Legacy of Fire
NOTES: Thanks to all who read this and helped me with
it. Especially Sue. ;-) Not really beta'd for spelling and such, so any
'discrepancies' are character...
Ezra Standish was bored. Standing behind a rock waiting or the 'bad
guys' to retreat in his direction, was torture. Chris had paired up the
rest of the seven into positions surrounding their quarry. Ezra had been
sent, alone, to cover the trail they had come from.
Ezra had to wonder why it seemed he was always left by himself, guarding
the escape route. He sighed, Chris still didn't seem to trust him. And
deep in his heart, Ezra didn't blame him.
Wasn't he a gambler and a con artist? With no friends or any wish
to have any. Leading the nomadic existance, following nothing and no-one
but his own whims. Then why was Ezra so bothered by this turn of events.
He should be happier by himself. But he wasn't. After his running from
the conflict at the Seminole village, Ezra had expected to be dismissed,
sent away. But Chris had surprised him. Ezra wasn't about to let his
second chance go by. Few were given to the con man and he treasured them.
Ezra gave a loud sigh of boredom, wondering when in God's name was
this going to start. The sooner it started, the sooner it was over, and
the sooner they could go back to town, and the saloon. And a good game
Then the gunfire began, He immediately gripped his rifle tighter,
anticipating the trouble would be rounded up in the clearing below before
anything got to his position.
He was wrong.
In the clearing below, Buck Wilmington was in trouble. The plan had
been a simple one. Surround the cattle thieves and round them up. But
they had underestimated the number in the party and a gunbattle had commenced.
Buck had been paired with JD, and the two of them were pinned down behind
a large rock, each taking turns firing at their opponets.
A shot ricoched off of the rock, scored his cheek.
"Damn it!" he hissed.
`"You okay Buck?" JD looked over and saw the blood on his friends
face. Immediately bacoming worried.
"Just fine, kid." Buck snarled, firing his gun at the nearest attacker,
felling him with a shot to the chest. "It's be nice if these varmits
would just give it up, quiet like for once!"
JD silently agreed, then noticed something odd. "Buck?"
"Yeah kid?" Buck looked around for another target.
"Is it just me, " JD sounded puzzled. "or are there lots fewer out
Buck was about to reply that it was JD's imagination, when he noticed
most of the men sneaking off towards the trail. "Looks like they might
be trying to run."
"Who's on the trail? Ezra again?" JD tried to go after the retreating
figures, but a shot near his head forced him back under cover.
"Get your head down fool!" Buck yelled, grabbing the younger man's
arm, yanking him closer.
"What do we do? They're heading towards Ezra, and he's all alone!"
JD was worried for the sly conman, there were way too many than he could
"Chris!" Buck yelled out in his loudest voice. "They're runnin' towards
"Can you stop them?" Chris' voice sounded strained, and a shot told
Buck where he was. He and Vin were on the opposite side of the clearing.
"No!" Buck yelled back, searching for Nathan and Josiah. "We're pinned
"Nathan?" Chris bellowed, fury in his voice. "Josiah? Can you stop
"We're a little busy right now!" Gunshots perforated the air. It sounded
like Nathan was out of breath. "We need some cover!"
"Buck, you and JD do your best to clear the path, Vin and I will work
our way to the horses." Chris shouted, and then immediately heard Buck
and JD lay covering fire for Josiah and Nathan. Chris hoped Ezra had
the sense to duck!
Ezra cursed as several men rushed out of the bushes behind him, guns
drawn. Hiding behing a large rock at the edge of the clearing afforded
him a measure of protection, as he fired off the first shots fom his
gun, he knew they would eventually over-run him. He got off several unanswered
shots, dropping over half of his assailiants before they could find him
and fire back. Ezra was forced from behind the boulder and into the treeline
for cover. Dodging bullets that followed him, he darted from tree to
tree, snapping off shots. His pistols both clicked empty and he resorted
back to his rifle, he only had a little time, but he was keeping them
at bey. Just a few more minutes and the others would be here to help.
Then his luck ran out. A horse came barrelling out of the bushes right
at him, Ezra dived out of the way, but was hit by the large animal right
on his shoulder, sending him spinning to the groud, quite a distance
from when he had been hit, into the open clearing.
Ezra stifled a cry of pure agony as something in his shoulder popped.
He hit the ground and groaned struggling to get up. He was a sitting
duck lying on the ground. A ominous 'click' of a gun's hammer right by
his head made him stiffen. He was going to die. Nobody had come to help
"Don't kill him." A voice called out. "He'll make a great hostage
to get Larabee off our necks. Besides we can kill him later if we want
"I hate to disappoint you, gentlemen, but I might not be the hostage
you so deeply desire." Ezra panted, having trouble drawing breath.
"Shut up, pretty boy!" The man with the gun shoved his injured right
side and Ezra nearly fainted from the pain. His right arm hung at his
side at an odd angle, useless for anything. Sleeve gun trapped on it.
Ezra almost grinned at the irony, it was just like the Seminole village,
his shoulder was... What was the word Nathan had used? Dislocated. He
was stripped of his remaining guns, all except the derringer. They figure
he couldn't use the arm.. what would be hiding there? After he was searched,
the leader turned to him. "Get on your horse!"
One of the thieves had retrieved his chestnut from where he was tied
to a tree, and Ezra was forced to mount after his hands were tied in
front of him, another agonizing proceedure for the trapped gambler.
Then they rode away, hoofbeats disappearing fast in the dusk's light.
By the time all remaining rustlers down below had been subdued or
killed, Chris and Vin had finally made it to Ezra's post, only to find
no on there. Five bodies lay on the ground, dead. "Ezra!" Chris shouted
into the silence that greeted him, hoping Ezra was hiding, waiting for
an 'all clear'.
"His horse is gone." Vin reported from the treeline.
"Damn him!" Chris muttered
"We don't know he went willingly." Vin's voice was tight.
"Why's that?" Chris walked over to where Vin was now squatting.
Vin pointed to the ground. "Someone came down mighty hard right here,
then struggled to get up over there. Looks like whomever it was was,
was thrown quite a bit. Landed pretty bad too."
"Ezra?" Chris looked up as Buck, JD, Nathan and Josiah joined them,
two injured prisoners in tow.
"That would be my guess." Vin stod up ad looked at the tracks once
"Where's Ezra?" JD asked, looking around the clearing.
"Gone." Chris said "Either he's following them, or they have him,
or he ran. Vin, which way did they go?"
"Towards Eagle Bend." Vin looked at Chris. "And they have a good head
start on us and it's comin' to dark."
Chris came to a decision. "JD, you and Nathan take the prisoners back
to Four Corners. Josiah, you and Buck are with Vin and me. If we aren't
back in a day JD, come lookin'"
"Right Chris." JD didn't question the man in black, just did what
he was told. Knowing Chris had his reasons for doing things like he did.
JD rounded up the horses and they started back to town, calling 'good
luck' when the others thundered after Ezra and the rest of the thieves.
Ezra had a bad night. His captors decided to continue riding long
after dark in order to evade pursuit. Ezra had clung to his horse in
dogged determination, hoping he could last until help came. Then Ezra
thought of his one personal nightmare. What if no one ever cared enough
about him to come? Chris surely didn't trust him. The kid, JD seemed
to, but he was often overruled by the others. Buck sought after Ezra's
company in the saloon, but nothing more, Of Josiah and Vin... he simply
didn't know. But Nathan Jackson, Ezra did know. They had little, if any
common ground. Ezra sighed, wondering for the millionth time why it even
Nobody had ever cared about him, and nobody ever would. So why were
these six men's good opinion so important to him? Redemption? The feeling
he got from being a part of something larger than himself? He just didn't
What Ezra did know was that his time was running out. Soon they would
make camp and he needed to escape quickly. He figured if nothing else
,Chris would be riding after the theives, and Ezra didn't want him getting
cought coming up unawares.
It was just dark. No moon yet showed above lending an eerie quaity
to the night. Almost surreal, Ezra mused, twisting his hands, wriggling
free of the ropes that bound him. Soon he would have them loose enough
to slip off at any time. Then he could escape and warn the others. That
is, of course, if they didn't decide to kill him first.
Ezra toook note of each man left and their visible weapons. Four men
remained of the ten that had rushed him this night. Ezra vaguely wodered
if any had been taken alive back at the ambush site. Each man had at
least two guns, the leader had his two and Ezra's Remingtons and rifle
as well. They had not found his sleeve gun, for what good that was. The
whole right arm was useles, shooting pain running through him if he moved
it at all. Wriggling out of his bonds was agony, but one he knew he had
to endure. Or die.
