Summary: The sequel to Nightmare. Will Rafe get his comeuppance? Your guess is as good as mine and I am the author.
Categories: Magnificent Seven > Old West Characters: None
Series: The Rafe Stewart Saga
Chapters: 7 Completed: No
Word count: 13206 Read: 22410
Published: 19 Apr 2009 Updated: 26 Apr 2009
If I tell you you'd know.
1. The story unfolds by the poet
2. The trap is set by the poet
3. Mistaken Identity by the poet
4. A Trial of Circumstances by the poet
5. A Gathering of Eagles by the poet
6. The Happenstance of Circumstance by the poet
7. Turnabout is fair play by the poet
The story unfolds by the poet
The man in black arrives in Roswell New Mexico.
1 Roswell est. 1865
It was unseasonably cold for mid April in the town of Roswell New Mexico. People gathered their coats tighter around them as they went from place to place to ward off the chill from the biting wind. Store front doors were quickly opened and shut as customers and clerks did what they could to stay warm.
The man in black rode into town on his black gelding that had a streak of white on his head. Both he and the animal were oblivious to the cold and wind. He came upon the livery stable and dug out a fifty cent piece. He handed it to the boy who was looking at his horse. He got off the animal and gave the boy the coin. "Take care of Pony. Give him an extra cup of oats and brush him down real good" he said with a smile.
"Where you from Mr.?" the boy asked.
"Larabee, Chris Larabee. I'm from Four Corners and I'm just traveling through. Got some business I got to attend to then I'm on my way."
He walked over to the nearest saloon and as was his custom, he noticed all that was going on around him. One thing caught his eye. Near the saloon was a dress shop and sitting next to the window was a young woman sewing using the light that shown. From what he could see she was young and pretty.
He finally noticed the chill in the air as he walked into the saloon. There were very few customers in it at this time of day. He walked up to the bar "Whiskey and leave the bottle" he told the barkeeper. He was on his third glass when the girl from the dress shop entered.
"Hi Lou. Is May around? I have her dress finished" she said as she noticed the man drinking at the bar.
"She's in the back counting boxes. Watch the bar for a minute and I'll go get her."
"Sure thing Lou" she replied and looked over at the stranger again. She smiled.
This time he was looking back. He was drawn toward her. Her voice was as pretty as she was and he found himself smiling back at her.
"Hello" she said as she took a step toward him. She couldn't stop gazing into his eyes. They beckoned her toward him.
"You are a sight for these tired eyes. If I knew your name I'd invite you to dinner if I knew of a good place to eat."
His voice broke her out of the spell. "Misty, my name is Misty. The locals like to eat at Josie's. I could take you there if you'd like." She found herself blushing as the words came out in a rush.
"That would be fine. Let me get settled at the boarding house and I'll meet you back here in an hour" he said as put a coin on the bar for the whiskey. He walked toward the doors and said "My name's Chris by the way. Chris Larabee."
May walked up and tapped Misty on the shoulder. "Misty you have my dress ready?"
"Yes" she said as she stared at the man's back.
"Is anything wrong?" May asked as she looked at her friend.
"I just met the most amazing man. I"m going to dinner with him tonight"
"Are you out of your mind? You don't even know a thing about him!" May said to Misty.
"I know his name and I know that he has the most amazing eyes I've ever seen" Misty replied.
"I give up. Can I have my dress now?"
"What? Oh the dress. Here pay me when you can" Misty said and she slowly walked out of the bar toward the dress shop.
Misty was early for her dinner with Chris. She was eager to see him again. She had felt a connection when their eyes met and wanted to investigate it further.
He showed up with a bunch of wildflowers in his hand and smiled as she waited by the door. She felt herself blushing again and walked them toward a side road that led to Josie's Eatery.
As they were led to a table he pulled out the seat for her and waited until she was situated before sitting in his chair.
Dinner was delicious and the conversation was lively. While waiting for the main course, Chris took her hand and traced patterns on the back of it.
Misty was mesmerized. She told him of losing her father to a bad heart and keeping the dress shop after her mother passed away a few years back. He listened and asked questions. She sensed a genuine interest from him and as he looked into her eyes, she started to trust him.
When dinner was over, he walked her back to the dress shop. She wanted to feel his arms around her but he kissed her hand instead.
"Will I see you tomorrow?" she asked hopefully.
"I think I can arrange that. I'll meet you at Josie's for breakfast. I still have business in the area so I think I'll send word to Four Corners and let them know I'll be delayed" he replied as him tipped his hat and went to the boarding house. "By the way why are you named Misty?"
"Ma said my Pa was all misty eyed when I was born and since he died before I was christened I was named that way" she said with a coy smile.
"That's a nice story. I'm glad you told me."
Throughout the week they shared what time they could with each other. She found him outside the dress shop whenever she would break for lunch and he would surprise her with a licorice whip while he attended to business. He found himself talking to her about the loss of his wife and son and how he had come about living in Four Corners. By the end of the week, people regarded them as a couple.
The following Saturday Chris arranged for a picnic. He got a heavily laden picnic basket from Josie's and tied it to a cinch on his saddle.
He went to get her at the shop and he saw her come near him with a kitten in her hand. The kitten looked at Chris and hissed.
"I don't know why she did that. Bad kitty Boo" she said as she put the kitten down on the floor in the shop.
"I don't worry about all things liking me as long as certain ones do" he replied as he put an arm around her with a smile.
3 the picnic
Chris walked her out the door and reached for her arm. In one fluid movement, he placed her behind him on the saddle. They rode for over an hour until they found the perfect spot. He got down from the horse and grabbed her by the waist, placing her down next to him. For the briefest of moments he could feel her warmth next to him and he sighed.
He tied Pony next to the lake nearby and spread out the blanket. He laid out the feast before them and they ate with light conversation. They enjoyed the sunshine and the beauty around them. After they ate, he laid her down next to him and kissed her. She melted in his embrace. They held each other for what seemed like an eternity. She fell asleep in his arms. The sun was just starting to fade off in the western sky.
He slowly detached himself from her embrace and went to Pony. He got his rifle from the sleeve of the saddle and walked about twenty yards. He took careful aim...
She woke just before the sound of the rifle went off. A sense of foreboding caused her to look up. Her expression was that of shock and amazement. She saw his smile as he aimed the gun. The sound of the rifle going off pierced the early evening air as the bullet pierced her heart. He wrapped the body in the blanket and rolled it down the ravine.
He got on Pony and left in the opposite direction of Roswell.
Epilogue Four Corners
Chris walked toward the Clarion wanting to see Mary. It had been over a month since she was shot and her arm was merely in a sling as opposed to taped to her chest. Nathan was pleased with her healing and things were getting back to normal. Even Ezra was more likely to be found playing poker than at the ink presses.
On any given day Chris would be out looking for Rafe but the trail had gone cold. He had the men take turns looking for him in the surrounding areas. What was once a big posse was now just two men at a time searching every nook and cranny. Chris insisted that they double up just because of what happened the day of the hanging.
Despite the fact that he sent out wires to the surrounding areas and constant updates, he couldn't help but be concerned. He now knew he had looked into the face of evil and that Rafe had to be stopped and he was the one who had to do it. He wasn't just afraid for Mary but for his sister and all those unsuspecting women who Rafe could kill.
