Title: That Night
Disclaimer: As if you didn't already know, the Magnificent Seven is owned by all them folks out there in Hollywood. You know the ones -- MGM, Trilogy, Mirsch, CBS, TNN, and so on. Me, I only own a Dell, a TV and lots and lots of books. I will not be making any money from this, nor will I ever; this is purely not-for-profit story telling.
Notes: Once again, I am not, repeat, not a doctor. This story is meant to be a bit on the supernatural side, so, for all those literal medical types who might chaff at this, you'll just have to believe in ghosts, angels and all those other unexplainable things that go bump in the night for a short time….Oh, and I speed wrote this one night at about four a.m., so, sorry about any errors.
Description: On a night when just about everything that can go wrong will, Ezra has a gift.
The light filling his skull was blinding, like someone was pressing the sun to his face, and the heat was making him sweat. Unable to stand it any longer, he tried to open his eyes in order to challenge the offender, but they resisted. His eyelids felt heavier than lead as they stuck to his dry corneas, and he had to raise a hand to his face to try and encourage them to open. A few agonizing minutes later, using his sweat as a lubricant, eyelids peeled back to reveal bloodshot green eyes, and Ezra looked out at the world. He was panting, his breaths shallow, and he wondered where the light had gone. The world was in pitch darkness, with only a little moonshine coming in the windows to break the monotony.
He sat up, noticing that the burning sensation in his stomach that he had earlier attributed to heartburn, was even more painful. Unconsciously, the hand on his face slipped to his side as if afraid it might ignite. But there was more. Something was wrong. He could feel it as strongly as if he could physically see the danger in front of him.
He had to get up.
Ezra rolled sideways and levered himself up off the sweat soaked mattress. His bed covers had long been thrown back to reveal his pale body, and he felt every muscle protest the move. Eventually, he was sitting up with his feet on the floor, and he held his stomach for a few moments while he gathered himself together. What was wrong? Why was he doing this?
He reached over and grabbed the brown trousers hanging over the chair to the side of his bed, and pulled them on. He followed this with a cream homespun cotton shirt that was lying on the floor. It unnerved to think he had been so careless with his clothes last night. He had just ripped them all off and thrown them aside, something he never did. He would have to wash them in the morning. But for now, something demanded he move quickly. Last thing he did was to grab his long Remington Rifle from the sideboard, then he crept stealthily to the door. Whatever was wrong, it was on the other side.
He calmed his breathing as he leaned against the dark wood of the frame, his hand gripping the doorknob. Then slowly, ever so slowly, he cracked the door and leaned out into the narrow hallway above the saloon. Across from him he saw Inez's door was still shut, and he contemplated whether the bad feeling was coming from there.
No, it was further out.
He moved silently out into the small passage and glanced behind him. There was a third door at the end of the hallway that opened into a closet space, but, once again, that was not where the danger was emanating from. Whatever it was, it involved the rest of the saloon.
He moved forward, away from the small bedrooms and towards the end of the passage, wincing at every creak from the floorboards beneath his feet. A few feet brought him to the end, to where the hallway opened up onto a small balcony that overlooked the main room. He stopped before leaving the shadows, and kneeled down.
His heart was pounding in his chest. He could not remember a time when he had been this terrified. Sweat continued to pour down his arms and chest, and more than once he had to wipe the tears from his eyes. He leant against one side of the narrow hallway and willed himself to peek around the corner towards the stairs leading down. If someone was there, waiting for him, he would be dead within seconds.
He stopped breathing and listened, straining in the darkness for any clue that might save him. Then, with sudden conviction, he realized it wasn't he who was in danger. His terror was for someone else. How he knew this he couldn't decipher, but it gave him the will to stand up and step out onto the balcony. Of course, he still had the gun raised. Just in case.
Nobody was there to greet him, and, as he looked over the dark room, using the mirrors scattered everywhere to help him see into the shadows, he realized he was alone. For a moment, he was confused. He was sure there was danger near. It was so close that the hairs on his neck were tingling and the pain in his side was being submerged beneath it.
