The Outlaws - Part Three

by the Desperado's Daughter


JD hurt. He woke up to an empty cell, sunlight flooding in the little high window. It had to be the middle of the day, he figured.

Where was Chris? JD’s eyes filled, and he hated that. It wasn’t the fear that bothered him so much. It wasn’t even the pain. It was his powerlessness to do anything to help his friend . . . or himself, for that matter.

He made a quick check of his injuries. As his pain became more defined, he remembered being shot. He ached under his arm, but his leg . . . it was on fire.

He recognized the material crudely wrapped around his lower leg. It was the shirt Chris had been wearing yesterday. Now it was saturated with blood. JD vaguely remembered Chris taking care of him in the wagon. But Chris had been hurt, too. Hadn’t he?

JD had never been squeamish at the sight of blood, but as he unwrapped the bandage, he could tell that his leg looked really bad. It nauseated him. He lay his head back against the wall. He needed help, but that wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

He couldn’t decide whether or not he wanted company. Company could help him, or they could hurt him. And he didn’t think he could take any new hurts.

It didn’t matter whether or not he wanted company, the door suddenly flew open and two of the men from the wagon appeared. He felt his heart race and, instinctively, he pushed away from them. They came into the little cell and closed the door behind them.

“What do you want?” JD wished he could keep the fear out of his voice, but he kept remembering the warning from his cellmate last night.

Neither man answered. They just grinned.

Then one pulled out a glistening blade.


The blindfold was tight over Chris’ eyes, but it didn’t bother him as much as the fresh rope around his still hurting wrists. Rough hands pushed him along.

“What’s going on?”

“You don’t need to know that.” The pause was pure drama. “Inmate 78.”

Chris still didn’t know that voice. “You called me that last night. What did you do at the prison?”

“I was an inmate.” The hands halted him a moment. “Stairs--we’re going up.”

“Where are you taking me?”

“You ask too damn many questions.”

Chris thought about taking the opportunity to kick his captor down the stairs, but if he did, someone could retaliate against JD.

“Where’s the kid?” Chris asked.

They had reached the top of the stairs and the sounds of the asylum were becoming fainter.

“You’re a little too fond of him, wouldn’t you say?”

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

Chris was shoved through a door and he realized he was outside--the heat of the sun on his face. He stumbled down a little step and onto a dirt road. There were voices, and suddenly the blindfold was removed. Chris squinted in the blazing sunlight. They were in a town--if it was big enough to even call it that.

“Where’s the boy?” Chris’ voice was harder now.

“Making friends,” came the answer and Chris slammed his shoulder into the man, then put a foot in the man’s chest.

“You better not be meaning what I think you are,” he hissed.

The man on the ground pointed a gun at Chris’ chest. “Let me up or you’ll never be able to help him again.”

Before Chris *could* let him up, two men approached him from either side and pulled him off. One of them wore a badge.

“Come on, mister,” the sheriff said. Then he turned to the man on the ground. “You all right, Clif?”

Chris tossed the name around. Clif, from prison. It was in his brain somewhere, but he couldn’t recall it yet.

Clif looked like he’d seen a ghost. “You weren’t supposed to be back for another week,” he said as he got up.

“Well, the sheriff at Eagle Bend had already taken care of everything, so I got to come home early.” The sheriff led Chris to the jail. Clif followed, bewildered. “What’s he done?” the sheriff asked, then a grin crossed his face, “. . . other than assaulting you?”

“Uh, he’s . . . an escaped convict from over to Yuma Prison.”

“Huh, well, I’ll lock him up until we can get the judge here.”

“Uh, thanks, but I can do it.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m heading that way.”

Chris decided that Clif looked like the cat that swallowed the canary. Maybe Chris could make some headway with the sheriff. It was worth a try. There was no telling what was happening to JD and he knew they didn’t have much time.


Nathan finished his examination of the second corpse and stood up, wiping his hands on his pants. Both bodies were laid side by side at the bottom of a rocky slope. He shook his head.

“I think . . . these wounds are from a Colt,” he said. Nathan turned sad eyes to Buck. “JD likely had to kill ‘em”

Buck’s jaw tightened. “Then . . . Chris must be dead.”

“How you figure?” Josiah asked.

