The Trial of Vin Tanner
The People v. Vin Tanner
15 US 245
November 7, 1877
Disclaimer: I don't own them. MGM et al have that privilege. I just want to keep them alive.
Notes: This is another challenge answer. The challenge was simply to write what might happen if five of the seven went to Tascosa to clear Vin, or what would happen to the two left behind. I decided to write a story on how the trial might go. If you know my Equitable Action story, you'll know that I fancy both Ezra and Josiah as lawyers, and that translates here.
History: Trials in the old west didn't really follow procedure as we know it today, though most, if they were presided over by an actual federally sanctioned judge, would try. (From that you might get that most trials didn't have official judges, usually just prominent or elected townspeople acting as Justices of the Peace). They were halfway between the old style of trial and the new. Two things that are interesting is that people were not usually found "not guilty." That is a more modern concept. Instead, they were merely found innocent. Also, juries were not picked from a class of "objective" people as they are now. Jury Duty is another modern concept. Most juries were just locals – oftentimes biased locals.
Description: It's Vin's trial. There are no unknown witnesses, no new facts. Vin must win based purely on the facts as they measure up against the law. Problem is, not everyone accepts that our system of justice works.
Three times the gavel rang out as it hit the bench, three times Vin flinched.
Dressed in a dark blue shirt and black trousers, the yeoman stepped forward and stared fixedly at the back wall.
"Hear ye! Hear ye! This court will come to order in the trial of Vincent R. Tanner, accused of viciously murdering Jessup Kincaid, Jr., late of Tascosa, Texas. The honorable Cassius S. Milner, presiding."
The yeoman stepped back, impressed by how quickly the meeting hall had quieted at the formal words. Pulling down the front of his shirt, its gold buttons gleaming in the bright candlelight, he tried to look stern as he regarded the murderer.
Vin stared blankly back, then blinked and looked away. The yeoman resisted a grin of triumph, believing in his small mind that he'd just intimidated one of Tascosa's most hated villains – the man who had killed the mayor's son.
But Vin wasn't thinking about the yeoman. He wasn't thinking about anything. He only knew that he was finally here, on trial for his life.
He felt like throwing up.
Three days earlier
"Are you ready for this?" Chris was stirring the fire with a stick, while Vin watched the sparks for some sort of answer. They had been on the trail to Tascosa almost two weeks, but to Vin it had dragged on forever.
Chris smiled at the admission, watching as a branch fell into the embers to explode in a fiery blaze. Vin sighed.
"I don't know if I can do this, Chris. It's been so long since I'd thought about going back, that I'd almost forgotten what it felt like to be in this world again. Well, not forgotten, just...I suppose I had become sort of removed from it all. But the closer we get to Tascosa, the more I feel the weight of that place, of what happened there, pressing me down."
"You'll be fine. Travis will be there, watching over the new judge, and he's bringing a troop with him to keep order. Josiah and Ezra have been putting their heads together ever since the judge suggested they represent you together, and JD and I are going to be ready with the horses should it all go to hell. You'll be fine."
Vin nodded, having heard it over and over again since Travis rolled into town with the news that the old hanging judge on the Tascosa circuit had died and some kid was taking his place. Travis was being sent down to see how the new judge was settling in, and he purposefully chose Tascosa as the meeting place. With that news, he approached Vin.
"I'll be there, Mr. Tanner. I'll make sure you get a fair trial. You introduce your evidence, and get Chris and the others to back you up in your meetings with Eli Joe, and we'll let justice take it's course. I have no doubts you will be exonerated."
The judge had sounded so convincing, his expression so earnest, that it was hard for Vin not to agree. He'd been away long enough, had this thing hanging over his head long enough, been hunted long enough....But now, just two days from the town, he wondered if he could have lasted longer.
He looked over at his companions. There were a lot of them here, though Nathan and Buck had been forced to stay behind to protect the town because of an Apache threat. Over by the fire, JD and Josiah chatted with Ezra, while Mrs. Travis and Mrs. Potter, who had come to act as character witnesses, slept on the ground on the far side. Ezra had promised that his mother would also be in Tascosa to meet them, to tell her story of how Eli Joe used her hotel to try and kill Vin. Together, they were more than a once lost soul could ever have hoped for.
