Outlaw's Cave
by Mary Ann

In the Year AU

Main Characters: Chris, Vin, Josiah

Vin slowed Peso and gazed at the tracks that they had been following for two days. Chris stayed slightly behind him on the left, and Josiah on his right.

"Where are we?" Josiah asked, not knowing where they were; he'd never been in this area before.

Pulling Peso to a halt, Vin looked through the fall foliage at the steep cliffs and mountains crowding around them. Pushing his hat back a bit he grinned. "Looks like we're in the mountains ‘siah."

"Smart mouthed youngster," Josiah remarked as he ran his hand over his horned horse's neck and reached for his canteen.

"Well, the loaded pack horse and one fella went this way, the other two took off in that direction. I think we need to stay with the pack horse; the others aren't as loaded down as this one is." Vin said as he took a drink from his canteen while studying the ground.

Chris nodded and hung his canteen from his saddle. "That money and belongings they've been taking would be weighing quite a bit by now. They've hit enough towns and trains. They'll probably meet up before too long. And it's getting dark."

"That's what I'm thinking. There's some caves ahead that'd be perfect meeting places. But they won't be able to watch them all. If we can get there behind this one, we'll have several places we can take cover in."

"Then what are we waiting for brothers? We might as well get this done."

The three men nudged their horses into motion and were instantly cantering along the trail. Vin bent over the side of Peso, watching the tracks on the ground, trusting his mount not to fall or trip. An hour later, Vin slowed Peso and looked up. His eyes picked out the first cave, but it was to steep to get up to. He continued on, and a few minutes later he put Peso on a dim track that led upwards through the brush. They could all see dark openings in the cliffs, and Chris and Josiah wondered what they'd find up there.

They rode for another ten minutes before Vin turned Peso towards a dark opening and motioned the others to slow down. At a slow walk, they skirted building-sized boulders and broken slabs of rock before Vin moved towards a narrow, V-shaped opening. Moments later, he entered the mouth of the cave and the others followed him. They found a huge open area. Dismounting, they settled the horses and looked around the enclosure. The opening threw enough light into the cave that they could easily see the depth and width of it. It would shelter them easily.

Vin headed out on foot while Chris and Josiah made camp. They found dried wood deep at the back of the cave and got a fire going. It was dark when Vin returned and silently crossed to the fire. The men looked up at him.

"The guy's about a half mile away, settling in for the night. We can eat, then go after him. He won't expect anyone coming in this time of night."

"Good idea. Foods hot, dig in," Josiah told Vin.

Vin helped put out the fire when they were finished eating. After they added ammunition to their pockets, Vin stated, "If the other guys haven't shown up yet, we can bring this guy back here with his horses and watch for the others."

"I thought that too. Let's get this over with." Chris said and strode towards the cave mouth.

It took them nearly 30 minutes to work their way around to the other cave. Sneaking towards the large opening, they could see the lone man had made himself a comfortable camp and was eating his dinner. It looked like he was set up for a long stay. The pack horse lifted its horned head and gazed out of the opening, its ears pointed towards the new arrivals. It kept quiet, not growling at the newcomers. The outlaw didn't notice the horse go on alert. His horse was standing with its head down and watching the man eat not paying attention to anything else.

Slowly the three men covered the ground and took up places at the cave's mouth. Vin nodded and slowly slid inside. The pack horse snorted and grumbled. The man still ignored the warning. The other horse finally raised its head and looked at Vin but didn't growl, so Chris and Josiah followed Vin inside.

The man reached for his coffee cup and then froze at the sound of a gun clicking.

"Just stay that way and you'll live," Chris growled.

As he looked up at the three men standing in a semi-circle around him, several explicit cuss words erupted from the grubby man's mouth. Two guns and a blaster were pointed at him.

"Where the hell did you come from?" He snarled.

"Where's your partners?" Josiah questioned.

"They'll be here tomorrow some time." He answered before he realized he'd given something away, then cursed again.

"Thank you for that information. We'll be ready for them. Now stand up, and we'll move out of here." Chris ordered.

It took a little time to break up the camp, as it seemed to be set up for a long stay, and get everything packed and back on the pack horse. The other horse was saddled, and the outlaw was tied to its saddle. Finally, they were ready to move out. Vin dumped the man's coffee over the fire and made sure it was completely out before leading the way into the night.

The next day, Vin found a place where they could easily watch the other cave and surrounding area. The three peacekeepers took turns watching the outlaw's hideout cave. In the late afternoon, Josiah spotted the other two outlaws riding slowly through the brush towards the trail leading up to the cave. They were laughing and talking without a care in the world. He backed off and notified Chris and Vin.

It was a short-lived happy time for the two men. They were taken prisoner without a gunshot being fired. The three outlaws were tied up and held in the peacekeepers' cave for the night. In the early morning, when the horses were saddled, the three outlaws were tied to their saddles. With the packed horse on a lead line, the six men headed for 4C.

As they neared the town, Chris rode ahead to make sure the jail was open and to wire Judge Travis they'd captured the men. The town's people watched as Vin and Josiah escorted the robbers into town and to the jail. The pack was taken off the pack horse. The stolen items and money were taken to the small bank for safekeeping. Buck, his arm in a sling, set himself up as guard inside the bank until the bank manager got there.

After locking the outlaws in jail cells, the three men led the horses down to the livery. The judge would be there the next morning, and the trial would be held as soon as possible after he arrived.

People were surprised the next day when Judge Travis sentenced the three robbers to ten years in prison for the crimes they'd committed. Following the trial, several town's people approached the Judge and inquired about the harsh sentence. He told them he didn't want any more men to get the idea they could rob banks and people for the fun of it. With this sentence, it might deter others from  thinking this kind of crime would be easy.

Chris, Josiah, and Vin smiled as they went to Ezra's Restaurant/Saloon and Hotel for dinner. The outcome of the trial was a given to them, and they were happy to know that the three men would be taken to the prison at Yuma. They had a few days before that chore would happen.

Judge Travis waved to them to join him and his daughter-in-law, Mary Travis, for dinner They noticed the other peacekeepers were already seated around the Judge's table. While they waited for their meals to arrive, they talked a little about the next step – getting the robbers out of town and to Yuma in one piece. And how long the trip would take.

For now, the seven men and the Judge and Mary enjoyed their dinner and the easy conversation; they'd make final plans the next day. Travis would contact the banks that lost their money. He would make sure they received it back as long as they had proof of how much was taken. People would be notified after the banks were taken care of. A list of people who were robbed had already been started in the towns the robbers hit over the last two months.

Chris smiled and leaned back in his chair. Though it had taken awhile, they had the robbers, and now they could relax and get ready for the winter that was coming down on them. He hoped Travis had someone else in mind to take the men to Yuma, they could use the time for something more exciting. Chris's smile widened and he shook his head, as he listened to Buck and JD argue about where they would find a Christmas tree in a couple of weeks.  Josiah and Nathan grinned at Vin, who had slid deeper onto his chair and fallen asleep.

Flower and Heather rubbed his legs, and Chris dropped a couple cookies to the large cats, ignoring the glare from Ezra. Chris thought it would be an interesting Christmas.


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