Locomotive Larceny


Bill, the telegram operator in Four Corners, received the message for Chris and made his way to the saloon in the hope that the black clad man would be there. He stepped inside the batwing doors and looked around the room. He saw the blond man at the counter and walked over to stand beside him. He held out the telegram and Chris flipped him a coin in return. The gunfighter read the message and smiled.

Buck entered the saloon and ambled over to his oldest friend. "What ya looking so happy about, pard?" he asked as he saw the smile on Chris's face.

"Vin sent a message from Bitter Creek. It gives a bit more detail about the robbery and tells us where the hideout is. Let's round up the others and go and see the area they'll be using for the robbery."

The two men found the rest of their group and the men saddled up and rode out of town. They approached the railroad cautiously and studied the canyon where the train would be stopped. Next they rode onto the site where the horses would be held. It was in a clearing just a few yards away from the track. There was a lot of cover the peacekeepers could use to ambush the gang when they had completed the robbery. He knew Vin was going to be the sniper up on the canyon top so hopefully they could tackle the rest of the gang before Vin got back to the clearing. It would leave them only one of their friends to rescue. Chris was pleased with what he had seen and the group made their way back home.

As they left the area, Ezra and a few other members of the gang rode toward the same place to deliver the explosives and the horses to the clearing ready for the following day. Ezra and Bill would be staying to watch over things that night and the others would join them in the morning.

Vin didn't like the idea of being separated from Ezra but there was nothing he could do. He slept fitfully at the hideout wondering how the gambler was getting on, but he needn't have worried as Bill left Ezra alone. Bill knew he couldn't get the upper hand if he tried to tackle Ezra without Sol to back him up, so he didn't try anything.

+ + + + + + +

Next morning, Chris and his men got ready and rode out to get set up for the afternoon. Chris had decided to scatter his men around the clearing. He couldn't put anyone on the canyon rim or near the track because there was not enough cover and he didn't want to encourage a gunfight near the train. As they approached the clearing on foot, he could hear voices and he recognized one of them as Ezra's. He made sure his men were as quite as possible as they moved into position. They settled in to wait and saw Sol arrive to join his two companions about mid morning.

+ + + + + + +

The rest of the outlaw gang rode toward the railroad track and split up to take their positions. Vin climbed up to the canyon rim and lay down and sighted his rifle. He had a good view of the area and could also see into the clearing below. He pulled out his telescope and looked the area over and he could see Chris and few of the others hidden nearby. They were well concealed and it had taken him a while to find them. He knew Otis wouldn't be able to see them and he smiled and turned back to wait for the train to arrive.

About half an hour later he heard the familiar sound of the locomotive. He saw Otis and Slim move into position below and he sighted his rifle. The train came into sight and he heard it start to brake as the two outlaws below moved onto the track. On the train itself, one of the gang members made sure the conductor didn't intervene while the other had climbed along to the engine to make sure the train stopped.

The boxcar containing the safe was now free of the canyon and Tyrie moved toward it to deal with the safe. Bill took over his position in the engine to keep the driver covered. Vin heard the explosion from where he lay and saw Ezra and Sol start to load the horses with the money. It didn't take long before they were done. The outlaws started to mount their horses and they moved away from the train back into the clearing to return to the hideout. Chris had thought of tackling them at the cabin but he couldn't be sure that the gang would return there after the robbery.

Vin heard Chris shout and challenge the outlaws and heard gunfire erupt. The sharpshooter sighted his rifle and took out Tyrie and Sol in quick succession. Chris and his men killed a couple of others and Ezra tried to catch Otis who was making good his escape. He rode after the man and knocked him off his horse. The gambler dismounted and ran over to secure the man but he had reckoned without the loyalty of Slim. The giant saw him knock Otis from the saddle and he turned back to lend a hand. He aimed his horse directly at the gambler and rode toward him at pace. Ezra saw movement out the corner of his eye and managed to step aside just in time but not before Slim had struck out with his foot and caught the gambler square in the face. Ezra fell and rolled away while clutching his face and swallowing what seemed like gallons of blood. Slim reached a hand down and pulled Otis up behind him onto his horse. He rode back toward Ezra and Otis pulled out his revolver and aimed it at the fallen man.

