SOMEHOW, I KNOW
Eighth story in the South Bridge Series
Chris had moved quickly, handing out handfuls of cash to the dispossessed, with no attempt to make anything fair or even. He just doled out a wad to everyone he encountered. Let them fight it out later. The money went quickly.
And apparently the people of the town were kind enough to keep it spreading – ensuring that those that were missed received their fair share. Perhaps South Bridge wasn't such a bad place.
Everyone suddenly loved the law men from Four Corners. They were offered rooms at the finest homes still standing, offered just about anything, but Chris was done. He wanted to get Ezra and the rest of them away from the blight.
The wagon was loaded with a gladly-donated feather mattress, making it the most comfortable bed in the area, and they left town as quickly as Ezra's head was shaved across the back, the wound cleaned and stitched, and his head bandaged like a turban.
They gave away Garcia's horse – then tied Chaucer and Badger to the back of the wagon, along with Prophet who'd been located once the money began being dispersed.
Chris rode alongside on Job.
Kerstin was waiting for them along the path. She didn't move as she sat on her horse and watched them approach. And she smiled.
"You are funny," she said when they reached her. "Funny men."
"You gonna let us pass?" Chris asked, making a show of his weapon.
Kerstin laughed and held up a wad of cash and said, "A woman gave me half of her money when she saw I have a child. This is enough. The rest is too much. This is good. Too much money makes people crazy, yes?"
The men were quiet, watching her.
She laughed again, and gave Per a little squeeze. The boy giggled, delighted. Josiah's heart lurched.
"Say goodbye to your farfar."
Per smiled and waved. "Bye bye, grandpa."
Josiah said nothing, watching from his front seat on the wagon. His throat felt too full and he could only raise his hand as the little boy smiled.
Kerstin laughed again and shook her fist of cash at them. Then she turned her horse and rode off – who knows where.
Chris looked to Josiah. "You going to be okay?"
"Yes," Josiah said curtly. "Let's go." He couldn't bear to watch his grandson leave him again. He knew that Kerstin would protect him fiercely. With Miguel gone, they might stand a chance, and she had enough money to give them a good start. Josiah knew that he wouldn't be allowed in their lives.
It was time to let them go.
Within the wagon, Ezra made a sound, and Nathan bent over him quickly.
"He gonna be okay?" Chris asked.
"He's comfortable, I think," Nathan replied, soothing Ezra with a wet cloth. "I just want to get him home."
"Workin' on it," Chris responded.
JD, Vin and Buck met up with them somewhere in-between Red Rock and the South Bridge Bay. "Couldn't find him," Buck exclaimed as he charged up. And then he seemed to realize what was following the wagon. "You got Chaucer?"
"We got Ezra," Chris responded, nodding toward the wagon. "Found him in South Bridge."
"South Bridge?" JD echoed. "We heard it blew up and got flooded! Some folks came through here earlier and told us about it. It sounded horrific. Like something out of the Bible."
Buck went on, "We were comin' out to help you, since we couldn't find Ez. Figured you all must be involved somehow."
Vin pulled Peso alongside the wagon and looked inside where Nathan was sitting beside their gambler in the wagon bed. "Damn," he muttered as he took in Ezra's appearance. He reached in and softly touched Ezra's shoulder.
Nathan was mopping Ezra's face with a wet rag. The day was cool – but Ezra felt so warm.
"What the hell happened?" Vin asked sharply.
"Garcia got him," Nathan explained. "Beat the hell out of him. He got whacked pretty hard on the head."
The three looked glum, watching Ezra, who was muttering feebly, until the nattering became a word they understood. "Vin?" Ezra asked quietly.
"Hey, Ez. Yeah, it's me," Vin responded.
"Buck's here too, hoss!" Buck called, sidling in. He patted Ezra gently on the leg. "And you still owe us dinner!" he said lightly, though his expression was tight with worry. "I ain't gonna let you forget that!"
