The Greatest Con

(aka: Fighting Babies)


NOTES: Thanks Nancy, Judy, Ronnie & Laura for your input on the "altercation." Thank you, Kerry, for great beta-ing!


Forced to settle the issue like a couple of kids, Vin and JD sat across the table from each other, seething. It was an obvious assessment that they were behaving like children. JD had his arms folded defensively across his chest. He didn't need the others poking their noses in his business. Vin stared at the bar refusing to look at JD. Who did these guys think they were? He and JD could settle their differences on their own.

"All right," said Chris, "now who started this?"

"He did!" the two shouted in unison, pointing fingers at each other. JD swatted Vin's finger away and Josiah grabbed Vin's hand before he could poke back.

"Would you two stop acting like little brats!" Chris hissed. "Now, one at a time. JD, you've had a bee in your bonnet since you got back. What the hell happened?"

JD hesitated. His anger was dissipating as the adrenaline from the fight left him feeling spent. It had been more than twenty-four hours since he had gotten any sleep and he was exhausted. He would never forgive the con man, but he hadn't intended to get angry with Vin, and he sure hadn't meant to fight with him when he was hurt.

"He shoved me and he said my brain doesn't work."

Vin's mouth dropped open in bewilderment. "I did not! You were yellin' at Ez and I thought you was gonna hit him. Yer the one that hit me in the mouth first!"

"Well, you hit me!"

"Enough." This time the thundering voice was restrained, but the preacher's demeanor was still threatening. "JD, why were you yelling at Ezra?" asked the large man.

JD vacillated again. He was angry with Ezra, but he hadn't considered how this mess would affect the other five. He was reluctant to throw away the closeness he felt with these men. This was his only family now and he didn't want to ruin it.

Vin watched the turmoil in his friend. He hadn't intended to fight with JD, but the kid was threatening Ezra when Ezra couldn't defend himself. Looking at the bruises on the younger man's face, he recalled his conversation with Ezra just before leaving the clinic. "JD...Journal...mad..." he muttered.

"What?" asked Buck at the odd words.

"JD, do you have Ezra's journal?" Vin asked evenly. It wouldn't help things to get angrier now.

JD pulled the book out of his pocket and threw it on the table.

"You read it?" Vin asked as he felt his anger start to swell. The journal was Ezra's private property and JD had no business reading it.

JD nodded. "I didn't plan to..." JD looked away. As furious as he was with Ezra, he still felt ashamed for reading his diary. The kid looked up at the disconcerted faces around him. Each of them wanted to admonish JD for reading Ezra's private diary, but each man also craved to know what was in the book.

"Is that why you are so angry?" asked Chris.

JD nodded. "I found it in the alley when Vin... and Ezra got hurt. I forgot I even had it until I was in the hotel room in Eagle Bend. I didn't know who's it was, so I...I opened it up and read it." JD lowered his eyes. He couldn't look at any of them. He didn't want to see their condemnation. Ezra was the one who was wrong here, not him. He felt betrayed by what he had read and yet somewhere inside him, he still didn't want it to be true. He didn't want to believe that Ezra had been conning them all since day one yet he had read it with his own eyes. The middle part of the diary showed some of the gambler's struggle to fit in and become one of them, but the latter section of entries had shown that the gambler had reverted back to the callous coldness that was evident in the earlier passages. Ezra had been conning them all.

The kid absently kicked the toe of his boot on the hard wood floor as if he was digging a shallow ditch with it. If he told them all what he had read, it would destroy the group he had come to think of as family. He couldn't do that. Hell, Ezra's already done that! I'm just warning them about him so he can't swindle them anymore! He finally gasped out the words, "He's conning us. Been lying to us all along."

Dead silence hovered over the group as each man tried to grasp what they had just heard.

