Vin swallowed the last of his coffee and tossed money on the table for
his meal. When he scooted his chair back, the scraping noise drew
the other men's attention to him.
"Fellas, I'm headin' out fer a day or two." The Texan stood.
"Don't want ya'll to worry none, you don't see me around."
Tanner noticed that each man looked to Chris before nodding or offering
Vin good wishes for a safe journey, as if seeking his approval first. It
didn't bother Vin that they looked to the blond, it had been something they
all did during their time together as peacekeepers. Chris was a natural
Vin was turning toward the door when he heard Ezra speak to the group,
and the gamblers words stopped him in his tracks.
"Well gentlemen, I'll be taking a prolonged absence from Four Corners
as well." Ezra left money by his empty plate and made to stand, not
expecting that any of the other men would voice any objections. It had
not been his intention to leave town when he came into the restaurant but
once the thought crossed his mind, Ezra couldn't dispel his urge to go.
"With Vin gone, I need you here Ezra." Chris didn't want to spare
anyone else with Tanner out of town and it was damned inconvenient to have
the gambler want to leave at the same time.
"Mr. Larabee, I believe that I am entitled to…" He was interrupted.
"Ezra can come with me, if'n he needs some time." Vin made the
unplanned offer because he wanted to derail what was sure to become an eruption
of anger between the gunslinger and the gambler. Each man had a different
agenda and it was clear that Chris would soon alienate Ezra with his demands
that the Southerner stay in town.
Chris turned shocked eyes toward the tracker, trying to read the intent
behind the offer. Knowing Tanner's need for privacy, he knew there
had to be a deeper meaning in this. He was disturbed that he didn’t
know what was going on with Standish and made a vow to find out before the
day was through. His thoughts were interrupted as Ezra answered Vin.
"While I appreciate the offer Mr. Tanner, I had a rather different destination
in mind. A soft bed being at the top of my requirements: along with
a ready game of cards and strong drink." Although Ezra was surprised
at Vin's offer he was not at all shocked at how Chris had reacted to his
Larabee stood followed by the rest of the men, looking down on the gambler
where he was still seated. "I won't pretend to know what's going on
with you Standish, but I'd feel better if you would stick with Vin if you
need a couple of days to figure out if you're staying or going." The
small group left the restaurant behind their leader.
Vin waited outside the eatery for Ezra. He watched as Nathan went
back to his clinic, Josiah headed to the church and Chris, Buck and JD
entered the jail.
He heard the door open behind him. Ezra came out, both men spoke
The southerner held out his hand indicating that his friend should speak
"I just wanted to say thanks for the help with Eli Joe an' his gang."
A gold tooth flashed as Ezra smiled, "My pleasure, Mr. Tanner." He moved
up closer to the longhaired man before speaking again.
"While I appreciate your offer to accompany you outside town, I am not
certain of my destination or the duration of my journey."
Vin nodded his understanding, "I was too caught up in my own troubles
these past days to see what else might be goin' on." It was his way
of apologizing for not knowing that Ezra had concerns of his own. "an'
I just wanted you ta know you've got a friend ready to stand beside ya."
After listening to Vin, Ezra decided that maybe leaving town with the
tracker would provide a good cover if he decided not to come back.
"If you are sure that it wouldn't be an imposition, I would be honored to
Nodding his head, Vin told the gambler to meet him at the livery by
ten that morning.
As they parted for the short time it would take to prepare to leave,
Ezra thought ahead. He might still want to leave Four Corners and
rather than coming back for his meager belongings, he would arrange an extra
mount to carry those items he didn't want to leave behind.
Nathan was sitting outside the clinic when he saw Ezra enter the livery.
Taking a deep breath the healer rose to his feet and started down the steps.
He waited for fifteen minutes by the double doors, until Ezra walked out
leading his horse and an old mule.
"Ezra, you got a minute?" Nathan asked. He read the desire to refuse
in the other man's eyes just before Ezra spoke.
"I have only a moment to spare, Mr. Jackson. What can I help you
with?" Ezra didn't want to have this conversation but realized it
was unavoidable with the man standing in his path.
