Own nothing but my original characters and a love for Mag7.
A/N: Much thanks to Jordan. Again! You've been a wonderful mentor in this fandom. And to LaraMee. Does finishing this one mean I'm no longer a M7 virgin? ;-)
Wiping his hands on the bloody rag, Nathan shook his head. Never had he seen a man lose so much blood, yet keep fighting. But then, Chris Larabee wasn't a normal man. He was stubborn as hell and it was all Buck and Vin could do to hold him still while Jackson stitched the gash on his forehead.
"Damn." Vin grunted as he held the blond gunfighter's shoulders down. "You musta pissed off the wrong crowd this time." Larabee ignored the comment, and kept trying to come up off the table.
Buck leaned close to Chris' face. "Listen, Stud." Wilmington said in a steady voice. "You need to ease up and let Nathan do his job, okay?"
A growl of frustration was Buck's answer, but the black-clad gunfighter ceased his efforts to get away from the healer. "Just get it over with--shit! Nathan!" Larabee hissed. "A little consideration for the rest of my head would be appreciated."
Jackson grinned. "How did you come about this hole in yore head, Chris?" Nathan asked as he pulled the needle through the skin once more.
Chris closed his eyes, and thought about the events of the past few days. It had been a day like any other. That is, until he saw a rider leaving town in an awful big hurry. He mounted Pony and took off in the same direction. A couple of miles later, he caught up to the fleeing figure. They had made camp and had a small fire going.
Looping the horse's reins around a low-hanging branch, he drew the Peacemaker and made his way silently to the stand of trees to the left of the makeshift camp. Leveling the gun in the direction of the fire, he opened his mouth to call out to the occupant, when a sturdy limb caught him above his right eye. Staggered by the impact, he fought to stay upright and hold onto his weapon.
Another blow to his ribs knocked the wind out of him. Gasping for air, he looked for the unknown assailant, but had no luck finding him. Darkness claimed him as a boot connected with the side of his head, and he crumpled to the ground.
Opening one green eye, Chris quickly shut it against the bright noon sun. Taking a deep breath, he regretted it immediately. Pain sliced through his midsection and he clinched his teeth. Taking a more shallow one, he stood. Running a hand through his blond hair, he cursed when his fingers moved across the gash. The sound of voices startled Larabee into action. Ducking behind a stand of trees, he felt for his gun, and uttered a vicious oath at finding it gone.
"JD, are you sure we're headed in the right direction?" Chris riding out of town for a couple of days was no cause for alarm. But on the fourth day with no word from him, and Vin and Ezra having made a ride by his place with no luck, worry started to tug at the back of Buck's mind. When Mrs. Potter told JD that she saw Chris ride out of town a few days earlier like something was chasing him, Wilmington knew that something was amiss.
"Yeah, Buck." Dunne replied in an irritated tone. "This is the way Mrs. Potter said she saw him ride." They rode on in silence, each searching the sparse landscape for any sign of Larabee.
Buck pulled up on the reins, frustration beginning to set in. They'd covered at least five miles already with no luck. Then he saw a sight that made his heart sing and hurt simultaneously.
Buck was off his horse and at Chris' side just as the blond gunfighter slid to the ground. "Easy there, Stud." Lowering his friend to the grass, Buck hollered at JD to bring a canteen. Raising Chris' head, he let a few drops fall onto his parched lips. The tepid liquid was like ambrosia to Larabee, and he reached for more.
Buck pulled the canteen away and handed it back to JD. Pulling the scarf from around his neck, he carefully wrapped it around Chris' head. Wishing like hell he'd kept Ezra's flask this morning, Buck grimaced as Chris moaned at the movement of his head. After securing the rag, Buck stood and walked over to the horses, out of earshot of the blond lawman.
"JD, I need you to ride back to town and get the others." He looked over at the prone man. "Nathan for sure, the others if you can get them. And get back here as fast as you can."
The young man looked over at his leader, and back to the mustached man beside him. "Is he going to be alright, Buck?"
Grinning at Dunne, Buck slapped him on the back and answered, "Well, son, he'd be a hell of a lot better if you'd quit yapping at me and go get Nathan. Now git up on that horse and ride, boy!"
Buck watched JD until he was out of sight, then went back over to where Chris lay, now unconscious. Dropping to the ground beside Larabee, Buck watched as his friend fought some unknown demon in his sleep. When the blond regulator began to tear at the cloth wrapped around his head, Buck took hold of his hands, pulling them back down to Chris' side.
"Easy now," The ladies man said gently. "Nathan's gonna be here soon and he'll put a decent bandage on your wound, Stud." Where was JD with Nathan? There was only so much he could do to help the man, and he'd pretty much exhausted his knowledge.
"Reckon what's got into the kid?" Vin was leaned back in a chair in front of the Standish Tavern. Dropping the front legs of the chair to the wooden porch, he stood and joined Ezra as they waited for JD.
Dunne's face was flushed from the ride back into town. He pulled up on his reins and called to the two men in front of the drinkery.
"Where's Nathan?" JD shouted.
"Calm down, Mister Dunne." Ezra placated the younger man. "What has you all worked up this afternoon?"
Taking a gulp of air, he looked around for the healer. "It's Chris. He's bad off." Spotting Nathan and Josiah coming out of the general store, he dug his heels into the horse's flanks and took off to meet them.
"C'mon, Nathan!" He hollered. "Chris' hurt real bad and Buck's with him but I don't think-" Josiah took hold of JD's reins and held tight.
"Now, John Dunne," The ex-preacher said in a soothing tone. "Tell us what happened." JD gave an exasperated sigh and repeated what Buck had told him. Nathan and Josiah ran for their horses, joining Ezra and Vin who were already mounted, and the five men headed out of town.
Buck watched helplessly as Chris relived some nightmare known only to the blond lawman. The sun would be going down in a couple of hours, and he wondered where in the hell JD was with some help. Shifting his weight to his right hip, he pulled his jacket off and laid it over Chris. The wounded gunfighter had begun to shiver and Buck tucked the garment tightly around Chris' shoulders.
The thunder of hooves and jangling harness brought Buck's attention to the arrival of the rest of the group. Standing, he walked over to the men, shaking his head.
"How's he doin'?" Nathan pulled his satchel from his saddle.
Buck looked back at the form lying on the ground. "He's been awake, but what he's sayin' ain't makin' much sense."
Nathan hurried over to Chris, dropping to the ground beside him. A glimpse of green showed through slitted eyes, but when they finally opened, they were bright with fever. Jackson turned Larabee's head to the right to better assess the wound, but the gunfighter fought against the movement and attempted to push Nathan away.
