~ CHAPTER 1 ~
It was going to be a while before Vin, Ezra and Chris reached Four Corners. The three friends traveled by train visit Ezra's cousin, Catherine. Catherine's husband had just passed away. Ezra asked Chris and Vin to join him in aiding her get the estate in order. They spent a couple weeks with Catherine before heading back.
The clickety-clack of the train's wheels made conversation difficult at times. Ezra found a gaming car, and Vin and Chris accompanied him hoping to keep him out of trouble. Several hands were played between Ezra and other gamblers well versed in the slight of hand card playing common to their world. Ezra lost almost as many hands as he won; although, he won more hands than any of the other gamblers.
One afternoon while one of the players dealt the cards, a rather short man entered the gaming car. His frame was of a small build, and upon his face, he wore small round spectacles. He wore a grayish suit finely tailored with gold accessories. He was a quiet man with a near empty gaze. There was no sparkle in his eyes; he was obviously a gambler by trade who knew emotion was the downfall of many a green card player. His impassive appearance made Chris and Vin quietly shudder. The man watched the current hand play out glancing from player to player as each played their hand. He watched Ezra extra carefully. When the cards lay on the table and Ezra had yet again won another round, he approached the table.
"Dear sir, would you consider a game with me?" the stranger asked.
"Mister…uh…what is your name?" Ezra politely questioned the man as he attempted to figure from where he recognized the man.
"George Tyler," the man responded.
Ezra recognized the name. He hadn't heard it since the last time he saw the man, which was quite some time. It was a few years back when the two were forced to spend nearly a week together on a riverboat on the Mississippi.
"A rematch, I presume?" Ezra queried the man.
"No, a chance to get even, I prefer," George answered.
Vin and Chris stood guard over Ezra sensing the man from Ezra's past had bad intentions. Chris spoke up to offer a suggestion to the dueling card players.
"How 'bout y'all play tomorrow, allowing yourselves to prepare for the big show down game?" Chris offered.
"Yeah, that's a good idea," Vin agreed.
George and Ezra agreed. The time was agreed upon and the two gamblers went their separate ways. Ezra joined Chris and Vin in a quiet area of the train.
"May I ask what exactly that charade was suppose to accomplish?" Ezra asked his friends.
"Su'um 'bout that man, Ezra," Vin stated.
"It was the only way we could break you away from the game in order to ask you what you know about him," Chris added.
"He is an egotistical, presumptuous, contemptuous ass. I have defeated him many times; yet, he desires more humiliation," Ezra determined.
"Yeah, well, we'll be there in case he gets any ideas," Vin informed.
The next day found the two gamblers, Vin, and Chris in the gaming car. One of the other gamblers shuffled and dealt the cards. Several hands were played. Ezra won them all. George was becoming more and more agitated. They agreed to one more game. The dealer dealt the cards. George took three cards, and so did Ezra. They both began placing chips in the center of the table. Tensions were high. Vin and Chris were ready for anything. Finally, the call was made. The cards were revealed. George had two pair in his hand - a pair of Queens and a pair of tens. Ezra had three sevens - a three of a kind. He, once again, beat his old nemesis. George stood, gun drawn, as he met eye to eye with Chris and Vin, who also had their guns drawn.
"I suggest you leave now," Chris ordered.
"You have not heard the last of me, Standish. I will exact my revenge when the time is ripe, and I will win the final hand," George growled as he placed his gun back in its holster and strolled out.
The gaming car cleared out after the incident. No one was in the mood any longer. Ezra, Chris and Vin did not see George again that day.
~ CHAPTER 2 ~
The next evening folks seemed to have recovered from the display of guns the day before. The joyous gaming and drinking returned. Again the clickety-clack drowned out most of the voices that spoke with the exception of outbursts of laughter. The joyous activity, however, would not last. As the train crossed a wooden bridge spanning a small ravine, an explosion suddenly rocked the cars. Terror now shrieked throughout the train. People scrambled to hang on to the crumbling cars as they descended into the ravine. When all was quiet, the mangled mess of Pullman cars lie strew like trees after a tornado.
Ezra lay several feet from the car he was in. He slowly raised his head to examine his body for missing limbs. He signed in relief and lowered his head when he counted two arms and two legs. He moaned loudly as the pain of the crash moved throughout his body. Meanwhile, Chris sat against a rock, dazed, staring aimlessly at the wreckage. His eyes darting from body to body trying to locate his friends. He held his arm close to him. He could feel the broken bones with the fingers of his opposite hand. He thought to himself how lucky he was that the broken arm not his shooting arm. He continued to scan the fragments of train until his eyes landed on Ezra's form about twenty feet away. He attempted to stand. Chris unsteadily walked towards Ezra and slowly sat beside him.
"You OK?" Chris asked.
"I have not the slightest idea," Ezra responded.
"Have you seen Vin," Chris inquired.
"No," Ezra winced as the pain made him cringe.
"Where's it hurt?" questioned Chris.
"My side, leg and head," Ezra moaned.
