by Sarah B.

Webmaster Note: This fic was originally hosted at another
website and was moved to blackraptor in August 2004.

Warning: Deathfic

Follows Promises

The sun dappled across the shiny body of the 1939 Packard as it slowly made its way up the tree-lined suburban street. The year was 1940, the place, a neatly trimmed neighborhood south of Chicago. The warm afternoon was just beginning to fade into early evening; all up and down the street, families were milling about, and through open front doors one could see tables being cleared, lights being switched on, and folks wandering onto the wide, sheltered porches to turn on the radio, read the paper, and catch up with the neighbors.

The Packard came to a gentle stop in front of one of these houses, a large white structure with its own huge porch and manicured front lawn. After the car had stopped, the door opened and a young man wearing a fedora and a trench coat got out and looked around. He was young, maybe twenty, with sandy blond hair and deep brown eyes. After a pause, he reached into the car, got out a notebook and a large envelope, and walked resolutely up to the house.

The screen door was closed, but the interior door was open to let in some of the pleasant late spring air. As the man came up the concrete steps onto the broad wooden planks of the porch, he heard the clatter and rattle of dishes being put away. After nervously straightening his tie, he rang the doorbell.

Immediately a dog started barking; a moment later a young woman came out of the archway leading to the kitchen, apron still on, her sharp but pretty face smiling in welcome.

"Hi," She said brightly, opening the screen door. "You must be Michael Crenshaw."

"Yes, ma'am," the young man replied, removing his hat as he stepped into the immaculate living room, "Are you Mary Dunne?"

The woman smiled again. "That's me. Come on in, Mr. Crenshaw, we're just finishing cleaning up after dinner. Would you care for a drink?"

"No, thanks," Michael said, walking further into the living room and looking around. It was much like many living rooms of that era: comfortable, overstuffed sofa and easy chair, polished mahogany end tables, large radio in one corner covered with a knit doily. Some pictures on the walls, not many.

"Well, have a seat, then," Mrs. Dunne said cheerily, motioning him to the easy chair. "I'll go get Bill."

Michael nodded, smiled blankly, and had a seat. Mrs. Dunne paused for a moment, as if to be sure he was comfortable, and then walked lightly out of the room.

Michael watched her go, then turned his eyes to the brown envelope that lay flat in his hands. With any luck, he thought, and resumed gazing around the living room until a picture on the wall caught his eye and he rose to examine it.

It was an old picture, a little faded and yellow, set in a handsome antique frame. There were eight people in it, seven men and a young woman. Michael smiled, exhilarated; he knew who those men were, and looked at them closer.

Four of the men were standing, stiff looks on their frozen faces. At the left end, a large man with a small half-beard and a pious expression, wearing a formal-looking suit; next to him, a young black man, gazing at the camera with large, liquid eyes. Beside him another man stood, dressed in black, uncomfortable, his eyes almost glaring; and next to him, a young man with long brown hair slouched, thumbs in his belt, smiling amiably at the photographer from underneath a large, low-brimmed hat.

Michael's eyes moved to the three seated beneath them. On the left, a man dressed much differently than the others, in a ruffled shirt and black-trimmed coat, his eyes bright and alert but with a haunted air that was accentuated by his drawn face. Beside him a dark-haired man with a mustache sat, trying his best not to smile too much, leaning comfortably back in the chair with one hand tucked into his well-worn trousers, his head rakishly cocked toward the young lady on his left. Young? She was very young, dressed in calico, her pretty face a little blurred as if she couldn't sit still, not even to have her portrait done. And sitting next to her, his hand in hers, and his lips parted in a cocky smile, a young man gazed into the camera, bowler hat held in his lap, black hair falling into his light-colored eyes, eyes that stared at the camera with a look that said, I can live though anything...

A moment later Michael heard the hard tread of shoes on wood floors and heard a voice say, "Mr. Crenshaw?"

He turned to the man who had entered the room and held out his hand. "Mr. Dunne? It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Please, sit down." The other man said amiably, waving to the easy chair and moving to the sofa.

"Thank you, sir." Michael replied, sitting back down as he thought, he's not what I expected.

William Dunne was not a tall man; like his parents, he leaned toward the stocky side, but had a commanding presence that more than made up for a lack of height. Even in his forties, he still had the soft round face of a youth, and only the telltale slivers of grey in his jet-black hair betrayed the fact that he wasn't a very young man anymore. That, and the good-natured wrinkles around his hazel eyes.

As soon as the two men had settled in, William said, "I understand you'd like to speak to my grandfather."

Michael clutched the envelope in his hands. "Yes sir, if I could."

William smiled. "You can call me Bill, Mr. Crenshaw. Just about everybody else does."

Michael nodded obediently, grinning sheepishly.

"Well, Michael," Bill said with a smile as Mary appeared from the kitchen carrying a tobacco pipe and matches, "I'll be happy to give you any help I can, but my grandpa's getting on in years and might not be the easiest man to talk to."

"I know, s- Bill," Michael said as he watched Mary hand Bill the pipe, then take a seat next to him on the sofa, "But I've very much like to. You see, I'm doing some research and I think he may have some information that would be useful to me."

"Oh?" Bill said as he lit the pipe.

Michael nodded. "You see, the company I'm working with is doing construction out west, in an area where a town used to be, and I think..." He paused, and once again fingered the envelope, "May I ask if he's ever mentioned a place called Four Corners?"

Bill nodded immediately. "Sure. That's where he lived when he first went west. It was just a little town, though. I don't even know if it still exists. Why do you ask?"

Michael grinned wider. "Well, like I said I've been doing some research on Four Corners for my company, and I came across your grandfather's name - at least I think it's your grandfather - in connection with newspaper accounts from the late 1800s about a group called 'the magnificent seven'."

Bill laughed then, the laugh of recognition, and turned to Mary in surprise. Michael looked at him, puzzled.

"Sorry, son." Bill chuckled, "But I've never heard anybody outside the family use that term before. Kind of a shock."

Michael brightened. "Then you've heard of them?"

"Heard of them!" Bill exclaimed as he tapped on the bowl of his pipe. "Only since I was a kid. My pa was named after one of 'em, you know, and he gave me the same name."

Michael tilted his head. "William?"

Bill laughed softly. "Grampa John calls me Buck."

Michael smiled, clearly excited. "Well, this is great! Ever since my company found out about the magnificent seven, they've been trying to find out more about them."

Mary frowned a bit. "Why?"

Michael scratched the back of his head. "Well, you know how big the Lone Ranger is, and Tom Mix and those guys...well, I told them what I knew about the Seven and they asked me to come out and see if it would make a good book. Maybe a movie later on."

