Notes: This follows the short story, Trouble, and should be read as
such. This is just a short story that came to me a few weeks ago and wouldn't
let go. This has not been beta-ed, so all the mistakes are mine-sorry about
Sorry about taking so long in getting this out to you all. Life has been CRAZY these past few months. I hope to update my site with some of the drawings I've been working on. Alas, I seem to be in high demand of late, getting consignments done in time for Christmas!!
Archivists Note: Hanky warning people. I got teary formatting this.
Please send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Buck sat across from Ezra, casually watching him toss his cards into a discard pile. The game of solitaire was highly over rated. Most everyone had gone home for the night, even Inez had disappeared into the back room perhaps preparing for the next day. Chris and Vin had gone to Eagle Bend, as requested by the judge, and the rest of them were left babysitting the town. Nathan was busy with his own problems, sitting up in his clinic trying to find a cure-all for the common cold. Josiah remained locked up in his church, paying his penance, and trying desperately to make the unstable building stable. JD and Casey had taken off for Nettie's, wanting to spend some time alone.
"You know, Ezra, you'd have better luck playin' twenty-one by yourself than playin' that slow movin', meaningless, annoyin'-the-shit-out-of-me game."
"In order to finely enjoy the game-and skill-of twenty-one, you need more participants than two," his words were frank, emotionless, and all-in-all, Ezra.
"Hell," Buck scratched his head, "s'pose I should head out on patrol. Might see a fox or somethin' tonight." He grinned as he stood, not caring what Standish thought.
"May you have a more enjoyable time than I," Ezra replied, lifting his beer glass and downing the warm fluid.
Buck shook his head and walked toward the door. "I can sure as hell think of better things I'd rather be doin' " he continued to mutter as he slipped through the batwing doors. "Why, Miss Daisy," he squealed, like a child with a new toy.
Ezra shook his head and shuffled his cards. Spring had a way of keeping men at home with their families; too much work to do, so gambling was held at a minimum. Ezra reached for his hat and rolled the rim between his hands, feeling the supple material. He smiled to himself as Inez stepped out from behind the bar and wiped the last table with a wet cloth.
"Do you need anything else, senor?" she asked, placing her hands on her hips. He dare not ask.
"No, thank you, Inez," he replied, watching her nod and slowly disappear behind the bar and enter the back room. He kicked his feet up on the chair Buck had vacated and listened softly as the charismatic cowboy headed out of town, riding that old gray of his. Ezra smiled, Rooster had probably seen Buck do some strange things it was probably good that horses couldn't talk. He though about Trouble and how sick he'd been of late there was only so much he could do
Ezra looked up and saw Tiny peek up past the batwing doors. The old horseman removed his hat and slowly entered the bar and headed toward the gambler. Ezra didn't need to ask he already knew.
"Again?" came the soft question that sounded more like a disappointed acknowledgement.
Tiny nodded and rolled the rim of his hat between his hands. "Done tried every trick I know ain't nothin' workin'," he admitted. He looked up and met green eyes. "Ol' Trouble has served you well fer a long time reckon it's time to let 'im go." He knew the pain those words would cause, but he also know they had to be uttered.
Ezra's jaw clenched and he nodded in understanding. Easier said than done.
"There's a real nice patch of land out behind the Lander place if'n you'd like, I'll put him down fer ya." Tiny knew how men bonded with their horses like they did their friends, sometimes closer. Four legged animals that worked hard all their lives for one reason get their masters to one destination and then the next. He wasn't a fool, and he knew how Ezra treasured his friendship with Trouble.
Ezra looked up and shook his head: "Thank you for the offer, but I'll do it," his words were flat, emotionless, like a fateful realization of what had to be done. He'd avoided it long enough.
Tiny nodded and quickly replaced his hat and slowly headed toward the exit. "I know it don't mean much," he turned and looked at the gambler, "but I ain't never seen a horse relate to a man like Trouble does to you in all my days. That ol' boy loves you more 'an his oats, an' for an ol' horseman like myself, it gave me a lot of pleasure seein' you two work together." He nodded once and quickly left.
