by SoDak7

"Private Brodie?" Colonel Dicey called. "Looks like you missed one," he said as he pointed down into the valley. The young Private took the looking glass from his superior officer and looked through it. "Looks like a white man to me," Brodie said.

"He’s got long hair, a buckskin coat and it looks to me like he’s mournin’ over that Injun. He may not be Injun, but he’s bound to be an Injun lover. One and the same as far as I’m concerned. You know what to do Private. The men are ready, we’ll leave and then you can do your job. It’s a fair piece of a shot, think you can get him from up here?"

"Yes sir, shouldn’t be a problem."

"Good. Just make sure he’s dead. We’ll be headed to Four Corners. You make the shot from here son and get him on the first one, your meal will be on me, anything you want." The Colonel smiled at the young man and clapped him on the shoulder.

"What about the horse, sir?"

"One shot is all I want to hear Private. When you get down there to check on the victim, you can kill the horse with your sword if you wish. We are miles away from anywhere I know, but we don’t want to fill the valley with any more shots than necessary today and you never know if someone might be riding along. Just do your job and then catch up."

"Yes sir, I will."

Colonel Dicey walked away commanding his men to mount up and move out. As the column of 25 men moved out Private Brodie steadied his aim from his long range rifle on the solitary man hundreds of yards below him. It was going to be a tough shot, probably the farthest he’d ever tried, but he had confidence in himself, he was the best after all and he wasn’t going to let his commanding officer down. Besides, a free meal from an eatery sounded like heaven to him after eating soldier food for so long.

"Just hold steady Injun lover, I’m going to send you to a better place." He ever so gently squeezed the trigger and gave a feral grin as his intended victim toppled over backwards like a rock and lay dead to the world. "There see, that didn’t hurt one little bit now did it?" The private stood and looked down into the valley. It really was a pretty place. Secluded and private what with the bluffs surrounding three sides and the river, now swollen from spring runoffs, on the fourth side. The place was just beginning to green up, well, it should be green but now it’s grasses were stained red with blood., the ground already turned brown with the dried blood of the Indian corpses. "Damn, we do good work, but I reckon I’d better check on you white man, just to make sure my rifle is still right on at this distance." He put his rifle in its soft leather scabbard, climbed on his horse, and headed down into the valley.

Private Brodie moved his horse in and around the fallen bodies. It didn’t seem to bother him one bit that there were women and children lying dead, course it shouldn’t, after all, he had helped to kill them. It was their job, their mission to move the savages onto land that the government wanted them to be on and these poor devils didn’t want to go there, so what else were the soldiers to do? Move or die, the Colonel had told them and since the savages didn’t want to move, they died. It was that simple. He’d finally ridden to where the white man lay. Looking down at his handiwork he gave a smile. "Gave ya a new part in your hair didn’t I friend?" "Damn, but I am good!" He got down off his horse and felt at the man’s neck to see if there was a pulse and was surprised when he found one. It was weak, but it was definitely there. "You are a tough one aren’t you friend? Well, the Colonel said no more bullets, so I guess I’ll just do this the Injun way…quiet." He drew out his sword intending to put it through the wounded man’s heart but then he squinted up at the rising sun. "Guess you don’t figure to be going anywhere soon, maybe I’ll just let that sun finish you off, what do you say to that friend? Nothing? Well, then I guess that’s the way it’ll be. Don’t see that horse of yours around either, so I guess my work here is done. Be seein’ ya friend." With a hearty laugh the private again got on his horse and headed south to Four Corners and his free meal.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee’s chair came down on its two front legs with such force that the coffee in his cup spilled over the sides. He rose to his feet and looked out west of town and furrowed his brow.

"What is it Chris, what’s wrong" Buck asked as he came to stand next to the man in black.

"Don’t know, just feel…just…I don’t know. Somethin’ feels wrong."

"Somethin? Like what somethin? Like weather somethin’ or like trouble somethin or what kind of somethin?" Buck could see whatever was worrying his friend was weighing heavy on him. He trusted Chris’s instincts like they were his own and if Chris felt somethin’ was wrong, then somethin’ somewhere wasn’t right with the world. He just had to try to help figure out what that was.