“Because I know Chris, and he’d never let JD have to kill unless he couldn’t himself.”

Vin nodded in agreement. “JD must’ve been over on that ridge on the other side.” There was no sign of anyone over there anymore. He started looking around the ground. The others watched him closely.

“Looks like Chris . . .went up this side . . . “he said finally.

Nathan followed his gaze. “Then, these two must’ve ambushed Chris.”

“And JD picked them off,” Buck finished for him. He blinked hard. “Damn.”

Nathan looked back at Buck. “Why don’t you wait down here. Josiah and I will check this side--Vin, you and Ezra go over to the other side. Check out that ridge.”

Buck was almost shaking. “No, Nathan. If Chris is up there, I need go. You don’t got to protect me.”

Nathan nodded and squeezed his friend’s neck and walked with Buck up his own personal Calvary.



The sheriff couldn't help him if Chris couldn't talk to him without Clif, and Clif wasn't as stupid as he looked. The minute the sheriff stepped out of the jailhouse, Clif whispered to Chris, "You just remember. I got your boy."

Chris whispered back, "You just remember. You or any of your men touch that boy, I will f***ing kill you."



Screaming so hard it quit feeling like him screaming.

Shackles on his wrists. Shackled to a metal bar.

Shackles on his ankles.

And unbearable pain. Excruciating pain.



“What’d’ya got?” Buck asked as he met Vin and Ezra at the base of the slope.

“Blood. Pretty fresh,” Vin said, then he added quickly. “Can’t prove it’s JD’s, though.”

“But . . .” Buck prompted.

“But I saw his footprints going up the side . . . “

“How do you know they’re his?” Ezra asked.

Vin smiled sadly. “His boots have that worn place on the right foot. Remember Nathan, you kept bugging him to get new ones?”


“Well, there’s no footprints coming down.” Vin’s answer was chilling.

Josiah tried, “Maybe Chris carried him down.”

Nobody really believed that, but at least they hadn’t found them dead.



The clank of shackles falling off wrists.

Unfamiliar arms lifting him--roughly.

Carrying him.

Consciousness. Excruciating.





The afternoon ride was hard, and Josiah believed that Buck would have run the horses to death if Vin hadn’t insisted they stop to at least water them. Buck was getting so agitated--too agitated. And yet, Buck would pull it together when he had to. He’d be cool-headed, smart and lethal if it came to that, but in the meantime, he’d drive his friends crazy.

They were all worried. Josiah went over to where Vin was studying the tracks ahead. The tracker was suffering--but he was doing his job. Josiah was ready to offer some kind of comfort when Vin spoke.

“This is too easy,” Vin said, his brows knit, puzzled. “Either we’re being set up, or these guys don’t anticipate anybody following at all.”

“What’s your gut feeling?”

“I think they don’t know what they’re doing. If this were a set-up, they’d never be this obvious about it. I mean look at the tracks. They’re too clear--too thorough. It’s not like someone dropped a clue here or there.”

Footsteps running up.


“Gentlemen, you’ve gotta see this . . . come on.” He trotted on ahead and around a curve. Josiah and Vin followed and stopped short at the sight ahead of them.



Sunlight and warmth on his face urged him awake. Fear and intense pain urged him back to unconsciousness.

JD felt himself being carried indoors. He heard the clank of a jail cell door being unlocked and opened. Then he fell. Hard. Onto the floor of the cell.

And that’s when JD heard it. Like the voice of hope. The voice of his friend.

Chris was here. Chris was alive. And Chris would take care of him now.



Vin couldn't believe what he was seeing. Nathan and Buck were sitting in the dirt across from an old man wearing filthy clothes and waving a pistol that had to be fifty years old. It wasn't like he was threatening Nathan and Buck. The man was gesturing with it. Buck seemed to be looking for a chance to get the weapon away him.

Nathan's voice was infinitely gentle. "These guys are in my *gang*," he said, nodding to Vin as if to say "play along."

"What is your name again?"

The old man sitting on the ground started rocking back and forth. He grinned and laughed. "Jesse James. You heard of me?"

"Yeah. I heard of you," Nathan said, his eyes focused intently on the scarred face. Buck looked up at Vin--a desperation in his eyes.