"Huh!" Bill said, shaking his head. "Hollywood."

Michael leaned forward on his seat excitedly. "I've been looking for members of the seven for six months, and I can't believe I actually found one of them!"

"Yes, well," Bill leaned back, disappearing in a haze of lamplit smoke. "He's the only one you'll find, I'm afraid. The rest are gone."

Michael nodded his head. "I kind of thought so. Your grandfather was the youngest, after all. But I was kind of surprised that I haven't found even descendants of the others, except for Nathan Jackson. I mean, seven men, you'd have to figure more than two of them would have families..."

Michael tried to read Bill's face through the cloudy smoke; he saw sadness there, but nothing else he recognized. After pausing, he went on. "Actually, I haven't been able to find anything on these men after the summer of 1880. It's like they just disappeared. So, anything you can tell me would be really helpful."

Bill cocked his head, and through the haze Michael saw that he was looking at the old photograph behind him. Bill gestured at the object with his pipe. "You saw their picture?"

Michael turned around quickly, then turned back and nodded. "Yes, I figured it was them. Who's the girl?"

"That's my grandmother, Cassie Wells." Bill rose and walked over to the photo, and Michael joined him, opening a notebook and writing.

"I thought her name was Casey," Michael mentioned as he glanced at the pretty young girl in the picture. "At least, that's what's on her and your grandfather's marriage certificate."

"Yes, she was called Casey," Bill said, "Her Christian name was Cassandra, but she used to say nobody ever called her that, not even when she was a baby on the prairie. I don't think she went by Cassie until us grandkids came along." He pointed to the dark-haired youth on her left. "That's Grampa John."

Michael smiled. "You look a lot like him."

"That's what everybody tells me." Bill responded with a grin of his own. He pointed with the pipe to the mustached man sitting next to Casey. "That man there is Buck Wilmington."

"Oh." Michael wrote it down. "I understand he and your grandfather were close."

"They were." Bill said with a tone of regret. "Mr. Wilmington died in the summer of 1880, while saving my grandmother from a fire that was started by some enemies of Chris Larabee."

"Really," Michael said sympathetically as he wrote.

Bill nodded. "She was pregnant with my father at the time. That's why they named him William. Yes, Buck was something. Now this," He indicated the elegantly-dressed man on Casey's right, "This is Ezra Standish. Or Simpson, or maybe Smith. Nobody ever knew."

Michael chuckled, then squinted at the image. "Is he all right? He looks sick."

"He was. As Grampa John tells it, by the time this picture was taken Mr. Standish had tuberculosis. He could have gone to a hospital, probably would have lived longer. But he chose to ride with the Seven, and ended up giving his life for them. Grampa John says he started out as kind of a bad penny,but he turned out to be as brave as any of them."

Michael pursed his lips in thought, then pointed to one of the men in the back row. "Which one is this?"

"Josiah Sanchez, the preacher. He, and this fellow -" Bill pointed to the black man standing next to Josiah. "They were the only ones besides my father to live past that summer in 1880. Well, except for Vin Tanner, but nobody really knows what happened to him."

"What do you mean?" Michael asked as his pencil worked on the paper.

Bill glanced at him, then pointed to the slouching figure in the photo. "Mr. Tanner made a stand in a Mexican town called Purgatorio, where my grandfather and his friends were trapped. They all made it out safely, but they never saw Vin again. Except once, after it was all over..."

Michael peered at the photograph, asked it rather than Bill, "After what was all over?"

"Well," Bill looked at the floor, then back at the picture, a solemnity in his voice that had only been hinted at before. "It's a bit too long to go into details, but Chris Larabee - " Bill pointed to the black-clad man, "His wife and child had been killed, and when he found the men responsible he went after them, and the rest of the Seven went with him. Always together, right to the end, no matter what. But these men, the ones who'd killed Chris' family, they were part of something a lot bigger. They were ruthless, cold-blooded killers. Before the whole business was through, Ezra, and Buck, and Chris were all gone, and my grandfather was very badly wounded. He almost died, but Nathan and Josiah saw him through, and he remembers seeing Vin once, but he isn't sure it wasn't a dream."

There was a heavy pause, and Michael regarded the picture with sudden, deep admiration. Finally he asked, "Did the Seven get those men?"

"Oh, yeah." Bill smiled with an air of satisfaction, his eyes riveted to the men in the picture. "Oh, yeah. They got 'em."

Bill sighed, and turning away from the antique photograph walked back to the sofa, and the present. Michael paused, glanced at the photograph, wondered at the stories that lay just inside of it, and then followed Bill back to his seat and sat down.

There was a silence then, as Michael waited for his host to speak. Mary sat beside her husband, still, and Michael noticed that her hand was on Bill's, and his face was still unreadable as he began once more puffing on his pipe. Michael picked up the package he'd left on the chair, and stared at it, unsure what to say.

After what seemed like a long time, Bill leaned forward, parting the pipe smoke into filigreed swirls, and when he looked at Michael there was a seriousness in his eyes.

"If you get this story," Bill asked solemnly, "What will you do with it?"

Michael sat back, hesitated.

Bill was staring at him now, in a manner that made the younger man uncomfortable, staring and shaking his head. "Cause it's not what you think it is. It's not Tom Mix and Lone Ranger shoot-em-ups. What my grandfather went through with those men goes a lot deeper than that, and if I thought for one second you'd turn their memory into some stupid Saturday matinee kiddie movie I'd throw you out on your ear right now."

Michael gulped, and Mary ran a soothing hand on her husband's arm, patting it reassuringly.

Michael composed himself, leaned forward, his deep brown eyes matching his counterpart's for intensity.

"Mr. Dunne," He said earnestly, "I promise you I have nothing but respect for your grandfather and those other men. You have my word that my only goal here is to see that what they did is not forgotten. "

Bill was still piercing him with those hazel eyes, not moving.

Michael pursed his lips, then said, "When I started reading about the things your grandfather did...the risks he took when he didn't have to...sir, I only want to know the truth. I want to be able to tell your grandfather's story to other people, people who need to hear about things like decency and courage - "

Bill sat back, waved his hand dismissively. "Now you sound like one of those newsreels. My grandfather wasn't a saint."

Michael looked down at his hands, didn't know what to say.

Bill took another puff on his pipe. "But he does have one hell of a story to tell."

Michael looked back up, his eyes hopeful.

The smoke was coming thick again, blurring Bill's face into the likeness of another, younger man. He regarded his guest through the filmy haze and said quietly, "Would you like to meet him now?"

