Gambling With Your Life
Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven characters are owned by Trilogy, MGM, and the Mirish Corporation. They are not mine. The only purpose of this story is for entertainment. No money is being made. (yadda yadda yadda. All boils down to I got no rights to the boys, but I wanna play with 'em.)
Author's Notes: Might be a bit of language, but this story is otherwise PG. (Those of you who don't like the kissing stuff won't need to run and hide.) I would love to hear from you if you enjoy the story (the feedback email address is above and at the end).
"Well gentlemen. Thank you for an agreeable night's entertainment," Ezra said as he pulled his winnings from the middle of the table to join the huge pile already in front of him.
"Agreeable for who?" one of his opponents asked morosely.
"Yes, I do seem to have taken the majority of the spondulicks on offer," Ezra observed dryly. "Sorry I can't give you the opportunity to win it back, but I have places to go. Goodnight to you." He stood and swept his winnings into his hat and walked out of the saloon. He was in Eagle Bend, where he would spend the night before setting off for Four Corners in the morning.
The three men he had left behind at the poker table were not happy. "I'm sure he cheated. How else could he have beaten us?" the tallest man said. They had been cheating themselves and couldn't understand how they had been bettered. Ezra had been aware of their deception, but as he was winning hand over fist he hadn't complained.
"We can't prove he did. He just cheated better than us. We'll just have to get our money back some other way. He said he was leaving town tomorrow. What d'ya say we ambush him down the trail and teach him a lesson?"
Ezra returned to his room unaware of the plans being made back in the saloon. He woke late the next morning and after having a leisurely breakfast, went to collect his horse from the livery. He left town mid morning. The day was going to be a hot one and before he had gone too far he was covered in a fine layer of dust. He flicked at it occasionally but gave up in disgust after failing to rid himself of it. He was about half way home when the three men from the previous evening appeared from the trees at the side of the trail.
"Well hello again, gentlemen. Can I help you with anything?" Ezra asked warily, pulling his horse to a standstill. The men moved so there was one on either side of him and one behind.
"You can start by giving us our money back," one of the men said, as they all drew pistols.
"Now why would I want to do that? It was won fair and square."
"I'd hand it back quick if I were you or you'll regret it," the man replied.
Ezra studied the three men intently, looking back over his shoulder to the man behind him. He sighed. He couldn't possibly take them all without getting shot. He nodded his head reluctantly in agreement, although he hated parting with his hard earned winnings.
"Alright, you seem to have the upper hand. The money is in the inside pocket of my jacket." He held his arms up in a gesture of submission. The man on his left reached over and withdrew the money, making sure it was all there. While Ezra was concentrating on him, the man to his right threw a punch which knocked Ezra out of the saddle. He landed in a sprawling heap in the dirt near his horse's hooves. He put a hand up to his face to rub his cheek and spat blood where his lip had been split.
"I think we'll take your horse as well, Mister," his attacker said, laughing as he took up the reins of Ezra's horse.
Ezra rose quickly and grabbed the leg of the man nearest him, heaving him over the side of his horse onto the ground. To be left out in the country without a horse meant almost certain death. Even if he stayed on the trail Ezra couldn't guarantee that someone would pass by soon. The man who had been covering Ezra's rear now sprung into action and shot him in the back. The force of the bullet threw Ezra forward against the horse he had just emptied. The horse sidestepped away, startled by the sound of the shot and by the weight of Ezra's body against it. Ezra suddenly found himself without anything to keep him upright and he fell to the ground. He lay still feigning unconsciousness, although that wasn't far from the truth. The unseated rider moved toward him and kicked him in the ribs. Ezra stayed motionless, hoping they would leave him alone so he could take them unawares later. He doubted that he would have enough strength to tackle three at once though.
"Help me get him off the trail, will ya Bart?" The gunman got off his horse and helped his companion to lift Ezra and carry him over to the scrub. Bart noticed a small arroyo not far away.
"Let's put him in there. He won't be found so easily then." Ezra was carried to the top and thrown over. He rolled down the slope coming to rest in some thick undergrowth. A river hadn't run through the area in many years and plants had reclaimed the fertile soil that had been swept into the bottom of the arroyo for themselves, covering the area in dense vegetation. The sides of the arroyo were mostly crumbling soil with few bits of greenery, which would make it difficult for Ezra to escape. Bart clapped his hands together to get rid them of any dirt and then turned away laughing. Ezra listened to their voices fading into the distance until he was left in total silence.
