The next morning Chris had slept in later than usual. He came out of the boarding house and surveyed the street. Mrs. Potter was sweeping in front of her store and smiled when she saw him. A gust of wind blew down the street, spreading dust and sand over the boardwalk. Chris watched as Mrs. Potter gave up sweeping and headed back inside. He stepped off the boardwalk and headed for the jail. Chris could hear Josiah hammering over by the church. He watched the street as he walked. He noticed a few strangers walking across the way. Their horses were tied up in front of the saloon. When he got to the jail he opened the door and went inside. JD and Buck were there. JD had his feet up on the desk reading yesterday's paper. Buck was asleep leaning back in his chair. Chris was surprised Vin wasn't there.
"Anyone see Vin?" he asked.
"You know him," Buck said with his eyes closed. "He probably went for a ride."
"Nope," JD contradicted. "Sire's down at the livery."
"Are you sure?" Chris asked getting a funny feeling.
"Yeah," JD answered picking up on Chris's tone. "You think something's wrong?"
"Not sure," Chris admitted. "Buck, go round up Nathan. JD go wake up Ezra. I'll get Josiah and we'll meet at the saloon."
Buck and JD went out and disappeared along the street. Chris followed, heading for the church. Something was wrong, he could just feel it.
Vin woke with a pounding headache. He didn't remember drinking anything last night. He lay there for a few minutes with his eyes closed trying to sort his jumbled thoughts. The last thing he remembered was playing cards. No, not cards, reading with Ezra. Suddenly he remembered everything and he sat up quickly. He instantly regretted it and lay back down. When his head stopped spinning he slowly tried sitting up. He leaned against the building and slowly brought his hand up to his right temple. He winced as he touched the wound. He was stiff from being out all night and decided to wait a few minutes before he stood up. He glanced over at the body and cursed himself for being a fool.
The others gathered outside the saloon and Chris told them to split up and look for Vin. They didn't question why he thought Vin was in trouble they just did as he asked. They trusted Chris's judgement. They were about to split up when JD saw someone staggering along the wall by the general store. As they got closer to the edge of the building he could see it was Vin.
"Chris, look!" JD yelled as he sprinted across the street.
When the others saw what the kid was yelling about they followed close on his heels. JD was the first to reach Vin and grabbed him so he wouldn't fall. JD saw the blood that was covering the right side of his face. As the others approached, they saw it too. Nathan moved quickly to his side and examined the wound.
"Easy there, Nathan," Vin said, wincing away from the touch.
"Let's get him up to the clinic," Nathan said and they started to take him across the street.
"Hold on just a minute," he said pulling out of their grasp. He staggered and JD grabbed him.
"Vin, don't be stubborn about this," Chris warned.
"No it's not that," Vin said pulling away. "I found another body. It's down the alley."
"When did you find it?" JD asked.
"Last night," Vin said as he swayed.
"I'm taking you to the clinic, now," Nathan declared as he took Vin's arm.
"Just a minute Nathan!" Vin said angrily.
"No, Vin, now," Chris's voice brooked no argument.
"No! You don't understand," Vin said in frustration. "I think whoever hit me was the killer."
"What makes you think it was the killer?" Buck asked.
"Ain't sure," Vin said with a sigh. "Just a feeling."
"You going to come willingly," Nathan asked. "Or do I have to knock you out and carry you?"
"Might I suggest you hit him on the opposite side," Ezra suggested.
Vin gave Ezra a dirty look as he let Nathan help him over to the clinic. Chris started down the alley and the others followed. They didn't have to go far to find the body. It was laying on its side against the wall to the general store. Pinned to the victim's shirt was a newspaper article. They could all see his throat had been cut.
"Anyone recognize him?"
"Yeah," JD said in a strangled voice. "It's Connor Macintosh."
Ezra bent down close to the body and examined the ground. There was a patch of blood close to the body.
"It would appear Mr. Tanner spent his evening here," Ezra commented.
"What makes you think that?" Buck asked.
"There was no blood associated with the other victims," he began. "Mr. Tanner was struck from behind and must have lain here because of the blood."
"What I want to know was what the hell was he doing patrolling by himself," Chris growled. "He knew the killer was around."
"I don't think he did it intentionally, Brother Chris," Josiah soothed.
"Gentleman," Ezra called. "do you notice something peculiar?"
"No," JD said as he looked around. "Why?"
