His Own Tongue

by Beth

Notes: (The Mother Nature Challenge) offered by TwylaJane

Show me Mother Nature, at her best, her worst, the raw elements must figure into the storyline almost like a character unto itself. Whether it is heavy rain showers, twisters, flash floods, heat waves, hurricanes, mud slides, earthquakes, fish falls, plague of locust or even a blizzard the choice is yours.

Again, I beta-ed this myself…it might get a little scary so I apologize in advance!!!!

Please send comments to: artwriter@operamail.com

Chapter 1

Chris grabbed the telegram from Ebon’s hand, causing the telegraph operator to shake in his boots and quickly turn back toward the safety of his office. Chris read the slip and crumpled it in his hand before tossing it to the ground.

Vin could have sworn he heard him growl.

“JD!” Chris barked.

The kid jumped after having tossed his knife into the boardwalk. “Yeah?” he said softly, quickly standing to attention.

“I need you to ride up to Dale and haul Ezra’s ass out of jail.” He tossed the telegram to the ground before storming off.

“Thought Ezra was goin’ up there to get a package for the judge?” Vin asked, pushing the brim of his hat up.


Just as Buck finished reading the note, old man Dempsy walked by, tapping his cane on the boardwalk. He chuckled softly to himself, as he started passing by. “Larabee sent Standish to Dale alone?” he laughed again, knowing something the others didn’t. His long gray hair hid his eyes, and his old shabby clothing gave way to the label he’d earned as the town nut.

“What’re you talkin’ about Dempsy?” Vin asked, unwilling to let the man’s comment drop. Dempsy may have looked and acted strange, but there was a bizarre wisdom about him.

The old man stopped and looked across the road, knowing he’d have to cross it eventually. “Ya see, Sheriff Henry Mills ain’t particularly fond of gamblers…an’ he hates Southerners.” He reached up to scratch his beard. “Heard one time that Mills lost ‘is wife an’ daughter by them Rebs while he was livin’ in Kentucky—damn boarder states, don’t know their asses from their elbows.” He spit, and stepped off the boardwalk. “You best send that boy fer yer friend…if’n he’s still alive.”

“Maybe one of us should go with ‘im?” Vin offered, looking toward the kid. Nobody had even heard of Dale until the judge asked Ezra to go.

“Can’t spare anyone,” Josiah said softly, regretfully. “Not with the Holms brothers on the run—that’s why Chris’s been such a bear…they’re headed straight for us.”

“If this Mills is such an ass, JD, you best take your badge, and use it.” Buck looked off into the distance, wishing he could go with him.

“If I ride hard I’ll be there by late tomorrow,” JD said, grabbing his hat off the chair and picking up his knife. He adjusted his hat before slipping on his guns.

“Be careful, and don’t let that sheriff bull you,” Buck said harshly, having worked in law enforcement long enough to know that nobody wore their badge the same.

JD nodded before trotting off toward the livery.

“Think he’ll be all right?” Nathan asked, feeling suddenly sick to his stomach.

“If he can find it,” Vin replied, with a shake of his head.


JD burst into the livery and rushed toward the stall where his little gelding was held. He saw Tiny from the corner of his eye, but didn’t pay him any mind. Like a man on the run, he quickly saddled and bridled his mount, knowing he had a destination to get to, and knowing a friend was in need.

“Where’re ya headed in such a rush?” Tiny asked, tossing a bundle of hay into one of the stalls.

“Ezra’s gotten himself into some trouble, and Chris’s sending me off to get him,” came the rush of words.

Tiny shook his head: “Easy to do in this country,” he muttered under his breath.

JD finished tying his bedroll to the back of the saddle and was about to lead his horse out, but he paused for a moment. “What’s the fastest way Dale, Tiny?”

The older man paused a moment and squinted his eyes in thought. “Fastest way would be to go through the lower ranges…follow the Peterson’s property until you hit snake crick, and then head north…you can’t miss it.” He’d heard stories of Dale, mostly from men on their way through, and none of them were good.

JD smiled and nodded, before heading out of the stable. He felt honored to have been asked by Chris to retrieve Ezra…and he hoped he could fulfill his duty.


Buck watched JD ride out of town at an easy gallop. Unease settled in his stomach, but he knew Chris needed him here, and if the Holms boys showed him—they’d need both JD and Ezra back…in one piece.

“Buck?” Vin said, sneaking up behind the gunslinger.

“Yeah,” came the soft response.

“We got trouble comin’.”

Chapter 2

Dale wasn’t a large town; in a matter of face it could hardly be considered a town at all. Only four buildings stood: the sheriff’s office, bank, a small grocery, and a saloon. It was a community of farmers. Not a lot, but just enough.

JD pulled his horse to a stop in front of the sheriff’s office. He looked around, and dismounted, not seeing anything suspicious.

The sheriff walked out of his office, and leaned against the doorframe. He rolled his cheroot over his tongue before placing it between his lips and lighting it with a casual air about him. “Can I help you?” came the gruff voice.

“I’m part of the law from Four Corners, and I’m here for Ezra Standish,” JD said firmly, trying to sound firm and professional.

The sheriff chuckled and shook his head. “I was expectin’ somebody…bigger.”

JD looped his horse’s reins over the hitching post, trying to ignore the barb. “I can contact Circuit Court Judge Orin Travis if I have to.” He looked up and met the sheriff’s eyes. He meant what he said. “Ezra Standish is one of the lawmen from Four Corners, you don’t have any right lockin’ him up.”

