This is an Old West story that started out to be a Vin and Ezra story but ended up being an all seven story. Enjoy.
"You know Ez, we could have stayed another day," Vin said.
"Yes, we could have, but I wanted to sleep in the comfort of my own feather bed with my own sheets and quilted blankets."
Vin smiled over at his companion, "Got a bit home sick did ya?"
"No, I did not," Ezra smiled back. "I wanted to return to Four Corners to present Mr. Jackson with the medical tome that I had come across and purchased for him."
"I'm sure he's gonna like it Ez."
The two men rode on side by side and chatted on about the enjoyable time they had for the past three days. They rode into town early afternoon and took their time caring for their horses before they went to look for their fellow peacekeepers.
The first one they looked for was Nathan. They went to the most logical place, his clinic.
"Come in," Ezra and Vin heard Nathan say after Ezra knocked on his door.
"Good after..," Ezra started to say when he and Vin entered the clinic but stopped when he noticed the bruising on Nathan's face.
"What happened to ya, Nate?" Vin asked, concerned.
Vin and Ezra went to Nathan's side. Ezra laid the book he had in his hand on the desk and gently grasped Nathan's chin and moved his head so he could get a better look, "Who did this to you?" Ezra asked.
Nathan jerked his chin from Ezra's grasp and glared at him, "They's kin of yours. It seems they took offence to the color of my skin."
Ezra sat on the bed and stared at Nathan, "Relatives of mine?"
"Yes, Ezra. I'm not the only one either."
"Who else, Nate?" Vin asked.
"They been bothering the single women in town."
"Where have the others been?" Ezra asked.
Nathan sighed, "Chris got throwed and is laid up out at his place with Buck lookin' after him. JD tried to arrest them but ended up getting beat up for it so Josiah and me told JD to go out to the Well's before he got himself hurt even worse. When Josiah tried to stop them from botherin' Inez, one of them pulled a knife on him."
"Was he hurt bad?" Ezra asked, concerned.
"No, but he did go old testament on him for it," Nathan snickered.
Ezra sighed and stood, "I have brought you a medical tome to add to the rest of your collection and hope it is not one you already have. Now, I must take my leave and deal with these relatives of mine.
Ezra left the clinic with his saddle bags and went to his room above the saloon by way of the back stairs.
Nathan looked down at the medical book Ezra left on his desk and smiled. It was one of many books that was on his wish list.
Vin followed Ezra to his room, "What ya gonna do?"
"I am going to find out which of my relatives are here in town, and go from there. Hopefully, I'll be able to knock some sense into them regarding Mr. Jackson, our resident healer."
Vin smiled, "Ya think mebbe I could lend a hand in knockin' some sense inta ''em too?"
"I am sure you could lend a hand if the situation should arise," Ezra smiled up at Vin.
Ezra draped his saddle bags over the footboard of his bed and changed out of his dusty clothes and washed up in the wash basin on his dresser. His trousers and under garments were the only things he kept on. Fifteen minutes later, Ezra was ready to go find his relatives that had been raising hell in the town he called home. He didn't have far to go.
Nathan went to the church and got Josiah and told him Vin and Ezra were back then the two of them headed to the saloon. They entered the saloon as Ezra and Vin got to the top of the stairs.
A man, that looked to be ten years older than Ezra, stood and faced Nathan, "Hey, boy, I thought I told you not to step a foot in here with us white folk. Do you need another lessen as to where your place is?"
Ezra and Vin stopped at the top of the stairs. Ezra surveyed the saloon below him and smiled. He and Vin descended the stairs as Ezra spoke, "Malachi Standish."
The man stopped when he heard his name and turned toward Ezra and Vin, "Who the hell are you?" Malachi asked, in a deep southern drawl.
Ezra now stood at the bar with Vin right beside him, "Has it been so long you do not know your own cousin. And may I ask, where are your deplorable twin brothers, Reuban and Remus?" Ezra looked over at Nathan, "Are you okay, Mr. Jackson?" Ezra asked when Nathan and Josiah joined him and Vin at the bar.
All four men stared Malachi, "I'm doing just fine, Mr. Standish," Nathan grinned at Malachi.
Two men that looked identical, stood on either side of Malachi. The one on the right looked Ezra straight in the eyes and smiled, "Hey, it's Ezie."
Ezra turned toward Inez, who was tending bar at that time, "Miss Recillos? May I see my cousins tavern bill."
"Si, Senior Standish," Inez said and went to get the bill. Ezra took the bill and turned back to his cousins, "Remus? It's Ez-RA." Ezra looked down at the bill, then back at his cousins and sighed, "It looks as if the three of you have compiled a rather large bill, how are you to pay for it?" Ezra walked up to Malachi as he spoke and looked him in the eye.
"You act like you own the place, Ez-IE," Malachi spat.
"That's cause he does," Vin said, leaning against the bar.
Malachi took the slip of paper, looked at it and tore it up into small pieces, "Since were family, we get free drinks and food."
Vin knew Ezra was getting his fill of these three and he was going to blow at any minute. Nathan and Josiah looked to one another then back at the scene. All three were there to back Ezra in what ever decision Ezra was going to make concerning his relatives.
Ezra looked down at the torn up bill lying on the floor then back up at Malachi, "Miss Recillos?"
"These three men are not to be served in this Tavern," Ezra said without taking his eyes off of Malachi.
Ezra knew what was coming and anticipated what came next and ducked the swing of Malachi's fist. Ezra didn't pull his punch when he came up with a right fist to Malachi's stomach. Malachi doubled over. Reuban took out his knife and slashed Ezra's left forearm. A split second later, Reuban was holding his right hand to his chest when Josiah shot the knife out of it and Vin had his mare's leg cocked and aimed at Remus. Nathan was beside Ezra in a flash when Ezra screamed through clenched teeth.
