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Maude looked at the three men left on the balcony, wondering where the other three had wandered off to.
"Ezra wishes to speak with Nathan," Maude looked around for any sign of the healer.
"Gone with Chris and Buck on a mission." The anger in Vin's tone alerted Maude that something was amiss.
"What is going on, gentlemen?" The southern woman asked as she looked at the men who watched the livery.
"Toby just rode into town." JD turned to looked at her, fury in his eyes as his right hand rested on the hilt of his gun.
"I'll go and tell Ez." Vin nodded at Maude and then at Josiah as he stood to go and tell Ezra what was going on.
"Can I trust them not to hurt the boy before we get the information we need?" Maude asked.
"I would trust them right now more than I would trust me or Vin." Josiah replied, never looking away from the livery. He wished he was there now so he could make the boy pay for the hurt he'd done to HIS son.
Vin walked into the back room and noticed the surprised look on the gambler's face. "Sorry, Ez, but Nate is with Chris and Buck right now, checkin' up on Toby. He just rode back in ta town."
"So that leaves Josiah and JD. Could you please ask JD to come in for a moment?"
"Sure, Ez, if you think you are ready for this. If ya'd like I will sit outside the door, just in case ya need something." Vin offered, even though he knew the southern cuss would not want to be watched over so closely.
"No, Vin, just make sure Maude does not get herself in trouble."
"I can do that," Vin winked as he left to get JD.
Ezra wanted to make sure they'd all have time to talk before tonight. He had a bad feeling about the plan and what could go wrong and the last thing he wanted was any unfinished business, in case something did happen.
"JD, Ez wants ta talk to ya." Vin smiled as he realized that Standish was going to try and work things out with the others.
Josiah noticed how JD's anger quickly turned to fear as the young man looked between him and Vin. He was about to say something when the soft female southern voice spoke out. "JD, just let him lead the conversation and be honest with him. Everything will work out for the best that way, he will know if you are truly being up front with him." Maude smiled as she walked over to the youngest member of this group of mismatched men.
"But, I..I mean I can't Vin, Josiah, I betrayed his friendship." JD looked about ready to run away.
"JD, just talk with him, I promise it will all work out." Vin walked over and placed his hand on the young man's shoulder. "That's how ya mend a friendship that has been bent but not broken."
JD looked at the open support Vin was offering, then thought to himself that if the tracker was encouraging him to go and speak with Ezra, then maybe it was true, he could fix this between him and the gambler.
Ezra heard the knock and called out for him to enter. He watched as the youngest member of their group came in with his head bowed and his hat in his hand.
"Mr. Dunne, please have a seat."
"Thanks, Ez, anyplace particular you want me to sit?"
"Wherever you will be most comfortable, I would imagine." Ezra smiled at JD's attempts to make him more comfortable with his presence.
JD chose to sit in the chair closest to the gambler's bed, wanting the man to know he wanted to be close.
"Mr. Dunne, what made you believe Mr. White?" Ezra stated after taking a deep breath and wanted this first question over with as soon as possible.
JD looked up and met the southerner's eyes and directly answered, "Because I'd never had a religious man lie to me before."
"I'm sorry to have been included in your life's lesson that not all is what it seems and that people will use whatever means necessary to commit the evil that they do." Ezra offered, having realized he'd been in JD's shoes before, 'how you seem to forget life's unsolicited lessons, no matter your age.'
"Ez, I'm just sorry that I did not come to ya, or at least tell ya what I knew when ya came and asked. I just thought you were going to try and con me like ya tried that day in the jail when the Judge told me ta arrest ya. I know that ain't much of an excuse, but anything else would be a lie. I feel bad that I misjudged ya, and I would like a chance to make it up to you. I would like to get to know the real you, then I won't make
the same mistake twice." JD never broke eye contact with the man looking back at him, surprise bright in the green eyes.
Ezra had expected JD to try and make excuses, as his age would have him do. The young gunslinger just proved what his gut instincts of the kid had told him from the first time he'd met the boy, that he had all the makings of becoming a good and fair man. "Mr. Dunne, I think if we take it one day at a time we can
see where it takes us." Ezra shyly smiled as he offered his hand toward the young sheriff.
"Thanks, Ez, I'll never forget about you givin' me this second chance." JD smiled as he hurriedly took the southerner's hand in a strong grip.
"Thank you, JD."
"What are ya thanking me for?" Dunne looked at Ezra really funny and asked, he could not think of anything he could have done to deserve the gambler's gratitude.
"For playing me tonight, for I know it will be the most dangerous role since it is me that they wish to kill. I ask that you be more than very cautious, my friend, for I would hate it if we did not get that opportunity to work on becoming better friends." Ezra squeezed the young man's hand harder, begging for the man to say he'd be extra careful.
"Don't worry, I will be very careful. I had better go and see if there is anything I need to know. Do you want Vin to come back in?" JD promised as their hands disengaged from the handshake.
