Main characters: Ezra, Judge Travis
In Fort Laramie, he had been Ezra Simpson, the well-to-do grifter with the honeyed Southern drawl and the spring-loaded derringer up his sleeve.
In Four Corners, he was Ezra Standish, the lawman who had willingly and knowingly placed himself between Mary and a bullet.
Orrin Travis never forgot a face, but even he sometimes had trouble understanding how Simpson and Standish were the same man. For one thing, Ezra Simpson had never spent quite so much time trying to get himself arrested.
"Let's see," Travis said. "In March, I sentenced you to sixty days of peacekeeping for inciting a barroom brawl."
"A most tragic and violent incident," Standish said. He propped his feet up on a crate and peered at his fingernails. "Several lives were lost that night."
"Actually, Mr. Standish, you broke one chair and then proceeded to pay for it the next day."
Standish waved his hand. "Insignificant details. Someone could have been hurt."
"And at the time, two of the three other men in the saloon were passed out drunk at their tables and the third was Mr. Wilmington, who apparently just watched you from his place at the bar. Not one of your better efforts, Mr. Standish. This, thoughthis latest incident is simply insulting to both of us."
"Horse-theft is a serious crime."
"It certainly is," Travis said. "A hanging crime, in fact, and if you'll recall, I have something of a reputation as a hanging judge. I'm tempted to add to that reputation."
Standish looked unfazed. "I'd hoped we could negotiate another pardon."
Ezra Simpson may not have saved Mary's life but at least he had never been quite this infuriating. Travis could feel the beginning of a headache coming on.
"You stole a horse. Chris Larabee's horse, in fact."
"Yes, Your Honor. As I see no other witnesses are available, I am willing to offer up my own interpretation of events for the record."
"Oh, I have a few notes already, but please continue, Mr. Standish."
"On May sixteenth, I absconded with Mr. Larabee's steed under the cover of darkness."
"According to Chris, it was ten in the morning, and he was surprised that you were even awake, let alone out of bed."
"Mr. Larabee is understandably confused. I had to render him unconscious in order to secure my getaway."
"He helped you open the stall door."
Another dismissive hand wave. "Once I took care of Mr. Larabee, I attempted to conceal my crime and place the horse in a safe location until I could later retrieve him."
"And the safe location just happened to be the neighboring stall."
"I admit," Standish said, "it was a poorly-conceived attempt at concealment."
Travis sighed. "Then, after moving Chris's horse into the next stallwhich you had already supplied with fresh hay and wateryou offered to let Chris borrow his horse at any time."
"I really don't feel that my attempt to be considerate in any way lessens the heinous nature of my crime."
"Whereupon," Travis said, deciding to ignore that last remark for the simple sake of preserving his own sanity, "he concluded that you were clearly ill, led you to Mr. Jackson's clinic, and relieved you of patrol for the rest of the day."
"Forgive me, Your Honor, but I believe you're confused."
"Mr. Standish, I have no intention of protesting that."
"Upon discovering my crime, Mr. Larabee dutifully took me into custody and, understandably under the circumstances, took the liberty of setting my bail."
"Which you evidently made."
"Ah, no, not precisely. I'm afraid I absconded from that fair locale."
"You broke out of jail."
"I assure you, there is currently a manhunt to retrieve me." He waved a hand out at the street to display the fervor with which the town was hunting for him.
JD Dunne passed by them on the street and tipped his hat. "Mornin', Judge. Ezra." He put his hands back in his pockets and continued to whistle. Travis looked after him for a long time before turning his attention back to Standish.
"Clearly, the poor boy is addled by the heat." He brightened. "Or perhaps he is lulling me into a false sense of security."
"I think that must be it." He leaned his head against his hand. "Is there anything else you would like to add, Mr. Standish?"
"I believe you have heard the sordid tale in its entirety."
"Lord, I surely hope so." He straightened in his chair. "Ezra Standish, I hereby pardon you for your decidedly sorry attempts to steal a horse"
"and engineer a jail break."
"and any other crimes you happened to have committed in the last week or so," Travis continued, not wanting to get mired in the pathetic details of the event, "provided that you will continue to serve as a peacekeeper for a period of"
He stopped. He didn't know why, but he stopped. He'd been ready to assign Standish another thirty or sixty days as a lawman as his next move in their gameand he knew damn well that it was a game, too, because badly staged brawls and barely stolen horses would never have been worth Ezra Simpson's timebut then he stopped. This wasn't Ezra Simpson, and sometimes he forgot that.
This was Ezra Standish, the man who had saved Mary's life, and he had a look on his face that was almost but not quite one of longing.
"One year." At the very least, it would save him from the trouble of reviewing any more of these outlandish incidents.
A smile broke out over Standish's face. "A year. That's quite a length of time."
"Horse-theft is a serious crime."
"Yes," Standish said, still smiling. "I suppose it is. A pity that I'm so horrendously inept at it." His eyes softened along with his voice as he said, "Perhaps in another year, I will find myself such a deplorable criminal that I will be forced to live a respectable life here voluntarily."
Perhaps in another year, Ezra Simpson would be deadand this new Ezra Standish would be all that was left.
"But not yet," Travis said quietly.
Standish met his eyes. "No, Your Honor. Not yet. Until then, however, I commend your attention to justice." He touched two fingers to the brim of his hat and stood to leave the porch, but Travis threw out a hand to stop him.
"Ezra. If you" But there were some things that could not be said, even if he were talking to Ezra Standish and not Ezra Simpson. He cleared his throat. "If you intend to do this again, please at least demonstrate a little respect for my intelligence. This latest display was truly deplorable."
"I assure you, sir," Standish said, his smile widening to show off that gold tooth of his, "I'll do my best to keep your life interesting."
Travis didn't doubt that.
Once Standish had left him, Travis made a note of the date and reminded himself to return a year from now. He had the feeling that Standish would need another pardon by then. But for what? Bank robbery, perhaps. Attempting to rob a bank solely by polite requests. And there was always a number of confidence schemes, if Standish felt the urge to return to his roots. A year. A man could plan a lot of things in a year. Travis almost looked forward to their next encounter.
After all, even Ezra Simpson had been creative. And Ezra Standish had more inspiration.
"Until our next meeting, my friend," he said to the empty chair.
A land deed scheme? Salting a mine? Masquerading as a charity?
Was it too late to add a few more conditions to that pardon? He wasn't sure he wanted to know how Ezra Standish defined "interesting."