Chapter 2 added 3 June 2007
Chapter 3 added 7 June 2007
Chapter 4 added 9 June 2007
Chapters 5-6 added 12 July 2007
Chapter 7 added 14 July 2007
Chapter 8 added 17 July 2007
Chapter 9 added 23 July 2007
Chapter 10 added 31 July 2007
Chapter 11 added 12 August 2007
Chapter 12 added 19 August 2007
Chapter 13 added 27 August 2007
Chapter 14 added 2 September 2007
Chapter 15 added 9 September 2007
Chapter 16 added 2 March 2008
Chapter 17 added 10 March 2008 - Completed
Summary: Ezra decides that it's time to move on from Four Corners.
Author's Notes: As far as I know, Ridgecliff is just a town that I made up. Any similarities to the town, past or present, is purely unintentional and coincidental. Thanks go to Angela for her help and ideas. Thanks goes to Sivan for her help with one of the plot lines that starts in chapter fourteen. I know that, in reality, it would take a lot longer to get from New Orleans, LA to New Mexico... but I had to keep the story moving along.
Ezra was sitting at his usual table in the saloon, practicing his card shuffling. It was too early in the day for any good competition. But, he hoped, later that night he would be able to play a good game of poker with some worthy opponents.
Hearing footsteps close to him, he cast a quick glance to his right. Nathan was coming close towards him and Ezra noted that he didn't look happy. When Nathan stopped at his table, Ezra didn't even look up as he asked, "Yes, Mister Jackson?"
"I want you to give Mister Woolery his money back," Nathan said through gritted teeth.
Ezra raised an eyebrow as he raised his head to look at Nathan. "Why would I do that?"
Before Nathan could answer, the other five peacekeepers walked over to them. "What's going on?" demanded Chris, noticing the tension between Nathan and Ezra.
"Nothing. Nothing at all, Mister Larabee," replied Ezra.
Chris just turned his head and looked at Nathan, waiting to see what he would say
"This," Nathan began as he pointed his finger at Ezra, "no-good gambler won't give Mister Woolery his money back."
"Good God, I can't even come in for lunch without findin' out that you cheated a man out of his money!" Chris grumbled to Ezra.
Ezra's face remained emotionless but, inside, he couldn't believe that Chris had just jumped to conclusions. Again. Of course, he knew that he had no reason to be surprised. Out of the seven peacekeepers, he was the one that everyone always assumed the worst about. And, he was tired of it. Damn tired.
Ezra gracefully stood up, aware that the eyes of the saloon's other occupants were on him and the other six peacekeepers. "I did not cheat Mister Woolery out of any money. And, I resent the accusation that I did," Ezra calmly stated.
"I don't give a damn about what you resent, just give Mister Woolery his money back, Ezra!"
"Why, you no-good... Mister Woolery was just in my office having his head looked at. He had a nasty gash on it. He told me that he couldn't afford to pay me right now because you took all of his money last night in a poker game!"
"Ezra never takes all of anyone's money. He doesn't need to cheat, Nathan. He's a great player!" J.D. exclaimed.
"Let's just stay out of this, Kid," Buck said.
Looking at Ezra, Josiah said, "Son, why don't you just give--"
Ezra cut Josiah off, "No! I refuse to give back money that I won fair and square. And, for the last time, I'm not your damn son!"
That caught the other six peacekeepers off guard. Ezra would always call Josiah on his 'parental delusions', but never with this much ferocity.
"Ezra, Mister Woolery is a hard-working farmer. He can't afford to lose his money, so give it back," Nathan gritted out.
Vin could see that Ezra was close to losing his temper, and decided to try and intervene. "Nathan, Chris, let's just--"
Before Vin could finish what he was saying, Nathan broke in. "Look, you Southern bastard--"
That was as far as Nathan got before Ezra's right fist connected with Nathan's mouth. Everyone in the saloon, including Ezra's colleagues, stood in shock. Nobody knew quite what to do. Ezra had never hit one of the other peacekeepers before.
Without saying anything, Ezra turned and stormed up the stairs to his room that was above the saloon. J.D. started after him but Chris grabbed his arm, stopping him. "Let the bastard go, J.D."
IN EZRA'S ROOM
After shutting the door, he refused to slam it, he sat down on his feather bed. Shaking his head, he just stared at the hand that had hit Nathan in disbelief. Maude had always taught him not to show emotion. Emotion was just something that people could hold over you. His mother always taught him that appearances were everything. And, he had just hit Nathan in front of everyone in the saloon. 'This will be all over town by tonight,' Ezra thought to himself.
As Nathan's words entered his mind, he jumped up. Angrily pacing, any thoughts of appearances flew out the window. "The hypocritical bastard deserved it," he angrily mumbled to himself. And the others... The others hadn't even defended him. Well, none of them besides J.D. But Buck had told him to not interfere.
Sitting back down on the bed, his green eyes darkened with anger, he made a decision. It was time. Time to leave Four Corners. Time to leave the place that he thought had become his home. 'Ah well, Ezra Standish is nothing if not adaptable,' he thought to himself with anger and sadness.
It was pitch black outside and six of the peacekeepers were sitting in the saloon. They were the only people left. The last of the customers had stumbled out an hour earlier, and Inez had left fifteen minutes earlier.
It had been hours since Ezra had hit Nathan and stormed up to his room. Nobody had seen or heard a sound from him since then. The peacekeepers were worried, even Chris and Nathan even though they refused to show it.
"Look, why don't we just go check on him?" questioned Buck.
Nathan snorted. He still couldn't believe that Ezra had hit him! And, boy, did Ezra pack a wallop. Nathan's top lip was split and his jaw still hurt. Sighing he asked, "Why don't we just wait until the morning? I'm sure he's just up there planning on how to bilk more people outta some money."
J.D. jumped up. "You know what, Nate? I'm sick and tired of you always putting Ezra down. He's a good man, even if you are too blind to see it! He doesn't cheat. He doesn't need to! And I don't care what Mister Woolery told you. Ezra never takes all of anyone's money. He always leaves them somethin' and you know it!
"Now, I'm going upstairs to check on Ezra and I don't care what any of you say about it!" With that J.D. stormed away, leaving one smirking peacekeeper and four shocked peacekeepers.
Vin slowly stood up and followed J.D., saying more with his silence than he could with words.
"Well, come on. We might as well go, too," sighed Chris.
When they reached the upstairs hallway, J.D. was knocking on Ezra's door. "He's not opening," J.D. said looking at Chris.
Chris knocked on the door and growled, "Ezra! Open this damn door!"
After a couple of minutes, Josiah kicked the door, knocking it open. It was empty. "What the...?"
"Where is he?" Buck wondered out loud as he lit an oil lamp, so they would be able to see better.
Right away they all noticed that some of Ezra's possessions were missing. A few of his books, some of his fancy shirts and slacks, and his new plum colored jacket.
"Fellas, here's somethin'," said Vin as he held up a white folded piece of paper.
Chris snatched it out of his hand. Opening it, he read out loud. "Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that it is time to move on from Four Corners. If you want to view this as running out and breaking my promise to you, feel free to do so. I was beginning to think of our fair town as home and you six as friends -- family. But I have come to realize that that is not true.
"I refuse to subject myself to any more slurs of my heritage and remarks about my morals. Feel free to do whatever you see fit with my belongings that I left in my room. I have no need for them. They are just things. Maybe we will all meet up once again. Safe trails. Ezra P. Standish."
Six pairs of shocked eyes looked at each other. "He's gone?" whispered J.D.
"Well, maybe it's for the best," commented Nathan. All the comment did was earn him five glares. He held his hands up in a placating gesture. "I'm just sayin' is all."
