Never Asked

by Kris

Disclaimer: Not mine belong to TPTB, sadly, as I would play with them a lot. Chaucer was named by Kristen

Standish incarcerated STOP Drunk and disorderly STOP Saloon altercation STOP Sanchez

"Send the telegram in care of Chris Larabee, Four Corners." Ezra Standish paid the telegraph operator and thanked him before he left. He then headed over to the sheriff's office to visit Josiah.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee saw the telegraph operator flag him down and made his way over to his office. He tipped his hat as he passed Mrs. Potter, then he opened the door and walked in. "Mornin Thomas," the leader of the peacekeepers greeted him cordially.

"Morning, Mr. Larabee. Just received a telegram for you." Thomas handed the folded paper to him.

Chris read the message and sighed. He thought to himself that Ezra caused most of his own problems. He thanked Thomas and headed for the sheriff's office. The gunslinger laid the telegram on the desk and picked up the month's end report that the Judge insisted be turned in. "Damn, I hate paper work."

+ + + + + + +

Ezra Standish entered the sheriff's office of Cold Springs. He immediately saw Josiah lying flat in a jail cell, but he faced the sheriff, "May I speak with your prisoner?" The conman tried to use a meek voice.

"Sure, go ahead. Can't release him 'till I hear back from the Doc on the condition of Baxter, the man that Standish hit." He stood, taking the keys off a wall hook and opened the cell door. "I'll just be out front having a smoke." The sheriff left them alone.

Ezra sat next to Josiah and asked, "You want to tell me what happened here? The last time I saw you, you were in route to your room. And just how did you become Mr. Standish?"

Josiah rubbed his face with both hands, while shaking his head. "I have a bad memory of this place and last night the demons set upon me and I drank to drown them. I guess I took exception to some comments and busted a few heads. When the sheriff asked my name, I saw the brother of my demon and knew I could not give my name, so I gave him yours." Josiah hung his head, not meeting Ezra's eyes.

"I see. Does Josiah Sanchez fear retribution from this demon's brother?" Ezra wanted to know how much to protect his person.

"The person who killed his brother ten years ago was older than you are now, so even with the name, it couldn't be you." Josiah answered quickly.

Ezra nodded his head in understanding. "One of the men involved in your altercation is still unconscious. The sheriff is waiting for him to awake before he releases you." The gambler shared this newly acquired information with the preacher.

"Another black mark on my slate of sins," was Josiah's only comment.

"Care to share the story of this particular demon?" Ezra asked, wondering if perhaps this introspective man needed to share it, to be rid of it.

Josiah sat in silence for several minutes, and the conman figured that was his answer. Then Josiah began to speak, "It was back in Kansas, just before the war. One of the powerful citizenry was practicing unfair pricing techniques. It was one stop on my spiritual sojourn and some folk appealed to me to help them. The arguments were heated and folks were pressing for changes. Evidently this influential baron was feeling that his empire was threatened and sent one of his sons to confront us. The man had such an inflated ego, he never considered the possibility that there were men better than his son. This son challenged the eldest member of the reform group and it was obvious that he was chosen because he was less capable physically. But the rules of a challenge allowed for a stand in and Daniel picked me as I had demonstrated that I was a fair shot. The father was insulted by the implication that I would be a better shot than his son. Hell, Ezra, I was. He had his son stand there and accept me as the stand in and forced the confrontation. I shot him first and hit him in the shoulder. His father screamed at him to finish me, and the son tried. I couldn't see any other alternative, so I shot him again, the son died. This eventually spurred the townspeople into accepting nothing less than fair prices. The younger brother watched and I have never gotten that look in his eyes out of my mind." The sadness in his voice, could make one think that this all happened yesterday.

"Josiah, it sounded like you did what you had to do," Ezra commented.

"The son wasn't the agitator, it should have been the father. I felt like I took an innocent."

"Not so innocent if he was willing to kill you for his father." Ezra gave him a knowing look.

Josiah sighed, that man's soul still weighed him down.

