Callie Hollister smiled coyly, toying with the tall, mustached cowboy. The pretty brunette swayed her hips slow and easy and waited. She paused at the corner, in front of the hotel and smiled again, adding a hot stare.
Buck Wilmington did a quick spin in front of the saloon. He'd been pursuing Callie for three weeks. He grinned wolfishly and smacked his hat against his thigh.
"Payday!" He hooted, dashing across the street and around the corner.
"Morning, Miss Callie," He oozed, "The sun just doesn't shine until you smile."
"Oh, Mr. Wilmington," She sighed, "Just being so close to you makes me thirsty..."
"Well, now you just sit down here, where it's nice and cool," Buck charmed, taking her elbow and setting her down on a bench, "I'll get you a nice cold lemonade. I'll be right back..." Buck tripped over the boardwalk, giving the girl a giggle, before he disappeared for the saloon.
"Callie! We're already late. Your Aunt Martha is expecting us for lunch. Let's go!"
The would-be-coquette jumped at the sound her father's stern voice.
"Yes Sir," She followed meekly, glancing back for the handsome rogue.
Chris Larabee was leaning in the doorframe of the sheriff's office. He saw Ezra Standish dusting off his coat as he approached. Ezra had been on patrol for the last two hours. Chris squinted into the sun, spotting Vin Tanner limping towards him. He caught the younger man's eye and inquired.
"Got somethin' in m'boot," the lanky Texan drawled, "Hold up..."
He sat on a bench near the corner and tugged at his boot. Ezra stood just in front of him, Chris took a seat beside him.
Buck hurried across the street, careful of the full mug of lemonade. He spotted the overhang, just to the left of the object of his affection. Slowing down, he stood behind it, out of view, and dropped his voice.
"Your voice is as sweet as nectar and your hair is like fine silk..."
Vin was hunched over pulling his boot on, when the seductive voice sauntered by. He pulled his head up; his face a mix of mirth and puzzlement.
"You been holding out on us, Cowboy?" Chris inquired of the tracker, keeping a straight face.
"Best be savin' them purty words," Vin stood, "Ya got bumps in all the wrong places and y'all can't afford me, Bucklin."
Ezra and Chris both burst out laughing and Vin joined them. A flustered Buck appeared, looking stunned.
"VIN! What the hell..." He spun around, eyeing the sidewalk and street, "What did you do to her? Callie...darlin'?" His hopeless voice sought.
"That mean ya don't like m'silky hair?" Vin cocked his head, grinning at Buck, who made a face and walked away.
"Come on," Chris grinned, nodding towards the saloon, "Lord Tennyson is buying" He swatted the flustered Romeo on the back.
"I happen to think you have exceptional hair, Mr. Tanner," Ezra fell in next to the buckskinned bounty hunter, "both in texture and style."
"Thanks Ez," Vin crowed, hooking his thumbs in his waistband, "Knew y'all was a man of taste."
Chris spotted J.D., Josiah and Nathan. They were already seated at a table playing cards. The four made their way over and circled the table. Buck threw himself in a chair, still gripping the mug of lemonade. Vin, who was in high spirits, couldn't resist. He took the chair next to Buck and slid it close.
"What are you doing?" Buck scowled at Vin and moved away, watching the mischievous grin appear on the younger man's face.
"New in town, Cowboy?" Vin leaned in, giving Buck a saucy wink.
"Cut that out, Vin!" Buck jumped up, mug in hand.
Ezra burst out laughing again, doubling over. Chris managed to contain himself to a slight grin. J.D., Josiah and Nathan looked at each other and shrugged. Vin only had half his beer finished, when J.D. looked at his watch.
"Time to go Vin," the sheriff noted, "The stage is pulling up."
"Damn," Vin stood, guzzling the remainder of the amber liquid in one gulp. "See y'all in a few days." He wiped his mouth and belched, giving Ezra a pained expression.
"Charming," The Southerner winced, "I certainly will miss your unique talents, Mr. Tanner."