"There aren't any tracks of the killer," Ezra said. "Just Vin's."
Chris took a closer look and Ezra was right. The only tracks he could see were Vin's. Chris had no idea how the killer was doing this. Chris had them spread out and search the area. They didn't find anything. Chris ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. Josiah and Buck took the body over to the undertaker while JD, Ezra and Chris headed over to the clinic.
"Hey, Chris, why didn't he kill Vin?" JD asked.
"I don't know JD," Chris answered truthfully.
:"Let's just be thankful this miscreant decided not to deprive us of the laconic tracker," Ezra said.
They climbed the stairs to the clinic and walked to Nathan's door. As they got closer they could hear Vin and Nathan arguing. Chris opened the door and they cautiously entered.
"Chris, talk some sense into this, this..."
"Neanderthal," Ezra supplied.
"Jack ass," JD suggested.
"Look, Chris, all I said was I was going to that party tonight!" Vin protested.
"Hold it!" Chris yelled as Nathan and Vin started arguing again. "One at a time. Nathan you first."
"Chris!" Vin growled.
"You'll get your chance," Chris said.
"This fool here has a slight concussion," Nathan started. "I told him he'd have to stay in bed a couple of days."
"Good luck," JD muttered under his breath.
"That's what I told him," Vin said.
Chris glared at them and they shut up. Ezra just smiled.
"How bad is he, Nate?" Chris asked.
"He's damn lucky," Nathan explained. "Just a little harder and he'd be dead. He needs to take it easy for a couple of days. He says he has to go to the dance tonight."
"Why?" Chris asked Vin.
"I just have a bad feeling something's going to happen," Vin explained.
"What's going to happen?" JD asked.
"Ain't rightly sure."
"What if the two of you compromised?" Ezra asked. "What if, Mr. Tanner, rested until the party? Then he could go but agrees to return here when it's over to recuperate."
"I suppose," Nathan agreed reluctantly.
"Don't worry Nathan we'll be there to pick him up if he falls flat on his face," JD said. "Then you can tell him I told you so."
"Now wait a cotton picking minute," Vin protested.
"Take it, or leave it, cowboy." Chris said.
"I'll take it," Vin agreed.
Chris helped him take his boots off. Vin made him swear he'd wake him before the party. Chris agreed and Vin settled back against the pillows. He knew Chris wouldn't break his word and he relaxed. In no time he was asleep. Nathan ushered them out on the porch and closed the door.
"How is he, really?" Chris asked in concern.
"He does have a concussion," Nathan said. "He's just lucky he's got such a hard head."
"Why does he want to got to the party so bad?" JD asked.
"When Vin gets one of his feelings I hate to ignore them," Chris began.
"Could it be because he's usually right?" Ezra asked.
"Who's usually right?" Buck asked joining the conversation.
"Vin's premonitions," Ezra answered.
"Where's Josiah?" Chris asked.
"He went out to the Macintosh ranch," Buck said soberly. "How's Vin?"
"He'll be fine if listens to what I tell him," Nathan said.
"That'll be the day," Buck laughed.
"Chris, I'm going over to check the body," Nathan said. "Maybe I can find something."
"All right, I'll stay with Vin," Chris said. "Buck you and JD take a look outside town. Maybe he left a trail. Ezra..."
"I was going to go talk to Mary and maybe inquire if the townspeople saw anything," Ezra said.
Chris watched as they all went about their business. He went back inside and sat next to Vin. The tracker was sleeping peacefully. Chris could see the lump on his temple. It was beginning to turn an incredible shade of purple. Chris leaned back in the chair and got comfortable. He hoped Vin was wrong and nothing would happen but he knew that was wishful thinking. Vin wasn't usual wrong.
Nathan returned a short time later and told Chris there was nothing unusual about the body. Chris figured he wouldn't find anything. Nathan was pretty sure each of the victims had known the killer. Chris asked how he decided that. He explained that there weren't any sighs of a struggle. Nathan went over to Vin and started to shake his shoulder.
"Why are you waking him up?" asked Chris.
"With a concussion you have to wake him every once in awhile," Nathan explained as he continued to shake Vin. "Just to make sure he's all right."
"Come on Vin wake up," Chris said.
"Would y'all make up your mind," Vin complained as he rolled over.
"Sorry, Vin, I got to wake you every once in awhile," Nathan said.