The sheriff entered and returned to his desk. Ezra stood and said as he looked down on the older man, "I'll bring some dinner by later." He turned to the lawman, "That okay with you, Sheriff?"

The man behind the desk nodded. With a last glance at Josiah, the gambler stepped out into the sun and headed to the saloon.

+ + + + + + +

Buck Wilmington headed over to the jail, it was his time to relieve Nathan. JD still had some time to go before he was relieved by Chris. Buck looked down at the telegram on the desk and laughed aloud. "Ol' Ez, can sure find trouble anywhere."

Nathan agreed, "He brings it on himself, cheatin' folks outta their money."

JD spoke up, "Don't ya think that's a bit unfair. You don't know he cheats. He's real good at what he does. Doesn't always mean he cheats if he wins."

Bucked laughed again, "Hope you always have that rosy outlook on life JD."

+ + + + + + +

Ezra spent most of the evening with Josiah. He returned to the saloon when only the serious gamblers would be still be there. He won enough to pay for his hotel room and then called it quits. He didn't want to attract too much attention to himself.

While eating breakfast the next morning, the conman heard some interesting tidbits of information, the most reveling was that the town doctor has a long running feud with his current patient. The one that the sheriff was still holding Josiah on.

Ezra used the morning hours to ask innocent questions and then listen to the answers and other questions they sparked. With very little effort, he was able to garner a great wealth of information. Ezra had learned early when to be quiet and listen. He usually used conversation to distract others or to steer them away from topics he rather not discuss.

Ezra hoped that the sheriff was a fair man.

+ + + + + + +

The gambler handed the box lunch that he purchased at the hotel to the preacher. Knowing that the sheriff was in hearing distance, Ezra said to Josiah, "Mr. Standish, do you recall any other disagreements in the saloon that day, other than your own?"

Josiah looked up, puzzled by Ezra's question he shook his head as he answered, "Not too much, was concentrating on my drinking. Why?"

Acting as though he was lowering his voice, the conman enunciated clearly, "Some folk were discussing how the Doc himself, and Baxter nearly threw punches at one another earlier in the day. Barkeep said the Doc swore to get even. I was hoping you remembered some of it."

The sheriff looked over, having heard every word, "Not bad mouthing our Doc, are you, Mr. Sanchez?"

Josiah looked up, but Ezra answered, "That was not my intention. I was merely trying to ascertain if my friend remembered any of the supposed conversation."

The sheriff looked at Ezra while he tried to work out all he said. "Well, better not."

The gambler himself, was taking a gamble that his food-for-thought would set the sheriff to pondering.

+ + + + + + +

Vin joined JD in the sheriff's office after his midday patrol.

Holding up the telegram, JD asked, "You see this?"

Vin nodded, "Yeah, yesterday." He sat down and put his feet on the desk. Used his feet to rock the chair back and forth on the back legs of it.

"Ya know Vin, there's somethin bugging me about this telegram......"

Vin raised his eyebrows, as if to say, what?"

"Did you look at the wording?" JD was adamant.

Vin sighed, his lessons with Mary have gone great, but some of the long words still gave him trouble. "I got the meaning."

JD smiled, "See, that's it. Josiah doesn't talk like that. Oh, he knows what the words mean, but he doesn't use them much. ....And Vin, really, when was the last time that you saw Ezra drunk and disorderly?"

Vin thought on it, "Can't say I can remember."

"Vin, Josiah didn't send this telegram. Ezra did. So, how'd he do that if he's in jail?" JD looks implied that the answer was easy.

Vin let the chair down flat. "JD, I think you're right." Disgusted with himself for missing it, he grabbed the telegram and headed out the door.

First checking that the prisoners were locked up tight, JD followed.

The tracker went straight to the saloon. Straight to the table Larabee sat . He slapped the telegram down, saying plainly, "Josiah's in trouble, Ezra sent the telegram."

The gunslinger looked at Vin first and noted the tracker's serious expression. He picked up the telegram, "This is from yesterday." He dropped it back on the table.

