When the Devil Drives
Author's Comment: I realize that Maude ended up selling the saloon in the same episode in which she first met the Judge, but I have taken a couple of minor creative liberties with the ownership of the Standish Tavern, because I just felt like it worked. I hope it doesn't diminish anyone's enjoyment of this piece.
As Maude Standish stepped out of her coach, she immediately spotted her son's bright green jacket a short distance down the street. He had his back to her. Why would he be looking at the most recent coach arrival? He wasn't expecting her. She never warned him of her visits. It was easier to deal with him if she caught him off-guard.
She handed the coachman a few small bills and he picked up her bags and hurried off with them. She turned around again to see her son approaching.
"Mother," he said blandly, by way of a greeting.
"Ezra, dear," she said fondly. "I thought that was you down the street."
He rolled his eyes. "What are you doing here?"
Some version of this was nearly always the first thing he asked her when she came. It was also always more a suspicious demand than a friendly inquiry.
"Why, to see *you* of course," she answered.
There was nothing at all veiled about Ezra's look of disbelief. She sighed elegantly.
"Ezra, why do you always insist on attributing my visits to some selfish ulterior motive?"
"Precedent, mother," he said coolly.
"Well, I *did* hope to check up on my investment whilst I was in town," she admitted. He nodded ruefully. This was more the sort of reason he was prepared to believe.
She turned and started walking towards the saloon and he strolled alongside her.
"Coming along, are you, dear?" she asked.
"Someone needs to keep and eye on you," he replied flatly.
"Well, I'm glad it's going to be you. I wanted to talk to you anyway."
"Oh?" Ezra asked with a mixture of wariness and disinterest.
Ezra snorted. "What about them?"
"When are you going to produce some?" she asked as thought it were an assignment whose due date was well past.
"When Hell develops sub-freezing temperatures and the Devil himself learns to ice skate."
Maude gave him a look.
Ezra rolled his eyes again. "You were hardly interested in your own child. What on *Earth* do you want grandchildren for?"
"Ezra," Maude said firmly, stopping and looking right at him. He stopped and returned her gaze in a weary, put-upon kind of way. "I'm not going to live forever," she started.
"If that's a promise, could I have it in writing?" Ezra interjected laconically.
Maude ignored him and continued as though he hadn't spoken. "You're old enough to settle down for the time it takes to propagate."
"Considering that's an average of about twenty minutes "
Maude cut him off. "I need to go to my grave with the knowledge that our bloodline will be continued."
"That's hardly surprising. I never was quite good enough for you."
"Oh, Ezra," she said in a soothing, motherly tone, laying a hand on his arm, "even if you weren't such a disappointment, I'd still feel the same way."
Ezra pulled away from her touch with an exasperated sigh and started walking again. "Tell me, mother, what exactly has brought on these sudden intimations of mortality?"
"They're hardly sudden, darlin'. I'm just sick to death of waiting for you to handle the situation on your own. Now, how about Inez?"
"Inez? Are you suffering from heat prostration?"
"Why not? She's a delightful girl. Lovely, charming, competent and she likes you, which - though not as uncommon a phenomenon as it used to be - is still not the popular opinion."
"Mother," he said, trying to control the anger creeping into his voice, "I am *not* having this conversation with you. If you so dearly miss the pitter-patter of little feet, make your *own* babies."
With that, he pushed the doors of the saloon open with more force than necessary and stalked up to the bar. Maude followed behind him feeling that little glow of satisfaction these arguments with Ezra always left her with. The arguments were one of the few things they still shared.
Ezra ordered a whiskey from Inez at the bar. Maude was aware that a customer had entered behind them, but couldn't resist getting the last word.
"Inez, you see he pays for that now."
Ezra let out a quick bark of laughter and threw back the whiskey with one quick swallow. Maude turned to greet the customer behind her and froze. Ezra noticed as he was placing his glass back on the bar, and turned to look at the newcomer himself.
"Hello, Maude," the man said with something that could only be described as a sinister smile. He was tall and broad-shouldered and though he looked to be somewhere in his mid to late fifties, his body was lean and muscular.
