by Becky Hromiko
Knock, knock, knock.
J.D. Dunne waited, listening for any sound from inside the room. After a minute with nothing, he knocked again.
"Ezra?" he asked the closed door. Still, there was no response. He turned the knob slowly to see if the door was locked. It turned easily, so he cracked the door open a little, not looking in.
"Ezra," J.D. said more loudly through the opening. There was no answer, so he poked his head into the room. Ezra lay across his bed, fully dressed and very asleep. With an exasperated sigh, J.D. threw the door open, allowing it to bang noisily against the wall.
"Ezra!" he nearly yelled when the man on the bed didn't move at the clamor.
There was a click, and J.D. froze at the derringer pointed in his general directions. Ezra lifted his head and looked at him tiredly through bloodshot eyes. "What are you doing here, Mr. Dunne?" Ezra asked, sitting up and dropping his gun.
"The judge is leaving town today."
"How fortuitous for him," he said, rubbing he eyes. "And you are here because...?"
"He wants to see everyone before he goes. A big night last night?" J.D. questioned.
"Prolific," he replied, not bothering to explain the meaning, even though he saw J.D.'s confused look. Ezra stifled a yawn and stretched a little, still not getting up from his bed. He had a horrible headache and felt a little nauseous as well.
"Well, come on," J.D. prompted.
"Now?" Ezra asked, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
"Yes, we need to get down to the street now, and no, there's no time for you to shave; he's leaving soon."
"There is always time for a gentleman to prepare," he said with a smile, finally standing up. He escorted J.D. to his door then shut it firmly behind him.
"Ezra!" J.D. called through the door. "Hurry up, the stage is going before long! It's almost noon!"
"Not so loud, Mr. Dunne," Ezra was a little surprised it was so late, but a quick look out the window confirmed it. "No need to worry, my young friend; no one has gathered outside yet."
J.D. hit the door once more, then stomped down the hall.
Ezra leisurely took off his coat and walked over to the mirror. He unbuttoned his vest and noticed a tear in the sleeve of his shirt.
"When did that happen?" he asked himself, fingering the rip. He changed the shirt, then prepared to shave. As he shaved, he hummed a little tune and tried to remember the previous night's events.
"Just too much to drink," he said as he carefully shave under his chin. The sound of people in the street alerted him to the fact that the stage would soon be leaving. Momentarily distracted by it, he nicked himself.
"Oh!" he exclaimed, looking in the mirror at the thin stream of blood mixing with the shaving cream. He finished shaving quickly and continued getting dressed, occasionally feeling the cut under his chin to make sure it wasn't still bleeding. "I haven't cut myself shaving in years," he said, shaking his head as he picked up his hat and went out the door.
Judge Travis was already speaking with the other six men of the group. Ezra noted the displeased sideways glance he received from Chris, but ignored it. "I should be back in a few weeks," the judge continued. "I have every confidence that you all will continue to keep the order in this town as well has you have been."
"All loaded," the stage coach driver said.
"I'll miss you," Mary said, giving him a hug. "Send my love to Billy and tell him I'm looking forward to his visit when you return."
"I will," Judge Travis said, getting into the stagecoach. "Take good care of this town," he told the seven men through the window.
With a knock on the roof, the stage began its trek out of town. It was soon obscured by its own cloud of dust.
The seven men and Mary went their own directions; J.D to the sheriff's office, Nathan and Josiah to the church, Mary to the newspaper, and Vin, Buck, Chris, and Ezra to the saloon.
J.D. took a seat by the door and made himself comfortable, feeling the power of being the law in town. It didn't particularly matter that the jail was empty right now, things were never quiet in Four Corners for long. With the judge just leaving, J.D. was sure that some criminal types would get it in their heads that it'd be a good time to make trouble. With a satisfied sigh, he leaned his chair back and watched the street.
Josiah and Nathan climbed up onto the roof of the church. They had repaired most of the damage, but some parts could still use fixing. The noon day sun was hot on them as they worked, helping each other. They didn't say much, except to ask for something, instead they concentrated on the work and on the thoughts in their hearts and minds. Josiah decided to fix up this church because he knew that the people of the town needed it; however, he still had issues in his heart about whether or not he was the one best suited to help this town. Nathan was there to assist a friend. He hadn't known Josiah long, though he knew of him for quite a while before they actually met. Still, he felt a closeness to this man, and he knew there was goodness inside him, even if Josiah wasn't so sure. They would have this church ready eventually, but neither man knew what would be done with it.