"I just wanted ta tell ya that I'm sorry 'bout getting' 'tween you an'
yer ma. I was lookin' at all that fancy equipment an' she sure knows
how to persuade a man that he can do good fer folks." Nathan saw that he
had the gambler's attention, so he continued.
"You been at my back more times than I care ta count an' that means
somthin' ta me. Truth is, I got no extra money ta be investin' in
yer saloon an' I should'a just laid it out plain an' simple, but sometimes
a man's got too much pride."
"I can certainly relate to that." Ezra thought of the way he had
let his mother get to him and the competition that resulted in his loss
of the Standish Tavern.
"I just want ya ta know that I quit that place."
The gambler knew that he and Nathan would never completely see eye to
eye due to the circumstances of their upbringing, but he did appreciate
the other man's effort to settle things between them. He felt he could
do no less.
"Consider it water under the bridge, Mr. Jackson." He offered
his hand and felt the strong grip of the healer in response.
"Well then, I must be moving along, Mr. Tanner has given me a time schedule."
He touched the brim of his hat in a two-finger salute as he moved away.
Nathan watched him for a few minutes with a smile on his face.
Vin stood in front of Peso, stroking the gelding's soft muzzle.
His mind ran several old trails, places he'd been that he might choose
to go again.
His wanting to leave town was due to the shame he felt that many of
the town's citizens had witnessed him being led out of Four Corners as
a prisoner. One of the town's peacekeepers accused of a vile crime.
Mary and Chris had tried to reassure him that the incident had been kept
quiet, and as much as he appreciated their efforts, but knew that, something
like the bounty couldn’t be kept a secret for long. If he stayed, there
would be questions from people like Conklin, and that would led to others
getting suspicious, until he absolutely won’t be able to hide it.
All this thinking left him with the knowledge that he was looking for
a reason to leave and all he needed now was a way to tell the rest.
Still thinking of where he wanted to go, Vin turned his thoughts to
the mountains, high places still untouched by the human hand. If
he had to live with the bounty on his head the rest of his life, he would
go to a place that brought him peace.
Peso lifted his big head and snorted, an answering sound came from a
horse outside the livery, telling Vin that Ezra was on time and ready to
"Boy, would you look at that? What a pair!" Buck chuckled hanging
onto the support pole outside the jail.
JD laughed along as they watched Vin ride ahead of the Gambler out of
town. Peso bore a set of leather saddlebags and a bedroll tucked
up behind the low back saddle. Ezra was leading a mule, loaded down
with four carpetbags and a large role of bedding tied across the middle.
Chris was sitting outside the saloon with Josiah watching the two young
peacekeepers head south.
"How long you think Vin is gonna put up with Ezra on the trail?"
Josiah laughed softly.
The gunslinger shook his head, "He's got the patience of a saint, but
Ezra knows how to whine so's it makes your ears bleed."
Underneath the humor, Chris harbored a deep and abiding worry that neither
man would come back to stay. He was surprised to have such a concern
for Standish; he wondered when he'd let the gambler get under his skin.
By two that afternoon, Ezra was beginning to wonder how far outside
town Vin was intending to go. They had traveled at a sedate pace,
and to his surprise, he was enjoying the peaceful setting, but dark clouds
had gathered overhead and he was worried that they would be caught out in
Hearing another voice startled the Texan, so lost in thought he'd forgotten
for a time he was not traveling alone.
"Just up ahead." He answered the unspoken question.
Another 20 minutes and Vin turned toward a small stand of trees, their
green leaves, fed from the stream that ran nearby. Vin came out here
often when he wanted a few days away from the busy town; it was quiet and
good place to think.
"Chris!" JD swept in through the doors of the saloon waving a
yellow paper. He headed to the back table where the gunslinger was
sitting sipping on a glass of whiskey.
"Telegram from the Judge."
Taking the paper, the blond read it silently and then looked up at the
Kid, who was waiting for instructions.
"Get the men together at the jail, I'll be along."
