Truth and Friendship

by Hombre

Disclaimer: Boys not mine. Sorry Ezra. After playing with Vin for a couple of weeks, it's back to you. A mention of the events in the episode Serpents is made. This is for you Birgitt to make up for having to wait for a sequel for Missing. It will be done, I promise!

Six of the town's peacekeepers were sitting at a table in the saloon waiting for the seventh to arrive. Inez appeared, as if by magic, at Chris's side and started handing round coffee and food to set the men up for the day ahead. The black clad gunfighter sat quietly with his hat hanging down his back by the storm strap.

"Shall we leave some for Ez?" Buck asked, eying the plentiful supply and licking his lips in anticipation. He leant back in his chair, balancing it on two legs precariously, while he decided what he wanted.

"No. If he can't get his butt down here in time, he can go hungry. Maybe it'll teach him to get up earlier, but I dare say he'll manage to wheedle something out of Inez anyway," Chris replied scowling. He was due out on patrol with the gambler and he knew they were going to be late off. He looked up the stairs in the hope of catching a glimpse of the subject of their conversation, but there was no sign of him. Chris shook his head resignedly and continued to scowl. The rest of the men finished their meals and sat back with steaming cups of coffee to wait for Chris to give them their assignments for the day.

Chris looked up from his plate suddenly and said, "JD? You've got young legs. Go and kick that no good gambler outta bed, will ya? I can't wait about all day for him to decide to get up." Chris was getting increasingly irritated at Ezra's constant lateness. He decided he was going to have it out with the man really soon, if matters didn't improve.

JD looked at the gunfighter and then across at Buck questioningly before rising and making his way slowly up the stairs. Why doesn't Chris do his own dirty work? JD moaned to himself as he stomped up each step loudly. He was the one after all who was going out on patrol with the gambler. JD continued to grumble under his breath all the way to the top of the stairs. He hated being the one to tell Ezra that Chris was unhappy and getting impatient. He ambled along reluctantly to Ezra's room and knocked on the door. He pressed his ear up against it to try and hear if the gambler was inside when he received no reply. He put his hand on the door knob and pushed it open quietly. The room was totally dark and JD wandered over to the windows to open the drapes, assuming the gambler was still asleep. He bumped into a chair in the blackness and cursed while rubbing his knee to take away the pain.

"Wakey, wakey, Ezra. Chris is waiting for ya and getting ornery." He turned away from the window as he spoke and looked over to the bed. He stopped talking as he saw the bed was empty and hadn't been slept in. Where the hell was he? JD walked over to the door, not looking forward to telling Chris that Ezra was not to be found. He stepped out into the hallway and was just about to shut the door behind him when he heard a low moan. He looked up and down the hallway but could see no one there. He frowned and went back inside Ezra's room, as that was the only other place the sound could have come from. The kid stood in the center of the room and listened intently. Perhaps he had just imagined it, he thought, as he heard nothing more. He was on the verge of leaving the room for a second time when he saw the sole of a boot poking out on the far side of the bed on the floor.

"Ezra?" JD called quietly as he made his way over.

The gambler came into view laying flat out on the floor, face down, not moving. He was fully dressed and his clothes were in a sorry state. JD stepped over the man and knelt down beside him before reaching out and touching his shoulder. Ezra did not move. It was quite dark down on the floor and JD couldn't see him properly. He leant down close to study Ezra's face and a sudden shaft of sunlight through the window lit the gambler clearly. JD straightened up abruptly with a gasp and left the room in a rush. He reached the stairs and hurried down them two at a time, nearly coming to grief and falling headfirst in his haste to get to the other men.

"Whoa, slow down kid. Where's the fire?" Buck asked, putting out a hand to steady the youngster.

JD came to a sliding halt between him and Nathan, noting as he looked at the table's occupants that Vin and Josiah had already gone. The kid turned his attention to the healer and blurted out breathlessly, "Nate, I think you'd better get upstairs. Someone beat the shit outta Ezra by the look of it."

"What?" Chris demanded sharply, while getting up from his chair, his half-eaten breakfast forgotten. He looked at JD closely, taking in the wide eyed, frightened look on the boy's face.

