The Magnificent Seven
By Cindy Brewer
Josiah Sanchez had unfortunately sat through a lot of vigils. But this one seemed to be one of the worst.
The big man sighed as he stood and walked over to the window. Casey was out of physical danger but her mind had yet to recover from the ordeal.
Sanchez sat down on the window sill as he watched the girl sleep. He knew the others had come to the realization that Casey might never remember the attack.
But the Seven also knew that she was their best hope at bringing the people responsible to justice.
Josiah glanced up at the soft footfalls,”I thought you were getting some rest.”
“I rested enough.”Nettie Wells replied quietly as she sat down across from her neice’s sleeping form. The poor girl had already been through so much in her young life. Loosin’ both her parents and now to have this happen.
“She didn’t have any nightmares.”Josiah reported softly as he crossed the room and sat down next to the older woman.
“That’s a blessing at least.”Nettie replied as she gently brushed a stray brown bang away from Casey’s forehead.
Josiah stood and walked toward the back of the church and retrieved a cup of coffee. He walked back to Nettie and handed it to her.
“Thankyou.”Nettie replied as she took a sip of the dark liquid,”How’s JD?”
Sanchez shook his head sadly,”This is haunting his soul. He feels responsible.”
Nettie leaned back,”If anyone’s responsible its me. I should’ve taken her with me.”
Josiah turned to face her,”This is no more your fault than it is JD and Casey’s.”
“I know.”Nettie replied sadly,”I just hate feelin’ helpless. When her parents died I promised I’d keep her safe.”
“You had no way of knowing.”Josiah said softly as he placed a comforting arm around her shoulders.
Buck Wilmington climbed the steps of the boarding house hoping that JD had returned to his room by now.
After Vin had told him about the barfight Buck had almost went looking for the kid. It had taken all of his will power not to do so.
JD was at a dangerous spot especially if he had done the amount of drinkin’ that Vin had suspected.
If Buck had gone after the kid last night like he wanted too he might have caused JD to leave town.
That was the last thing anyone needed....especially Casey.
As he opened the door to JD’s room he half expected to find the kid curled up in a ball asleep.
Instead he found JD throwing things into a suitcase.
“Hey,I thought we settled this leavin’ town thing.”Buck said as he stepped into the room closing the door behind him.
JD winced at Buck’s loud voice as he tried to ignore the wave of dizziness that accompanied each movement,”Things change.”
Buck grabbed him by the shoulders forcing the younger man to stop. JD nearly fell in the process his body still dealing with the alcohol damage from the night before.
“Let go,Buck.”JD ordered each word an effort.
Wilmington shook his head,”Not till you start makin’ sense. How much did you drink last night?”
“Not enough.”Dunne replied as he broke free of his friend’s grasp and went back to the suitcase lying on the bed.
Buck slammed the suitcase shut forcing JD’s attention back to the conversation,”When did you become so selfish?”
JD stared at the older man,”What?”
Buck took a step back,”You went drinkin’ last night to forget your pain and guilt. You’re leavin’ town to forget.”
JD shook his head,”I can’t forget,Buck! That’s why I’m leavin’. It was a mistake to come here and Casey’s payin’ for that mistake.”
“Do you want to hurt Casey?”Buck asked.
JD’s hazel eyes were wide as he shook his head,”That’s what I’m tryin’ to prevent.”
Buck moved forward to place a hand on the youth’s shoulder,”You won’t do that by leavin’,JD. She needs you and who knows seein’ you might jog her memory about what happened.”
“Alright.”JD replied softly as he walked past Buck and exited the room.
Vin Tanner paused in the doorway of his small room at the boarding house.
He barely spent any time here. He had only taken the room out of necessity.
With weary movements Vin tossed a saddlebag on the floor and threw his jacket on the bed. He had just enough time to change before he had to meet Chris at the Saloon. Josiah had gotten a few replies to his telegraphs and Chris wanted to pool their information.
Vin forced away the images of Casey’s battered and bruised as he grabbed a shirt out of the closet.
They had to find out who did this no matter how long it took.
The tracker turned from the closet and started toward the bed to grab his jacket when he saw it.
There laying neatly against the pillow was another parcel wrapped in the same brown paper.
