Disclaimer: Not mine. Never will be. No money being made.
The relentless heat and little rain had tempers running high through out the territory and the small town of Four Corners was no exception.
Chris wiped the sweat from his eyes and watched as Ezra returned from rounds. With a shake of his head Chris wondered how the man could stand wearing his vest and jacket. He knew Ezra was from the deep south where you could sometimes cut the humidity with a knife, but just looking at him made Chris feel even hotter. Hell even he had traded his usual black shirt for a gray one and had left his duster in his room. He had half a mind to rip the jacket off himself, but a the moment he lacked the energy.
Vin stepped out of the jailhouse and joined Chris on the boardwalk and squinted a look up and down the street. Swearing under his breath as he spotted Ezra, Vin felt an almost uncontrollable urge to rip that red jacket right off the man's back. With a shake of his head he took a step toward the man when a familiar voice stopped him.
"It's not worth it," Chris said. He'd seen the look on Vin's face as he spotted Ezra and could very easily read his mind. "It'll take to much energy and Ezra will only end up shooting you," he explained at the question in the younger man's blue eyes.
"Suppose you're right. But how the hell can he stand it," Vin wanted to know.
"Don't know. Let's go get a drink," Chris suggested and walked away with Vin following.
Ezra was hot, tired, and hungry when walked into the saloon. Not a good combination. After heading for his table he order some lunch. Settling back in the chair he tried to relax and not to notice that he was covered in three inches of dust. Mumbling a thank you he removed his hat and began to eat. A disturbance in the shadows caught his attention causing him to look up. Seeing that it was only Nathan and Josiah he returned to his meal.
"Ezra," Josiah said as him and Nathan sat down. The younger man nodded in greeting as he took a drink of water. "Run into any trouble?" he went on the ask.
"No. It's to hot out there," Ezra pointed out.
Nathan frowned at the dust Ezra had gotten everywhere. "Damn Ezra couldn't you have at least removed your jacket. Look at the dust you've gotten all over everything," the healer complained as he swept some off the table and unto the floor with his hand and then sat down.
"My apologies Mr. Jackson," Ezra said as he cut his steak.
"Well?" Nathan questioned as if waiting for something.
Ezra raised tired questioning eyes to him and inquired, "Well what?"
Swallowing some of his anger the healer replied, "Remove your jacket."
The southerner looked from brown eyes to the blue in confusion and asked, "Why?"
The heat had Nathan's temper nearly at the boiling point all week and this was just the release he needed as he allowed his temper flare and he snapped, "Because of the dust!"
"No," Ezra calmly said returning to his meal.
Josiah silently watched the battle of wills going on and wondered which of his friends would win. Ezra didn't look as if he was in the mood to let Nathan's self-righteous attitude just roll off his back this time. And Nathan seemed just as determined to have his way. "Nathan....." he began but was interrupted.
"Stop defending him Josiah!" Nathan demanded. Then looking at Ezra he warned, "Take the jacket off or........"
Josiah got to his feet at the looks in both Ezra and Nathan's eyes and made his way toward the other four members of their family who had just walked in. He had the feeling he might need some help. Josiah and the others had always wondered what would happen when Nathan managed pushed Ezra to far and now they were about to find out.
Ezra slowly laid first his fork and then his knife on the table on either side of plate and with hard green eyes looked over at Nathan and questioned, "Or you'll what? Take it off me?" He let the words hang in the air for a moment then continued, "Mr. Jackson I was at this table first and did not invite you to join me. So if you don't like the dust then move to another table." Then just for the hell of it Ezra patted the sleeves of his jacket and sent even more dust scattering never breaking eye contact with the healer, "Or you could try and make me."
The others tensed when they didn't hear Ezra using his usual big words or long sentences. They took a couple of collective steps closer as Nathan jumped to his feet, just in case they had to break up a fight.
Nathan jumped to his feet ready to accept the challenge. But as he got to his feet he found himself on the business end of Ezra's derringer and froze and in that instant silently wondered if he'd lost his mind. After all, it was just a little dust and not worth all this fuss and certainly not worth their already rocky friendship.
