The Proxy


by S A





AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is my first Mag7 fic and I had only seen about 4 episodes when I wrote it (in fact, I still haven't seen all the episodes, since TNN stopped showing it). However, I kind of like the way it plays, so even after seeing more of the show, I didn't change any of it. Feedback would be appreciated!




"You told him what?!" Buck said, blinking at JD in disbelief.

JD shrugged. "It wasn't my idea, Buck," he said, "I told him to hand them over, 'cause they didn't belong to him. He said I couldn't prove that, but if I really wanted them I could try and win them. He challenged me. What was I s'posed to do? Those candlesticks are all Miss Grimley's got that's worth anything!"

"That's sort of beside the point," Buck said impatiently. "You don't know the first thing about poker!"

"I know how to play poker!" insisted JD defensively.

Buck sighed. "That's all well and good, but you told this fella you could play. If he challenged you, he must have good reason to think he'll win, don't you think? Because I'm thinkin' card sharp. I'm thinkin' hustler. I'm thinkin' ace up his sleeve, if you know what I mean."

"So?" JD said hotly. "If he wants to try cheating, then two can play at that game."

There was an amused laugh from the doorway of the sheriff's office where the two men were talking. Ezra had just returned from patrol and had caught the last bit of the conversation.

"Is that right?" he said, still looking highly amused. "You are going to cheat at cards?"

"How hard could it be?" JD shot. "You stick a good card up your sleeve and pull it out when you need it."

An indignant, almost wounded, look crossed Ezra's normally inscrutable poker face for an instant and he stalked up to JD's desk.

"Do you happen to have a deck of cards about the premises?" he asked in a calm, measured tone. JD reached into his desk and produced one. Ezra took it and began shuffling the cards.

"Tell me when to stop," he told JD. JD looked at him blankly. "When you're pleased with the distribution of the cards, " Ezra said slowly and firmly, "invite me to stop shuffling." He paused, then added, "Allow me as much or as little time as you like." Then, almost as an afterthought, "Keep your eyes on the cards."

JD watched him shuffle the cards with practised ease, hardly glancing at them himself. "Stop," JD said shortly.

Ezra stopped and set the deck down on the table. "Cut the deck," he told JD. JD did as he was told. Ezra put what had been the bottom portion on top of what had been the top portion and eyed JD. "Now, I assume you're satisfied that the cards are sufficiently randomized?"

JD nodded tentatively.

"Name a card."

JD looked at him quizzically.

"Name any card in the deck, Mr. Dunne," Ezra repeated.

JD shrugged. "Seven of clubs."

"Interesting choice," Ezra drawled as he confidently pulled a face-down card from the face-down deck and flipped it over onto the desk in front of JD. The seven of clubs.

JD stared at the card, then looked up at Ezra. "The eight of diamonds," he challenged.

Again Ezra pulled the card easily from the deck and flipped it over in front of JD.

"But that's impossible!" JD exclaimed. "Ezra you'd have to know the exact position of every single card in the deck to do that!"

"How hard could it be?" Ezra said flatly. He picked up the deck and began to shuffle it again. "And I'll have you know that I've never stuck a card up my sleeve in my life. If someone should accuse you of cheating, it's entirely too easy for them to prove it when you've got a royal flush living in your jacket. Even if you're actually good at that sort of sleight-of-hand ---- and you, my dear boy, are a rank amateur."

"So you're saying I should learn to stack the deck," JD concluded.

Ezra tried not to choke on an incredulous laugh. "Why not?" he said archly, pulling a card from the deck. He tossed it on to the table. "It's as easy as lying."

JD looked at the card ---- the ace of spades. Ezra put down the deck and turned to go.

JD was still staring at the card. "That's amazing, Ezra," he breathed.

"It ought to be," Ezra answered. "It's taken me a lifetime to perfect." He walked out of the office, the door banging shut behind him.

JD looked over at Buck, who'd remained silent throughout the exchange. Buck straightened his hat.

"He's kinda hard to read," Buck said, "but I think you hurt his feelings."

JD looked at the Ezra had departed through. "Do you think he'll help me now? I've really put my foot in it."

"He might if you ask him," Buck answered.




JD wandered down the sidewalk, wondering where Ezra had gone. He was about to check the saloon when he spotted the southerner's fashionable green jacket across the street. He was returning from the stables. JD hurried across the street.