Vin had been watching from his position on the rim and had seen Ezra tackle Otis. Thinking that his friends now had the situation under control, the tracker quickly made his way back down to the clearing and momentarily lost sight of the unfolding events. As he finally emerged into the clearing Vin saw Ezra's danger and aimed his own rifle at the gang leader. He fired at the exactly the same time that Otis did. He saw the outlaw arch his back and fall but not before the bandit's bullet had struck Ezra. Slim turned round after hearing the shot and feeling Otis fall from behind him. The big man snapped off a quick shot toward the tracker and then spurred his horse away. The bullet caught the sharpshooter in the upper arm and spun him round with the force of the strike. Vin fell to the ground with a cry and stayed where he was as gunfire echoed around the clearing.

Two of the other outlaws had laid down covering fire to keep Chris and the others busy, while Otis and Slim had tried to escape. Now Otis was dead the remaining outlaws decided it was time to make a hasty retreat. Buck rose when it was safe to do so and sent a bullet toward Slim's retreating back and was glad to see the giant man slide from the saddle and hit the dirt with a bump. Chris looked toward Vin and saw the tracker struggling to his feet, so the gunfighter ran over to see to Ezra. He knelt down beside the gambler while three of his men chased after the remaining robbers. JD split from chasing after the outlaws and took off after the packhorses. He didn't think Chris would be pleased if they lost the money after all that Ezra and Vin had done.

Chris turned Ezra over and saw his bloody face where Slim had kicked him. Nathan arrived and sat on the other side of the gambler and tried to find the bullet wound. He found it just below Ezra's left knee and it was bleeding badly. Vin sat down a little way from the three men to give them room to work. Nathan looked up and saw the tracker and noticed the blood showing between his fingers.

"Are you okay, Vin?" the healer asked.

"Yeah. It's just a surface wound but it stings like hell. See to Ezra first. I shoulda stayed up on the rim, but I thought everything was under control," Vin said.

Nathan turned his attention back to Ezra and saw that the gambler had blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. Ezra coughed all of a sudden and Nathan thought his breathing sounded bubbly. The gambler began choking and Nathan turned him on his side quickly in the hope it was just the blood from his mouth injury that was causing him to choke. It didn't work and Ezra continued coughing painfully so Nathan sat him up and bent him over his own forearm and thumped the gambler on the back between the shoulder blades. He thumped him again and Ezra coughed up two teeth, which had been knocked out when Slim had kicked him. They had been washed down his throat by the large amount of blood in his mouth. Nathan laid him down gently on his side again and had a look inside the injured man's mouth as best he could. His fingers were covered in blood when he had finished his examination.

"Nate? Is he okay?" Chris asked anxiously.

"He's bitten his tongue and the inside of his cheek pretty badly, as well as losing those teeth. I'll leave him on his side for the time being as he's still bleeding quite a lot. He won't be able to talk for a while when he does wake up."

"Ezra?" Chris called, but the gambler's eyes remained closed. The blond man looked round as he heard the sound of an approaching horse. He saw JD and watched as the kid dismounted and approached the four men.

"Is Ezra okay?" the kid asked breathlessly.

"No, he's not. Look, I need to get him back to town before touching that leg," Nathan said. "The bullet's still in there and I don't want to dig around for it out here. I think it's stuck in the bone and his leg's broken for sure. The kick to his face did quite a bit of damage too."

Buck and Josiah returned noisily after killing the remnants of the gang and heard Nathan's diagnosis. Chris turned to them and said, "Can you take the money back to Four Corners on the horses? I'll tell the conductor what we're doing. You might as well take it with you as there's no safe on the train to keep it secure anymore and it'll save unpacking it all again." Chris paused and then said, "How about if we take Ez back to town on the train? It'll be easier than on horseback."

"Yeah. Good idea," Nathan said nodding in agreement. The healer rose as he answered and walked over to Vin. Nathan bandaged Vin's arm after cleaning the wound thoroughly. The tracker hissed as Nathan poured whiskey into the wound to disinfect it. Nathan looked up and smiled in sympathy.

"Good job it was just a simple wound or you coulda joined the queue behind Ezra for surgery," Nathan informed him seriously.

"I know. Thanks Nate."

"Are you okay to ride back to town? Buck could use your skills with a rifle in escorting the money," Chris asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I can handle a rifle well enough," Vin replied.

