Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
I can feel him holdin my hand again.
Things have been so twisted up in my head fer so long now I have a hard time knowin whats real and what isnt.
But I know that Chris has been holdin my hand. And I know its helped more than all the fussin and botherin Nathans likely wearin himself out doin.
Aw hell, when did I become a man who needs another man t hold his hand?
I must be gettin some better if I can think about that, I guess. Been too tired and too sick t care much before.
I dont remember much, but what I do remember is pretty clear.
I remember the rain and the lightenin. I remember the . . . rope.
I remember Chris callin my name. I tried to turn my head and see him . . . tried t tell him . . .
I remember wakin up on the trail and him tellin me somethin about me bein dead. That dont seem right, but like I said, my heads all twisted up.
I remember him sayin he meant what he said about me makin him a better man. Dont reckon Ill ever figure that one out, even when my head is screwed on straight again. Aint possible, from where Im sittin.
And I remember seein Miss Netties beautiful face peering over me. Yeah, I know, not many would describe her as beautiful, but then, most folks just dont know how t look.
I can feel his fingers tighten their grip just a little, and I curl mine up a bit tighter, too. Feels so damn good t know hes here, and I wonder if I should just open my eyes and open my mouth and tell him that the only reason Im still breathin is because hes been holdin my hand.
Probably just embarrass us both.
But theres somethin kickin around in my mind about this bein dead business.
I try t take a breath and open my eyes, but it hurts. I think I might be moaning.
"Easy, Vin," he says.
Folks that dont know the real Chris Larabee well, they just dont know the real Chris Larabee . . . how soft he can be when he wants t be.
Its temptin t just give in t that soft voice and the rough fingers that are moving in little circles across the top of my hand.
But I open my eyes anyway.
It takes me a minute to focus, but gradually I see him lean forward and look squarely at me. Hes sizin me up seein if Im really here or lost in some nightmare again.
I make it easy on him. "Im here," I say, although it sounded better in my head than in real life, I guess.
He gets me a drink of water and it still feels like its going down over a damn porcupine in my throat, but its better than it was. I nod and I say, "Thanks." That sounded a little better, I think, but he still has that pinched look that tells me Im not doin as good as hed like.
Never seen a gunslinger go on the worry like him.
"What . . . happened?"
I probably should have narrowed it down it a little more than that, but it occurs t me that I have no idea how I got from hangin by a rope in Texas t here.
He sighs. I wish everybody would quit doin that.
"They tried to hang you. JD shot you down. I told them all you were dead. And we brought you back here."
Now see, thats what I like about Chris. He just says it like it is. Can y imagine one of the others tellin that story? "Well, now Vin they came into the jail and dragged y out . . ." Itd take every one of em at least an hour t say what Chris said in less than a minute.
But wait a minute . . . back up. Theres that part about bein dead again.
And hes turned his head away from me, which is always a bad sign.
"Chris? They think . . . Im dead?"
And then finally he turns t me.
"Vin . . . as far as Texas is concerned, youre no longer wanted." He pauses and then he says kinda low and slow, "and thats all weve told anyone."
Now hes lookin at me like Im supposed t understand what that means, and Im thinkin maybe Im not here after all maybe Im still in that place where nothin makes sense.
So I sigh. "I dont understand."
He looks down. "Vin," he says, "there are some folks in this town that dont like you much."
I laugh. Out loud. And damn, it hurts. He jumps up because Im clutchin my chest, but I manage t spit out, "Just . . . sit . . . down . . . Im fine."
He rolls his eyes. So maybe he didnt believe me this time.
He waits until Ive caught my breath and goes on. "If they find out that you didnt get off that Texas just thinks youre dead, theyre likely to let folks there know it aint true. And you know what would happen then?"
Yeah, I know. Theyd come after me and finish what they started and maybe take a few others along with me.
"But," I say, "you lied . . . to the entire town?"
He sort of shrugs and says, "We didnt exactly lie just withheld information."
Ezra must have come up with that. Id recognize his line of bull anywhere.
"All the boys know?" I ask.
So they all lied. Fer me.
And its not really over.
Oh God, its not over at all.
Hes more worried than ever now . . . wonderin what Im thinkin about all of this. Wonderin what Im gonna say or do.
Aint nothin to do just yet.
Except sigh one more time . . . and close my eyes.
