By Jordan McKenzie
Disclaimer: This story was created for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended.
Timeline: Near the end of VENDETTA. Yes, yes, I basically rewrote another episode, sorry. I should be ashamed of myself, shouldn't I?
Hank Connelly had finally made peace with the son-in-law he vowed never to forgive for the death of his daughter and grandson. Shaking hands and speaking words of seeing each other again some day, they parted a couple miles outside of town. Hank, after killing the man he found responsible for the heinous Larabee murders, mounted up and headed for the safety of Mexico. Chris, still feeling little satisfaction after the slaying of his family's killer, rode back to Four Corners with Vin and Buck.
"You reckon he'll be alright?" Buck asked as he glanced back one last time at the lone figure heading south.
"Don't know," Chris answered, "but he needs to put some distance between him and the Nichols Family."
"Yeah, and we need to get back to town and make sure the Nichols head on back to Kansas City," Vin added. "When they find out Hank's gone they ain't gonna take it none too kindly that we helped him."
"There's nothing they can do about it now."
"They may not catch Hank, but there's plenty they can do. Ezra sent them on a wild goose chase."
Chris raised an eyebrow.
"To Juarez," Vin explained. "They warned him about helping Hank and promised him, uh…"
"Excruciating pain," finished Buck. "Damn, I forgot all about that. We best be headin' back fast before those boys decide to make good on their threat."
Understanding the danger, the three men spurred their mounts and headed home.
Ezra decided to make another pass down the hotel boardwalk to make sure the Nichols boys had indeed ridden out of town. He and the remaining peacekeepers had plans to meet up at some point to discuss how to best handle the group when they returned, but there was such uneasiness in the air he decided to take a look around on his own. He leaned forward and peered through the lace-covered window of the hotel. Satisfied none of the men sporting weepers were present he straightened, stretched his back and turned to check the alley just twenty feet away. The movement caused the whiskey bottle left behind by the Nichols to tilt in his coat pocket and bump his chest. He'd pocketed the fine liquor after Nathan warned him to "go easy", but the dust of the day made that advice seem unreasonable. He strode around the wooden building and began to reach for the glass container. Before he could raise it to remove its cork, two hands grabbed him by the shoulders and shoved him into the side of the building. His face met the rough wood of the wall as a body pressed heavily against his back and then the hands moved from his shoulders to the back of his neck. One snaked alongside his arm and took the whiskey bottle from his grasp.
"Now I wondered where we left that," a husky voice said against his right ear. "Figures you'd be helping yourself."
Ezra recognized the voice of the largest of the Nichols clan and coughed. "I assure you I was simply holding it for you until you returned."
The man behind him shifted his arms and punched him in the side. "I'm sure you were."
Another blow to the ribs, harder this time, caused the air in Ezra's lungs to catch in his throat. Damn, but he should have seen this coming. Why hadn't he been more careful?
The hold that had forced him to the wall changed and before he could suck in a good breath, he was spun around and pushed further into the alley.
"Gentlemen," Ezra croaked when he realized there were three of the Nichols boys cornering him, "there is no need for violence."
Peter Nichols gave a nasty snarl as he stepped in front of his larger brother. "I disagree. You see we followed your directions to Chris Larabee's place."
The gambler rubbed the back of his neck with one hand and felt for the wall at the end of the alley with the other. "Ah, then I take it you found his cabin with no trouble."
Peter shook his head, not believing the audacity of the man. "What do you think?"
"Well now, the most inept gathering of men with a brain between them could have figured out my instructions without my having to draw a map," Ezra said, plastering a toothy grin on his face.
The Nichols looked at each other in wonder, but as Peter took a menacing step forward Ezra raised his right arm and released the derringer from up his sleeve. The sudden arrival of the small gun in his hand stepped them back and allowed him to retrieve his sidearm from his holster. "I do believe this conversation is over, gentlemen."
Peter shook his head again and clasped his hands behind his back. "Now you see, I have to disagree with you again," he answered and raised a hand to motion to the two men behind him. In the next instant, a fourth brother rounded the corner of the alley prodding Nathan ahead of him with a gun. Jackson, who had obviously taken a few punches to the face, appeared bewildered.