"Maybe it’s just the fact that those soldiers are comin’ Chris, maybe that’s what’s got you on edge. They should be here in a couple of hours and we’ll find out how things went with them. We haven’t heard anything yet, so that has to be good and Vin said the Indians are where they are suppose to be so there shouldn’t be any trouble."

"Maybe," said Chris. But his gut was telling him something else. He wished the soldiers had already come and gone and that Vin was back. Vin, he thought, watch your back.

"Let’s go in and have somethin’ to eat Chris, maybe havin’ some food in that gut of yours will get rid of that feelin’. Buck knew food wouldn’t get rid of whatever it was that was eatin’ at Chris. The only thing that would help would be seein’ the backsides of those soldier’s horses as they headed back to their fort and havin’ Vin ride back into town safe and sound.

Vin hadn’t wanted anything to do with the soldiers when they’d received the wire from circuit judge Orrin Travis telling the peacekeepers that Fort Terry was sending a regiment of about 25 men to traverse the region looking for any stray Indians. Seems the government had decided that there were certain areas that it wanted the Indians to live on and if there were any nomadic tribes out there, then they were to be sent to wherever it was that the government deemed them to be. Travis wanted the seven men to help out if the soldiers had any problems. He wanted a peaceful meeting with any and all Indians to be sure there would be no bloodshed and that the territory would be safe for travelers and for homesteaders. Vin had informed the other six men that he didn’t expect any problems, everyone was where they were supposed to be, but he wanted to go out and check around before the soldiers came, just in case anyone needed to be warned about their coming.

Chris headed into the saloon with Buck, intent on eating something to quell the unease in his stomach. He just knew something had happened but had nothing to really justify that feeling. If Vin had thought there wouldn’t be any problems then he trusted the tracker’s word, but he also knew that things could happen - and happen fast - and get out of hand. He didn’t know this Colonel Dicey or any of his men, didn’t know how they felt about Indians, didn’t know if they were a peaceful bunch or would be out looking for trouble. And that worried him. He didn’t like not knowing what was going on, didn’t like surprises, and didn’t like Vin being out there alone. Although he had assured Chris that he would stay out of the soldiers way, sometimes the tracker had a way of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that was what was eating at Chris. He just had a feeling Vin was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

+ + + + + + +

It was a beautiful morning and he was enjoying every bit of it. The big sky, the singing birds, the rising sun. He had been out for a couple of days now checking around the territory, making sure none of his Indian friends would be in the way of the soldiers that he knew were headed this way. Sometimes soldiers were just itching to start things but he wasn’t about to let that happen if he could help it. He had told Chris that he thought everything would be okay, that everyone was where they should be, that it was too early for any of the tribes to be moving anywhere. The Indians around the area were friendly to the whites and most consisted mainly of women, children and old warriors. Hardly would call any of them hostiles and they were all pretty satisfied with the places they were in. So when he topped the crest of Mesa Valley and looked down he thought maybe he was seeing things. It looked like bodies, dead bodies. Dead Indian bodies. Lots of them.

"No!" Vin Tanner heard himself cry, then "NOOO!" as he pushed Peso into a run down the slope into the valley. He couldn’t believe it, they were dead. Women and children and old men, a few shot but mostly sliced apart with…with what? Knives…? Or… swords! Soldiers had swords. Had soldiers butchered them? Why? From what he could see these people had no weapons and no means of escape. The bluffs were all around them and the swollen river in front of them. He couldn’t even figure out why they were here unless…unless they were headed to Kojay’s camp to live with his people… but Kojay hadn’t said anything to him about that when he’d been there the other day. His eyes stung with tears and his throat threatened to close on him as he walked among the dead. And they were all dead. Someone had seen to that. He realized he recognized the beadwork and some of the faces of the elders. White Wolf’s people. Oh no, not White Wolf. White Wolf was a friend, a good friend. He had taught Vin many things when he was younger and the tracker was always welcomed like family at White Wolf’s camp. There had been times he remembered when he was sick or had been hurt and White Wolf had taken care of him. This scene sickened him, this death, this smell. He’d been here before, seen this before, thought he’d seen the last of it when he came into this territory - but here it was again. Vin searched for his friend and finally found him. White Wolf had been one of the first ones shot, probably because he was the chief and Vin knew he wouldn’t go down without a fight.