And, he realized as he looked at them all, he'd been lost long enough.
"Mr. Tanner," the young judge was scrawny, barely looking older than 20 years of age, and the spectacles on his long, narrow nose kept slipping downwards. "You have been accused of the vicious murder of Mr. Jessup Kincaid, Jr., late of this township. Do you understand this charge?"
Vin nodded, then, with a sharp elbow in the ribs from Ezra, mumbled a yes.
The crowd behind them booed. The judge rang his gavel, staring out pompously over the crowd until they quieted.
"How do you plead, Mr. Tanner?"
"Innocent, your honor," Vin replied, his eyes focused on the ground in front of him.
The crowd booed more loudly, and several people hissed. Mary shifted uncomfortably in her seat in the front row and looked across at the faces in the jury. They were men of Tascosa, neither impartial nor honest, but a jury of one's peers did not necessarily mean a jury of objective peers. She hoped that changed someday. Her eyes closed as she prayed that they would at least listen to Vin's story.
The judge nodded at Vin, rang his gavel out a few more times, then looked over at the man acting as prosecutor.
"Mr. Grimsby, you have an opening statement?"
"Yes sir, your honor."
The prosecutor was a kindly looking man in his fifties, with an open face and bright blue eyes. He smiled at the jury as he walked to the center of the hall, then dropped it as he faced Vin. Chris, sitting behind the tracker, raised a hand to grip his shoulder in support.
"Your honor, gentlemen of the jury, people of Tascosa, before you sits a lost man."
On Vin's right, Ezra's eyebrows perked up, while Josiah, on Vin's left, frowned. The prosecutor smiled again, a simpering smile, and looked around at the gathered crowd.
"He is lost because he belongs to no town, to no government, to no code. He is a killer. He used to kill legally, if that is really possible, as a bounty hunter. Now he merely kills. There is no soul in this man, no sense of honor or justice. He kills simply for money. From the moment he killed Jess Kincaid, the son of our beloved mayor and a proud farmer with a wife and two children, in cold blood, presumably in return for some sort of payment, he lost his right to live amongst humanity. He returns to us now, looking for forgiveness, but we will not give it. Jess Kincaid received no forgiveness, and neither will this man. Let us never forget his crime, his victims, his evil ways. This man deserves death for his actions, and that is what he will get. Thank you, and may God help us all."
The crowd erupted in cheers, and Vin shut his eyes. Chris gripped his hands into fists, annoyed that neither Ezra nor Josiah had objected to the man's speech.
"Thank you, Mr. Grimsby. Mr. Sanchez?" the judge turned his watery brown eyes on the preacher.
Josiah stood slowly and looked around at the crowd. Curiosity had rendered them silent, and he knew, if he didn't catch them now, he never would. Glancing at Ezra, who nodded encouragement, the former preacher walked steadily to the center of the room and studied the floor. When he looked up, he had on his face an expression that Ezra could never have imitated – pure simple honesty.
"I'd be lying if I said I had never seen evil," he said slowly, measuring the crowd with his somber eyes. "Too many times I have seen its colors and wanted to either run it down or run away screaming. In my travels, I once met a man who murdered his children because they tried to stop him beating their mother, right before he took an axe to his wife. Not too much later, I watched helplessly, too late to help, as a teenage girl held onto the bleeding corpse of her mother after three men broke into a millinery shop and killed everyone inside just to get a handful of cash from the till. And, most recently, I had the grim task of officiating over the burial of five young families burned in their homes because of a land war that none of them ever wanted. In every one of those cases, the men who did those acts were exactly as the prosecutor described: men without honor, without conscience, without a home and without a soul. But they did all have one thing in common. They had a purpose to their acts. Whether it be rage, depravity, money or land, they did have an intent, be it one we may not understand. And that is what makes them truly evil." He paused, catching his breath, and turned to look at Vin.
"But Ladies and Gentlemen," he said, eyes locked on the tracker, "Vin Tanner is not one of those men." He looked up again, his face dark as he scanned the crowds and the men in the jury again.
