Title: Commandments
By : Tidia
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven is owned by Mirsch, MGM and Trilogy. I make no money from the writing of this work of fanfiction.
Comments:   I found reference to Chautauqua in Everyday Life in the Wild West. Thank you to MOG for betaing while on vacation, her quick turn around time and her confidence in me. This has been her best betaing yet. Thanks to the Rowdy Bunch for their support and to Shay too.

The Ten Commandments
Exodus Chapter 20

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing this is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God, in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy midservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.
5. Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
10.Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, or his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbors.

Part 1:

JD head was bowed as he headed through the batwing doors.  He removed his Bat Masterson like hat and shook out the rain pellets that adhered to the black bowler.  It had been raining for two days; angry storm clouds seemed to be getting their revenge after a mild summer that had allowed the prairie to flourish.  The young sheriff's hand grazed against the inside of his jacket.  He smiled as the shining star he had pinned winked back at him.

"I feel lucky."  Dunne said to Ezra and Buck as they relaxed at a table. The saloon was quiet.  The rain depressed the indoor entertainment.  The men seem to languish and allow a calmness to enter their bodies.  Inez was using the lull in business to polish the wood and glasses of the murky saloon so that when the sun returned it would be reflected instead of absorbed by the dark wood.

Buck rewarded JD with a lazy grin, as he tossed his playing cards to the green felt tabletop. "Something happen between you and Casey?" The irreverent regulator moved his eyebrows up and down.

Dunne felt a warm blush creep into his rain cooled face. "Hell no. . ." JD cleared his throat, and tried to cover the smile that seemed to grace his face when he thought about Casey.  "I'm saying it's just a feeling."

Ezra collected the cards Buck had folded, and raked in the few coins that were in the center. "Mister Wilmington, the man feels lucky then so be it."

The mustached regulator grabbed a loose coin and tossed it into the air before placing it in his vest pocket. "So you can fleece him?"

Ezra moved the money out of Wilmington's reach, hoarding his meager riches. "Have you so little faith in me?" Magnanimously, the southerner gestured to the young agent, the cuff of his shirt peeking through his jacket.  "In him?"

"Yeah, Buck." Dunne said as he sat down at the table. His friend had to learn that the young sheriff had instincts too.  He wasn't the green kid that came to Four Corners a year ago.  "Deal me in Ezra." JD rubbed his hands together; knowing his lucky feeling was going to lead him somewhere.

Wilmington shook his head tsking as if he had to pull JD away from the flames. "How about we make it interestin' and not play for money?" Buck didn't direct his stare at the young sheriff, but rather to the green-eyed gambler.

Ezra opened his mouth to protest but then the table moved. Standish scowled and bent down to rub his shin, glaring at Wilmington. "May I suggest," he started, his voice filled with pain. "If either I or Buck win then you must tend to our horses for a week."

JD was pensive for a moment. He didn't like it when Wilmington arranged things, but usually it backfired on Buck like the time with Miss Emily.  Dunne wondered where this would lead. "Not play for money?"

Standish was fanning the deck. "Are you going to inflict some injury on the young sheriff too?" The southerner mumbled.

JD smiled as an idea crossed his mind. He gave his two friends a devilish grin. "If I win you two have to swap clothes for a week."

Ezra blinked. With a disgusted look upon his face he eyed the mustached man stained shirt.
"I don't think I'll look good in that red jacket." Wilmington winked at Ezra. "So I guess we're going to have to win."  Standish began dealing the cards. Buck picked up his card and smiled. "Lady likes oats once a week."

JD gave the ladies man a half grin, he wasn't about to be intimidated. The young man left his cards flat on the table until they were all dealt. He rested his hands on them for a moment trying to transfer his luck. Finally he picked them up and scrutinized each. JD cleared his throat, "Two cards, please." Ezra slid the cards over.  Hesitantly, JD lifted the corner of the new cards.

"My horse's coat is not as brilliant as usual."  Standish mentioned casually as he confidently clasped his cards in one hand.

"One card, Ez," Buck relaxed into his chair letting his eyes follow Inez as she had to reach to place a glass on the shelf.

There was a long pause and JD wiped away the condensation on his upper lip. He wasn't nervous. Although keeping a poker face was becoming difficult. JD pinched himself and grimaced.

Ezra looked around the room, seemingly bored. "I call." The gambler drawled and waited for Buck and JD to reveal their hands.

Wilmington grinned widely. "Two pretty ladies."  He clapped Standish on the back.  The southerner nodded.

"Boys," Dunne gently lay out his cards one by one.  "Read 'em and weep." JD couldn't control himself.  He stood up and began going up to the few patrons and telling them. "I won! I won!" Dunne even came close to hugging Yosemite who was taking a respite form the rain.  He went up to the bar proclaiming to Inez. "I knew I was lucky." The young sheriff turned around resting his back on the bar and looked out to the saloon.  Buck and Ezra stayed frozen to their chairs. JD felt as if he were king of this domain, even if his castle was a muggy saloon with a few drunks.

"Ezzzzz," Buck got up to study the cards. "That's a full house he's got there." Wilmington glanced at JD who waved.

Dunne slapped the counter to get the attention of the patrons and Inez. "Drinks for everyone!"

The batwing doors swung open Nathan and Vin entered. "Seems like we walked in at a good time." The healer commented going directly to the bar.

The dark haired woman placed a few glasses on the counter and began pouring whiskey. JD lifted his glass and toasted, "To luck!" He drank quickly enjoying the feeling of winning.

Standish and Wilmington came up behind, not willing to let a free glass of whiskey  go to waste.

"We’re going to see Buck and Ezra in some new clothes." JD said proudly, pointing to the two victims. Dunne rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

"Maybe he'll have a lapse in his memory.  It was all done in jest." Wilmington said under his breath, mimicking Standish's southern drawl.

"Luck ain't everything." Vin replied as he put his shot glass back on the bar's surface. The sharpshooter pulled off his hat and tapped it against his leg letting rain droplets fly to the floor.

Nathan was still holding his glass. "You find yourself a set of rules and you live by them." The healer drank the whiskey, giving a nod that it had quenched his thirst. "Like the commandments."

"Pray tell Mister Tanner what is your code?" Ezra asked, as he took his whiskey back to the corner table.  He turned and looked at the sharpshooter. "Only to wear dead animals?"

JD didn't give Vin a chance to answer.  The young sheriff hitched his fingers on his belt loop. "You know, I think Buck has a hide jacket."
Part 2:

Vin left as JD explained how he had gotten the better of the two men. The sharpshooter took a moment to study the street before him. The earth was dampened and dark.  Tanner missed the dryness and how the soil would swirl as it got picked up and tickled by the wind.  Staid, downtrodden by feet, carriages, horses and the weather was what he was looking at instead of the weightlessness of arid days.

Tanner didn't know if he remembered the commandments anymore.  The ones he did know-he had broken.  Killing, stealing, and well, with Charlotte he had taken another man's wife.  Vin didn't go to church much except to talk to Josiah and hell, he swore and he knew that was breaking some sort of God's law.  Vin knew deep inside what his code was-survive each day no matter what.  It had helped him stay alive when he was a bounty hunter and it would help keep that noose from circling his neck.

On the other side of the street Vin saw the black clad gunslinger helping the newspaperwoman.  Tanner felt like he was intruding as he watched the scene, Mary holding some sort of sign while Chris nailed it in. The sharpshooter was about to sneak away, but Chris must have sensed he was being watched.  He gave Vin a quick nod, and Tanner decided to head over and investigate what the sign read.

Vin straightened up as he walked across the street; proud he was able to make out some of the words.  Mary had been giving him lessons in private and he had caught on quick. He found it relaxing to read by moonlight.  His teacher had shared her books and offered to order more if need be.  Tanner tipped his hat to Mary in greeting as he reached the couple.

"Hi Vin," she said as she stood back admiring the yellow sign. "We're having a Chautauqua in Four Corners."

The sharpshooter shrugged, never hearing the word before.  He looked at Chris, who glanced up and shook his head too, "I just helped put up the signs." Larabee didn't continue because Billy began tugging on his shirt requiring his attention once more.

The blonde woman saw the confusion on Vin's face and explained. "Poets, orators and debaters are coming from all over. It will be a wonderful educational experience."

