Jubal Sanchez

by Angie

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The three horses rode into Jack’s Fork and Chris carefully studied the town. It was laid out along the same lines as Four Corners and he knew exactly where the strengths and weaknesses would be. He swung down out of the saddle and approached the saloon. Diego immediately moved to intercept him.

“What do you think you’re doing? You have a job to do!”

“I’m checking to see what kind of resistance we can expect to meet. Stay right here for a minute.”

To his surprise, the Mexican and the Negro remained standing beside their horses as he entered the saloon. The place was nearly deserted. A handful of tired-looking cowhands and a couple of older saloon girls sat around the tables passing the time. Chris walked to the bar, slapped down a coin and ordered a drink. Tossing back the shot of whiskey, he nodded to the bar-keep and walked out. Standing on the boardwalk, he studied the buildings and the location of the bank.

“Here’s what you’re going to do. Send Joby out behind the hotel and have him start a fire. Nothing huge, just a distraction. You go over to the corral and spook the horses. In the confusion, I’ll slip in and rob the bank. We’ll meet at the far end of the street in about twenty minutes.”

Diego considered the man. It was a fair plan but it put the man out of sight for several minutes. Paulo and Mr. Lancaster had said to let him do the robbery himself so that he would be wanted. Finally, he nodded and gestured Joby toward the hotel.

As soon as the bell began to ring for the fire, the horses began to neigh and race around in the corral. Chris slipped into the bank and pulled his gun. The young bank teller was owl eyed with fear as he opened the safe and shoved all the money into a bag. He trembled and begged for his life as he handed the bag to the man in black. Chris tied his hands and gagged him before slipping out the door. He stopped a young man who was running up the street.

“What happened? Where is everybody going?” He held the boy by the arm as he questioned him.

“There’s a fire, mister. The hotels burning! We could use another pair of hands.”

“You run ahead, I’ll get my friends and bring them with me,” he said as he released the boy.

All three horses were waiting at the end of town when he stepped out of the alley between the buildings. Chris handed off the moneybag and mounted his horse. Joby rushed up from the other direction and the three men rode off.

Paulo approached the tree and looked down on the longhaired man. He pulled his knife and cut the rope that bound him to the tree and pulled him to his feet by the wrists. He never saw the blow that rendered him unconscious.

Pulling the rope from around the tree, Vin quickly bound Paulo and dragged him into the trees. Using the knife, he freed his own hands before binding the Mexican man’s feet and gagging him with his own handkerchief. Taking the pistol, he crept out to where he could see the fire where the other two men were packing up to leave.

Mr. Lancaster glanced over to the tree where the other prisoner had been tied. He looked around the camp for a moment before calling to Tomas.

“Go see where Paulo went with the other guy. I promised the blonde that I wouldn’t let him get hurt if he did the job.”

The Negro trotted off obediently. He headed for the trees and began to call for Paulo. Getting no answer, he headed for the hole the blonde man had been made to dig. Vin took off at a run and landed on the back of the big man with a length of rope between his hands. As he choked Tomas, he felt a moment of guilt. The man was only doing as he was told. He had probably been conditioned from birth to be obedient. As the man fell to his knees, Vin eased up on the rope. It was a mistake he would regret.

Buck’s attention was drawn to the bed by a sudden indrawn breath. A slight groan was followed by the healer tossing his head as if to shake off sleep. His hand automatically moved to the source of the pain he was feeling and was intercepted.

“Now don’t go reaching for that. Mary and I had a hard enough time putting you back together after you dropped off to sleep. You’ve been tossing and fretting with fever all night. How do you feel, Nathan?”

“Hurts, Buck! Any laudanum left in that bottle?” Nathan asked in a whisper.

“Yeah, but let’s get you some water to wet your whistle before you choke on that medicine.” Buck eased Nathan’s head up and gave him a sip of water. When Nathan pulled back from the cup, he went to get the pain medicine.

The door opened and JD shuffled into the room. The boy looked like ten miles of rough road as he collapsed into a chair. There were dark circles under his eyes making him look like a raccoon. He rested his head against the wall without even looking toward the healer.

“How’s he doing?”

