Ezra couldnt stop thinking about what had happened. He fought with his emotions, trying to control them. Maude would be appalled at his loss of...but then she was gone. His mother had not really been there for him. He had spent most of his life living with either distant relatives or old friends of his mother. Other times she let him travel with her as long as he was useful. In reality, Ezra had never settled in one place to long to grow attached to anyone or anything. That was what was so confusing about how he was feeling right now. For some reason he had complete trust in Vin Tanner. Oh, yes he knew he said he would trust him but that was just usually words not meaning anything. Not this time. Ever since he had reached out to take his hand and looked into those blue eyes, Ezras faith had been placed on Vin Tanner. He had never done that before, not even with his Mother. His heart ached with the emotion of loss. He leaned back into the man behind him. Mr. Tanner tightened his grip on him. He needed the contact, the touch of someone who cared. Maude had never touched him except to admonish him for his appearance, for his clothes not looking right. His chest tightened...he willed the feeling away.
Soon the rocking motion of the horse made him drowsy. His eyes closed as he drifted to sleep. The screams started and jerked him awake.
Vin had felt the child lean back and knew he was hurting. Losing you ma was bad enough but to lose her like that. He tightened his grip around Ezra to let him know he wasnt along. After awhile he felt the boy began to relax, going to sleep. Then he felt him jerk upright with a sharp indrawn breath and a shudder.
You okay, Ezra? asked Vin as he stopped his mount.
Yes...just, may I have some more water, Mr. Tanner? asked Ezra to distract the tracker. He must get control of himself he thought.
Sure. Hold on a minute. Vin reached down and retrieved the canteen. He watched as the boy took a drink. The green eyes were bright with tears reflecting a fear. So something else is wrong. It wasnt that you needed a drink thought Vin.
Handing the canteen back, Ezra inquired, How much further is it to Four Corners?
About an hour, maybe a little more. replied Vin as he returned the canteen to the saddle horn and kicked his mount into motion.
An hour, an hour where he could fall asleep and dream about what happened. No, he would have to keep awake somehow. What is Four Corners like?
For the next hour Ezra asked questions about the town, the people and the surrounding area. He asked about Judge Travis and the other lawmen. Vin had never talked so much in his life. He was use to traveling a whole day without saying a word. But he knew what the boy was doing. He knew about avoidance. After all, he had been trained to read people, animals, the land and the sky.
The lights of Four Corners finally came into view. It was a little after sunset when they rode into town. Ezra became quiet as they passed the first building, drawing the blanket more tightly around him. Like always he cased every building, noting their location and purpose. They rode through most of the town before Vin pulled over in front a livery. The building attached to it had a staircase leading to the second floor.
Vin dismounted tying his mount to the hitching rail. He reached up, wrapping his hands around Ezras waist, lifted him down to the ground. Ezra wobbled a bit after being in the saddle so long. Vin held on to him until he was steady.
Thank you, Mr. Tanner. responded the boy politely.
Welcome. Come on, lets get on up to Nathans. He wont be long. Got to warn you though, hell be fussing over ya for awhile. said Vin.
Im fine. There is no need for Mr. Jackson, it is his name? receiving a nod of conformation, For Mr. Jackson to worry. I will endeavor to not cause any undue stress or worry for the man. There is no obligation for his medical proficiency at this time.
It took a few minutes for Vin to work out what the kid was saying. Grinning at the ten-year old, Vin said, Well let Nathan decide that. Besides, Chris would have my hide iffen ya didnt see Nate. Wont take but a minute for him to check you out.
Ezra had no choice but to follow Vin up the stairs to the healers room. Vin was the only person he knew in this small town.
They climbed the stairs where Vin opened the door letting Ezra precede him into the clinic. He stood still as the man moved around inside the dark room. A match flared as Vin lit a lantern giving light to the area. Ezra was impressed as he moved inside, then about the room. Vin went and closed the door. The place was clean with shelves that were lined with herbs, teas, bandages, and medical books. One shelf had different types of bottles, cups and pans. There was one bed and a cot that was place beneath the one window in the room. A door at the other end of the room was closed but presumably led to the healers own quarters. A table with two chairs and a stove were placed beside the shelves. A water barrel stood in another corner.
After inspecting the room, Ezra moved to sit at the table where Vin was already at, folding the blanket he had be wearing he sat down to wait. If he had his cards, he would have offered Mr. Tanner a game. But his mother had told him to put them in his carpetbag after they left Tucson. He knew she was planning to con Mrs. Campbell into taking him for a visit when they returned. He hadnt minded, he liked Michael and had imagined the grand time they would have had. The horror of his friends death flashed before his eyes. He suppressed his feelings so as not to further disgrace himself in front of the tracker.
After a little while, his stomach growled. Looking away from the man he was studying, he looked down at it in surprise, saying, I apologize, Mr. Tanner for my bad manners.
No need for that. I shouldve realized you would be hungry. When Nate arrives, Ill go get ya some food. Anything special ya want? asked Vin.
No. Whatever you bring will suffice. Thank you. answered Ezra. May I ask you a personal question, Mr. Tanner?
Shore as long as ya know I might not answer. shrugged Vin.
What type of coat is that you are wearing? I have never seen anything like it. Ezra also wanted to ask about the gun strapped at Vins side but he decided to wait on that one. Ezra didnt really care what his friend was wearing. He was so worn out and tired he was saying anything to stay awake. His dread of sleeping and what it might bring had him looking for anything to help keep him up.
Before Vin could answer, the door to the clinic opened to admit Nathan Jackson. Ezra saw a tall black man with concerned brown eyes looking at him. The man closed the door and walked towards them.
Vin stood, Hey Nate, glad your here. Ezras a mite hungry so while you check him out, Ill go get us all some food. Anything special?
Ezra and Nathan were staring at each other; one was sizing the other while the other was checking for any signs of injury. Ezra was a little afraid of this man who looked stern. Taking the initiative as he held out his hand, in his southern drawl the boy said, Hello Mr. Jackson. My name is Ezra P. Standish. At you service sir.
