Return of the Remembered - Part Fourteen

by the Desperado's Daughter

"This is kidnapping, you know. Once we get . . . somewhere . . . somewhere where there's real legal authority, you and your 'gang' will go to Yuma for the rest of your lives."

Why couldn't he just shut the hell up? Chris gnawed angrily on a piece of beef jerky. Why had they taken the gag out of his mouth? Everytime they did, they regretted it.

Adams was obviously not afraid of much. He was not afraid of them, that's for sure. And he was even less afraid of the law. What made a man so . . . cavalier about being able to hurt people? What made a man like that, who seemed to have way more power than the average man--what made a man like that ride all the way across the country to bring one kid all the way back to Boston?

Chris thought about it. Somehow JD must pose a threat to the man. But how?

". . . never see the light of day again. Why, by the time you get brought before . . ." Surely sometime the man would run out of things to say. Time to shut him up again.


"Got it."

And Chris grinned as the healer put a sock in the big man's mouth.


Josiah rode out of Four Corners. Because there was the possibility, albeit remote, that someone else may be looking for the boy, Vin didn't leave their special clues behind. The Seven had established certain tracking signs so they would be able to find each other if necessary, but they had decided not to risk even that.

At least Josiah had an idea of possible hideouts they would seek out if they *did* find JD. He felt certain they wouldn't come back to Four Corners until they knew Adams was . . . neutralized in some way.

The damnable shame of it was that if a judge *had* ruled that Adams had some claim to the boy--if indeed JD *was* a boy--the law didn't protect JD. Unless they could prove some harm had been done to JD while he was in Adamson's care, the law protected *Adams*. There was no doubt that Adamson had hurt the boy, but there was no proof. And if Adams had some kind of hold over JD, JD might not fight to save himself.

A bank of low black clouds crept across the western sky--ominous like some approaching evil that nobody, not Josiah, not the law, not a host of angels could push back.

God help us. Josiah let his head fall to his chest.

"God help that boy," he said aloud. "He's needing you now. . . " The rest of the words were spoken by his heart. Truth be told, he didn't know what to ask for.

He just knew he needed to ask.


God, I can't do this . . .

Vin Tanner looked at the crude implements on the fire and suddenly felt his breakfast surge. He took two staggering steps to a tree and retched.

God . . .

What was he thinking? He didn't know how to do this. He didn't know how to seal off the blood veins. What if he didn't seal it up right and an artery kept bleeding? How could he seal it anyway? What if the poison was already in his brain? Why put that poor boy through this if he was gonna die anyway?

Oh God. . . Every cell in his body quivered and Vin felt another wave of nausea. He heaved, but there was nothing left. So he just dry heaved until a hitching sob overcame him. How could he do this? How could he even think of doing this? He'd be killing JD as surely as if he put his gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

He stepped away from the tree and looked toward where Buck sat with the kid. He was too far away to hear them, but could see that Buck had gathered the boy in his arms. From here, JD just looked like he was sleeping. From here, it was impossible to tell that a deadly poison was killing him.

But even from this far away, he could tell that it was killing Buck. Vin watched them for a long moment, then he pressed his eyes closed as tightly as he could, not minding that hot tears were rolling down his face. He had to get clear before he could help JD.

He turned and walked far enough away so that Buck wouldn't be able to see him--for a minute anyway. He looked up at the brilliant sky and wondered by the sun hurt.


Judge Travis was both intrigued and seriously troubled. Ezra Standish aka Ezra Simpson aka Ezra Smith. This man was a con man . . . a man who'd swindled folks in one town and then moved on to another, a man who had jumped bail . . .

A man who'd stepped in front of a bullet to save Mary's life.

Ezra Standish had summoned him from Morgantown and said it was urgent. He made it clear that Mary was all right, but his cryptic message said little else. Well, looking at it over and over again wouldn't clarify anything. With a "hhmph", the judge returned the message to his jacket pocket and looked out the dirty window of the stagecoach.

