The Train

by Heather F.

Part 6
JD slumped in his seat, his hat pushed forward over his eyes. He played with his gun rubbing the sides of the barrel. Smooth, shiny reflective. If he kept it cleaned, took care of it, it would not let him down. Never betray him, nor him it.

Buck laid back against the couch one arm draped over his eyes one foot on the floor. How had things gone so far out of control. Why couldn’t they just back down. What was the point? There weren’t any way in Hell Ezra was going to walk off with the Gold. The mere fact no animal could pack that much, nor was it likely he could walk into a bank with two gold bars stamped with the US Treasury logo on it without raising suspicion.... Now if he had a mind to shave off chunks of the stuff that would make more sense, but knowing Ezra that would entail too much work. Why didn’t the others see it? Why didn’t he just smile and shake his head at the gambler like he normally did, wink at him and let him know he supported him in a sense. It would be nice to be rich beyond one’s wildest dreams. Buck couldn’t argue that....not at all.

Vin sat in a dark corner. He had the next shift, the pre-morning to near noon. He had decided he would go up early. Switch with the gambler a few minutes before his turn truly ended. A peace offering. Not that the others were wrong, heck no. Ezra was so far in the wrong it was blinding. It’s tough to see the ocean, however, when you’re drowning. And no one threw him a life line. Damn.

The orchestra in the front cars had started playing. Larabee listened to it with half an ear. Anything to divert his attention from the conversation tonight. Though voices hadn’t been raised, or fists thrown, it might have been easier if not better to deal with than this. Gawd damn Standish and his one track mind.

The sound of string instruments floated down the cars and through the open windows. Faint at first but as the notes and chords were played, the music increased in volume. It seemed to mingle and twirl with the heavy air of the quiet car guarding the unknown gold.

Then a voice started. Soft , floating and swirling with the notes of the stringed instruments. Melody and tune matched as words rolled with the music.....

I’ve dealt with my ghosts and I’ve faced all my demons....
Finally content with a past I regret,
I’ve found you find strength in your moments of weakness

A lilting sound that matched the harmony of the violin. Chris leaned into the window feeling more than listening.

For once I’m at peace with myself.
I’ve been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long,

Josiah leaned his head back against the seat rest. He closed his eyes wishing his heart would stop clenching with a loss that he could not prove had truly occurred. Flashing green eyes, a satiric dimpled smile, goading and egging them onto the fight. Why? Why provoke when he knows he can’t win? To prove a point that he faces them all? That he can infuriate the group and turn them against him with a simple utterance of a word? To what end? Why do it all?

I’m movin’ on

Jackson ceased moving. He should have stopped the others, should have simply slipped in behind the gambler and stood by his shoulder, why move to the other side, why distance himself from the other man. Especially when he knew his lack of support would surely be translated into a show of comradely for the others. Why does Ezra do it? Why push so hard? Why be so glib and act so carelessly when they all knew it burned his hide as easily as a blacksmith’s forge.

I’ve lived in this place and I know all the faces.
Each one is different but they’re always the same.
They mean me no harm but it’s time that I face it
They’ll never allow me to change

Why does he do it? Sure, at times, they expect some kind of change, perhaps a certain amount of rehabilitation to better himself. Why fight so hard to be something so low when he stands so far above what he aspires to be? Why does he keep his aspirations so depressed when it is clear that he could gain so much more? Jackson listened to the voice that whispered in through the window on the wings of the music.

But I never dreamed home would end up where I don’t belong....I’m movin’ on

Vin sat in the corner. Anger fired through his eyes. The thieving Son of a Bitch. He sat up slowly listening. He watched as the others stilled their movements and listened to the poetry that danced elegantly with music that he could feel and picture better than any of them.

I’m movin’ on.

At last I can see life has been patiently waiting for me.
And I know there’s no guarantees, but I’m not alone.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when all that you see are the years passing by.
And I have made up my mind that those days are gone.

Tanner stared out the window at the passing trees. Black silhouettes against a lighter night. The moon cast the world in a surreal glow revealing more than it should. Cold exposure. Things should remain hidden, unseen and unmasked. Prying eyes have no right to certain privacies. The night should remain dark, shadows should rule when the sun goes down. Vin watched as two deer snapped their heads up at the passing train. Things that are hidden are best kept disguised. Tanner had no intention on relieving the gambler any earlier than his required time.

