RATING: PG... for some swearing
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Ezra, Buck and JD, and the rest all show up eventually
DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No profit involved. It 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.
SUMMARY: Ezra is missing ... in more ways than one
SPOILERS: Ghosts of the Confederacy, Working Girls, Witness, Inmate 78
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thank you to KellyA and Eleanor Tremayne for their excellent comments and help. The name of Ezra's horse was supplied by Kristin.
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments are greatly appreciated. are greatly appreciated.
DATE: Completed April 11, 2000
The Leopard and his Spots
By NotTasha. Who's career is a bit spotty, too.
When he didn't return on schedule, they weren't too concerned. He had taken a
week for vacation, a little time from town -- good for everyone really. One more
day wasn't an issue. Another day passed, and it was nothing really to worry
about -- what's two days in the grand scheme of things? But when the third
day came to a close, they began to realize that something was not right. He was
not the most reliable person in the world (some would say - far from it), but he
usually had the common courtesy to send a telegram explaining his delay.
They sent a wire of their own to Eagle Bend and waited for a response, which didn't come until the following day. The response -- he wasn't there. He had left nine days earlier.
He was a wanderer by nature, so this wasn’t alarming in itself, but he should have sent a wire explaining his new locale -- he'd always had in the past. What had happened? He'd been missing for nine days.
They rode out to Eagle Bend, the six of them, and started asking around. Who was the last to see him? A gambler, fancy dresser, fancy talker, had you seen him? Yes, was the answer, over a week ago. Yes, he was here but he left. Yes, he came through but he wasn't happy with the tables, and moved on.
The manager of the saloon explained, "He was here, yeah, I remember him. Couldn't miss him, could I? He spent all his time gamblin' but there wasn't many folks 'round here play. Guess he wasn't winnin' much cause he told me he was 'off to find more promising prospects'."
Where did he go from here? No one knew. He left town and that was all they could say. The lack of correspondence was troubling. So the six split up into groups of two and started into the surrounding area the following day.
They searched, sending a telegram to Four Corners at every chance. Mary
Travis would collect the answers and send them back to the men in the field.
"NO WORD;" "NO SIGN;" "NOTHING". How could he just
disappear like that?
Days passed as they searched.
Buck and JD traveled along their appointed path. They stopped at farmhouses and way stations, at the tiny towns and the small family compounds. "Have you seen a man, about so high? Dresses fancy, I mean real fancy. Got a load of five-dollar words that he likes spreading around. Southern accent, neat as a pin, clean-shaven, gold tooth, custom-made boots, a chestnut horse, nice lookin' saddle, expensive guns? Have you seen him?"
The two men had been out for three days and were circling back toward Eagle Bend when they entered a town by the name of Wildcat. It seemed hardly the proper designation for such a dreamy little place. There wasn't much to it, just a few shops, a blacksmith, a livery, a hotel, a restaurant and a saloon. JD and Buck left their horses at the livery and went to check the town.
"Always the saloon first?" JD said as they approached the simple little structure with the sign denoting it Kat's Tavern.
"A leopard can't change his spots," Buck said. "I'm bettin' we'll find him in a saloon. Probably got half the money out of this town already if he's here."
It was a small place, a few tables and fewer patrons. One man was asleep or drunk at the back of the room. A matronly-looking woman stood behind the bar with a young girl beside her.
"Excuse me, ma'am," Buck said, stepping up to her. "We're lookin' for someone. A gambler, he might have been through here. Expensive clothing, real fancy talker. Have you seen him?" He was tired of asking the question and could see already by the look on her face that the answer was 'no'.
"Doesn't sound like anyone I've seen lately," the woman replied. "It's been kinda slow."
JD sighed and shoved his hands into his pockets. "It's just no use, Buck. We just ain't gonna find him. He's not here."
"Don't you start with that, JD," Buck shot back. "I ain't givin' up on him yet. Let's take a rest before we start askin' the rest of the folks in town. Someone might have seen him." He nodded to the woman and ordered a couple of beers and went to sit down at an open table.
Wilmington was so tired of this, the hopelessness of it. He knew that it was time they stopped searching the towns. They would have to go into the open territory and look for a body next. He didn't want to do that. God, he didn't want to find a body.
Buck glanced at the other patron, who sat with his head on the table, cradled in his arms. The man was about the right size, but his hair seemed a touch darker, too unkempt. The muddy-colored jacket of course was all wrong.
Buck was still looking at the man when JD sat down noisily and cried, "Buck, we got to get movin’. Got to get back to looking for him.”
The man's head jerked up at the voice and Buck was stunned to see those green eyes look at him, befuddled.
"Ezra?" Buck called.
The man leapt unsteadily to his feet. "Where?" he asked, his voice terrified. It was Ezra, unshaven and tousled, but Ezra.
"Ezra?" Buck cried happily, moving toward him. JD stood quickly,
God, it was good to finally find him. All the fears that had filled Wilmington over the past week tried to melt away.
Ezra swung around, looking behind himself and then back at the two. His expression was confused and frightened. "Where?" he demanded again. He started to stumble backward, away from them.
What's going on? Buck tried to get to his obviously distraught friend, but the sound of a gun being cocked stopped him short. He wheeled around to see the woman at the bar level a pistol at them. "Let him alone!" she barked.
"But," JD started, pointing to Ezra, who was continuing to move backward, running into the wall. JD stumbled clumsily. Ezra put up his arms defensively, stopping Dunne in his tracks.
"You boys step away from him now!" The woman's voice was sharp as steel. "You done enough already. You ain't gonna do no more. Not while I'm around." Her expression declared that she meant what she said. "Let him alone. Put your hands where I can see 'em." Her eyes flitted toward Ezra, who stood with his back flat against the wall, staring in terror at the other two. She nodded to the girl. "You go see to him."
The girl, about nine or ten years old, scurried out around the bar and past the two men who looked as confused as Ezra at this moment. She grabbed Ezra by the wrist and said, "You sit down now, Chris."
"Chris?" JD and Buck exclaimed as one and turned toward the woman.
"Damn it, what's going on?" Buck demanded.
The girl tugged at Ezra's arm again. "Please, Chris. Sit down. It's gonna be okay. Uncle Taylor will take care of them. You just sit down right here." Her eyes were kind and she smiled sweetly at Standish as she helped him into the chair. Her look was hateful as she turned to the other men in the room. "My uncle's the sheriff here and he's gonna lock you up for what you done!"
"Go get him, Alice," the woman said, keeping the gun pointed in the direction of the two gunmen. The girl patted Ezra gently on the arm, as if she were petting her favorite cat. "I'll be right back. I promise." And she ran out of the saloon like a shot.
"Please," Buck said, his attention on the woman with the pistol. "He's our friend. Is he hurt?"
Ezra's attention turned from the still flapping batwing doors, returning to the lawmen from Four Corners. He watched them with wide eyes.
"Chris, do you know these boys?" the woman asked.
"I don't know them," his voice was unmistakably Ezra's, but rather flat and with a stronger accent.
Silence and then, "I don't remember."
"He's our friend," JD said, repeating Buck's words. "What's
wrong? What happened to him? Is he okay?"
Buck kept his eyes on Ezra. Damn, he looked so...wrong. He’d rarely seen Ezra with so much as a five-o'clock shadow, and now it looked like he hadn't shaved for days. But, it was more than that, he looked so confused, so lost, so different.
The woman lowered the weapon slightly, seeing something in the faces of the two men. The door to the saloon burst open as a lanky man with a whiskered face, a revolver and a badge came in quickly, followed by the girl. He glared at the newcomers and spoke. "Kat, are these the men? Alice says they have somethin' to do with what happened to him?"
Kat paused, scrutinizing them. "I don't think so, Taylor," she said. "They say they're his friends." She looked intently at Buck and then lingered on JD. She scrutinized their expressions, looked deep into their eyes. "I think they're tellin' the truth."
The sheriff nodded curtly and asked, "Are they speakin' truth, Chris? Do they know you?"
"I don't know," was the flat reply and Ezra ducked his head.
The sheriff's eyes had not left the two men. "Put your weapons on the table," he demanded.
"Are you okay?" JD anxiously asked Ezra, who didn't answer.
Worriedly, Buck watched the strange behavior of the cardsharp. There was nothing right about this situation.
"Guns on the table, boys, and then we'll have a talk," Taylor said, jerking his weapon at the two.
Buck didn't want to disarm in this unknown town. He looked again toward Ezra
and saw no recognition in his eyes. There seemed only anxiety and fear in those
usually crafty eyes.
"All right then," Buck decided, pulling his guns from their holsters and setting them on the table in front of them. "We gotta find out what's going on."
JD copied him, and the sheriff pointed them to the door. "You boys come with me for a bit."
Buck glanced back at Ezra. The girl, Alice, was sitting next him now, patting
him on the arm again, speaking quietly to him. Ezra watched them suspiciously.