Nathan was surprised at the greeting he received. It was a moment before he took the childs hand saying, Uh hello Ezra. Nice to meet you.
Vin said, Now that ya been introduced, Ill go get that food. Be right back.
Ezra watched with trepidation as Vin left the clinic. He looked at the tall healer. Mr. Jackson, as I was telling Mr. Tanner, I do not require your medical services at this time. Those bandits never saw me.
Nathan looked at the small boy. He could see the child was dead tired with dark circles beginning to form under his green eyes. Hes complexion was still pale as he stood before him. He also noted the moment of fear that entered the eyes as he watched Vin leave. He sighed as he knelt before the child. I know but I still need to make sure youre alright, okay? You were in that cave a long time. Let me at least check for fever or any scrapes.
The boy looked at the healer seeing only concern etched in his features. Very well, since you insist.
Good. How about sitting on the table here and Ill sit in this chair.
Ezra climbed upon the table and wait patiently as Nathan checked for fever by placing his hand on his forehead. He ran his fingers over his back and chest, tapping here and tapping there. He asked Ezra to show him his hands. Ezra was surprised to see they were scraped and bruised.
Nathan gathered water, cloth and salve to tend to Ezra hands. He placed everything on the table before he sat down in front of the boy. Taking one of Ezras hands he started cleaning, They aint so bad. This shouldnt take long and youll be good as new.
It appears that I was in need of you services after all, Mr. Jackson. I hadnt realized they were in this shape, said Ezra. Silence settled over the two as Nathan worked. Ezra began to feel nervous in the stillness. Mr. Jackson?
Where do you hale from? inquired the boy.
Georgia. Why? asked Nathan as he worked.
No reason, just making conversation. Ive been there you know, to Atlanta on one of Mothers business trips. They were still making renovations to the parts of the city that had been burned so long ago. Mother told me how grand the city was before the war. You know I was born after the conflict in North Carolina.
North Carolina? I heard theres some beautiful land up there.
They talked about other inconsequential things as Nathan fixed the minor cuts. They were chatting as the door opened abruptly admitting Vin carrying a laden tray. Nathan noticed that Ezra jumped then relaxed after he saw who it was.
Hey, I thought ya werent hurt, Ezra? Nathan? asked a concerned Vin as he saw the bandages. He hurriedly laid the tray on the table on his way to the boy.
Just some small scrapes, Vin. I wanted to clean them out so they wouldnt get infected. Ezra is fine, just needs some food and sleep. replied Nathan as he began cleaning up so they could eat.
Nathan went into his room bringing out another chair so all three could eat at the table. The meal progressed in the same way as the previous conversation. Vin noticed that the boy only ate about half his food before he started pushing it around. He glanced at Nathan to see if he had noticed and received a nod of acknowledgement. Soon Ezra head was nodding as he fought sleep.
Nathan said, Your exhausted Ezra. Why dont you lie down and sleep? You can use the cot over there.
No! No, Im not tired, grinned a suddenly bright eyed child. Ezra knew the dreams and screams would start the minute he fell asleep. Maude had had little patience with nightmares of little boys. Ezra had a fear of shaming himself in front of the others.
Vin winked at the healer as he said, Well, then I guess you could go on patrol with me. Since the others wont be back for awhile longer, its up to us to protect the town. You go ahead and turn in Nathan. I know you were up most of last night with Furgerson. Ill just keep Ezra with me. Well be fine.
Nathan knew why the boy didnt want to sleep even though he was about ready to keel over. It was going to be a long, long night for Ezra.
Ezra followed Vin down the steps and across the road into the jail. He waited as again Vin found a lantern to light. Well Ez, lets take our first stroll through the town.
Mr. Tanner, my name is EZ...RA not EZ. Two syllables. Its not that hard to pronounce. corrected the child as he followed Vin out the door.
Vin Tanner was on the third patrol around town with the child Ezra Standish when the rest of the boys rode back into Four Corners after midnight. A very tired Ezra Standish had faithfully followed him on his walks. The boy would talk almost non-stop when they were in the jail between their rounds. On the patrols he would keep quiet so as not to distract the tracker. Vin had learned some interesting things about one Ezra P. Standish. Like he had never had a home as he had traveled all his young life. He didnt know his father but remember all the stepfathers and uncles he had stayed with. Vin noticed the way the boy cringed when he mentioned some of the stepfathers and uncles.
He knew how to play cards, knew many big words and how to pick locks. When Vin had heard that last one, Ezra just had to give him a demonstration. To say that Vin was surprised when the boy opened the jail cell with ease would be an understatement. Now they stood on the sidewalk watching as Josiah drove the stagecoach with its grisly cargo to the undertakers. Chris, Buck and JD were headed toward the stables with their horses.
Vin noticed that the boy had looked at the coach then turned to watch the riders. His face had gone blank while his complexion paled. Deciding to help distract the child, he said, Why dont we go see the others and ya can meet them?
Ezra looked at his new friend and nodded his head in agreement anything to not fall asleep, to stop the screaming that he had endured while hiding in the cave. He was so very tired. Ezra knew he would eventually have to go to sleep even now his eyes were burning and his head pounding. He would try to keep from sleeping as long as he could. He watched as the stagecoach driven by a big man wearing a poncho passed by. His mother was in there he thought. He focused his attention on the three riders that accompanied the vehicle. Ezra remembered the man dressed all in black as the Sheriff named Chris Larabee. He studied the other two as just like the stagecoach driver, he had never seen them before. One was tall with a moustache while the other was younger wearing a bowler hat. Ezra was surprised to see such a unique item this faraway West. He followed Vin to the stable to meet the others.