Because of their lessons, Tanner felt comfortable around Mary. "Maybe somethin' Kojay's people be interested in."  Vin continued, believing he had found a receptive audience in Mrs. Travis. "They tell stories of how things came to be.  Makes you appreciate the land more."

Mary dropped her gaze for a moment. "Although that would be interesting, Vin, perhaps we can start with the people that the town's committee has arranged to attend. In fact Fred Lotten, a famous poet from the East is coming." She looked back up. "You may want to talk to him."

Vin understood what those looks meant.  He glanced down at Billy and gave Chris a half smile.  Tanner hoped that the boy grew up to be more open-minded. The sharpshooter admired the Indians, not because he had lived with them, but they shared his will to survive. They were savages in that sense-savagely defending their right to live as they please, on their land.

"Maybe so, Miz Travis." The former bounty hunter gave his noncommittal answer. Suddenly, Mary's closed opinion was stifling. "Got to be going," he added, looking down the street.  Vin gave Chris a nod before leaving the threesome. "I'll catch up with you later."

Part 3:

Ezra groaned and buried his face in his pillow. The sun wasn't up, although he really wouldn't be able to tell anyway since he kept the drapes drawn at all times. His body was protesting so the southerner knew it wasn't time for him to awaken.  Standish sighed as the knocking ceased and relaxed again, aiming to dream a few more hours away. Again the staccato beat started, this time more insistent.  The gambler got up, clenching his sheets.  "Who is at my door at this ungodly hour?" He mumbled as his bare feet came in contact with the wooden planked floor. He pattered to the door and threw it open, not caring if the person on the other side was planning on shooting him, at least then he'd get some sleep. "WHAT!"

JD stood there, merrily shifting back and forth on his heels. "Here you go Ezra." Dunne handed over a neat pile of clothes.

Oh Lord, did he spy buckskin in the pile. "Mister Dunne, I believe there has been some sort of error." Ezra crossed his arms in front of him, not accepting the items.
"Error?" JD walked into the room and placed the clothes on the wrinkled bed.  "Nah, I won fair and square." The young sheriff looked around the room.

Standish walked over to his green jacket, which was hanging on the valet.  He stepped in front of it so that JD would not notice it there. "Yes, well, but, you did understand it was a jest, a joke." Ezra added a smile.

Dunne glanced at the ground, his voice holding a sense of disappointment as he spoke. "You're always saying that southern gentlemen are men of honor."

Ezra carefully wrapped the sheet around him that he had taken from the bed. "Yes, well, that is correct, but…" Standish felt at a loss for words, he never figured the boy actually listened to anything he had said in the past. He should have added that southern gentlemen are also notorious rakes and scoundrels too.
"Great!" JD exclaimed, winding his hand around Ezra and pulling the emerald coat off the valet.  He grabbed a shirt and pair of pants that the southerner had left on the chair to be laundered. "I need some of your clothes for Buck." Dunne explained as he tipped his hat and left.

"I wish it had been a miscreant trying to do bodily harm," Standish said out loud once he was alone in his room.  He crossly grimaced at the offending clothes. "Though I believe that the young man has mortally wounded me."

Ezra eyed the bed, climbed back in and hoped when he next awakened he would discover that this had all been a nightmare.
Part 4:

The crowds started to roll into Four Corners, interested in the Chautauqua.  Vin bristled at the people invading the usually small, quiet community. The sharpshooter sat on the boardwalk, Chris was next to him, hat over his face, feigning sleep. Another carriage rolled in and Tanner took notice of the occupants.

A fancy man that would give Ezra a run for his clothing stepped out first. He looked around the town, before turning and offering his hand to the next occupant.  A lady's booted foot emerged first, next the glove covered hand, and finally a face covered by a short veil.

Vin raised up from his relaxed position.  Tanner raised an eyebrow as the woman came out and stood beside the tall, dark haired, Caucasian man.  She was an Indian. The sharpshooter cast his glance away, but it was too late.  He had been caught staring, and the couple was coming.

The sharpshooter's fumbling awakened the languishing gunslinger. "We got company." Vin commented as the man and the woman made their presence known to the two regulators.

"I'm Fred Lanton." The man stated and then made a sweeping gesture to his escort. "This is my friend Emma." The woman gave a short curtsy, giving Vin an appraising under lashes look.

"Folks," Chris said squinting in the sun, as he sat up straighter.

"We're looking for a Mary Travis?"  Lanton patted Emma's hand as he waited for an answer. Tanner knew that was a man staking his claim over his property.

Vin wanted to retreat from his position on the boardwalk.  It was embarrassing being caught staring and the couple made him grow nostalgic. The longhaired man thought back to when an Indian could be an Indian and was respected while the white man kept his distance. "Chris will take you to Miz Travis." Fluidly, Tanner got up from his chair and tipped his hat to Emma. "Pard, " he said to Chris.

Larabee glared at the former bounty hunter. Vin knew there would be hell to pay later for putting Chris on the spot. "This way," The sharpshooter overheard the black clad gunslinger snarl.
Part 5:

Everyone's attention was directed at the two men making their way to the saloon the lady's man felt the staring and heard the snickering. Buck had been heading there, his pants too short and Standish's jacket uncomfortably encasing his shoulders. Then Ezra caught up to him, looking equally as foolish with pants rolled up, and sleeves dragging.

"Don't even let that thought follow through to your conscience mind." The gambler drawled as Buck flexed his arms.

Wilmington put on an innocent face. "What?"  Damn, thought the ladies man, it was going to be accidental like-the seams would just burst open.

"You are not going to ruin that particular jacket." Ezra said, as he almost tripped over a falling pant leg. Buck grabbed his forearm to stop the conman's tumble.

"Why?" Wilmington shrugged his shoulder and the stitching began to strain. "I'll do it right at the seam and then have it fixed up later."

Standish sputtered, placing his hands on his hips, the sleeves extending past his hands "YOU WILL NOT DEFACE MY JACKET, SIR."

Buck had to stop himself from laughing.  Ezra looked like a petulant child. "Stop dragging my pants on the ground.  You got half of the town's dirt living in my trousers."

"Amongst other things." The southerner replied, slapping his arm.

Wilmington stopped walking and halted the gambler. "What?" Buck knitted his brows together.  His clothes were perfectly fine and comfortable, not like the fancy stuff that Ezra wore.

"Praytell, do you ever launder your garments?" Standish extended the jacket away from him as if it reeked.  Ezra's hand went to his neck. "Dear Lord something bit me." The southerner smoothed the spot where he had allegedly been bitten.  "I have a welt."

Buck extended his arms, ready to strangle the southerner for his impertinence. "You are just damn lucky I can't reach you." The small shirt made it impossible for Wilmington to fully extend his arms.  "Stupid luck got us here." The mustached man said under his breath.

Ezra shook his head and smiled, and started walking. "No, JD's luck got us here."

Wilmington caught up in two steps. "Boy's never gonna learn a lesson with us dressed like fools." Buck tugged, frustrated at the jacket.  This was also going to effect his chances with the ladies.

"Learn what?" Standish chuckled.  "Mister Wilmington, life is made up of luck and chance." They were at the saloon now and Ezra was fishing out a deck of cards from the large jacket pocket.

"Maybe what you believe in but I want more for him." Buck stroked his jaw and took a seat at the bar, hoping he didn't split the pants open. Wilmington wanted JD to trust his instincts and know who to count on in a fight. You always needed someone watching your back.

"Well right now all I can think of is revenge for this abject humiliation." Standish commented as he sat down and struggled to shuffle a deck of cards.  The sleeves kept falling in his way.

The mustached regulator snorted. "Hell, Ezra, I'm all for revenge."  Buck Wilmington wasn't a saint after all.
Part 6:

Vin had found the stale air in the saloon suffocating.  He didn't feel like a drink and didn't have enough money for a game so instead he sat outside taking in the night air and looking at the garish tent that had been set up by the church. The sharpshooter had seen the poet, Fred Lanton playing a game with Ezra.  Standish seemed to be winning at the time and enjoying the conversation.  Emma had been standing over them watching the players.

Vin shifted his glance sideways as the Indian woman came through the saloon doors. He kept his eyes on her as she spoke. "What tribe fostered you?" Her perfume mixed with the smoky residue of the tavern.

