DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No
profit involved. None whatsoever. This story is is based on the television series
"The Magnificent Seven" . No infringement upon the copyrights held by
CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved
with that production is intended.
By NotTasha... isn't that great?
Vin Tanner yawned and stretched as he made his way down the boardwalk to the jailhouse. The sun had not yet crested the horizon, and the first shades of morning colored the sky. It was his favorite part of the day -- when all was still. He liked the quiet -- quiet was good. But, as he walked down the empty boardwalk, he had to admit that a loneliness came with it. When he was a bounty hunter, he worked alone. It was for the best really -- one needed to be able to move quickly and without encumbrances. But now he was a lawman – one of seven. Solitude wasn’t possible anymore – and he rather liked that fact. He’d found a home. He’d found brothers. He had found something better, something greater, than that past life.
He walked past the empty Redbird Saloon and the quiet dry goods store, and made his way to the only lit building on the street – the jailhouse. Who was awake at this hour? It seemed rather early for anyone -- with the exception of an early-rising tracker. Vin pressed open the door and, with the shake of his head, found Ezra Standish sitting at the desk, casually tossing cards into his hat.
“Mornin’, Ez,” Vin greeted.
Ezra was not an early bird. Up at this hour, it meant that the gambler had been awake all night. He was clean-shaven, but the southerner’s tired expression was testament to Vin’s suspicion. “Good day, Mr. Tanner,” Standish responded, tossing a red two that sailed just beyond the brim of his hat. The gambler frowned in irritation. “You fouled my aim,” he said petulantly. “The incredible gust you brought in with you ruined my perfect score.”
“Coffee ready?” Vin asked, kicking around the other cards that had ended up on the floor. Perfect score – my ass!
“Fresh,” Ezra responded, sailing a black seven into a perfect landing within the crown of his black Stetson. He grinned without looking at Vin.
It had been a slow week in Four Corners. There’d been no need for a ‘night shift’. If Ezra was up at this lonely hour, it meant that he was suffering from another bout of insomnia. It was either feast or famine with the gambler -- he could fall asleep at the drop of a hat and sleep like the dead -- or he’d be up all night, wandering about the dark streets, pretending he was up to no good.
Vin said nothing about it, finding a mug on the floor beside the stove. He knew better. If he were to press Ezra for answers, the con man would become irritated and belligerent -- refusing to say anything. No need for that, Vin decided as he knocked the accumulated dirt out of the mug, and then poured himself a cup of coffee. He’d bide his time. Let Ezra decide if he wanted to say anything.
Standish continued to float cards toward his hat.
Tanner was glad that he was back on even footing with the cardsharp. Ezra no longer kept quiet in his presence, apparently able to forgive or forget the incident in Greeley, where Vin had asked Ezra to pay him to give a favor – or the incident in Copley, where Ezra felt it necessary to provide payment again. Had Ezra actually learned anything from their discussion following that transaction? Vin wasn’t sure, but at least Ezra no longer avoided him.
“Been quiet?” Tanner asked.
“Deplorably,” Ezra said with a sigh. “Honestly, Mr. Tanner, I signed up for this position thinkin’ that I might get a touch of excitement from it.” He shrugged, snapping the last few cards between his fingers. “Lately, there’s hardly anythin’ to hold my attention.”
Yeah, that’d explain him not sleepin’, Vin decided as he placed the pot back onto the stove. It seemed that Ezra needed to fill his days and nights with activity just to keep himself sane. Vin watched the gambler’s careful, graceful movements as he glided another card perfectly into his hat. He looks exhausted, Tanner decided. Probably ain’t been sleepin’ right for days.
As he dumped a sufficient amount of sugar into his cup, something caught Vin’s eye. He paused a moment, then stepped toward a side table and retrieved a box that had been stashed there. He carried it to the desk and dumped the heavy parcel just as Ezra let his last card loose. The resulting wind sent the card on an erratic path and it floated into the depths under one of the file cabinets.
“Aw hell,” Ezra muttered, seeing the card disappear forever into that black space. He gave Vin a vicious look.
“Wild card,” Vin said as he settled into one of the chairs.
Ezra snorted. “And what, pray tell, led you to spoil my deck?” He scrutinized the box that had been set before him.
“Came on yesterday’s stage. You weren’t around so we left it here fer ya,” Vin explained. He blew on his coffee and then took a sip.
“Hmmph,” Ezra uttered and turned the box about until he could see the return address, a fine china shop in Ridge City. His discontent expression disappeared into a grin. Leaping to his feet, Ezra pulled at the cords that bound the box closed. Vin fished a knife off his belt and handed it to the gamester who took it without a word. Soon the cords were cut and the box peeled open. Ezra tossed wadded paper aside until a crystal decanter came clear.
“Ah!” Standish exclaimed. “Just what I was waiting for!” He held up the piece, letting the lamplight play against the cut sides, creating prisms across the desktop. “Exactly to my specifications! My Scotch hasn’t been content in its current vessel. This will complement it exceedingly well.”
Vin shrugged, thinking that booze was booze. Some was better than others, but the container that held it hardly mattered. Vin poked at the wadded papers, finding them more interesting than the piece of glass in Ezra’s hands. As Standish crooned over his latest purchase, talking about how he needed to find some interesting glassware to set off the piece, something caught Tanner’s eye. Vin snatched up one of the balled pages and pressed it out against the desk. The ink image of a strange creature appeared, fascinating him.
