DISCLAIMERS: This is fan fiction. No profit involved. It is based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended.
AUTHORS NOTE: I know I know another one started. Cant help myself. This little plot bunny grew until it stamped its way up to my face and refused to back down. I told it I had others I was working on but it just wouldnt go away. It actually bared its teeth at me. *Sigh*...so here it is. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks to Twyla Jane for being her sweet self. 12/27/03
They were playing on top of the smaller boulder when everything went wrong. He had just pointed out to the other boy a small cave that he spied under the overhanging of the larger rock next to them. It was just small enough that they, being children, could crawl into. Sagebrush covered the entrance but his quick eyes had spotted the opening. Then gunfire echoed as rough looking men on horses rode up yelling for everyone to stand still.
Ten year old Ezra Standish pulled his friend down as they dropped out of sight behind some brush on the boulder. He forced his frightened friend to lay flat so no one could see them. They watched as men surrounded the stagecoach with it two drivers and four passengers. The next couple of hours were the most horrendous that Ezra had every lived.
Ezra and his mother had met the Campbells in the city of Tucson when they joined the stage. His mother had decided that San Francisco had become too hot so a trip to New Orleans was in order. They had been traveling for days as the only steady passengers on the stage watching the others get off or on. The Campbells, mother and son, lived in Tucson and were on their way to visit relatives in Baton Rouge. Michael Campbell had been the first child Ezra had had any contact with in a long while. Now they were going to be traveling together over a long distance so it was naturally for the two boys to become friends. It helped that his Mother, Maude, was getting along famously with Mrs. Campbell too. Ezra and Michael quickly fell into a pattern of exploring the area wherever they stopped. With admonishing to be careful and not go far, the boys scampered to investigate their surroundings at every stop made either in towns or at watering holes where they rested the horses before moving on. Like now they were stopped at a water spot for the horses between the towns of Rock Ridge and Four Corners.
Both boys watched as the bandits got off their mounts to gather what loot they could from the stage and the passengers. A big man had climbed on top of the stage and pulled out a strongbox, dropping it on the ground with a thud, he climbed back down. One of the other bandits suddenly grabbed Mrs. Campbell who screamed as the man tried to kiss her. Ruff laughter and lewd suggestions were made. A shot was fired as one of the male travelers tried to intervene. Michael jumped up screaming, Ma! No Ma! before Ezra could stop him. Another shot was fired from a rifle flinging the boy off the boulder onto the ground below. Ezra had watched horrified from his hiding place as his friends chest blossomed in red while he hurled off the rock. He heard another scream from Mrs. Campbell that swung his attention back to the stage. He saw men running towards the rocks. He turned and scurried, still keeping low, into the cave being careful to not disturb the sagebrush too much. Inside the cave he scrunched all the way to the back into a tight ball. He heard the men as they found his friend laughing at what a great shot that was. He listened as they went back to the others not even bothering to look to see if there was anyone else around. He tried to not hear the screams of his mother or Mrs. Campbell or the other passengers, as they were tortured. He didnt want to listen as the outlaws laughed through the whole thing shouting suggestions that they should not only try the women but the men also. He couldnt help but hear several hours later the multiply booming shots before the sounds of several horses riding away. He quietly sobbed and shook until finally exhausted; he fell asleep curled into a ball.
Mr. Borley of the Santa Fe Stage Line quickly walked over to the Sheriffs Office. In his hand he clutched a telegram that he had just retrieved from the telegraph station. His troubled eyes searched the streets of Four Corners hoping to see some of the peacekeepers in town. Four Corners had six lawmen that watched over the town. Some might say that was excessive to the size of this small growing city, but in reality this town seemed to be the hot spot for attacks from crooks and outlaws. Because of the efficiency of the peacekeepers, more gold shipments were being sent through Four Corners on the stage. Now one of those shipments was late and Mr. Borley was worried.
He walked into the office and found Deputies JD Dunne and Buck Wilmington sitting at the desk going over wanted posters. Both men looked up as he entered giving him smiles.
JD greeted the man, Hello Mr. Borley. How are you today?
