,"According to Mr. Larabee we leave this afternoon."
"I heard about the shootout at Murray's."Colleen replied as she took a step away from Ezra,"Is your friend alright?"
A shadow crossed Ezra's face as he thought of the ordeal JD had been through.No one should suffer needlessly,"Mr. Dunne is as well as can be expected."
Colleen nodded as she turned and moved toward the bar,"That's good to hear."She commented as walked behind the bar and pulled out a hammer and a box of nails,"Since you have a few hours to kill how about putting your self to good use?"
Ezra tipped his hat back on his head as he studied her,"My offer of assistance still stands,Miss McAlister."
Colleen smiled as she picked up the hammer and nails and walked out from behind the bar,"Good,because I could use some help repairing the stair case."
+ + + + + + +
"So how's the Judge doin'?"Vin Tanner asked as Chris Larabee entered the Sheriff office holding a telegram.
Larabee set the piece of yellow paper down on the desk,"Mary says he's going to be fine. He's already up on his feet."
Vin smiled as he leaned forward leaning his hands on the desk,"Sounds like the Judge. He know about Murray?"
Chris nodded,"Yeah,Josiah filled them in. As soon as we get back JD's going to get a full pardon."
"I'm glad this mess is finally over."Vin replied as he stood,"Where is JD anyway? I haven't seen him all morning."
Chris leaned against the desk,"All he said was he had some things to take care of before we left."
+ + + + + + +
JD paused at the entrance to the small cemetery on the edge of town. He had expected it to be deserted but the figure he saw by Marilyn Cooper's grave stopped him in his tracks.
The man didn't scare him,not anymore......JD just didn't know what to say.
Cooper had nearly killed him,but he hadn't been in his right mind. Had been overwhelmed with grief.
Grief that JD helped cause.
JD cleared his throat as he stepped forward,"I'd trade places with her if I could."The youth said quietly as he stopped at the foot of the grave.
Cooper glanced at him briefly before returning his attention to the small headstone,"If it was anyone's fault it was mine. I should've watched her more closely that day. Maybe if I had left the dog at the ranch....."
JD shook his head,"The only one to blame here is Murray."
Cooper turned to face him,"I heard you and your friends brought him down off his high horse."
The youth nodded,"I just wish we could have connected him to her death. Twenty years for robbery doesn't seem nearly enough."
For the first time Cooper noticed the small bouquet of flowers in JD's hand,"Those for her?"He asked softly.
JD jumped slightly as he glanced down at the small group of wild flowers. He had almost forgotten them.
"Yes."Dunne replied as he knelt down and placed them gently on the grave,"I know its not much but I thought it would...."
"Its a wonderful gesture."Cooper interupted as he placed a hand on JD's shoulder,"Considering all I put you through. If I were in your place I would've left town and never looked back."
JD shook his head,"I couldn't leave without making things right. Or at least as much as I could."
Cooper held out his hand,"Please pass along my thanks to your friends. This town wether it admits it or not is in their debt."
"I'll tell 'em."JD replied quietly as he shook Cooper's hand before turning and leaving the cemetery.
+ + + + + + +
Buck Wilmington stepped off the sidewalk in front of the hotel as he saw JD ride back into town.
"You okay,kid?"Buck asked quietly as JD dismounted.
Dunne nodded as he tethered the black horse,"I will be."
"Good."Buck replied as he leaned against the post,"Chris said we'll leave in a couple hours."
"Okay."JD commented before turning to face his friend,"Buck?"
"Thanks for not giving up on me."JD replied quietly.
"Anytime,son,anytime."Buck stated as he slapped the youth on the shoulder,"Besides if we lost you Ezra wouldn't have anybody to beat at poker."
JD glared at his friend,"He doesn't beat me."
Buck laughed as they walked into the hotel,"Name one time you won and not playin' for money doesn't count."