Payback Is Hell
by Buckskin Kate
WARNINGS: Some language (no more than you hear on tv), violence, Smarmy. This is a death fic, meaning that two of our guys die (kind of sort of).
NOTE: This may be a lengthy story with many short chapters.
It is not complete and will take some time. I will not be held responsible for anything emotions that run amok among the readers of this story. If you hate the story, don't tell me about
it. : o) Feedback is welcome. Just don't forget this is my first real effort at fan fiction (with some brainstorming with Gary Lamb). I,d like to thank my beta readers Amanda, Robyn and Sue D.
"I will exact restitution from that heinous hostler!" Ezra muttered
under his breath as he examined his torn and filthy clothing.
The normally spiffy gambler's mood was getting darker with each weary
step he took. It was nearing dusk and finally beginning to cool off
a little, but the relief of the cool breeze did nothing to cool Ezra's
anger. Ezra drug himself up the stairs and stumbled into Nathan's room.
As he let his eyes adjust to the dimmer light, he noticed Mary Travis
sitting beside Billy's bed spooning broth into the sick child's mouth.
"I see our young comrade's condition is somewhat improved," Ezra commented
as he attempted to slap the dust from his hat.
"Not for long if you don't quit that. You're gonna start him coughing
again. What happened to you anyway?" Nathan asked as he guided the
gambler to the chair in the corner.
"That miserable excuse of a horse that I leased from the livery is
what happened. My steed is recuperating from a bruised appendage so
I found it necessary to lease a livery plug. The despicable beast spooked
from a rattler and fell and broke his let. The only Consolation is that
I was afforded the opportunity to place a bullet between his eyes!"
Nathan turned his back in order to hide the laughter that was threatening
to well up inside of him.
"Let's have a look at that hand," Nathan said when he felt that he
had control of himself.
Ezra held out his right hand to reveal numerous cactus thorns causing
his hand to resemble a porcupine.
As Nathan picked up his tweezers, he was overcome with the urge to
giggle again. He could just see the fine man before him tumbling from
his horse and tangling with a cactus. Not that Ezra was not an excellent
rider. He was, in fact, very good. But everyone in town knew what kind
of nags the livery rented.
"Ezra, next time you want to take a ride, you can borrow my horse.
Or ask one of the other guys if you can borrow theirs. Except for Buck.
You know he's not inclined to loan Darlin' Angel Eyes out. J.D.'s the
only one I've ever seen ride her sides Buck. Now hold still. We only
got a few more to go."
The room got quiet as Nathan finished removing the thorns. He washed
Ezra's hand and applied a salve.
"It's gonna be kinda sore and a little stiff for a day or two, but
you ain't gonna die from it," Nathan said as he dropped the tweezers
into a jar of alcohol.
"You are most certainly not the bearer of good tiding, Mr. Jackson.
I happen to have a very important game of chance scheduled for this evening.
My opponent is an acquaintance of Mother's, a Raybern Dennis. My hands
must be in top condition," Ezra lamented.
"Well, all's I can say is shuffle easy," the healer replied, "and
(At the Nichols/Lambert camp, an abandoned ranch.)
"The weak link is going to be Hiram Nechaus," Peter said as he paced
back and forth in front of the fireplace.
"Are you sure we can trust him? Maybe you should take care of this
one personally, Peter."
"Ma, it's already begun. We can't change the plan now," Peter said
as he turned to his mother and took her hands in his own.
"In just a matter of days we will be avenged," he told her somberly.
Ma Nichols turned to her youngest son and said softly, "John, go to
the bunkhouse and bring Father Manning to me. I feel the need to pray."
As John exited the small cabin, Jesse Lambert pushed his large frame
into the room. Jesse was the eldest of four brothers employed by the
Nichols family. The Lambert brothers, Jesse, Joel, Jerry, and Jackie
had a reputation of being bloodthirsty cut throats and were quite unhappy
that they were being kept in the background of this plan.
"You took your sweet time getting back from town," Peter snarled at
Jesse, "Did Dennis arrive as scheduled?"
"Shore did. I ain't never seen such a dandified peacock in all my
Lambert fluttered his eyelashes and sashayed across the room, demonstrating
his impression of Raybern Dennis.
"That's just because you have yet to see Standish," Peter replied,
"Don't let his appearance fool you. Dennis will get the job done. Maude
Standish ruined him in Kansas City and he can start to recoup his losses
"The other fellers are ready an' waitin' for the saloon to clear out.
