Return of the Remembered - Part 10

Ezra Standish hated waiting. He hated it even more than losing. At least when he was losing he could still do something about it. Waiting served no purpose whatsoever. Not that Ezra wanted to "serve a purpose" particularly. He just hated waiting.

To Josiah, waiting was an art. He was practiced at introspection--at extended hours of contemplation and prayer. And he was practiced at hanging out at the saloon for hours feeling no pain. Either way, waiting didn't drive him crazy.

Worrying? That was another thing altogether. The big preacher became restless when he was worried. He couldn't stand the not knowing. Between his worrying and Ezra's intolerance for waiting, the two started calculating a plan to go out and find their friends.

"Well," Ezra said, as his fork alternately made a hill or a pancake out of his creamed corn, ". . . assuming Chris and Nathan caught up with Mr. Adams, and Buck and Vin caught up with JD, everything should be well in hand."

"So why aren't they back yet?" Josiah asked, watching Ezra's fork. Without shifting his gaze, he grabbed his third biscuit and absently spread marmalade across the top of it. "This Adams is a whole different kind of evil from . . ."

". . . your everyday common variety demoniac?" Ezra finally took a bite of the creamed corn and frowned.

"Other men are driven to do evil by greed or . . . revenge . . . or hate, but a man like Adams thrives on evil itself." The thought troubled Josiah long enough for him to stare, eyes still focussed on Ezra's plate. Ezra paused in mid-bite and looked down at the plate then back up at Josiah. His lips formed the word "what" when Josiah began speaking again. "I don't understand that kind of man."

Ezra swallowed and set his fork down. "I can't say that I do either. But I am sure that our friends can handle whatever Mr. Adams has in store."

"As long as he didn't run into JD first."

As though the thought somehow made the whole meal distasteful, Ezra pushed his plate away. It took a long moment for the full weight of Josiah's statement to sink in. "I for one would have a very difficult time trying to . . . restrain myself from tearing Mr. Adams apart if he were in any way to have harmed JD."

"And you have more restraint than Buck or Chris either one."

Ezra considered this. "I hope they aren't given any reason to exact retribution."

"So do I." Josiah's brows furrowed. "If they haven't gotten back by tomorrow morning, one of us should start looking."

"Both of us," Ezra said, eyes challenging the preacher.

"What if Adams doubles back?"

Ezra's fingers drummed on the table until, too agitated, the gambler stood up and began to pace. "There are six of us guarding this little backwater and we can't even keep one sick obfuscating tyrant away from a teenager. And now we are reduced to being divided with one man waiting to handle any trouble that may ride into town. This is unacceptable."

"Unacceptable or not, it's the way things are." Josiah stood up and laid a few coins on the table. "I figure that I should be the one to go." He didn't mention that his own tracking skills far exceeded Ezra's. He knew he didn't need to.

"I hate this."

"So do I, Ezra." The preacher laid his hand on the gambler's shoulder. "So do I."


The coffee was bitter, leftover grounds floating in the bottom of the cup. And it was cold.

Grayland Adams threw the tin cup at Magda. "Can't you get anything right???" he screamed, and she cowered. He took heavy steps toward her and grabbed her by the arms. As a reflex, she twisted her head away from him. "How could you let him get away like that? How difficult is it for three people to hang on to one drugged, tied up kid?" He threw her to the ground and in the next move, jerked her back up. She was shaking, but didn't utter a sound. His rage had to be terrifying, but her response was almost . . . routine. She seemed to know exactly what was coming.

But it never did.


Nathan Jackson could have applauded when he saw Chris Larabee grab Grayland Adams' meaty arm before he could strike the woman. He'd have rushed him himself if he'd been close enough. Instead he did the next best thing . . .

He trained his shotgun on the big man.

Chris Larabee had had to use his entire body as leverage to wheel the man around, and he managed to land one decent blow to the man's jaw before the bully recovered enough to turn on him and take him on.

Nathan knew once they settled into a fight *mano a mano* it would be a lost cause. Chris was no match for a man who was twice as big, but then Adams was no match for Chris' Colt. So, Nathan figured, it all evened out.

