are you doing here? I thought I made it clear…”
Chris stood in the doorway, momentarily drawn to the pale features of
Tanner laid out on the bed. Swallowing, he shifted the weight in his
arms. “Ezra collapsed…you might want to take a look at him.”
room…” Jackson directed.
knowing Jackson was a step behind. Larabee damn near had
apoplexy when Standish collapsed outside. He was taken aback by the
fear that surged through him and was astounded by his reaction to it.
When had he started thinking of the gambler in terms of friendship?
That he couldn’t pinpoint. “He’s burning up, Nathan.”
confirmed this for himself, testing his hand on the gambler’s forehead.
“So has he got
this, distemper?” First Tanner, now Standish. And he was trapped
inside the ranch with them now also.
continued to assess the unconscious man, berating himself for his
treatment of the Southerner. Had he known…but what would he have
done? Nathan had no answers to that question. He flipped back
the gambler’s jacket and groaned at the bloodstains on his shirt; most
was dry and stiff, but some was fresh. He gently pulled the shirt
open and shook his head awry. “Damn fool, Southerner.”
Chris leaned over the healer, trying to see past his broad shoulders.
shot!” Nathan explained, pulling off the bandages that Standish had
applied. “It went through, a bit more ‘an a graze, but he’s
lost his share of blood and now it’s infected.” Of all the
stupid things to do… “Does he have some sort of death wish?”
Jackson muttered. “Damn him! He shouldn’t have been doing
half the things I had him doing.”
now.” Only a loyal friend would put his own needs aside in favour
of another. That thought came as a shock to the gunslinger; if
he’d been asked, he wouldn’t have put money on Standish taking such a
risk – it’s not what he expected of the conman. He could see the
same sentiments in Jackson’s eyes; he hadn’t thought Ezra capable of
such an act either. Since when did Standish risk his life for
one of their group? Chris’d do it without a second thought; Tanner
and Buck probably would too. The others? Larabee shifted from
one foot to the other. Would each of the others willingly give their
lives in order to save another? Perhaps they would…so why didn’t
he assume Standish would do the same? Chris wondered if Tanner knew
Standish was hurt – probably not. “What you want me to do?”
“You should be
“He got the
ain’t leaving you in here with two patients ta take care of.”
his feet to the floorboards and sat straighter in the chair. He
watched Tanner toss his head to the side and fight the effects of the
drugs. A low moan whistled passed his lips and eyelids pealed back
revealing unfocused eyes. “Morning,” he greeted and offered a
glass of water before the tracker could respond.
his eyes open wider and fought to concentrate on the voice calling him to
attention. When his focus cleared, he smiled. “Larabee?”
Ugg? Was that him speaking? He licked his lips and cleared his
throat to speak again. “What’s goin’ on?”
but covered the gesture behind his hand. “’Bout time you woke
Vin winced and
lowered his hand under the covers to find the source of his pain. It
wasn’t nearly so bad, more of an ache now. He felt the thick
binding around his lower half and grimaced at the tenderness beneath.
here…been mighty worried about you.”
“He was gonna
cut inta me?” Tanner frowned, attempting to piece together his sketchy
“He done that
yesterday…been waiting since for you ta rejoin us.”
here?” As his head cleared more, he distinctly remembered Nathan stating
that no one else was to come close in case he had caught some disease.
you don’t have putrid fever, and he needed some help.”
I didn't have it. Ezra?”
sleeping,” that was all Tanner needed to know at present. “Want
some broth? Got some cooking in the kitchen…”
feels a tad queasy…I’ll take some more water though.”
go.” Chris stayed with the tracker until he settled back to sleep,
then he slipped out to make some lunch for himself and Nathan.
the cloth in the basin and sighed in appreciation. “That for
me?” His mouth watered as he eyed the plate of sandwiches on offer.
don’t mind sharing.” Larabee set the tray on the small table and
almost swallowed the first sandwich down whole. Lord he was hungry!
“Vin was awake, but he’s gone back to sleep now.”
and rolled his aching shoulders. “He seem fine to you?
You should have come and got me…”
need for that…gave him some water and he took it okay and we talked for
a bit. He was hurting some, but he ain’t got a fever. He didn’t
want any broth and then he went back to sleep.” Chris glanced at
the Southerner on the small bed. “How’s he doin’?”
grumbled. “Should have treated this before it got so bad.”
