Make your own free website on Tripod.com
The Last Straw
        By Kate

*Disclaimer:  Don’t own them.  Wish I did.  Nope, they belong to Trilogy and MGM and other folks with a lot more lawyers and money than I have.  This writing is solely for my enjoyment and hopefully that others who read this.  Please don’t sue me.  I’m a college student and my financial situation is not worth the effort.

**Author’s note: Well, I had to make up a little bit about some of the guys’ pasts.  I hope I have not done any of them serious injustice.  Please let me know if I did.  There are a couple references to ‘Penance’ (I really liked that episode), but if you haven’t seen it, don’t worry.  Won’t affect the story.


 
 

Things had been quiet in town and everybody took to it differently.  JD missed the action and excitement that had so often accompanied his new job.  Buck was able to devote the free time to his favorite activity of trying to lure Inez into his open arms.  Therefore, Inez hated the peace and quiet.  Ezra was able to brush up on his game and swindle some of the newer arrivals in town out of their dreadfully cumbersome money.  Vin, tired of being stuck in town, had ridden off to be on his own.  Nathan and Josiah were able to get a lot of work done on the church between Nathan checking on a few current patients.  Only Chris truly hated the solitude.  The more time he had to let his mind wander, the more memories came to the surface, and the more he wanted to crawl inside a bottle.

Josiah paused his work on the steeple of the church.  Setting down his hammer, he loosened his cuffs and rolled up his shirtsleeves.  He looked up to see what the movement was that had caught his eye.  He followed the motion of the dust cloud until the stagecoach came into focus.  He glanced up at the sun directly overhead and grinned to himself as he wiped his brow.  The noon stage was on time for once.

JD looked up from his book as the stage passed by the jail.  “On time for once,” he muttered after checking his watch.

“What’s that?” asked Buck.  “You talkin’ to yourself, boy?  I told you, you keep that up and folks will figure you gone loco.”

“I’m not talkin’ to myself.  Even so, I had a good reason.  The stage is on time for once.”

“Well, what do ya know…”

Josiah moved a little closer to the edge of the roof, hoping to see who might be brave enough to come to Four Corners in the middle of August.  Out of the stage stepped two men.  They were both covered with trail dust, but there the similarity ended.  One was just less than six feet tall, solidly built, and dressed in a checked suit.  The other was taller and thinner and dressed like someone who spent his fair share of time on the trail.  After a quick glance around town, he spotted the church and the man on the roof and started over.

Josiah started down the ladder to meet the man who would already be inside when he reached the ground.  With every step, the preacher kept thinking there was something familiar about the man from the stage.  He had been unable to make out the face under the hat, but there was something about the way he moved that he just couldn’t place.

Once inside, recognition hit him like a ton of bricks.  His normally kind blue eyes became cold and hard.  He fought it back and approached the man who stood in front of the altar.  Perhaps he had changed.  It had been quite a few years since the two had last met.  “Can I do something for you?”

The man looked up, an evil grin spreading slowly across his face.  “Yeah,” he said.  “When you get to Hell, look for my brother.  Tell him I’m the one who sent you to join him.”  The man’s hand dropped for his gun and Josiah began to move, hoping to dive behind a pew for cover.

But John Rockley’s draw was faster than it had been years ago when the two first met.  Only Josiah’s sudden movement saved him as the bullet meant for his heart buried itself high in his left shoulder.  The preacher hit the floor hard and didn’t move.  Satisfied, Rockley stepped over the prone form and left the church.

The stage had changed horses and Rockley stepped on board just as the driver called to his horses and slapped them with the reins.  The coach departed right on time with its solitary passenger.

JD thought he heard a shot in the afternoon calm.  It had come from the direction of the church.  He tried to shrug it off.  There was nothing over there that anyone would be shooting at.  Nonetheless, he just couldn’t convince himself to ignore it.  Figuring there was nothing better to do, he decided to check things out anyway.  As he entered the church, he could see Josiah struggling to pull himself up on one of the pews.  He held his left arm close to his body as the giant stain of red continued to grow on his shoulder, seeping down his arm and chest.