He watched as the big man pulled himself up.

"Try it!!" Chris screamed at the man. Nathan recognized the maniacal grin on Chris' face. He was looking for an excuse.


This time of night . . . with the clouds clearing for the moon and stars, a cool breeze tempering the day's heat . . . this was always Vin's favorite time.

But not tonight.

He felt like somehow they'd all intruded on JD's past . . . on his pain. If they couldn't prove that Adams was a fraud, JD's memories of his mother, the most precious part of his childhood, would always be suspect. Vin knew that that would tear him up.

He turned everything over in his mind, seeing JD square up against a man he had no chance in hell of defeating, hearing the innuendoes made about the boy's mama, hearing his pitiful sobs.

Vin could barely see the little camp from where he was. But he knew Buck was taking care of the kid.

As much as anyone could under the circumstances.

He had a feeling that there was a lot more to this situation than any of them knew.

And he was right.


Grayland Adams glared up at Chris Larabee. "You've got no right to interfere in my business."

"Business? Looks to me like you were gonna hit a lady."

"Believe me, she's no lady." Adams started to pull himself up, but Chris Larabee pushed him back to the ground with the toe of his boot.

"You'll apologize to the lady," Chris' voice was menacing, but it still didn't faze the big man.

"You just don't get it, do you, Larabee? I am within my legal rights here . . ."

"The hell you are!" Chris cried.

"She's mine, bought and paid for!" Adams countered, cautiously pulling himself up again.

God, Chris hated this man. "Mister, in this country, you can't own another human being."

Adams chuckled. "It was her choice. She wanted passage to this country and was willing to sell herself and her services for a period of seven years."

''That ain't legal," Chris said, his face reflecting the incredulity he felt.

Grayland Adams was finally on his feet and he gestured toward Magda, only to hear Chris' gun click at the ready. " Back off."

"I'm not gonna touch her," Adams said. Then he smiled at the frightened woman. "Tell the man about our agreement."

She looked around at the men in the camp, clearly bewildered. But she nodded at Chris. "What he said . . . is true . . ."

Chris' voice became very gentle. "Ma'am, you don't have to stay with him. We'll get your money troubles worked out." Chris thought he saw a flicker of hope in her sad eyes, but then her eyes trailed over to Adams and her face seemed to cloud over. Chris continued to speak gently. "You don't have to stay with him."

"Magda, you can leave me--but you know I'll find you. You can't hide from me. No more than the boy could."

Chris got a better grip on his gun. "Seems like the kid has done a good job of staying clear of you so far."

For once the man that drove for Adams spoke up. "I'm sure Lucas got him, Boss. Hell, he was bound hand and foot. He had a blindfold on. How far could he go?"

Adams spun on his heel to face this idiot. He would have hit him if Chris hadn't warned him off again.

"Do you always tie up your children, Adams?"

Adams turned back to Chris and his eyes looked hard and evil. "The bad ones . . ."

SMACK! Chris' fist met the big man's jaw again, driving him backwards.

"Larabee, when my lawyers get through with you, you ain't gonna see daylight again for a long time." He grinned. "I believe you have spent some time incarcerated."

"We'll see." Chris signalled up to Nathan, and the healer made his way down to the little camp. He helped Chris tie the men up. They let Magda be. She had been through enough. Chris would help her, whatever it took.

And he would bring Grayland Adams down.


Buck Wilmington was speechless--his throat hurt, his chest was tight, his heart . . .

He sat for a long time, until he realized that JD may be misinterpreting his silence for disapproval.

The boy had pulled his hurt hand back in to himself and closed his eyes. Buck realized, heartsick, that JD couldn't bring himself to look at him. Buck wanted to say something, but the lump in his throat was thick and choking. He eased over until he was sitting right beside the boy--careful not to touch him, though. How could he approach his friend? What could he say?

He'd seen the kid slowly withdraw until he lay curled into a protective huddle. The horrible truth was out and JD appeared to have been intensely diminished by it.

"JD . . ."

