RATING: PG-13 for some naughty language
CATEGORY: Challenge - OW
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Ezra, Vin, JD and everyone
DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No profit involved. This story is based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp, Showtime Extreme, or any others involved with that production is intended.
NOTE: June 2005 Challenge, offered by Kayim: Write a story in which one or more of the boys develops some kind of superpower. The only condition is that the universe the story is set in cannot already be a sci-fi / fantasy based one.
SUMMARY: Vin, JD and Ezra are rooting through some boxes and find something interesting.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Thank you Tipper and Debby. Your comments and suggestions always are a tremendous help to me
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
DATE: July 4, 2005
Consider the Possibilities
By NotTasha...considering everything
They rooted through what the old man had left behind – Vin and Ezra and JD – going through one box and then another. A lifetime of piffle had been accumulated. The items had once lined shelf after shelf – bookcases and windowsills, doorsills and mantelpieces – filling the shack to capacity – covered in dust and soot and grime.
Stacks of the Clarion had been removed from McCord's abode, along with a wagonload of empty bottles, wrappers, crates, cans, sacks and bags. The man seemed incapable of throwing anything away. Then, after the garbage had been disposed of, the objects of ‘worth’ had been wiped of dust, boxed and sent into town to be sold. Before the sale could begin, it all had to be priced – and before that could happen, it had to be organized.
It was dull and annoying work, especially when there’d been the threat of trouble from Chester Horton and his men. Horton had bought up property along the proposed tracks of the railway. Only, the tracks headed northward, through the property of Marcel Alfredo, who’d managed to places his bribes into more profitable hands.
Marcel’s eponymous town of Marcelonia flourished, and the promise of Hortonsville died. Horton fumed. The hatred grew as Marcelonia grew over the years, and now Horton couldn’t take it any more. He threatened that town – the Seven promised to assist the folks of Marcelonia if needed. Horton vowed revenge against anyone who thwarted him.
So, with Horton huffing and puffing, here were three of the formidable Lawmen of Four Corners, organizing doo-dads for a sale.
“Here’s some more tin plates,” Vin said, not even bothering to hold up the pieces as he tossed them into the growing pile. They clattered noisily “How many you think he got?”
“Nigh on a thousand,” Ezra said without lifting his head. He made a face as he brought out the last items in his box, a pair of cheaply made ceramic ballerinas. He sighed as he turned them over. Perhaps someone would pay a penny for them. He stood and moved them over to the table already covered with similar brick-a-brack. He set them down, careful to set the dancers on their feet.
Tomorrow, Inez would open the saloon for the ‘big sale’ and already passersby had plastered noses against the big pane window, trying to get a glance of what Tommy McCord had left behind. Their numbers dwindled as it became evident that Tommy collected junk. They came -- they went -- and now the men in the saloon labored without interruption.
The sale would benefit the restoration of Josiah’s church – as stated in Tommy’s simple will. Well, Ezra thought, Mr. Sanchez might gain enough to buy a new can of paint or a bucket of nails, but he won't be seein' stained glass windows any time soon. Honestly, I don't know how I was shanghaied into this responsibility. Sure, I wanted have first crack at anything of value. Consider the possibilities -- with luck I could uncovered a treasure or two -- but I didn't expect THIS! Frankly, it goes against all odds that that I'll find anything valuable here.
From the box he was working in, JD pulled out a moth-eaten pheasant and then a handful of lead soldiers. He frowned at the pheasant, and carried it to a table already occupied with a tortoise shell, a small stuffed crocodile and badly mounted bass. Then, he took the soldiers to the table with the poorly-made model boat. The ship was already overfilled with soldiers, and JD tried to find passage for the latest troops. "We're gonna need a bigger boat," he said over his shoulder and then shook his head as he settled them ashore. “Where d’ya think he got all this?”
Vin found a dish made from gaudy orange glass. “Won this at a carnival maybe.”
Ezra snorted. “Hardly. The man didn’t like crowds. I doubt he could've handled the festivities. I hear he gained most of it exactly in this manner.”
Tilting his head, JD moved some of the men about on the stern of the ship. “What do ya mean, Ez?”
“Tag sales,” Ezra said, lifting his arms. “Auctions, givaways. Any time someone left town, or…” and he laid a hand over his chest as he dramatically stated, “… passed on – he was the first at the door to rifle through the items offered. I heard that when Morton Sludge died, he bought everything in the man’s house – the whole kit-and-caboodle – sight unseen.”
“Sure had peculiar tastes,” Vin decided as he found a jumping jack doll with red pouting lips, dressed in golds and greens. Next, he found an empty gilded frame, a bent egg beater, a nutcracker made from dark wood and shaped to look like a woman’s thighs, and then a brass doorknocker. He fiddled with the nutcracker a moment before he put it down in a hurry.
“Peculiar, he was,” Ezra went on, sidling up to the next crate. He pulled his chair beside to it as he used a crowbar to pull off the hastily nailed lid. "Yes, quite an abnormal man. AH!" He jumped back with a shout as something leapt at him.
Vin and JD jerked to attention and then laughed, watching Ezra's chair slam to the floor as the gambler scrambled to his feet, his arms up as if in surrender. He back-stepped frantically from the mouse that had erupted from the container.
"Mouse getcha?" the tracker asked with a smirk.
"You 'fraid of a little mouse?" JD continued, watching as the southerner stop his escape to fret at his sleeves. The mouse skittered across the floor of the saloon.
"Hardly," Ezra answered in a haughty tone, his eyes never leaving the rampaging rodent. "He simply startled me."
"Inez ain't gonna like a mouse in her saloon," Vin commented, not moving from his place. The rodent race along one wall, looking desperately for an escape. "Best get it out of here. She's doin' a favor by lettin' us set up here."
"She's doin' Josiah the favor," Ezra corrected. "We were swindled into the job."
"Yeah, Ezra," JD added with a chuckle. "Why don't you just scoop 'im up and put him in the street."
"Or step on him," Vin added with less compassion.
Ezra snorted unhappily and stomped loudly across the floor, making JD gulp in surprise. The mouse fled in the opposite direction, scurrying across the open floor. It ran into the wall and tried to climb it -- going this way and that, until Ezra -- clomping loudly enough to wake the dead -- scared him in the correct direction and the creature disappeared through the open doorway.
Vin and JD were still laughing as Ezra judiciously approached his box.
"Big tough man like you, 'friad of a little mouse," Vin muttered. "Hate to see that happen."
"Never really thought of Ezra as big and tough," JD put in.
"Yeah, he's too pretty for that," Vin admitted.
"Now wait one minute!'" Ezra exclaimed.
"It was a tiny little mousey." JD snickered, he leaned on the table and rattling the soldiers on their ship.
"He jumped at me!" Ezra insisted, eyeing the open crate. "He may have been riddled with disease!"
"Ezra P. Standish -- scared of mice," Vin continued with a woeful shake of his head. "Pity.. pity."
"I am NOT afraid of mice," Ezra corrected, looking annoyed as he took his seat. "He startled me. That's all"
"Yeah, right," JD answered, trying to stifle his laugh.
Ezra regarded the box and sighed as he reached into it once more. "Lord, it probably crapped and pissed over everything," he muttered. He grimaced as he picked out a long wool sock, pinching it between his finger and thumb, holding it far from him as possible as he it removed it from the box. Crinkling his nose, he tossed it toward the rag pile. Once that was out of the way, he gingerly removed a cheap watch and then a finely carved walrus tusk. From a twist of paper -- inscribed with the single word "Grandma's" -- he found a tooth. Due to the size, he worried for the woman.
