Angela looked at the young man who rode swiftly towards them. She recognized him as one of Clark’s hands and knew something was wrong as he drew abreast of the buggy.
“Afternoon, Ma’am, Mr. Wilmington.”
“Good afternoon, Walter, is something wrong?”
“Yes, ma’am. Mr. Jennings sent me to fetch ya back to the ranch.”
“Why? Is she ill?” Angela asked.
“It’s Mr. Clark, Mrs. Ta…Wilmington. Seems he died this morning and she’s very distraught.”
“Oh, Buck, would you drive me over there?”
Wilmington nodded as he tried to read the look on the woman’s face. He’d seen a slight smile before a mask of grief descended and the woman acted as if she was truly saddened at the news. “Course I will.”
“I’m gonna go on into town and fetch Reverend Collins and Doc Morton,” Walter Hastings advised.
“Thank you, Walter,” Angela said as her husband flicked the reins and the horse started forward again. She watched the handsome rogue’s face and knew something was running through his mind. “Buck, what are you thinking about?”
“Joseph seemed fine when they left the other day.”
“Yes, but he had a weak heart according to Dr. Morton.”
“That right? He sure didn’t show any sign of that when he was dancing with Rosemary.”
“What are you trying to say, Buck?”
“Did she kill him, Angela?”
“Of course not! Rosemary may be much younger than Joseph, but she loved him as much as I love you.”
“You got a funny way of showing love.”
“What do you mean?” She asked indignantly and heard a harsh laugh escape.
“I’d answer that, but I’m afraid of what you’d do to Chris.”
“Buck, I am giving you a chance to speak whatever is on your mind with a promise that for the moment nothing will happen to Chris Larabee. If you have anything you want to get off your chest you’d better do it now while I’m in the right frame of mind!”
“Chris won’t be hurt?”
“No, it stays right here, but once we reach Rosemary’s things return to the way they are supposed to be and Chris will pay for what you do or say there.”
“I thought I knew you, Angela, but the woman I knew and loved wasn’t real was she?”
“She was, but she hasn’t existed since she was forced into a loveless marriage and had to run away from home at fourteen because she killed her husband. I won’t lie and say it was an accident, because that would be a lie. I killed him because he thought he owned me and could do what he wanted to me. The final straw for me was when he bit me so badly he drew blood and laughed at me when I tried to cover myself. I ran away, changed my name and became Angela Tate when I met you in Midfield. I ran off with Robert Stratton because he had money and I craved that kind of life, but I found that having was not the same as wanting.”
“So what happened to Stratton?”
“He died…and no I didn’t kill him, not directly anyway. Rosemary and I knew we were going to be blamed and I took what money I could and came back here. Do you want to know why?”
“Because of me?”
“That’s right. All the while I was married to Robert I dreamed it was your arms that held me and I knew I had to find you again. We settled down here even after I resigned myself to not finding you. Angela met and married Joseph and I bought the ranch we live in and was content with my life until I saw the story about you and Four Corners. I knew fate meant for us to be together again.”
“How many people have you two murdered, Angela?”
“That’s a loaded question, Buck, and one I’m not going to answer.”
“Did she kill Joseph?”
“I won’t answer that one either, Buck, and if that’s the kind of questions you insist on asking then this ends now.”
“You said it would last until we reached the Clark place.”
“I’m changing my mind, Buck, so you’ve been warned! Watch what you say!”
Wilmington lapsed into silence as he continued to drive the buggy past the Tate ranch and further along the trail towards the Clark place. His mind kept turning to Chris Larabee and he wondered if the blond was still alive. He felt Angela move closer to him and wanted more than anything to push her away, but thoughts of retaliation made him grin and bear it.
Ethan Turner wiped his lips as he sat on the chair watching for Rosemary Clark. The woman was later than normal and he was beginning to think she wasn’t going to show up as the sun began to dip below the horizon. Larabee was unnaturally quiet since he’d given him the laudanum and herbs she’d left for him. Turner was enjoying the quiet, but as the day drew towards an end he was desperate to go into town and get a drink. He shook his head angrily at being stuck at the line shack and made up his mind to give Clark another hour and if she didn’t show up he’d take off into town and if she came out he’d just tell the woman he’d been looking for her so she could come out and check on Larabee.
Smiling, Turner stood up and went back inside where he heated water and began preparing the herbal mixture he’d force on the injured man. It would not take long and he’d be on his way into town within the hour.
Buck watched as Angela and Rosemary sat in the parlor of the Clark home. There had been a lot of visitors throughout the day until Angela insisted that her friend needed to rest. Reverend Collins and his sister were among the last to leave and again Buck noticed that Evan Rawlings was paying rapt attention to the preacher’s sister.
“Buck, would you bring Rosie and myself some tea.”
“It’s been such a trying day I would prefer something a little stronger,” Clark said as she smiled at her friend.
“Sure, Rosie, anything you wish.”
“Brandy, a big one,” the other woman said and pointed towards the table that held a variety of liquor.
“Oh that sounds wonderful,” Angela said, smiling at her husband as he quickly poured them each a drink. “Perhaps you should spend the next few days at our home.”
“Thank you, Angela, but I wouldn’t dream of interfering with your wedded bliss,” Clark said as she smiled and motioned towards Wilmington.
“How is he behaving?”
“Very well. In fact at church this morning he was more than attentive and if I hadn’t insisted on behaving in a dignified fashion I believe we would have been driven out of town. It was wonderful,” Angela explained.
“Sounds like Buck knows who is in charge here.”
