M7FFA Entry

 

The Barkeep's Simple Request


by Kris Mashburn


Author's Note: Katie Harper is a figment of my imagination, no resemblance to any person living or dead is intended.




It was late afternoon in Four Corners, and Chris Larabee was headed for the saloon. His rounds done, he wanted a shot of whiskey. As he entered the saloon, Chris noted Ezra at his table along with Josiah and J.D.

"Chris, you gotta see this, " Buck called out, standing behind JD, "Ezra is teaching the kid the fine points of poker." A big grin washing over his face.

Chris nodded, and continued toward the bar. He ordered a whiskey, but then noticed that the barkeep hadn't moved. The barkeep was just looking at him, and then signaled with his head to move down the counter with him. Chris obliged.

The barkeep was nervous as he began, "Now Mr. Larabee, I don't want you to think that I repeat things I overhear, but this is kinda important and..."

"Just say your piece".

"Well, these two fellers were talking 'bout hitting the Harper place tonight, and well, Mr. Harper used to be good to me, and I would jus hate to see his daughter get hurt," the barkeep paused, but seeing he had Chris' attention, continued. "They said if they had to kill her it was okay with the boss. Mr. Larabee, she's out there all alone, and I was hoping that..."

"I'll take care of it," Chris broke in, then turned around and headed for Ezra's table.

"Boys, we got ourselves a situation," Chris calmly told them. They all started to rise.

"Josiah, go get Nathan, and JD get your badge, it may come in handy", Chris gave the instructions as he was turning to go find Vin.

In minutes the seven were on their horses, weapons loaded, and on their way to the Harper place.

Before they could even see the Harper place, they heard the exchange of gunfire and spurred their horses on. With the house in sight, Chris motioned for Josiah, Buck and JD to circle around to the side of the house. Chris, Ezra and Nathan approached the front with guns drawn, as Vin took position on the high ground. The sun was just about to set, but Vin still had enough light to pick off two of the gunmen before they knew what hit them. Chris and Ezra picked off another two that were trying to circle around back while Nathan silently crept up behind a gunman and clubbed him with the butt of his gun.

As Buck, Josiah and JD proceeded around the side of the house, they came upon a man trying to set the place on fire. Buck shot him in the shoulder, then followed JD and Josiah who were already trying to put out the fire. Buck grabbed JD's hat and scooped water out of the horse trough to throw on the fire. JD was all set to protest when they all heard a scream from the house, followed by a gun shot. All seven men ran to the house. Nathan and Chris exploded in through the front door as Buck kicked down the back door. Nathan and Chris stopped short right quick as they were facing the muzzle of a rifle in the hands of a very angry looking woman.

"One more step and I'll shoot you, just as I did your friend here," she raised her rifle to make her point.

"Ma'am you've obviously confused us with these gunmen here, we are the law, come to aid you in your time of distress," Ezra stated with a smile as he walked full into the room.

"Oh, of course", she said with complete disbelief in her voice.

"JD," Chris said solidly, never taking his eyes off the girl.

JD came in around Buck, pulling his badge out as he crossed the room. He held it out to her as he said," I'm the sheriff of Four Corners ma'am, JD Dunn". He didn't have a hat to tip, it was still wet.

Vin looked over Nathan's head at Josiah with a half squint, as if to say "How'd he know?", Josiah just half shook his head in response. Sometimes Chris was spooky.

"I'm Katie Harper," she said as she slowly lowered her gun. "Thanks".

Nathan stepped up and asked, "are you all right ma'am?"

"Miss Harper, that there is Nathan Jackson, our doc." JD said brightly.

"I'm not a doctor, ma'am, just had some army training during the war," Nathan corrected. "You're looking awfully pale, ma'am".

"I'm fine, really. Just a little tired", her shoulders drooped as she replied. Katie brushed some hair out of her face, and realized she must look a fright...and in the same thought realized she just didn't care. After all, I just shot someone, .....and the way the men were looking at her, she realized she must have said the last part out loud.

Nathan went over to her and led her to a seat saying, "Ma'am, I think you should sit down".

Vin said, "let's go round up some prisoners". Glancing at Buck and Josiah.

"Yeah, that's if any are still alive", Buck added as he followed Vin out the door. Josiah grabbed JD as he left.

Nathan looked over at Ezra and told him, "There is a fellow tied up around side the house, might still be out from the head clunking I gave him". Ezra chuckled as he left.

Chris walked over and sat across from Katie, hat now in his hand. He looked up slowly and said, "My name's Chris", then asked, " Do you have any idea who would want to kill you and why?"

Katie smiled back at him and said, " I have an idea on the who, just not sure about the why." Chris raised his eyebrows slightly, waiting.

"The cattle rancher, Stuart James".




Outside Buck, Vin and Josiah were collecting the dead bodies, while JD and Ezra were dealing with the living ones. As JD checked the binding Nathan had put on earlier, Ezra was bringing Buck's victim around front. When Ezra joined JD, both gunmen sitting next to their dead cohorts, JD said,

"Hey Ezra, do you remember Lucas James?"

"Of course I do JD," Ezra replied, with a huge smile," he serendipitously enabled me to procure a pardon."

"Huh," JD said with a baffled look, "The judge pardoned me."

"Oh, right....well the gunman with the bullet hole, he rode with Lucas." JD said,"I recognize him," pointing with his head.

Ezra got a knowing look on his face, and said to JD. "Sheriff, watch your prisoners, I'll relay this information to Mr. Larabee." He turned and went back to the house.

As Ezra entered the front room, he noticed that although the room was well furnished, the furniture itself was old. He signaled Chris with his hand, and stepped outside. When Chris joined him, he said," JD recognized the men as compatriots of Lucas James."

Chris nodded, " well that fits with what she told us." He paused, then looked at Ezra and said," get the others."

As the rest of the men entered the house each one introduced themselves to Katie, and then made themselves at home. Seven men, sitting and standing, here in my front room, Katie thought to herself. Then as she ran her fingers through her hair, she started her story." We've been here about ten years, Four Corners wasn't even here yet. My father had a horse training ranch, and we were doing fine. Then came cattle rancher Stuart James, he wanted to buy my father out and Dad said no! Then little things started happening, but it wasn't until the corral burned, and we lost some important stock that my father figured James was behind the accidents. " Katie paused with a far away look, as though she was remembering, then her gaze locked with Chris' and she continued. "We had to sell a lot of our personal stock to cover the loss, and again James pressured my father to sell. Again he said no. Then about eight months ago, just before you all got here, my father died. He fell off his horse and broke his neck, they said it was an accident."

