Each Deed of Shame

by The Buffalo Gals

Main Characters: Vin, Chris

Some violence, a lot of angst.

Size: Approx 260K

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Vin Tanner had watched the same three men walk past the bank four times in the last hour. Something was going to happen and someone could end up getting hurt if he didn’t stop it.

He got up from the chair he’d been lounging in outside the jailhouse, his graceful movement hardly noticed by the passing townsfolk. He scanned Main Street, looking for one of his six companions.

Ezra Standish was standing outside the hotel, talking to Mary Travis. They were so deep in conversation they didn’t notice Vin waving to them.

“Ezra could talk the hind leg off a donkey.” Vin muttered.

There was no point looking for Buck; the ladies’ man had boasted, less than an hour ago that he and Miss Katie were taking a ride out to Silver Lake.

“Won’t see him again today.”

Chris Larabee was in the saloon, still nursing the gunshot wound he’d received out at Ella Gaines’ ranch. Vin presumed the gunfighter was also wallowing in self pity, which wasn’t any concern of his. But should it be?

“Ah …at last…”

JD and Josiah were striding towards him; both men grinning from ear to ear as they chatted amiably.

“What’s wrong Vin?” JD asked when the tracker hurried them towards him.

“Somethin’ gonna happen at the bank. We’d best be ready.”

JD blanched; the last time there’d been an attempt to rob the bank he’d accidentally killed a woman.

“JD, go get Chris, he’s in the saloon.” Vin could see where the youngster’s thoughts were heading. “Me’n Josiah’ll take a walk over there. Maybe seein’ us’ll put the robbers off.”


“JD, don’t run, don’t want to spook ‘em.”

The boy nodded as he hurried to find Larabee.

“That the hombres?” Josiah nodded discreetly towards the three dubious characters walking once more by the bank.


“Maybe one of should be in there, just in case.”

“Reckon we should wait fer back up.” Vin didn’t want to put anyone in unnecessary danger.

“Don’t think there’s time.” Josiah indicated towards the men; one of which was courteously opening the door for Gloria Potter and her children.

“Josiah…” Vin hissed when the affable preacher followed the robbers into the bank.

“Damn it …damn it!” The younger man cursed, “Why don’tcha listen.”

Vin dared to glimpse through the window. As yet the robbers hadn’t made their move. He could only hope Josiah wouldn’t do anything reckless.

“What’s the problem?”

Vin had been so intent on what was happening inside the building he hadn’t noticed Chris approach.

“Think there’s gonna be a robbery. Josiah’s gone inside.”

“What!” Chris seethed. He dragged Vin away from the window. “Why did you let him go in there alone?”

“I …” there was no time for explanation, they needed a plan, now. But before Vin could speak, gunfire erupted from inside the bank…

+ + + + + + +

Main Street looked different, uncluttered, now that the old wagon Vin Tanner called home was gone.

It hadn’t moved far. Yosemite had harnessed a mule to it and driven it around back of the livery stables.

“Out of sight, out of mind.” The large man had grumbled, making certain his point of view was heard by the likes of Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington.

The quiet blacksmith could only hope that one day soon Vin Tanner would return for his belongings, but it was somehow very doubtful, seeing how the amiable Texan had been treated.

Yosemite was unimpressed by the way Tanner had been hounded out of town by certain folk in Four Corners, one of them supposedly the tracker’s best friend.

“We’ve done that young fellah wrong.” he told anyone willing to listen, however his voice had been drowned out by the very folk Vin Tanner had put his life on the line for, time and time again.

Yosemite had studied human nature long and hard over the years. He could pass judgement on any man based on the way they treated their horse.

“There were no better man than Vin Tanner,” he commented to the equines in his care. “I know it, and you know it … shame we’re the only ones around here with any horse sense!”

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee stared into the empty glass and contemplated pouring another shot of redeye from the bottle by his hand.

“Won’t fill itself, pard.” Buck Wilmington joked as he walked over to Larabee’s table near the back of the saloon.

The gunslinger glanced up at his old friend; he was not amused.

“It’s the best friend I have,” the gunslinger replied, extolling the virtue of the liquor, “it never lets me down!”

The words hurt Buck. For many years he’d presumed he was Larabee’s best friend, however a certain young Texan with a bounty on his head had moved in on that position without even trying. Although it had hurt Buck at the time, he’d kept his peace and had altered his opinion after he saw how Chris Larabee had changed due to the likeable Vin Tanner.

Buck couldn’t despise anyone who could help the gunslinger come to terms with his past.

However, now that Vin had left town, Larabee was quickly returning to the bottle and the demons it brought with it.

“Chris, if ya feelin’ that bad about Vin, why don’tcha go after him?”

“Ain’t feelin’ bad …more like guilt. And even if I did go after him who’s to say he’d come back with me?”

“You both spoke out of turn pard, but that ain’t to say we weren’t all wrong to hound him like that.”

Chris listened to Buck’s steady words before replying.

“Vin told me, not so long ago, that Four Corners was a haven for him. Because he knew one of us would always be watchin’ his back.” He stared once more at the empty glass. “I managed to take everythin’ away from him.”

