Some part of Chris had thought everything was over the moment Bannister finally confessed, but it came to seem as though they would never finish tying up the loose ends.

It took a couple of hours to recover Henry's body. Even knowing he was buried somewhere in the hotel construction, the exact spot was difficult to find amongst the dirt and debris; Foster and George Bannister had taken care to conceal it well, and Ezra's escape had done little to reveal it. If construction had continued on the Silver Star, Chris was certain that Henry would never have been found. Nevertheless, Chris kept his word and refused to ask Ezra for more information. By the time they carried Henry out, a crowd had gathered in the street. The silence that accompanied their small procession to the undertaker's was overwhelming.

They sent word of John Foster to Denver but Marshal Cook could find no trace of him and no indication of where he went. Judge Travis issued a warrant for Foster's arrest, but Chris feared the lowlife had lucked into a perfect getaway. Still, they were keeping their eyes out in case he was dumb enough to return to Four Corners.

After much deliberation, Judge Travis sentenced Preston Bannister to 25 years of hard labor. Far from being disappointed that Bannister had avoided the death penalty, Ezra simply said, "Good. I'd hate for his misery to end so quickly." Chris couldn't help agreeing, but speaking with the judge later, it didn't appear that he expected Bannister to last very long regardless:


"You saw his erratic behavior during his confession; he's a weak-minded man. And yet he's already demanding—demanding!—special consideration and treatment because of his social standing," Travis scoffed.

"What social standing?" Chris asked.

"My point exactly—he still thinks he has one. I'm sure you know that kind of attitude won't go over well with his fellow inmates."

Chris shook his head. "Yeah, but he almost pulled off a bigger con than Ezra ever dreamed of out of pure self-preservation. Men like that, they manage to keep surviving when they shouldn't."

"Well then, he'll make his own hell or someone will send him there—either way, our job is done."


Joseph and Emma Erickson, along with their younger son, Brian, arrived in town on Saturday. They'd set out from their home in Nebraska while the trial was still underway and arrived nervous but hopeful that their son might still be alive; Judge Travis had to break the terrible news. Ezra spent several hours with the grieving family; Chris assumed he must have shared stories of Henry's life in Four Corners, for when they left on Sunday with Henry's body, Emma gave the gambler a tearful hug that seemed to catch him off guard but left him smiling sadly.

Gideon Harker departed the next day, ready to return to his interrupted retirement. There was a large party there to see him off: Judge Travis and all seven lawmen said their goodbyes at the stagecoach. Ezra and Harker shared a few words that Chris didn't hear, but he could see that there was a mutual respect between them. Chris was oddly sorry to see Harker go; he was the first lawyer that had ever made the gunslinger appreciate the profession. He said as much and Harker laughed good-naturedly, "Well, son, as gunslingers go, I can honestly say the same for you."

A few hours later, as the afternoon light began to deepen in preparation for evening, the seven of them sat around a table in the saloon together for the first time in weeks. Ezra was free, there was no trial to worry about, nothing more exciting than a spilled drink had happened that day…it was almost perfec—

"Can you believe it was two weeks ago today that Ezra was first arrested?"

"Aw, JD, what the hell? Buck, you're closer; hit him for me."

"Ow! What?" JD said innocently, rubbing the back of his head.

"It's fine, Chris," Ezra said amicably. "You needn't walk on eggshells around me; it's bound to be discussed. I imagine it, and I, will be a cause célèbre for some time—"

"A coz what?" Buck interrupted.

"Cause célèbre; it means 'a subject of great interest.'"

"Then why don't'cha just say 'a subject of great interest?'" Vin asked.

"I did; I said it in French."

"Well, keep that up and I reckon no one'll talk to ya about nothin'."

"Is that all it takes? If only you'd told me sooner; now I'll have to actually learn the language."

They all laughed at the retort and, for a moment, it was as if the past few weeks had never happened. Josiah drained his glass and stood to get another drink, but Ezra insisted on buying the next round and went to the bar himself.

"Wow, Ezra buying drinks…guess he's not back to himself yet," JD said. Instantly the mood grew somber and JD tried to backtrack. "Sorry, I just meant…"

"It's okay, kid," Buck said. "Truth is, he really ain't. You know, this is the first time he's actually sat in the saloon since he got out of jail."

"Haven't seen him playing poker at all neither," Vin added. "And have you noticed that he don't complain about anything?"

"Well, that one's kind of a good thing," Josiah said.

"Maybe," Vin conceded, "but it ain't normal. He's too quiet; it's like he's just in his own head all the time."

Chris nodded in agreement. He strongly suspected that Ezra was holding onto more guilt than he'd admitted to, but he wasn't willing to push the issue yet.

"So what do we do?" JD asked.

"Ain't nothing to do," Nathan said. "The man had to dig himself out of his own grave. It's only been a few days since he remembered."

Buck shuddered. "I can't imagine being awake through everything and not being able to do anything."

"I don't think he was," Nathan said.