"Make camp." The grizzled leader called out. "No fires yet."
Ezra thought he looked like the quintisential cattle thief from out
of one of JD's books. Grizzled, thin, tall, with his beard ragged and
a scar runing down his left cheek. His dirty, matted black hair ran strait
past his shoulders, like Vin's, but it was unkept, and lay in a tangled
The others in the band looked just as poor, but not so hardened. Ezra
thought they had too tough a time getting real work and fell into thievery
to get by. Thats generally how it all started. Some died, getting caught.
Some reformed. And then there were the ones who liked it... This leader
was one of those.
"Get off the horse, fancy man." One of the men said, then thinking
better of it, reached out and yanked the gambler off of his horse, dumping
him on the muddy ground. The rest of the crew laughed as Ezra hissed
in pain, lying in the mud.
"Not so fancy lookin' now, are ya!" Another of the men taunted, derision
in his voice.
"Quiet Peters." The leader strode up to Ezra and cruelly yanked him
to his feet. "Tell me, fancy man, what will Larabee do? Wait until light
to come fer ya? Or press on?"
Ezra considered his options. He could try to con this man into believing
Chris wouldn't come at all, or he could tell him the truth.. giving the
man nightmares, or he could just not say anything, biding his time. Ezra
took option 3. And it got him a fist to his ribs. Ezra doubbled over
and would have fallen if not for being held up. This man was strong,
Ezra could never hope to break away from him.
"I asked you a question." Ezra was hauled up until he was face to
face. "And you had better answer before I lose my patience and let my
boys have at ya."
The men watching grinned, itching to get their hands on one who had
killed their friends.
Ezra grimaced as the mans breath wafted into his face. Personal hygine
was NOT on this ones list of priorities.
"Hit 'im again, Jed!" One of the others, not Peters, called out. "Might
jar his memory loose!"
"Or his teeth!" Another hooted, this was Peters.
"Well, Mason, " Jed grinned. "Why hit him, when a much better idea
has come to mind."
"And what would theat be?" The fourth, unnamed man spoke up.
"We wait for his friends to show... " Jed smiled evily and Ezra knew
he was in trouble. "And then we kill 'im!"
JD and Nathan rode into Four Corners, prisoners in tow. Both men were
tired, but they both knew they would get little sleep tonite. Throwing
the two surviving rustlers into the cells, JD slammed the door shut and
locked it up. Then he just stood there, at a loss for what to do.
"What's wrong JD?" Nathan's soft voice intruded on his confusion.
JD shrugged, knowing his thoughts would not be echoed by the colored
"Worried about Ezra?" Nathan guessed from the boy's expression he
was right on the mark. "Well if I know one thing to admire about him,
is the fact he knows how to look out for himself."
JD grimaced. It was true though. Ezra had been on his own for longer
than most, but it didn't help that JD felt apprehensive. He just had
a feeling Ezra was in big trouble.
Nathan put a hand on JD's shoulder. "Chris will find him."
"Yeah right, Nathan." JD snorted, his feelings of anger and helplesness
getting the better of him. "Chris don't care one little bit about Ezra,
he's just after them cattle thieves!"
"Now JD, " Nathan tried to calm his young friend. His own feelings
towards the southern man ambivalent at best.
"And we should be out there with them!" JD looked ready to bolt out
of the office and back onto his horse.
"Now JD, " Nathan said more sternly. "It's dark and the horses are
tired, with all that we would either blunder into a trap and get Ezra
killed, or miss them entirely and not be here when Chris needs us."
JD scowled , but relented. Nathan was right. He didn't have to like
it, but he was right. And he really, really wanted to be helping Chris
rather than stuck here at home, nursemaiding the prisoners.
"What say you we get some dinner and some sleep and ride out just
before first light?" Nathan grinned, knowing what the younger man's response
would be. He wasn't disappointed and the two headed for the restaurant
for some hot food and drink.
Vin tracked the fleeing party until the sun was down and it grew to
dark to go further. It was apparent to the tracker that the group they
were following was going to keep going until they had thought to build
up a lead on their persuers. Vin grimaced as the last rays of light faded.
Did he dare go further? HE knew he risked losing the trail at night,
but if the rustlers did indeed have Ezra as their prisoner, did he dare
NOT to keep going.
"We keep going." Chris' voice solved Vin's internal dilemna for him.
With a slow grin, Vin shook his head at Chris's obvious reading of
his mind. Buck also gave a small answering smile, but one tinged with
a hint of sadness. Once Buck and Chris shared this unique communication,
now it ws Vin and Chris. Buck never held anything against Vin for it,
instead the tall gunslinger had once told Vin privately he was glad Chris
was communicating at all with anyone. Now there was hope.
"They are headed north now. Probably didn't think we'd get this far
before the light gave out." Vin dismounted and walked the trail he was
following. It was clear and unobstructed. "It'll be slow going, but I
can follow this all night if we have to."
Josiah looked up into the black as pitch sky, the moon was just rising
and it was almost full. "Nature seems to be in our favor tonite, Brother
Vin. Our Lady the Moon smiles kindly from above."
"Just prey it keeps smiling." Vin muttered, knowing Ezra's life might
be hanging in the balance.
"Amen" Chris whispered, hearing Vin's almost silent remark.
Chris was good and mad and he knew his irrational fury at Ezra was
probably unfounded. The man could have left or let them down quite a
few times since the Seminole village, but had stayed. Chris still just
didn't trust the man. He was a liar and a cheat by profession, so he
knew Ezra eventually would someday revert to type. But for now, Ezra
was one of them. And he looked to be in deep trouble. In the back of
his mind , Chris secretly hoped the Southern man was meerly following
the band of thieves, not among them.
For his part, Buck kept scanning the area around them. With Vin concentrating
on the trail and Chris more likely brooding about the events, he figured
a quick peek around would be a good idea. They knew there were five horses
they were chasing, one of them was Ezra, but he didn't know if they had
any friends lying in ambush for them. Buck didn't relish another gunfight,
his cheek still smarted from the cut he recieved earlier in the night.
He hoped Ezra was doing alright, the apparent scuffle back at the clearing
didn't bode well for the gambler. Buck just hoped they found him, alive
and well. If they didn't get him back in one piece, there would be hell
Ezra lay propped against a rock. The thieves had rifled through his
packs, taking his jacket, bedroll, and all available food and water.
Ezra was curiously not hungry, but some water would be nice. As it was
they were paying very little attention to their prisoner after throwing
him into the rock and telling him to 'stay put..or else'. Ezra used that
time to ease his battered hands and wrists through the loops of rope
that held them. He was losing alot of skin, but he was getting progress.
He just had to bide his time.
One of the men looked over at Ezra, who was the farthest from the
group huddled togather for warmth in the chilly night air. He spoke to
his companions, and then laughed. Answering laughs echoed in the night
"Having fun by yourself, fancy man?" Peters spoke, and pulled Ezra's
long coat around his bony shoulders. "Like your taste in cloths... too
bad you won't need this anymore."
"I say when he dies, I get his boots!" The unnamed man said, walking
over to their prisoner. "And his fancy watch!"
"Why don't you just take them now?" Jed, the leader smirked. "Not
like he's going to be needing them anymore. And boys, it's late enough,
lets start a fire. I doubt those chasing us will go any further tonite."
Peters and Mason headed off to gather the plentiful firewood as Ezra
was helpless to prevent his boots from being pulled off and his person
searched. Ezra groaned as the man pulled out his pocket watch and put
it in his shirt, then his silver and turquoise ring off his right hand..
Then Ezra's last remaining luck ran out.
"Hey!" The man said surprised. "He's got money hidden up his boot!"
"How much?" Jed said, coming quickly over to look for himself. The
other two came quickly back also, dragging dead logs and twigs for the
fire. Jed snached the money roll away from his man. "Get the fire going
so we can tell how much we've got!"
Soon a fire was roaring, large and hot, for which a severly shivering
Ezra was grateful. Without boots and a jacket, the icy wind had stripped
him of body heat quickly. Jed and the others were counting the money
by the fire and getting more excited as the bills were counted.
Ezra worked the ropes and looked towards the horses. All were saddled
in case of a need for a quick escape, so Ezra knew all he had to do was
get to his horse and ride towards Four Corners.. and safety.
"Four Hundred doolars!" Crowed the unnamed man lifting it above his
head and shaking his fists. "We could buy ourdelves a ranch for this!"
"Don't drop the money into the fire!" Jed screeched and grabbed it
away from his man. "Then he tied it back into it's neat roll and brandished
it in his mans face. "And what makes you think your going to see any
of this money anyway?"