Chris stepped down wearily from the back of his horse. He had seen Vin and the boy as he made his way to the stable. He frowned. Why wasnt the boy in bed asleep? He looked across his horse as JD and Buck quietly took care of their mounts. There had been no kidding or joking from the usually happy twosome. Chris had noticed that Josiah had been praying almost all the way home. As he took the saddle off and moved it to hang on the stall wall, Chris made a note to himself to check with Nathan about his findings in the morning. Right now he was just too damn tired. Chris was turning back to his mount when he noticed Vin and the boy standing in the livery doorway. Again a frown crossed his face as he saw the pale complexion of the child and the dark circles under his eyes. He looked at Vin silently asking the question of why the boy wasnt in bed asleep.
Vin just gave him the look of *dont ask Ill tell you later*. Chris nodded his head as he turned back to lead his horse into his stall. He took the halter off before grabbing the curry brush. Char gently snorted his gratitude for the brush down.
Its been a damnable day thought Buck as he took care of his mount. One of the worse he had had in a long time. He looked at his young friend JD as he took care of his horse. The kid has handled it well for his first time. Lot better then when he and Chris had been in their first battle during the war. But even battle had not prepared him for the slaughter they had seen today. Buck had kept a watch on JD and Chris. It hadnt been that long since Chris had lost his family to cold bloodied killers. Seeing Vin walk in with the little boy they had found, Buck felt his heart lift. At least this time they had found someone alive. Kid looked all done in noticed Buck.
JD felt like he knew what Hell is about now...bodies strewn everywhere with the smell of blood of death. Oh JD had seen dead men before. You couldnt help that being part of the law in town. It was the brutality that sickened him this time. Unnecessary wanton murder, killing just to kill and for what reason? Money? Greed? Pleasure? He closed his eyes in tiredness leaning his head on his horses shoulder for a moment. He jerked as he looked up quickly when Vin cleared his throat.
Glad yall made it back in one piece. Thought I was going to have to come get ya.
See the town is still standing. replied Buck patting the rump of Brownie as he passed going out of the stall. He walked over to stand with Vin and the child. Buck glanced at the small boy standing close to Vin while he waited for the others to join them. He could see him better now as he watched the youngster step closer to his protector. Ezra would have been appalled if he realized that his face was not as blank as it should have been. Buck saw the tiredness, the fear, the wariness and pain? Looking closer Buck thought yep, there was that pinched look about the eyes that revealed pain.
Vin decided to start the introductions. Buck, this here is Ezra Standish. Ezra meet Buck Wilmington, part of the law in town.
Ezra looked up at the tall man and drew closer to Vin. Now he was standing with his shoulder barely touching Vins hip. Buck noticed the movement so he squatted down to be closer to the boy. Holding out his hand, he smile as he said, Howdy there Partner. Glad to meet ya.
Ezra looked at the smiling face. Mother said to be wary of smiles that would most assuredly be lies he thought. Look at the eyes. Most people didnt know how to hide the eyes that showed their true feelings unless they were trained like he was. Ezra had been trained by the best to be able to even read those that had been trained. Everyone had a motive his mother would teach him. So Ezra looked into the blue eyes of Buck Wilmington and saw only concern and friendliness. Ezra placed his small hand out to shake as he replied, It is a pleasure to make you acquaintance, Mr. Wilmington.
Buck had waited patiently as Ezra checked him over. The cautious child had searched his eyes until he must have found what he was looking for. He was startled by the greeting. Grin getting wider he said, Well, well, well. It my pleasure also, Ezra. Dont need to get all proper on the mister there. Name is Buck.
Mother says that gentlemen should always be gentlemen no matter what the occasion, Mr. Wilmington. And children should always respect their elders in proper manners, replied Ezra. Dear Lord he was so tired. He just wanted to lie down and sleep. Blinking back the sleep, Ezra watched as the man with the bowler hat walked over to join them.
JD had watched the interplay between his friend and the child. Finishing his task of caring for his horse, JD listened to the others. Like Buck his heart felt lighter at seeing the boy whole and not dead like the ones they had found. Walking over to the group, JD laugh as he said, Well, hes got you there Buck. You are old.
Vin grinned at Bucks expense as he introduced the youngest to the boy. JD this here is Ezra. Ezra, that there is JD Dunne.
Following his best friend and mentors example, JD knelt to shake hands with the child. Hello, Ezra. Glad to meet you.
Ezra could immediately tell that JD was someone he could trust. The mans face told everything. He was young and couldnt lie worth a plugged nickel. His eyes were so trusting, Ezra didnt think he had every seen so much life or trust in anyone. With more assurance he quickly shook JDs hand, It is an honor to make your acquaintance also, Mr. Dunne.
As JD began to rise up, Buck reached over and knocked his hat off. You must be getting old yourself, Mr. Dunne.
Awww, Buck. Quit it. complained JD as he bent down and picked up his hat. Grinning as he put it back on, he replied, Yeah, but at least Ill always be younger than you old man.
Chris was glad to see those two bantered back and forth again. It was a sign that things were getting back to normal. As Chris walked out of his horse stall, both barn doors were thrown opened wide. Nerves were still raw as everyone drew their guns while Ezra jumped behind Vin. Weapons were holstered as Josiah led the stagecoach team in.
Could use some help here, Brothers. Ezra heard from the big man wearing a poncho. He noticed a crude cross hanging around the mans neck. He relaxed after the others came forward to help the man with the horses. He moved off to the side as the men lead the animals inside then proceeded to wait as they removed the harnesses, water and feed them. The task was completed quickly with so many helping hands.
Yosimite gonna be mighty surprise when he gets up in the morning, stated Vin as he patted the back of the horse he was helping with.
The boy was standing quietly out of the way when Vin led Josiah over to meet Ezra. Ezra, this here is Josiah Sanchez. Josiah, Ezra Standish.
Josiah bent down offering his hand, It is a pleasure, Ezra. He waited while the tired little boy in front of him studied his face. He noticed the childs gaze take in his cross before the boy took his hand to shake. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance Mr. Sanchez.
Chris stepped up saying, Josiah?
Taken care of Chris answered Josiah. In that one word, he knew Chris was asking about the bodies in the stagecoach. In reply, Chris nodded his head.