Just hope Jackie kin keep his filthy paws offa that little Mexican gal.
I was kinda hankerin' fer her my own self," Jesse commented, obviously
forgetting that Ma Nichols was sitting quietly in the corner, listening.
As quick as a flash, Peter's hands flew up and around the larger man's
neck. As he pushed Jesse back up against the wall, he growled, "There
will be none of that sort of talk around my Ma. The woman is not to
be harmed. She is to be used as bait to lure Wilmington into our hands.
Then they are both to be turned over to the Madera family. After that,
I don't care what happens to the girl. Now, with Wilmington, you are
free to do what you wish. Just keep him alive. Do you understand me?"
Jesse nodded his head. His eyes were wide and his face was beginning
to turn purple.
"Good," Peter said softly, "Now get out of here."
As Lambert fled the cabin, Peter turned to his mother with an apologetic
"I'm sorry you have to see this sort of thing, Ma. I wish you would
have stayed home and let us handle this."
"Peter, you know I have to see firsthand the destruction of our enemies,"
Ma said sorrowfully. "Especially that so-called priest of theirs. Speaking
of priests, where is Father Manning? I must pray and regain my peace."
As if on cue, Father David Manning walked through the door, which
was left ajar when Jesse Lambert had fled the cabin.
"Peter, please leave us now and see that no one disturbs us," Ma said
as she clutched her rosary in her hands.
As Peter stepped out onto the porch, he found his three remaining
brothers waiting for him. John was lazily lounging on the bench, with
his feet up on the porch rail. Luke was sitting on the steps whittling
on a small stick. Matthew was leaning on a post, quietly watching the
"All set?" Matthew asked.
Matthew was the quietest and most somber of the Nichols. He only
spoke when he had something to say, and even then he kept it short and
to the point.
"Raybern Dennis arrived on schedule and the Lamberts are waiting outside
the saloon," Peter responded. "Standish should be dead by morning and
Wilmington and the Mexican girl will be on their way to Mexico."
"The horses are ready, Peter," Luke commented as he blew his shavings
onto the ground.
Luke had always been the best of the Nichols when it came to horses.
It was his true love in life. He was a bubbly, happy-go-lucky fellow
who enjoyed life to the fullest.
"When do we move out, Pete? I'm tired of sitting around. I'm missing
all sorts of parties and dances back in Kansas City," Luke was coming
to the closest to complaining that he ever did.
"We wait until the Lamberts come through here with our hostages,"
Peter said patiently. "Did Perkins get back from Ridge City yet?"
"He came in an hour ago. He said Bubba Kiper should be closing in
on Tanner by tomorrow afternoon," Luke answered. "And he met the Fallon
twins, Nick and Rick. They've had a long, hard ride from Ft. Worth and
are ready to move in on Jackson."
"Got a telegram from Fowler this afternoon. He's on his way," Matthew
"Good," Peter said, smiling grimly, "So far, so good."
(The Saloon - Time is 2:45 A.M.)
Inez yawned loudly as she leaned her elbows on the bar. The saloon
was quiet except for the shuffling of cards and the occasional clink
of coins. The saloon had been empty for some time now except for herself
and the two gamblers. Inez was beginning to become impatient to close
up and go to bed.
"Senor Ezra, can you not finish your game tomorrow?" Inez asked sweetly.
"My dear, it should only be a matter of minutes now. I believe I
have bested my opponent," Ezra said as he laid down his hand. Four aces
and three kings.
As he looked up at Raybern Dennis, he found himself looking into the
short barrel of a two shot derringer.
"You are a worse cheat than your mother, Standish. As Maude left
me without my wealth, so I leave her without her son," Dennis said, inwardly
proud that the cards fell just as he had planned.
As Inez watched speechlessly, Dennis pulled the trigger and fled the
saloon. Ezra froze, half sitting, half standing. He looked down at
his chest, at the growing red stain. Blood. His blood. He was momentarily
stunned that it had finally happened. Then he gasped as the pain hit
him. His knees gave out and he slumped into his chair.
"No!" Inez cried as she started around the end of the bar.
Just as she reached the end of the bar, rough hands grabbed her from
"Let me g-" She screamed. As she struggled to free herself, a dirty
rag was stuffed into her mouth and her hands quickly tied behind her.
