Larabee felt the struggles grow weaker and weaker. Chris, as if waking in a dream, realized what he was doing. His anger quickly fizzled. He relaxed his grip, released his hold he shifted his weight off the pinned and near drowned man. A boot heel connected with the inside of his upper thigh. Larabee collapsed to the ground holding himself cursing the gambler.
Standish felt the pressure leave his back. His foot found a target and soon he was free. He bolted up from the icy water taking in great gasps of air falling backward dragging Larabee with him. Ezra did not notice anything except the sweet feel of oxygen reaching his lungs. He crawled to his knees his left arm extended in front of him attached to Larabee. Ezra froze.
A gun barrel rested in his right ear. Standish shut his eyes. He never heard them come up. Never heard the hounds, never saw the horses and now they were caught. Chris slowly rolled to his knees still on all fours using his left hand to clutch himself. He saw Standish and Larabee's hazel, pain filled eyes wreaked of revenge. Then he saw the gun. Larabee froze.
"You boys don't seem to be getting along," Fred Delany purred resting the gun barrel against the southerners head.
"Perhaps Mr. Larabee we should just shoot Mr. Standish here and hunt you alone. I'm sure you would cover more ground and prove more of a challenge." He paused enjoying the moment. Delany waited for refusals. He thought he would hear Chris beg for the life of one of his men. The seven were rumored to be almost brother like in their devotion to one another. Delany waited a few seconds and stated "I see by your silence you agree with me." He eased the hammer back on the gun. "I'll just send Maude a piece of her son, how's that?" He smiled pleased with the idea.
Ezra stared back at Chris waiting for Larabee to jump to his aid. He waited for Chris to speak up in his defense put a stop to this nonsense. Nothing was forth coming. The gunslinger stared hard at Standish and then Delany. Ezra realized he was going to die. He closed his eyes. To think Maude traveled all this way for nothing.
Larabee stared at Standish trying to grasp the magnitude of what he had just done. He had tried to drown the younger man. Out of anger he had tried to kill Ezra. Chris had killed before and was no stranger to taking a life, but it did not come easy and with each death came a new nightmare. Standish was a friend. He had tried to kill a friend because of words spoken out of anger and hurt. Now a gun barrel materialized out of nowhere and placed against the southerners head. Standish still looked to him for rescue for a life line. Just a few seconds ago Chris had tried to kill Ezra and now the foolish Southerner hoped for salvation from him. Chris could only stare. He watched as Ezra closed his eyes in resignation. Standish believed he was going to die.
"No! Wait!" Larabee yelled lunging forward just as the hammer clicked home. Standish tensed squeezing his eyes shut. No gunblast, no impact he still breathed. The uproarious laughter erupted from the Delany brood as Ezra kept his eyes shut and took a shuttering breath.
Chris grabbed the upper arms of the gambler assuring himself the man still lived. Larabee watched as the green eyes opened and gazed through him...empty. Standish seemed lost. The fear that had mingled so freely with hope had died away leaving an empty , vacant, stare expecting nothing from anyone.
"You bastard!" Larabee snarled up at Delany but not relinquishing his hold on the shocked gambler.
"You boys best get a move on," Delany chuckled out echoed by his sons. "We'll give you the rest of the day." The humor left his voice and face, "Tomorrow I promise the gun will be loaded."
Larabee tore his eyes from Delany and hauled the compliant gambler to his feet. The two started jogging down the embankment slowly leaving the laughter that followed them.
Chris kept taking surreptitious glances at the gambler. Standish matched his pace moving effortlessly beside him. Larabee kept moving the words of Delany echoing hollowly in his mind, 'Tomorrow the gun would be loaded.'
Ezra never gazed left or right. He could not seem to focus on anything except the click of the gun. He did not hear his own labored breathing, did not hear or feel his pulse thunder through his ears. The feel of the gun barrel, the sound of the empty chamber filled his mind, occupied his thoughts. He did not gaze over to Larabee he was not even cognizant of the gunslinger beside him. The foreboding presence of the cold steel gun barrel to his ear left a lingering painful memory of how close to death he had come. Ezra's legs moved in mindless synchrony with Larabee's, his arms shadowed the lean worried man beside him. Standish moved without consciously acknowledging the movement or the commands his brain issued to responding muscles. Instinct and reflex took over as the conscious mind muddled through the shock. Ezra really, really hated Christmas. 'Tomorrow the gun would be loaded.' Tomorrow they would never get their rabid hands on him.
