Bad Turn of Events
by HombreNotes: Part of the information for the treatment of the injuries was gained from the TV adaptation of Sharpe's Sword by Bernard Cornwell and also the film Two Mules for Sister Sara starring Clint Eastwood. Vin is more at the beginning and end of the story and Ezra has a sizeable chunk all the way through. Sorry Vinsters! Stick with it, he is there, honest! I hope you can understand why I did put him in as a main character. I was in two minds but that's nothing unusual for me, can't make a decision to save my life! JD has a bigger part than normal, which is unusual in my fics. I thought I'd better make amends to the poor boy because I didn't realize, until Beth Green told me, that he didn't even make an appearance in my other story Cry Wolf.
Nathan opened the door to his clinic and was confronted by the sight of a group of masked men helping themselves to his medical supplies. He tried to back out of the room but one of the gang grabbed him before he could escape and indicated for him to keep his mouth shut. His captor pulled him roughly into the room and disarmed him before patting him down to make sure he didn't have any hidden weapons. The man then kept him covered while the rest of the gang carried on silently with what they were doing.
"What ya doin'?" Nathan asked eventually although the purpose of their visit was obvious.
"What's it look like? We need some of yer stuff and we ain't asking yer permission to take it," the man nearest him snarled.
Nathan scowled and looked at all the men closely as he tried to remember some of their physical features. He just hoped they were going to leave him alive so he could put his information to good use. He couldn't really understand why they hadn't put him out of action to start with. Perhaps they're planning on taking me with them to treat whomever the medicine is for, he thought to himself. He mentally shrugged and turned his attention to what was being taken in the way of supplies to see if he could identify the type of injury involved. The healer gasped when he saw the amount that had already been put aside and he knew he wasn't going to be left with much. "Why do you need all that? Is someone hurt bad or are ya just gonna sell it?"
"You ask too many questions, boy. We know what we want and we've just come to get it. It's none of yer business what we're gonna do with it," the tallest group member said as he pushed roughly past him.
Nathan nearly tackled him but he saw his captor watching him closely so he stayed still and bided his time. "Look, this medicine is needed by others in the town. You just can't take it all," the healer pleaded.
"Shut yer mouth or I'll shut it for ya," his captor said as he grinned, almost pleading for Nathan to misbehave.
Nathan wasn't going to be goaded into doing anything stupid but he watched in rising anger as the men piled his medicine by the door ready for transport. Two of the gang left with an armful of boxes each and returned within a few minutes for the next batch. Soon the last pile was ready for collection and Nathan held his breath as he wondered what was going to happen to him now.
"What about him, boss?" his captor asked, putting Nathan's thoughts into words as the last of the gang got ready to leave.
"We leave him behind. Just make sure he ain't in a position to yell for help until we're well out of town. You know Hank don't want any killing if it can be helped and we sure as hell can't be identified through our masks, can we? We'll be safe once he's been put out of action." The leader didn't agree with his boss's orders but he certainly wasn't going to disobey them. Hank was a formidable man and didn't take insubordination lightly.
Nathan got ready to defend himself but didn't count on being attacked from behind. He failed to see one of the gang members enter the room again at the last minute. He'd been totally focussed on his captor and he fell to the floor unconscious when he was struck hard by the late arrival.
"Come on. Let's get out of here before he wakes up," the gang leader said as he closed the door and hurried down the stairs.
+ + + + + + +
"Anyone seen Nate?" Vin asked as he leaned against the counter in the saloon while sipping a beer thoughtfully.
"No. Assume he's still in the clinic," Josiah replied from where he sat quietly reading a book. "Why?"
"Buck's gonna buy the next round. Didn't want Nate to miss out 'cause it don't happen often. I'll go get him," Vin replied as he pushed himself upright after tipping the remaining contents of the glass into his mouth. He wiped his lips on his sleeve and then put on his hat after knocking the dust from its brim.
"Be careful, Mr. Tanner. He's probably concocting one of his evil brews and he'll want you to test it for him," Ezra warned with a smile that showed his gold tooth.
The tracker flicked the gambler a broad grin before heading out onto the boardwalk and walking along in the direction of the clinic. There were very few people around and he listened to the sounds of the town as he ambled along. He heard the sound of hammer on metal from the blacksmiths and also the swishing of Mrs. Potter's broom as she swept the boardwalk outside the store. He then heard the sound of running feet coming from the clinic and he frowned.
Vin quickened his pace and rounded the corner in time to see a group of men coming down the clinic stairs. He saw what they'd got in their hands and at first he didn't think anything of it. He looked up the stairs expecting to see Nathan following behind to go and treat the person that the supplies were for. When Nathan didn't appear and the men began packing their saddlebags with the medicine, Vin started to get suspicious.
He approached them cautiously but asked in a reasonable tone in case they were acting legitimately, "What's goin' on, fellas?"
"The healer just gave us this stuff. A friend is hurt and needs it," the man nearest him said as he turned to face the tracker. Vin noticed that he kept one hand behind his back but the tracker was unaware that the man was holding Nathan's gun, which he'd decided to keep, ready for use. Vin could see the man's own gun was still in the holster strapped to his thigh.
Vin studied him suspiciously and wasn't sure what to do next. He knew Nathan sometimes did give out medicine to people but this looked an awful lot to be handing out.
"Well, if that's true you won't mind if I just check what you say with Nate, will ya?" he said as he headed to the stairs while keeping a lookout for any trouble from the men.
"As a matter of fact I do mind," the man said as he pulled the hidden gun into view and fired.
Vin saw the movement out the corner of his eye and dived under the stairs but not before the bullet had caught him in the leg. He opened his mouth to call for help but the sound never left his lips as a boot connected hard with his face. The man who'd kicked him then pushed Vin's body further under the stairs so he was slightly hidden from view. He then hurried back to his horse to escape before the shot attracted too much attention.
