Night of the Seven

by Nadine

Crossover with Wild Wild West
Standish and Tanner encounter Dr Miguelito Loveless and his arch nemises James West and Artemus Gordon.

Story is set about ten years after the Civil War

"Did you find them?" the man in black asked as he met up with the other four peacekeepers of Four Corners in front of the saloon.

"No", answered Buck. "We even checked the roof tops." The missing men had been known to find solitude on the rooftops of town.

"Damn it, where did the two of them disappear to?" demanded Chris.

"Their horses are still here, they couldn't have gone too far on foot," said JD.

Josiah didn't say anything as he stood with the others in front of the saloon, thinking hard on where the missing pair might be. Looking down the street toward his church he got an idea. "We looked everywhere they usually go to be by themselves. It's too cold and windy for them to be outside. Vin never pays any mind to the weather, but Ezra likes his comforts."

Nathan took note of Josiah’s stance as he too looked down the street to the church.

"You don't think?"

"We looked everywhere else." Josiah answered him.

The five men started walking toward the House of God.

"Why are we looking for Vin and Ezra?" asked JD.

"Ezra got a box from his mother," Buck told him. At the kid's puzzled expression Buck explained. "She sent him books JD, remember the last time Maude sent Ezra new reading material?"

"Oh yeah,...... Aw hell." JD started to walk faster; they all did as they remembered back.

+ + + + + + +

It had not been that long ago when Ezra had received the package in question.

"Hey Ezra", yelled Buck as he came in to the saloon. You got a package on the stage. Told the driver I'd bring it to you." He placed the box on the table where Ezra was sitting, trying to eat his breakfast.

"Mr. Wilmington, Ah'm trying to eat ma breakfast here. Do you mind?"

"It's almost noon Ezra. Don't you mean lunch?"

"No sir it's ma first meal of the day, therefore it's ma breakfast."

Buck knew he couldn't win this argument with the gambler who, unless he had patrol duty, wouldn't start his day till well after the sun had been up for hours. "Anyway this came in on the stage all the way from New Orleans," he said giving the box a pat as he sat down at the table.

Ezra kept eating, he paid no attention to the small crate. Whatever was in it could wait till after he had finished and the wait would be good for his curious friends.

"Aren't you going to open it?" asked JD. He had come in with Buck and now both men were sitting at the table. JD was eyeing the box in anticipation wondering what Ezra got this time. Ezra got packages every few months. He would send away for clothes, fancy teas, nice smelling soaps, and aged scotch; elegant merchandise that the mercantile didn't carry. Nathan and Josiah came in and joined then at the table, both eyed the box.

"What you get this time Ezra?" asked Nathan. The ex-slave was a frugal and sometimes pious man who didn't approve of the gambler’s life style.

"It would appear Ah have a box, Mr. Jackson."

"More of those luxury items you can't live without?"

"You only live once Mr. Jackson. Ah intend to enjoy maself to the fullest as long as ah can afford to pay for it." 

"I thought you weren't expecting anything this month," Josiah said changing the subject as he accepted a beer from Inez. "Thank you" he told her. "Or is this one of Maude's surprise packages?"

Maude would send packages filled with fancy goods that could only be found in the larger cities. It was his mother's way to try to lure him back to city life and to the life of the con, her way of life. Ezra eyed the box, gifts from his mother were like opening Pandora's box, and he never knew what could be inside. Pleasure or pain, something he would enjoy or something that would embarrass him in front of his friends. Oh well, might as well get it over with. Mr. Dunne looked like he was about to burst from curiosity. Ezra opened the box and looked inside and his eyes grew wide. Books, almost a dozen of them, his mother had sent him books. Books, his not so secret weakness, had always been his means of escape. Learning to read had freed him from the loneliness and unpleasantness of his childhood. His mother had sent him a treasure.

His friends watched in fascination as Ezra pulled each book out of the box. He handled each as if it were some priceless treasure instead of a dusty old volume. Each book was studied and caressed then laid in one of two piles. Ezra pulled the last one out and then ran his hand down inside the box making sure he hadn't missed any. Like a kid with a bag of penny candy he was oblivious to the others around him.

