Knives and Fiddler's Elbows

by Hombre

The seven men sat at their favorite table in the saloon drinking beer quietly. Not much conversation was being made between them and one man was getting thoroughly bored.

Ezra looked around the room sourly at the minimal activity going on and sighed in despair as his eyes alighted on the only card game currently in progress. It was a low-stakes poker game and one that he wouldn't even bother getting out of bed for. He watched the players for a few minutes and shook his head at their lack of expertise. He switched his gaze to two men who were arm-wrestling, and then sighed once more in despair. "We need to liven things up around here," he stated decisively as he sat up straight and thumped his fist on the table to rouse his companion's interest.

Buck leaned back in his chair with beer in hand before turning to face the gambler and asking, "How, pard? You getting itchy feet 'cause there ain't been no good poker games for weeks?"

"I dare say you're right but this place could do with some other forms of entertainment. Some music perhaps and then we could have a dance once a week for the ladies. Mr. Tanner could play his harmonica, Mr. Sanchez his trusty spoons and perhaps I could play the fiddle."

"Good Lord, Ezra! You can't play the fiddle," Nathan laughed as he slapped his knee at the very thought.

"So? Mr. Tanner can't play his damned harmonica either but it doesn't stop him torturing us with his renditions of Camp-town races, does it? I'll wager that I can learn to play the fiddle easily. It only possesses four strings so how difficult could it be? Once I put my mind to something I usually succeed," the con man stated modestly.

"Like you did when you owned the saloon, pard? Seem to think you failed then," Buck retorted ironically with a lop-sided grin on his face.

Ezra fixed the taller man with a haughty look and clicked his tongue in disgust at being reminded of that incident. "That was Mother's fault. She put me out of business, damned she-cat." The gambler put the uncomfortable memory to the back of his mind and steered the conversation back to the present "Anyway, back to my notion. I saw a fiddle for sale in Mrs. Potter's store so perhaps I shall inquire as to its price."

"You buy it and I swear you'll be wearing it before the day's out, Ezra," Buck warned as he slammed his glass of beer down on the table spilling some of its contents.

"I beg your pardon?" Ezra asked indignantly.

"You so much as pluck one string on it and I'll wrap it round yer scrawny neck, you hear me?" Buck ranted as he pointed a threatening finger at the con man. "Fiddlers! Damned gut-aching row they produce from those blasted instruments."

"Not in the hands of a master," Ezra disagreed vehemently with a firm shake of his head. "The poor-departed fiddler from the wagon train produced many a recognizable ditty."

"Granted," Buck conceded. "My promise still stands though, pard. One note and you're history, understand?"

"I haven't even purchased it yet. Anyway, you don't frighten me and you'll be pleased enough to ask the ladies to dance once I've mastered the finer points of fiddling, Mr. Wilmington." Ezra stood up and pulled some money out of his pocket and looked toward the batwing doors thoughtfully.

"Where ya going?" Buck asked suspiciously as he narrowed his eyes.

"To the store," Ezra smiled challengingly as he headed outside.

"Come back here," the tall gunman yelled as he ran after the con man.

The five men who were left behind smiled and waited to see what would happen next. They kept their eyes firmly fixed on the door while continuing to drink their beer. They didn't have long to wait before Buck and Ezra returned, although the mustached peacekeeper was scowling mightily and muttering darkly about murder.

"Didn't ya buy it, then?" JD asked in confusion when he saw that Ezra did not have the fiddle.

"Did I intimate that the fiddle was the purpose of my recent visit to the store?"

"Well..not in so many words. We just assumed," the kid admitted truthfully with a shrug.

"Never assume, my young friend. It can lead you into who knows what pandemonium. If you recall, I just stated that I was going to the store but Mr. Wilmington jumped to conclusions and got his panties in a bunch over nothing." Ezra smiled broadly.

Buck had taken the bait that Ezra had laid out for him and the con man had taken great pleasure in going to the store just to buy a cigar. The gambler pulled the purchased item from his pocket and waved it under Buck's nose temptingly.

"This is what I spent my hard-earned lucre on, if you must know," he informed his friends as he turned to face them.

