"May I..." Amanda Ballard asked from her desk, lifting her head she stopped.

"Mr. Wilmington isn't it?" she asked sternly.

"I'm touched you remembered," he said sarcastically.

"Don't flatter yourself, I'll let the judge now that you and Mr..." Miss Ballard said, raising her eyebrow.

"Larabee" Chris said firmly, no wonder Buck and Ezra did what they had, he thought.

"You think they'll be able to talk to the judge?" JD asked, pacing back and forth among the remaining men who waited outside of the office, no one was sitting but JD was the only one pacing in the cage made of four men.

"I'm sure Mr. Larabee and Mr. Wilmington will convince the judge for a minute of his time to explain the circumstances of our tardiness."

"I hope so," JD said still pacing.

"Mr. Larabee, Mr. Wilmington. Glad you could make it 'this week'," Judge Waters said harshly.

"Judge, you gotta give us a chance to explain why we're late," Buck pleaded.

"No, I don't," the judge said, knowing he was right, "But I will, please sit."

"Thank you."

"Did you bring the young boy in question?" the judge said, almost accusingly.

"The young 'man' is outside on the porch with the others," Chris said, adding his own menacing tone to let the judge know that not only did he not want to be here, but that he considered the 'boy' more a 'man'.

"Glad to hear that. It was a long night, I'm sorry for giving the impression of a lack of patience," the judge said honestly.

"We can understand that," Buck said, showing concern, but not really caring.

"I'd like to have the boy.."

"His name is JD," Chris said flatly, everyone knew how much he hated to be referred to as 'boy', almost as much as Chris hated it.

"I'd like to have..JD..tell me why you are late, if you don't mind," the judge said, giving Buck a sense of hope.

"I'll go get him.."

"Alone if it's all the same to you," the judge said, more or less to Chris.

"That'd be just fine," Chris said as he stood.

Buck and Chris walked out of the office, Buck tipped his hat to Miss Ballard sarcastically, and she sighed and rolled her eyes.

"Well," JD said, not able to control anything.

"He wants to talk to you," Chris said.

"Okay...right now?" JD just couldn't think.

"Yeah, go on..we'll be waitin'," Buck said.

The men watched as JD went to the door, he turned, why he wasn't sure. He had a feeling of dread as he had walked to the door, the half smiles and nods from his friends gave him the courage to keep going, he smiled his thanks and closed the door. They didn't know that would be the last they saw of him.

JD nodded and smiled to the woman at the desk, not knowing she was the one who'd made the trip to Four Corners. She smiled pleasantly at him and knocked on the judge's door.

"Mr. Dunne to see you, Judge Waters."

"Thank you, Amanda..please have a seat," the judge smiled at the boy.

Amanda closed the door and went back to her desk, she smiled and nodded a greeting at the finely dressed man sitting in a chair in the corner and smiled.

"JD, is it?" the judge said, the boy was scared to death, he was pale and sweaty and his eyes were huge.

"Yes, sir," JD said, trying not to show his limp as he made his way to the chair in front of the huge desk the judge stood behind.

"You get hurt on your way out here, son?" the judge asked, noticing the limp.

"Uh, yes, sir," JD tried, he'd wished he had Ezra's gift of a face that gave nothing away and his gift of 'not revealing the whole truth', as the gambler would say.

"It have anything to do why you were so late in getting here?"

"Yes, sir," JD said hanging his head, he really would rather be somewhere else right now..maybe back in the bear trap perhaps.

"Mind telling me why you were late?"

"We stopped to help a woman who got stuck in the river, she got left behind from a wagon caravan," JD said, still not his talkative self.

"How far ahead was the caravan?" the judge asked.

"Not very far," JD said honestly. If they had gotten the wagon unstuck with out complications they would have caught up to the caravan that night.

"Anything happen while you were helping the woman out of the river?" The judge suspected there was, but the young man was answering what he was asked and nothing else, making the judge smile inwardly; he could tell this was a good kid.

"Her daughter fell into the river and took me with her," JD said matter of factly, so much so the judge thought it sounded like this sort of thing happened to the young man all the time.

"River's are pretty cold this time of year." JD nodded his head and smiled a little.

Seriously cold, JD thought to himself.

"You two get stuck in the river for a bit?" the judge suspected.

"I found a rock for Jess and covered her up," he shrugged.

"Where were you?"

"In the river." What an odd question to ask, he thought.

"What did you cover her up with?" Couldn't have taken a blanket with him.

