The group had shoveled more dirt and rocks out of the ground on the island,
but when they didn't find any gold, they finally decided to possibly give
up. Maybe this wasn't the right spot after all, or maybe the treasure didn't
really exist. No one could believe what they saw, or what they didn't see,
as the case was, but no one held on to that disbelief like the gambler did.
Ezra sat on a rock just across the moat from the island, holding the sad
empty box in his hand like Hamlet holding the skull of poor Yorrick. In his
other hand was his hip flask. He noticed a small hole in the side of the
box, which no one noticed before.
Nathan stomped lightly over to his in-denial friend and stood over him. "Well,
Ezra, looks like Jacobs and his people have decided to pack it in. You comin'?"
Ezra's trance was broken and he looked up at his wise friend with what Nathan
could have sworn was a crazed look in his eyes. "Oh, no. No-no. We can't
leave -- not now!" He shot to his feet and held up the box. "Not when we're
"Ezra, the box ain't proof the gold exists."
"Oh, it exists. ...It exists." He was nodding intensely, his blazing
green eyes trying to bore into Nathan's as if that would change his mind.
"And I am not leaving until it is in my possession." He took a quick swig
and put away the flask.
Both men stood and stared at each other for a while. Ezra thought about showing
Nathan the small, shiny piece of proof of the treasure's existence that he
had in his vest pocket, but then he thought better of it. He knew that Nathan
would just start spouting some rubbish about one moral or another: he should
have told Thornton about this piece of gold; the treasure's not his and he
should leave it alone -- whatever. Morals were bad and had no business rearing
their ugly heads in a treasure hunt.
Everyone else plodded toward the edge of the plateau to leave. A defeated
Thornton came with Maude and gave Ezra a pat on the back. Then Ezra saw a
sudden movement out of the corner of his eye and he turned to look. A small,
brown furball jumped up onto a rock from behind it and turned to case its
surroundings. With a piece of gold in its mouth.
Ezra's eyes widened in amazement and his vital signs took a sudden skyward
turn. Maude and Thornton turned with the same reaction. Then the pack rat
turned and scurried away.
"After that rodent!" Ezra shouted, then bolted after the fleeting animal
with the box under his arm.
Everyone scrambled to chase the pack rat except Nathan, Chris, and Buck,
who were left looking after the others with a collective sigh. Then they,
too, followed at a trot.
The rodent ran fluidly across the plateau, up the rocky mountain incline
to a ridge populated with a few trees and many rocks, and then up one tall
tree and disappeared inside. This part of the mountain was made of rockier
terrain than the previous portion, and there was a sheer drop several yards
away from the other side of the tree.
The gang of gold-chasers huffed as they slowed to a dejected stop several
yards from the tree. Then they stood with their heads craned up to appreciate
the height to which the little rodent climbed to hide its stash of shiny,
yet valuable, objects. After a moment of gawking, a pleasant voice came from
"Resorted to chasing rodents?" It was Josiah, with Vin and Jim Dogface.
Everyone turned to look at him.
"Josiah. Vin. You must be Jim Dogface," greeted Nathan.
"You take care o' the kidnappers?" Chris asked the pair.
"Coyotes scared 'em off. They seem to 'a gone all over the place, but they're
on this mountain somewhere. But we saw you first, so we came over," Vin
"You're after my people's treasure," Dogface said with restrained bitterness.
"Gotta admit, some of us are," Nathan admitted.
Nathan, Chris, Josiah, Vin, and Dogface looked at the others and found that
they had turned their attention back to the tree and were regarding it like
it was the Mona Lisa.
With an outstretched hand, Ezra proclaimed, "This tree is a gold mine..."
Then he turned to the others with his hungry eyes and added, "and we're the
"But how can we reach it all the way up there? And in the tree?" Avery asked.
"I can climb it!" Casey volunteered. "I bet I can even reach in and get the
"Good girl! Go to it!" ordered Thornton. So Casey darted for the tree with
enthusiasm and JD close behind her.
"This is wrong," urged Dogface as he stepped forward to confront the rich
"This wealth is worth more to the living than it is to the dead," Thornton
said. "Besides, that squirrel dug it up; not us!"