"Chris, read it aloud." Vin stared at Chris directly in the eyes.

It was the tone of his friend's voice that had him pick up the telegram and read it aloud. "Standish incarcerated. Drunk and disorderly. Saloon altercation. Sanchez."

"That does sound like Ezra," Nathan said realistically.

JD piped in with the same question he'd asked of Vin. "How many times has Ezra been drunk and disorderly?"

Buck answered that one, "Hell, Ezra is usually a happy drunk, or so depressed he doesn't speak."

Chris shook his head, "You're right, Vin."

Vin said, "No, it was JD that figured it out."

"We'll have to go to Cold Springs and help him out." Chris looked to the four men, "We'll leave early. I'll send a message along, let Ezra know we're coming."

JD hung back and commented to Vin and Buck, "That'll sure make Ezra feel bad."

"How so JD?" Buck asked.

"Chris wasn't going down to help Ezra, but now that he knows, he's going to help Josiah."

Vin looked real thoughtful as he left the saloon.

Larabee went straight to the telegraph office. He sent a message in care of Josiah Sanchez. It's a reversal, isn't it?

He waited for the reply. Ten minutes later he received, Affirmative

He sent, We'll be there late tomorrow He left the office with a wave at Thomas.

+ + + + + + +

When Ezra received the message, he thanked the operator and left. As he crossed the threshold into the street, he crushed the telegram in his fist and let it drop.

"Sure," he mumbled aloud, "when they know it's Josiah in trouble, they're on the way. As long as it was me, they figured I was able to take care of myself. Different people. Same treatment." Ezra was surprised at the hurt he felt admitting this to himself. "Hell,' he thought to himself, 'I need a drink.' He made his way over to the saloon.

After throwing back two shots, he forced his thoughts into other directions. He asked the barkeep, "Sir, is it possible that you recall the altercation from the previous afternoon?"

The barkeep turned his head and said, "Huh?"

Ezra took a breath, "Do you remember the fight yesterday?"

The barkeep looked disgusted, "Hell, yes. They busted the place up, but good."

"I imagine they did. Do you know which ruffian started it?" Ezra asked.

"Nope, I don't." He looked and moved away rather quickly. He was about to pursue this but the barmaid caught his eye. He seated himself at a table and raised his hand for a drink. She came to the table and took his order.

"I have to go to the store, would you walk with me?" She asked lowly.

"Indeed, I will ma'am."

"Ten minutes, out front." She smiled as she walked away.

Ezra threw down a coin for the drinks and went out front to wait. Less than fifteen minutes later the barmaid exited the saloon. The two walked down the street toward the general store.

"Your friend was very drunk, and he hit many men, but he did not hit the man they say he did. Doc Baxter did that himself." She was certain as she shared this information.

"Would you be willing to tell the sheriff this?" Ezra asked, hopeful.

"I will go in tomorrow morning and do this." She nodded as she answered.

"You will not do it today?" Ezra was puzzled.

"The sheriff won't return 'till tomorrow." She smiled. "He has dinner at his mother's place every Wednesday."

"Thank you ma'am. Are you going to lose any wages? I could compensate you." Ezra offered instead of a tip.

"No, but thank you. It's just the right thing to do. You or your friend don't seem like bad people, and the Doc shouldn't get away with it."

"My friend and I sincerely thank you." Ezra bowed to her.

She smiled as she left him. He tipped his hat as she entered the store. Ezra headed to the jail. Wanted to share the good information with Josiah.

He stopped at the hotel and picked up a box dinner for Josiah, in case the deputy forgot. He entered the jail and approached the desk. The deputy waved him on, "Sheriff said you'd be by. Just don't talk too loud."

Ezra nodded as he advanced toward Josiah. He was laying on his back, apparently counting something on the ceiling. "Hello, my friend. I do have some news for you." He gestured for the preacher to move closer to the bars.

"Thank you," Josiah said as Ezra handed the food to him. "And what news do you have to tell me?"

