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, TNN, The Hallmark Channel, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended.
NOTE: August 2003 Challenge, offered by Tipper:   Take any myth or legend, whether it be Greek, Norse, Native American, Chinese or even a modern one, like an urban legend, and retell the story with our boys. Have them live it.  BONUS –  If you can have Ezra say this line in your story, you win a gold star!  "Let me at him, pop, I can take him!" 
SUMMARY:  Ezra and JD are given the task of guarding a precious item.  Mayhem ensues.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Based on the The Welsh fable "Bedd Gelert" -- more info to be found at the end of this story.
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments  are greatly appreciated.
DATE: August 25, 2003

The Shield of Gelert
By NotTasha... shielding myself from all sorts of things

Part 1:

“An insult!” Lou Wellyn, shouted.  “A slap in the face!  I ask for assistance from Judge Travis and this is the response I receive -- a wet-behind-ear boy and a common thief?”

“Now, wait a minute!”  JD shot back.  “I ain’t no boy!  I ain’t no greenhorn, either.”  He glanced to Ezra, expecting denials from the conman as well, but Ezra gave him a confused look and mouthed, ‘common?’   Dunne continued,  “And he ain’t no thief!”, since Ezra seemed more amused then offended by the remark.

Wellyn fumed.  “I asked for experienced guards!  I can’t leave the Shield of Gelert unprotected until the Pinkerton’s arrive.  There’ve been threats!”

“We’re here to do that job,” JD insisted.

Lou shook his head sharply.  “I can’t see it!”  He glared at the pair contemptuously.  “Judge Travis must have it in for me – sending me the dregs when I asked for the best.”

“Now, wait a minute,” JD said with a scowl.  “He and me, neither of us is a dreg.”  Dunne hoped he’d understood the meaning of the word and glanced to Ezra for confirmation.  Ezra simply raised an eyebrow.

“I heard good things about the lawmen from Four Corners,” Wellyn continued, oblivious to anything JD said.  “In Sweethaven, we aspire to a better class of lawman.”

“We ARE lawmen, and do a mighty fine job, and it ain’t right that you say that, and you’re just full of …”

“Let me assure you,” Ezra drawled, interrupting JD as he started to sputter.  “We’re well aware of your predicament.  The Honorable Judge Travis…” Ezra spoke the title with too much deference.  “…has informed us that your former partner has threatened you regarding this relic.  Mr. Peter Dobley has spoken publicly on his intent to exercise the item from your care.”

“He’s a hot-headed fool!”  Wellyn continued.  “The shield is a family heirloom and he has no right to take it. He’s the reason the business failed!  He doesn’t deserve anything.”

“Perhaps…” Ezra said, and paused.  “Perhaps you might show us to this gewgaw and let us decide on how best to protect it?”

Wellyn grimaced and turned sharply.  JD threw Ezra a vivid glance and the gambler shrugged.  There wasn’t much to be done about the man’s attitude.  When the request for guards came in, they were the only two available to take the job.  Buck and Vin were out of town, Josiah and Nathan needed to stay near Four Corners due to other duties, and Larabee had flat-out refused.  It left Dunne and Standish to do the dirty work.  With a small smile, Ezra realized that Wellyn was right – he had ended up with the remainder instead of having first choice.  After glancing toward the earnest and energetic sheriff, Ezra amended that thought with the realization that only half of this pair could be referred to as ‘dregs’.

The two followed Wellyn through the house.  The building stood on the best street in Sweethaven and displayed the obvious wealth of its owner.  Wellyn and his partner, Peter Dobley, had run a jewelry shop for a decade on Main Street, but the business had sputtered and finally had gone belly up.  All capital was sold off.   An auction disposed of most of the rings and pendants, cuff links and watches; high-ticket items made their way east where the markets were better.   Display cases and ring racks went as well.  The shop emptied, leaving only a few unwanted key chains, watch fobs and other trinkets.

It all went rather smoothly, and coolly, until Dobley asked about the “Shield of Gelert”.  The piece had long graced their main display case and everyone associated the familiar piece with ‘Wellyn and Dobley -- Jewelers’. Dobley had insisted that they sell the piece with the rest of the capital; it had been a symbol of the company and obviously was part of the store.  Wellyn reacted by declaring that the piece had once belonged to an uncle.  He contended that he had loaned the valuable piece to the business and had always intended on keeping it ‘in the family’.   They brought the matter to the courts and Travis sided with Wellyn.   Lou thought the issue had been closed -- until these threats from Dobley were made.

Fearing for the safety of the heirloom, Wellyn had decided to send it to a museum back east.  He found a prestigious-enough location that was happy to take it – willing to place a large sign beside the display to properly accredit it to Mr. Lou Wellyn of Sweethaven.  Everything was set.  Wellyn only needed to wait until the Pinkerton detectives arrived the next day to escort it.  In the meantime, someone needed to keep it safe from the hands of Dobley.  Travis, somewhat grudgingly, promised to send two men.

 Wellyn pulled a key from his pocket.  He had seen plenty of gamblers in his day and knew what to expect from the man in the red coat.   “I asked for help and he sends me someone who’ll rob me blind.”  Wellyn fit the key into the door, turning the lock and opening the room.  JD glanced to Ezra, and caught only an amused expression.

