Conrad had made his way back to Four Corners. Lewis would be here tomorrow afternoon. That would give him time to see if there would be a way to get Dunne from the clinic without a lot of notice. Conrad knew Tanner was the best tracker around, they were going to need a head start, a big head start.
He made his way to the saloon and dismounted, tied his horse to the post, dusted himself off and entered the saloon. Wilmington was there with Tanner. Conrad thought this to be good news or bad news, either they were going to have to find another 'weakness', or the boy was better and didn't need two men to be with him. He took a seat at the next table, nodded towards the men, they nodded back, and ordered a whiskey.
". . . he was mad as hell, Vin. If he was up and walking around. . . I would've put him in his place," Wilmington boasted.
Tanner had a smile on his face, "I'll have to go and see him, Nathan gonna let him out soon you think?"
"Well, I'm headin' back see if everyone else is already there, Nathan wants to see how he stands up 'fore he lets him in his own room," Buck's eyes rolled.
"What was that for?"
"Hell, you know what the kid's like, as soon as Nathan says he can stay in his room he takes it as 'you can do anythin' you want'."
"Wonder where he got that from?" Vin asked, already knowing.
"Not just me. . . you and Chris have done it just as much. . . if not more!" the ladies' man laughed out as he emptied his glass he looked at the tracker.
"I'm headin' over, ready?"
"Right behind ya'."
Conrad couldn't hide the smile on his face. Dunne was better, maybe even enough to go to his own room. He remembered Wilmington stayed next door to the boy and didn't know if this was going to be just as difficult if the boy was in the clinic. They were going to have to have patience, something he knew Lewis didn't posses a lot of.
Lewis was a man on a mission. He had missed an opportunity when the railroad had come through Walker's Cross and saw the money that had been handed over to the landowners. Sabin Lewis then got the map of the rail being laid and decided he needed to own land near Four Corners. Not just some land. . . a lot of it, all of it if he thought he could get away with it.
Lewis was a greedy man and he paid well. What he wanted, he got, no matter if he had to lie, cheat, steal, or even kill. Lewis had sent a 'scout' of sorts to find 'potential problems' in his acquiring of land near and around Four Corners. He was not pleased to find that they had established law and order there. Lewis had laughed heartedly when his scout told him the sheriff was barely nineteen and from back east. His laughter was short lived when he was told that the other six men protecting the town were very skilled and seasoned gunslingers.
Lewis had asked his scout about there skills, the scout said the leader could kill someone just by looking at them and the rest were just as dangerous. That is when Conrad had been hired, to watch the group, for as long as it took, and find a weakness. Lewis had figured he'd find a spouse or two, children, family, a weak gun, a weak person. He was happy to hear about Dunne, but Conrad was very specific. They couldn't kill Dunne, not right away, Lewis thought to himself. Dunne had to remain alive. If they entered town and killed the kid, they wouldn't see the light of day Conrad had told him. They needed to take Dunne out from the protection of that town, the men. Once that was done, they would start hitting the ranches, as a distraction, to give him time to get the kid to the deserted town they had come across on the way. That would require a two day ride. Then the Seven would discover that they were able to be defeated, if they wanted more bloodshed, as Conrad thought they would die to 'save' Dunne, when they caught up to them, then so be it.
JD sat on the edge of the bed and heard the door open, and saw Vin and Buck enter. He rolled his eyes and sighed, "You chargin' admission, Nathan?"
"I think I should have," Nathan smiled, he was glad the boy was getting his sense of humor back, and he knew JD was happy that everyone was there.
"Well, quit stalling, kid, whole family's here now, let's get you on your feet," Buck said as he made his way in front of the kid.
JD scooted off the bed until his feet reached the floor, he'd been practicing this part for awhile so he wouldn't get dizzy. He then pushed off the bed and stood. He felt like his legs were going to give at anytime, but didn't say anything, he wanted to go to his room. He wanted his own bed and he didn't want a bunch of men watching over him.
Everyone's eyes were on him, he could feel them, so he looked at all of them and smiled. He looked over to the healer, "See, Nathan, can I please go to my room? I promise I won't do anything stupid," he said with his best 'puppy dog' expression.