“I’ve been better, JD,” Nathan said softly.

The young sheriff exploded out of the chair and caught himself immediately.

“It sure is good to hear your voice, Nathan. You really had me worried for a while there.”

“Now you know how I feel when one of you gets shot,” he answered with a slight smile. The medicine was taking the edge off of the pain and he could breathe without gasping. Buck moved the chair closer to the bed and began to explain their long, long night. He had barely finished before the healer dropped off to sleep.

Judge Travis observed Hannah from a distance as Giles had done. Josiah spoke to her and tried to get a response out of her only to have his sister shake her head at him and mumble something he couldn’t understand. The judge also observed Jubal with his daughter. He was quick to note the way the woman shied from his touch and cringed at his voice.

After lunch, Travis met with the sisters who had been responsible for Hannah. Their stories were all the same. The woman was touched in the head and was best left alone. They made sure she ate and bathed and was in bed at night but she never spoke directly to any of them. She never showed any preference for one over another. He told the men that he would meet with them the next day to hear the arguments and make a decision.

As soon as Vin eased up on the rope, Tomas reached back and took hold of him. The bigger man slammed the tracker into the ground as if he were little more than a rag doll. When he tried to draw his breath, Tomas slammed his sledgehammer fists into Vin’s chest. He tried to roll away got kicked in the back as he moved. Pulling the knife from his belt, Vin launched himself at the man with a savage yell.

Lancaster came to his feet and drew his gun. He heard the yell and looked around. Without all of his muscle men to back him up, he wasn’t as brave as he wanted to be. He ran, crouched over, as he looked for Paulo and Tomas. As he crested the slight rise, he saw the longhaired prisoner struggling with Tomas. He aimed the pistol and pulled the trigger. Vin, noticing the movement out of the corner of his eye, jumped toward the large man. The bullet struck Tomas in the back and he dropped to his knees, his face registering shock. Vin pulled the pistol from his own belt and fired back, striking Lancaster in the chest.

Diego and Joby were happy. They had ridden into Jack’s Fork and robbed the bank and got away without firing a single shot. Diego glanced back every so often to make sure that the blonde man was still following them. When they rounded the slight bend in the road that led to the camp, they stopped.

Paulo and Mr. Lancaster were seated near the fire but Tomas was not in sight. They settled down and rode into the camp. Chris caught sight of Vin moving along the tree line and knew that the game was over. He pulled his pistol and dropped back from the other two.

Diego and Joby dismounted and called out to the men at the camp. When they got no answers, they looked back at Chris. Seeing him holding his pistol, Diego laughed.

“You have no bullets in that gun! What are you trying to pull?”

As Diego tried to draw his own gun, Chris shot him. Joby started toward the man on the horse and was shot by both Chris and Vin. He fell forward slowly, gaining momentum as he fell until he lay face down on the sand. The tracker jogged out slowly and kept his gun trained on the downed man.

“Looks like you didn’t need my help after all, cowboy,” Vin said, smiling.

Every time Nathan opened his eyes, someone plied him with broth and water. JD seemed to delight in offering him the herbal tea that the healer had so often forced on them. Mary Travis took a special interest in his health since she had taken so active a role in saving his life. The blonde woman was at his side several times throughout the day. It was Mary who told him of the devotion the other two men had taken to tending to him while maintaining a presence in the town.

As the sun crossed the top of its zenith and started toward the horizon, Nathan convinced Buck to let him sit up for a few minutes. He wanted to look at the wound for himself. Pulling the bandage away, he laughed at the line of neat, tiny stitches that closed his skin. Buck grinned idiotically.

“I tried to tell her that you never put them that close together but she figured that since she had cut into your gut, she would put in as many as she wanted.”

Preston Giles sat on the bench outside of the mission, smoking a cigar. Ezra slipped out and sat next to him. The two men had known each other for several years. They had bumped into each other on gambling boats and gaming halls all over the Midwest. They had run a few cons together and had been run out of a couple of towns together.

“So, you want to let me in on what this is all about? I mean, I don’t have to know, but I would feel better taking your money if I had a clue.”