"Ezra." "Mmmm" replied Ezra. His mind wrapped around the wonderful places his books would take him.

"Ezra" Josiah tried again to gain the gambler's attention.

"What is it Mr. Sanchez?" asked Ezra as he forced himself to stop reading.

"Ezra may we look at your books?

"Ma books?" Did he want the others to be handling his books? Sighing he told himself that these are your friends and they will give them back. "Of course Mr. Sanchez how rude of me, please do inspect them. Perhaps you'll find something you will enjoy reading."

Josiah, Nathan and JD each picked up a volume and looked it over.

"Ez this isn't written in English," JD voiced his puzzlement.

"No Mr. Dunne that's in French. Mother must have shopped at a bookstore near the docks. Many visitors from overseas sell their books when they make port, not wanting to carry the volumes they read on the passage over with them as they travel. You can find books from all over the world there."

"I knew you spoke French, I didn't known you could read it as well." said Josiah.

"French and a few others; Mother insisted."

"Maude insisted on what?" asked Chris as he and Vin entered the saloon and joined the others at their table.

"That Ezra read French," answered JD before Ezra could speak up. "Maude sent him a box full of books."

"Books," even the gunfighter seemed interested in the contexts of the box. "What kinds of books, are they all in French?"

"Fiction and nonfiction and only two are in French", replied Ezra. Out in the territory reading materials like these were hard to come by. He had seen the gunfighter enjoy a work of Mark Twain that he had borrowed from Mrs. Travis. Their young sheriff read any dime store novel he could get his hands on, lately it has been the works of Ernest Pratt. Mr. Sanchez enjoyed reading and could be trusted with  their care. Mr. Jackson devoured any medical text that found it's way into their community. Mr. Wilmington's interests laid with the ladies, and was rarely seen reading even the newspaper. Mr. Tanner was more like himself, he looked to the tales of adventures and far away places to lift him out of his day-to-day struggle to survive. Mr. Tanner had a sharp mind; it was a joy to share books with him. Discussing what they had read was something neither felt comfortable doing with the others, but with each other it came quite naturally. Surprising when he thought on the fact that Mr. Tanner had been illiterate till a short time ago. Mrs. Travis had been tutoring Mr. Tanner in reading and writing when she had free time. Ezra had worked hard to convince the Texan to let him help with his lessons. While Mr. Tanner's skills had improved it still took more time than he liked to work his way through a book. Ezra would often read to him when they found something they both wanted to enjoy. The two volumes in French were by Jules Verne; Five Weeks in a Balloon and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Ezra had read the first and looked forward to sharing them both with his friend.

+ + + + + + +

Chris came into the saloon looking for Ezra. Not spotting him at his usual table, he made his way over to where Josiah and Nathan were sitting. Taking a chair he sat down. Inez came over with his drink.

"Have you seen Ezra?

"No, brother Chris, is something wrong?" asked Josiah.

"I need him for a job, the judge wants him to look into a matter in Sweet Water."

"Good luck finding him, he and Vin have disappeared each afternoon since those books came in from Maude,." Josiah told him.

"Never thought I'd live to see the day that Ezra would pass up a poker game to read a book" said Nathan "though he is in here every evening for a game if anyone is interested."

"I never thought Vin would be fascinated by balloon travel or that he’d be inspired to put enough words together to talk about it," smiled Josiah

"Don't remind me," said Chris who had seen observation balloons in the war and men falling to their death from them. He hated the thought of Vin and Ezra being fascinated by them. Especially Vin, he kept talking about what it might be like to ride in one. He hoped there wasn't a balloon within a hundred miles of Four Corners or the two fools would find a way to get on it.

"I'm not going to wait till this evening," said Chris getting up and walking outside. Josiah and Nathan followed him. Pulling his gun out he fired up into the sky. Two heads appeared over the roof of the mercantile and looked down at him.