What a strange sky! The sun would be dazzling if the windows weren't so mud-clouded, but from the west, there was a great shadow. If he hadn't known the landscape, Travis might have imagined that there was a black mountain range to the west. But no, it had to be one hell of a storm brewing. The judge smiled at the double entendre. That surely wasn't the only storm he was gonna face today. Not by a long shot.


Buck was glad JD was out again. If he were unconscious, he wouldn't hurt, he wouldn't be scared. Buck wouldn't have to see his terrified eyes--wouldn't have to hear his weak voice begging him not to take his arm. Oh God, hasn't this boy suffered enough?

Buck held onto JD, careful not to hurt him. He had one strong arm wrapped around his boy's torso, and, with his other hand, slowly stroked his sweat-soaked hair. He kept talking,. Even if JD couldn't hear him, he'd know Buck was there. He'd know Buck loved him.

Buck's heart hurt for Vin, too. He'd seen the tracker stagger to the tree. He knew the young man had gotten sick, and if Buck weren't holding JD just then, he'd have joined him. This was more than a friend should have to face. And for all Vin had seen in his young life, he was still . . . so young. If there were anything Buck could do to keep Vin from having to do this--and to keep JD from having to go through this--he would.

But this was how it was. This was the way it had to be. All three of them wanted JD to live. So they'd all have to get each other through this.

JD stirred a little.

"Easy, son." How could Buck tell him that? Who could rest easy under these circumstances?

But JD wasn't waking up. He was talking a bit, though. Buck leaned his head down to hear . . .

And his heart quaked.

". . . sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry . . ."


Magda had finally fallen asleep. She had been so terrified and her heart had pounded so furiously that Nathan was worried that she could have a heart attack. He finally gave her some medicine tea to relax her. Once he was sure that she was alright, he pulled up alongside Chris.

"How is she?" Chris asked.

"Sleeping . . . finally." Nathan stole a glance back at the wagon. "She's been terrorized for a long time. I guess she figured that as long as she did what Adams said, he wouldn't hurt her as bad. But now she ain't got control over this situation. Adams is likely to find a way to blame her for it."

"He ain't getting near her," Chris snapped.

"She don't know that," Nathan said. He needed to make this clear to Chris. "That's a powerful fear she carries."

"What's your point?"

Chris Larabee could be a real pain in the ass sometimes.

"My point," Nathan said, his words clipped, "is that her reaction to him is proof that he abuses her. If we can find a way to convince her that she's safe, we may be able to get her to tell us what he's done. That would at least give us something to convict him on."

"And that would keep him away from JD," Chris followed.

********************************************************************* For the second time that day, Ezra Standish sorted through his clothes. He wanted to be taken seriously. He wanted Judge Travis to see *him* -- not the gambler and not the bailjumper. Ezra wanted the judge to see the peacekeeper he had hired--the man Judge Travis had helped him to become.

Ezra had dashed back up to his room when he decided his vest was a bit flashy for this meeting. But if he dressed too conservatively, he wouldn't be believable. The judge would think he was up to something.

Ezra had to make this work. For once he had to make someone believe the truth. Oh, he could make people believe most anything. But this was the judge--a man who knew he had a propensity for . . . obfuscating. Judge Travis needed to know that JD's life was at stake. And he needed to know Ezra wasn't working some kind of con. Mary would back him up but it was still up to him to convince the staunchly "by the book" judge to challenge not one, but two of his brothers in the bar. He--Ezra Standish whose first interaction with the judge was from the wrong side of the bench--he had to get Judge Orrin Travis to investigate two rulings. One of the rulings had been rendered all the way back in Boston. Ezra had to convince the judge to take a career risk for the sake of a boy he didn't even know very well.

But the judge was a fair man and, while he was committed to upholding the law, he was more committed to seeing justice done. He had demonstrated this in Nathan's father's trial. Never had Ezra witnessed greater kindness. And that was why he decided to trust the judge to help him.

