To Soar Above The Clouds

by White Raven


The meeting hall was full with people. The auditions were going well, at least from an observer's point of view. Mary and Hathaway were inside sitting at a table on the stage, listening to the 'would be' actors reading their parts, or reciting their poetry.

Chris was on the other side of the street. Too many people...he hated it. He was sipping a cup of coffee outside the saloon with Nathan and Buck at his side. Ezra was lost somewhere in that crowd along with Josiah. The gambler had mentioned something about 'missed opportunities' and he and the preacher had decided it would be something different to do that day. Chris allowed a grin and Nathan caught it. "What you grinnin' about, Chris? You hate what's goin' on over there."

"That I do, Nathan, but I would dearly love to catch Ezra's recital. Wonder what he's going to read today."

"I believe he mentioned something about King Lear," Buck replied, sipping his own cup of coffee. There was a mischievous grin behind his eyes.

Nathan chuckled. "Josiah is doing something from Donne, I think. One of his favorites."

"Yeah, and JD is over there watching it all. When he saw the turnout, his eyes bugged out so big I thought for sure they was gonna pop." Buck almost laughed at the memory.

Chris chuckled. He looked down the street and saw Vin leaving his wagon. The tracker headed over to the back of the meeting hall. "Where's he goin'?" Buck asked.

"His own business, Buck," Chris replied.

"Yeah, okay it's his business, but, hell, never took Vin to be interested in auditioning."

"He ain't going over there for that. It's the man we met last night."

"Oh, right. JD mentioned that guy. Who is he?"

"Actor. Theodore Marcus. Ever hear of him?"

Buck looked thoughtful. "Yeah, I did. Seems to me he faded into the woodwork about a year ago. Had no idea what happened to him, though."

"Being burned like that, I reckon his stage days are over," Nathan said.

"Seem to remember reading somethin' about some acting company involved in a fire last year in Kansas City. Would Hathaway's actors be them?" Buck asked.

Chris nodded. "From what I understand. Mary didn't mention anything about it, though. Must be a closed subject."

"So why is Vin interested in this actor?" Nathan asked.

Chris shrugged. He looked at Nathan and smiled. "Flight lessons."

Nathan and Buck exchanged curious glances. Obviously it was an inside joke and neither of the others were going to be let in on it. They shrugged and continued to watch the morning pass them by.

+ + + + + + +

Vin knocked on Marcus' door. "Enter," came the reply. He opened the door and found Marcus stacking books and such on a crate. "Mister Tanner, welcome. I was hoping you would be here today."

"Chris told me I could come by after the auditions, but...reckon my curiosity got the better of me. I could come back at a later time if this is..."

"Nonsense. I would rather talk with you than clean this room anyway." Marcus seemed truly pleased that Vin had shown up early.

The tracker nodded in affirmation; then he gestured with his thumb behind him. "Don't seem to be much privacy in the hall, Mister Marcus. Is there another place we could do this?"

"Certainly." Marcus grabbed up two books and gestured to the door. "If you will follow me, I know a secluded spot where we can work." The actor was smiling and Vin felt immediately at ease around the man. "I really don't know why I came this morning, Mister Marcus."

"I do, Mister Tanner. And before we are done you will know as well." He opened the door and walked out, waiting for Vin to follow before closing the door and locking it. "This way if you would." Marcus led the way down the back hall and opened up a room that was empty except for a few chairs and a table to the side where a pitcher of water stood with some glasses. "This should do nicely. Please, come in."

Vin entered, his fingers latched onto his gun belt. When Marcus closed the door the sounds of the people outside became muffled. Vin removed his hat. "How would ya' like to do this?"

Marcus handed him one of the books. "Hamlet. You said you were familiar with this work."

Vin rested his hat on the back of one of the chairs and took the book. He examined it carefully. "I never thought I'd actually hold the printed words in my hand."

Marcus smiled. "It's a day for miracles, Mister Tanner. For both of us."