Ezra looked back at his cousins, "I think it would be best if the three of you were to leave on the morning stage. Until then, you can spend the night in the jail."
"You can't put us in jail. Only the law can do that," Reuban spat.
Josiah looked down at Reuban, "He is the law in these parts along with six other men. That includes the three of us."
Malachi stood up and faced Ezra, "Looks like Aunt Maude's bastard son did okay for himself."
Remus looked from his older brother to Ezra, "We didn't come in on the stage so we ain't leaving our horses."
"In that case, Mr. Tanner, Mr. Sanchez, please could you escort my cousins to the livery and then out of town."
"That would be our pleasure, Ezra," Josiah smiled at the three cousins.
"What about my hand?"
Ezra smiled up at Nathan, "I know they treated you rather deplorably these past couple of days, but could you find it in your heart to mend my cousin's hand?"
"Sure," Nathan nodded.
"I'm not letting that darkie touch me," Reuban said and took a step back.
Josiah grabbed Reuban by the arm, "In that case, let's get the three of you to the livery to fetch your horses so you can leave town."
"Come on Ez, let's get you up in the clinic and check on your arm," Nathan said as he lead Ezra out of the saloon, with Ezra holding his injured arm close to his chest.
Josiah and Vin escorted the three Standish cousins to the edge of town, after they fetched their horses, at gun point and watched till they were out of sight then went back to the clinic.
Josiah and Vin entered the clinic just as Nathan finish stitching Ezra's arm. Josiah sat next to Ezra, "Your cousin's are gone and they were told not to return."
Ezra nodded, "Thank you Josiah, Vin. I should have expected Reuban to pull his knife. Reuban was never one to fight fair. All three of them have a mean streak and I am truly sorry Josiah and Nathan you had to be on the receiving end of it."
Josiah patted Ezra on the shoulder, "Not your fault Brother. If we had known, we would have turned them away as soon as they came into town."
"Because they's kin of yours, we didn't want to be rude," Nathan said as he wrapped Ezra's arm.
"I will leave you with a list of relatives that you may be as rude to as you wish or if the situation calls for it," Ezra smiled.
Chris, Buck and JD entered town little while later and met up with the others in the saloon and joined them at their table.
"Hey cowboy. Heard ya got throwed," Vin said and took a drink of his beer.
"He did," Buck answered when Chris didn't. "I couldn't keep him in bed when JD showed up this morning telling us there was trouble in town."
"Ezra handled it when he and Vin got back," Josiah stated.
"Yeah, Josiah and me showed um to the livery so they could get their horses and then showed um to the edge of town by gun point."
"Who were they?" Chris asked.
"Ezra's cousins," Vin answered.
"They were told not to return," Josiah grinned.
"So, what are we going to do with those three when they come back?" Nathan asked.
"How do you know they'll come back?" Buck asked.
"Trust me, Gentlemen, they will return," Ezra sighed, " The reason I know this, is because those three had tormented me the summer of my sixth year. When ever I fought back, they would beat me, and in a few cases, I was whipped. They will be back to punish me for standing up to them and ordering them to be escorted out of town. They consider me a blight on the family name."
"They's mumblin' about somethin' when they's saddlin' their horses," Vin said.
Chris stared into his glass of whisky then looked up at Ezra, "I don't want you left by yourself Ezra. They may be kin, but from what I've heard, that don't mean a damn thing to them."
Ezra sighed as everyone else agreed with Chris. After Vin, Josiah and Nathan informed the others of what happened in their absence, Chris was even more determined not to leave Ezra alone.
+ + + + + + +
"Malachi? What are we going to do about Ezie and that town back there?" Reuban asked after they were out of sight and hearing distance.
Malachi was still steaming mad about being escorted out of town by gun point. What really made him mad was it was his Aunt's bastard son that gave the order and told him to never return. Like Ezie was a somebody.
Malachi held his head high, "It seems Ezie needs to know where his place is in life."
"We going to teach him?" Remus asked.
"Yep, right after we get Reuban's hand taken care of," Malachi said.
+ + + + + + +
It had been nearly a week since Malachi Standish and his brothers were ran out of town at gun point and Ezra wasn't left to himself for the whole time. Vin even started sleeping on the floor of Ezra's room in his bedroll. Ezra insisted it wasn't necessary for him to sleep in his room.
"Until were sure yer cousins ain't comin' after ya, I'm stayin'," Vin said as he rolled out his bedroll the night the cousins were ran out of town.
Ezra sighed, "Then we shall take turns."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra dealt out another round of poker for Buck, JD, Josiah and himself.
Ezra looked up when Josiah yawned for the umpteenth time, "Mr. Sanchez, if you're that tired, then please, retire for the night. I am sure what ever happens tonight, Misters Wilmington, Dunne and myself can handle it. Mr. Tanner is up in my room if we need him."
Josiah looked over at Buck and JD, "The two of you got him?"
Buck took a drink of his beer and nodded, "Yep."
Josiah stood to leave, "You know where to find me if trouble shows." Josiah downed the last of his beer in one gulp and left.
It's a couple more hours before JD, Buck and Ezra call it a night. JD and Buck wait for Ezra to climb the stairs to his room before they leave. At the top of the stairs, Ezra noticed the lanterns that hung on the hall way walls were out which he found odd because they were lit earlier when Vin retired for the night. Ezra backed up and before he could call out Buck's and JD's names, he was struck on the back of his head and was sent into darkness.
+ + + + + + +
Early in the morning, Vin was up and noticed Ezra's bed wasn't slept in and hoped he just spent the night playing cards.
Chris was in the saloon drinking a cup of coffee as he waited for his breakfast when Vin joined him.
