by Sue Hixon
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters. "The Magnificent Seven" belong to MGM and Trilogy Entertainment.
Thanks: To my beta, Debra M for all her help, your one in a million Deb.
"I believe I have a full house, gentleman," the gambler and resident peacekeeper stated as he laid his cards down on the table. His opponents groaned and threw down their cards in disgust.
"Well that's it! You've taken every last cent I have," the young cowboy bitterly said pushing his chair away from the table. He slapped his hat on his head and started to walk away.
"I guess I was fortunate enough to have lady luck on my side tonight," Ezra replied calmly, sweeping the money into his hat while watching the young cowhand out of the corner of his eye. Instinct told him that this one could be a problem.
The cowhand swung around and faced Ezra, one hand on his gun. "That's crap and you know it! More likely you cheated ".
Ezra stopped shuffling the deck of cards, put them down and stood up facing the young hand. He should have known better than to play with a young hot head like him. He placed his hand on the butt of his gun and looked the cowhand in the eye. He could see the fear that sprang up in the youngster's face and hoped that he would not force him to draw his weapon.
Chris Larabee stepped through the batwing doors at that moment and immediately sized up the situation.
"Everything okay here Ezra," he asked approaching the table confidently.
"Certainly Mr Larabee. The young gentleman was just leaving," Ezra replied his eyes never leaving the cowhand's face.
The hand looked from Ezra to Chris and back again with growing dread. He knew he wasn't good enough to take on the gambler let alone the seasoned gunslinger. His father had always told him his big mouth would get him into trouble one day. And he was sharp enough to know he should just swallow his pride and leave. If he were killed, Callie would be left on her own. The last thing his father told him was to take good care of his sister and he promised he would. He wasn't about to break his word to his father.
"Come on Callie! Lets get out of here," Pete ordered, his eyes not leaving Ezra's face as he backed up.
He moved his hand slowly away from his gun and slipped out the batwing doors and headed for his horse. He threw himself aboard and slammed his heels into it's flanks and galloped out of town not looking back to see if Callie had followed him.
"One of these days your going to get shot Ezra," Chris said looking at Ezra.
"I don't think that is any of your concern, Mr Larabee," Ezra replied.
"It is when I have to get Nathan to patch you up and then ask everyone else to cover your patrol shifts until you're well again," Chris growled and walked towards the bar.
"Well its a good thing I don't plan on getting shot then," Ezra quipped softly with a grin and sat down again. Automatically, he picked up the deck of cards and started shuffling them. He glanced around , no body else was still at the table except for the young girl named Callie the cow hand had come in with. The young girl sat still watching him with disapproval.
"Your brother always take it so personally when he looses?" Ezra asked her. He had noticed the similarities in their faces and assumed they were brother and sister.
"Only when he gets cheated out of his money. Why did you have to go and take all of Pete's money?" Callie demanded.
"Your brother asked me for the game," Ezra reminded her.
The girl had no answer for that so she shoved her chair back and stomped out of the saloon.
Ezra watched the girl go and resumed shuffling the cards.
Chris sauntered back over and sat down with Ezra.
"Who's the girl?" he asked.
"The boy's sister I think," Ezra replied.
"Are they trouble?"
Ezra cocked his head as he considered. "I doubt it," he replied.
Outside Callie mounted her horse and took off after Pete. She had tried to talk him out of gambling their money but he had done so anyway. Callie couldn't help feeling a little angry with her brother. He and their father had been laid off at the Rocking R ranch and their father had gone to look for work leaving them with the small amount of severance pay Pete had got to live on. He was going to send for them both when he found a new job. He had sent a wire every week and then none had arrived for the last six weeks. They had set off to look for him and had only found places where he had asked for work and saloons where he had been drinking. No one knew where he had been heading or knew what had happened to him. Pete had the bright idea to try gambling, convinced he could make more money so that they could continue searching for their father. However, Pete's plan had failed and now they had nothing.
+ + + + + + +
Callie rode up to where they were camped beside the waterhole, dismounted and unsaddled her horse. Pete was crouched near the campfire feeding small branches into it.
