Locomotive Larceny


Ezra raised the glass to his lips and drank the last of its contents. He placed the empty glass back on the counter and caught the eye of the bartender and beckoned the man over.

"Mr. Tanner? Will you partake in another libation?" the gambler asked as he looked at his companion. The two men were slaking their thirst in the saloon in Bitter Creek, before meeting up with JD and heading home to Four Corners.

"Yeah. Don't mind if I do," Vin agreed, before adding as an afterthought. "You're paying, ain't ya?" He knew he didn't have two coins to rub together at the moment.

"Of course. I owe you for helping me with my mother last week. She really can be a trial sometimes. I appreciated your timely intervention. There, drink up and enjoy," Ezra said as he placed a full glass in front of the sharpshooter and patted his shoulder.

"Thanks, Ez. I really envied her ya know, traveling on a train an' all. I'd sure love to do that, just to see what it's like."

"Well, the railroad will just represent another opportunity for thieves to line their pockets. The Mint and Banks are going to transport money on them rather than the Stagecoaches, you know. They think it will be safer. Disillusioned fools. All that lovely lucre is just begging to be stolen. It almost makes a good citizen turn bad just thinking about it. My fingers are tingling at the very notion of touching all that money," Ezra said dreamily.

The two peacekeepers were unaware that their conversation was being listened to with interest by an unsavory character who was standing nearby. He sidled up to Ezra and said, "Gents, I think I can grant both your wishes."

Ezra turned and raked the man from head to foot with a penetrating stare before saying, "Sir. Do you realize it is unforgivably rude to eavesdrop on a private conversation?"

"Look. I can offer you the chance to ride on a train and get your hands on all that money you were talking about," the man persisted unperturbed.

"Do tell. What do you have in mind?" Ezra asked, playing along.

"I've planned to rob a train but my gang is shy of two men. Are you interested?"

Vin and Ezra exchanged looks, unsure of what to say.

"What do ya think? Are you in?" the man asked, edging even closer to Ezra.

"Well, it certainly sounds tempting but we need to know more before we can possibly decide. When are you planning this daring heist?" Ezra asked, taking a step away from the man and wrinkling his nose in distaste. The stranger reeked of manure. The smell was so strong that Ezra thought he must have been rolling in the muck heap at the livery barn.

The man's voice shook the gambler from his reverie when he replied, "Wednesday. When the train goes to Four Corners. It's all planned down to the last detail. We can't fail." The man wiped his nose on his sleeve as he spoke.

Ezra grimaced at such as display of bad manners and looked set to throw up. "Really? How interesting. We could be persuaded to partake in your plot, I think," he said, taking a breath against his nausea.

"How do you know you can trust us? You never met us before. We could go straight to the sheriff with what you've told us," Vin pointed out seriously.

"I really haven't told you anything and it would come down to your word against mine. No crime has been committed yet," the man said smiling smugly.

"Quite so, but my hirsute friend is the cautious type. He likes to know everything before getting involved. Now he's brought up the subject of trust. How do we know we can trust you? It works both ways you know. You haven't even told us your name," Ezra said, studying the odious little man before him.

"Fair enough. I'm Otis Strange."

You are indeed Ezra thought to himself.

The man continued, "As to trust, all I can give you is my word that everyone gets an equal share of the booty."

"That's good enough for me. One should always accept a gentleman's word," Ezra said, nearly choking over his use of the word gentleman. A lesser type of gentleman I have never set eyes on before he thought to himself, before saying out loud. "I'm Charles Stand and this is Michael Tannery. Can you perhaps give us some details about your plan? It may help to make up our minds if we see exactly how you're going to do it."

"Sure, but not here. Come up to my room and I'll tell you everything you wanna know."

"Could we have a few minutes alone first to discuss matters?"

"Yeah sure. I'll wait over there for you," the man moved away and sat at a nearby table where he could keep an eye on the two men.