"My jacket," he still thought the questions were odd, what did this have to do with anything?

"You must have been nearly frozen, son."

"I guess. Why are you asking these questions?" JD finally deciding he'd had enough.

"Trying to find out why you were late getting here," the judge reminded.

"I told you we stopped to help Mrs. Murphy get back to the wagon train." He wasn't feeling great and all the questions were making his head hurt.

"How'd you hurt your leg?"

"We spent the night at the camp, some bandits came into the camp the next mornin'..we run them off but I didn't think it would be right to send her off by herself so we helped her back."

"I take it you met up with these 'bandits'?" the judge inquired.

"Yeah, they ambushed us a couple hours from the caravan, they got me and they shot my horse."

"So you were helping out, that's why you were late."

"Yes, sir." God my head hurts.

"You all right, son?" noticing the boy was still sweating and pale.

"I'm fine," he lied.

"I'm going to be honest with you, son, my judgment still stands. Your seventeen years old and you have put yourself at risk doing what you're doing. I think it's in your best interest."

"No, it's not," JD said quietly.

"The man who has custody of you is here to take you with him."

"Now?" JD asked, a hint of panic in his voice.

"Yes, I think it's best for all involved."

"Not for me! You don't understand!" JD pleaded, his panic growing.

"Son, you carry a gun in an unsettled town. You put yourself in positions that have the potential for some serious consequences, I can't in good conscience put you into the custody of a man that will continually put you in that kind of danger," the judge said kindly, stating his reasons.

"That's MY choice!" JD tried to get the judge to see that he was able to make his own decisions.

"You're seventeen years old, you're not old enough to make those decisions," the judge getting an edge to his voice.

"Sir, you can come in now," the judge motioned to the man sitting in the corner.

JD had turned his back, trying to think of how he would get out to at least say good bye, that and he didn't want the judge to see the tears that were coming.

JD turned slowly to meet the man who had won custody of him. As he brought his head up he looked at the man. His hurting head must be affecting his eyes, all he could see was 'him', JD grew paler and his head began to swim.

"Welcome home, my boy," the man smiled. The judge seeing a happy man welcoming his new 'charge', JD only seeing the monster grinning evilly with victory.

No, JD managed as things began to float around him, This can't be happening, he thought, his eyes rolled and he would have fallen to the floor if the man hadn't been there to grab him.

"Probably just the stress, I'm sure he'll be fine."

"Your probably right , Judge," the man said, his worry evident. I bet he's surprised, the man thought to himself. "Let me get him home, better he's gone when his friends find out."

The judge nodded, and he watched Joshua Chamberlain pick JD up and carried him out the back way. He had no idea that he'd just delivered the sacrificial lamb to the devil himself.

+ + + + + + +

"He's been in there awhile, you think that's good?" Buck asked.

"I don't know, Buck," Chris said honestly, he figured either the kid was doing a hell of a job sticking up for himself, or he was burying himself by talking too much.

The group sighed a collective heavy sigh and then the door opened. The men couldn't help notice that the judge was alone.

"Gentlemen, my decision stands."

The group was silent, the judge looked at the men. Six stunned faces looked up to the sky or down to the ground. He came to the realization, although it wouldn't have changed his mind, that these men cared for the boy, deeply; maybe even more than they had realized and he found himself feeling badly.

"I'm sorry," he added.

"Can we say good-bye?" Vin asked, knowing Buck couldn't. He'd seen Chris grab Buck's arm when the judge told them.

"Afraid he's already left," the judge said in apology, he did regret this decision of not giving the men a final moment.

"WHAT?" Buck exploded, five men rushing to him to make sure he didn't do something he'd regret, even though they felt the same.

"Joshua was here already waiting for him. I honestly thought it would be better, I'm sorry."

"Sorry!! You're sorry!!! Mister, you can't be sorry enough! We came all the way out here..the least you could have done was let us say good-bye before ya ripped him away from us!!" Buck screamed.

"I'm truly sorry, I'll talk to Joshua, give them a few days to adjust, I'm sure he'll understand then you can see him."

"It sounds fair, Buck. Come on. Let's get back and see if we can get some rooms. By the way, Judge, he ain't a boy, his name's JD," Chris reminded with a glare that could have stopped two runaway trains.

