Disclaimer: The seven don't belong to me. I'm only saddling them up for a 'ride' or 3 and will return them to MGM, Mirisch and Trilogy when we're done. No copyright infringement intended. Written for fun. No profit made.
Category: General; angst; comfort; friendship
Feedback: Please at firstname.lastname@example.org
Spoilers: Some reference to "Ghosts of the Confederacy", "One Day Out West", "Working Girls", "The Collector, " "Witness", "Chinatown" and "Serpents".
Thoughts are denoted by */ /*
Three riders abreast of one another, rode into the bustling town of Ridge City. Two were acting as escorts to their boss, Federal Judge Orrin Travis. The slim but steely figure of the judge turned his head, smiled at the lean, blond man next to him, then spoke to his other companion. "Ezra, be at the hotel at 10am tomorrow. I want you there for my meeting with the Colbys at 10:30am. Your counsel on the wisdom of investing in the property they wish to sell me will be invaluable." Emerald eyes blinked at him blankly for a minute, then they sparkled with excitement as the gambler respectfully replied "Yes sir." Ezra quirked a smug, dimpled, gold-toothed grin at his fellow lawman. Chris shot him a fondly exasperated look and said "Orrin needed a man whom he could trust to help him with this. When he asked my opinion, I told him you would be the best man for the job. Even though it means you gotta get up early, well early for ya anyone Ez." The blond teased Ezra. The green-eyed man replied dryly, "Droll, Mr. Larabee, very droll." The gunfighter curled his lips up slightly at his friend and continued "This is why the judge wanted you to come along, Ez. He and I both know that you are the expert for figuring such things out ." The russet-haired man sat even taller in the saddle as pride flowed through his veins as the Southerner thought about how much his relationships with the gunslinger and judge had changed over time.
Ezra was also thrilled that Chris was teasing him. He'd only seen the gunslinger do that with Buck and Vin.
He had run out on the blond gunfighter shortly after they had met but Larabee had given the gambler a second chance which Ezra appreciated. At the time they had first met, Judge Travis believed that Ezra was a criminal with no redeeming qualities. The judge even had JD arrest him. Orrin and Chris had been pleasantly startled to discover this was not the case.
After all would a heartless man have stayed in Four Corners after receiving his pardon to protect the town?... Would he teach some of the children, even the Indian children, reading, writing and numbers?... And buy them their books and supplies from his own pocket?...Would he teach one of his fellow lawmen to read and write? Would a criminal have compassion with a Chinese immigrant or step in front of a bullet meant to kill an innocent woman?
No he would not and Ezra had done all these things and more.
The blond, dark-clad man hid the twinkle in his green-gold eyes by pulling down the brim of his hat as Ezra began to pepper the judge with questions concerning the aforementioned property and the Colbys. */Yup, that's my Ezra. Gettin' all the facts then forming a plan. He'll do good. Its pretty hard to 'con' our gambler./* floated through the fair-headed man's mind.
Travis's gray mount, 'Justice' trotted smartly next to the big black with the fancy chestnut on the other side of the dark horse. Justice had liked 'Ares' and 'Chaucer' from the first moment they had been hitched together at a railing in Four Corners. Ares snickered as Chaucer pranced into the livery. Once the three horses were attended to by their owners, their owners headed over to the Ridge City Hotel. The elegant two-story structure sat regally in the middle of Main street between a high-class restaurant and well-built bank. Across the street was the 'Gold Nugget' saloon, the barbershop, the livery and the general store.
Stares followed the distinctive trio across the plush hotel lobby. One green gaze sharpened and narrowed as she tracked their progress to the reception desk. She would have to speak to Ezra at the earliest possible opportunity. His presence could ruin her scheme. The blonde woman's frown of displeasure turned into a gracious smile as a distinguished salt and peppered-haired, trim, middle-aged man descended the stairs next to the reception area.
