DISCLAIMERS: No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended. This is purely fiction and based on the television series The Magnificent Seven.


AU: Blood Brothers - For a rundown on the guys check out this page

MAJOR CHARACTERS:   Ezra, Chris & Josiah
SUMMARY: Ezra pulls a con and Chris engages his new friends for a mission. 
SPOILERS: The Pilot.  4th in the Series and follows directly on from my stories, Extort thy Childhood
Color me Black, and Young Warriors.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thanks to Mitzi and Beth Baker for beta reading this fic.
COMMENTS: Yes, please! 
DATE:  26 Feb 03


Beneath the Surface

– Blood Brothers, AU

By Yolande


Josiah Sanchez followed at a quiet pace.  The hike down the hill from the cemetery wasn’t overtaxing on his aging limbs, but he relished the idle moment of quiet and the lazy descent in the wake of the previous tumultuous events.  At twenty-three, Nathan Jackson stood at a staggering six feet and three inches; he walked beside the preacher at a loping gait.  Josiah had watched Nathan grow from a gangly teenager into the decent young man, and had always been impressed by the dark-skinned man’s sense of morals and caring nature.  Josiah tried to look out for the young black man, knowing how prejudiced many folks were, but he hadn’t always been around.  And today was another example of the problems Nathan had to face every day, just because his skin colour wasn’t white.  Thank the Lord, for the timely intervention.  Without Vin Tanner and Chris Larabee, Nathan would have died today for sure.  Josiah’s arrival would have come too late.  He was just happy that it had turned out for the best. 

When the preacher arrived in town he hadn’t expected to find Nathan ready to swing by the neck.  Even more surprisingly, he was flabbergasted to find the seven-year-old in the midst of the action attempting, alongside Vin, to save the young healer.  Chris Larabee was certainly going to be a handful.  

A smile lingered on Josiah’s chiselled features as he watched Vin and Chris stop off at the hardware store.   He caught the tail end of the conversation between Virgil and Vin and nodded in appreciation to the hardware store owner for offering Vin the rifle.  The boy deserved some reward for the risks he’d just taken. 

Josiah couldn’t help wondering where the young Southerner had gone while Chris was off saving Nathan.  He’d assumed they were brothers when he’d first laid eyes on the two boys.   Not that they looked anything alike, or spoke with the same accent, but hell, he’d come across many kin that showed little resemblance to each other.  He thought he had sensed a connection between the two, but maybe that notion had been wrong.  

“Thanks for your help, Josiah,” Nathan interrupted his thoughts.  The dark-skinned man gingerly rubbed his tender neck; he dreaded the thought of what could have happened.  He still had plenty of living he wanted to do. 

“Most of the job was completed ‘fore I even arrived, Nathan.  Those two kids make a pretty good team.”  He patted the young healer on the shoulder.  Vin Tanner and Chris Larabee certainly showed up this town, taking on those trail herders by themselves and winning.  

Nathan nodded his head in agreement.  The shot that saved his skin had been perfect.  And the little fella in black had certainly played a significant role in his escape.  When Nathan got the chance, he’d make sure they knew how grateful he was, including the brash Easterner.  “What cha doin’ back in town, Josiah?  Thought you were planning on a long sabbatical…” 

“Got the sign I’d been hopin’ for.”  He grinned widely and nodded at Chris and Vin as they disappeared through the swinging doors.   

“Those, kids?”  Nathan asked sceptically.  What did the preacher know about kids? 

Josiah nodded.  “Actually, at the time it was only Chris and one other …” But he didn’t mind including Vin Tanner into the equation, too.  They pushed through the doors together and stood a foot inside while their eyes adjusted.  Sanchez grinned wider.  He’d wondered where the young Southerner had run off to.  Josiah sidled along the bar, his back flat against the wood.  He grinned.  “And here’s the other one,” he smirked at the wide-eyed Jackson. 

Ezra Standish grinned in a lopsided fashion and licked the corner of his mouth.  The acidic taste of whiskey lingered on his lips.  Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to dump all the glasses of alcohol pushed his way, and some had to his dismay, been literally forced down his throat.  Not that he minded the odd drink or two, but usually the after effects were not worth the trouble and he especially disliked indulging when he was running a con.  He glanced up at the influx of customers and grimaced slightly seeing Chris among them.  JD Dunne moved through the crowd and Standish smiled; his plan finally coming together in his mind. 