Tanner looked up the street into the plains that seemed to beckon him, whispering to his soul. "Spent sometime with the Kiowa and Commanche."

Emma came forward so she was in front of Vin.  She laughed. "All you buckskin men are the same, trying to be something your not."

Vin sighed and looked up at her without comment. The thought of the pot calling the kettle black came to mind.

"You're thinking I'm doing the same thing?" Emma said as she patted her pale blue gown.

"Maybe." The former bounty hunter replied as he shifted in his chair.

Emma licked her lips before she continued. "My family is gone and Fred has taught me much."

Tanner thought of his time with the Indians, without them he would have been dead. "You could have learned a lot with the tribe." They were the ones who had first shown him how to survive.

"Maybe." She replied, looking at the moon. A long silence fell between them broken by the door swinging roughly open.

Ezra and Fred came out. Fred stumbling slightly. Lanton snickered, he had overheard part of the conversation. "Parading around in animal hides without proper shoes." Fred crossed his arms and wantoningly appraised Emma. "I'd say she learned a lot."

"Let's go back to the hotel." The Indian woman said, pulling on the Easterner's sleeve.

"She was a savage before she met me." Fred roughly grabbed Emma's chin, making her look at him though she tried to break away. Tendrils of hair escaped the neat bun that had been perched on her head.  Fear shone in her almond shaped eyes.

Vin stood up, having seen enough. "Let go of the lady." The sharpshooter growled.

Lanton pushed the woman away and started for the sharpshooter. Vin stepped out of the way and Fred, unbalanced by too much whiskey, landed in the dirt.

"I suggest you retire to your quarters, Mister Lanton." Ezra said, offering the fallen man a hand. Standish's oversized shirt fell forward enveloping his hand.

"Thank you," Emma stated as she assisted Fred, and wrapped an arm around his waist to support him.

Ezra and Vin watch the couple make their way to the hotel.  "Some people," Tanner commented to the gambler.  The orator had rubbed the sharpshooter the wrong way.  Vin could smell trouble.

Standish turned swiftly. "Next time I suggest you keep your opinions to yourself Mister Tanner, not everyone shares your liberal views concerning Indians."

Vin knitted his brows, angry at the dressing down that the southerner was giving him. Somehow Tanner was being blamed for a jerk manhandling his woman. Vin didn't want to explain to Ezra that he and the lady were just talking. It would have landed on deaf ears.  Standish had named the longhaired man an Indian lover, and that would never change.  With  a tip of his hat the sharpshooter left the gambler standing on the boardwalk alone.
Part 7:

The main street was quiet as Vin made his way to the stable in the early hours of the morning. He needed time to stretch his legs and get away from town for awhile.  Unfortunately he couldn't stay away until the Chautauqua moved. The regulators had to stay and so he would have to bide his time.

He had just put a blanket on Peso's back when he heard a man howling. The sharpshooter held his Winchester tight and went out the barn to investigate.  Josiah came running from the church and Chris from the saloon.  They gave each other a quick nod and followed the grief stricken wailing to the rear of the hotel.

Vin lowered his rifle as he saw Lanton's arms wrapped around the small form of the Indian woman Emma. Her head dropped back lax, her face pale, blood had dried on the side of her face obscuring her soft cheeks.

"I found her, here. She's dead. She's dead." The Easterner said, rocking her back and forth and kissing her parted lips.

Josiah kneeled down next to the distraught man.  Vin glanced down trying to see if he could piece together what happened by reading footsteps in the dirt.

"What do you think?" Chris asked looking out to the horizon, trusting in the bounty hunter's skill.

Tanner crouched down to get a closer look at the area. His hand brushed against Emma's full skirt. He almost wanted to let it linger there for a moment, instead he shook his head and placed his hand on the warm earth.

Fred flinched at the contact, gripping the dead body closer to him. "You should arrest him!" The orator snarled.  "He was causing trouble with her last night."

"Vin?" Larabee said from under his black hat, looking for an explanation to clear up the allegation.

Tanner shrugged. "It was nothin'." The sharpshooter didn't like to be accused. What happened last night wasn't Chris's business. Larabee gave him a nod, implicitly trusting Vin's word.

Fred grabbed some of the sandy soil and threw it at Vin, dusting his legs with the fine material. "That's how you value human life?" Lanton got up on his knees, holding the body to him and then Josiah helped him to his feet. " She was something to me!"

Tanner gave Larabee a questioning look, asking for permission to look around. "Tell me if you find anything." Chris stated. "I'm going to see if Nathan will take a look."  Vin understood what the gunslinger meant. He wanted the healer to see if the body had any clues, much like he had done when that Pinkerton man murdered the seamstress in town.

Sanchez put his arm around Fred. "Come, I'll go with you to the undertaker's."

Part 8:

"Sorry, Nathan," Josiah said as he brushed the woman's hair back so that it dangled, spilling over the edge of the table in haphazard tangles. Sanchez wondered about the Indian woman; her lover, Fred was distraught over her death. The preacher felt sorry for the man, sorry for Emma that she couldn't go on in this world and sorry that Jackson couldn't use his skill to bring her back.

The healer was closely examining the body, checking to see if she had put up a struggle. "Nothing to be sorry for Josiah. She seems to be dead for awhile. I don't think I could have helped her." Nathan picked up an arm to show how rigid it had become.

The Indian woman's hands were clenched in fists. Carefully, Josiah began to massage them, hoping to relax the muscles so that Emma looked more peaceful in death. Sanchez did not want her to look like a tortured soul, reminding him of Hannah, his sister.  Slowly, the hand opened. At first Josiah thought he had imagined something floating to the ground, thinking that spirits had descended to take the body.  But, Nathan saw something to; he bent down, standing up holding some buckskin fringe.

"That's strange." Jackson commented, laying the fringe on the body.

"More like a clue, Brother," Josiah replied, wondering if there had been any buckskin strangers in town recently.

"Clues?" JD barged in, interrupting the sanctity of the undertaker's room with his loud voice.

Nathan lowered his voice to signal to the young sheriff he should do the same. "Maybe, there's also a large bump on the back of her head with some dried blood around it."  Jackson parted the dead woman's hair showing the other two regulators the swollen area.

"Could this have been what killed her?" Josiah asked, pondering morosely what her last moments must have been like, wondering if she was filled with a sense of peace as death caressed her.

Nathan shook his head. "In the war I saw a man kicked by his horse and walk away fine. Another time I saw a man fall and hit is head against a fence and die right there."

Sanchez rubbed his chin, feeling the scruffiness of his beard.  Thoughts of the Pinkerton agent who tried to frame the preacher came to mind. "So we may or may not have a murderer." And Josiah was praying for the latter.

JD had crossed his arms and even in the dim light of the room his face look pale. The young man's eyes seemed riveted on the dead body. "I'll tell the others." JD quickly turned on his heels and left.

Josiah hoped that JD would never become accustomed to seeing dead bodies.  Death wasn't something that should be easily accepted especially when a young life had been smothered.

Part 9:

"Did you guys hear about . . .," JD boomed as he went through the batwing doors into the saloon. He stopped mid sentence as he saw that yet again Buck and Ezra were trying to change clothes.  "Do I have to watch you all the time?"

Wilmington gave a sheepish grin, and stuffed his vest back into Standish's hand. "I was just touching it."

The gambler sighed as he slowly put the offending garment back on. He grimaced once it was on. "Yes, Mister Dunne, Mister Wilmington was reminiscing about the vest and I suggested that he take it for awhile. In no way were we about to turn away from our responsibilities."

"Well, don't try it again," JD admonished them. This was too much fun for him, and the whole town was participating in keeping the twosome in the awkward clothing. Mary was even considering an article for the Clarion.

"What were you blabbering about when you came in?" Buck said pulling the collar of his shirt. "Acted like someone died."

"Emma, Fred Lanton's . . ." The young sheriff searched for an appropriate word. "Friend, was found dead behind the hotel."  JD sat down at the table with the two regulators. "The  guy is blaming Vin." Dunne snorted.

"What the hell?" Buck said as he almost stood up from his chair. "Blaming Vin for hurting that pretty little thing?" Wilmington commented, the corners of his mustache pulling down. "Boy wouldn't hurt a woman."