“We all did pard.” Buck rested a hand on Larabee’s shoulder and gently squeezed it. “It’s time to bring him on home Chris.”

The gunslinger nodded his head, his blond hair falling over sad eyes, “Maybe you’re right.”

“Before we go chasin’ after him though we’d best get over to Nathan’s. Josiah’s come ‘round and he’s askin’ fer Vin.”

“Why didn’t you say so before!” Chris pushed the whisky bottle away and wiped his mouth. Guilt gnawed at him over Josiah. He’d been so busy punishing Vin, he’d almost forgotten the injured preacher.

As Larabee strode purposefully towards Nathan’s clinic, he recalled the events of the day that had turned sour for the Seven.

+ + + + + + +

JD Dunne charged into the saloon, shouting out Chris’ name.

Larabee put down his whisky glass when he heard the tension in the kid’s voice.

“What’s wrong JD?”

“Vin told me to come and get ya. He reckons three men are ‘bout to rob the bank.” JD garbled his sentence out in one large gasp.

“He does huh?” Chris threw some coins onto the bar to pay for his drink. “Best be goin’ then, ‘cause Vin Tanner is always right.”

By the time Chris reached the bank, Josiah had already entered the building.

Chris couldn’t stop himself from asking Vin, “Why did you let him go inside alone?”

Tanner didn’t answer the question. Chris wanted to shake the answer from him; demand to know why Vin had allowed the preacher to walk into danger alone.

Fathomless eyes turned towards the gunslinger.

‘Tell me!’ Chris raged silently

Tanner looked away.

Chris felt the bile rise in his throat, his heart missed a beat; was it guilt in the tracker’s eyes? Before he could answer his own question, gunfire erupted from inside the bank.

Larabee couldn’t believe the bank robbers had tried to out-shoot him and Vin. Nevertheless, they had, and lost. The gunslinger wondered who else had lost their life.

When he found out a short time later that Josiah had been seriously injured, Chris had continued to take his anger out on Vin Tanner, blaming him loudly for Josiah’s predicament. From then on, things had gone from bad to worse…

+ + + + + + +

Wilmington followed Larabee into Nathan’s clinic and found JD and Ezra already there.

The fine scar above Josiah’s right eyebrow had already begun to heal as had the shoulder wound. He’d been in and out of fevered consciousness since the day of the shooting, and had made little progress. They’d managed to feed him a fine gruel to sustain him, without Josiah really knowing what was happening.

To see him sitting up, his eyes clear and looking around in awareness, brought a collective sigh from the men standing around the sick man’s bed.

Nathan was grinning from ear to ear as he fussed around the preacher.

“Ya need t’get some proper meals in ya now. I’ll ask Inez to bring some food in to ya. And I don’t want ya leavin’ this bed ‘til I say so.”

Josiah frowned at all the fuss; he wasn’t used to it. “Nathan, accordin’ to you I’ve been here over a week! I need to get movin’…howdy boys…” he searched the four smiling faces of the newcomers. “Why y’all grinnin’, ain’t you ever seen a sick man before?”

“We’ve been worried about ya Josiah.” Wilmington boomed. “Should’ve known that skull of yours is too hard t’crack!”

Chris Larabee sat down on the edge of the bed. “We’ve all missed you.”

“Yeah, yer the only one that can understand Ezra’s fancy words!” JD joked, his smile widening when Ezra threw a scowl his way.

“Ah personally have missed your witty conversation, Mr. Sanchez. JD is correct in his assumption, you are the only one here acquainted with the finer points of the English language.”

“Why thank you, brother.” Josiah couldn’t fail to notice Vin’s absence. “Where’s Vin? I have to speak to Vin.” The preacher looked solemn as he spoke to Larabee, “I bet he’s blamin’ himself for what happened.” He noticed Chris’ pained expression. “I knew he would. Weren’t his fault …me’n my pig head …Chris?”

“Vin’s gone Josiah …I forced him out of town,” the gunslinger admitted sadly.

“Now hold on stud! Y’weren’t the only one t’judge. Guess we all had somethin’ to do with it.”

“Some of us are as guilty as others by keeping our silence.” Ezra added shame-facedly.

“You let him go!” Josiah slammed his fist onto the bed.

“You bein’ shot … it was a culmination of things. I used you as an excuse, Josiah. It weren’t the right thing to do.”

“Where’s he gone? We have to bring him back!” The preacher started to pull the covers back, “Where are my clothes!”

“Hold on there!” Nathan gently pushed Josiah back onto the bed. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere…”

“Don’t try and stop me, none of ya…”

“Josiah you’ve only just come round, yer weak from lack of food…” Nathan looked towards Larabee for back-up.

The gunslinger felt the same urgency as Josiah to go out and search for Vin, and he understood the preacher’s need to be there when the tracker was found. However, he also understood Nathan’s concerns about the older man.

The others waited for Chris’ decision. They were ready to ride. Ezra had been waiting for this moment since Tanner had left town.

Larabee turned to face the other men. “Nathan’s right Josiah, it’s gonna be a long hard ride, and you ain’t fit yet.” He didn’t give Josiah time to argue. “ We’re leavin’ at dawn tomorrow and we don’t come back without Vin.”