"Careful. Don't hurt her, Jackie," Joel Lambert whispered, "Peter
Nichols will have you shot."
Ezra blinked his eyes, unsure if what he was seeing was really happening.
He tried to stand up. Inez. He has to save Inez. He just couldn't do
it. The pain became more intense and he was overcome by a dark void.
Vin had just checked the bank doors, completing his rounds for the
night, when he heard the gunshot from the saloon. As he turned and headed
for the saloon at a run, he saw Raybern Dennis leap onto a horse and
"Ezra!" Vin cried as he ran through the batwing doors.
The gambler looked bad to Vin. Real bad. In fact, Vin was certain
Ezra could not have survived such a wound. He was immensely relieved
when he found a pulse. He scooped Ezra up into his arms and ran toward
Nathan's room as quickly as his burden would allow.
Buck didn't even bother to light the lamp in his room. He whistled
softly as he took his jacket and gunbelt off and laid them across the
back of a chair and tossed his hat onto the dresser. Damned if that
Blossom Call wasn't the scratch that soothed the itch. Too bad she was
always afraid of her husband coming back. It sure would be nice to wake
up next to her in the morning. Buck sat down on the edge of his bed
and began to pull his boots off. He heard a slight rustling coming from
the hall just outside of his room and quietly walked to the door.
"Who's out there?" he asked softly. "Blossom, darlin', did you change
your mind and decide to pay ole Buck a visit?"
"Senor Buck, it's me, Inez. I need to see you," Inez softly answered,
hating herself for complying with the Lamberts. But with the gun against
the back of her neck, she really had no choice.
"Inez, darlin'. It's about time you realized that we were made for
each other," Buck said, as he opened the door.
In a blur of motion, Buck found himself on the floor with a damp rag
covering his mouth and nose. Thrashing wildly, he felt his knee connect
with one of his attacker's groin.
"Umph!" Jerry Lambert groaned. "Son of a bitch!"
Jerry landed several vicious kicks to Bucks ribs and one to his head
before the chloroform took effect and Buck went limp and still.
"Hurry up," Jackie urged, "let's get em to the horses."
As Vin was rushing down Nathan's stairs to alert the others of Ezra's
trouble, he noticed five horses headed out of town at a full run. Four
had riders and the fifth, being led, carried an undiscernible burden.
"What the hell is going on now?" Vin muttered. "I'll worry about
that later. Gotta get the others together first."
"He just not in his room, Chris," JD exclaimed.
"Check Blossom Call's and everywhere else he may be!" Chris growled.
"Vin, tell me again what you saw."
Before Vin could reply, a soft moan came from the other room. Chris'
eyes met Vin's in the silent communication that these two men shared.
The door to the inner room opened and a weary Josiah came out. As
Chris and Vin turned towards him, he shook his head sadly.
"He's in the Lord's hands now. The bullet missed the lungs, but was
very close to the heart. Nathan got it out, but he's just lost so much
blood. Maybe too much," Josiah said softly.
The door opened again and Nathan's head popped out.
"Chris, he's awake. You can see him for just a minute," the healer
As Chris entered the room, he was appalled at the lack of color in
Ezra's face. His pale face was beaded with sweat and the pain was evident
in his expression.
"Inez," the gambler whispered, "they took her."
"Who took her Ezra? And was it Dennis that shot you? Did he take
Inez?" Chris asked gently.
"Dennis..." Ezra's voice faded as he lost consciousness.
"Damn," Chris said, "What the hell is going on here?"
As Chris went back into the outer room, JD came rushing in from outside.
"I checked Buck's room again," he said breathlessly. "He's been there.
His jacket, hat and gunbelt are still there. Something's wrong. He
wouldn't leave his room without his gunbelt or hat."
Realization dawn on Vin and he knew all the action he'd seen in the
street must have something to do with Buck's disappearance somehow.
"I saw four, maybe five riders heading out of town in a hurry. They
went the opposite direction than what Raybern Dennis took," Vin said.
"It'll be light in an hour or so, but I can only follow one trail. Chris,
if you think you can track the five horses, I'll head out after Dennis.
Maybe Buck's disappearance has something to do with those riders."
"Ezra said someone took Inez too," Chris informed the others.
"Oh, hell," Vin said gruffly, "One of those riders was smaller than
the other three and the fifth horse was carrying what could have been
a man tied belly down over the saddle. Damn. Chris, you can't go after
them by yourself."