Damn it, they had just found Standish, Buck thought, he didn't want to leave him.
But, the sheriff hadn't wavered. "Now," he ordered, pushing open the door.
Buck realized that they didn't have much of an option and nodded JD toward the exit.
"We'll be right back!" JD called to Ezra as they left the saloon. Ezra's eyes followed them warily as the door shut. The girl watched reproachfully.
The thin sheriff pointed JD and Buck to the jail. When they entered the small and clean room, the two automatically headed toward the cell, but Taylor waved them to a pair of chairs beside the desk.
Taylor picked up an already burning pipe and stuck it in the corner of his mouth as he sat down at his desk. "I'm Taylor Graves, sheriff of Wildcat. Who are you?"
"This here's Buck Wilmington and I'm JD Dunne. I'm the sheriff of Four Corners."
Taylor raised an eyebrow, smiled, and then leaned across the desk to shake JD's hand. "It's always a pleasure meeting another of my occupation. I've heard a fair amount about the law in Four Corners."
"Are we being arrested?" Buck asked.
"Doesn't look like it. Don't mind that bit about the guns. I'm just a cautious man."
Buck exhaled in relief. The last thing they needed now was to be locked up. "Can we go see him then?"
The sheriff of Wildcat frowned. "I ain't done talkin' yet." He looked at them carefully and asked, "So what do you boys know about our mystery man?"
"What's going on?" Buck shouted. "Why doesn't he know us? Why are you calling him Chris?"
Taylor raised an eyebrow. "Not Chris, is it? I thought as much. What's his name anyways?"
"It's Ezra," JD supplied. "Ezra Standish."
"Damn," Taylor muttered, looking surprised as he pulled the pipe from the corner of his mouth. "Didn't expect that." He rubbed his whiskered face thoughtfully. "That changes everything."
"What happened to him?" Buck asked urgently, "Why's he like this?"
Taylor sat back and began the story. "I found him about ten days ago. Someone really beat that boy. Wasn't sure if he was alive or dead when I came across him out in the middle of nowhere. He musta been out there for a day at least, alone. Someone left him there to die." Taylor stuck the pipe back into his mouth, clamping down on it. "Damn low-down thing to do," he said between his teeth. "Lonely place to die. I brought him back to town, then had to ride out to get a doctor to patch him up. Took him a couple of days to wake. Was mighty sick for a while, mighty sick. My sister's been lookin' after him since then."
Buck's face grew hard as he listened. "Who did it?" He unconsciously reached for his missing gun.
"Thought it was you," Taylor answered. The two men looked at him in shock. Sheriff Graves looked almost as confused as they felt. "Alice said that one of you was Ezra."
"What?" JD said.
"She said you were sayin' the name 'Ezra'. I didn't know it was his name. That makes things different."
"What do ya mean?" Buck asked.
"When he finally came to, he didn't know anything. Could hardly put two words together. He's getting better but hasn't remembered much. A few days ago he came up with the name Chris. We figured it may as well be his name; it was better than nothin'. Then, just yesterday, he started rememberin' about what happened to him. Said he remembered the name of the man who wanted him dead. Said it was Ezra."
JD and Buck exchanged worried looks. "Why would he think that?" JD asked quietly.
"Dunno," Taylor returned. "I was about to send a telegram off, lookin' from some outlaw named Ezra. Can't be that popular a name amongst the criminal element. Thought he'd be easy enough to find. Now my only clue is useless." Taylor leaned forward in his chair. "He got any enemies?"
"Figure he's got a few," Buck admitted.
"Any that want him dead? Any that feel they got the right to leave him dyin' and alone in the middle of my territory?"
"I don't know," JD responded. He looked toward Buck.
"Can't think of anyone in particular," Buck put in.
"Damn. I wanted to get the bastard." Graves sat back, angrily sucking on his pipe. "Nice fella, too, that man in Kat's place -- whatever his name is now. Must have been some black-hearted son-of-a-bitch to hurt him like that."
"Is he okay?" JD asked. "I mean, aside from the fact that Ez can't remember anything."
"The doc patched him up pretty good. He had some broken ribs that are still strapped and was pretty badly bruised up. Someone musta been kickin' him." Taylor bit down hard on his pipe's stem. "But, it was his head that was bleedin' so bad. The doc had to stitch him. He lost a lot of blood." He pointed to the side of his head. "It looked like someone wholloped him about here with a board or a pipe or something. Missed his temple at least."
JD and Buck both sighed audibly, imagining what had happened to their friend.
"He's been here for ten days and hasn't remembered his name or anything?" JD asked, "What's he been doin'?"
Taylor shrugged, "Well, since the doc let him go, he's been staying at my sister's saloon."
"All the time. Never really leaves it. Sleeps there and everything. Kat and Alice have taken a shine to him," Taylor said with a smile. "He never causes a bit of trouble, just sits there at the table all day and helps around the saloon. Sleeps in the back room. Sleeps a lot. We've been trying to help him remember who he is, but haven't gotten anywhere." The sheriff sighed and said, "You boys should take him home. Maybe if he goes home he'll start rememberin' who he is. He deserves that, I reckon."
"We want to do that," Buck said, standing. "We'll get him home straight away. We need to send a telegram letting our friends know."
"Let me go over and talk to Katherine. It 'd probably be best if she were the one who tells him what was gonna happen," Taylor said wisely. "He's a bit nervous about new things. Not his fault, ya know," the sheriff said with a tilt of his head. "Everything is new to him right now. Anyway, she'll get him ready. She'll let him know what's gonna happen. He doesn't seem to know you boys."
Buck nodded, but JD looked hurt by this thought. They thanked Taylor and then went to the telegraph office and sent the message "Found Ezra in Wildcat STOP Coming Home STOP Head Injury STOP."
As they left the office, Buck talked seriously to JD. "Kid, we should probably call him Chris for the time being."
JD grimaced. "Buck, if we want him to get his memory back, shouldn't we call him by his real name. I mean, it's gonna be weird calling him that."
"He's in a bad state right now," Buck responded. "Let's not get him riled any more. Maybe if we get him home he’ll be closer to acting like himself."
The young sheriff sighed. "Why do you suppose he thinks his name is Chris anyway? I mean, Chris... of all people."
"Dunno," Buck responded. "We just can't call him Ezra right now. You saw how he reacted. God, you'd think that he was terrified of that name."
"Why would he think that someone named Ezra was trying to kill him? It doesn't make sense. I mean, unless there's some other Ezra around that we don't know about."
"I know, JD, but for now I just want to get him home. We got to get him someplace near familiar stuff." Wilmington sighed discontentedly and continued, "If it means we gotta call him Chris for a while, fine. I just don't want to get him upset."
They made there way back to the saloon and found Katherine, Taylor and Alice sitting at the table with Ezra. He was nodding dully and then turned his head toward the two when they entered. He scrutinized them intently before he said, "I don't know you."
"You know us. You just don't remember us, that's all," Buck replied.
"They say that I should go with you."
"We want to take you home, Ez... ah, I mean, Chris," JD said.
Ezra looked back to Katherine. "I don't want t'go."
"You have to. They want to bring you home," Katherine responded with a warm smile.
"I don't know who they are."
"I know, but they're your friends. Taylor says that their names are Buck and JD."
Ezra's voice was lower. "I don't want to leave here."
"It's gonna be all right. They'll take care of you."
Ezra's voice became a whisper as he spoke again to the woman. "Please don't make me go. This is the only place I know."
She patted his arm lovingly. "It'll be all right. They're your friends. I know, I can tell. They care about you and will make sure that you get to your proper home."
JD and Buck smiled hopefully at Ezra, but his gaze didn't shift toward them. "I'd rather stay."
Kat's voice was soft and encouraging, but her face was sad. "It's time you went home."
Ezra looked down and asked quietly, "Am I such a burden to you?"
Kat blinked, trying not to cry. "Oh, no, Chris. Not at all. You know you're always welcome here, but this isn't a home. You can't just stay in a saloon all your life. You have to go with them. They'll help you to remember who you are." She touched his chin, tilting his head up so that she could meet his eyes. "It's time you went home."
Ezra finally looked back to Buck and JD. There was something so strange about his glance. There seemed to be none of the cleverness, amusement or slyness that they were used to, none of the quick wit or arrogance.
"Come on, ah Chris," Buck started. "We should get goin'. We got some distance to cover before it gets too late."
Ezra stood stiffly and looked back at the three people at the table. He blinked for a moment, as if trying to find his train of thought. "I suppose I should go then," he said glumly.
"You'll be okay, Chris," Katherine encouraged.
Alice hugged him gently. "You'll want to have your memory back, won't cha? You want to know who you are?"
"Yes," Ezra said, looking sadly at the girl. He rested a hand gently on her head for a moment and then turned to Buck and JD. "I'll go with you."