"Why the hell did he choose us? You don't exactly look like an outlaw Ezra and you sure as hell don't talk like one. He's taking a big chance picking up two strangers. I really don't think we should get involved," Vin said as soon as the man was out of earshot. He could tell though from his friend's face that he stood no chance of changing his mind.

"It affects our town, Mr. Tanner. It's our duty to thwart his plan and what better way than from within? Look. JD was meeting us here in an hour. If we go and get the details of the robbery, we can give him a message to take back to Mr. Larabee to alert him to our plan."

"Your plan, Ezra, your plan. He won't be happy. I can tell you that for free," Vin said mournfully, shaking his head. Once Ezra got an idea in his head he couldn't be shifted for love nor money.

"Don't give up before we've even started, Mr. Tanner. We could come out of this as heroes."

"Or corpses," Vin said sourly.

Ezra ignored the remark and said, "Come on. We've kept our new found friend waiting long enough. Are you coming?"

"Well, someone's gotta watch yer back, but I'm tellin' you now that I gotta bad feeling about this," Vin informed his companion.

"Don't be such a worry wart. It'll be an adventure, but we'll have to be careful what we wish for in future. You never know who's listening and waiting to grant them. We'll get out of it if things turn nasty, but it's better we are involved than two real felons. Anyway do you think he's going to let us walk away with what we know?"

"We don't know a whole lot, Ezra," Vin commented dryly.

"We know enough to be a liability to him, believe me, despite his earlier assurances to the contrary. We know his name for starters," Ezra said.

"It could be just a summer name, Ez," Vin said resignedly as he followed Ezra to where the robber was sitting. The small man rose and led them to his room upstairs.

"You want details. I got details!" the man boasted as soon as they were safely inside his room. He pointed to the table that was covered in drawings and maps. Ezra wandered over and scrutinized the items closely. There was a sketch of the train layout and where the outlaws would be situated.

"This is how we're gonna do it," the man said, interrupting Ezra's perusal. "The train will have two of us traveling on it as passengers. It passes through a canyon here and that's where we stop it. My men on board will take out the conductor and anyone else who tries to interfere. The safe is in a box car at the rear of the train and we'll blow it to hell and gone. I've got a powder man who can get into any safe ever made. We'll have horses waiting here with saddlebags for the money. It's easy pickings. There are no guards at all as they think no one knows about it, but I've got a friend who works in the Mint who gave me all the details." The man pointed out things on the maps as he spoke and when he had finished he looked at Ezra expectantly.

"My, my. How very audacious. I'm impressed. My friend here is the best rifle shot I've ever seen. He'd be a perfect lookout and sniper," Ezra informed Otis.

"What are you good at?" Otis asked in return.

"Oh believe me. I can turn my hand to anything. I'd be an asset to your gang, never fear."

"Can I assume yer joining us then?"

"Yes, I think you can. When and where should we meet up with you again?" Ezra inquired.

"I'm meeting the others this afternoon outside town."

"We've got some business to conclude here first and we need to stock up with supplies. Shall we meet you here later and travel out together?"

"Sure. I've got things to arrange too. We'll meet downstairs at noon and I'll take you to meet the others," Otis agreed

Ezra and Vin left the room and went back downstairs and strode out onto the boardwalk.

"What now?" Vin asked as they wandered away from the saloon.

"We need to find Mr. Dunne and apprize him of the situation."

They walked along to the livery to see if JD's horse was there. As they were about to leave the building after seeing the kid's horse was there in a stall, Vin put a hand on Ezra's arm.

"Mr. Tanner? What is it?" Ezra asked as he looked at his friend.

"We're being watched. You see that ugly son of a gun opposite? He's been behind us ever since we left the saloon."

"You mean, the man with the face only a mother could love? Well, it seems our new friend isn't as trusting as he made out. What do you suggest we do?" Ezra asked.

"We split up. He can't follow us both, can he?"

"Quite right. Depending on whom he follows will determine what we do. The one who is free needs to track down JD, while the other one takes our observer on a wild goose chase."

"Ready?" Vin asked. Ezra nodded in reply and the two men separated.