Nathan piped up saying, " I remember that, ma'am, the break seem wrong for a horse fall, but the town just chose to ignore that."

"I didn't have any proof then, and I don't have any now," Katie said regretfully. She rested her head in her hands.

Chris looked at Katie and said "Ma'am I think it would be best if you stayed in town tonight."

"But why, you all caught the gunmen?" Katie's voice sounded confused.

Vin came further into the room and said,"Ma'am, in case more men show up, when these here fellas don't return. It'd be best if you weren't here."

"Fine, fine, just let me get a few things," she said wearily. "I'll meet you in the barn," and she left the room.

Chris asked Josiah and Nathan to put the living prisoners on horses, then asked Buck and JD to get the dead ones ready to travel. Ezra and Vin accompanied Chris to the barn. They were greeted by snorts from the two occupants. Two large, black horses. The only difference between them was a white star on one horse's head. They didn't appear to be comfortable with the strange guests.

Katie walked in the barn and went straight to the horses, rubbing their muzzles. Making sounds for their ears alone. The horses seemed comforted and quieted down. Katie turned to the human occupants and stated "If I'm going to town, they're going with me." She then got the bridals off the hook and went to work.

Vin offered to saddle the horses, but even as she smiled her thanks, she shook her head and said, "It'd be best if I do myself, they can be temperamental with other people." Then she took to saddling them both. She threw her little bag on the saddle horn, took the reins and walked outside.

Vin, Ezra and Chris looked at each other and followed her out.

Josiah and Nathan had the prisoners on their horses and were mounted themselves. Buck signaled they were through, and Katie was atop one horse, holding the reins of the other. JD had Vin, Ezra's, and Chris' horses waiting, then the group slowly headed to town.




Later, after getting Katie a room at the boarding house and the horses stabled, the seven were sitting in the saloon. Chris looked over at the barkeep and nodded his head, the barkeep smiled in return. Chris then turned attention to his whiskey glass, and swallowed the contents. Then looking at the rest of the group, asked" Where do we start?

"Think we should keep an eye on the place," Vin said.

"Keep our ears open here in the saloon, Ezra's real good at that," added Nathan.

"Why thank you Mr. Jackson," Ezra smiled, flashing his gold tooth. "An excellent idea, one that could prove most enlightening."

"Miss Harper said she will be going back to her place in the morning," Josiah explained his conversion with her. "I believe she will be very stubborn about it."

"Josiah and I will take Miss Harper home in the morning, Vin, you take first watch, and check around for tracks. " Chris stood and picked up the whiskey bottle, "Boys, we'll meet back here in the afternoon; 'night," and he walked out of the saloon.

JD got up and rushed out after him. "Chris," he called to him. Chris stopped and waited.

"Chris, how'd you know we'd need my sheriff badge?" JD asked.

Chris raised his head and gave JD an enigmatic look, then almost smiled. " 'Night JD."

JD looked after Chris, still not understanding, turned around and went back to the saloon.




The sun hadn't been up but a short time and yet Chris was already dressed and headed for the livery. He had only gone part way down the street, when Josiah fell into step beside him. They nodded at each other, never breaking step and arrived at the livery only to find that Katie had already left. They saddled their horses and rode out to the Harper place.

Vin was already on watch as Chris and Josiah rode up. Chris nods at Vin, as Vin points down to the Harper place and says," She pulled in just after dawn, I scouted around and found some tracks from yesterday, lead off in the direction of James' place.

"You want to follow them and see where they take you?" Chris inquires of Vin.

"I was planning to," smiles Vin, "jus waitin' for you boys to arrive."

"Josiah, you stay on watch, I'll go with Vin, in case we find trouble."

Josiah smiles, and says, "It seems trouble doesn't have a problem finding you, even when you're not looking." Vin and Chris shake their heads in agreement, then turn the horses and ride away.




Ezra walks out of the telegraph office with a paper in his hand, and a pensive look on his face. He looks up and spots Nathan, and crosses the street to intercept him. "Mr. Jackson, I've discovered that we have another problem, would you be so kind as to round up JD and bring him to the saloon? I will endeavor to locate Mr. Wilmington so that we might discuss it together." Ezra says this a bit faster than he usually speaks.

Nathan nods and hurries off. Ezra continues toward the saloon.

Inside the saloon Ezra spies Buck on the landing with Molly, one of the saloon waitresses. He waves his hand to attract his attention. Buck notices Ezra, and was all set to ignore him, when he noticed Ezra's unusual pallor. He makes his excuses to Molly and heads down the stairs to join Ezra.

Ezra and Buck were already seated when Nathan and JD enter the saloon. They moved to join them.

"Gentlemen, I received a telegram from my mother. In her line of work she is privy to all sorts of information, and to her information is power. She has relayed to me her discovery; someone has put a price on Chris' head, with a $500 price tag." Ezra looked visibly shaken as he told them the news.

JD grabs for his gun as he looks around the bar. Buck puts a calming hand on his shoulder, and says "hold on kid." Then Buck's face turns deadly earnest as he looks around the table, and says, "we've got to get this information to Chris."

Ezra pulls his pocketwatch out and checks the time. "It's just 2:30 now, they all should be back at 3:00. It might prove prudent though, to ride out and meet them part way."

Nathan rises and says," I'll get my supplies, just in case, and meet you at the livery. "He turns and leaves. The others rise forcefully and leave quickly.

The riders are a short ways out of town, when they see two riders coming in, Josiah and Katie.

They all pull their horses in, and the guys tip their hats at Katie. Buck turns toward Katie and says, "Ma'am," then he faces Josiah square on and continues," get a bottle of whiskey and glasses and set up at the sheriff's office." Josiah notes the tension, nods, and takes off with Katie. The others ride on.




Vin and Chris were moving at a good clip, letting the horses set the pace. Their tracking took them further than planned and they wanted to get to town on time. The peaceful tranquillity was shattered by a gunshot, hitting the tree that Chris had just passed. They quickly jumped off their horses, and lay on their stomachs, guns out.

"Do you see anything?" Chris whispered.

Vin shook his head no, and whispered back, "the shot came jus north of those rocks." Once again the silence was broken by gunfire, the bullets hitting the ground several yards in front of them. Chris returns fire to the general direction, as Vin has his telescope out.

Then gunfire erupts from the east, aimed towards the rocks, as Buck and JD enter the clearing.