JD smiled and Buck tried to look encouraging. Damn, he seemed so odd, Buck thought. Ezra walked toward them, with a halting gait. He nodded to both of them, and Dunne gently took him by the elbow and steered him toward the door.
Katherine pulled Buck aside as JD exited the building with Standish. "You be careful with him now. His ribs ain't completely healed up and you watch out for his head, it's still sore. His head hurts him something fierce sometimes. He won't say nothing about either, so you got to watch for him. Make sure he eats and that he gets enough sleep. He sleeps a lot, but you gotta remind him to do it sometimes. He'll just keep going 'til he drops if you don't remind him."
"I will, ma'am," Buck assured.
Graves nodded and input, "He won't say a word if he's hurting. It's as if he's afraid to speak sometimes."
"I understand that," Buck replied. "He's always been that way if he's ailin'."
Kat scowled at that comment and then her demeanor changed as her voice lowered. "If I find out that I was wrong about you, and you cause him any harm, me and my brother will hunt you down and shoot you dead, you understand? He trusted us to take care of him and I'm putting him into your hands."
Buck nodded, noting the dead seriousness of the woman. He didn't doubt her. "Yes, ma'am."
"I'd never forgive myself if I was wrong about you. I did my best to take care of him."
Buck reached out his hand. "I want to thank you for that."
The woman smiled and accepted the handshake. "He was no trouble," she said. "He's always been polite and decent -- quiet as a mouse as if he never wanted to be in the way. He helped me about the place and was so nice to my Alice."
Buck shook Taylor's hand, and said, "We're obliged to all of you." He held out a hand to the girl next, who continued to watch him with an uncertain glance. She stepped forward and cautiously took his hand.
"Just see to it that you get him home safe," the sheriff commented. "I'll be waitin' for word from you if you find out any more about who done this. I'll be comin' to the trial to testify."
Buck nodded and then followed his friends out the door. JD was waiting with Ezra, talking to him in his usual animated manner, but Ezra didn't seem to be listening. "Ya ready?" Buck asked him.
Ezra nodded, not meeting his eyes.
"Come on," JD said with a smile. "Sooner we get goin' the faster we'll get home."
"Yes," Ezra replied. "Home."
JD and Buck walked on either side of Ezra as they headed to the livery. He didn't even move like Ezra, Buck thought. Gone was his cat-like grace. Standish plodded along slowly, keeping his head down and not looking at the men beside him. From this position Buck could see the angry looking bruise and the scar across the side of his head, visible through his hair. Damn, that must have hurt... must still hurt.
Graves had asked the question first... did anyone want Ezra dead? Well, someone certainly had. The question was, why? Had it been someone from Eagle Bend, someone who thought Ezra had cheated him? They were about a half-day's ride from there right now. Someone might have followed him out of town. Was it someone from Ezra's past, a victim of a con or a big loser at the tables? Or maybe it was a relative of someone he had brought in to justice since he became a lawman. Brothers are always trouble. Why would someone want to kill him? Buck wished he knew.
The livery had three horses available and Ezra took his time in choosing a mount. For a long time he simply stood and stared at the animals until Buck jostled him. He seemed to wake from a dream.
JD was certain that Standish would choose the chestnut horse that bore a passing resemblance to Chaucer, but instead Ezra decided upon a pinto mare. When JD mentioned this later to Buck, Wilmington's reply was, "The paint was a better horse."
A boy from the telegraph office found them in the livery as they were preparing to go. He handed Buck the message from Chris and Vin, "Thank God STOP Meet You at Ferris STOP Looking for Nathan STOP"
But there was no message from Nathan and Josiah. They had been headed toward Reed River when they'd last heard from them. Buck mentioned this to the telegraph boy, and the kid replied, "Wire's down out that way," before he ran back to the shop with his tip.
Ezra looked uncertain as the others waited for him to mount. "Ya need a hand, ah Chris?" JD asked.
Ezra patted the horse softly and said, "I don't know how to do it."
After as surprised pause, Buck said, "Look, watch me." He mounted his horse slowly, demonstrating the correct movements. "See, you can do that." How could Ezra forget how to get onto a horse?
Ezra nodded and mimicked Buck's actions making the maneuver easily enough. He patted the horse again once he was seated, and she nickered softly.
"See, you remember," JD said. "You need a nudge in the right direction. You'll be remembering all sorts of stuff soon."
"Yes, well, yes," Ezra replied. He looked lazily about, resting his gaze finally on Buck.
"You doin' okay?" Buck asked.
Buck frowned. He didn't even sound like Ezra. Where were the fancy words and the charm? His accent seemed stronger than before, without its culture and refinements. He looked so peculiar in those undistinguished brown clothes, on that wrong-colored horse. He'd probably shaved at some point since he'd been attacked, but his face was more whiskered from several days without any attention.
Ezra looked back toward Kat's Tavern where Alice, Katherine and Taylor were standing. He paused, and almost called out. Instead, he waved to them and blinked as they waved back. Alice looked as if she wanted to run forward, but her mother carefully held her back.
"Thank you," Ezra whispered, too quietly for even Buck to clearly hear. He sighed and faced forward in his saddle and they started heading toward Four Corners, leaving Wildcat behind.
"Hey, ah, Chris..." JD said as they rode down the path toward home.
"Yes?" Ezra didn't turn as this wrong name was given. His eyes stayed on the trail, his shoulders hunched.
"How ya doin'?"
"Fine. I'm fine."
JD chewed his lip for a moment, gazing at his odd-mannered friend. They'd been traveling in silence for about a half hour and Dunne was tired of it. They'd been searching so hard for Ezra, and now they had him -- and yet it was if he wasn't with them at all.
"Do you remember what your last name is?" JD asked and received a threatening look from Buck.
Ezra frowned as he thought. He squinted at Buck as they rode along.
"Chris?" JD tried again, realizing that the gambler's mind was wandering. "You know your last name?"
After a minute Ezra said, "It might be Wilmington."
Buck's jaw dropped for a second and then he asked, "Wilmington? Really?"
"Might be," Ezra said, unsure. "Sounds familiar."
"Chris Wilmington?" Buck continued.
JD laughed, "What about your middle name?"
Ezra frowned again, regarding their reaction. He turned away, his shoulders still hunched.
"Chris?" JD pursued.
"Leave him alone," Buck put in. "Don't matter what his middle name is."
"I'm thinking," Ezra responded, rubbing his forehead as he concentrated. His hand strayed to the site of the awful wound and he quickly pulled it away. It seemed to take forever for him to come up with the slightest bit of information.
"Does it start with a J?" JD prompted.
"J? Might be Josiah then," Ezra said finally.
JD snorted in disgust and Buck chuckled, "Hell, you got quite a name there."
"I don't know," Ezra sighed. "Doesn't sound right, does it?"
"It's fine. It's a mighty fine name, Mr. Wilmington," Buck said with a laugh, and Ezra shot him a strange look.
They rode on through the diminishing day without much conversation. JD tried to ask Ezra questions, but was rewarded mostly with 'yes', 'no' and usually 'I don't know.' And even those simple answers were long in coming. Dunne gave up after a while and they rode in silence.
Buck kept an eye on Standish. Despite his apparent trouble with mounting, Ezra rode with his usual skill. From time to time Ezra would pat the piebald horse reassuringly, and murmur to it, as he would with Chaucer. He's still in there, Buck thought hopefully. But as the day progressed, Standish's head only lowered and his eyes narrowing to slits. It was obvious that the couldn't continue for much longer.
When they came to a creek, Buck declared that it was time to make camp. They dismounted and set to work. Ezra sat quietly watching while the other two made a fire and prepared a simple dinner. Buck noted how very placid and indifferent he was. Simply sitting while the others moved about the camp. And when dinner was finished, Buck told him to lie down near the fire and Ezra immediately fell to sleep.
"What are we going to do, Buck?" JD asked. "It's like he's not Ezra at all."
"He got hit pretty bad, JD," Buck explained, spreading a blanket over the sleeping man. "We'll get Nathan to have a look at him when we catch up to him." He carefully adjusted the blanket and then sauntered over to JD.
"He's gotta be okay," JD said, watching them. "You said a leopard can't change his spots, Buck, but what if he has his spots taken from him?"
"He'll be all right," Buck confirmed hotly. "It'll just take some time and he'll be okay." Wilmington hoped it didn't take long.
In the middle of the night, something shook Buck awake. He looked up through the darkness to see Ezra looming over him. "Where are we?" Ezra asked him urgently.
Buck rolled over and sat up. He explained, "We're on our way to Ferris to meet up with the others, then we're headed home."
"Four Corners. We'll be there in a couple days. You okay, pard?"
"Yes, fine," Ezra replied and moved back to where he had been sleeping. He looked up at the starry sky, frowned and said, "I used to know the names of the..." he trailed off.