The three men resumed their journey, taking Ezra's horse with them. They arrived in Four Corners later that day.
Buck was walking across the street to the jail when the men arrived. He stopped to let them pass and watched as they dismounted outside the saloon, leaving the horses at the hitching rail. Buck looked at the horse they were leading. It looked familiar, he narrowed his eyes and looked at it in more detail. The riders went into the saloon and Buck changed direction and went over to look at the sorrel. He patted the horse's neck and looked at the saddle. He lifted up the saddle flap and saw what he had expected to find. Ezra had scratched his name into the leather to show ownership. One of the men came back out of the saloon behind him.
"Hey, what are you doing?" he asked angrily.
"I was just admiring the horse. Where d'ya get it?" Buck replied, turning to face him.
"Won it in a poker game."
"Is that right? Well I think you're lying, Mister. See this horse belongs to a friend of mine and he never loses at poker. I think you'd better tell me again. Where did you get that horse?" Buck was getting annoyed. Vin had seen the confrontation and wandered over to help.
"Trouble Bucklin?" he asked.
"I should say so. This hypocrite says he won Ezra's horse in a poker game."
"You sure it's Ezra's?"
"Yeah, his name's under the saddle flap."
Vin walked over and checked for himself. "Well you sure picked the wrong town to come to. Do you wanna rethink your story?"
The man studied his opponents. They knew his victim's name, so they must be friends. He started to panic. "No that's what happened, I swear!"
"You're a damned liar, Mister. Do you think we should tell him Ezra's position in this town Vin?" Bucked asked.
"Yes, it may help loosen his tongue."
"Ezra is a peacekeeper. Now do you want to tell me anything?" Buck said menacingly.
The man's two companions had heard the conversation and could tell their friend was getting anxious and might spill his guts. They couldn't afford for him to do that. They left through the back of the saloon and split up outside. One man appeared at each end of the saloon, so sandwiching Buck and Vin between them. The man saw his friend's arrival and went for his gun, shooting Buck in the shoulder. Vin fired and took two of the men out quickly, while Buck managed to injure the third man. Vin walked toward the only survivor and pulled him into a sitting position. He was none too gentle in doing so and the man cried out in pain.
"Where is our friend?"
"We left him about ten miles back up the trail," the man replied, grimacing as Vin squeezed his arm tightly.
The other peacekeepers alerted by the shooting came running.
"Vin, what's going on?" Chris asked as Nathan went over to see to Buck.
"These men came into town with Ezra's horse. Claimed they won it. They went for their guns when we told them he was a peacekeeper. This one says they left him about ten miles out of town," he said as he nudged the man with his toe.
"Is he okay or did they hurt him?"
"He's dead. Bart shot him in the back and threw him into an arroyo," the injured man replied looking at Chris with fear in his eyes.
The peacekeepers were silent, they hoped the man was mistaken, but they couldn't think that Ezra would have given up his horse without a fight.
"Right let's ride," Chris shouted.
"I need a doctor," the man whimpered.
"Tough, cause he riding with us," Chris said without sympathy. "Josiah take him to the jail while we get the horses, meet us at the livery. Buck you'd better stay behind."
"Find him Chris."
"We will," Chris promised.
Ezra lay at the bottom the slope. He reached round his back and groaned as his hand touched the wound. He lay still again waiting for the pain to subside. The sun rose higher in the sky. The arroyo was a sun trap and Ezra could feel the heat on his legs although the top half of his body was in shade. He pulled himself forwards so he was completely shaded. He lay panting from the effort of moving that small distance and he could feel the sweat running off his body.
God, he didn't want to die alone. He was just coming to accept the companionship of the men he worked with. He knew some of them still didn't entirely trust him. Nathan, for example, rubbed along with him rather than got along. Chris? Well, Ezra was still trying to figure him out. He knew he found it difficult to trust anyone since his family had been killed. Buck though, Ezra liked him. They shared the same wicked sense of humor and had pulled many a trick together on unsuspecting members of the team. Now, what about Vin? The quiet man was an enigma to Ezra, but he was probably the only one though who saw through Ezra's Machiavellian facade to see the goodness that was buried underneath. Vin could size someone up after only the first time of meeting. In that sense he was probably more educated in the ways of the world than Ezra would ever be. Thinking of Vin though reminded him that he still hadn't got the interest owed on the loan to Nettie Wells. Oh well, it probably didn't matter now anyway, he was unlikely to see them again.
He turned his head after seeing something moving. It was a lizard, looking at him from under a bush.