+ + + + + + +

JD felt himself begin to wake, his eyes fluttered open. Chamberlain. He remembered seeing him, maybe it was a dream. His eyes focused and he realized he was in a familiar place. That was one hell of a dream, he thought as he sat up in what he thought was Nathan's clinic. Must have had one hell of a fever to think that I was back at the estate, he thought again as he rubbed his eyes. He opened his eyes again and nearly fell back into the bed. He did recognize this place. And the feeling of dread threatened to overwhelm him as he came to the conclusion it hadn't been a dream, it was real.

He was home.

"Well, well, well, glad to see you decided to wake up," Chamberlain sneered.

"Why?" JD asked, for some reason not feeling all that intimidated by the man. He and Ezra had talked on the way out here, Ezra said that the reason people sometimes did what they did, like what had happened to JD, was a matter of control and that basically the one doing the hitting did it because they were afraid of who they were abusing. JD never really understood that until now, when he had questioned Chamberlain he seemed to be taken a back a little.

"You still owe me," Chamberlain said.Boys gotten some confidence, we'll take care of that, though, he thought to himself.

"You're right, I should have shot you when you walked through the door," JD said in a voice that Chris Larabee would have been proud of. He again noticed Chamberlain seemed to be caught off guard.

"You still haven't changed you little piece of sh.." finishing the word through a grunt as he rewarded JD with a fist to his face.

JD did something Chamberlain totally didn't expect, he not only glared at the man who'd hit him but recovered quickly and lept from the bed and he yelled, "NEVER AGAIN!," as he landed several gut punches of his own. Unfortunately Chamberlain's cries warned the men outside the small shack that JD had called home.

The men from two days earlier stormed the shack and subdued the fighting youth. JD struggled through his pain and as two men grabbed his arms, Chamberlain approached with his fist clenched, JD waited till the right moment and lifted his good leg and kicked the man hard. Two more men tried to grab at his flailing legs, finally securing those weapons. Chamberlain wiped away the blood that JD's boot had caused and as the boy lay on the floor, pinned down he kicked him, again and again till JD fell unconscious.

"Put him on the bed," he said breathlessly.

The men did as they were told and put JD in the bed, in a harsh manner.

"Recognize that bed, boy? Good, you're gonna die in it, too!" he spat out.

+ + + + + + +

The men didn't leave the hotel, they stayed there trying to digest exactly what had happened, even the flamboyant gambler was at a loss of words, to either express their anger and sadness or words of comfort others.

"You think he's okay?" Buck finally broke the all day silence, asking what everyone had wondered.

"Yeah, I'm sure he's fine," Vin said, not only trying to convince the others, but himself failing miserably on both accounts.

"What happens when we get back to Four Corners, brothers?" Josiah asked.

"What? Everything thing goes back to normal, Josiah.. What do you think," Buck said, his voice dripping with sarcasm and hurt, even the thought of going back there hurt, not if the kid wasn't going to be there.

"We stay together, or at least keep in touch," Chris ordered rather than suggested.

"Why? What's the use," the usually optimistic Nathan sighed.

"Cause it's what he'd want! He needs something to come back to!" Chris said harshly, his emotions and heart taking over his head.

"He ain't coming back, Chris, don't ya see that!" Buck yelled back.

"When we see him, if'n he ain't happy.. I'm takin' him. He ain't gonna stay somewhere he ain't happy, " Vin said so matter of factly and quiet they all knew it was true.

"Hope ya don't mind company," Buck added, like Vin knew he would.

"Hope not," Chris said.

"Me either," Nathan nodded

"God will forgive me," Josiah said to the understanding of the 'sin'.

"I'll not be able to survive the guilt of not accompanying you," Ezra said.

+ + + + + + +

JD began to wake. God, I feel awful, he thought. He never thought he'd have to wake up like this again. He smiled to himself, He couldn't do it by himself this time, knowing that it had taken four men to hold him down. Yes, he hurt, but his pride and determination was fully intact. Chamberlain wouldn't win. He'd find away out. Never again, he let Ezra's words echo in his head.

"Never again," he said quietly to himself, before he fell back into the darkness.

"Think I'll welcome you home properly," Chamberlain sneered to himself standing outside the small house. JD had been out for a few hours it was time to wake up.

Chamberlain walked into the small shack and approached the bed JD laid on and grabbed JD by the hair, pulling him from the bed. JD instinctively grabbed for the guns that were no longer there, then for the hands that grabbed at him. As his body slammed onto the floor, the pain to his ribs grew almost unbearable as he swore he could feel bones breaking. But he wouldn't scream, instead he began to try and get his feet under him as Chamberlain continued to drag him. Chamberlain stopped to open the door and JD saw his chance and regained his footing.

