Disclaimer is stated fully in Part One of Coercion.

Coercion - Part Six

"Keep 'em alive. It don't do us any good if they're dead." Buck recognized the voice but still couldn't place it. "And who the hell shot Wilmington? That stupid shit kid?"

"That kid's dead in that upstairs doctor's room."

"Serves him right."

Buck leaned over to Vin and whispered. "Hey, Vin? How bad did they hurt you?"

The bounty hunter didn't answer. Buck struggled to sit up. And for a moment he looked at his own wound. Damn! So much blood. Awkwardly, he reached around. And he had to pause as the pain escalated radically. God, help us. He finally tried again and felt his back.

An exit wound. At least the bullet wasn't lodged inside. And if the bullet had hit anything critical, he would most likely be unconscious. So he would probably be all right. The fact that the person in charge wanted to keep them alive . . .well, that was a good thing.

They'd hurt Vin. That was for certain. "Hey," Buck repeated. "Wake up now."

A groan.

"That's right, come on." Buck kept his voice low. He wanted to keep an eye on Vin, but he had to lie back down fo a minute. God, he hurt. His chest hurt. And his ribs. Damn. Wasn't shooting him enough? They had to kick him, too?

. . . more voices . . .

"Man, what were you thinking grabbing that blonde?"

"If you'd been thinking, you'd have grabbed her, too."

"It was worth it to see Larabee's face."


Buck couldn't stand the thought of those sick bastards touching her. He pressed his eyes closed, and didn't see that Vin was stirring.

"I don't know which was better, getting a feel for that little lady or shooting that kid in the back . . ."

Buck's eyes shot open and he started to quake. But a firm grasp on his hand steadied him. Vin's eye's caught his and the tracker mouthed, no.

"Yea, that may have been the coup de grace . . ."

""The couda what?" A pause. Then several voices burst into laughter."Shut the f*** up."

"That boy's got spunk."

"He's a damn good shot. Picked off O'Herlihy before he could kill Tanner."

"Then he broke down like some scared pup."

Buck whispered to Vin. "I'll kill every last one of those bastards."

"I'll help you," Vin breathed, then he groaned. He was in such pain.

"What can I do to help?" Buck asked, though clearly he was in no position to help with anything.

"Just . . . don't die, ok Buck? That would burden me fiercely."

"Maybe I can manage that," Buck said. And he would have laughed, but right then his mind was on JD.


So was Chris Larabee's. Whatever had caused the bomb to detonate, JD Dunne was bound to have been in the middle of it. Chris ran to the bathhouse. Josiah had just run out from behind the telegraph office, and now he followed Chris.

The front of the building was on fire, the smoke billowing up from the door.

"Did you see JD?" Chris called to Josiah.

"No," the preacher answered.

"Check the back!" Chris ordered, and he himself climbed into a side window.

"Anybody in here?" Chris called as he checked the big room. He opened the shades throughout the bathhouse. And he realized that the explosion had been more or less localized at the front of the building.

"Shut the damn shades!" The voice belinged to an elderly man - a man Chris had seen nightly at the saloon. Hell, he probably didn't even know that Four Corners had damn near blown up.

"Get up, Cecil. We have a crisis."

"The only crisis we're gonna have is when I catch up with you no-good gunslinger."

Suddenly Chris saw the trip wire. "Stay there, Cecil."

"Well, make up your g**damn mind!" The old man's screechy voice was annoying.

"A bomb went off in here, Cecil. Or did you miss it."

"Thought it was thunder. . . "

Chris traced the wire to the back of the room. "Josiah??"

The voice boomed back. "We have a problem here, Chris>"

"Yea, well, I got a problem up here. I'll be back there in a minute. Did you find JD?"


"Is he ok?"


Shit! "Is he alive?"


"Well, take care of him. I'll be there in a minute."

Chris followed the wire back to the front door. How was it connected? He knelt down to look at it. Damnit, he couldn't tell anything about it. He lay on the floor on his stomach and found the detonator. God, what if the whole damn town were rigged?

He found what was left of the bomb. Well, it wasn't much. Wouldn't kill anybody anyway, but it could hurt someone. There weren't any other bombs here. Chris cut the trip wire and coiled it up. It would be tedious, but they would have to check the whole town.


"EZ - RA"

The gambler put his hand over his heart, and patted his chest, indicating himself.

"EZ - RA" he repeated.

"ES - A - RA," the little girl tried.

"EZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ . . ." the gambler began.


Ezra pulled a little notepad out of his vest pocket and drew on it. The little girl laughed and clapped her hands. Thank God - a smile - a little joy from her too-sad face.

"Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz," Ezra sounded and pointed to the drawing he had made of a bee.

"Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz," she repeated, laughing.

Ezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz - Ra," he tried.

"Ezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz- ra."

"That's right, little girl!!!!!" he said, hugging her. "Ezra."

Then he pointed at her and made his face look questioning. "What is your name?"

Her smile faded and her little face clouded. She shook her head, no.

"You don't have a name?"

Her lip trembled, and Ezra held her close again. "You don't like your name?"

