The Train

by Heather F.

Part 5
Ezra sat quietly on the car roof. The wind bit at his nose and cheeks. His fingers grew numb. It would be time to go in soon. He watched the shadowed landscape flash by under the illumination of a full moon. Under its reflective light, he noticed a line of silhouettes spread out on a mesa’s edge. The vertical lances and horses under seat, gave clear indication of who observed the train from a field.

"Mr. Tanner?"

"I seen’ em Ezra," Tanner answered back quietly. Damn. They didn’t need this now.

"You’ve seen them?" Ezra turned around and faced the tracker, his incredulous look hidden by the night, "and you thought not to inform anyone?"

"They ain’t after no Gold."

"How can you be so sure?" Standish felt his blood race. His Gold was suddenly endangered.

"You got bigger problems with Josiah than with them Comanche." Anger laced the tracker’s voice. Why did all white men act the same?

"Comanche?" Standish whispered out in quiet alarm. Dear Lord. And What does Mr. Sanchez have to do with my Gold?

Vin felt his unease grow. The constant presence of the Southerner suddenly wore thin. The top of the railcars lost their illusion of space.

"Think it's time ya found yerself back inside, Ezra," The tracker stared pointedly at the gambler.

Ezra returned the look and then gazed to the distant Mesa that now stood empty.

"Yes, perhaps you’re right."

The tracker sighed as he listened to the raised voices in the car below him. Gawd damn gambler couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Vin had expected no less, just wished for more.

He closed his eyes trying to find a peace that had been lost over the last few weeks.

Vin listened to the voices below hoping to hear someone come to the side of the Comanche. He thought perhaps Josiah or Nathan or even Chris but instead their voices remained relatively quiet. They asked questions and mulled over the responses and knee jerk answers of the others. After a bit, the door to the car opened and JD stuck his head up over the rim of the roof.

"’Ey Vin?" The young man’s voice was tentative afraid to disturb or even risk the wrath of the tracker. His dark hair blew over and around his face in an unruly fashion that seemed no different on a calm day. JD searched the roof of the car until his eyes etched out the silhouette of the tracker, "Um…Chris wants ya down here for a second." With that said, Dunne disappeared from sight and back into the car.

Tanner cursed and pushed himself to his feet. Things would never change. He should have left, should have left when he had packed his saddlebags so many days ago…should have legged Peso and headed for the horizon. With a curse, the tracker made his way back into the car.

+ + + + + + +

The lack of wind made his cheeks burn, the heat of too many bodies in such a small space brought out an uncomfortable sweat and the smell of other men irritated him.

"Vin?" Chris stared at the tracker trying to get a measure of the man before him. Larabee didn’t miss the growing fight in the man before him. It had been building for weeks now, Larabee just hoped it would pass like a seasonal storm. It hadn’t occurred yet.

Tanner simply tilted his head back and raised an eyebrow. He felt the scrutiny Chris tossed his way and some part of him welcomed it and another recognized the tightening of another leash. Vin knew what Larabee was asking about but felt no compulsions in making things easy. He merely gazed back one of the few men in this world he trusted to watch his back and answered the question with a silent question of his own….

Larabee read the consternation in his friend. Saw it and understood it. A lifetime of bigotry did not end with simple ties to friends. Everyday Nathan faced it and battled it. It seemed that they forgot that Vin too faced a world of hate. An outsider in both societies, belonging to one that didn’t truly want him and another that welcomed him but proved unable to keep him. Chris found himself staring at a young man that walked a tightrope, balancing precariously between two different worlds that despised one another. Tanner had tasted both, embraced one and lived in the other.

What kept the man tethered so closely to the others?

Chris did not rise to the bait that Tanner presented with his lack of a verbal answer. Larabee reined in his sudden flash of anger. To show ire with Tanner would only earn him Tanner’s scorn.

"They after the Gold?" Chris matched Tanner’s eyes and held them.

Buck watched the two men. Good ole Chris certainly didn’t waste anytime beating the bushes. He hit with point blank honesty. Most people didn’t like it nor could they handle it. Wilmington knew Tanner appreciated it.


