Questionable Behavior

by Kimber

Size: Approx 270K

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Ezra looked around the saloon, taking in every detail he could fit into his memory to store for future reference. He knew when he came down the stairs and into the area he had called his home away from home that it would be for the last time. There was nothing left for him here, nothing but grief and reminders of his failures.

The gambler was surprised that the rejection of his friends, and this town, had hurt so much. He could not understand what he might have done to make everyone turn against him. Upon his return to town, after a profitable time at the tables, he was met with anger. Along with the anger he was being blatantly ignored and treated as an outcast.

The most he could get from JD was when the boy told him, "I can't believe ya would do somthin' like that Ezra."

When he tried to ask what it was that he was supposed to have done, all the young man did was turn around and give him a glare that rivaled that of Mr. Larabee. JD raked his eyes up and down Ezra with a look that said he found the man standing before him unworthy, if Standish read the look correctly. Since returning to Four Corners he had lost his confidence, especially after the altercation with the youngest member of their group of peacekeepers. JD and Vin were the only ones who had gone out of their way to be nice to him.

The gambler had decided to talk with Josiah, who quietly stared at him with a look of disappointment and sadness before he turned away as he said, "Not now, Ezra. Now really would not be a good time."

Ezra felt like his ability to breathe had deserted him, the preacher's reaction left him shocked and deeply hurt. Josiah's rejection hurt him worst of all, since he had told him time and time again he could always come to him. The preacher made it a point to make sure everything was as it seemed with the gambler, ever since the money incident and Ezra getting shot. Like a fool he had believed him. "Damn, I must really be losing my touch."

Standish knew he should have left well enough alone and left town after his attempt to talk to Josiah. But no, his quest to find out his wrong doings led him to investigate further.

Ezra decided to approach Buck; he felt that the ladies man was more accepting at time of his lifestyle than the others. The man's response to Ezra's approach shocked him to his core, as Buck appeared ready to draw back and punch him. JD stepped in and pulled the scoundrel back and away from striking distance of the gambler. The deep cutting question from Buck's mouth was the deciding factor that it was time to leave town, the sooner the better, it would seem.

"Why did ya stop me from hittin' the son of a bitch?" Buck growled out with a surprised look at JD.

"Cause he ain't worth it, Buck. With your luck, you'd break your hand." JD replied back as he pushed his best friend further away from the temptation of punching the gambler.

Ezra's heart felt like it was about to break. He knew he could not press his luck and approach any of the others. He was just happy Vin had not been in town to be a part of this. 'At least I will not carry the memory of seeing the disgust in your eyes, my friend.' Vin had been the only one he could truly never lie to; the man read him as well as his mother could, if not better.

He thought of asking Mary, but knew Chris would shoot him for sure. No, he wanted to leave town alive, and in the condition to ride, shoot, and play games of chance in the future. His instinct for survival overcame his need to find out why. The feeling that it didn't really matter took over. "There was always a different set of expectations for my anyway. I just could not keep up with them as they were made up as we went along.' He just wanted to leave before the same look of hate and disgust entered his best friend's eyes.

"I’m sorry we have to part without saying goodbye, Vin." Ezra whispered as he started to walk out of the saloon's batwing doors.

Before the sound of gunfire reached his mind, Ezra felt the pain as the two bullets slammed into his body just as he opened the batwing doors. The first one entered his left chest, right above the collarbone, exiting out the back. The wound would have been worse if he had not been placing his hat on his head with his left hand. The second bullet entered his upper right thigh region, entering but not finding an exit, thus making this a more serious wound.

The force of the shot knocked Ezra backwards and he fell to the floor of the saloon, making him cry out in pain. The fall aggravated the wounds, causing pain to radiate throughout his body. One minute he was leaving the saloon and the next he was on his back staring up at the ceiling. The pain and fear like no other in his life hindered his ability to focus and take account of what had truly happened.

A fear of dying alone overwhelmed him as he lay on the floor, feeling his life's blood leave his body. He knew from the moment that the bullets lodged in his body that the others would not come to his rescue, let alone offer comfort to a dying man they had come to hate. The tears steadily flowed as he felt his usual control deserting him. No one would care if he lived or died; this thought brought a heavy weight on his soul.

