Second Chances

by LT

Part 1 -3 | Part 4 - 7 | Part 8 - 11
Part 12 - 14 | Part 15 - 16 | Part 17 - 18
Part 19 - Epilogue

Part Fifteen

Ezra walked into the hotel dining room and searched the faces of the myriad of patrons enjoying their dinners. He had spent most of his life dining alone but these days, he found that he detested it. Damn those men in Four Corners. There were numerous people occupying the restaurant but none looked worth his interest. That was until his gaze landed on a lady that was sitting alone, obviously waiting for her dinner to arrive. She was elegant! Ezra had an eye for expensive and this woman was expensive. She was dressed in dark green silk, her gown the latest in fashion. Her hair was swept up and her make up was perfect for her face. Ezra placed her as being about fifty but she could be a little older. She had a presence about her that almost cleared the room of everyone else.

The matre’d walked up to Ezra to seat him and Ezra asked, "If I may so bold to ask, who is the beautiful woman sitting by herself?"

The man gazed in the direction that Ezra had indicated and smiled. "That's Miss DuBois. Would you like to dine with her tonight?"

Ezra looked at the man in disbelief. No one should offer to seat a stranger with a refined woman like that! The man caught his expression and smiled broadly.

"She hates to dine alone! She really does, Sir, and you look to be an interesting man. I wouldn't make the offer to a salesman or a businessman but you have a dashing air about you. I'm sure she'll see it too. She's a wonderful old lady, not stuffy at all. May I introduce you to her?"

Ezra thought about it a moment and then nodded. He followed the matre’d to the table that had been set for three. The woman turned her eyes to Ezra and he found himself looking into the most enchanting face he had seen in years. The man whispered something in her ear and she smiled.

" Of course he can join me. Sit young man. My name is Margaret DuBois, Maggie to my friends. And you are?" She offered Ezra her hand and he took it gently and kissed her delicate fingers.

"Ezra Standish. May I say, Madame, that you are a welcome breath of fresh air in this land of taupe and dust. I don't believe I have ever seen so much adobe in my life. How do you find your own house late at night after imbibing a few libations?"

"Well, sir, I painted my house lavender, just for such occasions."

They both laughed heartily and for a few moments, Ezra forgot the pain that had been dogging him since Sunday night. He sat down beside Miss Maggie and smiled genially.

"You definitely are not from around here, Mr. Standish. I would say, South Carolina."

"Georgia, Savannah to be exact. But that was an entire lifetime ago. Are you from here, Miss Maggie?"

"Oh no, St. Louis, but that was also a lifetime ago. As I grew older, I found I needed a slower pace and this gentle town suits me quite nicely. I'm sure it would be far too quiet for you. You must be passing through, Ezra."

"Yes ma'am, that I am." He cleared his throat to dissipate the emotions that suddenly found their way to the top again. "I find myself currently on a quest for a new abode. And I think you are correct when you observed that this is not the hamlet for moi'."

"Do you like duck, Ezra? They prepare it scrumptiously indeed here."

"No thank you. I think I am in need of a hearty steak tonight. It has been a long and arduous day, I'm afraid."

"A steak it is then. Rare?"

Ezra smiled broadly. "Yes, ma'am. Thank you."

They talked all through their dinner about Santa Fe and gambling. Maggie didn't say too much about herself. She had a way of dragging things out of people though and Ezra found himself opening up to her in a way that he hadn't for quite a while. Only with Inez had he been this forthcoming. They were sipping brandy with their coffee when she asked him the painful question.

"What are you running from, my friend? I can see it all over your face. It's a very dark pain that you are trying to escape." Her face was so thoughtful, her expression tender.

"I was partly responsible for the death of one of my closest friends a few days ago. I took the coward's way out, as I have a proclivity towards that." Ezra hung his head.

"I don't believe that. How did it happen, Ezra?" She urged him to tell his story.

"We were doing the nightly check of the metropolis from whence I have just come and we heard a woman scream. She had been attacked and we chased the miscreant down an alley to the back of the hotel. It was so dark, we could hardly detect a shadow. Somehow the villain got in between my friend and I, and before I could react, the felon shot my friend in the back. He lingered for awhile but death overtook him at dawn."

