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Adopted Sons
          By Terrance Keith Harrington

Chapter 1 

He had this dream about men riding horses, of fire and screams and women
and children running. In the haze, in the murky depths of the dream, he saw
riders coming, and heard someone call his name, saying:

"Get up son, or you'll die there!"

He looked down to see his torn trousers, his bowler hat sitting on the ground
nearby. There was some blood... probably his own, on his shirt, his nice
vest, and a little trickling down the side of his face.

What happened?

He seemed to remember an explosion, and getting thrown clear of the barn...
but he hadn't been in a barn, had he? He was so confused. The riders got closer,
and the leader of the group, a man dressed in black looked down at him. Grim
faced, the man repeated:

"Get up son, or you'll die there!"

The young man's eyes went wide, and he sat up...

"Mr. Larabee?" he asked, memory coming back with his consciousness. His eyes
went wide, and he looked into the face of an Army officer. The man pinned him
with his steely gaze, but it was concern, not anger, etched on his face. This officer
looked strangely similar to the man in his dream, but had older features, and
lighter-colored hair.

He smiled lightly as he replied, "Captain Larabee, if you will, Corporal."
He snorted, "You still need to get to your feet, soldier. We have a war to win, here."

The captain offered a hand, and Corporal Jeffery David Dunne took it.
With a strong tug, he was pulled to his feet, and he looked around the
French countryside, listening to scattered big guns going off in the
distance. He was still a little wobbly

"Where are we?" he managed to ask.

Larabee looked around at him.

"I'd guess, after looking at my map, about 35 miles off course, son. I hope
the men landing on shore are faring better than we did." He looked up into
the parting clouds. "We were dropped into a meat grinder."

A sergeant came running up a nearby hill.

"I reckon we have two other men able to move, Cap'n," the tall
sergeant drawled, "They'll be coming up shortly." He looked over
at Dunne, scanning his patch, then looking at Larabee.

"Don't ask me, Will, I have no idea where he came from. I heard
an explosion and saw him flying through the air. I'm surprised he
wasn't torn to bits, but I'm betting he has a concussion at the very least.
We'll let Doc look at him when... and IF... he gets here."

The taller man nodded at Dunne, "Lester Wilmington, Sergeant, C
harlie Company, 101st Airborne. Folks just call me Will, back home,
'cause I can't STAND to be called Lester." He smiled at the captain,
who just rolled his eyes.

The younger man stammered, holding out a hand, "J-jeff Dunne,
Corporal, Foxtrot Company, 3rd Ranger." Wilmington looked at the
hand for a second, then shook it. "Well, welcome to the party,
Corporal."

Dunne looked at Wilmington, memory trying to resurface. In his
dream, he remembered a mustached man, about the general size
of the sergeant, also named Wilmington. the sergeant noticed his
puzzled look.

"Somethin' troubling you, Corporal?"

Dunne blinked, his concentration broken, "You just seem familiar somehow..."

"Not unless we met in East Texas, Dunne, 'cause until the war, I never
strayed very far from home," he grinned.

Dunne shook his head, trying to loosen the cobwebs. He wasn't in
trousers... he was in his fatigues. He never owned a horse... he
dropped from planes with other paratroopers. He never owned a bowler hat...
he donned a steel helmet. Yet, the dream he had was just as real as
this damned war, and it bothered him. The dream seemed important
somehow, as if it had something to do with his mission. And, the dark
man's voice kept echoing in his brain: "Get up son, or you'll die there!"

He knew he needed to sort it out, but the captain motioned him to gather
his gear. They were moving out, since the other two had joined them.

"We have a war to win," the captain had said, with confidence Jeff Dunne
did not feel. As far as he was concerned, it was still anyone's ball game.
but, he followed the others as they tried to make it back to the main forces.

After all, they too were part of Operation Overlord, even if they missed
their drops. And, on this day, June 6th 1944, the Allies were about to try
to push Hitler's Nazis out of Normandy...


