Main Characters: Ezra, Vin
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“Ezra, lemme look at it.”
“Thank you, but I can manage on my own, Mr. Tanner.”
“I know I ain’t Nathan, but I can still dress a bullet wound. Just lemme help.”
“Oh, fine! If you insist.”
Vin silently assisted Ezra out of the “ruined” blue jacket, followed by the “spared” waistcoat, and finally the “about-to-become-bandages” cotton shirt. Vin inspected the bloody patch on Ezra’s upper arm, wiping it clean with a wet bandanna.
“It don’t look too bad, Ezra. Don’t think I’m gonna try to put any stitches in it, anyway.”
“Then if you would be so kind as to help me bandage it, we can be on our way.”
Vin looked back at the horizon. “We ain’t gonna make it back tonight. May as well make camp here.” The tracker snapped his head around at the gambler’s grunt of pain.
Ezra was carefully pouring whiskey over the bullet wound, his teeth clenched, trying not to scream. As soon as he was done, Vin quickly began bandaging the arm. He watched Ezra consider the flask’s weight before taking a small sip.
“Y’might want to chug a little more of that,” Vin said, tying off the bandage.
“I think I’ll abstain from any more indulgences,” Ezra said. “I’ll want to clean the wound again later.”
“You are a stickler for cleanliness.”
“Cleanliness is next to godliness.”
Vin sat back and grinned. “When have you ever been one for godliness, Ezra?”
“When it comes to the possibility of gangrene, let’s just say that I’m a ‘spiritual’ man.” Ezra smiled as he gently shook the flask.
Vin considered the gambler’s words as they set about making camp for the night. They settled into the rocky outcropping that had previously been the staging area for the bandit’s failed attempt to rob the two lawmen. It was sheltered from the road and had a good vantage of the surrounding area. Vin shook his head. The ‘bandit’ had been little more than a hotheaded, shortsighted teenager. He was sorry that he’d killed the young man, but when Ezra had been knocked out of his saddle by the kid’s bullet, Vin had reacted instinctually.
Ezra’s wound turned out to be minor, had probably just been at a bad angle in his seat, and Vin was sure that his friend would be fine in short order. But the word gangrene did keep echoing in his mind.
Vin pondered. Broken bones didn’t seem to faze Ezra, nor did blows to the head so hard he threw up; he was undignified, yes, but not alarmed. Yet strike him with a bullet, even just a graze, and Ezra became Nathan’s most dutiful patient. Vin remembered that Ezra had put up a mere token resistance when he had offered to help dress the wound.
“So, who did you know?” Vin asked, when they had settled around a small fire, cups of coffee in hand.
Ezra looked quizzically at him, eyebrows raised above squinting green eyes.
“Who had gangrene,” Vin clarified. “I mean, I’ve known men who’re missing bits that ain’t half so concerned by it. Seeing as you’ve still got all your parts, I figure you had to have known somebody with it.”
“Well,” Ezra said slowly. “It’s not much of a story. . . .”
Vin leaned back against his saddle. “Don’t need to be.”
Ezra poured another cup of coffee before settling against his own saddle and beginning his reminiscence.
“I was acquainted with a certain cavalry officer. Picture him: moral, responsible, generous, honorable, up-standing. Just think of my polar opposite and you’ll have a fairly decent representation of Captain Daniel Pinckney. He was quite possibly the finest horseman in South Carolina. Although, for all the things that he was, ‘sensible’ was not among the list.
“During one battle of the Late Unpleasantness, he managed to take a bullet to the leg and still continued to lead the charge. For hours, he fought through the pain, not wanting his troops to know he was wounded, fearing it would dishearten them.” Ezra rolled his eyes. “By the time Captain Pinckney had a medic look at his injury, the damage was done. The leg had to come off. He was honorably discharged and sent home because, of course, a man cannot ride a horse without both legs.”
“The gangrene set is that fast?” Vin asked.
“The first stages had begun,” Ezra said. “The doctors were simply too harried to care much anyway. For all the good it did; his abbreviated appendage also turned gangrenous and Daniel died within a month of being discharged.”
“How did you know him? You two fight together?”
“No, actually. He was two years my senior and we lived together until I was five years old. That’s when our father died.”
In a spectacular display, Vin spit a fountain of coffee into the fire, the liquid sizzling when it hit the flames.
“Dear Lawd, Vin!” Ezra exclaimed, reaching over to whack his companion on the back. “Are you alright?”
Coughing, Vin wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Warn me the next time you start sharing family history.”
“The fact that Daniel and I are related had no bearing on the story of his demise,” Ezra said. “I didn’t think it an appropriate introduction to begin the tale with ‘My brother, Daniel, died from gangrene.’”
“Now see, that’s where you’re wrong,” Vin argued. “That’s exactly how most people would start that story.”
“I’m not most people, am I?”
“No, you sure ain’t.”
They were quiet for a few moments as Vin carefully sipped his coffee. “So that’s what the ‘P’ stands for.”
Vin glanced slyly at the gambler. “Your name’s Ezra Pinckney Standish.”
“Not that I’ll admit to it.”
“Sorry, but I’m afraid that to tell that story,” Ezra said with a wry grin, “I require a good deal more whiskey than we have on hand at the moment.”
Vin shrugged. “Fair enough.”
“Just why are you so interested in my family history, anyway?” Ezra asked.
Vin stared off quietly for a minute. “I reckon it’s ‘cause there’s so much of my own family’s history that I won’t ever know.”
Ezra nodded thoughtfully. “Fair enough.”
Silently, they watched the flames dance before them as the sounds of night came to life in the still desert.
“Have I ever told you about my cousin, William, the locksmith?” Ezra asked.
A smile began tugging at the corners of Vin’s mouth. “Can’t say that you have.”
“Well, he had several entrepreneurial endeavors,” Ezra said, “but his most legitimate, if you will, was a small locksmithing company. I apprenticed with him one year and it is with great fondness that I recall the first time I picked a lock. . . .”
One by one, the stars began to shine.
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