A Talent for the Game


DISCLAIMER: The following is an original work of fan fiction based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended. No profit will be made from the distribution of this story.

Part 10

On Friday, the woman affectionately known as 'the whirlwind' arrived in grandiose style on the noon stage. The peacekeepers were surprised and a bit concerned about Maude's arrival. Ezra seemed to expect her arrival, and even welcome it.

"Mother," he greeted with a smile.

Maude, master of the poker face had to fight to keep the smile in place at the sight of her son. He looked frail and sickly, and his clothes, well, they were ordinary.

"Ezra, darling." She kissed him on the cheek. "Appearances are everything," she whispered in his ear.

Ezra smiled. "Yes, well, I find myself a tad short of funds and until I come into a windfall, I'm afraid these rags will have to do."

There was a flicker of concern in her eyes. "This won't do, no this won't do at all." She turned up his collar to protect him from the cold air.

"Hello Maude," greeted Josiah.

"Mr. Sanchez, how lovely to see you. What have you gentlemen been doing to my poor boy? Mr. Larabee, good afternoon."

"Maude," Chris nodded in greeting. "What brings you here?"

"Would you boys be so kind as to help with my luggage. Ezra here shouldn't tire himself." She watched JD and Buck fumble with her bags before turning back to Chris. "I'm here to visit my son, Mr. Larabee. Does there need to be another reason?"

Chris was silent. He was always a bit suspicious of Maude. He didn't want her trying to steal Ezra away again. With all the gambler had been through, he just might go with her.

"If you must know, Mr. Larabee, I asked Mother to come."

Chris looked at the gambler. Ezra saw the concern in the gunslinger's eyes.

Chris nodded to him and tipped his hat to Maude.

"Shall we, Mother?" Ezra crooked his right arm, still using the cane with his left. Maude took the arm and they walked to the hotel, conversing animatedly as they went.


Maude and Ezra began to go over the information he had collected. She smiled in pride. Her boy had a sharp mind. He was one of the best con artists she had ever met, and it wasn't just because he was her son that she felt that way.

While she wasn't happy that Ezra had settled in this dirt water town, she realized it was his decision to make. He had surrounded himself with an odd assortment of creatures, but they did watch his back, and if she admitted it, they were a likeable lot. And if her son, her darling boy whom she had almost lost in that dreadful accident, if he felt it important to help these people, then she would help him.

"Ezra, darlin', I do believe you are right. I think this Baron James Seaver is trying to pull a monumental con. It definitely has all the ear markings, but he is very good."

Ezra nodded in agreement. "I need to find hard evidence, Mother. I need to get a first hand look at the documents to verify their authenticity."

Maude looked at her son. He had accomplished some of the most outlandish con games, parting rich men and their money, and here he was trying to incarcerate someone for the exact same thing. Well, it wasn't quite the same. Ezra picked marks that could afford the losses, this 'Baron' was taking from poor folks as well.

Her boy had found his conscience. He had made his choice. If she wanted to be a part of his life she had to accept that fact.

"I assume you will be wanting to get close to the Baron?"

Ezra nodded.

"Then, my dear," she said with a wave of her hand toward his plain shirt and pants, "we simply must go shopping."

Part 11

Vin was still favoring his burned hand. It wasn't a large burn, not too bad, but it was painful. He was grateful it was the palm of his left hand. Nathan made him keep it bandaged, but he kept up with his patrol duties. He considered it a small price to pay in comparison to the man's life.

Chris was riding with him today. The gunslinger insisted with the trouble that was brewing, that no one rode alone. They stopped by several ranches checking for trouble.

"Afternoon, Miz Nettie."

"Good Afternoon Vin, Mr. Larabee. What brings you boys out this way?"

"Just checking up on folks with this Cordoba land problem."

"Nobody's been troublin' me, Vin. Not yet anyway, but I plan to give 'em an earful if they do."

Vin smiled. Nettie Wells would give them more than an earful. She'd give them a backside full of buckshot.

"Ma'am, if anyone does give you trouble, it might be best if you not try to handle it yourself."

Nettie Wells raised up. "Mr. Larabee, I was defending my land before you were out of knee pants."

"Yes Ma'am, but these men aren't fooling around. They have burned barns, roughed people up... we don't want to see you or Miss Casey get hurt."

"Thank you for your concern Mr. Larabee. I'll keep an eye out."


"Why'se wanna go ta Eagle Bend?"