Chapter 2
 

Once upon a time, there lived a man named JD Dunne, who rode with
six seasoned warriors. JD was a fine, if reckless young man, who threw
himself carelessly into one battle after another... until the day of one of the
Seven's most terrible fights... one that damn near killed them all. It was
the dream that would haunt JD for years.

In his dream, JD saw men... thousands of men... lying dead and dying
on a far away shore, and bodies littering the fields and towns for miles around.

He saw the enemy thrust hands into the air in celebration as the last
of the invaders fell...
 

The men walked away, toward the sounds of distant fighting. Once,
the hairs on his neck tingling, Corporal Dunne looked back at the hill
he was blown off by the shockwave of a nearby explosion, and swore,
in the haze, he saw men watching his new group. Alarmed, he got
Seargent Wilmington's attention, discretely, to let him know that an
enemy patrol may have spotted them. However, when Wilmington
looked back at the hill casually, he saw nothing.

He saw nothing, for there was nothing living eyes could see standing there.

Oh, there was someone standing there... six someones to be exact...
but they were not part of the world of the living. One of them watched
his grandson lead Dunne's small party away, a strange sense of pride
washing over him...

"Chris, where are we?"

The voice belonged to Chris Larabee's long time friend, Buck Wilmington.
The taller man... taller by an inch than his great grandson, Lester, looked
around the countryside, dazed and confused.

Chris could hardly blame him. They should not be here at all, for
all six were long since passed from the mortal plane.
And yet, here six of the Seven stood, in a strange land, in a strange
time, watching grandsons and great grandsons walking off to fight
an unknown enemy. But, Chris recognized the dream that troubled Dunne...
it was a time when the Seven nearly died, in a horrible fight that JD barely survived.
 

The oddest part of it was, Josiah had a strange look on his face that morning.
He had told JD that Raven had spoken, that heroes and villians would
smoke a bitter pipe that day... but that JD was forbidden to partake. He
said that JD was the key to another time andplace, when heroes would be
needed again, and that the Seven would always ride, when they were called.

As if reading Chris' mind, Josiah nodded, and repeated what he had told JD:
"When the sons are gathered, the fathers will come."

The other men... Chris, Buck, Ezra, Vin and Nathan... looked quietly at
Josiah, as he stared off toward the west, toward the sounds of war.

"JD's dream," Vin quipped.

"Yeah..." was all Chris could say. "But, that still doesn't answer Buck's
original question. Where are we?"

"It's called Normandy," the voice startled them. All six men whirled at the
sound, and saw another man... dressed similarly to the ones who just left.
He was gazing patiently at them.

"Normandy?" Chris asked, quietly.

"On the western coast of France, across the Channel from England. It's the
planned site of our invasion of Europe," the man continued calmly.

"Invasion?" Ezra spoke up.

The newcomer glanced at the six, noting their garments.

"Why are you boys here? From your dress, I'd gather you are from the
American Southwest, before the turn of the Century. You're not one of us..."

"We don't understand..." Chris started, "Us?"

With a wave of his arm, the soldier drew their attention to a path
behind him. Soldiers... and a few sailors... in a variety
of uniforms, filed by quietly.

"We, the newly dead," the soldier remarked casually.

The six men watched the silent procession, and Buck whistled softly.

"That's a LOT of dead," Buck said quietly.

"I fear it will only get worse," the man stated sadly. "We hit Jerry at the
best possible time, with his forces stretched thin and inclimate weather
having passed through. Still the enemy is a crafty one, better equiped and
prepared than we thought." He looked toward the north.

"And, there's a division of armor..."

Pointing toward a Tiger tank opening fire on a nearby truck, to illustrate what he meant, when he saw their blank expressions...
 

"... a lot of those, that can be brought from Calais into the fight, if the
German resistance slows us enough to bring it to bear... Yes, sir. I'm
afraid that this is but a trickle to the flood of dead who will walk past
this spot..."

All six of the 19th Century gunmen looked at each other, saying in unison:
"JD's dream..."

Over 100,000 troops poured ashore at Normandy, in the largest
maritime invasion in the history of the world. Of course, they had
to come in waves, in an effort to overwhelm the beachfront defenses...

