Notes: This story takes place about a month after the episode Serpents. I should let you know that I HATED the ending of that installment. I thought the writers let everything fall apart after Ezra got shot and dont get me started on Marys reaction. Anyway, just so you know (bg). Youll want to at least read Southern Cross before this story; otherwise the ending wont make any sense.
In case you havent read the other stories prior to this one, Im going to give you a brief background of the horses names.
Chris horse, Mud, was Adams first word.
Vins horse, Digger, horse likes to paw the ground.
Bucks horse, Rooster, was cut (gelded) late and has a thing for the fillies, only he doesnt know why.
Josiahs horse, Lance, for Sir Lancelot, Josiahs and Hannas favorite books were King Arthur stories.
Nathans horse, Pike, hes tall and lanky.
Ezras horse, Trouble, for Double Trouble, no guess as to why, LOL.
JDs horse, Gus, I dont know why.
Spoilers: The episode Serpents, and a whole bunch of others.
Special Thanks: To Elisia, Antoinette, Katherine, and Julie for keeping me on my toes.
Despite the bitter cold temperatures, Chris Larabee walked down the boardwalk with his long duster billowing out behind him. His steps were long and determined as it the gunslinger didnt care about the weather. It was obvious to the casual observer that he knew exactly where he was going, and why. As such, the townsfolk moved out of his way, unwilling to take the chance of getting run over.
Chris pushed the saloon doors open and quickly spotted the table where four of his men were sitting, enjoying hot cups of coffee. He nodded curtly before grabbing a chair and seating himself close to the burning stove. He took the cup that was passed to him by Josiah, and then looked at his fellow law enforcers.
Judge just wired , he took a sip of the coffee, he needs all of us to pick up a prisoner in Carterson.
All of us? JD questioned, slightly surprised.
Yeah, Chris sighed, leaning back in his chair. Ill get Homer and Scott Davis to watch the town while were gone.
Must be some prisoner, seein that the judge is sendin all of us, Vin said, resting his elbows on the table.
Names Boyd Rodgers. Hes wanted for murder and bank robberies in three territories, Chris replied.
When do we leave? Josiah asked, finishing his coffee.
Mornin, Chris answered sharply. Wheres Nathan and Ezra?
Brother Nathan is up at his clinic, and Ezra just left for patrol. Josiah ran his fingers through his short graying hair and sighed. Nobody wanted to be out in this weather for very long, and it was a full days ride to Carterson.
Vin, Chris said, getting the trackers attention, better ride out and find Ezra, get im back here. I want everyone ready to ride at dawn. He looked around the table making sure everyone understood.
Ill go let Nathan know, JD said, getting to his feet.
Chris nodded and watched the kid leave. Vin stood up and followed him out. Another cold gust of wind blew through the doors as the tracker opened them, letting everyone inside the saloon know that Mother Nature would show them no mercy.
Whats goin on? Buck asked, knowing something else was bothering his long time friend. Chris had been on edge for weeks, taking his anger out on anyone that got in his path. Though he focused his fury at Ezra, just because Ezra was Ezra, nobody was safe. Not even JD, as the kid found out after getting snapped at for telling one of his jokes.
Cartersons a little shit town that arrests anyone doing anything that looks suspicious. He looked hard at Buck and Josiah. That means no booze, no women, and no gamblin, he ordered.
Hell, Buck sighed, leaning back in his seat. Dont you go worryin bout us. He wanted to say something more, but Chris demeanor prevented it. Now wasnt the time.
Youre not the one Im worried about. Chris stood up and stormed out of the establishment. He had a lot of things that needed doing to ensure that things ran smoothly over the next three days.
Josiah watched the, sometimes unwilling, leader of this group of men leave. It didnt take much for Chris to over think things. It was as though he was always looking for the bad in everything, but then again, how could he not, considering what hed been through in his life. You think he was talkin about Ezra? Josiah asked, looking to Buck for an answer.
Reluctantly, the ladies man nodded: Yep I do.
You know he wasnt the only one tempted, Josiah quietly replied, fingering his empty cup.
Buck nodded: Reckon not, he hesitantly admitted. Hed succumbed to temptation himself, granted it hadnt been $10,000, but it had been lust so much in fact that hed almost married Louisa Perkins. Thankfully, hed come to his senses a few days later, and so had she.
Josiah understood what Buck was wrestling with, he understood all too well. For his part, he still couldnt look Mary Travis in the eye; too afraid that shed see in him the dream hed had about her replaying in his eyes. Not only was he ashamed of his behavior, but his sinful thoughts as well.
Ill see you in the mornin, Buck, Josiah said softly, and then he squeezed the ladies mans shoulder as he moved out of the saloon.
Vin guided Digger over the rough terrain. The cold wind had managed to cut its way through his leather coat, and his muscles responded by shivering. Digger nickered when he caught the familiar scent of his stable mate, and he was rewarded with a response. Vin pulled back on his reins and waited for the gambler to ride over.
Ezra pulled Trouble to a stop when he was even with Vin. The gambler knew something was up, even before the tracker could say a word. It was unusual for someone to come out looking for him, unless something was wrong.
I take it, Mr. Tanner, that something has occurred in town? Sarcasm dripped from his tongue.
Chris wants us back, says were leavin at dawn for Carterson he wants everyone ready. Vin nudged his horse forward, knowing Ezra would follow.
And what, pray tell, is so important in Carterson?
Pickin up a prisoner for the judge, Vin answered flatly. Guess Chris figures nobody needs to ride patrol tonight, seein how cold it is.
Ezra nodded in understanding, but felt as though it were something else. It was rare for the gunslinger to call off the nights watch. It definitely wouldnt be the weather or the fact that they had to get up at the crack of dawn. The gambler pulled his jacket up closer around his neck, trying to ward off the cold wind. His gloves did little to keep his fingers warm. Hed only been riding a few hours, his body was letting him know it was time to get out of the bitter wind.
Hows the arm? Vin asked, trying to break the silence. Under normal circumstances, he was the one that didnt have much to say, but it seemed lately, that Ezra had become unusually quiet.
Healin, came the swift reply. Ezra hadnt lied, but on nights like this his elbow and shoulder seemed to throb.
Vin shook his head. The gambler was not going to make this easy. After the incident a month ago, things had changed. Ezra had not only tried to run off with the money, or so everyone assumed, but hed stepped in front of a bullet meant for Mary, and that money hed had stored in his coat had inadvertently saved his life. It wasnt those events in particular that had caused the change, but more the treatment hed received from the rest of his friends prior to the shooting.
Everyone knew that Ezra had a weakness for money. Hell, hed spent his whole life trying to make it. But everyone accused him of taking that cash before hed even had a chance to hide it. Was it the groups lack of trust in the gambler that caused him to take the money? No, Vin sighed, it hadnt been the groups fault. Ezra was a big boy and he made that decision on his own. He chose to place that money in his jacket, he had made the decision to steal it, nobody forced him. However, Chris and the others convicted him of a crime hed not had the opportunity to commit? Vin knew how hard it was being accused of a crime he didnt do. However, in his case, it wasnt his friends holding him responsible for it. If they had only offered to let Ezra hide the cash when they had the chance, rather than keeping it from him as though he was a common criminal? Perhaps if they had trusted him, things would have worked out differently.
You know Ezra
Dont bother, Mr. Tanner, Ezra said softly, there is no need.
Vin paused and watched as the gambler rode on ahead. Sometimes, that mans voice could send shivers down his back.