Ezra looked between Peter and Nathan once or twice before he realized he had little choice but to surrender. Two of the black clad men in the alley relieved him of his weapons and he recalled the threat they'd made just the day before. A shudder ran through him when he realized he was about to be in a world of hurt.
Nathan stumbled through the back door of the hotel when he was roughly shoved through by one of the more obscure members of the Nichols clan. It dawned on him then he didn't know most of the names of the men who now threatened him and Ezra. He righted himself and followed the two men holding the gambler by both his arms. Their journey ended in the hotel kitchen, a rather small area made smaller by the presence of nine new occupants. Nathan noted none of the hotel staff was anywhere to be seen, either by good fortune or by preconceived planning. He favored the latter since good fortune seemed to have ridden out of town with Hank Connelly.
Peter Nichols quietly gave orders to three of his family members and pointed them out of the room in the direction of the lobby. He then turned and motioned for the men holding Ezra to bring him over as Nathan was unceremoniously forced into a chair near the stove.
"Now then Mister… Standish, was it? I believe you and I have some business to take care of."
Ezra smiled unflinchingly despite his arms being twisted in an awkward position. "Perhaps we should discuss it over a bit of libation," he said, eyeing the whiskey bottle Peter held in his hand.
"Oh this you mean, you'd like to share it with me as we discuss Chris Larabee and that murderer Connelly. No no, you see I have other plans. I want you to enjoy this bottle all on your own."
Ezra raised an eyebrow then jerked back when Peter Nichols raised the bottle over his head and suddenly brought it down to crash on the floor. The glass container shattered and lay in small pieces as amber colored whiskey puddled around its remains. Peter eyed the ruins somewhat disappointed. "Well now, I would hate to have it said I slighted you in any way, Mr. Standish. Boys," he called to his brothers as he motioned to a shelf behind the counter. He waited patiently until a stack of beautifully glazed floral print plates was set within his reach. With a cold nonchalance, he raised the stack with both hands and dropped them atop the broken bottle. The plates broke into large shards that spilled haphazardly across the floor.
Wondering what on earth Nichols had in mind, Ezra glanced at Nathan then looked around at the faces of the other men in the room. The others appeared to know exactly what was going on since they all shared the same dangerous smile of amusement. The men grasping his arms manhandled him up onto a counter and began yanking up his pant legs. Seconds later, his boots were removed and he was lowered to the floor on bare feet. He wrinkled his brow as he once again looked at Nathan. What the hell were they planning?
Peter moved to stand beside the broken glass on the floor, his hands once again clasped behind his back. "Now then, let me tell you how this is going to work. You, Mr. Standish, are going to tell me how I can find Chris Larabee and Hank Connelly. Connelly is going to die for the murder of my brother David, you and Larabee are going to be punished for your part in helping him. You have allowed the men we're after to run, you will not be so lucky. I can assure you running will be the last thing you do for a very long time. In fact, I intend to see you don't do much walking either."
Nathan realized a split second before Ezra what Nichols had in mind. He quickly raised himself off his chair but was knocked back into it by the largest of the brothers.
"Mr. Jackson, you will remain seated. Your punishment has not yet been decided," Peter said casually before he returned his attention to the gambler. "Mr. Standish, I will ask this question only once. Where are Larabee and Connelly?"
Ezra raised his chin and tried to straighten under the weight of the two men holding him, but he didn't say a word.
"Your actions don't surprise me, so you shouldn't be surprised by mine." He looked down at the shards of glass on the floor. "Join me over here, why don't you."
Ezra was stunned by the request even if he had figured out in advance why his boots had been taken.
Peter motioned to the man beside Nathan who in turn jerked the healer from his chair and hit him hard across the side of his head. Nathan fell to the floor. When he didn't get up as the man who'd hit him ordered, he received a brutal kick to the ribs.
"Leave him alone," Ezra shouted when Nathan was struck again.
"We will leave him when you've done as you've been told. Now join me."
Nathan looked up from where he lay on the floor. "Ezra, no."
"The path to righteousness is never easy, Mr. Standish," Peter taunted, pointing to the glass covered floor between him and the gambler.
One of the men gripping Ezra's arms smiled wickedly when he felt a shudder go through him. Slowly but surely, Ezra began moving towards the shards that would soon lay waste to his bare feet.