“Mr. Sanchez is a friend. It is to my advantage to help him maintain his sister in this place. He is one of the men that share the responsibility of guarding the town of Four Corners.”

“I heard a rumor that you had taken up an honest job but I didn’t believe it. So, what’s it like? Having a real paying job?” Preston asked, trying to hide the incredulity in his voice.

“It is most satisfying, Mr. Giles. I have a regular income, my room and board are paid for and I am free to pursue card games at my leisure as long as it doesn’t interfere with my assigned duties. I work with a diverse and interesting group of men who not only trust me to watch their backs but also have my back.”

“Must be nice for you. How is your mother taking it?”

A bitter snort burst forth. “My dear mother is mortified that I have fallen in with such a band of misfits and is beside herself with worry for my health and wealth.”

Hannah seemed to sense that something big was coming. She was agitated to the point that no one could do anything with her. She paced inside of her small room, mumbling to herself and crying out unintelligibly at everyone who came near. When she finally succumbed to sleep, one of the sisters went to tend to her. When the woman came out of the room, she was concerned.

“She has a fever. The cuts on her hands are infected. I will send for Sister Anne, she has had some training in the healing arts. I will also send the Mother Superior.”

The knot of men standing in the narrow hall became tense. Josiah wanted to go to Hannah’s side but he knew that if he did, he would also have to allow Jubal to go in to her. Ezra finally slipped past the men and went into the small, damp room. The woman lay on the bed mumbling even in her sleep. He carefully lifted her hand and looked at the cuts on her palm. They were red and warm to the touch. Sister Anne arrived and Ezra left the room.

The two men decided to bury the bodies rather than take them back to see if there were bounties on them. Tying Paulo to his horse, they headed back to Jack’s Fork to return the money and send a wire to let the others know that they were all right. When they rode into town, Chris went directly to the bank and returned the money. As he turned around, he found himself staring into the barrel of a gun.

He allowed the sheriff to take him to the jail so he could explain in a leisurely fashion. Vin followed with Paulo to offer his explanation along with Chris’s. It took him most of an hour to explain and to go thru the wanted posters to find Lancaster and the Mexicans. After summoning a posse, the sheriff escorted Vin back to the site where they had buried the bodies while Chris and Paulo waited in the jail.

After Vin and the sheriff returned from the camp, Chris was released and they took a room in the hotel for the night. Both men collapsed into bed and slipped into a deep, healing sleep.

By morning, Hannah was thrashing in her bed. The cuts on her hand were badly infected and she had red lines snaking up her arm. Sister Anne spent the night with Hannah, applying poultices to the cuts and trying to draw out the poison.

Ezra, the judge and Preston had all gone to bed around midnight, leaving Josiah and Jubal outside of Hannah’s room. The three men sat together the next morning over breakfast trying not to discuss the case. When Josiah joined them, his face showed how little hope he held out for his sister.

“It may not matter soon what you decide, Judge Travis. Sister Anne says that her heart can’t bear the stress of the fever for very much longer. She is already weakening.”

Judge Travis sighed at the turn of events. There was very little comfort he could offer the man standing before him. He stood and placed a firm hand on Josiah’s shoulder. Ezra reached out and pulled the graying man to the bench beside him. He placed his arm across the broad shoulders and offered what little strength he had to his friend. Preston left the table and went in search of the judge.

Standing outside of Hannah’s room, Preston listened to Jubal as he spoke to his daughter.

“It’s all right, Hannah. If you make your confession now, you can go in peace. Do you want to make a confession, child? Take my hand and make your confession.”

Sister Anne returned to the room and put Jubal out of the room. Preston raced back to the dining room to tell the others what he had observed.

Nathan sat looking at the tray across his lap. Inez had outdone herself again. He ate as much as he could hold of the delicious food before setting the tray aside and going back to sleep. He had finally convinced Buck and JD to get some sleep. The young sheriff was curled up on the cot while Buck was snoring loudly from the mattress on the floor.

The smell of food brought both of the sleeping men awake within moments. They rubbed their eyes and stretched languorously before moving to the table. Between the two of them, they polished off every bite of food on the table. They finished off a whole pot of coffee before turning their attention to Nathan. He was much better this morning.

