Lone Wolf Series
Once again...Thanks to my beta, Mitzi!
Vin Tanner scrubbed
roughly at his face. He rested his cheek against the cool
windowpane and stared sombrely down at the street below. The day
had started with so much promise and yet it ended with such a tragedy.
His eyes followed the passage of the undertaker leading the procession,
carrying the dead woman away. Tanner choked back a pained sigh,
and continued to stare out the window. He could still hear the
child’s cries ringing in his ears, even though, in reality, they were
fading with each step the boy walked from his life. He placed his
hand on the glass and cursed harshly, banging his forehead in
frustration against the window frame.
“Ain’t nothin’ more you coulda done,”
Jackson’s sympathetic tone stirred at his conscience.
Vin knew he didn’t have a monopoly on the emotions
that bombarded him at present, but he felt betrayed, even cheated
somehow. Of course, that was nothing compared to what the
ten-year-old boy who trailed behind the undertaker was feeling.
Vin grunted, continuing to watch the group as it slowly past along the
street. Mary’s arm wrapped supportively about the slender
boy’s shoulder, and she bent to his height whispering in his ear.
Tanner felt an intruder watching the intimate scene, but his eyes
refused to stray and he wanted to see the boy to safety.
He closed his eyes, and immediately the image of
Jeremy’s deep brown eyes gazing trustingly up at him came to mind. Vin
snapped them open quickly; a gasp fell from his lips as he fully
expected the child to be in the room accusing him with his sorrowful
gaze. His shoulders shook as a tremor passed through his body.
The boy had handed over the reins, literally, and believed that Vin
would be able to save his mother. The tracker looked down at his
hands and studied them for a minute. He brought them to his nose
and wrinkled it. The acrid smell remained on his palms even though
he’d scrubbed them until they were raw.
Nathan reached out and rested his hand on Vin’s
shoulder. He was surprised to feel the tracker tense under his
touch. “Vin, she would have died, no matter what you’d done.
You got to believe me,” he implored.
Vin didn’t face the healer, but could see the
concerned expression mirrored in the window’s reflection.
“Told Jeremy I’d help ‘em,” he replied bitterly. He
shuddered once more. The boy’s mother had pleaded with him, not
with words, but in her expression. She had held his hand and
squeezed it with diminishing strength. She didn’t want to die, not
today. “Promised her, she’d be fine,” he whispered hoarsely.
The procession entered the undertakers and
disappeared from Vin’s view. He waited a beat and four men piled
back out through the door. They stood talking for a moment then
separated, heading in various directions. After carrying the
basket for Silas, they were no longer required. Two of the four
went directly to the saloon; another followed slowly behind, but
continued down the street and passed out of sight. The fourth
gathered up the reins of his horse and spurred the mare into motion,
taking its rider out of town. Vin wondered if he had been elected
to find Jeremy’s father. Not a pleasant job, but someone needed
to do it. Mary and Jeremy remained inside with Silas.
Nathan nodded; he understood how Vin was feeling.
He’d been in that situation so many times, and it never got any
easier. “It was a terrible accident, Vin. And I can’t
even say for sure if I had been there when it happened, that I could
have saved her.” The young mother had somehow managed to get
tangled in barbed wire and her hand had been severed at the wrist.
The amount of blood loss from that alone had been massive. Her arm and
chest were strung tightly with the wire and it cut deeply through her
dress and skin down to the bone.
When the wagon had pulled up in front of the clinic,
Nathan had been horrified. There was so much blood that Vin and
Jeremy were both covered in it. It took the healer a few moments
to calm down to discover that they were uninjured. His relief was
short lived as he got a closer look at Rebecca Whitlow. Jeremy was
seated in the back of the wagon and holding tightly onto his mother.
The blanket covered them both and the child rocked his parent lightly.
It chilled Nathan to the core the terrified mantra Jeremy repeated over
and over. He was sorry, so very sorry. They had to pry the
hysterical boy off Rebecca to move her to the clinic. She was
semi-conscious and already her lips had turned blue as they deposited
her on the bed.
Jackson glanced behind him to the chaos of the room.
So much had happened, and in such a short space of time. The bed
linen was soaked with Mrs Whitlow’s blood. There were spattered
pools from the door to the bed, and probably, if he looked, he’d find
more on his porch and stairs. They had needed wire cutters to
disentangle the young woman, but with every piece that was removed,
another one needed to be tackled. There were bits of bloody wire
everywhere on the floor.