"Sidewinder, Ez," Buck grumbled.

"Keep insulting me and I will purchase the damned fiddle just to spite you," Ezra warned as he raised an eyebrow to show that he meant what he said.

"You do and I'll find somewhere else on yer body to use the bow. There's quite a few possibilities I can think of," Buck retorted as he looked the gambler up and down speculatively as he stood eye-to-eye with the man. Well, perhaps that should be mustache-to-eyebrows, given the difference in height between the two men.

Ezra squirmed, knowing the types of places that Buck would be considering. "Yes, well, my orchestral idea was just a thought," he said as if he were backing down.

"Chicken," Buck said triumphantly, knowing he'd won.

The other men laughed and split up to go and do their chores now that the entertainment was over. Later in the day they were due to travel to Eagle Bend on a job for Judge Travis and they had many things to do before then.

"I'm gonna go to Bitter Creek to pick up that shipment I've been expectin', Chris. Can't wait no longer for it to come on the stagecoach," Vin said as he caught the black-clad man on the boardwalk.

"Okay. We'll meet you out by the crossroads and go on to Eagle Bend together from there then, cowboy."

+ + + + + + +

The six peacekeepers rode to their meeting place with Vin several hours later. Chris pricked up his ears as he heard horses' hooves and shouting so he spurred his mount onwards to see what was going on. His frown deepened when he heard what sounded like Vin's voice as well. He felt his heart stop for a split second before it began pounding hard in his chest. Chris breasted the rise and saw he was too late to help save his friend from injury.

Vin was indeed involved in the fracas and was on foot being ridden down by five horsemen. The tracker ran for all he was worth, diving from side to side to try and evade them although he knew it was a hopeless task. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the nearest rider was only a few strides away. Much to Vin's horror he noticed the man had his arm raised with a large knife held tightly in his fist. Vin felt the ground vibrate as the horse closed on him and he raised his hand to try and protect himself as he turned sideways to meet the challenge. The knife struck his side as the rider bent low to hit his target and Vin was knocked off his feet by the blow to fall awkwardly on the ground.

"Vin! Nooooo!" Chris yelled as he kicked his mount forward with his five companions following close behind.

The five riders before them fled, but Chris had his sights set only on Vin's body. He pulled his horse to a sliding halt and leapt off its back to run and kneel beside the tracker. He stayed unmoving by the man's side, scared to even touch him.

Nathan arrived on the other side of the tracker as the rest of the peacekeepers set off after Vin's attackers. The healer, meanwhile, peeled Vin's shirt gently away from his skin to allow him to examine the injury properly.

"Vin? Stay still," Nathan instructed quietly.

Chris snapped out of his trance when he realized that Vin was moving feebly. "Thank God," he whispered and almost crossed himself religiously. "How is he?"

"Need to get him back to town. He's in a bad way 'cause the knife went quite deep." The healer delved into his medical bag and pulled out a few supplies that he would need. He lifted Vin's shirt again but the ex-bounty hunter passed out as soon as his tender flesh was touched again. The healer cleaned the wound as best he could and then bound the man's midriff tightly. Nathan felt Vin's brow and pursed his lips before nodding at Chris.

Buck and the others returned at that point from an unsuccessful chase after the gang and the ladies' man dismounted quickly and strode toward the blond.

"Chris? I'll take him, pard. You go get on yer horse and I'll pass him up to you," he offered.

"I'll take him," Chris disagreed loudly.

Buck stepped back a pace with a resigned shake of his head as he sighed at his friend's stubbornness.

Chris bent down and lifted the injured man into his arms, the tracker's head now lolling lifelessly as his unseeing, half-open eyes stared at the sky. Nathan put his hand under Vin's head and moved it so it rested against Chris's shoulder and then the blond walked to his horse with the tall mustached gunman following anxiously behind. Buck took Vin from him while he mounted quickly and the ladies' man then passed the loose-limbed body of the tracker up to him and made sure he was secure in the blond's grasp.

"Thanks, Bucklin," Chris said as he hugged the younger man to his chest. "Sorry for snapping earlier. I wasn't thinking straight and I shoulda taken you up on yer offer."