JD Dunne was the youngest of the lawmen in Four Corners and the most exuberant of the bunch. He was constantly on the move helping people or the other lawmen. He was treated like a little brother by all the others but no more so than with Buck Wilmington. Buck was the resident ladies man and charmer. He was always jubilant as he walked around town giving compliments and pleasantries to the towns people while on patrol.
Mr. Borley concerned look cause Buck to drop his smile as he heard the man say, Where is the Sheriff? I think weve got a problem. The stage is overdue by six hours. Holding out the telegram he continued, Ive already wired Rock Ridge to see when they left. According to the stage manager there, they departed on time.
Buck stood up taking the offered message and read it before handing it to JD whom was now standing. Looking at Mr. Borley, he asked, What are you not telling me?
Knowing how this was going to be received, the man hesitated before replying, There was a gold shipment on board.
JDs head quickly came up to glared at the hapless man. Chris isnt going to like this. You know we need to know about those shipments to help guard them.
Buck said, Its okay kid will let Chris handle it. I know Chris is with Vin at the saloon. Do you know where Josiah and Nathan are JD?
Yeah, theyre over at the church patching some walls.
Buck looked at Mr. Borley as he said to JD, You go on over and get them to meet us at the saloon. Tell them we got trouble. Mr. Borley and me are going over to see Chris right now. Well meet you there. Come on Mr. Borley. Might as well get on over there.
Mr. Borley sighed as he followed the deputy out the door. Sometimes he hated his job.
Buck led the way as they walked down the sidewalk to the saloon. He glanced at the man, Mr. Borley, who walked beside him. The man looked like he was going to his own hanging and rightly so. The sheriff had already had it out with the bank and the stage line about the gold shipments. They had just stepped up to the batwing doors leading into the saloon when a voice halted them.
Mr. Borley, Mr. Borley. Any word? asked Mr. Smithers the banker as he hurried over to them. Buck grimaced. He didnt like the sleaze fat man. He reminded him of a pig at slopping time gobbling up as much as he could.
Just received started the stage manager when Buck interrupted with a raised hand.
Looking at Mr. Borley, he asked, He knew it was coming in?
Of course. The bank is always notified. answered Mr. Smithers before Mr. Borley could reply.
Uh huh. Well you better come along too. I know Chris will want to see you in person, said Buck as he swung the door open for both men to precede him in. Shrugging his shoulders, obliviously to the trouble that he was walking into, the banker followed Mr. Borley into the saloon.
Buck followed the men in. Looking in the back at theyre usually table, he spotted Sheriff Chris Larabee sitting with another peacekeeper named Vin Tanner. Two men who when they first met a year ago had an instant connection. Somehow the scruffy buffalo hunter had with the first eye contact calmed the seething black clad gunslinger down enough to get him to help stop a hanging. A hanging that was unjustified besides saving the life of the only healer within a hundred miles.
Buck remembered that day clearly. He had been following his old friend from town to town trying to keep him alive. Mostly he would keep out of sight so as not to upset his amigo. At one time, Buck had been Chris best friend and right hand man on the ranch they ran together. The last two years before Four Corners, every since Chris family had been murdered, the gunslinger drank himself into a stupor trying to drown his pain and shoving his friends away. That day, when some drunken cowhands who blamed the local healer for their friends death, had seen Vin Tanner step out of Potters Dry Goods to make eye contact with Chris. He watched his old friend grow still then with a nod of their head simultaneous; they stepped out to stop them cowboys. He followed knowing that his help would be needed as there were eight men in that hanging mob.
He had felt someone moving behind him and turned to see this kid dressed in a suit wearing a ridiculous bowler hat. He started to tell him to go back home when the boy introduced himself as JD Dunne and that he knew how to shoot. By that time they had reached the mob. Somehow Chris knew Buck was there to back him up. He didnt hesitate to tell that crowd that there was going to be no hanging that day. He remembered how a soft Texas drawl told them in three words to let the black healer go. The words Cut him down had brought that crowd around to face them. They started laughing telling them they needed more men as eight outnumbered four. A cocking of a sawed-off shotgun behind them with the statement in a gruff voice of count again had the crowd pausing. Still some idiot had tried to draw his gun. He fell dead by a bullet from Chris smoking gun. Larabee had drawn so fast that it was in a blink of an eye. It seemed as if the mob took a single gulp before they cautious moved away. Buck, JD, Vin and Chris kept an eye on the dispersing crowd as the man with the shotgun helped the healer out of the noose around his neck. They introduced themselves as Nathan Jackson, healer, and Josiah Sanchez, former preacher.
