CATEGORY: Challenge - OW
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Ezra, Nathan, JD and Buck
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, Showtime Extreme, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended.
NOTE: It answers the December 2005 Challenge, offered by Violette: The guys all have plans to meet for Christmas, but fate is conspiring against them.  You can focus on one or all of the guys, but each of them must be included at some point, and each must have some kind of trouble getting to their Christmas celebration.  It can be humorous or serious (or both!).  Bonus points if you include fruitcake, eggnog, Yule log, snowman, chestnuts, and sleigh bells. - I didn't exactly answer it, but at least I'm close
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
DATE: Complete 12/24/09. 

Frisbys and Fruitcakes  
By NotTasha... who couldn't think of a title


"It should be right up there," Nathan said, bringing Badger to a stop and lifting a gloved-hand.  He pointed upward, toward the start of a trail that led off from the old cabin, wending into the brush.

"Close by, I hope," Ezra muttered.  The chill made him curl his fingers and duck his chin into his jacket.

"Won't be far," Nathan told him.  "Lars promised it was just up here a piece."

"And you refused to divulge the way," Ezra muttered unhappily.  Nathan pretended not to hear.

"Well, come on then!" JD declared enthusiastically as he maneuvered his horse around the two.  "Let's go see it."

"Yes," Ezra echoed, grinning a little, "Let's check out your inheritance, Nathan."  And he looked almost hungry.

JD glanced over his shoulder as he kept moving.  "Sooner we check it, the sooner we can get back."

"Don't expect it to be too quick," Ezra commented.  "There's no tellin' about how much we will find.  A careful assessment will be necessary."

"Heck, it'll be great if we see anythin'," JD responded.  "I just aim to be back in time for the celebration!" He gave Toby a kick, and the little bay responded, trotting up the indicated path.  "Buck promised all sorts of good eatin'."

"Wonderful," Ezra muttered, and then smiled toward Nathan.  "There will be whiskey, at least," he stated.  "That's somethin' to hurry home for."

Nathan returned the grin.  "I'm lookin' forward to it," he responded, and directed Badger to follow Toby. "Let's get this done with and get back."

Ezra fell in behind.  "Very well.  We'll do a quick survey," he decided, "See if you have anythin' of worth.  If your prospects seem worthy of prospecting, then, we may want to spend a little time."

"I'm not going to spend all day here," Nathan stated.  He turned, to find Ezra looking behind them.  "Anyone following?" he asked, gazing beyond the gambler.

"Not that I can tell," Ezra told him, facing forward.  "I thought I'd heard something for a moment."  He continued to look behind them, toward the old abandoned shack.  "No.  Nothing.  Well, you can't be too careful."

Lars Frisby had been well known around Four Corners.  He was the crazy old man who lived in the hills with his brother.  They came to town from time to time, spending little nuggets of gold, and then disappearing again – back to work their mine.

And people were interested, for where there was gold… well… there was bound to be more gold.

Locals had tried to follow them, but the old Danes were wily and had managed to lose their tails.  Nobody had been able to ascertain the secret of their mine's location.

The Frisbys came to town regularly, until suddenly the younger Frisby stopped visiting a year-or-two-back.  People questioned Lars about his brother Lusk.

"Lusk is gone," was all he'd said on the matter, looking grave.  "God rest him."  And so years passed, with only Lars visiting town, refusing to talk about his brother.  It must have been hard on the old man to lose his only friend.

Two weeks ago, Lars appeared in town again, wheezing and coughing from some awful disease of the lungs.  It had been creeping up on him over the years, but he'd kept it quiet until it became too much to bear.  He came looking for help, and had spent his last days in Nathan's care, allowing the healer to tend to him.

And, knowing that he was going, he gave up little bits of information.

The Brothers Frisby had been born in this country and had moved out west at their first chance.  Lars had no idea what had happened to the rest of his family.  He had been married once, but wife and child were gone.  He used to be a shopkeeper.  He'd gone all the way to Oregon and came back when he found the weather too wet.  He'd run supplies during the war.  He could play the banjo and the harp.  He knew the Bible back to front because there'd been a year in the wilderness where the great book had been his only companion.

He met up with his brother again after the war and together the two had tried guiding wagon trains west, but they didn't care for it.   They hadn't minded the wide openness, but the griping of their fellow travelers had worn on them.  Finally, they'd settled here, near Four Corners and tried their luck at mining.  It was hard scrabble work, and they'd often gone hungry.

And they'd eventually become lucky.  After years of finding nothing, they must have stuck a vein because when they came to town, they had just enough to get them what was needed.  It wasn't as if they were rich, but they weren't wanting.

Lars couldn't say what happened to his brother Lusk.  Lars become tight lipped, unable to speak about it, and would shrug off any further comment.

As Lars struggled for breath, he had only Nathan to comfort him.  And in his final days, he bequeathed the mine to the healer – giving up its long sought location.

And Lars passed over to the great beyond.

That night, Nathan had explained the situation to the others, and Ezra nearly leapt out of his seat in excitement.

"The Frisby mine?  Nathan, you are a rich man!" Ezra had crowed, "Well, richer at least than you were yesterday.  I have seen some of the gold they brought down, and it is fine indeed.  Certainly, there is plenty more where that came from, and I'm just the man who will aid you in claimin' everything that is yours."  And Ezra had rubbed his hands together, his eyes gleaming.  "Tomorrow!  Tomorrow we will set out to examine exactly what you've won!"

"I didn't win it," Nathan had said solemnly.  “And tomorrow is Christmas Eve.  I'm not sure I want to be traispin' into the wilderness on Christmas."

"But, what better present for you," Ezra responded, and he slapped Nathan on the shoulder.  "You and I will soon be living in the lap of luxury."

Josiah shook his head.  "The mine is Nathan's, Ezra."

"Yes, yes, of course," Ezra had replied.  "But there is a consultation fee, correct?"

Nathan just felt tired, knowing that the eyes that followed the Frisbys would be tracing his travels now.  He didn't know if he wanted that sort of scrutiny.  It seemed as if it would be more trouble than good.  And the mine seemed to be stingy, giving up only bits and pieces at a time.  It would be hard work when he had plenty of other things to keep him busy.

Wasn't it enough that he was a lawman and a healer?  Did he have to add miner to the list?

But Ezra was nearly levitating in his excitement, and JD was getting worked up along with him.

"How much gold do you think is in there, Ezra?" the kid had asked enthusiastically.

And dammit, if Nathan wasn't excited as well as Ezra brought up everything that he might purchase with the spoils -- the idea of new medical books and surgical gear, enough money to rent a different room for the infirmary, money for new clothing and extravagant trips.  Food and drink and women and so many things.

