These past few years working as a peacekeeper in the small frontier town had given Vin more than just a place to lay his hat. He had found a group of men who were willing to watch his back, and one man in particular who would have put his own freedom on the line to save him from being wrongfully hanged. Or more likely, Chris would have been strung up alongside him. They had come a long way since that first meeting out on the main street, when they strode along side by side to put an end to the lawlessness in the town. Vin had trusted Chris from the start and he had surprised himself when he admitted to having a bounty on his head only days later. In return Chris had never let him down except for the one time. With his head turned by the prospect of regaining what he had lost to a terrible fire years earlier, Chris had been unwilling to listen to Vin's concerns over Ella Gaines.
Or so it had seemed at the time but, looking back Vin knew he had sowed the seeds of doubt in Chris's head, leading to a reveal of the full truth.
Chris was suffering now, and from more than just the gunshot wound at Ella's place. Vin had done his best but he hadn't been able to track down Ella Gaines. Likely she had stashed away enough to keep herself safe, using her charisma to charm her way into another wealthy household.
Vin cussed under his breath. Perhaps if he could read better then maybe he would be able to figure out where she'd gone to ground just from checking the obituaries in Ms. Travis's newspaper. He had a feeling Ella Gaines had a string of dead husbands behind her, reminding him of a widow spider. He was learning his words but at a frustratingly slow pace, taking advantage of anyone willing to sit with him and help him sound out the longer words once he had got over the embarrassment of admitting he could neither read nor write. Unlike the others of the Seven, Vin had not been given any schooling as a child. When his mother died of Putrid Fever he was only five years old and the illegitimate nature of his birth meant he had no blood family willing to take him in. While alive his mother had impressed upon him the importance of his family name and for what remained of his short childhood he had clung to her final words like a baby with a security blanket. They had comforted him while he was put to work with the other orphans, most like him born out of wedlock, expected to put in a day's toil for a small meal and a roof over his head.
He had hated it. He had hated the room filled with dozens of straw pallets, locked away all night in the stifling heat, hearing the sobs, and almost tasting the bitter, salty tears of other boys caught in the same poverty trap. When he was eight he ran away with just the clothes on his back and the meager rations he had kept under his pallet.
The Kiowa found him and though he was terrified of them at first they took him in without any questions, giving him food and shelter and the chance to learn how to survive in a hostile land. Vin guessed he could have stayed with them but his blue eyes and pale skin had set him apart, bringing fear and suspicion upon the tribe from nearby settlers. As tensions increased between the Settlers and the Kiowa, the preacher's wife became convinced Vin was a white captive, abducted as a child from some wagon train heading West. She seemed set on saving him yet she treated him like he was a savage rather than simply different. Rather than risk the Settlers bringing in the Cavalry, Vin decided to go back to live among them.
He never fitted in, eventually joining up with a group of buffalo hunters until there were barely any buffalo left to hunt. It was during this time when he discovered he was good with a rifle, a sharpshooter, priding himself on his accuracy over long distance.
He didn't feel quite so proud these days, not after missing Ella Gaines. He could have brought her down and given Chris the justice he deserved for the murder of his wife and child but it had been a tricky shot from a poor angle while kneeling over Chris's prone and bleeding body. Vin had been focused more on protecting his fallen friend so he had missed the shot, and yet Vin couldn't help but wonder if he would have hit her had she been a man.
He felt guilty returning to the town a week later without her corpse slung over his saddle but Vin knew Chris would appreciate the effort they had made on hsi behalf while he was holed up in Nathan's infirmary.
As Vin walked towards the boardwalk where Chris sat huddled in blankets to keep the chill off him, he saw Mary Travis heading over with a letter in her hand so he stopped and watched from a distance, having his suspicions. He saw Chris stiffen and strode on, needing to know what news had come but first he needed to apologize for letting her get away.
"Sorry, Chris." He and the others had searched for her without luck as far as Red Fork, four towns over. "You should have shot her while you had the chance," he admonished, though he was more angry at himself for not sparing Chris that task.
"Next time," Chris replied, and the coldness in his voice, in his expression, told Vin all he needed to know.
These past days had given Chris time to get over the shock of learning Ella's part in the deaths of his wife and little boy, burned alive in their home. All hesitation was gone now along with any lingering feelings for the insane woman. Although Chris knew Vin couldn't read too well, he thrust the letter into his hand. Vin recognized the faint perfume, reading the words slowly but not needing to see the signature to know it was from Ella Gaines.
"Damn, Cowboy. She's cracked."
Ezra had used a fancy word to describe her: delusional.
Vin ended up sitting on the edge of the boardwalk, staring across the dusty street where he and Chris had first caught sight of each other and, with just a glance and a nod, discovered they were on the same page. He let the companionable silence drift over him until a thud landed beside him. It was one of J.D.'s dime store novels.
"Figured you could read to me for a while, if you're up to it," Chris murmured.
Vin looked back up and smiled wryly, opening the cover to the first page.
"The...train...cra...crawled slowly over the land...," he began, and when he looked back at Chris some time later he sighed when he realized Chris had fallen asleep.
"I will find her for you, Chris. And I'll make sure she pays for what she did," he promised softly.
If the Kiowa, and later the Comanche had taught Vin anything in his years spent with them it was patience. He knew his and Chris's days in this town were numbered and he would ride out to help his friend track her down for as long as it took. Eventually they would find her, or if this perfumed letter was to be believed then maybe she would find Chris first. Whatever the case, the outcome would be the same. She had hurt his friend, the brother of his heart, and Vin would not miss a second time.