Pursuit And Capture Of A Brat:
Southern, Green-Eyed Variety
After proving to himself that breathing was possible after all, Ezra allowed Buck and Nathan to help him into the only chair in the saloon that hadn't been reduced to kindling by the brawl.
"You're fine, Ezra. Just a little winded." Nathan patted his uninjured shoulder then moved off to tend to the bloodier of the two subdued behemoths lying unconscious on the wreckage-strewn floor.
"A little winded?" Ezra coughed back as he retrieved his flask from his coat pocket. "It's a miracle I'm still in existence after being felled by a blow aimed at that monstrosity." With a wave of his flask he indicated the massive man Nathan was treating before taking a long swallow of smooth whisky burn. "And with a table wielded by Mr Wilmington, no less."
"I just clipped you," Buck returned with a shake of his head then crouched down to pick up the feet of the more grievously injured miscreant while Nathan took the shoulders. "You weaved when you should have ducked, that's all."
"You are in error, my friend." Ezra consoled himself with another swig of whisky. "I could neither duck nor weave with that, that Titan from the very bowels of Tartarus manhandling me."
"I said I was sorry, Ezra. I'll buy you a drink later, all right?" Buck said over his shoulder just before he and Nathan struggled out the door with their monolithic burden.
"You, sir, are a vulgarian," Ezra told the second unconscious troublemaker while ignoring the stream of erstwhile patrons that poured into the saloon to lament the splattered remains of their lost libations and watch the junior barmen clean up.
"What in hell happened here?" Chris stalked into the saloon with Vin close behind; both trail dusty and thirsty looking.
"A slight altercation." Ezra shrugged then regretted it when his back and left shoulder wailed in protest. "Nothing that couldn't be contained by Messrs Wilmington, Jackson and myself." He grimaced.
"He's contained all right." Vin knelt beside the remaining behemoth to inspect his wounds while Chris just scowled.
"Damn Ritchie brothers. That's all we need with the Watson trail coming up." He turned his scowl on Ezra. "Did anyone get hurt?"
"Mainly them," Ezra replied, but then regretted it as soon as Chris turned away towards the bar. "But someone else received an injurious if accidental blow in the melee." He followed Chris down to the quiet end of the bar and watched him set up a bottle and two glasses. "Someone who happens to be in a good deal of pain as we speak."
"Is that a fact?" Chris almost smiled as he poured two shots of whisky.
"It is indeed." Ezra looked over his shoulder to see Vin help Nathan carry their next prisoner out the door. He then turned his attention back to Chris and picked up the nearest glass. "And that certain someone happens to be standing in the immediate vicinity."
With a slow smile, Chris drank his shot of whisky before replying, "Shouldn't that injured someone be receiving medical care?"
Ezra quickly downed his whisky so he could move in close while reaching for the bottle to pour a couple more shots. "Perhaps that certain someone has other attentions in mind which he feels would be more beneficial to his overall well-being."
"You think?" Chris hid his grin behind another shot.
"That I do." Ezra fingered his glass but made no move to drink it. "Maybe that injured someone thinks that the solicitude of another certain someone will go a great deal further to easing his suffering."
"I see." Chris poured another glassful. "So what does this injured someone have in mind?"
"Well, he was thinking that perhaps a certain someone who has recently returned from performing his civic duties elsewhere, would appreciate an evening of congeniality after such harsh journeying."
"Maybe he would at that," Chris allowed, meeting Ezra's gaze with amusement.
"So, perhaps he's decided that it's within his best interests to join that injured someone tonight?"
"Maybe he has." Chris nodded then added, "Meanwhile, a certain someone who isn't injured enough to need medical treatment, better get himself over to the jail where he still has half a shift to finish."
Ezra grinned. "Touché, Mr Larabee." He stood away from the bar to salute Chris' parry with his whisky glass before drinking it down and walking out the saloon, his step lighter than any injured someone's had the right to be.
"It doesn't hurt, you know. You'll be famous, I promise," the fair-haired newspaper photographer tried cajoling the recently revived Ritchie brothers one more time.
"We said no," the younger man-mountain snarled. "We don't want our pictures took."
"We don't look good," the eldest added. "We don't want our maw to see us like this."
"Don't waste your time with those ugly cusses, Mr Granger." Buck abandoned Ezra to a game of solitaire at the sheriff's desk and walked up to the handsome young photographer to press his case. "I told you, your lady readers won't want to look at pictures of those half-beat be-- What did you call 'em, Ezra?"