Vin kneeled down and gathered his friend in his arms. Tears streamed from his eyes as he tried to make sense of all this killing. He just couldn’t understand it. White Wolf was a peaceful man, he was a friend to the white man, he would only put up a fight if his people were threatened. And now they were all dead, a whole tribe…just wiped out. It was like a dream, a really bad dream, and he wished he would wake up from it. But the weight of White Wolf in his arms and the blood on his hands told him this was the real thing. Soon Vin’s sorrow turned to anger and he made a vow to White Wolf that he would track down the men who did this to him and his people and make them pay, dearly. White Wolf and his people would be avenged.

An instant after making that promise Vin heard what sounded like a gun retort, and felt himself thrown backwards, a searing pain to his head and in the next instant, there was nothing at all.

+ + + + + + +

Six peacekeepers looked up from their various spots in the saloon as the doors swung open and a tall middle-aged soldier walked in. He was of rank, looked to be a Colonel. The man took a seat and nodded to the bar keep that he wanted some service. Just coffee for now he’d told him.

Chris got up from his chair at the back of the saloon and sauntered over to the man.


"Yes sir. I am Colonel Edward C. Dicey from Fort Terry. And you would be?"

"Chris Larabee. Law here in Four Corners. Was wired by Judge Orrin Travis that you and your men would be comin’ through." Expected more than just one man though."

"I’ve sent my men on, seems there’s really no reason for us to impose on you or your little town here. We’ve had a good campaign, had good luck hunting and have plenty of provisions to provide us till we reach the fort. We’ll be camping about five miles from here tonight. I’m waiting for one of my men, he was just checking our back trail."

"Trouble Colonel?"

"No, no trouble at all Mr. Larabee. Fact is you have quite a nice territory around here. Everything is as it should be. Yes sir, everything is as it should be." He gave a smile to Chris, although the smile didn’t reach his eyes. It was more like a smug smile as if he was just pacifying the man in black.

"Glad to hear it." Chris gave him a nod and headed back to his table, but not before glancing at his men and meeting Buck’s eyes. Buck knew the look in those eyes, knew Chris didn’t like something about the Colonel. He came over to where Chris had just sat down and placed himself directly across from the gunslinger.

"Well, what do you think?"

"Think it’s too easy."

"What’s wrong with easy? I like easy. Easy is good. Come on Chris, you heard him say everything was fine. Hell, even said this was a great little territory we had here. He ain’t really telling us nothin’ we don’t already know. Sides, Vin said everything should just be fine and now this Colonel fella is just repeatin’ what Vin said. Everythin’ is as it should be. You can quit worryin’ Chris. Hell, won’t be long and that Texan will come wanderin’ in here, lookin’ to wet his parched throat. And you got what you want; those soldiers’r headed back to their camp. You should be happy about all this."


"I hear ya Buck, but can’t ignore this feelin’ I got and I sure as hell don’t trust that man. Somethin’ about him. Just don’t like him."

"Well hell Chris, you don’t like most people anyway, you don’t even like me some of the time," Buck said as he grinned at his friend. "Let’s just see how this plays out and then we can go from there. He said he’s waitin’ on one man and after he gets here, maybe they’ll just up and leave and that’ll be that." He waited for an answer from the man in black and when none was forthcoming the ladies man slapped the table with his hand and said, "Okay then, glad you agree with me," and got up and went back over by the bar to talk to Inez and JD.

Wasn’t more than fifteen minutes later when another soldier walked through the saloon doors. This one was young, a Private by the looks of his uniform, and he was carrying a rifle sheathed in soft leather that was almost as long as he was tall. The young man took a seat across from the Colonel, laid the long rifle across the table and grinned. "Reckon I’ll be havin’ steak and eggs this mornin’ since you’re treatin’.

Colonel Dicey nodded his head at the young man and smiled at him. "Figured as much, knew you’d do your job."

JD softly whistled and said, "Wow, would you look at that rifle, it’s almost as tall as the guy carrying it. What kind do you think it is Buck?"