The stranger followed Ezra, so Vin walked slowly along the street to make sure no one else was following and then went to the hotel where he found JD in the bar. He tapped the kid on the shoulder and took him aside so they wouldn't be overheard. As he told the youngster what they had got involved in, he kept an eye out for anyone showing too much interest in them.

JD stared at him when the whole plan had been explained. "Chris is gonna kill me when I tell him what you've done."

"Just tell him not to shoot the messenger. He can kill Ezra when, or should that be if, we get back in one piece," Vin smiled grimly.

The kid nodded and said, "Take care Vin. I'll head back to Four Corners straight away and tell Chris."

"I'll watch you leave just to make sure you're not followed. I'm sure we haven't been seen together by anyone other than ordinary town's folk though." Vin touched his hat brim and JD turned and walked away.

Vin waited until the kid had been gone for about a minute and then wandered out onto the boardwalk. He looked up and down the street as if he was looking for someone, but he kept a wary eye on the kid as he walked away. No one showed the remotest interest in him and Vin sighed with relief. He sat down on a seat outside the hotel and waited for Ezra to arrive. He looked up after a few minutes and saw JD exit the livery and ride out of town alone. As he watched, Vin saw Ezra sauntering along toward him. The gambler joined him on the seat and stretched out his legs. Vin could see the ugly man still trailing along behind. He came to a sudden stop when Ezra sat down and seemed to take a great interest in the items on show in the store window.

"Did you arrange things, Mr. Tanner?" Ezra asked.

"I did and JD is of the same opinion as me," Vin answered.

"What opinion would that be?"

"That Chris's gonna kill us when we get home."

"Don't be so melodramatic. He may be a trifle upset but I'm sure he will see what we are doing is right eventually," Ezra said confidently.

"Before or after we're dead? Would you care to put yer money where yer mouth is?"

"I wouldn't want to relieve you of the piddling amount of coinage that you currently have to your name."

"Well, I think yer answer tells me all I wanna know. You think Chris is gonna kill us too," Vin replied smugly.

Ezra glared at him and did not answer.

"How did you keep yer ugly shadow busy then?" Vin asked as he looked up and down the street.

"I went on a tour of the town and I also paid a visit to the Telegraph Office. He went in, when I had gone, to see what message I'd sent, like any good spy should. He would have been disappointed though. I only sent my mother a message telling her we'd be late in meeting her next week. Hopefully he should be convinced of our trustworthiness now."

"We're not meeting your mother, are we?" Vin asked anxiously. He could only face Maude for an hour or two at a time and he'd hoped not to see her again so soon.

"It was a ruse just to see what he would do. Don't panic Mr. Tanner. You've seen the last of her for a few months, I'm sure," Ezra assured his friend. "I went to the store for a few essential items too, seeing as I'd told Otis we would be going there."

The two men lapsed into silence until it was time to meet their new friend. They stood and walked over to the saloon when it was approaching midday and Vin poked Ezra in the ribs to indicate where the small man was sitting eating lunch. The two peacekeepers joined him at the table and Ezra grimaced as he heard the noises the man made as he shoveled food into his mouth.

"Finished yer business?" the man asked, spraying Ezra with half- eaten food as he spoke.

Vin sniggered and Ezra sent the tracker a filthy look as he flicked at his sleeve with barely concealed disgust. "Yes, thank you. We are now at your service," he managed to answer pleasantly enough. Otis really has worse manners than a hog he thought to himself

"Right, we'll leave now then." The man rose, leaving the remnants of his meal and Vin and Ezra followed him along to the livery. They mounted and rode out of town.

+ + + + + + +

JD rode into Four Corners and made straight for the saloon. He saw Chris at his usual table and hesitated, shifting from foot to foot uncertainly before he sat down next to him.

The gunfighter looked up and studied the boy before asking, "What's up kid?"

"I met Vin and Ezra as arranged in Bitter Creek. You're not gonna like what they've got mixed up in." JD stopped, not really wanting to tell Chris about the robbery.

