"Will ya look at it come down," the mustached man said quietly, staring out
the window of the saloon.
"Ranches need the rain," the man in black stated as the crack of lighting
sounded, making the young man in the corner become more uneasy.
"Can you see them yet?" the young man asked.
"I'm sure they're fine, JD," Nathan said in his low soothing voice, not at
all easing the young boy's mind.
"JD, Vin's found shelter if needed," Chris offered.
"Sides that kid, Josiah's with him," Buck smiled.
The men all knew JD hated thunderstorms, the only fear he hadn't been able
to overcome, adding the fact that his brother was out there in the middle
of it made it impossible to get him distracted.
"Maybe we should go lookin' for them," JD started, the sharp crack making
"JD, he's fine. He's been out in worse than this," Chris tried.
"Mr. Dunne, what you are suggesting, although of noble intent, would not
be a prudent decision, I'm afraid, regarding the deteriorating conditions
"That's why I think we need to go lookin' for them!"
"I wouldn't suggest that."
All eyes turned to the door of the saloon and looked at the two men standing
there, puddles forming under their feet as the rain dripped off their clothes.
JD silently letting out a sigh of relief.
"How was your ride?" Chris asked sarcastically, with a crooked grin.
"Great," Vin stated back, shaking off his hat against his leg.
"I do believe there are some heavy blankets upstairs," Ezra began
"I know where they are, I'll get them," Buck said as he got up from his chair,
heading up the stairs. He noticed the silence and turned to the group.
"What!? Even they need company once in awhile," he grinned widely, and went
back to his task.
"Where's JD?" Vin asked, he knew JD hated storms like these, he worried when
he didn't see him after he had entered the saloon.
"I think Ezra's trying to keep his attention," Josiah nodded in the direction
of where Ezra and JD sat.
"How's he been?" the soaked bounty hunter asked, like a parent would ask
someone who had watched their child.
"He didn't hide in the corner, he's been pretty wound up about you being
out in this, though," Chris couldn't hide the small smile at the realization
that Vin probably didn't find shelter due to the fact that he was just as
worried about his brother as JD was about him.
"You think he would've gone out lookin' for me?"
"It was comin' close to it."
Vin was pleased in a self indulgent way. JD would face his fear to look for
him, that meant JD had finally let down the small wall of protection he had
put up. When they had found out that they were brothers, Vin was as happy
as he could ever be, but JD didn't seem to be too sure. He wouldn't suggest
that they do anything or ask to spend time with him, always afraid he'd be
pushing, and let Vin come to him. JD wanting to go out and find him was a
Vin walked over to the table that the two men sat at. He nodded at Ezra as
he lifted his head, Ezra, who made a good living out of reading faces, understood
he wanted to talk to JD.
"If you'll excuse me, Mr. Dunne, I'm going to check on Mr. Wilmington's
'progress' in finding those dry blankets, I fear he may have become
'distracted'," Ezra smiled and went up the stairs.
"Glad you guys made it back," JD said quietly.
"Pretty nasty out there," Vin answered, nodding his head.
"Why didn't you find somewhere to hide then?" the young man sounded almost
"Cause I was worried about ya, I know ya don't like these kinda storms,"
the tracker relayed, with a tone that held understanding.
JD smiled awkwardly at Vin, "I was worried about ya, too," he said shyly.
"Were ya actually thinking 'bout goin' out in this?" Vin cocked his head.
"Well, yeah..I mean.. You're used to bein' out there and stuff..but.. I was
gonna.. Your my brother, and..well ain't they suppose to worry about stuff
like that?" he stammered.
"Yeah, I suppose they are," Vin couldn't help but smile, as he put a wet
arm around his brother.
As the wetness soaked quickly into JD's back, he stood up and yelled, "Geez,
Vin! Dang it, that's cold!"
"Sorry," he said, as his eyes sparkled with mischief.
"...I was gettin' them Ezra! No need of ya comin' up there like that," Buck
stated loudly as he and the gambler came down the stairs.
"I don't recall the spare blankets being located in Miss Loretta's room,"
Ezra shot back.
"I was just checking," Buck shot back
"Checking for blankets, or checking what's under them?" JD added his opinion.