"Well, what are we gonna do? We have to go find him and bring him back!" J.D. exclaimed.
"We'll look for him come morning. It's too dark right now," Chris said.
Josiah sighed. "Even if we do find him, there's no guarantee that he'll come back. And we can't make him." After a slight pause, Josiah continued. "I believe that we have hurt him a great deal, Brothers."
"No worse than he hurts them folks that he cheats," Nathan mumbled.
J.D. just shook his head and stormed out of the room. Buck followed. "Kid, wait up!"
"Let's get some sleep, so we'll be ready to head out at first light," said Chris.
TWENTY MINUTES OUTSIDE OF FOUR CORNERS
Ezra sighed as he carefully rode in the dark. He had waited for the darkness on purpose, that way nobody would see him leave after he had snuck out of the back of the saloon.
He was twenty minutes from Ridgecliff, the nearest town that had a train. He wanted to get away from New Mexico territory as quickly as he could. So, that meant taking the train. Well, maybe he would be able to find some gentlemen to play a game of cards with.
As he carefully continued to guide his horse, Royal Flush, to Ridgecliff, he thought about where to go. He had no definite plans. But New Orleans sounded pretty good. With a firm nod of his head, his decision was made. New Orleans, Louisiana it was. With a half smile, half frown, he continued on his way.
THE NEXT MORNING—SUNRISE
The six peacekeepers that were left in Four Corners were up and getting their horses saddled. They were getting ready to head out to track down Ezra.
After they had their horses ready, they were walking them out of the livery when Adrian Woolery walked up to them. "You okay, Mister Woolery? Your head still bothering you?" asked Nathan.
Adrian Woolery sighed and shook his head. "No. Here." Reaching into his pants pocket, Woolery pulled out some money and handed it to Nathan.
"What's this?" asked a confused Nathan.
Woolery looked a little uncomfortable as he explained. "It's for you treatin' me yesterday. I know I told you that Mister Standish cleaned me out, but it wasn't true. In fact it was one of the best games I ever played. Standish is a friendly fella. Anyway, my wife found out about me gamblin' away some of our money and threw a fryin' pan at me, hittin' me in the head."
"Don't worry about losing your money. It wasn't your fault. Ezra cheated ya, I'm sure," said Nathan. The other five peacekeepers turned angry glares on him, as did Woolery.
Adrian Woolery shook his head. "No, sir. I don't believe he did. I don't know why, but I don't feel like he's a cheater. He offers a fair and good game. Anyway, I was gonna use that money," Woolery pointed at the money in Nathan's hand, "to play another game with Mister Standish tonight. But the wife found out about it and put her foot down. Said I needed to pay my bill to you and not gamble. Said she'd take the pan to me again, if I did." Woolery looked a little embarrassed by admitting that.
"But, thanks for takin' care of my head. Good day." With that said, Woolery walked away.
"Hmm, well, what do ya know," Nathan stated.
"See, Ezra didn't cheat. And, he did leave Mister Woolery some money. People play cards with him 'cause they wanna. He doesn't force 'em," said JD.
"Humph," Nathan grunted.
"Nathan, do you want Ezra to come back?" Chris asked.
"Of course," Nathan quickly answered.
"Well, start acting like it. If you don't, he won't come back."
Nathan just stared at Chris for a moment. "Look, I like Ezra okay, but you know how he is. I mean, you get onto him all the time. He can't be trusted. He's a conman and gambler. They're all immoral and cheats."
"I know that I jump onto Ezra a lot, Jackson. And I plan to remedy that. But the Kid's right. He doesn't force people to play with him and they shouldn't if they can't afford to lose. Now, let's go get Ezra." A few minutes later, six men were on their horses and heading out of Four Corners.
ON THE TRAIN
Ezra sighed as he leaned his head against the back of his train seat. He was on his way. 'New Orleans, here I come.' The thought was bittersweet. He loved New Orleans. He had been there when he was twenty and had been wanting to go back. But his going back was because he had left the place he thought was home. And he had left the men that he had started thinking of as friends... brothers.
He shook his head slightly, ridding himself of thoughts about Four Corners and the other six peacekeepers. It was time to start anew, again. And, Ezra Standish was adaptable in almost any situation. Closing his eyes, he let his mind drift to the many gambling halls that New Orleans had.
Twenty minutes after the six peacekeepers had left Four Corners, Vin had spotted tracks leading to a place called Ridgecliff. Vin had had a hunch that Ezra had headed there. Now, they were about to see if that hunch was true. After a few minutes of asking around at the saloon, and finding out nothing, they headed to the motel.
The deskman informed them that Ezra had arrived and had gotten a room for a few hours. But he wasn't there now. "I saw him heading toward the train," he said.
A couple of minutes later, the six peacekeepers were standing in front of the station master. After explaining what Ezra looked like, the station master confirmed that Ezra had been there. "But you missed him. He left on a train headin' to New Orleans an hour ago."
"Damn!" rang out five voices, causing the station master to jump in surprise. Nathan didn't say anything. He was still thinking that it might be for the best if Ezra was gone.
A WEEK LATER
It had been a week since Ezra had left Four Corners. Since the other six peacekeepers had seen him. Chris had sent a telegram to the New Orleans train station, asking that they have Ezra contact him when he arrived. But his pleas had gone unanswered.
They were all six sitting in the saloon, having an early dinner before Nathan and Josiah started their night patrol.
"Well, Cowboy, is one of us goin' after Ez?" Vin asked.
Chris thought for a moment, then nodded. "Guess so. Evidently he's not going to answer the telegram."
"He might of went somewhere else," chimed in Buck.
"Lord, I hope not," said Josiah.
"Well, I don't know about that. But New Orleans is the only lead we have," said Chris. Seeing Nathan roll his eyes, he spoke to him. "Out with it."
"What?" asked Nathan.
"Out with whatever's bothering you, Nathan," Chris demanded.
Nathan sighed. "Fine. I just think that it might be best if we left Ezra alone. He left because he wanted to. I'm sure he's fine and we're fine without him."
"Thought you wanted him to come back," said JD.
Nathan shrugged. "Might be better if he didn't."
"He wouldn't have left iffen it weren't fer us," Vin said in his Texan drawl. "He felt like he wasn't wanted here any more. And the way you treated him about Mister Woolery's money didn't help any, Nate."
Nathan's eyes narrowed. "I was trying to get that farmer's money back! Ezra shouldn't have took it!"
"Why not?" asked JD. "He is a gambler, Nathan. Mister Woolery shouldn't have played if he didn't have the money to lose." With that said, JD stood up and put on his bowler hat. "I'm going to head to the jail."
After JD was gone, Buck looked at Nathan and asked, "Why do you not like Ezra?"
"I like him just fine," replied Nathan.
"Bullshit," said Chris. "You always run him down. Make slurs about his heritage and profession."
Nathan glared at Chris. "I ain't the only one. I seem to recall you jumpin' in with me about Mister Woolery's money."
Chris closed his eyes for a moment, then spoke. "I know and I'm admitting that I was... wrong. But we all need to decide what we're going to tell Ezra when we find him. Decide how we're gonna convince him to come back. To come home."
Vin, Josiah, and Buck nodded in agreement while Nathan stood up and stormed out of the saloon.
"I don't think this is going to be easy, Brother Chris," said Josiah.
"Never said it would be. I think we should all head to New Orleans. We do find him, its gonna take us all to convince him that we need him back."
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Ezra sighed as he sat down on his bed and took off his boots. He had arrived in New Orleans three days after he had boarded the train. That had been four days ago. He had received a telegram when he had gotten off the train. A telegram from Chris.