“He ain’t the law here, boy.” He spit out his cheroot. “Your lawman,” he motioned with his thumb toward the jail, “got into a bit of a fight at the saloon.” A sinister grin appeared on his face, one that expressed his lies. “Gamblers ain’t good for nothin’…‘cept fillin’ the cemeteries.”

JD took a step up onto the deck and looked the man in the eye. “I know a lot of men who’d disagree with you.” He wasn’t taking the man’s bull.

Mills crossed his arms in front of his chest. “There’s a twenty dollar fee in gettin’ your friend out…an’ then you’re expected to leave here an’ never—ever come back…particularly if he’s with ya.”

JD looked out to his right, and saw the black clouds rolling toward them. A storm was coming, and by the looks of it…it would be a big one. “We’ll need a place to stay for the night.”

“Not here you won’t,” came the terse reply. He stepped forward, towering over JD and looked hard at the kid. “Don’t want no Rebel conch sittin’ in my jail cell, smellin’ up my good Yankee beddin’.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the keys and then tossed them onto the office floor. “Ain’t you or any of your friends welcome here…boy.” The words dripped from his tongue like oil from a skillet.

JD refused to back down, he knew how to play the game…he’d seen Chris do it a million times. This sheriff was a coward, living in a past that needed to be buried. He moved passed Mills and headed into the office, grabbing the keys off the floor in one sweep. “What the hell?” he yelled out, rushing toward the cell where Ezra was being held.

The gambler lay on his side, his face toward the back wall. JD didn’t wait. He opened the cell and thrust the door open, allowing it to hit the wall and ring momentarily. Ezra’s shirt was in disarray, bloodied in sections, untucked from his pants, and ripped at the left shoulder. He still wore his boots, but he was covered in dirt, as though he’d been ambushed. JD reached forward and touched Ezra’s shoulder, wishing Nathan had come with him…wishing he weren’t alone.

“What in the hell did you do to him?!” JD yelled, standing upright. He moved out of the cell and retrieved Ezra’s hat, jacket, and weapons from the hat stand, while never taking his eyes off Sheriff Mills. His thoughts, however, were solely on Ezra.

“Resistin’ arrest in this town will get you more than you’re willin’ to pay,” came the cold reply.

JD returned to the cell and slowly rolled the gambler onto his back. Blood marred his hairline, and had dried along the left side of his face. His right eye was black, but not swollen. “Ezra,” JD said softly, trying to rouse him.

Slowly, confused green eyes appeared. They were pain filled, glazed, and distant, but they were there. JD knew without looked that Ezra had bruised ribs—if not broken ones, in the sections that his shirt didn’t cover his skin was covered in black and blue marks…probably made by boots. JD shook his head and slowly helped the gambler sit up.

Ezra cried out, leaning heavily against the kid. Ezra shook, from exhaustion or pain, JD didn’t know, either way he only wanted to get the gambler to safety.

“We got to get you out of here, Ezra,” he said softly, slowly slipping the gambler’s jacket onto him. Trying not to cause him more pain, but it didn’t seem to matter what he did…Ezra’s quick breaths and slight moans told him more than what he needed to know. “Where’s his horse?” he demanded of the sheriff.

“Need that fee first,” came the concise reply.

JD rolled his eyes and slowly reached into Ezra’s boot and pulled out his money, thankful that he still had it. He pulled off twenty dollars and stuffed the money back into the boot. He turned suddenly and handed the money over. “I want a receipt…with Ezra’s name on it!”

The sheriff raised his eyebrows and hesitantly nodded. The kid seemed to know what he was doing. Mills walked over to his desk and pulled out a small notepad and wrote out a proper receipt. He handed it to JD and quickly returned to his desk and took a seat, kicking his heels up onto the desktop.

“Where’s his horse?”

“There’s a corral out behind the saloon—you’ll find ‘im there.”

JD tightened his fists, digging his nails into the palms of his hands. “You got a telegraph office in this shit hole?” He was young, but he wasn’t stupid and he understood the importance of having a powerful presence.

“Wait just a minute,” the sheriff stood up, pushing his chair back, causing it to fall over. “You ain’t got no right comin’ into my town—”

“What’d you do?” JD took a threatening step forward, tired of the bull—he was angry about the whole situation. “Jump him on his way into town, or out?”

“What in the hell are you implyin’?” The sheriff’s face reddened, and he spit when he spoke. 

The sound of thunder rolled and echoed…the storm was getting close.

JD turned and headed back into the cell. He placed his hand on Ezra’s shoulder, not wanting to cause im further pain. “We’ve got to go, Ezra,” he said softly, carefully slipping his arms under the gambler’s.

Ezra groaned, feeling every kick, hit, and punch he’d received from three days before. He stood up on shaky legs, feeling his ribs throb and send shards of pain to his toes. Ezra felt his arm move up and around JD’s shoulder and a strong arm gently move behind his back and around his waist for support.

“You better get that slimy piece of Southern ass out of here, before he happens to fall on the open end of my pistol,” Mills snapped, pulling a rag out of his desk to wipe down his weapon.

“You better pray he makes it back to Four Corners alive, otherwise you’ll hang for murder,” JD’s tone took on a deep sound, threatening…promising.

Together, Ezra and JD moved out of the sheriff’s office slowly, but efficiently. Ezra’s grip increased on JD’s shoulder…both out of pain and his need for balance. They treaded toward the corral, receiving nothing but looks of suspicion and pity from townsfolk.

Trouble trotted forward when he saw the familiar faces, he was still saddled and bridled. Nobody had bothered to remove his tack. Ezra winced, feeling for his horse, but it was good seeing he was seemingly healthy. JD carefully positioned Ezra up against the fence and quickly retrieved the chestnut from the corral. The wind had picked up, and he knew they wouldn’t get to shelter before the storm hit…but he couldn’t risk staying in town.