"That's okay, pard. I know you like seeing to Vin yerself," Buck said as he looked up at his oldest friend with an understanding smile.

"Did ya see where those bastards went?" the blond asked as he thought of the cause of Vin's injury.

"Nah, disappeared in the trees yonder and we didn't venture in after 'em, pard."

"Okay, let's go home. We'll catch up with them another day. Vin needs seeing to so we ain't got time to waste chasing them now."

The men made their way home slowly and Vin was carried up to the clinic on arrival and placed on the bed. Nathan lit a lamp and moved it to the side of the bed so that he could see what he was doing. He then removed the bandages from Vin's body and studied the deep wound once more while he decided on the appropriate treatment.

"Buck? Mix me up some of this, will ya?" the healer asked as he passed over two bottles of herbs.

"Sure, Nate." The ladies' man worked fast and handed over the finished result for use.

Nathan first cleaned and stitched the wound closed. He then soaked some bandages in the herbs and pressed them to the wound as a poultice before binding it all in place securely. He then reached out to feel Vin's brow again before pulling the covers over the injured man's body to keep him warm.

"Nate?" Josiah asked.

"He's weak, feverish and in pain. I've done all I can at the moment but it's a deep wound as I said before. It's clean though which is good so he shouldn't be too feverish," the healer said as he fussed round the injured tracker.

"Who were the men that we chased, do ya reckon?" JD asked.

"Don't know, kid," Chris said as he shook his head while wondering why Vin had been attacked. "Didn't recognize any of them, that's for sure. Come on, we've still got a town to protect so let's leave Vin to get some rest. He can tell us who they were when he wakes up."

Nathan stayed with his patient while the others split up to check the town. Chris wandered along the street and met up with Mary as he headed toward the jail. She'd seen him come from the clinic and hurried toward him anxiously to see what was wrong.

"Is someone sick?"

"Vin's been stabbed. Five men were chasing him out near the crossroads between Bitter Creek and Eagle Bend. Don't know whether they were after the bounty or what 'cause he ain't awake to tell us yet," the black-clad man said as he leaned against the hitching rail and lit a cigar.

The woman frowned and asked interestedly, "Five men? Did one of them ride a paint and one wear a highly- colored poncho?"

Chris stood up straight and frowned as he tilted his head to one side. "Yeah. How did you know?" he asked curiously.

"Had a telegram a couple of hours ago saying the bank at Bitter Creek had been robbed, and those were the descriptions that were given for some of the robbers. So far, each town near here has been targeted by them, except us. I've had several reports of the gang's activities and I was going to run an article on it."

The blond looked thoughtful as he stared across at the bank worriedly. "Maybe they'll hit us next then. Must have a base in the area too, mustn't they? I'll get a watch started on the bank just in case. Can I see the details you've gotten so far? Do they strike when the banks are open or closed?" Chris scowled as many questions popped into his head. "We'd have liked to know about all this earlier, Mary. Don't wanna have to find out through your newspaper. Were ya gonna tell us about what was goin' on?"

Mary answered tartly, "I left a copy of the file on the desk in the jail not long ago. I had only just obtained everything that was available."

Chris looked contrite. "Oh, sorry. I'll look at that then."

"I would've thought that you would already have been contacted by the sheriffs from the affected towns to apprise you of the robberies. It seems there has been a lack of communication and it shouldn't be up to me to tell you these things anyway," Mary said as she smiled sweetly.

"Yeah, you're right," the blond replied quietly, knowing he'd just been told off. He put a finger to his hat brim and walked quickly back to the jail like a dog with its tail between its legs.

When the blond entered the building, he saw Buck was behind the desk, leaning back in the chair with his feet on top of the table, reading some papers with great interest. The ladies' man looked up and sat up properly when he saw who had just entered the room. He waved the file at Chris and tapped the top sheet. "Hey, pard, look at this. These are the bastards that hurt Vin, I reckon."

"Yeah, I know, Bucklin. Mary said she left the details here."

"Reckon they'll come here next?"

"That's what I'm hoping, so I want a constant watch put on the bank starting from now."