"Okay then. We'll meet you back in town. Keep an eye on Vin," Chris said.

"Sure Chris. Take care of Ezra," Buck said as he turned and mounted his horse. The others followed suit and headed back to town leading the packhorses.

Chris stood and ran over to the train and found the conductor talking to the driver. Both men turned as they heard the sound of running feet and the conductor drew a pistol in expectation of it being one of the robbers returning. Chris held up his hands and the conductor put away his gun as he recognized the blond gunman.

"Mr. Larabee? Did you catch them all?" the driver asked.

"Yeah we did, but Ezra's hurt. Can we take him back to town on the train?"

"Sure. How bad is he?" the conductor asked.

"Bad enough. Could you help us carry him over?"

"Yeah, okay."

The two men followed Chris to the clearing and stood nearby as they watched Nathan work. The healer looked up after securing Ezra's legs together to keep the injured one straight.

"Okay. We need to keep him still and his legs as straight as possible. Can you two take his top half while Chris and I take his legs? I've given him some laudanum so hopefully he won't feel too much pain."

"Is he alright on his back now?" Chris asked.

"Yeah. He's not bleeding so much in his mouth although his tongue's quite swollen but I'll keep an eye on him, just to be sure," Nathan assured him.

The men moved into position and carefully lifted the gambler between them. The ground was very uneven to walk on and they couldn't help jostling the injured man as they made their way slowly to the waiting train. Ezra groaned and Nathan talked to him as they walked to keep him calm. The men eventually reached the train and several passengers jumped down from the carriage to lend a hand in hoisting the gambler aboard. It was not easy to maneuver him onto the train and his injured leg was knocked in the process. Ezra screamed in pain despite the laudanum he had been given and he remained semiconscious and mumbled continuously.

"Put him down now," Nathan ordered and the gambler was lowered onto the floor in the aisle. There wasn't much room to work and the healer cursed under his breath as he kept knocking his elbows on the seats as he worked. He undid the bandages that were tying the gambler's legs together and looked to see what damage had been done. The wound was bleeding again and Nathan could see the bone had been knocked out of alignment despite the splints he had used. As he touched the injured limb, Ezra whimpered.

"It's alright, Ez. We'll have you sorted in a minute. Shit, he coulda done without this. Chris? Can you hold him while I straighten his leg? Hold him tight 'cause it's gonna hurt like hell and I don't wanna give him any more laudanum at the moment," Nathan said as he looked up at Chris and watched as the gunman sat down and pulled Ezra's upper body into his lap and held him tight.

Nathan reached out and put his hands on either side of the break and took a deep breath before pulling hard. Ezra screamed again and Chris felt the man go limp in his arms as he passed out. Chris rubbed the gambler's chest comfortingly and then lowered him back onto the floor gently. He took off his jacket and put it under Ezra's head so he at least had a bit of comfort. He stayed sitting beside him so he could help keep him still on the journey home. Nathan stayed where he was and started cleaning the gambler's facial injuries.

The healer sighed as he saw that Ezra had a long cut down the center of his face, caused by Slim's spur which had also split the gambler's lips badly. Nathan washed all the blood off and put a pad over the cuts but decided to do the stitching when he got back to town.

The train started moving with a jolt and Chris put out a steadying hand to hold Ezra still. After traveling for a short while, the blond decided to hold Ezra in his lap again as the gambler was swaying from side to side because of the train's movement. The gunman could keep the gambler steady if he had hold of him properly, so he lifted him gently and held him all the way home.

Vin and the others rode back slowly to town. Buck took up a position next to Vin to make sure the man was really alright. The ladies' man thought the tracker looked a bit pale but he kept saying he was alright, but Buck noticed he held his rein's with his other hand. When they reached town Buck moved round and helped Vin from the saddle, just in case. The tracker's knees buckled under him and Buck held him tightly so he didn't collapse.

"Are you okay, pard?"

"Yeah. I just felt a bit dizzy."

"Let me look at yer arm." Buck helped the tracker take off his coat and saw that the wound was bleeding again. " Why didn't ya say anything? Did you knock it?"

"My horse nudged me with his head when I when to get on him back at the clearing," Vin admitted.