"No, can you ask Mr. Sanchez to step in here for a few moments?"
"Sure, no problem," JD smiled as he turned to leave
Vin noticed the smile on JD's face and knew things had went well between the kid and the gambler. The words that left JD's mouth made the tracker's smile widen.
"Josiah, Ezra wants ta see ya." JD grinned like a kid in a candy store, "Ya was right, just be honest." JD continued to smile as he walked off to look over at the livery, and to take watch so Sanchez could go and see Ezra.
"Thank you, Brother Dunne." Josiah could not hold back the giant smile that lit up his face.
Josiah went in expecting his time with the southerner not to go as easily as it had for the young sheriff. He was sure he would have more to prove to the gambler because of his inexcusable treatment of them. Innocence and naiveté were not excuses that he could use.
Ezra remembered what Josiah and Josiah had talked about on the balcony concerning the preacher's belief of his guilt. He'd never remembered having much of a constant father figure in his life to be able to compare, but that Josiah felt that he'd failed him like Josiah's own father had failed him made the southerner want to give the man another chance. The fact he'd also told Josiah he had planned to talk with Ezra the unfortunate day of his shooting helped start the healing process. 'At least he'd not given up totally on me, and was going to seek me out.'
Ezra noted the sadness on the older man's face when he entered the room and felt a need to comfort the man. "Josiah, please sit down." The southerner pointed toward the chair closest to him; he wanted the man close.
"Thank you for letting me see you. I have been very worried about you." Josiah looked over at the man on the bed as he made his way over to the chair.
"I wish it was under different circumstances, Mr. Sanchez." Ezra replied.
"As do I, believe me, I wish I had handled things much differently, but we both know there is no going back." The older man's voice sounded tired and full of regret as he spoke.
"Tell me, Mr. Sanchez, why do you believe you did what you did?" Ezra asked as he never broke eye contact with the man who'd come to mean a lot to him.
"I was blinded by my anger that no matter what I had done you had not changed, all due to my misplaced faith in another's word. I failed you in that I treated you as I was treated by my father, he never asked me my side of the story 'til after I was punished. Ezra, I had to keep my distance for one reason, and that I would have continued to act like my father; punish first, ask questions later. My boy, the last thing I wanted was to lift a hand to you, and I'm so happy that I didn't. I would never have been able to face you today if I'd laid a hand on you in anyway. I would sooner cut off my arm than hurt you physically." The tears he held back made Josiah's voice raspy.
Ezra felt the tears threatening to come out as he listened and watched the preacher. He knew the man was not lying, and the fact that he had not wanted to hurt him made the southerner realize the man did truly care about him greatly ."Then, Josiah, we will have to take it day by day and get to know each other all over again, if that would be agreeable with you," Ezra offered.
"That would make me very happy indeed Ezra, very happy." Josiah's large smile reached his eyes as he extended his hand out toward the gambler.
"Good day, sir, my name is Ezra P. Standish." Ezra returned the smile as he allowed the hand of the preacher to engulf his smaller hand into his much larger one.
"Mr. Sanchez, but you can call me Josiah,." The preacher chuckled.
"Then, sir, you may call me Ezra It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Josiah." Ezra grinned, showing off his gold tooth, and let it reach his eyes, making them sparkle.
Josiah let this moment make his decision for him, he would not tell Ezra about his parentage. He did not want anything to ruin this new relationship they were developing, 'I'm not losing a son as much as gaining a good friend, who I will treasure for as long as it will last.' He felt the loss of their connection when the handshake ended.
"I had better get back outside and see what the others found out at the livery. I'm sure that JD told you about Toby coming back to town."
"Yes, and I understand the urgency take care of business, so to speak.. Do you think you, or one of the others, can keep me abreast of the situation? Also, would you please send Mr. Jackson into see me when they return?"
"I will do that, Ezra. Don't worry, we will let you know everything that is going on. You have to promise not to get out of bed, no matter what you hear or think is going on."
"I can only promise to do the best that I can to do as you ask." Ezra shrugged as he made the man aware it was not a promise he could make.
"Then I promise to tie your ass to the bed if I feel you are about to get out of it. I will do whatever it takes to keep you safe, I just ask you to help me do that." Josiah leaned forward and glared at the still pale man recovering from his gunshots and fever.
"I promise not to take any unnecessary risks, is that better, Josiah?"
"Yes, that I will accept." The preacher smiled at the use of his first name. "Now let me carry on with the promise of making sure you stay well and among us."
"Just be careful, I would not be very happy if anything happened to you because of me." Ezra's glare was just as effective as any their leader could ever produce.
Josiah left the room, his heart light and determined to inflict deadly harm on Beau Dumont. 'The man will regret ever lifting a finger or ordering any harm done to his son. I might not be able to claim you as mine but that does not mean I cannot claim you in my heart and soul. 'YOU ARE MY SON!'