JD smiled, leaving the soldiers to their sea-passage and strode across the room to return to work. Still chuckling, he leaned over his box, lifted out a coffee grinder with a bent handle, and then tugged away a grubby lace-edged tablecloth. He balled it up in his hand as he gazed at what was beneath.
“Huh,” he mumbled, and regarded the revealed item. He’d never seen anything like it before. It was all green glass with a bronzy base and metalwork. Letting the cloth drape over a nearby chair, he lifted the item. It fit nicely in the palm of his hand – a curious-looking thing with no discernable purpose. “What do you think this is?” he asked, holding it aloft.
Ezra had busied himself with ignoring them, and examining necklace that was possibly pearls, so Vin looked up. He squinted at the thing and held out his hand to examine it. JD complied, striding across the short space to give it to the tracker. “So,” JD asked. “You got any ideas?”
Tanner turned it over in his hand, rubbing one thumb along the smooth glassy surface, then along the metal that caged in the green. “Looks like it was made real good,” he muttered, unable to find a seam in the metal that crossed over the glass – or crystal – or gem – he couldn’t be sure. The bottom was flat – but the rest was humped up. There was weird writing on the base of it – symbols of some sort. He pursed his lips as he wondered if he should be able to read any of it.
Finally, Vin shrugged and said, “I ain’t seen anything like it b’fore. Might be a real nice paperweight. Ezra?” Vin called, holding up the item for the man most likely to understand the value of it.
Ezra sighed, glowering over the pearls as he walked to the bar where the jewelry was arranged. “Paste!” he muttered as he settled the strand with the rest of the items. “McCord seemed unable to purchase anything of value in his life!” But his disgusted expression shifted as he noted the item in Vin’s outstretched hand.
Oh, he thought, that’s interesting.
Licking his lips in anticipation, Standish muttered, “What have we here?” He snatched it away from Tanner, and a thrill went through him as his hand enclosed the thing. He smiled, thankful for his ability to find something valuable even in all this hodgepodge. “Interesting,” he mumbled, scraping one thumbnail into the film of dust that coated the glassy substance. “Quite interesting,” he repeated, feeling his heart flutter.
Could this be an emerald within the metalwork? This isn't cheaply done! Oh no, the craftsmanship of the framing gives that away. This is quality material. Gold? Is it gold? Oh…possibly. But isn't it too lightweight for gold. But what's the material within it? No one would've put this much effort into encasing mere glass. The stone has to be -- valuable.
He flipped it around, studying it from all angles and noted the symbols. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket to polish at it. Pictograms… hieroglyphs maybe? Bah… that hardly mattered. He concentrated on the stone within the metal. It had to be an emerald! But one of this size? He’d never heard of such a thing. Oh, this was going to be his salvation! It would set him up for life! He felt lightheaded at the possibility.
“So, what do you think?” JD asked excitedly.
Ezra looked up to find both Vin and JD staring at him expectantly. He smiled tightly, hoping he wasn’t sweating in his excitement. “Well,” he drawled. “It might be worth somethin', given the proper market.” He stopped polishing and returned the now-soiled handkerchief to his pocket. “A pittance might be givin’ for it. It'd be worth checking into.”
He yawned to show his disinterest. “I shall take it to Ridge City, perhaps. See if I might sell it for a better price than I can get here.” And he smiled warmly at his companions, to show his good will.
“Ezra,” Vin started. “You don’t aim to keep that, do ya?”
Ezra looked hurt. “I only mean to keep it safe,” he stated, grasping it tightly in one hand. “I’d hate for anything to happen to it, and thus I will do everything I can to protect it.” With a quick movement, he flipped it inside his jacket, saying, “Nothing will happen to it in my care. I am a veritable vault of safekeeping.”
He felt that thrill again – that rush – almost like a chill running through him – or perhaps a ‘warmth’ would better describe the feeling. He felt damn good. And he saw JD step back. Vin suddenly got to his feet, shoving back his chair. Their eyes were wide as they stared at him.
"Did you see a mouse?" Ezra teased, but the others spoke right over him.
“Ezra!” JD spouted.
“Jesus! What the hell was that?” Vin added, looking at the gambler in concern.
Annoyed with their antics, Ezra responded, “All right, I know how this looks, but I insist…”
“I ain’t seen anything like that before!” JD continued, his face growing a bit pale. “You okay?”
Ezra opened his mouth to retort, but the kid’s frightened expression stopped him. He gazed to Vin, waiting for the joke to continue, but the tracker gazed at him with troubled eyes and repeated, “What was that?”
“What was what?” Ezra responded, baffled.
“You… you… started … glowing,” JD tried to explain.
Vin nodded, looking perplexed. “It was almost like a foxfire went over you,” he stated.
“Glowing?” Ezra chuckled. “Me?"
"It's gone now," JD said, still not looking comfortable.
"It was only the glow that comes from doing a righteous deed,” Ezra explained. “Like keepin’ this item safe.”
Somewhere down the street, and the three men turned toward the street. Shots continued. With a sigh of disgust, Standish stated, “Sounds like it's comin' from the grain exchange.”
“Yup,” Vin returned, hastily grabbing his mares leg. “Maybe Horton’s finally come.”
“Better check it out,” JD added, un-holstering his Colts. He nodded resolutely to his friends, ensuring that they were ready. And they bolted toward the door.
Vin saw it – saw it too late. As Ezra stormed through the batwing door, determined to get a view of the grain exchange – he hadn’t seen the man on the other side of the street. Vin saw him – too late.
Vin watched the man take aim at the gambler. He shouted, reaching and trying to pull down Standish – but it was too late. The man with the rifle aimed at the gambler’s heart and fired just as Ezra noted the peril he was in. He tried to get out of the way – but it was too late.
The rifle went off with a ‘pop’ and Ezra went down, sending the batwing doors fluttering.
“Ezra!” Vin shouted, twisting out of the way as he reached for Standish. But JD had grabbed Ezra and tugged him across to the other side of the doorway.
There was no time to check on Standish -- Dunne would have to take care of him – Lord help him Tanner turned to where the shooter waited and started firing. The gun battle was short-lived. The shooter was too exposed and Vin was too sure a shot, and too pissed off to let the man get away. The man feinted and dodged, but he never stood a chance. He’d taken Tanner’s friend --- and would pay for it.
Tanner let out a satisfied exhale, as the man went down, falling face-forward in the dirt.
Further down the street, Larabee and Wilmington took care of the ruckus at the grain exchange. The gunfire that had erupted, quieted. Wilmington sent up a shout, and Vin responded. It was over in a matter of minutes. Seconds really --damn, it had only taken seconds – seconds to end everything.
Feeling sick, Tanner finally turned his attention from the street to where Ezra and JD huddled at the other side of the doorway. Lord, he didn’t want to see this.
“Damn, Ezra, you must have your lucky socks on today,” JD cried, as he pulled at Ezra’s jacket. “I can’t find any blood on ya.”
Ezra muttered, “He was aiming directly at me. Didn't see him in time. He should’ve put a bullet through my heart.”
Slowly, a smile broke over Vin. Ezra looked perplexed and a little annoyed, but definitely alive. Finding his voice, Vin stated, “His sights must have been off.”
