Heroes and Villains
Ezra . . .Why does everyone keep telling me to shut up? And why cant I seem to do it?
I might consider being offended, if I werent so concerned that Mr. Tanner is nearing the point of collapse. No sooner does that thought find purchase than I see Vins head roll forward as his body begins to slide off the chair. Due to the restricted movement of my upper body, I am powerless to do more than call out a warning. Nettie grabs onto him, but Sid once more pushes her aside and effortlessly lifts Vin into his arms and lays him on the floor.
Put him in my bed, Nettie demands, as if she were actually in charge in this ridiculous scenario. I have to give the old woman credit; she certainly lacks nothing in the way of spirit.
He stays here, Sid says, but hes uncommonly gentle as he straightens Vins limp legs and arms.
This is all so very odd. Why shoot a man and then make the effort to see that he is cared for? Why not finish the job and leave? Dont misunderstand me--I am grateful for the delay--but as Vin pointedly clarified for me, Mr. Sid aint stupid. So what is his motivation?
And then there is Vins reaction to this. I could have sworn I saw real affection in his eyes for this miscreant. True, the man said he took care of Vin as a child, but obviously something happened that separated them in a most unpleasant manner; something I suspect Mr. Tanner has yet to make peace with.
This appears to be one of those most frustrating mysteries where one answer merely leads to a larger multitude of questions. And I, for one, am getting tired of waiting for the grand revelation as to why we are in this situation to begin with. My arms ache, my head throbs, and my stomach uncomfortably reminds me that that second piece of apple pie was not one of my better ideas.
I shift my gaze to Vins inert form and feel an immediate pang of guilt. At least I am not bleeding to death on the floor. I can see Netties hands stained red as she presses the torn sheet harder to the wound. She is nearly shaking, whether from rage or fear or lack of strength I am unsure, but it is clear she is not successful in stopping the hemorrhage.
Im not good at this. I abhor blood, for one, and I will be the first to admit that my bedside manner leaves much to be desired. But I cannot sit by and do nothing.
Let me help, I ask the criminal, detesting the pleading tone of my voice.
He looks at me uncertainly. He is torn in so many ways; it is written all over his face. This is complicated; he is complicated.
What harm can I possibly inflict on you? I ask. You have all the weapons. I merely wish to remove the bullet while you and your friend decide your course of action.
Wait a minute . . . did I say, remove the bullet? What if he actually expects me to do that? I cant possibly remove the bullet. Another example of my speaking without thinking . . .
Alright, Sid replies with a slight nod.
He unties my hands, but pushes his gun up under my chin before I can rise from my chair. Dont try anything or all three of you die.
I doubt that. As unlikely as it appears at the moment, Im quite certain that Vin has the best chance of coming out of this alive, judging by our captors obvious affection for him.
However, time is becoming a factor because Vins face is now ashen and his respirations are shallow. Or perhaps it is my breathing that has become labored because Mrs. Wells is looking at me in that way that clearly questions my sanity. She asks, Can you really do this, Standish?
I feel the color slowly drain from my face as I am pulled, quite unwillingly, into her steely gaze.
The answer is unequivocally and unconditionally no. Absolutely not. Never. Cannot do it. No.
Ill do my best, I hear some foreign voice answer; surely not mine.
I have become someone I dont know, apparently. A strangely intuitive, rambling, overly concerned sort of man who volunteers, volunteers to ride patrol and remove bullets. Dear Lord! Ive become an odd mixture of my cohorts! If I begin wearing black and uttering one-word sentences I will save Mr. Patch the trouble of putting a bullet in my brain.
I shiver and swallow the unmanly gulp that fills my throat. I will have to deal with personal issues at a later time. For now, Vin is dependent on me to save his life. A frightening thought if ever there was one, but a fact none the less.
Surely I can do this. Ive watched Nathan do it several times. How difficult can it be? Through the roaring in my ears, I hear Nettie arguing with Sid about boiling water and clean bandages, but our captor thrusts a knife in my hands and tells me to, Get to it.
