by Purple Lacey

The scenery flashed by at a pace that was amazing to the small boy sitting with his nosed pressed against the window of the railroad car. Seven year old Ezra Standish watched as pastures filled with cattle and horses seemed to fly by as the train raced through the countryside carrying him away from the hell that his life had become and closer to his new future. It took him towards the one that had been missing, the one for whom he had been unconsciously searching for most of his young life. Ezra liked to think he was not so much running away from his stepmother and her plans for him as running to his real family. Excitement and fear wrestled with each other in his young mind as he once more remembered the day preceding his hasty trip and the astonishing secret that had led him to discard his plans to make his way north by stagecoach, and buy the train ticket instead.

The day had started out like any other day. Ezra had awakened as the rays of the mid morning sun made the large suite unbearably hot. Ezra couldn't understand why his stepmother, Maude, had felt the need to drag them both from the comforts of San Francisco to this dusty, one-horse town on the Colorado border in the height of summer, but after the stinging slap she had given him after he had questioned her about it Ezra had decided that it was one of those times when being seen and not heard was to his advantage. He had known he would have resort to other means to find out what she was up to. He had learned early that his best weapon in dealing with Maude was information. If he had some idea of her plans he could make preparations of his own, and occasionally throw a surreptitious monkey wrench in any plans she had that might lead to harm for him

Although to the average person Maude seemed the epitome of ladylike behavior, Ezra had lived with her long enough to know that her gentle, southern belle façade was just superficial veneer. She could make most people think she as a totally helpless, defenseless woman in desperate need of their help, but he had learned the truth about her early in his young life. Maude was quite capable of defending herself when she needed…and in serving out corporal punishment when her stepson displeased her. In the six months since his father had been killed Ezra had become even more familiar with just how sharp her tongue could be and how swiftly her fist could fly.

Nothing he did these days was good enough for the woman, and he always managed to get blamed for every bit of bad luck the two of them ran into. Ezra was smart enough to know that he wasn't to blame and he was being treated unfairly, but knew there was not a lot he could do about the situation since he was only seven years old. His options were limited, very limited in fact. He could run away or he could…run away. As intelligent as he was, he couldn't see any other way to escape the experienced confidence woman without making his own situation worse. There was no way he wanted to wind up in an orphanage.

It had taken two weeks for Ezra to finally reach his decision to run and begin to squirrel away enough money to make his escape. For months, Ezra had been skimming from his poker winnings. Although he was close to reaching his goal, he had not been ready to make his break for freedom. He wanted to leave with enough money to last him for several months knowing he would have to lie low if he wanted to remain hidden from the woman. He knew a poker playing child was sure to bring the kind of unwanted attention that could help her pick up his trail once he left. He was determined to escape her completely and that meant no cards and no means of replenishing his finances should he run low on money. Ezra had believed he had time to increase his grubstake enough to carry him over for several months… until he accidentally overheard what she had planned for him. He shuddered at the memory.

He knew Maude considered him to be expendable. He knew because she constantly reminded him. When she was angry at him she would sometimes smile prettily and tauntingly sing the little ditty that he detested so much.

"E is for Ezra, what a stupid little boy. E is for Expendable, like a broken toy! E is for Ezra, the expendable stupid boy."

He knew if she hadn't found him useful she would have abandoned him right after his father's death. She had drug him to this dusty hellhole of a town now because she had found a use for him in her newest scam. Ezra was supposed to be watching their latest mark. It had been his job for the last two weeks to follow the wealthy banker around and find out his habits… and his secrets. Maude always used him to scope out their victims because he blended in better. Most adults don't pay much attention to the children around them as long as the children did nothing to call attention to themselves. Ezra's late father had taken to calling him a natural chameleon for his ability to fade into the background and remain unnoticed. Ezra knew it was this talent more than anything that gave him any kind of value in Maude's eyes

Ezra had done his job well, and was already quite familiar with the banker's routine, so when the man slipped inside the backdoor of The Red Slipper, he knew the mark would not be leaving the bordello for at least two hours. The hot sun shining on him made him incredibly thirsty and Ezra decided there was no need for him to remain on watch when he knew his quarry would not be setting foot on the street for sometime. He saw no harm in taking himself back to the hotel for a rest and possibly a meal. He could return in plenty of time to continue his assignment.