He looked at the dresser, across the hotel room, where the telegram was. He hadn't answered it and he wasn't planning to remedy that situation. Four Corners and the people there were a part of his past. It was time to look toward the future.
He laid on his back, hands interlaced and behind his head. He had been in the casino, downstairs, and had managed to rake in a tidy sum of one hundred dollars. Now that he had nobody, but himself, to protect it was time that he made his ultimate dream come true. As he closed his eyes, his mind started conjuring pictures of the fanciest and classiest casino that anyone had ever seen.
He was through with dusty and small backwater towns. New Orleans was his home, now.
ANOTHER WEEK LATER--NEW ORLEANS
It had been two weeks since Ezra had left Four Corners. He'd be lying if he said that he didn't miss the other men, even Nathan. But he tried not to think about them or about Four Corners. He had a new life and he was determined to be happy about it.
He entered his hotel room, locking the door behind him. Sitting down on his bed, he pulled his recently won money out of his red jacket pocket. He allowed himself a little smile as he counted it. He'd been having a good run of luck at the tables the past few nights. "Fifty dollars," he mused out loud as he counted the last dollar. 'That puts me up to... two hundred dollars total,' he thought to himself. He let out a little sigh. It wasn't enough for the kind of casino he wanted. Not nearly enough. But, with a few more games, he should have enough. He hoped. 'As long as the cards go my way,' he thought. Giving a firm nod of his head, he got ready for bed.
The next afternoon, Ezra was sitting in his favorite little cafe, eating his lunch, when he heard his name. "Ezra? Ezra Standish?"
Ezra looked to the right and saw a man standing there. A tall man with black hair and warm brown eyes. A man that he hadn't seen in ten years.
Smiling a genuine smile, Ezra said, "Have a seat, Old Friend."
The man smiled as he pulled out the chair across the table from Ezra, and sat down. "Just coffee. Black," he told the waitress a minute later.
"So, it's been a while, Ezra."
Ezra nodded. "That it has, Brad. How have you been?"
A look of sadness entered Brad's eyes. "Alright. I've managed to amass a small fortune. Enough to keep me happy for a while."
"Brad, she wouldn't want you to be alone. We both know that. She'd only want you to be happy."
Brad sighed and nodded. "I am happy. As happy as I can be. I loved her, Ezra, with all of my heart. I can never love anyone as much as I did her."
Ezra nodded, knowing to drop the subject. "So, how did you amass your small fortune?"
"Bounty huntin', actually. I only went after the big names," Brad answered, seeing an unreadable emotion quickly enter and leave Ezra's eyes. "What are you doin' in New Orleans? That last I heard, you were in a town in New Mexico. Bein' a lawman."
A small sad smile graced Ezra's lips. "Yeah. I was. But things didn't work out. Now, I am here trying to win my small fortune. I want to open the classiest grandest casino that anyone has ever set eyes on."
Brad smiled. "Still have that dream? Well, I may be able to help you with that. Provided, of course, that you don't mind a partner."
"Hmmm, what do you have in mind?"
"Well," started Brad, "I can put up half of the money and you put up half. That way, we're equal partners. A casino does sound nice. And, I can hear the clinkin' of coins already."
Laughing, Ezra nodded. "As can I." After a pause, he nodded. "Alright. Give me a couple of days to get a little more money. Okay, Partner?"
Brad took Ezra's offered hand and gave it a shake. "Alright, Partner."
"What if he doesn't want to see us? I mean, he never answered the telegram," inquired a worried JD as the six men rode down the main street of New Orleans.
"Don't worry, Kid. I'm sure he'll wanna see us. I bet he's missin' us as much as we are him," answered Buck. They all ignored Nathan's snort.
"So, where should we start looking first?" questioned Josiah.
"I guess we start with the hotels. I think that we should all stay together. This place is big enough that we'd never find each other again," said Chris.
Reining their horses to a stop, they entered the first hotel that they saw.
TWO HOURS LATER
"Great! Another dead end!" exclaimed Chris. All six men were frustrated. They had spent hours looking for the gambler and hadn't found any leads to him at all.
"Well, let's try the one down the street. If we don't find him there, we'll call it a night," Chris told them.
Walking into the hotel, they had to enter the downstairs casino first. Vin gasped, he couldn't believe it! "Ezra," he whispered loud enough for the other five men to hear. Following Vin's line of sight, they saw Ezra sitting at a table playing cards with three other men.
They quickly made their way over, just as Ezra was sweeping in his winning pot. "Ezra!" exclaimed an excited JD.
Ezra quickly turned to look at them, surprise clearly etched on his face. "What are you doing, Ezra? Cheating some more people out of their hard earned money?" Nathan snidely questioned.
Ezra's face went blank, his poker face in place. Turning back to his three poker comrades, he spoke. "Ignore him, Gentlemen. It is an inside joke. I think I shall be taking my leave now. Goodnight." With a tip of his hat, Ezra was ushering the other six men up the stairs, before the three poker players could say a word.
With each step that Ezra took, the angrier he got. What were these men doing here? Why couldn't they leave him alone to live his life in peace?
After they had entered Ezra's hotel room and the door had been shut, Ezra looked at them. They could all clearly see the anger in Ezra's emerald green eyes. After a minute, he spoke.
"What were you trying to accomplish, Mister Jackson? Getting me tarred and feathered? Or, better yet, killed?"
"What are you talkin' about, Ezra?" asked Nathan.
"That little comment you made downstairs. About me cheating, remember?"
"Now, Ez, I'm sure..." Buck started. He trailed off when Ezra's angry eyes turned to him.
Looking back at Nathan, he said, "I've been having a good run of luck lately. Without sleight of hand. Now, those men are liable to wonder if I have been cheating. Thank you, Mister Jackson."
Nobody said anything for a few minutes. The awkward silence was broken by Ezra. "What are you gentlemen doing here?"
"We came to get you, Ezra. To get you to come back," said JD.
Ezra hated to dash JD's hopes, but he had to. Shaking his head, he spoke. "I fear you gentlemen have wasted a lot of time. I am not returning with you and I have no plans of doing so in the near future."
"Why?" Chris demanded.
"I have a life here. Plus, I will be starting plans to open a casino soon."
"But, son--," started Josiah.
Ezra cut him off. "No, Josiah. I've made up my mind. Now, if you all will excuse me..." Ezra said as he opened the door. After a minute, the six men filed out, one by one.
Vin was the last one out the door. "Please reconsider, Ez."
"Goodnight, Mister Tanner," was all Ezra said before he shut and locked the door.
9:00 THAT NIGHT
Ezra was walking down Main Street when something was sharply jammed into his lower back. He immediately knew what it was. A gun. 'Great. Just great!' he thought.
He was roughly shoved into an alley between two buildings. There was a sliver of light from a gas street lamp, so he was able to make out the features of the three men. They were the same men that he had been playing cards with earlier. 'I knew that Mister Jackson's remark was going to come back and bite me in the ass,' he thought with a silent sigh.
"What can I do for you gentlemen?" he politely asked. He was hoping that he would be able to talk himself out of his current situation, but he had serious doubts.
"Give us back our money, ya no-good cheatin' bastard!" hissed the one with red hair.
"I did not cheat you out of anything. I won that money fair and square. I told you to ignore that gentleman, it was just an inside joke."
The man that had a white beard snorted. "Ya 'spect us to believe that?"
"It's the truth, gentlemen. Now, I'm sure that we can work something out..."
"Yeah," said the man that had a patch over his right eye, "we can. You give us our money back and we might not kill ya."
"Sounds fair to me," said Red-Hair.
Ezra couldn't let them take his money. He hadn't cheated and he wasn't giving the money back! He needed it for the casino. "It does not sound fair to me," he stated.