Buck waited, but the sentence wasn't completed. "Of the what?" he prompted.
Ezra pointed. "The stars." His brow furrowed in concentration. "The stars make pictures. There's a word for that."
"Constellations?" Buck supplied, feeling sorrowful at having to do so.
Ezra didn't nod. "I can't remember them."
"That's all right, you will. Go back to sleep."
Ezra continued to look up at the sky, his face clouded. "So many stars and no way to order them."
Buck pointed upward. "You see that big W? That's Cassiopeia. Those three stars in an off-kilter row, that's Orion's belt. Those stars that make a box there, and that thing that looks like a handle comin' off of it...that's the Big Dipper. If you line up those stars on the end, they point to that bright one. It's the North Star and that's the Little Dipper, pouring into the Big."
Ezra nodded as Buck spoke and then finally said, "Thank you," and lay down near the dead fire.
Buck watched Ezra for a moment to make certain he wasn't going to get up again. Standish immediately fell asleep.
Wilmington sighed. He wished he could do more for his friend, but at least he helped him find some order to the stars.
In the morning, JD met Buck by the creek as they washed up. "I don't think that's Ezra at all," JD muttered. "I think it's just some guy that looks kinda like him. We're just making a mistake."
"JD, it's Ezra."
"But he doesn't act like him; doesn't sound like him."
"He's calling himself Chris Josiah Wilmington. Where do you think he came up with that? Damn, he's gotta have some memory of who he is...who WE are."
"He didn't use my name," JD sullenly complained.
Buck scooped up a handful of water and flung it at the young sheriff. "What's he gonna do with a couple of letters, kid?"
JD grinned and drove his hands into the water, splashing the other man, which only made Buck retaliate. Soon both men were soaked and laughing. They looked up when they heard another voice join in. Ezra was looking down at them, leaning against a tree, chuckling softly. It was the first time the man had even smiled.
"Hey...Chris," JD called. "You sleep okay?" Buck grimaced, knowing that the young man had a habit of asking the wrong question.
"I slept, yes," Ezra replied, not changing his stance.
"You gonna get cleaned up?" Dunne continued. "Water ain't too cold."
Gingerly, Ezra climbed down the bank and then squatted at the creek beside them. "Hmm," he said as he dunked his hands into the water. "No soap?"
"Didn't think to bring it down with us," Buck explained, watching the gambler's movements carefully.
"Very well," Ezra said with a sigh. "I'll make do."
JD turned to Buck and smiled. Maybe Ezra was in there after all.
They continued on their way to Ferris, to meet up with Chris and Vin. Ezra
was easier with them now, and they chatted along the way. He would ask them
strange questions, pointing to objects and asking what they were called. Buck
found it disturbing that Ezra didn't seem to know the correct names for so many
things. Buck couldn't think of anyone who had such a large vocabulary as the
southerner, and now he was reduced to asking what a bridle and bit were called.
They asked him questions, trying to pull something from his muddled memory. Bits and pieces were all he seemed able to draw -- shades and colors and little more.
"Who's Maude?" Ezra asked after a while.
"Maude? She's your mother," Buck replied.
"No, really, who is she?"
"Really, Chris, she is," JD replied. It was getting easier to call him by this wrong name, but he had to be careful about it.
Ezra frowned. "That doesn't seem right." He rubbed his chin and shook his head, seeming to discount their response. "No, she can't be," he murmured.
And then after a while he stated, "I've been trying to remember where I grew up. I can't quite put a finger on it. I just don't have a clear picture of my home."
"I think you moved around a bit," Buck informed him.
"Oh, that would explain it." Ezra nodded. "I can remember so many different places. A house...a hotel...I remember a picnic in a park."
"Yeah? Was it fun?" JD asked.
"Yes, there were games and prizes." Ezra rubbed his forehead. "I won an award, I think."
"An award, huh?" JD continued. "What did ya win?"
"I wonder where she is," Ezra said softly.
"Who?" JD asked, and Ezra just turned to him with bleak eyes that seemed to have no depth.
"I don't know," Ezra responded. He closed his eyes, his hand still in place at his head. "A parade. Was there a parade?"
"Couldn't say," Buck responded. "You remember a parade at the picnic?"
"Wasn't there," Ezra said softly. "Maybe it was somewhere else."
"Maybe you can remember where it was," JD prompted.
Ezra, his hand still pressed to his head, tried, "New Orleans?" The comment was a question.
"Yeah, that could be right," Buck informed him. "You told me once that you'd been there. Your head hurtin?"
Realizing what he was doing, Ezra lowered his hand. "Not so much," he mumbled. He looked puzzled and asked, "What were we talkin' about?"
"New Orleans," JD supplied sadly.
"So many bright and colorful things," Ezra said thoughtfully. "There was a man dressed in a costume, an animal." He furrowed his brow as he paused again." What do you call the animal that has long ears?"
"What? A donkey? A rabbit?" JD tried.
"The small one. The one that hops."
"Rabbit," JD supplied, seeming at ease with having to offer up this bit of information, despite the fact that it disturbed the hell out of Buck.
"There was a man in the parade dressed like a big rabbit," Ezra continued.
JD laughed. "A big rabbit?"
"I knew a girl who had a pet rabbit named Silky."
Buck shook his head slowly. At least Standish was talking to them, even though his conversation seemed to take strange paths. It had been going on like this all day. He would start to talk about one thing, and then end up someplace completely different. Buck had thought that he may be able do draw some information from Ezra concerning his mysterious past, but so far the random bits and images he was able to provide gave Buck little to go on.
"Yeah, what was she like?" Buck asked.
"She was a very nice rabbit."
JD smiled, "Did she have long ears?"
Ezra again looked forward and blinked for a moment. "Who had long ears?" he asked, perplexed.
"The rabbit? Silky?" JD supplied.
"She belonged to the girl with the red house."
"Was the girl your friend?" Buck inquired.
"For a time," Ezra told him. "But I had to go."
"Why?" JD asked.
"They didn't want me there anymore," Ezra said. "There wasn't enough room for me. Someone had to go." And was silent afterward.
After several minutes JD finally said, "I think you're doin' real good. You're remembering more stuff all the time."
Ezra nodded in response but Buck couldn't help but notice the uncertainty of it.
They reached Ferris that afternoon and found a table in the saloon to wait for Chris and Vin. It was a good tavern, bustling with activity and filled with men and barmaids. The food wasn't half-bad and the three of them tucked in for lunch.
There was a poker game in progress, which Ezra watched with some interest. After they'd finished their meal and the plates were replaced with mugs of beer, Ezra said thoughtfully, "I used to know how to play."
"That's an understatement," Buck replied.
Ezra frowned, watching the game. "It seems terribly complicated. There's so much going on."
Buck smiled, watching the rather boring game progress. Only Ezra would think that there was a lot going on in that game. He watched the gambler as he watched the game. Buck could see a flicker of intelligence cross Ezra's face, but he still seemed more confused than anything.
JD left the table and spoke to the bartender for a moment. He came back with a deck of cards. "Here ya go, Chris," he said, setting it down before the man.
Ezra regarded the cards for a moment, and then fingered them cautiously, as if he expected them to bite him. He asked, "What do you expect me to do?"
"I dunno. Shuffle 'em or something," JD said encouragingly.
Standish turned the cards about in his hands and looked to Buck. "You kinda got this talent with cards, Chris," Buck said. "Try them out."
Ezra cut the deck and shuffled them with a snap, cut and shuffled. The cards flew with their usual precision. He looked up. "That it?" he asked.
JD frowned. "Come on, doesn't it help you remember anything?"
Ezra fanned out the cards and stared at them for several minutes. "I seem to remember playing when I was quite young, maybe six or seven years old. I was playing against gray haired men and was winning." Ezra smiled.
"You were beating grown men at six?" JD asked.
"Beating the pants off of them," Ezra drawled, sounding almost like himself. "The surprise on their faces was delicious." He shuffled again and brought the Ace of Spades to the front. He stared at it disconcertedly, before he cut it back into the deck.
JD said, "You remember anything else? Anything else about your childhood maybe?"
"No," was the quick reply. Too quick, Buck thought.
He noticed that Ezra's head was drooping as he stared at the cards, his eyes were half-shut. "If you're tired, Chris, you can take a nap before the others get here. Won't be a problem." Ezra didn't even look up. He set the cards on the table, then rested his head on his arms and was asleep almost instantly.
Buck sighed and carefully turned Ezra's head so that he wasn't resting on the injured side. Katherine was right about his sleeping. It was like putting out a light. It must have been due to the head injury. Wilmington hoped they found Nathan soon.
Buck and JD enjoyed a drink as their friend slept. They talked quietly of the
road ahead, hoping that they would cover the distance quickly, get back home,
find Nathan, get Ezra fixed up and right again.
Some time later, the door to the saloon swung open and Buck looked up to see Chris and Vin standing in the doorway. He turned to JD and said, "You stay with him. I'll go talk to 'em."