Vin spoke up. "You boys just finish a job?"

"Not just a job . . . " he said, proudly.

"No? What then?" Vin squatted right in front of him.

The old man set his gun down, and put his hands on his knees. He never even noticed Buck slipping his hand over to pick it up. He just kept talking, though now it was like he was letting his new friends in on a big secret.

"We captured the Larabee gang."



Chris watched, horrified, as Clif dropped the semi-conscious boy on the floor. Clif just grinned at him and left the jail.

Chris leaned close to the bars and spoke to the huddled kid. JD was still shackled. He’d obviously been beaten and Chris couldn’t tell what else might have happened.

“JD . . .” Chris said softly. “Hey . . .”

There was no response.

“JD” A little louder.

Someone in the cell next to the kid elbowed him in the chest. “Hey runt, he’s talking to you.”

JD wheezed and rolled onto his side, his arms clutched to his chest. He struggled to get a breath. His cellmate reached over to grab him again, but Larabee’s voice stopped him.

“Touch him again, and I’ll kill you.”

“Hey, take it easy, man. I’m just tying to . . .”

“Just get the hell away from him . . .” Chris’ voice brooked no argument.

“All right, all right. . .” The man moved away from JD, who was still wheezing.

Chris got as low and close as he could. “JD --try to relax, son.”

JD didn’t answer, but Chris could tell that he was trying.

“That’s right. Breathe easy, JD.”

Chris realized that the kid was also trying to edge closer. Chris kept encouraging him, and finally JD reached the bar. The young man grabbed it and with a heave, pulled his body against it.

“That’s good, kid.” Chris said, and he covered JD’s trembling hand with his own. He reached between the bars and rested his other hand on the boy’s back. JD shuddered at the touch, but Chris didn’t move.

“It all right now, JD.” Chris could feel the struggle JD was making to breathe. “Slower.”

JD tried . . . and coughed. Chris patted his back. The cough became a half-sob, but JD stopped himself.

“Chris . . .” It was just a whisper.

“I’m here, son.”

JD’s voice quivered. “They hurt you?”

Chris’ throat tightened. “No. But I know they hurt you.” Chris got as close as he could to JD’s ear. He still hadn’t seen the boy’s face. He lowered his voice. “What happened?”

“They worked . . .” He had to pause to breathe. “They . . . worked . . . me over. That’s all . . .”

“That ain’t all, JD.” Chris took a fistful of the back of JD’s shirt. “You’ve gotta tell me.”

JD tried to pull away--to pull his hand off of the bar, but Chris gripped it firmly.

Chris spoke more firmly. “Prison’s a hard place. But that place was worse."

JD looked up at Chris, questioning.

"It's an asylum, kid. There are lots of ways they can break a man in there. Now you gotta talk to me, son. You gotta let me help you.”

JD finally looked at his friend. “You can’t.” This time it was JD reaching through the bars, grabbing Chris’ shirt.

Oh God, kid . . .

Chris bit his lip to keep from saying what he was thinking. The kid’s face was a mess. One eye was swollen almost shut, the other nearly as bad. He looked like he had after the Nichols boys had beaten him up. That time, he had been “the messenger.” Chris suspected that JD was being used to bring an unspoken message this time as well.

And he was enraged.

JD coughed again, and Chris could see that there was a little blood in his mouth. Must be hurt on the inside.

JD tried to speak. “You can’t . . . try . . . to help . . .me.” Another cough. “They’ll kill you. . . They’re using . . . me . . . to get you . . .” JD had to stop to catch his breath. Chris released JD’s shirt and reached up to put his hand on JD’s neck--an awkward move when separated by iron bars. JD hung his head and tried to talk again. “ . . . to make you mad enough . . . to make a move on them.”

How could Chris keep his voice steady? He *was* mad enough to take somebody’s head off. “What did they do, JD?”

JD’s head dropped to his chest. “I told you.”

“No you didn’t.” Chris spoke as gently as he could. Never known to mince words, this time he wasn’t sure how to ask what he needed to ask. “Did anybody . . . try to . . . have his way. . . ”

JD began to tremble, and he gasped. It wasn’t a sob exactly. It was as though his breath caught in his throat. Chris squeezed JD’s neck and waited to hear what he’d say. He hoped to God nothing had happened. If anyone *had* touched him, Chris would kill the b*s***d and never look back.

