A Weight to Bear – Chris

By Yolande

Special thanks to Kelly A for beta-ing.



“Get round the back,” Chris Larabee ordered the Southerner. 

Ezra squinted at the bright sun and looked at the gunslinger in bewilderment.  Why did Chris want him to go around the back of the bank?  He ducked his head lower when he felt the path of a bullet whiz past his cheek.  Damn!  Why did they have to pick their town to hold up?  Didn’t the miscreants know that Four Corners was protected by seven lawmen?  Except, at the moment five of the seven were absent from town.  Buck, Josiah and Vin were transporting a prisoner, Nathan was up at the Seminole Village visiting with Rain and JD was spending the afternoon riding with Casey.  That left Chris and Ezra to protect the town. 

Standish crouched down and shot off another round into the bank’s windows.  The bandits inside continued their barrage in return.  It was a standoff with the outlaws having the advantage of a hostage; the bank teller was the hapless victim.  Fortunately, no others were inside at the time of the heist. 

“Standish…” Larabee hissed irritably. 

I’m going, Ezra silently shouted.  Crouching low, he sprinted quickly to the back.  The exit was secured and he slid along the wall to the door, slowly drawing it open.  The gambler paused on the threshold, straining to hear over the gunfire that erupted from the front.  He then stepped quietly inside the room, which the manager claimed as his office.  Ezra let out a heavy sigh on finding the room deserted. 

Standish slowly edged open the office door, biting the inside of his cheek when it creaked noisily.  He peered through the space into the main section of the bank.  Holding his breath, the Southerner waited a fraction then slipped through the narrow opening.  He tiptoed into the melee and wondered again how this was beneficial to him.  Standish sighed; they had yet to discover his presence inside the bank.  The backs of five outlaws greeted him, and they were all focused solely on the barrage that Chris and the commandeered services of a few able bodied men handy with a gun, were providing from the front.  Ezra frowned, wondering briefly where Amos Mills, the bank teller was.  

Come on, Chris!  What’s keeping you?  If the lawman had something planned, now was the time.  Ezra hunkered behind the counter, diligently watching the fracas.   It was with this thought still on his mind when the entire front of the bank disappeared in an explosion.  Standish rocked back on his heels and winced at the thundering blast.  

Ezra carefully straightened, flexing body parts to determine if any had been injured, then slowly shook off the showering of debris his jacket had received.  He blinked twice and watched Chris wander through the destruction.  The five outlaws lay somewhere beneath the pile of rubble.  

“You hurt?” 


“Then ya can help clean this mess up,” Larabee abruptly interrupted.  He glanced around the bank and other than the open-air view of the street; the rest of the bank was amazingly still intact.  

Ezra nodded dejectedly and stepped out from behind the counter, prepared to sift through the broken wall in search of the outlaws.  

“Where’s the teller?” Larabee asked curiously.  God, he hoped Mills wasn’t under the shattered wall.  Couldn’t abide with killing innocent men. 

“You take another step an’ I’ll blow a hole through that pretty jacket,” a rough voice instructed from behind the gambler. 

Ezra slowly turned and found the missing teller exiting the vault, held tightly in the grip of a sixth member of the gang.  He raised his hands away from his holster and felt Larabee’s presence beside him.  

“Throw those pieces!” the outlaw demanded of both lawmen.  All the while he dragged the teller along, forcing him to acquiesce by the gun that was pressed to his head. 

The Southerner and the gunslinger complied; tossing their guns across the wooden floor, hoping the action of surrender would afford them an opportunity to free the hostage. 

“What ya plannin’ on doing now?” Chris asked in mild curiosity.  “Yer friends are buried in a pile of rubble, and yer not gonna get far hauling that sack of money and a hostage.” 

The outlaw grinned wickedly as an idea formed in his mind.  He backed up and motioned the two lawmen to join him behind the counter.  “You can all go inside there,” he smiled deviously; pleased with the solution he’d reached. 

Standish baulked at the narrow width of the vault, his eyes wide with suspicion and a flicker of fear.  “You can’t be serious?” 

“I said, get inside!” 

Amos plucked up the nerve to protest, swallowing the bile that threatened to explode from his mouth.  “You can’t lock us all in there,” he choked.  “Mr. Charlton is away for the week-end, and other then myself, he’s the only one with the combination.” 

“Good,” the outlaw pressed the gun firmly against the teller’s head.  “Get inside.” 