Ezra took off his jacket and hung it up carefully. Then he took off his vest and lay it on the bed. He paused and glanced in the mirror that was standing on his dresser.

He saw a very different man than he'd seen there before. That day he'd headed out of town with all that money, he hadn't been able to stand looking at himself. But now everything had changed. His mission wasn't about *him*. His mission was selfless--and that felt remarkable.

It also scared the hell out of him. Someone's future could very well be in his hands. Right now he was the only one in a position to challenge Adams' claims. The others had to keep him safe *now*. Ezra had to ensure his safety for the rest of his life. If what he'd discovered was true, JD would be remanded to Adams' custody until he reached his majority, then he'd go to prison for the rest of his life. JD was a tough kid, but prison would kill him--if Adams didn't first.

Ezra shook his head. What was he doing? His argument was strong enough. He put his vest back on and the same jacket. The judge knew him. He'd wear what he'd been wearing and trust himself to influence the judge with his words.

And he'd trust the judge.


Riding alone gave a man time to think. And Josiah preferred *not* to think. If he ruminated on this for too long, he'd work himself into enough of a rage that he might just exact a little retribution on Mr. Grayland Adams.

It was just a good thing that his knowledge of the situation was limited. Bad enough that JD had ever been afraid of the man. Now there was a radically different aspect to the story, and whatever it was enfuriated Ezra. Josiah found that it took an awful lot to anger the affable Southerner. Ezra distanced himselves from most causes. If it required any effort on his part, the gambler wanted none of it--unless of course the pay made it worth it. In that case, he would do what was required of him and not a whit more.

But for all of his apparent apathy, Ezra did have a code. At his core, he couldn't abide the hurting of an innocent--particularly an innocent who couldn't defend him or herself. The more grievous the crime, the more angry the Southerner became. Josiah didn't know whether this had developed since Ezra had been working as a peacekeeper or whether he had been a champion of the innocent his whole life. Josiah suspected that Ezra had always felt strongly about it, but perhaps he hadn't let those feelings translate into action until he became one of the "Magnificent Seven". When he thought about it, Josiah could never remember Ezra ever swindling someone who couldn't afford it. Even when he beat JD at poker, he would see to it that the boy won his money back within the week. And, bless his heart, JD never realized it.

JD . . .

Lord, let him be all right.

Perhaps it was the black sky that was slowly overtaking the familiar sun-filled one. Or it could be the fact that no one seemed to know where anyone else was. But Josiah Sanchez felt hopeless. He had long since lost the giddy fervor of a young man first recognizing the Presence of God. At times like this, he didn't experience any joy in his communion with the Spirit. The best thing that religion afforded him was moments of Peace--true Peace, and occasionally some Understanding.

Right now, he wished for a little hope.

Yet for all of his faith, Josiah felt that his prayers were somehow weak. It felt as if he . . . didn't know how to pray about this. Maybe it was because he didn't know the extent of the evil they were facing.

But Ezra Standish did. And he hadn't told a soul. He had explained to Josiah that it was in JD's best interest not to. So Josiah hadn't pressed it. He'd never seen Ezra so intent on righting a wrong. And Josiah could tell from his expression that JD's past could hurt the young man for the rest of his life.

This was incredible. Each of the men he rode with had skeletons in his closet. He never figured the kid had any. Oh, he knew JD had had a hard life--but nothing like the truth that was being borne out.

Well, JD had friends--friends who knew his heart--and they would do whatever they had to to protect him.

Was this trek really gonna do any good? Josiah couldn't tell if he were on the right trail or not. If he couldn't find a sign of anyone or anything by nightfall, he'd camp out then head back to Four Corners in the morning.

As if his question were some kind of prayer, he saw it . . . up ahead . . .

Josiah swung a long leg over his horse and dismounted quickly. He felt the aches that had become more a part of his life over the last few years. He took a moment to stretch before leaning over to examine the change in the color of the dirt. Someone had cleaned it up well, but Josiah's practiced eye could see that there was a change. As he got closer, he could see that it was grain of some kind. Vin knew the birds or animals would get the rest of it up quickly. And there was very little left.

