You Have to Trust Someone

by Phyllis

This was originally an episode of PKP productions fourth virtual season.

JD Dunne sat in front of the jail with his chair tipped back against the wall. He pulled off his bowler and began to twirl it in his hands out of boredom. It had been a quiet week in Four Corners and, while it was peaceful, it was also monotonous. There was nothing happening, no distractions. Buck and Ezra were out on patrol. Chris and Vin were in the saloon. From where he sat, he could see Josiah at the church, working on some new pews.

Nathan had stopped by earlier to say he was going to Rain’s village for a visit. It had been over three weeks since the healer had last seen the young woman and JD had to smile at the man’s shy admission of missing her. He knew that his own relationship with Casey Wells had progressed in the last three years to more than a friendship, but not quite to the point of courtship yet. But, truth be known, if he didn’t see her at least once a week, he usually managed to find some excuse to get out to the Wells ranch.

His attention was drawn down the street as he heard the jingling of a harness. The stage entered town and rolled down the street to stop in front of the depot. JD placed the bowler back onto his head and stood up. Adjusting the Colts that hung from his hips, he stepped off the boardwalk and headed over to check out any passengers that were disembarking in the small town.

He was coming around the back of the stage when he heard Billy Travis’ voice call out ‘Grandpa’. JD rounded the stage in time to see Orrin Travis envelope the young boy in a big hug. The young sheriff noticed Billy’s mother, Mary, standing on the boardwalk, watching her son and father-in-law greet each other. Stepping back from his grandson, Judge Travis joined Mary on the boardwalk and placed a gentle kiss on the offered cheek.

"Orrin, what a pleasant surprise. We weren’t expecting to see you this week." Mary said quietly.

"Good morning, Mary. Had a slight change of plans." Orrin looked around and made eye contact with JD.

JD tipped his hat, smiling at the judge. "Judge Travis. Nice to see you, sir."

"And you, Mr. Dunne. I have business with you gentlemen. Could you ask Chris to join me at the jail?"

"Sure thing, Judge. Miss Travis." JD tipped his hat again and threw a wink at the boy. As he turned to head down to the saloon, he heard Judge Travis tell Mary and Billy that he would join them for lunch. JD trotted over to the saloon to look for Chris Larabee.

JD hit the bat winged doors and leaned into the dark room. He waited for his eyes to adjust and stepped in, glancing both directions until he spied Chris and Vin sitting at a corner table. Both men looked his direction as he headed their way.

Breathless, he stopped in front of the two men. He reached up and removed his hat with one hand, as he pointed with the other. "Judge Travis came in on the stage. He wants to see ya at the jail."

Vin glanced over at Larabee, his eyes questioning the request. A slight shake of the head was Larabee's only response to the unvoiced question. The gunslinger pulled his hat down over his eyes and stood, along with Tanner. They headed out the door with JD following behind.


The three peacekeepers entered the jail to find Judge Travis sitting behind the desk.

"Orrin." Chris said as he entered.

"Chris. Vin. Sorry to show up without notice. I need a prisoner picked up in Watsonville and brought back here for trial. Chris, I was hoping to get you and a couple of the others to go get him."

"Any particular reason for not going there for the trial?"

The chair squeaked as Orrin leaned back and folded his hands across his stomach. "He's accused of trying to rob the bank. Five people were killed during the attempt. One of the robbers, as well as the bank manager, two women and a child died in a gun battle outside the bank. The sheriff was wounded. He wired me, asking to move the trial. He has a couple of deputies, but he doesn’t feel that he can contain the townspeople throughout a trial. Emotions are running pretty high, as you can well imagine."

Chris’ mouth tightened as the Judge talked. Old memories sprang to mind and he felt his blood boiling. He heard the words, but his mind was remembering the murder of his own wife and child, the emotions fresh in his mind even though it had been seven years since their deaths. Chris shook the memories away as Orrin finished speaking.

Chris shifted his weight, as he replied, "Should be no problem. When you wanting us to go?"

"I expect that you should be back within five days, if you leave now." Orrin informed him. "If that's agreeable?"

"Don’t see any reason that we can’t leave today." He glanced at Vin Tanner as he spoke. Vin nodded his head. "As soon as Buck and Ezra get back, we can head out."

JD shifted from foot to foot in eagerness. The judge said he wanted Chris and two others to go. He chewed his lip hoping Chris would ask him to go. His hopes were dashed with Larabee’s next words.

"Vin and I’ll grab Buck and head out as soon as him and Ezra get back."

JD’s eyes dropped to the floor and he quickly turned and walked away from the others to stand looking out at the street. Last thing he wanted was Chris to see his disappointment at not being asked to go along.

