CATEGORY: Challenge - Old West
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Josiah and Ezra
DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No profit involved. This story is based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended.
NOTE: The February 2005 Challenge: offered by Helen A: Since February is the month of Valentine's Day, let us play with the theme of love. Not the happily-ever-after variety, though. An unrequited love or secret crush, a jealous suitor out for one of the guys' blood, or one or more of the Seven playing match-maker for one of the others. Bonus points if Josiah plays an important role. That poor guy just does not get enough to do!
SUMMARY: Josiah is in a bit of a fix, needing to get out of the town of Greenwood. Ezra wants answers before he'll accompany him.
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments are greatly appreciated.
DATE: February 14, 2005
It's all in How you Play It
By NotTasha...played out
“Ezra,” Josiah stated in a low voice, as he leaned on
the gaming table, saddlebags over one shoulder. “We need to go.”
The cardsharp didn’t seem to hear him. He tossed a coin into the center of the table. “I’ll see your bet,” he declared to his opponents, pulling a bill from the little roll in front of him. “And raise it.” He added the money to the pile and smiled serenely.
The man to his left folded, as did the next. The other player had already turned in his cards, which brought the betting back to the first man. He grumbled as he fiddled with his money as he glared at his cards. Ezra looked bored, raising his eyebrows to stare at the man in question.
Around them, the town of Greenwood bustled. Morning was nearly passed. Time was wasting! Sanchez tapped a toe impatiently. God, he wanted to get out of here – needed to get out of here – now! Ezra’s bags were packed and at his side. Time to go – time to put this town behind them, time to leave this place in a cloud of dust. At least the cardsharp was nearly ready to go, but how much effort would it take to dislodge him from this table?
Sanchez wasn’t in the mood to put up with any of his shenanigans – no, not in the mood at all! After what happened last night? No... not at all.
“Ezra,” Josiah said again, his voice a low growl. “We have to go… now.”
Ezra allowed his eyes to meet Josiah’s stone-gray gaze. His green eyes narrowed in irritation. “A moment please,” he responded. “Mr. Flick has yet to decide if his hand is worth betting upon. Mr. Flick? Do you trust in the worth of what you hold, or do you doubt it?”
Josiah clenched his hands into mighty hammer-like fists. “Ezra,” he boomed.
“Mr. Flick?” Ezra countered.
“Gimmie a minute!” the man grumbled… one hand fiddling through his money, the other clenching the cards close to his face. He seemed to be contemplating monumental things.
“A minute,” Ezra repeated, glancing to Josiah. “He says that it’ll only be a minute, and that’s hardly any time at all. Mr. Flick, do you have any idea what you’re doin’?”
Flick made a face. “I’ll win this one,” he declared. “You ain’t gettin’ me again! I got a winning hand, no doubt!”
“Ah,” Ezra sighed, “But winnin’ is all in how you play the hand. Have you made your decision yet?”
“Now!” Josiah hissed in Ezra's ear before Flick could respond. “Ezra, you’re leaving the table, now!” One ham-sized fist slammed to the table beside the gambler. Glasses and coins jumped, along with most of the men in their seats. Only the suave southerner seemed unmoved by the display.
Responding instead with a big grin, Ezra replied, “Dear sir, I’m not leaving this particular hand behind.” And he looked upon his cards with the same pride that is usually reserved for fathers looking after their children, but he held the pasteboards so that the preacher couldn’t see them. “The game hasn’t yet been played out and I intend to see it to its end.”
Josiah’s glare increased and thunderstorms seemed to form around him. The three men who’d already quit the hand, leaned back, giving the big man space. Flick paused in his contemplation as he gave Sanchez the deference that he deserved. Ezra hummed blithely as he held his cards at his vest.
Whether it was fear of Sanchez or lack of faith in his hand, Flick tossed his cards to the table, revealing two pair – Kings and Tens. “It’s not worth it,” he grumbled.
Ezra’s happy lilt became a little crow of glee as he settled his cards to the table and racked in the pot. When the man to his left tried to grab the discards, Ezra quickly snatched them away. “To see my hand,” he reminded, “You would have had to meet the bet.” He pocketed the cards along with his money, leaving a nickel to pay for the new pack.