Nathan had to roll his eyes. His definition of anything stupid was everything other than staying in bed, and JD's definition meant he wouldn't ride for awhile.
"I'll stay with him tonight, Nathan."
"Buck, I'll be fine, you guys have been babying me for a week, just let me go to my room. I ain't goin' nowhere," not fast anyway, JD said to himself. "Please? Guys, Chris. . . come on."
"I don't know about you, Nathan, but he's arguing and still standing," Chris said, caving into the kid's request.
"You let us help you over there," Nathan caved as well.
"No problem! Anything. . . just let me go to my room," the familiar gleam danced in JD's eyes.
They made their way to the bottom of the stairs, and JD was already tired. He kept going because he knew if he faltered they'd take him back, so he continued on. By the time they had gotten to the entrance of the boarding house he was beyond exhausted. He saw where he was, smiled to himself, and let go.
Chris and Buck held onto the boy who had gone limp on them all of a sudden. Buck was in a panic while Chris stayed calm. He had an idea the kid had been holding on since the stairs at Nathan's. Little rat, Chris couldn't help but laugh inwardly.
"Nathan, you want us to take him back?" Buck asked quickly.
"Nah, might as well get him to his bed," the calm in Nathan's voice didn't help Buck's nerves.
"Nathan, if ya hadn't noticed he passed out!"
"Buck, if you hadn't noticed we been draggin' him about ten feet," Chris said, almost mocking Buck.
Buck looked back to where they had come from and noticed the trail they had left. "Oh." Was all he could manage, then he turned to Chris, "You teach him that?"
"Nope, learned that one all on his own, but I'll have to remember it," Chris grinned as they continued up the stairs and into JD's room.
Chris and Buck held onto the kid as Nathan and Vin readied his bed. As they placed JD on the bed they noticed a smile crossing the kid's face with eyes looking at them,"Thanks, guys, thanks for lettin' me in my own room, Nathan."
"I'll make sure he don't do anything stupid, Nathan."
"I'm not goin' anywhere, Buck, I'm too tired. I'll be fine. Go, sides. . . I'm tired of gettin' taken care of, okay? Please?"
The activity outside had not gone unnoticed by Conrad. He watched and waited as the men 'escorted' JD to his room, and was pleased that seven had entered and six came out. He looked to the alley near the livery and nodded. As soon as the nod was given a man mounted his horse and left town. The time was now.
JD's eyes opened and adjusted to the dark. He looked around his room and was happy to see they had left him alone. He was tired of laying in bed, even if it was his own, and he decided that Nathan wouldn't say anything if he took a short walk. He got up from bed and retrieved his clothes. It had seemed like years since he'd been dressed. The only problem he encountered was that his pants rubbed at his stitches, which he figured he'd ignore, because it was going to be a short walk. He grabbed the bowler hat, placed it on his head and walked to the door.
He opened the door slowly and was happy to see the guys hadn't decided to 'post a guard' to make sure he didn't try and escape, like he was. He quietly made his way down the stairs the, adrenaline pumping, giving him more energy than he had. He changed his plan slightly, no walk, he decided the bench outside would be far enough. He made it to the boardwalk and found the bench and sat heavily, but satisfied.
He took in the night air enjoying himself to be outside, alone. As much as he hated being alone, he had felt so smothered that he wanted to be alone.
The only problem is that he wasn't alone, four men approached JD sitting quietly with his eyes closed, totally enjoying himself. He never heard the men approach.
All he felt were hands grabbing him roughly, pulling his hands behind him, and rope being tied around his wrists. JD tried to fight, but all his energy had been wasted coming down the steps. He was dragged down the street and thrown into a wagon. None of the men seemed to care that he was hurt in any way. The wagon moved slow at first, but picked up speed and tossed JD back and forth. He couldn't see where he was going and could no longer hold on enough to stay awake, so he didn't.
As he closed his eyes and gave into the quiet, he hoped that the guys would find him gone and look for him. The last conscious thing he remembered were the flashes of light, a rumbling sound and wetness hitting his face. Great rain.
