The four regulators rode down the main street of Eagle Bend later that afternoon. People on the street made a hasty retreat when they saw they meant business. Chris pulled his horse up in front of the hitching post across from the saloon. They decided to check the saloon first for this Steve Lauer. Chris dismounted and tied his horse to the rail. He glanced up and down the street before walking across to the saloon. Chris's black duster billowed out behind him like the black wings of an avenging angel. Buck, Josiah and Ezra followed close behind with hands resting on their guns. Chris swept through the bat-winged doors and stepped inside. Buck moved to Chris's right while Josiah and Ezra fanned out to his left.
"We're looking for Steve Lauer," Chris announced searching the saloon with his steely gaze.
One of the patrons dropped his glass and made a dash for the back door. Josiah picked up a chair one handed and threw it at the fleeing man. The chair caught him in the back and he went sliding across the floor only to stop when he hit the wall. He didn't get up.
"I'll only ask one more time before I start shooting," Chris said coldly.
"You wouldn't dare," one of the patrons said.
"Care to place a wager?" Ezra asked evilly.
The bartender knew the reputation of these men and wasn't about to risk his life for the likes of Steve Lauer.
"That's him," said the bartender pointing to the corner.
Everyone stepped away from Lauer leaving a clear path for Chris. Steve was shaking. It was one thing to beat up an innocent boy, that took no courage at all. It took courage to stand up to the wrath of Chris Larabee. Lauer knew he has to try or be a laughing stock to all his friends. He glared at Chris as he started walking towards him.
"You're going to tell me who helped beat up JD Dunne," Chris snarled. "But first I want the medicine that you took." Chris held out his hand and waited.
"Ain't got it on me," Lauer said. "And I ain't telling you who helped me."
"I was hoping you would say that," Chris smiled.
Chris moved lightening quick and Lauer wasn't prepared for Chris to pull him to his feet and punch him in the stomach. Steve doubled over and Chris took Lauer's gun out of the holster and handed it to Buck.
"I'm going to give you something you didn't give JD," Chris said and waited while Lauer stood up.
Lauer couldn't believe his good luck. Larabee wanted to fight him not shoot him. He launched himself towards Chris. Chris was ready and slammed his right fist into Steve's nose. He dropped to the floor screaming and trying to stop the flow of blood from his broken nose. Chris pulled him to his feet.
"Who helped you?" Chris snarled.
While Chris was fighting Lauer Ezra took the time to scan the crowd. He had a pretty good idea which ones had helped Lauer. There was a man close to the bar that was looking rather nervous. Another was sitting in a corner trying not to draw attention to himself. As Ezra was looking around he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Without thinking the hidden derringer sprang into his hands and he fired. One of the patrons screamed and grabbed his hand dropping the gun he was aiming at Chris.
"That wasn't very sporting," Ezra commented dryly.
Josiah pulled the man to his feet and sat him in a chair close to him then looked at Chris.
"That's one down," Chris said. "Three more to go. Now talk!"
"Don't now," Lauer said.
"Wrong answer," Chris growled and sent a right hook crashing into his jaw. Lauer stumbled back and was caught by Buck.
"Now mister I think we're being fairly reasonable," Buck said. "But if you don't tell me now I'm just gonna have to shoot ya."
"You won't shoot me," Lauer said with confidence.
Buck pulled his gun and shot the top of Lauer's ear off. Steve cried out and his hand flew to his bleeding ear. Now he knew they would shoot him if he didn't tell. And being the coward that he was he decided to rat out his friends.
"Him, and him, and the guy your friend hit with the chair," Lauer pointed to the ones Ezra picked.
"Where's the medicine?" Chris demanded.
"In my room at the boarding house," Lauer cringed.
"Take those four over to the jail," Chris said. "I'll go with this one and I'll meet you in a few minutes.
Buck, Josiah and Ezra rounded u the others and headed over to the jail. Two of the attackers carried their unconscious friend between them. Buck pushed the one Ezra shot in front of him as they walked across the street.
Chris dragged Lauer over to the boarding house to get the laudanum. Steve thought he might be able to jump Chris as they went into his room but Chris never let his guard down. Once Chris had the medicine he brought Lauer to the jail. Chris entered to find the sheriff arguing with Buck.
"I can't keep theses men here until the circuit judge comes," he protested. " He ain't due for another three weeks."
