(Moved to Blackraptor November 2009)
Why does my opinion matter so much to him? What the hell does Ezra see in me that makes him think he has to live up to some imagined standard of morality? Sounds ridiculous, even to me, but itís there. Iím not even sure heís aware of it himself, but I see it in his eyes sometimes when he looks at me. Not just respect, though thatís there too, but a kind ofÖ Hell, I donít even know what to call it. Admirationís not exactly right, either, and it sure as hell ainít the hero-worship I still catch from JD now and again. Itís more like, hope. Hope that Iíll see the same things in him that he sees in me, I guess.
Itís been there ever since that first time, the day we helped save the Seminole villagers from that lunatic Confederate Colonel. Ezra ran out on us for a while and back then, I thought he was being cowardly, trying to escape the danger Anderson presented. Now I think he was trying to escape the bond that was forming among the seven of us. Hell, I mightíve run from that too if Iíd noticed it, Ďcause I was no more ready for ties than he was. Or at least, I didnít think so then, so when Ezra came back, I opened my mouth to tell him to get the fuck out of my sight and not show his face again if he knew what was good for him. Not sure which one of us was more surprised when the words that came out were, "Donít ever run out on me again."
Something happened between us that day. It wasnít really friendship and it wasnít quite comradeship either, but I think when he turned around and risked his neck to save all of ours, I started to trust him in a way that Iíd had no reason to up Ďtil then. That feeling grew over the next few weeks and months, bit by bit. Not something I thought about, but just a feeling in my gut that if I needed him to guard my back, heíd be there, no question. Pretty soon, that grew to a comfortable certainty that any time we needed a slick or sneaky way out of a jam, something smart enough to keep us from getting hurt or killed, Ezra was the man for the job.
And with every successfully accomplished mission, that hopeful look in his eyes grew. The one that seemed to say that if I could trust him to do the right thing, then maybe he could trust himself. It made me feel guilty sometimes for being just son-of-a-bitch mercenary enough to use that faith he had in me to put him in situations he shouldíve run from. How did I become a grown manís Goddamn conscience, anyway? Not like I got such a spotless record myself. Still, Iíd come to accept the strange way things were between us. To count on it, even.
Then came Hopewell and his $10,000 hired assassin. Damn the man for putting that tenuous trust between us at risk, along with everything else.
I knew we had a problem the minute I saw the look in Ezraís eyes when he discovered that satchel full of cash. There was pure naked longing in them; and in the way his hands clenched around that bag, like it would disappear if he didnít keep an iron grip. It made me question his loyalty in a way I hadnít done in months. It made me ask - given the choice, would he stay and see this one through or take the money for himself; abscond with it, to borrow one of his own terms. I reminded myself that he hadnít needed to mention the money at all, that he could have simply tossed the satchel aside as if it were empty and snuck back in for it later if he was planning on stealing it. Somehow, the doubt remained.
My misgivings only grew when we got outside and Ezra instantly began to question how we, the seven of us, could split that money. Not whether we should wire the judge, inform the Governor or find out who would have paid that high a bounty on someone, but how to get our collective hands on it. It nagged at me, that show of greed, partly because Iíd be lying if I said that my thoughts never once strayed to what I could do with fourteen hundred-some dollars if it suddenly fell into my lap.
Over the next day or two, things just got worse. That damn fool hotel owner had to go tell it all over town that there was an unclaimed $10,000 lying around, causing a run on the bank where weíd stashed it. It meant that weíd need to guard the money personally, at least until we could figure out what should be done with it. When Ezra volunteered to guard the cash himself, I saw it again, that flash of greed, and I knew I couldnít let him have it. What was there to prevent him from running out on all of us again once he had it in his hands? Part of me believed that he was stronger than that, better than that; but there were signs that argued that he wasnít.
From the moment that fortune left his hands the first time, going from the hotel room to the bank vault, Ezraís look had started to change. Heís normally neater and more particular about his appearance than any woman, and heís damn fussy about getting adequate time for sleeping, eating and generally looking after his own well being. Itís something weíve all gotten used to, so when that changed, I noticed, even though I didnít think much of it at the time. He didnít bother shaving for the first time since Iíd met him, wore the same clothes for a good two days or more, and the bags under his eyes looked like he hadnít slept in a week. That money was nagging at him; calling to him; seducing him to get his hands on it again. There was just no way I could trust him with it.