Mary returned to her newspaper office. It was always nice to have family in town, but she still needed to get the Clarion out in time. She worked out some final bugs, looked over the advertisements, checked the printing press, all the while thinking of her son and how much she missed him. Billy had been away from her so much since her husband's death. Even with the separation, she hadn't given up the hope that this town would soon be a good place to raise him. As the headline said, the seven hired gunmen who kept order in Four Corners had cleaned up much of the bad element and the town was flourishing.
Vin, Buck, and Chris entered the dimly lit saloon and took seats at a table off to the side. Ezra got a coffee, still feeling the effects of last night's activities, and joined them.
"Have fun last night?" Buck said with a mischievous grin.
Ezra looked at him over his coffee with raised eyebrows. "It was productive, was all he replied.
"Well, try not to be so 'productive' when there's something to do the next morning," Chris commented.
"I witnessed the judge's departure."
"It's the thought that counts," Ezra said with a smug look on his face as he took a deck of cards out of his pocket. He began shuffling them idly to take his mind off the ringing in his head. This was one of the least pleasant hangovers he could remember. Maybe he was coming down with something. If he hadn't checked his boot to be sure his money was still there, he'd be worried about how he'd performed the prior night.
"Can I interest you gentleman in a game?" he asked displaying the cards. They nodded and were soon playing. Ezra dealt the cards as he always did, sure of which cards were going to which people, but when he picked up his cards to look at them they weren't the ones he'd dealt himself. His poker face kept him from showing his confusion, but he couldn't understand how it had happened. The other men at the table had no expressions as they asked for cards, nothing that said their cards were especially good or bad. Ezra was surprised that he couldn't read their faces or movements, it was as though he'd been blinded to all their mannerisms that usually helped him know their intentions.
Deciding to make the best of the hand he had, he drew three. Amazingly the cards he got were worse than the ones he gave up. He chose to fold and the others played out the hand. Ezra wondered if he'd somehow mixed things up as he shuffled so he was careful while shuffling the second hand. This hand had the same disastrous results. A third and a fourth hand ended similarly. He was at a loss of what to do and Buck, Vin and Chris looked a little surprised at his bad playing.
"Having some bad luck?" Vin asked as Ezra dealt again.
"Just testing your skills," Ezra replied, his face a mask of professionalism.
"If you keep testing us you're going to lose all your money," he said with a smile.
Ezra gave him a sarcastic look but continued playing. By the eighth hand he was feeling a little frayed at the edges. Nothing was working. Cards that he knew he was dealing to his hand were ending up in others' and he couldn't see anyway that they might be cheating. It was with great relief he saw a regular at his table enter the saloon. Louis Fredrick was not a good poker player by any standard, but he was addicted and sure that the next hand would be a big win.
"If you'll pardon me, gentleman, I have to go speak with someone," Ezra said excusing himself from the table but leaving the cards for them to play with. It seemed something was wrong with them anyway. "Mr. Fredrick!" Ezra greeted the man amiably.
"Mr. Standish," he returned with a guarded smile.
"Would you like to play a few hands to pass the time?" he asked gently guiding the man towards his regular table.
"I, yes, of course," Louis consented. He was feeling lucky today.
Ezra took out another deck and began the game with two other individuals who moved over to the table.
About fifty dollars later, Ezra was sitting in stunned silence.
"I can't believe how well I'm doing today," Mr. Fredrick said ecstatically.
"Nor can I, Mr. Fredrick," Ezra said morosely.
"You were right, Mr. Standish," he continued, pride shining in his eyes. "I just had to keep playing and finally my time came."
Josiah and Nathan entered the saloon ready for a drink after a hard few hours of work. They got drinks and joined Vin and Chris at a table. Buck had run off to see some lady friend.
"How's the church coming?" Chris asked.
"Good," Josiah answered sitting down hard. "The roof's all done and the outside only needs a little more painting."
"Sounds like you got a lot done," Vin said.
"Yep," Nathan said taking a long drink from his glass.
They sat in friendly silence and Josiah's attention was drawn to the cards on the table.
"Playing a game?" he questioned.
"We were for awhile," Chris confirmed.
"Ezra seems to have lost his touch," Vin said smiling and indicating the corner table where he was playing. Josiah looked and saw that things didn't seem to be going Ezra's way.
With a big smile he called over to Ezra, "How's it going Ezra?"
Ezra looked over at him but said nothing.