"Who's with Ezra?" Vin asked as a cup of coffee was placed in front of him.
Chris looked up at Vin, "Isn't he still in bed?"
"His bed hadn't been slept in, Chris."
"I'll get Buck and JD. You go and get Josiah and Nathan. We'll meet up at the jail," Chris said and drank the last of his coffee and left with Vin.
All six lawmen met up at the jail.
"When did the three of you leave Ezra last night?" Chris asked Buck, JD and Josiah.
"It was about eleven o-clock when I left. Buck and JD were still there playing poker with him," Josiah answered.
"It was a couple of hours or so after Josiah left when Ezra went up to his room. JD and me didn't leave until he was upstairs."
"Did either of you follow him upstairs?" Chris asked.
Buck and JD looked to one another then back at Chris and sighed, "No we didn't."
"I was in his room asleep and didn't hear nothin'," Vin added.
"They had to be waitin' for him," Nathan said.
"Yeah, and with the full moon last night, it would've been easy ta sneak him outta town," Vin agreed.
+ + + + + + +
The morning light of dawn snaked it's way into Ezra's brain, waking him from a sound sleep. He must have had a good time at the tables judging by the headache in his head. He tried to roll over away from the sun light and snapped his eyes open and groaned, as the pain shot through his shoulder. He tried to sit up, but the realization of his hands being tied behind him, made him rethink the idea.
"Hey look Malachi, Ezie's awake," Remus said. He then grabbed Ezra by the lapels of his coat and shoved Ezra against a tree.
"It's Ezra, you imbecile."
Remus laughed and then back handed Ezra across the face hard enough it sent Ezra back down to the ground. Ezra was then manhandled to a sitting position and was now bleeding from a split lip.
Malachi came over to stand in front of Ezra who was now sitting cross legged, trying to keep from getting sick.
"It's what ever we decide to call you, Ezie."
Ezra couldn't hold it in any longer and vomited what ever he had on his stomach on Malachi's boots and pant legs. He looked up at Malachi and smiled, "Sorry. Getting hit on the back of the head upsets my stomach."
"You have a smart mouth that's going to get you in trouble."
"Be that as it may," Ezra glared up at Malachi, "Kidnapping me just brought you more trouble than you can handle."
Malachi laughed and squatted down in front of Ezra, "It seems you forgot your place."
"I can promise you this, dear cousin, what ever you do to me, won't be nearly..."
"Listen up you piece of shit," Malachi interrupted, "By the time your friends find you, we'll be long gone and there won't be much of you left."
"Yeah, that darkie can't raise the dead," Reuban laughed as he brought Malachi his whip.
Ezra feared what his cousin said was true, "At least with my death, the three of you will not be long on this earth."
"How do ya figure that?" Remus grinned down at Ezra.
Ezra looked over at Remus and smiled, "I work for a federal judge. By killing me it will mean the three of you will hang for my murder."
"They'll have to find us first," Malachi said and stood up. "Remus? Remove Ezie's coat, vest and shirt and tie him to that tree branch above his head."
"My fellow peacekeepers will come looking for me," Ezra glared, "They won't stop until they do. Then they'll go after you."
Remus grabbed Ezra and forced him to stand. Ezra took the opportunity to fight when Remus cut the rope binding Ezra's wrists. Ezra got in a couple of hits before Malachi's whip latched onto his legs and pulled them out from under him.
Reuban pulled a gun and aimed it at Ezra, "Try that again and you'll have a few bullet holes to contend with."
Ezra got to his hands and knees and glared up at Reuban, "I'm a grown man, not the six year child you terrorized."
"You will always be Aunt Maude's little bastard son. It's because of you grandpa Standish disinherited her," Malachi stated.
"Then the three of you should thank me," Ezra smiled up at his cousins.
"Why?" Remus asked.
"All the more for you to inherit."
While Ezra was on his hands and knees, he had gathered dirt in his fists and waited for Remus or Reuban to come closer to remove his cloths. He knew what Malachi had in mind and he wasn't going down without a fight.
Remus wiped the blood from his split lip as he walked over to Ezra. Ezra threw the dirt into Remus's face and then tackled him to the ground. Reuban shot Ezra in the side when he was able to get a clear shot without hitting his brother.
Ezra landed on his knees one hand with the other hand clutched to his side and glared up at Reuban.
"I told you I would shoot you if you tried that again," Reuban said as he squatted down next to Ezra.
Remus walked over to Ezra and kicked him and sent Ezra to the ground. He then continued to kick Ezra. Reuban stood back and laughed at the pain his brother was conflicting.
"Enough! I don't think he has much fight left in him," Malachi said.
Remus removed Ezra's cloths roughly off him, exposing his skin. He then laid the cloths across a rock and tied Ezra's arms to a tree branch above his head.
"You're no better than the slaves were on our plantation, back before they were freed. So I thought the whip that was used to keep them in line would be perfect to use on you. What do you think?" Malachi said as Remus removed Ezra's cloths and tied his arms to the branch.
"Go to hell," Ezra spat.
The three cousins laughed then Malachi brought the whip up and it struck Ezra's bare back.
+ + + + + + +
Vin found their trail behind the saloon and pointed it out to the rest of the guys.
Chris started to tell the others who was to stay and who was to go, but he was informed none of them were going to stay behind.
"If we all go, who'll be here to watch the town?" Chris asked.
"Do we care?" Buck asked. "Ezra is one of us, Chris."
"Yosemite and Tiny can watch over the town Chris. They've done it before," JD said. He wasn't going to be left behind.
"You're going to need me Chris," Nathan said and started for his clinic to gather the supplies he'll need.
"You need me ta do the trackin'," Vin said and with a look, he dared Chris to say other wise.