He pondered his fears, and like a lightening bolt, he realized what was wrong. Vin's wagon sat in the alley between the saloon and the store next to it. Initially, the tracker had positioned his wagon next to the livery, but recently, perhaps in acknowledgement of the permanence he was beginning to feel in this small town, he had moved next to saloon. It was closer to his friends that way, and smelled a whole lot better.
Certain now, Ezra dashed down the steps, nearly slipping in his haste, and ran out through the kitchen to the back door. Once there, he hesitated, and calmed himself down. When he did finally move, it was with the stealth of a cat. He slipped out the door into the shadows, his bare feet digging into the cold packed dirt, and tiptoed over to the back of the alley where Vin's wagon lay. Once more, he knelt down to make himself less obvious, and tried to ascertain what it was that was wrong.
Three men were at the top of the alley near the street entrance, quietly discussing their plan. He could hear them as if they were shouting, though in truth they were barely whispering.
Carl, you stand watch, make sure that nosy sheriff doesn't decide to come and have a look for Tanner. Syd, you and I will grab the murdering bastard and I'll crack his skull with my revolver. Whatever you do, don't let him make a noise. His gambler friend lives just up in that window yonder, and we don't want to alert him now, do we?
Ezra did not question why he could hear them from this distance, so long as they kept talking long enough so that he could warn Vin. The men didn't notice as Ezra moved up into the alley and slid along the wall to the wagon. He watched as the one called Carl positioned himself to watch the street as the other two stealthily walked down towards their prey. By then, however, Ezra was already leaning into the wagon.
He put a hand over Vin's mouth, waking the tracker instantly. When he saw who was holding him down, the tracker grabbed the Winchester and followed Ezra out onto the ground in the back. When the bounty hunters finally reached the wagon and threw back the thick fabric, they were astonished to find themselves facing the business end of two rifles.
Carl heard the sound of guns cocking, and whipped around to see what was wrong. Vin instantly swung his Winchester to cover him, while the gambler held his Remington on the other two.
"You men need to understand something," Ezra whispered, but loud enough for all three to hear. "Mr. Tanner is not merely protected by this town, he is a part of it. Believe me when I tell you that, if he were to go missing, nothing on this earth would prevent me and my five friends from following, and, of course, finding him, long before you ever reached the Texas border. And, when we found him, if even one hair was out of place, those responsible would each die slow, horrible and incredibly painful deaths. I ask you, is his bounty really worth your lives? Surely, there must be easier bounties out there for you to claim. Bounties on men who really did commit the crimes of which they are accused."
The three men blinked, and looked at each other. After only a second's longer hesitation, they dropped their weapons to the ground. They were not outlaws themselves, but merely men trying to survive in the same business that Vin had once practiced. They weren't about to risk the vengeance of the Seven for a man who, from the sound of it, might have been innocent anyway.
"We'll be gone within five minutes." The tallest one said. Then he looked at Vin, and shrugged. "Good luck Tanner," the bounty hunter said honestly, "but you know we won't be the last." Vin lowered his weapon and nodded sadly, and watched as three men quickly left the alley. He looked over at Ezra, who still had his weapon up.
"Thanks, Ezra. Your timing is improving," he grinned wryly, then stopped as he realized Ezra wasn't listening.
The gambler was frowning, the fear in his chest still pounding. Did he trust the hunters to leave? He closed his eyes, and nodded. Yes, the danger didn't come from them anymore. There was something else. He looked over at Vin, who was now looking at him curiously.
"We have to get to the jail," Ezra hissed, and turned around to head back down the alley towards the back. Vin stood astonished for a moment, and looked back up at the entrance to the alley, towards the where the jail stood. Why did they have to get to the jail? For that matter, if they had to go there, why was Ezra running in the opposite direction? Puzzled, and a little worried, Vin took off after the gambler.
Ezra didn't notice Vin wasn't with him as he jogged past the backs of several buildings before turning up the one that ran between the livery and the Mercantile. When he reached the entrance, he looked down the dark street to the jail on the opposite side and tried to perceive what it was that felt so wrong. All he knew was that he couldn't approach it directly. Vin arrived just as Ezra was about to dash across the street to the alley opposite.
