Notes: The proverb is from A Dictionary of American Proverbs by Wolfgang Mieder (ed). The medical book used is The Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness, and Surgery by Dr. H. Winter Griffith.
A new day was dawning and Vin was fast asleep and snoring softly in his wagon. He'd had a busy few days recently and this was the first chance he'd had to catch up on a really good night's sleep. He woke gradually as the sun shone in through the tarpaulin covering the back of his wagon. It felt warm on his legs and he sighed happily as he stretched.
He lay and listened to the sounds in the street and then suddenly sat bolt upright and strained his ears when he detected a strange noise. He stayed perfectly still and listened intently and heard a sound that put fear in his heart. He looked round the interior of his wagon warily but could see no movement. He heard the rattling noise again and made moves to exit his home carefully.
"Rattler. Shit!" He jumped down from the wagon tail in his long-johns and turned round to look back inside the wagon again to see if could spot the snake.
Ezra was up early for once and happened to walk by at that moment and saw the half-dressed tracker acting strangely. The gambler also spotted a woman approaching and he put a hand over her eyes and escorted her away quickly.
"Ma'am. I wouldn't look if I were you. It may bring on a fainting fit. I can't surmise the last time our resident tracker mended his underwear. A year last Christmas judging by the dilapidated state of them. They are definitely not fit for public airing." Ezra put a finger to his hat brim and smiled at the woman when he'd taken her out of Vin's sight. He then walked back to the wagon and stood next to the tracker curiously.
"Ez," the tracker greeted distractedly.
"Mr. Tanner? Why are you parading around in less than wholesome attire? I know it is going to be a warm day but ventilation holes are a bit excessive, don't you think?" As he spoke, he poked a finger through a hole he could see in the body of the garment and Vin spun round with a yelp.
"Jeez, Ez. Back off or I'll poke a finger where you definitely wouldn't want one."
"Mr. Tanner, please. There's no need to overreact. Whatever is the matter? You look like you've trodden in something disgusting."
"Snake," Vin said shortly.
"I beg your pardon? There's no call for rudeness."
"No. I think there's a snake in my wagon."
"Goodness me! Are you positive? Should one be about this early in the day? Don't they usually have to warm up first?" Ezra asked worriedly.
"I know a rattler when I hear one. If it's been in my wagon all night it's gotta be warm already, ain't it? The weather ain't exactly cold, is it?"
"Keep your long-johns on, Mr. Tanner, holes and all. Let's search for it, shall we?" Ezra offered.
"Yer volunteering, are ya? You usually run a mile when creepy crawly things are involved."
"Well, I don't like them, I admit but of course I'll help you look for it. What are friends for?" Ezra turned a cherubic face toward the tracker.
"I do all the work, don't I?" Vin said resignedly as he saw the look on his companion's face.
"Definitely. I'll supervise. It's my forte."
"Bullshit. You help me properly or I'll tell Chris it was you that put that dead gopher in his saddlebags last week," the tracker threatened.
"Now, Mr. Tanner. There's no need to resort to blackmail."
"Why not? You do."
"True, true," Ezra said thoughtfully.
"Are ya gonna help me, or what?" the tracker asked in exasperation as he flicked another quick look at the wagon.
"It doesn't seem that I have much choice, does it?"
The two men started pulling Vin's belongings out gingerly one by one. Ezra held everything he touched at arm's length before dropping it to the ground and poking it with his toe cautiously.
"I can't hear anything, Mr. Tanner," the gambler said after a while.
"There. Did ya hear it then?"
"Yes, I did. Look out Vin." Ezra picked up Vin's coat from the wagon and also his rifle. He yelped and dropped the coat rapidly and then used Vin's rifle butt to start hitting something on the ground.
Vin could see Ezra's hand bleeding and he said worriedly, "Ezra, be careful. Did it get ya?"
"No, I do believe I'd be dying by now if it had."
"Let me see ya hand." The tracker reached out and studied it but saw the wound was not a bite mark. "I sure thought you got bitten."