Morning came early for everyone, and it didnt take long for the seven gunslingers to be saddled and ready for their long ride to Carterson. The wind hadnt died down, and for some reason the air seemed colder than it had been the night before. Josiah had said it was just a winter storm that would soon pass, but the others didnt seem to believe him. The weather had come in fast and cold about three weeks prior, and as a result, doors were closed, shutters locked, and stoves burned continuously.
Chris looked at his men and then mounted up. Lets go, he ordered sternly.
Vin patted Diggers neck, and rode up beside his friend. JD and Buck followed suit. Nathan made sure his medical supplies were well packed before he slipped into the saddle, and then trotted to catch up with the others.
You ready, Brother? Josiah asked, watching the gamblers slow movements.
As you well know, Mr. Sanchez, Id rather stay up all night than rise in the early mornin hours, Ezra replied, trying to stifle his yawn. He mounted Troubles back and pulled his coat around him, wanting to make sure the cold air couldnt find a way in.
Josiah watched him a moment, saddened by the use of his surname. He wasnt sure when the distancing had started again, just that it had, and he secretly wondered if the others had realized it as well. He watched Ezra for a moment, wondering how such an individual struggled so much with friendship. Josiah knew the gambler yearned for it, but there always seemed to be a barrier, a wall that had been built so high there seemed to be little chance of getting over it. Josiah sighed, perhaps his behavior those weeks ago had built that wall higher. Slowly, he mounted Lance and then headed out. Like his church, this friendship needed to be repaired.
Hey, Nate, JD spoke up, how do you cure Pink Eye? he asked, closing his dime novel.
Pink Eye? Nathan questioned, not quite sure where this conversation was going.
You wash sore eyes with cowboy piss, Buck responded with a grin.
Chris laughed, and shook his head at his friends antics.
See, Buck sighed, Chris knows.
You think you got Pink Eye, JD? Nathan asked, trying to subdue the image of washing out an eye with urine.
You know how to get rid of the measles? Buck asked, with a chuckle.
Roast a mouse an eat it, Vin answered. He wasnt uneducated in the ways of cowboy cures.
This is the most disgusting conversation I believe Ive ever heard, Ezra replied, scrunching his nose at the idea of eating a mouse, and even worse washing his eyes with pee.
Hell, Ezra, Buck started, ya live on the land long nough, pretty soon, everythin sounds like itll be a cure.
Heaven forbid, Ezra muttered.
You need to relax a little, Standish, Buck joked, you know, try somethin new, live a little
As we say in the South, Mr. Wilmington, dont fuck with nature. Ezra tipped his hat and rode on ahead, leaving six stunned lawmen in his wake.
Vin shook his head, slightly shocked by Ezras words. Yall get the feelin we got a lot more to learn bout that man.
Puttin it mildly, Chris mumbled, slightly louder than he anticipated. He watched as Ezra rode on ahead and then stopped at the creek allowing his horse to drink.
Chris pulled his horse to a stop and looked passed the trees at the town that rested in the distance. Even through the wind he could hear the pounding of nails. Perhaps the towns residents were getting ready for the approaching storm.
Ezra! Chris yelled, getting the gamblers attention. I want you to stay here
Excuse me? Ezra asked, raising his eyebrows.
I want you here while the rest of us check the town over. If anythin happens, and we need to get out of there in a hurry, I want you ready to back us, he snapped, unwilling to waver his position.
I highly doubt that by my remainin in
Im not willin to haul your ass out of jail when you get arrested for gamblin! Chris yelled.
Everyone stood back, unsure of how this was going to escalate. Vin turned away, and tried to focus on the town ahead. Josiah shook his head, unable to help because of the insecurities within himself. Nathan watched, wondering what was happening, while JD and Buck hoped that by ignoring it, the scene would pass by unnoticed.
Ezra chuckled and then nodded. I see, he replied softly, turning cold eyes upward.
Chris looked at the others: Lets go and stay out of trouble, he ordered, and then kicked his horse toward town.
JD hung back a moment, feeling guilty, and not quite understanding what was happening between the leader and the gambler. Do you want me to bring you anythin? he asked softly.
No, thank you, JD, Ezra replied, watching as the others headed for town. Youd bettah get goin, before our illustrious leadah soils himself. His sarcasm wasnt lost on JD.
The kid nodded reluctantly, before nudging his horse forward.
Ezra took his hat off and ran slender fingers through his hair. He still wasnt trusted. Would he ever be? And why should he care? Slowly, he slipped off Trouble and ground tied him. The wind had died down some, thank goodness, but the bitter cold still nipped at his skin. Ezra wasnt blind to what was happening around him. He knew that gambling was against the law in Carterson, thats why hed never been to that particular town. He could refrain from gambling when he needed to but in this case no one had even bothered to ask.
Carterson was a small town with only a few flourishing businesses. There was one saloon, but it didnt seem overly busy. This was a community of dirt farmers, family men who only wanted to be left alone. Chris could tell that by his surroundings. He watched as the community worked together to prepare for the storm.
Buck, Chris called to his friend, you and JD try and find out if this town plans on a hangin.
The pair rode off in a different direction, now that their mission had been ordered.
Josiah, you and Nathan take a look around, see if you can find out how many men they might have in a posse if it were to come to that point. Chris sighed and looked around. He didnt want to have to break the prisoner out of jail, but the judge wanted him in Four Corners, not hanging from a noose in Carterson. Slowly, he dismounted and tied Mud to the hitching post. Vin, lets see if we can take a look at the jail, and talk to the sheriff some. He grinned, letting the sharpshooter know that he was ready to do what he had to.
Buck walked into the restaurant and took a deep breath. The soft warm smell of baking pies, and fried chicken filled his senses. His stomach growled in response. He seated himself not far from a crowded table of farmers, who seemed to be enjoying their evening meal.
What can I get you boys? A woman asked, garnishing a welcoming smile. Her graying hair had been carefully pulled back away from her face, and her dress had spots of gravy stained on the front, despite the long apron she wore.
How bout two of your specials, Buck replied, trying to listen to the conversation at the next table.
Make that three, JD butted in.
The waitress nodded and then turned for the kitchen.
Three? Buck questioned.
Figured Id take one to Ezra, seein he wont want to eat jerky all night.
Buck smiled: Good thinkin.
Is tellin ya, we bes be hangin that man come mornin, one of the farmers snapped, throwing his napkin on the table.
Hangins at two in the afternoon, an older man replied, and then finished his bread.
I got a bad feelin bout this what if is gang comes, an tries to get im out?
Whos gettin hung? Buck asked, moving away from the edge of the table so the waitress could deposit his food.
Whos askin? The oldest of the four farmers asked.
Names Buck, this is my friend JD, an were just passin through. But he smiled, if this town is goin to host a hangin I figured I might stay round a while, an the kid aint ever seen one before.
Im Daniel Carter, the older man replied, not feeling as threatened, an the man gettin hung is, Boyd Rodgers.
Murderin sack of manures all he is, another man snapped.
Thats Jo Garrison, Ben Harper, and David Hemlock, Daniel introduced everyone. We all served on the jury. He grinned knowingly.
The circuit judge has been through here? JD questioned.
The others laughed and shook their heads.
An animal like Rodgers dont need no judge, just folks who are willin to hang im.
JD nodded in understanding. He looked Buck in the eyes and knew that things could get tough. These people were angry, vengeful, and hurt. They wouldnt give Rodgers up willingly.