+ + + + + + +
Chris knew the moment that reality had wormed its way into Vins muddled brain. It was like a light flickered, then dimmed, then went out completely in his anguished eyes. He heard the tracker sigh as his eyes slid closed . . . leaving the blond to ponder on it all alone, again.
How many times had he promised Vin hed take care of this? How many times had he promised himself?
He reminded himself that they had one card left to play. One pretty widow who knew the truth could change it all for Vin.
In mounting frustration, the blond jumped from up from the chair and began to pace the room. Why hadnt he pushed her harder? Why hadnt he listened to Buck?
He was so busy berating himself that he didnt realize he was no longer alone until a soft voice brought him to a stunned halt.
"Mary?" He turned towards the door where the woman had just entered the room.
She shifted uncomfortably and said, "I guess you didnt hear me knock. Is it all right if I come in?"
Nodding, Chris remained standing, his gaze momentarily drifting towards his sleeping friend before settling back on the blond woman.
Hesitating briefly, Mary held out a note to the gunman. "This just came. I think it might be important."
With a scowl, Chris took the telegram and quickly scanned its contents.
Mary could see by the way Chris closed his eyes and pulled his hands through his hair that it was bad news. She just wasnt sure how bad . . . or what it meant. When the wire came through from the sheriff in Tascosa, she just happened to be in the office, and just happened to hear what was said.
But it made no sense unless things were not as they seemed . . . unless there was more to what happened in Texas.
"What does it mean, Chris?" she asked.
He looked up at her as if hed forgotten she was even there. "Nothing," he answered shortly.
Standing her ground, Mary responded, "I dont believe you."
There were a lot of things she didnt believe when it came right down to it, and she was prepared to stand there all day if that is what it took to get to the bottom of whatever the seven men or at least six men were hiding.
Chris met her eyes then and asked in a low voice, "Would you mind staying with Vin for a few minutes?"
She was surprised by his request, and even more by the sadness she saw in his eyes. "Of course I will, but Chris . . ."
"Mary," he cut her off, "please?"
She nodded, but vowed she would be discussing this with gunman later. If something was going on that affected this town, she had a right to know about it.
Chris mumbled a quick, "Thanks" then headed off to find Buck, kicking himself the entire way. He should have known this would happen.
As luck would have it, Buck and Nathan were both heading for the clinic when Chris spotted them. Pulling them aside, he handed the note to Buck.
Bucks eyes narrowed as he groaned. "Damn! We should have seen this comin."
Nathan looked at both men and waited for an explanation, but all Chris said was, "Get the others. We need to talk."
Chris kicked an errant stone that lay in his path, but he really felt like pulling out his gun and shooting somebody. If only Conklin would give him a reason.
It wouldnt change the fact, though, that Vins Divine Intervention had run out.
+ + + + + + +
I can hear them all talkin. Lots of sighin goin on, too, and I aint even awake t be causin it.
At least, they dont think I am.
"We just continue on as we have, Gentleman. Nothing needs to be said. Rest assured, the fair citizens of our humble village have already moved on to more provocative topics."
Ezra. Dont have any idea what hes talkin about, though.
"I dont know, Ezra, things like this just dont stay secret for long."
JD. Hes right about that because hes usually the one that lets the cat out of the bag. The kid cant keep a secret t save his life. Wonder what secret hes talkin about.
"The boy has a point . . . one lie tends to lead to another, and before you know it it all goes to the devil . . . and well all be burning in hell right along side him."
"Well hell, Josiah, could y be a little more pessimistic here?"
Buck. He sounds mad.
"I dont get it, Chris how do you know that this sheriff thinks Vin is alive?"
Nathans here, too. Im surprised. Hes been in the room all of five minutes now and hasnt even tried to pour somethin down my throat. Must be serious.
"Because after he says that that . . . woman has left town, he tells us to stay here and be safe. Those are the exact words he used when we were discussing Vin the first time I met him. He told me Vin should hop a boat and cross the ocean if he wanted to be safe. He knows, but hes going along with it for now."
Chris. He sounds upset. The sheriff knows what?
Oh. Thats right. Im supposed to be dead.
Or is it that Im supposed to be free?
Oh shit. Im dead in Texas, but Im free in town . . . I think thats how the lie goes.
And the sheriff knows the truth.