"Why you wearin' your new shirt, Pard?" Buck stared at the tracker's bright red shirt.
"Did you neglect to attend to your laundry again?" Ezra guessed.
"It won't show bloodstains," Vin said seriously, "Reckon that will keep them bandits guessin'"
Everyone chuckled and gave the departing spy a hearty farewell, except one. Vin studied the brooding leader of the seven. He made a sour face, mimicking the blond, which only made things worse. This caused the group to laugh even harder.
"You think this is funny?" Chris snarled.
"Ya mean that crabby face of yers?" Vin replied, "Hell, yeah."
"You know that's not what I meant. This gang's been leaving bodies all the back to Kansas City."
"This is a good plan, Chris," Buck soothed, "The Judge knows what he's doing."
The recent rash of stage robberies had nearly crippled the stage line. They hit only certain times, when valuables such as gold or a payroll was aboard. The Judge decided to set bait for the thieves. Bonus pay to the Calvary for a rescue mission. Vin was posing as an Army Scout. He'd be riding to the Fort and returning with the 'shipment'. Each hit had come halfway to the final destination. The other six would be waiting.
Vin tipped his hat and departed. Chris remained brooding for a minute, then slowly stood. He walked through the batwing doors and stood on the boardwalk. He ambled over to the edge of the street. Vin waited until the others had boarded and stepped up. He grinned, knowing without turning around, he was being watched. He spun his head and gave his cockiest grin, before disappearing inside. Chris's face remained neutral, but he gave a slight nod, catching the tracker's eye as the coach departed.
Three days later, the six waited at a crossroads, halfway to Four Corners. They hadn't seen any signs of strangers, and hoped that was a good omen. Chris had been moodier than usual and the others would be glad when this job was done. J.D., Buck and Chris were behind a group of rocks on one side of the road. Josiah, Ezra and Nathan were in a clearing up the road, on the other side.
"How much longer?" J.D. whispered, "It's hotter than Hades out here."
"As long as it takes," Buck replied, wiping his brow.
The heat of the day, and the rocking motion caused the occupants of the stage to become drowsy. Vin draped his hat over his face and kept his hands folded in his lap. Two soldiers in civilian clothing rode with him. One was on top, posing as the driver, one inside posing as a salesman. Inside the false bottom of the salesman's corset case, was a custom rifle. If the bandits followed their previous pattern, the stage would be halted and passengers forced off. Then the thieves took the stage several miles away, where they went through the luggage and strong boxes, before departing.
The driver's unexpected call caused the two occupants to sit up and get ready. The stage was halted. A shot whizzed through the window, wounding the other man in the arm. They were ordered out of the coach. Vin jumped down and helped the wounded man out. He eyed the four bandits carefully and grabbed the injured man's sample bag. Sitting the young man down on the case, he tied his bandana around the bleeding arm. The driver was ordered to throw down the strong box. He was nervous and didn't move fast enough to suit the robbers. Vin jumped up irate as they shot him. His interference earned him a club to the side of the head. Five minutes later, they were gone.
"You okay, Tanner?" The young soldier shook the bloody tracker.
Vin blinked and shook his head. He found his legs and stumbled. Dropping beside the body of the dead man, he ripped a sleeve off his shirt. He cut away two crude strips and bandaged his head. Trotting back to the case, he nodded to the concerned young soldier.
"I'm fine, but I lost time," Vin popped the bottom on the case and took out the world class rifle. After loading it, he grabbed a handful of cartridges and ran to rocky area ahead. It was a hard climb, he was battling time, the sun and waves of dizziness. Finally, he reached his perch. He spotted the coach, stopped a quarter of a mile away. He heard the gunfire and took aim.
"There it is, " J.D. hollered, charging ahead.
"Get your head down," Buck shouted, "Damn that Kid..."
Shots flew fast and furious, both sides diving and ducking for cover. Buck spotted Chris a few yards away. The leader was mouthing J.D.'s name. Buck spun and ducked as a bullet whizzed by. He shrugged; he couldn't see the youthful sheriff.