"What are you doing?" Vin demanded, clearly confused.
"We have to come from the back, or they might see," Ezra explained. Wasn't it obvious? Sweat beaded on his forehead, and he wiped his hand across his brow in annoyance. Then he made his dash. Vin mimicked him, keeping low. He had no idea what Ezra knew, but he was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Then he noticed that Ezra's feet were bare.
On closer look, Vin suddenly realized that the man's appearance was actually completely incongruous with his normal state of being. His clothes were loose and wrinkled, and his hair was totally disheveled. To make matters even stranger, Ezra was obviously sick. His face was deathly pale in the ghostly light of the moon, and beads of sweat glistened on his brow. He had never seen Ezra looking so rough. But Ezra was no longer paying any attention to the tracker as he jogged down the alley to the end and turned left. Quickly, the gambler made his way down past the back of the buildings to get to the back of the jail. He paused as he reached his destination, and closed his eyes to listen. Again, the voices came out loud and clear.
Its only the boy sheriff in there now. Two of the peacekeepers are out of town, and the others are fast asleep. We shouldn't have any trouble.
Are you sure? Maybe we should wait until tomorrow. I heard the darkie say he was going to go out to some village tomorrow, and the tracker was going to join him.
No, it may be too late then. We go now.
Vin stopped when the gambler did, and was now staring at him completely baffled. Ezra had his back pressed against the rear of the jail, his eyes closed and a hand to his ear. What the hell was he listening to?
Inside, JD was yawning as he read his little dime store novel. This one wasn't very good, but it was better than nothing. He looked over at the cell where Dave Maxwell, murderer and thief, lay asleep on his cot. Or at least, he looked asleep. The outlaw was actually waiting for his rescue, which he imagined would occur any minute. The Seven had made the mistake of thinking he was alone in his activities, but he had a twin brother and his best friend Mike out there, helping him. And he expected them momentarily.
Suddenly, the door to the jail slammed open, and JD jumped from his chair. Before he could react, however, two men were before him. One was the spitting image of the man in the cell, and the other was a huge behemoth of a man. The twin demanded the keys, while the other went to ask the prisoner if he was alright. Neither outlaw saw the others as they quietly entered the room behind them.
Vin stuck his Winchester into the large man's back, while Ezra slammed his rifle butt across the skull of the twin. The would be rescuer fell to the floor unconscious. JD looked up and smiled, his head shaking in amazement.
"How did you know?" The boy asked. Ezra just shrugged, and, without smiling back, held his hands out for the keys. Within minutes, the two men were in the cell next to Maxwell. Their leader growled swears at them, and the large man called Mike covered his ears.
Vin sat on the desk, and looked at Ezra. The gambler really did not look well, and the light from the lantern on the desk only served to deepen the shadows beneath the man's eyes. Once JD had finished locking the cells, he shot a questioning glance at the tracker. Vin just shrugged and pointed at Ezra, indicating it was his idea. But once again, the gambler wasn't paying attention.
"Ez, are you alright?" Vin asked, noticing the gambler was now staring back out at the night beyond the door. He looked like he was shivering, and the arm that wasn't cradling the Remington was gripping his torso.
Ezra couldn't understand it. Why was he still shaking? Terror gripped his heart, and seemed to get stronger with each passing moment. Making a decision, he suddenly bolted out the door.
"Ezra?" JD yelled, calling after him, but the gambler didn't answer. Vin jumped off the desk and looked back at the young sheriff, shaking his head.
"I don't know what's happening, JD, but Ezra seems to be on a roll here. Stay here, I'll make sure he's alright."
JD nodded. "He looks ill, Vin." Vin just nodded to say he knew, and then followed Ezra out into the night.