Ezra yawned. His strength was about played out. He knew he couldnt last much longer but he really didnt want to dream or listen to the screams. So he shook his head, squared his shoulders and pretended. He was good at pretending, he had lots of practice. The exchange between the Sheriff and Josiah went unnoticed.
Vin was concerned now at how Ezra was looking. The child hadnt noticed that he was swaying, howbeit that it was a slight sway, but it was enough for Vin to notice. He had been with the child most of the night to now know that he was about to crash whether he wanted to or not. Walking quickly to the boys side, he placed his hand on his shoulder as he addressed the others. Town pretty quiet, Chris. Nathan was plum worn out so after we had eaten he went to bed. Whos got patrol tonight?
Vin told Chris with his eyes that he would be needed elsewhere. A small nod Chris gave Vin as he said, Buck, JD you have patrol until four. Wake me up and Ill take over. Josiah can get some rest and relieve me at eight. I dont have to tell you not to talk about what we found or have seen. Well have to make plans so well meet in the office at 10 oclock. Okay boys, lets go. We are going to have a busy day tomorrow.
Ezra, I have a room at the boarding house. Ya can bunk with me, said Vin as he guided the boy out of the livery stable. He felt the boy pause so before he could give an excuse that he wasnt sleepy, he continued, In the morning will have breakfast then go see Nathan to check out yer hands again. Ya know Nate wants to change the bandages.
Ezra was so befuddled now with exhaustion he only momentarily paused before Vin distracted him with talk of breakfast and bandages. Feeling that he should say something (though he didnt remember why), he couldnt find the strength to protest as Vin herded him toward what must have been the boarding house. Somewhere on the way his mind went blank until he found himself in a room staring at his protector whom was on one knee unbuttoning his shirt. When had they left the stable? When had he taken his coat off? He blinked to try to bring Vins face into focus.
Vin quit talking as he realized that the boy was about out on his feet. Ezra had stood still and stopped talking long enough for his body to start shutting down to rest. Vin led the child across the street, through the front door, down the hallway, opened the door and guided him into the room he rarely used. He gently stopped Ezra in the center of the room with the door open. He went to the oil lamp on the table and struck a match. He turned up the light before he crossed the room to shut the door. Chris, whose room was next door, stood waiting at the door. Vin silently nodded. Chris returned it before he walked down to his room as Vin shut the door. Back around he came to see that Ezra was standing, now swaying a little more, in the exact same spot he had left him. The boy was out on his feet with a glazed look. Vin shook his head as he searched through the sparse clothes he kept there to find an old flannel shirt that was long enough for a nightshirt for the child. Laying the shirt on the bed, he took the boys coat off him and then knelt down to unbutton his shirt. He was about on the fourth button when he heard a small voice say, Thank you Mr. Tanner.
Looking up Vin saw Ezra green eyes focused on him. Blue eyes stared into green for a few moments before Ezra gave a big yawn. In that few seconds Vin saw a trust in those eyes, the trust of a child. He wouldnt realize until later how hard it was or how much trust was given to him at that time. Vin grinned as the boy yawned again. He said, Yer welcome, Ez. Lets get ya ready for bed. Got an old shirt for ya to use for tonight. Well get yer other clothes tomorrow.
If Ezra had been more awake or even aware, he would have ensured that he changed his clothes himself facing Vin. As it was, he missed the reaction that the tracker gave as he saw the boys back. Tiny lines crisscrossed the small shoulders down the back. Not only that, but the boy was rail thin. Vin could count his ribs. Shock then anger flooded through Vin as he looked at the boy. For a full minute he stood stock still until he could control himself. Finally in mastery of his emotions, he said, Ezra, lift yer arms up over yer head so we can put this shirt on.
Ezra yawned again before he held his arms up. He felt the shirt slid down over his head. The sound of rustling came to his ear before he heard Vin say, Clime into the bed there. Ezra climb upon the bed and was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
Vin smiled at the peaceful look on the childs face as he tucked the covers around him. He then went to lay out his bedroll by the window. He thought about opening the window but the temperature had dropped and it would be too cold for the boy. Instead he opened the curtain window before crossing the room to blow out the lamp. He took off his boots and gun then crawled into his bed on the floor. He lay starring out at the stars thinking about the events of the day. It was a long time before he fell asleep.
Before the sun could touch the horizon in the morning, screaming woke Vin up causing him to roll out of his bed reaching for his gun. A second scream turned his head toward the bed. He saw Ezra twisting under the covers before he screamed again. Vin was up off the floor and standing over the bed before the fourth scream came. Gently, Vin started calling, Ezra, Ezra wake up. Yer dreaming. Come on, Ez. Wake up.
He didnt dare touch the child before he was recognized. Vin heard the door open and knew instinctually that it was Chris. He didnt turn, just kept his attention on the boy twisting in the bed. With the fifth scream, Ezra opened his eyes in stark terror searching the room. He saw Vin and with a little cry launched himself into the waiting arms. Vin gave a little oof as the small trembling body latched onto him. Encircling the child with his arms, Vin sat down on the bed.
Ezra was gasping and crying as he buried his head into Vin chest. The visions and screams still as vivid as he clutched at the tracker. He moaned, Make them stop, please. Make them stop.
Vin could do nothing but hold the child, stroking his back, rocking back and forth trying to comfort him. Shush, Ez, shush. Yer safe now, yer safe. He continued reassuring the boy as his eyes met Larabees who was standing in the now opened doorway. Vin shuttered at the fury he saw in his friends face even though he felt the same way. He kept rubbing the shaking back as he watched Chris get control of himself.
Chris had followed Vin and the boy back to the boarding house. Somewhere along the way, they both noticed the boy conked out on them, his body moving where Vin led. A solemn looked passed between them as Tanner closed the door. Chris headed to his own room. He only took his boots and gun belt off before falling into bed. Keeping his gun by his side, he thought *Wouldnt do to get undress as he had patrol in a couple of hours*.