Ezra watched him go, feeling the pain in his gut run from his head to his toes. A dear friend was hurting, slowly dying, and it was his duty to care for him. Ezra wasn't a fool; he knew the ridicule he'd get for appearing weak in regards to a horse, a piece of property, a mode of transportation
He sighed and checked the bullets in the chamber of his pistol before he stood, placing his hat upon his head, he slowly left the dreary saloon and headed toward the stables.
The crisp night air bit at his skin with a sense of urgency. Night was the time of day Ezra worked best, but this night wasn't the same. A fool wasn't losing his money to him at the gaming tables, Buck wasn't once again wooing the skirts off a new girl, and Chris and Vin weren't sitting alone in the corner of the saloon, contemplating their lives with a drink and silence.
Ezra could hear the raps of his boot heels striking the boardwalk, and the scuffs of dirt between leather and wood. The deep croaking of frogs and crickets sang in rhythm, while a faint wind blew through the streets. It was almost haunting.
The lanterns in the livery were still lit and Ezra entered slowly, finding Tiny rubbing a soft cloth along Trouble's neck. The old horse looked up and perked his ears forward. Nobody knew for sure what was wrong, just that he was dying.
Tiny handed the soft cotton lead to Ezra and slowly started to exit the stable, heading home. As a man who knew horses better than he knew himself, he had a keen understanding of their potential, their abundant grace, and undying determination. There was truly no better therapy for the inside of a man, than the outside of a horse. Tiny paused a moment at the door and looked back, knowing what would happen, and how it would be dealt with. He shook his head before slowly disappearing into the night.
Ezra ran his hand over the bridge of Trouble's nose, feeling the fine bone, soft muzzle, and chiseled features. Trouble blinked his eyes and sighed deeply, as though the touch brought him some comfort.
Ezra squeezed the lead in his hand and slowly led his horse from the stable. He wanted to take him someplace nice, peaceful, and quiet.
Trouble followed, willingly.
It was the perfect time of year. That period of time between spring and summer, when the nights came alive and the days grew longer, when life was reaching its fullest. The long grass was green, and trees thrived under the moisture of dew and the warmth of the early morning sun.
Life was a gift.
Death was inevitable.
Ezra paused and looked at the land around him before looking into those big black orbs, seeing kindness, compassion, strength, honor, and humility. Those eyes held the secrets and moments unknown to any man-accept himself, and his steed. Together, they'd shared pain, fear, loss and suffering now, only one stood strong.
Trouble tossed his head, allowing his ears to flop and his mane to fly for a brief moment. He hung his head and let his ears droop just a little lower than before. He looked out toward the rolling hills, toward the shady trees, and he knew that Ezra had picked the best spot.
A brilliant spot.
Here, it was green and lush, a few flowers speckled the field with yellows and reds brilliant colors-
The Southerner ran a hand over Trouble's neck, beneath his heavy mane, feeling heat and his failing strength. He knew if he asked, the old horse would take him anywhere he wanted, together they'd travel to the ends of the earth if only he asked. A part of him wanted to. He wanted to saddle up that horse, take him for a long ride another late night patrol.
But he wouldn't.
Together they'd ridden far more than most, sharing dreams and secrets sharing memories and pains. They'd seen oceans and lakes, deserts and forests, mountains so high that heaven seemed near, and canyons so low that hell burned beneath their feet. They'd been chased out of towns on foot and rail, played games for money and treats, and they'd tasted the pains of loss. Ezra never yelled at him, never whipped him or forced spurs into his sides. Ezra never asked him to go any faster than he could, or last any longer than possible.
"You're the best, old man," came the soft-spoken words from a friend in grief. "Always were."
Trouble looked up and blinked, wishing he had the strength for one last ride. He tossed his head, and stepped slowly forward, pressing his head against his best friend's chest, thankful for the peace those fingers could offer.
Ezra pulled a sugar cube from his pocket and smiled when Trouble smacked his lips with weak anticipation.