One-Eye chuckled. "Well, there's only one choice left." With that said, One-Eye hit Ezra in the stomach with his fist. Ezra grunted in pain and doubled over. The next thing Ezra knew, he was on the ground. Kicks and hits were raining down on him. He felt his boots being pulled off, which was where he kept his money, but he was too weak to do anything.
A sharp searing pain was all he felt before he lost the fight and let darkness claim him.
THE NEXT MORNING--6:00
Damon Wilshire, the owner of the Wilshire Goods store, paused before opening the door to his business. He was sure he had heard a faint noise. Walking a few steps, he entered the alley between his business and Chang's Laundry.
About middle ways into the alley, his breath caught in his throat. There was a man, a once well-dressed man, lying on his back. He looked like he had taken one hell of a beating. There was also blood on his lower stomach. Quickly making his way to the man, Damon was sure that he was looking at a dead man.
Kneeling on one knee, Damon reached out a slightly shaking hand. As he was getting ready to put his hand under the man's nose, to see if he was breathing, Damon heard a faint moan. It was coming from the man. The man was alive!
Quickly standing up, he ran across the street to one of the many hotels on Main Street. Rushing up the stairs, he barged into a door marked DOCTOR without even knocking.
"Doc, there's a man that needs your help. Now!" Damon said to the startled doctor, Ian Welsh. Ian was a young-looking man, but he seemed to know how to do his job.
Ian nodded, grabbing his black Doctors' bag, and followed Damon at a run. When they reached the alley and Ian saw the man, he was surprised that he was even still alive. After a few minutes, Damon and Ian noticed that they had attracted an audience. "I need a couple of strong men to help me carry this man over to the hotel."
A few minutes later, Damon, Ian, and two townsmen were carrying the injured man to the hotel that the doctor worked at. There was a small room, in the back of the hotel, that Ian worked out of. The four men laid the injured man on a long rectangular table.
Damon and the two townsmen had to leave and get back to their own jobs. Ian set about examining the man on the table, throwing the man's clothes onto a nearby chair. The man had two broken ribs, bruises all over his face, scratches on his arms and neck, and a serious knife wound to his lower stomach. He was also running a high fever. As the doctor set about trying to fix the knife wound and keeping the man cooled down with wet rags on his body, he shook his head in amazement. 'This man should be dead!' But the man wasn't dead. Not yet, anyway. And, if the doctor had his way, the man wouldn't die. He hated to lose a patient!
Vin walked along Main Street as he thought about what he was going to say to Ezra. The other five peacekeepers had gone to a small cafe to get some breakfast, but Vin had decided that he wanted to try and talk to Ezra alone.
He knew how Ezra felt. When he had been younger, he had been looked down on because of how poor he was. Because he was a white man living with Indians. He had been looked down on for many different reasons. Even now, it happened sometimes.
So, he knew that it hurt Ezra when Nathan, Chris, or any one of them would make a remark about his heritage or his card playing. No matter how much Ezra tried to brush off the comments, Vin knew that they bothered the man. So, he understood Ezra having enough and leaving.
He just hoped he could convince Ezra that they wanted him back. Back in Four Corners. Back working with them. The meeting with Ezra, yesterday, hadn't gone so well. Of course, that little remark Nathan had made when he saw Ezra playing poker hadn't helped at all. Vin scowled just thinking about it.
Every time he thought about Nathan's remark to Ezra, he wound up angry. Nathan should've known better! And, the man didn't even act like he regretted it. Vin shook his head as he reached Ezra's hotel.
Walking inside, he went up to the font desk. He figured he'd let the man behind the desk announce his arrival to Ezra. Vin had no intention of getting shot so early in the morning by a pissed off southerner.
"Can I help you?" the man asked in a patronizing tone.
"Let Ezra Standish know that I'm here to see him."
The man's face immediately turned genuine with concern. "You haven't heard?"
"Haven't heard what?" Vin demanded as his stomach sank. He just knew that he was about to get some bad news.
"Mister Standish was attacked a couple of blocks down the street. He was found about an hour ago and taken to the Main Street Hotel. He's being looked after by Doctor Welsh, from what I heard."
A knot of concern settled in Vin's stomach. Without a word, he turned and fled the hotel. He wanted so much to go and see how Ezra was, but he thought that he'd better let the others know first. Running as fast as he could, he reached Lily's Cafe within a few minutes. Seeing his friends sitting at a table, he rushed over to them and saw that they were just finishing breakfast.
"Guess your meetin' with Ezra didn't go too well, huh?" Nathan said in an I-told-you-so voice.
Vin shot Nathan a glare and growled, "Shut the hell up."
"Vin, what's the matter?" demanded Chris.
"Ez is at the Main Street Hotel a couple of blocks down the street. He was attacked last night. He was found this mornin' and taken there. A Doctor... Welsh is lookin' after him. C'mon, we gotta get over there!"
Without any more prodding, the five men quickly rose from the table and left the cafe.
MAIN STREET HOTEL
The six peacekeepers entered the hotel, going straight to the man behind the front desk. "Where's Doctor Welsh?" Chris demanded.
"He's with a patient right now," answered the man.
"We know. He's working on our friend. Where are they?" Buck asked.
"Down the hallway. First door on the left," the man said with a little fear. He wasn't about to tell these six imposing men that they couldn't go back there!
Chris, Vin, Nathan, Josiah, JD, and Buck hurried to where the doctor was working on Ezra. Josiah opened the door, causing the doctor to quickly lift his head in surprise.
"What is the meanin' of this?" the doctor demanded.
"He's our friend. We wanna know how he is," answered JD in a shaky voice.
The doctor's face softened slightly. "Please wait outside. I'll be out there in a few minutes, as soon as I get done stitchin' him up."
The six men conceded and walked out, closing the door behind them.
"How could this have happened? He was just fine last night!" exclaimed Buck, worry evident in his voice. The other men were all wondering the same thing.
After what seemed like an eternity, but was really only a few minutes, the doctor walked out of the room. "I'm Doctor Ian Welsh," he introduced himself.
Pointing at each man in turn, Josiah introduced them. When the introductions were complete, Josiah asked, "Ezra gonna be alright?"
The doctor sighed. "Mister Standish was attacked sometime last night. A couple of people heard a scuffle, but didn't bother to check. Anyway, he was left outside all night and was found at six this morning. Whoever attacked him did one hell of a job.
"He has some scratches on his neck and arms. His face is covered in bruises and he has a couple of broken ribs. What I'm the most concerned about, though, is his stab wound. He got stabbed in the lower stomach. And he is suffering from a high fever from not being looked at right away."
Doctor Welsh paused for a moment, then said, "Right now, gentlemen, I can't say one way or the other if he will make it. If his fever comes down and the infection doesn't travel all through his blood, he's got a chance."
"Thank you, Doctor," said Nathan who had been quiet up to that point.
"Can I see him?" asked a voice.
The six peacekeepers and the doctor hadn't noticed that another man had joined them, and had been listening to what the doctor said.
The six peacekeepers looked at the man. He was tall, about Josiah's height, had sandy-blond hair and what looked like grayish-green eyes. He looked like someone who knew how to take care of himself, but he also had a softness around the eyes.
"Who are you?" demanded Vin. They had never met this man before. And, here he was, asking about Ezra.
"Brad Kinsington. Ezra's brother-in-law," the man answered the six shocked men.
"What the hell do you mean?" demanded Chris. "Was Ezra married?"
"God, no! Ezra hasn't found the right woman to settle down with, yet. I was married to his... twin sister, Isabella."