Josiah crossed his arms in front of him, "And I would like to see you try to stop me," Josiah glared.
Buck smiled, "Who ever ya leave behind Chris, we'll just follow ya."
Chris looked around at his men and sighed, "Fine. JD go tell Yosemite and Tiny they're in charge while were gone." JD ran off to do Chris's bidding. "The rest of you get what ya need for a few days and nights and we'll meet up at the livery."
Nettie met up with the guys at the livery, "Chris? Take my wagon. You may need it."
"You sure Nettie?"
"I'm sure, Son," Nettie said and patted Chris on the shoulder. "When haven't you needed a wagon when you or the other's were going to rescue one of you?"
Chris smiled down at the woman, "Thanks."
"Just bring that fancy pants and yourselves back in one piece."
+ + + + + + +
"Should we cut him down?" Reuban asked.
Malachi looked his handy work over, "Nah. Let his friends do it. Let's mount up and get the hell out of here before they show up."
"Is he dead?" Remus asked as he sat his horse.
"If he isn't, he soon will be," Malachi answered.
The three cousins spurred their horses into a gallop and lit out as fast as they could knowing the other peacekeepers would soon be on their trail and they needed as much distance as possible between them.
+ + + + + + +
"It don't look like they're trying real hard to hide their tracks," Buck commented while he and the others watched Vin examine the ground.
"They had to know we'd come after them," JD said.
"They do know, JD. That's why they's going so fast," Vin said and mounted.
"They want as much distance between us and them," Josiah sighed and looked to the sky. "I just hope we're not to late."
The other five peacekeepers look to the sky. A few curse words were spoken when they all saw the black birds over head.
Chris, Vin, Nathan, JD and Buck nudged their horses to go faster. Josiah snapped the reins to make the horses to the wagon go faster.
The tracks lead them to a crop of trees. Vin dismounted his horse and walked into the crop and found a hidden clearing.
At the panicked yell for Nathan, the others race to the clearing.
"Cut him down!" Chris ordered. He didn't care who did it, he just wanted Ezra down.
Josiah gently held Ezra as Buck cut him down. Nathan laid out blankets for Josiah and Buck to lay Ezra on. JD started to gather up firewood so they could start a fire to boil some water for Nathan.
Chris and Vin stood over Nathan, Buck and Josiah. Nathan told Josiah and Buck to lower Ezra's arms slowly to his side. "Nathan?"
Nathan knew what Chris wanted to know and nodded his head, "He's still with us. How, I have no idea. He's been shot and he's badly busted up from a beating. I'll have to remove the bullet first and by the look of his hands, he put up a fight. But three against one with him being unarmed, not good odds. He has a dislocated shoulder, a couple of busted ribs and some of these lashes need stitching, and he has a fever."
JD started a fire and heated up water for Nathan. Josiah wetted a rag from his canteen and started to wipe down Ezra's face and neck. Nathan had JD sterilize his knife so he could remove the bullet from Ezra's side. When Nathan was ready, the guys held on to Ezra to keep him still so Nathan could work and not cause Ezra any undue harm or pain. Ezra hardly moved. Next, Nathan cleaned the wounds on Ezra's back and stitched the ones that needed stitched then reset Ezra's left arm. By the time Nathan was done, the day was more than half over and he was exhausted.
Nathan stood and stretched out his back and stood next to Chris, "He's lost a lot of blood and with his fever as high as it is, I don't want to move him."
"Is he going to make it?" Chris asked as he stared down at Ezra.
Nathan looked down at Ezra and sighed, "I don't know. Like I said, he's lost a lot of blood, but if he makes it through the night, he'll have a chance. I don't want the bandages covering his back to get dirty, so we'll need to keep him on his side or stomach."
Chris nodded his head in understanding. "Get some rest, Nathan. We'll take shifts in watching over him. Vin and I will take the first watch, then Buck and JD then you and Josiah."
Nathan nodded his head, "It's going to be a long night for all of us."
"Yeah," Chris agreed and walked away to tell the rest of the guys the plan for the night.
"There's still some daylight Chris. Why can't some of us ride after 'em tonight?" JD asked.
Buck put his arms around JD's shoulders, "Because Ezra needs us right now."
"But they're goin' ta get away Buck."
"Fer now, but we'll get them JD," Vin said. "I know what way they's headed. I can pick up their trail in a couple of days. Sides, they took Ez's fancy cloths and guns and everyone in these here parts knows what Ezra's fancy coat and guns look like."
"That and Ezra's initials are carved into the butt of his forty five and derringer," Chris added.
"That's right," Buck nodded in agreement.
JD sighed and had to admit the guys were right, but he still felt like Ezra's cousins were getting away with what they did to Ezra.
+ + + + + + +
"Hey Malachi?" Remus called to his brother, "It's a perfect fit." Remus had his arms out to his side and turned around in a circle to show how well Ezra's cloths fit him.
"It's a good fit," Malachi agreed. "We have to get going," Malachi said as he started to break camp. They didn't have to put out a fire since they didn't start one because Malachi wanted to keep as much distance between him and his brothers and Ezra's friends.
Reuban was admiring the .45's he had along with their fancy holsters. He let Remus have the little pee shooter and rig. It didn't bother Malachi that his brothers took it all. Ezra's cloths were too small for him and he never did go for the fancy stuff. Besides, Malachi got what he wanted, Ezra's winnings. It wasn't much, but it was enough for a few nights lodging and meals for his brothers and him.
+ + + + + + +
"The temperature is going down, Brother," Josiah said as he piled more blankets on Ezra even though he still had a fever.
"I know Josiah," Nathan sighed. "I was hoping it wouldn't. The last thing we need is for Ez to develop pneumonia."
