Sanchez stepped inside the gloom of the rustic church, instantly feeling
a sense of peace and déjà vu. As his eyes adjusted, distinct
forms took shape. He scanned the interior taking in the unfinished
pews. Josiah looked at the sawhorses and tools that lay strewn about
like someone had just taken a break from their penitent labors.
Josiah's brow furrowed. 'Now why did I think penitent,' he thought.
The trappings brought a flood of memories to the forefront of his mind.
Memories of his travels with his missionary father so many years ago.
He walked slowly up the aisle, letting his hand lazily caress the rough-hewed
pews, breathing in the sawdust that still filled the air. As he neared
the crude altar something caused his broad shoulders to shake. He walked
up the two steps and brought his massive form around behind the podium.
Josiah smiled out over the empty church, and then raised his hand into the
air. "Hellfire and damnation!" he yelled out, his hand pounded down on the
podium. Something fell from underneath, and Josiah bent down and picked
up a rosary, a huge crude cross-hung at the end of it. He ran his hand
over the beads and clutched the sacred article in his fist.
Nathan was surprised at the medical tools left unsecured in the clinic.
An old battered, black bag sat on a chair next to a dresser that held vials
of various unknown liquids. Nat reached over and picked up a pouch;
opening it he sniffed the contents and wrinkled his nose. There were
two cots in the small room and in one corner a pile of clean linen sat.
For some unexplained reason a set of throwing knives lay on the bed.
Nathan looked around the small room, expecting, or better yet sensing that
someone was there. He smiled at his foolishness. 'JD's nostalgia must
be rubbing off on me,' he thought.
Hank Gruber made his way behind the dilapidated buildings. He had sent
his brothers, and the rest of the men to various positions throughout the
town and told them to wait for his signal. He peered out from between
the buildings to see Larabee and a couple others making their way toward
the saloon. He turned around only to come face to face with Jasper
who had suddenly appeared.
"Where the hell did you come from?" Hank hissed out at the old man, who seemed
rather unconcerned with the whole situation, including the gun now pointed
"Listen old man if you know what's good for you, you'll find a place to hide
and stay hidden." Gruber wasn't overly concerned about the old man;
he had checked and made sure there was no communication into the town, and
he knew cell phones rarely worked up here. By the time the old man
could get help they'd be long gone. Hank only wanted Larabee and his
men dead. He didn't kill innocents; he did have his ethics.
Jasper smiled at the young drug dealer. "And if you knew what was good
for you, you'd high-tail it out of here," Jasper calmly replied.
Hank bowed his head and chuckled slightly, thinking he'd have to tie the
old man up somewhere. When he raised his head, Jasper was gone.
Hank spun around, and his eyes darted wildly up and down the nearby
alleyway. He shook his head and continued on, unable to now shake the
sense of foreboding that tickled his spine.
Chris, Vin and JD left the jail and walked across the street toward the
saloon. Chris threw out his arms to stop his two other agents in their
"Look around, tell me what you see."
JD and Vin turned around now seeing things that hadn't been there
before. Things that weren't unusual, except in a ghost town that was
suppose to have been deserted over a hundred years ago. A dime-store
novel paperback lay on a chair just outside the jail, the breeze ruffling
the pages. Hoof prints marred the wide dirt street and the water trough
that sat outside the mercantile store was now full of water. JD was
almost certain it had been empty earlier.
JD touched the star that lay pinned on his shirt. "What's going on?"
"I don't know, maybe this Jasper fellow is just trying to give us a real
wild west experience or something," Chris surmised, but he wasn't sure he
The three men continued on toward the saloon.
Ezra stepped out of the saloon with a definite swagger in his step to join
the three men.
"Gentlemen, care to join me in a libation?" Ezra drawled, holding out the
bottle of unlabeled dark liquor. "This stuff couldn't get any
smoother." He handed the bottle to Vin, who took a swig.