"Okay, I'll get to it but it says in here that they usually come at closing time," Buck said as he stood up so that Chris could have the chair.

"Well, they may change tactics if they know we're here, or they may not show at all. I wanna be ready for them though if they do turn up. Find the others and get them to meet me here, will ya?"

Once the peacekeepers had assembled, Chris rose and paced back and forth as he issued his orders. "Buck's gonna watch the bank for the rest of today. Seeing as it's already closed they're unlikely to strike now but from tomorrow I want us all on constant watch. JD? I want you and Buck to watch the front of the bank from street level. Josiah get up the church tower and watch from up there. Ring the bell once if you see any sign of them coming in. Nate, Ezra and I will be spread around town and if Josiah gives the signal we'll follow the gang in from behind. If the gang get in without Josiah seeing them we'll just have to work from scratch." "What do ya want us to do when the gang get to the bank, pard?"

"Let them go inside. I've just been to see the bank manager and he's been told to pass over the money without argument. We need to catch them in the act with the money in their possession to make the charges against them stick but we don't want any innocent civilians hurt. Once the gang are back out on the street we hit them then."

"I really can't leave Vin, Chris," the healer objected. "He ain't well enough."

"Can you find someone else to sit with him? I really need your help, Nate. What about Mary?" Chris suggested.

Nathan could tell Chris wouldn't take no for an answer so he resignedly agreed. "Okay, I'll go and see but I'd really rather be with him myself." He left the jail and walked down the street and saw Nettie Wells coming out of the store. "Even better," he said quietly to himself.

The elderly lady looked up and waved when she saw him approaching and Nathan smiled in return and quickened his pace.

"Mz. Nettie? Are ya staying in town?"

"Yes, I am. For the next few days, as it happens, while the roof at home is being mended. What's wrong?" she asked as she packed her shopping away in her wagon for safekeeping.

"Vin's injured and Chris needs me to help catch the men that hurt him. Can you sit with him tomorrow?" the healer asked.

"Of course, I can. What's wrong with him?" Nettie asked anxiously. Vin was her favorite and she hated it when he was sick or injured.

"He was stabbed."

"Oh my. I'll come early then, so don't fret," she said as she patted the man's arm comfortingly.

"Perfect. I really appreciate yer help, Ma'am," Nathan said gratefully as he kissed her cheek softly in return.

+ + + + + + +

In the late afternoon, the following day, Josiah gave a single toll on the bell as he saw five men approaching from the east.

The peacekeepers stayed in their hiding places and watched the gang enter the bank and emerge minutes later with several bags of money as arranged. Chris stood up after whistling for his men to intervene but the stagecoach thundered down the middle of the street at that precise moment, and it couldn't have been worse timing. The gang had seen the six men rise from their hiding places and realized they were trapped but they managed to get to their horses while the stagecoach passed by, so obscuring them from the peacekeepers' view. They then spurred their horses onward so that they rode off alongside the vehicle for protection. Chris and his men didn't dare fire their weapons when the gang was so close to the innocent civilians in the coach. When the stagecoach finally came to a halt at the hotel the gang urged their animals on out of town at high speed.

"Dammit! After them," Chris yelled, angrily realizing that he'd failed in planning for all eventualities. He'd totally forgotten that the stage had been due in that day.

The six men leapt on their horses and took off after the fast-departing gang. They slowly and steadily overhauled them and one thief was shot from his saddle when he tried to shoot JD. The other gang members realized they were now outnumbered and split up to try and evade capture.

Chris and Nathan caught one mountain-like man between them and a bitter struggle ensued to subdue him. Buck went after one thief who was quickly heading for the trees nearby. JD and Josiah went in the opposite direction to everyone else after their quarry doubled back in the hope of losing them, while Ezra was left alone to go after the remaining man.

The con man leaned low over his saddlehorn and spurred his horse after his quarry. The thief turned round in his saddle and snapped off two quick shots in the gambler's direction, one of which hit Ezra's gun hand and forced him to drop the weapon with a yelp.

