RATING: PG for language
CATEGORY: Challenge - OW
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. or any others involved with that production is intended.
NOTE: The November 2003 Challenge:  Offered by Gunny:  "A story involving one or three of the boys and a group of children.  They can be any age, and for any reason.  A large empty space has to be closely involved.  And  include an African Safari animal, a Native American, or a Marquee (big circus tent: white, four sided with tassels) for bonus points."
SUMMARY: the latest addition to the South Bridge series!  But it's not a Josiah and Ezra story... it is more a sequel to "Night and Day" than to the other stories in South Bridge.  Got it?  Mayhem is in store when our guys run into some old adversaries.  Maybe "old" is the wrong word.   
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
SPOILERS: Just to my own story, Night and Day
DATE: November 19, 2003, Housekeeping done September 11, 2013

A Day Away


Ezra sat back in his chair and drawled, "Honestly, I don't quite understand it.  It's a mystery," he added with a flourish of his hand.  "I have no idea why such troubles spring from here."

Buck chuckled, wiping his mustache with his hand.  "Well, if we were to listen Josiah, none of us should go anywhere near this place."

JD nodded, rubbing his scarred shoulder through his jacket.  "He may have a point," he suggested, before taking another bite of his dinner.

Buck watched the movement, understanding, but gave the kid a cuff on the ear.  "You healed up well enough."

Ezra noted the sheriff's gesture as well, and smiled thinly, remembering how JD achieved that injury.  The incident still troubled him --  unable to do anything to stop JD from being hurt, all Ezra had managed was to keep anything else from happening to the young sheriff.  It was a pitifully small thing.

"It wouldn't be my choice as a destination.  Lord knows I've had enough of it," Standish declared, redirecting the conversation and gazing about Arnie's Restaurant where they sat eating Arnie's World-Famous American Stew.  "It is a rather pleasant town, with excellent gaming possibilities."

"And plenty of the female persuasion," Buck added sinfully.

"Lots of other stuff to do, too," JD put in quickly.

"An absolutely charming locale with no reason to forsake it."  Ezra popped another spoonful into his mouth.

"I agree!" Buck declared, digging into his stew again.

"Still, one would think that Mr. Larabee could have explained the destination before he attained our agreement to depart on an errand," Ezra said with a sigh.  "I feel as if he deceived me by keeping this bit of wisdom until the end."

Buck laughed.  "You never would have come along."

"He tricked us -- me, in particular," Ezra said, making a sour face.

"Ah, he just wanted t' get us out of town for a while."   Yeah, Buck figured Larabee was just trying to get the three of them to take a day of leisure -- they'd all been working rather hard lately.  Traveling at a casual pace, it would have taken two-days to reach their destination, but they'd pushed it -- making it in one.  And would require another long day to get home -- but because of that, they had extra time, 24-hours and nothing to do.  "A day away from work is always a fine thing."

"Yup," the kid commented, scooping up another bite.

"Ah, a whole day away." Ezra grinned.  "A day free from work and strife.  We can spend it in utter enjoyment.   It's exactly my style."

JD smiled at their comments.  "What cha gonna do tomorrow, Buck?"

The ladies' man smiled as he chewed, "Catch up with some of the lovely citizens, I reckon."

"And you, Ezra?" JD asked, turning to the gambler.

"Ah," Ezra expounded.  "I do declare, I hear the tables calling to me."  He cocked his head as if listening.  "A day spent gambling is the most profitable endeavor."

JD chuckled. "Either of you gonna get any sleep?"

Gamester and Rogue exchanged a glance and laughed.

JD yawned, wondering how long he would last.  When they arrived in town, he was full of energy -- ready to take advantage of this day away.  But now, he figured he'd find a room at the Precious Hotel and get to sleep.  At that moment, a day spent sleeping seemed the happiest option.

He grinned as he noticed Ezra stifle a yawn and Buck rested his chin on his hand.  Yeah, maybe they'd all be turning in early tonight.  JD nodded, finished a bite and said, "I'm kinda glad that we were the ones Chris sent."

"And, as long as we keep an eye on Ezra," Buck said, sliding his spoon into the bowl of rich collection of gravy, vegetables and meat.  "There shouldn't be a problem."

"Me?"  Ezra cried out.  "When have I ever been the cause of trouble?"

Buck and JD both laughed loud enough to draw the attention of everyone in the quaint restaurant.  The barrel-chested owner looked at them with some alarm, as he ladled out further bowls of stew, spicing it again with the contents of a little pouch he kept in his pocket.

JD shook his spoon at Ezra -- bits of gravy flew, making Ezra dodge and Buck raised an eyebrow.  "Ez, you and trouble just go together."

"Whoo-heee," Buck exclaimed.  "I don't know a soul who can cause trouble as easy as you."

"There may be some validity to that statement."  Ezra sighed theatrically.  "What I meant was that I've never been the ‘cause' of trouble here."  He tapped the table with his index figure.  "In South Bridge."

"Just a coincidence?" Buck tried as he shoveled more of the stew into his mouth.

"A horrible one at that," Ezra added.  "Trouble finds me.  I do not seek it."

"Hmph," JD voiced through his spoon as he finished off his bowl.

The server appeared beside him, dropping more filled bowls on their table.  "All you can eat," he said cheerfully, taking away the empty, dirty dishes.

"Damn fine!  Damn fine!"  Buck complemented, patting his belly and giving the man a smile.

The owner nodded and smiled serenely.  "Special recipe."

Ezra frowned as he drove his spoon into a fresh bowl.  He ate another bite and made a face.   Looking to his companions and asked, "Does anyone think it tastes a little strange?"

"I told you, it's the venison," Buck said and yawned widely.  "Ain't a thing wrong with it." He took another bite and chewed slowly, wondering why his jaw felt so tired -- why his whole body seemed to be crying for sleep.

"Yeah," JD echoed.  "Just wild game."  He started in on the fresh bowl.  "Tastes a little ‘gamier' than the last one though."  He poked about in the bowl, watching the gravy run together, becoming fascinated by it.

"Can't be helped," Buck said with another enormous yawn. He glanced across to JD in time to see the young man slouch toward the table.

"Buck?" JD said quietly as he collapsed.  He rattled the dishes when he struck the table.

Ezra looked strangely blasé about the occurrence.  He turned slowly toward Buck, his eyes nearly closed, and then, wordlessly, melted like butter onto the table.  "Ez…" Buck called, his voice seeming thick in his throat.  "JD?"  He twisted about and tried to stand, but the room seemed to drift away from him.

"Aw hell," he murmured and everything went black.