Chris entered the sheriffs office with Vin on his tail. The man they were there for sat behind solid wood door separating him from the small office. Obviously this jailhouse could hold more than one prisoner at a time much more.
Sheriff Cummins? Chris asked.
The sheriff nodded, and set his steaming cup of coffee down on his desk. What can I do for you? he asked, getting to his feet and then shaking the newcomers hands, he invited them closer to the stove for warmth. He looked Vin over suspiciously, before returning to his seat.
Were the law in Four Corners, and weve been ordered to transport your prisoner there for a fair trial.
The sheriff laughed: You can try, he said, not losing the threat in his voice. Why dont you boys go on over to the restaurant and get a hot meal you look like you could use it.
We have an order from Judge Travis, Chris said firmly.
Tell you what the sheriff leaned back in his chair, Ill give im to you tomorrow at 2:05 in the afternoon. Hows that sound?
Vin grabbed Chris shoulder before he could knock the arrogant sheriff out of his chair.
You boys give me any trouble youll be in here beside him, he warned.
Lets go, Chris, Vin said softly.
If it wasnt for the fact Chris was human, the tracker would have sworn he growled. There was something about certain people that the dark clad gunslinger couldnt stand, and obviously Sheriff Cummins was one of them. Vin carefully pulled on Chris arm and then stepped out into the chilly air.
Asshole, Chris muttered, before storming off towards the restaurant.
Josiah and Nathan nodded to the table where their friends sat. Nobody looked happy. JD was gone, but the others were still working on their coffee.
Brothers, Josiah said, taking his seat. I think this town aims to have a hangin.
Nathan nodded in agreement: Seems one of Rodgers victims was a young woman who was the sister of one of the towns residents.
Thats why the judge wants him in Four Corners, Chris responded, nodding his head in understanding, he wont get a fair trial here.
None of them knew the details, but it was becoming obvious that the case was complicated.
Wheres JD? Nathan asked out of concern.
He took Ezra a plate of food, Buck answered, and then looked up when several of the townsfolk entered the restaurant.
Sheriff Cummins stepped closer to the table with eight men behind him. Although they were farmers, they were ready and willing to use the weapons in their hands. Boys, the sheriff started, seems Im gonna have to place yall under arrest. He smiled arrogantly.
For what? Chris snapped.
Harborin a known fugitive. He pulled out a wanted poster with Vins picture. Vin Tanner, I believe? the sheriff questioned, with one eyebrow raised.
Now hold on, Buck said, jumping to his feet, but was rewarded with the sound of nine guns being cocked.
Put your guns on the table, boys, the sheriff said happily, yall re goin to jail.
JD trotted into town just in time to see his friends being hauled off toward the sheriffs office at gunpoint. Not the scene he was expecting. He watched them carefully, and noticed Buck looking at him. The ladies man shook his head slightly, letting the kid know that now was not the time to make a move.
You best get, boy, one of the men holding a gun on Chris and the others, yelled, before you end up with em!
JD backed his horse away and watched as his friends were forced into the jail. He never liked to be teased about his youthful appearance, but this time he was thankful for it. He spun his horse around and galloped to where Ezra was staying. Between the two of them, surely they could get everyone out of lockup.
Ezra stoked the small fire he had burning back behind the protection of the trees. Trouble stood munching on dead grass, enjoying his freedom. The sun had disappeared, and the cold night air continued to grow heavier with each passing minute. Ezra pulled his coat shut, trying to ward off the chill. He didnt know why he stayed with these men in Four Corners. Hed left once before, but Chris had given him a second chance. Hed told Ezra to never run out again and he hadnt granted, hed come close, but he hadnt run.
He looked at the plate of food JD had been kind enough to bring him, but he just couldnt eat. Something was wrong; he knew it in his gut. Even his cards seemed to be telling him something as he flipped them through his fingers.
Ezra turned suddenly when he heard a horse rushing towards his position. Trouble perked his ears and nickered softly when he realized it was his stable mate, Gus. Ezra stood up and waited for JD to pull his mount to a stop.
Whats wrong? he asked, out of concern.
Chris and the others are in jail, JD gasped for breath.
What? Ezra asked, with a chuckle.
The sheriff had Vin in cuffs, JDs voice pleaded for understanding.
Do you think someone recognized him? he asked seriously.
I aint sure, but the sheriff put everyone in jail the hangins tomorrow, Ezra, at 2:00. And if they hang Rodgers, he shrugged, whats to stop em from hangin Vin? JD dismounted and looked to the gambler for an answer. The whole town is crazy.
Ezra ran his fingers through his hair.
Howre we gonna get em out? JD asked.
How many able bodied men are in town that are capable of riding posse? Ezra asked, his voice taking on a serious tone.
I dont know maybe JD shook his head, he wasnt sure.
Ezra nodded and then quickly started saddling his horse. Get back to town, and stay out of sight, he warned, not wanting JD to get arrested as well. Try and disable any saddles you can find, both used and unused. He leaned over and picked up a small rock with jagged edges, and then handed it to JD. Find as many of these as you can and insert them between the frog and side walls of all the horses hooves
Do it, JD! Ezra snapped.
The kid jumped back, surprised by the gamblers authority. Where are you goin?
To find a priest.
Vin leaned back against the wall of the cell he was sharing with Chris and Buck. Two lanterns hung at each end of the aisle that separated the six cells. Josiah and Nathan shared the chamber next to them, and nobody had anything to say. Boyd Rodgers snored contently across from them. The man didnt look worried about the possibility of hanging. However, he was the only one.
What do you thinks gonna happen? Vin asked, his soft voice floated across the room, making everyone think about their future.
JD and Ezra will come up with somethin, Buck replied confidently, while sitting on the floor resting his elbows on his knees.
Chris chuckled and shook his head he didnt think so.
Whats got you so riled up where Ezras concerned? Buck asked defensively.
Aint just Chris, Vin replied, resting his head against the wall.
We all failed im, Josiah said softly, resting his arms through the bars of his cell.
How do you figure that? Nathan asked, not quite believing the big mans words.
We failed to trust im
With $10,000? Chris snapped, Hell, yeah, we didnt trust im! He sighed, knowing that he saw himself in Ezra he saw himself falling into the lure of what he couldnt possibly have. Unlike the gambler, Chris didnt desire to have money he desired revenge for the deaths of his family, but like the gamblers lust for money, his own desire to find Ella Gains reared its ugly head when he least expected it.
We never gave im a chance, Vin stated, his words were clear and understood.
Ezras a big boy, he can take care of himself. Chris braced himself against the cell door, and looked out, trying to find an escape route.
Well, Buck chuckled, I hope he sees fit to help us out considerin how well we took care of ourselves. Sarcasm dripped from his tongue.
Chris threw Buck and angry glare, but clearly understood his meaning.
JD blew into his hands and then rubbed them together trying to warm them. The early morning sun had yet to heat the barren landscape. Hed managed to cut every cinch on the saddles hed found in town, some still attached to horses. He had a harder time inserting stones into the hooves of the animals he respected so much, and he hoped no permanent lameness would occur due to his effort.
Hed tried to sleep in the hayloft, but his worry for the others kept him awake. JD wasnt sure how or why things went so bad, so soon. He was worried about Ezra. The gambler hadnt been back since leaving the night before, and JD didnt understand why the gambler needed a priest.