Not seeing anyone else with guns drawn Ezra asked, "What's going on Mr. Larabee, is there some form of disconcert in our fair metropolis?" "Get yourself down here, you too Vin," growled Chris. He held his breath as the two young men made their way down, groaning when Ezra lost his footing for a moment.

Josiah laid his hand on Chris' shoulder, "They'll be all right brother."

Jumping and sliding like two mountain goats, they made their way to a lower building. When they got to the roof over the boardwalk, Vin sat down on the edge and flipped himself over to land on his feet. Ezra tossed their book down to him and followed. With a glare Chris preceded them back into the saloon. Two cowboys started to sit at the seven's table, one look at the black storm coming into the saloon and they quietly decided to sit elsewhere. The four other men joined him. Chris continued to glare at Vin and Ezra, then asked "Must you two read on top of the mercantile?"  

"Assuredly, the roof of the mercantile is beyond question the most idyllic place to enjoy the works of Mr. Verne without interruption."

Josiah and Nathan chuckled at this as Buck and JD had been bothering them with questions any time the book came out. Buck refused to believe that any book written in French wouldn't have something racy in it. JD, used to dime store novels, wanted a faster and bloodier tale. He kept asking why each character did this and not that. Ezra and Vin escaped to the rooftops to find some peace and quiet. Chris kept glaring at them, not liking Ezra's answer, when Vin asked him a question.

"Does that little vein in ya's forehead move faster the longer ya glare at someone?"

Chris reached over and smacked him on the back of his head, knocking his hat off. Ezra having moved himself out of Chris' reach wasn't prepared when Josiah smacked him aside his head knocking his hat off.

"Mr. Sanchez why did you do that?"

"Just helping Chris out Ez."

"But ah hadn’t done anything," Ezra told him as he put his hat back on.

"Yet. You were thinking about it."

"Unlike some around here, ah frequently think, and ah do not believe it to be just cause to do damage to ma person," Josiah knocked his hat off again.

"Thanks Josiah," Chris told him smiling.

"Your welcome Chris."

"Ya feeling better now?" asked Vin placing Nathan between himself and Chris. "Ya got us back on the ground. Just as Dr. Ferguson was telling us about what he was seeing off the balloon ship's (Victoria) bow."

"Yes I am. Ezra, the judge wants you to ride over to Sweet Water and take a look around. He’s been hearing strange rumors coming out of the area from people passing through. He wants......"

"He wants," Ezra interrupted him, "the judge wants, well people in jail want out and that isn't going to happen either. Why should ah go to Sweet Water when ah get paid to uphold the law here in Four Corners, not the entire territory. Sweet Water is three days ride from here."

Chris went on as if Ezra hadn't interrupted. "He wants to know if the rumor about a build up of a large body of men out there is true. If these men decide to go raiding then Four Corners would be right in their path. The other reason is that these men are alleged to be ex-Confederate soldiers, you should be able to fit right in. We need to know if there is any danger coming our way."

"Damn, what would Confederate trash want out here in the territory?" asked Nathan. "They can't be up to no good."

A silence fell over the table. Ezra pushed back his chair, "Ah believe this Confederate trash has some packing to do. Ah'll leave in the morning if you can tolerate ma presence till then." With that he got up and went upstairs to his room.

Josiah took a hard look at his friend. "Nathan you'll never truly be free till you can let go of the past."

"It's hard Josiah, you can't imagine what it was like growing up a slave."

"No I can't, but does it help you to keep throwing it in the man's face? A man who never owned a slave? Or is it just because he is a southerner?" Josiah asked him. 

"He fought on the side of the South," Nathan reminded him.

"I fought for the South," said a Texas drawl, startling the ex-slave.

"You're too young to have fought in the war," Nathan told him.

"Ez is only a year or so older then me," Vin reminded him, "I was with the Texas sharpshooters, the sergeant didn't care how young I was only that I could hit what I aimed at. Joined up near the end of the war, there was an lot of us young'uns who got old real fast." After taking a sip of his beer he went on. "I wasn't fighting for  slavery and neither was Ezra. Someday when ya are ready to listen, maybe we'll tell ya why we fought." Vin looked over at Chris and nodded his head toward the stairs, "I'm planning on going with him, to watch his back."