JD answered in a weak voice. “They started to. . . . There were . . a couple of them . . . but they were . . . just . . . scaring me.” The kid huddled down.

Chris kept his voice very low. "What *did* happen?"

JD stared at the floor. "They . . . said that . . . you . . . wanted me to have. . . medical attention."

No . . . Chris could only imagine what was coming. "And . . . ?"

If possible, JD speech became even yet more halting. "They . . . chained . . . my wrists . . . over my . . . head." Tears spilled over and his voice quivered. "And they . . . shackled . . . my ankles and . . . they . . ." JD was trying hard not to cry in front of Chris. " . . . tore my . . . shirt and I thought . . ."

"I know . . . " Chris' own voice was husky now.

"But . . . instead . . . they . . . cut . . . the . . . bullet . . . out."

"Cut it out?"

"The knife . . . they kept cutting . . . my leg . . . I kept . . . screaming." JD finally turned his pitiful eyes to Chris. "They kept . . . digging, Chris. At first, I thought," JD's sob became a nearly hysterical chuckle, "they might . . . cut my leg off."

Chris wasn't expecting anything like this conversation.

"They finally . . . got the bullet." JD's gaze shifted back to the floor, and his voice became a whisper. "If I screamed, they'd hit me. I tried not to, but I couldn't help it. The whole time . . . they kept saying we'd have 'fun' . . . afterward."

How could grown men torture a kid just for the hell of it?

“God, Chris . . . I don’t . . . think I could . . . live through that.” JD’s breathing became more shallow.

“You ain’t gonna have to, JD,” Chris said. “I swear that won’t happen.”

“You can’t stop them.”

“The hell I can’t.”

JD started rocking slightly. “Don’t you get it,” he said through clenched teeth. “That’s what they want.” A cough. “I shouldn’t . . . have . . . told you.” Another cough, then wheezing.

“How bad did they hurt you?” Chris moved his hand from JD’s neck to his back again.

“Not as bad . . . as they could have,” the boy answered. Then, coughing, “couple of . . .busted ribs . . . nothing else . . . is broken.”

“Well,” Chris said softly. “You’ve got a fever.”

Chris waited as JD was wracked with a coughing spell. “You sound really sick.”

“I feel . . . sick . . . Why didn't they just . . . kill me?”

Chris frowned. “Because you’re the only bargaining chip right now. They don’t have a way to manipulate me without using you.”

JD spoke as softly as he could, fighting another cough. “They’re sick b*s***ds, aren’t they, Chris?”

“Yeah, they are, son.” Chris felt his throat tighten again. “The worst kind.”

“You don’t think they’ll . . . come after me . . .” JD whispered, “ . . . like *that* again . . .do you?”

“I know they won’t,” Chris said, lying to the kid, and wishing to God he didn’t have to. The trust in that boy's eyes cut Chris to the core, and the seasoned gunfighter let his own head drop to his chest, hiding the stinging in his own eyes. He would never let anyone get close again.


“Jesse James” was dying. It wasn’t until Nathan tried to help him up did everyone realize it. The poor old man thought that he’d taken Chris Larabee down. And maybe he had. At least maybe he had worked for the ones who had.

“I always wanted to meet that Chris Larabee,” Buck said, as he and Nathan helped the wounded man back to the ground. “I wanted to meet Jesse James and Chris Larabee and now I’ve met one.” Buck reached out and shook the old man’s hand. “Too bad I’ll never meet Larabee.”

“Why not?” the old man asked. “He ain’t dead or nothing.”

Buck’s sigh of relief spoke volumes to his friends. To the “outlaw”, the tall moustached man was just starstruck. “Yeah, but no one can see him, I bet.”

The old man motioned for Buck to come closer. “I know where he is.” His smile showed teeth that had never been tended to and his breath made Buck a little bit ill, but the words were like a message from God.

“No you don’t,” Buck said.

“Yep -- you’re not three miles from the prison where all the outlaws live.”

Buck swallowed. Please let the old man be right. Don’t let him be talking out of the lost part of his mind.