Unable to get close to Ezra in the crush, Dunne shouted, "I'm here too, Ezra!"
Ezra's eyes fluttered a moment, and a sliver of green showed. He looked from Vin to Buck, and then the eyes slid shut.
"Damn," Buck frowned. "He looks like hell."
Vin asked, "He gonna be okay?"
From the front of the wagon, Josiah stated in a low voice, "He doesn't remember me."
"He lost his memory?" JD asked softly.
Nathan spoke up, "He seems to know me and Chris – and Vin now. But he's not thinking straight. He doesn't seem to remember things in the right order."
JD drew Toby to the other side of the wagon, and stared in at his friend. "Gosh, he looks pale."
Nathan sighed, and swiped his hand over Ezra's brow, brushing away his hair. "He's been waking every so often, but not for long. Has a bad fever. Should've found a place to rest him outside of South Bridge."
Vin felt the feather bed inside the wagon. "Not the worst way to travel."
"And the sooner you got him out of that town the better," Buck muttered. "Nothing good ever came out of there. Not much left of it from what I hear."
"Where's Garcia?" Vin asked darkly, his hand moving toward his mares-leg.
"Dead," Chris answered.
"Good," Buck responded quickly, and then winced, throwing a look toward Josiah. "Sorry, Josiah… I…"
Josiah hadn't turned. He'd kept his gaze on the road toward Red Rock. "It's my fault," he said. "It's my fault and Ezra knew that. It's why he won't remember me. He doesn't even want to know me anymore." And with that, he flicked the reins to get the wagon moving toward Red Rock again.
They spent two days in Red Rock as Ezra healed. The gambler was coherent for longer periods each day. Chris and Nathan stayed with him while the others returned to Four Corners to take care of their town. Josiah went with them because he couldn't stand the fact that Ezra didn't know him.
Finally, Nathan decided it would be best to bring Ezra the rest of the way home. He was stronger, and the familiar setting might help him remember.
Sanchez stood in the doorway of his church on the day Nathan and Chris brought Ezra to the clinic. He watched as the wagon drew up to the livery, and Buck, Vin and JD hurried forward to help. Ezra was walking, unsteady and slow, but able to move up the stairs with someone on each side.
Ezra didn't look at him. Perhaps he was too focused on the act of forward locomotion, and too dizzy to turn his head. Maybe he didn't want to see him.
Once he was safely in the clinic, Chris came down the stairs while the others remained to spend some time with their brother.
"Josiah," Chris said as he approached the preacher.
Josiah nodded, his gaze on the balcony above the livery. He finally asked, "Does he know me?"
Chris shook his head.
"Does he know the others?"
Josiah went on, "Every time he woke up in that wagon, he had no idea who I was. He didn't even remember the previous times I introduced myself."
"He's getting better," Chris said. "Jackson said it's a miracle that he's alive and talking after that hit."
"He distrusts me so much," Josiah said sadly. "He knows that I caused all of this."
"You did blow up and flood a whole town," Chris said with a small smile.
But Josiah's mood didn't change. "I'm the reason he got hurt."
"No," Chris answered. "That was Garcia."
"Miguel attacked him because of me! He was looking for me and found Ezra, and then he beat him because he was angry with me."
"You were not responsible for that man's actions."
"I didn't tell him that Garcia was out there."
Chris didn't respond. Instead, he said, "You should go see Ezra once the crowd thins out."
Josiah turned away and said, "It breaks my heart when he says he doesn't know me."
Josiah watched the clinic from his church and listened to the reports from the others.
More than once he saw someone leave the clinic in to fetch Chris. Larabee would jog up the stairs and spend several minutes there, before departing. "Keeps bringing up that stupid argument," Chris would tell Josiah. "Stubborn mule won't remember that we got it fixed."
Buck later told him about how Chris would talk to Ezra at those times. "Reminds me of how he used to talk to his son when Adam was upset about something," he said. "Tells him the facts straight in a way that brooks no argument. Ezra listens real good and understands – for a while anyway."
