The Train

by Kris Mashburn

Virtual Season

Disclaimer: They do not belong to me, but they have many more adventures with me.

Kansas City
The robust man darted across the lobby and up the stairs quickly. He stopped at the last door at the end of the hallway. He knocked on the door using a series of short knocks, then one long, slow one. The door opened a crack and he squeezed his large frame in.

His first words upon closing the door were, "Cody Merrin's here. He just checked in this hotel. He has also brought four Pinkerton men with him." Tom Scott wiped the sweat from his brow.

Daniel Drew, treasurer and longtime director of the Erie Railroad, turned and looked at Scott, "Not to worry, Jay here, has taken care of the problem."

Jay Gould lit his cigar, puffing it several times before putting out the match. He walked over to the cabinet and topped off his drink. After drinking half, he looked at Scott, and said coldly, "Get a hold of yourself. The stocks are still selling, and the problem with Merrin will be solved tomorrow night."

"He's got those Pinkerton agents with him, they'll make it all public. We'll be ruined, our names dragged through the mud." Tom Scott was extremely agitated as he paced the floor.

"Sit down!" Gould all but yelled. "He's checking something out in Virginia City first, we have plenty of time. You'd do well to control yourself. They're taking the train out tomorrow and with that, the problem will be solved. Just stay out of Merrin's way till then. When you get your share of the money, I'm sure you will feel much better." Gould finished off his drink, returned to the table and shuffled a deck of cards. Motioning for Drew and Scott to join him for a game.

+ + + + + + +

Federal Marshall Cody Merrin left the hotel and headed straight for the telegraph office. He jotted down his message to send then waited in line. He requested, "I want to send a telegraph to Four Corners."

"I'm sorry, sir, the line is down. Messages will have to wait until tomorrow." The telegraph operator replied. "You can leave the message, I will lock it in the vault overnight."

Merrin nodded and handed the message along with two bits to the operator. He left and headed to the restaurant to meet the agents he'd hired. Finding them already seated, he joined them at the table and sat after shaking their hands.

"What's in Virginia City?" asked the Pinkerton Agent Jackson.

"A victim, one whose lawyer recognized that the documents were phony. A break. After confirmation, we can make arrests."

Agent Collum removed a note pad from his breast pocket and read aloud, "Subject: Tom Scott arrived in town this morning and is staying at the Ward's Hotel. Unable to confirm arrival of his partners."

Cody's head snapped up at the hotel's name, "He's in the same hotel as us?" The agent nodded. "Then he may know I'm here."

"It's entirely possible."

Cody stood as he said, "I'll need to send another telegram. I'll meet up with you later." The Marshall headed back to the telegraph office.

Heading out of the Missouri territory

The wooden train made its way on the newly laid track. This was only the fourth time a train had traveled these rails. The engineer eyed the view and smiled. He was thrilled to be driving his first coal burning locomotive. It was more efficient than the wood burners, and less hot in his engine room. He was also pleased that his double truck, eight-wheel passenger coach had the newest design of dining cars added for this run. At the side of each dining table, the side wall contained a hollow opening where a candle burned. The passengers could eat at any time. The engineer was exceedingly pleased, for this five day run, he was carrying just over one hundred tons of cargo and one hundred and fifty passengers. He had twelve brakemen and three conductors, along with the new crew for the dining car. This should be an excellent run.

The wooden train traveled across the Missouri River with ease, continuing all the day and night to it's next destination. Just before the dawn was to break, the engineer could see the new bridge coming up. He threw more coal into the burner to aid the assent up and over the bridge. He looked on expectantly but those feelings changed to dismay when he heard the muffled explosion. He signaled the brakemen, and this was his last act, as the last car turned sideways and was dragged until it hit the bridge. The train careened forty feet straight down into a ravine. The engine plunged into the icy water, putting out the fire started by spilling coal. The dining car was not so lucky, the flame from the lit candles spread quickly and its passengers were trapped in the burning inferno. Car after car plummeted and crashed into the one it followed until the entire train lay as wreckage in the river, and along the sides of the ravine. The sound reverberated for twenty miles in all directions.


Four Corners

"What the hell was that?" Buck practically yelled. Scaring the lady that was sharing his bed twofold.

She turned to him, eyes wide, "It sure was loud, Buck."