"Both of you be careful." After a moment, Chris added, "Vin we don't know what's going on over there, but if I find out there are any balloons in Sweet Water and the two of you get in one of them....I will shoot you both. I want your word on it Tanner."

Vin just smiled at him, touched his hat with a two-fingered salute, then left the saloon.

+ + + + + + +

Sweet Water was like many small towns in the west. A group of settlers had decided they had gone far enough and put down roots where they found water. They created a few farms, a few small ranches and a general store. The cattle drives coming out of Texas found that the town had water, and they could water their herds here, for a price. This brought in more money and more stores and, of course, saloons. The day the cattle drives stopped coming to Sweet Water would be the day it would go back to being a one horse town.

Ezra and Vin rode into town taking care to work their way around the people crossing the street. Hitching their horses in front of the hotel, they took a look around.

"There does seem to be a great many more people here than a cattle stop would support," said Ezra. "But how can anyone tell if they are ex-Confederates looking for trouble and not just settlers looking for a new start?"

Vin just shook his head, "That's what we're here to find out." He nodded towards the hotel.

Ezra agreed, "Might as well get rooms and then find the telegraph office. We did promise Cousin Christopher we would let him know when we got here." Both of them smiled. Chris had made them promise to let the rest of them know they had arrived safely and to report in every other day by wire. To explain their presence in Sweet Water, and their frequent use of the telegraph, they came up with the story that they were in town looking into business opportunities for their family. This would also be their reason for asking questions around about town.

"You would think by now, that the man would trust us to stay out of trouble." Walking up to the front desk Ezra asked for two single rooms.

"Sorry boys, only got one room left, it's got a double bed if'n you want to share." the desk clerk told them.

"Is this hotel equipped with bathing facilities?" asked Ezra.

"Yeah, we're up to date here in Sweet Water, we've got all the modern conveniences"

"Then we'll take the room and make use of the bathing facilities," signing them both in under the name of Standish.

"Ez I took a bath last Saturday, I haven't got that dirty since then."

Ezra held up his hand to stop Vin "After three days on the trail, you sir, need a bath. I am not sharing a room with you unless you bathe." 

"I can sleep on the floor."

"It will still smell like your horse is in the room with us. Taking a bath will not kill you but I might." Ezra told him taking the key from the clerk. "Ah'm not rooming with your horse and you are not sleeping in the stable."

"Aw Ez"

"The desk clerk started to laugh, "You boys must be related. You sound like my brothers on a bath night."

"Why, yes, we are cousins. Distant cousins, but family none the less. We're in town looking for business opportunities for our family. We heard of the growth Sweet Water was experiencing and wanted to see for ourselves if this would be a good place for investment." Ezra smiled at the clerk "Can you give us directions to the telegraph office?"

+ + + + + + +

The pair took their time coming back from the telegraph office to give the town a good look over. They took note of the number of individuals in town. The family groups seemed to be outnumbered by the single men and they didn't seem to be gainfully employed. For the most part the men just stood around as if waiting for something to happen. Ezra was sure they would learn more this evening at the saloon and tomorrow Ezra planned to talk to the town's banker. But first they would stop at the local mercantile to buy Vin some new clothes. He had reluctantly told Ezra he hadn't brought more the one change of clothing. Ezra had finally convinced Vin to let him outfit him and that Judge Travis would reimburse the cost as part of the payment for the job they  were doing. On the way back to the hotel they passed near the saloon where they heard the sounds of a struggle. Stepping off the boardwalk into an alley they saw a petite lady being manhandled by two large and drunken cowboys.

"Gentlemen, (and I use the term loosely, he said to himself) gentlemen, Ah'm sure you'll find more willing companionship inside the saloon. This lady is obviously not interested in your advances," Ezra told the drunken duo.