But it was enough to know someone had been here.

"All right," he said, and he looked up to the sky and tipped his hat.

Maybe he was getting some Help after all.


Chris squinted up at the sky. He didn't like the looks of the storm clouds blowing in. And he didn't like the look on Nathan Jackson's face. The healer was driving the wagon and Magda was still sleeping in the back. The driver was bound tightly to Nathan's saddle. And Grayland Adams? He rode bareback on his own horse, his arms tied around the stallion's neck and a rope as a makeshift girth tied under the horse's belly and bound on either side to the man's feet. Oh, and Adams still had a sock in his mouth.

Chris pulled up beside Nathan. He didn't have to ask what he was thinking. Nathan started talking as soon as Chris drew close enough.

"If JD fell out of the wagon," he began, "and it was moving--and he was tied up and blindfolded," Nathan's voice grew more bitter as he spoke, "how could he have survived out here?"

"Let's hope Vin and Buck found him," Chris said, but his words sounded hollow.

"What if 'Lucas' found him first?" Nathan cut angry eyes toward him. "That boy didn't stand a chance."

A voice wafted from the back of the wagon. "He will not kill him."

"Ma'am?" Nathan whispered back.

Magda had crawled close to the front and looked out fearfully.

"It's all right," Chris said.

The woman's lip quivered and she whispered angrily. "It's *not* all right. You keep saying that but it's not all right."

"Ma'am, you said . . ." Chris was interrupted when Magda slipped back behind the safety of the wagon flap.

"Don't let him see you talking to me."

Chris pulled away a couple of feet and gave the impression of talking only to Nathan. The healer picked up the conversation--anticipating what Chris was going to ask. He kept his voice low. "You said Lucas wouldn't hurt him."

"No, I said he would not kill him." Chris had to strain to hear her. But there was no mistaking the anger and fear in her voice. "Mr. Adams would not let him kill the boy. But Lucas will most certainly hurt him."

"Won't that make Adams angry?" Nathan asked.

There was no answer at first, then there was a sob. "Mr. . . Adams would be angry . . . if he did *not* . . . punish him."

"Punish him," Chris echoed. "What could that boy . . . have possibly done . . ."

"I don't know," Magda said. "I don't know why Mr. Adams hates him so much. He's a good, sweet boy . . . "

Nathan's voice was hard. "Then why did you drug him."

"Nathan . . ." Chris didn't raise his voice but he tried to stop his friend from pursuing this with that poor woman.

"Why did you take part in delivering him to a man you knew would hurt him?"

"I was scared."

"All the more reason to protect him."

Magda didn't say anymore. And the only way Chris knew she was crying was by the slight gasp in her breathing.

"You had no cause to do that, Nathan," Chris said. "She ain't the enemy here; she's the victim."

"You don't tell me what I can and cannot say." Nathan was as angry as Chris had ever seen him. "If she hadn't done what she did, JD would be home safe."

Chris felt a surge of anger toward his friend, but his concern for Nathan outweighed it. "What's going on here?" Chris asked softly.

"What the hell do you think is going on?" Nathan snapped. "We're not calling the shots." He nodded toward Adams. "He is. You don't think they *know* where this Lucas has taken the kid? We think we've taken over this situation, but we haven't."

"He don't look like he's in charge from here."

"But he don't look like he's worried either."

Nathan had a point. Oh, Adams was uncomfortable, and clearly he was angry, but he was holding an ace somewhere and Chris didn't like it. He pulled over to ride next to the big man--who didn't look so big tied to his horse like he was.

"So, comfy?" Chris grinned. "So, tell me, where would this Lucas take JD?"

Adams cut murderous eyes toward Chris.