The sweet-talking southerner certainly could paint a picture.

And so they'd set out that morning, Christmas Eve, to see exactly what Nathan now owned.


"Well," Ezra drawled as the three horsemen stood side by side at the mouth of the little cave.

"Huh," Nathan commented.

JD squinted.  "Looks like just a hole in the ground"

"Mines usually are, Mr. Dunne," Ezra said, academically.

JD smirked at him.  "I meant, it don't look like much.  Kind of a small entrance, ya know?"

"Exactly what I was thinking," Ezra stated.

"It was only Lars and Lusk working on it," Nathan stated, "and they were trying to keep it quiet.  I suspect they didn't need to enlarge the entrance much."

JD dismounted, bringing Toby to a little space that had once been used by the Frisby mules.  "So, you think there might not be a lot of gold in there?"

"Hard to say," Ezra admitted, bringing Chaucer into the little pen.  "But the promise of it is quite enticing.  We should go in and see what we can see."  He gave the horse a pat and untied a lantern from the saddle.  

Nathan frowned a little when he saw it.  "I should have thought of that," he stated.

"Well, at least we have one," Ezra said.  "It should be all we need.  It's just going to be an examination of the site today.  Perhaps will be able to bring out a few samples."  Unconsciously, he patted at one pocket as if giving away exactly where those samples would end up.  "If our search proves fruitful, we'll bring plenty of equipment for our next journey."

JD looked down the trail. "Bet there's a lantern or two at the cabin.  We should go get some more."

"Which would mean backtracking," Ezra said tiredly.

Nathan nodded.  "Might as well keep going," he said.  "We're just going for a look today.  We can come back with picks and shovels if it good.  Bet they have some tools in the cabin.  Should have dynamite too," Nathan added.

And Ezra grinned a little at that thought.

"Well then, let's go," JD stated, slapping his hands against his sides as he moved closer to the entrance.  "We'll turn into snowmen soon if we don't get out of the cold."

"I doubt it'll be much warmer in the cave," Nathan stated.

Ezra shrugged.  "It'll be better than this frigid air.  I've found most caves I've been in to be cool, but not unbearable within."

"You spend a lot of time in caves, Ezra?" JD asked.

"They make wonderful hide-outs," Ezra said, "When the law is on your back."  He looked contemplative.  "Something I should remember next time we are on the trail of some ne're-do-well."

Nathan slapped his hands together, feeling the cold leaching into him.  "Let's get moving," he said.

Ezra smiled, struck a match, and lit the lantern.  It was a hearty looking device, obviously meant for exactly this purpose -- searching through a mine.  Nathan wondered how long Ezra had the thing -- maybe since his ill-advised attempt to explore the mine at the Seminole camp.

Ezra lifted a hand, inviting Nathan to go first.

Nathan nodded and moved forward, stepping into the dimness of the mine entrance with Ezra came in close behind him.  JD took up the rear.

"Wow!" JD said as he moved in.  The entrance was fairly well lit, but the back of the cave was quickly swallowed up in blackness.  It was a long tunnel, leading into the hill, with hardly any features at all.  "How far back do you think this goes?"

"Hard to say," Ezra said.  "Nathan, did Mr. Frisby give you any indication?"

"Said it went on for a long ways," he said.

"And the gold, "Ezra went on.  "Any idea on how far we'd have to travel before we found it."

Nathan let out a sigh.  "Can't say he specified."

Ezra grumbled, "Honestly, Nathan, do you know nothin' about interrogating a potential mark?"

"He had a lot of trouble talkin' so I couldn't exactly quiz him much on it.  The man was dying.  I wasn't going to wrestle him for that sort of information."

Ezra glanced over his shoulder to JD, giving him a pointed look that seemed to say that Standish would have had no trouble doing exactly that.

JD chucked and they kept walking.   "Think there'll be lots of good stuff to eat at Buck's get together."

"That is certain," Ezra said.  "The man likes to eat."

"I hear there'll be fruitcake," Nathan commented.

Ezra looked hopeful.  "Mrs. Potter's?"

"Nettie's?" JD inquired.

"Josiah's," Nathan said with a sigh.

And the other two groaned.  "Maybe we should take our time," Ezra grumbled.

They moved, crunching at the loose rock beneath their feet, and the darkness closed around them – and the three stayed within the halo of the lantern.  They searched the barren walls of the cave for gold.

JD turned to gaze toward the entrance of the cave.  It had grown smaller as they moved away from it.  It looked like a little circle of light, like a lantern in the distance.

He faced forward again, looking for flecks, looking for veins, searching for gold to make Nathan rich and to make Ezra happy.

And he totally missed the silhouette of a man stepping into the circle of light to gaze in at them.

Part 2:

Buck leaned against the bar, speaking in a husky tone to Inez.  He leaned on one hand, the other rested at his gunbelt.  His hat was pulled down over his eyes, shadowing them.  He grinned, the expression full of sex and promise.

Inez inclined her head toward him.  She parted her lips slightly in an open smile, listening to whatever he was selling.

Vin sat beside Chris at one of the tables, watching, waiting.

"I give him five more minutes," Chris said under his breath.

"Heck," Vin responded.  "He ain't even got that much."

"He's doing good," Chris commented offhand.

"It's Inez…" Vin pointed out.  "She ain't buyin' from the likes of him."

Chris watched as Buck pulled at the scarf at his throat, moving in a rather lascivious manner.  "She seems fairly willin'."

Vin replied, "That's the problem."

And Chris grinned.  "He's gonna push it too far."

Buck leaned in to whisper into Inez' ear, and then WHAM, like an explosion, Inez drew back and slapped the ladies' man's face soundly with an open palm, staggering the big man backward.  A tirade followed, in a quick and virulent Spanish.  She shook her fist and Buck shuffled away, quickly, looking stunned and a bit embarrassed.

Other patrons in the saloon came to attention, ready to bolt.  No one looked willing to step into the middle of the encounter.  Inez, they knew, was not one to be trifled with.

Vin and Chris did nothing, watching placidly as Buck held up his hands in defeat, his eyes wide and innocent.  "Inez, I'm sorry. So sorry!" he tried to explain.  "I didn't mean nothin' by that.  I was just..."

But she gave him a playful look as she shook a finger.  "Mind your manners," she admonished, and then turned back to her work, swaying her hips in a manner that was all too inviting.

Buck released a sigh, watching her movements, then turned, smoothing his mustache as he joined the two at the table.  "Hey," he said.  One of his cheeks was redder than the other.