The male clerk swallowed nervously and stuttered a greeting to the judge. Travis ordered adjoining rooms for the three of them. While handing them, their keys, Orrin invited Chris and Ezra to dinner at the restaurant in two hours. The emerald-orbed man delightedly accepted while the hazel-orbed man responded more sedately. The gunslinger and the gambler then made their way into the saloon. The lean, blond man found a spot at the bar, while his auburn-haired friend strode over to a table where a game of chance was just beginning. Chris settled in his stool, watching Ezra charm his fellow poker players while winning a majority of the hands dealt. Finally, the other players gave up and drifted off, leaving Ezra gathering his winnings. */Lady Luck is being very generous to me today. First, Orrin and Chris told me why I was really assigned this escort duty. And now she let me amass a tidy sum of winnings./*
Chris nursed his second drink of the night throughout his friend's game. Ezra straightened his emerald jacket as he rose and joined his companion. The men shared a celebratory drink then headed back to the hotel. Both men wanted to refresh themselves before dinner. As the jade-eyed man entered the beveled hotel glass door, he was looking down and adjusting his vest so he collided with the elegant older gentlemen coming out of the door, "I profusely apologize for the collision Mr...?" stated Ezra as he clasped the man's shoulder to steady him. "I'm Mr. Cheyenne, and young man, it was partly my fault too, so don't go apologizing. Ezra smiled at the man's straightforwardness as the well dressed man grasped Ezra's forearm in a friendly manner.
Mr. Cheyenne silver eyebrows rose slightly as a blond, black-clad shadow came to stand behind Ezra asking "Everything ok, Ez?" Then said shadow glared at him while the chestnut-haired man answered "Yes, Mr. Larabee everything is all right, Mr. Cheyenne and I just ran into each other at the door."
*/Mr. Larabee? The famous gunslinger Chris Larabee?/* flashed through the railroad magnate's mind as he gazed at the lethal-looking man in front of him; took in Chris's wary stance, the slim hand fingering the gun at his side, the steely but protective glance in Chris's hazel eyes and thought */Yes, its him. Don't ever want to cross him or make enemies of him. It could be a fatal mistake. He takes care of his friends though and that's good./* Mr. Cheyenne nodded politely to Chris as he said "Nice to meet you Mr. Larabee and Mr...?" It was the now the other man's turn to inquire after a name. Ezra responded with a tip of his hat and a handshake, "Ezra P. Standish at your service." The gunslinger behind the gambler snorted at the remark. The chestnut-haired man ignored the blond. The businessman shook Ezra's hand and said "Good to meet you, Ezra but I must be going, my fiancee is waiting for me and I fear she abhors unpunctuality. Ezra nodded in understanding and bid the man adieu. The blond gunfighter moved aside so the distinguished-looking man could leave. Suddenly Ezra spotted a monogrammed, thick billfold lying on the carpet. The green-eyed man bent down to retrieve the wallet and ran back outside. The gambler quickly caught up with Mr. Cheyenne in front of the bank because the banker had stopped the railroad man on the boardwalk before the man could cross the street to the general store where Maude awaited him.
"Sir, you dropped your billfold in the lobby," whispered the younger man to the older man he had met in the hotel. Elegant fingers deftly handed over the wallet and was about to return to the hotel when he felt Mr. Cheyenne's hand squeeze his shoulder.
Cheyenne's baritone boomed "Walk with me Ezra. I want to introduce a fine young man such as yourself to my fiancee. She's always complaining about the manners and morals of young people these days. I'd like to show her that there are still some decent and well-mannered young people around. Ezra inclined his head to the right and locked eyes with Chris. A minute later the gambler ambled over to the general store at the railroad man's side. The gunslinger followed behind them and sat down on an old rickety chair outside the store as the two dapper man entered the general store.
Emerald irises gazed around the interior until they rested upon a familiar blonde woman smoothing an expensive, silk dress. The gambler's body unconsciously stiffened and his face fell into a bland mask as Mr. Cheyenne led him directly to the fair-headed woman.
The older man turned to Maude, exclaiming "Maude I would like you to meet Mr. Ezra P. Standish , a respectable and well-bred young man. " Maude smiled politely and held out the tip of her black-gloved right hand as she would to a stranger. Her auburn-haired son started to raise the hand to his lips and whisper "Mo..." when she dug her fingers tightly into the palm of his hand.