Six sets of eyes widened at that. "Twin sister?!" exclaimed Buck. "My God, there's two of them!" he said in a joking tone.
"Wait a minute," said Josiah. "What do you mean, you were married to her?"
Brad sighed and was silent for a moment. "I met Isabella when she was nineteen. Her and Ezra were in Georgia, which is where I'm from. It was love at first sight, on my part anyway." Brad smiled in fond memory. "She could be a real firecracker when she wanted to be.
"Anyway, we married a couple of months later. We were married for eight years. Then, when she was twenty-seven, she fell ill with the flu. It made her extremely weak and she wasn't able to fight it off. She died a week after gettin' sick." All six peacekeepers could tell that he was still deeply affected over his wife's death.
"Was Ezra even upset about it? Did he even try to help his own sister?" Nathan asked snidely.
Brad's eyes turned cold and he growled, "Don't you ever ask me that, again. He loved his sister dearly. They were as close as siblings could be. They were best friends. He was devastated when she died. We both were."
Nathan held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Okay, okay. Didn't mean no offence."
"Seems to be a common thread with ya, don't it," Vin stated quietly.
Trying to change the subject, JD said, "I wonder what happened. Why did someone attack Ezra?"
When Nathan opened his mouth to respond, he was faced with six glares. He wisely snapped his mouth shut.
"I heard some rumors goin' around that it was the three men that he was playin' cards with last night. That they got it into their heads that he had been cheatin'..." Brad trailed off when he saw five pairs of eyes shoot to Nathan.
"What?" he demanded.
Nathan just averted his eyes and stayed silent. "Nate made a comment in front of those men last night. About Ez cheatin'," answered Buck.
Brad's eyes narrowed as he stared at Nathan, his dislike showing in his eyes. "You stupid..."
"Hey!" interrupted an angry Nathan. "I didn't mean for him to get hurt," he defended himself.
"What did you think was goin' to happen?" growled Brad.
"Nathan shrugged, "I didn't think about it."
"I thought we had a talk about that," commented Chris. "How are we going to convince him to go back to Four Corners when you keep stickin' your foot in your mouth?"
"I don't think he wants to go back to Four Corners, gentlemen. He and I have plans to open a casino," said Brad.
Before anything else could be said, Doctor Welsh walked out of the room Ezra was in, and over to them. "Gentlemen, Mister Standish is awake. He's still a little groggy but coherent. You all can see him if you wish. But, do not put any undue stress on him. Understand?"
Seven men nodded in the affirmative, then walked in to see Ezra.
A COUPLE OF HOURS LATER
Brad and Chris walked toward a Bordello at the end of Main Street. After a little while of watching over Ezra, Brad had decided that he needed to do something. So, he had declared that he would be going after the three men that had stolen Ezra's money and left him for dead. Chris had decided to go with him.
It had only taken them a few minutes to find out who the men were and where they would be. It seemed that the three men thought people were afraid of them. And, some were. It also seemed that the three men loved to brag about their misdeeds. And, they had been bragging about the gambler that they thought they had killed.
After reaching the Bordello, they walked in like they owned the place. The Madam walked up to them and asked, "Something I can do for you gentlemen? Looking for a couple of ladies?"
Chris shook his head no, much to the Madam's surprise. "No. We are looking for three men. Watson, Milen, and Hallow. We were told that they are here."
The Madam looked at the two men, seeing the coldness in their eyes. But she prided herself in keeping the clients' privacy. Keeping her voice firm, she replied, "I'm sorry. I can't help you."
"Look, lady, the three men in question robbed a very good friend of ours. Left him for dead. We're going to find them one way or another. We can either do it with your help or without, your choice," hissed Brad.
The Madam looked into Brad's eyes, seeing that he was serious. She had never liked the three men anyway. Decision made, she answered. "Up the stairs. The first three rooms on the left."
Chris and Brad nodded at the woman, then walked up the stairs as they both drew their pistols. Trying the first door, they found it unlocked. Brad threw the door open, catching the man and woman by surprise.
"So, which one are you?" demanded Brad. At the red-headed man's confusion, he clarified. "What's your name?"
After a couple of minutes, the man answered, "Watson."
"You can leave," Chris told the prostitute. The woman hurried past them and out of the room.
"You're coming with us," Brad said.
Grabbing the man's gunbelt off the nightstand, Chris said, "Wouldn't want you getting any ideas."
Within ten minutes, Brad and Chris had all three men gathered in Hallow's room. "So, what are you wanting?" demanded Milen.
"The money you took from our friend would be nice," growled Chris.
"What money? What friend?" asked Hallow.
"The money you took from the gambler that you left for dead," replied Brad.
"Oh... that," smirked Milen.
Before anyone could react, Brad delivered a hard punch to Milen's face. When Watson and Hallow made to move, to go to their friend's aid, Chris shook his head. "I wouldn't do anything if I were you. One wrong move and I might get an itchy trigger finger." Hallow and Watson growled but stayed still.
Brad was holding Milen by his forearms, in a tight grip. "Want to answer the question?"
Milen stayed silent. Brad punched Milen in the stomach. "I can do this all day," hissed Brad.
Milen looked into the man's cold angry eyes and knew that he would kill him, if he didn't get what he wanted. Sighing, he answered, "We spent a little bit of it. The rest of it is in my jacket pocket."
Brad walked over to the wool jacket that was draped across a chair, and started looking in the pockets. A few minutes later, he stuffed the money into his pants pockets. As quick as a rattlesnake, he punched Watson and Hallow in the face, then turned to Chris. "We'd better take them to the sheriff and let him deal with them." Chris agreed. They gave the three men time to put on their pants, over their long johns.
A few minutes later, the three men were in a jail cell, while Chris and Brad made their way back to Ezra.
TWO DAYS LATER
Ezra's fever had finally broken after two days. His brother-in-law and the other six peacekeepers had been by his side the whole time, even though he didn't know they were there. He spent most of his time caught up in his fevered dreams.
The seven men were waiting in the hall when Doctor Welsh finished his examination of Ezra. Walking over to them, the doctor said, "You all may go in, now. His fever is gone. He has no infection and he seems to be healing up nicely."
"Thanks, Doc," said Buck.
A few minutes later, the seven men walked into the room that Ezra was in. He was lying down on the bed, and turned his head toward them when they walked in. "Hello, gentlemen."
"Hey, Ezra," replied Brad. "Doctor Welsh says you should make a full recovery."
"Yes, he told me."
The room was silent for a few minutes, until Nathan cleared his throat. "Uh, listen... Ezra, I'm..."
Ezra interrupted him, by holding up his hand. "I know what you plan to say, Mister Jackson. You wish to inform me of how truly sorry you are about your thoughtless comments in front of those ruffians."
Nathan nodded. "Uh, yeah. How'd you know?"
"Because it is your song and dance Mister Jackson." Ezra sighed, saddened, as he looked at Brad. "Those uncouth ruffians took all of my money. I'm afraid that the casino will take a while longer."
Brad pulled the money out of his pocket. "Chris and I were able to get most of it back. They're in jail. Look, Ezra, just let me bankroll you until we start making a profit. Then, if you must, you can pay me back."
After a moment, Ezra nodded. "Deal," he said as he held out his hand. With a smile, Brad shook it.
"Ezra, we were hoping that you'd be coming back with us," said Josiah.
Ezra shook his head, sadness in his green eyes. "As I've already told Mister Tanner, I will not be returning with you. This is my home, now."
"Tanner?" Brad repeated. Putting two and two together, Brad looked at Vin. "You're Vin Tanner?" he demanded.
Vin hesitantly nodded. Brad straightened his shoulders and said, "You're the one wanted in Tascosa, Texas. For murder."
