Return of the Remembered - Part Seven

"G**damnit! Where the hell is he?!" The wiry man driving the wagon turned to see the other man crawling around the back, screaming obscenities. Magda bit her lip.

"How could he go anywhere?" the wiry man asked. "He was tied up."

"Well, do you see him?"

Magda's voice trembled. "Mr. Adams is going to be very angry."

The driver cut his eyes over to her. "Mr. Adams is never gonna know." He turned around. "Lucas, take the paint and go back and find him. He couldn't have gotten far."

Lucas cursed and grabbed a knife and a shotgun. Magda grabbed his arm as he went by. "Please, don't hurt the boy."

"If he'd stayed in the g**damn wagon, we wouldn't even have to talk about it, would we?" He walked on up and tossed his saddle on the back of the paint.

"You get him back," the driver said, he looked around, thinking. "I'll . . . change that wheel out. At least we'll have an excuse for being late for the meet." The driver spoke more softly. "And make it clear to the kid not to screw around with us again."

Lucas nodded and rode off.


Chris Larabee crested the ridge and frowned as he scanned the valley. JD was out there somewhere and so was a man he was deathly afraid of. There were "good guys" out to rescue the boy and keep him safe and "bad guys" who wanted to return him to Grayland Adams. It was a chess game, only no one knew where the other players were. And there were no rules. There was only right and wrong.

Dead wrong.

Sometime in the course of events, Chris had committed himself to overcoming evil. He couldn't tell just when, but he had some idea of why. And since he'd taken a stand, he had seen firsthand many of the evils one person could inflict on another. It always made him angry.

But when evil touched an innocent, it made him insane.

And JD Dunne was an innocent. As much as JD wanted to be the tough gunslinger, he still had a tender heart. In many ways, he was just a boy--a boy who had clearly suffered more than Chris had realized. Well, Chris Larabee would do whatever he could to make it right for him. And he would lay down his life to protect him.

If only he could find him. . .


"How far could he have gotten?" Buck Wilmington was becoming very impatient.

"Not far." Vin's voice was calm, but he wasn't. The tracks were becoming harder to find. The wind was picking up and blowing away what little trail there was.

Buck was leading Vin's horse, and looking for a place to rest both of the hard-ridden animals. He could see a stand of trees just west.

"Would he have tried to make it there?" Buck asked, pointing.

Vin looked, then frowned. "He should have," he said. "That would have been the sensible thing to do, but he isn't really going in any particular direction."

The realization hit Buck like a dead weight and his voice became thick. "He's blindfolded, isn't he?"

"Seems like it." Vin paused and he glanced at the tall gunslinger. Buck was nearly shaking with rage and he would be no good to anyone that way. "Why don't you take the horses over there? We'll head into that rocky scrub on foot. For a little while anyway."

Reluctantly Buck nodded and started off. But Vin's voice stopped him. "Look!" He pointed.

A rider on a paint was galloping across the rocky plain toward them. But as he grew nearer, they could tell that the rider wasn't heading directly for them. He was veering a bit to the west. Vin brought his spyglass to his eye and looked. The rider rode furiously then drew up short. He swung off his horse, and kicked at something. Over and over. Vin couldn't see what it was.

But he had a good idea.

"Come on," Vin growled, grabbing his weapon and hopping up onto his horse, Buck on his heels.


Everything he tried seemed futile. He had no idea where he was. He couldn't see anything. His arm hurt. He was just wearing himself out but why? What good did was it doing?

Riding with the guys had really been too good to be true. He'd been a real "hired gun" like in the books he'd read. But that was too good to last.

Lying in the wilderness bound hand and foot and blindfolded. This was what his life really should be. It was more like his past anyway.

His stomach growled. He was hungry. Well, good. That would take his mind off of his thirst. If he were free, he'd know how to find food and water. The guys had taught him so much: how to defend himself, how to survive in the wilderness, how to be an honorable man. But this particular situation had never come up. JD made himself concentrate. What would Vin tell him to do? His hands still bound behind his back, he touched the ground and noticed the dirt was sandy. There seemed to be very little foliage. He could feel jagged pebbles. He had to be pretty far out of Four Corners. He tried to think--but nothing was coming.

