Chris led the others closer to the rocks in silence. He glanced to the east and saw the sky just beginning to turn purple. Vin walked Ezra's horse to the front when they were within 20 feet of the outcropping. Chris could see that Vin had the reins and that Ezra was along for the ride. Vin glanced back and forth along the rock face looking for something. When he was satisfied he led the others east along the rock wall. Chris noticed that Buck kept glancing up expecting to see a look out. Chris trusted Vin's word that there wouldn't be one but the hair on the back of his neck was standing up. Vin rode for about 20 yards and stopped. He turned the horse directly towards the wall and disappeared.
"Tarnation!" Buck whispered. "I wish he'd give a warning before he does that."
Chris smiled and followed Vin. Once inside there was only room to ride single file. The sheer walls loomed above them 75 feet or more. The trail was so narrow in spots it felt like the walls were closing in. Chris could hear Buck cursing softly behind him. He looked back to see what was wrong and noticed that Buck was riding with his legs dangling over the horn of the saddle so that his knees didn't scrape the wall. JD was behind Buck, and Chris noticed he didn't look all that comfortable and kept looking up along the walls. Josiah, on the other hand, didn't seem to mind the close quarters and was riding like Buck. Chris looked ahead to Vin and Ezra but could only see Ezra's back. They rode for fifteen minutes when the trail sudden opened on a large circular area. Vin moved in far enough to let the others enter and pulled up his horse.
"We go on foot from here," Vin whispered.
"We go on," agreed Chris. "You stay here."
"I'm not going to argue with you Chris," Vin growled. "I'm going."
The others had dismounted while they argued and waited for them to finish. Ezra stood next to his horse to help Vin dismounted. Vin swung his right leg over the horse's neck and slide off with his back towards it. Ezra steadied him as his feet hit the ground. Once he got his balance, Ezra let go, but kept a close eye on the tracker. Chris noticed that Vin had a gun stuffed in the waist of his pants. It was Ezra's gun. He gave the gambler an icy stare, which he returned, without flinching.
"Vin how much further?" asked Josiah to end the confrontation.
"Only a little further," he said and led the way followed closely by Ezra.
Chris just shook his head as he watched Vin walk through the sand in his stocking feet. Chris knew that there was no arguing with Vin when his mind was set, either he would finish the task, or die trying. Chris just hoped it wasn't the latter. They had gone about thirty yards when Vin held up his hand to signal a halt. Chris chuckled at the gesture that had been ingrained when Vin was a scout. Vin gestured everyone closer.
"Just around this bend, this trail opens inside The Hole," Vin whispered.
"Alright, I'll go first," Chris said. "The rest of you spread out behind. Vin, you and Ezra bring up the rear."
Vin was about to argue when Chris moved out followed by Buck, with JD close behind. Josiah waited a few paces then followed. Vin was next, followed Ezra. Buck and Josiah took their rifles. The trail made a sharp turn to the left then ended. A cresote bush covered the entrance and hid them from the robbers' camp. Chris peered around the bush and could see the camp. Some were still sleeping but a few were awake wandering around camp. Buck joined Chris at the entrance and signaled that he and JD would head left. Chris agreed with a nod, then signaled Josiah to follow him right. He looked and Vin and Ezra and motioned for them to stay put then moved out. Ezra looked at Vin and knew he wasn't going to stay where Chris wanted him to. Vin waited for Chris to get far enough away then headed for where the horses were tethered. Ezra silently swore and followed the tracker.
Chris and Josiah moved around their side of the camp and saw two men still sleeping. On the other side of camp closer to the horses, was another sleeping man. One man was by the fire making a pot of coffee, while another was going through some packs pulling out food. Chris looked around and couldn't see anyone else. The sky was just starting to get light, and Chris signal Josiah he was getting ready to make his move.
"Nobody move!" yelled Chris as he came from behind cover.
Josiah stood up five feet away from Chris and aimed his rifle at the men by the fire. The two sleeping men closest to Chris came instantly awake but realized they would never make it to their guns. JD and Buck out from cover and watched the camp. The third decided to play possum and slowly reached his hand towards his six shooter. He almost had his hand on it when a boot ground down on his fingers.