+ + + + + + +
Back in the saloon, Ezra looked out the batwing doors to see if Vin was returning. He turned back to face Buck and said with a smile, "I'd better go and rescue Mr. Tanner from our healer's clutches. The poor boy's just got to learn to say no. I bet he's turning into Frankenstein's monster even as we speak after drinking one of Nathan's cure-alls."
Ezra pushed his way out onto the boardwalk wearily and headed to the clinic. He whistled as he walked and then pricked up his ears as he heard a shot. He quickened his pace and stopped dead as he turned the corner and saw a group of men filling their saddlebags with medicine and bandages. He ducked back out of sight but when he looked out again to see what was happening he spotted Vin sprawled in the dirt beneath the clinic stairs. He drew his gun and counted how many men there were in the group he would have to confront. They looked on the verge of leaving so there was no time for him to call for backup.
Ezra took a deep breath and stepped out into the open and said, "Hold it right there, gentlemen. Put your hands where I can see them and step away from your horses."
The gambler ducked as a hail of bullets was sent at him in answer to his demand. He backed round the corner out of sight again and sent a few retaliatory shots in the general direction of the men. He took another quick look and saw the gang mounting their horses to depart. He looked behind him but couldn't see any of his friends racing to lend a helping hand. Where are they when you need them? Oh well, it's up to you by the look of it, Ezra, he thought wryly. He saw a horse tethered to the hitching rail near him and he hurried toward it to give chase. He mounted it just as his fellow peacekeepers finally came tumbling out of the saloon after hearing the gunshots.
"About time, my friends. Vin's hurt and I recommend that you check the clinic too to see if our eminent physician is well," he yelled over his shoulder as he set off after the gang.
"Josiah? JD? Go after Ezra. Buck yer with me," Chris yelled as he hurried to the clinic stairs.
The ladies' man ran to catch up with the blond and the two men saw the tracker lying on the ground. The blond stooped down next to his friend just as he stirred and groaned loudly.
"Take it easy, cowboy," the gunfighter said as he reached out a hand to make sure Vin stayed lying down.
"They stole from the clinic, Chris," Vin said quietly. He grimaced at the pain in his jaw and he raised a hand to probe the injured area. He sucked in a breath at the touch and rather wished he'd left his face well alone.
"Buck? Go upstairs and see if Nate's alright while I see to Vin."
"You got it, pard." Buck turned and bounded up the stairs two at a time and pushed open the door cautiously. He saw Nathan flat out on the floor and he hurried over and knelt beside him anxiously. The healer groaned and the ladies' man reached out a hand and helped him sit up carefully.
"Nate? You okay?" The tall gunfighter pulled Nathan to his feet and held him as he swayed momentarily. "Nate? Talk to me."
The healer stood slightly bent over with a hand clamped to the back of his head as he waited for the pain and sickly feeling to subside. He groaned again and blinked rapidly before saying, "I'm okay but they stole my medicine, Bucklin."
"Yeah, we know. Ez and a couple of the others have gone after them." Buck led the shaken man to a chair and made him sit down. He squatted in front of the healer and studied him carefully but before he could say any more Chris entered the room with Vin in his arms.
"What happened?" Nathan asked as he rose slowly to his feet.
"He tried to stop them leaving and they shot him in the leg and knocked him out," Chris informed him anxiously.
"Put him on the bed," Nathan ordered wearily as he headed toward his patient.
Buck reached out a hand and stopped him. "Are you sure you're okay to deal with this, Nate? You don't look too good yerself. I found him knocked out too, Chris," the ladies' man said as he flicked a worried look to the blond.
The black-clad gunfighter put his burden down and then turned his attention to Nathan. He looked at him critically and then raised a questioning eyebrow when their eyes met.
"I'll be alright but I'm sure gonna need yer help." Nathan walked to the bed and looked at the tracker's injuries gently. He then automatically turned to collect the medical supplies that he would need to treat the man. "Shit. No laudanum left at all and very little else of what I need either. You two are gonna have to hold him down for me. Buck? Can you find some whiskey?"
The ladies' man went to the place where Nathan kept his supply of the liquor. He returned with a full bottle in his hand and passed it to the healer with a smile.
"Drink some of this Vin, will ya? It'll take the edge off the pain." Nathan lifted the tracker's head and put the mouth of the bottle to his lips. Vin took a few swallows before Nathan laid him back down.
"Buck? Can you hold his top half while Chris deals with his legs?" The healer watched as his two helpers moved into position. "Right, Vin. Bite on that 'cause this is gonna hurt." Nathan put a leather strap in the man's mouth and then patted his shoulder.
Buck took hold of his friend's shoulders and Chris put his hands round Vin's ankles and increased his grip. Nathan picked up a probe and looked at both men to make sure they were ready. He moved the implement to the wound in Vin's thigh and began to try and find the bullet. Vin clenched his jaw as the probe delved about deep inside his leg and he jumped involuntarily in Buck and Chris's grasp.
"Try and stay still, Vin. I know it hurts but I'll be as quick as I can," Nathan said quietly as he rubbed his eyes to try and clear his vision.
"You okay, Nate?" Buck asked anxiously when he saw the man sway again. "Do you want me to take over?"
"No. I'm fine. I'm feeling better as time goes by but the dizziness just creeps up on you when you least expect it, ya know?" The healer smiled at Buck in thanks and turned back to his task.
