DISCLAIMER: The following story is a work of fan fiction. It is not intended to infringe on the copyrights held by John Watson, Trilogy Entertainment, MGM, or any other powers that be. The characters, concept, and setting are not the property of the various authors involved in this story, but the authors do retain any rights to the story itself. Please don't reproduce in any way or sue without permission from the authors.
 
 

Blood Brothers, pt. 1


by the Inkslingers

Josiah Sanchez twisted the shot glass between his thumb and forefinger, reflecting on the ephemeral quality of patience.

"Inez, darlin´, could you come over here for a minute?" Buck Wilmington bellowed across the bare couple of feet to the bar. He flashed a twinkling grin at the fiery saloon keeper when she glanced up at him. As Inez sighed and finished setting out glasses and a bottle of tequila for a pair of grimy-looking vaqueros, Buck turned back to his friend JD Dunne, cheerfully ignored the storm brewing in the younger man´s eyes, and thundered on.

"Y´just gotta learn to look ‘em in the eye and let ‘em feel your undyin´ adoration, son." Buck quirked his eyebrows and cast the approaching Inez a soft, simmering gaze. The woman rolled her eyes, but continued gamely toward the table.

Josiah sighed and threw down his cards. Buck was on a mission tonight, and the best damn hand the ex-preacher had had in nearly a month wasn´t going to head off this sermon on love. He poured himself another shot of Red Eye, and sat back to watch.

"Can I get you a refill, Senor Buck?" Inez glared pointedly at the tall gunslinger.

"Actually," Buck stood and ducked his head intimately toward her, "I was hoping you would help me out with a little demostration. Y´see, JD here, well he´s wantin´ to steal his first little kiss from Casey -"

"Buck!" JD snapped, blushing clear down into the collar of his shirt.

"- and was asking me and Josiah what´s the best way to go about doin´ it. I thought, seein´ as how you and I, well, we´ve been nursin´ this -" Buck´s voice dipped coyly "- this undercurrent of mutal attraction, maybe we could show him how to do it right."

JD´s voice was muffled from behind his hands. "Dammit, Buck."

Ignoring JD´s distress and Josiah´s amusement, Inez planted the inevitable hand on her hip, and smiled sweetly.

"I think I need to teach you more Spanish, Senor. For example, ‘eras mas loco que una cabra.´ That means -"

Buck held up his hands, smiling serenly at Inez. "No translation necessary, darlin´, as long as we´re both speaking the language of love."

The Hispanic woman blinked once, with bleak astonishment; then, with a small grunt of disgust, she spun on her heels and stalked back to the bar.

Buck dropped dramatically into his chair, his hand clutched over his heart. "Ah, that woman is like lightnin´ in a bottle." He grinned and slapped the table. "JD, what you just saw was a man moldin´ a woman to his will. It won´t be long now til my animal magnetism sucks her in completely, you just wait and see."

Buck´s grin faltered a bit when he realized that the brown eyes gazing at him weren´t quite as amused as he was. A moment passed, but JD just continued to stare silently at him.

"Well, what the hell´s wrong, JD? I´m just tryin´ to help."

"No you ain´t, Buck," the young man said evenly; then a touch of anger lit his voice. "Dammit, you never take me seriously. It´s all just a big joke to you!"

JD stood quickly, kicking his chair back and snatching up his hat. He grumbled a goodnight to Josiah, stormed away from the table, threading his way between the tables and out of the saloon. Buck looked at Josiah speechlessly. Finally he shook his head, drained his glass, and sprinted after the kid.

Josiah sighed. If a man didn´t know better, he´d think for certain those two were brothers, the way they kept at each other. Leastwise that man wouldn´t be too far off; Buck and JD were brothers of the soul, if nothing else. The ex-preacher glanced at his pocket watch; he figured them for about five minutes before they came back in, anger forgotten. But just in case.... Josiah leaned across the table and turned over their cards. Swearing, he thumped them face down again. They sure as hell better come back in, and finish the damn game.

With every quiet, starlit moment, Ezra Standish grew more concerned that his back was becoming fused with the livery´s door frame. He had no idea how long he´d been standing there, slowly and methodically draining his flask of the heady, smooth brandy. Long enough for the elbow crooked awkwardly as he held his claret jacket draped over his shoulder to stiffen; long enough for the night breeze to pleasure every nerve under his skin beneath the day-worn linen shirt; long enough for the silver flask to take up a hollow sloshing.

