The two men followed the meandering river's edge while Chris looked for a good spot to cross. The river was wide here as it carved it's way through the banks of the sandstone plateau. It's broad span giving the false impression of slow drifting water, but Chris had crossed it enough times in his life not to be fooled by appearances.
JD gazed over the large expanse of water in front of him. Normally the others would be holding him back from charging across first, but tonight his energy level was depleted and this was a challenge he felt ill prepared for.
"JD...snap out of it! We're running out of light...get ready!" Chris stepped off Pony and loosened his cinch so it wouldn't cut into the horse's oxygen supply when he was in the deep-water swimming.
JD did the same to Windy's cinch and then made sure everything on his saddle was tied down well. He contemplated taking his boots off and hanging them over his saddle horn, but they wouldn't stay any drier there than on his feet. JD climbed onto a large rock so he wouldn't have to put any weight in his stirrup and swung his leg over the stallion's back and waited for Chris's signal to go.
Chris urged Pony down the river's bank and into the water; Windy half reared then reluctantly followed Pony into the water.
Both men sucked in their breath as the cold water rose up their pant legs, then over their waist's. The horses stuck their noses out of the water and propelled themselves forward with strong strokes. The buoyancy of the water lifted the men off their saddles, so both hung on to the saddle horn's to stay over top of their mounts and away from their horse's kicking feet.
Chris watched the shore line on the other side slowly come closer, but the pull of the currant had them drifting downstream faster then he thought it would. The horses had to work hard to keep going in the direction of the far bank.
Half way across Pony had dropped back behind Windy as the powerful stallion surged ahead with each stroke. He could feel his gallant little black horse start to tire and falter somewhat under him. Chris was just starting to think about slipping off Pony and swimming himself when he noticed the large black object bearing down on the horse in front of him.
"JD...on your left!!!" Chris hollered out.
JD turned in time to see the half sunken deadhead drift right at him. Neither the young man nor horse had time to respond as the log butt-ended the horse in the shoulder; pushing them under the water and sweeping over them.
The depths of the river sucked at them, dragging them down into its murky blackness. The dark shadow of the slightly submerged log floated above them, with its long branches reaching out like tentacles. Windy spiraled down towards the river floor, dragging JD down with him. With his lungs bursting JD kicked as hard as he could with his feet to slow their decent and yanked on the reins he still had in his hands, trying to pull the horse upwards.
JD felt the reins in his hands go slack as Windy finally stopped sinking. Kicking his feet JD rose towards the surface, fighting against the swirling currant, but the log still floated directly above him, the currant pulling them in the same direction. With strong swimming strokes JD angled away from the tree, tugging on Windy's reins as he swam so the horse would follow. He was just to break the surface when his coat snagged on a branch. Panicking, JD fought to break loose, but his weight starting slowly rotating the tree, and he was again dragged deeper under the water as the log rolled over on top of him. He still struggled as the river's cold hands wrapped themselves around his throat and he felt his last bit of life being squeezed out of him.
Excruciating pain suddenly radiated up JD's arm, as Windy swam over top of him to reach the river's surface catching the kid with a violent kick when he went by. Hanging on tightly to the reins, JD was ripped from the tree's grasp and pulled upwards behind the powerful horse. JD broke through the water with a pain filled howl and fought to stay afloat against the tugging currant. JD screamed out again as the rein in his hand tightened and he was dragged along side his swimming horse. Gagging on the water rushing down his throat, he tried to move away from the trolling horse before Windy's legs came in contact with him again.
Helplessly Chris had watched as the kid and horse disappeared under the massive log. After what seemed like an eternity Windy popped to the surface, followed seconds later by JD. Chris let out a thankful sigh of relief just before hearing JD scream. Chris could see the kid was far from being out of trouble as he struggled to stay afloat.
"Chris...help...ahh...help me!" JD cried out as water washed over his face, and the currant tore at him.