Josiah nodded his agreement and looked up at the sky. The moon and stars shown bright in the sky, "It would be tough going, but the moon and stars are bright enough..."
"I don't want to move him Josiah. His busted ribs could puncture his lungs and he could bleed to death."
"I know Nathan, but if we stay out here, the nights are only going to get colder. You just said he could develop pneumonia and if that happens, we could still lose him. He stands a better chance back in your clinic.
Nathan had to agree with Josiah's logic and looked to the moon and stars then back at Josiah, "We'll have to make sure there's as little jostling as possible because just one wrong move could cause a rib to puncture his lung."
"We could use the blankets to move him."
Nathan nodded his head, "Yeah we could. We could take a couple of the bedrolls and lay them in the wagon and lay him on top of them."
"Then use the others to pad around him to keep him from moving."
Vin and Chris lay awake listening to Nathan and Josiah. They didn't know Buck and JD were doing the same thing until Buck spoke, "Then what the hell are we waiting for?"
"Yeah, let's get it done," JD said as he got up from his bedroll.
Chris and Vin got up and joined Buck and JD in helping with the breaking of the camp while Josiah and Nathan made the wagon ready. When it was time to move Ezra, Josiah and Nathan was on one side, Buck and Chris on the other. JD had Ezra's head and Vin had his legs and together, they got Ezra into the Wagon and ready for the ride home. They made sure Ezra was laid on his side with one of the blankets rolled up and placed under Ezra's head for a pillow and the remaining blankets over him and the bedrolls were tucked up against him to keep him from rolling onto his back.
Chris lead the way back to Four Corners with Vin and JD on either side of the wagon and Nathan and Buck behind the wagon with Josiah driving the wagon.
+ + + + + + +
The six men and their charge came into town just before dawn. Just like back when they broke camp, the six men carried Ezra up into the clinic and laid him gently on the bed. Josiah stayed behind with Nathan when the rest of the guys left to either get some sleep or patrol the town. Even though Nathan told them all to go and get some sleep, they couldn't. For them, the thought of losing one of them wasn't something they wanted to think on.
"You know Nathan, they're not going to get any rest," Josiah said as he wiped Ezra face and neck with a cool rag.
"Yeah, I know. I expect them to come back any minute," Nathan sighed
As if on cue, Josiah and Nathan heard a knock on the door and smile at one another.
"Come in," Nathan called.
The door opened slowly and JD walked in and stood at the foot of the bed Ezra lay in. "I-I couldn't sleep," JD stammered.
"It's okay son. Come join us," Josiah smiled up at JD.
Minutes later Buck joined the small group.
After they finished patrolling the town, Vin and Chris made their way to the clinic. Mary stopped them just as they reached the stairs to the clinic. Vin nodded to Chris and kept going.
Chris took Mary off to the side.
"How is he?" Mary asked.
Chris sighed, "Not good. Could you wire the Judge and tell him what's going on?"
"Yes, of course," Mary agreed.
"As soon as we know if Ezra is going to make it or..," Chris hesitated for a moment.
Mary laid a hand on Chris's arm, "You don't have to say it Chris."
Chris nodded his thanks then he and Mary parted. Mary went to the telegraph office and Chris to the clinic.
"I don't understand it Buck. They's kin to Ezra, why would they want to kill him?" JD asked.
Buck sighed, "It's because Ezra's papa didn't do right by his mama."
"That ain't Ezra's fault."
"I know JD, but that's how it is," Buck answered.
Chris had entered the clinic in time to hear JD's question, "Still, it's not an excuse to take a man's life."
"Didn't say it was," Buck said.
Chris knew about Buck's mom and how she had to struggle to keep a roof over their heads. He also knew if it wasn't for the other women in the brothel, Buck could have ended up in Ezra's place because his papa didn't do right by his mama, but Maude and Pearl were two different women. He also knew Pearl loved Buck and showed him every day. He wondered if that was the reason they got along so well.
A couple of hours pass and Ezra's fever hadn't come down and Nathan was getting worried. He decided if Ezra's fever didn't break by night fall, he was going to send for a tub and they would give Ezra a cold bath to bring it down. Other than that, Nathan didn't know how else he was going to break it.
A knock on the door brought Nathan out of his musings.
Josiah got up and answered the door, "Gerold. What can I do for you?"
"Pa said I-I c-can f-find Mr. L-Larabee here," the boy stuttered.
"Yes you can. Come on in."
"N-no, th-thank you. Pa said t-to g-give th-this t-to 'em." Gerold handed Josiah the telegram and left.
Josiah shut the door and turned toward Chris, "It's a telegram for you Chris."
Chris took the telegram and read it. A feral grin appeared on Chris face as he read the telegram.
"I know that look," Buck said.
"The telegram is from the Sheriff over in Liberty," Chris said and looked up at his friends.
"What's it say?" Vin asked.
"Three men came into Liberty late last night. One of them was dressed like Ezra. He wants to know if Standish has any kin in the area."
"Liberty's a days hard ridin' from here," Vin stated.
Chris nodded that he knew that and sat back in the chair he was sitting in, and smiled, "Ezra's cousins don't know what Buck and I look like."
"You and Buck were out at your place when they came to town, so no they don't," Nathan confirmed.
"What ya got planned Cowboy?" Vin asked.
"I'll wire Dusty and tell him to not arrest them but not to let them leave town either. I want the pleasure of arresting them myself," Chris said.
"And if they put up a fight?" JD asked.
Chris had that look in his eyes when he looked over at JD, "I hope they do."
"If we leave at dawn, we should get there about nightfall," Buck said with a matching look on his face.
"What about the rest of us?"JD asked. He didn't want to be left out of capturing and maybe even exacting some punishment on Ezra's cousins.