The kid scolded himself for thinking that Ezra may have finally had enough and just up and left. Why not? Its not as though everyone else wouldnt believe that about him, but that was Ezras fault wasnt it? JD rubbed his horses neck and stuck his fingers under Gus mane, appreciating the heat that resided there.
When Gus nickered softly, JD knew who it was by his horses behavior. However, when he saw the normally flamboyant dressing gambler ride up wearing priests attire, the sight took him back for a moment.
Ezra? JD asked, in disbelief.
Put your eyes back in their sockets, Mr. Dunne, Ezra replied, stepping down out of the saddle.
You look like a priest.
I should hope so.
JD could help but chuckle. Ezra wearing that purple dress was bad enough, but this this was blasphemy. Nevertheless, he did look like a real priest, as long as he didnt smile.
Whats your plan?
Did you get the saddles and horses taken care of? Ezra asked, not changing the subject, but making sure things would go as planned.
Yeah. JD nodded.
Ill go into town a few minutes after you do. After I enter the sheriffs office, get the others horses ready, and make sure you have an extra one for Rodgers. Ezra repositioned three Bibles in his saddlebags, wanting to make sure they were within easy reach. Hide them out back behind the jail. As soon as Chris and the others are out, head south not east. He looked at JD making sure he understood.
South will take through the gulch, JD replied, thinking that theyd get cornered if they headed that way.
Its the best route in this case, Ezra snapped, unwilling to explain further. Time was of the essence at the moment, and he didnt want to spend it arguing.
JD nodded reluctantly: Ill get the horses ready, he said softly, before mounting his horse and trotting off toward Carterson.
Ezra shook his head. He didnt have time to explain things to the kid at the moment. Perhaps he would later. Trouble tossed his head, getting impatient. Slowly, Ezra nodded, and then mounted up. He had a job to do.
A cold breeze entered the sheriffs office when the door opened. Ezra entered and took a long look around the barren walls, and noticed the hot stove burning and the welcoming smell of coffee brewing.
Im sorry, Father, the sheriff said, quickly getting to his feet and dusting off his shirtsleeves.
No apologies necessary, Ezra replied warmly. He moved his Bibles to one arm and stuck his hand out for the sheriff to shake.
Im Sheriff Lyle Cummins, he introduced himself, shaking the offered hand. We werent expectin a man of the cloth
Fathah Portah, Ezra replied, his accent rich, and I was just passin through town and noticed the gallows, I thought Id do my duty and offah the sufferah his last rights.
Well, thats right kind, Father, but
Youre willin to deny
Oh no, Cummins interrupted, not wanting this priest to think anything bad of him. Its just that hes an awful man, Father.
Hes still a child of God, Ezra said softly, gently touching Lyles arm.
The sheriff nodded in agreement. I cant let you in his cell, but you can talk to him through the bars. He unlocked the heavy wooden door that kept the prisoners separate. Im sorry, Father, but, can I take a look at your Bibles?
Of course, he started to hand over the Bible hed had on top.
The bottom one, the sheriff smiled knowingly.
Ezra nodded, and then pulled out the book.
The sheriff took it and flipped through the pages. Sorry about that, he handed the book back, but I cant be too careful.
Understandable. Ezra nodded in agreement, returning the Bible to its original position. Would you mind, he paused, after the door had been opened, getting me some hot tea?
Tea? Lyle raised his eyebrows. Uh, sure, Ill go get you some tea. He started to turn around and then looked back toward the father. Dont get too close to the bars, he warned before leaving.
Ezra nodded and then entered the area where everyone was held.
Ezra walked up to the cell where Chris, Vin and Buck were being held. Brothahs, he said, getting their attention.
Holy shit! Buck almost screamed.
This is your plan for getten us outa here? Chris asked, unbelieving.
At least Im willin to endeavor hauling your ass out of jail, Ezra replied, using some of Chris exact words.
Father, a young man about JDs age said, from the cell across from the others.
Ezra turned his attention to the youth.
Can you say a prayer for me? The boy asked, sitting on the floor next to the jail door.
Ezra tried to ignore Josiahs chuckle, and then turned his full attention to the young man. He handed one of the Bibles to him through the narrow bars. What did you do to end up here? he asked softly.
Is caught gamblin out behind the stable.
You were gamblin by yourself? Ezra asked, noticing the young mans lack of company.
Oh, no, he shook his head, Is with Sheriff Cummins son, Jake, and a couple others that got away.
Whats your name? Ezra asked, his voice low and serious.
Well, David, have you ever read the book of Mathew?
Ezra smiled: Then he that had received the five talent went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. His grin widened. The book of Mathew is for the gamblah in all of us. He handed a Bible to the youth.
Josiah chuckled and shook his head. There was no denying that Ezra had a way about him.
The gambler stepped closer to the cell where Chris was now standing, wanting more than anything to get himself and his men out of their predicament. Ezra handed the team leader one of the Bibles in his hand and then leaned against the lock. With soft, stable, and experienced hands he quickly had the cell unlocked, and then he moved down to the next one.
What in the hell am I supposed to do with a Bible? Chris asked, getting more and more frustrated by the moment.
Look inside, Ezra replied in disbelief.
Chris opened the book and chuckled. A gun and key had been embedded into the pages. Ill be damned, he sighed, shaking his head.
I want that book back, Mr. Larabee, Ezra said flatly. Mr. Dunne has the horses ready out back. He unlocked the cell where Josiah and Nathan were contained. My suggestion to you is to wait until I leave before escaping. He looked hard at Chris. Its still early enough in the mornin, but I fear the excitement of the hangin has several citizens already anticipatin the event.
Chris nodded and pushed the door open. Lets meet at the pass, he said, shoving the weapon in his belt.
I would suggest avoidin that area at all costs, Ezra replied, stopping at the door and looking out towards the town.
Its the fastest way to Four Corners, Ezra, we dont have time to detour, Chris replied.
Eagle Bend is two hours from the pass, and one of Rodgers fatalities was the bank managah there. Ezra knew that as soon as Chris and the others escaped, a wire would be sent from Carterson to Eagle Bend, and a posse would ensue.
Chris looked at Ezra and sighed: Howd you find that out?
It pays to know your adversaries, Mr. Larabee. Ezra noticed the sheriff coming back across the street with a cup of tea. I would suggest movin south, and Ill meet you at Wiltse Gulch. I noticed all of your weapons on top of the file cabinet next to the sheriffs desk. He stepped through the door and closed the heavy structure before Chris could say a word.
Buck slapped his friend on the shoulder and chuckled. We aint ever gonna live this down.
Chris turned knowing eyes toward his friend and nodded. They wouldnt live this down. Ezra would make sure of it.
So you boys gonna break me out? Rodgers asked, grabbing hold of the iron bars. He grinned, exposing rotting teeth and wide gaps.
Youre goin to trial for murder, you aint escapin anythin! Chris snapped. Lets get to it, he ordered his men, who in response piled out into the aisle, ready to do whatever it took to get out.
Ezra grasped the last Bible he held and waited for the sheriff to enter the office. He stood next to the fire, warming his hands in preparation for the cold outside. When the door opened, the cold air entered the room with a vengeance.
Here you go, Father, Lyle said, handing Ezra the steaming cup.
Thank you, he responded, taking a sip of the tea.
Rodgers give you any trouble?
He didnt say a word, Ezra replied with a grin. He wasnt lying exactly. Ezra looked at his last remaining Bible and handed it to the sheriff. Perhaps you can find a good use for this, he suggested.