"JD! I'm hurt!" Buck let out.
"Why? She slam the door in your face again?" the young man said with a smile,
remembering the day before.
"One more word, JD..." came the usual, and much missed threat.
"Or what?" came the much missed response, as JD prepared to bolt from his
"Or..or.. Well..just give me a minute to think," Buck said coming closer
to the table as he said it.
"Gettin' slow, Buck?" JD threw out.
Bucks eyes became wide and he made a move to JD, who lunged from the chair
and ran for the bar, still showing a slight limp.
"Buck, now don't go gettin' him runnin'!" Nathan stating his concern, but
happy to see a bit of the familiar play between the men.
"Then he oughta learn when to keep his mouth shut!" Buck feigned anger, he
missed the game, too.
The two shifted back and forth at the bar, Buck suddenly lurched across the
bar and grabbed JD's hat.
"Hey! Give it back, Buck!" JD shouted as the scoundrel made his way towards
the bat wing doors, like he was an outlaw with a precious hostage.
"Say you're sorry," Buck teased.
"Sorry for what?"
"For hurtin' my feelings," he faked a pout.
"Come on, Buck, give it back..it's rainin' outside for cryin' out loud."
"Say you're sorry," Buck lifted his eyebrows, smiled and tilted his head.
"Fine, now give me my hat," JD stepped closer to his hat.
"You didn't say you was sorry yet," Buck said as JD grabbed at his hat, Buck
lifting it over his head.
"Dammit, Buck! Give it back!" the kid ran at Buck, hitting him in the middle
and sending them both through the doors. The smiles on the men's faces left
quickly at the crash of lightning hitting too close, and scaring the horses.
The men made their way to the boardwalk and saw Buck struggling to get up
beside Vin's horse, and JD curled in a tight ball with his hands covering
his head underneath Josiah's frightened horse, as the prancing hooves came
Buck managed to get to his feet, but the slick mud made it difficult to walk
fast. Josiah made his way to his horse and quickly untied it, trying to back
it away quickly and carefully, not wanting it to step on the boy again. The
horse was clear of the kid when another lightning bolt struck, causing JD
to get tighter into the ball, and Josiah letting the horse go.
"JD, it's Nathan, you hurt?" Nathan response was a slight nod.
"Get me inside, please," came the quiet plea, Nathan realizing JD was no
longer covering his head but his ears.
Nathan stood to lift JD, but Vin was already there. He lifted JD with ease
and brought him into the saloon, another snap of lightning made JD react,
and Vin would have dropped him if Chris hadn't have steadied both of them.
Buck watched as they went into the saloon, he closed his eyes and hung his
head towards the ground feeling guilty for getting the boy hurt..again. He
opened the guilt ridden eyes and saw JD's muddy, deformed, precious hat.
He bent over and picked it up, and turned to the man who suddenly put his
hand to the man's shoulder.
"Did it again, Josiah," Buck said solemnly.
"Yes, you did brother, you made him remember what it was like before,
unfortunately the black cats showed there heads."
Buck nodded and went to the saloon, to make sure JD was all right.
"I'm okay, Nathan, nothing's broken," JD smiled a bit through the mud caked
"You hurtin' at all?" Nathan asked.
"Well, yeah, Nate, I just got stepped on. I think I got caught mostly on
my back," JD said steadily, as he was helped off with his wet clothes. He
saw Buck and Josiah step through the door and noticed Buck's guilty look.
"Oww," JD was caught off guard.
"Gotta alot of bruises and scrapes, but I don't think nothing's broke."
"I already told ya that, Nathan," he said smugly. "Hey, Josiah."
"What is it, son?" Josiah asked seriously, moving in front of the boy.
"Your horse has a shoe nail comin' out," he frowned, showing the gash surrounded
by an already forming bruise on his forearm.
"I suppose there's one way to check for those things," Josiah smiled.
Nathan was checking JD's head when he saw Buck holding something vaguely
familiar. "That my hat?"
"Yeah, guess the horse musta stepped on it," Buck shyly let out.
"Ya think?" JD let out sarcastically. "Oww."
"I'm sorry, kid, I didn't mean.."