"Hey!" The man protested, "We were all in on the kill, we should split
the money. Besides I found it, it should be mine!"
"Like HELL!" Peters shouted and jumped him
Ezra watched in facination as a fight erupted over the money. Peters
and the unnamed man punching each other and rolling round on the ground.
The money roll fell and landed near Ezra by the fire.
The the unexpected happened. Peters threw the smaller man away from
him, and the unnamed man landed face first in the fire. His clothes were
quickly was alight in flame, the man screamed as he began to burn.
Ezra watched in horror as the others simply LAUGHED as the man wriethed
on the ground, consumed by the fire, screaming in agony. Ezra's belly
threatened to empty itself of it's contents as the smell assaulted him.
He had to get away! Quickly shedding the ropes from his bloody wrists,
he grabbed the money roll and sprinted towards the horses. He untied
his mount and was almost in the saddle when they noticed him.
Despite the pain in his arm, Ezra shot out the derringer and shot
the screaming man in the head, ending his torment, and causing the others
to duck in reaction. Ezra used the distraction to urge his horse desperately
away and into an all out gallop for home. Running into the darkness,
Ezra clung to the saddle and tried to ignore the pain in his arm re-awakened
by using it to shoot. He rode on, not daring to stop, or look where he
was going. Trusting his horse to find it's way in the night.
Vin got lucky, he hadn't lost the trail all night, and up ahead the
faint red/orange hue of a fire could be seen. Silently Vin signaled for
a halt and Chris reined up next to him.
"Fire up ahead, could be their camp." Vin whispered. Chris nodded
and dismounted. Josiah and Buck doing the same.
"Whats up?" Buck whispered after tethering his horse and creeping
up to Vin's position.
"Fire up ahead, could be them." Vin whispered back, noticing Josiah
had drawn his guns out. "Can't see anyone 'round it though."
"Buck, you and Vin head for the far side." Chris instructed quietly,
his face an unreadable mask. "Josiah you go for the right, I'll head
in from here. You see Ezra, you protect him, don't get cute, get the
The others nodded, if it got messy for Ezra, the rustlers would be
dead in seconds. Vin and Buck silently crept towards the back of the
small encampment. It was Buck who saw the body first and swore in a soft,
"What?" Vin whispered back, he was just about to say the camp was
empty, the horses were gone and he could see where they left in a hurry.
"Body..." was all Buck could manage, so he pointed.
Vin made a decision and strode into the clearing and up to the dwindling
fire. The body was burned badly, the face charred and unrecognizable.
Whomever it was had been burned alive. Although he had seen many horrible
things in his life, nothing quite compared to this. Vin swallowed, and
Chris stode up to him and examined the body dispassionately. But Vin
saw the tell-tale clenching of his jaw as proof the sight still affected
even Chris Larabee. Buck had joind them by the fire, then he noticed
something that made the blood drain from his face.
"Buck?" Josiah asked, concerned, "What is it?"
"Boots..." Buck said,his voice wavering. "Those are..."
Chris swore , noticing the body was wearing very distinctive custom
boots. Ezra's boots. Further examination revealed the glint of a silver
pocketwatch, slightly melted on the figures chest. Also a silver blob
where the right hand used to be.
"No." Vin whispered. It couldn't be! The body was about the right
size, but for some reason, Vin was sure this wasn't Ezra. "It ain't him."
"What makes you say that?" Chris asked, turning his steely gaze to
"I just know." Vin looked around. "Horses are gone in a hurry, and
the tracks lead back the way we came, just up the mountain more. They're
headed for Four Corners."
Buck looked over his shuolder. "Is there any way to tell for sure?"
Josiah sighed and looked up at Buck from where he had been kneeling
by the body, praying. "His tooth?"
None of them wanted to look the figure in the face, dreading what
they would see. Finally Chris steeled himself and looked.
"Tooth is gone." Chris noticed Buck turn away, they had probably taken
the tooth for it's gold. Chris became enveloped by a sudden rage. He
would kill every last one of those responsible for this. No one killed
one of his and lived. "Wrap up the body, we bring it back with us. Vin
you sure those tracks are headed back."
"Positive." Vin said. "We might be able to head them off by taking
the ridge route."
"Lets do it." Chris's voice promised death for all those in his way.
And the three other men nodded agreement. While almost certain that the
body they would be hauling back to town was their friends, even if it
wasn't, no one deserved to die like that. They would pay.
Ezra pushed his horse until he was sure it couldn't carry him much
longer. Deep in his heart he hated to run an animal more than it could
bear, but he HAD to escape. He was close enough to Four Corners for the
horse to know his way home, and Ezra made a decision. The Wells ranch
was only a half-mile away and he had to lead them off that trail. Slowing
his horse to a gentle stop he painfully dismounted onto a treestump,
so as not to cause tracks, and tied the reins to his saddlehorn and smacked
it on the rump. The horse gratifyingly took off , headed strait for home.
Ezra concealed himself in the bushes and waited until his pursuers passed
him, then got up and walked towards the Wells homestead.
It seemed to Ezra the short trek lasted forever, bootless, every rock
and twig seemed to lodge painfully in his feet, and the night had seemed
to turn even more chilly. Ezra felt his body slowly going numb, and soon
he began to stumble often. His only thought became to get to the house,
he had to get to the house. Focusing on the growing shape of the windmill,
he plunged on ahead. He tripped over a fallen brance, landing painfully
on his side. He had to keep going.
Suddenly he was there, the barn a welcome shape in the darkness, and
the moon illuminated the path to the house. Marshalling the last of his
reserves, Ezra staggered to the porch, somewhere a dog barked, and he
vaguely heard a comotion form inside. He had made it. He could rest now.
Ezra dropped to his knees, shivering uncontrollably. The front door opened
and a rifle was pointed in his direction.
"Who are you and what do you want here!" An irate older womans voice
pierced the night silence. Ezra knew from experience, this woman was
not to be trifled with.
Ezra opened his mouth to tell her who he was, but no sound came out,
instead he leaned against the porch railing and slumped until he was
sitting. His eyes began to droop shut. This was not going well, he was
going to get shot for tresspassing before he could ever explain who he
"I said, state your business!" The woman sounded exaserated, then
the voice softened as Ezra lifted his head and tried to focus on her
face. "Mr. Standish? Is that you?"
Ezra tried to nod, but the exaustion he had kept at bay for the long
walk here, finally won out, and he slipped into the beckoning darkness.
Chris Larabee rode ahead of the rest of his men. He didn't want to
believe that the body burned beyond recognition was Ezra. He lost Sarah
and Adam to a fire.. now was he to loose one of his men to it as well?
It was like a sick joke was being played on him. But Chris wasn't laughing.
Inside he was raging. If it turned out the body WAS Ezra's he would search
to the ends of the earth and do to Ezra's murderers what was done to
He could still smell the smoke, although they were halfway home. Buck
had rolled the body into a couple of blankets and Josiah had laid it
reverently behind Vin's saddle and tied it there. No one spoke a word,
and Chris knew they were as much lost in thought as he.
This was all getting a little too close to home for the gunslinger.
He hadn't liked Ezra very much at first, but the man had turned around
and become more trustworthy. Honestly, Chris had expected the gambler
to leave as soon as he could, but the man had surprised him. Chris had
begun to trust him a little. And now it was very possible he was dead.
Buck reined his horse next to Chris'. The normally smiling face was
tense in fury and uncertainty. "What do we tell the others?"
"The truth." Chris didn't want to think what JD's reaction might be.
"But we don't KNOW the truth!" Buck fairly shouted. "We don't know
spit. This could be Ezra, or it could be some poor slob who took his
"Either way Ezra's dead , Buck. You think he'd stand for his boots
and possessions being on someone else?" Chris heard the bitterness and
anger in his own voice.
Buck didn't answer for awhile. "I just can't believe this is his body
, Chris.... Something tells me he's still alive."
"I hope to God your right, Buck." Chris whispered. Then he paused
before continuing in a tight voice. "We come into town quietly, tonite.
I don't want this out in the open yet."
Josiah and Vin, having overheard the conversation nodded with Buck
and the group traveled on in silence. Chris returning to his tormented
thoughts of fire and death.... and revenge.
JD woke fuzzily, something was not right. He listened to the night
sounds outside his window and heard nothing. Then, the faint sounds of
horses coming into town pervaded the normal night sounds. JD looked out
his window. It was Chris, Buck, Josiah and Vin! Jumping out of bed he
hurriedly dressed himself and stumbled out the door.
Nathan came running from his clinic, meeting JD in the road. Both
took in the grim looks and the body wrapped in the blanket and slowed
to a stunned walk.