“I think he’s beginning to realize his choices are very limited. I think he’s worried about Chris today.”
“I’m afraid with everything that’s happened I’ve been unable to check on him, but I’m sure Ethan is taking very good care of him.”
“I’ll ride out there tomorrow before the funeral while Buck makes sure you’re taken care of.”
“I’d like to see him,” Wilmington said and heard the two women laugh.
“That’s out of the question right now, Lover. Right now I don’t have the time to let you visit him, but if you prefer I’ll stay here as well and we can leave your friend in Turner’s not so capable hands. It’s your choice, Buck, but keep in mind that it is in my best interests to make sure Chris stays alive. So what’s your pleasure?”
“You go check on him,” Wilmington said, shoulder slumping in defeat as he glared at the two people he hated above all else.
Vin, Josiah, and Ezra rode into the sleepy little town and looked around. None of the men was all that impressed with what they saw, but looks could be deceiving. The trio headed towards the only place that seemed to still have any life and watched as a man stumbled through the door and landed in a heap on the ground.
Tanner caught sight of a slight movement in the shadows of the alley between the saloon and the mercantile and dismounted as the drunk staggered towards the lone horse tied to the hitching post. He heard Josiah and Ezra dismount and hurry past him.
“Are you coming, Vin?”
“Gimme a minute, Josiah,” Tanner said as he watched the shadows for further movement. The drunk seemed unaware of the person watching him and Vin looped Peso’s reins over the post and sauntered slowly towards the alley. He knew whatever was going on was none of his business, but his instincts were not to be ignored. Again the drunk tried to mount up, but was unable to do so as he slid to the ground and lay still. Vin turned towards the alley as the shadow moved out into the street and was bathed in the meager light coming from the swinging batwing doors. “Friend a yers?”
“No, just someone I needed to find out more about.”
“Ya the law here?”
“Have been for near on fifteen years! Names Evan Rawlings. Give me a hand to get this one into a cell so he can sleep it off.”
“Sure, name’s Vin Tanner, my friends and I are lookin’…”
“Vin Tanner. Damn, talk about coincidences. I was gonna telegram Four Corners first thing in the mornin’. Is Chris with you boys?”
“No, he’s s’posed ta be here with Buck.”
“Damn, I was afraid of that. All right, let’s get him locked up and I’ll buy you boys a drink and we’ll talk about what’s been happening here.” The two men dragged Turner towards the jail and locked him inside the single cell before crossing the street and entering the saloon once more. Vin spotted Josiah and Ezra at a back table and hurried to join them.
“Friend of yours, Vin?” Sanchez asked.
“Josiah, Ezra, this here’s the law in these parts. Think maybe he has some news ‘bout Buck and Chris.”
“Evan Rawlings. I may have news, but I’m not so sure it’s gonna do anything to ease your minds any.”
“So Mister’s Larabee and Wilmington did visit your town,” Standish stated.
“Yeah, they did. Saw Chris a day or two after he arrived. Didn’t seem real happy and said he was sending a message. I take it you boys never got that message,” Rawlings asked.
“Haven’t heard from either of them since they left Four Corners,” Sanchez answered worriedly.
“I take it they are no longer here?” Standish asked.
“Buck is. Got himself hitched a few days ago…”
“Buck got married?” Sanchez asked incredulously and saw the disbelief on Tanner and Standish’s faces. They all knew Buck had feelings for Angela Tate, but could not believe he would have married the woman without letting them know.
“He sure did.”
“Was Mr. Larabee at the happy nuptials?” the gambler asked.
“No, and Buck was acting kind of strange.”
“How so?” Tanner asked.
“It was like he was forcing himself to smile and I swear he shied away from his new wife, now does that sound like a man who’s happy he’s getting married?” Rawlings asked.
“Sounds more like a man who is being forced into doing something he has no desire to do,” Standish said.
“That’s what I thought. I figured something was wrong, but couldn’t get a chance to speak with Buck alone. Angela was always with him. Buck asked me to stand with him, and I think that’s when I knew something was really wrong, because he’d said Chris was going to stand for him. There’s something else too.”
“What?” Sanchez inquired.
“Angela’s friend is a woman named Rosemary Clark. They came here together and Rosemary married a rancher named Joseph Clark. They bought the hotel here in town and run the telegraph office as well.”
“What does all of this have to do with Chris and Buck?” the ex-preacher asked.
“I’m getting to it. I’ve been leery of those two since they came here, but could never prove anything. Even the telegrams I sent came back saying Rosemary and Angela were exactly who they claimed to be. I think that was because my messages were never sent. Joseph Clark died today. Now I’m not saying there was anything wrong about how he died, but coming so close to Chris’ disappearance it kinda tells me there’s two skunks loose and Buck and Chris are knee deep in something they can’t get out of without help.”
“So who was the man we put in your jail?” Tanner asked.
“His name is Turner. Not too sure about his first name, but he’s been around a couple of years. He’s got one of them faces that makes you think he’s a kid, but he’s older than that and I’m thinkin’ he knows where Chris is!” Rawlings was shocked at how quickly the three men came to their feet. He stood and blocked the exit as best he could, but knew there would be no stopping them if they really wanted to go through him. He had never been a coward, but there were times like this when a man should just back off.
“I believe it would be beneficial to your health if you remove yourself from our presence,” Standish blustered.
“What are you boys planning?” Rawlings asked.
“Got a few questions fer Turner!” the Texan spat.
“He’s in no shape to answer questions and if he’s working for Angela Tate and Rosemary Clark then he’s not gonna be all that willing to talk to you.”
“We know how to handle men like Turner,” Sanchez advised.