Judge Orrin Travis, who had just got off the stage, watched the confrontation beside his daughter-in-law. He was there for the funeral of his son and to try to talk his sons widow into giving up the newspaper for her healths sake. It was later in the saloon that the Judge approached them offering them a dollar a day to be the lawmen of Four Corners. It seems he couldnt talk Mary Travis into leaving with her son Billy. Chris had puffed on his cheroot for a few moments looking at each man in the eye before turning to the Judge and accepting his offer. From that day forward they had kept the peace in Four Corners.
Now in that same saloon, Buck led the others over to what had become the peacekeepers table.
Chris, started Buck as he sat down, Weve got trouble. JD has gone to get Nathan and Josiah. They should be here in a moment. He then handed the telegram over to the Sheriff.
Chris took the message, read it then looked at the clock over by the bar. The batwing doors opened as JD, Nathan and Josiah came through. They saw their friends and immediately headed over to the table.
JD said there was some trouble, said Nathan as they stopped at the table. What kind of trouble?
Stage is late, replied Chris as he glared at the stage manager and banker. Six hours late.
Wondered about that since it didnt come at 10 oclock this morning. stated Vin. What else Bucklin?
Seems there was a gold shipment on board.
Thought we were to be told when one was coming, growled Chris. Anger seethed around him in a cloud.
Mr. Borley winced from the glare of Sheriff Larabee as he said, I was going to but Mr. Smithers had talked to the Stage Company persuading them that it would be best if it was kept secret. I tried to talk some sense into them but I was ordered then not to say a word.
The glare turned to the pompous banker who said, It was decided that no one should know. It wouldnt be the first time someone who knew decided to steal the shipment. Just look at the former Sheriff of this town. Whats to say it couldnt happen again? And it did! What are you going to do about it?
Deadly silence rang in the saloon as six men stared angrily at the banker. Mr. Borley stepped away from the man distancing himself. Chris slowly rose from his seat as he pinned the unfortunate banker with his hazel eyes, who just realized he had insulted a very dangerous gunslinger. Mr. Smithers gulped as he took a step back from the advancing Sheriff. Josiah placed a hand on Chris shoulder saying, Easy brother.
Chris paused in his advance. Snarling he said, I ought to let you stew in this mess you created but there are innocent people involved. Well go searching for the missing stage. Vin and JD go get the horses ready. Buck, Josiah gets supplies. Nathan grab you bag and whatever else you need. Meet you boys at the livery.
As his five deputies left to do their assigned task, Chris turned to Mr. Borley. The message said that there were six passengers on the stage. We need to know how many were women and how much gold was there?
Mr. Borley nodded, I sent a wire back to Rock Ridge asking for the passenger list. As to how much gold, there was thirty thousand dollars.
Now see here, Mr. Borley, squawked the banker. There is no need for them to know
Mr. Smithers stopped as the black clad lawman turned and glared at him. I would advise you to shut up. Your stupidity might have already cost some lives. Next time I want to know when a shipment is coming or Im sure the Judge will see fit to put you on trial as an accessory. Turning back to the stage manager, he said, You can tell you company that next time if Im not informed, they can find their own damn money. Now I want that information before we leave.
Yes sir, said Mr. Borley as he followed him out leaving the stunned banker with is mouth opened. He would have laughed if the situation werent so bad.
Vin Tanner used the tracking skills he had been taught when he lived with the Indians. He had been five when his mother died leaving him alone. He wandered around living off of berries until a hunting party had found him. He stayed with the tribe until the soldiers came. Then he did some scouting for the Army and other odd jobs until he met Larabee and the others. Now he found himself a lawman leading the posse as they searched for a missing stage.
Chris rode up beside him. Vin said, Figured to follow the stage route until I find some sign. Dirk the driver likes to stop at this little watering hole about two hours ahead.
Chris spoke, Huh good. Means will get there while theres still some light.