JD stood helplessly for a moment, moving forward only when the preacher started to fall again.  “Josiah!” he cried as he caught the big man and lowered him gently to the floor.  Josiah looked at the kid, his kind eyes filled with pain.  “Hold on,” JD said and he pulled open the Josiah’s vest, releasing a greater flow of blood.  He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and plugged the wound as well as he could, then ran out of the church in search of Nathan.  The first person he found was Ezra.

“Slow down, Mr. Dunne,” said Ezra as JD slid to a stop in front of him.

“Ezra!” cried JD.  “Where’s Nathan?”

“What’s wrong?” asked the gambler, sensing the urgency.

“Josiah!” was all JD could get out.  He couldn’t bring himself to say the rest.

“Saloon,” said Ezra giving him a shove in the right direction as he spun on his own heel and hurried to the church.  He was desperately trying to keep pressure on the wound when JD returned with Nathan, Chris, and Buck.  The gambler moved aside to give Nathan room and went to the back room for water.  As Nathan pulled the shirt back and tried to clean away the blood, Josiah’s eyes flickered open.

“Josiah,” said Chris leaning down.  “Who did this?”

“Rockley,” his voice was barely a whisper.  “Stagecoach.”  Then his eyes closed again.

“He must have come on the noon stage.  Probably left on the same one.  Buck, JD…”

“Already there,” said Buck as the two left to catch the stage bound for Eagle Bend.

“Ezra,” said Chris.  “You and I will check around town in case…”

“I need Ezra here,” said Nathan.  Chris nodded and strode out the door.  He immediately spotted Vin who had just ridden in from wherever it was he had been.  He quickly explained what was going on and the tracker joined him to search the town to see if Rockley was still in town.

“It hit the artery,” said Nathan as he probed the wound.  “He’s lost a lot of blood already.”

“What do you need me to do?” asked Ezra.

Nathan secured clamps to the artery on both sides of the hole and handed the ends to Ezra.  “Hold these an’ try to keep your hands out of the way.”  Ezra obliged and gave the healer as much room as possible to work.  Nathan threaded a needle and began to suture the artery back together.  “Okay,” he said.  “Let’s see if that holds.”

Ezra carefully released the clamps and a collective sigh was released when it held.  Nathan bathed the area gently and searched for the bullet.  “Damn,” he muttered when he found it.  Ezra waited, knowing the explanation would come.  “The bullet’s in there too tight.  No way I can get it out without doing more damage.”  He disinfected the wound as best he could before sewing it closed and bandaging the shoulder.

With some difficulty, they moved Josiah to his cot in the back room of the church and pulled up chairs for themselves nearby.  “Why did you want me to stay?” Ezra asked suddenly, breaking the silence between them.

“I don’t know exactly,” said Nathan.  “The way you looked when we got here…Something about the way you handled yourself.  I know we don’t always see things eye to eye, but…I don’t know.  Josiah’s preaching must have got to me.  You seemed like the right one.”

“I am truly honored by that.”  The two sat quietly, sharing the first comfortable silence since they had met.
 

Chris and Vin left the saloon with no more information as to he location of Josiah’s shooter than when they got there.  Chris’ patented way of obtaining information; a demand first, shooting next, then shoot some more; wasn’t yielding any results.  As they passed through the swinging doors, they parted to let a man through.  Vin stopped and turned.

“’Scuse me, sir,” he said.

The man turned and smiled.  “Yes?”

“Don’t recall seeing you before.  I was wondering if you came in on the last stage.”

“Why yes, sir,” he said.  “Roger Edwards of Kansas City, Missouri.”

“Was there anyone else on the stage?” asked Chris.

“Yes.  There was a young man from Texas.  He seemed very intent o delivering a message to someone here before he went on to Eagle Bend.  I hope he found the fellow in time.”

“He did,” muttered Chris bitterly.

“It’s up to Buck an’ JD now,” said Vin as they headed back to the church empty handed.
 

Buck kept his gun trained on the driver as JD brought the lead horses to a halt.  Then Buck leaned over in his saddle and opened the door of the coach just as the one on the other side was flung open and the lone passenger took off on foot across the plain.  JD saw it and wheeled his bay after the man.  He bore down on him at amazing speed, catching him by the shoulder and using the horse’s momentum to throw the man to the ground.  He leapt from the saddle and pinned the man down as Buck jogged his grey over.