Squashing out the creases, Vin stared down at a monster. It was fierce…it was huge. A man, in festive garments, rode on its back -- looking tiny and a little afraid. It had huge ears, larger than the fans he’d seen in a certain Pergatorio brothel. Its legs were like tree trunks. Massive appendages shot from its mouth -- whether they were teeth or horns -- Tanner couldn’t tell. And, weirdest of all, was the thing that grew from the center of its face -- long like a hose -- like a vine – like a snake -- it couldn’t be a nose. The angry look in its eye told of the carnage it could wreck. The man on his back held tightly, as if he knew the danger he was in. The great creature looked ready to trample anything in its path.
He held the paper down with his hands and stared at the thing until Ezra finally figured out that Tanner had no interest in the decanter. Standish set it down to gaze at the drawing as well.
“An elephant,” Ezra commented. “I came in contact with one before -- part of a traveling circus where I worked for a few months. Amazing creatures. Considerin’ its sheer size and weight, it is one of the greatest things on this planet.”
“You’ve been around one of these?” Vin asked, incredulous. “Where they come from?”
“Africa, I believe,” Ezra responded, turning the page about so that he could read what was printed on it. “And I had little contact with the thing. We may have traveled in the same troupe, but we didn’t engage in the same social circles.” He scrutinized the page. “This particular one is named ‘Prissy’.” He made a face at that name.“It says that she’s an Asian elephant.”
“Thought it you said it was from Africa,” Vin commented.
Ezra waved a hand as if this was inconsequential.
“What’s that thing on its face?”
“A trunk,” Ezra supplied.
Vin frowned. “I thought maybe it was a nose.”
Ezra laughed. “Yes, yes a nose.Ah look! She’s part of a traveling carnival,” he stated, reading further. “Currently in residence in Ridge City.”
“Really?” Vin responded. “There’s one of these things that close?”
“An elephant, yes.” Ezra said with a nod. “Prissy the Pachyderm…” he started reading aloud.
“Another word for elephant,” Ezra declared and started reading from the page, “Prissy the Pachyderm will entertain all! Come see the wild creature perform amazing tricks. You will be amazed!” Ezra gestured with one hand, putting on a showman’s voice. “Come one! Come all! Entertaining audiences daily! Are you brave enough to come face to face this fierce creature? Dare to see her!” Ezra’s gaze flicked up to meet Vin’s.“Appearing in Ridge City for a limited time only.”
Vin leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk and crowding closer to Ezra to see the page again. “It would be somethin’ to see,” he commented off hand.
“Indeed,” Ezra agreed.
“You think, maybe…” Vin started and grimaced.
“Maybe?” Ezra prompted.
“Well, next time I got to go to Ridge City, maybe I’ll stop by and see it.” Vin said quickly. “Might be worth the trouble. It ain’t the sorta thing ya see everyday. Doubt I’d get another chance.”
Ezra sighed and read further into the notice. “Unfortunately, my friend, there’s no time.” He picked up the page and pointed to the dates. “Today is her last day in residence.”
“Oh,” Vin responded, crestfallen. “That’s too bad.” He shrugged, jerking his shoulders quickly. “Guess I don’t have to see it.”
Ezra smiled, snapping one hand against the paper. “We still have today, Mr. Tanner.” He shoved the notice at Vin as he quickly collected his new decanter. “If we leave immediately, we will have a chance to view her before she moves on.”
Vin watched Ezra shoved the decanter and the discarded papers back into the box and then jammed the parcel under his arm. “We’re both gonna go?” Vin asked.
Ezra commented dryly, “Well, I’ve seen an elephant before and thus have only a small interest in Prissy. But, I am in need of new shirts and there’s an excellent haberdasher in Ridge City. We’ll travel together. I may make my purchases while you view the pachyderm.”
“Aw, Ezra. It ain’t really worth it,” Vin decided.
“Mr. Tanner,” Ezra said as he paused as he picked up his hat, dumped the cards into the trash and then placed the low-crown Stetson on his head. “You would regret it if you didn’t try.”
“I can live with that,” Vin responded.
Ezra kicked the errant cards under the file cabinet to be with their brother. Dolefully, Ezra shook his head and told him. “Regret is a terrible thing to live with.” He followed this comment with a wide smile and turned to the door, pushed it open and was out on the boardwalk. “You must hurry, Mr. Tanner, if you want to see her.” And the door shut before Vin could respond.
Tanner held the page, gazing at the strange creation. He smiled and then looked up in time to watch the cardsharp cross the street as the town began to light up with dawn.
They departed Four Corners, before the others had risen. Ezra, laughing at some secret joke, left a note “Gone to see the elephant” on the desk in the jailhouse. He figured that it would be enough to keep Larabee off his back. The trek was easily made. Con man and bounty hunter chatted amicably as they traveled – they talked about this and that and nothing. There was little to be said about recent events in town – everything had been so quiet and… dull.
Chaucer and Peso kept pace with each other as the men traveled to Ridge City. They seemed eager to go on an adventure as well, happy to stretch their legs. They were amicable companions -- knowing each other’s peculiarities. Chaucer seemed to know just how much he could pester Peso before the blazed black made a vicious snap at him, and Peso let the chestnut get away with far more than any other animal or human.
They reached Ridge City in the afternoon, ready to see something great. The town was bustling as usual, but Vin couldn’t help being a bit disappointed. He had expected buntings, banners, and huge signs pointing the way to ‘Prissy the Pachyderm’, but the town looked like it always did and there was no easy way of telling where the elephant was kept.
They settled the horses at the livery and went in search of the creature. The liveryman was acquainted the elephant. He had seen the traveling carnival when it had first arrived and had returned disappointed. “Never gonna replace the horse!” he said as he spat. “Cain’t see a man leavin’ an elephant at a hitchin’ post! Ain’t no room for one of them in the stable! Cain’t imagine tryin’ t’feed one. Need a giant wagon fer it t’pull. Makes no sense.”
