The seven lawmen of Four Corners sat companionably around the table, having just finished a spicy and substantial afternoon meal, a delicious repast served up by the equally delicious Inez Recillos. Now, they relaxed and enjoyed one another's company in silence and easy conversation. At least, it was easy conversation until J.D. Dunne spoke up next.
"It's been real quiet goin' on two weeks now."
The reactions of his brethren, though all very different, still all said the same thing. Josiah Sanchez rolled his eyes upwards, beseeching his god, and then lowered his head in silent prayer. Ezra Standish choked on his libation and coughed out, 'Good Lord!' Vin Tanner and Nathan Jackson shared a look and shook their heads, and then looked up to witness the reaction of their leader. The blond remained silent as Buck Wilmington punched the youngest of their group – hard – in the shoulder. A yelped, 'Ow!' was followed by a verbal admonishment from the tall, dark and handsome ladies' man.
"What the hell's the matter with you, boy?" he asked, followed by a stiff whack at that stupid hat, which skittered off the table and floated to the floor. J.D. huffed and started to rise to go fetch it but stopped as he caught the stare of Chris Larabee.
"Don't really pay to be too superstitious out here, kid, but it seems to me talk like that is just courtin' trouble," the former gunslinger and de facto leader of the law enforcement troupe now famous as 'TheMagnificentSeven' said as he took a long draw from his coffee cup.
J.D. looked from Chris to his other friends, reading from their expressions that they were all in agreement with the sentiment. He stepped away from the table, picked up his hat, dusted it off and set it back on the table, this time well out of reach of his annoying best friend.
"Oh, come on. Just talkin' ain't gonna make somethin' bad happen," the young man defended himself. He grabbed his mug of milk and downed its dregs.
"If that were true, son, half of the wars fought in the history of the world might have been avoided," Josiah countered.
"Yeah, and a whole lot more mighta happened," Nathan agreed.
J.D. snorted. "Well, oooooh," he said, waving his hands across the table, "guess I must have some voodoo power," he scoffed at his cohorts.
"You are obviously not a practitioner, son. If you were, Ah would feel obliged to use mah own conjurin' abilities, learned in mah youth under the tutelage of a follower of Queen Marie Laveau," Ezra responded.
J.D. screwed up his face, not even making an attempt to understand what the southerner was trying to say. "What?" he practically screeched.
"What Ah am sayin' is that you cannot achieve results, in Voodoo or Hoodoo or any other 'doo', simply bah wigglin' your hands and spouting off in a provocative manner."
"Ezra, I can't believe you would agree … "
"J.D., he's agreeing with you," Buck said with a wry grin.
"Oh, hell , Ezra! Why can't you just say it plain?"
"Ah did. And though Ah agree that 'just words' and your legerdemain, or rather, prestidigitation," he looked at his audience and realized he was really not speaking plain now, "manual manipulation … "
Buck noticed J.D.'s still painfully confused look and interjected, "Slight of hand. He's sayin' slight of hand, kid."
"Sounds more like slight of mouth," J.D. muttered.
"As Ah was sayin', Ah do not believe that anything untoward would happen to bring harm to our hamlet with just words or slight of hand," he said, raising his eyebrow to Buck, "however, Ah do agree that what you did say may have been better left unsaid."
J.D. looked back and forth to his partners in keeping the peace in their small town. He shook his head and asked Vin, "Do you agree?"
Vin was slouched down in his chair. He sat up, shrugged slightly and said, "The tribes would say that we make our own path … " J.D. quickly cut him off.
"There," he said to his friends, waving his hand at the tracker, but Vin wasn't through.
"They also say that there should be a real good reason to upset the balance of things, by sayin' or doin'."
"Amen, brother," Josiah said softly.
"You have got to be kidding me," J.D. responded, exasperated with his fellows. At that moment, Inez joined them with another full mug of milk, which she set down in front of J.D. with all the weight of her slight but voluptuous, and decidedly formidable when necessary, frame. The men sitting on either side of J.D. had seen the pretty Mexican's face on her approach; Buck and Josiah were both prepared, therefore, and moved quickly out of the way. The same could not be said for J.D., who was still preoccupied defending himself. The dairy drink easily splashed over the mug's rim and arced over the table's edge, finally splashing onto its target: the sheriff's jacket … and vest, shirt and pants.
