Characters: Ezra, Mr. Hawkes (oc) and the rest of the seven show up at the end.
Disclaimer: They are not mine, never will be, I'm just playing. Chaucer belongs to Kristin who came up with the name.
Summary: Ezra meets up with a young gambler, there really isn't much of a plot I'm afraid. The song "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers very loosely inspired this story. I have used some words from the song in the story.
Please leave comments or suggestions to tell me what you think.
Ezra Standish looked up as a man climbed into the stagecoach and took the seat across from him. They had stopped briefly to change the horses and with a lurch, the coach rumbled out of town and on its way. There were no other passengers and it was rare that a traveler would embark at such a brief stop so Ezra studied the newcomer intently out of curiosity and long ingrained habit.
He was of medium height and build, light brown hair, dressed stylishly and had a pleasant enough face. A charming young man but the eyes that met Ezras' were growing old quickly and seemed just a bit jaded. The newcomer with a tip of his hat and a smile, that didn't quite reach his eyes, reached into his vest pocket, and pulled out a deck of cards, which he then proceeded to shuffle.
Ezra fought not to smile and moved his low crown hat just a little to cover his own deck, which rested on his lap. His journey had just become much more interesting. After a few minutes, watching the other mans deft hands he decided to initiate some conversation.
"You seem quite proficient, sir I take it you are a professional?" He asked, making sure that his southern drawl was admiring and non-judgmental.
The man looked up and the smile was a little warmer, a little more genuine, "Indeed sir, I am well versed in the art of the deal as they say." The tone was confident and self-assured and with a pang of nostalgia, Ezra remembered feeling like that a very long time ago.
"I am afraid that if it is gaming you seek on this trip, you will be severely disappointed. The towns we stop at are little more than one street affairs and filled with ranchers, farmers and the like." Ezra spoke from experience; he had wandered this way before seeking games.
The young man shrugged nonchalantly "I do not doubt it, Sir but since there is little else to do, a bit of poker with the local population will break the monotony of the journey, besides" he added with a disarming grin, "I could always use the extra practice".
Ezra laughed and agreed that yes one could always benefit from practice. They passed the time pleasantly enough. He didn't say much about himself or his profession and since he was dressed rather conservatively, when asked he merely replied that his work was tedious and he declined politely the request to play a game.
Mr. Hawkes, for that was the young mans name, was well educated and well traveled, if somewhat shallow and self absorbed, still Ezra sincerely enjoyed the intellectually stimulating conversation.
He was also somewhat filled with nostalgia; he could remember when he was young and filled with ambition and the knowledge that the world was his for the taking, though he cringed inwardly at the thought that he had been just as callow as his companion. Ezra felt a growing kinship with the younger gambler despite himself.
He was content to let the younger man guide the conversation. Past experience had taught him that listening and observing were the best ways to learn about ones opponents both in games of chance and in life. Mr. Hawkes was no doubt an admirable poker player but there were lessons that only time and life could teach.
For all his self-assurance and easy manner, the young mans tells were there to be read by another professional and Ezra was that and more. Nothing obvious, just a deprecating look, a too quick smile, a slight flinch and most of all the quick getaway on the stage, all signs of a life that wasn't quite as smooth as Mr. Hawkes would have him believe.
Ezra just smiled and went along with the con, and it was a con. He knew better then the other man could possibly imagine, about cons you didn't know you were running because you were running them on yourself. The pleasant façade, which hid the ugliness of being utterly alone, was all too familiar to him.
He wasn't going to say anything, it wasn't his concern. He was not one to care about the way another lived his life. Ezra believed in live and let live, look out for yourself after all no one else will, he told himself that firmly and almost believed it.
"You have friends waiting for you in St. Louis?" Ezra inquired, wondering what on earth possessed him to ask such a question.
The younger man gave a quite snort, "Friends unlikely, associates perhaps, in my area of expertise, you can only trust in money, and yourself, Mr. Standish, others most assuredly do not".
Ezra nodded, his eyes looking back into the past, of course he remembered that tilt of the head as well. He came back to the present with a start as the coach pulled up, they had arrived and it was time for him to depart.