Where was the elephant kept? Out by the railroad tracks -- so Vin and Ezra made their way toward the station. They easily found the place. Sawdust and straw were strewn about, and a large tramped down circle marked the location. Colorful papers littered the ground, along with broken glass and other rubbish. It was not the sort of place one would want to go barefoot -- but they discovered no elephant.
“Where is it?” Vin asked, gazing about disappointedly.
Ezra frowned. “Certainly, this has to be the place.”
Vin kicked at a broken piece of crockery. “What’s all this crap?”
“Civilization,” Ezra replied evenly. They searched about, finding further remainders of the carnival that accompanied the elephant – and an enormous pile of manure that MUST have come from something unusually large.
“Shit,” Vin had voiced when he saw the massive mound. Ezra refused to comment.
“Maybe they moved to a better spot,” Vin commented softly. “Might be over on the other side of the tracks.” He pointed toward the waiting train that blocked their view.
“Quite possible,” Ezra responded, and began the journey toward the train and the station. They intercepted a man following the track, hunched under a heavy bag of purloined coal. “My good man!” Ezra cried as he hurried to catch up with a huffing gentleman.
The man stopped, cautiously setting down his bag and glaring at the strange pair that was coming down on him. “What you want?” he asked.
Ezra smiled winningly. “I understand there was an elephant stationed nearby, perhaps in that vicinity.” He pointed toward the trodden patch.
“Yup,” the oily-looking man responded. “There it was.”
“Ya know what’s become of it?” Vin asked.
“Aye,” the man replied. “It’s gone. Done gone three days ago.”
Gambler and tracker looked stunned at this news. “Are you certain?” Ezra asked.
The man tsked. “I seen ‘em load that thing onto the train. Had a special car for it! Seen it with my own eyes…three days ago.”
“But, the notice clearly stated that the creature would be on display until today,” Ezra said calmly as Vin held out the sheet. The tracker pointed to the date, as if the man with the sack had any say in the matter.
The man shrugged. “Well, they’re gone. Figure they’d got all the money they could out of us and packed up.”
“Oh,” Vin said with a dejected sigh.
“Pity,” Ezra added. They thanked the man for his time and continued toward the train station.
Vin scuffed at the dirt as they walked, muttering, “I had my chance.” He didn’t look up as they moved along. “Tried our best. Guess it wasn’t meant to be.”
“Our best?” Ezra returned. “We haven’t even started.”
“It’s done, Ez,” Vin replied. “It was just a stupid idea. Let’s just get the shirts you wanted, and go back.”
“After I make an inquiry here,” Ezra decided, pointing to the station. Vin nodded his agreement and they continued on their path.
As the waiting train loaded water, coal and passengers, Ezra chatted with the stationmaster and Vin watched the people moving about -- saying their hellos – saying their good-byes. Slowly, the people boarded or wandered off. The train chuffed. The conductor had just clamored onto the steps and shouted, “All aboard!” when Ezra came to Vin’s side.
Standish grabbed the tracker’s elbow, and insisted, “We must get on the train!”
“Huh?” Vin turned around as the train started moving away. “Why?”
“Because the damn elephant is in Carbonado now.” Ezra gave Vin’s arm a jerk, dragging him along as he trotted to keep pace with the moving train.
“We goin’ to Carbonado?” Vin asked, pulling his arm out of Ezra’s grasp and hurrying to keep up. “Makes no sense!”
“Itmakes perfect sense,” Ezra responded, throwing Vin a whimsical look. “I hear they have an excellent tailor in that town and I’m certain to find what I’m looking for there.” He grasped hold of the handrail and nearly missed his step as he jumped to the moving stairway. He fell back, dragging one boot for a second before he settled both feet on the landing. He gave Vin an “I meant to do that” look as he scrambled into the train. Vin followed with less difficulty.
The train trip went smoothly to a point. Finding the train packed, Vin and Ezra located room in the rear car and had to share the facing seats with two young ladies, Clarice and Deborah, who were traveling to visit their grandmother in San Francisco. Ezra brought out the necessary tickets when the conductor came through their car and they spent the afternoon charming the ladies and making them laugh.
It was a relaxing way to pass the time. Vin noted that Ezra looked a little less strained as he spoke to the ladies, wrapping them around his little finger. He’s got a way with the ladies, Vin decided. Must rub off on me, ‘cause they seem t’like hearin’ me talk, too. Clarice seemed especially interested in Tanner, often leaning forward to touch his arm.
The train rattled on, passing little towns, stopping and starting and moving on to Carbonado and points beyond. Just outside of their destination, the train ground to a stop. They waited, keeping up a conversation with the young ladies until the wait lengthened to an extreme. When the harried looking porter made his way through, he announced that there was debris on the track. Everyone was to get comfortable and wait.
Vin muttered, “Just what we needed.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Wanted to do somethin’ simple, and it goes all to hell.”
Theycontinued to chat with the ladies, but the conversation began to drag and Ezra seemed less at ease. The car was beginning to get stifling when Standish stood abruptly, tipping his hat to the ladies, and announced that he was going to take a walk outside. Vin followed, stepping out into the dry land. They were in the middle of nowhere. Ezra fanned himself with his hat, looking about for a moment to get his bearings and then wandering off at a quick clip. Vin leaned against the stopped train, waiting for things to get underway again, watching the conman as he turned and paced about. The train crew scratched the heads as they attempted to maneuver the fallen trees off the track. Now, where the hell did those come from? Vin thought as he watched.
