The Magnificent Seven
Colin Seimers tiled back his hat as he leaned against the front of the hotel. He had watched the seven peacekeepers ride out of town a few minutes earlier.
Part of him was surprised that Tanner had gone with them. But then again loyalty had always been a strong part of Tanner’s personality.
But this time it might be his Achilles’ heal.
With a smile the black haired man pushed himself away from the wall and headed toward the restaurant.
The six regulators had ridden in silence since they had left Four Corners. Chris Larabee glanced warily at the setting sun.
They had made good time and had found out some new information on the Cole brother’s whereabouts.
Buck had questioned the barkeeper in Sweetwater when they had stopped there mid-day to buy a few supplies.
Chris sighed inwardly as he held up a hand to signal the others to slow down. They were still a good half a day’s ride from Stone Valley they’d never make it before nightfall.
“We’ll make camp here tonight.”Larabee ordered quietly as he dismounted.
JD looked at him incredulously,”We’ve got a good hour of daylight left.”
Buck glanced over at his friend,”Stone Valley’s half a day away, JD.”
“We need to rest the horses.”Vin added quietly as he dismounted,”If we don’t they won’t be in any shape to get us to Stone Valley tomorrow.”
“Fine.”JD replied angrily as he dismounted leading his horse toward a small clearing a few feet away.
JD knew they were right but part of him wanted to keep going until the horse dropped dead underneath him. They were so close to finding the ones responsible for hurting Casey. He didn’t want to risk the cowards slippin’ from their grasp.
Buck started to go after the kid but Josiah placed a hand on his shoulder,”Give him some space, Buck.”The big man said quietly.
Buck nodded as he led his horse over to the other horses and started to take the saddle and harness off. He had a feeling that tomorrow was going to be one hell of a day.
A clap of thunder followed immediately by a flash of lighting jerked Casey out of a sound sleep. The young brown haired woman glanced around the dark church as she struggled to get her breathing under control.
Casey wearily rubbed a hand over her eyes as she leaned her head back against the pew. It was only then that she spotted the healer in the pew opposite her, sound asleep. Not wanting to disturb the kind man Casey stood and gathered the blanket around her as she walked over to the window.
The rain was coming down hard almost horizontal and a strong wind howled around the old church. Casey pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders as a flash of lightning illuminated the room. She closed her eyes and sat down on the windowsill. As she sat a memory worked its way into her conscienceness.
She and JD were having a water fight as they swam in a pond.
That small simple memory brought with it recognition of the other six men. And with that recognition Casey felt fear.
She wasn't afraid of the peacekeepers in fact she was afraid for them. She was terrified of the memories that were assaulting her.
"Oh God."Casey said softly as the day of the attack came flooding back. She had come to the ranch to feed the animals just like she did every day.
Then as she came out of the barn she had heard the horses. At first she thought it was JD or Vin then the horses came around the corner of the fence and she knew it wasn't.
She had tried to fight then she really had but they had been to strong.
Then she had tried to run but they had caught her.
Nathan was gently shaking her then. She had wakened him when she had walked to the window. The dazed look in her eyes worried the healer. He wasn't sure if she was sleepwalking during a nightmare or reliving one.
"Casey?"Nathan asked as he checked her for a fever.
Nathan's voice brought Casey out of her memories but not away from the fear,"Nathan?"
Jackson did a double take at the girl when he saw recognition there for the first time in days,"Casey?"
The girl nodded weakly,"Yes, Nathan.....I remember. I remember everything....you have to warn them."
Noah Cole rocked back on his heels as he watched his brother's still form worriedly. During the afternoon Sam had contracted a fever which was a clear sign that infection had set in.
Dan Kelson crouched next to his employer handing him a full canteen of water. "We've got to get him out of here, Noah. He could loose that arm."
Noah's eyes narrowed sharply. "Don't you think I know that?! He's my brother, Kelson. I'll get us out of here, no matter what the cost."
In his delirium Sam's body twisted and thrashed. Noah placed a gentle reassuring hand on his brother's good shoulder and pulled the blanket up farther around his chest.
"Hang in there, kid."Noah stated quietly,"Everything will be okay, I promise."