Lyle Cummins took the book with a grateful nod. He wasnt doing it to be nice, but rather out of fear of facing the Gates of Hell if he were rude to a priest. Carefully, he placed the Bible on his desk.
Can you tell me where I could find a decent eatery in the area? Ezra asked, moving toward the door. He could see Chris through the window and knew he was anxious.
Matties is real good thats where I got your tea from, Cummins replied, pointing in the direction of the restaurant.
Ezra tipped his head and pulled his long black coat closed around his body. Perhaps Ill see you latah, he smiled kindly, and then disappeared through the door.
The sheriff moved around his desk and then toward the door to check and make sure it was locked. He wasnt expecting it to burst open and a gun to be pointed at his face. He watched helplessly as four men moved around the room collecting their weapons while watching the windows closely.
Sorry bout the interruption, Chris said with a grin, but we have a trial to get to. With weapon in hand, he motioned for the sheriff to move into the jailhouse.
Youll never get away with this! Cummins snapped, before being pushed into a cell.
If we dont, Chris warned, well be hangin you next. He slammed the door shut and quickly exited.
Vin tossed Chris his gun belt as soon as he reentered the office. Horses are out back like Ezra said, the tracker said, looking out the window at the town that was slowly waking.
Lets go, Chris replied, strapping on his gun belt. He looked over at his men and knew by the determination in their eyes that they were prepared.
Ready, Brother, Josiah replied, pulling a gagged and tied Rodgers behind him.
Ezra rushed to where his horse was tied. He mounted quickly, thankful that he hadnt been noticed in the process. He watched the others sprint out of the sheriffs office and then move towards the back of the building to where JD had the animals ready. Unfortunately their escape didnt go unnoticed. Three men yelled for them to stop, and then fired their weapons. Thankfully, they missed their targets.
The sound of shod hooves striking the solid ground filled the air and Ezra knew that Chris and the others had gotten away, for now. Quickly, he rushed out of town. It wouldnt be long before a posse was gathered, and they would be hunted. Hopefully, JD had managed to disable many of the horses and saddles.
Cold air entered burning lungs as seven horses rushed over the rocky landscape. Nostrils flared and teeth clenched over steel bits. Muscles continued to flex and burn as legs moved out of obedience and determination.
The fear of being chased was pushing everyone to the limit.
Wiltse Gulch was filled with rocky hills and low valleys. Trees grew sporadically against the countryside and large boulders lay sporadically in crevasses. The gray sky blended with horizon creating an ambiguous description of where the heavens ended and the earth began. The valley seemed to go on forever.
Chris signaled for his men to stop when they came to the top of the peak. They could see the surrounding area very clearly, and the dark clad gunslinger realized Ezra had been right. From their current position they could easily rush for Bakers pass, and from there Four Corners.
Well wait for Ezra and then head out, Chris said, looking for the posse that he knew would come.
Vin pulled out his spyglass and looked into the direction theyd just come. Ezras comin along the ridge, he said softly, and then looked past the gambler.
He alone? Chris asked.
No, Vin sighed, noticing the posse a few miles behind the gambler.
Chris, Buck said, getting his friends attention.
Get the horses behind the trees! Chris snapped, motioning for everyone duck behind the boulders.
Vin pulled out his long rifle. Buck did the same, willing to try and protect his friends and the job he so cherished. Josiah and Nathan hid the horses behind the large trees and then moved closer to the edge of the peak, while JD kept a close watch on their prisoner.
Ezra pulled Trouble to a sudden stop, his hind feet planted, spraying dirt and rocks in all directions. Ezra was off the horses back before he had a chance to come to a complete halt. Trouble shook his head and trotted in the direction of his stable mates, foam dripped from his mouth and his sides breathed heavy from exhaustion. Ezra crouched down, moving to where the others were talking.
Chris pointed to a spot on the ground with a stick, illustrating to his men where he wanted them. Rodgers sat next to a tree, still bound and gagged. A brisk wind cut through the air causing everyone to sink further down into their skin.
Vin, Chris looked at the sharpshooter, get up high, it wont take em long before they figure were up here, so its best to let em know early.
Vin nodded in agreement. He lifted his eyeglass to take a look at the posse that was getting closer by the second. Looks like twenty or so, he said softly.
How do you wanna handle this? Nathan asked, crouching down while trying to get a better picture of the drawing Chris had done on the ground.
Weve got an advantage, Chris replied, looking at each of his men, being that were on higher ground.
Takin em down a few at a time s only goin to hold em off for a short time, Vin said, looking out toward the approaching posse.
Buck nodded in agreement: What if we head west, skip Bakers pass and throw em off the road to Four Corners?
Chances of outrunnin a posse is piss poor to say the least, Chris replied, before taking his hat off and running his hand through his hair.
Split up, Ezra said, stepping closer to the group. If we spread out, we can make to Whitley Pass, and from there Four Corners.
We stand a better chance if we all stay together, Chris snapped, unwilling to listen.
If we pair off, Mr. Larabee, the posse will have to split up and in the process well lose the majority of them in the confusion. We can then reconvene at Whitley Pass.
It wont work! Chris snapped again.
Ezra shook his head and then walked toward his horse.
Wheren the hell do you think youre goin? Chris stood up. Or are you runnin out for good this time?
Brother, Josiah spoke up, not wanting the argument to escalate.
Im not about to sit here and get slaughtered because of your inability to trust me! Ezra yelled back, grabbing Troubles reins.
Your plan wont work! Chris barked, It wont work!
It will work! Ezra shouted, Ive seen it before! He pointed towards the ground, trying to emphasis his point.
So have I! Chris yelled back, the veins on his temples were pulsating, and his eyes were void of any emotion except anger. Hed been on the receiving end of such a plan, and it bothered him to think that Ezra had been a part of it.
Everyone stood silent, trying to understand what was happening, but failing. Buck lowered his head, he knew. Hed been there, along side Chris, on the 6th of May 1864. How could he forget how could anyone forget whod lived it. Nobody talked about the war, not that it was bad luck, but rather, it was a sensitive subject. It had nearly torn the country apart. The hard part was having to face the fact Ezra had fought against them.
Hes right, Buck spoke up, surprising everyone. If we leave now.
Chris looked to where the posse was approaching and sighed. Ezra was right, and that was the hardest thing to admit. Vin, he looked to the sharpshooter, you and JD head through the bluffs get your asses to Whitley Pass. Josiah, you and Buck move through the ravine, Nathan, he looked toward the healer, you and Ezra ride with me. Well take Rodgers with us.
Four riders will be too easy to track, Ezra interrupted.
Hes right, Chris, Vin said softly, while getting his horse ready for the fast ride. Most of that posses goin to separate an go after you.
Chris reluctantly nodded his head.
Ill ride alone, Ezra replied firmly.
Go with Vin and JD, he ordered.
Ezra shook his head and moved toward his saddle. Despite Chris order, hed do what he thought was right, and so what if it didnt make sense to anyone else, it made perfect sense to him.
It didnt take long for everyone to get mounted. And then, like seasoned birds, the groups moved off into their own directions. They had to get to Whitley Pass; it was a matter of life and death.
Chris slowed his horse and pulled harder on the lead rope of the horse Rodgers was on. Nathan followed close behind. The horses gasped for breath as their lungs continued to burn. The only thought running through the minds of Chris and Nathan was getting to Whitley Pass in one piece. They pushed themselves just as hard as their mounts.