Mary heard the door open and smiled at Chris. "A letter came for you while you were away" she said as she touched his hand. She went toward the desk and handed him the letter. "Any idea who it's from?"
He opened it and once read, let it fall from his hands. His face turned white. Mary touched him and all he could of think of was her. "That bastard' he swore as he felt the rage boil within him.
To be continued
The trap is set by the poet
Chris learns of the deception
1 the letter
Chris grabbed Mary's hand as he rubbed his tired eyes. He felt a rage like he had never felt before. Mary steered him toward the nearest chair and forced him to sit down.
"Look at me Chris. It's from Rafe isn't it" she said in a soft voice. She lifted his chin and met his eyes. The look of concern and fear caught her off guard. The letter had broke down his defenses. He felt the exhaustion of the past weeks sink in. For a moment he had let his guard down as he looked into the caring blue eyes of Mary. In the next instant his shields were back up and he stood. He needed to take action.
"Mary he's done it again. That bastard has killed another woman in Roswell New Mexico. I've got to get Vin and the others" he said as he crumpled the letter tightly in his hands.
Mary's face paled and she touched his arm, "Chris you can't go with all of them, he may head back here or after your sister" she said with concern.
"I'll wire my brothers to keep an eye out for Eileen and I'll have Josiah Nathan and J.D. stay here" he said as he looked at her and headed for the door. He shoved the letter in the stove and watched the paper burn. "I'll see you before I leave."
2 the posse
Vin, Buck and Ezra were playing a friendly game of poker in the saloon.
"Boys I need your help. That bastard Rafe has killed someone else in Roswell. He sent me a letter in care of the Clarion while I was out looking for him. I want to get to Roswell before he knows we're there."
"Do you want us all Chris?" Buck asked.
"No, I need J.D., Josiah and Nathan here. I'll let them know to keep an eye on the town and on the ladies especially."
"Now that sounds like a job for me" Buck said with a smile.
"No Buck I need you to watch my back and I need Vin to help us track the bastard down" Chris sneered at Buck as he saw Vin get up to gather supplies.
"What do you need me for?" asked Ezra.
"Your skills in deception might just come in handy seeing as how Rafe came back into town without our knowledge."
"Why thank you for the compliment" Ezra said with a smile as he got up to get the things he would need for his trip.
As Vin headed toward the door Chris motioned for him to stay. Vin looked at him with concern. He knew his friend too well. "You're frightened ain't you Cowboy" he said looking into his eyes.
"I thought losing Sarah and Adam was the worst thing I'd ever have to face in my life, but this...I don't know which way to turn. I know that my brothers, Matt and John, will look after Eileen but I don't trust him. He's taunting me Vin."
"We'll catch the bastard and this time we'll hang him until there ain't a breath left in his body" Vin said as he gave his friend's forearm a gentle squeeze and left the bar.
Chris ordered a glass of whiskey and sipped it slowly. He sat for a moment gathering his thoughts. He remembered a time when he was in a dark place and all he lived for was the next gunfight and the next drink. He didn't care if he lived or died let alone if others lived or died. That was a long time ago. Despite himself he found a reason to start to caring again. Things and people started to matter to him. He had noticed the change and at times even caught himself grinning and laughing.
The dark times of the past were becoming just that: the past. He was becoming a different man than the one who had come to this town. Here he found a woman defending a black man against a mob who wanted him dead.
He still had a reputation of a gunslinger but he was now upholding the law. It was a law that he could believe in. He had people that depended on him and that he could depend on. He finished his drink, broke out of his reverie and walked toward the Clarion.
She stood near the printing press intent on her work as she set type one handed. He walked around her and whispered in her ear "Thank you" and took a moment to smell her hair.
She looked back at him and smiled at him quizzically "For what?" she asked as she felt his warm embrace. She leaned into him with a small sigh.
"It's not important" he said once more putting his shields up. "I'll wire you when we're in Roswell. J.D. and the others will help if you need anything. Tell Billy I'll be back" he said as he looked at her smile once more before leaving.
3 while the cat's away
Mesilla's bar was the only decent watering hole in over forty miles and the man in black was sipping his whiskey slowly. He savored the taste of it as it went down his throat and hit his stomach. He had been here about a week and was waiting for Barbara to meet him with a picnic basket of fried chicken and apple pie.
Barbara was a young widow with no children and family back east. She was drawn toward the man in black as she was still in mourning for her husband.
He paid for the bottle, and smiled as the woman came through the door. He tied the picnic basket to the saddle and once on his horse, pulled her to sit up in front of him. They rode quite a ways until they reached a creek and some shade a ways off the trail.
He laid out the blanket and as they ate their picnic he complimented the cook by kissing her. It had been a long time since she felt this way, but it was too soon.
"Please take me back" she said as she watched him standing by his horse.
She then noticed the rifle and heard the cocking of it. She stood there in shock. Her mouth fell open and she tried to scream, but only air came out.
He smiled and walked a distance away. He watched as she stood motionless. It was as if she was welcoming what was to come. She turned her hands in supplication as she felt the bullet enter her heart. She would soon be back with her husband.
The man in black had no need for the blanket this time and left her body where it lay.
Mary received the letter to Chris care of the Clarion and this time recognized the handwriting. Chris was well on his way to Roswell with the others, so she opened the letter. Chris hadn't let her read the first one. This one she would.
She sat in the chair and read it with shaking hands.
I just wanted to let you know that you are becoming well known in these parts. Your reputation is growing by leaps and bounds.
Her name was Barbara. She was a lovely young widow with no children and family somewhere back east. She froze before I shot her and this time I left her where she lay. No one will really miss her I'm sure, except for you.
Did you tell Mary of the others?
See you soon old friend.
Mary held the letter tight as Josiah came through the doors of the Clarion. He took one look at Mary and went to hold her.
"Chris, oh Lord Chris" was all she could say as she felt Josiah comfort her. The letter dropped to the floor and was caught by a stray breeze tossing it like a leaf from a tree.
To be continued
Mistaken Identity by the poet
Looking for Rafe causes Problems
1 Roswell revisited
The ride from Four Corners to Roswell was long and arduous. Vin made a fire and Buck started to make stew with a rabbit that Chris had caught in a snare. Ezra was busy gathering more wood to keep the fire going through the night. Chris tethered the horses to a nearby tree and after having watered them, took the saddles off. He left each bed roll to the man that owned them and leaned against his saddle staring into the fire.
Vin came back from scoping out the area and hunched over the fire. "How do you want to play it?" he asked Chris as he rubbed his hands together.
"His letter said he left the body near some water in a blanket. I think it best if we go to Roswell first and then look for the body. Do you know the area?" he replied.
"I've traveled it once, but that was a long time ago. Buck, Ezra either of you been to Roswell?" Vin asked.
"No but I hear tell of strange things happening over there and it's enough to make me want to steer clear of the place" Ezra said.
"Come on now Ezra surely you ain't afraid of things that go bump in the night" Buck teased.
"It isn't things that go bump in the night so much as flashing lights in the night sky" he replied.
"Well of course they'd appear in the night sky because they couldn't be seen in the daylight" Buck responded as he started to dish out the rabbit stew.