Chris dreamed. He saw Adam playing in the yard at his ranch. Sarah was in the kitchen humming as she baked. He smiled knowing his life could not be any sweeter. Char his horse nickered in the corral as he walked out to see what his son was studying on the ground. He chuckled as he thought how full of life his boy was. He grinned as he saw the anthill that his son was looking at. He detoured toward his horse to give him a rub down. He heard Sarah calling that lunch was ready and to go wash up. He told Adam to go on and mind his mother but to tell her he would be there directly after seeing to Char. He had just reached out to his mount when he heard the first scream of his son. He quickly turned to see the house on fire. Sarah and Adam were inside!
The second scream woke Chris. He sat up in bed breathing heavily hating the nightmare. God the scream sounded real. The third scream had him rolling out of bed his stocking feet hitting the floor as he grabbed his gun. He thought *the boy in Tanners room*. He rushed out of his room as the fourth scream sounded and by the fifth scream he was at the door. He quickly opened it to find Vin holding onto a sobbing Ezra. He heard the child ask Tanner to please make them stop. Wrath like he had not felt since his familys deaths filled Chris. Black bitterness surrounded the gunslinger as he watched his best friend rocking a terrified little boy. His mind flashed to the crime scene of the murdered victims and he wondered how much the child had seen. He looked into the blue eyes of his friend. Vin nodded once. They were in agreement that the bastards would hang. Chris walked further into the room. He lightly touched the boys shoulder to let him know he was there as he said, Your safe now. We wont let them hurt you
Ezra swung around at the touch and voice of the other man. He must be slipping, as he hadnt noticed him. He looked at Sheriff Larabee as he sat down on the bed next to Mr. Tanner. He was embarrassed to be caught acting like such a baby. He was ten years old! A shutter went through him as he remembered what had happened. He didnt care what his mother said about appearances at that moment. Ezra burrowed closer to his protector as he spoke. I was on the boulder top with Michael Campbell. We were just exploring. Nothing more then exploring. I had just discovered the cave when these men rode in. They were shouting and waving guns. I grabbed Michael and we hid behind the sagebrush. They were waving guns and shouting taking what things the other passengers had. Then one of them he grabbed Mrs. Campbell. She screamed and Mr. Lindsey tried to help but they shot him. Then Michael he jumped up. Starting yelling for his mother and they they they shot him. Ezra starting shaking, his breath coming in hitches as he relived his friends death. He felt Vins arms tighten around him as he murmured that it was okay that he was safe.
After a few minutes passed as he got control of himself, Ezra continued, I stayed low as I crawled to the cave. I got as far back as I could. I heard them check out Michael, laughing before they went back to the stage. I heard heard screams. Mother I heard Mother Mrs. Campbell even the other men scream. They screamed for a long time then there was shots fired. Ezra felt drained and so tired. He started really crying as he finally accepted that his mother was gone. Not coming back. Never coming back. Ezras heart broke. It broke for his mother. For despite how Maude had raised her son, the abuse he had taken, she was still his mother. He had still had hope that she would someday treat him like he had seen others treated. Now that day would never come. Arms tightened and the rocking began again as he cried. The soothing tones of the voice he had heard in the cave and the beating of the heart in the chest he lay against soon sent him off to the first blissful sleep he had had in the last two days. Ezra fell asleep in Vin Tanners arms. He was soundly asleep as Vin laid him down on the bed and tucked the covers around him again.
Chris and Vin had listened to the story of the small boy. They had sat in stunned silence as the child told of the massacres of the other people. Chris wanted badly to ask the boy if he could describe the bandits, how many were there. But a warning look from Vin had stopped him. Ezra was tired, exhausted. He needed rest at the moment more then the information they needed. Nodding in agreement, Chris stood up and let Vin settle the boy into bed. He looked outside and realized that dawn had broken. He was going to be late in relieving Buck and JD at the jail. Vin motioned for him to follow him outside into the hallway. Vin softly shut the door before he turned to Chris. Chris took a step back at the expression on his friends face and in his eyes. At that moment, Larabee realized that Vin was probably just as dangerous as he was. Vengeance blazed from Tanners blue orbs. Hell and damnation was promised in his face. Wrath curled Vins lips into a snarl. Chris was reminded of Josiahs preaching on the judgement and punishment of the wicked in Sodom and Gomorrah from God. Total destruction and annihilation. Chris saw himself.
Vin had kept himself in check as he listened to Ezras story. Now he was away from the child so he let his rage flow. He squeezed his eyes shut to channel his anger away. He had to get control. But oh they were dead men. He wanted nothing more then to hunt them down and show them death in a slow light. So slow that they would scream for days. Scream and plead for an end but no end would be in sight. They would be screaming as they went into Hell. There they were to scream for all eternity.
Chris waited for Vin to calm down a bit before he said, Vin, well get them. Theyll pay for their crimes.
Vin nodded his head. Chris continued, You going to be all right? Ive got to go relieve Buck and JD.
Yeah, sighed Vin as he ran his right hand down his face. Yeah. Ill stay with the boy until he wakes up again. Well eat then Ill take him to Nathan to get his hands re-bandaged before we meet you at the jail. But Chris, I dont want him harassed. Well let him tell it in his own time.
I agree, replied Chris. He frowned. I didnt think the boy was hurt. Whats wrong with his hands?
Nothing but a few scraps and bruises from when he scrambled into the cave. Nathan didnt want them to get infected. Chris theres something else, warned Vin as he looked back at the room where Ezra slept.
Chris waited for Vin to tell him. Vin looked at his friend and stated, Ezra has whip marks on his back.
Whip marks? What type of whip marks? Chris questioned a little shocked.
I dont know what was used but it cut deep enough to leave scars. They been there for awhile maybe a few months some even older, replied Vin quietly.
What does Nathan say? asked Chris.
Nathan dont know. Ezra didnt take off his shirt at the clinic. I only saw it as I helped him undressed. I dont think I was suppose to.
Damn it. Children arent supposed to be treated this way, snapped Chris in a whisper. He didnt want to wake the child up with his anger.