"Exactly!" Buck agreed victoriously. "Your lady readers won't want to see pictures of half-beat behemoths when they can see the cream of the law enforcement crop instead." He smoothed his moustache and smiled winningly. "These boys did nothing much more than get drunk and break up of a few chairs, anyhow. Me and Ezra, we're heroes."
Granger frowned. "We'll, I suppose a short article on lawmen of the West would go down just as favourably with my readers back east if I could get a few good quotes about the lawlessness out here to go with it," he conceded.
"Oh, now don't you worry about that none." Buck put a friendly arm around Granger's broad shoulders and grinned at Ezra. "Why, Mr Standish and myself are almost walking quotation marks."
"In that case--" Granger began with a smile but Ezra cut him off with an apologetic shake of his head.
"Sorry to disappoint you gentlemen, but my shift as an officer of the law is now over for the evening and I'm afraid I must depart for more salubrious climes." He gathered up his cards and made to leave.
"Come on, Ezra," Buck wheedled, leaving Granger's side to step up close. "It'll only take a minute. Don't you think all those lovely ladies back east deserve to have our handsome faces brighten up their day?"
"It's not the ladies that concern me," Ezra answered low. "In case you've forgotten, Mr Wilmington, I happen to be part of a profession in which publicity is not conducive to wealth, health or general welfare. In fact, such recognition often leads to a notoriety that is positively unhealthy. Now, if you'll forgive me, gentlemen." He tipped his hat and was about to turn away when Buck took hold of his elbow.
"Can't you at least wait until JD gets here so Mr Granger can at least take my picture for the ladies?"
"What ladies?" JD appeared in the doorway from the darkening street, grinning cheerily. "Miss Clara didn't hit you with that broom again did she, Buck?"
"No, she didn't." Buck drew himself up. "And I told you already, as long as a woman doesn't hit you with the handle, it means she likes you."
"Whatever you say, Buck," JD returned with a wink and Ezra excused himself before the fireworks began.
He had no sooner left the jail to make his way to the hotel in the hopes of meeting Chris, when he spotted Vin wandering up the street from the stables. Stopping to lean against a handy post by one of the freshly lit street fires, he waited for the soft-spoken ex-bounty hunter to draw alongside before falling into step.
"Good evening, Mr Tanner. Going back to the saloon for a night-cap are we?"
"Not me, I'm for bed," Vin answered tiredly. "Not used to all that riding any more." He stretched his back and winced.
"Father Time demanding his dues?" Ezra grinned at Vin's sour look. "How about Mr Larabee? Is he feeling the after-effects of your excursion also?"
"Ah reckon so. You'll have to ask him when he comes back."
"Back?" Ezra almost lost his stride. "Back from where?"
"His place. He just left." Vin cut across the street to his wagon. "'Night, Ezra."
"Good night," Ezra called back distractedly before continuing up the street to the hotel, his mind running in circles as he pondered Chris' reasoning. By the time he got to the bar, he needed that drink.
The longer he stood propped up against the hotel bar waiting for Chris to arrive, the more of the good whisky Ezra drank. He knew he should go upstairs to wait -- Chris would probably not even come in if he saw him standing there -- but the tension was killing him... not to mention knotting up his aching back and shoulder. No, he really should go up to bed. Now. He should just cork what was left of the bottle and trundle skywards. He trusted Chris, didn't he? Chris did say he was coming, didn't he? Or did he? Ezra scowled into his empty glass, knowing he'd already had too much to drink but feeling tempted to have another anyway. Maybe it would stop his back aching so much.
"Why, Mr Standish," a vaguely familiar voice addressed him and Ezra looked up to see the handsome photographer smiling at him. "We meet again."
"It appears we do, Mr Granger," Ezra replied with a sigh. "But I'm afraid you haven't caught me at my best. Please accept my apologies, but I'm afraid I must retire for the evening. If you'll excuse me?" He picked up his bottle, corked it and turned away.
"You don't remember me, do you?" Granger's solid presence blocked his path.
Ezra frowned. "Remember you from where, sir?"
"St Louis. We stayed in the same hotel a few years back. You were with your mother but your name was different then." He smiled charmingly. "Mine was too as I recall."