“You Rockley?” asked Buck.

“Who wants to know?” the man sneered.

“Well, it seems we got a mutual friend back in town.  He was sorry you left in such a hurry, so we came to get you.”

“What?  Who?”

“Josiah, you slimy horn toad!” said Buck losing whatever control he may have been holding on to.  “You really think you could get away with that?”

A strange grin came over Rockley’s face.  “I got him good didn’t I.  Yeah, and if that one didn’t kill him I’ll have another bullet waiting.”  The two peacekeepers didn’t say anything, but JD delivered a powerful right to Rockley’s jaw from his position kneeling on the man’s chest.  Buck took a length of rope from his saddle and JD tied one end around Rockley’s wrists.  With the other end dallied around Buck’s saddle horn, they turned back to Four Corners leading Josiah’s shooter.
 

Ezra looked up as Chris and Vin returned to the church.  “Will he be okay?” asked Vin.

“That will take some time to tell,” replied the gambler wearily.  “Nathan was able to repair the artery, but the bullet was too deep to take out safely.  He lost so much blood that we cannot even be certain he will wake up.  I pray you gentlemen have better news.”

“He left on the stage for Eagle Bend.  Seems like he only came through to shoot Josiah.  We won’t know anything until Buck an’ JD get back.”

“They’ll catch him,” said Vin.

“Can’t be sure until they get here,” Chris said quietly.  He stalked over to a vacant chair, cursing himself for not going after Rockley himself.  JD wasn’t ready to chase men down on his own.  Not even with Buck there.

Nathan had curled up on a pew at Ezra’s bidding, exhausted from the surgery.  The others sat in a silent vigil in the back room of the church.  Three pairs of eyes looked up as Buck came in holding Rockley triumphantly by the scruff, followed by a beaming JD.  Their grins were lost at the sight of the haggard faces staring back at them.

“How’s Josiah?” JD asked the unnecessary question.

“Too soon to tell,” replied Nathan sitting up and rubbing the sleep from one eye.

“Well, we got this guy at any rate,” said Buck.

“Yeah, I got him good, didn’t I,” said Rockley smiling.

Chris leapt to his feet.  He grabbed the man’s collar and pulled him roughly forward until their noses nearly touched.  “Why did you do this?” he growled.  “Tell me!”

Rockley just shrugged, oblivious to the anger in Chris’ eyes.  “He killed my brother.  I killed him.  The contract just made it a sweeter deal.”

“What contract?”

“For the killing of Frank Gilmer.  Up in Frisco.”

Disgusted, Chris threw Rockley back to Buck.  “Lock him up.”  He turned on he heel to leave, then stopped and turned back.  “If he dies,” he told Rockley, “so do you.”  Chris was inside a bottle in the saloon within minutes.

Vin soon got restless in the church and went off to wire the Judge to see what he could learn about John Rockley.  Ezra sent Nathan to get some more sleep.  The healer had only just dozed off when Buck and JD had returned and needed more rest.  As Nathan stretched out on a pew, they both knew he would not sleep, but he was doing himself no good by sitting up and worrying.  The healer and the preacher had become closer to each other than any of the Seven.  The two were able to spend entire days together, so comfortable was one in the other’s company.  Even Chris and Vin had to take occasional breaks from one another.

Ezra sat quietly shuffling his cards beside Josiah’s cot.  He looked solemnly at Josiah and bowed his head. The gambler was far from a loyal churchgoing man.  The last time he had willingly attended a service was when he himself was preaching visions of hellfire.  But he did not want to lose the preacher.  Josiah was always able to bring a breath of reason into any situation.  He had a quick wit that often helped to relieve tension in so many of the situations the Seven had faced.

Ezra had long ago learned to separate his emotions from his actions.  He put himself, mentally, in a calmer place, then set his hat on the bed by Josiah’s feet and started tossing cards into it.  Or tried to, at least.  He was halfway through the deck and had only gotten three cards in.