“You’ve got to help me out here, Ezra,” JD said softly, moving behind the gambler to get him mounted.

Trouble stood still while JD managed to get the gambler in the saddle. Sweat gathered and beaded on Ezra’s forehead and he leaned over the horn and pommel, grasping Trouble’s mane with the white-knuckle-death-grip. JD made sure Ezra’s feet were in his stirrups before taking Trouble’s reins. He’d lead them out of town…and hopefully the gambler would stay seated.

JD mounted his own horse and slowly headed out of town, keeping one eye on Ezra, and the other on Sheriff Mills. “You’ll be hearing from Judge Travis,” he warned, walking past.

“I look forward to it,” Mills snickered.

Chapter 3

Vin dived behind the covered wagon and grasped his wounded arm. He swore to himself for missing his target and quickly grasped his mule’s leg, unwilling to stay down. He could hear the others firing their weapons.

The gang was large, and they’d come prepared. They hid behind their horses and anything else they could find. Every business owner had closed shop and were now hiding in cellars. Tiny had even closed up the livery, trying his best to keep the horses safe.

Josiah tackled Nathan and together they rolled off the boardwalk. The fiery explosion caused both men to cover their faces with their arms and crawl away from the heat. The building went up in flames quickly, and nothing could be done to save it. Thankfully it stood by itself, not risking the whole town.

Chris fired his weapon, hitting what he shot. Men went down with grunts and groans, only to stay where they lay. He used empty beer barrels for cover when he needed it. The gang had more members than expected, eighteen in all, and with JD and Ezra out of the picture…things were getting hairy.

The sound of Vin’s sawed off firing let everyone know he was okay, for now. Josiah and Nathan had both managed to find a safe hiding place and had quickly returned to the impromptu battle. Buck was still stationed up high, firing his rifle from the saloon balcony.

“YOU’VE GOT FIVE DAYS TO LEAVE HERE!” The oldest Holms brother yelled, sitting atop his chestnut gelding, looking the Stonewall Jackson himself. He motioned with his hand for his men to leave, and they did, charging from town at a gallop. Dust spit up behind horse hooves.

Several members of the gang lay dead and dying in the street, others scrambled for their mounts.

Five of the seven slowly appeared, dirt and dust marring their features. Blood continued to trickle from the wound on Vin’s arm. A long gash bled freely from Josiah’s temple, and a black eye was appearing on Buck’s face after falling from the balcony and hitting his head on the railing.

They were lucky.

It could have been worse.

Chris stepped out into the middle of the street and watched the gang speed away. He knew a posse would be futile, the gang was known for having hideouts, and Chris wasn’t about to risk his men’s lives.

Nathan wrapped Vin’s arm with a cloth and was quick to escort he and Josiah to his clinic. Members of the gang could wait…if they lived that long.

Buck reached up and gently touched his eye. “What’re you plannin’?” he asked, stepping up behind Chris.

“We know what to expect,” came the confident reply, “we’ll be ready.” He took a step forward and paused, pointing his gun toward one of the men that was still alive. “Get yourself up to Nathan’s, I’ll take care of this.” He reached down and pulled the man up by his shoulder and pushed him forward.

“I’m shot, you son-of-a-bitch!” the gang member snapped, holding his thigh.

“Unless you move I’ll shoot you again,” came the meaningful response.

The outlaw struggled to his feet and stumbled toward the jail with Chris pushing his way.


Rain poured from the sky, drenching everything in its path. It fell in sheets, and hit hard. Tree branches bent beneath the force, bushes bowed and arched while the trail was soon flooded with mud. JD walked his horse slowly down the path, searching for anything he and Ezra could use for cover. The gambler rode beside him, still hunched over in his saddle, his hat hiding his face, rain falling from the rim of his hat like water over falls. 

A forceful wind picked up, whipping tree branches and sending rain in all directions. JD thought that sometimes the summer storms were the worst…maybe he was right. With a gray and black sky leading their way, both men thought about places they’d rather be: bed, a hot bath…saloon…

Ezra reached up and rubbed his face. He looked up, trying to focus on more than the hunger in his stomach and the thirst of his throat. He’d gone far too long without either.

“You remember what happened back there?” JD asked, pulling on his horse’s reins, slowing him just a bit.

Ezra fiddled with his canteen, trying to get his fingers to work and pop the cork from the lip. JD reached out and helped him, still frustrated that his friend was in such bad shape.

“I ain’t real familiar with the area, Ezra…you know of anyplace where we could hold up for a while—least until the storm passes?” JD asked, realizing the gambler wasn’t in a talkative mood.

Ezra took a couple of long pulls from the canteen, just enough to wet his throat and slowly shook his head. He didn’t know of anyplace to stay. He grasped his ribs with his right arm, just trying to get comfortable. He hurt, from head to toe…and riding wasn’t helping any.

JD watched him, wishing he could do more to help. They’d been riding for hours and had yet to come across a house, or even an abandoned shack, anything to get them out of the weather. Ezra was his responsibility. JD pulled his horse to a stop, stopping Trouble as well, and looked around the countryside. Trees lined his right, and tumbleweeds his left. He caught sight of a fence post peaking up though the weeds to his left. He turned and glanced at Ezra, and watched him take a couple more pulls from his canteen, watching his hands shake like the leaves on the trees.

“There’s got to be something up close,” JD said with authority. He pulled on Trouble’s reins and headed out toward the post, hoping a fence was there but hidden…and then maybe they’d come across its owner. 