It never failed that when they were down a man or two, trouble came
up their backs. Judge Travis had sent them a warning of several thousand
head of cattle headed their direction from Texas and in a direct line were
reports of rustlers coming down from Colorado Territory.
Orrin did state that he thought the threat of the gang that was stealing
cattle, were too far away to be a worry but wanted them to be prepared.
On top of that news was a report that the prisoner wagon the Judge had
arranged to pick up Yates and his gang had been delayed by two days.
Throwing back the rest of his drink, Chris left the saloon. He
was going to have to set watches between the jail and the outskirts of the
town. First he would send JD and Buck out to warn the surrounding
ranches of possible danger.
Vin and Ezra worked in silence to set up the camp. The gambler
proving that he was not a novice on the trail, that so many had mistaken
him for in the past. By nightfall, each man was settled on either side
of the fire with a plate of beans and biscuits with thick slices of ham.
Vin made the coffee and Ezra added a dram of rum from his flask.
The Texan closed his eyes as he ate, listening to the sounds of the
night. He was glad that the rain had been brief and hadn't saturated the
ground where they set up camp. In the canopy of the trees he could
hear the wind blow the branches around, creating music of its own.
"You really do love it out here don't you Vin?" Ezra had watched
the smile on the other man's face, noticing how relaxed Vin was now that
they had left the trappings of the town behind.
The tracker didn't bother to open his eyes as he spoke, "Yep. Ain't
somethin' I can explain ta someone who ain't use to it."
"Don't bother; it’s a language I don't speak very well." The gambler
Both men lapsed into silence again until the howl of a coyote sounded
in the distance. Vin laughed aloud as Ezra jumped to his feet with
his pistol in one hand and the little derringer in the other.
"Very funny, ha ha, so happy to have amused you." Standish dropped
back to his bedroll but kept his six-shooter within easy reach.
"Sorry Ezra, but you looked right funny just now." He chuckled
again as he reached for another cup of coffee.
"I must admit that I am a bit out of my element. In town one doesn't
often hear the symphony of the wild."
"I reckon not." Taking a sip of coffee Vin studied the gambler.
"Is there something bothering you Mr. Tanner?"
"Just trying to figure out a way ta let the rest of the boys know I
won't be stayin'."
"If you don't mind hearing my opinion?" Ezra paused and continued
when Vin didn't speak. "I think it would be a great loss for the
town and the other men. Considering the things you have accomplished
since your arrival."
"Don't know that what I've done is enough ta make up fer the danger
that bounty brings."
"Mrs. Wells would have something to say about that, or Mrs. Potter.
Mary Travis has reason to be thankful for your presence as well. I
could also name Miss Inez and …"
Vin stopped the man from continuing, "Seems ta me you ain't stickin'
round either, so what's it matter to you if'n I stay or not?"
Ezra looked down into his cup, shook his head and then looked back up
at the other man, "I've been sitting here asking myself that very question."
His gold tooth flashed as he grinned.
"In truth, I was more than content to stay in that dust covered backwoods
little burg, but recent circumstances have altered my thinking." Pausing,
he dowsed his coffee with more of the rum from his silver flask and then
offered the flask to the tracker.
Vin watched the Southerner as he took the liquor, poured some into his
own cup and waited for Ezra's gaze to come back to him, before handing it
Ezra starred into his cup as he spoke, "I feel that at least one of
us should stay, as the rest of the men would be hard pressed to protect
the town with both our absences'. May I also add that you have only had
one incident regarding the bounty in the months we have been in Four Corners?
Don't you think the odds are in your favor?"
"Maybe, it's just…I can't…shit Ezra." Vin huffed a frustrated
breath as he rose to his feet.
Ezra watched Vin paced away toward the remuda and then back again before
the Texan pulled a bottle of whiskey out of his saddlebags that they had
left under a tree. Vin broke the seal and offered the bottle to Ezra.
The gambler tossed the remaining dregs of coffee laced with rum and
accepted a full cup of liquor from the other man.