Ezra's heart felt as though someone had reached inside his chest and were squeezing it, toying with it in some unruly fashion. He knew what had to be done, but at the moment he was lacking the strength to go though with it.
Some would think him a sentimental fool.
Buck watched from a safe distance, knowing in some way what his friend was going through. He reached down and softly stroked Rooster's neck, as if reassuring the animal.
Life was indeed fragile.
Slowly, Buck dismounted, debating with himself if he should help Ezra out, or wait. Buck decided on the latter. Sometimes it was best to do things your own way, and in your own time. Trouble was dying, Ezra was hurting, and nothing could aid either at the moment.
Rooster pitched his nose forward, looking for more attention. Buck smiled, relieved that the big gray was still in good health, relieved that it wasn't himself out there, trying his damndest to do the right thing.
Ezra pulled his pistol from his holster and looked at the cold steel. Such a contrast: life and death, while one offered hope, the other offered peace. The heavy, almost black weapon he held in one hand offered only one thing as opposed to the soft velvet of Trouble's nose, the air he breathed, the tears he wept, and the food he ate all contributed to life.
One hand held a weapon of destruction, the other an immeasurable tribute to life.
"I'd hoped we'd go out together," he chuckled softly, "maybe jumpin' off a cliff after escapin' from a town gone mad." He smiled, trying to hide his pain, but his eyes revealed his secret. "Never had a better friend, don't suppose I ever will again," he whispered. He rubbed his eyes with his fingers, trying to ward off the tears. He reached up and ran his hand gently over Trouble's eyes, over his jowl, and over his neck.
Horses were the essence of strength, stamina, endurance, beauty, and life.
They weren't supposed to die like everyone else
Suddenly, Ezra took a step back letting go of the rope, he took a deep breath, and raised his weapon.
He pulled the hammer back and fired.
Birds flew from the trees as the echoing sound ricochet from north to south, east to west.
Trouble went down and kicked out with his hind legs his last fight.
Buck looked away, and Rooster jumped.
Ezra fired again he had to make sure.
Life wasn't meant to be easy, but did it have to be cruel?
Ezra looked away, guilt tearing at his soul, loss eating at his heart, and pain etching his mind. He replaced the weapon in its holster, and rubbed his face with his hands. He'd done the right thing, he knew it, but it didn't make it any easier. He looked slowly to his right.
Trouble lay in an untroubled sleep.
Gone but not forgotten, those words rang hard in Ezra's ears; they weren't very helpful to a man in pain. Josiah had spoken of Heaven in a few of his sermons, what a waste if it were a place just for humans. Trouble should be there, running with others, free-like the spirit he was.
Ezra looked out toward the large valley and took a deep breath. He needed to get back before his friends started to question his whereabouts.
He needed this time alone.
Buck sighed and ran his hand over his face. He remembered a time not so long ago when a young rebel soldier took the life of a friend out of love, not hate. A time when choices were few and far between, when strength of character was more important than the notches in a belt or money in a pocket.
Buck reached around and grabbed the saddle horn and pulled himself up.
Life was too damn short.
Ezra knew it was Buck and Rooster behind him before he turned to look. The big gray had a tendency to clip his hind hooves when he walked.
"You know, Ezra, I know a lot of men who'd rather be sittin' in a saloon having a drink an' playin' a bit of poker rather than bein' stuck out in the middle of a field walkin' back to town."
"Your point, Buck?" Ezra replied flatly.
Buck pulled Rooster to a stop and dismounted. He led his horse forward and slowly caught up with Standish. "Ain't no point, Ezra," he replied. He shrugged his shoulders and continued on foot toward town. "Just sayin' that the comforts of town seems more your style than walkin' out here durin' the early mornin' hours." He wanted the gambler to tell him what he'd had to do, but Ezra wouldn't and Buck knew it.
"Mistah Wilmin'ton," Ezra paused, loosing control over his accent, "what do you want?" He stopped and turned toward the gunslinger.
