Disclaimer: Not mine. Never will be. No money being made.
The seven peacekeepers watched as Mary Travis and her son Billy were reunited. Each feeling a touch of pride in how well everything had turned out. They'd only been on the job two days and were already a success. Now if only the other twenty-eight days would be this rewarding, the oldest of the group thought. Then watched as Ezra excused himself and head for the livery as the next of them headed for the saloon.
Maude Standish paused just inside the saloon and waited for her eyes to adjust to dimness. Quickly scanning the interior she spotted the men she sought and made her way toward them.
Vin let his chair fall to the floor with a thud and squared his shoulders at Maude's approach. Ezra's ma was ten times worse than Ezra. He could no more get a read on her than her son.
Sensing the tracker's tension Chris looked up from his drink and cursed under his breath. Aw hell, he thought, here it comes. It wasn't as though he disliked her, but something told him not to trust her and to take what she says with a grain of salt.
Maude was at the table before the others could even ask what was wrong. "Gentlemen," she said in greeting. "Where's Ezra?" she then asked as she sat down.
"Horse picked up stone. He's gone to check on him," Vin told her.
"Him and that horse," she said with a shake of her head and a small smile.
"Where he get him?" JD asked.
"Kentucky. Ezra had a very nice game going with horse rancher who'd run out of money and offered Ezra the pick of his corral as payment," Maude replied.
"Kentucky. That's fine horse country," Josiah threw in.
"Yes. And what does my son do," she said with a shake of her head. "There were all these horses. Truly beautiful animals. Quarter horses, stallions, and thoroughbreds. All worth their weight in gold. And Ezra walks up to the corral with the quarter horses and there is this horse standing back away from the others. Scruffiest looking beast I'd ever seen. His hair was matted in spots and just terribly unsightly. The owner said he was temperamental and very difficult to work with. Well one would have thought that the man said his coat was lined with gold what with the way Ezra took a liking to it. He was determined and would not be swayed," Maude frowned as she remembered the scene all to well. "I have to admit he did clean up rather well. Ezra worked with that animal for weeks trying to get it to trust him. I don't know who was more stubborn that horse or my son. There was a classic battle of wills going on and neither was willing to give. Ezra finally won, but Chaucer never lets him forget that he let him win," she said with a grin. "Of course Ezra has spoiled that horse something terrible. And taught him all kinds of nasty tricks. Did you know he can open a stall . . . from either side?" Maude told them then started laughing as she remembered something, "Chaucer is better with knots than Ezra is." She said causing the others to laugh.
Looking at the six men around her Maude suddenly stopped laughing as she remembered why she had sought these men out. Never one to beat around the bush she came right to the point, "How much will it take?"
Chris frowned and repeated, "How much will what take? What are you talking about?"
"What much will it take for you to release my son from this . . . obligation he has undertaken?" she explained then waited for an answer. "I'm prepared to pay rather handsomely," Maude threw in just so they knew she was serious.
Chris and the others stared at her in shock for a full minute before finding their voice and started talking at once. Like any good leader Chris held up a hand and took control. "Ezra has a job to do ma'am. A job he choose I might add," he explained then with a shrug of his shoulder continued, "Ezra belongs with us for the next thirty days. Besides Judy Travis hired him and is the only one able to release him."
"Ezra belongs with me. His place is with me," Maude told them.
"What does Ez have to say about this?" Vin wanted to know.
"Ez?" she repeated with a shake of her head, "Ezra doesn't know what he wants."
"Oh I think he knows exactly what he wants," Chris told her, "he stays."
"Chris is right. Ezra's a grown man and to stubborn to let anyone make his decisions for him," Josiah said. Without looking at any of them he took a stab in the dark and said, "Maybe if Ezra had been taught a different trade he would not have had to exchange his services for a pardon."
Maude felt her mouth fall open at the man's comment. Slapping her hand down on the table she snared, "I did the best I could for the ungrateful little wretch. When I think of all of the opportunities I was forced to pass up because of him I could . . . I . . . ," she stopped and took a deep breath before continuing, "I have a very nice set up going in St. Louis and could use his help."
"You want Ezra to quit his job just to run a con with you?" Josiah asked in disbelief and a touch of sadness.
"Well of course. You gentlemen are aware of what Ezra is aren't you?" she asked at their shock. Surely these men were brighter than they seemed. Surely they knew Ezra was a gambler and a con man. He was one of the best; she should know because she taught him almost everything he knew.
"Yes, he's a good and descent young man," Josiah stated with a shadow of doubt. He knew there was goodness and decency in that boy somewhere, he refused to believe anything else.
"Descent? Ezra?" now it was Maude's turn to be shocked. She was so shocked she thought she might faint and pulled out her fan just so she could get some much needed air.
"Yes Ezra," the large man argued.
"Josiah in case it's escaped your notice Ezra's a gambler and . . . a con man. I know because I taught him," she boasted. "There's no place for decency in that."
"There's always room for decency. Plus he's a peacekeeper now. And our friend," Josiah pointed out to her. Then froze as he realized what Maude just said. She . . . was his teacher. Maude? He could hardly believe it. 'Gambling and conning is all I know; it's what I was taught. You could say it's in my blood', Josiah shuddered as Ezra's words suddenly echoed in his head. Ezra's blood was Maude's blood.
With a sad shake of her head she said, "Really Josiah, as a preacher I thought you would have known better."
"And as his mother you should know better," Josiah accused with a frown.
"Oh Josiah I thought you were different," Maude accused.
"I thought the same of you," he returned then watched as she got to her feet and walked away.