"He give any sign that he remembers me?" Josiah asked.
Buck's response was glum. "It's like hitting a brick wall when we mention you. He's just got no memory of you at all. Might help if you come up and see him."
"Nathan says he's getting better. Seems to have finally gotten it into his noggin that his horse is safe. He's putting it all back together. He has some pretty fierce nightmares though. I've sat with him a few times and it makes a soul wonder what goes through his head."
Josiah lowered his head in misery.
"You should see him."
"I can't handle it, Buck."
Another day passed. Nathan had seen Josiah that morning, and gave him the latest report. Ezra was remembering more but still had no memory of the preacher.
"He gave me the strangest look this morning," Nathan said softly, apologetically to Sanchez. "Even mentioning your name confused him this time."
It was like a knife to the heart.
Josiah watched when Nathan brought Ezra out to the balcony for the first time since his return. The day was sunny and warm. Once he had the Ezra settled, Josiah could hear the healer admonishing him to stay put.
Josiah waited, watching.
It was good to see Ezra again. He was looking much better than the last time he'd laid eyes on him. The terrible paleness was gone, and he seemed surer of his movements, sharper.
Ezra leaned back and rubbed absently at his head. He wore no hat. A bandage surrounded the crown of his head, covering the cruel haircut and even crueler scar.
Josiah had lost so much in the past few days. He'd lost his son – didn't even have a body to bury. He'd seen his grandson taken away, had lost any claim he'd had to young Caleb, and even though they'd found Ezra and brought him home, Josiah had lost all connection to him.
It wasn't fair.
Ezra paged through a book for several minutes and then with a quick movement, he shut it and jammed it into his large pocket. Then, carefully, he leveraged himself to his feet. It took a moment for the gambler to find his balance. Once on his feet, he stood quietly, probably listening for Jackson.
And then, he moved to the stairway.
Josiah made his way to cut him off before he got too far. He waited, watching the concentration Ezra put into descending the stairs – one careful step at a time. He waited until Ezra made it to the bottom.
"Ezra," Sanchez called, his voice calm and low.
"Ah!" Ezra said, surprised as he looked up to meet Josiah's gaze. "And who might you be?"
Josiah closed his eyes, trying to hide the grief that the question gave him. Finally he said, "Where do you think you're going?"
Ezra shrugged. "Well, stranger, I was tired from being confined for so long and thought getting some air might do me well."
"That's why Nathan got you set up on that rocking chair."
"And I needed a little exercise, sir," Ezra added quickly. "How am I to regain my equilibrium without a chance to test it? In any case, I understand that I owe someone dinner. I fear they may be tryin' to take advantage of me. Something to do with a poker game that I lost." He pulled a face. "Don't know how that could have happened. Now, if you'll excuse me. I must be away before Nathan notices. It'll be any moment now."
He moved past Josiah, a wobble in his step, but moving forward easily enough.
"Ezra," Josiah called softly. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" Ezra repeated. "Why ever for?"
"None of this would have happened if not for me. Miguel attacked you because of me."
"This much I know - Miguel Garcia attacked me because he needed someone to retrieve the bag from beneath the floorboards of the Happy Home, and he couldn't enter the town himself, until, of course, the town was empty of its inhabitants." Ezra narrowed his eyes. "A great deal of money was in that bag. I understand it was all handed out to those former residents of South Bridge."
"All of those poor people had lost their homes."
Ezra grimaced as if he'd tasted something sour, and then said, "I hope Miss Violet received sufficient compensation. She should want for nothing."
"She got plenty, Ezra. I saw to that."
"But you didn't make sure that I received anything? Can't remember to pick up a package for me in Red Rock, can't put your hand into the bag and pull out a few bills to be saved under my name. It's not as if you ever stopped by to see me while Nathan had me ensconced up there. Everyone else managed it."