Ezra and JD followed the former-jeweler into the small room.  The ‘shield’ was impossible to miss.  It took a place of honor on the bookshelf, sitting among the weighty and expensive looking (but unread) tomes.  A glass case surrounded it, padlocked.  The two lawmen approached the case and looked within.

“Wow,” JD exhaled, looking upon the small shield, which really looked more like a gaudy bread plate, mounted on a heavy gold chain.  JD gazed at the image of a dog at the center.  It started back at him with woeful and judgmental eyes.

Ezra brought his hand to his face, touching the side of his nose with one finger and resting his thumb against his chin.  His eyes darted as he quickly calculated.  A layer of gold covered the shield, and gems encrusted it.  A ring of sapphires and emeralds, interspersed with opals and lesser stones, surrounded the inner image and a collar of diamonds shone at the greyhound’s neck.  Engraved around the rim were the words: “Never Hasty” and “Faithful.”

Wellyn strode up beside the men and nodded as they gazed upon his prize.  “That’s my family motto,” he declared.  “We adopted it for the business, too.”

“Never hasty?” Ezra read, a note of derision in his voice.  “Hardly seems a fitting guiding principle for a businessman.  One would think that those fleet of foot would have the best chance of gaining a sale.”

Wellyn harrumphed.  “Hardly,” he said, raising his nose at the offense.  “In my business we took time to satisfy one customer at a time, never rushing anything.  People realized that they’d have to wait to get what they wanted.  It was expected.

“Yes,” Ezra commented, wondering about the connection between the sorrowful greyhound and the slow speed expounded by the owner.  “And that is why your establishment thrived?”

Wellyn made an ugly sound.  “It was Dobley’s fault that the business failed!  The man had no head for numbers!  He ruined me.”  He made a gesture to the room, taking in the rest of the house.  “And, as you can see, I continue to prosper.  I hire the right people in my new business.”  He gave them a haughty look and turned sharply. “I am expecting guests shortly.  We’re celebrating the departure of this cherished article.  You are to remain here and protect it.”  He glanced to both of them in turn.  “If anything happens to it, I’ll see you hung!”  JD opened and closed his mouth and Ezra sighed, shaking his head as if it were all a joke.  After receiving several more instructions on how they were to comport themselves during the soirée, Wellyn left them alone in the study.

“Well,” JD said as he leaned against one of the winged-back chairs.  “Seems we got a busy night ahead of us.”

“Hardly,” Ezra said.  He sat on the edge of the desk and uttered, “I foresee an dreadfully dull evening, interrupted by prying guests and further accusations by Mr. Wellyn.”

“Aw, he didn’t mean anything,” JD said unconvincingly.

“He certainly has misjudged you.  But, regarding me….” Ezra gave him a tight smile.  “…he is simply being wise.  But, worry not, Mr. Dunne.  I’ve heard it all before.”  He brushed at his jacket and commented, “There are certain responses to be expected when one wears this attire.”

“Yeah, but just b’cause you’re a gambler don’t mean you’re a thief,” JD commented.  “They ain’t the same thing.”

Ezra shrugged.  “To many, they are.”

“Well, I don’t think that way.  I think you’re a good man, Ezra.”

Ezra’s smile changed, looking less forced.  “Well,” he drawled, “The way some opponents play at the poker table… I might as well be committing highway robbery.  They simply hand over the money.”

“Their own fault if you ask me,” JD returned. His gazed roved over the room, looking for something of interest to catch him amid all the dull-looking books.  Everything looked too rich and delicate – not meant for anyone to touch.  The room made him uncomfortable.  “Seems like a pretty big fuss over a piece of jewelry.”

“An ‘impressive’ piece,” Ezra included.

“Aw, what can ya do with something like that?  It’s too big to use for anythin’.  I can’t see no one wearin’ it ‘round their neck.  They’d break their collarbone or somethin’.”

Ezra laughed and nodded.  “Quite true, Mr. Dunne.  I can’t imagine what a soul could wear to ‘complement’ the piece.  Velvet maybe,” he considered and furrowed his brow in thought.

“And look at the trouble he’s got to go through.” JD gestured toward the locked-up shield.  “He’s gotta send it away to keep it safe.  Don’t seem right.  What’s the point of havin’ somethin’ if you can’t put your hand to it?”

Wistfully, Ezra stated, “Sometimes the only thing a person can do is send something away.”   He brushed at his jacket again, becoming fascinated with a supposed spot near his elbow.  “It makes sense.  A person cannot be encumbered.”

“Still, it seems… weird,” JD stated.  “I mean, what would you do if you had something like that?”

Ezra laughed.  “Sell it!  Of course, if I’d relieved it from Mr. Wellyn’s care, I’d have to immediately dismantle the piece.  I couldn’t be caught with that unique creation, now could I?  Besides, the gems, sold separately, would gain a much better price than the item in one piece.  Now,” he paused and rested his head on his hand, “How would I get away with it?”

“Aw, Ezra,” JD said with a grin.  “You wouldn’t do that.”

Ezra raised an eyebrow at the young sheriff.  “Try me,” he stated dryly and then sighed.  “Remind me, Mr. Dunne, next time such an opportunity as this comes up, I’m to find something terribly important to do -- not healing or ministering to the poor, that’s already been covered -- but something equally compelling that will force Mr. Larabee to let me stay put.”

“The ‘important card game’ didn’t do it, huh?” JD asked with a smirk.