"I got something you want," a voice, thick with a Spanish accent called out, "You toss the guns out and follow, real slow, and I won't kill this boy."
"Shit..." Buck swore, eyeing J'D's embarrassed face. He was on his knees; his owlish stare riddled with guilt.
Chris met his gaze and nodded. They had no choice. The guns went first and they followed. Nathan was bent over Ezra, who had been grazed in the leg. Josiah stood by the coach, frowning as he glanced in the window. Chris edged his way over towards Ezra.
"That's far enough," The bandito ordered, waving Nathan away, "You four inside the coach. We're taking the boy and the cripple with us."
"You must be delirious," Ezra spat, "If you think I intend to travel anywhere with you."
"No problem," The squatty leader said, putting the gun between Ezra's eyes, "I'll give you another eye."
"Since you put it so nicely," Ezra stood, leaning on J.D.
The other four lined up to climb inside, each wondering about their missing friend. Chris's hand slid on something slick, as he slid across the seat. He stared at the blood on his hand and his jaw clenched. They all feared the worst. Buck and Nathan were still outside when the first shot rang out.
"What the hell..." Buck dropped, as the fatal shot whizzed by, it's aim was true. He exchanged a relieved grin with Chris through the window, "Only one person can make a shot like that." He rolled for cover, grabbing the dead man's gun.
The felon holding J.D. fell dead. Two more quick shots found their mark. Ezra's derringer took care of the remaining bandit.
"Good to see you again, Son," Josiah clapped the back of the pale youth.
"Amen to that Josiah," J.D. agreed, full of relief, "That was cutting it a little close."
"How bad?" Chris asked Nathan, who was tending to Ezra.
"Bad graze, only caught skin and muscle," The healer replied, cutting away the fabric of the Gambler's pants.
Buck whistled and clapped J.D.'s back, spotting the youth's wide-eyed wonder.
"Come on, Kid, let's get these bodies rounded up. We'll stack them in the stagecoach."
Chris jumped on the nearest horse and took off up the road. He slowed his pace as a familiar form
staggered towards him, wearing a brash smile. The bandaged head and rifle slung over his shoulder, reminded the blond of the 'Sprit of '76' painting in the bank. He leaned over the saddle horn and cast a cold glare at the bloody face of his best friend.
"Guess we need to have another talk about you using that hard head of yours to stop bullets." Chris commented.
"Weren't no bullet," Vin defended, "rifle butt. Hey, the shirt still looks like new...no holes." Vin boasted, reaching for a hand up.
"Good, I'll pass that information along," Chris retorted, turning the steed and riding off.
"Hey! Ain't ya gonna give me a lift?" Vin hollered, "Come on, Chris...I'm feelin' awful dizzy." He tried, then broke into a fast trot. That was a mistake.
"You were born dizzy," Chris shouted back, then turned when he got no response. Vin was lying motionless in the middle of the road. "Shit..." He covered the few yards quickly, slid off the horse and dropped to Vin's side. Easing him upright, he was about to sling the unconscious man over his shoulder when he saw the Texan's mouth twitch. Chris narrowed his eyes suspiciously and eased the 'body' back down. He peeked under the bandage, "Looks nasty, I better douse it good with some whiskey."
One blue eye peeled open and gazed boldly up at him, "Ain't that a crime of some kind? Misuse of fine liquor?"
"What the hell would you know about fine liquor?" Chris chided, hauling the lean man upright.
"I know lots of 'portant folks and the swill they drink," Vin boasted, gripping Chris's arm as the road weaved a little.
Chris felt the pressure and saw Vin blinking his eyes rapidly, "Swill? Jugs don't count," He got in the saddle and gripped Vin's extended arm. Vin held onto him and as they left, Chris felt a pull to his left, "Vin! Stay awake," He felt the head on the middle of his back and rode for Nathan.