"Really?" Ezra blinked through what he had to admit was a bit of an alcoholic haze. "I'm sorry but I don't remember you at all. If you'll--"
"Don't worry about that." Granger put a friendly arm around Ezra's shoulders and led him over to the stairs. "I have something in my room that will jog your memory."
"Not that I don't appreciate the offer, sir." Ezra drew away against the banister. "But, as I said, I really must be retiring."
"Oh, that's all right." Granger led the way up the stairs. "My room is just next door to yours. It'll only take a moment."
"If you insist." Ezra took one last look at the dark street through the empty doorway before following him reluctantly.
"I can't believe you don't remember me," Granger, or whatever his name really was, was saying as they reached the landing and he pulled out his room key to open his door. "You were a bit worse for wear and ranting about your mother but I thought it was a memorable evening nonetheless."
With an uneasy feeling unfurling at the pit of his stomach, Ezra waited on the landing while Granger lit the room lamps. The events in the story so far, no to mention Granger himself, were beginning to sound uncomfortably familiar.
"Come in, come in." Granger grinned when Ezra just stood there frowning. "It won't take long and I think you'll like it."
"I'm sure." Ezra walked into the room with more than a little trepidation.
"It's just in here." Granger pulled a carpetbag from under the bed and rummaged around in it until he came out with a large, leather bound notebook. "Here it is." He motioned Ezra to sit on the bedside chair while he sat on the bed. "You're chapter three." He flicked through the book, which seemed to contain photographs as well as a few pages of neatly inked handwriting. "There you go," he said, offering Ezra the book. "I think they are some of the best I have."
First placing his whisky bottle on the floor, Ezra took hold of the warm leather warily. His heart climbed up into his throat when he focused on the title page that announced: 'Pursuit and Capture of a Brat: Southern, Green-eyed Variety' in his own handwriting. It took all his strength just to turn the page and see... a photograph of himself lying naked on a couch wearing nothing but a fan of playing cards.
And it only got worse.
As the pictures wore on, the cards got fewer and fewer and his pose grew more and more provocative until, by the last few photographs, he was doing things with an ace that the card company certainly had not envisioned upon manufacture.
"Oh hell," he breathed brokenly.
"Something wrong?" Granger frowned then squinted down at the pages. "Don't you like them?"
"Like them?" Ezra almost yelped. "They're... How much do you want for them?"
"How much?" Ezra demanded, closing his eyes to work up the courage to look at the damn things again when a horrific thought entered his mind. "Don't tell me you made copies?"
"Of course I didn't." Granger seemed genuinely confused. "We agreed they were just for my collection. Did you think I'd betray that trust?"
"I don't..." Ezra trailed off, unsure what he was going to say against the flood of blurred memories recalling a night spent exploring the beauty of the naked male form.
"You don't remember it at all, do you?"
"No, I do." Ezra swallowed against his dry throat. "I wanted to-- After I had a rather disagreeable scene with my mother, you offered me respite for the night. As I recall, I was working studiously on my second bottle even before you showed me the evidence of your... unusual pursuits. And, as impressive as they were, I thought I could do better," Ezra finished ruefully, his fingers digging hard into the soft leather.
"And you did!" Granger grinned. "Don't you think they turned out wonderfully well?" He reached for the book but Ezra's fingers refused to release it.
"Wonderful would not be my chosen adjective, no," Ezra returned with a pained smile. "In fact, I'm afraid I'll have to ask you for your understanding in this matter." He reopened the book and began prying his photographs from the pages.
"What are you--" Granger stood up from the bed but made no attempt to physically intervene. "I thought we were friends," he accused. "I thought you wanted me to have them."
"I'm sure I did, at the time." Ezra finished easing his last photograph from the book then handed the leather volume back with an apologetic shrug. "I'm sorry." He held the guilty evidence tight to his chest as he picked up his bottle and prepared to leave. "I don't doubt your motivations, but I'm afraid mine were rather perturbed. Not to mention fleeting. I didn't recall the taking of these commemorative works at all."
"I see," Granger said flatly as Ezra moved to the door. "Seems I should have stopped off in Eagle Bend for that last photograph after all."
"Sorry," Ezra repeated, opening the door. "Good night." He backed out the room -- straight into Chris.
"Ezra? You switched rooms?" Chris greeted him lightly, steadying him when he almost lost his balance whilst overreaching to catch his treacherously frisky whisky bottle.