Chris sat back in his chair not wanting to believe what he had just heard from the irate young man. See, you're a damn fool for ever trusting him, Larabee! Chris closed his eyes in self-condemnation. He had been the one that had allowed the con man to stay. It was his responsibility. His initial instincts had been that Ezra could not and should not be trusted. Somehow, in the past couple of years Ezra had proven him wrong. The con man still had self-serving tendencies. You sure couldn't trust him with your money, but Ezra had backed them up time after time with his life. He had even saved Chris's life a couple of times. Damn, this just doesn't feel right. My gut tells me it's wrong. JD must have misunderstood. He had to have missed something. Chris would wait this out and get all the evidence before making a judgment on the con man.

Vin fingered the edge of the diary that lay in the middle of the table. He stared at the faded cover, unable to look the young man in the eye for fear of losing his temper again. "I don't believe that, JD," he hissed. "No way!"

"I read it, Vin," stated JD firmly. There was no mistake in what he had seen. "It's all there," he said, hitting the book with a fist.

The words fed Vin's inner fury. He was not only angry with JD for the accusations and the attack on the Southerner, but for violating Ezra's trust by reading the private journal as well. "I've spent a lot of time with the man, JD. He ain't connin' any of us, 'cept maybe hisself."

"That's what I kept hoping for, Vin. But it's right there in black and white." JD pushed the diary directly in front of Vin, but Tanner refused to pick it up.

Josiah looked back toward the clinic. He couldn't see it from where he was seated in the saloon, but he could see the younger man in his mind's eye. Ezra was a complex man. He had been raised to be a con man from the time he could crawl. He had been taught to look out for yourself first because everyone else just wanted to use you for their own gain. Ezra had never questioned the values he had been taught until he became involved with this odd assortment of men in Four Corners. The con man had sought Josiah's advice on a few occasions. Josiah had witnessed some of Ezra's confusion about belonging to this family of sorts, and he had walked with the Southerner through his struggle to trust anyone. He hoped Ezra had not given up the difficult fight to learn to depend on his friends, and that he had not simply reverted to his old ways. Josiah's eyes drifted back to the table and he looked across at the turmoil on the healer's face.

Nathan's heart fell at JD's words. The dark-skinned man had been at odds with the Southerner since the first time they met. He and Ezra had battled through their prejudices and eventually had become friends. He didn't approve of the gambler's lifestyle and he never hesitated to tell him when he thought he was wrong. But, Ezra conning them? No. Nathan sighed. Maybe he didn't know Ezra all that well. Maybe Maude was right and her boy was the best con man West of the Mississippi.

Vin finally picked up the book, gripping it tightly in his right hand. "Nope. There's gotta be another explanation," said Tanner, still refusing to believe JD's accusations. Yes, Ezra was a con man, but he wouldn't con one of his friends unless it was for their own good.

Chris looked hard at Vin. The tracker had the longest fuse of anyone he'd ever met. Vin could let things go that would have made other men kill. But, Chris could see that Vin's anger was boiling just below the surface and his fuse was getting mighty short. "What exactly makes you think he's conning us, JD?" asked Chris softly trying to direct the confrontation away from Vin.

"Chris, there's whole sections in that diary where he outlines how he's gonna pull something off, and it's stuff that really happened. He just out and out says it."

Damn! thought Buck. He liked the enigmatic con man. Ezra had style and was a fun person with whom to match wits. He gave him some competition for the ladies, and always had a smart aleck remark to throw into the mix of things. And that smooth Southern accent with them five-dollar words was plain fun most of the time. It was a stretch for Buck to believe that Ezra was conning them. He was more likely to give the gambler the benefit of the doubt. But JD... JD had never reacted this strongly to anything. And the kid liked Ezra! There must have been some pretty damning evidence in the journal.

"Yer wrong," hissed Vin.

"You saying JD's lying?" growled Buck in forewarning.

"Hold on there, Brother Buck. We don't need another fight on our hands right now. We need to sort this out." Josiah guided the discussion back on track.