Josiah looked over at Nathan. Nathan nodded to him. "The four of you should go. Nathan and I will stay here and see to Ezra and wait for Judge Travis and fill him in what's happened."
"Good, we leave at dawn," Chris said and left.
After sending the telegram to the Sheriff in Liberty, Chris went out to his cabin to get supplies he would need before he met up with Vin, JD and Buck at the livery at dawn.
+ + + + + + +
"Sheriff Sullivan? You got a reply from Four Corners."
Sheriff Samual 'Dusty' Sullivan took the telegram and tossed a coin to the telegraph operator, "Thanks Moses."
"That was fast," Dusty's best friend, Tom Martain, said. "Which one of the peacekeepers sent it?"
"Larabee and I am to keep the three men in town and to keep an eye on them."
"Does he say why?"
"Yep," Dusty answered. "They tried to kill Standish. He said he would explain when he got here tomorrow night."
Tom took a drink of his beer, "Let me tell Betty that I'll be staying in town for a couple of days so she can head home. You want me to go and get Grey?"
Dusty took a deep breath and let it out as he thought, "Yeah. Tell him he might be needed, but if I know Larabee, Tanner will be with him."
"Maybe even Wilmington," Tom smiled over at Dusty.
Dusty chuckled, "Yeah, Maebelle will like that."
The joke between Tom and himself was his sister-law's infatuation with Buck Wilmington. Maebelle moved in with him when his wife had passed away from pneumonia when their daughter Samantha was seven.
+ + + + + + +
He would have to restitch the wounds later, but for now, all Nathan knew was he had to get Ezra's fever down. Josiah assisted Nathan in giving Ezra a bath to bring down Ezra's fever. Nathan didn't want to do it, but it did bring down Ezra's fever.
Vin, Buck, and JD had their horses saddled and were leading them out of the livery when Chris rode into town just before dawn.
"I want to check on Ezra before we head out," Chris told the three men.
All four men went to the clinic to check on Ezra.
Josiah and Nathan heard the men come up the stairs. Josiah opened the door before Chris could knock on it and let the four men in.
"How is he?" Chris asked.
"We got the fever to come down, but it's started to go back up. We were able to get some tea with herbs in it down him by soaking a rag in the tea and squeezing the tea into his mouth," Nathan sighed.
"The Judge should be here tomorrow or the day after. If you run into any trouble before then, Yosemite and Tiny will be here to back you up. If he gets worse, send us a wire to Liberty."
"Will do, Chris," Josiah said
The four men said their goodbyes and leave Ezra and the town in the capable hands of Nathan and Josiah.
+ + + + + + +
The four men arrived in the town of Liberty shortly after dusk. The street lanterns were lit which help the men to make their way to the jail house where they found Sheriff Sullivan and his two friends, Tom Martain and Grey Wolf, waiting for them. Dusty's two deputies were out patrolling the town and keeping an eye on Malachi and his brothers.
Chris, Vin, JD and Buck entered the jail house and was greeted by Dusty, Tom and Grey.
"So, you going to tell us what happened to Ezra?" Dusty asked as he handed out cups of coffee to his guests.
"Buck and I wasn't in town to see any of it, but JD and Vin were."
JD told the three men what was happening in town before Vin and Ezra returned and then he and Vin filled them in on the rest.
"They're kin of his?" Tom asked and shook his head, hardly believing someone could do what they did to Standish to a stranger, let alone to kin.
"They've been doing pretty much the same thing here as they did in your town Chris. I haven't arrested them," Dusty grinned at Chris, "I thought I'd leave that honor to you, seeing as they tried to kill one of your own."
Chris liked this man the first time they met years ago, "We're a bit tired from our long ride. We thought we would get some sleep and take care of them first thing in the morning."
"Yeah, catch 'em unaware," Vin grinned and wagged his brow.
Dusty, Tom and Grey laughed.
"Yeah, with their boots off. Those three don't get up before noon," Tom said.
"The four of you can stay with me and Sam and my sister in law, Maebelle, at my dad's old place at the end of town. I told Mae and Sam we were having company tonight, but I didn't tell them who."
"Grey and I took rooms over at the hotel so we could keep watch on the cousins," Tom told them.
"Good," Chris nodded.
The men made their way to Dusty's place when one of Dusty's deputies stopped them to give Dusty a report.
"Matt?" Chris said to get the man's attention.
"Yeah Mr. Larabee?"
"Are the Standish brothers still in the saloon?"
"Yeah, playing poker, why?"
Chris smiled, "Vin, you and JD head on over to Dusty's. There's no need to let the brothers know you're here and tip our hand." Chris then handed the reins to his horse off to Vin and headed for the saloon.
Buck handed the reins to his horse to JD and rubbed his hands together and grinned from ear to ear as he followed Chris. Vin and JD followed Dusty back to his place at the end of town.
Chris and Buck entered the saloon and looked around. The three brothers were easy to spot. All Chris and Buck had to do was look for someone dressed in Ezra's cloths. They sat at a table with three other men playing poker. Chris and Buck made their way over to the bar and watched the game from there as they drank their whisky.
"They're good, but not as good as Ez," Buck whispered so only Chris could hear him, "He don't have to cheat to win."
Chris wanted to go over to the brothers and beat them to within an inch of their miserable lives. The more Chris thought on how they had found Ezra, the more he wanted to dispatch punishment on the three brothers. Chris shook his head with a slight grin, 'now I'm sounding like Ezra.' Chris thought to himself.
Buck laid a hand on Chris' shoulder, "Now's not the time Chris," Buck whispered.
"I know Buck," Chris said.
One of the cowboys the brothers was playing against got up and left. Chris smiled, but the smile didn't reach his eyes. Chris drank the shot of whisky in one gulp and then made his way over to the table.