Buck slowly came to, blinking at the dirt beneath his face.  Morning light filtered down on him.  He tried to remember where he was, what was happening.  He had no answers.  He felt as empty as an upended pitcher, and he let himself drift for a moment or two.

His head felt heavy.  His mouth was dry.  He limbs limp.  He ran his tongue around his mouth as he focused on the shape before him. Must wake up, he told himself.  Light streamed in on him through a ruined roof.  Something was near him, just a foot or so away from his face -- beige and black -- a head maybe? Whose?  Someone he knew…did it matter?  Not really…not when he just wanted to sleep.

He dozed, letting the sleepiness draw him under, before he mentally slapped himself.  Concentrate!   Something's wrong.  Something's very wrong.  Gotta wake up. He narrowed his eyes, forcing his mind to work, trying to figure out who lay so close to him.  I know this person… I know him.  He stared at the features and the scabby whiskers, the unkempt hair.

"JD," Buck murmured when his mind functioned well enough to put a name to the face.  "JD," he said again as he tried to draw his arm from behind himself and touch the too-still young man.  The arm wouldn't move.  He struggled for a moment before he realized he was bound, hand and foot.  Damn.  He jerked, trying to free his hands without any result. He attempted to straightened his legs, but found himself hog-tied.

"JD," he called more urgently as Dunne's eyelids fluttered and he made a quiet sound.

"Come on, JD," Buck whispered huskily.  He leaned closer and gave the kid a shove with his shoulder.  The face twitched and relaxed.  Alive, at least Dunne was alive.  With a groan, Buck tried to push himself upright to find out what was going on.  He could see nothing beyond JD, who was thrown on the ground in a similar position to himself -- most likely tied in the same way.  His eyes found a rope that trailed from behind Dunne to a beam.  Another rope ran from the beam to himself – securing both of them.  So they had been caught.

Someone caught us? Were we being chased?  Buck couldn't remember.  Had they been in danger?  Buck wracked his mind.  No, things had been rather calm, weren't they?  What the hell?  It made no sense at all to him.  His mind was a mess -- unable to give him any answers.  Gotta think.  Gotta remember.  What?  What was the last thing he could remember?  Buck furrowed his brow as he concentrated.

The restaurant -- yeah, they were in a restaurant in some strange town.  He was with JD and… and someone else -- there had been three of us, right?  He squinted as he tried to remember whom, but the name and face were lost.  He gave up on that for the moment, trying to draw other facts from his memory.  He recalled that they'd been eating dinner -- chatting -- laughing -- someone kept bringing more stew.  There were bowls upon bowls of it.  He closed his eyes -- wondering.

They had gone to spend a day away town, right?  Where?  He couldn't quite recall.  They'd ridden hard, hadn't they?  To get here in just one day.  They'd come here after dark… to this place…to deliver a package…and then spend the following day…relax... return the next.  His mind refused to give up anymore and he let himself fade toward sleep again.

No!  Wilmington shook his head, trying to clear the miles of cobwebs from his mind.  Why was this so hard?  What the hell had happened to them?

He struggled, wanting to sit upright.  He was restricted, but he was able to raise himself up far enough to get a look around.  A long rope had been wound and knotted around his legs, tying him to the extent that he could hardly wiggle about.  He grimaced at the sight.  This was not good.  Oh God, this was not good!  He wished he could see how their hands were tied -- that would be a definite advantage.

They were in a barn -- a big one – a decrepit one -- empty as his head felt at that moment.  The roof was ruined; the walls had holes.  Dust floated down on them.  He squinted, looking for who had done this -- what had happened.  There was no one there -- no one except for himself and JD.  Wait, Buck amended his thought as he looked beyond Dunne, seeing the back of a familiar green jacket.   Three of us…Ezra's here, too.

Ezra was the third at dinner.  They'd talked about South Bridge.  That's right… that's where they had gone.  But where were they now?  The quiet barn obviously wasn't in the town -- the sunlight that filtered through declared that at least the night had passed.  They weren't gagged.  Did it make any sense to shout out for help?  Probably not.  Buck would bet a month's wages that they were currently in the middle of nowhere – probably miles from help.

He decided on quiet… it would be best if he didn't alert their captors that he'd awakened.  It would give him time to form a plan with the others.

Wilmington stretched over JD, wanting to see how Dunne's hands were tied. He grimaced, seeing a web of cords and knots.  Ezra's hands were less secure than JD's.  Damn, someone sure tired a lot of knots around Ezra's legs though.  It seemed a bit excessive -- either they wanted to be doubly-sure that no one got away -- or someone didn't really know what the hell they were doing.  They must have used a mile of rope on each of them.

A rope running between legs and arms, kept Ezra from moving much, but he appeared to lack the rope that secured him to the post.  "Ezra," Wilmington hissed, leaning against JD. "Ezra!"  He pressed harder on Dunne, hoping to reach Ezra, but found Standish beyond his range.  The gambler didn't move, but the sheriff did.

"What?" JD asked hoarsely as Buck pressed on him.  Dunne twisted, automatically trying to dislodge the heavy cowboy.  "Buck… what…?"  Dunne squinted as Buck pulled himself off the young man and settled into his former position.  "What're ya doin'?"  JD asked, perplexed by Buck's close proximity.

"Can't move any farther," Buck explained.

JD grimaced and groaned.   "I feel like crap," he muttered.  He made a face.  "What the hell happened?"

"Looks like we got ourselves in a bind," Buck said with a grunt as he pulled on his ropes again.  When he reclined, he felt a sleepiness tug at him -- he fought against it.  God, it would be easy to just drift off again.

JD squirmed, realizing that he couldn't move.  "Hey?" he cried out, giving Buck a panicked look.

"You're tied up, JD.  Just keep calm," Buck responded.

JD complied, becoming still again.  "Where…where are we?" he whispered.

"Barn," Buck replied.  "Couldn't say where."

JD furrowed his brow and uttered, "Who did this?  They here?"

"No," Buck responded.  "Ain't seen anyone yet."

"Huh?  There's no one watchin'?"

"Dunno," Buck responded.  "Maybe they're fools.  Figure we got ourselves drugged."  That stew -- that damn, queer-tasting stew.

"Ezra?" JD called out, suddenly remembering the third member of their group.

"Right behind you."  Buck lifted himself up again to check on the gambler who hadn't moved.  "Still out of it, I reckon. Might be a while ‘fore he comes around."

"Don't take well to drugs," JD recalled.  Yes, Standish always took forever to come out of whatever concoction Nathan foisted on him.  Any normal man might sleep a night under the influence -- Ezra could double that.  No wonder Ezra hated taking medicines – he'd feel like crap for days and claim the cure was often worse than the injury.