Buck shrugged: "Nothin'." He stopped and watched for a moment as Ezra walked ahead of him. "Nobody's goin' to think less of you for feelin' bad about Trouble." The hair on the back of Buck's neck stood on end.
Ezra stopped and squeezed his hands into fists. "He was a horse, Mister Wilmington nothin' more, nothin' less." He continued toward town.
"He was your friend!" Buck yelled after him, shaking his head in disappointment and misjudgment.
Chris tied Mud to the railing and waited for Vin to do the same. Both men were tired, and looked to have ridden five hundred miles of hard road. Dust lined their clothing, and mud caked their boots. They moved as one through the batwing doors into the saloon and headed immediately for the bar where Inez quickly had two beers awaiting them.
Chris tossed his hat onto the bar top and slipped into a stool before taking a long pull from the Luke-warm beer. He scanned the room with alert eyes and found Nathan and Josiah sitting in the corner sharing each others company. Josiah tipped his hat in acknowledgment.
"How was your trip?" Buck asked, slipping up beside his long time friend. He leaned back against the bar and looked toward the batwing doors.
"Too damn long," Vin replied, scratching the weeks worth of stubble on his chin.
"Any excitement here?" Chris asked, wanting to know what he needed to worry about if anything.
Buck shook his head and chuckled when JD stumbled into the saloon and headed up to the table where Ezra was seated, playing his game of solitaire. "Ezra put Trouble down Nathan figures the ol' horse twisted his gut durin' that last bout of colic."
Chris nodded in understanding. It happened.
Vin winced, knowing how much Ezra thought of his horse, despite trying not to show it. "How's he doin'?"
Buck rolled his eyes: "He's been playin' solitaire for the past four days, an' he ain't been out of that chair."
"Trouble was a horse, Buck," Chris said flatly, but practically.
"So's Rooster," Buck replied solemnly, "but it don't make it any easier." He turned and faced the mirror and grabbed the glass of beer Inez had poured him. "I want you to send me an' Ezra to Gold Creek for a couple of days."
"Why?" Chris asked, furrowing his brow.
"Because if Ezra don't haul his butt out of that chair he's goin' to have wooden legs comin' out of his ass."
"So go," Chris replied, quickly finishing his beer.
"I need you to order us to go," Buck said quietly, just loud enough for Chris and Vin to hear.
Vin chuckled, he knew the reason.
"Fine, you're ordered to go to Gold Creek-stay out of jail." Chris shook his head out of frustration. "What in the hell are you goin' to do there?"
Buck shrugged: "Anythin', maybe find Ezra a new mount-he's gotta have somethin' to ride."
"Fine, so go."
Buck nodded and leaned closer to Chris. "We'll be back in a couple of days." He stood up straight and headed for the table where Ezra was sitting.
"Too bad about ol' Trouble," Vin said softly.
Chris nodded, but kept his eyes on the mirror, watching Standish's reaction. "Buck'll straighten him out," he said with confidence.
"Yeah," Vin agreed, before finishing off his beer. He stood up straight. "Figure I'll go an' take care of Digger, 'fore he gets any ideas."
Chris smiled and nodded. "Think Mud could use a good groomin' as well." He turned and slapped Vin on the shoulder before following him out. He looked up and nodded toward Buck who was still trying to convince Ezra that they needed to go.
Buck nodded back.
Ezra sat astride the over-weight palomino that had the smoothness of a carriage over rough terrain. The horse stumbled and tossed his head more than most and had Ezra wishing he'd walked. His ass did as well. Though the animal was diligent and willing enough, he just didn't have the finesse that Trouble had.
Buck watched the gambler, knowing what he was going through he'd lived it as well. "When I was a boy," he paused, "my ma gave me a cow pony-"
"Is this goin' to be a heart-warmin'-my-pour-soul-forget-me-not story?"
Buck raised his eyebrows in question as though verbally asking "what, me"? "Hell, Ezra, I've been around a while, know a thing or two about loss." He reached down and gently stroked Rooster's neck. "I know how important these four legged wonders are."
"Four legged wonders?" Ezra turned questioning eyes toward the cowboy.