Nathan made him follow his finger with his eyes. When Vin had no trouble doing that he started to ask him questions until Vin started to get irritated. Nathan was satisfied he was all right and told him to go back to sleep. Vin rolled over and threw the covers over his head. Chris smiled when he heard Vin complaining about nosy doctors and mother hen gunslingers. The tirade ended and Chris watched as he relaxed and went back to sleep. Nathan said he'd watch Vin and Chris went down to the saloon. He saw Ezra walk over from Mary's.
"I'm afraid Mrs. Travis couldn't elaborate more on the patrons of her paper," Ezra said.
"I'm not surprised," Chris commented.
"How is our resident tracker fairing?"
"Ah, it's good to know he's behaving in a normal manor for his condition," Ezra smiled. "Now if you will excuse me I will enquire if the good townspeople saw anything."
Chris watched Ezra head over to the general store. There were more people wandering around town than earlier that morning. Chris headed over to the jail. As he was walking along the boardwalk, Buck and JD rode into town. They stopped by Chris and dismounted.
"I'm no tracker Chris," Buck said. "But we couldn't find a damned thing."
"Yeah whoever this guy is he covers his tracks real good," JD added.
"Chris!" Mary called as she walked towards them. "Ezra told me what happened. Is Vin alright?"
"He'll be fine," Chris said. "Nathan says he has a concussion."
"That's good to hear," she said. "I need to ask a favor. Josiah was going to help us set up for the party tonight. Could I possibly get some help?"
"We'd be happy to help," Buck volunteered. "We ain't getting anywhere with the murders."
"Thank you," Mary smiled. "Don't worry, I know you will find the killer,"
The rest of the day was spent decorating the clearing next to the church. They put lanterns up all around the area and a big bonfire was set up away from the church. Tables were set up to hold the food and boards were set up on logs for benches. The children tied white, black and orange pieces of cloth on the trees and bushes. As it got dark Mary took Billy home to get dressed in his costume. Josiah had come back from the Macintosh ranch and had given them a hand. Even Ezra had gotten in the spirit by getting the children to make a couple of scarecrows. Chris said he was going to get Vin. As he walked towards the clinic Yosemite was lighting the fires in town. He climbed the stairs to Nathan's and was about to walk in when the door opened and Vin walked out. Nathan followed close behind hovering.
"Enough, Nathan!" Vin said angrily. "I'm all right."
"Fine. Don't blame me if you fall flat on your face," Nathan argued.
Chris could see that the bruise discolored a large area around Vin's right temple. Vin headed down the stairs and Chris turned back to Nathan. He could tell the healer wasn't happy. They followed Vin back to the church. The others had the bonfire going and it lit up the area. Josiah was filling a water trough to be used for bobbing for apples. Buck and JD were lighting the lanterns while Ezra was lighting the candles in the jack-o-lanterns.
"Looks real good," Vin said as he walked up.
"Damn, Vin, you don't need a costume. You can scare the kids just the way you look," Buck said when he saw the bruise.
"I bet that hurts," JD commented.
"I need to ask a favor of you, Mr. Tanner," Ezra inquired.
"Sure, Ezra," Vin said.
"I must insist you stand away from me," he began. "The color purple will clash with my scarlet jacket."
Buck laughed as Vin punched Ezra on the shoulder. Chris just shook his head at the banter between them. Some of the towns'people were beginning to arrive and Josiah greeted them. They started wandering around to keep an eye on things. Vin saw Nettie and Casey's wagon approach and waited for them to stop. He walked over to the wagon to help them out.
"Boy, what in tarnation happened to you?" Nettie exclaimed when she saw the bruise.
"It's nothing," Vin insisted.
"If that's nothing I want to see what you think something is," Casey said as Vin helped her down
Other families from outside of town began to arrive also. Everyone was laughing and having a good time. Chris stood off to the side and kept an eye on everyone. He could see Vin across the way doing the same thing. He saw Mary coming back towards the church with Billy. He was dressed all in black and was wearing a hat like Chris's. Billy also had on a gun belt with a carved wooden gun. Chris looked up to see Vin and Ezra trying to hide their smiles but doing a terrible job.
"Hi Chris," Billy yelled as he got closer.
"Who are you supposed to be Billy?" Buck ask with a smile.
"I'm Chris!" he yelled as he placed his hands on his hips.
Buck told him looked real fine and walked away. Chris could hear him laughing as he did.
