Disclaimer is stated fully in Part One of The Return of the Remembered.

Return of the Remembered - Part Three

Vin Tanner sat at the desk watching the stranger in the jail cell. What did he want with JD? It couldn't be good.

The big man paced around his cell like a caged cat - eyes flashing with a growing anger - an anger that could scare the hell out of a twelve year old kid. Vin studied him. He moved with a heavy authority, a practiced carriage. His hands were massive and his fingers curled into tight fists. The muscle at his jaw flexed as he grit his teeth. He was coiled and ready to strike at the first thing he came in contact with.

And that wouldn't be JD. Vin would make sure of that.

"What are you looking at?!" The big man exploded.

Vin cocked an eyebrow and stood up, looking him up and down. His voice remained low and steady.

"Nothing . . ."


This is crazy, Buck thought as he started throwing his clothes onto his bed. He had left JD to finish packing and to try to come up with a plan. What did the kid think he was gonna find? He didn't have any idea where to begin looking.

Buck would help him, though. Truth be told, he was more concerned with keeping the kid away from that Adams man than he was with this quest.

Who the hell was this guy? What had he done to the kid? Why had JD been afraid of him? Buck clenched his teeth. He and Chris could get to the bottom of this. Just give them a few minutes with Adams and there'd be no more problem. When he found out, he'd beat the living hell out of Grayland Adams. Chris and the others would have to wait in line. Somehow thinking about exacting revenge on that sorry son of a bitch made Buck feel better. At least it gave him a place to direct his fury.

God, Buck you sound like one of the kid's dime store novels. He smiled sadly. Poor kid. Why couldn't things just work out for him for once?

He shook his head. He had to stay clear-headed if he was going to help the kid. He looked under his mattress to see what his money situation looked like.

Good. He had enough to get him and JD through a couple of weeks.

What if Adams were who he claimed to be? As far as Buck was concerned, if he were the kid's father, he'd as soon JD never find out. Buck threw a shirt into his knapsack. Adams didn't care about the kid. He wouldn't be any kind of family for him. Besides, JD had a family now.

Buck opened a drawer and cussed. Why did he never have clean underwear? It seemed that everytime he opened his chest of drawers, he'd run out of something. Last week it was shirts. And today when he was trying to pack for a journey, he had no underwear. Well, he'd just rinse some out tonight and talk JD into leaving in the morning.

He couldn't know that JD would be long gone by then.


Ezra Standish hadn't eaten much lunch. Somehow he didn't have an appetite. He was walking toward the telegraph office.

Even before the idea came to him.

Oh, he would indeed check out the validity of the papers the man had waved about. But Ezra wanted more than that. There was something about that man - bad enough that he had a personal vendetta against JD - but there was something else. Something almost evil. This man wasn't an opportunist. Ezra would at least understand that. No, this man seemed intent on breaking the boy. And the gambler could not stand by and let him.

It was time to call in some favors.


He couldn't quite describe the weight on his chest, but JD felt it all the same. Scrambled, frightening thoughts clouded his mind. He remembered . . .

Abject fear.

Hurt, broken bones, never his face. Couldn't let his mother see. Couldn't tell her. He never hit him in the face.

An evil man. A man his mother would never have . . .

Well, she never would have been with him. JD studied his picture of her. No. She wouldn't have done what he'd said.

His heart ached with missing her. He'd loved her so much.

And because he loved so much, he also hated. And that scared him. He 'd experienced anger, fear, annoyance, but never hatred.

Until now.

Until this man - who had made his vulnerable childhood a living hell - dared to speak ill of his mother.

Rage coursed through his veins as the horrible thought occurred to him.

What if Adams were his father? That would only be true if he had . . .

Forced himself . . .

JD's heart pounded in his chest and his eyes became cold. If this man were his father, then he had hurt his mother.

JD slipped his colts into their holsters, and grabbed his hat.

He paused, looking at the bowler.

Damn hat! Damn those stupid novels!

Suddenly, he felt like a fool for believing he could be anything like his idol. He threw the hat across the room, and bolted out, not bothering to close the door behind him.


Maybe it was his audacity. Or his smugness.

Maybe it was that he seemed to enjoy tormenting the kid.

Whatever it was, Chris Larabee couldn't stand this man. And he needed to think of some way to keep him out of Four Corners and away from JD. He couldn't keep him in jail forever.

Maybe he'd just shoot him, he thought wryly. He sometimes wished he weren't so ethical. It'd be easier to just level the guy.

He headed to the jail. Vin had been there for a couple of hours. Maybe he'd thought of something.

But someone was walking ahead of him toward the jail - with great purpose. Aw, hell, kid. What are you doing?

"JD!" he called. The boy spun around, surprised. He waited nervously until Chris caught up with him.

"Don't try to stop me, Chris." His voice was low and almost ominous.

"What will killing him do?"

"He hurt my mother . . ."

"You don't know that."

JD bristled. "If you're saying that my mother. . ."