I kneel next to Vins right shoulder while Nettie settles down next to his head. She gently strokes his hair and murmurs soothing words of comfort, completely oblivious to the deadly instrument Sid keeps trained on her heart.
This is so wrong. So completely, ludicrously, hideously wrong, wrong, wrong. A bad idea . . . a horrible idea and I cannot do it. I feel the heat rise through my body as I break into a sweat. My heart is pounding and my vision is blurred and Netties trembling hands are rock steady compared to mine at the moment. And oh my . . . I do believe Im going . . . Im going to be sick . . . here and now, in mixed company, with a total lack of dignity and decorum.
I need air, I mutter desperately as I command my useless limbs to move.
But Nettie grips my arm firmly and she says calmly, You can do it, Ezra. Vin needs you. Ill be right here to help you through it.
Its almost enough, but not quite. Not until she adds, Please, Ezra.
Ive always been a fool for those two words used in conjunction with each other, probably because I so rarely hear them. No one expects much of me, and when I am needed to do something, its generally more of an order, rather than a heartfelt request.
Of course there was that one incident with Vin and his poem, although I dont recall him actually using the word, please. It was a heartfelt request, though, and I acted badly. I owe him, at the minimum, an apology for that. Hopefully I wont repay him by killing him instead.
Do it before I change my mind, Sid says. But once again, his words belie the concern his voice cannot mask.
I make a tremendous effort to focus my eyes on the small, leaky hole in Vins shoulder. A vision passes before me: I gently but efficiently prod the metal from underneath Vins skin before quickly turning and thrusting the sharp knife deeply into Mr. Sids chest. In one fluent motion, I retrieve the gun and place a quick bullet into Mr. Patchs back. Yes, I can see it clearly and Im certain I can pull it off. I have thus far failed at all attempts to rectify this situation, but there is still a chance. All I have to do is begin by placing the knife . . . oh Lord, my head is swimming.
No, no, I cant do this.
But I have to.
Yes, I have to do this; I will do this.
Alright then, with a deep breath, I press the tip of the knife into the wound. Vin bucks suddenly and forcefully, knocking the knife from my hands and nearly butting his head with Netties. Sid curses and flattens the majority of Mr. Tanners smaller body with his own.
Go on, he growls, most unpleasantly, and I badly want to reprimand him for his poor attitude.
For once, I keep my mouth shut, however, and proceed. I recall Nathan saying that he tries to picture the path of the bullet as he embarks on this type of delicate venture. Im fairly certain Mr. Tanner was still seated when the bullet pierced first the window and then his body, so I expect the projectile to have taken a slight downward path.
Yes. Alright then. Ill just . . . oh dear. Vin is groaning and hes looking up at me, his normally clear, blue eyes muddled with pain. I cant do this. What was I thinking?
Im . . . sorry, Ezra, he moans.
My heart is behaving erratically and Im finding it hard to breathe. Im about to maim him or quite possibly kill him, simply because I am so inept at this hero business, and hes apologizing?
No need, Mr. Tanner.
Shouldve told y, he whispers.
Well, yes. That would have been preferable, but the end results would probably have been the same.
This is all real touchin, but I say we finish em all off and get the hell out of here, Patch whines from his position at the window.
Go on, then! Sid yells, his patience wearing thin. See if you can even find Mexico by yourself, you ignorant bastard.
Apparently this remark hits home, because Patch turns abruptly back to the window.
I turn back to Vin and force myself to meet his eyes. I apologize to you, Vin. Im afraid I lack experience at this and Im likely to hurt you.
He smirks and mumbles, Hell. Ive had worse. Least you got . . . a steady hand and a good eye.
This is probably not the best time to inform him that I dont seem to have either one of those things at the moment. Taking another breath, I remind myself that I am, once again, choice-less as I resume my efforts to remove the slug in my friends shoulder. This time, Sid effectively controls Vins instinctive attempts to pull away from the pain I am inflicting with my crude attempt to penetrate the wound.