As the gambler pushed away from the wooden frame, tucking the flask into a vest pocket in the same motion, the ground bucked gently, chidingly. Ezra flung out his arms to balance himself, his coat flapping and sweeping the ground. Not long enough, however, he conceded, for the brandy to settle through his body in a comfortable, yet manageable, buzz.

The gambler stood still for a moment, taking in a few long, deeps breaths. His head quickly began to clear, the warm, spring air working the same magic as it had during his and Nathan´s patrol. Only this time, Ezra mused sullenly as he tugged on his coat, the clarity was welcome. He straightened his black Stetson and lurched slowly toward the saloon.

It didn´t take long for his stride to even out; he took his time walking, but years of indulging in the best (and, at times, the worst) brandys, cognacs and whiskeys had left him with a knack for affecting a semblance of sobriety, regardless of how drunk he was. It wouldn´t do to have potential marks ruining a good game with infantile attempts to take advantage of his inebriation.

Speaking of which.... Ezra pulled out his pocket watch. Nearly 10:30. He picked up his pace slightly, hoping that the pair of land surveyors from Washington D.C. had turned up at the tables again tonight. They were skilled enough at poker to be a challenge, and wealthy enough to turn Ezra a decent profit while leaving them with plenty in their pockets to send them away pleased with themselves.

Still, if they weren´t there, hopefully Nathan would be. It would give Ezra a chance to take his revenge on the healer for an evening full of incessent chatter about Rain, his lady from the Seminole village. After the recent trial, Nathan had taken his father out to meet the vibrant young woman, and she had apparently won the old man over in an instant. No surprise there; Rain had a sincerity and energy that infused her naturally sweet face with a glowing beauty that had even taken Ezra in. He would never tell Nathan this, of course; the healer would undoubtably accuse the gambler of some foul intentions. Far be it for Ezra to exhibit genuine affection for a lady outside of some scheme to filch or demoralize.

Ezra wondered abruptly how Maude would react if he ever again found the woman of his dreams and proposed to wed. The one time he had fallen truly in love, the affair had never progressed to the point where Ezra felt secure enough to introduce her to his mother. In fact, Ezra had the uncomfortable feeling that he would never desire the woman of his dreams to meet his dear mother. The two would have absolutely nothing in common. Yet, besides his mother, to whom else could he show off this hypothetical jewel of a lady?

Noise and the rich odor of tobacco and liquor drifted down the boardwalk as Ezra approached the saloon. He noted the two Mexicans across the street, one decked out similarly to that infernal Spanish peacock, Don Paulo, whom Buck Wilmington had rather messily dispatched several weeks ago. He caught them gazing at him, and he touched his hat brim as he paused at the entrance to the saloon.

His tired green eyes searched the smoky interior. He didn´t see the two surveyors, but he picked out Inez behind the bar, and Buck, Josiah and JD at a table nearby. JD looked exasperated as Buck laughed and gestured broadly; Josiah sat with a handful of cards held wistfully in one hand. Suddenly, the brandy felt heavy in Ezra´s blood. The comradeship of his brothers in arms seemed at that moment as much a burden as the dark night laying disconsolately over the town.

The gambler backed away from the bright doorway and turned, stepping out into the street. He stumbled a little as he made his way to his room at the hotel, his head filling with weariness and the billowing fog of intoxication. The sudden, single-minded desire for his quiet room and it´s huge, feather-cushioned bed eased over his awareness, until he barely felt the packed dirt beneath his feet, much less the pair of hate-filled, dark eyes watching him from across the street.

Chris Larabee knelt beside the man with whom he had formed an unlikely alliance.

"How bad are you hurt?" the gunslinger asked. Raphael Martinez chuckled and groaned at the same time.

"I have been . . . hurt . . . worse, compadre." The Latino man's smile turned into a grimace and he closed his eyes tightly. "Although, I cannot remember when . . ."

Chris looked up at Raphael's friends--the older man and the boy--and back to the wounded man. "Let us take you to Four Corners. Nathan can see to . . . ."