Got more bad luck than eight cats wa. . . .,he didn't finish his thought.
The morning calm was broken by horses running through the muddy street. A group of men stopped in the middle of town and one called out for the lawmen.
"Larabee!! Larabee!!" Joshua Mills called out.
Chris came out of the jail with an agitated expression, he was awake but knew the rest of the town was still asleep and didn't appreciate these men running through town yelling at the top of their lungs. He also knew Joshua Mills and knew whatever had caused him to take such a drastic action, meant bad news.
"Joshua, most the people here were asleep, you wanna tell me what this is all about?"
"Sorry, Mr. Larabee, I know its early, we had trouble at the ranch."
"What kind of trouble?"
"Someone broke into the barn, let some of my best horses out, ran some of my beef dead. I went to Johansen's to see if he had any trouble, and the rest here," Mills pointed to the five men behind him.
"Give me a minute to get the others, we'll meet ya back here."
Chris went to the church to get Josiah. After filling him in a bit he gave Josiah the task of getting Ezra. The two men left and went to revive the remaining four men. The men gathered back at the jail and were given the details of what they had been awakened to last night and what greeted them that morning. All the men had lost horses and cattle had been run, those without cattle lost chickens, or sheep.
"Well, guess we'd better mount up. We'll head over to your place first, Josh, sounds like they hit you first and went down the line to Bert's."
"Hold up, Chris, let me go tell JD where we're going," Buck offered, not wanting the kid to panic when he woke up and no one was there.
"I don't think that would be a good idea, you tell him we got trouble and he's gonna follow us."
"No, he won't, Vin, he barely made it to his room," Buck said confidently, and the men couldn't doubt him, he knew JD the best and figured they wouldn't be gone all that long.
The men mounted their horses and headed for the ranches that had been targeted. They visited each ranch and inspected the damage trying to figure why they had been vandalized. There were no signs of who this group was, and why they had done what they had. They came to the last ranch. The damage there wasn't as bad as the rest, it appeared that they had stopped suddenly. At the other ranches, hay and seed had been spread out emptying everything, at Bert's there was a lot of hay and seed, but not all of it. The untouched bags of grain and seed very visible.
The tracks leading away from the ranch were hard to find. The rain had washed some of them away, but there were a lot of tracks heading south from the ranch. They knew the direction they were headed, it was a start. The lawmen left the men to clean up and headed back to town to get supplies and find the group of vandals.
The town appeared to still be asleep, not many venturing out unless necessary, as was the case when it rained. As they approached the jail they noticed something hanging on the door. As they got closer they could see a very big knife holding the familiar bowler to the door.
Chris was the first to the door and removed the knife and hat. He turned to the rest of the men with a clenched jaw. Buck was trying to run to the boarding house.
"I don't suppose that could be a replica of our young friend's hat?"
"I don't think so, I think we been set up," Chris spat out, his jaw clenching even more.
The men turned to the sloshing sound, noticing that Buck was still alone. The group hung their heads, knowing the news wasn't good, all they could hope for is that there wouldn't be any evidence of a struggle in the kid's room.
"It's empty," came the worried voice.
"Damn," what else was there to say?
"Vin, what time you suppose Josh's ranch got hit?"
"Hard to say. . . Midnight?"
"Then he's been gone since then at least. . . if not earlier."
"What difference does it make, Chris? We gotta find him, we got to split up now and find him."
"We ain't splittin' up, we won't have any more problems with the ranches," the leader answered confidently.
"What makes ya' think that?" Nathan asked, getting confused.
"Bert's ranch wasn't hit as hard as the others, they cleaned out everything, but at Bert's they left some things alone," waiting for the others to follow.
"It was a diversion, the perpetrators of the vandalism were on a schedule, their time expired and they returned from the rocks they crawled out from."
"Yup," Chris agreed.
"What?" Buck asked, he was distracted so he didn't try and follow what Ezra had said.
"He means this was a setup, they wanted us outta town," Vin offered.
"Well, someone must have seen them get JD."
"No, the ranches gave them time."
"How hard's it gonna be tracking?"
"Not easy, with this rain. . . and the lead they have."