"Good Lord, fancy the only thing to witness my passing being a reptile. What does that say about my life?" He closed his eyes, sighing, unable to remain conscious any longer.
Chris and his men rode quickly for about eight miles and then slowed so Vin could start tracking in earnest. About two miles further down the trail Vin noticed the signs of a scuffle. He dismounted and walked to the other side of the trail.
"This is it. Three horsemen came out of the trees to meet a lone rider. Four horses left but only three were being ridden."
The rest of the men dismounted while Vin studied the scene in more detail.
"They went over this way. Two men carrying something heavy. Ezra, it's Vin, can you hear me?"
The men spread out and walked toward where Vin indicated Ezra had been carried. Josiah spotted a flash of color in the arroyo below.
"Down there," he shouted before starting toward the bottom. The men followed him slipping and sliding on the uneven ground, until they converged on Ezra's body. Nathan knelt and turned him over gently, feeling for a pulse and not expecting to find one. He sighed with relief when he discovered the familiar bump-bump under his finger.
"Nathan?" Chris asked anxiously.
"He's alive." The men let out a collective sigh. Ezra could be a pain in the ass sometimes, but they'd got used to having him around.
"Ezra, can you hear me?" Nathan asked, but he received no answer. JD handed him his bag and Nathan found what he needed and got to work. Josiah helped him bandage the wound when he had finished. Nathan didn't want to attempt to dig the bullet out here. He would wait until they were back in his clinic. Josiah picked Ezra up in his arms and carried him back up the slope. He was careful not to jostle him but getting back up the slope was hard going. Nathan and Chris walked next to him in case he faltered. When they reached the top Josiah passed Ezra to Chris while he mounted his horse and then Ezra was passed up to him.
They started back to town, going slowly. Josiah had Ezra sat sidesaddle in front of him so he could cradle him in one arm while not putting pressure in the wound. Ezra rested with his head against Josiah's shoulder, mumbling softly. He was feverish and Josiah could feel the heat radiating from his body.
When they arrived back in town, Chris dismounted and moved over to take Ezra from Josiah's arms. Nathan hurried on ahead to get the clinic ready for his patient. Vin and JD took the horses along to livery and then went to the saloon. Josiah went in search of Buck to let him know that Ezra had been found. Both he and Buck then returned to the clinic.
Nathan was just getting ready to remove the bullet when they arrived.
"Good, you're here. Josiah can you hold his shoulders while Chris holds his legs. I don't want him moving around too much." Both men moved into position and Nathan started digging out the bullet. He found it fairly eaily. Ezra groaned as he pulled it free from the wound. Chris and Josiah kept a firm grip on his body to stop him hurting himself.
When Nathan had finished, he bandaged Ezra up and put a hand out to feel his brow. He was still very warm. Nathan went and got a bowl of cool water and a cloth and started wiping him down.
"Is he going to be okay Nathan?" Chris asked.
"He's lost quite a bit of blood and has a fever. It didn't help him being out in that heat today either. Least he managed to get in the shade. If we keep him cool, he should be alright."
"Why don't I take over for a bit while you get a drink and something to eat?" Josiah suggested. "I'll come and get you if anything happens."
"I'll stay too," said Buck from where he was sitting in the corner. Nathan had forgotten he was there and turned to look at him.
"I'll check your shoulder first." He found that it was free of infection and should heal properly. The bullet had gone straight through the flesh which had helped. Nathan and Chris then left to go to the saloon. Josiah picked up the cloth and started sponging Ezra down again. He spoke to Ezra in the hope his words would filter through and he would know he was not alone.
"You sure know how to get into strife. We can't let you go off on your own without you getting into trouble, can we?" He kept talking until he felt Ezra stir under his hand. Ezra groaned and opened his eyes, blinking against the lamp light.
"Well hello, Brother. It's good to see you're still with us."
Ezra looked up and Josiah thought if ever he had seen a soul in torment this was it. He knew he should let him rest, but by the look of him he wouldn't be able to with whatever he had got on his mind. Perhaps if he could unburden himself, he could rest peacefully.
"Ezra, you need to talk? You look like you got something on yer mind." Josiah had never seen him look so uncertain. Ezra continued to stare at him, but did not speak. He gave a sigh of contentment and closed his eyes again. Josiah realized that the fact Ezra now knew he was not alone was enough to settle him for the time being.
Ezra woke again the next morning. Nathan was at his bedside and when he moved under the covers Nathan was immediately on his feet putting a hand out to stop Ezra from trying to get up.
