DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No profit involved. Who in their
right mind would pay me anyway? It is based on the television series
"The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by
CBS, TNN, Showtime Extreme, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved
with that production is intended. This is purely for fun to keep my
writing skills somewhat tuned.
RATING: PG-13 for Language and a bit of violence
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Ezra, JD and Chris
SUMMARY: Sequel to Ezra's Feast. What happens when someone comes looking for all that stuff that Edmund Varness stole?
SPOILERS: Just for my story, Ezra's Feast, which you probably should read first.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thank you to Sablecain and KellyA for your comments and suggestions.
COMMENTS: Yes, please! Drop me a note, let me know what you think.
DATE: Finished July 6, 2001
APPEARS IN: Fanzine Nothing Left to Chance #4
By NotTasha. And yes, before you ask.. that is the correct spelling of the phrase "just deserts"
Chris opened the door of the clinic and walked quietly into the room. At first glance, anyone would think the room was unoccupied. The sparse room was neat, as always, with the exception of the bed. The blankets were heaped in the middle, as if someone had pulled them out of place in order to haul them off to the laundry.
With any luck, the lump beneath the blankets would remain motionless… and asleep. Chris moved quietly into the room, doing his best to keep from disturbing the occupant.
Unfortunately, the knot of blankets shifted. Chris waited, hoping that the movement would stop. Let him sleep a bit this time, he thought. The movement continued though and, after a quiet moan, Chris realized that there'd be no reprieve.
Finally, as the bundle continued to churn about, Larabee asked, "You okay?"
"Fine," was the muffled reply, edgy and pain-filled, letting Larabee know that the situation hadn't improved. "Just fine." The normally confident and jovial voice sounded so defeated and weak. "Where'd you go?"
"Privy," was the short answer. "Took a walk." Larabee purposefully left off the fact that he had stopped for a bite to eat as well.
"You haven't brought in any of that horrendous soup?"
"I come unarmed," Chris countered.
The knot of blankets shuffled and the corner was thrown back just far enough to reveal a green and blood-shot eye. Larabee was scrutinized for a moment and then the blanket was tugged back over the hidden head. "No soup," Ezra said tiredly. "Can't abide the smell of it."
"I know," Chris replied as he made his way toward the chair. His side still ached. Only a few days had passed since he had been shot, but the bullet wound was healing nicely. Nathan had been impressed by the close-knit stitches, figuring that the man who placed them had been a surgeon at one point.
"Lucky," Nathan had told him. "You and JD didn't get nothin' more than grazed."
Still, it didn't help the fact that it hurt like hell.
"Gettin' any better?" Chris asked hopefully.
A bitter chuckle. "No. Sorry to disappoint. It's just…the same."
Damn, Chris thought. 'The same' wasn't what he wanted to hear. He watched the blankets move as Ezra tried to find a comfortable position and failed, muttering incomprehensibly, swearing exasperatedly.
For the past three days now, Ezra had been unable to keep much of anything down. He could handle a little water, as long as it was warm -- but not too hot. Ever since his fateful meeting with Edmund Varness, Ezra had been sicker than a dog.
Ezra moaned again, as he pulled himself into a ball.
"Let me know if you gotta…"
"No. It's just… God!" The blankets shifted and he seemed to be shaking again.
"Have you been able to get any sleep?"
"Can't," was the reply.
"How about some water?"
There was no reply, so Chris took that to be a 'yes'. He checked to see if the towel-wrapped kettle at the bed stand was still warm. It had cooled, but would probably pass as acceptable. He poured some water into a glass and sat down in the chair, gritting his teeth to keep from groaning as his side protested. "Ezra?"
Ezra unknotted himself. He sat up slowly, pulling the blanket around himself as he moved. The blanket fell away from his face, and Chris noted that he looked like hell. His eyes were sunken and red, his skin had a pasty greenish tinge to it, his hair was matted to his head. The gambler scooted backward until he was sitting with his back against the headboard and then looked over to Chris with tired eyes. "Okay," he said.
Chris sighed, still not used to the terse statements from the usually verbose gambler. "Here ya go," he said as he handed him the glass.
Ezra took it with a shaky hand and sipped at its contents. "It's getting cold," he mentioned.
"I'll have 'em send up a new kettle," Larabee responded.
Ezra nodded and sipped tentatively at the glass for a few minutes and then handed it back to Chris, who set it on the little stand. And without another word, Ezra sunk back beneath the blankets, curling up in the center of the bed.
Once he was still, Larabee spoke, "Anything I can do?"
The response was so quiet and muffled by the blankets that Chris hardly heard it. He probably wasn't meant to hear in any case. "Make it stop," Ezra muttered.
"Wish I could," Chris responded truthfully.
Chris silently sat, while Ezra breathed harshly. He felt so hopeless, just waiting for everything to get better, knowing that he was responsible for the gambler's current condition. Why the hell did he do it? How could this nomadic gambler risk his life so easily? ...so utterly? Wouldn't it have been smarter to turn and leave when the odds looked so desperately against him?
No good deed goes unpunished.
Edmund Varness and his well-trained team of men had attacked the town of Vineville and carried off anything of value. Every store in town was looted. Private residences were ransacked, the jail and church were burned, and the bank was dynamited. Every coin, bill and piece of jewelry was taken. Citizens were killed -- men, women and children. Little was left behind. Those that saw the carnage were appalled by the violence visited upon the small town. It was difficult to fathom how mere men could perpetrate such evil.
The gang collected the spoils and loaded it into wagons. They then began their mad dash across the territory, hoping to make it to Mexico and outrun the law. Peacekeepers died in the pursuit. The army was called out to stop them. The twelve men, weary from their horrible flight, holed up in the Martinez Compound to rest. And it was there that all twelve men died.
They died quickly and bloodlessly. The twelve were buried without their names. No one mourned.
The army, which had arrived in a glorious fusillade -- and proved to be completely ineffective -- left. The lawmen of Four Corners were pressed into service to finish the job. Two of the lawmen suffered from gunshot wounds and had to move slowly, another of the men could hardly move at all and spent that day in the shade of one of the wagons, curled up in a ball, retching and wishing the world would go away.
It took one long day to bury the dead and to root through the things that they had left behind, to pack it up on the wagons and horses and to finally bring everything to Four Corners for dispensation. It was a slow and tedious process and the men had other matters on their minds.
Ezra Standish was sick. Nathan did what he could, but the rattling journey in the back of the wagon was agonizing for him, as were the days that followed. He trembled, and moaned, hardly able to sleep due to his headache and the clenching pain in his stomach. His skin took on an unhealthy tone and clammy texture as he suffered through an endless bout of vomiting that left him weak and miserable.