Ezra knew Maude would not approve of his actions, so he was especially careful to sneak into the hotel. Ezra quietly made his way into his room and had just poured himself a glass of water when he heard Maude's voice coming from beyond the closed door that connected the two rooms. He froze in panic for a moment, frightened that she would throw open the door and berate him for being derelict in the duty she had assigned him. He silently sighed with relief when he heard a male voice speaking. Ezra quickly drank his glass of water and gently placed it back on the table, being extra careful not to let the glass clink when he set it down. He tiptoed to the connecting door and placed his ear against it to listen to the two adults talking.

Ezra began breathing through his mouth like his father had taught him to make sure the sound of his breathing would not betray his presence as he pressed his ear harder against the door and was able to hear the conversation clearly.

"You better not be lying to me woman," the man's voice growled, "He better be everything you say he, or I'll make you wish you'd never heard of me."

"I can assure you, sir, that every word I've spoken is the absolute truth. He will make you a fortune. He has the most innocent face, and emerald green eyes. I assure you your special customers will be quite pleased," Maude purred in response.

"How old did you say he was?" Ezra heard the man ask.

"He's seven, but somewhat small for his age. You might even be able to pass him off as five if you dress him right," Maude assured him.

Ezra felt his stomach clench in fear and he had to swallow against the sudden nausea. They were discussing him! He wasn't sure what they were talking about, but his instincts made him sure that he didn't want anything to do with what Maude and this rough sounding man had in mind for him. Ezra decided it was time to put his plan to run into action. He would have to take the money he had and hope last until Maude stopped looking for him.

Maude's voice caught his attention once again as she said, "I have a picture of him with his father if you'd like to see what you're buying."

Ezra could hear the snort the man gave and then the voice said, "I sure ain't buying no pig in a poke. I ain't that much of a fool."

"Of course," Maude cooed, " I'm sure a businessman of your stature would never…."

"Save it for the paying customers, lady," the man growled. "It don't work on me."

Ezra could hear the rustling sounds of Maude's petticoats as she crossed the room and the scrape of a drawer being opened.

"There, you see," Maude's voice rose in triumph, "exactly as promised."

Ezra stood straining to hear but there was only silence.

"I guess he'll do," the man stated grudgingly.

"I'm sure he'll do very well indeed," Maude assured him. Ezra could imagine the self satisfied smile that he knew she would be wearing.

"Where is he?"

"I sent him on an errand. He should be returning at about seven o'clock this evening. He is getting some information for me. You may have him after he has made his report," Maude stated, her honeyed tone giving way to a more businesslike voice. "I must insist on half the money now, and the rest on delivery."

"Agreed. If you come with me to the bank you'll get your money."

"Nothing would give me more pleasure, I assure you," Maude drawled airily. Ezra heard the footsteps of the two adults as they exited the room and made their way down the hallway to the staircase.

Ezra slowly straightened. He cautiously turned the doorknob and entered Maude's room. If he was going to have to make his escape before he was ready, he would see if he could find any thing in his stepmother's room that might aid him in his bid for freedom. With this one thought in mind, he started carefully rummaging through the dresser drawers and the closet. Ezra felt like he had hit the mother lode when he found the satchel that he knew had a false lid.

Carefully prying up the false top, Ezra stuffed the bundles of bills he found into his jacket pocket, and reached for the jewelry when he stopped. Jewelry was too recognizable. Ezra had learned this lesson at his father's knee. If he tried to sell it, it would be like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for his stepmother to follow. Cash was better since it would be almost untraceable. . Ezra carefully replaced the lid and returned the satchel to its previous resting place.

Ezra continued his search of the room and found no more money, but he did find a wooden box that his stepmother had placed in a drawer in the dresser. She had neglected to lock the box in her haste to collect her money. Ezra recognized the box as one that had belonged to his father. It had disappeared after his father's death, and Maude had claimed not to know what had happened to it. Ezra had never known what was in the box his father had kept locked. It was the curiosity of several years that made him stop in the middle of his travel preparations and grab the now unlocked box.

Afraid that Maude might return and catch in him her room, Ezra hurried back into his own room taking the key from Maude's side of the door and using it to lock the door to his room. Ezra carried the box to his bed and laid it on the blanket then went to his closet and pulled out his carpet bag. Packing his belongings in just a few minutes, and he was about to place the wooden box in on top of the rest when his curiosity got the better of him. He just had to see what was in that box. Just a peak now wouldn't hurt, he told himself. Then he could look to his heart's content later when he was safely away.