"I do believe you were asked not to move," said Ezra dryly. "I would strongly suggest that you get up."
Chris was not happy when he saw Vin walking slowly behind Ezra. He watched Vin as he looked at the prisoners.
"Two are missing." Just as he said that Vin looked up to a small ledge and saw one of the missing men taking aim at Ezra. "Ezra get down!" screamed Vin as he leaped towards Ezra and pushed him out of the path of the bullet. Vin had pushed Ezra enough so that the shot wasn't fatal, but it still caught him in the shoulder. Vin lost his gun when he saved Ezra.
After that first shot, all hell broke loose. Chris killed the man on the ledge turning his back on the prisoners. Buck killed the man who tried to jump Chris. Josiah killed another one who tried to get JD. And, JD killed the one who went for Buck. Vin still knew there was a man missing when he saw him emerge from the bushes behind Chris. Vin leaped up with a yell. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Vin was in front of the gun when it went off, and the impact slammed him into Chris, throwing them both to the ground. Ezra triggered his hidden derringer and shot him. The last two robbers decided not to try anything and put their hands on their heads. Josiah quickly moved to Ezra. JD kept his guns on the prisoners while Buck tied them up. Chris sat up cradling Vin in his arms. Vin moaned as he sat up and opened his eyes. Chris looked the tracker over and saw that he was hit in the left shoulder. He checked Vin's back for an exit wound and was relieved to find one. After Buck and JD had the prisoners secured, they each went to help with their injured friends. Buck had gone through the robbers supplies and found extra clothing. He was pulled it into strips as he walked towards Chris. JD was doing the same as he headed for Josiah. Buck handed Chris two strips, and he pressed them against the exit and entry wounds.
"Damn Chris!" Vin hissed in pain. "Not so hard!"
"Well, if you had stayed put like I told you, this wouldn't have happened," retorted a shaken Chris.
"And, if he had, you'd be dead, pard," smiled Buck, "But, damn Vin, you're going to regret all that moving around."
"I regret it already," said Vin tiredly. "How's Ezra?"
"Alive, Brother Vin, thanks to you," said Josiah.
"For which I am humbly grateful," replied Ezra in a pained voice.
"Hey, Chris," said Vin. "Can you do me a favor?"
"Sure Vin," answered a puzzled Chris.
"Reckon we can go home now"
They all laughed happy to be alive.
+ + + + + + +
Four Corners three days later...
The afternoon sun was slowly setting, throwing shadows along the building's of the town. Mary stepped outside the Clarion for, the hundredth time glancing up and down the street. When she didn't see what she was looking for she sighed and shook her head. Six of the seven had left almost a week ago to catch the bank robbers, and Mary was getting worried. She was worried for them but especially for Nathan who had been left behind. He was still recovering from his wound and Mary was afraid he would go off alone looking for them. She turned to enter the Clarion when she heard horses approaching. She stopped to see who it was trying not to get her hopes up. The riders finally appeared around the building and Mary recognized the gray. It took her a minute to realize it was Buck and the others, but when she did, she hiked up her skirts and ran over to the saloon.
"NATHAN!" she cried in excitement. "They're back!"
Nathan came rushing out the bat wing doors and waited on the porch with Mary. As the riders got closer they could see something was wrong. Vin and Ezra were missing. Buck and Josiah were in the lead and rode stiff in the saddle. Next came JD leading a string of horses. Men, that they guessed were the bank robbers, were securely tied to the saddles of two of the horses. Chris was bringing up the rear. They all looked worn out and ready to fall off their horses. As Buck and Josiah rode closer Nathan knew something was terribly wrong. Across both men's chest were thick bands and Nathan swore as he realized what it meant. As he walked towards Buck, he realized his suspicions were correct. An unconscious Vin was tied to Buck and when he looked to Josiah he found Ezra in the same condition. Other town's folk moved in to help.
"What the hell happened?" demanded Nathan.