"Oh, Good Lord. Only one shot in my derringer to try to halt his escape. Just have to make it count but I need to be much closer than this to achieve my aim." Ezra rode on and finally got within the range of his hidden gun. He activated it into his bleeding hand and aimed carefully before firing. He heard a grunt as the bullet hit its target but the man did not stop.

Ezra cursed and urged his horse on so that he drew alongside the other sweat-slaked animal. He then threw himself at the hard-riding man, knocking him from the saddle. The two men fell to earth and rolled around in the dirt as each man tried to get the better of the other. Ezra punched his opponent and pulled out a set of handcuffs and tried to secure the man's hands together. He got one bracelet on but looked up anxiously when he heard hoof beats heading in his direction. He was relieved to see it was the remainder of the peacekeepers coming toward him with their prisoners and not some errant gang member intent on freeing the man Ezra had caught.

"Let's secure them together and they can walk home," Chris said as he dismounted and began tying his man to Buck's, after pulling the thief roughly from his horse. "JD? See to the spare horses, kid."

Ezra turned back to the man he still held tightly and tried putting the other part of the handcuff on him but the man wriggled incessantly and he couldn't do it. His wounded hand had become slippery with blood and he couldn't get a firm enough grip. Before he could call for help, the man took advantage of the slackened hold and kicked out and knocked Ezra to the ground. Ezra fell and the man kicked the con man in the ribs before running to one of the peacekeepers' horses and mounting it. Ezra rolled back to his feet breathlessly and caught hold of the man's leg awkwardly. The thief kicked the horse onward and Ezra's arm became trapped by his arm holster on the stirrup. The horse leapt forward at the feel of its rider's spurs and the gambler was pulled off his feet and dragged along the ground for a few strides before getting free.

Buck looked up when he heard Ezra yell and he saw the thief trying to escape. The ladies' man shot the ex- prisoner without a second thought and watched in satisfaction as the thief fell to earth and lay still. After seeing Ezra sit up, the ladies' man turned back to help Chris deal with the next prisoner, assuming Ezra would check on the status of the hopefully dead escapee.

Ezra scrambled as far as his knees but that was as near to his feet as he could manage. The other men carried on dealing with the prisoners until Nathan realized Ezra still hadn't joined them. He looked round and saw the gambler curled up on his haunches. The healer headed toward him fast and automatically reached out a hand and touched Ezra's arm, thinking he had been shot.

Ezra screamed at the touch and flinched. "Please...don't...touch," he gasped breathlessly and sobbed. Once he'd regained some air in his lungs he said weakly, "Oh, dear Lord. I think I'm gonna pass out."

"Ezra? Try to stay with me. Where does it hurt?" the healer asked. He knelt down on one knee to the side of the man and kept him upright by leaning Ezra against the inner thigh of his other leg, which was bent and held out at an angle. It wasn't particularly comfortable for the healer but he knew Ezra was in much more pain than he would ever be.

"Arm, hand and ribs."

"Let me see," Nathan ordered as he reached out once more. "Can ya sit up a bit straighter, Ez?"

"Can't," the injured man mumbled weakly.

"Alright, just try and stay still." The healer reached round awkwardly and got hold of Ezra's arm gently from where the gambler had it held to his chest. He eased Ezra's jacket off and then carefully took the gambler's arm holster off. He ran gentle fingers up and down the length of the injured limb and sighed at what he discovered.

Ezra groaned and slumped against Nathan's chest as the healer finished his examination. "Hurts," the gambler muttered.

"Josiah? Need some help over here," Nathan yelled as he looked round to see who was nearest. He nearly toppled over as he had to take Ezra's full weight but after quickly putting a hand to the ground he managed to maintain his balance.

The preacher hurried over and knelt down beside the con man. "What's up, brother Nate?"

"He's dislocated his elbow. Can you hold him tight while I put it back in? I'll have to see to his other hurts after that when he's a bit more mobile, but take care of his ribs. He may have broken some."

Josiah sat down on the ground properly and moved Ezra so that the man was sitting between his legs with his back toward him. He got hold of Ezra firmly round his middle with one arm and pulled him backward so that the man was anchored tightly against the preacher's body. Ezra cried out as he was moved and couldn't help sobbing before finally passing out.