"As much as I want to go find him, we're gonna have to wait."
"Wait?!! What the hell do you mean wait??!! Damn it, Chris. . . we gotta go. . . .NOW!!" Buck was headed towards Chris, not understanding why he didn't want to go look for the kid. Josiah stepped in front of Buck and held him back from getting into Chris's face.
"What do you want me to do Buck!" Chris yelled back. "Look, I know you're worried, we all are, we have no idea which way to go. They took JD because they meant to. . . and this," he held up JD's hat, "is to let us know, whoever they are have him. And going out in this weather in three different directions ain't gonna help. We wait till mornin' to head out. Right now we watch to see if anyone's here that shouldn't be, then we find him."
He felt himself being grabbed roughly out of the wagon. Thank God, I think. He was dragged to the entrance of a small shack, the door squeaked open, and then he was thrown into the shack hitting the wall. He waited, lying in a heap, until he heard the door squeak shut and opened his eyes.
His eyes adjusted, and he could see light coming through a small hole in the next wall over. He awkwardly got to his knees and made his way to the hole. It was daylight again. How long had he been out this time, he wondered. He turned and sat with his back against the wall and tried to figure out how long ago he was grabbed from the boarding house porch.
He remembered the bouncy rough ride, and men yanking him off the wagon. That's the first time he woke up, it had still been night time, but there was a campfire, and a lot of men talking. He tried to recognize any of the voices, but he didn't. He remembered them asking him questions, but he was so tired and the hit he received to his jaw didn't help. He recalled at least three hits before he even tried to speak.
"Tired," he gasped out before another hit. Didn't these guys know he'd been sick? He inwardly chuckled at the thought, and it almost came out if that man, Conrad, he was sure that's what they had called him, stepped into to stop the men.
"That's enough, boys."
"Mr. Conrad, boss wanted us to see what he knows."
"He can't tell you anything right now, or later if you keep beating on him."
"But the boss said. . . "
"Conrad's right, I don't want you beating the boy to death. I told you to get information from him if possible." Obviously the boss, JD thought.
The three men looked at Conrad and Lewis with confusion on their faces, this is how they got information from people, what was different this time?
"This pup just got out of a sick bed, and what you do to him after we get to Springville is up to you, but he needs to stay in decent shape until then," the boss ordered. The men nodded and let JD fell to the ground. He didn't remember hitting the ground.
It was daylight the next time he woke up, jerked awake by someone grabbing his arms, hands still tied behind him, and getting him on his feet. His eyes didn't have time to adjust to the sun when he was tossed into the wagon again. His face hurt and his lips were dry and beginning to crack.
He had heard them say something about Springville before, he had heard of it. It was a town like Four Corners, but unlike Four Corners had never established any law an order. After the town's folk either left or were killed off by bandits the town itself died. It was deserted, JD didn't think this was very good news, and once again closed his eyes and fell asleep. He'd awoke briefly after that and knew it was dark. Not having anything to eat or drink just made it easier to sleep, so he did.
Being drug from the wagon and thrown into the shack had awakened him again. About two days, JD thought. And it had rained the night they took him. Vin was the best tracker he'd ever known, but. . . . . .
JD took a deep breath to try and push back the panic he was feeling. The guys would find him, he had to believe that Vin could spot something that no one else could see. Buck wouldn't give up, he knew that. As much as he irritated Buck at times, he knew in his heart that he would find him. And Chris, he'd kill the guys one at a time just by staring at them. JD chuckled at the thought. And Ezra, Josiah, and Nathan.
His eyes began to fill, who was he kidding, he thought as he hung his head and brought his knees to his chest. It rained that first night, a lot, Vin couldn't track mud. There weren't going to be any tracks or sign. The tears over ran the rim of his eyes, they're never gonna find me.
In the midst of his self pity, a thought popped into his head, why did these men want him? Was it someone from Chris or Vin's past? Did they or one of the others piss the boss off? That couldn't be it, they had asked him questions about the others, if they knew one or two of them, why'd they ask him all those questions? His head hurt from his own questions and lack of answers.
He heard familiar voices outside of the shack, the boss and Conrad.
