by J.L. Stone
Main Character(s): Ezra, Chris
Universe: O.W. (Old West, thanks to whomever came up with it)
Disclaimer: I don't own 'em, (or the song) wish I did, especially Buck, Ezra, and Chris. Grrrr! So, don't sue me, 'cause you won't get any money and I'm liable to sick my employer's 80 pound malamute puppy on you!
"Villains could be vilified, devils were identified, and angels all spoke softly, but had faster guns."
- Michael Longcor
"He got 'em all riled up," Buck called from the door to the bullpen. Chris, his black hat hanging on the back of his chair, ran a long-fingered hand through his crop of blonde hair. The gunslinger was dressed in a discolored sort of poncho; some of the green stripes standing out made his eyes brighter as he looked up to see Buck Wilmington come in through the door. The burly, mustached lawman slipped his tan hat off as he marched into the jailhouse, smooth waves of black hair were revealed. Buck wore a red-checkered shirt and a faintly polka-dotted, green on green bandana and his usual leather breeches. His boots scuffed on the wood as he came to a stop in front of Larabee's desk.
Chris looked up as he grabbed his hat from the back of the chair, shoving it down on top of his head. The green eyes met Buck's chocolate brown ones and he quietly asked, "What's going on?"
"Oh, welllll . . ." Buck gave an extended sigh, "You 'member them cowboys, came up from Texas with all that gold and silver." Chris didn't really need to hear the rest. He pursed his lips together, the bottom one turning slightly white. "Is anyone hurt?" Larabee asked.
"Not yet," Buck huffed. His eyes came down from the ceiling and he looked at his old friend. "He's got a whole mess 'a people down there watchin' him though; aaand I'm thinkin' if we don't get to it, somebody's gonna hurt somebody 'fore the day's through."
Larabee stood up from his chair, almost knocking it over. His face was screwed up in a squint, a sure sign he was thinking. His gunbelt was slung around his waist, but he hoped, very much, that he wouldn't have to use them. As he walked past Buck he tapped the robust man on the shoulder and said promptly, "Find Vin and Josiah."
"Wh -- " Buck began, but Chris interjected firmly.
"Just do it."
+ + + + + + +
At the saloon, Mary, Inez, and Casey were having a difficult time with keeping people back away from the table. That is, the table Ezra and the five Texans were gaming. The cowboys were from the West Texas border, near Mexico, and judging by their surly looks and solid builds they were not a bunch to be fooling with. Ezra, however, could not pass up as much gold as they had offered, and so the gambler had decided on a high stakes game. High, Low, Jacks and winner takes the game. And of course, as usual, Ezra P. Standish was winning astoundingly well.
It was astounding. It was amazing. And it was going to get him killed.
The gambler was just dealing their third round when Chris, Vin, and Buck came in through the batwing doors. As he doled out cards, Ezra's eyes swept with his fellows as they drew nearer to the table. He didn't like being interrupted, and he was certain that Chris was there to do just that.
As they neared the table, Chris leaned over to Buck and asked, "Where's Josiah?"
"I don't know," Buck replied and he turned his dusty face to Chris, "maybe he's already in here."
"Well, keep looking," Chris ordered firmly, and the three of them fanned out in different directions. Buck took the right, Vin wandered off in the opposite, and Chris walked straight ahead into the mob of people that threatened to box the whole game in. If that happened, Ezra would have no place to high-tale it out of there, and Chris would be short one man.
Meanwhile at the table, Ezra put down his card and the other players followed. Once more, Ezra took the cards and won another round. He gave a triumphant smirk, satisfied with his "skillful playing." It was then that one of the five men, the one to his immediate left stood up, slamming his cards on the table.
"You low down, rat-cheater."
"Excuse me?" Ezra looked surprised at the brawny man's words. The Texan cowboy was big and tall with an unkempt, craggy face and big broad shoulders. The gambler looked straight ahead and saw Chris with his tense green eyes cutting through the crowd to stand at the edge of the table.
"I said, 'you low down, rat-cheater'!"
"I can assure you fine gentlemen," Ezra stood up and straightened his scarlet waistcoat, "that I have not cheated once during our game."
"Yer a liar," said another of the tall, muscular figures as he stood up. "I saw you! You dealed yerself a extra card."
"Nonsense." Ezra argued. But then, the one who had first stood picked up his whiskey bottle and upended its contents on the table. Amber liquid doused the surface and floor, some of the droplets landing unceremoniously on his hand. Ezra watched as the bottle was raised, then . . .
The bottle hit Ezra square on the jaw and with a bleeding mouth, the gambler collapsed back into his chair. The seat would have tipped over, with him in it, had it not been for the enormous figure barring his plummet. The back of the chair collided with Josiah's stomach, and with a gentle shove he sat the seat upright once more. Ezra's green eyes grew fierce, but he stayed backed down in his seat. The man who had cuffed him was hovering over the card sharp with narrowed eyes and growled, "Yer a cheater. And I want t'nuther game."
"All's fair in love and war, gentlemen," Ezra began calmly, "we had a deal -- and thus far, I have adhered to our agreed upon rules. I have shuffled the cards three times prior to each round, and distributed them evenly amongst our party." Ezra gave a nervous smile, his dimples made small creases in his cheeks. "Accusing me of cheating would be placing wrongful blame; I don't think your intent was any such thing."
Ezra looked up at the man, the nervous smile still clinging to his face. The standing Texan cocked a brow as a look of confusion seized his features. Vin, who had finally gotten his way to the table was smiling knowingly at the gambler who shot him a quick glance before appointing attention back to his opponent.