Chamberlains arm was bent, JD took a swing and caught the man off guard once again. JD landed a few more punches sending the man down to the floor, he saw his opportunity and ran for the door. He ran as hard as he could, the pain from the bullet wound was painful, but not important he needed to get out of there.

The sun had set and the moon had yet to come and it was in between light and dark, JD knew where he was and he knew how to get out. He could see the rock wall that was once used as a pasture marker, there was an old hunting cabin three miles from there, he hoped. It used to be there, he had spent many nights there before feeling safe enough to go home, fearing that his mother would find out.

He was so tired and his leg hurt, making it over the rocks had made his leg bend more than it wanted, and he really didn't even know if he was still running he felt like he was but he had slowed down, he never looked back to see if he was being followed, not that he could have gone any faster.

Can't be much further, just a few more miles, he thought to himself. He smiled at the thought of what the guys would think when he came into to town. The smile faded, They're probably headed back already. So I'll just go back to Four Corners, he smiled again. They've probably already gone different ways, the smile faded again.

"You....been...listening...to...too...many...of...Vin's...pep talks..." JD said out loud to himself, at his own thoughts.

"I got one hell of a pep talk for you," Chamberlain said jumping out from behind a tree.

JD stopped and looked back, he couldn't believe he'd only gotten a few feet from the rock wall. He grabbed at his side as every breath he felt a burn. He looked at the man in front of him, he stood as straight as he could, never showing the fear he felt. He looked Chamberlain straight in the eye, something he would never dared do before, but if Chamberlain was hell bent on hurting him he wouldn't just take it, he would fight back. Never again, JD thought again bringing a smile to his face, right before the walking cane knocked any other thoughts from his head and fell into the darkness.

"Serves you right. Now what am I going to do with you?" Chamberlain asked, kicking JD over onto his back. He sighed heavily and looked around the wooded area, he turned and looked again and remembered the old hunting cabin. He smiled widely as he thought of the cabin and turned to his horse and grabbed the rope he'd brought with him so he would be able to keep track of him. He tied JD's hands together, and looked around, the moon had finally come out and in the fall sky was bright enough to light the way to the cabin.

"Get up," he ordered JD. "I said get up!" grabbing a handful of hair to make his point.

"I'm up, all right!" JD yelled with a strength he didn't feel


"Don't ever talk back to me!" Chamberlain yelled in JD's face, and turned and mounted his horse as JD tried to get some balance from the hit.

He felt the tug, and caught up to the horse quickly so the rope was slack and didn't cut into his wrists so much. He limped behind the horse loosing strength with every step, feeling his eyes growing heavy he needed a rest.

"Stop," he said out of breath

Chamberlain ignored him and kept riding, JD continued his left leg almost useless for anything but stability so he wouldn't fall down, but he could tell that before to long it wouldn't even be good for that. JD was thankful that Chamberlain wasn't going any faster, he would have been dragging a long time ago and with the number of trees he walked through he most likely would be dead by now. He really need to stop and rest.

Now, JD thought as he fell to his knees, causing great pain in his leg and the rest of his body with the jolt.

"Stop!" JD yelled again, the rope being slack still.

Chamberlain still ignored him. JD grabbed the slack rope and then jerked his hands back, causing the roped to be pulled from Chamberlains grasp. JD tried to gather up the rope to himself, to make Chamberlain come his way, he would be able to fight him a little better that way. JD was almost to the end when Chamberlain jerked the rope causing the rope to burn JD's hand and pull tighter on his wrists.

"Well, you sure didn't get any smarter out West, in fact I think your more an idiot know that you were before," he laughed out.

"Bet your 'momma' be real proud of her precious baby boy, now wouldn't she?" Chamberlain tried to break the boy. Unfortunately the only thing it did was give JD more strength and he sprung to his feet, oblivious to the pain and once again found himself on top of Chamberlain.

JD swung his tied hands at Chamberlain but did little damage. Chamberlain easily got to his feet, as JD scrambled to get to his, he did and began running from the man who just laughed hideously. JD knew then he should have stopped. What JD didn't know is that Chamberlain had recovered the end of the rope and as JD tried to run Chamberlain yanked the rope back causing JD's hands to jerk back quickly and he fell to the ground heavily and awkwardly, he never remembered his head hitting the ground.

+ + + + + + +

The six men dressed and went down to the dining hall for breakfast. Sam greeted them as he had done the morning before, but his time with recognition and seated them at the table they had occupied before. "JD sleeping in?" he asked innocently, he really didn't see much change in the somber faces from the day before.