Buck had already hopped out of bed and was pulling on his trousers over his long-johns. He turned as he buckled his belt and said, "Now, don't you fret, Buck will go and check it out."

Buck wasn't the only one with this idea, in the hallway he ran into Ezra, and Vin. JD's door cracked open so he could peek out, but when he saw the others already dressed, he closed the door. He hurried putting his clothes on and ran to catch up with them.

The four of them exited the boarding house to see Josiah standing outside his church. Nathan was already in the street talking with Chris.

Chris turned to the approaching men and spoke as they came into range. "Sounded like an explosion."

Ezra nodded his head, "My thoughts exactly."

"Folks probably got hurt, could use some help." Nathan interjected quietly.

JD squenched his eyes as he turned his head sideways, "But how do we know where to go?"

In answer to JD's question, five heads fixed their gazes on Vin. Vin's nod was almost imperceptible, but the others relaxed, knowing that Vin would get them there.

Chris took point, "Nathan get all the supplies you have, we'll have your horse ready."

Josiah added, "We should all bring extra blankets, winter is almost here, and the day won't get much warmer." Five men headed to the livery, Nathan to his place, and Josiah to gather all the blankets from the church.

Nathan's horse was standing ready for him as he entered the stable, while Vin was just finishing his. They all had stored extra blankets at the backs of their saddles, and had their saddlebags open to help carry Nathan's supplies.

Vin walked outside and moved into a prone position. He turned his head and placed his ear on the ground. The others froze in their spots, allowing Vin the opportunity to listen. Just when they figured Vin must have fallen asleep he pushed himself up to his knees. He turned and met Chris' gaze and nodded. Chris answered with a single nod and motioned for them to mount. Vin led them in a northerly direction.

The men rode without talking. Their sense of urgency communicated itself to their horses, for they ran all out without being prodded. Stopping only to allow Vin the chance to read the message the earth played for just his ears. The continued north and just a tad west of the area that they had tangled with the crooked railroad boss. As they began their assent up the hill their horses whined a bit and as they all crested the hill, they saw why. In the distance the smoke billowed into the sky like a stairway. They could see the gorge ahead and Vin lead them parallel with it. As they drew close to the smoke, they all began to see flames.

"Dear lord, a train must have...." Ezra's voice trailed off as he recognized the same look of horror on his companion's faces.

"Faster," was all Vin said as he spurred his horse.

They rode as if they were leaving hell behind, but to seven men, it looked like they were riding into hell instead. They began to hear the screams and cries of the trapped and injured, they jumped off their horses and hurried to the edge of the canyon and looked over, even their imaginations hadn't prepared them for the horrendous sight before them.

Fires, bodies, a crumpled mass of wood and metal lay below them. These seven men didn't take the time to contemplate the horror below them, didn't think of the danger they were facing, instead, all of them immediately looked for ways down to aid and rescue the people screaming. Not wanting to waste time finding an easier descent, they planted their rears and slide down the walls of the ravine, jarring the ice covered rocks in their downward flight.

Chris, Vin and JD ran to the burning dining car, searching for any openings. The stench of burned hair and bodies was overwhelming and had JD stopping in his tracks. Fighting the desire to throw-up, he turned to see how Chris and Vin were doing and noticed that they had tied their bandannas around their faces. Mimicking them, he continued in. Hearing a cry, JD rushed around the back side and saw a women pinned by some rocks and the fire was rapidly approaching her. JD rushed to her, tossing the rocks and boulders aside. The adrenaline pumping through his body made him stronger than he really was. After freeing her from the rubble, he could see that her leg was probably busted, and he could see blood. He put his hands under her arms and dragged her back up and away from the fire line. JD laid her down out of harms way and was about to check her for additional injuries when she tried to move back to the train.

"Ma'am, your safe, I'll get help for you." JD told her, a bit puzzled at her actions.

Sobbing in near hysteria, she screamed out, "My child is still in there."

JD looked over at the burning wreckage with trepidation, he didn't think anything could still be alive. But he went anyway. He picked up a stick and used it to push at train car side. The heat was so intense that he could not stay long enough to get a good view. What he did see was only flame and ash. He threw the stick down in disgust and turned toward the bank. His caught a flash of color and went to look closer. He saw a baby laying against the rocks. He bent, planning to toss off the rocks surrounding the baby. As he grasped the closest one, he instantly dropped it. The rock was hot, so hot it burned his hands. Holding his hands against his shirt, JD kicked the rocks away, then bent to pick up the baby. JD knew as he brought it close that the baby was already dead. He took it up to the mother anyway. With sad eyes, JD handed the baby to the woman. She reached, then cuddled the child, rocking it gently, her eyes reflecting the same pain mirrored in JD's. She knew too.