"Karma finally catching up to you?"
"Past actions have nothing to do with this game, Mr. Sanchez," Ezra responded.
"Maybe you're just having some bad luck," Nathan suggested with a grin. "It's Friday the thirteenth, ya know."
"Oh really, Mr. Jackson? I give no credence to fatuous superstitions."
"Still looks like you're losing," Nathan countered.
Ezra grimaced and turned back to the game. One more hand, if he didn't win he was leaving.
As Ezra walked out the door he avoided looking at the table where his fellow law enforcers sat and tried to ignore the laughter that followed his departure. This had to have been the worst playing of his life. He'd done better when he was first learning from his mother! Thinking of her, he decided to check and see if he'd received any mail.
He went into the small post and telegraph office. As it turned out there was a letter for him with a return address in St. Louis. "I guess mother decided to go back," he said as he broke the seal.
"'Dearest Ezra,'" he began reading to himself. "'I'm writing to inform you of a small dilemma' What on earth has she done now?"
He quickly read through the letter. Apparently she had returned to St. Louis too soon and was in trouble with the law. She wanted his help to alleviate her tribulation. With a sigh he folded the letter and put it back in the envelope. He wired his mother that he'd get there as soon as he could.
Ezra walked down the boardwalk toward the saloon. He wanted to tell his friends that he'd be leaving town for awhile. After the threat Chris had given him, he wasn't going to leave without them knowing his reasons. He couldn't imagine there being a problem considering he was going to aid his mother.
There was an alley before the saloon and as he was passing it, Ezra heard a noise coming from behind some boxes. He stopped in his tracks and moved slowly toward the noise.
"Don't move," a voice said from behind him. Ezra started to turn in the direction of the voice but stopped when he felt the barrel of a gun pushed into his back.
"Is there a problem?" he asked in a steady voice.
"Yes, there is you dirty, cheating, good-for-nothing fraud," the voice growled in his ear.
"I think my hygiene surpasses yours by far."
"Shut-up or I'll shoot you." The click of a hammer accompanied this comment.
Ezra stiffened and shifted his eyes up and down the street.
No one who could help him was visible.
"What do you want, sir?" he inquired coolly.
"To see you swinging," the voice chuckled. "But I'll settle for your money."
"I'm afraid I have none to offer you."
"What? You spent all my money already? I don't think so."
"Check my pockets if you wish."
"I do," the voice said feeling Ezra's coat and vest pockets. He pushed him back into the alley and turned him around to get a better look.
Ezra recognized the man as a ranch hand who came to town the week before. He had not been much of a poker player and Ezra had taken most of his salary.
The man still had his gun pointed at him, but was checking to see if anyone was paying attention on the street. With a twist of his wrist, Ezra tried to get the gun he kept up his sleeve.
There was a click but no gun came out. Ezra was sure he'd put it back.
What an unfavorable time for it to stick, he thought. The noise attracted the attention of his attacker.
"Trying to make trouble?" he asked waving the gun menacingly.
"Of course not," Ezra said pausing to remember the man's name. After a moment with nothing coming to mind he asked. "What was your name again?"
"Don't go insulting me," he said taking a step forward. "Now give me your money!"
"I cannot oblige you, my friend, howe--"
"I ain't yer friend!" With that he slammed the butt of his gun into Ezra's head. Ezra stood stunned for a moment then fell to the ground with a low moan. He lost conscience with a faint awareness that the man was feeling his pockets.
The blackness faded slowly and was replaced with splotches of color. Ezra groaned and put his hands to his forehead. After a few seconds the colors began to form into coherent shapes. The blue sky above him, buildings on either side, and wooden boxes. Where was he? He sluggishly recalled the confrontation with the cowhand. Pulling his hands away from his head he saw blood on his fingers. He tried to sit up in surprise but a sharp pain in his head stopped him. He lay back down then sat up again gradually. Ezra tried to assess the damage. He was bleeding from a cut somewhere above his hairline and his boots were missing.
"I thought that only happened to Buck," he attempted to joke but didn't find it very funny.
"I suppose that means he found the money. Four hundred dollars gone." It boggled the mind to think that all the money he'd saved was gone. "I guess I'm going to have to hunt that bum down." With a grunt and the help of a box Ezra stood up.
"This must be the worst day of my life." His head was swimming, but it soon subsided. He noticed his boots lying near the entrance of the alley.