Ezra grumbled.  “Why one man’s occupation deserves more deference than another’s is beyond me!”

“Hey, Ez, maybe it’s not so bad here,” JD said with a shrug.  “Better than some of the other duty we’ve drawn.  I mean, we’re not stuck out in the rain or the cold.  We’re not guarding any obnoxious prisoners.  Long as we don’t have to put up with Mr. Wellyn, we can just relax here.”

“Let’s hope so,” Ezra muttered.  “With any luck, they’ll let us be and we can pass the evening uninterrupted.”

They weren’t alone for long.  As the guests arrived at the party, Wellyn escorted them, singly or pairs, to the austere study so that they could gaze one last time on the Shield of Gelert.  Wellyn chest swelled with pride as his guests ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the jeweled plate.  He nodded at his guards from time to time, but spoke not one word to them.  Ezra and JD played their parts.  They stood on either side of the shelf, ready to attack any rancher’s wife or shopkeeper who stood too closely to the heirloom.  The guests came from all over the area, mostly former clients -- coming to the biggest event of the season.  More than one of the guests gave the guards an appraising and unsatisfied look.  

Finally, after an hour of coming and going, the showing ended.  Ezra and JD had the study to themselves while the party continued in the next room.  Voices, laughter and constant scuffling of feet, made a din that carried to them; otherwise, they might have been alone. Ezra spent much of his time rooting through the library.  JD sat at the desk and chatted with the gambler while he fiddled with the desk set.  He checked out the inkwells and the pens, rolled the blotter back and forth, and then picked up the letter opener as he talked to Ezra about this and that.  The conman answered him congenially and then raised an eyebrow when Dunne held the letter opener above the carpet.

“About to partake in a game of mumblety-peg?” the gambler asked, regarding JD’s stance.

“Aw,” JD replied, “Just thinkin’ of it.  Sure is weighted nice.  Funny that it’s just meant for opening letters.”  He flipped it easily, catching the gold-plated handle.  “He must get some pretty dangerous mail if he’s goin’ after it with  knife like this.”

“He went through a bankruptcy.  Don’t doubt it,” Ezra drawled as he pulled down another book, cracking it open carefully.  “To purchase such a device would costs more than you make in a year.”

JD chuckled.  The door suddenly rattled and the letter opener dropped to the floor before JD could catch it.  He gave it a quick kick under the desk as Wellyn shoved his red face within again.  He glared at the two as JD leapt to his feet and Ezra hid the book behind his back.  Both of them looked alert as they stared back at the host.  The man gave a satisfied little grunt as he withdrew his head and closed the door.

“Ass,” Ezra muttered as he brought the book back into view.  “Ignoramus.  Bellicose dimwit.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was about to say,” JD responded as he bent down and tried to find the letter opener.  It was dark under the desk, and he wasn’t able to locate it immediately. He considered getting down on his hands and knees to retrieve it, but figured he didn’t need to do Wellyn any favors.   Instead, grinning to himself, he rearranged the other tools on the desk and decided to forget about it.

The time passed slowly.  Night fell.  Someone in the other room played a piano and voices joined in.  JD kept his eyes on the window, while Ezra hovered near the door -- as if someone might come bursting in, threatening to steal the bejeweled knickknack.  Wellyn’s occasional appearances were the only thing that interrupted them.

Hours passed.  JD screwed up his face when the un-disguisable sound of his rumbling belly filled the small room.  He glanced to Ezra, hoping that the southerner hadn’t heard, but the gambler grinned as he flipped a page on the latest book he’d procured.  “Mr. Dunne,” he said softly.  “I believe you might be able to slip out for a few moments.  Perhaps you could fill a plate or two from the table and ensure that we don’t starve during our tenure.”

“Think it will be okay?” the young sheriff asked as he sat forward.

“Certainly he doesn’t expect us to fast,” Ezra assured.

“But we’re supposed to stay put.  If he sees me at the table…”

“Then try the kitchen.  I’m certain you can find something for us there.  He made his most recent visit only moments ago and isn’t due for another…” Ezra flipped his pocket watch out of his vest, regarded it for a moment, snapped the cover back in place and returned it to his pocket.  “ … fifteen minutes.  Run along now.  I will be vigilant enough for both of us.”  And the gambler set the book down on the side table near the door.

“I’ll be right back,” Dunne assured.

“Take your time,” Ezra responded as he took up a position near the window.

Dunne crept to the door, eased it open a crack, and gazed out.  The hallway was clear. Carefully, he slipped through and shut the door silently behind him.  The house was loud with voices. The piano continued, and a woman was singing a solo.  JD paused to listen, and winced when she hit a sour note.   The song ended and everyone applauded.  The young sheriff turned and made his way toward the back of the house.

He stepped down into the kitchen, smiling at the scene that greeted him.  Two maids relaxed in the room.  Finished with the heavy work, they chatted cheerfully – waiting until they needed to bring out a fresh tray of food. Wellyn hadn’t supplied a full meal, but had provided tidbits for his guest to eat -- and of course enough liquor to make it a true event.  One of the young ladies looked up at Dunne’s arrival and smiled at him. “Hey now,” she said softly.  She was pretty, with dark hair and eyes.  A flush caught her cheeks -- warm from work and the wood stove.  “Mr. Wellyn let you free?” Her little laughter took off any edge that the comment might have held.