The thief.

The train rattled over a rough section of track. The music and voice lost in the clank of metal and shifting creak of wood. Things suddenly settled. The music filtered back in, the lyrics and soft southern voice wrapped around one another in a strange show of solitude.

I had to lose everything to find out. Maybe forgiveness will find me somewhere down this road....I’m movin’ on...I’m movin’ on....

The voice disappeared as the orchestra slowly ended their song in the soft pull of a bow.

A cloud cloaked the moon masking its reflection from the surface of the earth. The rail car darkened slightly.

"That, brothers, is the sound of leaving," Josiah’s deep voice whispered longingly across the car.

A soft ‘damn’ trickled from somewhere to the left.

"Buck you ever hear that before?" JD’s soft whisper was heard by everyone.


"Think he made it up?"

Tanner tugged his hat down over his eyes. Like Hell he did…The damn thief.

"I don’t know kid," Wilmington placed his hat over his face and feigned sleep. Talking to Ezra now would get him no where but angry. Tomorrow. He’d do it tomorrow.

JD paused for a beat, "Least it was better than his Red River Valley."

Josiah chuckled, "Praise the Lord, brother….praise the Lord."

Quiet chuckles rumbled across the car.

+ + + + + + +

The hours bled away as night lightened into predawn grey. Five bodies lay in various places, draped over furniture and on the floor in some semblance of sleep.

The quietness was shattered when JD burst into the car. Chilled morning air swirled in on his heels.

Larabee pushed his hat back off his eyes.

"Ahh Chris," Dunne stammered not quite sure how to phrase the growing problem three cars away.

"What is it JD?" What could possibly be going wrong now?

Dunne paused, trying to finagle a way to keep Ezra from getting killed either by the building hostilities down the way or by Larabee himself. Either way Ezra had himself in a bind and needed help getting out of it whether he liked it or not.

"Well, umm," JD stammered, trying to find a better way to phrase the problem.

"Just spit it out kid," Vin leaned against the wall. His turn at shift would be starting any time.

"Well ya see, Ezra," JD paused when Chris sighed loudly and shook his head. Dunne noticed the slight curling of Larabee’s lip. Was Chris smiling? "Umm, well, Ezra…he got himself in a card game down a few cars…"

"Son of a Bitch," Chris muttered allowing his boots to drop to the floor, damn gambler was suppose to be on watch.

"What kind of trouble is he in now kid?" Tanner slowly climbed to his feet.

"Well, some of the others are claiming that he’s been cheating…" JD quickly added, "I don’t think he is though, but maybe…"

"Geez kid," Buck sat up a little straighter in his bench. His back complained and muscles twinged, "ain’t nuthin’ Ezra can’t handle." Wilmington wiped sleep out of his eyes. Damn it felt like he had half the desert sand under his lids.

"Yeah, well, normally that’s true," JD paused and added, "but he’s drunker than a skunk."

"Ahh shit," Tanner pushed himself away from the wall and headed toward JD and the door, "which car kid?"

"Hold up Vin," Buck stood up and stretched, "iffen he’s drunk he’s gonna be meaner than a mule with a muzzle full of quills."

"Where do you get that shit Buck?" Vin asked as the threesome exited their car.

There was a laugh and an answer floated back to the remaining peace keepers, "Chris."

Larabee pulled his hat back over his eyes and stretched his lean legs out, "Like Hell."

+ + + + + + +

The three lawmen wandered into the last car and into an escalating ruckus. Three men stood up leaning stiff armed over a table glaring at an apparently unruffled fourth man. In fact, the fourth man sat quite calmly and lifted a drink to his lips. The drink, of course, came in the shape of a bottle.

Buck and Vin shared a look. Drunk? JD didn’t have the half of it.

A southern laden careless chuckle rolled from the table further irritating the incensed men.

The age old argument of cheating, double dealing, and the withholding of cards, flew forth from the losers while the apparent winner drank himself into oblivion.

