Webmaster Note: This fic was formerly archived on another website and was moved to blackraptor in October 2008
I reckon we've all got our own routines around town these days. I'm mostly out of my wagon with the light and there ain't too many dinner-times you won't find me in the restaurant making the most of the board part of our arrangement with the Judge.
Sometimes my days only overlap with Ezra's by a few hours but I've kinda got used to his company all the same. It's past supper-time now, and not so far off bedtime for me, but it's the second day that Ezra hasn't shown his face in the saloon. I know he's in town and I know I'd have heard if there was much wrong with him - he's more or less back to rights after taking that bullet for Mary a couple of weeks back - but it's outta character and I feel a friend's duty to check on him.
This is the first time I've gone to his room. I ain't the sort who goes calling, and I don't reckon my friends are the sort who get a lot of callers neither, but I rap on the door as if I do it every day.
Ezra's got a nice speaking voice, soft and Southern, but it's got a slur to it now. I'd say that his absence from the saloon don't mean he ain't been taking a drink or two. I know he likes a glass of wine with his supper and maybe he just told them to leave the bottle this time.
I don't know how my voice compares t'Ezra's. Time was, I thought I knew what I sounded like but then I heard about that new fangled phonograph. They can take sounds with it just like a camera takes pictures. I heard that people don't know their own voices when everybody else does - weird.
The door opens.
'What can I do for you, Mr. Tanner?'
Was a time when he called me Mister to rile me but, somewhere along the line, it got friendly.
'I thought mebbe the boot was on the other foot.'
A little frown creases his brow. 'Is that a riddle?'
'Ain't often you miss two nights in a row in the saloon.'
Even as I'm speaking, I'm taking in the room behind him. It's as neat as I'd expect. Only the bed is rumpled, probably where he's been lying feeling sorry for himself. I wonder if he's had another of those letters from Maud. I'll never understand how things stand between them, but then I reckon Ezra's been pondering on that for most of his life and he still don't have it figured.
'I had not realized that my movements were being observed.'
I shrug and smile.
'How about you invite me in for a glass of whatever you've got in that bottle on the nightstand?'
He hesitates but then stands back.
'Be my guest.'
I refill the glass beside the bottle and take a few sips.
'Nor should it be at the price.'
'The cheap stuff'll get you roostered just as well.'
'I scarcely think I need your advice on drinking.'
That's true enough. I ain't much of a drinker and I sure can't match Ezra. He can put it away steadily for hours without it showing much and there's no way I'd spend the sort of money it costs him to get drunk. But drinking is the treatment not the ailment with him.
His red coat is lying on the bed, brushed and folded in half, not tossed aside. I sit beside it and finger the fabric. It's a fine piece of cloth and it fits him like a glove, which I reckon means it was made for him given that not too many men have his breadth of shoulder and narrowness of hip.
I begin to get an idea of what this is about. I unfold the coat to reveal its wound, which it looks like Mrs. Potter has tended with the same care as Nathan tended to its owner. The repair is good, tiny stitches in perfectly matching thread, but I can't see Ezra wearing a mended coat and he won't find its equal around these parts. I look up at him, letting him see that I'm thinking on it.
He looks down at the floor and I know he feels stupid and wishes I hadn't come. That ain't how I want to leave it. I get to my feet, set down the glass and hold my left arm out a bit. I know he'll make the connection because he's one of the smartest fellas I ever met. His eyes study the fringing on my sleeve and I know he's trawling his memory. I help him out.
'My old one died of natural causes, when I couldn't stitch it up no more, but it was a hell of a wrench. We'd shared some times, me and that coat. This one still ain't took on my shape yet.'
His gaze shifts to meet mine. He nods slowly.
'I would not have expected you to understand.'
I grin. 'Me of all people. I know.'
'An injustice, I see now.'
'Just s'long as you're all right.'
'I do believe I shall return to the saloon tomorrow. One can only mourn a friend for so long.'
I take my leave with a touch of my hat brim. I bought a new hat when I bought my new coat but I couldn't take to two new things at once so I went back to the old one. The thing is, for men like us who travel light, our bits and pieces do get to be friends of a sort. Maybe that's sad but there it is.
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