"No doubt a long range rifle. Seen a few when I was in the war. Don’t think I’ve ever seen one that big though." Now whatever was eating at Chris’s gut was beginning to gnaw on his own. He gave a look over at Chris’s table and could see the man was beginning to coil like a rattler. No doubt Chris’s instincts might just be right on. He barely listened as JD rattled on.

"Long range, gee, I bet you could be a long ways off to pick off someone with a gun like that then. Think I just may go see if I can have a look at it."

Before Buck could tell JD not to go stir up anything, he was over standing by the officer’s table.

"That’s quite the rifle you have there Private. Think I could have a look at it?"

The young man looked JD up and down and asked who he was. When JD told him he was a peacekeeper in town, the Private snorted at him and said he thought JD looked too young to be handling one gun let alone two. He then proceeded to tell JD he didn’t want him looking at his rifle because he’d just cleaned and oiled it and didn’t want any fingerprints on it. He more or less dismissed JD by resuming his talk with the Colonel.

"Downright unfriendly ain’t he?" Josiah said as JD came to sit at the table with him and Nathan.

‘I’ll say. Must think he’s really something with a rifle like that. Probably knocks him on his ass when he fires it." JD was really put out by the rebuff that he’d gotten. The Private didn’t look much older than himself and yet he’d treated JD like he was some sort of a kid.

"Don’t know why anyone would even be carrying a weapon like that around here, we ain’t at war with no one," said Nathan.

"Can really only mean one thing," said Josiah. "Trouble, and it bothers me that Vin is out there somewhere. And if my guess is right, Chris is thinkin’ the same thing."

All three men glanced over to where their leader was sitting, noticing the tension in the lean body and the fierce look in the eyes. They all hoped the two soldiers would finish their meals and be gone. The sooner the better.

+ + + + + + +

Another half hour went by before the Colonel and the Private decided they’d had enough and stood up to leave. The Colonel gave a quick nod over in Chris’s direction, turned and followed the young man through the saloon doors. They mounted up and headed out of town.

No sooner were they gone then the black clad gunslinger was out the door and headed toward the livery, five other men following in his wake.

"Where you headed Chris?" asked Buck.

"To find Vin."

"You don’t know where he’s at do you?"

"Chris? CHRIS?"

Buck threw up his hands, there was no way he was going to get anything out of Larabee when he was on a mission.

"Well, if ya don’t mind I think I’ll just tag along," Buck said mostly to himself.

"And so will we if there are no objections," added Ezra.

One by one the rest of the peacekeepers readied their horses to ride with their leader to wherever it was that he felt the tracker might be. Every man knew Vin was a marked man and someone with a long ranged rifle could cut his life short for the bounty money or perhaps some hot shot pup with a rifle just might want to prove himself to his superior officer. No matter how you looked at it the appearance of the soldiers, and now that long range rifle, didn’t sit well with Chris Larabee.

"Let’s ride." Larabee barked and the six men headed out of town with their horses at a run.

Chris knew right where he wanted to go, had seen the tell-tale signs on both the Colonel and the Private, which was leading him straight to his destination. As he rode his only thoughts were that he’d hoped he’d be wrong, that there would be nothing at the place he was headed, that Vin wasn’t mixed up in anything, or wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time. Seeing that long range rifle had sent shivers down his back, and after listening to the brazen young man that carried it, he had a sinking feeling that the Private had used that gun possibly against some unsuspecting victim. And he was silently praying that that someone wasn’t his good friend.

As the men finally topped Mesa Valley they all pulled to a collective stop.

"Holy Mother of God." Josiah breathed.

And then as one they all raced to the bottom of the hill and then slowed, coming into the valley to begin the gruesome task of checking to see if anyone was alive.

Chris scanned the area looking for Peso, maybe just maybe Vin hadn’t been here. Maybe his friend was fine and this killing here was the reasoning for his gut being in such a knot. Maybe the tension was now due to the fact that someone was going to have to tell Vin what took place here today, what had happened to these people and Chris could clearly see that it had been the soldiers work. Could tell by the slash marks on many of them that they had died by the sword--quietly done so as not to raise unwarranted noise in the area.