Chris shrugged, obediently complying and Ezra hesitantly followed his lead.  They were ordered to the end of the room. A scuffle broke out between the teller and the remaining bandit at the entrance, but was almost immediately stopped by the piercing sound of gunfire.  The body of Mills collapsed across the threshold of the vault.  The teller was pulled out and the thick metal door closed with a dull clang echoing in the small enclosure.  The dial turned with a sharp click, effectively trapping the two lawmen inside. 

“Perfect,” Standish drawled sarcastically.  “Absolutely marvellous.” 


The Southerner rushed at the vault door and hammered his fists against the cool metal.  “Let us out, dammit,” he shouted hopelessly in vain.  The gambler continued to pound on the door and even kicked a number of times in the slim chance that the act of aggression would help. 

“Cut it out, Standish,” Larabee ordered, content to wait, biding his time to be released. 

Ezra spun on his heel and glared down the badly lit tunnel at the gunslinger.  This was Larabee’s fault entirely. He wouldn’t be trapped in the slim box with Sir Galahad for company if not for Chris’ easy compliance with the outlaw.  The vault was approximately six feet across, but both walls were lined with shelving, which in turn made the space even narrower.  The length of the room was hardly more than ten feet long, there were no windows and all the walls were lined with a heavy metal.  As soon as the door was closed, the flickering flame from the oil lamp barely shed enough light in the small room.  “Oh, by all means, Mr. Larabee,” Standish hissed in annoyance.  The gambler kicked angrily once more and slumped to the floor, slouched in a heap. 

Chris stared incredulously at the gambler.  What was that about?   He shrugged, resuming a similar pose to the one adopted by Standish, although he remained at the far end of the vault.  


The lantern flickered in the dark, and the light was becoming increasingly dim.  Ezra held his hand in front of his face and could only just see a vague outline.  He swallowed painfully and forced himself to breath evenly.   Close your eyes and take slow deep breaths, he instructed himself over and over again in his mind.  You’re in control, he reminded himself - just remember it.  He sat with his knees drawn up and rested his forehead on the top of his knees.  It was becoming increasingly more difficult to draw in each breath and his chest ached from the exertion. 

When the lantern failed and the vault plunged into total blackness, the Southerner gulped frantically, blinking wildly in panic.  Ezra jumped to his feet and wiped a hand over his face.  His heartbeat thumped strangely loud to his ears.  He fought the urge to pummel at the door, and his hands shook from the effort to resist.  Leaning his forehead against the door, Standish squeezed closed his eyes and concentrated on imagining that he was anywhere else but here.  It was just beginning to work when a hand clamped down on his shoulder, and the harshness of his breathing intensified.  Standish panicked by the touch, startled, but responded on reflexes only and punched out with his left hand, following it quickly with his right.  He heard a grunt moments before he found himself on the receiving end of a few punishing blows. 


Chris awoke from his light sleep wondering what had caused him to wake.  He remained still and listened in the dark, frowning at the oddly disturbing noises that were coming from his companion.  The lantern was out, so he had little chance of seeing what the younger man was doing, leaving the alternative of either ignoring him or taking the risk of interrupting something that could potentially be private.  He sat up and scowled in the direction of the vault door, wondering belatedly what time it was.  It had to be late, he was certain of that, but other than that, he’d only be guessing. 

Chris wondered if JD had come back to town yet.  And whether the young gunslinger was endeavouring to find the absent bank manager, Brain Charlton, so they could leave this tomb.  He hoped that the outlaw had been long gone before Dunne had returned, not wanting him to encounter the bandit alone. 

Larabee cocked his head to the side and curiously wondered again what Ezra was trying to do.  The younger man’s breathing was hurried and shallow.  The man in black didn’t think that Ezra would be able to continue to breathe like that and not pass out.  With that thought in mind, Chris decided he’d find out what was bothering Standish.  “Ezra…” he called the gambler’s name softly, not wanting to startle him, by breaking the relative silence with his voice.  The greeting went unanswered. 

Larabee skimmed his hand along the shelving, guiding his steps toward the entrance.  The Southerner’s raspy breathing gave him direction.  “Standish?”  Chris fumbled in the dark, and reached with his hands to find the conman and probably connected a little harder then intended, but he couldn’t see, dammit!  The double up of blows were an unwelcome attack, and certainly unforeseen. 