I cant find it. This is impossible. I dont know what Im doing. Ill never, ever take Nathan for granted again. I vow to kiss the mans feet when this over. Well, perhaps that is a bit extreme, but I certainly intend to tell him that he will now and forevermore have my undying appreciation and respect.
Keep trying, Nettie says firmly.
I cant. But I do. Its as if some unseen hand is guiding my own, against my will and good sense. Finally, after seemingly hours, the metal of the knife touches something hard and foreign. Vin is moaning softly, almost panting, and its then that I see his hand gripping Sids. A reflex, more than likely, but it reminds me that there is so much more going on between captor and captive than meets the eye.
A slight twist of the knife and I know for certain Ive found it. Vin cries out this time, but I ignore him as I pry the offending metal upward and out. It takes more strength than I imagined; Nathan makes it look practically effortless. The relief is overwhelming and it takes all of my concentration just to remain upright, until I note that Vin is not moving or moaning at all.
Ive killed him.
And in the space of seconds, I regret every hurtful comment Ive made and every unkind thought that has crossed my mind regarding this incredible man. I regret every moment Ive resented in his company and every opportunity Ive wasted getting to know him better. A good man . . . twice the man I will ever be and one I should be only so lucky to call friend.
I feel Netties hand on my face then, brushing something from my cheek as she says softly, You did fine, Ezra. Hell rest easier now.
Yes, I imagine being dead is resting easier in one sense.
Help me get this shoulder wrapped good and tight, she says next.
We still got the bleeding to worry about.
Ezra! she says sharply and I finally grasp that perhaps I havent killed Vin after all. I dont have much time to rejoice in that news, however, because suddenly Patch begins firing out the window.
Sid rushes to the window and he says, What the devil are you doing?
Theres a rider out there. I saw him.
And thats when I hear the unmistakable voice of Mr. Larabee.
Chris . . .I manage to sit tight and down two more drinks before I give in. Ezras got me imagining all kinds of things that probably arent even remotely likely to happen. And I keep seeing Vins face--sad and tired and maybe even sick--and now Im having trouble knowing what I really did see and what I might have seen and what Im just plain making up.
Damn that gambler, anyway.
You want me t come along? Buck asks as I stand to leave.
I havent said a single word, but somehow he knows Im about to do something insane like traipse after Tanner and Standish.
Stupid enough that Ezra is trailing after Vin; even stupider of me to go running after both of them. I think thats more than enough foolishness for one night, I say with a shake of my head.
Im disgusted with myself at this moment, especially when Buck finally gives up and laughs out loud. Funny, I dont see this as funny at all. Pathetic, maybe.
Its slow going, riding to Netties in the dark. Its a nice night, though. The stars are real bright and the breeze is just right. If I had to choose a night to go off on a wild goose chase, this is a good one. I figure Im about two hours behind my partners; just enough time for them to clean off Netties table but good. Ill be lucky if they left a scrap for me. And if Vin didnt eat two or three of her biscuits and a few pieces of pie, well then I might consider being worried.
But Im not worried now. Feeling a mite silly, but definitely not worried.
Its not like Vin cant take care of himself. Hell, hes probably the most durable, resourceful, damn near fearless man Ive ever known. Got a little problem playing the hero, though. Its almost like hes making up for something; like maybe Josiah isnt the only one looking for penance.
Then again, maybe we all are. Cant think of any other reason wed do the things we do; take on impossible odds for little or no reward, other than the thrill of the fight. Some folks might see us as heroes, but I reckon weve all--with the possible exception of JD--been the villain a time or two, as well. I reckon weve all got some atoning to do.
Vins told me more about his past than I got any right to know, but theres still a good bit of space between the tales, and thats fine. I know all I need to know about him, anyway. You ride a few days with a man, and you get to know him real well. With Vin, it was more a like a few minutes and I was sure of what he was made of.