"Tomorrow morning the barmaid will talk to the sheriff. She saw who injured Baxter and it wasn't you. You should offer to pay for damages though. It would go far to soothe ruffled feathers."

Josiah touched his pocket, "I don't really have that much to compensate for the mess." Ezra pulled out a few bills and handed them to Josiah. "Now, Ezra..."

"Please Mr. Standish. Mr. Sanchez would wish to contribute to the church fund." Ezra replied.

Josiah smiled as he squeezed the hand that handed the money over.

+ + + + + + +

Next morning, Ezra didn't want to appear too anxious, so he took Chaucer out and went for a ride. Thoughts he had tried to submerge fought back and surfaced again.

The gambler was well aware that Mr. Jackson's opinion of him was influenced by his Southern accent and upbringing. This, Ezra accepted, as it was understandable. He himself, had been quick to lump Nathan in with all Negroes. It had been on association with the healer, that Ezra had begun to see him in an alternative way. Even a few times, Nathan ceased to have color.

But the times when Nathan felt it was his duty to point out all of his character faults as he sees them, well, all the reasons why he liked him would fall by the wayside.

The gambler had come to the decision that Mr. Jackson would always distrust his way of life. It seemed beside the point that they had fought side by side in many a skirmish, dragging the other out of harm's way. No, that was all forgotten if Nathan didn't like something 'the conman' said or did. But, he was open and honest about it. Ezra felt he knew where he stood with the man. At the rear.

Mr. Larabee was a different matter, altogether. The day he had given him a second chance, something no one else had ever done, priorities changed within the gambler. Ezra then gambled that he could change the gunslinger's opinion of him and eventually become a trusted member of this unique group.

Recently he had come to realize, this was not in the cards. Oh, Mr. Larabee would say the words on occasion, but if at any time, a situation arose where he would have cause to question one's integrity or ethics, well, the gambler was never given the benefit of the doubt. Once a gambler, always a gambler. Once a conman, always a conman.

He had once believed that his associates would come to recognize some of the little changes that working together in a group had wrought, but alas, that also was not to be.

They all gave JD a chance to change and grow, to be different than his upbringing, but none of those chances were spared for him, a conman.

The current situation sprang to mind, a perfect example. When their illustrious leader thought Ezra incarcerated, he filed the information. When it became apparent that it was Sanchez jailed, well, the five men couldn't wait to get here and extricate their friend.

Possibly, that was it, Ezra questioned himself. Friends they were not. Sure, they back each other in a fight, they were paid to do that, but support for yours truly ended there. Buck and JD seemed to have crossed over to an, almost brotherly relationship. Nathan and Josiah were friends of long standing. Then there was Vin and Mr. Larabee, they appeared to have been kindred spirits from the word go. Finally, there was Ezra Standish, always by himself. He was odd man out. The extra. He was not a friend.

Ezra took a deep breath, wondering at the pain he felt....he wanted to be their friend.

It wasn't like he had gone out of his way to encourage such feelings. Usually those type of relationships are fraught with problems and let downs. Course, he has always assumed this from his observations of others, as he had no direct situations in which to gauge from for himself.

His mother had taught him well. Friends and family can only tie you down and bring you down. He knew that to be true with family; his mother only collected him when he could be useful. So he had learned to be extremely useful. But that still that had never achieved what he wanted. Just to be with his mother each day.

Acquaintances he had made through the years had always shown they weren't friends, when what they needed from him was achieved, he was cast off like confederate money. No one had wanted to back him, or stay with him through a rough patch. He had learned to survive by himself on his own.

It wasn't until these six men that he had begun to yearn for himself, that lure of friendship. But in the end, he was treated the same. They appreciated, sometimes even liked, his conning skills when they were able to save someone or dish out justice or revenge. But then when his skills were no longer needed, he was cast off right along with them.