“I’m sure you do, but if you sit down I’ll tell you what I’ve got planned and I think you’ll find my plans a lot simpler than yours.”
“Got five minutes!” Tanner advised as he sat back down.
“I figure we let Turner wake up on his own or if you’re in such an all fired hurry to get moving we can douse him with water and I can tell him to move on. When he leaves we can follow at a safe distance and hope he leads us to Chris.”
“Sounds like a good plan,” Sanchez said. “Vin, think you can track him in the dark?”
“No problem. Sheriff…”
“Call me Evan.”
“Evan, how sure are ya that this guy is workin’ fer them two women?”
“Pretty damn sure considerin’ how many times I’ve seen him visit Rosemary Clark at the telegraph office,” Rawlings explained.
“Any way you can get a message to Buck?” Sanchez asked.
“Not without his wife ‘round. Least she’ll be busy with her friend and Joseph’s funeral.”
“Will Mr. Clark be buried in the town cemetery?” Standish asked.
“Perhaps it would be prudent if you and I remained in town. I believe Mr. Wilmington would be quite relieved if he knew he had assistance without alarming Mrs. Wilmington.”
“He’s right, Evan,” Sanchez said and reached for his drink.
“Ya sure yer all right with stayin’ in town, Ez?” Tanner asked.
“I believe it will be for the best,” Standish said. The four men stood up and walked towards the door as the barman ushered out the last two men.
It was nearly two in the morning and the moon was shining over his head when Ethan Turner grumbled about needing a drink and mounted his horse. Without a backwards glance he turned his horse out of town and headed towards the trail that led to the line shack, unaware of the two men waiting in the alley.
Chris shivered as if cold, yet beads of sweat were evident on his forehead and chest. The pillow below his head was soaked with perspiration as the blond head shook back and forth. He mumbled words that sounded as if they were being forced through a throat that had seized up and yet no one was there to hear him. He opened his eyes and tried to moisten his lips, but there didn’t seem to be any moisture to be found.
The room he was in was dark, but he tried to focus his eyes and find his captor. He needed something to drink, but there was no one there to help him. Alone in the darkness he reached for the only source of light left to him and a softly whispered name followed him.
Buck lay awake in the bed he shared with Angela Tate. They’d returned to their home with Rosemary’s insistence and Wilmington knew the woman was not grieving for her husband. Angela had long ago fallen asleep and although he hated her touch he could not chance her anger if he left their bed. He hated what his life had become and even worse hated the feel of her hair against his chest or the soft breath against his shoulder. But this was how he would live until he found a way to get to Chris Larabee and get him the help he needed. Until then he would do what needed to be done and take his vengeance out on Angela and Rosemary when he time was right.
Angela opened her eyes and smiled as she heard the snores emanating from her husband. She knew the sleeping draught she’d slipped him had finally taken over and that he would sleep for several hours. She needed to get out to the line shack, make sure everything was as it should be, ride back here and head into town for Joseph’s funeral. Sliding her long legs over the edge, Angela stood up and stretched. She looked at Wilmington and knew she would not be able to keep him much longer, but she would enjoy his prowess in bed for as long as she could.
She quickly dressed and hurried out of the room. Carmon was still sleeping and she would leave without notice and that was just the way she wanted it. She hurried to the stable and saddled the fastest horse she had before leading him outside. She mounted up and dug her heels into the side and smiled as the animal took off. She loved riding free as the wind, but her haste today had little to do with enjoyment. She needed to check on Larabee and Turner, and then get back to the house.
Turner was relieved to see the hitching post was empty and he smiled in spite of the mounting headache. He knew he’d drunk too much and was lucky the sheriff had only ordered him out of town or spend the next few days locked behind bars. He moved into the shack and cursed the foul smell of sickness that greeted him.
“I don’t think this is worth it!” he spat as he removed his jacket without realizing the smell was coming from his own body. He threw the jacket aside and hurried to get fresh water and care for the injured man.
“Wait up a minute, Vin,” Sanchez warned as the younger man seemed ready to storm the shack.
“Chris could be in there!”
“I know, but there’s a rider coming.”
“Where?” Tanner asked, hating the way he’d been distracted and been unaware of a rider coming in.
“Coming in just to the south of us,” Sanchez explained and pointed to the darker shadow headed towards the line shack.
“Looks like a woman,” Tanner observed as she rode within a hundred feet of them. Neither man moved as the woman raced past, but they wondered if things had just gone from bad to worse as she dismounted and hurried into the line shack.
“Maybe we should wait until she leaves.”
“What if she’s come…”
“Vin, we don’t even know for sure Chris is in there.”
“Damn it, J’siah, my gut says he is,” Tanner said as Turner came out of the shack and grabbed the saddlebags off the woman’s horse.
“I trust your gut instincts, Vin, but right now I think we’re better off waiting until one of them leaves. We go in there all piss and vinegar there’s libel to be shooting and someone’s gonna be hurt. Might be best to wait and see because if Chris is in there we got no idea what kind of shape he’s in,” Sanchez explained as he dismounted and led his horse towards a stand of trees where he waited for the Texan to join him.
Angela cursed as she entered the line shack and the sickly smell of sour vomit and stale liquor assaulted her senses. She saw the fear on Turner’s face as her gaze quickly swept the small room.
“Mrs. W…Wilmington, wasn’t ‘spectin’ ya,” Turner explained fearfully.
“I can see that! Where the hell have you been?”
“I been here…”
“Then why is your horse soaked with sweat and still saddled and why do you smell like a man who’s been drinking and whoring around?”
