Vin watched as Chris starred up the street. He knew Ella Gaines had hurt him but didn't realize how much until now. Chris sat huddle in the chair with a far away look in his eyes. Vin knew there were hard feelings between them but he wasn't sure what to do. He had never been a man of many words and didn't know how to say what he felt. He hoped Chris would break the silence but Vin could see he wouldn't. Vin waited a few more minutes then slowly turned to leave.
"Vin," Chris called.
Vin turned to look at Chris and saw that he understood. They didn't have to say anything they didn't need to. Vin gave Chris his familiar half smile in acknowledgement. Chris nodded and Vin turned and continued on his way. He headed for his wagon for a well-earned rest. Chris looked across the street to see Buck handing Ezra some money. Ezra looked up to see Chris starring at him. He raised two fingers to his hat and saluted Chris then turned towards the saloon and entered. Chris closed his eyes and got comfortable in the chair and let the sun soak away some of the aches. He just wished it could also erase the memories.
"So does that mean Vin's staying?" JD asked confused.
"Looks like it, Kid," Buck answered.
"But they didn't say anything," JD protested.
"They've never had to," Buck said. "Come on, let's go see if I can win my money back from Ezra."
Buck turned on his heals and entered the saloon. JD followed with a smile. He was just glad they were all together again. Everyone had been walking on eggshells around Chris. Without Vin around to temper Chris's black moods the other's had stayed clear of him, all except Nathan. He had to tend Chris's wound. JD knew with Vin back Chris would start to act more like the Chris he was used to.
Vin was dreaming. Ella had returned to finish what she started. Chris was lying on the ground shot and Vin watched as she walked up to him.
"If I can't have you no one will," She said as she aimed her gun.
Vin watched in horror as she pulled the trigger.
"No!" he yelled as he sat up.
When he realized he was awake and still in his wagon he sighed. He still felt tired but knew he wouldn't get back to sleep again. He went to get out of the wagon when he heard a sound. Vin grabbed his mare's leg and swung it around the edge of his wagon aiming the gun at Josiah's head.
"Would y'all stop sneaking up on me!" Vin growled as he lowered the gun.
"I'm sorry, Brother Vin, I heard you cry out as I went by and came to see if you were alright."
"Yeah, just a bad dream," Vin said running his fingers through his hair.
"You look like you could use more sleep," Josiah said when he saw the dark circles under Vin's eyes.
"Won't get any now," Vin said as he jumped down form the wagon. "My stomach decided it was time to eat again."
"Well I was headed that way myself," Josiah said. "Care to join me?"
"I reckon," Vin said as he followed Josiah.
They went to the hotel and ordered dinner. Josiah wasn't surprised at the amount of food Vin ate. During his time as a missionary he had seen people that didn't know when their next meal would come from eat large amounts when it was available. Josiah suspected Vin had gone hungry a few times in his young life and that was why he was so skinny. He also guessed Vin had been so intent on following Ella's trail he hadn't eaten proper for the two weeks he was gone. Josiah watched as Vin used the last biscuit to soak up the gravy on his plate. The waitress came over and asked if they wanted desert. Vin shook his head no but asked for more coffee. They were drinking their coffee when Nathan walked in. He talked to the waitress for a few minutes then she disappeared in back. When Nathan saw them sitting at the table he walked over and took at sea.
"Come for dinner Nathan?" Josiah asked.
"First I have to bring Chris his," Nathan answered.
"I can take over to him," Vin said. "He up in his room or do you still have him prisoner over at the clinic?"
"He's in his room," Nathan said. "I couldn't get him to stay in the clinic any longer."
Vin saw the young lady come back carrying a tray. He got up and walked over to her and took the tray. He nodded at Josiah and Nathan then headed out the door.
"I'm glad he's back," Nathan sighed. "Maybe he can get Chris to eat."
Before going to Chris's room Vin made a detour at the saloon. He asked Inez for a bottle of Whiskey then headed for Chris's room. Ezra smiled when he saw Vin walk out with the rot gut and decided he would check on them later.
Vin walked across the street to the boarding house and climbed the stairs to Chris's room. He walked down the hall and knocked on Chris door.
"Go away, Nathan, I ain't hungry," Chris yelled.
"I'm guessin' you are," Vin said as he walked in.
When Vin walked in he saw Chris lying in his bed with the blankets covering his legs. Nathan had propped pillows behind his back so he was sitting up. Vin watched as he shifted in the bed holding his right side. Vin winced when he saw the bandages covering most of Chris's chest and his right shoulder. He walked over and placed the tray across Chris's legs.
"I said I ain't hungry," Chris growled.
"Suit yourself," Vin said as he took a chair.
Chris gave Vin and evil look as he sat down in the chair. Chris knew he got get around Nathan but Vin was another matter. Vin was he only one that wasn't fooled by his angry glares. Buck had known him for a long time but sometimes he wasn't sure about Chris's anger. He watched as Vin got comfortable by placing his feet on the edge of the bed and pulling a bottle of whiskey out of his coat. Vin popped the cork and took a swig.
"I'll take some of that," Chris said holding out his hand.
"Not until you eat something," Vin said giving him a defiant look.
Chris grumbled and picked up the fork. Once he started eating he realized he was hungry. When he was finished he looked up at Vin and saw him smiling. Chris just stuck out his hand and Vin gave him the whiskey. Chris took a long pull before he handed it back. They drank the bottle without saying a word.
Chris finished the bottle then handed it to Vin. He wasn't even close to being drunk as his blue eyes starred into Vin's. Vin nodded and left the room taking the tray back to the hotel. After he returned the tray he headed for the saloon. He looked in the window and saw Nathan sitting with Josiah and Ezra. Vin couldn't go in the front and headed to the back door. He knew Nathan would skin him alive if he knew what he was doing.
