It was then that Chris spotted the youngest member of the Seven making his way out of the sparse cover and toward the group of horses.
"What the hell is he doin'?" Larabee demanded as he double-checked his ammunition supply.
"I would say our young friend is trying to give us a diversion," Josiah quipped as he raised his rifle ready to give J.D. cover fire.
"If he doesn't get himself killed first." Chris replied grimly as his eyes tracked to where Wilmington was. He saw that his old friend was already moving away from the grass mound hot on J.D.'s trail.
"Give him a minute, Chris." Vin cautioned as he watched the activity below. Dunne had reached the horses and had started to loosen the reigns of the first five. "This might be exactly what we need."
"Don't look now, Mr. Wilmington." Ezra began calmly as his green eyes watched the camp intently. "But it appears that we now number two."
"What?" Buck asked in surprise as he looked first at the gambler then turned to the empty space to his left and cursed. "Damn fool kid....when is he gonna learn that this isn't a dime novel where the hero always lives?"
"I think he already has, Mr. Wilmington." Ezra replied grimly as he gestured toward the group of horses.
Buck followed the southerner's gaze and frowned. He knew the kid was trying to give them a diversion but Buck also knew that J.D.'s main focus was getting justice for Casey no matter what the cost.
"Damn." Wilmington cursed as he spotted one of Eli's men moving toward the horses. "Stay here, Ezra, in case we need cover fire."
The gambler nodded and repositioned himself behind the grass knoll.
Mary entered the small restaurant and searched the mid-day crowd. She finally spotted the dark haired man in a back table near the kitchen.
"Mr. Seimers." The blonde woman said with a smile as she sat down opposite him.
Colin stood as she sat down then retook his seat. "Mrs. Travis." He replied matching her smile. "Thank you for meeting me."
Mary nodded. "My pleasure. I'm actually looking forward to having something to read besides Billy's homework."
A brown haired woman appeared and took their orders before disappearing back into the kitchen.
Seimers barely noticed the waitress's departure as he took a sip of his water. "I'm afraid I've brought you here under false circumstances, Mrs. Travis. I can only hope that after you hear my story you'll understand and that you can help me reunite what's left of my family."
Noah Cole sat as far from the other men as he could without looking like he was avoiding them. He glanced at Eli talking with four of the men near the campfire and wondered if Eli planned on moving them at all. Noah would prefer to put as much space between them and his brother as possible.
With a sigh Noah picked up one of his shirts from a nearby log and folded it before putting it back in his saddlebag. As he did so he spotted something black out of the corner of his eye. He turned and spotted Larabee and his men in various positions surrounding the camp.
Noah cursed silently and glanced again at Eli. The younger man hadn't spotted their guests yet and Noah wasn't about to be the one to sound the alarm. Eli was a crazy bastard who Noah felt no loyalty at all toward. If Larabee wanted to come down here with guns blazing so be it....as far as Noah was concerned it was every man for himself.
If he played his cards right Larabee's well-timed arrival could be just what Noah needed to get back to his brother.
Just when Buck thought he had caught up to the kid one of Joe's men seemed to appear out of nowhere and place a gun barrel in the small of Buck's back.
As he raised his hands Buck quickly looked around for JD but the youth seemed to have disappeared as well.
/Great./ Wilmington thought in exasperation. /Just when I think the kid can't find any more trouble./
"You're either really stupid or very foolish to think you can steal horses from Eli Joe and get away with it." The stranger commented with a wide smile as he shoved Buck forward.
Having enough of the situation Wilmington turned around. "You think I'm a two-bit horse thief?"
The sandy blond haired man grinned as he raised his gun so it was chest level with Buck. "If the shoe fits."
Buck took a step forward glaring at the younger man. "If the shoe fits?" He repeated with a shake of his head. "Now you listen...I don't have time to...."
Wilmington broke off his sentence as his advisory suddenly crumpled unconcience to the ground.
"What took you so long?" Buck demanded as he bent down and grabbed the unconscience man by the shoulders and dragged him to the nearest tree.
JD grinned sheepishly. "Sorry I had to double back the long way to make sure Eli didn't see us."
Buck glared at him slightly. "Few seconds later and the gun shot would've told him."
The youth shook his head as he picked up the stranger's feet lightening Buck's load."You had it under control and you know it. You didn't need me to come to the rescue."
"I'll always need you, kid." Buck replied quietly as they placed the stranger behind the tree and moved back toward the group of horses. "Never forget that."
Chris saw J.D. and Buck finally accomplish the mission of freeing the gang's horses resulting in the needed distraction.
Unfortunately the distraction didn't quite work in their favor the way they had intended....only five of Eli's men went after the runaway horses.
"That went well."Josiah commented grimly as he raised his gun waiting for Chirs's order.
"I'm going down."Vin stated quietly as he stood.
Larabee shook his head as he snagged his best friend's elbow. "I know what you're thinkin', Vin, but it won't work."
Vin broke free of his friend's grasp. "This has been comin' for a long time, Chris. I have to face him down sometime might as well be now with ya'll backin' me up."
Larabee reluctantly nodded as he watched the sharpshooter stand and calmly walk down to the camp.
Chris glanced back at Josiah. "Let's see if we can get closer."
"Vin never mentioned a brother."Mary commented warily.
"I'm sure he doesn't remember."Colin replied candidly. "Vin was barely two years old when our father left for better opportunities in New York taking me with him."
"Why haven't you tried to contact him before now?"Mary asked quietly.