"I'll get some help," JD said as he took off to running around to the front yelling, "Chris, Nathan."

Nathan looked up from the body he was working on and over at JD, raising his hand so JD could see him. JD ran over to him.

"Nathan, there's a lady back there....." JD started to tell him.

Nathan moped the sweat off his brow and rubbed his own neck as he cut in, "JD, you gotta bring her over here. We need to keep everyone all together." His voice dropped as he added, "There's so many of them."

JD nodded and turned around to get Chris to help him. He ran down the slope to the water searching for Chris and Vin. Hearing Chris' voice, he headed toward it.

Chris and Vin had found no survivors in the burning wreck. But the next car attached was half way submerged in the water. They both could the cries of help emanating from the part immersed. The fire raging in the immediate area was brought under control by Chris and Vin. They used boots and hats to hold the river water. Then Vin jumped into the cold water and looked for a way in. Once found, he began pulling the survivors out and Chris would drag them to safety. Nathan hadn't even made his way over there yet.

Seeing JD approach, Chris hollered over his shoulder, "JD, bring some blankets. These people are freezing."

JD nodded and turned back the way he came. He looked over to Nathan's area and saw that he didn't have any either. He gaze then settled on the canyon wall for the best way to the top. Even though his hands hurt with the use, he climbed up to retrieve the blankets. He threw each bundle down as he took them off each horse. He gathered anything else he thought could be useful and made his way back down. He threw half the bundles over to Nathan and the rest he took over to Chris.

JD could see that the conscious survivors were shivering so he placed a blanket about each one's shoulders. He pulled the unconscious closer together and opened a blanket, covering several at time. JD saw Vin come up with the last person and went to join them with a blanket for Vin.

Vin was cold to the bone, but not solely from the freezing water. "There's more bodies to come up, but they can wait a spell." JD's head bounced up, looking straight at Vin. Vin answered the silent question. "The rest are dead down there."

Chris broke the into the silence, "Let's go lend a hand to Josiah and Ezra."

"First, could you help me bring the woman from the other side?" JD asked Chris. Chris nodded and followed after him.

As Josiah and Ezra watched Chris, Vin and JD rushed over to the fire, they also watched as Buck pulled off his boots and jumped head first into the water. Eyeing the frost on the slide down, Josiah knew that water was freezing. Signaling Ezra with his head, they followed Buck to the river. Buck surfaced with a young lady in his arms. Josiah and Ezra reached out to receive her from Buck's grasp.

"I saw her head bob as I slid down, is she still alive? I'm going back down." His actions matched his words.

Josiah boomed, "Nathan!"

Nathan hurried over and checked for a pulse. Her skin was slightly blue and extremely cold. Nathan tipped her head back as he brushed her hair from her mouth. Her body automatically took a gasp of air, followed by coughing. Nathan helped her sit as he rubbed her arms trying to warm her up.

Buck came up with another person and passed him along to Ezra. As Ezra dragged him away from the water, he thought he heard a weak cry of help. After depositing the injured, he made his way around to the back of that car. He could see several people hanging on the sides.

"I need help over here," Ezra said as he removed his boots and jacket before jumping in.

As Buck's head popped up again, Josiah yelled to him, "Ezra's found some live ones hanging on the other side," pointing in the direction that Ezra took. Buck nodded and swam around to the other side.

Nathan and Josiah followed Ezra and could see many people in the water. Josiah removed his boots and his cloak and jumped in also. Ezra was swimming back with a conscious victim that he handed off to Nathan, then returned. Buck brought a conscious female in, closely followed by Josiah.

Buck said, as he passed off the lady, "There's at least eight more out there."

Nathan, feeling guilty, said slowly, "I don't swim."

Josiah immediately responded, "Need someone to pull the people out. Anyways, you gotta do the doctoring." Josiah headed back.

Nathan was grateful when JD threw over the blankets he had retrieved. He knew the survivors were dangerously cold and wrapped them in the blankets. Two had broken limbs, but did not feel them. Others hadn't even come to grips with what had happened.