Chris stumbled back, surprised by the attack, but not for long.  He aimed a blow at where he imagined the gambler was standing and a smile grew on the gunman’s face when his hand met with the gambler’s body.  “You want ta fight?”  Larabee didn’t wait for a response, but threw another volley of punches in the Southerner’s direction.  “I’ll give ya something to remember,” Chris snarled.  The last punch missed his target. Standish had moved.  Chris landed flat against the vault door after following through with the punch.  “Come on, Standish,” Chris taunted spinning around, wanting the Southerner to disclose his position by speaking.  The gunslinger listened, but only his racing heartbeat sounded in his ears. 

A soft shuffle sounded to his left and he threw himself at the gambler, bringing them both to the floor, landing a few well-placed blows on the way down.  Larabee landed atop of the Southerner and heard the grunt from him when they hit the floor.  Chris straddled the conman’s hips and brought his arm back high over his shoulder.  He clenched his fist and prepared to bring it down hard.   Larabee realised belatedly, that he scarcely had any restraining hold over Standish, but the gambler barely moved beneath him.  Certainly he wasn’t struggling to escape.  Chris lowered his arm and climbed off Ezra, sitting beside the still man.  When the gunslinger tempered his anger, the raspy breathing that had initially woken him, broke through his senses.  “Ezra…are you havin’ trouble breathing?”  He felt the slight movement when Standish changed positions, but the harsh breathing continued. 

Ezra rolled over, crawling to his hands and knees.  His head dropped down between his shoulders.  His head spun, and he gasped urgently to swallow some air.  The air about his face was thick and hot and he couldn’t seem to get enough of it.  Even closing his eyes didn’t stop the spinning rotation that his mind seemed to be trapped in.  Fighting with Larabee certainly didn’t help matters either.  Got to get out of here! He screamed mutely, before passing out and collapsing to the floor. 

“Ezra?” Chris crawled, feeling anxiously with his hands along the floor.  He found the gambler’s leg and worked his way up the unresponsive body until he could feel Standish’s face.  Larabee felt for a fever, and was pleased to find none.  He lightly tapped the Southerner’s cheeks, calling his name to awaken him, but the gambler remained silent.  Although, Chris noted that his breathing had settled into a relaxed rhythm and he no longer struggled for breaths.  

Larabee snorted, shaking his head in bewilderment.  How did he get trapped in here with a man who was terrified of what…the dark? He questioned in confusion.  The gunman pulled a match from his pocket and scraped it along the base of his boot.  He passed the slim flame over the gambler’s face, the miniature glow showed only Ezra’s slack facial features.  He briefly wondered if Standish had been injured in the explosion, but he’d stated that he was unhurt.  The wood burned down to his fingertips and Chris flicked the remaining sliver of timber away, where it sputtered and finally went out. 

Larabee dragged the Southerner over to the end wall, propping him up.  Chris sank down beside him to prevent Ezra from falling sideways. 


Chris knew immediately when Standish started to come around, his breathing hitched and the steady rhythm and general quiet of the room vanished under the gasping and panting.  “Ezra,” he growled, turning the gambler’s face in his hands by holding under his chin.  “Talk to me,” Larabee commanded. 

“What…happened?” Ezra panted. 

“Aside from hitting me?” Chris joked. 

Standish winced.  Oh God, he really did hit the stoic gunman, he realised in dismay.  “My…sincerest…apolo…gies,” Ezra muttered. 

“Wanta tell me what’s goin’ on?” 

Standish shook his head, tilting it back against the wall.  “Small spaces…and I…don’t mix… too well,” he admitted.  He owed the gunman that much at least. 

Chris chuckled.  “That’s an understatement, Standish,” he deadpanned. 

Ezra groaned and clambered to his feet.  Momentarily disorientated, he felt for the shelving.  Realising that they were at the far wall, because that was the only wall without shelving, he stumbled toward the door.  “I need… to get… out of here,” he muttered urgently. 

“We will,” Chris promised.  “Just got to bide our time.”  The gunslinger pulled out another match and set it alight.  In the dim glow he watched the panicked expression of Standish zero in intently on the flame.  Damn, he didn’t have enough matches to keep lightin’ ‘em one after each other.  Chris joined the gambler at the front of the vault and before the wood burned to the end he motioned that they should resume their seat.  Standish nodded and slid rigidly down the door.  Chris sat next to him and their shoulders touched.  When the light faded, Chris squeezed Ezra’s forearm, but the hitch in his breathing still returned and Larabee could feel the gambler tense under his fingertips.  “Do ya know why?” 