"I Wouldn't try it if I were you Mr. Jackson," Ezra too jumped to his feet and had his derringer in his hand before anyone could react. "I've had enough of you and your attitude of late. I know it's hot, but I refuse to be yours or anyone's whipping boy. I will not dance to anyone's tune but my own," having said that Ezra looked them each in the eye to make sure they understood him and with a nod he put his gun away and picked his chair up off the floor and sat back down.
Nathan took a few calming breaths before he too sat back down after righting his own chair.
The others cautiously made their way to the table. Chris sent Vin a look that said, I told you so, as they all sat down.
After finding out that Nathan was ok, Josiah went to lay a hand on Ezra's arm, but the younger man jerked away from him. Frowning he watched as Ezra pushed his now cold food around on his plate and refused to speak to anyone. He could only imagine what was going on in that stubborn head.
Ezra watched as each of them checked on Nathan first before inquiring after him. Shaking his head wondered why it still bothered him. Just once I'd like to be first in someone's thoughts, he silently mused. His feelings of inadequacy only added to his already simmering temper.
Chris watched as the rage in Ezra's green eyes begin to flare anew. The easy going southerner very rarely lost his temper, but when he did he could easily intimidate men twice his size. Not to mention his friends; sometimes even him. Of course, Chris didn't blame him for his outburst, Nathan had been asking for it all week.
Vin saw the rage in Ezra's eyes and tried to think of something to say to break the tension. Nudging Buck with his boot he looked to him for help.
Buck saw the plea for help in Vin's eyes and racked his brain for something to say. The ladies' man didn't blame Ezra one bit for his show of temper. Hell Nathan had accused him of flirting to much. Him! Buck knew for a fact that that just wasn't possible. Suddenly he grinned as a thought occurred to him. Looking over at Ezra his mind went blank at the look in his those green eyes. Not one to be so easily discouraged Buck started telling one of his more colorful tales hoping to distract the gambler.
JD looked at each of his friends and sent a frown Nathan's way. I hope your happy, he silently fussed. JD wished he had some of Ezra's armor. He'd seen and heard Nathan fuss at all of them. They'd all ignored him for the most part. There had been a couple of times when Chris had glared the healer to silence. Daring him to say another word. JD knew something like this was gonna happen. It was just a matter of time. Nathan was lucky it was Ezra because Chris would have shot him. Shaking his head he broke away from those thoughts and let Buck's story distract him.
Soon each of the peacekeepers were in a heated discussion over weather or not there was any truth in any of Buck's stories. Even Chris offered a comment from time to time. Except Nathan and Ezra. Nathan sat with his head down feeling ashamed of his behavior and wondered how to go about apologizing not only to Ezra, but all of them. This heat was driving him crazy and had him noticing all of the others annoying habits. Ezra had yet to say a word he silently sat there pushing his food around and allowed his temper to get the better of him.
Josiah had joined in the discussion, but kept an eye on Ezra.
Ezra gripped his fork tightly in his hand and gave in to his temper and muttered, "Ahh the hell with it." Looking up and directly into Nathan's brown eyes he said it a little louder, "The hell with it. Thanks to you I've lost my appetite." Then shoved his almost full plate away. Still looking at Nathan he narrowed his eyes and said, "And the hell with you." Getting to his feet he leaned across the table and almost grinned as Nathan pushed himself further back into his chair, but Ezra only flipped his plate over sending food flying and turned and walked away.
"Where ya going Ezra?" Chris asked and watched as Standish walked over the bar to snatch a bottle of whiskey before heading for the back of the saloon and then out the rear exit. Shaking his head he wiped some mashed potatoes off his shirt and flung them on the table and glared at Nathan. But JD said something before he could.
"I hope your happy Nathan," JD snapped. "You just have to push him don't you. You've been snapping at everyone this week. What's the matter with you?" he wanted to know.
"Yeah!" Vin threw in. Nathan had snapped at him for leaning back in his chair the other night. The healer told him that chairs were made for sitting that's why they had four legs. The tracker had always leaned back in chair and didn't understand what the problem was.
"It's this heat. It's driving me crazy," Nathan explained. "I feel so useless and I guess I took that out on you guys. I'm.....I'm sorry," he said with a shrug of his shoulders.
"You need to apologize to Ezra too," Josiah pointed out. Scratchin' his head he remembered how Nathan had pointed out the spots he'd missed when he was painting the inside of the church the other day.