/Damn/Vin swore angrily as he snatched the package off the bed,/If it was one thing he hated it was being backed into a corner. And that was exactly what this person was doing. They knew he wouldn’t run this time especially with the promise he had made to Casey and Nettie./
Vin almost didn’t open it but he knew he had to if he wanted any insight into who was on his trail.
With a sigh the tracker sat down onto the bed and ripped away the brown paper.
A Texas Ranger badge fell into his palm.
Nettie stepped away from the window as Buck and JD stepped into the church.
JD had bathed and changed clothes before coming but he still felt like he smelled like a bottle of liquor.
From his position behind JD, Buck placed his hands on the boys shoulders as if he feared Dunne would bolt.
JD stepped out of Buck’s grasp and met the older woman’s gaze,”Mrs. Wells,”The youth began in a surprisingly strong voice,”I just want you to know how sorry I....”
Nettie placed a hand on JD’s right shoulder halting his statement,”Hush now. This is no more your fault than it is my niece’s. So I don’t want to hear of any more drunken brawls, understand?”
JD smiled briefly,”Yes, Ma’am.”
Chris wanted something stiffer but settled for a cup of coffee as he headed for his usual back table of the Saloon.
After sitting down Chris pulled the handful of telegrams that Josiah had gave him out of his pocket.
Absently Larabee took a sip of the bitter liquid as he flipped through the yellow pieces of paper.
Most didn’t give any more information on the Cole brothers than Josiah had told them.
‘Robin hoods of the Rockies’ they were known as.
So what happened to turn them into hardened criminals?
Not that Chris condoned robbery, but there was a big difference between robbery and attempted murder.
Vin slid into the seat next to Larabee,”Anything interesting,cowboy?”The tracker asked quietly.
Chris cast him a sideways glance,”What kept you?”
Vin shrugged as he took a sip of the lemonade that the barkeeper set down in front of him,”Nothin’ important.”
Larabee sighed inwardly. He knew something was troubling Vin. He had a fair idea that it had to do with the bounty on Vin’s head. Chris just wished the tracker would let him help.
“The telegrams are just more of the same.”Chris replied in frustration as he tossed the pile onto the table.
Vin glanced at him,”They mirror what Josiah said?”
Chris nodded,”Pretty much. These Cole brothers are almost folk heroes never doin’ more than robbery.”
“Everyone had their limits,Chris.”Vin replied quietly as he glanced around the bar.
Larabee leaned back in his chair as he took a sip of the coffee,”What we need is to find a witness to what happened at the Wells place.”
Vin shook his head sadly,”Only witness we got is Casey. Nathan isn’t sure if she’ll ever remember.”
Chris sat the coffee cup down,”Hopefully JD will be able to help us on that front.”
Vin nodded,”If he can fight back his own demons long enough to do so.”
Casey Wells awoke to find herself staring into the concerned brown eyes of a young man she hadn’t seen before.
“Who are you?”The young brown haired woman asked not being able to keep the fear out of her voice.
JD felt the fury start to build once more but he shoved it aside. If there was any chance of catching the bastards he had to get Casey to remember.
JD reached out to touch her shoulder reassuringly but drew back when she flinched,”I’m JD.”He replied softly.
Nathan knelt next to her then giving JD time to figure out how to approach this,”How’s your shoulder, feelin’, Casey?”
Casey glanced at the healer,”Its sore.”
Nathan nodded as he checked the dressing,”I’ll give you somethin’ for the pain.”
Casey swung her legs over the side of the pew,”Can I go outside and sit on the steps?”
Nathan glanced at JD before returning his attention to his patient,”Alright, but just for a little while,I don’t want you overdoin’ it. JD why don’t you keep her company?”
JD started to stand but Casey’s glare made him retake his seat,”I don’t need lookin’ after.”
Nathan stood placing a gentle hand on the girl’s good shoulder,”I know you don’t but we just want to make sure you’re safe.”
Casey nodded before turning and walking toward the door.
Buck placed a supportive hand on JD’s shoulder and gently pushed the youth forward.
JD glared at his friend for a moment before he picked up Casey’s forgotten blanket from the pew and followed her outside.
Juliana Cox sighed wearily as she sat in a chair in the far back corner of the hotel lobby. Even when she was pregnant she hadn’t felt as alone as she did now.
She had thought that coming to Four Corners would solve all her problems.
The young woman shook her head.........she should have known better.
Now she didn’t know if she could trust the childhood friend that she had crossed half the country to find. Especially since it seemed that the man who had ruined her life was a friend of JD’s.