Ezra rose slowly and staggered around the room.  The bartender fixed a Queen of Clubs playing card to the dartboard readying for the action to begin; when it was his turn he wanted the Ace of Spades as his target.  

“You ain’t running out ‘fore I get the chance ta whip yer ass?” 

“No…no…” he drawled thickly.  Hah!  We’ll see who was going to whip whom!  Ezra moved on unsteady legs towards JD, the perfect assistant, and he didn’t even know it.  “Just stretching my legs…” The young gambler lurched at Dunne, tripping over an invisible obstacle on the floor.  JD instinctively caught the shorter boy.   This brought hoots of laughter from the rowdy patrons and covered the words Ezra whispered to JD.   “Shush!” Ezra hissed, silencing anything JD had been going to say.  He thrust his Remington from his shoulder holster into the Easterner’s grasp.  It was a quick manoeuvre and Ezra didn’t think anyone had noticed the transference.  Quite clearly, and not a hint of drunkenness about him, Ezra looked JD straight in the eye.  “Hold this for me…”  Standish pushed away and laughed softly as he tramped back to his seat.  He fell heavily into the chair and looked up with an air of innocence.  “Please proceed…time is wasting.” 

The mangy cowboy smirked, showing his missing and blackened teeth.  It wasn’t too difficult, he fired at the card and as expected, he put a hole within the white background to the top right of centre.  He was pleased with the result, as were the growing crowd backing him up.  They cheered their support and thumped the cowboy hard on the back. 

Ezra sighed.  “If you would be so kind?” he held out his hand, palm up, for the pistol used by the crow-dusted cowboy.  “Stand aside, sir.  You are…obstructing my view.”  Ezra Standish swayed slightly, but aimed the heavy and unfamiliar colt at the single card pinned on the dartboard.  “This should be…” he sighed melodramatically, “…a piece of cake.” The young conman stepped on an empty bottle, but it turned under his boot and his arm flew upwards.  The gun fired, missing the intended object. 

A round of laughter answered his failure.  “Pay up,” the cowboy ordered confidently. 

“Nonsense,” Standish insisted.  “I was encumbered by the debris on the floor.” 

“Well, let’s just try it again,” the man eagerly suggested.  This was easy money in his opinion.  

“With pleasure.”  Standish chuckled and walked across the room, standing abreast with JD.  “If nobody has any objections, I’ll use this young man’s weapon.”  Ezra stared at Dunne, and forced another burst of jovially from his mouth.  He smiled back at the waiting cowboys and rolled his eyes, and mouthed the word, ‘slow’.  Turning back to Dunne, Ezra leaned close and hissed impatiently in the taller boy’s ear, “My Remington, sir!”  

“Oh…sure,” JD stammered, giving up the pistol Ezra had palmed to him only minutes before.  What was the point of such a deception?  

“Thank you,” Standish drawled out in exaggerated tones, earning more scoffs and snickering from the crowd.  “Double or nothing,” he challenged. 

“It’s your money.  Get ready to duck boys.”  He chuckled. 

Ezra felt a little more comfortable now that he had reclaimed possession of his weapon.  He made a show of aiming the ‘borrowed’ gun at the target.  But before he pulled the trigger, he turned back around and faced the crowd, causing a small scuffle when everybody ducked and skidded away from the Remington he held, Standish grimaced shamefacedly and lowered the gun.  “My apologies, gentlemen…this is the first time I have imbibed to such an extent, and I fear it is affecting my judgement.”  

“Just get on with it,” someone yelled out. 

“By all means.”  His expression became serious and he lost the drunken sway as he lined up the new card that had been placed on the board.  The Ace of Spades always was his favourite card.  A smile formed before he finished squeezing off the first shot, which hit dead centre.  It was followed in quick succession by five more shots.  A wide smirk greeted his mockers. 

“He put all six in the same hole,” the bartender exclaimed after examining the card. 

“My, my… how astonishing.   I’ve never done that before.” 