"No more." Larabee rasped. "Please."
The quiet words were barely audible, but Nathan heard them clearly enough. Sitting back on his heels, he was trying to figure out the best way to get some herbs into the disoriented man, when Ezra quietly made his way over to the healer, and offered his flask.
At the look of confusion on Jackson's face, Standish reached for the small brown bottle in Nathan's hand, and poured the contents into the silver container. Shaking it gently, he placed held it out to Nathan. Jackson took the flask, and waited for Ezra to help him raise the blond man's head.
Standish positioned himself at Larabee's head, lifting his shoulders gently into his lap. Nathan tipped the flask to Chris' lips, only to have the gunfighter knock it away. "Don't want that poison." Chris slurred. Nervously licking his lips, Ezra leaned down and spoke in soothing tones to the man.
"Now, now, Mister Larabee." Ezra began. "The libation that Mister Jackson is offering you is far from poison. Why, that just happens to be the finest whiskey this side of the Mississippi. My beloved mother saw fit to send it to me so I would not be subjected to that atrocious rotgut that the saloons in this area are so fond of foisting upon unsuspecting citizens." The gambler took a breath, then added, "So take a draw of this nectar and Mister Jackson's ministrations will be much more bearable."
To the surprise of the men gathered around, Larabee opened his mouth and took a couple of swallows. Ezra eased him back to the ground, an odd expression on his face. Standing, he began to walk away when a hand on his arm stopped him. Looking down, he saw Nathan nod and smile at him, mouthing a silent 'thank you' to the Southerner.
Buck nudged Vin, motioning toward the retreating confidence man. "He can be the devil in fancy britches, but that man yonder could sweet-talk a working girl into paying him for her favors." The tracker smiled in agreement, before walking over to join Nathan at Chris' side.
"We need to get him back to my clinic, Vin." Nathan stood and wiped his hands on his pants.
"Can he ride?" Tanner asked the healer.
Buck joined the two lawmen. "I can handle him, just take it nice and easy-like."
Nathan shook his head. A ride back to town on a horse could do more harm to the already wounded man. But the sooner they got him back to the clinic, the more he could do for Larabee.
Shrugging his shoulders, Jackson spoke. "Guess we can try it that way."
To Chris, the darkness was serene. In it, there was no pain, no loud noise and the bright light didn't burn his eyes. But something was disturbing his peacefulness. A voice, no, several voices. Why didn't they go away and let him be? Troubled green eyes fluttered open, then slid closed once more. He was moving and the motion threatened to bring up the whiskey that Ezra had cajoled him into drinking.
Vin and Ezra gently handed the semi-conscious lawman up to Buck, then helped him situate Chris as comfortably as possible in the saddle. Wrapping one arm around his friend, Wilmington nudged his horse forward. Despite his best efforts to make the ride back to town as smooth as he could, the dirt road was unforgiving, jolting Larabee with each step the animal made.
With the last jolt, Chris started to come around. Unaware of his surroundings, only feeling something restraining him, he began to pull at Buck's arm. "Easy now, Stud." Buck said quietly. "If you're not careful we're both gonna end up on our asses."
Larabee stilled and his head dropped to his chest. "Chris? Hey buddy, you alright?" Buck pulled back the reins and waited for Nathan to ride up. Jumping off his horse, the healer came over to check on the gunfighter.
"Help me get him down, boys."
Vin reached up to get hold of Chris, but his hand was knocked away. "Wha-?"
Looking up, Tanner saw green eyes looking at him with blatant curiosity. "Chris, pard, it's me, Vin."
Larabee raised his head, unseeing eyes staring through the tracker. "I don't know you."
Moving faster than the rest thought him able, Chris grabbed Buck's gun and slid from the horse. "Get away from me." He ground out. "I'll shoot the next son of a bitch that touches me."
Focusing all his energy on controlling his trembling hand and staying upright, Chris was unaware of Josiah moving up behind him. The preacher wrapped his arms around the blond lawman, knocking the gun away. Buck approached the pair slowly, noticing the look in Chris' eyes; the look of a wounded, trapped animal trying to figure an escape from its captor.
"Sorry, Stud." Buck said in a low voice. "This is for your own good." Enraged green eyes bored into miserable blue ones, and then Buck swung. Larabee sagged in Josiah's arms, all the fight gone from his limp body.
Ezra dismounted and joined the others. Vin noticed the sly grin on his face, and nudged the gambler. "What the hell is so funny, Ez?"
"Hmm? Oh, I was just imagining how incensed Mister Larabee is going to be when he regains consciousness." Ezra chuckled. "I certainly would not want to be in Mister Wilmington's boots after his pugilistic turn with our illustrious leader."
JD tapped Vin on the shoulder. "What'd he just say?"
Tanner smiled at the young lawman. "Said Chris' gonna be madder'n hell, kid."
Sanchez hefted the unconscious gunfighter up on his shoulder. "Are we going to stand around jawing all day? Or are we going to get Brother Chris back to town so Brother Nathan can attend to his wounds properly?"
Buck mounted his horse, then waited as Chris was handed up to him once more. The ride back to Four Corners was without incident, and when they arrived at Nathan's clinic, Vin and Josiah carried the blond up the stairs and put him on the bed.
Nathan gathered clean bandages and a basin of water and carbolic. He knew he had to work quickly, because when Chris came to, he was gonna be madder than a grizzly bear. He gently pulled the tattered black shirt off of the pale skin, then set about washing the blood and dirt off of the man. When he reached Larabee's wrists, he took a deep, bracing breath and cleansed the dried blood from his wounds. There was dirt embedded in the lacerations, and he knew that if he didn't get all of it infection would set up in the gashes.
Buck sat in a chair in the corner of the room. The others had left after seeing that Chris was in good hands and Nathan didn't need them, but the ladies man had refused to go with them.
"How is he?" The soft question brought Nathan's attention away from the blond in front of him. Buck's blue eyes were filled with concern, and Nathan carefully considered his words before answering.
"He's gonna be fine, Buck. I just need to get these wounds bandaged and wait for him to regain consciousness."
Wilmington got up and joined Jackson at Chris' bedside. "Anything I can do to help?"
The healer shook his head. "Get me some clean water, if you don't care."
Buck emptied the blood-tinged basin and filled it with clean water, adding the carbolic like Nathan said. Carrying it back to Jackson, he knelt beside Chris, smoothing the blond hair back from his forehead. "You behave yourself, pard. And do as Nathan says." Blinking back tears, the mustached lawman whispered, "You're needed here. It ain't your time yet."
Standing, he left the clinic and joined Josiah and Vin at the bottom of the stairs.