It seemed to take forever to climb that narrow flight of stairs that led to the spacious second floor of the Dunne home.

"Grampa John moved in with us two years ago," Mary explained as she, Bill, and Michael trod noisily up the bare wooden stairs, their footsteps echoing in the close, tunnel-like stairwell, "After Grandma Cassie died."

Michael nodded, writing in his notebook. "I wish I could have met her. What was she like?"

Mary smiled at Michael as they neared the top of the stairs. "Oh, she was a ton of fun. Hard as nails, but with a sense of humor. And practical, which was nice because Grampa John wasn't, always."

"She must have been quite a woman." Michael remarked as they stepped onto the broad, open hallway.

"She was," Bill remarked reverently, moving to a door at the end of the hall and raising his hand to knock on it. "I know Grampa misses her terribly."

Michael nodded mutely, grasping the envelope and his note pad with sweaty palms. He swallowed nervously, his eyes unconsciously batting furiously.

Bill knocked on the door softly. "Grampa John? It's Buck. Your visitor's here."

There was a brief silence, then through the blood pounding in his ears Michael heard a strong voice on the other side of the door say, "Come on in."

Bill gave Michael a reassuring little smile and opened up the door, stepping aside to allow Michael through. After a numb pause, he walked into the room.

It was a huge room, violet with the glow of the setting sun, which could be seen through the gauzy curtains as they fluttered over the open windows. In one corner a bed stood, small, neat, and next to it an antique nightstand. The room was full of antiques, but not cluttered, except for one corner, where a large bookcase stuffed full of books and papers stood next to a large alcove. In the alcove was a small, comfortable-looking couch, a table with a reading lamp on it, and an overstuffed easy chair. And rising from the easy chair, book in hand, was Jonathan Daniel Dunne.

He doesn't look that old, Michael thought as he stared into gentle hazel eyes bordered by long eyelashes. Indeed, even though his abundant hair had gone snow-white years ago, there was still a youthful look about John Dunne, a vigor in the aged body that was only a little bent. He smiled disarmingly at Michael and passing the book he held from his left hand to his right, held it out for the younger man to shake.

Michael took it reverently. "I'm - my name is Michael Crenshaw, sir. This is such a thrill - "

John Dunne laughed slightly, turned an amused eye to Bill, who was lingering in the doorway. "And I thought kids didn't respect their elders anymore! How much did Buck pay you to harass me, Mr. Crenshaw?"

Michael stammered about for an answer as Bill came into the room and said quietly, "Grampa, this young man is from out west."

"Really!" John's eyes blazed with interest, "Well, have a seat and tell me all about it. Is there any of the mountains left at all?"

John had started sitting down, and Michael clumsily followed suit, setting himself on the couch as he muttered, "Well, yes, it's still - "

"Glad to hear it!" John set the book down on the table, and leaned forward, his eyes sparkling, "I used to live out west, you know, till just a couple of years ago. Most beautiful sunsets you've ever seen."

"Yes, they are," Michael agreed hurriedly, and glanced over at Bill, who was backing out of the doorway with a jaunty little wave that said, you're on your own, kid. Good luck.

As the door shut with a tiny click, Michael looked at John, who was gazing out the window at the trees filtering the last rays of the setting sun and murmuring, "Yes, you never see sunsets like that in the city."

Clearing his throat, Michael leaned forward a bit and held up the envelope. "Mr. Dunne," he said slowly, "I've been asked to give you this."

"Oh?" John reached for the envelope, took it in his wrinkled hands. He peered at the sealing flap, worked it open. "What is it?"

"I'm from a construction company in Phoenix," Michael explained as John slid one hand into the sheath, "We've been doing some construction around the remains of an Old West town, a ghost town, and about six months ago we found this inside a storage locker in the church."

John slid his hand back out of the envelope, peering at the contents curiously. Then his mouth opened in surprise and he breathed, "My God."

It was a dime store novel, ancient yet in good condition, the cover only slightly curled, the artwork faded but still distinguishable: a pen-and-ink drawing of seven horsemen, the lead rider dressed in black, large letters in the title: THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

John stared at the brittle book, laid it gently on the table, then stared at Michael, his eyes wide with wonder and amazement.

"Four Corners." John said breathlessly.

Michael smiled, nodded. "I was right. You're JD Dunne, aren't you? One of the Magnificent Seven."

John - JD - was shaking his head in amazement, his eyes riveted to the book. "Nobody's called me JD, except my wife, in almost sixty years. My God, look at me - " He ran one gnarled hand over the dusty book cover, touching the drawing of one rider in a bowler hat as if it could take him back with it. "I was so young. I forgot I ever was that young."

Michael watched the old man's eyes mist as he carefully opened the pages, smiling at the block-set words. "I used to read these things all the time when I was a kid. It was part of the reason I went West. I had to go, thought it would be the adventure of a lifetime." JD shook his head ruefully. "I had no idea."

The sun was almost set now; the room was growing softer, paler, the one lit lamp on the reading table casting long shadows across the antique room. Michael studied the old man across from him for a moment, then said, "Sir, I came here to get your story, the story of the Seven. America needs to hear about the lives of men like you and the others, now more than ever. Could you share it with me?"

JD leaned back, ran one hand across his eyes. "Are you sure you want to hear it? It's pretty long, and I'll talk for days if you let me."

Michael smiled. "I've got all the time in the world."

JD smiled back, the happy smile of the indulged, and leaned all the way back in his easy chair. "Well, I wasn't an eyewitness to everything I'm about to tell you, but what I didn't see the others filled me in on..."

"The others," Michael chimed in, flipping his notebook open, "You mean Chris Larabee? Vin Tanner?"

JD nodded, his eyes growing distant. "Yes, and Buck, and Ezra, Josiah, Nathan. All my friends, the best friends I ever had, even though I was too pig-headed to appreciate it at the time." He thought a moment, stared out the window, then cocked his eye at Michael. "Funny, if I hadn't decided to jump off that stagecoach at Four Corners, my whole life would have been different."

"I'll bet." Michael said as he began scribbling.

"Heh - I was so hotheaded, I probably would have been gunned down two minutes after getting off the stage. I was nineteen, full of dreams."

Michael nodded. "You wanted to see the world."

"Naw," JD laughed, the carefree laugh of a teenager, "I wanted to be Bat Masterson. I wanted to shoot bad guys!"

"Wow!" Michael said, still writing. "So, how did you guys all meet?"

JD closed his eyes and thought. "Well, as I remember, it all started with a former Confederate officer named Colonel Anderson..."