Ezra, Josiah and Buck kept bringing over victims, some just barely alive, some they weren't sure, but didn't want to take the chance. Buck was slowing, due to the cold and Nathan was trying to get him out of the water. Vin came on over with Chris and JD following with the woman. They aided Ezra, allowing Buck and Josiah to leave the water.

An hour later saw the seven all upon the bank and forty-nine survivors. Nathan said to Chris, "We don't have enough blankets. We need to find some dry wood to make a fire, or we'll lose 'em all."

Chris nodded and looked about, then called over to JD, "JD could....." his voice drifted off as he noticed his hands. "What in the hell you do to yer hands?"

"Burned them helping the lady." JD replied.

Nathan went over to him, and after examining them, "You gotta stop using 'em, or they could get infected."

Before JD could get a word out, Chris said, "JD, we need more help out here. You ride back, wire the railroad, and bring some wagons and more blankets."

Josiah nodded and added, "Ask Nettie and Mary to get the church set up with some beds."

JD looked as if he thought of protesting, but as he gazed about him, he knew that the seven of them couldn't get all these people to town. He looked straight at Chris and gave him a single firm nod. JD headed back up to the top. Before he left he gave water to the horses, using his hands, hoping that Nathan wouldn't see, then he took off for Four Corners as quickly as possible.

The others looked to Nathan for what was needed next. Nathan looked about him, quickly formulating a plan, "We haveta get a fire going, and we need to get these people closer together. Most of them are sufferin' from the cold as well as other injuries. The cold will kill em first if'n we don't see to it."

Nathan set about working with the conscious, while the other five picked up and carried the injured. Josiah went about collecting wood to get the fire going. Working as a pair, Ezra and Vin grabbed shoulders and feet, and brought the injured closer together. Buck and Chris did the same.

After Vin moved his fourth person, he called over to Nathan, "We got blood over here." Nathan dashed to check where Vin indicated.

Nathan looked over at Josiah, "I need a couple'a sticks. Need to make a splint." Josiah searched through the pile, threw some more on the fire, and brought the best to Nathan.

+ + + + + + +

JD stopped at Nettie's before going to town. He let her know what happened and asked her to bring her wagon out to carry injured. Nettie directed Casey to bring the wagon to town, she was going to town with JD. "While you notify all you got to, I can be gathering help and supplies."

JD nodded, secretly grateful he wouldn't have to figure out all that would be needed by himself. He did tell her, "We're gonna need help getting the dead people out of the water." Nettie nodded as she mounted her horse.

In town JD went straight to the telegraph office. "Graham, do you have the train schedule?" Graham nodded. "Okay, then we need to let the next train stop past this area know that the train won't be arriving'."

"What reason do I give, JD?" Graham asked.

"The train crashed into a ravine." JD said very seriously.

After assimilating what JD told him, Graham shared the procedures he knew, "We have to inform the station it originated from, so they won't send another train out. We also have to wire the Kansas Train Authority."

JD listened to what Graham said, then added as he thought about it, "Contact Eagle Bend, tell we medical help and wagons to carry the injured." JD's voice dropped an octave, and sorrow was threaded through his words, "We need their undertaker too. Ours can't handle all the dead."

Graham nodded, face solemn, as he turned to dispatch the memos.

JD absent-mindly tapped the counter several times, lost in thought before he pushed away from it and headed for the newspaper office.

Mary Travis raised her head and wiped her brow as she wedged in the typeset for the next edition of the Clarion News. JD rushed in the door so quickly it caused her to drop the next set of letters. Exasperated, Mary cried out, "Oh, JD, look what you made me do. Now, what do you want?"

"Mrs. Travis, there's been a train wreck." JD told her with wide eyes, playing with his hat in his hand.

Mary was shocked at the news, but quickly shifted to reporter and hit JD with a barrage of questions. "When did it happen? How did it happen? How many were injured?...."

JD held up his hand, "Wait a minute, Mrs. Travis. I don't know the answers to most of yer questions, but we need wagons and blankets out there."

Mary, immediately contrite, offered JD help, "You go out to Nettie's, I'll talk with Mrs. Potter, Virgil and the undertaker. Meet here in town and all the folks helping will follow you."