"Any change?" The Texan asked.
Buck shook his head. "Nathan says he won't know much til Chris wakes up." Wilmington looked around. "Where'd Ezra get to?"
"Said he had something to take care of." Josiah said. "Then he lit off out of town."
The hot sun beat down on the crown of the gambler's black hat. He squinted his green eyes as he scanned the land in front of him. Granted, he didn't possess Mister Tanner's gift for tracking, but he'd had moderate success in finding things, people that didn't want to be found in the past. And his intuition was telling him he was on the right path now.
Lost in his thoughts, he didn't notice the figure leaning against an outcropping of rocks to his right. The buckskin covering the barrel of the rifle prevented any kind of glare from the sun, and Standish was only aware of their presence when the bullet tore into his side, knocking him from his horse.
Contact with the hard ground ripped the breath from his lungs, and Ezra was stunned for a few seconds. Survival instinct kicked in, however, and he scurried behind a stand of trees. Drawing his pistol, he looked for the location of the shooter, but the pain of the wound and rapid blood loss blurred his vision.
Wiping his good arm across his face in hopes of clearing his sight, the gambler searched the rocks opposite him. Nothing. The second shot hit the tree near his face, sending a deluge of debris into his face and eyes. Blinded, he fell back, clutching his Remington tightly. Closing his eyes, he panted frantically as he tried to think of his next move. He was wounded, alone, and now he couldn't see a damn thing. Having read in a book that when one of your senses is impaired, the others become sharper, he listened for any sound that might be of use in his escape.
Maybe it would have been wise to allow Mister Dunne to accompany him, but he had refused the young man's offer. Now he was in quite the predicament, and could only hope that whoever had fired on him was long gone. Lady Luck had smiled on him before, but she could be the fickle wench when she so chose.
Pushing himself up off the ground, he leaned against the tree for support. Taking his handkerchief from his pocket, he briefly considered covering his eyes with it. But if the shooter was still out there, why let them know the considerable advantage they held?
Soft footfalls sounded from Ezra's right. Lifting the pistol, he aimed in that direction. "Who's there?" he asked quietly.
"Lord, boy." A soothing voice spoke beside his ear. "You're in quite the mess, aren't you?"
"I do seem to find myself at somewhat of a disadvantage." Standish answered. "But who are you and why are you here?"
The lilting laughter coaxed a smile to the gambler's face. "I don't think you should be questioning my motives when there's someone out there trying to send you to your maker, mister." Gentle hands took the handkerchief from Ezra and covered his eyes. "We need to get out of here, now. Can you walk?"
"I believe I can, but you still haven't answered my question."
The laughter reached his ears once more, and he turned his head in the direction it came from. "From the looks of things, son, I'm your guardian angel." Two hands tugged on his good arm and he slowly rose from the ground. Wrapping her arm around the Southerner's waist, the woman led him away from the tree. A short while later, she spoke once more. "My name is Lillie, and I live a way yonder on the old Miller place."
Ezra stumbled and Lillie wrapped her arm tighter around him, taking care to avoid his injured side.
"You still haven't told me your name." Lillie smiled.
Standish grinned, his gold tooth glinting in the bright sun. "Pardon my lack of manners, ma'am. Ezra. Ezra Standish."
Lillie took the hand that the gambler offered, then started walking once more. "It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mister Standish. I just wish it were under more pleasant circumstances. Right now we need to get you to my place and take care of your wounds."
A few more minutes of walking and they arrived at the woman's house. Lillie helped the Southerner inside and eased him down on the couch in the front room. "You stay put, Mr. Standish." She admonished the man. "I'll go get my things and we'll have ye right as rain in no time."
The exhausted gambler laid his head back, feeling his strength waning. His thoughts were interrupted when Lillie came back into the room. Sitting down beside Ezra, she sat her pan on the floor and soaked a cloth in the cool water. Gently, she patted the soft material over his injured eyes, taking care not to do any further damage.
"I think your eyes will be just fine, son." She rinsed the cloth in the pan once more, then set about removing Ezra's jacket. He tensed as she pulled the linen shirt free of his pants, the blood from the bullet wound having dried and plastered the garment to his skin.
A strange expression crept into Lillie's eyes as she saw the hole left by the bullet. Her hands balled into fists, and she blinked back tears. Tenderly, she sponged the wound, speaking to Ezra in a soothing voice as she did.
"Now you just be still, dear." She cooed. "Mother will take care of you."
Standish blinked, and drew away from her ministrations. "I'm sorry, ma'am." He said slowly. "But did you just refer to yourself as my mother?"
Lillie gave a sheepish grin as she continued cleaning the wound in Ezra's side. "Please forgive my mistake." She said softly. "I have a son about your age, and I miss him dearly."
The sadness in her voice kept Ezra from inquiring as to the whereabouts of her son. But something in her tone gave him pause; just that little quirk of doubt that put all his senses on alert.
The temporary blindness was beginning to abate, and Ezra could see shapes and patches of light. However, he didn't let Lillie know this. He had a bad feeling that he was going to have to draw upon his past experience as a con man to get out of the situation in which he currently found himself.
The loud crash from inside Nathan's clinic was punctuated by a vehement 'son-of-a-bitch!'
Buck spit out the mouthful of coffee he'd just sipped and dropped the front legs of the chair back to the floor.
"I do believe Brother Chris has come back to us, boys." Josiah stood and waited for Nathan to open the door, just as the metal basin sailed past. The well-aimed projectile narrowly missed the healer's head, crashing against the wall. This brought a smile to Buck's lips. Chris would be fine. He wasn't sure about Jackson.
Nathan cautiously approached the irate gunfighter, holding out a hand in supplication. "Chris, you keep this up and I'm gonna have to stitch you up again." Larabee glared at the men entering the room.
"Which one of you was it?" Chris growled, rubbing the bruise on his chin.
Buck mumbled something that the blond lawman couldn't hear, but he knew from the look on Wilmington's face who the culprit was. "You damn near broke my jaw, Buck!"
"And you damn near shot me, Chris!" Buck hollered in return. "So why don't you just lay back down before you undo all Nathan's hard work, Stud?"
Green eyes shot daggers at his friend as Larabee eased back down on the bed, turning his head toward the opposite wall. Bits and pieces of his memory were coming back, but he didn't let the other know that he couldn't remember what had happened to him or who was responsible.
Buck, Josiah and Nathan exchanged silent glances, unaware that Chris was watching. Something was wrong here. He remembered JD coming in earlier; kid never knew when to stop with the lame jokes. But he knew they covered up the young man's nervousness. Vin had stopped in as well. Ezra, however, was conspicuously absent.