"May I sit in?" Chris asked as he stood behind the empty chair directly across from Malachi.
Buck shook his head and followed Chris. Buck sat at the table next to the table where the brothers were playing.
"Yes you may. The name's Malachi Standish. These are my brothers Reuban and Remus. These other gentlemen are Simon Packard and Oscar Nash."
Chris nodded to each man, "Chris Larabee."
Chris wasn't as good as Ezra when spotting tells at the poker table, but he didn't need to be, these men were easy to read. He played three hands before he decided to call it a night telling the men he and his friend had to get up early.
"Did you learn anything?" Bucks asked after they left the saloon.
"Other than they aren't Ezra?"
Buck nodded his head.
"They think they got away with what they did to Ez."
"Yep, got that too. That Malachi was a little cocky too."
"A little?" Chris said sarcastically.
Buck and Chris arrived at Dusty's to find Dusty's twelve year old daughter, Sam, waiting for them on the front porch.
"Chris! Buck!" Sam greeted the two men excitedly and hugged them both when they reached the porch.
"Sam, let them come inside," Dusty said as he held the door open.
Chris and Buck followed Sam inside and Dusty shut the door after them.
"If you're hungry, there's stew and coffee on the stove and biscuits in the oven," Mae told Chris and Buck.
"I sure am Maebelle honey." Buck smiled down at the brunet with hazel eyes. Buck thought the young woman quite pretty and flirted with her every chance he got.
Chris and Buck ate their late night meal and retired to bed after their discussion on what they're going to do in the morning.
+ + + + + + +
Mary Travis entered the clinic after she knocked on the door and was given permission to enter.
"Nathan, how is he?" Mary asked as she looked down at Ezra who was propped up on pillows and blankets on his side.
Nathan stretched out the kinks with a few audible pops, "His fever finally broke early this morning. I sent Josiah home to the church to get some rest," Nathan sighed.
"Has he woke yet," Mary asked.
"No, not yet," Nathan answered.
"I'll sit with him so you can go and get some breakfast," Mary volunteered and took a chair next to the bed.
"Thanks Mrs. Travis. I could sure use the break."
"The Judge will be here sometime today. Do you think he'll make it?"
Nathan looked down at Ezra, "Don't rightly know ma'am. He lost a lot of blood and his fever just broke this morning. We have to keep his upper body elevated so he can breath."
"Pneumonia?" Mary asked as she looked up into Nathan's face.
"I ain't no doctor, but I don't think so. He's still a little feverish but it's not as high as it was, so I'm hoping it's just a chest cold."
Mary nodded, "But it still could be pneumonia," Mary said when she heard the wheezing.
Nathan left Mary with instructions on how to give Ezra water and tea with herbs to him and to keep wiping him down with a cool cloth before he left to go have breakfast.
+ + + + + + +
Chris wanted to leave a daybreak and to do that, he needed the Standish brothers up and in the saddle before dawn. Tom and Grey were up and waiting for Chris, Vin, JD and Buck out side of the brothers hotel rooms. Dusty lead the way to the hotel and stood with his friends.
"Malachi's in this one and the other two are in that one," Grey indicated the room he and Tom were standing next too and the one directly across from it.
"So how do you want to do this?" Tom asked.
Chris smiled a feral grin. Vin nodded his head, knowing exactly what Chris had in mind. Vin cocked his mares leg, Chris his gun. The others took Chris and Vin's lead and armed themselves. Chris and Vin stood back to back and together, Chris kicked in Malachi's door at the same time Vin kicked in Remus' and Reuban's door. Chris entered Malachi's room, gun drawn and aimed at Malachi. Malachi jumped and went for his gun when the door burst open but didn't get a chance to fire it when Chris shot a warning shot. Tom and Dusty stood on either side of Chris, guns aimed at Malachi.
"Get up and you have five minutes to get dressed," Chris said.
Tom opened the wardrobe and started throwing cloths at Malachi to get dressed. Malachi did as he was told, glaring at Chris the whole time.
Across the hall, Vin entered the room his mares leg aimed at the two brothers in the bed, who like Malachi, jumped and started for their guns but stopped when they saw the fire power aimed at them.
"Ya got five minutes ta git dressed," Vin said.
JD started to throw cloths at the brothers from the wardrobe but stopped when he came to Ezra's. Them he sat aside on the chair in the room. There was no way he was going to let these men wear Ezra's cloths. Instead, he threw a saddle bag with extra cloths in it on the bed. Remus started to go to the chair to put Ezra's cloths on but stopped when he heard a gun cock and looked over to the man holding the gun.
"I wouldn't do that unlessin' ya want shot," Buck said.
"They're mine," Remus protested.
"Like hell they are. They belong to Ezra," JD glared.
"A man ya left tied ta a tree ta die," Vin added.
"You and your brothers are going to spend the rest of your lives in prison for what you did to Mr. Standish," Grey said.
It took almost ten minutes, but the three brothers were dressed and taken to the livery and were mounted on their horses that Dusty's deputies had saddled and ready when the ten men got to the livery. Buck, Tom and Grey tied the three brothers hands to the saddle horns and weren't to kindly about doing it.
"Thanks for keeping an eye on them," Chris thanked Dusty and shook his hand.
"Not a problem, Chris. And don't be strangers. Sam would love to see more of you guys. She loves it when Ezra does his card tricks."
Chris nodded, "You'll have to come to Four Corners when Ezra's feeling better."
Dusty smiled, "We just might. It's been a while since we've been there."
Vin, Buck and JD said their good byes and thanks before they left at daybreak to head back home to Four Corners. Chris, Vin, Buck and JD hoped and prayed Ezra was alive when they got back.