Vin leaned his right elbow on the table and rested his forehead on the heel of his hand. He wanted to scream. He wanted to hit someone. He wanted to be away from all these people. Instead he closed his eyes, took a couple of deep breaths, and blew them out.

"Ya really think Ezra's that smart, JD?" asked Vin in a quiet menacing voice that usually warned most people not to cross him.


"Ya think he's smart enough to pull the wool over all our eyes at the same time? Us? The whole town? Even Judge Travis? I don't think so, kid. Ya think he's smarter than Chris is, JD? Or that Josiah can't see through him? Nope. I don't believe it. I won't believe it. He's my friend an' I trust him and so should you."

"Vin's right, JD. There has to be another explanation," added Nathan. "Ezra's plenty smart, but to con all of us at once, he'd need help ta do that."

Everyone looked at the healer incredulously.

"What? All right, I know I come down hard on Ezra, but I don't believe the man would con us. Cheat us out of our hard-earned money, yes. Con us? No."

Forgetting his broken wrist, Vin slammed his hands down on the table in frustration, which immediately brought tears to his eyes with the pain he had caused himself. He closed his eyes tightly and ducked his head fighting the fire that raced through his arm.

"Vin?" asked Nathan gently, "Are ya all right?"

Vin bit back the cry of pain. He again breathed deeply fighting to regain control. "This whole mess is my fault. Iffen I hadn't snatched that damn book away from him on the roof..." Vin's demeanor changed suddenly as he sat up straight as a thought came to him. "Wait!"

"What is it, Vin?" asked Chris. God, please give us a way out of this!

"The roof! When I was talkin' to Ez on the roof, he weren't hidin' the book from me. He weren't acting guilty like. It was more like he was embarrassed about it. If he was hidin' the fact that he has been connin' us, he wouldn't a let me take it in the first place, or at least he would'a chased me harder or done somethin' when he caught me. He weren't even upset I had the book when we stopped runnin'. He was just worried that he messed up with you again, Chris."

Tanner paused and turned his attention back to JD. "JD, I don't know what you read in there, an' I don't care. But, I do know Ezra Standish ain't the same man he was that first day we met up. You ain't the same wet-behind-the-ears kid that rode into town that first day; we're all diff'rnt. Ezra ain't no saint, but he ain't the same con man he was."

"Dammit, Vin, I wish that were true, but I know what I read, and what I read is that Ezra is lying to us and has been conning us."

Chris watched the tracker's posture stiffen. Vin was going to blow and nothing had been resolved. If anything, they had a bigger mess. Any way you looked at it, the seven would never be the same. If the accusations were true, the con man would leave or be run out of town by some of the others. If they weren't true, well, Ezra would likely leave anyway, feeling betrayed by the insinuations and lack of trust. It was a no win situation. "The only way to resolve this is to talk to Ezra," he said calmly, "and hear what he has to say."

"I agree, Chris, but not right now. I gave him some laudanum to get him to sleep tonight," said Nathan. "I'm not sure he's up to this anyway. He's still pretty weak and half the time he doesn't know what's going on around him."

"All right then," said Chris with a sigh, "we'll wait until after breakfast tomorrow and see if he's up to talkin'. Until then, JD, no more discussion of this." He turned to Vin, "And, no more fighting."

JD and Vin both nodded  reluctantly in agreement.

JD's anger had not cooled at all, if anything he was more outraged. It was as if none of them believed him. Ezra's lying to them and they don't believe a word I say! I read it! It said it plain as day in the diary and they won't even look at it! The young man fumed as he saw Tanner put the diary in his pocket. He'd always looked up to Vin. He had been a willing student for the many things the tracker had taught him. But in this case, the man was just plain blind. Ezra's got you snowed, Vin. JD shook his head and shoved away from the table. "I'm going to my room," he muttered.

At the same time Vin stood and started to head for the clinic. The other peacekeepers watched the two heading for the door, hoping they would not have to intervene. However, Vin had given his word that there'd be no more fighting, and he would keep it.

