The mid morning sun folded across dusty furnishings. Its brilliance was lost as it bent through glass and over a dingy floor. Dust particles floated about, highlighted in the muted beams of light. The air, though stagnant, had a brisk feel to it, despite lacking the cleanliness of a coming new season. Five men sat in forced idleness at a corner table, enjoying the tentative touches of a new sun. Voices and stray laughter rolled across the empty room to the single bar maid wiping mugs. Occasionally, she too would chuckle while unconsciously moving into a stray beam of light that stretched across her counter. She smiled contently to herself, enjoying both the quiet morning and the distant company.
"No way Ezra ." JD put down his beer and wiped his mouth on his sleeve, "Youre so full of crap." The familiar brown tweed jacket hung on the back of the sheriffs chair. His white shirt had lost its luster long before but the brown vest covered most of the wear.
Ezra cringed and shook his head. They were barbarians, all of them. Except himself of course. He too, kept his emerald wool jacket on the back of his chair. The weather had become unseasonably warm, not that he hadnt complained. In fact, he made it a point to grouse about the change in temperatures. It seemed to be irksome to Mr. Larabee so the small complaint concerning the incongruities of the weather had fallen under the auspices of necessary. The side benefit, of course, lay two fold; one being, it kept him in practice albeit small, but practice all the same for conveying tiny, miniscule, white lies. The Second reason; Mr. Wilmington and the others seemed to enjoy his tact, or lack there of, in harassing Mr. Larabee and Ezra did love to play to an audience. The weather was perfect but Chris would never hear it from Ezra.
Standish sighed at the crudeness of his compatriots and again wondered if his mothers fears could possibly come true? Would he one day wipe his mouth on the sleeve of his coat and speak in brutish, uneducated tones? He felt his blood freeze. God Forbid.
"Been sayin that for some time now kid," Buck smirked and elbowed JD in the upper arm. The Ladies Man enjoyed the look of consternation on the gambler.
"Thank you so much for your support, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra drawled out sipping from his whiskey glass.
"Yeah, well you would know Buck," Dunne added, elbowing Wilmington in retaliation.
Inez stood behind the bar, rag in hand, smiling to herself at the three men sitting around a table. Vin and Chris sat with them, but somehow kept themselves separated from the conversation snapping between the others. A warm spring breeze whispered down main street. The unseasonably warm weather had people flocking from their homes, opening windows and doors, trying to shake the stuffiness that accumulated through the cold months of winter. Even the saloon seemed to have lost its heavy alcohol smell as a small hint of spring wisped its way in through the half doors.
Her attention was drawn back to the five men at the table. JDs young voice spoke with utter disbelief.
"I aint ever heard Josiah raise his voice when hes not drunk . Hell, the guy can be heard over a crowded room just talking normal."
"Got to agree with the kid, Ezra," Buck leaned back in his chair raising his beer mug to his lips.
Chris stared at the gambler trying to figure where in all this friendly conversation would the wager be made.
Tanner kept his hat low over his eyes slouching in his chair. Larabee could see the grin without seeing the trackers face.
"Would you gentlemen care to make a wager on it?" Ezras cards flew from hand to hand effortlessly, smiling like a freshly fed snake.
"Oh youre on Ezra," JD sat forward fishing through his pockets and slapping a double eagle on the table. "Aint no way youre gonna git Josiah to raise his voice in public much less cuss." Dunne sat back in his chair crossing his arms over his chest.
"Hate to say it Ezra, but I gotta agree with the kid again, there aint no way Josiahs gonna take to cursin in public, least ways not during the day and sober." Wilmington dropped coins on the table with raised eyebrows.
Ezra smiled and faced Larabee and then Tanner, "Gentlemen?"
Chris merely shook his head No.
Vin lazily flicked a coin head over tails having it land amongst the small collection.
"Mr. Larabee since you will not be joining in this little venture would you mind over seeing my profits?"
"We aint lost yet Ezra," Buck did like the mans cock sure attitude. Reminded him a little of himself.
"So Ezra," JD sat forward again, "how ya plan on pullin it off?"
As if on cue, a loud crash could be heard coming from the back of the saloon, the sound of boards collapsing to the ground in a tremulous uproar of devastation. It sounded as if one of the outside walls had collapsed. JD jumped to his feet, instinctively dropping his hands to his guns.