Wilmington smiled at the byplay. The simple subtle duck of the head was agreement enough for Larabee. Chris took Vin’s word for Gospel. Didn’t question it, not after the incident with Chanu and not after the debacle with Ella Gaines. Both times Vin stood on one side of the line and faced the others, both times he squared off with Larabee. In both instances Vin had been right. So steadfast and unshakeable that Tanner proved his reluctance to watch someone destroy themselves for the follies of others. Vin, had told Chris the truth about Gaines, and then walked away. He packed his bags and left. If Larabee did not want to hear the truth, Vin would not fight with him to make him listen. Tanner had fought too hard and too long for things that had mattered, long before the seven ever met…he would not waste his time nor his energy trying to sway the mind of one who refused to listen to truth. Not now, least ways, not any more. A few weeks ago, maybe, maybe when the siren’s call to drift away didn’t pull so earnestly at him.

Vin had left when Gaines clouded Chris’s mind. In his simple manner, Tanner had shown them all that he had the freedom to come and go as he pleased, nothing held him tied to a single spot in this world.

Except, he had come back, Tanner did leave, but something had ensnared him, had kept him close to the others. In his show of freewill, he had also expressed his unwillingness to abandon those that had come to mean something to him.

Buck watched the Tracker and wondered what it took to keep such a wild spirit confined to one place, enclosed in a town that did not appreciate his efforts? What strings tied Tanner to Four Corners? Perhaps there were Six ties, perhaps six bindings wrapped invisible tendrils around him that only allowed him to travel so far, before they pulled him up short, called him back to a society he did not truly belong….

"What are they doin then?" JD’s voice matched his wide eyed expression. A tension filled the car. Standish flipped cards through his hands faster than JD had ever seen. Josiah watched the far wall of their car that connected to the Gold as if he were expecting some kind of fight. Nathan sat quietly watching everyone else.

JD watched the others trying to gain some insight to the silence that deafened the car. Comanche sitting on Mesas watching the train could not be good. They had to be up to something right? Though Chanu and his tribe were friendly enough, Indians in general were not to be trusted…least ways that what was written and believed by most.

JD let his eyes fall to Nathan. People said the same things about slaves. JD knew it was wrong, there wasn’t any way that one group of people should be beat or kept as animals just because the color of their skin….Yet a ‘But’ found its way into his thinking. Not all black people were as nice as Nathan, not all black people were as smart or as pleasant? Nathan was better than most…And not just others of his kind. No siree…Nathan was better than most people JD ever met. Even the ones he called friends. Not the others here in the car, but back East and even in Four Corners. White men could be just as mean as anyone else and maybe worse. But if one could be worse didn’t it stand to reason that one could be better too? For every Guy Royal or Stuart James, wasn’t there a Yosemite, or a Nathan Jackson?

There couldn’t be a bad race without a good race? Could there? Maybe it wasn’t race at all. Maybe it was individuals? Surely one couldn’t judge Chris in the same sentence as himself? Surely one could not judge Josiah and assume that the same parameters or judgments fit Ezra? There was no way someone could measure himself and then put Buck in the same category.

JD rubbed his eyes. Just because Ezra wanted the money didn’t mean that the Comanche wanted it…right? It surely wasn’t like himself, JD, to pace and obsess over the Gold….that was Ezra’s job. Just as it was Chris’s job to keep Ezra from stealing it.

Didn’t seem right to think just because Ezra wanted the Gold that all white men and all gambler’s wanted the Gold.

Well, maybe all Gamblers would want the Gold….JD had to concede that Maude would probably use her son to get her hands on the wealth and leave Ezra high and dry.

Not all mothers were like Maude, so it would be unfair to hold all mothers in the same light as Mrs. Standish. Mrs. Standish wasn’t mean or anything, she just treated Ezra differently than JD’s mom treated him. It made JD glad he had the mom he had…

If all this was true then maybe Vin was right…maybe the Comanche didn’t want the Gold…maybe they didn’t even care about it…

"Maybe they just wanted to see the train go by," JD didn’t realize he spoke until the words left his mouth and the others turned to stare at him. He answered his own question.

Vin let a half smile crease his face. There was hope for JD.

Buck hit the kid over the head with his hat. Damn kid had more brains than the lot of them…not that Wilmington would never let him know.