Stopping at the batwings, Vin turned to JD and gave a solemn warning. "Ya might wanna take some time ta really think about yer accusations, JD. And, keep clear of Ezra. I won't be letting you hurt him." The tracker walked slowly towards the clinic.

JD glared at the back of the tracker not believing Vin, his friend, his equal, had just threatened him. The sheriff slammed the batwings into the wall and stormed towards the boarding house.

Chris sighed as he felt a hand on his shoulder. Buck. He looked up to see the worry on the ladies man's face as the normally jovial man watched his young friends walk in opposite directions.


It was a bright, warm, sunny morning in Four Corners, but the moods of five men made it dark and gloomy in the saloon as they ate their breakfast together in silence. When Chris had noted the tracker's absence, Nathan had told him that Vin had refused to leave Ezra, and that he would take the recuperating pair some breakfast later.

JD sat at the table surrounded by four of his friends. The kid looked exhausted, as if he hadn't slept in days. His face was more pale than usual, which only accented the bruises Vin's fist had caused. His mind was clearly somewhere else as he pushed his food around his plate, eating very little of it.

No one, except the drugged con man had slept well the previous night. Larabee looked at the sullen faces surrounding him displaying varying degrees of anger, worry and frustration. By the time everyone had finished eating, except for the kid who had been simply toying with his food, Chris shoved his chair back and decreed, "Let's get this over with!" The others rose and followed him, with JD sullenly trailing behind.


"Mr. Larabee!" the breathless boy called out. "Mr. Larabee!"

"Whoa, there, Joshua. What's wrong?"

The boy glanced nervously down the street before thrusting a brown parcel in the gunslinger's hand. "Mr. Larabee, this package came for Mr. Standish. I was supposed to deliver it yesterday, we was fishin' and I lost track of time. Could ya, I mean would ya give this to Mr. Standish for me? And..."

Larabee grinned at the boy's nervousness. He had been in the boy's shoes many times when he was growing up, in fact, he had been in hot water with Sarah a few times as well when he was fishing with Buck. "And what, Joshua?"

"Um... could ya please not tell my pa? He'll tan my hide for not gettin' it to Mr. Standish yesterday."

"All right, Joshua, I'll let it go this time, but you take more care next time. I'll make sure Ezra gets this package."


The tracker's eyes flicked to the gambler who was just finishing his most recent retching bout with dry heaves. A distinct odor permeated the room from the bowl that Vin had yet to remove from the bedside bringing sympathetic rolls from the tracker's stomach. There was no way that Standish was physically ready to handle the confrontation that would soon come. Vin had talked with Ezra only briefly this morning, and the man was already exhausted. He pushed the bowl aside with his foot and gently massaged the con man's convulsing back muscles. This is how the others found them when they entered the clinic.

"What happened?" asked Nathan with concern.

"He got sick again, Nate," replied Vin.

Nathan moved to the stove and began mixing herbs for a tea to soothe Ezra's stomach.

Vin helped the con man roll onto his back and then shifted back to his seat on the wooden chair. He strategically placed the chair so he could keep an eye on his friend, but none of the others could get by him easily to lay a hand on Ezra.

The meticulous Southern gentleman would be appalled at his own appearance. His normally well-groomed hair was sticking up in clumps that went in every direction. His ashen face nearly matched the pillows, with the dark circles under his eyes and the purple bruise on his left cheek offering the only color. The simple tan blanket of the clinic bed contrasted against the white bandages that Nathan had used to wrap Ezra's arm to his chest to prevent moving the fractured collarbone.


The gambler blinked several times before turning his head to find the man who spoke his name. His head throbbed relentlessly and he used just about all the energy he had left just to raise it off the pillow to locate Larabee.

"Mr. Larabee? Is something wrong?" The poker face and the flat tone slipped neatly into place. He had talked with Vin earlier, and Ezra knew what was coming. There would be nasty accusations and he had no recourse. He was too weak to sneak out of bed and leave town. And, at the present, considering the monumental headache and his inability to stay focused, he didn't believe he could even attempt to parry their allegations. So the con man reverted to the only defense left, his trusty poker face. Make them think that their words couldn't hurt him.