The railroad man spoke again, "Ezra P. Standish this is my fiancee, Maude Stevens." And enlaced Maude's free hand within his own.
The emerald-orbed man nodded and waited mutely for a few moments to see if his mother would acknowledge their relationship; she did not. The blonde tugged her hand out of her son's grasp; turned away from Ezra and pouted up at the man on her other side, "Donald could we possibly add this gorgeous confection to your bill up at the counter?" Donald chuckled dryly as he replied yes.
Ezra muttered an excuse and left the two alone. Pain flickered in emerald eyes and clogged the gambler's throat as he navigated his way outside. */She's trying to marry him and give me another stepfather except that once again, the groom to be doesn't know that the bride to be has a grown-up son. Me. Would he really desert you if he found out about me? And so she denies me again. Why? Mother, why am I never good enough for you? You needed me for your schemes and cons, when I was younger but you really never wanted to spend time getting to know the real me. You left me with relatives or whomever you could find when I wasn't of any use to you./*
Anger roiled through his stomach, momentarily blinding him to the dustpan by the doorframe, so that he stumbled over it and landed against the chair that Chris was sitting in. The blond shot the gambler a puzzled glance that grew wary at Ezra's stone face. "Ezra?" the gunslinger bit out sharply.
"If you'll excuse me Mr. Larabee, I don't feel well. A bit of indigestion. So I fear I will not be able to share a meal with you. Will you tender my apologies to the judge and let him know that I will be better tomorrow for the meeting with the sellers." Chris studied the auburn-haired man in front of him and his own face hardened as he saw the man's distress flare then dim in emerald eyes.
"See ya in the morning, then Ez." replied the blond. The hazel-eyed man knew where he could get answers and he planned on it as soon as the gambler returned to the hotel.
Dinner with the judge would have to wait for a bit.
The moment, Ezra's back retreated behind the hotel door, Chris turned into the general store, ready to blast Mr. Cheyenne to bits, even if it was only verbally. The man had done something to hurt Ezra and Chris didn't like anyone hurting his friends. Stalking into the building, the blond came to a standstill when he saw the blonde woman. "Shit, is that Maude? What the hell is she doing here?" muttered Chris under his breath. The answer coming to him clearly as his sharp eyes saw her hug Mr. Cheyenne and thank him for her beautiful new gown. The spurs of Chris's black boots clinked loudly as he quickly pivoted his way out of the store. Mr. Cheyenne caught the gunfighter leaving the store and wondered about the man's apparent anger but then lost track of the man when Maude kissed him on the cheek.
He wanted a drink in the saloon but duty called and he went to dinner with the judge. Chris wasn't a gambling man like Ezra, but he'd lay odds that Maude had done or said something to upset her son. */God blasted woman is worse than a rattlesnake bite./* thought Chris a couple of hours later as he passed in front of Ezra's closed, dark, hotel room on the way to his own room.
The gambler had divested himself of his jacket, vest, hat and gun belt. He still wore the derringer rig in his shoulder. And cocked it silently as he heard muted steps coming up the hallway.
*/It's always wise to be cautious, especially since the seven regulators of Four Corners have quite a reputation and there have been several attempts at eliminating us. Let's see who's coming up the stairs./* thought Ezra as he slid stealthily off his bed to stand behind the closed door.
The green-eyed man heard the familiar tread of the gunslinger as he went past and smiled tiredly at the memory of Chris's reaction outside the store. It was a temporary respite and he knew that the blond would probe deeper the next time he saw him. Fine-boned fingers holstered the gun then raked through his already tousled auburn hair.
Five minutes later, he heard the soft knock on the door, he rose to open the door and the blonde woman entered gracefully. "Maude or may I now be permitted to address you as Mother?' queried Ezra sarcastically. "Now Ezra, dear I did teach you better manners." chided Maude as she regally sat on the chair next to the bed. The chestnut-haired man sat down on the bed by his mother's side. His emerald eyes serious as he stated, "Mother, What is going on here?" His slim hand, reached out to hold an elegant hand but was batted away as his mother began to explain.