She introduced herself as ‘Doris’ and was sweet to him, filling two plates with choice eats.  She asked him questions about his work and his life in Four Corners.  JD answered easily, enjoying the attention, but blushing when she stood close to him.  He had to remind himself of Casey and how pretty young Miss Wells was when she smiled.

Finally, realizing that he had spent long enough in the kitchen, he begged his goodbye and scooted back toward the study, balancing two plates.  The hallway still reverberated with the sound of the party that promised to continue long into the night.  He came to a dead stop when he rounded the corner and spotted Wellyn by the doorway to the study.  Unobserved, JD silently backtracked and stepped into shadow as the owner rattled the doorknob.

With a snort of irritation, Wellyn pulled the key from his pocket and jabbed it into the lock.  “What the hell’s goin’ on?” Lou grumbled as he shoved the door open and strode inside.  “Who locked this door?”

JD had only a second to ponder his next move when he heard an angry shout from Wellyn. Hastily, he dropped the plates to a handy bench and sprinted down the hallway as something thumped within the room. “Damn you!”  Wellyn shouted.  “Damn you to hell!”

JD inhaled sharply as he heard a terrific clout followed by the sound of a body hitting the floor.  He burst into the room with his Colts drawn in time to find Wellyn standing over the unmoving gambler, holding a book like a weapon over the prone form.  The music in the main room ended.  The happy buzz of conversation had changed to concerned tones.

Ezra was sprawled on the floor, amid broken glass.  Wellyn panted, clenching the big book, as he loomed over Standish.  One side of Ezra’s head was already reddened from a blow.  The man swiveled toward Dunne and shouted, “He was trying to steal it!”

“What?” JD cried, stepping forward.  His gaze switched to the smashed and empty display case, and then back to Ezra.  The gambler muttered feebly, and moved his hands -- one still clutching that gaudy plate.

Wellyn dropped the book to the desk and snatched away the shield, cradling it to his chest as faces appeared in the doorway.

“What’s going on?”  someone asked.

Another voice demanded, “What happened?”

JD crouched down beside Standish, calling softly, “Ezra?  Hey, Ez, can you hear me?”

Ezra murmured.

Wellyn glared at them and declared to the room, “That son of a bitch tried to steal the Shield of Gelert!  Tried to steal it right out from under my nose.  Thieving Bastard!  I caught him heading toward the window!  He’d locked the door after this one left,” He sneered at Dunne, holding the plate even tighter.  “I gave him what he deserved!   I got him across the head with this!”  He triumphantly indicated the Pilgrim’s Progress with the broken spine.

“You okay, Ezra?” JD whispered as more men filled the room, shooting accusing glances at the gambler.  “Ez?”  The gambler opened his eyes and gazed back at JD, confused.  “It’s me, it’s JD.”  Not getting much of a response, he stated, “I’m gonna sit you up, okay?”  Receiving a nod, JD managed to get Ezra upright.  The southerner let out a low groan and leaned his weight on JD. There was a nasty welt across one side of his head and blood on his hand.

“Call the police!”

“Lock him up!”

“Haul him to jail!”

“Look! His hand’s bleeding!  Proof that he broke that glass!”

“You should have expected it, Wellyn!”

Menacingly, the men stepped closer.  JD, who had dropped his Colts to the floor when he’d stooped to help Ezra, snagged one and held it loosely in his hand.  The men stopped moving toward them.  “He’s hurt!”  JD declared.  “He needs a doctor!”

“He needs a noose is what he needs!” a man with a walrus mustache declared as he slunk backward.

“I told you, Lou, I told you he would to this.”

“Come on, Ez, talk to me,” JD pleaded, keeping his gun ready as the men gave them room.  “What the hell happened?”

Against him, Ezra murmured, “Now why’s the boat stopped?  Have we run aground?”

Glad to finally understand something that Ezra had said, JD stated, “Ezra, you gotta get you off the floor.  Come on, we’ll getcha to a bed.”  Shoving his shoulder against the gambler, he was able to get him, somewhat wobbily, to his knees. Ezra blinked and shook his head.

“You aren’t going anywhere!”  one of the gentlemen declared.  “The Law’s gonna take care of him!”

“Yeah, the Law will see that he pays!”

“I’m the Law!”  JD barked angrily at the reproachful faces.  “He is, too!  Now, back up!”  With a tremendous heave, he was able to get himself and Ezra to their feet.  Ezra swayed dangerously.

“Birds,” Ezra commented, looking about him in wonder.

“Hold on there, Ez.  I got ya.”

Ezra squinted at him, and cracked, “What’s that yer wearin’, Jimmy?  Looks like you got a bucket on yer head.” His knees started to give, and JD just barely kept them upright without dropping his gun.

JD shot a glance at the men who snickered around them.  “S’alright, Ez. Let’s just getcha someplace where ya can lay down.”

“Lock him up!”  Someone shouted.  “Don’t let them get away!”

“Dang it!” JD exclaimed.  “How far d’ya think we can get?”

“Put him in the shed,” Wellyn said darkly.

“I ain’t puttin’ him in a shed!” JD shot back.  “Ya ain’t gonna be pushin’ us around!”

Staggering, Ezra changed his accent, sounding like a half-brain when he uttered, “Let me at ‘im, Pop!  I can take ‘im!” He swung an un-aimed fist, proceeding to spin the pair around again.

