Ezra was up earlier than normal. The southerner just had to admit to himself that he was going to enjoy today. After his conversation with Nathan, the gambler felt less burdened. Of course, he still couldn't quite understand his need to settle things with Nathan. And it had been obvious the healer did not expect such a conversation. Ezra felt sure that an understanding of some nature had transpired between them. What happened after that remained to be seen.
Ezra saw his prey exit the restaurant. A smug smile appeared on his face as he watched Buck Wilmington make his way up the street. The normally affable scoundrel did not look happy. Ezra smiled again. Only he and a paid accomplice knew the reason why Buck was looking so miserable.
From his position outside of the saloon, Ezra resumed his poker face as Buck approached him.
"Good morning, Mr. Wilmington."
""Huh? Oh morning Ezra," Buck replied distractedly.
"Does our leader have you on patrol duty today?" Ezra asked without really being interested in the answer.
Buck did not reply. Ezra watched amused as all of the scoundrel's attention was consumed with scratching various parts of his body vigorously.
"Is there a problem Mr. Wilmington?" Ezra enquired innocently.
""What? No. Nothing. Except that I am so damn itchy today," Buck finally replied before resuming even more scratching.
"You know just yesterday I heard Mr. Jackson advising some parents on how to remove lice from their infected children. They were itching as well," Ezra said conversationally, while he watched with satisfaction as Buck started another scratching frenzy. "Not unlike yourself," he continued.
"Lice! You're kiddin'right? Not those... those?" Buck replied just as another scratching episode required all of his attention.
"Yes. Those miniscule creatures that invade one's body's with a vengeance. Once you are unfortunate enough to have these ferocious demons inhabit your person, it is almost impossible to remove them," Ezra told Buck earnestly, shaking his head slightly.
""What?" Buck retorted, trying desperately to concentrate on what Ezra was saying, without much success. "But you can get rid of them. Right? I mean Nathan must have something....."
"Oh indeed he does Mr. Wilmington. I am sure Mr. Jackson will be able to help. Of course it may take a number of doses." Ezra explained, pausing slightly to show Buck his concern. "You see once these virulent creatures deposit their eggs, and those eggs hatch, you are exposed to yet another ..."
"Eggs! No way Ezra! No little critter is laying any god damn eggs on Buck Wilmington" the ladies' man almost yelled, before removing his hat and scratching his head thoroughly.
"Please Mr Wilmington. Try and control your bodily functions" Ezra said with mock disdain.
That only caused Buck to begin furiously scratching his chest and arms.
"In some instances, the lice infestation can be so bad, that entire hair removal is required" Ezra continued.
Buck stared at Ezra in horror.
"You cannot be serious. Do you know where Nathan is? I gotta find him NOW!" Buck howled.
"A wise course of action, Mr. Wilmington. In fact I shall accompany you. I also need to visit our esteemed healer for a minor ailment," Ezra replied feigning empathy.
Buck headed immediately down the street towards Nathan's clinic. Ezra had to hurry just to keep up with the taller man's stride. So intent on getting relief for his condition, that Buck didn't see Miss Millie Shaw, until she was almost right in front of him.
"Morning Buck" Miss Millie said sweetly. Buck stopped quickly and Ezra almost collided with the ladies man.
""Oh hi there Miss Millie," Buck replied smiling. He desperately tried to avoid scratching but the more he thought about not doing the dreaded action, the harder it became.
"I was hoping I'd see you today. You promised we could go for a picnic this week..." Miss Millie began. "Why are you scratching?" she asked when Buck could no longer hold back his need to scratch.
"I got a small little problem. No need to..." Buck tried to explain apologetically.
"What my colleague is trying to explain, Miss Shaw, is that he has a nasty infestation of lice," Ezra said, stepping in front of Buck.
Miss Millie recoiled and stepped back, her pretty face screwed up in displeasure.
"Lice! How disgusting," the woman blurted out.
"Do not fear Miss Shaw. Mr. Wilmington is, as we speak, in the process of seeking help from our resident healer in order to eliminate these vile creatures before he contaminates anyone else," Ezra replied reassuringly.
Buck scowled menacingly at the gambler. Miss Millie took another step back.
"Well, Buck. When you're feeling better... let me know," she said still grimacing as she moved off quickly.
Buck turned to Ezra. The ladies' man was trying to look menacing, however, the constant scratching belied the effect.
"Aw hell, Ezra! Now she's probably gonna run and tell everybody. Can we keep this matter... you know ... personal," Buck said flustered.