"Long story, Brother Nate," replied Josiah.
Chris had dismounted and headed for Buck, who untied Vin and slowly lowered him into Chris waiting arms. Josiah had untied Ezra and handedhim to the black smith. Nathan lead the way to his small room, while Buck and JD took the prisoners to the jail. Once they got them locked up they took the stolen money back to the bank then headed for the clinic. They walked into Nathan's small room and were greeted by Nathan issuing orders.
"Josiah, rip that sheet into long strips," he directed. "Mary can you hand me the carbolic over there?" he pointed to the dresser. "You, Chris, just move out of my way.," He shooed the gunslinger away from Vin. "Go wait outside with Buck and JD. There ain't enough room in here as is. Better yet, why don't you go get cleaned up then come back?"
The three men were slowly moved back as Nathan advanced on them and pushed them out the door. They knew there was no arguing with him when he was like this, so they did as they were told. The three of them were at the bathhouse when Josiah walked in.
"So, he kicked you out too huh?" said JD.
"Yup," answered Josiah as he stripped and got into a tub.
"So?" asked Buck.
"Nathan and Mary are cleaning them up," said Josiah. "They almost look human."
An hour later saw them sitting outside Nathan's clinic. Chris had been daring enough to go in but the others were content to stay outside. They waited a short time and both Nathan and Chris walked out.
"So, they're going to be alright?" asked Chris.
"They'll be alright," answered Nathan. "They both have a slight fever, and Vin's severely dehydrated, but, if they do like I say they'll be just fine. Now are you all gonna tell me what happened?"
"It's a long story, Brother Nate, and I will need a bottle of whiskey to help tell it," answered Josiah.
"Amen," agreed Chris and led the way to the saloon.
+ + + + + + +
Four Corners saloon four weeks later ...
The seven were again complete. Nathan had finally let the injured members out of their beds, and they were playing a quiet hand of poker in the saloon. Chris was seated between Ezra and Vin. Buck was to Vin's left, then JD, Nathan and Josiah finished the circle. They had all been winning equally tonight and everyone was in a good mood. Chris glanced towards Vin and shook his head. It was inevitable that the sunburn would peel and leaving Vin looking like a snake shedding its skin. When he thought no one was looking, he started scratching his chest with his right hand, since the left was still in a sling. Chris reached over and grabbed his hand to stop him.
"Damn, Chris!" protested Vin. "It itches!"
"You keep scratching, and I'm gonna tie your hands behind your back," said Nathan without looking up from his cards.
The hand was finished, and when the cards were laid out, JD had won the pot. Josiah took up the deck shuffled it, then dealt the cards. Chris could hear Ezra scratching at his gun wound. He grabbed his hand and stopped him without looking up from his cards
"That goes for you too Ezra!" scolded Nathan.
Ezra gave the healer a deadly stare and turned back to his cards. They each anted, then asked for additional cards. They each bet, and no one folded. It was time to show their cards. JD had a pair of sevens; Nathan a pair of Jacks; Buck had three 10's. Josiah lay down his cards. He had a full house Queens over threes. Chris was next and he also had a full house Kings over deuces. Vin and Ezra were the last to go, and they put their cards down together. They both had four aces.
"Damn Ezra!!!!!" yelled Buck, "You've been teaching Vin to cheat!"
"I, Mr. Wilmington?" asked Ezra innocently. "Now why would I give away my trade secrets." he said with a smile towards Vin.
Buck leaned towards Vin and grabbed his sling. Vin growled at him but it was long enough for Buck to grab some cards from the sling. They were all face cards. Josiah grabbed Ezra's sling and did the same producing more face cards. An argument ensuede about Ezra corrupting Vin, while Ezra argued that there was nothing else to do while he convalesced. Besides he argued that Vin was far from innocent. Vin, in the mean time, quietly gathered up the pot and placed it in his sling. He looked up to see Chris watching him. He gave him a wink and his familiar smile and joined the argument. Chris just shook his head and thought So this what it's like to have six brothers. He sat back and lit a cheroot, and smiled. He decided he liked the feeling.