JD smiled grateful ,"Already been to Nettie's. She and Casey came in with me." Then remembered Josiah's request, "Oh, Mrs. Travis, Josiah asked if you would get the church set up as a hospital-like."

Mary nodded, "I'll take care of that." JD tipped his hat and left to locate Nettie.

+ + + + + + +

JD rode back into town with Nettie next to him and Casey behind him in the wagon. JD was surprised and pleased at the many wagons waiting for him. JD smiled and tipped his hat at Mary and Mrs. Potter as he passed by and took the lead to the disaster area.

As the group approached the crossroads between the wreck and Eagle Bend, JD was once again surprised. For there, waiting, was fifteen wagons, loaded with supplies for the injured. JD nodded at all the people and continued on as they fell in line behind.

Vin had climbed up the canyon side, digging out foot holds to make for easier travel. Using his scope he identified the dust as JD returning with extra hands. He leaned over the side and yelled down. "JD's back with help."

Josiah and Chris had been working on making steps in the dirt, to make travel up and down with the bodies quicker. They worked faster in order to complete them. At the top they turned around in time to watch the parade of wagons pull in.

Josiah heaved a big sigh and smiled. He stole a moment in time to reflect how people would band together in times of crisis. Today he felt proud of the people he shared the western frontier with. For they came out in cold weather to help people they didn't know. 'Yes,' Josiah thought to himself, 'mighty proud'.

The people from both towns unloaded their wagons then approached the edge to view the disaster.

JD rushed over to Chris, but before he could say a thing, Chris said to him, "Good job, JD."

"I got everyone told. Graham at the telegraph office knew the procedures." JD didn't really want to take credit for it all. Chris nodded. JD used the stairway to go find Buck. After he had gone half way, he paused and turned his head back, "I like the stairs." Josiah just waved.

Once the wagons were unloaded the people were just milling about. Josiah spoke to the entire group, "Folks, thanks for coming out here. We have forty seven survivors that need to be transported up, and we have many dead people that need to be retrieved from the water."

Several of the male volunteers nodded their heads, understanding just what was asked and offered to work on the body retrievals. The others divided into groups, some joined Ezra and Buck, and others stay up top, readying the wagons for the injured passengers.

Yosemite, Four Corners blacksmith, looked about and spotted Chris Larabee. He went straight to him, but before he called out to Chris, he paused as he looked at the burned wreckage, mangled metal and bodies, lots of bodies. In a low voice he called out, "Chris." Chris turned and looked at Yosemite, eyes widening a tad in recognition. Yosemite handed a folded paper to Chris. "Mrs. Travis asked me to deliver this to you when she saw I was coming out."

Chris nodded as he took the paper from him, "Good of you to help." Chris almost smiled.

"Figured my wagon was as good as any other, and I could fix any that broke." With that said, Yosemite went about looking where to help.

Chris opened the paper, which turned out to be a telegram from Judge Travis. =Federal Marshall Cody Merrin was to meet me in Colo. Was on train. Please locate and aid. Travis. = Chris looked up from the telegram and out to the horizon. This message gave him a bad feeling about this train.

Chris was just putting the note in his pocket when a young man about JD's age approached him. "Mr. Larabee?" He questioned. Chris nodded. "Telegraph operator in Four Corners sent this to Eagle Bend after everyone had left. Said you'd need it." The young fellow handed another telegram to Chris.

Chris nodded to him and said, "Thanks." Chris turned away to read the message. =Rail Road Authority asks you to protect the site as best as possible. Suspects sabotage. Travis. = "Ah, hell," Chris muttered aloud to himself. He looked up to see two ladies within hearing distance looking askance at him. He lifted his hat, covering his eyes, so they couldn't see him roll his eyes at them as he said, "Excuse me, ladies." He turned and headed down into the ravine.

Chris gathered all but Nathan, who was busy with the injured, and shared the contents of both telegrams with them.

Still holding onto the innocence of youth, JD was incredulous, "You mean someone did this on purpose?"

Buck looked at his young friend, "'Fraid so, JD." Buck looked at Chris, "Is this the same Cody we knew?" Chris's dark look was answer enough, but he gave a short, quick nod in answer.

Buck closed his eyes as he tilted his head upward, "Christ-all-mighty." Then swallowed the tears he had for an old friend.

Vin handed Chris the telegrams, personally satisfied that he could read them. "We need to find out the names of these folks."