Buck shot a questioning look at the unrepentant, now smiling, gambler.
"What the Hell was that?" JD started heading for the back of the saloon. There was no explosion or gunfire, no sound of detonating black powder or TNT what fell?
Buck followed the boy out of curiosity.
"My winnings, dear sir," the gambler held out an un-callused hand. His gold tooth shone briefly as he leaned into a strand of sunlight.
"Havent heard Josiah yet," Larabee answered back unwilling to concede the money. There had to be reason he liked Standish had to be
"In due time," Standish once again started shuffling his cards. A satisfied smile continued to spread and light his face, exposing twin dimples.
Buck and JD started making their way to the back of the saloon when the first chorus hit.
"What the Hell? ." Roared from the back of the saloon followed shortly by a," Geezus Christ!!!" Josiahs thunderous voice boomed from somewhere out of sight, loud enough to echo from the ends of town and back. The litany of colorful superlatives did not end there.
Inez covered her mouth, rag in hand, and stared in shock at the back entrance of the saloon.
A storm brewed in clear blue skies.
Ezra merely held out his hand into which Larabee simply dropped the coins.
Chris wondered if Standish realized he now became one of the walking dead. Tanners soft chuckles beside Chris only fueled the shenanigans. Greed and attention fed the southerners appetite for mischief. Perhaps Vin knew this all along and kept the fire burning. Larabee did not bother contemplating the reasons why his men flirted so openly with physical abuse, instead he sat back and enjoyed the results.
Buck and JD pulled and tugged one another out of each others way as they fought to make their way to the back of the saloon. Curiosity, once again, over rode common sense.
Dust billowed slowly in across the floor, obscuring and dimming the fledgling Spring light that flickered across the room. The room lost some of its wandering sunlight, a preamble to the destruction wading in behind it.
"Youre a dead man Wilmington! ." Josiahs voice vibrated around the back area of the saloon. His heavy foot falls echoed closer with each passing second. "Im going to rip you limb from limb!"
Standish chuckled pleased with himself. Vin watched the gambler out of idle curiosity wondering when the man would make a run for it.
"Me?!" Wilmington squawked. He started back peddling into the main room of the tavern, pushing JD out of his way.
"Dang, Josiah," Dunnes wide hazel eyes spoke volumes, "what the heck did you eat?" Man it had to have been potent enough to destroy the outhouse. And the outhouse was not some shabby slapped together piece of construction. No way. It saw a lot of traffic at night. Withstood a lot of abuse over time and not just weather either.
Vin and Chris furrowed their brows and kept their attention on the smirking southerner beside them. Inez sighed from behind the bar wondering why the towns lawmen could not enjoy a simple quiet string of days.
"JD," Sanchez, covered in dust and paper, turned to the young sheriff, "go," the edict left no room for misinterpretation.
"Yeah sure," the sheriff was still young and, therefore, lingered, " but how the heck did the whole outhouse fall on you?" Dunne squinted his eyes and reached a tentative hand toward Sanchezs marred coat, "and what is that? .." a pause and "Oh thats disgusting "
Sanchez ignored the sheriff and focused on the Ladies Man, who was notorious for his outhouse pranks. The preacher stalked the taller man with the confidence and determination of a boar grizzly at an over crowded salmon run.
"Easy there, Josiah," Buck held his hands up in defensive gesture, "that there little mishap werent my fault." Wilmington gave ground holding his open hands in front of himself.
Across the room, Ezra rose from the table pocketing his money and gathering his coat, "If you gentlemen will excuse me," he tipped his hat, "its time I visited Mrs. Potters quaint little store." A discreet exit would be beneficial.
The gambler headed for the batwing doors, his step, though nonchalant, had a flavor of determination.
"It werent Buck, Josiah," JD point out helpfully, "Ezra said he could make you curse in public stone cold sober." Dunne back peddled out of the way when the preachers gaze narrowed on him. "Dang if he werent right." The sheriff stared at the preacher as if he had slipped off of some kind of pedestal, "Lost another days pay to him too."
The preacher swung his gaze from Wilmington to the sheriff. His eyes then started sweeping the room.