The gambler was staring intently as he shuffled the cards back and forth to each hand. "Mister Tanner, in fact seemed a bit taken with her."

JD knitted his brows. "Vin? You sure Ezra?"

"Our compatriot seemed taken with the Indian woman in my opinion." Standish stopped shuffling the deck. "Mister Tanner always has a soft spot for the tribes."

"Damn, Ezra," Buck shook his head. "Vin wouldn't kill her." Wilmington said with conviction.

JD nodded his head, agreeing wholeheartedly with the mustached man.  The sharpshooter wouldn't kill a woman.  It just wasn't like him. "Umm, Nathan found some fringe in the girl's hand, but it could have come from anything."

"Perhaps," Ezra said as he stood up, his chair dragging against the wood floor. "I need to speak to Mister Larabee, excuse me."  The gambler said formally, as he left the saloon.

JD leaned in to the lady's man. "Buck, you don't think Vin had anything to do with Emma's murder do you?' He said in a low whisper, hoping that his friend would curtail the gnawing fear that Vin was somehow involved.

Part 10:
Standish didn't have to go very far, once he got out on the boardwalk he looked both ways and saw Larabee sitting in a chair in front of the jail, a cheroot dangling from his lips. Ezra was glad he was relaxed, it was better to receive bad news when one was in a pleasant state of mind. How could Standish invoke a serious demeanor in these clothes? He shuddered, feeling like the fool in the over sized clothes.

"Good day, Mister Larabee," Ezra said as he stood in the shade next to Chris's chair. The darkly clad regulator did not look up, but acknowledged the gambler's presence. Usually the southerner would carelessly linger against the wooden railing during one of these tete a tetes. Now, he had to hide and use his rapier wit to convey the situation.

"Ezra," he replied and tipped his hat further down his face.

Standish studied his immaculate fingernails as he continued, "I heard about Mister Lanton's paramour." He felt at a disadvantage without the confidence his clothes providing him some sort of shield, separating himself from the gritty world, allowing him to believe there was a genteel place everywhere on earth.

Chris sighed and shifted in his chair. "I heard you and that Lanton fellow are friendly."

Ezra paused before answering. "We have been talking over the gaming table." The gambler looked up, squinting in the sun. "Mister Lanton is a cultured, upstanding citizen with a penchant for losing to me."  Standish believed he saw a grin form on Larabee's face. It was hard to discern since the black hat's shadow cast down towards the man's neck. "I don't how to broach this subject. . ." The southerner fidgeting for a moment, rolling up the sleeve to Buck's shirt. Trying to make himself more comfortable as he started the swing of a pendulum that would lead to a man's arrest.

"Just say it Ezra," Larabee said, sounding like a patient father talking to a child about to reveal some misdeed.

"I hear that suspicion has fallen on Mister Tanner." Ezra waited for Larabee's reaction. Standish had figured he had laid the groundwork, as mother liked to say.

Chris sat up straighter. He still did not face the gambler. "You heard wrong." The dark clad regulator replied in a gritty tone of voice.

Ezra stepped forward so that Chris could see his face. Standish wanted to show the gunslinger that he was earnest. "I was present for the altercation last night."  Standish let his voice drop a bit. "There is also Vin's penchant for Indians."

Larabee stood up in one fluid movement, facing Ezra and leaving no space between the two men. Chris was so close that even the southerner was inhaling the pungent smoke of the cheroot, which the gunslinger kept clenched between his teeth. "Don't know if I like what you're saying."

Ezra didn't back down, flinch or cough. "Perhaps as leader of this rag tag group you should think of how well you know your fellow regulators?"

Larabee kept silent, staring coldly at the gambler.

Standish brought up a handkerchief he had placed in the deep holed pockets, and wiped his upper lip before continuing his testimony. "For example, Mister Tanner in his bounty hunter days brought many men back dead. In fact, some were not even guilty."

Chris stepped back a step. He pulled the cheroot from his lips and threw it into the street before narrowing his sights on the gambler. "How did you come by this information?"
Standish closed his eyes slowly, disturbed that the gunslinger did not realize the wealth of information the gaming tables provided. "A question here a questions there. You'd be surprised Mister Larabee at what is revealed when playing cards.

Chris's next question caught the southerner off guard. Standish chastised himself for not deducing his opponent's next move.

"So Ezra, what do you have on me?"

The gambler put his hands up, only to have Buck's sleeves fall and cover them. "Oh, well, nothing, absolutely nothing in fact it can be said that you have lead an almost saintly existence." The Southerner stumbled over his words.

Chris seemed satisfied with the answer, gave Ezra a nod and walked off. Standish took shelter in the shadows, leaning heavily against the wall of the jail. He  didn't know if he felt relived by making his confession or heavy with a sense of guilt for condemning a friend.
Part 11:

Josiah paused outside the undertaker's door. He let the sun warm him, while he thought of some kind words to say over the grave of a girl he didn't know. He had promised Lanton that Emma would have a proper service, scheduled for later that day. The preacher wondered if Fred would be composed by then. Sanchez had escorted, half-carried the easterner to his hotel room. Lanton wailed as they crossed the street. Every few steps he would become coherent and cry out.

"Indian lover killed her. " Followed by, "That Tanner fellow murdered her."

The townspeople they passed looked at Josiah for confirmation. The larger man would slightly shake his head, and the folks seemed to be comforted.

Sanchez wished someone would comfort him at his time of need when he was actually thinking that Vin could have something to do with the dead girl. The preacher saw Larabee crossing the street, following the path with his eye, Josiah saw that the tracker had just gotten back.  The preacher took a deep breath and went to divert the black clad leader, before he reached Tanner.

The gunslinger gave the preacher a flicker of a nod, and was about to continue on his way. Josiah reached a hand out. "Chris, we might have a problem."

Larabee stared at the hand holding his bicep. "Josiah whatever it is, just handle it." Chris sounded annoyed at being interrupted.

Sanchez kept his gaze steady. "The girl was holding some buckskin fringe." The preacher let his hand drop, and watched a touch of emotion dance across Larabee's face, before it was brought under control.

Chris fixed Josiah with a stare wanting more of an explanation.

Sanchez looked around, noticing how many townspeople were milling about, with a nod of his head he gestured to the area he had just left. The leader followed, understanding the need for privacy.  "Lanton may be talking out of grief brother, but he's blaming his tears on Brother Vin."

Josiah watched Chris's face tighten. Sanchez rubbed the stubble of his beard.  They had to proceed carefully, balancing the death of a girl and the implication of one of their own. Sanchez would stand beside the tracker, unless Vin Tanner himself admitted his guilt. He owed the bounty hunter that much, after the man had pursued the truth to clear Josiah's name.

Chris tugged on his lariat. "See if you can keep it quiet, Josiah." Larabee slapped the post  as he left, not  making any eye contact with the preacher.

Josiah was glad. He didn't want to see the doubts that were starting to creep in. "How much do you truly know a man, Lord?" Sanchez whispered. He would keep this quiet for as long as possible.

Part 12:

Larabee had seen the tracker walking his horse into the stable as he spoke to the gambler.  Tanner had seemed pensive, which meant the tracks had lead to no answers.   The conversation had left some nagging questions that unfortunately could not be ignored. Like when Josiah had been accused of the murder, Chris had to put him in jail because once the doubts arose concerning the preacher it was hard to put them at bay.

Chris's feet crunched the hay that littered the floor of the stable. Vin turned at the sound and gave the gunslinger a nod.

"Didn't find anything. Doesn't seem right." Tanner said as he removed the bridle from his horse, patting Peso's nose affectionately.

Larabee took a few steps forward and patted his gelding, stalled diagonally from the sharpshooter's horse. Chris stroked the coat, wanting almost to rest his head so that he relax from the mantle of leadership that weighed on him at times-times where he wanted to be an average man, to mourn or even tell his friend to run to Mexico.

"She deserved better."  Vin said as he removed the saddle from Peso's back.  Some of the horses in the stable snickered and whinnied at the two men.

Larabee nodded, not knowing exactly what to say, hoping that he could just listen and discover the truth. Chris had discovered long ago that by speaking less, he was able to hear more.

