Plans Afoot

By Yolande

Special thanks to my wonderful beta Mitzi 

“Mr. Sanchez, where exactly are we headed?” the bored Southern drawl broke the silence.  Other than the soft crunch of grass under the tread of boots and the unhurried call of darkness, the early hours before dawn were uneventfully quiet. 

The older man slowed his large steps and fell level with Standish.  The wistful light of the lantern swept eerily over the barren prairie, causing undulating shadows with long tangly fingers to creep deceptively over the buffalo grass.  The light breeze that had picked up hours earlier played wilfully with the lengthy grass; the seeded heads whipped against the legs that trudged heedlessly through, and the sticky juices attached the seeds to the heavy material of their trousers.  

They had been hiking across the open expanse for an hour, keeping a steady pace since they’d departed town.  The preacher was surprised at the Southerner’s initial willingness to accompany him, especially without him giving the conman a suitable reason for doing so.  He felt a sense of pride that he’d managed to establish that kind of trust from the gambler. Sanchez brought the light higher so he could see Ezra’s expressions, though he didn’t need the light to hear the panting breath sounds.  “You’re puffing, Mr. Standish,” Josiah chuckled. 

Ezra stopped short, taking the opportunity to bend forward and rest his hands on his knees.  “Any wonder.  You have been galloping at full steam ahead into the dead of night.  Or has that minor detail escaped your attention?” 

Josiah sat the light on the ground.  “Nope.  But ya can’t see it during the day,” he answered elusively. 

“And just what would that be?” Standish asked Josiah’s back as the older man picked up the lantern and pressed further into the darkness.  He mumbled beneath his breath that they would have already reached the destination if they’d ridden horses, but Sanchez either didn’t hear, or chose to ignore the comment. 

“All in due time.  Shouldn’t take too much longer to get there.  You coming?” 

“No,” he groaned miserably, but still followed, curiously entertained.  Ezra had spent a prosperous evening at the tables, and had been satisfied with his final tally.  It wouldn’t be too much longer until he had the sufficient funds to re-purchase his saloon.  This time he’d do it right, and he certainly wouldn’t be asking for investors.  Not right away in any case, he amended.  Then there was Maude.  There was no way in hell he was going to mention his little endeavour into real estate to his mother.  Not after what happened last time.  It wouldn’t be long now he wagered.  

Josiah had greeted Ezra at the saloon doors as he ushered his fellow card players from the room.  Never had Standish seen the older man brimming with so much youthful fervour.  Ezra couldn’t help likening Josiah to the youngest of their troop, though with JD, it was expected behaviour, but with Josiah, it was unusual.  He thought for a few moments that Josiah was drunk, but he was clear headed and didn’t smell of alcohol.  There was a touch of nervousness and caution mingled with the preacher’s jubilant mood that piqued the conman’s interest.  He wondered at the older man’s real intent, but as he wasn’t interested in an early night, he indulged Josiah’s request.  He laughed out loud when Sanchez tugged him off the sidewalk and propelled him onto the road.  

Had Ezra been aware that he’d be traipsing cross country during the middle of the night guided only by a frail flickering flame he’d have considered his options more carefully.  But he couldn’t resist Josiah’s untapped enthusiasm; it literally oozed around the preacher.  And how could he pass up the opportunity, especially since Sanchez had chosen to seek him out.  Ezra felt honoured. 

The gambler studiously trailed behind Sanchez, his eyes seeking the flow of the miniature flame that bobbed ahead.  Every so often the older man would fan the light to the left and occasionally to the right.  He held it so low to the ground at times that it almost disappeared in the rushes of grass.  “Perhaps I could be of assistance with whatever it is you are seeking.” 

Sanchez mumbled and waved a dismissive hand, but didn’t turn his back to see the growing dismay on the Southerner’s face. 

