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