“Why, what…Mr. Larabee?” he drawled. 

Chris smothered the growl that rose to his throat.  “Why this happens,” he clarified.  “Musta been somethin’ bad that caused this,” Chris prompted.  He felt if he could get the gambler talking it would take his mind off his problem, maybe settle down his breathing some too. 

Ezra shrugged, tipping his head back and gulping for air.  “I was stuck…inside a…box once,” he hesitantly divulged.  

Chris nodded, that would explain a lot.  “How old were you?”  There was such a long pause after his question that Larabee assumed that the Southerner was not going to reply.  When he did, the choked sound was barely a whisper. 

“Eight.  I was eight at the time.”  Standish shivered at the vividly haunting memory.  

Ezra’s mother had finally decided to take him with her on one of her trips.  He’d actually enjoyed staying with his aunt and uncle and their young daughter, but it wasn’t the same as being with your own mother.  He was so excited to see her after not hearing from her in over six months.   And for the first time, he would get to travel with her on a train.  Lord, he loved being on trains.  But he’d made so many trips on trains by himself, that to be given the opportunity to be with Maude, and on a train, his heart fluttered with anticipation.  

When they arrived at the platform, an elderly man with a portly belly and swinging a heavy cane met them.  The young Southerner eyed the man suspiciously, yet curious all the same.  Maude didn’t introduce Ezra to the gentleman and when he boldly scrutinized the young Southerner, his mother waved a dismissive hand over his head, saying that he was the porter’s son wanting to earn a nickel for helping with the luggage.  All his excitement shattered in an instant at hearing his mother’s flippant words.  Ezra backed away from her and would have run, but for the firm grip Maude secured on his shoulder.  She winked suggestively at the gentleman and promised a swift return.   

Young Ezra was dragged along behind her to the baggage section of the train, and he was practically thrown through the open doors.  Maude pulled a key from her bosom and opened a chest with it.   

Ezra trembled when he recalled what was inside the box.  

Inside was a brown package, a canteen and nothing else.  Several holes, not much bigger that a nickel, were drilled at both ends of the wooden box.  She had planned this from the beginning.  Maude never had any intention of spending time with her son.  It had all been a ruse from the beginning, and he’d fallen for it, once again.  “Now, hop in, son,” she urged, anxiously looking over her shoulder for fear of being caught. 

His voice caught in his throat, and tears streamed down his cheeks.  “B…b…but, I thought…we were going to be on the train together,” he whimpered, looking up at her with doleful eyes. 

“Don’t be silly, Ezra.  How can I possibly convince Mr. Humphries to be my husband, if he thinks I already have a son?  No, that would be impossible.  Be a good boy and climb inside.  There are plenty of air holes, and some sandwiches in the bag, but you must be very quiet,” she warned, wagging her finger at him.  “You don’t want to get your mother in trouble do you?”  The young boy shook his head.  “Good.”  She patted his head.  “Because that’s what would happen if they found you.  And besides, it saves the extra fare I would be required to pay for you.  This way we only have to pay for one, and you get a free trip,” she enthused, lightly kissing him on the cheek. 

Before the eight-year-old had any chance to react, the lid closed down on him, surrounding him in total darkness.  The key turned in the lock and he sobbed uncontrollably into his coat so no one would hear him, until he cried himself to sleep. 

A lone tear tracked a path down his cheek and Ezra sniffed, swallowing the bile at the unpleasant memory.  He jerked awkwardly at the gunslinger’s touch and choked out an apology. 

“I said, how did ya get yerself locked inside?”  Come on, Ezra, talk to me, Larabee urged. 

Standish raked his hand nervously through his hair, and the hand literally shook.  “I didn’t say… I was locked in,” he contradicted. 

The gunman smiled in sympathy.  “Then why couldn’t ya get out?” Chris reasoned.  He heard the uncharacteristic snort from the gambler and wondered who had locked an eight-year-old child inside a box.  “How long were ya in there?” 

“Two days,” he sighed.  

Two very long days of suffocating in the heat, breathing in stale air and fighting for every breath.  Not long after Maude had abandoned him, the box had been moved, and he wanted so badly to scream out and tell somebody that he was inside, but his mother’s words repeated in his mind, warning him to be quiet, and he didn’t want Maude to get in trouble because of him.  He pushed his tear-streaked face harder into the coat and smothered his pleas for help.  The box was pushed hard against the wall, leaving him only four small holes at one end to receive fresh air through.  He could barely move in the small enclosure, and his legs were cramped by not being able to stretch out.  