The men had dismounted and were walking in and among the dead. There were curses said aloud and some quiet sniffing and sleeves being wiped over tear filled eyes. Innocent women and children--not one was spared. There were few weapons to be seen at all, it seems as if they had just been cut down. Murder in it’s worst way.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was ahead of the other men, making his way closer to the swollen river, when he saw Vin.


Chris knelt by Vin and with shaking hands put one on the fallen man’s belly, the other going to the hollow in his neck to feel for a pulse. He couldn’t be sure but he thought he felt just a tiny movement and the hand on the belly could feel a small rise and fall, but then maybe it was all hope, he didn’t know.

Nathan came and knelt by the opposite side and felt of Vin’s neck also.

"I think I can feel a little something Nathan, can you feel it?" Chris’s quiet voice almost sounded desperate.

Nathan put his ear down on Vin’s chest and then looked up at Chris.

"Yes, I feel it too Chris, plus I can hear his heart beating. It’s very weak, but he’s still with us."

The rest of the seven had gathered around their fallen friend and were all relieved to hear he was still breathing. Although it released some of the tension of worrying about Vin, they were all feeling overwhelmed by what had taken place here.

"The head wound looks pretty bad, it’s deep but at least the bullet isn’t in his head. No telling what kind of damage has been done though. Looks like maybe he was mourning this man right here when he was shot," Nathan said as he noted the dried blood on Vin’s hands and the tear streaked face.

"White Wolf," Josiah said. "The man is White Wolf and he was chief of these people and a friend of Vin’s. He was a peaceful man, had no quarrels with the white man, which makes no sense as to why this happened at all."

"Killing like this has no sense, it’s a mad man’s doing," said Buck.

"A mad man wearing a uniform and pretending to be a protector of people," snorted Ezra.

"What’s this going to do to Vin?" asked JD. "I mean, these were his friends. He told me White Wolf had taught him lots of things about tracking and living off the land. What if Vin wants to go after the soldiers and…."

"First we got to keep him alive. Chris, I’ve got to get him back to town."

Chris looked to the bluff where he figured the shot that felled Vin may have come from and made a decision.

"JD. Head on up to that bluff, look for a spot that a man would shoot from at an angle to hit Vin from there. Look to see if you can find any bullet shells up there. If I’m right and that son of a bitch Private shot Vin from there, maybe he wasn’t smart enough to pick up the spent shell. I want all the ammunition I can get to nail his filthy carcass to the wall, his and that Colonel’s too. Look for any evidence you can find, but especially that shell."

"Sure thing Chris, if it’s there I’ll find it."

"I’m goin’ with him Chris, just in case. Sides, four eyes are better than two." said Buck. "We’ll take care of this, you just take care of Vin."

Chris nodded to them both and told them to be careful. "Josiah? You want to go tell Kojay of what’s happened, maybe he and his people will come and give these folks a proper burial."

"Already on it Chris." Josiah shook his head sadly and said, "This isn’t over. I’m afraid this is just the beginning. Those soldiers don’t know what they’ve done." The big man mounted up and headed out to Kojay’s camp.

"If my services are not needed at the moment Chris, I think I’d like to look around for Vin’s horse. I’m sure he hasn’t gone too far and I know our friend here would be disheartened even more if he were to lose his prize steed."

Chris nodded to Ezra to go ahead, before kneeling down once more beside his friend. Nathan had by now cleaned Vin’s wound as best he could and wrapped his head in a bandage. Through all this Vin never moved, never uttered a sound.

"Think he’ll be okay Nathan?"

"Don’t know Chris, I ain’t gonna lie to ya. Head wounds are tricky, so much can go wrong. Best I can do is get him back home and get this cleaned out and keep him restin’ comfortable. We’ll just have to wait and see."

"He‘ll ride with me, you get him ready and then we’ll get him on Pony and head back. The others can catch up."

The two men worked to get the unconscious man onto Pony and then Chris climbed on in back of him and held the tracker as they moved out, headed back to town. God help the men that did this. thought Chris, because he was going to have his day.