Vin and Mr. Larabee could shoot people and that was okay. Nathan and Josiah couldn't save everyone and that was okay. Buck could bed every female, single or married in the nation, and that was fine. But if he played poker with folks and he won, somehow he was wrong. He cheated. Was underhanded to unsuspecting folks. Did they believe that everyone expected to win each time they sat and played, it was called gambling. But all that didn't matter. Because he didn't matter.

Ezra knew it was time he accepted this and moved on, but he still found it difficult to do. It was nice in its own way, a paying job, being on the right side of the law. Having men watch your back in a fight. It was harder to give that up than he would have ever dreamed.

But not being respected by your peers was just as difficult.

Ezra was so lost in his thoughts that he did not know that other riders were around until he felt the rope pull taught against his middle and dragged him from his horse. Chaucer immediately ran away from the group. No one noticed, and Chaucer rode off towards home. The eight men had their eyes fixed on the man they were dragging on the ground behind Jerrick's horse. The bouncing and pounding tore up that fine red coat. Spurring much laughter from the spectators.

Ezra forced himself to keep his head up so it would not hit the ground. He kept his eyes closed and lips pursed so the flinging rocks did not hit those sensitive places of his face. For they were bouncing off all other areas of his body. His coat and shirt were worn through and his back was rubbed raw from the uneven surface that he was being dragged across. He was grateful when the horse began to slow, he wasn't sure how much longer he could last without screaming out the pain.

The horse stopped all together, but before he could gather his wits to rise, his hands were pulled above his head and tied together. After his feet were bound, a rope was pushed between his constrained wrists and then he was hauled off the ground by that rope. It was tied off when he was fully hanging, feet high above the ground.

Ezra was sure that his shoulders were to be pulled from their sockets. He bit on the insides of his mouth to prevent himself from crying aloud. He was horrified to see a man in front of him uncoiling a whip.

Before the man whipped his arm back to strike, another asked, "Are you sure it'll be okay with Dobson for you to whip this fella?"

"The boss didn't say we couldn't, and ya know how much he hates him, I don't think he'll mind."
The other man looked around, but no one was willing to go against Jerrick, so Jerrick cracked the whip and struck Ezra across the chest, just missing his face.

Ezra sucked in his breath, the pain was ghastly, it radiated throughout his entire body, right to his fingertips. Before he had a chance to consider the next strike, it came. Flicking his right ear, he yelped, unable to hold back the cry. Jerrick moved to the back and whipped the already open and raw area. The second strike on his back included his head, the pain so severe, that the body protected its own with the state of unconsciousness.

Jerrick cracked the whip three more times before he realized that his victim was unconscious.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah was baffled, Ezra had missed lunch and dinner, and where the food was, was not as important as where was Ezra. The barmaid had come, just as she promised Ezra she would. The sheriff listened and asked a couple of questions, then thanked her.

The sheriff had approached him then and explained that he had made a few inquiries himself and it looked as though Josiah would be off the hook soon. Josiah offered to pay for the damages and his offer was accepted. He handed over the money that Ezra had given him. The sheriff made out a receipt and passed it through the bars. He then explained that if the doctor continued to believe that Josiah was being held for the battery, then Baxter would fair better. Josiah agreed to stay in jail another night. The sheriff promised he would be out by midday on the morrow.

The sheriff had provided him with a meal when he saw that his friend was a no show. "Probably out trying to do my job. But your friend was right."

Josiah was again grateful to Ezra for his diligence in this matter. Which made him all the more worried. He would have liked to believe that Ezra had become engrossed in a poker game, but he knew that was not it. He worried on through the night.

+ + + + + + +

Five tired riders made town by midnight. They set up camp just outside town, Buck said he'd go into town and check the saloon for Ezra, who was sure to be involved in a card game. Vin made a perimeter check as Chris made a fire. Nathan and JD just laid out their bedrolls and fell asleep.

Several hours later Buck returned to camp. Vin and Chris, both still awake. Vin asked, "What Ezra have to say?"

Buck shrugged, "He wasn't there, hadn't been all day."

"Then where in the hell have you been?" Chris growled.

"Well, you see, there was this pretty lady, and she tol' me she just had to get to know me and..."