“Looks like we both got hit by some bad luck.”

Ezra looked up, startled by the voice though it was barely more than a harsh whisper.  “Ah,” he smiled.  “So kind of you to grace us with your company.”  He set down the cards and picked up a tin cup.  Carefully, he helped Josiah sip the water.  “You had us all quite worried, Mr. Sanchez.”

“That bad, huh?”

Ezra didn’t get a chance to respond.  The preacher had drifted off again.  “Sir, I believe Lady Luck is now with you,” he whispered.

There was a collective sigh of relief when Ezra reported that Josiah had awoken for a moment.  Even though Nathan was still reluctant to make assurances with Josiah still drifting in and out of consciousness, more time out than in, they all knew the worst was over and time would do the rest.  They took turns sitting by his bed.  Often, he only awoke long enough for them to give him some water, but each time a little more of the old light would return to his eyes.

Buck had the midafternoon shift a few days later.  He stepped outside for a few minutes.  When he came back in and looked at Josiah, he found him looking back.  Buck grinned, “Welcome back.”  Josiah tried to sit up, then groaned at the pain that shot through his shoulder.  Buck put a hand on his good shoulder and helped him up.  The wounded man swayed somewhat, but stayed upright.  Buck sat in his chair and waited for Josiah to gather his wits about him.

“How long?” he asked.

“’Bout a week, I reckon.”

“I miss any fun?”

“Oh, not much.  We chased down that Rockley fella who shot you.  He isn’t saying much, so we been using him as a punching bag.  Teaching JD how to box.”

Josiah didn’t smile.  “It would serve him right.”  His voice was cold and bitter.

Buck was taken aback.  He had never heard Josiah wish ill upon anyone, especially someone who tried to hurt him.  More often, he sought the trouble foretold by the crows.  “So ya know why he tried to kill you?”  It was all Buck could think to say.

Josiah nodded.  “Just before the war.  I killed his brother and sent him to jail.  They had been riding around the Territories shooting northern sympathizers. Massacred whole families.  I was doing some bounty hunting at the time.  Got John alive, but I killed his younger brother.  Thing was, in the end, they weren’t just taking out Unionists.  They were killing women and children ‘cause they liked it.”

Buck remained silent.  He had never before seen the sort of anger that was rising from within Josiah.  He couldn’t blame him, though.  Men such as Rockley got no respect from people on either side of the law.  Even other outlaws despised those who preyed on innocent people, especially women and children, for fun.  “Well, that explains that,” sighed Buck.  “Do you know anything about a contract out on you?”

Josiah shook his head, then groaned as the movement aggravated his shoulder.  Just sitting up had taken a lot out of him, and the thought of a price on his head was too much for him to deal with just then.  “It’s okay,” said Buck.  “You work on getting well.  We’ll work on Rockley.”

“Okay,” Josiah murmured.  He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.  Buck watched him quietly until Nathan relieved him.  He told the healer what he had learned from Josiah and Nathan’s dark eyes narrowed in anger.  Then Buck made his way to the jail where he found Chris, Vin, and JD with Rockley.

“Boys,” Buck greeted them.  “Found out a little something about our friend here.”  Four pairs of eyes looked up.  Three were curious; Rockley wanted to make sure he got the story right.  “Rockley here had a brother.  Before the war, they took it upon themselves to get rid of all the Yankees in the territories.  But they got a little too good at it, didn’t you Rockley?” he said with a sidelong glance at the prisoner.  “Started takin’ out whole families.  Women and children.”  The fire in Chris’ eyes burned brighter as Buck continued.  “Josiah went to take them in.  Caught this one.  Killed the other.  He didn’t know anything about the contract, though.”

“I believe I can be of service on this point,” said Ezra walking through the door.  He held a telegram in his hand.

“The Judge wire back?” asked Vin.

“The Judge?  No.  I have a few well placed…acquaintances, shall we say.  They are privy to information which a Federal Judge may not be.”  He paused, looking down at the telegram.  “There is a $1000 contract out on our Mr. Sanchez.  The family of a Frank Gilmer has put it out.  It appears our friend dispatched the late Mr. Gilmer in a bank robbery near San Francisco.”