Ezra straightened up slightly. Maude's back was tense and straight and she looked at the man defiantly.
"What are you doing here, Frank?"
"What else, cupcake? Looking for you, of course. We have some unfinished business to discuss."
"It was thirty years ago, Frank. I have nothing to say to you. Get out!" she told him, pointing to the door. She turned to go into the back and Frank grabbed her by the shoulders and spun her around to face him.
"You've forgotten your manners since you left me," he snarled. He looked about to say more, but Ezra pulled him away from Maude and gave him a shove for good measure.
"A man who treats a lady in such a fashion doesn't have much right to talk about other people's manners," he told Frank.
Frank looked him over and smirked. "I always knew you preferred younger men, Maude, but you've become undignified in your old age. *This* one's young enough to be your son!"
Maude laughed out loud. "You think so?"
Frank turned back to Ezra. "Let me give you a bit of advice, young man. She's a nice bit of stuff, it's true, and I understand she has quite a bit of money at her disposal these days - but she's not worth the trouble."
Ezra raised his eyebrows slightly. "Then what are you *doing* here?"
"Don't bait me, boy," Frank said menacingly, advancing on Ezra a step.
Ezra coolly held his ground. "Or what? You strike *me* as the sort of craven individual who thinks he's a big man because he terrorizes women."
"Ezra!" Maude snapped in a sharp, warning tone.
Frank, who'd been looking as though he'd very *much* like to strike Ezra, turned then to Maude as recognition crept in and a smile spread across his face. "Ezra?" he cooed.
Maude's eyes narrowed dangerously.
Frank turned to Ezra again. "Ezra." He laughed unpleasantly. "You're not her lover at all, are you? You're that bastard kid of hers. I remember you. I should have crushed your skull like a ripe melon while it was still small enough that I could do it with one hand."
"You're welcome to try it now," Ezra drawled.
Frank lost interest in him and turned back to Maude. "And *you*, sweetness. You enjoyed that little misunderstanding a bit too much, I think."
"You're paranoid, Frank. And you always did have an overactive imagination."
"You always had a smart mouth."
"You never had a smart anything. Nobody would be more surprised than me if there were a thing at all inside your head."
The swift hard smack across the mouth came with an easy coldness she'd forgotten. The memory quickly rushed back, however. She tasted blood and was aware of a splash of green across her vision - Ezra had quickly stepped in. She looked up to see her son deal Frank Dawson a vicious right hook to the jaw, sending the older man sprawling. Ezra stood over him.
"You may consider that a warning," Ezra said darkly. "If you raise a hand to my mother again, I will strike you with such force that you'll not regain consciousness for a considerable time. Now *get out*."
Frank pushed himself to his feet. "I'm not through talking to Maude."
"I think you are." It was Josiah Sanchez. Buck Wilmington and Nathan Jackson were with him. How long had they been there? Frank turned to see the speaker.
"Well through, I would say," Buck added.
Frank stared at them a moment, then at Ezra. He took one last look at Maude, then made his way out of the saloon.
"Nasty customer," Buck commented. "Who was he?"
"Frank Dawson," Maude answered distractedly.
"One of Maude's esteemed ex-husbands," Ezra filled in helpfully.
"You think we've seen the last of him?" Josiah asked.
"I *thought* I saw the last of him thirty years ago," Maude replied, bringing a hand to her injured mouth.
"Let me take a look at that, ma'am," Nathan said, starting towards her.
She waved him off. "Don't fuss about it, Dr. Jackson. Just a little cut lip, is all." She took a step towards the bar, then stopped and turned back to the men. "I'd like to thank you gentlemen for your assistance. Please have a drink on the house." She looked at Ezra. She'd been using all of her resources to keep from looking as shaken as she felt, but her perspicacious son saw it nonetheless. And there was the slightest expression of genuine concern on his often inscrutable features, bless his over-emotional little heart. "And *you*," she said, stepping over to him and tugging lightly at his lapel, "*you* stay away from Frank Dawson. Don't provoke him. You have no idea how dangerous he is."
Ezra looked like he was going to reply, but she didn't give him the chance. She turned to Inez. "I'm going upstairs to lie down."