Chris got up to fetch some biscuits out of his saddle bag and smiled at the friendly banter. It was good to have his friends about. He was glad that Buck had made the stew as Ezra's cooking left much to be desired and Vin could use the break from cooking whatever he caught on a spit.
"We should be there tomorrow. Come sun up if we ride straight through, we'll be there by noon if all goes well. I had J.D. wire the Marshall and he knows we're coming."
2 deja vu
Marshall Bill Royce stood outside the office waiting for four men. He saw them from a distance and as they got closer he did a double take. The leader looked familiar.
He was dressed in black and rode a black gelding with a splash of white on his forehead. As he led the others into the town of Roswell, Royce put a hand on his gun. When they got closer, he pulled out his pistol.
"Marshall why the hostile greeting?" Chris asked as he alit from his horse and tethered it to the nearest hitching post. The others followed suit with their hands resting on their guns.
"You Chris Larabee?" he asked.
"Yes. Didn't Sheriff Dunne from Four Corners wire you that we were coming to investigate the murder of a girl named Misty?" Chris asked as he tried to calm down his companions with a wave of his hand.
"Yes, but he didn't say anything about a Chris Larabee. You sir are under arrest for the murder of Misty Buchman" said the Marshall.
"WHAT! That's impossible! The man you're looking for is Rafe Stewart. He sent me a letter describing how he shot her and disposed of her body. I've been looking for him for a little over a month now and these men have been helping me" Chris exclaimed.
Royce reached for his cuffs and looked into Chris' eyes. "If that's the case then where is the letter? I have witnesses who can swear you were here a while back. They will swear that you were the last one to see Misty alive. I received word just two days ago as to where I could find the body by a Rafe Stewart who said he saw you with her" the Marshall said as he put the cuffs on Chris.
"Marshall I tell you you got the wrong man. Chris here has been the law in the town of Four Corners for over two years now. He and a group of us have been keeping the area safe. Judge Orrin Travis hired us to keep the peace and it just ain't in Chris' nature to kill a woman. He couldn't even kill the woman responsible for the deaths of his wife and son" Vin said.
Chris stood there with his hands cuffed behind his back. He was in a state of shock. In all the years he was a gunfighter, this had never happened to him. Sure he had been arrested for being a public nuisance but never for murder.
"Can we at least meet these witnesses?" Buck asked.
"Once the prisoner is locked up, I'm sure they'll want to reacquaint themselves with the man that shot their friend" the Marshall said.
3 just a bad dream
Chris was led off to the jail and went willingly. Vin followed behind. Buck went for a drink and to inquire at the bar about Misty and 'Chris Larabee'. Ezra went to the telegraph office to let the fine people of Four Corners know their current status. While there he found a wire sent to them. He read it and went to the jail.
As Ezra entered the jail he kept turning the paper over and over in his hand. Chris and Vin saw the look of shock on his face as he handed it to the Marshall.
"What is it Ezra?" Chris asked with concern in his voice.
"Mary sent word that another poor girl has been murdered. She was a widow and had family back east" Ezra replied.
Chris sat heavily on the cot in the cell. "Oh my God" he barely spoke the words aloud. He felt the bile rise in his stomach and it took all that he had not to be sick. "Any kids?" he asked.
"She didn't say. The only thing she said was that there was a postmark from Mesilla New Mexico and that the body was left out in the open" Ezra replied.
"We've got to find the body and give her a decent burial" Vin said as he looked at his friend.
"It's my fault. This never would have happened if I would have-" Chris started to finish but was cut off by Royce.
"You're not going anywhere until the Judge gets here" he said with an air of authority.
"Marshall you have got to let me out of here! I'm the only one who can stop him. I know him! He courted my sister before the war. He's doing this deliberately and blaming me because of my family" Chris stated.
"How can I be sure that you didn't commit these murders to blame him?" Royce asked.
"Look I have been the law in Four Corners for over two years now. I know that my reputation for a gunslinger has followed me around, but I am not the same man! What will it take to convince you?" Chris pleaded.
"If my eyewitnesses put you here a few weeks back then you will stand trial for the murder of Misty Buchman" he said in a flat tone.
"And if they don't?" Chris asked.
"Then you can go free, with my apologies" he replied.
"Vin, go to Mesilla and find that poor woman's body. I need you to do that. Take Buck with you and watch your back. Something tells me that Rafe isn't finished and I don't need the grief of another death on my hands" said Chris. He added "The good thing about being locked up is the fact that I won't be held responsible for another death."
"What do you want me to do?" asked Ezra.
"Learn all you can about Misty Buchman and the other girl who was shot. Oh and one more thing, keep me sane" Chris added.
"That has always been in question" Ezra added.
"We'll get this sorted out Cowboy" Vin said as he headed out the door to look for Buck.
4 on the trail
Vin knew of the town of Mesilla. It was a pleasant little community with no major law, just a deputy. Upon entering it Vin and Buck were greeted by smiling children playing cowboys and indians with a slightly older gentleman who wore a badge.
"Howdy we're looking for a widow who lives near these parts. You wouldn't happen to know of her would you?" Vin asked the older man.
"Who's askin'?" he replied.
"I'm Vin Tanner this here is Buck Wilmington and we're the law up by Four Corners. Our friend Chris Larabee is in trouble up in Roswell and we heard tell of the death of a widow near these parts" Vin answered.
"It just so happens the widow you speak of is missing and was last seen with a fella named Chris Larabee. It wouldn't be the same Chris Larabee now would it?" he replied.
"Now look here there has to be a mistake. The Chris I know would never kill a woman. Just tell us what we need to know and maybe we'll get the whole thing straightened out to everyone's liking" Buck said in an exasperated tone.
"Easy now Buck. How long has the lady been missing? Do you know her name and which direction they were headed?" Vin asked.
"Her name is Barbara Pressman and they rode out of town on a single black horse he called Pony. This was coming up on five days ago. The man was tall and wore black clothing. She's still in mourning over her husband and was in a black dress" the deputy responded.
"Thanks for your help. We'll let you know if we find her" Vin said as he touched the brim of his hat.
"I hope she's alive. She's a good woman and that man just swept her off her feet. She's been grieving something fierce over her husband. They weren't blessed with kids you know" he said thinking about the lovely widow.
Vin nodded and led Buck in the direction the deputy pointed toward. It would be night soon so as soon as they were nearing a stream they stopped to make camp.
It was then that Vin saw the signs. Birds were converged in a section of grass. Vin made a torch, lit it and walked over to the scene the birds had left.
The stench of decaying flesh was unmistakable. He motioned Buck toward it and they gazed at what was left of Barbara Pressman. Her palms faced the sky. Her face still held a look of shock.
No words were spoken as Vin handed the torch to Buck as he went to get the blanket from his bedroll. He said a silent prayer and rolled what was left of the woman into his blanket.
They rode back into town underneath the stars and were greeted by the same old deputy. He saw what he knew to be the body of the widow. Tears formed in his eyes as he carefully took her to the undertaker.
Vin and Buck went to the saloon for a much needed drink. As they sat at a table the deputy came in with a clean blanket.
"It's not much in the way of thanks, but it'll have to do. I sure hope your friend didn't do it. Who ever this Chris Larabee is I'm sure there's a special place in hell for him" he said wiping a tear from his eye.