"Don't you like my costume Chris?" Billy asked disappointed.
"I think it looks just fine," he said as he squatted down to be on his level. "Why don't you head over to Josiah. He was gathering all the kids to bob for apples."
"I hope it's all right, Mr. Larabee," Mary said as they watched Billy walk over to Josiah. "When I asked who he wanted to be he said you. I thought he should get your permission first but he wanted it to be a surprise."
"It's all right, Mary, I don't mind," Chris reassured her.
"Evenin' Ma'am," Vin said as he got closer. "Billy's costume is right fine."
"Thank you Vin. How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," he said.
The full moon came out and cast its light on the revelers. The party was in full swing and everyone was having a good time. JD was standing next to Vin watching Buck dancing with the ladies. Chris was on the opposite side standing with Mary. Josiah and Nathan were helping Nettie with the food and Ezra was standing by the cemetery watching. JD looked over at Ezra and stared in shock. On the hill silhouetted by the moon was the Headless Horseman.
"Shit! Vin, LOOK!" JD shouted as he pointed.
Vin looked to where he pointed and couldn't believe his eyes. He quickly got over his shock and pulled his gun. The others had heard JD's shout and had seen the apparition also. Suddenly the horse reared and they heard laughter as he charged down the hill. Ezra didn't have time to react as the horse plowed into him, throwing him three feet in the air. The townspeople started screaming as the regulators tried to take aim but couldn't for fear of hitting one of them. The Headless Horseman raised his gun and Vin realized his target. He tackled JD as the gun went off.
"EVERYONE GET DOWN!" Chris screamed.
As the townspeople fell to the ground they fired on the apparition. Chris watched as the bullets ripped into the body and it fell from the horse. Released of its burden the horse fled in terror. Chris, Buck and Josiah cautiously approached the fallen rider. Nathan went to check on Ezra. Chris bent down and pulled away the coat covering the head of the rider. As he pulled it away a face they all recognized appeared.
"It's the Colonel!" Buck exclaimed.
"Why?" Chris asked when he saw he was still alive.
"I had to..... send those..... boys to..... rescue my son," he explained before he died.
"What's he talking about?" Buck asked annoyed.
"Oh my Gosh," Mary said. "I know what he's talking about."
"What?" Josiah asked.
"His son, Mitchell, was a cavalry officer during the Civil War," she explained. "He was killed at the Battle of Shiloh when a cannon blew his head off."
"Then, Mr. Dunne's, deduction was correct," Ezra said as he walked over with Nathan's help.
"About what?" Josiah asked.
"The clipping pinned to the victims were a clue," he elaborated.
"Speaking of JD, where is he?" Nathan asked.
Suddenly Chris felt a chill run down his spine. Vin was also being too quiet. Chris felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up when he heard JD scream.
They jumped up to find JD cradling Vin in his arms. A large crimson stain could be seen on Vin's back. They ran over and Nathan dropped next to the unconscious tracker. Buck squatted next to JD and he could see the kid's hand was covered in blood from holding pressure on the wound. Nathan pulled one of his knives and split the canvas jacket he was wearing. He next cut away Vin's shirt to reveal a bullet hole just below his right rib cage.
"We have to get him to the clinic," Nathan said.
"I'll carry him," Josiah offered as went to pick him up.
"No, I want to keep him flat," Nathan said. "Don't know where that bullet went."
"What if we put him on the boards from the benches," Ezra suggested with a grimace.
"That'll work," Nathan said.
Josiah and Buck grabbed the board and brought it over to Vin. They transferred the unconscious tracker to it and Chris and Buck each picked up an end. Nathan walked alongside keeping pressure on the wound. He turned to Josiah.
"Bring Ezra along with you," Nathan said. "He's got a couple of busted ribs."
"Come along, brother," Josiah said taking Ezra by the arm.
"How bad is he?" JD asked walking on Vin's other side.
"Can't tell until I can check him over," Nathan said.
"He saved my life," JD said in a quiet voice.
Josiah and Ezra followed at a slower pace. Ezra's ribs were making it hard to breathe. By the time they got to the room Nathan had stripped off Vin's clothes. Chris was washing the blood away from the wound while Nathan washed his hands. When he was done he came back over to Vin. Josiah helped Ezra sit on the other bed.
"Buck hold on to his legs," Nathan instructed. "Chris can you hold his shoulders."