“What???” Chris shouted in abject horror. 

Standish jumped fractionally and wiped the moisture from his face.  

“Who the hell did that to you?” 

Ezra turned his head to the side, ashamed to admit his fears in front of the gunslinger.  Another match being struck tempted him to face Larabee, if only to embrace the light. 

Chris looked into the tear-stained eyes that were filled with fear and twisted his lips into a snarl.  The poker face was gone and the walls were crumbling.  “It was Maude!” Chris proclaimed, convinced by his revelation. How could the conwoman do such a thing to her only son?  An eight-year-old child for God’s sake!  The gunman glanced at the gambler to see the confirmation in his eyes just before they were dropped back into darkness.  “What the hell was she thinking?” he asked in outrage. 

“She didn’t have… sufficient funds… to pay for both our passages,” Standish defended Maude’s actions, though he didn’t know why.  But she was still his mother, and the only one he’d ever had. 

“So she stuffed you in a box!”  For two days, he added.  Why would a mother so such a thing?  “What about meals?  What’d ya do about them?” 

Standish smiled wanly.  Yes what about the meals?  

After he’d woken the first time after crying himself to sleep, Ezra opened the package and found the two thick slices of bread with a layer of cheese and bacon neatly wrapped inside.  He hungrily ate the contents; having missed breakfast that morning because he was so hyped up about the journey, and washed them down with some water from the canteen.  Had he known that over the next two days that no other meals were going to be provided, then he would probably have rationed the limited supply to last longer.  Though he did have nearly enough water.   

“There was food in the box,” the gambler informed Larabee. 

“Ah huh,” he agreed sceptically.  “Don’t ‘spose ya got anythin’ on ya ta eat now, do ya?” 

“Hah!” Standish barked.  “Do I look like a walkin’ food store?” 

Chris patted his stomach and smiled to himself, Ezra had managed to complete that last sentence in one breath.  “Figured it’s gotta be mornin’ and I’m feeling hungry,” he announced. 

Ezra fidgeted for a moment and pulled out his timepiece.  “Do you have another match?” 

Larabee complied and held the light over the pocket watch.  Chris smiled sheepishly at the Southerner, who was shaking his head, but managed a small smile.  Five-twenty in the morning, the timepiece declared.  “See, I was right.” 

“Only you and Mr. Tanner would consider that time to be morning.  To me, it is still the middle of the night.” 

“So go ta sleep,” the gunman encouraged. 

“Easier said than done.” 



There was so much they didn’t know or understand about Ezra Standish.  The wily cardsharp was an enigma.  Certainly one of a kind.  Each time they learned something new about him, it shook the gunman’s opinion of the Southerner out the window.  And his estimation of Standish only grew the more he found out about his childhood and what he’d had to overcome to reach adulthood.  Anyone who could survive Maude’s upbringing, had to be awfully determined.  

Chris desperately wanted to move, but the gambler had succumbed to an exhaustive sleep and leaned heavily against his left shoulder, effectively trapping him.  Even the all-encompassing darkness was starting to grate on his nerves.  Larabee didn’t know how he’d be able to calm the gambler down, when his own senses were starting to shatter.  Chris had no intention of waking the gambler; he’d allow Ezra to sleep as long as possible.  At least while he was sleeping his breathing was even and unforced.  


With a stifled groan Ezra woke, and for a minute was confused by what his eyes couldn’t see, but the events of the day before came rushing back, crashing full force at him.  Standish jumped to his feet and paced to the length of the vault, cursing under his breath when his knee connected with the back wall.  Spinning on his heels, Ezra counted the steps, only managing three before he turned and headed back in the opposite direction.  

Larabee would have laughed if he were guaranteed that the Southerner wouldn’t physically attack him again.  Instead, Chris met the agitated gambler halfway. And in the dark Standish walked right into him. 

“Hell!” he swore, attempting to swerve past the stalwart lawman. 

Larabee grabbed either side of Ezra’s shoulders and prevented the manoeuvre.  “You always wake up like that?” he teased. 

“What do you want, Mr. Larabee?” Standish asked irritably. 

The gunman’s stomach chose that moment to growl.  “I’d settle for somethin’ ta eat.” 