"Come on. I'll take you to the clinic to wait for Nate to get back. It needs stitches by the look of it."

"Thanks, Bucklin," Vin said wearily as he was led along the street and up the stairs to the clinic.

+ + + + + + +

The train pulled in not long after the peacekeepers had arrived home. At the station, Buck and the others were waiting for them. Buck climbed up into the carriage and made his way toward his friends. He sat down on the seat near Chris and looked down at the gambler.

"How is he?" the ladies' man asked, catching Chris's eye.

"In pain. He knocked his leg as we tried to get him on the train which didn't help," Chris said.

Buck winced in sympathy and said, "The boys are all here. I took Vin along to the clinic. He looked a bit pale and he said he felt dizzy. I had to hold him up when he got off his horse as he nearly passed out. I checked his wound was bleeding again and he said his horse nudged his arm back at the clearing. What can we do to help here?"

"Can Josiah carry Ezra? He may be able to handle him better on his own rather than us all trying to get out the door at once with him. I'll keep hold of his legs myself," Nathan suggested. Buck stood up and shouted for the preacher through the window.

Josiah hopped up onto the train and squatted down beside the gambler as Chris and Buck moved out of the way. "What do you need me to do, Brother Nate?"

"Can you carry him down the steps? Just be careful of his leg. He's already had it knocked once and I just think it's easier if only one person has hold of him to get him out of here. The doorway isn't wide enough for a group of us to carry him. Unfortunately we found that out too late when we tried to get him in here."

"Sure thing." Josiah scooped the injured man into his arms gently. Ezra's head rested against Josiah's shoulder and the tall man shifted the gambler slightly in his arms before starting toward the door. Nathan kept hold of Ezra's lower limbs to make sure he didn't hit them again. They climbed slowly down the steps and walked along to the clinic carefully. Josiah laid the gambler on the bed and waited to see what else he could do to help.

Nathan saw Vin sitting in a chair in the darkness. "Hey Vin. Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Buck thought my arm might need stitches. It started bleeding again on the way home. I knocked it."

"Yeah he told us. I'll see to you after Ezra."

Nathan dismissed the other men who had followed along behind but kept Josiah and Chris with him.

"Right, I need to get that bullet out first. Chris, can you hold his top half and Josiah his legs?" Nathan asked. Both men moved into position.

Nathan got a bottle from the shelf and a rag. Chris watched him curiously and frowned. "What's that, Nate?" he asked.

"It's called ether. It'll keep him unconscious while I deal with his injuries. I've only used it a few times before and I've gotta make sure I don't give him too much. It'll be better for him. I've had quite a lot of success when I used it before."

Nathan held the ether soaked rag over Ezra's nose and mouth and the gambler struggled weakly and mumbled. Eventually he stopped moving and the gagging sounds he had been making ceased altogether. Nathan watched him carefully and when he was sure Ezra was fully under the influence of the drug, he removed the rag.

Chris reached out a hand to feel for a pulse in the gambler's neck to reassure himself that Ezra was alive. "Is he okay? How do you know if you've given him too much?"

"Just practice. I read about it in a medical journal and they said what signs to look out for. He seems alright." Nathan then cut Ezra's pants and boot off. The healer picked up a probe and inserted it in the wound to try and find the bullet. He found offending item as he had thought, lodged in the bone but he managed to get a hold on it and pulled it free after a bit of gentle tugging. Ezra jerked in Chris and Josiah's grasp as the bullet was pulled out but he did not wake.

Chris patted the gambler's shoulder and said, "Worst bit over, Ez. Nathan'll have you on yer feet in no time."

Nathan stitched up the leg wound and then bandaged it before splinting the broken limb again. He then turned his attention to Ezra's face and when he had finished, the gambler had a set of stitches the length of his face that resembled a railroad track.

Rather appropriate Vin thought sadly as he watched proceedings.

Nathan turned his attention to the tracker and he re-bandaged his arm after adding some stitches and making sure the wound was really clean. The healer washed his hands and put away his equipment then walked over to the bed and rechecked his other patient.

"He okay, Nate?" Vin asked.

"Should be but he'll be off his feet for a while. Why don't you get some rest, Vin? You must be tired," Nathan said.

"Na. I wanna stay. I shouldn't have let him get us involved, but you know what he's like when he gets an idea in his head. There's no telling him that it's not a good idea."