Ezra just nodded, not caring where they went, as long as they ended up dry.


JD saw the light flicker through the window, and immediately his heart started to race. He was soaked to the bone and his teeth chattered as though it were the middle of winter. Even his knuckles were stiff. He could only imagine how Ezra felt. He hadn’t heard a peep out of him, except for the occasional gasp for air.

“Hello, the house!” JD called, wanting to warn the inhabitants that they were coming near. He pulled his horse to a stop, not wanting to overstep his bounds.

The front door opened and an older man stepped out. He held his shotgun firmly in his grasp and looked out toward the two riders. “What’cha ya want?” he hollered out, making sure his weapon was pointed in the right direction.

JD urged his gelding forward and slumped over the pommel of his saddle. “My friend’s hurt, and I need to get him dry and get him some food.”

“Don’t want no trouble from ya!” the older man yelled back.

“We’re lawmen from Four Corners…we just need a place to stay and get dry!” JD returned, hoping he heard through the pounding rain.

The old man stepped back and leaned his rifle against the doorframe and walked closer to the steps. He brought his hand up to his brow and looked out toward the two men. He caught sight of the individual hunched over his saddle, barely managing to stay on. “You best bring him in,” he called out, before turning and heading back inside his home.

JD didn’t wait to dismount; he was off his horse immediately. He led Trouble forward, and moved back toward Ezra and touched his thigh.

The gambler looked toward the kid, but didn’t really see him, exhaustion, pain, the cold…they had all taken their toll.

JD reached up and slowly pulled the Southerner down…surprised by his increase in weight, JD shifted his knees in order to keep standing. Rain had soaked them both through. He was surprised when the older man stepped up beside him and helped him carry the gambler into the warm house.

“Best get ‘im on the bed,” the old man said, grasping Ezra’s waist and arm, trying to keep him standing.

“I really appreciate this,” JD said, catching his breath after they laid the gambler down.

“Boy looks to be in bad shape,” the old man said, moving toward the stove. “I’ll put more water on.”

JD nodded in understanding and quickly removed his own jacket and boots. He looked hard at the gambler and shook his head. He really wished Nathan were here, he’d know what to do, how to help. “I’m JD Dunne, and my friend’s Ezra Standish.”

“Ted Wilson…you can call me Ted or Wilson…don’t really matter none.” He continued with his duties, watching the young man’s unsure movements.

JD reached inside himself and took control…just like he had back in town. His stomach turned, but he knew what he had to do. He sat on the edge of the bed next to Ezra’s hip and quickly started unbuttoning the gambler’s shirt. He gasped when he saw the dark blue, almost black bruising that covered Ezra’s torso. The clear impression of the bottom of a boot nestled perfectly on his left side…adjacent to his elbow.

“That son-of-a-bitch!” JD almost yelled, but kept his voice down—just barely. He gently pulled back the material of the now ruined shirt.

Ezra lay motionless, absorbing the comfort of the bed and the heat of the fire. His eyelids moved slowly, blinking like a child on the verge of sleep.

“Your friend get caught up with Mills?” Ted asked, resting a washbasin on the commode next to the bed.

“Yeah,” JD replied softly…regretfully.

“Had a couple of cowboys come by here ‘bout a year back—both pretty beat up—not this bad though.” He reached out and placed a comforting palm on the Southerner’s forehead. “He’s got a good fever runnin’ through ‘im…it’s gonna be a few days before he’s fit to be on his feet again.” He wanted to say ‘if’ but he didn’t want to distress the young man anymore. “Ol’ Mills is a son-of-a-bitch to the bone. Hates Southerners, Texans, Mexicans, Negros, Women…an’ just about anyone else that confronts ‘im. The only person Mills likes…is Mills.” He shook his head and motioned for JD to go stand by the fire. “Had a run in with ‘im ‘bout four years back—I shot him—he shot me, an’ that were the end of it.” He shrugged, gently slipping Ezra’s boots off, despite seeing the money, he shoved it back into the now empty boot and continued as though it didn’t mean a thing to him. When he finished he removed Ezra’s socks. “Folks keep quiet ‘bout ‘im, can’t see why, but I ‘spose they’re like me…stay purt near to myself.”

JD listened to him talk, while watching his gentle movements and mannerisms. The house was warm and comfortable, and it would serve them well, at least for now. He stepped forward to help Ted get Ezra’s shirt and jacket off.

The gambler gasped at the movement and pulled his knees up, trying to ward off the pain. He felt his shirt being pulled from his back, and he hissed, feeling the fabric tug at the open wounds it had stuck to. He rolled his head to his right and rested against the unknown individual who graciously helped JD.

“I’ve got ya, boy,” Ted said softly, soothingly. He looked at JD and motioned for him to grab the cloth in the hot water. “Best clean these wounds before we lay ‘im back down.” He made sure he had a firm grasp on the injured soul, and he watched as JD carefully started cleaning the scrapes, cuts, bruises, and scratches. “Damn shame folks ‘ave to be so mean.”

JD nodded, feeling slightly sick to his stomach. Nathan was much better at this than he was…he really wished Nathan were here. “Mills fight in the war?” he asked, trying to strike up conversation. “He called Ezra a Rebel conch.”

Mills shook his head and laughed, causing the kid to smile. “The only reb Mills ‘as known is that patch of hair on his ass.” He shook his head again. “Man turned tail an’ ran when the war started—heard tell some of his friends a while back came through town, gave ‘im a hard time ‘bout it. Served ‘im right, the cuss.”

“What is a Rebel conch?” JD dumped the rag back into the washbasin and quickly returned to his duties.