"Saw you and Ez talkin', guess he told you about the scuffle with that fella last night." Vin looked at the darkly clad man for a confirmation, and then continued.  "Man didn't seem to be treating his woman right."

Chris inhaled the sharp smell of hay. He closed his eyes at the heady scent but was still reminded that Vin had run off with Charlotte, another woman who was being treated poorly by a man. It didn't help that Nathan and Josiah had found the girl clutching  some buckskin fringe.

Tanner stopped grooming his horse. "You thinkin' that Lanton fellow is right?" The tracker rested his hands on the horse blanket still thrown across Peso's back.  "I'll leave town before another noose goes around my neck for somethin' I didn't do."

Chris felt relieved that Vin was vehemently professing his innocence. "Lanton's causing trouble." Larabee explained to the tracker,  "and Travis is going to want to talk to you."

"I've been in this place, Chris." Tanner lay his head against the blanket. "I'm thinkin' about riding out for a spell."

Larabee didn’t want Vin to leave town, but Tascosa had left its scars and a bounty. Chris would not stop the tracker from leaving, but inside he wanted the tracker to fight the charges. "Tanners run out?"

Vin stood ramrod straight and roughly pulled the blanket off the horse's back before pausing and taking the time to neatly fold it.

Chris smirked, wiping his mouth and the slight grin with it. "You may have to sit in the jail for a spell." Larabee wanted the tracker to be prepared for the steps the Judge would be likely to take. Orin had made it clear that the regulators did not receive any preferential treatment in the eyes of the law.

Tanner turned, placing the blanket over the stall door, he smoothed out the wrinkles as he answered. "I'll do it your way for now, cowboy."  Vin looked up, checking to see if he could trust Chris with his life yet again.

Larabee leveled his gaze and stood unwavering against the scrutiny. "This won't be like Tascosa, Vin."  Chris said the most reassuring words he could think of to a man who had been betrayed before by justice.

Tanner nodded and led the way out of the stable. "Seems just like Tascosa." The bounty hunter muttered under his breath as the shadow from the livery obscured his face.
Part 13:

Judge Travis drew the curtain back slightly as the coach began to slow down signaling the entry into Four Corners. He saw the tent that had been set up at the church for the Chautauqua . Orin knew that it was his daughter-in-law's formidable will that made the oratory event happen.  The Judge was planning on attending,  making Four corners the last place he'd visit before heading home, but he had to alter his plans when he heard about the death of a young woman.

With a lurch, the stagecoach stopped. Travis caught himself with his cane before he ended up in the ample buxom of the woman sitting across from him. Orin tipped his hat to the lady as he alighted from the livery. The Judge smiled as he saw  Mary and his grandson waiting for him on the boardwalk.

"Grandpa!" The tow headed boy yelled and propelled himself at the Judge. Orin smiled and ruffled the boy's hair.  Billy then insisted on helping his grandfather with his valise, and each of them took a handle, resting when they reached Mary.  She gave him a sunny smile and a warm hug.

"How was your trip?"  She asked, worrying about him like his wife Emily did when he went out on these trips to bring justice to the West.

The Judge was about to answer when Chris Larabee, his spurs jiggling, sounding strange in a town that was growing with merchants and law-abiding people, interrupted his reunion. "Judge, we have a problem."

Travis appraised the darkly clad regulator from under his hat wondering how much of his soul was touched by the same darkness. "Other than a dead woman, Larabee?"

"We need to talk at the jail." Chris stated, nodded to Mary and Billy and then walked off.

Orin scowled at Larabee. The Judge knew he couldn't take the man to task since the gunslinger had saved his life, plus Chris reminded Orin of his son. "Lead the way." The Judge said sarcastically. "Billy can you take care of Grandpa's bag?" He said to his grandson, who readily agreed.

Orin went to the jail, at the entrance he was startled by the appearance of Buck Wilmington and Ezra Standish, so much so that he had almost not recognized them. He glanced over their disheveled garb. "You two look like fools because . . .?"

"Well you see Judge. . ." Wilmington started as he tugged on the emerald green jacket he was wearing uncomfortably.

Standish raised a hand to silence the mustached regulator. "As an officer of the court are you ordering us to dress ourselves properly?"

"Two days!" JD, the young sheriff said as he stepped outside.

"What did you say young man?" The Judge tried to make sense of what was going on with the town's regulators.

"We've got more important things to talk about." Larabee said from inside.

Travis, looked at the three men, shook his head and entered the jail. Ezra placed a hand on his arm.

"Your ruling?" The gambler said as he blinked his green eyes, trying to look sincere.

"Ezra!"  Shouted the  gunslingers inside the sheriff's office, losing their patience with Standish.

There was a silence amongst the men, and Travis was quickly losing his patience. Larabee had made him rush over. The seven regulators shifted uneasily. Josiah coughed. JD looked intently at Vin.

Finally Tanner hesitantly spoke up. "Just come out and say it, Chris."

The dark clad gunslinger tightened his jaw, so that his facial muscles flexed before relaxing and divulging the matter that needed to be discussed with the Judge. "Girl was found dead and her escort is blaming Vin."

Orin sighed and glanced at the tracker, who straightened his shoulders. "Any evidence?"

Nathan stepped forward, clearing his throat before speaking. He looked warily at the Judge, still remembering that Orin had given his father a death sentence. "Josiah and I found the girl holding some buckskin." Jackson glanced at Vin, who nodded to the healer.

"And there was an altercation that I witnessed between Misters Lanton and Tanner." The southerner said from the jailhouse door.

"But," Nathan glared at Ezra.  "Judge, I examined the girl and something just ain't right."

Travis admired that Jackson was defending the tracker. "Do you have some proof?" The Judge kept his mouth tight and his face void of emotion. It was a look he perfected since his first day on the bench so that he always looked impartial.

The healer shook his head. "No, just a feeling. She took a blow to the head, and she doesn't seem to have put up much of a fight." Nathan's eyes shown bright with knowledge as he talked out his ideas. "Seems to me I would have found scratches, bruises and such."

"Unless she knew her attacker." The gambler said, looking at his clean fingernails.

Orin tapped his foot, his thoughts kept in beat to the rhythm. He trusted Vin as much as he trusted the other regulators, and knew about his past. As the Judge he had to put personal feelings aside and follow the law to which no one was above or exempt from.  If he let Tanner walk around town when there was evidence against him, then he would be discredited in the eyes of the townspeople. "Son, I'm afraid you are going to have to spend some time in jail so that we can clear this up."

Vin looked at Chris fleetingly. Tanner's eyes blazed with indignation. "I didn't do it."

With an unwavering glare that threatened tracker's hostility, the Judge stated, . "Court will decide that."  Orin softened momentarily, figuring these boys at least deserved a chance to prove Tanner's innocence. "But I'll give you men some time, say when the Chautauqua ends?"

"That's kind of you, Judge." Larabee gave the older man a nod.

The Judge felt the grit on his clothes and was looking forward to cleaning up and taking a nap before spending some time with Billy and Mary. The regulators were still loitering in the jail, as Orin headed for the door. "Get to work, boys."

Part 14:

Ezra sidestepped out the door a few moments after the Judge vacated the premises. The gambler didn't wait to see the incarceration of the tracker. He wanted this incident to be resolved quickly one way or another.  The southerner placed a hand on his heart as he headed for the saloon. Standish was comforted by his beating heart, knowing he wasn't as cold-blooded as he seemed  to be at certain times.

Since coming to the west Ezra had not become accustomed to Indians.  He was surprised they were humans after what he heard as a child. Standish had half expected to find wild  beasts. At the Seminole village he played with the children, and they had given him information about the mines. He didn't have any dealings with the elders of the tribe.

It made Standish commend Lanton for trying to help the woman to better herself, unlike Vin who liked Emma's au natural state.  Ezra turned as he heard Buck bellowing his name along the boardwalk. The townspeople had stopped to stare as usual, covering their smirks with coughs as the saw the mustached regulator run by wearing a green jacket that was obviously too small. Thankfully they had been allowed to keep their boots, but this one kind act would not exempt JD from the revenge he so richly deserved.

"Mister Wilmington, I do not have a hearing deficiency."  The southerner replied as he found some shade on the boardwalk and stopped.

"Sorry, Ezra, didn't want you to get away from me." The mustached man said once he caught up. "I can't move too fast in your clothes." Buck tugged at the green sleeves ferociously.