Chris tipped his head.  Vin kicked a chair out from under the table.  Accepting the invitation, Buck sat in the provided chair and leaned on the table.  "So... when you think we should start the festivities?" he asked, obviously not wanting to talk about what had just happened.  He pointed a thumb back at the bar.  "I was just settin' up the refreshments.  Might even have some eggnog if I can calm her down a bit."

From behind him, Inez called, "Don't count on it."

Buck winced.

"Figure we have to wait for Nathan and the others to get back for we start anything," Chris said.

With a frown, Buck asked, "Where'd he go?"

"Him and Ezra and JD took off to check out the Frisby mine this morning," Vin stated.  "Ezra figured since Nathan owns it now, it was time to get a look at it."

"Nate better keep his eye on Standish," Chris muttered.  "Man will try to make off with whatever he can carry if the moment presents itself.  Someone better check his pockets."

"Aw," Buck stated, "He'll behave himself.  It's Christmas."

"And Nathan would kill him if he tried anything," Vin added.

Buck nodded, and smiled up at Inez as she delivered a beer to their table.  She just scowled at him, and sidestepped any attempt to be corralled. "It'll be something to finally have a gander at that Frisby mine," he stated.

"Frisby mine?" a voice spoke from one of the tables.  "Did someone mention the Frisby mine?"

The three men turned, finding an old timer.   He was known simply as Fred, one of the crazy folks that lived nearby who came into town when supplies ran low or when they wanted to raise a little hell.  Four Corners seemed to attract this type.

"Why's Nathan think he owns the Frisby mine?" Fred continued.

"I don't know if you've heard yet, Fred," Buck started, "But Lars done die a few days back.  He gave up the mine to Nathan."

"But what of Lusk?" Fred asked.

"Lusk's been gone for years," Buck went on.

"Lusk ain't gone," Fred told them.

"He ain't come to town in a while," Vin pointed out.  "Word is that he died."

"Ay, there's a lot of folk who don't come to town no more.  Not all of them's dead."  Fred made a face as he continued, "It's got too civilized, what with the law and all comin' and tryin' to tame things down.  No offence."

"None taken," Chris stated, smiling a little at the comment.  "So, Lusk's not dead?"

"Naw, Lusk's too ornery to die and he don't like the likes of you folk messin' with the good thing he had in town.  No offence."

"Lars hadn't spoken of him at all," Buck pointed out.  "Kind of implied he was dead."

Fred snorted. "Aw, he and Lars has been feuding is all," he explained.  "Some folks just don't understand other folks.  Some folks just go about makin' assumptions that end up makin' about as much sense as an indoor outhouse.  You know, no offence and all that."

Chris raised a hand to stop the half-hearted apologies.  "So, where is Lusk?"

"At the mine, I reckon."  Fred shrugged.  "He and Lars share the cabin.  Lars been doin' the cooking.  Lusk does the cleanin'.  Guess Lusk is gonna need to figure out the stove."

"How do you know this?" Vin asked, getting to his feet.

"Lusk don't talk to Lars – bless him.  And Lars – bless his soul – don't talk to Lusk."  Fred shrugged.  "When they needed someone to say somethin', they come to me."  Fred shrugged.  "I live near enough."

"You know where to find the mine?" Chris asked.  He was on his feet as well, pulling on his jacket.

Fred replied, "It's to the west of my cabin.  Don't know ‘xactly where.  It weren't my problem and I don't go seekin' trouble, unlike some others I could talk about, no offence or anything.  Those boys don't like folks poking their noses and all that. Some folks do that too much."  He lifted his hands as if to sight on a rifle.  "The Frisbys protect what's theirs.  They protect it hard."

Chris let out a low breath.  "Anyone know where I can find Josiah?" he asked the others.

"I hear he's been at the restaurant," Vin told him.  "He was bakin' something for our little get together."

"Cookies?" Buck asked hopefully.

"Nope.  It's his special fruitcake again," Vin answered and all four men made faces.

Chris gave a jerk of his head, and Vin accompanied him toward the door.  "Meet you in the livery," he told Buck.

Wilmington nodded, and turned to the old timer.  "Fred, you think you can show us to your place?" he asked, "Then point us to where the mine might be?"

Fred looked uncertain.  "Don't seem wise.  I just got to town with some money to spend.  A man with sense would just stay put.  Was thinkin' about gettin' a bath and then maybe a woman."  And he glanced toward Inez.

"Not going to happen," Buck said, following his gaze.  He clamped a hand on Fred's shoulder and steered him toward the door.  "Trust me.  She'll kill you."

"Aye," Fred admitted.  He nodded as they made their way out of the saloon.  "Nathan's always done me good," he declared.  "He got more sense then the rest of you.  Seems he got himself in a bit of a pickle with the Frisbys.  Weren't as if it were his fault.  I'll go."  And he hiked up his pants as he moved.

Buck opened the door and stepped out into the cold air, he was glad he'd worn his scarf.


"Did you hear that?" JD asked, twisting toward the entrance of the mine.

Ezra was pointing at something on the wall, looking annoyed, and Nathan leaned in for a close look.  "Hear what?" the southerner drawled, glancing over his shoulder at the kid.

"I don't know," JD replied.  "It was a funny sound. Did you hear it?"

"A funny sound?" Nathan repeated.

"Yeah," JD responded.

"Funny how?" Ezra asked.

"I don't know!" JD returned sharply.  "It was a weird sound.  Come on, you heard it, didn't you?"

Nathan and Ezra exchanged a look.  "Can't say I did," Nathan told him.

"Shhhh… listen!" JD said, waving his hands.  "Just be quiet a moment.  Listen to the cave."

And the three men stood in the silence of the cave as Ezra lowered the lantern from where they were scrutinizing the cave walls.

"Nothing," Ezra muttered, lifting the light again to get back to work.

"No, listen harder," JD told them.  "Listen longer.  Shhh!"

And they were quiet again, listening to nothing. And then out of nowhere, and far too close,  a low guttural growl sounded.  JD shrieked and spun, looking about in shock.  "What the…" he spouted.  It took a moment for him to take in the scene.  Nathan was puckering his lips, trying to hide a grin, and Ezra looked far too innocent.

"Hey!" JD called.  "Ezra!  That was you!"

Nathan shook his head and gave Ezra a jab to the ribs.  Ezra looked maligned.

"Come on!" JD squawked, not able to hide the alarm that had crept into his voice.  "I heard something."

"Right," Ezra uttered.

"And it wasn't you!" he snapped an angry look at Standish then turned toward the entrance.  "It came from up there."