JD woke Ezra as Buck left the table. Standish raised his head warily and looked after Buck. Chris and Vin were already heading in their direction and Buck had to stop them. JD watched as Wilmington explained the situation to the newcomers. Chris and Vin gazed toward Ezra with concern as Buck spoke. Ezra turned to JD anxiously.
"It's okay, Chris. These are our friends," JD explained. He saw the two men laugh suddenly. Buck must have told them about the name Ezra was using, and then their expressions turned serious as Buck told them more. Chris' hands clenched and his eyes grew hard. Vin changed his stance and looked toward the door. They nodded before they finished their walk to the table.
"Hi, Chris," Chris said, sitting down beside Ezra. "You doin' okay?"
Ezra moved closer to JD, looking suspiciously at the gunslinger.
"Hey there, Chris," Vin greeted. "Remember me?" He smiled cheerfully, but JD could see the concern in the tracker's visage.
"No," Ezra muttered.
Chris extended his hand. "That's okay. I'm Larabee. This is Vin."
Ezra shook Larabee's hand unenthusiastically.
Vin smiled. "It's good to see ya again. We've been lookin' all over creation for you."
Ezra nodded. "I've been looking for myself as well."
"Buck says that someone tried to kill you," Chris stated, starting right in on what he wanted to know.
"Do you know why?"
"Do you know who it was?"
"It was Ezra."
Chris frowned. "That's what Buck told me, but I don't think that's right."
"It's what happened. I saw him." Ezra was trying to move further from this stranger, bumping into JD. "Ezra tried to kick the life out of me."
"I think you got it wrong."
"It's what I remember," Ezra said unsteadily.
"Tell me what you remember."
"You won't be pleased."
Chris frowned at this statement and tried again, "Tell me what happened."
Ezra looked to JD and the boy nodded. "Go ahead and tell 'im," the sheriff encouraged.
Ezra gazed downward. "The man needed help, so I went to him. Something went wrong." He touched the side of his head gingerly. "Couldn't get away. Hit me. Then it was dark. I woke up and Ezra was angry and started kicking me."
"Ezra, yes." His voice remained quiet, but he started to speak faster. "My head hurt and he just kept kicking me. I wanted him to stop. I couldn't breathe and he wouldn't stop. I tried to get away, but I couldn't move. He kept kicking me." He looked back wildly at Chris. "He ... he wouldn't stop!"
"Why did he do it?" Chris kept at him.
"I don't know. I just don't know," Ezra said, looking away again.
"I just wanted to get away." With a sudden movement, Ezra tried to
stand -- to escape, but was hemmed in by the wall and the men on either side of
Chris reached for him, to stop him and Ezra flinched away.
"Let him alone, Chris!" JD said sharply, putting an arm around Ezra, keeping him from going anywhere.
Both men who were using that name turned toward him. Chris grimaced, realizing JD's mistake.
"I know my name isn't Chris," Ezra stated evenly, stopping his attempt to escape -- either giving up ,or having forgotten what he'd been attempting seconds before.
"Yeah?" JD said, "Do you know what it is?"
"No," Standish replied quietly, "Do you?"
"Yeah," JD replied and turned to Buck.
"It's Ezra," Buck told him and looked to the gambler, seeing him wince.
"No, it's not," was Ezra dark response.
"That wasn't Ezra who was hurting you," Vin told him.
"Looked like him."
"Couldn't have been Ezra," Vin continued.
"It was," Ezra stated, staring back at the tracker. "I know what he looks like."
"Describe him," Chris prompted.
Ezra met his eyes slowly. "He had a red jacket and a matching vest, silk shirt, pinstriped trousers, expensive boots..."
"Sounds like Ezra," JD said and got a wicked look from Buck.
"What did he look like," Chris tried again. "His face, what color hair?"
Ezra thought for a moment, staring at Chris' growing whiskers. "Clean shaven. Neat." he paused and said, "Brown hair."
"What color were his eyes?"
It took a minute before he replied, "Brown."
He heard the other men at the table sigh. "Ya see," Buck said, "Ezra has green eyes. That wasn't Ezra."
"Looked like him."
"Looks can be deceiving," Chris said.
"Oh hell," Buck remarked, turning to JD. "Remember what the sheriff said? When Taylor found him, he was stripped."
"I wasn't naked," Ezra said sounding somewhat embarrassed. "I still had my undergarments." His eyes took on a far off look, perhaps remembering how he had laid in the desert for so long, unable to move or think -- slipping in and out of consciousness -- waiting for help -- in his underwear.
"The bastard was wearing his clothes," Buck stated. "Listen, whoever that was, took your clothes. That's why he looked like Ezra. Do you understand? It was just the clothing. Just 'cause he's wearin' a certain suit of clothes don't mean he's like the man they belong to."
Ezra blinked at Buck and said, "It wasn't Ezra?"
"No, Ezra wouldn't 'ave done that. He wouldn't a kicked a man like that, 'specially if he were hurt. You should know that." When he saw the man relax, Buck realized what had been bothering his friend for so long. His fractured memory he had gotten it all confused, had somehow managed to put himself in both participants places. "You didn't hurt anyone, you got it?"
"It wasn't me?" Ezra asked quietly.
"It wasn't you," JD said to him, patting him on the shoulder.
"Thank God," Ezra sighed.
They visited the telegraph office before they left. Buck had sent a message when they arrived in town, letting Mary know of their present location. A message had been relayed back to them. The wire from Reed River had been functioning for a short time before it went down again and one message from Nathan came through. It had originally been sent the day before.
Buck read it and handed it to Chris. "What do ya think of that?" he asked.
Chris read it aloud. "Success STOP On his trail to Clarkston." He looked at the others. "What the hell."
"Think it's that guy?" Vin questioned. "If they're following a guy that looks like Ezra, they're probably following that guy who hit him."
Chris ordered, "JD, I need you to take Ezra home. The rest of us are going to Clarkston to get the bastard. Nathan and Josiah are probably there by now, but the damn wire is down again. Won't be able to let them know."
"There were two of them," Ezra stated. "Two men attacked."
Buck startled at this new bit of information. "Do you remember what the other guy looked like?"
Ezra frowned. "Tall, blond..." a short pause, "Black clothing."
"We'll find him," Vin said.
"That description could fit more than one," Ezra said glancing at Chris. "He's the one who stuck my head. I think I'd remember him if I saw him."
"We've got t'get you home," Buck said. "Remember what we told Kat and the others? They'll hunt me down if anything happens to you."
"I think I'd remember them if I saw them," Ezra said.
Chris sighed and agreed. "If you're sure you can identify them, we'll need you along.."
"Chris, he doesn't know us," JD put in. "Who's to say that he'd remember those two guys?"
Ezra just nodded and said, "I'd remember them."
They started off on a new direction, towards Clarkston. "Is it all right if we call you Ezra now?" JD asked. Ezra looked at JD for a long moment before he nodded. "Good," JD returned, "'Cause I was having a heck of a lot of trouble calling you somethin' else."
"I wish I remembered you and the others," Ezra said softly.
"Have you remembered anything else?"
"But you are remembering more, huh?"
"Nothing worth stating."
JD sighed and looked toward Buck. The man was still just as stubborn about this sort of thing as he'd always been.
Buck sidled up to Ezra and eventually the two of them drifted toward the back of the group. "You're startin' to remember more, right?"
Ezra frowned. "I suppose that would be accurate."
Buck noted the troubled look on his friend's face and asked, "Why's that a problem?"
Ezra met his gaze. "I have led a disturbing life. I find that I'm rather disreputable, that I've cheated and conned people, taken their money. I gamble for a living.. I've lied most of my life. I've been alone most of my life. I see that no one would want to be associated with me. I've been imprisoned. I believe I've jumped bail at one point."
Buck wished he could do something to fix this. Why was Ezra only remembering the worst of everything? At least his vocabulary was improving. His conversations didn't seem to wander as they had previously.
"Look, Ezra, you've done some things in the past that you aren't too happy with. Hell, we all have! You don't do that sort of thing anymore. You've done a lot of good stuff since I've known you."
"I don't remember it."
"Remember when Mary Travis was kidnapped and you dressed like a woman to cause that distraction?"
Ezra looked horrified. "I dressed like a woman?"
"You helped save her life. And when Billy disappeared, you were right there, helping us find him. When Chris was missing, you were the one who got the deputy to spill the beans about the whole operation. You're always there when we need you."
Ezra shook his head. "I don't remember."
Buck looked up to see that the others had gone some distance ahead, but had stopped now. The horses were grazing as they waited. "You're good man, Ezra. You have to believe that."
Ezra nodded, but Buck could still see the lack of belief in his expression. Ezra turned his pinto toward the others and they continued on their way.