The problem is, aside from the bounty on his head, theres a better than fair chance hes made some dangerous enemies along the way. Im not worried, but Im not stupid, either. Were all at risk, but Vin even more so, and if Ezra thought he saw something . . . well, it just makes good sense to check it out.
Im thinking Ill be too late; that Vin and Ezra will have already started off on their rounds by the time I reach the Wells place. I wonder how Ill explain why Im trailing after the boys to Nettie; what kind of story I can make up that shed buy. Problem in town? No. Caseys there, spending a few days with Mary, and that would just make her saddle her horse and ride hell-bent for Four Corners.
Im still turning it over in my mind when I reach her land. Its funny how quickly it can all change. All the way here Ive been telling myself that there is nothing to worry over, but the second I come within ear shot of Netties home, I know that something is wrong.
Of course, the bullet that goes flying over my head does nothing to convince me otherwise. Im off my horse and crouched behind a tree before a second shot gets the chance to accomplish what the first one didnt, when I hear a voice call out to me, Go on home, Mister!
Now that just seems stupid to me. As if Im going to ride out of here because some idiot with a gun tells me to. Does this guy really think thats going to work?
A second shot splinters the bark of my tree, and I have to admit that while Im not impressed with his reasoning, I have taken note that he has decent aim, even in the shadows of the moon.
Damn. What the hell is going on?
Vin! I call out, hoping hell give me some clues; hoping hes able to answer.
I told you to ride on out and I aint sayin it again!
He punctuates his command with several more well-placed bullets. Im suddenly grateful that Nettie chose a place sheltered by several sturdy shade trees. But I need to get closer; I need to know whats going on in that house.
Aint gonna happen, I say, partly because it aint, and partly because if hes talking hes not shooting.
I add for good measure, And youre not riding out of here, either. So you may as well tell me why youre here and what you want with my friends.
I hear a different voice then and my heart sinks. There are at least two men, and this one sounds older . . . and smarter.
Nothing for you to worry on, Larabee. Just got some unfinished business with Tanner and then well be on our way.
Yeah, sure . . . nothing to worry on. Thats why Im being peppered with bullets. Damn it, Vin. Why didnt you tell me? Im going in blind here.
Why didnt I know that he was in trouble? Why didnt I see it?
I should have paid better attention.
I should have come when my stomach started twisting up in knots back at the saloon.
And heres a first . . . I should have listened to Ezra.
Well, damn. Nothing to do about it now but get the boys and Nettie out of this alive.
I can see that one of the windows is broken and I dont like the implications of that. Even more disturbing is the hot iron in my gut that tells me someone is hurt inside. More than likely, its Vin, seeing as how hes their target. I take small comfort in the fact that Vin cant be dead, though, considering the man said their business was unfinished. I can only pray that Vin is the only one injured; that maybe Ezra and Nettie can help me out here.
I cant count on them, though, at least not until Ive determined just what the hell is going on inside that house. And the only way to do that is to get closer and get a look.
Thank goodness Nettie chose to put a lot of windows in her house. Drives Vin to distraction--hes constantly bolting them closed and going on about how drafty windows are and how easily someone can break in. Nettie just laughs fondly at his over-protectiveness, but its a mutual relationship. She worries on Vin, too; baking for him and knitting him sweaters. I dont have to know whats going on inside to know that there is a powerful lot of worrying taking place between them right now, regardless of who is hurt or how badly.
I guess I have to admit to a bit of worrying on my part, too, about now. And Ive decided Im not sitting here behind a tree for another minute. I crouch low and fire off a steady round as I make my way to another large trunk about ten feet away. Dust kicks up at my feet as the two men fire back, and I curse the full moon, the men behind the window, and hell, Vin, too.
Why didnt he tell me?
Unfortunately, I have a sinking feeling that its gonna be awhile before I know the answer because its gonna take me all night to get into that damn cabin. Well, I got time. I can be a patient man when I have to be--no matter what Buck might say.
I only hope Vin and Ezra and Nettie can wait.
