The Samaritan's Choice part 7
Buck, Josiah and JD sat outside the saloon trying to relax as the afternoon slowly turned into evening. Town was still busy, swarming with settlers who had decided to treat themselves to the long forgotten luxury of a restaurant bought meal. It wouldn't be long now until the sky would darken further and the visitors would make their way back to their wagons, but for now, the three law men were on alert and exhausted.
Buck broke into a charming grin when the saloon doors pushed open and the slender form of Inez stepped out onto the boardwalk. She turned toward them searching and Buck's smile slipped immediately into a frown of concern at the expression on her face. He was on his feet and leading her to the chair he had vacated instantly.
"What is it Darlin'?" He asked all pretense of flirting gone from his tone. Inez was visibly shaken. "Has someone hurt you?" Buck's blue eyes flashed.
"No, no Señor." Inez found her voice and shook her head. She glanced between the three men. "It's Señor Standish's room." She explained. "Someone has..broken into it."
"What do you mean?" JD asked.
"The door, it's open, and he never leaves it open or unlocked even." Inez explained. "I thought I heard someone in there." She admitted her fear.
"You stay right here, or better yet head over to Mary's." Buck told her, pulling her back to her feet.
"Let's have a look." Josiah led the way into the saloon and through the crowd, up the stairs and stopped outside Ezra's room.
The door was marked and splintered where someone had obviously pried it open. With a look over his shoulder to make sure Buck and JD were ready and backing him up, Josiah slowly pushed the ruined door open all the way.
The scene that met them was so contrary to the gambler's normally fastidious room that they gaped for a moment. The room had been torn apart, literally. Drawers had been yanked violently from their slots, the closet had been cleaned out. Clothes were strewn everywhere. An oil lamp lay shattered amongst the ruins. Feathers still floated above the slashed and mutilated bedding.
"I wonder if they found what they were looking for?" Josiah found his voice first as he kicked a path clear so they could step into the room.
"Ezra's gonna be furious." JD whistled as he picked up one of Ezra's jackets. He righted a wooden chair and after swatting the jacket a few times laid it over the back of the chair. He looked up at the other two. "What do you think they were looking for?"
"I don't know, Son but it's too much of a coincidence." Josiah ran a hand over his beard and looked at Buck. "We should let Chris know."
Buck nodded. "First Ezra's jumped, then his room is ransacked. I'd like to know what's going on myself."
"Think Willie is still over at the office? It's getting late after all." JD said referring to the telegraph operator.
"If he's not, we just find him and convince him to open up. He owes me anyway." Buck smiled.
"What for?" JD asked as they filed out of the quickly darkening room.
"Just a little help with a girl." Buck winked.
"Buck," Josiah stopped at the top of the stairs. "I'll stay here and keep an eye on things while you and JD send the wire. Don't forget to tell them Chaucer's back safe and sound. Brother Ezra will want to know that."
Chris dipped his biscuit into the gravy of his mashed potatoes and took a bite, surprised at the quality of the food in the saloon that was actually smaller then the one back in Four Corners. He and Vin had eaten in silence mostly while the room filled around them. From their side table they were out of the way enough to talk in low voices, but close enough to the crowd to eavesdrop as needed.
"So what do you think?" Chris asked after he washed down his latest bite with a sip of beer. "Any idea what we're looking at?"
"Hired guns." Vin answered. "Need to figure out who can afford to hire folks and what they need 'em for."
Chris nodded taking another sip of his drink. "Ranchers would want to keep folks off the land," he said.
"Thought they would have learned by now." Vin sighed, recalling at least two other run-ins with the local ranchers.
"Who'd be interested most in that particular batch of land?" Chris asked more to himself. He looked at Vin, their eyes met and the spoke together. "Royal."
"Guy Royal." Chris repeated. "Stubborn fool ain't he?"
"Still need proof." Vin said as he munched on his last biscuit.
"Wonder if any of Ezra's attackers like to talk when they get drunk?" Chris looked around the now crowded place. "If we can find one for him to recognize we can go from there."
Vin smiled. "We can be persuasive."
"Evening Folks." Tom Wyler pulled a chair out and sat down with them. "Just wondered if you've gained any ground on figuring this whole thing out?" He sloshed his half empty mug of beer around as he spoke.