"I hope you been savin' your money.. How much ya think it's gonna cost to
get that fixed, Ezra?" JD attempted to move his head.
"Hold still, JD, let Nathan.." Vin tried.
"Hold still then...you're gonna need some stitches there.." Nathan made a
"Well, I would have to estimate the cost of cleaning and mending of said
hat, being a rather unusual style, I would guess no less than....perhaps
"What!? Are you kidding..I ain't paying that. Hell.. I'll just go see Miss
Mable. She's kinda sweet on me and I bet I can get this here hat cleaned
"And I'm sure you'll convince her that your doin' her a favor," JD laughed.
"And I'm sure she'll have to thank me!" Buck said.
"Ahem," he cleared his voice, "I think I'll go see to this, very important
matter, right off."
"U-huh," was the chorus of six men as he made his way out the door.
JD couldn't help but smile, things were finally back to normal, Chris told
him it wouldn't hurt to get things back to normal. He was a bit wrong about
the 'hurt' part, but JD was happy again.
"Ow! Dang it, Nathan. What are you doin', makin' more things to stitch up?"
Well.. He was happier than before, "Ow!" but not by much.
"Let's get ya over to the clinic, get ya cleaned up and stitched," Nathan
"It stop rainin' yet?" JD asked, looking to the door.
"Not yet, but the lightning's gone." A loud crack.
"You sure about that?" JD asked again, a nervous twinge hitting his voice.
"Josiah, you wanna come with me and get the stuff I need?" Nathan felt they
weren't going to get the kid to the clinic until after it stopped raining,
and although the cuts to his head and forearm weren't deep, they needed to
be cleaned from the thick mud.
"Nathan, I'm okay.. I'll go to the clinic," trying to sound convincing, neither
one was. No one had ever asked why JD didn't like the storms, and he had
never said. The men respected that fact, and just accepted it.
"I ain't gonna be able to stitch ya up with ya jumpin' ever few minutes.
Start cleaning him up, and we'll be back and get him fixed."
"Okay, Nathan," Vin assured.
"Let's do what Nathan said," Chris began, "Let's get you to the back door."
JD stood from the chair and found Vin's hand on his arm.
"Thanks, Vin, but I really don't need the help," JD said honestly.
"You forget you just got tromped by a horse?" Vin hid he's worry.
"No, not the first time its happened," he smiled to his brother, as they
walked to the door.
"You been stepped on like that before?" Chris asked, wondering why the kid's
attitude was so easy.
"Yeah, couple times. You can't work in a stable and not have it happen at
least once," he said as his head bent out the door, and a bucket of water
was poured on his head.
"I guess not, how'd it happen?" Vin not only wanted to know, but JD didn't
jump when the lightning split the sky.
"Well..." another bucket of water, " when we got real bad storms, we had
to stay in the stables with the horses some," another bucket, "times, to
make sure they stayed in the stalls. Couple of the stallions had a habit
of kickin'," another bucket, "the door out so we had to stay."
"We can go back in, here," Vin handed the boy a towel, "So you'd stay in
"No, we'd stay in the stable."
"How'd you manage to get hurt then?" Chris asked, also interested. He wished
Buck was here, this was the way he saw JD. He'd tell a story of some sorts
so matter of factly it had to be true..like now.
"Well, one of the stallions decided to get a bit too restless, the big paint
they had, and knocked down the door. He thrashed around a bit and I kinda
got caught back in his stall. I don't remember much of it to tell ya the
truth," JD laughed a little.
"Looks good and clean guys. I'm gonna start stitching your arm first," Nathan
said, taking one of the blankets Buck had 'found' and wrapping a shivering
JD in it.
JD nodded, putting his arm on the table next to the lamp that Josiah had
"What about the other time?" Chris wanting the kid to continue, he could
still hear the lightning and this seemed like a good way to distract him.
JD didn't flinch as the needle began closing the wound, that was something
that had become an all to familiar feeling, so much so he didn't seem to
feel it at all.
"Well, I remember alot less. Lightnin' caught the stable on fire, some of
the guys were in there, sleeping with the storm," he watched the two men
as they nodded, letting him know they understood what he was saying, "well..I
guess they got scared, and they crawled out the windows after opening all
the stalls. I didn't know that the guys were out or what they did, so I opened
the stable doors," he looked down at what the healer was doing.