Looking at JD's hands, Josiah said, "JD, why don't you get Casey, and the two of you ask all of the living their names and the names with descriptions of any missing folk they know was on the train." JD nodded and went back up top.

Ezra said, "The gentleman will most likely have some identification on their persons. The ladies will prove more difficult though."

Chris sighed, then nodded almost reluctantly. "Ezra, you and Josiah check all the dead men, and Buck and I will check the women. Vin, keep working with the men bringing up the rest of the dead. We may need to go down and retrieve some of the belongings if necessary." Chris sounded weary in spirit, he was hoping against hope that all these people didn't die on account of someone fearing the Federal Marshall that was on this train.

The next several hours were long and quiet. Even when folks began feeling the strain, they were hard pressed to complain, not when they were surrounded with so many truly unlucky ones.

The people from both towns worked hard. Some of the womenfolk made sandwiches and passed them 'round, thereby forcing folks to take a breather. Wagons were loaded with the living, and they started back to Four Corners. Nathan went along with the most severely injured, to watch over them and to set up the make shift hospital.

JD and Casey got all the names of those alive and descriptions of lost dead ones. The one conductor that lived, shared that there had been about one hundred and seventy-six people on board. They only had forty-six survivors, three had already died. Casey had made a copy of the list so that Nathan would have one. They all figured that at some point families would be getting in contact.

It took all the wagons there to transport the living, and the wagons would return for the dead later. Nathan had told them not to worry on the dead, as the water had been so cold and the air continued to be, that they wouldn't be stinking for quite a while.

The undertakers of both towns decided that Eagle Bend would take the dead women and children and Four Corners would handle the men. They had found sixty-seven dead, and had forty-six alive, so with the information that JD had given them they all knew that sixty-three had probably perished in the fire.

Ezra brought this information down to the others still working on retrieval. Vin was still hoping to get some identification on the passengers. Chris had just given him a towel as Ezra approached. "Gentlemen, it seems that we also had Pinkerton men on board." Sharing the three ID cards and badges that he and Josiah had found. We located the Marshall, too." Ezra lowered his voice for just their ears, "You need to come look at the body."

The four of them followed Ezra over to the area that he and Josiah had placed all the men. They had pulled Cody's body away from the others. It was Josiah that reached across the body and turned him over. He held Cody on his side as Ezra pointed to their discovery. "To my untrained eye, this looks suspiciously like a bullet wound." Ezra was pointing to a small hole at the back of the neck.

Vin looked at Chris and they both nodded. Vin answered, "Yep, that's what that is."

Buck's expression was dark, "This up's the ante. The train wasn't sabotaged to kill someone, but to cover the evidence that someone had already been killed. Hell...and how many dead?" Buck looked at Ezra.

Ezra's solemn, "One hundred thirty," said it all.

Josiah broke the silence, "We found three Pinkerton men, one may have been hit, he has a knot on his head. But I figured Nathan'll be able to tell us more."

As Josiah was speaking, Ezra looked at the Marshall's body and thought something was different. He realized that the waterlogged clothes were drying. His shoe hung oddly, "Ah.....gentleman," and Ezra pointed to the shoe in question. When all were focused on it, Ezra reached down and removed the bottom of the shoe. Between the shoe and the sole were some papers that were completely wet. He handed them to them to their leader.

Chris took them, "We'll have to see if we can read anything after they're dry."

+ + + + + + +

It was late afternoon when the wagons returned, with them came the Railroad Authority. They set about examining the crash area first. They didn't ask for help and Chris didn't offer any. If they had questions, they would ask.

The folks that stayed had hot coffee going for those returning, and for the six men that spear-headed the rescue. Stories of how they had jumped into the icy water and into burning cars had spread about the group.

Josiah just shook his head as he heard the whisperings, JD felt kinda proud, even though stuff hadn't actually happened that way. JD went to locate Casey.

Just as he left, the leader of the Railroad crew approached the group. He looked at them then asked, "Chris Larabee?"

"That's me."

He put his hand out as he said, "Jack Ahern." Chris accepted the hand shake. "The head of the Kansas Railroad and Federal Judge Travis have asked that you work along side us on this matter. Feel you know the area better."

Chris looked around to the others and raised his eyebrow at them, asking 'well, boys.' Each one gave a slight nod to Chris, agreeing to help. Ahern wasn't sure if that's what he saw or not, but was glad to receive Larabee's agreement to help.