Ezra enters from a different direction also firing on the rocks. Nathan calls out as he approaches Vin and Chris, then join them on the ground, his gun also drawn.

As Buck, JD, and Ezra converge on the rocks, they find one body on the ground, and evidence that another rider got away. Buck stands up and waves an all-clear sign for Vin, Chris and Nathan, who then join them on the rocks. Buck rolls the dead guy over, then looks at the group, and asks, "does anyone recognize him." Negative head shakes all around.

Chris turns to go down and retrieve his horse, saying over his shoulder, "let's get back to town."

Ezra calls after him, "Chris, we need to talk."

Chris stops in his tracks and turns around," Ezra, you only use my first when it's serious, what...."

"Chris, we've discovered that there is a $500 price tag on your head, as of yesterday," Ezra states flatly, cutting him off.

With a dark, closed look on his face, Chris got on his horse and rode toward town. The others mounted and followed, catching up with Chris, then stayed with him for the rest of the ride.

In town, Buck steered Chris and Vin to the sheriff's office. Josiah was there waiting. Ezra updated Chris, Vin and Josiah on his mother's telegram.

Ezra looked at the group before him, as they took a moment to let the information sink in. Ezra was amazed at the amount of concern he felt for that ever-pensive man in black. He was so use to not caring how events effected others, that these feelings were surprising.

Chris looked at the group with his closed look and said," this is my problem, I'll deal with it alone. I won't put any of you in danger."

"Now see here," Buck immediately jumped in with, and joined by Nathan who said at the same time," No sir!"

But it was Josiah, with his quiet, resonant voice as he said, "Chris, you would never think of letting any one us face this situation alone, and we won't let you!" that drew everyone's attention, followed by nods of approval from all but Chris.

Buck added the final trump card, "besides, Chris, we all will be watching you real close now, so you might as well let us help you, 'cause we'll do it anyway." Buck just sat back in his chair and smiled at his oldest friend.

As Chris' head was bent down, no one saw the softening of his eyes as he thought of how these men had become "friends" he could depend on. When he lifted his head all traces of emotion were gone and all he said was, "fine, so be it."

With that settled, Vin then asked, "Ezra, you think you can find out who your mother heard this from?"

Ezra nodded as JD said, "what about Miss Harper?"

Josiah poured out the whiskey as the men talked about what Vin and Chris had discovered while tracking and formulated a few plans. Vin confirmed that the tracks had lead back to the James place.

They also decided to not mention to Katie the "other" situation that had come up, for fear that if the town got wind of it, they worry unnecessarily.

Ezra left to wire his mother and Chris and Vin went to find Katie. Josiah went to ready the church, since none of them would be using their rooms tonight. Nathan, Buck and JD placed themselves about town keeping Chris in view.

Chris and Vin found Katie in the town newspaper office. Vin tipped the edge of his hat to Mrs. Travis and Chris nodded and said, " afternoon Mary."

Mary Travis smiled at both the men and asked, "What can I do for you?"

Vin said. "We're lookin' for Miss Harper, the boarding house said she was over here."

"Yes, she's in the side room looking in the old news story files. She wanted to read about what was taking place around the time of her father's death." Mary replied as she moved around the counter and showed them the side room.

Katie looked up as they all moved into the room. She had smudges of newsprint on her face and hands, but smiled at the trio as she said, "Who'da thought that reading was such dirty work?"

Chris returned her smile and asked if she had found anything important.

"Not anything direct, but Mr. Travis had written many articles about water and water rights. The articles are written so well that some of the finer points leads to some very interesting conclusions."

The discomfort that Mary felt at the smile that Chris had directed at Katie dissipated at the compliments about her late husband's work. She added, "he was always very thorough about matters effecting the territory."

"I'm trying, but I don't remember my father talking about water," her face was pensive with her old memories. Katie then stands up and turns to thank Mary, and laughs at the state of her hands. Mary hands her a cloth kept on the desk for just such occasions. Katie says, "thanks, Mrs. Travis, for all your help today, it gives me something to look for at home."

As they're leaving Mary's office, both Vin and Chris tip their hats at her as they exit the door. Mary stands there as the three of them walk towards the saloon.

Nathan and Buck close in to join them, as JD keeps to his lookout until they all reach the saloon.

As JD enters the saloon he sees Buck and Nathan seated at table with Katie, and he joins them.

Vin and Chris were at the counter getting some whiskey and more glasses. They signal to Ezra, who at the time was winning another hand from an unsuspecting cowboy.

When they are seated Chris asks, "where's Josiah?"

Nathan answers, "he was readying the church, he wants us to bed down there tonight."

Vin nods, and says, "good idea."

JD asks," does he have any food?

Buck laughs as he stands up and says, "let's go find out."

After super, Katie tells them that she wants to check her father's papers tomorrow. She thanks them again for their help, and bids them goodnight. She then heads for the little room Josiah provided for her.

Chris and Vin had just stepped out back for a smoke, when Ezra joined them. They sat there in a companionable silence until Ezra broke it with his information. "My mother wired a response to my inquiry," Ezra then turned to look directly at Chris and Vin as he continued, " to quote her, a cattle baron from your part of the territory."

"James," whispered Vin.

"James," agreed Chris.

"I'm inclined to believe that our new situation is a diversionary tactic to take our attention away from Miss Harper," Ezra stated in his usual abbreviated manner.

"Good thinking Ezra," Vin said.

With a dangerous look in his eye, and a hard voice, Chris said, "one we'll use against him."




Next morning the sun had barely peeked above the mountains when Katie headed out of town on her black devil. She couldn't let the seven men waste more time on her, and she wanted to check on her father's papers. She let her black have his way, as they raced the wind to get home. Katie and the black noticed the smoke at the same time, the horse smelled it, she saw it. The smoke looked like it was close to her place, so she spurred the black faster. Katie reined in hard when she saw that it was her place on fire. She jumped off her horse and was running down the hill when a hand grabbed her from behind.




JD was on the way to his office when he noticed Katie's black devil, saddled and reins dragging in the middle of the street. He walked over to the horse and attempted to pick up the reins, but the horse snorted and backed up. JD left him there and returned to the church.

Ezra was the only member of the seven that hated the morning, and it was obvious that he wasn't going to get any more sleep this morning. He peeked at his pocketwatch, 7:30am!, he was ready to make a rude remark when he noticed that Chris was preparing to leave. That explained why the others were up and ready to go. Ezra bitterly acknowledged to himself that he must rise also.