Tanner sighed and sidled up beside Standish’s chair with Buck flanking the gambler from the other side.

"There a problem here Ezra?" Tanner’s soft drawl dripped with menace. The tracker did not let his gaze wander to the gambler. The bounty hunter kept his steel blue eyes on the three well dressed men ringing the table in a semi circle. Plump game

"Ahh Mr. Tanner," Standish swayed slightly in his chair as he struggled to lift the near empty bottle to his lips, "would you care to join us?"

"Looks like the game ‘s over Pard’," Buck chuckled. He leaned forward gathering all the cash and coin that sat piled before the gambler.

"Where are you absconding to with my winnings, Mr. Wilmington?" Ezra tried to reach forward and stay Buck’s hand but he found one hand encumbered by the whiskey bottle and the other with a partially dealt deck of cards. He furrowed his brow at his seemingly intricate problem.

"That is our money!" An angry player laid his hand over Wilmington’s stalling his movements.

JD stood slightly back and out of the way. He shook his head, that was not the way to diffuse a situation. The card player should have known better. Amazing how money drove people to stupidity. JD kept his hands resting on his gun handles. It seemed excessive but he had no intentions of not being prepared.

"Good Sir," Ezra mumbled out, he tilted forward into his chair, misjudged the distance and bumped into the table with his elbow. He furrowed his brow at the sudden unforeseen obstacle, "you forfeited your money the moment you and your rabble sat down to play." A mocking wolfish smile lit the gambler’s flushed face.

JD had to conceded that it didn’t help that Ezra was egging for a fight. The others sometimes were no different. ‘Cept maybe Nathan, cuz he always had to patch ya up afterwards… Still these three strangers should have realized what they were getting into…they probably were hoping to get Ezra drunk and then fleece him…No better and probably no worse than Ezra and Mrs. Standish themselves.

"Looks to me like you lost," JD spoke up meeting the other players with an unwavering gaze of his own. His balance shifted unconsciously with the movement of the car. He had his ‘sea legs’.

"He cheated," another player accused, with an almost plaintive sound. It did not seem like such a hard loss now, now that the ‘winner’ had three apparent gunmen to back him up. Certainly didn’t lose anything that couldn’t be replaced.

"You got proof?" Tanner asked matching the accuser’s glance, singling the man out with a mere look. Gangs found bravery in numbers.

"Oh Heavens no, Mr. Tanner," Ezra chuckled out as he attempted to lean back in his chair. The gambler offered a self assured smile to the Tracker, "I do possess finely tuned skills..." He paused and sighed with an air of forced patience, "As I am a cut above most," Again he chuckled and raised the bottle to his lips. It took a bit for the bottle to find his mouth.

"Ezra? Ya remember Big Lester Bangs?" Vin stifled a smile when he heard the gambler choke on his whisky. The tracker still faced the man making the accusations.

"There is no one that could be that lucky, he’s won nearly all our cash," the third added trying to substantiate their claim without any evidence other than empty billfolds.

"In case ya’ll haven’t noticed," JD smirked, "Ezra, there, is a professional gambler….he don’t lose often." Not to the likes of you…Even if you do fill’im with whiskey.

"Come on Ezra," Tanner pulled on Standish’s arm trying to urge the gambler to uncooperative legs.

"Mr. Tanner isn’t there some married woman you could try and seduce?" Ezra’s slurred language came across remarkably clear. He stared at the tracker with watery eyes. The meaningful smile did not go unnoticed either.

JD ducked his head trying to hide his laugh. Ezra sure could be malicious when he was drunk. Almost as bad as Chris.

Buck didn’t bother disguising his amusement. The memory of Charlotte sprang quickly to mind, "He’s got ya there Vin."

Tanner couldn’t help the chuckle. Ezra was a bastard when this drunk, no different than Chris or Josiah or even JD on occasion. "Suit yerself Ezra," With that, Vin lashed out with a fist that connected solidly with Standish’s jaw. The gambler’s head snapped sideways and into Buck, who snagged the nearly empty whiskey bottle, keeping it from falling from the table. Ezra slumped bonelessly in his chair, almost sliding under the table.

"That’ll work," Buck shoved the unconscious Southerner over to Vin and finished gathering up Standish’s winnings.