Over 3000 men died in the inital waves.

But, it was loss with a purpose, as the attack caught the Germans
off-guard enough to push them back from the shoreline... However,
there was a very real danger that armor might be swiftly brought
from the fortified north, before the troops hand secured the beachhead.
There were several plans designed to keep the Germans guessing,
to encourage them to linger at Calais.

Unfortuantely, the German commander suspected he had been duped,
and was poised to push south with all due speed to engage the enemy.
He was poised and ready to give the order...

Once upon a time, a young man named JD Dunne had a dream of an
army fighting for its life on a far away shore and countryside. And, in
his nightmare, great metal beasts that belched fire and death roared
upon the hapless warriors from the North.

And, in JD's nightmare, the metal dragons consummed all the gallant
young men with their dreadful, blazing might...

Unless...


Chapter 3

JD Dunne was more than a little worried. He'd been having these dreams for days, and they were "portents of something terrible" according to his friend and spiritual advisor, Josiah Sanchez.

To be precise, they were visions of death... death on a larger scale than JD could easily comprehend. There were men... thousands of men...in these dreams, and they erupted from floating boxes onto some distant shore into very Hell itself! There were sounds of gunfire, but unlike any JD had ever experienced, and explosions most god-awful!

"There's these metal boxes that move like big beetles," JD exclaimed, "and they have flame coming out of these big barrels. Then explosions happen off in some distance. I don't know how I know it, Josiah, but those metal boxes are like rolling cannon."

Josiah merely nodded, not looking directly at the younger man. JD continued...

"But even stranger... Josiah, these dreams have Purgatory in them. I see the strange ships with the men on a far shore, and nearby, I see us in Purgatory to take on Carter and his men... I can see the coming fight like it was right in front of me right now, but I can't stop it!"

"Why do you want to stop it, JD?" the Preacher slowly asked.

"Because some of us," JD shouted in anguish, then quietened, "ain't gonna make it out."

"You afraid to die?" Josiah asked calmly. It wasn't a judgement on the youth... simply knowledge Josiah needed.

"No... well, yeah. But, I don't think I'm set to die there... It's the rest of you I'm worried about."

Sanchez squinted his eyes as if looking beyond JD. He asked a question, even though he already knew the answer.

"I appreciate your concern for others, son... but what makes you so sure YOU'LL walk away from it?"

JD fidgeted uncomfortably, "You'll laugh."

"I promise, JD, on whatever honor I may have left, I will not laugh."

"I..." the youth began as he looked away from Sanchez, "saw this bird on my shoulder. He told me to watch for the sign, then leap clear. He said I would bury my friends and my enemies this day. He said..." JD gathered his fading memory, "he said that my tree must not fall, that the seed from my tree would grow strong against another evil in another day..."

Josiah looked intently in JD's eyes. "Did the bird... the BLACK bird... say anything about 'Fathers'?"

JD's head whipped around in clear surprise. "Y-yes. He said that when the sons gathered that the fathers would come."

Josiah simply nodded, and lit up a pipe he had acquired.

JD stammered, "H-how did you know?"

"You're not the only one who dreams, JD."

The youth pulled his chair closer to Josiah. "What does it mean?" he whispered.

Sanchez sighed heavily, "What I am about to tell you... you are not to let it interfere with the path you must choose. The bird is Raven, a spirit of earth and sky. Although the Indian thinks of him as a trickster spirit, you may think of him as an angel, if you wish." JD leaned forward, held in rapt attention. "Raven is warning you of things to come. He is telling you that you must live, that your children will ward off some future evil..."

"So, I won't die..." JD mused, but Sanchez waved him off.

"No, I didn't say that, JD. I said you are warned so that you will live. If you don't watch for the sign, you WILL die, however. This must not happen. You have powerful medicine surrounding you, but it will not make you invincible. Stay alert!"

JD nodded, "Alright, I will. But... what's this about the fathers?..."


"The fathers..." Ezra wheezed, as the six ghosts stood on the hillside. He didn't even need breath anymore, yet he still affected
the consumption that plagued him until his death. "Is this event what was foretold in the boy's visions?"