Dunne turned slowly and cautiously, feeling the rope pull and hold him.  He tried rolling onto his back, but gave it up as a bad idea, flopping onto his belly instead.  He was disappointed to find Ezra's back toward him.  "Ez?  Hey, Ez?"  JD called, hoisting himself up far enough to see Ezra's face.

"He doin' okay?"  Buck asked.

JD brought his face close to Ezra's, feeling a warmth, hearing him breathe.  "Yeah," Dunne responded.  Standish looked rather pale and not entirely healthy.  JD jostled the gambler, but it did no good.  Ezra continued to sleep deeply under whatever drug they'd used on them. "Come on, Ez," JD encouraged, "Get up, now."  But not a sound came from Standish beyond the quiet and deep breaths.  "Don't think he'll be wakin' any time soon."

"Take a look at those ropes, JD," Buck commanded.  "Think you can get him untied?  His hands seem to be the easiest to free.  I know mine ain't budging."

JD frowned.  "I think so.  Wish I could get my hands around."

"Well, settle yourself with your back to him and get workin'.  I'll watch and tell ya what to do."  Buck jerked at his own hands, annoyed that he couldn't move.  If he could just maneuver himself around, he could get into a better position for helping JD.

JD rolled over, facing Buck again.  "What if the folks who done this come back?"  He felt around, finding Ezra's bound hands with his own.

"Then you stop messin' around and hold still," Buck decided.

"Hmmm," JD uttered, feeling the ropes, trying to find the end he'd spotted earlier. "I can do this."

"Higher… to the right," Buck responded.  "You got it.  Now try and tug it out from under that… yeah... that one."

JD worked under Buck's instructions for several minutes, able to pull out the end of the rope, moving the cords about, loosening the knots that held Ezra's hands.  Whoever did this certainly wanted them kept still.   "Buck?"  JD started as he concentrated on his blind work.  "What good would it do if we get Ezra undone?  He might not be awake for hours?"

"Well, I can't turn far enough for either of us to get undone, and you can't get to me," Buck replied. He just hoped to God that they got Ezra untied and awake before their captors came back. Damn, a pot of black coffee would be handy!  Buck blinked, feeling thick and dumb.  He might have to drink the whole pot himself to shake off this lethargy. 

"I think I got it," JD decided as he worked.  "It's comin' loose."

"Make sure you don't get them all the way off.  Just far enough so Ez can pull out his hands when the time comes."  Buck nodded to himself.  "That way it'll look like he's still tied – I hope."

"Yeah," JD commented.  "I think it's just about…"

They froze when a sound beyond the door alerted them-- people were approaching.  JD pulled his hands away from Ezra's bindings before the door swung open.

Five shapes swaggered in, dark against the brightness of the doorway.  Ominously, they lumbered toward the captives.  JD twisted and Buck rose up far enough to see over his friends.  The five silhouettes continued on their path.

"Well, lookee here," one of the shadowy men spoke. "Looks like our guests finally done woke."

"Took ‘em long enough."

"Yeah – bastards!"

"Stinkin' bastards!"

"Stupid, stinkin' bastards!"

"Lazy, stupid, stinkin' bastards!"

They moved closer, hulking, sure of themselves – big, dark shapes.  They stopped and stooped over the captured three, and JD and Buck shrunk back from them.  It was only once the men were close that the truth was revealed -- the bodies were big, but the faces that looked down at them were strangely -- youthful.  They're just kids, Wilmington thought as he focused on the peach-fuzzed faces – young, taut faces with overconfident expressions.  Teenagers – maybe 19 at the oldest.   What the hell?  Why were these kids doing this?  Then Buck recognized the nearest of them.

"Dale Hollowell," Buck breathed out -- garnering a grin from the young man and a startled look from JD.  The sheriff leaned back, trying to get a better view of their captors.

"Well," Dale said with a satisfied sigh, "Seems I made a bit of an impression on you."

"Hollowell!" JD exclaimed.  The Hollowell brothers!  The same group who had chased them down two years ago, who had tried to kill him -- revenge against the death of their brother Rick who'd been involved in a series of bank robberies.  .

"Yup," Earl Hollowell said with a nod.  "We still haven't evened that score."

Gus, the youngest of the Hollowell brothers, hung back -- flanked by two other youths – strangers with similar faces.

"You know Gus and Earl," Dale said smoothly, indicating his two brothers.  Earl was the oldest of the trio -- he'd been seventeen when they'd last met up, with Dale and Gus younger by one and two years.  Lord, Buck couldn't help but feel sorry for poor Mrs. Hollowell and her troupe of boys – all a year apart in age.  The woman must be a saint!

"Hey," Earl greeted congenially at the introduction and made a little wave, then remembering the situation, he grimaced and tried to look dangerous. Gus remained silent. 

Dale grinned toothily, "Yeah, I think we left a pretty good impression on you."  Yes, an impression, Buck thought.  Wilmington's clearest memory of this group was that they were idiots – dangerous, prideful, misdirected idiots.

Oblivious to Buck's thoughts, Dale continued with a sure expression, "These are our cousins, Ray and Lee." The two other boys nodded.  They appeared to be about the same age as the others -- teenage boys that should be acting more like men.  The cousins looked uncomfortable, not looking directly at the tied lawmen.

"You were in jail!" JD declared, alarmed.  "When'd you get out?"

"Last month," Earl told them.  Just boys, the judge had been lenient on Earl, Dale and Gus.  The older brothers, Fred and Matt, had received longer sentences and had borne the brunt of the punishment. Frank, the oldest, who hadn't participated in the attempted murder, but had probably supplied the brothers with information, received no further punishment.  Two years had passed -- two years and the situation hadn't gone away.  The three brothers stewed on it all the while -- waiting for a chance to get back.

Dale smiled and puffed up his chest.  "That jail couldn't hold us anyway.  We would've sprung ourselves soon enough."

"How were we gonna do that, Dale?" Earl asked in confusion.

"Shut up, Earl," Dale barked.  "Don't matter a fig to these fellas."  He looked embarrassed a moment and then continued, set on telling his piece, "We come to exact that revenge -- even things up a bit."

"I hated jail," Earl whispered to Gus.  "It was awful there."

Ray and Lee looked about uneasily and Gus nodded knowingly to his brother, then held a finger to his lips to hush him.

Dale continued – the second youngest of the clan, and always near the bottom of the heap – he had finally found a chance to be the leader, and was reveling in that chance.  He leaned close to Buck and snarled, "You'll pay.  Oh, you'll pay for what happened to my brothers!  Ya'all are gonna die."