"I've already made up the room, Senora," Inez answered.
Ezra watched Maude start up the stairs, then looked at Inez. "You knew she was coming?!" he asked incredulously. Maude smiled to herself.
+ + + + + + +
That evening business had been extremely good at the Standish Tavern and Maude finally made her way up to bed in the wee hours, exhausted. It seemed like she'd barely fallen asleep when she was awoken again by what sounded like a scuffle in the corridor. She got out of bed and crept to the door. The thumping ceased and familiar voices followed:
"Dang it, Ezra! I thought you said you was okay to walk. You can't hardly stay on your feet!"
"There's nothing wrong with my equilibrium, Mr. Tanner. I believe there's a loose floorboard along this stretch of corridor. Watch your step."
"A loose floorboard? That's lame even for you, Ezra. You sure Dawson didn't ring your bell that bad?"
Dawson. Maude's stomach knotted. She grabbed her dressing gown and pulled it on hastily.
"Nathan examined my injuries, Buck. He said there was nothing to be concerned about," Ezra's voice continued outside.
"No, he said there was nothing *fatal*. I think the word he used was 'concussion'."
"What does he know?" Ezra muttered. "He's not even a doctor."
His door opened with a crash. Maude hurried out of her room and into her son's. As she entered, she saw Ezra sink heavily into a chair, Buck Wilmington and Vin Tanner at his side. She shut the door behind her on the off-chance that Inez was still asleep and turned around to find all three men looking at her. She looked back at them a moment, suddenly self-conscious about her appearance - her hair was down, her feet were bare - they'd never seen her so unprepared. Hell, it'd been a good many years since *Ezra* had seen her in such a state. Ezra. Her son was disheveled to say the least. His clothes were dirty and rumpled, his hair tousled and he had a painful-looking black eye. Taking in his appearance, she found her voice.
"Just what in the hell is going on here? It must be three o'clock in the morning and you're making enough racket to wake the dead!"
Ezra made a show of consulting his watch. "Actually, it's closer to four "
"And what happened to *you*? I'd suggest you got into a brawl with your ruffian friends here, but they don't look in any worse shape than usual. Did I hear Frank Dawson's name mentioned? What did I tell you about him? Hmm?"
She was aware she'd been rambling on, unable to help herself - Frank had had his hands on Ezra, she was sure of it as soon as she'd seen his black eye. And while she ranted, she'd watched her son's expression go from wry amusement, to slight confusion and finally to consternation.
"Mother, what's the *matter* with you?"
She considered yelling at him some more, but what would be the point? He already thought she was losing her mind.
"I " She turned and took a step towards the door, then stopped and turned back to him. "I don't know," she finally said in answer to his question. "No, that's not true," she relented. "I know exactly what my problem is, and its name is Frank Dawson."
Ezra let his gaze drop from hers and reached for a bottle on the nearby table. She stepped over and put her hand on it. He looked up at her.
"I warned you away from him because I know the sort of man he is, what he's capable of. He's vicious and ruthless and he does *not* take rejection well. He wouldn't think twice about hurting you to get to me. This is his handiwork, isn't it?" she asked, gently running the first knuckle of her index finger along his temple and cheekbone just beside the angry purple bruising. He looked at her, but didn't answer. He was unnerved by the sudden tenderness. She was aware that 'protective' and 'maternal' were generally not adjectives he associated with her. "You got in a fight with him tonight," she said firmly. "Did you start it?"
"I finished it," Ezra answered flatly, and pulled the bottle out from under her hand.
"Dawson attacked him in the street," Vin explained. "Hit him from behind in the dark, like a coward."
"Don't know how he managed it with the beating he took, but he got a shot off," Buck added, nudging Ezra in the back with his elbow.
"Needs must," Ezra commented, taking a swig of whiskey right from the bottle.
"You shot him?" Maude asked hopefully.
"In the shoulder," Vin told her.
"Dawson's just damn lucky it was dark," Buck said vehemently, "and that he'd beaten Ez half senseless first or he'd be dead," he finished with conviction.
"Buck, she hardly needs to be apprised of every salient detail," Ezra told him wearily.