“It’s a term that was used quite a lot durin’ the war for Southern white boys…it ain’t somethin’ that needs repeatin’.” He adjusted his grip on Ezra and pointed toward the far wall. “In that there cupboard is small tin filled with healin’ ointmen—go get it an’ we’ll put some on ‘is back ‘fore we lay ‘im back down.”

JD did as he was asked and carefully unscrewed the lid. He reseated himself behind Ezra’s exposed back and carefully applied the smooth ointment over the wounds. “Shouldn’t we wrap them?” He looked up and met Ted’s eyes.

“Nah,” came the knowing reply. “He’ll sleep good for a while, ain’t no point makin’ him wear somethin’ we’re just goin’ to have to take off ‘im in a few hours.”

JD stood up and watched as Ted carefully laid the gambler back down. “His ribs are gonna be sore for a long while.” He shook his head while in thought.

Ezra squeezed his eyes shut, trying to remember more than the moment he was in. His body hurt, as though he had been run over by a stagecoach. He pulled his hand off the bed and quickly brought it to his eyes, covering them from the pale light in the room.

JD was by his side in an instant, Ted momentarily forgotten. “How’re you feeling, Ezra?” came the excited question.

“Like a hundred miles of hard road,” came the soft, yet forceful reply. He let his hand drop back on the bed and he took a lazy look around the room before laying eyes on JD. “What happened?”

“You don’t remember?” came the concerned question.

Ezra rubbed at his head, feeling the pain behind his eyes. “Ah remembah askin’ a young man about Judge Travis’ package.” He shifted uncomfortably, gasping when he moved wrong.

“Sheriff Mills—”

“It were probably a few of ‘is hired hands,” Ted said, moving toward the bed with a cup of tea, “he ain’t known for doin’ his dirty work hisself.”

 A clash of thunder shook the home for a brief second, causing all of its inhabitants to pause in motion and in thought. Ezra jumped slightly, and gripped the blanket, causing his knuckles to turn white. A bright light from outside glowed through the windows creating an image of daytime. The lightening hit immediately after the thunder rolled.

“I better go see to the horses,” JD said softly, grabbing his coat from the chair next to the stove.

“Put ‘em in the barn,” Ted said softly, “and make sure you tie ‘em securely…don’t want ‘em runnin’ off if’n that thunder rolls again.”

JD nodded and looked toward Ezra before heading out the front door. The gambler rubbed his eyes, trying to gather his bearings, but succumbing to the exhaustion that was slowly claiming him. Ted shook his head and quickly started preparing for the night. The rain would only increase, the lighting would only get brighter, and the thunder would shake the house.

Ezra took a deep breath, feeling the pain in his side. He chose to ignore it and simply concentrated on closing his eyes and sleeping.

Chapter 4

Vin pushed the brim of his hat up from his eyes and looked at the black clouds that were slowly coming his way. He shook his head and looked toward Buck who sat reading the paper on the porch of the saloon. “Hope JD an’ Ezra had enough sense to find shelter.”

Buck shook his head: “Ezra out in the rain—willingly? You’d have better luck gettin’ Chris to laugh out loud.”

Vin rolled his eyes: “That’s if Dempsy was wrong in what he was sayin’ about Sheriff Mills.”

“Hell, Vin, Dempsy’s a fool an’ he ain’t got sense enough to pour piss out of a boot.”

“He may be a fool, but he knows folks from around here an’ I wouldn’t be so quick to ignore what he has to say.”

Both men turned and waited for Chris to say his peace as he stepped up onto the boardwalk. “Josiah and Nathan just got back, said they found a site were they think the Holms brothers were at. Josiah wasn’t sure, but he thinks he’s found they’re hold up.” He paused and ran his fingers through his hair, after moving his hat off his head. “Remember the old Blackly place?” he waited until they nodded. “They’re probably out there…figure we can hit them before they hit the town again. Ezra and JD should be back tomorrow sometime—”

“Nobody’s goin’ anywhere with that storm comin’ up,” Vin said, pointing his finger toward the black clouds. “When that hits, it’s gonna hit hard and strong. Figured I’d ride out and check Nettie’s place, make sure she’s ready for it…I’ll ride out and check a few of the others as well.”

Chris nodded: they’d have to wait. “Buck, you ride out and warn McKlenelys and the Petersons, then high tail over to the Carters and make sure they’re cattle ain’t gonna stampede. If the storm hits before you get out of there, have them put you up for tonight. I don’t want either of you out ridin’ in this. I’ll have the others help me get the town ready.” He watched as Buck stood up and slowly head toward the stables. Chris looked toward Vin and saw those worried eyes. “What?”

Vin shook his head and started down the steps, as though everything would be all right if he didn’t say anything.

“Vin?” Chris pushed.

The tracker turned and paused. “That storms gonna be a bad one, Chris, they’re ain’t gettin’ around it.”


“If Ezra an’ JD ain’t back by tomorrow…I’d best go searchin’ for ‘em.” There was a warning in Vin’s eyes that went heeded.

“I want you here for the Holms brothers.”

Vin shook his head and pointed toward the storm. “If those boys are hold up in the old Blackly place… you’ll find ‘em surrounded by water by days end tomorrow, stranded and beggin’ for help.”

“I hope you’re right, Vin.” Chris watched the tracker closely.

“You know I am.” He turned suddenly and left.

