The sun was just rising over the sleepy town of Four Corners. The town appeared deserted at this early hour except for five horses waiting patiently in front of the sheriff's office. The sixth, a big gray, was getting restless and trying to untie itself. It had almost succeeded when seven men walked out of the office.
"Hey!" yelled a man with dark hair and a mustache. "Cut that out."
"That's what you get for teaching him that trick Buck," laughed a young man wearing a derby.
"How was I to know he'd pick it up so fast?" answered an exasperated Buck.
"I am not surprised in the least, Mr. Wilmington," said a well dressed smaller man. "Your horse possess a higher intelligence that his owner seems to lack."
"I'll get you for that, Ezra," snarled Buck.
The others laughed as Buck took a swing at Ezra who was able to duck easily out of his way. Chris walked to his horse followed by Josiah who was leading a prisoner. Josiah put the man on his horse then he went and mounted his own horse. Chris mounted and looked at Vin. He was leaning on the post in a relaxed but wary position. Chris moved his horse closer so they could talk.
"It should take us a few days to deliver the judge's prisoner to Blue Springs," began Chris. "The towns all yours."
"Think you can handle it, Pard?" Buck asked with a smile.
"I reckon," replied Vin in his Texas drawl.
Chris wheeled his horse and headed out of town. The others followed close on his heels. Vin looked around town and all was quiet. He liked Four Corners early in the morning. There usually wasn't anyone awake so that meant no trouble. The only person up this early would be Mary Travis, the owner of the Clarion newspaper. Vin decided to take a look outside of town and headed over to The Clarion to let Mary know. He opened the door of the newspaper office and saw Mary behind the press.
"Mornin' ma'am," said Vin.
"Good morning, Vin," replied Mary with a smile.
"Would mind doing me a favor?" he asked.
"No, of course not."
"I'm gonna mosey outside of town and make sure everything is alright," he began. "Can you let Nathan know where I'm a-goin?"
"Alright," agreed Mary.
"Much obliged," he said with a pull on his hat.
Vin walked to the livery where a welcome nicker greeted him. He smiled and walked towards Sire. He took the horse out of its stall and started to rub him down. Vin took his time saddling Sire. He enjoyed the horse's company. Once he was done, he lead the horse out of the livery and headed out of town.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan would be up all night delivering a baby. He knew the others had been leaving for Blue Springs this morning, but he just couldn't get away. The delivery was hard for the mother, and Nathan was the closest thing the town had to a doctor. Chris had decided the night before to leave him and Vin behind to guard the town. Nathan walked down the boardwalk when he heard a familiar voice call his name. He turned to see Mary Travis headed in his direction.
"Morning, Nathan," said Mary.
"Mornin', Ma'am," said Nathan with a weary smile.
"Long night?" asked Mary in sympathy.
"Yes ma'am," said Nathan. "But it was worth it."
"Vin wanted me to tell you he went for a patrol outside of town."
"Patrolling's just an excuse for him to get out of this here town."
"Yes, I suppose it is," agreed Mary. "How's the Thompson's baby?"
"They have a fine little girl," Nathan answered with pride.
"That's wonderful!" beamed Mary. "Would you like to join me for breakfast?"
"I reckon that would be a might welcome," answered Nathan. "Then I'm going to get some sleep."
"You've earned it Nathan."
The two of them headed for the restaurant.
+ + + + + + +
Vin rode back into town feeling guilty. He hadn't meant to stay out so long, but once he was out in the open, he'd lost track of time. Vin preferred the open spaces to the cramped town. The sun was just beginning to set and was casting long shadows on the buildings. He headed for the livery to bed down Sire. When he came out he noticed Nathan and Mary heading for the bank. He caught up with them just before they got to the door.
"Sorry, Nathan," said Vin. "It was just such a nice day I lost track of time. Anything happen in town?"
"No, just the usual. The stage was late," said Nathan. "See anything?"
"Nothing, except for a few cowboys camped along the creek," answered Vin.
Nathan opened the door for Mary and they followed her inside. Vin noticed two strangers filling out papers by one of the cashiers. He got a bad feeling about them. He usually trusted these impulses because they had saved him a number of times. He decided to keep his eye on them. Mary pulled her deposit out of her bag and dropped something. Vin being the gentleman he was bent down to pick it up. That's when the two strangers made their move.
"Everybody put your hands up!" yelled an older man with a gray mustache.
