(Little Ezra - Old West)
Disclaimer: I don't own them, or the show they rode in on. I wrote this for fun, and no profit is made from it.
Archive: My usual, others please ask.
Summary: Being useful.
Author's Note: Number 18 in the series - this is out of sequence within the series. This story actually occurs within a month or two of Ezra's arrival at Four Corners.
Completed: 23 May 2004
Feedback: email@example.com welcomes comments
Back to: Gone Fishin'
Ezra was determined that he would prepare his new companions and his guardian, keep them all safe. It hadn't taken long for a pattern to emerge in his days. Once he and Mr. Larabee had come to terms with his added presence out at the man's small ranch, what the others called his shack, they had begun coming into town nearly every day.
Part of that time was spent with Mr. Larabee on duty at the jail. Sometimes, if he had to ride patrol, Ezra stayed with one of the others, or with Mrs. Potter. He liked it best when he could stay with Mr. Chris. They didn't really talk, but it was nice just being there with the quiet man. After witnessing attempted bank robberies and a shoot out, Ezra had no fantasies about the jobs or the risks for his six new acquaintances. Worry escalated whenever any of the men were out of town. When the men rode to deal with miscreants, this worry escalated to fear.
So Ezra developed a plan.
When he and Mr. Chris went to the jail, instead of reading a book out in the sunshine at the gunman's side, Ezra began to study the wanted posters that JD had tacked to the posts on the jail's porch. Then he moved inside and studied the ones on the walls within. When he discovered that JD had duplicates and old ones as well as recent posters, all in a helter-skelter jumble, shoved into drawers of the old wooden desk of the jail, then Ezra's agile mind formed his plan.
The first step was to inspect the archive of wanted posters. Then to organize it.
Chris Larabee wasn't sure when Ezra's interest in reading books shifted to reading wanted posters but he'd not said anything, just quietly observed his ward's newest behavior. When they were over at the jail, Ezra now knelt on the plank floor inside, sorting through JD's wanted posters, like it was a game of solitaire. Chris stood in the doorway, watching for a while. Ezra definitely had a method going. Larabee had shrugged and left the boy to his game.
Ezra worked assiduously. Murderers here. Bank robbers there. Train robbers, horse thieves, kidnappers, cattle rustlers. Each had its own stack. Ezra had a stack for those with multiple offenses too. He even ordered them by the amounts of their posted rewards for capture or death. To one side he put the most dangerous ones. Each day, when Chris sat in the shade of the jail's extended porch, Ezra would carefully repeat this routine because he often found the posters resorted or scattered, when someone had tossed through the neatly organized stack, looking for a face.
Chris had a feeling that Ezra had memorized the entire ugly crew of portraits.
Then, for the first time, Ezra spoke at length. The whole Six were eating lunch together in the saloon, Inez having just served Ezra another portion of pie. Ezra often refused to eat, or ate only small nibbles of the normal fare of a meal, but never left pie behind. Chris shook his head in affection at that little tell. Boy has a definite sweet tooth.
Buck had just set his beer mug down and leaned back with a satisfied burp. The others glanced his way in amusement. Ezra, having absorbed the small wedge of peach pie without visible movements, slipped off his chair and book stack (courtesy of Josiah and the church's hymnal collection).
"Mr. Chris?" Ezra was unfailingly polite.
"Ezra?" Chris looked over at the boy, thinking how thin he still looked. Got to get him to eat more besides pie.
"May I be momentarily excused?" Ezra's green eyes were bright with excitement. "I will return immediately, I simply want to retrieve something from the jail."
"Sure. Careful on the street, Ez." Chris didn't think there was need to worry at midday, the street was fairly empty, stage had been and gone, most folk were eating a noontime meal.
Before Inez finished delivering mugs of hot black coffee to the men, the boy had returned, a large roll of paper under one arm.
"What you got there, Ezra?" Nathan asked tipping his head to the side, though he had a pretty good idea.
Ezra set the bundle on his abandoned chair and with careful movements, relocated mugs and empty plates, clearing his area of the table, and more. He looked up into the healer's dark eyes. "I thought it might be helpful to share my work with all of you." Eyes light and serious, the child continued, "Some of these malcontents and malfeasants are extremely dangerous. My Mamon always says you must know your enemies."
No one commented on the reference to a mother, though five sets of eyes flew to the man in black who sat forward with interest, shaking his head at five mute questions. Ezra had made passing references to his mother before, but always closed up if questioned. Chris had learned more by not asking. So, instead, he said, "Ezra, these those wanted posters you were playing with earlier?" He held back his smile, seeing the little face scrunch up in surprised indignation, quickly repressed. Got ya.
"They are the wanted posters. Yes, sir. But," Ezra paused as he lay the bundle on the cleared space of table and let the sheaf unroll, "I was not playing."
JD reached forward to help settle the curling sheets of broadside. "What'd you do with 'em, Ezra?"