"I ain't suggesting anything of the kind, JD. But he may not even be your father." Chris' voice was steady. "If you go in there and shoot him and he's lyin', you've still thrown your whole life away." Chris bit the tip of a cheroot and squinted at the boy. "He don't strike me as worth it."

The kid looked . . . defeated almost. Chris avoided any sentimentalism. He resisted the temptation to put a reassuring hand on the boy's shoulder. Sometimes the boy's pride was the only thing he had going for him. It could also be the thing that would kill him one day. If JD was going to get through this, he would have to feel strong. Otherwise, Grayland Adams would gain the upper hand.

And Chris would be damned if he'd let that happen.

"Ezra's checking out some of his 'claims' and I figured Vin and I could ask Mr. Adams some direct questions." Chris's intentions were clear. He'd muscle the answers out of the man if necessary. "Why don't you wait for me?"

"Buck and I are going east to find our own answers."

Buck had told Chris about this. "Well, just hold off on leaving til we find out what Ezra comes up with. And what me and Vin find out."

JD's sensitive hazel eyes searched the gunslinger's steady blue ones. Chris could see the trust that registered there. JD nodded, then lowered his gaze. Chris realized that JD didn't want Chris to see how much pain he was feeling. Long dark lashes hid the eyes that told too much. For a moment, Chris felt like his own son stood before him.

"You eaten yet?"

"Huh?" JD was startled from his thoughts.

"Go get some supper. We'll come over and tell you what we find out. Then you can tell us what you want to do."

JD sighed heavily. "Yea. All right."

Chris nodded, and started toward the jail.

"Mr. Larabee?"

Chris turned back toward the kid.

"Thank you."

Chris tipped his hat to the boy and watched as he went to the cafe.

"You're welcome, son," the gunslinger breathed. "You're welcome."


Mary Travis locked the Clarion and eyed the street. Not too busy, but there were whisperings around the jail. She resisted the temptation to check out the new prisoner. Chris would tell her.

She realized again how heavily the heat hung in late afternoon, and she mindlessly tied her hair back. She started for the telegraph office - only to be nearly run over by Ezra Standish.

"Oh . . . " He elegantly caught her elbow. "Please forgive me, Mrs. Travis. Are you all right?"

"Yes," she answered absently. "Mr. Standish, has something happened?"

The gambler frowned, then looked around. "Could we speak privately?"

"The Clarion?"

"That would be ideal." Ezra rested an easy hand on Mary's back, as they went back to the office. Mary unlocked the door and, once inside, Ezra had her lock it back.

Ezra's eyes questioned her a bit. "You must promise that you will not print anything until this matter is resolved."

"Mr. Standish, the people have a right . . ."

Ezra turned quickly to the door. "Then our conversation is over . . ."

"Wait!" Mary grabbed his arm. "Wait. I'm sorry. I won't print anything."

Ezra challenged her. "Do I have your word?"

"Yes," Mary's low voice and intense eyes reassured him.

She sat at the desk and listened to the account of the day's events. Not even realizing how dark the room was becoming in the early evening. Then, she listened, almost calculatingly, as Ezra, tightlipped, read the telegram to her.

"Why don't you incarcerate JD? For his own protection?" she suggested.

"That will only be a stopgap measure. If this is true, we have to relinquish him to that . . . ogre."

"Surely a fair judge won't send a boy to a man who is intent on harming him?"

"Well, Mrs. Travis, not every judge is fair."

And Ezra left, pondering his options.

Mary returned to the telegraph office to wire for her own kind of help.


JD's foot bounced nervously. Where was everybody? Nobody was at the saloon. Nobody had come in for supper yet. But Chris had told him to wait for him.

And he trusted Chris.

The sweet woman had already brought him an extra piece of pie - for free, she'd said, because he reminded her of a boy . . .

Did he want more lemonade?


He'd been staring out the window at the familiar town, the town that had become dear to him.

And also at a world that had come down around his ears.

"More lemonade?" Her face was kind, but her eyes . . . they were troubled. Apprehensive? She kept watching the door. They were the only ones in there.

She took his old glass and put a new glass in front of him.

Later he would kick himself for not noticing that she didn't bring the pitcher out for a refill like she had before.

He stared out the window, drinking absently. Where was everyone? Why hadn't Chris come back? It must really be late. So tired. He was so tired.

Why was everything . . . fuzzy? His eyes grew wide. Something was wrong. Very wrong. He tried to turn his head, but his neck was strangely stiff. And his head pounded.

"Are you all right, young man?"

Who was that? Oh, the lemonade lady. He gathered his strength before answering her. The last thing he remembered after saying, "No ma'am," was being lifted roughly out of the chair and everything going black.


"You can't do that, Chris!" Buck yelled, kicking the dirt under his feet. "God only knows what that sick . . . bastard has done to that boy. If we just hand him over . . ."

"The boy will be a slave to him." Everyone turned to look at Nathan.