Everyone in the bank did as they were told. Vin was kicking himself for being so stupid. He should never have taken his eyes off them. A younger man took their guns and tossed them across the room. Once that was done he covered them with his gun while the older man had the tellers fill the bags with money. Vin looked in the younger man's eyes and he could see he was afraid.
"You don't want to do this, son," said Vin quietly.
"Don't listen to them, Ben," said the older man.
"He's right," said Nathan as he step closer to the boy.
Ben looked to the older man then back at the others. His hand holding the gun was shaking. Vin realized that Nathan was in trouble. He started to shout but he was too late. Ben had pulled the trigger by accident and shot Nathan in the side. Mary screamed and knelt down to help him. That's when Vin made his move. He grabbed Ben's gun and tried to wrestle it from him. But he made one mistake. He forgot about the older man until he felt the barrel of his pistol slam into the side of his head. The world went dark.
+ + + + + + +
Vin slowly woke up to a terrible pounding in his head. He was, disoriented and couldn't figure out where he was when suddenly he remembered and sat up.
"NATHAN!" he yelled.
"Its alright, Mr. Tanner," said Mary. "He's sleeping."
"DAMN!" yelled Vin. "How could I have been so stupid? I'm going after them."
Vin tried to get out of bed, but the room started spinning. If Mary hadn't caught him, he would have landed on the floor.
"Just lie back, Vin. You are in no shape to go after them," Mary argued.
Vin didn't argue with her. The room was spun so violently he was afraid he would be sick. Once he lay back down, the spinning stopped. He cautiously opened his eyes and looked over to where Nathan was sleeping. It was his fault that Nathan had been shot. If only he had yelled the warning sooner. One thing was sure, those bastards were going to pay.
"Are you alright, Vin?" asked Mary in a worried voice.
She watched him with concern. She had never seen that look in Vin's eyes before. Usually Vin was so quiet that Mary would forget he was there. His blue eyes were always so kind, but not now. Now were cold and frightening.
"I'm fine," he lied. "How long was I out?"
"About five hours," answered Mary.
"So, its another nine hours till dawn," calculated Vin. "I'll go after them then."
"Vin, yon can't," argued Mary.
"I don't have a choice!!!" yelled Vin.
Mary was taken aback by the cold hatred in Vin's eyes. That burst of anger seemed to take the fight out of Vin, and he closed his eyes and fell asleep. Mary was truly frightened and hoped Chris and the others would get back soon.
+ + + + + + +
Mary walked across the street to Nathan's room. She had left the two of them sleeping and decided to get something to eat. She figured Vin couldn't get into trouble in the short time she was gone. She was wrong. She entered the room to find Vin up and dressed. He had just finished strapping on his gun when he heard her enter. When he turned to look at her, she could see he wasn't all that steady on his feet.
"What do you think you're doing?" she asked.
"I'm gong after them."
"You can hardly stand," she protested.
"You don't ride a horse standing," he growled.
With that, he headed for the door. Mary didn't think he would make it to the livery and decided to follow him. She watched as Vin slowly walked along the boardwalk. He would stop every once in a while and lean on one of the posts. He finally made it to the livery and began to saddle Sire. She noticed that he moved very slowly and tried not to move his head all that much.
"Vin, this is crazy," argued Mary. "I can see that your head is bothering you."
"There isn't anyone else, Miz Travis," he retorted.
"You could wait for Chris," she suggested.
"By the time they get back, the trail will be gone," he disagreed. "I have to go now."
With that, he took Sire out of the stall and walked him outside the livery. He took his time mounting. Mary noticed that once he'd mounted, he held onto the saddle horn with his eyes closed. When he opened them he looked down at her.
"Which way were they headed?" She thought about not answering him. "Mary, I'll figure it out anyway. If you tell me, it will just save me some time."
"They went south," she said in defeat, "but, Vin, they aren't alone five others met them outside the bank."
"Much obliged, ma'am," said Vin with a tip of his hat
Vin wheeled his horse and cantered out of town. Mary watched him go in regret. She knew there was nothing else she could have done. She prayed Vin would be all right and that the others come home soon.