Michael Crenshaw came for two weeks after that, mostly in the evenings, and there was no small amount of humor at how quickly his notebooks filled up, and he had to buy new ones. JD, for his part, seemed excited to have someone so willing to listen to his tales of the past, and so chattered on and on, scarcely stopping to breathe unless Michael asked him a question.

And the stories! JD laughed at Michael's incredulity at the exploits of him and his friends. The capture of Lucas James, the delights and dangers of Wicke's town, the story of the lady safecracker Terry Greer and her little daughter Olivia - JD told that tale with special pride, even showing Michael the scar he received after being stabbed by one of Olivia's kidnappers. And other, darker stories - Chris Larabee's incarceration in a hellhole prison, the capture of the murderer of Mary Travis' husband, and others. So, the notebooks were rapidly filling.

It was late on one spring evening when Michael sighed, put his pen down, and stretched his fingers, glancing as he did so at JD. He had filled three notebooks full of the former sheriff's remininceces that evening, and knew he could fill ten more. But he could tell his source was tired.

JD was gazing out the window at the fluttering trees that stood just outside his window, gazing through those ancient but still youthful eyes as he had so many times during their talks. He really does miss them, Michael realized as his eyes fell to the notebooks beside him. Suddenly he felt very old himself, and sad.

JD gave a little sigh, and turned toward Michael slowly, blinking himself back to the present. "What do you want to hear about now?" He asked warmly. He liked Michael, was happy someone was putting his story to written words, and Michael could almost feel the weight of the responsibility.

He shifted in his chair and looked about the notebooks. "Well, these stories are fascinating, Mr. Dunne, I'm sure I've got enough to make my bosses happy. I don't want to wear you out..."

JD smiled dismissively and waved one hand. "Not me! My grandson will tell you, at eighty I've got more energy than I did at forty. So, tell me what else you'd like to know."

Michael looked down, bit his lip. Was it the right time to ask?

But JD beat him to it. "You haven't heard what happened to us all yet. At the end, I mean."

Michael looked up, cocked his head. "You mean how you all broke up?"

JD shook his head, half-glowing in the setting sun, his eyes somber. "The Seven didn't break up. We took a stand, one last great stand. Half of our number died making it."

A chill went through Michael. Funny, he thought, I didn't even know these men a week ago, except for their names, and now the thought that some of them died gave him a very real sense of loss, as if he had known them personally.

But you do, a voice within him replied. Through the man sitting across from you, you know them almost first-hand. You've felt Chris Larabee's piercing stare, heard the lazy drawl of Vin Tanner's voice. You've felt the warm protection of Buck Wilmington's friendship, and witnessed Ezra Standish's smooth Southern charm. Josiah Sanchez's comforting words, Nathan Jackson's deft skills - they've been shown to you, entrusted to you, by the frail elderly man who sixty years ago was as giddy and full of dreams as you are. You've shared his joy - it only seems fitting to ride the trail to the end, and share the pain too.

Michael opened a fresh notebook, set his pen tip on it. "I'm ready, Mr. Dunne."

JD nodded, took a deep breath, ran one hand through his snow-white hair in an oddly childish way, as if it were a habit he had outgrown, but just come back to. After a pause, he looked at Michael squarely and said sadly, "So am I."

The chiming clock on the mantle rang midnight as Bill Dunne looked up from his easy chair at the sound of someone coming down the wooden stairs. A moment later, Michael appeared, drawn and obviously moved.

Rising, Bill came to the foot of the stairs and met the young man in the pool of sunlight that shown through the open front door.

He looked at his guest solemnly. "He told you the whole story, didn't he?"

Michael lifted the notebook in his hand a little, nodded without raising his eyes from the floor.

"Now you know why I was so serious before," Bill said quietly. "What my grandfather went through, what he's had to live with all these years...it's not Hollywood phony stuff."

"I never thought it was," Michael said a bit defensively, raising his eyes now to stare balefully into the face of JD's grandson. "If you still think I do, you can burn this." He held the notebook out to Bill.

"No, son." Bill gently pushed the notebook back. "I trust you. He let you in, and my grandfather doesn't do that for just anybody. " He paused, looked his new friend up and down. "What are you gonna do now?"

"Well - " Michael looked back up the stairs. "Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that..."

"Please." Bill stepped back, motioned Michael into the living room.

Michael walked toward the couch as he spoke. "My company is expecting me back pretty soon. I was wondering if perhaps your grandfather could come with me."

"What?" Bill said in surprise as he sat down. "Back west?"

Michael nodded, sitting on the sofa. "He asked me all about what Four Corners looks like now. I told him it was essentially a ghost town, but he seemed really excited to hear that it still existed at all. I really think he'd like to see it."

Bill sat back, rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "He's eighty years old, and it's a five-day drive. The trip could kill him."

Michael shook his head. "My company has an airplane. We'll fly back."

"Oh." Bill answered, tilting his head in appreciation. Then he thought some more. "Still, it could be rough on him. Those wounds he got never really healed properly, and they give him a lot of trouble."

"I'll take good care of him, I promise." Michael leaned forward. "You've seen the glow he gets in his eyes when he talks about those six men he rode with."

'Oh, yeah." Bill smiled fondly. "Like he was nineteen again."

"Well," Michael continued. "That's how he looked when he asked about Four Corners. I think he wants to go back there again, before it's gone."

Bill looked at Michael quizzically. "Where's it going?"

"Progress." Michael sighed. "As soon as my company's done with the research, we'll be tearing it all down to make room for the highway. That's why I'd like to take him out there. I'd hate the thought of it disappearing without a goodbye from the last of its saviors."

"Well put." Bill averred. He thought about it a little more, and his eyes wandered to the framed photograph on the wall, the only known picture of all seven of them together. Finally he sighed and said, "I'd never be able to live with myself if I didn't give Grampa John the chance to say goodbye."

"Thank you." Michael breathed, relieved and thrilled. Then he said, "You know,I can take more than one guest. Would you like to come too?"

Bill smiled boyishly at his guest. "Try and keep me away."

The following day, Michael arrived around noon to pick his two guests up and take them to the airport.

Bill's luggage was packed and sitting in the foyer, Michael noticed as he came in the door. He looked around as Mary came out from the kitchen.

"Bill's just finishing things up," She smiled at him as she wiped her hands on her apron. "Grampa John said you can go up to his room if you'd like."

"Okay." Michael turned toward the stairs.

"Mr. Crenshaw."

At Mary's voice, Michael hesitated on the bottom step, turned back toward the young woman. Her face was serious.