Vin heard the shots and had jumped out and then rolled up under his wagon. For as long as he could remember he had been a light sleeper and could instantly be wide awake, as if he had never been asleep. The bounty on his head had just intensified that trait.

Vin noticed the sound of boots on the ground first. Then the appearance of two sets of familiar boots came into sight as they walked cautiously toward the back end of his wagon.

"Vin, are you in there? Are you all right?" Chris whispered into the wagon as he looked around the perimeter of the tracker's wagon.

Larabee looked for any sign of a scuffle indicating Vin was in trouble. Chris noticed when the tracker had returned to town late last night, but he did not want to burden his friend with the news of Ezra's betrayal, so he had decided that morning would be soon enough.

"The shots weren't around here, Chris." Buck whispered as he kept a look out for the tracker, or anyone else that would be sneaking around at the moment.

"I'm fine," Vin called out as he rolled out from under the back of his wagon.

"Damn, pard, ya got a trick door in that piece of firewood?" Buck chuckled as he watched Chris jump back from the wagon. 'Damn, Vin is quiet as an injun'.'

"Nah, Bucklin, I'm just still a youngin' and able to move fast. Unlike some old men I know." Vin laughed at Chris, who was still looking from where the sharpshooter had just come from under the wagon to where he was presently standing with a surprised look on his face.

"I think it was closer to the saloon." Buck looked at Chris with a disgusted look on his face.

"I think we should check on Ezra. Someone might have shot the bastard for all the trouble he has caused. I can't believe the damn fool is still here." Chris rolled his eyes as he turned toward the saloon.

Vin noticed the animosity in both Chris and Buck's voices. 'Damn, Ez, what have ya done now?' He smiled to himself, preparing to be the in between for the gambler and the others. The Texan started out following the others, then hurried past them when it appeared they didn't move fast enough for him.

They ran into the rest of their group, minus Ezra, when they came upon the saloon. Vin was nervous, not seeing the gambler amongst them or coming out of the saloon. He knew the man slept deep, but this was not a good sign. Ezra had never slept through gunshots so close to the saloon before. Vin was the first to rush through the door and the first to find out why the southerner had not met them outside. The gambler was lying in a growing pool of blood; the gunshot wounds clearly visible.

"EZRA!" The tracker shouted as he rushed toward his friend and dropped to his knees beside him.

"Vin?" Standish's raspy voice questioned his friend's presence being real or a figment of his imagination.

"Vin, don't let me die alone. I don't know what I did, but please don’t let me die alone," Ezra softly pleaded as tears ran down his face.

The tracker noticed the genuine fear and the tears that flowed down the man's face. The fact that Ezra was showing his emotions chilled Vin to his soul. He heard the others gasp in the background at what they found when they entered the saloon. Nathan was heard in the background, barking out orders to the others and giving instructions about what needed to be done in the clinic.

Buck and JD were sent to get the fire started, supplies pulled out, and the table cleaned. Josiah and Chris were told to help carry the gambler across the street to the clinic. Vin was sure that Nathan was telling him something as well but was not interested in what. His main concern was Ezra and what the gambler needed from him. Right now that was to be here by his side and go with him to the clinic.

"We gotta get him to the clinic." Nathan ordered, his voice shaky with the fear that it might be to late, 'so much blood.'

"Ez, pard, ya ain't gonna die. I don't know what you're talkin' about? Did ya do somethin' wrong I don't know about?" Vin placed himself right in front of Ezra's face, making sure the gambler could see him.

"No, Vin. I did nothing wrong that I know of, I promise. I played the tournament and not one problem occurred, I swear." Standish begged Tanner to believe him.

"I believe ya, Ez." Vin smiled as he squeezed the southerner's hand, offering him the reassurance he believed him. "Ya never could lie ta me, Ezra."

As Josiah and Chris tried to pick up the gambler everyone was shocked when the gambler fought them and told them firmly, "NO!"

"Vin, I can feel myself leaving my body. I just want to know one thing before I die. What did I do to make everyone hate me so much?" Ezra's eyes pleaded with his friend to tell him the truth. "Please, Vin, I need to know so I can apologize before I can no longer do so."