"We want to finish our survey before it gets too late," Ezra said tiredly.  "And we've been met with nothing but disappointment.  Terrible, horrible, soul-crushing disappointment."  He shook his head, his expression full of woe.  "In all honesty, I don't see how this mine produced anything of worth.  I see no trace of gold or anything tell-taling it might be here.  I swear, this is nothing but an old underground river that the Frisbys poured their ill conceived faith into."

"But they always had gold when they came to town," Nathan recalled.  "Might be something worthwhile if we go a bit deeper."

"Perhaps," Ezra said, all enthusiasm for the chase gone.  "Maybe they just found the gold elsewhere and have been using this mine as some sort of ruse."  And he lifted a hand to his chin in thought.  "Now, how would I do that..."

"Maybe we should be goin'," Nathan added. "We have that Christmas get-together.  There might be chestnuts roasting and a Yule log blazing already."

"Yes," Ezra said.  "And Buck promised there'd be whiskey."

"And eggnog," Nathan added.

"And whiskey in eggnog," Ezra amended, and both men smiled warmly at the thought.

JD looked like he was going to puke.  "Eggs are disgusting," he commented.  "I don't know how the two of you think about drinking eggs!"

"Add enough whiskey and it goes down rather smoothly," Ezra told him.

"Better yet, leave out the egg. Just keep the nog," Nathan decided.

And the two nodded at each other and shook hands.  JD looked revolted.

And there was a sound.

All three froze as they listened in the circle of the lantern light.  It was a scraping sound – like something was being moved.  They exchanged glances.  Ezra held up a hand as if to say, 'It's not me.' 

Up at the entrance, something moved against the daylight.

And then, in the distance, a low hiss… like a fuse burning.  The shadow moved quickly and was gone.

"That's not good," Ezra muttered.

"What do we do?!" JD asked frantically.

Nathan and Ezra shouted at the same time, "Duck!"

They scrambled, and then everything went BOOM.



There was a ringing, and dust and darkness.

Nathan awoke, coughing.  His rested on his side, feeling the roughness of rock beneath him.  It took him a moment to remember the cave, and he blinked, quickly lifting his head.

He was expecting utter blackness in the depths of the mine, but a glow filled the dusty space.  He swiped at his face, feeling a layer of grit.

"Ezra?" he called. "JD?"

No response.  Damn.

The little circle of light that had marked the entrance was gone.  He sat up, letting a layer of rock fall from his back.  It was dim and close and strange in the cave.  And he felt sore and tired and strange.

"JD?  Ezra?"  Silence.  Not even a little growl.

Carefully, Nathan started moving, making his way to the source of the glow, crawling and clattering over loose rock.  He had to get the light – with it, he could find the others.

"Ezra?" he called again.  "JD?" and nothing.  Please…

Dust and a light layer of rubble covered the lamp.  Thank god the hearty little device was still intact, but the fuel cap had come loose. He grasped the tipped device to right it before all of the kerosene dribbled out.

Damn, that could be bad.  The lantern was their only light, and the last thing they needed was a fire in this place.

He shuddered a little at that thought.

He tugged, trying to free lantern, but it stayed stubbornly in place.  He frowned, and pushed more rocks aside and figured out why.

Carefully, and quickly, he pulled warm fingers from the handle of the lamp, and set the device aside.  With full light, it was easier to see Ezra just below a light layer of debris.


Nathan pushed at the rubble, quickly removing rocks and dust from the southerner's back.

"Ezra," Nathan called as he worked.  "Ezra, come on, wake up."

Ezra's face was turned toward him, only half visible.  He looked sound. There were no obvious wounds, no blood, nothing that seemed wrong.  Ezra breathed, displacing little puffs of dust.

He's okay, Nathan thought.  He's going to be okay.

"Ezra," Nathan called again. "Come on, come on, come on.  Ezra!"

Ezra's face twitched, as if he were annoyed.

And Nathan shook him gently and put a snap in his voice as he called again, "EZRA!"

Ezra mumbled something undecipherable.

"Can you open your eyes?"

"Hell," the word was softly spoken, but recognizable.


Standish blinked his one visible eye and it twisted around to up at Nathan.  It focused and seemed to recognize him. "What was that?" he whispered.

"Something blew up," Nathan told him.

"Oh…" Ezra replied.  And then, "Why?"

"Wish I knew," Nathan told him.  "I 'spect that someone didn't want us down here."

Ezra frowned.  "But why did they blast the entrance? Foolish thing to do to something of value."

Nathan had no answer to that.  "You okay?" he asked instead.  "Can you move at all? Can you sit up?  Don't try it if you don't think you can do it."

Ezra sighed and then maneuvered a hand under him.

"Careful, careful," Nathan mumbled, wrapping one arm around Ezra's torso and helping him to sit up.  The healer's gaze kept moving, watching the southerner's movements, seeing nothing really wrong – except for how Ezra held one arm and the slope of his shoulder.

Damn… not again

Ezra coughed and blinked and asked, "You're all right?"

"Fine.  Bruised and a bit sore, but nothing too bad."  Nathan fixed his gaze on Ezra.  "Your shoulder?"

"It's out again," Ezra grumbled, looking embarrassed as he rested the arm in his lap.  He seemed to realize something and turned sharply.  "JD!"  He looked about until his fear-filled gaze turned to Nathan.  "JD?" he asked again.

"I'm looking," Nathan told him.  He grabbed the lantern and held it up to further illuminate their space.  The rock was everywhere.  It was as if the entire ceiling had peeled away and fallen, covering the floor.  The rubble didn't appear to be very thick, but it was plenty.

Where are you, JD, Jackson thought.  But everything was gray and dim and the weird shadows drew out the blackness.

Come on, JD…

He spotted the hat first, and clambered over the stone to reach it.  Ezra was right beside him.  They reached the boy in moments, finding him against one side of the tunnel, covered in a gray layer of stone.

They shoved the rock away, uncovering Dunne quickly and carefully.  He looked fine – just like Ezra.  Nothing was apparently wrong with him.  Everything was going to be okay.

They called his name, shook him gently, but some things are not so simple, and the kid didn't open his eyes and he didn't answer them no matter how much they implored.


The four men left Fred at his shack, glad to be rid of him.  He'd pointed them in the direction of the Frisby mine, and sent them on their way, after another spate of half-hearted apologies for his remarks.

They brought their horses to a jog, following the shallow path.  Buck had attached sleigh bells to his saddle, and they rang merrily as they moved through the cold, which only made the situation seem stranger.

Josiah checked his saddlebags to ensure his payload of fruitcakes hadn't been lost in their quick trip to Fred's place.  He'd been intercepted on Four Corner's main street, heading from the restaurant to the saloon, his arms laden with the bounty meant for his fellow lawmen.

