...Makes You Stronger
"Now, let me see..." Ezra licked a thumb and carefully turned the yellowed page of the book. "Ahh, here we are, gentlemen, I believe our illustrious healer mentioned his concern about Mister Tanner's fever, though not serious yet -"
"Ain't got a fever," Tanner mumbled from the bed he'd been unceremoniously dumped in that morning. "M'fine, like I told 'im."
"Indeed, and I - and I imagine half the town - heard you tell him. However, you'll forgive me if I'm inclined to take Mister Jackson's word rather than yours, given that he was the one attending to the hole in your leg. Ah, here we are... to reduce a fever, catch a granddaddy spider, pull of its legs and swallow it whole and alive."
"You're makin' that up!"
Large, utterly guileless green eyes gazed back at him. "You wound me, Vin, would I do something as heinous as that?"
"Damn right you would."
"No truly, it is here in black and somewhat begrimed white. Or perhaps you would prefer... put twelve red ants in a bag and tie it around your neck." He frowned slightly, turning the page over, then back. "It doesn't seem to make clear of they should be alive or not, though personally I would imagine even ants would be quite irate at being that close to unwashed -"
"You wanna get shot too?"
"No gratitude." Ezra sighed dramatically. "Then perhaps I should not mention the virtues of wild rabbit leavings in hot water."
"Skip it, Ezra," a third voice cut in, amused and only mildly intimidating. "You don't wanna bleed all over Nate's clinic, before Vin feeds you the leavings, do ya?"
Ezra shuddered dramatically. "No indeed, Mister Larabee," he said sweetly, "so perhaps we should turn to such time-tested cures for what ails... you. A simple headache, I gather?"
"Like hell you do." Chris's eyes narrowed - a mistake, given the concussion from being whacked over the head with a wooden leg - and all amusement left his voice.
"Oh but I insist, no trouble is too great." Ezra flicked through the pages of the old book, and beamed. "After all, you were both injured, my dear sirs. Albeit in the sorriest excuse for a gunfight this town has seen for oh, it must be several months now, given that the reprobates were blind drunk, had tried to stage a jail break with no prisoners and an extremely incensed Mister Larabee in charge, and in any case were all at least seventy years of age." He paused. "And the youngest is in fact lacking an eye. And a left leg, since you confiscated it."
"You're enjoyin' this a damn sight too much," Chris growled.
"Oh trust me, I am not the only one. Miz Travis gleefully acquired all of the salient details for her newspaper, and your heroics and frightful injuries will be front page news." He paused, and shrugged. "We can hardly fault her. The next most exciting occurrence in town was Dead-Eye Dora's sad encounter with a polecat in the town privy. Do be of good cheer, gentlemen, and Mister Jackson will return soon enough to monitor your welfare."
"Ezzzra..." The injured spoke together, and most folk in town - hell, in the territory - would have quailed at the level of menace in their combined voices.
However, their temporary keeper was not only one of the five - or maybe six, with Miz Travis - who didn't quail, he knew quite well where their boots, pants and most importantly guns were: not where either man could get at them unaided.
"So, as I was saying..." he went on serenely. "Take dried frog-skins... No, mah apologies, wrong affliction. I don't suppose crushed pillbugs would appeal either... Ah, this sounds better, as Mister Tanner needs the aforementioned spider, swallow a spider's web. The spider will hardly require it by then."
"Now that's true." Both of the non-walking wounded gave a groan at the all too jovial voice at the clinic door, and Vin pulled a thin pillow over his head. Buck merely beamed at them as he and JD crossed to peer over Ezra's shoulders. "An' it's uncommonly good of you, Ez, to take such pains."
"I'll give him pains," Larabee muttered, eyeing the definitely overloud newcomers and trying to work out how soon his head would not hurt too much to inflict some mayhem. Starting, of course, with...
"Now Mister Larabee," Ezra caught the look of incipient mayhem coming his way, "I am only trying to be of assistance here. A few time-tested suggestions to ease your fleeting spell of suffering -"
JD was reading over Ezra's shoulder; his eyes widened. "Uh... are you gonna suggest that one, Ez? - Cause I think even if they survive it, you won't."
Chris ignored the sweetly satisfied smile on Ezra's face. "Buck, who they hell were they?"
"Y'mean our newest desperadoes?" Buck eased himself down into the chair on the other side of Vin's bed. "Three brothers they are, Hiram, Hammon an' Hannibal Prebble. Seems they've come to stay with kinfolk an' just spent the night makin' new pards at the saloon... an' then at another saloon, then 'nother, then..."
"We get it."
"So did most of the town, Chris," JD said cheerfully, reaching over Ezra's shoulder to turn a page. "They paid for drinks in near every bar they went to."
"An' then jis' decided t'break... into the jail?" The disbelief in Vin's voice was muffled by the pillow, but not nearly enough.
"Well now, you gotta understand, them three old coots were drunker than a dead drunk skunk," Buck said. "Got it in their heads that they had to... rescue their innocent ol' uncle from the underhanded hand of the law 'round here."