The way Ezra stared at me when I refused his offer of guard-duty made me feel like Iíd kicked a hurt dog. He asked me if I had doubts about his honesty, and I saw that other expression fill his eyes. The one that says he hopes Iíll believe in him, that Iíll show that heís worthy of trust. The one that says that my faith in him bolsters his own. When I told him Josiah could look after it, I could almost hear the foundation of his world cracking, and I damn near changed my mind. I couldnít, though. Iíd done the right thing for the majority, and I had other things to worry about than one manís hurt feelings.
Why does he have to give so much credit to me and my judgment? Why do they all? I didnít know it then, but I guess my show of doubt gave the others a signal to express their own, and Ezra already doubted himself enough without our help.
I saw it again later when the assassin took a shot at Hopewell and Mary Travis, and we discovered that Ezra had lost track of our only suspect. Iíd given him the job of looking after ĎLiver-Eatingí Jones, figuring thatíd be a good way to show I still trusted him to do his job, even if I didnít want him near that money. All he had to do was not let Jones out of his sight. When he failed at that one simple task because he was too squeamish to follow the man out back while Jones did his business, well, Iím told I have a glare that can melt stone, and I gave Ezra the full measure of it that night. Iíve never seen a man look so guilt-ridden, but I was too angry to worry about it.
Iím not sure what went on the next day between Ezra and Josiah, but somehow Ezra mustíve convinced him that he should take over guarding the money. I couldnít help being pissed at both of them when I found out, but there was no time to do anything about it. I just had to hope that Iíd read the situation wrong.
Those last few minutes of the Governorís rally went by in a flurry of madness. Ezra had been in the boarding house, keeping the money hidden, but suddenly he appeared in the street saying that heíd spotted the assassin. No sooner had I moved to get Mary, whom weíd learned was the intended victim, out of danger than there was a shot. I caught only a blur of red as Ezra collapsed in the street, having thrown himself between the killer and Mary.
Nathan went to look after Ezra, so I turned my attention to the action still going on around us. The assassin, Stutz Jr., was threatening the life of yet another woman. Cowardly little bastard. Vin took a long range shot that crumpled Stutzís leg and then one of Hopewellís men conveniently killed him before we could get a sure answer as to who hired him. We all know that answer, but without Stutz, there was nothing we could do to prove it.
I went back to check on Ezra and found him alive and conscious. He looked surprised when Mary said heíd saved her life, and then proud. Not the cocky pride he shows whenever he wins a hand of poker or outsmarts an opponent, but a look of real genuine accomplishment. That unusually satisfied expression grew even more pronounced when I told him heíd done good, making me wonder all over again just why he puts so much stock in what I think of him.
When Nathan pulled those wads of cash out of Ezraís jacket, telling us heíd be dead if he hadnít hidden it there, I suppose the best word to describe my feelings would be exasperated. I knew at that moment why Ezra had been at ground level to spot the assassin. He hadnít seen him from his window, as I had assumed. The impulse to take the money and run had grown too strong for him, just as I had feared it would. And yet, just like the first time he had run out, a nobler impulse had changed his plans at the last moment.
This time, I knew which was the stronger; which impulse denoted the real Ezra Standish and all I could do was shake my head at him. I saw in his eyes that he understood what I was thinking, and that I wasnít condemning him for his actions. There was great shame, yet also a hint of humor in his voice when he told me, "In the future, perhaps it would be best not to burden me with other peopleís money."
I smiled at that. I couldnít help it and in his return smile, I saw that our relationship, however the hell one would define it, was back on track.
Why does Ezra put his trust in me? I may never understand it, but I find that Iím damned glad to know Iíve got it. Because as long as I have his trust, then Iíll know that itís safe to give him mine. And one day I hope heíll believe in himself enough to know why I give it. For now, as Iíve recently been reminded, Iíve got another mystery to wrestle with. What are we going to do with that money?
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