JD didn't realize that Ezra had stopped shuffling his cards, or that Josiah
was staring intently at the boy.
"And?" Ezra asked in what seemed to be a hint of impatience.
"And what?" JD looked to Ezra.
"What happened when you opened the door?" Josiah asked with patience, but
"Well..they ran me over of course," the young man stated, didn't they know
"They ran you over?"
"Who ran you over?" Buck asked as he reentered the saloon shaking off the
rain, almost worried that all the men were so still.
"Horses," Vin offered
"What?" Buck was lost.
"I'll tell you later," Chris suggested, and Buck nodded, shrugging his shoulder
"Where's my hat?" JD asked.
"Oh, here." Buck handed JD his dirty, malformed hat.
"I thought you were gonna get Miss Mable to fix and clean it?" JD asked,
knowing the reason, but asking as if to sound he knew Buck had been 'distracted'
"Well, you see, JD, I was gonna ask her, but ..well.. I mean I knocked on
the door. And we was talking.. And I was just bout to ask her.." Buck stammered
"Her brother's in town again," JD had seen him earlier, and couldn't hide
"Yeah," Buck hung his head.
The sun finally decided to reappear, with a vengeance, after two days of
rain. The streets were pretty dry for the most part, with a scattered puddle
here and there. Buck and JD had just come back from an early patrol, and
entered the cafe to get a bite, joining the other four men who were just
starting or had been there a bit.
Molly arrived at the table with a coffee cup and a mug of milk, sitting them
both down where the two men sat.
"How was the patrol?" Chris asked.
"Didn't see a soul. You sure Hansen said the sheep were gone?" Buck sighed.
"You saw the place, last week he had over thirty sheep, now he's missing
four or five of them," Nathan said.
"If someone was stealin' them I'd think they'd take them all," JD said quietly,
he had seen a track, while on patrol, he was pretty sure was a wolf.
"You think something gettin' at his stock?" Josiah asked.
"Can I get you boys somethin'?" Molly noticed the twinkle in Buck's eye and
added, "That's on the menu." The twinkle disappeared.
"Ahem, yeah, I'll have couple of eggs, some of those delicious flapjacks,
that wonderful ham you bake so well, and those angel light biscuits," Buck
smiled, adding a wink for good measure.
"Just an 'angel light biscuit', please," mocking Buck, causing the men to
laugh and Buck to glare.
"I have a mind.."
"Not now, Buck, what were you saying about the sheep, JD?" Chris turned his
attention to JD.
JD swallowed the mouthful of milk, he wasn't used to being heard, so it came
as a bit of a surprise that Chris had asked him.
"Well.. I was just sayin'..well them coyotes from Emery's Canyon were raiding
chicken houses a while back cause they didn't have nothin to eat, couldn't
somethin' else be doin' the same if there ain't enough food for them?" JD
looked at the table while talking, was he makin' a fool of himself, or was
he making sense?
"If somethin' was killin' 'em wouldn't there be blood and what not?" Josiah
Ezra remained silent as he tried to enjoy his breakfast through the talk
of blood and dead sheep.
"The way its been rainin', I don't know," Chris shrugged.
"Wolves kill sheep?" JD asked, to no one in particular. He didn't know about
that kind of stuff, he worked in the stables and no where else on the estate,
so didn't know what the ranch hands had dealt with.
"Yeah, why did you see one?" Chris asked a bit to urgent.
"He thinks he saw a wolf track next to the water hole we stopped at," Buck
said in a doubting way.
"He's seen a wolf track before," Vin backed up his brother as he made his
way to the table.
"Oh, well... even if I knew that, there weren't no way we was gonna follow
it. Thanks, darlin," Buck smiled as Molly set his order down.
"Thanks, Molly, I wasn't saying we follow it, I wanted to see which way he
was goin' that's all, I figured he might be headin' to or from a ranch."
"JD thinks that something's after Hansen's stock," Chris brought Vin up to
date. JD felt a weight on his shoulders, no one ever put much stock into
what he said or the ideas he had. He found himself playing with his biscuit
as Vin looked to JD.
