The Chase - Part Five

JD Dunne looked out over the horizon, and the scene took his breath away. Land, lush and beautiful, wide and open and free . . . and JD's heart soared. His eyes filled and he again realized how blessed he was. Chris had let him have three days off. He could ride, run, party, anything. The only thing Chris had requested was that he steer clear of the dangerous stretch between Four Corners and Purgatorio. That wouldn't be a problem. JD would be heading in an entirely different direction.

With a whoop, JD took off into the open land, riding the amazing stallion as fast as the animal wanted to go. It was at times like this that JD felt most alive.

He rode, feeling the strength that carried him. He couldn't wait to show Vin the horse that "couldn't be rode."

JD believed that Vin needed to feel this freedom. The tracker had been on the run so long. It must be hell to live your life looking over your shoulder all the time.

JD vaguely wondered why Vin and Ezra hadn't gotten back. They should have been home yesterday. But Ezra had probably hooked up with a big stakes poker game and Vin was probably just as happy to get to rest for a day or two. Oh well, things were slow. He'd just have to wait a few days to show Vin the stallion.


Stay awake. Stay awake. Stay awake. Stay awake. Don't give them the satisfaction of finding you dead. Stay awake. Stay awake. Ezra will come looking for you. Ezra will figure it out. Oh God, Ezra come on . . .

Vin hurt so badly. His body was failing him. His body was dying. But he'd be damned if he'd let it. His spirit was strong. His spirit was strong. And he was innocent. God knew he was innocent. His friends knew it. He could survive if he could stay awake.

Stay awake.

He'd killed somebody out here, hadn't he? The guy that stabbed him. Vin looked down at himself dazedly to find the wound. Wasn't it his arm? Hard to tell when everything hurt.

He had to eat. He had to find food . . . but first he had to stay awake.

Focus on the pain. That would keep him awake. Pain. His arm. That's where he'd been stabbed. He looked at it -- focused on it this time.

Damn. It was infected. It could kill him. It would kill him if he didn't do something.

He'd have to tie it off -- stop the flow of blood to his arm . . .

And lose his arm.

No. Not yet. He wouldn't do that.


Where was he? He'd made a little camp in this rock crevice and he'd avoided the hunters by not moving. But now, he had to figure . . .

Fever. Infection. His lucid hours were certainly limited. They may never find him in this crevice, but he'd die there anyway. If he hadn't gotten hurt, he could have survived out there indefinitely. He'd already demonstrated that he could evade his pursuers.

God willing, Ezra would be missing him now. But could Vin afford to wait until someone came to the rescue?

It was time to get on the offensive while there was time left. If they killed him, at least he'd die trying to save himself. If he died in this rock crevice, he would have given up his only chance at survival.

No way. He had to come up with a plan and he had to do it now.


Chris paced as Josiah read Ezra's telegram aloud slowly. Buck and Nathan sat at the table with Josiah and tried to make sense of it.

"Need tracking journal * stop * may go to Tascosa before returning to Four Corners * stop * found lucrative game * stop * Jackson fox hunt * stop * may buy Maude her priceless stones yet * stop * Ezra." Josiah sighed. "For Ezra to send a message that cryptic, he and Vin must be in a mess of trouble."

"Tascosa," Chris repeated. "Bounty hunters have gotten too close. A tracking journal, though?"

Buck spoke up. "What's a 'Jackson fox hunt', Nathan?"

"He's talking about a fox hunt with a human target."

"What?" the others chorused.

Nathan frowned. "Sometimes the owners would get together, pick one of the slaves and let them run. Gave them a day's head start, then they'd take the dogs and hunt 'em down. Whoever made the kill . . . was the winner. If the slave got free, he could stay free."

"He never did, though, did he?" Buck asked.

"Never," Nathan said. "The 'course' was rigged."

"So there's a manhunt and Ezra's bet on it," Buck said.

"There's a manhunt and Vin . . . is the target," Chris said, his voice tight.

"No. . ." Buck said. "There's no way."

"Believe me," Nathan said. "It happens."

"And who better to chase . . ." Chris said. "Vin has a bounty on his head. They kill him, it's legal."

"Sweet Jesus . . . " Buck said.

"He 'needs the tracker's journal'," Josiah said, "so Ezra must have gotten in on the hunt."

"He can't track," Chris yelled.

"That's why he sent the telegram," Buck yelled back. "He needs help."

"Easy, guys," Nathan said. "We've gotta come up with something fast."

"'Maude's priceless stones,'" Josiah mused. "They were fake."

Nathan stood up slowly. "He's reminding us that he's having to play along with them."

"And we can't break his cover," Buck said.

"Someone there will know he sent the wire," Josiah said. "No one should be suspicious."

"Damn brilliant," Chris said, grabbing the telegram from Buck. "Ezra is damn brilliant."

"So, what do we do?" Buck asked.


Ezra Standish was no tracker. He was no hunter. He was no outdoorsman. What the hell was he doing? For a fleeting moment, he regretted the times he had bemoaned Vin lack of grooming acumen. Vin Tanner was the most thorough guide he'd ever seen in the outdoors. While Ezra would be frustrated if he left his cognac at home, Vin was always prepared for any circumstance the seven might encounter in the wild.

Now, Ezra didn't even know what kinds of clothes to take with him. He didn't know what devices to take. Education be damned; he didn't have the knowledge to even begin to search for his friend.

He looked in his saddlebags. He would approach this as he would a fox hunt, making allowances only for the difference in weather. He was within minutes of taking off when he heard a woman scream.

Adelaide . . .


It was beautiful country. JD had never been here before, but he was ready to go exploring. To the east was wide open green countryside, interrupted only by stands of trees that gathered by a winding stream. West of the stream were craggy rocks that expanded into bluffs. Although he couldn't see it yet, he was certain the stream grew into a river beneath those bluffs.

JD again gave the horse free rein to run through that beautiful countryside and he galloped faster and faster . . . until he heard them. The stallion heard them before JD did and he pulled up so abruptly that JD almost went flying over his mount's head.


On a scent.

Hunting dogs.

JD grinned. This would be great.

Maybe he'd landed in the middle of a fox hunt.

"Hyah!" JD cried, and he ran off to join the chase.


The plan was in place. Each of them knew their jobs. Chris Larabee wasted no time and within a half hour of reading the telegram, he was riding out of Four Corners like the devil was after him. Buck rode beside him and Nathan and Josiah rode on their heels.

They would find Vin Tanner.

And there would be hell to pay.

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