It was at that moment that JD came bursting into the church, "Katie's horse came into town riderless!" he announced almost breathless to the group.

Josiah put his hand on JD's shoulder to calm him down. Chris looked over at JD and asked, "how do you know it riderless, Katie should just be saddling him up about now."

JD looked exasperated as he explained, "he's just standing there in the middle of the street, looking all hot from a hard ride." JD felt it should be obvious to all of them that he would know what he was talking about.

Vin was up and out the door first, saying as he went, "let's go take a look." The others made quick work behind him. Ezra trailed, figuring he would just forget about a shave this morning.

Vin approached the horse slowly, making soothing sounds with his palm up so the horse could smell him. The black snorted some, but didn't back away. Vin had a way with animals; his free inner spirit must touch the same cord within the critters. He placed his hand on the muzzle, and stroked him on the side of his neck. He turned to the others, never taking his hands off the horse and said, " he has had a good run, and one of Katie's bags is still attached to the saddle."

Josiah spoke first with a forceful "let's ride."

No one argued, they just ran for the livery. Vin followed slower, taking the black with him.

In minutes the seven were on their horses, weapons loaded, and on their way to the Harper place. Again.

When they were in sight of the ranch, thick, black smoke was billowing upward and they could make out a body hanging from the tree. Fearing the worst, JD spurred ahead and turned in, only to hear the crack of a rifle and feel a stinging in his arm as he was knocked from his saddle.

Buck yelled out "JD", as he and the others all left their saddles to take cover on the ground.

JD answered, "I don't think it's serious" still in his prone position, just holding his head up.

Nathan was already sliding down to JD's position. Confirming JD's words, Nathan yells over his shoulder, "he'll be fine."

Vin had his telescope out surveying the area. "It's Katie in the tree" the gasps were audible, and Buck said "bastards," as Vin continued, "she's hanging by her hands, not her neck, I think she's still alive."

Chris charged down the slope in an attempt to reach the tree and was met by a rain of bullets. Dropping to his knees, he draws his gun to return fire. From up above him Vin and Ezra were already returning fire and picked off two of the marauders. Josiah was just reaching Chris as he was cutting the rope to bring Katie down. Josiah was under Katie to catch her, and gently lay her unconscious body on the ground. Chris yelled out, "Nathan!"

Vin, Ezra, and Buck showered bullets upon the gunmen to allow Nathan safe passage to aid Katie. Hitting two more, the last gunman throws out his gun, and walks out with his hands raised. Buck approached the man, kicked his gun away, and signaled him with his gun to move toward Josiah and Chris. The gunman turned to move away, then whipped around quickly with a knife in his hand. As he was about to release it Vin nailed him dead center in his chest. Buck tipped his hat to Vin still on the hill above.

All the while the fire blazed on.

Buck, Ezra and Vin went to check about putting the fire out, as Nathan was examining Katie. Nathan gently laid her head back down on Chris' lap explaining, " her wrists are rope burned, and she has a bump on her head. It's this bump I'm worried about, I don't know how hard she was hit." Again he searched for her pulse. Josiah got up while ripping his shirt, walked to the watertrough to wet it and returned to Nathan. Nathan wet her face and neck, then let it rest on her forehead.

Although half the house was gone, Ezra, Buck and Vin saved the barn, and got the fire under control, then finished putting it out. They almost looked worse than the house; they were all wet and sooty. For once, Ezra was not concerned for the state he was in, but concerned for JD and Katie. They each made their way over to where Katie was lying.

Katie regained consciousness with a scream. She struggled to sit up, but her head swam with the pain. Chris' restraining arms tried to lay her back gently.

Nathan spoke softly to her, " Katie, you're OK now, just your friends are here. Lie back and tell me if you hurt anywhere something other than,"

"My head hurts so much, I'm not sure if I'd notice anything else." Her raspy voice replied.

Chris let out a big sigh, which had Buck looking at him closely.

Chris then resumed his leadership role, asking JD, "can you ride?"

JD tried to sound chipper as he said, "sure, as long as I don't gallop," but his voice sounded strained.

Buck said, " I'll ride right next to him to make sure he makes it." His voice didn't match the concern etched on his face for his young friend.

JD only heard the voice and responded in kind with, "I don't need no nursemaid, Buck."

Josiah and Chris exchanged smiles, one worry lessened.

Ezra and Vin rounded up the horses. Chris carried Katie under Nathan's watchful eyes, and Buck was glued to JD's side. Vin and Ezra took the lead and Josiah pulled up the rear for a slow return to town....together.




Nathan was kept busy all the afternoon and part of the evening with his make-shift hospital. He had both patients and visitors in his small rooms. Digging the bullet out of JD's arm was not as difficult as trying to get all the dirt out. Buck was pacing as the entire process was going on. He threw out some encouragements to JD, but as his voice sounded so worried, Nathan shushed him with his hand. In the other bed he had Katie, who seemed to be resting comfortably. Both Chris and Josiah leaned against the wall. Chris had his usual pensive look, where you knew he was thinking, just never knowing what he was thinking about. Josiah, on the otherhand, seemed to be praying for both the patients. His concern was easy to read, and he was ever ready to assist Nathan, if need be.

Footsteps on the landing alerted them to the fact they were about to have company. Josiah went to the door with his hand on his gun. The door opened without a knock, and Vin walked in. Although everyone was relieved, Buck said irritably, " Knock next time, or you might git yer fool head blown off," and as if he was making a point, he still had his gun out.

Vin just nodded. His wet hair the only indication that he had cleaned up. His clothes looked the same, only minus the soot. "Ezra's still at the bathhouse, reckon he's giving his clothes a bath too." He said this with a slight smile, which brought responding smiles from all the conscious patients.

"How's JD," he asked of Nathan.

Nathan was just finishing tying off the bandage, he looked at all of them and said, "he should be jus fine, we just have to watch for infection. We all need to let them get some rest."

Vin told them he'd stay to keep watch, and they should get cleaned up and grab some food.

He made eye contact with Buck, who then held back a bit. "There's two new fellers in the saloon, Ezra's gonna try to find out where they're from," he told Buck quietly. Buck nodded to Vin, and there was no trace of the fun-lovin' Buck look on his face. He caught up to Chris and the others at the bottom of the stairs, and filled them in. Then they all headed for the saloon.

