Chris Larabee scanned the landscape around the opening of the pass with a practiced eye. No action yet. No Grayland Adams, and no Nathan Jackson. But Chris knew Nathan was there, ocross the rocky slopes from him. He pulled out his silver medallion and held it until it caught the sun. Then, he sent the message.
He waited for about a minute, during which time he realized--he was damn hungry. He frowned and reached down into his saddlebag for . . . well, anything. But his eyes never left the rock face. He fumbled awkwardly, angling sideways to reach down further. Damn.
Ah, Nathan. Good. Chris read the short message that said everything.
Adams had arrived and ridden into the gap. Before Chris could ask, Nathan signalled back.
Chris smiled. They'd know soon if the man had bought the deception. Chris could now look into his saddlebag for some hardtack. Why didn't he ever think about food when he left to go on the trail of some outlaw? He got so caught up in the mission that regular needs of life lost all priority. Well, except water. Chris had been in enough tough situations on the trail that he never went anywhere without water. He took a long drink as he pondered his lack of food. That might ward off the wrenching hunger. Besides, Nathan would have something. He always came prepared.
Hoofbeats. Someone was riding hard. Chris watched the gap and within seconds, Grayland Adams came thundering out of the pass. Which way would he travel, now that the pass wasn't an option?
Ezra looked out at the road leading out of town. The afternoon was unbearably quiet and all he could do was wonder what in the hell was going on. He figured Josiah was doing the same at the church. They might as well worry together. He didn't even notice the glass of whiskey he still held in his hand as he crossed the empty street and stepped into the church.
"Ezra!" Josiah said, not even looking up at his friend's approach. "What brings you to the house of God this afternoon?"
The gambler didn't answer. He was trying to take in what Josiah was working on. Clearly he wasn't making improvements on the church. Ezra sat down on a pew across from the preacher and watched Josiah as he took the clip apart, studying the way the magnificent repeater rifle worked. Ezra frowned.
"This is not the place I would expect a man of God to study a weapon of war."
"This is not the place I would expect a sinner to engage in the 'imbibing' of devil water." Josiah never missed a beat in his mockery. Ezra looked down at the glass in his hand and grinned.
"You make an excellent point, Mr. Sanchez."
Ezra took a sip of his drink and watched Josiah's handling of the parts which made up this state of the art piece of weaponry. "Dear God, who would have thought one man would ever need to fire twelve shots in one minute?"
"War is a strange catalyst for invention," Josiah commented.
Vin Tanner tied the man's wrists tightly and dragged him away from where Buck was tending to JD. He was not satisfied with the vague information the man had given him, Lucas having sworn ignorance about Grayland Adams and his intentions. But Vin would find out the truth.
Once they got out of JD's earshot, Vin shoved Lucas to the ground and, gun trained on him, pulled the prisoner's boots off.
"What the hell are you doing?!!!" Lucas cried.
"Disarming you," Vin hissed. He rubbed a thumb over the metal toe of the boot.
Blood . . .
Vin angrily placed the barrel of the gun between Lucas' eyes. "How could you kick a kid like that who's tied up and blindfolded? He couldn't do anything to you."
"He cost us a day's ride, and damn near cost us a fortune. If he'd gotten himself killed, we'd all been up a creek."
Vin listened, incredulous, as the man talked about his friend as though he were some kind of livestock or something. "He's a kid, for crying out loud."
"A kid worth lots of money to Grayland Adams."
"For what?" Vin cried.
"I don't know!!" Lucas yelled. 'None of us do."
"Then why'd you agree to kidnap him."
"It's his own son. It ain't kidnapping."
This was getting them nowhere. "Would he want you hurting his son like this?" Vin shoved the boot in Lucas' face.
"Hell, he's done lots worse to him."
In a rage, Vin leaned over him. "Why don't I just blow your f***ing head off?"
"'Cause then you can't find anything out about Grayland Adams."
In one swift move, Vin swung his rifle around and connected the butt of it with Lucas' jaw.
"We have JD now. We'll keep him safe. And, as much as I want to find Adams and take him down, I can find out what I need from somebody else. So don't think your life is all that precious to me right now. You'd best cooperate. That's the only thing that will keep you alive."
Lucas was dazed, his mouth bleeding, but he wasn't deterred. "Adams will get his boy. Nothing you do will change that. You think you can protect him?"
With gentle hands, Buck eased the ropes off of his friend's wrsts and ankles. JD kept his eyes closed. He had settled into a fearful silence. Buck didn't push him. Except for the arm and the ribs, JD was in pretty good shape. His body would mend quickly.
But his soul? That was something else entirely. What was this Adams thing about? Whywas JD so terrified of him? Buck kept close watch as the kid rested on the pallet Buck had made for him. The poor boy was exhausted. He'd been out here for several hours and then got beaten up for his trouble. If that wasn't enough, Buck figured that there was some leftover poison in his system.
"I'll get you home, kid," he said softly as he reached into the saddle bag for water. At least he and Vin had had the foresight to keep from drinking up too much of the supply. Buck sat down beside his friend.
"You need to drink something," Buck said. JD squinted up at him and nodded. He started to sit up with a groan. Buck slipped a strong arm behind him and eased him up. JD drank, slowly at first, then started gulping.