“It’s under the ground.” The man suddenly coughed hard and he coughed up blood. “Oh Lord . . . Jesse James is dying, boys.”

Nathan held the old man up and wiped the blood from his chin.

The outlaw reached his hand out. “Gimme a stick.” Josiah reached down and handed him one. He took the stick and drew in the loose dirt. “Right around this bluff . . .” he said. “Secret entrance. We only use it when we catch another outlaw.”

Vin was sitting beside him. “And is there a regular entrance?”

“Not so’s anyone but the ‘gubment’ knows. It’s at the edge of town.”

“What town?” Vin asked softly, but the man frowned and turned to Buck. “I ain’t so sure I like all your friends here knowing my secret.”

Buck whispered. “Your secret’s safe with them. They always thought you were the greatest outlaw who ever lived.”

“Greater than Larabee?”

“Greater than any of them.” Buck said.

The old man smiled again. “I am.”

“What’s the name of the town?” Buck asked.

“Scott’s Ridge. It’s a tiny little town. Nobody in the world knows that it’s the greatest prison ever built.”

“They won’t know from us,” Buck said.

The man coughed again. “Boys . . . you’re eyewitnesses to the death of Jesse James.”

Buck took the man’s hand and held it until the man’s next breath.

His last breath.

“No sir, Jesse James’ legend will live on forever.”

And Buck reached up and closed the unseeing eyes.



Clif was up to something. Chris knew that. His captor had come in and released JD’s cellmate, then shut the cell door again. He left without a word. The deepening shadows of dusk reminded Chris that this whole nightmare had started at sunset the night before.

He glanced at the boy sleeping on the floor in the next cell. He’d seen JD face his fears before--never so gallantly as he had on the ridge. But JD’s fear was now of an enemy Chris couldn’t explain. Even though violence was always hard to understand, there was usually revenge or money or jealousy involved. But this--Chris had never understood how one man could torture another for the hell of it. And the threats they’d made . . .

How could he get the kid out before they broke his spirit?

The boy was talking in his sleep . . . begging to be left alone . . . asking about Chris . . . and eventually he began to writhe in pain.

“JD,” Chris said.

Still sleeping, the kid answered. “Get outa here, Chris”

“It’s ok, son.”

JD hadn’t moved from the spot right beside the bars. Chris reached through to rest his hand on the kid’s neck. The kid was running fever--high from what he could tell. If they didn’t get help soon, Chris wouldn’t have to worry about JD's spirit.

JD would be dead.



It was too dark for them to find the secret passageway into the prison, so they decided Ezra should go look for the sheriff. The others fanned out through the town, looking for anyone or anything that would help them.

Vin and Buck headed to the saloon. Someone was bound to be able to tell them something.

Josiah went to find the local clergy. They’d seen a church as they rode into town, and Josiah figured that the little house next to it was the parish.

Ezra and Nathan went to check out the jail.


The saloon was dead. The barkeep was actually asleep behind the bar, a dime-store novel open on his chest. Buck felt a pang. JD had that particular one--had been reading for that matter.

There were two ancient men at a table in the back. They seemed to be playing a card game in slow motion. Neither looked up at Vin and Buck when they came in. It was strange. Vin was about to order a drink when a man burst in and slammed his open palm on the bar.

“Wake up, Irv!!” he said. “Give me a red eye--straight up.”

Irv nearly fell out of his chair, and scurried to accommodate the patron. Buck noticed that the barkeep was almost scared.

“Sure thing, Clif,” he said.

Clif turned accusing eyes on the two newcomers. “Who the hell are you?” he asked.

“What the hell does it matter?” Buck asked, evenly.

“We don’t take real kindly to strangers.”

Buck started to answer, but Vin touched his arm in restraint.

“We’re looking for a couple of rooms for the night,” Vin said.

Clif drank his drink in one long gulp, then slammed the glass back down on the bar. “You boys best move on down a couple of miles. There’s a boarding house there.” He addressed the bartender. “Irv, get these boys whatever they want on the house.” He turned back to Vin and Buck. “Then you boys can head on out.” He tipped his hat, but didn’t smile, then he left.

Buck was about to follow when Vin pulled him aside.

“Did you see his arm?” Vin asked.

