The Magnificent Seven
Vin Tanner sat just outside the saloon. The tracker settled into the wooden chair leaning it back against the wall. The late afternoon rainstorm had made the saloon more crowded than usual.
Vin didn’t mind the rain, it made everything fresh and new. Besides the awning overhead kept him dry and allowed him to watch nature’s show.
He had almost dozed off when a rumble beneath his feet caught his attention. Vin glanced up just in time to see the last stage of the day come to a stop in front of the hotel.
After deciding the small group of passengers were no threat to the town of Four Corners Vin settled back into his nap once again. The driver’s voice penetrated the tracker’s dreams.
“Hey,”The driver called as he crossed the street toward the former bounty hunter,”You know a Vin Tanner?”
Vin glanced up his face expressionless.
The driver obviously not wanting to stand a moment longer in the pouring rain tossed a small package at Vin,”Give that to the sheriff or somethin’ would ya? In case this Tanner fellow comes through.”
Vin caught the package before it hit the ground. When he turned back to the driver the stage was gone.
JD Dunne settled back into his chair in the sheriff’s office a smile on
his face. The cards in his hand forgotten as he recalled the events of
the last month. Even though life had been slow in Four Corners as far as
keeping the peace was concerned. His life had been pretty good. He and
Casey had spent as much time together as they could. Going on
picnics,horseback riding, or just going on long walks.
Buck playfully swatted JD’s hat off of his head,”Hey,Romeo!”
JD jumped three feet nearly falling out of his chair in the process. Glaring at the older man he recovered his hat from the floor,”What the heck was that for?!”
Buck’s grin widened,”If you kept your mind on the cards and not on a certain lady you wouldn’t be askin’ that!”
A sheepish expression crossed the young man’s face as he realized he had missed his turn,”Sorry Buck,what was the last ante?”
Buck tossed his cards down on the desk as he chuckled,”Lets just quit, your mind is obviously not in this room. And I don’t like taking advantage of the weak minded.”
JD glared at his friend,”I was paying attention!”
Buck laughed,”Maybe for the first hand,which was twenty minutes ago.”
“Excuse me.”A soft female voice said from the doorway gaining both men’s attention.
“Juliana?”JD asked in surprise as he quickly walked around his desk trying not to trip over his chair in the process,”What are you doing here?”
The young red haired woman smiled as she shifted the small bundle in her arms,”I was on my way to San Fransico. I heard you were living here now and wanted to see how you were.”
Buck cleared his throat as he looked at his friend,”JD?”
JD jumped slightly,”I’m sorry....Buck Wilmington this is Juliana Cox. We were friends back in Boston.”
“Ma’am.”Buck acknowledged putting on his most winning smile,”Its a pleasure to meet you. Any friend of JD’s is a friend of mine.”
Juliana returned his smile,”Its good to meet you as well,Mr. Wilmington.”
“Call me Buck,”The gunslinger replied noticing the bundle in her arms for the first time,”What do you have there,Ms. Cox?”
A small wail answered his question.
Mary Travis wiped sweat off of her forehead with the back of her hand as she put the finishing touches on the next issue of the Clarion.
She looked up as the door to the newspaper office opened,”Can I help you?”She asked the stranger as she walked into the front room.
The tall, thin black haired man in his late thirties smiled as he shook water off of his coat,”My name is Colin Seimers. I was hoping you could recommend a place to stay?”
Mary returned his smile,”Welcome to Four Corner’s, Mr. Seimers. There’s a hotel just down the street.”
Seimers’s tipped his hat,”Thankyou for your kindness,Ma’am.”
Before Mary could say another word the stranger turned and opened the door of the newspaper stepping back out into the rain.
“It was nice seeing you again JD.”Julianna said softly as she gently rocked the baby in her arms,”I should be going.”
Buck glanced from the baby to the girl and back again,”Are you travelin’ alone,Ma’am?”
Juliana nodded as she shifted the baby to her left arm,”I’m meeting relatives in San Fransico,Mr. Wilmington.”She looked at JD,”Its past her naptime I should get checked in to the hotel so she can rest. If you’ll excuse me....JD, Mr. Wilmington.”
When the door closed behind her Buck glanced at JD’s face and grinned,”Is there something about your past you’d like to confess,son?”