Chris led them down following the river splashing through smaller tributaries that fed the larger river. Each time they entered the icy water he waited for a refusal from the gambler. Nothing. It was not long before he hoped for a complaint or an intake of breath anything that would indicated Standish was with him mentally. Instead each barrier was met with silent compliance. Ezra followed him without comment without ire. It was dream come true for Larabee except now he loathed it. He kept a concerned eye on his friend. Standish never looked in Larabee's direction nor raised his eyes from the ground immediately in front of him. Chris trudged on leading them closer to Four Corners. He led them on a twisted , convoluted path across streams, over ridges, up mesa's and down again. They climbed and scurried over boulders and ledges that suddenly rose in their paths. Each time Larabee hoped for some kind of sound from the southerner anything, but nothing.
The afternoon light stretched in long shadows. Snow drifted down lazily lacing the area in white. Chris had slowed to a walk. His cheeks burned and his eyes watered. It was cold but still sweat drenched his shirt. The wet material clung miserably to his body. When they stopped moving it would freeze. He gazed over at the gambler who plodded beside him. Sweat cut dirty tributaries down the side of Ezra's normally clean features. The dark chestnut brown hair hung limply over his downcast eyes. It would be dark in less than an hour. They had covered more than a few miles. The river was no longer visible. Larabee and Standish slipped and crawled up a steep loose rocky clay mesa. Chris hoped to find some shelter from the weather. They had drank enough water from the river to last them the night. They needed to light a warm fire tonight. Both were wet and exhausted and the fight seemed to have left the southerner. They needed a warm place to rest.
Standish crawled using both hands and one foot. He held the right one up as he clawed his way upward beside Chris. He did not really care where they were headed. He could care less if they stopped or kept going. He noticed the sun had begun to set it would be dark soon and the chase would be at a temporary end. Tomorrow the hunt would start again, tomorrow the gun would be loaded. Standish rubbed his right ear on his shoulder trying to dislodge the ghost sensation of the gun barrel. He slipped crashing to the ground dragging the gunslinger with him. He mumbled an apology and started up again never raising his eyes never diverting his attention from the task at hand.
Chris's wrist was pulled out from underneath him as Standish slipped and hit the slop with a resounding thud. Larabee followed him. He heard the soft apology and gazed curiously at the gambler. It was first sound he had made all afternoon. The green downcast eyes still remained riveted to the ground. Larabee muttered, "Not a problem," hoping to spark some conversation. Silence met his comment and again the two men ascended the rocky crumbling slope.
Dec 22 pm
JD Dunne sat next to the pot belly wood stove that heated the saloon. Laughter and the clinking of glasses filled the air. Smoke swirled around the room creating a bluish haze. Buck sat at a table with Buttercup on his lap, both laughing as some kind of joke. Josiah and Nathan shared a quiet bottle of whiskey playing a friendly game of cards chuckling at Buck. Vin entered the saloon and slid into the empty chair next to Josiah. The tracker tipped his hat in greeting at the kid smiling tightly. Dunne nodded back. Tanner swiped the fine film of snow that had settled on his hat. Snow flurries had kicked up again. It had turned cold and snow threatened to fall in earnest. A few cowboys and dirt farmers graced the other tables chatting discussing the weather and women. The oil lamps flickered on the wall and Inez wound between patrons serving drinks. JD turned and peered out the window not able to see past the reflection created as a result of the indoor lighting. Dunne worried about Chris and Ezra. Something had happened something had gone wrong.
Dunne did not notice Vin glide up behind him. "'Ey kid."
"Everything ok?" Tanner waited as the sheriff collected his thoughts. "Chaucer is looking good. Ezra will be relieved."
JD nodded in response. He did not bother turning to face the tracker and softly said, "I think they're in trouble."
Tanner watched the young man beside him. For all his naiveté Dunne had a good head on his shoulders and he had good instincts. Vin was not surprised by this statement, "Me too," he responded just as quietly. Dunne whirled around and faced the Texan.
"We've got to go out after them," JD said. This Christmas things had finally started to pull together. Mary, Chris and Billy had plans. The others were included of course and for the most part they would take up the invitation but Chris had something other than a bottle of whiskey to offer him respite from his hollow pain. Ms. Nettie and Casey wanted both Vin and JD to spend the day with them. Instead Dunne and Tanner convinced the two women to come to town and enjoy the day with the others. Mary and Billy would have everyone over to their house for dinner.