For five days Standish was sick, so very ill that Jackson was afraid for his life. The six of them took turns keeping an eye on the gambler, and forgave him his atrocious moods.
"Never should'a let him do it," Jackson said during the long discussion that Larabee had forced on them afterward. "Soon as I knew what he was planning I should'a called an end to it. It's a damn sight worse than I ever expected. I always considered myself a healer, and I nearly killed a friend of mine with something I had made."
Ezra started improving on the sixth day, but it wasn't until seven days after the deadly meal that Standish was able to eat a little barley broth without retching it up immediately. He finally climbed out from beneath the blankets that had cocooned him and return to his own room.
And even a week after that, he still had no appetite and continued to lose weight. He kept to a bland diet, and slept most of the day. He avoided the town's restaurant and drank nothing stronger than imported Chinese tea. If anyone brought an aromatic dish into the saloon, he would pick up and leave immediately, without a word. God help him if anyone even mentioned brandy. It would be enough to send Standish running to the alleyway beside the saloon.
His friends were worried about him, but at least he was improving, at least he was able to stand and walk about without grasping any support with a white knuckled grip.
It was at this time, two weeks after the destruction of Vineville, after the siege at the Martinez Compound, after Varness and all his men were killed by the subterfuge of one man -- that Tyrone Bakkus came to town.
Chris carried the small plate of toast and scrambled eggs to the table at the back of the saloon and set it beside the gambler, who eyed it suspiciously.
"Thank you, Mr. Larabee," Ezra said, as he bridged his deck of cards, "But I've already eaten breakfast."
Chris regarded Ezra, who dealt out another game of solitaire. It was two weeks since Standish had nearly succumbed to his own con. The gambler's face was hollow, his eyes sunken, and his clothing hung on him as if on a hanger. His skin still seemed unnaturally pale and he hadn't gained back any of his normal energy.
"I saw what you ate for breakfast," Chris said, pushing the plate over the cards, careful to avoid the teacup that sat at his elbow. "And half a biscuit ain't going to do you any good."
"It's all I require."
"It wouldn't keep a sparrow going."
"Nonetheless, I'm not hungry," Ezra said, pushing the plate back to where it was originally sitting and tried to straighten his cards.
"Damn it, Ezra, you have to be hungry. You haven't eaten more than a couple of mouthfuls for the past two weeks. Hell, this ain't hardly anything here. Buck could eat this without even noticing it."
"Mr. Wilmington's gluttonous abilities are beyond me."
"He'd eat just about anything and ask for seconds." Ezra flipped the next card and concentrated on the two of diamonds as if it would find a place to alight if he only tried hard enough. He frowned at the crooked rows.
"Ezra, stop messing around and just eat this stuff."
Standish sighed. "Honestly, Chris, I just can't seem to build up any desire for it."
"Desire it or not, you're gonna eat." Chris leaned forward and scooped up the cards that Ezra was fiddling into position. Then he pushed the plate back in front of him. Ezra eyed the dish as if it might bite him.
"Ezra, come on, try some of this. I had 'em fix it up the way you like," Chris encouraged. "Dry as the desert and there's not very much of them either, so you got no reason to refuse." More than once, Ezra had declined a meal simply because there was "too much of it".
Ezra touched the rim of the plate as if he didn't know what to do with it. The dish was decorated with little blue cornflowers, all strung together around the edge. He focused on the pretty flowers and tried to ignore the food at the center. It was best to ignore food whenever possible.
He glanced up at Larabee and saw 'that look.' If he had more gumption, he might try to wheedle his way out of this, but the expression let him know that he wouldn't be let off easily. He hadn't the strength to fight.
Chris watched as Ezra half-heartedly picked up the fork and tentatively ate a few bites. He chewed far longer than necessary and followed each swallow with a sip of tea and a bite of toast. They'd had to send away to San Francisco for a variety of teas imported from China. It was the only thing that seemed to settle Ezra's queasy stomach.
Ezra consumed about a fourth of the eggs before he started poking them around, trying to make it look like he had eaten more than he actually had. He shoved a bit of it surreptitiously under one slice of toast.
"Stop it, Ezra," Chris admonished. "Remember, I've had a kid. I know the tricks."
Ezra gave up his rearranging and continued with his nibbling until he had managed to finish about a third the meager meal. Then, he shook his head and set down the fork. "It's all I can manage," he said and turned an unhappy eye on Larabee.
Chris nodded and moved the plate away, setting it at an empty table beside them. He knew that if the meal remained, the sight of the unfinished food would only make Standish nauseous.
"So, how you feelin' today?" Chris asked.
"Well enough," Ezra replied.
Chris knew that it wasn't much of an answer. But it was better than 'like I want to die' .
The batwing doors parted and he looked up as well-dressed man entered the saloon. The stranger was a big man, with close-cropped brown hair and a disdainful expression. He went to the bar and ordered a shot of whiskey and chatted with the bartender.
Chris saw the bartender point toward their table and the man looked over his shoulder at them, but didn't make any move to come toward them. The stranger's eyes only glanced over Chris, settling on Ezra for a moment before he faced forward again. Larabee stiffened, thinking that he saw a malicious gleam in the man's eyes.
Ezra retrieved his cards and started setting out another game.
The stranger paid his bill and left.
Larabee frowned, watching the big man's quick departure. He stood, without speaking to Ezra, and crossed the saloon.
"Hey, Joe," Chris called to the bartender. "Who was that?"
The bartender shrugged. "Said his name was Tyrone Brown. Don't know him though. Ain't seen him before."
"What was he askin' about?"
"Oh, the news."
Joe smiled. "You know, the big news in town -- Varness. He heard about it in the Clarion and wanted to see the man who took out the whole gang." The bartender nodded toward Ezra, looking rather proud of the saloon patron.
Chris looked back to the table, where Ezra was once again involved in a game of solitaire. He moved slowly and deliberately, as if every motion cost him precious energy. It was almost comical to think that someone who looked as unwell as Ezra could have managed to kill twelve men.
"Keep an eye on Mr. Standish for me," Larabee said.
"Sure thing, Mr. Larabee," Joe pledged with a nod. "You know I do."
Larabee headed out into the street to see where this Tyrone Brown had gone, but the man was nowhere in sight.
Bakkus was beside himself with anger. How dare he! How dare he sit there in that saloon as if nothing had happened! He killed twelve men without batting an eye, robbed me of everything I own!. The coward! Hiding away under the protection of a gunslinger, dispensing his death in the most craven manner -- poisoner!
Tyrone paced back and forth in his hotel room.
