by Heather F.

Part 3

Mary still tremored in spite of her best efforts. The hem of her dress had been torn revealing the simple petticoats under it. She quaked, however, for Billy. When the man had reached for her son with the knife she had screamed. JD, God bless his soul, had jumped from a squatting position and rammed the larger man in the gut with his shoulder. Before the others could react, men had exploded through the door. Dunne had been hauled off the struggling man and shoved back against the wall. The wind must have been knocked from the young Sheriff because his eyes had bulged when he slid doubled over to the floor.

Even though Gallup had explained his intentions, the others coiled ready to defend her child. She too had been poised on the verge of fighting. Not until the man stepped away with a lock of Billy's hair had she breathed. Her rage had been such that when the men disappeared through the door closing it behind themselves leaving their captives alone...did she cry. Great desperate tears of frustration, anger and fear. Fear that Billy could have fallen like Mr.Standish, frustrated that she could not protect her son and anger at the man that had forced her into this situation.

Chris watched the Newspaper editor beside him. He found a kindred tortured soul in the strong willed woman. It hurt to have to witness her fierce protective nature. No one should have a child threatened.

The door open a second time. The six law men tensed. Billy tucked himself under JD's shoulder. Mary stiffened and kept her eyes glued to her son.

Chris, Mary and Buck were ordered off the bed. The three wedged themselves beside Josiah against the wall facing the door. A rough, barked, rectangular table was pulled from the far wall and placed in the center of the room.. The outlaws simply took any available seats. For every man that sat with his back to the lawman another sat facing them. Everyone's back was watched.

Tommy hugged himself closer to the door. Not truly a part of any group and afraid to offend both parties. The young man sought safety and acceptance in the obscuring shadows.

"'Ey Tommy," A pocked marked gunman spoke up roughly, "go whip us up some grub."

The boy did not argue the order nor lift his eyes from the ground. Slinking within himself, he slid across the floor trying to keep his presence down to a minimum.

"Ah leave the kid alone...he kilt his first man today," Another spoke up. A curly haired man nearly Buck's height, "Didn't cha kid...shot'im dead cold...head shot right?" The man urged on laughing, enjoying the discomfort he created with in the 'boy'.

"That's enough Ed," Gallup cautioned. Brutality was apart of life and Tommy would have to learn to deal with it if he intended to survive. Besides the caustic remarks were serving only to fuel the rage in the lawmen. They had been relatively quiet and Chad wanted it to remain that way.

Tommy raised his eyes briefly but focused on no one. At the mention of the murder, he immediately dropped his gaze and hurried into the cooking area. The quicker he got his hands busy the better. Maybe the others would forget he existed and he would ride out tonight. Go back to the farm. Maybe his father would know how to fix this mess. His father did not seem like such a dumb, dirt, farmer anymore. Maybe he knew something real important and Tommy himself was the fool. Oh God how he wished he were at home with his folks. The oppression of chores did not seem so horrible. In fact he missed it. He missed having to bring the cows in for morning feed, he missed having to milk the old 'boss' cow for his ma or splittin' wood and building rail fence. All the things he had despised and thought stupid. What he wouldn't give to be back home right now. How happy he would be to hear is father talk endlessly about the rotten weather and the no good coyotes that stole his chickens. Anything to go back...go back home. Tommy reached for the flour and started making stew and dumplings like his Ma did. His Ma could make mud taste good. He just wanted to go home..

Vin watched the reaction of the one called Tommy. The tracker felt his heart race. He had learned to read people second to animals. Animals tended to be straight forward once you learned their ways. But people they were shifty, they would lie, misdirect you and play you. Ezra was a prime example. Damn fool never came right out with the truth. It didn't bother him he was lying to ya, or leading ya down a fool's path...nope, didn't bother him a bit. Standish played ya cuz it was a game to him. Iffen ya were dumb enough not to think fer yerself he would do all the thinkin' fer ya and ya would end up linin' his pockets with yer weeks wages. No..people were tough to read...People like Ezra and his Ma...even the others. But JD...and this Tommy kid. No they were easy. They were too good to even think about lyin' to ya. They expected the truth so they always gave away the truth even when they were trying ta hide it from ya. That's why JD would never win against Ezra...kid was just to damn honest...but Ezra never really lied to JD jist manipulated him..well until Vin and Josiah and Buck instructed him otherwise. But Tommy like JD never met a lie that set well with'em. they were raised by good caring folk.

Tommy couldn't tell a lie worth a damn...and he couldn't hide one.