Standish felt his heart seize. The jacket would never be the same. Ezra was still trying to calm down , reassuring himself by speaking his thoughts out loud. "The Chautauqua is over tomorrow, as is our duty to wear these clothes."  Once his mind was clearer he realized he had one singular purpose: to-exact retribution on Mister Dunne. The gambler assumed that Buck had chased him down to discuss their mode of revenge.

"The boys and I were talking. . ." Buck didn't have the twinkle in his eyes which usually arose when he had an amusing scheme planned.

"Yes?" Standish responded, his interest peaked.

"And we need you to keep Lanton busy for awhile."

Ezra was thoughtful for a moment, surprised that the regulators were asking for his assistance ."Why?"

"We want to take a look at his room." Wilmington explained trying to hitch his fingers on his belt loop, missing, and then resting his hand awkwardly on his thigh.

"Surely, you are not blaming Mister Lanton for the demise of his  paramour?"  The gambler  lowered his voice.  "The evidence is there and Vin does not have an explanation."

Gone was Buck's easy smile. " I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt, Ez. Something I would do for you too."

Standish was about to make a flippant comment, but paused  instead at the implicit trust Buck had bestowed upon him. Ezra felt the weight of what it was like to be amongst a circle of friends and the responsibilities that accompanied it. The southerner tipped his hat as a response.

Wilmington gave him a nod, "Thanks pard."

Part 15:

Silently Chris held out his hand and nodded to the key hooked under the number 15. Without hesitation the hotel clerk handed Lanton's  key to the black clad gunslinger.
Buck followed his old friend up the stairs, close at his heels, tipping his hat as they passed a pretty woman in the hall.  She looked at him as if he was a wild man, because of his strange dress.

Larabee stifled the smile that the woman's horrified expression brought to his face. There was a time when Chris worried that JD was going to be used by the boys as their errand boy, but his latest deed  proved that he could stand up to the fellow regulators.

"This is it." Larabee said as he placed the key in the lock. Buck looked up and down the hallway and then gave Chris the nod to open the door. They entered and Wilmington softly closed the door with a click.

Chris lifted the yellow blanket that the maid had neatly placed on the bed. Under the bed was tucked Lanton's suitcase.  The brown leather had been carefully handled even though  it had come west through rough terrain, it said much about the fastidiousness of its owner and how he treated his property. Chris placed the trunk on the bed, and began to rummage through the items.

Buck went to the bureau, touching the bottles and brushes that covered the dresser. Wilmington placed one bottle to his nose and coughed as he inhaled the musky scent. "Chris, what if he did it?"

Larabee was caught momentarily off guard and dropped the shirt, only to quickly snatch it in the air before it hit the floor. Chris stuffed it back into the valise. "What are you saying Buck?"

Wilmington examined the straight edge razor. "Playing devil's advocate." Buck motioned in the air with the blade.

"Leave the devil to Josiah and help me finish looking." Larabee said as he roughly closed the suitcase and returned it to its place under the bed.

The mustached man wiped the blade against Ezra's pants and placed it back on the bureau. "Think of it this way pard, he has feelings for Indians and then there is Tascosa."

Chris didn't acknowledge what his friend had stated, after all he had said the truth. Vin had spent time with the Indians, and was wanted in Tascosa.

"When that Pinkerton guy accused Josiah, you didn't rule out that Josiah may have done it." Buck opened some of the draws on the dresser, and lifted a woman's garter. It must have belonged to the dead woman along with the other belongings in the drawer. Buck carefully folded the garter and returned it to its place.

"That was different, Buck." Larabee replied as he went through the items on the nightstand. It had been different because Josiah had been acting crazy. Sanchez didn't even put a fight up about being thrown in jail either. It had taken Vin to find out that Josiah was innocent.

"Chris they found the buckskin, there was that fight too." Wilmington quickly opened and closed the remaining draws. "All I am saying is maybe he didn't mean to do it?"

"He didn't kill that woman, that's all I need to know."  Larabee's gut was telling him to trust the tracker. The man was innocent and Chris was going to be stubborn about it.

Buck placed his hands on his hips looking for another stone to upturn in the bedroom. "Just making sure you're thinking straight."

"I am," Chris replied, gripping  the candlestick he had found on the nightstand. Larabee wanted to throw it against the wall in frustration. The search had not turned up any damning evidence against Lanton. They would have to look elsewhere for proof that Vin was innocent.

Part 16:

Ezra heard each excruciatingly slow tick of the clock as the minutes dragged on. The card game progressed at a lagging pace, as Standish watched Lanton become inebriated.

"I miss her." Fred rubbed a hand down his face.

In fact, Standish was getting tired of being exposed to the man's liquor breath. The southerner could only hope that Buck and Chris would be done soon.

Ezra  had stopped his words of sympathy and was nodding absentmindingly at the Easterner. Lanton must have realized his pathetic behavior was starting to annoy Standish.  He ceased his simpering, sat rigidly in his chair and dusted his black jacket.
"When I found her, she was wild. I had to tame her and she respected me for it."

The gambler noticed the change in Fred's composure and asked Inez to bring over a pitcher of water to help the man gain some sort of sobriety.  "I am sure she was very grateful."

Lanton cleared his throat after he gulped the glass of water. " Yes, grateful. . . She knew her place was by my side, unlike many women with their foreign ideas."

Ezra's brow knit together as he listened to the easterner speak of Emma. Standish had grown up with a strong female presence. Maude was formidable and didn't feel her station was to stay at home.  She needed to earn a living, had many ideas, most of them illegal but necessary to live in the style Ezra's mother had become accustomed to. In a hushed tone he decided to test Lanton's character.  "She must have been a handful, very disobedient at times."

"Yes she had a tendency to be willful at times . . ." The orator let his words trail off. He looked at Ezra suspiciously for a moment then stood up wavering a bit before straightening his jacket and squaring his shoulders. "If you'll excuse me, tomorrow I am doing an oration of The Highwayman, before I leave on the stage."

Standish was about to stop the man from leaving, but then noticed Chris and Buck slip in the saloon. Ezra smiled and put the playing cards down. "I look forward to it."

Standish watched the man leave, as did Wilmington and Larabee. The two regulators joined him, each cradling a glass of beer. "Gentlemen, have you finished ransacking Mister Lanton's room?"

Buck placed his hat on the table before taking a seat. "Nothing's out a place, Ez."

Ezra waited for Chris to sit down. "And is Mister Lanton the culprit?" He asked the two men.

Wilmington took a long drawl of beer. Larabee stared off, looking out the windows. "We didn't find anything." Buck replied.

"That is unfortunate for Mister Tanner." The southerner glanced in the same direction as the black clad gunslinger.  Suddenly, Chris got up, and took his drink over to the bar where he stood alone, not wanting any company.

"Chris ain't taking this too well." The mustached regulator commented. "I think Vin is going to be in a heap of trouble."

"At least he'll have a fair trial," Ezra said tucking the deck of cards in his pocket. He was becoming uncomfortable, not just because of the too large clothes but also because he had a nagging suspicion that he had judgedVin too hastily. "Mister Wilmington, I expect to see clothing outside my door tomorrow morning so we can finally end this lunacy."

Buck raised his beer glass, "Looking forward to it, Ez, looking forward to it. Hell once I have my clothes back maybe I'll think straight and help Vin out of this jam."
Part 17:

Josiah carried over some biscuits that Mary had made that morning to the jail.  Sanchez had figured he would spend some time with the tracker, keeping his mind occupied so that he didn't miss his freedom. The preacher snorted, the former bounty hunter had helped him prove his innocence and in return Josiah had provided solace to Tanner's accuser. Sanchez just hoped the others found the real attacker.

Vin liked open spaces. The large regulator was expecting to find the tracker pacing his cell like wild animal.  He was astonished to find Tanner standing. His back faced toward the door, looking out the small window in the cell. A ray of light had filtered its way through the bars and shined directly onto Tanner's face. There was almost a sort of contentment that danced on his face at the radiance of the sun.  Josiah cleared his throat not wanting to take the tracker by surprise. "Brother Vin, Mary sent over these biscuits. Thought you may enjoy them."