Blowing water out of his nostrils, Wind floundered in the water before turning completely around and swimming back the direction they had just come from. Chris urged his tired mount after them; the shore they had been heading for was a lot closer. Chris took his lariat off his saddle horn and shook out a loop and as soon as he was close enough to the stallion tossed it over the horse's head. Wind fought against the rope, nearly sinking below the surface again, but then turned and followed Pony to the far shore. Chris could make out JD's ashen face as the kid let go of the reins and gripped a stirrup. Floating on his back he let the stallion pull him through the water.
Chris took the slack out of the rope, as Wind and Pony scrambled out of the river, both animals blowing hard as water gushed off them. He didn't trust Wind to not take off as soon as he reached solid footing and drag JD to his death.
"Let go JD...take your hand out of the stirrup!" JD hung boneless, dangling by his shoulder as he still clutched the stirrup.
Chris dismounted Pony and cautiously approached the stallion. Windy snorted as Chris drew nearer, and moved a few feet away from the man.
"JD...drop the stirrup." Chris spoke in a soft non-threatening voice as he tried again to side up closer to Wind. Again the horse nervously stepped back, placing a hoof on either side of JD and twisting the kid's arm under him.
"Ow!" JD cried out as consciousness slowly returned.
"JD...don't move around...you hear me JD...just lay still!" Chris froze, desperate to think up away to get the kid out from under the horse. He could feel Windy building up to one of his eruptions and JD was definitely in the wrong spot.
Chris slowly back away from the horse and returned to Pony. Carefully he led his horse over to stand beside the stallion; Wind sniffed noses with the other horse before gradually relaxing a little.
"JD...can you get your hand out of the stirrup and get out from under your horse without spooking him any more?"
"I think so?" JD gasped as he let go of the stirrup and fought to stay sitting upright.
"Good boy JD...your doing fine...just real slow now...scoot out on your bum!" JD wriggled out from under the horse, talking to him between hisses of pain, until he was away from the skittish animal.
Feeling drained Chris cautiously approached the stallion again, talking to him in the voice he had heard JD use on the animal hundreds of times. Tense, the animal froze while keeping a nervous eye on Chris, his muscles twitching involuntarily as water dripped down his hide and fell to the ground. Chris let Pony move beside the stallion, his presence seeming to have a quieting effect on the big horse, as he reached for the rein's dangling on the ground and hung them over Pony's saddle horn.
JD lay boneless on the shore, his body completely spent.
Swearing, Chris rushed over to Pony and removed his bedroll. The canvas tarp wrapped around it had kept most of it dry. Even if Windy would let him near, everything JD owned was soaked from they´re near drowning.
Chris turned back to JD when he heard the kid start retching up river water. Chris sat down beside him and gently rolled his head to the side so he could be sick on the ground.
"Don't apologize kid...I saw the river go down a foot with all you drank in. You hurt anywhere?"
"My arm really hurts...I think it's broke."
Chris softly pulled JD's shirtsleeve up to reveal a swollen and badly bruising forearm. JD hissed through his teeth as Chris picked it up and moved it around. "I'm going to see if I can find something to splint it with...you okay for a few minutes.
JD nodded as he closed his eyes and gritted his teeth against the throbbing pain.
Chris made his way back to where the horses were standing; he slowly picked up Windy's reins and quickly tied him to a beached log, amazed the animal hadn't already tried taking off. There was no way he would attempt removing the saddle, the horse would just have to stay tacked up until JD could take care of him. He tied Pony up near the stallion, as the two seemed to have bonded even though Pony was a gelding.
In the dimming light Chris quickly found two sticks that would do as splints, then built a fire to see by as well as use for heat.
Chris ran back down to the beach where JD still lay in the wet sand; his teeth chattering from the cold and shock. "Can you walk?"
JD weakly nodded and with Chris's help rose shakily onto wobbly legs. Awkwardly he made his way across the sand to a dry grassy area where Chris had the fire burning.