"Oh, that's right, you can't talk. You've got a sock in your mouth." Chris chuckled, then in a flash, he grabbed Adams by the hair. "Now, if you try to bite me, I'll shoot your ear off, you understand?" Adams didn't answer.

"I reckon that's a 'yes"," Chris said and he put his gloved hand in Grayland Adams' mouth and pulled the sock out--but not before deliberately gagging the man. Still Adams had evidently taken the gunman at his word and wasn't stupid enough to risk an ear.

"Where's the boy?" Chris asked.

There was no answer.

Chris shook his head. "A while ago you wouldn't shut up. Now," Chris grabbed Adams hair again and this time, he drew his pistol and lined it up with the man's earlobe. "Where is he?"

"He's supposed to be here," Adams said.

"Well, he's not."

"If I knew where he was, you would, too. You've been on my tail ever since we left Four Quarters."

"I also know you'd have a back-up plan in case something went wrong. Now where would your man take that boy?"

It was then that Adams said something so wrong that Chris Larabee would kill him now no matter what.

Adams looked Chris in the eye and grinned. "To a level of pleasure I have not enjoyed for a couple of years now."

Chris Larabee pulled out his knife and cut the man from his horse, careful to tie his hands and feet back together. He tied him like some big steer he'd just roped. Then, wordlessly, rage driving his actions, the famed gunman put his knee in Adams' chest, put his hand over his face and shot him.

OK, he grazed him.

Well, his earlobe.

He had the good sense not to kill the man who might be his only link to JD.

Chris wondered vaguely why Nathan hadn't tried to stop him, but then he knew.

Nathan was standing over another man.

A dead man.

Lying with a bullet in his brain.

"Good God!" Adams' wagon driver said. "It's Lucas."


Buck held on to JD as if, by holding on, he could somehow hold everything together. The boy was leaning back against him, resting almost comfortably. Of course, that was deceptive. He had lost consciousness when the pain became more than he could bear. Buck would buy into that deception for now, though. For a moment, time was suspended and he could deny what was about to happen. For a moment, JD was all that existed. Buck closed his eyes and, with one hand, he cradled the boy's head against him, and he pressed his other hand against JD's chest, feeling his friend's heartbeat. As long as they stayed like that, they'd be all right. As long as JD's heart was beating, as long as Buck could hold on to him like that and protect him, they'd be just fine.

But this little respite didn't last long. A grumbling roll of thunder drew Buck's eyes to the sky.


Sweet Jesus! Bad enough that JD couldn't make it to the shelter of the Indian village. If it rained, Vin couldn't do what he had to do. And if Vin didn't do this, that precious heartbeat would stop.

"You gotta do something here, Lord." Buck commenced to talking to the Lord about this. If someone asked Buck Wilmington if he ever prayed, he'd say no. He didn't pray in the church like other people, but he had lots of conversations with God. Yeah, he prayed. Never more fervently than right then. "There's that storm coming in. If you'd just . . . hold it back for a while." He'd pray out loud and then he'd pray to himself, and as the next roll of thunder answered him, he looked up and saw Vin.

Looked like the sharpshooter was over his sudden sickness, and now Vin approached, a corked bottle of whiskey in one hand, and the other carrying an open bottle of whiskey with a couple of knives in it. Buck raised an eyebrow.

Vin shrugged. "Seen Nathan do it. Put the knife in the fire then keep it in whiskey. Says something about it keeps the wound cleaner."

"Hunh?" JD's eyes didn't open, but he talked.

"Nothing, son," Buck tried to make his voice very calm.

The boy started to squirm, but as soon as he moved, his whole body began to tremble and he cried out . . .

"Oh God . . . Buck . . ."

Buck moved his hand from JD's chest and encircled his arm around the boy's waist. "I got you, son. Just keep your arm as still as you can."

JD jerked up and threw his head back over Buck's shoulder. "Help me . . . " The kid's cry was pitiful. Buck looked up at Vin and recognized his expression.