Tanner dropped his head slightly, and turned to face the preacher.  He walked over to the bars, and held out his hands. "Appreciate it." Vin said, as he took the small bundle, wrapped in a checkered napkin from Josiah.  The tracker sat down, placing the untouched biscuits next to him.  The bounty hunter let the silence stretch, before giving Sanchez a slight grin as he glanced at him. "You're lookin' like you want me to confess preacher man."

Josiah chuckled. "Only if it'll ease your soul." Sanchez pulled a chair around from the sheriff's desk and sat next to the bars. The large man watched as Vin closed his eyes and leaned his head against the stone wall.  Josiah knew when he saw a man in deep contemplation. He relaxed his large frame into the chair and waited patiently for the tracker to speak.

"I've done things I ain't proud of." The first words were said with a raspy voice that the preacher struggled to hear. "I've killed men with prices on their head." Tanner paused as if waiting for notes of recrimination from Josiah, who only nodded for Vin to continue. "I thought sometimes that it's easier to bring 'em in dead then havin' to feed them and take 'em in to the sheriff's office."

Josiah sighed, humbled that the tracker was sharing a little of himself. It happened occasionally as they sat on the church's steps. Sanchez marveled at the circumstances that had made the bond grow between the preacher and the bounty hunter. Tanner never passed judgement, never had any expectations and held on to the belief that he could trust his instincts about people.  Nathan had chosen Vin at first to defend his father. Upon hearing that Josiah had rudimentary knowledge of Cherokee law, Tanner pushed the preacher into defending the former slave.  Sanchez knew the bounty hunter, without hesitation, respected him, as a learned man and as a friend.

"You did what you needed to Vin." Josiah had been lucky that Vin had made a leap of faith and had chosen to believe that Sanchez was not guilty of killing those women. The large man could only do the same in return and trust, implicitly.

Vin opened his eyes and tucked his feet back, so that his knees protruded. "No disrespect, Josiah," Tanner began. "I always followed the laws of the land that say you need to get by everyday and go on living with what you've done or not done. Ya know God's rule ain't like mine." The tracker continued, "I don't need your forgiveness, Josiah."

Josiah placed a hand on one of the bars, stretching it through so that his wrist lay against the horizontal bar. "How about some understanding?" Sanchez waited to see if his offering was accepted.

Vin snorted, put his hand on Josiah's in a fierce grip. "Maybe got some use for that." Tanner dropped the handshake and turned his attention to carefully opening the napkin containing the biscuits.

"Your rules seem just as good as God's or mine." Sanchez chuckled, thinking of his need to get drunk.  "There are times when darkness eats at a man and it's his morals that help him find his way again."

There was another pause punctuated by the sounds outside. Vin took one of the biscuits and held it up for a moment. "Thanks for bringing by the biscuits, tell Mary they're mighty fine."

Sanchez took that as his cue to leave, that Tanner had talked enough for now. Soon someone else would be coming to visit, the tracker hadn't been left alone much and probably wanted some time to ponder on what direction his rules we're leading him.

Part 18:

Vin shifted, trying to find a comfortable spot on the cot. He had tired of pacing, and tired of everyone dropping by offering platitudes. The tracker wanted out of the jail. He sighed loudly and harmlessly swatted at a fly that buzzed by his face.

"Damn flies," Tanner growled at the insect. Vin shifted his body so his knees were bent and began looking at the ceiling noting all its cracks. He lost time wondering if he would begin to wear down like the ceiling, and how many times could  he patch himself  before he gave up. The tracker's depressing thoughts were interrupted by the gambler announcing his arrival. Vin hadn't expected to see Standish since it was obvious that the southerner believed that Tanner had killed Emma and deserved to be in jail.

"Against my better judgement I have come to hear you out." Ezra said as he sauntered into the jail, and faced the cell.

The tracker didn't bother acknowledging Standish. He stayed on the cot, not moving. "Don't do me any favors, Ez. Sure the hell don't need more friends like you." Vin said matter -of- factly, promising himself not to get angry at the southerner and waste his energy.  Vin had watched Ezra trample his name and make the accusations, without any consideration towards the former bounty hunter. Tanner would have appreciated if the southerner had come to talk to him first, after all they had been through he figured that Standish at least owed him that much.

"Well in that case, good luck Mister Tanner." Standish bristled at the confrontation, and Vin heard the man turn on his heel and head toward the door.

 Frustration at being cooped up in one room and the realization that Tanner had broken his own rules- he expected too much from the people around him. The tracker stood up and called out to the retreating figure. "Luck ain't got nothing to do with it. I didn't do it." Vin leaned his head against the metal bars, relieved at professing his innocence, and that he had maintained that he could handle things alone.

Standish stopped and kept his back towards Vin. The tracker knew the man was grinning as he said, "Well unless Lady Fortune decides to grace us with her presence I am afraid you will be discussing your innocence with the Judge in the morning."

Tanner snorted, pushed himself away from the bars and leaned against the wall underneath the window. "You'll be happy about that." Vin wanted to slide down the wall and be closer to the stable ground underneath him. He was feeling muddleheaded and confused, unable to see a clear path.

Ezra sighed and turned, clasping his hands in front of him. "No, Mister Tanner you are wrong. I would be very much aggrieved."  Standish gestured to the chair, Buck's sleeve fell, covered his hand and hung loosely,  "May I sit?"

"Not much I can do to stop you from in here." Tanner snickered and watched as Ezra carefully arranged himself in the wooden chair.

"Yes, your incarceration does hold you hostage for our much delayed confrontation." Standish said. Tanner raised an eyebrow, and the gambler added, "For which I apologize."

Vin had no idea what the gambler had said, but figured since he apologized he might as well listen. "I've got some time ta spare so speak your mind."

Part 19:

It was late morning when Josiah arrived, with some leftover bacon. Chris had already stopped by as the dawn broke. They had eaten in silence giving Vin time to reflect about what Ezra had said yesterday.

"Morning Brother," Sanchez exclaimed, setting the plate down on the desk. "Judge is going to want to see you later on so we can put this matter to an end."

"Hope so." Vin stated as he got up from the cot.  "Listen Josiah, I need to stretch my legs a bit." Tanner gestured to the privy that was out back.

"Sure, Vin," the large man replied as he pulled the keys from the loop. The regulators had trusted Tanner. They allowed him certain privileges that other prisoners never received.

Sanchez opened the cell door. The squeak was loud, competing with the street sounds.

"One of these days I'll have to fix that," the large man commented, looking at the hinges. Vin gave Josiah a nod, as the preacher gestured for the tracker to lead the way.

Tanner knew it was time to put his plan into action. He grabbed one of the rifles that hung on the wall. Quickly, he swung it around, hitting Josiah in the head with a thud.

The blow had been unexpected. Josiah raised his hands to defend himself. Sanchez's eyes filled with hurt and confusion. Vin saw the preacher's legs began to buckle. Tanner clutched the large man's arm and assisted him so that he did not crash on the floor as he succumbed to the darkness of unconsciousness.

 Vin bent down, adjusted the large man so that he would be more comfortable. Tanner paused to make sure Sanchez's chest rose and fell.

"Sorry Josiah," the tracker uttered under his breath as he blotted the slight cut with the corner of his shirt. "Just doin' what needs to be done." Tanner tried to explain to the oblivious preacher.

Satisfied that the blood was clotted and Josiah would be fine, Vin sighed. Freedom and escape were footsteps away. But first he needed to take care of a little revenge. The tracker did not believe in unfinished business.

Part 20:

Ezra could not stop himself from preening like a peacock. Buck had returned his clothes at midnight.  Standish was grateful no one had seen the tearful reunion. He decided to wake early to show the town that Ezra P. Standish was no longer playing the fool.

Ezra noticed Fred Lanton was also about, having a cup of steaming coffee on the boardwalk. He seemed to be muttering to himself, probably in preparation for his last stirring speech, a rendition of The Highwayman. Standish waved to the easterner and headed over to greet him. It was then he saw Josiah stumbling out of jail, holding his head. Standish quickened his step. He had to warn Lanton. Without a doubt Ezra knew Vin had escaped and would seek out Lanton, his accuser.

"Mister Lanton!" Standish said loudly to get the man 's attention. Ezra paused a moment to catch his breath before continuing. "Vin Tanner has escaped."