"You and me both but I think it was your rifle sight doing the biting rather than a pair of fangs. Anyway, never fear, I believe I've killed the offending creature, Mr. Tanner," Ezra said as he raised his bleeding hand to his mouth and sucked the wound.
Vin bent down with a smile on his lips to study the thing that Ezra had been attacking with such enthusiasm. He picked it up and held it right under the gambler's nose. "Congratulations, Ez. You just killed my rope."
"Oh dear. How unfortunate. Do you think you can resurrect it?"
"It'll be fine. Do ya need spectacles, Ezra? Any fool could see it was a rope," Vin said disparagingly.
"Takes one to know one. Do you still require my assistance in finding this slithering reptile, or not? I'm not assisting if all you can do is ridicule my good intentions."
"Sorry, Ez. 'Course I want you to help."
They pulled out all the contents until the wagon bed was bare. Ezra climbed up and wandered around inside. He poked his toe into the corners and then stamped his feet but could see no movement. "Where is it, Mr. Tanner? Are you sure you haven't got a hearing problem or an overactive imagination?"
Vin stood still and listened as he surveyed his belongings scattered on the ground. He looked up as he heard the rattling sound again and something that sounded like a snigger. He wandered round to the back and Buck came haring past him, laughing his head off. Vin looked at the rear of his wagon and yelled, "You bastards!"
He walked back into view just in time to catch Ezra by the arm as he tried to make good his escape. Buck left his co-conspirator to his fate and ran away for all he was worth, laughing hysterically.
"It was just a joke, Mr. Tanner," Ezra said apprehensively as he saw the look on Vin's face.
"Am I laughing? Rattlers are killers and I don't take kindly to what you did, Ezra. Just grow up and get outta my sight before I do something I can't put right."
Ezra turned away looking contrite and Vin shook his head angrily as he watched the gambler walk hurriedly toward the saloon.
"Vin? What ya shouting for?" Chris asked as he approached his friend from the boardwalk opposite.
"Look what that sonofabitch Ezra and his flunkey did. Their idea of a joke. I thought there was a rattler in my wagon."
Chris looked at what the gambler had done. A child's rattle had been set up so when the wind blew, it shook gently to give out the snake sound. Ezra had been waiting ages for the right weather conditions to allow him to put his plan into action. He'd talked Buck into helping him and the two men had been watching and waiting to see Vin's reaction.
Chris couldn't help laughing although he could see the tracker was very angry, "Well there was a rattler, sort of. You gotta admit that was pretty good."
"I ain't gotta admit nothing, Larabee. Were you in on this?" Vin asked sourly.
"No. Definitely a Buck and Ezra enterprise."
"I'll get 'em. Smarmy good for nothin' cheats."
"Don't hold back. Say what you really think, Vin," Chris laughed. "Come on. It was only a joke."
"Rattlers ain't a joking matter, Chris. You oughta know that," Vin said furiously. He was really cross and with good reason.
"I know, I know but just lighten up, will ya? No harm done. You'll just have to get your own back on them, won't ya?"
"Well, I'll start with you. Just for laughing at me you can help me put my stuff away, ya turncoat."
"Alright cowboy. Keep yer long-johns on," the gunfighter said as he tried to undo the garment's back-flap surreptitiously.
"Get yer hands off me, Larabee," Vin warned as he swung round after feeling something touching his butt. "Jeez. I despair of the lotta ya. Get working before I shoot ya."
+ + + + + + +
The Seven gathered in the saloon that evening and Buck was still laughing about the joke they'd played on Vin earlier. "It was Ezra's idea. He wanted you to spring clean yer wagon. It worked beautifully, didn't it?"
"Yeah. Very funny, Bucklin. I laughed so hard I got more holes in my long-johns than there were when I first got up this morning," Vin said sourly.
"Good God. I hope that means you will be investing in a new pair. I don't think I can bear seeing more of your flesh on show than there was before," Ezra said in alarm.
"I'll get Mary to mend 'em for ya, shall I?" Buck asked teasingly.
"No.....no..... you just leave 'em be," Vin stuttered as he turned red in embarrassment.