"Have some ideas." Chris answered.
Tom nodded and looked around. "Looks like it'll be another busy night here." He said. "I'll keep my eyes and ears open. Haven't heard nobody braggin on the event or nothing but maybe I'll get lucky. How's your friend doing?"
"Better, at least better than he was." Vin told him.
"He remember anything about the whole attack?" Tom asked curiously.
"Not much, thinks he could recognize 'em if he saw 'em though."
"Hey that's good." Tom smiled. "Glad he's feeling better. He was looking pretty bad there for those first two days."
Chris just nodded.
"Well, I'll leave you guys be, didn't mean to interrupt yer dinner just wanted to see how everything was going and let you know I'm here to help if you need it."
"Thanks." Chris watched as Tom walked back into the crowd.
"Mr. Larabee?" Chris swung around to face a nervous looking man he recognized as the telegraph operator.
"I have a wire for you." He pushed up his glasses with one hand and held the note out with the other.
Chris took the note and read it quickly. He looked up at Vin "Ezra's room was ransacked."
"Damn. How do they know where to look?" Vin asked.
Chris just shook his head. "Chaucer made it back which means the deeds are there somewhere. We need to let Buck know to guard those saddle bags." He looked up at the telegraph operator still standing beside the table. "Can we get your help? I need to know who else has been sending wires to Four Corners today."
Nathan yawned deeply and checked on Ezra again. The Southerner was asleep again, finally. He'd woken up again not long after Chris and Vin left and though he hadn't said much, Nathan could tell he was in a lot of pain. After some more herbal tea, that Ezra did complain about, Nathan was able to change the dressing on his leg wound and thankfully the gambler had fallen into a more restful sleep.
Nathan laid a hand on his stomach as it growled at him reminding him he was hungry. He really needed to get something to eat and some sleep. He hadn't slept well in quite a few days and he felt the weariness catching up to him, but he couldn't bring himself to leave Ezra alone.
There was a light knock on the door and Nathan hurried to open it before Ezra woke. Sheriff Tom greeted him with a steaming plate of food and a smile. "Thought you might be hungry," he chuckled at Nathan's surprised expression.
"I am, thank you." Nathan took the plate and held the door open for the Sheriff. "He's sleeping finally."
"His color looks better." Tom commented looking at Ezra, "Well, other than the bruises." Tom grimaced as his eyes traced over the purple, black and yellowing marks marring Ezra's face.
"Yeah. He's going to be okay, as long as he watches those ribs good." Nathan whispered.
"That's great." Tom looked at Nathan a moment. "You look exhausted."
Nathan smiled, "I'm a bit worn out." He admitted.
"Well, why don't you go rest? Emily set up a room for you two doors down." Tom motioned in the direction of the room he referred too. "I've watched Ezra here before, and now that he's doing better there shouldn't be no problems or nothing. If something comes up I can just come get you real quick."
Nathan hesitated, looking at his plate of warm food. A bed did sound good, maybe a quick walk in the fresh air to help him unwind a little first.
"Go on," Tom laughed quietly. "Take a bit a time to unwind and get some sleep. I promise I'll get you if
we need ya. This here that tea for pain?" Tom motioned to the dresser and the herbal mixture.
"Yeah, he shouldn't need anymore for a bit. Don't know if he'll stay asleep at all but he shouldn't need that yet. You sure about this?" Nathan looked over at Ezra.
"Course I am, go on now. Nothing to worry about. Emily is just down stairs too."
Nathan nodded. "Thank you." He shook Tom's out stretched hand. "I won't be gone long."
"Yeah, well you get your rest." Tom ordered with a smile as Nathan finally left.
The telegraph operator nodded. "Sure, I'll help. I'm Kenneth, by the way. You want to come to the office to answer that?" He pointed to the wire from Buck.
"Yeah, thanks Kenneth." Chris and Vin stood and followed the man out of the saloon.
Hurrying down the street towards the telegraph office Kenneth called over his shoulder. "I'm pretty sure that the only wires going to Four Corners today was yours and one other one." He paused in front of the office door and pulled a key from his pocket. Unlocking the door he quickly lit the lantern he kept right inside, and led the men further into the building. "Yeah, you and Sheriff Wyler both sent wires today." He said confidently.