Buck shrugged: "Seems reasonable enough."
Ezra nodded: "So what happened to your trustful steed?"
"I was workin' on a line quite a few years ago, drivin' cattle up North," he paused, thinking about his own story, "a few friends an' I were sittin' by the fire when the cattle started stampedin'. I saddled up an' headed out." He wiped his brow and then toyed with the reins. "Me an' a few of the boys tried turnin' the cattle, but that pony I was ridin' stepped in a gopher hole an' we both went down."
Ezra could guess what happened; he really didn't need to know the details.
"I tumbled forward an' my pony collapsed-he struggled, but he couldn't get up." Buck ran his hand over his face and sighed. "I had to put 'im down-didn't want him sufferin'."
"It was an accident, Buck. You couldn't prevent it." Ezra's tone was soft and understanding.
Buck nodded: "I know, but it took a lot of years realizin' it."
Ezra could see Gold Creek in the distance, and like so many times before the streets were nearly bare except for a few wranglers, farmers, and drunks. Horses were tied out in front of the saloon, and a woman brushed some cobwebs from the doorframe of the grocery.
Buck reined his horse to a stop and slipped off while Ezra did the same. Dust bloomed up and around their feet as they stepped off the street and onto the rickety boardwalk. An out of tune piano echoed for a brief moment when someone or something crashed into it. Buck chuckled to himself, this town never changed. He followed Ezra into the saloon and took a quick look around.
Farmers, ranchers, drunks, and obviously bad gamblers littered the bar and tables. The fight that had broken out before their arrival had obviously been settled and both men were now discussing their differences over a beer.
"Buy ya a drink?" Buck asked, stepping up to the bar next to the gambler.
"You don't need to ask," Ezra replied, unwilling to pass up a free drink.
Buck waved to the bartender who in turn quickly poured two glasses of warm beer. Buck took a sip and cringed, wishing for a clean glass.
"So why are we here?" Ezra asked, setting his hat on the surface of the counter.
"Chris wanted us to look at some stock-"
"Chris is now dealin' with bovines?"
"No," Buck replied, after clearing his throat. "He ah, just wanted us to take a trip out to Tom Peterson's place an' look at a few of his horses."
"Do I look like an idiot?" Ezra asked outright.
"No," Buck replied, "but you do surprise me." He smiled and took another pull from his drink.
Ezra rolled his eyes and rubbed his hand over his face. "Can we get this over with before I shoot you on accident?"
Buck shrugged and quickly nodded. He turned suddenly to the right and smiled widely at a young barmaid. She waved to him and slowly strutted across the room.
"Hey, handsome," she said with a smile. She brushed a long strand of brown hair away from her face and leaned seductively against the bar.
"Ah hell," Ezra sighed, standing up straight and heading toward a table in the back, hoping to find a game.
The ranch was huge, larger than most with cattle roaming free. Several hired hands worked out in a large corral branding young steers. A covered porch surrounded the house and a woman with her young children sat reading.
"Tom's been horse tradin' for a long time he's the one that got Chris started so many years ago. He'd bring horses up from Mexico, cross them with his own stock." Buck waved to the man riding a big bay. "Tom!" he yelled in greeting.
"Wilmington," came the acknowledgment, "haven't seen you in these parts for a long time." He smiled as he spoke, as though they had been good friends at one time. "What'n the hell are you doin' here?"
Buck glanced at Ezra who was looking off in the distance before turning his attention back to Tom. "Thought I'd come by an' see some of your stock."
"Horses, cows, or both?"
"Horses," Buck replied honestly.
Tom chuckled: "I just had one of my men bring a batch back from California-good breeding. How many are you lookin' for?"
Buck shrugged. "Just one." He motioned toward Ezra who had parked himself near the edge of the corral. "My friend Ezra's lookin' for a new mount-somethin' with spirit."
Tom nodded in understanding. "Think I can arrange that." He turned and headed toward the arena that held more than twenty head of horses. Bays, chestnuts, blacks, and all the colors in-between shuffled patiently around the corral. "Anyone that suits your fancy you're welcomed to." He dismounted and stepped up to the gate.