Vin nearly whooped out loud. He leaned his head against the log wall and shut his eyes. He felt a small tear of joy trickle down the side of his head toward his ear. His long hair would redirect it. Ezra weren't dead. No way, No how...that kid didn't put a bullet in the Gambler's head. Tommy's eyes and body language told the whole story. Vin couldn't help but chuckle. Ezra had to be the luckiest, lying, cheat known to man.

"What's so funny Vin?" JD whispered.

"That kid ain't kilt no one," The tracker met JD's gaze and winked. He couldn't be sure...a hundred percent sure...but the bounty hunter would have bet a months wages on Ezra being very much alive. Probably madder than Nun in a whore house.

Dunne gasped a few relieved laughs as tears streamed down his face. Vin would never lie to him.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra sat slumped in the saddle. Worthless beast wouldn't listen to a thing he told it. Fine. What ever town this bull headed carcass decided to stop would be his last. Standish would sell him to the first fool that offered to purchase it. Perhaps a restaurant.

Home...wanted to go home. His head hurt. Things were blurry and spun out of control. Bouts of vertigo nearly threw him from his saddle and his mount seemed bereft of all good sense and wandered off into some Godforsaken grass land. The creak of leather and swaying of the saddle with the rhythm of his traitorous mount had to have been a conspiracy to bring him to a miserable end. He gripped the saddle horn with numb fingers.

A dollar day was not worth all this effort. A dollar a day....Good Lord what had he been thinking? Where was he anyhow? The others? Gone run off on him? Oh no not that...Probably enjoying the windfalls of a simple dollar...The Neanderthals.

A river rolled by somewhere in the darkness. Great. Or maybe it was just some ringing in his ears. Gawd his head hurt.

Faithless beast.

Chaucer tested the wind. A familiar scent sparked his interest. His ears swiveled forward as he tasted the wind again. Yes his herd. He was almost home.

+ + + + + + +

A false dawn lightened the sky. Thin, slate, colored, wisps of clouds herald the start of another early morning. A breeze still skiffed the land bending the stretching arms of wild grasses revealing fluctuating hues of gold. The river swirled within its sandy banks. Its rumble seemed heightened by the dawn's stillness. Crickets clicked as morning birds chattered nosily amongst themselves. A heavy dew soaked the ground.

Men began to move with in the cabin. Some with more gusto and energy than others. Vin sat quietly against the wall a mere shadow or projection of the structure itself. A background piece his captor's accustomed eyes would sail over with little scrutiny. JD blinked back the thick, uncomfortable, crumbs of sleep from his burning eyes. His shoulders ached as did his back and backside. Little Billy slept with his head in JD's lap and legs on Nathan. Jackson kept his head tilted against the wood logs of the house his mouth slightly ajar. JD knew the healer was awake, just listening. Chris sat legs stretched out in an air of defiance. He viewed the world with a cold gaze through the curtains of his bangs. He followed the movements of his captors learning their quirks, their weakness and strengths. Who would act first...who would follow and who would run.

Gallup under the guise of a tilted hat brim watched Larabee from a leaning chair. The Warden kept his gun at the ready.

Larabee exuded danger. This lone wolf turned pack leader was not to be underestimated. A member of his order had been struck down. And a pup had been threatened and bound.

Chad cherished his life so he left it up to no one but himself to safeguard Larabee. To kill him would be deadly for the other five lawmen but not without major loss of life to Gallup's own men. No Chad would bide his time. In the end, Larabee and the others would have to be killed because the survivors would hunt him down to the ends of the earth. Even that half grown pup of a sheriff. No, they would all meet an untimely end. Gallup was not a monster, however, he would do it quick, a bullet to the head, like the gambler.

Buck never bothered looking up at the ceiling. He heard the scraping on the roof. A blackbird or maybe a Crow. Damn Josiah and his crows. Wilmington let his eyes rove over to the giant, grey, haired man.

Sanchez had become a silent, smoldering, shell, of a man. An empty resignation of fate rested behind cold eyes. It really was not much different from when they had first met him that day at the old ruins. It seemed only Standish could evoke a smile from the morose form. Wilmington had always precieved Josiah's smile to be one of forced patience....a type of fuse, and when it wore out so did the quiet, inactivity. Buck had always suspected that Josiah would one day tear the younger gambler's head from his shoulders. It had never happened...came close a few times...with Ezra hurrumphing about damaged clothes from the tight confines of a water trough. Sanchez had always held himself back letting Standish flaunt his disregard for morals and ethics that impeded on his games.