"Guess we know where Inez stands," Buck barked. Ezra and Vin both tossed their napkins toward the damp lawman. J.D. wiped himself down and stood.
"I'm gonna go take patrol," he said as he stormed for the door.
"Watch your back," was chorused with varying degrees of amusement behind him from the six men remaining at the table.
"That was fun," Buck said with a conspirator's relish as he finished his beer.
"You like riling him up a little too much, I think," Chris said as he, too, finished his cup of coffee.
"No more 'n I like doin' it to you, old pard," Buck snorted.
"'Spose not. Even still, let's not get lazy. He has a point," Chris mused.
"Does he?" Ezra challenged. "Those who believe that they are 'due' to win at the gaming tables rarely succeed." Chris glared at the gambler at the more-than-reasonable, and without doubt factual in his own experience, response. Ezra placed his hands up, palms forward in a sign of surrender and said, "Ah agree, however, that this is no time for complacency."
"Good." Chris grinned, knowing that none of his men – not even Ezra – would let their guard down even if months went by without an incident.
"Gentlemen, if any of you have nothing else planned," the card sharp said as he stood and moved toward the exit, "Ah am headin' to Missus Potter's to replace the back wall of her stockroom. We could use some assistance." His friends stared in silence, none of them offering any verbal indication that they would follow, or physical evidence for that matter, as in movement toward the door. "Very well," Ezra said as he continued to the batwing doors at the front of the saloon.
"Wait a minute," Buck said. "You are going to replace an entire wall?"
"Well, mahself and young Master Potter and Yosemite's oldest son Arthur."
"Yosemite's son's name is Arthur?" Buck asked.
"His proper, given name. Ah refuse to use that atrocious appellation that the boy has been saddled with."
"Everybody calls him … " Vin started.
"Ah am aware, Mistah Tanner, what everyone else calls him," Ezra said, cutting his friend off before he could utter the name commonly used for the young teen. "Until such time as someone puts a stop to it, that poor young man will be known bah that moniker," Ezra noted with a grimace. "Ah have taken it upon mahself to put right that wrong."
"He's been known by T … " Nathan began, but Ezra cut him off, too.
"Please, Mistah Jackson, desist from using that name."
"Hell, Ezra, he even tells people to call him To … "
"Mistah Larabee, do you ever wonder why a boy who is as talented with a saw and hammer and working with wood as young Arthur is would spend all of his time mucking out stalls? Could it be a lack of confidence, something that is certainly compounded day in and day out bah bein' called … " Ezra hesitated, but it seemed his point would truly be driven home by saying it, however distasteful it was upon his tongue. "Toad," he said, the taste bitter as evidenced by his expression as he looked at his compatriots, good men all who, he hoped, would understand his point. He shook his head in disbelief that a person could ever accept being called such a thing. But he knew, first hand, that a person could accept being called many things – a liar, a cheater – even by his friends, at least until they learned better.
"I can give you a hand," Josiah offered. "How about some barter? Some of my time for some of yours and To … um, Arthur's?"
"As you are aware, Josiah, doin' this kind of work is not at the apex of mah list of enjoyable ways to spend mah time."
"More like at the bottom," Vin kidded.
"Yeah, somewhere below fixin' fence," Nathan joked good-naturedly. None of them had forgotten that day when most of them helped Nettie Wells with her fence while Ezra 'supervised'. It would be hard to forget, as Ezra had somehow made supervising a practice over the years that they'd know him.
"Or takin' a turn cookin' on the trail," Chris continued the chiding.
"Ah take umbrage with that remark. Ah do not feel it is within mah purview to cook out in the wilderness when Ah am willin' to provide a fine meal on occasion in these more civilized environs, such that they are," he stated, waving his arm to indicate the kitchen, the location of more than one fine meal that he had prepared since that first spaghetti supper a few months before.