"Good lookin' lot," Buck said, resting his foot on the bottom rail. He leaned forward resting his arms over the top rail and folded his fingers together. He looked toward Ezra, searching for any sign that one of the equines had captured his attention. "How much you askin' for the buckskin?"
"Still haven't lost your eye for horses," Tom chuckled.
"Or the ladies," Buck replied quickly.
Ezra shook his head, feeling like the loose wheel on a stagecoach. He held the palomino's reins in his hands and looked over the horsehides. All were beautiful in their own way but none of them were Trouble. He reached up and scratched at his chin. He knew he needed a mount, an animal that would get him from point A to point B-without a callused ass. His eyes fell immediately toward the ground, searching for horses with long pasterns.
A light bay caught his attention. The gelding moved with a subtle grace, long legs, pasterns, a nice angled shoulder, and long muscles attributed to his size and agility. His two front legs had stockings to his knees, and he had a long narrow stripe down the bridge of his nose. He was a good looking horse by all accounts, but he lacked personality, and that's what Ezra wanted.
"Now, that bay's only about seven-years-old. Would make a good ridin' horse," Tom said, reaching into his pocket for his tobacco.
"Is this all you have available?" Ezra asked, looking toward the pastures.
"What is it you're lookin' for?" Tom asked, trying to get specifics.
Ezra shrugged, he really wasn't sure. He looked again at the herd of horses, looking for that one he could connect with, the one that would get him out of town in a hurry, the one that would help him make a living, and the one that would become a friend.
He spotted a black bay gelding standing alone near the edge of the arena. He was tall and lean, but covered in mud. Bite marks marred his coat and his sides were gaunt, as though he hadn't been fed in days. He hung his head low, and let his ears flop as he shook his head. Ezra chuckled, for some reason that old horse looked like he felt. He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out his flask.
That old horse perked his ears forward and turned his head as though he recognized something.
"How much are you askin' for that black bay-the one near the corral edge?" Ezra asked out of curiosity. He smiled when the horse took a hesitant step forward and Ezra sloshed the whiskey in his flask before taking a pull.
The horse raised his head and perked his ears frontward. His eyes came to life and he stepped closer to the gambler.
"If you want him you can have him." Tom sighed. "Can't get close enough to him to figure out his age, and he's so damn mean. I've been threatening to put a bullet in him for days-just can't catch him." He scraped the mud off his boots using the bottom pole of the fence.
Ezra held out his flask, as though offering some to the horse and smiled when the animal continued forward. Slowly, Ezra tied the palomino to the corral rails and slipped between the two bottom rails of the corral and entered the arena.
The horse arched his neck and tried to reach that outstretched hand that contained the silver flask. His lips smacked together in anticipation.
Ezra chuckled and stepped closer to the big horse, offering his flask in hopes of finding something anything. The animal stuck his lips out as far as he could and snatched the container from Ezra's hand. The big horse raised his head high in the air and allowed the fine Kentucky whiskey to melt over his tongue.
"Hell, Ezra," Buck chuckled, "looks like you got yourself a rival."
The gambler stepped up beside the big horse and ran his hand along the long neck, feeling each and every one of the bite marks, and matted hair. He scraped his fingers along the mud, trying to roughly brush it away. The horse tossed his head and Ezra quickly grabbed his flask before it ended up on the ground. He continued to run his hands over the animal, searching for any health problems other than the need for a good grooming and a decent meal.
"He's sound, ain't seen him limpin' or favorin' any of his legs. He's got a real smooth gait to him," Tom said, wanting to get rid of the animal. "Just don't know how old he is."
Ezra grabbed a lead from the railing and looped it around the horse's neck then carefully checked his teeth. "Can't be over five," he replied confidently. "I'll take him."
Buck slapped the top railing with his open hand and then backed away from the fence. He grabbed a halter and handed it to Ezra-knowing the gambler would have the animal trained in no time. "You do realize you picked the ugliest one out of the lot?"