Ezra . . .Thank God salvation has arrived! Ive only heard Mr. Larabees voice, but hopefully he brought along enforcements, preferably in the guise of Nathan Jackson. Our good doctor will surely be able to undo the damage Ive more than likely inflicted on our partner.
As if Chris had spoken directly into his ear, Vin stirs and moans, Chris? Uncanny would be my word of choice, although Buck would probably go with spooky. No matter how its phrased, the fact is that Vin is aware enough to sense the close proximity of his friend and to fret accordingly.
Is he . . . is he shootin at Chris? he asks worriedly.
I am quite certain that the last thing my injured comrade needs is to hear that yes, indeed, his best friend is diligently dodging bullets in a desperate effort to come to his aid. Therefore, the dilemma here is whether to be honest and cause Vin further concern, or to lie and . . . well, to lie.
Mr. Larabee has come to our rescue and soon all will be well. Sugarcoating is also a good option.
Dont want . . . nobody else hurt on account of me. Tell Sid . . .
I wait breathlessly for him to finish the sentence. Or rather, he is breathless and I am thinking that the second-to-last thing my wounded partner needs is to further deplete his shrinking reserve of energy by speaking.
Do not fear, Vin. Chris will be fine.
Hes right. Rest now, Nettie instructs firmly as she pushes an old pillow under Vins head and covers him with a shabby afghan.
But Vin is having none of that. He pulls his head up with a low groan and he says in a deceptively strong voice, Tell Sid . . . tell him I didnt want t do it.
Of course, that made little or no sense to the uninformed in the room, such as Nettie, Patch, and I. But it obviously made an impression on the only other man who had some knowledge of a past that has led us all to the dire mess of the present. The tall man turns away from the window and moves to stand in a threatening manner, which I do not appreciate, over Vin.
Then why did you? he asks. By the furrow in his brow, I can see that he is nearly as puzzled about something as I am about everything.
Couldnt let you . . . kill them people, Vin answers.
The annoying laugh makes a brief and bitter reappearance before Sid responds, I wasnt gonna kill anyone, Vin. Shake em up a little, but that was all.
A shadow crosses Vins pale face. Doubt? Guilt?
It doesnt matter now, Nettie says crossly, as if she actually has some idea what on earth they are talking about. Its done. Time for you to move on. Let him be.
As I previously mentioned, you have to admire the womans spirit, although I am beginning to question her intelligence after all. Surely she knows logic does not work with his kind?
And yet . . . Sid is clearly affected by her words. He stoops next to Vin and the expression he wears is one of deep regret. You always were too damn noble for your own good, Vin.
Ah yes, the heros heart. Ive often seen evidence of it in my wounded companion--and have shamefully belittled it on my less considerate days.
Vin makes a feeble attempt to laugh before muttering, Aint no one ever . . . mistaken me fer noble.
Undoubtedly several of us in the room could argue with that, but before we get the chance, young Patch rudely reminds us of his presence by announcing, Hey! You mean Chris Larabee is out there? The gunfighter? Hell, weve got t get out of here, Sid!
Patch is not the quickest draw in the west, if you catch my meaning.
Sid shakes his head and sighs, obviously wondering--as we all are--why he chose to saddle himself with an ignorant imbecile. Larebee wont do anything as long as weve got his friends. Just keep him occupied and shut the hell up.
I take small comfort in the fact that I am not the only one being told to shut up on a regular basis.
Hes makin a move! Hes tryin t get t the house! Patch informs us excitedly as he fires off another volley. Sid reluctantly leaves Vins side and moves to the window to join in the fray.
Nettie leans close to Vin and I hear her whisper, Dont worry now. Ive got my Spencer Carbine and Im just waiting for the right time t use it.
But Vin groans and he says, No. Please dont.
And in a moment of absurd enlightenment, I understand what he is trying to say to Nettie now, as well as what he tried to ask of me before. He does not want us to harm Mr. Sid. Hes trying to protect the man who shot him from us, of all the ludicrous things.