"Butt out mister, I like the little lady. It's her that I wants," the drunk told them. His friend tried to take a swing at Ezra, Ezra stepped back and the drunk missed and fell to his knees. The man holding the woman let her go and tried to pull his gun, only to find Vin mare's leg in his face.

"Take your friend and git," growled Vin, The two cowboys staggered off, Vin followed them to make sure they didn't double back.

Ezra picked up the woman’s packages and handed them to her.

"Are you all right Miss?" asked Ezra. He tried to calm her down by speaking softy to her. "You're all right now Miss, we'll not allow any harm to come to you." Her eyes went wide when she saw Vin walking back toward them. "That scruffy looking fellow is a friend, under that ruff exterior beats the heart of a Paladin Knight."

"Antoinette!" shouted a very small man, who came running into the alley from the street. He rushed to her side, he glared at the duo but before he could say anything Antoninette whispered into his ear. The man relaxed and smiled "I owe you gentlemen an apology and my thanks for rescuing my dear Antoninette."

"Considering the circumstances it's understandable. Our only concern now is the lady's well being, then we will be on our way," Ezra told him.

Vin came back to stand by Ezra. "Who's that?" he asked pointing his cut-down Winchester toward the street. 

"That's my man Anderson", the dwarf answered him, "Anderson why was this allowed to happen? My orders were that no one was to bother Miss Antoninette, nor anyone else who works for me." Anger was evident in his voice.

"Sorry sir, guess someone didn't get the message. I'll make sure it doesn't happen again," the nervous man reassured his boss.

"See to it then." Dismissing the man, the dwarf turned to Ezra and Vin, "Please forgive me my bad manners. My name is Dr. Miguelito Loveless and this is my dear Miss Antoninnette."

"A pleasure sir, ma name is Ezra Standish and this scruffy looking individual is ma cousin Vincent. Will the young lady be all right?"

"She will be once I can get her home." Taking Antoninnette's hand he led them back to the boardwalk, where a carriage waited. "Gentlemen may I offer you a reward for your timely assistance?"

Before Ezra could reply Vin jumped in. "No, we were only doing what needed to be done. No one has the right to force themselves on a woman, it ain't right."

Ezra agreed with Vin, "Of course not, but ah would enjoy having a drink with you sometime during our stay in Sweet Water."

Dr.Loveless studied this pair before him. They were a curious pair; he also felt he owed them for saving Antoninnette. "Then gentlemen please let me repay you by having you for dinner tomorrow night at my home. Are you staying at the hotel in town?" At their acknowledgment he went on. "I will send my carriage for you tomorrow evening around six then." Not giving them time to refuse the doctor got into his carriage assisted by a giant of a man, one of the biggest men Vin or Ezra had ever seen. He would have made Josiah seem frail.

"Wonder what that was all about?" asked Vin.

"The good doctor is a well educated and obviously wealthy man. Apparently his diminutive stature does not play a part in how his employees treat him. In fact Mr. Anderson seemed alarmed that he had displeased his employer. Ah wonder what the doctor has over the man?"

"He did seem a bit nervous," agreed Vin.

"Ah think it might be more than that, the man appeared afraid of the doctor."

Vin didn't have anything to add to that, he had learned a long time ago the outside of a person didn't tell ya what was going on inside. He knew something wasn't right with the Doc and his group, he just didn't know what. But he had a bad feeling he and Ez were going to find out before they left Sweet Water.

"Ezra I don't like being called Vincent, can't you call me Vin."

"Sorry Vincent till we leave Sweet Water we must stay in character, your real name might draw too much attention.""Damn, I hate play acting."

"This is not being disrespectful to your family name Vin, but until we finish this job for Judge Travis we need a cover. Ah'm getting a feeling this is going to turn out to be about more than just a buildup of men in Sweet Water. Shall we return to the hotel? Ah want to bathe and have dinner before going to bed."

"Ya mean I still gotta take a bath? Ez I can't smell that bad."

"Yes, you do, and ah'm no flower garden maself!"

"I didn't say you stunk and I'm willing to share a room with ya without a bath."

"Bathing is not optional, Vincent." 