Nathan looked up once more seeking some extra help. "Bucklin?"


"Can you come too?"

"What do ya want me to do?" The ladies' man ran toward them and leaned down.

"Hold the top of his arm steady, will ya?"

Ezra woke as soon as he felt hands on his arm, so Nathan smiled at him sympathetically. "Ez? Try to hold still 'cause this is gonna hurt like hell for a while longer."

Nathan got hold of the lower part of Ezra's arm and began rocking the limb as he tried to slot the joint together. Ezra yelled in pain as the arm was maneuvered back and forth and he felt the bones grinding against one another continuously. Finally though, after what seemed like hours of torture to the con man, it slotted back in and Ezra smiled in relief. The pain gone from his arm in a heart beat, if not from his ribs.

"Just hold still while I check it," Nathan said. He felt for the pulse in Ezra's wrist and scowled when he couldn't feel it. "Dammit."

"Dammit what, Mr. Jackson? I'm not sure I care for your tone," Ezra remarked in trepidation as he held his free hand to his ribs to try and ease the pain there.

"Need to re-do it."

Ezra looked startled and exchanged glances with Buck. "What? Re-do what?"

Nathan looked the gambler in the eyes and said straight out, "Sorry, Ez. Gotta dislocate yer arm again and then put it back in."

"Why? It seems to be where it should be, to my layman's eye," Ezra disagreed as he looked down at his hand before looking up at Nathan again with a frown.

"You ain't got a pulse so somethin' ain't right. Hold him tight, guys."

"Oh, God," Ezra said through gritted teeth.

Nathan somehow managed to get the joint out again but Ezra by this time had succumbed to unconsciousness once again.

"Jeez, best place for ya, Ez," Buck grimaced as he watched proceedings in distress.

Nathan rocked the joint back in slowly and then checked for a pulse again. He found it beating under his finger and he smiled broadly. "That's better."

Josiah let go his hold on the gambler and laid him out flat. Meanwhile, Nathan went to his horse and dug around in his saddlebags and came back with some bandages just as the gambler woke again. The healer sat down beside the stirring man and began treating Ezra's other injuries ready for the journey home.

"Hey, Ez. Let me see to yer hand and ribs and then I just need to bandage yer arm up and put it in a sling for a while or it could pop out again," the man explained.

"Oh joy. You sure know how to cheer a body up, don't you?" Ezra said as he lay still and watched Nathan dealing with his injuries.

+ + + + + + +

Back in town, Vin woke and saw his elderly female friend sitting beside him. He frowned and rubbed a hand over his face to wake himself up. "Nettie? What ya doin' here?"

"Well, someone had to keep an eye on you while the others find the men who hurt you. How ya feelin', son?"

"Hurts," Vin said quietly as he rubbed a hand over his wound and immediately regretted it.

She smiled sympathetically as she ran her fingers softly through his hair. "I'm sure it does, honey. Mr. Jackson left one of his delightful potions for you to drink if you admitted to being in pain."

"Aw hell, that'll teach me for being truthful. Tip it out the window and tell him I drank it, will ya?"

"I certainly will not. He's trying to help you get better, young man, and the least you can do is follow his advice. I know it usually tastes diabolical but our healer knows his onions when it comes to the medicinal properties of herbs," Nettie said as she poured a mug of herbal drink and helped Vin sit up.

Vin frowned as he realized Nettie wasn't going to be the pushover he'd hoped she'd be and he knew that he'd met his match. "Jeez, Nettie. I don't need a sermon. Just give me the damned drink 'cause if it'll shut you up it's worth the agony."

Nettie grinned slyly. She'd achieved her aim of annoying Vin so much that he'd do as he was told. She helped the tracker drink from the mug and laughed as he screwed his face up in distaste and coughed.

"Nettie," he complained when he saw her grinning broadly.

She ran her fingers over his cheek as she smiled. "Go to sleep or I'll give you another dose."

"I surrender. No more, please. Yer worse than Nathan," Vin grumbled before closing his eyes.