"You sons of bitches," Buck growled, springing up as far as he could manage with his restraints.  Dale jumped back, trying to still his startled expression.  Buck continued sharply, "Ya almost killed JD last time we met up.  Wasn't that enough?"  Nearly killed Ezra, too –  he thought,  left us all thinking that the wily con man was dead.  He chanced a glance toward the still unmoving gambler, hoping to God that he was all right.

"Well," Dale drawled.  "Almost isn't enough.  Rick died ‘cause of him."  He gestured toward the sheriff.

Buck groaned.  The situation would be comical if it wasn't so damn dangerous.  The Hollowell brothers -- again.  Lord, would they never be rid of them

"Rick committed suicide," JD reminded.  "Hung himself!"

"On his way to prison!"  Dale added spitefully.  "‘Cause of you!  And ain't no one found the money his gang stole, so there's no proof that anythin' bad was done."

"And Matt and Fred are locked up ‘cause of him!" Earl added exuberantly, pointing at Ezra.  "If he hadn't a'tricked us, we would've all gotten away.  It's his fault that the rest of us got locked up.  Now we got three brothers gone!"

Buck glanced to JD to see how he was doing.  The kid looked anxious, but in control.  A thoughtful look crossed the sheriff's face as he asked, "What happened to Frank?"

"Ah hell," Dale muttered, stomping his foot.  "He done run off to California!"

"Got himself married," Gus spoke.  "Figured he'd start a new life."  The youngest looked wistful at this thought.

"Forget about him," Dale demanded.  "This don't involve him!  This is about Rick."

"And Matt and Fred!"  Earl added.

"Yeah!  Rick and Matt and Fred – but not Frank," Dale declared, leaning close to their captives.  "That's three of them -- and three of you.  I got three brothers that I'll never see again -- and I got the three fellas that made that happen."  He grinned evilly, looking as if he'd practiced that terrible expression in a mirror.   "You'll hang… all three of you. Just like Rick."

JD gulped reflexively and looked to Buck.  Buck offered him only a reassuring glance before returning an angry gaze at Dale.   "You got no right," Buck uttered darkly.

"I got every right," Dale returned.  "The three of you done ruined my family."  He suddenly seemed to notice Ezra wasn't paying attention and shoved a boot against him, forcing the gambler against JD.  "This is the one that tricked us!  Wake up, you!"  he grumbled.

"Let him alone!" JD responded sharply.

"Git up!"  Dale ordered, growing angry.  "You better wake up and hear what I have to say!  I ain't gonna say it twice!"  He bent down and grasped hold of the conman's jacket, lifting him a few inches off the ground.  He shook Ezra vigorously while the other boys tensely waited.  Ezra gave no sign of coming around as Dale rattled him violently.

"Goddamn it!" Buck barked.  "Stop!"

Dale smiled at Buck and shook Ezra even harder.

"Hey!  Stop it!" JD squirmed about, flopping onto his stomach and trying to get around to impede Dale.

"Get your goddamn hands off him!" Buck yelled, rearing up as far as he could -- determined to break free of the ropes and get to Dale – to get the under-aged outlaw away from the helpless gambler.  Earl and the other young men, seeing things getting out of control, fell to their knees and grabbed hold of the two lurching lawmen, holding them still.

Ezra hadn't awakened.  With a disgusted movement, Dale let him drop.  Standish fell the short distance to the ground, landing in an uncomfortable looking position, his head craned too far back.  Dale snorted, as if amused and squatted down over them all.  Buck sighed, realizing that they were a pile of trouble.

"Why ain't he awake yet?"  Gus voiced softly, loosening his grip on JD once Dale let Ezra alone.

"‘Cause ya drugged the hell out of him," Buck snarled.  "It's your own damn fault, so leave him alone!"

"It wasn't our fault," Earl said sullenly.  "Uncle Arnie done it."

"Hey!" Ray finally spoke up.  "Don't blame our dad!  He only done it ‘cause you told him to."

"Leave Pa out of it," Lee added.  "Ya'll just took advantage of him.  Ya'll told him that Injun Lenny had a vision and wanted Pa to drug those men. "

"Ya'all know he listens to anythin' that mystic-man says," Ray scolded.  "Injun Lenny knows everything."

Annoyed, Dale stood.  "Your Pa's a moron.  Ain't got a lick of sense."

Ray was on his feet in one quick movement.  He flew at Dale.  "Take it back!"  Ray ordered, poking Dale in the chest.  "Take it back!"

Lee was beside them, clenching his fists. "Yeah, Dale.  Dung-Head Dale," he taunted.  "Take it back."

Dale's expression fell, and for a moment it looked as if he was going to cry.  "Not fair!" he whined.  "You can't call me that!"

Ray poked him in the chest again, out of spite.  "Dung-Head Dale!" he sing-songed.

Earl and Lee jumped to their feet.  Earl grabbed Ray's arm.  Lee grabbed onto Earl's shirt and pulled him away.   Gus sighed and stood slowly, brushing at his clothes.  He watched as his two brothers and two cousins shoved each other around.  It was only once Lee grabbed Earl by the neck that Gus joined in.

JD twisted around to face Buck. They said nothing, exchanging a glance that spoke volumes.  They were in the hands of idiots -- anything could happen.

The boys tussled, like lions and hyenas at a kill – yipping and yowling, rolling about on the floor, biting and kicking.   JD maneuvered himself around to get a look at Ezra again.  He called softly to the gambler, jostling him, but Standish didn't even twitch.  Damn, they got him good!  JD threw Buck a glance, trying to look encouraged – but the fact that Ezra had slept through that attack truly worried him.

The fight ended as suddenly as it began.  With a shout, the brawling boys broke apart, rolling out of the center of the tussle, and standing in a lop-sided circle, eyeing each other.  Ray was holding his bleeding nose.  Earl grasped his right arm.  Lee held his elbow.  Dale cupped his privates.  Gus, with a slight limp, backed away from them, snorting indignantly.

"We got no time for this!"  Earl exclaimed.  "We gotta get back home b'fore Ma figures out we've gone."

"She ain't gonna be happy," Gus muttered miserably.  "And if Mama ain't happy…"

"Hell," Dale muttered and spat.  "Let's get this done with.  Let's get ‘em hung!

Ray and Lee nodded, but didn't look very excited.  Gus sighed and shook his head.   Buck and JD tensed, waiting for what would come next.  Ezra hadn't moved at all. 

"You got the rope?" Dale asked Earl.