Standish had ruined everything. The spoils of Vineville, now ensconced in the Four Corner, only further reminded him of his loss. Edmund Varness was to receive a third of the bounty for leading the expedition, his men were to split the second third, but Bakkus… for financing everything… had the final third reserved for himself.
He paused and glared out the window to the saloon where Standish sat at his table, unconcerned. He's ruined me, Bakkus thought, that son-of-a-bitch! A lifetime of toil destroyed by a fop.
Tyrone had started out as a dirt-farmer, but had worked his whole life, building, generating capital, expanding his little worthless farm to a successful cattle ranch. He had become a respected man. Then he met Varness -- smooth as an eel Varness. Varness knew all the right words, knew just what to say. Soon, Tyrone had emptied his bank account and sold most of his cattle to pay for the weapons, the wagons and the horses to back the mission that Varness had outlined.
It would be simple. Vineville was like a plum waiting on a tree… or perhaps a tomato on a vine. It was ripe for the taking. The town was remote, but rich…mighty rich.
But a certain son-of-a-bitch ruined it all with his cowardly poison.
Bankrupt! There had been no money to pay his ranch hands and the grain bins were emptying at an alarming rate. There was nothing to give to the green grocer or the butcher. His housekeeper had come to him, with tears in her eyes, saying that his lawyer had yelled at her for not bringing his regular monthly payment.
Bakkus could hardy walk down the street of his hometown without running into someone to whom he suddenly owed cash. He was back to where he had started, back to the days when he couldn't afford a new shirt, back to the beginning. But this was worse -- much worse. He had always been respected, even when he was poor. They laughed at him now -- he was certain of it.
No one respected a rich man who was suddenly made poor. Varness had promised him that the venture would be successful. And it was -- up until Standish, the yellow-bellied conman, came on the scene.
Tyrone couldn't go home to face his creditors! He had to come to Four Corners to retrieve the wealth of Vineville, to take his share of it…
And making Standish pay for the degradation he had suffered.
"Hey, Ezra!" Buck said, plopping himself down in the seat beside the gambler. "I was about to order up some of that temptin' stew that Joe's so famous for and I was wonderin' if you'd like to join me."
Ezra flipped over a card and replied, "Mr. Wilmington, our esteemed leader has recently forced breakfast on me. I find lunch completely out of the question at this moment."
"Hell, Ez," Buck scoffed. "Been a couple hours since Chris came by here."
Ezra raised an eyebrow. "Ah, I see I'm still under scrutiny." He opened his watch. "Besides, it's only eleven o'clock."
"Red eight," Buck said helpfully as Ezra revealed another card.
Ezra moved the turned seven onto the eight. "Lunch doesn't traditionally begin until noon."
"Okay, then, it's a date! I'll be orderin' up two bowls at high-noon and I'll get a couple of hunks of that bread that Inez is so proud of. I'm expectin' your company."
Standish rolled his eyes. "A date with Buck Wilmington… all my dreams have been fulfilled. I'll be certain to record it in my journal."
Buck gave him a hearty slap on the back. "It'll probably take up a page or two. God, we gotta get you built back up, hoss! You're skinny enough that if you turned the right way, you'd plum disappear. If a strong wind would blow through here, it'd pick you up and take you halfway to Mexico. You'd make a right colorful kite!"
"Perhaps in Mexico, I'd be left to my own devises."
"Naw," Buck returned. "Wouldn't give up that easy. We'd find you there, too "
Ezra paused in his playing and looked up to Buck, a smile twisting the edges of his mouth. "I suppose you would."
Buck was delighted. It'd been a long time since he'd seen Standish even attempt a smile. "You got that right! And you know, if I don't find you at lunchtime, I'll hunt you down, hog tie you, and make you eat."
"I'd find it rather difficult to attempt Mr. Rutledge's stew in that position. It's thick but..." Ezra raised an eyebrow.
"I'll get Nate or Josiah to spoon feed ya!"
A grimace followed that comment. "I'll be sure to be found then," Ezra responded. "And thus relieve you of the need to 'hog tie' me."
Buck gave Ezra another slap on the back, aware of the fact that Ezra felt far too insubstantial. Two damn weeks and he's hardly anything but skin and bones! He knew that Ezra was sometimes a light eater, but it surprised him to see how quickly he faded without those meals. At least, Buck thought, he'd consented to eating lunch. That's a step in the right direction. Better than disappearing every time a meal is about to be served. Maybe everything would be okay now.
"I'll see ya then," Buck declared and Ezra nodded in response. Wilmington stood and sauntered across the saloon to where Chris stood against the bar. "We're gonna have lunch," he stated.
"Never thought I'd see the day when I was happy just to hear that." Chris started toward the door, gesturing for Wilmington to follow.
"He's gettin' better," Wilmington declared, following Larabee onto the boardwalk. "Another day or two and he'll be eatin' all those dainty things he usually goes for, or digging into a mess of beans and a steak with the rest of us."
"Better be soon. Another few days like this and he'll dry up and float away." Larabee stopped at the alleyway between the saloon and the assayer's office. He turned to Wilmington and said, "It shouldn't have happened, Buck."
"Wasn't a way around it. We've been over this already, Chris." Buck groaned at the memory of the 'discussion' that followed their return to Four Corners. Chris had raged at them, trying to get an answer as to why the entire scheme had been allowed. Ezra was too sick to offer any answers and the others could only look sheepish and declare that it sounded like a good idea at the time.
Buck continued, "We tried might, and got turned away. We needed a sneaky little bastard."
"Shouldn't have happened the way it did. Shouldn't have been just him in there alone."
"We needed to get you and JD out. Needed to stop Varness before he killed anyone else."
"Damn it, Buck." Larabee lowered his voice to a growl. "He stood there. He toasted the sons-of-bitches and drank it down."
"He knew that Nate was just outside the door…"
"What if one of those men didn't drink the crap? What if my damn hands were still tied?"
"He figured you were loose…"
"Figured, but didn't know. My God, he was barely breathing when I got to him." Chris slumped against the wall of the assayer's office and closed his eyes, remembering. Standish had scared the shit out of him.
Chris murmured, "He could've died."
Wilmington tucked his thumbs under his gun belt. "We do that sorta thing everyday, Chris -- any time we walk into a situation with our guns drawn."
"But do you willingly stick the goddamn gun into your mouth?" Chris' eyes snapped open, intense with a sudden rage. "How in the hell did you let him do it? I need you to watch out for these idiots when I'm not there to do it." He rubbed his side, feeling the pull of the healing wound. "How did he think of risking his life like that?"