The tracker tried to relax and he felt both Buck and Chris increase their hold once more. Nathan started probing again and Vin felt every movement and he groaned and bit on the strap in his mouth. Buck kept talking to him to try to keep his mind occupied but he could see that Vin was in agony. The whiskey he'd consumed wasn't having much of an effect and he wished he'd drunk more. He looked up and met Buck's eyes and felt his own begin to cloud with tears at the continued pain. He blinked rapidly and felt Buck squeeze his shoulder in encouragement. Vin looked at his friend again now his vision had cleared and saw the man smile. The tracker suddenly felt a sharp pain in his leg and he jerked once more and moaned loudly as he sucked in a deep breath.
"Got it!" Nathan said triumphantly as he removed the probe with the bullet between its jaws. He put it to one side and then picked up a needle and thread instead. "Just a couple of minutes and it'll be over, Vin. You're doing real well."
The healer sewed the wound up after cleaning it with the whiskey and then bandaged it securely. Next he studied Vin's facial injury but other than a small cut, which he cleaned quickly, there was no permanent damage.
"Yer gonna have a nice bruise on yer face, Vin. Do ya feel okay?" Nathan asked as he smiled down at the tracker and removed the leather strap from his mouth.
"Hurts like hell Nate but the leg wound sure took my mind off my headache."
"You get some rest, pard. I expect Ezra and the others will be back soon and he's sure to moan if you don't look yer best." Buck patted Vin's shoulder and helped Nathan clean up.
Chris took a seat beside his friend and wiped his brow. Vin's eyes flicked shut and then opened wide again. Chris raked his fingers through the man's long hair and said, "Go to sleep, Vin."
The tracker though had his mind on other things. He had the weird sensation that Nathan was still delving around inside his leg and he grimaced at the discomfort. He bit his lip and said through gritted teeth, "I wanna see Ezra when he gets back. I wanna hear what happened."
"Well, he ain't back yet so you go to sleep 'cause you ain't gonna miss anything. You're way too nosey, that's yer trouble."
"You wake me. Promise?" Vin pleaded as he sent a beseeching look toward his friend.
"I'll wake ya, cowboy." Chris said with a smile. He watched as Vin closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, trusting his friend to keep his word.
"Will he be alright, Nate?" the blond asked.
"Be off his feet for a little while but he'll be fine."
"What happened to you anyway? Are you sure you're alright?" Chris asked while he studied the healer again in more detail.
"Yeah. I'm fine. It all happened so quickly really. The gang was here when I came back and they just took everything in sight and wouldn't say why they needed it. One man kept me covered with a gun while the others worked and when they'd finished they knocked me out and escaped. I know the whole gang wasn't here though because the tallest man mentioned orders he'd received from someone called Hank. He let his name slip by accident when he was telling the others that Hank didn't want any killing done. The gang could prove to be a big outfit if there are the six I saw plus Hank and the injured man and God knows how many more that weren't mentioned."
"Maybe." Buck turned to look out the window as his thoughts turned toward his missing friends and he said worriedly, "If that's the case I wonder how Ez and the others are getting on."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra left town fast on his borrowed mount. He was still alone but he had heard Chris tell Josiah and JD to come after him so he expected company any time soon. The gang was still in sight and he thought he was now gaining on them. He'd seen one man join the fleeing gang after they had left town and Ezra squinted as he tried to see if he knew him.
He drew his gun and urged his horse onward as he neared a clump of trees and was threatened with losing sight of his quarry. Suddenly he felt a hard blow on his back and he reeled in the saddle as he tried desperately to stay on the horse. He looked down and saw the end of an arrow poking out just under his collarbone. He was still totally unbalanced when his horse screamed and stumbled as it was hit by another airborne missile. The creature tipped forwards as its leg broke and Ezra could do nothing to save himself as he was thrown over its head. He saw the ground coming up to meet him and he swore as he got ready for the impact. He met terra firma with a terrific thump and the breath was ejected from his lungs with the force of the hit. The grass was suddenly at eye level and he bounced once before looking up to see the horse falling toward him. He couldn't get out of the way and the world suddenly went dark as he disappeared underneath the tumbling creature. The light came! back almost immediately though as the horse completed its somersault and rolled off him. Ezra was horrified to see a hoof heading in his direction as the animal flailed its legs in a hopeless attempt to get upright again. The hoof connected hard with his abdomen and the gambler found he was unable to breathe for the second time in as many minutes. His body throbbed with pain and he lay still, all strength gone momentarily, as he heard his name being called as if through a fog.
JD and Josiah had just got Ezra in their sights when they saw the gambler knocked forward in the saddle and then fall heavily. JD watched in horror as Ezra bounced and disappeared beneath the falling horse. The kid urged his own horse onward and he dismounted quickly nearby just in time to see Ezra's stricken mount kick out and catch the gambler on his body.
The kid pulled the gambler away from the rolling creature and then shot the horse in the head to put it out of its misery. JD dropped to his knees beside the con man and shouted, "Ezra? Ezra? Josiah will be here soon. Just hold on."
Josiah saw that JD was dealing with the gambler efficiently so the preacher took off after the bushwhacker. He'd just been in time to catch sight of the man as he mounted his horse to escape. Josiah ducked a few low branches as the man tried to lose him in the trees. The preacher barely managed to keep his quarry in sight as he continued to swing left and right to avoid obstacles. The big man saw flashes of color between the trees that signified where the man was and Josiah urged his horse to keep up. The preacher finally decided on a different tactic and he pulled his horse to one side so he would approach his quarry on a parallel course. The escaping bushwhacker looked behind him and couldn't see the preacher any more and began to believe he'd lost him. The man rode hard to catch up with the rest of the gang but the preacher suddenly loomed from the trees beside him as he finally drew level. The man drew his gun but didn't get as far as firing it. Josiah already had his gu! n handy and he sent a couple of bullets toward the archer and watched in satisfaction as the man shuddered and fell to the ground. Josiah pulled his horse to a sliding halt after circling back and dismounted to check that the man posed no more of a threat. He then took the bow and arrows from the man's body roughly and broke them over his knee so they could not be used again if anyone found them. He remounted his horse when he was satisfied and hurried back to JD and Ezra.