Ezra looked in fine form at his table, cards and money in front of him. Anyone watching would assume he was totally engrossed with the game. Actually Ezra was listening to the two "cowboys" at the table across from his, as they talked about their target. A name wasn't mentioned, but it was obvious to Ezra whom they were talking about when his companions entered the saloon. The cowboys eyes watched and their conversation ceased.

Chris and Nathan headed for the bar, Josiah and Buck sat down at Ezra's table seemingly as though they wanted to play. Ezra dealt a few hands and won the last of his only real opponent's money. When he had left the table, Ezra relayed what he had overheard. Josiah joined Chris and Nathan at the bar. Ezra and Buck left the saloon.

Outside the saloon, Ezra checked his sleeve gun and reloaded his holstered gun. Buck quickly went to Nathan's to fill Vin in, then hurried to rejoin Ezra. He and Buck then took up positions to follow the gunmen as they exited.

Josiah, Chris and Nathan watched the two "cowboys" leave the saloon. Josiah then finished his shot of whiskey and he too left the saloon.

Nathan was facing Chris, as he calmly finished his whiskey, then Chris set his glass down as he said, "let's do this."

Nathan exited the saloon first with Chris right behind him. They both looked around for any sign of the gunmen. Chris then saw as Buck stepped out into the street, nodding his head and so ducked behind a wagon, pulling Nathan with him. At that same moment shots rang out. One hit close to where Chris had been, the other took the gunman down. The shots also alerted the other gunman, who then stepped out and leveled his rifle on Ezra for shooting his partner. But that was more than enough time for Vin to shoot him dead. The carbine's sound reverberated through the empty street.

The seven regrouped in the saloon, Ezra then tipped his hat at Vin and said, "That was your second excellent shot today, Mr. Tanner, one that I feel very fortuitous to reap the benefits of." Ezra then flashed him a very sincere smile.

Vin nodded and smiled in return.

Chris threw a shot of whiskey back, slapped the glass on the counter and said with quiet sincerity, "I thank all of you."

Josiah broke the silence with, "let's check on our patients." They all headed for Nathan's room.

Later, back at the church, they filled JD in on what he had missed. JD hung his head and said," I miss all the fun."

Chris stood up and gave JD one of his dark looks, then moved toward the door to light a cheroot.

Buck swatted JD on the head, saying to him, " sure know how to put your foot in it. You don't joke about having to kill someone."

JD said somberly, " I know, it just didn't come out right."

Next morning Katie awoke not knowing where she was. She saw Nathan asleep in the chair next to her. She gently called out to him, "Nathan,....... Nathan," and was rewarded by his stirring.

"Ma'am, good to see you awake, how are you feeling?" Nathan said as he stretched to fully awaken himself.

"What hurts the most are the memories, otherwise, my head feels tender and my wrists feel something awful."

"I have some suave that should help ease the pain in your wrists, your head will be tender for a few days," Nathan brought over the suave and applied it gently.

"It smells like my horse liniment," Katie wrinkled her nose as she said it.

Nathan smiled and said, "that's where I got the idea, use lots of the same ingredients."

Katie smiled in return, "then it should work good, always does for the horses."




JD and Katie walked into the sheriff's office later that afternoon to find the six others waiting for them. Chris got up and gave Katie his chair, they had left the chair behind the desk empty for JD.

Josiah started right off with, "Katie, do you remember what happened?"

"I saw the smoke, and was dismounting when I was grabbed from behind. One of the men tied my hands up. I think he was gonna hang me, but another man yelled that he couldn't kill me 'cause they hadn't found what they were looking for. At that point I tried to get away, felt a pain in my head, and I guess I didn't wake 'till you guys were there." Katie paused, then asked in a strained voice, " what happened to the house?"

Chris answered her query, "most of the house is burned, the barn wasn't touched and your horses are fine. The men that did this are dead."

Ezra, remembering something Katie had said, inquired further," you said they were looking for something, do you know what?"

Katie shook her head, and Buck concluded, "then it must have burned."

Katie then half smiled, "no, my father didn't keep his important papers in the house, they're in a strong box buried under the water trough."

"One of us will retrieve them for you, safer that way," Chris stated in a voice that booked no argument.

"It would be best to continue using the room at the church," Josiah suggested, "that would also make it easier protecting you 'till we straighten this situation out."

"Okay, 'cause I already feel bad that JD got hurt on my account, I don't want you all to do anything dangerous," Katie said, looking over at JD in a sling.

Buck, Ezra, Vin and Chris all smiled at Katie's "dangerous" remark, Buck then spoke up, "Oh, don't worry ma'am, dangerous is our middle name."

They made there way out of the sheriff's office; Josiah and Katie were going over to the church to put together an evening meal. The others were going to the saloon. They all tipped their hats at Mary Travis as she exited the general store. She singled out Nathan with a call of his name, after smiling at the others.

"Something I could do for you, ma'am?" asked Nathan as he stopped in front of her.

"Do you have time to come over to my office?" Mary asked him. Nathan nodded and walked along beside her.

After Mary closed the office door she continued to her back room. She then turned toward Nathan and said, "Nathan, I know the town looks to you for all the doctoring, so I was hoping you could use this desk here. It has lots of slots for your supplies. "

"Why ma'am?" Nathan looked doubtful.

"Oh, the judge is bringing my large desk out, and I really have no place for this one. You will be helping me out, Nathan, truly." Mary looked imploringly at Nathan.

"Well then, that's right nice of you, ma'am, thank you." Nathan nodded his head to Mary. "I'll get some help and we'll get in the morning."

"Good, that's fine, see you in the morning then," Mary walked Nathan to the door.

Nathan then went to the saloon to join his friends. He sat with JD and Buck who were watching Vin, Chris and Josiah play poker with Ezra. It was obvious who was winning. After Chris folded, Ezra smiled and said, "thank you, gentlemen, for an enjoyable game."

"Reckon for you, seein' how you won," Vin said dryly.

Ezra then pushed a copy of the Clarion News toward Chris and said, " I think you all might find that article interesting," pointing to the cattle rustling story. Chris smiled as he pushed the paper toward Josiah.

Josiah handed it to Vin as he said, "that's rich, James complaining about the theft of his cattle."

Josiah then stood up, pushing back his chair saying, "Katie'll have supper ready." So they all headed for the church.

Next morning JD needed to have his bandages changed, so Nathan and JD headed over to Nathan's place. Katie went along, as she was determined to pull her own weight and organizing Nathan's new desk was a way to do it. Chris followed to keep an eye on Katie, and Josiah went along to guard Chris. Nathan figured his place would be over crowded again, unless he was sneaky. Smiling to himself he asked Josiah and Chris if they would fetch the desk.

