by Enola Jones

The trial had degenerated into a shouting match. Even Vin was shouting to make himself heard.

Chris held his nose in a 'give-me-strength' gesture and let out a heavy sigh. It had seemed impossible -- then it had seemed so easy. Now it was leaning toward impossible again.

JD had stayed in Four Corners to resume sheriff's duties while the others were gone. Buck had stayed with him, and the other four had accompanied Vin to Tascosa.

It had been three years since Eli Joe had framed him, and it had been eating at his soul. But with Eli Joe dead, how could they clear Vin's name?

Once they'd arrived, clearing his name had suddenly become easy -- they had tracked down an alibi for Vin. Rock-solid, iron-clad proof that Vin was nowhere near that field when the farmer was murdered. There was just one small problem.

Vin refused to let her testify.

Which brought them to this courthouse shouting match. Josiah was Vin's ersatz lawyer, Nathan had been used by both sides for medical opinions, and Ezra --- Ezra had vanished moments after the screaming match had begun.

The cause of the vitriol? A plain woman, tall and too thin, had walked into the courthouse and said she was going to testify. Everyone in town knew Widow Bayler -- she was as truthful and upright as they came.

"No!" Vin had cried, shooting to his feet. "No, you're not!"

"You sit down, Vin Tanner," she'd said warmly. "It's the only way."

"NO!" He'd protested almost desperately. "No, Julia---"

His use of her first name had caused the courtroom eruption. Chris shook himself out of his thoughts and tried to get Vin to sit back down.

"I will not have her tarnish her name!" Vin snarled at him. "Not for me!"

Julia Bayler ignored the shouting and told the presiding judge to swear her in. He called the courtroom to order and did so. She looked over the men and without waiting to be questioned, began to speak.

"You all know I lost my Micah to a fever and my Dorcas came down with it as well. You all saw Dorcas and I come out of it hearty and whole. You all speculated we may have had help. Well, we did." Her eyes met Vin's. "Vin Tanner spent two entire weeks taking care of us. Oh, get that look off your face, Tanner! Fine, let me say this to ease your mind -- and I am under oath here, so this is the truth -- Vin Tanner was a perfect gentleman. Matter of fact, he slept under the stars. I kept asking him to sleep inside, but he kept refusing. Said he didn't want to appear to be takin' advantage of a lady. And he didn't."

There was a buzz that greeted this, that slowly began escalating into a second shouting match.

Suddenly, a piercing whistle cut the air. All motion stopped and all eyes turned to the doorway.

Ezra stood there, removing the fingers of one hand from his mouth. The other hand held tight to the hand of a small girl.

Before anyone could move or could speak, the child's eyes widened. "Angel!" she shrieked, ripping her hand from Ezra's and running right to Vin, throwing her small arms around him.

"But..." Julia whispered. "Nobody told her he was in town...did they?" she looked at Ezra, who shook his head.

"All I told her was her mother was inside," he said.

Julia nodded. "She would call him Angel after she recovered -- said he was an angel sent by God...."

The judge frowned. "Ma'am, that was four years ago... Dorcas couldn't have been more than two...." He looked at Ezra dubiously. "Beggin' your pardon , but that's a mite young ---"

"It is young," Nathan said. "But if'n a baby young as she is was bein' coached, she'd be checkin' back an' forth, makin' sure she was doin' it right. She ain't doin' that."

"He's right," Josiah said. "That little girl remembers Vin. No doubt about it."

Half an hour later, the judge rendered his verdict.


Buck and JD watched the horses getting closer. They recognised four of them immediately, but their jubilation was tempered by the fact a woman rode on the fifth horse. As they dismounted, Buck asked Chris, "Who's she? Where's Vin?"

Chris looked at him, then handed a 'WANTED' poster to JD, who unrolled it to find Vin's face -- one word in black letters emblazoned across it.

"Chris...." he whispered, causing Buck to go ash-pale.

"Aw, no... Slick ain't...."

A sharp whistle cut the air. Peso became visible trotting into town, two riders on his back. "Vin comin' in!" the tall rider called, his arms held loosely around the child in front of him.

Buck blinked, then looked into Chris's unrepentantly grinning face. "B-but.... gimme that!" He took the poster from a grinning JD's hands and threw it into the air, whooping in delight as he read the single word.


The celebration that followed was long, loud, jubilant and at times bawdy. Buck and Vin led Julia Bayler and Dorcas to Mary Travis's house before they rejoined the well-deserved celebration.

Vin's personal purgatory was finally over.


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