“I…I just went ta get supplies and had a drink or two while I was there. Man gets thirsty way out here and I needed the stuff ta take care of that bastard!” His head snapped back as she slapped him across the face.
“Don’t ever lie to me, Ethan, because you’ll pay for it! Now go bring my saddlebags in and make damn sure I have clean water and bandages!”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Turner said as he hurried from the shack.
Angela looked at Larabee and knew he needed more help than she could give him, but she was all he had right now. Rosemary would know what to do for the man, but somehow she didn’t expect the blond to be with them much longer. They’d have to make sure Wilmington didn’t know what kind of tenuous hold his friend had on life right now. She set to work on the wounds as soon as Turner brought her the saddlebags. Once she finished with Larabee she packed up and headed out to her horse and took off back to her ranch.
“Whoever she is she’s in a hell of a hurry to get somewhere,” Sanchez said as they watched from their vantage point.
“That jest leaves Turner!”
“Have you got a plan?”
“Always got a plan, J’siah,” the Texan said with a grin.
“Yeah, I have noticed that. So how do you want to do this?”
“I’m just gonna ride down and say howdy.”
“Simple as that?”
“Sometimes simple is the best,” Tanner told him and reached for Peso’s reins.
“Yeah, I think you’re right. Just make sure you have his attention while I get in behind him,” Sanchez ordered as the Texan mounted Peso and began to ride towards the shack.
Turner frowned as he finished setting up a pot of coffee. The chewing out he received from Angela Tate left a bitter taste in his mouth and coupled with his sour stomach gave him the disposition of a rabid cougar. He kept glancing from his gun on the table to the man who mumbled incoherently on the small bed.
“Should fuckin’ kill ya and ride off, but I need that money!” Turner said and punctuated his word with a fist to Larabee’s thigh. The injured man cried out as his body arched on the bed and then dropped back down. He heard the sound of a horse approaching and wondered what the woman had forgotten as he hurried to the door.
“Howdy, Mister, jest wanted ta ask fer a little water.”
“Who the hell are ya?” Turner asked as he glanced towards the gun he’d left on the table.
“Just a drifter. Ain’t planning on stayin’, but could really use a drink.”
“Help yerself and get on yer way,” Turner said and pointed towards the covered well. He watched the buckskin clad man move toward the well and walked away from the door of the shack in order to keep the man in sight. Too late he heard movement behind him and turned to face a large man in a Serape standing between him and the shack.
“Keep your hands where I can see them!” Sanchez ordered.
“Who the fuck are ya?” Turner asked angrily as he spun back to face the second man.
“Could be we’re avenging angels,” the ex-preacher whispered as he turned towards the inside of the shack.
“Vin, keep that miserable sonofabitch out here!”
“Is it Chris?” the Texan asked worriedly.
“Yes,” was all Sanchez said as he hurried inside and over to the bed. The lean gunslinger was battered and bruised and his forehead and chest glistened with perspiration.
“Jesus!” Tanner cursed, shoving the other man roughly into the single chair. He reached for a strip of material that hung across the table and quickly tied Turner’s arms behind his back before moving to check on Sanchez and Larabee.
“Chris, Son, can you hear me?” the older man tried as he watched Larabee’s knuckles turning white as he gripped the rough-hewn blanket.
“Hey, Cowboy, me and J’siah are here,” Tanner explained as a pair of glazed green eyes opened and looked at him. He saw no sign of recognition and knew his friend was locked in some kind of waking nightmare.
“Vin, he don’t know who we are right now,” Sanchez told the Texan.
“What the fuck did ya do ta him?”
“Wasn’t me, Mister. It was Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Wilmington. They shot him, but I’ve been takin’ good care of ‘im!” Turner lied.
“Like hell! He’s burnin’ up!” Tanner spat. He watched as Sanchez managed to get the blanket away from the blond and pull it back to reveal two separate bandages and numerous bruises. The bandage covering the thigh showed evidence of fresh bleeding and the big preacher’s hands eased back the material.
“Looks like someone hit him here!”
“W…wasn’t me!” Turner stammered as cold blue eyes turned on him. He knew the man was dangerous and cringed as the lanky Texan grabbed his collar.
“Ya hit him ya bastard and I’m gonna make sure ya don’t fuck with anyone else!”
“Vin, leave him be and go bring in some fresh water!” Sanchez ordered knowing the man needed to keep busy. His relationship with Chris Larabee was that of a brother and it was hard seeing someone you cared about hurting, especially someone you considered family. “Vin, did you hear me?”
“Heard ya, J’siah, this bastard best stay put or I’ll tear him apart!” the Texan warned softly, yet there was a deadly intensity that Turner could read easily.
Josiah sat in the chair beside Larabee’s bed and reached out to touch the younger man. Larabee’s skin was hot to the touch, yet the blond seemed to shiver uncontrollably. He wished Jackson had been able to accompany them, but that was not the case. They would have to get Larabee into town and pray there was a physician in residence.
“Looks like someone tried to help you out, Son, but I wish Nathan was here,” Sanchez removed the bloodied bandage and winced at the swollen area surrounding what was evidently a bullet wound. He heard footsteps behind him and turned to see the Texan standing beside him with a basin of water.
“J’siah, how bad?”
“Bad enough. We need to get him cleaned up and into town. Any chance you could find what you need to make a travois?”
“Think so. Saw a couple of good lengths of wood out by the well. Ya all right here with that bastard?”
“He’s not gonna try anything. Faster we get Chris into town the better.”
“Does he know we’re here?”