He entered and called Inez. She turned to look at him and he put his finer to his lips. She walked over and whispered to her. She nodded and he ducked back. Ezra got up and headed for the bar for a drink. He saw Inez grabbed two bottles of Rot gut and head for the back. She came back a few seconds later and walked over to Ezra.
"What can I get you senor?" she asked.
"A beer," he said and she turned to the tap. "Perchance that wasn't Mr. Tanner you were giving the whiskey to."
"Yes," she said. "Shouldn't I have given it to senor Vin?"
"No that's quite alright," he said with a smile.
He rejoined Nathan and Josiah at the table. Having Vin back was already becoming quite profitable.
Vin returned to Chris's room and handed him one of the bottles. Vin closed the door and took a seat next to the bed. Vin didn't drink any more and kept an eye on Chris. He figured Chris needed to forget and this was one way to do it.
"Have a drink," Chris offered handing him the bottle.
Vin grabbed the bottle and took a small sip. He couldn't afford to get drunk, not with a price on his head. Vin knew the others would protect him but he couldn't take the chance. He watched as Chris took another swig. It took less whiskey to get Chris drunk then it normally did. Vin tied to take the bottle from him but Chris wouldn't let go.
"I thought I loved her," Chris slurred.
"I know," Vin said.
"I can't believe I fell for that bitch!" Chris cursed and took another drink.
"Wasn't your fault, Vin said. "She had everyone fooled."
"Everyone but you," Chris said looking at Vin. "I shoulda listened."
Chris took another drink and Vin watched as some of it spilled out of his mouth.
"It's good thing I didn't listen to ya," Chris laughed bitterly. "Found something out."
"What?" Vin asked getting a bad feeling.
"She hired Fowler," Chris said. "She killed my wife and son so they wouldn't be in the way."
Chris laughed and took another drink. Vin was too shocked to say anything. When he was finally thinking again all he knew was he let her get away. He let that murdering bitch get away. He took the other bottle and joined Chris in getting drunk.
An hour later the other regulators were sitting in the saloon losing their money to Ezra at poker. Buck was about to bet when they heard gunfire in the street.
"What the hell was that?" JD asked.
They all raced out to the street with their guns drawn. They looked around but saw nothing. When they thought everything was OK they heard more shots and the bullets hit the sign above the saloon. They all looked up towards the boarding house and saw Chris and Vin leaning out the windows of his room firing on the saloon.
"Howdy boys," Chris called.
"Good Lord I should have checked on them sooner," Ezra said as they duck when they fired again.
"What are you talking about?" Nathan said.
"I saw, Mr. Tanner heading to Chris room with a few bottle of whiskey," Ezra answered.
"They're drunk?" Asked JD surprised. "I've never seen Vin drunk."
"Fist time for everything, Kid," Buck said. "I suggested we go up there and get their guns."
"I don't think that's necessary," Josiah said.
"What are you talking about Josiah," Nathan said shocked. "They're gonna hurt someone."
"They're hitting exactly what they're aiming for." Josiah said.
He walked with confidence out into the street and stopped when a bullet kicked up dirt in front of his feet. The others heard Chris and Vin laughing from the window.
"Nice shot Vin!" Chris yelled handing him the bottle.
Josiah watched as Vin took a swig and aimed his gun again. Josiah calmly walked to the boarding house as Vin shot at the sign over the saloon. The other followed Josiah but they ran across instead. They made it up to the room and opened the door. Chris was sitting in a chair by one window and Vin was sitting in the other window with one leg dangling out. Buck moved quickly and pulled Vin back inside.
"Leave off!" Vin yelled and took a swing at Buck.
Buck ducked and grabbed Vin before he fell to the floor. Nathan and Josiah took an unresisting Chris and put him back to bed. Once he was settled Chris passed out. Buck tried to take a struggling Vin out the door.
"Come on, Vin, lets get you to bed," Buck said.
"Let go of me!" He yelled and struggled more.
Buck had gotten him into the hall when Vin wiggled out of Bucks grasped and punched him. Buck had been taken by surprise and Vin landed a punch to his jaw. Even though he was drunk Vin still hit pretty hard. Buck just shook his head grabbed his arm and as he swayed and threw him over his shoulder. Vin stopped fighting and hung limp over Buck's shoulder. JD followed as Buck walked to one of the empty rooms and entered. He dropped Vin on the bed and took his boots off.
"I should have kept tracking her," Vin slurred. "My fault she got away."
"You did your best, Vin," Buck said as he pulled off his gun belt.
"NO!" he yelled. "She killed them, Buck, I should have stopped her."
"I know" Buck said.
"My fault," Vin repeated as he finally passed out.
Buck shook his head as he continued to strip the now unresisting tracker. He took off Vin's shirt and left his pants on. He threw the covers over the lean tracker and stood up. He knew Chris would tell Vin about Ella but he never expected Vin to blame himself for letting her get away. He just hoped the two of them could forget about the bitch.
Buck stretched to work out the cramps from his muscles. They had all taken turns guarding Vin to protect him from any bounty hunters while he was drunk. Buck just wished they had found a more comfortable chair. He got up and walked over to the window and looked out. It was almost noon and Vin was still asleep. Chris woke up two hours ago and wasn't happy. He vaguely remembered Vin drinking with him and asked if he was alright. Nathan told him he was still sleeping and that he was fine. Buck smiled, well maybe not fine. He turned back towards the bed when he heard a pitiful moan from Vin. Buck walked over and saw Vin had his eyes opened.
"Hey, Pard," Buck said.
"Not so loud," Vin moaned. "Oh my head."
"You and Chris sure had a good time yesterday," Buck teased.