Passengers, bored as well, disembarked and loitered, spreading parasols or seeking out the shade of the train cars. Vin shifted, finding a comfortable lean, wondering if he should help, watching as Ezra walked about. The gambler seemed unable to keep still, needing to be in motion if the train wasn't going to do it for him. Tanner narrowed his eyes as he caught sight of something moving toward them, a cloud of dust thrown up from a wagon.
By the time the local rancher reached them, the wagon had drawn everyone’s attention. Men and women crowded around the newcomer, or leaned from open train windows. The man brought the vehicle to a stop and drawled, “Looks like you got a spot of trouble.”
One of the engineers shook his head ruefully. “Seems to be a lot of that goin’ on lately.”
“Yeah, too bad, ain’t it?” The rancher returned quickly. Then, turning to the waiting passengers, he asked, “Any of ye want a ride into town? It’ll only cost ye fifty cents. Be a mite more comfortable than standin’ in the sun all day. If yer goin’ t’Carbonado, it would be worth your while.”
Peoplemurmured, the train personnel scoffed, and Ezra reached into his pocket. “I’ll give you seventy-five cents for two passengers,” he offered. The rancher balked. Ezra shrugged and walked away. "Not worth it," the con man told the other passengers. "He's tryin' to rob us all."
The other passengers nodded and muttered amongst themselves. The rancher scanned the group, watching them turn away. He protested, "I ain't doin' nothin' of the sort."
Ezra grinned humorously. "But the bid I offered was more than fair." He shrugged again as he came to stand beside Tanner. "To demand more would be highway robbery -- or perhaps 'train' robbery would be more correct."
The rancher scowled. "I ain't robbin' no one."
"In any case, my friend, it will be money in your pocket. Money you didn't have before." The other passengers listened as the Southerner drawled, "And the bid I offer you is more than enough for such a short ride."
"Aw, hell, I'll take it! Seventy-five cents for two."
Vin gave Ezra a bemused look, not understanding why the con man would fork over the extra money, he almost spoke when Ezra muttered, "At least we'll be underway again. I cannot stand milling about any longer." Yeah, the tracker thought, he does seem kinda edgy. Must need t'do somethin' aside from standin' about..
Ezra handed the fare to the rancher, and climbed into the wagon. “Mr. Tanner?” he called once he was settled.
Vin sighed as he clambered on board. “Ez, we don’t need to do this,” he said under his breath. “We got train tickets already.”
Ezrareturned in a low voice, “Yes, but it will take hours to clear this mess and the train car is becoming unbearably hot.”
“Hours?” Vin looked skeptical. “Won’t take long to move all that. We could help.”
“Engage in menial labor? Hardly.” Ezra grimaced. “Besides, I have the sinking suspicion that there may be more damage than is immediately apparent.” Almost immediately, they heard the cursing of the engineers as the displaced track was discovered under the fallen trees. “Pity,” the gambler commented, looking toward the rancher who grinned cunningly.
The rancher left the disabled train with a full load in his wagon, jostling Ezra and Vin and a dozen others about as they took the quickest route to Carbonado -- without rails. “Don’t seem right,” Vin said softly as he was banged about in the wagon. “He’s just cheatin’ decent folk out of their money.”
“It’s a good con,” Ezra replied. “People weigh the alternatives – a few hours delay versus a fifty cents. He was correct; it's not robbery. They don’t have to pay.”
“Yeah,but he’s got no right to block the rail and rip ‘em up.”
“No, I suppose he doesn’t,” Ezra responded, but gave Vin a devilish grin as he added, “But he did come up with a marvelous money making scheme. He’s an entrepreneur! I should have thought of something like this.” The wagon gave a hard jerk, banging the con man rather violently into the fat man sitting beside him. The man scowled. Ezra pushed himself off the rotund passenger, straightened his jacket and tipped his hat as an apology.
Vin shook his head – figuring it served the gambler right.
They reached Carbonado in early evening – coming to attention immediately at the sound of gunfire. The rancher shrugged it off, saying that it came from the target game at the carnival. Vin smiled, certain now that the elephant hadn’t left this town. At the station, along a side-track, was series of gaily colored train cars gaily colored green, purple and yellow – obviously the cars used by the carnival. Yes, they would certainly see that elephant this time!
Ezra insisted they stop for dinner. Vin, eager to finally set eyes on the creature they’d been searching for, agreed reluctantly. But, he was hungry after all, and Ezra was paying -- so it took little persuasion. The locals had assured them that the carnival stayed open well into the night so there was no need hurry. They dined, and finally set off to find Prissy after the sun had set.
It was easy to find the place where the elephant was kept. They followed the jaunty music and the occasional gunfire. Colorful tents, striped in yellows, greens and purples and illuminated with large lamps, formed a circle around the yard. Excited voices filled the air as people hovered. Vin felt his apprehensions rising as Ezra plunged effortlessly into the mob. Vin followed, shouldering his way in. It was like another world within that circle of colorful awnings. People were huddled around the entrances to the tents and booths. The lamps threw up sharp light. Carnival barkers plied their trade, calling people in to see bearded ladies, lizard men and dog boys. Ezra moved smoothly through them, smiling and nodding, his eyes glistening at the charged atmosphere. Vin stayed glued to him, not wanting to get swallowed up in the strangeness.
One tent held a ring toss -- another had a penny pitch. Hoops sailed toward prizes and pennies clinked among the dishware. The booth at the far end had the target shoot -- the constant gunfire accented everything. People hooted and hollered, carrying their prizes: ceramic cats, glass dishes, dollies, and boxes of chocolates. Women shrieked. Men shouted and caroused. A nearby Mission had apparently found room – selling indulgences and medals, along with little luminous figures of the Virgin Mother and Jesus, displaying his Sacred Heart. Elsewhere, a woman sold ‘fizzy drinks’, made with carbonic acid – flavored with syrup – and certain to cure anything.