"NO!" Raphael grabbed Chris' forearm and forced his dark eyes open again. "That is why I sent the lad to find you. Don Paulo's men are going to your town to seek revenge. They will kill your friend, senor."

Chris cut his eyes to Vin, but Raphael commanded his attention again. "They will hurt him first."

"Like they hurt you for helping us." Chris kept a cool control over his anger.

"What he was going to do was wrong. I would have done the same for any man." Raphael took a long drink from a silver flask and lay his head back. The old Latino man reprimanded the wounded man in Spanish, bringing a smile to Raphael's lips. Clearly, Raphael didn't want to worry the man. Chris and Vin both understood that he hurt worse than he was letting on.

"Vin, get Nathan and tell Buck what's going on. Don't let anyone see you leave--keep it casual."

"Go with him." Raphael acknowledged his young friend and the man tending him. "I will be well taken care of. Your compadre can bring the help back, but you need to stay in town and protect your men."

Chris paused a moment, then nodded. His new friend was right. As Chris mounted up, Vin handed the old man every weapon he could spare. Chris did the same.

"Mind if I show the kid where to stay on lookout?" Vin asked. Raphael smiled. "Thank you. He will do a good job of it."

The boy--Jimmy was it?--looked with concern at the wounded man. He obviously admired him. "Gracias . . ." he said with uncertainty. Vin reached down and helped the teen swing up onto the back of his horse.

And as they rode off, they couldn't hear the blessing that followed them.

"Vaya con Dios . . ."

"Aw . . . come on, JD, it was just a little joke!"

Laughing so hard he was choking on his drink, Buck couldn't figure out what the problem was. He started to hook a lazy arm around the kid's neck, but JD pulled away and took a couple of steps back. Buck started to chase after him a second time that night, but he had to sit back down quickly. How had he gotten drunk so fast?

JD wasn't yelling at him. His eyes weren't blazing fury at him. He just looked at him a moment, hurt. Then he turned and walked away.

"Aw, come on, kid." Buck looked around the saloon trying to garner support from his friends. "What? What did I say?"

Josiah stood up. "You know Buck," he said. "Sometimes you can be a real pr*ck."

JD didn't want to see his friends. He surely didn't want to see Inez. How was it that Buck, with all he knew about women, didn't know that there were some things you just didn't talk about in front of them? He didn't even want the other guys to know that he was . . . well, inexperienced. That was something he had told Buck privately when they were on the trail. He figured that Buck already knew that he hadn't had a whole gaggle of women. But JD had confessed, in a moment of weakness, that he hadn't had any.

JD didn't like to be teased about kissing and girls and stuff. Tease him about other things. And even when Buck teased him about girls, he could shake it off. He knew Buck wouldn't do something on purpose to really hurt his feelings.

But Buck had gotten drunk. A man could say lots of things when he was drunk. Why did he have to blurt out his secret like it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard? JD pulled his lips together tightly. He was so mad. He felt so betrayed. Could he ever forgive Buck? Could he ever trust him? A sly grin crossed JD's face. Yea-he could forgive him.

But first he would make him pay.

The sun screamed into Buck Wilmington's room. Even before he opened his eyes, it hurt them. The brightness of the room would cause his throbbing headache to render him . . . dead. Well, maybe not dead, but he would wish he were dead.

Shit. What had happened last night? Obviously he'd gotten stupidly drunk. In front of Inez, no doubt. And what had he said to the kid to get him so all-fired mad? Buck squeezed his eyes very tightly so the brightness wouldn't overwhelm him. He'd have to go make things right with JD.

If he could only remember what he'd said.

Damn it!

Slowly, achingly, he sat up. Ok, he could do this. He opened his eyes.

And immediately forgot about his headache.

For a moment, he didn't believe what he saw. Then he questioned how it got into his room. But the implication was clear. Buck stood up.

"Sweet Jesus . . . " he said, and he knelt beside the epee . . . the one he had used to kill Don Paulo with. The one which was running through a ripped and tattered shirt of JD's.

Buck was frozen, staring at the weapon. The epee had been plunged through the shirt and into the wood of the floor, leaving it standing straight up into the air.

Buck reached hesitantly for the epee´s grip. The long, narrow blade wavered from the gentle force of his touch. He grasped it suddenly and pulled. It didn´t move, it was too firmly imbedded in the floor.