Chris propped him against a tree for support, then with fumbling fingers unbuttoned JD's shirt and vest and pulled them first away from his uninjured side. JD moaned as the cool night air hit his bare, soaked skin. Supporting his sore arm the best he could Chris then slid the wet clothing off the broken arm. JD's knees would have buckled if Chris had not been holding him up.
"Easy kid...that was the worst part." Chris threw his blanket over the kid's shoulders and led him over to where Pony's saddle lay on the ground. Gently he was lowered against the soft leather and without argument let Chris pull his wet boots and britches off.
Chris ripped up one of his shirts and used it to tie the splint to JD's arm, doing his best not to hurt the kid any more then he had to. Chris got a cup of hot coffee into JD, but the kid was asleep before the grub was ready. Chris gently moved the saddle away and laid JD down into the soft grass, pulling the blanket around to cover his chilled, naked body.
Chris forced himself to eat; he needed to keep his strength up. Then he feed the horses and brushed Pony down, he wished he could chance taking Windy's saddle off, but couldn't risk both he and JD being out of commission if the stallion decided to act up.
Clothes and blankets were strung out all around the fire to dry, as Chris sat huddled close to the fire for warmth. Last night he had been the one hurt and JD sat up, keeping watch and trying to stay warm, tonight it seemed it was Chris's turn. Chris had placed some warm rocks around JD to help keep away the night chill, careful not to place one near his sore arm in case he moved around in his sleep.
Chris felt the first tug of guilt wash over him, as he tucked the blanket under JD's chin, but just as quickly as it hit he pushed it aside. He was sorry JD got hurt, but he hadn't put the log in the water. He and JD knew at the outset this was not going to be a pleasure ride. Chris was not prepared to shoulder the responsibility for incidents that he had no control over. He knew JD had been tired before the crossing, but so had he and he could have been the one hit by the log just as easy as JD.
A thin sheen of perspiration gleamed off JD's lip as light from the campfire danced across his face, and two little wrinkles were etched in his brow from the pain. Occasionally he would mumble something and roll his head around, but otherwise laid silent and still.
Chris sat and stared at JD; he's a tough kid, he'd be able to ride in the morning after a good night sleep. Buck said he figured Chris didn't want JD riding with them at first because he reminded Chris too much of the son he had lost in a fire. Chris wasn't sure he could agree with that one, if fact he definitely disagreed. Adam had been a blond haired, blued eyed bundle of energy, while JD was a dark haired, hazel-eyed bundle of energy. Well, Chris accepted the fact they both had energy, but because of the age difference between JD and Adam when he died Chris really had no way of knowing if they would have been anything alike. Adam had been the light in Chris's life, and while JD had a lot of good qualities Chris would never except that JD and his son were alike. Chris knew Adam wouldn't get on his nerves the way JD could, but if Adam was alive maybe JD's personality wouldn't annoy Chris so bad either. Chris had taken one look at JD at the Four Corners cemetery on the day he had first arrived and pegged him as a drugstore wanna-be cowboy in a pink shirt. He had not counted on JD's tenacity or determination and loyalty, nor had be banked on the other men taking such a strong liking to the young man, especially Buck. Chris initially figured Buck would lose interest in having a young kid tagging along behind him, like a toy you play with until a newer, better one comes along, but the longer they were together the stronger the bond they built.
Like him and Vin, or any of the other men for that matter. Chris had developed friendships with these few men such as he thought he would never experience again. After Sarah and Adam died he didn't think he would have been capable of forging these kinds of relationships, but now here he was in the middle of nowhere, killing himself and JD in a stupid race in an attempt to stay together longer. If Buck had told him last year this was where Chris would be tonight, he would have said it was Buck who drank too much alcohol.
+ + + + + + +
JD woke with the sun shining in his eyes as it peaked over the crest of the canyon wall. Chris squatted beside him holding out a plate of grub. "You ready to ride in 30 minutes?" Somehow Chris made it sound more like a statement then a question.