"I think so," Josiah sighed. "It looks like the portion of the dream he shared with me. A nightmare come true..."

Chris snorted, "He was right on target about Purgatory, that's for damn sure!" The man in black looked around at his one-time and present partners. "Some of you I haven't seen since that day..."

Nathan nodded gravely, "I helped JD bury some of the best friends I ever knew that day... I don't like thinking about it..."

Buck cut in on the conversation, "But, what has this got to do with today? Where exactly is this Normandy, and why is it so damned important?"

The soldier who interrupted them earlier went wide-eyed and slammed his right fist into his left palm.

"I know who you are now!" He said.

"What?" asked Chris.

"The heroes!" the man exclaimed. "I never thought I'd ever see you men again."

Ezra cocked his head to one side and peered at the older man. He had a star on his collar... even in Ezra's day, the symbol of the general officer. "I do not believe we have had the honor of your acquaintance, sir..."

The kindly elder gentleman smiled at the men. "Ah! But you don't recognize me. Perhaps, this form will be more familiar..."

All at once, the general faded from view, to be replaced by a young, frightened-looking boy in rags. In a boy's voice he continued his remembrance:

"Once upon a time, in a border town called Purgatory, a villain named Carter Erickson embarked upon a reign of terror... I see you remember the name..." the boy remarked as all six of the gunmen shuddered.

"You... you were one of the orphans..." Chris stated flatly.

"Yes. The perfect bait to lure seven magnificent heroes to their deaths. I remember you riding in... avenging angels, guns blazing
through the desperadoes like a scythe through winter wheat." The boy became a man again. "Some of you fell that day. But there was a young man, not with you here and now..."

"JD," breathed Nathan.

"Yes!" exclaimed the general. "He and his wife adopted us... boys who never knew a father. My God... you didn't even know who we were. It didn't matter to you. Erickson vowed to kill us all, to violate the women, if you didn't stop him... JD was the only father we ever really knew, but, in a way, you all were fathers to us..."

"Explain," coughed Ezra.

"Bravery is ever remembered, my friend," the general remarked. "Every one of us went on to become lawmen, soldiers and/or civic leaders.Your example paved the way. Many of our sons and grandsons are here...now! ... living legacies of the valor you expressed one dark day in late 1880."

"Good Lord..." Josiah said in a hushed, awed whisper, "the sons... and grandsons... gathered here..."

"Adopted sons of seven warriors," the older man agreed, "who will all die this day, unless new champions arise..."

"God!" shouted Chris, "What can we do NOW?"

"Provide guidance for seven others..." the general said. He nodded his head in the direction of the seven soldiers who formed a ragtag group trying to make their way to friendly lines. "Directly and indirectly, they are your seed come to fruit."

"Our seed?" asked Vin.

"Some of yours... some of mine... all from the same source: Purgatory..."

Then it hit Chris like a thunderclap: "They're going the wrong way!"

Buck turned a puzzled eye on his old friend, "How so, Chris? They're headed toward friends..."

Chris shook his head. "All from the same source... JD's dream... Purgatory! Don't you see it, Buck? It's Purgatory all over again. We went the wrong way... and it killed us..."
 


Chapter 4 

Carter Erickson was one of those men who seemed destined for great things from his birth. Son of a college professor (Cambridge educated) and a socialite mother, Erickson seemingly had everything a gentleman could want. He grew tall, handsome, strong and smart. He was desired by many women who saw him, and envied by the men who knew him.

And, he knew how to cultivate powerful friends as he grew older.

He had a brilliant mind for strategy and tactics, and as brave and daring as he proved to be time and time again, may have even been a general of Stonewall Jackson's reputation... had he been interested in serving either side during the War of Rebellion in 1860's America. Instead, Carter Erickson gravitated toward those who had more personal agendas, who saw opportunity in woe.

It comes from a tatered document, yellowed and stained, hidden away for decades in a vault in Washington... the classified document of a Secret Service Agent who survived the raid on Purgatory that bleak day in 1880... that we gather some of the information we need to understand the man and his mission.