Chris tried to examine Ezra the best he could. An evident gash on his head was the reason for his aching head. He found cuts and bruises on his side and stomach. Ezra's ribs on the left side were nearly completely purple. Broken, Chris figured. Ezra's left leg, too, had bruises and cuts.
"I'm gonna try to find Vin," Chris stated.
"OK<" Ezra agreed closing his eyes with the pain shooting through his leg.
Chris stumbled through the wreckage. He stopped abruptly when he thought he heard moaning he recognized. He moved closer to the moaning. Much to his chagrin, Chris found Vin pinned beneath one of the railroad cars. He bent down to look Vin in the eyes.
"Are you in a lot of pain?" Chris asked with concern.
"I can't feel my leg," Vin informed.
Chris could see Vin's leg bleeding at the point where the car was resting on it. He stared for a moment trying to figure how he could rescue his friend. Chris noticed several other passengers walking about the train.
"Hey! Can I get some help here!" he hollered out to the crowd.
The response to his cry for help was overwhelming. Chris didn't expect so many to offer their help. A group of survivors tried with all their remaining strength to lift the passenger car. It lifted a few inches above Vin's leg. As the car was lifted, Chris quickly pulled Vin from beneath the train almost not even feeling the throbbing pain in his own busted arm. A woman offered him a neckerchief, which he tied around Vin's thigh hoping to slow the bleeding some. Chris then went back to Ezra, who was still moaning about the pain he was suffering.
"Ezra, do you think you can walk?" Chris asked.
"I do not know; I have yet to even stand," Ezra replied.
Chris, now favoring his broken arm, helped Ezra to his feet. Ezra leaned heavily against him, as he became extremely dizzy.
"Chris," he gasped, "I feel faint."
"Just lean on me. Vin's not far. He couldn't walk at all. He was pinned beneath the train," Chris informed.
"Great! What is his condition?"
"He's in a lot of pain. He's bleeding quite a bit."
The two arrived at the location Chris left him. Vin was moaning with each painful throb in his thigh. Chris lowered Ezra, who was now coughing. Chris worried about the cough. He wondered about internal injuries Ezra could be suffering from. Chris sat with his two friends trying to keep them conscious and talking.
"Did either of you see what happened?" Chris questioned.
"Yeah, your friend George, Ezra," Vin aid moaning.
"He is no friend of mine," Ezra snapped.
"He did su'um between the cars. When he began to leave, I stopped him to confront him about it. He hit me with su'um, and I fell. He leapt from the train before we crossed the bridge. I stood up and looked out the window of the car I was in. He set some kind of explosives at the joint of the two cars. I didn't have enough time to get rid of it; so, I tried to get as far away as possible. I didn't get far enough away," Vin told them as he still reacted to the pain in his thigh and some minor cuts, bruises and burns about his body.
~ CHAPTER 3 ~
Ezra's coughing was irritating Chris; although, he knew it wasn't his fault. Chris turned to Ezra to find him licking blood from his lips. He immediately calmed realizing Ezra must have internal injuries. He could only hope they weren't that serious.
"How you doing?" Chris asked Ezra.
"My insides hurt," Ezra uttered quickly holding his side and stomach.
"Look, you two, you both need to remain conscious. I think we should find something to talk about," Chris stated.
"Chris, I am not in the mood to discuss our current weather conditions if that is what you are suggesting," Ezra groaned.
"Aw'ight, how 'bout you tell us about how you came to know this George Tyler fellow," Chris instructed.
"I was aboard the River Queen several years ago. It was disabled going down the river. All passengers had to remain on board until rescued - about a week. We entertained ourselves with a few card games. I was with my fiancée, Eliza Martin. We were to be wed in New Orleans, which was the destination of the River Queen. She was one of the most exquisite women I have had the pleasure of encountering. George and I gravitated toward one another out of a mutual interest - poker. He also was captivated by Eliza. He propositioned me to a game of cards. I accepted. W equally won hands. We exchanged currency several times. Eventually, George suggested we up the ante from monetary to companion. He requested the hand of Eliza if he should be victorious. Knowing I was the superior card player, I agreed. I was triumphant then as I was yesterday on the train. I proved the better player with a three of a kind. Eliza was furious I even considered placing her as the ante. She canceled our wedding plans, and she strolled over to George. They remained together throughout the duration of the excursion. When we docked in New Orleans, George and Eliza absconded from the River Queen. I, too, departed the River Queen; yet, I did not venture far. For seven months, I drowned my heartache in a bottle of whiskey. My mother located me in a brothel, naked and near unconscious from the whiskey I had consumed. She had me removed from the brothel and relocated to a hotel. She aided my regaining a sober state and helped me realize George relieved me of a headache. I decided at that time to leave the river and try my luck out here," Ezra explained taking deep breaths every so often.
"You were to be married…to a woman?" Vin teased.
"Does that surprise you?" Ezra asked.
"I just don't see you a married man," Vin continued teasing.
"You do drink too much though, Ezra," Chris joined in the playful teasing.
Ezra smiled through pain and blood stained lips from the minor internal injuries. The men continued to talk throughout the night.
~ CHAPTER 4 ~
Dawn seemed to come earlier than anticipated once Ezra began his story.