Standish threw discreet out the window and bolted for the batwing doors.
"EZRA!" Josiah swatted Wilmington out of his way as he caught a glimpse of the emerald tailored coat as it slipped from the saloon.
Chris sighed, leaning back in his chair. He couldnt see how Ezra made enough coin to even cover Nathans fee when the healer demanded payment for putting him back together later today. Damn man and his games.
"Got dollar says that Ezra gits away," Tanner put another coin on the table.
"Yer on." Chris accepted the wager.
The two men slowly eased themselves from the table and headed out the batwing doors with Buck and JD.
The four men made themselves comfortable on the board walk. The midmorning sun felt good on skin too long hidden under layers of clothes. The fresh air held a new quality found only in early spring. It was still too cold for insects but warm enough to shed heavy coats. A perfect time of year in some eyes.
Vin watched the end of town. Ezra headed in the direction of the church. Tanner couldnt quite figure out why. The Southerner was not going to find any sanctuary there.
Chris pushed his hat slightly off his brow, watching the gambler run down the main street with Josiah lumbering a few yards behind. Larabee had seen Standish chased before and knew the gambler was not going full out. There was no need. Sanchez, for all his strength and height, did not have the burst of speed or endurance of the gambler. For a brief moment, Larabee feared that the preacher just might pull his gun and wing the fool gambler. Shoot him in the leg or something. His fears quickly fizzled. Chris watched as Sanchez maintained a steady persistent pace. Images of the Tortoise and the Hare sprung to mind. Larabee chuckled. He just made a few more dollars.
Standishs questionable qualities had some benefits. The cocky over confident fool.
"Josiah sure can move for a big guy," JD pointed out. The young sheriff leaned against the hitch rail with arms crossed. This was definitely worth losing a dollar over. Ezra could be pretty entertaining.
"Yup, he sure can," Buck twirled his mustache, "bet he can hold a grudge too." A sinister all knowing gleam sparkled in his blue eyes. Things would get a might interesting in the next day or two.
Chris settled quietly in a chair and propped his feet up on the rail. Southern fool would do anything for a dollar.
Tanner leaned back against the saloon wall and crossed his ankles. He couldnt help but wonder how Ezra could be so smart sometimes and then go and do some pretty rash things .had to be the rush of the game. No other way to explain it. Certainly wasnt making enough money off it.
Nathan Jackson sauntered down the boardwalk whistling quietly to himself. Last night Ronny McQuade broke his arm. Poor kid. The splint would have to stay on for a few months. His Pa was fit to be tied but his Ma kept him cuddled close to her bosom. Nathan felt good about his nights work. He would celebrate his small victory with the others. The healer slowed as he approached the saloon. He gazed down toward the church trying to figure out what the others were staring at but couldnt see anything but Josiah.
"What are you boys doin?" His simple question was marked by a perplexed wrinkling of his brow.
"Josiahs gonna kill Ezra today," JD clarified in his own way.
Nathan nodded accepting the answer as a probable fact, "Any reason why?"
"Rigged the out house to fall on him," Vin supplied as he leaned forward, catching a fleeting glimpse of a green coat as it flashed past the corner of the mercantile. Josiah paused in his chase and slinked down the front of the building, attempting to cut off the elusive southerner. Not a bad plan. Tanner nodded his head in appreciation. Josiah could be down right sly when needed.
"How much money he make?" Jackson leaned against the hitch rail with JD, watching Josiah sink down at the corner of the building and wait.
"Three dollars," Chris supplied as he sipped from his beer.
Nathan shrugged his shoulders in a noncommittal manner. Not bad for Ezra, especially if he had to rig the outhouse himself. The man refuses to do honest labor but construe it to fit a con or some kind of shenanigans and the man became a skilled carpenter. Still three dollars seemed hardly worth the pain Josiah was going to inflict on his body. Certainly wouldnt cover the fee Nathan would attempt to collect if Chris forced him to patch Ezra back together.
"Here they come now," Vin sat up as Ezra bolted from behind the mercantile coming out on the near side right into Josiahs waiting arms.