Ezra shook his head as he sat up. “I won’t look that gift horse in the mouth, but how could a man be so insipid as to enter a gun battle with so poor a weapon?”
Somewhere in the street, Nathan was shouting, “Is everyone okay?”
Vin moved into the doorway, checking to make certain that the street was safe again. He whistled and gestured toward Nathan. “Ezra got himself shot at,” he called. “Ain’t found a hole yet.”
“Hey!” JD’s startled cry drew Vin’s attention back to the room, hoping that JD hadn’t discovered the worst. “HEY!” JD shouted again. “Omigawd!”
A glow emanated from Ezra’s chest. What the… Vin dropped down beside the two, pulling back Ezra’s jacket to get a better look at what JD had found.
Nestled on Ezra’s chest, on top of a waistcoat pocket, the strange glass-and-metal thing was glowing bright green.
“Good Lord,” Ezra muttered, gazing down at adhered device. “What is this thing?” He tried to grasp it between his thumb and fingers to yank it off. His fingers were rebuffed – not coming close to the surface – a strange greenish aura seemed to surround the thing as he reached and spread to cover his entire body and then retreat.
The three stared in disbelief, as Ezra tried again, more forcibly this time – but his hand was deflected away again by the glimmering green that flashed out to encompass him and then fade away. Startled, he looked up at the other two.
Vin, unable to fathom how this could be possible, tried to reach it – but he was met with the same barrier. “Just checking,” he muttered as he sat back on his heels. “Damn… what the hell is that thing? Has it got a fire in it? A lamp of some sort?”
"I don't know," Ezra responded, flummoxed. "It's tight against me and doesn't feel hot enough to be powered by a kerosene flame. I've seen certain religious articles that have been treated with a substance that makes them... illuminate."
Nathan and Josiah burst into the room at that moment, coming to an abrupt stop as they found the concerned two huddled over Ezra. “What’s the matter?” Nathan cried. “Get back. Let me look at him.”
“Nathan…” Josiah breathed out, as Vin and JD gave way, as he got a look at the glow from Ezra’s chest. “Good God in heaven.”
“What the…?” Nathan started, but was too astounded to say anything else. He hunched down beside Ezra to gaze that the thing. The others said nothing more -- staring.
In the silence, Buck and Chris arrived at the door behind them. “I see you got that guy,” Buck commented, looking over his shoulder at the body in the street. Cockily, he continued, “ We took care of the two down by the Exchange. Horton’s men.”
“Horton!” JD echoed. “So it was him!”
Vin muttered, “Hell and damn!”
“Yeah, looks like he’s gunnin’ for us now,” Chris said with a note of disgust as he stayed near the doorway, looking out into the street for more trouble.
“Damn fool,” Buck commented. “This ain’t our fight, but it looks like he’s drawin’ us in. It ain’t gonna be pretty.”
Ezra sighed and shook his head. “Just what we need,” he muttered. “We’ll have to watch our backs until he’s put behind bars.”
”Not to worry, Ezra…” Buck started, but halted as he leaned in with the others, catching sight of what had drawn their attention. “Ezra…” he gasped. “How'd you do that?”
Chris chanced taking a glance. “What the hell is it?” he uttered, before turning to keep an eye on the street.
Vin shook his head. “We ain’t got a clue… but I think it saved him from gettin’ shot.” He nodded to the doorway. “That fella out there should’ve drilled him through, but this thing deflected it somehow.”
“Think Ezra was just lucky?” JD asked. “Maybe it just ricocheted off, just like with the diamond broach?”
Ezra sighed. “Don’t remind me,” he mumbled. “I’m still feeling that loss.” And he furrowed his brow as he realized that this probably wasn’t the emerald he hoped for. So much for good luck!
“The guy was aimin’ higher,” Vin went on. “Would’ve hit him ‘bout here.” And he drew back to give Ezra a solid whack on the breastbone. Tanner never made contact.
“Ahhh!” Tanner cried, jerking back his arm and clinging to his hand. “Damn!”
“Didja see that!” JD shouted. “That glow?” JD pointed to where Vin had struck Ezra. “That thing protected him. Bet that’s how it protected him from that bullet.”
"But that can't be," Nathan breathed out.
“I didn’t feel a thing,” Ezra commented, his eyes wide with wonder. At the realization, he smirked at Vin. “Not a thing.” He laughed as he stood, using the still-suffering Vin for leverage. “This is amazing!”
"It's impossible," Nathan added.
Tanner opened and closed his hand slowly as he grimaced. “It was like hittin’ a wall.” He shook his head. “I'm just thankful I wasn’t hittin’ him any harder.”
Chuckling, Ezra drew in a deep breath, feeling almost giddy. “Incredible,” Standish stated. “Do you know what this means? I’m unassailable! You can't shoot me. Can't hit me! Consider the possibilities!”
“We’ll see about that,” Nathan stated and stepped forward, giving Ezra a narrow glance. "I have to figure this out." Carefully, he reached for the conman.
Ezra continued to smile, looking like the cat that swallowed the canary. “Be careful, Mr. Jackson,” he kidded. “I bite.”
Moving slowly, Jackson tried to lay his hands on the man. He could clasp the fabric of his jacket, but even with his slow movements, there seemed to be a barrier as he came closer to touching the man or any of his clothing beneath the layer of the glowing thing. “It’s like he’s got a shield all over him,” Nathan muttered, walking around the southerner as he felt around his back as well. “It feels… solid.” He circled around and reached for the green device, but met with no further success than the others. “Damned if I know what’s going on,” he admitted.
Josiah nodded dumbly for a moment before explaining, "Some cultures believe in protecting spells -- that certain items are endowed with a magic that gives the wearer special powers -- protection. When a man wears such a thing, nothing can touch him -- he can never be hurt."
Buck narrowed his gaze at the glowing thing. "Think that's what we got here?" he asked the big man.
Sanchez looked chagrinned. "Never believed it," he uttered. "Starting to believe it now."
Ezra looked pleased as punch as he rocked back on his heels. “Imagine it! No one can hurt me! Oh, to never have to worry about my safety at the card table. To be able to walk down this street without the possibility of someone’s half-assed brother getting a notion to track down one of the Seven and ‘make ‘im pay fer wut he dun to Jimmy’.
"Mice won't be able to getcha either," Vin added with a smile.
Ezra returned the statement with a smug expression. He went on, "Mr. Horton’s escapades mean nothing to me. He can send every one of his men against us, and I shall come out of this unharmed.”
“Yeah, and what about the rest of us?” JD asked.
Ezra shrugged indifferently. “I’m invulnerable!” he crowed. “In-vul-nerable!” He smiled, showing his gold tooth.
Chris scowled. "Makes no sense," he muttered. "Has no scientific explanation."
Ezra's smile didn't dip. “I've never been a scholar of science," he explained. "Come on, hit me. Any of you. I dare you!” And he gave Chris an encouraging look. “Now’s your chance, Mr. Larabee? Care to carry out an experiment?” And he cocked his head, smiling impishly.
The gunslinger allowed himself a tight grin as he leaned near the doorway. He responded curtly, “I ain’t stupid.” And then he changed his glance to take in Vin who blew at his knuckles.
“Hey, I learned my lesson,” Tanner replied, feeling the gaze upon him. “I ain’t touchin’ him again!”
“Where’d he find it?” Josiah asked, his voice hushed.
“I got it out of that box,” JD nodded to the container in question. “Just one of the things that Mr. McCord left behind.”