There's been no time to deposit the fruitcakes at the saloon and he couldn't exactly leave them unguarded.  Last year, he'd given one to every one of his good friends in town, and every loaf had disappeared almost immediately.  He'd hardly even seen anyone eating it, they consumed it so quickly.

So, after tweaking the recipe a little, he'd doubled the batch this year.  Unable to leave the this gifts behind, he'd brought the loaves along, dumping the load into his saddlebags.

He knew that his famous fruitcakes should have been treated better, but they were remarkably hearty – they could stand up to just about anything!  Last year, he'd spied one that had somehow become lost in the crush, and ended up replacing a brick in the side of the hotel.  It was too bad that the original owner never came forward to admit the loss, because he certainly would have replaced it for them.

The fruitcake had been there for months when he spotted it.   Not even the rodents or birds had damaged it.

He decided that the one good thing about bringing along the fruitcakes on the journey was that they could break into the stash if anyone wanted a snack.

So far, no one had mentioned such hunger.

After leaving Fred, they came across another of the codgers that traveled through the area.  He was on his way to visit his mother, and told the lawmen that he'd heard an explosion nearby.  He pointed – in the direction of the Frisby mine.

They lawmen quickened their pace.

They were cautious as they drew nearer.  Lusk knew the lay of the land.  He knew the best vantage points.  He would protect what was his – and their friends had ridden into the Frisby mine, not knowing this.

They had reached a narrowing in the path when the first shot rang out.  As one, the lawmen turned their horses about, finding cover and searching for the shooter.  Another shot and they'd spied him.

For tense moments, they battled with the man on the ridge, who was not going to give up quickly.  His fierceness only made the lawmen bolder.

"They're taken care of!" Lusk had shouted when asked about the whereabouts of the others.  "They ain't gonna take nothin' from me!  I got 'em good!"

"What the hell did you do to them?" Buck shouted.

"Ha!" was Lusk's response.  "They got what they deserved!  It's fitting!  Ha!  They'll die for tryin' to steal from a Frisby!"

"They didn't know you were still alive, Lusk!" Buck shouted.  "Lars gave the mine to Nathan.  They didn't know!"

"Damn Lars!  He had no right!  And those men had no right to be here!  Well, they ain't goin' anywhere no more!"

"Let them go!" Chris ordered.

And Lusk laughed, "I don't think so," and kept firing.

The four did their best to take the man alive, to capture him, to find out what had gone on – but Lusk was determined and perhaps he realized that there was no going back.  His shots were getting a little too close for comfort and they needed this to end.

When Lusk stepped clear of the rocks to take aim again, all four men fired at once.  He really didn't stand a chance.

The lawmen didn't mean to kill him, but their combined firepower was too much. Chris sighed and spat when they found the result of their work.  "Now what," he muttered.

"They're alive," Vin said.  "Seems that's what Lusk was sayin'."

"Yeah," was Bucks' reply.  "But for how long?"

They kept moving through the cold December afternoon.  Vin traced Lusk's path back to the cabin and searched it quickly for signs of their friends.  Finding nothing, they followed a path that led into the hills, then to a little corral where three nervous horses paced about.

At that point, they found what had once been the entrance to the mine – still stinking of explosives – now nothing but a pile of rubble.

"Think they're in there?" Buck had asked cautiously.

"He said it was 'fitting'," Chris responded, kicking a loose rock.  "Son of a bitch."

So they started work on excavation.  The only hope was that it wouldn't take long – that they would reach their friends before it was too late – that Nathan, JD and Ezra hadn't been caught up in the collapse.

Hell of a Christmas.


Nathan stumbled back toward where he'd left Ezra and JD, carefully keeping the lantern from hitting the rough rock beneath him.

It felt lonely and close in that blackness.  It was too damn quiet! He moved quickly, wanting to be back with the others.  He'd feel better with them.

"Ezra?" he called into the blackness.

"Still here," the voice came at him, closer than he expected.

"Just checking," Nathan replied, and suddenly, the halo of light showed him something other than rock and dust and debris as the fringes caught his friends, exactly where he'd left them.

Ezra sat beside JD.  He leaned against the rocky wall of the mine, in his shirtsleeves – a scarf bound his arm in place to keep his shifting shoulder in place.

Nathan had come to hate that persnickety shoulder.  He hated it because it was harder to get back into place each time Ezra managed to dislocate it.  This was the third time.  The first had been a snap, because he'd taken the southerner by surprise – but the next time, Ezra had been ready for him, and tensed unintentionally, which made it harder and more painful to fix.

This was the worst yet.  Ezra had barked in pain as Nathan tried forced the joint.  He'd cursed explosively as Nathan manipulated it, taking forever to get it in the right place.  He'd clenched his free hand as if trying to keep from punching Nathan for his troubles.  When the deed was finally done, Ezra was left pale and sweating and breathing hard.

Since then he had been rather quiet.  When Nathan left to investigate the entrance, he'd left Ezra in charge of JD.  And now that he was back, Nathan could see no change in the lad.

"He wake up at all?" Nathan asked.

Ezra had his free hand on JD, his means of checking for movement when the light was gone.  He shook his head.  "No," he muttered.  "He hasn't moved a muscle."

Nathan sighed and sidled up next to the kid to check on him.  Dunne was wrapped in all the spare clothing that they had on them, cocooned against the gentle chill of the cave, looking pale and utterly quiet.

As he leaned over Dunne, checking his breathing and looking again for any sign of head injury, Ezra said in a low voice, "I take it there's no exit."

"It doesn't look good," Nathan replied, not wanting to lift his head to meet Ezra's eyes.

"Does it look as if we'll be able to move the obstruction?" Ezra asked.

Nathan kept his gaze on JD.  "I don't see any other way.  It's a hell of a lot of rock there. I think it goes on for a long way and it's gonna take some time and a lot of work to get it out of the way.  Leave it!"  He knew without looking, that Ezra was already working on undoing his sling.

"I will be of more use if I can use both hands."

"Leave it for now," Nathan amended.  "We'll deal with that later."

Ezra stopped his fiddling.  "Is he going to be okay?" he asked quietly.

"I don't know," Nathan said and sighed.  He sat back on his haunches and finally looked at Ezra. "He should have woken up by now."

"Not good," Ezra said.  "So we're trapped and JD is grievously injured and I am of little use to anyone."

"We'll work it out," Nathan said, trying to sound hopeful.  "The others know where we've gone.  They'll come once they figure out there's a problem."

"The mine is hidden, long sought by those in town.  We only found this place due to directions given to you by Mr. Frisby."