Vin returned the smile. "Call me Vin."

Marcus nodded, pleased. "Vin it is. And I prefer to be called Marcus. Now, just make yourself comfortable. We will not be acting, today, just reading. And remember...I will help you with any words you have trouble with."

"Well, that'll be pretty much all of 'em," he said with a slight smile. "I hope ya' have a lot of patience."

"After what I've lived through, Vin, patience and I are old friends."

Vin took off his jacket and laid it over the chair that his hat rested on. He sat down on that chair and Marcus pulled up one to sit in front of him. "Shall we begin?"

"I reckon so." Vin opened up the book. "Marcus? Would ya' do me a big favor?"

"Certainly, Vin. What would that be?"

"Ya' said we wouldn't be actin' today. But I wouldn't mind if'n ya' wanted to. It's what y'all do."

Marcus gazed at Vin with something akin to understanding. "You really wouldn't mind?"

Vin shook his head. "I'd like to see ya' perform this again," he replied, gesturing to the book.

"Even with my scars?"

Vin shrugged. "Don't recall seein' scars, Marcus. I just see an actor."

Marcus was touched by this request. He stood and cleared his throat. "Very well, Vin. With you doing me the favor of reading with me, I can return that favor by performing for you. It would be an honor."

Vin smiled. "Where do we start?"

Later that day...

Chris entered the Clarion to see Mary busily at work on the printing press. She turned. When she saw it was Chris she quickly stopped what she was doing and wiped her ink-stained hands on her equally ink-stained apron. Her hair was slightly askew, but because of the ink, she didn't bother smoothing it down. "Mister Larabee, good afternoon. Is there something I can do for you?"

"Yeah, Mary. I was wondering if you would happen to have the newspaper stories regarding the fire in Kansas City? The one Hathaway's actors were involved in?"

She flinched back a bit in surprise. "You know of that?"

"Yes. Remembered it last night. Wanted to read the report again. Personal reasons."

"Certainly. I have a few copies in my files. I'll just be a minute."

"Take your time."

Mary left to go back into her file room. Chris took the time to look around. He saw an envelope with Vin's name on it, done in Mary's handwriting. He wondered what was in the envelope. He turned away when Mary came back with a handful of articles and newspapers. "Here you are. These are all I collected. Would you like to read them here or..."

"I'd like to take them to the jailhouse if that would be all right. Give me something to read other than wanted posters."

"Certainly. You will bring them back when you're finished?"

"That I will. Mary, I was wondering if you would like me to give this to Vin when I see him? I saw his name was on it." He gestured to the envelope.

Mary looked nervous. She did not know how Chris would take the news that Vin had shared the gunslinger's poem with her, even if it was because she was the only one to help him print it up. She took the envelope and studied it for a moment. She didn't exactly have to volunteer any information. "I would appreciate it if you gave it to him. I don't know if I can find the time at this point."

Chris took the envelope. "I'll take care of it for you, Mary. I won't be keeping you from your work anymore. Thanks for the articles."

"My pleasure."

Chris tipped his hat to her and headed out of the Clarion, making his way back to the jailhouse, pocketing the envelope in his jacket as he did so. Though he was curious as to the contents, he was the type to ignore that curiosity. It wasn't his business.

Mary didn't give his visit another thought, and went back to printing up the programs for that night's performance.

+ + + + + + +

The day wore on. Chris and Ezra along with Buck and Josiah were in the saloon, playing cards. Nathan was out patrolling, keeping an eye on things. "So no one knows who won that twenty dollars?" Buck asked, genuinely curious as he took a swig of beer from his mug.

"I dare say the verdict is still out on that judgment," Ezra said as he dealt the cards for another game of poker. "Might I ask where Mister Dunne and Mister Tanner are?"

"JD's out and about, probably mingling with them actor people," Buck replied as he took up his cards and began to organize them. "Haven't seen Vin since this morning."