"Javis is right," said the other man sitting directly beside Ezra. His suddenness startled Standish, but he remained composed nonetheless. The speaker rose and addressed Ezra with a look of eerie calm, the sort of relaxed expression Josiah always got before he did something really nasty. It was unnerving.
"I saw you," the newly spoken man announced, so the whole room could hear. "He's got a few aces up . . . his . . . sleeve!" The Texan groped for Ezra's waistcoat, the left arm, nearly ripping it from the seams. Ezra retracted instantly, and in that split second, a small, polished, silver gun popped out from the gambler's right cuff. The room gave a collective gasp, but the other men were ready. The five of them simultaneously drew guns from their belts, and Ezra was certain one pulled at least two out of the back of his pants.
"Now gentlemen," Ezra began, but one of the smaller, shorter men interrupted.
"I think we'll just take our pot and go," he said, the voice slightly accented in Spanish. He groped for Ezra's part of the money as the others scooped theirs up from the table. The money had been laid out as a display for the winner, and once a person lost he would add some money to his pile. Ezra had been so sure of himself that he had lazed every penny he had on the table.
The men were shoving gold and bills in their coats and pockets so fast that Ezra's reaction came delayed, and only when all the money was off the table did he protest.
"You cannot simply -- "
"Looks like we did," said the smaller man, and he backed up to walked off. And right into Chris.
"That gold yours?" Larabee asked as the man surveyed him warily. The other gamblers began to gather, drawing in closer to Chris, but then, so did Vin, Buck, and Josiah. Ezra, on the other hand seemed to be devastated by his sudden lack of money, and just sat staring, wide-eyed, at the men's backs. The one who had bumped into Larabee made a gesture with his hand and commanded the blonde lawman to move. Larabee didn't budge.
"I asked you a question," he said, stern-jawed, "Is that gold yours?"
"Yeah," the Texan retorted.
Larabee's face collapsed into a grave scowl, and through clenched teeth he demanded, "All of it." The man gave a sigh of irritation and he turned away to leave, and his face collided with an enormous balmy chest.
"I don't think Chris is done talkin' to you just yet," Josiah rumbled. The thief looked up, his eyes slightly wide, but his expressions soon cleared.
"Get out of our way, old man."
Josiah gave a silent scowl as the man turned on his heel and walked off.
"You'd better stop," Sanchez called after him, walking slowly. His sapphire eyes slid to the batwing doors where Vin and Buck stood as a barricade, hands on their holsters. When the men finally noticed the two lawmen standing in their way, they stopped dead in their tracks. Josiah, now grabbed the shorter one by the shoulder and said, "Brother . . . that gold ain't yours."
"Get offa me!" the man cried, knowing the law was beginning to catch on to their little charade. He walloped Josiah straight in the face with one swinging fist. The solid, ex-preacher's head swiveled to one side with the force of the blow, and a droplet or two of crimson was flung from his broken nose.
"I said to get outta our way, old man," the short one scoffed, his face breaking into an awful, simpering leer. It was soon wiped from his features by a fist colliding with the side of his head. The hit nearly knocked him over -- it definitely made him wobble off to one side -- and a handful or so of gold came cascading in glittering pieces to the floor.
Josiah, wiping blood from his streaming nose, looked over at Ezra. The gambler retracted his fist, wringing it as a sharp pain spread from his knuckles up through the muscles in his arm. The preacher shot him a smile when Larabee stepped across the saloon to the bruised and battered thief.
"You're under arrest," Chris barked with finality, "for the theft of Confederate money."
The men dropped their guns as Vin, Buck, Ezra, and Josiah formed a tight circle around them. No room to move, no room to fight.
No room to shoot.
+ + + + + + +
"Judge Travis sends his regards," Ezra announced the following morning, strolling in through the front of the jailhouse. His black Stetson was perched firmly atop his head, the purple waistcoat he wore was slightly dusty, but that was to be suspected. He continued, "He wants you to know that he is forever in debt to you for catching the infamous Mexican Marauders, and if we are ever in need of his service that we should not hesitate to ask."
The Gambler laid the judge's letter out on Chris's desk so that the black-clad gunslinger could read it. However, Larabee merely gave it a glance before he grunted and returned to his work. Ezra took a seat in one of the hard wood chairs in the office and breathed a sigh, lolling his head back to stare at the ceiling. Several minutes passed, and the two just sat there like that until Standish brought his head back up, gazing thoughtfully at Larabee. Chris remained writing whatever statement it was that was laid out in front of him, but soon his hand stopped moving and slowly, as though he could feel Ezra's eye, he looked up.
"What is it, Ezra?"
"I was just marveling, Mr. Larabee," the gambler replied.
Chris put the pen down.
"I am unsure as to how you knew those men were thieves. We had no portent to their arrival."
"Call it, lawman's intuition," Chris answered, and he promptly picked up the pen and continued writing. Ezra, however, was still curious.
"But how did you know?" he asked, "What could have possibly -- instinctively -- told you to be in the saloon at approximately the same moment, for lack of better terms, all hell broke loose?" The gambler's question was true, and he sat back rather heavily in the chair, gaping at his leader. Chris once more stopped writing, but he gestured with the pen as he spoke.
"As in, 'Mr. Wilmington'?" Ezra asked. Chris gave an exasperated sigh.
"Look, Ezra. What's done is done. End of story, villains arrested . . ." he paused in his ranting and looked stern. "Now, can I please finish writing this statement?"
"Be my guest," Ezra huffed. And that was that.
So, what did'ja think about it?
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