"No." JD whispered, meeting Buck's eyes. Nothing in the normally re-assuring
face gave him hope.
"Is it..." Nathan gulped as he took in what parts of the body he could
"We don't know." Josiah answered, his voice unusually soft, his eyes
sad. "Could be though."
"No." JD said a little louder, not wanting to believe it could even
be possible. He had just made plans with the card sharp. Next trip to
Ridge City they were going book hunting. It couldn't be!
Buck noticed the stricken look on the boy's face and grimaced. He
didn't need this burden! Especially if they weren't sure! He reached
out and touched JD's shoulder for comfort. The kid just shook it off,
shaking his head disbelievingly. He glanced up at Vin who wore a controlled
expression, eyes narowed in determination. Buck wondered what he was
From somewhere nearby a horse whinnied. It sounded familier, JD spun
towards the road into town, a disbelieving look on his face.
"That sounded like Ezra's horse!" He took of running. The others following
him to the livery corral.
Running in out of the night was a familier chestnut horse. Sides lathered,
nostrils flaring, blowing hard. Obviously almost done in. But what they
all noticed first was that the saddle was empty. No Ezra. JD reached
out a trembling hand and cought hold of the bridle. Soothing the horse
with quiet, soft touches, he wordlessly headed to the barn to take care
of the exausted animal. Chris noticed there was no blood on the saddle,
and it somewhat relieved him. But the absence of the gambler gnawed at
him. Was the body they had Ezras? It was looking more like it was with
every passing second.
Vin frowned, something was odd about the whole thing. He followed
JD into the barn, leaving the others to handle the body, a growing feeling
of dread springing up around him. Then he saw it. The reins! They were
tied neatly around the saddlehorn! Whomever was riding the horse didn't
fall or get shot off of him, they let him go! Maybe Ezra was hiding somewhere,
waiting for the heat to die down, or maybe he was too badly hurt and
had to hole up somewhere. Vin ran for his horse, and before anyone could
stop him or follow, he galloped off into the night, following the path
the horse had just come in on.
Ezra floated in and out of touch with reality. He was barely aware
when he was lifted and half carried-half drug into the house and laid
on a bed. He never felt his socks being cut off his feet, nor his mud
soaked vest and shirt being taken off. All he was aware of was the ache
in his right side and arm, wrists and left foot. He heard voices, talking
in hushed whispers, one young and concerned, one practical and controlled.
Unaccounably, he felt better. He was warming up, no longer shivering
uncontrollably, and he was safe. He felt himmself drift towards consciousness.
Then someone touched his injured arm.
With a cry of surprise, his eyes flew open, startling Casey into a
small squeek. Nettie Wells looked into the wide, disoriented green eyes
and removed his hand from her wrist gently.
"Now Mr. Standish." She said in her typical no-nonesense tone "Your
arm needs tending to, and I'm going to have to do it. So relax and lie
Ezra stared into her eyes, and then nodded, tying to speak around
a dry mouth. "Thank you." He finally rasped out. Caughing dryly.
"Relax Mr. Standish. This might hurt a little." Nettie began to grip
his wounded arm.
"This is recompense for my earlier unfortunate remark about your age,
isn't it." Ezra tried to joke. Remembering with shame how he had called
her a 'withered crone'.
"Hush, Mr. Standish." Nettie silenced him, but he caught a glimmer
of a smile and he relaxed. At that moment of relaxation she yanked as
expertly as Nathan had at the indian village and put his arm back where
Ezra stifled a cry as the new pain of moving the arm gave way to a
burning sensation. Then the arm began to tingle and he could move the
fingers without pain. "You enjoyed that."
"Yes." Nettie smiled at the man, she had seen his ashamed look as
he had mentioned his unkind remarks. Maybe he wasn't such a waste after
all. "I did."
Ezra meerly managed a small smile, and closed his eyes. He was so
Casey watched the by-play with astonishment. She knew her Aunt had
little use for the overdressed conman, but it seemed he was making an
effort to be nice, and she was responding.
"Is there anything more I can do?" Casey watched as Ezra fell back
into an exausted sleep.
"We still need to bandage his wrists, looks like he ripped them apart
trying to escape something. And that nasty cut on his ankle needs binding
too." Nettie frowned, what had happened to this man? Besides the list
of injuries, he was bruised and scraped all over. She particulrly didn't
like the huge discoloration on his back, from his right shoulderblade
down to his mid-chest. "Boil some more water for bandages and bring me
what alcohol you can find."
Casey huried out of the room to do as she was bid. She knew JD liked
the gambler, but she never understood it. But he couldn't be all bad
if he was with the other six. She remembered her own shock as the face
of their 'intruder' turned up to them. Casey had never seen so much pain
and bewilderment on a grown man's face before. It had scared her.
She had helped Aunt Nettie lift and carry him into the house. Deciding
to put him in her bed. She winced as she saw the blood on his wrists,
and winced even more when she noticed the ankle that was trailing blood
all over the floor. It would be a chore to clean it up.
Aunt Nettie had sent her to heat some water, and bring blankets. She
said Mr. Standish was too cold, and needed to be warmed up as fast as
possible. By the time she had gotten back with the blankets, her Aunt
had stripped him of his socks, shirt, vest and shoulder holster, and
was frowning at his injuries.
Casey had been afraid right then. If this had happened to Mr. Standish,
was JD alright? Or was he lying somewhere injured. Casy had watched as
Aunt Nettie straitened the gamblers arm, him waking up briefly for it,
then he was out again. And no mention of JD or the others!
It was still way too early in the morning for her to ride into town,
and Mr. Standish still needed her help. But if Casey could have, she
would have lit out of there as soon as she could saddle her horse and
She finished with the bandages, which were from an old sheet, and
carried them towards her room. Aunt Nettie was sitting next to the gambler
cleaning the mud off of his face with a wet rag. Casey knew by the frown
on her aunts face, that she was wondering what had happened to the man.
"You think JD and the others are alright?" Casey whispered, trying
not to wake the injured man.
"I don't know Casey." Nettie never lied to her, even when she wished
she would have. "But as soon as it's lihgt you ride into town and see
if you can find him and the others. Maybe Mr. Larabee could shed some
light on what happened."
"Well, remember two days ago Mr. Vin told us there were some cattle
thieves in the area and to keep a look out. You think it might have been
them?" Casey started pulling the bandages out of the basin one by one
for her Aunt as she slowly and carefully bound the injured areas.
"You might be right." Nettie grimaced as she bound the ankle wound.
It was bad, the cut ran from the ankle bone down to the arch and was
deep. Good thing he was out when it was cleaned or it could have gotten
messy. It needed stitching, but Nettie wasn't about to try it. It would
have to wait for Mr.Jackson to do.
Nettie had also been disturbed by the mans tossing and turning, like
he was trying to escape from something so terrible, it wouldn't let him
rest. She bandaged the bloody wrists and hands and with the rest of the
bandages cleaned whatever mud remained on him. Then she bound his ribs,
which she thought might be craked and wound his injured arm into a sling.
It was done.
Through it all she and Casey had worked silently, each in their own
way worried and wondering what had happened and if the others were alright.
Vin rode until he reached the crossroads where the trail he had seen
the tracks set on to me the trail into town. An uneasy feeling went through
him as he noticed where the two met. The trail to Nettie Well's ranch
and those in her valley led from here too. Was Ezra trying to lead them
away from there by setting his horse free? And had he gone there for
It was an hour till dawn and Vin decided to wait for the light and
see what the tracks told him, a voice in his head telling him now was
not the time to guess. Lives depended on it!
Vin shook his head, wondering where this insistance that Ezra was
still alive came from, and hoping that his instincts were correct this
time. A man shouldn't die like the man they had found. And Vin was certain
that if it WAS Ezra who was dead, whomever had done it would pay, dearly.
He settled down to wait for sunrise on the very stump Ezra had dismounted
his horse a scant few hours ago.
Jed and the remaining two members of his men whohad been
with him on the ill-fated thieft attempt, stopped chasing the horse of
their captive as it made it into town. It was then he realized the horse
"Damn!" Cursed Peters, "Horse ain't got no rider. He ditched us!"
Then the running of the six men halted their progress into town. They
watched from the shadows as the horse ws led into the livery by three,
and two minutes later one went running out, jumped on his horse and made
right for them.
"Into the trees!" Jed whispered, and they quickly moved to obey.
They watched as Vin rode past at a furious gallop, not seeing them
in the dark.
"Wonder what he's after?" Mason grunted, scowling after Vin's retreating
"Probably after our fancy former prisoner." Peters snapped. "If they
find him our faces are all over wanted posters, we'll all be dead men!"