What do I do, Vin? Oh, God, Vin help me. He pulled himself a little farther along. Somebody . . .

He couldn't afford to be terrified. He had to keep his thoughts clear. If only he felt better. He probably had fever. Nathan said if someone broke a bone, he usually ran fever. That was the body's way of keeping infection from setting in.

What if he died out here? What if nobody found him and some coyote came by and finished him off? What if he got snakebit? He didn't want to give in to his fear.

But he did anyway.


That stupid shit kid. Lucas was hot and dusty and he was about to have Grayland Adams breathing down his neck. All this because the kid jumped out of the wagon. That stupid kid. Where did he think he was going anyway? How far did he think he was going to get?

Lucas retraced the trail. Waste of time. Stupid waste of time. He was driving the horse pretty hard and made himself slow down. It'd do no good to wear the animal out on the first leg of the trip - not when the horse would pull double duty on the way back carrying the boy too. He was starting to wonder if maybe he'd missed him. Until he caught sight of the dusty figure on the ground maybe one hundred yards from the trail.

"Hyah!" he cried, urging his horse off the trail and into the craggy wasteland. This was a stroke of good luck. He may make it back in time for Adams after all.


JD woke up to the sound of hoofbeats. How long had he been sleeping? Wake up! His head was pounding. He tried to open his eyes but . . . that's right, he was blindfolded. Hoofbeats closer. He knew the voice screaming at him and he wished he could protect himself, but he couldn't. Oh, God, they'd found him. He curled up as tightly as he could and waited. For a moment, he thought the rider would run right over him. He heard the horse whinny as it stopped.




He tried to curl up tighter yet, but he couldn't stop the metal-toed boot from connecting with his ribs. The attack he couldn't see drove all breath from his body. And he couldn't recover his breath, because there was another kick and another. He could hear the man cussing, but it seemed to grow distant.

Finally the man reached down to secure the ropes and tighten them. During the respite, air rushed into the boy's lungs and he coughed.

"You will never make a move like that again, you got that, boy?"

As he said it, the man jerked him up by JD's hurt arm.

And the kid screamed.


Nathan Jackson watched as the big man approached the pass. The shape of the gap itself had made the sabotage much easier. A rider would be in the middle of the pass, and find that the pass veered sharply to the left. Nathan had blocked the gap at its narrowest point, creating the illusion that there had been an avalanche. It would buy twice as much time--allowing the rider to make it almost completely through the pass and then requiring the rider to double back to take a long way around.

He just hoped Grayland Adams wouldn't try to clear the passage--that he would just accept the appearance of the avalanche. If he tried to clear it, he would realize very soon that it had been a ruse.

Nathan said a prayer as he watched Grayland Adams disappeared into the narrow pass.


They both heard JD scream. Vin motioned to Buck and peeled away toward some low brush. As Buck rode on, Vin left his horse there and ran on the light feet of one who had lived among the indians. He stole around behind the man who was assaulting his friend. Buck, on the other hand, rode toward them like a bat out of hell.


"Shut the f*** up!!!"

Lucas had grabbed a handful of the kid's shirtcollar. With a heave, he pulled JD to his feet. Tied up as he was, the boy couldn't balance and fell back to his knees. That earned him another kick.

Thundering hoofbeats. JD's captor peered toward the sound. "G**damnit!" he cried. His eyes were wild with anger. "You f***ing little shit!" he screamed. He drew his pistol.

There was a moustached man approaching him from the front, looking like the devil himself. But Lucas never heard the stealthy footsteps coming up behind him.

Lucas aimed his weapon at the boy's head and faced the devil. "Turn around and ride outa here."

"Not without the kid."

JD knew that voice. "Buck?" he asked, his voice strangely hoarse.

Lucas reached back to strike the boy, but a hand caught his arm. At the same time, Lucas felt the barrel of a shotgun at the base of his skull. "Back away from him . . ." Vin Tanner breathed. A long moment passed with Lucas' gun trained on JD and Vin's shotgun trained on Lucas. A stalemate. Lucas had to decide if he were more afraid of the guns trained on him or of the wrath of Grayland Adams. Well, if he surrendered, at least he could share the blame of losing the boy with the others in the wagon. If he were dead, he couldn't share the blame with anyone. Lucas dropped his weapon.