"How is he, kid?" the big man asked as he ran toward the pale youngster.
"Shot with an arrow, Josiah. The horse kicked him hard in the guts and he can't breathe."
"Let me see," Josiah said as he gently moved the boy out of the way and saw Ezra's distress. His friend was curled up on the ground with hands clamped to his chest and stomach and he sounded as if he was asphyxiating. Josiah sat the gambler up and leaned him forward after loosening his clothing around his neck and waist. Ezra continued gasping and the preacher rubbed his friend's upper abdomen and chest to try and ease the pain. As he held him, he saw the arrow poking out front and back near Ezra's shoulder. He eased the gambler forward a bit more and studied the remainder of the arrow protruding from his back in more detail. The very end of the shaft had been broken off but there was still a substantial length left. The preacher carefully checked the man for other injuries as he held him gently with one hand. He discovered numerous bruises and cuts but fortunately no broken bones. Ezra seemed to have recovered his breath so Josiah laid him down carefully and sat back on his! heels with a sigh as he sucked his lower lip apprehensively.
"How bad?" JD asked from where he'd been watching.
"Need to get him back to Nate."
Ezra suddenly reached up a hand and clasped Josiah's coat lapels and pulled the man down toward him. Josiah had no choice but to bend forward and he said, "Easy son. Just stay still."
Ezra wouldn't let go and started to say something. He needed to tell the preacher what he knew while he was still in a condition to do so. He knew if he left it any later, he might not have the strength or he may even be dead. He tugged again insistently on Josiah's lapel but only managed to utter one word in the preacher's ear. Josiah sat up and frowned when he was released from the gambler's hold and looked at JD in puzzlement.
"What'd he say?"
"Just said 'rose'," Josiah replied in a mystified tone. "What do you think he means?"
"No idea. How we gonna get him back to town?" JD asked dismissing the unanswerable question and letting his mind leap ahead to the next problem.
"Think we need to get that arrow out first. Can't take him back with it still in him. Got any whiskey?"
Josiah pursed his lips and studied the boy with narrowed eyes. "I need you to do most of the work, son. I'll hold him 'cause he's gonna be hard to handle and you do exactly what I say."
"Okay," JD agreed, although he didn't look forward to what he guessed was coming.
"Light a fire first and heat the water from our canteens." Josiah watched the boy closely to make sure his first order was fulfilled. He then said, "Get yer knife and cut through the shaft at Ezra's back. Not too short now, about four inches to get rid of the splintered end. Do it quick son 'cause Ezra's sure gonna feel it. You can't be gentle when you touch the arrow no matter how much you want to be."
JD walked to his horse and found his knife in the saddlebag. He returned to Josiah's side in trepidation and knelt down where the big man indicated. Josiah smiled at him and patted his shoulder before lifting Ezra gently into his arms. Even so the gambler groaned loudly in pain at the movement.
The preacher held Ezra sideways so JD could get a good look at what he was working on. The kid met the older man's gaze fleetingly and then raised the knife to the arrow shaft. He took a deep breath and Josiah tightened his hold on the gambler when he saw JD was ready. The kid placed the blade where he wanted it and jumped as Ezra cried out.
The gambler felt as if he'd been dipped in a tub of boiling water. The pain was excruciating and his whole body reacted to it by twitching violently. The preacher had trouble holding him and he tightened his grip rapidly and pulled the injured man toward him. JD removed the knife quickly and looked at Josiah worriedly before transferring his gaze to Ezra.
"You can't help but hurt him, son. We ain't got nothing to give him for the pain so we just gotta be quick to make sure he don't suffer for too long. That's the best we can offer him, JD. Now do you see why we've got to get it out before taking him back? Just imagine the pain he'd have had to endure on horseback if we took him back as he is. I'm even hurting him now just by holding him. It ain't only you that feels bad about all this," Josiah said comfortingly.
JD got his composure back and lifted the blade again to the appointed place. With one swift move he cut the shaft and dropped the knife on the ground immediately afterwards as if it had become red hot. Ezra screamed and sobbed at the pain that erupted in his chest but he somehow remained conscious. He felt a wave of heat flow through his body and he shivered.
"Well done, JD," Josiah praised as he continued to hold the gambler.
"It's split," the kid said quietly.
"The end of the shaft split when I cut it."
"Shit. Well you've gotta do the other end as well then because that might be a bit stronger."
The kid looked at Josiah in anguish. "Why?"
The preacher looked at the wide-eyed youngster and hoped he'd keep his nerve. "I can't risk a piece of the shaft breaking off inside him as I pull it through. If you cut the arrowhead off clean the other end, I can pull that through instead of the splintered end. Do you understand?"
"Yeah. Okay. I'm ready," JD said as he picked up the knife from where it had fallen. He raised it again and cut just below the arrowhead where it protruded from Ezra's chest.
Ezra screamed again and continued whimpering pitifully. Josiah did his best to comfort him and said, "It's okay, Ezra. Just take it easy and we'll be finished soon. Only one more thing to do."
He shifted the con man in his arms carefully to try to make him more comfortable before he turned his attention back to JD. "Right, JD. Now get yer gun out."
JD did as he was asked and wondered what he was going to have to do next. Every order he received was worse than the previous one. He, for one, would be glad when it was all over. He looked at Josiah expectantly and received an encouraging smile in return.