Josiah looked at Chris and said, "I think we've been had Chris."

"So do I." Chris left his hat and duster on the wall hook, and left with Josiah.

"You're healing real good," Nathan told JD as he finished wrapping his arm. He went around his make shift curtain and was heading toward the door, when it burst open.

Two cowboys entered and one of them said, "You the doc?"

Before Nathan could get out an answer, he felt a gun in his side. The same cowboy said, "you're coming with us."

Katie saw and heard the whole exchange and quickly pushed JD down on the table, told him what was happening, and suggested he play unconscious. JD nodded, understanding the urgency. Katie then told him to have Vin track them. She then went around the curtain saying, "the patient will be out for a couple more hours doctor." Then acting as if she was surprised by the visitors exclaimed, "another house call doctor?" Then turning to the visitors said, "do you have a buggy or do we have to ride?" All the while rushing around putting things in Nathan's bag.

The cowboys took her at face value and answered her question, telling her they were riding.

She smiled at Nathan as she took Chris' hat and duster off the hook and said, "see doctor, I'm remembering to dress right this time, aah, all that dust," hoping Nathan would understand.

Nathan nodded and said, "that's good, nurse," stressing her new title. The cowboys then herded them out the door and down the stairs. At the livery they got horses and headed out of town.

JD waited till they got down the stairs before he opened the door. He was crossing the street to Mary's place as the cowboys with Nathan and Katie were riding away. He burst in the newspaper office yelling for Chris. Breathlessly relating what had happened to Chris and Josiah as they headed to the church to get the others.

As they were saddling the horses, JD filled in the others on the situation. As Chris was ready to mount his horse he said, "damm, where's my hat?'

"Katie's wearing it, along with the duster," JD said.

Chris' eyes looked doubly strickened and Buck cried out, "good god almighty." Both immediately understanding the implications. Ezra sucked in his breath sharply and jumped on his horse.

JD looking baffled cried, "what!?"

Buck mounted his horse, then said to JD in a deadly voice, "she'll look like Chris to a stranger." Then spurred his horse to catch up with Vin, Chris and Ezra. Josiah and JD quickly followed.

They had been riding around a half-hour when Vin stopped and got off his horse. Checking the ground closely he then stood up and said, " they ain't goin' to James place, we're purdy close, though, so keep your eyes open." He remounted and turned left.

They hadn't gone but a couple of miles when the air crackled with gunfire. They pushed the horses even harder. The answering gunfire resounded against the hillside. As they rounded the bend there was a corral on the left. Several bodies were on the ground, and the gunplay was straight ahead. Chris was intent on the gunplay until he caught sight of his possessions on the ground, with Katie in them. He was off his horse and on the ground beside her in seconds, murmuring "Katie-girl, Katie-girl," holding her limp body. He then stood, taking out both guns, walking toward the gunfire. His eyes burned with a raging anger, that could have seared all in it's path.

Buck and Josiah found Nathan trapped under a dead horse and freed him. Nathan then rushed over to Katie, as Buck continued to cover him. The rest had already entered the gunplay, realizing they had to fight on two fronts, the attackers and the cattle rustlers.

After checking Katie's pulse, Nathan found that she was still alive. Nathan then anxiously called out to Buck, getting his attention, he pointed to Chris. "He thinks she's dead, she's not, tell him."

Bucked looked over to Chris, who was standing erect as he strode into battle firing and hitting targets. Buck sprinted up behind Chris, then rolled his feet out from under him, bringing him down. Chris responded by rolling further then springing up into a crouched position, shoved a gun into his attacker's chest and discovered Buck.

"Buck, what the hell you doing, I coulda killed you," Chris sounded spitting mad.

"She ain't dead, Chris, Katie is still alive. You were acting like a crazy man. I couldn't let you kill yourself." Buck look as serious as Chris had ever seen him.

"You're wrong, I had the situation under control," Chris said as they ran for cover behind some trees.

"Hey, Chris, this is me, I saw your face, you care for her." Buck said this quietly.

"Not like you mean, jus don't want to see her life cut short on account of me." Chris said it like he meant it.

"Whatever you say, pard." Buck said to his friend, still not believing him though.

All of the ambushers were dead. Vin and Ezra had three of the rustlers captured, Josiah came over to help tie them up. Nathan was still working on Katie with JD's help. Buck and Chris checked the downed rustlers for signs of life. They found one alive and brought him over to where Nathan was.

Chris asked after Katie as he and Buck dropped the other body close by.

"She's lost a lot of blood, but she seems to still be breathing strong. We gotta get her back right quick, so as I can check for the bullet. She don't need an infection right now." Nathan tried to relay this in a reassuring manner. He had JD holding a cloth on the still bleeding wound. He didn't mention that she had a second bullet hole. Nathan then stepped over to the other victim, he had a bullet hole in his arm and was in mild shook as his teeth were chattering. Nathan asked Josiah to put one of the horse blankets over him.

Vin and Ezra had their three prisoners tied up to the corral. They then went and retrieved the wagon. Vin drove it over to where Katie was, while Ezra was dumping the wagon contents. Nathan looked up, mighty grateful for the wagon. There was no other safe way to move Katie.

Josiah and JD replenished both food and water for the cattle and made sure the gate was firmly closed. Buck then joined them as they each took charge of a prisoner. Vin took charge of driving the wagon, as Nathan and Chris loaded Katie and the other prisoner into the wagon. Ezra tied their horses to the back of the wagon since they would be moving slowly. He then joined Chris and Nathan in the back of the wagon for the journey home.




The next few days were rough ones. Katie went in and out of consciousness. Nathan had to dig the one bullet out before he could get the bleeding stopped. Chris and Ezra, neither of which, would hardly ever leave Nathan's place, both paled on finding out about the second bullet hole. Buck would spell each of them, Nathan included, so they could get some sleep.

Vin and Josiah went back to the rustler's camp to check on the cattle, and more importantly to Vin, see if he could read the tracks of the original attackers. The ones who shot Katie, thinking she was Chris. Vin knew they had to settle this or Chris would fester on this additional guilt. Vin and Josiah followed the tracks back to James' place again.

Vin was hoping some of the answers would be in Katie's papers. He got JD and Josiah to go out with him to Harper place. Vin and JD took lookout points while Josiah dug up the strongbox. The box was right where Katie said it would be. They brought it back to town, and straight to Nathan's place.

