DISCLAIMER: The following story is based on the show "The Magnificent Seven." This is purely for enjoyment; no profit is involved and no infringement on the copyrights held by others is intended.
SPOILERS: Are these still necessary at this point? Well, just in case…spoilers for Serpents.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: To my beta reader, slapshot52 – thank you for the suggestions!
SUMMARY: Ezra is on trial for his life; as a conviction looks more and more likely, Chris struggles to understand Ezra's behavior and lack of a defense.
The People v. Ezra Standish
It was a perfect morning. The grey misting rain of the past week had finally moved on, and the sun that was already well into the sky was just warm enough to be pleasantly comfortable. As he and Vin strolled down the already bustling boardwalk, Chris felt a rare moment of satisfaction: Four Corners was truly starting to grow up. Older businesses were flourishing and new ones were springing up alongside them; there were no fewer than six buildings in various states of construction, and more and more people were streaming in to take advantage of the opportunities. Things were really turning around.
"New hotel's stalled." Vin's comment broke his reverie.
The tracker motioned to the partially framed building two doors down from the bank. "The Silver Star; Nathan told me the owner lost his money in failed mine in Nevada—can't afford to finish the hotel. Guess the bank'll take it."
"And here I was just thinking about how fast this town was growing."
"Still is, cowboy; I wouldn't mind seein' it slow down a bit."
"Hell, Vin, if it slowed down to your liking, it'd be moving backwards." Chris shot him a grin. "I didn't know Nathan was still in town; thought he was going out to the Seminole village."
"He did; got the last of the supplies he'd been waiting for on Saturday so he and Josiah left yesterday morning."
"They staying out there long?"
"A couple of weeks, probably. Nathan said they—what the hell is he doing?"
Chris looked down the street; it was a moment before he saw what had caught Vin's attention, then he noticed movement in front of the First National Bank. The bank manager, Preston Bannister, had stepped out of the front door and now stood there staring intently but nervously at the two lawmen, wringing his hands and fidgeting as though unsure whether to walk toward them.
"That's the third time he's gone into the bank and back out," Vin said. "Think it's trouble?"
"When isn't there trouble with him?"
Vin chuckled. "True; someone probably left a coffee cup on a desk."
"Or forgot to clean a window."
"Or he's gonna complain about noise from the construction again." Vin fell in beside Chris as the gunslinger stepped off the boardwalk towards the agitated bank manager.
"Ain't too late to save yourself," Chris said.
"Yeah, but then who'd save Bannister?"
Chris laughed softly but didn't smile. Preston Bannister had been in Four Corners for only three months, but he'd already managed to become the most irritating resident in town. He never hesitated to complain about the tiniest thing, and he seemed to find fault with everything and everyone. A comment Nathan once made— "If he hates it here that much, he's welcome to leave" —sounded in Chris's head as he and Vin strode up to the bank.
"My bank's been robbed!" Bannister blurted in a harsh whisper, before Chris could finish his question. Still wringing his hands, the manager looked from one lawman to the other, his expression worried and slightly desperate, but he said nothing further.
"Okaaay," Vin said, motioning for Bannister to lead them inside. When the manager still didn't move, Vin added, "You wanna let us by so we can take a look?"
Bannister started, then rubbed his brow. "Oh, of course. Please, come this way." Bannister grabbed Vin's coat sleeve and pulled him towards the bank. The tracker rolled his eyes at Chris, who shrugged and followed them inside.
There wasn't much to see at first; the row of teller windows was untouched and everything appeared to be in its proper place. Then Bannister led them behind counter and a very different scene emerged. The large safe, installed less than a month earlier, was standing open and empty; various official-looking papers and deposit slips had been scattered from the desk in the tiny office and littered the floor. Bannister stood staring fixedly at the safe; Chris and Vin's attention was fully captured by what Bannister seemed not to notice: the large pool of blood that soaked both the floor and the papers.