"For what it's worth this man is pretending to be our friend and the sooner we get him the better it will be for any woman in the country" Vin said as he took the blanket.
"Care to spend the night? You could sleep in the jail. I'll keep the doors unlocked and it's a might sight better than the hard ground" the deputy replied.
"No thanks. I think the comfort of the stars is what we need after a day like this, don't you agree Buck?"
"Maybe we need something to wish on" he responded. With that they rode out until there was nothing but starlight to lead them the way back.
Chris sat in the jail cell in the dark. He needed to hold on. He felt impotent when it came to dealing with Rafe Stewart. He felt the weight of the world on his shoulders and there was nothing he could do about it. Sleep eluded him.
How could he sleep when he knew that Rafe had killed at least two more women. If only he had been hung when they had him dead to rights. In his mind he knew he wasn't responsible. Mary didn't blame him for being shot but if she didn't know Chris, it may not have happened. He was worried about Eileen as well.
His sister had turned Rafe down and spurned his advances. Did she sense how dangerous he was? Did Matt and John know what he was capable of doing and would Eileen let them protect her?
He needed to get out of the jail. He couldn't break out now that he was a peacekeeper. He had to wait for Orrin. He had to wait for Vin and Buck to get back. Waiting was not his strong suit. He closed his eyes and thought of Mary. He remembered how she leaned into him before he left. He tried to sleep.
Mary looked in on Billy for the umpteenth time. She was restless and the time passed slowly. There was nothing she could do that hadn't already been done. She thought of Chris and how it felt to be near him. Maybe when this was all over they could take their relationship a step further. She was grateful for his strength and support. He was by no means a 'bad element'. She noticed he had been smiling more and that made him all the more appealing. She went back to bed and wondered what he was thinking.
To be continued
A Trial of Circumstances by the poet
Chris gets ready to stand trial for murder
1 the impossible begins
Chris awoke with a start. What little sleep he managed to get during the night disturbed him. He had closed his eyes thinking of Mary only to dream of her being laid to rest with Billy asking him why he had let Rafe kill his Ma. The other nightmare was just as bad. In that one Eileen was being held by the throat by Rafe and her voice calling out to him thinking it was Chris choking her. Sweat dripped from his forehead as he looked at the Marshall.
"Care for some coffee?" the older man asked and continued "Do you have a guilty conscience? You didn't look like you were sleeping that well."
"Marshall I don't know how many times I have to say this but I swear I didn't kill those women" Chris said with exasperation. He took the cup of coffee that was offered and slowly let the heat warm his hands.
"You best come clean with it now. Judge Mason will be here in a few days and you'll be tried for murder. If you're innocent why didn't you keep the letter from your so called friend?" he asked.
"I keep wondering that myself. It may have been shock or disbelief that someone could do such a thing. I didn't want to believe it. I was afraid of someone else reading the damned thing and I didn't think" Chris said in a tired tone.
Ezra entered the jail with food for the three of them. He looked at Chris and said "I have encouraging news. Our esteemed Judge Travis has agreed to represent you at your trial and should be arriving shortly."
"I can't let him do that. He's done enough and besides he's an acting judge" Chris said.
"Well like it or not he is still a practicing attorney and if you wish to argue with him, you may do so when he arrives" Ezra said with a flourish.
Chris looked at the food before him and tried to eat. He attempted to convince himself that Orrin was doing the right thing, but something kept gnawing at him. He needed to get out of there. He needed to find a way to see his sister. "Ezra I need you to do me a favor" he said as he forced himself to take a bite of the eggs before him.
2 things pile up
By noon Buck and Vin had arrived from Mesilla. All four of the men were in the jail. One was still behind bars and the Marshall had left them alone to find the two sure fire witnesses that would put Chris at Roswell before the murder.
Chris paced back and forth in the cell occasionally trying the bars with his hands.
"She must've been a pretty woman, but we got to her too late. We couldn't leave her like that and rode till we got back to Mesilla. The deputy thinks ya done it Chris. He even said the horse he was riding was named Pony. He's got you pegged but good" Vin said with a sigh.
Chris combed his hair with his fingers and responded by testing the bars one more time. "I need to get out of here. I've got to find the bastard before he hurts anyone else" he stated emphatically.
"Listen to me, you can't let his get to you. Josiah went out looking for him after Mary read that last letter" Buck said.
"He went out alone?!? What was he thinking leaving Mary and Billy! My God if anything more happens to them..." Chris said in a frantic tone. "This can't be happening. If only he had been hung when we had the chance." His voice had a desperate quality and he forced himself to sit on the cot. He clasped his hands and then grabbed the cot. He tried to calm himself down. He felt trapped and useless.
"What are we going to do?" he asked as he registered the shock on his friends faces. "I'm sorry boys but I just don't have the answers for this one. Ezra did you get word from the wire I asked you to send?" Chris asked.
"Yes and they said they'd be here shortly. They even sent a Major I believe to watch over your sister" Ezra replied.
"Thank God" Chris responded as he finally loosened his grip on the cot.
3 the visitors
Marshall Bill Royce came in and interrupted what they were saying by a brief clearing of his throat and saying "I hate to break up this little tea party but I have some people who would like to be reacquainted with you."
Chris got up and looked at three faces he never saw before. Buck, Ezra and Vin also stood as first an elderly gentleman entered followed by a saloon girl and trailing behind was a boy no more than fourteen years of age entered the small jail. They all had a vague look of recognition as they looked at Chris.
"Have any of you seen this man before?" asked the Marshall as he turned his eyes toward Chris.
The boy was the first to speak, "That's him. He gave me fifty cents to look after his horse he called Pony."
The next to speak up was the saloon girl. She ran toward the bars of the cell and tried to grab Chris. "You Bastard!! How could you! She trusted you!" she screamed. Vin gently pulled her away and tried to comfort her, but she pulled away. "Get away from me. How can you be friends with someone as vile as him?" she cried.
"Miss I swear to you it wasn't me. I lost my wife and son and I could never kill a woman" Chris said compassionately.
"Oh I know of your wife and son. Misty told me all about it. That's why I don't understand how you could have shot her so heartlessly" she said through her tears as she wrapped her arms around herself.
Chris held his head in his hands and said like a mantra "It wasn't me. It wasn't me. I swear to you it was someone I thought I knew, but it wasn't me."
The last one to look at him simply nodded, and took the frantic woman out of the Marshall's office. The Marshall looked at Chris and said "Well I guess there's no need for apologies this time."
"I'm telling you Marshall witnesses or no, you've got the wrong man. I've seen the man yer after and he could be Chris' brother" Vin said.
"Well even if I were to believe you, I must still uphold the law and that means keeping your friend here in jail until he's proven innocent or guilty. It looks like the latter" Royce said. He left the four alone and walked out of the office.
Chris sat on the cot in his cell and looked at his friends dejectedly. This whole thing was a bad dream and if he could just awaken from this nightmare he would never take his freedom for granted again. He needed to find a way out of this mess, but he knew the only way was to find Rafe and he couldn't do that from a jail cell. Like it or not he was going to learn the art of patience.
4 the color of darkness
It was yet another restless night as Chris tried to accept what was happening. After insisting that his friends get out and try and get some sleep before the Judges arrived, he found himself left alone to face his demons. The moonlight shown through the windows as he heard the door silently open. "Vin is that you?" he asked.