The same man, who’d been eager for Ezra to take the shot only minutes before, quickly changed his tune.  Gone were his chuckles of laughter and merriment.  He figured by now that the teenager had duped them somehow and he certainly wasn’t drunk like he’d been pretending.  “You sure sobered up quickly, boy.” 

“Must be the desert air,” the gambler drawled, reaching for his winnings. 

“We don’t take kindly to being hustled.”  There was a rush of sudden movement, tables overturned and punches were thrown.  Somehow the larger man cornered Ezra, and without warning a huge blade was thrust into his face.  “Let’s see how good you can shoot with one eye,” he threatened, pushing the pointed end delicately close to the Southerner’s left eye. 

The young teenager stared almost cross-eyed at the nasty weapon.  His Adam’s apple rose up in his throat as he contemplated the situation that he’d found himself in.  Not good, Ezra!  This shambles would horrify Maude.  The Remington he’d used for the show was empty; it would be of little help now, but he did still hold an ace up his sleeve.  He needed a diversion, before it could be drawn.  

Ezra glanced around the saloon, looking for an opportunity or any form of help.  His mouth dried, and his throat tightened.  He spied Chris Larabee, contentedly returning his stare – what could he expect from a child? Chris was dismissed as a source of rescue.  His gaze moved along the counter.  Directly by Chris’ side stood a younger version of Buffalo Bill, a rough nut if he ever saw one. The preacher, Josiah Sanchez relaxed casually on the far end of the bar; he’d obviously followed them into town.  The black healer was tipping back a drink beside the tall preacher.   Ezra wondered who had saved the dark-skinned man from hanging, but didn’t ponder this for long.  Then there was JD Dunne, who’d participated in this scam, but now hung back from the group, and alternated between edging forward and taking a step backwards.  No help was forthcoming from that quarter.  But then, Ezra Standish had NEVER depended on anyone but himself before, so why should now be any different?  

The young gambler reached above his head and pulled down the draperies from over the window.  They fell onto the man holding him hostage and were enough of a distraction for Standish to pull out of the hold and escape the knife’s bitter edge.  The derringer shot out into his palm, and he was prepared to defend himself.  Several fights had broken out on the fringes of the saloon, all suddenly claiming an interest in the cash pool.  Ducking under a flying chair and dodging past flailing fists and drunken bodies Ezra separated himself from the chaos.  

Spying the abandoned cash on the bar top, Ezra manoeuvred through the melee to gather his winnings…after all, he did put the bullet through the centre of the card.  Grabbing quickly at the notes he looked up into the mirror behind the bar, saw one of the cowhands coming at him from behind, and instinctively fired the derringer at the man.  Standish hadn’t even turned around; he’d just used the mirror as a guide and aimed the small weapon from around his side.  Another trick he’d learned trailing around after Maude.  The bullet only winged the man, but did stop the intended attack. 

Ezra turned and viewed the disaster the room had become.  “Sorry for the mess.”  A dimple showed in his cheek as he slyly grinned over the top of his derringer. 

“You only got one shot left in that popgun,” another grievous participant stated confidently. 

Ezra swung the small weapon back and forth, holding the group of complainants at bay.  There was no way he was giving up his hard-earned money.  “Well, then…you best discuss amongst yourselves which one of you is going to die,” he drawled.  He kept his back to the bar and tried to slide away into oblivion.  He hadn’t expected any help from Chris Larabee’s new friends, and also didn’t expect them to talk to him.  He was, after all a gambler, and a conman.  His mother’s son, in all things that count.  

“Nice shot, pard,” Tanner grinned, keeping his voice relatively low. 

Ezra raised his eyebrows.  “Dreadful.  I was aiming to kill him, but the mirror was cracked.”  Let these hooligans think what they liked, just so long as they thought the teenager was capable of killing them without a qualm.  They didn’t need to know that Ezra was extremely nervous and couldn’t even kill the man who’d been coming at him from behind.  And it would have been such an easy shot…but the young gambler couldn’t do it. 

Chris Larabee smirked at the taller boy.  He really did like Ezra, especially after the older boy had rescued him from Maude’s control.  But there was a time and place for saying such things, and it wasn’t now.  He was also worried that the Southerner was going to abandon him…and he had the perfect blackmail to keep the gambler in line.  “First shot was louder than the other five.” 