Shots whistled through trees, and landed violently on unsuspecting targets. The day was early yet, and as a result, everyone was willing to ride harder and faster. The bitter cold refused to give up its hold, and the wind cut like knives over the faces of everyone riding.
Nathan urged his horse through the freezing water right behind Rodgers horse. Chris, then kicked Mud into a hard gallop when the team reached dry land. He could hear the horses behind him splashing through the water, and when he turned to check on Nathan he noticed the healer struggling to keep up. They had to get to safety fast.
Josiah and Buck raced over the rocky ground, trusting in their horses to get them to safety. The wind whipped past their faces, causing their eyes to water and their noses to run. Their horses breathed heavily, their breath crystallizing in the air, causing them to look more like mystical creatures from a storybook. The hollow sound of their feet striking the hard ground filled the air. Muscles strained under the weight of riders, and hearts pumped ferociously. The four men following them werent going to give up easily.
Ezra slowed his mount and headed to his right when he noticed JD and Vin hadnt paid him any mind as they rushed ahead of him. A large group of men had broken away from the posse and were now following them. Shots continued to ring out, and Ezra hoped that by breaking away from his fellow peacekeepers, that some of the posse would follow him. It was easier for one man to outrun them.
Trouble galloped over the rocky terrain, stumbling occasionally when stones moved unexpectedly from under his hooves. He breathed hard, but his large powerful heart kept him moving. Foam, due to an accumulation of sweat, started to gather on the large horses neck where the leather reins rested. Ezras thighs burned from holding his half-seat position, and his shoulder ached as time and the cold crept in.
Vin pulled Digger to a sliding stop, barely avoiding a collision with JD. Whitley Pass was exactly the kind of place they were going to need. Trees, rocks, and steep inclines would enable them to defend themselves in the most secure manner. Vin grabbed his long rifle and took up a position between two large boulders. He could see the large valley below.
Wheres Ezra? JD asked, slightly worried.
Vin turned and looked at the kid. Shit, he sighed, getting to his feet. Toss me my glass, he ordered.
JD reached into Vins saddlebag and pulled out his spyglass and then quickly tossed it to him. Buck and Josiah are on their way.
Vin nodded in recognition. Posses startin to gather at the base of the gorge, he said softly, looking carefully through his glass. Dont see Ezra, Chris, or Nathan. He repositioned himself between the rocks and pointed his rifle toward the men who started to gather down below.
JD tied the horses to the trees away from the edge of the incline. He sighed in relief when Buck and Josiah pulled their horses to a stop and jumped down from their backs. The animals trotted to where their stable mates were tied, trying desperately to catch their breath.
Buck slapped the kid on the shoulder before gripping his rifle and taking up a position next to Vin. Both men tucked their weapons up close to their shoulders when they saw their friends racing for the bluff. The majority of the posse was still on their tail. As soon as their targets were in range, both men started firing. Chris and Nathan raced faster, both trying to keep Rodgers from getting killed before the trial. The men that had been following them separated as soon as the bullets started to fly. They hid behind rocks, logs, and trees, and quickly started to return fire.
Chris pulled Mud to a stop and quickly yanked Rodgers out of the saddle and then shoved him up against a tree. With one look he ordered Josiah to stand guard. Wheres Ezra? Chris yelled, taking up a position next to Vin and Buck.
Dont know, Vin responded, taking another shot at one of the men down below.
We managed to lose some of em, Buck said, noticing there were about half of the number in the current posse as there had been when they left.
They still outnumber us, Chris snapped, tucking his rifle up against his shoulder.
Vin grunted in pain and jolted backwards. His hand quickly covered the gunshot wound to his shoulder and blood promptly started seeping through his fingers. Damn it! he snapped, feeling helpless.
Nathan! Chris yelled, taking another shot at the men down below.
JD and Nathan crept over to where Vin had landed and then carefully they moved him away from the boulders. Nobody else needed to get shot today.
I cant see shit, Buck snapped, wiping his brow free of the sweat that had started to gather there.
Ezras comin up the east side, Josiah yelled, making sure everyone had heard. He watched carefully as the gambler, still wearing his priest attire, maneuvered his horse through the rough terrain.
He aint gonna make it, Buck griped. The east side of the bluff was the most difficult to traverse, and the least traveled. Most times, it was used only when kids dared each other to ride up it. Nathan had fixed several broken bones as a result. Buck pointed his weapon at the men down below and sighed. He wasnt a sharpshooter, and he felt helpless trying to shoot these men that he could hardly see.
Shit! Chris snapped, watching as the men down below started to move back and remount their horses. Hes gonna bring em up right behind im. He moved away from his position and went to check on Vin. They needed to get out of there in a hurry.
Vin leaned against the tree as Nathan wrapped a bandage tightly around his shoulder. The bleeding had slowed and thankfully the bullet had gone clear through. He nodded slightly to Chris as the gunslinger moved closer to him. Whats wrong?
We need to move, Chris responded.
Nathan shook his head: Vins lost too much blood, Chris, we move im around too much hes gonna start bleedin again.
Chris took his hat off and slapped it up against his thigh. He squatted down so he could face his friend. You feelin all right?
Vin nodded, and then clenched his jaw. I can ride, he responded with firm determination.
Chris shook his head: No, he said flatly. He knew just by looking at Vin that he wouldnt be able to sit astride a horse for very long, and it would be even harder for him with a posse and the bitter cold stealing the little strength he had left. Chris looked up and met Nathans eyes. Keep an eye on im, he ordered, knowing the healer would do just that.
They needed to end this now.
Ezra bound up the rough terrain trying to keep his seat. Trouble did his best at keeping his feet beneath him, but on occasion hed stumble causing his rider to fall forward in the saddle. Sweat and snot flew off the animals body as his sides heaved from exhaustion. The horse had run his hardest because his master had asked him to. Even as muscles continued to burn, and lungs yearned for more air, four shod feet continued to strike the hard ground.
Ezra knew that if he entered Whitley Pass from the east, the riders following him, and the posse that had gathered at the base, would be visible to the rest of his associates. That was his plan. Hed ridden this way many times before, and despite his supposed big city upbringing, he knew his way around the land. It was a necessity when he moved from town to town, most times in a hurry.
Grabbing Troubles mane, Ezra pulled himself up on his horses neck as they bound up the steep incline. Rocks and pebbles rolled down the hill and Trouble kept his ears back as he planted each hoof into the hard dirt. Hed get to the top.
JD and Josiah watched with bated breath as the gambler and his surefooted horse rushed up the bluff. It was amazing how fear could push a person, or so they thought. Both men ducked when bullets started to pelt the ground they stood on. Ezra jumped off his horse as soon as they arrived onto the flat surface of the knoll. Whitley Pass wasnt an easy route to take, but it was the fastest.
How many? Ezra asked in a tight strong voice, grabbing his long rifle from the scabbard on his saddle.
Fourteen at last count, Buck responded, pulling the hammer back on his rifle. He felt Chris move in beside him.
Ezra rested his left elbow on his knee as he pulled his rifle into his right shoulder. The same sharpshooter position hed learned while serving in the Confederacy. Hed been one of six hundred Georgia Sharpshooters holding back Burnside and his army at Antietam. Hed done this before, and hed do it again. He removed his hat, and concentrated on the target and the end of his weapon. It had been over ten years since hed fired at a man from this distance, and it brought back many memories most of them bad.