The tracker could see the true feelings of uncertainty and confusion on his friend's face. Vin looked up at the others still present in the room and silently pleaded for some answers to what was going on with Ezra. He knew Standish was telling the truth about not knowing what it was he was supposed to have done. The tracker glared at Chris, prompting him to speak out.

"Ezra, tell Vin about Silver Springs last week," Chris stated.

Chris did not want Vin angry with Ezra at this time. He noticed as well the need for the gambler to make peace with what he had done. The belief that the con man had just lied kept the gunslinger from keeping the anger out of his voice. The sharpshooter could not believe the anger that radiated from deep inside Chris, causing him to glare up at the man in black.

Ezra looked up at Chris as he spoke, noticing for the first time that some of the others had remained. He tried to think of Silver Springs and if he had ever been there. Nothing about the name seemed familiar to him; he had never been there. He tried to think if Maude had mentioned it in speaking or in her letters, but thinking was getting hard to do. He could not think of Maude associated with the town either. The gambler could hear Nathan in the background yelling, "We don't have time for this."

"Vin, I was not in Silver Springs last week. The tournament was in Eagle Bend. I cannot remember ever visiting the town of Silver Springs," Ezra faintly whispered before he lost his fight to stay awake.

Vin noticed the confusion and questioning in Ezra's eyes before he passed out. At first he thought his friend had died, until the faint rise and fall of the gambler's chest was seen and felt by his hand placed there.

"Don't die Ez," Vin pleaded to the unconscious man.

Chris and Josiah took advantage of the gambler's condition and grabbed him up and hurried toward Nathan's clinic. All the time Nathan was mumbling under his breath about a stubborn, willful, pain in the ass southerner he was going to kill himself, when he got better.

The tracker knew that Ezra was going to Eagle Bend for a poker tournament. The man had planned for weeks, making sure Vin helped him with arranging patrols so he could have the time off. The Texan had enjoyed helping Standish, knowing Chris would not understand and not let the man go if he asked outright. Tanner had learned by spending time with Ezra that his gambling was like Vin's tracking; it was something he was good at.

Nathan, Chris, and Josiah had heard the gambler's words to Vin. They each understood what the implications were and each man walked away with a different belief. One man never doubted his word, having never believed the lie; another now had doubts that began to plague his soul, and the last believed the gambler was lying.

Vin followed as Ezra was taken to Nathan's clinic; he wanted to know more but knew now was not the right time. He looked 'round the town, wondering where he would try and shoot someone coming out of the saloon. He looked for places with easy access, where he could blend in and be able to leave unnoticed after the fact. He made sure the others arrived safely before he left. He would find who had shot his friend; he refused to believe Ezra would die.

The three men entered the clinic as they carried the wounded man. The fourth man slipped away to search for any clues to who could have done this to Ezra.

"What the hell took ya so long?" Buck yelled.

Nathan glared at the ladies man and was glad he needed to finish preparing his instruments, or he might have punched the man.

"Ezra wouldn't let us move him. Asked why everyone hates him. Say's he was not in Silver Springs." Nathan's voice could not hold back the anger.

Nathan's glance at the ladies man held a wrath unlike any Buck had ever seen from the healer before. The healer let the words speak for themselves as he continued to bark out orders. He told Josiah and Chris to start undressing the gambler, Buck and JD to get more firewood, put more water on to boil, and make sure they had plenty of bandages.

"Josiah, could you give me my last rites?" Ezra's soft request startled the men in the room.

"Ezra, I'm not a priest. I'm not familiar with the giving of the last rites." Josiah lied, thinking the fear of going to hell might make the gambler fight stronger to live.

"Then will you hear my confession?" Ezra whispered.

"Again, I'm not familiar with the Catholic Church, I'm sorry," Josiah again lied; feeling hopelessly stuck in the middle.

Listen to the man's confession and give last rites and let the man feel it was all right to die, versus the hope that the fear of going to hell would make the man fight to stay alive. The guilt deepened as another took his place in giving the gambler what he requested.

Ezra began to speak in a chant-like prayer in a language unfamiliar to almost everyone there. JD walked over and took the con man's hand and began praying with him word for word as tears flowed down his face. When the prayer was done JD made the sign of the cross on himself and repeated it on Ezra, using the gambler's own hand.