Ezra sighed, looking over his shoulder at the dark that enveloped behind him.  Having originally shown immense faith in the preacher’s mission, he was beginning to lose interest in the nightly sojourn and was realising his own weariness and need for sleep.  “Josiah…” 

“Not much further, Ezra,” he beckoned.  The hardy preacher increased his stride lengthening each step and the distance between the pair.  He smiled brightly at the grumbling monologue behind him, and was tempted to whistle, but held back.  He continued on a heading that parallelled the river, but he never once diverted toward the water.  He heard Standish stall once again, and decided that he needed a change of tack.  Now all he had to do was come up with one. 

“Josiah,” Ezra moaned tiredly, “What are we doing?” The exasperation was clearly visible in the accented tones. 

Sanchez guiltily faced the conman, hoping Standish couldn’t read his expression in the heavy gloom.  “I can’t seem to find it,” he stalled. 

Standish made a grab for the lantern, but the taller man saw the lunge and withdrew it from his reach.  

Sanchez stepped away, preparing for another trek into the dark, when Ezra’s abrupt order to wait had him spinning on his heels. 

“Good Lord!  What are we doing?” he repeated. 

“Thought you might have wanted to see it,” he mumbled.   Josiah stepped backwards and flailed his arms, falling on his posterior.  He shouted at the sudden upset and after a minute pause clutched his ankle.  “Arggg…Reckon I twisted it.” 

Ezra groaned in frustration.  Of all the places for an accident to occur.  “Perhaps we can return to our abodes and attempt to finalise your mission another evening.”  Maybe never, if he had anything to do with it.  Or at least they could use some form of transportation next time. 

Sanchez sucked in a pained breath.  “Aw…don’t reckon I can walk that far, Ezra.” 

“Fine.  I shall return to town and bring back help…if you could hand me the lantern…” 

Josiah studied the younger man’s tired façade, and covered his smile behind his large hand.  Things couldn’t have worked out better.  He sluggishly poked at the light, and clumsily knocked it over, snuffing the flame and breaking the glass.  “Oops,” he apologised, leaving the pair in blackness. 

Ezra’s mouth dropped in stunned silence.  He’d swear the preacher deliberately fumbled the light until it was unusable.  Why?  Why would he go to such lengths?  And for what purpose?  “Do you want me to check your ankle?”  He heard the older man rustle on the ground.  

“Naw…Reckon I’ll take a nap…you might want to do the same.” 

“I believe you have me confused with Mr. Tanner…it is he who would relish a bed beneath the stars.”  Standish’s frown turned to a sneer at the raucous rumble of laughter that came from his companion. 

“Nice place to rest up, though.” 

Ezra sighed and joined his fellow lawman on the ground.  The breeze had died to a light flutter and he could at least get a few hours sleep before the sun rose.  Then they would figure out the logistics of returning to town. 


Ezra winced at the sharp intrusion of light that somehow managed to find passage into his room and shine brightly in his face.  He curled his arm over his pillow and buried his face inside the…crown, blocking the sun’s intrusive rays.  It couldn’t possibly be time to rise.  He’d only just gone to sleep minutes ago.  He rolled over onto his side and groped for the elusive blanket that had slipped during the night.  He moaned discontentedly at not being able to find it.  It must have fallen to the floor…he could do without, it wasn’t as though he was cold.  He sluggishly wondered at the hard lump his mattress had morphed into over night and uncurled his legs to find a more comfortable position.  Somewhere through the fog he heard his name being called.  A persistent nagging tone designed to draw him from his slumber.  “Go away,” he grumbled. 

“Ezra,” Sanchez repeated, smiling at the gambler’s efforts to stay asleep.  “It’s a beautiful day, and it is past time we headed back to town.” 

Standish blinked.  Why was Sanchez inside his abode?  “Josiah?”  Ezra tipped his hat and grimaced at the wicked morning light.  No wonder he despised mornings.  He was not in his room.  “What…?” he groaned as the night’s adventures returned.  His expression soured even further as he watched a very nimble preacher amble about their dry camp.  “Your injury seems to have responded well with a few hours respite,” he snarled acerbically. 