Buck and Chris watched from the back of the livery as Toby quickly unsaddled his horse and pulled two fresh mounts out to prepare for travel. "Seems to me someone is planning on a quick getaway," Buck whispered to the blond man beside him.
"Yep, just hate it when my plans get changed," Larabee replied, keeping his voice to where only Buck could hear him.
"How do ya feel about changin' other people's plans?" Buck winked as he prepared to follow Chris's lead.
"Makes me all warm and soft inside, almost happy." Chris smiled as he noticed Nathan coming in through the front as planned.
"Toby? The name is Toby Thomas, right?" Nathan asked as he approached the young man.
Toby looked up when he heard his name, but relaxed a little bit when he saw it was the black healer, and that he didn't look threatening at the moment. "You're the healer, ain't ya?" Toby asked.
"Ya, I'm the healer around these parts. Name is Nathan Jackson." Nathan approached slowly, offering his hand.
"Somethin' ya needin', since ya come askin' my name?" Toby asked, now feeling uneasy, like he was being watched.
"Your sister, Mavis, sent me." Nathan looked around to see if he noticed Chris or Buck.
"Is Mavis hurt? Where is she, can I see her?" Toby turned to rush out of the livery.
"She's fine, but she's worried about ya. She couldn't keep it a secret anymore about what yer father and uncle want with Ezra Standish. I want to help ya, if ya'd let me." Nathan held out his hands, letting the young man see he was not going for his guns.
"Ya'd help me?"
"Yes, me and my friends will help you, if ya help us capture your father and uncle."
"How do I know yer tellin' the truth? For all I know yer in cahoots together, ya lookin' like ya can be Silas' brother." Toby replied as he moved closer to the saddle that held his guns at the moment.
"I wouldn't do that if I was in your shoes." A voice behind Toby growled, followed by the click of a gun being cocked.
Toby looked slowly around and saw that Larabee was aiming his gun toward him. The look in the gunslinger's eyes told him he did not stand a chance if he decided to take the peacekeeper on. "First, is Mavis safe?" Toby whispered.
"Yes, very safe. Somewhere your father or uncle will not find her." Buck told the young man, letting his presence be known, just in case he tried to do something stupid.
"What do you want me to do?" Toby asked as he looked from man to man, with his eyes settling on Nathan's.
"Tell us the plans your father and uncle have," Nathan urged, as he directed the man to the hay stacks to sit.
"I'm ta meet them here at midnight, then we are goin' ta go over and kill Mr. Standish and his mother." Toby looked at the men and felt a huge heaviness lift off of his shoulders.
"Toby, this is what we are gonna do, and if ya even think of double crossin' us, I'll shoot you first." Larabee promised.
Nathan went to let the others know what had happened and what the plan was going to be. They decided that Toby would be kept away from Vin and Josiah, for his safety, and he would be slipped quietly into the jail 'til he was needed. The healer had been told, after he'd shared the plan that Chris, Buck, Toby and he had come up with, that Ezra wished his company. He wished it was because the southerner wanted to talk to him, but he was sure that was not the case. So he left the others to discuss what they should do. Nathan walked into the room and expected to have the southerner ask him for something for pain, he was sure that the move had aggravated his injuries. Also, he hadn't had anything to eat since early morning. I do a large part of my business there so they good people.. "What can I do for you, Ezra?" Nathan asked, instead of verbalizing his assumption.
"Mr. Jackson, I wish to talk with you a moment, if that is okay with you?" Ezra asked softly, and watched for the healer's reaction to his request. Nathan looked over at the gambler and smiled, he'd hoped for this chance to tell Standish how sorry he was that he'd not been there when he was needed. "Mr. Jackson, why did you not come and preach to me about my terrible behavior and conniving ways?" Ezra asked as he relaxed and let the conversation begin.
"Because I didn't believe ya'd done it. If I had, I woulda been in your face in a heartbeat." Nathan firmly stated, as he looked at the gambler and let his true feelings show.
"So you'd believed me innocent of any wrongdoings? Is there a reason for that, my good man?" Ezra smiled at how Nathan had done everything to show him that he was being truthful with him.
"Many things I don't know about ya, but one that I truly believe is that ya'd never hurt a child, and ya would never treat a woman with such disrespect as ya were accused of." Nathan stood and crossed his arms over his chest as he stated the one truth about the southern cuss he'd bet his life on.
"Thank you, Mr. Jackson, I know that we have had many disagreements in the past, but given the fact that they did not cloud your judgment of my possible innocence I feel that a friendship of sorts has developed. I must tell you, Nathan, I do not know why I reacted the way I did that day in the saloon when we first met. I have never disrespected the Negro race and never believed in slavery," Ezra sighed, never really having expected the conversation to get this personal.
"Ezra, there might be a reason why ya acted like ya did in the saloon. Mavis told me that me and her uncle look a lot alike, said we were look-a-likes," Nathan offered as a reasonable explanation as to Ezra's real reaction to him that day in the saloon.