The elderly lady's smile widened as she patted his hand before clasping hold of it tightly. The man squeezed it in reply, taking comfort from the woman's presence. He was very fond of Nettie and she had become like a surrogate mother to him. Vin continued holding her hand as he lay still and waited for the herbal drink to do its work, but he couldn't settle and opened his eyes again with a sigh.

"Vin, honey? What's wrong?"

"Nate's drink ain't working. I can't sleep."

"Try, son, 'cause you need to get yer strength back." Nettie began stroking Vin's hair gently as she spoke and the man closed his eyes again.

"That's nice, Nettie. Real nice," he mumbled wearily. The touch was soothing and certainly had the desire effect because after a few minutes Vin was fast asleep.

+ + + + + + +

The other men arrived back in town and while the rest took their prisoners along to the jail, Nathan escorted Ezra to the clinic.

"Hey, Nettie. How's Vin been?" he asked quietly as he flicked a quick look at the slumbering tracker.

"Ornery as hell but that's Vin for ya, ain't it? Tried to make me tip yer drink out the window."

"That'd be right," Nathan laughed. "Can't be much wrong with the boy if he's up to his usual tricks, can there?"

"What happened to you, Fancy pants?" Nettie asked as she transferred her gaze to Nathan's companion.

"Some buffoon dislocated my elbow and then Mr. Jackson dislocated it again when he didn't put it back in properly the first time," Ezra replied as he gasped in pain.

"Double ouch," Nettie said as she winced in sympathy.


"Come on, Ez. Let's check you out," Nathan said as he sat the man down on a chair. He redid the bandages on the man's broken ribs and cleaned and stitched his hand. He then checked the elbow joint and put the injured limb back into its sling so it had some support. "Okay, yer arm may swell a bit but don't worry 'cause that's perfectly normal, Ez. Now, if you drink this for the pain in yer ribs you can go to yer room."

"Oh, Good Lord. Must I consume that devil's brew?" Ezra asked as he eyed the mug in disgust.

"What is the matter with you boys?" Nettie scolded. "Do as yer told! Yer as bad as Vin."

Ezra looked at Nettie in surprise and drank the liquid down in one go. "Torturer," he muttered to Nathan before leaving the clinic as quickly as possible.

Chris passed the con man on the stairs on his way up to see how Vin was faring. He was glad to find the tracker now awake, having been woken by Nettie and Nathan's voices.

The blond sat beside his friend and said, "Hey, cowboy. Got those bank-robbing bastards who stabbed ya."

"How did you know what happened?" the tracker asked in confusion.

"Mary had a telegram from Bitter Creek to say there'd been a robbery at the bank and it gave the descriptions of two of the robbers. We matched them to the men that we saw attack you but we couldn't catch them at that time. Anyway, they came here to rob the bank today and after a bit of a chase we caught them all. How did you get involved with them in the first place, Vin?"

Vin sighed as he thought back on events. "I was in the bank at Bitter Creek when they came in and I went after them, which probably wasn't the best option seeing as I was alone. Anyway, I kinda borrowed someone's horse to follow them but they shot it out from under me and then tried to kill me."

Chris adjusted to blankets covering his friend as he smiled sympathetically. "How ya feeling? You look better than when I brought you back to town yesterday."

"I'm okay. Bit stiff and achy but that's all," the tracker admitted with a soft groan. "What about you? Was anyone hurt when you went after the gang?"

"Only Ez," Chris said as he held a mug of water against the injured man's lips. He knew Vin was only telling half the truth when it came to the effects of his injuries. The man was always less than honest in that respect, but could always be counted on never to lie about anything else.

Vin looked around as he sipped the water but frowned when he couldn't see the gambler. He transferred his gaze back to Chris questioningly and raised his eyebrows.

Chris shook his head as he brushed the hair from Vin's brow gently. "He's in his own room, although he's only just left, so you musta been asleep while he was here."

"Is he okay?"

Chris grimaced and said, "He was shot in the hand and dislocated his elbow."

"Won't be playing the fiddle anytime soon then. There's a relief," Vin grinned.

Chris couldn't help but laugh.

The End