Josiah silently prayed for God's forgiveness for what he had done. He wished now that he would have been the one to offer the absolution the young man had asked for. He followed it with a prayer that God would not take this man from them. 'We have so much to answer for and to ask his forgiveness for.'

"Thank you, Mr. Dunne," Ezra whispered as he again lost consciousness.

Nathan then directed everyone but Josiah to leave and let him do his work. He did not want any interruptions from the others as he tried to save his friend's life. Nathan and Josiah continued to undress the unconscious man on the table.

Josiah had noticed the necklace around the gambler's neck but had not really payed close attention 'til now. He recognized it when Nathan told him to remove it so he could work on cleaning and dressing the chest and shoulder wound. The bullet had gone clean through and caused no major damage. The preacher reached down and touched the St. Christopher medallion and was haunted by the memory of another one just like it. One he had given to someone special to him a long time ago.

The preacher turned over the medallion and could not believe what he found engraved on the back. It was the same medallion he had given away twenty-six years ago; it had to be. There were not too many people with the same initials.

He looked closely for a hint of resemblance to the previous owner in the present owner lying wounded in front of him. He could see Elizabeth in Ezra's features as he looked more closely. They shared the same soft chestnut hair, porcelain soft skin, and the green eyes. He had her nose and soft lips as well. He thought Ezra had taken after his father, having none of Maude's features. He always wondered what drew him to care so much about the other man's welfare, now he had a better understanding why. He looked again at the initials.



'Ezra, don't die. Please, son, don’t die.' Josiah silently prayed. He needed answers to his connection to Elizabeth. Was she still alive? Would she remember him? Did her life turn out like she had planned?

Nathan noticed the melancholy look on the preacher's face as he looked at the locket and then at Ezra. He wanted to question his friend but now was not the time. He needed his complete attention so he could do his best to save Ezra. "Josiah, ya need to help me with these pants." Nathan request for the preacher's help brought the man back to why he was here. He was supposed to be helping Nathan, not daydreaming about Elizabeth.

Josiah quickly helped the healer remove the pants, heavy with blood. Both men sighed with relief that the gambler didn't wake, as he moaned in pain. It let them do what they needed to do, and it also let them know their friend was still among the living.

Nathan noted the heavy bleeding coming from the leg wound. He thanked God it wasn't bright red and pumping, no artery, that's good.' He looked around and found an entrance but no exit wound, and then examined the leg and noticed it was the same color as the other one, 'good, no problem with blood flow.'

"We're gonna need ta get that bullet out to stop the bleedin'." Nathan spoke softly, mostly to himself. It helped to gather his thoughts together and make a plan on how best to help his friend. He double-checked to make sure he had the instruments he needed and began to work on stopping the bleeding.

"Nathan, do you think he will live?" Josiah knew the healer could not give him a definite answer, but he needed to hear his friend's encouraging words.

"I don't know, Josiah. It depends on a lot of things. One step at a time is the best I can offer ya right now," Nathan whispered to his old friend. Nathan began to work on removing the bullet, not wanting to think further than that at the moment. He cursed himself for not going to Ezra sooner to offer his support. He found the bullet and began to remove it, 'I just pray it's in time."

Buck watched as Chris stared out into the morning light. He looked around for Vin and began to worry. The man had followed them to the clinic, looked things over and then left. The ladies man took in the bland facial expression on his old friend's face. He knew this was an indication that Chris was seriously thinking and Buck wondered what had him so deep in concentration.

"Hey, pard, whatcha got tugging at yer thoughts?" Buck walked over and leaned on the rail, and looked over at his friend.

"He says he wasn't in Silver Springs. He wouldn't let us move him until Vin told him why we hated him so much. Just wasn't able to tell him all of it though." Chris's doubts about Ezra having told the truth were beginning to fade to be replaced with the belief of his innocence. The doubts still lingered but not as strong as before.

"But, the minister said it was him. Mr. White pointed him out and everything, just before he left," JD whispered. The young man found it hard to believe a man of God would lie like that. Dunne had grown up firmly taught by his mother to always listen to the priests and other men of God.

"JD, what kind of prayer was ya sayin' with Ez?" Buck asked his friend, not really wanting to discuss the minister right now.

