Vin absently wiped sweat from his forehead as the noon sun beat down on the two travelers.
They were making excellent time,another hour and they'd be at the half way point to Coral Canyon.
The tracker didn't want to press the animals any harder than he had to under the intense heat. But he knew if they didn't make it to Coral Canyon soon what ever information they found out might be too late to save JD from a hangman's noose.
Vin glanced at the gambler who had been unusally quiet since they had left Four Corners.
"You alright,Ezra?"Vin asked quietly as he slowed his horse to a walk.
Standish nodded,"I've just been wondering if this is a town of people who would believe young Mr. Dunne is capable of murder why would they lift a finger to help us?"
Vin turned his gaze back to the horizon,"For JD's sake someone there has to have a conscience."
+ + + + + + +
The salaoon was standing room only when Mary arrived at one o'clock.
She spotted Chris Larabee leaning against the right wall and she made her way toward him through the crowd.
As she got nearer to the tall blond man she could tell he hadn't slept much the night before.
"Have you talked with JD?"Mary asked in a hushed tone.
Chris kept his gaze on the crowd,"Only one's been allowed to see him are you and Nathan."
Mary leaned back against the wall,"I tried to get him to talk to me, but he barely acknowledged that I was there. I've never seen him like that,Chris. Its like his spirt has died."
Lrabee nodded,"I sent Vin and Ezra to Coral Canyon to find out what happened."
Sadness cretp into the blond woman's eyes as she scanned the room,"I hope they make it back in time. I dont like the mood of this crowd."
+ + + + + + +
Buck Wilmington fought the urge to pace as he waited outside the sherriff's office.
Soilders from Fort Reunion had arrived that morning to help keep the peace.
Buck shook his head in amazement. He still couldn't believe that people in Four Corners especially Judge Travis would think JD of all people would be capable of this crime.
What worried Buck the most was what Nathan had said. That JD had withdrawn so completely that he might not be able to help defend himself.
Which was why Buck was here instead of the saloon. He was hoping against hope that he would be able to see JD. If he could just talk to the kid Buck was sure he'd be able to straighten this mess out.
Finally the two soilders stepped aside as the door creaked open. Sherrif Cain was the first to step onto the street followed by another soilder. Travis was next with JD walking a little in front of the Judge.
Buck was shocked to see how pale the boy's face was as he stepped into the sun.
JD nearly fell not used to wearing leg shackles.
Buck moved forward to steady him but two army rifles stopped him cold.
Buck glared at the man he used to have respect for,"Judge, can't you take those things of of him?! He's in no condition to run."
At his friend's voice JD finally met Buck's gaze but quickly looked back down at his feet.
The older man's voice was even and devoid of emotion,"Mr. Dunne is no longer the law of this town. He is a prisoner charged with a very serious crime. You are going to have to get used to thinking of him that way."
Turning Travis nodded to the soilders and he prodded JD as the group continued toward the saloon.
"Don't worry kid,"Buck called after them fighting to keep his voice neutral,"We'll get you out of this."
+ + + + + + +
As the soldiers led him into the saloon JD concentrated on walking.
It was easier than thinking of how such a familiar place could be so alien.
Once he raised his head and saw Chris leaning against the right wall and JD quickly ducked his head.
He could only imagine what Larabee was thinking of him. After what had happened to his son.
Part of JD still couldn't quite believe that this was really happening. That at any moment he would wake up and Buck would tell him it had all been a bad nightmare.
Of course it wasn't a nightmare,JD thought miserably as he shuffled to a stop behind the defense table.
Everytime he closed his eyes he saw the little girl crumple and fall under his bullet.
As JD straightened to meet Travis's stern gaze he knew what he had to do.
He made a promise to the little girl.
Justice would be served.
+ + + + + + +
He'd wake up any minute.
The nightmare would end.
That's what Buck kept telling himself as he watched JD's trial unfold.
Buck just couldn't believe what he was hearing.
JD had waived his right to have an attorney.
The only reason Travis was still standing beind that bench was because of the strong grip of Josiah Sanchez.
"Making things difficult here will not help JD in the future."Josiah cautioned softly as he forced Buck to sit back down.
Travis glanced at Mark Peterson who was the prosecuting attorney,"Mr. Peterson you can begin your opening remarks."
The tall red haired man in his late thirties nodded,"Thankyou,your honor."
JD cleared his throat,"May I say something?"
Travis nodded,"You have a right to speak on your own behalf."
"If I understand the law correctly if I admit to my guilt then we don't have to proceed with this whole thing?"JD asked motioning to the jury and the crowd behind him.
Travis leaned forward,"Son,you do understand what the penalty is for murder?"
This time Buck broke free of Josiah's warning grip and reached the first row of chairs behind the young man.
Buck snatched JD's elbow whirling him around ignoring the soilders,"Don't throw your life away JD! Go through with the trial give Vin and Ezra time to figure out what really happened."
For a brief second Buck saw a change in JD's brown eyes.
For a moment it looked like the kid was going to tell him something.
Then just as quickly the shadow of pain returned and JD shut down again.
Dunne shook off his friend's arm before turning back to face Travis,"Yes Sir, I do understand the consequences."
Travis nodded,"JD Dunne,on the sole charge of the murder of Marilyn Cooper how do you plea?"
JD tried to ignore Buck's pleas,"Guilty."He replied in a voice more calm than he felt.
"Judge,"Buck called out as he moved foreward he saw Chris moving toward him but didn't acknowledge,"The boy clearly isn't in his right mind. He's not fully recovered yet to make decisions like this!"
Travis glared at him,"Any more outburts Mr. Wilimington and I will not hesitate to throw you in jail for contempt of court!"
"This ain't a court it's a circus."Buck muttered.
"Buck."Chris said warningly as he came to stand next to his friend,"This ain't helpin'. We'll find a way to fix this,I promise."
With a withering glare at Travis, Buck did move away from JD but he didn't sit down.
Peterson cleared his throat,"Your honor,the state motions for sentencing."
JD swallowed hard but didn't flinch under Travis's stern gaze.
"JD Dunne I sentence you to death by hanging to be carried out no later than forty eight hours from now."
+ + + + + + +
Trail dust fell from Vin Tanner's hat as he set it down on the bar next to him.
Dusk had just started to fall when they had rode into Coral Canyon. It had taken them nearly an hour longer than Vin had planned due to Ezra's horse throwing a shoe.
"Hospitality is not this town's priority."Ezra commented as he accepted the beer from the bartender.
Vin nodded as he kept a watchful eye on the saloon's patrons through the mirror behind the bar,"I noticed."
The gambler took a sip of beer and then slowly set it down on the bar as he saw three men rise from a back table.
Tanner placed a warning hand on his friend's arm,"Don't turn around."
"If we act agressive we won't get any information that will help JD. We're here for a meal and some rest that's all."