“Don’t s’pose we gave ‘im too many options…”
“He could have
still said something.” Nathan shook his head.
“Reckon he was
worried about Vin. He was awful anxious to have you look at
“And if we’d
let them come into town, I’d have had Vin up in the clinic, but Ezra
would have skulked off to his room and it might have been too late by the
time we’d found him.” Jackson swallowed back the rising lump in
his throat. If they hadn’t waylaid the two lawmen and diverted
their course to Nettie’s, it would have been a foregone conclusion that
Tanner would have died. Nathan wouldn’t have performed the
operation; he would have done his best to entice a physician to attend,
but by the time one arrived, Vin’s appendix would have ruptured.
He would have died in agony and Ezra wouldn’t have stood any better
chance. They would have been burying, not one, but two of their
friends. Realising this for the first time, Nathan grinned. If
they hadn’t intercepted Vin and Ezra, their chances of survival would
have been foreordained.
“What are you
that I don’t feel quite so bad about stopping ‘em from coming into
the smile. “You want me to sit with Vin?”
Nathan wiped the
Southerner’s face and tossed the rag to Chris. “You mind staying
here while I change Vin’s bindings?”
are gonna do anything, Josiah? They seem awful restive.”
his large arms across his chest and by all appearances seemed relaxed, but
his body was tense and prepared for action. “Yep.”
should go out and warn Chris and Buck…let them know what’s going on in
at the growing group of malcontents. Troublemakers, the lot of them.
It only took one man to get them all fired up, and they’d have a lynch
mob on their hands. And Browning was just such a man. Sanchez
couldn’t even logically place him at any of the homesteads or ranches;
he seemed to appear out of the woodwork to spread his filthy words.
He was a typical roustabout with no family or connection to the town, but
he’d worked the dozen or so men into a frenzy, scaring most of them with
the prediction of death. And damn Quinton Doyle! Mouthy old
telegraph operator! He should know better than spreading rumours
around town, particularly when it involved the seven. But it was too
late now to stop the news circulating; it would be up to them to contain
it. “No, JD. You go ask Casey if she could let them know.
Make sure nobody sees you talking with her or sees her leaving town.”
Dunne jogged to the back of the jail and inconspicuously made his way to
the hotel. He didn’t feel right leaving the others in the dark,
especially not knowing how these galoots would react.
his way towards the group; his fists clenched spasmodically while
listening to the drivel spouting from Browning’s mouth.
“Are we gonna
let them bring disease into the community?” Douglas Browning shouted and
a murmur of grunts answered his call. “I’ve seen it before…it
only takes one and before long the whole town is nothing but a ghost town.
And there’s nothing we can do to stop it…your wives, children,
neighbours and friends all drop dead at your feet, until there’s nobody
left to bury the dead.”
aside the crowd and joined Browning on his platform. “There is
nothing to fear, and,” he sneered at the rabblerouser, “there ain’t
no disease being brought into town.”
Maurice Kirby cast about angrily. “What about Tanner and Standish?
We all know they’ve been exposed. The folks are dropping
like flies at Cortez.” The crowd rushed forward, loudly grunting
are they then, if they ain’t dying? We know they’ve been
secreted off somewheres…”
“I say we burn
‘em out…it’s the only way to get rid of it,” Browning hollered to
be heard over the uproar. He smiled sadistically at the round of
applause this statement received.
Sanchez cried, unable to understand the ruthless assault. “That
would be taking lives of innocent men!”
so innocent…” another growled. “Heard Tanner’s got a bounty
on his head…and Standish ain’t nothing but a cheat.”
“We only got
to get rid of them and we’ll be safe…”
hurt no one else…”
Listen to yourselves. You’re planning on murder…this isn’t
going to help,” Josiah implored.
murder if it’s self defence! And that’s what this would be,”
Browning shouted. “It’d be in everyone’s interest.”
here!” the crowd agreed in chorus. The preacher’s protests were
lost in the uproar.
“Sounds like a
rider coming in fast.” Larabee stood and leaned against the window.
He couldn’t see beyond the tree that grew too close to the house and
curiosity gave his legs inspiration to look further a field. When he
reached the front door he leaned on the doorjamb waiting for the rider to
come into view. He saluted Buck, acknowledging the ladies’ man
with a wave. Wilmington, too, was alert to the approaching rider.