Buck was silent for a moment and then finally replied, "Weighed the odds. He plays the numbers pretty good. Maybe he just figured that the odds were in our favor?" He lowered his voice and added, "Two for one."
"I don't care much for those odds, Buck," Chris grumbled.
"Can't say I care for 'em either."
Chris looked out across the street, remembering what he'd wanted to tell to Buck. "There's a fella in town -- Tyrone Brown. He was askin' questions about this whole Varness mess, asked about Ezra. Joe pointed him out."
"What's he look like?"
"Built like Josiah -- maybe bigger. Hair's brown and short, clean-shaven. Looks like he's got money. Might be a rancher."
"I'll keep an eye out for him."
"Could be nothin'. Could be that he was just interested in the story. Didn't like the way he looked at Ezra."
"I'll watch for him."
Chris nodded and clamped a hand on Buck's shoulder and the two continued on their way.
Ezra pocketed his cards and stood carefully. He reminded himself not to get sick from the change in position. There had been a time when any change in altitude brought bile to his throat, and he was still cautious of it. As he made his way toward the door, the bartender called to him, asking if he needed anything.
"No, no thank you, Mr. Rutledge," Ezra returned. "I simply require some air."
Joe Rutledge watched his favorite patron stepped through the doors. He shook his head and continued at his task of polishing the glasses. He hoped nothing happened to Mr. Standish, because certainly Mr. Larabee would blame him now.
Ezra stood a moment in the doorway, breathing. The confines of the saloon did become rather musty and he could certainly use a stroll around the town.
He turned away from the clinic and headed toward the jail. He had spent far too much time in Nathan's little room and wanted nothing to do with it if he could help it. The first week had been sheer misery. It was a blur to him -- an endless chain of illness. He didn't so much sleep as fall into a confused and half-hallucinatory state, interrupted by bouts of vomiting, wrenching pains and pounding headaches. He had been deplorably weak and unable to do anything except shiver and roll over in bed.
Various concoctions had been foisted upon him, all with less than stellar results. One of them had given him the dry heaves for over an hour. Nathan had apologized profusely, holding a cool wet cloth against the back of his neck. He remembered Nathan's calm voice and the fact that he was hardly able to sit up because of the tremors, but Nathan had gripped him tightly -- had not released him until it was over.
He wasn't sure, but it seemed that Josiah had been praying at some point. Lord, he hoped that wasn't the case. The man certainly could make better use of his petitions.
Chris and JD had both needed to recover from their wounds and had been sent to their own beds, so that they didn’t have to suffer through Ezra's illness as well. Still, it seemed to Ezra that they didn't remain away and had quickly returned to the rotation of faces that blurred in and out of his consciousness.
Josiah, Chris and JD all had read at his bedside. JD's dime store novels were confused into Josiah's Shakespeare and Chris' epic poetry until it became one unintelligible mess in his brain. He was almost certain that someone had read a scene where Iago was holed up in a bank, shooting it out with Jason and the Argonauts.
Buck had sat beside him, talking about anything -- lovely ladies, his adventures with Chris, recitations of recent encounters against foiled 'bad guys', and other quieter things, too. Apparently, Wilmington had forgiven him for puking on his boots. Vin had tried to play the harmonica, but the sound had only increased his headache, so the tracker stopped and instead sat silently at his bedside, often resting a hand on him and quickly jumping up if he thought anything was needed.
And Nathan was there most of the time. Did the healer get any rest?
Nobody seemed to mind the fact that he spent most of his time buried under the blankets, refusing to pull his head free.
He'd have to find a way to apologize to them all for the trouble he'd put them through. God, how would he ever manage that?
After that first horrendous week, he had felt well enough to return to his own room, where he had hoped to remain undisturbed. But the others had seen fit to drag him out and try to get him to eat. Didn't they understand that food was the enemy? If he didn’t eat, then he wouldn't have to throw up, wouldn't get 'the trots' -- thus saving himself the degradation of being so horribly ill. It was all a mean cycle that he decided to avoid as much as possible.
He wondered how he would be able to get out of lunch with Buck…
Slowly, Ezra walked to the jail and pushed open the door. A boisterous greeting met his ears, as JD bounded to his feet.
"Hey, Ez!" The young man shouted. "How ya doin'?" A healing scar on the young man's forehead, half-hidden now in his dark bangs, was the only remnant of his injury. He moved quickly away from his chair. "Ya want to sit?"
"I believe I'll be able to keep my feet beneath me for a few moments more, Mr. Dunne," Ezra muttered as he approached the left-hand cell and sucked his breath in at the sight. "It still amazes me that you were able to fit all of it in."
The cell was filled to the ceiling with trunks, boxes, crates and loose items. Piled here, there and everywhere were candelabras, silk dresses, fine haberdashery, saddles and expensive tack, a small table, a coat rack, embroidered linens, a velvet curtain, gold and silver accoutrements, cigarette cases and fine lacquered boxes. The spoils of Vineville deposited in one small space.
His eyes widened and his heart beat a little faster at the sight of so many valuables. If he'd felt better, he could try to convince JD to take a walk and allow him to become more familiar with the contents of the left-hand cell. It would appear that some if it would fit quite handily into his pockets. Lord, he must be truly ill if he couldn't make use of this situation.
"Took a while, but we got it to fit. Shoved in the little stuff wherever it'd go and left a path up the middle." JD laughed. "We figured we'd have to keep one of the cells open for … well, people… and this was the only place in town that's big enough to secure everything."
"The disbursement of these artifacts to their proper owners will take…" Ezra squinted at the magnitude of the project, "Nigh on a year."
"Chris figured he'd put you on it since you're the only one who likes to do boring paperwork stuff."
Ezra raised an eyebrow and JD smiled to see that incredulous look. "Me, Mr. Dunne? Certainly, you jest. Would Mr. Larabee actually trust me to manage all this..." he waved a hand "...considerable wealth?"
JD laughed. "Figures you're too sick to run with any of it...or maybe too smart." He poked at a pile of papers on the desk. "Here's a list of all that's in there."
Ezra sighed as he looked at the papers. "Let me guess, you've done nothing to categorize or organize." He gestured to the cell. "There's no rhyme nor reason to it, is there?"
"We had to get it all in," JD declared. "Would'a gone to you for advice on how to do it, 'cept you were a bit under the weather at that time."
"That's an understatement," Ezra muttered. He perused the list, reading the descriptions aloud, "One box of jewelry some with big stones might be diamonds, box that plays a nice song, gold watch -- looks fancy, pretty picture of boats, a pouch with a bunch of money in it." He grimaced at the descriptions. "And all of this is in there?" He exclaimed and turned back to the cell. "Lord knows where…"
These lists would do no good whatsoever when the owners or inheritors came calling. No, this would need to be properly catalogued and cross-referenced. He frowned at the tightly packed items. It would take weeks to organize! The very thought of it made him weary. God, he was exhausted.