The five men turned their heads back and forth at each comment then shook their head as Maude left. The sixth hung his head in bitter disappointment. Oh Maude, if only you knew what a true treasure Ezra really was, he thought. Josiah got the feeling that she didn't know anything about her son and that made him sad. Things could have been so different if only you'd given him a chance, he silently thought. This changed everything, he bitterly thought. Or did it?, he questioned as he felt a surge of hope. He meant it when he said there was goodness in Ezra . . . so maybe just maybe there was some goodness in Maude . . . somewhere. He had to get it from someone. Why not Maude, he tried to reason with himself then turned his attention back to the drink in front of him.
An hour later the six peacekeepers looked up and watched as Ezra and his mother walked in and watched as Maude steered him away from them and to a secluded table in the corner. They knew what she was up to and hoped she did succeed.
"Now darlin' you know I'm leaving in the morning and I want you to come with me," Maude said.
Ezra frowned and said, "Mother we've been through this already. I can't. I have an obligation to these men and this town. I will not abandon either." Besides I do not want to go to jail, he silently added.
"What of your obligations to me? I am your mother," Maude pointed out to him as she straightened out her shawl. Then froze as an odd sound escaped her son. Looking at him in shock she said, "What on earth was that?"
Ezra froze as soon as the snort escaped from him and watched as his mother turned shocked eyes on him. "What? I . . . I didn't hear anything," he played innocent.
"I thought I heard you make an ungentleman like noise," she explained.
"Me? Oh, Mother really," he said with a shrug of his shoulders. "It was probably one these rude cowboys. Ruffians," Ezra accused throwing a dirty look at the cowboy passed out on the table next to them.
Maude didn't know what to think. It sounded as though it came from Ezra, but surely not her son. Then with a wave of her hand she continued, "Now as I was saying. You have an obligation to me. Not these . . . people. After everything I've done for you one would think you'd be able to figure out just where your loyalties lay."
Ezra tried. He really did, but when she used the words 'done for you' and 'loyalties' in the same sentence. What else was he suppose to do? He could no longer contain himself he just had to give the approbate response. And snorted. Then winced as she grabbed him by his ear and jerked him up close.
"I suppose one of your new associates taught you that," she snapped then released his ear. "You see Ezra this is what I'm talking about. These men will only bring you down. Save yourself and come with me," Maude continued as if she hadn't just tried to rip his ear off.
"Mother!" he sputtered as he straightened his jacket and picked his up off the floor and straightened his hair. "I have a reputation to maintain. Please refrain yourself from such displays," he reprimanded her then jumped as she slapped him on the arm.
"Oh! How you try my patience," she all but snarled. "Now go pack your things. You're leaving with me in the morning. I'll not hear another word on the subject," Maude told him as she check her reflection in the mirror over the bar.
"No Mother. I'm staying. The town needs me. They need me," he told her. Of course, he knew they didn't, but he wasn't going to tell her that. In fact, if given a choice Ezra knew they'd pack his things for him. He just wasn't going to give them the chance. There was something about these men and he was determined to find out just what that something was. Or at least that's what he told himself.
"I need you," she pleaded with just a touch of tears in her eyes.
Again he snorted before saying, "You don't need anyone. Least of all me."
Without a word Maude jumped to her feet and stormed out of the saloon.
The six men watched Ezra as spread his arm out on the table in front of him and then bring his head down only to hit it repeatedly on the surface in apparent frustration. Following Josiah's lead they each picked up their drinks and made their way over to their seventh.
"Your gonna give yourself a headache doing that," Josiah commented as he sat down.
Without lifting his head Ezra said, "I don't care. Maybe if I hit it hard enough I'll knock myself unconscious."
Josiah laughed and patted the younger man on the shoulder. "Ya can't give up now," he teased, "victory is within your grasp."
"Victory?" Ezra questioned turning his head to the side to face the older man.
"Yes. She leaving in the morning," he replied.
Suddenly Ezra sat up and grinned showing off his gold tooth, "You're right. Thank you Mr. Sanchez."
"Anytime son," Josiah couldn't help but say.
Settling back in his chair Ezra turned narrowed eyes on JD and choose to ignore the comment from the large man next to him. "Mr. Dunn," he began only to stop and bite his lip before continuing, "JD I . . . I mean no offense, but . . . that is . . . I understand you are without . . . a parent."
Not sure what to say JD just nodded.
"Please tell me what that's like," he pleaded dead serious.
"Ezra!" Josiah and JD both said in a shocked tone. The others just sat there not sure what to say.
"I see I have once again managed to shock you gentlemen," Ezra said without humor. "I'm sorry I now I shouldn't have said that. Maude is after all my mother. For whatever it's worth," he reasoned.
The next morning Ezra once again carried Maude's brick laden luggage and felt obliged to give the stage driver something for his trouble.
From inside the stage Maude could hear Ezra and the driver grunting as they secured her luggage. She smiled as she remembered her breakfast with Josiah. Of course, neither of them had apologized. As a matter of fact there was no mention of the previous night. They simply enjoyed each other's company. Such a shame he didn't have any money, she thought then turned to bid Ezra goodbye.
Ezra stood there and watched as his mother left and felt a strange tightening around his heart. Patting his chest he looked up as someone called his name. Suddenly he belched and then hung his head. Not another of their bad habits. However, he did fell better. The tightening in his chest had eased. Simply a case of heartburn he decided, no way he was missing Maude. Ezra began to grin as he made his way toward his fr . . . dare he say it. What the hell, he thought with a shrug of his shoulders and joined his . . . friends and together they went into the saloon and waited for their next adventure to begin.