Nathan contemplated this.  "They ain't stupid," he decided.  "They'll figure out how to find it – one way or another.   They have Vin…"

He was about to say something else, to try to convince Ezra of this fact, when the gambler said, "I have no doubts.  Still, they won't know we're late until nightfall and by then it will be too late to come lookin'," Ezra reasoned.  "They won't be here until morning at the earliest."

His jacket was on the top of the pile of clothing that covered JD – a sprig of holly decorated the lapel.   "So we'll be spendin' our Christmas here," Ezra stated.

"Seems that way," Nathan stated. "Unless there's some sort of miracle."

Nathan blinked.  Something had changed in the quality of light around them.  He frowned and gazed at the lantern.  It was sputtering.  The light that had guided them all this time was dimming.

"What the…" Nathan started.

And suddenly the light went out.

"Hell," Ezra sighed.


They sat in the darkness, a deep blackness where the dying glow of the lantern's wick seemed bright, and even that petered out in a few moments, leaving them in utter blackness.

"This…." Ezra started in the dark.  He paused and began again, "This is…. Fantastic.  Probably my best Christmas ever."


"We are currently trapped in a hole, with no light, no food, no water, no comfort, We will slowly freeze or starve or die for want of drink.  Mr. Dunne is insensible.  And me without the full use of one arm, I'm utterly useless.”


"To think of all the places we might be right now.  We could be in San Francisco or New Orleans," Ezra's voice remained remarkably calm, but Nathan could hear an edge to it.  "Or Boston or Atlanta or even Nashville.  Not Iowa though.  God help me if I ever end up in Iowa.  Even bein' back in Four Corners sounds magnificent at the moment."


"I'd even be glad to be samplin' some of Josiah's fruitcake at the moment.  Might not be too bad this year.  I hear he adjusted the recipe somewhat. God, keep him from the kitchens next year.  There ought to be a law.  We're lawmen, aren't we?  What good are we if we cannot enforce laws that save the citizenship of our fair town from that sort of torture."


"I would suspect that Buck will be preparing for his little soirée soon.  Perhaps they'll be discoverin' that we have not yet returned to partake in the party.  It might have been enjoyable.  Instead we're here, stuck underground in this detestable hole, in the dark, the utter darkness."

"Matches?" Nathan asked.

"Trapped!  Entombed forever!"

"Ezra, do you still have the matches?"

There was a pause, and then Nathan could hear Ezra fumbling around, trying to find his jacket's pockets on JD. In the total blackness the sounds seemed more intense, and Nathan could hear Ezra's hand along the cloth, fitting into one pocket, and then another, then the whisk of the box of lucifers being pulled free.

"What good will the matches do?" Ezra asked.  They clattered a little in their box as he moved it. "They'll last only a moment.  I have a limited supply, and honestly, is there anything here that you would want to see for a few moments?  I'm usually a pleasant vision for anyone, but I'm a bit rumbled at the moment."

Nathan released a breath.  "We could move toward the entrance and start work on moving the rock.  We'll probably have to do most of it blindly, but we could use the matches to find our way there.  It's better than sitting here and doing nothing."

"Someone needs to be with JD."  Nathan could hear Ezra moving the jacket, maybe trying to adjust it on JD.  "We wouldn't do much good at the excavation anyway, and the others will come – eventually."  He drew the last word out, putting an inordinate amount of melancholy into the pronunciation.

"It wouldn't hurt to help from our side," Nathan pointed out.  "We can carry JD closer to the entrance.  He's gonna have to move there anyway, eventually," Nathan told him.

And Ezra said, "Oh," and there was the quiet sound of the jacket being adjusted again.  "Do you believe he'll be all right?"

Nathan reached out in the darkness and found JD's head.  Hands felt through hair, and Nathan, for a moment, wished the kid would wash more often.  He could find the rise of a bump on one side of JD's head, but still no moistness.  He could smell no blood, even when he brought the hand to his face.

And again, he told himself he would introduce JD to hair soap when they got home – for they would certainly return to Four Corners, and JD would wake -- and wash his hair.

Dunne's forehead didn't feel uncommonly warm.  It was, if anything, a little cool.  Jackson brought the hand to his own face to test the temperature, and he decided it was only the coolness of the cave.

He hadn't realized that he'd been working in silence until Ezra asked quietly, "How is he?"

"Seems to be okay," Nathan said.  "A rap on the head is a tricky thing though."  He tried calling the kid's name, shaking him gently.

But JD remained silent.

Nathan ran his hand near JD's eyes, wanting to feel the flutter of eyelashes against his palm, but the boy didn't move.

"We should try getting him closer to the entrance," Nathan stated.  "Even if it means using up all our matches to do so."

Ezra sighed.  "I'm sorry, Nathan.  I have no idea why the lantern ran out so quickly.  I'd filled it before we left. There should have been plenty of fuel.  Enough to last for hours."

"It tipped," Nathan explained.  "Some of the fuel ran out while you were… out."


And then silence again – so much silence.

"Where do you think the fuel went?"

Nathan frowned at the question.  "Down," he replied.

"Do you think you could find the spot?  Perhaps there's some fuel pooled in the rocks.  We might be able to collect it."

It was better than nothing.  Nathan started moving toward where he'd found Ezra, finding it strange to be moving about when it was so completely dark.  A hand touched him, finding him, and then grasped his sleeve.

"Put out your hand."

He did, following the arm that grasped his.  Nathan felt the box of matches pressed into his hand.

He opened the box and fingered the contents.  There was a small collection of matches within.  He counted at least ten.  He drew one out and felt the box until he was certain of the striking plate's location, and then he stuck the match against it.

The light was blinding.  He squinted to narrow slits for a moment as the tiny candle's brightness filled the room.  He smiled as he glanced across at Ezra, who squinted back at him.  Standish had his hand on JD again, to keep contact with the kid.

Nathan pocketed the box and started crawling toward the area where he'd uncovered Ezra, to where the lantern had tipped.

"Well?" Ezra asked when Jackson reached the spot.

"I can't see anything wet," Nathan told him, holding the lit match over the area.  He could smell the kerosene even if he couldn't see any.  He moved a rock, and then another.  "Might have gone down deep.  Might have gotten soaked up.  There's wood debris down there.  Hey, maybe we can light a piece of wood.  It'd burn for a while and…OW!" he yipped as the flame reached his finger and he flicked out the light.  "Damn it!"

From the dark, Ezra said, "You might as well try another match.  See if you can get the wood to burn."

Nathan nodded and felt his hand into the rocks to draw out the chunk of wood.  It wasn't much longer than a tent stake, but if it burned well, it could be a torch that might last a while.