Chris turned and watched as Vin headed toward the livery. The clouds were rolling in as though preparing themselves for the storm they so willingly held. Chris shook his head. He should have known—he should have been paying more attention to that around him, rather than the gang before him. Now…now, he had two men somewhere out there—and soon to be two more…and he was unable to do anything…

…except wait…


JD sat by the window, watching as the rain poured from the sky. It pounded the ground, creating mud puddles and the rising water swept quickly down narrow makeshift streams. Small twigs and leaves created damns along the water’s path, never stopping it, just slowing it down. Another bolt of lighting lit the sky, and for a brief moment everything went still by its power.

“Alive, ain’t she?” Ted said, sitting beside the bed where Ezra lay, wiping his brow with a cold cloth, trying to stem the fever in his body. “My wife told me once that lightin’ and thunder were lovers that could never unit…that rain yer watchin’ is their tears.”

“What happened to her…your wife?”

“She passed away a few years back.” He was quiet for a moment, wondering how long the storm would last, wondering how long Ezra’s fever would continue.

JD looked toward the gambler and watched him brush his face with the palm of his hand. He was exhausted, but unable to sleep, aching and unable to get comfortable…he lay there wishing he were someplace else…anyplace else. JD knew it, he could tell by looking at him.

A sudden gust of wind caused the branches of the trees against the home to slap the exterior.

JD jumped and moved back from the window and toward the bed where Ezra lay.

“Ain’t seen a storm like this since the spring of ’68, lost my barn cuz of it.” Ted picked up the porcelain bowl and took it to the kitchen table.

The sudden roll of thunder caused everyone to jump. Ezra grasped his side with his left arm and pushed himself up on the bed. JD looked toward the door as it swung open from the force of the wind. Ted simply shook his head. A clash of lighting lit the sky and a crack like that of a bone snapping filled the room beyond comprehension.

Instinctively, JD reached out and grabbed the Southerner, not giving him enough time to complain as another crash echoed. The front of the house splintered and creaked as glass shattered and wood broke apart as though it were dry twigs.

The tree’s branches invaded the home like a spider’s web did an abandoned den. Leaves and twigs broke and snapped, flying in all directions. The tree actually bounced twice before coming to a complete rest, allowing the wind and rain to enter the now destroyed building.

JD lay atop Ezra, protecting him with his own body. He could feel the stings of the whipped branches on his back and legs…they stung, but didn’t break any skin. He was lucky. He moved slightly after hearing the gambler gasping for breath.

Ezra pressed his left fist, cheek and hip to the floor as he tried to roll onto his side. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried desperately to pull his knees up.

“Oh hell, Ezra, I’m sorry,” JD quickly apologized, rolling off him. He reached out and grabbed a blanket and covered him, trying to at least keep him warm while the wind and rain continued to be relentless. “TED!” the kid yelled, standing up straight and taking a quick look around. Dam, he sighed, that was close. “TED!” he yelled again. When he didn’t get a response he moved toward the tree and found the man that had been so kind to them…buried beneath the heavy girth and impaled by a branch. He looked as though he died with a smile on his face.

Ezra sighed and tried to move.

“Stay put!” came the order from JD. He didn’t want to yell, but he didn’t want the gambler hurting himself more. “I’m gonna go check out the barn.” He pulled his jacket up and around his neck and closed the front with his hands and quickly sped off toward the barn.

Wind and rain hit his face like small stones. The trees swayed back and forth, looking more brittle then they ever had. Shingles from the roof of the house and barn flew off with a violent force. JD dodged and ducked as flying objects passed his head. He swung the barn door open and fought against the weather to close it again. The horses still remained tied in their stalls, though by their nervous behavior it was easy to see how fearful they were. Ears perked forward and were quickly rotated, eyes remained wide and looking toward any and all sounds, tails swished back and forth, and hooves struck the ground with impatience.

At least it was dry.

JD quickly found a corner of the barn…the one furthest from the closest tree, and quickly started laying out saddle pads, blankets, and straw…trying to make a bed of some sort. He grabbed a pail of water and rested it next to the bedding and took one last look around the barn before making his way outside again.

The storm wasn’t about to let up.

Not now.

JD found Ezra curled up on the floor, grasping the now wet blanket he’d been covered with. Puddles of rain had gathered around his head and feet, but he refused to acknowledge it. JD reached out and grabbed their guns that still hung on the chair that hadn’t moved…how odd? He grabbed Ezra’s boots and jacket before moving toward the gambler.

“We’ve got to move, Ezra…you can’t stay here.” He moved his hand under the gambler’s right shoulder.

Ezra groaned and sucked in a painful breath as he was forced to sit up. His jaw muscles clenched and he ground his teeth as he was forced up onto his feet. He leaned heavily on JD, unable to stand on his own. He’d been sore before, but now….

JD grasped Ezra’s waist with his left arm and forced the gambler to move forward. The Southerner hissed when sensitive feet struck rocks, sticks, and other painful debris. Wind and rain whipped passed their faces. JD opened up the barn doors with a breathtaking feat. He quickly escorted Ezra toward the makeshift bed and carefully deposited him before rushing back toward the doors to close them.

The barn creaked, reminding JD of a witch’s rocking chair—each motion created an allusion of suspense, a reminder of how brittle life was.

JD paused and looked around the barn, knowing he’d have to make due with the limited supplies he had—which wasn’t much. Slowly, he moved back toward the gambler who laid on his side—shaking from the pain or cold, JD didn’t know—perhaps it was both.

They were both wet—not soaked, but damp enough to be uncomfortable. JD tossed a dirty blanket over Ezra and sat down beside him.

“Some food for thought,” the kid said softly, “I’m gonna kick Larabee’s ass when we get back.”

Ezra chuckled softly, gasping for breath when he finished. “I’ll supply the steel toed boots.”