Chris took a look out the window towards the town meeting hall. "I should find out what's keeping him. He could easily have lost track of time." He stood and put on his hat.

"You still keeping it a mystery as to why he's over there, Chris?" Buck asked.

Chris just smiled. "It's up to Vin to tell you if he feels inclined to." And with that he was out the doors.

Buck and Josiah looked at each other. "The man doesn't have a reputation for being mysterious without a reason," the preacher noted.

"Indeed. Dare I say Mister Tanner has found himself a young actress that he may be wanting to carry a torch for?"

"You been daring a lot in these last few minutes, Ez," Buck joked. He looked over the top of his cards, waggling his eyebrows. "Careful you don't dare yourself into somethin' embarrassin'."

Ezra cast him a slit-eyed look. "And what better person to offer that advice than the king of fools. Play cards, Mister Wilmington."

Buck glared at him. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Josiah leaned back and organized his cards. "The game is now called 'War'."

+ + + + + + +

Chris entered the meeting hall to find Mary and Hathaway going over some paper work.

"Thank you so much for printing up these programs, Mary. They look fine," Hathaway was saying as he gestured to the stack of programs on the table. "So you agree that he should be the one?"

Mary nodded. "I do. He did give the most meaningful reading today," she was saying.

Hathaway nodded. "Then it will be my privilege to bestow the honor upon him this evening."

"I take it that means you have a winner?" Chris asked as he approached the stage. He noticed the props and decorations were all in place. Marcus had done a fine job.

"Yes it does, but we can't tell you. The winner will be announced tonight after the performance," Hathaway explained.

"What are you doing here, Chris?" Mary asked, a surprised tone in her voice. Surprised, but pleased. "You decide to join in after all?"

"Not me. I was just looking for Vin. He was supposed to meet with Mister Marcus today."

"Teddy? You met him?" Hathaway asked, surprised.

"Last night. He was having some problems with the stage decorations."

Hathaway's surprised look gave way to one of annoyance. The look was not lost on Chris. "I see. Well, to be honest I've been so busy with the auditions today that I haven't seen sight of either Teddy or Mister Tanner. You could try the rooms in the back."

Chris tipped his hat to both of them. "Much obliged," he said.

As he headed towards the back of the stage, Hathaway threw out the invitation. "Feel free to come and see tonight's performance, Mister Larabee. I assure you, you won't be disappointed."

"I'll think about it."

When he disappeared Mary shrugged to Hathaway. "He's just not into plays, I suppose."

Hathaway shook his head regretfully. "A very mysterious man, Mary."

She looked at Hathaway curiously. "Who's Mister Marcus?"

Hathaway ignored her. He seemed lost in his own thoughts.

Mary looked thoughtful. "Wait a moment...Theodore Marcus? Yes, that's right. I remember hearing him mentioned as being part of your company."

Hathaway was looking in the direction Chris had gone. His gaze was tense as well as his body. "Hmm? Oh, yes, yes, that's right."

"A very prominent player if I remember correctly. Why was he not here for the auditions this morning?"

Hathaway went back to his paper work. He seemed suddenly nervous. "He, uh, he had things he needed to do for tonight's performance."

"I see. And that would explain why you haven't introduced me to him then? He's just...very busy?" Mary was fishing. She could tell Hathaway was keeping something from her. Her reporter's instincts kicked in.

"Mary, I..."

"What is it, James? Why would Theodore Marcus be interested in Vin Tanner?"

Hathaway shook his balding head, sighing heavily. "That I can't tell you."

"Why would Mister Marcus not come out and greet the people?"

"Mary, you're asking too many questions."

"I'm a reporter, James. Why hasn't Theodore Marcus shown himself?"

Hathaway let out another breath. "It's...a very long story, Mary."

"Well consider me very attentive, James. Something about Mister Marcus is bothering you. If it's something I can help you with..."

"Mary!" Hathaway interrupted her gruffly. They locked eyes and he relaxed somewhat under her gaze. "Can you help bring back my son?"