Larabee swung his gaze from the youngest to the tracker. Tanner again inclined his head only slightly. The Kid was right.

Larabee eased his stance. If that’s what you think…The issue was closed.

"Gold could buy a lot of guns, aid their cause," Sanchez voice put a spark in the diffusing situation.

"They ain’t after the Gold, Josiah," Vin’s impatience in the subject edged his words.

"How can you be so certain?" Ezra fed card after card into and out of the deck with dizzying dexterity. Perhaps Mr. Larabee should post a man within the car just to be safe…One can never be too careful with money…

Chris grinned to himself as he slid his gaze at the gambler. The man probably thinks I should stand a watch in with the Gold…Keeping one step ahead of the gambler was challenging if nothing else. Larabee almost appreciated the chess like game.

"Not everyone is as money hungry as you," Tanner answered back with only a hint of the growing malice he felt. The anger he danced with was not solely aimed at the gambler but at the views and biases that nudged the Southerner down a blinded path. Of course knowing Ezra, he doesn’t care two wits about the Indians, just wants Chris to post a guard in the Gold car…damn man is stalking again.

"And Mr. Sanchez?" Ezra bit out pulling his eyes from the cards that nearly whistled from hand to hand. He focused his gaze on the tracker and then the preacher. Mr. Sanchez had some stake in the Gold next door…Come now Mr. Tanner reveal your secret…Why use Mr. Sanchez as a diversion away from the Comanche?

"Ezra, not everyone is greedy," Nathan answered back tiredly. Didn’t seem right that the gambler should start throwing barbs at others.

Chris settled back down on his bench with ankles crossed and hat pulled down over his eyes. The issue he had concerns about had been satisfied.

"Perhaps Mr. Jackson, you are unable to appreciate or envision the good that such wealth could bestow on others, or that such wealth could be used for the betterment of others." Ezra used his practiced arguments, the same ones he had with himself since hearing about their little trip.

"Betterment of yourself," Buck joked out.

"And that is a bad thing?" Ezra returned with a dimpled smile but a guarded expression masked his eyes.

"Ezra, you’ve bitten from that fruit once before," Josiah stared pointedly at the younger man his self directed anger and loathing laced his words.

"Ahh yes, and you my dear friend," Ezra twisted the last word with disgust, "did a fine job playing the part of the serpent," the gambler raised his eyebrows daring Sanchez to refute the claim. "A fitting robe for one of the ‘Cloth’." His repulsion for all things attached to tent revivals and structured religion tainted his words. He saw through the erroneous belief in a structured God and had used it for his own ends, a profitable endeavor…just as the purported men of God did every Saturday or Sunday.

Sanchez nearly rose to the bait. Instead, Nathan intervened hoping to keep two friends from blows, "Ezra all ya managed to do last time was get yaself shot and…." Nathan let his voice taper off. He realized too late where his words were leading and knowing that such revelations though made by most if not everyone in the small train car, did not need to be uttered vocally. Ezra was a thief, they all suspected it, Standish had proven it.

JD watched the growing argument and slow dissolution of camaraderie. He wondered why no one stepped forward to stop it? Why did he himself wait for someone else to move forth?

"Ain’t no one’s fault," JD whispered out, "jist the way Ezra is, can’t help it," his words somehow lost their intent to soothe and explain away the rising differences.

Standish laid a scalding eye on the young man, not recognizing the attempt JD made to defend him, " Flawed, Mr. Dunne?" Ezra chuckled a mirthless sound that grated nerves, "is that it? Flawed because I understand how this world works, and recognize the tools needed to get ahead….to survive in this thankless place."

"You had money once, Ezra," Josiah intoned quietly, not all men who followed the teachings of God were corrupt and dishonest, "you wasted it on a saloon." Sanchez regretted the words the minute they left his mouth. He cursed himself, his desires and his inability to control them. Not all preachers were bad, in fact very few ever truly fell from ‘grace’.