"Uncle?" Ezra stared at him. "Those reprobates must have been more than -"
"Yeah," JD bounced in a way that made both patients wince. "More than seventy, every one of them. Old Uncle Hersheimer Prebble, he died more than forty years ago back east, but they sorta forgot that, being drunk an' all."
Chris put a hand to his aching head. It was enough he got pretty much bushwhacked - in their own jail - by three old codgers in the first place, let alone two brainless and crazy old codgers and one brainless, crazy, and one-legged old codger. This was gonna do the reputation of Four Corner's peacekeepers no good at all.
Still, he thought, the whole mess coulda been worse. He pushed down the painful memory of how much worse (there was the still unsolved mystery of Widow McWhirter's missing toads, and the time Buck had been somehow outgunned by an angry and accident-prone mule, and then the business with dynamite, the bath house and a naked Conklin that no one in town ever thought of if they could help it, and damn it, he'd thought of it and it weren't doin' the pain in his head any favors) and glared, slightly fuzzily, at the man who'd been making his life hell for an hour or so.
"Standish, go an' watch the jail."
"Me?" More innocence, outraged this time, slid easily over Ezra's face. "I protest, it is not my turn for that particular drudgery."
"Nope, it's mine," Vin peeked out from the pillow, more cheerful at this idea. "I'm stuck here till Nathan says otherwise. An' I don't care t'argue with 'im."
"You don't?" JD blurted.
"Well, not that much, not more'n -"
"Every time." Chris snorted, and regretted it when his head felt like it was falling off. "Standish, just go, an' take that hellish book with ya. There oughta be a cure or two in there for drunkenness you can share with those idiots, an' the more spiders and snakes you can slither in, the better. Buck, you go contact the family, tell them to come pick up the brothers - who are the family, anyway? There's no Prebbles round here that I can recall."
Buck's eyes sparkled. "Now that, pard, is the good bit."
"There ain't a good bit, Buck."
"No really, Chris. Got it outa Hiram, who was beginnin' to see the error of his ways as the booze wore off and our Josiah's sermonizing got louder -"
"Josiah, sermonizing? My my, what a surprise," Ezra murmured.
"Kinda likes a captive audience, he does. Anyhow, Hiram told us they're here visitin' their sister, widow lives with her six daughters not far from the Wells place. Name of -"
"You're joking." Chris sat up, despite the pain.
"You are not serious, Buck." Ezra almost dropped the book in shock.
"You gotta be kiddin' us." Vin's head shot out from under the pillow. "Ol' Widow Zweigel an' her girls?"
JD cocked his head. "Isn't she that scary old lady? - the one with the face like a bad-tempered prune, who really really really hates drinking?"
"She really really really hates every damn thing, JD," Vin growled.
"But in particular the demon drink, true," Ezra smirked. "As our illustrious leader would know. Didn't she reprimand you for something like forty minutes over a shot of whiskey in your coffee Chris?"
Chris actually flinched. "By the time she finished jawin', I needed a hellava lot more whiskey."
"Y'scared of her, cowboy?" Vin asked sweetly.
"And then," Ezra went on smoothly, "there was the time she stood just outside Dirty Dick's saloon and pummeled every man entering with her walking stick, and we were all but lynched trying to defend her from a well-placed fist or chair... or both. And you surely recollect how she upbraided poor Mary about the depraved evil that was her Christmas trifle."
"Well, to be fair, Ez," Buck said broodingly, "that there trifle was pretty damn evil. Lucky you had enough brandy to take away the taste an' all."
"True. But none the less -"
"None th'less, she's gonna be madder'n a wet hornet in a wasps' nest."
"Good," Chris snapped. "You an' Josiah go tell her to come take her kinfolk outa our hair. Ezra, go read your damn book to the kinfolk an' leave us in peace. JD, go with him. Once we get shot of the lot of you -"
"He does so love that word 'shot'," Standish said sotto voce, making JD splutter and their fearless - and currently weaponless - leader stare at him suspiciously.
"We might get some sleep before Nathan gets back and wakes us up to pour one of his horsepiss teas - and Ezra, you say one word about piss being in that book of yours and you'll regret it. Now get outa here, the lot of you."
Ezra sighed dramatically, but rose. "Your word is my command. " He smirked again at the glare both invalids gave him, tipped his hat, and strolled out.
Buck watched him go, grinning the whole time. "Gotta admit, Chris, he's got brass balls baitin' you an' Vin like that." His grin widened. "If he was just baitin', 'cause y'never know with him. Wonder if he's gonna show that book to Nathan?"
"Not if he's plannin' on livin' much longer, he ain't." Vin lay back, shifting uncomfortably as the bullet hole in his leg burned. "Y'know, cowboy, after all that listenin' to Ez, I damn near miss Nate and his disgustin' teas."
"Tell the truth, maybe his medicine ain't so bad..."
They looked at each other for a long moment.
"Nope, it's worse," they said together.
Buck, roaring with laughter, headed out the door and there was peace in the little clinic.
At least, for a while.