Return of the Remembered - Part Thirteen

Where the hell were the guys? Surely they'd found JD. He just hoped against hope that they had gotten him away from Adamson. Ezra wanted to nail the bastard--but he also wanted to clear JD.

Arson. It wasn't in the kid. Ezra knew it. He trusted that his colleagues knew it as well. JD would never set a building on fire, certainly not a stable full of horses. If JD had done what the telegram said, he had to have been defending himself--or someone he loved.

But it was the other telegram that disturbed Ezra the most.

When he had wired one of his . . . associates . . . back east, he decided that sometimes it could be beneficial having a few seedy friends. Ezra wouldn't ever admit to knowing people like that--certainly not to the men he rode with. But he needed information that could only be retrieved from people who traveled in the darker circles--the back room gamblers, the outlaws, the lawmen who weren't above working both sides of the law, and the proprietors of establishments where one could . . . satisfy . . . most any desire.

He knew one of his people would know Adams--what he was into, what kind of business he did. It had never occurred to Ezra that one of his contacts would remember a beautiful black-haired boy that Adams had so ill-used.

As a matter of principle, Ezra avoided taking on crusades. Usually he would back up the guys hesitantly, involving himself as a last resort. He didn't regret participating--especially after the fact when he could see the good he'd done--in the Indian village and in Chinatown. But he would take on JD's crusade. Adams was the lowest form of life and he had made the young man, Ezra's friend, suffer atrocities Ezra had only read about.

Ezra Standish couldn't abide that.


How could he tell JD?

Buck was by himself, relieving himself in the sandy ground beside a tree that shouldn't be surviving in that climate. He buttoned his fly again but waited a moment.

How do you tell a kid he's gonna lose his arm? How do you tell him it has to be done without any laudanum? How do you ask him to live through something you yourself wouldn't? Hell, Buck would rather be dead than crippled.

And JD would know that. Maybe Buck should get his own thoughts clear before he tried to convince to live the rest of his life with one arm.

G****mn Adams--how much do you have to take away from this boy?

Well, Buck would exact retribution from the man who had come to town and turned JD's life upside down. That thought kept Buck going. Adams would pay. Buck would make him suffer before he'd make him dead.

Buck leaned his head against the tree. He couldn't stand this.

But if anyone was gonna tell the kid, it'd be him.


Nathan Jackson rode with Magda. She was still trembling.

"You don't have to be afraid of him," Nathan said softly. "He won't hurt you any more."

"He will be . . ." Magda lifted a handkerchief to her face and continued . . . "so angry with me."

"That doesn't matter. He has no hold over you anymore."

Magda cried now in earnest. "But . . . I need him. I have nothing. . . no one . . . you don't understand . . ."

Nathan shook his head. "I do understand, ma'am. When I escaped from the plantation, I didn't have anything--no place to live, no job, no money, no family, no skills. How could I live outside the land I knew?" Nathan looked at Magda and slowly her eyes rose to meet his. She was listening. "I remember," he went on, "that I almost didn't leave. One of my friends said that I was more comfortable with the devil I knew than the devil I didn't know. And I thought about it. I didn't know what I would face out there, but freedom . . ." Nathan's eyes filled. "Freedom has been worth any price I had to pay."

Magda looked at Adams, tears streaming down her face. "The devil I know . . ." she echoed.

"We'll see to it that you are safe and cared for, ma'am," Nathan said gently.

"He'll find me."

"We will protect you--and besides he will probably spend the rest of his life in jail."

Magda's lip trembled and she spoke so quietly that Nathan had to struggle to hear her. "Will you . . . will you really help me?"

Nathan smiled. "Yes, trust me."


Vin was heating implements in a fire. He looked up when Buck walked over. Buck squatted down next to him.

"Are you all right?" Buck asked his friend.

Vin didn't answer. He just shrugged. "You?" Vin asked.

"No. I hate this."

"It's gotta be done," Vin stated.

"I know. I still hate it." Buck put a hand on Vin's shoulder. "But we'll get through it." He used the leverage to stand up. "I'm gonna go talk to him."

"You need me?" Vin asked.

Buck shook his head. "No. I need to do this alone."

Vin nodded. "Holler if you need me."

"I will . . ."

Vin watched as Buck walked over to the sleeping boy. "Good luck, my friend," Vin said under his breath.


At first, Buck thought he would throw up, but he forced himself to breath easily and the wave of nausea passed. Buck eased himself beside JD. The young man was sleeping fitfully. He was suffering even in his sleep. Buck gently stroked the boy's hair and gradually JD stirred.

"What is it, Buck?" JD asked, without even opening his eyes.

"How do you feel, son?"

A moment passed and Buck thought the kid had fallen asleep again. Then JD spoke. "I'm . . . sick, Buck."

Buck continued stroking the kid's hair. "I know."

"My arm hurts."

"I'm sure it does." Buck felt his throat tighten.

JD struggled to open his eyes. "I'm dying, Buck."

"You're not gonna die."

"I . . . feel it. I can tell."

Buck took a deep breath. "You are dying. But it's because there's poison in your arm now. Infection's set in. We can save your life, JD . . ."

The young man was looking at Buck, his expression fearful.

Buck knew the only way to say it was just to say it. "We've gotta take your arm."

"No," JD whispered.

"We need you alive, JD. We'd rather have you alive with one arm than dead with both."

"God, no, Buck. You can't."

Buck opened to say more but nothing came. JD grabbed Buck's shirt with his good hand. "Please Buck. I'd rather be dead."

Buck put a strong arm around the boy and held him closely. "If it were me, JD . . ." He paused a moment to turn JD's tearful face toward him. "If it were me, would you let me give up?"

"Not a fair question," JD said.

"What would you tell me to do?"

JD waited, a sob nearly choking him, then he said, "I'd tell you . . . to live."

JD turned his face into Buck's shirt and didn't sob, didn't weep, didn't even speak--he just quaked. Buck bit back the ache in his own heart over his friend. They could put the boy through this only to lose him anyway.

Well, they had to try.

Buck held JD for a long time and waited for Vin's signal.

This was it.

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