"Damn fine shooting, Vin," Buck boomed, his smile disappeared when he saw Vin stagger slightly as he dismounted, "You okay, Pard?" He reached the younger man's side as he turned, "Ouch!" he winced in sympathy, spotting the bloody gash.
"Nuthin' Nate can't fix." Vin eyed Ezra; "Y'all okay?"
"Mr. Jackson assures me I will survive," Standish replied, "You put another notch in your scalp I see."
"That was really something, Vin." J.D. gloated of the sharpshooter's skill.
"Sit!" Chris demanded, spotting Vin rubbing his head.
"I'm okay. Best to leave it be fer now, it stopped bleedin'" Vin defended.
Chris eyed Ezra's leg and Vin's dazed and weaving body, and made a decision. "My place is only a half hour from here. It's almost sundown and those two," He pointed to Vin and Ezra, "aren't up to a long ride into town."
"One of the soldier's creased his arm a little," Vin supplied, "the other guy got killed."
"I'll take the stage back up and pick them up," Josiah said, "Nathan can come with me. I'll send him along to your place when he's done. I'll take the stage to town and update the Judge."
It was dark when they got to Chris's shack. Buck and J.D. offered to take care of the horses. J.D. grabbed the reins of the horse Vin was on, while Buck helped him into the house. Chris helped Ezra down and pulled the Conman's arm over his shoulder. He deposited Ezra on a cot near the cold hearth, next to Vin. Ezra immediately pulled out his flask and offered a swig to the pale bounty hunter. Vin took a good draw and nodded a smile of satisfaction on his lips.
"That is exceptional sippin' whiskey my good man," Vin raised his eyebrows at Chris, who smirked and continued towards the small kitchen.
"Mr. Tanner," Ezra amazed, "It would appear that wound of yours has changed your diction."
"Indeed," Vin drawled giddily, the blood loss and lack of food, setting in. He nodded off before Ezra had a chance to respond. Chris returned with soap and water and unwrapped the dirty bandage. Vin never stirred as Chris gently cleaned his wound and rewrapped it.
Nathan arrived an hour later. Buck, J.D. and Ezra were playing cards at a small table near the front door. Vin was out cold on the cot. Nathan approached Ezra, who immediately scowled and pointed to Vin. Nathan nodded and sat down next to the sleeping man. He took his pulse and checked his pupils. The body stirred and two blue eyes blinked sleepily at him.
"How's my favorite patient," The dark-skinned healer asked, shaking his head at Vin's bloody scalp.
"Hey Nate," Vin drawled, casting a soft smile, "Did ya miss me?"
Chris brought a basin of water and some towels. Nathan washed the wounded scalp and examined it carefully. His tools were sterilized and waiting.
"Damn!" Vin swore, as he saw Nate reach for the Carbolic Acid.
"Quit bein' a baby," Chris chastised, leaving to put coffee on the stove.
"Easy fer y'all to say, it ain't yer head," Vin hissed as the stinging solution made itself known.
Chris placed a large pot of stew on the stove. He entered the small parlor, just as Buck, J.D. and Ezra finished their hand. He took a bottle of whiskey and poured two shots. Handing one to Buck, he leaned against the doorframe and sipped slowly.
"Everything okay?" He squinted at Buck, who was sprawled on a chair, looking nostalgic.
"A-okay, Pard," The dark cowboy paused, eyeing Vin across the room, "Ain't seen shooting like that in... Hell, since Lookout Mountain," He grinning up at the former Union Lieutenant, "Remember that, Chris?"
Chris nodded, eyes briefly reflecting on the incident during the war.
"Well?" J.D. exasperated, "What happened?"
"It was during the war, in Tennessee," Buck reached for the bottle of whiskey, "We were on our way to a supply train. Standing between us and it, was one skinny, damn Reb kid, high on the side of the mountain, with some kind of eye. Never seen anything like it. Kept us pinned down for a day and a half."
"Why didn't you just take him out?" J.D. asked.
"We couldn't get near him." Chris added, eyes flicking to Vin.