"I will once he's calmed down some," he said with a small grin.
Late the next morning Nathan and the others walked into the saloon and paused when they saw that Ezra wasn't at his table. "Must be still sleeping," he said. It wasn't unusual for the gambler to stay up all night and then sleep most of the day.
JD turned a deaf ear to others as they talked about something or other. He started thinking about yesterday and how Ezra had walked out of the back of the saloon and wondered if maybe that's where he was. Suddenly he got to his feet and went to find out.
The others just shrugged and thought nothing of it until he suddenly returned and grabbed his mug of milk. They watched as he went over to the bar and a placed a shot glass in his pocket then grabbed a bottle of whiskey and once again walk toward the back of the saloon.
"Where the hell is he going?" Buck questioned. Him and the others waited a full minute before following their youngest. What they saw had them stopping in their tracks on the back porch of the saloon. There sitting at a bench in the meadow was Ezra, who appeared to be cleaning his many guns while JD watched. They stood there wondering if they should make their presence known or if they should just leave.
JD had cautiously approached Ezra since he wasn't sure if he was still angry. "Hey Ezra can I join ya? I brought whisky," he added for good measure.
Ezra raised one eye brow in surprise and said, "You can join me if you wish JD. But you didn't have to bring anything."
"Well if ya don't want it I can...." JD didn't get a chance to finish as Ezra quickly took the bottle from him. Sitting down he looked at Ezra's guns spread out on the table. His two Remingtons, his Colt Richards Conversion, his Remington Revolving Rifle, and of course his derringer and it's rig. Also, on the table were a couple of nasty looking knives. "Didn't know you were so handy with tools," he said as he watched as Ezra work on his derringer rig.
"Only when necessary I assure you. This thing is so old I don't really trust it to anyone else," Ezra returned. "Now if I could only get this mechanism's spring unstuck I'd be back in business," then with a grunt and a grin as everything started working as it should.
Reaching for the derringer JD paused and asked, "My I?" At the other man's nod he picked the little gun and held it in the palm of his hand. "It's hard to believe that something so little could be so deadly. It hardly even looks real," he commented
Ezra grinned, "I once believed the same thing." Then started oiling the derringer's rig.
"Really? So what changed your mind?" JD asked.
"Seeing is believing," he said. Then seeing the confusion his JD's expressive hazel eyes explained, "These were very popular with men of my profession. Hell, even Maude carries one. Anyway," he said with a wave of his hand before continuing, "I hadn't ever seen one fired with any accuracy. Whenever the gamblers fired the gun they missed their target. I had no use for a gun like that."
"So who changed your mind," JD persisted.
Ezra frowned then shrugged before saying, "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
JD shook his head and said, "Ezra I know you'd never lie to me."
"Oh really?" he questioned.
"Yes really. Whenever I want the truth about something I know I can count on you. Buck thinks I'm just a kid and doesn't think I can handle anything," JD paused and ran a hand through his hair. "Chris and the others are no better. Josiah talks in riddles that I can't understand. Nathan just says he doesn't know when I know that he does. Vin wants me to figure it out on my own. Chris wants to protect me. But I know you will tell me the truth no matter what. Even if it hurts. You're the only you I trust to do that," he stated with conviction.
The southerner absorbed that for a moment and felt his chest swell a little with pride. He didn't feel so left out all of a sudden. Clearing his throat he began his tale, "I received my tooth and the gun from the same person." Ezra waited to see if he'd make the connection, but he only saw confusion. "It was it just after the war and I was traveling through Georgia on my way to meet with Maude when I got into a confrontation with some very unsavory gentlemen trying to separate me from my horse. I was able to keep my horse, but lost my tooth. For once Lady Luck was own my side because the very next town I came to had a dentist. I walked into the shop and there was this tall lanky young man claiming to be the dentist. The man looked to be only couple of years older than me."
"How old were you?"
"18," Ezra threw out quickly hoping JD would not question him about it. "Anyway he fixed me right up. Did a fine job to I might add. He was a true southern gentleman," he said as he ran his tongue across his teeth stopping at the gold one as he remembered.
"What was his name?" JD was beginning to put two and two together, but wanted a little more information.
"John Holliday," he told him and watched as his eyes grew wide.
"You know Doc Holliday," he said in awe.