Ezra finished stuffing the wads of money inside his jacket.  He glared at the child and his words that, although were said softly, would cause more trouble for him if the disgruntled patrons chose to listen.  He growled in the back of his throat.  “What are you attempting to suggest?” 

Larabee grinned, sharing a smile with Vin Tanner before facing the young gambler.  “First bullet was real.”  Now that was ingenious…and incredibly dumb, especially with a room full of drunks.  “The rest were blanks.”  But Standish had dead-centred the playing card with the first shot, which in itself was incredible.  Chris would have to convince the gambler to show him how to use such a weapon. 

If Standish hadn’t been trained by the best, his mouth would have fallen open.  How did a seven-year-old come to know how to differentiate the sounds of blanks fired from a pistol and that of a bullet?  That was perhaps a discussion left for a later time.  “Well, I abhor gambling and as such, leave nothing to chance,” Ezra quoted his mother.  Finding nothing else keeping him in the saloon, he made a hasty retreat, keeping his eyes on all the patrons and holding them at large by nothing more than the threat of a single bullet in the small derringer.  

When Ezra passed through the swinging doors, several of the cowboys lurched towards the door, ready to chase down the gambler and, what they considered, their part of the money. 

Josiah cleared his throat and levelled his rifle to waist high.  “Not so fast, boys!”

“Stay out of it, preacher!” 

“He’s got our money!” shouted another. 

Sanchez thumbed back the hammer of his weapon and glared at the man closest to him.  “Ain’t the way I saw it happen.  He shot the centre out of that card, and I believe that was the entirety of the bet.  That he was capable of doing it more than just the once,” Sanchez paused here, glancing around the disgruntled faces, “suggests that he wouldn’t be someone, anyone of you, would want to come up against.”  Sanchez glowered at them for a minute, making sure each of the men had received his message…no one was going after that boy.  After several more minutes past, the patrons returned to their tables, picking up the furniture and restoring it to the original positions and resuming their seats.  Mumbling out loud, Josiah smirked at the compliance.  “Glad everyone chose to see it my way.”  

“Don’t reckon you gave ‘em much of a choice,” Nathan chuckled. 

“They always had a choice, Nathan,” the preacher corrected, and settled himself at a table, waving a hand for the others to join him.  The Southerner could certainly handle a gun, but why was he so proficient and running scams out west?  He’d seen the gambler palm off his weapon for JD to mind, and he wondered at the time why it had been done.  But after hearing Chris profess that five bullets were in fact blanks, it cleared up this little manoeuvre.  The gambler probably wanted the others to think he had no knowledge of pistols and therefore lure them into a false sense of security.  And of course, they had upped the pot after the Southerner’s disastrous first attempt.  It worried him to see the young gambler having to claw himself out of the hole he’d dug, but Josiah admitted there was a smudge of satisfaction witnessing him escape on his own.  He would have stepped in if it had become too much for the teenager, but he seemed quiet adept at handling the situation.  Obviously, there was more to the gambler than met the eye.  Much like Chris Larabee, he mused curiously.  And there was much to learn from this boy.  “Chris…?” 

Everyone turned their eyes to the child.  Chris Larabee sat up on his knees to see over the table.  He glared at JD Dunne as the Easterner made to join them.  JD rolled his shoulders and sensibly took another chair at an adjacent table. 

“I’m looking for help to find my brother,” Chris curtly informed Josiah, Nathan and Vin.  “There’s a gang of four killers, who murdered my ma in our home and took Adam away.  I’m planning on tracking the bastards down.  Any of you interested?  I can pay.” 

The boy had been dealt a horrible blow for one so young, but Chris Larabee certainly had spirit.  “And just what are you paying with?”  Josiah asked.  He’d be willing to go along for the ride without any remuneration, because this was his sign from God, but he was curious all the same. 

Chris pulled out an oiled cloth and set it on the table.  It lay unopened, with four sets of eyes staring at the small package, five sets if you counted JD’s.   Larabee reached out to open it, but a large calloused hand weighted down over his.  He looked up into the blue eyes of the preacher.  “Don’t you want to know what’s inside?” 