Both men were quiet for a time. Ezra reasoned that Vin just needed
time to gather his thoughts, and he himself, felt an unaccustomed desire
Chris Larabee sat in a table in the back of the saloon, sipping a glass
of whiskey, when the saloon doors burst open and handful of dusty men marched
After the Judge's missive, he'd sent Buck and JD to check out the surrounding
ranches and homesteads, making sure that people were informed of the large
herd of cattle headed their way.
Nathan was at the jail and Josiah was patrolling the boardwalks around
Watching closely as the trail hands settled at various places around
the saloon, Chris was relieved that such a small number had come into the
Finishing off his drink, he went outside, instinctively knowing that
the men behind him in no way represented all the wranglers.
The hitching posts up and down the boardwalk were all full of the horses
the new arrivals had rode in on, attesting to the large number of strangers
that were in town.
He would have felt better if Ezra and Vin were back in town.
"Where was ya figurin' ta go?"
Ezra was startled at hearing Vin speak after almost an hour of silence.
"Well, I hadn't really contemplated that portion of my journey."
He turned so that he could see the Texan; Vin was lying on his back, he
was so still for a moment, Ezra questioned if he'd actually heard the other
That notion was dispelled when Vin lifted his hat and faced him. "You
ain't got no price on yer head, seems ta me that it'd make better sense
fer you ta stay." Vin reached for the half empty bottle of whiskey
and poured a generous potion into his mug. "You said earlier that yer feelin's
changed 'bout stayin'."
Vin shifted back against his saddle, his top lip was tingling, indicating
he'd more than reached his limit of alcohol for the night; he had been feeling
drowsy until the southerner spoke.
"Did you know, Vin that I procured ownership of one of the saloons in
town this past week?"
"No, Ezra didn't know 'bout it. That what you wanna do fer a livin'?"
"That's a moot point, since I no longer have possession of the establishment."
Ezra could hear the bitterness in his own voice.
Vin saw the angry flash of eyes as Standish looked across the fire at
"My very own mother ruined any chance I had to settle there."
He purposely didn't mention the role the other peacekeepers played in the
last few days. He'd made his peace with them and was willing to leave
"How so?" Tanner found that he was curios as always about the
relationship between Ezra and his mother. He'd been orphaned so young
that half the time he wondered if his memories were true of his beloved
mother. He'd never understood how those two could go from happy greetings
to constant arguing in the blink of an eye.
"She swooped into town without any prior notice, coincidently won the
hotel across the street from my establishment and set up a gaming room.
In direct competition with my own saloon." Taking a deep breath, he
looked up toward the sky, trying to control the emotions that were so close
to the surface.
"I think what bothers me most is that I can find no rhyme or reason
in her actions other than to humiliate me in front of the town." Ezra shrugged
his shoulders. "I sometimes envy you. You hold nothing but cherished
memories of your mother... while I only feel anger, disappointment and the
unshakeable belief that she truly doesn't care for me…" his voice trailed
away as the coffee cup was lifted to his lips.
"My ma's been gone years past, wish it weren’t so." Vin shrugged
the sadness away and changed the direction of the conversation back to Ezra.
"She still own that hotel? Your Ma?’
"No and that's another piece of the puzzle. Not two days after
she purchased the Hotel, she sold it and bought the mortgage on my saloon."
Lying back against his saddle, Ezra shook his head, still perplexed over
the entire incident.
"Don't mean ya gotta leave. There's a place fer you there, Ezra,
all's you got ta do is want it." While those words were meant for
the southerner, Vin felt their meaning as well.
Looking at his friend, Ezra tilted his head at a thoughtful angle, "Sage
advice. I could say the same for you."
Nodding Vin smiled.
"What say we head on back in the mornin'. No tellin' what trouble
the boys have got to without us."
"Sounds like a good plan to me."
Somewhere between wanting to stay and needing to go, Vin Tanner realized
that for now he was right where he wanted to be, beside the friends he'd
made and the town he had come to care for. Vin knew he always had the
choice to leave if those feelings changed.