+ + + + + + +

Vin had been cleaned and stitched up and was resting as the remainder of the men wandered in. Ezra’d found Peso a few miles away from the valley, and after bringing him back to town, he’d taken care of him before heading up to check on Vin. Buck and JD had come in next, showing Chris the spent shell they’d found. They’d located where the soldiers had bedded down and pitched tents. They didn’t have much evidence to show, except for the shell, but they were glad they had found that. Josiah had been the last to show up, his face a picture of sorrow. Kojay and his people were going to take care of White Wolf and his tribe, making sure they got buried according to their beliefs. Josiah went on to explain that Kojay was expecting White Wolf but not till much later. Figured they must have had trouble finding food where they were and had left early for Kojay’s camp in hopes of fording the river before it overflowed. But that hadn’t happened so they’d been caught between the river and the bluffs. Kojay figured that White Wolf told the soldiers that they couldn’t go back, there was no food and his people would starve and so the soldiers took it upon themselves to murder them. And Kojay had echoed Josiah’s words saying that this killing would only bring more killing.

The clinic was a somber place indeed.

Each man waited to hear what Nathan had to say about the injured Texan, and they were all in hopes of his waking up soon, but didn’t want to hear him tell them what they feared was true. Nathan was allowing them to stay on for just a little bit after telling them they all needed to go eat and rest something. The day had certainly taken it’s toll on all of them.

Buck broke the silence by asking Chris how he had known where to look for Vin, if it was that "gut feeling" or that "connection" the gunslinger and the tracker seemed to share at times. Chris told him that both the Colonel and Private had mud on their boots. The Colonel’s was dried more than the Private’s and, taking into consideration how long after the Colonel’s arrival the Private showed up and how much of the mud was still wet on the Private’s boots, he’d just taken a guess at what area he thought they might have come from and Mesa Valley seemed like the closest. Chris just seemed to shrug it off like it should have been easy for anyone to figure if they’d given it half a thought. But every man in that clinic knew there was something special between the two men and if one was in trouble or injured the other seemed to sense it. They’d seen it before; just like today when their leader was suddenly on alert first thing this morning. He had known somehow that Vin was in trouble. He might act like it was nothing, but actually it was quite remarkable and they were all in awe of it.

They were just about ready to leave when Vin moaned and began to open his eyes. It took him a while to finally wake up but the boys were all glad to see those blue eyes looking at them.

"Welcome back Vin, said Nathan. Was hoping you’d wake up for us."

Vin looked at the men standing near the end of his bed and began to reach up to find out why his head hurt so much.

Nathan grabbed Vin’s wrist to keep him from touching the wounded area when Vin pulled away and tried to get away from him.

"Easy Vin, easy. I ain’t gonna hurt ya, just don’t want ya touchin’ your head." Nathan paused as he saw the confusion in the injured man’s eyes as he looked at him and at the peacekeepers like they were strangers. "Vin, do you know me?" He saw Vin lower his eyes and Nathan blew out a quiet sigh.

"It’s okay Vin, you’ve been shot in the head and sometimes this can happen. It’s okay, you just need some time to heal. We aren’t going to hurt you, we’re your friends," Nathan soothed trying to take away some of the fear he had seen in his friend’s eyes. "Here now, I need you to drink some of this."

Vin turned his head away from Nathan, closing his eyes, not wanting to hear any of this. He didn’t know who any of these men were, where he was, or even who he was. He felt an overwhelming urge to run, but there was too many of them, he’d never get away.

"It’s just water Vin, and you need to drink some in order to heal," Nathan said to him.

Vin heard a booted heel hit the floor and the sound of spurs coming closer to him. He opened his eyes to see a blond haired man dressed in black pull a chair up close to the bed where he lay. The man had a dangerous air about him, but the eyes that looked into his were full of concern. Vin’s eyes traveled down to the ivory handled gun that rode high on the man’s right hip. He furrowed his brow as the feeling came over him that he had seen that gun before, seen it in action. His eyes went back to the stranger as he heard him talk to the black man.

"Give me the cup Nathan," the man in black said softly.

Nathan watched as Vin’s eyes tracked the cup as it went from his hand into Chris’s. The gunslinger then took a drink from the cup and leaned closer to Vin.