The press of bodies was almost too much for the tracker. He felt as if he was choking. Some of the booths were serving greasy-smelling food -- something that might have been appealing if he hadn’t overeaten already. The music, loud and discordant, didn’t help Vin’s queasiness. He held his stomach and followed Ezra, hoping that they discovered the elephant quickly so that they could get out of this mess.
There was a corral in the middle of everything, but no elephant. The space was filled with dancers, kicking up their heels to the little band. Ezra seemed caught up in the spectacle, stopping at every booth, watching the men try to win dolls and dishes for their sweethearts. Laughing at the hoop toss, Ezra pointed out to Vin how it had been rigged. When Ezra considered paying a nickel to see the fortuneteller, Vin grabbed at his arm and whispered, “Maybe we should find the elephant first.”
Ezra raised a hand to the large placard on the fortuneteller’s tent. “But, I think I know her,” Ezra explained. “ Madame Zooley was a fixture in ‘my’ circus. Of course her name was really Frances Bunn and she looked nothing like the image on this lithograph.” Ezra cocked his head at the placard. “But Franny always fancied herself a blonde.”
“Let’s jus’ take another turn around this place. Get a look at the elephant. Maybe we should figure where we’ll spend the night before it gets too late.”
“This should only take a moment,” Ezra insisted. “And then we’ll find the elephant.”
The barker at the fortuneteller’s tent heard Standish’s comment. He leaned down from his stand and stated gruffly, “Elephant ain’t on exhibit right now.”
Vin looked up sharply and Ezra sighed sympathetically. “But we’ve come all the way from Four Corners to see it," Vin explained sullenly.
“Prissy needs her beau---ty sleep,” the barker declared dramatically. “Her keeper prefers her to stay out of this riot.”
“But she certainly will be on display tomorrow,” Ezra put in.
“Tomorrow’s Sunday,” the barker returned. “She gets her day of rest.” He looked annoyed and added, “Better than the rest of us.”
Vin sighed and Ezra shrugged.
“Hell,” Vin muttered. “Should ‘ave figured it would work out like this.”
“Don’t let it worry you, Mr. Tanner,” Ezra said as he fished a nickel out of his pocket. “We could always stay on until Monday. We might find fortune in our favor.” He pointed to the ‘Fortunes Told’ sign and grinned as if he’d made a joke.
Vin grimaced. “Naw, it was a dumb idea. We should get back. Chris’ll be needin’ us I reckon.”
“It’s your choice,” Ezra said as he handed the barker the coin. “I’ll meet you at the Blue Bonnet later tonight. Surely, they’ll have room.” And he waved his goodbye as he disappeared into the black interior of the tent.
Vin jammed his hands into his pocket and frowned. Hell, he’d had enough of this! Quickly, he wended his way out of the crowded carnival and back to the vacant streets of Carbonado. Fresh air and open space! Finally! He stopped at the first saloon, the “Standard” and pushed open the batwing doors. The place was nearly empty -- apparently everyone was at the carnival. Vin found a table at the back of the room, ordered a beer and quietly rested -- felling stupid as hell about the journey they’d taken.
What had he been thinking? Why in the world had he let Ezra con him into coming? What was the point of this? Hell, he had better things to do with his time, greater things to accomplish.
All he’d manage to do was waste a bunch of Ezra’s money and a whole day with foolishness. The thought made him tired. He glared out across the quiet saloon, then leaned his head against the back wall of the quiet place and fell asleep.
Vin Tanner had slept for several hours when the barkeeper finally woke him, saying that it was time to close up the place. Vin thanked the man for his hospitality and wandered out into the silent town. The carnival had finally closed up for the night, leaving the town in silence. Vin walked slowly down the moonlit street until he found the Blue Bonnet hotel. The night clerk informed him that a boy had come by earlier with the necessary cash to rent a room under the names “Standish” and “Vin”, but no one had been by to claim the keys.
Figuring that Ezra had found a game somewhere, Vin went back into the street. Wide-awake after his little nap, he wanted to find something to do. He rambled along the street, finding some of the saloons open, but none called to him.
Annoyed still about their pointless journey, he made his way out of the good part of town, drawn toward the train tracks and those cars. He wandered along, kicking away the litter that crossed his path. Down by the station, he approached the carnival’s train cars – one sat apart from the others. He made his way toward the separate car – a cattle car, painted with the image of a charging elephant. The moon was bright, easily illuminating the artwork. The elephant looked magnificent, triumphant, and terrible -- ready to stomp the unwary beneath its raised foot, or tear them apart with that flailing trunk.
“It would be something to see,” Vin said softly. He smiled tightly, and figured that now was the time -- he wasn’t going to leave Carbonado without one look at the beast.
Inside, something shuffled around, something snuffled.
Vin climbed up the ramp and stood on the platform beside the door. He pressed one hand against the door and pushed up on the bar that held the door shut. He slid the door open a few inches, wanting to only allow an inch or so… enough to let in some moonlight and allow him to get a peek. He never had the chance. Almost as soon as the door was cracked, something snaked out at him, grabbed hold of the door and slid it fully open. At the sudden movement, he stepped back, teetered for a moment at the top of the platform and then dropped those few feet to the ground below. The four-ton pachyderm fled through the open door and stormed down the ramp. Vin landed on his ass, and looked on in astonishment as the huge beast lumbered away. She came to a stop after a few yards, swinging her long trunk as she turned to look at him. Man and beast stared at each other for a silent moment. Then the elephant turned abruptly and trotted away.