Chris wished he could have been a little closer. Standishs poker expression had to have been left somewhere behind the mercantile; there certainly wouldnt have been any nonchalance that one would see at a gaming table, no bland poker mask to hide behind just naked panic for all to see. Something probably akin to the same face he wore when his mother stepped unexpectedly off the stage.
Standish would not be taken so easily though. The Gambler tried to slide to a stop, but he had too much momentum and speed. It seemed as if the southerner had sprinted right into Sanchezs grasp. Just as the chase appeared over, and the game lost, Standish dove belly first, arms stretched out and slid under the preachers wide stance legs.
A small billow of dust rose from the ground marking his trail. Josiah swung his arms closed on empty air as the gambler disappeared from in front of him.
The big man whirled around just as Standish bolted to his feet and sprinted back across the street.
Larabee noticed Ezra was running full out now. The Hare nearly got skinned by the Tortoise.
"Youre a dead man Standish!" Sanchez dug in after him. Josiah was tenacious.
Chris raised his eyebrows in appreciation. Ezra did have some moves. If only they could find a way to direct them towards an honest living.
"Stage is here," JD pulled his gaze from the two men who disappeared behind the livery to the end of town. Ezra was a snake, that was certain.
The stage rattled its way down the street, kicking up small clouds of dust. It did not stop in front of the hotel as usual. Instead, it jingled and swayed until it stopped in front of the saloon, effectively blocking the peacekeepers view of the ongoing chase.
Nathan sighed in disappointment as he and JD pushed back from the hitching rail.
The horses stepped in place jostling their harnesses and buckles. The wooden tongue creaked and swayed with the shifting weight of the animals. The driver pushed the brake down and started to climbed wearily from the stage. He paused and let his gaze fall to the five peacekeepers in curiosity. Normally, he was met with smiles and laughter or small waves. Today the men seemed engrossed in something behind the coach. He followed their line of sight to the back of the stage but noticed nothing amiss.
John shook his head and jumped to the ground. He whispered a soft Hello to the small gathering and earned slight nods in response. The driver furrowed his brow, squinted his eyes and again searched the area behind the coach Still nothing.
Rustling within the stage reminded him that he carried an important passenger.
"Gentlemen," The Judge swung the door open and unfolded himself from the coach. Travis noticed the other men distracted by something down the street. The Judge followed their gazes and noticed Mr. Standish exiting the Livery. Cautiously? The Southerner looked flushed, trapped. For a moment Travis considered the coach gun
"Dont need the ole Coach gun yet, Judge," Vin spoke quietly, without moving or shifting a muscle.
Travis stared at the tracker, damn man could be uncanny.
"Judge," mumbled greetings hailed forth but the others shifted positions while they searched the end of the street, all but ignoring their boss. Travis pulled his attention to his other five lawmen. They seemed distracted as well. Waiting for something . Watching Standish .
"Ohhhmygosh hecaughthim look hecaughthim," JD pointed down the street toward the livery. The others followed his outstretched hand.
"Well Ill be, the slippery son of a bitch met his match," Buck laughed out slapping Nathan on the back. Jackson grimaced and shoved Wilmington forward a step.
Chris climbed to his feet, tipping his hat to the Judge but keeping his attention to the two men near the livery. Josiah was a tenacious bull-headed man when he wanted to be.
Vin chuckled and pushed off the wall heading toward Sanchez, "Nathan ya might want to bring some of yer supplies."
"I want to see this first." The healer followed the others never taking his eyes off the struggling diminutive figure caught in the giants grasp. The Rat Terrier finally caught in the jaws of the lumbering yard dog . There was justice.
The Judge started following the others and recognized Standish held firmly in the grasp of Sanchez, "Gentlemen? What is going on here?"
"Josiahs gonna kill Ezra," JD called back over his shoulder. He watched some what surprised as Sanchez dragged Standish back into the Livery.
The Judge nodded his understanding and kept up with the others, "Any particular reason?" They stepped off the board walk as a group and headed for the livery.
"Ezra rigged the outhouse to fall over on Josiah," Vin held the livery door open, letting the others pass with the Judge bringing up the rear.
"Oh, so he does do menial labor," Travis stepped into the darkened building.
"This dont count...he got paid," Vin quietly pointed out the difference.
Josiah had dragged a squirming sputtering Standish down the alleyway and out through the back doors.