"What the hell's that?" Vin asked incredulously.
"I told you, my bank was robbed!" Bannister said, his customary irritation now starting to re-emerge.
"We can see that, Bannister," Chris ground out between tightly clenched teeth, "but whose blood is that?"
The scowl on Bannister's face changed to chagrin and he shifted his feet nervously. "Oh, yes, I'm sorry, didn't I mention? No, no, I didn't; this is just so terrible; I'm very out of sorts and I've been trying to not to…not to look…at…"
Vin decided to take pity on the man. "Okay, take it easy—"
"Take it easy?" Bannister snapped, "You take it easy! Who do you think is going to be blamed for this? Me, that's who! I'll lose my job if that money's not recovered!"
Not wanting to prolong the argument, Vin held his hands up in conciliation. "You're right, I'm sorry. But why don't you go wait out front, okay? Let us look around." They waited until Bannister made his way back out to the street then Vin whistled softly as he knelt down for a closer look at the still partially-slick pool. "This is a lot of blood; good bet the person who lost it is dead."
"But there's no blood on the safe," Chris pointed out. "In fact, I don't see anything here that might've caused such a bad injury."
"Maybe one of the robbers got greedy and killed another one," Vin speculated.
"Or maybe someone walked in on 'em and got killed for the trouble," Chris added.
Vin considered both and shrugged. "Either one, I guess. But then why not leave the body? Be a lot easier."
Before Chris could answer, Bannister re-entered. "I'm sure you know what you're doing," he said impatiently, "but shouldn't you be riding out looking for my money?"
Vin put a hand out before Chris could take a menacing step forward. "We're just tryin' to make sure we figure out everything we can here first." He gestured behind him. "The safe ain't blown; could be an inside job. Any employees you think could do this?"
"A bank employee?" Bannister sputtered indignantly, "Certainly not! How dare you even consider it! If you want to question someone, why don't you start with your Mr. Standish; ask him why he didn't arrange for additional security like I asked."
Chris and Vin looked at each other in confusion. "What're you talking about?" Chris asked.
"Security! For the payroll!"
Again the lawmen shared a look, this one irritated. "Wait a minute, what payroll?" Chris asked.
"The payroll for the Western Sky Mining Company—over twenty thousand dollars!" Bannister shouted, then immediately lowered his voice again but held a finger up accusingly. "The payroll you lot were supposed to be guarding!"
Vin didn't try to hold Chris back this time, and the dark-clad gunslinger towered effectively over the manager. "You didn't tell us about no payroll."
Bannister stepped back slightly and twisted his hands together but answered adamantly, "That's not true! That is absolutely not true! I did tell you about it; I told Mr. Standish and he said he would take care of it, so naturally I assumed…I assumed…" he trailed off as Chris' expression darkened dangerously.
"When was that?"
"The day before yesterday."
"Give us a minute."
Chris resisted the urge to shout. "Go wait outside for a minute." Bannister started to reply, thought better of it, and walked out into the foyer.
"You seen Ezra today?" Chris asked quietly.
"Aw, c'mon, Chris; ain't no way Ezra robbed the bank," Vin replied.
"I ain't sayin' that, but we gotta get a handle on this quick before Bannister tells everyone he did."
Vin nodded reluctantly. "Well, this time'a day, he's probably in the saloon, if he's up yet."
Chris and Vin turned and made their way towards the door, but Bannister intercepted them. "You think he did it, don't you? You think Mr. Standish robbed the bank? I knew I—"
Chris grabbed Bannister's shirt-front and shook him hard. "Hey! You cut that out now, you hear? Ain't no reason to think that, and you ain't gonna start spreading it around, understand?"
"Y-Yes, Mr. Larabee."
The manager stumbled back and Chris took a deep breath and fought to reign in his growing anger as he stepped out into the street. Bannister was already making dangerous assumptions, and Chris was determined not to do the same.