"No JD, I'm still alive. I've only met Doc Holliday," Ezra explained.
"So when did ya get the gun," JD asked in wonder. He couldn't wait to hear this. Looking over Ezra's shoulder he spotted the others and decided not to call them over. JD wanted to hear this story and if they came over he knew that Ezra would clam up tighter than a school marm's corset.
"A year or so later I found myself in a little town in Kansas and to my surprise there was he was playing poker," Ezra said in awe. "I swear JD I have never seen anything like it in all my days. He won hand after hand. Maude had taught me to spot a cheater almost before I could read properly. And I watched him real close, but he never cheated. Doc was that good. You can imagine my shock. It was then that I started to think of how I'd might fare using my own talents and not my mother's tricks," he paused fearing he might have revealed to much and took a sip of whisky. "I knew he hadn't cheated but the gentleman playing him did not and unwisely drew on him and accused him of cheating. In what seemed like a blink of an eye Holliday had his derringer in his hand and had shot the man between the eyes before anyone could react. I watched in amazement as he flexed his hand and the gun disappeared up his sleeve. I remember looking down at my own sleeve and wondering how? How had he done that? I wanted so badly to go and ask him, but I didn't dare," Ezra said then picked up a rag and started rubbing off the excess oil.
"Well what happened next? Where'd you get the gun?" JD pushed.
"About a year later I was sitting in a barber shop getting a shave when he walked in. I watched as Doc removed his jacket and stared at this medal thing wrapped around his forearm. It wasn't until he sat down next to me that I got a good look at and then it was like a someone had struck a match for I clearly saw in my mind a derringer popping out only to materialize in my hand," he stopped to take another drink. "Later that night in the saloon I finally worked up the nerve to approach his table and even managed to play a couple of hands with him," Ezra got lost as he remembered at night. Doc Holliday had told him that he had a lot of potential and even offered him a few pointers.
"Did ya win?" he questioned then suddenly threw out, "What about Wyatt Earp? Did ya meet him to?"
"Of course I didn't win," he grinned, "and I'm getting to the Marshall."
"Where were you?" JD wanted to know.
"Dodge City. Didn't I mention that?" Ezra asked with a frown.
"No!" he snapped clearly annoyed.
"Sorry," he said with a shrug. "We were discussing different techniques when a shadow fell across the table and without looking up Doc invited Marshal Wyatt Earp to join us. There I was sharing a table with two living legends. The apprehension was almost to much for me to bear."
JD shook his head in amazement, "Hell Ezra you have all the luck. I'd love to meet a living legend."
"It had nothing to do with luck JD. I was merely in the right place and the right time," Ezra told him.
"So what about the gun?" JD asked again.
"I was in the livery a couple of nights later when Doc and his companion, Miss Kate, burst through the doors only to quickly duck behind a stack of hay as the barn doors swung open and two nasty looking cowboys walked in looking for Doc. After the men left I helped Miss Kate saddle their horses while he kept watch," Ezra told him. "And as they were leaving he tossed me this long carpet bag and said thanks kid. I waited until I was in my room at the hotel before opening it. This is what I pulled out of the bag," he said holding up the rig. "Doc Holliday gave me his rig and his derringer. I was like a kid at Christmas. I couldn't wait to try her on and then try her out. She was a little loose, but I soon grew into her. Now she's like a third arm. I don't go anywhere without her," Ezra said as he strapped the rig in place he felt almost naked without it. Looking at the younger man he questioned, "Now are you going to just sit there or are you going to help me clean the rest of these?"
"Only if you let me clean the rifle," JD countered.
"Deal," he said holding out his hand they then shook on it and then got to work.
The others had found a comfortable spot on the porch and unashamedly listened. As he finished his story most of them were shaking their heads in wonder and thinking only Ezra would have had the nerve to share a table with both Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
Nathan grinned as he stepped back into saloon and turned to tell Josiah something only to find that his friend wasn't there. Looking out the door he saw him still standing there as if rooted to the spot. Grabbing him by the arm Nathan lead him back into the saloon.
Josiah barely even acknowledged Nathan as he was lost in his thoughts. '18' he repeated under his breath and thought back to the night Ezra told him about being at the first battle of Bull Run. He felt a chill run down his spine as the implications dawned on him. If that was true then that meant Ezra would have only been about fourteen at the time. My God, he was just a boy. Much to young to be exposed to such cruelty. It was no wonder very little shocked him. He'd all ready seen everything.