"Oh no you don't. Just stay where you are and relax. You're safe now."
"Remind me never to gamble again. Every time I sit down at the poker table it seems that I am gambling with my life," Ezra remarked.
Nathan laughed and said, "I bet you don't keep to that promise."
"How much are you willing to bet?" Ezra said, unaware of the trap Nathan had laid for him.
"You just can't help yourself can you, Ezra? You'd better hand over the money because you broke your promise after only one sentence." Nathan laughed at the look of consternation on Ezra's face.
"Oh, Good God. Are you sure I wasn't shot in the head too? The bet is void due to my not being of sound mind," Ezra said, trying to wheedle out of paying.
"Oh no you're not getting away with it that easily. A bet is a bet."
Josiah came in and Ezra looked over to him and said, "Save me from the cruelty of this healer. He's trying to take money from a wounded man."
Josiah smiled and walked over to the bed. "It's good to see you. How do you feel? Do you want to tell me anything?"
Ezra had hoped he had hidden his emotions behind his poker face, but he obviously hadn't.
"Mr. Sanchez, I wouldn't know where to start," he said sadly. He wasn't one to talk about his innermost feelings at the best of times. Josiah looked over to Nathan and indicated for him to leave him alone with Ezra for a while. Nathan nodded and left.
"You're not usually lost for words. Let me see if I can start you off. I expect you were frightened, lonely and you thought you were going to die out there on your own." Josiah watched as Ezra's expression lightened.
"Tell me Josiah, have you ever considered joining a traveling show as an empath? I take my hat off to you."
Josiah laughed heartily and then waited for Ezra to continue.
"I thought I was going to leave this life with so many things left undone. The only companion I had there was a lizard of all things. Do you think that says something about me?"
"Well, he was probably your spirit guide. If you had died, he would have led you into the next life. That should be of some comfort to you. What exactly happened to you out there?"
Ezra sighed and then thought of something himself. "Never mind that, how come you knew where to find me?"
"Well the three men who stole your horse came into town and Buck saw them and confronted them. Two were killed but one was only injured and he was persuaded to tell us where they had left you."
"I see how very fortunate I was. My spirit guide was indeed looking out for me," he said smiling. "The men were in a poker game with me in Eagle Bend. They were cheating badly, but I let it pass as I was winning anyway. They must have taken exception to losing and ambushed me down the trail. I handed the money over but they decided they wanted my horse too. I was no match for three men as you can probably tell."
Josiah patted Ezra on the shoulder. He could see his strength was waning. "If you need to talk some more, you know where to find me. I'll leave you to sleep."
Josiah walked out onto the balcony. Nathan was stood leaning against the rail looking at the activity in the street below. He turned when Josiah moved to stand next to him.
"Yeah, he'll be fine. Let me know if he needs me again?" Josiah turned and made his way back to the chapel.
Ezra stayed in the clinic for a few more days before Nathan said he could leave. He headed for the saloon immediately and found the rest of his friends sat at their usual table. He sat down gingerly and ordered a large whiskey.
"You sure you should be drinking that?" Chris enquired.
"I need it after being cooped up in that room. I know Nathan means well, but you can't sneeze without his permission and then having him check to see if it did you any harm."
Buck laughed. It was good to see Ezra back in good spirits. He had seemed a bit low when Buck had visited him recently.
"Can I interest any of you in a game of poker?" Ezra asked.
"I thought you'd given up gambling," Nathan said as he took a seat next to Josiah.
Ezra looked over at him in disgust. "I reconsidered my decision since we last discussed it. What else would I do with my life anyway? There's nothing like winning lots of money."
"I can think of one. Not being ambushed and shot by disgruntled opponents," Chris replied laughing.
"That was just a one off. I aim never to let it happen again. I can't overwork my spirit guide or he might just desert me," Ezra said smiling, while he flicked a glance toward Josiah.
The other men were not sure what he was talking about it. It was obviously something between Josiah and Ezra alone. They settled down to an evening of gambling. At least Ezra knew he would be safe playing with his friends. He looked round the table at his companions during the evening and counted his blessings at having met the group of men. Vin caught his eye when Ezra looked in his direction and returned Ezra's smile with a mischievous wink. Vin had a feeling he knew what was going on in Ezra's mind.
As expected by the end of the game Ezra had the largest pile of money. For once there was no complaining by his opponents. They were just glad he was still around to keep them poor.
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