"For all that the prosecutor may try to paint Vin Tanner in that kind of light," he continued, " I ask you to think for a moment about the fact that the prosecutor did not tell us why Vin killed Jess Kincaid. "Presumably for money" he said. Fact is, FACT is, Vin Tanner had no reason to kill Jess Kincaid. He did not even know Jess Kincaid. Had never before seen Jess Kincaid. He was here legally tracking a man by Eli Joe, something which your sheriff can attest to since Mr. Tanner asked your sheriff whether he'd seen him. There was no intent, neither vicious nor premeditated, in his acts here. There was no purpose, nor malice nor recklessness. Without those essential elements, there can be no finding of murder. Something more must have happened here, and all I ask is that you wait to make your decision until you are certain you know what that was. There is far more to this man before you than your memories recall, far more to a man who does have a home, does have a powerful sense of honor, and most definitely has a soul. All I ask of you is that you reserve your judgment until you know for certain who he is."
Josiah nodded once at the crowd and then at the jury before bowing slightly to the judge and returning to his seat. Amazingly, the crowd remained silent until he was once more in his chair. Then the loud buzz of whispered voices ran through the room like wildfire.
Ezra's gripped Vin's arm tightly in support and looked back at Chris as the judge banged his gavel again for order. The gunslinger raised an eyebrow but otherwise gave no reaction.
Vin still felt like he was going to throw up.
The next two days whirled by in a blur for the tracker, his semi-conscious brain only half focusing on the trial as witness after witness testified.
First the prosecutor had the sheriff and the mayor, the sixty year old Jessup Kincaid, Sr., testify, to describe what they imagined happened that day, and the mood in the room grew uglier after that first round. The mayor, in particular, was obviously a well loved man and his tearful account of seeing his murdered son brought into town on the back of Vin’s horse brought many of the women in the room to tears. But then Ezra, with a slightly smoother approach than Josiah when dealing with hostile witnesses, got up to cross.
With a few simple questions, he got the sheriff to admit that he actually only saw Tanner the once, when he asked about Eli Joe. As for the mayor, Ezra forced the man to recant some of his statements by admitting he'd never even seen Tanner before the morning the bounty hunter brought his dead son into town. He even admitted, much to his annoyance, that Tanner “might possibly have looked surprised” upon discovering that the body was not that of the man he hunted. After that, several more townsfolk also testified for the prosecution, but their memories were hazy at best, and, in the end, were almost acting as defense witnesses as Ezra practically convinced them on the stand that Vin had to be innocent with his line of questioning.
Then Josiah took over, bringing in the defense. He began with Vin himself.
The tracker took the stand like an old man, his body dragging the whole way to the chair. On the way, Ezra had squeezed his shoulder, Chris had patted him on the back, and Judge Travis gave him a solemn nod and smile...Vin barely noticed any of it. The night before, he had heard Josiah and Ezra arguing over whether to put him on the stand. The gambler had argued it was a terrible idea, that Vin would convict himself with his doubts and self-recrimination. Ezra guessed that, deep down, Vin blamed himself for Kincaid's death, that it was his fault that he hadn't been fast enough or clever enough to catch Joe before he killed Kincaid and left him for Vin to find. Josiah, meanwhile, not only disagreed, but argued that Vin's account was the only way to lend credence to his story. After a while, Ezra had admitted that it was the only way, but the damage had been done. Hearing Ezra state the tracker's feelings so clearly had been enough to depress Vin to a state of utter despondency.
When they told him of the plan later on, acting as if the argument hadn't happened (they didn't know, after all, that Vin had heard it), Vin was of half a mind to tell them he wouldn't do it. Now, as he sat on that hard, stiff brown chair, his head down, he decided that he had made a mistake coming back. He should just have kept running. It would have been better for everyone, even if it meant he could never go home again.
"Vin, can you tell us, in your own words, what happened the day Jess Kincaid was killed?"
Vin swallowed, his eyes burning as he stared at the wooden clapboard beneath his feet. All he could think about was that, if he hadn't been so foolhardy in his search for Eli Joe that day, that the mayor's son would still be alive. Instead of answering Josiah, he looked over at where the mayor was watching him with hateful expression, and shook his head.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "Your son...it's my fault...." He shut his mouth and lowered his head to his chest.