"I'll go and talk to Chris and the others then. You coming, Josiah?" Nathan asked.

"Sure. You be alright on yer own Vin? Come and find us if you need anything. We won't be too long hopefully," Josiah said as he patted the tracker's uninjured shoulder as he walked to the door.

Once the two men had gone Vin turned his attention back to the man on the bed. He put his free hand on the gambler's arm and then lowered his own head onto the bed covers and went to sleep. He had been asleep for about an hour when he was woken by a noise. It took him a minute to remember what had happened and he lifted his head and looked at Ezra. The gambler was awake and lifting a hand to scratch his face. Vin grabbed the appendage and pulled it away.

"Don't touch, Ezra. Nathan will kill you if you disturb his nice needlework."

The gambler tried to speak but the injuries to his lips and mouth made him groan softly in pain. He indicated for something to write with and Vin looked around and found a piece of paper and a pencil on Nathan's table. He handed them over to Ezra who scribbled something quickly. The tracker took the page from his hands and studied what had been written. He spelled out the letters in his head and formed the words slowly as Mary had taught him. The writing wasn't too plain as Ezra was still under the influence of the laudanum.

Vin eventually made out the words 'It itches.'

"I know, but yer gonna have to leave it alone. How do ya feel otherwise?" Vin asked as he handed the pencil and paper back for the answer.

'Floaty' was the reply.

"Floaty? What the hell's floaty?" Vin asked laughing.

'You know floaty. It's like I'm on water, bobbing up and down.' Ezra wrote. His wrist ached from writing with his arms held in the air and he put his arms down and flexed his fingers to get the feeling back.

"Go back to sleep, Ez. It's just the ether. You'll feel less floaty when you wake up again," Vin assured the man.

Ezra closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep again. Vin patted his arm and joined him in a nap. Josiah and Nathan came back to the clinic fairly soon afterwards and opened the door. They entered quietly after seeing the two sleeping men. Josiah took a seat by the bed while Nathan checked Ezra over again.

"He alright?" the preacher asked.

"Yeah. He seems okay. No fever for once," Nathan replied happily.

Vin stirred as he heard their voices and he woke yawning. He stretched and winced as his arm hurt at the movement. He leaned back in his chair slowly and spoke to the two men. "He woke up a while ago," he said. "He said he felt floaty and his stitches itch."

Nathan laughed. "I'll have to tie his hands to his sides to stop him scratching. They're gonna plague him for a while."

Ezra woke up as well and squinted at the three men surrounding his bed. He lifted his hand again and moved it toward his face and Josiah caught it this time.

"No Ezra. I know it's annoying but you mustn't scratch," Nathan admonished.

'I bet I didn't even need stitches. You just put them in to make me suffer.' Ezra wrote. He really wished he could speak instead of having to write everything down but his tongue and cheek felt twice as big as they should have done and they really hurt.

"Well, perhaps it'll teach you not to go off half cocked and get involved in something you should've kept out of," Nathan said, after reading Ezra's note out loud so the others could hear.

"He did the right thing. Leave him alone, Nate," Chris said from the doorway. The three uninjured men turned to look at their leader in astonishment as he walked toward them. It was a rare occurrence for the blond to stick up for the gambler.

'Thank you, Mr. Larabee. Vin said you would kill me for getting us involved but I'm glad he was wrong for once.' The gambler wrote after retrieving his writing utensils from the bed covers where Nathan had laid them.

"At least you got to touch that money. I didn't even get a ride on the train. It's not fair that you got your wish and I didn't," Vin moaned.

'You could've had my place on the train willing, Mr. Tanner. I could have arranged it for you. I don't think I shall set foot on a train ever again.' Ezra wrote.

"Sorry Ez," Vin said, when he had distinguished what the gambler had written. "You didn't deserve to be hurt. I'd have taken yer place gladly. You know that."

Ezra smiled lopsidedly at the tracker, knowing he meant every word. 'Did you save the money?' Ezra scribbled suddenly.

"Yeah. It's safely in the Bank. Don't you worry about that," Chris said.

"We'd better leave him to get some rest. Come on, Chris," Josiah said. "You coming, Vin?"