The men in the room laughed again, but no one stepped forward to help. “Come on, Ezra, stop it!”  JD ordered as he fought to keep them from toppling, having to return his gun to his holster so that he could get both hands on Ezra.  “Ooof!” JD exclaimed as ran into the desk.

“Kohlrabi, I tells ya!”  Ezra drawled thickly.  “If ye calls it ‘turnip cabbage’, ya’s jest sound ignorant!”

“Knock it off, Ezra!”  JD pleaded urgently.  “Please, Ezra.”  The young man felt terribly alone in this room filled with men – men who glared at them… who laughed… who threatened…when Ezra was obviously hurt and needed help.  Dunne could only glare at the amused men.  Behind them, women peeped in, enjoying the entertainment as well.  The familiar face of Doris appeared at the back of the group and then faded back into the hallway.

Wellyn shoved his way through the mob, parting them to form a path to the door.  He pulled his keys from his pocket as he walked.  “Come with me,” he grunted.

JD, hampered by the sagging gambler, looked about at the accusing faces -- and saw no sign of help from them.  “Come on, Ezra,” he said softly.   “I’ll getcha to someplace where you can lay down.  It’ll be okay.”

Ezra blinked at JD as they started moving forward and said in an encouraging voice, “Aunt Annie, you look wonderful in blue.  You really should wear it more often.  It makes your eyes so lively.”

Dunne colored as more laughing ensued.  Before they left the room, JD sternly ordered them, “Leave the room alone.  I’m coming back to check things out!”  The men murmured, the women clucked, and no one moved.  Disgusted with all of them, Dunne followed Wellyn through the house, doing his best to propel Ezra forward.

Ezra gamely strode alongside him.  He muttered incomprehensibly until one statement finally was clear:  “I’m not a thief,” Ezra whispered softly so that only JD could hear.  A worried look flitted on the gambler’s face as he sought JD’s eyes.  “I’m not.  I wouldn’t…”  His eyes seemed clear and sharp as he looked at JD.

“I know,” JD responded.  “I just want to get you settled someplace, then I’ll go back and check things out.  I’ll prove it.”

Ezra nodded, perhaps understanding.  His head bowed and JD frowned when he noted something he hadn’t seen before.  So close to him now, JD realized that Ezra had another bump rising on the other side of his head.  It bled slightly, hidden in Ezra’s thick hair. Damn – had he hit his head on the floor, too?  Dunne glowered at Wellyn who’d reached the back door and held it open for them.  Outside, JD could see the shape of a small outbuilding beyond the back porch.  A cool breeze reached them.

“I ain’t putting him in a shed!”  Dunne declared, standing his ground.  “He needs a bed.  He needs a doctor.”

“He needs to be locked up,” Wellyn stated firmly.

“No!” JD returned.  “This ain’t right.  He didn’t do anything!”  He kept a firm grip on Ezra who was losing his battle with gravity.

A sound behind them, made JD turn as he kept a firm hold on Ezra’s belt to keep him from toppling.  The man with the walrus mustache held a gun on them and spoke with an unbending tone,  “Get him locked up.”

“Why, thank you, John,” Wellyn said to his friend, looking self-satisfied at this latest turn.

JD gave Wellyn a furious look and was about to shout his thoughts on the matter when Doris shuffled her way past John Darling, her arms filled with blankets and an ewer of water.  “It’s all right,” she whispered to JD.  “The shack is nice.  There’s a cot in there and furniture.  The stable boy stays there sometimes.”  She smiled.  “I’ll help.”  Freeing one arm, she assisted JD in getting Ezra through the back door, down the back steps, and into the little wooden structure behind the house.

Ezra continued to stumble and mutter senselessly.  Dunne was glad to have the extra help on the stairs.  Ezra, obviously, wasn’t going to last much longer on his feet.  The little building was as Doris had promised, snug and … nice.  They settled Ezra quickly and tried to get him comfortable.  Ezra gave them no trouble, more asleep than awake.

Once they had him in the bed, JD asked intensely, trying to break through the fog that had enshrouded his friend, “What happened, Ez?  You remember what happened?”

“I remember,” Ezra said dreamily, “I remember the sky at sunset, and all the shades of purple and pink.”

JD sighed, realizing he’d get nothing more.  He patted Ezra on the chest.  “That’s all right, Ez.  I’ll get this sorted out.”

“Now, get out of there,” Wellyn said sternly to the two helpers.  “So I can lock the door.”

“Someone’s gotta keep an eye on him,” JD demanded.   “But I got to get back to that room and check it out,” he continued.  “There’s gotta be clues there about what happened.”

“I know what happened,” Lou replied.  “I know exactly what happened.  I figured it out in an instant.”  He narrowed his gaze hatefully at Standish who blinked stupidly at him.

“No you don’t!  You don’t know anything and I aim to prove it,” JD shot back.  “I’m the Law from Four Corners and I’m gonna check out that room.”

Wellyn shrugged.  “Then get out of there.”

With a defeated sigh, JD jammed his hands in his pockets.  He couldn’t go.  No, he couldn’t leave Ezra alone  -- not like this.  Those men could mess up everything and destroy any clue that would help them.  They were stuck.  It galled Dunne to realize that they’d prove Ezra to be a thief.  If he could only check out that room, he could be able to show that Ezra was innocent – but he wouldn’t abandon Standish in this state.