"Donald is a very wealthy railroad magnate from California whom I met a couple of months back. We became engaged three days ago and arrived here yesterday. He's thinking about investing in the railroad down here. He's a widower with no heirs. I had planned to tell him about you darling. You would be the perfect heir for him. It's just that the timing has to be right for Donald to learn about you. Timing is everything, I taught you that. I thought that you could come to St. Louis and..." Her voice trailed off as she saw the sad look in Ezra's eyes.
"No, mother. I will not be a part of your scheme. Mr. Cheyenne seems a decent man. Just tell him the truth. If he truly loves you, it will not matter to him. Just say that you were frightened to tell him but had a change of heart, when you saw me in town."
Maude reproachfully stared at Ezra, as she asked "Tell Donald the truth? Have you lost all of your senses, Ezra? Ezra, what's happened to you? Sometimes I wonder why I even had a child." exclaimed the woman. Then the blonde rose and moved closer to the door. She rested one refined wrist on the doorknob, twisting it slightly as her Southern accent drawled "Ezra, you had such promise as a boy, so cunning, so quick, so good with the con but as you grew up, well..."Maude ruefully shook her head and then exited the room unaware of the lone tear tracking down her son's cheek as he sat immobile on the bed, staring blindly at the closed door.
Chris could not sleep. He tossed and turned on the bed for a few minutes but then got up and paced for a few moments. His gut was tellin' him that trouble was brewing, especially if Maude was in town.
The blond decided he go and see if the saloon was still open. As Chris strode by Ezra's room, he heard Maude's voice berating her son. He stopped then faded back into the shadowy hallway as the fair-headed woman regally stepped out of the room.
Maude had unwittingly left the door to her son's room ajar. The hazel-eyed man whispered a curse then cautiously approached Ezra's room. */Should I peek in or not?/* Asked Chris of himself. When his keen ears heard a stifled sob, he turned away; knowing that Ezra would hate to be seen at such a vulnerable moment. The blond would see him in the morning.
The slim, fair-headed man headed for the saloon, thinking not so nice thoughts about Ezra's mother.
Maude's neck hair prickled as she sat down to breakfast at the restaurant, next morning. She surreptitiously glanced around the room until she found an eagle-eyed hazel gaze fixed upon her. Chris sipped his coffee as he burned the blonde with his look. Donald waved the dark-clad gunfighter over to their table. The lethal man nodded and headed over to say hello. Maude swallowed nervously as Larabee made his way to their table. */How in blazes, did Donald know Larabee? Hell, did that mean Donald knew Ezra too?/* raced through Maude's brain as Chris reached them.
Chris tipped his hat mockingly at the blonde woman, while wishing Mr. Cheyenne a good morning. Donald inquired after Ezra and the blond gunslinger saw Ezra's mother pale as Chris replied, that Ezra had a bit of indigestion but would be down later. Before he could say anything further, Judge Travis joined them at the table.
Orrin had met Donald some months before when their paths had crossed in San Francisco. The judge shook Mr. Cheyenne's hand and then turned his attention to the woman at the table. "Well, Mrs. Standish what a pleasure to see you again. Have you seen your son, Ezra yet? I need his expertise on some investment matters so, he accompanied Chris and me on this trip. He's turned out to be a really good lawman. A fine young man you have for a son. You should be very proud of him, ma am." Orrin noticed the eerie silence as he finished speaking. Travis noted Maude's stillness, Chris's wicked smile and Donald's shocked silence.
Donald's eyes and voice stunned as he queried Maude. "Mrs. Standish? I thought your name was Stevens? Son? Ezra P. Standish is your son? And a lawman?" The blonde woman bowed her head a moment then rose majestically, pulling Donald away from the table, telling him she could explain everything in private.