"I thought you were a gambler, Ezra?" Maggie asked, puzzled by his story.

Ezra chuckled and took a slow drink of his coffee. "I'm not sure how it first came about, but for the past three years, I have also been engaged in the business of keeping the peace. I, myself, have been in awe of this fact, madam, so I am not surprised by your reaction."

Maggie smiled slightly at that. "My boy is also in the lawman business."

"It is a noble profession when done properly. So, you have a son. Any other family, Miss Maggie?"

"No and no. I don't have a family as such and my boy is not really my son. I helped raise him and sort of adopted him after his mama died. I love him a lot and he doesn't seem to mind me calling him my son."

"No, madam, I don't suppose that he would." Ezra gazed lovingly at the older woman before him. He would be glad to have her as his mother.

"You don't know anything about me, Ezra. If you did, you wouldn't be so quick to make that statement." Maggie said very softly, sadly.

"I know that you are a generous, loving, woman. That's all I need to know."

"There are a lot of people who would disagree with you, my boy. You see, I made my fortune, such as it is, off the backs of my girls. I owned and ran a bordello for a number of years. I was smart enough to take advantage of one of my patrons and used his knowledge of stocks and bonds to make a small fortune during and after the war."

"Then you were a working woman, as is my mother, only she not so noble. She was, and still is, a charlatan, a con artist if you will. At least you provided what men wanted while my mother just takes. So you see, Miss DuBois, I still admire you."

"Thank you, Ezra. That seems to mean a lot to me for some reason." She smiled at him wanly. "I have enjoyed this evening so very much. It is a pleasure to talk to a young man for a while. I’ve missed that recently. You see, I haven’t seen my boy in months. I guess he's been busy. I miss him terribly and I always feel that I will never see him again. Then I tend to panic. You see, I lost my boy before the war. He had to run from the law because of a rash decision on his part. I never knew where he had gone or what he was doing. Then the war began and I just knew that he was involved in the fighting somewhere. I prayed every night for God to keep him safe. After the war, I saw all the broken, damaged men coming home and I knew I had to find out what had happened to him. So I started looking for him. Finally, a detective stumbled across him out here and we were reunited about five years ago. He's a fine young man, very tall and handsome. He seemed happy enough when I found him so I've pretty much just left him alone. He was in the ranching business when I got out here but he's had some bumps in the road." She smiled wanly at the man across the table from her. "I guess everybody has bumps. Anyway, the last letter I got from him said that he had found a woman to love and that he was working to win her over. He has a home and friends, and now a good woman. That makes me happier than anything else I've done in my life. He even likes being a sheriff. He's had so much sorrow in his life, he deserves some happiness."

Ezra smiled at her and said, "He sounds very lucky, Miss Maggie. Where is he the sheriff? Maybe I know him."

"He lives in a small town called Four Corners. Have you ever heard of it?"

Maggie watched as Ezra lost his breath and turned instantly pale. Ezra felt as if a sledge hammer had been driven into his stomach. He couldn't catch his breath and he stared opened mouthed at the woman before him.

"What is it, Ezra? Are you all right?" She stood and went to where he was sitting. She placed her hand on his shoulder, not knowing what was wrong or what to do.

Ezra stood and backed away from her as if he had been bitten by a snake. He had no idea that she was Buck's Maggie. Buck rarely talked about anything that had occurred in his life before he headed out West. All of his stories were about female conquests or drinking stories about Chris and himself. As Ezra thought about it, he really didn't know any of Buck's history, including his time with Chris. For someone who talked all the time, Buck rarely let anyone glimpse into his private life.

With a whole roomful of people watching him, he turned and ran out the door of the restaurant, out of the hotel and into the streets of Santa Fe. He had to escape! He felt as if Buck had just been shot all over again and there still was nothing he could do for his friend. He found himself spinning in circles out in the street, not knowing which way to run. Finally, he stopped himself, and bent over to pull air into his straining lungs. When he looked up, Maggie stood before him, silent, a worried look upon her face.