Looking up from the printing press, Mary smiled at JD.

“How’s my patient feeling this morning?”

“Much better, ma’am. He ate breakfast this morning and he hasn’t had any fever since yesterday.”

“That’s good to hear. Are you going on patrol?”

“Yes, we’ve been skipping it the past few days and I don’t want to give the impression that we’re defenseless in here. We don’t want any more trouble while it’s just Buck and me. I can’t wait until Chris and Vin get back.”

Groaning softly, Vin rolled over and stretched under the quilt. His body ached all over and he was looking forward to a hot bath and a hot meal. Looking across the room, he smiled at the sight of Chris all piled up under the quilts on his bed. The even rhythm of the snoring was like a lullaby to the tracker. He rolled over and went back to sleep.

Hannah’s fever broke a few hours later. Sister Anne had managed to break the fever and draw out some of the infection. After passing the information along to the men outside of the room, she suggested that they find another place to congregate.

The men gathered in the small sanctuary to have their hearing. Judge Travis explained that both sides would be allowed to state their case and ask questions of any witnesses presented. He called Jubal to begin.

“Judge Travis, I am merely seeking to take my daughter to San Francisco where she can get the best possible care. It is my hope that they will be able to heal her mind there. I have been away from my children for a very long time and I want to try to make amends to Hannah and to Josiah if he will allow it.”

Giles posed a question, “Mr. Sanchez, please tell the judge why you have been away from your children for so long. And tell him why you made no effort to have contact with Hannah until now.”

“I have been about the Lord’s work. I have been spreading the Gospel amongst the heathen nations. I regret that I was unable to spend time with my children. I didn’t know where my children were until a few months ago when I was presented with a dime novel about a group of peacekeepers in Four Corners. I made a few inquiries and located my daughter.”

Ezra posed a question, “How do you expect to pay for the care that Hannah needs if you have taken a vow of poverty? Certainly, any hospital capable of healing Hannah would be quite expensive.”

“I will take care of that. It is most important that she be healed and whole.”

When there were no other questions, Judge Travis excused Jubal and called Josiah.

“Judge Travis, I have been caring for Hannah for the past several years. She is all that is left of my family. I love her and I want to protect her.”

Giles asked, “Josiah, tell the judge how Hannah came to be as she is now.”

Jubal jumped to his feet in protest. “Judge Travis, I will admit that I am to blame for her condition. There is no need to hear it hashed over again.”

“Judge Travis, his treatment of Hannah is the very thing that Josiah is seeking to protect her from.”

Josiah explained the events in the Missouri territory. By the time he had finished, Jubal’s shoulders were heaving as he fought the urge to protest the telling of the story. Ezra and Preston were unable to meet Josiah’s eyes as he stood in the open space between the tables.

“Josiah, do you have any proof of what you are saying?” Judge Travis asked politely.

Josiah turned to face the sincerely kind face of the jurist. He pleaded with his eyes not to have to put his deepest shame on display but the judge’s face was also firm.

“Do you have any proof, Josiah?”

The older man turned and began to tug his shirt out of his trousers. Raising the material, he showed the criss-cross pattern of scars on his lower back. The judge reached out his hand and ran his fingertips over the scars. He felt the tension in Josiah’s body and quickly withdrew his hand.

Swallowing hard, Jubal played the only card he had.

“That proves I provided discipline to my son. It doesn’t prove that I did anything to Hannah.”

From the corner of the room, a female voice called out.

“I have bathed and attended to Sister Hannah. Her back bears the same marks, among others.”

Josiah’s eyes bore into the darkness, seeking the speaker. A dark shape moved in the corner and stepped into a beam of light. The Mother Superior moved slowly to the open space between the tables. She gently passed her hand over his arm. She nodded and smiled as he took his seat.

“Sister Hannah is scarred both physically and mentally. She has found safety and peace here in this place. Even if Josiah were not able to contribute to her care, she would never want for a place to sleep or food to eat. She will always have a home. For Hannah, I would ask you to leave her here with us.”