He sighed and finally sat down in the chair that JD had vacated for him. He tossed his hat to the table and absently rubbed his eyes.
JD leaned against the desk. "Still not feelin' so good?"
"I'm a little tired, Mr. Dunne," Ezra explained truthfully.
"Nathan says that you'd feel better if you were eating more. Says you're not eating just because you're bein' stubborn about it, and you're just makin' things worse."
Ezra groaned and didn't move his hand from his face. "Mr. Jackson can go to hell." He said the words without any true conviction. He let the hand that grasped the list fall to the desk.
JD retrieved the pages from his unresisting grasp and set them aside. Dunne waited a minute for Ezra to say something else, but he remained silently rubbing his eyes.
When's he ever gonna start feeling better? JD recalled the fear of seeing Ezra so dreadfully ill a week ago. It was startling to see the energetic and quick-witted gambler so wasted with sickness, so desperate and pitiful. Pitiful was a word that he normally would not have associated with Ezra. JD hated it.
"I don't want you to be sick anymore, Ez."
"You and I both."
JD silently watched his friend as he miserably rubbed his eyes. "All of this is my fault," Dunne stated. "Chris and I wouldn't have gotten captured if I weren't so far forward that day, and you wouldn't have half-killed yourself to get us free."
Ezra finally removed his hand from his face and stared at JD. "It was a means to an ends, Mr. Dunne. The goal was attained and everything worked out all right."
"Yeah, 'cept you’re still sick after all this time. Won't be 'right' if you end up starvin' 'cause I was too far forward."
Ezra smiled. "I won't starve, Mr. Dunne. In fact I've already made lunch plans with Mr. Wilmington. I'm certain that all the ladies in town will be jealous."
JD returned the smile. "Yeah? And you actually are gonna eat, right?"
A roll of the eyes and Ezra responded, "If I find the meal acceptable."
JD sighed. He studied the gambler as Ezra gazed wearily back. The short walk to the jail had apparently been enough to tire out Ezra. He looked just about ready to drop.
"If you want," JD said finally, "I could get you some tea… if it would make you feel better."
Ezra rested his arms on the desk. "Yes," he quietly stated. "That might be of some benefit."
"Great, I'll go get it right now."
Ezra smiled at JD's enthusiasm at such a simple thing. "I'll watch the store while you're away."
JD jumped away from the desk and headed to the door. "I'll be back in a couple minutes, okay."
Ezra nodded and once JD was gone, he leaned forward and rested his head on his arms.
From his room in the hotel, Tyrone had seen the gambler leave the saloon and walk slowly down the street, finally entering the jail. After waiting a few minutes, the cattleman straightened his jacket and left the building to follow the man.
He approached the building with trepidation. One usually didn't think of a jail as a good place to meet your enemy, but the rewards he sought were there as well. He could kill two birds with one stone if he were to confront Standish there.
He had almost reached the building when a young man burst out the jail and nearly ran into him.
"Sorry, sir," the kid said, spinning out of the way and coming to a quick halt. "Really, I didn't see you there."
"Should look where you're going," Tyrone growled. This is one of them, he thought, noting the kid's scarred head, one of those lawmen.
"I'm awful sorry," the kid said again. "I was just in a hurry is all. It won't happen again."
"See that it don't," Tyrone returned. The kid nodded and returned to the direction he had been headed, at a slower pace.
Tyrone continued on his way, smiling. Now that the pup had left the jail, that gambler might be there alone. He stood before the door, long enough to secretively pull his gun from its holster, holding it inside his jacket as he pushed open the door. He held his breath and peered within.
It was better than he might have hoped. The gambler was alone, sitting with his head resting on the desk, cradled in his arms. As Tyrone quietly pulled the door shut behind him, Standish asked with his head still in his arms, "Back so soon, Mr. Dunne?"
Bakkus pulled his gun out from hiding at stepped forward. Ezra lifted his head and looked at him in surprise. He shot back in his seat, bringing one arm in front of him and springing a hidden derringer into his hand.
But he wasn't fast enough. Bakkus was already on top of him and slammed the butt of his gun down on the side of the gambler's head, knocking him back to the desk. "You son-of-a-bitch," Bakkus barked.
Bakkus quickly peeled the little gun from the gambler's hands as the man fought to regain his senses. Roughly, he jerked Ezra upright, relieving him of the other weaponry. Ezra moved dumbly, trying to figure out what was going on, blinking and fighting feebly at the hands that accosted him.
"What else do you have hidden?" Bakkus growled as he shook the addled man. "Got a knife in your boot? Another gun at your back? Huh? Ya little snake, what else are you hiding?" He quickly searched him, throwing open his jacket, checking for anything hidden at the tops of his boots. No knife, but his fingers found a wad of money. He yanked it free and pocketed the cash. Bakkus considered it a first installment, but decided he deserved more from the gamester.
Bakkus glanced at the cell filled with booty and then back at the Ezra who was struggling to get up. "So, they got it all locked up, huh? Well, not for long." He continued, running his hands through Ezra's pockets, bringing up cards, a flask, and various other small devises. He found a key and exclaimed joyfully until he tried to insert it into the lock and found it far too small -- obviously a room key.
No key! He had no key!
He glowered back at Standish who was valiantly trying to gain his feet. Bakkus needed to get that cell open… and he'd have it opened one way or another.
Ezra could distinguish the door as it jumped and twisted in his vision. He pushed himself off the desk and made his way toward the exit. If he could just get clear of this mad man, he might have a chance to warn the others, to get his hands on a weapon, to save his own sorry ass. He stumbled, his legs refusing to operate correctly.
"Where are the damn keys?" Bakkus demanded as he intercepted the gambler. He gripped Ezra by his lapels. He pulled him off his feet and shook him hard enough to rattle his teeth. Ezra clenched his jaw, as he tried to find the floor beneath his boots. "I want those keys to the damn cell, and I want 'em now!"
What the hell is going on? Ezra thought. Who is this? God! His head hurt and his vision was so blurred that it was pointless to keep his eyes open. He shut them, hoping that without the twisted visual clues, he might be able to coordinate his movements, but he couldn't manage well enough to form any sort of an attack.
Tyrone hauled him the short distance to the cell and then slammed his back against the door. Ezra's eyes opened languidly, blood dripping down the side of his face. "Give me the goddamn keys!" Bakkus growled.
"Has our Lord damned the keys?" Ezra asked in a reasonable tone. "It seems a rather odd thing for him to do."