"Na. I'll stay a bit longer." Vin settled back in his chair and closed his eyes again as Nathan busied himself with little jobs around the clinic.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah arrived at the clinic during the evening to relieve both Nathan and Vin. He sat down next to the bed and started reading his book after seeing that Ezra was asleep. The light was bad and his eyes ached trying to distinguish the words on the page. He didn't want to move the light nearer to the gambler in case he disturbed him so he moved his chair toward the light instead. He was near enough to see Ezra but not near enough to touch him. The preacher started reading again in the brighter light but the warmth in the room and the silence gradually made him drowsy and eventually his eyes closed and he fell asleep and started snoring loudly.

Ezra woke soon afterwards and saw the preacher sitting near him. The gambler was in a lot of pain now that the ether and laudanum had worn off. His face was stiff and the injuries to his lips and mouth made it impossible for him to speak. He tried to attract Josiah's attention by stretching out a hand but the man was just beyond his reach. He tried to move nearer to the edge of the bed but he felt a stab of pain through his leg and he had to stop moving in order to halt the pain. He reached under his head after a while to get a pillow to throw at the preacher but even that took a long time. It also caused him more pain as he needed to brace both his legs to lift his upper body away from the bed to pull the pillow out from under his shoulders. All his effort was in vain though, as he ended up fumbling it in his fingers and dropping it over the side of the bed. The pain in the gambler's face and especially his leg was now so intense that it took his breath away and he couldn't help crying. The tears rolled down his cheek and flowed into the cuts on his face, which caused them to sting terribly.

He lay and suffered hoping that the preacher would hear him and wake up but his wish was not granted. He heard the clinic door open after about an hour and saw Chris and Buck enter. The two men entered quietly assuming he was asleep and Chris walked over to the bed. He looked down frowning and picked up the pillow and then saw that Ezra was awake and crying.

"Ez? What's the matter?" he asked, as he sat down next to the gambler. Ezra tried to tell him but couldn't speak.

"Are you in pain?" Chris reached out and got hold of Ezra's hand. "Squeeze my hand if you are."

Ezra squeezed it hard and wouldn't let go his hold. Chris turned to Buck quickly and said "Go and get Nathan." He then slapped Josiah hard on the thigh and woke the man up.

"What the hell's the matter with you, Josiah?" he asked angrily. "Ezra needed you."

The preacher rubbed his eyes and looked over at the gambler. "I'm sorry Ezra. It was just so warm in here I couldn't help falling asleep."

"Too late for sorry. If you were gonna sleep, why didn't you at least keep a hand on him so you could feel if he needed you?" Chris asked.

"I'm sorry. I moved away to get better light. I didn't want to move the lamp nearer to Ezra in case it fell over," Josiah said.

Nathan came running into the clinic, with Buck following behind and the healer hurried over to Ezra. "What's the matter, Chris?"

"Josiah fell asleep and Ezra woke up in a lot of pain. He couldn't get Josiah's attention. Can you give him something? God knows how long he's been like it."

Nathan found some morphine and gave some to the gambler. He only ever used the drug as a last resort, he preferred laudanum, but he could see how much pain Ezra was in. Chris stayed on the bed and held Ezra's hand as the injured man's eyes slowly started to flicker and then closed completely as the drug did its work. He stroked the man's face and then rubbed his arm.

Buck turned to Josiah and said, "We'll take it from here, pard." He patted the preacher's shoulder and escorted him outside. "Don't take any notice of Chris. It coulda happened to any of us."

"I'll apologize to Ezra when he wakes up. I really am sorry, Buck." The preacher turned and walked away and Buck watched him go until he was out of sight. The ladies' man walked back into the clinic and stood beside Chris again.

"He better?" he asked.

"Well he's asleep. Jesus he must 'a been awake for a while for it to affect him like that," Chris said quietly.

"Don't be too hard on Josiah. You know what it's like in here when you're looking after someone. We've all fallen asleep on the job."

"I know. I was just angry that Ezra was left in pain. I'll see Josiah later."

Chris stayed beside the gambler all night and Buck sat in the chair that Josiah had vacated. The gambler slept peacefully until the morning. He woke to find the two men beside him and Chris smiled at him and patted his shoulder.

"Okay Ez?" the blond asked.