Doris touched JD’s sleeve as the young man glared at Wellyn.  “I’ll look after him.”  She pulled a wooden chair beside the bed, as she looked on the injured man with compassion.  The gambler gave her a smile, but his eyes were unfocused; he was drifting.   She picked up a basin from the washstand and filled it from her ewer. With a no-nonsense and professional manner, she sat down, gently picked up Ezra’s injured hand and started bathing it.  She made a tsking sound as she examined the long cut across his knuckles.

“Thank you, darlin’,” Ezra whispered.

“Thank you,” JD reiterated.  “I’ll be back soon as I can.  He won’t hurt you, I promise.”

Doris nodded, not looking up from her work of cleaning the cut.  She cooed encouraging words as Ezra watched her with a detached expression.  She gently touched the red wound on the side of his head and shook her head sadly.

“And if he starts sayin’ stuff, just ignore it.  Most of it won’t make sense, and if any of it does sound reasonable, he’ll deny it all when he comes ‘round,” JD spoke quickly.

Doris smiled at JD and assured him that she could take care of him.  JD paused and placed a hand on Ezra’s shoulder.  The gambler blinked and looked up at him, his eyes befuddled and weary.

“I’ll get this fixed, Ezra.  Trust me,” JD promised before Ezra’s eyes fluttered closed.

Part 2:

JD stood in the study, the room he’d just vacated, and looked at it with new eyes.  The curtains still fluttered in the gentle breeze.  A phalanx of men guarded the doorway and had balked at letting him through, but finally allowed it when he showed them his badge.  Wellyn followed him, still clutching the expensive piece of rubbish.

“Don’t you dare try to move anything,” Wellyn declared as he moved alongside Dunne.  “The Sweethaven Law will be here any minute!”

One of the men leaned closer to Wellyn and stated, “Hoggett’s still looking.  I hear that the sheriff is out at the mines right now.  He might not get back until morning.”

Dunne smiled grimly, glad that he now had time to look about and maybe figure this out on his own.  He could take his time.  JD moved into the room slowly, taking in everything that had changed.  The book that Ezra had left on the side table, now sat broken on the desk.  The case was shattered, glass littering the shelf and the floor below.  One piece of the case was notably  distant from the others – near the side of the desk instead of just below the bookshelf.  The young sheriff bent down to look at it –  a large section of broken glass still securely glued to the wood frame.  He noted the thin line of blood along the sharp edge.  Drops of blood stained the floor nearby, and a red smudge marred the wood just beside the desk.

JD moved to where the rest of the glass littered the floor.  He frowned at the heavy stick in the midst of it all – an axe handle.  He gazed back up at Lou who gave him a blank look.  “That gambler must have brought it in to break the glass!” the former jeweler declared.  “I wouldn’t keep something like that in here!”

“He didn’t have an axe handle,” JD insisted.

Wellyn jutted out his chin.  “He probably had it hidden somewhere.  They’re not to be trusted!”

“Then why was his hand cut?” JD spoke aloud.  “If he broke the case with this stick, then he shouldn’t have gotten cut.”

“He got that from reaching into all that glass to get it!” Wellyn decided.

"The cut would have been on his palm then, not his knuckles," JD commented.  His other Colt still lay in the glass.  He picked it up easily and holstered it – then examined his hand to ensure he hadn’t been cut by the action.  He glanced back to that chunk of glass that rested away from the others; there was something important about that, he decided -- he just hadn’t worked out what.  Returning his attention to the glass shards before him, he carefully gazed at each piece in turn, unable to find any trace of blood.  If Ezra had cut himself when he reached into the shattered remains of the case, certainly the blood should be here… but there was no trace of it.  Even if Ezra had flung his hand back, tossing the offending piece away… there’d still be something here, wouldn’t there?

JD shook his head, stepping back to further examine the room.  He moved slowly, looking about for anything that had moved since he’d last been here.  His eyes roved, taking it all in.  He found nothing new until he stepped to the window – blood again, on the sill.

“That’s where he was when I came in,” Wellyn declared as he stared at the stains. “That gambler did that.”

JD stated,  “It wasn’t that bad a cut.  He wouldn’t have bled that much.”  Dunne glared at Wellyn.  “I’m thinkin’ someone else was here.  Someone else came in and went out through this window.”  He turned about, snatching up the lit desk lamp.  He was about to move it to the window when a thought caught him.  Dropping to his hands and knees, he crouched down on the floor and let the light shine in the narrow space beneath the desk. Carefully, he rested his head where the red smudge colored the floor. He smiled when he failed to find something.

Springing to his feet, JD moved to the window and held the lamp out into the night.  The light cast a wide glow, but revealed nothing to pique JD’s interest.  He shoved the lantern into Wellyn’s hands.  “Hold this,” he ordered as he swung one foot over the sill and he dropped to the ground below.  He took the lamp back from Wellyn, un-holstered one gun, and started moving into the yard.  He held the weapon ready – ready for anything.

He heard Wellyn and some of the others follow, but didn’t care.  He moved carefully, cunningly, searching in the dark until he found the telltale spots he was looking for.  He smiled as he moved forward – trailing his suspect.  He moved as quickly as he could manage without losing the track, going deeper into the yard and toward the stone wall that surrounded the stately house.  Wellyn kept close to his side, talking but not saying anything that JD cared to hear.  Apparently, Lou thought that Ezra had taken a trip outside to hide the loot but the gambling thief had decided against it and came back.  “Too damn greedy,” Lou said.  “Wanted to keep his hands on it.”

