They watched as Nathan inspected the body. He told them it didn't look like there had been a struggle because there was no bruising anywhere else. Inez told them that she had come out to get water for a bath. The moon was bright so she hadn't brought a lantern. She didn't see anyone in the alley when she found the body. Vin had found a trail and followed it to the edge of the livery. Chris watched as he squatted down to get a closer look. He also noted that Vin held on to the side of the building support. Chris turned his gaze back towards Nathan.
"Anybody know him?" he asked.
"Name's Robin Thomas," Nathan answered. "Lives with his family a few miles from town."
"Interesting," Ezra commented.
"What?" Chris demanded.
"Both victims lived a considerable distance from town," Ezra said. "From the stiffness of the body it would appear they were both killed outside of town. Yet they were left here for us to find. Why?"
"Good question?" Nathan said as he stood up.
"The trail ends just passed the livery," Vin said in frustration. "It's like he just vanished."
Ezra had taken the clipping back from Chris and smoothed it out. There was nothing unusual about it but something wasn't right, he could feel it.
"I wonder if Mrs. Travis would remember who she distributed the papers to," Ezra said.
"What are you getting at, Ezra?" Chris asked.
"It might help us narrow the search," Ezra answered. "Since the clipping is from the most recent paper hopefully not that many people picked up."
"Great idea Ezra," Nathan said. "Maybe we'll get lucky."
"I'll ask her in the mornin'," Chris said.
"Maybe you better allow me to ask her," Ezra commented.
"Why?" Chris asked suspiciously.
"'Cause Ms. Travis ain't too happy with you right now," Vin answered.
"Fine!" Chris said, "Let's get this body over to the undertaker, then we might as well go back to bed."
They took the body to Silas then said good night. Vin and Ezra walked over to the saloon. Ezra bid Vin a good night as he went upstairs. Vin stretched out on the blankets and stared up at the ceiling. He lay there for a few hours thinking about the killer. Vin was still trying to figure out why he couldn't find a trail when he fell asleep.
The next morning Vin was awakened by the cold. The fire had died down in the stove and the saloon had cooled considerably. He sat up rubbing his face then stretched. He cursed when the stitches pulled. Vin had to use a chair to pull himself up. His right leg was stiff from the cold and sleeping on the floor. Vin's sleep hadn't been very restful. He had a dream that the Headless Horseman rode into the Halloween dance planned for tomorrow and had killed someone. It had been so real. Vin was still thinking about it when Inez came out carrying a pot of coffee.
"Buenos dias, Senor Vin. Would you like some coffee?"
"That would be mighty welcome," he said as he limped over towards the bar.
"Why don't you have a seat," she said.
He took a seat at the table and she brought over the coffee and a cup.
"Would you like some breakfast?"
"That would be fine."
She smiled and disappeared in the back. Vin leaned back and thought about the dream. He couldn't believe the story that Ezra was reading was giving him nightmares. He sighed and leaned back in the chair. Maybe he needed to get away for a few days. He would help the others find the killer then go camping. Inez returned and placed a plate of eggs, bacon and tortillas in front of him. She left and went behind the bar and began to straighten the bottles. Vin took a tortilla and wrapped the eggs and bacon inside and began to eat. He was sipping another cup of coffee when Ezra came down the stairs.
"You feelin' alright?" Vin asked.
"Sleep has abandoned me, Mr. Tanner, so I decided to rise."
"Senor Ezra are you feeling all right?" Inez asked when she re-entered the bar. Vin laughed at his expression.
"I'm fine, my dear, but could use some sustenance."
"I'll fix you breakfast," she said.
"So what is on your agenda for this day?"
"Planned on riding over to Nettie's and fix up her place."
"You're a daring man, Mr. Tanner, going against our esteemed physician's wishes."
"Was panning on leaving before they woke," he said.
"Leave where?" Chris asked as he walked in.
"I'm going over to Nettie's," Vin answered.
"After Nathan told you not to." Chris reminded him.
"After Nathan told you not to what?" asked the healer as he walked in.
"Nothin'," Vin sighed.
"He was planning on sneaking out to Nettie's," Chris said as Vin gave him a shocked look.
"I told you no riding, Vin, and I mean it," Nathan threatened. "You'll pull those stitches. If you don't do as I say I'll have Josiah carry you up stairs and tie you to my bed."
"And I will do it," Josiah announced as he walked in and overheard the conversation.
"Do what?" JD asked as he entered with Buck.
"Tie Vin to the bed," Josiah answered.
"Huh?" JD asked.
"Isn't it obvious Kid," Buck said walking over to the table. "Vin must be going against Nathan's instructions."
"Y'all think you're funny don't ya," Vin scowled. "All I want to do is go help Nettie."
"You ain't riding," Nathan said.