"I had indeed felt like I had seen you before," Ezra whispered as he reached his hand out to the healer, "Mr. Jackson, we will now agree that we will disagree throughout our association, but our disagreements will not keep us from being there for the other when needed."
"But, Ezra, I was not there-"
"Mr. Jackson, you were there when it really counted and meant the most. Mr. Tanner has told me how hard you worked to save my life, for which I'm very grateful. He also told me how you had defended me to the others. You had lives you were responsible for at the time that needed your time and attention far more than I did."
"Ezra, let's just use that let's agree to disagree." Nathan chuckled as he shook the southerner's hand with a warm grasp as he smiled into the warm green eyes.
"Let us do just that, Mr. Jackson, since you cannot see the reasoning that I'm using. You, as the healer, prioritized the needs as you should have, sir. I was alive at the time, and without your timely attention to them it is quite possible they would not have lived. NO ONE died Nathan, which is what is important." Ezra smiled as he released the man's hand. "Now, Mr. Jackson, could you please send in Mr. Wilmington?"
"Sure, Ezra, just don't forget ya have ta get some rest. Ya ain't completely recovered yet and we don't want ya relapsin'."
"I promise not to overextend myself, sir."
Nathan raised his head and looked toward the ceiling, wondering why he'd not killed the pain in the ass, so-called southern gentlemen a long time ago. Then he chuckled to himself as he walked out the door; 'because life would be too dull without him'. Nathan met the eyes of the tracker and knew that soon they would be a force to be reckoned with, Standish just needed to make peace with two more of their peacemakers. "He wants to see Buck next." Nathan nodded at JD, who immediately jumped up and left to relieve the ladies man in the jail so he could come and have his turn at redemption.
JD ran over to the jail to get Buck and scared the ladies man half to death. He thought something had happened to Ezra. Chris was ready to shoot the young Toby, 'til the kid told them that Ezra wanted to talk with Buck.
Chris was hurt at first, 'til he sat and thought about why Ezra would want to talk to Buck first. The ladies man had been the only other one that seemed to tolerate the gambler's lifestyle from the beginning 'til now.
Buck hurried out the door and practically ran to the clinic, coming through the door short of breath, but with a huge smile on his face. The one thing about the scoundrel, when he was happy about something you could not help but notice, his eyes gleamed with it and his smile was something to behold. No wonder the women found him so irresistible.
"In there, Bucklin'." Vin chuckled as he pointed to the other room.
Buck nodded as he hurried to the door and opened it so he could enter and see what his friend needed from him. "Ez, pard, what can I do for ya?" The ladies man smiled his famous grin and let Ezra know just how happy he was to be summoned.
"Mr. Wilmington, could you please come in and have a seat, that is, after you shut the door." Ezra tried not to smile. He'd had a lot of time to think like Tanner had told him to, after listening to the conversation his mother and the preacher had earlier.
"First things first, Ezra, is there anything I can get ya first, water, tea, beer-" Buck chuckled at the unanimous yells of, "NO," filtered from the other room.
"It would seem that a soothing libation is not on the menu, but thank you for the offer," Ezra could not help but smile.
Ezra knew that Wilmington's want to serve did not come from guilt, but because the man was a goodhearted man that cared deeply for others. The fact that Ezra was hurt and incapacitated brought out the mother-hen that was so much a part of the ladies' man.
"I'm fine, sir, please come in." Ezra smiled as he nodded to the chair close to the bed.
Buck smiled and walked over to where Ezra was directing him to sit. It felt good that Ezra wanted him that close to him, he just hoped he would be able to get the southerner to believe how truly sorry he was.
"Mr. Wilmington, why did you believe me to be guilty of Mr. White's accusations?"
Buck looked at Ezra and knew the man would read him in seconds flat if he lied. "I remembered how the women at the brothel were treated, especially this one that was really treated badly. She was a virgin when this man conned her family into believing that he was interested in her hand in marriage. Turns out he was just after their money, her dowry. He married her and took her far away from her home and family, got her in the family way and then took the money and ran. He'd left her to bear the burdens of the bills he had run up, so she ended up using her body to feed herself and then her baby boy." Buck looked at the gambler, sadness in his eyes.
"She was your mother?" Ezra asked, knowing the answer to his own question, just needed the ladies' man to confirm his suspicions.
"Yeah, when I turned sixteen she had enough of the life and felt I was strong enough to survive on my own; she took her life with a pillow and a gun to her head. I didn't find her, but the screams of the two women who did still live on in my head today. I'm sorry, Ez, it was those screams that kept me from being a good friend like I should have, and they came back screamin' like a banshee." Buck looked up at the gambler with a haunted expression in his usually jovial blue eyes.