“McCord probably had it for years,” Buck stated. “Always collecting crap from somewhere.”
Josiah nodded. “He may have acquired it when Mr. Herzog sold of his wares. Remember that traveler?”
“Ah yes,” Ezra said with a nod, bringing a finger to his chin, but being careful not to crowd the strange glowing device. “Claimed he’d come from Egypt and was selling off the contents of a Pharaoh’s tomb. It was all a sales pitch of course… but…”
“Egypt,” Josiah repeated, drawing close to Ezra to get a look at the thing. “It would be interesting to see if there are any markings on it.”
“There were symbols,” Ezra admitted. He fluttered a hand. “They could possibly have been Egyptian hieroglyphs but I’m no expert on the matter.”
“I’d really like to get a good look at it,” Josiah said thoughtfully. “Can you shake it off?”
"It seems to be attached to me," Ezra told him. "I can feel it quite solidly against my chest -- almost like a magnet. I doubt that anything will dislodge it.”
Josiah nodded. “Protects you from bullets and blows. It seems to be a very valuable device. So, why didn’t McCord ever use it?”
“Maybe he did?” Ezra said with a shrug. “I know I would, given the chance. And, as luck would have it, I do have the chance!” And he grinned again, unbearably smug. “McCord was a bit of a hermit and more than a little insane. Few knew his comings and goings. He very well might've used it regularly. Might've danced naked in the moonlight, with only this as ornamentation,” he said as he gestured to the device. When the others gave him an odd look, he reached for his flask, muttering, “Not that I would do that.”
“When you found it, did you see anything odd about it?” Josiah asked. “When you touched it? Did the device start to glow then?”
After a pause, Ezra commented, “I did have a curious sensation when I first touched it… it felt like something…” he paused, trying to explain it. “I felt … it felt like I was meant to have it.” And he stopped, realizing he wasn’t expressing himself correctly. “And when I attempted to put it in my pocket, there was a new sensation. A sensation I felt from my head to my toes.”
“We saw it!” JD exclaimed. “He glowed!
"Foxfire," Vin illustrated. "He was covered with foxfire."
“Did either of you touch it?” Josiah asked JD and Vin.
They both nodded. “Didn’t feel like much of anything to me,” JD responded. “Just thought it was weird looking.”
Vin agreed. “Didn’t feel anythin’ at all. Didn't see anythin' either.”
“Must be something different about Ezra,” Josiah decided.
“Standish,” Chris started, staring out into the street. “You’re somehow special?”
Ezra’s grin increased. “Why yes,” he responded. “Yes, I am, but I've always known that. No surprise.” And he uncapped the flask and tipped it back for a drink – and was met with the shield.
The whiskey ran down the front of the southerner – never touching him. Alarmed, Ezra stepped back, seeing the drops of liquor form on the floor.
Ezra raised his head, meeting Nathan’s concerned glance. “Oh no,” Standish muttered, trying to bring the flask to his lips, but it stopped – a half inch from meeting him – making a strange almost melodic sound as it collided with the shield. The barrier shimmied and glowed as he assailed it… but the flask moved no closer to him.
Glancing toward the others – Ezra noted the same troubled expressions. “Oh,” he muttered. “This can’t be good.”
“If he can’t drink whiskey, then he probably can’t drink water or eat any food,” JD surmised. “Nathan, if he can’t eat or drink…”
“He ain’t gonna last long,” Nathan completed the thought.
Buck tsked. “Gonna be safe against Horton. But what good will it do in the long run if ya can’t eat?”
“Can go for weeks without food,” Nathan commented. “But water – he’s gonna need to drink somethin’. Can go a few days, but--”
“Try it with a glass, Ez!” JD encouraged. “Maybe it don’t like metal!”
Eagerly, Ezra reached around the bar and pulled out a glass, then found the water pitcher that Inez kept handy. He filled the glass, and lifted it in salute to the others before attempting to drink it -- and was met with the same failure as the flask of whiskey.
“Aw hell,” Ezra murmured, grabbing for the glowing device again without success. Frustrated, he stopped.
Determinedly, Josiah strode to the box that JD had been rooting through. “There has to be some clue to what it is,” he muttered. “We should check through everything. Try to find something else about it.”
Chris jerked his head toward the street. “Boys, we don’t have time for this.” He shoved his way through the door as he noted Mr. Juje standing outside the telegraph office, waving a paper at him. With one last glance at the street, he strode out to meet the telegraph man. The others followed.
"You got 'em all?" Juje asked, staying halfway in his doorway.
"Seems so," Chris responded. "What you got there?"
Breathless, Juje flapped the page at him as he leaned on his crutches to keep his weight of his splinted leg. “They’re goin’ after Marcelonia!” he declared.
“Marcelonia?” Nathan echoed. “Horton’s really gonna do it.”
“They have that lovely saloon,” Ezra put in, sidling up behind and cradling his flask in one hand. “Shame if anything happened to it. And a most refined restaurant.” He sighed. “And to think, I went without breakfast this morning. Terribly shortsighted of me. If I’d only considered --”
"Hand it over," Larabee cut Ezra off as he took the message from Juje. A frown creased his face as he read. “You’re kidding me,” he finally muttered.
Juje shook his head. “I never got a message wrong. Not once!” He jabbed a finger at the note as he leaned on his crutches. “Chester Horton is leaving Sweet Wallow. He’s headin’ for Marcelonia. Says here he’s gonna take the whole town apart.”
“Fuck…” Buck muttered, closing his eyes.
“Who sent it?” JD asked.
“Horton!” Juje declared.
“Fool,” Ezra muttered.
“We got time to head them off?” Nathan asked expectantly.
Vin nodded as he calculated. “They'll be ridin' through the Grass Flat. We can cut them off before they get anywhere near the town. Gotta ride though. Gotta get movin’, now.”
With a weary sigh, Chris stated, “They’re expecting us.” And he squinted at Ezra and his glowing chest. He didn't understand how the thing worked, but at that moment he wished that they all could be so protected.
They stormed into the livery, ready to head off Horton’s crew before the angry men reached Marcelonia. The horses, well attuned to their owners and their moods, stomped impatiently in their stalls. The Seven moved with practiced assuredness to ready their mounts for the ride.
“They got one hell of a town goin’ there,” Buck commented as reached Clyde’s stall. “Marcelonia’s boomin’.”
“They got a theatre now and a nice hotel,” JD added. "And that restaurant..." he trailed off as he shot Ezra a commiserating look.
Ezra sighed and shook his head. "A pity. I really would have enjoyed sampling their dessert menu. I hear it's extensive. We can't let that be taken from us, can we?"
“Lots of families moving in,” Nathan commented as he patted Badger’s muzzle. "Lots of women and kids."
“Ain't right for someone wants to destroy it all just ‘cause someone else didn’t get what they wanted,” Vin added.
“And those people,” Josiah commented morosely, "all those innocent people could be killed."
“Won't happen,” Chris pledged, pausing to meet the glance of each of his men. “We’ll stop him. We’ll do whatever it takes.” And he opened Job’s stall to prepare the animal.
Ezra was the last to reach his horse. “Hello, Chaucer,” he murmured congenially. “Are you ready for a bit of exercise?” But as he opened the gate, he wasn’t prepared for Chaucer’s reaction. The animal’s eyes went wide, and he backed away until he collided with the back wall, snorting a warning.