They had solemnly road out of Four Corners after receiving the passenger list from Mr. Borley. Chris had looked at the paper in his hand and then swore. He handed the list to Nathan so he would know what he might have to deal with. The men had no illusions as to what some outlaw gangs were capable of.
Nathan had taken the paper to read. He had grown pale as he said, Oh God, two men, two women and two children besides the driver and the shotgun ride along.
Josiah looked at his friend before he said, Lord protect them. And that was all he said as he pulled his shotgun waiting for them to ride. His face had grown sad and hard.
Buck had sucked in his breath before uttering, Aw Hell.
JD didnt say a word as Vin nodded his head saying, Best be moving. He led the way on the trail out of Four Corners.
Two hours later they saw the buzzards circling over where the watering hole would be. Knowing this was not a good sign; the six men kicked their mounts into a run to reach the site.
Mother of God!
Hell and damnation!
Six men sat on skittish horses staring at the grizzly sight before them. Bodies laid haphazardly everywhere in torn clothes with pools of blood and flies surrounding them. The stage sat right where it had been left, its horses still by the watering hole where the driver had tied them. The steeds had shifted as far away from the smell of blood and death as they could.
The men sat in stunned horror until Nathan step off his horse to check the bodies. Someone could still be alive.
Hold up, Nathan, commanded Chris. Let Vin read the track before we go messing it up.
Chris, someone could still be alive. protested Nathan though he still stood by his steed going no further.
Even I can see their all dead, Nathan, said Buck. Theyve all been executed with head shots.
JD had tears streaming down his slightly green face as he asked, How could anyone do this?
Vin jumped off his horse and started circling the site, tracking. Josiah tried to answer the kid. I dont know son except there is evil in this world. Waving his hand to include the area where they waited, he continued, It just decided to show itself in this manner. Only thing we can do is to treat the dead with respect in getting them back to town to be buried. Notifying their families.
Chris growled, And getting whoever did this.
Vin started explaining what he was seeing as he read the sign. They had been resting for awhile before eight to ten other horses rode up. Following the trail he continued, Some men got off their mounts here. I say about four of them. He squatted down reaching his hand to touch the ground. Seems one of the woman was being ruffed up. Tracks show her smaller footprints struggling with a mans larger ones. Id say this fellow, here he pointed to the only body that bore no other mark except a round hole in his head tried to stop it. Tracks crisscross a lot here and get blurred. I think you can come in now Chris. But stay in the center of the site. I should be able to find the bastards trail on the outside.
JD go see to the horses. If theyre all right, hook them up. Well use the stage to take the bodies back. ordered Chris as they moved into the campsite.
JD turned his mount toward the watering hole thankful that Chris had given him a job away from the murder scene. He really didnt want to lose his lunch in front of the other fellows.
The four men moved into the camp where Vin was. Nathan led his horse over to the nearest tree, ground hitching it. Buck, Josiah and Chris who had Vins mount did the same, then moved to where Vin was standing. They stood a moment looking about them. Rage began building at the wanton destruction.
Sighing, Buck said, Ill gather some blankets to wrap them in.
Josiah was looking around when with a puzzled expression he asked, Didnt you say there were two children, Nathan?
Yes, thats what the telegram said. answered Nathan. Suddenly the five men started searching the site. Vin stopped close to the stage and bent down. Picking up a spent cartridge, he said, This looks like it came from a rifle. The others heard him as they continued to look around. Suddenly Vin paused, thinking as he looked around before he said, Damn it! Everyone, dont leave the camp. Let me check outside for tracks.
As the others came back to the center, JD brought the horses up and started hitching them. Buck went to help telling him what was going on. Vin started walking a circular path expanding outward muttering to his-self. They stop. Kids like to play. They always like to move. Cant keep still. Parents would like them to stay close but know energy needs to be spent. Where would you go? Where would you go?
Chris smirked at the others as they listened to the running monologue of the tracker. Nathan touched Josiah motioning for him to follow as he led him to the nearest victim. It was a woman with brown hair. She could have been pretty but they couldnt tell. The bullet had done a lot of damage to her face. In fact, all the victims faces were messed up. Bending down, Nathan instructed Josiah to help him with the body. As they examined it, Vin kept circling as the other watched and listened to his occasionally whispering. It was a tribute to how disturbed the usually quite man was. Unexpectedly Nathan whispered, Oh, Lord, as Josiah angrily cursed, Damn them!