Vin sighed once more; his face a grim line. He
stood motionless, only his eyes blinked; and only then because of the
moisture that was persistently building at the corners. His chest
heaved, aching with dread, his direction altered following the wagon
they’d arrived in, as it moved across his sights. Josiah led the
dilapidated wagon inside the livery.
Tanner had been out doing patrol. He had almost
completed his route and was heading back to town when he was almost run
down by the frantically swerving vehicle. Jeremy was driving
the rickety wagon while his mother lay dying in the back. His face
was red and swollen from crying so much and his entire body trembled.
And it was sheer luck that the young boy managed to avoid running the
wagon off the road. How he managed to rig up the wagon and horse
and load his mother into the tray was beyond Vin’s comprehension.
But it was amazing what strength’s a person could summon in dire
The tracker jumped in the back, pulled back the
blanket and gasped audibly. His eyes widened when he saw the
detached hand, and he automatically sent a questioning gaze at the
hovering boy. Jeremy ducked his head, and started crying again in
earnest. The stump was wrapped crudely, obviously Jeremy had
applied the bandage, but it had not stemmed the flow. Vin
unbuckled his belt and tightened it around her arm; he hoped that it
would prove effective. Then he spent a few minutes modifying the
bandage. He saw the fear in Rebecca’s eyes and smiled
reassuringly. His gut twisted with compassion and he offered
a quick hug to the lost child before taking up the driver’s position.
Vin wrinkled his nose, it bothered him that he could
smell, and feel, Rebecca’s lifeblood on his clothes. He glanced
down, startled to find his jacket had patches on it, and under that, his
shirt was similarly stained. He continued his distracted perusal
and discovered the knees of his pants and around the hems were also
coated. The bile rose to his throat and he choked it back down
“Why don’t you go and get changed…” Nathan
suggested; he’d seen the horrified look the tracker gave his clothing.
Tanner glanced up at Nathan and frowned at the older
man. He turned back to the window in time to see Mary leading
Jeremy toward the Clarion. She would protect the child until his
father came to get him.
Jackson gathered up the linen from the bed and tossed
it near the door. He’d have it burned; getting bloodstains out
was tough. He’d have to scrub the floor and it would take some
time to put the room back in order. He paused a moment and sighed,
Jackson was confused. He needed to understand the chain of events
that preceded the young mother’s death, but he was reluctant to force
Vin. “Do you want to talk about it?”
The tracker sucked in a ragged breath, his blue eyes
glazing over. “I found ‘em like that,” he croaked,
“already coming hell for leather into town.”
Jackson nodded. He kept his questions buried and
waited to hear what else Vin would offer.
“The kid kept muttering that it was all his fault
and that he was sorry. Mrs Whitlow,” Vin inwardly winced,
“she didn’t say nothing.” Tanner looked stricken as he
turned to face Nathan, realising for the first time that his part in the
morbid play had not yet finished. “Reckon I’ll need to
talk to the kid’s father.”
“I can do that.”
“Nope. It’s gotta be me. You
weren’t there, Nathan.”
“Well, neither were you,” he reminded.
“You don’t have to do this.”
“Somebody’s got ta. Can’t expect the boy
to explain. He’s only a kid, and he’s already in a state.”
Vin bent forward, rubbing at his gut. The lump that tightened
inside was twisting and turning. “Can’t leave somethin’ like
that to a child.”
Jackson squeezed the younger man’s shoulder.
“I can come with you.”
A pause then Vin finally accepted.
Tanner stared out the window, waiting for Rebecca’s
husband. He vaguely heard Nathan puttering around the clinic, the
timid knock on the door and then the hushed voices. He didn’t
turn to find out who was there, and the healer stepped onto the porch to
finish his conversation. Vin didn’t know how long he’d stood
at the window, but he was determined to stay. He could see the
road as it disappeared out of town; and ultimately he would know when
Russel Whitlow arrived. For that reason alone he was transfixed to
the spot. The door opened and closed again, letting Nathan back
Nathan poured whiskey in a mug and held it under
Vin’s nose. “Reckon you could do with a drink.”
Tanner absently sipped from the cup. His throat
tightened around the strong brew. It hit his empty stomach with a
vengeance and threatened to come straight back up. Vin moaned,
doubling at the middle and a fine sweat broke out on his face.
“Vin. Damn! Guess I shouldna given ya
that,” he added remorsefully, rubbing circles on the tracker’s back.
“It’s okay,” Vin muttered, not arguing when the
healer pushed him into a chair and threw a blanket over his shoulders.