These thoughts were still running through his head an hour later when Ezra and JD both walked back into the saloon. JD quickly joined them as Ezra went up the stairs to put his rifle away.
Ezra grinned as he joined the others, but was careful not to sit by Nathan.
"Ezra I'm sorry about yesterday," Nathan quickly said before he lost his nerve. "And I'm sorry about this whole week. I know it's no excuse, but this heat is driving me crazy and I took it out on the six of you. I shouldn't na done that and I'm sorry."
The southerner looked at Nathan's lowered head and replied, "Apology accepted Nathan. The heat affects us all in different ways." Then leaned across the table and held out his hand and smiled at the firm hand shake he received.
Vin waited until Ezra settled back in his chair before saying, "The heat don't affect you none Ez. It's a hundred degrees in here and you're still wearing your damn jacket. Hell you anit even sweating."
Ezra frowned at the sudden attack but knew that Vin's attack was different then Nathan's. "The heat does affect me," he returned.
"Does to and I am sweating. Look," the southerner said as he wiped his hand across his forehead and showed Vin his wet fingers.
"That anit real sweat. This is," the tracker returned and wiped his own forehead and showed Ezra his wet fingers.
"Sweat is sweat Vin. Just because I don't sweat like a pig like the rest of you doesn't mean I don't sweat," Ezra countered.
"You ever seen a pig sweat?" Vin asked with a grin.
"You mean other than Buck," JD threw in causing everyone to laugh and Buck to knock his hat off. "Dammit Buck stop that. You're gonna ruin my hat," he fussed.
Ezra grinned as he listened to Buck and JD exchanged their usual banter. Feeling someone's eyes on him he turned and found Josiah looking at him with an odd expression on his face. "Can I help you with something Josiah?" he asked.
Shaking his head Josiah said, "No." But continued to stare at him.
"Are you sure?"
"Then might I suggest you stop staring at me like that," Ezra said.
"How old are you Ezra?" he suddenly asked not able to get the conversation he'd heard out of his mind.
"Why?" he asked immediately specious. "I can assure you sir that I passed the age of consent a long time ago."
"How old are you?" Josiah repeated in his best fatherly tone that very seldom failed to work on the younger man.
Ezra bristled at that tone and sat up a little straighter determined not to give in this time. He opened his mouth to repeat his earlier statement and was shocked when something else came out, "I'm almost thirty."
"Tell me," the older man demanded.
"Twenty-eight. Why?" he didn't understand the sudden interest in his age.
Josiah shook his head at Ezra's loss of innocense. Reaching over he gave Ezra's shoulder a squeeze and then just because he felt like it he slapped him on the side of the head knockin' his hat off.
Snatching his hat up off the floor Ezra snapped, "What the hell you do that for?'
The ex-preacher threw back a shot of whisky before answering, "Because I felt like it."
"What if I did what I felt like doing?" he asked with one raised eye brow.
"You did that yesterday. Today's my turn," Josiah returned.
Chris grinned as he watched the exchange between their wanna be father and reluctant son. He was glad things were getting back to normal. Now if only they could get some rain.
A couple of days later Ezra was sitting outside the jail when he noticed two strangers ride into town. Even from where he sat he could see the sun glinting off the shiny piece of gold pinned to the coat of the man wearing the funny hat. Funny hat? Ezra repeated and felt his breath catch in his throat. Couldn't be? Could it? He questioned and got to his feet as the men approached him.
"Are you the sheriff?" the one with the funny looking hat asked as the other dismounted and went to the general store.
Clearing his throat he said, "No Sir, but I'll be glad to go and get him for you." Turning Ezra calmly walked away. Glancing quickly over his shoulder Ezra then took off running when he saw that the stranger had entered the jailhouse. His only thought was to get to the saloon and find JD.
Hearing the fast approaching sound of feet had Chris and the others looking up expecting to see JD burst through the doors all excited about something or other.
"Who's making all that racket?" JD said as he entered the saloon from the back entrance.
They all looked up in surprise as Ezra rushed through the doors.
"JD! Come quick," the southerner hollered motioning for the younger man to follow him.