"We did?" Vin asked.
"Yup the two of you shot up the town," Buck laughed.
"Buck please," Vin begged as he sat up and regretted it.
"Sorry, Vin," Buck said as he held him in a sitting position. "Come on Vin time to get up."
"I'd rather not," Vin protested.
"Nathan said to take you down to the bath house when you woke up," Buck said putting on Vin's boots.
"Good I can put myself out of my misery, by drowning myself." Vin groaned.
Buck helped Vin to his feet and held on to him as he swayed. Once Vin was steady he headed out the door into the hall. He used the wall to steady himself as he headed down the hall. Buck stayed close by in case he needed help. They were close to the stairs when someone came running up them making a racket. Vin put his hands to his ears and leaned against the wall. The sound of running feet sent a shooting pain through his head.
"Hey, Buck!" yelled JD.
Vin groaned when JD yelled and slid down the wall to sit with his head on his knees.
"Damn it JD!" Buck scolded as knelt next to Vin.
"Vin are you alright?" JD asked rushing to his side.
"Of course he's' not alright," Buck said. "Not with your running around making noise."
"I'm going to shoot the both of you if you don't shut up," Vin growled as he lifted his head.
"Sorry Vin," JD whispered.
"Come on let's get you to the bath house," Buck said grabbing his arm.
"Just leave me here I decided to stay here and die," Vin said resisting Buck.
"Now I don't think Mrs. Bridges would appreciate that," Buck said as he lifted Vin. "You know how she likes to keep the boarding house tidy."
They got Vin to his feet and headed for the stairs. Vin complained about them putting him in a room on the second floor. They got him down the stairs and out the door. Vin stumbled along the boardwalk and headed for the privy behind the boarding house. When he was done he walked to the bathhouse with Buck close behind. They got him inside and Vin started to strip out of his clothes. JD came in as Vin was climbing into the tub bring him some clean clothes. Buck grabbed JD and pushed him out the door so Vin could have some privacy.
Once in the hot water Vin felt a little better. Now that he was alone and things were quiet his head didn't hurt quite so much. He also had time to think. Vin thought about everything Chris had told him. He believed Ella was capable of having Chris's family killed so she could have him. He still couldn't believe he let her get away that he failed. That's what was really bothering him. Vin did learn one very important thing last night, never try to out drink Chris Larabee. Everything hurt, and his head felt like it was going to fall off. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
"How is he?" Nathan said as he walked up to Buck outside the bathhouse.
"No too good," Buck smiled. "He has a splitting headache and you should see his eyes."
"Yeah they're all blood shot," JD added.
"Well I brought him something that should help," Nathan said.
Nathan walked inside to find Vin slowly slipping under the water. He rushed to the tub and grabbed Vin. Vin was startled by the touch of Nathan's hand and took a swing at him. The quick movement jarred his head and he sagged against the tub with a groan.
"Easy Vin," Nathan said. "I just didn't want you falling asleep in the tub and drowning."
"The way I feel right now it sounds like a good idea," Vin smiled.
Nathan went over and picked up a cup and poured cold water into it. He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and poured something into to the cup. He mixed it then handed it to Vin. Vin drank it down with out protesting then handed to cup to Nathan.
"How's Chris," he asked.
"He's fine," Nathan said. "You know he can drink a lot then feel nothing the next day."
"Wish I could feel that way," Vin sighed. "I reckon I better get out of this tub."
Vin got out and wrapped a large towel around himself then dried off. He got dressed then followed Nathan outside. When he walked out into the bright sun Vin winced and shaded his eyes. Buck came behind him and dropped his hat on his head and Vin pulled it all the way down.
"Thanks Buck," Vin said.
"Come on, let's get you something to eat," Nathan said.
"I don't think that's a good idea," Vin said. "I ain't up for eatin' anything. Reckon I'll just go see Chris."
"Suit yourself," Nathan said as he headed across the street.
"He going to be OK?" JD asked as they watched Vin walk away.
"Yeah, Kid, he'll be fine," Buck said heading for the restaurant. "Well Vin may not be hungry but I am."
Vin couldn't wait to get back inside. The sun was killing his eyes and causing his head to pound even more. He was also dreading go to see Chris. He didn't know what he was going to say. When he got to the door he walked in and sighed. He pulled off his hat and headed up the stairs to Chris's room. He knocked on Chris's door and winced.
"It's open," Chris called.
"Hey, cowboy," Vin said as he walked in.
"You look like hell," Chris laughed.
"Thanks," Vin said as he wearily sat in a chair. "My head feels like it's gonna fall off."
"I know just thing to cure that," Chris said looking at Vin.
"No way!" Vin yelled then cringed. "I learned my lesson."
"Then get a bottle for me," Chris said.
Vin looked into Chris eyes and could see the pain. He shook his head and Chris glared at him. Vin knew Chris wanted to crawl into a bottle and forget.
"I ain't gonna let you, Chris," Vin said.
"How you gonna stop me?" Chris yelled and Vin winced. "Just cause you can't hold your liquor doesn't mean I can't!"
Chris knew Vin only wanted to help but he resented it. He hated the fact that he was laid up and couldn't go looking for Ella himself. He also wanted a drink so he could stop seeing Sarah pleading for help as the flames devoured the house. He was brought back to the present by the touch on his arm.
"Everything's going to be alright, Chris," Vin said.
"It will be if you get me that bottle," Chris said with an icy blue glare.
"No," Vin said quietly.
"Then get the hell out!" Chris cried. "Get the hell away from me."