Earl shrugged.  "Ray and Lee were supposed to get it."

"We brung lots of it," Lee told them, pointing to the bindings about the lawmen's extremities.  "You wanted ‘em tied up good."

"You used all the rope to tie ‘em?"  Dale asked indignantly.

"Well, you weren't around to help, were you?" Lee commented.  "You said to tie ‘em tight.  We done what you wanted.  I tied them two, and Ray tied the fancy-lookin' one.  We did the job you wanted."

Dale kicked at the dirt in frustration.  "You were supposed to bring enough to tie ‘em AND to hang ‘em."

"Naw, we weren't!" Ray spouted.  "You told us no such thing!  Ya just said, ‘tie ‘em good'."

"We did tell ya t' bring hangin' ropes!"  Earl insisted.  "I remember Dale sayin' it."

"Didn't!"  Lee responded.  "We was jus' s'posed to keep an eye on the restaurant.  Make sure that Pa did like you told, and then tie ‘em when they passed out.  No one said nothin' about no hangin' rope!"

"How we supposed to hang ‘em if we ain't got no rope?" Dale whined.  He stomped again, frustrated.  "Dang it!"

"There should be something around here," Lee decided.

"Aw, this place has been abandoned for years," Earl replied.  "Ain't gonna be nothin' good to hang ‘em with."

"Let's just look, okay?"  Lee countered.  "Maybe we can find some curtain tie-backs or something."

"Curtain tie-backs?"  Dale echoed with a laugh.  "What kind of crazy house you grow up in, Lee?"

"Shut up, Dung-head," Lee answered with a menacing growl. Dale clenched his fists, ready to start another brawl, but Gus held him back.

"Ain't a crazy house!"  Ray insisted.  "Just ‘cause our ma likes nice things.  Your ma can't have nothin' ‘cause the lot of you is always breakin' everythin'."

"Do not!"  Dale spat out.

"Do too!" Ray countered.

Earl nodded.  "There's just a lot of us.  Can't be helped."

"Sooner we get started, the sooner we can go home," Gus cut in, hoping to get things over with.

"Okay, okay," Dale said, throwing up his hands and stepping clear of Gus.  "Let's see what we can find.  Must be somethin' around here for a neck-tie party.  You sure that rope is tied tight on them?"

Buck and JD tensed, not knowing how they'd disguise Ezra's loose bonds, but Lee spoke up, "We've tied knots b'fore, Dale.  We ain't stupid.  Now let's all go and look.  If we all go – we can get it done faster."


Even before the boys had exited the empty barn, Buck and JD were pulling at their bonds, trying frantically to get loose before the boys realized the wealth of rope at their fingertips.  Damn, the ropes seemed tighter.  "Ezra!"  Buck hissed.  "JD!  Get him up.  Gawd, if Dale didn't do the trick, I don't know what we'll do!"

With a disgusted groan, Ezra responded dryly, "I'm awake." His back still toward them, he straightened his crooked neck and shrugged his bent shoulders.  "Lord, I'm awake."

"Thank God," JD muttered.  "Jeez, you scared the crap out of us, Ez."

"Not my intention," Ezra murmured, then smacked his lips thickly and rubbed his head against the dirt floor.   He groaned and added, "And you fine men did nothing to stop that Neanderthal's assault on me?"

Buck grinned, realizing that Ezra had been awake when Dale grabbed him, had played possum.  "Couldn't exactly do anythin', hoss.  We're tied up.  But JD's almost got you loose.  Can you get your hands out of those loops?" Buck inquired.

Carefully, dexterously, Ezra extracted one hand from the bonds.  He flexed the hand as he drew it in front of himself and ran it over his face.  "Oh Lord, I don't feel so very well.  Perhaps a moment or two of rest."  His eyes blinked lethargically as he drew the other hand out and rolled onto his back.

"You ain't gonna do that!"  Buck insisted.  "We gotta get out of here now, or those idiots are gonna get us all killed."

"Idiots?"  Ezra repeated.

"Idiotas," Buck said with a Mexican accent.  "Them damn Hollowells."

"Hollowells," Standish repeated.  With a decisive shake of his head, Ezra shoved himself upright.  "All right," he murmured, "All right." Even as he sat, his eyes drifted closed, the world tilted under him and tried to pull him downward.  He paled a shade or two.

"Ezra!" Buck hissed sharply, watching the gamester sway.  "Get movin'!"

"Hurry!"  JD whispered.  "Get us out of here.  Get me untied!"

With a yawn and a nod, Ezra twisted toward Dunne as JD flopped on his stomach so that Ezra could get better access to the knots.  Ezra stared down at them a moment, trying to bring the image into focus – but it was a hopeless situation.  He could hardly see straight and the knotted ropes remained a tan blur around JD's wrists. The whole world seemed to swim around him. He plucked at the ropes unsuccessfully, as Buck hissed out commands, trying to guide his vague movements.  Finally, frustrated, Buck muttered, "Damn it, Ezra, just get him loose!"

Outside, the Hollowells scurried about, shouting and yelling at each other.  They heard Lee voice muttering, "Rope, rope, rope…gotta find rope." as he skirted the barn.  From further away, Dale yelled, "I think I found something!  No… no… oh crap, it's a snake!"  And there was a bit of shouting and gunfire after that.

Buck and JD listened to the fracas.  They figured that snake was now very very dead by the sound of the cheers and the amount of gunfire.  Ezra kept working at the ropes, trying to force the fuzziness from his brain, damning himself for his complete inability to concentrate.

"Keep at it, Ezra.  You almost got it!"  Buck encouraged.

"I think it's getting looser," JD said hopefully.  "Just a bit more, Ez."

Sweat beaded at Ezra's brow as he worked, knowing that he was doing little good. He swallowed, fearing that he'd pass out.   "A knife," he muttered.  "If I only had a knife."

"Over there!"  Buck nearly shouted, nodding toward a tool near the door.  "I think there's one there hanging on that hook over there.  Can you get to it?"

With a lazy nod, Ezra made a movement to stand.  Forgetting that his legs were still bound, he made it partly upright, before flopping to the floor.  After a few seconds of further frustration with the excessive amount of knots around his legs, Buck called, "Just crawl, Ezra.  You can cut yourself out and then get me and JD loose!"

"Crawl," Ezra drawled.  "I've been reduced to crawling.  Lord, help me."  It took a moment, but Ezra was able to find a way to maneuver across the barn – toward the knife that hung near the doorway.  The ladies' man couldn't help chuckling at Ezra's ungainly process.  He flopped like a seal.