“I have observed Hannah for a time since arriving here. I have tried not to allow my own knowledge of Josiah to interfere with my decision. However, in light of the testimony I have heard here, I am going to award custody of Hannah Sanchez to the mission. She will not be removed from this place for any reason.”

Jubal came to his feet to protest but a stern look from the judge stopped him in his tracks. He hung his head and sank slowly to the chair again. Josiah shook hands with Giles and tossed an arm around Ezra and drew him in close. Stepping around the table, Josiah shook the judge’s hand and thanked him.

After sleeping well into the morning, Vin and Chris headed down to find something to eat before heading out. The sheriff caught up with them to let them know that there was a bounty on the Lancaster gang and that he would wire the money to them in Four Corners. Vin ached to fade into the woodwork when the man studied his face for a moment before leaving. He and Chris made a hasty retreat from Jack’s Fork and headed home.

JD jumped out of the chair as soon as Nathan opened his eyes. The young man had been sitting there all afternoon while Buck got some air. He filled the water glass and pressed it into the healer’s hand after helping him to sit up.

“Do you want some of your herbal tea?” JD asked after seeing Nathan’s brow furrow in pain.

“You’re enjoying that aren’t you? You think I don’t see the smile on your face when I drink that stuff? I know how bad it is, but it makes you all feel better doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, but I like seeing the look on your face when you drink it,” he admitted with a grin.

Getting a smile from the recovering man, JD’s smile broadened. He was enjoying not being the one in the sick bed for a change. After Nathan finished the tea, JD offered him some of the broth that Inez had sent up for him a few hours earlier. He relayed that Chris and Vin were on their way back. The two men talked quietly until Nathan yawned and his eyelids drooped.

Stealing one last kiss from Millie, Buck slipped out of her room and down the stairs to the saloon floor. He glanced around to see if anyone had noticed his dalliance. Inez caught his eye and pursed her lips before tossing her towel on the bar and moving into the kitchen. Slipping behind the bar, Buck followed her.

“Inez, darlin’, don’t be like that! I’ve been cooped up with Nathan in the clinic for three days! A man has needs! Don’t look at me that way. Please?”

“I don’t care, Senor Buck. You go about your business. What you do is of no concern to me!”

Wrapping his arm around the saucy Mexican barmaid, Buck tried to place a kiss on her lips only to be slapped soundly. Inez backed out of his embrace and stormed out of the kitchen. The ladies man stood for a moment, rubbing his face before he slipped out and headed for the clinic.

The two men rode in silence for a good part of the day. Each man was lost in his own thoughts. Suddenly, they looked at each other and smiled. They had survived the Lancaster gang and were finally on their way home.

“What do you think happened with Josiah’s sister?” Vin asked.

“I’m sure we’ll find out when we get home,” Chris answered. Neither of them wanted to consider what it would be like in town if Josiah left.

“Do you suppose Ezra is paying that lawyer?”

“It wouldn’t surprise me, Vin. You ever notice that the harder he fights, the closer he gets to being part of the ‘family’?”

With a huff of laughter, the tracker replied, “Yeah, I wonder who he thinks he’s fooling?”

By evening, Jubal had gathered his things and left the mission. He didn’t even look in on Hannah before he left. The three men had supper together and then moved outside to enjoy the cigars Ezra had bought for the occasion. Josiah never saw the exchange of funds between the lawyer and the gambler. After they had finished the cigars, the three men retired to their beds. Giles was leaving on the next stage and Josiah and Ezra were heading back to Four Corners at first light.

Camping out under the stars, Vin pulled his harmonica from his pocket and played with it for a while as Chris poked at the fire. They had killed a couple of rabbits and cooked them over the fire. Chris pulled a jar from his saddlebag and shared the canned fruit with Vin. Off in the distance, a coyote called and a second answered. The men sat quietly for a while before stretching out on their bedrolls to sleep.

Waking at first light, JD checked on Nathan before going down to the saloon to get breakfast for the two of them. Buck had taken the evening patrol before returning to his room, alone, for the night. He was still thinking about Inez. He had been attracted to her since she arrived in town but he hadn’t been able to catch her eye. Now it seemed that he had gotten her eye and had screwed it up by spending time with Millie. That night, in his dreams, his little girl had dark hair and dark eyes and answered to Maria.