The tracker and the gunslinger were headed back to town after stopping at the Wells ranch.

"He wants to try to get close to James Seaver, try to dig up some damning evidence. He needs some fancy clothes to do that. Because we all know..."

"...Appearances are everything," finished Vin in his best imitation of the Southerner.

He shook his head. "Ya think this is a good idea, Chris?"

"I'm not thrilled with the idea of sending him in, but I haven't got a better idea. He and Maude have cooked up some kind of scheme."


Chris grinned. "Scary, ain't it Cowboy?"

"Ez is ok with this, with his ma?"

Chris nodded. Heaven help the Baron. Maude Standish and her boy were coming.

Part 12

Chris walked through the batwings, followed closely by the Texan. Larabee stopped suddenly causing Vin to bump into him. Then Vin saw what Chris saw - Ezra at the gaming table - deeply involved in a poker game with Maude, Buck, JD, and a local rancher - the first game he had played for money since his return.

The two men moved to the bar and leaned against it, taking in the scene. Ezra had a nice pile of money in front of him. His movements weren't quite as smooth as they had been before the accident, but they were much improved.

Ezra pulled the pot his way as he won another hand. He glanced up and saw Vin and Chris at the bar. There was a momentary flash of guilt on his face.

"Would one of you like to sit in for a hand or two?" asked Maude as she excused herself from the table.

"No Ma'am. I like my money where it is," said Vin teasingly.

"If I were a few years younger..." she flirted. Vin blushed as she pinched his cheek. He took a step back and she laughed lightly.

She looked at her son as the game continued. "He needs *all* his skills sharp if we are to pull this off. He's still reluctant to gamble," she admitted.

"Maude, is he ready?" asked Chris bluntly. He didn't fancy the idea of Ezra or any of his men being put in danger.

"Yes, Mr. Larabee, unfortunately he is." Maude smiled, but they could see the concern in her eyes. "If you gentlemen will excuse me, I need to retire for the evening."

"Ma'am," said Vin tipping his hat.

As Maude left, JD began to complain. "We'll if that don't beat all..." Ezra had cleaned him out. The gambler never cleaned them out. He always let them win back most of their money.

"A fool and his money are soon parted, Mr. Dunne."

JD and Buck both stared at Ezra. He was dead serious.

"You called JD a fool."

"If the shoe fits, Mr. Wilmington."

JD was bewildered. He didn't understand where this was coming from.

Buck was angry. He glanced over at Chris. The gunslinger gave an almost imperceptible shake of the head.

"Fine!" spat Buck. He grabbed the edge of the table and flipped it over showering its contents on the floor. "C'mon JD. We got better places to be."

JD followed Buck out of the saloon throwing one last look at Ezra.

The hurt in JD's eyes was almost too much. Ezra looked away and began to pick up the scattered cards and coins. Vin quietly approached.

<Lovely, now Mr. Tanner feels obliged to put in his two cents.> "What is it Mr. Tanner?"

Vin noted the hostility in Ezra's voice. He fumed wondering how Maude's presence could change the con man so quickly.

"When ya have a few minutes, I'd like ta talk ta ya in private." The quiet, steady inflection gave nothing away.

A little chill ran through Ezra. "All right, Mr. Tanner, I'm finished here," he said as he picked up the last of the money.


Vin led Ezra to the tracker's room in the boarding house. Ezra navigated the stairs with relative ease.

"You were wrong, what ya done ta JD." The Texan was angry.

Ezra met Vin's glare.

"But that ain't what I wanted ta talk about. Sit."

Ezra said nothing. He sat in the chair.

Vin took a deep breath and blew it out. He moved to a corner of the room and pulled a small trunk out from under a blanket. It was Ezra's trunk.

Ezra looked at him in surprise.

"I was waitin' til you were ready for this. I almost changed my mind when ya bit JD's head off." Vin pushed aside his anger. "I reckon with ya goin' ta meet that Baron guy, ya'd need this." He set the trunk in front of Ezra.

Ezra reached down and opened it. He shook his head in surprise. The first thing he saw was his favorite red jacket... and the silk shirt... and the pin stripe pants... and the vest...

"Mr. Tanner...Vin...how?"

"When yer ma wanted us to send everything, well, we figger'd if we sent it all, ya might not come back. I asked Miz Travis and she helped me pick these out. She said them two jackets were yer favorites... and..." the tracker grew very quiet.