Ezra was moving quickly again, but this time he wasn't hiding his movements. Vin came out in time to see the gambler stop in the middle of the street and look over at Josiah's church. The preacher was not there, as both he and Chris had ridden out to spend the night at some of the outlying ranches. They'd been plagued by rustlers lately, although Vin had an idea that the perpetrators might now be locked up in the jail. All of a sudden, Ezra fell to one knee, crying out in pain. He was leaning forward over the other knee, and gripping his stomach tightly. The knuckles of the hand still holding the rifle turned white as he tightened his grip.
Vin was at his side in a second, asking him what was wrong. He was about to go get Nathan when Ezra gripped his arm.
"No, its okay," the gambler said hoarsely. "Its not serious, and we don't have the time. Come on." And with that, Ezra lurched back to his feet and started running down the alley on the other side. Vin had no choice but to follow, and was right behind the gambler as he spun to the right at the other end. Both were jogging now, with Ezra leading, and they headed out towards the far end of town. The large dark structure of Victoria's boarding house rose against the moonlit sky. Shouts suddenly reached Vin's ears.
"No, William! Please, don't do this! Its my fault. Buck here is innocent. He didn't know we were married. William, Please!"
"Stay out of this Carrie." Her husband replied loudly, though there was a definite tremor to the man's voice.
Ezra and Vin skidded to a halt to see a man in a three piece suit shakily holding a gun on Buck, and a small blond half-dressed woman gripping her husband's other arm. Obviously, these were William and Carrie. She was crying and begging him to let the tall gunslinger go. Buck, for his part, was standing there, shirtless and weaponless, his arms up in an attempt to show that he was no danger.
"Leave him be!" Ezra roared, raising his rifle at the man. Buck looked over and grinned.
"Damn its good to see you fellas!" the ladies man called back.
William glanced over at the two lawmen to his right, his hold on the gun becoming shakier with each passing moment. He turned back to Buck, and motioned towards him with the gun.
"This man was…was about to have relations with my wife!" he yelled in exasperation. "He deserves to be shot!"
Who is he trying to convince, Vin wondered, us or himself?
The woman started crying again. "No, please William. Buck didn't know! You only came today. I've been waiting here for you for over a month with David. Buck assumed I was a widow and I didn't dissuade him. And, and, well, I may as well be one!" sudden anger filled her words, and William looked at her, surprised at the change in mood.
Sniffing, Carrie drew herself up and stared at her husband. "You've been ignoring me for over a year now, and I needed something, someone, to tell me I was still beautiful. And you kept saying you were too busy! Too busy for me, too busy for David…. Couldn't you see how much we needed you?"
When William simply shook his head at her in confusion, she slumped again against his arm and her voice lost its steel. "Please William! We need you still. If you kill Buck, they'll take you to jail, and David can't live without his father. Please!" She collapsed to the ground in tears, her hands now gripping her husbands trousers.
Vin walked up silently, aware that William's hold on the gun had slackened, the man's eyes unable to look away from where his wife sobbed at his feet. The tracker placed a hand on top of the businessman's and lifted the gun from his grasp without protest. The man now stood immobilized, his arms loose by his side, tears glistening in his eyes.
Buck jogged over to Ezra, and patted him on the back. "Thanks pard. Guess I should be more careful, huh?" He delivered all this with a smile, and looked over at William and Carrie. Vin came over to join them, scowling at Buck.
William shook his leg from his wife's grasp, and took a few steps away. She stayed where she was, looking up at him with shining eyes. He wrapped his arms around himself, and turned away.
"I get the feeling this was a long time coming, don't you?" Buck whispered, still watching them. "Maybe this was for the best, huh?"
"Whatever helps you sleep through the night, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra whispered back. He lowered the rifle, and stared at the ground.
"How'd you guys know?" Buck replied, as if Ezra had never spoken.
Vin shrugged, and looked at the gambler. The gambler was shaking still, one arm back to holding his side. Buck followed Vin's gaze, and the concern filled his features as he finally took a good look at him.
"Ezra, what's wrong," Buck asked urgently.
"I think we should get Nathan," Vin said, looking up at Buck.
"Wait, wait, no. Can't you hear them?" Ezra suddenly demanded. But his fevered eyes were not on his friends. Instead, he was calling across to the businessman, taking a step towards him. "The church is on fire! We must hurry."