"He's hurt real bad, Chris. Come on Nate," JD begged, as he tugged insistently at the healer's sleeve.

"Calm down, JD. I'm coming." Nathan stood quickly and ran up the stairs with JD, Chris and Buck on his heels.

The healer entered Ezra's room and stopped dead when he saw the bed was empty. He turned to JD angrily, thinking the kid had been joking. "Where is he? This had better not be your idea of a joke."

"I'm not kidding, Nate. He's over there on the floor," JD said, pointing to where the gambler was. Nathan frowned and made his way round to the far side of the bed.

"Ezra?" Nathan sat down on the floor and put a hand out to touch Ezra's arm gently. He then rubbed his hand up and down the gambler's back to try to get some response from the man. The gambler moaned again but that was all. "Jeez. Someone's given him a good going over," Nathan said, as he studied the damage done to Ezra's face while wondering what condition the rest of his body was in.

"Chris? Buck? Can you help me turn him over and lift him onto the bed?" Nathan asked, before moving to kneel by the gambler's head. "Chris take his mid-section. Buck hold his legs. Be gentle now, he's gotta be in a lot of pain." The men bent down and turned the gambler over and then hoisted him up. Ezra cried out in pain even though they were very careful. Chris drew in a deep breath when he finally saw the gambler's facial injuries.

"JD. Go back to the clinic and get my bag, will ya?" Nathan asked, looking up to make sure his request was obeyed immediately.

"Yeah sure. I'll be quick." JD turned, looking pale, and left the room. The men could hear him start running as soon as he got in the corridor outside.

"What the hell happened to him?" Buck asked, as he walked over to the bed and looked down at his friend. He screwed his face up at the blood and bruising he could see.

"Well, he didn't do it shaving Buck. How the hell should I know?" Chris said irritably. He was annoyed with himself for thinking that Ezra had been lazing in bed when in fact he was badly injured and in need of their help. The gunfighter looked round as he heard the approach of running feet again and JD bundled in the door clutching Nathan's bag tightly to his chest. The kid placed it on the bed next to the healer.

"Can you get me some water so I can clean him up a bit?" Nathan asked, as he looked up after examining the gambler in more detail.

"Shouldn't we take him to the clinic?" the blond gunfighter queried, as he watched JD pour some water into a bowl and carry it back to the bed carefully.

"Na. I'd rather he stayed here for the moment. We got to him just short of too late as it is. I don't wanna make things worse by moving him unnecessarily until I know what other injuries he's got." Nathan took the bowl from JD's hands and stood it on the table beside the bed. Chris passed him a cloth which the healer dipped into the water. He wrung the excess water out before carefully washing the blood from Ezra's face with great gentleness. The gambler stirred and mumbled in pain but did not open his eyes.

"Ezra? It's Buck. Can you hear me, pard?" No reply. Now the blood had been removed from Ezra's face the watching men could see how very pale he was. Nathan started undressing the injured man and all three observers winced as they saw the many bruises covering his body.

Nathan looked up at Chris. "Jesus Christ. Whoever did this, meant to kill him. I can't understand how he survived such a beating."

"Nor can I, but I'm gonna get to the bottom of who did it. Come on Buck, JD. I'll be back later Nate, do what you can for him," Chris said, as he looked once again at Ezra's battered body. He sighed and moved to the door with Buck and JD following along behind. Nathan watched the blond man leave, not envying the person that had done it, although they deserved everything they got.

"Do you think it was something to do with gambling? He may have upset someone," Buck suggested as they walked along the passage.

"I don't know Bucklin. It could be. You know how riled some of his opponents get when he always wins. I aim to find out the truth though." The three men reached the bottom of the stairs and were met by a volley of questions from Josiah and Vin. Inez had gone to find them after hearing JD telling Chris and Nathan about Ezra's beating. Chris held up a hand and the men fell silent.

"We don't know what happened to him. He's still unconscious and in a pretty bad way. I want you all to go and ask around town to find out when he was last seen. Whether he had anyone with him, you know the sort of thing. Josiah, JD? Can you do the patrol that I was suppose to be doing with Ezra?"