"The hell I don't!" Maude thundered at her son, who only rolled his eyes in response. She looked at Vin and Buck. "Where's the slimy muskrat now?"
+ + + + + + +
The next morning, Maude walked into the jail - back straight, head up - and asked Chris Larabee if she could see the prisoner. Chris seemed to consider it, then nodded.
"How's Ezra this morning?" he asked as he got up.
"Insolent, as usual," she replied. Chris smiled and led her to the cell.
Dawson looked up as they entered. "You came to visit me, peaches! What a pleasant surprise!"
"Why did you do it, Frank? It was stupid. Even for you. How did you hope to get away with it?"
Frank laughed. It was a chilling sound that she remembered well. "If he'd have gone down, it would've been fine. You raised yourself a survivor there, Maude. He's his mother's son, alright. Can you believe the little son of a bitch shot me?"
"Shame it wasn't somewhere more fatal," Maude answered coldly.
"So what're you doing here, huh? Just wanna look me in the eyes now it's safe?"
"Just wanted to warn you," she said in a soft, dangerous voice.
"Warn me?" he echoed, amusement sparkling in his hard eyes.
"If you ever touch that boy again - so help me - I'll kill you myself."
He laughed. "Stop it, sunshine. You're scaring me."
She glared at him a moment longer, then turned and walked out without another word, nor a backward glance.
+ + + + + + +
It was only a few hours later when she saw Chris Larabee again. She was looking at what the fruit stand had to offer, debating whether she should bring something to Ezra and wondering why she felt like she ought to. These odd, protective feelings towards him that Dawson stirred up in her made her uneasy; she could only imagine how her son was finding them though what she imagined was that after the initial shock wore off, he'd just find them funny. He always found her problems deeply amusing. She was saved from a decision on the fruit when Larabee approached with a telegram.
"Maude. Mary wired the judge this morning and he'll be here tomorrow. He feels there's enough evidence to hold Frank Dawson for trial for attempted murder. He wants to hold the trial the day after tomorrow."
"Attempted murder?" she echoed.
"We believe he was trying to kill Ezra."
"Oh, I have no doubt of that, Mr. Larabee. Does Ezra know about the trial?"
"Yeah, he was there when Mary brought the telegram."
+ + + + + + +
She found him just where she thought she would: the saloon. His red jacket was highly visible in that sea of browns and greys.
"Are you well enough to be up?" she asked as she approached him at the bar.
"I'm *fine*, mother," he told her with a sigh.
"Well, I'm glad to hear that, dear." She kissed him on the cheek. "Look after yourself." She turned to go upstairs.
"What?" he said in confusion as she walked away. He got up and followed her. "Look after myself? Where are you going?"
"I don't live in this godforsaken backwater, darlin'," she said lightly, pushing open the door to her room.
"But the trial's the day after tomorrow," he insisted as he pushed into the room behind her.
"Let me know how it turns out," she told him off-handedly.
"What about your testimony?"
"Am I supposed to testify? First I've heard of it."
She was putting things in bags and he regarded her with exasperation. She ignored him studiously, though she could see him out of the corner of her eye.
"You're scared of him," Ezra said matter-of-factly.
She looked up angrily. "I beg your pardon?"
"I am *not* afraid of Frank Dawson."
"Then why are you fleeing like a whipped dog?"
"You've become excessively vulgar under the influence of your dubious friends."
"You've become excessively cowardly under the influence of yours."
She slapped him across the face, then stared at him - stunned - as he tentatively fingered the reddened skin of his cheek. She'd never laid a hand on him before. Not even as a child. When she'd deemed discipline necessary, she'd always stung him with words.
He raised his head and met her eyes. His sharp green gaze locked into her steely blue one. He was as proud and as stubborn as she was. Something occurred to her.
"You wanted me to do that, didn't you?" she accused. "You provoked it intentionally!"
"I've never seen you back down from anything before. I wanted to know if you still had any fight left."
"You *do* have a manipulative streak in you, Ezra," she said almost proudly.
He regarded her wryly. "Don't strain your faculties trying to determine where I got it."
She looked at her bags. "I suppose I could afford to remain in town for a few more days."
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