William looked up, confused. For some reason, he felt that the pale man was addressing him.
"What?" he asked.
"The church! You must help. Buck, Vin get water and tell JD to wake the town. William, Carrie, come with me! Please, we must hurry."
Buck was about to argue that Ezra was losing his mind, but Vin placed a hand on the tall gunslinger's arm.
"I can't explain it, but…trust him."
Buck looked at Vin's eyes, seeing the total acceptance of Ezra's words there. Abruptly, the ladies man nodded and the two men took off towards the well behind the hotel.
Ezra ran up and gripped William on the arm. "You must come, now. The kids are using the church as a place to hang out while Josiah's away. They're passed out from the alcohol, and one has knocked over the lantern. Come on, we have to go." The gambler's sense of urgency broke through William's reverie, and the man stared at Ezra as he would a crazy man.
"Please! There is no time. If I'm wrong, then no harm is done. But if I'm right…" Ezra begged, his eyes imploring William to respond. Gritting his teeth, William abruptly nodded, and together the two men started running to the church. Something inside Carrie told her to follow, and she was quickly behind them.
Within seconds, they were throwing open the church doors, and the smell of smoke billowed out at them. Flames were beginning to lick up one of the posterior walls, and Ezra, William and Carrie ran down the line of pews to see the cause.
Sure enough, six kids were lying asleep on the floor to the right of the alter, bottles of whiskey and beer scattered around them. They were completely oblivious to the danger they were in.
"David!" Carrie shrieked, running forward to gather one of the sleeping boys into her arms. The boy moaned a little but didn't wake, the combination of alcohol and smoke inhalation keeping him unconscious. Ezra moved over and picked up one of the boys, tossing him over his shoulder. William pushed Carrie aside and did the same for David. Gathering herself together, Carrie moved over and lifted up one of the smaller boys, and managed to get him over her shoulder. She limped out of the church after Ezra and her husband.
As they reached the outside, Vin, Nathan, and Buck came running up with buckets of water. Ezra yelled at them that the fire was at the back, and that three more boys were inside asleep. The three men dashed inside without another word. Gently, Ezra and the married couple placed their burdens on the ground, and the gambler started gently slapping the cheek of the boy in front of him to wake him.
More townsfolk appeared, alerted by JD, carrying buckets of water. One couple rushed to the side of the boy Carrie had carried out, allowing her to run over to minister David.
Nathan, Vin and Buck each came out with a child, and Buck was ordering the townspeople to get more water and buckets of dirt. A lot of the alcohol the boys had been drinking was spilt and feeding the flames. The water was not going to be enough.
Nathan moved over to the boys, checking each one. Slowly, they all started coughing as he breathed air into them, and William imitated the healer's movements on his own son. Carrie cried out in joy and hugged her husband fiercely as David started coughing. The family hugged each other, their joy mimicked by other families as they too found their sons among the boys.
Ezra backed away from the crowd, distancing himself from the crazy scene by as much as twenty feet before stopping. His heart swelled, happy because he no longer felt scared. Everything was alright now. His work was done. Vin looked up from where he stood in the bucket line, caught Ezra's eyes, and smiled. For the first time that evening, Ezra smiled back, his gold tooth glinting in the moonlight.
Then he collapsed.
"Nathan!" Vin yelled, handing off his bucket and running over to the fallen gambler. It was the last thing Ezra heard before he fell unconscious.
The light in his eyes was much gentler this time, more natural, and no heat pressed against his body. But, for some reason, he felt very discombobulated, and his side felt….Ow! Sharp pain when he moved! What the hell was that? Muttering slightly, his hand drifted lazily to his side, and he felt the bandages there. It was a dull throb now. He grimaced. He didn't remember being hurt.
"Hey, he's awake," a voice called softly. Vin's voice. Ezra looked up into bright blue eyes, which quickly disappeared. They were replaced by Nathan's quiet visage.
"How are you feeling, Ezra?" the healer asked as he placed a hand against Ezra's brow.