"JD, you and Josiah come with me," Chris ordered. "We'll get Mary
to help Nathan with Ezra. She'll be here sitting with Billy anyway."
As the men rode out of town in opposite directions, none of them noticed
the young clean cut man watching from behind the livery. As soon as
the men rode out of sight, the young bounty hunter, Bubba Kiper, mounted
up and rode out after Vin with visions of gold coins dancing in his head.
The rain fell harder, running in rivulets onto the trail. The three
men were drenched and Josiah's horse had pulled up lame.
"Damn it!" Chris growled. "We're gonna have to turn back."
"We can't! If they do have Buck and Inez, we need to get them back!"
JD's face was filled with worry over his closest friend. No, Buck was
more than a friend. A brother. A mentor. JD just couldn't imagine life
"JD, we've lost the trail," Josiah said gently. "Let's go back to
town and regroup. Maybe Vin will be back. If anyone can pick up the
trail, he can."
Josiah placed a comforting hand on JD's shoulder. The boy's eyes
filled with tears.
Vin was becoming extremely weary and irritable. The rain was drenching
him to the skin. Not only had he lost Dennis' trail in the mud, but
now he had committed the unforgivable. He forgot to watch his back trail.
As Bubba Kiper climbed into the rocks just over Vin's head, he was
aware of the tracker's dulled senses. As Vin rode beneath him, Kiper
jumped out of the rocks, knocking Vin from his horse. As the two fell
into the mud, Kiper raised his gun and clubbed Vin in the side of the
head. Vin never knew what had hit him.
Humming merrily, despite the miserable weather, Bubba bound the tracker
and tied him to his horse.
"Tascosa, here we come," he said.
There was so much a young man like Bubba could do with $500. And
to think the Nichols had doubled that amount! Full of high hopes and
dreams, the bounty hunter and his bounty set off for Texas.
As Buck came to, his stomach lurched violently. He found himself
in the miserable position of being tied, belly down, to a saddle. His
mouth felt like cotton and his head swam and ached. He couldn't quite
remember what had happened, all he knew is his head was aching to beat
all, his ribs hurt with every breath he took, and nature was screaming
out his name with a vengeance. And his heaving stomach didn't help matters
any. And the rain. It felt good on his aching head, but damned if he
wasn't getting chilled. Sure could use my jacket, he thought. A low
moan escaped his lips.
Inez heard Buck moan. She was frightened and worried about his condition.
She had noticed that they were headed south towards the border. Purgatory?
Why? She had tried to question her captors, but had only been warned
to keep her mouth shut or her "lover" would suffer even more.
As they rounded a curve in the trail, a small rundown cabin, bunkhouse
and barn came into view. As they approached the cabin, Peter, Luke,
and Matthew Nichols came from the barn and mounted their horses. Jim
Perkins came from the bunkhouse, caught up the reins of his horse, and
led it over to where the Nichols waited for the incoming riders.
"How'd it go?" Peter asked, as the Lamberts rode up, Buck and Inez
"'Zactly as planned," Jackie answered. "The gal was easy and Wilmington
put up a fight just as we figgered. Just ask Jerry there. I 'magine
his jewels is still a little sore."
Jerry ignored the snickering. He figured he'd already started to
get even and he'd get the opportunity to get his satisfaction.
Joel started to dismount, saying, "I shore could use a good feed 'bout
now. My gut's startin' ta think my throat's been cut."
"No time for that," Peter said, receiving a dour look from Joel.
"Martinez will be in Purgatory by sundown tonight. Jesse has already
left to meet him. You boys meet up with them and them and Martinez take
you to the Maderas. It'll take you about three days of hard riding.
Then, after you turn those two over to Ramon Madera, you can get that
'feed'. Until then, no fires and keep moving."
The Lambert brothers were obviously not happy and by the sheer look
of terror on Inez's face, neither was she. Buck, still not fully understanding
what was going on, began to squirm.
"Can I at least use the little house out back?" Buck's voice was muffled
by his position.
"The 'little house' has fallen in. Jackie, you have enough time.
Take him around back," Peter watched as Jim Perkins mounted up. "Let's
go get that preacher, boys," he said as he headed towards Four Corners.