Casey climbed the tree and JD tried to follow, but just as he did, he felt
a tinge of pain in his injured shoulder and had to stay grounded. So she
handed him her hat and climbed alone.
"Jacobs, you're rich and famous already. Why do this?" Vin asked disgustedly.
Thornton appeared offended. "I don't suppose you would understand the...
burdens of fame... of greatness." With that, he turned and walked back to
Maude, who appeared to have a certain gleam in her eye. She looked uncertainly
at Josiah, who regarded her solemnly. She didn't like that look of disapproval
-- not that she particularly cared what he thought -- but she had to complete
her charade. She took Thornton's offered elbow and turned to the tree with
Casey was already up the tree and dropping a handful of gold to JD, who stood
below, catching the pieces in her hat. Or trying to. Some of the gold missed
the hat and the young gunslinger had to fish around on the ground for them.
"Jimmy, assist them," ordered Thornton, indicating Casey and JD.
Thornton's trusted assistant nodded, then eagerly darted for Casey... uh,
Before Ezra could do the same, Josiah grabbed his arm in a vice-like grip
and looked him dead in his impatient eyes. "Coyotes are the insurers of death."
The preacher's eyes were stern.
For a moment, Ezra's eyes quivered, not knowing what he meant by that. Did
Josiah know about the coyote incident of the previous night? Then the gambler
said with forced harshness designed to mask any tremble that might be present
in his voice, "Are you threatening me?"
Then BANG! A shot rang out and everyone ducked. Josiah released Ezra's arm.
Chris, Nathan, Vin, Ezra, Josiah, and Buck drew their guns with peaked senses
and turned in all directions for where the shot originated from.
"It's them!" Dogface shouted.
Six gunmen across the plateau were shooting at the Thornton expedition, who
took cover behind trees and rocks, except JD, Casey, and Jimmy, who continued
mining the tree for gold. The Six shot back.
Vin and Dogface hid behind the same tree. Vin huffed, "They musta come up
from the other side." Then he shot. Then he ducked.
"They never did follow my directions very well," quipped Dogface.
Bullets continued to fly in every direction.
Ezra and Thornton had taken cover behind the same mound of rock and were
lying very low. Especially the writer, who did not have a gun to return fire.
Both men took occasional glances at the tree which Casey was still half-way
inside and JD and Jimmy were kneeling beside.
Half-way inside? Casey had now resorted to climbing part-way inside the tree
to reach further down for the remaining gold that she couldn't reach by merely
sticking her arm inside.
"What? What's going on?" she screamed as she backed out of the hole. A pack
rat scurried out after her.
"We're being shot at!" Jimmy screamed.
"Don't kill the kid!" ordered Aaron, the large pretend red man. "If we do,
they can't get the rest of the gold for us!" Then he shot.
"Don't stop! Get the treasure!" Thornton commanded Casey, JD, and Jimmy,
who were all shaken into compliance. Casey dove her head and arms back into
the tree again.
Chris shot out from behind a rock, and a phony native went down.
"I know they're your friends, but we can't let them get the gold!" pleaded
Dogface to Vin.
But Vin was busy shooting at their attackers and simply shrugged his shoulders
in frustration. "Can we deal with that later?"
Then Dogface became agitated and sat down on the ground behind the tree.
He closed his eyes and began to mutter.
Josiah, behind a nearby rock, was reloading his gun and noticed his action.
"What are you doing?" he asked Dogface.
"Any God that'll listen."
Ezra shot two quick shots, and a foe behind a tree gasped and fell.
Thornton touched the gambler lightly on the shoulder. "We must ensure that
no one gets my treasure," he urged in a hushed, raspy voice. He looked cautiously
at the tree to the side, away from the gold tree, to check on Maude. She
crouched there with Buck, who gallantly shot his gun despite his previous
injuries. He didn't see Ezra's fiery, insulted expression directed at him.
Casey dropped another handful of gold into her hat in JD's hands. Then a
bullet whizzed past the young man's head and he darted to the ground, dropping
the hat and spilling a few pieces of the riches. Jimmy dropped immediately
to his side and helped him pick up the pieces.
