While the Cat’s away…

by Twyla Jane

The disclaimer is and always will be I don’t own ‘em and never made a plug nickel off ‘em. Wish I did. This story ain’t beta-ed the mistakes are mine and mine alone. This is the answer to Julia’s October challenge. Five of the Magnificent Seven are headed to Tascosa to clear Vin's name for good. How will they prove he's innocent now that Eli Joe is dead? Two of the Seven are left to protect the town. Who will take the opportunity to terrorize Four Corners? Write along one of these tangents and see where it takes you. Okay Julia this is where it took me. 10/20/01

“Mr. Jackson I really wish you wouldn’t hover over me…or I’ll have to find accommodations elsewhere.”

Ezra hadn’t even opened his eyes when he spoke. The dark man just smiled and ignored the comment knowing the man couldn’t lift his head let alone leave the room.

“I have some water for you Ez.”

Nathan sat next to the delirious man gently lifting his head so that he could sip down the cool water. A quiet thank you was whispered before the gambler slipped back into a fevered sleep. The other lawmen had left earlier in the morning headed for Tascosa with Cactus Pete, a man that could clear Vin Tanner’s name of murder.


The healer thought back to what had happened two days earlier. He had spent the night tending to Mr. McGill the bank’s teller. The man had been gut shot during a robbery the day before and he had died just before dawn. The others had gone after the bandits while he and JD stayed behind watching over the town.

The gang of robbers had split up forcing the lawmen to do the same. Larabee and Tanner had returned just after sunrise after capturing Cactus Pete but not before killing his compadre Luis Ramone in a barrage of gunfire. Wilmington and Sanchez arrived mid morning dusty and tired after doing battle with the duo of Smith and Howell in the hills, they returned with the two dead bandits strapped across the bandits ponied mounts. Chris stepped out of the jailhouse followed by Vin as the two weary riders approached.

“Where’s Standish?”

“We thought he was with you?”

“Damn it…”

When was the last time they had seen the red-coated figure. During the pursuit they hadn’t even discussed the separating it just happened. Each pair assumed the conman was with the other. A sense of urgency came over the men as Buck and Josiah went to drop off the dead at the undertaker’s before going to livery to obtain fresh mounts while Chris and Vin saddled up their own horses before heading out in search of the lost man. The dark clouds that had been threatening rain let loose, the heavy torrents of frigid water fell to the earth. The visibility was so poor at a point that they could see the man riding ahead of them. It was well into the afternoon before the deluge finally let up it was then they finally found Ezra walking in the middle of an overgrown trail.

The man was thoroughly drenched cringing slightly as the sodden clothes had adhered uncomfortably to the skin underneath he blinked up at the approaching riders without uttering a single word. He sank to the ground, ending up sitting cross-legged Indian style with an odd smile plastered across his face.

"Ez? You okay?"

To which the man responded by grinning even more as he shook his head.


Closest to the gambler Buck Wilmington had already climbed off his horse and squatted in front of the bemused man.

“Ya’ll right? Not hurt are ya?”

“Just cold and wet… wet and cold… dirty…won’t do…”

Ezra made a feeble attempt to wipe his muddy hands off on his filthy jacket. Chris crouched next to Buck and grabbed Ezra by the chin. The tell tale signs of a concussion weren’t there he ran his hands over the wet scalp. No lumps, cuts or bruising. Tanner had come up behind the con man draped a blanket across his shoulders. There was no sign of the man’s horse.

“Th… thank you M… mr. T… tanner…”

Ezra quietly stammered out the words through chattering teeth as a sudden chill coursed through him but Vin understood.

“Yer welcome Ez… come on let’s getcha back to town ‘fore ya freeze…”

Buck and Chris heaved the soaked man onto unsteady legs. Tanner climbed into the saddle and waited while Josiah helped Ezra settle onto Peso behind the tracker. The weary man teetered and the preacher shot out a steadying hand while Vin reached back and grabbed the gambler’s wet arms pulling them tight around his own waist. The other men climbed back on to their own mounts so they could head back home.


Nathan greeted the lethargic Standish at the clinic’s door. Chris and Buck had hauled Ezra up the stairs he was almost dead weight by the time they had returned to town. Bleary green eyes trying to make sense of what was going on as the two men stripped him out of his wet clothes as he sat on the edge of the bed while Nate put on kettle onto boil before pushing past Wilmington.

“Ezra where do ya hurt?”

The man blinked at the healer for a moment before answering.

“No where but my pride Mr. Jackson…”

The gambler began to tell a disjointed tale of how he became unseated from his mount.

“I was following those miscreants over the ridge directly behind one their sorry beasts as it threw a shoe which hit Chaucer. Shortly after that I became separated from him….”

“Why didn’t you just say fell off your horse?”

“Because that isn’t what happened…”

“And you’re not hurt?”

“An unintentional aquatic immersion prevented any harm to my person.”


“I fell in the creek…”

“A bit cold for that.”

“Ah yes I concur with that sentiment…”

“Hell Ez if you is this chatty you ain’t that bad off.”