Jerked out of his memories JD glared at his friend before hurrying out the door.
The youth caught up with his childhood friend just inside the hotel lobby. Rain dripped off the rim of his bowler hat but he ignored it as he gently grabbed his friend’s elbow dragging her to the side of the lobby.
Her sudden visit just didn’t make sense to him. The Cox family would never allow their only daughter to travel this far west alone, especially with an infant entrusted in her care.
Juliana smiled as she turned to face him,”JD, I didn’t expect to see you so soon.”
JD took off his hat careful not to drip water on the baby,”Juliana, what are you really doin’ here?”
Juliana’s gaze faltered for a moment,”I told you....I was on my way to San Fransico and I heard you were living here now.”
JD shook his head,”You’ve never been good at lyin’,Julianna, so don’t start now. Do your folks know you’re here?”
Juliana looked at the young man before her he looked so different from the boy she had grown up with, yet he was the same. She so wanted to tell him the truth but she couldn’t. It would kill her to see the shame in his eyes.
The infant in her arms began to cry softly creating a much needed distraction,”Yes they know I’m here. If you’ll excuse me JD I really must put her down for a nap.”
JD walked her to the stairs,”Juliana, who’s baby is that?”
The young woman paused half way up the flight of stairs,”She’s my daughter.”Juliana replied turning to meet JD’s gaze briefly before turning and disappearing up the stairs.
With night enveloping Four Corner’s Vin had handed over the watch duties to Nathan Jackson and headed toward the saloon.
The mystery package remained unopened in his pocket and Vin was determined to leave it that way.
Vin walked up to the bar and ordered a beer. He handed the money to the bartender and retreated to a vacant table near the back of the saloon.
Half way through his beer the package somehow ended up on the table in front of him.
Vin had spent most of the afternoon trying to convince himself that the driver had read the name wrong.
That the package couldn’t possibly be addressed to Vin Tanner, yet there it was in black ink.
“Rain finally stopped.”Chris Larabee commented as he slid into the chair next to his friend shaking water off of his black duster.
Vin glanced out the door of the saloon,”Seems to be.”He replied quietly.
“Whatcha got there?”Chris asked as he took a sip of whiskey.
Vin absently picked up the small package and turned it over and over in his hands,”Mystery that came off the stage this afternoon.”
“You gonna burn a hole in it or you gonna open it?”Chris asked.
“Nobody’s supposed to know I’m here.”Vin replied quietly.
Chris made a grab for the package,”Alright I’ll open it.”
Vin blocked his friend reach,”Fine, if it’ll get you to leave me in peace I’ll open it.”
Chris grinned,”Well go on then.”
Vin glared at him slightly before he began tearing away the brown paper. An object no bigger than a sheriff’s star tumbled out into his right hand.
The grin fell from Chris’s face as he saw what the former bounty hunter was holding.
Vin held the tiny hangman’s noose up to the lantern light,”You think somebody’s tryin’ to tell me somethin’?”
A clap of thunder signaled the storm moving off as Josiah Sanchez stepped through the doorway of the old church. The preacher turned peacekeepr had decided to drop off some supplies before heading back into town to meet Ezra and Buck for dinner.
The dark haired man had just set the box of nails and can of paint down on one of the back pews when he heard a soft noise.
Josiah stood quietly, his ears straining to find which direction the sound had come from.
The sound came again this time in the form of a whimper.
Josiah frowned as he moved forward into the church. It sounded like someone was crying, but where?
He moved to the front of the church and turned around to face the doorway scanning the room for any sign.
As he walked past the first row of pews he caught sight of a shadow out of the corner of his eye. Turning to his left he saw a small huddled form wedged between the first and second row.
Thinking it was a child Josiah knelt down at the end of the row as he extended a gentle hand,”Its alright little one, you’re safe. Don’t be afraid.”
The huddled form backed away from his voice and it was then that Josiah recgonized the person before him.
“Mary,mother of God.”Josiah whispered hoarsely.
It was Casey Wells.
Josiah took a tentative step toward the teenager,”Casey? Its Josiah you’re safe,child. Let me see how bad you’re hurt.”
The girl only whimpered in response before drawing back farther against the wall.