There was only silence for a couple of minutes, until Brad spoke. "I'll be taking you in."
"No. You're not taking him anywhere," said Chris.
Not taking his eyes off Vin, Brad replied, "Yes, I am. He'll be going back to Tascosa."
"I didn't murder nobody. I was set up and I refuse to hang for somethin' that I didn't do!" exclaimed Vin.
"Your guilt or innocence is for a jury to decide. All I know is that you are worth five hundred dollars."
Ezra decided that he'd better speak up. "Brad, you can't take Mister Tanner in. I firmly believe that he is innocent. He will not receive a fair trial in Tascosa."
Brad sighed. "He's worth five hundred dollars, Ezra. That's a hell of a lot of money."
"I know. Believe me, I know. But reconsider. Please. As a favor to me."
After a few tense moments, Brad sighed and nodded. "Fine. I'll reconsider. For now." Looking at Vin, he said, "If you're really innocent, you should return and clear your name."
Vin nodded. "I've been meanin' to. But I figger nobody's gonna believe me. Especially since Eli, the actual murderer, is dead."
"Well, you should still try. It's better than always bein' a wanted man." Turning to face Ezra, Brad said, "I'm going to leave for a little while. I have a meeting with Mister Thompkins. He's wanting to sell his building and I think it would make a great place for our casino. But, don't worry, I won't make any final decisions until you see the place."
Ezra nodded. "Thanks."
After Brad left, JD spoke up. "I can't believe that you're still staying here, Ez! Nathan apologized. We all have."
"Mister Dunne, there comes a time in every man's life when he must move on. That time has come for me. Besides, it has always been my life-long ambition to own a casino. Now's my chance."
"But, Ezra--" JD continued.
"Save your breath. He's made up his mind," huffed Nathan. JD just shot him a glare.
"Listen, Mister Dunne, I enjoyed my time in Four Corners and with all of you. Mostly, anyway. But... don't feel welcomed there any more."
"You are welcome, Ezra. You're one of us," said Buck.
Ezra gave him a slight smile. "Thanks. I hope you all will be able to understand... one day."
"I already do, Brother Standish," said Josiah with a little sad smile. When Ezra looked into Josiah's eyes, he could see understanding in them.
A WEEK LATER
Ezra had been released and was back in his own hotel room. His bruises had started to fade and his ribs had mostly healed. He was looking quite a bit better. Ezra had seen the building that Brad was wanting to buy from Mister Thompkins and had to agree that it would be perfect for the casino. He could already picture what it would look like and he could hear the money rolling in.
The other six peacekeepers were still in town. Ezra knew that they were still holding out hope that Ezra would return with them to Four Corners. But he had no plans to do that.
There was a knock on his hotel room door. Opening it, he saw Chris. "Come on in, Mister Larabee."
After Chris had entered and the door was shut, Chris got right to the point. "We'll be leaving in the morning. Are you sure that you wanna stay here?"
Ezra nodded, after a slight hesitation. "I'm sure, Mister Larabee. I think that it's for the best. Besides, Brad and I will be becoming casino owners in about a week."
Chris nodded. "Alright. We're happy for you, Ezra. Even Nate." Ezra gave a small snort at that, before trying to act like that noise hadn't been made by him. Chris laughed and was about to say something, when they heard shouting.
"That sounded like Mister Tanner," said Ezra as he and Chris walked over to the open window.
Looking down, they could see Vin being escorted to the jail by two men while the others were held back by gunpoint by three men. Vin struggled the whole way.
"What the hell's goin' on?" Chris wondered.
"Let's get down there post-haste and find out," commented Ezra. While he and Chris hurried down the hotel stairs to the outside, Ezra had to wonder what else could go wrong. He had a bad feeling about what was happening.
Chris and Ezra bypassed the three men holding their friends at gunpoint and headed straight for the jail. Behind them, they could hear the others following. When they reached the jail, they saw Vin shoved into a jail cell.
"What the hell is the meaning of this?" demanded Chris.
The three men behind Chris and Ezra joined their two colleagues, facing off with the six peacekeepers. A tall man with a black mustache answered: "I'm Marshal Dopper and these are my deputies." After he finished speaking, he pulled one side of his brown vest back, showing a silver federal marshal's badge.
"Well, Marshal Dopper, I'm Chris Larabee." Everyone could see the name register with the marshal and his deputies. "And, I'm a peacekeeper in Four Corners, as is Vin. So, what do you think you're doing?"
"My job, Mister Larabee. Vin Tanner is wanted for murder in the state of Texas. We were informed that he was here and I'm taking him back to stand trial."
"By who?" questioned Buck.
"Why? So you can make sure he 'disappears'?" asked the marshal.
"Of course not," growled out Chris.
After a minute the marshal replied, "Ian Welsh. Don't do anything stupid, men. Tanner's going back to Tascosa and that's that."
"He'll hang!" blurted out JD.
"Then so be it," replied Dopper.
"He's innocent!" JD continued to protest.
"If he is, then he'll go free won't he boy?" sneered one of the deputies. JD's face flushed in embarrassment and anger.
"I'm not a boy." The deputy just smirked.
"Look, gentlemen, there's been some kind of a mistake," said Ezra.
"Look, his innocence is for a jury to decide. Not me and sure as hell not any of you." With that the marshal left the jail, two of his deputies following. The other two deputies stayed in the jail, to keep an eye on Vin. Knowing they had been dismissed, and knowing they wouldn't be allowed to talk to Vin, they each walked out of the jail. Before Chris walked out, he caught Vin's eyes, silently communicating that they would figure something out.
Once they were all six outside, they walked a few feet away from the jail before stepping into a side alley so they could talk. "Now what?" sighed Nathan.
"I don't know, but we're going to do something. We can't let them take Vin to Tascosa, especially after what happened last time. He'll never get a fair trial with no proof to back up his word," answered Chris.
"I have an idea," said Ezra. "The only thing is, we'll be breaking the law. So, the question is, how far are you gentlemen willing to go to set Vin free?"
"All the way," Chris automatically answered.
"Aw, hell, this won't be the first time I was on the wrong side of the law," chimed in Buck.
"I'm in," said Josiah.
After a slight hesitation, Nathan nodded. "Me, too."
"Son, you're the sheriff of Four Corners. If you don't want to join us, we'll understand," Josiah said to JD.
"No, I'm in," said a determined JD as he took off his badge and pocketed it. The other five men looked at him with pride in their eyes.
"Alright, I'm going to go and talk to Brad. We will need his help. Meet us in my hotel room in an hour." Without waiting for the others to agree, Ezra walked off.
"Are we just going to trust him?" demanded Nathan.
"Yes, we are, Nathan," Chris said in a voice that was not to be argued with or questioned.
Ezra walked to where Brad was staying. When he reached his brother-in-law's room, he knocked. Even though his sister was dead, he would always consider Brad his brother-in-law and good friend.
A minute later, the door was cracked open. "Come on in," Brad said as he opened the door wider.
Ezra walked in and said, "Brad, I need your help." The next few minutes were spent with Ezra explaining all that had happened that morning to Brad.
"So, what can I do?" asked Brad.
"How do you feel about pulling a con? Haven't lost your touch, have you?"
"Me? Lose my touch? Never!" answered Brad. "I'm always ready for a good con," added a smiling Brad.
Ezra smirked. "Good. Here's what you need to do..."
TWO HOURS LATER
Brad walked into the jail, seeing the marshal and his deputies sitting around. Vin cracked open an eye when he heard the new set of footsteps. Seeing that it was Brad, he gave no indication that he knew the man. Closing his eyes, he struggled to keep his grin from showing on his face. His friends had done it. They had come through.