Turning back to face the three men gathered in Nathan's clinic, he asked if the gambler was on patrol. Three guilty faces avoided looking directly at him. Looking from one man to the other, he knew they were keeping something from him.
Closing his eyes, he laid his arm across them and asked wearily, "What's he got himself into this time?"
Buck was the first to speak. "Now, pard," he began. "It ain't nothing like that. At least we don't think it is." He looked to Josiah for help. The ex-preacher offered a helpless shrug.
Chris' eyes flew open and he pinned the mustached man with a glower. "What do you mean you don't think?"
Nathan took over. "What he means, Chris, is that Ezra rode out of town and we ain't heard from him since."
The wounded lawman's eyes slid shut once more, but the tension still held his body rigid.
"So who's he running from this time?"
The defeat in Larabee's voice echoed loudly in the small room. Josiah sat down in the chair beside the bed.
"Brother Chris, I don't think he's running this time." Sanchez' voice was calm.
"What makes you say that, Josiah?"
Leaning back in the straight back chair, he answered, "Because he didn't seem too eager to get out of town. Just told me he had something to take care of, took a long, hard look toward this place, the mounted up and rode on out."
No one noticed the tracker had entered the room and stood quietly, listening to the conversation. "He ain't runnin', Chris." Vin said calmly. "I followed his trail this morning. He was looking for whoever did this to you, and he musta found them." Pushing himself off the frame of the clinic door, he walked over to where Chris lay.
"I found his horse grazing a few miles out of town." Looking around at the others, he spoke the words they all dreaded to hear. 'There was dried blood on the saddle, but Ezra wasn't nowhere to be found."
Lillie bustled back into the room, a glass of amber liquid in her hand. "Please forgive my lack of hospitality, Mr. Standish." She offered the drink to the gambler. "I'm sure you must be terribly thirsty after your ordeal."
Ezra took the glass, but didn't drink of it right away. Lillie noticed his hesitancy, and smiled. "I assure you that I'm not trying to poison you, dear. But you must be parched after lying in that hot sun this afternoon."
Taking a seat in the chair opposite him, she leaned forward and placed her hand over his, raising the glass to his lips. "Now drink up. Mother wants her best boy to feel all better soon." Sitting back in the chair, she smiled at him once more, a gleam in her eye. "We have big plans, once you're feeling well again."
I truly am caught between the Scylla and charybidis, Ezra thought to himself. Damned if I do, dead if I don't.
Placing the glass to his lips, he took a small swallow. Swishing the liquid around in his mouth, he tried to detect the presence of anything foreign. Tasting only what might possibly be the best brandy he'd come across since he arrival in this backwater, he tipped the glass up and downed the remains.
Rising from her chair, Lillie took the glass and returned to the kitchen, coming back with a refill for the Southerner. Only this time she had a glass for herself.
"To good health, my precious." She raised her glass in salute, before turning it up and draining it. Ezra followed in kind. The liquid was smooth going down. It reminded him of a bottle of single malt scotch that Maude had sent him a while back. Granted, that bottle had not lasted long. He made the mistake of opening it in the saloon, and Buck guzzled the majority of the liquor like a dying man would water. He was still sore at the rogue for that little incident.
Ezra blinked and was pleased to find that his sight was coming back to him. He could see Lillie as she sat beside him, a faraway look on her face. She was much younger than he'd imagined from the sound of her voice. Her porcelain skin was unblemished and silky blond hair framed her face. He guessed she was close to his own mother's age, maybe a bit younger. Limpid brown eyes sat atop a patrician nose, and below that a full mouth with a cupid-bow upper lip. She was a lovely woman, but there was something about her that wasn't quite right.
Her features began to blur, and he felt the room start to spin. Closing his eyes, he shook his head slightly. When he opened his eyes once more, she was leaning over him, staring at him as if he were something new and wondrous she's only just seen for the first time.
"Madam," he said, but his words were slurred. Placing a hand to his head, he attempted to stand, but found he was unable to move his legs. It was as if they were made of stone. "What have you done?"
Lillie eased him down, then lifted his legs off the floor and placed them on the pillows at the other end of the couch.
"Now, lie still." She whispered to the distressed man. She pulled an afghan from the back of the chair beside her and covered him with it. "You must rest now so you can regain your strength."
Ezra didn't want to rest. In fact, what he wanted more than anything was to make a hasty retreat. Lillie had helped him, at a time when he most desperately needed it, but he had a strange feeling her kindness was going to cost him -- perhaps more than he was willing to pay. He cracked an eyelid when she began 'tucking' him in. On it's own such an act would have been delightful, considering he had no memory of ever having been tucked in before, not even by his own mother. But her attention was unnerving and for the first time in his life he found himself wishing his mother were here to teach Lillie a thing or two about the dangers of caring for strangers.
A new day dawned, and Chris was still not in the most amiable of moods. He'd lain awake last night, thinking of the announcement that the soft-spoken tracker had made. Where in the hell was Ezra?
Deciding that he was the one who should go find the Southern scoundrel, he threw back the covers and was intent on getting dressed and going to look for Ezra himself. The door to the clinic opened, and Nathan backed in, arms loaded with a tray of food that Inez had prepared for the healer and his patient. Turning around and sliding the door closed with his foot, Jackson shook his head at the sight that greeted him.
"Now just where do you think you're goin', Chris?" He asked quietly. "You ain't go no business bein' outta bed this soon."
Larabee ignored the pointed look that the healer shot him and pushed his tired body up off the mattress. "I'm going to find Ezra and bring him back."
"Uh huh." Nathan sat the tray down on the table beside the bed. "How do you figure on doin' that, exactly?"
The blond lawman expelled an exasperated breath. "Damn, Nathan. You're worse than a mother hen. I need my clothes."
The dark-skinned healer crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. "If you don't get back in that bed, I'll put you back."
A small grin tugged at the corner's of Chris' mouth. "And how do you figure to do that, exactly?"
"Buck?" Larabee questioned, his smile fading. "What do you mean, 'Buck'?"
"I mean if you don't get back in that bed and take it easy until you heal, I'm gonna have Buck come up and see that you do."
Green eyes narrowed at the meaning behind Nathan's words. He knew that Nathan meant what he said, and that he would have Buck come slug him again, so with a resigned sigh, he lay back down and pulled the covers over him. But he made sure that Jackson knew his opinion of bossy friends and friends who would resort to physical violence to get their point across.
A satisfied smirk on his face, Nathan uncovered the plates of food he'd brought in earlier. "Now that we understand each other, you hungry?"