"Buck's dead, Maggie," he whispered to the lovely woman before him. He didn't know how else to tell her. Ezra watched as the impact of his words drove the woman away from him. Her eyes grew as large as saucers and her face turned white, despite her make up. She gasped loudly and her man servant, who had come running up behind her from somewhere inside the hotel, put a protective arm around her, supporting her as she felt her knees suddenly collapse.

"Miss Maggie, I am so sorry to blurt the news out like that. I had no idea you were Buck's Maggie. I have taunted him in the past when I caught him writing letters to you. He would smile and tell me they were love letters to his Maggie. He would never elaborate, dear lady. I had no idea who you were." Ezra moved forward, his attention fully on the older woman in front of him who was having trouble staying conscious.

"You are the gambler." Her voice was filled with pain. "Of course, he has told me all about you and the others. His letters are filled with your exploits. No wonder I felt so comfortable with you right away. It's as if I already know you, Ezra. Spencer, help me to my carriage. I wish to go home now. Ezra, will you please accompany me?"

"Of course, Miss Maggie." Ezra took her arm to steady her as her servant ran to fetch the brougham. The man returned minutes later and assisted his employer into the large carriage. Ezra got in and they quickly made their way to a huge house on top of a hill just outside of town. Not a word was spoken as they were enroute, both souls lost for the time being in memories.

As they were getting out of the carriage, Maggie whispered something to her servant and he nodded silently. Ezra held out his arm to her and they slowly made their way into the house. Another servant opened the front door just as they arrived and Ezra was treated to an elegant parlor, the likes of which he had not seen since his departure from the South. Maggie directed him into a library where a fire had been laid. It was an extremely comfortable room with soft rose colored walls and over-stuffed furniture. Book shelves covered two walls and a small mahogany desk sat in the corner by the window.

"This is my favorite room. Buck's too. He loves to sit in here with me. We talk for hours while he sips his brandy. Oh hell, what am I going to do without him." Great sobs shook her slight frame and Ezra moved to sit beside her, his arm encircling her shoulders. They stayed that way for fifteen minutes or more. Finally, Maggie was cried out for the present and Ezra offered her his handkerchief.

"Ezra, would you stay here with me for a few days? I have already sent my man to get your things from the hotel. I think we both need to eulogize and wake him, wouldn’t you agree?" Maggie looked at him with both hope and pain in her eyes.

"If that is you desire, Miss Maggie, than I shall be happy to oblige. As long as I am not putting you out."

"Ezra, my dear, I have six bedrooms in this house and I can only use one. I think when I had this house built, my mind was still running a brothel. I can't for the life of me remember why I had them put in so many bedrooms." She seemed distracted for the moment.

She was silent for a moment. Ezra was uncomfortable with the silence, wondering if she was blaming him for what had happened to her "boy". He wanted to stay for her sake but, if he saw any sign in her eyes that she was uncomfortable with him in her house, he would immediately remove himself.

"I would have expected that Mr. Larabee would have wired you with the information." Ezra broke the stillness.

"He must be lost, the poor man. Buck was all that was left of his family." She patted Ezra’s hand that lay empathetically on hers. "I have met Chris on several occasions and I like him a lot. They were quite a pair."

"Yes, they were. It was always a puzzle to the rest of us though as to why they were such devoted … Friends is not quite the right word."

"Brothers." Maggie finished his sentence.

Ezra half smiled and nodded. "Yes, brothers. Family, that is exactly what they were. Not a one of my fellow peacekeepers ever got up the nerve to get between them, especially when they were fightin'. And they could fight like a Union Yankee and Confederate Rebel. But when it came right down to it, they stood fast beside one another and heaven help the man that hurt either one of them, for the wrath of the other would rain down upon him."

"I would imagine that the five of you never heard any of the circumstances under which they met and became lifelong friends. Chris was so protective of his emotions. Such a private man. He couldn't stand for anyone but Buck to see into his heart and he would threaten Buck to remain silent." She paused, remembering. "Buck was rarely open about his life though, either." Maggie got up and poured brandy into two large snifters and brought them back for Ezra and herself. She sat near Ezra and continued. "They met during the war, in a prison camp. A very cruel place from what Buck has told me."