As if sensing her mother’s mood the infant in her arms stirred and began to cry.
Juliana absently rocked her daughter gently as she said softly,”It’ll be alright, Cheryl. I promise you, somehow Mommy’s going to make this alright.”
JD found Casey sitting on the last step of the church. With blanket in hand he descended the steps and started to place it around her shoulders. At the last second he stepped back and gently handed her the blanket as he sat down next to her.
“Thanks.”Casey said quietly as she gingerly wrapped herself in the blanket.
“You’re welcome.”JD replied softly as he looked out onto the busy street. It was mid-day and lots of ranchers from surrounding areas had come to town to sell or trade their goods.
As JD looked at the numerous ranchhands and cowboys he couldn’t help but wonder if one of them had attacked the sweet girl sitting next to him.
“Did we go swimmin’?”Casey asked softly.
So softly that JD wasn’t sure if she had said anything at all. But as he turned his head he found her watching him.
JD nodded,”Yes we did. Do you remember?”The youth asked struggling to keep the excitement out of his voice.
Casey shook her head in frusteration,”Kinda....its like I’m readin’ a book but all the pages are blank. But every so often an image pops up on one of the pages but before I can see what it is its gone.”
Caustiously JD reached out and took her hand in his. He was relieved when she didn’t pull alway.
“It’ll come back to you,Casey.”JD said softly,”I promise.”
It was mid-afternoon by the time the six peacekeepers had a chance to gather together at the sheriff’s office.
Chris set the pile of telegrams in the center of the desk in front of him as he glanced at his friends,”Just got a wire from the Judge, he’ll be here by mid-day tomorrow.”
“What’ll we tell the kid?”Vin asked quietly as he leaned against the wall.
Buck leaned against the desk,”We can’t keep him out of this. You know he’ll follow us if we try.”
Chris nodded,”Which is why JD’s comin’ with us so we can keep an eye on him.”
Ezra stepped away from the jail cell he’d been leaning against,”Did you acquire concrete evidence against these Cole brothers?”
Chris shook his head,”No, but untill Casey regains her memory its the best lead we got. Get your gear together, we’ll leave as soon as the Judge gets here.”
Sam Cole glanced enviously at the glowing light of Stone Valley’s crowded saloon as they rode through town.
The red haired man in his mid-twenties buried himself deeper into his jacket as the cold October wind whipped around him.
He’d give anything for a beer right now but Sam knew his brother wouldn’t stop. They’d been riding for nearly a day only stopping briefly to water the horses.
Sam sighed as he pushed his tired horse toward the outskirts of town. He didn’t know when but some how in the last year his brother had changed.
As the trio left the small town of Stone Valley, Sam could only hope that this last job wouldn’t take his brother away from him forever.
An hour later Sam could make out the dim light of a campfire. As Noah signaled to slow their pace Sam hoped this meant a reprieve for the night. The young man knew his horse couldn’t go any farther and Sam knew as dead tired as he was he couldn’t ethier.
“You’re late.”A voice stated from the surrounding shadows of the campsite.
Noah dismounted and took the reigns of his horse leading it the rest of the way,”Couldn’t be helped,we ran into a complication in Four Corners.”
Dan Kelson exchanged a concerned glance with Sam. Kelson had a bad feeling about this job from the start. Now with this mystery meeting in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere didn’t ease his conscience any.
“So I heard.”The voice replied and Sam could now see a brown haired man in his thirties standing a few yards from the campfire,”That mishap will come out of your pay.”
Now Noah was angry as he let go of the horses reigns and stalked toward his employer,”Don’t pull that crap on me,Eli! You hired us because of our reputation and we did the job that you hired us for. We deserve the pay.”
Sam Cole never even saw the stranger raise his gun. But the next thing he knew the impact of the bullet set his left shoulder on fire and sent him flying backwards off his horse.
Kelson was off his horse and kneeling next to his fallen friend before Noah even had a chance to turn around. Once he did Eli Joe snagged his arm roughly dragging him back.
“You talk back to me again and your precious baby brother will loose more than an arm.”Eli Joe snapped each word clipped with anger.
Noah Cole freed himself from Joe’s grasp and quickly moved to his brother’s side.
Eli turned back to the group of fifteen men gathered around the camp fire,”Boys, take care of their horses and welcome them into our little family.”