Youd best give me a reason why then, Nettie says, and I want to kiss her at that moment. Well, perhaps not, but a warm embrace is a consideration.
Sid took me in when I was around ten or so. Vin starts off hesitantly, but he seems to gather strength as he continues, He saved my life. He was good t me.
He looks us both in the eye then, and it seems important to him that we believe that; that we understand there is more to this villain than our current predicament indicates.
What happened? Nettie prods.
Vin closes his eyes and sighs. It was my fault it all went wrong.
I find it difficult, if not impossible, to believe that a mere child of ten or eleven could cause true trouble . . . but then again, there was that time when I was ten that I . . .
Vin continues, We got along real good for a few years. We didnt have much, but Sid always found a way t get us through. I was grateful . . . didnt have no one after my ma . . .
Id never given that much thought, I must admit. Mr. Tanner has always been extremely self-reliant; it never occurred to me how he became that way. Of course, our past molds us all to some extent, and it just may explain why some of us become heroes and others of us do not. Or, that may be a convenient excuse, but in any case . . . I need to stop this incessant rambling in my head and pay attention to what Vin is saying.
He gave me a rifle when I was twelve; taught me t shoot. I was good at it.
An understatement, no doubt.
Sid learned real quick that he could make money off it; bets and contests and the like. Hell, the rifle was as big as me, and people didnt believe some scrawny kid could shoot like that.
Id like to personally wrap my hands around Sids throat about now, and I can see by Netties eyes that she feels the same. Using a child to make quick cash is beneath even my standards. But its apparent that Vin never saw it that way. Its apparent that Vin is sadly unaware how despicable it is that he was used to satisfy this mans greed.
Things changed, though. Sid . . . he got . . . he wanted . . . more.
No surprise there. I dont even need to hear the rest. In fact, I dont want to hear the rest. I have a clear vision of a giving, gifted child manipulated into a life of crime out of loneliness and the sheer, desperate need to be loved.
Except the child I envision is not a younger version of Vin--but of myself.
Perhaps Vin and I are not so different after all.
Vin . . .I thought I could finish it . . . thought I could just say it.
But I cant.
All of a sudden, Im so tired that just keepin my eyes open seems impossible.
Netties lookin at me like shes feelin sorry for me, and I hate that. But Ezra, hes got this distant look in his eyes, and I get the feelin that maybe he understands. Dont hardly make sense t me that Ezra knows how it felt back then--how I felt back then--but maybe he does. Maybe were not so different.
I knew what Sid and me were doin was wrong. I didnt much remember my ma, but shed taught me right from wrong, and I knew which side stealin was on. I tried hard t get Sid t stop, but he didnt. Maybe he couldnt, I dont know.
I dont know much of anything right now except that I want this t be over. I want Ezra and Nettie and Chris t be safe, and Sid t just go on. It took me a long time, but I learned t forget. I want t forget again.
I hear Sids voice callin t me from the window, Arent you going to finish it, Vin? Tell them how you repaid my kindness? Tell them how the story ends?
I know how I thought it ended. I thought I killed him. Apparently I was wrong. All those years, I lived with that. All those years I wanted so badly t tell him . . . t tell him I was sorry and I didnt mean it t end like that, but I thought Id never get the chance. Now hes here and Im not ready. I dont know what t do or say; Im havin a hard enough time just catchin my breath.
There is no need to proceed, Vin, Ezra says.
His voice is driftin away from me again, although Im tryin like the dickens t hang on to it. Netties is there, too, real faint-like, and I can feel her hand strokin my hair while she tells me t rest. I cant rest yet. I need t stay and finish this once and for all, but I cant stop myself from floatin away into the past.
I see the stagecoach. There are women inside, and children, too, and I dont want t do this. Please, Sid, dont make me do this.
You know what t do, Boy, he says.
I hold my breath as I pick up my rifle and aim just ahead of the carriage. A few shots are enough to make them stop. One of the men goes for his gun, but I shoot it out of his hand.