They excused themselves and left a smirking blond gunfighter and a baffled judge behind. "Mind telling me what that was all about Chris?" asked Travis as he sat down at the abandoned table. He and Chris ordered. The blond man ordered for Ezra as well as himself. Then the blond man marshaled his thoughts to answer the judge. Chris told him what had happened last night, how Ezra and he had met the railroad magnate, the situation at the store the night before and how he suspected that Maude had not told Donald about her son and that he, Chris had been planning to do so when Orrin had shown up and done exactly that. The waiter brought them their order and was then dismissed.
Travis was appalled by Maude's behavior. */How could the woman not acknowledge her son ? Ezra was smart, brave, kind-hearted, witty, etc.../* Orrin's thoughts sharpened on the gambler as he and Chris were greeted with a "Good Morning, Judge, Mr. Larabee." pronounced in a Southern drawl.
Ezra was impeccably dressed in his polished ebony boots, black pants, pristine white shirt , dark silver-gray vest, equally silver cravat, black jacket and hat. Ezra sat down on the opposite side of Travis and Chris.
" Morning, Ezra. Feeling better this morning? Did you see Maude at the store last night?" said Chris then drank some of his coffee. Ezra had just picked up his cup of coffee to take a sip when the hazel-eyed man asked about his mother. The usually steady gambler almost tipped his cup over, as it was a small amount of hot liquid splashed onto the table.
The auburn-haired man nodded and straightened in his chair. Chris and the older lawman sensed Ezra's unease. The judge compassionately queried "You still going to be able to attend the meeting with me this morning Ezra? Or do you have to see to personal matters?" Orrin smiled at Ezra's unruffled reply of "My mother and I greeted each other last night as we crossed paths. She has business to attend to today and so do I sir. " Then the gambler softly added "Unless you do not want my assistance any more." Both Travis and Larabee frowned at the gambler's last words.
Emerald irises looked expectantly into the judge's black ones.
"Nonsense my boy. Of course I want and need your help in this matter. The Colbys could try to bilk me of my money. And I need a sharp brain, plus sharp eyes and ears to catch them if they are trying to swindle me. You are one of the most intelligent and yet sensible men I know Ezra. You've been loyal to the seven, me and Four Corners since you became a lawman. You've defended and protected us when needed. Ezra the children love you. Its good of you to be teaching them in your spare time. I'm honored that you agreed to assist me." stated Travis as he squeezed one of Ezra's shoulders in a fatherly fashion.
The gambler eyes opened wide with shock could only stare mutely at the judge. His thoughts jumping from one thing to another. */Sensible? Loyal? Me? The judge is honored to have me help him? Why couldn't Mother want that? Stop thinking about Maude, Ezra. It'll ruin your concentration for the meeting later./*
Chris eyed both men and inwardly thanked the judge for the encouraging words that Travis had spoken to the gambler. He agreed with them for the most part though one thing had puzzled him. And it seemed that the judge had silenced Ezra for once.
So the blond laughingly asked "Sensible? Judge this is the man that has taken a bullet for Mary, Me and JD. Thought we'd lost him a couple of times there but he's strong and came through. And he got beaten up and almost shot trying to help those Chinese immigrants. He can rile Nathan up pretty bad when the stubborn cuss don't stay off his feet long enough to heal. He's pulled pranks on Buck and Josiah that have me trying to calm them down for days. You call that sensible, Orrin?"
Ezra whipped his head around to gaze at Chris. There had been affection and concern threading through the blond's voice as he made his inquiry of the judge. The older man conceded those points to the gunslinger then explained what he meant by sensible.
"Ezra, I've seen you deal with people. Seen you with the children. You respect all people, you don't talk down to them or belittle them. Even when they are more ignorant than you are. You understand that people are smart in different ways, not necessarily the same way you are. You tolerate them and are patient with them. That's being sensible. I've known many intelligent men that are downright stupid when it comes to dealing with people. They are so arrogant and think they know it all. You are not that way. You are self-confident and sometimes cocky but not to that extreme.
Doesn't mean that you are not dangerous when you, the other six or Four Corners are threatened. And Four Corners has become safer because of you and the other six peacekeepers there." The judge nodded in Chris's direction. The gunslinger tipped his hat in thanks.