Marcy flinched back. What did Robert Hathaway's death have to do with Theodore Marcus?

He put a hand to her cheek and patted it in a fatherly way. "Perhaps I can tell you about it over dinner?" The pain in Hathaway's eyes made Mary wish she had never pushed the subject, but maybe talking about it would help the older man. And maybe she would finally learn the whole story as to how Robert had died.

+ + + + + + +

"I've often felt that way, Marcus. To be or not to be. It's a question I've pondered fer a long time," Vin said from where he sat.

"As have I. Especially after the fire that disfigured me."

"Did ya' think ya' were gonna die? Was anyone there to help ya'?"

"Yes, but unfortunately, I believe it was more out of obligation than the sincere desire to see my life saved. At least I've come to believe that." Marcus' good eye looked haunted.

"Why's that? Do ya' think the fire was deliberately set?"

Marcus stood and went to where a pitcher of water stood on a small table against a wall. "No, Vin. Not deliberately." His voice was tense as if he did not believe what he had just said.

Vin watched as Marcus poured two glasses of water. He then set the pitcher down and carried the glasses back handing one to Vin. He drank his water, but Vin just held his glass looking at Marcus with concern. "Sometimes it helps to talk to strangers," the tracker offered.

Marcus sat down and set his water on the floor next to his chair. He waved off the invitation. "Another time, perhaps."

Vin would not push the issue. He took a swallow of water and set the glass down at his feet.

"Shall we try another scene from Hamlet, Vin? You are doing so well."

Vin sighed. "I keep messin' up with the words, Marcus. I know ya' said you'd help me and ya' are, just don't seem to be makin' much sense to me."

Marcus smiled. "The Bard is extremely difficult to understand at times, but that is why I believe you can do well with him. You strike me as someone who enjoys a challenge."

Vin glanced down at the book in his hands. He acted as if he wanted to say something, but stopped himself. "What is it, Vin? You can speak freely with me."

Vin raised a questioning gaze to the actor. "Would y'all tell me why this is important to ya'? Ya' mentioned some of it last night, but I reckon I just need a bit more understandin'."

"You do understand, Vin, you just don't know it yet. It's all new and unknown to you. A voyage of discovery, if you will. But you needn't fear it. I know, I know. You would say you don't fear much of anything, but to be a lover of words puts one in a vulnerable state. You spoke of Mister Standish laughing at you when you asked him to write down that poem of yours. You spoke to me of the shame you felt when Mrs. Travis realized you did not know how to read. Vulnerability, Vin. That is what is raising its head in front of you at this time. Do not fear the feeling. Let the words flow over you like rain. Let them give you new life. Do not lose who you are in reality, but lose yourself in the words for the moment. God spoke the world into existence. They are the soul of creation, the tools of the heart. A poet is not a poet without the art of expression. Words can be either powerful weapons, capable of tearing down nations, or powerful tools capable of building back up. They can push a man to anger, or they can break a man to tears. Used to teach they can make a man wise. Used to paint they can make a poet. This is your talent, Vin. Speak it. Let your heart be heard."

Vin stood and walked away a few steps. "I wrote somethin' last night. Thought y'all would be interested in hearin' it."

"I would indeed, Vin. Would you like me to write it down?" Marcus reached for a pencil and paper inside his vest pocket. Vin turned to him and nodded. He gazed off past Marcus and began to recite...

"I hear the pelt of rain as it whispers to the ground. Angel tears they have been named. In this darkness, I am alone, the earth my only friend. I walk its paths, never seeing the end of my journey. The sunlight peers from behind the clouds and in its light I see another. Loneliness is his companion as well as mine. We walk alone, but our steps are as one."

Marcus finished writing the words down and he read them over one more time, his one good eye clearly showing he was pleased. "You speak of Mister Larabee."


Marcus stood and read the words again. "This is powerful, Vin. Sad, but...very powerful. Will you be showing this to him soon?"