Larabee relaxed marginally as the girl came within sight.
“Nathan,” Chris called over his shoulder, “It’s Casey.”
From within the
depths of Nettie Wells’ room, Jackson replied, “Don’t let her come
inside. And you need to stay here.” Not that he thought it
possible, but there was still the chance that the two lawmen were carrying
from the veranda while Buck talked with Casey. The young girl was
nervous and kept glancing his way. Buck paid him no heed and
patiently listened to Casey, then he helped her into the saddle and
slapped the horse’s flank, watching until they disappeared from sight.
Something was up, he could sense it. “Buck?”
removed his hat and wiped his forehead on the sleeve of his shirt.
“Things are getting pretty hairy in town,” he answered. “Group
of troublemakers want to take things into their own hands…think it’s
best to burn them out,” Buck lifted his chin and pointed meaningfully
behind the gunslinger.
They don’t even have it!” Well that was Nathan’s latest
opinion; at least the healer was contemplating the notion. “Do
they know we’ve got them out here?”
wouldn’t take a genius to put two and two together. “You want me
to head back into town?”
and JD are there. If they can’t handle it, then we’ll need all
the help we can getting this lot out.”
He’d not wanted to leave his oldest friend, but if Chris had requested
it of him, he would have followed. He was worried about JD, but he
at least had Sanchez with him. “We gonna move ‘em out?”
“I’ll talk to Nathan, see what he says.”
Buck placed the
hat back on his head and finger-combed his moustache. “How they
doin’?” He’d been sitting out here for an eternity wondering
what was going on inside the ranch house. He’d had little sleep as
he worried, not only for Tanner and Standish, but Nathan and Chris also,
wondering if they were all going to surrender to the illness. Now
Chris was saying that neither man had the disease, hopefully this was
true. Then there was thinking about JD, and not knowing what was
happening in town that ate at him too. Now this!
He prayed Josiah and JD Dunne could handle the mob and calm them down.
fine…woke up a couple of times and is a might sore.”
Watching the panicked gunslinger hurtle across the yard to catch the
Southerner as he collapsed had repeated on his mind throughout the night.
And if Chris hadn’t moved so quickly, it would have been Buck who was
inside the Wells’ home. It was hard sitting on the fence line
waiting for information.
himself shot.” Chris held up his hand, waving aside the obvious query.
“No, I don’t know how it happened or when. Nathan says it was a
few days back.”
The concern was obvious in his voice.
fever and totally out of it. Nathan doesn’t reckon they have the
Buck sighed with
relief. “Then I can come up?” he asked taking a step toward the
go scout down the road a ways and keep an eye out for trouble.”
around the doorframe. “Might have trouble brewing in town,” he
informed the healer.
Jackson sat back
in his seat and frowned at the gunslinger. “That gonna affect
They ready to be moved?”
abruptly from his seat. “We can’t move them…Vin’s just had
surgery, he’s not going to be fit to be moving for about a week; don’t
want him bustin’ his stitches…and Ezra…we’d have to carry him
out,” Nathan stated, gesturing at the patient laying in the bed.
followed the directive, his lips curling into a grimace. “He
don’t seem so restless…” Thinking the Southerner’s calmness had to
be a sign of improvement.
reluctantly agreed with the gunman’s assessment. “I’ve nearly
got the infection cleared up and his fever’s broke, but he ain’t up to
leaving that bed.”
As though to
dispute the healer’s point, Ezra rolled his head to the side and his
eyes fluttered open. He licked his lips and groaned softly.
back beside the bed. “Ezra? You hear me?”
wishing he hadn’t returned. “Quite clearly,” he whispered.
“You know what
happened?” Nathan prompted.
around the room, a brief flicker of surprise passed though his eyes as
they registered Larabee holding up the doorway, then he returned them to
Jackson’s concerned face. He couldn’t hide his weary countenance
and didn’t bother to try. He smiled wryly and shrugged his
shoulders. “A small refresher course perhaps,” he hinted
from his position and earned a rebuke from Jackson.
telling me how you managed to get yourself shot? And why you
didn’t bother to tell me?” Nathan asked seriously.
widened and he sat forward. “Vin?” Instantly regretting the move
he gasped, bending at the waist and grabbing his side in pain.