"And?" encouraged Ezra

"I felt bad keepin' the book, but I know it was yer favorite. I would'a felt jest awful iffen you hadn't come back and I kept yer book."


"I reckon yer clothes might not fit right jest yet, but I bet Miz Potter would help sew 'em. And then ya would'n have ta run off ta Eagle Bend."

Ezra didn't know what to say. Vin had bestowed a gift to him that was larger than the tracker knew.

But now was not the time for sentimentality. He needed to be sharp if he was going to face Seaver. If the Baron were to believe his con, he couldn't have any of the peacekeepers as friends. He slipped his regret neatly behind his mask and spoke the words intending to push Vin away.

"How dare you! You are no better than a thief." The words were cold and cutting.

Vin's eyes flicked to Ezra's face in surprise. He searched for something, anything that would tell him this was a game. Nothing. The tracker turned and stormed out of the room without another word.


Larabee watched as their con man, in a period of hours, alienated himself. He'd taken care of Buck, JD and Vin last night, and at breakfast had managed to anger Josiah and Nathan. Ezra had pushed Chris away as well. He gave Ezra the response he was seeking, but he knew something was up. The Southerner had changed a lot, and the man he knew Ezra to be didn't treat his friends like this.

What did surprise the gunslinger was Maude. She had stormed in to the saloon shortly after Ezra set out to Hacienda de Cordoba. She was livid. Ezra had taken her deeds to the hotel, restaurant and saloon.

"I knew he was angry about the saloon business. But to do something as petty as to steal deeds from his own mother!" she complained.

Chris watched in silence as Maude gathered them in one by one, their anger at Ezra and sympathy for Maude pulling them to her side. She was good, no doubt about it, but he wasn't in the least bit swayed. Standish...both Standishes were up to something.

For now, he'd play along. He just hoped Ezra didn't cause too deep a rift.

Part 13

Dressed in his re-tailored royal blue jacket, Ezra rode along toward the Hacienda de Cordoba. His aching leg muscles reminded him that he still had a ways to go to complete recovery.

Regret. He had never truly experienced that emotion until he became part of the seven. He regretted pushing them away, but it was necessary on two fronts: first, he needed them to hate him to help the Baron believe he would steal from his own mother; and second, he needed to distance himself from the distraction their friendship had become. He needed to fully focus on the game. That had never been a problem in the past, but in the past he had never had true friends.

<Get your mind into the game!> Ezra admonished himself.

His plan was to present himself to the Baron offering payment for his mother's properties. He would then ask a favor, that the Baron let him have title to the properties in revenge for the way his mother had treated him. He hoped, if he had read the Baron right, that he would take a liking to the idea and feel he could use another devious mind to help with his schemes. Of course that would mean that there would have to actually be a scheme, but Ezra was fairly certain the Cordoba Land claim was a falsehood.


The initial meeting went even better than Ezra had hoped and he had found himself as a guest at Hacienda de Cordoba for the past two weeks. Seaver found it amusing that Ezra would cheat at anyone's expense, even his own mother. It meant the man had no morals at all, something the Baron appreciated. He found Standish's company enjoyable and would make him a part of his scheme.

Fortunately, the Baron was called away to meet with the owners of the silver mine, and would be visiting the officials of the Railroad as well. The timing of his trip gave Ezra a lot of time to himself. He had not been given any restrictions and he took full advantage of the opportunity to examine the documentation of the Cordoba Claim.

James Seaver certainly was intelligent and a clever con man. The Territory of Arizona was vast, and there would be obvious difficulty in determining just how far some of the old hidalgo grants extend. He was a stickler for detail. He must have studied old land grants and worked out a plan to fake one. Not a land grant that was already known, but a new one created by his imagination combined with hard work and skill at forgery.

He even forged a stone monument here at the Hacienda de Cordoba. Upon close examination it was nothing more than an old rock. There was no physical evidence that it was a cornerstone from the original Hacienda.

But Seaver needed a grantee to whom he could link his claim. He had a detailed genealogy for his wife leading back to Don Jose Gaston Carillo de Cordoba y de Mendoza, friend of Philip IV of Spain. It was very convincing.

Ezra was taken with Seaver's charming, young wife, Maria. She was striking and every bit a lady. Through a number of conversations with her, Ezra believed that she was an innocent. She either knew nothing of the Baron's plans, or she was the best liar he had ever met.

She showed him the photographs of her supposed ancestors. Seaver could have easily picked them up in second hand stores in Spain.