Even Ezra had something to look forward too. Maude promised to visit. Standish had been skeptical at first but each time he reread the telegram he convinced himself it was true. Dunne had even glimpsed the wire and though the flowery language was lacking the sincerity seemed very real. Mrs. Standish was going to spend the holiday with her son. The enlightened attitude was infectious. Josiah as well as Ezra, waited eagerly for the 23rd to arrive, they waited for the stage to pull into Four Corners. Billy hounded Chris about Santa. Larabee would answer the young boy seriously trying to hide his amusement and joy. Buck had been spouting brotherly smothering advice to the young sheriff about what to get Casey for Christmas. Nathan waited with barely contained patience for the arrival of Rain. The Christmas spirit had found its way into the peacekeepers of Four Corners. Things had been going to well. Sometimes things got brightest before they went black.
"We'll get everyone together tomorrow morning. They'll need some convincing," Tanner said, "it's to dark to do anything tonight and fretting about it won't change anything."
Dunne heard the words and understood the meaning and even agreed with the simple statement. He gazed out the window seeing nothing and worried.
Chris tended the small struggling blaze nursing it along. The weak flame flickered and fought the wet branches and twigs that refused to burn readily. The small fire slowly blossomed and with in an hour a strong blaze heated the small shallow cavern. Larabee watched the stretching flames his mind focusing on the gambler. Ezra had kept silent following Larabee collecting fire wood.
Ezra stared at the tendrils of smoke and ran his hands over his face. He stopped half way suddenly realizing Larabee was still chained to him. Standish swallowed his frustration and fear. He ran his left thumb over the lock contemplating his next set of options. Ignoring Larabee he began to work on freeing the lock. His right hand trembled slightly and he silently cursed himself.
Larabee watched as Standish focused his concentration on the lock. It was a step in the right direction. Chris noticed the shaking hand and wondered if it was the cold or exhaustion or fear. A combination no doubt. Larabee had seen the gambler face worse odds, hit greater fears head on, trudge through worse forms of discomfort and prevail without the ever present smirk dipping. Today all three assaulted the southerner and he seemed to waver. Chris had begun to worry.
The once finally manicured hands were dirty and shook. The frustration manifested itself in white knuckles as fingers moved stiffly over the lock. Chris lifted his head in surprise as string of obscenities flew from Ezra.
Standish cursed. He had not meant to utter anything aloud but he must have because Larabee suddenly jerked his head up at him.
Chris chuckled. It was unusual to hear the southern gentleman lose his temper. It happened time to time but normally Ezra kept his anger under tight control. 'One does not think clearly when irate', he had once explained to Larabee. The smile left Larabee's face when the hostile green eye met his bemused expression. Larabee knew what was about to happen and let it go.
Ezra heard the chuckle and it infuriated him beyond reasoning. He glared over at Chris saw the smile and lunged.
He tackled Larabee to the ground wrapping his left hand tightly around the gunslingers neck. He held his right hand balled in a tight fist cocked and ready to swing. Standish straddled the older man's chest choking him with one hand threatening to land the punch. He stopped.
Chris was not to blame. Larabee was not the reason for the shackles that bound them. Larabee did not place the gun barrel to his head nor did he squeeze the trigger. Delany was responsible for this mess. Delany pulled the trigger Delany hunted them. Who the hell was this Delany? Ezra paused never relinquishing his grip never loosening his clenched hand from around the gunslingers windpipe. Ezra watched as Larabee's lips began to change hue. His own ragged breath crystallized in the air as the fire sparked and crackled beside them.
Chris stared up at the younger conman wondering what the man was going to do. Would Ezra finish with his attack? How far did the southerner blame him for this mess? He hoped the gambler would make a decision soon because he could not breath. Things were getting fuzzy and the added weight of the gambler did not help his sore back any. Larabee waited with little practiced patience while Standish sorted out his next move.
Larabee lay quietly fighting the urge to knock the younger man from him. He did not struggle under the strangulating grasp that held him. Instead he waited trying to discern any hint as to what the gambler fought against. Then the clenched hand loosened a crooked unsure smile spread across the shadowed face highlighting the twin dimples. The gold premolar uncovered shining dully in the fire light.
