Magnificent Seven Old West
Mistaken Identity

by Dawnsunrise

Synopsis: Ezra had drunk, fought, and nearly died beside the man for over a year, yet now he had the uncomfortable feeling he’d only scratched the surface. A few printed lines on a page suddenly revealed a depth of mind and heart he’d never dreamed existed. Prequel to Clearer Vision.

Author’s Note: This story started out to be an “Ezra apologizes to Vin for laughing at him” post-Achilles fic. I didn’t expect Mary to hijack things the way she did, therefore there is a second story to the series, Clearer Vision.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Standish.”

“Ladies.” A tip of his hat and a wink set both lovely Claremont sisters to blushing. Amelia—or was it Rose, he could never remember who was who—clutched her sister’s arm and giggled as they hurried past.

Ezra leaned against the porch railing, enjoying the warmth of the sun on his shoulders and the satisfying weight of a good meal in his belly. Now for some whiskey and a game of chance. The world had righted itself after the distressing turmoil of the last few days: Mr. Dunne was back in the sheriff’s office and Big Lester Bangs had taken the last stage out of town. Ergo Ezra Standish could get back to what he did best—fleecing the marks in this town out of some cash.

He took a step off the boardwalk to cross the street but nearly collided with Mary Travis, who was carrying a large armful of papers. She gasped and stumbled backward, feet tangling in her long skirt, and would have gone down if Ezra hadn’t caught her arm. As it was, several of the papers drifted to the ground.

“My apologies, Mrs. Travis.” Ezra retrieved the fallen papers—copies of The Clarion—and brushed off the dirt before handing them to her. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s all right, Mr. Standish, I should have been more careful to look where I was going.” She tucked a stray wisp of golden hair behind her ear. “I’ve been working all morning on this issue and I wanted to bring some copies over to the folks at the hotel as soon as possible. Keep one,” she urged, accepted the rest from him. “It’s hot off the press.”

Ezra touched two fingers to the brim of his hat, watching her make her way into the hotel, passing out the newspaper to folks as she went. Couldn’t be easy, keeping that little paper going in this deplorable backwater town. But the woman was nothing if not determined. Or how did Mr. Tanner put it in his oh-so-eloquent manner? Ah, yes—full of piss and vinegar. Such a way with words, their Vin. Ezra smirked and shook his head.

Speaking of which . . .

Ezra looked down at the paper in hands as a forgotten conversation popped back into his head.

“Mary’s putting some poetry in her paper, and, uh—”

“That’s nice.”

“I was wonderin’ if, well, since you have such nice handwriting and all, would you mind, once you sober up . . . writing down my poem for me, all nice and pretty-like?”

Ezra scanned the printed page, his smirk widening to a grin when he found the headline FIRST ANNUAL TERRITORY POETRY CONTEST. “Why, Mr. Tanner, I must admit you surprise me. I can only imagine what lyrical delights a man of your intellectual refinement has to share with us.”

Locating Vin’s offering—“A Hero’s Heart”—among the other entrants, Ezra began to read . . . and stopped. Checked to be sure he had the right poem. And read it again, this time to the end.

“There’s been a mistake.”

He said it aloud, annoyed. He’d been prepared for a bit of hilarity, after all, not to be moved by a piece of writing that was simple and poignant and, well, lovely.

And there was simply no way Vin Tanner, who wore a buffalo hide coat, slept in a wagon, and had the manners to match, wrote it.

Clutching the paper in his fist, he turned and strode into the hotel. Mary broke off her conversation with the desk clerk when he waved her over.

“Is something wrong?” She studied his face.

Ezra inclined his head. “I regret to inform you that there is an error in your publication.”

“An error?”

“One of the poems entered into your contest has been attributed to the wrong author. A situation I’m certain the true bard will find quite distressing.”

Frowning, Mary shook her head. “I went over the copy very carefully. I’m sure you’re wrong.”

“I beg to differ, dear lady.” Ezra pointed to the offending byline. “You’ve listed Mr. Tanner as the author of ‘A Hero’s Heart.’” He chuckled and shook his head. “I think we can both agree that a man whose normal method of expression involves phrases such as ‘like lickin’ butter off a knife’ is hardly capable of composing verse of that nature.”