"Allow me," Jerry exclaimed as he awkwardly dismounted and headed
for Buck. He quickly cut the ropes binding Buck's feet to the left stirrup
and went around to the other side of the horse. As he cut the ropes
binding Buck's hands to the other stirrup, he yanked on Buck's collar,
and pulled him into a heap on the ground. Buck gasped in pain and slowly
and painfully got to his feet. He ached all over. Before he could completely
get his balance, Jerry grabbed him by the arm and began to drag him roughly
towards the back of the barn. Buck could do nothing but stumble along
As Buck finished buttoning his pants, he pondered his situation.
Not good. His back was cramping too bad to try to make a run for it.
Best to go along with them for now, look for an opportunity. A three
day ride, he'd heard Peter say. Surely he'd find an opportunity.
Jerry yanked Buck's arms behind his back and retied his hands.
"Move," he said, and he spun Buck around and marched him back to where
the others were waiting.
"You gonna tell me what's going on?" Buck asked tiredly.
"Shut up," Jerry said.
"You gonna let me ride sittin' up?"
"Whatcha think, boys?" Jerry asked the others, "Should we let him?"
"Wal," Joel drawled, "he'd have to behave himself. And maybe sayin'
please might help."
Buck glared at Joel and said, "Go to hell, you son of a bitch!"
Jerry's fist caught him off guard as it connected with his jaw. Buck
hit the ground and Jerry immediately put his foot on his throat, cutting
his breath off. Joel dismounted, ready for some action.
"Now, that ain't no way to be talkin'. Apologize to my brother.
Now!" Jerry ordered.
by now Buck was getting lightheaded and seeing
"Sorry," he croaked. Got Inez to think about, he thought, can't let
my damn pride get in the way.
"That's better," Jerry said as he pulled Buck to his feet. "Now,
'til you learn some manners, you ride the way you have up 'til now."
Jerry and Joel slung Buck up over the saddle and secured his hands
and feet to the stirrups.
"Let's git, boys. Jesse'll have our hides ifn we're late," Jackie
said as he led off.
Bubba Kiper handed Vin the canteen.
"Sorry I hit you so hard. I didn't mean to," he said apologetically.
Vin drank greedily and said nothing as he handed the canteen back
to Bubba. His head hurt, but it appeared he hadn't been out for very
long, so the wound probably wasn't very serious. But he was pretty angry
at himself for getting into this situation.
"Stupid. Stupid." Vin muttered to himself.
"Well, my ma always told me stupid is as stupid does, but for the
life of me I never figured out what she meant," Bubba said quietly.
"Better get on your horse now. We have a ways to go."
"Where ARE we going?" Vin asked. As if I don't already know, he
"To Tascosa. Now get mounted," Bubba told him as he put the canteen
back on his saddle, never taking his gun off of Vin.
Vin figured he'd have to wait to make a run for it until they stopped
for the night. Hell, with Kiper holding the reins of his horse and his
feet tied to the stirrups, he was helpless.
As they rounded a bend in the trail, Vin caught the glint of the sun
reflecting off of an object in the rocks above them. Though his vision
was still somewhat blurred from the blow he had taken, he made out a
rifle barrel being aimed at Bubba.
"Hold up a minute," he said to the bounty hunter.
Bubba stopped his horse, allowing Vin's horse to come along side his
own. With no time to spare, Vin shoved Bubba and knocked him off the
horse. At the same time, they heard the report of the rifle and a bullet
plowed into the bounty hunter's saddle.
"What the hell'd you do that for?" Bubba exclaimed, grabbing the
reins of both horses, while managing to avoid the dancing hooves.
"Take a look," Vin gestured at Kiper's saddle.
"Oh, shit. I reckon I owe you, Tanner. Wonder who it was?"
"Didn't see the shooter, just the gun," the tracker replied, "you
can repay me by lettin' me go."
"Nice try, Tanner, but you're wanted for murder and I really could
use the reward," Bubba said as he remounted.
"I was framed for that murder, not that I expect you to believe me,"
Vin said softly. "By a man named Eli Joe."
"Eli Joe? I ran into that stinkin' scum a coupla years back," Bubba's
brows furrowed as he recalled his meeting with Eli Joe. "He killed my
"Well, he's dead now. A friend of mine killed him. 'Course that
kinda left me in a fix. Eli was the only person that could have cleared
my name," the tracker said sadly.