Ezra leaned forward, hanging on Maggie's every word. She was right, none of the five had been let in on the origins of Buck and Chris's friendship.

"Chris told me the story when I first found Buck after the war. He was living with Chris and Sarah. It was after supper and Buck had gone to put Adam to bed. Chris turned to me and smiled. He said that Adam preferred Buck's bedtime stories to his own. So he told me one instead. He said Buck was already in the camp when he arrived. He said he was drawn to Buck’s smile in that hell hole where everything else was dark and depressing. They kept each other alive during that winter and when they finally escaped, Chris took Buck home with him to Indiana to recuperate. They parted to go back to their units and they didn't see each other again until they ran into one another out here. I guess their bond was formed under some pretty extreme conditions."

"I would agree. And you are correct, my dear lady, none of us was invited into their private hell or told about their war years. As I sit here tonight, I also realize that for all of Buck's stories and tall tales, I know very little about the man and where he came from. I had heard from young Mr. Dunnee that Buck's mother was a working woman but nothing else. And from what the young man told me, Buck refused to say any more on the subject. I find it truly remarkable that Buck could verbalize so much and have it denote so very little. While all of his anecdotes are entertaining, I now wonder where the truth lies."

Maggie smiled at the image of Buck telling his tall tales. "He surely can talk, can’t he, Ezra. He learned at a very early age to tell stories that would entertain and not say a word about what he really felt. You see, Nicole, that was his mother, well she loved him with her whole heart but she couldn't see past her nose. I don't truly know if she was that blind or if she simply chose not to see what a bleak and lonely life her son led. Many times, when he got home from school, I would clean the cuts, tend the bruises he had gotten while fighting. By the time Nicole got up and sat down to supper with the boy, he would have a tale to tell her that, while believable, was totally false. He never wanted her to worry about him, you see. Nicole loved him and wanted only the best for him, so she worked constantly and because she was so incredibly beautiful, she had plenty of work. She scrimped and saved every dime she could so that she could get him out of the brothel and into some place decent. She didn't realize that all he ever wanted was her time. He treasured the hour or two each day that she made for him, but most of his time was spent alone, for he had no friends except for the ladies in the house. He would fall asleep almost every night on my lap in the office and then I would have the bouncer take him up to bed. Shortly after his ninth birthday, he watched his mother die, killed by a brutal john. Buck tried desperately to stop the man but he was too small and the man broke his arm and his jaw before finishing Nicole off. Nicole lasted long enough to beg me to take care of her baby and to give him the money she had saved when he needed it. I still have that money."

"That must have been devastating to him!" Ezra winced at the pain Buck must have gone through back then.

"He changed a lot after that. He absolutely hated men for a long, long, time and then, when the same thing happened to his friend, Julie, well he couldn't take it any more. He grabbed my gun from my office and shot the man five times as he came down the stairs. Unfortunately, the man was the son of the mayor and Buck was forced to leave the only home he had ever known. That was the night I lost him. I think that Chris was the first man he ever trusted. Probably the only man he ever truly trusted until the rest of you showed up. Like I told you at the hotel, he has never been happier in his life than he has been the past three years. He told me that he had finally found a family to believe in him. He had been a part of Chris's family too and he was almost as devastated about their deaths as Chris was, but he told me he had to stay strong to get Chris through it all."

Ezra slowly shook his head. He had no idea what a terrible life Buck had led before their introduction. Maggie was right. Buck told a lot of stories that held no truth. Not that the stories were lies, but they were empty. How could his friend smile so broadly all the time when his heart should have been broken? No wonder he defended every woman he met with such ferocity. Ezra could see the abhorrence in his eyes even now when he went into battle over an injustice to a woman. Now he knew the reason behind it. In a flash, Ezra realized why Buck had not seen Rory that night. He had been blinded by hatred and so intent on retribution that he couldn't see in the shadows. Ezra laid his head back on the couch and closed his eyes against the truth. It wasn't his fault that fateful night, it was Buck's.

Maggie got up and opened the door. "You must be exhausted, Ezra. Spencer, please show Mr. Standish up to the blue room. Ezra, we'll talk again tomorrow. I will bid you a good night."