And Mrs. Kincaid is gone . . . the only one who can set it all right is gone.
"Damn, Chris . . . Im so sorry. I shouldve handled her different from the beginning. Or I should have gone after her sooner."
Why is Buck sorry? This aint his fault. None of this is his fault.
"Not your fault, Buck. Besides, we all couldve done things differently."
Youre right about that, Chris.
"So . . . what do we do?"
JD again. Hes not liking this.
Neither am I.
I suppose I could open my eyes and throw in my take on it all.
If I knew what my take was.
"Let me express my sentiments once more: we are under no obligation to do or say anything. We simply let the matter, for lack of a better word, die."
Ezra again, and now theyre all talkin at once. And Im rememberin why I dont say all that much.
Might be time to pull these eyes open.
I dont even get the chance to push the fog away before Nathans right there, holding a cup up t my face.
I shake my head and he shakes his . . . and sighs.
"Cut that out, Nathan," I say. Now Im feelin bad because I barked at him and I can tell by his face that he dont know why.
Chris is right there, and that seems funny because I was sure he was on the other side of the room a minute ago. I look up at his face and he gives me this sad, little frown.
So I say, "It aint your fault, either, Chris. Yall done what y could."
Now its real quiet. Too quiet.
Buck comes over and grips my shoulder and he says, "Im not givin up, Vin. Im gonna go see that judge and tell him what I know."
"I dont reckon hell take much store in yer word, Buck once he finds out y lied about me," I tell him.
His face falls for a second, but then he tells me, "Well then, Ill just have to find that lyin . . . female, and bring her back."
"Well all go, Vin," JD offers.
But I look at Chris and he looks at me, and we both know. Shes long gone.
"Thanks," I say, and I close my eyes again because I just cant face them all right now.
Nathan says they need to go on and let me rest, and Chris says we should leave things alone for now.
I hear them muttering real soft as they go out the door, but I cant make out the words and I dont care.
I keep my eyes closed, but I answer, "Yeah?"
I feel tears wellin up, and I know if I look at his face . . . Ill start cryin like a baby and wont be able t stop.
So I nod and I reach fer his hand, and fer just a few more minutes Im a man who needs another man to hold his hand.
It aint that hard. I always did wear somethin around my neck, so it aint that hard t cover it up. Nathan says it will go away eventually. Says this annoying cough and the limp I cant get rid of will, too.
He says I have t take it easy fer another month. Theres a time that wouldve made me plumb crazy . . . wouldve felt like prison. But I came too close to the real thing t feel that way now.
Dont know what t do with myself, anyway.
Dont know what t do about any of it.
I thought about runnin out, since I still cant stomach the thought of anyone gettin caught up in my troubles. But that dont seem right, after all the boys ve done fer me.
And I keep thinkin about that night when Chris asked me not t go through with the hearin . . . that look on his face. He looked like losin me just might break him after all. I cant figure it, but I guess maybe I ought t stick around, just in case.
I guess maybe I want t stick around. I guess maybe . . . sometimes . . . I want t believe that the lie will work.
At least until I can figure out what t do about it . . . until we can figure out what t do about it. Guess its about time I brought my head around t the fact that seven is a whole lot more than one . . . and that Josiahs pretty damn smart.
So fer now, were all livin with the lie.
Its a big lie.
Made even bigger because the man who said it never lies.
Id live and die on Chris Larabees word alone.
And that hasnt changed. I know why he did it, and Im grateful. Not so much fer me, as fer him and JD. Wed all three be in our graves right now if he hadnt told those men I was dead that night.
Of course, I know he mostly did it fer me. I never will understand why he thinks its so important t have me around.
So important that the man who never lies would lie . . . twice.
Im still havin trouble with that second one. I dont like goin along with it, but the problem is - if I let everyone know the truth now, theyll know that the others lied.
Lied fer me.
You see how that is? One lie leads to another.
It all started with Eli Joe. One big lie.
Then Rachel Kincaid.
And then it was Chris.
And now its me. Lettin it go on is the same as sayin it. Cant hardly look Mary in the eye . . . or Casey or Mrs. Potter.
How long y figure I can keep it from her? What kind of man have I become that Id even try?
One of these days, itll all fall apart. Texas will figure out Im not dead, and this town will figure out Im not free.
Because even though its a big lie . . . its a small world.