Jumping to Conclusions

by KT

Disclaimer: Not mine not making any money.

Author's Note: This came to me as a response to the March challenge, but didn't get written in time, but wonder of wonders, it fitted right in to the April challenge! This has not been proof read due to time considerations and you know how bad my English is, but that can't be helped, all offers of help gratefully received. Thanks to Helen for proof reading.

Vin sighed as he ran his finger around the plate to remove the last trace of chocolate butter cream from it. He really did love chocolate and Nettie’s chocolate cake was the best he ever tasted. Of course he hadn't tasted many before, but it would be hard to think there could be a better one. JD had confessed sometime ago when more than a little 'tired and emotional', that his mom always made him chocolate cake for his birthday, so Buck had had a quiet word with Nettie and they had surprised the kid with it. Seeing how much he liked it Nettie leaned into Vin and said very quietly,

"I'll make you one of yer own, next time you come out to do some work," she promised.

Vin just leaned back against the wall and smiled contentedly. He was due to leave on night patrol in a few minutes. Buck came to stand next to him on the other side as the party wound up.

"Well can I?" he asked.

"I said yes didn't I? An' I don't go back on m' word," Vin replied handing it over.

"I 'preciate it Vin. Thanks, I'll look after it. And this is between us, yes? You won't tell the others?"

"M' word on it," Vin promised.

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It was just past dawn when Vin came galloping into town. Chris was up, savouring the aroma and taste of his first coffee of the day, the town was quiet.

"We got a problem cowboy!" he called, as he swung down from Peso in front of the saloon.

Vin explained that on his way home he took a short cut past the bottom of Sandman Bluff. There, about half way up the precipitous cliff on a ledge, was a body. He couldn't see who it was, if they were hurt or dead, but he could tell it was someone big. Sandman bluff was sheer cliff. It was possible to reach the top on horseback but it was a long trip, almost ten miles to circle around the rock outcrop to the more gentle north side and then negotiate the rugged top to the edge of the perilous south side. It wasn't all sheer rock. Where the man - and from the size of the body Vin said it had to be a man – lay, was a wide long ledge with scrub and small trees clinging to it.

"Right, round up the others, let’s move," Chris commanded. "I'll get some ropes and such."

It took about twenty minutes to get JD, Nathan and Josiah assembled. It took Vin more than forty minutes to rouse Ezra and another twenty minutes for him to dress. JD came in to the jail shaking his head.

"Buck ain't in his room," he reported.

"Brother Buck is never in his own room, you know that," Josiah pointed out with some amusement.

"Yeah I know, but I met Miss Blossom, and she said no one has seen him."

Vin shifted uncomfortably, he had given his word he wouldn't tell, and there was no reason to think it had anything to do with the man on the ledge.

"No doubt Mr Wilmington is taking his nightly pleasure somewhat further afield, I suggest we leave him a note and depart," Ezra suggested. If he had to be up at such an ungodly hour he wanted to be doing something, otherwise he could be in bed.

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Dawn was fully broken by the time the six of them arrived at the cliff. Vin pointed out what he had seen, but they could see no more than the tracker; if it hadn't been a full moon and it had been anyone but Vin, the man would have gone unnoticed. Clearly there was no way up to the man, since the very ledge he lay on formed an overhang, no rope could be seen hanging down, so he must have fallen. Given how far it was Nathan didn't hold out much hope. The six of them set out to ride up to the top.

They had expected to find a horse but there was no sign of one, Vin couldn't even find any signs that a horse had been there at all. So how, they wondered, had the man got there at all? Vin lay on his stomach and looked over. From the top the body was mostly obscured from view by the scrub, but a pair of legs in light coloured pants were visible.

"Can't see much; too far, too much scrub," he reported.

"What if you look through yer telescope?" JD suggested.

"Don't have it with me," Vin replied as he pulled himself up.

Since he didn't explain further no one asked. If Vin wanted you to know something he told you, if he didn't volunteer the information, he wasn't ready to share.

"So what d' ya think?" JD asked Vin.