Buck laughed as he saw the look on the tracker's face, "Don't worry, Vin. Perhaps you'd be happier if Miss Nettie did them for ya instead."
"Back off, Bucklin or I'll shove 'em down yer throat and that'll be an end to it," Vin warned.
"Well, as pleasant as this conversation is, I think I will be away to my bed," Ezra said as he got up and moved toward the stairs.
Vin rose to follow him and put a hand on the gambler's arm. "Ez? Can I borrow yer watch?"
The gambler continued up the stairs and frowned while the tracker trailed along behind him. "Why? I thought you were one with nature and could wake within a second of your desired time."
"Never had the need of a watch before. Don't need one now really but Mary was gonna teach me how to use one and if I had yours with me I could practice afterwards."
"Well, in that case of course you may borrow it, Mr. Tanner. Come inside. I think I put it in my drawer this morning." He opened his bedroom door and Vin went in after him. The gambler opened the drawer and saw the watch near the front. He picked it up and held it out to the tracker. "Here it is. Is that all you require?"
"Can I borrow that book you showed me last week too? I wanna try and read some of it myself."
Ezra put his hand back in the drawer and felt around for the requested item. He encountered something else as he searched and it felt clammy and cold. He grimaced in distaste but wrapped his hand around the object and pulled it out. He looked down and saw his hand covered in blood and recognized the item he was holding as a dead horned toad.
Vin laughed out loud but his laugh died as he saw Ezra turn white and clutch his chest before collapsing. The tracker instantly dropped to his knees beside the man and said, "Shit! Ez? Ez? Can you hear me?"
The gambler remained motionless and Vin shook him and slapped his face. He lent down and felt for a pulse and said worriedly, "Ezra?"
He was suddenly grabbed by his coat and thrown to the floor. He ended up on his back and Ezra moved quickly and held him down before smiling sweetly. "Yes, Mr. Tanner? What can I do for you?"
"Shit. You did it again, didn't ya? You and yer jokes. I thought you were dead, you bastard," Vin shouted as the two men rolled around the floor play fighting.
Vin moved to straddle the gambler now he'd got control and he accidentally dug his knee into Ezra's stomach. The con man hissed in pain and put his hand to the injured spot as Vin stood up hurriedly.
"Ezra? You're not bullshitting again, are ya?"
"Unfortunately not, Mr. Tanner. In future, can you take care where you poke bony bits of your anatomy?"
"Sorry. Are you alright? Do you want me to get Nate?" he asked as he reached down a hand to help the gambler up. He thought his friend looked a bit sick.
Once he'd regained his feet, Ezra stayed bent double for quite some time. He stood with a hand pressed to his abdomen but he did eventually straighten up with a wince. "No, don't bother Mr. Jackson. I'm sure I'll recover momentarily."
"Well, no more jokes or you might come off even worse next time," the tracker cautioned as he turned to leave.
"I will heed your warning, Mr. Tanner, never fear." The gambler waited for the tracker to leave and then lay on his bed and groaned in pain.
+ + + + + + +
The following day passed without any pranks being played at all. Chris tried to keep the two troublemakers busy so they didn't have time on their hands for playing up. He made Buck patrol outside town all day and Ezra was kept under Josiah's watchful eye.
"Mr. Sanchez? Do I take it that Mr. Larabee is unhappy with me?" Ezra asked with a smile.
"You could say that, Ez. He just wants you to simmer down."
"He thought you'd be a calming influence, did he? Well, I'm still capable of mischief on my own you know."
"We both know that Ezra but Chris hoped I wouldn't have to resort to physical violence to keep you in order. You know I'd win any tussle between us, don't you? I'd only have to...........Are you alright?" the preacher asked suddenly as he saw the gambler put a hand to his abdomen and wince.
"Yes, I'm fine. Just bruised from Mr. Tanner's patella, I think. For a generally peace-loving person he can be quite boisterous when enraged."
"He would be if you keep pestering him, Ezra. He really thought he'd killed you yesterday," Josiah said as he watched his companion closely.
"I know but I just couldn't resist. You know I hate to be bested by anyone."
