Special thanks to my wonderful beta Mitzi
Sanchez, where exactly are we headed?” the bored Southern drawl broke the
silence. Other than the soft crunch of grass under the tread of boots and
the unhurried call of darkness, the early hours before dawn were uneventfully
The older man
slowed his large steps and fell level with Standish. The wistful light of
the lantern swept eerily over the barren prairie, causing undulating shadows
with long tangly fingers to creep deceptively over the buffalo grass. The
light breeze that had picked up hours earlier played wilfully with the lengthy
grass; the seeded heads whipped against the legs that trudged heedlessly
through, and the sticky juices attached the seeds to the heavy material of their
They had been
hiking across the open expanse for an hour, keeping a steady pace since they’d
departed town. The preacher was surprised at the Southerner’s initial
willingness to accompany him, especially without him giving the conman a
suitable reason for doing so. He felt a sense of pride that he’d managed
to establish that kind of trust from the gambler. Sanchez brought the light
higher so he could see Ezra’s expressions, though he didn’t need the light
to hear the panting breath sounds. “You’re puffing, Mr. Standish,”
short, taking the opportunity to bend forward and rest his hands on his
knees. “Any wonder. You have been galloping at full steam ahead
into the dead of night. Or has that minor detail escaped your attention?”
the light on the ground. “Nope. But ya can’t see it during the
day,” he answered elusively.
what would that be?” Standish asked Josiah’s back as the older man picked up
the lantern and pressed further into the darkness. He mumbled beneath his
breath that they would have already reached the destination if they’d ridden
horses, but Sanchez either didn’t hear, or chose to ignore the comment.
“All in due
time. Shouldn’t take too much longer to get there. You coming?”
groaned miserably, but still followed, curiously entertained. Ezra had
spent a prosperous evening at the tables, and had been satisfied with his final
tally. It wouldn’t be too much longer until he had the sufficient funds
to re-purchase his saloon. This time he’d do it right, and he certainly
wouldn’t be asking for investors. Not right away in any case, he
amended. Then there was Maude. There was no way in hell he was going
to mention his little endeavour into real estate to his mother. Not after
what happened last time. It wouldn’t be long now he wagered.
greeted Ezra at the saloon doors as he ushered his fellow card players from the
room. Never had Standish seen the older man brimming with so much youthful
fervour. Ezra couldn’t help likening Josiah to the youngest of their
troop, though with JD, it was expected behaviour, but with Josiah, it was
unusual. He thought for a few moments that Josiah was drunk, but he was
clear headed and didn’t smell of alcohol. There was a touch of
nervousness and caution mingled with the preacher’s jubilant mood that piqued
the conman’s interest. He wondered at the older man’s real intent, but
as he wasn’t interested in an early night, he indulged Josiah’s
request. He laughed out loud when Sanchez tugged him off the sidewalk and
propelled him onto the road.
Had Ezra been
aware that he’d be traipsing cross country during the middle of the night
guided only by a frail flickering flame he’d have considered his options more
carefully. But he couldn’t resist Josiah’s untapped enthusiasm; it
literally oozed around the preacher. And how could he pass up the
opportunity, especially since Sanchez had chosen to seek him out. Ezra
studiously trailed behind Sanchez, his eyes seeking the flow of the miniature
flame that bobbed ahead. Every so often the older man would fan the light
to the left and occasionally to the right. He held it so low to the ground
at times that it almost disappeared in the rushes of grass. “Perhaps I
could be of assistance with whatever it is you are seeking.”
mumbled and waved a dismissive hand, but didn’t turn his back to see the
growing dismay on the Southerner’s face.
looking over his shoulder at the dark that enveloped behind him. Having
originally shown immense faith in the preacher’s mission, he was beginning to
lose interest in the nightly sojourn and was realising his own weariness and
need for sleep. “Josiah…”
further, Ezra,” he beckoned. The hardy preacher increased his stride
lengthening each step and the distance between the pair. He smiled
brightly at the grumbling monologue behind him, and was tempted to whistle, but
held back. He continued on a heading that parallelled the river, but he
never once diverted toward the water. He heard Standish stall once again,
and decided that he needed a change of tack. Now all he had to do was come
up with one.
Ezra moaned tiredly, “What are we doing?” The exasperation was clearly
visible in the accented tones.
guiltily faced the conman, hoping Standish couldn’t read his expression in the
heavy gloom. “I can’t seem to find it,” he stalled.
a grab for the lantern, but the taller man saw the lunge and withdrew it from
stepped away, preparing for another trek into the dark, when Ezra’s abrupt
order to wait had him spinning on his heels.
Lord! What are we doing?” he repeated.
you might have wanted to see it,” he mumbled. Josiah stepped
backwards and flailed his arms, falling on his posterior. He shouted at
the sudden upset and after a minute pause clutched his ankle. “Arggg…Reckon
I twisted it.”
in frustration. Of all the places for an accident to occur. “Perhaps
we can return to our abodes and attempt to finalise your mission another
evening.” Maybe never, if he had anything to do with it. Or at
least they could use some form of transportation next time.
sucked in a pained breath. “Aw…don’t reckon I can walk that far,
I shall return to town and bring back help…if you could hand me the lantern…”
studied the younger man’s tired façade, and covered his smile behind his
large hand. Things couldn’t have worked out better. He sluggishly
poked at the light, and clumsily knocked it over, snuffing the flame and
breaking the glass. “Oops,” he apologised, leaving the pair in
mouth dropped in stunned silence. He’d swear the preacher deliberately
fumbled the light until it was unusable. Why? Why would he go to
such lengths? And for what purpose? “Do you want me to check your
ankle?” He heard the older man rustle on the ground.