"Why not?" J.D. puzzled, "If there was only one of him and a whole bunch of you..."
"He was a sniper," Buck replied, "His outfit sent him ahead. He picked the perfect spot and held us off. We missed the train and had to turn back. Hell, we were lucky we rode away at all."
"But I thought you said he was a good shot? Couldn't have been that good, if he didn't hit anyone."
"He didn't miss, J.D." Chris said quietly, "He put each bullet right where he wanted to. We had wounded, not fatalities. We couldn't push through with wounded..."
"Wonder what ever happen to him?" Buck mused outloud.
"Nathan's stitchin' him up..." Chris replied, crossing his arms over his chest and enjoying Buck's stunned face. He'd seen Vin's face when Buck was talking and read the expressive eyes, when they met his own.
"Vin? You're shittin' me!" Buck's shocked face went from Vin's to Chris's, "How did you know? Never mind..." He answered himself, realizing the silent communication that had transpired between the two. He walked over to the cot and sat next to Vin, staring dumbfoundedly.
"Thanks, Nate," Vin said, grinning at Buck's shocked silence, "Damn, Bucklin, if I knew y'all was out there, Idda given ya a right nice scar. So ya could impress the ladies."
Vin eased himself back against the wall next to Buck and slapped the older man's leg, wiggling his fingers for the bottle. He took a long swig and chuckled at Buck's astonished face.
"Vin couldn't have been old enough," J.D. stammered, trying to count backwards.
"How old ya were didn't matter none, J.D.," Vin replied, rubbing his eyes, "I's fourteen when I joined up. It weren't long after that, when I got sent to another outfit, headed by a General Peterson."
"Peterson's Raiders?" Buck sat up and whistled, "Damn, you must have been good. Heard tell he only picked the best for that group."
"The Dark Angels..." Chris added, remembering, "That's what we called you. Six of you?"
"Seven," Vin corrected, "I's the youngest, fifteen I reckon."
"Good Lord," Ezra astounded, eyeing the younger man in amazement, "I always thought that was a myth."
"Dark Angels?" J.D. puzzled, faced screwed up.
"Slipped in, made the hit, and slipped out...nobody ever saw them. Like phantoms." Chris responded, crossing the room and squeezing Vin's knee. Giving him a grin, "You look like shit, Vin," he noted the half-mast eyes, over dark circles.
"Ain't that Buck's line?" Vin yawned, his weary head hitting the tall man's shoulder.
"Buck was just leaving..." Chris motioned for the larger man to rise, so Vin could stretch out.
"You get some shuteye, Reb," He teased, taking the bottle from the tracker's slack fingers, "Me and the Kid are gonna get some grub."
Dawn was breaking, casting a golden eye on the blond's handsome face. He yawned and
stretched, easing himself out of the chair, where he'd fallen asleep. Ezra was in his bed, J.D. and Buck on the floor in the bedroom. The need for coffee propelled him forward. He stopped over Vin's slumbering form. The tracker was sound asleep, his face relaxed. Satisfied, he stumbled into the kitchen, seeking relief.
"Mornin' Brother," Josiah boomed, as he diced up ham and peppers.
"Josiah," Chris nodded, spotting the large bowl of eggs ready for scrambling, "You update the judge?" He squinted, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"Woke 'im up last night. Judge wired the Federal Marshal's office. They're gonna send men to pick up the bodies." Josiah answered, dropping the diced items in a pan of hot, melted butter.
"Something smells good," J.D. mumbled, stumbling to a chair.
Buck followed suit, eyeing Josiah's motions with a favorable glance, "Nathan's washing up, you want me to wake Vin?"
"No," Chris said, placing the coffee and mugs on the table.
He relaxed as he found the familiar path. A brilliant blue sky was his ceiling, snowcapped mountains and a gurgling stream stood by his side. The sweet spring air filled his being, revitalizing him, as it tickled his hair. The creatures of the forest rode with him. He spotted a proud buck, who seemed to nod in recognition. A small pack of wolves, a cougar, an owl and a badger kept pace also.