Settling his hat on his head, the southerner nodded to the nearly erupting preacher. “Mr. Sanchez, is there something that deserves my…” He wasn’t able to finish his discourse as the big man fiercely grabbed him by the arm and jerked him toward the door.
“Josiah!” Ezra scolded, finding barely enough time to grab his bag as he was ushered out of the room and into the dusty street of Greenwood. “You’ll wrinkle the fabric!”
“More than just fabric will be ruined if we don’t get out of here.”
“Why such haste?”
Turning away from the younger man, Josiah responded, “All hell is about to break loose.”
“Aw hell,” Ezra muttered, yanking his arm from Josiah’s crushing grasp as he kept pace. “What did I do this time?"
Josiah shot him a sidelong glance as he hurried across the dirt-road to the livery. “Ezra? You…?” He changed his gaze, scanning the surrounding buildings – looking carefully – as they continued on their trajectory. “Not you…exactly…” he muttered.
“Exactly?” Ezra returned as he came to an abrupt halt as they nearly reached the entrance to the building, and Josiah came within inches of colliding with him. “What then, exactly, did you mean?” His expression narrowed as he considered, then he snapped his fingers as he came to a realization. “Don’t tell me…this has something to do with that pretty little thing that you had on your arm last night.”
Josiah seemed to pale as he again jerked on Ezra’s arm, compelling him into the building.
“Now…” Ezra considered. “What was her name?”
Sanchez let out a weary sigh, looking pathetic. “Debby,” he let out.
Ezra’s face split in a wide grin, “Ah yes, Debby-girl, a delightful and lovely sprite – full of high spirit if I remember her rightly from last night. She seemed smitten with you.” He cocked his head, showing his gold tooth. “Absolutely enthralled, overcome, obsessed almost.”
“Oh, you don’t know the half of it.” Shaking his head, Sanchez stated, “She’s a lovely woman, intelligent, sharp, funny, capable of making any man happy. The problem is… she’s already made one man in particular ‘happy’.”
Lifting his chin a fraction, Ezra realized, “She’s married?”
“Very,” Sanchez added in a low voice. “And her husband might not be happy with last night’s arrangement.”
“Hoo hoo!” Ezra hooted gleefully, circling around the preacher. “And when did she tell you this? How long did it take you to disengage yourself from her fair company?”
Grimacing, Josiah pushed Ezra out of the way, searching out his steed. “It was late.”
Forced backward, Ezra caught his balance and ended up in a casual lean against the wall. “Tell me about it,” he required. “I’m in need of a good story and I think yours will delight and amaze.”
“Ezra,” Josiah groaned unhappily. “Really, it’s all rather embarrassing.”
“Then save nothing! Tell all!” The gambler grinned like a fox and his green eyes seemed to glow in the low light.
Annoyed, Josiah ran one hand over his face, and then decided that he might as well let the southerner know – everything. “We’d dined together, dear Debby and I, and her company was very enjoyable. She seemed quite taken with everything I told her, wanting to know all the details, hanging on my every word. Yet, she seemed somewhat distracted.”
“Looking for that husband to come storming through the doorway at any moment?” Ezra tried. “That would keep any woman on her toes.”
“No…she kept looking to one of the other tables,” Josiah described. “Seemed more interested with what was going on there than she was with me.”
“Pity,” Ezra said, trying to sound sympathetic. “I suppose the husband was at the table and she was merely keeping a careful eye on him.”
A quick shake of his head was Josiah’s response.
“Are you certain?”
“Fickle woman,” Ezra proclaimed. “A floozy, no doubt.”
Josiah gave Ezra a scathing look. “I wanted her total attention, so I decided to distance her from that ‘distraction’. We took a midnight stroll. She started talking about a certain paramour of hers.”
Ezra paused, waiting for more. Finally, he asked, “Not her husband I take it?” He waited for Josiah to shake his head. “The man at the table, perchance?”
“No… another,” Josiah told him.