It gets crazy then. A couple of the other men pull their weapons and start shootin, and I can hear the kids cryin. It gets worse every time. Sid takes more chances and he gets meaner every time. This time, Im scared because I know someones gonna get hurt, so I beg, Please, Sid. Lets just go. We shouldnt be doin this.
But hes got his gun out and hes firin back. I see one of the men go down, and I know they aint got a chance. Me and Sid are up on the hill, behind the rocks, and theyre just sittin ducks below us.
If only theyd just give up; let Sid take what he wants and move on.
But its not gonna happen that way. Another man goes down and now Sid is yellin at me t keep shootin.
What the hells the matter with you, Vin? Help me out here!
Ive always done what he told me to. I was lonely and scared for a long time before he came along. I dont want t live like that again.
But this is wrong. Theres babies down there, along with their ma and pa. A family.
And I cant let this happen.
I feel the tears stream down my face when I turn the gun on Sid. Stop it, I say. Stop it now or Ill shoot, Sid.
He laughs. I know then that its too late. If only I hadnt been so good with a gun, it might not have happened this way, but its too late now. Sid doesnt remember anymore whats right and whats wrong. Theres no turnin back for him.
I try one last time, Please, Sid.
Please, please dont make me do this.
He turns back around and fires into the coach; a woman screams. And thats when I put the rifle to my shoulder and I pull the trigger. The bullet hits Sid in the back, but he falls t the side and his eyes turn t me. I mumble, No, no, but he just looks at me, sad and sick and surprised, and then he says, Vin?
His eyes drift closed as I rush to his side. The tears are comin so hard and so fast that I can hardly see, but I hear the men below, Come on! The shooting stopped. We must have got him! Lets go!
I throw my rifle to the ground and I run for my horse. Im a thief and a killer . . . and a coward.
I . . . I shot him in the back. Through the fog, I hear my voice as I pull myself back to the present. Finally, Ive said it, but I dont feel better. I just feel empty and tired.
Netties voice is so soft, Shh . . . its alright now. It was a long time ago.
Twelve years, to be exact, Sid says, and Im shocked all over again that hes not really dead. I dont even know how I feel about that. Its all so . . . complicated.
He walks back over t me and he points his gun right at my head as he pulls back the trigger. I didnt die, Vin. I sat in prison all those long years and thought about the boy who shot me in the back. I thought about how I was gonna break out and find you and put a bullet in you; remind you of what you did to me. Didnt take me long to find you, once I was out. Shooting you was a whole lot easier than I thought it would be, too.
He pauses and lets the trigger slide back into place as he lowers his gun. So why is it so damn hard to finish it?
Am I supposed to answer that? I sure as hell hope not because Im havin enough trouble figurin out what Im thinkin and doin, let alone worryin about Sids reasoning.
Perhaps because, deep down, you know young Vin was right. I have yet to discern the details of the altercation between you, but I am guessing that Vin had a compelling reason to put a bullet in the back of the only man who loved him.
The only man who loved him . . . How did Ezra know? Seems like Ezras on to a whole lot of things I dont rightly recall tellin him.
Youre wrong, Standish, Nettie speaks up, straight t the point, as usual.
What? Ezra asks, and Im kinda glad Im not the only one havin trouble catchin on.
Him loving Vin counts for little. Vins feelings for him are what matter. Think what it must have taken for our Vin to hurt someone he loved so deeply. She looks Sid in the eye and she says, What did it take? What could have possibly forced this noble heart to such violence against the only person in his life?
Im feelin real uncomfortable about now. Theyre all talkin about me like Im not here. Talkin about who I loved and who loved me, and Im wishin Chris was here t tell them all t mind their own business. Id tell em myself if I could find the energy.
Besides, its just not that simple. Nothin is ever that simple.
Except, apparently, to Patch, who hollers out, Chris Larabee is out there just waitin t put a bullet in me and youre all talkin about love . . . and Im not one foot closer t Mexico!