"I'm sorry for your grief. Your mother did a fine job in raising her son. You are a good man, Buck, don't ever let anyone tell you different. If ever the time comes that the screams get too unbearable, please let me know, I'm sure I can distract them with a good game of chance, or just a friend to arrange a few pranks here and there." Ezra held out his hand to the big-hearted man before him. "Your secret will be safe with me, I promise."
Buck's smile lit up his face as he took the smaller hand into his and firmly sealed the promises made that day. "I will do my best never to betray our friendship again, but if I do, well, then I guess I will be losin' some money."
"Yes, I imagine you will," Ezra chuckled, as he felt better now knowing more of what made Wilmington the man he was. He could see it was not truly him that Buck had reacted to, as much as the painful memories that had blinded him to the truth.
Ezra firmly squeezed the man's hand to get his attention. "Do you think you can get Mr. Larabee here to talk with me? I know he still doubts my character, but I would like to try and resolve this so I can see if I'm still wanted here."
Buck recognized the trust that Ezra placed in him with this statement. "Ezra, Chris is real sorry for all of this, and he has his demons as well. He won't want ya leavin' and if this town doesn't want ya, well, it ain't worth it for any of us to stay." Buck smiled as he stood, and they let go of each other's hands. "I'll go get the bad element so you can see he ain't so bad, just likes keepin' in character, is all. Really a big pussy cat once ya get to know him."
Everyone heard the laughter of the two men as the door opened, and a happy Wilmington exited the room with the bounce back in his step. "Gonna go and relieve Chris at the jail." Buck smiled as he headed out to the jail, wondering how Ezra was going to handle the bad element.
Beau and Silas sat by the campfire not far out of town and drank their coffee in silence. They had argued about Toby going back into town alone, Silas did not think it was a good idea. He'd felt that Toby could not be trusted, 'too much a momma's boy'. When Beau gave his son his trust and loyalty, it angered his old friend even more. The bigger man felt something was going to go wrong, he had no proof, just a gut feeling deep down in his stomach. He could not tell his old master anything about it; he'd just say it was because he was jealous of the boy.
Dumont knew he'd made his friend mad, but he needed to show his son how proud he was of him for being able to think ahead and make some sound decisions, like waiting for more information before coming to Eagle Bend.
"We still have a few hours before we need to go to town, why don't you rest the first hour, and I will the next," Beau offered in the way of trying to get his man to talk about what was bothering him.
"Okay," was all the bigger man said as he turned his back to his friend and the light of the fire, as he tried to rest.
Beau marked the time on the pocket watch as he then went back to remembering better days when he could sneak Rose out of the kitchen and out for a picnic down by the river in their special spot.
Buck walked into the jail only to bust out laughing at the sullen pout on JD's face and the scowl on Chris's. 'The kid must have been gettin' on the ole dog's nerves, don't take much when he's pulled an all-nighter.'
"Well, pard, it's your turn at redemption, just be honest, he's pretty smart at recognizing that people's feelings can interfere with their actions," Buck offered his old friend his advice.
Chris stood and glared at everyone in the room, he knew now was not a good time for talking with Ezra. He had had no sleep and faced another night of no real rest. Larabee stalked out of the jail and across the street and allowed the brisk walk to use up some of his caged up energy.
The gunslinger noticed the warnings in everyone's eyes when he abruptly entered the clinic. "What are you looking at?"
"Well, Chris, you go in there lookin' like that, he is not going to give you the time of day." Josiah shrugged, hoping the man would take the hint.
"We will see, won't we?" Chris smiled sarcastically as he turned and strode to the door and swung it open and entered the room, proceeding with a slam as he closed the door.
"Well, Mr. Larabee, a rather loud entrance, one might say." Ezra stated with his right eyebrow cocked up and looking unsurprised at the man's demeanor. "I would say you have had no sleep here of late."
"Is that what Buck told you?" Chris' glare had softened slightly.
"No, Mr. Larabee, you look like something the cat dragged in after a hard night of carousing," Ezra smiled. "Why don't you have a seat here and take some time to get yourself together?"
The gunslinger was about to say something degrading and smartassed 'til he noticed the circles under the younger man's eyes. 'He's pushin' himself too hard here.' Chris nodded and took the chair the gambler had pointed out.
"Mr. Larabee, I really hate to do this now, but I feel the need to make sure we have come to an understanding before the fates may prevent that after tonight. I have only one question that I would like to have answered, that is, if you wish to do so. You are under no obligation to participate at all-"
"Get on with it, Standish, ask your question," Chris growled as he rolled his eyes before he looked in the gambler's eyes and let him see the understanding that stared back at him.
"Why did you think I was guilty of Mr. White's accusations?" Ezra asked.
"Because I'm a close-minded, ill tempered, shortsighted fool that doesn't notice important things, like how someone has changed for the better. I let my inner demons about my family's murder interfere in decisions that let me turn my back on someone that I do consider a friend and judged him guilty without looking at all the evidence around me. I let my past and his cloud my judgment of the present good man. The young woman that Mr. White told us about took on the face of my Sarah, and all logical thought went out the window." Chris looked straight into the gambler's eyes and let the man see the pain and regret.