"Okay. Next we've gotta get the arrow out, son. So put the side of the hilt of yer knife against the end of the arrow shaft in Ezra's chest and hit it with the butt of yer gun when I say. Like a hammer on a nail, right? You need one clean blow, so be very careful son but not tentative. I'll grab the other end and pull it all the way through when you hit it. Do you understand?"
"Why can't I just hit the shaft? Why do I need the knife?" JD asked.
"It just gives you a bigger target to hit and it will hopefully take some of the impact of the blow off of Ezra too. If you try to aim at the arrow shaft on its own yer bound to miss. Aiming at the knife hilt will be easier, okay?"
"Yes, Josiah," JD replied in a very quiet voice. He really didn't want to have to do what Josiah had asked and the very thought of it made him come out in a cold sweat.
The preacher put his hand under Ezra's chin gently and raised the man's drooping head and looked into his eyes. The gambler was pale, shaking and sweaty although his skin was actually covered in goose bumps and his teeth chattered as if he was cold. Josiah had really hoped that they could have done the next part of the operation on the shaft at Ezra's back so the man didn't have to watch proceedings but that was not to be. Josiah wiped the damp hair from the gambler's brow and inquired quietly, "Did ya hear all that, son? You know what we're gonna do?"
Ezra nodded wearily and laid his head against Josiah's shoulder with a sigh.
"Okay, Ezra. You're doin' fine and it'll be over before ya know it. Just brace yerself against me and don't wriggle." Josiah felt the gambler lean into him as much as he could in his present condition. The preacher tightened his grip with one arm and whispered encouragement in the injured man's ear.
JD waited until Josiah nodded his head at him and then lifted his two implements into position. Ezra looked down at the arrow shaft as if in fascination and then met JD's eyes anxiously. The kid smiled weakly and Ezra closed his eyes and rested his head against Josiah's shoulder again. JD looked at Josiah and saw the big man raise a hand and hold it just over the splintered end of the arrow but not yet touching it.
"Right, JD? Remember....one clean blow. Ezra don't need hitting by mistake and he don't need to go through all this again if you miss. Ready?"
"No but then I don't s'pose Ez is either," JD replied in a shaking voice. He took a deep breath again and steeled himself for what lay ahead.
Josiah nodded and JD hit the knife with his gun, which in turn pushed the shaft backward. At the same time Josiah grabbed the other end and pulled the arrow free. Ezra screamed for the last time and collapsed weakly against Josiah's chest. The preacher could hear him breathing fast as he groaned and sobbed uncontrollably.
"All over, Ez. Calm down you hear me?" Josiah raised his hand to the gambler's face and wiped the tears from the man's cheeks. "You won't do yerself any good getting all upset. I know it's easy for me to say but it's the truth. Just breathe evenly and calm down, okay?"
Ezra had run out of his limited reserves of energy by that time anyway and he became silent and still as he lay in Josiah's arms. The preacher patted the gambler's face gently and then turned his attention to JD. He knew the youngster could do with a bit of comfort too.
"Well done, JD. You did real well, son," he praised. He knew he needed to keep the youngster busy so he said, "Go to my horse, will ya? There's an old shirt in my saddlebag. Tear it up into strips so we can bandage Ezra up. I'll need you to help take care of him. Can you do that for me, son?"
"Okay. Put your knife blade in the fire before you go 'cause I'll need it to cauterize the wounds." Josiah moved Ezra in his arms and laid him on the ground with care before undressing his friend's torso. He used the heated water to clean the blood from the man's chest and back before he picked up the knife and pressed the blade to both wounds. The preacher then bandaged Ezra up and strapped his arm low across his stomach rather than nearer his chest so as not to add to the pain in that region. Ezra remained silent as all this was done and he couldn't even raise a groan. Josiah treated Ezra's other injuries and then removed his own coat and put it on the gambler instead. The preacher sat back on his heels when he was through and wiped his brow wearily.
"Right, kid. We now have to get him on a horse and home. Any ideas?" Josiah asked as he kept an anxious eye on the semi-conscious con man lying at his feet.
"He could ride with me if you lift him up," JD offered.
"He'd be a dead weight JD and he'd have to ride behind you 'cause you wouldn't see over him if he was in front. I don't think he'd hold on for very long either if he had to sit behind you with no support. Anyway he needs to sit in front because of the injuries to his chest and stomach."
"I've got it," JD said suddenly. He furrowed his brow and narrowed his eyes as he worked his scheme out in his head before saying, "If I mount first in front of the saddle and you pass Ezra up. You mount behind him and get hold of him and then I can get off leaving him in front of you. He'd only have to hold onto me for a minute and he could do that, couldn't he? The horse could hold us all for that amount of time too."
Josiah frowned and got JD to repeat his idea again. He smiled and said, "Great. Well thought out, son. Okay, are we all set to go home then?"
"You bet," JD said eagerly. Now the medical part was over JD was getting a bit hyperactive because of his overwhelming relief. He'd got a sudden surge of nervous energy and his behavior was excessive. His voice was louder than need be and he ran back and forth with enthusiasm although inside he felt shaky and sick.
Josiah looked up and said, "Take it easy, JD. I know yer glad it's over but we ain't finished yet. I need you to keep yer wits about you."
"Sure. Sorry but I feel.....I feel....I can't describe it," JD replied in exasperation as his stomach leapt once more.
"I know son but just keep a lid on whatever yer feeling until we get home okay? Ezra needs you and so do I." Josiah rose after his speech and collected a blanket from his horse. He placed it round Ezra's shoulders and made sure it couldn't come loose on the journey home.
"Okay. Up you get, JD," the preacher instructed when he had finished.