" I owe you an apology Mr. Larabee," Standish muttered as he slid off the gunslinger back to the ground. He faced the fire again but stared at his right hand as if suddenly interested in it. Why had Chris become suddenly passive? He had let Chris get to him, get under his skin and voice Ezra's fears. His mother would not show. Once again he would spend Christmas wishing for something that would never occur. Hell he was a grown man wanting his mother. Standish perceived himself as rather pathetic and figured Chris saw the same thing. Deep down Ezra believed Maude would hold true to her promise, he had not asked her to visit had not sought or forced her into the promise. She broached the subject with no urgings from him. It made him nervous in away. He had given up on her long ago. Maude cared for him, he was her son after all. She was not overtly demonstrative and neither was he, it was the way things worked. This year, however, Maude stepped out of her normal behavior and promised a holiday visit, just her and him. For that very reason Ezra knew his mother would come for the holidays. It surprised him, threw him off balance and maybe that was why she did it, to keep him sharp to keep him on his toes. Whatever the reason, it did not matter Maude was coming for Christmas.
"Not a problem, Ezra," Chris said rubbing his neck with his left hand leaving his right by his side. The cold iron shackles had rubbed both their wrists creating large sores and abrasions. The more the iron was jostled the more the skin gave way. He sat up gazing into the fire. Larabee sat quietly wishing it were Vin who sat beside him , conversation would not be necessary. Buck or one of the others would start maintain and carry a conversation. Normally the gambler fell into this boisterous category but today shook him and so he held his tongue. Larabee figured the conman was only trying to avoid another verbal attack. Chris knew he had hit home with some of his comments. He had seen it in the gamblers searing green eye. Larabee would not have felt bad would not have tried to mend the fences that had been broken, those heal with time. Besides Standish deserved it, he constantly challenged Larabee's authority with his satiric comments and observations. But, Standish did not deserve to have a gun placed to his head he should not have had to suffer through Chris's prolonged silence as the trigger was squeezed. For that Chris owed him an apology. Those bridges once burned do not get repaired with time. Standish kept his mouth shut because he would lose in the end. Larabee had let them squeeze the trigger without coming to his aid until it was to late.
Standish was chained to his death warrant...Chris would not step forward on his behalf. Larabee would rather forfeit Standish's life and get back to Four Corners to his new family rather than risk getting dragged down by the gambler. Or so Chris thought Ezra believed. He watched the conman for a moment trying calm his own fears and squelch the resignation the gambler emanated.
"No need to apologize Ezra," Chris started. He hated this, where was Josiah when he needed him? The missionary had away of getting his point across either with verbal manipulation or physical intimidation.
Standish merely nodded his head running his index nail against his thumb nail trying to dislodge dirt. The camp fire crackled and snapped some how intensifying the silence. Snow drifted down lazily just outside the small smooth rocky alcove they used for cover. The snow would make tracking them easier.
"Delay's not going to win," Chris said matter of factly. Four Corners was only a full day away. They could make it.
"No, he will not," Standish agreed. His tone was as cold as the night. Chris did not like the feel of it. The body language was wrong.
"You ever think about it?" Chris asked. He would try another tactic. He would play the conman's game of redirection he had seen it work for Vin.
Larabee watched as the head tilted slightly sideways and green eye slowly swiveled toward him, "think of what?"
"Your uncle," Chris clarified somewhat. He avoided gazing directly at the southerner instead he concentrated on the flame watching the movement of the other man with his peripheral vision.
Ezra recognized the technique. His mother had taught it to him as a child and thus he easily caught onto the poor attempt. Standish would not play the game. It was bad enough he had to participate in Delay's lunacy he would not indulge Larabee. Chris was his ticket out of here so he needed diplomacy. "Mr. Larabee, no offense but you are no good at the game." The dimpled smile etched his features again as he gazed up and met the gunslingers.
"Deplorable," Standish answered warming up the conversation, "Young Billy is more accomplished in the art of manipulation, than you currently are."
Chris chuckled. Billy worked his mother pretty good and had figured out that just because she said 'no'one of the seven would probably say 'yes'. Larabee had fallen into that snare many times to the amusement of the others. Mary could be caught sternly reprimanding the gunslinger for allowing her son to an activity she had specifically forbade him.
"I didn't think he'd pull the trigger," Chris flatly said hoping Standish understood his position with Delany.
Ezra merely nodded falling back into his silence the smile faltering, "yes well perhaps I should have just entered the water."
Larabee said nothing watching the sky through the whisps of smoke. "Not in your nature."