Vin caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and turned his head as JD walked off. He saw the slump of the young man's shoulders and knew the kid was upset by Chris' failure to invite him to go. Tanner stepped in front of Larabee and looked at him with one eyebrow raised.

Chris frowned at the tracker, his brows knitted. He watched as Vin's eyes flicked toward JD and back. Chris glanced at the disappointed youth's back and sighed. He heard Tanner suppress a chuckle as he turned to JD.

"JD, why don't you go let Josiah know that we'll be leaving as soon as Buck and Ezra get back? They're due back here anytime. Soon as I let them know where we're going, the three of us can head out."

JD turned slowly and pasted a weak smile on his face. "Sure thing, Chris. Do you need me to do anything else? Nathan went out to visit Rain. Should I go get him?"

"No time before we leave. Buck can let him know tomorrow. He’ll be back by then, won't he?"

JD frowned. "I thought Buck was going with you and Vin."

Chris shook his head. "No, I just wanted to make sure and tell him where we were going. You don't mind going, do ya? If you have something planned, I'll see if he wants to go instead."

A smile tugged at Larabee's lips as he watched the kid's face light up.

Stammering, JD shook his head and replied. "No! No, I wanna go. I just thought.. I.. I'll go tell Josiah. Meet ya at the livery." Not waiting for a reply, he tore out the door, grabbing for his hat as it flew off his head.

Chris stood with one hand on his hip and the thumb of the other hooked in his gun belt. He stood, shaking his head as Tanner briefly dropped a hand on his shoulder. The contact brought Larabee's head up to glare at the man.

"I hope I don't regret this."

Vin gave him a crooked grin, his eyes sparkling. "You won't." That said, he touched his hat and said, "Judge" The tracker left the two men to themselves.

Orrin leaned forward and placed his arms on the desk. "Is there a problem with taking Mr. Dunne?"

Chris smiled at the Judge. 'Mr. Dunne? Just that I have trouble thinking of him that way' Larabee thought to himself. "No, Orrin, no problem. He's as good as they come. I just have a hard time remembering he's grown up, a man. I swear, he looks younger now than when I first saw him four years ago." Chris shook his head as he moved to the window and gazed out. "It’s hard to believe that he's twenty-three. He's a good man; I just keeping seeing the 'kid' that showed up four years ago. Sometimes it takes someone reminding me, that he ain't. Guess that's Vin's job on this trip." Larabee nodded and left the jail. He headed down to the saloon to wait for Buck and Ezra.

+ + + + + + +

Three days later, the trio had become a foursome with the addition of Vern Rankin and they were well on their way home. Rankin was a miserable excuse for a human being, ranting and cursing the entire first day. By midday on that fourth day, Chris had been ready to shoot the man when Tanner had finally convinced the bandit to mend his ways and be quiet. JD watched, wide-eyed, as Vin pulled out his knife and placed the tip of the blade in the outlaw’s left nostril.

"Did I tell you I lived with a tribe that prided itself on how long they could keep a man alive with no skin?" Vin spoke in that soft voice JD had only heard when Tanner was really pissed.

The young easterner swore that Rankin's eyes about crossed as he tried to look at the knife that disappeared up his nose. "No" the man breathed.

"Do ya want to find out how long that is?" Vin asked. Rankin’s eyes met the tracker's.


"Then, shut your hole."

Vin slowly pulled the blade back and slid it into its sheath as he moved his horse away. JD discreetly laughed behind his hand, but was relieved that the bluff had worked. At least, he thought it was a bluff. The three peacekeepers were able to enjoy the peace and quiet for a while.

+ + + + + + +

Buck sat in front of the jail, his chair tipped back against the wall, his fingers interlaced across his stomach. The town was just beginning to come alive in the cool morning air. He sat quietly watching as the day wore on. It had been a quiet three days and he was missing the energy that JD exuded. Though the boy could sometimes drive a body crazy with his incessant questions and lack of respect for his elders and their good advice in Wilmington's opinion, the youth definitely livened a place up. Buck stood and stretched as Josiah strolled down the street.

"Morning, Josiah. How’re you doing on those new pews?" Buck inquired.

"Well, they’d go a lot fast if I could get some assistance." A laugh rumbled up from the big chest as Buck dropped his eyes and began to look around for an escape. "Don’t worry, Buck, I ain’t asking ya to help. Just wanted to see ya sweat."

Buck relaxed as he grinned. "Hell, preacher, as picky as you are ‘bout your woodwork, I know you don’t want me helping. But you get ready to move ‘em inside, I’m there. How’s that sound?"

"I accept any and all offers, brother," and he clapped the mustached man on the shoulder.