"Yeah sure." The two men left the saloon and headed to the livery to collect their horses.

"You okay, JD?" Josiah asked, looking over at the young man who walked silently beside him.

"Yeah. It just wasn't what I expected when I went to wake him. It threw me completely Josiah. He didn't move and I really thought he was dying," JD admitted quietly. Josiah put a hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

Back in the saloon, Chris went upstairs to get an update from Nathan. He entered the room and could feel the anger rising in him as he saw the condition of the man on the bed. Anger at the people who had done it to him and anger at himself for once again thinking the worst of the gambler. When am I gonna stop treating him badly? Why do I always assume he's up to no good or just lazing around? Chris asked himself and shook his head as he didn't know the answers. He took a seat next to the bed and watched quietly as Nathan worked. The healer had bathed the whole of Ezra's body and was currently mixing up some herbs to treat his numerous bruises and swellings. He soaked some rolled up bandages in the mixture to use as poultices and then applied them to the injuries. Chris then helped the healer, by holding the gambler gently in his arms, as he wrapped bandages round Ezra's torso to keep them in place.

"Nate?" Chris asked tentatively, when Nathan had finished and the two men had settled him back onto the bed.

Nathan faced the blond gunman with a grim countenance. "Just look at him Chris. He's taken a hell of a beating. I really can't say if he'll be alright. He's got a lot of bruising around his kidneys, but it doesn't look as though he's passed any blood so I'll keep my fingers crossed that they haven't been damaged. His nose is broken and he's got quite a few broken ribs, as well as the bruises and cuts that you can see for yerself. Honest to God Chris, I really don't know how he survived it." Nathan shook his head at the brutality humans could inflict on one another. "All I can do is stitch his cuts and give him something for the pain. You saw me treating the bruises with the herbs. I just hope they do some good."

"You done good Nate. We just have to hope Ezra's strong enough to pull through." Chris looked up as Buck put his head round the door. He beckoned the ladies' man in and asked, "Anything?"

"No. No one saw him after about nine last night. He was on his own and was going past the livery."

"Inez didn't see him come back here?"

"No, but he could have come in after she'd closed up. He can get in the back way."

"Chris. I don't think he could've got back here on his own. Look at him. Could you walk in that condition?" Nathan pointed out seriously. Buck shook his head as he realized the healer was right.

"So that means whoever did it, knew who he was and didn't want him to be discovered. Anyone else would have left him where he fell," Chris ranted, getting angrier the more he thought about it.

At that moment Vin came in. He frowned when he looked at Ezra and saw for the first time the vivid bruises on his friend's body. He then looked across at Chris and said, "There's been a robbery at the gunsmiths. Mr. Abrams says a lot of weapons have been stolen. You know he was holding all those guns for the new army garrison near Eagle Bend? Well he ain't anymore. They're all gone."

"Do you think Ezra stumbled on the thieves and that's how he ended up like this?" Chris wondered as he looked over at the gambler. God, it would make him feel even worse if Ezra had been beaten while carrying out his duty and not through some disagreement over a poker game.

"Maybe. I'll go along to the store and have a look. Mr. Abrams caught me out on the street and told me about it so I haven't looked at the sign yet," Vin said.

"Buck? Go with him and get a list of what's missing from Mr. Abrams. Ask him whether he saw Ezra as well. You hadn't already told him about Ezra had you Vin?"

"No. I didn't get the chance. He was in a hurry to get to the telegraph office to report the theft to the army."