Purgatory was a haven for for every kind of scum and wretched villiany known to man of that era, nestled across the Mexican border in a seemingly innocuous location... but closer inspection showed that, with mountain passes, rivers and roadways, Purgatory was an ideal location for anyone wishing to attack poorly defended regions of the Southwestern US and its territories. In particular, it was ideal for launching attacks against gold-rich California. The problem lie in a crossroads town than innocently grew up along the way... a town called Four Corners, in the New Mexico Territory.

Now, one might think that a town as small as Four Corners would be of no consequence... and, in 1875, when seven hired gunmen were brought in to police the place, one would be right. But five years of dilligent service and peacekeeping can do remarkable things for a town. Over that span, the rule of law was restored, prosperity followed, and the railroad came. Four Corners became an important location for anyone moving west along America's southernmost points of interest. Such an important place would naturally draw the attention of Carter Erickson and his conspirators.

The range wars that were fought all along the American west and southwest were avoidable, to be sure. Of course, there was a rivalry between the men who wanted free range grazing rights, and the men who wished to tame the land, to own it... to fence it off. But such matters could have been worked out by reasonable people. Those like Erickson, who wished chaos and discord along their chosen paths, saw to it that reason became a non-factor in the proceedings. So, disaster struck time and time again, and the innocent paid the price. Two such innocents were Sarah and Adam Larabee, whose only crimes were to be family of a stubborn man who wanted a piece of land to call his own. A man who refused to be bought out... and who killed a man who tried to take the land from him by force.

A then unknown force in the region... a person who wanted power... hired a man named Cletus Fowler to rid "his" land of the intrusive Larabees, by any means. Fowler was, in reality, in the service of Erickson, to be used for other purposes. But Erickson allowed Fowler his "entertainment"... such a perverse creature as Fowler craved his wanton cruelties, and would seek them out whenever possible... as long as Fowler completed the assignments Carter gave him first. Fowler did Carter's bidding, then indulged his dark and evil desires. Respect for the dead prohibits me from describing what took place at the Larabee farm that dark day, but suffice it to say it took a long time to complete, and fire was the only way to rid the grisly evidence of Fowler's tastes.

Fowler's current "employer" was pleased with the result... at first. However, Larabee proved to be a dangerous man to drive over the brink of despair. Oh yes, he drank himself stupid in the beginning, but he was a gunman of no small ability, and even drunk, was quite formidable. The one who would have owned Larabee's land never enjoyed the satisfaction of ownership. Every time a claim was begun on the old farm, Larabee would return like the very spirit of vengence. He would not rebuild the homestead... but he would not relinquish it, either. Fowler's "boss" lost many men in the process, and, in the end, became afraid of what Larabee might do if he ever discovered the fire was no accident...
 


Chapter 5

Hanson motioned feverishly for Captain Larabee's attention. Chris' grandson eased over to his radioman, making sure to stay out of sight of any possible snipers nearby.

"What's up, Pete?" the officer asked.

"Not sure, sir... sounded for a moment like garbled German..."

Larabee's eyebrows arched.

"Zero in on it if you can, Pete. This could be a big break for the good guys..."

Pete frowned as he concentrated, but concern turned to delight as he got his frequency. He gave a thumbs up to his captain, who took the earphones from the younger man. Larabee listened closely, and none of the others dared even whisper. Larabee understood enough of the enemy's tongue to make sense out of the intercepted transmission, but he wasn't totally fluent... none of his ragtag group wanted to bollux his efforts.

As the officer patiently waited, listening... listening... his face grew dark. He held up a hand, and motioned briefly for Will to come over. "Map" is all he said softly. Sgt. Wilmington complied, pulling the local area chart out of a faded pocket. Larabee opened it gingerly, and traced his fingertip along a couple of roads... one coming down from Calais. He circled the beach area over and over, growing ever more somber. Abruptly, he ripped the phones off his head, and handed them back to Hanson.

"Let's move 'em out, Will..." he grunted...