“Yes!” Buck slapped JD on the back, knocking the youngster’s hat off.

“If we are taking to the wilderness trail, Ah will have to make certain changes to mah apparel.” Ezra hated to see his fancy vests and jackets covered in trail dust.

“Ya mean yer gonna wear chaps?” Buck asked jokingly.

“Hardly, Mr. Wilmington. Mah wardrobe does not contain such items.” The southerner replied drolly. “Ah think a drink is required to celebrate Josiah’s return to good health and our momentous decision to go in search of our errant tracker.”

“You buyin’ Ez?”

“If Ah must.” Ezra replied haughtily. As usual, he was the only one with enough money to buy a round of drinks.

“Well come on then!” Buck placed an arm around Ezra’s shoulder and led him towards the door. “You comin’ JD?”

The youngster started to follow, then stopped to look at Larabee. “Chris?”

“You go, take Nathan with you…”

Before the healer could remonstrate, Chris shut him up. “Nathan, you ain’t had a break since Josiah’s been shot. Go … I’ll stay here and watch over him…”

“Make sure he stays in bed!” Nathan ordered as he put on his hat and coat. He was glad of the respite, though he’d never complain about tending to any of them.

“I’ll be back in a while, bring ya some dinner back, Josiah.”

Still angry at Chris and Nathan’s decision that he wasn’t well enough to go in search of Vin, Josiah managed a smile as the healer hurried out of the clinic. “Nathan’s a good doctor but he does fuss so.” The preacher settled back against the pillows. “What’s on yer mind Chris.”

“Am I so transparent? I owe you an apology Josiah.”

“Me? I thought you were savin’ that fer Vin?”

“I’ve been so wrapped up in my own misery I haven’t been here for you. I never once asked about yer condition. You were the excuse I needed, then I forgot you.”

“Chris, I wouldn’t have known if you were here anyway,” Josiah explained with a smile. “Y’ain’t got a bottle hid away have ya?” he asked jovially.


“Shot of whisky would do me more good than any of Nathan’s medicine.”

“I’ll smuggle you some in, later.” Chris managed a wry smile.

“I wouldn’t slow ya down.” Josiah tried to argue his case once more. However his argument looked frail when he settled back on the pillow and closed his eyes. He’d only been fully conscious for just over an hour and was feeling weary. “Guess I know when I’m beat.”

“Want me to go?”

“No …I want to tell you what happened at the bank.”

“You don’t have to.” Chris replied, worried that Josiah would over exert himself.

“Yes I do. I want to make it clear that Vin had nothin’ to do with me gettin’ shot.” The preacher turned his head and stared out of the grimy window. “He told me to wait ‘til JD had fetched you …but when Mrs. Potter and her kids went inside, I had t’follow.”

+ + + + + + +

Josiah walked over to Gloria Potter and in whispered tones told her to forget her business with the bank and take the children outside.

The sturdy middle-aged woman was sensible enough to understand something was about to happen. She’d lost her husband to a killer, she didn’t want to lose her children the same way.

She began to shepherd the youngsters towards the door, but her son, who’d heard part of the whispered conversation stared at the three strangers keenly and said in a loud voice,

“They don’t look dangerous to me Ma!”

The men panicked and drew their guns.

“This is a hold up!” one of them yelled, his voice shaking with nerves.

“We ain’t afraid t’shoot,” said another.

Josiah knew enough about human nature to realise their threats were empty.

“Listen boys, you don’t really mean to hurt us.” He was unarmed and hoped this might help avert any bloodshed.

“You …you stay there Mister.” The youngest member of the trio warned, his gun hand shaking violently.

“Son, if ya do anythin’ stupid, you’ll never leave town alive.”

“We will if we take hostages!” the youngster answered with bravado.

Josiah noticed the bank manager reaching for a gun hidden under his desk. It was all going to end in unnecessary bloodshed if he didn’t do something soon.

“Please give me your guns.” he pleaded as he reached out.

At that moment the bank manager found his courage and fired his gun towards the robbers.

+ + + + + + +

“His damn bullet hit me in the shoulder!” Josiah grumbled. “I lurched forward and the youngster’s gun went off. Cain’t recall a thing after that.”

Hoping to fill in the blanks, Chris said, “Accordin’ to Mrs. Potter the gang argued amongst themselves. One of them snatched the gun off the manager and hit him across the face.

I shouted out …and gave ‘em fair warnin’. Mrs. Potter reckons they were determined to escape. Afterwards Vin kept sayin’ we needn’t have killed ‘em.”

“He was right. They were inept kids. Maybe if I hadn’t have interjected you’d have been able to get ‘em to throw down their guns. Me gettin’ shot scared ‘em.”

“Mr. Wilson shot you. Why didn’t anyone say so?”

“Maybe they didn’t realise. It all happened so fast.” Josiah closed his eyes again.

This time Chris stood up. “You get some sleep.”

“Thanks Chris. See you in the mornin’, before you leave. Oh, if ya see Nathan, tell him a shot of whisky would do me the world of good.”