Buck tipped his hat to the preacher. "Well, I believe I’ll go get some breakfast. I’ll see ya in a little while."

Buck headed for the saloon and entered as Ezra was coming down the stairs. Inez greeted each man with a warm greeting as they sat down at a table and gave the dark haired woman their orders. A few minutes later they were enjoying the spicy food and some quiet conversation. Nathan Jackson pushed through the swinging doors and moved to join them after a detour to the bar for a cup of coffee from Inez. They were still sitting, laughing at one of Ezra’s tales about a ‘monumental game of chance’ he had taken part in, when Josiah strode in and moved quickly to the table.

"Boys, we got some trouble." He held up a piece of paper before letting to flutter to the table. "This telegram just came in. It’s from the sheriff over in Watsonville. Seems a group of men came looking for Rankin, the man Chris and the others went after. Sheriff thinks they may be part of the same gang. They passed through town and are probably following our friends."

Ezra put down the cards he had been shuffling. "Didn’t the telegram we received from Mr. Larabee yesterday state that we should expect them tomorrow?" The others nodded in agreement. "That would leave them in a most vulnerable position should these miscreants reach our friends before they arrive here."

"I best pack some supplies. I’ll meet ya at the livery." With that, the healer stood up and left the saloon.

Buck had been on his feet before Josiah had stopped talking. He glanced from one man to the other. "Well, what are you waiting for? Chris and the young ’uns need help. Let’s go." He was headed toward the door before he got an answer from either man.

Josiah shook his head as Ezra grinned up at him. Raising, Ezra placed the deck of cards into the inner pocket of his jacket and said, "I believe that our Mr. Wilmington was only waiting for an excuse to go after young Mr. Dunne."

Josiah pulled his hat onto his head tighter. "I have no doubt that you are right, Ezra. Be sure to pack your slicker, looks like some weather in the direction we’re gonna to be heading."

The southerner smoothed a crease from his sleeve, a grimace pulling at the corners of his mouth. "Well, of course, there is, Mr. Sanchez. For when is it ever uncomplicated, or straightforward, or even clean and dry when we must rush off in rescue of someone?"

"Ah, but that would be so terribly dull, Ezra. Where is the challenge?" The preacher laughed as the southerner made a crude sound and swaggered off.

It was going on late afternoon when Vin wheeled around and came to a halt. "Got weather coming. We need to find some shelter. Seem to remember a cave a ways up. I'll go have a look."

Chris nodded as the tracker wheeled his horse around. Vin touched the brim of his hat and rode ahead. Chris glanced over at JD. "JD, let’s keep moving. Vin’ll catch up."

Fifteen minutes later, Tanner rejoined them. "Chris, that cave's about two miles up. We can camp there ‘til it blows over."

Chris nodded. He kicked his mount forward, trailing after Tanner. JD prompted Rankin to follow and then brought up drag. He scanned the sky, looking for what Vin had seen. Nothing. But within minutes, the sky was darkening and thunder was rolling across the heavens.

Vin pulled up and Chris drew up beside him. Tanner held onto the brim of his hat as the wind whipped around them. "Chris, over there. The opening's small, but it opens up into a large cavern." With a nod, Larabee rode past him and moved to the cave. Rankin never looked over at Vin as he followed Larabee. JD grinned as he, too, moved to the cave mouth.

Glancing behind them, Vin started after the others. He was several yards behind and within the tree line, when lightening struck off to his left. The ground shook as a tree exploded and split, crashing to the ground. Thunder rolled across the area in the same moment causing Unalii’s eyes to roll as he danced around. Vin fought the frightened animal, reining in his head.

The black had just begun to calm when lightening struck again; this time to Tanner’s right. Unalii’s eyes rolled in fright, the whites showing in his terror, as he struggled against the man on his back. For an instant, the man was winning the battle, but power won out and the animal got his head. Unalii reared up in an attempt to flee. Vin never saw the limb above his head, but he was made aware as he was slammed into it. Darkness pushed at the edges of his vision. He clung to the saddle horn and the animal’s mane in an attempt to remain in the saddle. The animal reared again and Tanner lost his battle to retain his seat as he was once again slammed into the tree. As he tumbled from the saddle, the black bolted.

+ + + + + + +

Riding ahead, Chris saw the opening and dismounted. He cautiously entered, leading his mount in behind. The cavern was large enough to shelter them and all four mounts. He ground reined his horse and stepped back through the opening just as the lightening struck. He saw JD and Rankin struggling with their terrified mounts. Larabee ran over and grabbed the bridle of the outlaw’s horse.