Buck slowly had begun to change his opinion. He began to think maybe Josiah simply showed acknowledgment that people like Standish and his mother existed. This grizzled man, who had killed too many souls in a life time, tolerated a sly talking, easily, grinning, conman to a fair degree. Ezra was a slithering, snake who could and would sell the world the air in which they breathed and make them feel good about the purchase. A sinner with a fledging conscience that the conscious mind wanted to smother. Josiah found his dragon in the young southerner and through simple speech, sometimes harsh, brutal, honesty and the occasional physical reprimand...Sanchez had found something redeeming about other men.

Wilmington feared with the bullet in the clearing Josiah had given up all hope on the potential benevolence of man. Sanchez would return to his road of revenge and penance maybe hoping to meet his own end sooner rather than later.

Josiah and Chris...what a pair, Buck mused. Chris had Vin guiding and watching his back...and Josiah had Standish poking a sharp stick in his ribs and laughing...from a fairly safe distance.

Ezra would have simply chuckled at Josiah and shook his head in that mocking, 'told ya so' air that had the others wanting to wipe that dimpled grin from his face.

There it was again. On the roof. That was a mighty large Black Bird. Wilmington surveyed the others in the cabin. It seemed no one else heard it.

The Ladys' Man then noticed Vin.

Tanner had a grin on his face. Buck was afraid that the tracker had gone, "Comanche" on them. He still might have but the Bounty Hunter wore a knowing look of some impending disaster.

Wilmington diverted his gaze. It would do no good to give away anything even if he did not understand what Vin thought he knew.

Gallup climbed to his feet, "Chuck yer with me." The tone left no room for discussion. Not that his men were inclined to comment on orders. The one named Chuck obediently stood gathering his saddle bags. "We're heading into FourCorners meet up with the others," He addressed his remaining men.

"What are we to do with them?" Frank tucked long greasy hair under his sweat stained hat brim. With the boss gone maybe he would have some fun with the NewsPaper woman.

Gallup let his eyes wonder briefly toward the eight captives sitting against the wall. He had figured the Lawmen would be alot more disagreeable than they had been. The death of one of their own shook them to the core. Cocky, fools thought they were invincible. A dose of death did wonders for one's ego.

"You let the woman and boy go by tomorrow morning and kill the others." Gallup turned to watch the reaction of the prisoners. His disappointment became disguised under an air of indifference.

Billy still slept with the security of a child surrounded by men he knew would save him. The Editor had tears streaming steadily down her cheeks but her blue eyes were as hard as diamonds. The lawmen held varying degrees of assumed boredom. They had been threatened before.

A small crease of a smile cut Gallups face. But this time no one was going to ride to their rescue. No one knew where they were and the Judge had his hands full right about now with the locks from his grandson and the dress of his dear Daughter in Law.

No one would come to the rescue of the six peace keepers.

Gallup tipped his hat in mockery to the men and strode confidently out the door. Chuck with saddle bags looped in one hand followed his boss relieved to be leaving the tied men behind. Four Corners and the unknown forces that faced his boss and himself seemed better odds than what smoldered against the wall inside the cabin.

+ + + + + + +

Standish leaned against the stove pipe. He watched two men gather their horses and ride out. Within the shadows of a dark dawn he remained invisible.

That damnedable horse of his lead him to this cabin. Well more like to the picket line that tethered the other animals. Next time the repeated commands for 'home' would have some conditions placed on it.

Something had been occurring within the small cabin and it made no sense.

Him being on the roof right at this moment made no sense. Yes, Yes, he had a plan. What plan?

A wave of Vertigo hit and his boots slid out from under him. He grabbed for anything to slow his impending fall and grabbed the black stove pipe. The heat radiating off the metal had him cursing like sailor. The intense headache kept his voice low.

A plan. Yes he had a plan. The gambler sat on the roof with his feet flush to the slanted grassy sides trying to find a measure of warmth from the chimney. He spit the ever building saliva between his bent knees as he rested his head on crossed forearms.

Ezra removed his duck tailed coat. It had become caked with mud and damp in the early morning dew. It needed laundered and dried.

He had a plan. Whether or not it was a new plan or the same one he could not be sure. Hell, he couldn't be sure how he ended up on the roof or why. And where was that traitorous stead of his anyway?

Ezra in a fit of exasperation draped his coat over the top of the smoking chimney.

He drew his pistol and waited. He knew he had a plan. A cocky smile revealed dimples and cracked the dried blood that stained his face.