The two men glared at each other, the frustration of losing half their
number and losing the $400, making them edgy.
"Cool it, you two." Jed stared thoughtfully at the retreating figure.
"Mason, follow the tracker, see where he heads to and report to this
spot no later than 10:00 tomorrow mornin'. Peters, you ride into town,
they don't know you. Find out all you can in there about the man and
don't forget to scout out how we can break the other two free or kill
'em. Can't have them talkin' neither."
"What are you going to do?" Peters asked, Mason already leaving to
follow Vin. "Going to get the rest of the boys?"
Jed nodded. "I was wrong to only bring half of us along, but now we'll
send these lawmen a message not to mess with us again!"
"Meet you here by 10:00?" Peters shot a glance at his leader, smiling.
"Don't be late!" Jed grinned maliciously. "First we kill the fancy
man, then we kill his friends. Then this territory is ours!"
Back in Four Corners, none of the others were getting any sleep. The
body had been stashed away and no one the wiser. The other five had gone
to the saloon, each lost in thought over Vins abrupt departure and their
fears over their missing comrades fate.
JD especially was hit hard. He had never figured on Ezra dying, for
some reason neither had anyone else. It seemed unreal in some way. Buck
had helped JD walk out and groom Ezras horse and put it away, then they
joined the others in the sloon, but nobody said a word to each other
the whole time. For some reason, no one could bring themselves to think
of the body at the undertakers as Ezra. It just didn't seem right.
Josiah sat back in his chair and observed his surroundings. Ezra gone?
It just wasn't sitting quite right. If it was true it would be so strange
never to see Ezra playing poker at his table, smiling till his gold tooth
showed. Never hear his fancy, if always usually sarcastic, phrases. Never
have his gun and self at your back protecting you. Never get annoyed
with him when he's pulled another con. Never...... Never was an ugly
word, and when it applied to death, it was even uglier. It was light
extinguished, it was a man gone. As in forever. And that was a true tragedy
no one wanted to face up to. Josiah bowed his head and prayed that the
man he had learned to admire and call brother was still alive.
It appeared to the ex-preacher that none of them were going to get
much sleep until something happened, so he stood. Instantly everyones
eyes snapped to him.
"I think I am going to call it a night. I want to be fresh for tomorrows
activities." Josiah said quietly into the silence. "Good night, Brothers."
"He has a good idea." Nathan followed the lead Josiah was setting.
"We should be ready for anything."
Chris nodded but didn't move. JD reluctantly got up and made for the
door, slipping silently out of the saloon. Buck looked rebellious, but
stifled a yawn, and shaking his head, rose and headed for the door too.
Josiah sighed in relief that his suggestion seemed to have set things
in motion and walked slowly off to find his bed.
Chris stayed where he was.
First light bought Casey almost running out the door. She had waited
long enough to go and get the answeres to her questions. Was JD alright,
and Mr. Vin and the others. Now she would find out.
Mr. Standish had no woken up all night long, and she and Aunt Nettie
had fallen asleep a couple of hours ago. To her knowledge, her Aunt was
still asleep, as was Mr. Standish.
Saddling her horse quickly, she pulled on his bridle and she was off
into the morning.
Nettie Wells watched her niece from the window, silently wishing her
a safe journey, and hoping she hadn't sent the child into danger. Togather
they had watched Mr. Standish for any signs of infection or illness,
but all he did was toss and turn in his sleep, mumbling incoherently.
The only word they did make out was 'fire' and the way he said it made
chills go down Netties spine. Yes, something had either happened to him,
or he had seen something utterly horrible, and it wasn't letting him
"Good Lord." A gravelly voice from the bed behind her intruded on
her musings. "where...."
Nettie turned around to look into slightly confused green eyes. "You
made it to my doorway, young man. Don't you remember?"
Ezra studied her intently for a moment and then nodded. "You... set
"Yes I did. Casey just went to town for your friends." Nettie fixed
him with a stare. "Are they going to be there and in one piece?"
"Well, I don't know about them being there." Ezra frowned, trying
to clear the fog from around his brain in order to think clearer. "But
they should be well."
Nettie let out the breath she had been unconsciously holding. She
was afraid that the others would be in worse shape than the gambler.
She liked Vin Tanner immensly, and the others had always been curteous,
but Casey had liked the young sherrif JD right from the git go. Nettie
didn't want her riding in to see his body.
"What happened to you , son?" Nettie sat down in the chair next to
his bed. She noted the swift look of almost-pain as she called him son.
Like it was something he wasn't used to hearing in such a soft tone.
"I would rather not regale you with my tale of horror, Ms. Wells."
Ezra closed off his expression, snapping shut his emotions from prying
eyes like he had been tought by his mother to do since he was five.
Nettie saw the wall go up and decided she had enough of it. "You had
better tell someone, Mr. Standish. And it might as well be the one who
undressed you last night."
Ezra stared at her in utter astonishment and embarassment. Then he
saw the faint trace of a smile at ther lips and realized her ruse was
to get him to let his guard down. Finally he broke down and gave her
a grin of his own. "You are very good as misdirection, Ms. Wells, you
ever think of taking up gambling as a hobby?"
"I prefer the truth , Mr. Standish. But I also believe in getting
what is needed done." Nettie leaned forward. "Whatever happened, hurt
you rarm, tore up your wrists, cut your ankle so deep Mr. Jackson is
going to have to stitch it, and you are plumb black and blue from head
to toe. Now I want to know how this happened without a scratch being
laid on the others, if what you told me is true."
"I got caught away from my esteemed colleagues and ended up in the
path of a very large equine who was intent on using me for a doormat."
Ezra sighed, wondering just what the others were doing righ tnow. "That
unfortunately left me at the mercy of our former prey."
"So they ran you over with a horse and took ya prisoner." Nettie summed
up the gamblers story. "The boys didn't go after you? I would have thought
Mr. Larabee was more loyal to his men than that."
"I'm sure they did follow us." Ezra shifted in the bed, suddenly feeling
restless. "But certain circunstances forced me to facilitate my own emancipation
with much haste."
"Is that where the fire comes in?" Nettie walked over to the pitcher
of water and poured some into a glass. She didn't miss Ezras start at
the mention of the fire.
"Indeed." Came the soft reply. Ezra gratefull accepted the water and
downed it thirstily.
Nettie noticed her patient was getting stronger, instead of weaker
as he remained awake. She sighed in relief. As long as Mr. Jackson got
here in good time, it was likely Ezra would recover from his injuries
quickly. His eyes kept a slight haunted look as she took the glass back
"Well, you feel like brerakfast young man?" Nettie looked out the
window. She was bound to have company later.
"I would gratefully consume any edibles you might care to make, my
good woman." Ezra forced a grin, his stomach grumbling at the mere thought
"From 'witheres crone' to 'good woman', should I be flattered?" Nettie
said, slightly amused at his attempt to sweet talk her.
Ezra sat up in the bed and grinned. His body had numerous aches and
pains, he actulally felt rather terrible, but for some reason, he also
felt safe. He settled in to wait for the others, hoping his words were
true and they were all in good health.
Vin Tanner followed the tracks of footprints towards the Wells ranch.
They had to be Ezra's, and for that Vin felt a tremor of relief. But
since coming upon the blood where Ezra had cut himself when he apparently
stumbled, Vin grew concerned. the tracks meandered as they went on, the
person who had made them obviously getting weaker and weaker, but determinedly
moving onward. Admirable.
The tracks had led him away from the main trail and he had heard the
hoofbeats of someone heading into town at a good clip. But he couldn't
tell who it was. Finally, he got to the Wells'. The bloody footprints
went right up to the porch, where Vin hesitated before knocking on the
"Do come in Mr. Tanner." Nettie Wells voice floated out to him from
As Vin opened the door, the smells of breakfast assaulted him and
his stomach growled in reaction. Vin stepped inside, and looked into
the kitchen. And stared in utter shock at the scene befor e him.
Mason followed the tracker until he was sure of where he was going.
It was tough not to get spotted by the sharp-eyed man, but Mason had
experience too. Once he was sure that the homestead the bloody tracks
led to was the Wells, he reversed his course and raced for the rendezvous
point. He'd be the first one there, but his news would be worth it. They
could easily get rid of their problems in one shot. With the Tracker
dead as well, it would be a bonus. And hell, they could even take the
old womans cows to make up for the ones they lost. Profit all-round.
He made his way back to the crossroads and erased any sign of his
passing and any other tracks towards the Wells. Now no one would follow
them that way. Then he set about laying a false trail back to their campsite,
in case someone was truely interested. After that he headed out to meet
Casey rode into town two hours after she started out. She was glad
to see Buck Wilmington and JD outside the sherrif's office, like normal.