Ezra paused, not knowing what to do. The horse kept backing, but had nowhere to go. “Chaucer,” Ezra crooned. “It’s all right. It's me... it's Ezra.”
But Chaucer snorted again, rearing and pacing, kicking up his heels and battering the back of the stall.
“My friend,” Ezra called softly, trying to calm the animal. "It's okay... it's okay." He reached to catch the animal’s head, but the horse dove at him, attempting to grab him by the neck to shake him to bits. Shocked, Ezra ducked away, moving an arm to ward him off. Chaucer went for the arm instead and jerked back as his teeth clashed against the strange shield that covered his owner.
“It’s me! It’s Ezra…” Ezra cried frantically. But the terrified horse would not be calmed, battering his stall and breathing with such ferocity that a froth came to his lips.
“Ezra!” Vin grasped the gambler by the sleeve, careful not to grab onto any flesh. “Get back! Damn it, Ezra, he’s scared to death of you!”
Frantically, Standish turned to face the tracker. “He’s my horse!” Ezra exclaimed, his eyes filled with an unspeakable misery. “He has no reason to EVER fear me!”
“Get the hell out of here, Ezra!” Chris ordered as Chaucer worked up the others. Job whinnied loudly, thrashing his head and not letting Larabee bridle him. Clyde and Toby danced anxiously. Prophet reared back as Josiah reached for him, and Badger skittered nervously. Other horses in the livery joined in the ruckus. “Damn it, Ezra – NOW!”
Lost, Ezra backed away from his horse, who stomped and wheeled himself about, clattering and banging the boards around him until they started to splinter. Throwing one last look at his compatriots, Ezra darted out of the barn.
It took several minutes for the men to calm their horses enough to prepare them for the ride. JD paused to check Chaucer, to ensure he wasn’t hurt and that he’d be calm once they left. And then the six of them led their horses from the livery.
They found Ezra just outside, and he moved judiciously from them as they brought the horses through the doorway. “Why?” Ezra asked agonizingly. “Why did he do that?”
Vin sighed. “Probably couldn’t smell you, Ezra. Nothin’ can get in at you, so probably nothin’ can get back out.”
"Air must be gettin' into him though," Nathan added, looking to make sure that the conman hadn't turned blue.
Vin grimaced. "Aw, I don't understand it none."
Ezra didn't seem to care about the discussion. “Is Chaucer all right?” he asked anxiously. “I didn’t hurt him, did I?”
“He’s fine,” JD assured. “He just doesn't know what to make of you.”
Ezra eyed the other horses. They seemed relatively calm, not ready to bolt at his presence now that they were away from Chaucer’s antics. “Perhaps,” Ezra said. “Perhaps it’s just Chaucer who’s affected by this change. I can borrow a hack.”
“We ain’t got time for that,” Chris responded brusquely.
Buck gave him a consoling look. “You got it easy this time, hoss. Just hang around and wait for us to get back.”
“Nothin’ to worry about,” Nathan added with a grin. “You get to spend the day at the saloon, playin’ your games.”
“No, Nathan,” JD told him. “He’s gotta sort through the rest of McCord’s stuff.”
“That’s right,” Nathan went on. “Maybe see if you can find more of those toys. We could sure use 'em. Maybe you could find instructions if nothing else.”
Josiah put in philosophically, “If you can't get on a horse, you can’t leave town. The device seems to be a bit of a hindrance.”
Ezra put one hand over the strange bit of jewelry. “I can hardly call it a hindrance. It saved my life!” And inside the livery, Chaucer banged at the pen again.
“Watch the town, Ezra,” Chris ordered. “We’ll be back.” And he nodded sharply at the conman, as he reined his horse about. The others bade their farewells and rode off in a cloud of dust, dashing around the incoming stage.
Ezra sighed, watching them go, watching the stage roll in. Dust filtered down around him. With a tight grin, he sighed, realizing another advantage to the device. Not only did it protect him from bullets, flying fists and thrashing hooves, he’d also be dust-free. “Rather like being under a bell jar,” he muttered. All in all, not a bad thing, if it weren’t for the problems with his horse – and that whole ‘inability to eat’ thing.
Well, he wasn’t hungry – not yet. Laying a hand over the strange glowing thing, he decided to follow through with what JD suggested and return to McCord’s boxes. He turned and made his way to the saloon, considering the possibilities of finding more information about the device.
Ezra had just dumped the remainder of JD’s box onto the floor when Nina Juje stepped in the doorway. “Mr. Standish,” she called softly, holding out the note written by her father.
The gambler stood abruptly, dusting at his pants for no reason. “Thank you, Miss Juje,” he said softly, as he took the message from her. He frowned as he read it, feeling the muscles about his jaw grow tight. With a quick movement, he strode out the door, making his way to the telegraph office before the girl could even turn around.
Juje looked up sharply as the gambler slammed open the door to his office. “I figured you’d come,” he commented, staggering to his feet and leaning on the counter.
“Is this right?” Ezra demanded to know, holding out the note.
“Yup,” Juje responded. He looked sheepish as he added, “Now, I know I said I never get a message wrong – and that’s true. I don’t! Lance over at Sweet Wallow’s telegraph office sent this one after Horton left town. I didn’t know until now.”
“Damn convenient for Horton to leave out this information,” Ezra bit out.
Juje could only nod his agreement.
With a grumble, Ezra stared at the note, looking incredulous as he reread it. “They don’t know!” he cried, slamming the paper onto the counter. “Chris and the others won’t be able to stop him!”
Again, Juje nodded and then commented, “Especially if they think Horton’s still comin’ on horseback.”
Groaning, Ezra added, “They won’t even be in the right place. Vin will have figured their location incorrectly. Damn it!” He looked bleak. “And you know, as soon as Vin and the others figure it out, they’ll go after Horton.” Ezra closed his eyes in misery, as he stated, “What'll happen when they catch up? My God, they’ll be slaughtered!”
And Ezra opened his eyes, his irises looking uncommonly green. He turned abruptly, his coat tails flying as he spun his way out the door and back toward the livery.
Juje sighed, watching Standish go, wishing they’d had this information before. His eyes fastened on the note and he worried about the men who protected their town – worried because he had just sent them to their doom.
He knew exactly what the note said, he’d heard it over the wire, had written down the words, but still his gaze tracked along the writing as he re-read, “HORTON NOT ATTACKING ON HORSEBACK. STOLE LOCOMOTIVE. EXPLOSIVES AND HOWITZER ONBOARD. WARNING - TRACKS ARE OUT IN MARCELONIA.”
Juje sighed again and hobbled to his post, needing something to do.
Need to find a mount, Ezra thought as he sprinted to the livery. Some brain-dead horse that couldn’t care less that I don’t smell right. Already, he was grimacing at the possibilities. Lord, maybe Floss was stupid enough to take him.
He came to an abrupt halt as he caught sight of the stagecoach awaiting its passengers. The horses had been swapped out and the new team was impatiently awaiting its start. The driver leaned against one wheel while his partner was having a beer in the saloon – or maybe visiting one of the rooms above the business. A handful of passengers meandered about, obviously waiting until the last minute to board.
Ezra approached the team, finding them unflappable as he neared them. He didn't get too close... just in case. Now, Ezra thought. That’d work.
“Bernie,” Ezra called, flipping the driver a coin. “Why don’t you visit a saloon and enjoy what it has to offer.”