Vin had gotten his emotions out of the way. He looked much stronger than Buck felt. JD pressed his hot forehead into Buck's neck and cried out--something between a groan and a wail.

"I know, JD," Buck said, reaching out to Vin for the unopened bottle of whiskey. Vin set down the bottle of implements and opened the other one. Buck took it and held it to JD's lips. "Drink this," Buck said. "It'll help."

JD tried to, but choked on it instead. He began coughing.

Vin squatted in front of him and Buck let the boy fall forward into the gentle arms of the sharpshooter. The top of JD's head leaned into Vin's chest, and his coughs gradually changed to sobs. Buck kept a hand on the boy's back--so hot with fever. Vin held the boy's neck. Finally, JD raised his head. With his good hand, he reached for the whiskey and took a long drink. Then he spoke softly.

"Vin, I know . . . you wish this . . . didn't have to . . happen." Buck couldn't see JD's face. And that might have been why Buck could bear this at all. JD's voice . . . he *did* sound like he was younger than he'd said he was. And his voice was getting weaker as he spoke.

"You gotta know . . . " JD paused and he took another shot of the whiskey. "I know this could kill me."

"No sense talking like that, JD," Buck said more sharply than he'd intended.

"It's gotta be said, Buck." JD set the whiskey bottle down and used his good hand to grab a hold of Vin's shirt. "If I die, Vin, it won't be your fault."

Vin looked at the ground. "JD . . ."

"Well, I ain't planning on it." Why did that make JD laugh at himself? Vin's head popped up and the sharpshooter smiled slightly.

"Well, that's good, kid. It'd make my trying to save your life a lot harder if you were."

JD chuckled--or did he cough. "I'm grateful you're doing this. I don't know . . . if I could . . . if the tables were turned."

"You do what you gotta do, kid," Vin said, but Buck could hear the dread in his voice.

"You'd do great, JD," Buck said.

The boy was trembling. "If I say . . . anything ugly to you while you're . . . working, I won't mean it personal."

Vin put his hand up to JD's face. "I know that."

"I'm . . . really . . . scared."

Buck knew that was hard for the kid to say. JD never wanted them to see any weakness in him.

"So am I," Vin said.

In a whisper, JD gave them his blessing.

"Do it."


Josiah knew how Vin cleared tracks--and he had here. But as Josiah looked around, he saw some anomalies. There were "body" tracks. It was as though someone had come through who had been dragged.

No, that wasn't right.

The track was more like someone had had to move without benefit of arms and legs. Someone who'd . . .

Rage. Rage that rushed through his entire body and into his muscles and made his fingertips tingle and twitch. The person who had made those tracks had been tied up. And it was evident by the lack of direction that the victim had been blindfolded.

Why would anybody have to tie up and blindfold an unarmed *boy* who had already been drugged? Josiah could only hope that Vin and Buck had found him before one of Adams' folks had been able to backtrack to him.

The fury Josiah felt at that instant was the one that scared the hell out of him. It was the one he feared he wouldn't be able to control. The way he would usually distance himself from it was by pouring red eye all over it.

But he wouldn't distance himself from it today. Because today the situation wasn't hopeless. He'd let his anger drive him to find the boy . . .

And help the boy. And protect the boy.

But if the boy were dead . . .

Not even God could keep Adams safe from him.

Besides, Josiah figured that God would be on his side in this.

God, let him be all right. Please.

Josiah took a few minutes to rest his horse and to answer the call of nature. A bolt of lightning split the approaching black sky. Judging from the time between the lightning and the thunder, it was still several miles away. It would be a powerful storm. Josiah couldn't afford to stop for long.

JD needed him.

Somehow, Josiah got the feeling that his horse knew there was something important about this trip. Either that or the approaching storm was making him antsy. At any rate, he seemed as anxious as Josiah to move on.

If Vin and Buck had found JD, they most likely wouldn't take him back to Four Corners until they were sure Adams was gone. Where would they take him?

Josiah smiled. Someplace where they would be greeted with hospitality.