"Sorry won't bring him back," the mayor spat. The crowd murmured acknowledgement as the judge banged away at the gavel for silence.
"Mayor Kincaid, please refrain from speaking out loud again. The jury will disregard those last statements. Mr. Sanchez, please direct your witness to answer the question." The young judge pushed the glass back up his nose and looked reproachfully (or at least tried to) at Josiah.
The preacher nodded, apologizing, and moved to stand between Vin and the mayor. Vin looked up to see his friend watching him with a worried expression.
"Vin, please, you need to tell the court what happened. What happened the day Jess Kincaid was shot?"
Vin frowned, and opened his mouth to curtly reply that he had shot the mayor's son in cold blood himself, knowing full well that that would mean.
“Your Honor! I call for a recess!” Ezra’s voice was rushed, his face flushed as he jumped to his feet at the defendant’s table, startling both Vin and Josiah at the witness chair. The judge looked annoyed as he regarded the gambler.
"For what reason, Mr. Standish?"
"Because I can see the smoke from a fire, your honor, through the far window."
As one, the crowd looked, and, sure enough, black smoke was curling up from the direction of what looked like the outhouse. Men and women immediately jumped up, heading towards the doors to start a water brigade, while the judge banged the gavel and called for a recess.
Ezra hid a smile as he went to grab Vin before the tracker could follow them. Using a fierce grip, he dragged Vin to a corner and set him down hard on a chair. The tracker gave him a puzzled look.
"Ezra, there's a fire..." he tried, but Ezra shook his head, his expression bilious.
"What the hell are you doing?" the gambler hissed, meeting the watery blue eyes with his frosty green ones. Vin swallowed, looking away and shrugging.
"I don't know what you...."
"No, Vin. Do not do this. Do not lie to these people. You are going to sit up there and tell the truth, you understand? From the beginning. From the moment you headed out that morning on the trail of Eli Joe, following the description given to you by that inn keeper."
Vin looked away, "What does it matter, Ez. I overheard you last night. You were right. If I hadn't pushed Eli Joe...."
"You overheard….Are you crazy?"
Vin stopped talking, and regarded Ezra with a puzzled stare. "Crazy?"
"Since when, Vin Tanner, have you ever listened to anything I say? I was playing devil's advocate, you idiot! I never really believed that you could be so stupid as to blame yourself for the actions of a cold blooded murderer. You can't seriously tell me that I was right?!"
Vin blinked, his mouth opening as if to argue, but Ezra suddenly lashed out, backhanding him across the jaw. It got an instant reaction as Vin frowned at the pain, then stood up quickly to shove Ezra backwards. The gambler grinned as he staggered, and he regarded Vin with knowing eyes.
"There! I knew you were in there."
Vin frowned more deeply, unclenching his fists, "What?"
"I know you. You hit back when someone sucker punches you." Ezra rubbed his chest where Vin had pushed him, and his smile fell. "Remember who started this, Mr. Tanner, remember who sucker punched who."
Vin was about to reply when the doors to the meeting hall pushed open and the crowd filed back in. Judge Travis and Judge Milner were first, having mostly just supervised the brigade, while the rest of the folks, including Chris, Josiah and a smoky JD, wandered in behind them. Josiah looked over at where Ezra was talking to Vin and gave the gambler a questioning look. JD, meanwhile, wore a cheeky grin, proud that he had done exactly as Ezra had instructed him to do that morning, after the gambler had thought he saw something strange in Vin's expression. The kid patted the matches in his pocket and sat down in one of the front chairs on the defense side.
"What happened?" Ezra asked the yeoman innocently as he walked a still frowning Vin back to the witness stand.
"Oh, some idiot must of been having a smoke in the outhouse, then left the burning cigar still in there when he left. Nothing serious. Nice spotting that, by the way."
Ezra smiled, "Least I can do, good sir. Glad it was nothing serious."
Vin was tapping his fingers on his legs, his mind focused finally on Eli Joe and what the bastard had done. It had been a trick, from the beginning, and the more Vin remembered, the angrier he became about it. When the judge brought the court back to order, and Josiah stepped forward to ask the question of Vin again, this time, Vin told the truth.