"Well, what is it?" Chris said impatiently, narrowing his eyes as he noticed the boy's unease. What has that pair got up to now? They're worse than a couple of kids he said to himself.

"They're gonna rob a train."

"What? Run that by me again, will ya?"

"Well, they were apparently talking in the saloon about trains and money and a man asked them to join his gang. They're gonna rob it near here on Wednesday. Ezra thought it was better that they got involved rather than two real robbers." JD watched Chris's face as he spoke, to try and gauge his reaction to the news and he didn't like what he saw.

Chris sat clenching his jaw angrily and the vein in his forehead throbbed as he thought over what he'd been told. "Did he give you details?" he asked brusquely.


"Okay. Let's find the others and get a plan of our own." Chris rose swiftly and JD strolled out in his wake onto the boardwalk. JD went to the jail and chapel while Chris went to the clinic and hotel. All the men met up at the saloon and JD related what he'd been told with the help of some maps borrowed from Mary.

"Ideas anyone? How are we gonna get our two bird-brained robbers out of the hole they've dug 'emselves into, without getting them killed? I wanna save that pleasure for myself," Chris said quietly.

"I s'pose the best place to catch them is where the horses are being hidden. We don't wanna get innocent civilians caught up in a gunfight," Buck suggested.

"I agree, but we might not be able to avoid it." Chris nodded. "We've only got a couple of days to finalize things. Do you know how many are in the gang, JD?"

"No. Vin didn't know. They were gonna meet the rest of the gang today."

"Great," Chris moaned. "There could be twenty for all we know." He rubbed his chin and leaned back in his chair as he considered what his two fellow peacekeepers had got involved in. He wasn't especially angry now he'd had time to think about it. For once he agreed with Ezra's actions. Agreeing with Ezra? Good God, I'll be going round grinning insanely and being pleasant to murderers next. I never agree with Ezra. What's the matter with me? Chris asked himself wryly.

"Chris?" Buck interrupted. "Are you listening, pard?"

"What?" Chris jumped. He hadn't realized the rest of the men had still been talking. "Sorry, what were you saying?"

"What are we gonna do if there are too many for us to handle?" the ladies' man repeated.

"I can't think they're gonna have too many men in the gang." Chris started counting on his fingers as he talked. "There were two on the train, Ezra and Vin, the powder man and possibly a couple more. They're not gonna want to spread the wealth too thin. The more men there are, the less money for them all," Chris reasoned.

"I hope you're right, for Ezra and Vin's sake. We'd never get them loose from a group that big," Buck said worriedly.

"Okay. We'll talk nearer the time after we've gone to have a look at the robbery site. I'll send a telegram to Travis to tell him what's happening. I'd better inform the Central Pacific railroad too, so they know what to expect."

The men split up and went back to their duties. Buck wandered along to the jail with JD, deep in thought.

"What did you say the gang leader's name was, JD?" Buck asked as he picked up the wanted posters from the desk.

"Otis Strange. Vin wasn't sure if that was his real name though."

Buck rifled through the pile of posters twice and eventually found the one he wanted. "There you are. I thought I'd heard the name before. He's got several monickers by the look of it but no one knows what his real name is. He's done a lot of robbing according to this. I'd better show it to Chris."

The ladies' man walked briskly back to the saloon and found Chris still there drinking beer. He sat down and put the poster silently in front of his friend. Chris picked it up and studied it. He nodded slowly when he recognized the man.

"Yeah, I've heard tell of him before. Least we know who we're up against," Chris said as he ran his fingers through his hair before continuing, "My only real concern with all this is that I hope none of the gang recognizes Vin and wants to get the reward."

"That's what was worrying me," Buck admitted.

"Vin and Ezra'll get out if they become suspicious. No point worrying. We can't help them 'cause we don't know where they'll be until Wednesday."

+ + + + + + +

Ezra and Vin rode with their companion back toward Four Corners. Vin was being especially vigilant keeping track of where they were going. He knew the area well and hoped he could get an escape route planned if needed, when they eventually reached their final destination. Otis veered off to the left suddenly and crossed the creek. An old line cabin was hidden there in the trees and several horses were tied to the hitching rail outside. Vin knew they were on the old Johnson ranch that was currently unoccupied so the robbers could be sure they would not be disturbed.