JD paused when he came to a great juniper bush near a gate.  He shoved the lamp at Wellyn again and lifted his Colt at a dark shape that hunched behind the prickly bush.

“Come out of there!” he ordered sternly.  Nothing happened.  The men, who had been so quick to laugh earlier, held their breaths.  “I ain’t gonna give you another chance,” JD barked out.  “Get out of there, now!”

Something shuddered and scrabbled about, and the form of a man crept toward them.  As he came into the light, JD was struck by how pitiable he looked, crawling on his knees, using one hand to support him, the other was clutched against his chest.  Blood stained his shirt and his face was pale, his eyes frightened.

“Dobley!”  Wellyn growled.  “You son of a bitch!”  Lou clutched the Shield of Gelert even tighter as if he expected this man to come flying at him.  He extended the lamp like a talisman to ward off the bandit.

“I… I…” Dobley stuttered, his rump hitting the ground as he painfully held one arm close to himself.  The other touched the golden hilt that ornamented his chest – the rest of the letter opener driven into him.  “I … need… I…”  His hand wrapped around the base of the blade, but JD fell to his knees and laid one hand on top of Dobley's.

“Leave it alone,” JD demanded.  He glanced over his shoulder at the men who loitered behind him in the dimness.  “Get the doctor, now!” he told one.  To the others, he ordered, “Help him.”

“How could you do this to me?”  Wellyn whined. “How dare you try to steal from me!”

Two of the men crouched down beside Dobley.  “Keep him sitting up,” JD decided as Peter’s breathing started coming in hitches.

“I deserved to have the shield.  It was mine, too,” Dobley said, swallowing and gasping.

“It wasn’t!” Wellyn hissed back.

“You ruined us,” Dobley panted.  “We had a good thing.  You ruined…”

“Not me!” Wellyn growled.  “It was you!  All you!”

“You never could make a decision… never…”  Dobley’s eyes were getting unfocused as he gazed up at Dunne.  “I had every right… every right.  It was mine, too. I would have had it.”  He licked his lips, wanting to explain.  “I was watching.  Waiting.  I saw.”  His eyes fastened on JD’s.  “I saw you go.  The man… the other man came to the window.  It was easy.  So easy.”  He smiled, proud of himself.  “Just had to hit him once.  Easy.”  His hand clenched as if trying to find that axe handle that he wielded as a weapon.

“He …went down.  I got in.  Locked the door.  Keep Wellyn out!”  He spat the name, sending out a little spray of red.  “Broke the case.  Took it.”  He lifted his hand toward the gimcrack in Wellyn’s hands.  “It was mine!  The other one… woke up…came at me.  I…I reached for the… club” He lifted his hand as if in demonstration.  “…gonna bash in his brains… missed the handle.  Tried to slash him with the glass,"  He laughed a little.  "Didn’t stop him.  I was gonna get that club.  Gonna get it and … smash him.  He was… he…”  Peter reached toward the letter opener still impaled in his chest.  “Bastard!  Bastard!  I just wanted… wanted what was mine.  He took it… he took it from me!”

Dobley coughed, spattering blood.  “Take it easy,” JD said softly.

“It was mine!”  a spark seemed to return to Dobley’s eyes.  “Mine!”  He raised one hand to rub at the corner of his mouth where blood wept.

JD sat on his haunches beside the man who wheezed pathetically.  The gentlemen who’d stepped in to help, continued to hold Dobley, who lurched in their grasps as he tried to draw in air.  “There, there,” JD said, not knowing what else he could possibly say.

Dobley reached out, one last time, his hand catching only the air as he tried to reach the shield.  “Mine,” he gasped, and was gone.

Part 3:

“A pity really,” Ezra stated as he walked alongside JD on their way into town.  It was early in the afternoon, and the town was alive and bustling.  Standish held his jaw tightly, and kept his eyes fixed before him.  Only JD’s careful guiding kept him from running into the wall beside them.  “I truly didn’t intend to kill the man.  I only meant to slow him.  I had no idea that my aim with a knife could be as deadly as our Mr. Jackson’s.  Honestly, I could hardly see straight at the time.”  He blinked as he spoke, to clear his still-twisted vision.

“Well, I'm glad it went that way and not the other,” JD told him, walking patiently at Ezra’s measured pace.

“He was reaching for that blasted cudgel,” Standish explained as he raised his bandaged hand.  “I had no intention of falling victim to that again.”  He sighed.  “And then, to have that fool Wellyn blindside me.  Lord, I can’t abide being struck over the head.  It’s absolutely no good for me.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” JD responded with a grin, keeping one hand under Ezra’s elbow in case he decided to collapse.

“When Wellyn came at me, I had no ability to form a clear thought.  I recall trying to speak, but I believed I gibbered like a monkey instead.”  With a sigh Ezra admitted, “Of course I wasn’t performing at my peak capacity at that moment, or I would have hoped to avoid his attack.”

“He shouldn’t have done it,” JD commented.  “The man should have stopped and thought about his actions.”

“True, true,” Ezra responded.

“Should ‘ave trusted you!”


“I’m just glad you’re okay.”  JD gave Ezra a sympathetic look.  “Head still hurts?”

“Like the devil.” Ezra winced.  “I would define the level of pain as at-or-near-’excruciating’.”