Anyone with eyes could see that Ezra was in no condition to deal with JD's accusations, but it was also clear the con man knew what was coming. Chris sighed as he watched Ezra put on that damn poker face of his and go into hiding. Okay, we'll try a diversion first. "Ezra, this package came for you."

Ezra looked over at Vin's black eye and swollen lip before turning his gaze to JD's bruises on his cheek and jaw. In a flat voice, he asked, "Is it from Steele Publishing, New York?"

Chris looked at the return address on the package, "Yeah..."

"Burn it," said Ezra quietly as he turned his head away from his two friends' battered features in an effort to close himself off. He had brought injury on his two friends and caused a major rift in this group, a division that may not heal.


"Burn it, Mr. Larabee. I don't want it. It's been nothing but trouble."

"Steele Publishing? Where have I heard that before?" asked JD. He thought for a moment, trying to pull up the memory from deep in the recesses of his mind. "Jock Steele!"

"What? You mean that annoying little weasel who wrote that dime novel about us?"

Ezra flinched and turned his face to the far wall. Vin could still see his sad countenance, but at least none of the others could.

"That's the one, Buck. His company was Steele Publishing," answered JD. What the heck does this have to do with anything?

"Ezra, what would you get from him?" asked Vin leaning over a little in his chair to look the con man in the eyes.

Ezra sighed and closed his eyes, bringing his right hand up and gently massaging his pounding forehead. "I am sorry for this entire fiasco, Mr. Tanner. It seems my entrepreneurial ventures have once again caused problems for all of you."

"What are you talking about Ez?" asked Buck.

"Yeah, and what the hell does this package have to do with it?"

Turning and looking dejectedly at JD, Ezra offered his apology. "I'm sorry Mr. Dunne, I didn't mean for anyone to come to harm."

JD turned away. He wasn't ready to accept any excuses from the con man.

Glancing to Nathan, Ezra added, "I have been told on a number of occasions that I needed to find some form of honorable employment. My endeavor to do so has led us down this dreadful pathway." He closed his eyes and appeared to be drifting off.

Nathan grimaced at Ezra's words. Had his harping on Ezra brought about this turn of events? After visibly checking his patient's condition, he said, "Huh-uh, Ezra. You can rest in a bit. What does honorable employment have to do with all this?" asked the healer.

Ezra sighed audibly. They would not go away. The poker face wasn't working; he couldn't sustain it anyway. Ah, hell! He knew they all blamed him for this mess. Why else would they be here? The only way he was going to get any rest and get rid of this damn headache was to confess the whole story and take the consequences.

Shifting gingerly, he pressed his head deeper into the pillow. "Open the package, Mr. Larabee."

Chris looked at Ezra curiously.

At his hesitation, the southerner insisted once more, "Open it."

JD pushed his way over and peeked around Chris's shoulder as he loosened the paper and opened the box. Chris looked inside and frowned.

"What is it?" asked Buck.

"It's a dime novel," answered JD, peering into the box. "I don't get it. What the hell does this have to do with anything?"

"Read the cover, JD," said Ezra with more patience than he felt. He just wanted this over so he could go to sleep. He would take whatever criticisms they threw out if he could just go to sleep.

"Beadle Pocket Library, "The Greatest Con" by E. P. Simpson." JD pulled the copies out of the box and passed them around. Forgetting his anger for a brief moment, he examined the cover, which was decorated with a derringer and deck of cards showing the Ace of Spades. "E. P. Simpson... E. P. Simpson," realization crossed JD's face. "You... You wrote a book?"

Ezra nodded as six men stared at him. Here it comes, the criticism, the humiliation. The Southerner closed his eyes.

"The Journal!" exclaimed Vin, as he finally made the connection.

