Vin stood up from where he’d been sitting in front of the hotel and walked down the boardwalk towards the jail. He sipped casually from the cup of coffee in his hand and watched as the gray haired man rode into town. He knew him. Even now, at nearly and only a half moon visible to brighten the landscape, he knew exactly who it was.
As if responding to a silent call, Ezra pushed out of the still brightly lit saloon and stepped forward to lean against a post, his eyes also drawn down the street. He crossed his arms and a tiny smile crossed his features.
Vin saw him out of the corner of his eye, gave him a nod, and returned his gaze to the newcomer.
Ezra glanced left and right, then stepped off the boardwalk to walk across and join Vin in front of the jail.
“Hello Colonel,” Vin greeted as Ezra joined him.
“Good to see you,” Ezra added.
“Tanner. Standish. Good to see you as well.”
Vin nodded back, while Ezra smiled brightly.
“Any reason I shouldn’t arrest you right now?” Chris asked, tilting his head.
Ezra and Vin looked at Chris, who sighed. The gunslinger’s threat had been empty, they all knew it. The colonel’s response was more that good enough.
Ezra’s lips parted, while Vin nearly dropped his cup. Chris just frowned.
“Who is Hannah?” the gunslinger asked. Vin glanced back at his best friend guiltily, then at Ezra. Knowledge burned in the green eyes of the gambler, so he knew he had no worries there.
“I’ll go get Josiah,” the tracker said. “Ez, will you fetch the others?”
Ezra nodded and jogged off to find Buck, JD and Nathan. Vin started walking towards the church. That left Chris with
The gunslinger stood hipshot, a frown on his face, “Now, colonel, what’s going on?”
Josiah was like a man possessed, his anxiety barely
contained. He glared at the colonel as
if any harm that might come to his sister was
Chris rode up front with Buck, waiting as the colonel swung himself up onto his horse. JD and Nathan took rear.
Mary jogged over from the telegraph office, a shawl tight around her shoulders in the early morning gloom.
“Anything yet from the judge?” Chris asked her. She shook her head, then smiled.
“But it won’t take him long,” she promised. “The new governor is a good man.”
“It’s no longer Governor Hopewell?”
“Ready?” Chris asked
“Then let’s ride,” Chris called, kicking Solon into a
gallop. Seven men rode on his heels, and
Murdock squirmed in his bonds, aware that they were not so tight that he couldn’t get out of them. He was also propped up against the outside wall of the mine, and the rock was more than coarse enough to break through the ropes with a bit of work. But something had to have happened to the others to prevent them from returning to rescue him yesterday, and he didn’t want to try and escape and possibly make whatever that was worse.
The gunshot he’d heard echo up from the convent as Fishman’s men were leading him away hadn’t gone unnoticed. He hoped it was one of them firing into the air to calm the crowd.
He had to believe that, or he’d go crazy. Instead, he focused on what he did know.
He knew that the Fishmans had hired twenty-one gunslingers, the bulk of whom had hung around the camp here next to the mine last night, biding their time. Some of the nastier ones had looked over at him occasionally, as if contemplating having some “fun” with the captain, but their orders obviously prevented them.
That was interesting, actually. He’d seen the younger Fishman brother, Jeb, chastising one of the gunslingers after no one brought him any food this morning, the first morning after he’d been captured. They seemed interested in keeping him not only alive, but unharmed.
This morning, though, most of them had gone somewhere, leaving only ten at the camp – that bothered Murdock. The two brothers were also not here, both having ridden in the direction of town this morning. They wore their best clothes to do so, as if trying to portray businessmen, though the fact that five of the hired gunslingers went with them showed they were not also above using intimidation in their dealings.
He frowned. Then frowned even more when a stone hit the top of his hat, hitting the brim of his plainsman and bringing it down. Shaking his head, he used the stone wall behind to lift the hat back into position.
Another rock hit his hat, this time with more force.
Oh, he thought stupidly. Looking around, he used the rock face to readjust his hat again and also made sure none of the remaining hired guns were watching him. Twisting, he looked upwards, to the top of the rock face about fifteen up.