"Did someone leave the message?" Conrad asked.
"I sent Cole back when the others left with the ranchers," the boss stated.
"You think they'll find it?"
"I left it on the door to the jailhouse, if they don't see it, they're blind." Must be Cole. JD was pretty sure he was the one talking to Conrad before. He was the one asking the questions and hitting him.
"Good. You left a man behind in town?" the boss again.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Lewis," Cole answered. Lewis, at least he knew the boss's name.
"I do hope you don't need him, Lewis."
"Simmons is expendable, he's a bit dim. He'll tell them which way we came and then try and run here," Lewis said.
"And they'll kill him for trying to run," Cole stated flatly. The men walked away from the shack and the voices faded.
JD stared at the wall in front of him. It was a setup, he'd figured that out already. Would the guys figure that out? If they didn't. . . .What did Lewis want? JD never heard of him or the other two. He decided he needed to warn the guys. How he didn't know yet, but the first step was to try and get himself untied.
He tested the bonds for the first time, to say he was surprised that they weren't done tight, was an understatement. He worked his wrist, loosening the rope with every twist and turn. It wasn't a painless effort, he could feel the rope cutting into his wrists, but he could feel the rope become slack so he continued.
He felt the rope fall from his wrist and smiled to himself as he brought his hands in front of him and inspected them with the light that snuck in. They were cut and bleeding, but not as bad as they could be. He leaned back against the wall, leaned his head back and closed his eyes to think. Unfortunately his body decided it was tired by the effort of loosening the ropes and before he could stop, he slept again.
The remaining Seven sat in the saloon, watching the patrons coming and going. Looking for anyone new or out of place. The men appeared to be doing what they always did. Chris, Josiah, and Nathan sitting at a table sharing a bottle, Vin leaning at the end of the bar with a mug of beer in his hand, Buck at another table 'entertaining' Candy, and Ezra holding a card game at his usual table.
To anyone just coming into the saloon, nothing would seem out of the ordinary. To the people of Four Corners the positions of where the men were posted told them they were looking or waiting for something. The locals and regulars stayed close to the doors, front and back in case there were to be trouble, for a fast exit.
The six men had there eyes on a few new patrons and watched them carefully. Ezra was studying his competition and listening to the man's ramblings without expression. He shuffled and dealt the cards, the man sitting across from him made a comment about being here before, just after midnight.
Ezra continued dealing the cards, he casually raised his head and touched his hat. The room erupted and five men grabbed the man and drug him out of the saloon. Ezra excused himself to the other men and followed the others.
The man protested and struggled to get free, not one of the six men said a word as they took him to the jail, put him roughly in the cell and locked the door.
Chris made his way to the cell and with piercing eyes, the man in the cell found himself shaking.
"Where is he?" he growled through gritted teeth.
"Where's who?" the man finding a bit of courage.
"The kid. . . Where the Hell did you take him!" Buck screamed out. Making the man jump back a bit.
"I didn't take no one," the man stalled, safely behind the bars.
"Josiah, unlock that door. I'll find out what he knows," Chris glared at the man, his voice calm and even, but his body language saying something totally different.
The man in the cell looked with wide scared eyes, "All right, all right. I didn't take him. . . I just did the ranches. . . Me and Cole came back here with the hat. . . he told me to stick around. . . that's it. . . I swear! I don't know where they took him."
"May I inquire as to what purpose the charade of vandalizing the ranches served?"
"Huh?" the jailed men asked.
"He wants to know why the ranches were hit," Buck sneered.
"Boss said they needed time, for what I don't know," he lied.
"You don't know where they took JD?" Vin asked, unconvinced.
"No, I swear mister. I got family in Fall Creek. . . I just wanna get back home. All I did was ride with this guy, I didn't do anything but hold the light, that's it. I just did what I was told."
The lawmen looked at each other and stepped outside of the jail.
"What do you think, Chris?"
"He knows where he is," he said flatly.
"Well, let's go get it out of him," Buck said, turning back to the jail, but was stopped by Chris's hand. Buck turned to his oldest friend with a glare.
"We let him go."
"What?! Did you loose your head?"