The pungently nauseating odor of ammonia filled Ezra's nostrils and he jerked awake. Lillie was there, holding a small brown bottle in her hand, her lips pursed and brows drawn together.
"I was beginning to worry about you, my dear." She placed the bottle in the pocket of her dress. "You've been sleeping for some time now. It's almost morning."
When she reached to touch his face, Ezra rolled toward the edge of the couch, unseating her. He placed a hand to his mouth, trying desperately to hold back the bile that threatened to escape. A cloth appeared beside his face, and he gratefully accepted it. Holding the cloth over his mouth, he attempted to sit up, only to find that the room was spinning and there were little vapor trails following Lillie as she moved away.
"What have you done to me?" He asked in a shaky voice.
"Darling boy, I only gave you a little something to help you rest."
Standish tried to clear his vision so he could see her, but the drug still had a hold on him and he could only close his eyes and lie back down on the couch. Lillie sat down in the chair once more.
"You were exhausted, and you need to regain your strength so we can begin our travels." She placed a hand on his knee. "Mother only looking out for you."
The Southerner pushed her hand from his leg, and again tried to rise from the couch. Summoning all of his strength, he made it to an upright position. "Madam, I can assure you that you are not my mother." A rueful grin appeared on the gambler's face, and he continued. "And if you had ever had the disputable pleasure of meeting my mother, you would rethink that claim."
Standing, Lillie clinched her teeth before grinding out. "I don't care to ever hear you make such an absurd statement again." She strode over to the fireplace, before turning, eyes blazing with anger. "I am the woman who cared for you when you were sick. I tended your scraped knees and bloody noses. I tucked you in at night and scared the monsters from under your bed!" Drawing in a shuddering breath, she went on. "And now you have the audacity to say I'm not your mother? You ungrateful child!"
The gun appeared in her hand so quickly that Ezra had no idea where it came from. Lillie noticed Standish draw back at the sight of the pistol, and a bitter laugh escaped her lips. "I see you have your sight back, son. Weren't you going to tell Mother that you were able to see again?"
Holding the pistol in front of her face, she lovingly caressed the barrel as she spoke. "You know what happens to bad little boys who lie to their mothers, don't you?"
Ezra had been in some pretty tenuous situations in his life, but he couldn't remember one as grim as this one. He wondered briefly if the others had noticed him missing. He also wondered if Chris had made it. Larabee was in Nathan's care, but the blond gunfighter was in a pretty bad way when Ezra had left.
The sound of Lillie pulling the hammer back on the pistol brought Ezra back to the situation at hand. He couldn't move fast due to the danger of re-opening the wound in his side, but he was ready to try if she pulled the trigger. Putting on his most congenial smile, Ezra spoke to the woman. The thought of playing her game was repulsive, but his strong sense of self-preservation won in the end.
"Mother," he said softly, "I am genuinely sorry that I seem to have upset you. Truly, that was not my intention." He ran his tongue along his lower lip then continued. "It would seem that I hit my head when I was knocked from my horse earlier, and it has affected my fond memories of you, dear lady."
Lillie eyed Standish warily, but kept the gun trained on him. "Why should I believe you, after the way you spoke to me before?"
Searching for the right words, Ezra hesitated before answering. "Would a loving son lie to his mother?" Her posture softened a bit, but she still didn't lower the pistol.
Moving to the hearth, she looked at the photographs lining it. Standish watched as her face paled. Turning to the wounded man behind her, she pointed the pistol at his heart. "I know what you're trying to pull here, but you aren't my son." Picking up the silver frame, she thrust it at Ezra, her hand trembling with rage. "Look. You can't fool me. This is my son. He was a good boy." Tossing the frame into Ezra's lap, she placed both hands on the pistol's grip. "You're one of those horrible men who murdered my son."
"Get up." She said, waving the gun at the gambler. "Take off your jacket and shirt."
At Ezra's look of confusion, she explained. "Should anyone pass us in the carriage, they might remember your fine garments. However, if you're dressed like an average man, you won't stand out so and will be a bit more forgettable."
Standish stood, his gaze never straying from the gun in Lillie's hand. Slowly, he began to remove his jacket, then stopped. If she should discover the rig on his right arm, he would lose any chance he had to defend his person, should she decide to fire on him. Wishing for a brief moment that Maude were here to witness what was about to transpire, he readied himself for the performance of a lifetime.
"Mother." The single, soft-spoken word drew her eyes back to him. "How can you say I am not your child? After everything that you and I have withstood? That wounds me, Mother. Deeply."
Something flickered in her eyes. But whatever emotion it had been was gone so quickly he didn't have time to identify it. Ezra continued, his accent wrapping around each word, seemingly soothing the angry woman.
"Shall we begin our journey now?" He watched as a faraway look entered her gaze. "If we leave right away, we should be able to arrive at a town with decent lodging before nightfall. I know how you detest having to sleep with the unwashed." A knowing smile on his face, he leaned forward a bit. "Remember that time in Atlanta? They actually expected us to share a room with those dirt farmers? I was appalled that they could even suggest such an atrocity."
Running his tongue along his lower lip, he waited for her reaction. The clock chimed in the hall, startling her before his ruse had time to fool her into believing him. Shaking her head, she motioned for him to walk to the front door.
"We're going to begin our journey." Lillie hissed. "But yours will be a short one. My precious son has been taken away from me, and you're going to pay for that. Now move!"
Ezra opened the front door, and stepped out onto the porch. Lillie pressed the barrel of the pistol in the small of his back and they descended the steps together. Deciding he had nothing to lose, he spoke to her once more.
"Madam, I can assure you that I never had the pleasure of knowing your son, and I most certainly did not have any part in any harm that might have befallen the gentleman."
The sound of riders coming over the hill delayed any reply from the woman. Knowing that whoever was coming in would ask far too many questions about the man in front of her, she waited until Standish was near the well, and then slammed the butt of the pistol against the base of his skull. He issued a soft groan as he crumpled to the ground. Placing the gun in the pocket of her dress, she picked up the gambler's feet and began to drag him closer to the well. Dropping his feet, she moved to his shoulders and lifted him up, draping his arms over the side of the rock structure. Giving a mighty heave, she pushed the unconscious man down into the well, tossing his hat in behind him.
Pulling a lace-trimmed handkerchief from the sleeve of her gown, she dabbed the perspiration from her face, then walked back to the front porch of the house. Lowering herself into one of the rocking chairs there, she picked up the sewing she'd left in a basket there earlier, and began to stitch.
"Looks pretty normal to me." Wilmington commented as they rode up to the house.
Tanner looked at the woman sitting quietly in the chair. "That's what bothers me, Buck. It looks too normal."