The gambler nodded slightly and shifted on the bed to try and get comfortable. He lifted a hand automatically to touch his face but he remembered the stitches and lowered it back onto the bed sighing.

Buck smiled and said, "Do you want anything?"

Ezra looked at him and shook his head. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, content in the company of his two friends.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was finally allowed out of the clinic and he hopped along to the saloon with Vin's help and the aid of a crutch. His face still bore the evidence of his rough treatment but at least the stitches had finally been removed. The other men were all there and the new arrivals joined them at the table. Josiah held something out to Ezra and the gambler turned to Vin.

"This is for you, Vin," Ezra said as he handed over a piece of paper.

"What is it?"

"It's a train ticket. You wanted a ride, didn't you?"

Vin stared at the gambler. "You don't have to do this, Ez."

"Yes I do. You helped me out even though you weren't happy about what I got us into and I owe you."

"Gee. Thanks Ez. When do I go?"

"This afternoon. Just up to Bitter Creek on the train and horse ride back. Chris is going as well to keep you company. You'd better get a move on. You don't want to miss it."

Vin jumped up and headed for the door but looked back when Chris wasn't as quick. "Come on Chris. Get a move on," the tracker urged excitedly.

The gunfighter followed him slowly muttering, "Just like a little kid."

Vin heard him and beamed. "You can't tell me you're not looking forward to it." The tracker put his arm round the blond man's neck and wrestled him out the door.

The men in the saloon heard Vin yell and then listened to the sound of feet pounding away up the boardwalk. Buck rose to look out the door and laughed as he saw Chris chasing the tracker for all he was worth toward the railroad. Vin won the race and Chris finally caught up with him on the train itself and flopped down on the seat next to the tracker and huffed and puffed as he tried to regain his breath.

"Jeez, You're outta condition Chris. Good job I wasn't an outlaw. I'd have escaped for sure."

Chris punched him lightly and settled back to enjoy the ride. The train started moving and Vin sat next to the window with his face plastered against the glass watching the world race by on the other side. They reached Bitter Creek all too fast for Vin's liking but he sighed with contentment when he got off. "That was great Chris. It goes even faster than a horse."

"Ezra'll be pleased you enjoyed it," Chris said as he put an arm round Vin's shoulders and herded him toward the livery. "You'll have to make do with four- legged transport to get home though, as Ezra said."

The two men headed home and arrived back at the saloon in the early evening. Vin looked around for Ezra but couldn't see him. He went on up the stairs and walked along to the gambler's room and he knocked on the door and went inside.


"Ah, Mr. Tanner. How did you enjoy your train ride?" Ezra asked as he pulled himself up into a sitting position.

"Oh, it was great, Ez. I haven't enjoyed myself so much in ages. Thanks for paying for me to go," the sharpshooter said gratefully.

"It was my pleasure. How did Mr. Larabee get on?"

"He fell asleep. I think I wore him out when he chased me to the train. He's getting old, that's his trouble," Vin said laughing. "One thing he did say while he was awake though. The Bank and the Central Pacific railroad are paying us a reward for catching the outlaws."

"There I told you we would be hailed as heroes, Mr. Tanner," Ezra said smugly.

"Yeah, but before we were heroes, we were nearly corpses. Just mind what you get me involved in next time will ya?" Vin asked.

Ezra ignored the remark and asked, "I wonder how much they'll pay us? I need to buy a new pair of pants seeing as that odious little outlaw shot a hole through the leg of my best pair. Nathan had to cut them and my boots off, you know. He seemed to take great delight in showing me the remnants of them. What will you spend your share on?"

"I don't really need anything."

"Can't you be extravagant and go on a few train rides?"

"I've never really had much money, except in my bounty hunting days. I don't like to waste it."

"It wouldn't be a waste. You don't have to spend everything you get. You can't take it with you when you die so you might as well enjoy it now," Ezra said. "Perhaps I can help you offload some by playing poker with you."

"Oh no. Now that would be a waste," Vin laughed. "I'll play yer for cigars instead."

"Skin flint," Ezra moaned, but he pulled his cards out of his pocket and dealt.

"You really ought to learn to live dangerously, Mr. Tanner."

"Being around you is all the danger I need," Vin said grinning and Ezra couldn't help but laugh as well.

The End

Comments to: hombre55@hotmail.com