Larabee rested a hand on the door. “You ain’t got a chance in hell.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Don’t worry Chris, you’ll find Vin.”

It wasn’t finding Vin that worried Larabee, it was persuading the younger man that all the cruel words Chris had spoken weren’t meant; it had been his anger talking.

Larabee headed straight for the saloon once he’d left Josiah. He needed a drink …the whole bottle!

“Hey Chris!” Buck called over to him when he walked into the saloon. “Ezra’s still buyin’!”

Chris shook his head. “Ain’t in the mood fer company.” He wandered over to the bar.

Nathan looked up from the meal he was enjoying. “Josiah alright?”

“Yeah Nate …don’t hurry, he was sleepin’ when I left.”

“Best thing for him. Glad you backed me up about tomorrow. The ridin’ would kill him.”

“What’s wrong Chris?” Wilmington had followed Chris over to the bar.

The gunslinger regarded him sadly. “Josiah told me what happened at the bank.”

Chris quickly explained the nature of the shooting.

“What else?” Buck prompted.

“Vin was right; they were just scared kids. They didn’t deserve to die.”

“They were robbin’ the bank …they had guns. You couldn’t have known…”

“Vin did and I ignored him. Makin’ a habit of that just lately.”

They all knew he was referring to Ella Gaines.

“Chris, you’re paid to uphold the law, you did that.”

“They were kids Buck, I could have handled it different.” Chris asked the bartender for a shot of whisky and downed it in one go. “They died because I wanted to prove Vin wrong.”

“That bitch has a lot to answer for!”

“Ella?” Chris asked his long time friend. “I was a fool Buck. You tried to warn me and I didn’t listen to you.”

“Hey stud, you were hopin’ to find a new life, settle down again. Ya didn’t want me or anyone else spoilin’ that.” Buck ordered two more drinks then led Chris over to an empty table. “Ya gotta let Ella go. I know she’s an evil bitch that wants puttin’ down. But she’s standin’ there ‘tween you and Vin which means she’s still winnin’.”

Chris nodded in agreement. “She’ll come back, I know that. But next time I’ll be ready.”

Buck reached across the table and patted Larabee’s arm. “We’ll all be ready. She cain’t take the seven of us on.”

Larabee wasn’t so certain. Ella Gaines was a she-devil of the worst kind. She wouldn’t be satisfied until all those who stood between her and Chris were dead. Keeping his thoughts to himself, he smiled grimly at the ladies man.

“Thanks fer your support Buck.”

“Ready to join the others now?” Buck indicated to Ezra’s poker table. The southerner and JD were looking at Chris worriedly. Nathan had taken his leave and returned to the clinic.

“Yeah. Need to make plans fer tomorrow.”

“Any idea where to start lookin’?”

“We’ll ride out to Nettie Welles. Vin wouldn’t leave without visitin’ her first.”

“Give JD a chance to make up with Casey.”

Chris raised any eyebrow. “That’s if she’s willin’ to listen,” he said with a smile.

JD and Casey had fallen out over JD’s treatment of Vin. The girl idolised Vin as she would an older brother. She wouldn’t have a bad word said against him.

Later in the evening when the bar had emptied, Buck Wilmington nursed one last whisky before walking over to Miss Katie’s house. She was the young woman he’d been courting the day of the robbery.

+ + + + + + +

Buck didn’t know about the aborted robbery until late evening when he drove Katie bank into town. They’d borrowed a buggy from Yosemite for their day out.

The contented cat smile he wore soon disappeared when JD ran to him as he helped Katie from the vehicle.

“Buck! Josiah’s been shot …at the bank …he’s hurt real bad. Nathan and Chris are with him …Vin’s to blame!”

“Huh? Vin shot Josiah?” Buck asked, confused by the boy’s garbled explanation.

“No …but it was his idea to send Josiah into the bank when the robbers were inside …where ya goin’ Buck?”

Wilmington turned to the youth. “I’m escortin’ Miss Katie back to her door. Then I have to return the horse and buggy back to Yosemite.”

Whatever had happened during his absence, Buck Wilmington was too much of a gentleman to abandon the young lady in the street.

”I’ll see to your horse. Once you’ve took Miz Katie home go to Nathan’s. Chris’ll want to see ya!”

After saying goodnight to the attractive young woman, Buck made his way to the clinic. He took the stairs three at a time.

The room was nearly in darkness, just two low burning candles illuminated the area around the sick man’s bed.

Nathan Jackson was asleep, exhausted. He’d managed to make himself comfortable in one of the chairs. Chris Larabee sat in the other.

“How is he Chris?” Buck winced at the glare Larabee gave him.

“Enjoy your day, stud?”

“Hey Chris, if I’dve known there was gonna be trouble I’d never have left town this mornin’. Ya know that.” Buck asked again, “How’s Josiah doin’?

Chris rubbed his aching eyes. “He’s lost a lotta blood. It’s touch and go.”

“God damn it! Did ya get the bastards that done it?” Buck neared the bed and saw the fine sheen of sweat covering Josiah’s face.