The two didn't notice the old drunk asleep on the bench behind them as they started back to the hotel. In fact he wasn't old, drunk or asleep and had been listening to everything that had gone on in the alley and boardwalk. As soon as the two young men walked away he got up and staggered off singing badly off key. When he was sure no one was looking he dropped the act and quickly got on his horse. Artemus Gordon (one of the best agents in the United States Secret Service) wasn't sure who these two new players in the game were. Perhaps this Judge Travis would enlighten him or his partner Jim West on what they were doing in Sweet Water.

+ + + + + + +

The next day Ezra and Vin took their story to the streets. As a representative of possible investors, and as a 'Son of the South', the businessmen of Sweet Water made Ezra welcome. They told him of their plans to make the territory into a new South; a new South with an industrial base as well as an agricultural one. Dr. Loveless figured largely in those plans. He was going to build a factory in Sweet Water. None of the businessmen Ezra talked to could tell him exactly what the doctor was going to manufacture. Ezra smelled a con, but what kind he hadn't figured out yet.

Vin talked to the cowboys and the settlers. His easy going manners put most of the people he met at ease. When he asked their opinion on Sweet Water, they opened up even more. They all thought Sweet Water had a big future ahead of it and they were going to be in on the ground floor. Most of the families had arrived with hopes of starting a new life, farming or ranching, even if it meant working in Loveless's factory for a while to earn the land they would live on and someday own. At the end of the day they came to the realization that Dr. Miguelito Loveless was somehow at the bottom of what was going on.

+ + + + + + +

"Ezra I don't see why I gotta go to the doctor's dinner. I don't know how to act with rich people." Vin was uncomfortable in his new store bought clothes.

"Vincent you'll be fine, just relax and be yourself. Behave like you were eating dinner at Mrs. Travis' table."

"I ain't relaxed, I don't have your ways around folks. What if I make a fool of myself?"

"You won't," Ezra told him, then sighed as Vin once again began to tug at the vest he was wearing. "Vincent you look fine, better then fine."

Vin indeed looked good in his new jeans, new blue shirt and one of Ezra's dress vests. Vin agreed he did look good on the outside, but it was what was on the inside that could get them both in trouble. Seeing he was still unsure of himself, Ezra grabbed Vin by the shoulders and looked him in the eyes.

"Vincent, Vin, you will do all right. Just be yourself, no more no less. Vin Tanner is a good and honest man and ah'm lucky to have him watching ma back. Keep your eyes and ears open and let me do the talking."

"Don't ya always?" smiled Vin more sure of himself now. "Thanks Ez."

"Well ah......ah'm only stating the truth." Embarrassed by his outburst he looked for a way to change the subject. A knocking at the door telling them that the carriage was there saved him.

+ + + + + + +

Dr. Miguelito Loveless' home would have been perfect in a Virginia setting. Out in the western territory it seemed out of place with it’s white pillars and manicured lawn. 

"Makes me feel ah'm back in the South before the war," said Ezra. "It must of cost a fortune to build that out here."

"Must take a lot of water to keep that grass green." observed Vin as they make their way up the drive.

"Ah'm' beginning to think this is about more than just money," mused Ezra.

"More than just money? Ez do you realize what you said?"

"Yes Vincent, but we're not talking about me. Dr. Loveless has money, a great deal of it, if this house is any indication. We are about to tread on some very dangerous ground. If it is not financial gain the doctor is  after then it must be a passion, or worse an obsession. Fanatics are the most unpredictable and dangerous opponents one can go up against."

+ + + + + + +

They were shown into a large living area,

"Gentlemen, so glad you could make it, please join us," said Dr. Loveless who was waiting for them there along with three others, the lovely Miss Antoninette, Anderson, his general manager, and a young woman whom the Doctor introduced as Miss Helen St.Clair, the daughter of an old friend. "What are you drinking?" the doctor asked them.

"Scotch would be fine," Ezra told him Vin following his lead asked for the same.

Ezra acceded his drink, "You have a lovely home Doctor, it reminds me of ma childhood in Virginia before the unpleasantness."