"YOU F***ING SHOT ME!" Grayland Adams screamed from the ground where he lay. "YOU HAVE NO IDEA . . . " the big man blustered, ". . . HOW COMPLETELY DEAD I'M GONNA KILL YOU."

"You have no idea . . . " Chris Larabee replied, ". . . how completely scared I'm not."

Made about as much sense, Chris figured. He kept his gun trained on the man while he took the few steps over to where the man they called "Lucas" lay dead. "I'll shoot the first one of you who moves," Chris said. He tipped his hat to Magda. "You too, Ma'am. Just stay put there."

Nathan was already examining the body. Chris spoke quietly to him. "Whattaya got?"

"Looks like Vin shot him," Nathan said.

Chris sighed in obvious relief. "Then Vin has likely got JD."

"Yeah," Nathan nodded, but he was frowning.

"What?" Chris asked more softly.

"Somebody else is hurt."

Chris knelt down near the body and listened as the healer explained. "You can see where the bleeding is that's from the head wound. He'd have died instantly." Chris nodded and glanced back at his captives. No one had moved an inch.

With his gloved hand, Nathan lifted the dead man's arm and showed Chris. "Lots of blood on his hand and his sleeve and shirt and all over the ground . . . behind me." He pointed to an area near Chris. "Over there."

Chris followed his reasoning. "But 'Lucas' has that one head wound that killed him instantly."

"Looks like he got in a tussle with someone, but no other bleeding injury."

"So it's one of ours."


Chris pulled his hat off and ran his fingers through his hair. "Damn."

"They wouldn't try to take JD back to 4 Corners if they weren't sure where Adams was. And if any of them's hurt, like you say, they'd likely find the nearest shelter."

"The Indian Village."


An anticipatory drizzle started to fall in Four Corners not three minutes before the stage pulled in. Ezra Standish sat with Mary Travis, waiting. Somehow, during their conversation, Ezra's hand had found hers--not in a romantic gesture. Rather, it was the sharing of a crisis. Mary could see that Ezra was carrying a load that exceeded even his concern for his friends' immediate safety. He had been receiving telegrams daily ever since Mr. Adams arrived. And none of them had brought good news.

But Ezra wouldn't tell her anything beyond the fact that Adams had filed custody for JD Dunne and that JD was still a minor. But she knew there were other things--things that seemed to Ezra to be. . . unspeakable. Mary could see in his eyes that he was protecting the boy with his silence. She respected that and never asked him about it.

Ezra had been so distraught and so certain that he needed the judge's help, that Mary contacted her father-in-law. She wasn't sure how the judge would take to a request from the formerly nefarious gambler. Oh, the folks in Four Corners had come to know Mr. Standish and most had begun to develop a trust, albeit tenuous, in the peacekeeper. But the judge hadn't been around him that much. So she was more than pleasantly surprised when the judge said he'd drop everything simply because Ezra said he needed him.

The stagecoach pulled in and Mary squeezed Ezra's hand. But instead of releasing it, the gambler brought her hand to his lips. Then he held it in both of his. His eyes were full and, for a moment, she could see his lips tremble.


"I am so grateful," he said in a voice very unlike him. Then, recovering quickly, he blinked hard, patted her hand and turned to greet the judge.

There was a deafening crash of thunder and the storm began in earnest.


Josiah rode, still ruminating, but about the oddest things.

Frog giggers. Three-legged dogs. "He can ride. He can shoot. He can fly. He can swim."

Oh, John Dunne. Who have I ever known who embraced life as you have?

Maybe it was because of the worry or the rage or maybe he was just plain tired, but Josiah felt his eyes fill and he rode just a little harder until he heard the gunshots.

His heart stopped for a moment. Then he realized.

The signal. That was the Seven's signal. He rode toward the sound just as the rain began to fall.