Vin nodded. "What I've written, yeah."

"I see. It's not completed, then. If you would like I could..."

Vin interrupted him. "Marcus?"

"Yes, Vin?"

"I ain't meanin' to be rude, but I have another question fer ya'? I guess ya' could say I'm tryin' to lead up to somethin'."

Marcus set the paper down on the table next to the pitcher of water. "I'm listening."

Vin leaned back against the wall, his head lowered. "Ya' spoke of not being able to show yourself in public without some sort of coverin'?"

"That's right. I feel I would only scare people without covering my face. My arm is nothing. But this is hideous and I know it. I see you, Vin, and I will say it again. God has graced you with a comely appearance."

Vin turned thoughtful. "Not so much as ya' might think."

Marcus looked at him curiously. "Why do you say that?"

Vin was silent, his gaze staring off into space as he remembered a time a few years ago, while he was still bounty hunting. "Scars ain't always visible. Like you, I cover mine."

"Are you talking about inner scars, Vin?"


"What then?"

Vin pushed himself away from the wall and removed his suspenders. He unbuttoned his shirt and removed it. He slowly turned to show Marcus his back.

"Dear Lord, Vin." Marcus stood and approached closer. "These...these are lash scars. How on earth did you get these?"

"It was a long time ago. A time when I was not nearly as wise as I am now to the nature of man." Vin turned around, not bothering to put his shirt back on. Marcus was standing before him, his scars fully visible. Vin wanted the man to know he was not the only one in this room who bore the physical repercussions of a violent encounter with fate. "I was trackin' this murderer. He used whips on his victims. I trailed 'im to a desert in Oklahoma. Must have known I was trackin' 'im and he trapped me. When he found out I was after 'im fer the bounty, he tied my hands to a tree and ripped the shirt from my back. The next thing I knew my skin was being ripped to shreds. He shot my horse and left me fer dead."

Marcus looked at Vin with sorrow. "How did you escape such a horrible fate?"

"It was a Cheyenne dogman, a scout fer his tribe. He cut me down and helped me back to his village where their medicine man worked on me. I survived, but the man who had done it was long gone. I never picked up his trail again. I reckon another bounty hunter got 'im. Ain't seen his wanted poster in years."

"Vin, to survive such a horrible thing, you must have the will of a mule."

Vin chuckled. "Chris would rightly agree to that."

"How can a man who has gone through so much in such a short time of life, how can he see the beauty of the world?"

"I never gave it much thought, I reckon. Never knew I had it in me, least ways not 'til Mary held that poetry contest a few months back."

"Well, I am grateful to her for helping you to see the potential within you."

Vin lowered his head, abashed.

Marcus looked down at the poem on the table. "And have you shown Mister Larabee those scars, Vin? Have you shared that horrible moment of your life when the whip was laid to your back?"

Vin shook his head. "I s'pose one day he'll see 'em, if'n I get shot or sick. Nathan knows of 'em. I broke some ribs a while back. I made Nathan promise not to tell anyone, 'specially Chris."

"Why, if you speak so endearingly of someone like Mister Larabee, why do you feel the need to hide such a piece of yourself from him? From anyone?"

"It ain't worth speakin' of, I reckon. The past is the past. I let it lay when I can. 'Sides, nothin' Chris can do about what happened anyway."

A knock was heard. Vin jumped. He had been so engrossed in the conversation that he failed to keep his hearing tuned for unwelcome visitors. "Vin? You in there?" The door latch had not held and when Chris knocked the door swung open. When he walked in he saw Vin's back. "What the hell???"

Vin realized Chris had seen his back and quickly pulled his shirt back on. He started buttoning it. "Damn it, Chris!" He quickly started for the door to leave when Chris grabbed his arm. "Vin?"

Vin looked up at him. "Let it go, Larabee." He shook Chris' hand off his arm and hurried out of the room.

Chris looked at Marcus. "What the hell was that all about?"