"I was tricked," he began, and the corner of Josiah's mouth twitched. As Vin continued, giving his best account of everything that had happened, the preacher told himself that he would have to buy Ezra a drink after this was all over.
Later, Vin vaguely recalled listening to Maude spin her tale about how Eli Joe used her and her hotel as an assassin's roost, and then to Mary's account of Yates and what had happened. Both women also testified as character witnesses, something to which the prosecutor had no rebuttal. Then Mrs. Potter took the stand and her honest and straightforward description of Vin had the man blushing. Again, nothing the prosecutor had could even come close to challenging. JD and Chris both testified as well, adding to the tracker's discomfort as they spoke only of his honesty and desire to clear his name even after all these years.
Bit by bit, Josiah and Ezra chipped away at the town's image of Tanner and brought them closer to the reality. Until, finally, Josiah summed up their arguments in a clear closing speech that reminded the jury that, not only had no intent been found, but that, from the evidence, it was clear that Vin didn’t kill Jess Kincaid, that Eli Joe had.
"This was no murder here," Josiah said. "A man, working for the right side of the law, with one of the strongest senses of justice and honor that can exist in this jaded world, was framed and tricked by a cold blooded murderer. None of the elements of the crime have been proven, and none of the prosecutor’s arguments have even made much sense when compared to the reality of the man before you today. Upon that evidence, you can only do what the law and what justice demands – you must acquit Vin Tanner of all charges."
then the prosecutor, who has the final word in this game, played his simple
ace. Right in the closing speech he turned around and bowed to the mayor
"This man," he said, pointing at Vin, "is the reason your son is dead. Whether or not you believe his unsubstantiated story about some man named Eli Joe, it is as a consequence of his actions that your daughter-in-law is a widow, and your grandchildren without a father. Whatever man Tanner may be now, we must remember that fact. Jess Kincaid is dead, and someone must be punished."
The words punctuated the room, reminding people of what had brought them there in the first place. It was all the prosecutor had to say, but its simplicity was like manna to the tired jurors.
The judge rang his gavel and looked around the room, then at the prosecutor. Slowly he shook his head and turned to the jurors. For the first time that Vin had seen him, the judge did not look like a boy in a black robe. He looked like a man who had the final say over his life.
“Gentlemen of the jury,” the judge began, “it is now your task to determine the guilt or innocence of the man before you. I realize you are tired and anxious, and that you feel for the pain of the man who has lost his son and the family that has lost its father, but I ask that you put those feelings aside. It is not your job to punish any convenient person for the injustices of a dark world, it is your job to look at the facts and make a finding upon the guilt of only one man, Vin Tanner. When you make your judgment, remember, if you have any reasonable doubt as to whether it was Tanner who did the killing, you must acquit. If you can not find the intent that is the essential element of murder, you must acquit. If, for any reason, you think that Tanner may be innocent, you must acquit. Gentlemen of the jury, do you understand and take to heart these instructions as I have given them?”
the jurors nodded, some more fervently than others, but they did all nod. With a small smile, the judge thanked them
and dismissed them to their deliberations. As they left, Travis nodded at
the young judge, telling him quietly that he had done an admirable job.
The crowd murmured amongst themselves, their fury and anger having dissipated over the long days. Several women chatted with Maude, Mary and Mrs. Potter, trying to learn more about why they supported this bounty hunter so fervently. Men chatted with Chris and JD, interested in the events further west outside of Texas, and also to see if they could find any falsity in the men's characters.
When the jury did not return by evening, they were all told to break for dinner.
At noon the net day, the yeoman rang the bell outside the meeting hall. The Jury was back.
Inside the meeting hall, Judge Milner rang the gavel on the wooden bench and pushed the glasses back up on his nose.
“Will the defendant please stand?”
Chairs creaked as not only Vin, but both Josiah and Ezra stood, acting as if they were all the defendants on trial. The judge nodded at them then looked over at the foreman in the jury box.
“Foreman, have you reached a verdict?”
“Yes sir, your honor.”
“What say you?”
The foreman swallowed and kept his eyes fixed on the young judge.