Vin jumped to his feet and followed. Goddamn! he thought as she picked up speed and he broke into a run. Who would have thought that something so big could move so fast? She turned sharply, running away from the quiet train cars. Vin sucked in a breath as she veered toward the town. He hoped that no one got hurt as the elephant thundered through. Thank God it was so late!
She was quickly gaining distance on him. Vin followed, watching woefully as she dived down the main street of the town, and then took a sharp turn and headed along one of the side streets. “Gotta catch that damn thing b’fore it runs someone down,” Vin muttered. “Gotta get her b’fore she hurts herself!” Damn! I sure hope no one comes out of those saloons.
Vin pushed himself, hoping to catch up before he lost sight of her. He had just run past the “Excelsior” saloon and was about to follow the elephant down the side street, when a voice called to him. “Mr. Tanner? What exactly are you doing at this hour?”
Breathless, Vin paused long enough to find Ezra on the boardwalk. Standish was the only human in sight. Drawing in a breath, Tanner managed to say, “Elephant.” He pointed, and then continued on his path.
Ezra remained on the walkway a moment longer. Realization hit him and he took off at a sprint after the tracker. They fled down the side street and took another turn as Prissy caught sight of the open land and made a run for it.
“Gah!” Ezra gasped from behind as they ran after the escaping beast. “What the hell happened?”
“Wanted to see her,” Vin shouted as he kept his eye on the racing animal, and tried to keep from tripping in the low light.
“Well… you’re certainly seeing her now,” Ezra responded from behind him, jumping over a rock. "Of course, you probably wanted a viewing that included more than just her posterior."
Damn, damn, damn, Vin thought as he ran, as he heard Ezra behind him. How could he let loose an elephant?
Prissy ran… Vin and Ezra followed. They tripped, they stumbled, they gained their feet again – and the elephant charged ahead of them. They leapt over prickly pears, steered around sprays of ocotillo, and attempted to keep from running headlong into devil’s club. The tall and wise saguaros looked on without comment. Behind Vin, Ezra chuckled as he ran.
Finally, as Vin gasped for air and Ezra hugged his sides, the pachyderm slowed. Her stride shortened and her gallop changed to a saunter until she finally stopped.
As the panting lawmen caught up with her, Prissy turned and blinked at them, swaying her trunk and flapping her ears playfully. Above them the stars winked and the full moon shone. The town looked as if it were miles away.
“I do believe…” Ezra said, pausing to draw another breath and stepped closer to the beast, “…That she enjoyed this.”
“Get back, Ez,” Vin exclaimed. “She’s dangerous!”
“I doubt it,” Ezra said between pants. “These are gentle creatures.”
“You sure about that?”
“More or less.”
Vin wasn’t sure -- but there did seem to be a merry gleam in her eye. “Looks kinda like she’s laughin’ at us. Figures she played a trick on us.”
“Jezebel!” Ezra muttered.
For that, the elephant reached at him. “Ez, look out!” Vin shouted too late, as the winded lawman was caught by the elephant’s trunk. Vin sucked in a breath, expecting the elephant to grasp the gambler, shake him like a die and then wring him with python strength. Instead, Ezra remained perfectly still as the trunk gingerly explored him. Not knowing what else to do, Vin froze as well, watching as the pliable trunk poked its way around Ezra’s bright jacket.
“If she does try to eat me, Vin,” Ezra spoke calmly. “You will attempt to dislodge me from her throat?”
“Sure,” Vin responded with equal nonchalance. “Just don’t expect too much.”
The elephant kept poking at Ezra and neither man moved – until the trunk found its way into one of Ezra’s pockets and dragged out a paper packet. “Hey!” Ezra shouted, making a grab as the elephant tugged the package out of reach – looking like a schoolyard bully as she held it above the gambler’s head.
“You!” Ezra shouted, jumping for the purloined bag of peppermints. “Give that back!”
The elephant didn’t listen. She avoided the gambler’s reach and popped the whole packet into her mouth – paper and all – and crunched on a whole week’s worth of Chaucer-bribes.
Vin laughed as Ezra fumed and the elephant looked delighted. She made another pass at Ezra, but the gambler had learned his lesson and stepped out of reach. She stopped her pursuit and went back to swinging her trunk casually.
“She don’t have horns,” Vin commented.
“Like in the pictures.” Vin pointed to Prissy’s face. “Would ‘ave hurt if she chomped on you with them big horns coming out of her mouth.”
“Tusks,” Ezra corrected. “I believe the posted images may have… exaggerated things a bit.”
“Still, would ‘ave hurt if she chewed on you.”
Ezra nodded. “That’s true.”
“Don’t think she would though,” Vin concluded. Stepping into the spot that Ezra had just vacated, Vin gave the animal a pat. Prissy touched him gently with her trunk, wrapping it briefly around one leg, and then withdrew. “Aw,” Vin said softly. “She’s a nice girl.”
“Now what do we do?” Ezra asked from a safe distance.
“Get her back,” Vin decided. “Can’t leave her to fend for herself out here. Ain’t no place for her.”
Ezra nodded. “But how? If your last attempt to corral her is any indication, you’re not an elephant wrangler.”
“Maybe we could ride her back.”
“Doubtful,” Ezra responded, taking a backward step as Prissy looked at him. “Very doubtful.”
“You’ve seen someone ride an elephant before?” Vin tried, giving Ezra a glance.
The gambler nodded.
“You know how they get up on ‘em?” Vin continued.
“If I remember rightly, a command is given and the elephant will bow down, allowing a passenger to use their leg as step. One can grasp hold at the base of their ear and pull oneself up. She appears to have a halter that will help in the activity.” He cocked his head at Prissy who was still giving him ‘the eye’. “Happening upon the correct command for this particular creature might take hours.”