"It's a pray the Catholics pray when they think they are dyin'." JD sadly replied, as the thought of his mother's dying prayer with the priest came to mind.

"So, Ezra thinks he is dyin'. Damn, never thought he believed in God." Larabee looked at the door of the clinic then up toward the sky.

Chris had not prayed to God since his family's death, other than to ask for a chance to find his family's killer. But now, for some reason, he looked up toward the sky and asked God to save his friend's life today.

"Do ya think we need to wire Maude about Ezra?" Buck asked to no one in general.

"I'll ask Josiah to do that when he's done helping Nathan. We might know more by then." Chris sadly replied, his eyes drifting back to the clinic door.

"Where to ya think Tanner got off to?" Buck asked Chris, trying to change the subject away from Maude and Ezra.

"Checkin' about town," Vin stated as he came upon the balcony.

"Damn, Vin! Do ya have to keep sneakin' around like that? Could get ya shot sometime," Buck snorted as he placed his gun back in the holster.

"Found where the shooter was standin' when he shot Ez." Tanner casually mentioned as he turned and stared at the clinic door.

Vin walked over toward the door and placed his hands upon the solid wood that was separating him from his friend. He wanted so much to open the door and be there with him. But, right now he was barely able to hold himself back from walking over and punching the others in the face. Not only had he found where the man had stood, he was told by anyone who felt he needed to know that the gambler deserved it. It was a small miracle he had not shot a few of the lovely townsfolk.

The three men watched closely as the tracker walked over and placed his hands against the door to the clinic. They noticed the barely controlled anger radiating from his body. None of them knew how to approach Vin concerning their treatment of Ezra.

"Talk!" Vin's voice exhibited the anger he was feeling.

Chris took it upon himself and began to tell the story of Michael White, a minister, who had stopped here after leaving Silver Springs. The man was on his way to San Francisco, spreading the word of God. Chris continued with the story told by Mr. White about a fancy dressed gambler with a southern accent who came to Silver Springs last week.

The minister had told anyone who wanted to listen how the gambler had conned several of the farmers and small ranchers into a get rich quick scheme. The gambler proceeded to clean others out of their hard-earned cash at the poker tables as well. Then the young wife of one of his victims, Amelia Stevens, approached the man to ask for their money to be returned. The southern gambler had laughed in her face.

He had told the young Amelia he would not return the money without some sort of compensation. When the woman had serviced him he gave the money back, letting the town know why he gave it back to her. She was unable to live with the humiliation and took her own life. This left her husband with the guilt of why she had done what she did, and having to raise their four children alone. The gambler had shown no remorse and left with everyone's money.

Vin continued to stare at the clinic door as Chris continued on. He wanted so much to take his gun out and shoot the lot of them. Chris went on to explain how the minister described the gambler as southern, with chestnut colored hair and green eyes. He wore either a red or green fancy jacket with colorful vests underneath, with a fancy pocket watch hanging from the vest. He stated the southerner was well armed, including a small derringer he carried up his right sleeve. The gambler had introduced himself as Eric Simpson, but everyone knew Mr. White was describing Ezra Standish.

"I take it ya believed that lyin' sack of shit. Ya believed Ezra was capable of hurtin' a woman like that." Vin's disgust at what Chris told him showed in his face, voice, and body stance.

"But, the minister, he even pointed him out," JD said as he tired to defend them.

"Ya, right as his ass was leavin' town. That's pretty damn convenient, don't ya think?" The tracker glared at Dunne.

"Vin, don't-" Buck started to defend JD.

"I bet ya would have bought a bible off the man without checkin' to see if there were words printed," the Texan moved toward the younger man.

"VIN!" Chris yelled.

Vin stopped in his tracks and glared at the three men. No matter what Chris or the others thought, he was going to find out the truth and prove Ezra was set up. Then he was going to track down the man responsible and show him a few tricks he had learned from the Indians on dishing out punishment.

"Did any of ya ask Ezra about what the bastard was accusin' him of? Vin watched each man's reaction.

He could see the pain on Buck's face for what he had done. Chris's face still held doubt to the gambler's innocence, while JD's was showing the conflict he was having. Vin had forgotten how naïve the young city boy was to the evil ways of mankind, especially here out west.