"What if we took the wagon?" JD suggested before a fight could start. "We're going to need some supplies. Vin can ride in the wagon."
"That'd be all right," Nathan admitted.
"I can ride," Vin protested.
"Take it or leave it," Chris said.
"Guess I don't have a choice," Vin mumbled.
"Its settled then, but there's a few things we have to do before we leave," Chris announced. "There was another murder last night."
"You're kidding," Buck said. "Who found the body?"
"Inez," Nathan answered. "She had gone out to get some water. She found the body in the alley by the livery."
"Same killer?" Josiah asked.
"We assume so," Ezra answered. "The unfortunate victim's throat was cut and a clipping of the Headless Horseman story was pinned to his chest."
"Anybody know who he was?" JD asked.
"Robin Thomas," Nathan answered.
"I'll ride out to his parents' ranch and tell them," Josiah offered.
"Thanks, Josiah," Chris said.
"If you gentleman will excuse me," Ezra announced. "I have something to do before we depart."
"Where's he going?" JD asked as he walked out.
"He's going to ask Mary if she can remember who she gave the paper too," Chris explained. "Hopefully it will narrow our search."
"I'm goin' to take Vin up to the clinic to change the bandage on his leg," Nathan said as he got up. Vin followed him out the door.
The rest of the team scattered and went about their business. Buck and JD went to get supplies from Potter's. Josiah went to the livery and Chris decided to keep an eye on the town. He got comfortable on one of the chairs in front of the saloon
Ezra walked over to The Clarion. He wasn't surprised to see Mary busy at the press. He watched her oil the press as she kept an eye on it as it printed. She didn't realize he was there so he decided to announce himself.
"Good day, Mrs. Travis," Ezra said.
"Oh!" she said as she jumped. "Ezra you startled me."
"I assure you that wasn't my intention good lady."
"Can I help you with something?"
"I'm afraid I'm the bearer of bad tidings. Another young man was murdered last night."
"Oh no," Mary said in genuine concern.
"I'm afraid that's not all. The story was pinned to the victim."
"Did Chris send you over to get me to stop printing it?" Mary demanded.
"No he did not," Ezra answered. "But I do need to ask you a question."
"All right," she said.
"Do you remember who you gave the paper to yesterday?"
"Let's see," she began. ''I brought a stack of them to the general store. Then I delivered one to Yosemite and Silas. The colonel came and got one."
"This isn't going as planned," Ezra lamented. "Any strangers come by to get a paper?"
"No, no one different or new. Just the regulars."
"I thank you for your time," Ezra said as he opened the door.
"Here's a copy of today's paper," she said handing it to him.
Ezra took the offer and headed back to the saloon. He saw Vin limping down the stairs from Nathan's clinic then walk over and have a seat next to Chris. Ezra joined them.
"Any luck?" Chris asked as he took a drag on the cheroot.
"Unfortunately no," Ezra said as he took a seat. "She placed some papers at Potter's store than gave some out to regular customers."
"Who were they?" Vin asked.
"Silas, Yosemite and the Colonel."
"Damn!" Chris cursed. "We're getting nowhere with this."
"I'm getting a bad feeling about this," Vin announced.
Neither Ezra nor Chris said anything to Vin's announcement. They sat on the boardwalk and waited for the others. Nathan came down from the clinic a few minutes later and joined them. A half-hour later JD pulled the wagon up in front of the saloon. In the back were the supplies they would need to make repairs to Nettie's ranch. Buck rode up leading their horses.
"Josiah said he'd meet us out at Nettie's," Buck said.
Vin climbed in the back with a little help from Nathan and got comfortable on the supplies. Once everyone was mounted JD snapped the reins and the horses pulled out. As they rode further out of town Chris kept an eye out for trouble. The others picked up on Chris's uneasiness and kept watch also. Vin laid back on the boards and dozed in the sun. The day was cool but not unpleasant. Half-hour later they stopped in front of Nettie's
"What brings you boys out here?" she called from her porch.
"We came to eat," Buck said with a smile as he climbed off his horse.
"We came to fix the damages to your humble abode," Ezra added.
"You did, fancy man?" she asked.
"Let me rephrase that," Ezra smiled showing his good tooth. "They came to do repairs while I will supervise."
"That sounds more like it," she said.
"JD!" Casey yelled as she ran from the barn. "What are you doing here?"
"We came to help fix the things broken from the storm the other night."
"Son, why are you riding in the wagon," Nettie asked Vin. "Is there something wrong with your horse?"
"Nope," he said as he limped over to her. "Shack decided to fall on me and Chris."
"That all?" she coaxed.
"He had a piece of wood stuck in his thigh about three inches," Nathan added. "Had to put twelve stitches in to close it."
"Well fancy pants it looks like Vin's supervising instead of you," Nettie announced.
"Not you too," Vin sighed. "It's just some stitches. I can lend a hand."