After examining the photos and the genealogy, he understood why the Railroad and the silver mines were paying Seaver. The lawyers that worked for them were attorneys, experts in the law, not experts on genealogy. Likely they were caving in to the Baron's demands because their attorney's knew nothing of Spanish nobility, and $25,000 was a drop in the bucket in a 6 million-dollar industry. They would seek to become allies with the Baron to protect future interests.

The deeds were another matter altogether. At first glance they appeared authentic. Ezra spent hours and hours going over the documents. Certain that they were forgeries, he studied each document to find its 'tell', the evidence that would disprove its authenticity. Seaver was good, but gradually the tells began to reveal themselves.

<It takes one to know one,> thought Ezra as he looked for things that he would be careful of if he were forging the documents: using the right age paper, the correct style pen, typeface appropriate to the era, and smudges caused by corrections. His knowledge of Spanish and Latin came in very helpful as well. Seaver was good, but he had made some errors.

Several of the earliest documents had misspellings in the Spanish text, and one had misused grammar. These were errors the Royal clerks of Spain would never have committed.

He smiled. This document, if held in the right light, showed the depressions of a steel pen. That was a little unbelievable since the document was supposedly mid-18th century and the steel pen wasn't even invented until 1800. He set it down and began to examine the next paper. He shook his head - modern watermark - Seaver should have been more careful.

Twice during the two weeks, he had ridden to the nearby town and sent wires to Maude. On the last trip, her wire confirmed his suspicions. An investigator in San Bernadino had found Maria's birth records had been altered. Even if the genealogy Seaver had provided was real, Maria was most certainly not the descendant.

As Ezra was almost finished going through the documents, he was alerted to the sound of horses coming into the courtyard. He looked out the window and saw it was the Baron and his entourage. Quickly he returned the papers to their proper places and returned to his room. It wouldn't do to have the Baron become suspicious of him. Now he just had to figure out how to get the evidence to Judge Travis to stop this con, and to get out of the Baron's lair intact.


Upon his return, the Baron requested Standish to accompany on some of his dealings further north. Ezra hid the twinge of anxiousness that raced through him. His friends were to the north. He hoped they were safe and that no one else had been hurt. The feeling in his stomach told him otherwise. Larabee and the others would be right in the middle of any trouble.

Ezra watched as the Baron placed the documents in a pouch and sealed the pouch with wax and the Cordoba stamp. The pouch was then placed in the safe. Standish suppressed a smile. He just needed a few moments alone and the pouch would be his.

Part 14

The sun was blazing in the sky above him when he opened his eyes.

<What the hell happened?>

Chris rolled to his side and pain ripped through his shoulder. He gasped and immediately stopped the motion.

<You've been shot. That's what happened. Vin...Oh God, Vin!>

Turning just his head this time, he sought out the tracker.

Green eyes found blue. Tanner was tied up next to him. The bandana gagging him kept Vin from talking. If they hadn't been in so much trouble, Chris would have laughed at the thought - the taciturn tracker gagged. He must have found some mighty nasty words to say to have been gagged. Instead of laughing, which he was sure would hurt anyway, he tried to assess just what kind of trouble they were in.

A brutal kick to the ribs had his full attention. Fighting for breath, he glared at the figure above him.

"Leave 'im alone Fredericks. We want 'im alive when the boss gets here," ordered Peters.

As Fredericks walked away, Vin used his shoulders and elbows to help Chris sit up. It was hard work with his hands tied behind his back. They leaned against Nettie's barn. The tracker was grateful that Nettie had listened and brought Casey to town before the trouble came. Unfortunately, he and Chris had not been so lucky. Outnumbered ten to two was a little unfair even for them.

The gunslinger didn't look too good. He had taken a bullet in the shoulder and from what Vin could tell, the bullet had not passed through. He was losing a lot of blood. Having nothing to work with, Vin sat up higher and pushed the back of his arm against the wound.

Chris hissed and tried to move away from the pain. Then he realized it was Vin, trying to stop the flow of blood. He blinked his eyes open. With great effort, not to mention, pain, he reached up with his tied hands and pulled the bandana out of Vin's mouth. At least they hadn't tied his behind his back.

"Thanks Cowboy," rasped Vin.

"Uh-huh," mumbled Chris as his eyes closed once more.

The next thing he knew horse hooves were pounding into the yard. Chris forced himself alert when he heard Fredericks say, "Boss is here."