What? asked JD, who had jumped at the sudden noise. Vin stopped and looked back.
Nathan shaking his head looked sadly at the others. She was raped.
The statement hit like a thunder bolt echoing around the camp. In drawn breaths were taking as they heard the healers words. Vin looked at Chris and saw the black clad mans eyes darken as they flared with fury. Looking back at Vin, Chris said, Lets find the children and find the trail so we can catch these animals. Turning to others, he said, Check the rest and then put them in the coach. The sooner we get them back to Four Corners the sooner we can go hunting.
In stony silence, they went about the job of retrieving the poor souls of the stagecoach. Buck and JD went over to the man who clothes hadnt been bloodied. Taking a blanket they wrapped him up and placed the body in the stage. Nathan said, Josiah, lets wrap her up. Buck, JD, I will need to check each body. So after we cover them, you can place them inside the coach. This way will be easier and faster. Nodding their agreement, they continued working. Chris stood guard watching as Vin worked the crime scene.
Vin was in the shrubs still checking for sign when Chris saw him stop and drop to his knee. Therere footprints going from the camp here. Not the prints of kids though. Seems to be heading towards those boulders. Looking back at Chris, he quietly said, Kids like to climb rocks. Bet that they were over there. With a silent agreement, Chris walked over to Vin. Looks like these prints were running.
JD hearing this asked, Suppose the kids got away?
Buck looked at Chris and Vin knowing the chances was slim. I hope so JD, I shore do hope so.
Amen brother, prayed Josiah quietly. Amen.
Chris said to Vin, Lets go.
Vin turned and started following the footprints. They led right up to the smaller boulder that had sagebrush and shrubs around its base. Following the trail that led behind the brush, Vin stopped. Feeling Chris come up beside him, he turned imploring blue eyes upon his leader to see if he saw what was there. Chris looked and cursed, Gawd damn it to Hell!
The others cringed but Nathan was the only one to ask pleadingly, Chris? Please dont let it be the kids he silently prayed. Please, please, please. But his prayers were not to be answered.
Nathan, we found one. No, dont come, Chris raised his hand. Ill bring him to you. Vin keep searching for the other one.
Bending down, Chris lifted the small body up into his arms. Looking at his best friend, he whispered, Theyre dead men. Either by us or by rope if we catch them alive, but theyre dead men. Vins eyes had gone hard like ice chips. He snarled, You got that right.
Nathan finished the blond woman while Josiah went to take Chris burden. I got him Chris. Vins going to need your help, said Josiah as he gently took the small body from Chris. Chris placed his hand on the blond head of the boy before nodding and turning back to help Vin. They figured they were now looking for another victim.
Vin had watched Chris carry the dead child over to Josiah. Dread filling his heart, he continued searching the ground around where the boy had lain. He frowned as he noticed that the footprints were all adults. He searched again before looking at the position the body had been in. Looking up at the top of the smaller boulder, he then measured the distance. Chris had returned and stood silently watching the tracker.
Noticing a frown on Vins face, Chris asked, What is it?
Dont see any footprints of the boys around where his body was. Only tracks are that of the adults who ran from the camp to here. See here, he squatted down to point out what he saw, big prints milled around the boy. None of them is the kids. Pointing to the impression of the body and then to the top of the boulder, he said, Thinking that he was shot off the top of that rock, Cowboy. Only explanation I can think of for not finding his footprints. Lets go check the other side for tracks.
Checking on the others at the camp as they went back around to the front of the boulder, Chris stopped. Wait, Vin. Somethings up.
Vin saw that Chris was staring into the campsite. Looking over he saw Buck and JD over in the trees. Buck looking a little green was patting JDs back trying to comfort the kid as he heaved. He heard Nathan telling Josiah to go brew some of the tea in his pack, which would help an upset stomach.
Is JD alright? queried Chris of the others.