"He seemed pretty clear on what he told me," Chris disagreed.

"Yeah, now," Nathan replied. "But he was probably in and out of consciousness the whole time. I think Bannister filled in enough blanks that it just seems like he was awake all the way through it. Most likely, he didn't really 'wake up' until…well, you know." His expression turned queasy for a moment, then he shook it off. "Anyway, it's just gonna take some time."

"But what if…" JD trailed off, embarrassed.

"What?" Buck prompted.

"Well what if the old Ezra don't ever come back?"

"Then we ride with the Ezra we got," Chris said firmly, then gave a nod to the man in question as Ezra returned with a bottle in hand and fresh glasses.

"Gentlemen," Ezra said as he sat down, "if you'll allow me, I give you Smith River Premium Number Four. An excellent bourbon whiskey; easily the finest I've ever tasted. Unfortunately, the distiller came down with an incurable case of religious temperance and has forsaken his craft. This is, in fact, the last bottle in Four Corners and, quite possibly, the entire territory." He poured two fingers' worth in each glass and shared them around the table. They raised their glasses in a brief toast and took a drink.

It was indeed a mellow, woody whiskey with a lingering finish of spice. Given its rarity, Chris guessed it was expensive. "That's excellent; thanks, Ezra."

Ezra nodded, then looked around the table with a slightly self-conscious expression. "I, ah…well, it occurred to me that I hadn't yet expressed my appreciation to you all for your support over the past few weeks. It can't have been easy to stand by me when there was so much evidence against me. So, I sincerely thank you all."

"We're your friends, Ezra; we know you better."

From the look on Ezra's face, Josiah's statement carried more meaning than Chris understood. The gambler gave the preacher a grateful nod and Josiah smiled back.

In the sudden lull, a voice drifted from the bar nearby. "Hate to say it, but I'm glad Mr. Bannister confessed. Sure would'a been embarrassing to get that verdict wrong."

Chris could see the man standing at the bar; he was one of the jurors. The smile froze on Ezra's face and he slowly lowered his whiskey glass.

"Ezra…"

"I'm fine. I'm just going to get some air." He stood to leave, but the juror had heard Chris say Ezra's name and he stepped away from the bar and into his path. "Ah, Mr. Turner, yes?" Ezra started cordially, but couldn't think of what else to say.

"Yeah, Jeb Turner," the juror said, holding out his hand. Ezra shook it as the man continued, "Sorry, I didn't see you there or I'd have come on over. I was the foreman on your jury."

"Oh. Well, thank you for your time; I'm sorry it was all for nothing." Ezra smiled a thin smile; Chris could tell he wanted desperately to leave but Turner didn't notice.

"Not at all. Listen, I was going to come find you anyway. Wanted to give you something." He reached into his back pocket, pulled out a folded piece of paper and handed it to Ezra, who took it tentatively.

"What's this?"

"Well, we'd actually finished the uh…whaddaya call it…del…delber…"

"Deliberations," Ezra supplied.

"Yeah, that. We were done when the judge ended the trial; we'd already filled out the paper he gave us. Thought you might like to have it as a souvenir—ain't every day you go to trial like that, right?" He clapped Ezra on the shoulder and left.

The others sat in uncomfortable silence for several moments. Finally Buck said, "Aw, hell, Ezra; don't mind it. Jeb's a good guy; I'm sure he meant well."

"Yes, of course." Ezra rubbed his eyes, then turned and grabbed his whiskey glass and downed the remainder in a single gulp. "Well, I guess I may as well see it in writing, right?" Before anyone could stop him, he unfolded the paper, then sank unsteadily back into his chair as the words in front of him registered.

"Ezra?" Chris asked with some concern.

Ezra tossed the paper into the middle of the table, his eyes shining. "They found me not guilty."

Buck whooped and slapped the table, garnering stares from nearby patrons. The others took turns congratulating the stunned gambler, who finally said, "But Mr. Turner said…"

"Guess he just meant that now he's sure they were right," Vin said. "There's been a lot of taking things the wrong way lately."

Everyone smiled at the comment, then Ezra shook his head in disbelief. "Don't mistake me, gentlemen, I am exceedingly grateful for this but…with all that evidence, why on earth didn't they convict me?"

Chris suddenly remembered Harker's opening statement: You all seem like good folks and I know Ezra appreciates you all coming out to support him as he faces these terrible accusations. For so long, and even when Harker had spoken those words, Chris had seen himself and his six compatriots as outsiders bringing unwelcome order to an unwilling and ungrateful town. But maybe that was because they were always dealing directly with the worst element, with the people who wanted to be able to break the law.

Now he thought back to the morning of the robbery, to the moment before they saw Bannister, when he'd looked at the growth in the town and felt the positive change in the air. It somehow hadn't occurred to him that it was largely thanks to their efforts—and that people might actually appreciate it. In that light, Chris knew exactly why they'd found Ezra innocent. "Because they've seen the good you done here, Ezra; that's all the evidence they needed."


THE END
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