"Don't . . . Buck." JD's words were quick. "Don't say anything."

Buck reached very slowly--carefully--and slipped his hand on JD's neck. JD shuddered, but Buck kept his hand steady, strong. After a moment, the boy settled a bit, but he still never looked back up.

"JD," Buck's voice was low and even. "Son, a 'whore' is someone who sells themselves for selfish reasons . . . somebody who doesn't . . . value herself."

Buck reached under JD's chin and lifted his face. "You . . ." Buck smiled gently at the boy, "you are strong, JD." He let his hand drop to the kid's shoulder. "You are a good son."

Buck felt the boy's body tremble slightly and JD ducked his head. Buck continued. "You sacrificed . . . " his voice waivered ". . . so much. You did just what you had to do, Son. Ain't nobody gonna fault you for it. You protected your mama. And that's all that matters."

JD said nothing, and for a long moment, the silence became almost heavy. Then JD looked up at Buck, his eyes searching. And he was somehow reassured. He could hardly find his voice.

"Thank you, Buck."

Buck nodded through his own tears, and watched as the kid curled up next to him. He glanced up at Vin, who was keeping watch on the ridge, and he looked back down at JD, who had already fallen asleep.

Maybe in sleep, the kid could find a little peace.

For the second time in as many days, Ezra woke up much earlier that was his custom. He felt strangely helpless. Sleeping late in the midst of this crisis would only serve to make him feel even less useful. he wondered what Josiah was up to this morning. He stepped out into the early morning sun and heard hammering coming from the church. Ah, Josiah was already at work. Ezra smiled. He might just have to roll up his sleeves and do some of the dirty work today. It could be theraputic.

But then again, maybe not. Ezra felt ennobled by having the thought, though. Maybe there was hope for him yet.


Buck handed Vin a cup of coffee.

"How is he?" Vin asked, quietly, as he took a sip.

Buck looked over at the kid asleep. JD lay a few feet away on Buck's big coat. He was curled up, guarding his bruised stomach, and cradling his wounded hand against his chest.

He needs a haircut, Buck thought. JD's whole face was hidden by his long black hair. The gentle voice of the tracker interrupted his thoughts.


Buck looked back at Vin and took a deep breath. "He's been sleeping for a couple of hours. Kept waking up during the night. His hand was hurting him a lot, but he finally went on to sleep." He looked at the ground and took a long drink of his tepid coffee. He felt Vin's hand rest on his shoulder.

"Are you feeling ok?" Vin asked him and a quick chuckle escaped from Buck's throat. He looked back at JD. "No. . ." he said, shaking his head.

Vin waited. Buck turned to face him, and wished his eyes weren't full.

Buck chose his words carefully. His voice felt low--husky even. "That man . . . has to be stopped, Vin. I don't want that kid to ever have to see him again. If I have to take JD away from Four Corners until you boys stop him, I will."

Buck looked Vin in the eye. He wanted to be sure that there was no

mistaking his meaning. "But if I see him first, I will kill him."


Vin listened to Buck's words, troubled by them. Not by Buck's threat about Grayland Adams. Buck ultimately made good, fair decisions when facing down an adversary. No, Vin was troubled by the implication. Buck knew what the man had done to the kid. JD must've told him. Vin had heard enough of the shouting match between JD and that Lucas guy to know that some of his suspicions about Adams had been right on the mark.

Buck would never betray JD's confidence. Vin knew that. But Buck had communicated the . . . intensity . . . of Adams' abuse of the boy. He didn't have to say anything else.

The two friends sat while Buck's words hung uneasily in the air.

"What do you think we oughta do?" Vin asked, finally.

Buck shook his head and looked over at JD. He really didn't seem to have an answer. Vin followed his gaze.

"I don't think we should take him back to Four Corners," Vin said. "Leastways, not until we know Chris and Nathan have caught up with Adams."

Buck poured the rest of his coffee on the embers of the campfire. "So where do we go?"

Vin thought about it for a minute. Then a smile crossed his face. "Why don't we go where we will be greeted with 'hospitality.'"

Buck grinned. "Now, there's an idea."

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