 He pulled out another match and lit it.  Again, the light flared, seeming weirdly bright in their dark world,.  He held it under the wood and the flame greedily licked at it, catching almost instantly.  The fire ran the length of the, nearly reaching his fingers.  Before he burned too, Nathan jammed the stake into a crack between two rocks.  They had light again.  Thank God.

Nathan moved toward the others and squatted beside JD as he watched the little fire.  Neither man said anything as wisps of smoke went up, as the soaked wood burned.

"How long do you think it'll last?" Nathan finally asked.

"Not long enough," was Ezra's reply.

"We should be able to figure out a way to carry it with us," Nathan said, unsure about how it would be done.  The fire was totally consuming the stake.  "Maybe if we rested it on a rock, you could carry it and I'll handle JD."

Ezra nodded, and started moving about, looking for something that they could use to cradle the torch.

Nathan took advantage of the moment to check JD again.  It seemed as if his head had moved to the side, but he otherwise was unchanged.  A light slap to the face did little, but Nathan perceived slight changes in the kid's expression as if were moving closer to consciousness.

They needed to get JD out of here, but clearing that entrance would take days.

And, as Ezra had pointed out, they had neither food nor water.  The three of them could last a few days here, but it wouldn't be pleasant.  They all needed to get out of this place – the sooner the better.

"Nathan," Ezra called him.


"Why would you suppose the smoke would move in that direction?" Ezra asked.

Nathan looked to the smoke that trailed up from the stake.  It rose from the floor and drifted, heading to a spot a little deeper in the mine, up toward the ceiling.

Puzzling at the movement, Nathan got to his feet and followed the path, until he was standing directly under the spot where the smoke curled -- up – up above their heads.

He narrowed his eyes, pondering, wondering if it was just his imagination, or if the darkness didn't seem quite so dark in that corner.

"Ezra," Nathan called.  "You think you can give me a hand?" he asked.


In the cold Christmas air, Chris, Vin, Josiah and Buck labored, doing their best to move a wall of rock, trying to shift it free of the mine's entrance.

At first, they'd been optimistic, thinking the rock-fall only encompassed the very front of the mine, but the longer they worked, the more obvious it became – this was not a small cave-in.

They'd considered sending someone back to Fred's cabin – to send Fred back to the town for help, but chances were that the old man had already returned to that place, to try his luck with Inez and  – if he survived – any other woman who would have him.

Night was on the way.  Even if one of them were able to return to town in daylight, there wouldn't be time to raise a work-party and return to the mine.  And who would want to leave their cozy homes on Christmas Eve to labor in the dark of a mine?

In any case, none of the lawmen wanted to go.  They kept working, the four of them, working to free their friends.

They called out as rocks were shifted, as they found open pockets.  Their spirits rose, only to be dashed as they found another wall of rock just beyond it.

Chris growled and grumbled and wouldn't stop.  Josiah was a workhorse, shifting massive stones as if they were nothing.  Vin kept the way clear of debris, allowing a space for them to bring out their friends when the time came.

They weren’t looking for bodies – not yet anyway.

And Buck did whatever he could as he worked.  He called out the three names, waiting for a response, even if it meant shouting down Chris and Josiah to get them to stop for a moment.  "JD!" he called.  "Nathan! Ezra! JD!"

They'd dig further into the hillside, and then, "JD!  JD!  Nathan!  Ezra!"

And nothing.

"Ezra!  You guys in there?  Come on!  JD!  Nathan!  JD!  Answer if you can!  Can you make a sound?"

And they'd continue excavating.  And Buck would fret and worry, and wish that just for once, they could have a Christmas where nothing horrible happened.  Just once, he thought, can't I have one without disaster?

"JD?  Ezra!  Nathan!"

And it was getting darker as the winter sun sank closer to the horizon.

"JD!  I know you're in there!  Answer me!  Ezra! Stop trying to figure out how to get all the gold and speak up!  Nathan!  Nathan!"

Then finally, someone called out, "Buck!"

Buck turned his gaze on the others to see if they’d heard as well.  Vin and Chris and Josiah had all frozen in their places, listening, trying to convince themselves that they weren’t hearing things.

"Can you hear me?"  

And suddenly they all turned, clattering around on the rocks as they tried to figure out where the voice had come from and Buck shushed them, flailing his arms about madly.  "Yeah!  Nathan?"


The call came from outside the cave.  Frantic with hope, Buck climbed out of the hole with the others right behind him.

And again, "Buck!  I'm here!"  The call was coming from above. They climbed up and out.  "Over here!"

And they kept moving along the top of the ridge, searching.  And Wilmington turned his head.  A wide grin split his face and he finally caught sight of their healer… his head sticking out from a hole in the ground, and one arm waving.

Vin let out a whoop of joy, and Josiah clamped a hand on Buck's shoulder.  Chris sighed.

"Nathan! It's damn good to see you," Buck called joyfully, and they ran the final distance.

Buck dropped to his knees when he reached Nathan, finding him peering up from an opening in the ground.  Grass had been peeled back where he'd forced his way up.  "Looks like you got yourself in a fix," Wilmington commented.

"Getting myself out of a fix, you mean," Nathan revised.

"Lemmie give you a hand."

"I'm sure Ezra would appreciate that," Nathan told him.  "I'm kind of standing on him."

"Please!" a muffled voice called from below.  "Get him off!"

Buck wrapped an arm around Nathan's head and Josiah got a grip on his arm.  The others moved in to help and they yanked Nathan out, displacing more grass and earth as the hole widened.

"Not unlike birthing a foal," Chris would comment later.

They had to step quickly as Nathan came clear as some of the ground gave way under them, further opening the hole.  Ezra shouted in alarm from below.

"Hey, Ezra!" Buck called down through the enlarged hole.  "Merry Christmas!"

Standish stood beneath them, squinting and brushing at the dirt that had rained down on him.  "And a Merry Christmas to you, Mr. Wilmington.  Thank God you arrived when you did, otherwise I don't know how I would have stood Nathan's weight, what with my shoulder and all."

"You knock it out of joint again, Ezra?" Vin asked, peering down at him as well.  "What are you made out of, paper and spit?"

Ezra glared and adjusted his sling.  "Having Nathan's prodigious weight on me definitely did not help the matter!"  

Nathan shook his head and shouldered in between Buck and Vin to look down.  "I only used you as a step," he reminded.  "I had most my weight on that rock and you know it."

Buck glanced about in the narrow space revealed below them.  "JD?" he asked.

Ezra turned from them, and looked deeper into the cave.  "He…" he stopped talking, cocking his head.