Nathan muttered and gently pushed Standish back to the mattress.
“Now lay quiet, and don’t go undoing my good work!” he reprimanded.
inside the room and sat on the opposite side of the bed. “Vin’s
doin’ okay, but you were the one who had Nathan in a dither,” Chris
confided, squeezing Ezra’s knee through the sheet. “You gonna
answer Nathan’s question now?”
the remains of the fever, Ezra frowned at Larabee, confused. “What
and threw up his hands. “Who shot you?”
don’t know,” Standish sheepishly admitted.
“How could you
forget something like that?” Jackson growled impatiently. “I’m
going to check on Vin.”
the healer’s progress out the room. Resisting the urgent need to
sleep he stared at Chris puzzled. “Did I say something to offend
and shook his head. “How could you forget getting shot?”
collapsing into the comfort of the mattress. “It’s not that I
have failed to remember the incident, but more a case of not realising it
had happened until later.” Seeing that he’d failed to convey
this properly he took a deep breath and recommenced. “When Vin and
I approached Cortez, we were welcomed with a committee of armed defenders.
They fired several shots to deter our entry…and I can only conclude that
I…was wounded during that confrontation.”
Ezra shook his
head. “Hell, I didn’t know myself until after we’d left the
vicinity.” Adrenalin could do that to a man.
you tell Vin?”
was already feeling poorly. There was no reason to inconvenience him
with my problem.”
he would have done the exact same thing. “And Nathan?”
closed his eyes and the answer was a long time coming. “I don’t
know,” he eventually answered. “Do you mind if I rest now?”
You mind if I keep you company while you sleep?”
and raised his eyebrows inquisitively and opened his eyes, curious to see
the expression worn by the gunslinger. Why would Chris want to
remain with him when Vin was in the other bedroom? “Why?”
“Thought you might appreciate someone to act as a buffer between you and
Nathan while he’s hovering.” Seeing the struggle Standish was
having accepting his offer, he relented and made the decision for the
gambler, making himself comfortable in the straight-backed chair.
“Relax, Ezra, everything’s gonna be okay.” Or so he hoped.
Nathan,” Vin greeted, sitting up on his elbows and attempting to sit
upright. “Ohhh…” he moaned.
“Vin, take it
easy,” Jackson admonished. “I need to change that dressing, do
you want anything to help ease the pain before I start?”
Tanner shook his head and pushed down the sheet to expose the white
bandage. There was a small amount of ooze in the centre, but it
didn’t hurt as much as it did when he woke earlier. He watched
quietly while Nathan cleaned the new wound and replaced a fresh bandage
over the site. After he’d seen the incision line he changed his
focus instead to watch the myriad of emotions that crossed Nathan’s face
while he worked. Then cocked his ear listening to the sounds
throughout the house. Somewhere beyond his room, he could hear
Larabee and Standish talking and wondered for the first time why Ezra
hadn’t been in to see him and why Chris was in the ranch house when he
vaguely remembered Nathan isolating them. “Where’s Ezra?
Don’t tell me that after everything, he’s afraid he’ll catch
somethin’ from me?”
for a moment, but the alert tracker noticed the slight hiatus.
“Ezra’s resting,” he prevaricated.
talking to Chris a moment ago…What’s goin’ on Nathan?”
He couldn’t lie worth a dime, who was he kidding? Tanner would
catch him out easily. “Ezra was shot…” instantly seeing his
mistake, the healer forcibly held the struggling Texan to the mattress.
“You ain’t goin’ anywhere. ‘Sides, it weren’t too bad, but
he was running a fever ‘cause it wasn’t seen to properly… though
he’s doing a lot better now. You ain’t gonna be able to do
anything for him,” Jackson iterated, barricading Vin’s escape from the
bed. “The best thing you both can do is stay resting in bed.”