"Get off. Lead them into the cavern. There’s room for the horses in the rear." He watched as JD jumped from the saddle and pulled Rankin down. As they started in, Chris grabbed JD by the arm. "Keep an eye on him. I’m going to check on Vin. He should have been here by now."

"Don’t worry, Chris. I’ve got him." JD assured the gunslinger. He shoved the outlaw into the opening as he led the two horses through the mouth of the cave.

Chris turned and headed to where he had last seen Tanner. He was nearing the trees when a crashing sound alerted him to unseen danger. He stepped off the trail just as the black ran out of the tree line and past him. Chris watched as he disappeared into the dark. A quick glance was all he wasted on the animal before he turned, looking for the tracker. He ran headlong into the trees.

"VIN!" Dark limbs pulled at his duster and scratched at the skin of his face. He headed for the weakening light of the fire the lightening strike had started. Reaching the shattered remnant of the tree, he glanced about looking for his friend. He started to move on when he saw Vin’s hat fluttering in the wind. Scooping the hat up, he spun around; looking for the man it belonged to. A flash of lightening illuminated the area and in that brief light, he saw the crumpled form under a tree.

"Damn. Vin." He ran over and turned the limp body over. Chris leaned down and held his breath as he looked at the pale face. He relaxed as he saw Vin’s lips quiver with an indrawn breath. Larabee placed a hand on the younger man’s chest, relieved to feel the steady thump of his heart as it beat under his palm.

Chris wanted to check the tracker for injuries, but he needed to get him back to the cave and some light and warmth. Hopefully, JD had started a fire because Vin was already shivering in the cold rain. Grabbing the lapels of the tracker’s jacket, Chris sat him up, draping the limp arms over his shoulder. Larabee grunted as he hefted the man’s dead weight up and onto his shoulder. Standing carefully, he adjusted the dead weight across his shoulders. That done, he staggered back toward the cavern.

+ + + + + + +

The four peacekeepers were wet, cold, and miserable. They had ridden into the night and into the storm. Buck told them about an old shack not far from off and they set off in that direction. The rain had let up a few minutes before they reached the shack. Each man grabbed his bedroll as Buck volunteered to shelter the animals.

Dismounting, Buck took the reins of mounts and led they into a shelter built onto the side of the shack. He loosened the cinches and, removing the saddles, placed them in a dry corner. He pulled a rag from his bedroll and wiped the broad backs down. Pulling some grain out of the bag Josiah had brought, he fed and watered the weary animals. By the time Buck got inside, Nathan had a fire started and they were preparing to fix some dinner. He shucked off his jacket and hung it with the others over the only chair in the room.

Grabbing a cup, he poured some coffee. "This rain is going to go on for a while. We're going to lose what tracks there were."

"Pray tell, if they remain enroute to Four Corners, why would we need to track them?"

"Don't imagine they wanted to get wet any more than we did, Ezra." Nathan reasoned.

"Of course, Mr. Jackson. I do not know what I was thinking of." Ezra looked up at Nathan and smiled. "It may well hamper our efforts to reach our companions, but it might be advantageous to our friends that this tempest deluge the trail and obscure their tracks. It should severely hinder the criminals that are attempting to intercept them."

The other three thought on that for a moment and nodded in agreement.

Josiah stoked the fire as he questioned. "Buck, you been out with Vin. Can you think of any place he might hole up in this kind of weather?"

All eyes turned to the man as he rubbed the back of his neck in thought. "Seems that Vin mentioned a couple of caves around here somewhere. He said he hadn’t ever been in them, just noticed ‘em as he passed."

"Would more ‘an likely try for them if they was caught out in the rain. Reckon they got that far?" Nathan lay out a bedroll as he waited for Wilmington to respond.

"If they left Watsonville when they planned and didn’t have any trouble, I suppose they would have made it easily. Maybe, even been past the caves. But I don’t see ‘em getting much further. Ain’t no reason to push the animals as far as they know."

Josiah settled back against the wall. "I would imagine that we will not know for certain until we have located our comrades with tomorrow’s sun. I suggest that we get some rest if we wish to be of any assistance."

Ezra stood and straightened his sleeves. "As I am accustomed to the late hours, gentlemen, might I volunteer to stand first watch? Whom should I awaken at the appropriate hour?"

Nathan Jackson tossed his hand up and Ezra acknowledged with a slight incline of his head. "As you wish, sir. I shall awaken you in four hours. Good night, gentlemen."

Buck and Josiah tossed out their bedding and, pulling off their boots and were soon asleep and snoring. Ezra walked quietly to a window and stood staring out into the dark. He did not turn, but spoke softly as Nathan approached. "Mr. Jackson, you should get some rest. It is a fair bet that the morrow will bring a bit of excitement and your services may be required."