He didn't have to turn and glance above his shoulder. His faith guided him, knowing where the inner peace and solidarity came from. He'd lost his shadows; the crack inside was healed. His whole being was energized. He inhaled deeply, feeling the power surge as his soul expanded. The feeling of near invincibility filled him. With a cry of glee, he galloped onward, the wind singing in his ears.
Suddenly the sky turned black, coughing and sputtering in rage. The booming thunderclouds shot from the hip, sending jagged bolts of lightning all around him. The rain and wind sent stingers down his face, blinding him. He fell from the horse, staggering onward. He came upon a crossroad and saw the sign, but couldn't understand it's meaning.
He shuddered as a coldness enveloped him, squeezing his heart until it ached. He staggered, the terrifying pain nearly crippling him. He saw the creature, lying in front on him, proud even in death. The eagle's green-eyed stare was unblinking. It's strong wings and valiant heart were stilled forever. He was alone, and gently cradled the creature to his chest, scowling at the angry sky. He felt the icy shards as they ripped through his chest, causing him to scream. The weight in his arms grew. Blinded by tears, he held the body against him, his chin resting on the blond hair, his trembling hands closing the lifeless green eyes. The shrill screaming of the bitter wind went through his head like knives. It seemed to cry over and over, 'You did it...You did it..."
The mantra intensified and soon his own screams blended in.
Nathan entered the house and the wondrous aroma sated his rumbling stomach. He started towards the kitchen, to join his friends, when a moan stopped him. Making his way to the sofa, he heard Vin moan again. Then the thrashing started and Vin's breathing became labored.
Chris jumped and bolted from the room in one fluid motion. Vin's heart-wrenching cry brought the others on Chris's heels. Nathan moved aside, letting the leader kneel at Vin's side. Chris heard the ragged breathing and his strong hands gripped the thrashing man's arms.
"Take it easy, Vin," He ordered.
"Must have been some kind of dream," Buck guessed.
It appeared at first that Chris's voice quieted the tracker's demons. He sat upright so quickly, Chris jumped slightly. His arms hung limply at his sides, his blue eyes were unseeing, filled with great sorrow. His face was a mask of melancholy.
"Vin?" Chris kept one hand on his best friend's shoulder and the other tapped his cheek, without a response.
"What's wrong with him?" J.D. asked.
"What kind of nightmare does that?" Nathan asked
"That's no nightmare," Josiah sighed, "That's a vision...a bad one. Something drained him to the core."
Chris furrowed his brows and turned to reply to the eldest, when Vin trembled once all over and blinked. He pushed Chris's hand away and stood, allowing his shaking limbs to carry him outside. They watched in muted silence, through the window, as he doused his face with water from the pump. Chris started for the door, only to have Josiah's hand grab his shoulder.
"Let me, Chris," he advised quietly, "I've been there."
Chris reluctantly relented; his first instinct was to quell Vin's pain. Buck saw the hurt in Chris's eyes and turned him gently.
"He knows what he's doing, Chris. He'd never hurt Vin. Come on," He moved the man in black, back into the kitchen.
Vin was sitting on the front steps, water dripping from his chin, when Josiah took a seat. They remained silent for several minutes. Josiah placed a strong hand on the downcast shoulder and gave a good squeeze.
"I've been there, Vin. I know the hopelessness you feel," The oldest said, reading the tortured blue eyes, "I'd like to help."
Vin took a deep sigh and remained silent for a long time. Josiah never left his side, allowing his strength to invade the smaller man. Finally, Vin looked up, with the saddest face Josiah had ever seen. The azure eyes were riddled with agony.
"There's nuthin' ya can do preacher," He said softly, "No words or medicine can heal what's gonna happen. Oh God..." His voice trembled as he finally stood, resting a hand on the large man's back, "I'm headin' out, I need some space."
"I hear ya, Brother," Josiah walked with him over to Diablo. Josiah had brought the tracker's horse with him from town. "Vin, it might help to talk about it, " He patted the fine horse's mane and looked up, "My door's always open."