"What can I do?" JD asked anxiously.
"You can hold the tray with the instruments I'll need." he said.
Chris and Buck grabbed Vin and Nathan handed JD the tray. He picked up the probe and gently pushed it into the wound. Vin began to stir and tried to move away from the pain.
"Hold him!" Nathan yelled.
Chris and Buck did as he said and took a tighter hold on the slight tracker. Nathan tried to be gentle but he couldn't find the bullet. Vin let out a low moan as Nathan continued his search. Chris saw the sweat break out on Nathan's forehead as he concentrated. JD had a death grip on the tray as he watched in horror as the blood oozed from the wound.
"Nathan," Chris called as he felt Vin shudder.
"I can't find it Chris," Nathan replied in a defeated voice.
"Dear Lord, please guide thy servants hands to help heal our wounded comrade," Josiah began to pray.
Nathan continued to probe for the bullet and it was getting harder for them to hold Vin. Chris could hear a soft constant moan coming from his injured friend. He looked up at Nathan and was about to say something when Chris saw him sigh in relief.
"I got it!" he exclaimed.
He carefully removed the probe and laid the bloody instrument on the tray. He picked up the forceps and pushed it into the wound to extract the bullet. Vin cried out as Nathan carefully pulled the bullet out.
"There!" he said in triumph as he dropped them on the tray.
He reached over and grabbed the carbolic acid and poured it on the wound. Vin jumped, almost throwing Chris and Buck off. When Nathan was satisfied the wound was clean he packed it with cloth soaked in the carbolic. With Chris's help he then wrapped Vin's abdomen to hold them in place. Chris gently lay Vin back down and covered him with some blankets. Nathan checked his pulse and found it to be fast but strong.
"How is he?" Chris finally asked.
"With rest he'll be fine," Nathan answered. "The bullet missed any major organs. He's very lucky."
They all sighed in relief. Nathan moved over to Ezra and helped him out of his coat. Ezra removed his shirt and winced. Nathan touched his ribs and Ezra grimaced.
"Yup they're broken alright," Nathan said.
"I could have informed you of that myself Mr. Jackson," Ezra announced in an annoyed tone.
"Now, Brother Ezra, behave." Josiah scolded.
Nathan wrapped Ezra's ribs and dosed him with laudanum for the pain. He slowly fell asleep as the others kept watch over their injured comrades.
Vin was slowly pulled from sleep by an annoying pain in his back. He tried to ignore it but it was no use. He cautiously opened his eyes and was disoriented when he could only see out of one. He lay there trying to figure out what was going on. Slowly images started to come into focus and he could see Ezra reclining against some pillows. Ezra turned in his direction and was surprised.
"Good Lord, Mr. Tanner, how long have you been awake?" Ezra asked as he slowly swung his feet off the bed.
"What?" Vin croaked.
"Just a moment," Ezra said.
He got up and sat on the edge of his bed and held a cup of water to his lips. Vin gratefully drank the cool liquid. When he was finished he tried getting more comfortable and cried in pain.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Ezra suggested.
"Thanks Ezra," Vin hissed. "What the hell happened."
"Well after you saved, Mr. Dunne, we shot down the Headless Horseman. We discovered it was the Colonel. He was killing the young man so they could save his son. Apparently he son was a cavalry officer who was killed when his head was blown off by a cannon."
"So that's why he clipped the story to them," Vin whispered.
"Exactly," Ezra agreed.
"Nathan just got Chris to leave," Ezra answered. "He hasn't left your side in two days."
"Two days!" Vin yelled and winced.
"Might I suggest you lie still. Shall I get him for you?"
"Nah, if I know Chris he hasn't slept in two days. I'm all right."
"I must disagree. You gave us quiet a scare. I believe Nathan has plans to tie you to this bed until you are fully recovered."
"You don't look all that great either, "Vin protested.
"I'm a little worse for wear but I shall be fine."
"I believe you are delusional, Mr. Tanner. Might I suggest you go back to sleep."
Ezra careful stood up from the bed and settled back on his own. Vin saw him wince as he lay back.
"Next time I ask you to read me a story can you just shoot me?"
"That would be unfortunate. I wanted to introduce you to a wonderful author by the name of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. She wrote a story about giving life to a monster made from dead individuals."
Vin groaned as he threw the covers over his head to drown out the smooth talking southerner.
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