"You'll keep them here," Chris warned. "Or I'll make your life a living hell."
The sheriff blanched at Chris's words. He'd only taken the job because all he had to do was look the other way when something went wrong. He was paid well to do nothing. He knew about these men and didn't want any dealings with them.
"I quit," he announced. "No they're your problem."
"Not mine," Chris said as he pushed Lauer into the cell and locked the door.
Chris hooked the keys to his belt and walked out the door. Buck smiled and walked over to the desk. He opened the draw and found the extra set of keys. He grabbed them and followed Chris. They mounted their horses and rode out of town.
Chris pushed the horses hard and they arrived back in Four Corners around midnight. Josiah offered to take the horses tot he livery. Chris said he'd bring the laudanum up to Nathan and relieve him so he could get some sleep. Buck went with Chris to check on JD. They walked into the clinic to find Nathan asleep on the floor and Mary sitting between the two injured men reading a book.
"You're back," she said as she looked up.
"How re they?" Chris asked quietly.
"JD woke up a few hours ago," Mary answered. "Nathan gave him some broth and he fell back to sleep. Nathan was exhausted and so I made him take a nap. Vin hasn't stirred."
"It's late," Chris said. "Why don't you go get some sleep we'll take over now."
"I am tired," She said as she stood and walked towards the door.
"Mary," Chris called.
"Yes," she said turning back.
She walked out and closed the door. Buck moved to JD's side. Nathan heard them walking around and woke up. He sat up rubbing his eyes.
"Didn't mean to wake you Nate," Buck apologized.
"That's alright," Nathan said. "Did you get the laudanum?"
"Yup," Chris said pointing to the box on the table. "How's Vin?"
"He ain't doing too good," Nathan admitted. "The muscle spasms are happenin' more often now. I gave him the last of the laudanum about an hour ago."
Chris sat next to Vin and pushed the hair from his eyes. The tracker didn't look good at all. His skin had a sickly pallor and Chris could see his breathing was labored. As Chris watched the muscles in Vin's arms started to twitch. Chris took Vin's arm and began to rub it. Suddenly Vin's back arched and his arms and legs began to flail.
"Nathan!" Chris yelled as he tried to hold onto the convulsing tracker.
Nathan turned at Chris's scream and saw Vin. He grabbed a wooden spoon from the table and moved quickly to his side. Buck also left JD and grabbed Vin's legs. Nathan grabbed Vin's mouth and forced the spoon between his teeth so he wouldn't bite his tongue. Vin lost all control of his body and he began to drool. The fit lasted for a few minutes then he went limp. The commotion woke JD and he watched in horror thinking Vin was dead.
"Buck," he called in a frightened voice.
"He's alive JD," Buck said moving to his side.
"Buck think ya can get JD over to his room in the boarding house?" Nathan asked.
"Yeah Nathan," Buck said and went to pick JD up.
"I can walk!" JD protested.
Buck ignored him and picked him up blankets and all. As Buck made his way to the door Josiah and walked in. Josiah saw the look on Buck's face and thought the worst. He looked over at Vin and saw the damage to the bedclothes.
"He went into convulsions?" Josiah asked.
"Yeah," Buck said. "Nathan asked if I could get JD out of here."
"I shall give you a hand Mr. Wilmington," Ezra offered.
They both left and Josiah moved over to help with Vin. Chris looked up and Josiah saw the fear and anger in there blue depths.
"Let's get him cleaned up," Nathan said. Josiah moved to gather Vin but Chris stopped him.
"No, I'll get him," Chris said.
Chris wrapped the blankets around Vin and lifted him from the bed. During the convulsions Vin lost control of his bodily functions and all the linens on the bed needed to be changed. Chris sat on the other bed and waited for them to finish. Once the bed was cleaned Nathan washed Vin then they put him back in the bed. Chris walked to the window and looked out. The stars were shinning brightly and Chris watched them. He knew Vin didn't have much time left and he could feel his insides going cold.