Ezra wasn't about to argue with her. He was exhausted. He needed to digest all that she had told him tonight. The man that he had thought was an open book had turned out to be a stranger to all of them except Chris. No wonder he had needed to be close to Chris when he died. Chris was the only one who knew the truth, the pain, the suffering, the life the out going, fun loving, womanizer had suffered.

Part Sixteen

Ezra lay awake in his soft feather bed for hours despite the weariness in his body. He knew that he had to go back to Four Corners and at least talk to Chris about Buck and what had happened that disastrous night. He decided that he would leave in a few days. Finally, he fell into a deep sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra looked around him but he could see nothing in the blackness that surrounded him. He heard footsteps and knew that someone was in front of him but he couldn't place who that might be. A small sound beside him caught his attention and he looked to see a kitten foraging for food.

"Help me, Ezra! He's going to kill me. Oh God, quick Ezra, before it’s too late!" The voice came out of the blackness.

"Buck, where are you? I can’t see you! Where did you go?" Ezra screamed

"Ezra, stop him before he kills me! I don't want to die! Please Ezra, don't let him kill me!"

Suddenly, the area was filled with light and Ezra could see the man standing between Buck and himself. The man was smiling and pointing a gun at Buck's back. Ezra reached for his gun but his hand wouldn't move. Instead, he stood there, frozen, knowing what was going to happen to his friend but unable to stop it. The man pulled the trigger and the sound was deafening. Ezra stood stock still, watching as Buck crumbled to the ground before him. The man turned and he laughed at Ezra just before he vanished into thin air. Ezra turned his attention back to Buck, who was trying to sit up.

"Why, Ezra, why didn't you save me? I was counting on you. The others would have shot him in time, why didn’t you, Ezra, why? I thought we were friends. I thought you would watch my back!"

The blood was everywhere and it started to spread on the ground by his feet. He stared at it and the, back at Buck. The big man was laying on his back, looking contentedly at the sky. No, that was wrong. The life was gone from his eyes. He was dead!

"NOOOOO! No, Buck, don't go. Please Buck, I'm sorry." He was on his knees next to the body, blood covered his hands. He couldn't bring himself to touch the body.

"You killed him, Ezra. You might as well have pulled the trigger yourself. How could you do that to him?" Chris stood beside him, his face full of accusation.

"There was nothing I could do! You've got to believe me, Chris, I tried. He got too far ahead of me."

"Ezra Standish, you ran out on us once before. Now, you've let Buck die for nothing. We can't depend on you for anything, can we. You’re never there when we need you! You killed him!" Chris said as the others carried Buck's body away.

"No, come back. I was there for him. He just got too far ahead. He should have seen Rory. He went right past him. Chris, it wasn't my fault, I swear. Please, don't go. Buck, tell them, it wasn't my fault!"

He sat in the dark, not knowing where he was, sweat pouring down his face. Great sobs shook his body as he tried to make sense of his surroundings. He tried to hear the footsteps ahead of him but he heard nothing but his own heart pounding fiercely in his chest. Suddenly, there was a knocking as if someone was at a door, wanting in.

Ezra shook his head as the voice called out, "Ezra, are you all right?"

It was Maggie's voice and he finally awoke enough to realize just where he was. He let out a ragged breath and found his voice. "I'm okay."

He lit a lamp beside the bed and slowly caught his breath. He wiped the sweat from his face and looked around him. The room was elegantly appointed but comfortable at the same time. He turned and sat on the edge of the bed, the sheets soaked with his perspiration. He looked down at his hands and was surprised to find them not covered with blood.

"Ezra, do you need to talk about it?" Maggie asked from the other side of the door. Her voice was filled with patience and understanding, something he needed a lot of right now.

"No ma’am, I’m fine. It was just a dream."

"Sounded more like a nightmare to me, boy. I could use a drink and some company, Ezra. How about it? Would you join me for some brandy and conversation?"

Ezra sagged against the bed. He imagined that it would feel good to share his guilt with someone although he had rarely ever done it. He made a snap decision. "Yes, ma'am, I think I could use a drink and your ear. If you don't mind, that is."