Part 4

Frank waited only a few moments for the sounds of horse hooves to die away. His gaze fell to the Editor. The intent on his face had Mary inching closer to Chris. Buck put a protective shoulder over her torso as if to shield her from the lecherous gaze.

"Ahh now there ain't nuthin' to fear sweet..."

"Git any closer an I'll skin ya alive," They were the first words anyone had heard the Tracker speak since the clearing.

Larabee's gaze matched the truth behind Tanner's statement. A simple fact of life.

Frank paused. A greasy smile leered across his stubbled features, "Aww com'on boys there's enough..."

"Another step toward her and I'll make sure you live after I'm done," The Bounty Hunter left no room for doubt. His blues eyes darkened with the need for revenge.

"Frank ya damn fool sit yer butt back down," A portly fellow ordered with his hands clasped around a mug of coffee, "Gallup said no messin' with the lady or her kid. He'll kill ya fer sure and probably us jist cuz we didn't stop ya." Collin stared at the man on his feet. He had been trouble since Gallup first took the fool on, "Iffen ya need some relief grab one of'em," Collin indicated with his chin to one of the six Lawmen. Maybe everyone would get lucky and Frank would get himself killed.

Frank stood his ground for only a second before backing off with arms raised in surrender. "Quit yer bitch'n Collin, yer worse than an old lady," Frank turned his attention toward the tracker,"S'kay when ya'll are dead she and I will dance." He sat at the table licking his lips watching the widow.

Billy huddled next to JD with a question poised on his lips. Dunne stopped it afraid that he might have to provide an answer, "Nuthin' Billy, ain't nuthin' to worry about."

Smoke began to billow out of the wood stove. It rolled out at first. Whitish grey in color with a tinge of blue. It seeped from the vents on the side of the stove and finally from any accessible crease it could find. The smoke swirled and floated over the dirt floor while its woody scent overpowered the small cabin.

"What the hell?" Collin stood up from the table. He tested the butterfly valve on the extending pipe to no avail.

Tommy slid along the wall. Frank was crazy. Why'd Gallup leave him with this loco? These six men were going to kill them. Tommy should have run last night. He should have taken his old gelding and run for home. Now they would know the truth, Oh he was a dead man. The dirt farmer's boy opened the main door. He went back toward his prisoners. The smoke already swirled around their faces. They were struggling to their feet, using the wall as a guide to push against. Tommy guided JD and Billy and stepped aside giving them unspoken permission to make their way toward the door.

The room quickly filled with darkening choking haze. It swam around the occupants like a living thing. Invading every available space. The smell over powering, watering eyes and strangulating lungs. People squinted their eyes, furniture became nearly invisible and chests burned.

Chris stood unsure of why this was happening but with every intention of utilizing it.

Vin no longer hid his smile. He winked at JD. Dunne lead Billy to the door.

The eight captives filed outside mingling with their captors. The harsh sounds of coughing and gagging filled the small clearing. The pleasantness of the subdued early morning ended with the hacking and swearing of men

Larabee stepped to the left of the door. His people followed him almost instinctively.

Collin and his crew hurried straight out and toward the right. The sharp bite of the frosty morning had people cringing.

Above the rattle of wheezing breath and blame for those whose fault this arrogant southern voice spoke out.

"Gentlemen, please drop your weapons."

Everyone turned in shock. Everyone but Vin and Tommy. Tanner already had his bindings off.

Heads swung in disbelief at the roof. There seated just on the eaves was a gambler in a white shirt, arm garders and suspenders. The midnight blue coat missing as well as the hat. Mud caked the pant legs and blood adorned the once pristine white ruffled shirt.

"That slithering Son of a Bitch.." Buck whispered out.

Chris categorized the new information but kept his attention on the men before him.

Someone reached for a gun. The Remington roared to life. The stalky individual beside the one who moved fell to the ground with a percolating chest wound. The man who had reached for his gun froze.

"Please Gentlemen I have a headache of unimaginable magnitude," The drawl was thickened and tired. Standish sat hunched over his arm resting against a bent knee for added support. The gun wavered unsteadily jumping from target to target.

Tanner spoke up, "Ezra I'm gonna move now n'cut Chris loose and then git their guns...don't go shootin' at me pard'" The tracker took a hesitant step watching the man on the roof. It was obvious to the tracker that the gambler did not have all his oars in the water so to speak.

"Yes, Yes Mr. Tanner, please don't dally." Movement out of the corner of Standish's spinning periphery had him swinging his gun hand around toward the right and squeezing the trigger. Another gunman fell to the damp spring grass. A guilty blush crept into Tommy's face...he had only adjusted his stance.