Waking at first light, Vin and Chris saddled up and headed for home. They were both eager to find out how the town had fared during their absence and to let the others know what had happened to them. They were also eager to find out if the others had heard anything from Josiah.

A soft knocking at the door wakened Ezra and he rolled over on the uncomfortable mattress. Josiah stuck his head in and asked if he wanted to eat before they started for home.

“Home! Ah, a blissful place. I fear that my back has suffered irreparable damage from sleeping on this lumpy excuse for a bed. I am indeed ready to return to my own quarters and the comfort of a hot bath and a decent night’s sleep!” Ezra answered as he stretched.

They stopped to bid farewell to Giles before making their way to the Mother Superior’s office.

“Josiah! I was hoping to see you before you left. Your other friend made a most generous donation to the mission for your sister and I thought you should know.”

As Josiah turned on Ezra, the nun interrupted, “Oh no, not Mr. Standish, the other man, Mr. Giles. He said that he wanted to make sure that we were adequately funded to provide for Hannah for a good, long time.”

The woman showed Josiah the ten-dollar coin that Preston had given her the night before.

“I will have to thank him for his generosity,” Josiah said as he hugged the woman.

As he was leaving the room, Josiah missed the silent communication between the nun and the gambler. Ezra touched the brim of his hat as the woman winked at him. In her other pocket she had the ten-dollar coin that Ezra had pressed into her hand the night before with the request that Josiah not know about it. She would not break her promise but she suspected that he already knew.

Without pushing the horses too hard, they expected to arrive in Four Corners by suppertime. After riding in silence for a while, Josiah nudged Prophet closer to Chaucer.

“Thank you,” he said simply.

Several words of a long-winded reply popped into his mind but Ezra said simply, “You’re welcome.”

Stepping out of the Clarion office, Mary glanced up the road as the two horses came closer. A bright smile lit her face and she stepped to the end of the boardwalk to wait for them to come within range of her voice.

“Welcome back. We’ve missed you!”

“Thanks, Mary. Do you know where Buck and the others are right now?” Chris asked as he stopped his horse in front of her.

“JD and Nathan are at the clinic. I haven’t seen Buck this morning. He may have taken a patrol or he may be at the saloon.”

“The kid get hurt again?” Vin asked.

“No, Nathan was shot.”

Before Mary could say anything more, both men pulled their horses back and headed for the other end of the street. Leaping out of the saddle, they hitched the horses and raced up the steps to the clinic.

“Nathan, JD, what happened? Are you all right?” Chris demanded as soon as his feet hit the clinic floor. He took in the fact that Nathan looked well enough, aside from the fact that he was sitting in the bed.

“Caught a bullet a few days ago. Mrs. Travis cut it out and stitched it up good as new,” Nathan explained.

“Mary cut it out and stitched it up?” Chris asked, his voice thick with disbelief.

“Yeah, did a real fine job of it too. Buck tried to get the bullet out but he couldn’t make himself cut into my side and she was here and offered.”

“I’ve been keeping him dosed on herbal teas since his fever broke,” JD announced.

“You’ve been makin’ him drink his own herbal tea? JD, that’s just mean!” Vin teased.

“They’ve been taking good care of me. How about you two? Weren’t you due back here a few days ago? What happened in Vista City? When are Josiah and Ezra coming back?”

“Whoa, slow down Nathan! I’ll tell you everything. I would have thought after a few days of JD talking your ears off you might want a little peace and quiet!”

“Nah, JD’s been takin’ care of me and I don’t mind him talkin’. Sit down and tell me about it.”

“Maybe you should go get Buck so we don’t have to tell everything twice,” Vin suggested.

When Buck heard that the others were back, he raced with JD back to the clinic. Inez and Mary showed up a minute later with food and drinks. While everyone ate, Chris and Vin filled them in on the past few days. In between the telling of the Lancaster gang, JD and Buck filled them in on the two men who had been killed when Nathan was shot.

After everyone had caught up, Nathan needed to rest again so everyone left. As they were going down the steps, Buck called out to Inez.