“‘Least you still got a head on your shoulders.”  JD sighed unhappily.  “I mean, either one of those idiots could have killed ya.  When I think about what happened, I get so mad!”

“I should have been more vigilant,” Ezra said with a self-deprecating smile.  “It would have saved me a massive headache… two massive headaches.”  Raising an eyebrow, he inquired,  “You did beg the pardon of Miss Doris didn’t you?  I shall not forgive myself for what happened to her dress.”

“Aw, that wasn’t your fault, Ezra.  Anyone who hits their head gets the pukes.  ‘Sides, you already apologized to her yourself.”

Ezra frowned, and said shamefully, “It was exceptionally ungentlemanly of me.”

“It was just her uniform.  Wellyn will have to buy her another.”  JD laughed at that thought.  “Really, she wasn’t upset. She understood.”

“Well,” Ezra said unhappily.  “I feel terrible for doing it.”

“Don’t worry about it, Ez.”  JD consoled.  “That money you gave her should buy her a real nice dress if she wants one.” He fingered the key chain in his pocket, remembering the ‘thank you’ gifts that Wellyn had hastily handed them on their exit.  Probably something left over from the bankruptcy sale, JD decided.  At least Doris could get something she liked.  The key chains were decidedly ugly.  “Don’t worry about it,” JD assured.

“I shall try not,” Ezra returned.

“I’m just glad we’re out of it and those Pinkerton’s are stuck with that ‘shield thing’ now.  Glad to be walkin’ out of that house.”  JD glanced back to the residence they just vacated.  “And you, you’re lucky to be alive.”

With a smile, Ezra proclaimed, “No, I am lucky to have such a friend as you.”  He came to a stop and leaned against Wellyn’s wall.  Seriously, he spoke, “I am indebted to you, my friend.  It was your careful investigation and fidelity that saved me from incarceration."

"Aw, they would have found Dobley eventually.  He wasn't gonna live long."

"He may have made it from the yard, and then perhaps no one would have known the truth.  Thank you, for your excellent detective work." Ezra closed his eyes for a second to try to still the dancing landscape. He continued after that pause, saying "It was a courageous thing to go up against those substantial gentlemen.”

“Naw, it wasn’t ‘courageous’.  They were just being jerks.”

“Just the same, it took ‘guts’.”

JD smiled, proud of his accomplishment.  “You would’ve done the same for me.”

Ezra sighed and stated, “Only if a reward was included.”

JD laughed, knowing the truth of the matter.  They turned as the front door to the house opened and the Pinkerton detectives strode out of the Wellyn household.  JD frowned, keeping near Ezra in case he decided to topple over.  "I would 'ave thought that Wellyn would've kept it now that Dobley is dead."

"It's the principle of the thing," Ezra decided.  "It is just too precious to keep.  Who knows what perils it might suffer if it were to remain?"

The Pinkerton Detectives looked important and impervious as they exited the yard and came toward them along the sidewalk.  JD and Ezra waited until the detectives passed.  One held a locked box – four more surrounded him.  They strode purposefully toward the train station, armed and dangerous-looking.

Ezra’s eyes followed the box as he leaned heavily against that wall and the world spun around him.  Once the men were out of earshot, he stated under his breath, “I could get past that.”

“I don’t doubt it,” JD returned.  And they started on their way again.  Dunne placed a hand at Ezra’s back, propelled him toward the hotel where they’d be spending the next couple nights. He needed to get Standish there before Ezra’s sheer determination failed him.  JD figured he would send a wire to Four Corners once he had Ezra settled – explaining their delay.  Chris should be used to this sort of explanation by now.  As they strode along, JD voiced, “It still makes me mad that Mr. Wellyn and the others were so fast to accuse you, Ez.  It’s just not fair.”

“Ah, but it’s the price I pay for being such a charming person as myself.  I let everyone know exactly what I am.” He picked at his jacket.  “And they find me capable of any ill, and not to be trusted,” Ezra responded lightly, but his eyes still carried the sadness that went with this realization.  “If a crime is committed, anyone could easily look to me as the most obvious suspect.  It’s a completely natural reaction.”

“Well, I wouldn’t,” JD returned.  “I think you’re much better than that.  I’d trust you anywhere.”

Ezra lifted one hand and laid it over JD’s shoulder as JD kept his at Ezra’s back. The gambler smiled gratefully and for once he had nothing to say.


This story is based on a fable, told throughout history with little changes along the way.  Aesop told this tale, as has Walt Disney in "Lady and the Tramp", and it also appears in the movie "Babe".  The Welsh fable "Bedd Gelert" is the best known of this genre.  The basic story is thus:  Prince Llewellyn leaves his son guarded by his faithful hound Gelert.  When he returns from hunting, he finds the cradle overturned, the baby missing and Gelert covered in blood.  He jumps to the immediate conclusion that Gelert killed the child, so he slays his dog for the horrible betrayal, only to find his son alive and well.  Also, he finds a bloodied, dead wolf in the house -- killed by his faithful Gelert.  The moral is supposed to be "This will be a lesson to you not to act hastily, for those who act in this way only repent of their deeds when it is too late, and remorse forever remains in their hearts."  Not the moral of this story really... no dog or baby in the story either.  It's more of a ... retelling... I guess.  You can read further analysis of the fable... here   and a nice rounded telling here...  NT

Hope you enjoyed the story...comments

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