"Yeah...can you just help me sit up first?" Chris got behind JD and pushed him into a sitting position. Black spots danced behind JD's eyelids as his head swam, and his skin broke out in a cold clammy sweat. JD made little panting noises trying to get the lightheaded sensation to pass. Chris kept his grip on the kid until he felt him relax and start breathing more normal.
"You going to be okay?" Chris asked, allowing himself to show JD some concern.
"Just a little dizzy...I don't remember eating last night, I'm probably just hungry." Chris put the plate of food down in front of JD then gathered up the kid's clothes, they smelt like campfire, but were at least dry.
"I can dress myself...I ain't a baby!" JD spoke sharply as he reached for his clothes in Chris's hand, flustered at the thought of his hero helping him dress. Bad enough Chris had to undress him last night when JD had been more or less out of it.
"Suit yourself...you have three minutes to do it yourself or I will do it!" Chris said handing the clothes over to his moody companion. "Your broken arm making you awfully brave or awfully stupid this morning!" JD cringed at Chris's comment as the older man went to douse the campfire out.
JD stuck his feet into his britches and then wriggled around until they covered his backside. He struggled to clasp the fly buttons with his one hand, but even without the broken arm would still have had trouble from the rope burns covering his palms. Ignoring the buttons for a moment he put his shirt on the good arm and then his vest, leaving them dangle down his back as he tried to figure a way to get the splint through the armhole.
"Times up JD!" Chris reached down and started to button up his fly and then shoved his feet into socks and boots, lacing them up last. Red-faced JD looked everywhere, but at Chris.
Chris pulled a knife out of the sheath he had strapped to his leg and sliced the shirt from armpit to cuff and wrapped it around JD's arm instead of trying to get the splint to fit in the sleeve. Then he took JD's spare shirt and wrapped the body part of it under his arm and tied the sleeves together behind JD's neck to make a sling.
"If we don't dawdle we should hit Santa Fe tonight...you set?"
Chris watched carefully as a gray colored JD mounted up. "How's the horse feel this morning?" Chris asked to take JD's mind off his battered body.
"Feels like he's stepping short with the left front," JD answered, "He took the brunt of the log on his left shoulder last night. When we get to Santa Fe I'll spend some time rubbing him down."
Chris didn't think JD would survive the ride to Santa Fe today by the looks of him, but he was like a bulldog when he latched on to an idea, if he said he would make it to Santa Fe and rub the stallion down tonight, Chris knew somehow he would.
+ + + + + + +
JD was swaying in the saddle by the time Santa Fe appeared in the distance. Chris had kept them mostly at a walk for the day. He figured they would cover more ground at the walk then if JD past out along the trail while going faster and they were forced to stop. Even Windy had been on his best behavior today, whether because he was too sore and tired to act up or because he could sense his rider's vulnerability, Chris was just grateful the horse didn't repeat yesterday´s antics.
The sky was taking on dusk's gray hue as the two men entered the city limits. Motion and noise were everywhere, people strolling along the boardwalks, horses and buggy's zigzagging up and down the busy main street, no one giving way to anyone else. A few men were out lighting street lamps before the town was buried under a blanket of blackness, and piano music reverberated out of the numerous saloons that lined the main street.
Chris had spent a fair amount of time in Santa Fe over the years, and he had several acquaintances that lived in the area still. He was not sure if they would welcome him or not. Last time he had been here Sarah and Adam had been alive, and Chris was fast becoming a respected horse breeder and rancher. He wasn't so sure these same ranchers would except the man he had now become.
JD had never seen the capital city, but was now feeling to miserable to do more than cast a semi interested glance around the busy place. The noise and the confusion of the large city did however spook Windy. Snorting, a wild look in his eye's he started prancing on the spot, his ears perked up straight so the tips almost touched. Chris moved in front of the red horse with Pony hoping he would settle down behind his buddy and advert a storm. With big lofty strides, Windy floated along side Pony dancing sideways and trumpeting out challenges to the other horses on the street. Any horse that dared get to close to him or Pony was met with laid back ears and flashing hooves. JD gathered all his horsemanship skills to keep the stallion from exploding in the middle of Main Street.