Josiah smiled and patted the child’s hand.  “Not in here,” he glanced about knowingly.  There were more eyes watching them than had any right.  “And there’s no need.   Put it away, son.” 

Chris complied, but worried at his bottom lip.  How was he to hire guns if he couldn’t present the prize?  His shoulders sagged. 

Vin Tanner patted the youngster on the back.   “You know anything more about these killers?” 


“Don’t ya all reckon we should hand this matter over to the law?” Nathan’s voice of reason interrupted. 

“The sheriff don’t want to help…” Chris sighed. “He reckoned they were long gone, and wouldn’t be comin’ back, and I should jest get on with my life,” he added in disgust. 

“Hell, I was making five dollars a week at the hardware store without anybody shooting at me,” Tanner stated. 

Chris shrugged.  He’d been impressed by Vin’s precision with the rifle and his cool attitude under pressure when they’d saved Nathan, but if the former buffalo hunter didn’t want part of this, then it didn’t worry him. 

“I’ll come,” Nathan nodded.  

And Josiah grunted in agreement too.  Someone had to watch out for the young ones.  “I’m in.” 

“Hell…I wasn’t plannin’ on dying with a broom in my hand anyway,” Vin smirked and was rewarded with a full-blown smile from the seven-year-old. 

“So there’s just the three of us and a kid?” Nathan gritted his teeth and frowned.  

“I ain’t a kid…” Chris protested. 

“I can help too,” JD Dunne rushed to stand by their table.  His hands were on the colts at his hips, eager for his first battle. 

Chris looked the eighteen-year-old up and down.   The brown pinstriped suit was the same one that he’d been wearing when they’d shared a stagecoach a few days ago, his attitude was still the same, and his enthusiasm was high.  JD would be a liability, and those at the table knew it.  “Didn’t ask you,” Chris dismissed. 

JD looked around the table, watching the faces of the men seated there.  Were they going to accept the word of a child?  He could help them.  He only needed a chance to prove himself.  He looked to Josiah for support, but the preacher looked away with a sigh.  “I know how to use a gun…” 

“Who we gonna send your body to when yer dead?” 

“I ain’t gonna get killed!” JD responded heatedly. 

 Chris snorted; he’d aged years in the past six months.  His childhood had been ripped away from him and he’d been left scarred and traumatised, haunted by scenes of his mother dying in their home surrounded by a wall of flames and his brother’s kidnapping.  He couldn’t watch anyone else die.  “You don’t know the way of the west.  You should go back home to your safe little house and pretend we don’t exist.” 

JD gaped.  Why was he even listening to this kid?  But the others were nodding their heads agreeing with the pint-sized cowboy.  Damn it!  He wanted to go!  “But…I can...” 

“Ain’t interested,” Chris cut him off.  

Josiah smiled wanly at the youth.  He hoped Chris might relent and allow JD to come with them; he might in a few days time when they were set to leave.  He’d talk to the boy…he’d talk to them both in fact.  He realised, like Chris, that Dunne was a greenhorn, but leaving him here in town, to fend for himself, would be asking for trouble - he wouldn’t last a week.  No, it would be much safer if JD joined their little band.  Josiah could teach him a few things that may keep him alive longer.  Vin might even be willing to show the older boy a thing or two and so might Nathan.  But that was something for later.  “How about your young friend?  He coming with us?” 

“Ezra?  Yeah, he’ll be coming.” Chris answered.  Why wouldn’t he?  Standish had promised. 

“Ezra’s the kid who cleaned out those folks?” Nathan pointed to the corner of the saloon where the cowboys had slinked off to.  Chris nodded.  “Why would we want to use a cheater?” 

“Might need one.  And he’s my friend,” Chris declared. 