“No, right now I don’t think he knows anything except that he’s hurt,” Sanchez explained as he finished removing the bonds that held the blond to the bed. Before he could react, Larabee came off the bed in fever baked delirium and started swinging at the older man. He fought as if his life depended on it and soon had two men holding him down.
“F….fuckin’ bas…bastard!” Larabee cried as his strength left him. He heard two voices talking to him and one finally cut through the pain and horror he felt. His eyes became fixated on the buckskin clad form that stood to his left and he felt relief wash over him as another voice cut through the pain.
“Hey, Cowboy, ya with us?”
“V…Vin? Jo…Josiah?” Larabee ground out through clenched teeth as he gripped the older man’s hand.
“Easy, Chris, just hold on and we’ll make you more comfortable,” Sanchez vowed. “Vin, get that travois built!”
“Sure, don’t ya go anywhere, Cowboy!”
“N…not g…goin’ any…anywhere. Jesus!” Larabee’s body grew rigid with pain as he shifted slightly. He didn’t see the worry and fear on his friends’ faces as they tried to help him.
“I’ll be right outside if’n ya need me, J’siah!”
“All right, Vin. I’m going to take a look at his wounds and maybe give him a little laudanum. Make sure that sonofabitch can’t get loose!”
Chris heard the two of them talking and closed his eyes in and effort to ride out the waves of agony twisting through his gut. He heard Josiah and Vin talking and drifted towards relieved sleep as he felt Josiah’s big hand on his forehead.
Angela smiled inwardly as her husband stood beside her at the graveyard. Rosemary stood on her right, tears flowing freely as Reverend Collins spoke the words from the well-worn bible. She kept glancing at Wilmington; well aware of the anger he was holding inside. Something told her the man knew what had really happened to Joseph Clark, but for now there was nothing he could do about it.
Buck felt his wife watching him and fought to keep the anger and hurt from showing on his face. Most of the townspeople were in attendance and he heard several newcomers behind him. Evan Rawlings was watching him closely, but there was no way he could acknowledge the man with the two women watching him. He turned to his left and had to stop himself from gasping out the name of the man who stood several feet away from him. He fought the urge to look again, but something told him he would really see the gambler dressed in the familiar red coat. If Ezra Standish was there, then so were the others and that meant help was there and it was only a matter of time before they found out where Chris Larabee was being held.
Ezra Standish had maneuvered himself into the crowd of grievers and knew if Wilmington turned in his direction he would spot him immediately. When then dark haired man turned towards him and their eyes locked for a few short seconds, but the conman easily read the hope and relief in his friend’s eyes, before Buck’s attention returned to the funeral service.
Standish studied the two women standing beside Wilmington and knew these were the two he’d spoken with Rawlings about. There was no real evidence against Clark and Tate, but they would dig until they found whatever evidence was out there.
‘Don’t worry, Buck, you won’t be stuck in this marriage for long,’ Standish vowed.
Vin worked at making sure the travois would hold up to the task of bringing Larabee into Midfield. They’d talked about him going for the physician, but it would end up taking longer and if the doctor was not there that was time they’d wasted. At least in town they could get the supplies they needed and there would be ice available to bring down Larabee’s fever. He stretched his back, wincing as the muscles ached and he reached for the canteen beside him. He drank his fill and then turned his attention to the conveyance he’d just finished. It was strong and sturdy and there was no doubt in his mind that it would hold up to the job it was meant for. He’d lined it with one of the blankets found inside the line shack and checked the joins once more and secured it to Peso before hurrying into the shack. His breath caught in his throat as he looked at the fevered gunslinger.
Larabee’s eyes were closed, but Tanner didn’t think he was sleeping as he looked at the evidence of pain lining the pale face. He moved to help Sanchez and watched the sea green eyes open and bore into him, imploring him with just a look that Vin could easily read.
“B…Buck?” the blond rasped.
“Ezra’s in town keeping an eye on him, Chris. Once we get you to Midfield, we’ll make damn sure he’s out of danger. Rawlings knows we’re here and he’ll arrest the two women as soon as we let him know you’re safe,” Sanchez explained.
“Ya don’t need ta worry ‘bout any of it, Cowboy. Jest sleep and we’ll get ya home,” Tanner vowed.
“Home? Four Corners?”
“As soon as the doc says yer ready ta go we’ll get ya back to Corners,” Tanner assured him.
“Vin, did you get the travois finished?”
“It’s ready, J’siah,” Tanner told him as Larabee’s eyes closed. This time there was no doubt that the blond was either sleeping or unconscious and whichever it was, Tanner prayed he’d stay under until after they reached town.
“Vin, we’ll wrap him in the blankets he’s lying on and I’ll carry him to the horses.”
“Peso’s stronger than the other two,” the Texan told him and saw the head nod once in agreement. Turner would be bound to his own horse and Sanchez would have the reins.
“All right, guess its time to get moving,” Sanchez said and tucked the blankets around the lean gunslinger. He stood up and gently reached for the unconscious blond before standing and heading towards the door. He spotted Peso and the travois and gently placed the injured man on it. It didn’t take them long to secure Larabee to the makeshift conveyance and Sanchez turned back to the shack. “I’ll get Turner!”
“Thanks, J’siah,” Tanner said tucking the blanket around the gunslinger and arranging it so the sun would not burn the man’s skin during the trip into town.
‘Just stay calm, help is here,’ Wilmington thought as the grievers dispersed and he walked beside the two women. He knew the plan was to stay at the hotel for the night and he was grateful he hadn’t argued with them when it was suggested earlier. He’d seen Standish walk away from the graveside and wished he could get close enough to speak with the conman, but Angela was keeping a tight rein on his movements.