Ezra didn't know how long he would stay in Four Corners, but Vin was
right, he did have a place there that didn't have anything to do with his
mother or the Standish Tavern. It would be enough to hold him for
Vin and Ezra got a late start back to Four Corners, staying in camp
to avoid riding in an early morning rain shower. Several hours later,
they approached the outskirts of town.
On their approach, they heard gunfire. Setting spurs to their
mounts they raced forward.
The first thing they noticed was several horses tied up from the hardware
store down past Diggers Saloon and out in front of the cigar shop.
The two men tied their mounts to the hitching rail in front of the jail
and crossed the street with guns drawn.
Ezra moved to one side of the saloon entrance as Vin took position on
the other side. Just as they were getting ready to enter, a body
came flying past to land in the dirt beyond the boardwalk. A short
dust covered cowboy got up, rubbed his hands together and marched right
back into the melee.
"After you, Mr. Tanner." Ezra bowed from the waist and swept his
arm out toward the double doors.
Grinning with anticipation, Vin nodded. "I thank ya kindly."
Chris had managed to avoid the mass of bodies struggling in the middle
of the saloon and had pulled his gun ready to fire when he saw Vin come
in followed by Ezra. It was good to have all the men together again
but he didn't have time to savor the feeling as Buck called out and Tanner
answered by jumping over the top of the bodies and fighting his way toward
Larabee put his gun back in its holster. He figured the boys needed
to have a little fun before he broke up the party.
Vin watched as Yates was loaded in the prison wagon, the last of the
six men who were headed to Silver Springs to face justice.
The Texan watched as the four outriders followed along beside and behind
the prisoners until they were out of town.
"You okay?" Chris studied his friends face.
Vin turned to look at the blond offering a smile as he nodded his head.
Chris didn’t expect more of an answer from Tanner.
The two men watched as Buck and JD passed by on their way to the Wells
Homestead, they could hear the ladies man giving unsolicited advice to the
Kid as they rode by.
Looking across the street, they saw that the gambler came out of the
Standish Tavern with a smile on his face, carrying two large canvas bags
and Inez hot on his heels.
They could hear the pretty Senorita as she fussed at Ezra all the way
across the street.
"You can't take those Ezra; they belong to your mother." Inez
finally threw up her hands. "I give up. You can work this out with Mrs.
"Thank you." Ezra chuckled as he stepped up onto the boardwalk
beside Vin and Chris.
Just then, Josiah came by with Nathan to let Chris know they were going
to attend a birthing out at the Napier's small ranch.
"Seems the wife had a habit of having twins and this was her ninth pregnancy
but her 13 child or maybe 14." Josiah mused aloud.
"Mr. Jackson, might I have a moment." Ezra asked.
"Sure Ezra, but I need ta get goin' soon, them babies have a habit of
not waitin' on the rest of us." Nathan walked a short distance with
Holding out the bags to the healer, Ezra waited until Nathan took hold
before he let go. As he was turning away he spoke, "Those are yours
Mr. Jackson, use them for good health."
Nathan was shocked when he slowly opened the smaller of the canvas bags.
Nestled in the bottom was a black doctor's bag. He recognized it as
the one Maude had put in the hotel medical office.
The healer was ready to argue that these didn't belong to him when Vin
stepped into this line of vision blocking out the retreating southerner.
"Don't question it, Nate. Let Ezra do this one thing for the town."
Tanner squeezed Nathan shoulder as he passed by. The Texan unhitched Peso
Nathan realized that is exactly what Ezra had done, not bestowed these
items upon him but contributed them to the wellbeing of the town as a whole.
Thus cementing Ezra's commitment to do all he could to watch after them.
The offering humbled Nathan.
"'siah, you about ready?" Nathan looked over to where his friend
held their horses. "Give me a bit to take these here things up ta
A few minutes later, all Chris could see was the fading image of Nathan
and Josiah as they rode out of town. Turning back down the boardwalk,
he caught sight of Ezra just outside the saloon. The Gambler flashed
him a gold-toothed grin and a two-finger salute before entering the bar.