"Well, I owe your friend one, too, then. But that's too bad for you,
Tanner. Guess it's up to a jury now."
"You know damn well I can't get a fair trial in Tascosa."
Silence overtook the two as they rode on, wary of any places a sharpshooter
The three weary riders pulled up at the livery. The ride back to
town was longer than the trip out due to Josiah's lame horse. It was
shortly after noon and all three were hungry as well as exhausted, but
they wanted to check on Ezra before they went to eat. As he climbed
the stairs outside of Nathan's room, JD realized he really had no appetite
due to his worry about losing Buck. And Ezra. Maybe they'd already
lost Ezra. The dread was overwhelming. Although the gambler was not
really close to any of the others, he was one of them. One of the seven.
JD just felt that the special camaraderie the seven enjoyed just couldn't
be the same without Ezra. Of course not. Seven is a whole. Six is
As the three reached Nathan's door, they hesitated, each feeling a
heavy dread come over them. Chris opened the door and they quietly went
Nathan, hearing the others come in, came out from the inner room.
He looked haggard and exhausted.
"He's had a rough time of it," the healer said. "Got the fever under
control for now, but he's so weak. I just don't know. Mary's here so
after I clean up a bit I'm gonna go get somethin' to eat. Y'all want
to join me?"
"I'm going in to pray for Ezra first. I'll be along shortly," Josiah
"I'm not hungry," JD said. "Think I'll just go to the saloon."
"JD, son, that is not going to help matters. We don't need you runnin'
yourself down. You have to eat. For Buck," Josiah said the magic words
- "for Buck". "Chris, Nathan and me will see you down at the cafe in
a little bit."
Chris and JD headed out the door. Chris didn't have much of an appetite
either and in his opinion, JD's idea of getting a drink sounded really
good. Gotta be a good example for the boy, he thought. Chris was surprised
at his own worry about Ezra. True, he had never really thought much
of the gambler, but recently Ezra had begun to fit in a little better
and he definitely had his usefulness. In fact, Chris downright liked
the man. And Buck. Where was he? Did someone take him? Buck was Chris'
oldest friend. They'd been through a lot together and Buck had stood
by him through thick and thin. The thought of losing Buck made Chris
sick to his stomach. Wonder when Vin will be back, he thought. Figured
he should've been back by now.
Nathan finished cleaning his instruments and looked over at Josiah.
The preacher was just finishing praying over Ezra. He had laid his hands
on the gambler and used coal oil to anoint him with. It wasn't olive
oil, as the Bible instructs, but coal oil was the closest thing he had
and he figured God wouldn't split hairs over the type of oil. Mary had
joined Josiah in prayer and the laying on of hands.
"Ready?" Nathan asked softly.
";Guess so. He sure does look bad."
"Mary, I'm going to get something to eat. When I get back I want
you to go home and get some rest. You won't do Billy any good if you
get sick," the healer admonished.
Josiah and Nathan left the room and went down the stairs. It was
quiet in town today. Thank God. Three of the seven were not around
and Nathan already had enough patients to look after.
"You go on, Josiah," Nathan said as they came to the dry goods store.
"I've got to restock some supplies. I'll be right over when I'm done.
"Right," the preacher nodded his head. "I'll order you a plate."
Nathan decided to take the supplies he had picked up at the dry goods
store back to his room before he went to the cafe to meet the others.
As he opened his door, he noticed Mary Travis sitting in a straightback
chair in his outer room. She looked very uncomfortable and tense. Something
was wrong. Very wrong. As he looked a little closer, he noticed that
she seemed to be sitting on her hands. No. They were tied behind her.
"Miz Travis, you OK? Is Billy --" Nathan never saw the club that
crashed into his head.
"Lady, you did fine. We stick by our word. We won't hurt your boy,
you or even that other fella in there," Nick Fallon nodded towards the
door to the room where the patients lay. "We just gotta leave you tied
up and gagged. Don't want you alarmin' the town before we kin get out."
"There ain't no one on the street. Let's get the hell outta here."
Rick Fallon urged his twin brother.
Nick quickly tied Nathan's hands and the two of them hurriedly dragged
Nathan out the door.
"Damn, he's big!" Rick said as they descended the stairs.
As they rounded the corner into the alley, where their horses waited,
Rick spotted a woman coming out of the millinery shop. "We gotta hurry.
Hope that lady didn't see us," he said to his brother.