Ezra relaxed marginally and a soft chortle escaped.  He licked his lips and stepped out of Larabee’s hold.  “You are welcome to share Chaucer’s treat,” he offered. 

“What?” Chris queried, concerned with what the gambler was suggesting. 

“I picked up an apple, yesterday…before,” he waved his hand dramatically, as if Larabee could see the gesture. 

“You’ve got food?” Chris growled, stalking closer.  “Hand it over,” he greedily urged.  “How come you only just remembered it now?” 

Standish pulled the fruit from his pocket and smiled at the lawman’s eagerness.  “Didn’t cross my mind.  Do you have a knife?” 

Larabee removed the small pocketknife and held it out.  “You spoil that horse of your’s.” 

“So I’ve been told,” the gambler agreed, halving the apple and handing one section to the lawman. 

The juice ran down his chin, but Chris ignored it in favour of savouring the taste of the crisp fruit.  “By who?” he asked around a piece of apple in his mouth. 

“Mr. Tanner, for one.” 

“Hah!” Larabee almost choked when he spurted in astonishment.  “You seen what he feeds his nag?” 

“Do tell,” the gambler encouraged, surprised that Chris would share this confidence with him. 

“Well, when we were in Eagle Bend a few weeks back, I caught him feeding pumpkin pie to Peso.  Damned if he didn’t eat it all too,” he shook his head in awe. 

Ezra chuckled at the image that came to mind.  “I hear Mr. Tanner is not particularly fond of that variety of pastry.” 

Larabee arched an appraising eyebrow at the gambler, wondering how he’d garnered that titbit of information.  

“I have some brandy, if you care to wash it down,” the Southerner proffered. 

“Hell yes!” 


The day past incredibly slowly, and each time Standish’s anxieties came to a head, Chris would distract him, redirecting his attention. 

“So what happened when you got out?” Chris casually prodded. 

“I…” he paused to recall his first action.  He shrugged and frowned at the lack of memory for that immediate response.   “I climbed out,” he improvised. 

Larabee snorted at the reply.  “Yep, good choice.  I’d a done that too.”  The gunman elbowed Standish in the ribs.  “What’d Maude have ta say to ya?” 

The gambler’s breath caught in his throat and a spasm of pain surged through his chest.  He closed his eyes tight not wanting to remember anymore of the dreadful train ride, but the memories flooded through his mind.  

When the chest finally stopped jolting around and rested back on solid ground the lid opened.  The young boy inside squinted up into the bright daylight and with a startled gasp, curled into a tight ball, afraid to move and wary of the person opening the chest.  It was not mother.  “Come on, Ezra!” the friendly voice beckoned and firm hands picked him out of the chest.  “Lord, boy!   You could do with a bath.” 

The young Southerner opened his eyes and found he was cradled in his uncle’s arms.  “D…did you come to Forbes, too?”  

“We’re not in Forbes, Ezra,” the Southerner’s uncle pursed his lips and informed the boy.  “Yer gonna be staying with Molly and me and the little one again,” he smiled a toothy grin and set Ezra on a seat in a waiting wagon.  He’d been shocked to discover the only delivery for him off the train was a chest.  He considered, for a fleeting moment, that his cousin had changed her mind and kept her young son with her.  But he was appalled to find the lad locked inside.  The smell of urine and vomit almost made him gag when the lid was thrown open  

“But I was going to Forbes with Mother…” he croaked, worriedly looking about for Maude, but the town that he was in, was not Forbes.  He recognised this town easily; he had just spent the past six months of his life here.  “Where’s mother?” he whimpered.  He’d been good, just like mother had asked.  So why did she send him back? 

“Yer mother got married yesterday in Forbes.  And ya know that she can’t be having a youngun’ around on the honeymoon,” he hurriedly explained, disgusted at Maude’s treatment of the youngster.  “Anyway, she wired from Forbes that you were coming back on the train,” damn woman said nothin’ about him being locked in a bloody box though, “and ya could stay a while longer with us.  That’s good!  Ain’t it, Ezra?”  He lightly ruffled the boy’s hair; he truly did enjoy having Ezra living with them.  He was a quiet and unassuming child, pleasant to talk with and a generally good kid.  Why Maude couldn’t see this in the youngster was baffling.    

Ezra slowly nodded his head.  His mother didn’t want him in the way.  And she was ashamed to acknowledge him as her son.  He wiped the sole tear from his face and refused to cry anymore.  After all, he was eight years old.  He’d stay with his aunt and uncle for as long as Maude wanted.  He didn’t need her.  Not really.  If only Ezra could convince himself of this. 