From the expressions on their faces, something looked to be terribly
wrong. She rode up to them and dismounted, noting the surprised looks
on their faces.
"Hey Casey." JD smiled at her, boy she looked pretty, even covered
in dust. "What brings you into town?"
"Aunt Nettie and me had a visitor last night." Casey began, she immediately
noticed Buck's intent frown.
"Really, who?" JD looked back at Buck, not even daring to hope.
"One of your friends, Mr. Standish..." Casey was interrupted by Buck's
"CHRIS!" Buck shouted, then he turned back to Casey. "Is he alright?"
"He was hurt kinda bad....." SHe saw JD's face fall, and Buck's murderous
expression and hastilly tried to reassure them. "but Aunt Nettie says
he'll be fine with some rest."
"Who will be fine?" Chris Larabee walked up in the middle of the sentence,
Josiah and Nathan with him.
"It's Ezra , Chris!" JD turned, smiling. "Casey here says he showed
up at their place last night!"
Chris turned his intense gaze onto Casey who squirmed under it's intensity.
Then the gaze softened. "He's alive then?"
Casey just nodded. Then she saw the relieved grins on the others faces.
"Aunt Nettie says he'll be fine, but he needs some stitching, so I came
to get you Mr. Jackson."
"Is it real bad?" Nathan was already carrying his saddlebags with
a small kit in it.
"No." Casey shook her head. "It's on his ankle, it's deep and long,
but not too bad. Aunt Nettie cleaned and bandaged it already."
"Is he hurt anywhere else?" Nathan looked through his supplies in
his pack, he had enough for the stitching and some bandaging, but not
for anything tricky.
"Cuts on his wrists, he's got bruises all over, and scrapes too. His
shoulder was all funny, but Aunt Nettie fixed it." Casey tried to remember
everything, but there was alot of small things, the ankle was the worst.
"Oh, and he was real tired and cold when we found him. He didn't have
no boots on."
"We should bring him a change of clothes, Chris." Josiah looked towards
Ezra's room. "And boots."
Chris nodded. "You and JD go get that. Nathan, make sure you have
everything you need. Casey? Did you see Vin on your way out here?"
Casey shook her head. "NO, but I wasn't really paying attention to
the road... I was....."
Buck smiled at her. "You were wantin' to get here."
"Umm.. Yes Sir." Casey blushed.
Un noticed by the relieved group, a shadow detached itself from the
wall around the corner and headed towards a horse. The rider soon left
town to meet with his fellows and deliver the news. They had best kill
the man who could identify them and fast.
Vin couldn't help himself, he started laughing. The scene that greeted
him was astonishingly out of place, and it just struck Vin funny. Ezra
was sitting up in a chair, a bloodly bandaged leg was propped up on another
chair, and he was stirring a bowl of what looked like flapjack batter
while Miss Nettie scolded him from the stove for stirring it to unevenly.
What really made Vin laugh though, was the apron Ezra wore. Other
than his pants, it was his only other article of clothes. The humor of
the situation gave way to a deep feeling of peace as Vin realized Ezra
was alive. As in not burned alive in the most horrible way imaginable.
And for that Vin felt relief flow through him.
"Close the door Mr. Tanner!" Miss Nettie called out in exasperation.
"Your letting all the heat out!"
"Yes, ma'am, Miss Nettie." Vin controlled his laughter, but couldn't
wipe the silly grin off of his face.
"I am very glad that I amuse you so, Mr. Tanner." Ezra's dry tone
masked his utter relief at seeing the ex-bounty hunter come riding up
Slightly sobered, Vin strode up to Ezra and looked him over. He was
a mess, but he was alive. "Glad to see you alive, pard. We wasn't sure
there for awhile."
"You found the campsite?" Ezra's voice drained of emotion, leaving
it flat and hard.
Vin just nodded.
"What did you find there to make you think Mr. Standish was dead?"
Nettie asked, wondering if this was what was haunting the gambler in
"A body. Burned bad. We couldn't tell who it was." Vin said to Nettie,
never taking his eyes off Ezra. "He was wearing Ezra's boots."
Ezra shuddered, remembering the screams as the man died, and the laughter
of those who had sat and watched like it was a form of fine entertainment.
He shuddered again, feeling a chill sweep through his bones. He wasn't
aware of Vin calling his name until the tracker put a hand on his shoulder.
Ezra , startled, jerked away in defense, then calmed.
"You alright." Vin asked, deliberately keeping his voice neutral.
Ezra was stand-offish at best, and to tell the truth, he was almost as
much of a mystery as Vin liked to be. Where Vin hid behind silence, Ezra
hid behind a facade of noise and character. But none of them really knew
Ezra started to say he was fine, then snapped his mouth shut, and
simply sighed and closed his eyes. Vin waited while he composed himself.
"When we catch those bastards and put them away one way or another."
Ezra said, venom in his voice "Then I will be!"
Vin had never heard Ezra swear before, and it shook him a bit. He
must have seen the man die. He looked at Nettie and saw a thoughtful
look on her face. Her gaze went to him and she nodded. Time to distract
the thoughts away from the unpleasant details.
"You see Casey on the road? She went into town early this morning."
Nettie asked, thinking of ways to keep Ezra's mind off what was bothering
"Naw." Vin turned towards the stove and sniffed the aromas appreciatively.
Nobody could cook like Nettie could. "I was tracking our 'walking wounded'
over there, his trail kind of wandered all over the place."
"Wandered?" Ezra was grateful for the distraction and bought into
it with hunor. "I'll have you know I was doing that deliberately to throw
pursuers off my trail"
"Next time you want to lose a trail Ezra." Vin grinned, grateful the
gambler was playing along "Try not to bleed all over it. Tends to be
more effective that way."
"I'll try to keep that in mind." Ezra smiled, eyes glinting, but Vin
saw the pain underneath and grimaced to himself. Something was eating
at his heart, but he wasn't ready to let it go.
Jed had arrived with the other fifteen men from home camp at the meeting
spot to find both his other men waiting, with news. It was soon decided
to go after the man who could identify him first, killing him and anyone
with him, then lure the other six into an ambush. After they were dead,
they could stroll into town as free their friends from the jail.
On the was to the Well's homestead, Jed drew his battle plans. He
had 18 men to distribute, and there were ony three people in the house.
It would be so easy!
When they arrived at the outskirts of the ranch, he drew his horse
to a halt. He could see smoke coming from the stack, and smells of food
wafted in from the breeze. With luck, they would catch those inside unawares.
"Milt, you take your group on to the far side. Peters, you and yours
take the barn. The rest of you stay in cover, use your rifles. Pick your
shots. We outgun them, so take your time." Jed whispered just loud enough
to be heard.
Jed's men all experienced at thieving, knew how to sneak. Soon all
were deployed strategically around the house. It seemed none inside were
the wiser to them.
Jed signaled for the assault to begin.
Chris walked out of the saloon, having talked Casey into staying until
they got back, he was ready to go. The others waited impatiently for
him to mount, wanting to go and see how Ezra was doing for themselves,
to reassure themselves he was really alive.
The noon stage made its ponderous way to a stop, horses milling as
passengers disembarked. Since they weren't expecting anyone, and they
were about to leave, no one notices a slim, distinguished , older gentleman
exit the stage and walk towards them.
"Going somewhere Gentlemen?" A quiet voice solemnly asks.
"Judge Travis!" JD blurts, startled.
"Afternoon." Judge Travis took in the scene. "I take it something
went amiss with the round-up. Where's Mr. Standish and Mr. Tanner?"
"We're going to meet them now." Chris swung onto his horse. "We left
you two prisoners in the jail."
"You cach the leader?" Judge Travis sighed, it didn't look likely.
"Nope, most died, but we think a few got away. Ezra might know, they
had him prisoner for awhile." Nathan, replied, hoping Ezra would know,
just so this could be over.
Judge Travis raised his eyebrow. "And he's still alive? You get him
back here, Chris, he's just become our best hope in five years at ending
this theft ring."
"We will." Chris promised, both to the Judge and to himself. He turned
his horse and headed out of town, the others following.
Vin, Ezra and Nettie had just settled down to eat, when something
intruded on Vin's senses. Something just wasn't quite right. He reached
for his Mare's Leg, frowning. Ezra noticed his movement and shot him
a puzzled look. Nettie also didn't miss it.
"Ezra, Nettie..." He began as a shot broke the window near his head.
Vin rolled to his feet near the front window, gun already in hand.