Chris stared at his undercover man, wondering where the word 'libation' had
come from. He then noticed what appeared to be a freshly rolled cigarillo
balancing on the railing. He picked up the cheroot and rolled it under
his nose as he leaned against the post.
"Whoa, that's good," Vin hoarsely remarked as the aged whiskey slid down
his throat to erupt in an explosion of warmth as it reached his stomach.
No one seemed concerned that Ezra had found a bottle of whiskey just lying
about. All four men were feeling strange, but not sure how to make
concrete their bizarre thoughts or feelings.
Larabee looked down at the homemade cigarette and brought it to his lips.
He pulled out the lighter he used to start camp fires and lit it, inhaling
deep of the acidic aroma. Chris glanced over at Ezra, who looked more
relaxed and at peace then he'd ever seen him. In fact, he looked even
more cocky and self-assured then usual, if that was possible.
"Nice hobby you have here," Chris casually remarked, blowing smoke rings.
"Hey, I didn't know you smoked," JD exclaimed.
"Yeah, Sarah made me give it up, said it was a nasty habit." A slight
darkness came to Chris's eyes at the mention of his late wife.
"Thank you, Mr. Larabee," Ezra replied, hoping to divert Chris's sudden
melancholic thoughts; a dark mood seemed to have settled on the ATF
Leader. "I do love the feel of history. My mother once told me
some distant relative had come out west for some unknown reason. He
was a gentleman gambler. The family lost touch with him and no one
knew what became of him."
"Hell, Ez he probably came west to make his fortune from poor unsuspectin'
folk," Vin stated, taking another swig from the bottle.
Chris and Ezra stared back at the lean sharpshooter, bewildered, not so much
at what Vin said, but how he said it. His Texas drawl had never been
No one noticed the lone man up on the roof of the mercantile building across
the street. Hank Gruber raised his rifle and took aim at Larabee's
heart. He had waited a long time for this. Hank looked up momentarily
as he heard Buck and Josiah coming down the street. He smiled.
Good, he wanted Larabee's men together to witness the fall of their leader.
"Hey, Chris," Buck called out from down the street.
Ezra tipped the bottle of whiskey back, taking a long pull. He stopped
when he caught a glint of something from the rooftop across the street.
He didn't realize what it was, and as he wiped his mouth with his sleeve
he stepped out from under the eave to get a better look.
The force of the bullet entered Ezra's shoulder, exiting out the back.
He was thrown into Larabee's astonished arms. Both men fell to the
boardwalk in a tangle of arms and legs. Chris quickly extricated himself
from under Ezra's motionless body, and pulled his service revolver, placing
himself in front of his downed agent.
"Shit, who's shootin' at us?" JD yelled, pulling back toward the building
as pulled out his own gun.
"Up there!" Vin shouted, nodding toward the roof of the building across the
street. Buck and Josiah jumped onto the boardwalk and hugged the buildings
as they crouched down and made their way to the saloon.
Bullets started to rain down on them from several directions.
"Get Ezra inside!" Chris yelled as he returned fire.
Josiah grabbed Ezra by the arms and dragged him into the saloon as Chris
and Vin supplied cover fire. Buck and JD gave Nathan cover as he came
sprinting down the street toward them, bullets licking at his heels.
Nathan dove through the doorway of the saloon, followed by Chris and Vin
who rolled to either side of the entrance.
Josiah dragged Ezra across the floor and propped him up against the bar.
Ezra came to with a jolt and hissed as pain radiated from his shoulder and
down through the cast on his arm.
"Ah, hell," Ezra moaned, seeing his shirt covered with blood.
"Let me see, Ez," Nathan said as he fell next to him.
"Well, at least you won't lose the use of both arms."
Ezra only sneered at the ex-paramedic's attempt at humor. Nathan unbuttoned
Ezra's shirt and pulled it aside. He then gently probed the ugly bleeding
Ezra groaned as Nathan leaned him forward, looking for an exit wound, and
finding one. Jackson removed his backpack and pulled out a huge wad
of gauze placing it over the wound.
"Hold that," he told Ezra as he forced the agent's hand over the gauze.