"Ezra!" he called as he caught up. Ezra turned. JD looked at him slightly shame-facedly. "Sorry 'bout what I said back there," he said. "Truth is, I got myself into a bit of a situation and I can't get out of it without your help."

Ezra regarded him a moment. "That was most gentlemanly. I accept your apology."

"Will you help me?"

"We'll see," Ezra told him. "Let's remove ourselves to your office and en route you can explain the details of this situation you've become entangled in."




After JD finished explaining the mess he was in to Ezra, Ezra leaned thoughtfully against the wall of the sheriff's office and looked at JD.

"While I agree it's very noble of you to want to help Miss Grimley regain her property, I feel the need to ask you to clarify something: Why poker?"

JD shrugged. "Like I told Buck ---- that was his idea."

"That was your first mistake," Ezra told him. "You allowed him to dictate the terms. To lure you into his territory."

"What could I do? He had the advantage!"

"Only because you allowed it. You could have suggested a race instead. Or a shooting contest. Something you do possess some measure of skill in. But nevermind, it's too late to worry about that now. How good is he?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know? Am I to understand you haven't seen him play?"

"Not close up. I mean, I've seen him in the saloon;"

Ezra rolled his eyes. "This is ridiculous. Who did you say this cretin was?"

"Mathers. Cal Mathers. You know ---- the big guy with the curly blond hair and the fancy belt buckle on his hat."

"I know who he is."

"Is he any good?"

Ezra shrugged. "Not bad. Not as good as I am, but not bad."

JD stared at him. "That's not saying a lot, Ezra," he commented.

"No, I quite agree," Ezra replied happily.

JD sighed in exasperation. "So what do we do?"

Ezra didn't answer right away. He was studying the far wall with a pensive look on his face. Suddenly he broke into a broad grin. "Bend your ear, young man, and I'll tell you exactly what we're going to do."




JD entered the saloon that evening to meet Cal Mathers as planned. As he entered, he spotted Ezra at the bar where he said he'd be. He gave JD a small encouraging nod when he saw the young sheriff looking in his direction. JD took a deep breath, then walked over to a table where Mathers and one of his goonish friends were sitting.

Mathers looked up as JD approached. "There you are. Why don't you sit down, Sheriff, and we'll get started," he said, grinning wickedly at his friend.

"Oh, I'm not playing," JD said as though he had understood that to have been clear all along.

Mathers frowned. "What do you mean, you're not playing?" he demanded.

"One of my colleagues is going to handle this duty," JD told him, waving Ezra over from the bar.

"I understand you've proposed a small wager," Ezra said to Mathers with a sly smile.

Mathers looked at Ezra in slight disbelief, then looked at JD.

"Standish? NO!" he said fiercely. "I agreed to play you for the candlesticks."

"Actually," JD said, sticking to the 'script' Ezra had suggested, "as I recall, you just suggested a card game to settle the ownership of the candlesticks. You didn't specifically state that I was the one that had to play. I mean, you don't think I'd have agreed to that, do you? How would that look, the sheriff playing cards and gambling out in full public view? Though I can understand why you're scared to play Mr. Standish, here. You can just forfeit if you want to save yourself the humiliation."

Mathers got up and, after shooting a cursory glance at JD, stood toe to toe with Ezra. "How stupid do you think I am?" he growled.

"Do you want an honest answer or was that a rhetorical question?" Ezra asked laconically.

Mathers narrowed his eyes. "You didn't expect me to believe that the kid came up with something this dirty and underhanded, Standish. This little scheme has you all over it. It reeks of you!"

"I'm sure I haven't the slightest idea what you mean, Mr. Mathers," Ezra said innocently, his face an unreadable mask.

Mathers nodded ruefully. "Alright. You wanna play? We'll play."

"Suits me," Ezra answered.

"Does it? It won't for long."

"Do you think so? Well, seeing as you're suffering from such an abundance of confidence today, why don't we make it double or nothing?" Ezra said smoothly.

JD gaped at the two men in mild horror. He didn't remember this being in the script. Neither of the gamblers was paying him any mind, though.

"Double nothing is still nothing," Mathers said.

"Your personal charm is matched only by the staggering power of your intellect," Ezra commented wryly.

Mathers looked keen to punch Ezra in the face, but restrained himself. "What've you got to put up against my candlesticks?" he asked through clenched teeth.

Wordlessly Ezra produced a wad of bills from his coat.