"He's got a point there, Chris," Vin said, taking Ezra's side. The tracker didn't want to be responsible for forcing Ezra to stop his culinary offerings. Since that first supper, Ezra had moved on from that initial pasta dish from Italy to a delicious meal with a French twist, and then a hearty German supper of bratwurst that Mr. Heiddeger had made from an old family recipe, served with Ezra's own homemade kraut and spaetzle, as well as two delectable Creole dishes he'd learned to make from a delectable-in-her-own-right madam he'd been intimately familiar with during a years-distant extended stay in New Orleans. Maybe Chris was willing to risk not being invited to dine when the southerner donned his chef's hat, but Vin wasn't.
"I guess," Chris agreed, reluctantly conceding the point. "I can help out for a while," he offered.
"Guess I got some time," Nathan joined in.
"Mistah Tanner? Mistah Wilmington?" Ezra asked.
"Sorry, Ez, but I made me some other plans this afternoon, if you get my drift," Buck said as he wiggled his eyebrows.
"Much to mah consternation, Ah do," Ezra noted dryly. "Vin?"
"I'm headin' over ta Nettie's. She's got a leak in the barn roof needs fixin'."
"Very well. Please wish the lady a good day for me," Ezra said sincerely.
"Will do," Vin agreed with an amiable smile.
"Oh, Ezra, you never answered me on … "
"Yes, yes, Josiah. Ah will offer mah services to you at the church, a fair reciprocal agreement. Ah cannot speak for Arthur, as Ah am payin' him a stipend for his services at Missus Potter's."
"You are?" Josiah asked.
"You?" Buck followed.
"You're parting with your money for something other than clothes or that fine Kentucky bourbon? Speaking of which," Chris added, "ain't you due for a delivery?"
"Ah am, but deriding mah philanthropic nature won't get you even a shot of it at this rate, Chris," Ezra bandied back easily.
"I'd be happy to pay the young man, Ez, especially if he's as good at this kind of work as you are not," Josiah joked.
"You will see in a while for yourself how good he is, Josiah and frankly, Ah feel no resentment at how you categorize mah abilities in this area," Ezra replied, though it was obvious to all that when the man put his mind, hands and the rest of his body to a task, he could more than hold his own. "Especially if you feeling this way stops you from enlisting me in such misadventures in the future. Mah chagrin is very real that Ah allowed mahself to be lassoed into assisting Missus Potter as it is; Ah have great difficulty sayin' no to that woman. Mah expertise lies in far more enjoyable and profitable ventures." To all of his soon-to-be worker bees, he said, "Thank you, gentlemen, for offering your services. We should be able to make fairly quick work of this with all of these hands."
"Ezra, you didn't mention the extension," Nathan said as he held up the frame of the new back wall of Mrs. Potter's stockroom, which was now extended a full eight feet farther into the wide alley.
"Or the digging to make the root cellar bigger," Chris added from the hole on which he was making slow-but-steady progress.
"Yes, well, mah apologies. As Ah have been workin' with the lovely lady on the plans, Ah have been labelin' the drawings 'Mrs. Potter's wall'. Ah suppose Ah just didn't think to mention the details. Ah do apologize if Ah mislead you gentlemen into agreein' to somethin' other than what was presented."
Josiah, holding the other side of the frame up as 'Arthur' fitted and nailed it in place said, "Don't know that it matters what the work was advertised as, bothers. It's a good thing what we're doing."
"That may be, Josiah, but I don't know how it all gets done today," Chris countered.
"Mistah Larabee, we must only complete the extended wall and its roof today. As you can see, Arthur, Nathan and Josiah are makin' fine progress on that." Mentioning Yosemite's son first put a proud smile on the young man's face. "Master Potter has done an equally admirable job fetching tools and keeping us fed and hydrated. Thank you, Master Potter," Ezra said as he handed his now-empty water glass back to Mrs. Potter's son.
"You're welcome, Mister Standish. Ma says she'll have a snack and coffee ready soon. She wants all of ya to take a rest. It's too hot not to," the boy said, swiping the sweat from his brow as proof positive of his mother's point.
"You and Ah, Chris, just have to get as much of this diggin' done that can be before the wallboards themselves go up. The rainy season will soon be upon us," he added as he swiped sweat from his own brow with his handkerchief. They had all noticed the clouds forming in the distance on their walk from the saloon to Gloria's shop.