One of the enemy expeditioners, dressed in a camouflaging tan, dashed unnoticed
from behind one tree to another, which was closer to the gold.
"They appear to require assistance," Thornton said as he leaned out toward
the tree as if he was going to run to it. A bullet shot past him and he
immediately retreated back behind the rock with Ezra. "Son, go help them!"
he commanded. The gambler looked at him like he must not have heard him
correctly. "GO GET THE GOLD! You have the box!"
Ezra's eyes widened and his brow furrowed in frustration. But his lips pursed
with determination as he prepared himself to follow those perilous orders.
He fired a shot and timed his mad dash so he would not be hit. Then, as everyone
else continued to pop in and out of hiding with blazing guns, he rocketed
out from behind the rock as low to the ground as he could, still clutching
the box under one arm and shielding his head with the other. A bullet sliced
through the air just above his head.
He arrived at his destination shortly after dashing the few yards that felt
like miles, and knelt by JD and the treasure tree. JD and Jimmy had just
picked up the gold from the ground. "Put it in, put it in," Ezra urged as
he gestured pressingly at the open box. The two younger men dumped the contents
from Casey's hat into the box.
Casey had gone back for more gold, this time sticking more of herself inside
"Be careful, Casey!" JD shouted.
"Yeah, be careful!" Jimmy repeated. The two young men exchanged resentful
As the shooting continued, Dogface continued his prayer. The stealth "ghost"
continued on his stomach toward the treasure tree unnoticed.
Still with his gun in one hand, Ezra was shifty-eyed as he pocketed a few
pieces of gold he was sure no one would miss.
Then a scream came from above. "JD! Jimmy! I'm stuck!" Casey yelled as her
legs kicked the air in the tree. She began to push and kick against the tree
to try to free herself, but to no avail.
"Stuck?" JD shouted in surprise. Then he yelled, "I'm coming, Casey! Hold
on!" And with newly found strength, he began to climb the tree to her, no
longer feeling the pain in his sensitive shoulder.
"Me, too! Hold on, Casey!" Jimmy repeated, then followed JD up the tree,
but with more difficulty than his rival.
Meanwhile, the shoot-out continued between the rest of the seven and the
four remaining "ghosts." Dogface stopped muttering and his eyes shot wide
open. He looked down at the ground behind Vin and realized that the sharpshooter
had his rifle on the ground as he made use of his Mare's Leg. "Words ain't
working," Dogface said and grabbed Vin's rifle.
This got Vin's attention. "Hey, what--"
"I've been peaceful too long. This is for my wife and son!" he growled.
"Wait!" Vin shouted, but it was too late. Dogface had gotten to his feet,
away from the safety of the tree, with the long gun, which was nothing like
anything he'd handled before in his life. And this was made painfully obvious
when he tried to fire the gun. BANG! -- And he fell over backwards.
"Dogface!" Vin shouted.
Sarcastically, the native said through clenched teeth, "Yeah, my family'd
be proud." He had sustained a bullet wound in the shoulder and was lying
and bleeding out in the open.
Then, as a "ghost" got up to shoot the defenseless native again, both Vin
and Chris shot him. "Give it up! You're outnumbered!" shouted Chris.
"Give us our treasure!" one of the two (not including the stealth one) remaining
"ghosts" shouted back from behind a rock.
"No!" yelled Ezra from behind the treasure tree and his gun. Then he dodged
a speeding bullet.
Thornton took this opportunity to run to Ezra's side as the others held off
the enemy gunfire. "You've got it!"
"It would appear so," said the gambler between excited breaths.
"Good. Now give it to me," the expedition leader said holding out expecting
"What?" Thornton said in disbelief.
"No," Ezra repeated and cocked and pointed his gun directly at Thornton's
Ezra sighed in mock impatience. "How many times...?"
Aaron, the "ghost" leader ordered, "Get those guys, but don't shoot the
"Give it to me!" Thornton repeated more urgently, with the idea that he could
take shelter behind it, for he knew they would not risk damaging the treasure.
He reached for it.
"No!" repeated Ezra angrily, and he pulled the box away and shoved the gun
up into Thornton's face.