“Buck, you seem awfully withdrawn,” the red haired woman stated.
“A man is dead, Angela, would you rather I celebrated like you and Rosemary seemed to be doing last night?”
“Watch what you say, Buck. Just because we’re staying in town tonight doesn’t mean Chris can’t be punished tomorrow morning. There will be a lot of people coming to speak with Rosie and I expect you to act in the appropriate manner.”
“That’s what I was doing. I thought I was being respectful considering Joseph is dead and his wife is probably behind it.” He heard the sharp intake of breath and knew he’d probably overstepped his bounds when anger flared in the green eyes.
“Chris will pay for that comment, Buck.”
“You should have thought of that before you spoke to me like that. Keep it up and I assure you Chris Larabee won’t live to see another sunrise.”
Buck spotted Standish and prayed the man was not alone as they stepped into the hotel. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the gambler speaking with the sheriff before the two men stepped into the jail.
‘God, Ezra, please tell me you’re not alone!’ he thought as he accompanied the two women up the stairs.
Ezra walked into the jail and took a seat across from the sheriff before speaking. “Buck seems to be under guard this afternoon.”
“Yeah, he does. Angela doesn’t let him out of her sight and when she’s not around Rosemary Clark is there. I wish there was some way to get a message to him.”
“Buck Wilmington is a smart man and believe me he knows I’m here. It wouldn’t take much for him to realize why I’ve shown up and hopefully he knows I wouldn’t come alone. I’m hoping that Mr. Tanner and Mr. Sanchez return with our missing peacekeeper before the day is over.”
“Yeah, that would be good. I’m glad Doc Morton stayed in town today, because I don’t think those two would think twice about hurting a hostage to fortune and I think that’s exactly what Chris is.”
“I believe your jail may soon house two of the most beautiful prisoners to ever break the law,” Standish said.
“Wish I could say you’re wrong, but I’ve been trying to find evidence to put them in jail for some time.” Rawlings took a deep breath and stood up. “I missed breakfast this morning, Ezra. Care to join me at the saloon?”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Standish agreed and walked to the door.
The trip to Midfield took longer than expected as they stopped several times to take care of Larabee’s needs. The blond’s body trembled as if cold, yet beads of sweat were evident on his face. The left arm was still strapped to his body and both men knew it was broken and left it immobilized. They managed to get him to drink, but not nearly enough to ease their minds.
Vin kept glancing over his shoulder as the journey continued and darkness soon blanketed the landscape. His worry about spending a night on the trail intensified, as Larabee seemed to grow worse.
“Vin, think that’s Midfield up ahead!” Sanchez called as he spotted the signal fires at the center of a cluster of buildings.
“Thank God,” Tanner said and unconsciously moved Peso a little faster.
Buck could hear the two women talking as he looked out over the town. The small fires burned in the street and cast a circle of ghostly light upon the buildings. He’d been unable to eat with the threat once more hanging over Larabee’s head. Angela’s temper continued to rise throughout the day and he knew the blond would suffer for what he’d said. The glass held tightly in his hand contained an amber liquid that he hadn’t tasted since pouring it.
Buck took a deep breath and was about to turn away from the window when movement at the edge of the firelight caught his attention. He pressed his left hand against the window as the newcomers rode into view. He recognized the buckskin-clad man riding Peso and the ex-preacher riding his big Bay and smiled inwardly as he realized help had indeed arrived. A small smile formed on his face, but quickly disappeared as he spotted the travois being drawn by Peso.
“Chris,” he whispered with a mixture of trepidation and hope as they rode towards the jail.
“Did you say something, Buck?”
“N…no, just thinking,” the ladies man’ stammered, as he watched Tanner dismount and hurry to check on the injured man. He hurried towards the door and raced down the hall towards the stairs as his wife called his name sharply. He ignored her voice as he raced out the front door of the hotel. “Vin! Josiah!”
“Buck, watch out!” Sanchez shouted as he spotted a woman behind Wilmington. He drew his gun at the same time as the woman fired and prayed she was not as confident or proficient with the weapon as she looked.
Wilmington dove to the right and felt something tear through his shirt at the same time a burning pain in his arm registered. He heard a second shot echo the first and turned to see Rosemary Clark fall to the ground. The woman writhed for several seconds as doors opened and morbidly curious townspeople peered into the street. Rawlings hurried to check on the woman, gun in hand as he kicked the weapon out of her reach.
“She just took a shot at Buck!” Sanchez warned as the lawman touched her throat.
“Is she dead?” someone called from the half opened door of the saloon.
“No, get Doc Morton out here!” Rawlings ordered.
“Sure, Sheriff.” Someone yelled and they heard the sound of running feet.
“Where’s Angela?” Wilmington asked, standing and holding his bleeding arm as he searched the darkness for the second woman.
“Milt,” Rawlings called the owner of the saloon.
“Right here, Sheriff!”
“Keep pressure on this!” Rawlins ordered as the older man knelt and pressed on the wound to Clark’s shoulder. The lawman hurried inside the hotel and asked if any of the patrons had seen Angela Wilmington. No one had, but they began searching room by room, but with no success.
Outside the street was awash with activity as Richard Morton arrived with his bag. He knelt beside Rosemary Clark and checked the wound before handing the man a clean piece of material and moving to check on Wilmington.
“I’m fine, Doc,” the gentle rogue lied as he motioned the doctor towards the travois.
“Who is this?” Morton asked, all business as he looked at the pale features and the washed out appearance of his face.