Bakkus leaned into Ezra, his voice low and ominous, "You think you're funny? Huh? You think this is anything to laugh at?"
"Not that, no," Ezra replied. Without warning, Ezra brought his knee up sharply, meeting a particularly tender part of Bakkus' anatomy. Bakkus howled and released him. Ezra spun away, thankful to be clear of his attacker. He knew that this might be his only opportunity and he would make use of it.
Bakkus, still battling the waves of pain, made a grab for Standish, but Ezra swung, bringing one powerful blow to the man's cheek, driving him to his knees.
Staggering away, Ezra dropped, unable to keep his balance. Damn it, damn it, damn it! The door was so close, but his legs refused to hold him. He could hardly tell up from down and his vision was swimming. The whole room tilted against him in a macabre jest. He tried to get to his feet again and flee, but Bakkus recovered faster than Ezra would have thought possible.
Tyrone caught the escaping conman, dragged him to his feet and viciously slammed him against the bars. "You little piece of shit!" he growled. "You'll pay for that!"
Ezra yelped in pain and struggled all the harder, but Bakkus had a firm grip and wasn't about to let go. Good Lord, he thought, the man must have brass balls! Or worse -- no balls whatsoever.
Ezra could see the rage in Bakkus' eyes, the unabashed hatred. Perhaps, he thought disconnectedly, that wasn't such a good idea, and he steeled himself against what he knew was coming.
Again and again Bakkus slammed the bright-coated gambler into the bars.. He slung the little shit into the bars until Standish no longer made any sounds, had no expressions, no longer clawed at him, no longer struggled, but slumped senselessly in his grasp.
Tyrone shook him. "Wake up!" he demanded. "I want you awake! You need to feel every minute of this!" But Standish's head lolled to the side, his eyes shut and his mouth slack and open.
With disgust, Bakkus flung Ezra to the ground and limped to the desk. He rifled through the drawers until he came up with a pair of handcuffs, but still no keys.
He manhandled Ezra onto his stomach and then wrenched his arms behind him and cuffed them tightly in place. With a grunt, he stood and hooked his arms into Ezra's to haul him upright again. The painful crotch made the movements difficult, but he'd manage… he'd get beyond that pain… to inflict more on the snake that dared to come across him.
"You really screwed me over," Bakkus said, holding the limp man up. "I gave everything I had for this!" He jerked Ezra toward the locked cell, as if the unconscious man were capable of registering what was being shown to him. "You ruined me!"
Bakkus pressed Ezra's face into the bars and growled, "You took it from me. I ain't leavin' without it… and I ain't leavin' without you. You'll pay for the degradation I suffered. You'll pay for what you did to me. Someone's gotta pay."
"What about the one that smells all flowery?" JD asked, leaning over the bar as the bartender finished pouring the steeped tea through a strainer.
"Run out of that one," Joe replied. "He likes the Jasmine best, but this here is Oolong. Not bad."
"Oolong…" JD repeated. "Ooooolong. What's it mean?"
Joe shrugged as he tried to fish out the last of the leaves. "It's Chinese for 'pain in the ass stuff to make'. Should be a better way to do this. This strainer thing never gets out all the crap. I was thinkin' it would work better if these tea-leaves were in some sort of a bag or something and not all loose."
"Inez does a better job of it," JD said and grinned at the bartender.
"Good for her," he muttered and set the china teacup on the counter. "Don’t break it," Joe admonished. "Mrs. Potter brung it over for Mr. Standish to borrow and it ain't been paid for."
"Don't worry," JD replied, picking up the dainty cup and saucer that was decorated with a bough of flowering cherries. "Nothin's gonna happen to it." He strode out the door and down the boardwalk to the jail. He walked slowly, careful of the precious cup, and stopped when the tea sloshed out and into the flowered saucer.
Oh no, he thought, Ezra ain't gonna like that.
He took a quick look around to make sure that no one was looking, picked up the teacup and sucked the offending drops off the saucer. This oooolong ain't half bad, he thought as he replaced the cup and continued toward the jail.
Just outside the door, he came to a stop. Something bothered him. Something was wrong. Funny, he couldn't quite get a handle on it, but it was almost as if the wind had changed or a front had come through -- something had happened. He surveyed the street for a moment, watching the movement of the people, the horses, the wagons. Nothing seemed out of order -- still, something was wrong. But what was it?
He turned back to the jail and stared at the door for a long minute. Carefully, he balanced the cup in one hand as he pulled open the door.
Son-of-a-bitch-son-of-a-bitch-son-of-a-bitch-son-of-a-bitch, JD's mind rattled as the teacup smashed to the ground and his Colts leapt to his hands. Oh God, no! A big man had Ezra up against the bars, holding him face first against the cell, one hand pulling up on Ezra's cuffed hands. Standish seemed to be unconscious. Blood was dripping down one side of his bruised and slack face.
"Let him go!" JD demanded, his voice firm and furious. "You let go of him!"
Bakkus spun toward him in surprise, eyeing the Colts, seeing the enraged eyes of the kid who had almost ran him down earlier. Bakkus had been so involved that he hadn't even heard the door open.
"I said," Dunne repeated, his voice low and dangerous. "Let go of him!" JD set his jaw and aimed for the man's heart.
Bakkus pulled Standish tightly to himself, using the gambler as a shield, and then carefully plucked his pistol from its holster and brought it alongside Ezra's neck. He watched the stern expression of the kid fall.
"Now, listen here, boy," Bakkus said. "You aren't the one in charge here, are you?" He smiled. "You make a false move and I'll blow his worthless head off. My finger's on the trigger, so if you shoot me, he dies too. You understand?"
Dunne stood in the doorway, his face displaying all his confusion and grief.
"Come on here, away from that door, nice and easy. Set those guns on that desk."
"No," Dunne whispered. And winced as Bakkus moved the gun to Ezra's temple, pressing it firmly in place. Ezra made no response. Please, Ezra, move, JD cried inwardly. He watched the blood drip down the gambler's face to stain his white shirt.
The gun didn't waver. Ezra didn't move.
"All right!" JD stepped clear of the door, letting it shut, hoping for all the world that someone had seen what was going on. Slowly, he approached the desk, watching as Bakkus dragged Ezra with him, further into the room to get some distance from JD.
JD searched Ezra's face for any sign of life, as he set down the guns. Only the hitching breath told him that the gambler wasn't dead.
"He's having trouble breathing," JD said, trying to keep his voice even. "Please, put him down. Please," he repeated, hoping his submissive tone might placate the man.
"Unlock that door!" Bakkus jerked his head toward the cell.