Josiah stopped mid stride and guiltily looked at his feet.  He bit his lip and thought furiously for an explanation, but Standish’s demeanour stated clearly that he wouldn’t be swayed by anything the giant had to say.  “Oh.” 

The gambler dusted the seat of his pants and straightened his jacket.  He recognised the area immediately, concluding they were closer to town then he’d anticipated after the deceptive jaunt.  They were surely walking in circles through the early hours of the morning.  What purpose did Sanchez gain by removing the conman from town?  It was obviously a ruse… Ezra set off at a hike, Sanchez followed hotly on his heels.  

“Ezra…Would you please listen to me?” 

Standish spun on his heels, finding himself closer to the larger man than he’d bargained on.  “What?  What did you gain from all of this subterfuge?” Ezra didn’t wait and stalked off once more. 

Sanchez sighed, searching for the right words.  How did he explain?  The older man quickly caught up with Standish in town.  He’d let Ezra lead them back, and sought desperately for an acceptable reason for his ploy that Standish would understand.  He wondered whether he was assuming too much about their friendship to suggest he was feeling blue and just wanted some company.   No, he’d need something better than that, the conman could read him like a book and would know the lie before it passed his lips. 

He walked with his head bowed absorbing the quiet of the sleeping town.  It was probably why he heard the voices of their fellow regulators before he saw them.  Josiah pulled the gambler to a halt, stopping him from stepping out between the two buildings.  He put a finger to his lips at the querulous look Standish sent him and dragged the gambler back into the shadows. 


“Geez, Buck! I’m so tired!” Dunne moaned.  “I can’t believe we waited outside Ezra’s room in the hallway for half the night and he didn’t show.  Ain’t no way I’m gonna be able to take my shift today.” 

“Somebody must have told him,” Buck accused, wondering who had spoilt their fun.  He had it planned perfectly.  Donna was already planted in the conman’s room waiting until Standish had disrobed and crawled into bed.  Then when they were suitably entangled, he’d send in Marla, who’d spit chips and accuse the Southerner of two timing her.  The girls would make a loud and vocal claim over Ezra and demand he choose one of them.  Then Buck and JD would make their grand entrance.  He could just imagine Ezra’s bewildered expression.   

“Don’t look at me.  I didn’t say a word.” 

“Then where was he?”  Wilmington pointed at the young gunslinger.  “Ezra sure wasn’t playing poker all night, that’s for sure.  We gotta pay the girls too.” 

“They didn’t do anything, but sleep!” 

“JD,” Buck growled.  

“Hey it was your dumb idea to use them.” 

“And you didn’t have to be there to watch, but you were…so you gotta cough up.  You wanted in on this, JD.  Don’t deny it.” 

Dunne shrugged.  He didn’t think he owed Buck anything, but he wasn’t going to say so.  They staggered past Ezra and Josiah’s hiding place without noticing the pair in the shadows.  They continued talking amicably as they disappeared inside the restaurant. 


Standish rested his back against the timber-clad wall.  “They were setting me up,” he stated in astonishment.  He slowly smiled at the treacherous pair, swearing vengeance.  Glancing at the preacher, Ezra finally understood, to some extent, the deception of the previous night.  “It wasn’t possible to just inform me of this plot?” 

Sanchez rubbed his rough chin and shook his head.  “Buck made me promise not to tell you.  Figured this way it’d save you some embarrassment, and keep you out of trouble.” 

Ezra glared at Sanchez for a minute.  He didn’t consider himself prone to ‘getting into trouble’ as Josiah had put it. But he was grateful the incident with the two ladies of the night had been waylaid.  “Thank you.” 

Sanchez patted the smaller man on the shoulder.  “Any time, son.”  He exploded with a mighty laugh at the Southerner’s groan and decided returning to the church to make up for lost sleep was the order for today.  “Watch your back, Ezra!” he warned. 

The end.


Want to read  more of this series?

A Weight to Bear - Series


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