He saw the glint of light on the gun pointed at his chest and was about to yell but he heard the cock of the pistol and shut his mouth.
"Chris I just couldn't resist seeing you again" said the familiar voice.
Chris took the risk of speaking and said softly "You must be some kind of maniac." He felt the need for action but knew it was useless behind the bars of his cell. He wanted to alert the others. It was futile while he was staring at the gun barrel aimed at his chest.
"Have no fear dear friend I won't shoot you. I prefer it this way. I just wanted to let you know that I can still hurt you or the ones you care for. Would you give up your life for them? Think about it while you stand trial. If you can't catch me when you're out of prison what makes you think you can while you are in a jail cell?"
Chris stood up and grabbed the bars so tightly his knuckles turned white from the effort to break loose. "Rafe I swear you'll pay for this. If I die there are at least six others who will track you down and this time they won't stop until you hang" Chris said in a voice barely above a whisper.
"Ah yes I have heard rumors about young Tanner's tracking abilities. Right now he has other things on his mind. In the meantime..." Rafe said as he punched Chris through the bars.
Chris saw stars as he fell on the cot behind him. He thought of Eileen and Mary. As the blackness closed in on him he remembered the names of the two women he was accused of killing, Barbara and Misty. Finally the darkness took him and he was oblivious to the world around him.
Chris awoke to the bright sunshine streaming through the windows and Vin calling his name. For a moment he forgot where he was, but only for a moment. He rubbed his jaw and looked into the blue eyes of his friend.
"Hey Cowboy you feeling alright?" Vin asked.
Clarity finally came to Chris. "Vin! My God, Vin he was here last night. He threatened Mary and Eileen! You've got to go after him Vin before he hurts someone else!" Chris said in a rush.
"Hold on a minute Pard' Did you say Rafe was here?" asked Buck as the Marshall came into the office.
"Yes he did the same dirty trick you do" Chris replied as he continued to rub his jaw.
"You sure you're not making this up? I locked the door myself and it doesn't appear to have been jimmied" the Marshall said as he came toward Chris.
"How do you explain this?" Chris replied as he felt the bruise on his jaw.
"Could be you just hit yourself on one of these bars here" he said as he handed Chris a cup of coffee.
Chris felt the frustration build. He forced himself to calm down. He clenched his fists and released them a number of times to ease the anger building inside him. "Vin I need you to see if you can find Rafe. His trail can't be that cold. Watch your back and get Josiah to help you. Send a wire to Four Corners and let them know" Chris said in a controlled tone.
"Will do Chris. I'll be back with the bastard before the trial starts" Vin replied and was on his way.
"We'll get you out of this Chris, I swear it" Buck said with a conviction that he barely felt.
"Your friends have faith in you. I sure hope it ain't misplaced" Royce said as he watched Buck leave. "They must be fools to believe in a killer like you" he added.
"I was one once, but I haven't been for a long time and now I'm paying for it" Chris ruefully replied.
Once again he sat in silence waiting for something to give. He wondered if this was punishment for past sins. He saw the sky darken and worried for Vin out there alone. He was scared for Mary, Eileen and all the other women Rafe had hurt because of him and his family. His thoughts were his own worst enemy. Finally he began to pray.
To be continued
A Gathering of Eagles by the poet
Chris' support gets stronger
1 unexpected relations
Chris was laying on the cot in his cell trying to sleep when he heard the door open. He was expecting Orrin Travis any time now, but heard another familiar voice instead.
"I'm here to see Chris Larabee" she said as he opened his eyes. The Marshall merely pointed toward the cell and went back to his paperwork.
"Eileen? What on earth are you doing here? You shouldn't be here it's not safe. Rafe-" Chris was stopped by a hand over his mouth.
"None of that dear brother. Where else would I be? You sent so many damned telegrams that I would have an entire army protect me. Sicking your former C.O. on me was the last straw. I simply insisted that Matt and John bring me along" she replied.
He smiled at her and said "They're here? Where are they? It is good to see you. It's been too long. I'm sorry. Forgive me?"
"What is there to forgive? I just needed an excuse to see you and since you've never invited me to Four Corners-" she said but was interrupted by Chris.
"After Sarah and Adam... I just fell apart. I didn't want you to comfort me. I wanted to be the one who took care of you. Now this thing with Rafe has all the old memories stirred up" Chris said apologetically.
"Chris I have very few details. Tell me about Rafe" she said as she touched his hand.
"Later. Just tell me that you'll be extra cautious" he replied. As soon as the words were spoken, Buck entered.
"Don't tell me let me guess. Is this the pretty little sister you've told me about?"
"Yes she is and you best stay on your best behavior. She has her older brothers about to keep you in line. Buck I am making it your personal responsibility to keep her safe. Don't let her out of your sight" Chris told the ladies man.
"I give you my word, I'll guard her with my life" Buck said in earnest. The door opened once more as Buck spoke and in walked two men. One had a sheriff's badge slightly hidden and the other had a buckskin vest over a maroon shirt. One look at them and you could tell they were brothers.
Chris smiled with relief and stood there seeing what the years had done. "Marshall I'm Sheriff John Larabee and this here is my brother Matt. Is it o.k. if we talk to your prisoner in private?" John said.
"I'll go get breakfast" Royce said as he got up from the desk and headed toward the door.
"Buck please take Eileen and treat her to breakfast. My brothers and I have some talking to do" Chris said as he sat on the cot in his cell.
"It'll be my pleasure" Buck said taking Eileen's hand in his and opening the door once more.
"You are a sight for these sore eyes. I just wish it were under better circumstances" Chris said as he looked at his brothers. Tears welled up in his eyes and he took his hand to wipe then away.
"We came as fast as we could when we got the telegram from Mr. Standish. You know how stubborn Eileen can get and telling her no only infuriated her all the more. We thought it best that we bring her so we could keep an eye on her. Is she all right with that fella who walked her out?" Matt asked.
"I trust Buck with my life and he's saved it more than once. Besides now that he's seen the two of you I'm sure he'll be on his best behavior" Chris replied.
"Now that the niceties are out of the way let's see about getting you out of this mess" John said as he sat down and got on with the business at hand.
2 where the road leads
Vin sat by the small fire waiting for any sign of Rafe or Josiah. He kept his sawed off cocked and at the ready as he stared into the flames. He knew Rafe was headed back to Four Corners but what trail he followed was washed away by the previous storm. He gave Rafe credit. The bastard knew how to cover his tracks and he was damn lucky the rain had washed away any sign of him. He readied his gun when he heard the sound of footsteps behind him.
"Easy Vin it's just me" Josiah said in his soft voice so as not to startle the man.
"Josiah you made good time. Boy Howdy am I glad to see you" Vin replied.
"Any sign of that heathen?" He asked as he settled down and stared into the fire.
"That storm washed away what was left of his trail. I think he's headed to Four Corners but I can't help thinking his ego would want to see Chris on trial for the murder of that girl up in Roswell" Vin pondered aloud.
"Well you best get some sleep. I'll keep watch till sun up and we'll decide what to do then" Josiah said while still staring into the flames. Vin nodded and rolled over. He was asleep before his head hit the bedroll.