Josiah found himself amongst the defrocked. He found only as much disgrace in his banishment as others perceived in it. He desired nothing of the teachings of his father and men like him. He understood some of Standish’s schemes in the rival tents, and acknowledged that the conman did such scams with no intentions of lying to himself. Ezra knew what he was when he stood before the congregation, a snake looking to steal from the masses. In some ways, that put the gambler a step above some preachers and Men of God. Those who took from their congregation under the guise of bringing people and themselves closer to God while lining their own pockets.

Josiah felt the urgings and lure of men, he fought the same harsh demons as his potential congregations. How could he stand before others and sermonize about the very things he battled and sometimes lost? How could he condemn others for the very follies that afflicted him? He stood no better than those that sat before him in pews…and he sometimes labeled himself worse, when he found himself falling to the calls of his desires. He walked away from the tents, the churches and congregations, long ago, unwilling to where two rival ‘hats’.

"No, good sir," Standish pushed himself to his feet, snapping his cards closed, "I wasted it on the fallacy of friendship."

The argument spiraled from there.

+ + + + + + +

The rhythmic clank of iron wheels along the track hummed in synchrony with the rocking of the car. The scenery whipped by as air rushed in through a three quarter opened window. People swayed left and right in unconscious harmony with the moving train. Voices kept subdued with unrealized respect for the lateness of the evening. A pall hung heavily over the car. The six regulators held within the confines of the car quietly replayed the arguments. There was a right side and a wrong side. Three against one, two against one, even four against one, but always that one on the opposite side of the fence knew that among the others usually sat an ally. Perhaps unspoken, or unmoving but somewhere in that sea of the other six there remained at least one that silently and invisibly stood beside the lone one.

Tonight that mirage had been shattered. Perhaps not as an earth shattering revelation that some of them would like to think of it as, but still an unveiling of sorts had occurred. Not favorable for any, even though six faced one and those six stood on the solid ground of morality and pure unquestionable ethics, none could refute the hard sense that they had some how lost. Not the argument but the solitary figure that had stood facing them. The one who had refused to back down, not out of a sense of righteousness, never that. He knew he was wrong, deep down he knew his stance was feeble and his arguments, though colorful and masterful, held as much substance as smoke.

He parried and lashed out because any cornered dog who felt threatened would do the same.

Lash out he did. Angrily, with educated words and a scathing tongue, he cut a swath through feelings and people like the railroad through a mountain. In the end, despite his hackled aggressive stance, in spite of his cool calculating demeanor he walked away from them the loser. He headed for the roof of the car, for his watch, knowing that he had not only lost the argument but somewhere in that fiasco he had struck at the only people that had ever bothered to get to know him. And in getting to know him, they understood his flaunting questionable ways and they accepted him. Enjoyed his company and his skills. They knew him and still wanted him. A novelty in his experience.

It was he who had started this. His unquenchable desire for something tangible. Something he could hold in his hands. Not lofty ideals, not some courageous moral code, or some unspoken rules or morals. He wanted Gold. Gold would keep him fed, it would keep him warm, buy him companionship, and improve his life and theirs. Didn’t they see that he would share? Didn’t they care that he was willing to give them something of what he could gain?

They did not, they did not want what was his...what could have been his. They were willing to share with him, willing to teach and show him their codes, and ideas, their plans and the such, willing to incorporate him, but were unwilling or unable to accept his offerings. His gifts in return did not meet their standards. His offerings were shunned.

They had turned on him as a force. As he argued with the vocal few, he searched the eyes of the others for any sign of support or camaraderie or friendship they so willingly showed one another and even himself in the past. Tonight eyes diverted out windows, down to shoes, or met him head on with no signs of leniency.

With a simple nod of his head, he conceded to their views. Not that he would follow them or abide by them. It simply seemed foolish to harangue a topic that the others so utterly opposed. With a graceful nod to their leader, he quietly slipped out of the corner and onto the top of the car. He, after all, had responsibilities, much as it bothered him. He left them to their self congratulations and found refuge in his cards. Wind whipped and tore at his coat, his cards threatened to fly from his hands as shadowed scenery tore by at an alarming rate. It would be too cold to remain out here for long. His anger and sense of loss was such, however, that the biting cold brought a type of stinging pain that was welcomed and understood. He sat on the roof of the car and tucked his head in close to his chest and flipped familiar friendly cards.


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