“Could I have a word with you, please?”

Hearing the contrite tone of voice, she stopped at the bottom of the steps and waited for him. Buck took her by the arm and led her around the corner of the building.

“I wanted to apologize for yesterday. I had no right to try to kiss you like that. Inez, you just make me so crazy sometimes that I don’t get to thinking straight. I’d like to try to make it up to you. Now that the others are back, I’d like to take you out to supper and maybe go for a ride in the moonlight?”

Looking into his eyes, Inez felt her throat constrict. He was standing close so that they would not be overheard. She took a deep breath to try to quell the butterflies that had taken flight in her stomach. Running her tongue along her lips, she finally answered.

“I’d like that, Senor Buck.” With a teasing smile, she ducked under the arm he had resting against the wall above her shoulder and sashayed away.

After a brief stop to rest the horses and eat the sandwiches that one of the sisters had pressed into their hands, Josiah and Ezra were within sight of Four Corners. Both horses perked up and began to pick up their pace. Dropping the horses at the livery, both men made their way toward the saloon. Four of the five men they worked with were seated around a table sharing a bottle.

“Josiah! Ezra! How did things go in Vista City?” Chris called as soon as they cleared the doorway.

“Judge Travis awarded custody of Hannah to the mission. She’ll always have a home there,” Josiah announced with a broad smile as he clapped his arm around Ezra’s shoulders. A slight blush followed a depreciating smile as the gambler studied the floor.

Taking up chairs around the table, the men spent an hour getting caught up before Josiah excused himself to go visit Nathan and Ezra excused himself to go to the bathhouse. After a bath, Ezra stopped to visit with Nathan for a while before collapsing into his bed early.

The stage arrived before lunch the next day. Buck and JD raced to be the first to greet the passengers while Chris, Vin and Ezra waited in front of the saloon. A young couple stepped down and was directed to the hotel. A man in a business suit stepped down and Ezra began to dust his coat sleeves.

“Gentlemen, this day is looking up!” The southerner stated.

“You’d better look again, Ez,” Vin cautioned.

The next passenger to step down was none other than Maude Standish. Her cool, sapphire eyes scanned the boardwalk and then she smiled broadly as she caught sight of her son.

“Could this day get any worse?” Ezra bemoaned softly.

“I think it just did,” Chris said as he came to his feet.

The final passenger in the coach was Jubal Sanchez. The three men watched in growing dismay as JD pointed the man toward the church. With a single look at Vin and Ezra, Chris started up the boardwalk at a good clip.

“There you are, Ezra! Be a dear and get my bags for me,” Maude started and stopped in shock as her son brushed past her without a word. She scowled at his retreating back for a moment before looking to Buck and JD. “If you two would be so kind as to …”

Taking their cue from the others, Buck and JD were moving quickly toward the church.

“Mr. Sanchez, to what do we owe the honor of this visit? Surely your son has made his feelings known to you. What could you possible have to gain by coming here except to further upset him?” Ezra called as soon as he was within earshot. He wanted to warn Josiah that the man was here before he walked into the church.

“I have come to try to make amends to my son. I will not make any trouble, I assure you, Mr. Standish. I only want to talk to Josiah.”

The door opened and Josiah stepped onto the porch. “I have nothing to say to you. Get back on the stage and go back to where ever you’ve been for the past few years and leave me alone!”

“I can see that you aren’t in the mood to talk. I have nowhere else to go. Perhaps I will stay here for a few days and see what I can learn about my son from his flock,” Jubal called before turning and walking toward the hotel. Josiah started down the steps with bloodlust in his eyes until Chris stopped him.

“Let him go, Josiah. He’s just baiting you. Let him hang around for a few days until he loses interest.”

“Ezra Standish, are you going to say hello to your mother or leave me standing on the boardwalk all day?” Maude hissed as she took his arm.

“Hello, Mother,” Ezra replied obediently as he kissed her cheek.

“Mr. Sanchez, how nice to see you again. I do hope that you will have time for us to get together during my visit,” Maude purred.

A smile altered the expression on Josiah’s face as he took the offered hand and pressed a kiss on the back of it. “I’m certain that I could be available to have supper with you this evening if you have no other plans?”