Not wanting to shout, Nathan walked over to them. They both could see the anger in the healers face. Chris...I dont know how...it just makes me sick. JD heard me and Josiah talking as we examined that body, here Nathan pointed to the man hed just walked away from. I thought I was talking low enough and he was busy helping Buck that he wouldnt hear but... again Nathan paused as his fists clinched.
Out with it Nathan. Just tell me. ordered Chris sharply. Nathan knew his anger wasnt directed at him. Chris fury was building and what he had to report...he shuddered.
Quietly, Nathan reported, That man was molested like the women.
Chris body went cold as he closed his eyes so Nathan wouldnt see his wrath. He took several deep breaths as Vin said something in Cheyenne that was obliviously not pleasant. Opening his eyes, he said, Alright Nathan. Be sure to put that in the report when we get back. If they, pointing to the other bodies, have been treated the same make a note. JD going to be alright?
Yeah. Josiah is putting on some tea to help with his stomach. Damn it, Chris. What Ive found so far says these people were brutally tortured before they were shot. I know Im suppose to saves lives but this! This is too much! raved the usually gentle man.
Chris placed his hand on Nathans shoulder in support. I know Nathan, I know. But well get these animals. Lets get this over with, then well find the bastards so they can hang.
Nodding his agreement, Nathan went back to the site. Buck was talking softly to JD as they walked back into the camp. The kid was still pale but Chris noted that the boys eyes had gone hard. Chris was proud of JD. The boy had grown a lot since their first meeting. He just wished he didnt have to grow up so fast but life was harsh in the west. If he was going to stay out here, he would have to realize that there was evil as Josiah said. Didnt mean he would have to accept it. None of them had to accept it. Besides it was their job to try to make the place safer, to stop things like this. Glancing at Vin, he said, Lets get to it.
Vin turned back to the job at hand. Going to the other side he stopped short of the rock. Kneeling, he pointed as he said, Look here. Thats the kids tracks. Two of them. Standing he followed the trail to the base of the boulder. They continue here and around the base. Bet the kids found someway to climb to the top. Give me a boost up Chris.
Larabee bent down and cupped his hands for Vin. Boosting his friend up, he watched as the tracker scrambled up to the top of the rock. Stepping back a few paces to keep an eye on his friend, Chris saw Vin moving around before he dropped to his knee. Find anything? he called.
Yep. Looks like both boys were up here. Theres several stepping stone at the back of this boulder. They probably came that way. Top up here is like a bowl with some bushes and packed dirt. Show the prints real good. They were standing here, Vin stands up and then moves to another spot. Looks like they then laid down here behind this bush. He kneels again saying, One gets up...theres blood splotches...must of been the one we found. They shot him from down there knocking him off this rock. The other... Vin goes quiet as he stands back up looking toward the larger rock.
Chris watches as his friend is standing stock still. He begins to worry when Vin suddenly looks down at him. The expression on Vins face causes Chris to stiffen. Vins eyes are alight with hope as he gives a small smile saying, Theres a small opening here. Might be a cave. Theres only kids prints up here.
Chris looks at his best friend asking silently, Are you saying one might be alive? He gets a nod of conformation. He nods back, Go. Without a word Vin disappears from view. Chris waits a few minutes, hoping, listening. He hears scraping then the dry crackle of bushes snapping. Sounds of Vin talking, then he sees his friend as he appears up above him.
Vins face wears a grin as he looks down at Larabee. Hes alive. A moment of joy floods the soul at finding something good. One was alive. Vin expression then changes, Hes way back in this cave. Its too small for any of us to go in. Hes terrified, Chris. Im going to have to talk him out.
Need some help?
No...too many people might keep him in there. Hes frightened enough. What you could do is let the others know and bring me some blankets. Water too. I would bet he hasnt left this hole the whole time.
Chris said, Okay. On my way and Vin?
Dont call me Cowboy! growls Chris.
Ezra had woken up once from his exhausted slumber. He was cold but too frightened to leave his hiding spot. He laid there shivering as the screams of those tortured rose up to fill his mind. He wept again until he fell back to sleep. A sound woke him. He was disoriented, confused. Then he heard a voice, he whimpered trying to curl into a tighter ball. He hated himself for his fear. He bit his lip trying to be quiet. He listened again this time hearing the voice talking to someone else. He peeped out from under his arms not seeing anyone. God please dont let them find me he prayed. He duck back down as a man appeared in the opening of his cave. No, no, no he shouted in his mind as he tried to scoot further back. He heard a voice talking softly to him but he was so scared he couldnt comprehend what was being said. Slowly he began to understand the soft voice as it kept repeating.