A shudder ran through Buck´s stomach, a combination of too much liquor and growing dread. Not only had someone been in his room last night, he´d been so stinking drunk he hadn´t been awakened by the noise it must have made to jam the blade so securely into the floor. And how the hell had they gotten JD´s shirt? It was the one the kid had been wearing last night....

He wrapped both hands around the grip again, twisting, trying to loosen the floor´s hold on the blade. Still no give; but as the tip of the blade shifted within the wood, a rich, dark stain appeared where the blade pierced the shirt, soaking the fabric. Buck lunged backwards, his tailbone impacting solidly with the floor as he landed with his back pressed up against the bed. For god´s sake - blood! What the hell was going on?

The gunslinger´s heart began to thunder in his chest, growing louder as the crimson pool widened. His head throbbed with confusion and with the pounding of his blood through his veins. It was too much; he threw his hands up, clutching his head as a terrible crash tried to split it apart -

"Goddamn son of a -" Buck flew upright in bed. The pounding on his door stopped, and he heard Chris call his name. Buck swore again, more softly this time, minding the hammering in his head. He blinked in the darkness of the room, winced as Chris called again, louder, and thumped once more on the door.

"I´m comin´, dammit, quit your pounding." He swung his legs slowly over the side of the bed and lurched to the door. Squinting his dry, aching eyes, he cracked the door and whispered, "There better be a damn good reason for you takin´ a sledgehammer to my door at this time ‘a night, Chris Larabee."

"You got trouble, Buck," Chris said in a low voice. "A buddy of Don Paulo´s comin´ into town to take revenge for you killin´ him."

The taller gunslinger groaned, and flinched as the sound assaulted his ears. "That´s just fine, just wonderful. Well, the way I feel now, he can have me, long as he makes it quick." He sighed, and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. "This buddy of the Don´s in town yet?"

Chris glanced down the porch which fronted the boarding house´s second story, and gave a quick shake of his head. "Don´t know. You seen any strange Mexicans lately?"

"Nah." Something tugged at Buck´s whiskey-sodden mind, and he asked suddenly, "Chris, you know where JD is?"

Beneath the brim of his black hat, and in the midnight, Larabee´s eyes were shadowed as he waited for an explanation for the strange urgency in his friend´s voice. He didn´t get one, so he said, "Probably sleeping. Get dressed and we´ll find him. I want to get everybody together anyway, let ‘em know what´s coming."

Don Miguel wouldn´t allow Pedro to start a fire, on the chance that some passerby might see it and become curious. He could hear his servant jumping at every strange sound that sprung up in the desert night, and he smiled beneath the hat perched cozily over his face. The little man was a cringing, pathetic dog, but at least Pedro was frightened enough not to fall asleep on his watch.

Miguel shifted his long, lanky body on the coarse woolen blanket spread out beneath him on the ground. He would have liked to stay at the hotel, in one of the fine suites as befit a man of his standing, but he wished to keep his presence a secret until he was ready to strike. So far only one man had seen him, that drunken gambler who dressed like a fancy soldier in his red coat. Miguel still wasn´t sure how the man had noticed him from across the street, but it didn´t matter. By the time the gambler was puking the liquor out of his guts tomorrow morning, Miguel´s plan would be in motion, and it wouldn´t matter who knew he was in town.

The distant approach of galloping horses wafted over their shelter of rocks, and he heard Pedro creep quickly toward the road, hiding there behind a broad, squat pinon bush. After the riders passed, the servant came scrabbling breathlessly back to their camp.

"Senor! Wake up!"

Miguel sat up quickly, knocking his hat from his face. Seeing the worry in Pedro´s wide eyes even through the darkness, he hissed,

"What is it?"

"Those riders, senor, I recognized one of them." The little man paused, trying to catch his breath, swallowing convulsively. He squeaked wordlessly as the Don lashed out and grabbed him by the front of his shirt.

"Who? Speak!"

"It was Jimmy Ordaz, Martinez´ half-breed cousin."

Miguel released the servant´s shirt, his eyes narrowing as he considered the implications of this news. Could Raphael have survived? He had left that traitorous ‘cabron´ drowning in his own blood, there was no way he could still be alive. Perhaps he had lived long enough to tell Jimmy of Miguel´s plans, and Jimmy had come to warn Wilmingon. Miguel gritted his teeth; he couldn´t let the gringos prepare, he would have to strike tonight.