"No, I haven't." Ezra smiled weakly. "I was just saying good night to an old acquaintance," he finished quickly, not noticing the photograph that had slipped from his grasp until Chris bent to pick it up.
The world seemed to hold its breath in the eternity Chris took to retrieve the picture, which had the bad taste to land face-up. Ezra couldn't see Chris' expression until he was pushing the photograph back into Ezra's numb fingers and by that time his emotionless voice was already telling Ezra all he needed to know.
"You dropped something," was all Chris said before turning on his heel and striding off back down the stairs.
"It's not what it looks like," Ezra protested, mainly just to be saying something, but he knew it was exactly as it appeared. The situation was depressingly self-explanatory.
"Ezra!" Buck hammered on the door. "Are you alive in there?"
Blinking awake into a world full of noise and throbbing aches, Ezra peeled the empty whisky bottle away from his cheek and slowly sat up in a tangled heap of bedclothes. "I hope so," he mumbled, trying to ignore the curious taste in his mouth.
"Ezra?" Buck hammered on. "Damn, you sleep like the dead!"
"I said, come in," Ezra repeated a little louder. A moment later, he thought his head was going to split apart when, after gratuitously rattling the lock to an excessive degree, Buck clomped into the room with a deplorably loud and cheerful call of, "'Morning, sunshine! Or should I say afternoon?"
"Whichever is quieter," Ezra responded grumpily. "What do you want, Buck?"
"What makes you think I want something?"
Ezra just looked back at him blearily. "Common sense dictates that anyone who went around waking up others for the sheer suicidal thrill of it wouldn't last out a season never mind the years you have attained. That, together with the fact that instead of using my spare key to empty a bucket of water over my head, or to commit some other equally childish prank against my person, you waited until I was conscious before entering the room, leaves me with the impression that you have a request. So, I repeat, before I throw this bottle at your head, what do you want?"
Buck frowned, looked like he was going to complain for a moment then just sighed instead. "Did you see that photographer last night? I can't..."
Buck's voice went on but Ezra couldn't hear him for the heartbeat thundering in his ears. Last night's events came rushing back like the shattered pieces of some distorted nightmare: Granger, the photographs, Chris and... The photographs!
He almost wrenched something vital in his desperate twist to see the small pile of innocent looking pictures lying facedown on the nightstand. Luckily, Buck was too busy lamenting his lost chance to woo the many ladies back east with his obvious charms to notice Ezra clandestinely reaching out and slipping the photographs under a pillow.
"You'd think a man with his education would have better taste, wouldn't you?" Buck demanded. "I can't believe he'd just lit out like that!"
"I'm afraid it's testimony to the sorry state of today's newspaper industry. Excepting Mrs Travis' sterling efforts, of course. Unfortunately, if Mr Granger has indeed departed our happy hamlet, I have no idea where he has gone." Ezra began untangling the bedcovers. "If there's nothing else, Mr Wilmington?"
"What?" Buck blinked back at him from his ponderings on the injustice of it all. "Oh, the judge wants you to head out to Chris' and tell him his testimony will be needed at the trial because Old Man Peyton's memory has more holes in it than JD's socks. He knows it's your day off but the rest of us are getting ready for the trial and I told him you wouldn't mind." He winked and left the room, oblivious to Ezra's mortification.
"Breathe," Ezra told himself as he neared the clearing where Chris had set up home. "Really, it's not as if he's going to tar and feather you," he continued but couldn't even convince his horse never mind himself. The usually well-mannered gelding was up on his toes and snorting nervously, sure he was heading into terrifying danger judging by the tension of his rider.
"All right," Ezra sighed, halting and dismounting to lead the skittish animal over to the shade of a nearby tree. "There's no reason for both of us to vex." He wrapped the reins over a low branch then kissed the gelding's hot velvet nose. "Remember, you owe me," he warned low before turning to walk the rest of the way to the clearing.
Everything went well until he heard the sound of someone chopping wood. He was pretending he was just out for a leisurely stroll until that rhythmic report began chipping away at his façade. Next, he saw the cabin. It was pretty in a rough, rustic, Chris sort of way. As he walked around it, he saw Chris' horses in the corral and, finally, came to a breath-stealing stop when he laid eyes on Chris.
If he knew the man chopped wood like that, bared to the waist, muscles bunching and skin glistening under the sun, he would have invited himself around more often. As it was...
"Ezra." Chris nodded at him and laid down the axe to pick up a rag from the woodpile. "Did the Ritchies come back?" He wiped his face and chest.