She reached for Ezra's notebook and pen. Crudely she drew bodies lying all around the ground and a woman's face with tears. She pointed at the tears, then pointed to herself.

Ezra wished he could understand. Nathan spoke up. "What is your name?" Nathan asked her in her own language. She answered and Nathan understood.

"What?" Ezra asked softly.

"Her name means 'weeps for the dead' and I gather from the drawing that her family or tribe has died."

The little girl lapsed back into silence again.

"Maybe she feels . . . in some way . . . responsible?"

"Could be."

"That is not an appropriate name for a little child."

"It ain't up to you."

"If nobody claims her, it could very well be up to me."

Nathan frowned. "You ain't gettin' attached to her, are you?"

Before he could answer, the little girl patted his chest.

"Buzz . . ." she murmured.


When the fog burned off, it was a gorgeous day. The calm sun seemed to mock everybody in Four Corners.

And those being taken away from Four Corners by force.

Vin hed settled into a restless sleep. Buck tried to assess the extent of his friend's injuries. Looked like he would be ok. Buck had forgotten how badly it hurt to get shot. He tried lying on his side, but he could get no relief.

Just as well. He had to stay alert for both their sakes. No telling what these guys had in mind. Had they really shot JD in the back? Buck's throat became tight and he felt sick. His bound hands balled into fists. Surely they hadn't. It would be a sick irony. The one lesson JD had learned so well - the lesson Chris had drilled into him during every confrontation - "you don't shoot anybody in the back" - killing him.

Buck was too pissed off to die.

And God help the man who shot the kid.


Her ankle hurt.

Not badly, but she had twisted it when the man grabbed her.

Mary Travis sat on her bed, and pulled Chris' shirt around herself more tightly. And she lay down, hugging her pillow.

No one had . . . touched her . . . since Stephen was killed. And no one had ever touched her roughly.

Pull yourself together, she chided herself. It could have been worse - it could have been an entirely different story altogether.

But still she sobbed.

For Buck and Vin. For the precious little girl that had taken to Ezra. For JD. For Chris. For Stephen.

For Billy. . .

Everything was all wrong.


"The coast is clear, Cecil," Chris said loudly for the benefit of the old man - who, every morning, treated his hangover with hot bath and a shot of the hair of the dog.

But Cecil was asleep.

Chris walked impatiently to him and lay a towel next to him. "Get out of the tub, man, there's a f***ing fire in here. I need the water." Chris pulled the old man out of the tub amid a great wash of expletives. And he threw the water on the already smoldering fire. This explosion wasn't intended to burn the place down. Chris threw the tub out into the street and started around the building. Another great demonstration for the sake of the distraction.

Damn. They were holding his town hostage with these dangerous displays.

He rounded the corner to the back of the building.

And hated what he saw.

Josiah sat about a yard away from JD.

JD was curled in a ball, rocking back and forth and shuddering, his hands pressed over his ears. Tears rolled down his face, but he was staring straight ahead, his mouth opened in a silent scream.

Chris looked at Josiah, and sat on the ground next to them.

Josiah spoke softly. "That explosion went off right by his ear."

Chris scooted around in front of JD, and looked him in the eye, but he spoke to Josiah. "I'll stay with him. You get Ezra and anybody who can help you and search for other trip wires. And for God's sake, be careful."

Josiah stood. "We had a casualty at the telegraph office."

Chris had to set aside his anger over this and focus on JD. Josiah left him there with the kid.

"JD - son, you're all right. Nobody got hurt here." Chris got closer and kept his voice authoritative. "I need your help. You gotta get it together now." Chris had seen this kind of thing happen in the war. He needed to pull the kid out of this, and he needed to do it now.

But the boy still stared just past him.


The boy jerked to a halt. He blinked a couple of times, then he looked at the gunslinger.

JD sobbed - a ragged, heavy sob. Chris swept the kid's hair back with one brush of his hand, and let it rest on his neck.

To his credit, the young man pulled himself together quickly. "Oh God, Chris."

"It's all right."

"My ears ears are ringing."

"That probably won't last long. We'll get Nathan to check you out."

Suddenly JD's eyes grew wide. "You gotta go, Chris," he said. "Buck and Vin - they need you."

Chris nodded and he stood up, helping the kid up as he did.

"Thanks." JD was still stiff from the night before. Chris patted the young man on the shoulder. JD's breath still hitched a little in the aftermath of his weeping. "I'm sorry, Chris."

"It's all right." Then Chris paused a moment and cocked his head to the side. "Go get dressed, JD. I need you to ride with me."


"You heard me. Get dressed. Nathan's hurt. Ezra and Josiah need to watch the town. That leaves us. Now, run on."

JD was really confused--too confused to get excited. But he trusted Chris.

Chris watched him walk back to the boarding house.

"Meet me at Nathan's when you're ready," Chris called after him and JD turned back and nodded his understanding.

Chris Larabee had to hand it to the kid. He was nothing if not resilient. And he had come damn close to losing that. Chris hated what those bastards had done to all of them--to his town--to his friends.

Damn them.

He would get them.

Whatever it took. He would find Buck and Vin and he would get whoever was responsible for this.

On to Part Seven:
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