The driver caught the coin and regarded it. He checked his watch and then commented, “Still got ten minutes. Figure I’ll make use of it,” And he glanced surreptitiously to the coach office before dashing across the street to the first available saloon.
Without wasting a moment, Ezra climbed to the coach seat and released the brake. This had better work, he thought, not wanting to revisit what had happened in the livery. He shouted to the team, slapping the reins. The horses needed no further coaxing. Men and women dashed out of the way as the stage jostled forward.
Bernie, only halfway across the street, froze in his tracks, not wanting to turn around as he heard Ma Kelly burst through the office door, shouting obscenities at the early-departing stage. He ducked his head into his shoulders and warily turned in time to see the stage rush from the town.
“Nuts,” he muttered, shoving the coin deep within his pocket.
The six lawmen road toward the trail that connected Sweet Wallow to Marcelonia, ready to cut off Horton and his men before they reached their destination.
Damn fool, Larabee thought as he set the pace. Why the hell would Horton tell us what he was doing and when he was doing it, after he'd sent his men to kill us? Horton should know we’d take out his men. That we'll cut him off. He should know we’ll stop him.. what's he got up his sleeve?
It wasn’t right. They were missing something.
They tore onward, over the open territory, saying little as they made their way to Grass Flats where Horton and his fellow horsemen should be – where they should meet up with him and end this madness.
Chris knew they would take care of it – or die trying.
Beside him, Vin slowed his mount as he gazed off into the distance, looking farther east, toward Marcelonia. Chris followed his gaze, seeing the plume of smoke that was following the new railway. He turned to face Tanner, who changed his gaze to meet Larabee’s.
They brought their horses to a stop and the others came to a halt with them.
“What’s goin’ on?” JD asked impatiently. “Why’re we stoppin’?”
Chris and Vin watched the smoke, heading away from them, onward to Marcelonia. “Do you think?” Chris asked the tracker.
Vin exhaled slowly. “What better way to get rid of a train-town… than by using a train.”
Buck and Nathan moaned at this notion, and Josiah shook his head slowly. JD glanced between them, opening his mouth to say something, but the decision had already been made.
As one, the six horsemen turned their horses, and started after the train.
The nearly-empty stage jounced and bucked as Ezra drove the team across the land. He gritted his teeth as he was jostled on the seat, finding some comfort in the fact that his hind-end wasn’t getting beaten against the hard seat. The possibilities of this shielding device were endless.
Driving a team of six horses wasn’t the same as riding his own horse, but Ezra had a fair feeling that he’d make it to his destination in time – and when he caught sight of the plume in the distance, he knew it was only a matter of cutting the train off before it came too close to the town of Marcelonia.
The horses were lathered and panting by the time they reached the tracks. Ezra, forced them to a trot, then jumped from the seat before the coach came to a stop. The horses, not understanding the situation, kept moving forward, crossing the tracks with a racket and shuffling forward.
Ezra paid them no mind, focusing on the approaching locomotive. He turned, looking in the opposite direction, to Marcelonia. He could see the wood barrier that someone had set up as warning – the lanterns meant to drive home the danger. It would do nothing to impede the racing locomotive.
The engine was visible in the distance, coming toward him at a steady rate -- fast. He stood to one side of the tracks as he pulled his Remington from its holster and laughed.
I didn’t think this through, he thought as he aimed the pistol at the behemoth, and then dropped his arm, aware that he would do nothing with the small weapon, not at this distance. He was like a mouse facing down a raging lion.
He paced, wondering if he could get into position to take out the engineer. The locomotive was under full steam, moving like a rocket. Even if he were to hit the engineer, the train would not stop. And there was the howitzer to consider. Certainly they’d have it ready for anyone daring to attack – whether they’d be able to hit anything while they were in movement was another thing. Still, he didn’t want to face down such a thing -- not even with the shield.
The train moved constantly closer as Ezra considered his alternatives, as he paced along the tracks. Maybe he could block the rails. He glanced about, wondering if anything would work. The stage was the only thing in sight. He could unhitch the horses from it – but what good would the empty stage do? The coach would be like kindling if struck. It'd be no better than the warning barrier that the people of Marcelonia had struck up.
He turned to the town again. Seeing the pretty little street and new businesses -- the restaurant with the excellent desserts. People moved on that street, unaware of what approached. No, that barrier was meant only to warn the incoming engineers to slow down – to stop. It would do nothing to impede the full-steam locomotive as it came in. The train would derail in the center of town. Horton and his men were probably planning to jump from the engine in time to watch it blow the town to smithereens. The explosives would be primed and ready. The moment the engine left the rails, the second it experienced any collision, it would probably blow sky-high.
Not going to happen, Ezra pledged.
He twisted about, looking toward the engine. It was gaining – would be here within a minute. He could read the numbers across the front of it. Could make out the faces of men leaning from the cab. Someone drew a gun and fired at him -- missed him by a mile. He lifted his arm, aiming the Remington and returned fire. They tucked themselves back into the space and Ezra grinned at this small accomplishment.
Then he saw the Howitzer brought around on the top of the cab. “Aw crap,” he muttered and ducked as the big gun went off. It boomed, the shell impacted a dozen feet from him, shaking the ground.
Ezra shouted wordlessly, as huge clods of dirt rained down, never touching him. He dove away from the spot, heading toward the only place where he knew would be safe – the train tracks. No one in his right mind would blow up the tracks they were about to travel across.
Ezra smiled smugly as he watched them realign the big gun. He aimed his Remington again, looking for anyone he could hit. For the life of him, Ezra didn’t know what he was going to do when he had to move out of the way.
I could get onto the locomotive, he decided. Sure, swing myself up. They won’t be able to hurt me, right? I would take them out one at a time and then figure out how to stop the train. That would be a piece of cake, right?
Right. It’ll be easy. I don't have the faintest idea how to find the brakes. Might be able to find the bell... Someone else took aim at him and fired. He swore, wishing he could get to a better position, but for the moment, with the howitzer in play, he was safest right on the tracks. I’ll just stay here until the last moment, he decided. The shield will protect me from their bullets, from the shells perhaps. Hell, it might even stop the train.
With that realization, he felt a chill. My God, what if I could stop the train? It was getting closer by the second. He could make out faces now – could see Horton at one window – could see a man named Van De Veer at another. He knew Van De Veer – an explosives expert. The man knew what he was doing. He probably had the train rigged perfectly. Marcelonia would be blown to smithereens.
If I were able to get aboard the train, to neutralize everyone on it, would I be able to stop the train before it met the gap in the tracks at Marcelonia? What about the explosives? What if I can't figure out how to stop it in time... It's probably too late already. They're going too damn fast.
Ezra sighed, knowing that he had no sure answers. If he were to get on that train, if he were to get rid of every man off it… he still wouldn't be able to stop the train before it went through that barrier and went off the tracks. He glanced at his feet, at the tracks. There was a hole beneath the rail where some animal had dug out the dirt. He worked his toe into the gap. He had to stop the train. Had to stop it cold. Keep it from even getting close to Marcelonia and its people.
The ground around him vibrated at the approach of the mighty locomotive.
He worked at the dirt, wedging one foot under the railing as the train screamed closer. He could feel the rail vibrating over the shield that covered his foot. It tingled.
It was a stupid idea DAMN stupid – but it was the only real one he had. It was the only way he could see to stop the train. I'm too damn light, he thought. It'll toss me like a husk. And he worked his other foot under the rail. If nothing else, he'd take out the rail...
