Challenge 4:

May 12, 2013

Summary - 1 hr fic – Boot - Sequel to my Challenge story saga


Vin frowned. He'd been watching Ezra since the man first exited the saloon this morning, wanting to make sure the gambler was okay after his recent injury. Ezra still hadn't remembered why he'd been taking the more dangerous shortcut home from Eagle Bend earlier in the week. And his current behavior made Vin wonder if the head injury hadn't done more harm than Nathan thought.

Ezra had come out onto the boardwalk with an odd, stilted pace, stopping every couple of steps to rock back and forth on his feet. Vin checked for horse traffic then crossed the street as Ezra sat down on one of the chairs in front of the saloon and took of one of his boots.

"Ezra?" Vin asked softly once he reached the Southerner. "Somethin' wrong?"

His friend grumbled under his breath as he stuck his hand into the boot he'd already removed. "Nothing!" he exclaimed with a grimace, tossing the boot to land with a clunk on the ground beside him.

"Alright," Vin replied, taking a step back, knowing how cantankerous Ezra could be and not wanting to get into it with the still recovering man.

Ezra looked up, bewildered. "What?" he asked, then his face cleared as he realized he had an audience. "Oh, Vin, I didn't see you come up. What did you say?"

Vin pursed his lips, was this a trap? Were Ezra's brains scrambled enough to make him act so erratic? He decided to give it another try. "I asked if there was somethin' wrong," he tilted his chin up briefly, "with your boots?"

Ezra looked down at the offending articles and scowled. "Yes, there is. I thought perhaps there was simply something that had slipped down into the lining or a clod of dirt on the sole, but," he looked into the dark interior of the second boot, "I cannot see or feel anything that would make them uneven. It feels as though I am walking on an irregular surface."

Vin picked up the boot Ezra had tossed and examined it closely. He stuck his hand in to feel and found nothing. He turned the boot over and saw only a smooth, well-tooled leather sole. Then he looked along the stitching that bound the sole to the upper boot. His eyes widened momentarily then squinted as he examined the stitching more closely.

"The stitchin's been cut along here," he said. "Looks like it's been glued back down though." Vin handed the boot back to Ezra, swapping him for the second boot. "This one, too," Vin said after a moments study.

"Why on earth…" Ezra asked rhetorically. "I must assume that I did this, though I cannot imagine why."

Vin shrugged. "Only one way to find out," he said, unsheathing his hunting knife and holding it out questioningly. "You want to do it?"

Ezra sighed. "I suppose they will need to be re-soled in any case." He took the knife and carefully inserted it between the boot leather and the sole where the stitching had already been cut. The glue was stiff, but gave with a little pressure. He pried the sole away enough to stick his finger in and looked up in surprise to meet Vin's eyes. "There is something in there."

It took a few minutes to get the folded sheets of paper out of each boot. Ezra opened them and together he and Vin examined the pages.

Ezra gasped, his fingers tracing the familiar handwriting, though he still had no recollection of how the pages had come into his possession.

"What is it, Ezra?" Vin asked, seeing the gambler's complexion pale.

"This is Mother's handwriting, but I've never seen these pages before."

"Did you meet her in Eagle Bend?"

Ezra rubbed his forehead. "I do not recall."

"Well, what do they say?" Vin asked, not sure why Ezra would hide letters from his mom in his boots like that.

"I'm not sure," Ezra answered as he looked at the fancy writing.

"Why not?" Vin asked, suddenly concerned that the head injury had affected Ezra's ability to read.

"It's in code," Ezra replied, missing Vin's concern completely as he pondered the letters. "A code we only use when we need utmost secrecy. I need to decipher it with the key."

"Key?"

"The key to the code, it's a list of what each symbol means," Ezra answered distractedly. "This cannot be good, Vin. Did I hide these, or did Mother? Did we meet in Eagle Bend?" A moment of silence stretched between them, then Ezra stood abruptly. "I must decipher this immediately," he said by way of explanation as he turned and headed back into the saloon and presumably to his room.

Vin frowned. Was Maude in trouble? Why hadn't she come to Four Corners? What had happened in Eagle Bend? His gaze drifted to the boardwalk and landed on Ezra's abandoned boots.

the end... for now