With growing concern Josiah gently stepped forward reaching out toward the teen. As his right hand tenderly touched her left shoulder Casey screamed and she yanked away.
“Casey?”Josiah asked as the girl suddenly became alarmingly still.
The former preacher removed his hand from the girl’s shoulder, looking down he saw it was covered with blood.
When he looked back at Casey he saw she was slumped against the pew, unconscience.
As Josiah leaned forward to feel for a pulse he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Turning he saw a small shadow pass by the church’s doorway.
“I’ll be right back.”Josiah promised the wounded teen as he walked swiftly to the church’s entrance.
Out in the street a young boy of about eight paused as Josiah called out to him. The child ran over and the preacher knelt down giving quiet instructions.
The boy nodded before turning and running toward the center of town.
JD started to follow Julianna up the staircase but stopped on the first step. He had learned long ago that cornering her would do no good. She would tell him what was going on when she was ready.
The young man shook his head slightly as he turned around and headed toward the door of the hotel. He could only hope that whatever trouble had chased her to Four Corners could wait untill she was ready to tell him.
Chris took a sip of whiskey as he studied the small noose that Vin was holding,”There anything else in there?”
The tracker picked up the discarded brown packaging paper and shook it slightly before tossing it back on the table in frusteration,”Nope.”
“What are you gonna do about it?”Chris asked.
“Nothing to do.”Vin replied as he tossed the noose onto the discarded paper and leaned back in his chair.
“Might be wise to get out of town for a few days.”Larabee suggested as a comotion near the door caught his attention.
Vin shook his head as he took a sip of his beer,”No tellin’ when the package was mailed. If they know I’m here they’ll come sooner or later. I’d rather face ‘em here then let.......”He trailed off as a child skidded to a stop next to their table.
Chris leaned forward recognizing the boy as the banker’s son,David,”What is it, son?”
The red haired boy paused for a moment as he caught his breath,”P-Preacher needs you, healer.”
Vin reached for his rifle which was leaning against the wall next to him,”Where?”He asked quietly.
“The church.”David replied as Chris stood.
Larabee turned to Vin,”Go find Nathan.”He knelt down next to the boy,”You did good,now go on home.”
The boy smiled before turning and retracing his path out of the saloon.
A somber mood enveloped the church as five men stood silently watching Nathan examine the still form of Casey Wells.
Josiah had gently lifted the girl and set her on one of the pews so Nathan would have room to work.
Now the Preacher stood at the far side of the room with the other men, waiting. Josiah leaned against the wall as he studied his friends reactions to this tradgy.
Chris’s expression was grim, his blue eyes the color of ice. His right hand lightly resting on his gunbelt.
Of the five Buck was the most active, impaitently pacing a three feet wide space. Three feet to the wall and three feet back. Buck’s right fist kept opening and closing as he paced.
Ezra was perched on one of the pews closest to the door. His hands absently shuffling a deck of cards. The anger in the conman’s green eyes contradicted the nonchalance of his outward appearence.
Vin stood next to Josiah his expression grim. The tracker was a quiet man by nature but now a cloud of silence seemed to surround the young man as his blue eyes kept a watchful eye on everything.
“Who’s going to tell JD?”Vin’s soft texas drawl broke the silence.
The question stopped Buck’s pacing as he came to stand next to the former bounty hunter.
Wilmington’s dark gaze flickered over to Casey’s still form as his frown deepened. Ever since JD had met up with the peacekeepers Buck had taken the young man under his wing. He prided himself on being able to read the kid in any situation. He knew how he’d react.
Buck shook his head sadly, he had no idea how JD was going to react to this,”I’ll tell him.”He replied quietly.
If nothing else Buck would be there for the kid, help him deal with the swirl of emotions that were sure to surface.
Nathan approached the group his dark eyes somber,”Somebody really worked her over good.”The black man began softly,”She was shot in the left shoulder but it appears to have gone clear through. She has several broken ribs and a bruised collar bone.”
“What are her chances,Nathan?”Chris asked his gaze never leaving Casey’s still form.
Nathan wearily rubbed a hand along the back of his neck,”The ribs and bones will heal with time what I’m most worried about is infection. If she makes it through the night without a fever her chances are good.”