"Like a spit hog," he groaned. "What hit me?"
"Nothing, actually. It was your appendix. I had to take it out."
"Don't you worry about it. But you must have been in a lot pain for quite a few days. Promise me that next time you feel that sick you'll tell us sooner? We nearly lost you." Nathan's chastisements were made tenderly, and a tired smile lit his face. Then he moved away, and Vin's face replaced it.
"Just thought you should know that everyone is fine. And we managed to douse the flames before the church was too badly damaged. I don't know how you did it, Ez, but you saved us all that night." He looked sideways at the gambler, as if looking for an answer in those clear green eyes. Ezra just stared back at him in bafflement.
Vin frowned slightly. "I said everyone's fine. And we saved the church. Just thought you might like to know."
Ezra's brow furrowed deeper, and he blinked a few times. "Something happened at the church?"
Vin looked surprised, and Ezra watched him look away. Probably at Nathan. Then he was gone, and JD was looking down at him, the boy's face a puzzle.
"Don't you remember, Ezra?" JD asked. "You saved us a whole heap of trouble that night. What with the bounty hunters going for Vin, the Maxwell gang, and Buck almost getting shot. And surely, you must remember William, Carrie and David?"
"They wanted to thank you, by the way," a new voice rumbled from the other side. Ezra moved his head to see Josiah standing to his left. "They left early this morning once they were sure you were going to be okay. I think you may have saved a family that night along with my home." Josiah slipped his hand into Ezra's, and the gambler took heart in the warmth felt there.
"All the families want to thank you," Vin said. "Mrs. Potter even went so far as to call you an angel because her son was one of the boys there that night. Apparently, they all want you to come for dinner as soon as you able."
"Do you remember now?" JD asked from off to his right. "You remember what happened?"
Ezra turned his head to look at the kid, and smiled. "Of course, JD. Of course. How could I forget…that night?"
JD grinned and nodded, and the others seemed satisfied with his response. In reality, Ezra was still completely confused. Last thing he remembered was helping Inez close down that bar for the night, and her complaining that he was moving too slow. She'd called him lazy and yelled when he dropped a tray of glasses. After that, she'd ordered him up to his room.
As if aware of his thoughts, Inez wandered in at that point. She shooed the others out of the room, then came to sit next to him. The her usually confident tone disappeared, and she looked sheepishly at Ezra. She wanted to apologize for her unkind words on that night. She should have known he was sick, and would he forgive her?
Ezra stared at her, flabbergasted. All he could think to do was nod, and she smiled. She leant over, brushed his lips with a light kiss, and told him to get some sleep. Then she was gone.
Ezra lay there alone for a few minutes, trying to make sense of everything. He shut his eyes, and racked his brains for the answer, but all that came back was how sick he had felt that night Inez yelled at him. A weight on his chest brought him back.
Chris stood over him, resplendent in black as always. He had hand on Ezra's chest, and looked straight into the gambler's eyes. They stayed that way for a couple of minutes, neither man breaking the contact. Chris opened his mouth to speak, then shut it, looking as if he had changed his mind about what he was going to say. Ezra's leader averted his eyes.
"Good job," the man said. Then he too was gone.
Ezra stayed awake a little longer, staring at the wood paneled ceiling. He had no idea what the others were talking about, but, (and here a small smile crossed his face) he wasn't above milking it for all it was worth. He started mentally ticking off the things he could get out of the others.
He could probably have some of them take his patrols for the next few weeks, if he could play sick long enough. Then he would see if he couldn't get some free meals from the hotel. As for the meals from the supposedly grateful "families," he was sure he could get more than one from each one. And possibly some monetary recompense? Oh yes, Ezra thought, as he drifted back to sleep, some good might come out of this…whatever it was…after all.
Vin peeked in, then wandered over to sit next to the now sleeping Ezra. He saw the slightly crooked grin that played across the gambler's features as the man dreamed his obviously wicked thoughts, and shook his head. He patted Ezra's hand in his own and leant back in the chair.
"Not so angelic anymore, are we?" he asked the sleeping form.