If Ezra expected a strong reaction from Josiah, he received one. Josiah broke out into a huge grin and surged forward, grabbing Ezra in a bear hug, shouting joyfully, "You remember me!"
He released Ezra immediately when Standish gasped.
"Sorry, Ezra. I'm so sorry. I forgot…"
"Yes, well…" Ezra staggered a little to find his balance. "That's obvious. There seems to be a lot of that…"
"But you do remember me, don't you?" Josiah cried.
Ezra looked at Josiah as if he was crazy. "Of course I do. How could I possibly forget… you!" and he gestured at Sanchez.
"But Nathan told me that you still didn't know who I was this morning."
At this, Ezra paused one long moment, then braced himself on his knees and laughed. "Is that what it was all about? Good Lord, I thought he'd gone round the bend when he kept asking me if I knew who you were!"
From the top of the stairs Nathan shouted, "Ezra! I thought…! You…! How … how could you?!"
Ezra turned – carefully – to face the healer. "Nathan, you sounded crazy."
Nathan ran down the stairs and clamped his hands on Ezra's shoulders, looking like he wanted to shake him silly. But knowing better, he only held him firmly as he pressed his face in. "How long have you known?"
"Known what? Known Josiah? Since before that adventure with the Seminole Village," Ezra responded glibly.
Exasperated, Nathan pressed him, "Since South Bridge… When did you start remembering him after we left South Bridge last week? After you got your head nearly taken off."
"Last week? I hear he burned South Bridge, blew it up… then drowned it," Standish said. "Fitting end to that place. I'm sorry I missed the show. I would have enjoyed the spectacle."
Nathan tried again, "When did you start remembering him?"
Ezra turned his head to look at Josiah. "I didn't remember Josiah?" his voice was filled with wonder. "Well, my mind hasn't been quite right for a while… a long while some might say. I have no idea when I started remembering someone I'd forgotten, because I can't remember what I've forgotten, and I've forgotten when I remembered, and I can't remember when I forgot to remember him." And he smiled like a fox.
"He's better," Nathan said to Josiah as he dropped his grip on the gambler.
"A lot better," Josiah said, and couldn't stop smiling.
"Still can't understand him," Nathan chuckled.
"Son," Josiah started, "you had me in fits. I couldn't understand how you could remember everyone else, but not know me."
"I have no idea," Ezra said. "I was thinking about you, perhaps. I don't recall meeting Garcia or any of that, but I do remember that I had been upset, and that I'd had words with you before my departure. That was probably why I kept recalling that other argument with Chris. I tend to get into a lot of disagreements," he said, and looked toward the others.
"That you do," Nathan replied.
"That was my fault, Ezra," Josiah said. "I was upset about something that wasn't even true. I should've known better. And I should've told you about Miguel."
Ezra closed his eyes as he worked to bring his thoughts together. "I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your son. It must have been devastating."
"It was. In so many ways."
Ezra went on with the previous conversation. "It was silly of me to be annoyed," and he paused a beat before saying, "but you should've taken some money from that bag for me! A small stack of bills, Josiah! Chris, I hear, was handing them out like candy! How could you not procure me any money when it was being given away? I even hear that they'll be rebuilding the town, north of the bridge over the Banyon River. What fools!"
"Rebuilding?" Josiah repeated. This was news to him.
Nathan nodded, saying, "They're gonna call it North Bridge." And they all winced.
Ezra continued, "Between that and the forgotten package…"
Josiah's expression fell as he remembered. "Damn it, Ezra. That package in Red Rock. We were through there again and I didn't check at the saloon for it." He brought his hand to his face. "I can't believe I forgot again."
"I'm extremely offended," Ezra sulked. "I can't believe you did that."
"I'll leave right now, Ezra," Josiah stated. "I'll be able to make it to Red Rock and back before sundown, you can count on it."
"The journey might do you good," Ezra said. "Allow you time to think about what you've done."