“His name’s Chris Larabee, Doc. He’s a good friend,” Wilmington explained as Morton touched Larabee’s forehead. “Thanks for f…finding him, Vin, Josiah.”
“This man’s in bad shape! We need to get him to my office right away. Gerald, bring me as much ice as you can find and I’ll need whiskey too!”
“I’ll bring it to your house!” Gerald Carlton answered and hurried away.
“Do you two think you can carry him to my place?” Morton asked of the newcomers.
“Just point us in the right direction,” Sanchez ordered as they removed the Travois from Peso.
“I’ll take care of yer horses!” the liveryman called as he picked up the reins.
“Any sign of her, Evan?” Wilmington asked as the sheriff rejoined them.
“Nothing,” the man said and turned to several people who stood close by. “Jake, you and Martin pick Mrs. Clark up and put her in a cell until the doc can look at her.”
“Sure thing, Sheriff,” Martin agreed as they picked the woman up between them.
“All right, Turner, let’s get you inside and locked up!” Rawlings warned as he pulled the man from the horse’s back.
“Sheriff, thank God! It wasn’t me did that ta him! It was Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Wilmington! I tried ta help!”
“I’m sure you did, Turner, but you might as well save it until the judge gets here!” Rawlings warned and escorted the man into the small jail.
“Put him on the bed over there and get rid of them blankets!” Morton ordered as he pulled the table closer to the bed and began preparing the instruments he thought he would need.
Josiah and Vin lifted the unconscious man onto the bed and winced as they took note of the fresh bleeding from both wounds. Larabee hadn’t moved since being carried inside and the two men worried that it might be too late. They looked at the ladies’ man as he sank into a chair on the opposite side of the bed.
“Jesus, Chris, wish I could’ve stopped that bitch!”
“Easy, Buck, he’s got help now,” Sanchez explained, accepting several strips of bandages from the physician and moved to care for Wilmington’s arm.
“I’m okay, Josiah,” the man mumbled softly.
“No, you’re not, Buck. I have no idea what you’ve been through, but you need to realize whatever happened is not your fault!”
“Yes, this time it is! If I hadn’t insisted on coming back here Chris’d be safe back home. Probably drinking whiskey at the saloon!”
“Maybe, but he chose ta come here with ya because he cares what happens ta ya, Buck…”
Wilmington winced at the harsh sounding whisper and leaned close over the injured man as Larabee turned towards him. “Chris, Pard, I’m sorry!”
“Mr. Larabee, I need you to lie still for me,” Morton said as he began removing the bandage from Larabee’s left side. He reached for the cloth that soaked in the mixture of water and carbolic and began cleaning the swollen area.
“Doc, anythin’ I can do?” Tanner asked.
“Wash your hands and then take the bandage off his leg. I need to see how bad the wounds are!” Morton ordered.
“I can help…”
“Right now you need help, Mr. Wilmington,” Morton warned and motioned for Sanchez to move the ladies’ man out of the way.
“Don’t think that’s a real good plan right now, Doc,” Sanchez said as he felt the younger man tense beneath his touch.
“All right, he can stay put, but I don’t want you doing anything until I get a good look at that arm!”
“I’ll see to it, Doc,” the ex-preacher assured the physician and received a pale glare from the mustached man.
“Buck…okay?” Larabee asked.
“I’m fine, Chris,” Wilmington tried to assure the blond as his friend groaned in pain.
“Chris, I’m going to give you a shot of morphine and then I want you to rest and let me take care of you.”
“O…okay,” the blond stammered tiredly. He felt the familiar sensation of a needle entering his arm and waited for the blissful release from pain it signaled.
Ezra had seen the newcomer’s arrival, but before he could join them he’d noticed movement between the hotel and the building next door. He’d stayed back in the shadows even after hearing the gunshots and knew the shape was that of a woman. He followed until she reached the livery and entered to find her hastily trying to saddle a horse.
“I do not think that a hasty exit is in the cards today, Miss Tate,” Standish warned as he released the mechanism that allowed the small gun to rest easily in his hand.
“Who the hell are you?” Tate asked as she sought out the figure bathed in darkness.
“My moniker would not be familiar to you, but suffice it to say I am extremely appalled at your treatment of my friends.”
“Correct. Mr. Larabee and Mr. Wilmington to be precise. Now kindly step away from the horse and place your hands over your head!” Standish warned.
“You have no right!”
“I beg to differ, Miss Tate…”
“My name is Mrs. Angela Wilmington and you have no right to stop me!”
“Wrong, Miss Tate. You gained that name through blackmail amongst other things and therefore you do not deserve the true worth of the Wilmington name. Now, I do not wish to argue further and beside, your incarceration in the Midfield jail is something I wish to witness.”
“You won’t get away with this!”
“Watch me,” the gambler said with a grin as he motioned the woman ahead of him. They stepped into the street to find several people still milling about and Sheriff Rawlings explaining what was happening. He led her towards the gathered throng and smiled as the lawman moved towards them.
“Where did you find her?”
“Miss Tate was about to make a hasty exit, but I persuaded her she should stay and face the consequences of her actions.”
“I did nothing wrong,” the woman protested and turned to the people she lived amongst. “You all know me and you know I’d never hurt anyone.”
“Sorry, Angela, but no one is going to believe that after seeing Chris Larabee.”
“Buck’s friend? You found him?” Tate asked as if she truly cared about the man’s welfare.
“Yes, Buck’s friends are here and they followed Turner…”
“I’ll kill that sonofabitch!” she cursed and realized she’d spoken aloud.