"I thank you for your most enjoyable company these last few hours, Mr. Standish, I rarely meet anyone who would exchange a few words of greeting much less conversation, with a reprobate such as myself." Mr. Hawkes with genuine warmth.
"Thank you Mr. Hawkes, I also enjoyed your company and if you don't mind my saying in regard to your future endeavors, appearances aren't always everything" Ezra replied putting his hat on his head and pocketing his now visible deck of cards. He grinned at the younger mans raised eyebrow.
"Of course every gambler knows every hand is both a winner and a loser, it is all in knowing when to hold the cards and when to run." Ezra really didn't know what had come over him but he truly liked this younger image of himself, flaws and all and wanted to spare the man what life had harshly taught him. Good Lord, I have become maudlin in my old age, he thought to himself.
Ezra swung himself out of the stagecoach door and took the saddlebags and valise that the driver handed down to him. Mr. Hawkes was looking at him from the window as though he had suddenly grown two heads. Ezra flashed his gold tooth in laughter.
"A bit of advice my young friend, if you happen to meet four men in a saloon while pulling a con and they invite you to help save an Indian village, go along, the gold mine is a bust so don't bother running out." Ezra let his voice become serious, "Always return if you do for I have learned that friends are more reliable then money. Good day Sir." He tipped his hat to the young man and walked away.
Ezra made his way to the towns' livery, allowing himself the luxury of memories. He wondered what would have happened if he hadn't turned back all those years ago, where would he have ended up? Would he have had friends, family or would he have ended up dead like so many others.
He smiled as he entered the stable, he would have had one friend at least. Chaucer looked over the stall door at him and neighed in greeting. "My dear friend, are you ready to quit this establishment?" The horse nodded his head and stamped obviously eager to leave. He saddled Chaucer and after securing his belongings behind the saddle, he rode out of the little town.
There were still a few hours left of daylight, so there was no need for him to hurry, he should arrive at his final destination by nightfall. Chaucer was happy to be free of the confines of the livery; he tossed his head and pranced about. Ezra ignored the exuberant horse and found himself once again thinking of that one day so long ago, wondering about possible other outcomes.
He was broken out of his pensive mood by Chaucer's warning neigh. His mounts ears were pricked forward and he could feel the horse tremble with tension. They rounded a curve in the road and Ezra saw the reason for his mounts excitability. A seasoned group of intimidating grey haired men effectively blocked the road.
"Woohoo you're a sight for sore eyes Ezra!"
"Welcome home Brother!"
"Any one chasing you this time pard?"
"Did you win a lot?"
"You hurt or bleeding anywhere?"
"What the hell took you so long Standish?! Get your goddamn lazy ass moving, we got work to do in town!"
Ezra actually laughed in surprise as he and Chaucer were absorbed into the jostling group of men and horses. He tried to fend off questions as they rode toward Four Corners.
"I am glad to see you as well Mr. Wilmington and yes J.D. I did win a substantial amount. Mr. Jackson, please do not look at me in that manner I assure you that I am well and you can wipe that smirk off you face right now, Josiah."
"So is anybody after ya?" A growl came over the shoulder of the black garbed man in front of the group.
Ezra affected a put upon sigh "No Mr. Larrabe, and really it only happened once and I was not at fault, in fact ."
"Maybe old Ezra just can't piss em off like he used to, ya know lost his touch like."
"I assure you Mr. Tanner, I haven't lost my God given gifts or my touch, I merely associate with a better class of people than I used to."
"Hell, means they're too stupid to know they been fleeced. If a bunch of angry idiots come into town chasing your sorry, southern ass so help me I'll shot you myself you son of a bitch!" The threat was thrown over a shoulder and accompanied by a glare that was beyond description.
'Old Chris really missed ya these past few days, think he'd a done himself an injury if ya had stayed any later." Buck whispered not so quietly in his ear. Ezra just grinned as the others laughed.
For a brief moment, he wondered at the respective past and future of himself and young Mr. Hawkes, if the man would heed his advice. As he listened to the affectionate insults and banter that thickened the air around him, he couldn't help but grin, Mr. Hawkes could only hope to be so lucky.