The two men departed and walked along the street to the gunsmiths. Vin headed into the alley which ran down the side of the store. There was another entrance there and he had a feeling that was where the thieves had broken in. When he looked at the door from a distance, he could see it had been forced open. He approached carefully and studied the story that was laid out before him in the dirt. He could see there had been a total of three men in the alley. Vin wandered around and found where one of the men had been hiding and acting as lookout for his accomplice. He made his way to the end of the alley and squatted down where he could see the dirt had been disturbed. He reached out a hand and scooped the top layer of dust away to reveal a large patch of blood. Was it Ezra's? Vin wondered. He looked at the area further and saw a few strands of material that matched the gambler's jacket caught in the alley wall above the stain. It definitely was Ezra's blood then. Maybe he had been attacked by the robbers and left there while they dealt with the guns, Vin thought to himself. The tracker stood up and wiped the dirt from his hands and then followed the sign along the back street to the rear entrance of the saloon. The men obviously hadn't wanted to be observed. The two thieves had carried something heavy between them, which Vin was becoming increasing convinced was the gambler. The sharpshooter's eyes were drawn to something glittering on the ground near the saloon's rear door. He bent and picked up a cufflink. He frowned and then retraced his steps quickly to meet up with Buck.

Meanwhile, in the store, Buck had got the list of stolen items from Mr. Abrams. "Mr. Abrams? We found Ezra in his room this morning almost beaten to death. Now we know about the robbery, we were wondering if he may have disturbed the thieves. Did you see him at all last night? Perhaps before you went to bed?" He looked at the gunsmith, frowning when he received no answer. "Mr. Abrams?"

"Mr. Standish is alive?" The man sounded totally shocked. "I'd heard a rumor that he was dead. Well, that is good news that they were wrong," he said finally, although he made it sound as if it wasn't good news at all.

"Yes, whoever did it better pray that he stays that way. It was touch and go when I saw him. Did you see him last night or not?" Buck repeated more insistently.

" I'm sorry I didn't. Who could have done such a despicable thing?" the gunsmith asked, seeming to have recovered his composure.

"We aim to find out. Well, thanks for your help," Buck said as he watched the gunsmith closely. He finally put a forefinger to his hat and walked out onto the boardwalk, his mind preoccupied with Mr. Abrams strange reaction. The ladies' man bumped into Vin who was patiently waiting for him outside.

"Sorry pard."

"Hey I didn't think I was invisible, Bucklin. Are you alright?" Vin asked, as he saw the faraway look in his companion's eyes.

"Yeah, I'm fine. There's been a fair bit stolen as well as the army's guns. I just think it's odd that Mr. Abrams says he didn't hear anything. They must have made some noise moving all those boxes of guns and if Ezra confronted them," Buck said, sounding mystified and distracted. The ladies' man was still turning over in his mind the reaction of the gunsmith to the news that Ezra was alive.

"Come on. Let's get back to Chris and tell him what we know," Vin said and the two friends walked back to the saloon and climbed the stairs to Ezra's room.

"How is he?" Buck asked, as he looked down at the gambler laying so still on the bed.

"Still with us. How'd you get on?" Chris asked. The gunfighter sat brushing the dirt from Ezra's jacket distractedly, but he perked up hoping for some positive news from his two friends.

"Well, I'm positive that Ezra got mixed up in the robbery somehow. The sign definitely points that way. There were two thieves as far as I can tell. The tracks are a bit messed up near the back of the store but from what I saw, one man kept lookout while the other one broke in. I figure Ezra discovered him just after he'd broken in and went to stop him but was taken unawares by the man in the alley. They must have left Ezra laying there for quite a while 'cause there was a big blood stain at the end of the alley as well as some material that matches Ezra's jacket nearby. Perhaps they moved the guns first and then went back to deal with him later. The boxes of guns would have been too bulky for one man to handle on his own. When they brought Ezra back, they kept off the main street so they weren't seen. I followed the tracks from the store right back here and I found this on the ground out the back." Vin held out the cufflink.

Chris took it from his hand and studied it closely. His eyes, along with the trackers, were drawn to the pile of Ezra's clothes, where they could see the cufflink's twin sitting on top. Chris looked up at the tracker and frowned while he considered what he'd just been told. The gunfighter picked up Ezra's jacket from his lap and found where the material had been torn. "Well, I think that proves conclusively that Ezra was there, don't you? Buck how did you get on?" Chris asked turning his attention to the tall gunman.