“Is she still staying with Mrs. Travis?”Ezra asked quietly as he joined the small group.
Chris nodded,”Nettie’s in Sweetwater visitin’ a friend. Take her at least four days to get here.”
Buck took a last glance at Casey before starting toward the door,”I best go tell JD before he hears about it from a stranger.”
After Buck left Chris turned toward Ezra,”Ezra you and Josiah stay here. I don’t expect that the person’s responsible for this will come here but I don’t want her left unguarded. Vin let’s take a ride out to Nettie’s ranch.”
The tracker nodded and lead the way out of the church.
Buck stepped out of the church and headed toward the sherriff’s office thinking the kid might have back tracked there after talking with his friend.
He had just stepped past the resturant when he saw JD walk out of the hotel.
Before Buck could even begin to think of how to broach the subject of Casey JD spotted him.
“Hey,Buck,”The youth called as he ran across the street narrowly missing the incoming stage,”Ezra’s got a poker tournament planned for tonight. I thought we could grab some dinner.......”
JD trailed off noticing the solemn look on the older man’s face,”Something wrong,Buck?”
Buck placed a supportive arm around the younger man’s shoulders as he steered JD toward the resturant,”We need to have a talk,son.”
JD didn’t like the the fear that had started to form a knot in the pit of his stomach,”About what?”He asked not moving.
Buck sighed as he glanced around at the crowded street. The rain had stopped completely and had given way to a beautifal sunset.
This was not the place to break the kid’s innocence.
“Let’s just go inside and we’ll have a......”Buck began as started once again toward the resturant’s door.
JD glared at his friend,”Damn it Buck will you stop treating me like a kid and just tell me what’s goin’ on!”
Giving in Buck ushered JD closer to the building,”Its Casey,”The gunslinger replied quietly,”She’s been hurt,JD, real bad.”
JD felt as if he’d been kicked in the stomach. He was having a hard time breathing. Part of him couldn’t believe what Buck was telling him....
Casey couldn’t be hurt that bad, he had just seen her.
That thought stopped JD cold, when had he last seen her?
The day before?
Some how his voice found the strength to speak as he met Buck’s gaze,”Where?”
“Josiah found her, she’s at the church.”Buck replied starting to move toward the youth.
Before he could take a step JD turned on his heel and ran as fast as his feet could carry him.
Colin Seimers absently straightened his hat as he walked across the street toward the restuarant. As he stepped on the sidewalk a blur of movement caught his attention.
Following the movement Colin saw Mary Travis standing by the run down church with two men.
Colin had been out west long enough to recognize gunslingers when he saw them.
The gunslinger dressed all in black placed an arm around Mary’s waist as he spoke a few words to her before they disappeared into the church.
The younger gunslinger dressed in buckskin watched the other two for a moment before climbing onto a brown horse.
Colin was just about to head into the resturant when he saw the black clad gunslinger emerge from the church alone. The two men exchanged a few words before the blond climbed on top of a black horse and they turned and rode out of town.
For Chris and Vin the short trip to Nettie Well’s ranch was silent. Each man lost in their own thoughts.
“Doesn’t look like anything happened here.”Chris commented as he stopped his horse by the porch and dismounted.
“Looks can be decieving.”Vin replied somberly his thoughts on Casey. He felt responsible for her being hurt. Ever since the seven had met Nettie Vin had taken and instant liking to the older woman and thought of her as kin. So when she had gone out of town Vin had quietly kept an eye on Casey.
/Obviously not well enough/Vin thought darkly as his mind pulled up images of Casey’s bloody and bruised body.
“I’ll check around back.”Vin stated as Chris opened the front door.
Larabee nodded and the tracker disappeared around the side of the house. Chris stepped into the small house and saw that everthing was just as Nettie had left it.
Dishes stacked neatly by the sink, beds made.
“Nothing out back but a couple of hungry chickens.”Vin commented as he met up with Chris in the living room.
Chris nodded,”Whatever happened to Casey didn’t happen here. Let’s head back to town hopefully Nathan has some good news.”
The candles glowing brightly made JD realize what time it was. Startled the youth glanced out the church’s open doorway.
When had it gotten dark?