"You okay, Ezra? You been awful quiet this trip." The tall black man stood slightly behind and to the side of Standish. He could see the man’s features in the dim moonlight. The green eyes were shrouded in deep pools of black and unreadable, his mouth compressed into a thin line.

Cocking his head, he half turned to Nathan and the glint of firelight revealed his eyes to the healer. Nathan’s features softened as he looked into those eyes. Smiling slightly, he placed a hand briefly on the red-jacketed shoulder.

Ezra reciprocated with a smile of his own. "I believe that I will be fine as soon as we ascertain the location and well being of our friends."

"They’ll be fine, Ezra. Buck will lead us to those caves tomorrow. Chris and Vin are capable men. They’ll be just fine."

Ezra took his watch out of his vest pocket and squinted as he read the hands. "Now, Mr. Jackson, you should rest. I will alert you at midnight and you may take over the watch."

Jackson nodded and went and lay down. Ezra did not have to wait long before he was being serenaded by snores from all three men. He turned back to the window and gazed at the moon. Tomorrow could not come soon enough to suit the southerner.

+ + + + + + +

JD sat Rankin down and shackled him. He moved the animals further back and loosened the saddles. Moving back to the front, he checked Rankin and then went out to get some wood before the rain soaked it all beyond use. Heading back in, he glanced around for Chris and Vin. Not seeing them, he reentered the cave and started a fire. The rain had increased in intensity and JD was beginning think he should go look for his friends, when Chris staggered in.

JD jumped to his feet and helped Chris lay Vin down near the fire. He ran back and got the bedrolls off the saddles while Chris sat about checking the tracker for injuries, discovering a gash on the back of Tanner’s head. He thanked JD as the kid handed him a canteen.

"What happened to him, Chris?" the youth asked as he sat Larabee’s saddlebags down and lay out the bedroll. Larabee told how the black had bolted past him and, backtracking, he had found Vin unconscious under a tree. JD helped Chris get the wet clothes off the tracker and then onto the bedroll. The young man took the wet clothing and laid them out to dry. He placed the gun belt and the sheath encased knife next to the bedroll. Deciding that they were in need of coffee, JD left Chris to do the bandaging and he started some coffee.

The young easterner kept one eye turned to the black clad gunslinger in case he needed something. After warming some water, he handed it to Chris to clean Tanner’s face with, noticing that Vin never flinched or even moaned as Chris tended to him. Finishing, Chris sat back and rubbed his eyes.

"How is he, Chris?" JD asked as he held out a cup of steaming coffee.

Larabee took the offered cup with a nod. "Well, he’s alive. And his head stopped bleeding." He shook his head. "I’m not sure, JD. I’d feel better if he woke up, but right now, I’m just glad he’s breathing."

JD nodded and turned back to the fire. "Guess we’ll have to wait and see."

"Yeah, guess we will." Chris agreed. "How about some supper?"

"Sure. Coming right up." JD said. He started the meal, while Chris stood and stretched and then walked over and checked the prisoner. Walking back to the front of the cave, he stood watching the rain as it poured down. He had been standing there for quite a while when JD called to him. He tossed his cheroot out into the night and headed back to the fire. Taking a plate from JD, he sat down and began to eat, while keeping an eye on Vin. JD carried a plate over to Rankin and handed it to him.

"What’s this? Beans? I don’t like beans. Ain’t you got anything else?" Seeing Tanner unconscious made the man bold again.

"It’s real simple. You eat that or you don’t eat." JD told him and turned back to the fire. He stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes wide, as Larabee jumped up and pulled his gun.

"You throw that plate and I’ll put a hole in ya. Now, shut up and eat."

JD glanced over his shoulder and saw the blood had drained from the man’s face. Dropping his eyes, the outlaw began to eat. JD grinned as he went back to the fire and joined Chris.

"Thanks, Chris. Hate to be wearing those beans."

Larabee nodded as he sat back down and went back eating. The meal was finished in silence as he sat, watching the tracker. JD cleaned up and then went to the back to tend to the animals. Chris took first watch with the younger man spelling him five hours later. JD commented about the quiet of the evening since the rain had stopped a couple of hours earlier. Larabee nodded as he sat down on the bedroll nearest the tracker, checking him before lying down and relaxing into a light slumber.

JD woke Chris a little before dawn. The blonde was awake in an instant. He looked over at Tanner, "Any change?"

"Hasn’t even twitched far as I noticed."

Chris nodded and stood up and stretched. He glanced over at Rankin and, seeing that he was still secure and sleeping, asked JD if there was any coffee.