Apparently, the woman had not spotted the Fallon brothers taking the
unconscious healer into the alley. They loaded Nathan onto a horse,
secured him, and rode out of town at a gallop.
"Wonder what's keepin' Nathan," JD mused around the last bite of his
"I don't know, but I'll go check on him," Josiah offered as he pushed
his empty plate away. "I just hope Ezra didn't take a turn for the worse."
Chris was getting restless to get back on the trail and was becoming
concerned that Vin had not yet appeared. "I'm gonna pick up some supplies
for the trail. JD, go tell the boy down at the livery to have fresh
horses ready for us. Hopefully Vin will show up any minute now. We
meet at Nathan's."
The other two nodded their agreement and they went their separate
Josiah was preoccupied as he headed toward Nathan's. Strange things
were going on. Buck and Inez missing. Vin not returning as expected.
Ezra struggling for his life. Now Nathan had not appeared for lunch.
Maybe he had to see a patient. As he passed the alley, he was grabbed
by two men in dark clothing and slammed against the wall. Just before
he was tied and gagged, he managed to drop the small leather pouch that
contained his bottle of oil. As he was forced onto a horse, he saw that
there were four men. He recognized three of them: Peter, Luke, and
Matthew Nichols. The fourth was a handsome man in his early sixties.
He was slender and had silver hair and brilliant, jolly blue eyes. In
Josiah's opinion, this man didn't fit in with the ruthless Nichols clan.
Josiah was forced onto a horse, and the five riders left town in a
hurry. Josiah paid close attention to where they were going. South.
Hell, he thought, there's nothing out this way 'til you get to Purgatory.
Except for a couple of abandoned ranches. Paying very close attention
to the trail several miles out of town, Josiah spotted a red satin ribbon
hung up in the base of a cactus. A woman had been past here. Recently,
too. The ribbon appeared to have weathered the early morning rain, but
was not yet faded from the desert sun. Josiah was wracking his brain
to remember who he had seen recently with a red ribbon in her hair.
Inez! Inez was wearing one just last night. Chris, JD, and Josiah had
ridden past this very spot just before they lost the trail. Josiah was
irritated with himself for not seeing it. Vin would have spotted it,
he thought. No, he probably would not have seen it either in the rainy
Jim Perkins began to whistle a lively tune as they rode at a swift
trot. Funny, Josiah thought, that fellow just did not seem like a criminal.
Something about his eyes. They were too kind.
Chris had finished at the general store and asked Mrs. Potter's young
son to take the supplies to the livery for him. He flipped a coin to
the boy as he went to the door and proceeded down the boardwalk toward
JD had finished helping the stableboy saddle fresh horses and was
also heading for Nathan's when he spotted Josiah's small leather pouch
lying in the alley. Wondering how it got there, he picked it up.
JD met Chris at the foot of Nathan's stairs. "Look what I found,
Chris," JD said, holding the pouch out for Chris to see. "It's Josiah's
prayin' oil. You know, the stuff he rubs on sick people's foreheads."
"It's called anointing, JD. Some people believe if you put a few
drops on the forehead, along with prayin', a person can be miraculously
healed," Chris explained. "I've never seen Josiah without it."
"Wow, " JD said, "Do you believe that healin' stuff?"
"Well, I'll put it this way. I've seen it work a time or two. Let's
hope God was listening when Josiah prayed for Ezra."
by this time,
the two had ascended the stairs. Chris opened the door and they went
in. When Chris saw Mary's situation, he was immediately angry. He rushed
over to her and began to cut the ropes binding her hands. "JD, go check
the other room!" he ordered.
In a very soft voice, he asked Mary if she was hurt as he removed
"I'm fine," she answered with a bit of a tremor in her voice. "Just
a little frightened. But they took Nathan!"
"Who took Nathan," Chris asked her.
Before she could answer him, JD came in from the other room.
"No one in there except Ezra and Billy. They're both sleeping."
JD informed Chris.
"Who took Nathan?" Chris asked again.
"Two men. Yes, there were two. They were just about JD's age. And
they must have been twins. They looked exactly alike."
Chris and JD looked at each other, uncertainty in their faces.
"Now, Mary," Chris took her hands in order to still them. "Are you
sure you're alright? They didn't hit you or anything, did they?"
"Oh, no. They told me that if I cooperated, no one would be hurt.
But they hurt Nathan. Then they took him," she said.