"Aww Hell!" muttered Vin, just loud enough for Larabee to hear.


"Ezra," whispered Vin.

There sat the gambler on his horse, side by side with the Baron.

Part 15

The sinking feeling in his stomach had grown steadily worse the closer they got to town. But now as they approached Nettie Wells' ranch, he found it difficult to hide his fear. The woman was stubborn and hard, and Baron Seaver certainly would not put up with that.

As they rode into the yard, he found it was even worse than he anticipated. Larabee and Tanner were tied up and sitting by the barn. Vin looked okay, but Chris looked in rough shape.

"What have we here?" asked Seaver.

"Lawmen from the town," replied Lon Peters.

Ezra's mind was working quickly to come up with a plan to get his friends out of this mess, but before he could come up with anything, all hell broke loose.

"Hey, he's one of them!" yelled Fredericks.

Ezra's mouth opened to protest, but it was silenced by the butt of the Baron's rifle striking him on the side of the head. The Southerner fell ungracefully to the ground.

"Take care of him," spat Seaver in anger.

Ezra struggled to his feet using his horse for support. As he saw the men approaching he knew what the first priority was. He had to get the documents hidden in his saddlebags to the Judge. "Home Chaucer," he whispered.

The horse shied away from the approaching men and raced off toward town. Vin's horse, Peso, excited by all the activity, leapt over the corral fence and chased after Chaucer.

Chris and Vin watched helplessly as Fredericks and Peters and two others ruthlessly beat Ezra. Blow after blow struck the con man's face, then torso. When he slid bonelessly to the ground brutal kicks from heavy boots struck the helpless Southerner in the chest and sides. When Seaver called them off there was no movement from Ezra at all.

"Put them in the barn and post a guard," the Baron ordered as he went inside the house.


Vin looked back and forth between his two friends. Larabee's shoulder had started bleeding again with the rough treatment of being thrown into the barn. Again Vin pressed his arm against the wound to staunch the flow. He looked at Ezra. He hadn't been tied, but it didn't look like it was necessary. The gambler didn't move.


"Take it easy Chris. Jest tryin' ta git the bleedin' stopped."


Vin glanced at the Southerner again. "He ain't movin' Chris."


As Vin let the pressure off his shoulder, Chris looked at Ezra. The gambler let out a small gasp and curled up on his side.

"Ezra?" called Chris.

There was no response from the con man.

"He did it all on purpose, didn't he?" asked Vin.

Chris looked at the tracker. "Getting everyone mad at him? Yes."


Chris shook his head. He hoped they would be able to find out.

Part 16


"Quit yer hollerin', JD."

"Buck, Ezra's horse just came in!"

"So?" He said the word, but he felt a twinge of fear for the con man.

"Peso was right behind Chaucer!"

Buck ran down the street following JD. Spying the former preacher, he yelled, "Josiah, get Nathan, we got trouble."

Judge Travis, hearing the commotion, joined them at the livery. "What's wrong?"

"Ezra and Vin's horses came back without them," reported JD.

"Damn. Do we know where they went?"

"Vin and Chris were headed for Nettie Wells' place," said Buck. "We don't know where the hell Ezra is."

"Which one is Standish's horse?"

"The chestnut."

The Judge approached the horse JD was now working to calm. He pulled the saddlebags off and began to go through them. He pulled out the gamblers red jacket. Something was wrapped inside it. He carefully unrolled the jacket. Inside were a leather pouch and an envelope. The envelope said, 'Open first'.

Travis tore the envelope open and read the letter aloud:

To Whom It May Concern:
If you are reading this letter I have fallen into trouble. It is absolutely imperative that the envelope contained herein and the unopened pouch be delivered immediately to Judge Orrin Travis of Sante Fe. Lives depend on this information arriving in his hands.

Ezra P. Standish

Dear God, what had Standish gotten himself into? The judge found the second envelope, which was addressed to him.

To the Honorable Judge Travis:

Per your request, I have personally observed the documents attesting to the Cordoba Grant. I find them to be an utterly fraudulent fiction. There are major discrepancies and inconsistencies in the deeds and documents. Much of the Spanish text is misspelled, misused or generally ungrammatical, hardly the sort of usage appropriate for the royal clerks whom had allegedly drawn up such papers.