“Yeah, they’re dead. Three kids …ain’t sparin’ no tears for them”

“What’s this I hear about it bein’ Vin’s fault?”

“It was his idea Josiah go in the bank. He didn’t wait for any help. Vin always knows what’s right, don't he Buck? Has to make decisions ...this time he was wrong and Josiah could die because of him."

“I cain't see ...” Buck's words were cut off.

”You weren’t there Buck. You didn’t see what happened.”

“Well I’m here now. Want me to sit a spell with Josiah? I can see ya wincin’ in pain.”

Larabee grimaced. “I’m fine. Can’t do with everyone askin’ questions. You could have some supper up for me and Nathan …and a bottle.”

“Sure pard. Catch ya later.”

Wilmington gave Inez’s Chris’ order then wandered over to the table where Vin sat alone.

“Want some company pard?”

“Larabee say ya could talk to me?”

“Hey pard, I thought ya might like t’talk. And Chris ain’t my keeper.” Buck had never known the younger man speak with such venom.

“Sorry Buck …guess I’m feelin’ sorry fer myself.”

“That ain’t the Vin Tanner I know talkin’.” Buck poured them both a shot of whisky.

“Guess ya ain’t heard the news.”

“Oh I have. Just don’t believe it. You’d never put Josiah, or anyone of us, in danger.”

“Well I did,” Vin spat out his guilt. “I let him go in the bank to face down three robbers …I stood outside …I’m a coward Buck, must be, everyone’s sayin’ so.”

“Hell Vin, don’t get so melodramatic.” Buck had a suspicion that Vin had been drinking for quite some time. “Josiah’ll soon recover then everythin’ll blow over.”

“Too late fer that Buck. I wish Josiah well. He’s a good man.” Vin lurched to his feet. “Won’t never be the same around here fer me. You stand by Chris, Buck. He needs someone he can trust.”

Wilmington watched the younger man sway out of the saloon and thought it wise to follow him back to his wagon. He started to get of his chair only to be forced down by a hand on his shoulder.

“Ah’ll watch over him Buck. It is better Ah be tarnished by my association with Vin, than you mah friend.”

“Ezra, you do have a heart.”

“True, but Ah will deny any knowledge of it, if you should ever mention my good deed tonight.”

Buck had hardly seen Vin after that night. The tracker became more reclusive as the days passed.

Wilmington never thought Vin guilty of anything other than perhaps neglect, but if the tracker was unwilling to stand up for himself, Buck could not help him.

And so everyone, except Ezra thought that Buck’s silence was another pointer towards Vin’s guilt.

+ + + + + + +

Mary Travis looked up from the article she was writing. Chris Larabee stood in the open doorway to the Clarion office. “Chris …what’s wrong?”

“We’re goin’ after Vin.” Chris put up his hands in surrender. “Don’t say it’s about time. I know …”

Mary stuck out her chin and asked, “What made you change your mind?”

“Finally came to my senses. About a lot of things.” Larabee replied honestly.

Mary suspected he meant Ella Gaines. However, she respected Chris enough to keep her thoughts private. He’d talk, if and when he was ready.

It had hurt Mary when Chris had followed the Gaines woman without a second thought for the town …or Mary. She knew the other men were in it for the money, but with Chris it was personal. He and Ella went back a long way; they had a history …a spark. Mary couldn’t fight that.

She’d heard through snippets of gossip that he’d made up his mind to stay with Ella Gaines, until the morning he found out her awful secret.

When the seven men had returned to town, with Chris seriously injured, Mary hadn’t known what to think especially when Vin, Buck and JD had ridden out again immediately.

It had taken her a few days to gather information. No one wanted to talk to her; it was Chris’ story to tell.

Eventually he explained everything to her; how Ella Gaines had been responsible for his family’s murders. She’d wanted to hug him then; she’d never seen Chris so broken.

She’d hoped that once Vin returned, Chris’ moods would improve.

Sadly, this was not the case and the friendship he shared with the quiet tracker began to deteriorate. The tension culminated with a massive argument in the street.

Things had been said that day by both men; private grievances that must have been festering for several months. But far from clearing the air between best friends, the argument worsened the atmosphere. Chris’ tongue had stung and hurt Vin Tanner worse than any whip. Mary had seen the look on the Texan’s face when he rode out of town; his spirit had been broken.

“I hope you find him Chris, however, knowing Vin, he’ll make it difficult for anyone to track him.”

“Ain’t comin’ back without him Mary.” Larabee warned. He reached out for Mary’s hand that still rested on the desk, then snatched it back. There were bridges to mend between them, once he had his best friend back by his side.

“Best be goin’. The boys’ll be waitin’ for me.”

Mary nodded and smiled sadly. She let the gunslinger go before whispering, “And I’ll be waiting for you.”

+ + + + + + +

Nathan Jackson stood on the balcony outside his clinic and waved goodbye to his four friends. He silently wished them well with their search for Vin.

Nathan had been quick to chastise Vin when Josiah had been hurt at the bank. He didn’t think the Texan had been cowardly in allowing Josiah to enter the bank alone, but that Vin had shown bad judgement.