I couldnt agree with ya more, said Vin as he quelled his own anger again. Vin knew about his friends family and how they died. He saw the weariness in the sage colored eyes. How ya holding up?
Me? Im fine, answered Chris.
Uh huh, Vin wasnt buying any of it. Nightmare?
Chris started to retort that it wasnt any of his business when he realized that this was Vin. A man whose soul had seemed to connect to his the first time they met. A man that seemed to read his mind as well as he read his, a brother of the heart. He drew a long breath then releases it as he nodded his head.
Vin laid his hand on Chris shoulder in support. Then he said, Ya better get going before Buck sends JD down to get ya. I think Ill lay down with the boy. Maybe keep the dreams away. Maybe get me a few more hours of sleep before we get breakfast.
Yeah, going to be a long day, nodded Chris as he turned to go to his room. Vin watched his friend until Chris opened his door and went inside his room. Vin sighed as he opened his own door and went inside. He stood for a few minutes looking at the face of a small boy with brownish hair as he watched him sleep. He looked so innocent lying there so peaceful. Ezra shifted in his sleep causing Vin to go grab his blanket from his bedroll on the floor. He lay beside the boy spreading the blanket over the both of them. The child drew closer to Vin seeking the protection that he knew intuitively was there. Vin gazed at the ceiling with one arm over the child in comfort as he thought. Yep, he had to agree with Chris. It was going to be a long day.
Josiah and Nathan walked out of the restaurant and strolled down the sidewalk toward the jail. Josiah had slept until around 6:30 that morning. He sat up wishing he could sleep a little longer but he wanted to eat breakfast before he relieved Chris at the jail at eight. None of the peacekeepers had eaten since lunch the day before. They had gone looking for the late stage prior to gathering for dinner. The only ones who had eaten late yesterday had been Vin, Nathan and the boy Ezra. He ran into Nathan so, they ate their meal together discussing the repairs that needed doing on the church or some minor ailment of the locals that the healer was taking care of. They knew not to talk about the events of the stage until after their meeting at 10 oclock that morning which Nathan found out about at breakfast. Besides they wanted to eat not throw up.
Now the two men walked into the jailhouse of Four Corners. Nathan had decided to help share the patrol with Josiah that morning. Both noticed the tired look upon their leaders face. He had not slept to good. Nathan being the healer that he was asked, You get any sleep at all last night?
Chris grimaced. He must look like shit.
You look a little under the weather, brother, noted Josiah.
Yep, he looked liked shit. Chris glared at his two deputies before he stood up to stretch. Got a couple hours. Nathan, you have that report ready? I want to send the Judge a telegram on what has happened, inquired Chris.
Nathan with sad eyes paused before he replied, Yes. Youre not going to like it. I checked all the bodies before we placed them inside the stage. Its as I feared. Except for the one male passenger and the boy, all the others including the driver and shotgun rider were tortured plus raped. From what I saw the women took the brunt of the rapes. The rapes were rough and violent. All of the bodies were torn up inside. All the men had cuts on their torsos besides being badly beaten. The boy took a bullet to the chest, killed instantly. All the others were executed by head shots; they didnt want any of them alive. The dark headed woman died sometime before they shot her.
Silence reign for a moment after Nathans report. What could the others say? It was a brutal massacre. Josiah hung his head then quietly said, Merciful God. I wonder how much of that the boy saw?
Chris sighed before he replied, Didnt see much but heard everything.
At the quizzical looks from his two deputies, he continued, We got back a little after midnight Nate. The child was still up. He was fighting sleep even as he was being introduced. Boy practically fell asleep as Vin walked him to his room afterwards. He woke up screaming around four this morning. Hell of a way to get woke up. I got to the room in time to see Vin holding Ezra trying to calm him down. He was begging Vin to stop the voices. Chris paused as he recalled the feeling of helplessness he had felt.
Shaking his head to get rid of past bleak memories, Chris recanted more of Ezras story, He then told us a little of what had happened. Mostly he saw the men as they were robbing the stage from the top of that rock we found him on. Ezra and the other boy whose name is Michael Campbell were exploring the area. He pulled the other kid down to hide before the bandits could spot them. He said they started getting rough with Mrs. Campbell, which caused that one man to step forward only to get shot for his trouble. The other young boy jumped up yelling for his mother. Ezra saw him get shot and fall off the rock. He hid in the cave when the men came to check on his friend. He said they didnt even check to see if anybody else was around. He didnt see any of the other stuff but he heard it all.
Nathan started swearing while Chris quirked his eyebrow up as he looked at Josiah who was just as shock at the unusually occurrence. It took a lot to rile the healer into such a fit. Both men grinned as they waited for Nathan to get control. He cursed the murderers seven ways to Sunday before he stopped. Taking a deep breath, Nathan asked, What kind of animal does this? Do we even have a lead on who it was?
Chris looked at both men. Might be the Catlin Gang. But well discuss this later. I need to send these telegrams out before our meeting. Going to get breakfast first though.
Chris nodded to both men before he walked out the door. Josiah, followed by Nathan, went to the door and watched as their leader walked down the street. He was amazed again at how the six of them had come together. He was grateful that Chris was on their side. The look in the mans eyes as he relayed what the boy had said did not bode well for the outlaws. Nathan voiced his exact same thoughts.
Those men are dead men by Chris look, stated Nathan.
Yep, agreed Josiah as he turned to go back into the sheriffs office. He walked over to the potbelly stove grabbing two tin cups along the way. He poured the hot coffee then handed one to his friend. Cant blame him either but Chris will do the right thing and try to bring them in to stand trial as long as they come in peaceable.
Nathan nodded in agreement. It would be another matter if the bandits tried to resist when they finally caught up to them. His thoughts grew dark as in his mind he saw the bodies again. He turned cold brown eyes to his friend as he said, This is one time that I hope they resist.
Josiah was shocked at his gentle friends statement. His own gray eyes grew darker as he remembered yesterday and this morning. Only if God grants us the favor, brother.