"Marshal Dopper?" questioned Brad, using a Texan accent.
The marshal stood up and said, "That's me. Who wants to know?"
Instead of giving his actual last name, Brad made one up. "My name is Brad Bodine. I'm a Texas Ranger."
"Got a badge?" demanded the marshal.
"Sure do, Marshal," replied Brad. Peeling back the lapel on his shirt to show an authentic-looking Ranger star, that Brad had had made a couple of years before, he asked, "Satisfied?"
The marshal looked at the star for a couple of minutes, then gave a curt nod. "Looks alright to me. Now, what can I do for you, Ranger?"
"Well, Marshal, I got into town last night and decided to spend a couple of days here. Then, I hear that Vin Tanner was arrested and jailed. I'm here to take him back to Texas."
"He's our catch! We're takin' him back!" scowled one of the deputies.
"Calm down, Ratch," said the marshal. Looking back at Brad, he said, "My deputy is right. We're taking him back. There's five hundred dollars on his head."
Brad nodded. "I know, Marshal Dopper. But he killed that farmer in the state that I swore to protect. I've been looking for him for six years. I'm taking him back and if you have a problem with that, you can telegraph my superiors in Texas. Now, am I taking him or are we going to have to waste each other's time to see who has jurisdiction? Because we know that it's me."
The marshal sighed with a scowl. "Fine, Ranger Bodine. When do you plan on takin' him?"
"Marshal--" started Ratch.
"Quiet, Ratch. The Ranger's right. He has jurisdiction with Tanner."
Ratch sneered in Brad's direction but remained silent. Brad just ignored him and answered Dopper's question. "Well, since it's only noon, I figure to start on my way back to Texas now. With Tanner in tow."
Dopper nodded and said, "Let him go." One of the deputies sighed and did as the marshal commanded. The jail's steel door swung open and the marshal turned to face Vin. "Out ya go, Tanner. Ranger Bodine's here to take ya back to Texas."
Vin slowly stood up and walked out of the cell. Walking over to Brad, he stood in front of him. Brad pulled out a pair of manacles and snapped them around Vin's wrists. He had known when he bought the manacles that they would come in handy! After securing Vin's wrists, Brad nodded at the marshal and his deputies. "Thank you, Marshal." The marshal just gave him a sharp nod.
Brad gripped Vin above his right elbow and led him out of the jailhouse to a horse. A horse that Vin recognized as Peso, his own horse. After the two men were seated on their horses, they turned left and started riding down Main Street.
Inside the jail, Ratch looked at Dopper. "What ya let him go for?!"
Dopper answered, "I haven't. We're going to give them a little head start, then we're all headin' out after 'em." Ratch and the other deputies looked at Dopper and they smiled as it dawned on them what Dopper was saying.
Within an hour, the eight men were on their way out of New Orleans. "I can't believe that Welsh gave you up," groused JD. He was angry on Vin's behalf.
Vin gave a slight shrug. "I guess he was just doing what he thought was best." JD just grunted in reply.
"So, you and Brad are comin' back to Four Corners with us?" Buck ventured to ask Ezra.
"We will be accompanying you most of the way. We thought it would be wise in case there's trouble," Ezra answered.
THE NEXT AFTERNOON
"When are we going to make our move?" Ratch asked Dopper.
Dopper looked at his five men and answered, "In a few minutes. We have to take them before they reach Four Corners. Before they get so close that the gunshots are heard. Now, quit askin' questions and do what the hell I tell ya!" Ratch and the other four men nodded their heads in understanding.
The eight men were about an hour away from Four Corners when Chris stopped his horse, causing the others to rein up as well. "What is it, Brother Chris?" asked Josiah.
Chris looked around the rocky landscape. There was nothing but dirt, rocks, and high rock cliffs. Narrowing his eyes, he answered, "I don't know. I feel like someone's watching us." Just as he said that, a bullet tore through the air right next to his head. "DUCK!" he shouted.
There was nowhere to hide, so all the men could do was try to stay low and fight their way out. Pulling their guns, all eight men started looking for a target to fire at.
Using his spyglass, Vin spotted one of the shooters. "Son of a bitch!" he hissed. "It's that marshal. Dopper," he called out to the other seven men. They were all spread apart, hoping to make less easy targets.
"Shit!" cursed Brad. Another bullet tore threw the air, almost hitting Ezra, but they could still not see Dopper to fire. Vin could see him but he couldn't get a clear shot.
Standing up, Dopper yelled out to them, "THE ONLY ONE WE WANT IS VIN TANNER. SEND HIM TO US AND THE REST OF YOU CAN BE ON YOUR WAY! WHAT DO YOU SAY? DO WE HAVE A DEAL?"
"NO WAY IN HELL!" Chris immediately yelled back. He knew that even if they did give Vin to the man and his deputies, which they wouldn't, that Dopper would not let them go. Even if he was a man of the law. Money, especially five hundred dollars, had a way of changin' a man.
"ALRIGHT, LARABEE. HAVE IT YOUR WAY!" With that said, Dopper and his five men opened fire. The eight men returned it, Vin having the best aim because of his rifle. Vin hit one of Dopper's deputies in the right leg, causing him to fall. Vin, none of them, wanted to kill a marshal or his deputies. They were going to have to figure something out!
Another deputy went down, with shots to his right and left arms, thanks to Brad's amazing aim.
"Oomph!" Chris heard grunted close to him. Turning to look, he saw Vin laying on his side, curled up with his hands clutched to his right side.
"Vin? VIN!" he called as he ran to him, dodging bullets and returning fire.
Another grunt and curse was heard as Brad went down, his gun dropping from his hand and hitting the dusty ground. He fell to the ground, on his stomach, a spot from his upper back bleeding. Ezra ran to his side. "Brad!" Ezra saw Brad's eyes open, but bright with pain. Knowing better than to move his friend, he pressed his left hand to the wound, trying to staunch the blood. He turned his attention back to the gunfight, while feeling Brad's blood leaking through his fingers. The sooner they got this over with, the sooner Brad and Vin would get help. He just hoped that his two friends would make it that long.
"NOW WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO, LARABEE? TWO MEN DOWN! ONLY SIX MORE OF YOU TO GO!" yelled Dopper.
Chris didn't reply. He just gripped his gun so hard that his knuckles turned white and he gritted his teeth in frustration.
"What are we going to do, Chris?" Buck asked softly.
Chris sighed. "What do you think, Nathan?"
Nathan had just crawled his way back from checking on Brad and crouched down beside Chris. "We need to get Vin and Brad into town. I can't do anything for them out here. As it is, I'm not sure I'll be able to do anything for them in town."
"Well," Chris grimly stated, "we have to take down Dopper and his men. No matter what." Buck, JD, Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra were all within hearing distance.
"But they're marshals!" exclaimed JD.
"Brother JD, Vin and Brad need to get back into town if they are to have a chance. Besides, Dopper and his men are trying to kill us, are they not?" JD sighed but nodded.
A bullet whizzed past Buck's head, grazing his cheek. "Son of a..." Buck mumbled as he cocked his pistol, aimed, and fired as accurately as he could.
He was a little surprised when he heard a yelp of pain. He hadn't thought that he was close enough to hit Dopper or any of his men. Josiah picked up Vin's rifle and took aim and shot two men in quick succession. One went down with a shot in his shoulder, another went down with a shot to the knee. Josiah had to give them credit though... he had never heard some of the curse words that was spewing from their mouths.
Sighting and aiming the rifle again, he caught sight of Dopper standing up. Shaking his head at the man's stupidity, he fired. Dopper went down with a cry of outrage and pain as the bullet entered his upper thigh. Josiah saw Dopper raise his weapon and shot him again, this time in his gun arm.