"Well, let me share what we found." Ahern then pointed to the top of the hill, where the bridge broke. "Let's walk up there." They all complied.

At the top he pointed to the edge where the track had ripped apart and the train had gone over. "We won't go any closer, as the ground there is unstable. But if you look along here," pointing to the tracks that were still there, but badly misshapen, "You can see that a series of explosions were set here."

Vin bent down to look closely, then followed the marks, and then some faint markings. He followed them. As he walked slowly away, Ahern wore a puzzled look on his face and turned to Chris, "Ah...what...?"

Ezra supplied the answer, "Our tracker is tracking."

Ahern, still puzzled, "Tracking what?"

Ezra chuckled to himself, but aloud said, "Why Mr. Ahern, the saboteur that set off the explosion. It's obvious that the dynamite lines had run here, so the obvious conclusion is that there had to be someone to hit the switch."

Ahern's team stepped up behind him, listening to Ezra's explanation and all were amazed at the information these men had concluded in such a short time. Information that they hadn't even discovered yet.

Vin stopped and called over, "If you come along that way," pointing away from the direction he had used, "You won't trample the tracks I've found." Ahern's team scrambled over. Ezra looked at Chris and smiled his lazy smile and Chris couldn't help returning the smile in kind. Their Vin.

Vin described what they were looking at. How someone had sat there, the fresh burns marks where the wires ran, the footsteps leading away from the area, till finally the footprints disappeared and only horse hoof prints were discernible.

Ahern's men stared with open mouths. Ezra realized that he actually saw a least half of what Vin pointed out. He looked at Buck, who looked back and, he too, realized that Vin was rubbing off on them.

Chris motioned for Ezra to share the rest of the information that they had gathered. They eventually brought them down to show them the bodies of Merrin and the Pinkerton agents.

The sky began to cloud up and Vin mentioned aloud, "Storm's headin in. Won't be able to follow the tracks."

Chris realized that they all better head back, so as to beat the rain. He signaled JD, who then signaled to everyone to head out. Josiah rode up near the front and Buck, Ezra, Vin and Chris took the rear. Holding back some, to avoid eating the wagon dust.

They had just passed the turn off for Eagle Bend, where half the group had left them, when they ran into a spot of trouble. Four men with covered faces rode up with guns drawn. One shot his gun it the air and yelled, "Hold it." The wagons all halted. "Don't do nothing, and nobody'll get dead. My men are just going to get those dead guys stuff. We just want the gold."

The people looked at each other, gold? JD turned slowly in his saddle. "There's no gold here, sonny. You'd best just leave before there's trouble."

"Oh, are you gonna show us trouble?" He said with a sneer in his voice.

Then a voice from behind him said, "No, I believe that's what we're here for." Ezra's gold tooth sparkled as the sun hit it. His gun drawn, pointed right at the leader.

The leader said apprehensively, "Get 'em boys." He turned to look at the rest of his group, and his mouth dropped open. Each one of his boys had their hands up as they had a gun in their back.

Josiah came up along side Chris, allowing him to ride up, and stop in front of the declared leader. With his gun pointed at him, drawled "Only trouble you'll be having depends on how much you like riding back with the dead."

"What..." was all he got out as Ezra yanked him off his horse and tired his hands behind his back.

Buck, Vin and Josiah did likewise. They secured them in the wagons, right alongside the dead. They made it the rest of the way back without any other problems.

+ + + + + + +

Back in town, Chris and Ezra took the would-be robbers and locked them in one cell. They put the dead bodies in the other cell.

"Hey, you can't leave all those dead guys here." The leader declared.

"You were willing enough to rob 'em. They won't keep you awake with their noise." Chris said close to their cell.

Ezra chuckled aloud and they both left the jail. They walked over to the church, now hospital. As they entered they saw Mrs. Potter talking with Vin and Josiah and they joined them.

"I'm having some food brought over to the saloon for you boys. Make sure you take Nathan with you. He needs a break from here. Mary, Nettie and I have it under control. If an emergency arises, we'll come get him." Gloria Potter was adamant in her words.

"Yes, ma'am, and thank you." Josiah said to the woman, she just smiled back.

Josiah went for Nathan and Chris rounded up Buck and JD and got them all out the door. Vin and Ezra were waiting and the group headed to the saloon and food.


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