"Mighta been nice to think of this in the spring," Nathan grumbled. He leaned his face into his arm to catch some of the perspiration threatening to head into his eyes. Ezra saw the attempt and rose from his place of rest and used his handkerchief to help. "Thanks," the healer said gratefully.
"Yes, indeed, if Ah had only used mah crystal ball for good rather than for evil Ah would have had this conversation with Missus Potter over the winter rather than just ten days ago. That would have been prudent both for planning and execution," Ezra added with a hint of both amusement and sarcasm.
"Yeah, well," Nathan conceded, and then stated the obvious, "it's damn hot." No one bothered to reply, it was too hot to bother.
Chris stepped out of the hole and held the shovel in front of the rested con man. "Your turn." They switched positions, but not without comment from the verbose southerner.
"Ah have some unpleasant experience shoveling," he said as he jumped into the hole. "The purpose of this hole is far more to mah liking," he added as he got to work filling the second wheelbarrow as Chris took the first one out behind the building. They were making a small mountain back there that would need to be removed at some point. That work would be for another day. "Ah nevah thought that Ah would be able to testify, first-hand, of the disconcerting nature of diggin' one's own grave," the card sharp continued as he heaved another shovel full into the wheelbarrow. He paused, a thoughtful look coming to his face as he reflected back to a young girl who had stolen his heart, however briefly, when they had helped find out what was going on with the deaths and disappearances of some Chinese men at the railroad work site. Some people saw Ezra Standish as he presented himself: a gambler only out to seek fortune, his only thoughts for himself and his own gain. The men he worked with, though they would even to this day, after nearly driving him away once before, kid him about his mercenary ways, had truly come to know him better. He didn't grace them often with his magnanimous ways, but when he did it was often in a surprising manner, and told more clearly than any fancy words he might ever speak that he felt a part of this town. Finally. Giving Li Pong the money to go back home was just one in a series of generous actions the man had taken over the years they'd known him. "Ah b'lieve Ah require the pickaxe once again, Mistah Larabee," he said as Chris returned with his now-empty wheeled carrier.
"Still thinking this was a good idea, Ezra?" Chris asked as he handed over the heavy-duty implement.
"Ah don't recall ever sayin' that it was," Ezra huffed as he swung the pick hard into rock. "Ah would venture that …." The gambler was cut off by the shop owner's worried appearance.
"Mr. Larabee, I believe you may want to come see this," she said. They had all learned that Gloria Potter was a rock of a woman, not someone to fret or overreact. Chris took his cue from the seriousness of her concern, the determination in her face.
"Josiah, go get Buck," he ordered. "Boys," he said to Nathan and Ezra, who both began putting their gun belts and knives back in place. "Arthur," he said, and then, "son," to Gloria's young boy, "stay here." They all quickly checked their ammunition and their weapons and headed to follow Gloria to the emporium. When they reached the front of the store, she spoke softly.
"You see," she said, not pointing, even though she knew they were in shadow and could not be seen. "Two men in the alley, two in front of the bank, and one at the livery. There could be more."
"I don't recognize any of 'em," Chris admitted.
"Neither do I. And I have a good memory, Mr. Larabee," Gloria assured him. "And most any folk who come through town regularly, for whatever reason, I end up seeing when they need supplies."
"They could be there to exchange gold," Nathan wondered out loud. "Been a few claims lately." There'd also been some injuries from fights that had broken out between claimants; Nathan was plenty familiar these days with quite a few of the gold rush crowd.
"No, Mistah Jackson. These gentlemen do not have the excited demeanor of a good day's minin' or the bedraggled look of having worked a claim for some while," Ezra observed, meaning that maybe they'd given up the mining to look for easier pickings: other peoples' money. "As well, the gold bug is not a preoccupation that encourages men to join forces."
"Ezra's right. Let's give Josiah another minute to get Buck," Chris said.
"Sure hope J.D. don't come back in the middle of this," Nathan worried as he took a good look out the window.
"Fellas," Buck said as he and Josiah returned.