As the shoot-out proceeded, JD and Jimmy positioned themselves on the tree
branches near the hole. "OK, Casey, try to shrink yourself down. We'll pull
you out!" JD informed her.
"She's stuck. We gotta make this hole bigger," disagreed Jimmy.
"How're we gonna--" but before JD could say "do that," Casey screamed and
started kicking more feverishly.
"Casey!" JD and Jimmy yelled in unison.
"Get me out! Get me out! Mmphffmpphff!" she screamed. "They're all over me!
Get 'em off!"
"What?" Jimmy asked.
"These wood rats! They're none too happy!" Then she yelped and kept kicking
as a flurry of bushy-tailed rodents crawled all around her body and over
her face and head. But she could hardly move her arms to shoo them away.
Then the two men noticed more pack rats scurrying up and down the outside
of the tree.
JD started to try to pull her out by the legs. When that failed, he reached
up around her waist and pulled again. But to no avail. She was still stuck.
Then Jimmy pushed JD away and said, "I'll save you, Casey!" Then he started
to pry off loose bark from around the hole.
"Oh, come on! That'll take forever!" JD complained and pushed Jimmy away.
"I'm gonna try again, Casey!"
"I don't care who does it! Just get me out!" she screamed.
The two men paused in hesitation. JD finally said, "This is silly. OK, you
make the hole bigger while I pull her out." Jimmy nodded and they proceeded
with their alliance.
Meanwhile, as the shooting continued, Nathan dashed to Dogface's side. Blood
oozed from the native's chest. He began his work.
Meanwhile, Ezra and Thornton continued a stand-off of their own. The gambler
was pointing his gun at the frozen Thornton and backing away slowly. "I have
endured your self-centered, self-congratulatory, self-serving behavior, and
your pathetic feigning of friendship. Well, I've had enough. I deserve better,"
he said, holding up the treasure box and eyeing it almost salaciously, "and
I am taking it."
As he uncocked his gun and turned around to make his getaway around the firing
zone, the stealthy "ghost" suddenly jumped out from behind a rock behind
him and tackled him to the ground. The box and Ezra's gun flew across the
ground and out of the gambler's reach. The "ghost" dove for the treasure,
but Ezra, still lying on his stomach, grabbed his ankle and the other man
hit the ground. Ezra crawled up, but the "ghost" was able to flip himself
over... just in time to be hit in the face by Ezra's flying fist. Then he
fought back and the men rolled over and brawled on the ground... until they
saw Thornton tramp past them and grab the treasure. Then they both went for
the writer and he went down, throwing the box further out of reach... and
closer to the edge of the cliff that formed the border this side of the plateau.
The "ghost" got up first and punched Ezra in the face before jumping at the
box. Then Ezra got up and tackled him down again. Then, just as soon as the
gambler gingerly picked up the box, he was tackled yet again by the "ghost"
right to the edge of the cliff where they each teetered off on one foot each,
hanging on to each other to remain on solid ground. But then Thornton plowed
into them as he snatched the box, sending all three men over the edge!
The "ghost," although sly and strong, lacked the power of flight, and he
fell... and fell... and fell... and splattered on the hard rocks below. Almost
immediately, a group of coyotes arrived and began to gnaw at the lifeless
However, hundreds of feet above him, several feet below the top of the plateau,
Ezra was able to grab hold of a branch sprouting from the side of the mountain.
And Thornton was somehow able to grab hold of Ezra's gunbelt through his
coat with one hand. Under his other arm was the treasure. Together, they
dangled several feet from the face of the mountain.
"I've got it!" Thornton laughed. "I've got the treasure!"
"You'll pardon me if I don't applaud," Ezra grunted as he hung onto the branch
with both hands. He looked down at the mess below, then back up again. His
legs dangled helplessly as he tried to find some kind of solid foothold,
but couldn't find it.
"Well? What are you waiting for? Pull us to safety!" Thornton demanded.
Ezra grunted and struggled as he tried to pull himself up over the branch,
but the extra weight of another body and the gold and no luxury of a foothold
proved too much, and he was only able to do half a pull-up before the branch
cracked and he dropped back down with a gasp. He worried. He could still
hear the sound of gun shots coming from above, preventing his friends from
coming to their aid.