“Sheriff, I’d like to check on Mr. Larabee’s condition,” Standish said in disgust.
“You go ahead, Ezra. I’ll lock this one up and she can take care of her friend while she’s in there,” Rawlings explained.
“What happened to Rosie?” Tate asked worriedly.
“She was shot while trying to make you a widow. Ezra, doc’s house is at the end of town,” Rawlings said as he grabbed the woman’s arm and dragged her towards the jail.
Ezra turned away and headed towards the house in question as people mulled about still trying to make sense of what had happened. He pushed open the gate and hurried up to the partially open door.
“Ezra, we’re in here!” Tanner called and nodded to the gambler as he entered.
“Mr. Wilmington, I wished to inform you of Angela Tate’s incarceration.”
“You found her?” Wilmington asked, watching as the physician finished draining bloodied discharge from Larabee’s side.
“Indeed. She was trying to leave, but I followed her and turned her over to Sheriff Rawlings,” Standish explained.
“Thank God,” the gentle rogue said and sagged as the laudanum laced drink he’d been given worked its magic and he lost consciousness.
“About time. Put him in the bed by the window!” Morton ordered. He watched as Sanchez and Standish lifted the big man between them and carried him to the bed. Shaking his head at the stubbornness exhibited by the injured man and wondered at the bond of friendship he was witnessing.
“Doc, will he be all right?” Tanner asked.
“He’ll be fine. Josiah cleaned the wound and I’ll take a closer look as soon as I finish with Chris,” the physician answered.
“What about Chris?” the Texan asked.
“I’ll do all I can for him, but you need to know he’s in bad shape. Aside from the bullet wounds he has a broken arm and more bruises than I can count. I know he’s had one blow to the head and God only knows what kind of damage that caused.”
“Chris is just as stubborn as Buck,” Sanchez observed as he straightened the blanket over the mustached man.
“Then he’s got that going for him.” Morton finished placing a new bandage over Larabee’s side and turned his attention to the wound in his right thigh. Again he drained and cleaned the wound before placing a new bandage over it.
“What about his fever?” Tanner asked.
“Gerald should be here anytime with the ice!” Morton answered. “We’ll also keep wiping him down and hopefully keeping his wounds clean will also help bring the fever down. I’ll need all of you to help make sure he’s kept cool and make sure he’s drinking when he does wake up. I’ll have several different teas brewing and they’ll help with pain and fever! I’ll also talk with Miss Collins about making broth for him.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Sanchez said as the door opened and several men walked in carrying buckets.
“Figured ya’d need this stuff chipped off,” Carlton said as he placed a bucket beside the bed.
“Thanks, Gerald, this is perfect. Vin, Josiah, I need you two to start putting some ice in the towels and pack them around Chris. Ezra, bring me a basin of clean water while I check on Buck!”
“Certainly, doctor,” Standish said and hurried to carry out the physician’s orders.
Morton removed the bandage from Wilmington’s arm and winced at the raw wound underneath. It would take several stitches to close it and the man would need a sling for a few days, but he should regain total use of his arm if he took care of it. He turned to see Sanchez and Tanner placing the towels around Larabee’s body and hoped this action would help bring down the fever.
Through the long night the men continued to care for the injured men, changing the towels and putting fresh ice in them as Larabee’s fever raged. Wilmington continued to sleep through the activity as the draught he’d been given continued to hold him in a deep sleep. Morton had retired for the night once he knew the three men would care for their friends.
Josiah knew they had to get a message back to Four Corners and let Nathan and JD know what was happening. He turned towards the door as it opened and the sheriff entered the room.
“How are they?” Rawlings asked.
“Buck’s still sleeping, but he should be waking up anytime,” the ex-preacher answered.
“No change. Fever’s still sappin’ his strength!” Tanner answered from where he sat beside the injured blond.
“I had Lottie at the hotel contact Judge Travis about the prisoners. Told her one of you boys might be over later to send a message to Four Corners,” the sheriff explained.
“Thanks, Evan,” Sanchez said.
“You boys should hear Turner.”
“What’s he up ta?” the Texan asked.
“He’s tellin’ everyone what those two did and says he’s willing to tell the Judge as soon as he gets here.”
“When will Travis get here?”
“He’s in Eagle Bend this week so I’m expecting him to get back to me later today. Hopefully he’ll be able to clear his slate and get here by the end of the week or beginning of next. I’d rather get this over with as quickly as possible.”
“Sounds like a plan,” the ex-preacher told him as a sound escaped from the blond.
“Easy, Cowboy, just lie still,” Tanner warned as he held the blond’s hand. Even with the ice the fever still had a tight grip on the injured man.
“You got yerself hurt, but doc says ya’ll be fine if’n we can keep ya drinkin’,” the Texan explained.
“H…horse p…piss,” Larabee groaned.
“Pro’bly,” Tanner said with a grin as Richard Morton entered the room.
“Well, it’s good to see you awake, Chris. How are you feeling?”
“Hot…cold…not sure,” the blond answered tiredly.
“That’s probably because of the fever and the ice. Vin, did you get him something to drink?”
“Josiah’s getting it now,” Tanner said as the ex-preacher returned to the bed.
“Bring him some water too,” the physician ordered as the Texan lifted Larabee’s head and he fed him the Willow Bark tea. They managed to get the patient to drink most of the tea and some of the broth sent over by Martha Collins.
Chris knew they were trying to help him, but he was in too much pain to acknowledge them for now. He felt himself losing touch with reality as he sipped the small amount of water in the cup. Energy spent, Chris closed his eyes and slept once more.