Smile, you son-of-a-bitch, Ezra said softly. The only sound filling his ears was that of his own breath, and like the stroke of midnight, his weapon fired, kicking his shoulder and echoing throughout the Pass.
Chris and Buck to turn unexpected eyes toward the Southerner. They had figured Ezra had fought during the war, his ability with a cannon was something hed learned, it wasnt something hed picked up. And like most Confederate soldiers, Ezra had learned well.
The lead member of the posse fell from his horse, just as bullets started to hail from the sky, or so it seemed. Ezra continued to fire his weapon, along side Chris and Buck. It wasnt long before Josiah and JD added to the entourage, causing men to fall from their saddles in wounded agony and in desperation for finding a place to hide.
The battle was on, and nobody intended to lose.
JD! Chris yelled. Get my ammunition out of my saddlebag, he ordered, never taking his eyes off the men below.
The kid ducked behind the large boulders and rushed for the horses. He glanced at Nathan, who was trying to keep a worried Vin seated. Trouble and Digger moved shyly out of his way as JD made his way toward Mud. The dark clouds that had gathered overhead hadnt caused anyone to take notice. Theyd been too preoccupied with the posse. When JD looked up, remembering for a moment that nobody had been watching the prisoner, Rodgers, he glanced over toward the tree where the man was supposed to have been sitting.
Rodgers was gone.
Damn it! JD swore, looking around the area. Quickly, he finished grabbing Chris ammunition, and then rushed out from behind the trees where the horses were tied. In a matter of seconds, with his heart beat wildly in his chest, he noticed the still form of the man he was searching for.
It was obvious that while Chris and the rest of them had moved away from Rodgers while trying to keep from getting killed, the prisoner had tried to escape, and as a result caught a stray bullet to the chest. His hands were still bound, and the gag still in place, but his clothing was covered in blood. JD shook his head, he couldnt believe their luck.
The rain started to come down slowly, but it wasnt reserved for long, as lighting and thunder rolled in the distance. While Nathan tended to Vin, the rest of the seven continued to fire their weapons at unseen men below. JD rushed back to the large boulders that were protecting his friends from the oncoming shots. His hat did little to keep the heavy rain off shoulders, but thankfully, his heavy coat was doing its job.
Here, Chris, JD said, slipping in next to the gunslinger.
The tall blonde took the box of bullets and quickly reloaded his empty rifle. Hows Vin? he asked, before JD could move away.
Nathans still with im, havin a hard time keepin im still too. The kid chuckled, and took another look at the wounded sharpshooter. He tuned his attention back to Chris and sighed, Rodgers is dead, he said flat out.
What? Chris and Buck gasped at the same time.
Think maybe he tried to run and picked up a stray bullet.
Shit! Chris swore.
Theyre givin up, Buck yelled, getting everyones attention.
The men down below searched frantically for their horses. Weapons stopped firing, but Chris and the others watched the posse closely, making sure they didnt turn back. The rain poured out of the sky in buckets, drenching everyone and everything that lay in its path. A strong wind that had kicked up turned the normally flaccid shower into a brutal force as it upturned clothing, hats, and anything that wasnt tied down.
The horses turned their backs to the forceful wind, trying to protect themselves from the cold. Nathan tried to keep Vin covered, but his efforts were futile. The sharpshooter struggled to his feet when the ground started to move with the flow of water. He leaned heavily on Nathan for support, realizing for the first time that his blood loss had taken its toll.
He gonna be all right? Chris asked, pushing his hat further down on his head.
We need to get im outta here, Nathan said, moving to share the burden of Vin with Chris.
It aint too bad, Vin replied.
Shit, Vin, Buck gasped, you look like a wet sheet bein hung out to dry. He pulled Digger to a stop and helped Chris get the sharpshooter mounted.
Nathan grabbed several bedrolls and gently threw them over Vins back, wanting more than anything to keep him warm.
You gonna be all right? Chris asked, looking at Vins white knuckles as he grasped the horn of his saddle.
Lets just go, he responded, hunching further over the pommel.
Chris slapped Vins shoulder gently and quickly moved toward his mount. He noticed the rest of his men were ready, and Rodgers had been slung over the back of his horse. Nathan ponied Vin behind him, and Josiah led the dead outlaw. Buck and JD started on ahead, looking for anything that might cause trouble. Ezra took up the rear.
There had never been a sweeter sight than the night fires burning in Four Corners. The rain had stopped, but the bitter cold wind continued to torment its victims. Vin had almost fallen from his saddle, and was now positioned on his horse between Nathan and Chris. Both men rode with one hand on the reins of their horses and one on the sharpshooters back.
Thankfully the posse that had started out so vengeful, had dissipated, and were no longer following Cartersons escapees. Whether it was the weather that turned them away, or the sevens unwillingness to give up, it didnt matter. They were gone.
Chris knew when the judge found out that his prisoner was dead, there would be a lot to explain, but at this point in time it didnt matter. What mattered now was getting Vin up to Nathans clinic. Getting the bullet wound taken care of, getting him warm, and making sure he was going to make it.
JD, Nathan called, have Mrs. Potter start some water boilin, and then make sure the stove is goin in my clinic. It wasnt an order, but rather a request that was eagerly followed. And JD! he called after the retreating form, make sure you change into some dry clothes when youre done.
You need anything else, Brother? Josiah asked, riding up next to his friend.
Blankets, Nathan responded honestly, and food.
Josiah nodded his head: Ill see to it.
You take care of Rodgers, Chris ordered, and looked toward Ezra, who had remained silent since leaving Whitley Pass. Ezra, you get the blankets and food.
The gambler nodded subtly and kicked Trouble into a steady gate.
Buck watched the Southerner ride on ahead and then he turned his attention to his longest friend. Chris face remained emotionless, but the underlying concern was evident in his eyes. Things had changed over the past few weeks, and the dark gunslinger was someone who didnt like change not at all.
You gonna keep wearin im down? Buck asked, riding up along side Chris.
Who? Chris asked, looking hard at his friend.
Ezra, Buck answered.
I aint wearin anyone down, Chris snapped.
Bullshit, Chris, an you know it! Buck barked, before galloping toward town.
Nathan finished binding Vins shoulder, as he remained asleep. Josiah had helped the healer clean the injury, and thankfully, the wound was fairly minor. The bitter cold, wet, and blood loss had taken its toll on him, but with some rest in a warm dry bed hed be fine in time.
Nathan stretched his back, reminding him that he had yet to change into some dry clothing, as his still damp waistband rubbed ruthlessly against his skin. Nathans stomach growled in response to the idea of food. He looked up when Josiah chuckled.
Why dont you stop and eat, Josiah said, placing his hand on Nathans shoulder. Ill watch our ailing brother for the time bein.
You should change and eat as well, Josiah, Nathan said, looking once more at the bed. Ill get one of the others to sit with im a while. He nodded to himself and picked up some dry clothing.
How is he? Chris asked, trying to ward off the cold wind as he entered the clinic.
Hes sleepin now, but with some rest he should be fine, Nathan answered.
JD took a deep sigh and relaxed after following Chris inside.
I wired the judge about Rodgers. He said hes gonna be here in a few days. Chris looked at the faces of his men.
Wheres Ezra? Nathan asked, closing his coat.
Sheriffs office, Chris answered, hes watchin Rodgers body. Dont want anyone gettin the wrong idea. He grinned, feeling relieved.