Aboard the locomotive, the men were firing again, their aim improving. Ezra could hear the bullets impacting the shield and ricocheting off. “Invulnerable,” he said softly. “I’m invulnerable.” Sure he was the size of a mouse when compared to the mammoth machine, but size doesn't matter -- right?
He could see the expressions of the men now, their puzzled glances. The sound of the big engine filled the air, thundering, shaking him. Someone started ringing a bell.
“Invulnerable,” Ezra muttered, his eyes fixed on the numbers above the boiler. He let out a little groan, seeing bundles of TNT strapped all around the cattle-catcher -- any impact -- any impact at all --
He turned to the side, presenting one shoulder to the train. He shuffled his other foot, working himself further under the rail. The iron sang above his feet.
The train thundered deafeningly. He could feel the heat as the locomotive bore down on him. It filled his vision. He ducked his head into his shoulder and closed his eyes as it came at him. “Invulnerable….” The ground shook. The bell rang. “Invulnerable… Invulner…”
“We’ll get ‘em,” Tanner declared as they bore down on the train. Goddamn! A locomotive! He had no idea how to stop one. They were almost to Marcelonia now. It was a damn big engine, too -- and going as fast as hell. And, if that weren't enough, a howitzer had been mounted to the top of the engine. It fired.
“What the hell are they shooting at?” Buck called as the shell impacted somewhere in front of the rushing engine.
“Dunno,” Vin responded.
The six kept after it, wondering at why the train wasn’t slowing. Certainly, if Horton and his men meant to stop in Marcelonia, they’d have to slow it. How could they take out the town if they didn’t slow down?
Tanner changed his path, bringing Peso out farther to one side to see beyond the train. He caught a glance at the barrier across the rails. “Tracks are out in the town!” he shouted to the others.
“Shit,” Buck muttered. “They’re gonna derail the train in the middle of Marcelonia? Goin' full steam?”
Gunfire came from the locomotive. Who were they firing at? Someone from the town maybe? Maybe someone from the stage. Why was a stagecoach here? The team was trotting about, meandering with the coach. What the hell?
The bell started ringing – a clangor – a warning.
“Who’s out there?” JD called across to Vin, who moved further out, trying to see.
The tracker sucked in his breath as he saw a loan figure in the tracks dressed in a green jacket. “No…” he muttered. “No…”
The bell kept ringing. It rang and rang. The man on the tracks didn’t move. Goddamn! The train was going to hit him! The man hunched as if bracing for impact… as if a man could stop a train.
“NO!” Vin shouted and then, it was as if a hand had come down, a hammer. The train, traveling at full speed toward Marcelonia – ran full blast into the man – and exploded in a ball of fire, fiercer than seen at any Independence Day celebration.
“Good God!” Josiah shouted, his voice unheard in the mighty roar.
Their horses balked and screamed at the blast of dynamite and the screeching rending of metal. The sky filled with steam and smoke. Shrapnel screamed upward. Flaming coal was thrown aloft and then plummeted, mixed with fragments of whistling, shattering iron Josiah watched in horror, feeling as if he’d stared into Dante’s Inferno – as if he’d seen the depths of hell as the huge, rushing locomotive came to a cataclysmic stop and went to pieces before their eyes.
“Christ!” Buck exclaimed, trying to calm Clyde as the train rained down. Something thudded to the ground beside them – a steaming shovel. The abandoned stagecoach careened past– the horses terrified out of their minds. Then, as suddenly as it had happened, the last chunks of the train found their way to the earth. After a moment of silence, what remained of the locomotive’s bulk, creaked and moaned as it fell to one side along the twisted tracks.
The six men could say nothing more, striving to calm their horses, as they searched the scene for anything that might explain what had just happened.
“How could…?” JD started. “How could… how could a train just DO that?” He glanced about at the others, needing an answer. “How could it just blow up?”
“It’s impossible,” Nathan uttered. “It can’t happen. A train just doesn’t…”
“Explosives,” Buck muttered. “Must have been loaded with them. Must have gone off.” He looked worriedly at the others. “Horton. But why? How? How could it … stop like that?”
Vin, finally calming Peso, gave them a one-word answer. “Ezra,” he stated and then dug his heels into the horse and sped off toward the destruction.
“No,” Josiah uttered softly. “No. He wouldn’t have. He couldn’t have.” And he started a quiet Hail Mary, hoping that – against all odds – Ezra might make it out of this all right.
And the rest took off after Vin, to find what was left of their brother.
“Ezra!” Buck shouted as he searched through the wreckage. “Ezra!”
“Ezra!” Josiah echoed, moving one shattered hunk of metal, and then another. The still-hot material burned his hands, but he was beyond feeling it. “Ezra, son… answer me!” He stared at the rails that had been yanked from the ground. They looked like licorice ropes. Dear God in Heaven, how could he have survived this?
They picked through the scattered bits – the debris that was once the most powerful vehicle on the plains. “He's still in Four Corners,” JD insisted as he worked alongside Nathan. “Nathan, he couldn’t ride his horse. He couldn’t have gotten here.”
“The stage,” Nathan reminded. “It’s the one that came into town when we were leavin’.” Regretfully, he looked about. “Damn fool,” he muttered.
“I bet he put something on the tracks!” JD insisted. “It wasn’t him! I know he wouldn’t have let that train run into him!”
Nathan sighed and looked up as the people of Marcelonia reached them – coming racing out of town by horseback and wagon – looking at them beseechingly for an explanation – women and children, families, businessmen – townspeople.
JD went on, touching his chest to demonstrate, “He wouldn’t 'ave trusted that thing to protect him from a train!” And together they overturned another scrap – twisted and rendered by the collision and explosion. “He wouldn’t have risked it!”
Nathan nodded, saying nothing as they uncovered a boot. When JD reached for it, Jackson stopped him. “Not Ezra’s,” he said, keeping the kid from coming in contact with it. He’d seen enough of the boot to know that the owner’s foot was still lodged within it. “Let it be.”
“It would have protected him though!” JD insisted. “That glowing thing! It saved him from the bullet. Vin couldn’t hit him. Chaucer couldn’t bite him either. It would’ve protected him!” JD had stopped working. He stood his ground, staring defiantly at Nathan.
The healer only nodded – hoping and wishing they could find Ezra safe in the mess. He looked toward the others because he didn’t want to answer JD. Buck was organizing the folks from Marcelonia, explaining what had happened. Josiah flailed in the wreckage, coming up with a familiar black hat that he clasped in his hand as if he was afraid to loosen his grip. Chris was moving about like a man possessed, desperate to find the gambler in the destruction. It was an awful game of hide and seek. Vin stood apart, looking away from the wreckage – to some spot partway to Marcelonia.
Nathan watched as Vin came to attention. The tracker stared, then stepped away, starting off at a jog. Please, Nathan begged. Please… and followed the tracker.
Vin had forsaken the search of the debris. If a thing that's movin' hits a thing that ain't, he decided, the other thing gets knocked away. Goes in the direction of the first thing. Ezra… the train would’ve pushed him. He’s a damn sight lighter. Even with that glowy thing, he would've flown a bit.
So Vin searched, trying to plot where Ezra might have ended up. When he spotted a hump of green amongst the black, scattered debris, he started off after it.
He’ll be okay, the tracker decided. He’ll be just fine. That glowing thing would’ve kept him safe right? ‘Cause me slappin’ him ain’t any different then a train comin’ at him full steam. Right? And he felt his chest tighten. He’ll be just fine!