"I just wanted to say," She said after a moment's pause, "You probably don't know it, but your visits have meant the world to my husband and his grandfather. I think - I think both of them, Grampa John especially...well, you know how things are today, everything's rush, rush, rush, all modern appliances and progress. No one has time to listen to an old man's stories anymore."

"They're not just stories." Michael got down off the step, shaking his head emphatically. "They're seven great lives, the spirit of the west. Sounds melodramatic I know, but it's true."

Mary nodded, looked up the stairs, and Michael noticed tears in his eyes. "Mr. Crenshaw, I know my husband's grandfather isn't coming back."

"Oh, don't say that!" Michael was quick to reassure. "He's still strong, and I promise you it's a perfectly safe airplane - "

But Mary was shaking her head. "No, I know Grampa John. He doesn't want to die in some Chicago suburb. He's been sagebrush and six-shooters since he was born, and when he goes back out there he'll be back home again, and he'll never want to leave. I - " She choked a bit, looked at the floor, looked back up and blinked back her tears. "I just wanted to thank you for giving my husband the chance to see the place that means so much to his grandfather. And for giving Grampa John the chance to see his friends one more time."

She held out her hand to Michael, and he took it, gave it a compassionate squeeze, and with a gentle smile released her hand and climbed the stairs.

The door was slightly open and before Michael had a chance to knock he heard JD's surprisingly strong voice say, "Come on in!"

He entered, smiling at the sunlight that was bathing the room in a rich, bright light. JD was standing over an open suitcase on his bed, looking Michael thought ten years younger than he had just the previous evening. He thought going back to Four Corners would make JD happy; he was unprepared for how much.

"Are you ready to go?" Michael asked, peering at the contents of JD's suitcase. It was practically empty.

"Yes, just about." JD answered, looking around the room. "There's something I need to get from the attic, but I wanted to wait till you got here. Come on."

With that, the old man turned and started for the door, with an energy that almost made Michael laugh aloud. JD had always been known for his enthusiasm; it seemed to be back with a vengeance. "Something in the attic? What is it?"

"You'll see!" JD teased as he headed out the door.

Like most homes built in the late 1930s, this house had a huge attic, huge and musty and cavernous, with two small half-moon shaped windows at either end to let in light. Despite its size, Michael noticed as JD led him through the trap door in the floor that the room was almost full; boxes and trunks and other artifacts seemed to be crammed into every available square inch.

I'd get lost in here in a second, Michael thought, but JD seemed to know exactly where he was going. Skimming through the forest of boxes like a bee for a hive, he walked quickly to one end of the room and opened a trunk.

"When I moved in with Buck and Mary last year," He explained as he sifted through the dusty items, "I had too much 'stuff', as Vin would say. Most of it ended up here, which is fine with me. At least I know where everything is."

Michael frowned at the collection around him. "What is it you want to take back to Four Corners with you, Grampa John?"

JD found something in the box; his eyes softened, and a little half-smile came across his face as he lifted the object up and said simply, "This."

It was a cowboy hat, or a gunslinger's hat, Michael corrected himself, worn and battered but still very much intact, with singed edges and a faded dark brown patch staining the back of the crown. Michael watched JD run one weathered hand over the tan leather, looked at his sad, suddenly misty eyes and knew immediately whose it was.

"The first time I held this hat," JD said softly, not taking his eyes off the scuffed brim, "I was nineteen years old, standing in the dust and heat of a Seminole Indian Village in a checkered three-piece suit. I'd come all the way out west to find adventure, but when I stood next to my horse holding Buck's hat in my hand the only thing I could think was dear God, let him be all right. And then - "

JD's head came up, and he looked out the window into the blazing sunshine, laughing at the memory. "And then I heard this voice behind me say, 'Hey kid, if you're not going to wear that hat I'll take it back.' "

His voice hitched, and JD shook his head, screwing his eyes up at what Michael knew had to be not that memory but another one, a final goodbye, no miraculous recovery, only sixty years of memories. JD gulped, looked out at the sun again,then looked at Michael with eyes that were unashamedly damp, and smiled though the pain.

"Buck - all of 'em - they made me a man, taught me everything they knew about decency and honor and courage. If I'm going back - " He paused, fingered the hat's edges, and suddenly laughed again. When he looked back at Michael, his eyes twinkled with the unabashed merriment of a teenager.

"Buck would kill me if I didn't have a real hat."

The plane ride was short and pleasant; in no time at all it seemed, Michael Crenshaw found himself standing with JD and Bill in the dusty streets of Four Corners.

He'd been worried about how his guests would react to the sight of the place: once a booming, progressive town, now there were only empty, decaying buildings, half of them rotted into piles of splintered lumber, overgrown and neglected for half a century. It would have depressed just about anybody, Michael had thought as he led the only surviving member of the Seven into the forsaken town.

But not JD.

It was funny, but Michael could almost see his guest growing younger as they neared the place, almost feel the boundless energy that he knew JD had possessed as a youth returning, as if by magic, by their proximity to the town. And now they were here.

Michael looked at JD as the three of them stood, alone, the morning sun shining bright above them but greyed into long shadows by the remaining towering structures. Bill was looking around, curious and fascinated. JD was glowing, Buck's hat still tightly clenched in his hand, his voice high and ebullient when he spoke.

"I'm amazed there's so much of it left." JD remarked as they began walking slowly down the sagebrush-choked street. "I haven't been here since they moved the town out in 1894. Look at that."

He pointed, and Bill and Michael followed his guidance to a huge old red building, its sign faded beyond reading, the gaping doorway showing a dim interior that looked stripped of anything valuable.

"What is that, Grampa John?" Bill asked as they neared the place.

JD laughed. "Why, that's the saloon! My God, it's still here." He spoke in a voice full of wonder, his eyes dancing as they surveyed the sagging porch, the broken empty windows.

They stepped carefully onto the decaying porch boards, and peered inside. There was practically nothing left except peeling, ancient wallpaper and a few broken sticks of furniture. An L-shaped bar stood on the left side, the glass behind it long shattered into useless fragments, the wood dried and split beyond restoration. JD gazed at the room in breathless reverie.

"This is where it all started." He sighed, the significance of his tone sending chills down Michael's spine. "They told me the Indian chief and his aide, they came in here to find help, and Chris, and Vin, and Nathan were standing right there - " he pointed at the bar on the left side of the wall.

Michael's eyes scanned the dirty, decrepit room, its life gone, and thought, not for him. And was suddenly envious.

"They met Ezra here too," JD continued, and laughed. "He was pulling a con, as usual. Oh, he didn't want to join them at first, but he changed his mind."