Jackson then looked across Ezra's body at Josiah. "We have to get the
bleeding stopped." Josiah reached up and grabbed the half-full bottle
"Here brother, this just might help with the pain."
Ezra smiled and grabbed the bottle taking a long draw. Josiah and Nathan
both stared in disbelief at the undercover man wondering how he was able
to guzzle the hard liquor; Jackson didn't think Ezra was a hard drinker.
Bullets flew over their heads in the saloon, breaking what was left of the
mirror over the bar. Chris, Vin, JD and Buck returned fire, trying
to keep the shooters pinned down.
"Who you think is shootin' at us?" Vin's soft Texas drawl carried across
the doorway and over to Chris.
"Don't know." Chris peered around the doorway trying to get a look
at the building across the street.
"What do you want?" Chris yelled out to the street. He at least
wanted to know why someone was trying to kill them.
"I want you dead, Larabee!" A loud voice replied.
Chris hung his head. How many times had he heard that in his life?
"My name's Hank Gruber. You killed my father, Lars, eight months ago,
remember?" Hank reminded.
"Yeah, I remember alright. Your father was trying to kill me.
He didn't give me any choice," Chris countered.
"Well, I'm not giving you any either. I'm going to kill you, Larabee,"
Hank yelled out.
"Well, I guess that means there's no talkin' him out of this," Vin said,
his eyes seemed to dance along with the humor in his voice.
Gunfire started up again causing the ATF agents to duck. It only lasted
a few moments then everything went quiet. No one said a word for several
"I don't like the feel of this," Buck quietly murmured. Keeping crouched
low he headed for the stairs, hoping to get a better vantage point on the
second floor. JD wiped his sweating palms down his pants leg.
He was nervous, but he was also feeling something akin to excitement.
"Okay, Ez, the bullet went clean through," Nathan explained, still trying
to stop the bleeding.
"Well, that is indeed fortunate," Ezra smugly replied, his eyes growing heavy.
Sweat glistened on Ezra's pale face, and Nathan could detect the slightest
of trembles in his body. Josiah looked worriedly over at Nathan.
"He's losing too much blood," Nathan frustrating replied, applying more pressure
to the wound. It was few minutes more before the ex-medic slowly removed
the rag from the wound. He exhaled in relief as the bleeding had stopped.
"Keep an eye on him," Nathan said to Josiah before he crept over toward
Chris turned and looked over at Ezra as Nathan came up alongside him, keeping
his head down. "How is he?"
"He took it in the shoulder. It went straight through, but he lost
a lot of blood," Nathan explained, trying to see what was going on
outside. "He'll need to be kept quiet for awhile."
"Hey, has anyone seen that old man?" JD suddenly asked.
"No, hopefully he'll know to stay down," Chris replied.
"Maybe, he went to get help," Nathan interjected.
Standish stirred slightly, causing Josiah to lay a soothing hand on his
shoulder. The huge agent looked over to where Nathan was still talking
to Chris. He then decided to go and cover Buck who had gone upstairs.
"Just rest easy Ez," Josiah soothed. "I'll be back later."
Ezra murmured softly as Josiah made his way over to the stairs.
Ezra grimaced behind closed eyes as the sound of muffled voices rose up around
him and invaded the fog of his mind. He opened his eyes then squeezed
them shut against the unusually bright light. He tried again to slowly
open his eyes and what he saw made little sense to his eyes or mind.
Where had all the strange people come from?
Standish saw his fellow ATF agents, or at least, Chris, Vin, Nathan and JD--he
didn't know where Josiah or Buck was. But what really confused him
were the other people in the saloon, who his friends seemed not to be aware
of Ezra struggled to sit up against the bar. He didn't think
he had hit his head or even had a fever, yet what else would explain the
ghostly apparitions that now surrounded him.