Chris walked into the restaurant sitting down at his usually table. It wasnt long before Maysie, the waitress, brought out his breakfast. He remembered a time when he roamed from town to town and no one knew what he wanted for his meals. Now it seemed he had settled down if the towns folks knew what he wanted to eat without him ordering. He thought about sending his food back and ordering something different just to let these people know they didnt know him that well. Instead he controlled his foul mood and started eating. Waves of tiredness and angry rolled of the gunslinger as he ate.
Maysie kept his coffee cup filled, as the other customers knew to keep their distance. They knew the towns peacekeepers had left yesterday to find the missing stage. The saw the stage sitting in front of the undertakers shop. No one had seen the lawmen return so they knew they had gotten in late. The mood of the Sheriff at breakfast told the citizens that things had not gone well. No one new had checked in at the local hotel or boarding house.
Chris was brooding about what the day was going to bring as he ate. He was half way through his meal when Vin walked in with the boy Ezra. Chris noticed that heads turned to follow the tracker and his shadow as they made their way to his table. The boy kept his eyes downcast as he trailed the buckskin clad man. Chris scowled at the other customers to let him know his displeasure at the attention until they looked the other way. No one wanted to get on the wrong side of their sheriff.
Ezra had waked up this morning in a strange bed in a strange room with a stranger lying beside him. At first he kept his eyes closed with his fuzzy thoughts as he tried to figure out where he was. He was warm but both his hands ache he thought. He was lying against a warm body feeling safe. An arm kept him close. Now that was strange he thought. He rarely felt safe. He was still so tired but his instinct was telling him something was different. He decided to open his eyes only to find himself looking at a dusty white homespun shirt. He frowned as he thought his mother wouldnt be caught dead in such a rough looking apparel. Mother. Ezra mind leaped in remembrance of what had happened. He stiffened as the memories returned. His green eyes traveled up until he was looking at the blue eyes of his rescuer. Mr. Tanner was his name. He relaxed as that safe feeling stole over him again when the man smiled at him.
Morning, Ezra, greeted Vin as the boy sat up.
Good Morning Mr. Tanner.
How ya feeling? asked Vin as sat up and stretched before getting up off the bed.
Ezra still sat on the bed as he replied, Fine.
Uh huh, grunted Vin as he looked at the child. The tousled-headed boy was sill pale with tired smudges under his eyes. The circles were not as dark as they had been the night before.
Well, we better get on down and get some breakfast. Were suppose to met Chris and the rest of the boys at the jailhouse by ten. Its going on eight oclock. Pretty near half the day gone.
Ezra looked at Vin in shock. Its only eight oclock? He would not have been even stirring before ten. Ezra suddenly had a flash back of hearing those screams, waking from the dream, crying out himself, pleading for it to stop and someone murmuring as they held him while he sobbed. He was mortified at his lack of control. He caught his breath. His lack of control in front of total strangers because he remembered that there were two people in the room while he told his story before breaking down. He cleared his throat before he spoke.
I want to apologize for my deplorable performance last night. I beg your pardon for my lack of manners as I didnt mean to disturb anyones rest Mr. Tanner.
Vin in his stocking feet had padded his way over to the dresser and poured water into the basin after getting out of bed. He was just about to wash his hands when he heard a slight hitch in Ezras breathing. Looking at the reflection of the boy in the mirror over the dresser, Vin noticed Ezra had grown paler. He turned in his worry that the child might be in pain when Ezra made his little speech.
Vin was dumbfounded. The boy was begging his pardon after what he had been through? Vin stated, Ya aint got no call to apologize for anything Ezra. I know many a man that wouldnt have been able to handle it as well as ya have.
Facing the basin again as he said, Come on and lets get ready. I dont know about ya but Im a mite hungry. Vin washed his hands then splashed water on his face. He patty his face then dried his hands on the towel that had been sitting on the dresser beside the pitcher when Ezra spoke again.
But Mr. Tanner, I dont have any funds on me at the moment. Most of my things are still on the stage and I dont have another change of clothing. I
Dont need another change of clothes. Those ya had on last night are good enough. Dont need to worry about paying for breakfast either. I think I can afford it for both of us, Vin grinned at the surprised look on Ezra face as he turned to face him. Now come on and get ready. Spect we got a busy day ahead.
Well, since youre buying Mr. Tanner I guess my apparel could last one more day. I dont suppose that I would have time for a proper bath? Sighing at seeing the negative shake of the trackers head, Ezra continued, Very well. Ill be ready momentarily.
Momentarily was another half-hour before the boy felt he was presentable to be seen out in public. Vin had never seen anyone, especially a child, fuss so much over his clothes and hair. Finally they walked into the restaurant to see Chris sitting at theyre usually table eating.
Chris, greeted Vin as he pulled out a chair and sat down.
Vin. Ezra, replied the Sheriff as he watched the boy pull out a chair then sat down.
Greetings, Mr. Larabee, saluted the southern boy as he settled in his seat.
Maysie brought over an empty cup and a sugar bowl placing them before Vin. While pouring the coffee from the pot she carried, she tried not to show the surprise at seeing a strange boy sitting at the peacekeepers table with them. What can I get for the boy to drink?
Coffee would be fine, Madam, interjected Ezra before the others could answer. He saw their startled reactions. He sighed as he said, Ive been drinking it since I was eight gentlemen. Although mother does insist that it have milk in it. Half milk and half coffee please.
Chris nodded his head to Maysie who went to retrieve a glass of milk and another cup. She poured the cup half with coffee as she asked, What would you like to eat?
Vin reached over and poured the required milk into the cup. He listened as Ezra told the woman that he just wanted toast. Shaking his head, Vin said, Bring him the same as me Maysie.
But all I require is the
Nope. Nathan wasnt too pleased at the amount ya ate last night though he didnt say anything. I aint going to have him on my butt saying ya aint eating enough. Ya can pick out how you want your eggs.