Ezra came close to tears at the depth of pain and sorrow in the hazel eyes that opened the windows of the man's soul for him to see. He could see the grief that made it easy for the man before him to let the emotions take control and prevent him from seeing clearly.
"Mr. Larabee, I can see how your painful past could have clouded your judgment. I also must say that I have not made it easy for you to change your opinion of me. Perhaps we should begin anew."
Chris smiled for the first time since this nightmare had begun, Buck was right, 'you do have the knack of reading people and seeing them for who they truly are.'
"Name is Chris Larabee, my friends call me Chris," The gunslinger smiled as he held out his hand.
"It is a pleasure, I'm sure, Chris. Ezra P. Standish, at your service." The gambler smiled as he placed his hand in Larabee's strong grip.
"Nice ta meet ya, Ez," Chris chuckled as he waited for the comment on him shortening the southerner's name.
"I do not recall ever giving permission to shorten my given name." Standish rolled his eyes dramatically before gifting Larabee with one of his pleasant smiles that radiated from his eyes as well.
"What are friends for, if they can't take liberties with such things like messin' with your name?" Chris laughed.
"Well, on a more serious note, would you mind keeping me company while I rest my eyes for a few? It would seem that Mr. Tanner has spoiled me to the personal attention of being there to watch over me." Ezra asked, hoping the man would stay in the chair and get a much needed rest himself.
The man in black smiled at the gambler's attempt to give him time to rest, 'would serve the others right to wonder what was going on in here.' "I think that could be arranged, I think Tanner needs to worry a little bit about if I have killed you in my moment of temper." Chris laughed as he made himself comfortable in the chair, propping his feet up on the end of the bed after checking with Ezra first.
"Be my guest, Chris," Standish smiled as he fought hard to keep his eyes open.
The blonde watched as the young man in the bed lost his fight with sleep. He marveled at what he learned about the man over the last 24 hours and a new deep found respect had developed since talking with him just a few minutes ago. 'The man is wise beyond his years'. Soon Larabee could no longer keep his eyes open and he drifted off to sleep, certain the others kept watch and all the plans were made.
Vin had snuck in and woke Chris up when it was time to get ready for their plan. Chris walked out of the room and left Tanner alone with Standish for a moment. The Texan walked over and looked closely to see if the man was still asleep or playing possum, 'most likely possum'. "Ez, if you are awake open them eyes, I got somethin' ta tell ya."
Ezra opened his eyes and smiled up at his friend. "What do you have to tell me, Vin?"
Tanner smiled as he pulled out the gambler's Remington and handed it over to the man, "Don't trust all plans to work out without somethin' goin' wrong."
"Thank you, Vin. I knew I could count on you to make sure I was able to protect myself."
"You're too important to lose." The tracker winked as he went over and pulled a cane out of the corner. "I don't expect ya ta use it unless ya have ta."
Ezra nodded his head and let Vin know he would do just that. He would not risk his disability being the reason any one of them got hurt. "I trust my associates to cover me."
The tracker smiled as he tipped his hat toward the southerner and gave him the favored two-finger salute. "Ya bet, pard."
Ezra now began his own plan of protection and playing possum, as Vin had called it. Ezra used the cane to support himself to place everything where he needed it before turning down the lantern located on the table beside his bed low enough so he could still see who was coming through his door. He maneuvered himself onto the floor, on to the pillows and blankets he'd placed there earlier. He then moved himself under the bed and make sure he had full vision of the door leading to his room and the window, the moonlight assisting him to see what he needed to as he made his preparations.
Toby had no a problem at the thought of helping the peacekeepers bring his father down; it'd been different when he'd thought they had been seeking justice. But, now that he had heard the truth, as told by Larabee and Wilmington he knew that his father had again played him a fool. With this in mind, the young black man went to the livery feeling no guilt for what he was about to do.
He walked toward the livery with only one thought in his mind, that he was going to make his father and uncle pay for what they'd put him and his sister through. Then he would face whatever punishment that would come his way for what he'd done.
Beau watched with pride as his son walked with a determined stride, like he had found his manhood and wore it proudly. 'Look at my boy.'
Silas could not help but feel that something just was not right, but he just could not put a finger on it. He just hoped he did before it was too late.
"So, where is everyone set up?" Silas asked.
"One with the Standishes, the long-haired tracker, one in the jail, the preacher, one is patrollin' the area, that one would be the ladies man. The sheriff went to take care of some rancher business, and the other two men are asleep." Toby nodded at his father.
"Good, let's go. Silas and I will go to the clinic, I want you to take the horses behind the building and wait for our signal." Beau smiled as the moment of Michael and Rebecca's death got closer.
"Then let's git,." Silas said as he tried to figure out why he felt uneasy and anxious.