"I'm sorry sis. I didn't mean to loose our money," Pete said disappointedly. He took his responsibility for Callie seriously and was angry and guilty he had let her down.
"Forget it Pete. Lets just cook some dinner and get some sleep," Callie replied with a sigh. Yelling at Pete would not get their money back, she rolled out her bedroll and sat down, and removed her boots and hat. Tomorrow she would go back to town and ask around. Hopefully someone will have seen their father.
Callie and Pete where closer than most brothers and sisters, they were only 2 years apart in age but Pete had taken care of her since their mother had died. Their father had been so saddened by the death of his wife that he had taken to drinking more and more. The only times Callie could recall seeing him sober was when he was working, and he had only worked enough hours to keep from getting fired. Pete had stepped in and taken over raising Callie even though he was still a child himself. Pete worked long hours on the range with the other cowhands and then returned to the cabin each night to cook a meal for Callie and take care of anything else that needed doing. Pete had also seen to it that Callie had continued to go to school and then when she came home in the afternoons that she learned how to cook and sew from the rancher's wife.
Callie rolled over onto her stomach and silently prayed that they would soon find their father. He was the only family they had and despite his problems she knew he wouldn't have left them alone indefinitely unless something had happened.
Early the next morning, Callie rose with the morning sun and walked down to the pond to bathe while the coffee brewed. She was half way through her bath when she heard a twig snap on the far bank. Callie covered herself with her arms and inched towards the bank where her clothes and gun were.
"Who's there?" she called. "Is that you Pete?"
"No it's not Pete," a voice answered. "I didn't mean to scare you"
Callie looked over at the far side and saw a girl step out from behind a tree leading a horse.
"Who are you and what do you want?" Callie asked. She was relieved it was a girl and not a strange man who had interrupted her bath. She had quickly sized up the strange girl and decided she was not much older than herself and was unarmed. She relaxed slightly.
"My name is Casey and I live near here, I just came down to do some fishing." Casey replied looking interested in the new arrival. Not receiving any reply she added, "I'm sorry for disturbing you, I can leave if you want?"
"No its okay you can stay, it's been awhile since I have had another girl to talk to," Callie said with a smile. "Our camp is not far," she added. "Would you like some coffee?"
"Sure, thanks ," Casey answered returning Callie's smile. She mounted her horse and urged him foward and into the water, and then dismounted when she reached the other side. Callie had left the water and dressed while Casey crossed the waterhole. Callie collected her dirty clothes and turned to face Casey offering her hand.
"My name's Callie."
"Nice to meet you, Callie," Casey replied and shook her hand.
"Come on! Coffee's this way," Callie said pleasantly and headed back towards the camp. Pete was awake when they walked into the camp and cooking bacon in the frying pan, he had even made biscuits.
"Smells great Pete," Callie said with a smile.
"I thought it might make up for last night," Pete replied sheepishly. "Who's your friend?" he asked gesturing towards Casey.
"This is Casey. She lives near here and was going to do some fishing down at the water hole when I met her. Casey this is my brother, Pete," Callie replied, making the introductions.
"Hi Pete," Casey said shyly.
"Hi," Pete answered back.
"Casey is going to join us for breakfast." Callie told Pete.
"Sure," Pete nodded as he returned to preparing breakfast.
"Just coffee will do," Casey said. "I already ate this morning."
"Are you sure?" Callie asked.
"Yeah, just coffee is fine." Casey replied retrieving her tin cup from her saddle bag.
"So are you stayin' here for a while or just passin' through?" Casey asked curiously, she had noticed the pair in town yesterday and wondered who they were.
"We are just looking for our Pa," Pete answered. "He disappeared near here about six weeks ago and we haven't heard from him so we decided to look for him."
"I might be able to help," Casey replied eagerly. "I have a friend who is one of the peacekeepers in these parts I can ask him if he has seen him."
"That would be great except we don't have no money to pay someone to help us," Callie said sadly.
"Oh JD wouldn't ask for money, he and his friends are always helpin' people so I am sure they will help you," Casey replied. "We can ride into town as soon as you eat if you like."