“Oh yes, I’m sure that I have patrol this evening. Isn’t that right, Mr. Larabee?”

Chris caught the pleading tone in Ezra’s voice. “Yeah, right after JD.”

As Josiah and Maude turned and walked toward the hotel, Ezra placed his hand over his heart and mouthed ‘thank you’ to Chris. The blonde tossed a two-fingered salute back.

That evening, as the town began winding down, Jubal entered the saloon. He glanced around him as if he feared that he would step in something distasteful. As he passed Inez on her way to deliver drinks to one of the tables, he stepped back as if burned. Upon seeing Maude at one of the tables, he made his way to her side. He had shared a pleasant conversation with the woman on the stage. Jubal thought her to be a little haughty for a woman but she carried on a polite discussion with him about the loyalty of children.

As he arrived at the table, he was horrified to see the woman playing cards! For money! Jubal clutched the cross around his neck and let go a shocked gasp. He glanced around the table and was further dismayed to see his own son at the table along with the young sheriff he had met when he got off of the stage.

Looking up from her cards, Maude flashed a brilliant smile at the old man.

“Why Jubal, won’t you join us? I can deal you in on the next hand,” she offered as she indicated the chair to her left. “Inez, won’t you bring another glass?”

Jubal looked as if he had been punched as he backed away from the table. In his haste to get away, he bumped into Inez as she was bringing the glass to the table. He sprang away from the barmaid as if she were the Devil incarnate.

After his father fled the saloon, Josiah reached over and placed a kiss on Maude’s cheek. She had spent most of dinner discussing the unpleasant man on the stage before he realized that she was talking about Jubal. He laughed as he told her that the man was his father. The look on his father’s face was priceless to him.

“What was that all about?” She asked sweetly.

“Temperance, among other things. I’m sure that he disapproves of gambling, too.”

“Well then, he just won’t enjoy his visit here at all, will he?” Maude raised her glass to Josiah and dealt another hand of cards.

The next morning, Jubal stopped in at Mrs. Potter’s store and struck up a conversation.

“Do you have a lot of trouble because of the saloon?”

“No, not a lot. Occasionally, we have a little trouble but the men that Judge Travis hired do a good job of keeping the peace,” she answered.

“Not enough to keep your husband from getting killed, from what I heard. Liquor is the Devil’s tool. It makes men do things and gives them an excuse.”

By the time Jubal left the store, he had planted the seed. Mrs. Potter struck up a conversation with another woman and they decided that Four Corners would be better off without the saloon.

That morning, Nathan discharged himself from the clinic. JD followed him down the stairs and made sure that he was all right before leaving him at the saloon. Inez brought him his usual breakfast and a cup of coffee. Mary Travis heard that he was out of the clinic and hurried down to visit with him. After her visit, she stopped in to see Mrs. Potter.

“Did you just come from the saloon?”

“Yes, I went to see Nathan Jackson. He’s just getting back on his feet after being shot last week.”

“Mary, I was wondering. Do you ever run across stories about towns that don’t allow drinking?”

“Yeah, there are a few, why do you ask?” Mary’s curiosity was piqued.

“I was just wondering if we would have less trouble if there wasn’t drinking and gambling in the town. If the men weren’t able to get drunk or lose their temper over a card game, maybe it would be safer.”

“It’s an interesting idea, Gloria. Maybe I’ll run an editorial on the subject and see what people think.”

The sun was shining brightly thru the window when Ezra awoke. He had taken Vin’s patrol to avoid spending the evening with Maude and Josiah. After a quick shave, he went down to the saloon to get a quick breakfast before seeking the businessman who got off of the stage the day before. He stopped to visit with Nathan while he ate. It was good to be back among his ‘friends’.

Sitting on the boardwalk, soaking up the early morning sun, Vin sipped his coffee. JD came bounding along in his usual energetic stride.

“Hey Vin! How are you feeling this morning?”

“Pretty good, kid. Ezra took my patrol last night so I got a full night’s sleep.”

“Ezra took your patrol? Why’d he do that?”

“I don’t think he wanted to spend the evening with Maude.”