Vin looked at Chris. "Sheriff Wyler?" He asked.
"Yeah," Kenneth shrugged sheepishly. "I need to look it up to see what it said though. My memory ain't all that great no more."
"That's fine." Chris said between clenched teeth.
"Here it is." Kenneth held the note out to Chris who took it and held it closer to the light.
"Chuck Miller/stop/ Find Standish's horse/stop/ Deeds in bags somewhere/stop/find them now/stop/ Tom" Chris read out loud.
"He's been in on it all along." Vin said angrily. "How did we miss that?"
"Don't know but when I find him he's got some questions to answer." Chris growled.
Kenneth shivered at the tone of the gunslinger's voice. "You want to send a wire tonight?" Chris nodded. "Yeah." He took the offered paper and pencil and scrawled a note for Buck warning him to guard Ezra's saddle bags and find a Chuck miller, and hold him for questioning on Ezra's attack.
"Can you make sure that gets through tonight?" He asked handing the note to Kenneth.
"Do my best, as long as there's someone on the other end."
"Thanks." He turned to Vin, "Let's go find the Sheriff."
As the two of them exited the telegraph office, they saw Nathan walking towards them. "Nathan!" Chris called to get his attention.
"Hey Chris, Vin. What did you find out?" Nathan stopped in front of them.
"Who's with Ezra?" Vin asked, ignoring Nathan's question.
"Tom offered to sit with him so I could get some air and rest, why?" Nathan jumped in surprise as Vin took off across the street. "What's wrong?" He asked falling into step with Chris as they followed.
"Wyler's in on it."
Ezra woke slowly. There was something wrong. The room was especially quiet, no one moving around or even snoring, like Nathan would have been if he'd fallen asleep. Opening his eyes he blinked and looked around. One lamp was lit and turned low, casting a faint light around the shadowed room. There was a movement and he focused on the man standing at the end of the bed.
"Nathan?" Ezra asked knowing immediately it wasn't. He saw the Sheriff's badge and frowned. He didn't remember meeting the Sheriff but Nathan had told him that was who found him and brought him back to town. "Sheriff." He watched as the man stepped closer, and out of the shadow. Ezra's eyes widened with surprise and a flash of fear. "You."
"So," Tom smiled. "You are able to recognize me."
Ezra swallowed and focused on remaining and looking calm. "Where's Nathan?" He asked suddenly concerned for his friend.
"Oh don't worry, I didn't harm your doctor friend, just persuaded him I'd take care of you so he could get some rest. He's a good guy." Tom told him. "I thought you and I could use some time to talk."
Ezra just looked at him.
"See, you've caused a lot of trouble by not giving over those land deeds. My boss ain't pleased at all."
"Who's your boss?" Ezra asked.
Tom chuckled. "I don't think you need to worry about that." His eyes darkened and his face grew serious. "But I do think you should be more concerned with telling me where those deeds are stashed."
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Ezra replied calmly.
Tom stepped forward and struck out catching Ezra's already abused face. Ezra's head jerked to the side. Ezra blinked and struggled to stay conscious, through the explosion of pain. "You know, I thought you would have learned your lesson the first time, and been more cooperative this go round but if you insist on playing the fool, that works just fine with me."
Tom reached over to the chair and picked up the object lying on it. He held up for Ezra to see, enjoying the obvious fear suddenly evident in the man. "Same belt I used before, remember it?" Tom waited but Ezra gave no reaction. "Oh I'm sure you do. Shall we try again?" He stepped closer uncurling the folded leather and playing with the buckle at the end. "This time maybe you'll see things my way."
"Don't count on it. He's one stubborn son of bitch when he wants to be."
Tom spun around, instinctively grabbing Ezra by the hair, pulling him up and wrapping the belt around his neck in a fluid motion.
Vin stared at the man coldly, his blue eyes never wavering. "Let him go." He commanded cocking the mare's leg, now leveled at Tom.
Tom shook his head "ah ah ah," he pulled the leather tighter around Ezra's neck and Vin could see Ezra was now struggling for breath. His one free hand clawing at the strangling belt. "I have information you want," Tom smiled confidently, "like who hired me to take care of your friend here."