"Damn it will ya'll jist quit ya movin' before he shoots all of us," Collins hissed out. Only he, Frank and Tommy remained.

Buck wanted to laugh but was afraid to move.

Tanner quickly sliced through the ropes binding Chris. Larabee immediately grabbed Frank's gun and struck the man across the cheek knocking him to the ground.

Standish followed the movement with the barrel of his revolver.

"No Ezra!" Nathan, Josiah and JD hollered.

The gambler paused and stared in the general direction of his three friends as if to ask why the panic?

"Okay Ezra ya can put yer gun down," Tanner coached from the side of the cabin. He trained his mare leg at the three remaining men. "We got'em covered."

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the Remington was uncocked. It took four tries before the revolver slid into its holster.

"Ezra I ain't met anyone as lucky as you," JD laughed.

Standish cocked his head delicately toward the side and furrowed his brow, "Lucky Mr. Dunne? I don't believe in the vagaries of Lady must make their own fortune."

JD chuckled, "Whatever Ezra."

"Call it what you will but yer the only one I know who can git blown up and then shot in the head and survive," Wilmington added.

"Blown up?" a pause and then rising indignation, "Someone tried to blow me up?....For a dollar a day?...Mr. Larabee I will not continue to work in this kind of violent atmosphere with people trying to wipe my existence from this earth with...." Standish crinkled his brow again in thought. Or lost of thought.

"You prefer tar and feathers?" Vin chortled out. He kept his gaze on the men JD bound.

"I prefer to sleep until a decent hour under a roof and between walls, and live my days at a gaming table....and not out wandering the wilds of this vast country in search of thankless cretins."

Nathan scrutinized the gambler from his spot on the ground.

"That sure was a mouth'd think with a headache like he's got he would be a little more closed mouth," Josiah whispered to Buck. Wilmington couldn't help but return the lost smile.

"Ain't never known Ezra to be closed mouth about anything...hell drunk, sleep or fevered damn man always has something to say," Wilmington observed.

"Someone's gonna have to go up there and git him down," Tanner responded directing his comment to Larabee.

"I'll do it...don't look like that roofs too sturdy to hold Josiah," JD answered finishing the last knot.

"Good cuz me an' him have some unfinished business," Tanner said indicating to Frank. The outlaw's eyes widened in fear. Tanner raised his eye brows quickly his hand resting suggestively in a gruesome manner on the hilt of his knife.

Chris heard the exchanged and ignored it. Instead he watched the southerner perched on the roof's edge. How the hell 's' he do it? How does he side step disaster like most people side step mud puddles. One of these days Standish was going to miss step, some time in the future the Reaper would dodge and feint in sync with the gambler and when that day came there would be no pleasant now Until then Chris would just accept the fickle gift of the gambler being alive. Damn man was full of himself, though.

"Mr. Larabee. Why are you staring at me like that?" The gambler raised a shaky, mud, crusted hand to his head. He paused staring at the filth that covered his cuff, wretched. His stomach rolled. He forgot about the mud. Ezra really did not relish the idea of retching in front of so many witnesses. Especially with Larabee scrutinizing him like a circus oddity.

Josiah found his voice, "We thought you were dead Brother."

Ezra stared from Josiah back to Chris. A toothy, amused, grin flashed knowingly across the Southerner's face, "Why Mr. Larabee...If I didn't know any better I'd say you missed me."

Chris chuckled and stared at the toe of his boot for a second and then gazed back up at the gambler. Thought you were dead and it killed something inside me to know I couldn't protect your sorry ass. Chris shook his head at the gambler. The man appeared as a mud splattered mess. Miss him? hell....the gambler had the right of it...he was going to be even more overbearing with this revelation.

"You did," Green eyes widened with realization. Standish turned his attention toward the others below him, "He did...He missed me...Oh now this is a day for the books," Standish chuckled, " a miracle Mr. Sanchez a true miracle. Well I'll be, who would have ever believed it. Mr. Larabee actually missed me." Standish laid a hand against his chest , "Be still my heart....Mother owes me five dollars."

"Ezra....Shut up," Larabee answered more tired and amused than annoyed.

Standish sat for a moment of the roof with a dumb contented grin on his face nodding his head, "He actually missed me and mother owes me money....what a glorious day."

Nathan leaned closer to Chris and whispered, "Don't worry Chris he won't remember any of this." Both men gazed at the sod roof. The gambler lay back against the damp shakes uncaring of the grime he rested in at the moment.