The evening meal between the six peacekeepers was quiet. JD sat by himself pushing at his food with the fork despite Buck's attempts to distract the kid from the day's events.
Vin sat leaning against a tree a few feet from the campfire. He put his empty plate aside and plucked the new package out of his saddle bag. The sharpshooter glanced at his friends none had noticed his movement.
The young man peeled away the brown paper revealing a piece of wood shaped as a tombstone. Burned onto the small tombstone was Vin's name, date of birth and date of death; which was tomorrow's date.
Angrily Vin tossed the tombstone onto the campfire. He was tired of runnin', he was tired of being backed into a corner. Once his promise to Casey and Nettie was full filled he was going to clear his name.
Even if he had to go back to Tuscolsa to do it.
Judge Orrin Travis stood grimly near the church's window as he listened to Casey recount what had happened nearly a week before.
Nettie sat close to her niece on the pew as Casey pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders.
"......I had just finished most of my chores."Casey continued softly,"All I had left to do was feed the chickens then I was free to go into town. I was gonna see if JD wanted to have dinner. As I came out of the barn I heard hoofbeats....I figured it was Vin or JD but then I saw them and I knew somethin' was wrong."
Casey swallowed hard. "I don't know why they were there but they saw me before I could run. I tried to get away anyway and didn't make it to the barn before one of them tackled me to the ground."
"How many were there, Casey?"Travis asked gently.
The girl's gaze flickered to the older man. "There could've been more but I only saw three. The man...he....he hauled me to my feet and dragged me into the barn. I tried to scream but every time I did one of them would hit me. I broke free once and nearly made it to the barn door but they shot at me. I thought I hadn't gotten hit but then I felt this awful fire creep through my shoulder. Pain was so bad I thought it was gonna fall off. I collapsed and they left me there. After they left I blacked out...not sure how long I was out but when I came to I knew I had to get help so I went to town to find JD. Between the storm and the pain I only made it as far as the church where Josiah found me."
Nathan took her hand gently. "Casey, you mentioned earlier about warnin' Chris and the others. What do we warn them about?"
Casey met Jackson's gaze. "Eli."She replied quietly,"As they were leavin' I heard one of them say they worked for Eli Joe."
Close to midnight a horse whining roused Chris Larabee from a sound sleep. Sitting up the blond man glanced toward the front of the campsite. Josiah was on watch, walking the perimeter. The others were asleep.
Chris's blue gaze traveled around the campsite mentally doing a headcount as he tried to convince his body to go back to sleep.
Everyone was asleep except JD....the kid's bedroll was gone and he was nowhere to be seen.
Chris got up and walked toward the front of the campsite careful not to wake Buck. The last thing JD needed was Buck doing his mother hen routine.
Sanchez heard his approach and turned to face his friend.
"Somethin' wrong?"Josiah asked quietly as Larabee came to a stop.
Chris nodded gesturing toward the empty spot next to Wilmington. "Kid's gone. Couldn't have gotten far, I'm going to see if I can catch up with him."
Sanchez glanced at the horses. "Want some company?"
Larabee shook his head. "No, I need to talk to JD alone."
JD figured he was about an hour from the campsite when he felt his horse stumble a bit. Halting the animal JD dismounted and discovered a large stone wedged in the shoe of the horse's left hoof.
"Easy, boy."The youth said soothingly as he crouched next to the horse gently turning the hoof up so he could try to dislodge the stone, "I'm trying to help."
All of the sudden hoof beats broke the silence causing JD to drop the horse's leg and draw his gun.
Chris held up his right hand as he reigned in his horse with the other. "Its just me, JD."
Dunne nodded as he put his gun away and returned his attention to the ailing animal.
Chris frowned at the normally exuberant youth's silence. "What's wrong with Milagro?"
"Caught a stone."JD replied his voice muffled,"I think his ankle might be sprained."
Larabee dismounted. "Let me take a look."
JD stepped back and Chris knelt next to the horse gently picking up the leg.
"It is sprained."Chris confirmed after a few moments of silence. "We'll wrap it up when we get back to camp. Should be okay until we get back to Four Corners."
"I'm sorry I snuck off, Chris."JD replied quietly,"I just couldn't sit there any longer."