To Ezra’s astonishment, Mary’s blue eyes turned cold and hard. “Let me assure you, Mr. Standish, that Vin Tanner is an accomplished poet. And as far as the poem in question? He recited ‘A Hero’s Heart’ from memory to me, and I wrote it down for him.”

Ezra opened his mouth but found he couldn’t form words—an unusual occurrence. Mind racing, he darted his eyes between the printed words in his hand and Mary’s angry face.

“I was wonderin’ if, well, since you have such nice handwriting and all, would you mind, once you sober up . . . writing down my poem for me, all nice and pretty-like?”

“You wrote a poem?”

“I knew I was wasting my time with you.”

Shame flushed Ezra’s cheeks. He’d laughed when Vin had asked him for help transcribing his poem, so certain it would be no more than a joke. Undeserving of his time. And Vin had gone to Mary instead.

Not only gone to Mary but produced a piece of poetry more than worthy of a place in the contest. In fact, looking at it beside the other entries . . . Vin could win.

But what really left him reeling was the sudden realization that there was so much more to Vin Tanner than he knew. Ezra had drunk, fought, and nearly died beside the man for over a year, yet now he had the uncomfortable feeling he’d only scratched the surface. A few printed lines on a page suddenly revealed a depth of mind and heart he’d never dreamed existed.

“It appears perhaps I’ve been mistaken,” he said aloud. It was meant to sound magnanimous, but somehow regret seeped in and choked the words.

“Yes. Yes you have.” Mary studied his face. “And about more than just the poem, I think.”

Damn the woman, always pushing just a little further, digging a little deeper. “Yes, well, I apologize for the confusion. If you’ll excuse me, I . . . ah . . . have some important business I should attend to as soon as possible.”

Mary tipped her head, a slight curve to her lips. “I understand, of course; don’t let me keep you from it. I still need to finish delivering these copies.”

Embarrassingly pleased that the ire had faded from her demeanor, Ezra headed for the door. He’d only taken a few steps, however, when she called after him.

“Wait just a moment, Ezra.”

He froze at the uncharacteristic use of his first name and slowly turned. “Ma’am?” A little startled, he saw her eyes were filled with sadness.

“I just wanted to say . . . I can guarantee you aren’t the only one who hasn’t bothered to look past a lack of education and that buffalo hide coat,” Mary said quietly. “I doubt very much he’s given whatever you did a second thought.”

The truth of her words twisted and cut inside him like barbed wire. Ezra swallowed hard and met her gaze. “But I am not like all the others. Taking into account my, shall we say . . . profession, I believe I’ve developed certain skills beyond that of the common man. To that end, I consider myself a devoted student of human nature and an astute judge of character. In short . . . I expect more from myself.” He sighed. “As should Vin.”

“I’m not the way they see me, not who they think I am.” The words were soft, barely audible, as if Mary were murmuring them to herself.

“What?” Ezra asked sharply.

She shook her head. “Never mind. The point is that we all have our secrets, the parts of us the world doesn’t see. For instance, who’d believe Ezra Standish, the man only interested in something if it can turn a profit, would find himself consumed by making things right with a friend?”

Okay, now the infuriating busybody was going too far. “Mrs. Travis. Mary. I never said—”

She grinned—grinned at him! “No, you never did. But it’s getting late. I’d best let you get on with your important business.”

“Likewise, I’m certain there are many good people in need of your excellent publication,” Ezra agreed, ignoring the way she stressed “important business” and the twinkle in her eyes. “Good afternoon.”

“Good afternoon. And Ezra?”


“Say hello to Vin for me.”

Any good conman has to recognize when he’s beaten. Ezra touched two fingers to the brim of his hat and strode out of the hotel into the sunshine.

Bested by a woman. He arched an eyebrow, scanning the street. Since this day was already proving to be the equivalent of a pair of twos, he might as well go ahead and get the rest over with. Brushing a piece of lint off his red jacket, Ezra squared his shoulders and went to find Vin.

Continues in Clearer Vision