"Makes sense, if they were gettin' stolen, I'd think they'd all be gone.
You think a wolf's doin' it?"
"I dunno," he said quietly. Vin knew it wasn't a wolf, he knew JD was heading
in the right direction though. He also knew JD needed to figure it out.
"Well, what you got figured out so far?" Vin asked, like no one was there.
This was the 'game' he and JD would play if they were out riding and found
a track or a plant or anything, it got JD to think a bit and he would answer
his own questions. After the battle he had had with being depressed, he knew
JD needed this to build his confidence..and maybe show the guys a thing or
"Well," JD swallowed the bite of biscuit in his mouth, "the sheep ain't all
gone, so unless someone's taking just a few of 'em to start his own flock,
I figure more would be gone from the other ranches who have sheep, and there
"What's gettin' taken?"
"Hansen said he ain't lost no lambs."
The men sat and watched the exchange, this is a side to the brothers they
had never seen, Vin's easy way never making JD question his answers like
he did with them.
"So that tells ya what?"
"If something's killin' them, it's big. It wants a meal, not somethin' small."
"What's left of the sheep that Hansen found?"
"He ain't found any leftovers."
Ezra finally gave up trying to enjoy his breakfast.
"Okay, so how does a wolf hunt?"
"In a pack."
" How do they eat, after a kill."
Chris and Buck saw the spark in Vin's eyes as he talked to JD, and smiled
a bit to each other, still listening to the two question and answer.
"They gorge themselves, eating until their filled up..so it ain't a wolf
doin' the killin', cause they would leave somethin' behind," JD's voice lifted
a bit as he figured it out.
"So what could be doin' the killin'?"
JD thought for a bit, the only thing he could think of was a cougar, but
would it come down out of the mountains?
"Well.. I dunno..I mean..would a cougar come out from the hills and hit a
"If there wasn't any food for him it would," Chris stated.
"If I may.. How does a cougar's eating habits differ from that of a wolf's?"
"Cougars take it back with them, Ezra, they eat till their filled up, but
they take what's left with them, and hide it.. so if they get hungry again
they can eat," JD said matter of factly, like everyone was supposed to know
"Well, I guess we need to get to Hansen's and look for some sign of a cougar's
visit," Chris said as he stood, he passed JD and laid a hand on the boy's
"Good job, son," and squeezed a bit.
JD hung his head, a bit embarrassed, but still smiling, "Thanks". He didn't
even feel the hurt as Chris slapped his back where the bruises were that
Josiah's horse had left.
The men at the jail waited as Buck and JD made their way from the cafe to
where they now stood.
"His limp gettin' worse, or is it me?" Chris asked.
"He caught a couple hits from Josiah's horse the other day," Vin explained.
Chris turned to Nathan, as if to ask him if he should worry.
"He's gotta hell of a bruise on his thigh, ridin' around makes a bit sore,"
"Maybe he should stay here with you, Nathan?" Chris asked again, wondering
if he needed to rest.
"It's just a bruise, Chris, sides..he figured this all out, don't ya think
he deserves to go?" Vin questioned the leader.
"I didn't say he doesn't deserve to go. I thought maybe he needed a break.."
"It's just a bruise, Chris," JD offered as he mounted his horse, he saw how
Chris was looking at him. "God, you're worse than Buck," he said under his
"What was that?" Chris asked sternly.
"I wanna get out of this muck," he said pointing to the muddy ground.
"A-ha," Chris not believing him, mounted his horse.
Vin and all the others smiled knowingly as they mounted.
"I ain't that bad, JD," Buck finally offered back, letting the kid know that
he had heard him at least.
"Yes, you are," came the answer from the remaining five in unison. JD and
Buck looked at each other, and burst out laughing.
They made the hour ride out to Hansen's ranch, as they arrived, Tom Hansen
came from the barn. He was an older man, not very tall and graying hair.
He wasn't the most pleasant sounding person, but he was 'good people', as
Josiah had once said. He respected the lawman of Four Corners, but had a
hard time believing one as young as JD could be an effective sheriff, much
less associate with these men.