Suddenly, everything seemed to happen at once.

The man who'd come up from behind tossed him to the ground roughly.

And the moustached man turned all of his attention to the boy.

JD felt wildly disoriented. Who had dropped a weapon? Were his friends all right? His side hurt.

Buck knelt beside him, but JD jerked away.

"No . . ." his voice was little more than a whisper.

Buck backed off immediately. "JD . . ." He kept his voice steady. "It's Buck. Let me take the blindfold off, ok?"


"Yea, kid. It's me." Buck easily touched the boy's shoulder, but again JD pulled away . . . this time curling into himself completely.

Buck glanced up at the man. "What the hell did you do to him?"

Lucas kept his mouth shut. Buck's anger raged. He would have torn into the man, but a moan from JD drew his attention back.

"It's all right, son. You're all right." Buck drew a knife from his belt. "I'm gonna take the blindfold off now. Keep your eyes closed."

First Buck rested his hand on JD's neck and waited until the trembling eased. Then, he gently brought his hand up to the knot at the back of the kid's head and he started working the knot out, talking constantly. Finally, he lifted his knife to the cloth and finished loosening it. It slipped off easily.

JD gasped when the light hit his face and he ducked his head behind his good arm. After a long moment, he finally squinted up at Buck, then he closed his eyes and seemed to relax a bit.

"Where do you hurt?" Buck asked quietly.

"I think I broke my arm." JD almost smiled. "I fell out of the wagon."

Buck picked up on the humor immediately. "Well, JD, one of the first things I taught you was not to fall out of a wagon when you're tied up and blindfolded. Just tied up? OK. Go ahead and fall. Just blindfolded? Ok. But kid, not when you're tied up and blindfolded." As he spoke, Buck carefully cut the bonds from JD's arms and legs, then he examined the hurt arm. "Doesn't look too bad." JD looked at it himself and nodded. Buck started to help him up, but JD groaned and doubled over.

"What is it?" Buck asked anxiously, trying to support his friend.

"May . . . have a. . . busted rib or two." Now breathing was a major challenge. "Oh, God. . ."

"Easy, kid. Do you need to sit up?

JD couldn't answer. He gasped. His good hand flailed back to find Buck's.

"I got you, son." Buck's big hand gripped JD's. The boy leaned his less injured side against Buck's leg and his head dropped.

"Buck . . ." JD cried, fighting to breathe.

"You're gonna be all right, JD. Just try to relax. Relax your breathing, ok?"

The kid didn't answer, but he was trying to settle down.

Vin was tying up the prisoner and he looked over at Buck. "How is he?"

"Dunno yet. He can't breathe." Buck glared at the man lying at Vin's feet.

Vin picked up Lucas' foot, showing Buck the metal toe on the boot. "Yea, well, this fellow who likes to kick people who can't kick back . . . is gonna tell us everything about what's going on." And with that, Vin toed Lucas over onto his back and pressed his foot against his throat. "Ain't that right?"

"I ain't telling you a damn thing."

Vin cocked his shotgun and pressed it to Lucas' forehead. "Mister, I got nothing to lose. Killing you is no skin off my nose."

Buck continued to help JD, but he hollered over his shoulder. "Kill him slow, Vin. You'll get more outa him that way."

But it was JD who gave them the first information. "They were taking me to Gray," he said breathlessly. "They were supposed to meet up . . . somewhere. I was asleep a lot."

"They drugged you," Buck explained, and he helped the kid get into a more comfortable position.

Vin pressed his foot further into Lucas' neck. "Where were you meeting him?"

"Go to hell!"

Vin removed the shotgun from Lucas' head and aimed it . . . lower.

"Hey, man, get him off of me," Lucas cried. "He's f***ing crazy!"

Buck laughed. "Well, he's been called worse. But at least no one has ever lied about him." Buck smiled as the prisoner squirmed. "Word of advice? You'd best talk or start practicing singing treble."

JD's struggling voice interrupted. "He'd never sing . . . as good as Ezra, though."

Then JD fell forward, unconscious.

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