Nathan knew that it was only a matter of time. Vin was getting worse. The convulsions were racking his body more frequently and Nathan knew Vin couldn't take much more. He didn't think Chris could either. Chris refused to let the others see Vin like this. Whenever the tracker had a convulsion he lost all control over his body and Chris said Vin wouldn't want them to see him like that. Nathan looked over at Chris and sighed. Chris had dark circles under his eyes and his blonde hair was dirty and matted. Nathan was about to tell him to take a break when Vin arched his back. His legs and arms started to thrash around wildly. Chris grabbed his upper body while Nathan grabbed his legs. This fit was different from the others and Nathan had a feeling Vin wouldn't survive this one. He could hear Vin grunting trying to force air into his lungs. As abruptly as the convulsion started it ended. Nathan quickly moved to check Vin's breathing as Chris let him go. Vin's breathing was shallow and labored and Nathan didn't think he had too much longer.
"Get the others," Chris said quietly.
"Alright," Nathan agreed and left the clinic.
"Vin listen to me," Chris said as he straightened Vin's legs and arms. "Just let go, you stubborn fool. We'll be fine. You don't have to worry about us."
Chris was still talking to Vin when Nathan returned with the others. They entered quietly and gathered around Vin's bed.
"Is he?" JD asked.
"Not yet" Chris said as he sat back.
Josiah was the first to move and he placed his hands on Vin's head and said a prayer. When he was finished he stepped back and Buck placed a hand on Vin's shoulder.
"It was great riding with you Pard," Buck said then moved aside to stand with Josiah.
JD didn't know what to say. This was just like when his ma died. He felt helpless. Tears were running down his cheeks but he didn't care. Vin was the only one that didn't treat him like a kid. JD knew if he tried to say something he would break down. He leaned down and winced as his broken ribs protested the move. He took Vin's hand and gave it a squeeze then he moved away to make room for Ezra.
"Good bye my friend," was all the fancy talking gambler could say.
They left the clinic and went to the saloon. They all decided to get drunk.
+ + + + + + +
Two days later Vin was still among the living. Nathan couldn't explain it but Vin seemed to be improving. The tracker was even able to drink without having to be forced. When it looked like Vin was going to die on them Buck forced Chris out to get a bath and some sleep. He told Chris that Vin wouldn't want him to do this to himself. Nathan sent out telegrams to doctors looking for answers but they were as puzzled as he was. He finally received a telegram from a doctor in San Francisco saying that they symptoms sound like brain fevers. Nathan never heard of that and sent another telegram asking about it. He was reading the answer as he walked over to the clinic. He entered to find Chris sitting at Vin's side. The tracker looked like hell but he was breathing easier and had some color in his cheeks. When he finished the telegram he looked over at Chris.
"Do you know if Vin was feeling poorly before the accident?" Nathan asked.
"What do you mean?" Chris asked.
"Telegram says that theses here brain fevers come about from someone being sick," Nathan explained.
"You know Vin," Chris said exasperated. "Even if he was sick he'd never say anything."
"That's true, " Nathan smiled.
"Does the doctor say if Vin will be alright," Chris asked dreading the answer.
"He say he should be fine with rest and quiet."
As they were talking they failed to notice Vin was trying to force his eyes open. They hadn't been used in so long they were gummed shut. Vin gave a soft moan and Chris leaned over him
"Vin!" Chris called eagerly.
"Easy Chris," Nathan cautioned trying not to sound just as eager.
Chris grabbed a cloth and wet it. He wiped the tracker's face and Vin slowly opened his eyes.
"Welcome back," Chris said quietly. Vin didn't seem to understand and blinked.
"Let's see if we can get him to drink some water," Nathan said.
Together they raised Vin and Chris held him against his chest as Nathan offered him the water. At first the water dribbled from his mouth but once Vin realized what it was he drank greedily.
"Easy Vin," Nathan said taking the cup away.
Nathan put the cup down and propped some pillows behind Vin before Chris laid him back. Vin was still disoriented and his eyes were trying to stay focused. Chris finally sat on the bed and took Vin's face in his hands. He forced the younger man to look at him.
"Hey Vin," Chris called. "Why don't you try to focus on one thing."
Vin blinked at the words and tried to sort them out in his jumbled mind. Things looked familiar but he just couldn't remember. Concentrating on the face in front of him Vin's thoughts started to make sense. He knew this man but couldn't put a name with the face. The voice was soothing and the hands on either side of his head were reassuring. As Vin began to relax images started to fall into place. Finally he remembered.
"Chris," a voice said. That can't be mine, Vin thought.
"Yeah Vin, it's me," Chris said with a smile.