Fred's eyes grew large as he looked around town for the tracker. He opened his mouth but only sputtered.

The southerner fished his keys out of his pocket and pressed them into Lanton's slack hands. "No need to worry sir. Hide in my room." Ezra gestured to Josiah who was sitting on the bench outside the jail, head in hand.  "I must alert my comrades and help Mister Sanchez to the clinic."

"Thank you, Mister Standish. I will not forget this." Fred glanced over his shoulder one more time before entering the shadows and making his way towards the hotel. Ezra watched Lanton make his escape and went to tend to Josiah.

Part 21:

Luckily, there was no one in the hallways, and he was able to make it to Standish's room undetected. He closed the door silently behind him, and slumped against it in relief that he had found some refuge from Vin Tanner. Fred closed his eyes knowing that men like Tanner were like savages and would as soon as scalp you then shake hands.

"I'm lookin' for the truth, Lanton."  Said a gravely voice. The orator believed he was hallucinating.  Fred opened his eyes to see the tracker sitting on the corner of Ezra's bed holding a large knife.

The easterner began to scratch at the door, his palms sweaty and slick.  He wanted to cry out, but found his voice was lost in the eruption of fear.  Tanner roughly grabbed the back of his jacket and propelled him towards the bed. Lanton stumbled, tripping over his own feet that responding slowly. Fred began to curl his body, to protect himself from the bounty hunter's revenge.

Vin pulled his hair up, exposing his neck, and bringing the knife to lay against his throat. Lanton willed himself to stop shaking, swallowing to calm himself and moisten his mouth which had gone dry.

"I reckon you know what happened to that girl and you're gonna tell the Judge." Tanner said, his blue eyes fierce and stubborn.

Lanton licked his lips. Surely, someone would check on him soon, he thought. Fred decided to try to hold the tracker off until help arrived.  "Nonsense, they'll never believe a confession you forced out." The easterner raised his brown eyes testily. "It doesn't matter what I did, you can't prove it."

"I reckon you heard about my reputation." Swiftly, Tanner moved the knife and cut a piece of Fred's dark hair. He sprinkled the strands over Lanton's face causing him to blink rapidly. "You know what? I just gotta know myself what happened to the girl." Vin returned the knife back to the easterner's throat. "My life ain't worth shit in this town, gotta move on."

Vin pressed the knife more firmly against Lanton's throat causing him to take a sharp intake of breath. Wildly, he looked around the room, hoping to find a weapon he could use against the tracker.

"I just wanna know what happened before I kill your sorry hide." Tanner moved the knife and picked off a button from the easterner's shirt.  "Might as well head to Mexico after committing a real murder." Vin snickered.

Fred looked at the door wishing for an intrusion. He could feel Vin's warm breath and the smell of one crazed and one desperate man. "Please don't kill me.  " Lanton begged, feeling tears welling in his eyes. "It was an accident.  I swear it." His voice began to grow hoarse.  "The girl fell. I didn't mean it." The words jumbled out, as he remembered the small shove he had given Emma. " She hit her head.  I never meant to hurt her. Please."

Tanner wiped the knife on Fred's shirt. Vin sneered at the pathetic man who lay sobbing.

"Heard enough?"  Vin called out.

Part 22:

The Judge along with Ezra and Chris entered the room. "Yeah, we heard enough."  Larabee said, disgusted at the sniveling man, who had fallen off the bed and landed like a heap on the wooden floor.
Lanton took in ragged breaths. "I didn't do it." Fred got to his knees. "He had a knife . . .he threatened . . ."

"Save it for the Judge." Chris picked up his foot and pushed the man down on the floor again. " He's right here, and they call him Hanging Judge Travis." Larabee gave a tight lipped, satisfied smile.

"I believe there is an escort waiting for you." Ezra said as he opened the door to Buck and JD.

"Hey Vin, heard you found someone else to keep the flies company." Buck reached down to pick the man off the floor.

JD seized Lanton's arm. "Vin, I never believed. . ."

"Thanks JD," Tanner nodded.

Lanton was trying to wrangle out of the grasp of the two men. The Judge stepped in front of  the easterner, who immediately ceased his squirming. "You better be brushing up on your skills. I want to know why you blamed one of my men for the murder of that girl."

Fred bowed his head and Buck and JD led him to the jail. Vin slumped slightly in relief that he had been proven innocent. He then remembered  how he had left Sanchez injured in the jail.  "How's Josiah?"

Ezra rested a hand on Vin's shoulder. The gambler had thought of the plan, and they had decided that they needed the element of surprise. "In a forgiving mood. After I explained his injury was necessary for the ruse to work."

"Nathan said he'll be fine." Chris interrupted Ezra's conversation. Larabee had been talking to the Judge. "Mary 's going to have a problem without Lanton giving his speech."

"Gonna need someone to fill in." Vin nodded, understanding what the black clad gunslinger had in mind.

Standish smiled, his gold tooth glinting. "I have done a turn on the stage, and I can assure you that my rendition of The Highwayman will have the women swooning."

Chris's eyebrows knit together. Larabee closed his eyes for a moment before gesturing to Orin. "I think the Judge would do a fine job."

"Boys, I . . ." The Judge puffed up proud, obviously thrilled the regulators had thought of him.

Standish's smile dropped and his voice had a monotone characteristic, "That would be satisfactory. "

Part 23:

Vin had wanted to see Josiah right away, but Nathan had reported he was resting and that Sanchez needed things as quiet as possible because of the hammering headache. This added to Tanner's guilt about having to hurt his friend. The next morning Vin climbed up the clinic steps, hat in hand with a bottle of whiskey.

The tracker opened the door quietly and saw that the large man was awake. "I'm sorry, Josiah. Hoping for some of that understandin' you were talkin' about."  Vin placed the bottle on the bed.

"I can always find some forgiveness in a bottle," Sanchez uncorked the bottle and took a swig. "Not happy about the headache, but glad that you're free."

There was a light knock on the door, and Nathan entered with a tray of food followed by Chris. Jackson frowned at seeing the liquor. Larabee smiled took the bottle from Sanchez's hand and took a drink.

"Saw Buck and Ezra this morning." Chris sat down in the vacant chair next to the bed.

Nathan took the bottle away from him, re-corked it, and placed the bottle on his desk.

"Ezra's up early again?" Vin commented as he leaned against the windowsill enjoying being amongst friends and near the fresh air.

"Looks like Josiah won't be the only one with a headache today." The healer added as he placed the food track on Sanchez's lap.

Suddenly Buck and Ezra entered the clinic, laughing. They tried to gather their wits about them, but instead chuckled more.

Larabee shook his head. Buck restrained himself enough to talk to the gathered group. "Checked on the prisoner. Yosemite's watching him for now. Just don't get why he blamed Vin if it was an accident?"

Ezra wiped the tears from his eyes and cleared his throat as he explained, "Because an accident would have followed him with suspicions and innuendo. But, a murder del Coeur and a love triangle with him as an innocent would have women swooning, harkening to see and support the poor man."

The regulators nodded, understanding Lanton's scheme. Vin stole a piece of Josiah's bacon wanting to put the incident behind him and knowing that a part of him was saddened over the death of Emma, a woman he barely knew. She had lost herself when she met Lanton and now was lost to everyone.

Sanchez stopped eating and stared at Wilmington. "Brother, what are you doing hanging out the window?"

"It seems Mister Wilmington has an admirable streak of wickedness." Ezra said tipping his hat to Buck.

Nathan looked around the room, then glared suspiciously at the two laughing men. "Where's JD?"

"We borrowed his clothes," Wilmington shifted his weight and to his other leg, and fidgeted with his red bandana.

Standish twisted his ring before adding, "and the sheets."

Buck turned his attention to the window again. "We left him with only a pair of women's bloomers."

Nathan rolled his eyes. Chris gave a small smirk, which widened slightly when JD howled.

The men gathered around the window. JD was at the window at his room at the boarding house. The whole town could see his naked torso and the pair of bloomers he held. "This isn't funny! I want my clothes! Buuuccckkk!"

Vin backed away from the scene, shaking his head. He gave Josiah, still in bed, a nod as he left the clinic to get some clothes for JD. Sometimes you needed someone watching your back, and you needed to call someone friend.


The End