Ezra sat on the bed and pulled the box onto his lap, a strange excitement growing in his chest. He opened the lid slowly and felt a little disappointed. He had expected there to be some kind of treasure in the box. Instead there appeared to be only a few photos and some newspaper clippings. The photo of himself and his father was on top and he lifted it out and set it on the bed beside him. His father had commissioned the photograph of the two of them only three months before his death. Edward had given Ezra a copy and kept one for himself. Ezra had taken that picture out many times in the last few months, wishing that his father had not died… had not left him to the mercies of his stepmother. Ezra picked up one of the clippings and found it to be a wedding announcement stating that Clara White of Dry Springs had married one Edward Tanner of Atlanta. Ezra's attention snapped back to the name of the groom. Edward Tanner? That had been one of his father's many aliases, Ezra knew.

Ezra hurriedly pulled out another clipping and read of the return of Edward and Clara Tanner from their honeymoon in San Francisco, and other announcing the birth of twin sons to the Tanner family. Ezra was stunned. Did this mean his father had more children? Twins? He had brothers somewhere in this place called Dry Springs?

Ezra pulled another photograph from the box and stared at it. His father sat beside a blond haired woman with a kind face and laughing eyes, and each held a small child on their lap. Ezra turned the photo over to find it had been inscribed on the back with the words "Edward and Clara Tanner, and the twins, Vincent and Ezra, age 1 year".

Twins! He had a twin brother! He had a twin brother that he'd never even known about. How was that possible he wondered as he stared raptly at the blond haired baby held in his mother's lap? Tears started gathering in his eyes as he suddenly realized that the woman in the picture was HIS mother too!

"Mama," he whispered almost silently and brushed trembling fingers over the woman and boy in the photo. "My brother, Vincent. I have a brother. I have a twin brother. I have a twin brother named Vincent."

Ezra experimented with the sound of the new idea. The more he said it, the more he liked it. Ezra dug through the box with building excitement, stopping to read the newspaper clippings that gave the impression that the Tanners were members of the upper crust of society in the area of Dry Springs. The last item he found in the box was a fat book bound in blue leather. He recognized his father's writing as he opened the book and realized he was holding his father's journal. Ezra had often seen his father with the book but had never been allowed to handle it. His father would always put it away before Ezra could ever catch a glimpse of his father's scribing. Ezra was tempted to settle in for a long read, but knew he would be pressing his luck. Maude could return at any moment and catch him. As much as he hated it, the book would have to wait for a little while. Right now his immediate concern was making his escape before Maude returned.

Ezra had made his plans well. He knew exactly where he had to go and what he had to do…but his discovery had added a new wrinkle to his escape. Suddenly Ezra was confronted with the possibility of having family. Family that might welcome him as the prodigal son. Family that might protect him from his stepmother: if he could find them.

"Dry Springs. All the papers were from Dry Springs. Even if they no longer live in that community, there should be someone who might know of their present residence," Ezra whispered to himself.

Ezra had originally planned to catch the stagecoach to Denver and lose himself there for a while before making his way to San Francisco. Dry Springs might even be a better bet when it came to throwing Maude off the scent because she would never expect him to flee to the tiny town on the edge of the desert. She would assume he would head for the closest large city where he would be able to support himself with his poker playing. So Ezra had impulsively made the decision to seek out his family and ask them for sanctuary.

He had already chosen a likely adult to buy a ticket for him. The town drunk was happy to oblige for the price of a whole bottle of whiskey, and for a second agreed to stand by Ezra at the station to give the impression that he was there to put Ezra on the train. For a third bottle the drunk agreed to keep his mouth shut if questioned. Ezra didn't for one minute believe that man would keep his secret but knew that with three bottles of whiskey at his disposal the man would mostly likely be very drunk or, even better, be passed out by the time Maude discovered he was gone.

Now Ezra was riding the train to Dry Springs to find his family. The train was traveling faster than Ezra had ever gone before, but it still wasn't fast enough for him. With a final glance at the passing scenery, Ezra pulled his father's journal from his carpet bag, sat back, and began to read.


Vin Tanner stopped forking straw into the horse stall long enough to drag his sleeve over his sweating forehead, wishing he could be down at the pond enjoying the cool water instead of sweltering in the close confines of the barn. Hearing heavy footsteps approaching the barn, Vin hurriedly resumed his chore, silently praying his grandfather had not returned from his trip to town drunk.

"Ain't you finished yet, boy?"