"You're fit to help me out today, are you? You're not just trying to get out of doing some hard graft by looking sick."
"No, Mr. Sanchez. It's more than my life is worth to try and shirk my responsibilities at the moment. I feel as though I have Satan himself watching my every move, in the form of Mr. Larabee. I shan't be misbehaving, believe me. Anyway, back to the job at hand. You will note, I hope, that I have come dressed ready for action. Make me as dirty as you need."
"Don't tempt me, Ezra," Josiah laughed as he slapped the gambler on the back.
+ + + + + + +
A couple of days later Buck was sitting with Vin and Ezra in the saloon for breakfast. Ezra sat yawning as usual and complaining non-stop about being up so early.
"Put a sock in it, Ez. We've heard it all before," Vin moaned as he looked out the window.
Buck reached across while Vin wasn't concentrating and took some of the food from his plate. Vin turned back, looked down at his meal and frowned.
"What's up, Vin?" the ladies' man asked innocently.
"I thought I had more on my plate than this."
"Better ask Inez for some more then if yer still hungry."
The tracker stood and wandered over to the counter to see Inez and Buck put the stolen food back on his plate. Vin walked back with Inez and she looked at his plate and said, "Well you must have a big appetite, Senor Tanner, if you want more already."
Vin looked at his plate and saw it was full. He raised his eyes and stared at Buck who returned the look without blinking. The tracker transferred his eyes to Ezra instead and got no admission of guilt there either.
"Okay. Which one of you did it?" he asked finally in exasperation.
"Did what?" Ezra asked.
"Stole my food and then put it back when I'd gone."
Ezra and Buck both pointed to one another and the tracker growled angrily and sat down. "You'll never grow up, will ya? Little things please little minds."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. While bigger fools look on," Buck said laughing as he completed the saying.
"I thought it was 'Little things please little minds and little pants fit little behinds,'" Ezra contradicted.
"Jesus. Just shut up, Ezra. You've always gotta have the last word, ain't ya?" the tracker grumbled. "Yer beginning to get on my nerves."
"Well, I was put on this earth to annoy you, Mr. Tanner. Might as well take every opportunity that presents itself to complete my life's work."
Vin picked up a lump of bread from his plate and shoved it in Ezra's mouth. "Talk through that if ya can, Ez. Although seeing as ya talk out yer ass most of the time, I don't 'spect it'll stop ya."
Buck doubled up laughing and Ezra thumped him hard and knocked him out of his chair.
"What did I do?" the ladies' man asked as he picked himself up off the floor.
"You are sitting next to me, Mr. Wilmington. That is excuse enough to thump you," Ezra said as he pulled the bread out of his mouth, scattering crumbs as he did so.
The three men laughed and stood up to go to do their duties. They split up outside and Ezra made his way reluctantly to the jail to take over from JD. He knew Chris was staying with him while the others patrolled outside town. The gambler would have to curtail his need for devilment until a more willing recipient was available. He didn't think Chris would appreciate any sass from him at this time in the morning.
+ + + + + + +
The tracker, gambler and ladies' man returned for lunch from their various tasks and met up on the boardwalk outside the saloon. Buck sighed as he saw the watering hole was filled to capacity. He smiled slyly and put a hand in his pocket. His hand finally emerged clutching a gold nugget and he continued grinning as an idea formed in his head.
"Where'd ya get that?" Vin asked curiously.
"I found it years ago. Kept it as a lucky charm. Certainly works a treat on the ladies."
"Well, you need something to attract them to ya. It certainly ain't that animal magnetism crap you keep on about that has them flocking to you." Vin laughed and then pointed to the nugget as he asked, "What ya gonna do with it?"
"This is our ticket to getting the saloon to ourselves, pard," the ladies' man said. He took off his hat and messed up his hair before passing the hat to Ezra to hold. He then rubbed dirt from the street over his face while his two companions watched curiously. Buck looked as his reflection in the window and pulled one side of his shirt out of his pants and made one or two more adjustments to his attire. When he was satisfied with his appearance he ran inside the saloon and stood in the middle of the room. He held the nugget aloft and shouted, "Gold strike at the creek!"