"It’s just water Vin and you need to drink… trust me." The men in the room watched as Chris helped their injured friend drink the cup dry. They saw the troubled eyes watching the man who tenderly administered to him and watched as Chris lay him back down and told him it was okay to rest now, that everything was going to be okay. They listened as he told the tracker that the men were all his friends and that Nathan was a good man, a healer, who would never hurt him. Vin never took his eyes from Chris as he talked softly to him, it was as though Chris was using his voice to calm Vin… and it was working. Chris finally finished talking and leaned back into the chair and they all watched as Vin turned his body towards Chris as if showing his need and trust in the gunslinger. He curled up and lay looking through heavy lidded eyes at the gun Chris wore. They could almost hear the gears turning in the tracker’s head as he tried to figure out everything around him. As Vin began to fall into a healing sleep, the rest of the peacekeepers, except Nathan and Chris left to head to the saloon for a much needed drink.

Chris stayed in the clinic until he was sure Vin was asleep. "How long you think this could last?" he asked Nathan as he pulled the blanket up further on his friend.

"Don’t rightly know Chris. Could be a few hours, a day, a week, maybe longer. There’s just no way of knowin’… though I don’t think it’s so bad that he won’t remember his friends getting murdered, but when and if it all comes back to him, it’s gonna be a load to carry."

"You think it’d be alright for us to leave, have someone stay with him for awhile?"

"What do you have planned?"

"A ride."

"Do I need to restock my traveling supplies?"

Chris shrugged. "Depends."

"Yeah, that’s what I thought you might say."

"Meet you at the livery, I’ll get the rest of the boys."

Chris left to head to the saloon and Nathan turned to pack more supplies. This is turning out to be a really long day, he mused.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee strode into the saloon like a man on a mission. He strode purposefully to the table the other men were sitting at and asked, "You boys ready for a little dust up?"

"Just waitin’ on you old pard," said Buck.

"We leave now." Chris said as he turned and headed back out the doors. Again the rest of the peacekeepers followed in his wake.

"Hmmm…seems we’ve done this already once today." said Ezra as he gave a salute to Inez and shouldered apart the saloon doors.

"Nettie is going to watch Vin," Nathan informed Chris as they readied their horses for the second time that day. "And she’s got her Spencer primed and ready in case anyone thinks about doing him any harm." He chuckled as he added, "Make sure I remember to knock on the door when we get back, will ya?"

"Bout a five mile ride Chris?" asked Josiah.

"Bout right," he answered. "Let’s do this."

+ + + + + + +

Buck reined his horse near Chris’s as the six regulators neared the soldiers camp.

"You know we can’t just go bustin’ in there like all hellfire, chances are them soldiers will shoot first and ask questions later."

"I know Buck, I plan on doing this diplomatically."

Buck snorted. "You? Diplomatic? When hell freezes over."

"I want this done right, want him to go down but we’ll do it by the book. We’ll see what we can find out. When we get back, we’ll wire Travis and tell him about the situation and then we’ll let him take charge. He knows people in high places that can cause waves for this…Colonel."

"Alright stud, we’ll just follow your lead."

Coming into the soldier’s camp they were greeted by another young Private who took them to the Colonel’s tent. He then left to find the company’s sharpshooter, since the lawmen had requested his appearance in the commanding officer’s tent.

"Sure a lot of young men in this outfit," JD said to Buck.

"They’re more apt to do what they’re told, no questions asked," Buck told him, "especially if they’re thinking of making this a career."

The Colonel’s tent was a huge one set up just to the right and slightly behind all the others. Chris entered, closely followed by the five other men.

"Mr. Larabee, correct?" the Colonel asked, his hand outstretched to Chris.

When the man in black didn’t accept the offered hand the officer’s face turned into a scowl and demanded what they wanted.

"Want to talk about the incident at Mesa Valley." Chris said.

"What incident?"

"The killing of innocent Indians is what incident." Chris growled at him.

"Oh that," he said with a shrug.

Buck had to grab Josiah to hold him back as he started to advance on the smug officer. "Easy now big guy, let Chris handle this. We don’t need to put everyone on alert here."

"We were sent to do a job, those sava…those Indians refused to go back where they came from and one thing led to another and we had to take appropriate action. Case closed."

"I don’t think so," said Chris. "This was supposed to be handled peaceably, you just can’t go around killing innocent people and think you are going to walk away scott free."