"How far do we let him go before we follow him?" Vin asked Chris, knowing his plan before he told everyone.
"Two hours, that far enough?" Vin nodded.
Chris and Vin went back into the jail while the others went to the stable and prepared to leave.
The man jumped as he heard the door open and saw the two men enter. When the younger of the men grabbed the keys to the cell and unlocked it the prisoner had never been so scared in his life. He figured he was dead. The cell opened slowly and Chris spoke to him.
"Get out, go back to Fall Creek."
The man thought for sure it was a trick, the other men were outside of the jail waiting and would shoot him, saying he had tried to escape.
"Come on, you've been giving a second chance. We don't give many people that chance. Go," Vin said, meaning go to where the kid is and we'll follow you, and maybe if you're lucky we won't kill you later. The man took it as a gift, not realizing he was being used, again.
He cautiously walked out the door, looked around. He noticed his horse had been brought up to the jail, untied him, mounted and headed out of town to Springville at a gallop.
Chris turned to Vin, "Let's get what we need to take with us."
In two hours five men waited at the sheriff's office, mounted and ready. Chris shut the door behind him and mounted his horse. He turned to the other men, nodded and with a clenched jaw, flatly stated, "Let's go get our boy."
His eyes jerked open, how long had he been asleep? He looked at the crack in the wall and saw the sun still coming through. Was it a different day? He looked at his wrist and noticed the blood was still moist, he had only been a sleep for a few minutes, good. He needed to think.
He stood up and as he straightened he felt the familiar tug of his right side. He'd forgotten about that, it didn't hurt too bad, but it also made him aware that his face was sore. He brought his dirty, bloody hand to his face and touched the three welts on his face. Well, not too bad, a split lip, a bruise no doubt on his cheek, and his nose was sore, but not broken.
He wished he could see his injuries, probably looked worse than it was with the dried blood from his nose and lip. He looked down at his shirt and noticed the dark red spots on the front. He wondered why he couldn't ever keep his good shirts clean.
He paced a bit trying to think of a way to get out. He'd gone to the crack in the wall a half a dozen times, thinking if he looked through it this time, he could see something. He was on his way back to the crack when he heard the door begin to open. He didn't have time to think, he reacted.
He hid behind the door as it opened, and when the man stepped clear of it, JD pounced on him. He landed two blows to the man, which knocked him out. JD stood and ran for the door. He stepped out of the room and was greeted with five men holding rifles on him. Buck always told him to think before he did anything. Guess he was right.
The five men surrounded him and a man maybe six inches taller than JD, stepped forward. The man may not have been any taller than JD, but he was a big man, and had money, he dressed a lot like Ezra, JD thought. The man JD had jumped now came from the shack and stood next to the man.
"He jumped ya, huh, Cole?" At least JD could put a face with the voice now.
"Guess he did, boss, won't happen again," Cole smirked. JD was hoping once he saw Lewis he would recognize him from a poster or something, but he didn't.
"Do what you want, just don't kill him. . . understand?"
"Yes, sir," Cole had a smile on his face, one that JD didn't find very amusing.
Two men grabbed him and he prepared himself for what he knew would be coming. As Cole's knuckles connected with JD's ribs, he bent forward with a gasp. One of the men behind him grabbed his hair and pulled his head back up, causing him to stand up a bit, exposing his mid section. Cole began hitting JD in the ribs and stomach. JD felt like a punching bag. It took all his strength and will not to pass out.
The punching stopped and he thought it was over as he felt his hands being tied in front of him, he had no idea how wrong he was. He felt the tug of the ropes and opened his eyes to find himself being pulled by a horse and rider. He kept up at first, but as he grew tired and the horse picked up the pace he fell. Hoping that they would stop.
The minute the man had seen him drop, he went into a gallop, dragging JD behind. The horse turned around at the end of town. JD hurt but he hadn't passed out and he saw the horse coming right for him, he closed his eyes and as the hoof beats got closer, waited for the horse to step on him. He heard the horse fade and was relieved to find they hadn't hit him, then he felt the quick jerk of the rope and his shoulder burned as the tension of the rope pulled him again. He couldn't hold on any longer, and gave into the darkness.