"We must hurry!" he said.
"That was some damn good shootin'," smiled Buck.
"I must concur with Mister Wilmington, Mister Sanchez," commented Ezra.
Quickly, the men worked together and got the two injured men onto their horses, tied down. They hated to move them, in case the bullets moved, but they had no choice. Chris, JD, and Josiah rode in the front, Vin and Brad in between them in case they started to fall. Ezra and Nathan were behind them. As they started riding out, they could hear curses being shouted at them. Bullets were peppering the ground all around them, causing the horses to be startled.
"What if they follow us?" asked JD.
"Hopefully, we'll be too far ahead by then. They were all shot, so that should slow them down. But we need to get to Four Corners, no matter what," replied Chris. The other men nodded their heads in agreement. Silently, they all made a pledge. Vin and Brad were getting to Four Corners, so Nathan would be able to work on them. And, marshals or no marshals, God help Dopper and his men if they tried to get in the determined men's way.
Chapter SixteenThe men rode as fast as they dared with the injured Vin and Brad. They knew that if they traveled too fast, it could end up killing Vin and Brad. They were all thinking the same thing, 'Hurry and get to Four Corners.'
After what seemed like forever, Four Corners came into view. "Finally!" sighed Chris.
After reaching Nathan's clinic, they all quickly dismounted their horses. Buck and Josiah carried Vin inside, while Ezra and JD carried Brad. Brad and Vin were carefully laid on the two cots that were in the room.
"Everyone out so I can tend to them. I'll get you when I'm done," Nathan ordered.
The five men reluctantly walked out onto the porch, shutting the door behind them. A couple of minutes later, shoes could be heard on the stairs.
"What happened? Half the town saw you all riding in here and carrying two men into Nathan's clinic," said Mary when she reached them.
"Vin was hurt," said Josiah.
"Who was the other man?" demanded Mary.
"My brother-in-law, Mrs. Travis," answered Ezra.
"Your what?" gasped Mary.
"Look, Mary, we're not in the mood for a hundred questions. And don't even think about putting any of this into your newspaper," said Chris.
Mary crossed her arms and huffed out a breath. "You have no right to dictate to me what I can and cannot do, Mister Larabee."
"This time I do. You have no idea what happened. So, don't go writing anything without knowing the facts." After a slight pause, he added, "Shouldn't you be getting back to Billy?"
With a scowl, Mary whirled around and left. "Wasn't that a little harsh?" asked JD.
"She just wanted a story, JD. She was hoping to find something to write about. And that's all we need is her stirring up trouble with an article, especially having little to no facts about the situation," Chris answered.
The others had to agree.
Time seemed to be passing by silently. Three hours had passed by without any of the men saying a word.
When the door opened and Nathan stepped out onto the porch, all five men jumped to their feet. "How are they?" asked Buck.
Nathan sighed. "Vin will be all right, as long as he doesn't catch an infection. The bullet passed through without hittin' anything major. He needs to rest for a few days though."
"What about Brad, Mister Jackson?" asked Ezra.
Nathan lowered his head for a moment, before looking Ezra in the eyes. "Ezra... I'm sorry but Brad's not going to make it. The bullet caused damage inside and there's nothin' I can do."
Ezra cleared his throat. "How long?"
"No longer than tomorrow," answered Nathan. After a slight pause, Nathan added, "He's wantin' to see you."
"We'll wait out here until you're done. Then, we'll go in and see Vin," said Chris.
Ezra nodded and walked inside, shutting the door. Seeing that Vin was asleep, he quietly walked to Brad's cot.
Brad slowly opened his eyes and turned his head to look at Ezra. Ezra saw that Brad was pale and sweaty. They were both silent for a few moments.
Then Ezra spoke, "Brad, I'm sorry."
"For... what?" Brad whispered in a hoarse voice.
"For this. If I had never asked for your help, you wouldn't be lying here right now."
Brad shook his head and licked his dry lips. "Don't think... like... that. You're family... I would do it again. I'm sorry... that I won't be able... to help you... with the casino."
"Don't worry about it."
Brad smiled. "I'll get to see... Isabella again."
Ezra saw Brad staring off into space as if he was seeing something. Or someone.
"Isabella," Brad whispered.
Ezra could feel a couple of tears escape his eyes. He grabbed Brad's arm in a warrior's handshake and said, "Tell her hi for me."
With one last shuddering breath, Brad went still. Ezra knew that he was dead. Looking at the wall, he thought that he could see the shimmering shapes of Brad and Isabella, holding hands and smiling. He smiled faintly and whispered, "Be happy."
Wiping his eyes, he stood up. Seeing that Vin was still asleep, he walked over and opened the door. Stepping outside, he spoke to Nathan. "He's gone." With that he walked down the stairs and around the side of the building.
"Y'all go on in and check on Vin. I'll be there in a minute," said Josiah.
After a slight hesitation the other men walked into Nathan's clinic and shut the door. Josiah walked down the stairs and walked around the side of the building. Not seeing Ezra, he stopped and thought for a moment. 'The livery,' he thought.
A few minutes later he was standing inside the livery watching Ezra as the gambler brushed his horse down.
"Yes?" Ezra asked.
"Ezra, are you alright?"
"I'm fine, Mister Sanchez. No need for you to worry yourself."
Josiah sighed. "Ezra, I am worried about you. So are the others. I'm here... we're all here... if you need to talk. We know that you and Brad were close."
Ezra sat the brush down on a wooden stool and turned around to face Josiah. "Yes. Yes we were. He became like a brother to me when he married Isabella."
Josiah nodded. "I understand."
"As soon as Vin's awake, I'll be saying my goodbyes."
Josiah sighed and closed his eyes. After a moment, he re-opened them. "I was hoping that you'd be stayin' here. But if you feel that you must leave...."
Ezra nodded. "I do." With that said, Ezra walked out of the livery.
THREE HOURS LATER
The six peacekeepers were lounging around Nathan's clinic, waiting for the seventh to open his eyes.
"He's wakin' up!" exclaimed JD.
"'Bout time! Tryin' to laze around?" joked Buck.
Vin gave him a weak smile. "How... long?"
"About three and a half hours," answered Nathan.
Vin's blue eyes were still clouded with pain but they were alert. Looking at the other empty bed, he asked, "Brad?"
"He passed, Mister Tanner," replied Ezra.
"Aw, hell, Ez. I'm sorry."
"Things happen." Even though Ezra's voice sounded detached, they could all tell that he was hurting. After a moment, Ezra spoke. "Now that Mister Tanner has awoken, I'll be on my way in the morning."
"What?" demanded Chris.
"I will be heading back to New Orleans."
"But I thought..." started JD.
"We all did, Kid," Buck told JD. Speaking to Ezra, he said, "We all thought that you be stayin' here, now. Here where ya belong."
Ezra shook his head. "It has always been my dream to open my own casino. And, I no longer belong here, Mister Wilmington."
"Quit bein' so dramatic Ezra. I've already apologized," said Nathan.
"I'm not being dramatic, Mister Jackson. I just feel that the time has come to move on. When I took this job, with you all, I never intended to stay as long as I have."
"But it's home! We're family!" exclaimed a distraught JD.
"In all families, Mister Dunne, a time comes when you have to go your own way. My time is now."
"We're gonna miss ya Ez," Vin stated quietly.
Ezra nodded and walked to the door, opening it. Turning around, he took one last look. They could tell that he wanted to say something but, instead, he walked out of the clinic.
The next morning, at dawn, five of the peacekeepers walked outside just in time to see Ezra disappear from sight.
|On to: Promise|
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