 



 

"Where do you think you're going?" a familar voice sounded behind Chris, as he loaded his six-shooters, his travel bags assembled on the edge of the bar. Chris turned just enough to see the visitor, trained hands continuing to load deadly cartridges into their chambers.

"We have work to do, West. No time for small talk..." Larabee huffed, slitting his eyes, then smiled sardonically. "We could use some help if you're interested."

James West, Secret Service agent, had kept in touch vicariously with the seven gunmen of Four Corners through his partner's connection with Ezra Standish. His pircing gaze never left Larabee's face. There was faint amusement in his voice when he spoke, although no smile crossed his face. "Could you now?"

Larabee said nothing further, but continued to assort his weapons. West moved to a table, and sat down.

"Join me," he said. It wasn't a question.

Larabee jerked his head in West's direction, but made no move toward the table. West rolled his eyes, and sighed. "Let's talk about old friends and enemies... Please..." He motioned to a seat.

A puzzled look crossed Chris' features, but he slowly ambled over to sit opposite the government agent. "Alright," he replied, "which will we talk about... and who?"

"Carter Erickson comes to mind..." West quipped.

"You got the 'who' part right. I figure the 'what' and 'why' can't be far behind," Chris nodded.
 

 



 

The seven men moved through the wooded countryside as quickly as possible. Wilmington peered occasionally at the Captain, puzzling over the look in his friend's eyes. Something about that Jerry transmission was eatting at him, but he wasn't ready to talk yet. Lester knew, however, that should something happen to the officer, these men in his charge would have no clue as to what was going on... or what to do next.

"Cap'n?" the sargeant coughed softly. Larabee turned partially toward the taller man, but continued moving. "We got trouble coming, Will," he said, looking back to his front. "Trouble in spades, if we don't hurry..." Lester Wilmington absorbed this with good graces, but the info was hardly enough. The Texan grinned, "And what form might this trouble be taking, if I might ask?"

Larabee smiled and looked down slightly, forming his thoughts. "A whole world of trouble is coming this way, Will, in the form of steel and fire."

"Tanks?" Will's voice caught in his throat.

"Yep. About a division, I'd think. Panzers, rolling right over us if we don't move faster."

"But, the boys on the beachhead..." Wilmington trailed off.

"Won't have a prayer if that armor reaches them before our own gets gets on shore. I don't know how yet, but we have to find a way to slow 'em down a bit..."
 

 



 

"Ever heard of the Land's South Express?" West asked, cocking his head to the right.

Chris slowly shook his head in the negative. "Should I have?" he asked.

West shrugged. "It's not altogether important, but might help to explain what's going on here. The LSE is a railroad, Mr. Larabee. One that goes right through Four Corners."

The gunman's eyes widened. "There ain't no damned railroad within 20 miles of here," Chris snorted.

"Officially, no. But it WILL run thorugh here soon enough."

Larabee thrust a finger at the Secret Service man. "Look, I don't have time for riddles, and I couldn't care less about the damned railroads. We got lives in danger, West. JD's wife..."

James West arched an eyebrow. "I've heard about the orphanage, Chris..." he began.

"Not all of it, I'm sure."

"How would you know what I've heard..."

"Because we got a message from Erickson a few minutes ago," Chris snarled...
 

 



 

Jeffrey Dunn was doing his job as he reconnoitered the area, as he was trained to do as a Ranger. Nonetheless, had he been less thorough in his haste to find a clear path back to the shoreline, he might have missed the village. The trees were very thick, here, and only a slight trail of smoke gave a chimney away to his tired eyes. Something about the place raised hackles on the back of his neck, and he felt compelled to take a closer look. Easing through the trees, careful where he stepped to prevent a telltale *SNAP!* of twigs, he edged closer to the settlement, chancing to spy it out. As he moved closer, a foul odor began to catch his attention, but he very nearly peed himself when he stumbled upon the bodies...
 
 

 



 

Chris yanked the cover off the wagon behind the saloon, thanking God that Buck had the good sense to keep its cargo out of sight. West paled as he stared, then looked up sharply at Larabee's steely gaze. "I don't understand... Erickson said he wouldn't hurt anyone as long as..."