Ezra wanted to protest but one look at Vins then Chris faces told him not to. Scrambled please, was all he said. The boy was puzzled. He was not use to this type of treatment. He saw Vin seem to pour half the sugar from the bowl into his coffee while Chris just chuckled at the man. His eyes got bigger when the waitress brought out his plate with Mr. Tanners. It not only had his scrambled eggs but bacon and flapjacks covered with maple syrup. A full plate of biscuits was placed beside another that had already been sitting in front of Mr. Larabee. He stared at his food wondering how he was going to eat even a fourth of it when a buttered biscuit was also placed on his plate. He watched as Mr. Tanner grabbed another one, cut it open and slathered it with butter.
Better eat up, Ez, said Vin as he started on his on. Nate wanted to see yer hands this morning. Will go see him as soon as were through here.
Nathan is at the jailhouse with Josiah, informed Chris as he continued eating.
Ezra took a small bite of the scrambled eggs. They were light and had a buttery taste to them. A rumble came from his tummy as his stomach let him know that yes he was truly hungry. Chris and Vin shared a quick grin as a tinge of pink stained the boys cheeks at the sound. He took a bite of his biscuit. The food was good. For the next little while, Ezra paid attention to his meal. He could only finish half of what he had but he had taking a little from everything. His stomach which had not had much offered to it before, could only take so much. Ezra put his fork down offering an apology to Maysie as she came to refill Vin and Chris coffee, The food was exceptional, Madam. My compliments to the chef but I just can not partake of anymore.
Maysie blinked, Vin blinked, Chris blinked. The waitress said, Uh, Im glad you liked it.
Vin waited until the waitress had left before he said, Chris, well go get Nathan to check out Ezs hands. I want to ask Josiah to get the boys things from the stage coach.
Chris nodded his consent. Nobody in lock up so I dont see a problem. Im going to send some telegrams. Meet you at the office afterward.
Ezra stood up and followed both men out of the restaurant. He kept his gaze downward though he knew everything that was going on. It was a trick his mother taught him about appearances. He had had so many lessons on the subject. Dont let anyone know what you know unless it is beneficial to yourself.
Outside the restaurant, Mr. Larabee walked in the opposite direction as he followed Mr. Tanner. He drew closer to the trackers side as they headed for what he thought was the Sheriffs Office. Ezra got a better look at the town of Four Corners as they walked. It was a very small place compared to the bigger cities he had been to. Really wasnt anything here that would have been of interest to his mother. There wasnt much money to be made here. Ezra checked out where the saloons were located. Maybe he would be able to find a game to increase his funds, funds that were in his satchel at the moment.
They walked down to the end of the one street and into the jailhouse. The big man, Josiah and the black man, Nathan was sitting at the desk playing checkers. Ezra walked over to look at the game as the others greeted each other.
Vin. Morning Ezra.
Good morning brother. Good morning Ezra, greeted Josiah.
Good morning gentlemen, replied Ezra as he checked the game out. Looked to be about even.
Nate, come by to let you fix Ezras hands, said Vin as he went to the potbelly stove for some coffee. He poured himself a cup then went looking for the sugar.
Over by the gun rack, Vin, helped out a grinning Josiah. Both the preacher and healer smiled at each other as Vin found the sugar. Ezra was beginning to think that Mr. Tanner had a sweet tooth.
You want to come to the clinic now? inquired Nathan as he stood.
Naw, me and Ez will wait right here for ya to come back with you things. By the time ya get finished, the others should be here. Nathan gave a nod and headed out the door.
Josiah, could you go get Ezs things from the stage coach? Chris already said it was okay.
Yeah, sure. What am I looking for?
Vin turned to Ezra. The boy looked at him and swallowed. A small brown carpet bag. Its the only one on the stage.
Josiah nodded and said as he walked out the door, Be right back.
A comfortable silence fell over the two as they were left alone. Vin took one of the seats at the desk as Ezra wandered around the room looking again at the guns and the cells. Finally Ezra asked, What will happen to me now?
Vin felt his heart sigh as he said, I dont rightly know, Ez. But Ill help ya anyway I can. None of us will let anything happened to ya.
Ezra looked at his guardian. He knew the man would keep his word. He frowned as he looked at the tracker. Mr. Tanner, why do you shorten my name so? Its EzRa, not Ez. Its only two syllables, not that hard to pronounce.
Nope, not that hard. Just like to call you Ez, grinned the tracker with his blue eyes twinkling.
Well, I dont think its quite fair. I cant shorten you name, whined the boy.
He..ack! Vin caught himself. You dont even called me by my name Ez. You always calling me mister.
Its proper and what a gentlemen is suppose to do, Mr. Tanner, stressed the boy with his own twinkle.
I aint a gentlemen, stated Vin.
That I am well aware of Mr. Tanner. I realized that the moment I saw your barbaric apparel and heard your rhetoric, said the boy with a straight face.
Barbaric what thought Vin. Who is Rhetoric? Wait. Have I just been insulted? Vin looked at the boy who now wore an innocent expression. Now he knew hed been insulted. His heart lifted that the boy would be teasing him after what he had been through. Before he could reply Nathan walked back in with his bag of medical supplies.
Lets take a look at them hands, Ezra, said the black healer. After the bandages had been removed, Nathan gentle checked the palms. Healing right well.
Ezra waited patently while Mr. Jackson rubbed his hands with more salve before placing new bandages on them. Thank you for your excellent medical assistance, Mr. Jackson.
Josiah walked in as Nathan gathered his supplies back up. He was carrying a small brown carpetbag. Here you go, son.
Thank you Mr. Sanchez, he said as he took the bag. He now had some funds and a change of clothes. Plus a little surprise that his mother had given him for his eight birthday. Ezra was no fool. He knew those murdering bandits would come looking for him when they found out there had been a witness to their deeds. He knew that Mr. Tanner and the others would try to protect him the best way they could. But in his short life, Ezra found out that life wasnt always fair and you couldnt protect everyone. You always had to have a backup plan. Ezra set his bag out of the way as Vin got up from the desk. Josiah and Nathan returned to their checkers as everyone waited for the others to arrive for the ten oclock meeting.