JD thought he was the only one there untill he spotted Buck asleep in one of the back pews, his hat pulled down over his face.
JD stood to stretch the kinks out of his back. His gaze drifted down to Casey’s still form on the pew next to him and rage started to boil inside of him.
How could anyone do that?
Not just to a woman, but a human being.
It still scared him to see her so still. That was the first thing he noticed when he had raced into the church several hours before. Casey had always been this tomboy, this endless bundle of energy.
Now she lay still and broken like a proclin doll.
His movement must have woken Buck because he nearly collided with the older man when Buck moved to stand next to him.
“How’s she doin’?”Wilmington asked softly.
JD shook his head,”Same, hasn’t woken.”
“Nathan went to his room to get a new herb concoction that might break her fever.”Buck replied to JD’s unasked question.
JD looked from Casey’s still form to Buck before turning and walking toward the front of the church.
Casey’s fever had set in about an hour after JD had learned of her attack.
JD could tell that it had worried Nathan greatly though the healer had done his best to keep his worry from JD.
It had taken him three hours but JD had finally gotten Nathan to admit that there was a good chance that they could loose Casey if the fever didn’t break.
Now it was nearly midnight and the fever was showing no signs of letting go.
JD sighed the last time he recalled feeling this helpless was when his mother was sick.
He had hated the feeling then as much as he hated it now.
Nothing to do but sit on your hands and wait.
Wait and pray for a miracle.
Josiah stood in the church’s doorway as he watched the pale colors of dawn start to work their way across the dark sky.
Casey had made it through the night.
The fever still had a hold on the girl and Nathan was running out of ideas of how to bring it down.
Chris,Vin and Ezra had taken turns with patrol. When one was out looking after the town the other two were never far from the church.
Soft footfalls on the steps caught Josiah’s attention. The big man turned to see Mary Travis approaching balancing a tray of coffee and bisquits.
Josiah quickly stepped forward and took the pitcher of hot coffee from the widow,”Miz Travis let me give you a hand.”
“Any change?”Mary asked anxiously as her blue eyes looked past Josiah to Casey’s still form.
Josiah shook his head sadly as he turned to look at JD sitting by the makeshift bed Nathan had made for Casey,”She made it through the night but her fever’s gotten worse.”
Mary followed Josiah’s gaze to JD,”Has she woken at all?”
Josiah shook his head as he set the coffee down on the window sill,”No, which may be a blessing.”
JD took a piece of cloth from Nathan and dunked it in the water basin. He wrung it out and gently placed it on Casey’s forehead.
Nathan sat down next to the young man as he leaned forward to check Casey’s shoulder.
“Well she hasn’t pulled the stiches loose.”Nathan stated wearly as he pulled the blanket up around the girl’s shoulders.
“Why hasn’t she woken,Nathan?”JD asked in a tortured whisper as pulled the cloth off of Casey’s forehead and dunked it back in the water,”She should have woken up by now.”
“People heal different ways,JD.”Nathan replied quietly.
JD forced his friend to look at him,”You said if she made it through the night she’d be okay.”
Nathan nodded his dark gaze troubled,”She made it this far, she has a good chance. We just need to get that fever down.”
Just as Nathan started to stand Casey began to stir. Her small hands were clenched into fists as she pushed the blanket away.
JD was instantly by her side his hazel eyes dark with concern,”Casey?”
Her eyes still tightly closed Casey pulled back from JD’s voice.
JD glanced at Nathan before reaching out to touch the girl’s shoulder,”Casey? Come on open your eyes.....you’re safe.”
The young woman finally opened her eyes but when she looked at the young sheriff her eyes held no recognization....only fear.
JD was taken aback by the fear in her eyes but he had to remind himself that her fever hadn’t broken yet.
Had to remind himself that the fear wasn’t directed at him but at whoever had harmed her.
JD gently took her right hand in his,”Casey,its me. It’s JD.”
Nathan placed a hand on JD’s shoulder concern in his dark eyes,”We have to keep her still. If she moves around too much she’ll tear the stiches.”
Seeing the commotion Buck and Chris came to stand behind JD.
“She awake?”Chris asked softly his gaze fixed on the girl’s small form huddled underneath the blanket.