"All right. Josiah," Chris said, "head up to the roof of the hotel." Josiah nodded. "Buck, you and Nathan, go take care of the one at the livery. We don't know how many more there might be, just take care of that one quickly and then keep an eye out for me and Ezra. Give us a chance to get to those two over in the alley. Hopefully we'll know by then if there are others than the two in front."
"Be careful, brothers," Josiah said.
"Watch yer backs," Chris echoed his own concern.
Chris and Ezra made their way quickly down several buildings, through the back alleys and then across the avenue, and then headed back behind the buildings on that side of the road to the one across the way from the bank. Chris peeked around the corner toward the pair and then pulled back quickly.
"Shit," he whispered.
"What?" Ezra asked.
"One of 'em was lookin' right at me."
"Do you believe he saw anything? The sun would have been in his eyes," Ezra explained calmly.
"I don't know."
"Well, Ah believe it makes sense to attempt a small diversion." Ezra removed his hat and leaned over the nearby rain barrel and splashed himself down his front. He looked around and, unfortunately, successfully found what he was looking for: a fresh-enough puddle of vomit. "The things Ah do for this town," he grumbled as he spread some of the offensive fluid and bits on his jacket, vest and pants. Chris just stared, flabbergasted. "Do you have a better idea, Mistah Larabee?"
"Sorry, Ez. I wish I did."
"No more than Ah." He turned and headed toward the two men.
"You will know your cue when you see it," Ezra assured as he started a meandering, unsteady pace toward the suspicious pair. He sang and belched the entire way, watching his feet carefully but always fully aware of exactly how close he was to his target.
While plodding on our way the toilsome road of life,
How few the friends that daily there we meet!
Not many will stand by in trouble and in strife,
With counsel and affection ever sweet!
Chris stifled a laugh. He'd heard Ezra sing this song before, only he'd been drunk and he'd re-written some of the lyrics, following a particularly stress-filled visit from his mother. It sounded like the southerner was going for the original, just in case, maybe, that one of these would-be bank robbers might be distracted by it. Chris' smile faded, though, as he listened to these actual lyrics. He liked to think that if Ezra were to re-write this song today, he would give his other lawmen a better go of it than he gave his mother in changing up the song. A loud belch sounded, and then Ezra continued.
But there is one whose smile will ever on us beam,
Whose love is dearer far than any other,
And wherever we may turn,
This lesson we will learn:
A boy's best friend is his mother.
As he finished the verse, Ezra looked up to see a gun pointed at his chest.
"Gentlemen, do you disagree? Would you sing with me?" he said with a slurred giggle. "Ah'm a poet," he snorted and took up the song's chorus, his arms flailing dramatically:
Then cherish her with care,
And smooth her silv'ry hair.
When gone, you will never get another;
And wherever we may turn,
This lesson we shall learn:
A boy's best friend is his mother.
"Get outta here, mister," the first one said.
"Jesus, he stinks, Bobby," the one with the gun leveled at the con man complained.
"'s that me?" Ezra asked. He sniffed all about himself. "Ah thought Ah smelled somethin' vile. Don't recollect gettin' sick," he said as he lifted his flask and took a swig, grabbing a chunk of vomit along the way.
"I said get out. I don't want ta have ta shoot you," he said. 'What an ironic turn of phrase,' Ezra thought as the man with whom he'd had a similar conversation less than a year before was at the moment covering his back. Both men in the alley had been so distracted by Ezra that they failed to notice Chris make his way up close in the shadow of the bank building. Ezra put his flask to his mouth once more, only this time he placed the disgusting bit of regurgitated food in his mouth. He promptly gagged, tasting the disgusting piece – more by accident than any great plan – and finally threw up, the mess splashing onto both mens' boots – and his own.
"And I don't want to have to shoot you," the former gunslinger said as he leveled his weapon at Bobby's head. Both men looked Chris' way. Ezra jumped at his chance and kicked the gun out of the other one's hand and quickly had his own gun pointed point-blank between his eyes.
"And Ah would be happy to shoot you," Ezra warned dangerously. "Do not raise your voices to your friends. Ah do not require a significant reason to pull the trigger; calling to your friends would certainly make me nervous enough to do so, isn't that right, Mistah Larabee?"