"You shot me," Vin croaked.
"Yeah I shot ya," Chris laughed. Vin tried to return the smile but it was just too much trouble.
"Vin," Nathan said. "Think you can drink some broth?"
"Broth?" Vin asked confused.
"Never mind," Nathan chuckled. "Chris I'll be right back. Try to keep him awake."
Nathan left and Chris turned back to Vin. The tracker was still trying to get his bearings. He was so weak that he could barely keep his eyes open. The illness had reduced Vin to skin and bones. Vin was trying to move his arms and legs but all he succeeded in doing was moving the fingers on his left hand. Chris grasped his hand and Vin wrapped his fingers around his hand.
"Good to have you back cowboy," Chris said.
"How long?" Vin whispered.
"Ten days," Chris answered. "You had all the signs of rabies and Nathan gave you a week."
"Sorry to disappoint him," Vin mumbled sleepily.
"Come on, Vin, stay with me a little longer," Chris said tapping his cheek.
"Tired," Vin protested.
"I know," Chris said.
Nathan walked in carrying a tray. Chris could see the others standing in the door. Nathan obviously told them to stay outside. Nathan handed the cup of broth to Chris. He raised Vin's head and held the cup to his lips. Vin took four sips before sleep claimed him. Nathan took the cup from Chris with a smile.
"He drank more than I thought he would," Nathan commented.
Chris held Vin up while Nathan removed the pillows from behind his back. When they were gone Chris laid Vin back. The others came in as Chris was tucking the blankets around Vin.
"Can't tell you how happy I was to see those blue eyes of his," Buck beamed.
"Even if they were unfocused," JD laughed.
Everyone laughed and Nathan shushed them. He pushed all of them towards the door. As they were walking down the stairs Chris heard Ezra taking wagers on how long it would be before Vin was pestering them to leave. Chris smiled as they each chimed in with different lengths of time.
+ + + + + + +
For the next couple of days Vin would wake and they would get him to drink some broth and he would fall back to sleep. Buck asked how long this would go on and Nathan assured them this was the best thing for Vin. Chris was on watch the third day that Vin was awake. He was sitting next to the tracker reading the paper. Chris was having trouble concentrating something was on his mind. He finally gave up and put the paper down. He got up and began to pace the room.
"Gonna ware a hole in Nathan's floor," Vin said.
"Hey, Vin," Chris said coming to the side of the bed and taking the seat. "How ya feeling."
"Bored," Vin sighed. "All I do is eat and sleep. My shoulders starting to itch too."
"I'll let Nathan know," Chris said. "Do you want some broth?"
"No!" Vin yelled. "Had enough. I want something to chew on."
"That's up to Nathan," Chris said.
"What's eating at you cowboy?" Vin said with a yawn.
"Nothing," Chris said.
"It ain't' nothing, Chris, every time I wake up you look guilty," Vin said. "It was an accident."
"It's not that," Chris admitted.
"Then what?" Vin asked
"Remember you asked me that if you got rabies that you wanted met to shoot you," Chris said.
"Yeah I remember," Vin said.
"I almost did it," Chris said looking the tracker in the eyes. "Had my gun pointed to your head but I couldn't pull the trigger."
"Too bad," Vin said as his eyes closed. "Could have been five hundred dollars richer."
With that announcement Vin fell asleep. Chris knew that was Vin's way of saying it was all right, that he understood. Chris just shook his head and laughed. He'd missed Vin's unusual sense of humor.
+ + + + + + +
Two weeks went by and Vin was starting to get restless. Nathan knew he couldn't keep the tracker down now that he was regaining his strength. The wound in his shoulder was still giving him a little trouble and Nathan insisted he wear the sling. The teeth marks were healing nicely but were starting to itch. Nathan looked up from his reading to see if Vin was awake. He was still asleep and Nathan hoped he stayed that way a little while longer. Nathan made the others stay away in the morning so Vin could sleep. The tracker was still thin from his ordeal and Nathan was glad to see he was starting to fill out again on Mrs. Walkers cooking. When she found out Vin had a fondness for oatmeal cookies she made sure to include one with every meal. Nathan went back to his reading when he heard a loud whoop and shooting from the street. He sighed when he heard Vin stir. So much for trying to let him sleep.
"What time is it?" Vin asked as he rolled over.