Larabee stood and walked over to the younger man. "I know,JD, but if you want to help Casey you're going to have to work with us. We want to get justice as badly as you do."
JD nodded as he absently stroked Milagro's nose. "How could they do it, Chris? They may not have killed her but they took her life just the same....they took her innocence. She'll never get that back...."
Chris placed a reassuring hand on the youth's shoulder. "Casey's a strong girl, JD. She'll work through this with your help. Come on, let's get back to the others."
With the first rays of dawn Chris led the group out of the campsite. If they kept a good pace they'd make Stone Valley by mid-day. Larabee glanced back at JD, the kid hadn't slept much after they had gotten back to camp. Chris could only hope that keeping an eye on the youth would be enough to keep him out of trouble. But a nagging feeling told him that this was going to be a very long day.
With the clock chiming seven thirty Mary Travis sat in the restaurant nursing a cup of hot chocolate. She had just finished her daily routine of selling the Clarion. Now as she sat by the window watching Four Corners come to life she couldn't help but think of Casey's tale. The judge had filled her in on the night's events and the young girl's story sent chills down her spine.
"Mind if I join you, Mrs. Travis?"Colin Seimers asked jerking the young woman out of her thoughts.
Mary turned to face the stranger. "No, not at all."
"Thankyou."Colin replied warmly as he sat down across from the reporter.
Mary took a sip of her hot chocolate. "I didn't realize you were still in town, Mr. Seimers."
The dark haired man picked up one of the bisquits."My business caused me to stay longer than I had intended."
"What business are you in, Mr. Seimers?"Mary asked as she set her cup down.
Colin grinned. "You might say I'm a man of many talents, Mrs. Travis. I've been a clothing salesman, ranch hand, even drove a stage coach for a little while after the war."
Mary returned his smile. "What is your current talent?"
Seimers took a sip of coffee."By day I'm a watch salesman, by night I'm trying my hand at writing."
"Really? What type of writing?"Mary asked as she folded her hands on the table in front of her.
Colin shook his head. "I'm dabbling in a bit of everything, though I like fiction best."He met her gaze,"I'd be honored if you could find time to give me a few pointers."
"I'm afraid I'm not a professional writer, Mr. Seimers."Mary replied.
"Nonsense."Colin replied with a smile,"I've read your paper, your articles are quite impressive."
Mary blushed. "Thankyou for your kind words. If you're free for lunch I could take a look at your writing."
Colin nodded."I have a business meeting around eleven but I should be done by noon."
"Twelve thirty?"Mary suggested as she reached for her shawl
Colin nodded as he rose picking up his empty plate. "Thankyou for your kindness, Mrs. Travis."
Noah Cole rubbed the back of his neck wearily as he watched Eli Joe's gang eat breakfast. Sam had gotten steadily worse during the night his fever increasing drastically. The blond haired man quickly rose to his feet and started toward the campfire.
Dan caught his arm knowing the look in Cole's eyes. It usually meant trouble. "Noah, what are you doin'?"
Noah glared at him as he broke free of his grasp. "Takin' care of my brother."
Kelson let him go heading back to where Sam lay to check their weapons. He had a feeling they were going to need them.
Noah stalked over to where Eli Joe sat eating at the north side of the fire. "My brother's worse. I need to get him to a doctor."
Eli glanced at the older man as he took a sip of coffee. "You need not ask my permission, Noah. I told you when you arrived that you were guests."
Cole nodded as he turned and began to head back toward his brother when Eli's voice halted him half way.
"However I will need assurance that you won't go to the authorities"Eli stated as he ate a forkful of eggs.
Noah turned around slowly. "I'll stay if you let Kelson take Sam to a doctor."
The brown haired man merely nodded as he returned his attention to his meal.
Juliana Cox stood at the window of her hotel room as she watched the first stage of the morning pull into town.
She knew she should be on it. She had one close call already and she knew that if she stayed any longer the truth would come out.
The red haired woman sighed as she turned to look at her sleeping daughter. The infant was lying among several blankets at the foot of the bed.
Juliana shook her head as she sat down on the corner of the bed. She couldn't leave, not yet. She needed JD's help to resolve the mess she had gotten herself into.