“Was Josiah robbing the bank or this Gilmer fella?” asked JD.  He received looks of ridicule from all except Ezra.

“The telegram didn’t specify,” he said softly.  They all found themselves believing Josiah could have been on either side of the bank robbery.  Of any of the seven, they knew the least of the preacher’s past.  His father had been a missionary, yes.  But of Josiah himself, they knew only what Nathan had told them the day they’d all met.  He had “killed a lot of men”, but he could have done that on either side of the law.  Only Vin knew something more, something Josiah had tried to hide, but he felt it would make no difference in this situation and kept it to himself.

“Y’all don’t trust your friend much, do ya?” said Rockley happily from his cell.  None of the five said anything.  “You can’t lock me up and let someone you don’t even trust stay out there.”

“Big difference between not knowin’ a man’s past an’ not trusting him,” said Vin.

The next day, Josiah was feeling well enough that staying in bed was making him fidgety.  Because of the contract, one of the men always stayed with him.  For that morning shift, it was JD.  With some difficulty, Josiah sat up to face the young sheriff.  “Never did get to thank you,” he said.  “Guess you saved my life.”

JD flushed slightly.  “I’m just glad that I thought to check out that shot.”

“Me too.  Is Nathan around?”

“He had to ride out to one of the ranches.  Do you need me to go get him?”

“No,” Josiah said quickly with a gleam in his eye.  “I was hopin’ you’d say that.  Give me a hand outside, brother.”

JD helped him up and supported him as he found his balance.  “Where do you want to go?” he asked.

“Inez still serving breakfast?”  JD nodded.  “Then let’s go.  Feel like I haven’t eaten in days.”  JD laughed.  It felt good, but in the back of his mind he worried about the contract.  He helped Josiah to the saloon where Inez brought him a plate heaping with food.  She set it in front of him with a smile.

“It is good to see you up, Senor.  We all missed you,” she said.

“Thank you, Sister.”  JD sat by while the preacher ate, happy that the wounded man was simply up and about.  He looked up as Ezra, ever the late riser, came downstairs.  The gambler spotted the two and came over to their table.

“Sir, it is favorable to see you about once more.  You had us all a bit distressed for a while.”

“Why thank you, Ezra.  Oh, and if you happen to run into Nathan, you haven’t seen me up yet.”  Ezra smiled at that and tipped his hat as he left.  After the meal, Josiah was feeling much stronger.  “Thanks for stayin’, JD.  But I think I’m gonna take a little walk.  You can go do whatever you need to.”

JD reluctantly nodded and stood up.  “Take care of yourself, Josiah.”  Once he was gone, Josiah slid his right arm into the sleeve of his coat and draped it carefully over his left shoulder since his arm was bound in a sling.  He left a coin on the table to pay Inez and slowly left the saloon.  He didn’t know where he was going, but he soon found himself standing in front of the jail.  He sighed and went inside.

Chris looked up from his seat behind the desk.  “Can I see the prisoner?” asked Josiah.  Chris smiled, stood, and walked out of the jail.

“Hey!” shouted Rockley.  “You can’t leave me alone with him!  That’s not legal!  I know my rights!”  His cries were ignored.

Josiah stepped up to the bars.  “What are you doing out of prison?” he asked coldly.

Rockley grinned, forgetting his fear as long as there were steel bars between the preacher and himself.  “I escaped three years ago.  Wasn’t a prison built that could hold one of the Rockley boys.  But then, you never gave Ed a chance, did you?”

“He didn’t deserve a chance, and neither did you.  Should’a killed you both.”

“Now what about all this love your fellow man stuff that you preach?”

“What man?  I see no man standing before me.  Only a coward who had to prey on women and children.”

“You kill me, there’ll still be people comin’ after that money on your head.”

“Who took out that contract?”

“You don’t remember, huh?”  Rockley smiled.  “What if I reminded you of a bank robbery in San Francisco.  You killed Frank Gilmer.”

“So?”

“So his family was pretty powerful.  They didn’t like their boy getting killed, even if he was breakin’ the law at the time.”