"Mr. Abrams gave me a list of everything he thought was missing, but I can't understand why he didn't hear the thieves. He lives overtop the store after all. Anyway, it must have taken the thieves quite a time to move everything they stole and they must have had transport of some sort to take it away. Abrams seemed devastated when I told him Ezra was alive though. It was a very strange reaction for an innocent man."

"I'll go back to the store and have another look for wheel tracks. I was only looking to see how the thieves got in and if Ezra was there," Vin said.

The men turned their attention to the bed when they heard Ezra groan. He stirred and slowly opened the one eye that was still in working order.

"Ez?" Nathan said, as he put a hand out to stop the man moving. "It's Nathan. Just relax and don't move about too much. You've been badly beaten."

Ezra licked his dry lips and managed to croak, "You don't have to tell me. I know." Nathan had to lean forwards and listen hard to distinguish the words, as Ezra had real difficulty speaking. His jaw was swollen and his lip had been split.

"Go back to sleep. You need all the rest you can get," Chris said as he patted Ezra's arm gently and the gambler closed his eye with a sigh and went back to sleep. Chris wiped a hand over his face wearily, hoping the gambler would be alright.

Vin went toward the door but quickly backed up as Josiah and JD walked in. They both looked over at the bed and Josiah raised an eyebrow at Nathan enquiringly.

The healer smiled and said, "He woke a minute ago. We'll just have to wait and see if he progresses."

"Is there anything you want us to do, Chris? Do you want me to take over here?" Josiah asked. He knew Chris would want to catch the culprits as soon as possible.

Chris looked up and smiled, "Yeah, that'd be great. I've got some things I wanna do." He rose and walked over to stand next to Vin. Josiah took the seat Chris had just vacated and settled back to keep Nathan company. Chris and Vin took one last look at the room's occupants before leaving and going back down to the bar.

"I'll come to the store with you, I think. I'd like to see Mr. Abrams myself," Chris decided, as he strode quickly outside onto the boardwalk. Vin looked at his friend's retreating back and frowned. He followed Chris out the batwing doors and hurried to catch up with him.

When he drew alongside, he put a hand on the gunfighter's arm and pulled him to a halt. "You don't think he had anything to do with it do ya?"

Chris came to a standstill and looked down at the boardwalk sighing. "I don't know Vin. As Buck asked, why he didn't hear anything? They can't have been that quiet. I can't help but think he had something to do with it. His reaction when Buck told him Ezra was still alive for one thing makes me curious." The gunfighter started walking again and Vin kept pace beside him frowning.

They arrived at the store to find Mr. Abrams clearing up. Chris walked up to him and put a finger to his hat brim in greeting. "Mr. Abrams. Could I have a word?"

The gunsmith shifted from foot to foot and looked uneasy. Chris studied him intently and narrowed his eyes suspiciously. Why was the man so uptight if he was innocent? Okay, Chris was a formidable person but he didn't usually frighten the man who was standing in front of him.

"I didn't hear anything. I have trouble sleeping and Mr. Jackson gave me some medicine to help me sleep. Herbs or something he said it was. Anyway I was dead to the world all night," the man blurted out before Chris had even asked him a question. The gunfighter thought that was very odd. It was usually the sign of a guilty conscience to deny all knowledge even before being asked a question. Taking the man's reaction now along with Buck's earlier report, Chris was becoming even more convinced Abrams was involved.

"Good job Ezra isn't dead to the world. Although it was a close run thing," Chris paused to see what effect, if any, his words had on the man. Abrams paled but didn't reply, so Chris resumed talking, holding out the cufflink as he spoke, "Vin found this cufflink at the back of the saloon. It's Ezra's. Vin followed some tracks from the back of your store right back to the saloon, which leads us to believe that the thieves carried Ezra to his room so he wouldn't be discovered until morning. That means they knew who he was. Vin also found some material that matched Ezra's jacket in the alley at the side of your store along with a blood stain. That proves that Ezra was here at the time of the robbery. Have you noticed anyone hanging around the store recently? Have you had any suspicious customers?"

The gunsmith's eyes were transfixed on the cufflink and he answered automatically, "No. I have regular clients who come in to buy bullets and supplies. There are the odd people I don't know who come in now the railroad is here, but I haven't noticed anyone acting guiltily or asking too many questions."