Chris couldn't stay away from Nathan's. Katie wasn't out of the woods yet, as she continued to fight the mild infection that had set in. Chris knew she was only there because of him. That she'd been shot because they thought she was Chris Larabee. Guilt washed over him afresh, as he tried to will her to live.

It was early evening on that third day when Ezra finally found what they were looking for. Ezra

rubbed his eyes, then said, "gentleman, not only did Mr.Harper hold his own water rights, he controlled over half of Stuart James' water rights. Mr. Harper actually owned that land, and James only had a lease. The lease rights expired at the same time Mr. Harper did."

Josiah then rested the papers he'd been going through on the floor next to him. Resting his arm across his knee he speculated, " so James probably had Harper killed thinking he could get all the water rights. Only he couldn't find them, so he had 'em burn the place."

Ezra finished it for him, "figuring the daughter didn't know anything about them, and to make sure, tried to scare her."

Chris nodded and confirmed, "that's how I figure it too, then he added the price tag on my head to distract us. Hoping to keep us from finding out about the water rights." Chris then looked even more dangerous as he added, "we finish this."

Vin said, "we can't just ride into his place, he has more than a regiment out there."

"So we bring him to us." Chris' dark voice stated.

"Not into town here, innocent people might get hurt," Nathan told them.

"No, at the Harper place, in fact, gentlemen," Ezra smiled broadly, "we let it be known that we know where to unearth Mr. Harper's papers, and when we shall do it."

"Kinda like when we helped Mrs. Travis," JD said.

"Exactly," said Ezra.

"Ya know he won't be coming alone," Buck said.

" 'spect not," Vin said smiling like he's got a secret.

The seven then made their plans.




Next morning Katie's fever broke, and she asked for some water. Chris held the cup to her lips as he propped her up. He was visibly relieved as she fell into a restful sleep. He then left her to Nathan's care as he went to clean up.

As Chris entered the saloon, he could hear Buck and Ezra already putting the plan into motion.

How they were planning on going out to the Harper place and get his important papers later in the afternoon when Josiah was free. Then as expected two cowboys paid for their drinks and left the bar in a hurry. Ezra and Buck smiled at Chris and then the three of them headed for the church.

At the church the seven loaded their guns and rifles, then headed to the livery to saddle the horses. Nathan checked on Katie, who had been moved back to her room at the church. He let her know that both Mrs. Potter and Mrs. Travis would be checking on her, and then he joined his companions.

They rode out of town as though they were in no great hurry and stopped when they reached the fork. It was there that they waited. Vin took out his telescope and checked the view.

"They're comin'," Vin smiled as he informed them.

"As expected," said Chris.

The six riders coming reined in their horses as they saw their way was blocked. Blocked by a magnificent line of seven men stretching across the road; rifles in their hands, gun at the ready.

The middle cowboy called out, "we only want Larabee, but we can kill the lot of you if you try to interfere."

"Well sir," Ezra called out, using his most deadly smile. "I foresee a most unfortunate future for you and your comrades," he paused for just a second, and as if on cue, all seven men aimed their rifles at the gunmen. Ezra then continued, "as our rifles are trained on your chests, and should you move more than a hair, we will be forced to end your miserable lives."

It was obvious that the gunmen were caught unaware, as their hands weren't even resting on their guns. Even though the message was unspoken, the gunmen slowly raised their hands above their heads.

Ezra then continued with instructions, "one at a time you will toss your weapon onto the ground," pointing to the man at the right.

JD dismounted to kick the guns even further away before he would bend over to pick them up.

The first three gunmen did exactly as Ezra had asked, but when it came time for the spokesmen to comply, he instead spurred the flank of his horse in hopes of injuring JD. A distinct boom from a carbine quickly ended the play as the man fell to the ground beside his horse. The other two gunmen quickly shed their guns, shaking their heads as if to say we're done, and kept their hands held high.

The five gunmen had their hands tied and bound to the saddlehorns, and were taken to jail in town. The sixth, slung over his horse, went straight to the undertaker. They picked up more ammo at the jailhouse. Now they were ready to work on the next part of their plan; the Harper place.

Buck, Josiah and Ezra rode into the Harper place as planned. They went to burned area of the house and set up like they were about to dig. Ezra picked up a shovel hoping he wasn't really going to have to dig, when they heard the bird whistle alerting them to incoming riders.

Four riders came in with their guns drawn, and pulled up just short of the digging tools. Two riders stayed on their horses guns pointed directly at Ezra and Buck. The other two dismounted, one of the men held back with his gun trained on Josiah, the other went right up to Josiah and demanded what they had. Josiah handed him the shovel.

"Oh, you think your funny preacher man," the young gunman yelled at him.

"Not at all, we haven't even started yet," Josiah enjoyed his own word play.

Pushing Josiah, the gunman said with a sneer, "Then start digging now."

Josiah, Buck and Ezra all dropped their shovels and stepped back, saying "no."

"Then we'll shoot you dead," the gunman said angrily.

Ezra smiled briefly, saying, " I don't think so." Pointing behind them.

All the gunmen turned as JD, then Nathan, then Vin and finally Chris stepped out from different vantage points.

One of the gunmen said, "but you're suppose to be dead." He was pointing at Chris.

The young gunman on the ground panicked, turned to shoot Josiah, and instead fell forward as the sound of Vin's carbine cracked the air. The two on horses fired their weapons as they kicked the horses forward, only to fall to Chris' and Nathan's bullets. Buck and Ezra subdued the other gunman without any gunplay.

The seven didn't relax for a moment knowing that they still had James to contend with. Vin had his telescope out and confirmed that even more riders were coming. Vin then returned to his high vantage point. Ezra also moved to higher ground with his rifle. The others fanned out leaving Chris to greet the incoming riders.

Another four riders entered the Harper ranch. This time, one of them was Stuart James. As James looked at Chris, he said, "I know you."

Chris smiled and said, " well, it is nice to be remembered."

James raised his hand and the gunmen behind James drew their weapons as two more gunmen rode in the front. But in the time it took to blink an eye Vin winged both of the gunmen behind James. Josiah and JD took out the two coming in.

As Josiah reholstered his gun, he said to JD, "well the lord did say..do unto others.."

JD shook his head at Josiah saying, "I don't think this is the kinda situation he was talking about, Josiah."

Josiah smiled a large happy smile, "all things are a matter of interpretation, JD."