"No," Buck answered, his voice gravely and hinted with the lack of sleep.

"We didn't win," Vin said in explanation, knowing JD had filled him in earlier.

"No!" Sam gasped. "I'm so sorry," he let out sincerely.

The men couldn't say anything, they had had a whole day to deal with the fact the kid was gone, but it still didn't seem real, they seemed to keep looking at the entrance to the dinning hall for the kid to bounce into the room with a million excuses as to why he was late.

"Do you know where he is?" Sam asked.

"No," Buck said with no emotion.

"He was already gone when the judge told us," Vin said, just as unemotional as Buck.

"Did you see anyone there? I mean, besides yourself. If you did maybe.. I could tell you who might have him, so you can at least have some time with him before you head back," Sam offered, the six men turned their eyes to the man.

"You do that for us, Sam?" Buck asked, the older man reminding him of a young man who'd would say the same exact thing if he thought he could help.

"For you, no," he said honestly, "but for JD, yes. He 's a good kid, and he's grown into a fine man. He deserves to be happy," Sam said sadly.

"You know what it was like for him at the estate, don't you," Chris said, breaking his long silence.

"Unfortunately, there were rumors, but I know what that man was like. I had left before that, if I hadn't..I never..I wouldn't have let him go through that," Sam said.

"Can't understand how he could get away with it," Josiah said shaking his head.

"Joshua Chamberlain is a very respected citizen, has a lot of money and spreads it out, makes himself look real good. He wasn't always the way he is now. He was real decent to work for, but the people started falling on hard times, he lent some of the workers an advance for doctor bills and what have you. He never expected to get paid back. He made a mistake in hiring.. They stole from him whatever they could, and Chamberlain just couldn't stand it. I left soon after. Heard rumors that JD had mad a deal with Chamberlain, most of the people there now didn't look out for each other. All they did was talk or speculate if the kid came into the stables bruised, no one there would help. Maybe If I'd stayed..." Sam said.

"You can't look back, can't live on what ifs and maybes, Sam," Josiah offered.

"Sam!" a voice yelled from the front desk.

"I better get back to work, if there's anything I can help you with, let me know," Sam said and smiled, and turned to go back to his post.

"Hey, Sam," Chris asked, his voice tense.

"Yes?" Sam answered, turning back around.

"What'd you say his first name was again?" Chris said, an alarm going off in his head.

"Joshua, why?"

"Judge said 'Joshua' was there waiting for him. Any chance there's more than one Joshua here?"

Sam looked as panicked as Chris felt. "Yeah, there's a few, but two are in their 70's and the other has five kids..you think he has him?" Sam voiced what Chris thought.

"What? " Bucks voice boomed in worry at the thought, bringing a deafening silence to the dinning hall.

"If he's there," Vin said, placing his hand on his carbine, not caring who was watching.

"I can ask the judge, find out," Sam offered to help again.

"No thanks, Sam, I think we'll go visit the judge," Chris said, standing, the five men following the leader.

"Please, let me know if I can help."

"You already have," Chris smiled, and nodded as they left the dinning hall quickly and made their way across the busy street to the judges office.

"Buck, you stay out here, Vin, you come in with me," Chris said.


"No, you stay here. I don't need you to make things worse by goin' after the judge!" Chris said firmly, knowing Buck would loose control if the judge didn't divulge the information he wanted, or would go after him if he confirmed his suspicions.

"And you won't?!" Buck reasoned, knowing that Chris was just as capable, if not more so, of doing something 'foolish' where JD was concerned.

"That's why Vin's coming with me," he let a crooked smile cross his face, letting the others know he knew what he was capable of.

"May be I should offer my assistance?" Ezra asked.

"That might be a good idea," Chris realized.

"Watch out Ezra, 'Miss' Ballard is at the front desk," Buck said, sporting a wicked smile.

"Oh joy," Ezra said, rolling his eyes.

The men entered the office.

"Mr. Larabee, Mr. Standish and ..." Miss Ballard asked.

"We wish to speak to the judge," Ezra said, cocking his head to the side, not offering Vin's name.

"He told you he would try and make arrangements," she stated coldly.

"Is he in his office?" Vin asked quietly, like he was just wondering.

"Yes..." she said, suddenly regretting it as the men smiled at her and headed for the door.

"You can't go in there..he's a busy man..You can't...."

The three men walked through the door with purpose, not caring if anyone was in there or not. They needed to know if Chamberlain had JD and they needed to know now.