"Here we are gents," Otis said as he dismounted and took off his hat. He slapped it against his thigh to get rid of the dust and then jammed it back on his head.

Ezra and Vin dismounted after studying the surrounding area and counting the number of horses already there. Five in total and all standing hipshot with tails swishing at the multitude of flies that were annoying them. Vin hoped that there were only eight of them in total in the gang, including Ezra and himself.

The cabin door opened and a large man ambled out. He was bigger than Josiah in every way. Ezra studied the horses and couldn't decide which poor creature had to take the man's weight.

"I don't see an elephant tied up, do you Vin? I pity the animal assigned to carry him," Ezra whispered quietly. Vin couldn't help snorting with laughter and the big man looked his way angrily. It wasn't that the man was fat. He was just tall, square and packed with muscle and didn't look too intelligent.

"Don't upset him, Vin. It'd take a whole cavalry unit to tackle him," Ezra cautioned.

"You started it. If he attacks, I'll let you handle him. Hit him with yer deck of cards. That should do the trick," Vin said quietly, while keeping an eye on the man they were discussing.

"Deck him? Oh very good, Mr. Tanner, very witty."

Otis approached them with the giant following along behind. "This is Slim," he said, indicating his companion.

Ezra literally bit his tongue and poked Vin in the ribs to keep the tracker quiet as well. He's not slim, whichever angle you observe him from Ezra said to himself. The two men managed to keep their composure and politely greeted the man.

"Slim's my second in command," Otis informed them.

"Nice to see the caliber of man you employ," Ezra said with a straight face. If this was the quality of the gang, he didn't think they had much to worry about.

"Come and meet the others," Otis said as he led the way to the cabin.

It was dark inside and it took a few minutes until Ezra and Vin could see the men inside clearly. They were all more competent looking than Slim anyway and Ezra realized his earlier hopes had been dashed. One or two of the individuals looked positively evil. He looked at Vin and saw he was also studying the men intently. Otis introduced each man and told Ezra and Vin what job they would be doing. The two men Ezra had marked out as the most dangerous were the ones who'd been assigned to him to help with the loading of the money onto the horses. Just my luck he thought sourly. He also noticed the ugly man from town was there. He must have left town early to get there before them.

"We stay here until Wednesday do we? Where do we all sleep?" Ezra asked, knowing that he wouldn't like the answer.

"Yeah. This is our base. You'll have to sleep outside with Slim," Otis said.

"Oh how lovely," Ezra said as he craned his neck to look up at the giant man. He certainly was too big to fit inside the cabin comfortably. He was almost bent double as he stood in the doorway watching. The gambler hoped that he didn't snore. He could imagine that the ground would vibrate if he did.

"Is all the equipment here for the job as well?" Vin asked as he looked around the cabin.

"Yeah. Tyrie's in charge of looking after it. We'll move some of it nearer the railroad tomorrow. Let's get some rest. It's gonna be a busy couple of days."

Ezra and Vin went outside and Vin made a fire and then both men laid out their bedrolls near it. Ezra pulled out his cards and started playing solitaire and after a while Slim walked over. Ezra watched the man came toward him and noted that he walked as if on air. Quite balletic really. Ezra had found before that larger people tended to walk with a certain sort of grace, seeming to glide over the ground and not lumber along as you would expect.

"Can you move over a bit, Slim? You're blocking out the sun, my friend," Ezra said, as the man sat down beside him. Slim shifted over amiably. "Do you play poker perchance?" Ezra inquired, as he looked at the giant whilst shielding his eyes against the setting sun.