Ezra's eyes blinked open and he smiled grimly. "The latter part of my journal was the rough draft for this publication. When we were on the roof, Mr. Tanner, I was making notes for a sequel."

Silence was not what Ezra expected. He looked at the faces of each man he hoped were still his friends.

Larabee looked over at JD and cleared his throat. He felt no relief that he hadn't jumped to conclusions. He still had a big mess on his hands.

Buck sighed and smiled. So, Ezra hadn't conned them, after all. He was right. What a relief. Looking over at JD, he felt sorry for the kid. He had to be feeling mighty guilty about now.

Josiah knew he needed to be asking forgiveness for some of his unkind thoughts toward Ezra. He'd say extra prayers for the con man tonight. Ezra was still seeking the right path. Still succeeding in his fight against his past. Josiah turned to glance at JD. He'd add a few prayers for the youngster too; he had quite a bit of crow to eat.

Nathan looked at Ezra; the Southerner was done in. He observed the grimace of pain, and moved to get some willow bark tea. I'm sorry I doubted you, Ezra.

Vin looked piercingly at JD, silently telling him that his point had been proven. Ezra was their friend and JD should have known better.

JD shifted guiltily, looking from the book to Ezra. "Ya ain't true?"

"Most of it was factual, Mr. Dunne. It was only the latter part that was fabrication for the tale."

JD's stomach rolled as realization flooded over him. He had jumped to conclusions and cursed Ezra when he was sick and couldn't do anything about it. He had lost control and had exchanged blows with Vin when he was hurt. He had slandered Ezra and accused him of betraying the team. He had been the one who read Ezra's personal diary. What he had done to Ezra was the same thing that he had accused the con man of, he had violated him.

JD bolted out the door. The combination of guilt, remorse, his rolling stomach and the pungent aroma of Ezra's earlier bout with nausea were too much.

"Mr. Dunne?" called Ezra weakly.

Retching could be heard outside the door. Chris looked at Buck and gave a nod towards the door, and Buck went out to help JD.

Nathan sat on the edge of the bed and offered the tea to Ezra. There was no protest from the con man, which only went to show how poorly he felt. As Ezra finished the cup, Buck and JD came back in from the balcony. The younger man looked pale. He took a tentative step forward toward the bed.

"Um... Ezra?"

Ezra blinked open exhausted eyes.

" I owe you an apology, a big apology."

"It's not necessary, Mr. Dunne." His voice was almost a whisper.

"Yes it is! Ezra, I was wrong. I shouldn't have read your diary. I mean, I knew as soon as I looked inside that it was yours. That it was your diary. It was just I wanted... No! There's no excuse. I was wrong to read it. And... dammit, I should have come to you first and...and talked to you about it. I messed up Ezra. I just lost my temper and got everyone else all riled up, and I should have believed in you. I don't blame ya if ya don't forgive me and ya don't wanna be my friend again."

Ezra was touched by the young man's struggle. "Mr. Dunne...JD, I don't blame you, although I would appreciate it if you refrained from reading my journal in the future. However, this uproar was entirely my doing."

"Yer wrong, Ez. None'a this was yer doin'. So ya wrote a damn book. What the hell is wrong with that?" Vin raised his eyebrows as if challenging anyone to prove differently.

Chris thumbed through the pages of the book. "I thought you hated these things, Ezra."

"Yes, well, they certainly are not on the par of the classics, but they are a very lucrative business, and I was certain the literary muse could help me write a far better manuscript than that diminutive cretin, Mr. Steele."

Buck grinned at the picture that crossed his mind of the miniature weasel. "Well, ain't you thinkin' a bit high of yerself, Ezra? C'mon, the Greatest Con?" he teased.

"I was speaking of the game, Mr. Wilmington, not myself, " grinned Ezra.

Buck began to chuckle. "Well, ya sure had the kid going."

"Well at least I know the plot is believable," Ezra muttered under his breath.

"What was that Ez?" asked Vin.