"At least he left my boots." Ezra picked them on and tried to put them on standing but didn't quite have the balance. He plopped down an the edge of the boardwalk and pulled them on one at a time, noticing how the right one felt different without the wad of money in it.
"Are you all right?" Nathan said coming up behind him.
"Simply marvelous, Mr. Jackson."
"Whoa, that's a lot of blood," he said leaning close.
"What happened?" he asked feeling at Ezra's head.
"An inconsequential altercation," Ezra replied swatting Nathan away. "With a man who didn't grasp the finer points of gambling."
"That's a nasty cut, you better let me look at it."
"I'd rather find the man who caused it if you don't mind." He got up and started unsteadily back toward his room over the saloon to clean up. He walked through the saloon ignoring the greetings as he passed.
"Was he bleeding?" Vin asked Chris. Chris just shrugged in return and got up to leave.
"I've got to go talk to Mary."
Vin leaned back in his chair watched him leave. "Wonder if there's more to that then it seems," he mused taking another drink.
Ezra cleaned the blood from his face and hair. The water in the basin turned a red that made his already unsettled stomach turn a little. The cut didn't seem to be bleeding anymore which he was grateful for since he had no desire to go back to Nathan. After one last look in the mirror he headed back down to the saloon. Chris was gone and so was Vin.
With a sigh and a muttered curse that this day couldn't get any worse he headed out into the street to look for someone he could tell he was leaving.
Two dusty riders came into town. They were bounty hunters down on their luck. They hadn't found a single murderer, bail jumper, or stage robber in at least a month. They needed a big break soon.
"Hey, Cal," one said to the other. "Doesn't that look like that murderer wanted in Tascosa?"
Cal looked at Vin, the man his partner was indicating. "Naw, Rob, you're just imagining things! Don't worry, we'll get a break soon enough. Let's get a drink."
They stopped their horses in front of the saloon and dismounted. Wrapping the reins around the hitching post they walked into the saloon, right into Ezra as he headed out to find a friend.
"Pardon me, gentlemen," he said waiting for them to pass.
The bounty hunters stared at him, a distant memory tugging at the back of their minds. When they didn't seem to be moving Ezra got annoyed and pushed past them in a rather ungentlemanly fashion. Shaking his head as he walked down the boardwalk he blamed his behavior on the head wound.
"Rob, I think I recognized that man."
"Yeah, me too Cal," Rob agreed scratching his head as they walked up to the bar.
"Where could we have seen him? He didn't look like the type we're usually around."
"Could've been a wanted poster."
"Where?" Cal asked trying to concentrate. They contemplated their whiskey in silence then came up with the answer at the same time.
Ezra continued down the boardwalk hoping for anyone he could tell. Time was being wasted, his mother needed him and, more importantly, he needed his money. He was about a block away from the sheriff's office where he'd seen JD when he heard someone calling from behind. Turning, he saw it was the two men from the saloon. He stopped and waited for them, willing to apologize for his rudeness, though somewhat perplexed that it had taken them that long to realize it. They didn't look too bright, he thought as they approached.
"Can I help you gentlemen?" he asked tiredly. He really didn't need another fight.
"We were--" Rob started.
"We were just wondering what you're name is," Cal interrupted not trusting his partner to say the right thing.
"May I ask why?" Ezra questioned with raised eyebrows.
"We just--" Cal tried to continue.
"We thought we recognized you," Rob finished.
"Twins, are you?" Ezra grinned. "I assure you we've never met. If you'll excuse me."
"No, we won't," Cal threatened.
"I'm having a less than stellar day, I'm not in the mood for another fight."
"That's not what we're looking for either. Mr. Standish?" Rob was getting tired of beating around the bush.
Ezra didn't move. He knew he didn't know these men, but that didn't mean they'd never heard of him. He did have something of a reputation, he supposed. The question was why did these men want to talk to him. They were dirty from hard riding, but they didn't look like you're average cowboy. They could just be travelers.
Cal and Rob took the pause to be an affirmation. Not wanting to loose their quarry they decided to act quickly.
"Don't move Mr. Standish," Cal said drawing his gun. "We're talking you in for bail jumping."
"Bail jumping?" Ezra asked in disbelief. "Can this day get any worse?"
"Keep your hands where we can see them, no sudden movements," Rob said reaching for Ezra's side arm.
"I received a pardon for that indiscretion, gentlemen, from the judge of this very town," he explained as one of them reached into his coat to take the gun under his left arm.
"Really?" they asked pausing. If they are willing to let me go on my word they really are imbeciles, Ezra thought, though he hoped they were since he had no proof.