"Don't need to know that bad." Vin told him and pulled the trigger. The shot jerked Tom backwards, slamming him into the corner. Ezra collapsed back onto the bed, gasping for air and wincing as his ribs protested the strain. He clawed awkwardly at the belt and threw it on the floor.
"You okay?" Vin asked helping him get resettled on the bed as Chris and Nathan burst into the room.
Nathan hurried to Ezra. "What happened?" He asked as he started to check him over.
"I'm fine." Ezra rasped trying to convince himself as much as the others.
"Liar." Nathan said.
"Wyler tried to strangle him again, and jerked him around some." Vin filled Nathan in, ignoring the look Ezra shot at him.
"He dead?" Vin asked as Chris checked Tom.
"Yeah." Chris stood slowly. "He's dead."
Ezra grimaced and bit back a moan as the wagon he rode in lurched to a halt. It had been two days since Vin had shot Tom Wyler and Nathan had finally ruled him well enough for travel. Home, Ezra hadn't realized how much Four Corners had become a home to him until he was unable to return to it. Of course something about staying in the room where his main assailant had returned to attack him again and then been shot dead next to him, hadn't set well with Ezra either.
"Hey guys. Good to have you back." JD looked at Ezra as he greeted the group.
"Good to return, Mr. Dunne." Ezra said, not enjoying the fact that he was forced to rely on the others so completely at the moment. He'd never learned to rely on anyone but himself, and being forced to allow the others to care for him so completely was a continual struggle.
"Hey Josiah, need a hand over here." Chris called out as Josiah jogged the last few steps to the wagon. "Need to get Ezra up to the clinic." He explained to the Preacher.
"Happy to help, Brother." Josiah smiled. "Welcome home, Ezra."
"Indeed Mr. Sanchez, I'm quite capable of.."
"Don't even think about it Ezra." Nathan cut him off. "You ain't putting pressure on that leg for a while yet if you know what's good for you."
"I still do not see why I can not recuperate in my own lodgings." Ezra tried a new approach but his comment ended in a groan as Josiah lifted him from the floor of the wagon. Ezra bit the inside of his cheek to hold back any further sounds while Josiah carefully navigated the stairs.
"Maybe when you're capable of movement without almost passing out, you can think on returning to your own room." Josiah's voice was low enough that only Ezra could hear him. Ezra flashed a weak smile and with his good hand helped as Josiah settled him on the bed.
JD, who'd been holding the door of the clinic open as they went by, smiled sheepishly. "Yer room ain't ready for anyone yet Ez." He told the gambler. "We're still trying to put it back together."
Ezra groaned again. 'Where was he going to find another feather bed as comfortable as his had been?'He wondered.
Nathan entered the room followed by Chris, Vin and Buck. One look at Ezra and the healer moved toward his shelves of herbs searching for more tea makings.
"You find those deeds?" Chris asked Buck.
"No, Ezra where the hell did you put them? JD and I went through your bags twice and still can't come up with the damn things." Buck voiced his frustration.
"Mr. Dunne, did you find a carved wooden box in my possessions?" Ezra asked, the thickness of his accent betraying his exhaustion.
"Yeah had the funny green ball in it." JD answered.
Ezra made a face at JD's description. "That 'funny green ball' is solid jade." He informed him, "will you bring me the box please?"
"Sure, be right back." JD hurried out of the room.
"The deeds are in the box." Ezra explained when he saw the other's questioning looks.
"What are we going to do about Guy Royal?" Buck asked, breaking the momentary silence.
Chris frowned. "Did you find that Chuck Miller?"
Buck shook his head, "Naw, I think he's gone Chris."
"Do you think there'll be more trouble?" Nathan asked, handing a cup of hot tea to Ezra. Ezra frowned but didn't comment as he blew at the steaming liquid to cool it before he took a sip.
"Doubt it." Chris took his hat off and ran a hand through his hair. "Royal won't want any evidence pointing right at him and once the deeds are in the hands of their owners there's really nothing he can do. Might have to keep up a tighter patrol on those in our area, make sure they aren't getting harassed at all."