Why wouldn’t Vin let him go? “No, but he may lead us right to ‘em. We gotta go.”

“Not yet. He has a mark.”

“A mark?”

“Same as Chris’ -- from prison.”

Buck looked toward the door, as though he could see the man again. Vin continued. “We can’t spook him any more than we have already. He’s likely to move ‘em if we do. I’ll follow him. You go get Josiah.”

Buck thought about protesting, but he knew Vin was right.

Irv’s hesitant voice drifted over. “Could I get you fellers a drink?”

“No thanks, Irv,” Buck said. “We’re gonna head on out.”

The barkeep looked a little disappointed. Buck reached in his pocket and tossed a couple of coins on the bar. Irv smiled and waved after them.


Clif bolted down the street. Who the hell were those guys walking up the steps of the jail?

“Hey!!” he cried, and the men bolted in different directions. Clif drew his gun and fired at one. The other got away.


First, careful footsteps approached on the front stairs. Then Clif’s voice yelled and whoever was trying to get in the jail retreated. .

“What’s going on?” JD asked fearfully, as a shot was fired.

“I don’t know,” Chris answered. “But stay alert for me, ok?”

“OK.” JD crossed his arms tightly. “Chris?”


“I’m scared.”

Chris’ voice was grim. “So am I, son. So am I.”


Buck saw Josiah coming out of the church. The preacher was shaking his head, puzzled.

“Nobody’s been in this church for years,” Josiah reported. “Nobody lives in that house. I haven’t seen anybody in this town. Have you?”


“Aw, shit,” Buck said as he and Josiah drew their weapons and made their way toward the jail.


“EZRA??” Nathan cried, but there was no answer.

Suddenly, Vin was on Nathan’s shoulder. “Go on, I got you covered,” Vin said, and Nathan took off across the street to help his fallen friend.

Ezra lay on the ground, and Nathan dragged him out of harm’s way.

The five who’d come to rescue their own realized that they weren’t being fired upon.

“How bad, Nathan?” Vin called.

Ezra himself answered. “Not bad. Grazed me.”

Buck motioned to everyone to make their ways to the jail, and carefully they did.

Until a sight stopped them cold and the man named Clif hollered at them, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”


“Ezra?” JD asked, his voice trembling. “Oh, God they’re here . . . and Ezra’s down.” JD was getting breathless.

“Get a hold of yourself, JD.”

“No need for that,” a voice said, and Clif appeared from the back of the jail. He held a gun on JD and he grabbed the keys to the cell. He opened the door to JD’s cell and wrapped an arm around the kid. “I got a hold of him.” Clif’s laugh was sick.

“Don’t . . .” JD said.

“Don’t what?” Clif laughed again, and he hooked an arm under JD’s legs. JD started to struggle, and Clif hit the kid in the jaw with the butt of his gun. Then he lifted the unconscious boy and started out.

Chris spoke, smiling ominously. “You *are* going to die tonight, you know that, don’t you?”

Clif’s eyes fluttered in a moment of uncertainty, but then he cocked an eyebrow. “You can say that while I literally hold his life in my hands? I don’t think so, Larabee.”

And Clif stepped out of the jail, JD in his arms. Hearing the click of revolvers at the ready, he hollered, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

****************************** Buck was about to come out of this skin. Their boy was lying in the arms of a madman. He was hurt. His feet were shackled together, One leg had a makeshift bandage that was saturated with blood. Blood was even dripping from the wound. One arm hung down, making his chest wound visible, and his head hung back over his captor’s arm, exposing his throat. How vulnerable he looked! How vulnerable he was! The kid’s mouth was bleeding, and his hair was soaked with sweat.

“Drop your weapons, boys,” Clif called. Buck stepped forward, holding his hands up , holding his gun by the butt. He let it drop and took another step.

“That’s close enough,” Clif warned.

“How do we know he’s alive?” Buck said--his voice strange and faltering.

Clif let his hand grab JD’s wounded leg and the kid screamed. His eyes shot open, then squeezed tightly closed.

“Oh, God . . . kid,” Buck said.

JD was panting. “Buck . . .” he breathed, and he tried to look for Buck.

“Be still,” Clif said, and he put lighter pressure on the wound. JD struggled to keep from reacting. But he still tried to communicate to his friend.