"I take offence at your amusement," Ezra grumbled as he worked at his unusual locomotion.  "I am doing the best I can!"

"Just keep goin', Ez!  You're almost there!" Buck responded, chuckling still.

"Yeah, Ez, you got it!"  JD encouraged, hoping that the gambler hurried.  There was no telling how long the Hollowells would take in their search.

The trip across the barn floor probably took less than a minute, but to the three lawmen, it lasted a lifetime.  Ezra strained to keep moving – dragging his bound legs and crawling on his hands.  Mustn't stop, he told himself.  I must free them!  But Lord, I just want to curl up and return to blissful sleep.  It would be so easy.  He felt like crap -- hot and cold at the same time.  He paused, glancing back to the blurry images that were Buck and JD – he could see their blank faces aimed toward him – trying to encourage him.  It would help if he could actually ‘see' his target – but the wall was blank as his mind.  He turned back toward it, pausing so that he didn't fall victim to vertigo, and continued his path.

Ezra was sweating harder and growing more lightheaded by the moment.  Lord, he feared he would pass out before accomplishing this simple task.  They'd all die if he failed.  How could he let JD and Buck down like that?  Never.  He would not give in until the two of them were safe.

He reached the wall without really realizing it and loudly banged his head against it.

"Watch out for the wall, Ezra," Buck responded, worried about his friend. He watched as Ezra drew back and lightly touched his crown.  Standish seemed confused, not quite able to figure out what had happened.  Damn, Ez ain't doin' well.  "You're there now.  Ya just have to reach up for it.   The knife, Ezra, grab the knife!"

With a groan, Ezra rubbed his aching head.  No time to waste on this silliness.  He shoved one shoulder against the support, and pushed himself against it.  There, something shone dully – a knife hanging from a hook.  He focused on it, trying to get a true idea of where it was.  Damnation, he felt awful.  He reached out one hand, his fingers brushing the blade and sending it swinging.  The swaying mesmerized him for a few seconds before he could snap out of it.  He held out his hand, caught the knife by its hilt, and smiled.  He was going to hold it out to show the others when the door rattled.

Wordlessly, Ezra dropped to the floor, landing behind an emaciated bale of hay.  The door swung wide as the five Hollowells returned, grinning and carrying their finds.

"This will work!" Dale said, assuredly as he held up an old apron with long strings.

Ray looked unenthusiastically at Dale's discovery, putting his trust in the rotting twine that he and Lee had discovered in the attic of the abandoned house.  Earl carried a long snake, smiling smugly.  The snake was fairly intact, missing only the end of its tail -- testament to the inaccuracy of the Dale Hollowell's gun when he was excited.  The cause of death, most likely, was due to excessive ‘stomping' as it was rather flattened.  Dale kept far from Earl.  Gus had brought nothing and looked unconvinced about their success.   All five youths had fully walked into the barn before any of them recognized that one of their prisoners was missing.

"Hey!" Ray cried, pointing to where Ezra was laying a moment ago.  "Hey!" he said again, unable to come up with anything else.

The others stopped short.  Stunned, they dropped their finds, except Earl, who drew the dead snake to his chest.

"What the…" Dale spun around his eyes searching the barn too quickly to do any good.  Earl sputtered.  Lee and Ray backed toward the door.  Gus stared first at JD, then Buck, then the bit of rope that had held Ezra's hands.

"He ran off to get help!"  JD shouted, hoping that Ray and Lee didn't back up too far.  A few more steps and Ezra's position would be discovered.

"That's right," Buck continued.  "He squeezed himself through that hole," he said, nodding to a broken slat in the wall.  "And ran back to town.  He's going to bring the Law!"

Ray and Lee gasped.  Gus' eyes went wide.  Earl clutched his snake.  Dale gibbered.  JD and Buck hoped the boys were as stupid as they seemed.

"Damn it!" Dale swore, finally making a recognizable sound.  "Damn, damn, damn."  He turned to his brothers.  "We gotta find him!"

"Hurry!" Earl cried.  "Before he gets too far!"

"Where'd he go?" Gus asked, leaning close to their two remaining captives.

Buck met the young man's eyes with a smoldering gaze.  "I couldn't say," he responded.  "So you'd better get moving."

Gus stood, turned sharply and stalked out the door, nodding to Lee and Ray as he passed them.  "Let's get going.  He couldn't have gone far."

Dale grabbed Earl by the elbow, spinning him around to propel him toward the door, then released him with a jerk as something in Earl's arms flopped about.  "Eiiiiii!"  Dale cried, stepping back and pulling his hands as far from the dead reptile as he could.  It took him a moment to find his courage again.  "Get rid of the damn snake, Earl and let's find that bastard gambler!"

Reluctantly, Earl dropped what remained of the snake and followed his brother, swinging the barn door shut behind him.  Once again, the Hollowell boys had gone.

Outside, Buck and JD could hear horses in the corral being saddled, the boys calling to one another – trying to come up with a plan – failing.  Dale gave orders.  The horses galloped off, and JD and Buck were left with silence and a dead snake in the empty barn.

"Ezra," Buck hissed.  "Ez!"   He leveraged himself upright, searching that dark wall for any sign of their friend.  He sighed when there was no response. "Now is not a good time to fall asleep, pal."

"What do we do?" JD asked, worriedly.  "Ezra could hardly hold his head up, Buck.  Now we can't even reach him and…"

The door banged again, silencing the two.  Purposefully, Dale strode in.  "They'll find your friend in seconds," he boasted.  "They'll find him, shoot him, kill him good, and drag him back for the hangin'.  None of the rest of you will get away."  He swaggered, hitching up his pants.  "I'm here to guard you."

"Yeah," Buck commented dryly.  "Think you're up to it? Think you're man enough?"

"I'm more a man than you'll ever be," Dale piped.  He sneered, and added, "This was my plan."

"Good plan," JD commented.

Dale nodded.  "Sure is.  It's perfect."

Behind Dale, something moved.  Buck watched as a shadow rose up from behind the hay bale – as Ezra slowly stood.  His shoulders were hunched, and his head was low as he rested for a moment on the bale.  Standish seemed to be preparing himself, catching his balance.  After a second, he stood, grasping the knife and edged forward.

Dale continued, unaware, "It's all goin' like clockwork."

"‘Cept that ya lost one of us," Buck continued, hoping to keep attention off the swaying lawman. He tried not to look at the gambler as Ezra lurched along – hardly able to put one foot in front of the other.

"Not my fault!" Dale declared, angrily stomping one foot.  "Ray and Lee tied ya up.  They may be kin but they don't have the smarts of my family.  It's them that done bad.  We'll get that bastard though.  He couldn't have gone far!"