Maggie smiled to herself on the other side of the door. "I’ll see you downstairs."

He got dressed and found his way downstairs to the library where they had sat before. He found Maggie sitting in her nightgown and a chenille robe to protect her from the chill of the night air. She was sitting on the settee with a glass of brandy and she patted the seat beside her.

"Would you like something stronger than brandy? Whiskey, perhaps?"

"No, brandy will do just fine. It was only a nightmare. It's past now. I am truly apologetic for taking up your time. You must be exhausted."

"I can’t seem to make the acquaintance of the sandman tonight. Come now, sit beside me and tell me what caused the nightmare. Why do you feel so guilty, Ezra? You didn't shoot him."

"I … was there, with him, when it happened. I was the one protecting his back and I failed. The perpetrator got between us and I did not take action quickly enough. Mr. Larabee or Mr. Tanner, even Mr. Dunnee, would have kept him safe. They would have seen Rory in time and would have dispatched him before he had a chance to fire his weapon. It IS my fault that your boy is deceased."

"Oh, that's a bunch of hooey! You know that's not true! This Rory person is the only one responsible for my boy's demise. Not you, Ezra."

Ezra smiled and then the tears began to roll down his cheeks. "He liked that word, hooey. He used it a lot on JD. He was a resplendent man, Miss Maggie, like a Greek God. The females of Four Corners were all falling at his feet, he had his choice every night. And he was the best of companions. Very few in my lifetime have made me laugh on a regular basis. However, what I believe he should be remembered for was his magnanimous nature. Oh lord, I'm going to miss him so much."

He hung his head, unashamed of the tears. Maggie cried too. They mourned for him, each in their own misery for several minutes. Finally, Maggie wiped the tears away and took a deep breath.

Maggie sniffed back her tears and then shook her head. "He was always a charmer around the ladies. He had every one of the girls wrapped around his finger when he was growing up. They took it upon themselves to educate him, and I don’t mean with books. By the time he left, I understand that he was quite proficient. I never really approved but what was I to do. It’s what he grew up with, it was natural to him."

Ezra chuckled softly. "Buck likes to talk about his "animal magnetism." He says the women are drawn to it like moths to a flame. He has women asking him for his time. None of the rest of us has that effect on women, I’m afraid."

"Oh, I doubt that, Mr. Standish. I would bet that you and Chris get your fair share. Why don’t you tell me about this woman who stole his heart. What is her name?" Maggie wanted to change the subject and distract the handsome man beside her from his self destructive way of thinking.

"Her name is Inez Recillos. She is from Mexico. The first time Buck saw her, he was hooked. But, of course, he didn’t realize it at the time. She was the one who wouldn't give in and I think that intrigued him at first, but when the intrigue faded, he saw her in a new light. She is the strongest woman I have ever known. She is smart and witty, a great match for your boy. Of course, she is beautiful, very sultry and fiery with long raven hair."

Maggie wanted to know all about this woman who had finally stolen her boy's heart. He had written to her about other women, he even had proposed to one not long ago, but she could tell that his whole heart had not been in that one and she was glad it didn't work out. But a month ago, when he had written to her, he had simply stated that he had fallen in love and that he was working hard at making her his wife. No further explanation was given, not even her name. Maggie knew as soon as she read those words that he was totally sincere about this woman.

Softly she implored, "Tell me more."

Ezra took Maggie's hand in his and took a moment to gather his thoughts. "She came to town about nine months ago. She was running from a man who had tried to rape her in her home village. She came into my saloon seeking employment and she enchanted me immediately. She insisted on being my bartender and soon she was running the place. My mother gave her the job of manager, after buying the establishment out from under me, and Inez is magnificent at her job. When Buck met her, he fell head over heels in lust with her. He could think of nothing else. When the man that she had run from came after her, Buck raced to her rescue and challenged the man to a duel. They ended up fighting a swordfight over her and miraculously, Buck won. She rewarded him with a kiss and it was all over for Buck. But the funny thing is, Inez fell in love with him at the same time. She just was too scared to give him her heart because of his womanizing ways. He's been chasing her ever since that day."