"I don't know how to... relay this sensitive piece of information to you,
but... you're too damn heavy!"
"Oh, bother," the writer sighed. "I didn't come all this way and come so
close to seizing my prize just to go home empty-handed."
Above them, Josiah, Maude, and Avery peeked out over the edge of the cliff
at their dangling friends. They gasped.
"Ezra!" Maude cried and placed a frightened hand to her mouth.
"Thornton!" Avery exclaimed.
"Miss Maude, my fair lady!" Thornton shouted.
"Let it go!" Ezra demanded.
"I don't believe you fully grasped my intention. NO!"
"Ezra, dear, take the box!" Maude suggested.
But her son looked at her like she just said something in Chinese. Ezra was
growing more and more uncomfortable, and not just because another man's hand
was grabbing onto him near his back side. Suddenly, he really felt the urge
to void his bladder and his legs just about went numb. He felt his palms
and his feet begin to sweat. "Aw, hell," he swore under his breath as his
eyes widened and he felt his grip slipping from the branch.
Josiah and Avery both reached down to help their teammates up, saying, "Take
my hand!" But when Ezra looked up at them, all he could see was the impossible
distance that separated them. He once again tried to heave himself up, but
again the branch cracked and they dropped several inches. Everyone, including
the spectators, felt it. Maude screamed and briefly turned away.
"I fear we require more assistance than that, if you can proffer any!" Ezra
called, wincing at the urgency of their situation.
Josiah said, "I'll find something to drop down. Hang on!" Then he left.
"That was a feeble attempt at humor, Josiah!" Ezra yelled.
Then the voice below him said, "If you'd just use all that energy you've
wasting on talking, to pull us up, we might be on solid ground by now!"
"Shut up!" Ezra shouted between heavy, breathless breaths. "You're fortunate
I haven't already decided to kick you off this mountain."
But Thornton could already feel the fabric of Ezra's coat failing under his
fingers and he began to lose his grip on the gunbelt. "Help!"
"Drop the box!" Ezra suggested.
But just as Thornton reached up with his hand that held the treasure, ready
to drop it, the branch cracked again and jarred its passengers. The writer
slipped at that heart-stopping instant and tried to grab hold of Ezra with
both hands, but only succeeded in tossing the box up and onto a tiny ledge
that protruded from the rock face below the gambler. The writer himself was
not quite as lucky, and he screamed all the way down to the rocky floor.
Ezra looked down at Thornton's body, lying on the distant rocks with the
other body and the voracious coyotes surrounding them, and suddenly became
dizzy. He closed his eyes and lifted his head. Then he opened them again
and spotted the treasure box a few feet below and to his right. A few pieces
of gold had escaped from the small hole, but most of it seemed to have remained
in the box.
"Ezra darlin'," sighed a terrified Maude, though she tried her best to contain
her emotion, "we're gonna get you up. Help is on the way!"
"Mother," Ezra breathed, "the treasure..."
He didn't need to say any more. The hungry look in his eyes said it all.
They sparkled as if under a spell, and they were looking directly at the
"No!" ordered Maude. "Ezra, don't! Too many people have died for it! We don't
need to add you to the list!"
Josiah returned with a sturdy stick and lowered one end down to Ezra, but
it was not long enough, especially since the cracking of the branch had sent
his friend further down. Besides, Ezra was not even trying to reach for it.
"Mother, I've come too far and endured too much to quit now," the gambler
said as he leaned down slowly, cautiously reaching for the treasure with
one hand. "What was it you told me? You didn't raise a quitter? Well, you
were accurate in that assertion."
The branch was cracking slowly but audibly. Then it suddenly cracked almost
completely. The branch swung down on a hinge of bark, and Ezra slid down
toward the end before he again grabbed hold of it tightly with both hands.
The gambler looked down to his right and saw his future. The treasure was
there, not more than 5 feet from his knees, waiting for him on the ledge.
He cautiously reached for it with one hand while keeping a tight grip on
the branch with the other.
"Ezra!" his mother shrieked on the verge of tears.