Toby watched at the two men headed to the trap that was laid out for them. He smiled as he went to unsaddle the horses and bed them down for the night, then made his way around the back way to the jail.
Beau and Silas eased up the steps to the clinic, both men preoccupied with looking for anyone that would see them so, neither of them noticed that Toby never left the stables with the horses.
Silas tried the door and found it was unlocked. He nodded at Beau and both pulled both of their guns as they sneaked into the room. The long haired tracker was taken by surprise as was Maude, the well blanketed body on the bed did not move.
"Well, Rebecca, we meet again after all these years," Beau smiled.
"I don't think so." JD looked up from under the blond wig and smiled as he lifted his twin colts up and aimed them at the two intruders.
"But, how " Beau closed his eyes as the betrayal of his children hit him.
"Told ya he couldn't be trusted," Silas growled as the Texan lifted his Mares leg to aim at the ex-slave.
Beau swung his guns toward the bed, planning on taking out the bastard at least, only to come up short at the figure that rose off the bed, "Rebecca?"
Silas used the distraction to head to the back door when the firing started. He planned to make it out alive and hunt down his niece and nephew and make them pay. Then he would find the bastard, Michael, and his aunt. Vin and Buck hurried after the black man when they saw him try to escape. The tracker was glad he'd given Ezra the gun for his protection, just in case the man went for the bedroom and not the back door out of the clinic.
Chris and Josiah were right on target as they shot Beau Dumont, the man they had known as Mr. White. The man fell to his knees, with two gunshots in his back and dropped his guns. Josiah moved quickly to make sure JD and Maude were okay and trusted the others to take care of the other man.
Nathan quickly looked JD over and made sure he'd not been hit when the shooting started. The healer went around and made sure none of the hardheaded people in the room kept any injury a secret. Some had a habit of waiting for everything to be okay before they told them they were hurt. Then, and only then, did he move to check on the seriously wounded man on the floor.
The southern whirlwind was off the bed and beside Dumont in a matter of seconds. She rolled him over and pummeled him with questions. "How did you find us?"
"Found Claudia, then Patrick's wife, then a dime novel with his name on it that I'd gotten from Patrick's wife." Beau chuckled as his breath became more labored and made him almost choke.
"Does anyone else know?" Maude grabbed the man and shook him.
"Can't tell." Beau's breathing was becoming more difficult.
Nathan continued to check the man, but his assessment did not change. He looked up at Maude and then Chris and shook his head, letting them know there was nothing he could do
"Please, tell me," Maude pleaded.
"Live on the run bitch." Beau was able to spit out before he died.
Maude's heart stopped when she heard Ezra scream and heard the shot fired in his room. She looked up at Josiah and Chris who, in turn with JD and Nathan at their heels, ran for the back bedroom.
Ezra heard shots and then his door was opened too quickly for his comfort. Suddenly a face from his nightmares became reality as the tormentor in his dreams turned toward the bed with his gun raised. "OH MY GOD, NO, NOT AGAIN." Ezra yelled out as he raised his gun and shot the man in the heart.
Vin had seen the man raise his gun toward where the gambler laid and raised his gun and fired, not caring if it was in the back or not. The fear he heard in Ezra's voice told him that the man remembered who the intruder was. Tanner jumped over the body now lying on the floor, not noticing how it now looking up at the ceiling with dead eyes. His major concern was getting to Ezra and helping his friend. He could hear and taste the fear coming off the gambler the closer he got to the man, "Not again, not again," is all he could hear the southerner say over and over from under the bed.
Buck stood and stared in shock. He couldn't get over how much this man looked like Nathan. 'No wonder Ez had a problem with Nate in the saloon the day we first met him'. He stepped over the man, after he made sure he was truly dead and followed Tanner over to the southerner.
"Come on, pard; let me help ya back ta bed." Vin offered his hand to the gambler.
Ezra heard the familiar voice, but it was not getting through as he realized that his dreams had really happened. That the man, now dead on the floor, had indeed beat him with whips as a young child. He was sure there was more, but it would not reveal itself to him.
Maude ran into the room and almost tripped over the dead body. She quickly stepped over it to get to her son. She did not hear the sudden gasps from the other men as they also noticed just how much the dead man and their healer resembled each other.
"Ezra, honey, you need to get back into bed now." Maude said in her firm motherly voice when she noticed the shocked expression on her boy's face.
Ezra reacted as he always did, "Yes, Mother." He scooted out from under the bed and moved toward her voice.
Vin and Buck were there to help return the bedding and then the patient back to the bed. Nathan took charge and asked everyone but Maude and him to step back and let the poor man breathe.
Ezra's eyes, big with fear, never left Maude's. "I remember, or at least I remember him beating me and calling me all kinds of terrible names."
"It's okay, my love, you just relax. He can't hurt you anymore, and neither can Beau. They are both dead." Maude smiled as she caressed her boy's cheek and kissed his forehead.