"Well, if you think of anything, I want to hear about it, you understand?" Chris said threateningly, taking a step forwards. He knew the man was lying but he couldn't prove it yet. He couldn't exactly hit him to get him to tell the truth although that was what he felt like doing. Abrams nodded and backed away a few steps. Chris returned the nod and left the store, meeting up with Vin outside.

"Find anything?" the blond gunfighter asked hopefully.

"Some recent wagon tracks at the back of the alley. Thought about following them to see where they lead. Interested in coming?"

"You bet. I'll just let Nate know and I'll be with you. Can you get my horse ready?"

"Sure. See you outside the saloon," Vin said before the two men parted company.

Chris headed back to the gambler's room somberly and deep in thought. "Nate? Vin and I will be outta town for a while. Vin found some tracks and we're gonna see where they lead us," he said as he entered the room.

"Okay. Good luck and be careful. You're up against some evil people."

Chris asked as an afterthought, "Did you give Abrams any herbs recently to help him sleep?"

"Yeah about a couple of weeks ago. Why?"

"He says that's why he didn't hear anything."

"You think he was involved?"

"I'm convinced of it. He knew when the guns for the army would be there and he had plenty of time to organize the robbery. I think the only fly in the ointment turned out to be Ezra. Abrams hadn't allowed for the robbery being discovered by one of us. I just need to prove his guilt now." Chris touched his hat brim and hurried back downstairs. He stepped out onto the boardwalk to find Vin mounted and holding the reins of Chris's horse in one hand.


"Yeah," Chris said as he got on his horse. The two men rode straight out of town as Vin had already followed the tracks part way while Chris had been questioning the gunsmith earlier. They joined up with the trail again about half a mile outside town. The tracker dismounted every so often to get a closer look at the sign as they followed it. It was slow and laborious work and it took several hours before they reached the end of the trail. Although the tracks hadn't gone too far from town, the thieves had used a circuitous route getting to their destination. Vin pulled his horse to a halt and found his eyeglass. He studied the building in the valley below them and then passed the glass to Chris. Vin had made a detour round the building after determining that was where the tracks definitely led and they had a good view of the property from their high position.

"Shall we go and have a closer look? There doesn't seem to be anyone about?" he asked, after a while.

"Okay. Let's go in from behind," Chris agreed. The two men left their horses in a clump of trees and started the descent into the valley. Once at the bottom of the slope they stayed still for a while to make sure there was no one on site. Chris pointed to a door and Vin nodded in answer. They stayed low and ran over to it. Chris bobbed up and looked through the window beside the entrance but he couldn't see anyone inside although it was hard to see too clearly. Vin tried the door handle and found it locked so Chris fiddled with the window and eventually managed to force it open. He climbed through quietly and Vin followed him in. They squatted on the floor below the window and waited while their eyes adjusted to the gloom.

Chris poked Vin on his shoulder and nodded toward a wagon on the far side of the building. They stood up and walked over to it and looked under the tarpaulin cover. It was full of weapons and Vin pulled out the list of stolen guns and tried to match up some of the firearms. His reading skills had improved immensely since Mary had been teaching him and he was able to read the list in full.

"Yeah. These are them alright. What do ya wanna do?" Vin asked.

"We wait and see who comes to get 'em."

The two friends settled down behind some straw that was stacked nearby and waited with the patience of Job for the thieves to arrive.

+ + + + + + +

Back in town Ezra opened his eye and blinked against the bright light. Nathan was still with him trying to get the many swellings on the gambler's body to subside. He placed a cold cloth on Ezra's swollen eye just as the gambler opened the other one. The gambler drew in a breath as the cold cloth touched his skin.

"Could I have some water please, Mr. Jackson?" Ezra sounded as though he had a mouthful of pebbles.

"Course ya can Ez. Put yer hand there and hold that in place will ya?" Nathan asked. Ezra raised a hand and put it on the cloth over his eye while the healer rose and filled a glass with water. He helped Ezra to raise up a bit by putting a hand under his head and lifting him. He stopped when Ezra moaned at the movement.