"Wait…that’s our…" One of the players tried to intervene. Tanner hefted Standish over one shoulder and pinned the others across the table with an angry glare. Buck lifted his head and focused on the three losers. His jovial appearance suddenly slipped behind a mask of annoyance. He was done with polite.

Dunne noticed the subtle change over his two friends. They would no longer entertain anymore arguments from the other three men. "It’s why the game‘s called gambling," JD piped up, "ya all should know better than to sit down with a professional like Ezra…"

Dunne waited, as Vin shuffled past, then Buck. JD brought up the rear and tipped his hat to the trio still standing at the card table. He followed his friends watching their backs and feeling secure he could do it.

It struck him as strange, though, just a few hours ago, they were at each others throats, and now when needed they acted like no one said anything out of turn.

Maybe arguments, disagreements, or fights, weren’t written in stone. Maybe they weren’t defining or permanent. JD sighed, sometimes the most difficult time being a lawman was when there weren’t bullets flying….

+ + + + + + +

Chris and the others looked up when Vin stepped through the rail door with Standish draped over his shoulder.

The tracker shook his head in Larabee’s direction. No problems.

Buck and JD followed behind. Wilmington was counting money and JD was talking excitedly about something.

"Ole Ezra won himself close to three hundred dollars." Buck turned around and handed JD a gold piece, "here ya go, Kid." Buck ignored JD’s questioning glance, "Ezra’s appreciation for pulling his butt out of a bind."

"Oh, hey, Thanks Ezra," JD held up the Gold piece and tipped it in the direction of the Standish.

Tanner let the gambler slide to the floor in a controlled fall.

"My money, Mr. Tanner," The thick accented words gurgled across the car with semiconscious coherency.

"Buck’s keeping it safe."

"You been cheating people at cards again Ezra?" Nathan stood up and twisted his torso cracking his back.

A tired laugh escaped from the prone gambler, "Every hand, Mr. Jackson, every hand."

The words tapered off as the alcohol drowned the conscious mind.

Some things never changed….for better or worse…some things just seemed constant.

They couldn’t expect change unless they themselves were willing to follow suit. Chris wouldn’t ask for it. Wasn’t sure if he expected it. Certainly wasn’t surprised when the ingrained habits of his men resurfaced time and time again. More often with some of them than others. Buck would always find a willing companion, Nathan would always have his knives, Vin the ability to track and shoot, and Ezra had the uncanny knack to find a game in even the most desolate places. Just like Josiah would always see a sign and have some parting wisdom. JD…hell the kid, as Ezra had put it once, had far too much zeal for his own good. And Chris would not bury his anger until he avenged his family’s killers.

Larabee didn’t bother to stop the bubbling chuckling that rolled from his chest. Josiah and Nathan shared his mirth.

Jackson shook his head.

Ezra was drunk. Blind stinking drunk, so bad that tomorrow would be a painful event all by itself. That kind of drunk stupor only happened for a few reasons, gambling or Maude. Maude wasn’t on the train so that left gambling. Ezra didn’t lose normally unless pitted against someone like Big Lester Bangs, so someone probably fed him the whiskey to make him lose. Normally, Nathan had to concede, that Ezra would not fall to such crude manipulations, but tonight they had all felt pushed and trapped. A simple liquid retreat. Not a true solution, but a temporary escape that failed the poor soul that sought to drown oneself in self pity.

Ezra would get no where but sick. Despite the alcohol and despite the excessiveness of his consumption, Standish still won. He still had enough wits about himself to defeat others. Even in such a state, he still grasped enough of Maude’s teachings to be victorious. Mrs. Standish’s darling son would not allow his defenses to fall so far down that he would be unable to defeat opponents across a green felt table. He might lose to his mother, be defeated by his associates in confrontations, but he would not allow himself to be beaten by strangers. Nathan marveled at the man’s ability to ‘fight’ and not only survive but walk away somewhat triumphant…though at the moment he was not doing much walking at all.