"I am sorry Mr. Wilmington. I had a momentary lapse of judgment. Please let's resume our search for Mr. Jackson before anyone else notices your ... situation," Ezra replied with mock sincerity as he turned and smiling, led Buck towards Nathan's clinic.
A few minutes later, Nathan was examining Buck's head.
"I don't see anything Buck," the healer finally said.
"You sure? Maybe those kids gave it to me," Buck said worriedly.
"What kids?" Nathan enquired.
"The kids who brought this lice problem to town. You saw them yesterday. Ezra told me," Buck explained, while he continued to scratch.
Nathan shot Ezra a confused look. Ezra just smiled. Nathan turned quickly before he laughed.
"Oh right... Uh yeah. Sorry I forgot," Nathan finally managed.
Nathan crossed the room to his shelves and retrieved a bottle which he then handed to Buck.
"Go to the bath house. Get in a hot bath and pour a quarter of this bottle in. Make sure you get it through your hair as well. OK? You should feel less itchy afterwards," Nathan told him.
"And this will get rid of these critters?" Buck asked desperately.
Nathan shot an enquiring look to Ezra. The gambler nodded slightly. "Oh I'm pretty sure the scratching will stop soon," Nathan reassured his irritated patient.
"Soon? How long is that? I don't mind telling yer Doc, this is interfering with my plans for.... well... I have plans... and they don't include scratching," Buck whined.
"I can understand that," Nathan replied shooting Ezra a amused glance. "But the bath should give you some relief," he continued.
"Thanks Nathan. I really owe you for this," Buck replied honestly.
Ezra and Nathan watched as Buck left still scratching himself. Once Buck was out of earshot, he turned to Ezra, shaking his head, unable to stop himself from smiling.
"What'd you do to him Ezra?"
Ezra smiled. "Mr. Jackson. I am appalled that you would think....."
Nathan raised his eyebrows. "He's been riding you pretty hard for days about that dress. I figure you're getting your own back" Nathan interrupted.
Ezra smiled again. "It'll wear off by tomorrow"
"What'd ya use?" Nathan asked intrigued.
"Mr. Jackson. I cannot reveal that, except to say it's secret family recipe..."
"Ah Uh" Nathan replied. "So what do you need to see me for?" Nathan continued.
"You know Mr. Jackson, I do believe my ailment has left me. I am feeling quite well. Quite well indeed," the gambler said happily.
"Well then, go and be happy somewhere else" Nathan replied.
"You know I feel the urge to have a bath," Ezra replied cheekily. Nathan sighed and shook his head. He was learning there was a completely different side to Ezra after all.
Ezra moved to the door. "I almost forgot. I am buying lunch today. Would you care to join us in the saloon?" Ezra asked grinning now. "You really shouldn't miss it," the southerner added cryptically.
"What are you up to now Ezra?" Nathan asked frowning.
"Come to lunch Mr. Jackson. You'll see then."
"Alright. I'll be there" Nathan responded. Just what was the gambler up to now?
Still grinning Ezra exited the clinic. One down and one to go.
Today was a good day.
Nathan moved to the clinic doorway and watched Ezra making his way towards the bathhouse. Even though he and Ezra had been raised in specific ways with a inbred hostility towards one another, somehow a friendship had developed. Nathan shook his head. Best not to think too much about it. It would probably take a lifetime to work Ezra out anyway!
Vin Tanner looked around at his six fellow peacekeepers as they finished lunch at the saloon. His instincts told him something was going to happen, but to whom and when was still a puzzle. He was already suspicious when Ezra bought them all lunch. Such generosity was unusual, and hadn't escaped Larabee's attention either. Ezra just looked unconvincingly confused and assured the man in black that he had merely done extremely well the night before at the gambling table, and wished to share his good fortune.
Buck was not in a good mood. His constant scratching was even annoying to the placid tracker. However, it did provide JD with the opportunity to tease the ladies man, who had taken up scowling.
"Casey told me it's all around town that you got lice Buck," JD gloated. He was enjoying Buck's discomfort immensely. Now Casey hadn't known about Buck's condition until JD told her but a little exaggeration wouldn't hurt.
"Now don't go making up things like that kid," Buck replied testily. When would this itching stop and how long would it take before he was back to "normal".
"I ain't Buck! I reckon every woman in town will know by now," JD continued grinning at Vin and Chris, who were both enjoying JD teasing Buck for a change.
Buck groaned loudly, causing chuckles around the table.
Josiah was looking amused as he watched the duo go through their verbal jousting. Vin couldn't pick up anything on Ezra's face, the consummate gambler was not revealing anything. However, whatever had happened to Buck, was apparent to Nathan and the way he kept glancing at Ezra, convinced the former bounty hunter that Ezra was responsible for Buck's current condition.