Nathan shook his head sadly as he gently eased Casey back down so she was lying on her back,”Not yet,fever’s still got a hold of her.”
Chris nodded as he glanced over at Buck,”I’m going to relieve Ezra from patrol. Nathan,let me know if you need anything.”
Jackson nodded as he pulled the blanket back up around Casey’s shoulder’s. The black man reached out and gently touched the girl’s forehead.
The fever was showing no signs of breaking if anything it was getting stronger.
As Chris stood to leave Nathan glanced at Josiah who was standing by the window.
If Casey was going to survive they needed a miracle.
JD saw the sadness and frusteration that crossed Nathan’s face as he took Casey’s tempature.
The young man saw the healer try to hide his reaction to Casey’s failing health but JD knew.
He could feel Casey slipping away from him and he was helpless to do anything about it.
JD glanced up and saw Chris head for the door of the church and he made a silent promise to Casey.
He hadn’t been there to protect her when she needed him the most but he’d do everything in his power now to make sure she was safe.
To make sure things were set right.
JD stood and walked toward the front of the room ignoring Buck’s queries. The young man caught his hero just before Chris exited the church.
“They can’t get away with this,Chris.”JD stated softly as he stepped out onto the church’s steps.
Larabee glanced down the street and saw that people were starting to stir,”You have my word,JD. We will find whoever did this.”
For the first time Chris noticed the wild expression in the younger man’s gaze.
Larabee recognized the pain and rage in JD’s eyes it was what Chris had experienced that horrible day three years ago.
He could only hope that the six of them could keep the young man from doing anything that he’d regret later in life.
With a heavy heart Mary stepped out of the Clarion and locked the door. Part of her was glad Billy was visiting his grandparents this week. He and Casey had become good friends over the past month or so and she didn’t want the little boy to see his friend in such pain.
As the young widow passed the hotel she didn’t see the young black haired man untill she collided into him.
“I’m sorry,”Mary began as she regained her balance,”I didn’t see you.”
The man smiled,”No harm done. Besides you gave me an excuse.”
Mary glanced at him,”I beg your pardon?”
“To thankyou.”The stranger replied,”For your recommendation on the accomadations.”
A memory clicked for Mary as she recognized the stranger,”I’m glad I could help.”
The man nodded,”Perhaps I could return the kind gesture? Would you join me for dinner?”
Mary’s blue eyes looked past the man to Josiah’s church where Casey lay,”I’m afraid I can’t. A friend of mine is sick and I need to check in on her.”
“Nothing serious?”Seimers asked as he studied the newspaperwoman.
Mary shook her head,”I pray that its not. If you’ll excuse me....”
Colin stepped out of her way,”Of course.”
Without a second glance at the stranger Mary continued on her way.
Colin watched her untill she disappeared through the doors of the run down church. With a smile he turned and headed to the town’s only resturant.
Ezra Standish entered the church to find the scene from the night before had not changed only the players.
Josiah was toward the back of the church trying to busy himself reorganizing his remodling supplies.
Nathan was sitting vigile next to Casey’s still form as he applied another wet cloth to her forehead.
Mary was standing by the window talking quietly with JD who’s gaze never left the still form lying on the pew.
Ezra glanced to his right and saw Buck leaning against the wall.
The gambler moved to stand next to his friend,”Any change?”Ezra asked with concern.
Buck’s gaze never left the scene before him,”Nothing that’s good. She was awake for a little while but the fever had a grip on her so bad that she didn’t recognize JD.”
Ezra shook his head sadly,”What is Mr. Jackson’s prognosis?”
Buck sighed,”Nathan hasn’t said....which to me is not a good sign.”
JD tried to concentrate on what Mrs. Travis was telling him. He really did, but his tired,frazled mind only snatched bits and pieces.
“.....telegram to Nettie.”Mary was saying,”I have’t recieved a reply yet but Rock Creek’s a good four day ride from here.”
JD’s heart froze at the mention of Casey’s Aunt. The woman had taken him in like he was one of her own children.
What would she think of him when she heard what happened to Casey?
Would she hate him? Would she blame him?
She had every right to.
JD blamed himself......how could he have let this happen? He was supposed to care about her. Was supposed to protect her.
He had failed.