The whole room appeared new. Everything looked polished, even the wood
floor was clean. Cigar smoke and laughter filled the room bringing
it to life. A stout gentleman in a white shirt with red suspenders
sat at a piano banging out an obnoxious tune on the badly out of tune
instrument. Women in low cut, spaghetti strap dresses mulled around
the tables crowded with cowboys--that was the word that came to Ezra's
mind. He was looking at real old-time western cowboys.
Ezra rubbed at his eyes and stared dumbfounded. He had to take a second
look at a far table, where a dark man dressed in a worn coat and pants, and
a huge grizzled older man, wearing a poncho, sat locked in conversation.
The oddly dressed men were none other than Nathan and Josiah, or at
least people who bared a striking resemblance to his friends. Ezra
glanced over to the next table where ghostly copies of Buck and JD were in
the midst of a heated game of checkers. He watched as Buck cuffed the
young gunslinger for some disparaging remark, knocking the bowler from the
young man's head.
"Hey, Buck," JD nudged the ladies' man and nodded toward the undercover agent
on the floor. "Sorta looks like our Ezra, don't he?"
Buck turned around and gazed at Ezra with an amused grin. "Yeah, but
he's dressed kinda drab, not as pretty as ours."
The bewildered undercover agent couldn't help but smirk at the familiar antics
of the two friends. A shiver went up Ezra's spine as his eyes traveled
over a gentleman in a neatly pressed short red-tailed jacket, sitting by
himself at a table with a deck of cards in his hand. There was no mistaking
the clean-shaven face, even with the long side burns. The ethereal
gambler held the same look of indifference and arrogance he saw in the mirror
The fancy-dressed conman turned slightly and nodded at the undercover
agent. "I see we have an interloper to our little unearthly municipality,"
the gambler drawled.
Ezra turned his head to the side to see a darkly dressed gunslinger standing
at the end of the bar, one foot resting on the brass railing the ran the
length of the bar. The face was more weathered and maybe a little more
hard-edged, but it was none other than Chris Larabee. Standing next
to Chris, even with the long hair and buckskins, there was no mistaking Vin
Tanner. Like the two modern day lawmen, these two men seemed comfortable
with each other's presence, both knowing the other would always watch his
Ezra continued to gape, mesmerized by the scene, which seemed to have opened
up to only him. He saw the cowboy Vin nudge Chris.
"Ay, pard, I think he sees us."
The same icy blue eyes that could freeze a man in his tracks turned his
way. Standish actually found himself swallowing a lump that had formed
midway up his throat. This Larabee looked even more dangerous than
the one he worked for.
The ghostly Chris pushed back his hat and took a couple steps, and then squatted
down in front of him. Ezra instinctively tried to move away.
"Don't worry, pard, you'll be fine," Larabee simply stated and smiled.
Standish returned the smile with a somewhat half-cocked grin. "Ah,
what are you doing here?" Ezra's scoffed as he realized how stupid
that question sounded.
Chris chuckled and looked over his shoulder at Vin, and then returned his
gaze to Ezra. "We were invited by a friend, and where else would we
The buckskin-clad Vin stepped up behind Chris. "Yeah, they tore our
town down to put up a con..condo...something-or-other."
"Condominiums," Ezra finished with an embarrassed grin. "Sorry, sometimes
progress doesn't know better."
The ghostly Chris stood, tipped his hat and returned to his place next to
"Wait," Ezra called out. He had so many questions to ask. He
blinked as the room distorted. He was forced to squeeze his eyes shut
as the past seemed to blend into the present and for a moment he felt the
bile rise up from his stomach. Soon only the things that had survived
into the present remained, including his friends.
"Hank, something strange is going on?" Kenneth exclaimed as he followed
his older brother up the back stairs of the building that set next to the
"Yeah, what?" Hank absently replied as he peered around the corner of the
building to make sure the coast was clear.
"I don't know...it just seems like...I don't know," Kenneth stammered,
exasperated at being unable to put his feelings into words. "This whole
town gives me the creeps. I feel like there's someone watching us."