Chris saw the disappointment and pain in Vin's eyes as he got up from the chair. Chris didn't care. He wanted everyone to hurt as much as he did. Besides hadn't Vin said he had lost Ella? He was supposed to be a tracker and he lost one lone woman. He watched as Vin headed for the door and stop. Vin turned around to look at him to see if he really wanted him to go. Chris knew their friendship was on shaky ground since what happened with Ella. He also knew if he pushed Vin away now he might never come back. Chris faced the wall and heard the door close as Vin walked out.
Vin closed the door and leaned against it. He knew Chris didn't mean what he said but it still hurt when Chris wouldn't accept his help. Vin knew this was his fault. If only he had found Ella. Vin decided to give Chris some room and leave him alone. He walked down the hall and down the steps He stopped at the door to pull his hat down before he went out. He opened the door and let his eyes adjust to the sunlight then walked out. He wasn't sure where to go and headed for the saloon. He walked through the door and headed for a table in the back. Vin took a seat in the shadows against the wall facing the doors. He leaned his head down and was soon asleep.
Ezra had noticed Vin walk into the saloon. The tracker looked terrible. His blood shot eyes looked troubled. Ezra watched as Vin headed for a seat in the shadows. Nathan had said Vin awoke with on incredible hang over and that they should keep an eye on him. Ezra shuffled the cards and watched as Vin fell asleep. Ezra laid out a hand of solitaire and began to play. Around diner time Nathan and Josiah came into the saloon. They saw Ezra sitting alone and walked over to his table.
"Hey Ezra," Nathan said, "Have you seen Vin?"
"Why of course, Mr. Jackson," Ezra said gesturing at the back table.
"Has he been there all day?" Josiah asked when they saw Vin along the back wall.
"For most of it," Ezra said.
"I thought for sure he'd be with Chris," Nathan said puzzled.
"That I can't answer, Mr. Jackson," Ezra said. "Can I interest you gentlemen in a game of cards?"
They nodded and Ezra dealt the cards. A short time later Buck and JD joined them. Buck said he had checked on Chris and he was sleeping. He also asked if anyone had seen Vin. Nathan pointed to the back wall. Vin was slumped in the chair asleep. Buck shook his head as he picked up the cards Ezra dealt. They continued playing for another hour when the heard Vin something in his sleep. Buck folded and walked over to his table. As he got closer he could see Vin was dreaming. Buck was about to shake his shoulder to wake him when Vin jumped up.
"Chris! Look out!" Vin yelled pulling his gun.
"Whoa, easy there Pard," Buck said holding his hand up. "It was just a dream."
"Damn," Vin cursed as he holstered his Mare's leg.
Vin sat back down rubbing his temples. He still had a headache but it wasn't as bad. Buck pulled out another chair and had a seat. He watched as Vin leaned back.
"Have you been to see Chris?" he asked.
"Yeah I saw him," Vin answered.
"So what's going on?" Buck wanted to know.
"He told me to get out," Vin sighed. "Can't say that I blame him."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Buck asked confused.
"I let her get away," Vin snarled. "I'm supposed to be a damned tracker and I let that bitch get away. Can't blame Chris for not wanting me around."
"Vin listen to me," Buck said grabbing his arm. "This ain't your fault."
Vin glared at Buck and pulled his arm from his grasp. He stood and stalked out of the saloon.
"Shit!" Buck cursed.
"What's goin' on? Nathan asked.
"Vin went to see Chris and he told him to get out," Buck answered.
"Why?" JD asked troubled.
"I don't know but I aim to find out," Buck stated.
"I believe it's best if you let them work it out for themselves," Ezra suggested.
"Ezra's right," Josiah agreed.
"alright," Buck said. "But I don't like it.
Vin walked out of the saloon and stopped on the porch. He looked across the street to Chris's window and made up his mind. Vin went to his wagon and opened the chest inside. He dug to the bottom and pulled out a small leather pouch. Vin weighed it in his hands and was satisfied. He climbed down from the wagon and headed for the telegraph office.
"Evenin' Vin," Elijah said as he walked in.
"Evenin'" Vin returned. "I need to send telegrams to all the town for twenty miles around."
"All of them?" Elijah asked surprised.
"That's goin' to cost at least $3."
"That's fine," Vin said. "This is what I want it to say."
Vin told him what to send then left the office. He went back to the wagon and went through his gear putting together what he would need.
Buck sat outside the jail watching the town. He had done what the others said and let things be, but he didn't have to like it. Vin was still in town but the others rarely saw him. Buck had noticed him going into the telegraph office a few times and wondered what he was up to. Buck also worried about Chris.
Ever since Nathan said he could leave his room Chris could always be found in the saloon. Chris would sit at the back table in the dark with a bottle and brood. The first day Chris came out of his room Buck noticed Vin keeping an eye on him. Buck could also tell Vin wanted to talk to Chris but was afraid of being pushed away again. Buck had tried to talk to Chris but he was too angry and wouldn't listen. Chris said a few things that got even Buck mad and he left. So here he was sitting in front of the jail trying to figure out how to bring the seven together again. As he was thinking he noticed Chris come out of the boarding house and head for the saloon.
"Was that Chris heading for the saloon again?" JD asked from the door.
"Yup," Buck answered. "And there's Vin watching him from the alley."
JD looked over to the alley and saw the tracker disappear behind the saloon.
"What the hell are we going to do Buck?" JD asked in frustration.
"I don't know kid," Buck answered honestly. "I just don't know."
"If only Vin had caught her," JD commented.
"You listen here, JD," Buck scolded. "Don't let Vin hear you talking like that. He already blames himself for losing Ella and it's eating him up inside."
"I know Buck," JD said looking down. "I'm sorry."
"Well I can't just sit here any more," Buck announced standing up. "I'm going to talk some sense into Vin."
"Don't bother," JD said pointing down the street.