The alcohol that soaked Standish’s system did, however, teach someone on the train the foolishness in trying to trick a trickster. To out fox the fox one had to become the fox. Maude beat Ezra continuously because she molded him to what he was today. They, the other six, usually failed to out wit Standish at his own game because they could not fit Ezra’s shoes. They could not walk in his steps or twist their minds to think like him. Just as he could never be a zealous lawman like JD, or a quiet tracker like Vin or even have a true eye for honest wisdom like Josiah or the inherent love for life like Buck. They all could fake the traits, play with them but never truly embrace them. They would most likely never beat Ezra at his own game but at the same time, no matter how hard Ezra tried, he would never beat the others at theirs either.

It was perhaps those unattainable achievements that kept them so close after so long. That part of them that wanted to be the gambler, or the zealous kid, or the person everybody loved, the one everyone feared, they found those characteristics in one another. In sticking together, they got to be vicariously apart of something that normally they could only pretend to have.

Ezra cheated at cards. Of course he did, Jackson smiled almost laughing out loud. Ezra cheated because he could. He cheated because he wanted too. He cheated because he was Ezra P. Standish and that is what he does when people try and push him. His nature surged back. There was no changing the root of the man only controlling it. Drunk, Ezra, like the others, lost that inhibition. That sense of control.

Josiah would fight you with his hands. Larabee, his guns. Jackson had never seen Buck inebriated and feared what the large fun loving cowboy would morph into…would he be as dangerous as Vin and Chris and Josiah? Would he be as sharp tongued as Ezra and JD? Would he regret his actions as visibly as JD or would he ignore them the next day like Chris could apparently do?

Jackson recognized the same trait in himself as with the others.

The healer looked up and noticed Chris watching him. Nathan returned the amused look before putting his attention back on his throwing knives. Things would level out. They always did.

Larabee leaned back against the bench and closed his eyes. Tomorrow they would be stopping in the only town on their trip. He had a car full of Gold, Comanche watching from a discreet distance and two men fighting the same battle in different ways.

Chris sighed wearily. He stared from the gambler who snored softly in the deep throws of an alcohol induced unconsciousness to the Preacher that sat with his back to the wall staring intently at the Gold car. JD joked quietly with Buck and Vin had disappeared once again to the roof of their car. Nathan sat sharpening his knives with a grin on his face as if he had just figured out a riddle and planned on keeping the answer to himself.

Chris settled in his bench with another weary sigh.

In a few hours, they would be stopping in a town. Chris could only hope that things went smoother than the last town.

He was sure Josiah would have a parable about wishes and fools.

Part 7

An early morning crowd lined the train depot. People smiled and waved to loved ones and strangers alike. A visiting train brought even the most hermit-like citizens to the depot boardwalk. The sun peeked over treetops pushing long shadows back while warming the area beating back the chill left behind by a cloudless night.

Passengers on board gathered luggage and children. Hands were grasped in excitement. Wives sought comfort in their husband’s hands while they waited in quiet anxiety to step through the gathering crowd. Children were held tightly keeping their fearless exuberance in check. Excited eyes scored the crowd searching out familiar faces or perhaps hoping to find something familiar in a strange place.

Vin leaped from the roof of the car before the train lurched to a stop. The tracker ignored the growing throng of people and headed for the outskirts of town. Far enough away to avoid prying eyes but close enough to keep watch over his friends and the train.

Buck tucked his saddle bags under the bench and headed for the car door.

"Buck I want you on the train," Larabee’s soft command had the tall gunslinger dropping his head. Dang he knew that was coming.

"Hell Chris," Buck said turning around hoping his argument would work but knowing it would fail, "Ezra can keep an eye on the car." Wilmington stared pointedly at the gambler who lay sprawled in the same position Vin had dropped him earlier.

"Probably," Larabee conceded. Truth be told, Ezra would most likely be the best one to protect the Gold from marauders. The man was not prone to ‘sharing the wealth’ as he so quaintly put it once before.

"Don’t want any trouble in town."

Wilmington clucked in resignation.

"See ya Buck," JD laughed out slapping Buck on the shoulder before disappearing from the doorway avoiding the swat Wilmington swung at him.

Nathan climbed to his feet, happy to have a chance to stretch his legs and walk the length of town. Perhaps, he would see if there was a local physician willing to part with some supplies. Maybe he would keep JD with him. Keep the kid from finding any trouble. "Hey JD!"