Ezra’s mouth opened in a wide smile. “More than one man in her life? She is a woman of varied tastes,” he decided. “You, her husband, the man at the table, and yet another. Quite a potpourri! Such varied men. Of course I’m jumping to conclusions as I assume that none of the others are like you -- because, my friend, you are rather unique.”
Sanchez said nothing. He reached Prophet’s stall and entered it.
“Busy girl,” Ezra resolved as he remained outside the pen, still smiling far too widely, chuckling and shaking his head in amusement. “So much to do! More than one man on a string. Tugging you all along like a child at play.”
Sanchez turned sharply. It took some doing to resist the urge to knock that impish expression from the gambler’s face. “Ezra,” he growled a warning.
“So…” Ezra led on. “She told you all about this ‘other’ man?”
Realizing that he’d already gotten into it this far, Sanchez resolved to go on. “First, she went on and on about … the man at the table,” he bit out… “Couldn’t stop talking about him even though we’d left the place. She just kept…” and he cut himself short with an irritated snort. “When she finally changed the subject, I thought we might have an enjoyable conversation… until she started in about this… Rodney something.”
“Yeah,” Josiah grumbled.
“Not a very auspicious name,” Ezra contemplated. “I mean, nothing like … ‘Ezra’. Now that is a significant appellation. Not one you’d readily forget.” He continued his smile, watching Sanchez get ready to go. The preacher’s movements became abrupt with irritation. “Of course, Josiah is a fine name, too. A mighty fine moniker. One to be proud of.” He pursed his lips and rubbed his chin. “But, Rodney… hmmm.”
Doing his best to ignore the conman’s comments, Josiah went on. “She said that she didn't like him at first, but once she got to know him...”
“Ah, then it’s true love,” Ezra responded loftily, touching his chest.
“Seems he has beautiful eyes… an adorable nose, and is smart and witty,” Josiah groused. “But he’s arrogant as hell.”
“Ah, a man of intelligence. She’s a smart woman to appreciate such a man. One must be pleased with her tastes,” Ezra completed.
Exhaling, Josiah spread a blanket on Prophet’s back, smoothing it out carefully before he grabbed the saddle. “He’s not even an American,” Josiah grumbled.
Ezra shrugged and didn’t comment on Josiah’s last remark. As a former Confederate, this meant little to him. Leaning against the railing of the stall, Ezra thought about the situation and looked puzzled. “So, if she’s not married to the man she’s enamored with -- that lunatic smart-ass -- then what’s the issue? I’m sure she’ll let you have a turn with her. She seems willin’.”
“She’s still married!” Josiah spat out.
“But apparently…” Ezra tried to start.
“She loves her husband. Madly, head-over-heels in love with him. Apparently, he loves her as much as she loves him.”
Scratching his head, Ezra conceded, “I would assume so… considerin’ her regard for this Rodney-character… and yourself. I do hope that you took certain… precautions while vistin’ the lady. She seems somewhat… loose with her affections. You didn’t let your…”
Josiah stormed out of the stall, slamming open the stall door and catching the gambler about the throat. In the blink of an eye, he’d slammed Standish against he far wall. Dust rained down on them as the boards shuddered at the violence. Ezra managed to let out only a little “eep” of surprise.
“Nothing… Nothing happened!” Josiah snarled into Ezra’s face. “Do you hear me, Standish?”
“Loud and clear,” Ezra managed to gasp out, as he desperately grasped at Josiah’s meaty arm, trying to pry it from his throat. "In spite of the... lack of... oxygen... reaching... my brain."
A haunted look lit Josiah’s face as he saw the fear in Ezra’s eyes. He dropped his hold. Ezra staggered for a moment, rubbing at his neck, backing away from the preacher. “Nothing happened,” Josiah repeated softly. “She’s a lady,” he tried. “She loves her husband. It was all just talk. Just silly talk. We had dinner. We took a walk. That’s all. She went home to her husband whom she loves. She wouldn’t do anything … it’s all just…” He clasped his hands to his chest, ashamed at what he’d done.
Ezra coughed, holding up one hand as if to ward him away.