"Larabee?" Bobby asked.
"Chris Larabee?" the other one asked.
"Yeah, reckon that's true, Ezra. And you should be worried," Chris directed to the two outlaws, "'cause though he aims high when he's woken up too early, he likes to aim low when he thinks of peoples' hard earned savings gettin' stolen." After a meaningful pause, Chris added, "Not low to the ground. Just low enough."
Both men quickly dropped their weapons. Chris and Ezra had them tied up and gagged in no time from supplies found in a wagon in the alley, and then headed to the corner of the building. They saw Buck and Nathan, their suspect now nowhere to be seen. Buck nodded, which told Chris that they were good to move to the next part of the plan, as much of a plan as they had.
"Ezra, you want to continue your performance?"
"Ah truly hate that song," he admitted.
"Know you do, but it worked last time. And you've got Buck and Nathan watchin' your back, too, this time."
"Very well." He thought back to the masquerade they had perpetuated in Wickestown a couple of years before. "How do Ah get mahself in these predicaments?" Ezra grumbled.
"At least this time it was your own idea. Hey, how'd you vomit so believably back there?" Chris asked.
"Because it was really vomit, and the how of it all you do not want to know." Ezra moved out and stepped up onto the boardwalk of the bank and took up where he'd left off with his song.
Tho' all the world may frown, and ev'ry friend depart,
She never will forsake us in our need!
'How ridiculous a lyric was this?' Ezra thought, but he knew this was just a performance, and hopefully he could pull off the performance of his life … with no loss of life, his or anyone else's.
Our refuge evermore is still within her heart.
For us her loving sympathy will plead!
'Good Lord!' Ezra thought. 'Call me out,' he silently begged of the men.
"Look at that. Drunk in the middle of the day," one of the men standing next to his horse said.
"Ah beg to differ, sir. It is late … " he let go a resounding belch, sniffed the vile juices on his front, and gagged, moving straight to the one who'd just spoken.
"Don't even think about it," the man said as he pulled his gun. Ezra had his Derringer out just as fast, but his plan seemed to be working too well and bile relentlessly made its way from his stomach, up his throat and then out of his mouth. They both shot at the same time, and both fell back. The other man raised his hands in surrender as Chris ran up, Buck and Nathan just a few steps behind them.
"How many of ya?" Buck demanded as Nathan removed all of the weapons from the men and their horses. Chris headed straight for Ezra.
"Two in the alley, one at the livery, one … "
"Right here," J.D. said as he pushed the last of the gang into the dirt.
"Good job, J.D.," Buck said as he slapped the young man on his dusty shoulder. "Welcome back, kid."
"Thanks. How's Ezra?" he asked worriedly as he saw the gambler leaned up below the window of the bank building.
"Ah am fine," the gambler assured the young sheriff, the blood seeping through his fingers offering up a different answer, as would the tall blond kneeled before him.
"No he ain't. Got shot in the arm," Chris said. Nathan hurried over as Josiah took the prisoner from him.
"It is a mere flesh wound," Ezra insisted. He tried to rise, but Nathan's hand on his chest kept him firmly up against the front of the bank.
"Rest easy, Ezra. Let me take a look." The healer, with Chris' help, removed the jacket, which was surprisingly soaked with blood. "Ezra, you feelin' all right?" Nathan asked with concern just as the gambler fell over to his left and passed out. Chris caught him and lowered him to the boardwalk. "Damn. Ain't no flesh wound. I need something to hold against this until I can get him to the clinic."
"Here," Buck said, offering his coral-colored bandana.
"He gonna be all right?" J.D. asked.
"Bullet's still in him," Nathan said.
"How's that? They were right on top of each other," Chris said. He looked to the other man, the one Ezra shot. His wound was through his arm, with an exit wound; Josiah had already wrapped it and it appeared to have stopped bleeding. Thatwas a flesh wound.
"Must've hit bone, a fragment could be what's causing all this bleeding. I need to get him moved."
"I can carry him," Josiah offered. He stepped up onto the boardwalk, but Nathan shook his head.