Marcus stood and went to the chair where Vin's hat and coat were. He lifted them and held them out to Chris. "We spoke of my scars, Mister Larabee. He showed me his. It was his way of establishing some common ground between us, other than our love of words. I'm sorry you had to find out about his back in this manner."

Chris took the hat and coat. "Me, too, Marcus." He turned and headed out of the room. "Me, too."


Chris stopped and turned back to the scarred man. "Let him come to you with it, my friend. Those scars represent a part of his past where he failed. Failure does not come easy for a man to swallow, especially around someone he respects. He respects you."

"And yet he was able to show his scars to you?" Chris sounded angry.

Marcus smiled gently at him. "Only the physical ones. You hold the ones that have seared his soul...the ones that are still in need of healing."

Chris gazed at Marcus as if a revelation had dawned inside of him. He lowered his head and studied Vin's hat and coat. "I always wondered why he hardly ever took his shirt off in front of us." He looked back at Marcus, this time his expression was kinder. "Thank you."

Marcus nodded once to him with understanding.

Chris tipped his hat to the actor and left the room. He had to find Vin, even if just to give him back his hat and coat. As much as he wanted to know what happened to his friend, he would do what Marcus suggested...and let Vin tell him when he was ready.

+ + + + + + +

"You leaving?"

Vin was saddling up Peso, tightening the cinch. He didn't look behind him as Chris approached and handed him his hat and coat. "Might need these."

Vin stopped cinching and looked at the objects of clothing in Chris' hand. He slowly reached out and took them. "Thanks," he softly spoke, but he did not turn to look at him.

Chris stood there for a moment, staring at Vin, waiting for some word to show him he should either leave or stay.

"What do ya' want me to say, Chris?"

"Nothing," Chris said, leaning back against the stall door. "Less'n of course you want to talk."

"It happened. It's over. Dead and buried."

"The bastard that did it?"

Vin finished cinching the saddle and reached to untie the reins from the stall door. "Don't rightly know," he replied. "Dead as well, I reckon."

Vin was doing his best not to make eye contact with the gunslinger. He was angry that Chris had found out about the scars. Chris lowered his head. "Nothing to be ashamed of, Vin."

Vin stopped moving, his hands resting on Peso's neck. "Sometimes..." he started.

Chris looked up at him and saw that Vin wasn't moving. "Sometimes I have dreams," Vin finished.

"You ever spoke of this to anyone before?"

"Nathan knows about 'em."

"Fine. Nathan knows about them, but have you ever spoken about it?"

Vin lifted accusing eyes to Chris. "Ya' know better than anyone what it takes to talk about your past, Larabee."

Chris looked away and took in a deep breath as he wrapped his thumbs around his gun belt. "Yeah, I know. What was his name?"

Vin turned his attention back to Peso's neck. "Calder. Roy Calder."

Chris felt a thud in his gut. "The whipping murders. Heard about them. He was one of the bounty's you went after?"

Vin nodded as he put on his hat and coat. He put his hand on the saddle horn. "I told y'all about the bounty on my head after only knowing ya' fer a day. Why is it so hard to talk to ya' about...this?"

"Don't know, Vin. Like I told you last night, maybe 'cause you never had anyone to listen to you before."

Vin thought about this explanation then nodded once. "Town's gettin' to me. Need to wander for a bit."

Chris pushed himself away from the stall door. He reached up and put a hand on Vin's shoulder, not looking at him. "The difference between a wise man and a foolish man, Vin, is not the amount of intelligence they's whether or not they learn from their mistakes. I doubt seriously you would make the same mistake twice that you made with Calder." Another squeeze and Chris released his hold. Without another word he left the livery.

Vin stood there for a few seconds more, not turning to watch Chris leave. His anger was ebbing, but the shame was still eating at him. Why he was ashamed was the mystery. If anyone understood mistakes it would be Chris. Shaking his head, he led Peso out of the livery and mounted, then he was gone, Chris' words still echoing in his ears.