"I think I can make it back to the town we had just passed through before the explosion," Chris told Vin and Ezra.
"You sure?" Vin questioned.
"It's not that far," Chris theorized.
"I need you two to promise to try to keep each other awake," Chris requested as he prepared to leave.
"We promise," Vin answered.
"Promise," Ezra agreed.
Chris placed his arm in a make shift sling and began to trudge up the ravine and follow the tracks back to the little town.
While Chris was gone, Vin and Ezra exchanged little tidbits about themselves. Ezra told Vin of the time his uncle grew tired of him.
"I was about seven years old. Mother had placed me with Uncle Charles three times. He utilized my presence by requiring various duties of me, such as cleaning the water well. If I refused, he would take me to the woods, and he would tie me to a tree and relieve himself on me. He would then leave me there all night to consider the alternatives to my misbehavior. I determined, rather quickly, I should do as he orders. When cleaning the well, he would lower the bucket, with me inside, down the well. He would not retrieve it until he believed I completed the task," Ezra related.
"How long did it take?" Vin questioned.
"According to Uncle Charlie, as I sarcastically referred to him before I received a beating that would place me unconscious for several hours, three days," Ezra replied.
"He left you there all that time?"
"Absolutely, my friend. He thought nothing of using me to his gain. He often commanded me to do whatever necessary to benefit him…usually monetarily, of course. He used to market my labor to refrain from laboring himself. I would do tasks for whoever paid top dollar for my services. Mrs. Williams, a widow of my uncle's age - I believe 40-45 years of age, requested my services two days prior to my 16th birthday. Uncle Charles explained the services she purchased were of a sexual nature. I was to satisfy her in the same manner her deceased husband once had. If I refused, I would suffer the consequences. He received $50 for my efforts; the bastard," Ezra related in disgust.
"Does Maude know?" Vin asked, concerned.
"No, I do not believe that is something a mother should know about her child. I would appreciate your silence regarding this matter," Ezra requested of his friend.
"No problem. I…um…sorta have been passed around myself in that kinda way. It's not su'um I'm thrilled to admit, nor do I wish to go into detail about. I do not wish for others to know either; so, I know what you mean about keepin' quiet," Vin confided.
"Thank you for your consideration," Ezra appreciated the confidence.
"It seems we have a lot in common," Vin observed.
"Yes, we have."
"We have both suffered in our childhood and in our lives in general," Vin continued.
"I would prefer to forget the majority of my youth," Ezra commented.
"Well, if I have anything to do about it, I won't let anyone else hurt you, Ezra. Our kind has got to stick together. Chris is like us, too; yet, he won't tell anyone or admit it. He's suffered a lot in his life; I can see it in his eyes and on his face."
"I suppose we are three of a kind," Ezra stated.
"Yeah, I suppose we are," Vin smiled.
In the meantime, hours passed as Chris grew nearer to the little town. He met a man outside the telegraph office.
"The train went off the bridge. A man blew up one of the car links," he explained.
The man quickly gathered a rescue party while Chris wired the others in Four Corners. He told them they would be longer than expected because of the accident and injuries that needed healing time and because of transportation arrangements. The track would have to be fixed; so, they would probably come by stage. The rescue party met Chris outside the telegraph office. Several wagons were brought to retrieve the injured and dead bodies. Chris rode in one of the wagons. They arrived a short time later. The town doctor examined each living person before they were carried up the ravine to an awaiting wagon. Vin and Ezra were examined and placed on the wagon Chris rode in. After all the injured and dead were loaded, the wagons returned to town. Many of the town's womenfolk helped the doctor tend to the injured. The dead were taken to the undertaker, luckily the number of dead was only three.
Vin's leg injuries would not cost him his leg. The doctor was able to save it, but he would need a crutch for quite some time. The doctor informed Vin he would have to walk daily once he cleared him to do so to keep the leg working properly. He explained to Vin the recovery process, and if he did not exercise the leg, it would become weak and useless. Vin promised to do as he was told. Chris promised to make sure he honored his word. The doctor also treated his various cuts, bruises and burns from the explosion. Chris' broken arm was set and some minor cuts were cleaned and bandaged. Ezra had some minor internal injuries, as Chris had suspected. He had broken ribs, a gash in his head and a fractured lower leg - all of which, the doctor tended to. He gave Ezra a crutch to lean on to help him walk. Ezra and Chris rented a hotel room to share with Vin as they each recovered and healed from their injuries.
Ezra and Chris made sure Vin took time to work his injured leg as painful as it was. There were times he fought them, but he eventually gave in to their efforts. Within a few weeks, the three men felt they could travel.
"Doctor," Chris greeted, "thank you for all you have done for us."
"My pleasure. That's what I'm here for," he answered.
"I guess we'll be going now," Chris confirmed.
"Be sure to check with that friend of yours when you arrive in Four Corners," the doctor requested of the men.
"We will," Vin acknowledged.
"Thank you, dear sir," Ezra offered his gratitude.
The three men climbed upon the stage and settled in for the long ride. It would be a few days before they reached Four Corners. The friends amused themselves with a friendly game of cards. The first hand was won by Ezra, who held a three of a kind.
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