BA grinned wickedly down at him where he was hidden behind a bush on a ledge, and dropped another stone. Murdock dodged it just in time.
Glancing around again to make sure no one saw, he twisted again and looked up.
“You okay?” BA mouthed.
Murdock gave a short nod.
BA gave a small smile, looked out over the camp, then asked, “How many?”
“Twenty-one,” Murdock mouthed back. BA looked confused, so Murdock leaned forward to reveal his hands. He flashed ten fingers twice, then one. BA nodded.
Murdock mouthed, “Rescue?”
BA frowned, figured out the word, and shook his head.
The captain nodded once again, then mouthed “Escape?”
BA frowned more deeply, “By yourself? Without help?”
BA appeared to consider this, then shook his head.
“Stay. For now. Help is coming.”
Murdock nodded, then frowned. “Who is hurt?”
BA was amazed at the question. Murdock scared him sometimes. How did he know? ….Probably because he hasn’t been rescued yet, BA realized, and the fact that they wouldn’t have sought help unless one of them was hurt.
Plus, he had to have heard that shot.
Eventually, the sergeant nodded. “Face,” he mouthed.
Murdock’s jaw tensed, and he looked down. When he looked back up at the rock face, BA was gone. He leaned back against the rock and swore to cause great harm to whoever had hurt the conman.
At that moment, Andy Fishman rode back into camp. Murdock’s eyes caught the red-haired man’s brown ones and the brother frowned as a shiver of fear ran down his back. Murdock lowered his head, hiding his face beneath the brim of his hat, but those eyes and what they promised were now deeply set in the Andy’s mind.
“Double-check his bonds,” Andy yelled abruptly, “now! I want them tight!”
It was not Miguel, but his sister Donata who sat waiting by the side of the road, watching for the men she knew were coming. She was a lovely girl, with long dark hair pulled up into a loose bun and large brown eyes aged well beyond her nineteen years. A dark chestnut gelding, whom she had borrowed, ate the grass behind her while she hummed a song to herself.
The ground shook slightly, and she stopped humming, looking northward.
A dust cloud appeared on the horizon, and she stood up. A moment later, the sound of hooves floated over the wind, and she crossed her arms and stepped further into the road. Her horse looked up, also interested in what was coming. He snorted, looking to the girl to see if she was worried. Her lack of any sort of movement other than an impatient tapping of her foot indicated otherwise, so he went back to eating the grass.
As the men became visible, she released her arms and imperiously raised a hand to stop them.
Chris couldn’t resist and amused glance at Vin, but raised his own hand to slow them down to approach her carefully…just in case.
“I am Donata,” she said in a clipped Spanish accent, looking
at them. Her eyes lingered a little
while on JD, then moved on until they fixed on Josiah and Hannibal, the only
two with silver hair. “Which of you is
The colonel flexed an eyebrow, then raised his hand. “That’d be me.”
“I’m Miguel’s sister. He knows they’re following him, so he asked me to deliver a message. Took your time getting here, by the way.” She frowned, crossing her arms again.
“My apologies, I think,”
“I’m to tell you that your Sergeant Baracus is with the sisters, and that no one has attacked them since you left. They’re also apparently nearly packed, and hope to leave early, to show their acquiescence to the brothers’ demands, though they are apparently having difficulty with the one called Hannah. Um,” she paused, frowning as she tried to recall what else she needed to say. If she noticed Josiah’s flinch at the name of his sister, she didn’t show it. “Oh, yes. Captain Murdock is at the Fishmans’ camp, and he’s fine, for now. He told BA that they have eighteen hired guns, most of whom left the camp this morning and disappeared into the hills. BA thinks several are probably watching the convent, while others are up watching the dam…and the convent from above.”
The colonel nodded, accepting this. “Any word on my lieutenant?” he asked, tension seeping into his voice. She looked at him, and a kind smile crossed her face.