They rode as quickly as the wagon would allow. If it weren't for the fact that someone up ahead was probably injured, they'd have left the wagon. But Nathan felt like they couldn't take that chance. Adams was fuming. His wagon driver and Magda were afraid, and Chris Larabee, who was driving the wagon now, was silent. Nathan wished they could just leave Adams somewhere. But without knowing for sure where JD was, it was safer to keep Adams in sight.

They were outrunning the storm--or trying to, but when Nathan looked over the crest of the next short hill, everything changed.


JD lay on his back, his belt in his mouth, ready for him to bite down on it when the pain started. Buck sat on one side holding the boy's good hand and stroking his hair. Vin took a deep breath. "JD," he said as he started easing the kid's broken arm out, "You're gonna . . ."

He was interrupted when JD screamed. JD tried to kick, but Buck swung around and sat on the kid's legs. "I know you hurt, boy," Buck said, and Vin could see the big man's eyes fill.

But Vin couldn't afford tears just then. He'd had to let go of his grief back when he let go of his lunch. Right now he had a job to do.

"JD," Vin said. The boy was terrified. His eyes were almost wild. His breathing was too fast and too shallow. "JD!" Vin repeated sharply, as he continued straightening out the hideous appendage. The boy looked over at it, but Vin grabbed his jaw and turned JD's face away. "NO!" Vin yelled. "Don't look at it. Ya hear me." JD looked away, tears streaming down his face, but he was doing what Vin told him. "Good, kid," Vin said, more gently. He squinted up at the black sky, hoping the rain would hold off. Then he leaned down very close to the boy's ear.

"JD," he said. "You'll survive this. You understand me? I've seen people go through this and live." Vin touched the boy's chin gently,and turned his face toward him, but not so far that he'd see the horrible injury. "Buck and I wouldn't have considered this if you couldn't survive it. You're strong and you're tough. And you're gonna live. You hear me?"

JD didn't answer.

"JD?" Buck said. "I gotta know, boy. I gotta know you're gonna hang on."

JD looked at each of them, and nodded. He spoke, his words hampered by the belt in his mouth and slurred by the whiskey he'd had. But his words were beautiful. "I'm gonna live."

Vin smiled. "That's right, JD. You're gonna live."

Buck gripped his hand more tightly and JD looked away from his arm. Vin reached into the whiskey bottle for the knife.


"My God," Nathan said. From this distance, he couldn't tell what exactly Vin was gonna do, but he could guess. Buck was sitting on JD's legs, holding him down. Vin was poised over the kid's arm, and he had . . . a knife?

Nathan raised his gun and fired the signal into the air. Vin and Buck looked up at them, and the rain started to fall.


"I'm gonna live."

Buck wanted to believe that more than anything. He nodded his support to Vin and then focused on talking JD through this. Vin's hand was poised over the kid's arm when they heard it.

For a split second Buck thought it might have been thunder, but when he heard it again, he realized it was the signal.

Vin's hands started shaking and he looked up. Buck followed his gaze and saw a sight nothing less than angels.

"Nathan," he whispered. Buck reached in his holster and drew his pistol and returned the signal.

And the cavalry came thundering toward them as the heavens crashed open and it started raining. Vin covered JD's arm and put the knife back in the whiskey. Buck moved back to JD's side and tented his coat over him.

"It's gonna be all right now, son. Nathan and Chris are here. Nathan's got his doctoring bag and he's got laudanum and you don't have to hurt no more."

JD reached with his good hand and took the belt out of his mouth. "Promise?" the boy asked.

"Promise," Buck whispered back.

And together, he and Vin gathered the boy up and carried him into the wagon. Josiah met them at the wagon and it was only when the big preacher dove into Grayland Adams did Buck even realize that that son of a bitch was there. The only reason Buck was glad that Chris and Vin pulled Josiah off the man was because *he* wanted a shot at him.

But that would have to wait. JD needed him. And Buck couldn't help but think maybe . . .

Well, maybe God had intervened. Maybe Nathan could figure out a way to save JD's arm.

And maybe things could work out for the kid after all.

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