Throughout the rest of the day, the others told them what they knew, told him everything they could think of regarding their lives in Four Corners. Chris and the others caught on to Buck's attempts to reassure Ezra of the good he had done. He listened, but seemed unable to accept their explanations.
They stopped early for the night. Chris wanted to press on, but it was apparent that Ezra could go no further. He fell asleep in a heap before they even lit a fire for the night. After Buck related their earlier conversation, Chris wished he had sent Ezra home with JD as he had first intended. If Ezra were back in familiar surroundings, maybe he would remember the better parts of his life, the time he spent with them.
But Chris knew he was kidding himself. He'd stop at nothing to catch the bastards who'd attacked and abandoned Ezra, and they needed the gambler with them to complete that task.
Once again, in the middle of the night, Buck was awakened. He blinked his eyes at the blackness, recognizing the concerned face above his.
"Cassiopeia," Ezra whispered, "She was the one whose vanity led her to believe she was more beautiful than the Nereids, wasn't she?"
Buck rubbed his eyes and looked up at Ezra. Where the hell did this question come from? He followed Ezra's gaze to the stars and recalled their conversation of the previous evening. "I don't know much about that stuff, Ezra."
"She brought down the wrath of Poseidon, who punished not her, but her people and finally her daughter. He demanded the girl's sacrifice and sent a sea serpent to take her. Isn't that right?" He turned toward the celestial W.
Buck shook his head. "Ez, I don't know. Go to sleep. You need your rest."
"Was her name Andromeda? The daughter?"
Buck sighed and said, "You're remembering more all the time. You'll figure it out yourself."
"I wish I could make sense of it all," he said softly. "My memory is but a mass of confusion."
"It'll straighten out," Buck assured him.
"I don't remember any of the stories you related. It seems like fiction, mere myths."
"It's not fiction," Buck said, hoping he knew exactly what fiction was. "You have to believe us."
"There are just so many troubling things," Ezra said with a sigh. "There are so many contradictions."
"Well, contradictory is one word to describe you," Buck said with smile. "Really, it's okay. We like you that way."
"Honestly?" Ezra asked. "In spite of my spotted career?"
"Yeah, we like you despite your spots." Buck saw that the man seemed to relax somewhat. "Now go to sleep." He watched as the troubled man settled himself again. He looked over at JD and found the sheriff looking back at him. They exchanged a smile and then both went back to sleep.
In the morning, Ezra borrowed Chris' razor and finally shaved the scraggly growth from his face. He looked at his clean-shaved reflection in the water and puzzled over it, running his hand over his smooth skin. He seemed to be searching for something in his green eyes.
"You're lookin' more like yourself today, Ezra," Vin told him.
"Perhaps," Ezra replied, tugging at the poorly fitting jacket. "But not quite."
They continued on their way to Clarkston, keeping up an easygoing conversation. The questions they directed at Ezra seemed to draw better responses than before, but it was apparent that he still did not remember them or anything about Four Corners. As the day drew on, it seemed that he did recall a thing or too, then he became quieter until he hardly responded to them at all.
They saw two riders that afternoon. They heard a 'whoop' of joy as Nathan and Josiah headed toward them.
"Ezra!" Josiah yelled, grinning from ear to ear, as they approached. "Thank the Lord, our lost sheep has been found."
Nathan looked at him skeptically. "You okay, Ezra?" he asked, noting something strange about him. He brought his horse close to the man.
"Who are they?" Ezra asked, leaning toward Buck.
Josiah looked stunned. "Don't you know who I am? Who we are?"
"He's lost his memory. He got himself clobbered pretty bad about, what, about twelve days ago," Buck informed. "He doesn't remember much of anything. He's got some busted up ribs, too."
Nathan was off his horse in an instant. "Come on down, Ezra. I want to get a look at you."
Ezra just looked down at him, unsure. "This is Nathan," Buck explained. "Remember, we were telling ya about him yesterday. That's Josiah." Wilmington dismounted and came around beside Nathan. "Come on, he won't hurt you."
Josiah and Nathan looked from Ezra to the others, startled by the way Ezra was behaving. He seemed sheepish, timid, as he looked down at them. Finally, accepting Buck's words, he dismounted slowly and stood quietly beside his horse. The animal nibbled at his hair as Ezra stroked its neck.
"Let's get you someplace where you can sit down," Nathan said. Buck moved in and led Ezra a short distance away, to a nearby log, with healer following close behind.
"We thought we'd found him," Josiah commented, watching as Nathan and Buck helped Ezra take off his jacket and shirt. "We were tracking a man, who fit his description. We caught up to him in Clarkston and found him at a saloon. Come up from behind him. You can believe our surprise when the man in the red coat turned around and wasn't Ezra. He had such cold eyes. The man's name was Reggie Dobbs."
"Wearing Ezra's clothing?" Chris asked.
Josiah nodded. "It scared the hell out us. We couldn't figure out how he got all of Ezra's things with Ezra still being alive. We wanted to question the man, but he had a lot of friends. There were eight men that I counted. We were coming back to find a town where we could send a message for your help. The wire's down all through this area."
Nathan had removed the necessary clothing from Ezra. Jackson muttered to himself as he examined Ezra's bandaged ribs and the yellowed bruises that were evident over most of his torso. The healer sucked in his breath when he saw the wound at the side of his head. "Does this hurt?" he asked.
"I'm used to it," Ezra replied quietly.
Nathan examined the wound and touched it softly, getting a gasp out of Standish. "I'm sorry Ezra," Nathan said. "I didn't want to hurt you."
Ezra didn't say anything, but looked toward Buck. "He's almost done, Ezra," Buck reassured.
Nathan nodded and said that he was finished and the two of them helped Ezra back into his clothing. Then the healer sat in front of Ezra, once he was dressed again, and looked into his eyes. "Are you tired? Do you want to try and sleep for a while?"
"I suppose," Ezra said thoughtfully. With that, he settled himself at the base of the log and fell asleep almost immediately.
Nathan looked up to Buck and asked, "Has he been doing that right along?"
"He'll fall asleep at a drop of a hat if you let him," Buck replied, grabbing a blanket from his horse and returning to drape it over the sleeping form.
Nathan and Buck walked back to where the others were standing. "I'm surprised he's alive. It's no wonder he doesn't remember anything. Whoever hit him almost took his head off." The healer shook his head in disbelief. "How did this happen?"
Buck said, "A couple of guys got to him. Someone hit him. And when he came 'round someone else saw fit to bust him up some more."
Nathan just sighed. "That man Dobbs..." he trailed off.
"Dobbs did the kicking... someone else hit him," Chris supplied. "Did you see a tall man in black, with blond hair."
The two looked at him. Josiah asked, "Aside from you?"
Chris shook his head sharply. "That was Ezra's description for the man who hit him in the head."
"Think he's got that wrong too?" JD asked, "He's getting other things confused."
"It's the only thing we got," Chris spat out, gazing at the man curled up by the log. "Damn it, we have to find whoever did this. Someone's gonna pay for it."
Josiah walked quietly to the sleeping man. "Why do you think someone wanted to kill our brother?" He asked as he squatted beside Ezra. He adjusted the blanket slightly and sighed.
Nathan shrugged. "He does have a way of bringing out the worst in people."
"We're going to catch this Dobbs and find out," Chris responded.
The others nodded and milled around for a few minutes. "Should we set up for the night?" Vin asked. It was early evening, with still plenty of time for travel. "Maybe Buck and I should go ahead to Clarkston."
"That Dobbs has friends," Josiah reiterated. "We should go together."
"Set up camp," Larabee stated. "We'll go tomorrow."
Ezra did not awaken again during the evening. Nathan kept a close eye on him, to assure that it was only sleep. "His brain is still healing," Nathan explained, "And he's just plain exhausted from traveling."
Buck slept lightly, waiting to be awakened again during the night, but wasn't. Finally, at dawn, he woke on his own. "Ah hell," Buck muttered as he struggled out of his bedroll. "Chris, JD!" he called to the men closest to him. "Ezra's gone."
The others were up in a moment. "Damn it, where'd he go?" Chris demanded.
Vin pulled on his jacket as he scouted the area, noting first that the pinto was missing. After an examination of the area, Vin stated, "Rode off in that direction."
"Son of a bitch," Buck yelled, kicking up a cloud of dust. "We should'a had someone on watch."
Josiah, Nathan and Chris moved to saddle the horses, while Buck, Vin and JD quickly stowed their gear. "Why would he go that way?" JD asked. "There's nothin' out there."
"How the hell should I know? He probably doesn't know where he's goin'," Buck growled. "Damn it, I was supposed to be looking out for him."
"Oh no," JD started.
"What?" Buck threw back at him.
"My gun belt was right here last night." JD pointed to an empty patch of ground.
"Let's get after him," Vin responded.
The six men followed the trail through the dawn, closing the distance. It was bright when they finally caught up to the piebald horse and its rider, who were traveling at an unhurried pace.