Hey, its okay. No ones going to hurt you. Its okay. Calm down. No ones going to hurt you. I promise no one is going to harm you. Calm down, okay. Its going to be okay.
After awhile the soft pleading words finally penetrated his frozen mind. He looked up at the entrance seeing a long hair scruffy man with kind blue eyes in a buckskinned jacket. It was the expression in the eyes that told Ezra the man wasnt there to hurt him. But looks can be deceiving...so said his mother. He asked, Who...who are you?
A look of relief crossed the mans face as he replied, Im Vin Tanner. Im part of the law from Four Corners. Were here to help, okay? Can you tell me your name?
Ezra...Ezra P. Standish. Pl pleased to make your acquaintance. he whispered.
Vin blinked for a moment taken back by the polite manners. Ezra. Sounds like a right good name. I just want to let you know, Ezra, that were going to get you out of here. Do you think you can trust me? Trust me to help you?
Ezra studied the man who waited for his answer. He could read people pretty well. His mother had taught him that. He had to be able to read a potential mark for gullibility or danger. Using his skills, he read the mans body language and eyes. His body was relaxed showing no telltale sign of tension. He blue eyes were clear, no hint of deception. Ezra read only concern and worries in the expression of the man before him. Nodding his head, he said, Yes.
Good, good. Do you think you can come on out of there? I know it must be cold. I got a blanket and some water for you.
Ezra nodded as he hesitantly moved across the cave shaking from the cold. The mention of warmth and water created a need in him. In all his life, Maude had never given him any comfort when he was hurt or ill. She would tell him no one cared what your needed, everyone was out for themselves. He could trust no one. She created a hard life for him with only mistrust and conning. Now at the age of ten, the shock of what he had seen and heard caused a need for security. He started crying as he crawled to the man who offered him sanctuary.
He made it finally to the entrance. Still sobbing he reached out to the hand that was waiting for him. The man who was on his knees, pulled him out and into his arms. They stayed that way for several minutes with Ezra crying on his shoulder, while the tracker made soothing noises. Releasing him for a moment, Ezra watched as his rescuer picked up a blanket and wrapped it around him. He laid his head back on the mans shoulder as Vin began rubbing up and down to generate some warmth. On impulse and need he clasped his arms around Vins neck burrowing as close as he could. Vin simple picked him up and sat down with him in his lap giving the comfort that Ezra craved at that moment.
After a few minutes, Ezra was asked if he was thirsty. Nodding his head, he released the tracker who reached over and grabbed a canteen. Water never tasted so good as he drank. He wanted to guzzle the liquid but the urgings of whoa, easy, dont want you to get sick slowed him down. Wanting more but realizing the man was right, he reluctantly let go of the canteen.
Promise to give you some more later, okay? He nodded his understanding as he laid his head back onto the mans chest wrapping his arms around him. As he listened to the heartbeat under his ear, he realized at this moment, he never wanted to be let go.
Vins heart broke as he looked into the terrified green eyes of the boy huddled at the back of the cave. He wanted to do nothing more then crawl in there and hold the kid. But the boy was scared, sobbing so hard he didnt hear him at first. Soon his pleading soothed the boy until he trusted him enough to come out of the cave. The boy eyes were red-rimmed; his lips were tinged with blue as he shook with cold from his entombment. Vin could only embrace the child who unexpectedly clung to him. His thoughts were that the men, who did this, wouldnt even make it to trial if he had anything to say about it. Taking his bandana, he wet it with water from the canteen before wiping away the boys tears and runny nose.
Ezra was sitting back as he finished cleaning his face. Smiling, Vin asked, Ready to get down from here? Got some others who want to met ya.
A flash of fear flared in the green eyes before it was hidden. Cautiously, Ezra queried, Friends?
Yep. The other lawmen I mentioned. Ready to go?