Nathan came to attention. "Ezra?  What is it?"

Ezra lifted a hand to silence them, listening to the cave.  "Ha!" he cried and looked up to Nathan, grinning widely.  "He growled," he declared and disappeared from beneath them.

Nathan slapped Buck on the back, smiling broadly.  "Get a lantern... and a rope," he stated and was sitting at the edge of the hole in a moment and swinging his legs back into the enlarged hole they'd just extracted him from.  He dropped down and followed Ezra.


It was dark by the time they'd extracted JD from the cave. He was tired sore, with a screaming headache, but he was awake and seemed to have his wits about him.

The three were bruised and beaten, and all of them were too sore, too worn out and cold to go much further, so the little band made their way back to their horses, and then down the trail to the Frisby cabin.  It would have to do for the night.

Buck and the others related what had happened with Lusk, and Nathan became glum at the idea that the poor man had died because of their actions.

"Was more Lars' fault than anything.  He's the one that gave you the place," Vin soothed.  "And Lusk could have said somethin’ instead of waiting until you were deep in the cave and trap you in.  He wouldn't listen when we tried to talk to him.  It was a shame in any case."

The Frisby cabin proved to be remarkably well-tended.  The brothers might not have cared much for their own health, but they took care of their property. It was a small place, with a stove, a stocked larder and just enough room for seven men to bed down for the night.

JD was settled in one of the brothers' beds, and the other was quickly claimed by Ezra.  "Sore shoulder and all," he muttered, after doing a thorough check for bed bugs.  The others let him have it.  It was Christmas after all.

Their Yule log came from the stack of firewood.  And they raided the Frisbys stores for dinner, finding plenty to fill them.  Dessert was Josiah’s fruitcakes.  Thankfully, Buck had brought a bottle of whiskey that they quickly retrieved from Clyde’s saddlebags – and the fruitcake went down rather smoothly.

JD groused, wanting milk, or even eggnog, but he had to settle for water from the Frisby well as Nathan worried about his concussion.

The night wore on, and JD's headache lessened with help from Nathan's remedies.  The bottle was passed until it was empty, and they were all warm and full of fruitcake, which proved to be not at all as bad as Josiah's last attempt.  In fact, it was quickly declared the best fruitcake that any of them had ever eaten, and Josiah smiled proudly.  It was, at least, edible.

Eventually, the floor of the cabin had to be cleared so that they could set out their bedrolls, and Buck moved a box.

"Lookie here," Buck muttered when he dislodged the lid and peered within.

Nathan moved from where he'd been seated beside JD's bed to check it out.  It was an old explosives container, about as big as a loaf of bread – and at the bottom of it, things rolled about.

Hearing the clatter, Ezra sprang to his feet and joined them, his expression alight.  He tried to snatch the box with his one good hand. 

Buck was faster, and pulled it away. "Uh-uh-uh!" he chastised.  "I believe this belongs to Nathan."  And he brought it around so that the healer could have an unhindered view.

Within the box something winked in the low light of the stove and the lamps.  Nathan tipped the box to get a better view and Ezra peered around him.

When he realized what was contained within it, Ezra broke away, pacing and looking like a bantam rooster ready for a fight.  "That did NOT come from this mine!" he gestured emphatically with one hand.  "I tell you, that mine is as empty as my purse right now."

"Do you think this is really gold?" Nathan asked.

"It is not possible," Ezra went on.  "The mine is a pit.  It isn't even really a mine.  Most likely it is a cave they unearthed."

Not a lot of it.  Just a handful of nuggets, but it certainly looked like gold – the same sort of nuggets that the Frisbys always brought to town.

Ezra fretted about as if he was unable to figure out what to do with himself.  "They probably stole it.  Someone should return the spoils to the proper authorities, and since I am a lawman and well versed in how to handle such goods, the task should fall to me."

Nathan looked over the box and smiled at Ezra.  "No," he replied.  "I can take care of it until we figure out what to do with it."  He frowned a little.  "And you're right.  If this doesn’t belong to the Frisbys, then we need to find out who this really belongs to and return it to them."

Ezra stopped moving then.  "Wait wait wait," he responded.  "Not so fast.  Obviously, the Frisbys have had this cache for some time, and any original ownership is long ago forsaken, so there is no need to return it to anyone.  And it very well could have come from the mine, or perhaps some other venture of theirs, so there will be no one to lay claim.  I say we keep this to ourselves. Split it evenly, maybe?"  Ezra glanced about at each of the men, smiling winningly.

JD sat up a little in his bed.  "I think it might be the Gillespie gold," he said.  When the others turned to him, he told them, "I read up on it a while back.  Bertram Gillespie had a claim on a creek a few miles from here.  He come to town years ago, sayin' that someone stole his stash."

"Why do you think it’s Gillespie's?" Chris asked, and Ezra's expression fell.  He looked lost.

JD told them, "From what I read, he blamed the Frisbys, but no one listened.  They said the brothers had no reason to steal from Gillespie since they had their mine and everything."

"It’d explain why Lusk blew up the entrance to the mine," Nathan stated.  "If the mine was useless, he needed to hide the evidence."

"And where would we find …" and Ezra swallowed as if it pained him to say it, "… Mr. Gillespie?"

"Oh, he's gone," JD told them.  "He was as old as the hills.  This happened years and years ago.  I don't think he had any relatives to speak of."

"I say it's Nate's," Buck stated.  "Lars gave him the mine.  He may as well have given him the gold, too."

"I'll hang onto it," Nathan promised.  "See if anyone comes forward to lay claim."  And then he smiled a little, looking toward Ezra.  "And if nothing comes of it… we split it?"  He looked amongst the others.  "I think we all did our share to get this today."

Ezra grinned widely and came to stand beside Nathan.  "Wise choice.  Now, if you let me take stock.  I can give you an idea of how much we will gain in this fine Christmas gift."

And Nathan handed Ezra the box.   The conman nearly beamed as he brought it over to the little lamp on the table to assay what had been found.

Chris gave Nathan a wondering look, and the healer just returned the gaze with a knowing one as he came to sit beside Ezra and watch him work.

Buck moved alongside JD who was grinning at the goings-on.  

Vin leaned against one wall and looked quite pleased with himself as he chewed off another chunk of fruitcake.  "What do you figure we can get with our part of the gold?" Vin asked, glancing to the others as he smiled through the candied fruit.

"Mr. Tanner!" Ezra said happily, "Oh, let me tell you all about it."

Josiah clapped his hands together and guffawed.  "Looks like it's going to be a Merry Christmas for us, at least," he declared.

And apparently, it was.


Hope you enjoyed the story. comments and suggestions

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