I’ll take a nap…you might want to do the same.”
you have me confused with Mr. Tanner…it is he who would relish a bed beneath
the stars.” Standish’s frown turned to a sneer at the raucous rumble
of laughter that came from his companion.
to rest up, though.”
and joined his fellow lawman on the ground. The breeze had died to a light
flutter and he could at least get a few hours sleep before the sun rose.
Then they would figure out the logistics of returning to town.
at the sharp intrusion of light that somehow managed to find passage into his
room and shine brightly in his face. He curled his arm over his pillow and
buried his face inside the…crown, blocking the sun’s intrusive rays.
It couldn’t possibly be time to rise. He’d only just gone to sleep
minutes ago. He rolled over onto his side and groped for the elusive
blanket that had slipped during the night. He moaned discontentedly at not
being able to find it. It must have fallen to the floor…he could do
without, it wasn’t as though he was cold. He sluggishly wondered at the
hard lump his mattress had morphed into over night and uncurled his legs to find
a more comfortable position. Somewhere through the fog he heard his name
being called. A persistent nagging tone designed to draw him from his
slumber. “Go away,” he grumbled.
Sanchez repeated, smiling at the gambler’s efforts to stay asleep. “It’s
a beautiful day, and it is past time we headed back to town.”
blinked. Why was Sanchez inside his abode? “Josiah?” Ezra
tipped his hat and grimaced at the wicked morning light. No wonder he
despised mornings. He was not in his room. “What…?” he groaned
as the night’s adventures returned. His expression soured even further
as he watched a very nimble preacher amble about their dry camp. “Your
injury seems to have responded well with a few hours respite,” he snarled
stopped mid stride and guiltily looked at his feet. He bit his lip and
thought furiously for an explanation, but Standish’s demeanour stated clearly
that he wouldn’t be swayed by anything the giant had to say. “Oh.”
dusted the seat of his pants and straightened his jacket. He recognised
the area immediately, concluding they were closer to town then he’d
anticipated after the deceptive jaunt. They were surely walking in circles
through the early hours of the morning. What purpose did Sanchez gain by
removing the conman from town? It was obviously a ruse… Ezra set off at
a hike, Sanchez followed hotly on his heels.
you please listen to me?”
on his heels, finding himself closer to the larger man than he’d bargained
on. “What? What did you gain from all of this subterfuge?” Ezra
didn’t wait and stalked off once more.
sighed, searching for the right words. How did he explain? The older
man quickly caught up with Standish in town. He’d let Ezra lead them
back, and sought desperately for an acceptable reason for his ploy that Standish
would understand. He wondered whether he was assuming too much about their
friendship to suggest he was feeling blue and just wanted some
company. No, he’d need something better than that, the conman
could read him like a book and would know the lie before it passed his
with his head bowed absorbing the quiet of the sleeping town. It was
probably why he heard the voices of their fellow regulators before he saw them.
Josiah pulled the gambler to a halt, stopping him from stepping out between the
two buildings. He put a finger to his lips at the querulous look
Standish sent him and dragged the gambler back into the shadows.
Buck! I’m so tired!” Dunne moaned. “I can’t believe we waited
outside Ezra’s room in the hallway for half the night and he didn’t
show. Ain’t no way I’m gonna be able to take my shift today.”
must have told him,” Buck accused, wondering who had spoilt their fun.
He had it planned perfectly. Donna was already planted in the conman’s
room waiting until Standish had disrobed and crawled into bed. Then when
they were suitably entangled, he’d send in Marla, who’d spit chips and
accuse the Southerner of two timing her. The girls would make a loud and
vocal claim over Ezra and demand he choose one of them. Then Buck and JD
would make their grand entrance. He could just imagine Ezra’s bewildered
look at me. I didn’t say a word.”
was he?” Wilmington pointed at the young gunslinger. “Ezra sure
wasn’t playing poker all night, that’s for sure. We gotta pay the
do anything, but sleep!”
“Hey it was
your dumb idea to use them.”
didn’t have to be there to watch, but you were…so you gotta cough up.
You wanted in on this, JD. Don’t deny it.”
shrugged. He didn’t think he owed Buck anything, but he wasn’t going
to say so. They staggered past Ezra and Josiah’s hiding place without
noticing the pair in the shadows. They continued talking amicably as they
disappeared inside the restaurant.
rested his back against the timber-clad wall. “They were setting me up,”
he stated in astonishment. He slowly smiled at the treacherous pair,
swearing vengeance. Glancing at the preacher, Ezra finally understood, to
some extent, the deception of the previous night. “It wasn’t possible
to just inform me of this plot?”
rubbed his rough chin and shook his head. “Buck made me promise not to
tell you. Figured this way it’d save you some embarrassment, and keep
you out of trouble.”
at Sanchez for a minute. He didn’t consider himself prone to ‘getting
into trouble’ as Josiah had put it. But he was grateful the incident with the
two ladies of the night had been waylaid. “Thank you.”
patted the smaller man on the shoulder. “Any time, son.” He
exploded with a mighty laugh at the Southerner’s groan and decided returning
to the church to make up for lost sleep was the order for today. “Watch
your back, Ezra!” he warned.
Want to read more of this series?
A Weight to Bear - Series
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