“But I killed your brother.  Why didn’t you come after me three years ago?  Before the contract even came out?”  Rockley was silent.  “That’s what I thought.”

They heard footsteps outside the door and a moment later; Nathan was inside the jail.  “Josiah!” he said.  “What are you doin’ out of bed.  Get yourself back home.”  Josiah offered no excuse.  He only turned to follow the healer out the door.

“That’s right, you let that nigger boss you around,” said Rockley.  “This country’s been going to Hell ever since ol’ Quantrill died.”  With blinding speed, Josiah grabbed Nathan’s Remington from its holster, spun, and fired once.  The bullet caught Rockley in the leg and he fell to the floor.  Nathan grabbed Josiah’s arm, sending the next shot into the wall.  By that time, Chris and JD had come running.  The three were able to easily overpower the still-weak man and take the gun from him.

Josiah stared steadily at Rockley, trying to control his raging temper.  “If you ever talk about my friend that way again, you should be prepared to meet your maker.  ‘Cause it won’t just be your leg.”

Without a second look at the prisoner, JD and Nathan gently steered Josiah out of the jail.  Chris tossed Rockley a handkerchief.  “Here,” he said.  “Use that to fix your leg.”

“Don’t I get to see a doctor?”

“That’s more of a chance than you gave Josiah.  Besides,” Chris grinned.  “Our doctor’s a nigger.  Can’t have him workin’ on a good southern boy like you.  Wouldn’t seem right.”

Rockley had no response.  He simply set his jaw and sat on the cot in bitter silence.

Nathan had Josiah sitting on the cot in the back room of the church so he could change the dressing on the wound.  “What happened back there?”

“What do you mean?” Josiah shot him a hard look.

“I never seen you up an’ shoot a man like that before.  Why?”

“You heard what he said.”

“Yeah, but that ain’t why you shot him.  It was just the last straw on something.”

“He insulted you.  I didn’t like it.  That’s all.  Now drop it.”

Nathan said nothing as he continued his work, but he cast a glance at JD who stood in the doorway behind Josiah.  The Kid only shrugged.  Josiah’s actions had him just as puzzled.

“What did you do to him?” asked Chris glaring at Rockley.

“What do you mean?  I’m the one who’s shot.”

“I ain’t forgettin’ that, but Josiah don’t usually go around shooting everyone who runs on at the mouth.  He has more control of his temper than that.  One of you ain’t sayin’ something.”

“I don’t know what the hell set him off.  But just between you an’ me, I think your preacher friend’s been talkin’ to his spirits a little too long.”

Chris ignored him and went outside to sit on the porch.  He hadn’t known Josiah long, but he had always assumed the preacher had quite a temper.  But he had always seemed to have a tight rein on his anger and often proved to be the voice of reason in the most stressful times.  The only time he had truly seen him angry was during the incident with Poplar.  But even then, he hadn’t tried to kill the Pinkerton agent.

He thought back to what they did know.  A wealthy family who didn’t want to believe that their son had died a criminal had put out the contract on Josiah.  That would be easy enough to deal with later.  And Rockley?  He and his brother had gone around killing northern sympathizers before the War broke out.  But they had progressed, or digressed, rather, to killing entire families for the fun of it.  Josiah was hunting bounties at the time and had gone after the Rockley brothers.  He had killed Ed and sent John to prison.  John had broken out three years ago, but was not mad, or brave, enough to want to avenge his brother’s death until the contract had made Josiah’s life worth $1000.

Getting shot was not what had made Josiah pull Nathan’s revolver.  Indeed, the preacher had been ready for his own death since he had seen the crows and agreed to ride to the Seminole village.  There was something behind Josiah’s anger that he wasn’t admitting to and Rockley was too stupid to remember or didn’t even realize…

Chris spotted Buck walking down the opposite side of the street and waved him over.  He waited until Buck sat down beside him.  “You were the first one to talk to Josiah when he woke up.  Did he say anything unusual when he told you about Rockley?”

Buck was silent for a moment as he thought back.  “Not what he said so much, but how he said it.  When he told me about the Rockley boys killin’ families…I’ve only seen that sort of anger in one other man.”  Chris kept his eyes straight ahead.  He knew exactly who Buck was referring to.  “I heard about the dust-up Josiah caused earlier.  You think that could be what caused it?”