Buck looked up to see Vin leading his horse out of the livery. They watched as he mounted and rode out of town. Buck cursed and sat back down. JD sighed and went back inside the jail. Around noon Buck saw Vin ride back into town and head for the livery. He came out a short time later and Buck intercepted him.
"Vin I want to talk to you," Buck said.
"I reckon it's about Chris?" Vin asked.
Yeah," Buck answered. "Look I've known him when he's been hurtin' like this. He doesn't mean half the things he says."
"I know," Vin said as he started walking up the street.
"Just go talk to him," Buck said following.
"Already tried that," Vin pointed out. "I ain't never been one for words."
"Don't we know it," Buck laughed. "Just give him a chance. He'll come around."
"I ain't goin' no where if that's what's woryin' ya," Vin said stopping in front of the telegraph office.
"To be honest the Kid was worried," Buck lied.
"Uh huh," Vin smiled. "I got a job to do here."
"Good enough," Buck said slapping him on the back. "Just consider talking to Chris?"
"Ain't promisin' nothin'" Vin said.
"I can accept that," Buck smiled as he walked away.
Vin entered the office and Elijah handed him his telegrams. Vin raised his fingers to his hat and exited. He went to his wagon and slowly read them. He could have asked Ezra to help read them but he didn't want the others to know what he was doing. So he painstakingly read them himself. The sun was setting as he read the last message. When he was finished he put it in his pocket. He left the wagon and headed for dinner. On the way to the restaurant he threw the other messages in one of the fires lining the street.
Ezra sat at his table playing cards with two other gentlemen. As he played he kept an eye on their leader. Chris had been drinking all afternoon and Ezra was worried. Chris seemed to be in a foul mood tonight. Ezra watched as Chris glared at people who came to close to his table. The people would quickly move away and Chris would go back to drinking. Ezra won another hand and was pulling in his pot when Chris pulled his gun and started shooting out the candles. Everyone in the saloon dove for cover including Ezra. Buck, JD, Nathan and Josiah ran in and Chris fired at the door. They separated and took cover behind some tables. Buck looked over the edge to see Vin walk through the back and head over to Chris. Chris heard him approach and aimed his gun at Vin. Vin calmly starred at Chris.
"Vin!" Chris cried with a drunken smile. "Where ya been?"
"Around," he said walking towards Chris.
Chris still had his gun pointed at him as he walked forward. Buck hoped Vin knew what he was doing. As he got closer Vin grabbed the barrel of the gun and took it from Chris's grasp. When Chris realized he didn't have a gun any more he took a swing at Vin who easily ducked. Chris lost his balance and was about to go down when Vin grabbed his arm and pulled him over his shoulder. Chris started laughing as Vin walked towards the door.
"Need some help?" Buck asked as he got closer.
"Nope," Vin said and headed out the door.
The five of them watched from the door as Vin carried Chris across the street to the boarding house and disappeared inside. Vin carried Chris up to his room and dropped him on the bed. Chris laughed as Vin pulled off his boots and shirt. Vin pulled up the covers and stuffed Chris's legs under them. Chris lay back on the pillow looking up at the ceiling.
"I hear them calling for me," he said.
"There wasn't anything I could do," he said looking at Vin. "I wasn't there."
Vin didn't say anything and took a seat next to the bed.
"If I had been there I could have saved them," Chris cried. "She killed them. Did you know that? Ella killed them. I should have killed her when I had the chance."
"It's alright Chris," Vin said.
"If only I had killed her," Chris said again as he drifted to sleep.
"You'll get your chance, Chris, I promise."
Vin pulled the telegram out of his pocket and read it again.
-From the Sheriff of Lassiter to Four Corners Women in town meets description - stop Been here for 10 days- stop Will keep an eye on her until you get here- stop Sheriff Roberts- stop
Vin put the telegram back in his pocket and looked at Chris. "You'll get your chance," he said as he watched him sleep.
Buck left the saloon late and headed for the boarding house. He decided to check on Chris and Vin before heading for bed. When he got to Chris's door he slowly opened it and peeked inside. Chris was sound asleep in the bed. Vin was in the chair with his feet propped on the edge of the bed. His chin was on his chest and Buck could see he was asleep as well. He closed the door and walked down to his room.
As soon as the door closed Vin looked up. He knew one of the others would come to check on Chris and him. Vin looked over at Chris and saw he was dead to the world. He knew Chris was going to wake up with one hell of a headache. The tracker grabbed his hat from the table and left a note in its place. Vin left the room and went down the stairs to the back of the boarding house. Sometimes Ezra was still awake at this hour and he didn't want to take any chances he'd be seen. He walked along the back of the buildings and over to his wagon. Vin reached in and grabbed the saddlebags he had packed earlier. He picked up his Winchester and headed for the livery. When he walked inside it was dark and he lighted one of the lanterns. His horse greeted him as he walked to his stall and began to saddle him. When he had the horse tacked he slid the rifle into its place and tied on his saddlebags. Vin blew out the lantern and led the horse out the doors. He grabbed the horn and swung up into the saddle. The horse moved out at Vin's command and he headed for Lassiter.
+ + + + + + +
Chris woke the next day with a pounding headache. He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. As he did he hit the table next to the bed and Vin's note slid off and under the bed. Chris cautiously stood up and walked over to the dresser. He grabbed clean clothes and placed them on top of the dresser. His guns were hanging from a peg behind the door. He buckled on his gun grabbed his clothes and headed out for the bathhouse.
"Hey, Pard," Buck yelled as he walked up to Chris. "How's your head?"
"It'd be better if you didn't shout," Chris growled.
"Nathan know you're heading for the bathhouse?" he asked.
"I stink, Buck, I'm taking a bath," Chris answered as he kept walking. "You get me up stairs last night?"