“Ain’t like Vin,” he’d remarked to Chris Larabee. “Ain’t never known him put others in ‘fore himself.”

“Well he did this time Nathan.” The gunslinger had been adamant in his condemnation of the bounty hunter.

Nathan hadn’t realised how far Chris and Vin’s friendship had deteriorated until the morning of the argument. The healer had been taking a break while Ezra sat with Josiah when he’d heard the two normally quiet voices raised in anger.

He’d abandoned his half eaten lunch on the table and followed the other customers from the saloon to see the showdown.

It had distressed Nathan to see Chris and Vin remonstrate against each other so violently. He owed them his life, and had been ready to step in and halt the contretemps, until Buck had stopped him.

“Leave ‘em be, Nathan.”


“I know. Hurts me to see ‘em like that, but maybe some things need to be said.”

The healer hadn’t shared Buck’s views, however he bowed to Wilmington’s judgement.

A few hours later, Vin had called into the clinic, his saddlebags slung over his shoulder.

“Come t’say goodbye Nathan.”

“Never thought you’d run away.” Nathan had said it more harshly that he meant to.

“Guess I ain’t much of a friend, runnin’ out on ya.” Vin had replied falteringly. “I hope Josiah pulls through. He’s a good man. Will ya tell him for me?”

“Why don’t ya wait around and tell him yerself!”

“Cain’t stay where I’m not wanted.” Vin had stood by Josiah’s bed side for a few moments before leaving the clinic.

Once Vin had left town, Nathan noticed Chris slipping further into the whisky bottle. The healer silently cursed Ella Gaines. She’d nearly broken Chris Larabee and had managed to splinter the friendship between two good men.

Nathan turned back to the clinic. “What the hell are y’doin’ outta bed!” he strongly chastised Josiah.

“Wanted to see the boys off. Said a little prayer. I’m hopin’ God’ll be their tracker and show them where our lost lamb is.”

Nathan caught hold of the shaking Josiah before he dropped. “Gonna say a prayer m’self, then I’m gonna ask him to help me keep you tied down!”

Josiah chuckled. “Think yer askin’ fer too much there brother!” The preacher was determined to be up on his feet by the time they returned with Vin Tanner; maybe that would alleviate the Texan’s guilt.

+ + + + + + +

Nettie Welles picked up her old Spencer carbine and stepped out onto the cabin porch.

She recognised the four riders coming towards the house; knew they meant her no harm. But that didn’t mean she didn’t fancy shooting them from their horses!

Chris Larabee; the moody gunslinger. Normally she welcomed him warmly. However, he’d broken the cardinal rule of hurting her precious Vin Tanner!

Buck Wilmington, the sweet talking ladies man. He could usually wrap Nettie around his little finger; make her act like a blushing girl. But not today!

JD Dunne, the boy who would one day be family; if he lived that long. There’d be no welcome smile for him!

Ezra Standish, the southerner that hated getting his hands dirty. Nettie felt like mothering that boy almost as much as she did Vin. She couldn’t work out the reason, and it vexed her. He was too uppity by half and didn’t like the meaning of hard work. The complete opposite of Vin, yet in the same instant very much alike.

“What you wantin’ Mr. Larabee?” there was no hospitality invite in her question.

“We’re searchin’ for Vin. Thought you might be able to help us.”

“And why should I do that?” Nettie asked fearlessly.

“Because you want what’s best for him …so do we.”

The elderly woman accepted Chris’ words. They all looked suitably contrite.

“Best step inside then. Casey’s in the orchard.” She told JD before he could ask.

Ezra Standish always felt uncomfortable in Nettie’s presence. She could read him like an open book. On more than one occasion he’d felt a pang of jealousy when he’d seen how she mothered Vin. Oh to have a mother like her.

Buck fidgeted nervously. His charm didn’t seem to be working on Nettie. Of course, anyone who said a word against ‘her boy’, was fair game to Nettie Welles.

Chris Larabee waited in silence for the coffee to be poured. Nettie was a wily old bird, she wouldn’t speak until she was ready.

“Well then Mr. Larabee…” Nettie settled into the chair opposite Chris. “You were askin’ ‘bout Vin.”

“He came to see you.”

Nettie nodded. “Sure did. Took me by surprise, turnin’ up like that.”

Nettie began to recount her story. She only hoped Vin would forgive her for giving up his secrets.

+ + + + + + +

Nettie Welles glanced at the dejected figure standing in her doorway.

“Well son, you gonna stand there all day? Yer lettin’ the cold in.”

“Sorry Miz Nettie.” Vin advanced into the homely cabin and closed the door behind him.

Fall had set in early and with it came the cold winds from off the mountains.

“Sit y’self down son while I pour y’out some fresh made coffee.”

Nettie had taken a shine to Vin Tanner the moment he’d offered to escort her to the hotel, on the day she’d ridden into town asking for help.

She’d only heard rumours about the seven men protecting Four Corners and didn’t really expect any assistance from them. How wrong she’d been. And after the trouble with Guy Royale had been resolved, she’d managed to get the shy Vin Tanner to open up. She’d been proud when he told her she reminded him of an older version of his mother who’d tragically died at a young age.