+ + + + + + +
The Judge was waiting for them at the jail when they returned. JD and Buck escorted the three brothers to the jail while Vin and Chris went to the clinic to check up on Ezra.
Nathan was a sleep on the extra cot he kept in the clinic and Josiah sat in a chair next to the bed Ezra laid in.
"How is he?" Chris asked.
Josiah sighed, "Not good. He made it through the night last night, but it looks like he's got pneumonia now. It's really hard for him to breath. Nathan finally fell asleep about half an hour ago after I slipped some sleeping powder in his drink or else he would still be up."
"How much does the Judge know?" Vin asked.
"Everything. Nathan and I told him when he came in this afternoon on the five o-clock stage. He even helped Tiny patrol the town so Nathan and I could care for Ezra.
Chris nodded his head, "Keep us notified of any changes," Chris said and then turned to leave.
He stopped when Ezra started to wheeze badly and Josiah had to rush to lift Ezra's upper body and sat behind him so Ezra was leaning up against him on his side.
"Nathan and I have been doing this because it seems to help him breath easier," Josiah sighed.
"Someone will be here in a few hours to leave you so you can get some sleep," Chris said.
Chris and Vin left and headed for the jail.
Buck looked up when the door to the jail flew open and a pissed off Chris Larabee came through it.
"I guess I don't have to ask how Ez is," Buck stated and shook his head.
"He's still with us, Buck," Vin said, "Barely."
"The Judge was telling us what's been going on while we were gone," JD told Vin and Chris.
Judge Travis stood, "I'm sure the four of you can handle things here. I'm going to head over to Mary's and I'll see you in the morning and before I take my leave, I want to make this perfectly clear, they are to stay alive and be able to stand trial after Mr. Jackson is sure Mr. Standish will remain with us, or," Judge Travis turned and glared at the three prisoners in the cells, "After he is put to rest."
"Sure thin', Judge," Vin wickedly grinned at the prisoners.
Buck made his way over to the cells and leaned against one of them as the Judge left the jail.
"I think maybe Josiah would like ta have a talk with these boys about how to treat family. What do you think Chris? Think he would."
Chris joined Buck at the cell, "I think you're right Buck."
All four peacekeepers glared at the brothers when Remus snickered.
"Something funny?" JD asked.
"Yeah," Malachi smiled over at JD, "You all talk like we would consider that bastard family."
With in minutes, Buck had the keys and had the cell opened and Malachi up against the bars with his forearm against Malachi's throat. Remus and Reuban went for Buck but was stopped by JD and Vin.
"That man is part of our family," Buck growled in Malachi's face.
Chris laid a hand on Buck's shoulder, "Why don't you go and take over for Josiah at the clinic."
Buck dropped his arm and grinned at Malachi as the man rubbed his throat. "I think I will."
Chris, Vin and JD backed out of the cell after Buck left.
"What are we going to do when Josiah gets here?" JD asked as he locked up the jail cell and returned the keys to their peg.
"Don't know about you two, but I'm going back to my room and go to bed," Chris said.
"That sounds like a right good idea," Vin nodded.
"Yeah, some shut eye does sound good," JD agreed.
A few minutes later Josiah entered the jail.
"I hear I need to teach these boys a lesson on family values."
"Yeah, well, iff'n ya think ya can handle everthin' 'Siah, I'm goin' ta get some sleep," Vin said and headed for the door.
"Me too," JD said and followed Vin.
Chris patted Josiah on the shoulder, "They're all yours. Just remember, the judge needs them to stand trial."
"Oh, they will brother Chris," Josiah said as he cracked his knuckles.
Chris heard the jingle of the keys to the cells as he walked out the door and smiled to himself.
+ + + + + + +
In the clinic, two days after the lesson, Josiah sat with Ezra propped up on his side in bed against Josiah's chest. Nathan didn't want Ezra in any more pain than he already was. Josiah sat rubbing Ezra back to quiet him and hopefully to give the man some comfort. For the last twenty four hours, Ezra was in and out of consciousness. The guys were relieved when Ezra opened his eyes. It wasn't quite a minute, but to them, it was cause for celebration. The Judge went ahead and scheduled the trial since he was told Ezra was going to make it. It didn't take long for the Judge to pass judgment on the three Standish brothers. They were sentenced to life imprisonment. Chris, Buck, Vin and JD were to escort the three brothers to the prison wagon at dawn. Josiah wanted to go, but Nathan needed him there to help care for Ezra.
Chris and Vin entered the clinic, "How's he doin'?" Vin asked.
"He's still wheezing but he's better than he was yesterday," Nathan answered.
"Has he been awake for more than a couple of minutes?" Chris asked.
Josiah shook his head, "No."
As if on cue, Ezra stirred to life and opened his eyes. He tried to take a deep breath but it ended up with him coughing. He had a death grip on Josiah's arm as the coughing ceased, "Gawd, that hurts."
Josiah patted Ezra's back, "I know son, but you have to caught it up and get it out of your lungs."
Chris squatted down in front of Ezra, "Hey Ez. Vin, Buck, JD and I are headed to meet the prison wagon with your cousins. We'll be back later."
Chris started to stand but stopped when Ezra laid his hand on his arm, "Thanks for coming after me."
"No thanks needed Ezra. They may not consider you family, but we do," Chris said and stood to leave.
Chris and Vin met up with JD and Buck at the jail.
"I still don't get it Buck. Yeah, Ezra's ma wasn't married to his pa, but he is still kin to those three," JD said, not understanding why Ezra's cousins hurt Ezra.
Buck stopped trying to explain it to JD, "Some families are like that JD."
"It makes no like of sense JD, but blood's not always thicker," Vin said and then entered the jail to take charge of the cousins.
Chris shook his head, "He's right, it don't make a like of sense."
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