"As long as no one crossed him? I want you to explain something to me, West... In the years I've known Erickson, from the times we've fought each other to hell and back, he's at least made sense and... for a regular snake in the grass... has always been honest to his word. Why would he take all those kids from the orphanage? Why did he take the nuns... and Casey Dunn?"

 



 

A week ago, Erickson's hired thugs emptied the orphanage in Eagle Bend, taking everyone there. Casey, now JD's wife of two years, just had the misfortune of delivering groceries when they struck. Naturally, she was taken with the others. Shortly afterward, a message was delivered to the Sheriff's Office in Four Corners. JD, his still youthful appearance belying his experience and savvy, nearly bowled over Buck trying to get into the Saloon. The fear on his face was painful to see, and Buck, who had rarely seen the expression on the cocksure youngster knew instantly that something very wrong had
happened.

"B-b-buck? Ya gotta... ya gotta help me. Help me!" He was clinging to Buck like a drowning man clings to a limb in a raging river. "You gotta help HER!" JD's eyes were wild and wide, and the expression on his face gave Buck a serious case of the willies. However, he knew who the "her" had to be...

"What's wrong with Casey, JD?... Now just calm down..."

By now, Nathan had come over, and Ezra folded his hand and excused himself to the "gentlemen" he was playing/fleecing.

"Might a friend inquire if there is a problem?" the gambler asked.

"Casey... Casey's in trouble..." JD nervously uttered softly. "We gotta help her... gotta help her..." His eyes went from friend to
friend pleadingly.

Vin stormed in the bar at that moment, bearing a note from Erickson. He explained what it read, and asked Nathan to take care of JD for a moment, as he pulled Buck and Ezra away to the Sheriff's Office.

"So, he's got the kids, the nuns and Casey, right? But he swore he wasn't going to hurt anyone," Buck said as they hurried.

"That's what the note said..." Vin replied angrily.

"Something tells me... you aren't sure he'll abide by that oath," Ezra coughed, the consumption beginning to take its toll after the years.

"I got a strong suspicion," Vin agreed, as the three swung into the office, where Mary Travis stood in tears. On the desk, in a package that came with the note, were the clothes, hat and boots Casey was wearing the day she delivered the groceries. Buck didn't even want to think what that might mean, but it was obvious Mary had already considered the possbilities.

"This does not... look good..." Ezra grimmaced.

"There's more..." Vin spat as he led the others out back. There was a wagon sitting there, the wagon that Casey had used to take goods over to the children. Vin showed the men what was in the back... and Buck, a man who had seen a lot of things... bad things... over the years, felt his knees buckle...

 



 

Jeff stared in mute horror at the bodies hanging like evil fruit from the crude crosses set up behind the village. He barely kept his wits about him, which probably saved his life, as a guard came around the side of the nearest building. Without hesitation, Jeffrey David pulled a knife, and without thinking... also as he was trained... he silenced the guard, forever. A terrible thought began shaping in his head as he looked at the heap that was once a man lying at his feet. He recognized the uniform, but could not for the life of him fathom why it would be here, of all places. However, when he thought of the crucified forms, and what he saw as he looked around a corner into the village proper, he knew what was happening... and he had to help stop it...
 

 



 

James West stared into one of the three faces... into the dead eyes that stared into nothingness. He said nothing, but Larabee finished his thoughts, seething with hatred.

"I guess he wanted to let us know he meant business," Chris hissed as he peered at West from just under his hat's brim. Chris suddenly spun and returned to where the others readied themselves, leaving Jim West to ponder over two nuns, and a solitary child, whose tiny tender face was only marred, as with the women, by a single bullet hole through the forehead.
 

 


Jeff Dunn returned to the others swiftly, and exclaimed to the Captain, "Sir, we have to change directions."

Captain Larabee cocked his head slightly as he responded, "Son, we have very little time to waste before a whole armored column reaches us. We can't signal the others on the beach yet... can't be sure if we're talking to friend or foe until we can SEE them, understand? So we gotta keep moving."