"Sorry, but I drank the last of it a little while ago. I can start some." The young man took the pot and rinsed it with water from a canteen. He got the coffee going and turned back to the black clad gunslinger. "Chris, I need to..ah..I gotta go. I’ll be right back." Seeing Larabee’s nod, the young man hurried out the cave entrance.

Chris sat down and stared into the flames of the fire. He was wishing Nathan had come with them as he glanced over at Tanner. Larabee froze at the sight that greeted him. Vin stood swaying slightly, his mares leg at hip level and pointing at Chris’ gut. Frowning, he slowly moved his hands away from his body and guns.

"Vin, what are you doing?"

Tanner heard voices, but he didn’t recognize them. He opened his eyes just enough to get a feel of where he was. His vision was a little blurry, but he could see that they were in a cave. He thought he had heard two voices but glancing around, he only saw one man. The stranger was dressed in black and sat facing a fire. Tanner could smell the coffee and he heard his stomach rumble, making him wonder how long he had been unconscious. The pain in his head was enough to tell him that he had probably been hit over the head and therefore out for a while.

He looked around cautiously and was surprised to see his weapons lying close at hand. Slowly, he reached over and picked up the mares leg, pointing it in the general direction of the stranger. He pushed himself upright and was reaching for his knife when the man in black turned and their eyes met.

"Vin, what are you doing?"

Tanner kept the rifle pointed in the direction of the stranger. "I’m leaving. And you’re not stopping me."

Chris kept his hands away from the gun that rested on his hip. "Vin, listen to me. You got thrown last night and hit your head. You’ve been out since then." Something was wrong and, until he found out what it was, he did not want to provoke a confrontation with the lean tracker. "Vin, do you know who I am?"

"No, I don’t know you. I figure that you’re trying to collect on the bounty." Vin gestured with the weapon for Chris to move aside. "You just keep those hands up and out."

Vin glanced around and located his clothes near the fire. He slipped the wear-softened leather boots on without bothering to slip into his pants. He could dress once he escaped. The sound of rocks clattering drew his head around. He saw someone coming through the mouth of the cave and brought the sawed off rifle around to bear. He felt the weapon buck even as he registered the fact that the young man stood with his eyes wide and his hands splayed out, away from his body, fingers spread wide. Vin’s heart froze as he realized the kid was unarmed.

His attention snapped back as a blur of black passed between them and a scream reverberated off the walls of the cave.

"VIN! NO!"

Tanner saw the blonde man slam into the hard packed ground and lay motionless. The dark haired boy cried out, "CHRIS!" and took a step forward, but halted as the rifle came to bear on him again.

"You just stay there, kid. I don’t want to have to shoot anyone else. I just want to get out of here." Tanner tossed his clothing over his shoulder and sidled out of the cave past the young man. Once outside, he quickly trotted into the tree line and took off.

+ + + + + + +

JD was just entering the cave mouth when he heard Tanner’s voice. Smiling, he quickly trotted into the cave, dislodging some small rocks as he did. He slid to a stop when he saw the scene before him.

Chris stood to one side of the fire as Vin gathered up his clothes. Tanner had his rifle trained on Larabee. The rocks clattering under his boots registered in his mind as he slid to a stop. He stared in horror as the mares leg swung in his direction.

Time seemed to slow as the next few moments ticked away. He saw the sawed off rifle belch smoke at the same instant he saw Chris launch himself forward. JD was vaguely aware of shouting, but he didn’t understand the words. His world consisted of Chris Larabee diving between Tanner and himself. He saw Larabee’s body jerk as the bullet impacted and then crash heavily to the ground.

JD was aware that he yelled something and then the mares leg came to bear on him again. He had taken a step forward to help Chris, but froze in his tracks. Tanner had his clothes thrown over a shoulder and was making his way past him and out the cave entrance.

Time seemed to snap back normal after Vin left and JD ran over to the unconscious Larabee. Turning the gunslinger over, JD found that the bullet had passed through the gunslinger’s shoulder. He grabbed some bandages out of his saddlebags and pressed the material against the front and back of Chris’ right shoulder. As the bleeding slowed, JD sat back, trying to figure out what to do next.

He glanced over at Rankin. The man sat up against the wall of the cave, smirking. As much as the dark haired youth wanted to wipe that smirk off the outlaw's face, he maintained control and turned his attention back to the wounded man. JD became aware of the chill in the morning air and tossed more wood on the fire. Taking the unconscious man under his arms, JD dragged Larabee to the bedrolls and nearer to the warmth the fire produced.

Settling Chris onto the bedroll, he unfastened the gun belt from around the man’s waist and set it aside. JD managed to get the blood soaked shirt off and got his first good look at the wound in Larabee’s shoulder. The young man pulled on his lower lip and tried to remember what Nathan did when one of them had been shot.