“Yeah?  Didn’t see him around earlier to help you out any when the lead was flying.   Where was he then, Chris?  I’ll tell you where he was,” Nathan roared, he was on a roll, and he was angry.  Of course, a Southern boy wouldn’t condescend to helping save a black man’s life.  And the events of the day, resulting in his near death, were catching up with him; he wanted to take his anger out on someone and the Southerner was as good as he could get to vent his bottled rage.  Hearing that honeyed Southern drawl almost made him puke; it brought forth many memories and past hurts.  “He was inside here, conning the pants off these good folks…not givin’ you a second thought…so much for thinking he was your friend.  And what would he want with a kid your age…he’s probably only using you in some con…” 

“That’s not true!” Chris shouted, jumping from the table and to the defence of his rescuer.  “You don’t know anything about Ezra…you should wait, at least until you’ve met him.”  Ezra wouldn’t do that…Maude would, but Ezra wouldn’t…would he?  “He said he was taking me back home…” 

“Do you trust him?” Tanner pinned Chris to the spot with the probing question. 

There was a significant pause before Chris spoke.  His silence was damning, and said everything to Nathan, Josiah and Vin.  Larabee chewed his lip; it was unfair of these people to make such assumptions.  Chris knew Ezra was a good person, but the young Southerner had been brought up by Maude, trained and manipulated for fifteen years, how could he not possess some of those same qualities?  Sure, Ezra had saved him from Maude’s schooling in the arts of deception, and that was admirable, but was he more his mother’s son, than Chris had first perceived?   “I don’t trust anybody,” was Chris’ belated answer.  But Chris would stand beside the gambler until Standish did something to warrant losing his loyalty.  He owed Ezra at least that. 

Vin bobbed his head.  “Good enough.”   Nathan didn’t seem convinced, and Josiah reserved his decision until he got to know the young gambler himself. 

“All right then,” Chris clapped his hands.  “We can leave tomorrow, at dawn.” 

“Whoa, whoa, son!”  Josiah held his hand up in a stopping position.  “We know yer anxious, Chris, but there are things we need to organise first.  Give us a few days….” he bargained… “That way we can also get a chance to know one another.” 

Larabee sighed.  He knew Josiah was right. 

Sanchez scraped back his seat and nursed the rifle.  He smiled smugly at the cowboys who watched his every move.  “Come on, Chris.  Let’s go find Ezra.” 


The fifteen-year-old gambler sat on the edge of the mattress, straightening each note carefully and putting them in neat bundles.  One hundred and seventy-three dollars, he had secured that afternoon.  And he’d only had to ante ten dollars to the total himself.  Not a bad effort, he considered.  Although there had been a particularly scary moment, when that eight-inch blade had been used against him.   But he had acquired the funds to keep the journey going, with some left over for other investments along the way.  At least now he could pay for the room he’d acquired for them at the boarding house and retrieve his sapphire ring he’d been forced to use as a guarantee.  It meant no more to him than procuring his next meal, or so he convinced himself, but the security it represented was irreplaceable. It held no sentimental value, but it was comfortable wearing it on his finger. Perhaps he should see to regaining his possession before the landlady decided to hock the valuable gem. 

A knock on his door brought a frown to his forehead.  “Who’s there?” he called out suspiciously.  

“It’s me,” Chris responded, his voice muffled though the closed door separating them.  

A grin crossed the gambler’s face and he lightly vaulted off the bed and swung open the door.  Seeing the young child, Ezra turned and moved back into the room.  “We have sufficient funds to acquire you a mount…mind you, it won’t be anything spectacular.  No prise mare, just a saddle horse,” Standish was quick to clarify.  He didn’t have copious funds to indulge the boy’s every wish. 

“You’re buyin’ me a horse?  With your winnings?”  Larabee practically jumped for joy. His young face, that sometimes looked far too old and experienced, exploded with expressions the gambler had never before witnessed. 

“It’s a necessity,” Ezra downplayed.  “You can’t keep hiking up behind me on Chaucer.” And it would pave the way for when they needed to separate. 

“Do I get to pick him?” Larabee could hardly restrain his enthusiasm, and at the moment couldn’t see any motivation behind Ezra’s generous offer, other then to buy him a horse.   