"Nope," Buck smiled. "Vin did."
"Damn," Chris said running his fingers through his short hair. "He around?"
"Haven't seen him," Buck said. "He usually lays low when you're awake."
"Shit!" Chris cursed. "What the hell have I been doing Buck?"
"The usual when you're drunk," Buck laughed. "Except this time you pushed away the only person that coulda helped ya."
"You know I don't mean anything when I'm drunk," Chris said. "Why didn't you tell him?"
"I did, he said he didn't blame you for being mad. Vin blames himself for everything that happened."
"What?" the blonde gunslinger said stopping. "The only one to blame here is Ella. This is all her fault."
"Glad you finally figured that out," Buck agreed. "Maybe things can get back to normal."
"If you see Vin before I do tell him we need to talk," Chris said as he entered the bathhouse.
Chris filled one of the tubs with hot water and then stripped out of his clothes. He unwrapped the bandages and let them fall to the floor. The wound was still healing and stung as he entered the water. Chris leaned his head back on the edge of the tub and tried to remember what had happened over the past couple of days. He remembered getting drunk with Vin and shooting up the town, after that everything was a blur.
"Damn Larabee, what the hell did you do this time?" he asked himself.
The hot water felt good on his various aches and pains. Chris sat up and started to wash. He was just rinsing the soap out of his hair when Nathan barged in and Chris grabbed his gun.
"I want you out of that tub!" Nathan demanded.
"Damn it, Nathan," Chris yelled. "I could have shot you."
"I can't believe you got those stitches wet," Nathan scolded.
"I needed a bath," Chris growled. "I don't need your permission."
"Fine," Nathan said throwing up his hands. "When that wound gets infected don't come crying to me."
"alright!" Chris yelled as he climbed out of the tub.
Chris wrapped a towel around his waist and dried off. Nathan had him sit while he re-wrapped the wound. When he was done he left Chris so he could get dressed in private. Chris finished dressing and walked outside and headed for the hotel to get some food. When he entered he saw Buck and JD sitting in the corner and joined them.
"Hey Chris," JD greeted.
"JD," he said as he took a seat. "Have you seen Vin?"
"Nope, but his horse is gone," JD replied.
Buck could see Chris was worried about Vin. He also knew that Chris didn't remember half the things he said or did when he was drinking.
"Dont worry," Chris," Buck said reassuringly. "He always comes back."
"Jesus Buck," Chris cursed. "What the hell have I been doing?"
"The usual," Buck laughed. "You get down right mean when you're drinking."
"Yeah," JD agreed. "You pushed Vin away and now he think it's all his fault that Ella got away."
Buck kicked JD under the table and he yelped in pain. Chris glared at Buck.
"Why didn't you tell me!" he demanded. "I have to go look for him."
"Easy Chris," Buck said grabbing his arm. "Nathan ain't gonna let you go anywhere. Trust me, Vin will be back"
Chris pulled away from Buck and walked out. Buck leaned back in his chair and watched him go. He turned to JD and starred at him.
"What?" JD asked.
Buck just shook his head and finished his lunch. When they were done they headed for the jail. They saw Chris across the street sitting in front of the saloon watching the street. Buck knew he would sit there the rest of the day waiting for Vin.
+ + + + + + +
As night was approaching Vin decided it was time to make camp. A few miles ahead were a stand of trees with a small spring. He tapped his heels to his horse's flanks and it began to canter. Vin's body moved to the motion of the horse as he enjoyed the run. A short time later he pulled the horse up until it was walking and he made his way through the trees. Vin stopped the horse by the spring and dismounted. He unsaddled Peso and pulled up some grass to rub him down. When he was finished he picked up his saddle and grabbed the reins to lead Peso over to the spring to get a drink. After the horse drunk his full Vin stacked him out so he could graze. Next he gathered wood for a fire and brought it over by his saddle. The fire he started was a small one so it wouldn't attract attention. He pulled a can of beans out of his saddlebag and opened them. Once they were opened he placed them close to the fire. Vin leaned back on his saddle and looked up at the sky. The stars were beginning to come out and he watched them thinking. What was he going to do after he caught Ella? The rift between him and Chris seemed to be getting wider since he returned and he didn't know how to fix it. Maybe he should just head for Tascosa and clear his name. He couldn't decide right now and figured it could wait until he caught Ella. When the beans were finished he grabbed the lid and placed the hot can in the dirt by his feet and began to eat. When he was finished he threw a few pieces of wood on the fire and leaned back against his saddle. He threw his bedroll over his legs and got comfortable. Vin figured he'd be in Lassiter by noon tomorrow. He drifted off to sleep wondering what the others were doing.
+ + + + + + +
Buck watched Chris prowl back and forth in front of the jail. Him and JD took refuge inside when Chris started pacing. JD kept himself busy by looking through wanted posters. He looked up when he didn't hear Chris's spurs jingling outside. The black clad gunslinger was standing in the doorway silhouetted by the setting sun.
"Buck you said he's usually back before night fall," Chris said.
"Look, Chris, Vin's a grown man," Buck reasoned "Ya know how he gets sometimes and stays out for a few days."
"Yeah," JD agreed. "Remember the last time? He stayed away for three days."
Chris glared at JD and the kid quickly hid behind a wanted poster studying it in great detail. Buck just shook his head. When was the kid going to learn to keep his mouth shut. Chris stalked back outside and headed for the saloon.
"Damn, I hope Vin comes back soon," JD sighed.
"Me too, Kid." Buck agreed. "Me too."