JD replied with a soft laugh of his own…that would be a site to behold. 



It brought to Josiah’s mind the book of Genesis as he leaned against the doorframe of the saloon, watching with suppressed interest the isolated state Four Corners found itself in. “And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man,” he spoke softly, just loud enough so those closest to him could hear.

Chris shook his head as he watched the four riders come into town, hunched over their saddle horns, drenched to the bone…looking more like death than life. The two front riders each ponied a horse behind them, each horse carried a dead man over their backs.

“The Holms brothers seemed to have learned the hard way that the weather can break a man faster than a bullet can,” Vin said, pulling his foot off the chair and standing up straight.

Chris shook his head, knowing he’d have to send some of the area residents over to the church to stay while they used the jail for more traditional reasons. Half the town was boarded up, the other half was being used as safe havens for those that didn’t have a place to stay during the storm. Families had been placed in every available place…even the cells in the sheriff’s office.

Chris stepped down off the boardwalk, his boots sending droplets of mud in all directions. The wind whipped his long duster around him like the Grim Reaper’s cloak. He stood in the middle of the street, ignoring the weather, or the rain that bit at his skin. His jaw muscles flexed and clenched.

“We ain’t here to cause problems,” the eldest Holms said.

“Problems already been caused,” Chris replied. He watched as Nathan moved across the street and toward the sheriff’s office to clear out the cells. “We were lookin’ forward to seein’ you again…under different circumstances of course.”

“I can still shoot you dead.”

“You can try,” Chris responded, hearing the cocking of Vin’s sawed off. “If you all want to make it to tomorrow, you’d best toss your weapons to the ground.”

His warning went heeded. Three of the four tossed their weapons to the ground and slowly dismounted. The last Holms brother looked hard at Chris, wanting only to see the man die, but it wouldn’t happen, not today.

Maybe later…

The eldest Holms brother slowly tossed his weapon to the ground and then dismounted. His eyes were like coal: cold, emotionless, hard…fearful. Chris didn’t care; he’d seen eyes like that before…he’d had eyes like that before. With the tilt of his head he directed the men toward the jail, Vin and Josiah followed, each with their guns pointed toward the back of the men.

“What happened to the others?” Chris asked.

“River swept ‘em down when it started risin’…we found Paul an’ Kip…but they was dead already,” the youngest replied. He sounded sad, but there was a distance in his voice that kept him one step away from feeling the pain of losing family. He walked steadily toward the jail, as though this were just another chapter in his life.

Prison was hard on everyone, particularly the young.


JD opened the barn doors and sucked in a deep breath. The sun peaked through the clouds, highlighting the land and its components. The damage had been done. A few trees and thousands of branches lay scattered around the area…looking more like a child’s bedroom filled with toys than the wilderness. The house that he and Ezra had come to seeking shelter was destroyed, and JD had to bow his head in sympathy.

He turned and looked toward the gambler who slept peacefully on the blankets and hay. His fever was gone, and now he was able to sleep without waking every time he moved. JD removed his jacket and tied the barn doors open, allowing the fresh smell to enter his lungs without hindrance. He looked toward the destroyed home and then grabbed a shovel…he had a man to burry.


Vin finished tying his bedroll to his saddle and looked up as Chris walked toward him, leading his big black. Nothing was said as both men finished preparing for the trip they were about to take.

Buck stepped out of the saloon and kicked his foot up onto the boardwalk railing. “Judge ‘ill be here in two days—don’t figure he’s gonna be in too much of a hurry.”

Chris nodded; he already knew that. He swung up onto his horse’s back and waited for Vin to do the same. People around town moved carefully across the street. Children jumped mud puddles and made mud pies, while adults treaded carefully through the area, however pointless their endeavors. Horses had mud up to their bellies, and wagons had splattered it up and around the flat beds and out onto anything within their reach.

Everyone was lucky. The wind had knocked down one tree on the outside of town, and it had been a dead one that some of the farmers were going to cut down and chop up for firewood anyway—so that worked out for the better. The rain had left its mud and infiltrated a few homes, but it was manageable.

“We’ll be back in a couple of days,” Chris said, waiting for Vin to finish. “Make sure you keep an eye out, just in case those other brothers made it.”

“Figure if they did they’re halfway to Mexico by now—pra’bly on a raft.” Buck snickered at his own joke. “Be careful out there an’ bring ‘em home.”

“Aim to, Buck,” Vin replied, urging his mount forward.

The two men rode past the church as Josiah dumped another pan of water out onto the street.

“Two farmers each claimed to own a certain cow. While one pulled on its head and the other pulled on its tail, the cow was milked by a lawyer.” Josiah shook his head and didn’t say anything else as he turned and headed back into the church.

Vin cocked an eyebrow while Chris shook his head, understanding Josiah was more than a mystery…it was an accomplishment, and today was no different. Both men had to laugh though, when they spotted Nathan cleaning his fingernails with his pocketknife while sitting between Mr. Stevens, the bank manager, and Mr. Wendle, the feed store owner, while they argued over who was supposed to fix the broken board in the boardwalk…neither claimed ownership when it broke but both claimed it while it was fixed.

“Think Nathan’s gettin’ an ear full?” Vin asked with a soft chuckle.

“Payback for breakin’ the board,” Chris replied with a laugh all his own. “You sure you can’t go with us?” he called toward the healer.

“Can’t, Chris,” Nathan replied, “Emma Harris is havin’ her baby an’ Ol’ Mr. Brant’s still nursin’ that knife wound.”

Chris nodded, he knew how difficult it was for Nathan, having more patients than he did time. “You’ll be here when he get back?” He just wanted to make sure, just in case the healer got called away.