Ezra ignored the bribe.
Tom yelled for one of his hands to open the gate and let the pair out. "You sure I can't interest you in that buckskin?" he had to ask, just to be sure.
Buck shook his head. "Next time I come lookin' for a horse, Tom, I'll come here." He smiled as he walked toward the gelding.
The tall black bay pinned his ears, but allowed the mustached cowhand to run his hand over his hide.
"I'll get you a receipt for that animal," Tom said, heading toward the house.
Ezra grabbed a handful of straw and slowly began brushing the bay down.
"You know, Standish, there's couple of horses out there that would have Chris turnin' green with envy. Why in the hell did you pick this thing?" Buck took a step back and looked the animal over. "Is it because he was free?"
Ezra shook his head: "I've always been partial to animals with personality."
"I've always been partial to women with shapely hips but that don't mean much when she's uglier than a mud fence."
"Buck," Ezra calmly replied, "you're more shallow than a pan full of fool's gold."
"That comin' from the horse's mouth!" Buck replied. He laughed as Tom walked up to them and handed the gambler the bill of sale.
"It was good seein' you again, Buck," Tom said, shaking Wilmington's hand. "When you see Chris again, tell him I said 'Hi'."
"Will do," Buck replied, mounting his horse. He waited for Ezra to mount the palomino and pony his new steed behind him.
"How about Burt? Burt's a good name for a horse," Buck said, sitting back in his saddle, enjoying the day.
"What about Henry? I knew a Henry once-big guy, stunk like a spoiled egg on a hot day. Damn," he sighed, remembering the stench.
"Heaven help me, Wilmington, you talk more than a guilty man claimin' his innocence."
"Well hell, Ezra, you gotta name that animal." Buck chuckled and toyed with the reins.
"I could call him, Buck. There are, after all, several similarities."
"Why, that's the nicest thing you've said to me all day!"
"You both have big noses, big ears, big feet " Ezra continued as he rode on ahead, " you both get gas, eat more than what's humanly possible "
"I ain't that bad!"
Ezra sat on his bedroll while leaning back against the underskirt of his saddle. The warmth of the fire heated his feet and he watched the flames with casual attention. Buck sat in a similar fashion directly across from him, picking his teeth with a toothpick.
"Why do they call a toothbrush a toothbrush when you've got more than one tooth? Shouldn't it be, teethbrush?"
Ezra cocked an eyebrow and looked worriedly at Wilmington.
"Where's the reasoning?"
"Frankly, I can't believe your even askin' such questions." Ezra laid his hat on the edge of his blanket before running his fingers through his hair.
"Just a couple of those things I think about. Earl. Earl's a good name. I rode with an Earl on a cattle drive one time. He was the damndest fella. Used to pull his socks up over his pant legs-said it was to keep the ticks off 'im. All his fingers looked like toes." He looked up and met Ezra's disbelieving eyes. "Swear on the Bible it's true!"
Ezra grabbed his flask and took a long pull. He looked up in time to see his new horse pull on his lead, freeing himself from the tether and slowly walk toward Ezra. "Toss me your hat, Buck."
Buck shrugged and threw his hat in Ezra's direction. He watched as the gambler removed the cork from the bottle of 'medicinal' whiskey Ezra kept in his saddlebags and proceeded to pour it into the hat.
"Now wait just a minute!" Buck started to protest until he watched Ezra's new horse stick his nose into the hat and drink up the whisky. "You ever seen a drunk horse?" he asked.
"No," Ezra replied with a smile as his horse finished his repast. "Whiskey," he said, more to himself than Buck.
"What about it?"
"It's his name," he motioned toward his horse, "Whiskey's his name."
"Seems fittin'," Buck concluded.
Yeah, Ezra smiled, looking to his right as his horse stood patiently behind him. He wasn't Trouble, but then, there never would be another one. Ezra watched as Buck settled back onto his bedroll and covered his face with his newly soaked and whisky drenched hat.
Whisky lowered his head, and cocked his left hind foot already feeling at home.
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