"And where were you?" Bill asked, his eyes riveted on the forgotten room so full of history.

JD smiled again. "I was sulking off in a corner somewhere, because Chris Larabee wouldn't let me shoot a man in the back. God, I was such an idiot."

Michael and Bill's eyes met, and they traded smiles of understanding at JD's words. Eighty years old, Michael thought, and so much of him is still that wide-eyed adolescent.

JD turned around, surveyed the street. "I'd just gotten here about an hour before; jumped off the stage right about there - " He pointed down the street.

Michael saw Bill nod, knew he was seeing the reality of a tale told a thousand times.

"I had one suit and my saddle." JD smiled gently as he carefully stepped onto the dusty street from the porch. "And a head full of dreams."

JD kept looking around, scanning the ruined buildings as if he expected to see people coming out of them. He pointed to one, and touched Bill's shoulder. "See that building right there? That doorway?"

Bill squinted into the sun, shading his eyes. A tannish building, with a broken-down, glassless door hanging by one rusted hinge and flanked by two broken windows. He nodded.

JD's face grew visibly softer. "That's where I met your grandmother."

Bill started back a bit. "Really."

"I remember it like it was yesterday." JD reminisced, walking slowly toward the ancient building as if lost in a dream. "Bright day, just like today, warm. I was in a hurry, like I always was back then."

"She was standing in the doorway," Bill continued, and Michael knew this too was a story Bill knew by heart. "Dressed in an old pair of overalls and a wide-brimmed hat."

JD stopped, silent, nodded, then dropped his head sadly.

Michael edged closer to Bill and whispered. "Maybe this isn't such a good idea..."

"No, it's a perfect idea," Bill smiled gently back as JD resumed walking toward the building, Buck's hat dangling in one hand as he reached up to caress one weathered post. "This is where he's wanted to be ever since Gramma Cassie died. He wanted to come back here."

"But he looks so sad." Michael commented as he watched the old man climb onto the porch and peer into the abandoned building, slowly, as if afraid to disturb the spirits within.

Michael paused, then said, "Your wife thinks he's not going to leave here."

"Well," Bill said as JD turned around, hat in hand, and looked up and down the main street of Four Corners in the morning sunshine. "If that's what's meant to be, I'm just glad he was able to show me this place."

Michael looked at the dusty street, suddenly ashamed. "I'm sorry it's going to be gone soon. I can't stop the construction. I have managed to slow it down, at least long enough for your grandfather and the Jacksons to have a look at it. But I can't hold the bulldozers back forever."

Bill shrugged, watched his grandfather amble down the street. "I understand. I have my camera, I'll take pictures, but you can't stop progress. We'll always have the memories, and it won't be long before my grandfather will be with his friends again."

Michael smiled. "That's pretty poetic, Mr. Dunne."

Bill turned to him with sharp, alert eyes. "Well, don't tell me you haven't felt it, Mr. Crenshaw."

Michael cocked his head. "Felt it? What?"

Bill looked away, to his grandfather silhouetted in the light, a small, old man dwarfed by the leaning, outdated structures around him. "Them, Mr. Crenshaw. The rest of the Seven, and probably my grandmother too."

"Oh - " Michael tried to laugh, to shoo the notion away, but he knew if pressed he couldn't deny that, ever since they came there, he'd had the oddest feeling. It didn't feel like it did two months ago, when he'd first came there and found the book. Then he could wander the town ambivalently, but now...he could feel it, the prickly, unnerving sensation of someone close you couldn't see, a weightiness to the air. "Don't tell me I sound foolish." Bill said seriously, keeping an eye on the wandering JD. "I've lived with these ghosts long enough to know, they're here. Watching over him, just like they did when they were all still alive."

Michael nodded, looking down the street. JD had stopped, and was awkwardly climbing onto another porch, the porch of a low brick building.

Michael looked back to see Bill studying him thoughtfully.

"Thank you, Mr. Crenshaw," He said after a moment, "I wish you could know how much being here again means to my grandfather. He and his friends gave this town everything they had, and I'm grateful to you for giving Grampa John a chance to say goodbye."

"It was the least I could do," Michael said as he watched the tiny figure settle onto the porch, half-hidden in the bright swirls of dust kicked up by the desert winds and thought, the very least. And smiled.

They caught up with JD a few minutes later, saw him sitting in a rickety-looking chair in front of a red brick building.

Bill cast his eye over the place. "Is this the jail?" he asked.

"Yeah." JD smiled. "Even the chair's still here, isn't that a hoot? I guess nobody thought it was worth enough to steal."

"Well, be careful," Michael warned. "That thing's been sitting out in the weather for sixty years. "

"Yep," JD agreed with a youthful smile, running one aged hand affectionately over the mottled wood. "And I remember sitting in this very chair the day Casey challenged me at knife-throwing - "

"And she beat you fair and square, as I recollect!"

JD's grin grew playful, and he shook his head with annoyance and blurted, "Oh, shuttup, Buck!"

He looked up to meet his grandson's eyes, and saw startled confusion there. Michael was staring at him too.

"I didn't say anything." Bill said, frowning.

"You - " JD blinked rapidly, shaking his head. He looked down at the battered hat in his grasp, then with his eyes wide said softly. "No, you're right. That wasn't you."

Michael felt the hairs on the back of his neck rising as he and Bill exchanged worried glances. Bill stepped forward and reached a hand toward his grandfather. "Grampa John, do you want to go back to the hotel now?"

JD was staring at the old, scuffed-up hat, didn't take his eyes off it. Then, after what seemed a very long time, he reached up one wrinkled hand and slowly drew it across his eyes with a heavy sigh.

"No, I'm all right. I just have to rest here a minute." He took a deep breath, looked at Michael with sincere appreciation. "I'd like to thank you, Mr. Crenshaw, for bringing me out here. You don't know how much pleasure it gives an old man to see this place again."

"I'm glad." Michael smiled, and he meant it. He looked into JD's face, sensed the spirits moving closer, felt a huge swell of both regret and satisfaction course through him Whatever happened, he'd done his job.

Bill must have sensed it too, and backed up. "Well, we'll take a walk down the street and come back. Is that okay?"

"Yes, sure." JD smiled. "Don't worry, I'll be fine, I'm just a little tired."

Bill looked into his grandfather's hazel eyes and nodded, understanding, and without another word the two men turned and walked up the street, leaving JD alone with his thoughts.