"Nuf, we get the picture. We'll find them both in the morning."

+ + + + + + +

The sunrise might have been considered a breathtaking sight, but for Ezra, it meant a new round of torment. Jerrick used the whip each time the gambler would regain consciousness. The last round concentrated on his legs. His trousers were now shredded bits, held together by the seam.

The conman was conning himself now, trying to convince his brain that he wasn't in pain. He only succeeded in not yelling aloud, he guessed he wasn't as good at conning as he thought.

Jerrick had been prepared to work creatively with his whip again this morning but they had word their boss was on his way. Ezra had an hour respite.

He was hanging from a high branch in the tallest tree, tied by wrists, head lolled to the side, when Dodson rode up. He looked at the fancy dressed man as he moved his horse close enough to enable him to pull his head up by the hair to check his face. He turned to the others, decidedly pissed, "Who fucked with him? and this ain't the man. He's too young. Sanchez would have to be fifty by now. Damn." He looked to the men that rode in with him, "Wake him, maybe he knows where his namesake is."

Ezra's brain processed all the words and understood that Josiah's demon had him, bent on some type of retribution. He worked on his story as the men dismounted.

Dodson looked at the men he hired to find Sanchez. "So which smart guy decided to take it upon himself to punish this moron?"

Jerrick, thinking that he'd been complimented stepped forward and said, "Me, it was me."

Dodson turned and looked at Jerrick, "Oh, really." He took his gun from its holster and shot him between the eyes. He looked at the rest of the men, "Unless I request directly that you exact punishment, no one touches any captive until I do. Is that understood?" He received nods from every man there.

He turned his attention to Ezra. His man had Ezra awake. "So, Mr. Pretending To Be Josiah Sanchez. Want to tell me who you are?"

The man below Ezra jabbed him in the back, "Answer him."

"My name is Josiah Sanchez." Ezra's voice was quite raspy.

"Hit'em." Dodson told his man.

His man took his rifle and used the butt to smack Ezra across the chest. A little oof was all the gambler let himself release.

Dodson nodded his head, telling to hit again. His complied, hitting Ezra twice as hard with his rifle butt. Dodson could hear the rib crack and smiled. "Once again, who are you?"

Even though pain lanced his body and it hurt to breathe, Ezra smiled, "Ask anyone, I am Josiah Sanchez."

Dodson was pissed, he moved his horse over, took out his own rifle and smashed it against the already broken rib, hearing at least another one brake. Ezra gasped for air as he lost consciousness.

The cowboy thug spit in a tin cup then poured some water in it, then threw it up at the face of the unconscious man. The cold water caused Ezra to stir, then moan.

Dodson rode close again and pulled Ezra's head up by his hair and yelled in his ear, "Now let's cut the horse shit and tell me who in the hell you are and why are you using his name.?"

Ezra licked his lips, trying to put some moisture there. "I met the man in Fort Laramie, as he was traveling in the opposite direction as I, I figured that using his name would be harmless enough. Obviously I was mistaken." Ezra's arms were numb and any movement brought pain so he tried to remain motionless.

Dodson thought on this information, it seemed believable as the man had endured a lot of pain before giving it up. "So, what's your real name?"

"Tanner, Vin Tanner." The gambler figured they would most likely kill him and at least his death could benefit someone.

One of Dodson's personal men spoke up, "Hey, I heard that name. Bounty on his head."

"That so," Dodson smiled. This now made scene.

"I am innocent," the conman proclaimed.

"That's what they all say," one of the men snickered.

"Take him out to my place, leave him tired up in the barn. We'll go into town in the morning and check on this bounty." Dodson's grin was malevolent.

One of the men let the rope down, but did not untie the wrists of their bounty. He looped the rope on the saddle horn and dragged Ezra behind them as they headed for Dodson's place. They left the body of the dead man for the vultures. Fortunately for Ezra, he was unconscious before he hit the ground. When they arrived at the ranch, Ezra was thrown into the barn. Hands tied and no water.


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