Horses and buggy's parted down the middle of the street as everyone moved to give the two men as wide a berth as possible. Windy's sixteen hands seemed to grow to majestic heights as the massive stallion jigged down the street, with everyone's eyes on him.
"Good thing we're not trying to be inconspicuous here, kid!" Chris said feeling all the stares being thrown at them. "You know where the best livery in town is?" He asked a man who was standing on the curb watching them go by.
"Old man Lodder...he's just around the corner and end of the block."
Chris touched his hat brim with his finger in a silent thank you.
Chris and JD pulled up in front of a huge post and beam barn, corrals ran the length of the building on one side and a stack of hay stood stored on the other. An old man sat on a chair by the barn door.
"Two bits a day, grain and rubdowns extra." The old guy said as he squirted a wad of chewing tobacco out the side of his mouth.
"Fine...we'll take the grain, but do our own grooming. Can you recommend a place for us to stay?" Chris answered in a tired voice.
"Lucky Penny's around the corner on Main Street. Ain't nowhere quiet in this town, but it's close to here."
"Hey Chris...have a look at this!" JD had wearily slid from his horse and entered the cool barn. Chris stuck his head over the stall door JD had pointed at; Cooper's bay gelding lay asleep on a deep bedding of straw.
"When did the men riding these bays get to town?" Chris asked the man from the barn doorway.
"The pulled in here late last night, you have any problems with them you better not bring it here. I'm too old for any nonsense!"
"We won't cause you any trouble." Chris said as he ducked back in the barn.
"Damn!" Chris said under his breath.
"What the old guy say Chris?" JD fumbled with his one hand to loosen the cinch off Wind.
"Cooper and Spence got here a whole day before us, I don't know how the heck we are going to keep up with them on the ride home?" Chris stared at the bay horse as if to get an answer from him.
"I guess we should avoid river crossings and ropes dangling off cliffs!"
"Always one to state the obvious aren't you kid."
+ + + + + + +
Chris sat in a vacant chair by the old timer; pulling off his hat he ran his hands through sweaty hair.
"Nice evening." He said as a warm wind blowing in off the desert ruffled his hair, drying some of the dampness from it.
"Better enjoy it while you can...according to my rheumatism it will be raining by tomorrow morning."
"Can always use rain...you have any idea when the men with those two bays are thinking of pulling out?"
"They were hoping to leave today after they saw the Governor. That younger one trying to impress me with all his fancy talk about knowing the man personally. Hell I've lived here all my life; I've been meeting governors before he was even a twinkle in his daddy's eye. Boy has an attitude, it was my great pleasure to tell him the governor had to leave town for a few days, won't be back till tomorrow. Got a whole face of lip from him...how would an old geezer like me know if the governor was in town or not. He had crow all over his face when he found out I was right!"
"Tomorrow you say...that is good news, we finally caught a break. You mind telling the kid I'll be at the Lucky Penny when he's finished rubbing down his stud horse?"
+ + + + + + +
Chris moved slowly down the main street boardwalk, his spurs making soft clanking noises on the hard wood. Weaving in and out of the crowds he wondered what all these people were doing out at this time of night. Supper had been over hours ago and still the streets were packed. The old man had been right; they would find no place around here that was quiet.
Chris found the Luck Penny about half way down the block from where he turned back onto the main street. Entering it he found it as packed and loud as the rest of the town. He first checked into a room for him and JD then since he couldn't beat them, he decided to join the masses in the hotel's bar.
Cheroot smoke, bad piano playing and loud talking assaulted Chris's senses as he fought his way through the boisterous gathering to a lone table near the back of the room. His headache from the previous day was returning with a vengeance. He hoped a meal and a couple of drinks would relax him enough to sleep through what he knew would otherwise be a long night.
Chris ordered their two meals from a harried looking barmaid, then settled back to watch for JD.