"Did they mention where they were going? Did you hear any names?"
Chris gently grilled her.
"No. Nothing. Maybe I should go wire Oren. You two and Josiah seem
to be all that's left of our peacekeepers." Mary said, concern written
on her face.
"If you're sure you're alright, I'll walk you half way. JD can stay
here and watch Ezra and Billy. " Chris turned to JD. "I'm going to
find out where Josiah got to."
As Chris and Mary went out the door, JD went into the inner room to
keep an eye on the two patients. Billy was stirring, but not quite awake.
Ezra was sleeping very soundly or was unconscious. He really looked
bad. He had a slight fever and was very pale.
JD softly walked over to Ezra's bed. He knelt down and took one of
the gambler's hands.
"God, I know we haven't been on good speaking terms since Mama died.
But please don't let Ezra die. God, something strange is going on.
Me and Chris and maybe Josiah are the only ones left of our group. We're
like family. Brothers. Please keep Buck and the others safe. I don't
know if I could go on if Buck never came back. Why do you let things
like this happen? I don't understand. Josiah always says to trust you,
but we always seem to be havin' trouble. It's hard to trust you anymore."
JD had tears in his eyes now. "Help us, God!" he choked out.
The kid laid his head on the edge of Ezra's bed and before he knew
it, was asleep.
Mary was beginning to calm down. Chris had maintained a light pressure
on her arm as they walked towards the telegraph office.
As they approached the alley where JD had found Josiah's pouch, Chris
turned to Mary and asked her if she was sure she'd be OK by herself the
rest of the way to the telegraph office. She assured him she would be,
and went on her way. Tough little lady, he thought, as he turned to
go into the alley. Chris Larabee was not much of a tracker. He usually
relied heavily on Vin. The sign would have to be quite clear for Chris
to pick up the trail. But there it was: five horses and an undetermined
number of boot tracks. The horses headed south out of town.
Chris went back to Nathan's to find JD kneeling on the floor with
his head resting on Ezra's bed. He was sound asleep. Memories stirred
inside of him as he recalled the strange positions his son Adam had fallen
asleep in. JD was quite a bit older than Chris' deceased son, but Chris
found a tenderness for the boy that he hadn't felt since he last saw
Adam alive. He's exhausted, he thought. He decided to let the boy sleep
for a little while. At least until Mary returned.
Billy was stirring again. This time he was waking up. It seemed
his fever was completely gone and the boy looked much better. He was
happy to see his hero, Chris in the room gazing down at him. "I'm thirsty,"
Billy said hoarsely. "Where is Mama, Chris?"
"She had to run an errand," Chris said as he helped Billy sip water
from a glass. "She should be back in a few minutes."
"Can you read to me?" Billy asked the black clad gunslinger.
Chris had to swallow hard. He was remembering the last time he had
read to his son. Adam had loved to be read to. As he came back to the
present, he realized that Billy was waiting for an answer. "Sure," he
He was just finishing the storybook when Mary entered the room. Tears
sprang to her eyes as she recalled the last time Stephen had read to
Chris hurried to her, concerned that she was still upset from her
earlier ordeal. "Mary, are you OK?" he asked.
"Yes, of course. I was just remembering - uh - for a second there
I thought you were Stephen reading to Billy," she said, embarrassment
in her voice.
Chris decided it was best to leave this alone. He went across the
room and woke JD.
As the two men discussed their options, Mary tended her patients.
Billy was much better. So much better, in fact, that Mary thought he
might be able to go home in a day or two. As she stepped over to Ezra's
bed, she noticed that his color was better than it was earlier. She
felt his head. The fever was gone! She breathed a sigh of relief as
she turned to see what Chris was planning to do about the missing gunmen.
"We'd best go after Josiah," Chris was saying to JD. "His was the
most recent disappearance. Maybe we can get to him quickly."
As the men left, Mary sat down wearily in Nathan's rocking chair.
Would this town never settle down? She was extremely worried about the
four abducted men and the injured one here with her. In the last two
years she had become quite fond of the men. It was like having seven
brothers. Billy had nodded off again and Ezra was still sleeping. Mary's
eyes drifted shut. I'd better rest now while it's quiet, she thought.
No telling what kind of injuries the men would have when Chris and JD
brought them home. There was no doubt in her mind that they would find
the others alive and bring them back. She could not even consider otherwise.
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