JD fished the ring of keys from his pocket, and fumbled for the right one. He had the door unlocked in a moment and swung it open. "There!" he declared. "Take whatever the hell you want!"
"That's the plan, kid," Bakkus said smoothly. JD bridled to hear that familiar moniker used by this man. "Now, get in there and start packing."
"What?" JD looked incredulously at him.
"There's a pair of saddlebags over there. Get in there and load them up with jewelry, money, whatever you can find that's portable. Fill those bags and hand 'em over here."
"I'll do it, but let me see to my friend," JD tried. "Please, he can't breath so good. Let him lay down."
"You gonna do what I tell you, kid?"
"Only if you set him down. Ain't gonna do nothin' for ya if you don't." JD placed his feet firmly, ready to take on this stranger.
"You ain't movin?" Bakkus sneered.
"Not till you let me see to him," JD replied defiantly.
Bakkus already had one huge arm wrapped around Ezra to keep him upright. Wordlessly, he started squeezing. With a gasp, Ezra's eyes opened and he struggled weakly to free himself, but was confounded by the handcuffs and his captor's grip.
"Okay! OKAY!" JD call in panic. "That's enough!"
Ezra faded again, as Dunne threw himself into the overfilled cell and grabbing anything he could lay his hands. His hands sought out things that might be of worth, but he didn't care. All he wanted to do was fill the damn bag. He glanced over his shoulder at Bakkus who was adjusting Ezra, trying to keep him upright. The movements brought gasps out of Ezra and chuckles from Bakkus.
"Let him alone!" JD bellowed, "I'm goin' as fast as I can!"
Bakkus just laughed as Ezra slumped against him, breathing harshly. "Just keep it movin', sonny-boy."
Dunne's hands closed on packets and parcels, anything that he could shove into the bags. Frantic to hurry, JD had them filled in a few moments. "Here!" he said, holding the saddlebags before him.
"More." Bakkus nodded to the cell. "There's a jewelry box over there. Empty it into there."
JD grabbed the box and broke the lid in his rush to open it. He dumped it in with the rest. Sparkling jewelry tumbled in amongst the other loot. He turned back to Bakkus.
"There's a gold clock under those boxes there. I want it."
JD scrambled over to the pile of boxes to get down the mentioned clock. He had to wrench it free from its place shoved between two stacks, and stuffed it into the bag. It didn't really fit, but he crammed it in with the other items anyway.
"Those spurs look like they might be silver. And that bridle looks like it's worth takin'."
"Ain't gonna fit," JD muttered as he snagged the tack and tried to force it into the other bag. The flaps wouldn't come closed completely, bits of gold and the ends of legal tender shown clearly when JD tried to set the buckle. He held the overfilled bags out to the man who still held onto Ezra. "Please, that's all that will fit. Take 'em and go."
"Not nearly enough." Bakkus laughed. "There's a horse outside. Get its bags and bring 'em on in here. We'll load them up, too."
Not fair, JD thought. He ain't playin' fair.
Bakkus continued, "That's your horse, isn't it, kid? You won't mind if I borrow it, will you?" The gun, that had been relaxed, was gripped and pressed tightly to Ezra's head once more. "Twitch funny and he'll suffer for it. Get those bags, bring 'em in here and empty them out. There'll be plenty of room for more."
JD nodded, and set the bulging bags on the desk. Ain't the least bit fair. He should let me see to Ezra first He wondered briefly if he should demand it again, and quickly quashed the idea, knowing where it lead the last time.
"Who's the other horse belong to?"
"Chris Larabee," JD replied.
"Good," Bakkus said with a laugh. "He's another of you lawmen, isn't he? He won't care if I take his horse. I'll just use yours as a pack animal. Pack this snake along with me." He shook Ezra for emphasis.
"No," JD breathed. "You're leavin' him here."
Bakkus glared at the kid. "Bring those bags in too and be quick about it. Don't do anything suspicious. I can give him another hug. I might get a little too excited about it and squeeze him too hard. I think he might have a broken rib or two. I might tear up his lungs. I don't think you'd like seein' him cough up all that blood and die because he can't breathe any more. Be good and I'll leave him once I get out of town."
JD spun toward the door and strode toward it in determined strides. Bakkus found a new position, dragging Ezra along with him. "Remember what I said. I'll be watching."
JD turned, not to look at Bakkus, but to get another glimpse at Ezra before he stepped outside. He was so pale and limp. He noticed Ezra's eyes had opened and looked toward him -- narrow green slits.
JD stepped into the sunlight and toward the horses. If he could only signal one of the townspeople…let them know that he needed help. His eyes determinedly scanned the streets, but the boardwalks were strangely empty. He paused, gazing out across the town, hoping to see someone …anyone.
But no one was in sight. It was as if he had stepped into a ghost town.
He groaned in disbelief. Where was everyone? What the hell was he going to do now? How in the world could he get Ezra out of this?
He was alone.
JD knew that he couldn't wait any longer. No, he would give Bakkus no reason to cause any more harm to Ezra. He let the door shut and, with a quick step, he came alongside Toby and started to undo the saddlebags. The horse snuffled at him as he came alongside.
"Do what he says," he heard a voice say firmly and quietly. JD froze for a moment, before continuing. He didn't turn his head or try to find the man whose voice he recognized as Chris Larabee's. "Keep him happy. If he wants you to fill every damn bag in this sorry-assed town, just do it."
"Mmm-hmmm," JD voiced as he released the first set of bags and tossed them over his shoulder.
"Don't give him any reasons for trouble, son," he heard Josiah's voice.
"You're doin' good," that was Nathan.
As he maneuvered around the little bay, he could see Nathan, Josiah and Chris all crouched around the front of the jail.
Thank God! Dunne thought. We'll get out of this now, JD convinced himself. Just hang on a bit, Ez, and we'll be out.
"He's movin' back to the desk," Buck whispered hoarsely, mostly hidden by the building as he peered around the corner toward them.
Buck had seen JD's return to the jail and his odd behavior at the door. He had taken one surreptitious look through the window, recognized the man, and called out the troops. Wilmington's first instinct was to shoot the bastard that had hold of Ezra, but he realized that JD was doing his best to control the situation and there was nothing to be done unless Tyrone let loose of the gambler.
The townsfolks, well drilled in street-warfare, and had silently emptied the boardwalks in a matter of minutes and the boys had set up surveillance around the jail, just waiting for their first opportunity to get Tyrone without causing any further injury to either Ezra or JD.
JD made his way toward Job and started to loosen the big black's saddlebags . He wheeled about and headed toward the jail again, keeping his eyes on the ground to be sure to not give away anything about his companions. He now knew that the five of them were nearby, and their presence made him feel stronger, safer. He was certain now that they'd be able to get Ezra out of this.