JD Dunne glanced up as the first sign of civilization appeared on the horizon. Stone Valley was smaller than Four Corners and JD could only hope that the answers they sought were still there.
Buck caught the look on his friend's face. "You okay, kid?"
JD frowned. "I don't know what I'll do, Buck if this lead turns out to be a dead end. I'm not sure if I can face Casey....."
Wilmington shook his head. "It won't be, JD. We've got too many coincidences for it to be a false lead."
"How's she doin'?"Orrin Travis asked as he stepped through the door of the church.
Nathan glanced from Casey's sleeping form to the older man. "Physically she's gettin' better by the minute. It'll take her awhile to get over the attack."
Travis moved to stand near the window. "I've alerted all the sheriff's within a hundred miles."He turned to face the healer, "Did Chris have any idea which way they were headed?"
Nathan shook his head as he moved away from Casey to stand next to Travis. "Wish I knew, Judge. Chris was going to check the closest towns see if they could get any leads."
Orrin leaned back against the wall. "I just hope that they get the telegram before they find these Cole brothers. If Eli Joe is as dangerous as you say he is I don't want them goin' into this blind."
Nathan glanced back at Casey's still form."Even without the warning, they'll find a way to overcome the odds, they always do."
The people of Stone Valley scattered as the six peacekeepers rode onto the main street.
Buck rode up along side Chris. "Think they're stayin' here in town?"
"Maybe."Chris replied as he glanced around the small town. "Ezra, Josiah, check the hotels and boarding houses."
"If we find them, Mr. Larabee,"Ezra began as the group slowed to a halt in front of the saloon."What would you like Mr. Sanchez and I to do with them?"
Chris glanced back at JD. "Whatever you have to, Ezra. I don't want to be this close and loose them."
The southerner nodded and with Josiah close behind they moved their horses across the street to the hotel.
Dan Kelson glanced out the window of the doctor's clinic next to the general store. Larabee, damn.
Doctor Sheppard was still in examining Sam, which left Kelson alone to try to come up with a solution to this new predicament.
All the stories he had heard about Larabee flashed through his mind in a matter of seconds.
The last thing in the world he wanted to do was get into a gunfight with the man. Kelson knew if that happened he'd end up ethier in jail or dead. But as he looked back at the closed door of the doctor's office Dan knew what he had to do.
If Noah could make a deal with a mad man to keep his brother safe the least Kelson could do was draw Larabee's attention away
Chris split up the rest of the group sending Buck and JD to the general store. He glanced at Vin as they walked toward the Saloon. The younger man had been unusually quiet and reserved since they had left Four Corners. Chris knew Vin was concerned about Casey but he suspected that something else was bothering the tracker. His instincts were tellin' him that this all lead back to the bounty on Vin's head.
"Somebody' on your trail, cowboy?"Chris asked quietly as they paused just outside the saloon.
Vin glanced at his friend. "Somebody's always on my trail."
Chris wasn't letting it go. He knew they had more important things to do but he had to get to the bottom of what was troubling Vin. The tracker had been edgy since Casey had been attacked.
"You think Casey's attack is your fault."Chris concluded.
Vin sighed knowing Chris wasn't going to give up until he knew the whole story. "You remember the noose?"
Chris nodded recalling the package Vin had gotten a week ago.
"I've gotten three more since. All in the same wrappin', all the same handwriting."The tracker replied quietly.
"What was in them?"Larabee asked.
Vin shook his head. "Don't matter, they were just a way to tell me that somebody's on my trail. I got to comfortable, Chris, should've moved on a long time ago and Casey may have paid the price for that."
Larabee nodded as he took a step onto the sidewalk when the first shots rang out. Instinctively he jumped behind the horse trough using it for cover. He glanced to his right and saw that Vin had dove into an alley.
"See anything?"Chris shouted over the roar of gunfire.
Vin nodded as he squeezed of a shot before slamming back against the wall of the alley. "Roof, one guy."
Chris cautiously raised his head and looked at the rooftops across the street. Finally he spotted a silhouette on top of the General Store. Two more shots came at him causing Larabee to duck back down. As he did he heard the familiar sound of Buck's gun followed close behind by the double shot of JD's twin colts.