JD sighed again, and turned the bloodstained hat in his hands slowly, absently. It's been so long, he thought, but it doesn't seem that way. How can this place be so old, when I feel like I'm still nineteen and running down the street with my saddle toward a future I couldn't possibly have imagined? The saloon, it can't be empty and abandoned, I can still see us all gathered in it, drinking whiskey and playing poker. How can the church be so broken down, when it was just last week I saw Josiah on the roof, hammering shingles into place with Nathan helping him? And that office, how can it be in that kind of shape when just yesterday I looked up there and saw a tomboy of a girl wearing a beat-up pair of overalls and the morning sunlight shining in her hair...

JD leaned forward in the chair, pressing his hands to his eyes at the sudden sting of emotion. The images of happy times mixed with other pictures, and try as he could he couldn't shut them out: Ezra, his face pale, his life's blood seeping out over the desert rocks after he'd been shot by Fowler's men while saving them all from certain death. Ezra never knew, JD realized, how his death had spurred them on when their spirits flagged. Vin, who'd covered their escape from Purgatorio at the cost of his life, or so everyone had thought at the time. And Chris, behind the broken wall with JD when there was just the two of them left, cocking his gun and fixing him with those steely blue eyes, smiling that humorless smile at him and saying, remember when I told you you weren't the type? Well, I was wrong, and I'm proud to die with you.

JD leaned back in the chair, and blinked against the tears as he stared into the cloudless blue sky. I would have been proud to die with you too, Chris, he thought, but I didn't. I woke up in Nathan's room, shot full of holes, and it took him and Josiah weeks to be sure I wasn't going to join you. Those days blurred together, the pain, the heavy weight of loss, then the comforting words, Vin appearing out of nowhere to give what consolence he could before vanishing again forever, and Casey at his side, stroking his hair, holding his hand, then some months later, their first baby, William, was born...

JD felt the heavy hat in his hands, laid it on his lap, stroked the dark stain on the crown, shut his eyes again against the painful memory that came flooding back anyway: the dark night, the frantic realization that Fowler's men were going after Casey, the desperate ride to save her, the sight of their house in flames...

JD gasped, surprised he could still feel that awful thrill, the sound of gunshots, the certain knowledge that his wife was dead, and with her their unborn child. And then, in the glow of the dying fire, the sight on the lawn, Casey grim, smudged and singed but all right, bending over Buck, who had fought four of Fowler's men to drag her to safety, and killed them, but not fast enough...

He could feel the sorrow now, but not then; he was too numb with shock and fear as he sat by the best friend he'd ever known, staring into those dying eyes, and Buck looking up at Chris with that damn smile of his and whispering, I couldn't let it happen again, Chris, you understand...then, slowly, painfully, with one bloodied hand he'd reached up and taken off his hat, and handed it to JD and said, dammit, son, make sure that boy of yours knows what a real hat looks like, will you. I'd be much obliged.

With a crooked smile, JD tilted the hat in his hands, then looked down the street at his grandson, now far away, an eclipsed form surrounded by the town. How did Buck know it was going to be a boy, he thought. Well, Buck, you got your wish. Your namesake knew, his son knows, and hopefully future generations will know. They've got their bad guys to fight, just like we did. Don't know how it'll all turn out, but I think they'll be OK. I did my best for all of you. I hope it was enough.

JD started to get up, but felt tired, and so decided to sit back down and rest awhile. It did feel good, to be back home again, even if it was just for a while, and even if the town was just a shell. It felt good just to sit in the Western sunshine, and feel the glowing warmth against his skin. JD smiled contentedly and leaned back in the chair, closing his eyes, and let the desert winds blow lightly through his white hair.

It felt warm and drowsy, sitting in the late spring sunlight, and if JD tried hard enough he thought he could almost hear the bustle of the town returning, hear the whicker of horses, the murmur of voices, smell the thick sweet perfume of flowering trees mixing with the redolent odor of hay and manure from the stables. They were nearby, he suddenly remembered, thinking how it used to bother him that the stables were so close and infested the air around the jail with flies in the summertime...

The breeze picked up a little then, carrying with it the soft scent of honeysuckle and lilacs, and JD breathed deep, wondering in his half-sleep how that aroma could survive when everything else in Four Corners was blighted. He smiled at the images the scents conjured, and imagined he could hear light, quick footsteps hurrying down the street toward him. They came closer, he heard a girlish giggle, and before he could even move someone fell lightly on top of him, and pushed him out of the chair onto the porch.

Shocked, JD braced himself for an inevitable broken hip, or at least a fractured leg. Instead, though, he merely bounced onto the porch and sprawled there.His eyes flew open, and before he could think he blurted, "Dang it, Casey!" - and stopped, his mouth hanging open in stunned surprise.

It was Casey, youthful, pretty, full of life as he'd known her, her calico dress rumpled around her knees, her auburn hair tumbling down her slender shoulders in soft waves as she gazed at him with mischievous, sparkling eyes. He stared at her, couldn't help it, then realized that somehow the town around them was bursting with life, new and bright and fresh, and it was all funneling through the young girl who was smiling at him, the morning sun glinting in her shimmering hair.

He struggled into a sitting position, thought it odd that the aches and pains he'd been experiencing for years were suddenly gone, then looked down at his left hand as it was braced against the pine boards and saw that it was smooth and strong again. I'm dreaming, he decided, feeling nevertheless amazed that he should feel so good, so much like he did back then, invigorated and young.

He was still staring at his hand when he felt Casey's soft touch on his cheek. She gently turned his head toward her and said teasingly,"JD, ain't you even gonna say hello?"

"I - " He blinked, felt suddenly giddy and foolish, but felt no shame connected with those feelings, only a heady happiness. But he was stunned, and could only stammer out, "Casey?"

Casey nodded happily, and jumped forward, hugging JD to her fiercely. It can't be real, JD thought, but it felt so real, and he embraced her back with all the energy of one who ached for that embrace on lonely winter nights. When they parted, he saw her eyes were shining.

"Oh, I've missed you!" She beamed at him, and started to get up, never letting go of his hand.

"Well - I've missed you too, Casey," JD stuttered, playing along. He'd dreaded trying to get up from the porch, but it was easy, no protesting joints, no shooting pain up his back. He felt - fine, and he hadn't in years. Strange. He looked around, couldn't believe how fit and alive the town suddenly looked, how fine the sun felt. "You been here all this while?"

Casey nodded, her curls bobbing in the sun. "They're waitin' for you, but I couldn't. I ran all this way to meet you."

JD swallowed hard; if this was a dream, he was going to hate waking from it. He blinked at Casey; she didn't vanish, still stood there, lit by the sun, beaming at him. Slowly, hesitantly, he reached out to touch her glowing, beautiful face, then in a rush realized that somehow she was real, and in a fit of joy JD grabbed her, wrapped his arms around her, spun her around with boyish abandon till she squealed, then set her down on the porch again.