"I can get it -- I know I can," he said, his fingers barely brushing the
ledge as he stretched to grasp the box that sat upon it.
"You gluttonous little bug-eyed fool!" she cried. "Go ahead! Fall to your
early death like the others! See if I care!"
Just then, Ezra froze, his finger tips just touching the side of the box.
Suddenly, it occurred to him -- she really did care. Only a son could feel
the love that resonated in her harsh words. He looked up at her and began
to reach up towards her. But suddenly, the thin bark snapped and he went
down! Everyone gasped and shouted.
A painful sting struck Ezra's arm as he reached up to grasp at the air above
him, and to his amazement, he stopped falling. He cried out in pain and looked
up through flinching eyes and saw the bullwhip wrapped tightly around his
arm with Nathan holding onto the other end. They all breathed a heavy sigh
With Josiah's help, Nathan pulled their friend up to solid ground and shaky
knees. Ezra took a stumbling step toward his mother with the healer's supportive
hand on his shoulder. "Woa. Easy now," Nathan cautioned.
Ezra's face was like that of a lost child being returned to civilization
as his mother came to him and almost hugged him. She sniffed and spoke hurriedly.
"Well,... I hope you're happy. You just about killed your poor mother with
that stunt. You could have gotten yourself killed!"
"Well, mother," he said, choosing his words carefully and recovering his
composure, his footing, and his breath once more, "I simply couldn't give
you the... satisfaction of standing over my grave saying, 'I told you so.'"
He looked earnestly into her eyes, as if making sure she was really OK.
She harrumphed at him with a good-natured smirk. Then after hesitation, she
finally burst through the thick cloud of awkwardness that hung between them
and hugged him.
He hugged her back only briefly, then turned to look over the cliff with
Nathan and Avery. They watched as the coyotes dined. Ezra said, "Not a pretty
sight... to watch a man slowly being consumed by blind and unfettered greed."
He shamefully considered how the last part of his phrase could also pertain
to himself and how hard it must have been for his mother to watch it happening
"Not to mention coyotes," Nathan added, shaking his head as he backed away
from the edge of the cliff.
Meanwhile, as they pulled themselves away from the precipice, Jimmy pulled
one last shred of bark from the tree hole and JD yanked Casey out. She took
several deep breaths and coughed as she steadied herself on the tree branch.
Then she brushed her skin of bugs and the residual sensation of pack rats
crawling on her. "Oh! JD, Jimmy, thanks! It was gettin' hard to breathe in
JD and Jimmy beamed with pride at their accomplishment. "We did it!" Jimmy
"Whoo-wee! We do make a good team, don't we?" JD admitted.
"I'm glad you two finally came to your senses and ditched your silly
competition!" Casey said and started down the tree.
But JD and Jimmy didn't seem to hear her. "That was great and really smooth
how you pulled her out," Jimmy said.
"Well, I have a little experience at just how to handle a woman," JD said
as he started down the tree after Casey. "But I couldn't have done it without
you breaking up the hole like you did." Then the two new friends continued
their mutual pats on the back for the rest of the descent.
It was a week later, and the survivors of the expedition had returned to
Four Corners and were subjected to a battery of interviews from reporters
from the region, with more on the way. News of the conclusion of their adventure
had spread, thanks to Mary and Maude. Avery and Jimmy had left for home two
days earlier -- Avery to write an article of his own, and Jimmy to begin
his new life without his ex-boss.
All this attention would have been welcome to Ezra, had the outcome been
different. But he was ashamed of how he acted toward the conclusion of the
hunt How could he have been so consumed by the very thing that made Thornton
Jacobs so unbecoming to him? It almost devoured him whole. And all this commotion
in town only served as a reminder of his stupid behavior. Needless to say,
his mood was dour.
The main street was filled with the usual activity of people riding horses,
walking, and working. Three men loaded up a coach with luggage for the next
transport out of town.
Maude appeared from the hotel with Ezra escorting her to the awaiting stage
coach. He was saying, "I believe you exaggerated a bit to that last reporter."
"Nonsense. He wanted to know how we arrived at the exact location of the
treasure, and I told him," she replied with a proud flip of her chin.