With barely a nod in Mary’s direction JD turned and quickly left the church.
Mary exchanged a worried look with Buck as he crossed the space between them.
“What happened?”Buck asked as he glanced down at Casey’s still form.
Mary shook her head,”I have no idea. One moment we were talking and the next he was gone.”
Buck placed a supportive hand on the young widow’s shoulder,”I’m sure he just needed some air. I’ll go find him.”
Mary nodded before moving to lend her assistance to Nathan.
“JD?”Buck called as he stepped out onto the church’s steps.
The kid was nowhere in sight.
Juliana Cox walked down the stairs of the hotel mentally kicking herself. She had overslept and in consequence missed the first stage.
The young woman glanced down at the baby asleep in her arms and smiled,”I’m sorry Cheryl.I guess it’ll be a little while longer.”
As she reached the main floor Juliana glanced to her left and saw a familiar figure sitting alone at the small bar.
She frowned seeing the alchol in JD’s glass,it was barely ten in the morning.
Something had to be very wrong for her friend to be hitting the bottle so early.
“JD?”She asked with concern as she came to stand at his left.
The young man winced.
Not at the whiskey that was burning a hole in his stomach but at his friend’s presence.
Ignoring her he took another swig from the glass and motioned the bartender for a refill.
Now he was really scaring her,”JD? Please tell me what’s wrong. Maybe I can help.”
JD finally looked at his old friend,”No one can help,Juliana. I was a fool coming out West.”
Before Juliana could ask what he ment by that JD drained the last of the whiskey slammed the glass down on the bar and stormed out of the hotel.
Chris had just made a pass by the jail when he spotted Buck walking quickly toward the hotel.
Larabee pulled lightly on the reigns of his horse causing the animal to turn and head for that side of the street.
Buck spotted his friend and stopped stepping off the sidewalk waiting untill Chris brought the horse to a stop.
“Chris.”Wilmington said in greeting,”You seen JD?”
Larabee heard something in his friend’s voice,”Casey worse?”He asked with concern.
Buck shook his head,”No,but its starting to get to the kid.”Wilmington sighed,”I just don’t know what he’ll do if we loose her.”
Vin saddled his horse in the livery. It wasn’t much of a plan but he had decided to go back to Nettie’s ranch.
He was hoping that he could find a clue that he and Chris had missed the first time.
Anything was better than just sitting here watching Casey suffer.
They had to find out who did this and make them pay.
The tracker reached up to mount the horse when he spotted an unfamiliar object sticking out of his saddle bag.
Something wrapped in brown paper.
Nathan Jackson cursed silently as he leaned back wearily in the pew oppisite Casey’s still form.
He hated times like these.
Times when the medical information he knew didn’t help the people he cared about.
Josiah took a small tin pitcher from the window sill and refilled the basin.
Once it was full he replaced the pitcher and took a clean cloth from the pew next to Nathan and dunked it.
Gently he removed the dry cloth from the girl’s forehead and replaced it with the new one.
Casey didn’t stir as he pulled the blanket closer around her shoulders. Sanchez sent off a silent prayer as he stepped away from the pew and looked at his friend.
“Nathan,you did your best.”Josiah began quietly as he leaned against the window sill.
Jackson shook his head as he stood,”Did I,Josiah? I feel like I’m missing something. That there’s something I haven’t tried.”
“Josiah?”Mary called from her seated postion by the podium where she had been folding and mending Casey’s clothes,”Do you recognize this?”
The former preacher stood and crossed over to the widow with Nathan close at his heels.
Josiah knelt next to Mary taking the small object from her,”Looks like part of a button.”
“Where did you find it?”Nathan asked trying not to hope that they might have finally found a clue.
Mary glanced at the healer,”In her shirt pocket. Do you think she could have pulled it off of her attacker?”
Josiah remained silent as he held the small gold colored object up to the light.
A coldness raced up the big man’s spine as he recalled where he had seen an object like this before.
“Josiah?”Nathan prompted not liking the look on his friend’s face.
“If I’m right Brother Nathan,the evil that attacked young Miss Wells now has a name.”
Ezra who had been uncharasticly quiet since entering the church stepped forward to join the group.
“May I,Josiah?”He asked reaching toward the broken button.