+ + + + + + +
Vin rode into Lassiter just before noon. Lassiter was a typical mining town nestled into the foothills of a small mountain. The town boasted three saloons and four bordellos. The mine ran on a night and day shift so it was always lively. That was one reason Vin always avoided mining towns. He hated the noise and all the people. The tracker wasn't surprised Ella had picked a town like this to hide. So many people were always coming and going she would never be noticed. Vin wasn't even sure if the sheriff had the right person but it was a place to start. He rode down the wide street watching for trouble. Vin rested his hand close to his mare's leg as he looked for the sheriff's office. As he rode down the street some of the women from the bordello called to him from the balcony over looking the street. He acknowledged them by touching his fingers to his hat and they laughed. Vin found the sheriff office struck between one of the saloons and the mercantile. He pulled Peso to a stop dismounted and tied him to the hitching post. When he entered he found men inside.
"Can I help you?" asked the older of the two.
"I'm looking for the Sheriff," Vin answered. "Name's Vin Tanner."
"I'm Sheriff Roberts," he said. "You're the law from over in Four Corners looking for that woman."
"Yup," Vin said. "She still here?"
"I'm afraid not," Roberts answered. "I have been keeping an eye on her but then we were called a way for a few days to help over at the mine. Some of the miners got into a brawl and we had to keep them in line. When I got back she was gone."
"Reckon you could tell me where she was staying?" Vin asked.
"I could but it wouldn't do you any good," he said. "The place is empty."
"I expected as much," Vin sighed. "She's been able to stay one step ahead of me."
"I'm sorry son," Sheriff Roberts apologized. "I should have sent word. It would have saved you the trip."
"It's alright," Vin said. "Mind if I look around town? Maybe I can figure out which way she headed."
"Sure go right ahead," he said with a smile.
The sheriff walked Vin to the door and watched as he mounted his horse and moved away. When Vin was far enough from the office he turned to his deputy.
"You know what to do."
The deputy nodded and left out the back door. When he was gone Roberts took a seat behind his desk and waited. He didn't wait long when the deputy returned. A dangerous looking man that stood over six feet followed him. Roberts knew he was a bodyguard and a hired killer. When the body guard was satisfied it was safe he opened the door and a woman dressed in black with a veil covering her face walked in escorted by another man.
"Ma'am," the sheriff greeted her nervously.
"You made the right choice sheriff," she said lifting the veil revealing Ella Gaines.
"I don't want any trouble," he said.
"Just do as you told and there won't be any," Ella said angrily. "I'll handle Vin Tanner."
She pulled the veil back over her face and stalked out the back door. The bodyguard was the last to leave and he smiled at the sheriff before he disappeared out the door. Roberts ran his hands through his thinning hair and sighed thinking he was getting too old for this shit.
After bedding down his horse at the livery Vin headed for the hotel to get a room and a meal. As he wandered along the boardwalk he kept his left hand on the saddlebags slung over his shoulder. His right hand he kept in easy reach of his gun as he watched the people around him. He noticed a wagon out front of the mercantile with a woman and some children. Obviously some families were trying to make a life for themselves in town. Vin shook his head at the amount of drunks staggering along the street. The miners didn't have much to do to occupy their time so if they weren't drinking they were gambling and whoring. Vin made it to the hotel and stepped inside. Once the doors closed the sounds of the street were muffled. Vin walked up to the counter and rang the bell since no one was in sight. He was about to ring it again when a woman stepped out from the back.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
"I need a room for the night," Vin answered.
"Sign here," she said turning the register to him.
Vin made an X on the line since he didn't want to leave his name for some bounty hunter to find. He knew he was taking a chance with the sheriff but he was willing to risk it. She handed him the key and he thanked her then headed into the restaurant. She followed him and showed him to a table.
"DO you run this whole place?" Vin asked surprised.
"I own it," she said with a smile. "Now what can I get ya?"
"What ya got?"
"Well my boys shot a deer yesterday so I have some nice venison steaks."
"That'll be fine," Vin said. "Can I get some potatas and such."
"Don't worry, honey, I know just what you'll like," she said and walked out of the room.
When she finally returned Vin wasn't disappointed. The venison steak was accompanied by mashed potatoes with gravy and corn on the cob. Vin ended his lunch with some peach cobbler the headed up to his room. He unlocked the door and threw his saddlebags on the dresser and sat on the bed. He decided to take a nap and look around later tonight. He had gotten up early to be to town by noon. He pulled off his boots then stood up and walked over to the door to lock it. When he was done he lay on the bed and fell asleep.
Vin woke up and pulled on his boots. He walked over to the window and looked out. Vin tried to figure out where to start first. The bordellos were out, he didn't think Ella would go in there. Then again he could be wrong. It would be the perfect place to hide. Vin wasn't looking forward to going in one of them. Vin wasn't afraid of women he just didn't know what to say around them and he decided to start with the saloons. He put his hat on and opened the door. He pulled it shut and locked it behind him then headed for the stairs. Once out of the hotel he headed for the saloon across the street. It was called the Golden Horseshoe. When he walked in he knew Ezra would have felt right at home. The salon was full of poker tables and other games of chance. Vin knew to stay away from them since Ezra had told him most gaming houses were rigged. He walked over to the bar and ordered a beer. He noticed there was a stage behind the bar and was surprised.
"First time in town?" the bartender asked.
"I reckon," Vin answered cautiously.
"Don't worry I'm not prying," the bartender said. "It's just the first timers are always surprised by the stage behind me."
"Never been in a saloon with a stage behind the bar," Vin said. "Out on the floor maybe but not back there."
"It's serves a purpose," he said. "It makes it tough for these rowdy miners to get to my dancers."
"That makes sense," Vin agreed.
"Well enjoy yourself the show will be starting in a few minutes."