+ + + + + + +
JD couldn't believe how lousy he felt. He actually wished Nathan was here pouring that foul tasting tea of his down JD's throat. Anything to ease the pulsating pain in his arm and body wracking exhaustion. Chris hadn't looked much better when he left the barn and even both horses had been laying down in their stalls by the time JD was finished his chores. Chris had offered to help him rubdown Windy, but one snap at Chris with his big teeth ended that offer.
JD shuffled into the hotel looking for Chris, his broken arm held tight against his body as he tried to shield it from being jostled by passer by's. Chris shoved a chair out with his foot for JD to sit down on; both of them to tired to even speak.
JD stared down at the soup and biscuits that were placed in front of him, thank god Chris hadn't ordered him a big steak like Buck would have.
He had just taken a mouthful when he noticed Cooper and Spence sitting across the room from them, Cooper raised his glass in a false salute in JD's direction, before he and Spence got up to exit the bar.
"I see the truce is off again."
"Don't make it look like they are getting to you kid," Chris raised his beer mug back at the two retreating men, with a condescending look of his own. "Copper's a bully...you call his bluff he will back off."
"He might back off from you...I just keep adding more fuel to his fire. Maybe I should take lesson's from Ezra on how to call a bluff?"
The sound of a gun being cocked at the back of Chris's head stopped their conversation. Stunned, the two men realized too late that their table was surrounded be several strangers.
"CHRIS LARABEE!" Someone yelled from outside the hotel door. "You're a wanted man and I'm here to see you hang!"
Chris's guns disappeared from his holster into a pair of waiting hands behind him, and strong fingers dug into his arm's as three men dragged him from his chair and pulled him towards the hotel doors.
"CHRIS!!!" JD hollered leaping to his feet, at the same time reaching for one of his guns. Something hit him from behind before he could get off a shot, knocking him to his face. Pain erupted up his arm as he connected with the floor; choking back a cry he rolled over to look at the man who had hit him. The man kicked the gun out of JD's hand and sent it flying across the room, JD fumbled to bring his right hand over to the gun in his left holster.
"Don't be stupid kid!" The man said reaching down and grabbing JD up by his collar. "You could hurt someone with them things."
Chris struggled to get loose from the death grip on his arms as he was dragged to the door and pitched out onto the street. People fled to get out of the clashing mob's way, but then their curiosity got the better of them and most returned to watch.
Chris couldn't for the life of him think who would be after him in Santa Fe, or why or how he was going to get out of this mess. There were a lot of lawmen in this city; he just had to hope someone would get them to break up this lynching before it was to late for him. He had also heard JD call out to him; Chris prayed the kid didn't do something stupid and get himself killed too.
Chris suddenly found himself being dumped unceremoniously onto the ground at someone's feet.
"Chris Larabee...you are wanted for having the audacity to come to Santa Fe and not get in touch with me!" A tall lean, middle-aged man in dusty cowboy garb stood above Chris, with his hands resting on his hips. Deep blue eye's twinkled with laughter and large dimples crinkled his cheeks from the huge grin plastered on his face.
"Mac...you old piece of crowbait! I ought to shot where you stand!" Chris got to his feet dusting the grime from the road off his pants before shaking the grinning rancher's hand.
"I knew you would feel that way...that's why I made sure you and your guns parted company before you made it out here." A contagious laugh bubbled out of the man's throat.
"Hey...can I have a little help over here!" The hotel door banged open to reveal a tall muscular man in a faded red shirt and worn chaps fight to keep his grip on the small dark haired youth. JD kicked and swung roundhouse punches at the man, valiantly trying to get inside his longer reach to connect, yelling at him the whole time to let his friend go.
JD was a mad whirlwind as he struggled to get free; he kicked at the man's shins and stomped on his feet while getting an elbow into the man's midriff. Then before anyone could stop him JD sank his teeth into his opponent´s hand.