“I will be,” came the confident reply.

Chapter 5

Mud slides, downed trees, and puddles weighed heavy on the land. Temporary scars that would pass over time. The horses moved slowly, carefully, through the debris, placing their hooves in open spaces. Chris gave his horse his head, allowing him the room he needed to traverse over the land. Vin did the same. Both remained silent, allowing only the soft breeze to conjure their senses.

Mother nature was not a mild force, and she reminded men, young and old, what she was about, what she could do, and to never take her for granted. It was a simple matter of respect…and taking the time to learn her tells. Black clouds could go ignored, but not for long. She sent them for a reason…and she left it up to man to decide how to handle them.

“Look,” Vin yelled, pointing toward the house, or its remains, in the distance.

Chris pulled his horse to a stop and shook his head. “Better go check it out, just in case they need some help.”

“What about JD an’ Ezra?”

“Hell, Vin, for all we know they could be there.”


It wasn’t a sight Chris or Vin had anticipated seeing. JD, without a shirt, covered in sweat, leaning on the handle of a shovel…standing before a grave.

Vin’s heart sank and he kicked his horse forward, chasing after Chris. They jumped downed logs and pulled their mounts to a stop, causing mud to splatter and spray.

JD turned and wiped his brow. Mud lined his features, hands, and arms…evidence of the hard work he’d preformed. He looked up as Chris and Vin stopped their horses. Their faces were lined with worry, obviously they didn’t know who was buried within the freshly dug grave.

“It’s about time you got here,” JD said, grabbing the handle of the shovel before turning and heading back to the barn.

“JD!” Chris yelled, he wanted answers.

The kid stopped and wiped his brow. He was tired, dirty, hot, and in need of a bath and a good night’s sleep. He wasn’t in the mood to sit and explain every detail to Larabee. JD shook his head and tossed the shovel, not caring where it landed.

Vin dismounted, unsure of what was coming, or why…he just knew shit was about to fly.

“I just got done buryin’ a man who helped save Ezra’s and my life, Chris, I ain’t in the mood to tell you why we didn’t make it back in time to shoot some gang members, or apprehend another disorderly drunk. I’ve had a hard couple of days and Ezra’s had worse—”

“You’re both okay?” Chris asked, wanting to take care of his first concern.

“Yeah, but not because of the common sense you or the judge share.” He turned and looked hard at the gunslinger. “From now on, nobody…and I mean nobody, goes into any unknown town alone!” He spoke with authority and he meant to be heard. “Any of us!” He looked from Vin and then back to Chris. “I don’t care for what reason…if it has to do with the judge or Four Corners we all go with back up!”

“What in the hell is this about?!” Chris snapped.

“It’s about you endin’ up in Jericho, Ezra getting the shit beat out of him in Dale, Josiah getting accused of murder…and the list goes on.”

“What does this have to do with Jericho?” Chris asked confused. He hadn’t been on a job then…it was just him being in the wrong town at the wrong time.

“It has to do with all of us getting into trouble when we head out alone…we’re a team, we should start acting like one—and that means looking out for each other, even if we don’t think we need it. And I mean it, Chris, nobody goes anywhere alone…ANYMORE!! I am tired of this shit!” He turned and headed back toward the barn.

Chris turned and looked toward Vin. “What in the hell was that about?”

“Think you just got a tongue lashin’.”

Chris snarled and shook his head before heading toward the barn.

Vin followed. 


They found JD saddling up his little bay and Ezra’s big chestnut. Ezra sat on a sack of feed, seriously contemplating how he was going to slip his jacket on.

“You all right?” Chris asked, stepping toward the gambler.

“Ah have been better,” came the mundane reply. Ezra ran his fingers through his dirty hair. He looked up, exposing his fading black eye, the beginnings of a beard and mustache, and a healing cut just below his hairline.

“Ya look like hell, Ezra,” Vin said softly, grabbing the gambler’s jacket and helping him slip into it.

“He’s got some busted up ribs so he’ll need help getting mounted,” JD snapped, leading both his horse and Ezra’s toward them.

“Ah yes, the good sheriff of Dale didn’t take a fancy to my bein’ there.” He smiled, despite the pain written in his eyes as he moved.

Vin couldn’t help but nod in agreement as he helped the Southerner to his feet. Together, he and Chris got him mounted.

“I’ll head on over there—” Chris started.

“Not alone!” JD snapped. “I’m tired, hungry, I want to see my girl, and I want to take a nice hot bath—not necessarily in that order. I need some help getting Ezra back to town and NOBODY is going to Dale or any other shit town alone!” He flung himself up into his saddle. “Now let’s go—the day is wasting.”

Vin pushed his hat up off his head and scratched his scalp. “How long’s he been like this?”

“Ah couldn’t tell you,” Ezra replied, leaning over the horn of his saddle. “He seems to have been in a pleasant mood until you got here.”

“Don’t start, Ezra,” Chris said, slipping into his saddle.

“Quite frankly, Mister Larabee, Ah find it releavin’ to know the boy has a temper…it balances out the group a little better.”

Ezra urged his horse forward, knowing the Larabee growl was intended for him.

Chris clenched his jaw and breathed.

“He’s right you know,” Vin said softly, not bothering to hide his smile.

Chris looked hard at the tracker. “One leader for this band of misfits is enough.”

“He’s not the leader, Chris—never will be, but it’s good to know he’ll tell ya what he’s thinkin’…beats tryin’ to guess.”

Like Ezra…Josiah…Nathan…and even themselves.

Slowly, Chris nodded. “Let’s go home.”

The end!!!

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