A shard of glass had hit him on the temple, scoring it, and blood was
trickling down his face. He glanced outside and swore. He could see five,
which meant there were at least 15 surrounding them. He glanced down
at Miss Nettie, who had crept to her closet and pulled out her Spenser
Carbine and two pistols. Ezra lay on the floor, grimacing as his fall
jared his injured side, but he gamely rolled to his knees and had his
"Miss Nettie, we're surrounded. I'm pretty sure were outgunned too.
we had best conserve our ammunition." Vin squeezed off a shot, taking
the man in the chest. One down.
"I'll only fire if I have to Mr. Tanner." Nettie replied, taking up
a position looking out the back window.
"I don't suppose you have any more artillery about?" Ezra had struggled
to his feet and limped over to the side door. His Derringer looked silly
in his hand, but it was better than nothing.
"Don't think she's got a cannon for ya , Ezra." Vin smiles, ducking
as shots fly through the window. Vin swipes at the blood to keep it from
falling into his eyes, he needed to keep sharp, this was going to get
"They know they outnumber us. The longer they are out there, the more
likely they are to rush us." Ezra shot back, ignoring the jibe.
He wondered why he had even thougt he could come here. He had just
put Ms. Wells life and home in jeopardy. What the hell had he been thinking!
Every step on is torn ankle sent a piercing pain shooting up his leg,
but Ezra stood his ground and looked out over the terrain. He spotted
six men stand up to fire one by one. That meant over 15 men were out
there. Not good odds.
"What makes you think they will rush us, Mr. Standish?" Nettie fired
off a round and Vin heard a man scream. He grinned.
"They probably have guessed your Niece's trip into town will bring
Mr. Larabee and the others. If we continue to hold them off like this,
they know they will eventually run out of time." Ezra cought the pistol
Nettie threw him easily in his left hand. His right shoulder was still
in the sling. Good thing he could shoot just as well with either hand.
"And they will have to come in and get us." Vin concluded, Ezra was
right. "Is there any other way out of here?"
"Theres the door to the celler, just out back. It would be alot easier
to defend than the whole house. I even have extra ammunition stored down
there." Nettie reloaded the carbine. Another two notches for its stock.
"How would we get there without getting cut down?" Vin asked, shooting
a man stupid enough to stick his head up. That was at least four down.
"Theres a trapdoor entrance to it by the back door. When it's cold
out, I hate to have to go outside when I don't have to, so I set a door
with a ladder down to the cellar." Nettie watched as the attackers stopped
firing and looked to one side.
"I think we just ran out of time."Ezra commented, noting the lack
of returning fire. "Madam, would you lead the way to said celler."
Vin moved to Ezra and put his good arm around his shoulders. "We'd
Nettie led them to the trapdoor and opened it up. Vin let go of Ezra,
who was grimacing in pain and trying not to fall down with ever step.
To tell the truth, Vin wasn't feeling too great either, his head was
aching and he was getting dizzy. Maybe he got creased a little harder
than he thought.
"I'd best go down first, make sure nobody's waiting for us." Vin carefully
and silently eased himself into the dark, shaking his head to clear it.
Above, Ezra and Nettie waited for the all clear, guns at the ready.
Ezra was the first to spot trouble. He could have said nothing and jumped
to safety down the celler ladder, but Nettie would never have seen it
coming. She would die.
"Look out!" Ezra shouted, pushing her towards the trapdoor just as
the lead started flying. Ezra let loose at the fast approaching men,
slowing them down enough to cover Nettie's escape. Vin pulled her down
when she tried to turn and come back for him. Fortunately she had dropped
her carbine and extra revolver, and Ezra scooped them up.
Ezra looked up at the doorway. No time was left, they would soon see
the door to the celler. He closed the door and covered it with the floor
rug, hiding it from casual view. Unless you were looking fo it, you'd
never see it now. He took the three guns and crawled to a corner where
there was only one way in or out he couldn't see and shoot into. He reloaded
everything and waited. He figured it wouldn't take long for them to find
him, and he wasn't disappointed.
"He's in the back room! Rush him!" A semi-familier voice rang out.
It was Peters, Ezra remembered him.
Shots rang out and hit the wall inches above his head, Ezra ducked,
shucking off the apron, he gathered himself into a painful crouch, injured
ankle propped up in front of him. He shot the first person to stick his
head in the doorway, and got the next three or four who rushed him.
They were too many, and Ezra soon ran out of room, they were in ,
and he was defenseless for any kind of hand-to-hand combat. He was subdued
none to gently and dragged out of the house. Jed was waiting for him,
"So where are your friends? The tracker and the old woman?" Jed walked
up to Ezra who was being supported and restrained by three other men.
"Your men killed them." Ezra spat, trying to sound convincing. He
couldn't let them get Vin and Nettie Wells. For once in his life, Ezra
considered dying preferable to giving up something or someone. It wasn't
a concept he was used to, but it was definately becoming more familier
since the incident with the Indian village. "It's just me."
Jed looked Ezra in the eyes and nodded, then punched the helpless
man as hard as he could in the jaw, sending the gambler reeling into
the hold of his captors. Head spinning, Ezra faintly heard his nemesis
say that he had better be telling the truth, or he'd better pray for
a quick death. Ezra slumped in the men's hold, oblivious to the world
for the next few minutes.
Chris drove the men hard, in his gut he knew something was wrong and
speed was their only hope. Nobody complained, not even JD said a word
as they raced towards the Wells ranch. The distant sound of gunfire reached
their ears and Chris spured his horse, urging it faster. The others followed.
As they dismounted and slowly topped the rise overlooking the ranch,
the gunfire stopped. Careful not to draw attention, Chris and Buck peeked
down on the scene before them. Josiah, Nathan and JD following after
tying the horses to a tree.
"Looks like not quite a dozen men left." Buck whispered, his voice
showing the restrained fury that shone in his eyes. The normally carefree
man could turn fierce if riled, and he was definately riled now.
"You see Vin, Miss Nettie or Ezra?" JD asked, keeping his voice low
and his head down, just like Buck taught him.
"Nope," Josiah answered, then corrected himself. "Wait. They dragging
someone out of the house now."
Chris swore colorfully as the figure drug out turned out to be Ezra.
He looked like he had been dragged off a cliff and tossed into cactus
patch and then drug a mile or two behind a horse. He wore pants, no shirt
or socks or boots, and he was wearing a sling on his right arm. What
they could see of his back looked to be covered in bruises. Whatever
they had done to him, it looked bad.
JD hazzarded a look at Buck. The older man's face was tense with fury
and his hand was on his gun, clenching and unclenching around the handle.
When the leader of the maurading band belted Ezra in the jaw, he half-stood
only to be restrained by Josiah.
"We need a plan, and quick." Nathan looked around the area. "I don't
see Vin or Miss. Nettie."
"Could be in the cellar, you reckon?" JD whispered. "Casey once told
me there was a door to it in the house."
"They could have gone down there." Chris agreed. "Heres what we do.
Buck, you, Josiah and JD pick spots around and lay some covering fire.
Nathan and I will try for the cellar and Ezra. When you hear my first
shot , open fire, take out as many as you can as fast as you can."
"Time for us to all get a little 'old testament'," Josiah shared a
tense smile with Nathan over the old joke. He genuinely liked Ezra. The
conman was turning out to have some fine qualities and Josiah considered
it a mission of his to make sure the man learned there was more to life
than conning and cheating people.
"Amen." BUck whispered and silently moved off, Jd following a bit
before they split up to cover more area with their guns. Josiah too,
left for the other side of the house.
"Lets go Nathan." Chris stood, and he and the healer made their way
to the trees closest to the cellar.
Nathan noticed Ezra hanging limply in his captors grasp. The man had
to be at the end of his endurance despite the night of good care he had
recieved. It took more than half a day to recover from injuries like
Casey had described. After seeing the condition of the body at the undertakers,
Nathan knew they had better get him away from those men before something
more permanent happened to him. He had seen his fellow slaves more battered
than this, but hated the thought of anyone this ill used, even the pompus
When Chris and Nathan got into position, the nodded at each other
and prepared to fire, carefully picking targets.
"Nobody's in the house." Mason reported to Jed, who eyes the semi-conscious
gambler with sick pleasure. "We did see some blood though, probably his."
"Then I guess we make him tell us where they are, don't we." Jed mildly
returned. His men grinned, this was going to be fun. Jed was very motivated
and creative when he was mad.
Jed reached forward and took Ezra's swelling jaw in his hand squeezing
it. The gambler grimaced slightly at the pain and tried to focus his
"You lied to me, fancy man." He purred to his captive. "That wasn't
a very good idea. Now I'll just have to get nasty with you. Maybe I need
to start another fire..."