Vin grabbed his beer and headed for one of the table along the back wall. He took a seat along the wall so he could watch the doors. The saloon was a busy place and he was surprised Ezra never made it out to Lassiter. The town was a fair distance from Four Corners but Ezra could take a couple of days off and have some fun. He figured he'd mentioned it when he got back. Vin drank his beer and the show started. It was the usual type show with can can dancers and various other acts. When it was over Vin went back to the bar and ordered another beer. He was watching the working women to see if one of them might be Ella. He doubted she would be one of them but you just never knew with her. When he was satisfied he wasn't going to find anything in this saloon he decided to head over to the other one. As he walked along the boardwalk he heard someone crying in the alley. He drew his mare's leg and made his way cautiously along the wall. Half way down the alley he found one of the CanCan dancers crying.
"Ma'am," Vin said putting his gun in his holster. "Can I help you."
"That's so sweet of you," she sniffed holding out her hand.
Vin took her hand to help her to her feet. As he took her hand he felt a sharp pain to the back of his head as the world went dark and he fell at the dancer's feet.
"That was a marvelous performance my dear," Ella said stepping out of the shadows. "Mitch take Mr. Tanner back to the house. Leon, pay her for her troubles."
Ella followed Mitch as he carried the unconscious Vin over his shoulder. Leon walked over to the dancer and held out double eagle. When she went to take it he snatched it away from her hand.
"I'll take a kiss first," he smiled.
"Why of course sugar," she said and kissed him.
Leon pulled her close in his embrace then reached behind his back. The moonlight glittered off the knife blade just before it sank into the dancers back. Leon continued to kiss her as the life drained from her body. Once she was limp he dropped her to the ground and followed the others.
+ + + + + + +
Vin groaned and opened his eyes. At least he thought he opened them. Wherever he was it was pitch black. When he tried to move he realized his hands and feet were shackled. He tried to look around and he felt a metal collar rub against his neck.
"Shit!" Vin cursed. "Thats the last time I fall for some tears."
"Ah but Mr. Tanner it was the only thing you could have done," said a female voice.
Vin's blood ran cold when he recognized whom it was. God how could he have been so stupid. Vin squinted his eyes when a shaft of light entered the room. The light was cut off when someone passed in front of it. He heard a match strike and a lantern was lit. Vin could see a giant of a man holding it. Behind him was the woman he had been looking for. She was dressed in a purple gown and Vin wasn't surprised they had all fallen for her charms.
"Welcome Mr. Tanner," she said with a smile.
"What do you want?" he demanded.
"That ain't no way to talk to a lady," the giant said as he back handed Vin.
"Now Mitch is that anyway to treat a guest," Ella said with a laugh. "To answer your question I have brought you here to punish you."
"For what?" Vin said licking the blood off his lip.
"I know you're the one that turned Chris against me," She snarled. "I saw you talking to him at my party. You're the one that told him about the mine and Smiling Jack. After he talked to you he started to doubt me. So I decided you had to pay for turning Chris against me."
Ella walked over to Vin and pulled out a pair of shears. She bent down and grabbed a lock of his hair and Vin tried to pull away. She just held on and all he accomplished was having his hair pulled. She cut the lock and placed it in an envelope as she walked back over to Mitch.
"I also know if I hold you Chris will coming looking for you," she said with a smile as she headed for the door. "Mitch, break one of his legs so he can't run."
Vin couldn't believe what he was hearing. She was crazier then he thought. He tensed as Mitch moved towards him. There was nowhere for him to go as Mitch grabbed his left leg and stretched it out. Vin tried to fight him but he couldn't get any leverage with his hands and other leg shackled to the wall. Vin watched in horror as Mitch brought the heavy log he was carrying crashing down on his shin. Vin howled in pain as he felt the bone snap and he gladly sunk into the blackness.
+ + + + + + +
Chris had drove the others crazy for the past two days. It was the afternoon of the third day and Vin still hadn't returned. Chris sat by himself in the saloon and the others kept their distance. Buck was surprised that he didnt have a bottle on the table in front of him.
"Where the heck could Vin be?" JD asked breaking the silence.
"Now if I knew that I would be hauling his ass back here now wouldn't I?" Buck said smacking the kid in the back of the head.
"Hey!" JD cried.
"Would you gentlemen please refrain form harming each other while I am trying to concentrate," Ezra said as he played solitaire.
"Why bother playing Ezra," Nathan said. "You even cheat against yourself."
Ezra was about to say something in his defense when they noticed Mrs. Bridges from the boarding house walk into the saloon. She looked around and noticed Chris sitting in the corner and headed for his table.
"Mr. Larabee I was cleaning your room and found this under the bed," she said holding out a note.
"Thank you," Chris said taking the note.
Mrs. Bridges walked out and Chris opened the note.
Al mi fallt. Went lookin 4 Ella
"Damn you Vin!" Chris cursed crushing the note.
"What's up Pard?" Buck asked as he walked over.
Chris handed Buck the note and he read it. When he was finished he handed it to the others. When they all read it they looked to Chris.
"We're going after him," Chris said.
"How?" asked JD. "We don't even know where he went."
"JD's right," Josiah agreed. "He could be anywhere."
"Damn!" Chris yelled and began to pace.
Mary walked in to the saloon to find Chris pacing and the others watching him in silence. Mary wasn't happy. She had received another package addressed to the Clarion and she recognized the handwriting. She walked over to Chris and handed it to him with a scowl on her face. Chris just looked at her and took the package. He opened it and peered inside. The others watched as the color drained from Chris's face and he sat heavily in the seat.
"Chris what's wrong?" Buck asked. Chris handed him the box and the others looked over his shoulder. Nestled amongst a bed of red tissue were Vin's harmonica and a lock of his hair tied with a blue ribbon.
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