Sanchez nodded and handed the gambler the tiny object,”It appears to be a cresent moon.”Ezra said softly as he turned the button over in his hands,”There’s another design on the back that I can’t quite make out.”
“Its a four leaf clover.”Josiah replied quietly as the big man turned to look at Casey’s still form,”The moon and the clover are trademarks of the Cole brothers.”
Vin frowned as he held the package at arm’s length. It was slightly bigger than the other one but flat.
The handwriting was the same.
What bothered the tracker the most was that this one hadn’t come off the stage.
That someone in town had to be close enough to know which horse he usually rode.
Anger crossed the young man’s face as he ripped open the envelope. He had been running from this bounty for long enough.
This would end now....with or without going back to Tuscosa to clear his name.
As the brown paper fell away Vin found himself staring at his own face.
He pulled out the wanted poster and sighed inwardly.
If it was one thing the packages were telling him....time was clearly running out.
He’d stayed in Four Corners far too long and now somebody had caught up with him.
The young man shoved the wanted poster into his saddle bag and mounted his horse.
Vin paused at the opening of the livery. He had to find out who was on his trail but he had a promise to keep first.
Tanner gently pulled on the horse’s reigns turning the animal to the left and headed out of town.
There just had to be something between here and Nettie’s ranch that they had missed.
Ezra frowned,”I don’t recall hearing of these Cole brothers.”
Josiah shook his head as he moved to lean by the window,”No reason you would have. At least when I knew of them they were into petty stuff mainly in Colorado. Stealing horses, rigging poker games....nothing like this.”
“Greed has been known to change people.”Standish said quietly as he looked down at the button than over to Casey’s still form.
“At least we now know who attacked Casey.”Mary said as she stood placing the clothes on a nearby pew,”I’ll go tell Chris.”
Ezra shook his head as he moved to stand next to the young widow,”Allow me,Mrs. Travis. I think Ms. Wells would prefer to see you when she wakes than me.”
Mary nodded as she moved to sit in the pew across from Casey as Ezra handed the button back to Josiah.
After seeing that JD”s horse was still in the stables Buck told Chris he could handle looking for the kid on his own.
Larabee decided to make one more sweep of the town before turning the watch over to Josiah.
Passing the blacksmith shop Chris spied Vin leaving town.
Chris frowned seeing that the tracker was headed toward Nettie’s ranch.
The blond man sighed he knew Vin felt responsible for Casey being hurt.
With the mystery package arriving Chris just hoped his friend wasn’t taken on too much,alone.
Casey Wells was frightened.
More scared than she had ever been in her whole life.
All she knew was that she was alone, somewhere cold and dark.
And that the pain was overwhelming.
Every bone and nerve ending felt like it was on fire.
Casey shifted postition trying to ease the pain. As she moved she heard a voice calling her.
The young girl frowned she couldn’t identify the voice it was too far away.
But she knew the voice was concerned about her.
Casey tried to open her eyes but her body hurt too much.
From somewhere she found the strength to try again.
This time her eyes opened.
As she squinted against the sunlight Casey looked up into a circle of four concerned faces.
Four unfamiliar faces.
The young girl drew back in fear as one man reached a gentle hand toward her.
Casey tried to scream but her voice wouldn’t work.
Nothing was familiar....not the people,not the room she was in.
The young girl backed into the far corner of the pew drawing her knees up to her chest.
And the tears started to fall.
Mary exchanged a concerned glance with Chris as she watched her young friend withdraw from Nathan’s outreached hand.
“Casey?”Larabee called softly as he knelt next to the young woman,”Listen to me.....you’re safe here. You’re going to be alright, I promise you that.”
Slowly,very slowly Casey’s tears began to quell and the brown haired girl looked up.
She didn’t know who this man was.....but he had trusting eyes.
Kind,gentle blue eyes that for some reason made her feel safe.
With a sniffle the girl scooted forward and timidly put her arms around Larabee’s neck.
Taken aback by the girl’s reaction Chris gently enfolded her into a hug patting her back soothingly.
“You’re safe,Casey.”Chris reassured the teen softly,”You’re safe.”
The young woman pulled away from the black clad gunslinger confusion in her brown eyes,”Who are you?”