"Mother, you don't have a natural magnetic attraction to gold."
"Says you." She smiled. Then she stopped walking and turned to face him,
placing her hands on his arms and standing back to get a good look at him.
She sighed and her smile warmed. She appeared to be soaking up a magnificent
piece of artwork. "And darlin',... those things I told the reporters about
Ezra shifted uncomfortably and looked at the ground, expecting a retraction
of the complimentary remarks she had made concerning his prowess and behavior
during the expedition. "... I meant every word."
He stopped, then lifted his head to look her in the face with confusion.
When she simply grinned, he squinted and blinked, his shame giving way to
perplexity at her remark.
She continued, "I am proud that you're my son. I don't suppose I get to tell
you often enough." Then she leaned up and kissed him softly on the cheek.
Then she pulled away and headed for the stage. One of the men opened the
door for her, and as she prepared to step aboard with the former's assistance,
Ezra called to her.
"M-mother!" She turned around. He paused as he mustered up the nerve to speak
what was in his heart. He took a difficult breath and blinked some more in
hesitation. His lips started to form the beginnings of several words as he
tried to think of the perfect thing to say to convey his innermost feelings.
Then he finally said, "Me, too."
Maude smiled warmly and proudly, then turned and boarded the stage.
The Seven minus Ezra, JD, and Vin, but plus Mary and Casey, were in the saloon
-- Nathan, Buck, and Mary sat at the table in front of the bar, while Chris,
Josiah, and Casey leaned against the bar. Everyone had a copy of the latest
edition of the Clarion in their hands that sported the headline:
"Four Corners Guardians Strike Legendary Gold, Discover Fortune is Fleeting"
"Fine piece of work here, Mary," complimented Josiah.
"Thank you, Josiah," Mary smiled mildly, "although I wish I could have written
it under less tragic circumstances." She was rather upset that Thornton Jacobs
was unable to return with them, but she was eventually able to accept that
his fate was sealed by his own pride and greed and that they could not have
prevented his tragic demise.
"Yeah, me too," admitted Josiah as he laid the paper down on the bar.
Then JD burst through the saloon doors cheerfully with a sheet of paper.
"Casey, look! Jimmy sent us a wire!" He stood by her and, together, they
read the note. "He says he's gonna be published. Somebody in St. Louis read
his journal and said they'd like to publish it. He's gonna be a writer!"
"Oh, good! That's what he always wanted!" Casey exclaimed, taking the paper
into her own hands for a closer look.
Then Ezra walked in and moseyed up to the bar. Everyone watched him. He appeared
to have a renewed spring in his step that was absent ever since the tragic
day on the mountainside. "Barkeep,... a whiskey," he said as he drummed his
hands on the top of the bar. The bartender placed a bottle and a shot glass
in front of him, both of which he took and went to the empty spot at the
table. He put down the drink and pulled up a chair from the next table and
sat. As he poured himself a drink, Chris spoke.
"I'm glad at least somethin' good came outta all this. Jimmy's got a better
job, the tribe is happy their treasure is safe, and Dogface got some stuff
figured out for himself."
"And Avery said he was gonna write an article for his paper that showed us
as the upstanding, courageous, and handsome men we are," Buck added.
"Always nice to be appreciated," JD said.
"Ah, yes, it's good to be home," Josiah replied as he leaned back against
Nathan smiled. "And I'm sure we all learned a valuable lesson from all this.
"Absolutely!" Ezra affirmed and thumped his empty shot glass down on the
table. "No more sacrilegious escapades for a fast buck," he stated with a
flourish. Then he reached into his vest pocket. "From now on, I will let
old treasures lie, and I will partake only in activities with which I was
meant to deal." He pulled out a deck of cards, held it up with a smile, and
began to shuffle.
Buck and Nathan sat up and got ready for the gambler to deal, but then Vin
broke through the swinging doors and shouted, "We gotta ride! The stage is
bein' held up!"
Then the rest of the Seven grabbed their hats and dashed out the swinging
doors with the words of Chris Larabee: "Yep, boys, it's good to be home!"
And the Seven rode out of town side-by-side, chasing down another sunset
and another new adventure.