"I said, I am sorry you and Mr. Dunne were injured over a literary creation."

"Ah. I can take it, Ez." Vin bobbed his eyebrows in a perfect imitation of Buck.

"I can take it better than you can, Vin." JD offered the challenge, but it was given meekly.

The tracker turned to JD. Remorse was written all over the kid's face. Vin knew JD had never intended to fight him, it had happened in the heat of the moment. He winked at the younger man, offering his forgiveness, "I dunno, JD, I seem to remember you laying in the dirt when I poked you."

"Yeah, well, who's got the black eye?" said JD as he stood and stepped teasingly toward the tracker.

Josiah smiled a devilish grin. The rift was beginning to heal. It would take awhile, but it was a start. He took one step toward the bickering pair. "Brothers, do we need another bath?"

"No!" two voices responded in unison as grins broke across their faces.

Vin punched JD's shoulder playfully. "Yer a worthy opponent, kid."

A ghost of a smile danced across JD's tired face. He knew Vin had forgiven him and so had Ezra, however, the young man felt the responsibility of his error and it would take awhile to find his balance and trust his judgment again. He looked at Vin's black eye, grateful for the tracker's easy nature and joined in the spirit of Vin's words.

"Who you calling 'Kid'?"


It had been two days since the confrontation and the Southerner was much improved. He had wanted to go back to his room, but had compromised, settling on the healer's proposal that he could go and sit on the boardwalk for awhile and get some sun.

Truth be told, Nathan was pleased with Ezra's progress. His confusion was gone and he had even been bantering with the others who, having read the book, were teasing him mercilessly. When pressed as to why there were only seven copies of the book, Ezra had admitted his deal with Steele included that no copies of the dime novel be sold in their region. The con man had not wanted to attract unnecessary attention to his companions.

"Are you sure you're ready for this Ezra?" asked Nathan concernedly.

Ezra nodded. His continuous headache had dulled to occasional attacks, and the nausea that had plagued him was virtually non-existent. He rolled his eyes as Nathan wrapped the blanket a little higher around his neck. "I am not an infant, Mr. Jackson!"

"I know that, Ezra, but you can't put on a coat and I don't want you to get a chill."

Ezra nodded, knowing Nathan was just watching out for him. He turned as a crash sounded on the street below, followed by some angry words.

"What was that?" asked the con man.

"I believe that was your entertainment for the afternoon." Ezra looked at him curiously as Nathan nodded toward the stairway.

Ezra picked his way slowly down the stairs with the healer close behind him, watching every step. They walked across the street to the boardwalk in front of the saloon where Ezra sat and Nathan again tucked the blanket around him. The healer had positioned him perfectly as he settled in to watch the afternoon's entertainment, which consisted of Vin and JD trying to fix the porch roof together. Coming out of the saloon, Chris sat in the chair beside Ezra ready to enjoy the festivities.

Ezra broke into a big smile, remembering the amusement of the previous day when Josiah oversaw the clumsy pair fixing the door to the clinic. Vin was limited to holding things because of his broken wrist, so he had tried to hold the door in place as JD nailed the hinges. The door was too heavy to hold one handed so it kept slipping. It had taken the blundering pair nearly two hours to replace the door JD had broken.

"Hold it still, Vin!"

"JD, dang it, hurry up. Ya know how hard it is to hold it with one hand?"

Ezra bit his lip to keep from laughing as they maneuvered the support post for the porch roof into position.

"Gentlemen, I do believe the post is listing slightly to the south."

"Who asked you?" yelled two young men in response. JD and Vin looked up at each other and broke into grins.

"Maybe you'd like ta give us a hand, Ezra?" called Vin.

"It seems gentlemen," replied the con man holding up his bandaged right arm, "that I do not have a hand to give as it were." Ezra grinned broadly, "Besides, a gentleman does not..."

Everyone chimed in, "...engage in menial labor!"

Ezra smiled and leaned back in the chair.

The End

(October 28, 2000)

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