Vin batted the dust and grit off his chest and legs. "Well I reckon me an' Ez is gonna have to go down there, is what I reckon."

Ezra suddenly looked up from the convenient rock platform where he was lying in the morning sun, with his hat tipped over his eyes.

"Me? Why me? Mr Dunne is much lighter than me."

JD was eager to help so interjected at this point, forgetting that Vin never suggested any plan without thinking it though. "That's true Vin, I ain't afraid or nothing, I can do it."

"If ya ain't afraid ya should be, I am, it's a hell of a long drop, 'sides Ez is more used t' high's than you, an' yonder feller ain't gonna be no lightweight neither," Vin explained. Both he and Ezra had a fondness for spending time on the roofs of Four Corners, moving from rooftop to rooftop with apparent fearless ease.

"I'm strong!" JD pointed out indignantly.

"Yup, but Ezra's stronger."

"Vin is right, you two go down, we'll use the horses to take the strain," Chris announced, taking command of the situation.

"Good Lord! Mr Larabee, Mr Dunne offered to go, if you use the horses weight is not a consideration." Standish was standing up now, trying to look reasonable and not just petulant.

"Can it Ezra! Yer going, now work with Nathan and Josiah to sort out the ropes. JD you're in charge of the horse, we'll use Cardinal, since he's the strongest." JD nodded at Chris and moved to Josiah's big sorrel, Ezra threw up his hands in despair and capitulation.

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It took a while to set up but eventually they were ready. First Vin was lowered over the edge, using his feet to brace himself on the loose and crumbling rock, sending a shower of small stones and pebbles down onto the ridge, some landing on the victim's legs. Vin was near the bottom when he heard a groan from below him. Vin froze a moment, then looked up at the others.

"Nate he ain't dead, I can hear him moanin' and a groanin'," he called up.

"Well jist be real careful how ya move him, real careful," Jackson counselled.

"Yeah, yeah I'll be careful." With that he dropped down to land on the ridge. "Ez you git yer butt down hear, ya hear!" he shouted up.

Ezra just muttered something and began to descend the rope. Vin moved closer to the edge and pulled the brush aside. The victim had rolled over onto his back, and was now propped up on his elbows eyeing his would-be rescuer.

"Mornin' Vin, what're ya doin' here?" asked Buck, looking somewhat bleary and sleep-ruffled, but smiling.

Vin just stood and stared at him.

"Dear Lord!" Ezra exclaimed as he joined Vin. "What are you doing here Mr Wilmington? More to the point how did you get here and are you in one piece?"

Buck continued to stare at them from the ground. "Course I'm alright, why wouldn't I be alright? Look…" He stood somewhat stiffly and both men suddenly realised he had been lying on a bedroll. Suddenly a look of fear swept over his face. "What are you doing here? Is JD all right? Did something happen?" he asked desperately.

"No! No, nothing happened to Mr Dunne, he is up there." Ezra pointed up. "Vin saw a 'body' we came to investigate," he explained.

"Hey Vin! Who you talkin' to?" Chris called down to them, since the scrub still blocked the view from the top.

"Bucklin!" Vin yelled back.

"What?" bellowed four voices above them in unison.

"Mornin' boys!" Buck yelled up, his voice unmistakable.

"Well I'll be!" gasped Nathan.

"The Lord works in mysterious ways," commented Josiah.

"Trust Buck," sighed Chris.

"Is he alright?" bellowed JD.

"I'm fine kid, jist fine," Buck assured.

Ezra looked down at Buck's 'camp'; as well as the bed roll, there was a canteen, a cardboard box of the kind Inez usually packed sandwiches in, and, safely tucked behind a rock where it couldn't roll off the ledge, was an unmistakable glint.

"Mr Tanner, is that your spyglass?" Ezra asked, pointing at the glinting object.

"Oh yeah, sorry Vin, here." Buck bent down and grabbed the telescope and handed it to it's owner. "Much obliged fer the loan."

Vin just tipped his hat.

"Do I take it you know about all this…" Ezra swept the ledge with his hand dramatically. "And you let us...me … risk my life for no good reason?" he fumed.