"Ezra!" Buck shouted. "Ezra, where the hell are you going?"
The rider turned and pointed one of JD's Colts in their direction. "Don't come any further," Ezra ordered. "It wouldn't be wise."
The six reined in. "Put down the gun, Ezra," Chris ordered.
"I will not, Mr. Larabee," came the reply. "Go home."
"What the hell's goin' on?" Buck asked.
"We're not goin' home without you," Vin stated.
"I'd advise differently, Mr. Tanner," Ezra kept the Colt aimed in their direction as he spoke, but Buck noticed, the aim was over their heads. Ezra was obviously remembering more, going back to his habit of calling them by their surnames. At least he was using names, something he had avoided up until now. "There is no point to this pursuit of yours."
"Ezra, we need to get you home," Nathan said soothingly.
"The home is yours, not mine." Ezra glanced about at them and licked his lips. "I'm afraid that I've been untruthful to you."
"What about?" Buck prompted.
"You've told me that I'm a lawman in this metropolis of yours."
"Yeah, that's right."
"Come on, Ezra," JD said. "Why'd we lie to you about that."
Ezra shook his head. "It's not you that lied. I'm afraid it was me. I've been pulling a ruse upon you. An elaborate con that has misguided your view of my true character."
"Ezra," Chris started. He glanced to Nathan who shrugged helplessly.
"I've misinformed the lot of you as to my true intentions."
"What are those intentions then?" Chris asked. He noticed that Buck had managed to move forward slightly.
The movement didn't go unnoticed by Standish. "Stay where you are, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra said, aiming the gun in Buck's direction.
"You're intentions, Ezra, what are they?" Chris restated. "What's this con of yours all about."
"The details are sketchy," Ezra replied, his eyes intense, but his face a mask. "It hasn't all come clear as of yet."
"There's no con, Ezra," Vin told him.
"Of course it's a con, Mr. Tanner. There's always a con."
"No," Josiah spoke softly, "No, Ezra, not this time."
"I'm leaving now. I'd suggest you return to your home and continue to protect it as you have." Ezra turned his horse and continued in the direction he had been headed, into nowhere and nothing. "It shall, most likely, be easier without my intervention."
"Damn it, Ezra, listen to me!" Buck shouted.
"Ezra," JD said softly, watching the man slowly move away from them. "Ezra, you can't just take my guns like that. You're leaving me unprotected. You can't do that." He looked back at the others in his group, hoping this would work.
Ezra stopped and looked over his shoulder at the youngest member of the group. "You're correct, Mr. Dunne," he said as he holstered the weapon and unbuckled the belt, then let it drop to the ground before he continued on his way.
The instant the belt dropped, Buck urged his horse forward until he caught the pinto's bridle, pulling the rider to a stop. "Will you just listen to me?" he yelled.
"I don't want to cause any more trouble," Ezra said evenly.
"You're not causing trouble, Ezra," Buck said with a sigh. "Damn it, why can't you remember anything decent? Haven't you listened to anything we've told you?"
"I've misled you," Ezra cried. He sounded bewildered and lost. "And have deceived you into believing that I'm something I'm not. Your stories are evidence of this. My memories of my time among you, although incomplete, are enough to inform me of this fact. I've run out on you when you needed me. I nearly caused the deaths of all of you. I've chosen the pursuit of gain over your very lives. I've sold women into prostitution. I've..."
"Dammit, Ezra," Buck shouted in frustration. "You came back. You risked your life to come back and help us. Don't you remember? You didn't sell no women..."
"You were doing the opposite," Nathan said slowly as he approached. "You were trying to get them out of it. I didn't realize that at the time. I was upset about the marriage broker fee."
Ezra continued, "I want to apologize for this elaborate deception and disappear before..."
"Ya may be good at a con, Ezra, but ya ain't that good," Vin said. "You think ya could convince all six of us that you're a good guy, while meanwhile you're some damn snake in the grass?"
"We're not that stupid, Ezra," Nathan put in.
"You don't think I'm stupid, do you?" Chris added.
"No," Ezra replied, meeting the eyes of the gunslinger. "Nothing makes sense. I can't remember anything that could back up your claims."
"I wish you could," Josiah said. "I truly wish you could."
"You come back with us now, okay?" Nathan pleaded.
Ezra shook his head slowly. "No, I think not."
"Ezra, what about that promise I made to those friends of yours in Wildcat?" Buck asked.
"They didn't know my true nature either. If they had..."
"Stop it, Ezra!" Buck shouted.
"Hey, what about that guy, that Reggie Dobbs and the man in black," JD interjected.
"They may have had their reasons..." Ezra started.
"No, no," JD said. "You know they had no right to do what they done to you. Remember how upset you were when you thought it was you that done it?" Ezra sat back in his saddle and listened, but said nothing. JD continued. "You aren't gonna let them get away with it are ya? You're not gonna let them do that to someone else?"
"That's right," Buck took up JD's train of thought. "You can point out that other guy. If we don't have you along, we won't be able to catch him and he'll probably just do it to someone else. They'll try to bash someone else's brains in. Do you wanna let that happen? They'll try to beat someone else to death. You want that?"
Ezra looked back at Buck and was silent for a moment, "No, I wouldn't allow that to occur. I'll stay with you until I'm able to point out the man."
"Good," Chris exclaimed. "Then it's settled. The seven of us will go to Clarkston. Find some justice."
"Seven?" Ezra eched thoughtfully.
"Yeah, Ez," Buck said with a smile, "The seven of us."
Ezra hardly spoke for the rest of the ride to Clarkston. Buck tried to cajole him into conversation, but Ezra only looked straight ahead as they headed toward their destination.
Once they entered the town, Nathan pointed to a place called The Rose Tattoo, and said, "We found Dobbs at that saloon." The Seven dismounted, leaving their horses at the hitching posts.
"We'll go in and have a look around, have a little talk with this Dobbs," Chris said. He turned to Buck and JD. "You keep Ezra out of this."
"I'll need to see if his compatriot is with him," Ezra interjected.
Chris sighed and jabbed Buck with a finger. "Keep him to the side." He fixed JD with a glare to include him.
"We got it, Chris," Buck replied, grabbing Ezra by the elbow. "You're sticking with me." When he met Ezra's eyes, he felt that he saw something for the first time since all of this started. He saw a look of recognition. JD rounded to his other side and they flanked the gambler as the Seven entered the saloon.
In the dim light of the building, Chris had the impression, for a moment, that Ezra was sitting at the far table, with his back against the wall. As Larabee slowly approached the man, it became obvious that this was only a man in a red coat and black low-crown hat. Cold eyes glared back at him from a thin face as he came near the table.
"Reggie Dobbs?" Chris asked. He could hear the skid of chairs and the shuffle of men getting to their feet.
"That the guy?" JD asked as he and Buck moved Ezra inside the door.
"Yes, that'd be the gentleman in question." Ezra carefully scanned the room and nodded to a man standing at the far side of the room. "And that'd be the other."
Buck examined the indicated man for a moment. He was tall and blond, but wearing an off-white shirt and a blue vest. "Not in black."
"I do suppose he has more than one set of clothing," Ezra said with a twinge of sarcasm.
Buck signaled to Vin as Chris continued to approach the table.
"Reggie Dobbs?" Chris asked again.
"Yeah, that be me," Reggie confirmed, leaning casually against the table. "You got some business here?"
"You can call it that," Chris replied slowly. He stood directly in front of the man now. "I wanted to know who your tailor was."
Reggie laughed and touched the lapels of Ezra's jacket. "Well now, I see you are a man of taste."
"Where'd you get it?"
Reggie smiled darkly. "It's a rather interesting story really..."
"Tell me about it." Chris could sense the other patrons of the bar growing apprehensive, but he kept his eyes on the man before him. He knew his own men were watching the others in the room.
Reggie continued to grin at him. "I saw something I wanted and wouldn't rest until I had it. I do love the color red."
Vin headed across the room toward the tall man. Nathan and Josiah had found positions to guard Chris. Buck turned to JD and nodded at him before he took off to find a place to further protect the members of their group.
Dobbs straightened the jacket. He glanced around the room, apparently checking to see that he had the back-up of his friends. "I'm sure the former owner wouldn't miss it."
"Yeah, and what about this former owner." Chris narrowed his eyes at the man in front of him.
Reggie smiled broader, curling his upper lip back from his teeth. "A gambler, just a drifter we followed out of Eagle Bend. Nothing important. He won't cause me any trouble now." He paused and then added, "the stupid bastard wouldn't die. But we took care of that."
Chris stepped forward and Reggie caught the malice in his eyes. The man in the red coat brought up his right hand, but Chris was ready for it. Larabee grabbed the arm and slung it down in one violent motion. The derringer skittered across the floor and all hell broke loose.