“We find Mr. Tanner innocent, your honor.”
The room erupted in noise as soon as the word innocent was announced, with various people jumping up from theirs in shock, indignation, or, in the case of Vin’s friends, in joy. Others simply sat, nodding, accepting the outcome, while the mayor leaned forward and put his head in his hands in despair. In the background, Judge Milner was banging away fiercely with his gavel. Finally, he nodded at the Yeoman.
Pulling out his gun and shooting into the rafters, the yeoman yelled for everyone to shut up and sit down. The noise had the desired effect, with everyone instantly pausing to reach for their guns, then looking sheepish as the judge banged away again at the gavel.
“Thank you,” the young judge said indignantly to the room. Then, looking at Vin, he smiled, “Mr. Tanner, you have been found innocent of the murder of Jessup Kincaid, Jr. Consequently, the bounty on your head will be revoked and you are free to leave. Ladies and gentlemen, this court is concluded.”
And the gavel rang down one last time.
The room erupted in noise again, and a few folk actually came up to congratulate Vin, including both judges. Others stormed out angrily, and two young men supported the mayor out of the room as he looked as if he’d just been gut shot himself.
Amidst the revelry, only Chris saw the look of pure hatred on the mayor’s face.
There was an odd feeling to the town as they saddled up that afternoon, almost expectant. Chris looked around at the empty streets, wondering where all the townsfolk were – Tascosa felt like a ghost town.
He looked over to where Josiah and JD were helping Mary and Mrs. Potter into the back of the wagon, while Ezra and Vin were talking quietly over by the livery, their ornery mounts biting at each other for no good reason as they waited to leave. Judge Travis had already left by the stage with Maude and Judge Milner less than an hour before, the three headed onto the next town. The troop of cavalrymen Travis had brought with him had headed back to their fort not too long after, their job done now that the trial was over. All that were left were the Four Corners folk and…the town.
Shaking off the bad feeling he was getting, he nodded to Josiah to get the wagon moving. Ezra and Vin looked up when they heard Josiah snap the reins, and moved to gather up Peso and Chaucer.
Moments later, they were headed home.
After a few hundred yards, Vin caught Chris looking back at Tascosa, his expression thoughtful. When he saw the tracker looking, Chris gave him a small smile.
“I’m surprised you aren’t looking back yourself, Vin. That town has hung around your neck for so long, I thought you’d be glad to watch it dwindle into the distance.”
Vin smiled, shaking his head, “Nah. I don’t ever want to look back again, Chris. I’m only looking forward from now on.”
Chris laughed and urged his horse into a faster walk, moving forward to join JD in the lead, while Vin dropped back to ride next to Ezra. Soon the two younger men were laughing about something, the cardsharp’s usual mirth keeping the tracker entertained as he tried to get used to the idea that he was a free man.
BOOM! CRACK BANG!
The gunshots came out of nowhere, one slamming into Vin’s side and nearly knocking him off his horse.
Ezra instantly moved up to protect him, pulling out his gun as more shots rang out. Grabbing Peso’s reins, Ezra spurred the two horses into a gallop in the direction of an outcropping of rocks not too far in the distance.
Meanwhile, Mary and Mrs. Potter hugged the floor of the wagon as Josiah spurred its team forward, while JD and Chris did their best to return fire in the direction of where they thought the threat was coming from.
In a matter of seconds, they were all behind the cover Ezra had seen, four men firing in the direction of a small hillock while Mrs. Potter and Mary tended to Vin. As gently as she could, Mrs. Potter pulled Vin’s shirt off to see the hole that had cut through his right side, the entrance and exit wounds bleeding profusely. Ripping their skirts, both women soon had makeshift bandages trying to stop the flow.
“Who are you!” Chris shouted above the gunfire, all the while trying to get a bead on the shooters.
The only response was more fire.