First, stop the bleeding. That accomplished, he moved on to the next thing-clean the wound. He grabbed the pot he had cooked beans in the previous night and poured some water into and then sat it over the fire to boil. He crawled over to the saddlebags that sat on the opposite side of the fire and dumped the contents of Chris’ onto the ground. Nathan made sure that each man had some medical supplies and JD gathered up the once from both his and Chris' saddlebags.

He dropped the supplies next to the prone figure and sorted through them. More bandages, tea, and a small vial of laudanum were about the extent of his findings. JD leaned Chris onto his side so he could reach both the entrance and exit wounds the bullet had made. He took a bar of soap and the hot water and cleaned the blood from both. The easterner swallowed the queasiness down as he examined the wound, knowing he wouldn’t be able to stitch it closed, but that it needed to be covered. Using some of the bandages, he poked a portion of the material into each hole to seal it from dirt and more blood loss. He had to fight the sick feeling in his stomach as he did. Dunne told himself to thank Nathan next time he saw him. It was beyond JD's understanding how the man could do the things that he did. After he plugged the holes, he wrapped the remaining bandages around Chris’s shoulder and chest.

JD sat back and scrutinized his handiwork. It wasn’t as neat as Nathan would have done, but it would do until he could get the man home. The young man propped the gunslinger’s head and shoulders on the underside of his saddle. It would cradle the wounded shoulder and keep it from pulling. JD had found it the most comfortable way to sleep after he had been stabbed in the shoulder. He draped a blanket over the man and sat back.

As he watched the man’s chest rise and fall with each breath, he wondered what had happened after he had left the cave. Why would Vin pull a gun on Chris? They were best friends, as close as he was to Buck. There was just no way Vin would shoot Chris on purpose. ‘Of course, he had been trying to shoot me, not Chris,’ the boy thought to himself. Still Vin had no reason to shoot him, either of them. He rubbed his head as he tried to puzzle it out.

"Hey, kid. You going to feed me, today? And I need to go. How about a little consideration for the prisoner, kid?" Rankin was yelling at him and it took a moment for it to register with him. JD stood and turned to the man. He really wished he could knock that grin off the man’s face. JD turned back to check Larabee and a wave of dizziness washed over him. He sat down hard, sliding pass the rock he had been sitting on and ended up on the hard packed ground next to Larabee.

"Hey, kid, you all right?" Rankin laughed as he continued. "Maybe seeing all that blood made ya light headed. You ain’t gonna pass out or something, are ya? I’d sure hate to see that happen, kid."

JD never thought about it. He simply pulled Chris’s pistol out, turned and fired. Rankin dove flat on the ground, his hands coming up to shelter his head, as small rocks and dirt settling down on him. JD turned back and replaced the gun in the holster. "Now, shut up."

It was after that the boy realized he was in trouble. He had a wounded man, plus a prisoner, that he needed to get back to Four Corners. He also had a man missing and there was no way he could leave without finding him first. Lord, he wished Buck or one of the others were with them. All these decisions were giving him a headache.

He put his hands down and started to stand up. A searing pain took his breath and strength away and he fell back to the ground, clutching his side. When he was able to breath again, he moved his hand and felt the warm stickiness of blood. Frowning, he pulled up his vest and shirt and saw the hole in his right side, just above his waist.

"Shit," he whispered as he dropped the material and leaned back against the rock. He took a couple of deep breaths and looked again. It didn’t look too bad, he decided. The wound was bleeding some, but not an excessive amount in his eyes. He took the remaining water and cleaned around the hole as best he could and then wrapped it with the remaining bandages.

He grabbed the vial of laudanum and took a small sip. JD knew if he drank too much, he would get drowsy, so he took as little as possible. Capping the vial, he sat with his head in his hands and waited.

+ + + + + + +

The four men had risen early and headed out after a cold breakfast, Buck leading the way. They decided to stick to the main trail for an hour or two in hopes that the absent trio would go back to it after holing up during the storm.

They did not go far before they came across evidence of several men and mounts on the road. Buck and Ezra dismounted and studied the tracks.

"It would appear that they are backtracking themselves, " the southerner noted.

"Yeah, ‘pears so. Think they know something we don’t?" Buck frowned as he turned his head toward Standish.

"If they came from that direction, it is most likely, they missed our companions. If Mr. Larabee turned off the main trail per Mr. Tanner’s advice, to take shelter in this cave you spoke of, the bunch of hooligans missed the track and are now retreating in hopes of reacquiring it."

Buck grinned, "You been listening to Vin."