"Judge, I'm sorry, I tried to.."

"It's all right, Amanda, you can shut the door." Chris noticed the judge didn't seem surprised they were even there.

"Mr. Larabee, I know how diff.."

"With all do respect, may we dispose of the pleasantries?" The judge leaned back in his chair and motioned Ezra to continue. "Thank you. We need to know the name of the party that you haplessly gave custody of young Mr. JD Dunne to." Chris and Vin were taken back not only by Ezra's tone, but his lack of some control, as they saw that Ezra place both his hands on the judge's desk as he talked, seemingly in the man's face.



"Mr. Standish, I'm afraid I can't do that, as I told you yesterday, I would talk to the 'party' in question and see if I could arrange a meeting," the judge said, not aggravatedly, but stating his control.

"The circumstances have changed I'm afraid, we believe our friend is in a great deal of danger," Ezra still couldn't hide his concern.

"I assure you, Mr. Standish, the man who was awarded custody is a res..."

"If I were to give you a name to the man in question would you here my reasons for my concern?" The judge nodded, why not, he thought.

"Chamberlain, Joshua Chamberlain. Does he have the young man?"

"Mr. Chamberlain is a very re..." the judge tried again.

"Does he have JD?" Chris stepped forward, fire in his eyes.

"Yes, he was awarded custody, Mr. Larabee."

"He's gonna kill him, Chris," Vin sighed, feeling the anger and hate for a man he never met.

"What are you talking about?" the judge almost laughed.

"JD worked for Chamberlain before his mother died, did you know that?" Chris asked, still showing the fire in his eyes.

"Yes, I did." The judge still didn't know where this was going.

"Were you aware of the fact that the young man was beaten practically every day at the hands of that man!" Ezra's charm all but gone as the anger took over.

"What? You are making some very severe accusations."

"Mister, if they are just accusations then you tell me why I spent more than my share of time trying to wake JD up from nightmares about gettin' beat," Vin saying once again as calmly as he could.

"He's a very respected man in this community, gentlemen. You have been here for a day and you loose custody of your friend and you're upset, I understand that but..to go..."

"You haven't seen 'upset' yet, sir," Ezra said coldly.

"Mr. Standish, if you do not cease and desist this, this...."

"Judge, I'm sorry. Would you allow us to ride out there and make sure he's okay?" Vin apologized.

"I'm sorry.. I can't allow.."

"Come with us, if you're right, we'll leave," Chris offered calmly.

"You expect me to go to Chamberlain's estate and just go and ask him 'are you hurting the boy'?"

"No, we ask the help. They would have seen him, right?" Chris relayed. The judge was thinking, giving the three men hope.

The judge sighed heavily, "Okay, give me an hour, we'll meet back here."

"We ain't going anywhere, we'll be waiting for you." Chris and the others tipped there hats and left the office, tipping their hats with smiles to Miss Ballard as they made their way to the porch.

"Well?" Buck asked.

"He's got him," Chris sighed out.

"Jesus..what are we waiting for?" Buck asked as the three just stood there.

"The Judge is coming with us to the estate, we ask the help if they'd seen JD," Chris said.

"What the hell's that gonna prove. What do you think the help will..?" Buck accused.

"Cause no one's gonna know he's even there," Vin said sadly.

"I'll tell the judge to ask to see JD," Chris said, "while we ask around if anyone's seen him."

"Do you think the judge will listen to JD then?" Nathan asked hopeful.

"Nope, cause I don't think Chamberlain will let the judge see him," Chris said confidently.

The men never moved from the porch and a half hour later the judge came out the door.

"I finished early, you ready?"

"I wish I could tell you I'm wrong, Judge," Chris said with conviction.

"If he's there you'll leave tonight and no more trouble?" the judge asked.

"If you see him with your own eyes we will, but he's not going to let you," Chris said, stating his opinion of what Chamberlain most likely had done already.

The judge didn't indicate anything as all the men mounted there horses.

The judge had let the earlier conversation roll around in his mind, these men cared for the boy and would do anything to get him back, but it really didn't seem to him that they would make something like this up. He also remembered JD's reaction when Joshua had stepped into the office, at first he thought that it was just the stress of the whole custody hearing, finding out he wouldn't be with these men; but then there were the eyes, the kid's eyes had practically haunted him all that night. They weren't filled with concern or surprise, after Larabee and company had come in earlier the eyes haunted him again and it registered with him what the boy's eyes were saying. Fright.


E-mail: karinmilligan@hotmail.com