The tall blond man tried to leap forward, but was thrown back onto the table by Vin. Two men went after Chris, but Josiah and Nathan were there, slinging the attackers off of their leader. Another man went for Vin, but Buck was there to clock him with the butt of his gun. Men were yelling, chairs slamming to the floor, glass shattering as an all-out brawl took control of The Rose Tattoo.
Three men tried to take down Josiah, but he slogged them off like children. A man slammed his fist into Nathan's stomach and was awarded with a blow to the kidney by Buck. Vin drove the blond man to the ground and threw his weight on him. Chris slammed Dobbs to the table, pinning his arm behind him. Nathan was up again, pulling a man off of Buck while Josiah stepped in to help Vin with his charge.
Nathan was tripped up and fell with a thud while a hooligan in denim latched himself onto Buck's throat. Wilmington felt himself starting to pass out when JD launched himself on the attacker, sending Buck, the man and JD all on top of Nathan.
Everything stopped when two shots rang out from opposite ends of the saloon. A man near the bar stood gasping, clutching his bleeding arm, his gun having fallen to the floor . Near the door, Ezra quietly pocketed his derringer.
The doors to the saloon burst open and the sheriff and his deputies ran into the building, "What's goin' on here!" the sheriff shouted, looking at the damage to the establishment.
Chris dragged Reggie to his feet while Josiah and Vin pulled the blond along with them. "We're the law from Four Corners," Chris stated. "These men are under arrest."
The sheriff, a paunchy older gentleman, smiled. "Reginald Dobbs and Duke Marlington, it looks like your luck has run out. I've been waiting for this day. What do you got on 'em?"
"For attempted murder of lawman, Ezra Standish," Chris said, pulling on the red jacket. "He's wearing the evidence. Tried to kill a man just for his clothes."
"Lawman?" The blond asked incredulously. "That gambler? No way in hell."
Reggie glared at Duke. "You got nothin' on me. I was just talkin' outta my hat." Then he seemed to remember something Chris had said. "Attempted murder?"
"Yeah, you heard me," Chris snarled at the man. "Attempted. We have a witness." He glanced over to the end of the bar where he had just seen Ezra. 'Oh no,' he thought. "JD?"
"What?" The kid responded.
"JD, where the hell did Ezra go?"
"Damn it!" Buck growled, running out of the saloon. He glanced up and down the street but saw no trace of the gambler. "Ah hell, ah hell," he muttered as JD came out after him.
"He couldn't 'ave gotten far. He must'a left just a minute ago," JD said, glancing down the crowded street. "His horse is still here."
"He said he'd stay long enough to finger the men. Damn it, JD, you were supposed to keep an eye on him. What the hell were you doin'?"
JD's jaw dropped. "I was saving your life, that's what the hell I was doin'! You were supposed to watch him, too."
"I know," Buck murmured.
Chris, Josiah, Nathan and Vin came out behind them, having given custody of the two men over to the sheriff. "We split up and we search," Chris said level-headedly. "We'll find him."
"What if he doesn't want to be found?" JD asked, to the retreating backs of his friends, as they headed in different directions. "You know how well he can hide."
"Then we look harder," Chris replied.
Buck headed across the street and started going through the feed store, asking quickly if anyone had seen him. People shrugged at the vague description of a brown-haired man in a brown jacket. Buck cursed himself for not keeping a closer eye on their friend. He should have figured this would happen, should have known that Ezra would do exactly what he wanted to do. Should have tied him down or something. Should have figured that he would leave once he completed that one task.
Leaving the feed store, Wilmington moved next door to the livery. As he let his eyes grow accustomed to the dimness, he became aware of a voice, talking softly. "My old friend, did you miss me? Hmmm? Well, I must say that it is wonderful to see you again, dear Chaucer."
Buck walked slowly to the back of the building and found Ezra in the stall with a familiar looking chestnut gelding. Standish was scratching the animal's head and it was nodding to him. Chaucer snorted and pawed the ground as Ezra rubbed his neck.
"I'm sorry for the negligence that you've endured. I assure you it was not my doing or intention. Sorry, old friend, no sweets in the pocket at this moment. We'll rectify that situation shortly." The horse pressed his head against his owner's chest and snorted.
"Ezra?" Buck asked.
The gambler's attention remained on the animal. "I found Chaucer," he said, sounding rather pleased with himself.
"You remember your horse?"
"Mr. Wilmington, how could I forget such a splendid creature as this?" He ran his hand through the delighted animal's mane. "It truly is a travesty that he hasn't been treated with more care. Certainly those gentlemen, and I use the term loosely, don't understand how to properly treat something of value."
Buck smiled when the man turned toward him. When he saw Ezra's eyes, he realized that he was finally talking to his friend. "You feelin' better?"
"I take it you have captured the miscreants that were the cause of my misfortune?"
"Got 'em," Buck returned.
"Excellent," Ezra said. "I had no doubt that you would."
"You got it all back now? You remember everything?"
"Not entirely. There are still yawning chasms, but they are slowly becoming reduced. I suspect if things continue as they have, I'll remember most if not all of what I'd previously lost. "
"Good," Buck said. "Let's head home then."
Ezra paused, making Buck think that things had not improved. Ezra said, "Not immediately."
'All right,' Buck thought, 'at least we got that much.' "So what's the hold up?"
"I'll require a bath and a definite change of wardrobe. Perhaps if I'm able to retrieve a portion of my purloined currency, I'll be able to rectify this situation." He tugged at the edges of the muddy-brown jacket with his fingertips. "Really, Mr. Wilmington, I thought you were my friend. How long were you going to allow this travesty to continue? I'm afraid I'll have hives."
Buck laughed. "We'll get your clothes back from Dobbs and..."
"Mr. Wilmington, that material will need to be laundered and most likely fumigated. I'll require something new," Ezra said as he exited the stall, much to Chaucer's disappointment. The horse made one last attempt to nuzzle the man before the gambler stepped away toward Buck. "I noticed an adequate haberdashery on my way through this town. Care to accompany me on a shopping excursion?"
"Sure, I could use a new shirt."
Ezra fixed him with a glance and said, "A truer statement has never been said."
"We'd better find the others first. They're worried about you."
Ezra sighed in disbelief and said, "Lay on, McDuff."
The Seven headed back toward Four Corners. Ezra sat, resplendent in his new sapphire blue jacket and silver dappled vest that stippled him like a trout. He rode, on his satisfied chestnut horse, in the midst of the group, heading toward home. The trial of Reggie Dobbs and his companion, Duke Marlington, would be held in one week. Ezra considered staying put until that time, but the others instantly voted down the idea. Ezra at first opposed them, saying that it made no sense to make the trip back and forth, but the other six were persistent and the gambler finally gave in.
"Gee, it's good to have you back, Ezra," JD said as he rode along side their friend. "We missed ya."
Ezra smiled enigmatically at the young man. "I must say, Mr. Dunne, I'm glad to have my reason back in order. A rather unsettling experience to say the least."
"Can you remember what happened over these past two weeks?" the young man asked.
The man's expression did not falter. "Most, I would expect."
"Why did you think your name was Chris?"
Ezra raised his eyebrows and glanced over at the dark-clothed gunslinger. "I never really believed my name was Chris. That was a moniker ascribed to me by the fair people of Wildcat. The name came to me, perhaps, because Mr. Larabee was on my mind when Mr. Marlington saw fit to attempt the removal of my cranium."
"Yeah," the gunslinger said, "Was it because I looked like 'im?"
Ezra frowned. "Not in the least. You have no semblance to him outside of the most facile."
"Uh huh," Chris said, shaking his head. Ezra's vocabulary was definitely back. "So..."
Ezra sighed and said. "I made an error in judgment. When I encountered Mr. Dobbs and Mr. Marlington, I concluded that they were in some difficulty. It appeared that Mr. Dobbs had incurred an injury and Mr. Marlington was seeking my assistance. I offered it." Ezra stopped talking and looked forward.
"Yeah, and then what?" Vin encouraged.
"I realized my error," again he paused as they rode on.
"And," Nathan started.
Ezra smiled, "And I thought to myself, Mr. Larabee will not be pleased by my disappearance. That was perhaps the last cognitive thought for some time."
"Not pleased?" Chris said.
"Were you?" Ezra asked.
Chris shrugged and said, "I 'spect not."
"Very well, I was correct." He smiled and patted Chaucer's flank. The horse whinnied appreciatively.
The Seven continued onward toward their home.
It did feel good to think of the town as home, Ezra thought. He had never really had a place like that before. He was glad that he decided to return to it for the short time before the trial.
Hopefully he'd have the rest of his fractured memory repaired in time to put Dobbs and Marlington away, to keep them from attempting the same treatment on another traveler. He sat up and straightened his new jacket with a smile. It was good to be back in the right sort of clothing, good to be himself again, in spite of everything.
THE END - By NotTasha
I would love to hear your comments.