He came by to visit her regularly, often he’d help around the farm, sometimes staying overnight. He never said much, though he did inform her of the bounty on his head.

When the fake Marshall had taken Vin away, Nettie had feared for his life. Yet she knew Chris Larabee wouldn’t let Vin down; they were to peas out of the same pod.

The sorry state Vin was in now was due to the gunslinger. Casey had kept Nettie well informed about the problems Vin was suffering in town. Her niece had shown JD the door when he’d dared to say a wrong word against Vin.

“How’s Josiah doin’ son?” Nettie asked kindly, wondering if the amiable preacher had taken a turn for the worse.

Vin winced at her question. “About the same. Nathan says if his fever don’t come down …” Vin couldn’t finish the sentence. “I come t’say good-bye Nettie.”

“You runnin’ away son?” she asked the same question he’d heard from Nathan.

“Guess I am. Me’n Chris …we had words. I can cope with the others lookin’ at me like I’m a … but not Chris. He reckons I’m guilty, that …that I always think I have the right answer.”

“This stem from that Ella Gaines woman?” Everyone in town knew about her!

“Some …somethin’ I said to Chris too. Shouldn’t have…” Vin’s shoulders slumped in defeat, his energy drained.

“If yer determined to leave I can’t …won’t stop you. But not tonight Vin Tanner. Tonight you stay here, rest yerself ready. I don’t want my boy goin’ out there alone and unprepared.”

Nettie would never forget the look Vin Tanner gave her. It spoke of hopelessness and despair. She only wished she had the strength and the years to banish the evils away.

The following morning she rose early, but not early enough. Vin Tanner was gone.

Nettie stepped out onto the porch and whispered into the gathering wind.

“You take good care of that boy, God. He’s one of the good ones.”

+ + + + + + +

While Chris and the others listened to Nettie’s story, JD searched for Casey, determined to make peace with her.

The pretty young woman was in the small orchard, gathering up the last of the year’s good apples.

“Why are you here JD?”

She’d seen the riders coming down the trail and her young heart had fluttered at the sight of JD Dunne. However, until he paid penance about the remarks he’d made to her about Vin Tanner she would not show the dark haired young man any favours.

“We’re goin’ searchin’ for Vin. Thought your Aunt Nettie might know where he’s gone.”

“Oh, so you’re gonna follow him and torment him some more!”

“No!” JD sometimes forgot how feisty Casey could get. “No …we’re hopin’ Vin’ll come home with us.”

Casey stopped munching on the apple she’d been eating. “You mean that?”


“Does that mean you’re sayin’ Vin did nothin’ wrong?” Casey pushed, her smile broadening when she saw JD blush.

“I’m sayin’ that Chris thinks we were a mite hasty …don’t mean to say …ooof!” JD ducked as a half eaten apple hit him in the middle of the chest.

“Ain’t you man enough to admit you were wrong?” Casey accused as she readied another missile.

“Very well! We were wrong. I was wrong….we’re missin’ Vin.”

Casey smiled gleefully. She’d won! She walked primly over to JD, stood on tiptoes and kissed his flushed cheek. “Thank you.”

Taken aback by the intimate gesture, JD stepped back, open mouthed.

Still filled with devilment Casey stuffed one of the good apples in his mouth then ran off towards the house.

JD wanted to explain to Casey why he’d turned on Vin. It had taken the youngster a long time to understand it himself. However, now he’d thought it through, he would explain it to Vin, once they caught up with him.

+ + + + + + +

The youngster had frozen when he’d heard gunfire inside the bank. He was still haunted by the death of Miss Annie and would be until his own dying day. Was there now another innocent victim lying within the building?

Nathan pushed past him, his old medical bag clutched firmly in his hand.

“Let me through!” he yelled at the people in his way.

The commanding voice brought JD out of his reverie. The youngster followed Nathan through the crowd.

“Who’s been shot?” he asked Vin Tanner.

The tracker stared back at him as if not understanding the question. “Huh? Josiah …it’s Josiah.”

“Oh no .. is he … is he dead?”

Vin shrugged automatically. “Don’t know …got to get these bodies off the street.” The Texan walked over to the undertakers.

JD was shocked by Vin’s lack of concern. Didn’t the tracker care?

Then he heard snippets of gossip filtering from the bank. It was Vin’s fault that Josiah was injured … ‘Vin’s fault’.

An unexpected feeling of relief swept over JD. This time he wasn’t to blame. People wouldn’t be staring at him with accusing eyes.

It had been several months since Annie’s death and although most folk had put the shooting down to an unfortunate accident he still saw the occasional accusational stare.

Well from now on any guilt would be laid at Vin’s door. And JD’s blunder would finally be forgotten.

The boy felt concern for Josiah. The older man had been a great comfort to JD after the accident. The preacher and Buck were the only two members of the Seven to sympathise with him; to show any concern for his feelings.

Ezra had been completely wrapped up in his own selfish troubles. Nathan had been consumed with guilt over not being a good enough physician to save Annie.

Chris and Vin? They’d been more concerned with Achilles Thompson, twin brother of the dead robber.