+ + + + + + +
It took Vin longer to find the trail then was normal for him. He was having trouble looking down at the ground and moving at the same time. After a few hours of trying to stay on the horse his head was finally starting to clear, either that or he was getting used to the pain. The bank robbers were head due south and they weren't bothering to hide their trail. Around noon Vin found where they had made camp by a small watering hole. Vin pulled up Sire and dismounted. When his feet hit the ground he almost collapsed. Maybe Mary had been right he never should have come out here. But what choice did he have? Chris had left him with the responsibility of guarding the town, and he had failed. Not only that, he got Nathan shot. He couldn't look Chris in the face until he caught them. He decided that he just needed a break. He took Sire over to get some water and to splash some on his face. He pulled some jerky out of his saddlebag and sat down for a much needed rest.
+ + + + + + +
Mary had just come back from lunch to relieve Mrs. Potter from watching Nathan. She sat down with a book and began to read when she heard Nathan moan. She moved closer to the bed, and he opened his eyes.
"What happened?" he asked.
"You were shot during a bank robbery, remember?"
"That's right," he said. "Is everyone else alright? Where's Vin?"
"Vin went after the bank robbers," sighed Mary.
"Not alone," said Nathan as he tried to get up.
"Now, don't you do anything foolish on me," she said as she pushed him back.
"What's that supposed to mean?" wondered Nathan.
"Vin wasn't in good enough shape to ride," said Mary "They hit him pretty hard in the head."
"You let him ride outa here with a head injury?" accused Nathan.
"I tried to stop him, Nathan, but he was so angry. I have never seen that look in Vin's eyes before."
"Yeah, you never expect it from Vin. Except Ezra figured that if Vin ever did get mad, he would never want to be the one Vin was mad at"
"Well, Ezra was right. His eyes were so cold, ruthless. I'm glad I'm not one of the bank robbers."
"When do you expect Chris and the others back?"
"I tried wiring Blue Springs last night but the lines are down. Hopefully they didn't spend the night and they are coming right back. If they are, they should be here tonight."
"So all we can do then is wait," said Nathan.
"And pray," agreed Mary.
+ + + + + + +
The sun was setting over the terrain with its usual riot of colors, which were wasted on the bounty hunter. The trail was still heading south and was easy to follow, too easy. Vin had stopped Sire and dismounted to check the trail. When he bent down to look closer, a wave of dizziness hit him and he put his hands to the ground. When he was sure he wasn't going to pass out he tried to stand up only to be stopped by the feel of a gun barrel at the base of his head.
"Well, Well looky here," said a familiar voice. "If it ain't one of them boys from the bank."
Vin slowly stood up and turned around. It was the older man from the bank and an Indian. Vin cursed his aching head that made it so easy for them to sneak up on him.
"I could have sworn I hit you hard enough to kill ya," said the old man "I guess you just have a hard head. Now turn around."
Vin did as he was told and the Indian tied his hands behind him. They put him on his horse, and they led him to the others.
+ + + + + + +
Night had settled in Four Corners with a ghostly quiet. The fires in the streets cast eerie shadows on the walls. Mary sat on the porch by Nathan's room waiting when suddenly she heard the thunder of horses hooves. She started to panic thinking that there was no one left to defend the town. Her panic lasted only until she recognized a familiar black horse. She ran down the stairs and met Chris in front of the saloon.
"Chris!" exclaimed Mary. "I'm glad you're back."
"Where's Nathan and Vin?" asked Chris n concern
"There was trouble after you left," she began. "The bank was robbed. Nathan was shot and Vin was knocked unconscious."
"Damn!" cursed Chris.
"Are they alright?" asked JD.
"Nathan's in his room resting," said Mary. "Vin went after the bank robbers."
"Alone!" yelled an angry Chris. Mary could see Chris was not happy. He started pacing along the boardwalk, thinking.
"Mrs. Travis," said Ezra "Would you mind informing us how many of these nefarious individuals there were?"
"There were seven," she said which did not make Chris any happier.
"Vin went after seven guys alone?" said JD.
"I never would have thought brother Vin would be so foolhardy" said Josiah.
"I have never seen Vin so angry," said Mary. "The look in his eyes was deadly and cold."
"The quiet ones are always the ones you don't want to get angry," said Buck.
"What are we going to do, Chris? " asked JD.
"I hate to say it, but there's nothing we can do until mornin," Chris said reluctantly. "We ride at first light."
With that, Chris headed for the saloon for a drink. Josiah went to check on Nathan.
"Is that it?" asked JD.
"Don't have much of a choice, now do we pard," said Buck, "Not unless you can see in the dark."
Buck also headed for the saloon and JD followed.