As the two lawmen rode into the yard of the dwelling, a shot rang out. The bullet ricocheted off the top of the well, and spun Buck's hat off his head.
"What the hell?" The mustached peacekeeper shouted as he dove for cover. Tanner joined him behind the carriage, mare's leg at the ready.
"Get me out of here!"
Buck and Vin looked at each other. That voice coming from the well sounded a lot like Ezra. A movement on the porch caught Buck's eye. The quiet little lady who was previously sewing now had a pistol pointed at the well. She squeezed off a shot, sending splinters flying off the braces on the side of the well. Before she could fire again, Buck fired beside her head, causing her to throw herself behind the chairs.
Another angry cry came from the well. "For the love of God, get me out of this hole."
Vin gripped the mare's leg, and spoke quietly to Buck. "You go take care of that little problem over there. I'll take the well."
Wilmington nodded, then turned to look at the tracker. "Now wait a damn minute." But Vin had already taken off in the direction of the well.
The ladies man approached the house carefully. A hole in his hat was one thing, but a hole in his head was something else. Lillie watched as the mustached lawman made his way toward her. A ruckus ensued when Buck caught her just as she started to pull the trigger. He tried to take the pistol from her, but she fought to keep possession of the weapon. Finally, Buck was able to disarm the woman, and taking her by the arm, he led her over to the well.
"You a'ight down there, Ezra?" Tanner called out.
Vin leaned over the opening of the well, and was greeted by an irate gambler. "Well, Mr. Tanner," Ezra ground out. "How nice of you to grace us with your company." Standish groaned as he moved his legs. "Am I all right, you ask? Since I left the warm comfort of my feather bed this morning, I have been shot, temporarily blinded, drugged, pistol whipped and shoved down a well." Standish paused, then shouted, "I, Sir, am just peachy!" And while this adventure has been just a little slice of heaven, I would be much obliged if you would facilitate my emancipation ."
Tanner grinned, his laughter carrying down to Standish. "Keep yer shirt on, Ez. Buck's takin' care of that woman and I'm gonna get ya outta the mess yer in. But first I gotta find a sturdy rope." The tracker backed away from the top of the well.
Loud epithets, drawn out to multiple syllables in a heavy Southern accent, echoed from the well and across the yard. Vin returned with the rope from his horse, and after tying it tightly around the brace of the well, he wrapped it around his waist for good measure. He dropped the other end down the opening of the well, and waited for Ezra to grab hold. Feeling the tension in the rope as Standish took it, Tanner began to pull the man up to the top of the well.
Throwing one leg over the side of the well, Ezra took the hand Vin offered and climbed the rest of the way out. Tanner coiled the rope up and watched at Buck walked his unwilling prisoner toward them. Ezra held his side, feeling the warm blood seep through his fingers from the wound that had been opened again when he was pushed in the well. Taking his hat from the tracker, he placed it on his head before speaking.
"I trust that you have properly secured the misguided harridan who so thoughtfully assisted me to my previous locality?" Ezra said. Vin nodded toward the house. Standish straightened his clothing, then glared at the woman who was currently trying to escape the mustached man's grip.
Walking over to the pair, he leaned down to the struggling woman. "I should shoot you right now, Mother." Ezra spat. "But I shall leave your punishment to Judge Travis." Turning to the Texan, he offered his hand. "Thank you, Mister Tanner." Taking the offered hand, Vin nodded, then placed the mare's leg back in its holster.
"Reckon we'd better get her back to town so's the judge can see to her." Tanner led his horse over to the group. "Ez, you can ride with me. Buck'll take care of her."
Vin swung up in the saddle, and Ezra mounted behind him. "Oh, Mister Wilmington, if I were you I would make sure that her hands were secured very well. It would be to your advantage."
Buck grinned at the idea of anyone giving him advice on how to handle a woman. But after his encounter with this one earlier, he took Ezra's warning to heart and tied Lillie's hands in front of her. Picking her up, he settled her in the saddle then climbed up on the horse himself.
Tanner led the way back to Four Corners. Even though the tracker tried to take it easy, Ezra still flinched and held his side at the jostling motion of the horse. Standish turned and watched the woman riding with Buck. She held her spine stiff and stared straight ahead. But for all her posturing, he could see her lower lip tremble once in a while. Maybe the threat of going before Judge Travis was getting through to her.
Ezra shook his head slightly, and wished he hadn't. The after effects of the drug, along with the blow to the head Lillie gave him before pushing him down the well made the simple action painful. Pushing all thoughts of Lillie aside, there was one thought that brought a smile to his face. Waiting for him in Four Corners was the most comfortable feather bed and pillow, and he had plans to reunite his weary body with them soon.
Nathan looked up from his book. "Who's Lillie?"
Chris settled back against his pillow. "The one who did this to me."
A look of surprise registered on Jackson's face. "You're telling me that a woman is responsible for messing you up like that?" The healer shook his head. "What, she sic some men on you or something?"
Larabee grinned. "Nope. She did this." Chris grimaced as he sat up. "All by herself."
Jackson's reply was cut short by the arrival of JD rushing into the room to tell them that Buck and Vin were back with Ezra and a woman. Nathan was halfway out the door, when the sound of Chris throwing back his covers stopped him.
"Goin' somewhere, Chris?" Nathan asked, one brow arched.
Chris held his side and stood, holding the sheet around his waist with his other hand. "Damn right I am." He took a couple of steps toward the door. "One way or the other." He looked down at his state of undress.
A war of wills ensued between the healer and the gunfighter, green eyes locking with brown ones, neither looking away from the other.
Knowing there was a good chance that Ezra would need him, and that Chris would make good on his threat of going out clad only in the sheet, Jackson finally broke his stare and went to the closet to get Chris' clothes. Tossing them on the bed, he smiled at the blond. "You'd a done it, too, wouldn't you?"
Chris smiled back at the frustrated man. "I might've." Pulling on his pants, he stuck his feet in his boots and gingerly made his way down the stairs.
Standish waited for Vin to dismount before climbing carefully down off the horse. He clutched his side, blood beginning to seep through his fingers. He staggered a bit, and was thankful that Vin was close enough to keep him from an embarrassing situation. Nathan ran to the pair, pulling Ezra's jacket aside to get a better look at the Southerner's wound.
"We need to get you up to the clinic so I can take care of this." He pulled on Ezra's arm, but the gambler turned the opposite direction.
"First things first, Mr. Jackson." Standish walked over to where JD now had custody of Lillie. "I would watch her if I were you, Mr. Dunne." Ezra drawled. "She's a shrewd one."