"An interesting way to describe a war, Mr. Standish," Dr. Loveless told him

"There are ladies present, Ah wouldn’t want to offend them by using more accurate terms to describe the atrocities that occurred during those times."

"Do you still think of yourself as a Son of the South"? Loveless asked him.

"Yes, Ah probably always will, though Ah realize the old South will not rise again in ma lifetime. Perhaps in the new territories, southerners will find a place to make a new life." Loveless studied Ezra for a time them asked him, "Mr. Standish would you be interested in seeing that happen? Building a New South for southerners whose lives were destroyed by the war? "

"That would depend on who was in charge this time. Ah gave up ma youth and the lives of many of ma friends to a group of old men who thought too much of the glories of war and not of the business of running one."

"So you believe that businessmen should run the government."

"It takes money to run anything, be it a home, a business or a country. Men who are ruthless enough to make that kind of money will be strong enough to hold on to territories and do what they please with the land and the people on it," Ezra answered Loveless.

Vin watched the con Ezra was playing out and Loveless’ reaction to it. The little man’s eyes almost glowed as he agreed with what Ezra was saying. It was then that Vin realized it was power not money that Doctor Loveless wanted.

Ezra walked around the room admiring the doctor’s taste in furniture and art. "Ah heard your name a great deal today as Ah talked to the local businessmen. They spoke of your plans to build a factory in Sweet Water but strangely, none seem to be able to state what exactly you want to manufacture here. Before ma cousin and Ah recommend this fair town for infusion of the family’s wealth that question will have to be answered."

Doctor Loveless smiled at Ezra’s unasked question, he knew of both Standish’s activities today. What they had learned and what they had not. He had also wired Four Corners to ascertain if the two were what they said they were. The answers received agreed with their story. Ezra Standish could be helpful with his plans. The man was intelligent and cunning. Vincent could be used to control Ezra.

"What I plan to manufacture will have buyers from all over the world coming to Sweet Water for my invention."

‘You’re an inventor?" Asked Ezra.

Before the Doctor could reply Miss St.Clair joined the conversation. "Doctor Loveless is a genius, his inventions will change the course of human history. No longer will we be creatures content to crawl around on the ground, the very skies will be our new domain." The young woman was warming up to her topic when Vin butted in.

"You mean like the balloon ship in Jules Verne’s book, Five Weeks in a Balloon?"

"Better," she answered him; "Doctor Loveless’ air machine will go were you want it to go not where the winds dictates." Smiling at Vin she asked him, "You have read Mr. Verne’s works?"

"Yes and no, the books we have of his are in French, so Ezra has to read them to me." Vin didn’t want to lie to the pretty young woman, or let her think he was more learned then he was.

"But I can see it on your face that his works has sparked the desire to fly in your soul hasn’t it?" gushed Helen.

"Yes," he answered her, a far away look came into his eyes, "I can’t think of anything freer then a bird in flight."

The far away look in Vin’s eyes made Ezra nervous for some reason. He started to change the subject when the giant from the night before came into the room and announced dinner.

The rest of the evening was taken up in small talk about good food, the future of Sweet Water and of course Jules Verne’s works of fiction. At the evening’s end Ezra and Vin both promised to return tomorrow; Ezra to discuss business with Doctor Loveless and Vin to see the air ship Miss St.Clair spoke about.

+ + + + + + +

It was very late by the time Ezra and Vin had returned to the hotel, as the pair walked down the hallway toward their room Vin put his hand on Ezra’s arm. Nodding his head toward the door to their room he stepped to one side. Ezra trusted Vin’s instincts, if he believed someone was in their room he wouldn’t question it. Opening the door he dropped and rolled into the room coming up with gun in hand. There, sitting on the bed with his feet up and reading a newspaper sat a well-dressed man. There was something vaguely familiar about him, Ezra decided he’d remember later. Holding a gun on the man Ezra walked across the room and sat in the chair beside the bed.

"Did you just drop by for reading material? Mister…..? Or should we be callin’ for the sheriff?"