"Get the horses, we´re going back to the town. When we get there, you follow them, find out what Jimmy tells them. I -" Miguel snatched up his hat and stood, uncoiling with a slow, angry grace. "I will begin my revenge."

"Where the hell is that boy?"

Chris ignored the thump, followed by a pained curse, as Buck took his frustration out on the stall door. JD´s horse tossed it´s head back, eyeing the tall gunslinger irritably, before snorting and sinking it´s muzzle back into it´s feed bag. They had checked JD´s room, checked the jail, and now the livery, but found no sign of the young man. Chris was getting a little concerned; JD had a knack for getting in the way of danger. He had half a mind to call in Vin and Jimmy from their patrols to help look, but he didn´t want to take the chance that Miguel could slip into town tonight.

They left the livery, keeping an eye on the alleyways and shadows as they headed down the middle of the street. A light was still burning in the saloon, even though by this time all the patrons would have left.

"Buck, we need to warn Inez." Chris kept his voice low. "This Don Miguel has to know why you and Paulo had that duel, he may blame her for Paulo´s death, too. Get her, take her to the church and have Josiah look after her." He waited until Buck nodded once, stiffly; he could tell that his friend wanted nothing more to stand in the streets bellowing JD´s name until the kid showed himself safe, but Inez needed protection. "Then meet me at the hotel. I´m going to get Ezra, and we´ll keep lookin´ for JD. "

As they passed the saloon, Buck veered off and slammed through the batwing doors. Chris continued toward the hotel, hopping up onto the boardwalk as he went. He slowed as he approached the alley beside the saloon; his hand drifted automatically to his gun as he paused, moving to peer around the building into the darkness. A shout from the saloon startled him.

"JD! Damn kid, where have you been? Chris and me been looking all over for you!"

Chris glanced over his shoulder, grinning briefly at the sound. Good, Buck had found JD; now Chris´d get Ezra and meet the rest of them at the church. He turned again toward the alley, heard the soft scuff of boots and a grunt as something slammed into his face, and saw only eyes, black like a cat´s in darkness, as he collapsed to the ground.

Buck almost sighed out loud with relief as he looked across the smoky saloon and saw the back of JD´s familiar black-haired head, seated at the corner table with Vin.

“JD! Damn kid, Where you been?” Buck shouted as he swung himself over to the table. “Chris and me been looking all over for you.” This is good, Buck thought as the words left his lips and he took a quick mental check: JD was OK, Chris was getting Ezra, they´d find Inez and hopefully put an end to this Don Miguel´s ridiculous revenge idea right quick. Buck loved it when a plan came together.

And it did, perfectly, until Buck reached the table and JD turned at the sound of his loud boots.

Only when the kid turned around, Buck saw at once that it wasn´t JD at all.

“What the - “ Buck stopped in his tracks. The boy staring curiously up at him looked kind of like JD from the back, but it was a pair of olive eyes that challenged him, set into a defiant, grimy tanned face.

“Who´re you?” The kid asked, and not in a friendly way.

Buck stuck out his jaw and put his hands on his hips. “Well, how about I ask you the same question, junior?”

“Easy, Buck,” Vin said laconically from the other side of the table, leaning forward and putting his large hand around his beer glass. “This here´s Jimmy, he helped us find Raphael Martinez in the desert.” Buck blinked at his friend; this evening was very quickly not making any sense at all. “Huh?”

Jimmy´s eyes quickly scanned Buck up and down; then he turned to Vin and said, “You mean he´s one of you?”

Buck caught the sarcastic tone and came right back with, “You got a problem with that?”

Jimmy peered at Buck closer, and a smile crossed his angular face. “I remember now. Raphael told us about you. The big-shot lover who didn´t know his way with a sword.” Buck frowned, his eyes narrowing. “I knew my way well enough, son, now you just - “

Vin stood up quickly, sighing hugely. “Where´s Chris?”

“Hm?” Buck shook his head a bit, threw Jimmy an irritated glare. “He went to get Ezra. He wants us to find Inez, keep an eye on her till this whole thing is settled.”

Vin sighed again and sat down. “Great.”

Buck noticed Vin´s agitation, tensed at it and asked, “What? She´s missing too?”