Vin woke to the smell of hot coffee and bacon. The sun was barely over the horizon and he and Josiah wordlessly went about breaking camp and saddling the horses.
"I'm gonna double back and head for Roswell. I think it best if you go back and look after Mary. I don't think that Chris could handle it if something happened to her again, and if I'm wrong I"d feel a bit more comfortable knowing you were with J.D. and Nathan" Vin said as he mounted his horse.
"All right but you watch your back. I remember the last time you faced Rafe" Josiah replied as he touched the brim of his hat.
"Yeah but he was hand cuffed remember?" Vin said as he smiled and rubbed the back of his head where the lump used to be. He responded in kind and winded his way toward Roswell.
3 along the trail
Vin felt uneasy as he headed back to Roswell. Living with the Kiowas and Comanches taught him to trust his senses. He slowed Peso to an easy gait and looked around. He placed his hand on his gun. That's when he heard the familiar click. "Rafe you Bastard" he said as he stopped his horse.
"I'm so glad I am appreciated. I heard you were a good tracker. Apparently not good enough" Rafe said as he slowly came out of the woods to stare at the young sharpshooter.
"I have my moments. Maybe if you weren't such a snake, I'd have caught you sooner" Vin replied.
"Ah but you see you didn't catch me and this was the second attempt. If only you'd be quicker on the draw" Rafe said as he gestured for Vin to dismount. "I won't kill you but I do insist on you taking off your jacket shirt and boots" he added.
"Why not just kill me? Or is it only women you like to kill?" Vin asked.
"By rights I would like to kill you, but then I was always fond of killing Indians as well as women. I'm just a bit cautious when it comes to killing friends of my friend Chris" Rafe said with the grin he was known for.
"I can't imagine how you could have ever been friends with Chris. I don't see what his sister saw in you to make her even think of marrying you. Chris said you changed because of the war but I think you were always this way" Vin said as he took off his boots and other articles of clothing.
"The hat too and your gun. No I don't suppose you would understand how Chris and I had become friends, but then you didn't know him before the war. You didn't know him when his father wouldn't let him use a gun. It doesn't matter. With your skills I'm sure you'll survive. Who knows? You may show up in time to see Chris hang."
Vin watched as Rafe got on Peso and rode off. He was surprised that the man had let him go without even tying his hands. No matter, as Josiah would say the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. The sun was high as he took off his socks and started down the road whistling a tune and keeping a steady pace.
4 the reality of unreality
Chris felt relief at seeing his brothers and much to his dismay his sister. He was grateful for their support and for their belief in him. Despite his darkest days, they still believed in him. Family. Family was still a part of him. He had the family of six men and a woman who had more than once stood by his side. He sat there thinking about it and closed his eyes. He heard the door open once more and saw Orrin and Mary Travis. He stood up and put his hand out to Orrin.
"I'm glad to see you Orrin. Mary you should still be in Four Corners. It's too dangerous, Rafe is still out there..." Chris said.
Mary went to stand by Chris and reached out to touch his arm. "Where else should I be?" she replied.
"Mary you are still healing and Billy needs you. You can't just drop everything and..." he said and he ran his fingers through his hair.
"Billy needs you too. When the telegram came I just knew I needed to be here. There's no way you could have killed those women. This is so unreal" she said with tears in her eyes.
Chris wiped away the tears with his thumb and touched her cheek. "We'll get through this somehow. I'm sure with Orrin's help the truth will out" Chris said as he put his shields up once more if only to protect her from the fear he felt.
"Did the witnesses positively identify you?" Orrin asked.
"Yes and the saloon girl in particular swears I killed her friend. Rafe has me down pat. He has even spoke of Sarah and Adam. I burned his first letter because it was so disgusting that I didn't want anyone else to read it. I never expected to need it to prove my innocence" Chris said with a sigh.
"What else is being is done to prove Rafe has taken your identity?" Orrin asked.
"Vin and Josiah are out looking for him and Ezra is trying to get as much information about 'me' as he can. Buck is taking care of Eileen and my brothers are also searching for Rafe" Chris told Orrin.
"Don't worry son, we'll find him" Orrin said with a half hearted grin.
Mary touched his hand again and smiled. "We're here for you Chris. You'll be back in Four Corners in no time" she said.
Chris nodded as he watched them leave. He sat back down and sighed. He rubbed at his tired eyes and watched the sun set through the windows. This couldn't be real. That bastard had to be caught. He knew that regardless of the outcome of the trial Rafe would go on killing. He was good at it and he got a perverse pleasure out of leaving these women abandoned and alone.
Rafe rode off leaving Vin at a bit of a disadvantage, but he knew the man would survive. He knew of the history of the man who was Chris' friend. He estimated he had about maybe six hours head start. He thought it humorous that he was now Vin Tanner. From a distance anyway. His hair wasn't as long, but with the man's sawed off shot gun, hat and jacket he could pull it off.
The ornery animal that was under him was a different story. The horse had a mind all its own. Peso was a mean cuss of horse flesh.
Josiah made good time. He was in Four Corners by night fall. He went to the offices of the Clarion only to find them locked. He quickly strode to the Sheriff's office where J.D. sat whittling a piece of wood. "Where's Mary and her boy?" he asked as he took the seat next to him.
"Mrs. Travis went with the Judge to see Chris and Billy's at Mrs. Potter's" the young man replied.
"Well if that's the case might we join our fellow friends and give moral support to Chris up in Roswell?" he asked.
"I don't see why not as the town has been quiet since Rafe has shot Mary" J.D. said.
"Well then we best get Nathan and start off in the morning" said Josiah as he went to the church. He lit a candle and said a prayer for his brothers of the gun.
Vin had stared into the fire that was roasting a small quail and kicked himself for getting caught off guard yet again by the man who said he was Chris' friend. He knew he had had too much sun but the water nearby had cooled him and he knew he best get some sleep. He knew the importance of sleep while he was tracking his prey. Be it man or beast, tired eyes would play tricks on the mind. The one thing he knew for sure was he would get the bastard. This would not happen a third time.
Chris tried to sleep yet again. How many days had it been since he had seen the stars or walked any distance other than that of his cell? He was glad to see his family. They gave him hope. He thought of Mary and he was happy to see her, but not under these circumstances. He needed so desperately to sleep, but again it eluded him. He closed his eyes and prayed for this all to be a dream. Exhaustion finally took hold and he surrendered to it. In the early hours before dawn, Sarah and Adam haunted him. He cried out for them and woke in a cold sweat. Mary was there with a cup of coffee watching over him. At first his eyes didn't focus and he cried out Sarah's name. Mary gazed into his eyes and touched his arm through the bars. No word need be spoken as she watched him fall back into a restless sleep.
To be continued
The Happenstance of Circumstance by the poet
Chris goes on trial for murder
1 suitable for framing
Marshall Royce walked Chris in hand cuffs to the bar where the stage had been set for court. It was the first time Chris had seen the sun in days and he shielded his eyes from the bright light. Royce placed Chris' hat over his head and led the way to the boardwalk to the bar. "Lou give this man a whiskey on me before you close the bar for the proceedings" he told the man standing before him.
"Thank you" Chris said gratefully. He took a small sip and let it slide down his throat. It was the first drink he had since arriving at Roswell. "Are you starting to believe me Marshall?" he asked as he took another sip.