"Sounds like a good idea." Josiah nodded. "One of these days Royal will face his judgment, be it sooner or later."
"Sorry we couldn't bring anyone in for what they did to you Ezra." Vin said quietly.
Ezra waved a hand, brushing away the apology. "Mr. Tanner, I'm much more grateful, once again, for your impeccable timing." He smiled to reassure the tracker.
JD burst into the room again slightly breathless and holding up the requested box.
"Dang kid, do you ever slow down?" Buck asked with a grin.
JD made a face at his friend's teasing and then held out the box to Ezra.
"Mr. Larabee, if you would." Ezra nodded to the box, not wanting to try to hold onto it with one hand.
Chris stepped forward and opened the carved lid. He lifted the engraved sphere and matching pedestal out of their cloth lined compartments and set them both on Nathan's table. He looked at Ezra with raised eyebrows as he held up the empty box.
Ezra cocked his head to the side and flashed a knowing grin. "Beneath the lining."
Chris just shook his head as he pulled the deeds from their hiding place.
"What made you think to hide those?" Vin asked over the others' light laughter.
"Mere precautionary measures." Ezra answered stifling a yawn the best he could. Nathan caught it anyway. "All right, everyone out. Ezra needs rest after that trip."
Clearly catching Nathan's 'don't question me' tone, the others quickly filed out of the clinic. Josiah stopped at the door. "I'll bring some dinner by later." He told them.
Nathan glanced at Ezra, "You done with that?" He asked motioning to the cup.
"Yes, thank you." Ezra felt suddenly awkward as he handed Nathan the empty cup.
Nathan took the cup and stared at it a moment before setting it on the table. He reached for the wooden box and put the pedestal in it. With great care he picked up the carved sphere and set it into the box as well, tucking the lining back in place as he did. His hands lingered over the carving's smooth surface before he closed the lid and looked up at Ezra.
"You win this in a game?" He asked.
Ezra winced inwardly, unaware that it had been a visible reaction. "Yes, Mr. Jackson I did." He slid down against the pillows, seeking a more comfortable position while avoiding eye contact.
"Most have been an interesting game." There was no judgment in the healer's voice and Ezra looked up quickly having expected another lecture on the ills of gambling. Nathan smiled sheepishly as he leaned his weight back against the table, his arms crossed in front of him. "I'm real sorry Ezra," he began.
"Nathan." Ezra started to interrupt.
"No, now, I got something to say here and I want to say it." Nathan pushed himself off the table and pulled a chair over to the side of the bed. "I'm real sorry for the way I've been lashing out at you lately."
"You've had a lot on your mind. Your apology is accepted."
"Ezra." Nathan inclined his head. "Don't brush me off. For God's sake I let you lay there hurting for two days!" His voice rose slightly.
"You didn't know it was me." Ezra met Nathan's pain filled eyes. "You've already stated if you had known you would have been there."
"That doesn't make it right." Nathan protested, voice cracking with guilt.
"Nathan," Ezra paused, searching for the right words, and struggling with his instinct to hide behind them. "Regardless of your delay, when I needed you the most, you were there. When I need you now," his voice and eyes lowered at the admission. "You are here. That is what matters, that in the end you made the right choice, not the fact that you struggled to make it."
"It just proves to the rest of us you're human, is all." Ezra smiled as Nathan slowly accepted his words.
Silence surrounded the two men for a moment until Ezra chuckled, then gasped.
"You know better than to go laughing now." Nathan reprimanded, helping him adjust so he could lay back more comfortable. He shook his head as he covered the Southerner up with a blanket. "What's so funny anyway?"
"Just thinking, thank goodness for Josiah's damn parables." Ezra yawned. "You never did tell me which one he chose to challenge you with."
"The good Samaritan." Nathan told him, laughing lightly.
Ezra nodded. "Well, that's better than the one he's always telling me."
"Which one is that?"
"Some nonsensical tale about a rich man, the kingdom of heaven, a camel and the eye of a needle." Ezra answered looking thoroughly confused when Nathan burst out laughing. Contentedly, he closed his eyes and smiled inwardly at the return of his friend's laughter.
thanks for reading and thanks for the reviews.