"You just quit sassing me and have a seat on this porch," she said.
The others tried to hide smiles as Nettie settled Vin in a chair with his right leg up. The others started to unload the supplies and get to work. Nettie settled next to Vin and asked what was going on in town. He explained to her about the murders and about the story. She had the same feeling JD did, that the story was a clue. They sat on the porch and watched the others. JD narrowly missed Buck with the board he was carrying when Buck bent over. Vin shook his head when Buck bumped into JD making him drop the bucket of nails he was carrying. Buck started laughing and JD jumped on his back. Chris finally put a stop to it.
"I don't know which one is the bigger kid," Nettie said as she stood up. "I better get lunch started."
Nettie went inside and Vin escaped off the porch. He walked over to where they were fixing the fence. He bent down and picked up a hammer and joined Chris. He held the other end of the board Chris was putting on the fence.
"Now I know why Nathan didn't protest too much when I said I wanted to come out here," Vin grumbled.
"I knew you wouldn't listen to me," Nathan said with a smile.
"You boys come take a break for lunch," Nettie called.
They joined her back on the porch where she had sandwiches and lemonade. They sat talking on the porch when Josiah rode up.
"Hello preacher man," Nettie said. "You're just in time for lunch."
"That would be very welcome," Josiah said as he dismounted.
"What kept you Josiah?" JD asked.
"Mr. Johnson came to pick up his son's body when I got back to town," Josiah answered.
Chris's expression turned grim and the others could understand why. They were all frustrated about the murders. They had no leads and no suspects. They finished their lunch in silence then went back to work. It took the rest of the day to finish the repairs and Nettie made them a roast for dinner. Some of their spirit had returned since they had time to take out their frustrations out by fixing the fence and chicken coop. When dinner was done they decided it was time to head back into town. They mounted their horses while JD and Vin climbed in the wagon. It was late when they got back to town and headed for the livery. They put the horses up and headed for the saloon. They had a few drinks and played a few hands of cards then decided to call it a night. The others left until it was only Chris and Vin left sitting at the table. Vin knew that Chris wasn't happy about the murders but they were doing everything they could.
"We'll get him Chris," Vin vowed.
"I know," Chris agreed. "I'll see you in the morning."
Chris walked out the door and Vin followed. He said good night to Chris and headed for his wagon. He only wen there so Chris wouldn't see him go back to the saloon. He sat on the tail of the wagon watching the stars. When he was satisfied everyone was off the streets he headed back to the saloon. He went inside and climbed the stairs to Ezra's room and knocked.
"Ah, Mr. Tanner, we must stop meeting like this," he said as he opened the door. "People will talk."
"Funny Ezra," Vin said as he entered and handed him the paper.
"Shall we get comfortable?" Ezra said.
Vin sat on the chair and Ezra took the bed. Ezra smiled as he began to read. This was his favorite part of the story. He read how Brom Bones tried to scare everyone at the party with the story of the Headless Horseman. He warned everyone not to go down by the stream since that was the favorite haunt of the horseman. He also told them if they crossed the covered bridge they would be safe. Ezra went on to recite what happened on Ichabod's ride home.
"There was something in the moody and dogged silence of this pertinacious companion, that was mysterious and appalling. It was soon fearfully accounted for. On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow-traveler in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was horror-struck, on perceiving that he was headless!- but his horror was still more increased, on observing that the head, which should have rested on his shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of the saddle."
A tree branch scrapped on the window causing Vin and Ezra to jump. They laughed and Ezra continued with the story. Ichabod tried to make a run for the covered bridge.
"Another convulsive kick in the ribs, and old Gunpowder sprang upon the bridge; he thundered over the resounding planks; he gained the opposite side; and now Ichabod cast a look behind to see if his pursuer should vanish, according to rule, in a flash of fire and brimstone. Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him. Ichabod endeavored to dodge the horrible missile, but too late. It encountered his cranium with a tremendous crash, -he was tumbled headlong into the dust, and Gunpowder, the black steed, and the goblin rider, passed by like a whirlwind."
The story finished with Ichabod not being seen again.
"That's it?" Vin asked.
"I'm afraid so," Ezra answered in disappointment.
"It was my pleasure."
Vin left Ezra's room but wasn't tired. He decided to take a patrol around the town. The wind had picked up but the full moon was bright enough to see by. He went cautiously down a dark alley. He thought he had seen something and wanted to check it out. As he walked down the alley he saw a dark shadow against the wall. As he got closer he saw it was a body. It was face down and as he turned it over he found what he had suspected and cursed. Pinned to the body was the Headless Horseman story. Vin was checking the body when someone can up behind him. He tried to move but it was to late. He felt a sharp pain to his temple and his last thought was how stupid he'd been to let his guard down.
Comments to: Winter