Nathan cleared his throat and said, "Ezra, do you remember about that package that Buck gave you?"
"What was that, Mr. Jackson?"
"The package… that Buck retrieved on his first day in Red Rock. He held onto it all the time he was looking for you. The package that he gave you two days ago and you opened and were so happy to have. You remember it?"
"Oh, that package!" Ezra had a look of false innocence. "Yes, I have the package, but that doesn't erase the fact that he forgot it in the first place… and the second place." He made a little wave. "But I forgive you."
Ezra looked to Nathan. "It would have been fun to watch him ride out after it."
"No Ezra. No, it wouldn't," Nathan responded, but he knew Ezra too well. "You wouldn't have let him do it."
"True," Ezra replied. "Larabee would have my neck if I let Josiah go off on his own, after all the trouble he caused last time he did that. It's time someone curtailed his activities."
Josiah really never knew what to do about Ezra's responses. He knew the conman worked his hardest to raise the ire of Josiah Sanchez, but at that moment, even his most obnoxious remarks brought a smile.
"What was in the package, anyway?" Sanchez asked. "Jewelry? Bonds? Important documents? Gold?"
Ezra pulled the book out of his pocket. "Jules Verne!" he declared. "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I am borrowing it from the owner of the Twice-Shy Saloon. He'd been reading it when I last passed through that town, and told me a little of the story. It sounded like a rousing tale, and he told me he'd loan it to me. I am to return it when I'm finished. He made a point to say he wanted it returned without bullet holes nor blood stains. Imagine that."
"Yeah," Nathan said. "Imagine."
Ezra sighed as he looked at the cover. "But, I'm having a hell of a time trying to read it. My vision hasn't cleared as much as I'd hoped. I thought the sunlight would make it easier to see the print but I was wrong." He looked to Nathan. "Mr. Jackson promises my vision will get better."
"It will," Nathan reassured.
Josiah smiled, feeling warm and happy. "If you go back up to that rocking chair and sit there like a good boy, I'll read it to you."
Ezra broke out in a huge grin and shoved the book into Josiah's hands. "I was wonderin' when you'd offer." And he headed back to the stairs.
Josiah and Nathan watched as Ezra carefully scaled the heights back to Nathan's clinic.
"You didn't tell him about the 'finder's fee' that Chris took out of that bag of cash?" Nathan asked in a low voice.
Josiah laughed lightly. "Ezra surprised me so much, I didn't know how to tell him. Chris got him almost $800 for him for all the trouble he's been through because of South Bridge. Didn't anyone tell him about that yet?"
Nathan laughed lightly. "He's been badgering everyone about that bag of money. I think we've explained it to him about it a dozen times. It's fun watching how excited he gets each time he's told. But he forgets. His memory seems to be pretty solid now. It might finally stick. But I'm gonna miss that big smile when he finds out about it though - like a dozen lanterns shinin' in the darkness. I kinda look forward to it."
Josiah grinned, but the expression dropped as he thought.
"He's not going to leave with it, Josiah," Nathan said. "If that's that what you're thinking."
"You're right," Josiah softly conceded. "He's home, isn't he?"
Ezra had reached the top of the stairs and turned. "Hurry up, Mr. Sanchez! Time is wasting and I am ready for an epic adventure! Don't keep me waiting!"
Josiah and Nathan exchanged an exasperated look, Josiah said, "Maybe I'll wait a bit before I tell him, just to torture him."
"He'll just keep complaining about it," Nathan replied. "You should get it over with."
"True," Josiah said. "And I want to see that smile you're talking about." And then they both headed up the stairs, following Ezra. "Somehow I know it'll be magnificent."
A/N: Thank you so much for all of your reviews. I appreciate them so much. I hope you enjoyed the conclusion to the South Bridge Series. After re-reading the older stories, I found that I had left a lot of plots dangling. I hope this helped to stitch them up.