Standish nodded in agreement. Gawd he was tired, his eyes burned and his stomach flip flopped nauseated as a result of the bone cold weather and hunger. He stifled a yawn, shut his eyes and softly spoke, "Mr. Larabee just to set the record straight...," Ezra paused gathering his wits preparing himself for the blows that might follow and said, "In your short span as a parent..." He noticed Larabee tense. Standish forged onward, "you succeeded easily where others have failed miserably. Billy is the proof."
With that the gambler eased himself down stretching out next to the fire and closed his eyes.
Larabee watched him for a bit mulling over his words trying to untangle their meaning. The soft crackling of the fire obscured the shallow rhythmic breathing of the gambler who quickly drifted to sleep.
Chris fought a yawn, tossed more branches onto the dwindling fire and eased down to sleep. He gazed at the conman. Standish slept with his back to the fire his head buried under in his rough coat. The chain lay loose between them. Larabee stretched out trying not the disturb the iron and muttered, "Maude did the best she could Ezra...at least you survived." Larabee loved Billy. It was not as intense as the love he had for Adam but the feeling was there and young Travis felt it and emanated it. Apparently the others saw it, well at least the gambler did.
Dec 23rd late am
Buck trailed behind Vin letting his Grey pick his way along the flat sage lined trail. JD followed close behind the frost covered muzzle of his bay close to the grey's hip. Josiah rode beside Dunne taking in the scenery working the kinks out of his sermon in his head. Nathan trailed behind his sorrel's main had become sparse and wiry. He would have to talk with Hans about changing the animals feed. Maybe Nathan would use the shucked oats that Ezra and Vin fed their horses. Chaucer and Peso's coats were lush and shiny, whatever the two were doing seemed to be working. Jackson sighed curling and uncurling his cold toes within the confines of his boots. He would have to purchase a new pair of wool socks this fine winter.
Tanner led the four men up the slowly winding trail. The light snow covering would obscure any old tracks but would highlight any newer ones. This would either complicate or ease his burden of tracking. Chris and Ezra should have been back by now. This morning at the very least. The tracker could no longer ignore the nervous pang of doubt that had begun to grow in his gut over the past few days. He had kept silent because Buck was right, Chris and Ezra were grown men and could take care of themselves. When JD started voicing his own concerns, Vin could no longer ignore the sense of foreboding he felt. He had not been surprised when Buck and the others entered the Livery right behind JD and himself. The others were worried as well.
This was their second Christmas together, the first time Vin actually looked forward to the holiday. Last year had been fun. The seven were loners and individually dreaded the holidays for their own reasons but last season Christmas proved to be fun and full of joy. The gag gifts and hot meals were cherished and Vin looked back fondly on that day. This year all seven waited for the day with growing enthusiasm. Chris for did not hide in the bottle, Billy's constant presence and incessant concern over St. Nick kept the gunslinger happily occupied. JD and Buck found that irritating Josiah about his impending sermon brought great discomfort to the older man and great amusement to themselves and the others. Nathan planned for Rain's arrival and even went so far as to seek the conman's advice on a suitable gift for Rain. If this surprised Ezra, Vin could not see it. Standish, himself, found himself in the midst of holiday travelers and rose to the challenge of relieving them of excess Christmas cash. Maude was coming to town and he needed to sharpen his skills. Even Vin looked forward to Nettie and Mary's Christmas dinner. Last year it had been huge. Last year between the seven men, Billy, Casey, the Judge and Evie, Mary and Nettie not all of it had been eaten. They ate the leftovers for days to come. Not that Vin minded. There had been plenty of hungry days in his life so that anything not moving looked good enough to eat.
When Chris and Ezra had become over due by only a few hours the others went out in search. Josiah and Buck seemed to have faith in the two wayward travelers but JD, Nathan and Vin could not sit idly and wait. Christmas was just around the corner and Vin did not want to go back to those days when the holiday came with a horrible, heavy sense of dread. This year he had something to look forward too and a family to enjoy it with. If Chris and Ezra were ok then fine they others would swallow their embarrassment. Tanner could handle that allot easier than if something had or did happen.
He led them toward the river and would follow the meandering waterway for a few miles before leaving it and then take the trail over the mesas to Cross Keys. It would be the most direct route.
The route Chris would prefer if he had to be back to Four Corners or if he was stuck with Ezra out in this biting weather.