Much of the mid-18th century text is written with a steel pen, an invention that did not appear until 1800. The deeds sport typefaces unique to current lithography. Certain documents carry modern watermarks. And many documents show signs of being erased, overwritten, pasted, or otherwise altered in a suspicious manner.

I had an investigator in California examine the birth records at the San Salvador church of San Bernardino. The investigator caught a discrepancy between the altered chronological birth record, where the Cordoba twins had been inserted; and the index, where they are absent, but two other names appeared for their birth date. Thus, Mrs. Seaver cannot be whom her husband claims.

In my humble opinion, Maria is not aware of any of this deception. She is guilty of nothing worse than believing everything her husband told her about her past, not a great offense for an ignorant, penniless girl whose suitor gave her fabulous wealth and a glamorous life among the world's most powerful figures.

The accompanying pouch, sealed by Baron James Seaver himself, contains many of the above mentioned deeds. It would be prudent to keep the pouch sealed until in the possession of officers of the court. Then said documents should be examined by forensic experts for the above stated discrepancies.

Ezra P. Standish

"Okay boys, you know the whole story now. Chances are if Standish and Tanner's horses returned together, then they are together. JD, let's lock this satchel in the jail, and we'll go get them."

Part 17

Vin sat with his back to Chris. The gunslinger was attempting to loosen the rope that bound Vin's hands. He wasn't having much success. Vin noticed Ezra's eyes were now open.

"Ez? Ez, can you give us a hand here?"

The gambler was lying on his back. He rolled his head toward the sound of Vin's voice.

"C'mon. That's it, Ez. We need yer help over here."

Ezra blinked owlishly trying to make sense of what the tracker was telling him. But the only thing that made sense was the pounding in his head.

"Standish, get off your lazy ass and get over here," growled Chris.

Ezra rolled to his stomach with great effort. He pushed up onto his hands and knees. He moved a few inches toward the pair before collapsing unconscious again.

"Well, that was a big help," muttered Vin.

"Hang on, I think I'm getting it."

He just got the rope free when all hell broke loose outside. Vin quickly freed Chris's hands and gathered their guns from their saddles and gear in one of the stalls. Giving Chris his pistol, he said, "Stay here. Cover Ez."

Chris growled. He didn't like being left out of the action, but Vin was right. Ezra was helpless to defend himself, and if he admitted it, he wasn't too steady.


As gunfire erupted from the barn, Buck knew that at least one of their friends was in fighting condition. And from the accuracy, he'd guess it was Vin. Bad guys were dropping left and right. The figure in the doorway slipped to a better vantage point in the yard.

"Give it up Seaver!" yelled Buck.

Gunfire erupted in Buck's direction.

"Kill Standish and the others in the barn!" ordered Seaver.

Peters moved toward the barn followed closely by Fredericks.

Larabee was on guard when the two slipped into the barn. He immediately took down Fredericks, but had to duck to safety as Peters fired on him. He was glad Vin had moved Ezra into a stall before he went to help the others, but Peters had him boxed in.

With the next shot Chris's pistol clicked empty. Peters laughed. "You're a dead man!"

He raised up to shoot Chris, but fell forward, dead, with the sound of the shot. Chris had fully expected the bullet to pierce his body, but he felt nothing but the burning pain of his shoulder. Then he saw his protector.

JD tipped his hat. "You all right, Chris?"

Larabee nodded. "Thanks JD."

JD headed back outside as the gunfire died down. Chris leaned back against the wall, he was so tired.


"Chris? Can you hear me?"

His eyes blinked open. It was Judge Travis.


"Yes. Whoa there," he said pushing Chris back as he tried to get up, "you stay put. Mr. Jackson doesn't want you moving around."

"Ezra?" Chris was surprised to see that his shoulder was already bandaged.

"Mr. Jackson's with him now."

Vin's head popped around the end of the stall. "Hey, Cowboy, ya missed all the fun."

"What happened?"

"Six bad guys dead, four on the way to jail. The rest are gone."

"Everyone's all right?"

"Yep. Josiah and Buck and JD are running 'em back to the jail. They'll be back with a wagon."

"Ezra's that bad?"

The tracker grinned. "The wagon's for both of ya, pard. Ez looks a lot worse than it is. Nothin's broke that Nathan can find, but he's sure got a concussion. Cain't seem to keep a thought in his head an' he's sicker than a dog."

"I hope that clears up quickly," said the Judge. "I need him to testify when Seaver comes to trial."

Chris looked at him. "You got the evidence?"