"We need to move him real easy. You won't be able to keep him still enough all by yourself, Josiah."
"How 'bout the hearse?" J.D. asked.
"Go check with Jack Pine," Chris ordered. J.D. ran down the street to enlist the aid of the undertaker, who had recently purchased a new hearse after the other one mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the night over this past winter. Pine had been bragging about the rig's smooth ride since making the purchase the month previous. Fortunately for Four Corners, there had been no need for the carriage since the old one had been stolen, so there was no one – dead or alive – who could verify the accuracy of the undertaker's claim.
Ezra moaned softly. He opened his eyes, saw the roof of the overhang of the bank and asked, "Why am Ah still heah?" the southern drawl especially thick.
"You fainted, Ezra," Nathan said as he continued to press firmly on the wound.
"Ah did?" the con man asked woozily. "Good Lord, Mistah Jacks'n! What has happen'd to mah arm?" he asked imploringly, moaning from the now constant pain. "It was fine mom'nts ago," the injured man insisted. "It … oh, lord … Nathan … "
"I'm sorry, Ezra. I gotta stop the bleeding."
"Ah know. It … jus' … feels …. " Ezra didn't finish the thought as he fainted once more.
"Buck, when J.D. gets back, I need you, Josiah and J.D. to secure these six in the jail," Chris ordered.
"Hey, ain't someone gonna look at my wound?" the one Ezra shot whined.
"No," Chris, Buck and Josiah yelled, united in their anger.
"I'll come look at it later," Nathan said as he remained beside Ezra, pressing on the steadily oozing wound. He looked across the avenue and saw Gloria Potter standing outside of her store, her children at her side. "Damn," he said.
"What?" Chris asked.
"We gotta do something about that wall." Nathan looked up to the sky. "Looks like rain."
"Yeah," Chris agreed. "Once we get Ezra settled, Buck, you and me are going to round up some men to get the wall and roof finished up today. We'll worry about the root cellar later."
"I'm sure Gloria will understand," Buck said.
"I know. I just want to make sure we get at least that much done." He looked down at a pale and unconscious Ezra Standish. He knelt once more, placed his hand on Ezra's brow and pushed the hair away from the chilled face. "You got friends, Ez. Lots of 'em. And your best one sure ain't Maude." Nathan looked at the gunslinger quizzically. Chris caught the look and said, "Just a … I don't know … a joke, I guess. I'll get him to tell you about it when he's better."
"Not sure I really want to know," Nathan said with a frown.
"You will, when I make him sing for you."
"Nevah happen," Ezra assured breathlessly.
"He's a stubborn cuss, that's fer sher," Vin said as he sat beside the healing gambler. The tracker had remained at Nettie Wells' place overnight in order to check for any additional leaks in the barn or the house. Satisfied that everything was secured for the coming rainy season, he headed back to town to find one friend shot up, wrapped up, and worried over by another.
"I think that's the main reason he's still got that arm. Still ain't sure he's gonna be able to keep it. That bullet caused a whole lot of damage," Nathan said.
"He'll keep it," Vin said softly.
"You're the only one in the room sure of that right now," Nathan said. The former slave shook his head. It was an amazing thing how he had come to care so much about a white boy from the South.
"Ah beg to differ, Mistah Jackson," the scratchy voice countered from the bed.
"Good," the healer said. Ezra blinked tired eyes and sighed as though heading back to sleep. "No you don't. I need you to take some water, Ezra," Nathan said gently.
"What makes you think Ah may lose mah arm?" the con man asked. He accepted the water as Nathan answered the question.
"That bullet took out some bone. I found too many chips of bone when I went in to fix ya up. I haven't seen damage like that since the war, and none of those men kept their arms." He didn't let on that most of them lost their lives. Nathan eased Ezra's head back to the pillow as he went to the stove and grabbed the cup of steeping tea.
"It feels … unpleasant, but Ah assure you there will be no need to pull out the saw," Ezra explained.
"I hope you're right, Ez. Here, Vin, help him drink this."
"What is it?" Ezra asked.
"Something to help with the pain, help you sleep more."