"Now Ezra, don't go gettin' all riled up. I never told Vin what I needed it fer, he didn't know I was up here," Buck explained.

"And just what, may I ask, are you doing up here? Presumably you have been here all night?" Ezra asked, in a tone that left it in no doubt he was going to get an answer.

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Buck pointed to the cliff side behind him. "Vin you wan'a take a look, the little cleft about ten feet down from the overhang, you see it?"

Vin nodded, and lifted the glass to his eye, he stood in silence for a long time. Suddenly he stiffened and refocused the glass.

"She's beautiful, right?" Buck asked. Vin nodded. "'Course there was more t' see least night, lot more action, moon was s' strong it was like day, great view."

Ezra just stood there open-mouthed, trying to understand what was going on.

"This is unacceptable, it's monstrous! You can't just spy on some poor young woman!" he spluttered.

Buck's face flushed with anger. "Ezra, how could you ever think I would do such a disrespectful, underhanded thing like that? I've shot men fer less than that. 'Side's, how the hell do you reckon any woman got to that cleft? What do you think she is? A midget acrobat?"

"Well…I…I mean…well, who are you watching?" Ezra asked.

Vin handed him the telescope and helped him to orient himself and focus on the cleft.

"I don't see…oh…oh my…that is a beautiful sight, are those what I think they are?"

"Yup," confirmed Buck. "She's got three, born last night, all doin' fine."

All three man just stood in silence passing the telescope to each other, watching the mother Barn Owl settle down for the day, with her new born owlets. Eventually the prolonged silence had the men waiting on top curious and worried.

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"What the hell is going on down there? You said Buck was alright, what's going on?" Chris bellowed down.

"Um nothin', nothin' at all, we're comin' back," Vin called, he was sorry to leave but in truth there was nothing much to see, since the owl family had settled down to sleep.

Vin turned to Buck. "Buck, how in the hell did you get down here and how were you intendin' to git back up?" He pointed to the rope he and Ezra had come down.

"Well not on that thing!" He pointed to the rope. "My mom didn't raise no fool." He calmly packed up his bedroll, canteen and sandwich box and walked past his two dumbfounded friends, pushing past the scrub bush behind them, and disappeared.

"What the hell?" Ezra exclaimed as both he and Vin followed Buck. They emerged from behind the bushes to see an opening in the rock face; Buck was standing in the entrance lighting a lantern.

"What in the world…?" Ezra asked open-mouthed.

"Oh; it's an old mine tunnel, still safe though, goes right through to the other side, it's were I left ol' Beavis. See ya back in town." With that Buck was heading down the dark passage.

"Wait!" called Ezra. Buck duly stopped and turned to face him. "I for one will be coming with you, I have no intention of climbing back up that rope!"

Buck shrugged. "Well alright, but the tunnel comes out a good six miles from your horses an' you ain't ridin' with me," he stated firmly. "It ain't fair on Beavis, not over this terrain, sorry."

Vin waved to Buck. "See ya in town Bucklin, " he called and headed back to the rope.

"Oh good Lord, this is ridiculous, your horse is more than capable of carrying us both," Ezra argued as Buck once more set off down the passage.

"No, not over steep rocky ground, not hearing you whine, ain't worth m' horse breaking a leg. Bye, Ezra."

"Wait! I can ask the others to bring my mount to the tunnel entrance, you just have to tell them where it is."

"Well I guess you could, but it's a good few miles out of their way, it'll only take a few minutes to pull you back up the cliff. 'Course you'll get all dirty an all, but what the hell, it's only dirt right? You wanna ask Chris to make the detour?"

Ezra considered the question, the probable outcome, and resigned himself to being pulled back up a crumbling rock face.

"Oh hell. Good day for now, Mr Wilmington." He turned to go then turned back. "Mr Wilmington?" Buck stopped but did not turn around. "If you were going to come back one night would you mind some company?"

"Nah, I don't mind. Happy to have you along. She sure is a thing of beauty ain't she?"

"Quite exquisite." Ezra confirmed.

The End

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