“I want to see
“Vin you will
stay in this bed! You’ve just had your appendix removed and I
can’t guarantee that you won’t have complications.” Until
Tanner was walking around unhindered and his colour had returned, Nathan
wouldn’t be satisfied that he’d done the right thing in performing the
under the dark hands, biding his time. It suddenly occurred to the
tracker the importance of what Jackson had done for him. Not only
had Nathan originally assumed that he was carrying an illness, and that
hadn’t prevented the former slave to put aside his qualms and
voluntarily treat him. But when it was found that Vin required
surgery to treat his bout of appendicitis, the healer performed the
operation alone, and without any support. Yeah, he knew Ezra would
have been helping, but it was still Nathan who held the knife and cut into
him. Vin tentatively touched the bandaged site. “Thanks,
his shoulders sagging a little and a small smile showed his pearly white
teeth. “I just hope I’ve done it right.”
did. Don’t s’pose I’d be here now if ya didn’t fix me up
when you did.”
his lips tightly, his face losing the elated expression. Vin would
never know how close Jackson had come to not performing the operation.
He’d been so scared of failing and uncertain of his own abilities.
“Prob'ly should thank Ezra, too.”
will…so… where is he?”
room…Chris is with him.”
slightly. “If you help me, I won’t bust nothin’ I
just have to go it alone when I get a chance…”
The tall man
shook his head in disgust, knowing this was exactly what the stubborn fool
would do. Why did he have such difficult patients? “Maybe,
later on…after you’ve rested some more.”
“Deal.” For now. “How did he get shot?”
“He doesn’t remember. Happened a few days back.”
“While it was
just the two of us?” At Jackson’s affirmative nod, Vin frowned
in concentration. Had Ezra been shot in Durango before they’d left
town? Vin couldn’t recall Standish looking any worse for wear, but
he had been keen for Vin to remain longer in Durango…but no…that was
because he himself had been under the weather and Standish had been
attempting to delay their departure so Tanner could regain his health.
Would Vin have noticed if Ezra was hurt? Obviously not, he berated
himself. “Where was he shot?”
side…bullet went straight through.”
Vin let this
information soak in. The injury had to have been hidden under the
gambler’s jacket. Why didn’t Ezra say something? He
wouldn’t have argued about going into Cortez… “That’s It!”
that?” Nathan asked distractedly as he collected the used bandages
at Cortez…I recollect at the time thinking Ezra was kinda rough dragging
me off Peso…”
what?” Jackson exclaimed.
were firing over our heads, trying to keep us out…musta been one of
those hotheads that got Ezra…” It also explained why the Southerner
had been out of sorts that night and the following day. Damn!
Tanner had put Ezra’s mood down to the incident in general and his own
ailment worrying Standish. “Come on, Nathan. Just a few
minutes…” he pleaded.
sighed and shook his head.
to his feet, astonished to see Vin being guided into the smaller bedroom.
He moved to the opposite side and helped Tanner shuffle inside and slowly
take the seat that the gunslinger had just vacated. “What are you
doing up, Vin?”
Not taking his
eyes off the sleeping Southerner, Vin answered. “Come visitin’.”
take no for an answer,” Jackson supplied.
he’s doin’ alright?” Vin questioned the healer. In his
opinion, the gambler’s complexion looked an unhealthy grey.
drawing Vin and Nathan’s eyes. “Should of seen him yesterday.”
gentlemen are going to insult a person while he is in the same room, I
suggest you depart,” Standish drawled.
Ezra…” Tanner grinned.
at Vin, letting his eyes take in the picture before him. “Mr.
Tanner, I trust you are recovered?”
Vin held his
right hand protectively over the new wound and winced as he adjusted his
position. “Nathan done a good job…said it was my appendix…”
should be still in bed recuperating…” Jackson griped.
“How is it
that Vin’s allowed out?” Standish wondered out loud.
that got shot!” Vin challenged with a glare. “I’m figurin’
it happened at Cortez…That right?”
his head slightly, mildly amused by Vin’s indignation. He didn’t
get a chance to respond.
Ezra! Why didn’t ya say something?”
shrugged. He raised an eyebrow at the amused expression worn by the
gunslinger. Not wanting to rehash this again, he opted for
digression. “It was a little difficult to get a word in while you
were expelling your stomach contents,” he chuckled, wincing and holding
his side as his mirth caused some discomfort.
enough,” Nathan ordered. “You’ve seen each other, now I want
you both to get some rest.”
Vin scowled at the gambler…why did he have to bring that up…reminding the healer that the Texan was, and had been, extremely ill? Now he’d have to sleep away the day…it wasn’t natural sleeping away the daylight hours.
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