Shut up! three voices yell in unison.
That strikes me as funny for some reason, and Id laugh about it if I wasnt so tired. Im thinkin Ill just close my eyes a spell; let them all prattle on about my life and my mistakes and my business. Of course, t be fair, I guess it became their business the second Sid stepped in here and put a gun to Netties and Ezras heads. I guess they got a right t know. I should set things right with all of them while I got the chance, but I cant even open my eyes.
Rest now, Vin. Well take care of matters here. Ezras voice is real far away now, although I can still feel his hand on my arm. Hes been a real pard through all of this, and I dont think I even thanked him. I should do that . . . should get t know him better . . . should maybe tell Chris not t be so hard on him . . . should set things right . . .
Ezra . . .I am deeply concerned for Mr. Tanner. I can see that he is struggling to hold onto awareness, but I fear his strength is quickly waning. I am not a doctor and have never had any interest whatsoever in the human body and all its frailties, but even I can see that time is becoming a factor.
It is time to take action. And since it seems to be my night for volunteering to do utterly senseless things, I do the only thing I can think of to get Sid and Patch out, and Chris in.
Gentlemen, this stalemate is getting us nowhere. I address my comments to Mr. Sid, although Patch is watching from the corner of his eye with obvious interest. I propose that you ride out, with me as a shield--or insurance if you will--against Mr. Larabees bullets. Once you are a safe distance away, you can affect my release, or do as you otherwise see fit. I cringe at that last part. Volunteering to be a hostage is one thing, volunteering to be a human sacrifice another entirely, but I am hopeful it will not come to that.
And what makes you believe Larabee will just let us ride out of here with you? Sid asks with a smirk.
Mr. Tanner needs medical attention. I assure you, given the option of coming after you . . . and me, or providing for Vin, his choice will most definitely lie with Tanner.
That is the one thing I am certain of.
Sid once more turns his gun in Vins direction. He is a most complicated man, or one who cant seem to make up his mind at any rate, and so I quickly add, That is provided, of course, that no further harm comes to Mr. Tanner in the meantime.
Lets do it, Sid, young Patch pleads. You aint gonna kill Tanner, anyway. Lets just get out of here.
Nettie is looking at me peculiarly, and then she says quietly, Could be I was wrong about you, Ezra Standish.
Could be we were both wrong about me, I say to myself. Or perhaps it is a case of temporary insanity. In any case, life is really nothing more than a game of chance--a gamble--anyway. For once I intend to rise to the occasion and do the right thing. And with a little luck, I shall live to remind myself that I am capable of being more than I am . . . and good Lord, now I sound like Josiah. I can add speaking in vague, inspirational phrases to my growing list of questionable attributes that Ive acquired from my colleagues.
Sid peers down at Vin--who is now unconscious by all indications--before turning back to me and stating, You really willing to do this, Standish?
I am. Amazing how easy it is to offer myself up in such a stupid, annoyingly noble manner. As I noted earlier, Mr. Tanner is rubbing off on me, although perhaps that is not such a bad thing after all.
With a look of something akin to amazement, Sid nods before kneeling next to Vin and squeezing his uninjured shoulder lightly. After several interminable seconds have passed, he says, Like I said, he knows how to get his hooks in a person.
He rises then and faces Nettie. He tried to get me to stop the stealing, but he never once refused to do what I asked of him. Not until that one day when he shot me. Ive spent twelve years wondering how he could have hated me so much, and I never knew it.
Nettie meets his eyes as she responds, Well now you know. He didnt hate you. For some reason that only Vin can fathom, he loved you. But its not in him to sit by and watch innocent people suffer. And I guarantee you, whatever pain youve endured the past dozen years over this does not compare to what hes put himself through. And the hell of it is, unlike you, he didnt deserve a minute of it.
Well said, and for the first time, I feel no need to expound on her message.
Apparently, neither does Sid. He simply walks to the window and calls out, Larabee? You interested in a deal?