Josiah then lifted Ezra up onto the horse and helped settle him in the saddle. The gambler groaned and drew in a sharp breath when his chest came into contact with JD's back. The youngster reached a hand round his back quickly to make sure Ezra stayed on.
"Take hold of JD's waist, Ezra. Hold on tight now, son. I don't want you falling off again, you hear me?" The preacher watched as Ezra wrapped his free arm round the youngster's body. "Yer doin' great, Ezra. I'm real proud of ya, son."
Josiah waited for a minute until Ezra looked stable on the horse's back and then mounted quickly behind him. He got a good hold on the gambler and then indicated that JD could get off. The kid hurried to his horse and mounted it and the two animals set off for Four Corners at a sedate pace.
Ezra leaned back against Josiah's chest and laid his head on his shoulder so his face was turned toward the preacher's neck. Josiah could feel the heat emanating from the man's body and he began getting hot as well. By the time they'd gone a short distance the preacher was as sweaty as Ezra. The big man could feel Ezra's warm breath on his neck every time the man exhaled. The breath came short and fast as the gambler tried to ease his pain. Least he's still breathing, albeit erratically, but I shall be glad to get home. I've never been so hot, Josiah thought to himself as he wiped a hand over his face.
They rode into town late in the day and found Buck standing on the boardwalk waiting for their return. The tall gunman stepped into the street and ran to meet them. His feet kicked up small clouds of swirling dirt with each step he took and he finally came to a sliding, dusty halt next to the preacher's horse.
"What happened, Josiah? You've been gone ages. Is Ez hurt bad?"
"He got shot with an arrow. JD helped me get it out but he's in bad shape, Buck. He was kicked in the stomach by the horse he was riding as well. It was shot too and kicked out when he was still on the ground."
"Shit. Nate ain't got no medicine. Those bastards took it all."
"Was Vin okay?" JD asked.
"Shot in the leg. Nate had to dig it out and he had to rely on whiskey as a painkiller. Vin's a bit feverish but Nate thinks he'll be okay. I'll take Ezra up there too if you give him to me." Buck reached up as Josiah passed the semi-conscious man down to him.
"Be careful with him, Bucklin. He's in a lot of pain," the preacher warned as he let go of his burden gently.
Buck nodded silently and then said to Ezra, "Come on, pard. You're home now so let's get you up to see Nate. Jeez, yer burning up, Ez." Buck shifted the gambler in his arms and walked carefully up the stairs to the clinic. Ezra groaned as Buck shifted his weight yet again and the ladies' man felt him start shivering uncontrollably.
JD went up in front of the two men and burst in the clinic door shouting, "Nate! Nate!"
Nathan turned round at the interruption and raised a finger to his lips angrily as he indicated that Vin was fast asleep behind him. He then saw the very pale gambler in Buck's arms and he moved to collect some linen as he said, "Wait up, Buck. Can you hold him a minute more? JD? Help me make up a bed on the floor, will ya?"
The two men worked fast and then Buck laid the gambler on the makeshift bed carefully. "There ya go, Ez. Just lay still and do as Nate tells ya," Buck smiled and ran his fingers lightly through the man's damp hair.
"He was shot with an arrow and his horse kicked him and it rolled on him too," JD blurted out. "We did what we could but he looks bad, Nate."
"Yeah, I can see that, JD. Leave him with me and I'll see what needs doin'. Buck can you stay and help?" the healer asked as he sent the tall gunman an anxious look.
"Sure, pard. Just tell me what you want me to do." Buck didn't wait for an answer but turned to look at his youngest friend instead. "JD? Go and tell Chris what happened. He's in the jail waiting for ya," Buck commanded. He thought the boy looked a bit pale and he hoped some time away from Ezra might help.
The kid smiled and ran out of the clinic just as Josiah climbed the stairs wearily. The preacher took a seat next to Vin with a sigh and sponged him down as he watched Nathan working on the gambler. Nathan removed the blanket and coat from Ezra's body and carefully studied the shoulder wound and then the massive bruise on the gambler's chest. He drew in a sharp breath through his teeth and pursed his lips as he considered what to do.
Vin, meanwhile, stirred under the preacher's hand and opened his eyes slowly. "Hey Josiah. Did ya catch up with Ezra?" he asked, as he looked up at the preacher in the dim lamp light.
"Yeah. He's here but mighty sick." The preacher told Vin exactly what had happened and the young man sighed. Josiah smiled and patted his shoulder comfortingly. "He's in good hands now he's back home. Look Vin, I wonder if you can help me with something? Ezra said 'rose' when we got to him and he seemed real anxious to tell me something. Does that word mean anything to you?" Josiah asked as he wiped the young man's face gently.
"Rose? Yer sure?" Vin croaked as he tried to gather his muddled thoughts.
"Sounded like it but I may have misheard," the preacher admitted with a shrug.
"Hell that could mean anything. All that comes to mind at the moment is Adam Rose but I don't see what he's got to do with what happened. I didn't see him in the group of men I got tangled up with, that's for sure."
"I'd forgotten him and I certainly didn't see him either but I weren't that close to 'em. You get some rest Vin but thanks for your thoughts. I didn't mean to tire you out," Josiah said as the tracker stifled a yawn.
The man closed his eyes just as Chris entered the room again. The blond walked to the bed first and looked down at its occupant before turning his attention to the preacher. "Hey Josiah. Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Ez was the only one hurt."
Chris turned and studied the gambler with a practiced eye. "Nate? How is he?"
"Not good. The shoulder wound was bad enough and with the horse rolling on him and kicking him, he ain't well. The fact I ain't got no supplies just makes it worse 'cause I can't ease his pain. He's as hot as hell even now."
"Can someone go to Eagle Bend and get some medicine from the doctor there?" Chris suggested.