Ezra unusually squeaked "You really think so, judge?" Then deepened his drawl to its normal tone as he looked at Chris and said "You were really worried about me when I was injured?"
Chris's long arm reached across the table and strong, callused fingers wrapped around Ezra's forearm, tightening, then relaxing their grip as the blond's hazel eyes gazed intently into questioning emerald eyes. And Chris's husky "We're family, Ez. Of course I was worried about you." had Ezra's eyes misting up.
The cold chill that had invaded the auburn-haired man's heart last night at his mother's words was thawing with the aid of the judge's and Chris's words
The chestnut-haired man's head and heart were swimming with so much emotion so that he almost missed the judge handing over a piece of paper to the leader of the regulators.
The gambler's curiosity was piqued as a wide grin spread over the gunslinger's face as he unfolded and read the paper that Travis had given him.
Before he could inquire about it, Chris spoke "Know your birthday's next week Ez, and the boys and I planned to give you your present then. But I'm glad the judge has it with him today. And we'll get to it but first..."
Chris smiled at the inquisitive, attentive gambler. Then his hazel orbs deepened to dark amber and his voice sobered as he locked gazes with Ezra. "Overheard your ma last night, didn't mean to. Was on the way to the saloon and heard her. Saw her coming out of your room too."
Emerald eyes looked away from hazel ones.
Chris's harsh "Ezra look at me." and his blunt fingers forcing Ezra's chin back towards him made Ezra look at him again. Instead of the repulsion that Ezra expected to see on Chris's face, Ezra saw determination. Determination that the gambler listen to and believe the gunfighter's words. Chris talked softly but loud enough for Ezra and the judge to hear. "Don't know Maude all that well, was kinda busy looking for Billy when she first came to town. But I see how you get all moody and quiet for a while after her visits. I know that the boys and I didn't like how she tricked you about the saloon. There are some women who are not motherly and she's one of them. Ezra, you turned out to be a good man without much help from her. Don't listen to her when she said ya had no promise. The boys, the judge and myself think you've more than fulfilled your promise of becoming a good-hearted man that we are proud to call friend and that's why we wanted to surprise you with this. Think the boys 'll forgive me for giving it to ya early."
Chris then placed the folded paper into the palm of Ezra's outstretched hand. The gambler's heart hammered in his chest as he speculated what the paper could be. The emerald-eyed man's hands trembled slightly as he unfolded it.
The gambler's mouth formed a perfect 'O' as he read. It was a deed, declaring him the main owner of one 'Standish Tavern' in Four Corners, Colorado. There were seven co-owners named on the deed as well. A stunned Ezra sat motionless then blurted out "But how?" His eyes fixed on the two men in front of him as he waited for an explanation. The blond cleared his throat and told him, "You remember when we stopped Guy Royal from harassing the neighboring ranches around Four Corners?" at Ezra's sure nod The gunslinger kept on, "Well old man Timmons gave us that $50.00 bonus, right? Ezra affirmed this with a quiet yes. "Well Orrin needed three hundred dollars for funding a childrens' home but that fell through. We didn't ask you for ya money, cause he only needed the three hundred Ez." Chris forestalled Ez's question.
The judge picked up the narrative with "I took the money with me, not knowing the project wouldn't be built. When I found out I wired the Four Corners and Chris told me to keep the money."
"Mr. Larabee was that wise of you?" interrupted Ezra saucily.
"Wise enough to get you the saloon." Chris retorted lightly.
Ezra flushed as an "Oh." escaped him.
Travis continued, "I invested the money. The money was all tied up in the bank when you first tried to purchase the saloon, so I couldn't give it to the boys then. But I was able to get it out a couple of months ago. The interest on it had accrued nicely. And it was more than sufficient for your mother. She believes my bank is now the official owner of the 'Standish Tavern.'
"The boys and I thought differently. And so we bought it for you. You were cheated out of it once. We weren't going to let it happen it again."
Ezra sat in the restaurant, wiping a tear of happiness off his cheek as Chris and the judge chorused "Happy Birthday, Ezra."
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