"Brother Chris," Josiah stood up and stretched arching his back. "I can stay behind and watch our cargo and our sleeping brother."

Larabee merely shook his head, "Not today Josiah," The gunslinger fixed his gunbelt and slid toward the door. "Got some things I need to discuss with you." Chris strode from the car knowing Sanchez would follow.

+ + + + + + +

"What can I do for you Brother?" Josiah eyed the town as they walked down the boardwalk. "Murphy’s Oasis Saloon" sat across from the jail. Fernwood was a little larger than Four Corners and moved at a brisker pace. The two men walked uncaring of the people that bustled passed them, impatient at their slow steps.

Chris mulled his thoughts before speaking. He scanned the crowd searching the current of people for the tracker knowing he would not find Tanner amongst the throng. Lately, the sharpshooter had had the urge to flee. Something held him back. Chris was unsure what it was but hoped whatever tethers bound the bounty were strong enough to keep the tracker within their midst.

A small part of him wondered if Tanner would be on board the train when it pulled out of the station a few hours from now.

"Brother?" Josiah sidestepped a small stack of crates that sat at the edge of the boardwalk. His size and low slung gun had others stepping into the dusty street as the two lawmen squeezed past the narrowing in the boardwalk.

"Things have been relatively quiet," Larabee began trying to dig up tact in a vocabulary that lacked any type of diplomacy.

Sanchez raised an eyebrow. Quiet? Vin flirted on the outskirts of their group fighting with a demon that urged him to leave them all behind. Ezra moved like a prowling wolf trying to steal a bounty believed rightfully his. And he, himself, felt the unquenchable thirst of desire to such an extent that he felt nearly blinded. Last night they had turned on one of their own, though righteous in their stance, they had turned as a united front against the one who, though he deserved it, had suffered the most injury from it. Unnecessary and unfair.

Quiet? No, things had only been quiet in the physical and physiological sense. Otherwise this trip had been wrought with battles.

Chris continued speaking, "Don’t think all seven of us are needed for the rest of the ride."

Josiah stopped mid stride, forcing citizens to skirt around him. He ignored the pointed looks and annoyed sighs of people too much in a hurry to recognize they raised their hackles at a Grizzly.

Larabee took a few steps before coming to a halt and turned to stare at Josiah. The gunslinger had people giving him a wide berth. Disgruntled remarks and foul looks were subdued and hidden under pulled hats or mumbled voices. They recognized Larabee for what he was and hoped not to disturb the smoldering, underlying anger that smoked just below his calm exterior.

Josiah and Chris faced each other on the boardwalk, alone in their own little oasis, as people stepped onto the busy street, willing to face the danger of on coming horses and carriages rather than the two men who claimed ownership of the boardwalk.

"I appreciate it brother," Josiah said. He truly was thankful for the effort, knowing that someone understood his position, some one recognized his private battles and was willing to help. Knowing that he had someone who knew he struggled, eased some of his burden. It was a battle, a tiring fight, that wore at him eating slowly at his resolve. At least now he did not struggle alone.

"But I think things are far from quiet," Sanchez would not run from his battles, no matter the exit.

Chris merely nodded his head, consenting with Sanchez. Larabee would not deprive the man from facing his own demons. Larabee had to concede that things were far from tranquil. He could not help but think they had reached the eye of the storm. The winds had merely died down for now and Larabee could not help but think in a few hours they would start howling a different direction.

+ + + + + + +

Buck watched as Standish moved an arm. The first signs of life since they hauled him from the gaming table. With a pitiful moan, the moving arm dropped across still closed eyes. Legs curled up tucking knees up close to an obviously churning midsection. The gambler rolled onto his side and groaned again, his features paling even further.

Wilmington sighed and climbed to his feet. They still had two days in this car. It was stuffy enough without the added stench of vomit. Without preamble, the lanky gunslinger grabbed the gambler by the collar of his jacket and dragged him across the car floor to the open door.

His actions were not wasted.

+ + + + + + +

"All Aboard!!!" The engineer hollered out leaning out of his engine car. He searched the back rails making sure they were clear of children and drifters. The afternoon sun beat down on the town baking the hard packed dirt of main street.