"I know for a fact Ez was in Eagle Bend for a special poker game. We made special plans to make sure he could go, knowin' Chris wouldn't let him go if he knew why." Vin's patience was getting thin.

"Maybe he lied to you?" Chris could not help but ask.

"I BELIEVE EZRA!" Vin growled at the three men.

Tanner suddenly remembered the last conversation with Ezra about his relationship with the others.

"Mr. Tanner," Ezra suddenly stopped at Vin's glare.

"Sorry about that, Vin. But, the others will always assume my guilt 'til my innocence is proven. They refuse to accept that I have changed, or have at least changed my ways in some fashion." The southerner smiled sadly and shrugged.

"Damn, do ya know that Ezra told me none of ya trusted him? I thought he was wrong and told his so. Now I gotta 'pologize ta the man, if I get the chance." Vin glared at the three men before he turned away and sat by the door leading to the clinic, like he was standing guard.

"JD, go and send a telegraph to Silver Springs. Ask about a minister, Mr. White, and about any incidents involving an Eric Simpson. Then send another one to Eagle Bend and ask about a special poker game and if Ezra was there." Chris refused to look at Vin as he instructed JD on what to do.

"Chris, either way we have a problem. Bigger one if Ezra dies." Buck voiced sadly, watching JD sprint off down the steps, heading to the telegraph office. Buck could not help but remember when Ezra came to him asking what it was he had done. He knew the gambler had heard the conversation between him and JD afterwards. The words would haunt him the rest of his life, more so if Standish died without him being able to say, 'I'm sorry, I was wrong.'


"Then we won't be able to apologize and make it right between us again." Buck met the angry stare of the tracker head on. Wilmington just hoped and prayed the Texan never found out how he had treated Ezra; he liked living. He just wished he could go back and undo what was said and done.

"Like ya really care," Vin softly growled, giving a glare that told them the conversation was over.

Buck's words hit Chris like a punch in the stomach, 'what if he is innocent?' Chris refused to answer his own question 'til he got more answers. He hoped for Vin's sake that Ezra was innocent. He still held doubt that someone would go to this much trouble to see revenge.

Josiah's heart pounded as he looked at the amount of blood on him and Nathan, let alone on the floor and table, ignoring the bandages used. He watched Nathan closely to see his reaction as he took care of Ezra. The gentle giant noted how the healer finally relaxed and took a real deep breath after the bleeding stopped. He just prayed they had stopped it in time for the gambler to heal.

The preacher's guilt intensified into an overwhelming sense of anger over the holding back of giving Ezra the one thing he could have given. The man had asked for absolution and he had denied him selfishly for his own purpose. This, on top of him treating Ezra the way he had prior to the shooting, just added to the overall frustration he was feeling.

Nathan breathed a sigh of relief when the bleeding stopped with the last stitch and some pressure. He was able to remove the bullet without much difficulty. The healer was happy when he saw there was no bone or artery involvement during his repair of the wound. The leg would have to be watched closely for any swelling, indicating bleeding on the inside.

"Now, as long as no high fever or infection sets in he should live." Nathan smiled for the first time since finding the gambler on the floor of the saloon.

Nathan looked at Josiah and knew that the man needed some time alone with Ezra. He would go out and tell the others of Standish's condition. He just wanted one shot at whoever had done this to his friend. No matter what Ezra was or what he did, he never wanted him hurt in any way. He never believed the story that he had heard concerning the southern gambler. The town was full of talk about it when he returned to town the day before.

Since his return from the Seminole Village several people had needed his healing skills. His needed services prevented him from going straight to Ezra to hear his side of the story. One thing Nathan believed was that the southerner would never hurt a woman or child on purpose. What shocked him was the fact the others had fallen for the stranger's pack of lies, especially Josiah.

The preacher looked down at the face of the young man he had come to care for like a son. He was just sorry he had not treated him as such. He had treated him like some stranger, believing the words of a man who passed himself off as a deliverer of God's word.

Then it hit Josiah suddenly, he treated Ezra as his father had treated him, the way Josiah had promised himself he would never treat a child of his own. His anger and guilt again flared, but much higher now than before. His father had never believed him or Hannah, his sister, over other people's accusation. They were sinners and liars like their mother.