“Lieutenant Peck hasn’t woken yet, but neither has he worsened, at least not since this morning.”
She perked up, as if remembering something else, “Oh, I’d also suggest that you should not ride in together. The brothers’ have hired watchers, people from the town, and I had to sneak by several to get out here.”
“How close are we to the convent?” Buck asked Josiah.
“A few miles,” the preacher replied. “Mostly uphill from
here, and the cover comes and goes. Its
not until you hit the base of the hills where the convent is that the brush
gets thick.” He frowned, “We could try
to go around, but it’d add a lot of time.”
He looked at
“No one was watching the roads then. Obviously, though, someone must have seen me leave. I thought I had avoided that, but…if they have watchers on the road, then they know I’ve gone.” He frowned. That bothered him. He was almost certain he hadn’t been seen.
“Miguel also told me to tell you that he saw one of the sisters sneak out and go into town last night. Sister Anastasia, I think. Sister Anastasia is not supposed to leave the convent, so….” She shrugged. “She’s an intense and easily frightened woman. She probably thought she was doing what was best for the town and the nuns.”
“If we keep going, we’ll be probably ride into an ambush
long before we get to the convent,” Chris said.
“Well, I knew we couldn’t all just ride up to the convent doors and expect no one to notice, despite the fact that I would enjoy the look on the mother superior’s face if we did,” he smirked, then shrugged. “But I did think we could have all snuck in. Now sounds like we need to do something more elaborate.”
“Actually, we could use this to our advantage,” Chris mused,
his lips pursing as they usually did when he had a plan in mind.
“You mean…fool them into thinking I’ve only brought a few men back with me?”
“While the rest of us sneak around, yes,” Chris nodded. “You take the main road, make sure you’re seen…and we’ll find the back way in. If Donata here will help us?” He looked at the girl, who shrugged and nodded.
“So how many men should I take with me?”
“Since they know you left,” Chris replied, “then they
probably also know you went to
“And perhaps a doctor,” Ezra added, looking over at Nathan.
“They’d never believe I was a doctor, Ez,” the healer said sourly, “even if I was one.”
“No,” the gambler agreed, “but I could be one. If you let me borrow your black bag and Mr.
Dunne lends me his clothes,” he grinned at JD, who looked surprised, then
looked back at Nathan, who was frowning.
“And you could always sneak in after us, perhaps checking to make sure
that our passage is seen? Plus, I expect
the colonel would appreciate it if you checked on his lieutenant,” Ezra looked at
Nathan’s frown turned into a soft smile and he nodded.
“Wait, hold on,” JD said, “What was that about my clothes?”
“I’ve been there before as well,” Vin said, “they might accept me showing up as well.”
“I think we’ll need you more in the hills,” Chris said to Vin. “If there are indeed a large contingent of bad guys floating around there, lying in ambush, we’ll need you to help find and track them.”
Vin gave him a single nod in understanding.
Ezra looked at Donata. “By the way, is there a way to sneak into the convent?” he asked her.
“Si,” she replied. “There are many trees and bushes around on the plain, and there are a number of places….”
“Wait, what do you mean, my clothes? What am I supposed to wear!” JD demanded.
Ezra sighed, “JD, on your honor not to damage them, I would lend….”
“Now, just hold on, all this is well and good,” Buck said from where he was getting impatient in the back, “but I think we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves, don’t you?”
“Meaning?” Ezra asked, looking at him.
“That we need a plan of what happens when we do all get
there,” Chris replied. He looked at
“And what would have happened at the dam site?” Vin prompted.
“I had some good surprises planned, not the least was the building of a water cannon much like the one the Fishmans were going to build to blast the mines.” He shrugged. Then he smiled wickedly, “though, truth be told, I did also have another last ditch idea in my head…and idea I think would be very effective now.”
“And what makes you think this plan will work better than
your last one?” Josiah asked curtly. His
anger had not abated over the day long ride down here.
“That’s easy, Mr. Sanchez. This time I’m the one who is going to upset the balance.” He smiled, “I have you.”