Vin nodded and gripped the reins tighter, then rode off.
"Well?" Chris demanded from the front door, watching Vin disappear.
Josiah sighed and shrugged. He laid a hand on Chris's shoulder and they went back inside.
The ex-preacher knew whatever Vin had foreseen, involved the man next to him, and his untimely demise.
"He's got a lot on his mind, he's troubled. He won't talk about it...yet." Josiah offered as they made their way to the table, "Chris, don't push him on this, he's fragile now."
"Okay, Josiah," Chris replied, resting uneasily.
Four Weeks Later, Four Corners
Vin sauntered down the boardwalk, tipping his hat to two elderly women who passed by. He hooked his thumbs in his belt and whistled as he walked. The sun was shining, and he matched the life force that radiated from him. The last two weeks he'd been free of the terrible vision that plagued him every night for the two weeks prior. Each night he'd revisit the same scene in his dreamstate. His screams would awaken him, usually finding Chris halfway in his wagon. He'd tried not sleeping, which made him so irritable and unbearable.
It came to a head one night when sleep defeated him and he once again woke everyone up with his screaming. He shoved Chris out of the wagon and they had harsh words, which led to an outright brawl. Buck tackled Chris, holding him at bay, while Ezra manhandled the tracker. He led the cursing Texan to Josiah's church. Vin never saw the Conman so livid. He warned Vin not to come back until the demons were purged, one way or another. He threw Vin inside, by the altar at Josiah's feet.
Vin remained there for quite some time. Josiah sat a few feet away, not wanting to crowd him. Vin was exhausted, for two weeks he'd existed on catnaps. He looked haggard and felt numb. He had no where else to turn. Finally, he spoke; slowly the vision was released. Josiah listened, his heart heavy absorbing Vin's painful testimony. It took a long time; Vin spoke in short bursts, trying to find the energy to continue. Josiah waited after a long period, and moved closer. The tracker was sound asleep. Josiah knelt over the troubled body and prayed for a miracle.
The next day, the Carson gang rode into to town, robbing the bank and leading the seven on a good chase. It was during the gunplay, when on his way to higher ground, Vin got a sudden chill and turned for no reason, retracing his steps. He stepped into a clearing, as Chris was reloading, unaware of a gunman behind him. Vin threw himself at Chris, just in time, as the bullet whizzed by. He turned and fired, taking down the outlaw. Chris showed his gratitude in true Larabee fashion, by soundly chastising the younger man for breaking cover, among other things. But after that encounter, the terrible visions stopped. Vin felt the weight he'd been carrying around leave him. He shook himself out of his daydream, as he entered the saloon.
The afternoon sun danced off the rooftops, assaulting the sidewalks of Four Corners. Mary Travis wiped her brow as she entered the General Store. An elderly man looked up and nodded, greeting the pretty, blond widow.
"Hi, Virgil, just dropping off copies of The Clarion," She paused, eyeing some dark blue fabric, "Billy's growing right out of his pants," She mused, weighing her decision.
"How's his visit going?" The elderly man asked, of the six-year old.
"Fine," She replied, taking the bolt over to be measured, "He loves visiting the with the Judge. It's funny, the Judge wired that the first week flew by. I thought it crawled, I sure do miss him."
"When's he due back?"
"Not for another week and a half," She sighed, thinking of her small blond son, "I'll take two-and-a-half yards. I'll pick it up later, thanks Virgil."
"Pleasure, Mary," He nodded as she left.
She only had to drop copies off at the Hotel, Billiard Hall, and Saloon. She was rushing to get done early, savoring the thought of a nice long bath. Billy's vacation had given her some freedom.
She'd had late dinners with Chris two nights this week at the hotel. Tonight she was making him dinner at her house. She was glad the awkward early part of the relationship was over. She felt him finally relaxing around her. She entered the hotel, with thoughts of the handsome, brooding man in black, giving her a slight flush.
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