“You can still keep watch…but you need to warm up
some.” Jackson shook his head, concerned for the tracker.
He was probably in shock. Nathan stood behind Vin a moment and
wondered how Rebecca had managed to be so wound up in the wire.
She certainly was a sight. He’d hoped Mary was easing Jeremy’s
guilt. He needed mothering at the moment and Mrs Travis was the
Nathan opened the door a fraction; he heard the light
tread of footsteps on his landing. “Thanks…” he muttered,
taking the bundle from JD’s grasp. He shook his head at
Dunne’s query and motioned the young gunslinger to leave. “I
got everythin’ under control. Thanks, JD.”
Vin shook his head to clear his mind. He
glanced down at the blanket and wondered where it had come from.
“Got you a clean shirt, Vin,” Nathan prompted;
flipping off the blanket he tugged the stained jacket from his
Tanner complied and was easily divested of his soiled
shirt and quickly replaced it with another.
Jackson wrapped the blanket around his shoulder once
more. Nathan wondered if he could slip something into a drink so
Vin would sleep. He was probably lucky to have gotten the Texan to
drink the whiskey earlier. “You want somethin’ to drink?”
Vin shook his head and hugged the thin blanket
tighter around his shoulders.
Nathan returned to the task of collecting bloodied
instruments. They made a harsh clattering when they were dropped
into the metal basin and Nathan was aware that Vin jumped each time he
added another. He tried to place them lightly in the container,
but the metal tongs still clipped the edge of the basin causing the
tracker to startle. Once the healer was satisfied he’d picked
them all up, he poured some carbolic in with them so the instruments
could soak some before he began the process of physically scrubbing
He heard a soft gasp from the tracker and turned to
find Vin standing at the window and the blanket pooled on the floor.
“I’ll be goin’ now.”
The former slave followed Vin’s steady gaze.
He thinned his lips, and closed his eyes with remorse. Rebecca’s
husband rode like a mad man, dismounting his horse before it had even
completely come to a stop, and raced inside Silas’ building.
Nathan searched behind the distraught husband looking for Buck, and with
a relieved sigh he watched as Wilmington brought his horse along side
Whitlow’s mount. The dust was still swirling in clouds, yet to
resettle after Whitlow’s sturdy beast’s hooves had ploughed up the
road. “He’ll need some time, Vin.”
“Yeah,” Tanner agreed readily.
Jackson remained standing at Vin’s elbow, knowing
that Jeremy’s father would leave the undertakers sometime soon.
They stood in the same position, unchanged, for an hour.
The slumped shoulders of Russel Whitlow and his
staggering walk from the undertakers to the Clarion told both men of his
total devastation. He crumpled to his knees and thumped his balled
fists on the ground and sobbed. Vin lowered his eyes to the floor
and sank heavily down on the chair. He couldn’t watch as the
widower grieved; it was entirely too personal. He respected the
man’s privacy and held his head in his hands. When he next
looked up, the door of the newspaper office was just closing.
“Reckon I should go over there?” Vin asked.
Jackson squeezed his arm. “Reckon if you can
manage it, you best leave it a few days. Let ‘em get used to the
idea that she’s gone,” he advised.
Vin nodded, realising he had nothing but sympathy to
offer the farmer. Nothing that could explain her death, only how
she was when he first saw her. Jeremy, he realised was the only
person that could give the details about the accident. There was
nothing Vin could say that would bring her back or ease the turmoil that
her death had caused. “Reckon I might leave now.” He rose and
walked slowly to the door. “Thanks, Nathan.”
“Don’t reckon I did anything, but you’re
welcome just the same,” a tight smile tugged at his lips.
Vin stood at the bottom of the clinic stairs in the
fading light. The night fires were starting to light a path down
the street. The tracker halted his steps as the farmer and his son
exited the Clarion. Russel Whitlow’s arm was wrapped tightly
around Jeremy’s shoulders, but the farmer’s own shoulder’s shook
violently as though he was struggling with his emotions.
They made their way to the hotel, but paused mid-stride, coming to an
abrupt stop. Jeremy tucked his arms securely around his father’s
middle and looked up to him with confusion. Whitlow bowed his head
slightly, looking directly at Vin, or so he thought. Their eyes
met across the muted road and he nodded his head in acknowledgment of
the new widower’s sorrow. He stood still in the shadows long
after they had disappeared inside the hotel.
It had been a long day, and one that was going to plague him for some time to come.
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