The depot boardwalk remained empty except for a curious boy and his dog. The engineer tossed the barefoot lad a wave. The child beamed with the recognition and returned the wave emphatically. The dog thumped its tail.

The engineer ducked back into his car and coaxed the engine and its small payload forward.

The hitches tightened as wheels churned. Connections stretched. Slowly, methodically the engine car rolled forward pulling the wood car behind it. The cargo car broke its inertia and followed the wood car and finally the only passenger car moved following the preceding cars.

The train slowly pulled from the depot.

The engine and three cars rolled from sight.

+ + + + + + +

A group of Comanche sat a few miles from the crushing weight of town and watched the black smoking machine cut through their territory.

Below, hidden in a copse of trees, ten men watched with greedy eyes and nervous horses.

+ + + + + + +

Standish tried to roll over and found his movement hindered by something solid. He sighed and resigned his fate to being stuck. Nausea rolled through him like swells in a storm surge. He had found a familiar Hell.

Jackson gazed up from his book and watched as the Southerner tried once again to roll onto his left side only to be hindered by the wall. Someone had dropped Buck’s bed roll over the gambler hiding him from view.

Just as well.

Wilmington propped his feet up on the bench beside Nathan, "Vin make it back?"

JD pushed away from a window, "On the roof." Dunne gazed back out at the passing scenery, "do ya really think the Comanche are gonna be a problem?"

Chris sighed. Leave it to Dunne to jump from topic to topic, "Nope." Simply because Vin said so.

Sanchez leaned against the back of his bench and stared at covered body of the gambler. Maybe Standish had something in his drunken state. Least he was no longer drooling over the Gold...just salivating from the upset stomach.

+ + + + + + +

The sun dipped behind the tops of the trees. Light seeped between tree trunks casting them in a halo of light, protecting those within the stand of trees from prying eyes.

Tanner slid from the roof of the car. His lithe form moved with a predator’s grace. He took a deep breath hauling in the hint of pine and prairie grass that lay just beneath the smell of burning wood. He tried to concentrate on the smells, on the light, anything to break his concentration from the words that ran through his mind. The tracker watched the reddening sun for just a moment, squinting his eyes against its fading brilliance. The words kept springing unbidden into his mind. He wished they would stop, wished that some way he could stop the lines from painting the pictures that troubled his vision.

+ + + + + + +

Dinner was a quiet fare. Each man eating cold pork and beans from their own tin dish. Not much was said if, of course, one discounted Standish’s quiet but potentially lethal remark pointed at Mr. Dunne. The young man had proffered his dish of beans and pork under the greenish pale features of the Southerner.

"Mr. Dunne it would be within the best interest of all, if you removed your plate from my face," and though the words implied a subtle non-violent warning, it was the hardened, bloodshot eyes that spoke of horrific, dire consequences to the young man should the gambler’s stomach decide to once again heave at seemingly benign triggers.

The others smiled around their spoons or dipped their smirks toward their own canteens. The caustic remarks had all of them silently hoping that Dunne understood what Standish wished to avoid.

The stench of vomit in a closed rail car was something none of them looked forward too.

+ + + + + + +

As the moon arched across the starlit sky, Standish moved with more life. He would survive the previous night’s inebriation. Physically that seemed an improvement but mentally he tried to draw out hazy images that told of some potentially embarrassing moments.

As the gambler finally began to waken, the others bedded down for the night. Across the crowded car gambler and tracker eyed one another, over the bodies of their fellow lawmen. Both tried to gage one another for very different reasons.

Did he really suggest to Tanner that the bounty hunter should court a married woman?

Should he ask Standish to pen the lines that ran obsessively through his mind?

Wilmington lay still under his bed roll and wondered why such tension existed amongst the others.

+ + + + + + +

An hour or so passed, sleeping men rolled slightly left and right in time with the motion of the rail car.

In the dead of night, the gambler penned the tracker’s lines. A desperate disclosure made by Tanner in hopes to stop the melancholic words from haunting him through the next day.

I wish that I had known you when, as a child, I knew
That friends were all I'd need to build my life.