Vin pursed his lips, fingered a small slip of paper lying on the table in front of him. “And you didn´t find JD either.”

“Well, I thought I did!” Buck shot back defensively. “Anyway, he´s around here somewhere! Leastways he was in this very saloon not three hours ago!”

Jimmy grimaced and put his hand over his ear. “Is this guy always so loud?”

“Now you just put a sock in it, junior!” Buck stormed, pointing a finger at this kid that he did not like, no sir not at all. He took off his hat, crumpled it in his hands, put it back on again. “I´m gonna go check the kid´s room again. Could be he turned in.”

Vin shook his head slowly. “Don´t think so.” Buck stared at Vin. “Why not?”

Vin sighed again, gave Buck a tired look. “You hurt his feelings, Buck. Blurtin´ out that he was -“ Vin´s eyes shot to Jimmy, and he paused. “Blurtin´ out something like that can make a man mighty angry. And people heard it too. I reckon JD found himself a place to hide a while, till he can figure out how to get his pride back.”

“Oh, now - “ Buck blustered, smashing the hat in his hands as he began to pace. He barely remembered being drunk, could hardly recall what he said...well, wait a minute, maybe he could. Buck slowed down a step. Now what was it? JD was asking about Casey, Buck was telling him about being a man and what a woman wants from a man, and that if it was JD´s inexperience that he was worried about, then Buck knew some women who -- Oh, wait. Back up.

Inexperience. Buck remembered saying that, and then seeing JD´s eyes get hotter and his face get redder than Buck had ever seen it.

Inexperience. But Buck hadn´t used that word, had he. No, he´d said -

Oooo.

Well, no. No, Buck wouldn´t say that, not in a room full of people, hell, he knew how sensitive JD was about that. No, he hadn´t said that.

But with a sickening wrench in his gut, Buck realized that he had said that, had been drunk and rowdy and crowing about his own prowess and in his own headstrong rush to show off his worldliness had put the kid to absolute shame.

Aw, hell.

Buck realized that Vin and Jimmy were both staring at him, cleared his throat and hoped he didn´t look as awful as he suddenly felt. “Now, um, I guess I was a bit hard on the boy, but - but I´m sure he didn´t wander too far. Um - “ He gestured halfheartedly at the note, wishing his head would stop pounding. “What´s that?”

Vin eyed Buck a little angrily, pushed the note toward Jimmy. As the boy picked it up Vin said quietly, “You got a lot of makin´ up to do, Bucklin. And not just with JD either. You like to show off, and sometimes it´s fun and sometimes people can get hurt. And when they get hurt, they can do some - ”

Buck glared at his friend and growled, “Can we save the Sunday School for later? What in tarnation does that note say?”

Jimmy looked up at Buck, his dark eyes shining, and blurted out, “It says that JD and your barmaid Inez have run off together!”

The saloon kitchen was dark, which was perfect because otherwise the knothole JD was looking through would have been visible from the saloon, and he sure didn´t want that.

He was having too much fun.

The youth stifled a laugh as he peered into the tiny hole, and watched Buck and Vin talking at the table that was on the other side of the bar. Only the top of Vin´s head was visible, and some other guy JD didn´t recognize. But that was okay, because the only person he really wanted to see was Buck.

And he was seeing Buck. And boy, did Buck look mad!

“What´s going on?”

JD heard Inez´ whisper behind him as he tried not to laugh out loud. If his friends found him back here, he was finished. He turned his head a little and whispered back, “Buck just found the note.”

Inez giggled behind him, tapped his shoulder. “I want to see.”

JD scooted a little out of the way, so Inez could work her way into the cramped space that was usually used to store crates of liquor. She put her eye to the small hole and bit her lip so she didn´t laugh too loud.

“Oh, he looks upset.” She said happily.

JD paused, looked at Inez with a little disbelief. “You don´t think he really believes it?”

Inez turned her head to him, her long hair falling over one shoulder as she did so. “Why wouldn´t he? That note makes it very clear how tired I am of his arrogance and how forward he is. Tonight was just the last straw.”

JD gulped, looked down. When would the memory of what happened tonight stop making him want to throw up? “Buck´s okay, he was just - he just - “

There was a hand on his arm, and JD looked up to see Inez´ large, earnest eyes gazing at him. “JD, I know he is your friend. But he´s not perfect, and you don´t have to defend him when he´s hurt you.”