The customers turned to stare and Buck was knocked over in the rush to get to the door. He picked himself up and brushed down his clothes before swaggering over to the bar with a big grin on his face.
"Beer please, darlin'"
"Senor Wilmington. You have just ruined trade for the day. Are you going to make up my losses?" Inez asked with hands on hips.
"They'll be back with even bigger thirsts after running to the creek and back, sweetheart. You'll make an even better profit and then you'll be thanking me and begging me to be your lover."
"Please, Mr. Wilmington. I'd rather jump from the top of the church."
Buck laughed and turned to greet his two friends who could now get in through the batwing doors. They'd been stuck outside on the boardwalk while they waited for the tide of gold-fevered customers to subside.
"That was ingenious, Mr. Wilmington. It almost makes me wish I'd thought of it myself," Ezra said admiringly as he wandered across to join the laughing gunman.
"Come on, boys. Belly up to the bar before those fools realize I conned 'em."
The three men had the saloon to themselves for about half an hour. Ezra straightened up as he heard angry voices approaching the building and he walked quickly to the batwing doors and looked out onto the street. He hurried back to the bar and tapped Buck on the shoulder worriedly.
"They're back and they look none too happy, Bucklin. Things could get ugly."
"They won't do anything. I'm a peacekeeper. They wouldn't dare lay a hand on me."
"All the same I think I'll stand over here out of harms way," Ezra said as he moved away with Vin to leave the ladies' man alone at the bar.
The customers stormed back in and surrounded Buck and started shouting angrily at him. He held up his hands and yelled over the din, "It was Ezra's idea. I just did what he told me."
"Lies, all lies," Ezra shouted nervously as he backed away when some of the crowd converged on him while the rest dealt with Buck.
Vin stood and watched for a while before wading in to rescue Ezra, knowing for once he was innocent. The gambler didn't recognize his salvation though and fought Vin fiercely. Chris finally came barrelling in the batwing doors and frowned when he saw the free-for-all going on. He pulled out his gun and fired a bullet into the ceiling.
"That's enough! Who started this?" he barked angrily into the sudden silence that had descended on the room.
"Buck. He said there was a gold strike at the creek," Vin said.
"Traitor," Buck muttered just loud enough for the tracker to hear.
"Well, he can tell me all about it in the jail. Why are you sitting on Ezra, Vin?" Chris asked as he looked toward his friend.
"He was having a bit of trouble and I rescued him but he thought I was one of his attackers. This was the only way to subdue him."
"Bring him along too. God, when will you two jokers ever learn to behave? We get enough trouble in town without you whipping people into a frenzy. What's got into you lately? Just settle down, will ya?"
"I had nothing to do with this, Mr, Larabee," Ezra complained.
"I don't care. I'm fed up with the pair of ya. Perhaps a night in a cell will cool ya both down. Yer gonna cry wolf once too often and you could end up paying dearly."
The two men were taken to the jail and thrown in a cell together. Both men flopped down on the cot and turned their backs on one another angrily. Chris and Vin smiled, hoping to get a bit of peace now the two hoaxers were under lock and key. They ignored the pleas from their friends and left the jail without looking back.
Buck stood up and walked to the door as he watched his jailers leave. He got hold of the bars and rattled them as he shouted, "Guys? Come on. We've learnt our lesson. Don't leave me in here with Ezra. If I have to stay in the same cell all night with this babbling idiot there'll only be one of us left alive to be released tomorrow. Guys?"
"They won't come back for quite some time. We'll have to resort to devious methods to secure our release, Mr. Wilmington. Let's just bide our time for a while, shall we?" the gambler advised. He lay back on the cot and Buck stared angrily at him as he realized he'd have to sit on the floor.
He sat down and grumbled, "Could at least let me sit on the cot, Ezra."
"I'm not getting my clothes dirty by swapping places with you, Bucklin. I need to catch up on some rest after the kerfuffle in the saloon. Seeing as your prank got me a beating, the least you can do is let me enjoy a bit of comfort," Ezra said stubbornly.