Vin smiled. He figured Buck had it coming. But he didn't reckon on Ezra retaliating. For days Ezra had been subjected to Buck's sly innuendoes after Ezra had to dress as a saloon singer to create a diversion at Wickestown. Obviously, the gambler could be party to mischief if he so chose. Now that could be useful the tracker mused.
Vin shot another glance at Chris. Yep. The man in black had sensed the same things and smiled faintly. Like the tracker, he was also aware that something else was going on but it eluded him. Chris shrugged slightly to Tanner. Guess we'll find out soon enough.
Ten minutes later, a woman, in her mid to late twenties, strode purposefully into the saloon. She scanned the room and her eyes lit up as her glance encompassed the peacekeepers table. Dressed in a simple, yet elegant dress, the pretty woman stopped at their table. Immediately all 7 men stood up.
"I'm looking for a Vin Tanner," the woman said firmly. The tracker frowned slightly and stepped up to the woman.
"That'll be me," he replied huskily.
The woman ran her eyes appreciatively over the tracker. Vin's uneasiness grew.
"Oh my. You are much better than I expected," the woman told him eagerly.
"Maám?" Vin queried uncomfortably. An unexpected hush had come over the saloon as all eyes turned to him. Damn, he hated that. He shot a glance at Chris. Damn cowboy was looking openly amused. Buck was actually sniggering and for once had stopped scratching.
"My name is Miss Dora Kingsley. But you probably already knew that. I hope I haven't kept you waiting too long?" the woman continued, still appraising the tracker with admiring looks. Vin looked even more uncomfortable. Damn woman was looking at him like a damn prize horse!
"I'm sorry Maám. Your name doesn't...."
"That''s alright. Can I see your teeth?" Miss Kingsley interrupted.
"My teeth?" Vin replied confused. Why weren't any of others helping him out here. There was obviously some misunderstanding.
"Good hygiene is important don't you think?" the woman said insistently.
The tracker shrugged. What the hell was going on. "I suppose so Maám," he managed.
"Never mind. I can look at your teeth later. Now I am presuming you will be available to leave in the morning?" Miss Dora continued.
Vin looked to his friends silently calling for help. Were they all just gonna sit and watch? Or in Buck's case, grin like some fool. And Larabee couldn't even manage eye contact with him.
"Maám. I think there has been some mistake..." Vin began.
"Oh, no. Everything is perfect. I just wanted to look you over before we get married," Miss Dora exclaimed excitedly.
Buck snorted loudly which caused a tinkle of chuckles around the saloon. The tracker couldn't contain his abhorrence at the thought. He took a step closer to Dora Kingsley.
"Maám. I aint fixin' on getting married!" Tanner drawled in a low voice.
"Of course we are" Miss Dora insisted "I mean my Pa isn't just going to let you live with me!"
Buck began to laugh openly while the rest of his "friends" sniggered. Vin Tanner glared at them. He wanted nothing more than to turn around and stalk out of the saloon. But he had never been impolite to a woman in his life and he wasn't going to start now. This was obviously some mistake.
Taking a deep breath he turned back to Dora Kingsley. "You don't seem to understand Ma'am..."
"It's alright" Miss Dora Kingsley assured the young man as she reached out and touched his arm. Vin shrugged her hand off. "I am quite aware of your requirements to return to... scouting or wherever it is you have to go.... just as long as I'm with child before you leave...."
Buck snorted loudly and Miss Dora Kingsley glared at him while the others managed to refrain from laughing again.
Vin Tanner wished he was somewhere else. Anywhere else. Facing a comanche war party would be preferable at this particular moment. Why wasn't Larabee helping him? Just you wait cowboy.
"Maám, perhaps we should take this outside?" Vin suggested.
"What? You can father children can't you?" Miss Dora Kingsley said loudly.
Vin Tanner went a lovely shade of pink. Buck couldn't restrain himself any longer. Laughing loudly, he turned around and tried unsuccessfully controlling his laughter. JD was still looking bewildered. Josiah was shaking his head with amusement. Nathan tried to look sympathetic. Ezra looked pleased with himself and Larabee was actually chuckling.
The tracker couldn't speak and couldn't move. What the hell was he supposed to say? Dora Kingsley became impatient and glared at Ezra.
"Mr. Standish. You did tell me everything was "normal" in that regard," the woman said sternly.
Vin Tanner gave Ezra a deadly look. He should have known.