"Let's just say that your family and friends have me thinking there may be a chance that the witnesses may be wrong. We need to see you face to face with the fella you say is Rafe Stewart. Problem is we can't find the man, and until we do you're the man likely to hang."
"Don't give up on me just yet Marshall, nor my friends either" Chris said.
"Of that I have no doubt" Royce said as he led him toward the table where Orrin Travis was sitting. The opposing council was a man named Wagner. He glared at Chris as he was seated by the Marshall.
It was nearly 2 p.m. when the esteemed Judge Mason arrived and announced that the trial was to be a bench trial with no jury. Neither lawyer objected to that decision and the opening arguments were made.
Judge Travis as acting attorney for Chris Larabee pointed out the finer details of the case. He stated that no one could place him at the scene of the crime. In fact no one could place anyone at the scene of the crime except for the perpetrator and the victim as no one had seen the crime committed. By the time Travis was through, it was closing in on 5 o'clock. Judge Mason adjourned until the following morning and declared the bar open.
Chris was still in cuffs and waited for Royce to lead him back to his cell.
"Care for another drink?" he asked Chris.
"Only if I'm buying and you let me buy you one" Chris replied. They stood there in silence as his friends and family wandered over.
"Chris your sister is mighty fine" Buck said as he ordered a beer. "She was glad to meet Mary and as you can see they're getting along quite nicely" he added.
"Don't you be getting any ideas Buck. Remember she has three older brothers and just because I'm incarcerated don't mean I can't grab you through those bars" Chris said with a wink in his eye.
"Best be getting back to the jail" Royce said as he took his last swallow.
"Mighty nice of you to let me buy you a drink Marshall" Chris said gratefully as he looked back at the bar. The day had been a long one and he knew that tonight he might get a shot at some real sleep.
2 the road to Roswell
The three men lost little time en route to Roswell. Nathan sensed something as the light of the sun was high in the sky. He heard a noise and looked up only to find the sunburned face of Vin Tanner. He was relieved to see his friends as he climbed from the tree.
"Josiah I thought I told you to take care of Mary" he told the preacher.
"I did but she went to Roswell to be with Chris and Orrin" he said looking over his friend. "What happened to you?" he added.
"Ah that bastard got me again. He took my boots and gear and left me out here to find my way back" Vin angrily said.
"Well you look a might sunburned and I've got some salve that will help with that" Nathan replied as he got the medicinal cream from his saddle bag.
"How's Chris holding up?" J.D. asked as he alit from his horse and watered down the animals.
"About as well as can be expected. He'll be none too pleased when he learns I let him go again" Vin said.
"It wasn't your fault the first time and it wasn't your fault now" Josiah responded with a pat on Vin's arm. "You can ride with me a spell and take turns with the others until we find Rafe or hit Roswell. Either way it should be end of day by the time we see the lights of the city" Josiah added.
"Much obliged" Vin said as he was helped up on the horse behind Josiah. He took a swig of water from the canteen and rested on the big man's back. He nodded off as the easy lope of the animal found a rhythm all its own. Josiah held on to his friend who was as stubborn as the horse he normally rode. He laughed silently as he imagined Rafe trying to manipulate the animal Vin oftimes called Mule.
3 the time draws near
As the sun started to set in the western sky, four men on three horses rode into Roswell. They were greeted by old friends and new with one man absent. Buck and Ezra made the introductions as they made their way to the jail. Royce was sitting next to a lantern and recognized Vin, but stared at the younger man with a badge hidden behind his lapel. He noticed the bible in the taller man's hand and said "Are you here to pray for the condemned man?"
"He has yet to be found guilty if I'm not mistaken" said Josiah in his booming voice.
"Well the trial won't take much longer and unless you find your friend's friend it's a forgone conclusion" Royce replied.
"Vin what happened?" Chris asked as he noticed the man. He had no boots hat or buckskin jacket and even in the dim light he could see his face and hands were burned red.
"That bastard snuck up on me. He's harder to track than a snake. He got my gear and took Peso. I hope that ornery cuss gives the devil his do. I'm sorry Chris, I messed up again" Vin said.
"Ain't your fault. Where was he headed?" Chris asked.
"My instinct tells me he's headed back here. I think he wants to see you hang and I think he gets his jollies out of pretending to be someone else" Vin replied.
"Royce is there some way we could set up a trap?" Chris asked.
"What did you have in mind?" the Marshall asked.
"I have an idea..." Chris said, and for the first time since arriving in Roswell he felt sure of himself.
4 the results
May was the first to take the stand the following morning at the trial of Chris Larabee. She swore that he was the man she had seen with Misty Buchman and had seen her ride off with him picnic basket and all.
The next to take the stand was Lou the barkeeper who avowed to the fact that he had bought a bottle of whiskey and upon seeing Misty paid more than double for it. He spoke of their relationship and how he thought Chris was courting her.
Chris whispered in Orrin's ear each time he would try to object thus giving the prosecution what it needed to convict him.
Eileen and Mary were holding on to each other as they heard the damning testimony. They looked at Chris who sat stone faced and still, not daring to look at either of them.
Closing arguments were brief and Orrin had little to say except that Chris had changed since arriving at Four Corners. He knew Chris had no alibi for the day of the murder because he was out searching for Rafe.
Wagner based his case on the eyewitness testimony and the fact that Chris had no one to back up his story.
Judge Mason took a break for lunch and said his verdict would be known by the end of the day.
Chris was escorted back to the jail and put in his cell.
Mary entered soon after. "Chris talk to me. Why did you give up?" she asked.
"Mary I just need a little more time then I promise everything will work out. This nightmare will finally be over and we'll be back in Four Corners" he replied.
"I'm sorry miss you'll have to leave now" Royce said as he grabbed her arm.
She looked back at Chris quizzically and allowed herself to be ushered outside of the jail.
"Thanks Bill. I don't like lying to her" Chris said as he shut the door leaving just the two of them.
"She's a strong woman. That's why I let her in here the other night. You are to be commended for all that you've gone through. I don't know why I doubted you in the first place. If the situation were reversed, I'd have lost my mind by now" Royce said.
"What makes you think I haven't? If this thing doesn't work, that rope will have my neck and my name on it" Chris replied.
Chris stood next to Orrin Travis waiting for the verdict to be read. He knew it was a forgone conclusion but the formalities had to be performed.
The room was packed as the townsfolk of Roswell waited to hear what the honorable Judge Mason had decided. They waited to hear him announce the sentence. They wanted justice and if he wouldn't provide it, they would.
Royce stood on the other side of Chris as his friends gathered around him. His brother John had his hand on his gun just in case.
"It is the finding of this court that Chris Larabee is guilty of the murder of Misty Buchman. It is so ordered that he be hanged by the neck until dead two days hence" Judge Mason pounded his gavel as applause broke out in the room.
In the back in a buck skin jacket with a hat covering his eyes stood a tall man with a smile on his face. He had been waiting years for this moment.
Mary stood there with Eileen in shock. She searched for Chris' eyes but was unable to find him.