Hardly anyone outside of the town knew about Vin and JD. With the bounty
still active and JD being the sheriff, they thought it safer not to say too
much, due to the fact that one might be used as bait or harmed in some way.
Hansen wasn't a patient man either, he had wanted answers and wanted them
now, he couldn't figure what had taken these men so long to find who stole
"Mornin', I take it you haven't found who stole my sheep?" Hansen asked.
"Mornin', Tom, well not exactly," Chris said dismounting.
"I lost another last night, what do you mean 'not exactly'?" his lack of
"Your sheep ain't being stolen, Mr. Hansen," JD began as he too dismounted.
"You say I'm making this all up?!" Hansen threw out accusingly.
"Tom, let the sheriff tell you what he's come up with," Chris said, trying
to calm Hansen down.
"Fine, what you come up with, boy?" Hansen let out.
Although JD didn't like to be referred to in that way, he had gotten used
to it. He took a deep breath and, with all the confidence he could muster,
told Hansen his theory.
"Mr. Hansen, they're being killed, pretty sure it's a cougar." JD knew that
if any of the others had just said what he did, there would be no questioning
it, but they didn't and so of course Hansen had to ask someone else.
Hansen did as JD thought he would do and turned back to Chris, who nodded
his head in agreement.
"A cougar you say, huh? What makes you think it's a mountain cat, Larabee?"
"Cause there ain't nothin left, cougars take their prey with them," JD answered
confidently, Hansen swung his head to the young sheriff as he spoke, and
Chris couldn't help but smile.
A year ago someone would have to tell JD to say his peace, here he was taking
the 'bull by the horns'.
"..and if someone was stealin them, there wouldn't be any sheep left," JD
continued. Hansen nodded his head as he thought about what the young sheriff
"Makes sense I suppose, could be wolves, right?" Hansen asked JD directly
"I doubt it, wolves would leave the carcass." Hansen nodded again.
"What do I do?"
"Well, you said that another one's gone?" The rancher nodded. "I don't think
you'll have a problem tonight, then. We want to look around and maybe we
can pick up a track, if it was here last night, it would have been after
the rain stopped, we should get a pretty good track and find out where it's
"Okay, let me know what you find out, sheriff," Hansen replied, giving JD
the respect he deserved.
JD nodded, shook the man's hand. He never changed the expression on his face.
And looked to Chris, raised his eyebrows and smiled, Chris returned the pride
filled smile back, none of the men missing the exchange but added their smiles
The men split up into three groups, Vin and Josiah. Buck, Nathan, and Chris
and JD and Ezra. They had searched for nearly an hour with not a sign of
anything unusual or out of the ordinary. JD suddenly stopped as he came to
the out side of the grazing area for the sheep. In the loose dirt he found
some tracks, he dismounted, gave his reins to Ezra who remained on his horse,
and limped carefully to the tracks, he bent his knees squatting in front
of the tracks he saw.
He looked to the woods and then back at the pasture, then stood. He went
back to Ezra, who handed back his reins.
"You wanna get the others?" JD asked quietly. Ezra nodded and turned his
horse to get the other men. In less than ten minutes the small group pulled
to a stop, dismounting.
"You find anything?" Vin asked
"Yeah, but they ain't a cougar's track." JD took Vin over to show him the
dog track and the specks of blood surrounding the track.
"What's this here then," he pointed to the wide lines on either side of the
track, also sporting a bit more blood.
"I'm assuming drag marks from the sheep," Vin put his hand on JD's back.
The two men stood and they made their way to the others.
"Well?" Chris asked.
"It ain't a cougar, JD found some tracks with blood and some drag marks,"
Vin let out with a sigh.
"Wolves then?" Buck questioned.
"Uh-uh, its a dog," JD said.
"Its a big one, most likely been abandoned or it's wild."
"That the same track you saw at the watering hole?" Buck asked.
"No, that was a wolf , this don't look anything like it," JD shook his head.
The seven left to inform Hansen on what they had discovered, they told him
they would be back the next day and pick up the trail, they needed to get
back to town tonight and assured him that the dog wouldn't be back that night.
Hansen agreed and they rode back to Four Corners.