"There is more, it just will not come." Ezra looked up at Maude with fear and a need to be comforted.
Josiah knew the two needed to be alone, so he gathered the others and herded them out of the room. Vin and Buck stopped long enough to take the body out of the room and then closed the door.
Maude waited for the click telling her the door was closed and they were alone before gently pulling away from Ezra for a moment. "I just need to get comfortable."
Ezra took the hint and moved to make room for his mother to lie beside him. Maude moved in slightly behind him to pull him back against her chest and wrapped her arms around him. He laid his head back on her shoulder. She then breathed a sigh of relief that her boy was safe in her arms, and they would face the future and all its glory together.
"I want to remember."
"I know, but let your mind accept and deal with what it has been dealt in the game of life before you start on a new game." Maude gently kissed his head. "God only gives us what we can handle at one time. Lord, child, you have had enough these past few days to last a lifetime. So, leave the rest of the memories for when you are ready to remember and deal with what they are hiding from you right now."
"Mother, I want to stay here. I have never felt so at home for such a long time as I do here." Ezra whispered, hoping she would not be mad at him.
"Ezra, my boy, if here is where you feel the most at home, then here is where you should stay. Would you care for some company for a while from an old bothersome mother?" Maude smiled as her boy snuggled closer to her, as he had as a child.
"I would love the company." Ezra yawned as he found it hard to keep his eyes open.
"Then sleep and we will tell the others you have decided to stay when you are more rested," Maude whispered as she felt her son's body relax in he fell asleep.
Josiah looked up at the moon and stars and smiled. "He is a wonderful boy, Lizzy, a tribute to you."
"You should tell me about her one day," Nathan stated as he moved up next to his friend.
"Not much to tell, Nate. I loved her; our fathers, it would seem, did not want us together and schemed to keep us apart. I would never have left her if I'd known it was all a lie my father and her cousin told me. I would have fought with everything I had to be in my child's life. But we were too young and inexperienced to see how we were manipulated by our so-called loving parents. It is something for me to add to the never ending list of why I lost respect and love for my father," Josiah sighed as he shook his head.
"You should tell him, he does have the right to know." Nathan placed his hand on the preacher's back for support.
"Not right now, he needs time to digest all that has dropped into his lap. Maybe never, there is so much to consider. I just don't know, Nate. I don't want to lose him, never again. He wants to start new with our friendship. What if he would deny me that, if he found out I was his absent father. The one who could have prevented him from the nightmares of a terrible childhood and of seeing his mother beaten to death?" Josiah looked up at the heavens and prayed God would send him the answer.
"I will be there whenever you decide," Nathan promised.
"Let's just say I'm leaving it in God's hands right now. Until then I'm just going to enjoy my new found friendship with our resident gambler." Josiah chuckled as he moved to take a seat and wait for the others to join them outside.
Josiah watched from the roof of the church as Ezra and Vin rode in from patrol. He watched as his son pulled out his cane. It'd been one month since the incident that almost cost the gambler his life, but instead brought him closer into the fold of his new found family. This thought warmed the preacher's heart as he remembered how the man would seek out his company at times. He watched as the southerner walked with barely a limp, with the assistance of the cane that Larabee had adjusted to fit with Ezra's gentlemanly attire.
Sanchez looked on with parental pride as his son was able to walk around in town with his head held high, and the town now gave him the respect he deserved. The town had learned that Mr. White was a bad man looking to break up the seven, starting with the con man, and they welcomed young Standish back into their fold.
Mrs. Potter had reopened most of the town folk's accounts and kept a tight watch on the young man under the direct orders of Maude Standish. Maude stayed for a few weeks and then the need for her independence came. 'God, how he missed that woman'.
Josiah looked on as the others came out to check on the tracker and the gambler. He noticed the difference in how Chris treated his son with a new found respect. They'd also teamed up to play pranks on Vin and the others and made sure someone else got the blame. He just placed that in the special place in his heart he reserved for secrets to keep.
The subject of Ezra being his son was never brought up by him or Nathan since that night on the balcony. Right now he would not risk the possibility of his son not forgiving him for not being there, so he settled for the best friendship he could ever hope for from the gambler. 'No, my boy, I would not trade what we have now for what might be, if you knew who I really was.'
The preacher still felt unworthy of filling the role of father to his son. He felt he was still too much like his father and didn't want that inflicted on his boy. 'When I'm worthy of the title, then I will reevaluate.' But for now, he would continue to learn more about the man and let him get to know him as well.
He thought of Toby and Mavis Thomas and how he was glad they helped them in the end. Mavis was living at the village and liking it there. Toby was sent to prison for his part in shooting Ezra. He had come to respect the man that had emerged from the young black man with this incident. He had accepted his punishment without complaint and promised to do better when he was released.
Josiah watched as the others went into the saloon. Then he smiled and turned back to completing his work for God. He wanted a true house of worship for the town, and how can you worship if the roof leaks?