He kept his eye fixed on the spot of green as he closed on it, a man. No doubt now. A man, lying on his stomach – not moving. And he quickened his step, closing the distance. Move, damn it! Oh, God… move. Ezra, please… Finally, he let out a sigh as he saw the shape roll onto his back. Thank God… oh, thank God!
“Ezra!” Vin shouted as he reached the conman.
Ezra turned toward him, looking confused, but amazingly clean in spite of the fact that he had been driven a half-foot into the soil. “Man down,” he muttered.
“What was that, Ezra?” Vin asked, not sure that he’d heard the murmured words correctly.
Ezra blinked and stated, “D’ya know, that Pacal the Great had six toes?”
“Ezra?” Vin asked cautiously, glancing over his shoulder and relieved to find Nathan headed their way. The healer appeared to be smiling widely, obviously thrilled to see the gambler sitting up.
“Pascal II. Imagine the expense of specially engineered footwear. No wait… that was Anne Bolelyn.” He rubbed his head as he thought. “No… no… not an extra toe. She had eleven fingers... extra nipple. Unless I have my facts muddled. Katherine the Great... something about a horse. Vin!” Ezra seemed surprised to see him. “Vin, did I ever mention that a moose once bit my sister?”
“Ezra,” Vin chuckled, too damn happy to find the gambler alive. “You don’t have a sister.”
“Oh,” Standish responded. “That would explain the moose, then, wouldn’t it?”
“He okay?” Nathan called as he reached them, clapping a hand to Vin's shoulder.
“Got his bell rung,” Vin responded, and on cue, someone knocked over the blasted bell from the train -- it clanked pathetically. Squatting down beside the gambler, Vin checked him over. “Seems okay to me,” he decided.
Ezra shook his head, trying to clear it as he patted the device at his chest. “Handy bit of business,” he commented.
Nathan frowned. “Doubt it was meant for stopping a train!” he chided. “Ezra, you could’ve gotten yourself killed.” He dropped to his haunches beside the gambler. “You sure you’re okay?”
Ezra grinned at the two. When he heard a joyful shout, he turned to the wreckage of the train, seeing Josiah waving widely at them. The big man started toward them with the others. “Getting better by the minute.” He felt his pockets and seemed relieved to find his flask – a bit bent, but still un-breached.
He uncapped it and lifted it for a drink, but stopped as he remembered. He pulled back his jacket to see the device, glowing on his chest. “Lord,” he murmured, “I need a drink. As much as I’ve appreciated its use, I wish the damn thing would come off.”
And it did. One moment it was green and bright, tightly adhered to the southerner’s chest. The next moment, the light was gone, and it rocked forward and dropped onto Ezra’s lap.
The gambler gave a happy sigh as Nathan snatched up the thing. The healer examined it, and Ezra took a much-needed slug of ‘courage’. “You wouldn’t happen to have any food on you?” Standish asked the two men when he lowered the vessel. “I feel rather overcome with manly hunger.”
Vin patted at his jacket and shrugged apologetically.
"How 'bout we head to town," Nathan suggested. "Check out that restaurant you've been goin' on about."
"Excellent idea!" Ezra exclaimed.
“Ezra!” Josiah called, stretching his arms wide as they reached them. “Son, you’re okay!”
“Standish,” Chris greeted, smiling down at the gambler in the grass.
“Ezra!” JD cried. “Dang it, Ezra. You scared the tar out of us!”
“Hey, Ez! Lookit you, stopping trains and flyin’ better than JD,” Buck added, cheerfully starting to punch the man, but drawing back at the last moment with a shake of the head as he remembered what had happened to Vin.
Josiah, who was leaning forward in an attempt to give Ezra a mighty bear hug, stopped too.
“Boys,” Nathan said, holding up the apparently ‘inactive’ device. “He ain’t got it on.”
Before Buck or Josiah could complete their abandoned attempts at accosting him, Ezra scrambled to his feet. “Now, now…” he stalled, holding out his hands to keep them away. “Give me a moment to recover. We'd been discussing our dinner plans when you arrived. And, you must remember -- moments ago -- was hit by A TRAIN!”
Chris took the device from Nathan. “How’d it come off him?” he asked. “The train do it?”
“No,” Nathan responded. “Was on him and glowing when we found him.”
“Come off when he said he wanted it to come off,” Vin filled in. “Must be smart.”
“Smarter than Standish,” Larabee jibed. “Trying to stop a train… now that’s my idea of idiotic.”
“I managed it!" Ezra countered. "Saved the town!” With a sneer, he stepped close enough to Josiah to snatch the hat from his hands. Josiah responded by grabbing Ezra by the arm and pulling him into a stifling embrace.
Ezra let out a startled cry, but there was no help for him -- Josiah had him in his mighty grip. Standish reached a hand toward Larabee. “Chris,” he pleaded. “The device! I beg of you. Toss it here!”
The leader shook his head, crossing his arms over his chest, the device clutched in one hand. “Nothing doing,” he responded. They laughed as Ezra fought, but he wouldn’t be able to escape Josiah’s grasp.
“Where does a thing like that come from?” Buck asked reaching out a hand for the odd shaped device.
“Got no idea,” Chris responded. "Does it matter?"
"Not as long as it works," Buck responded as he pressed it to his chest. It wouldn't stay put and wouldn't glow. “Must work only on Standish,” he muttered.
“What makes him so special?” JD asked, laughing as Ezra finally got loose of Josiah. He snorted in amusement as Ezra used him to block the preacher from getting any closer.
Larabee shrugged, taking the device back from Buck and putting it in his pocket for safekeeping. “He’s one of us,” Chris replied. “Guess that’s enough.”
Vin cocked his head, wondering if there was something else to it. It didn't work on JD or himself. There was something more to it -- something more to Ezra -- they just hadn't figured it out yet. Of course, there would be time for that later.
“Come on, Boys,” Chris declared. “Lets get this taken care of, then head to town. Get somethin' to eat.”
“Mr. Larabee!” Ezra called, holding JD by the shoulders to keep him as a shield from Sanchez, who made one last attempt to reach him. “I truly need the device returned to me… now!”
“Maybe later,” Chris responded. “Depends on if you’ve been good or not.”
“I saved the town!” Ezra insisted, pointing emphatically toward Marcelonia.
“But look at the mess,” Chris said, gesturing toward the wreck of the train.
“Oh, I’m not cleaning that up,” Ezra replied, lifting his chin imperiously. “And you can’t make me.”
Chris just chuckled in response as the group made their way to retrieve the horses – and Larabee wondered if Ezra had figured out how he was going to get home. “Better play nice, Ezra,” Chris uttered.
“Hey, Ezra,” JD called, spinning out of the conman's grasp now that Josiah had moved away. “You think you'd let me throw you off the Grain Exchange?”
“Yeah, we could see if you bounced,” Buck added with a laugh.
Vin chuckled and suggested, “Figure you could place a bet or two on the outcome.”
Ezra paused. "Gentlemen," he started. "An excellent idea. Let's discuss the matter."
"We'll see if I let you get this back," Chris added, holding the device aloft.
Ezra just continued to grin, realizing that retrieving the piece from Larabee might be akin to finding the lost city of Atlantis. Not a problem, he resolved, and he smiled widely as he considered the possibilities.
Hope you enjoyed the story.comments and suggestions