Ezra cocked an eyebrow at the big man squatted next him. "I find the knowledge that Mr. Tanner possesses to be quite remarkable and I relish the fact that he deems me worthy enough to pass it on to."

Buck took hold of the gambler’s arm and drew him upward as he stood. "Ezra, you’re worthy of that and a lot more." Buck’s face had neither a smile nor a frown as he spoke, only an open look of truth.

Ezra simply smiled. He was no longer the man that went to an Indian village in hopes of finding gold. He was now a man with friends and a home. While he still enjoyed a good game of chance and would hoodwink an unsuspecting victim, be he a stranger or a friend, Ezra was not a lone wolf out for only himself. His mother’s teachings were a thing of the past. He had learned that not everyone he met was a potential mark. There were people in the world that only wanted to be friends. He had six such people.

The two men mounted and then turned to the other two. "Looks like the gang is ahead of us. If we wanna to catch up, we best ride." Buck headed toward the area Vin had said the cave was located. The others followed close behind.

+ + + + + + +

JD heard Chris moan and he gingerly moved to the man’s side.

"Chris, you awake?" the young man asked. He was rewarded with a frown and a hint of green as the man opened one eye only to close it again. Finally, the gunslinger groaned and struggled to sit up. Dunne offered the man his hand, but Chris shook his head.

"I’m fine," he said. Larabee looked around the cavern and then back at JD. "Where’s Tanner?"

JD shook his head. "Vin left. He’s been gone ‘bout three hours, now. You up to telling me what happened?" JD stood and moved to the fire. He listened as he poured some of the strong coffee that sat near the campfire.

"I ain’t exactly sure. One minute he was laying there, the next he had a gun pointed at my gut."

JD frowned as he handed the man the coffee. "Why do you think he would do that, Chris?"

Larabee took a sip of the coffee and grimaced. "I don’t think he knew who I was. Didn’t act like it, at least."

"Must be ‘cause of hitting his head. He don’t remember you, but does remember that there’s a bounty on his head. Maybe he thinks we’re bounty hunters. That’s probably why he pulled a gun on ya."

Chris nodded as he flexed his shoulder. "Makes sense. If he noticed Rankin in shackles, that would convince him." Chris sat the cup down and threw off the blanket JD had across him.

The young man stepped over and placed a hand on the uninjured shoulder. "Whatta you think you’re doing?"

"I’m going after him." He looked over his shoulder at the easterner, noticing the bloodstained clothes for the first time. Chris frowned as JD threw the blanket back over his legs.

"You aren’t going anywhere. I planned on tracking him just as soon as you woke up so you could keep an eye on Rankin."

"JD, where’d all that blood come from?" Chris reached over only to have the younger man move away.

Brushing at the stain, JD said, "I had to move ya nearer to the fire. Got some blood on me when I did." JD moved further away as he continued to talk. "I’m going to find Vin and see if I can get him to come back. He seemed a mite skittish, so I plan on going real easy with him. I’ll get back as soon as I can. I don’t think Rankin will give you much trouble, but I left your gun close, along with the rifle and ammunition. Supplies are right next to the fire and I fed the horses already and there’s a small pool of water that they can drink from. If I can’t find him today, I’ll head back first thing tomorrow. Once I get you and Rankin to town, I can get a couple of the others to help me find Vin."

JD had gathered a few things as he spoke and now stood in front of Larabee, ready to leave. "You said in the telegram you sent Buck to expect us today. Chances are that we’ll run into them on the way back."

He went to the back of the cave and retrieved his mount. Leading the animal back to the cave entrance, he turned to Larabee one more time. "Don’t worry, Chris. I’ll be careful. I ain’t planning on pushing Vin into doing something stupid. You rest and I’ll see ya tomorrow at the latest."

"JD!" Chris called out. "JD, I think we should go on to town and see if we can get some help. We can make it by tonight."

The boy was shaking his head before the man finished speaking. "Chris, I owe it to Vin to try and find him today. If he remembers who we are and what he done, he might not come back. I’m pretty sure he thinks he killed you. I can’t let him go on thinking that. If he won’t come back, that’s one thing, but I have to make him understand that you’re alive and he can come home anytime he’s ready."

Chris nodded. It made sense that he wait and build up his strength while JD tried to locate the tracker. Larabee held out little hope that the young man would be able to track the other man. Vin was good at what he did and knew how to hide a trail.

JD glanced around the cave. "You should be safe in here until I get back. Keep an eye on Rankin. He’s got food and water near by, so you don’t have to worry about moving around to accommodate him." Tipping his hat, he led his horse outside. He studied the ground for a few minutes and then, mounting, rode off in search of Tanner.


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