“Well, perhaps if I came along…” Ezra’s grin stiffened, seeing the slight movement by the open door come into view.  His heartbeat leapt forward in a tumble, until his brain became aware of who was standing there listening.  How long had he been there?  Had he said anything that might be misconstrued?  “Mr. Sanchez…” Standish moved behind the bed, wanting to put some distance between him and the giant.    This wasn’t the same as when they’d met out in the wilderness; at that time Ezra had the advantage of being astride his horse, it’d given him height to look down on the tall preacher, but here in his abode, and him not fully grown, Sanchez loomed over the shorter gambler.  “Can I be of some assistance?”  Surely the preacher hadn’t come seeking compensation for the cowboys he’d hoodwinked in the saloon.  Ezra glared at Chris…why had the child brought Josiah to his doorstep? 

“Ezra…that’s a mighty fine gesture, offering to buy Chris a horse.” 

The teenager shrugged.  What was he getting at? 

“I figured you’d be hightailin’ it out of town after pulling such a stunt…” 

“There was nothing untoward in my dealings with those gentlemen, and I use that term loosely.” 

“Still, could be, they might find offence at being suckered by a kid.” 

KID!  He was not a kid!  And he certainly didn’t dupe anyone!  Did everyone fail to notice that those cowboys were attempting to get the better of him?  They plied him with alcohol, which he almost successfully disposed of all, and fingered him as an easy target to steal from.  None, were disagreeable about accepting the conditions of the wager, and all willingly added their money to the pile.  Ezra sighed.  “Is there a purpose to your visit?” 

Josiah prowled inside the small room, eventually taking a seat by the door and stretching out his long legs.  “Chris says you’re taking him to Eagle Bend, then on to his home.”  It wasn’t a question, but Standish nodded.  “Thought you might like to know I’ll be tagging along, so will Nathan and Vin.”  And JD Dunne if Josiah could wrangle it.  All these kids needed to stay together. 

Ezra looked from Josiah to the blond-headed boy.  What the hell was going on?  He certainly didn’t need a guardian, and if that was what the grey-headed man was implying then he wanted nothing to do with it. “If that is the case,” he drawled, “Why do you require me?” 

“You promised,” Chris snarled curtly, and folded his arms over his narrow chest. 

Standish waited to see if Chris was going to say anymore, but he did not.  “I see.”  There was silence in the room for a full minute.  To each of the occupants it lasted an eternity.  “I am nothing, if not a man of my word.” 

Larabee grinned.   “Good!  Can I go choose my horse, now?” 

Standish barely had time to respond and the spirited child was backing out of the room and gone, leaving him facing the giant preacher.   Ezra wondered what Josiah would deem as suitable punishment for his actions in the saloon.  Isn’t that what all adults attempted to do - mete out discipline to disobedient children?  Josiah remained seated, even appeared comfortable in the semi-reclined position.  “Something else you needed to add, Mr. Sanchez?”  There, he’d said that without a waver or any indication that he was shaking in his boots. 

Josiah rubbed his thumb over his lower lip thoughtfully.  He could see the brave front the gambler was projecting, but the wariness was clear in the teenager’s bright green eyes.  He knew now that Ezra and Chris were not related, but something had occurred to bring them together.  He couldn’t help wondering what that had been.  What sort of response would he get if he pressed the right buttons?  Maybe Josiah could force Standish into revealing something. “Was just wondering where you fitted in with Chris.  Can’t see the two of you hooking up together…yet here you are.” 

“I may be many things, but I would never abandon a child when he is dependant on me.  Now, if you’ll excuse me…I have to justify the expense for a mount and would like to have some say in the matter, as I’m doling out the cash.  And you can never be too careful with rip-off merchants and how they like to wring you dry of every last dime.” 

Sanchez leaned back and laughed.  “Reckon I might mosey along, too.”  This young gambler might be worth the bother and frustrations yet.  The boy had a certain cockeyed integrity and a snide sense of humour.  Josiah could see the pair of them butting heads on many issues, but looked forward to the challenge.  It had been many years since he had something to set his focus on.  And there were five young men who’d walked into his life this very day, seeking direction and guidance and a helping hand - though most of them didn’t know it yet.  He might not be up to the task, but he was willing to give it a go and it never hurt to try. 

“By all means,” the young Southerner clipped, as he rushed past Sanchez. 

the end

Next story:- More than Friends

I'd love to hear your comments.  Please!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If you get the urge...feel free to send them to Yolande