Chris looked about him and then smiled, a menacing smile, at Stuart James and said, "It's just us, now James."

Stuart James got off his horse, using his cane on the uneven terrain, walked over to the corral. Chris put his foot on a rung of the corral, waiting for Ezra and Josiah to join them. The others stayed in their lookout positions, as no one trusted James.

Ezra looked at Chris and received a nod that was accompanied by a rare smile from Chris' eyes. Ezra then turned to James and flashed him an insincere smile and began," Mr. James, fortune has indeed shined down upon us," indicating Chris, Josiah and himself with a sweep of his hand, "for we have been entrusted with the safe-keeping of the Harper Papers. In particular, the complete water-rights deed and the deed of ownership of the property adjacent to your ranch."

James looked considerably paler, but still returned with, "I have a lease on that adjacent property."

"Ah, Mr. James, you obviously have not read your fine print adequately, your lease was terminated upon Mr. Harper's death." Ezra relayed this with barely disguised glee.

"Now the way I see it, Mister James," Chris stated in a voice that booked no argument. "You will end your attempts to "deal" with Miss Harper. She owns all this property free and clear. She has absolutely no intention of changing water rights or ownership of any property."

"Now see here, you have no right to speak to me this way," blustered James. It did not sit well to be on the receiving end of orders.

"Actually, we do," Josiah spoke with his clear resonant tones. "Miss Harper has entrusted us with the deeds themselves. If you contact her in any way, shape or form, we will produce ample proof that you engineered the burning of the Harper house and the terrorizing of Miss Harper. We will also be able to have you implicated in the death of Mr. Harper."

"That's blackmail," puffed James.

"No, Mr. James, it's not. We ask for nothing in return. We are just attempting to ensure the safe-keeping of Miss Harper." Ezra replied.

"What'll it be James?" demanded Chris.

"You are interfering in the destiny of a nation," James spoke angrily.

Josiah said with a smile, "you're just not that important Mr.James."

"You'll need to move your fence line this week." Chris said. "We'll check."

Feeling his back against the wall, finally replied, "I don't have a choice."

"No, you don't," said Josiah.

James said nothing more, he returned to his horse, mounted, and rode off without another look at anyone.

Vin watched him until he was completely gone before joining the rest of the guys readying to leave. Then seven of them rode back into town as calmly as they left.

Nathan rushed into the church to check on Katie. He ran into Mrs. Potter as she was leaving. She relayed that their patient was doing well, and had eaten some soup. Nathan thanked her and continued on to Katie. Chris and Ezra were not far behind.

Katie smiled as Nathan entered. At his inquiring look, she answered, "I'm feeling better, just tired, even though it seems I'm already sleeping a lot."

"You'll heal faster with the rest. Any pain?"

"No, only if I move," Katie smiled again. Nathan returned that smile.

When Nathan returned to the main area, he saw Chris and Ezra waiting.

"She's mending jus fine," Nathan told them. Then Nathan shared with them why she went that day, "she said she'd seen the gun, and that she was afraid that the look on their faces meant they were gonna kill me. Chris, then she said, by damm, not if she could help it. I didn't even have a scratch, I kept thinking it shoulda been me."

"Nathan, you saved her, she was shot 'caused she was wearing my things, it was my fault." Chris still sounded guilty.

"Nonsense," Ezra said loudly, "neither of you are at fault."

Chris said softly, "how do ya figure?"

"Chris, you did not put that price tag on your head, and Nathan, you could no more of stopped her at that time, as they probably would have killed her, right then and there." Ezra paused, hoping they were listening. "Gentlemen, I for one, am pleased that her strong spirit was not extinguished." He then nodded and left the church.

Chris too, nodded at Nathan and left. He followed Ezra over to the saloon. As they both went in, Chris said lowly, for only Ezra's ears, "thanks." Ezra smiled to himself as he went to his table.

Chris joined Josiah at the bar, looked at the barkeep and said, "whiskey."




Buck watched as Vin rode out of town, and thinking he was going to check on the cattle, followed him. Only as they came to the fork, Buck knew the he wasn't going to the cattle. Curious, Buck continued to follow. As they approached the James place, Buck saw Vin dismount and place his gun under his bedroll, and take out an extra knife. Vin then disappeared into the night, silently like an Indian. Buck waited, in case.

Vin was approaching the James homestead, blending into the night. Not disturbing the horses or the dogs, he entered the house. He stealthily entered James' bedroom, approached his sleeping form and took his knife out and laid it against his neck and pressed. James awoke, eyes flying open, fear upper most in his mind, unable to see his attacker.

Vin then whispered with more venom than the others had ever heard, "If one hair on Chris Larabee's head is harmed, or someone takes a pot shot at him, I'm coming back, I will kill you. Slowly, with pain. You know that I can." He wrapped James up in his covers, and stealthily left the way he came.

Buck saw Vin return to his horse, as the homestead came alive. Buck waited for Vin and rode away with him. Vin looked over at him and said, "thought of you as back up."

Buck smiled, realizing Vin knew he was there the whole time. They went to the cattle camp and replenished their food. Vin was leaning against the corral as Buck came up to him.

"You dealt with Chris' problem out there, didn't you?" Buck said standing next to him.

"Yep."

"Thanks" Buck felt mighty grateful.

When they reached town, they went to the saloon. JD said to them both, "where ya been?"

Buck answered, "Fed the cattle." Then went to the bar and got a whiskey.




The following week Katie moved over to the boarding house again. She was much stronger, and only had two pink scars to show for it. The small one on her side didn't hurt at all; the one on her left shoulder pained her when she lifted her arm. Nathan had assured her she was healing fine. She just couldn't work on her house, and her house needed a bit of work. Chris and Ezra filled her in on the situation with James. They included what they had said about her father and how James had never denied it.

Chris said, "It's not enough for a court of law, but it will keep him from bothering you again."

She went to the livery to check on her horses, grateful no harm had come to them. She noticed what good shape they were in, and knew they hadn't been neglected. She spoke soothing words and rubbed their muzzles, both human and horse enjoying the reunion.

Later, when she knew she'd find them all in the saloon, went to speak with them.

Chris' eyes softened as she walked in the saloon, and he added an extra chair at the table for her. Ezra concluded his game and joined them.

Katie smiled, a deep full smile, that enclosed each man in its warmth. She then said, "You seven men were magnificent, because of what you did, I have my life back. I don't if words can express my thanks, but, I give you all, a big, heart felt thank you."

All seven men smiled in return.

the end





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