The fear Ezra's eyes held was more than enough to convince Jed he
had found the right weakeness to exploit. Just as he was about to issue
orders for a fire to be made, shots rang out from the surrounding area.
He has forgotten about Larabee and the others!
Vin and Nettie heard the shots and knew Chris had arrived. His head
was still aching, but Nettie had wrapped a strip of cloth around it and
the bleeding was stopped for now. Neither of them had said a word since
Ezra closed the door, each keeping to their own thoughts.
"Time to go." Vin whispered, pulling out his gun. He instinctively
knew Chris was coming to cover them.
"Hope Mr. Larabee and the others are on their toes!" Nettie grabbed
the spare rifle frim the rack in the celler, it was already loaded and
ready. She wanted her carbine, but she had left it in the house when
Mr. Standish pushed her to safety. She hadn't thought him capable of
Vin edged towards the door just as it opened a crack. He aimed his
gun at the door as it slowly opens.
"You going to shoot me, cowboy?" Chirs' voice sounds both tense and
slightly humerous at the same time.
"Only if you want me to." Vin whispers back, relief flooding him.
"Still alive." Chris cuts him off, eyes darting outside towards the
house as Vin and Nettie emerge from the celler. "Let's go."
"Take cover!" Jed yelled, grabbing Ezra as a shield and pulling him
towards the porch. Larabee's men had picked good positions and it looked
like they were in trouble.
As his men fell one by one, he struggled to pull Ezra with him to
a place he could bargain for his life if it came to that. Soon two more
guns added their fire to the mix and Jed's men were cut down like dogs.
Seething, Jed saw the Tracker and the old biddy run from the cellar door
and cover him. He and two others who had gotten to the trees were all
that was left.
"Drop your guns of this one dies!" Jed yelled putting his gun to Ezras
"I wouldn't do that if I were you." Chris stepped forward, gun aimed
at Jed's head. "You'll die."
"So will he!" Jed countered. "I got a hair trigger and if I move one
little bit, he looses his fancy head. Now I know you don't want that
to happen, so let's deal!"
"You let him go, and we don't kill you." Chris countered, it looked
like Jed had the upper hand. No way to get behind him,and no way to get
him before Ezra was killed. It was a standoff.
"And then I hang?" Jed laughed, a cruel sound. "No way. Here's the
deal. I take him as far as the trees, and drop him. You let me go. If
you move to take me, my men kill him and anyone else they can. You let
me go, nobody else dies. That's the deal take it or leave it!"
Even half-aware, Ezra knew what was happening. His head was still
spinning and he had trouble focusing. His body continued to not respond
to him and just hung there in Jed's grasp. He just wished Chris would
shoot the bastard and get this all over with. Ezra steeled himself for
his death, knowing Chris would kill the man. He wasn't one to let scum
like this get away. Maybe someone would say something nice at his funeral.
But there was no shot.
"Alright." Chris finally said, the words wrenched out of him like
trying to squeeze water from a rock. "It's a deal, but you drop him there,
and your free to go."
"I want your word, Larabee!" Jed shouted, knowing Larabee would keep
it, no matter how he felt. "Give me your word I go free and it's a done
"You cross me and you'll have wished you had died!" Chris growls back,
silently vowing there would be another time to play this out. This time
with no one betwee them. "Alright, you have my word."
The others waited tensly for the next move to be made. Everyone of
them knew the strength it had taken for Chris not to take the man out.
But with Ezra's life in the balance, this was the only way to get him
out of danger. They waited, rifles at the ready for any sign of trechery.
Ezra couldn't believe what he had heard, Chris was letting him go?
He felt Jed release him and he slumped to the floor of the porch. He
watched, unable to do anything to prevent it,as Jed walked away, free
and clear. Darkenss spun around him, but he forced himself to his knees,
watching as Jed reached the safety of the trees, mounted his horse and
rode away with the last two of his men. When the man was out of his sight
he slumped back to the floor, someone catching him.
Josiah cought Ezra as he fell back to the ground, energy spent. Nathan
and the others hurried up to them, worried looks on all their faces.
Ezra focused on Chris's face and frowned
"You let him go?" Came the whispered question. "Why?"
They all looked at each other, stunned. Ezra had expected them to
kill the man, letting him die. Before anyone could come up with a good
answer, Ezra was out again. Josiah picked him up and carried him into
the house, Nathan following. The others stayed outside, surveying the
carnage around them.
Jed swore as he kicked his horse across the stream. Everything had
become unraveled. Form over thirty men down to two! Those hired guns
from Four Corners weren't going to get away with this! They were going
"Where we headeed boss?" Peters asked, he was wounded on his arm,
but wasn't about to complain. Jed had killed men for less, and he was
in a really bad mood.
"We need a place to hide out." Jed answered, thoughts turning to the
more immediate concerns. He would deal with his revenge later, especially
on that fancy gambler man! "And I know just the place!"
The first night Ezra was back in town after spending a few days of
recouperating at the Wells, the seven converged in the saloon. Each seeking
out the company of each others, as if in reassurance that they were all
Conversation was light and cheerful, bantering between themselves.
All but one enjoying himself.
"If you gentlemen will excuse me." Ezra levered himself out of his
chair. "I think I will call it an evening, I seem to be a bit fatigued."
"Need any help with the stairs?" Josiah asked softly, Ezra still had
a noticable limp in his walk from the cut on his ankle.
"No thank you, Mr. Sanches." Ezra gave Josiah a small smile. "I do
believe I can manage to traverse the distance without aid."
"Night Ezra!" JD called after him, to which Ezra just gave a small
nod, and continued up the stairs.
"I wonder what's gnawing at 'im." Buck said aloud. He had noticed
that Ezra was not acting like himself since the fight at Miss Netties.
The normally cheerful gambler had been silent and withdrawn, worrying
those who knew only part of what had happened. "He tell you anything
"Nope." Nathan leaned back in his chair, "Only Judge Travis knows
the whole story, got it when he took Ezra's statement."
"Man's got a right to his privacy." Chris looked up from his bottle,
his stare encompassing them all.
"So what'll we do about Jed and his gang?" Nathan asked, realizing
Ezra might be feeling guilty for making Chris let the guy go free.
"He hid his tracks pretty good." Vin said. "I lost his trail not far
after Eagle Bend. Seemed to be headed south."
"He's known now." Chris spoke up quietly. "He'll be on the run from
the law. My guess is he found a place to hole up until things clam down
"Think he'll come after us?" Buck leaned forward in his chair.
"Maybe." Chris nodded sagely. "If he does, he's not getting away again."
"Well, if he comes anywhere near Ezra, I dont' think he'll live too
long after they meet." Josiah said, voice quiet.
Buck snorted in laughter. "Yeah, If only to take a the cost of a new
pair of boots out of his hide!"
JD grinned back at Buck. It was true. As soon as he'd been well enough,
Ezra had groused about having to replace not only his boots, but his
watch, ring, jacket, and bedroll. To tell the truth, JD would have complained
just as much. But he wasn't going to tell Buck that.
"You think he'll be alright?" JD asked, concerned Ezra hadn't returned
to his normal self yet.
"He'll get over it when he's ready." Chris replied, and took another
drink of his whiskey.
"What if he doesn't?" JD asked, he had spent alot of time wondering
why Ezra had expected them to let Jed kill him to get him in return.
Not even Buck had an answer, just shrugged it off as delerium.
"He's a grown man JD, and he's tough. He'll pull out of this, he just
misses his stuff." Buck slapped JD on the back in a comradely fashion.
And since Buck seemed to believe it, so did JD.
Two weeks later, Ezra was sitting in his own bed, alone. Since the
day that Jed escaped retribution, Ezra had not slept but a few hours.
Images of fire plagued him, but it wasn't the fire from the campsite
incident. It seemed to come from another source entirely.
Puzzled , Ezra tried to remember the nightmare that plagued him, but
it eluded him. All he could remember was heat and flames and something
crashing down on him. And thinking he didn't want to burn.
Nothing in his past matched up with this nightmare, so it gnawed at
him, keeping him awake. Maybe it was just a manifestation of his ordeal.
Nathan had thought so after Ezra had gone to him for something to help
him sleep through the night. Maybe it was his secret fear of Jed coming
back to torture him that was making him sweat.
Whatever it was, Ezra was ready for it to be over. He wanted to sleep
more than anything, but the nightmares always haunted him now, and he
couldn't seem to shake it. Sighing, he took another dose of the medicine
Nathan had given him and setteled down onto the pillows. Praying for
a dreamless slumber.
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