Ezra paused and took a long sip of his brandy. It burned as it went down and he relished the feeling. He sighed heavily. "It is such a shame the two of them never found the right words to garner the trust they needed in one another. I have the feeling that Buck was as apprehensive of falling in love as Inez was. You know, he seemed to understand women better than any man I have ever known. The ones that gave in to him always seemed … shall we say, satisfied. It was most astonishing at times. And yet, he never understood that Inez was petrified of what he could do to her. She has all of us wrapped around her finger, Miss Maggie, but she never gave the rest of us the time of day. She was Buck’s all along, he just never saw it."

"I would really like to meet the woman who could knock Buck's socks off." She leaned back and sipped slowly at her brandy. "I don’t think he has given his heart to anyone before this, except maybe to Sarah Larabee. But she was family, not a romantic attachment. He was so devastated when they died. He was consumed with guilt over their deaths and I don’t think that Chris made it very easy on him. In fact, I gathered that Chris was downright brutal with him at times."

Ezra stood and walked over to stoke the fire. He added a log and then turned back to the enchanting woman before him. "The five of us have witnessed how hard Mr. Larabee can be with Buck, especially when he is heavily partaking of alcohol. Buck seemed elated when the two of them reunited in Four Corners. Mr. Larabee was not quite so joyful. He held himself distant despite the history between the two of them. He even engaged two others of our band when he returned to the scene of the murders. When Buck found out, he was visibly hurt by Chris’s actions. Still, he rode after our leader and stood by him steadfastly. Personally, I do not see what Buck seems to find so binding in Chris Larabee."

Maggie closed her eyes and remembered when she had first seen Buck after being separated from him for so long. Her boy was living with Chris and Sarah and Adam. She had found Chris to be an intriguing man back then. After spending a week with the Larabee clan, she had come to see what Buck found so appealing. Chris was smart, fun-loving, and committed, not only to his wife and child, but to Buck also. He had gladly made a place in his home for his "little" brother, as he called Buck. The two men shared everything, in a way, even Sarah. But the deaths of Sarah and Adam had scrambled both men’s worlds. "They were both different men back then, Ezra. Much more alike than they are now. The murders drove Chris insane with grief and guilt and I’m afraid he took out his frustrations and pain on his best friend." The ex-madam sadly shook her head. "Buck stayed with him as long as he could, protecting his brother from not only the outside world but from himself as well. You see, Ezra, Buck was also overwhelmed with grief and guilt. He told me once that he had promised Sarah on her wedding day that he would watch over her husband when they were away from her. He tried so hard to honor that promise."

"What happened between the two of them to make him break his promise? That doesn’t seem like Buck. He would often declare that Buck Wilmington never quits. We have all seen how protective he is of those he loves. He can be almost suffocating at times with our youngest. I know it must have been hard for Buck to withstand the dark turmoil that Mr. Larabee put him through but he did it for a long time."

Maggie wiped her eyes and nodded at Ezra. "My boy stayed by that man’s side for fourteen months before …" She stopped and drank down the last of her brandy. "Would you refill this, Ezra. I’ll share with you what I know, which I’m sure isn’t the whole story."

Ezra took the glass she held out and poured both of them another glass. He handed it back to her and listened intently as she shared her knowledge with him. When she finished, he felt heart sick for the ladies man that had met such a violent end. He also knew that he had to go back and face whatever trials the others would put him through. Numerous people needed him to be strong for them, and that included Inez, JD, and one gunslinger in black.

"Miss Maggie, I need to return to Four Corners. I need to talk to Mr. Larabee and Inez. Would you care to accompany me? We can take as much time as you want. I think that perhaps the journey would do you some good also. I believe that getting to know the other members of our assemblage and, of course, Miss Recillos, might help you in your bereavement and remembrance of Mr. Wilmington. Would you be agreeable to this proposal, Miss DuBois?"

"I have a commitment tomorrow. Shall we leave the day after tomorrow?" Maggie had been thinking the same thing. She wanted to know all about Buck's life the past three years. She wanted to see his grave and say good bye to the closest family she had ever had in her life.


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