"Easy . . ." Buck said, reluctantly pulling it away from him. "You won't keep it down . . ."
He almost didn't, but he was able to fight the nausea.
Buck helped him lie back down. "You ok now?"
JD nodded and closed his eyes. Buck started to get up, but he felt JD's hand grab his arm.
"I really am all right, Buck."
For the first time since he and Vin had found the kid, Buck smiled.
Grayland Adams rode his horse hard to the west of the rock formation. Nathan waited before following him, so as not to alert him to his being followed. Adams was making up for lost time and Nathan wondered if any of their horses would be able to maintain that pace all afternoon. Looked like he was heading toward Yuma. He calculated the towns between where they were and Yuma. They were a long way from anywhere unless they turned around and went back to Four Corners. The meet had to be somewhere in the desert. Nathan glanced back over his shoulder, knowing Chris would be close behind him.
He hoped against hope that Buck and Vin had found JD, because their horses wouldn't have the steam to make a fast getaway with the kid. He hoped Chris had a plan, because it was looking bleak. Adams rode like a crazy man, and they were having to ride their horses into a lather just to keep up.
The late sun meant there would be no long travel for JD. He'd had a tough enough day. So Buck and Vin decided to head for the little grove of trees they'd seen earlier and make camp. By sunset, there was a low campfire and JD had fallen asleep beside it. Vin had bound Lucas hand and foot and deposited him on the other side. Then he took off to find food. Buck sat near JD, coaxing him to drink water periodically, and keeping an eye on their prisoner. He hated the man. He hated the smirk on his face, the sarcasm in his voice, and the certainty he expressed when he talked about Adams. And he hated the effect he had on JD. Not just the beating, but Lucas seemed to be an extension of Adams himself.
And JD was afraid.
Well thank God he was asleep. Maybe he could have a little peace.
Come on, Vin. What was taking him so damn long? The urge was coming upon him, and he needed to make a little trip to relieve himself.
"Damn . . . " he muttered.
"What . . ."
Buck patted JD on his good shoulder. "Go back to sleep, kid. It's ok."
Clear hazel eyes looked up at him. "What's wrong?"
Buck laughed. "Nothin'--just the call of nature."
"Vin'll be here in a minute then I'll go."
"Buck, your eyes are floating. Go on. I'm all right."
Buck wiggled uncomfortably, then stood up. "OK. I'll be right over there." He pointed to a little stand of trees nearby. "Call me if you need me."
JD closed his eyes, sleepy again. "I will--just go, before you have an accident all over me."
Buck left, chuckling. It was good to hear JD sound like himself.
"Don't think for a minute that this is over."
JD's eyes shot open, but he didn't say anything.
"You can't hide from him, you know that. And your guys--they aren't gonna be able to watch you every minute."
JD still said nothing, but slowly pulled himself up, trembling. He wished Buck and Vin were closer. Buck'd said for him to call if he needed anything, but this guy couldn't hurt him--he was tied up, for crying out loud. Get yourself together, JD.
Well, he couldn't hurt his body.
But he could hurt his heart.
"Gray told me . . what you did." The man's voice grew more menacing and JD felt a familiar fear. "He told me . . . what you were. . ."
The boy's eyes shot up at the prisoner. Remembered fear.
"He told me everything about you." Lucas looked at him with a knowledge that could destroy him. "Maybe you could tell me . . . alone, maybe . . ."
"Shut up," JD whispered, wishing he sounded more threatening . . . but he just sounded . . . weak.
Lucas never let up. "How about your gunslinging pals? Have you told them? Do they know they ride with an arsonist?" He chuckled, pushing the kid further. "I guess you wouldn't care so much if they knew that. . ." JD turned away and stared into the campfire, old tears returning. If his new friends found out about his old life . . .
He squeezed his eyes tightly closed. No, that wouldn't happen. It couldn't . . . His good hand tightened into a fist and he couldn't stop shaking.
Lucas chuckled. "I guess the apple don't fall far from the tree . . ."
Don't say it. Don't say it. JD could feel the rage surge into his throat. Don't say it.
"Guess we couldn't expect any different from a boy whose mama was a . . ."
"NO!!!!!" the kid roared and he sprang at the prisoner. He reared back and hit Lucas. "You didn't know her . . ." the kid screamed, holding the man by the collar. "You didn't know her at all . . ."
JD didn't know that Lucas had cut his ropes, so he wasn't ready when Lucas flipped him onto his back.
"You f***ed with the wrong guy," and with that, Lucas drove the short blade into JD's hand.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!"JD screamed, writhing in pain. "Oh, God."
"JD?!!!!" Buck cried, running up, rifle drawn. But he froze when he reached the little campsite.
"Put your gun down," Lucas said. He jerked JD up, the knife still in his hand, and the kid cried out. "Please, Buck . . ."
"It's ok." Buck held the rifle out and, moving very slowly, he lay it on the ground.
Lucas frowned. "Now we've got a whole day's ride to make up. But at least I'll have someone to blame."
In the light of the fire, Buck saw JD's eyes roll back.
And so did Vin.
And when the boy collapsed, Vin put a bullet between Lucas' eyes.