Buck slapped JDs shoulder and started for the stairs. Ezra talked Mrs. Potter into cookin some of her stew, said shed have it ready for us when we needed it. He grinned, feeling as though he could eat a horse.
Im just goin to grab a bite, Nathan said, starting for the door, Ill be back shortly.
Chris nodded, and then seated himself in the old chair next to the bed where Vin was sleeping comfortably. The gunslinger reached up and grabbed a book off of Nathans end table.
Ezra walked across the small office and looked to where the body of Rodgers was lying covered in a white sheet. The fire in the stove continued to burn with a vengeance, reflecting the inner war Ezra was fighting so hard to keep hid. He reached up and pulled the white collar off his neck and threw it into the blaze. It didnt take long for the once white neckband to turn black and fall apart.
You tryin to burn your demons? Josiah asked, watching from the door.
My hypocrisy does have its limitations, Ezra replied, turning back toward the desk to finish his solitaire game.
Listen, Ezra, Josiah started to say, but found it difficult to continue, a few weeks ago you came to me, needin an ear to listen and
Yes, well, Ezra interrupted, at the time I thought I could confess my troubles, Mr. Sanchez, and it is not a mistake I intend to make twice. His words were cold, but not bitter. He didnt mean to sound so harsh but he couldnt see beyond his own pain at the moment. Selfish, perhaps, but he didnt want to hear Josiahs justification for his earlier actions speech.
What I said to you was it was meant for myself.
Are you here to relieve me? Ezra asked, wishing hed changed into some dry clothing.
Reluctantly, Josiah nodded.
Ezra grabbed his hat and coat from the hanger near the fire and slipped them on. Until tomorrow, he tapped his fingers to the brim of his hat and opened the door. It didnt take him long to disappear into the dark night.
Josiah watched him go, feeling like a man whod just lost his best friend.
As soon as the sun came out the next morning, everyone who could was out enjoying it. The wind had died down, and the wet ground soaked up the suns rays like a blooming flower. Spring was letting everyone know that it made its own decisions about life.
Vin rested his head against the outside wall of the saloon. His arm was strapped tightly to his chest, and the dull ache from his shoulder still consumed his being. Ive been thinkin, he said, watching as Ezra entered the sheriffs office from across the street.
Shit, Vin, Buck gasped, thats never good. He let the front two legs of his chair slam down onto the boardwalk.
Chris pushed his hat up on his head and looked up the street. It was quiet, and for that he was thankful. What ave you been thinkin about? he asked, slipping down further into his seat.
Way I see it, he paused, Ezra aint no different than the rest of us
He knew what he was doin when he put that money in his jacket, Chris responded, knowing where the conversation was going.
I still got that rifle Stubbs used, Vin said.
How? Vin challenged. Way I see it it aint no different, cept for the fact I had to kill to get my money.
Whatn the hell are you talkin about? Chris snapped, harsher than hed intended.
Aint a one of us thats perfect, Chris, youve said it yourself. But if you keep stirrin that hornets nest, youre gonna get stung. Vin tilted with his head to where Ezra was standing in the doorway of the office.
Chris shook his head, not agreeing with the sharpshooters assessment.
He stepped in front of that gun, Chris, Buck said softly, looking toward the gambler, knowin what would happen.
I aint denyin what he did, Chris response was quick and harsh.
No, Buck said, getting to his feet, I reckon not.
Vin watched the ladies man walk back into the saloon. You ever gonna trust im? he asked, tilting his head in Ezras direction.
With my money or my life? Chris asked.
Does it matter? Vin responded.
The gunslinger turned questioning eyes toward his friend and sighed. He didnt know. Hed seen Josiah willing to face murder charges for sins of his past, and yet the situation had turned victorious for the preacher. Hed seen JD face a town after accidentally shooting a woman, leave, and then come back with more confidence than hed ever had. Hed killed the one and only person that could clear Vin of the charge of murder, only to be thanked later on for saving his life. Hed seen Nathan face his father and come to a clear understanding of his past, and face that challenge head on. All of these men had stood by Chris while he went searching for the person whod killed his wife. Theyd all risked their lives to help him, and how did he thank them?
Ezra wasnt any different than the rest of them. He had a past he was unwilling to share, a past that he kept hidden beneath walls of sarcasm, quick wit, and poker. But like the rest of them, he stayed for reasons only he knew. Chris didnt want to lead these men, but the challenge fell on his shoulders and he took that challenge reluctantly. Ezra had run out on them before, but in essence, all of them had, and theyd returned stronger. Even Chris had run out, and when he thought about it, hed almost run out with the woman whod had his family killed. There wasnt anything wrong with wanting a change in life, but it was the change that decided a mans fate.
Chris? the soft feminine voice brought the gunslinger out of his moment of reflection.
Mary, he responded softly.
Mrs. Travis, Vin acknowledged.
Mary pulled a pencil from her hair and pulled a small notepad out of her apron. Her white sleeve guards had been stained with black ink from her printing press. Id like to ask you a few questions?
Not until the judge gets here, Chris responded, shaking his head.
No, she smiled, shaking her head, on April 9th its going to be the tenth anniversary of Lees surrender. Im writing a story for the paper on how people still feel about the war and the results.
Chris shook his head: Dont go diggin up things from that past, Mary, youre bound to uncover a lot of hard feelins.
Vin nodded his head in agreement and turned his face toward the stage that was coming into town.
As long as this is a free country, Chris, Mary replied sternly, I intend to write about it.
Dont go causin trouble.
Did you fight in the war, Mr. Larabee? Mary asked, raising her eyebrows, expecting an answer. When she didnt get one she turned her attention to Vin. What about you, Mr. Tanner?
Id rather not think on it at the moment, Mrs. Travis, Vin replied, watching as the stage came to a stop.
Ill come back at a better time then, she responded, tucking her pad and pencil away before leaving for her office.
The four horses pulling the stage came to a stop. Their sides heaved, and they tossed their heads, loosening the reins that had pulled so harshly on their mouths. The driver jumped down and opened the door and then moved to the back and started untying luggage.
Hal Davis exited the stage and took a brief look around before helping his young daughter and son down onto the ground. The girl smiled when she spotted the doll in the window of the general store and she quickly rushed toward it.
Cora, Hal said, helping his nanny down onto the boardwalk, watch Emily and Joseph while I get us some rooms at the hotel. He then instructed the coach driver to have their belongings brought to their rooms.
Ill sees to em, Cora said softly, taking Emilys hand.
Wheres papa going? Joseph asked, watching his father.
Cora looked up and watched as her employer moved with purpose down the boardwalk and then take an abrupt left, entering the hotel. Hes gettin us some rooms, she replied.
Ezras heart sank into the pit of his stomach when he saw the woman exit the stage. It had been almost thirteen years since hed seen her last, and it hadnt been on good terms, or so he thought. She hadnt changed much. She still had her hair wrapped in an old cloth, but her face was as soft as it had been so many years ago. Shed put on a little weight, but it was Cora, his uncles house slave.
You all right, Brother? Josiah asked, out of concern. It was rare to see so much emotion cross Ezras face, and it was even rarer to read the despair in his eyes.
Fine, Ezra responded, a little too abruptly. He pulled his hat down further over his face and quickly took his leave of the sheriffs office.
Josiah watched him go, wondering what it was from the stage that had caused the Southerner so much pain. The big man paused, hoping that Ezra hadnt decided to leave.
Next: Mommas in the Moon
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