Nathan, Josiah and Buck had joined Vin and Chris beside the jail. Ezra had delivered the telegram to them and was now watching the prisoner.

Josiah nodded. "That'll break his spirit." The big man walked over to Chris. "We can't let that happen. We can't let JD anywhere near him."

Chris' voice was low. "Of course we can't."

"What the hell are you . . ."

Chris interrupted Buck. "The only thing the judge requires is that we release him. We don't have the authority to force JD into his custody."

A voice boomed from the jail. "I have the authority . . ."

Ezra's voice boomed back. "Sir, you are bordering on disturbing the peace. Now shut the hell up."

Vin had to smile at Ezra's atypical outburst. Chris motioned his friends away from the jail. He had a plan.


Mary Travis sat at a table in the cafe, watching out the window. She sighed. Where was everybody? She didn't notice the approach of the nervous woman.

"What can I get for you?" the server repeated. Mary turned to her and smiled her apology.

"I'm sorry. I'm a bit distracted." She thought a moment. "I'll just have the special.

The woman in the apron looked over her shoulder. What was the "special"? She looked down to her hands, which trembled a bit.

Mary touched her arm. "Could I just have a bowl of soup?"

The woman looked relieved. "Soup! Yes ma'am." She nodded, then scurried away.

Mary's eyes followed her to the kitchen. Where was she from? When had she gotten to town?

She turned back to the window and watched the street. Some folks were headed to the saloon. There was no sign of the peacekeepers. She wished one would come by. She had so many questions.

She also had one answer. Orin Travis would be in Four Corners on the noon stage tomorrow. He knew every judge in this part of the country, and probably knew many from other parts of the country. Even if this judge were legitimate, at least Judge Travis would argue on the boy's behalf. Travis would never let a boy be returned to an environment in which he had been harmed in any way. She sighed again.

Come on, Chris.


Grayland Adams stepped out of the jailhouse - cussing over the lost time and thundering down to the livery. He wouldn't be able to go anywhere tonight - certainly not with the kid. His damn babysitters had probably whisked him off somewhere. If only Magda could get one thing right. She at least should have set the meeting with the boy.

The big man took a step into the livery and felt strong arms grab him, dragging him out the back door. The man with the moustache - the one who'd left earlier with the kid - slammed him into the wall.

Six men faced him. Hard eyes challenged him. For a moment he thought they would beat him up. They could certainly kill him.


Magda pulled the apron over her head and tossed it to a chair in the kitchen. It slid to the floor.

No matter. There was no time. She had to leave. Her lip quivered as she thought of the boy. She hated this. But, she had no choice, she reminded herself. She slipped out the back door, and into the night.


Buck was glad to see the flicker of fear in Grayland Adams eyes - fear he knew JD had felt many times as a kid.

Chris Larabee approached the man. He was so casual, and somehow that was all the more menacing. "Stay clear of the kid. Don't talk to him. Don't contact him."

Vin crossed in front of Chris and got in the man's face. "Why don't you head out of town? You can make Southridge in under an hour."

"Gentlemen, I do have legal custody."

Ezra shook his. "No sir. You do not. The only instruction we were given by Judge Robert Loomis was to free you from your incarceration. The boy will not be delivered into your custody until Judge Loomis speaks to your . . ." Ezra pulled out the "court order" Adams had brought with him. ". . . Mr. MacGregor. One or both of the judges will come to Four Corners day after tomorrow and you may restate your claim at that time."

Adams' eyes narrowed. "I am within my rights . .."

Buck crowded next to him. "You don't lay a hand on him." Adams didn't respond, but a slight grin crossed his face. Buck grabbed a handful of shirt and shoved him back into the wall. Buck's voice was little more than a growl. "You touch him - and I'll kill you. You understand me?"

Adams nodded.

Chris lightly touched Buck's arm, and his friend slowly backed away.

Chris maintained his casual attitude. "If you so much as speak to JD Dunne, you will have six bullets to deal with. Are we clear?"

Again, Adams nodded. Chris slowly backed out of the man's way. Buck and Vin moved as well. But just as Adams was about to reinter the livery, Josiah Sanchez blocked his path. He didn't say anything. After a long uncomfortable moment, Adams walked around the preacher and disappeared into the livery.

"Let's get JD." Chris immediately barked instructions. "Buck, you take JD in the morning, but check back the next morning. Josiah, you and Nathan keep an eye on Adams. Ezra . . ."

"I'll follow up on my leads."

Chris nodded at him. Josiah headed to the church, Nathan to his infirmary. Both had a good view of Mr. Adams' actions from those vantage points.

"Where's JD?" Vin asked.

"Cafe." Chris' answer was terse. He nodded to Vin and Buck. "Come on."


Mary glanced back to the kitchen. Where was her soup? Surely it didn't take that long to ladle some soup into a bowl. She was about to go find her server, when another glance outside showed that Chris, Vin and Buck were coming to the cafe. She felt strangely relieved.

As she waited for them, another strange thought occured to her.

She'd never gotten her lemonade.

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