Chris nodded.  “Very possible.  You mind watching him for a minute?” he asked, motioning inside the jail.

“Not a problem.”

In the church, Nathan was just finishing wrapping Josiah’s bandage.  The healer caught the look in Chris’ eye and left as soon as he was done.  Josiah looked up, his blue eyes colder than Chris had ever seen.  It almost scared him.  “You going to ask me why, too?”

“No.  I think I know why.  What I want to ask is, ‘Who?’”

“You wouldn’t understand,” he said softly.

“Try me,” came the reply.

Josiah looked up.  For a moment, he had forgotten what Chris had been through.  “I’m sorry, Chris.”

“Don’t be.”

“A friend.  She may as well have been my sister we were that close.  Understood me better than anyone else.  She got married to a nice man.  They had a small ranch in the New Mexico Territory.  I’d stop in to visit when I could.  We always kept in touch.  The Rockleys hit three ranches in the area.  They killed Emily and Ron and the two other families.  None of them had a chance.  I had only been on the trail of John and Ed.  Got there the next morning and found them.  House after house.  One of the neighbors had been expecting another child.”

Neither said anything for a while.  It was Josiah who finally broke the silence when he spoke again.  “I only wish that Rockley had given me reason to kill him then.  He’s the only person I’ve ever wished death upon…Until I met you.  Now there’s two.”

Chris was silent.  He knew all too well how Josiah felt.  “Well,” he said finally.  “We’ve got him now.  He’ll never do it again.  And I have a feeling that Judge Travis will throw a little necktie party.  Don’t think he’ll look too favorably on escaped felons who drygulch his peacekeepers.”

Judge Travis was not due back in Four Corners for another week.  During that time, one of the seven stayed in the jail with Rockley.  Josiah was feeling bored with no official duties, so he finally volunteered for guard duty.  The others reluctantly agreed, none willing to be the one who told him no.

His gun arm still hung uselessly in a sling, but unlike many men he was nearly as skilled with his other hand.  He was not necessarily a fast draw, but his aim was deadly accurate.  He knew the value of one well-placed bullet over six fast, careless shots.  He kept his revolver on the desk within easy reach beside his Winchester.  Years ago, in his less reputable days, he had taught himself to cock a rifle one-handed.

Thus he sat, his feet propped up on the desk, and his right arm folded peacefully over his left, which rested in the sling.  From his seat, he could see equally well the door of the jail and the cell in the rear, yet the whole of his attention was focused on the prisoner with such a quiet intensity that the man behind the bars began to squirm uncertainly under his gaze.  The sun was getting low in the western sky when JD brought a tray of food for Rockley.  “I’ll be in to relieve you as soon as I eat,” said the sheriff.

“Thank you, Brother,” said Josiah as he picked up the keys to the cell.  Balancing the tray in his right hand, he painfully unlocked the cell with his other.

“Oh,” said JD suddenly remembering something.  Josiah looked up, his attention on JD.  Rockley took advantage of the moment and pushed the cell door open, slamming the Josiah hard in his wounded shoulder.  The preacher stumbled back, dropping the tray.  Rockley dashed past him, grabbing the carbine from the desk as he passed.  He swung the gun, catching JD in the stomach with the stock and sending him to the floor, gasping for air.

Josiah quickly pulled himself to his feet.  Ignoring the pain in his shoulder, he grabbed his pistol and dashed through the door, careful not to step on JD as he went.  Rockley was further up the street, swinging aboard a horse that had been standing outside the mercantile.  He swung the horse back in the direction he had come.  As he drew closer, he brought the Winchester up and leveled it at Josiah.

The preacher stood on the jail porch, waiting.  He brought the Schofield up in his good arm, his left hanging uselessly at his side.  As the horse came up even with the jail, both guns boomed in unison.  When the dust and smoke cleared, a horse stood in the middle of the street, its saddle empty.  Josiah walked slowly into the street and picked up his carbine from the dead man’s hand, then went back to the jail to help JD.


 

Back to Dust Trails