With a roar of pain and rage the larger man sent JD rolling down the boardwalk steps and out onto the street.
Fighting back the wetness behind his eye's JD clutched his arm closer, willing the pain to stop and his feet to work. Chris needed him to watch his back!
"Just stay down kid." Chris's quiet voice penetrated his muddled mind.
Pulling his head up he saw Chris standing beside a group of cowboy's; all smiling except the one he had just bitten.
"He bit me for god sakes!"
"When you start hanging out with little boys who fight like girls, Larabee?" The grinning Mac asked.
"Yeah, well this little boy drew first blood on your man, he's just lucky JD broke his arm yesterday or he would have done some serious butt kicking!" Chris bent down to help the still confused kid to his feet.
"He don't look big enough to reach anyone's butt, for a butt kicking!" Laughed one of the cowboys who had dragged Chris out of the hotel.
"You just broke your arm? I'm sorry kid, I didn't even realize you were with Chris until you were about to draw on us," the man with the bleeding hand stuck it out to shake JD's good hand. "I must say ya can scrap and I'll even forgive you the tooth attack considering you have a broken arm."
"Who are you?" JD asked still dumbfounded, as he found his clasped hand being pumped up and down in a strong grip.
"They call me Reno."
"JD, this is Mac Stein and these are some of the men riding for his brand right now. Mac raises horses just east of here and apparently has taken offense at my not getting in touch with him as soon as we pulled into town. Mac this is JD Dunne...he's covering my back and been doing a pretty good job of it."
Glowing from Chris's unexpected praise JD shook Mac's hand.
"Come on Larabee...I sentence you to buying me liquor tonight instead of hanging. I think that's a fair trade...don't you JD?" Mac dropped an arm lightly across Chris and JD's shoulders and steered them back towards the saloon.
All JD could do was nod his head at this wild outgoing man. Chris had the neatest skeletons hanging in his closet.
+ + + + + + +
Seven men sat around the whiskey glass covered table, under a cigar-laden haze. JD told them it was just like being at Four Corner's with their other friends except he couldn't remember them ever drinking quite as much and he only ever saw Chris and Josiah smoke cigars.
Mac wanted to know everything Chris had been up to in the last six years since he had seen him last. The party mood lessened briefly while Chris told Mac about Sarah and Adam's murder and his consequent job in Four Corners. Mac expressed his deep sympathy as he had a wife and three children at home, that he could not imagine living without, but like Buck, you couldn't keep Mac down long.
Boisterous laughter soon took over the bar again as Chris and Mac strolled down memory lane together, keeping the others in stitches.
"You remember the time you, me and Buck all went after the preacher's daughter..."
"You know Buck too?" JD had been sitting quietly captivated while nursing a drink, listening to all the talk going on around him, but hearing Buck's name come up he was drawn him into the conversation.
"Don't drag me into your sorted past...that was you and Buck who made the bet to see who could seduce her in the hayloft while her dad was giving his Sunday sermon. I was having pure thoughts about Sarah and behaving myself." Chris said over his whiskey glass.
"Kid...Chris, Buck and I go back almost twelve years. Buck and Chris had just met when I caught up with them. We were all single and about as crazy a group as you would find anywhere. The stories we could tell.... they´d make your ears burn red if we told!"
"What...tell me, tell me!" JD asked eagerly, coming forward in his chair riveted to Mac, anticipation written all over his face.
"Nah ! You're to young...come see me in a few years."
"I'm not to young...don't do that to me. I want to hear all about it, especially about the Buck parts. Come on Mac...spill what you know!" JD was nearly bouncing out of his seat as he pressured the man sitting across from him.
"Buck wants you to know about things in his past...he'll tell you."
"Oh come on Chris...we're talking about Buck here...he won't mind if Mac tells..." JD said excitedly, as he usually was. That's what a lack of emotional scar tissue did for a person. "You can't start to tell us these kind's of stories then stop half way!"
"Forget it kid," Chris interrupted, "There is no way of knowing what sort of damage control I would have to pull with Buck if that information fell into your hands."