The stranger placed the paper on the bed keeping his hands in sight at all times. "I came to find out what you’ve learned about Loveless’ plans."

Vin stepped out of the shadows, closing the door behind him, never once losing eye contact with the stranger. "Why would we be telling ya anything?"

With his hands held out in front of him, the man started to open his coat with one hand, stopping at the sound of guns being cocked.

"Gentlemen, please, I only want to show you my identification. I am an agent of the federal government, my name is Artemus Gordon and I’m here to stop Miguelito Loveless."

Ezra looked over the square of paper Gordon had given him, it stated he was an agent of the United States Secret Service, a blue bellied spy if what it said was true. It was that piece of information that made him remember where he had seen the man before. It had been near the end of the war, he had just gotten back from a raid and was reporting in to his commanding officer when he had all but ran into a man leaving the tent he was reporting to. Ezra took in the man’s appearance, his uniform was a little too clean for a front line soldier, he’d seemed a little too well fed in an arena were the supply lines had been cut off. Ezra questioned this when the man tried to hurry around him. Ezra stepped in front of him, stopping his escape. The delay was long enough for the sentry to come around and help take him into custody. The fake officer had been a spy for the union. Ezra had been too tired to care what happened to the man after the soldiers had led him away. He had the men under his command to take care of and no time or energy to waste on a Yankee. That spy had come out of the past and was now in front of him sitting on his bed.

"This piece of paper could had been printed anywhere, Mr. Gordon. This is no more proof of you being an agent of the federal government then Ah’m maself being one."

Artemus’ face didn’t show the surprise he felt. No one had ever questioned his authority before. Who was this southerner to question him?

"If you like, you can check me out with your Judge Travis. My partner, Jim West, is with him in Four Corners as we speak, gathering information on the two of you." At the hard stares the men gave him he quickly explained. "We needed to know if you would be a help or a hindrance to our work. There isn’t much time before the territorial governor orders up troops from Fort Freedom. He wants to declare marshal law in Sweet Water. Forcing Union troops and ex-Confederate soldiers to coexist in a small town under marshal law would create an explosive situation. So far we’ve been able to stall him, but he knows of Loveless’ past exploits and wants to be the one credited for his capture."

" Troops? That seems a little extreme, to take into custody one small man isn’t it?" Asked Ezra.

"Loveless is one of the most brilliant minds of this century. Also one of the most deranged. His quest for power and revenge knows no limits," Artemus told them. "My partner and I have been able to stop him in the past. Unfortunately, he has disappeared from every jail cell he’s been put in. Taking him into custody won’t be enough, we need to know what he is up to, and be able to stop his plan, while at the same time keep the citizens and settlers in Sweet Water safe."

Vin and Ezra exchanged looks. "Sir Ah do not believe at this time that our observations of the activities of the individuals in this community will be of assistance to you," stated Ezra.

"You’re not going to help us?" Artemus sputtered "You’re lawmen, you can’t turn me down."

"Ya ain’t listening government man, ya need to git now." Vin stood aside clearing the way to the door.

Ezra and Vin watched Gordon leave hoping the man could make his departure without being seen. Vin walked to the window to check if anyone was watching the building. Spying no one on the street he went over to the bed and sat down.

"Ez, what are we going to do?"

Ezra didn’t need to ask what Vin meant, they both knew something was wrong with Loveless and whatever he was up to had to be stopped. But Gordon had raised the stakes with his talk of Union troops. If the army came riding into Sweet Water with the intention of taking over, there would be trouble. The Southerners had come to town with hopes of starting over; most of those hopes rested on the jobs Loveless was offering. The war had been over for many years, but the people whose lives had been destroyed by it still remembered the pain it caused like it was yesterday.

Ezra sighed, "It’s simple Vin, first we stop Loveless, then we stop the Union troops from destroying the town; and for an encore we keep Mr. Larabee from shooting us when he finds out how deep in horse manure we’ve gotten ourselves."

Vin smiled "I’ll take care of the first two if ya take on Chris."


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