"Chris I'm gonna take this one and git some answers," Tanner grabbed the one called Frank by the upper arm. "Iffen he dies before I git any answers from him I'll come back for one of them." The bounty Hunter did not wait for a reply. Instead he pushed and pulled his captive toward the tree line five hundred or so yards away.

Tommy had tears streaming down his face.

Buck suddenly spoke up, "Ya'll want to tell us how many men Gallup has back in town?"

Tommy couldn't answered. Collin made for a gun laying within reach. Larabee with no hesitancy squeezed the trigger. The harsh roar of the revolver charged the area. Mary ducked partially behind Chris. Out of instinct she desperately clawed for Billy trying to shield him from any more violence.

Mrs. Travis diverted her gaze from the dead men at her feet to the two that cut a path across the meadow. So many wasted lives.

"Chris you can't let Mr. Tanner just torture that man," Mary whispered out in shock.

Josiah could not be sure if the repulsion was feigned or not.

"He was gonna kill Billy and ,if you were lucky, maybe yourself when he was through with ya," The ice in Chris's voice froze the air.

Mary paled at the words.

"'Sides Mary...Vin's got the blood lust in'im now...ain't no way any of us can talk sense into him 'til he satisfies it," Nathan answered grabbing the young widow and her son. He steered her toward the inside of the cabin. With JD on the roof and Josiah on the ground they would have Standish down in no time.

Josiah had spent many years under the tutelage of the People and he had never heard of what Nathan spoke of....and realized that their resident conman was indeed influencing all of them.

Tommy stood stalk still under the glare of the blonde leader. A bullet or the knife. Right now the bullet seemed more threatening.

JD had taken the coat off the chimney and dropped it down to Buck who gave it one look and then dropped it to the ground. A little more mud wouldn't hurt it.

Josiah and Buck reached up and guided the unconscious conman from the roof.

They carried him inside.

"Chris ya comin'?" JD asked standing in the doorway.

The first blood curdling screams seared across the prairie like a howling banshee.

"Yeah...don't want to be listening to that all day," Larabee directed Tommy into the cabin past a very pale and slightly trembling JD.

Tommy began to think maybe a bullet would be better than the tracker's knife.

+ + + + + + +

Vin traversed the grass prairie feeling pretty good. The sun had crested over the horizon only a few hours ago. He had received the information he asked for almost immediately. The tracker felt a lesson needed teaching....and he was in the mood for instructing.

Chris sat outside the cabin on a splitting stump. JD and Buck had dragged the bodies off a ways into the field. Let the coyotes and buzzards have a feast. The leader gazed up at the tracker's approach.


Vin settled against an outside table leaning on one hip. "Ten men in total. Three in the grange hall watching over the proceedings and the rest stationed throughout town in case we escaped from here or the clearing." Tanner cleaned his thumb nail with the tip of his bloody knife.

"The one you took with you?" Larabee asked.

"Still there," A devilish grin cut Tanner's face, "he's alive and well...a few harmless cuts let'im know what could've been done." The bounty hunter paused and met Chris's eyes. He wanted the truth between them known...though he had stated it before, "iffen Ezra or Mary or Billy been harmed more than they were...I'd still be out there working."

Chris nodded. Had Standish really been killed or Mary and Billy truly harmed then those few harmless cuts would have metamorphosed into something more heinous. And Larabee would have been right at Tanner's side to help.

"We headin' out?"

"Yeah, Trial should end tonight we got to reach the Judge before then," Larabee answered not liking his options. The horses had already been saddled and stood waiting patiently on the other side of the trappers cabin.

"That's an awful lot of hard ridin'," Vin pointed out, "Ya think Mary and Billy can handle it?"

" Billy sure...jist be a game to him. Mary's pretty tough," Chris let his voice fade. He sighed and hit the meat of the matter, "Ezra can't ride...Nathan says it's a miracle he got as far as he did," Larabee responded with the responsibility and burden of leadership.

"He's got himself a good horse," Tanner replied. A silence stretched between them. Tanner finally asked, "Whatcha gonna do?"

"Don't know...maybe leave Mary with Ezra to git him home...and take Billy with us," Chris looked up at Vin and added, "Judge must be goin' out of his mind worryin' over his grandson."

"Yeah, Reckon' yer right," Tanner stood it was time to move, "on our way out we can gather up Frank...don't think he'll be givin' anybody any more trouble."

Chris laughed releasing some of the tension that had settled on his shoulders. Damn tracker.


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