"Seems to be a habit," Buck commented, trying not to let his gaze flicker to the conman, who had paused, resting his hands on his knees, sinking into himself, watching Dale through half-closed eyes.

"What d' ya mean?" Dale asked, curling a lip.

"He got away from ya last time, too," JD told him.  "Got right past you."

"More than once," Buck added.

Dale's face went red in embarrassment.  "That wasn't fair!  He cheated!  If he played right it would never have happened.  Cheated!"

"Yeah, he tends to do that," Buck commented, seeing Ezra flash him a discontented look as he stepped behind the Hollowell boy.

"We'll get him.  The boys are ridin' off in all directions.  They'll find him and you'll see what happens to folks who cross the Hollowells.  Well, Lee and Ray might have gone home, but they don't matter.  That snaky son of a bitch is gonna pay!  He'll get his.   Everyone will get what they deserve."

"Seems they might," Buck said, watching as Ezra took one more stop.

Dale gave Buck a curious look, unaware of the sleepy lawman until Ezra closed on him, wrapping one arm around him and bringing the knife to his throat.

"Graaaugh!"  Dale gargled, his eyes going wide and white.

"Don't move," Ezra whispered in his ear.  Dale shook as the gambler quickly removed the young man's gun from his holster.  Now armed with a pistol, Ezra stepped back, aiming the gun at Dale, who turned to face him.

"Good goin', Ez!" Buck complimented with a wide grin, wondering if Dale had reloaded the pistol after the snake attack.

"Ya got ‘im!" JD exclaimed.

Dale trembled, mumbled, made obsequious motions to the southerner.  "Ha ha ha," he laughed unconvincingly.  "Funny, huh? It was just a joke, ya know?  Just some fun, right?"  He raised his hands and smiled inanely.

"Funny," Ezra responded, his face emotionless.

"Yeah," Dale nodded enthusiastically.

"Do you see anyone laughing?"  Ezra continued, his voice cold and his eyes devoid of mirth.  Behind Dale, Buck and JD snickered.

"No, sir.  No, sir.  Not funny," Dale responded.

Still aiming the gun, Ezra threw the knife at the boy.  Dale shrieked as the blade impaled itself at his feet.  "Cut them loose," Standish ordered.   As Dale reached for the hilt, Ezra added, "And remember, I can shoot you down faster than a snake might strike, so be prudent as you handle the blade."

"Yeah sure.  Sure.  Prudent."  Dale hurried to comply, cutting the bonds at JD's hands first, then freeing Dunne's legs.  He smiled like an old friend as JD pulled his arms loose and rubbed his aching wrists.  Once his legs had been loosed, Dunne snatched the knife away from the boy and Dale scuttered back, throwing Ezra a startled look as JD took over, cutting Buck free next.

Ezra flicked the gun at the boy, gesturing for him to move away from the others.  Buck smiled as his hands were freed and JD started cutting at the ropes that held his legs.  Finally.  Now they had a chance of getting away.  Buck glanced to Ezra.  "You got him okay?"

Ezra nodded, but now that the JD and Buck were no longer tied, he started to tremble and the gun faltered in his hand.  The barn suddenly was very hot and a buzzing overpowered his senses.  Ezra gazed toward Buck, his face sweaty and pale, and opened his mouth to say something, but the world around him twisted in like a wound sheet.

"JD!"  Buck, still working the last of the cut ropes from his legs, watched as Ezra's face went white, his head dipped and his legs began to fold.   "Catch ‘im!" Wilmington ordered.

JD leapt to his feet, dropping the knife and reaching for Ezra even as the gambler collapsed.  Dunne caught Ezra's arm and barely managed to save him from colliding into the hard packed floor of the barn.  Limp as a rag, Ezra was oblivious to the assistance.

Dale, suddenly finding himself unguarded, bolted.

"Damn it!"  Buck growled, throwing off the final ropes and struggling to his feet.  "Hang on there!"  Dale kept running.

Buck's hand drifted for a moment over the dropped knife, but he hadn't the heart to fling it at the boy's back.  Wilmington stepped beyond, and reached for something else – grasped the dead snake --  and flung it for all he was worth at the boy.

The snake sailed through the air and wrapped itself around Dale's neck like a stole.  The boys wheeled, gasping.  His hands raised to free his neck, but as one hand closed on the scaly scarf, the boy let out a little "eep" and fainted dead away.

Buck closed the distance between them and leaned over the stricken boy.  Dale was crumbled on the ground.  "Looks like he's out," Buck commented and then glanced to JD, who sat on the floor with Ezra's head drawn into his lap.  "Seems to be okay, though.  How about yours."

"Same," JD commented.  He patted Ezra gently on the shoulder and smiled.


They found a wagon and a pair of horses in the corral outside the barn.  "It's probably what got us here," Buck commented as they hitched the team and then loaded the passengers into the wagon bed.  Dale awoke as they tied him with the longer lengths of cut rope and the apron string.  He bitched and complained and threatened until JD found the snake and dangled it in front of the boy.  Dale Hollowell was compliant as a lamb after that.

Ezra dozed and had to be half-carried into the wagon.

"Up we go," Buck cajoled as he and JD helped the stumbling gambler into the back of the vehicle.

"Appalling," Ezra muttered, his chin resting on his chest.

"What's appalling, Ez?"  JD asked as they got him settled.

"I would have expected a better quality of service at your establishment," his eyes drifted shut as he lay back in the wagon, curling on his side.  "Your accommodations came well-recommended."

"Ez, you ain't at no ritzy hotel," Buck explained patiently, shoving a bunched-up flour sack under his head.

"Pity," Standish murmured as he drifted off to sleep again.

They drove the buckboard toward South Bridge, with Dale showing them the way. He seemed eager to help them at this point and be a ‘good kid.'  All of his bravado was gone and replaced with a helpful and eager lad.

JD guided the wagon, while Buck sat in the back with the sleeping Standish, the tied Dale and the dead snake.  Wilmington kept an eye out for the other boys.  JD had found their own guns in the wagon, so they were well armed, but there was no telling how many more Hollowells existed. Buck kept careful watch -- hoping that some of the clan had intelligence.

Buck stiffened when caught sight of a horseman on a ridge.  He squinted at the distant figure, recognizing the blue roan first and finally deciding it was Gus.  The youngest Hollowell followed them at a distance.  Dale, too terrified to turn about, didn't see him.  Dale sat forward, his eyes on the snake that pointed its flattened head toward him.