Buck itched at the wool scarf that looped under his hat and around his ears. His thoughts wandered back to Sheila. Her husband was still in prison and the young lady longed for company. Wilmington smiled mischievously. He would be very happy to bestow some holiday cheer in her direction. Tonight he planned on stopping by and help her ring in the holiday season. Sheila did not like being alone and seemed to enjoy his company. Tomorrow he and JD would badger Josiah some more. Buck nearly laughed outright. The large preacher was extremely reluctant to carry out the Christmas sermon. One on one he was fine but in front of the whole community that was different. Buck and JD would make him just a bit more self conscious. It was the least they could do for a friend. Ezra would join in adding his two cents. It would be fun.
Nathan followed Josiah's large quarter horse. The sorrel picked it's way casually letting the animal in front of it find the trail. Jackson leaned back and wiped his eyes. The brisk breeze easily brought tears to his eyes. Like Standish he did not cherish the freezing wet weather but unlike his southern counterpart he kept his dislikes to himself. Free wet miserable weather was always much more preferable than the moderate humid weather of his slave days. Besides with this raw weather he could always go inside when he chose to or build a fire when he wanted to or never leave the confines of his room if he did not want to . Freedom made even the worst discomfort bearable. He would have to explain that to Ezra some day. Nathan looked up at large mesa across the river. The horses picked and found a trail amongst the river rocks. The slow current rolled along at a soft murmur. Jackson gaze lingered at the top of the mesa and saw movement. He pulled his horse up, squinted his eyes and watched. Again...He was sure this time.
"Ey wait up," he said shading his eyes from the glare of the cloud covered sun. The sky was a dark grey matching the river but the glow was enough to obscure his sight.
The others reined in turned back and then followed his gaze. Vin caught the movement on the mesa top and grabbed his spy glass. He swore, "It's them."
He no sooner got the words out when Buck shouted, "What the hell are they doing?" Just as he spoke the five men watched in horror as the two men ran and leaped from the mesa's edge.
"Holy shit..," JD whispered.
The fivesome watched in stunned silence as the two men hung suspended in midair their legs still moving as if they ran on solid ground and then started falling. They watched them fall for those prolonged seconds hitting the steep slope. They had regained their feet somewhat but it seemed as if Standish's leg gave out and he tumbled head over heals dragging Larabee with him. The two careened down the slope in a tangle of arms and legs. The only sound was the trickle of rocks that slid in tangent with them.
"What's that!" JD pointed out his hoarse whisper not quite believing what he was witnessing.
Dogs leaped over the edge their lean bodies stretched out to their full length. Their baying finally reaching the men below.
"Hounds." Nathan's revulsion and fear nearly tangible. Vin, Buck and Josiah quickly unsheathed their rifles from the scabbards and slid to the ground. The three men quickly knelt on the bank. They raised their rifles to their coated shoulders and took careful aim.
The hounds were better suited for such down hill escapades. Their massive shoulders absorbed the shock of the sudden landing, backs coiled like springs as hind legs over strode past front legs.
They were close to the kill they would not stop now. With tongues lolling, ears flapping and the ground rolling underneath their spread paws the hounds gained on the two tumbling men.
Chris tried to swing his legs underneath himself anything to slow their mad descent. Standish was somehow facing up hill facing Larabee. The gunslinger thought that strange then suddenly he was rolling over the gambler passing the southern man. The shackles grew taut then something gave and suddenly Chris found his right arm had a lot more mobility. He heard Standish groan and soon both men were facing the river again. Earth flew by them at an alarming rate. They had to slow down. Chris dug in his boot heels. Then something slammed into his back and shoulders and once again the two men were thrown into joint somersaults head over heels.
Neither man heard the rifle reports, neither man, recognized the third body that now tumbled with them was a hound.
Vin took a breath, held it and slowly exhaled part of it. He ignore Buck and Josiah who flanked him. His world had suddenly reduced itself to the line from the gun sight to his target. Unblinking he squeezed the trigger.
A hound flipped to its side sliding to a stop...dead. Tanner heard Buck's rifle and then Josiah's two more hounds fell unmoving onto the rocky clay slope. Vin focused on the fourth and last dog. He paused raising his head. The dog had managed to entangle itself with Chris and Ezra.
Larabee felt nothing as they rolled and bounced, slamming off the frozen ground. He did not see or hear Ezra did not know how much farther they had to go. Chris only focus was on stopping. He dug his feet in again Standish had somehow managed to slide on past on his back his arms out. His weight, speed and momentum slid the gunslinger sideways yanking him off so he no longer faced down hill feet first but instead right arm first. It was then he realized a hound had joined them.
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