"No," Ezra blurted out, distracted by a trickle of sweat that seemed determined to make its way into Chris' navel. "No, they didn't. They seemed to have learned their lesson for now. Don't you get sunburn?"
"Is it the trial?" Chris threw the rag back on top of the pile.
Ezra had every intention of delivering the message he came to relate and leaving. Just saying what he rode all this way to say on behalf of the judge, then heading back to town the long way. Honestly. It was no big deal. No big deal at all. Instead, he swallowed noisily, took a deep breath, and lost his wits. "Nothing happened that night. I was rather inebriated and the photographer was nothing more than a voyeur. I wasn't aware of the pictures being taken, but then, perhaps I was. Maude had been her usual exasperating self all week and I was a mite perturbed. In any case." Ezra drew in a hesitant breath then pulled the photographs out of his coat pocket. "You should take them." He held the pictures out to Chris.
After a long moment of glowering at Ezra's hand as if it contained a live rattlesnake, Chris turned and walked into the house without a word.
From where he stood sweating in the yard, Ezra could hear Chris pouring water then splashing it around. Just when he decided to call the judge's news through the doorway, Chris re-emerged shrugging into a fresh, grey shirt.
"Come in, I want to show you something," he said so low that Ezra thought he was hearing things. But then Chris stepped back to make way for him to enter and, in just a few steps, he was looking around the comfortable insides of the cabin.
"Very homely." He smiled and nodded and pretended he wasn't going to keel over from pure nervous tension. "A tad spartan but very homely indeed."
Chris made no response; he just walked across to the door on the other side of the stove and pushed it open so Ezra found himself looking into the bedroom. He could tell it was the bedroom because it had a large bed occupying most of it. But it wasn't just any ordinary bed. While the wooden posts and headboard were carved with the flowing forms of rearing stallions that Ezra immediately recognised as Chris' own work, the mattress was unmistakably of the highest quality down -- even if it did seem to be made of two smaller ones sewn together.
"Why, Mr Larabee, I didn't know your tastes in home comforts ran to such profligacy." He frowned at the pile of sheets and blankets on the chair by the bed. "Unfortunately, my talents lie in utilising them, not making them."
"I don't need no photographic evidence of that." Chris brushed past dangerously close as he moved to pick up the top sheet, shake it out, and then spread it neatly over the mattress.
Ezra watched Chris repeat the process with a second sheet and a blanket before he moved around to the opposite side of the bed to catch and straighten the richly embroidered top cover Chris threw over last.
"I doubt we'll need the other blanket," Chris said matter-of-factly and Ezra looked up to find his domestic efforts were being carefully studied. "And I've got plenty of firewood."
"That you do," Ezra had to agree as he straightened up.
"How's your back?" Chris asked without preamble.
"It only hurts when engaging in domestic labour," Ezra joked half-heartedly, no idea where he currently stood except that it was reportedly still the same world he woke up in that morning.
"Want some coffee?"
"Did you," Ezra paused to gather his courage. "Did you make this bed for us?"
Chris frowned as if suddenly unsure. "I was going to bring you up last night but you were--"
"Drunk," Chris finished.
"Oh." Ezra looked back at him, trying desperately to think of something to say. It was not a problem he was often acquainted with. "The-- Judge Travis requires your testimony at the trial tomorrow. It seems that Mr Peyton senior's memory is not all it should be."
Chris nodded. "I'll be there."
"Good." Ezra nodded back, at a loss once more. Then something made him offer up those thrice-damned photographs again. "Take them, Chris. Even if it's just to burn them, I want you to have them."
"Why?" Chris walked around to Ezra's side of the bed. "They don't concern me."
"You don't think I'm a brat?" Ezra smirked as Chris took off his hat and dropped it on the bed. "Of the southern, green-eyed variety, of course?"
"You've got green eyes, I'll give you that." Chris moved in closer, pushing the photographs away. "But those pictures don't capture them."
"So what does?" Ezra asked softly, letting the photographs fall to the floor as Chris' lips got so close he could almost...
"I don't know yet," came the barely audible response, "but I'm going to find out."
You'll find one of Ezra's photographs here:
If you enjoyed this story, we're sure that Cyc would love to hear from you.
HOME | CYC'S FIC | TITLES | AUTHORS | UNIVERSES
This website is maintained by Donna and Barb
with corrections and additions