"Certainly Miss Kingsley. Forgive my friend. He is a touch shy..." Ezra told her as he stepped up close to the woman.
Vin grabbed Ezra's arm roughly. "Ezra! We need to talk. NOW!"
"But Mr. Tanner..."
"Now!" Tanner said harshly as he dragged the gambler across the room.
Once they were an appropriate distance away, Tanner dew Ezra in close until their faces were merely inches apart.
"What the hell are you doin'?" Vin drawled dangerously.
"Mr. Tanner isn't it obvious. I have procured you a bride" Ezra replied simply.
"Don't need no bride," Tanner hissed back.
"Come now, Mr. Tanner do not be too hasty. Her father has quite a considerable property and she is more than willing to accommodate your sojourns into the wilderness..."
"Guess you ain't hearing me. You get rid of her or I will personally see to it that you are strip nekkid and tied to an ant mound!" Vin sneered.
Ezra coughed twice and removed some unseen dust from his sleeve. "Well under those circumstances. It appears I have no choice but to go over there and break that poor woman's heart."
"I figure she'll get over it" Tanner growled back.
"Alright Mr. Tanner, if you insist. But I would recommend that you should reconsider....."
Vin grabbed Ezra's coat lapels and his eyes narrowed lethally.
"Well. I see your mind is made up. Very well. If you would remove your hands from my expensive haberdashery, I will endeavour to carry out your wishes," Ezra replied.
Ezra returned to the woman's side.
"Miss Kingsley, could I have a word with you outside," Ezra asked politely, offering his arm.
The woman looked confused but took his arm and allowed herself to be escorted out. As they exited the batwing doors, Ezra looked back and allowed himself a knowing smile as he watched the others tease Vin loudly as the tracker tried to sit back down and pretend the last few minutes did not happen.
Once outside, Ezra escorted the lady down the street to the hotel. Once inside, the pair sat at a table in the restaurant.
"Is that what you wanted?" Dora Kingsley asked.
"My dear. You were superb. You are an undoubtedly a gifted actress," Ezra replied smiling.
"Why thank you Ezra. And thank you for your generous fee," Miss Dora replied.
"My pleasure. Can I offer you a meal before your departure?"
"Why, that would be lovely."
Later that afternoon Josiah sat down next to Ezra in the saloon. Ezra shuffled cards absently. The two men regarded each other briefly.
"Well Brother Ezra, you have been busy lately!"
"I have no idea to what you are referring, Mr. Sanchez" Ezra replied, unable to stop a small smile.
Josiah chuckled. "Yes. Pranks, jokes. A little teasing. Just an inventive way for brothers to show their feelings. A chance to show their need to belong."
Ezra raised an eyebrow but remained silent.
"Course, it's probably more a case of boys will be boys" Josiah continued.
Ezra and Josiah looked at each other and laughed.
Two days later, Ezra was again outside the saloon when Vin Tanner returned from patrol. The young tracker had been quite pleased to get out of town the day before. After Miss Kingsley's visit to the saloon, Vin had been subjected to a constant barrage of teasing. Even Chris Larabee had joined in much to the dismay of the tracker.
Vin dismounted and made his way towards Ezra. Sitting down at Ezra's table, the gambler poured him a drink and passed it across the table.
Tanner nodded and drank the offering in one gulp. Then he looked at Ezra mischievously.
"Got any more wives around here I should know about?" he drawled softly.
Ezra smiled. "Well there was this one beauty..."
"Not a chance, Ezra," the tracker grinned back.
"Now that's a pity" Ezra replied sighing "She had the biggest brown eyes you've ever seen, the cutest little nose..."
"Forget it Ezra. I ain't getting married," Vin stated firmly.
"Oh this particular fair headed beauty didn't want to get married. Insisted she liked to travel a lot. Had some romantic idea of sleeping under the stars. Oh, no. She didn't want to be tied down at all," Ezra told him.
Vin studied Ezra closely. Dammit you couldn't read anything if the man didn't want you to.
Suddenly, Ezra stood. "Well I am going to have a meal. Would you care to join me, Mr. Tanner?"
"Reckon I could eat," the tracker replied.
Both men began to walk down the street.
"This girl. She still around..."
Ezra smiled. "She could be. She could be."
Vin Tanner smiled mischievously. Devious thoughts ran through his mind as he wondered if Buck knew that Ezra was responsible for his itching and the lack of female interest in him at present. Yep he figured Buck would be interested in a little prank to get back at Ezra. Vin smiled again as he followed Ezra. Oh yeah! This week was gonna be a good week.
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