"Shut up, you're just getting paranoid. We'll finish this off and be
in Mexico before any one even discovers that Larabee and his team are missing,"
Hank growled out. He wasn't about to let anyone back out now, not when
he was so close to getting his revenge.
Kenneth looked over his shoulder at Neal, who only shrugged. Both men
reluctantly followed their older brother up the stairs. Neal peered
furtively behind him. He wasn't about to tell his brother that
he kept hearing the jangling of spurs.
The three brothers managed to climb up the back stairs and onto the roof
of the connecting building, meeting up with two others of their notorious
party. They all then moved across what was left of the roof and entered
the second story of the saloon through a window. Hank peered down at
the street, noting where the rest of his men were. They were preparing
to assail the saloon as soon as they were given the signal.
Nathan looked over his shoulder, and his brow creased in worry. He
tapped Chris on the arm to get his attention, which had returned to the deserted
street outside. Both men looked over at Ezra, who was staring off to
the side and seemed to be talking at something only he could see at the end
of the bar. A frown creased Chris's face and he looked over at Nathan
who only shrugged.
"He's not running a fever. I don't know what's happening?" Nathan replied
to Chris's worried visage.
Chris returned to his vigil, growing concerned for his injured undercover
A crash from above diverted everyone's attention to the upper floors.
Buck came tumbling down the stairs ahead of Hank Gruber and his brothers.
Hank stood on the balcony, looking down at the ATF agents with a deadly smile
on his face. "Well, well, this will be like shooting fish in a
Hank and his brothers aimed their guns and pulled the triggers, but only
the click of empty chambers resounded through the saloon.
"What the hell?" Hank snarled.
"I told you something weird is going on!" Kenneth yelled out.
"Don't just stand there, get them!" Hank yelled.
Everyone tossed aside their now useless weapons as the confrontation
plummeted into an old-fashioned barroom brawl. The rest of Hank's men
suddenly appeared, jumping through the open window and charging through the
The ATF agents didn't waste time trying to figure out what was going on as
Gruber and his men came down the stairs.
Jackson raced over to Ezra and grabbed the vulnerable agent under the arms,
pulling him behind the bar. Nathan peered up over the bar, watching
as fists flew, making contact with jaws and cheeks.
Chris lashed out with a right, sending one outlaw into a table, turning it
into so much kindling. Buck whooped as he hurtled himself into the
"Heheheh," Jasper giggled, appearing out of the blue beside Nathan.
"Been a long time since I've seen a good brawl." Jasper threw out his
fists in imitation of the fight he was watching and winced when he witnessed
Vin take an unexpected punch to the stomach.
Nathan turned his head and stared quizzically at the old man. He then
returned his attention to the fight, watching as JD jumped on the back of
another man, covering his eyes with his hands. The angered man spun
around, trying to dislodge his young attacker. Buck grabbed the man
by the arm and struck him in the jaw sending him and JD to the floor.
"Sorry, JD," Buck said as he gave the young man a hand up.
Ezra started to sit up until he felt Nathan's foot in the center of his chest,
forcing him back down to the floor.
"Mr. Jackson, this is most undignified!" Ezra yelled over the racket
in the saloon.
"I don't care, you're staying put!"
Nathan grabbed up an aged bottle of whiskey and brought it down on one of
the bad guy's heads, sending him to the floor in an unconscious heap.
"Good one, Mr. Jackson," Jasper laughed.
Nathan's brow furrowed in confusion as he realized that the others seemed
to be enjoying themselves. He watched as Chris and the others lunged
and ducked with practiced ease; all working in sync with each other.
Nathan abruptly snapped his head back to the spot where Jasper had been;
the old man had vanished. A simple thought had come crashing down on
him, something that had been missed earlier. How had Jasper known his
last name? Or Josiah's for that matter? Chris had introduced them by
their first names only. As Nathan watched the last of Gruber's gang
fall, the thought that Jasper probably knew more about them than he
let on, sent a shiver down Nathan's spine.
When the last of Gruber's men was finally subdued Nathan gave Ezra a hand
up. The annoyed southerner yanked his hand out of Nathan's grasp, glaring
at the smirking agent. "That was most unkind, Mr. Jackson."