The harsh growl of the large gray haired man standing in the doorway of the barn caused the young boy to flinch in dread. He knew what was coming now. He'd lived this scene too many times in his young life.

"You are the laziest, most good-for-nothing baggage that God ever saw fit to put on this earth."

The drunken rage of the old man was almost palpable as he addressed his silent grandson. "I give you a roof over your head, and clothes on your back and what to I get in return? Nothing, that's what I get. Nothing; nothing but trouble and disrespect. I aught to throw you out on your little butt and see how you like being all alone out there. You wouldn't last a day, boy. You'd be crawling back to me begging me to take you in again. That's what you'd do. You'd think you'd show a little gratitude, work hard to earn your keep, but no. You got to be lazy. Always wandering off when I go looking for you. Never doing your chores. You ain't fit to be called my grandson, not after what that low down thievin' pa of yours did to me. You're just like your pa, good for nothing."

The diatribe was interrupted long enough for the man to take a deep swig from the whiskey bottle in his left hand.

"Got to teach you a lesson, alright. Got to beat some manners into you boy, make a man outta ya."

The drunk tossed the empty bottle against the barn wall where it shattered with a crash.

"Now look what you done," he growled as if Vin were the one responsible for breaking the bottle, "Done gone and made a mess. Well I know exactly what to do with you."

Vin tensed as the man unbuckled the large leather belt he wore around his waist and pulled it from the belt loops. His grandfather was drunk enough to be mean but still sober enough to cause him some serious damage. He only hoped the old man had drunk enough to slow his reflexes down so Vin would have a chance to evade the beating he knew was in store for him. If he could just make it to the door he could hide out in the woods until the old man finally drank himself into unconsciousness. Vin knew he was only going to have one chance to get away, and with the patience born of experience he waited for the right moment.

"What? Nothing to say? Well, I'll bet you'll be making plenty of noise in a minute," the old man said with an evil grin as he advanced toward the tense and silent boy.

Vin's grandfather drew his arm back and swung the belt buckle toward Vin's head in a vicious swipe that would have knocked the boy unconscious if Vin had not quickly slipped underneath the man's arm and started running for the door. His grandfather was caught off guard and without the intended target to stop it the belt finished its arc and smacked the man on the back with a meaty thunk.

The roar that followed caused Vin to run even faster as the enraged man turned after him. Vin's prayers were only partially answered as his grandfather was too drunk to want to run after him but still sober enough to swing the belt around and around over his head then let it fly at Vin. The buckle caught Vin painfully in the middle of his back causing him to stumble, but not fall. Catching his balance again, Vin swallowed back the tears the blow had caused and continued his flight for safety. He didn't stop running until he was away from the homestead and hidden in his secret spot.

He had found the small cave one day when he was trying to stay out of his grandfather's way and it had become his sanctuary. He had furnished it as best he could with bits and pieces he had scavenged from the town dump and whatever he could buy with the little money he managed to earn. He had a stool with one leg broken off but he'd found a large rock in the cave that served to replace the broken piece so he didn't have to sit on the ground if it was cold. He had managed to sneak a couple of blankets from the house, and had gathered lots of dried leaves that made a comfortable, if noisy, mattress. The battered tin cup and old frying pan he'd found came in handy when he had to trap and cook his own game. He had a change of clothes neatly folded and left on a short, natural rock shelf, and on a board he'd placed across two rocks he kept his treasures: a few pretty rocks, an eagle feather, a picture of his mother, and the small locket that had belonged to his mother before she had died of the fever two winters ago. The cave wasn't much by most people's standards, but it was his. It kept him warm and dry on those nights when it wasn't safe to stay at home.

Vin picked up his mother's locket and held it lovingly to his cheek. If he closed his eyes he could still see the locket around his mother's neck and smell the familiar scent of her. Vin bent his head and let the tears fall as he thought of the woman, missing the protective presence that had stood between him and the rest of world; between him and his grandfather's rage. Vin carefully pried open the locket to reveal the two locks of hair concealed inside, one blond and one chestnut brown. One was his and the other belonged to his twin brother, Ezra.

Vin had always known he had a twin. His mother never made a secret of what had happened in the past. He knew what had happened, but he didn't know where his brother was. Sometimes at night Vin would lay awake thinking about the brother he couldn't remember. He wondered what he looked like now, what he liked, and disliked. He wondered if Ezra was happy. He hoped Ezra was happy.

It would be nice if one of them was.


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