Brown eyes snapping with anger turned Ezra's way. "You're the murdering bastard who killed my son." She said in a low voice.
Josiah took hold of her arm and led Lillie the rest of the way inside the jailhouse. "Maybe you'd like to clarify that statement a bit." The ex-preacher walked her back to a cell and closed the door after she passed through. "Ezra murdered your son, you say?"
The woman sat down on the bench inside the cell, lowering her head to her hands. "Please leave me in peace." Josiah nodded and turned to leave, hanging the keys on a nail as he walked away.
"Judge Travis should be here in a few hours. He can straighten this mess out." Sanchez tipped his hat to the woman. "If you feel the need for spiritual guidance, I'd be glad to help you out." And with that, he was gone.
Nathan was finally able to persuade Ezra to come to the clinic and let the healer take a look at his side. Peeling the shirt off the wound, he was surprised to see that it was already bandaged.
"You do this yourself, Ezra?" He asked the confidence man.
Standish shook his head, then lay back on the bed and closed his eyes. "Lillie took care of it." He replied, adding in a sarcastic tone, "Just before she took leave of her senses."
"Noticed you got a few scratches on your face as well. What the hell happened to you?"
Ezra heaved a weary sigh. The last thing he wanted to do was recount his horrific day to Nathan or anyone else. He simply wanted the man to bandage his wound and allow him to retire to the comfort of his own bed. But he knew from the look of determination on Jackson's face that wasn't going to happen any time soon.
"I rode out looking for Mr. Larabee's assailant, and was ambushed myself. The first shot knocked me off my horse, while the second one ricocheted off a nearby tree, the splinters temporarily blinding me." Green eyes opened a fraction as Nathan cleaned the wound in his side, then slid shut. "While I was formulating a means of escaping my would-be assassin, this woman, whom I now know as Lillie, came to my rescue. She seemed at first to be a rather genteel lady, but I became convinced of her rather slim grasp on reality as the day went on."
"How ya mean, Ezra?" Jackson questioned.
"Well, for one thing, she referred to me as her son on a couple of occasions. Then she decided that I was not her son, but instead I was the man who killed him."
Chris entered the room and sat down on a chair across the room. "She accused me of being her son's killer, too." He announced. "Right before she almost took my head off and left me for dead."
"She does have a mother's loving touch." Ezra commented dryly. "Well, along the lines of my mother's loving touch, that is."
Nathan finished bandaging Ezra's side, then began to clean the scratches on his face. Ezra dodged when Jackson started toward his head with the antiseptic once more. "I do believe I shall survive without any more of your tending, Mr. Jackson." Nathan shrugged and stood to go empty the pan of bloody water.
"Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I intend to make use of our little backwater's fine bathing facilities and then retire to my own bed. Good day." With a tip of his hat, he headed for the door, the thought of being forced to use a public bath house leaving a bad taste in his mouth. As he reached for the doorknob, Nathan called out to him.
"Don't go gettin that bandage all wet, now, Ezra." The healer smirked, knowing how it annoyed Ezra to get dirty. "Keep it dry for the next couple of days, at least. Then you can have yore visit to the bath house."
Ezra bit back the sharp retort that was on the tip of his tongue. The grin on Larabee's face added to his irritation. Giving the doorknob a vicious twist, he ground out, "Good day, gentlemen."
Vin carried the tray of food he'd brought over from the hotel for Lillie and unlocked the cell door to hand it to her. She took it without speaking and sat down on the cot.
"That big man who brought me here earlier? Is he a preacher of some sort?" She called out to the tracker as he closed the cell door and turned the key. Walking over to the desk, he sat down and propped his feet up before answering her question.
"Used ta be." Vin replied.
She took a tentative bite of the food, the laid her fork on the plate. "Would it be possible to speak with him this evening?"
Tanner stood and walked over to the cell. "S'pose I could see if'n he's willin' to come back." He watched the woman in front of him. "Got somethin on yer mind?"
Lillie fixed the tracker with a solid gaze. "I wish to speak with the preacher." Picking up her fork, she resumed eating and ignored Vin until he left to go find Josiah.
Vin found Josiah sitting in front of the general store. The ex-preacher was absorbed in his book, but looked up when the tracker approached.
"Evening, Brother Vin." He closed his book and slipped it into the pocket of his jacket. "Something I can do for you?"
Tanner leaned against the post behind him and looked down the street toward the jail. "That woman we brought in a while ago wants to talk to ya." Vin grinned and went on. "Says she won't talk to nobody but the preacher man."
Sanchez stood and stretched, then patted Vin on the back. "Well, then. I expect I'd better go see what's on her mind."
Josiah entered the jail, and stood silent for a moment studying the woman in the cell. From all appearance, she looked like a normal female. If it hadn't been for the look in her eyes, she would be a striking creature. But Josiah had witnessed the exchange between her and Ezra earlier, and knew this was a troubled soul he was dealing with. Just how troubled, he was soon to find out.
Taking the keys from the nail they were hanging on, Josiah walked slowly over to stand in front of Lillie. Finishing the last bite of food on her plate, she laid down her fork and put the plate aside.
"Was there something you wanted to talk about, sister?" Sanchez offered.
Lillie pushed herself up off the cot, straightened her skirts, then moved over to the bars. "My son was murdered. And I want the man responsible for his death to hang."
Josiah was taken aback at the statement. Pulling a chair close to the bars, he sat down, removing his hat. "Maybe you should tell me the whole story, ma'am." The big man leaned forward. "Then I might be able to help you find what you're looking for."
The blonde gave him a wary look, then began to pace back and forth inside her cell. "What I'm looking for? I'm looking for justice, mister! My son was a wonderful boy. He'd never harm another living soul." A bittersweet smile crossed her face. "I remember once, when he was a small boy, he killed a rabbit with his slingshot. It upset the child so that he wouldn't eat for two days." She turned to face Josiah. "Now, how could someone so compassionate do the things he was accused of doing?"
Sanchez opened his mouth to answer her, but she continued. "He was an angel! My precious lamb! And Mister Standish and his friend shot my boy down in cold blood!"
A frown creased Josiah's forehead. "His friend, ma'am?"
Nodding vehemently, she hissed. "That blond one. The one who dressed all in black." She gave a bitter laugh, then whispered, "At least he used to wear black."
Lillie nodded. "There are all kinds of perils in the desert." She said, a wild look entering her eyes. "No telling what could happen to a person who might find themselves alone out there at night."
"Mrs.- Lillie, what are you talking about?" Josiah said quietly as he stood, towering over the woman. "What do you know?"