Keeping one hand up, Ezra turned to the door. “You’re right,” he gasped out, then coughed. “You’d best be going. I, on the other hand, will remain. I might be safer that way. Perhaps I’ll fare better alone and the cards have been kind to me. I…”
“Ezra…” Josiah started, looking miserable. “Look, I’m sorry. I was just a little…”
“It’s not an issue, Mr. Sanchez,” Ezra responded quickly. “I hadn’t meant to profane the name of the lovely Miss Debby… or should I say, ‘Mrs. Debby’?”
“Ezra,” Josiah sighed, leaning against one of the livery’s supports. “It was jealousy, Ezra. I’m sorry.”
“Jealous? Of me escaping from this imbroglio while you find yourself entirely enmeshed in this love triangle… or is it a quadrangle?”
With a long sigh, Josiah gazed to the ground. “She told me that she was only interested in me because of…” His brows knitted to a line. “…because of… you.”
“What?” Ezra turned sharply.
“She knew we were traveling together. She thought that if she spent some time with me, she might find a way to get closer to you.” Josiah glanced up. “She couldn’t take her eyes off of you in the saloon. She was just using me.”
“Wretched creature,” Ezra proclaimed, but the smile played at his lips again. “What did she say about me?” He leaned close to Josiah, looking like a cat about to rub its head on a favorite spot. “Anything nice?”
His brow still furrowed, Josiah explained, “She liked hearing about you. Said there was something about they way you speak, your eyes, your hands…”
Beaming, Ezra held his hands up in front of him, modeling them. “They are particularly lovely, aren’t they?”
Snapping into action, Josiah pushed himself out of his funk. “We have to leave, now, Ezra.”
“Why-ever for? Perhaps I’d like to meet your Debby-girl. Just a clandestine tryst, mind you,” Ezra quickly assured. “Maybe she wants to talk more about me. I’m always an able listener when the subject is myself.”
Grabbing his saddle, Josiah commented. “I hear her husband is an understanding man, but it only goes so far.”
“Oh,” Ezra replied, looking suddenly apprehensive. “Do you think he might be drawn to violence?”
“One can only push a man so far…” Josiah declared. “And believe me, this man has been pushed.”
Grumbling, Ezra strode towards Chaucer’s stall. “Very well then, we will be off.” Still, he wistfully turned toward the door, considering his options. She did seem like a particularly fine catch. Did it really matter that she was in love with her husband and perhaps really liked someone named Rodney… oh, and maybe even enjoyed Josiah? He was willing to share.
Remembering something, Josiah asked, “What kind of hand did you have?”
Pausing, Ezra held up his palms and declared, “Lovely ones, according to some.”
Josiah allowed himself a small smile at the remark. “No, at the table.”
Pulling the purloined cards from his pocket, Ezra stated, “Pure garbage.” He showed the hand to Sanchez: an Ace, a Five, a Seven, a Ten and a Jack. “It’s all in how you play it, my friend. And perhaps you’re right. It’s time we left.”
Busily, Ezra prepared his horse, stating, “And you, my friend, have been soundly played. Imagine! The woman getting cozy with you just to get close to me! All she had to do was approach me. Certainly I would have given her the time of day.” Again, he turned toward the doorway. “Do you think she’s still about? What about her husband? Is he nearby? Maybe I could find a way to sneak around him. I can be… sneaky …”
“Just for a moment.”
“I wouldn’t cause any trouble. An afternoon’s dalliance won’t be a harm to anyone.”
Josiah watched as Ezra saddled Chaucer. “She’s a flirt,” Sanchez declared.
“I like flirts,” Ezra told him.
Smirking, Josiah responded patiently, “Let’s go, Ezra, before you get your face hurt on the man's fist.”
Poking out his lip in a pout, Ezra declared. “Unfair! She really wanted to be with me, yet wasted all her time with you. It’s entirely inequitable.”
“Let’s go, Ezra,” Josiah said again, leading Prophet from the livery, hoping that there’d be no trouble during their escape from town.
With a shrug, Ezra he swung himself into his saddle. And they left behind the town of Greenwood in a cloud of dust.
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