“Chris . . . jail . . .” JD said, and Clif was furious.

“Shut the f*** up!!!”Clif screamed and he realized he was slowly being surrounded. Suddenly Clif dropped JD’s legs and he stood him up and pressed the gun into the side of the boy’s throat. He started backing toward the jail, dragging the kid with him. Buck didn’t dare take another step toward him, but he spoke.

“It’s gonna be ok, kid,” he said, and the dark head nodded. Then Buck addressed the man holding his friend. “You ain’t leaving with that boy. We’re leaving and we’re taking him and Chris Larabee with us.”

“I don’t think so,” Clif said and he backed up the stairs again.

And Chris Larabee shot his captor in the back.

“Think again,” Chris said.


JD fell heavily down the two steps to the ground, and Clif fell on top of him, still holding him. Chris fell to his knees in the door way, and his head dropped to his chest.

It was over.


Josiah lifted the dying man off of the injured boy. He lay Clif on his stomach in the street. Buck and Nathan immediately tended to JD, while Vin, satisfied that Ezra was all right, ran up to see to Chris.

Buck rolled JD over and held his upper body in his lap. JD was shaking violently. He fought the hands that were trying to help him.

“Don’t touch me . . . “ he cried.

“It’s ok, son. It’s Buck and Nathan.”

But JD didn’t believe them.

“Chris!!” he screamed. “Help me . . .”

Buck’s eyes stung. He was even more overwhelmed when Chris came over and sat on the ground in front of the kid.

Buck’s eyes met his old friend’s--and they knew how they felt without having to say it. Chris reached up and touched JD’s face.

“JD . . .”

“Chris?” JD squinted up. “Did he hurt you?”

Chris shook his head. “No, son, and he can’t hurt you anymore, either.”

Buck realized that JD was trying to pull himself up. “Don’t try to move,” Buck said, but JD reached out for Chris with his good hand. Buck helped lift him up and the boy reached his weak arms around Chris Larabee’s neck. It was the first time in years that Buck saw his old friend’s eyes glistening with tears.

“You promised . . . you’d save us,” JD said breathlessly. “I knew you would.”

Buck watched Chris return the embrace --careful not to hurt the boy. And Buck saw JD relax. . . collapse . . in the legendary gunfighter’s arms.

************************* *************************


Chris rode behind Vin. “That was the saddest thing I ever saw,” Chris said. “That poor man was so proud of being an outlaw that he didn’t even know he wasn’t guilty of anything.”

“People can be so bad to the insane people.”

“Well, the first ones that were bad were the government officials--the ones that built that hellhole in the first place.” Chris shook his head. “Clif Dewey was put in prison for the rest of his life because of the men that mysteriously died in the asylum under his watch.”

“Why was he after you?”

“Because those guys at the prison were letting him go. They wanted a cut of the government money that was going to the asylum for the patients’ upkeep. He was going to give them a kickback for setting him loose.”

“Then you came along,” Vin continued.

“Then I came along and they reviewed every case and realized that Dewey should be in prison for the rest of his life.”

“How’d he get loose?” Vin asked.

Chris waited a moment, then responded as if the answer sickened him. “He ‘went insane’.”

“Jesus . . . “

“People who’d been there forever had already been so scared of him that he took the place over again with relatively little effort. He killed the one that was running the place and he was back in business.”

“What about the outlaw thing?”

“He convinced them that they were all dangerous outlaws and that they didn’t have any family, and that being there was some kind of . . . honor.”

“And they bought it,” Vin said.

“Sad . . .”

“Yeah, but the fantasy may have helped them cope.”

“They had to have something to make it in that horrible rat-infested place.”

Vin was silent for a while. He glanced over at Ezra and saw that the gambler was holding up well. He was surprised when Ezra turned quickly and looked at him. Vin nodded in tribute to his newest friend.

He could tell Ezra understood his meaning. They’d get along fine. Maybe Vin would take him out tracking sometime.


JD slept on the ride home. Nathan had bandaged him up and he rode in front of Buck. They took it very slowly, and every now and then Buck would close his eyes and thank God that they’d found both of his friends.

And he thanked God for Jesse James.