Royce and John led Chris to the jail cell where he sank down gratefully on the cot. He breathed a sigh of relief. Now all he needed to do was wait, but this time was different. He was the prey.
to be concluded
Turnabout is fair play by the poet
If I tell you then you'd know
1 the night before
Once again Chris found that sleep eluded him. His brothers were in the office keeping watch and making sure that he was safe. The following day he would hang. He knew it was part of the plan and he could rely on his friends but it was that touch of uncertainty that lingered.
John walked over to the cell and handed him a cup of coffee. He knew his brother far too well to let him pretend he was asleep.
Chris sat up and gratefully wrapped his hands around the cup of steaming liquid. "You wouldn't have anything stronger to put in this would you?" he asked his brother.
"Bring it here" he replied as he got his flask out and added whiskey to the cup.
"Thanks John. I'm grateful for all you and Matt have done" Chris said as he looked at his other brother who had nodded off in the chair by the door.
"We're brothers and we look out for each other. I just wish we had gotten together sooner and on better circumstances. We can try for the occasional holiday you know" he said taking a sip from the flask.
"Sarah had wanted that. The time went by too fast. When she died, I lost myself. I still find days when it is hard to get out of bed in the morning. I couldn't lay that on you. I miss her John. I miss her and Adam so much..." he replied with a tear in his voice.
"I know little brother I know. But for some reason you are still living. Maybe it's for Mary and that boy of hers. I do know that I'm glad you're putting the reputation of a gunslinger behind you. Pa would be proud" he said as he patted Chris on the shoulder.
Chris nodded and sipped the coffee. He felt the sleep take over. He gave the cup to his brother and said "Now if we can pull this off it will finally be over."
2 the hanging
The light of the morning sky woke Chris with a start. John must've added one of Nathan's potions to the coffee because he felt better than he had in days.
Royce showed up with the hand cuffs and opened the door to the cell. "I'm sorry I have to do this Chris" he told the gunslinger.
"Don't be just keep your eyes peeled for Rafe dressed as Vin. I'm sure he'll be front row center to see my face as the rope drops" Chris replied.
Chris was surrounded by four men. He had his brothers on each side of him, Orrin Travis behind him and Marshall Bill Royce in front of him.
Mary and Eileen were holding on to each other as they tried to catch Chris' eyes. He dare not look at either of them and if this went off he knew there would be hell to pay for the deception.
Josiah stood at the top of the stairs leading the crowd in prayer. "The Lord is my Shepperd I shall not want..."
Chris slowly walked up the stairs and looked in the crowd for signs of Rafe. He looked up to see Vin ready and able to shoot the rope from behind a false front of the second story landing. He kept his eyes peeled for the others who were mulling about through the crowd.
As they placed the noose around his neck he spotted Vin's jacket. "There he is!" he yelled as Vin shot the rope. "Buck he's a few people in front of you! Get the bastard!" Chris yelled as Royce released him from the hand cuffs and he pulled the rope from his neck.
Rafe saw Chris run down the stairs and pulled Vin's gun from its holster. He grabbed the nearest woman he could find and that happened to be Mary.
She yelled in pain and anguish. She tried to twist out of his grasp but the injury prevented her from gaining any momentum to break free.
Chris felt the rage once more. He wanted to run and somehow kill the bastard but all he could see was Mary as she lay bleeding on the floor at the Clarion.
Chris shook his head and cleared his thoughts. Mary was still alive and in the hands of a maniac. He had no gun and Vin's gun was pressed into Mary's side.
Royce cleared the crowd away so that all that remained in the street was Chris, Rafe and Mary. John and Matt were still above him on the gallows. Vin was still behind the false front taking careful aim. He waited for Chris' signal.
"Rafe it's over now" Chris said with as much calm as he could manage. He added "You haven't got a chance. Matt and John have their guns aimed at you and I'm sure you know Vin is a crack shot."
"By the time the bullets hit me she'll have a hole in her the size of Texas" Rafe said with that demonic smile.
"Kill the bastard Chris. It'll be worth it knowing he can't murder any more women" Mary responded.
"NO! I won't be responsible for making Billy an orphan!"
"Don't you see you're playing into his hands if you save me. He's not worth it" she cried as he twisted her arm.
"No but you are" Chris said dejectedly. "What is it you want Rafe?" Chris asked.
"You" he replied.
"Let her go and you can have me" Chris said as he walked toward him. He nodded slightly toward Vin and as Rafe pushed Mary down, Vin shot him in the leg.
Rafe screamed in pain and the gun went off shooting Chris in the left shoulder. He grabbed for Mary as he saw Royce and his brothers surround Rafe. As he fell he reached Mary and held her against his bloodied shirt. He passed out knowing that his friends were near and that the man he had once called friend would soon pay for his crimes that were done in his name.
Chris lay in a bed, not a cot in a cell but an actual bed. He felt the twinge in his shoulder knowing that it could have been much worse. He had no idea as to how he got here, but he knew and trusted Nathan to take care of the wound. He felt the bandages tight around his chest. He opened his eyes and saw Mary sitting beside him. The morning light was streaming through a window without bars.
"Morning. How are you feeling?" she asked him as she offered him water and lifted his head.
"How long have I been out?" he asked as he took a sip.
"You were shot yesterday and since we both needed medical attention, I thought we might as well stay together" she replied.
"We slept together?" he asked.
"In a manner of speaking. You were under the covers and I was on top of them" she said with a smile.
"Mrs. Travis what will the fine people of Four Corners think?" he said returning her smile.
"We're not in Four Corners and since I have nursed you back to health on more than one occasion what does it matter?" she replied.
Before he could respond a knock on the door broke the spell. Bill Royce peaked his head in and said "You decent?"
Chris with the help of Mary pulled himself up in the bed and motioned the Marshall in.
"Just thought you'd like to know the eyewitnesses took one look at Rafe and recanted their testimony. Judge Mason has dropped the charges against you and he wants to know if you want to stay for Rafe's trial" Royce said.
"NO!" both Chris and Mary said in unison.
Royce smiled and laughed as he left the two of them alone.
Mary stood outside the Clarion with her arm in a sling as she watched the man in black walk toward her. He also had an arm in a sling and he no longer wore only black. Today he wore a blue shirt and a black vest. He smiled as he came toward her.
"Would you care to join me for breakfast at Maria's? I promised Orrin I'd finish some paperwork before he left" he said as he grasped her good arm with his.
"I'd be delighted as long as we take Billy" she replied and without waiting for an answer she went to find her son.
Chris looked over the town that he now considered home as he waited for her. The sun was getting higher in the sky and what few clouds there were drifted lazily in the air. He felt that if he blew in just the right way they would go where he wanted them.
He felt the warmth of the sun and let the memories sail across his mind. He promised himself that he would never take these things for granted again. He sighed deeply and took in a breath of air deep into his lungs.
He saw his friends go about their business and heard the laughter of a little boy from behind him. He bent down and smiled at him. He then proffered his arm to his mother and felt her lean against him. As they walked toward Maria's he felt a smile forming. He hoped it would last.
Post script: read if you dare
Rafe saw John and Matt Larabee waiting for him at the gallows. He had been tried and convicted for the murder of Misty Buchman. He knew that this was one of the tightest spots he had ever been in, tight yes but not impossible. He had already picked the lock to his cell and was waiting for Royce to escort him to the noose. He waited for the right moment...
I hope it was worth the wait
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.