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