The six men followed the trail left by the frightened 'prisoner', it wasn't a hard trail to follow, the man was driving his horse hard. Night had fallen, the men still followed, knowing the person they were tracking would be resting soon. After two hours in the dark, Chris decided to make camp.
"Why we stopping? He ain't," Buck just wanted to follow the guy and get JD.
"I'll be able to keep the track, he's gotta ease up soon, or he's gonna be walking."
"I know where he's going, we don't need him anymore."
"And where precisely is this fugitive's destination, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra was just as confused as everyone.
"That place is a ghost town for crying out loud, why would they be going there. . . ain't nothin out there."
"That makes sense."
"I'm I the only one not following you two?" Buck questioned Vin and Chris.
"Look, this guy was just part of a group. Whoever took JD has a reason. He's got a lot of men working for him," Chris started.
"What makes you think there's a lot of 'em?" Nathan asked.
Without turning to anyone, Chris finished his thought, "Has to be, to get JD, and do the damage that was done to the ranches. This guy was in it pretty deep."
"Then why did you let him go?"
"I figured he 'd do one or two things."
"One purpose being he would serve as guide to where our young friend is being incarcerated against his will?"
"Yup, or take us far enough that I'd figure where he was headed."
"Make sense, there ain't nothing out here except for Springville, and that's another days ride," Vin reassured.
The six men silently got bedrolls ready, knowing that none would sleep, anxiously waiting for the sun to rise so they could get to Springville. The night didn't last and the sun finally decided to rise. The men had broken camp in the twilight, and were ready to go as soon as the sun broke away from the horizon. The men kept a steady trotting pace, as much as they wanted to charge to Springville they didn't need to lose their horses. They never came upon a camp made by the man they had been following, and four hours later they finally caught up to the animal who's trail they had followed.
The man had been so intent on getting to Springville and away from the six men he had run his horse to exhaustion and beyond, finally collapsing. They saw the single shot that put the horse out of his misery and boot tracks running away from the dead animal.
"He keeps running and he's gonna be joinin' his horse," Nathan said matter-of-factly.
"I don't think he was suppose to be going to Springville," Chris let out nonchalantly as he urged his horse forward.
"You have an idea who's doin' this, pard?" Vin figured one of them knew who had taken the kid.
"Nope, but I know the kind of man." He figured that the man they had been following was left behind, to tell the men where they were going.
"You saying he was left to tell us where they'd taken JD??" Buck wondered.
"Yeah, I do, how long did you play poker with that guy, Ezra? Five, ten minutes before he said anything?"
"It was not a substantial amount of time, you'd be correct in your estimate of ten minutes," Ezra said, the only way Ezra could.
"Whoever he's working for knew he couldn't keep quiet. That's why he came back with Cole."
"Do you know who this Cole is?"
"Wish I did, Josiah, but he, or who he works for, has gone through a lot of trouble." The men were intrigued by what Chris was saying, and listened quietly as they rode closer to Springville.
"I don't know what the reason is, but they wanted us to know where they were going. I have a feeling someone's been watching us for awhile, and they knew JD wasn't in great shape. Whoever was watching us knew he'd just gotten back to his room. The ranches, they were to keep us busy, giving them time to get further away."
"Conrad," Nathan said simply.
"Who?" Buck asked.
"Conrad, that guy who cut his hand, Vin brought him up. Remember, Vin?"
"Yeah, JD and you two were sleeping," Vin nodded to Chris and Buck, "He was yellin', not thinking anyone was around. Cut his hand pretty bad. Nathan stitched him up where the kid was."
"I didn't think much about it at the time, but he asked about JD."
"Conrad was the lookout. Did you ever see him around town?"
"Yeah, was around for while, didn't see him much after he came to the clinic, though," Nathan stated, confirming what Chris had suspected.
"JD was the target from the beginning."
"And I left him alone that night, I knew I should have stayed, I let him down," Buck's voice quivered, Oh God, JD, I'm sorry, he cried out to himself.
"You didn't leave him alone Buck, we all did," Chris tried to share the burden, upping the pace more.