He felt a surge of pride as he opened the door again. So often, he had felt babied by the others, treated differently because of his youth. He had almost feared that Chris or Buck might have stepped in his path and restricted him from returning to the obvious threat inside the jail. Instead, they let him continue as he had. They trusted him enough to get through this situation. They trusted him to be able to protect himself, to protect Ezra. Not such a kid anymore, he thought.
He held the saddlebags held in front of him and walked back into danger.
"Empty 'em nice and easy over by that wall. If I see any kinda weapon come out of them, I want it kicked under that cabinet, you hear?"
JD nodded and immediately dumped the contents of his and Chris' bags beside the door. There wasn't much packed, just a few odds and ends that always came in handy. Chris' bowie knife came clear and JD quickly kicked it under the file cabinet as he had been ordered. It would be a pain to retrieve, but Chris would manage.
He glanced toward Ezra as he emptied the bags. The intruder seemed to be having trouble holding onto him, and Ezra was giving him no assistance, slumping against him constantly -- a 'dead' weight. At one point Ezra hooked a foot around the leg of the desk, causing Bakkus to stumble. JD forced himself not to grin, realizing that Ezra was purposefully weighing on him, trying to wear him down. Still, the gun was always pointing at him in some manner or another, Ezra still gasped in pain. Bakkus wasn't going to give Ezra a minute's peace.
As JD stepped into the filled cell, he glanced carefully to the window and smiled when he saw the eyes of Vin Tanner looking back at him. The maze of other people's belongings provided adequate cover for the sharpshooter. Tanner held his mares leg ready, aiming it toward Bakkus, waiting for the man to loosen his hold on their friend, to pull the gun away from him.
How's he gonna shoot around all that stuff? JD thought. How's he gonna miss those bars?
"Get that trunk out! It looks promising," Bakkus ordered and JD sighed, realizing that the mentioned item was near the bottom of the pile. All of the carefully orchestrated stacking was going to be worthless now. With a grunt, JD pulled the small trunk free and tugged it into the office. It was heavy and closed with an impressive looking lock -- an obvious receptacle of great wealth.
"You want me to open it," JD asked, not looking at Bakkus, but at Ezra, who gazed back at him through clouded and half-closed eyes.
"Why bother. It's all packed up so nice already." Bakkus laughed shortly. "My pal here won't mind sharing his horse with it." His gaze turned to Standish, but Ezra's eyes were closed again. Bakkus frowned. "I'm just hopin' he lives long enough to see me safe out of town. If you or your friends come after me, I'll bust him up a bit more."
JD glared at Bakkus, his hand clenching in ineffectual rage. He noticed that Ezra's eyes had opened again and that the gambler was looking at him. He seemed to focus on Dunne and raised an eyebrow. Dunne had to turn quickly to keep from smiling at Ezra's exasperated expression.
He caught Vin's eye again and Tanner nodded reassuringly at him, before ducking his head back down into cover.
JD followed Bakkus' directions, grabbing whatever was pointed out to him. It seemed that their captor always wanted the most inaccessible articles. The piles that had stood so firmly, were starting to sway as JD moved through them, struggling to free the next requested item.
"Get that jacket!" Bakkus demanded, nodding at a fine burgundy blazer that had been jammed under a pile of crates.
JD sighed and grabbed hold if it. He gave it a tug and the pile swayed dangerously. He let loose of it immediately and the precariously shifting stack settled down. With a startled look, he turned to Bakkus and saw Ezra wince. He wasn't sure if it was out of pain, or sympathy for JD's nearly avoided disaster. Maybe he felt badly about the poor treatment of the fine fabric.
"Get it!" Bakkus demanded.
"It's stuck," JD replied.
"I want that jacket. Maybe I'll end up looking as pretty as this specimen." He shook Ezra, but the gambler gave no sign of regaining consciousness.
"Let him alone," JD demanded.
"What a coward. He needs a boy to protect him," Tyrone taunted. "You know, poison is the murder-weapon of cowards. It's underhanded, sneaky, clean. A coward can poison a man without getting his hands dirty. It's the weapon of snakes, slithering disgusting snakes. Everyone despises snakes. A sane man would kill a serpent soon as he recognizes what he's got -- shoot it, or take a hoe to it and hack it up."
JD didn't move from where he crouched over the trapped jacket, but his voice was angry and forceful. "He walked into a fortress with twelve murderers inside. They would'a shot anyone who came close. He didn't care…just walked in…unarmed. He smiled as if it were nothing as he drank that stuff that could kill him. Didn't flinch, didn't look for help. I owe my life to him." Dunne nodded to Ezra, whose head was tipped to one side against Bakkus' arm, green eyes glinting at him.
Dunne glared at the man who wouldn't let go of Ezra. "You attack a man who's sick, who doesn't have the strength to fight you. What did you do? Hit him hard enough to stun him and then go after him?" JD asked, his voice low with anger. "That's the only way I can see it happening 'cause Ezra could have taken you down even if he were sicker than a dog."
Bakkus kept his gun trained on Ezra, his eyes boring hateful holes into Dunne.
JD didn't back down. "You, well, you seem to like to hurt people when they got no way of fightin' back. Is it the only way you can win?"
Bakkus shifted, changing his grip on Ezra. He glowered at the young man, but JD just continued his tirade, "And there you are, usin' him as a shield." He could hear Buck hissing a warning to him from outside the window, but Dunne was on a roll. "I think you're the only coward here."
Tyrone pulled the gun away from Ezra and aimed it at JD. The second the gun moved clear of Standish, a shot rang out from behind JD, followed instantly by a startling PING as Vin's bullet ricocheted off of something in the cell.
Vin swore loudly and aimed again, trying to see around all of the loot and the metal bars that stood between him and his target. Bakkus dropped Ezra like a hot potato, losing his gun in the process. He dove toward JD and the cover of the boxes.
"I don't have the shot!" Vin shouted as Bakkus disappeared behind the wall of Vineville's wealth.
Tyrone reached for JD, his murderous hands stretched to grasp hold of Dunne's neck. Suddenly, he jerked and tripped over the legs that wound around his.
Tangled up in Ezra, Bakkus lost his balance, missed his target, and plunged against a stack of ill-centered crates. It all came crashing down.
Boxes, crates, loose clothing, crystal vases, a box filled with china, jewelry, coins, paper money, and little golden gewgaws clattered, shattered, fluttered and tumbled into a mess that filled the cell and continued out into the office.
And for several seconds, all was still.
CONTINUE onto the Second HalfLast updated 2.6.2013