Vin straightened and ordered, “Down!” He smiled when Prissy complied, bowing down as Ezra had described. Tanner gave Standish a self-satisfied look. He patted the elephant’s knee before he hoisted himself up onto it, and then grabbed hold of the ear as Ezra had explained. With a grunt, he pulled himself up all the way, grasped the halter, swung one leg over the massive back. It was rather a wide stretch, he decided as he settled himself. He smiled, proud of his accomplishment. “Now you,” Vin told Ezra.
The gambler shook his head. “She’s accosted me once already. There’s no tellin’ what she’ll do when she has me at her mercy.”
Vin snorted. “Come on, Ez. She just wanted Chaucer’s sweets. She ain’t gonna hurt you.” He gave her a friendly slap on the side.
Ezra looked undecided, and then put on a confident face. He smiled as the elephant blinked at him. “Good day, Miss Pricilla,” he uttered. “If you allow, I’d like to request a favor of you.”
“Get on up, Ezra!” Vin ordered. “She’s gettin’ tired of waitin’ for ya! She cain’t squat down all day.”
“I was simply being polite,” Ezra commented, before he, too, stepped up on the elephant’s knee, and pulled himself up. But, before he could swing himself up behind Vin, the elephant stood. She swayed violently back and forth as she found her balance and got all four feet under her. Vin wrapped one hand around her rope halter and grabbed hold of Ezra’s arm as she jostled them about.
Wordlessly, Ezra maneuvered himself onto the elephant’s back behind Vin as Pricilla strutted about. “Ya okay, Ez?” Vin asked Ezra had found his seat.
“Certainly,” Ezra responded with a laugh. “Good Lord, what would Mr. Larabee have said if you returned without me, with a story about how I had broken my head open while trying to board an elephant?”
“Doubt it would go over well,” Vin responded.
“Indeed,” was Ezra’s reply. He tried to find a comfortable position and offered, "Her back is rather wide..." Ezra commented as he tried to get used to the stretch.
"Already figured that out," Vin returned.
"Good thing I'm so limber," Ezra decided. “Her spine is rather…”
“Hard,” Vin completed, adjusting himself accordingly.
“Next time, perhaps we should bring a cushion of some sort,” Ezra commented, failing to find a comfortable way to sit on the hard spine and wide back. They sat in silence for several minutes, aboard the elephant, as they stared out across the desert from this new vantage point. Prissy shuffled beneath them; the moon glowed above them. “Amazin’,” Ezra said softly.
“Yeah,” Vin agreed.
“Do you think we can encourage her back to her home?” Ezra asked.
At the word ‘home’, Prissy pricked up her ears and snorted. “You want to go on home, Priss?” Vin asked.
Prissy swung her head about and took a step. The two lawmen lurched at her movement.
“Lord, I do hope that she doesn’t equate home with ‘Africa’. What a ride that would be,” Ezra commented from behind.
“Thought you said she was an Asian elephant,” Vin commented with a laugh.
“In either case, we would get wet.
“Home, Prissy,” Vin commanded softly, and the elephant took one more leisure swing of her trunk before she started off at a lumbering stride, back toward the town and the cattle car where she slept.
Ezra grabbed hold of the brim of his hat as the elephant reeled. The other hand grasped onto Vin to keep from falling. Vin wound both hands into the rope halter and hung on for the ride. Prissy moved at a leisurely pace, seeming to enjoy the walk. "Mind the cactus," Ezra stated.
"She seems t'know what she's doin," Vin decided. "Ain't got any sticks in her yet." Remembering something, Vin turned and asked, “You find her?”
“Pardon?” Ezra responded, lurching along with the elephant.
With a chuckle, Ezra corrected, “Madame Zooley. Yes, yes, I did meet with her.”
“Was she your friend?”
“No, her name was actually Betty Caseman, but she knew Franny.” As they moved through the moonlight by elephant, Ezra explained. “Apparently, Franny was tired of her gypsy life. She sold off her business to Betty, settled down, and married Jimjo the Wildman.”
Vin half-turned. “A wildman?”
“I knew him well. He had hair all over his face,” Ezra responded. “He used to dress in a loincloth and hop around with a pointed stick, hollarin’ as if he were mad. But, when he was off duty, he was a gentleman, well-educated and with impeccable manners. Betty told me all about the wedding. I understand it was lovely. I would think they made a beautiful couple.”
“So, you knew these folk from when you worked at the circus?” Vin inquired as he faced forward again.
Ezra answered, “Yes, that’s correct. I was a young man and eager for some adventure and circus life seemed to fill that need. Honestly, it was a few months. I did a fair job as a barker, did a bit of juggling and such, but the money wasn’t great.” As the elephant trod along, he explained, “Still, it was a thrillin’ experience and I enjoyed my time.”
“Why’d you leave ‘em?” Vin asked.
“It was hard work, my friend, and I’ve never been the type to enjoy menial labor. We made a stop just outside Wichita,” Ezra responded, still clutching his hat and clinging to Vin for balance. “And I found a remarkable opportunity. An itinerant preacher was ready to give up his profession, and considered joinin’ the troupe. He was an adept juggler. I suppose it comes from jugglin’ good and evil.”
Vin smiled. “So ya switched places?”
“One can make a remarkable livin’ as a preacher. I traveled throughout Kansas -- unappealing country -- the residents’ only entertainment was to attend a church service. One exercises a little hellfire and brimstone and the money came rolling in,” he stated with a laugh, and Prissy kept her pace, marching back toward the town.