"Huh?" JD's forehead wrinkled up.
"I think Chris is trying to tell me I am not to share any more tales about our past with you." Mac laughed at JD's crestfallen expression as the kid slumped back into his chair.
"I think in a few years you will have stories of your own that will put ours to shame, and I bet a lot of them will somehow include Buck." Mac said taking some of the sting out of his rejection. " And if the rest of the men Chris and Buck ride with leap to their defense the way you did today JD, I think we can count on them being around a long time."
"I think the kid would have jumped in front of a bullet for you tonight Larabee," Reno stated looking Chris straight in the eye, "Course him being so short a bullet could still take you out from the bellybutton up, but the thought was there."
JD turned a slow burning look at Reno.
"What you staring at kid." Reno returned the stare with a laugh.
"I'm just trying to imagine you with a personality." JD responded back.
"And maybe we should let you share some of your little school boy stories with us...I think us big boys are starting to slow down."
"Oh no I see the making of another Buck, JD type friendship starting to form here. How did you know I was in town anyways Mac?" Chris asked to change the subject.
"I received a letter from some judge, said his son was coming this direction with some horses he wanted me to see. I met them this morning, nice horseflesh but not the type I'm in the market for. Most of mine get sold to the army, and I'm not about to change my breeding program at this point. Anyway after a discussion on whether his horses would be hardy enough for the army he mentioned he was beating the pants of some hicks...yes I believe that was the word he used...hicks...in a race from Four Corners. Imagine my surprise when your name was mentioned as one of the hicks. I had to stay in town to see you."
"I'm glad you did, but the barkeep is sending us dirty looks. We seem to be the only ones left." Chris said, pushing his hat back on his head.
"Then we better drink faster!" Mac laughingly emptied the last of a whiskey bottle into everyone's glasses.
"Where you off to JD?" Chris asked as JD stumbled to his feet and glanced around the room.
"Outhouse?" The young man said trying to get his eye's to focus.
"This is the big city JD, there is indoor plumbing down the hall." The six men watched as JD staggered slightly out of the bar.
"How much did he drink?" Mac laughed. "You're going to have fun riding back tomorrow...kids now a days just can't hold their liquor like we did."
"How you feeling JD?" Reno asked as JD rejoined them.
"Fine...I can't even feel my arm any more!" JD slurred.
"Course I can't feel my feet either!"
All the men exchanged amused glances that thankfully JD was to drunk to notice.
"We have to get back to the ranch tonight and you guys have a heck of a ride in front of you yet. Be good to see you put Cooper in his place...he's one arrogant bugger. Say howdy to that crazy fool Buck for me will you JD?"
JD just nodded when he heard his name mentioned, he was suddenly having a hard time keeping up with all the voices and people milling around him.
"I better get him upstairs while he's still under his own steam. Let's not wait six years to see each other again and next time I will bring Buck too." Chris reached out to shake Mac's hand.
"Bring the kid with too, I like him...he's good for you! These young ones just need a little extra guidance."
"Yeah...and an occasional boot applied to their behinds!" Chris and Mac smiled at each other in understanding, then Mac and his crew got to their feet and left the same way they arrived...making lot's of noise.
Chris grinned at his departing friend then turned to JD. "Come on kid...it's past your bedtime and mine." Chris pushed him lightly in the direction of the stairs.
"I can walk...ow!" JD banged off the wall, "myself."
"If you say so...JD...stairs in front of you!"
"I can see th..." Chris grabbed the back of JD's coat to keep him from tripping, "them."
After a flight of stairs and a long hallway, Chris opened the door to their room and finally ended up half carrying JD over to the bed. He was snoring lightly before his head touched the pillow. Chris pulled JD's gritty boots and sweaty socks off and then tossed a blanket over him.
The long day had really caught up to Chris as he sagged wearily on the other side of the bed. Well at least it was quiet now...Chris figured he was probably the only person in town still awake.