Slim nodded and Ezra dealt him a hand and looked over at Vin to see if he wanted to play. He received a nod and he dealt the tracker a hand as well. It turned out that Slim was more intelligent than he looked and he won the hand. The gambler looked up at the man in astonishment and received a gap-toothed grin in response. Ezra reassessed his opinion of the man and raised his game. He realized he'd been too complacent in thinking that Slim was a dimwit. He won the majority of the rest of the hands but not as much as he had hoped. He had read the big man incorrectly and that didn't often happen. He could usually tell a good player a mile off. He sighed and put his winnings away and rolled up in his blanket to get some sleep. As he'd suspected Slim snored throughout the night and the gambler was kept awake, much to his annoyance. He looked over at Vin and saw the tracker was fast asleep. How can he sleep with this racket going on? Ezra wondered angrily.

He rose in the morning feeling absolutely shattered and he glared at Vin when the man got up appearing as fresh as a daisy.

"What's the matter with you?" Vin asked.

"How could you sleep through that interminable noise last night?" Ezra snapped irritably.

"What noise?"

"Slim snored loud enough to wake the dead. Didn't you hear him?"

"Na. I slept like a baby," the tracker smiled.

Ezra groaned and tried to wake himself up by going to the creek and washing in the cold water. He felt slightly more human afterwards but he decided he was going to murder Slim if he snored again the next night. Vin laughed at him as he returned from his ablutions.

"What's so funny?" Ezra complained.

"You look half dead. You need to get used to the outdoor life Ez."

"I'm used to it. I just like my beauty sleep that's all. It's not too much to ask, is it?" Ezra moaned.

"You need a lot of beauty sleep, that's for sure. You never get any more handsome even though you spend half yer life in bed," Vin laughed as Ezra hit him.

Ezra turned away from the tracker with a snort of disdain and wandered off to look around their camp. He wanted to get the lie of the land and see what else was on site. As he stepped behind the cabin, he came across the two men who would be working with him during the robbery. They both stood up when they saw him approaching.

"Gentlemen," Ezra said, putting a finger to his hat brim in greeting.

"Hey, Fancy Dan. How did you end up an outlaw? You sure dress too high falutin' for a bandit. What are you really? A lawman?" the smaller of the two men asked. Bill, Ezra seemed to think his name was.

"I'm the brains of my partnership with Mr. Tannery. He's the brawn. Where there are men like you and him about, it's good that there are people like me to make sure your talents are utilized properly."

"What do you mean men like us? We're just as good as you," Bill retorted angrily.

"Did I say otherwise? You misunderstood me," Ezra said placatingly. "It's all about mutual benefit. My skills are enhanced with Mr.Tanner's assistance and vice versa, that's all I was saying."

Bill looked at him suspiciously but seemed to accept what he said. The small man changed the subject and said, "I saw you playing poker last night. I ain't got any money at the moment, can you lend me some?"

"I make it a policy never to lend money to strangers," Ezra replied, as he kept a wary eye on the men.

"We ain't strangers. We're yer friends and I wasn't asking you to lend me some, I was telling you." Both men stepped forward and Bill got hold of Ezra's lapels and slammed him against the wall roughly as his accomplice checked the gambler's pockets. Ezra kneed Bill in his privates and got a fist in the face for his trouble from Bill's friend Sol. Ezra stayed still and Sol found his money and transferred it to his own pocket.

"Thanks," Bill said. He threw a parting punch, which knocked Ezra's head back to connect hard with the wall. He fell to the ground as the two men walked away laughing. The gambler didn't dare fight back as he didn't want to draw any unwanted attention to either him or Vin. They were the new faces in the gang as it was so he didn't want to mark them out for more scrutiny.

Vin had heard the commotion and sauntered toward the cabin, passing the two departing gang members en route.

"What did ya wanna hook up with him for?" Bill asked as he saw the tracker approaching.

Vin didn't reply but turned and watched the two men lave before going behind the cabin to see what had happened. He saw his friend sprawled in the dirt and went to see if he was alright.

"Ez, you okay?" he asked as he squatted down beside his companion.

"Do I look okay? Why didn't you talk me out of getting us involved in this? I hold you entirely responsible, Mr. Tanner. You know I get over excited at times and I expect you to be a restraining influence on my enthusiasm." The gambler rubbed the back of his head where it had hit the wall.