“Yeah?” Vin remarked, remembering something Josiah had told him. Sanchez had had a conversation with the gambler when Ezra had described his preaching life. Josiah had been disturbed about the telling, using it as an example to Tanner about how mercenary the con man could be. He sure do know how to get under Josiah’s skin, Vin figured. Jus’ likes to mess with him a bit. Tells the tales just to get him riled.. “But ya gave that up, too.”
Ezra said nothing immediately. But after the pause, he stated, “You see, there was this mayor’s daughter…” Vin heard a change in his friend’s voice, but he didn’t turn to see him. “Gerty was such a lovely thing, so trusting. She had the warmest heart. She should never have trusted the likes of me.”
Oh, so that’s it, Vin concluded. He bowed his head, resisting the urge to twist about and meet Ezra’s eyes. He had the suspicion that Ezra wouldn’t speak to him if they were to face one another. Tanner recalled the tale as Josiah had related and realized that Ezra had obscured the truth a bit to the preacher. Probably didn’t want anything to slip, Vin figured. He hardly knew Josiah then. Even now, I’m only startin’ to hear the truth of it. Typical of ‘im to hide any hurt under indifference. The silence grew as Prissy carefully picked her path through the cacti. Aw, Ez, Vin thought. You shouldn’t beat yourself up about it.
Finally, unable to bear it anymore, wanting to speak his mind, the tracker turned. He’d set the gambler straight -- catch him before he fell into a depression. What Vin found was unexpected -- Ezra looked thoughtful and strangely content -- happy.
Ezra quirked a smile when he met Vin’s glance. “Gerty, my Trudy, was such a lovely soul. The only reason she married me was because she believed herself to be in a family way.”
“Was she?” Vin asked cautiously.
Ezra shook his head. “I thought she’d be happy when she discovered she was without such encumbrances. It would release her. We’d moved to Topeka, but we could have the marriage annulled. She could return to her influential family. But she stayed, just the same.” The gambler looked away, out at the stars and the night. “She loved silly little things: tiny flowers, the scent of fresh bread, playing with children, dancing or just talking. She liked to be alone with me -- just with me. I cannot regret the time we spent together. It was one of the happiest years of my life.”
Vin faced forward, smiling -- glad that Ezra had trusted him with this quiet information. Behind him, Ezra laughed and stated, “It is certainly a beautiful night!”
Yes, it was -- there was no doubting that. Vin laughed, too. Never would he have suspected he’d find himself in such a place – riding on an elephant through a patch of centuries-old saguaros with a confidence man hanging onto his belt, telling him secrets. It was a night to remember.
The elephant swung her trunk wide and they moved through the moonlight.
Vin yawned and leaned back on the uncomfortable bench seat as the train jostled its way back toward Ridge City. Across from him, Ezra had commandeered the backward-facing seat. Standish sat with his feet on Vin’s bench, and his head resting against the window – fast asleep. A wrapped parcel of shirts pillowed the gambler’s head – keeping his head from banging against the window. Vin couldn’t understand how Ezra was able to sleep through that. But then again, nobody slept as deeply as Ezra Standish.
After listening to Standish’s noggin knocking for several miles, Tanner had fished the newly purchased articles from the bin over their seats, and carefully wedged it between the con man’s head and the pane – saving them both from a headache.
He regarded the rest of their ‘luggage’. Ezra had won several glasses from the penny-pitch. They were cheap things, the gambler declared, but the blackberry pattern appealed to him and he had been determined to win a whole set. The tracker had honestly enjoyed the carnival during daylight, without the crowds. The smells weren’t quite so offensive, the colors looked less garish. It had been…fun. He had obtained the grand prize at the target-shoot, a white elephant statue. The man at the booth had insisted it was pure ivory, but Ezra, after an inspection, declared it was something else, possibly calcite. He’d looked undetermined on that fine point. In fact, Ezra had declared every prize figurine they came across was made of calcite, so Vin had figured that Ezra was just pulling his leg. It couldn’t all be made of that stuff! It was probably just plaster, but still a fine prize. “Elephants are lucky,” the carney had told him with a wink.
Vin Tanner wasn’t the type of man who believed in luck. He usually didn’t care for knick-knacks either, but this one was rather special to him -- a memory of a great adventure.
The pair had been able to return Prissy to her railroad car just before sunrise. The elephant had appeared happy to be back in her home for the night. They’d shut the car’s gate before anyone had noticed that she had been missing. After that, they’d sent a wire to Four Corners, explaining that they were delayed. Larabee tended to get a bit excited when they stayed out of communication for too long. Then, some shopping in town, and off to the carnival until their train departed.
The trains had started running again that morning -- the track finally cleared of debris. Tanner wondered how long that would last -- and how long would that rancher would get away with his plans. Can never tell about those connivin’ folk, he decided. They always got some sort of a plan goin’. Can’t trust ‘em to do anything straight. It’s just the way they are.
Tanner smiled as he gazed at his sleeping friend, glad that Ezra had forced his hand and insisted that they make this journey. It was something he would always remember – riding an escaped elephant through the desert by moonlight! What could be better? Well, there was one greater thing -- sharing the experience with a friend. Yeah, it might have been a ridiculous trek, but he had no regrets.
Ezra made a soft sound in his sleep, nestling his head further into the new shirts, wrinkling them horribly. Damn glad Ezra could get some sleep, too, Tanner decided. Jus’ needed a bit of excitement in his life. Somethin’ to take his mind off whatever ailed him. Let him think of happy things. Worked out good for everyone.
Tanner thought about the ‘lucky’ elephant he’d won -- and considered himself lucky for other reasons.
yawned again and tucked his head into his collar. The next time the porter made
his way down the aisle, both lawmen were fast asleep, dreaming of elephants and
other greater things.
THE END -By NotTasha
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