In the light of the moon, Standish fulfilled a request he had at one time laughed off, in drunken cruelty. Though, he had regretted his harsh words and pointed remarks about Homer and literary skills, he did not truly blame himself for said actions. Though Standish had been blinded by drink, he wondered why Tanner had approached him at such a time. Would one seek out Larabee for friendly support when the man found himself falling down drunk? Would a repentant sinner seek the council of an inebriated Sanchez? One would hope not. Though Ezra felt bad for his cutting remarks, so long ago, he did not assume full responsibility.

But whether thoughts of then or now hold true,
The thought of staying close pierces like a knife.

In an act of friendship, in hopes of seeking some forgiveness for his foolish mocking outburst, so many months ago, when Big Lester Bangs made a fool of him at the gaming table, Ezra penned the words that flowed so easily from a man who could not read them.

The point is that to stay here is not life,
It's fighting to be what you think I should be

What binds me here is Penance, a vow, and strife,
In this darkest night at last all this I see.

Funny, how the one man amongst them that could not decipher written language, could manipulate words and phrases into something hauntingly poignant and beautiful.

I may not be as strong as I should be
I cannot wait for morning's light to go ...

To change to "I" from what so long was "we" ...

In the dead of night, Vin Tanner, exposed another piece of himself to a man who had not only laughed at him in a public saloon but also made public words he had spoken in confidence not just two days ago.

Tanner cussed himself for being two kinds of fool. Cussed himself for his own ignorance. Berated himself for once again believing in the friendship of a man who did not even understand the concept of the word.

A true soliloquy is not for show.
I leave you in this world - I don't belong ...
Wishing I were staying, could truth be known.

The tracker, in a quiet corner of a the rail car, spoke the words that circled and flooded his mind hoping to find freedom from them while casting yet another tether line to a man or a group of men he felt the urge to flee.

Six ways a fool. And yet he could not stop himself from casting the line to them.

Ezra wrote the words silently marveling at the illiterate man that spoke in timid, shy tones. Afraid that his words would reveal something of himself that he could not readily defend.

Ezra wondered what it was like for a predator, such as the man beside him, to fear the lemming.

A paradox perhaps. Did Tanner truly believe that he was foregoing some part of himself that could not be protected?

Perhaps, Tanner was right, perhaps the penned word could not be easily defended from scrutiny and criticism...but then who would be foolish enough to criticize a man who could shoot another man dead at a thousand yards?

Ezra shook his head clearing his mind of such thoughts.

Men were foolish....there were always those that would poke the stick at the Grizzly and then attempt to make an escape...there were always those that spoke their harsh language ‘for the Good’ of those they spoke about, ‘to improve them’....for whatever the reason, men, and he encompassed the whole Race in his use of the word....Men tended to do foolish things for whatever reason. And in their foolishness, they struck at those most gifted and perhaps most sensitive to such remarks.

With the train rocking left and right, with moonlight flickering through trees and windows alike providing a strobe-like effect, the Gambler did his best to pen the words and feelings of the man beside him.

Wishing to offer praise, wanting to express his awe at the power invoked by the words he wrote, but he kept silent for fear of sounding insincere, for fear of chasing the predator away.

When the phrases ended, the last description copied down, the poet simply faded back into the shadows leaving the scribe to ponder the hidden gifts that graced these men he found himself surrounded by.

There was more to life than cards and gambling….perhaps, but with enough money he could find those gifts and purchase them….maybe, aid the others in ways none of them imagined.

He did not have the gifts of others, Josiah’s skill with carpentry, Nathan’s ability as a healer, Buck’s charisma, JD’s learning curve and Chris’s….. Chris’s lethal presence, fast gun…if that were truly a gift or a curse… Still with enough money he could attain something of them, ensnare the others, without truly trapping them and let them bask in his skill as a gambler. He too had gifts, just that the law tended to frown upon his abilities. Money would grant him security and keep his friends close.

Vin would wander away but surely he would come back to enjoy the perks of knowing a wealthy gambler.

Yes…if he had the Gold…there was nothing he couldn’t attain…nothing at all. Perhaps even a peaceful night’s sleep.


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