JD didn´t know how to answer that, wished the whole evening would just go away. Finally he shrugged.

Inez smiled at him. “Besides, leaving him the note and hiding was your idea, wasn´t it?”

JD let a grin go across his face, then glanced at the hole, “What´s he doing now?”

“Um - “ Inez peered through the knothole again. “He´s pacing back and forth, waving the note around. The boy sitting at the table is saying something.”

JD furrowed his brow. “Who is that kid, anyway? What´s he doing hanging around Vin?”

Inez looked at him. “Want to go ask?”

“Oh, no!” JD said proudly, “I don´t want to be seen until Buck´s had a good long taste of the kind of teasing he´s made me put up with all this time.” He glanced around the darkened kitchen, then stepped away from the knothole and straightened his jacket as he tiptoed to the back door, that led out to the alleyway. Working the door silently open, he looked at Inez and whispered, “Come on, let´s clear out before they come back here looking for us.”

Inez gave one last indulgent look through the peephole, then scurried over to where JD held the door open. She paused there, and said, “JD?”

JD blinked, looked at her. “Yes, ma´am?”

She smiled a little, put her hand on his arm. “I am as much an expert as Mr. Wilmington, and for whatever my opinion is worth - when the time is right, you will find that it is worth it to wait.”

JD blushed; it had embarrassed him to death to know that Inez was aware of his horrible secret, but until this moment she hadn´t said anything about it, not when he came to her with his idea for revenge, not while they were writing the note, not even while they were hiding in the kitchen waiting for someone to find it. He was mortified that she knew, thought she must think him a complete loser, but - but it sure didn´t sound that way, did it? Strange.

And kind of nice, too.

He smiled back at her, patted her hand, was glad Casey wasn´t there or she´d have killed him for sure. “Thanks, Inez.” She nodded a little, and they slipped out into the alley.

The alley was dark, and JD looked both ways as he and Inez stepped out into the warm spring night. The alley was deserted.

He started to chuckle to himself again,thinking of Buck´s face, and how mad he looked. Served him right. Served him -JD stopped. Inez was right behind him, and bumped into him, but before she could ask, he shushed her and quietly drew his gun. They were at the corner of the alley, where the side of the saloon formed a walkway to the street, and he´d just glanced around the corner and saw someone lying in the dirt, out cold it looked like. Robbers, probably, but...

He peeked around the corner again, felt his breath catch.

Was that Chris? As quickly as JD turned to tell Inez to go back into the bar, two things happened at once, and very fast:

A short man had appeared out of nowhere, and had caught Inez´ hands behind her back with one hand, and covered her mouth with the other. And something whipped around his neck, and jerked him backwards onto the hard pavement.

JD gasped, but before he could fire his gun it was snatched away from him, and suddenly a tall man with black hair and eyes like a cat was standing over him, with his boot on JD´s chest and holding the other end of a small whip in his hand. JD tried to cry out, but the whip at his throat was strangling him; he couldn´t make a sound.

The man smiled at him, a smile that made JD´s blood run cold.

“Perfect,” he purred, and with one motion took his foot off JD´s chest, yanked on the end of the whip and pulled the youth to his feet. JD´s arms were lurched behind his back and tied with the rest of the whip.

JD struggled against the tight coils, could feel himself passing out. He glanced to the alley, where Chris was, but the gunslinger wasn´t moving. Oh God - was he dead?

The tall man grabbed JD by the collar, turned to where Inez was struggling in the smaller man´s grip. JD saw some fear there, but more anger, and - recognition? Did she know this man? But thinking was becoming very hard -

“Ah, Inez,” JD heard the tall man purr, and saw Inez turn white. “You helped him kill Don Paulo, didn´t you? And now this is your punishment. You - “ He rattled JD in his grip, and JD felt himself began to slip into unconsciousness. “You get to tell this puppy´s friends they´ll never see him again. You - “ Another rattle, slipping further. “Get to live with being the last person to see him alive. And you - “ Once more, almost gone, “Have the honor of knowing at least a little of my plan for revenge on Wilmington and his murdering friends.”

JD found he couldn´t breathe anymore, and passed out.

Part Two