JD had hoped that Chris Larabee would at least speak with him, pass on words of wisdom. However, when the townsfolk had voiced their feelings about JD being a Sheriff, Larabee hadn’t stood up for him.

JD wondered if the gunslinger would support Vin Tanner. From the gossip filtering through to him the answer was no.

JD knew now that he’d reacted in a selfish, petty way. He’d wanted to make Vin suffer the way he had.

“I’m sorry Vin you didn’t deserve to be treated so badly.”

+ + + + + + +

Chris’ hope that Nettie would know Vin’s whereabouts had been dashed. The old girl was as much in the dark as he was. If Chris were to find Vin Tanner he’d have to use his instincts.

The four men rode in silence, though JD had a smile on his face now he and Casey were friends once more.

“D’ya think we’d be better splittin’ up?” Wilmington asked as they came to a fork in the road.

Larabee shook his head. “I ain’t even sure we’re travellin’ in the right direction Buck. I’m workin’ on instinct.”

“Hell, that’s fine by me stud! Just thought we could cover more ground if we split up.”

“Ah think we should travel together.” Ezra stated loudly.

“Why’s that Ezra?” Larabee turned to the gambler.

“If …when we find our errant tracker, it would be more appropriate and fitting if we ask his forgiveness as one, happy family.” The sardonic words were softened with guilt.

“Y’got a good point there Ez.” Wilmington admitted solemnly.

“What’s the next town along from here?”


“We’ll make for there. Send a telegram back to Four Corners. Send one to Eagle Bend too.”

“Cain’t see Vin travellin’ that way Chris.”

The seven men were not popular with the Sheriff of Eagle Bend.

“Neither can I, but it won’t hurt to ask.” Larabee hunkered down lower in his jacket.

Buck acknowledged that the conversation had ended; the four men dropped back into silence.

Ezra Standish pulled up the collar of the brown woollen jacket he was wearing. It wasn’t his usual style of coat; something more appropriate for the weather.

He hated being away from the comforts of town; any town!

He only hoped Vin Tanner would appreciate the ordeal Ezra was putting himself through to find his friend.

‘Friend,’ Ezra didn’t think he had the right to call himself Vin’s friend. How could he when he’d allowed Vin to be treated so callously.

‘You are a coward,’ the gambler admonished himself as he tucked his horse in behind Buck and Chris’ mounts’. Let them face the fierce zephyr attacking the six riders.

Ezra recalled the day of the bank robbery, it would be forever etched in his mind.

He’d excused himself from the delightful conversation he was having with the equably delightful Mary Travis when he’d heard the gunfire.

It had to be the bank; the building drew danger to it, like bees round a honey pot. Ezra very rarely used banks; he found the banking system as distrustful and illegal as his own forms of malpractice.

He reached the bank just as the foolish robbers were attempting to escape. His own gun was not required. Chris Larabee, though still recovering from his own gunshot injury and Vin Tanner the town’s sharpshooter, soon despatched the miscreants.

“Ah see Ah am too late to assist.” Ezra commented as he checked the lifeless bodies, disturbed to see that underneath the dirt and stubble they were no more than youths of JD’s age.

“Goin’ to write that on yer tombstone.” Chris growled.

“They dead?” Vin asked.

“Undeniably.” Ezra didn’t like the look of guilt in Tanner’s eyes

“Don’t be mournin’ over them.” Larabee hissed in pain. He’d twisted his gut awkwardly during the one sided fight.

“Weren’t no need t’kill ’em Chris.” Vin stepped past the glaring gunfighter and into the shadowy confines of the bank.

Ezra followed, uncertain of the mayhem he might find.

The staff and customers were huddled together in one corner.

“Everyone all right?” Vin asked as he walked towards them.

“All of us except …” Mrs Potter nodded towards the figure lying face down on the dusty floor.

“Josiah!” Ezra was first to reach the preacher, perturbed by the pool of blood spreading from under Josiah’s chest. “Someone send for Nathan, now!”

Vin started to kneel next to the incumbent body but was harshly pushed away by Larabee.

“Stay away from him!”

It surprised Ezra when Vin didn’t defend himself. The tracker turned away and stumbled out of the door muttering, “I’ll get the bodies moved.”

“That was uncalled for.” Ezra bravely censured the unrepentant Larabee.

“Why? It’s his fault Josiah got shot!” the gunslinger spoke loud enough for everyone in the bank to hear him.

“Ah can hardly ….”

“You weren’t here Ezra, you don’t know what happened. Where the hell is Nathan!”

“Comin’ through!” Jackson bellowed as he pushed by the crowd gathering in the bank doorway.

Ezra stepped away to give Nathan the room to work. As he waited for Nathan’s diagnosis on Josiah’s condition, he could already hear the whispered allegations being thrown at Vin Tanner.

“Larabee said it was Tanner’s fault.”

“Well Larabee should know.”

“Reckon Tanner must’ve chickened out; sent the preacher in alone.”

“Tanner ain’t no coward!”

“Well there’s no smoke without fire.”

Ezra stared at the black clad gunfighter riding in front of him.

‘You certainly stoked the fires of hell that day Mr Larabee!’