“Ezra, Maude did let you out didn’t she?” 

“I was only inside for two days.  Of course I was released,” Standish sarcastically replied. 

Larabee noticed the way the gambler hadn’t answered his question, but decided not to pursue the point.  “Musta been a bit cramped, inside?”

“Hmmm,” the Southerner mumbled. 

“Was that a yes or no?” Chris lightened the tone of his voice, wanting to keep the gambler talking. 

“Is it possible to discuss something else?”  Standish complained. 

“Sure…How about, why haven’t you told Maude what she did to you by ramming you into a goddamn box?” 

Ezra groaned in exasperation, thumping his head hard on the vault door. 


Larabee struck his last match and held it at his chest.  The Southerner was back to pacing, and with the shadow of light, the gunman noticed the fine sheen of perspiration that glistened on his brow.  “Won’t be too much longer, Ezra.  Let’s have a gander at yer watch, before we lose the light.”  He wasn’t about to tell Standish that he’d run out of matches.  “Nine-fifteen,” he proclaimed. 

The Southerner shivered.  “That’s nine-fifteen Sunday night.  We won’t be released until tomorrow morning.” 

“If ya go ta sleep, it’ll be morning before ya know it, and the first thing ya’ll hear will be the clink of the wheel spinning to let us out.” 

God, he prayed that Larabee was correct. 


Chris Larabee bit his lip, attempting to stop the flood of words.  He’d feigned sleep in an effort to convince Standish to do likewise, but the conman either knew that he wasn’t really sleeping, or Ezra couldn’t focus on anything but himself at the moment.  With the gambler’s breathing increasing in rapidity, Chris tended to lean toward believing that Standish was totally unfocused.  If only he could use this against the gambler when they were involved in a game of cards.  Ezra was so in control while he held that deck in his hands.  The gunslinger snapped his fingers, berating himself for not figuring it out before.  “Standish!  You got yer cards?” 

“You can…see…in the…dark now… Mr. Larabee?” Standish drawled mockingly. 

“You got ‘em or not?” he demanded. 

“Yes,” the Southerner irritably hissed. 

“Then get ‘em out!” 

“Here.”  Ezra held them out, waiting for the gunman to take them from his hands. 

“I don’t want ‘em,” Chris countered.  “‘Sides I’d drop ‘em, not bein’ able ta see what I was doin’.” 

“Then…” he left the question hang open. 

“Thought you’d know what ta do with ‘em.”  A gratified smile curled his lips when the soft shuffle of cards replaced the gambler’s laboured breathing. 

After a short time, Ezra spoke.  This time with only a little hesitation to his speech.  “Mr. Larabee, I’d like to thank you for…” he paused, uncertain how he wanted to continue.  “For your assistance…and the company.  I don’t think I would have managed without…” 

“Woulda done the same for any of the others,” Larabee interrupted.  “And as for keeping ya company,” he laughed softly, “didn’t have anywhere else to go.” 

“I’d appreciate it immensely if you didn’t mention this to the others.” 

“Sure, if that’s what you want.”  The man in black tapped his boot on the floor, contemplating whether he should speak his piece or keep quiet.  Deciding that he was never one to hold back, Chris made the suggestion.  “Maybe you should tell ‘em.  Might be easier on them if they were ever trapped with you inside a vault, or somethin’, least they’d know what ta expect.  And maybe Nathan might be able to give ya some tips on how ta stop it from happening.” 


“Ain’t no one gonna think any less of ya ‘cause of it.  You might want ta talk to someone about it…” 

Standish interrupted, “I believe I talked to you.” 

“Reckon a lot more happened than ya told me, but if ya ever want to share a drink and tell me the rest, I’ll listen.” 

Ezra was overwhelmed by the gesture and struggled to keep his emotions under control, thankfully the stoic lawman couldn’t see him.  “Thanks,” he choked out. 


True to his word, the vault was opened early Monday morning just as Larabee promised.  JD Dunne hovered in the background as he enticed a weary bank manager to unlock the vault.  Brain Charlton had been hauled from the stage by the uptight gunslinger and pushed through the damaged building to the vault.  With a little persuasion, the manager dialled in the numbers.  Two very relieved lawmen stepped from the small space and with a shared smile, headed for the saloon.   

The End


Want to read  more of this series?

A Weight to Bear - Series


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