"Well, if I remember correctly, I did warn you, but as usual you rode roughshod over me," Vin drawled as he held out a hand and pulled the gambler to his feet.

"Well, be more forceful next time, will you? I give you permission to hit me if I should succumb to temptation again." Ezra searched his pockets and found a handkerchief with which he dabbed at the blood on his lip and nose.

"Really? Can I hit ya now in hindsight?" Vin asked eagerly, balling his fist in anticipation.

"No, you may not."

Vin unclenched his fist and transferred the hand to his friend's elbow instead. "What did they want with you anyway?" he asked as he helped the gambler back to where they were camped out.

"My money. They obviously haven't heard the saying 'honor among thieves.' They didn't get all of it but they got enough."

"Well, I don't s'pose it's any good saying anything to Otis and we don't wanna kick up a fuss and mark ourselves out for any worse treatment," Vin said.

"My feelings exactly. How did you know I needed emancipating from their clutches?" Ezra asked curiously.

"I'd heard them talking about you last night. I didn't think they'd do anything though but they seem to have got it in for you so watch yer back from now on."

Otis walked over to the two peacekeepers at that moment and said, "Bill and Sol are going into Bitter Creek to collect the pack horses. Do you two wanna help 'em?"

"Yes. I could certainly do with a trip into town. I feel the need of some cigars," Ezra said. It might also give me a chance to contact Chris as well he thought to himself. "What about you Michael?" Ezra asked as he turned to Vin.

"Yeah. I'll come."

"Be ready to leave in a half hour. What happened to yer face?" Otis asked Ezra.

"A misunderstanding with my horse."

Otis shrugged and looked mystified but he turned and walked away.

"This excursion may prove useful Vin. If my two antagonists are going into town with us, they may want to take things further with me there. You could then get another message to Chris while I keep them busy. They can't put me out of commission or do anything too dire to me," Ezra mused. "I'll write you the message to send, shall I?"

"Yeah alright, Ez but I don't like it. Just be careful."

"We'll see what happens. Come on, it's nearly time to depart," Ezra said as he walked toward his horse and started to saddle it.

The four men left the camp and made their way back to Bitter Creek. Once in town, Ezra headed off to the store to get his cigars. Vin watched him go and saw the two men follow him like a magnet. Hoping Ezra could take care of himself for a short while, Vin hurried to the Telegraph Office to send off the telegram to Chris with a description of the hideout and further details of the robbery. He looked out the window to make sure the others weren't in the street to see him exit the building before he walked back out onto the boardwalk. He wandered back along to the livery, keeping an eye out for Ezra as he walked. He heard voices from the alley next to the store and he looked in the opening and saw Ezra up against the wall with his two antagonists holding him tightly. Bill had hold of the gambler's lapels again and they seemed to be having another dispute.

"Hey. What's going on? Are you alright, Chaz?" Vin called as he walked toward the three men.

"Nothin' you need to worry about. We were just having a friendly chat, weren't we, Fancy Dan?" Bill said. He let go of Ezra's jacket and smoothed the material out and then patted Ezra's chest. "See ya back at the livery boys." The two men walked away quickly as Vin approached.

"Well timed, Vin. I hope that's the last opportunity for mischief making that they will have. Did you get the message out?" Ezra asked.

"Yeah. I'll stay with you as much as I can but yer gonna be with them when the robbery takes place."

"I know, but I can hit them back then and it will be a great pleasure, I can tell you. Why did you call me Chaz, by the way?" Ezra asked smiling.

"Well, I thought it sounded more like an outlaw than Charles. You shoulda let me choose the names. Yours were terrible."

"Well, I was thinking on my feet. I just said the first names that came into my head. Would you like a cigar in thanks for rescuing me again?"

"Yeah. Thanks Ez," Vin said as he took the offered smoke.

They made their way slowly back to the livery and met up with Bill and Sol again. They collected the packhorses and started back to their hideout.


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