Travis nodded. "Standish did an excellent job."

Part 18

His head was pounding. He didn't want to open his eyes. He was afraid the room would be spinning and the nausea would strike again. Larabee's voice pierced the darkness.

"Damn it Nathan, I'm fine."

"Uh-huh, all of you, you're all always fine. You have a hole in your shoulder, lost a lot of blood, and all you say is 'I'm fine'."

"I just want to go to my own bed."

"Yes, please," muttered Ezra, "I could use the quiet."

He felt someone sit on his bed. "Open your eyes, Ezra," ordered Nathan.

"I'd rather not."



He felt his head being lifted. "Drink."

Ezra groaned in protest.

"It will help calm your stomach."

The con man drank the tea and ventured to open his eyes. Nathan examined them. They looked even. Good.

Ezra looked around the room and saw all his friends. They were all watching him. "Gentlemen, I owe each of you an apology. The last time we were together I was extremely rude to each of you..."

"Ez, yer Ma told us what was goin' on before she left, how ya needed to be away from us ta be focused on yer con."

"Still Mr. Tanner, it was inexcusable."

"It's over and done with Ez. You might as well forget it too," added Buck.

Ezra closed his eyes and brought his hand up to his forehead as the throbbing worsened.

"That's it. Everyone out... Not you Chris! Get back in that bed... now shoo! I don't want to see anyone in here until tomorrow morning. Git."

Ezra smiled. Things were getting back to normal.

Part 19

Two weeks later Ezra stood outside the makeshift courtroom. He had just finished testifying as to how he had come into possession of the Cordoba documents. Experts would testify to the falsehood of the documents themselves. It was clear that Seaver would be convicted of fraud as well as assault charges.

Shadows of bruising still adorned the Southerner's face, but he was dressed immaculately in a black suit, courtesy of Maude.

"Great job Ezra."

"Thank you, Mr. Dunne." Ezra soaked up a little sunshine before beginning his walk to the saloon. JD walked quietly alongside. As they reached the saloon, Ezra stopped and turned to JD.

"JD, you do know that I do not count you a fool."

So that was it. Ezra was still afraid JD had hard feelings toward him.

"Yeah Ezra, I know that."

They walked inside, picking up drinks at the bar and heading for the gaming table.

"Could I interest you in a game of chance?"

JD hesitated. "It didn't go so well last time."

"Come now, Mr. Dunne, don't you want the opportunity to win your money back?"

JD nodded and the two men played several hands. Ezra won the first three hands, but JD had taken the last two. He was grinning.

"Lost your touch, Ez?"

"Perhaps, JD, perhaps. Would you mind accompanying me to the jail? I have something for you."

"Sure Ezra."

As they walked to the jail, JD hummed as he counted his winnings. He stopped and frowned.

"Ezra, this is exactly the amount I lost in the last game," he said accusatorily.

"Mere coincidence, I assure you, Mr. Dunne."

<Yeah, right, Ez,> thought JD. He grinned.

They entered the jail and Ezra pulled the small trunk out from under the bed. He opened it and pulled out JD's old coat. "Thank you for the use of this fine garment, but I believe it is time I return it to you."

"Thanks Ez. I appreciate havin' it back."

"You're welcome, Mr. Dunne. Now, if you have a bit of time, JD, I could use some assistance."

"With what Ez?"

"Carrying my things to the saloon."

JD brightened. "You got your room back?"

Ezra nodded.

JD beamed. He grabbed the trunk and an armload of Ezra's clothes and raced off down the street.

"Hey guys, guess what?" he shouted.

The gambler grinned. Yes, he was home.


September 28, 2000

Comments to: Jkersteter@aol.com

Author's note: The character of James Seaver was based on JAMES REAVIS (1843-1914) who was known as The Man Who Stole Arizona. Events were modified for the story, but the basic premise of the Spanish Land Grant con are true. It was known as the Peralta Grant and covered a large portion of Arizona and extended into the mountains of New Mexico.

"The ruse was nearly perfect. Even the mighty Southern Pacific Railroad and its lawyers blinked. The Reavis claim was 225 miles long and 75 miles wide, and was equivalent to half of the state of Indiana. Lawyers looked into the case and shook their heads. They were attorneys, not experts on Spanish nobility. The railroad and Silver King Mine actually capitulated. Many major ranchers did as well. They began to pay, and some major interests in the territory actually became Reavis's allies, hoping to benefit from his expected victory."