The preacher began to remember how it made him feel and could only imagine what he made Ezra feel as well with his treatment of him. There was no one he could talk this over with, only Vin knew about Hannah but not the extent of his hate for his father. No one knew about his love for Elizabeth so he couldn't talk that over with anyone as well. He was trapped with only God to be his confessor and listener.

He prayed that Ezra would be able to find it in himself to forgive him and then give him another chance. As he thought of Nathan's words about the fever his guilt increased further. He was sorry that he had withheld the young man's chance to reach heaven through his faith as it was dictated through the last rites and confession.

"We are goin' ta find out who did this and why. They're gonna pay for it." Nathan placed his hand on the big man's shoulder. "I'm gonna tell the others how he's doin' so far."

"Yes, Brother, we are going to find out who did this. If it's the last thing I do in my life, I will find out who did this. I don’t care about the why, it doesn’t make a difference. I have a feeling if we do not find them, Ezra will never be safe." Josiah looked up at his friend with a determined look of vengeance. "Go and tell the others. I'm staying right here with my boy."

Nathan felt a chill go through his body at the look on Josiah's face. He knew now that what the preacher had said when they first discussed his leaving the religious order was true. He did have a hard time turning the other cheek.

The young light-skinned black woman watched as the peacekeepers of the small town kept vigil on the balcony by Nathan's clinic. A fear swept through her for the man who was fighting for his life at that very moment.

She had not wanted the handsome man with the kind green eyes hurt in anyway. She could tell he was a good man; just hid it under them fancy ways of his. He was nothing like her father had warned them about. She looked at her brother as he worked at cleaning out the stalls of the livery. He looked like he did not have a care in the world, and this upset her greatly. She wished she could have done something to stop the madness that her family was now involved in.

The young man looked up at his sister, his skin darker that hers by several shades. He could see the conflict in her eyes and knew that she was having a hard time dealing with the gambler's shooting. She had taken a liking to the southern bastard and it made his job a lot easier to do. That job was to make sure one Ezra Standish died. He already knew he was going to face as shit load of trouble if that southern cuss lived.

He had promised his father he would make sure Standish died by his hand. But by looking at the other members of the group of men that protected this town he could tell the son of a bitch still lived. He laughed at the thought of them protecting a town when they could not even cover the back of one of their own.

The heat and dust that filtered into the stagecoach caused the passengers to become edgy and irritable. It was starting to push the genteel southern woman to her limit, especially with the arrogant Mr. Aaron Williamson and his overly docile wife, Julia. They were from New York City and by the looks of their clothes, from money as well. Maude was sure that he abused his wife; she could see it in the poor woman's eyes. She had hoped to never see that look in the eyes of a close loved one again.

Maude suddenly smiled to herself as a pair of green eyes and a dimpled grin entered her vision. Thinking of Ezra always brightened her day. She would never tell him how special he was to her; 'it would give that boy way too much power over me. He has enough of a pull on my emotions as it is.'

The southern woman knew she had not been the best mother material around, but she did love her boy. The problem was he was safer away from her, in a place he could not be found by those that would hurt him again. She had hoped he would continue moving around and not grow any roots, let alone bring a lot of attention to himself.

The feeling that Ezra needed her was the strongest it had ever been. She had had a bad feeling concerning her boy for the last month. Maude had become restless and unable to concentrate, as she should in her latest adventure. Thoughts of her son's needs kept getting in the way, or more like, 'he needs you; go to him.' Contrary to what the men her son rode with thought, she had taught her son who to mark and who not to mark. She had made sure Ezra knew to leave the poor alone, or if they insisted, to only go so far as to teach them a lesson, and don't play with fire.

It made her uncomfortable at first when Ezra decided to settle down in Four Corners. It was not safe for either of them to remain in one place for too long, the enemy still lived. But after her last visit with her boy she had noticed how he had come to rely on the six men he rode with. She watched them protect her son the best they could, 'seems far better then I ever could.'

Maude sat back and let the memories of the life she had shared with Ezra as he grew into the wonderful man he is today wash over her. They washed the bad mood away, keeping her attention off the terrible couple and the dusty overheated ride.