Ezra thought a minute. He was safe up here with this man but it was foolish to wish to stay here. He realized for the first time in his life he complete trusted someone. He hadnt even trusted his mother. He nodded his head yes as he climbed out of Vins lap.
Vin grinned at the boy thinking the kids got guts. Standing up he walked around to get the feelings back into his legs. Hed been kneeling on his knees too long before he sat down. Now he worked out the kinks. Taking the boy with him, he strolled over to the edge, looked down and said, Chris, Id like you to meet Ezra P. Standish. Ezra, that there is Chris Larabee, Sheriff of Four Corners.
Ezra looked down at an unsmiling black clad man staring up at him. He would have stepped back, but Vin put his hand on his shoulder steadying him. He looked up at his new friend as he said to the man below, Tone it down a little, Cowboy. Youre scaring him.
Ezra looked down in astonishment, repeating, Cowboy? He didnt look like any cowboy hed every seen. He watched as the Sheriff glared at Vin saying in exasperation, I told you not to call me that!
Vin just chuckled, Right. Keep forgetting...Cowboy. Ezra watched in amazement as the blond man scowled then slowly began to return a grin. He realized they were teasing as he saw the mirth in the Sheriffs eyes. The eyes switched to him and he saw them change. They went from teasing to sadness.
Chris had waited patiently at the bottom after he had gotten the blanket and water. He listened as Tanner pleaded for fifteen minutes with the boy. He glanced over at the others checking their progress. After he had informed them there was a survivor, the gloom lifted a little. They were moving quickly to load the bodies so the boy wouldnt see them. As he was gathering the water and blanket, it was decided to spare the child any more traumas. Now he was waiting for Vin to bring the boy out.
He balled his hands into fists when the childs crying reached him. He listened as Tanner soothed the childs fears, gaining his trust. Lord, he knew this was going to be hard. Finally, Vin came into view and he had his first look at the boy. He was a small lad with brown hair and the most startling green eyes. The child watched him with a solemn expression after the introductions had been made.
Chris heard Ezra speak politely, How do you do Mr. Larabee. Its a pleasure to meet you.
Like Vin before him, the polite greeting surprised Chris. Lifting an eyebrow, he replied, Hello Ezra. Are you ready to get down from there?
Were going down the back way by the steps I mentioned. Meet you there. Vin and Ezra both turned to head for the steps. Chris checked the progress of the others before he headed back behind the boulder. It looked like they had finished cleaning up. He noticed that JD was drinking that tea of Nathans. Getting an idea, he hurried to meet Vin and the boy.
Rounding the corner, he saw Vin reach up and help Ezra down. Getting a closer look, he noticed the boy looked tired, worn out. After Vin helped the child down, Ezra moved to stand closer to him. Chris recognized that he felt safer with Tanner. Making his mind up, he went up to the child and knelt so he was on the same level. Chris said, Ezra, I know this is hard. We want to make it as easy for you as possible. If you want, you can wait here while I go get Vin horse. You dont have to go back to the campsite.
Ezra caught his breath. He had to ask, he had to know. My mother?
Chris wasnt going to lie to the boy. Im sorry, son. We found no one alive but you.
Ezra closed his eyes as he shifted closer to Mr. Tanner and leaned into his side. He felt his new friends hand fall on his shoulder then squeezed to give support. Ezra said, May I please wait here. I dont think I dont think I can face. He couldnt finish as he bit his lip to keep from crying again. He didnt want to cry any more. A single tear slowly made a trail down his cheek.
Chris felt tightness in his chest as he patted Ezras arm in sympathy. Its alright. We understand. Standing up he looked at his best friend. Wait here. Ill bring your mount up and you go ahead to town. Take him to the clinic; you know Nathan will want to check him out. He probably wont be too far behind.
Okay. Vin bent down to pull the blanket more tightly around Ezra.
Ezra opened his eyes as he whispered, Thank you.
Chris left to return within ten minutes leading a horse. Vin climbed on and waited for Chris to hand Ezra up to him. After he settled the child in front of him, Chris clasped his forearm. Vin said, See ya in town, Cowboy.
Chris smirked, See you, Cowboy. See you later, Ezra.
Ezra reached up and touched his head in salute nodding. Vin swung his mount around heading back to town.