"We killed Indians, Mr. Larabee, and there is a difference. Our orders were specific. The Indians were to be put on government lands, no ifs or buts and if they didn’t cooperate then they would have to suffer the consequences."

"You killed women, children and old men! Those people had no weapons you murdering bastard!" Josiah exploded.

"If you came here to cause trouble Larabee and if you can’t be civil, I’ll have you and your men removed."

"Civil?" snorted Ezra. "I don’t think you even fathom the meaning of that word."

Just then the Private with the long gun came into the tent. "Any problems sir? Do I need to call some men?"

"No problem Private, Mr. Larabee and his men were just about ready to leave."

"I have one more thing to add Colonel. You also shot a white man in that valley. That man is a good friend of mine. He’s not Indian, he wasn’t in on the fight. He was ambushed and your man shot him."

"He’s an Injun lover and…"

That’s all the Private got out before a fist that felt like a brick hit him in the face and knocked him stone cold. Blood spurted from the broken nose, the split lip and the mashed in teeth. In one swift movement Chris had knocked the young man cold with his left hand and pulled his colt smoothly from his holster with his right to train it on the Colonel.

"I wouldn’t," Chris growled at him as the officer was getting ready to yell for some backup.

+ + + + + + +

"Buck take a look at that rifle, see if the bullet shell is the same."

"It’s a match Chris."

"I take it your friend is still alive then," Dicey stated. "If that’s the case, it’ll just be his word against ours."

"Keep the bullet, we’ll use it for evidence. Just so you know Colonel, I’ll be wiring Judge Travis and letting him know what happened here today. I’m sure he’ll take a great interest in this as well as some people in Washington who’ve been trying to keep peace between the Indians and whites. This isn’t over yet. I’m going to take you down. Nobody, nobody does what you did today and gets away with it. And you just remember this," Chris said, his voice low and menacing, his eyes shooting fire. "If the army doesn’t take care of you, I will and if Tanner dies, so will you."

The Colonel prided himself on keeping his calm in the face of danger, it was why he was ranked, but this man, this man in black made his blood run cold. Something told him he’d hound him to the ends of the earth if his friend died. And by the looks on the faces of the men that rode with him he had no doubt they’d be right along side him.

"Now we are going to get on our horses and leave. If you’re smart you won’t pull anything or I’ll put a bullet between your eyes. Do we understand each other?"

Colonel Dicey had no option but to do as the gunslinger asked. He didn’t doubt that the man would do just that. He nodded his understanding to the leader. As they were leaving the tent Ezra handed the long rifle back to the officer.

"If the roles were reversed and our Mr. Tanner had this rifle instead of that boy pretending to be a man there, your Private would be dead. Our sharpshooter never misses, neither is he a braggart nor would he be so stupid as to leave evidence laying around. What a pity to waste such a weapon on a delinquent such as your Private Brodie. You really should teach your men better, and I might add that you are a disgrace to the uniform…sir." The "sir" being said in an almost filthy manner.

The six men headed out of camp each breathing a sigh of relief. Things really could have gotten out of hand, but to the Colonel’s credit he hadn’t been stupid and called in his men. Otherwise there would have been more bloodshed and chances are the six would have suffered greatly.

"Well, that could have gotten ugly. How does the hand feel Chris?" asked Buck.

"It’s a good hurt."

"Better let me look at it when we get back Chris, could have some broken bones in there, you sure cracked him a good one."

"I would have liked to have broke that man’s neck, quick and quiet like, just like he killed all those innocents," Josiah spat out.

"I think we should get the hell out of here," said JD. "If someone decides to shoot that rifle at us, we need to get out of range."

"As far as I know it’s hard for any gun to work without this tiny little mechanism," Ezra said as he toyed with the firing pin.

"Ezra!" JD exclaimed. " How and when did you do that?"

"My dexterity does not only apply to my skill with the cards, my young friend and as for when I did this, well that would be when we were all captivated by Mr. Larabee’s skill at being "diplomatic."

As a few chuckles where heard, the men turned their horses back to town, they needed to check on their friend and they needed to get a wire sent. Finally, this horrible day was coming to an end.


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