"Fair enough," Mathers said and sat down at the table.

Ezra sat across from him and JD tried to look casual as he strolled up beside him. "Ezra!" he whispered frantically.

Ezra waved him off. "Not now. I'm busy."

Summarily dismissed, JD stood back from the table a bit. Mathers had produced a deck of cards and Ezra was shuffling it.

I'm watching you this time, Standish," Mathers said in a warning tone. "Like a hawk."

"Feel free," Ezra said mildly, unruffled.

JD sighed and went over to the bar.

About half an hour later he heard the ruckus behind him and he warily turned around. The table that Mathers and Ezra had been sharing was overturned, as was Ezra's chair. Ezra himself was on his back on the floor and Mathers was standing over him with a revolver pointed at his face and a foot on his right wrist. He must have known about the Derringer Ezra kept concealed there.

"Cheater;" he growled.

"I suspect you'll have extreme difficulty in proving that," Ezra purred coolly.

"Nobody's born with that kind of luck," Mathers told him.

"I really don't believe that would hold up in court, Mr. Mathers. I happen to have been born under a very lucky star."

"Who's worried about court? I told you what I'd do if you ever cheated me again," Mathers spat.

"Would you mind repeating it? I'm afraid I wasn't paying much attention."

Mathers pulled the hammer back on the revolver with a distinctly angry 'click'. JD jumped up and quickly pulled both guns, pointing one at Mathers, and one at his goon of a friend (just in case he got any ideas).

"I'll tell you what your choices are," JD said in as Chris a tone as he could muster. "You can leave now, or you can go to jail," he said.

Mathers glared at JD, but holstered his gun and stepped back a bit, freeing Ezra's wrist. The moment that Ezra was free, he picked up the money and the candlesticks from where they had fallen when the table overturned, then stood up, dusting himself off.

"There are few things I despise as much as a sore loser," he said, smirking at Mathers.

"Ezra," JD said firmly, his eyes still on Mathers and his goon, "go wait for me in the office."

Ezra's face assumed a slightly incredulous but highly amused expression. He raised a bemused eyebrow at JD, but walked out of the saloon without a word.

It was about twenty minutes later that JD returned to the office after seeing that Mathers and his friend did, in fact, leave town. Ezra sat with his feet on the desk, perusing an old copy of the Clarion, and pretending not to notice that JD had come in. JD cleared his throat.

Ezra looked up. "I'm gratified you could make it, Mr. Dunne. I've been bored to tears." He leaned back in the chair. The candlesticks sat on the desk in front of him. "What was this matter you wished to discuss with me?" he asked in a tone that implied he was generously gracing JD with an audience that he'd managed to fit into his busy schedule as a special favour. It was an impression heightened by the fact that he was sitting in JD's chair.

JD didn't quite know where to begin. In fact, he hardly ever knew quite how to deal with Ezra at all. "Ezra," he began, his voice full of exasperation, "what the hell was that?"

"That?" Ezra said, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the saloon.

JD nodded.

Ezra smiled. "That is generally known as 'Everything Going According to Plan'."

"Including the part where he nearly blew your head off?" JD asked. "He knew you!" he added accusingly.

Ezra nodded gravely. "I'm afraid my reputation sometimes precedes me."

"'I told you what I'd do if you ever cheated me again'," JD quoted. "Tell me I'm jumpin' to conclusions, but that sounds like personal experience talkin'."

"Perhaps," Ezra conceded, pulling his feet off the desk. "What difference does it make?" He picked up the candlesticks and set them down closer to JD. "You got what you wanted."

"You didn't tell me he had a grudge with you," JD said with a frown.

"I don't recall you inquiring," Ezra answered.

"But you used the situation for personal gain!" JD practically shouted.

His earnestness in this matter struck Ezra as particularly funny. He laughed loudly. "My dear child," he said in the tone of someone pointing out the ridiculously obvious, "I use every situation for personal gain!"

JD stared at him for a second. It wasn't disbelief, but rather the con artist's utter lack of shame that stupefied him. "But that's; but that's;" he sputtered, searching for just the right word to counter Ezra's ten dollar vocabulary. "That's unscrupulous!" he finally burst out with.

Ezra stood up and straightened his jacket. He shrugged with a grace and dignity usually absent from shrugs. "I don't pretend to have scruples," he replied, then walked out of the office, letting the door bang shut behind him.



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