"Ez? You okay?"

"Yes. I'm alright. Pray continue."

Nathan supported him against his chest and put the glass to his lips. The gambler drank his fill, wincing as the cold water made his split lip sting. When he had finished Nathan settled him back onto the bed. "That better?"


Josiah asked, "Can I get you anything else?"

Ezra turned his head to the side. Josiah was sitting on the side of the bed nearest Ezra's injured eye. The gambler hadn't realized the preacher was even there. "Ah. Mr. Sanchez. How long have you been here? That's the trouble with becoming a one sided Cyclops. You can't see everything."

"I've been here all afternoon."

"Sorry I haven't been much company."

"Well I didn't expect you to be talking constantly like you do normally. You're lucky to be alive, you know that, don't you? Can you tell us what happened?"

Ezra was silent for a few minutes while he gathered his thoughts together. He was so quiet for so long that Josiah put a hand on his shoulder to make sure he was alright.

"I'm quite well, Mr. Sanchez," Ezra assured him before sighing deeply.

"You're not a very good liar Ezra. Look, I'll move so you can see me properly." Josiah swapped sides and Ezra smiled when the preacher came into view.

"That better?"

"Yes. Thank you. Now let me see if I can recall what happened. I was sauntering along the boardwalk by the gunsmiths and I heard a disturbance in the alley next to it. I stopped and listened and heard someone moving about inside the store. I thought it was too late for Mr. Abrams to be there, so I walked down the alley and took a peek in the side door. There was a brigand inside with his back to me, stacking a veritable arsenal of weapons by the door. I drew my gun and entered soundlessly. He ceased his skulduggery when I put my gun against his neck and I attempted to relieve him of his weapon. Someone else must have been keeping watch outside because I was struck from behind. Perhaps you can help me by relating what happened next. I'm totally flummoxed as to how I got back to my room."

"Well as far as we know the two men carried you back after beating you, which meant they knew who you were. Do you remember either of them? Had you seen them before?" Josiah asked.

"I only saw the one in the store clearly. I don't think I saw the one who smote me from behind at all. It's a bit vague, I'm afraid. I can't recall much after I was poleaxed."

"I don't want you fretting about it. Vin and Chris are out looking for the men and guns now. Vin found some tracks at the store which they're following. Get some sleep now, you sound tired. You'll probably remember more when you wake up." Nathan put out a hand and felt Ezra's brow. "You're quite warm. Do you feel alright?"

"Alright isn't quite the word I'd use. I feel as if I've been trampled in a stampede. I feel stiff and unsettled to put it mildly. It's just like my innards have been shaken up and put back incorrectly. Does that depict the sensation to you well enough?"

"Sounds gruesome," Josiah said nodding, although he couldn't help smiling at Ezra's picturesque description.

Nathan patted the gambler's arm gently and smiled, "I'll keep you cool just to be on the safe side. You're bound to be a bit feverish with the injuries you've had. I'll give you something for the pain again after that."

Ezra closed his eye and drifted off to sleep as Nathan wiped his face with a cool cloth. The healer replaced the one on Ezra's eye as well and he was pleased to see the swelling had gone down slightly although the gambler still couldn't see out of it.

"Is he okay, Nate? It sounds as if he's pretty uncomfortable," Josiah said anxiously, as he took one of the gambler's hands in his.

"I hope he's alright. I can't tell what, if any, internal injuries he's got, but I think his condition would have deteriorated by now if he was bleeding inside. I'm afraid I couldn't do much for him if he was anyway. He seems brighter though, don't you think?"

"Yeah. I'll pray for him just the same. It can't do any harm to ask for some divine intervention." Josiah studied Ezra's hand as he held it. He really did have lovely hands, Josiah thought to himself smiling, not spoilt by manual work that was for sure. But Josiah knew that the gambler had dealt out as much death with them as he had cards in a poker game. He put his own hands together in a steeple before him with Ezra's hand held between them. He rested his elbows on the bed and prayed for the gambler's recovery.


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