That evening...

Hathaway pulled the chair out from the table and Mary sat down. The hotel restaurant was filled with patrons who wanted to eat before the eight o'clock premiere. Many people came over to meet the man responsible for bringing some culture to Four Corners. One was a man named Joseph who brought his daughter, Lizzy, over as well. The girl was about six years old and was wide-eyed at James' giant appearance.

"Well, Hello there, little lady. I hear you're coming to see the play tonight." Hathaway spoke with none of the melancholy he had given into earlier.

Lizzy nodded, blond curls bouncing. Her voice was caught in her throat.

Hathaway laughed with delight. "Well, Mister Riley, you be sure to give your name at the door and I will leave instructions that you and your family are to get front row center."

Joseph smiled brightly. "Thank you, Mister Hathaway. We appreciate that very much. It's Lizzy's first time at seeing a play. She's been doing nothing but talk about it all week."

"I can imagine. Seeing a play for the first time can be a very exciting adventure." He placed his forefinger and thumb to Lizzy's chin and smiled at her. "I shall dedicate tonight's play to you, Princess. Would you like that?"

She finally spoke with a scrunched up face. "What's a ded'cate?"

Hathaway roared with laughter. "Perhaps your father will explain it to you." He reached down and took her little hand in his giant one. "You enjoy the show, Princess."

She gazed at his large hand and her voice was gone again. She could only nod as Hathaway let her go and her father led her off. "Thank you again for your time, Mister Hathaway. It sure is a pleasure to have you and your actors in Four Corners." Joseph tipped his hat and they continued on their way.

Hathaway studied the father and daughter curiously. "Now, they can't be from around here, Mary, can they? He's dressed like a westerner, but his thirst for the finer things in life is very apparent."

"Well, you're a good judge of character, James. Mister Riley moved his family out here from the east about six months ago. He wanted to try his hand at farming. They've hit hard times and his dreams of the west are like all that dreamer's dream. Fading with the light of day. But, to his credit, he keeps pushing forward. I think he likes the idea behind the dream more than the dream itself."

"Ideals are sometimes the back bone of trailblazers, Mary. Lord knows the west can use some ideals."

Hathaway took on a far away gaze and Mary could see they would have no privacy to talk in the restaurant. "Would you like to leave, James? We could talk at my place."

"Ah, Mary, perhaps it is not important to discuss the matter at all."

"James, please," Mary spoke with all the forthrightness that made her the independent woman she had become. "I want to know. I may not have been close to Robert, but his death was a blow to me. I would very much like to know what happened."

Hathaway studied her for a long moment. "Very well. Let us retire to your home. Perhaps the restaurant is too public a place to discuss the details."

+ + + + + + +

When the two left the hotel, they walked down the street toward the Clarion, Mary's arm hooked around James'.

Chris watched from where he sat outside the saloon. He had been enjoying the atmosphere of the setting sun until he saw the two together. He watched them carefully, remembering the newspaper articles he read that day regarding the story of the fire in Kansas City. Something in those reports had caught his attention and had rubbed him the wrong way. Now that he'd had time to think about it, it rubbed him almost raw.

The report had quoted Hathaway as saying that the accident was unfortunate, and that another actor, though negligent, was not to blame. 'I forgive him for his actions and thus offer him a place amongst my family where he will be taken care of. It is the Christian thing to do.'

Chris shook his head. If Hathaway did not blame Marcus for the death of his son, then why the hell did he make a point of saying he 'forgave' him? It is true that papers tended to misquote people, but...what if the quote had been word for word?

Granted it was not much to base his reaction on, and he truthfully did not know Hathaway, but Chris could not shake the feeling the man was as phony as a three-dollar bill.

It all came to the masks again. Was Chris examining Hathaway too closely? Or could it be that Hathaway was not truly wearing a mask at all? The only way to be sure was to watch and wait. There was no harm in keeping one's guard up. It was a rule that had become second nature to him.


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