Callie looked over at Pete and shot him a pleading look. Pete looked back at Callie and nodded his head.
"Sure, we would be grateful for the help," Callie said.
+ + + + + + +
One hour later the trio rode into town and tied their horses outside the saloon.
"JD will probably be inside with the others," Casey informed them as they headed into the saloon. Callie crossed her fingers and followed Casey. Callie's steps faulted a little when she saw Casey walking towards a table in the corner. At that table sat the gambler who had fleeced Pete of his money the night before. Callie watched as Casey spoke to a young man who sat at the table, she guess that this was JD, Casey's friend.
"Hi JD, Ezra, Chris, Vin." Casey said looking at each in turn. "I was wondering if you guys would help a couple of friends of mine."
"What with?" JD asked eyeing up the young people in question.
"Well they're looking for their father. He disappeared near here about six weeks ago," Casey replied.
Chris looked past Casey at Callie and Pete and then glanced over at Ezra. Ezra had recognized the pair too and he paused shuffling cards to glance at them.
"We'll help if we can," Chris said. "Tell me all you know about your father disappearance."
Casey looked at Callie and smiled happily. "See I told ya they would help."
Callie gave Casey a small smile in return and sat down at the table as far away from the gambler as she could. "Our father was last seen at a ranch near here called the Burning T. They said he asked about work and when he was told there was none he left and they didn't know where he was headed. We haven't found any trace of him since he left that ranch," Callie explained. Pete sat down beside Callie and put his arm around her shoulder protectively.
Chris fiddled with his glass. "What does your father look like?" he asked finally.
"Pa was about Pete's height with dark hair, he has blue eyes and he is missing the top of his thumb on his left hand," Callie replied.
Ezra glanced up at Chris. Almost immediately Vin and Chris shared a look. They both recognized the description as well. An awkward silence fell and then Chris gestured for Ezra to tell the young siblings what they knew.
"You said he is missing the top of his thumb?" Ezra asked.
"Yes," Callie said with hope in her voice.
"I saw your father," Ezra said quietly.
Pete stood up so suddenly he knocked his chair over.
"I suppose you cheated him out of his money too," he said angrily.
"No actually I never played cards with your father," Ezra answered a touch of anger in his voice. "I just shared a bottle of whiskey with him. I paid."
Pete's eyes narrowed as he glared at the gambler in disbelief. Callie tugged on his clothes urgently and after glancing sideways at her pleading face, he looked a little chagrined. Picking up his chair he sat down again.
"Sorry." He muttered. Then more audibly he provoked. "I thought since you cheated me that maybe you cheated Pa too."
"I don't like being accused of cheating." Ezra threatened with a dark look.
This time he got a sharp elbow in his ribs from his sister and pursing his lips he apologized again.
"So what happened to our father after you drank with him," Callie asked trying to steer the conversation back to their father. She wasn't about to let Pete cause anymore trouble.
"He left the saloon," Ezra replied. "I never saw him again that night," Ezra added dropping his gaze briefly. Callie looked anxiously from one peacekeeper to the other. Only the dark-clad man and the one in buckskins held her look. An icy fear began to coil in her stomach.
"He was found dead in the saloon alleyway the next morning," Ezra continued softly.
Callie felt tears start to prickle her eyes.
"What happened? Was he murdered?" Callie asked unable to stop the tears rolling down her cheeks.
"He wasn't murdered," Chris answered firmly.
"We have a healer who resides in town. It was his opinion that your father went to sleep off his drinking and never woke up," Ezra added gently.
Callie began shaking her head in denial.
"We can send for him if you have further questions," Ezra offered.
Callie let out a muffled "no" before she turned to her stunned brother and began sobbing into his chest. Pete pulled Callie into his arms and held her while she cried.
"What happened to our fathers body?" Pete asked, he suddenly felt like he had a rock in his throat.
"He was buried in the cemetery beside the church," Ezra said quietly. "We put a marker on the grave but he never mentioned having any family so we assumed he was alone."