Grimacing, Chris watched as Josiah sighted down his rifle at what looked to be a flash of red. With a grim smile, the preacher fired and was rewarded by a yelp of pain. JD then sent a few more bullets in that direction for good measure. Ezra, meanwhile, had ducked down and was reloading his rifle, his hands slipping as he realized he had blood on them. Funny, he thought, when did he touch Vin? In moments, he was back up again and firing. Chris frowned, noting the dark stain on Ezra’s pant leg. He must have been hit when Vin was, the gunslinger realized angrily. The thought sent his gaze in the direction of the tracker, who was now sitting up dazedly against a rock while Mary and Mrs. Potter tried to bind some cloth around his waist.
“I said, who are you! What do you want!” Chris yelled as he reloaded his own rifle. “Or do you want to die without telling us why? Because, I promise you, you will all die before this is over!” He took a few more shots at the hillock, and nodded as he heard someone else get hit.
“We want justice!” A voice finally called back. “Give us Tanner, and you all can go!”
“Justice? Justice has been done!” Josiah boomed back.
“You call what happened at that trial justice? My son is dead, damn it! Tanner killed him. I know it like I know the sun is going to set on his grave tonight!”
“You’re wrong, Mayor!” Chris called back, his senses trying to determine how many men the mayor had recruited for this ambush. Sounded like…five or six, not counting the two they’d hit. “He was freed by the people of your own town!”
“Idiots! Fooled by fancy language and conniving lawyers! You ever had a son die, Larabee? If you did, you’d know that all I’ve cared about since that time is to see his killer dead!”
Chris froze up for a second, the sentiment so familiar that it hit a nerve, then he heard Vin groan and he remembered what he was trying to do.
“Vin’s not his killer, Kincaid!” Chris shouted. “He was framed! Can’t you see that?”
“Framed? Framed! You may believe his lies, Larabee, but I don’t! I saw him bring my son in, his face all smug! Then, when they arrested him for it, he ran, didn’t he! Ran like the coward he is! Well, he’s not running anymore. I saw that shot hit him. If he ain’t dead, he soon will be, and my boy will be avenged!”
More shots exploded out of the hillock, forcing the four men of Four Corners to duck, bits of broken rock ricocheting off their hats and necks. Ezra’s leg finally gave way, much to the gambler’s surprise -- he had only felt the pain like a bad bruise – and he dropped the rifle to grab at the suddenly useless leg. Mary crawled over to him, tearing up more of her skirts.
Then, just as quickly as it had begun, the firing stopped.
“Mr. Larabee!” A new voice called out, this one less familiar but far more respectful. Chris frowned, and risked looking over the top of the rocks.
A smile lit upon his face and he stood the rest of the way up, his hand moving into a salute.
Travis’s cavalry troop were shoving forward five men, the mayor in the middle, the gunmen all with their hands on their heads and furious expressions on their faces. The troop’s captain saluted Chris back.
“We were resting our horses not far from here, letting them have a run before heading back to the fort, when we heard the gunfire. We got here as fast as we could. Is everyone all right?” The captain asked.
“No. They got in a nasty shot at Tanner, and one of my other men is hit in the leg. I think they’ll be all right if I can use you lieutenant’s healing skills,” he nodded at the young man on the end with the banner around his arm marking him as a doctor. The lieutenant nodded and jumped off his horse, reaching into his saddlebags for his supplies.
“Fine,” the captain looked down at the five gunmen, “we’ll take the rest of these back into town, inform them what has happened. If they won’t prosecute, we’ll take them with us to the next town where the judge is.’
“They won’t prosecute,” the mayor spat. “No one will, not when they learn why. You’ll see, Larabee, this isn’t over. I know what Tanner did, and he won’t get away with it again, you hear me?”
Chris frowned, “You’ve made a mistake here, Kincaid. You have the wrong man.”
The mayor snorted, “You’re protecting a killer, Larabee. It’s you who can’t see the truth. You’re blinded by friendship.”
“And your blinded by hate,” Chris spat back. “Get him out of here, captain.”
The cavalryman nodded and ordered his men to move out, leaving behind only the lieutenant and one other man to help watch over the wounded. As the mayor was led away, he kept his head turned backwards almost the whole time, his eyes pinpoints of black inside his ashen face.
Without saying it out loud, Chris could hear the man’s thoughts clearly. He’d said them often enough in his own mind.
This isn’t over.
What, you really thought clearing Vin would be the last of it? <bg>