"Sorry, Ez, but I wasn't about to have you start bleeding again."
Ezra's anger faded slightly at Nathan's obvious concern for his health.
The sound of fists on skin caused everyone to shift their eyes up to the
upper balcony to see Josiah trading punches with another large man.
Buck draped an arm over JD's shoulders and smiled as the two men continued
to exchange punches forcing each other closer to the railing. Sanchez
suddenly let loose a yell and grabbed his adversary, lifting him up over
his head and throwing him over the railing.
The large man screamed until he hit the floor, crashing through the aged
The seven agents all stared at the hole as a wispy, vaporous cloud that seemed
to be trying to take shape rose up from the ragged opening. The room
grew cold and JD involuntarily shivered.
The seven agents cautiously approached the hole and peered down inside.
The man who made the hole lay motionless at the bottom of what appeared to
be a tunnel. Nathan paused a moment then leapt in, having to bend over
to check the unconscious man.
"He's alive," Nathan stated. His eyes went wide as he looked into the
back of the tunnel.
"What is it, Nathan?" Chris asked seeing the flash of fear on his friend's
"Ah, we're not alone down here," Nathan replied, waiting for his heart to
The others leaned over to get a look at what their friend was referring
too. They could just make out the leg bones of a skeleton. Only
a few remnants of clothing remained on the body. Nathan saw the neat
little hole in the middle of the skull. A flash of gold got Nathan's
attention, and he reached down between the ribs and picked up the pocket
watch. He dusted it off, thinking it looked very familiar.
Nathan climbed out of the hole, sitting on the edge holding the watch.
JD's brow furrowed, and he snatched the watch from Nathan's hand.
"What is it, JD?" Buck asked, noticing the disquieting look on his
young friend's face.
JD stared at the watch and swallowed, trying to catch his breath and put
moisture back into his suddenly dry mouth. He slowly opened the watch, hoping
he wouldn't see what he expected to see. There it was, the elegant
woman in period clothing staring back at him. And on the back, the
name 'Jasper' etched in crude block letters. JD fell heavily into a
"It's Jasper's," he quietly said.
"What?" Chris asked, staring at his young agent.
JD raised his head to look at the six men staring back at him. "This
is the same watch that Jasper showed me when we first came into the town."
They all turned to stare back at the hole, no one willing to voice what they
all were thinking. Nathan and Vin grabbed hold of Ezra as he was appearing
a little shaky on his feet.
"Come on, we better get Ezra to the hospital and call the local authorities,"
Chris finally broke the silence.
The seven shuffled toward the door, stopping as a ghostly voice filled the
"Your kin would have been proud."
"That's..." Buck began.
"Don't say it," Vin finished.
"Are you sure you can ride?" Nathan asked as he helped the stubborn agent
onto his horse.
"I assure Mr. Jackson, I'm fine." Ezra looked over his shoulder and
stared at the old west town. He hadn't told the others what he'd seen
in the saloon. He still wasn't sure it all wasn't a dream.
"The sooner we put some distance between us and this town the better I'll
feel," Buck said, reining his horse around.
"I have to agree with you there, Buck," Nathan replied, following after the
hurried agent. They had tied up Gruber and his men and left them in
the old jailhouse. They had also taken the time to bury Jasper's bones
in a grove of aspens, they all had felt the need to do this and knew it was
what Jasper would of wanted.
Ezra looked over his shoulder, seeing seven gunslingers standing side-by-side
in the middle of the street. He raised two fingers to his brow in salute,
and then spurred his horse forward.
This story came from several sources: Deborah Moen asked that I elaborate
on Ezra's passion of traipsing through ghost towns, which was brought up
in my ATF story 'Hostage'. The old miner, Jasper is from another of
my stories 'Blizzard'. And I wonder if anyone thought getting gold
dust out from under the saloon floor boards sounded familiar, it came from
the movie "Paint your Wagon".