"I could show you where the cemetery is," Casey offered, speaking up carefully. She had watched the conversation unfold with a mixture of sympathy and resolve. It was a harsh land and unfair things happened to good people.
Pete nodded and pulled his sister to her feet. They walked with Casey to the edge of town and into the small cemetery beside the church. She led them to a grave to the right of the gate.
"This is it," she said. "We can have your father's name put on the cross if you'd like?"
"I can do it, " Pete replied determinedly.
Callie knelt down beside the grave and started crying all over again. Casey stepped back and walked away to give to two some time to themselves. Pete took a small knife out of his pocket and carved their father's name into the cross on the grave. Charles Peter Mills. When he was done he sat beside Callie and held her again.
"I can't believe he is gone," she wept.
"Me either," said Pete, that lump returning to his throat. "But it's ok Callie. I'll look after you. We'll be alright," he promised.
+ + + + + + +
They remained at the gravesite a little longer before returning to where they left their horses. Casey was waiting for them.
"I am sorry about your Pa," Casey said and hugged Callie.
"Thank you," Callie replied, wiping the dampness from her face.
"What are you going to do now?" Casey asked.
Callie shrugged her shoulders. "We'll have to find work I suppose. We have no money and our supplies won't last much longer."
Ezra had been sitting on a chair outside the saloon and heard what Callie said. He felt a little guilty about taking the boy's money the night before but he never let emotions interfere with winning. However, he did regret allowing the boy to play in the first place. Ezra took his money roll out of his boot and counted off the amount the boy had lost the night before. He stood up and walked over to Pete. After a quick glance around to make sure no one was looking he held out the money.
"I thought under the circumstances I would return your money," he offered.
Pete stared at the money Ezra was holding out.
"I can't take it," he said proudly. "Even though I still think you cheated, I won't take money for nothing. I earn my keep."
Ezra withdrew his hand slightly and looked Pete in the eye. "Well then I can arrange for you to do some work around the saloon if that would satisfy your principles," Ezra answered. "Mrs Potter over at the dry goods store may even be able to find your sister some work," he added.
Pete thought about the gambler's offer and after sharing a look with his sister, nodded his head. "That's fine with me, when do you want me to start?"
"Tomorrow will be suitable. There are several empty rooms above the saloon you and your sister are welcome to make use of them," Ezra replied.
"Thanks but we will pay for using the rooms and then find a place of our own as soon as we are able to," Pete stated firmly, holding out his hand for Ezra to shake.
Ezra smiled and shook Pete's hand. "Agreed. Here is a small advance on your wages to pay for meals and stabling your horses up at the livery," Ezra replied, holding out the money to Pete.
Pete hesitated for a second then reached out and took the money. "Thanks," Pete whispered and put the money in his pocket. The siblings untied their horses and walked down the street to the livery.
Ezra turned to walk away and was stopped short by Casey standing in his way.
"That sure was a nice thing you did Ezra," she told him with a secretive look.
Ezra gave Casey one of his dimpled smiles, "It was nothing of the sort Miss Wells, just a good business deal. The young man needs work and Inez has been requesting some additional help for some time now."
"Yeah right Ezra," Casey replied with a grin.
Ezra offered his arm to Casey and smiled when she accepted his arm with a small giggle.
"Of course you will keep this to yourself, Miss Wells. After all, I do have a reputation to uphold," Ezra said winking at Casey.
Casey smiled broadly. "Don't worry Ezra your secret is safe with me."
"Thank you Miss Wells," Ezra replied. "Now shall we go and talk to Mrs Potter about some work for your young ladyfriend?"
"Sure," Casey replied . Casey was happy that they could help out Callie and Pete . Deep down Ezra was a good man, but for some strange reason he just didn't want anyone to know that. Figuring out the well dressed gambler was a lengthy pastime so shrugging she pushed the thoughts away.
"Think you could buy me peppermint stick?" she asked boldly.
Ezra gave her a crooked smile. "Why, it would be my pleasure, Miss Wells," the gambler replied formally.
Comments to: email@example.com