"Sir," Dunn was insistent, "there's a village full of folks who need our help, right in the middle of that patch of forest", he pointed, "over there."

Captain Larabee held his hands out before him, in a lecturing pose, but to those who knew him, the stance signalled there would be no further discussion. "I don't think you heard me, Dunn. We have to warn our troops, or there's going to be hell to pay..."

"But..."

"Dunn! You heard the man!" Wilmington stepped up.

Jeffrey said nothing for a moment, then held out his hand, palm up. A wad of cloth opened like a flower in his hands, a black flower with markings on it...

"Where did you get that, son?" Larabee asked quietly.

"Off the guard I killed over at the village I just mentioned."

Lester Wilmington frowned, but it was Hanson who asked the question: "What is it, Cap'n?"

Larabee showed the group the black patch with the thunderbolt "SS" insignia. "Schutzstaffel," Larabee said.

"What?" Hanson querried. "What's that?"

"Gestapo, son," Wilmington stated flatly. "Hitler's secret police. But... what the hell is the SS doing out here?"

"If it were an officer, I'd think nothing more of it," Larabee replied. "Every German unit has a few attached. But a GUARD... and enlisted man out here... that's something different."

"Yessir, there's a whole company of blackshirts at the village. In fact, SS is all I saw of the enemy, there."

"But why?" that was the Doc... Medic George Silver Eagle. "What's the deal?"

Dunn paled a bit. "It looks like the community is mostly Jewish..."

When several of the men turned to Larabee, he told them he'd explain later. He was instantly lost in thought. Wilmington knew the look that was forming in the captain's expression.

"Boss," he said quietly, "what are you doing?"

"That armor... it's got me to thinking..." Larabee said.

"Well, yeah. I mean, if we don't warn somebody..."

"We don't have time for that, Will." The older man said, suddenly reaching a decision.

Wilmington actually laughed. "You don't aim the seven of US to just stop a whole division of Panzers, do ya?"

"Maybe we don't have to..." Larabee trailed off. "Hanson?"

"Yes sir!" the signalman snapped to.

"Get me that Jerry frequency again..."
 

 



 

Ghosts stood nearby, watching.

"Ya did good, Ezra..."

The gambler smiled weakly. "Thanks to our new and esteemed colleague..." Standish smiled as he nodded to the General, "it was child's play itself to tweak this... 'radio' device... enough to catch the enemy's 'wavelength' for our friends here."

"As I said," the Army man snorted as he watched the gunfighter's grandson with admiration, "we might be removed from the mortal plane, but not so much we can't affect it in small ways."

"But, since we'er still here, I take it we have more to do..."

"I think so," Josiah chimed in. "Call it a intuition or an omen, but I have a feeling this is far from over." He nodded at the group of seven living warriors, as they stood around the captain. As if the heavens themselves were answering Josiah, a large black bird... a crow... landed on the branches overhead. From all appearances, it was looking right at the ethereal gunmen.

Buck shook his head slowly. "THAT brings back memories..." he said, barely above a whisper.

"That it does..." said Nathan, with a shudder.

Josiah turned away. "I don't know," he said, "I just feel like...there's something missing here... something terribly important..."
 

 



 

Thousands of miles away, in a sick bed, an old man tossed and turned in his sleep. "No... no, no... all wrong... the boy... the boy's in trouble..." He continued his fitful sleep, as his son, Mike, peered in. He turned suddenly at the hand on his shoulder, but it was his wife wondering what the problem was.

"It's Poppa John," Mike said, sadly. "He doesn't sound at all well."

Mary nodded, then frowned. "What's he saying?"

"I don't know, but I think it has something to do with Jeff."

Mary looked into Mike's eyes, worry creeping into hers.

"Do you think our son's OK, Mike? Why does Poppa John keep talking about a beach? I mean, what does 'Normandy' mean?"

Mike snorted, "Oh honey, don't worry about the boy, so. After all, we both know Jeff's in England. And, last I checked, there's no beaches at the base where he's stationed ..."

Chapter 6

 

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