"Ten thirty," Nathan answered.
"Damn, Nathan, why'd you let me sleep so late," Vin complained.
"Because you needed it," Nathan said walking over to the bed. "How's your shoulder?"
"It's fine," Vin answered.
"Right," Nathan smiled. "Let's take a look."
Vin sighed and sat up. Nathan could see he was moving a little easier. He piled some pillows behind Vin's back and he leaned against them. The healer unwrapped his shoulder and saw it was healing fine.
"Vin can you stretch your arm out and raise it for me?" Nathan instructed.
Vin did as Nathan said and raised his arm to shoulder level then cringed. Nathan had him put it back down. He took Vin's right hand in his and told him to pull back against it. Vin was still weak and Nathan easily held his arm in place. When Vin's hand began to shake Nathan told his to stop. Vin scowled at him and Nathan laughed. He bound Vin's shoulder and placed his arm in the sling.
"How long I gotta wear this thing?" Vin asked frowning.
"Until I say," Nathan said.
"What kinda answer is that," Vin demanded. "My shoulder feels fine."
Chris walked in carrying a tray. He shook his head when he heard them arguing.
"He giving you a hard time Nate?" Chris asked.
"Don't he always when he's laid up," Nathan replied.
"That food for me?" Vin asked. "My stomach thinks my throat's been cut."
"Now Vin don't overdo it," Nathan warned.
"I won't," Vin grumbled. "Any coffee?"
"No," Chris and Nathan said together.
"I was just askin'," Vin sighed.
Chris placed the tray on his legs and took the cover off the plate. Underneath was a tall stack of flapjacks smothered in Mrs. Walker's blackberry syrup. Off to the side were two oatmeal cookies. Vin smiled and grabbed one of the cookies. Nathan sighed as he wolfed one down then ate the other. When he finished those he started on the flapjacks. There was also a large glass of milk that Vin ignored.
"Drink the milk," Chris said.
"No," Vin said around a mouth full. "Don't like it."
"Drink it," Chris warned.
"What do I get if I do?" Vin said putting down the fork.
"Drink it and you can sit on the porch for a few hours," Chris sighed.
Vin smiled and picked up the glass. He drank half the glass and went back to the flapjacks. He finished the milk and leaned back.
"Mrs. Walker sure makes good flap jacks," Vin sighed in contentment. "Can I go outside now?"
"You're the one that made the bargain,' Nathan laughed at Chris's scowled.
"Let me return the tray and get you some clothes," Chris said. "I'll be right back."
Vin smiled at Nathan thinking he'd gotten the best of the healer. Last night they discussed letting Vin go out today. It was either that or Vin would find a way to sneak out on his own. This way Chris or one of the others could keep an eye on him. Chris returned a few minutes later with his clothes and they got him dressed. Vin complained that he could do it himself. They ignored him as Chris pulled on his socks and boots. He was forced to punch two more holes in Vin's belt to hold up his pants. When he was ready Vin walked to the door eager to go out. . He took his hat from the peg by the door and pulled it low over his eyes. Chris grabbed his coat and help him put it on. Vin opened the door and walked out. Chris stayed close by as he made his way down the stairs. By the time he got to the bottom Chris could see he was shaking. Chris took Vin's left arm and helped him over to the saloon. They made it to the chairs and Vin sat down.
"Damn," he cursed as he leaned back. "I'm as weak as a new born colt."
"Not surprised," Chris said.
Vin stretched his legs out in front of him and crossed his ankles. He leaned his head back and watched the street from under the brim of his slouch hat. Ten minutes later he was asleep.
"Alright Ezra pay up," Chris said holding out his hand.
"Why of course Mr. Larabee," Ezra said walking out and handing him five dollars. He then held out his hand to Buck who gave him ten.
"How'd you know?" Buck asked.
"Trade secret," Ezra said with a smile.
"Ya think we should leave him there?" JD asked in concern.
"He'll be alright for a couple of hours," Nathan said. "If we try to move him he'll only wake up."
"It's good to have brother Vin back among us," Josiah said.
They all took seats around Vin and got comfortable. Mary Travis exited the Clarion sweeping the dust out with a broom. She saw the seven regulators sitting across the street outside the saloon. She could see that Vin was asleep and the others sat protectively around him. Mary smiled knowing the seven were still around to watch the town.
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