"Could do but it's a bit late to go now. It'll be dark soon. I shoulda thought about it earlier but there weren't no one to send 'cause you were all helping me," Nathan replied sadly as he ran a hand round the back of his neck and then stretched.
"I'll go Nate. I don't mind riding in the dark. I'll get most of the way before it gets too bad. Easing Ezra's suffering has gotta be more important than not wanting to ride at night," Josiah said, rising with purpose from his chair.
"Okay but take care. I ain't got room for no more wounded people," the healer said as he watched Josiah leave the room quickly.
"Why use an arrow?" Chris asked suddenly.
"Silent and deadly, pard. Bet the bastard hoped he'd escape 'cause no-one would be able to tell where he was hiding unlike if he'd used a gun," Buck surmised.
"I s'pose," Chris agreed. He turned his attention back to Nathan and asked, "Is there anything we can do in the meantime to ease Ezra and Vin's hurts?" Chris asked.
"There's a few herbs I could use. The gang didn't take those but there's still nothing for easing pain in those. I was waiting for Kojay to bring me something in that line. I got a few plants from near the creek for other ailments but nowhere near enough."
"Tell us what we need to do to the herbs. We'll help ya," Buck offered as he patted the healer's shoulder when he saw how upset the man was.
Nathan found his collection of herbs and medicinal plants and gave the men instructions. The two men set to work and were joined by JD as well after he'd finished checking around town for any other trouble. Nathan watched them work for a while to make sure they were alright before turning back to treat Ezra's injuries. When his friends had finished, Nathan had potions for easing swellings and bruises and also for healing wounds.
"God, what a stink," Buck complained as he waved a hand in front of his face in disgust. "This'll sure keep away any other thieves if they catch a whiff of this. Glad Vin and Ezra will be the ones sampling your delights and not me, Nate."
JD smiled as he sat down next to Ezra and wiped his face carefully. The gambler opened his eyes and smiled at JD tiredly.
"Ezra? What did you mean by 'rose'?" the kid asked when he saw he had the gambler's attention.
Chris turned round curiously from where he was helping Nathan administer some of his medicine to Vin. The blond wondered what JD was talking about.
"Adam Rose," Ezra whispered before coughing painfully and gasping in reaction.
"What about him?" Chris asked as he squatted down beside the feverish man.
"Yer saying he was in the gang?"
Ezra nodded and closed his eyes as he whispered, "Joined them outside town."
Chris put out a hand and shook the injured man's shoulder to wake him up. He had a feeling of dread and he needed to get to the truth. He continued to try to rouse Ezra and the gambler groaned painfully.
"Leave him be, Chris," Nate hissed angrily as he noticed what the blond was doing. The healer moved toward him but stopped when Chris raised a warning hand.
"Ezra?" Chris called several times as he ignored the healer's protests and watched the gambler finally open his eyes slowly. Two pairs of green eyes met. One pair was full of pain and suffering and the other full of sympathy and worry. "Did he know you'd recognized him? This is important, Ez. I need to know."
"Yes, he knew," Ezra replied as his eyes closed again. His voice trailed off to a whisper and he lost consciousness.
+ + + + + + +
The gang had stopped several miles further on from the spot where Ezra had been shot out of his saddle. They looked round to see if the man who had done the deed was in sight. He should have caught up with them ages ago.
Adam Rose looked furious when he spotted no sign of the man. "What a god-awful mess! Now it looks like we've lost Pat. The rest of you go on to the ranch and give Hank those supplies. I'm going back to town."
"Why? Just leave it. What with us hurting the healer and shooting that tracker in the leg we're gonna be in trouble with the rest of those law-dogs. There's no need to make more trouble," one of the gang protested.
"You never said you shot anyone too. Well, I'm definitely going back then to see what's happening. God, Hank's a damned hypocrite trusting you lot to do the job properly. Good job I'm here to tidy things up."
"I told you time and again that we should have just asked for this stuff properly. They wouldn't have suspected anything then," one man grumbled. "Everyone knows that healer gives out medicine free to anyone who needs it."
"He'd have asked questions about how Dan was shot and who did it, you fool! That wouldn't have worked."
"Still think it was a stupid move," the man complained stubbornly.
"Yeah well, I don't give a shit what you think." Adam drew his pistol and shot the man dead. Stunned silence fell before Adam spoke again. "Anyone else got somethin' to say? No? Well I still say we did the right thing. That healer would have insisted on coming if we'd gone to him legitimately and he'd have reported back to Larabee so we'd still be in the same mess. I know that gambler recognized me and I need to shut him up before he tells Larabee I was involved. I can do without that bastard interfering and coming to the ranch seeking vengeance."
"He's probably told him already. Leave the territory instead. You ain't gotta stay here now, Adam."
"Shut up! I ain't taking the chance. I don't need to be a wanted man, forever running from the law. My brother's injury is bad and if Standish has already talked we need to move him to safety. But I ain't moving Dan just for the sake of it 'cause it could kill him. Once I've been to town and found out what I need to know, I'll come back and tell you what we're gonna do next. Whatever happens I'm gonna kill Standish."
"Killin' a lawman ain't good, Adam. Do you want a price on yer head too? Hank ain't gonna be pleased if the gambler dies. You know his orders"
"Fuck Hank! You can't be an outlaw without killing anyone and he's a damned fool if he thinks otherwise. Anyway I'll make it so the healer thinks Standish died of his injuries. I saw him fall from his horse but I just gotta be sure he dies for Dan's sake. Now do as yer told and go home before I trim our numbers a bit more." Adam turned his horse back toward town and set off despite his friend's protestations.