She was laughing, God, that high, unforgettable, beautiful laugh he'd missed so much, and he laughed too, feeling unaccountably light and airy. They laughed together for a few moments in each other's arms, and then he asked,"Did you say someone was waiting for me?"

Casey nodded, reaching out with one slender hand to smooth JD's wayward hair out of his eyes as she said, "Well, they all are, but you know me, I got no patience - "

She continued talking, but JD didn't hear any more of what she said, because over her shoulder he could see someone else coming down the street, a dark-haired man on a white horse. JD's face went slack with surprise, and he gently pulled away from Casey's soft grasp. She paused, looked over her shoulder, then smiled radiantly and stepped back as JD walked numbly off the porch and stared.

It was Buck - Buck, not as JD had last seen him, bloodied and dying on the lawn of their farmhouse, but alive, laughing, his face abundant with joy, his eyes no longer clouded with death but dancing and happy. But it couldn't be...

"Hey, kid!" Buck hollered as his steed galloped closer.

"Buck?" JD whispered, blinking hard against the gigantic swell of emotion he felt. It was a dream, it had to be, but God, it was Buck, he was all right, and JD started walking down the street toward him as the thoughts jumbled in his mind, he saved Casey, he saved my son, I never really got a chance to - God, look at him, he's OK, and now JD was running, sprinting toward his friend, who laughed heartily, brought his horse to a stop, and swung himself energetically onto the ground.

"Buck!" JD whooped and flung himself at his friend, wrapping him in an enthusiastic hug that almost knocked both of them to the ground. Buck laughed and returned the embrace, glancing at Casey, who was standing on the porch with joyful tears in her eyes.

"Well, now," the gunslinger said as he pulled back and looked JD square in the face, "Let's have a look at you. Growed up, I see. Good for you."

"Buck." Was all JD could stammer out. He felt hot tears in his eyes, didn't care. "Buck, you're - "

"I'm fine, kid." Buck said affectionately, leaning back and giving JD a happy smile. "I'm better than fine. Good to see ya again. You got my hat?"

"Huh?" JD had forgotten Buck's hat, turned back to the porch to retrieve it. Casey had already picked it up, and when she handed it to JD he saw that the bloodstain was gone, the singe marks were gone, it was as pristine as if it were new. He stared at it for a moment, then respectfully handed it to his friend.

"I did what you wanted," JD explained as he watched Buck put his hat on, "My kids know what a real hat looks like. I kind of wanted to leave them yours."

"Heh, heh - don't worry about that, kid," Buck chuckled as he cinched the chin strap.

Casey moved behind JD and wrapped her arms around his neck lovingly, settling her head next to his. Buck saw this and smiled mischievously. Same old Buck, JD thought.

"Well now," Buck said as he mounted his horse and gathered up his reins. "You-all ready to go?"

Casey nodded with glee and gave JD a quick squeeze before hopping off the porch. JD blinked and said, "Go? Go where?"

Buck leaned back on his saddle and laughed, "Why, ridin', son! We're all together now, it's time to get goin'."

JD frowned, still not quite understanding, but when he heard a low rumble off to his left and turned to see five horsemen coming up the street, he suddenly knew.

There was Ezra, whole and well again, smiling disarmingly but with a contented glint in his eye that JD had never seen before; Vin, still proud and straight, his hat pulled low over golden brown curls; Josiah, and Nathan, both young again and smiling in welcome at him. And, leading them all and holding the bridle of a dark brown horse with a white star on its forehead,was Chris, alive as JD had never seen him alive, dressed not in somber black but in light blue, his eyes sparkling with a happiness and fulfillment that made the younger man speechless with surprise.

"Come on, son," Chris smiled at JD as he reined in and handed down the reins of the horse. "Your ma's waitin' for us at the ranch."

"My - " JD felt a lightning bolt go through him, and at last understood, understood everything, and felt only the tiniest twinge of remorse. His old life was gone, but this new life...

He couldn't help it; he whooped for joy as he pulled himself onto his horse's saddle, and holding out one strong hand he helped Casey up behind him with a strength he'd never known.

Chris looked at JD and smiled again, tilting his hat in welcome.

"Are we ready to go, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra asked, and when JD looked back at him he winked.

"I sure hope so," Vin drawled, giving JD a small smile as he fiddled with his reins, "I've been lookin' forward to this for a long time."

"As have we all," Josiah said in his low rumble as he nodded toward his young friend.

"Amen to that, brother!" Nathan enthused, grinning hugely.

Buck wheeled his horse around, came to stand next to JD, his horse dancing eagerly. "Well, then, what're we waitin' for? Come on!"

"All right then." Chris said simply, casting his gaze around the group. He paused, turned at last to JD and said, "You ready?"

JD felt Casey's arms slip around his waist, and giving Chris a huge grin he spurred his horse forward and they rode, all Seven of them, together, galloping down the radiant street, past the gleaming buildings and into the luminous, welcoming light beyond.


May 14, 1940

Dear Mother,

We laid Mr. Dunne to rest yesterday. I wish you could have been there to see it; there was quite a turnout, between the people who knew him from the area and the families of his descendants and the others, there was a huge crowd. Nathan Jackson's family was there, and it was hard not to be moved when during the service Bill Dunne handed Buck Wilmington's hat to the youngest of the Dunne great-grandchildren. The boy was about four, and also named William. Or, as his father calls him, Buck.

It's kind of sad to realize that they're all gone now, but it would have been even sadder if Mr. Dunne had died before I could pay my debt to him. After the service, I talked to Bill Dunne, and apologized for not telling him the truth sooner about about myself, and our family, and why it was so important to me to find out as much as I could about the Seven. I regretted not being able to tell Mr. Dunne the whole truth before he died, but he knows now, and I'm sure he'll forgive me.

It's funny, isn't it - when I took the job I had no idea I would get to meet one of the men who saved Grandma Olivia's life. I guess we all just assumed that her dying wish - that the story of The Magnificent Seven be found, and told, and the survivors helped in any way possible - wouldn't be able to be honored, and now it has. Great-grandma Terry got a new start because of them. Now, because of her, the last of them has gone with peace and dignity, and her money will help fund the book I'm going to start writing on Monday.

I gave Bill Dunne the cufflinks Grandma Olivia gave me, and he said he'd make sure they were passed down, just like Buck Wilmington's hat. And his pocket watch.

Give my love to Dad and the girls. See you Sunday.

Michael Crenshaw-Greer