Now they knew something was wrong. Ezra never hollered like common folks did. Oh no, he thought it was undignified to raise one's voice. Getting to their feet they followed Ezra and JD out onto the boardwalk.
"What Ezra? I don't see anything," JD said looking about the town.
Ezra grinned at pointed toward the jail and said, "There's a colleague of yours waiting for you in the jailhouse."
"Why didn't you say there was a sheriff waiting for me," JD said a little annoyed.
"Actually, I believe he's a Marshall," Ezra replied still grinning.
JD just shrugged and made his way to the jail.
Nudging Ezra with his elbow Buck asked, "What's going on Ezra? Who's waiting on the Kid?"
"You'll find out soon enough," was all he'd say all the while still grinning.
Nathan suddenly slapped the southerner on the arm and snapped, "Stop all that damned grinning Ezra! The sun glaring off your tooth is giving me a headache."
Not only did Ezra not stop, if anything his grin only got bigger. Turning he gave Nathan a friendly slap on the arm and said, "Not even you will ruin this for me."
JD slapped some of the dust off his clothes before stepping inside the jailhouse. Removing his hat with one hand he patted his pockets for his badge with the other as he stepped through the open door.
"You must be the sheriff," a gruff voice said stepping from the shadows.
"Yes sir. Name's JD Dunn," he said looking up but could not yet see the man's face. "I may be the sheriff, but there are seven of us that look after the town," JD felt obliged to explain.
"The gambler one of the seven?" the voice asked.
JD tensed and stood up straighter and said, "Yes sir he is. There's also a colored man, a former preacher, a bounty hunter, a scoundrel, and a gunslinger that would just as soon spit on you as he would shot you."
"Sounds like a find bunch of individuals if ya ask me," the voice said finally stepping into the light. "I'm B......"
JD felt the breathe lodge in his throat as he recognized the man in front of him. "Your.......your ......your," he stammered to a stop. Taking a deep breathe he continued, "Your Bat Masterson."
"It's a pleasure to meet you Sheriff Dunn," Bat said holding out his hand.
"Oh no sir, the pleasure's mine," JD replied releasing his hand after the third shake not wanting to embarrass himself anymore than he already had. "What are ya doing here? Are ya hunting some outlaws?"
Bat grinned and said, "No, I'm just passing through on my way to Tombstone."
"I'd be honored to buy ya a drink," JD offered as they stepped out unto the boardwalk.
"Thank you, but me and my friend Luke are in a bit of a hurry. But I'll take a rain check," he said taking the reins of their horses and leading them toward the saloon to wait on his friend Luke Short. "These men your deputies, Sheriff?" Bat asked careful to keep the smile off his face especially when the tall mustached man tensed.
JD's eyes widened and replied, "Deputies? Oh no, these are the rest of the seven." He then introduced each of the men and leaned in close and whispered, "Just so ya know, Chris and Buck don't like being called deputies."
"I'll keep that in mind," Bat commented with a wink only JD saw. Then a tall man walked out of the general store and up to one of the horses he was holding and after introduction were made the two men mounted their horses and as they made to ride away Bat looked at JD and with a grin said, "By the way I like your hat."
As JD and the others watched then ride out of town Bat stopped his horse and turned around and came back and stopped a few feet away and tossed something toward him and then with a tip of his hat he quickly caught up with Luke.
The seven men stood there watching until the two were only dark spots on the horizon. Looking down at his closed hand JD slowly uncurled his fingers and gasped at what he saw. There in the palm of his hand sat Bat Masterson's gold Marshall's badge. Glancing up at the others he made eye contact with Ezra and whispered, "He gave me his badge."
Ezra grinned and then in a very uncharacteristic move placed his arm around JD's shoulders and gave the younger man a brief hug. "Well done JD. Well done," he said with pride.
Not wanting to be left out Buck pushed Ezra out of the way and took a closer look at the badge and with a grin said, "Well I still say it's a sissy hat." Causing the others to laugh.
Then without warning it began to rain. A gentle cleansing rain. With a grin everyone, even Ezra, removed their hats and stepped out into the street and let the rain wash away the dust and their troubles for a little while, at least. Playing and splashing around in the much needed rain the seven men failed to notice that God had also blessed them with a beautiful rainbow that stretched from one end of the town to the other.