"I know what I know and it's the truth." She said confidently. Walking back over to her cot, she sat down, smoothing the fabric of her dress. "And I want to talk to that judge that the one who was here before you was talking about." She fixed Josiah with a level stare. "And no one else."
"Not even me?"
Lillie's eyes went wide at the sight of Chris standing in the doorway to the jail.
"No." She whispered. "It can't be. You're dead. I saw you lying there after I-"
Larabee strode across the wooden floor, his spurs singing as he went. "After you left me for dead?" He said in a voice filled with steel. "Is that what you were going to say?"
Desperate brown eyes darted to all four corners of the small cell, but no escape was to be found. Backing up, she stopped only when she felt the wall behind her.
"You murdered my boy!" She cried. "And I killed you. An eye for an eye. No court of law will punish me for doing that!" Running over to the bars, she reached an arm through, grasping for Josiah. "You believe me, don't you, preacher man? It's a mother's right to avenge the death of her child! It's in the Bible!"
Collapsing to the floor, she held to the bars, shaking her head and mumbling to herself, "No, no, no. It's not possible. You're dead. I saw you, I saw you die."
Buck stuck his head in the door. "Stage is coming in. Judge Travis is on it, Chris."
Turning to his friend, Larabee nodded thanks. "I'll be right out to talk to him." Before exiting the jail, he pulled Josiah aside. "Keep an eye on her, okay?" Sanchez nodded.
Stepping out into the late evening sun, Chris waited for Travis to step down out of the coach before walking over to meet him. Buck joined the pair. "Got a beaut for you this time, Judge." Wilmington stated.
Travis looked to Chris, who nodded in agreement.
"What's the crime?" The older man asked the two peacekeepers.
"Hell, Judge!" The mustached rogue said. "She attacked Chris here and left him for dead, then shot Ezra and kidnapped him. She'da done him in, too, if me an' Vin hadn't got there when we did."
The circuit judge stopped and looked at Larabee. "Any particular reason for these actions?"
Chris rubbed the back of his neck before answering Travis' question. "She says me and Ezra murdered her son."
Orrin began walking toward the jail. "Do either of you know who her son was?"
Chris and Buck shook their heads. Then the blond looked over at Buck. "There were some bank robbers that we chased out of town a couple of months ago, remember, Buck?"
Wilmington snapped his fingers as he recalled. "Yeah, I do. Chased 'em a few miles out of town, then they decided to stop and open fire on us." Buck looked at Chris. "We got 'em all, pard. Reckon her boy was one of 'em?"
"Could be." Larabee replied.
"I'll get to the bottom of it, men." Travis announced as he entered the jail. He stood quietly for a moment, his eyes adjusting to the dimness of the building, then walked over to stand in front of the woman who was huddled in the floor, sobbing and mumbling to herself.
"Madam." Lillie jerked her head up at the single word. Red-rimmed eyes studied the man before her, and she stood.
"Who are you?" She asked in a shaky voice.
"I'm Orrin Travis, circuit judge. You wanted to speak to me?" When Lillie didn't respond right away, the older man stepped closer to the bars. "Well?" He prompted.
Straightening her shoulders, Lillie opened her mouth, then closed it again at the sight of Ezra joining Chris just inside the door of the building. A look of pure hatred in her gaze, she pointed at the pair.
"I want you to arrest those men there for the murder of my son." The voice was calm now, but her finger trembled as she indicated Standish and Larabee.
"That's a pretty serious accusation, madam." Travis sat down in the chair vacated by Josiah. "Would you care to elaborate?" He listened intently as she repeated the story she'd told Josiah before the judge had arrived.
When she finished, he didn't speak for a moment, but watched the woman behind the cell door. She was convinced that Chris and Ezra had murdered her son, that was for certain. But the innocence of her son was another matter. He'd heard the stories about the gang the boy had been associated with, and they were far from angels. It made no difference if it was a man or woman, if they got in the way, they were gunned down where they stood.
"Would you excuse me for a moment?" At her nod, he stood and walked over to the desk and looked at the members of the Seven gathered there.
Ezra spoke first. "So, Judge Travis, what is your esteemed opinion of the woman?"
Travis shook his head. "She has a slim grip on reality, at best. In her mind, you and Chris did murder her son." Chris started to say something, but was quiet when Orrin held up his hand. "I know something of the gang the boy ran with, and they were far from innocent."
"What's your suggestion, then?" Chris asked.
"If I may, your Honor?" Josiah continued at Travis' nod. "I'm not saying she shouldn't be punished for she did to Chris and Ezra, but I just don't see how putting her in prison would be beneficial. She's a sick woman, and she needs help."
"Now wait just a minute, Josiah." Ezra began.
Sanchez put a hand on Standish's shoulder. "Let me finish, Ezra."
The Southerner folded his arms across his chest. "Pray, do finish, Brother Josiah. Fill the rest of us in on your magnificent plan to save that poor sinner."
Scowling at the irreverent gambler, the ex-preacher went on. "There's a convent over in Vista City. I think it would be a better idea to confine her."
Travis looked up at Sanchez, then over to the woman in the cell. "We could try it for a time, see if she gets any better."
"Then try her for attempted murder?" Ezra drawled.
A glare from Chris quieted the confidence man, but he frowned at the silent reprimand. Josiah spoke again.
"I'd be willing to accompany you on the trip to take her there, Judge."
Judge Travis thought it over for a minute or so, the nodded his agreement. "I'd be much obliged, Josiah. We'll leave on the morning stage." The judge picked up his hat, and placing it on his head turned and smiled at the three men. "And now I'm going to spend some time with my grandson. Good evening."
A sharp gasp from the cell stayed the judge's exit. As Lillie crumpled to the floor, a small brown bottle rolled from her hand. Ezra rushed over and unlocked the cell door. Kneeling beside her, he picked up the bottle, holding it to his nose. "Chloral hydrate. That's what she used to knock me out." Placing two fingers to the side of her neck, he shook his head at the others.
"What is that, chloral hydrate?" Chris asked the gambler.
"It's most common use is for a person who is having trouble sleeping. But in larger doses, it can be lethal." He looked over at Lillie. "As in this case, gentleman." Standing, he handed the bottle to Travis. "I'll go get the undertaker."
Josiah knelt beside the still form, reaching over to close her eyes. He spoke a few words in a voice too low for Chris or the judge to hear, then pulled the blanket off the cot and placed it over the woman's body. Rising from his position on the floor, Sanchez walked out of the cell, not looking at either man in the jail. When he reached the door, he turned and shook his head at the body lying on the floor of the cell.
"Another poor soul seeking peace for her troubled soul and finding none on this earth."
© 2008 Maggie LeMay