Buck figured he was just about to succumb to sleep again, when a movement at his side brought him back to awareness.  Ezra twitched and blinked and finally opened his eyes a crack.  "Where are we?" he croaked groggily.

"In the middle of nowhere.  Ain't a thing in sight, so don't be expecting any hot towels or anythin'," JD responded from the wagon seat.  He smiled at the conman, glad to see him awake.

"How ya doin'?" Buck asked.

"Dreadful," Ezra responded, rubbing his eyes.  He sat up and gazed forward, muttering, "There's no civilization about?"

"None I can see," JD answered.

"You certain?" Ezra continued, squinting at the distance ahead of them.

"Ain't a thing," Buck told him.  "Why you askin?"

Ezra sighed.  He turned first toward JD and then Buck, giving them a confused look.  "I could have sworn were heading directly toward a large circus tent."

Buck laughed, seeing nothing like that on their trail.  "Go back to sleep, Ezra.  You're dreamin'."

The gambler nodded, his head already sinking to his chest, and he flopped himself back down in the wagon bed, muttering something about tigers, before he drifted off again.

Dale watched, his brow furrowed.  "I didn't think he had any more than the rest of ya'll," he commented.

"He probably didn't," Buck responded, not allowing himself to yawn.  "It's just the way he is."

"He do like to sleep," JD added, blinking to keep his own eyes open.

Glancing past Dale's shoulder, Buck watched as Gus still faithfully followed, keeping close to his brother.  It was only when they made their final approach to the town that Gus finally slowed and waited, watching until they disappeared into South Bridge, ensuring that his brother made it safely.


Buck awoke slowly, smacking his lips and yawning, his head buried in blankets.  He yawned and stretched.  He felt foggy, but rested, as if he was finally getting close to waking up.  He sighed, drawing a hand over his stomach and decided to sleep for just a bit longer.  Yeah, that would be good.

Finding himself on the edge of the bed, he rolled over, only to flop onto someone.  Before his ‘instincts' took over, he opened his eyes and recognized the form beside him -- JD.

"Get off me, Buck," JD murmured groggily, waving one hand around.

Buck grunted and rolled onto his back again, squinting at the daylight room.  "What time is it?" he whispered.

"Dunno.  Don't care.  Sleep"

"Where's Ezra."

JD yawned. "‘Bout to fall between the bed and the wall."

"Need more room?"

"Nope.  I'm fine."  JD grunted as he rolled onto his side in the narrow space between the two, turning his back on Buck.  "Sleep."

Buck thought that was a mighty fine idea and did as JD suggested.


Another day passed before the lawmen left town, saddling up and heading back toward Four Corners.  Ezra still yawned into his hand and JD blinked a little too often.  The fresh air would all do them a world of good.  It was time to return to some semblance of normality.

"So you sent Chris a wire?"  Buck asked the gambler as they moved along.

Ezra nodded to the gait of his horse.  "I did indeed.  Just a quick explanation that we'd been delayed a day or two and were returnin' shortly."

"He send you anythin' in return?" Buck continued.

Ezra laughed.  "Yes, most certainly.  His note expressed an aggressive concern for us.  Three days without any word was reason to pique his interest."

"Three days ain't bad," JD commented.  "Hell, he does stuff like that all the time -- runs off for a while without tellin' us much of anythin'."

"Well," Buck put in.  "We were in South Bridge…with Ezra."

"Oh," JD returned.  "Yeah…"

Ezra snorted, throwing both of them a peevish look.  "As I said before, I never ‘cause' trouble in South Bridge."

"But you do seem to take on more than your fair share of it once it gets started," Buck told him.

Ezra exhaled dramatically.  "Yes, so it seems.  It is a burden that I'm not content to bear."

"And Chris didn't check for us at the hotel?" Buck asked.

With a shrug, Ezra stated, "He may have run into some difficulty in finding our names registered." 

Lord, they must have appeared drunk and out of their skulls, hardly able to stand or speak, when they checked in.  The place had been booked up, but Ezra had finagled a room in the end -- he probably looked so horrible the innkeeper took pity on him.   Buck remembered Ezra laughing after he'd signed the register and the ladies' man knew he'd been up to some mischief.  The damn place only had one bed left, but it hardly mattered to the three.  They'd stumbled into the room and paused only long enough to pull off boots and gun belts before heaping themselves haphazardly onto the one big bed without any comments.

Buck chuckled, remembering Ezra's Cheshire Cat smile as he signed in.  "What name did you use, anyway?"

"Sanchez," Ezra drawled with a sleepy grin.

Buck and JD laughed, wondering why they hadn't been thrown out at the start.

"So, Chris probably lookin' for us and didn't know we were in the town since yesterday?" JD asked.  The other two nodded and JD shook his head.  "No wonder he was upset."

"I can imagine seein' that vein a'throbbin' on his forehead," Buck commented.  "Bet he was fit to be tied."

"Don't mention being ‘tied', Mr. Wilmington."  Ezra fluttered his hands.  "I'm rather pleased with being free of such bonds."

"Yeah, ain't we all," Buck responded, rubbing his wrists -- glad to be without ropes, glad to be away from the Hollowells.  Dale was currently locked up in the local jail, awaiting his trial. Uncle Arnie had been brought into custody, but released when the law realized he'd been duped into assisting the boys.  Gus, Earl, Ray and Lee had all disappeared as predicted.  The Hollowell boys wouldn't be causing any more trouble in the near future.

"So, what did you tell Chris?" Buck asked.

"He'd been askin' about our whereabouts and I explained that we spent most of our time asleep in each others' company, and that we had enjoyed the better part of a day together in one bed."  Ezra brushed at his shoulders, caring to forget that he'd been shoved out at one point, waking up in the crack between bed and wall.  He'd paid his bed-mates back by sleeping crossways across both of them once he was able to free himself from that tomb.  "I may have mentioned that I spent part of the time on top."

Buck chuckled and shook his head, trying to image how Larabee interrupted the message.  "Lord, we'd best hurry home and set him straight."

"Gettin' home sure sounds like a good idea," JD decided.  "How ‘bout you, Ez?  Ready to see Four Corners again?"

Ezra laughed wryly.  "More than ready.  After South Bridge…" he waved a hand.  "Four Corners sounds wonderful."  His expression turned deadly serious as he stated, "The next time Mr. Larabee suggests a day away from Four Corners, I would suggest that someone ask him where he plans to send us."

The other two agreed, nodding vigorously as they encouraged their horses along, back toward Four Corners.

THE END - by NotTasha
Care to read the next South Bridge story?  Something Solid to Stand On

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