"How much money did he earn in this little wager?"
"Three dollars," Jackson answered. They just caught the mesh of twin silhouettes as the back door swung closed on its own. The others quickened their pace to the rear of the livery, in the direction of the manure piles.
Yosemite followed out of curiosity, "Mr. Standish should learn not to anger Mr. Sanchez like this "
The others silently agreed but enjoyed the backlash of such behavior.
Outside, Josiah held Standish over the small incline that sharply dropped into the ever growing manure pile. The corral yards were cleaned weekly and the stalls daily. The manure, old hay, hoof trimmings and assorted other debris lay at the foot of the incline, smoldering. The pile had sat and grown over the years, fermenting and boiling in its own juices. It was one of the last places in Four Corners to actually freeze on cold winter nights. In the summer, the area was infested with swirling clouds of gnats and flies. On this warm spring day, the area sat as a dark ominous soup of festering ingredients, over which the gambler now precariously hung.
Standish wrapped his fingers tightly around Sanchezs forearms as his back arched over empty air. His toes scraped for purchase against sawdust covered ground that gave easily to abuse. The ground eroded under his frantically moving feet. He was losing purchase. It would cost close to three dollars to get himself and his wardrobe clean. There was no profit in this
"Now, now Mr. Sanchez," Standish struggled to bring a smile to his paling features. The fists that knotted the front of his shirt forced his head back, "there is no need for hostilities."
In response, Josiah loosened his grip on Ezras shirt hoping to let the gambler fall into the pit. Ezras reciprocating grip would not fail so easily. He latched onto the preacher like a drowning man.
"Dang if he aint part spider," Buck whispered out quietly. The Judge nodded sagely.
Josiah was not easily deterred. He started unprying the claw like grip that ensnared his forearms.
Ezra kept gazing over his own shoulder at the soupy foul mess that awaited him.
He then looked over at the gathering crowd. A nervous but self assured smile etched his face, "Gentlemen?"
"Sorry Ezra," JD hitched his thumbs in his gun belt, "Yer on yer own."
"Like to help ya, Hoss," Buck started, but simply shrugged his shoulders. Josiah could be fickle in times of personal duress.
Tanner tilted his head and scratched at his neck and then inspected his finger nails.
"Looks like you owe me," Chriss soft remark to Tanner earned him a raised eyebrow.
"Aint over yet," Tanner simply said.
"Gonna be soon," JD piped up, "Josiahs almost got Ezras hands off."
Buck watched as panic flashed across the southerners face. It appeared as if all was lost as the last of Ezras fingers were pried back from Josiahs forearm.
In a last desperate attempt to remain free of debris and fetid detris, Ezras legs lashed out wrapping tightly around the preachers midsection, locking at the ankles. The gambler in an act of pure horror, snuggly held himself close to the preachers midsection.
Wilmington let loose with a loud laugh, "Gawd damn, hes worse than a cocklebur."
Chris chuckled .More like a porcupine with an attitude.
"Gentlemen as much as this is amusing, I am here on business," Travis kept his eyes on the two men leaning precariously over the pit. Mr. Sanchez, though driven and determined would not win this battle quickly. Mr. Standish seemed closer akin to a fungus and would not be shook free without undue time and effort.
Judge Travis did not have that kind of time to spare.
Vin sighed fished in his pocket and handed Larabee his dollar.
Without a word, he strolled casually over to Sanchez. Josiah leaned dangerously over the pit in an attempt to swipe off the clinging gambler.
Without preamble or any warning, Tanner merely put a little pressure on the small of Josiahs straining back ..and sent both men into the shifting mass of waste at the base of the incline.
The others stood back in quiet awe. JD mouthed a silent Wow. Nathan nodded his head in appreciation of the simple solution and Buck wondered if Josiah would be able to kill Vin with Chris around.
Tanner gazed down into the manure pit. Josiah was using Ezra as a step to climb out, and Standish was attempting to latch onto the preacher and scale his way up and over the man. The foul language that erupted from below fit perfectly with the twos immediate environment.
"Hey, When you two are done wallowing around like a couple of sows in heat, the Judge has got somethin he needs us for," Tanner stepped away from the pit only to lean back over it, "Oh and hurry up he aint got all day."
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