Wilmington chuckled from the other side of the clinic.

“I never implied anything to the contrary.”

“Just the same Ezra I want you to stay here where I kin keep an eye on ya.”

“Mr. Jackson … Aw hell…”

His protests were cut short, as he was unable to resist the healer gently pushing him back onto the bed pulling the blanket over his chilled body. Nathan added two additional blankets as Chris and Buck went to join the others in the jail to talk to their prisoner. It was long before the gambler succumbed to an exhausted slumber.

Several hours later Standish had awakened somewhat and began pestering the healer to return to his own room. Jackson refused to relent until the following morning, knowing the gambler didn’t have all his wits about him. The man had failed to notice or mention the loss of prized horse, Nate had been sure that would have been one of his first questions but it remained unasked.


The decision to go to Tascosa had made. Five of the lawmen would go, the town’s need for Nathan’s skills and the fact Ezra hadn’t fully recovered from his ordeal meant the two men would remain behind. The others had left just as the sun was coming up over the horizon. True to his word the healer released Ezra that morning and the weary man quickly retired to his own soft feather bed. Nate didn’t expect to see him again until well past noon.


James Gordy was surprised to see the town virtually unguarded. The only peacekeeper he had seen about on the streets was the darkie. That damn Pete had to suggest that they rob the bank in this town. Everything when to hell after they had hit the bank, the peacekeepers had been hot on their trail right after they left bank teller for dead, the band of outlaws hadn’t gotten off with a penny from the heist. He had parted company with the others with a lone lawman on his trail. He had been unable to lose the fancy dressed man until his own horse threw a shoe. Gordy was laughing when he turned around to see a suddenly rider less horse behind him and watched as a red-coated figure tumbled through the trees and plunged into Barrow’s Creek. The man shook the image from his thoughts. He needed to get back into the livery where he had quickly stowed his part of the money.


Nathan stepped inside the clinic a little after ten in the morning and was pleased to see Standish was still asleep. The man was difficult man normally when it came to accepting help and was even worse when it came to be ill or injured. At least it had been quiet since the others had left, the healer sighed he and Ezra would watch over the town until the five men returned. Jackson stepped over to the bed and rested a practiced hand on the sleeping man’s damp fore head. A fever had developed before the sun had risen, hopefully by some miracle he would be able to convince the stubborn man to remain in the clinic.


Nate knew he was in trouble the moment he stepped inside the livery. He found himself stared down the barrel of an angry man’s rifle as it went off in close proximity of his left ear.


Jackson stood where he was staring at Gordy. By the man’s feet were two canvas bags with loose bills overflowing from them. It had to be the money stolen from the banks days before. The rifle cocked again, its muzzle was pressed into his temple and Nate held his breath knowing there was little he could do to stop the man. Instead he stared the man straight in the eyes not breaking contact with him even when fast approaching hoof beats came into the building only when flash of brown slammed into outlaw and the rifle went off again did he realize what the hell came thundering in. The healer still stood shocked for an instant as Gordy drew up his weapon again, a shot was fired from behind him that knocked the bank robber off his feet laying him flat out on the livery floor.


Awaking with a bone jarring start, the shot had startled Ezra from his sleep. Instinct took over as he heard the muffled shouts from below followed by another gunshot. He was vaguely aware he was in the clinic and the commotion was coming from downstairs inside the livery. With a quick glance he found his Remington stowed on a nearby table, he found a pair of Nathan’s pants pulling them on as he grabbed his gun belt and ran out the door flying down the stairs in time to see Gordy aim at Jackson. He took his shot. The recoil almost knocked him over. He leaned heavily in the doorway as the healer turned around stared at him for a second then smiled. Ezra smiled as he heard a familiar nicker and watched as his beloved horse trotted towards him.


Chaucer had returned. Muddy and tired the horse stood stock-still as Ezra wrapped his arms around the animal’s filthy neck mumbling unintelligible words of thanks. After releasing his hold the strenuous activities had finally taken their toll and the gambler slid down the livery door into an exhausted heap on the ground.


“One minute… just a minute…”

The response was barely above a whisper but the grin that had spread across Ezra’s face said more than words, the man was damn happy to see the cantankerous beast and so was Nate. A plaintive whinny came from Chaucer as he nuzzled his weary man.


Nate finally managed to get Ezra back in the clinic with the help of Yosemite, a little worse for wear but relatively unharmed. Standish had slipped back into a fevered sleep as the healer watched over him. The body of James Gordy was taken over to the undertaker’s by Yosemite. The smithy would clean up and feed the filthy horse after he returned. Jackson had been down once to check on the progress and was surprised to find that Chaucer hadn’t put up a fuss instead allowing the lumbering man to clean him off and bed him down in his own comfortable stall, he had eagerly taken the apple that the healer had offered him even allowing him the gently rub his muzzle. His ears pricked forward at the dark man’s softly spoken words.

“Mighty grateful Chaucer…”

Thanks to Ezra’s ill-tempered mount all was safe in Four Corners. Chaucer was going to be getting a regular supply of apples from the healer.