Colin shook his head sadly. "I couldn't find him. I only recently discovered that our mother had remarried when Vin was five to a man named Paul Tanner. Tanner was a decent enough guy but he was killed during a wagon train robbery in Kansas barely a year later. Just when I thought I had found him the war broke out forcing me to start my search all over again."
"You've been in Four Corners for nearly a week, Mr. Seimers."Mary began as she leaned forward folding her hands on the table. "Why haven't you approached him?"
Colin leaned back in his chair. "You have to understand, Mrs. Travis. I hadn't seen my brother since he was two. I had no idea what he looked like now. I had to make certain that the man who called himself Vin Tanner was my brother."
"And now you're certain?"Mary asked wanting to make certain that Vin wasn't going to be hurt. She knew he hadn't had a family since his mother had died.
"Yes."Colin replied as he took a sip of water.
'How do I know that you're not just after the bounty?"Mary asked softly.
Colin leaned forward. "If I was, Mrs. Travis I could've turned him in at any time."
Mary nodded. "What do you need from me, Mr. Seimers?"
"I know my brother left town. When he returns I need you to get him to meet with me without telling him who I am. I'll take it from there."Seimers replied with a hopeful smile.
Juliana Cox paused at the steps of the old church wondering if she should go in. She knew that the injured girl was still there...J.D's friend.
She was curious to know who this girl was that had so clearly stolen her friend's heart. Juliana started to climb the stairs but paused on the third step feeling like she was intruding.
She had just started to get to know J.D. again, she didn't want to over step the boundaries of their friendship.
With a last look at the church's open doorway Juliana shifted Cheryl to a more comfortable position before turning and walking back down the stairs.
"Don't just stand there you idiots!" Eli Joe shouted as his men slowly moved away from the campfire watching the horses ride away. "Go after them! Unless you want to walk!"
Five of the men quickly scrambled after the runaway horses while the remaining men snatched up their weapons warily watching for signs of an attack.
Chris and Josiah hunkered low in the small grove of trees a few feet from J.D. and Buck. All weapons were drawn....all waiting to see what exactly Vin would do next.
Vin stepped out into the open gun in hand to face the man who had sent him on the run.
"Well if it isn't the great Vin Tanner." Eli exclaimed with a smile as he stepped toward Vin the rest of his men forming a semi-circle behind him.
"Eli." Tanner replied quietly as he pulled back the trigger of his mare leg. "You best come with me quietly and none of your men will be hurt."
Joe laughed so hard that he nearly lost his balance. Once he regained his composure he glanced back at Vin. "You really have gone insane, Tanner. Look around you....I clearly have the advantage. Do you really think I'm just going to drop my weapon and give up?"
"That would be the wisest move." Chris called from behind Eli as he Buck and Josiah stepped away from the trees.
Eli chuckled as he raised his gun. "You may be the meanest son of a bitch this side of the Rockies, Larabee, but y'all are still out gunned."
Vin smiled grimly. "Eli, you know I can put a bullet in your head before any of your men can blink. You didn't want me on your trail because you know I'd be the one to turn you in, and I still will. Not just for murder but for attacking that girl."
J.D. started to follow Buck as they moved to back up Vin but he spotted something out of the corner of his eye. As he turned to his left he saw a man who appeared to be a few years older than Buck back away from Eli's group.
The youth didn't know how he knew but all of the sudden it was crystal clear. This man was the man who had hurt Casey. With grim determination J.D. moved away from Buck and began to follow the stranger.
No matter what it took....he was going to pay for hurting Casey.
The tension in the air radiated like a spring thunderstorm. Chris and the others could only stand by while Eli and Vin stared each other down. Chris knew they could probably take Eli out with minimal casualties. But he also knew this was a battle Vin had to face alone.
Joe surprised everyone by drawing first blood. The shot he fired winged Vin's left shoulder.
The gunshot also propelled the other men into battle. Chris and the others scattered each taking different section of Eli's gang.
It was only then that Buck noticed that the youngest member of the Seven was nowhere to be found.
/Damn, fool kid./ Buck swore silently as he took down two of Joe's men with one punch. The momentum from the punch knocked the first man into the second causing both to tumble to the ground.
"You always were too cocky, Tanner." Eli said with a smirk as he towered over Vin leveling his gun at the sharpshooter's head. "That's how I beat you the last time."
"Why did you send the packages?" Tanner asked as he struggled to catch his breath. His gun was only a few feet away. If he could just keep Eli distracted long enough....
Joe shrugged. "Was a way to have a little fun, mess with your mind." He cocked the trigger of the gun. "You got too comfortable, Vin. You tipped your hand....allowing your enemies to see who was precious to you. Now they are paying the price."
J.D. fired a shot that was aimed just inches above the man's head. The stranger instantly stopped raising his hands above his head.
J.D. allowed the older man to turn around before moving forward and removing the stranger's gun belt and tossing it aside.
"You're one of Larabee's men."Noah Cole stated as he recognized the young man.
Dunne cocked the trigger of his colt as he stepped toward the stranger. "Which Cole brother are you?"
"Noah."The older man replied as he studied the youth watching for any signs of weakness.
J.D. nodded grimly as his hand tightened around the gun. Because of this man Casey was a shell of the person he had met nearly a year ago.
"You hurt a friend of mine."Dunne stated evenly as he raised his gun so it was chest level with Cole.
"I didn't have a choice."Noah replied quietly. "She saw us....if we wanted the money we had to follow Eli's orders."
"Don't worry."J.D. said angrily. "Eli will pay for his part in this. But you and your brother left Casey to die."