It was now pitch black and he got back to town without seeing another soul. He hid in the shadows of the blacksmith's forge and waited until the streets were clear. He moved toward the clinic but saw the light still showing through the window. He could also see the outline of someone moving about inside so he bided his time. Eventually he saw Nathan leave the clinic and enter the saloon.
Adam looked up and down the street and when he saw no movement he ran to the clinic. He went up the stairs quickly and silently and opened the door slowly. The only occupants of the room were the two sleeping, injured men, one on the bed and one on the floor. He recognized the hat and gun belt near the bed as belonging to Vin so he turned his attention to the man on the floor.
He drew his gun and walked silently toward the makeshift bed to make sure it contained Ezra. He didn't want to murder the wrong man. He picked up a pillow from a chair as he approached his quarry and leant down quietly to study the sleeping form.
He reached out a hand and pulled back the covers gently so as not to disturb the man in the process. A hand suddenly shot out from the bed and clamped itself around his throat while the bed's occupant put a gun to Adam's stomach. The outlaw was brought to his knees and came face to face with a very angry-looking Chris.
"Hello Adam. Sorry Ezra ain't here to greet ya but I thought you'd be pleased to see me instead. Put yer gun down before I blow a hole in yer belly big enough to put my fist in," the blond growled and he thrust his gun forcefully into Adam's abdomen to accentuate the threat.
Adam heard rustling from the other bed and saw Buck climb out of it. The outlaw obeyed Chris's order without question and held his arms away from his body to show compliance. He knew he was defeated and cursed heartily, knowing he had acted irrationally out of concern for his brother. Buck pulled Adam to his feet and secured his hands behind his back and marched him out of the clinic silently.
The ladies' man took his prisoner along to the jail quickly and missed seeing another member of the gang watching him. Instead of following Adam's order, the man had returned to town as well to see what happened. The secret watcher left hurriedly to report back to Hank when he saw that Adam had been apprehended.
Back in the clinic, Chris untangled himself from the sheets and stood up as he re-holstered his gun. JD also appeared from where he'd been hiding behind the door. The two men smiled at each other in contentment and headed to the church and the blond knocked loudly on the door.
"Josiah. It's Chris," the gunfighter called when he heard movement inside.
The blond heard the door being unlocked and both men stepped inside when it was eventually opened by Josiah. The gunfighter and JD smiled at the big man and then approached Nathan quickly.
"They okay?" the blond asked.
"Well, I'd have preferred they stayed in the clinic, especially Ezra but it couldn't be helped. Did your plan work?"
"Yeah. Rose turned up on his own luckily and headed straight for me. Buck's dealing with him now."
"Josiah get enough supplies for ya?" JD asked as he looked down at Ezra worriedly.
"Yeah. Should last me 'til the stage comes next week. Vin should be up and about soon but Ez is gonna take a bit longer."
Chris studied both patients critically and then inquired, "Okay. Do you want to take them back to the clinic or leave them here?"
"Stay here for a couple of days to give them a proper chance to recover a bit of strength. We still need to keep them safe in case the rest of the gang decide to come back if they hear about Adam's capture."
"Yeah. Good idea. Can we do anything to help?"
"Can you get some more water? Ez is sweating for all he's worth and Vin's still got a slight fever. I need to cool them both down."
"Sure. We'll be back shortly." Chris and JD went off to do their duty and returned quickly with a couple of buckets filled with cool water. Chris then sat beside Ezra and helped Josiah sponge him down. The injured man was red hot to the touch and very restless and Chris tried to calm him by talking as he worked.
"There ya go, Ez. Is that better? Jeez, I could fry an egg on his skin, Josiah," Chris said anxiously as he laid a gentle hand on the injured man's brow.
"I know, Chris. He's in bad shape. Can you hold him while I give him this?" The preacher indicated the mug in his hand. Chris nodded and bent down and carefully raised the gambler against his chest.
"Open up Ez and don't spit it out like you did last time," Josiah scolded with a smile. He tipped the foul-smelling contents of the mug into Ezra's mouth and then pinched the gambler's nose quickly. Ezra swallowed instinctively and retched immediately afterwards as the brew went down his throat. He managed to keep the medicine down but he groaned in distaste as he turned his head and leant hard against Chris's body.
Chris patted his back sympathetically and laid him down again. "I know it tastes horrible, Ez but it is doing you good." Jeez, who am I trying to convince here? Me or Ezra? the blond wondered.
The gambler closed his eyes and Chris rose to see the other invalid now JD had finished cooling him. He sat down beside Vin and reached a hand out to feel his brow too. It was warm but nowhere near as hot as Ezra's. "Hey Vin. How do ya feel?"
"I'd be better if Nate didn't keep trying to poison me. I'm just a bit hot but he keeps plying me with his potions. Tell me I ain't gonna have to stay here long, Chris. I can't stand another day," Vin pleaded as he scratched his injured jaw.
Chris swatted his hand away so he didn't start the cut bleeding again and he wagged his finger in mock anger as he said, "You stay until Nathan says yer better, cowboy. Don't give him any sass either or you'll have me to deal with."
"Yeah, yeah. Just wait 'til yer hurt and he's forcing his cures on you. Don't come complaining to me."
"I never complain," Chris disagreed with a broad grin.
"Bullshit. You're worse than me," Vin smiled. "You get me all embarrassed when I hear the things you say to him. Real rude you are."
Chris patted his shoulder as he laughed. "Can I get you anything?"
"Oh no. You're staying unarmed. If you don't start behaving I'll take away yer clothes and arrange for every woman in town to come visit you. That should keep you in order."
"You wouldn't dare," Vin said with a horrified look on his face.
"Don't push me, Tanner or you'll find out what I'll dare," Chris said as he put a finger to his hat brim and walked away grinning.
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