The boy looked over at their sheriff with gratitude, then addressed the assembled lawmen once more. "I have sorted and organized these vile men into misdeeds, levels of threat, and importance based upon rewards offered." His deft little fingers ruffled the corners of the pile, as if preparing to shuffle a deck of cards. He lifted his eyes to Chris, then turned to face each of the men in turn, before looking down again at the posters. "You all put yourselves in danger every day. It is best to be prepared. These miscreants should be known by you all, thus protecting you from unnecessary surprise, or potential ambush."
Six men sat back, eying the child in front of them with new respect and interest. Josiah rubbed at his chin, a smile playing at his lips. Nathan's hand rose to scratch at his scalp, his face a picture of surprise. Buck laughed and reached forward to ruffle the boy's neatly combed hair. "Ezra, you're one smart little feller."
Vin, who'd not reacted at first, nodded slowly in agreement and folded his hands across his flat belly, smiling as he raised his eyebrows and stole a glance at his best friend.
Chris Larabee felt something he hadn't really felt much in a long time. Proud. Dammit, I'm proud of this boy. Keeping a straight face, knowing how important dignity and respect were to the child, he pushed his hat back and off his head, then nodded to Ezra. "Sorry I didn't figure out what you were doing." He gestured toward the pile where Ezra's small hands rested. "So, you going to show us what you did?"
Nodding vigorously, Ezra stepped back from the table and quickly removed the stack of large hymnals, setting them on the floor against a table leg. Then he tugged the chair close and clambered up to kneel on it.
The show was impressive. They'd all seen the posters in the past. Sifted through them when they had a dead body to identify. Studied new ones when JD would bring them over to the saloon after the stage left. But having seen them, none of the men, with the possible exception of Dunne, looked again. Seems that the kid figured that out and wanted to change it. Buck, like the others, was leaning forward now as the boy explained how he'd sorted the papers.
With unfeigned interest, the six men watched and listened, as one small serious boy lectured them on the dangerous outlaws represented on those posters, some new and pale, others, tattered, yellowed and creased with age. As Ezra peeled each poster from the pile, putting the finished one on a second stack face down, he reviewed the names, dates, and felonies attributed to the accused suspects, pointed out distinguishing features and characteristics, known associates, and the rewards offered. Each miscreant, as the boy called them, seemed worse than the one before. It didn't take long for the men to realize that this was done on purpose. Ezra was starting with the simple first time criminals. When he revealed the final face, a man wanted for murder, theft, brutalizing of victims, and destruction, all the men were looking sharply at the ugly visage presented and listening closely to the soft, light voice recite the misdeeds.
Their quiet child was silent no more, Josiah mused, lifting his eyes to study the boy who still knelt on a too big chair, arms akimbo as he held down the final broadside. These words, these bad men, they had no place in a child's life. Yet here was their little charge, reciting the ugliness as if chanting a nursery rhyme, yet with a solemnity that augured knowledge of what he described.
Silence. No one spoke for several moments following the child's final words.
Then Chris Larabee pushed away from the table and rose with his regular deadly grace, to stride swiftly around the table to the child's side. "This will help, Ezra." He looked directly into the boy's eyes, making sure that Ezra knew that he was speaking the truth. "We'll remember." The promise made would not be broken. Five other heads nodded in agreement.
Ezra turned to face his guardian as the rest of the men echoed Larabee's promise in their own words, adding praise as well for his completed task. Ezra rested one forearm on the table, tilting his head to look up at Mr. Chris who towered over him. He blinked up at the man, clearly waiting for more of Larabee's words.
"Ezra, JD can take the posters back." Chris decided that something special needed to happen. He knew that Ezra didn't like public displays or undue touch, but dammit the kid deserved to know how much he was coming to mean to the others. How much his actions were showing his caring for the men. Chris smiled down at his boy. "I'm right proud of you, Ezra. Might just have saved a life or two by doing all this." He looked up and around at the others, seeing their warm agreement. He gave his single nod, this time of approval. "Thank you."
Then, he acted. Chris Larabee caught up the boy and easily lifted him to hold him close, hugging the youngster to his chest. The stiff little form gradually relaxed in his arms, small head coming to rest on his shoulder.
Ezra quietly confessed to his protector, "I thought if I was useful, you might want me for a little bit longer." The quiet words were for Larabee's ears alone. Chris closed his eyes, ignoring the sounds of the other men drawing chairs back, murmuring their thanks, clumping away.
Chris had to restrain himself from crushing the boy against him in sorrow and anger. What led a child to feel such a need? To think it might be otherwise. Regretfully, he silently acknowledged that a child, so easily abandoned, would probably feel that way. "Ezra, I'll always want you." He swallowed back curses at a world that had treated this child with such brutal indifference.
"Then I did well?" Ezra's voice was a soft whisper of sound. His small body trembled for a moment, then went still. Waiting.
Chris Larabee held on tight to his little boy and hugged him fiercely. He rubbed his cheek against the soft brown hair. Eyes bright, he answered, "Yeah, real well."
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