"Here, Rob, you cuff him and keep him quiet, I'll go down to the sheriff's office and ask about the judge."
"The jud--" Ezra tried to tell them but was but off by Rob's gun.
"Don't say anything. If you're telling the truth the judge'll tell us and you'll be free to go."
Ezra stood angrily as the man put handcuffs on him, watching his partner walk toward JD. Please, JD, think to see what the trouble is, don't just tell him the judge left town this morning, he pleaded mentally.
"'Scuse me, I'm looking for the judge," Cal told JD.
JD stopped leaning back in his chair and stood up. "The judge left town this morning, but I'm the sheriff and I'd be happy to help."
"That won't be necessary," Cal said turning back the way he came.
"The judge gave you a pardon, eh?" he asked returning to the pair. "Mighty convenient that he just left town this morning, don't you think, Rob?"
"Oh yeah, mighty timely."
"You don't know the half of it," Ezra muttered under his breath.
"What was that?" Rob asked pushing him roughly into the side of the building.
"If you would simply ask the boy down there, he will tell you the judge gave me a pardon. I'm part of the local law enforcement even!"
"Sure, Standish. Let's get out of here before he makes up any more stories."
"No, I swear there are people here who will vouch for me if you'd just let me talk to them."
"Not another word," Cal said pushing him toward the street with his gun. With a twist of Ezra's arm his derringer flew out of his sleeve. His relief that it worked was quickly replaced by despair as it bounced off the handcuffs. He caught it as it popped into the air, but it was too late, the bounty hunters had noticed and one grabbed his hands before he could inflict any damage.
"You're asking for trouble, mister. We don't have any quarrel with you but the poster did say dead or alive."
Ezra started to protest that it had not, but stopped when a gun was placed at his head. They walked slowly toward their horses, Ezra silently cursing that JD was so unobservant and that everyone in town seemed to have disappeared. As he was about to be forced up on to a horse he saw Chris, Vin and Mary coming out of the Clarion office. Though he didn't savor the idea of calling for their help, he disliked the idea of riding for days in the company of these men and possibly spending time in jail until this trouble was sorted out even more.
"Mr. Larabee!" he called, startling the bounty hunters. Chris and Vin quickly realized Ezra was in some kind of trouble and drew their guns as they headed down the boardwalk.
The bounty hunters, fearing trouble from the coming gunmen panicked. Truth to tell, they weren't very good bounty hunters, and the thought of losing their first catch in a long time didn't appeal to them. Cal mounted his horse, but Rob was determined that this man was coming with them, dead or alive. Ezra who had been ready to run for cover froze as the rifle was lifted in his direction.
"Don't do anything foolish," he began as he watched what seemed to be slow motion. Chris and Vin were still so far away and JD had just realized there was something going on down the street. In a last ditch effort to safe his hide, Ezra rammed into the horse next to him. Cal didn't have very good control over the horse and it turned its head sharply, hitting Rob's shoulder. The gun went off and Ezra felt a searing pain across his stomach.
He leaned against the horse's rump before it bolted to the side. Chris and Vin slid to a halt telling the men to drop their guns. For a moment Ezra stood on unsteady legs then crumbled to his knees.
"I was quite fond of this jacket," he commented almost deliriously before falling forward on his face.
Nathan, Josiah, and Buck were attracted by the gunshot. Vin was pulling a man down off his horse and Chris was holding his gun on another man.
"What's going on?" JD asked reaching the scene before the other three.
"You're guess is as good as ours," Vin replied.
"Check Ezra," Chris commanded grimly. He didn't think he had too much of a chance.
Nathan turned him over and was surprised to see Ezra staring back at him.
"I was hoping someone would get to me soon."
Nathan smiled and looked at the growing red on his jacket and vest. Pulling them and his shirt open, Nathan saw that the bullet had only grazed his abdomen.
"You're going to be all right," he said encouragingly. "Looks like this is your lucky day."
"If this was a lucky day I hope I never have an unlucky one."
"Come on, let's get you patched up. And I'm going to take a look at that head wound, too."
"You're getting in more trouble than your worth," Buck joked. "Care to explain what's going on?"
"The only thing I care to do in sleep until this wretched day is through."
If you enjoyed this story, we're sure that Becky would love to hear from you.
HOME | BECKY'S FIC | TITLES | AUTHORS | UNIVERSES
This website is maintained by Donna and Barb
with corrections and additions