"Ah don't b'lieve … Ah need … it," the gambler said through a substantial yawn.
"You do." Chris, Buck and J.D. had all left sooner than expected when they had taken their turns sitting with the recovering regulator. Ezra's moans of pain while unconscious had been too much for any of them to take. Josiah had stayed the longest, before Vin made it back to town. It appeared to the healer that the tracker was there for the duration. "You won't be sleepin' at all if you don't take it, and you need to rest."
"What is the flavor-of-the-day? Antelope testes?" Vin lowered his head to hide the chuckle. He helped Ezra sit up and waited patiently as the patient slowly swallowed the disgusting offering.
"Ezra, I don't have time to make everything taste like it came from a restaurant in Paris," Nathan answered derisively.
"Ah did not say," the healing man started, taking a few slow breaths in the hopes of keeping the tea down, "that you should. Ah simply believe that adding some honey or other sweetener might make your … fixatives more palatable."
"Simmer down, you two," Vin said. It wouldn't benefit either man for their verbal fight to escalate as so often happened when Ezra ended up having to spend time in Nathan's clinic. But he did feel that it was in the best interest of them all to take a side in this debate. "He's got a point, Nate."
The healer sighed. "I know he does. Ran out of honey. Sorry, Ezra."
The gambler sighed as well. "Ah will make sure," he started, halted by a yawn, "that mah next … mail order includes … a stock of honey, and … maybe some maple … syrup from Vermont," the yawns proving that he needed more rest – and that Nathan's tea was working with surprising swiftness. This, Ezra's generosity in how he spent his money was just one more way that he had managed to tell his friends what they meant to him; his purchases nowadays more often than not included amounts of many items that would far-exceed one man's ability to consume them before they went bad.
Nathan made as though he would reply, but Vin put his finger up to his mouth to quiet the healer. In no time, it seemed, and far sooner than the tea normally worked, Ezra was sleeping soundly.
"I got to remember that for the next time," Nathan said softly with an affectionate smile.
"If ya let 'im, he'd talk all day. And night," Vin said, his voice quiet as usual. They both smiled and shook their heads. Ezra really was a handful, but one that they hoped they'd have to deal with for a whole lot longer. It seemed the man was more content with being with them in the dusty town than he ever had been. The door opened and in walked Buck and J.D.
"Sssh," Nathan whispered. "He just got to sleep."
"He doin' okay?" Buck asked as he took a seat next to the bed.
"He's runnin' a slight fever, and he'll be tired for a while 'cause of the blood loss. But he'll be fine."
"We all finished up at Mrs. Potter's yesterday. Worked into the night, but it's done."
"Ez'll be happy to hear that," Vin replied.
"We made somethin' for him," Buck said. "Show 'em, kid." J.D. pulled the item out from behind his back.
"What in tarnation?" Nathan asked. Vin laughed lightly. "Is that … " Nathan started.
"A voodoo doll," J.D. answered. The doll wore a fine outfit with a fancy vest and brilliant blue jacket. It sported Ezra's hair color, had a black hat, leather gun belt and a tiny gun in the holster that was carved of wood and held the markings of a piece whittled by Chris Larabee.
"What's this?" Nathan asked, pointing to an object of clothing that Ezra never wore.
"Well, we were figuring that one of the things you would most want a voodoo doll of Ezra Standish to do would be to make the man shut up, at will. So, we put the bandana over his mouth," Buck said with a proud, agreeable smile.
Vin and Nathan shared a glance. Vin asked, "When did ya add the scarf?"
"It was the last thing we put on, just before we came up the stairs just now," J.D. answered. Vin and Nathan's eyes both grew wide at the realization. But they both agreed with silent nods to one another to keep this newfound knowledge to themselves. Who knew what someone like Buck Wilmington would try if he thought that he held that kind of power with a simple little doll? No, best think on this as a coincidence and trust that voodoo hadn't made its way out west.
On the other hand, didn't Chris mention that Ezra had another song to sing?
Note: The song "A Boy's Best Friend Is His Mother" was written by Henry Miller and Joseph P. Skelly. Yeah, it was probably written after the Old West timeline for our guys, but the song was too great not to use!