"Crap," the gunman said as he punched the gambler's leg irritably.
+ + + + + + +
Chris sat on the boardwalk outside the jail and listened to the two men arguing inside. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth and he let it grow until he was grinning from ear to ear. He knew Ezra would drive the amiable gunman mad after a while and it sounded as though his plan was working nicely. Hopefully the two of them would get so sick of each other's company that it would put an end to their joking partnership. He'd heard from Vin about the two other occasions when jokes had been played at his expense. It wasn't that Vin didn't enjoy the odd hoax or two, he liked a laugh as much as the rest of them and had been the instigator of many pranks himself. Chris could tell, however, that the quiet tracker's temper was getting slightly frayed at being the butt of all their jokes. Chris knew the situation was getting out of hand and if it didn't stop soon he was going to have to get really tough with them. He didn't mind his men having fun but this was just a bit excessive.
"This is your fault, Ezra. You started the jokes and now look where it's got me. A night in the cells with the bed bugs and you for company," Buck shouted angrily, jolting Chris from his thoughts.
"This last escapade was yours alone if I remember correctly, Mr. Wilmington. I am being punished unnecessarily and I don't take kindly to you putting me in Mr. Larabee's bad books. Our relationship is volatile enough as it is without any extra help from you. Your trouble is you don't think of the consequences of your actions. The prank in the saloon was just plain stupid."
"Shut up you fancy-talking asshole. Who are you calling stupid?"
"If the cap fits," Ezra said insolently.
"I seem to recall at the time, you thought the joke in the saloon was great. Braying like that damned mule of Vin's, you were." Buck swung a fist and knocked Ezra to the ground. He then launched himself at the man and they rolled around yelling and fighting.
"Help, help. He's gone berserk," Ezra yelled as Buck put a hand round his neck.
"I'm gonna wring yer scrawny neck, Standish. I'm sick to death of yer highfalutin' airs and graces. Think yer better than the rest of us, don't ya?"
Chris looked through the window as he heard the cry and ran inside quickly. This wasn't how he planned things to turn out at all. He grabbed the keys from the hook and opened the cell door. He reached down and pulled Buck roughly off the gambler.
"Pack it in the two of ya," he shouted furiously.
He reached down to get hold of Ezra and he felt arms encircling him from behind. Ezra stood up and took the keys from Chris's hand and smiled.
"Thank you, Mr. Larabee. I hope you enjoyed our little charade. We'll be leaving now if you don't mind. A taste of his own medicine is in order, don't you think, Bucklin?"
He walked out of the cell and Buck suddenly let go of the blond and hurried to join the gambler. Ezra locked the door and waved goodbye as the two men ran out onto the boardwalk.
"Come back, you bastards. You'll regret this when I get my hands on you." Chris kicked the cot angrily and ripped the blankets from it and threw them aside. "Duped like a baby. God, when will I learn never to trust those two?"
Out on the boardwalk the two escapees ran into Vin. Ezra tossed him the cell keys and the two men ran away as fast as they could. Vin frowned, hurried to the jail and opened the door and saw Chris inside the cell. The tracker laughed out loud at the sight of a very angry gunfighter doing a good impression of a caged panther.
"Shut up, Tanner and let me out of here."
"How'd they trick ya?" the sharpshooter asked as he found the key he needed from the bunch in his hand.
"They were fighting and I went to separate them. I shoulda known better than to intervene with the mood those two have been in lately. I pulled Buck off Ezra and went to help him up but Buck grabbed me from behind. That no-good gambler took the keys from me and locked me in here. From now on, Vin, we don't believe anything they say or do. If we ignore them they'll soon get bored. It's only the fact that we react to their tricks that encourages them to continue."
"Okay. I'll give it a go but we're gonna have to let them work together. How are we gonna control 'em?"
"We'll split them up for a couple of days again and only let them work with either me or Josiah. Then depending on how they are after that, we can try putting them back together but still with someone to supervise," Chris agreed. He shook his head. It was like trying to control two four-year-old children instead of two supposedly mature adults.
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