One Day Out West: Fort Laramie graphic by St. Barb

DISCLAIMER: The following is an original work of fan fiction 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. No profit is being made - enjoy!!

One Day Out West: Fort Laramie

Eleanor Tremayne, Ezquire

MoM Awards 2005 Nominee

(Dialogue written in blue is actual dialogue from The Magnificent Seven episode 'One Day Out West')

"We want you to turn Lucas loose!"

Lucas James chuckled, and Ezra found it disturbingly difficult to keep the smile on his face as he laid down three queens to beat the young rancher's hand.

"I - can't." J.D.'s astonished answer came clearly through the open door of the jail. "He's gotta stand trial."

Lucas shook his head at the young sheriff's foolishness as Ezra gathered up the cards to shuffle them back into a pack. The sound of the cards fanning together failed to drown out the muttering of the mob gathering outside the jail.

"We don't want a trial," the weasel told J.D. "Maybe it was... self-defense."

'Weasel?' his better judgment demanded of him. 'Where the hell did that come from, Ezra? No, the good citizen protesting the incarceration of your new best friend is merely being a sensible man. Mister Dunne is the weasel... or have you forgotten who is responsible for your current accommodation?'

'Mother,' his stubborn memory answered, receiving a sound slap from his better judgment for talking out of turn.

Lucas's chuckle became a laugh as J.D. pulled the jail door shut. Both prisoners fell silent, concentrating on hearing what was transpiring outside.

"That's for the judge to decide," J.D.'s muffled voice answered the mob.

Ezra found himself looking at the back door to the jail, wondering if any of the hayseeds so hell bent on saving their skins from the wrath of the James family would think of sneaking in the back way while the baby sheriff was busy guarding the front door. Probably not....

"Don't be stupid, son," the spokesweasel continued.

Ezra mentally bristled. J.D. was merely naïve and idealistic -- the idiots who had forgotten about the jail's back door were stupid.

'Good Lord!' his common sense groaned in protest at this foolish sentiment. Naïve or stupid, the kid was a walking advertisement for the mortician.

"His men will come back for him! You want the whole town shot up, innocent people killed?"

'Listen to the weasel, J.D.!' The urgency of his mental plea shocked Standish.

James caught the gambler's gaze, nodding at him with confident anticipation. Standish had to fight the urge to lunge through the bars and wipe the smug arrogance off the son of a bitch's face.

'Ezra!' his appalled common sense scolded, joining with the voice of better judgment in a shrill duet. 'This idiot is your red carpet out of this undeserved imprisonment - and quite possibly a very lucrative meal ticket!'

So stunned was the gambler by his sudden, unexplainable desire to throttle the life out of the most promising mark he'd found in months, Ezra nearly missed the sound of J.D. cocking his rifle.

"Seems to me the prisoner's the one killing innocent people," Dunne said, his words defiant and his tone nervous. "Thought you'd wanta put an end to that?"

'Better the devil you can placate,' Ezra's bitter experience instructed silently. 'Because the devil you can placate is the over-confident fool you can manipulate....'

"Looks like I might not have to wait for my boys," Lucas said, not minding that he'd lost yet another hand.

"Perhaps..." Ezra frowned, shuffling the deck together thoughtfully. 'Of course, releasin' you before your men arrive could make it that much easier for someone to put a bullet in your back as you ride out of town alone...."

It was a fallacious argument, given the town's fear of retribution from Lucas's uncle, but he'd bet his own money that Lucas wasn't swift enough to see through it, and for some reason he couldn't quite fathom, Ezra just wanted to see the rancher sweat a little.

"Guess I'll have to take you with me," Lucas grinned. "You can ride behind me."

Ezra's knuckles whitened on the cards he held as the waters of an unanticipated Rubicon lapped suddenly at his chin. This was the opportunity he'd been playing for -- so why did he have this sudden urge to tell the man sitting across from him to go to hell?

'Accept his offer!' his better judgment ordered. 'Flatter him, Ezra! Once you're out of here, you can gut-shoot him if you like - but you'll do nothing but rot on the end of Travis's chain if you stay in this jail!'

"I can't believe you're talking like this, Mr. Conklin," the two prisoners heard a woman's weary voice say, low and nasal from too much weeping. So, the weasel had a name... Ezra decided it was one he needed to remember.

"My husband was a friend of yours.... All of yours.... And you're willing to just let his murderer go free...."

"I'm sorry for your loss, Mrs. Potter..." weasel Conklin answered.

It was quite clear from Lucas's smirk that the rancher was not. Ezra's jaw tightened with the strain of returning the bastard's wink with a grin.

'No, no, no!' his common sense wailed in despair as it realized that Ezra wouldn't be leaving this jail in the company or employ of the young rancher.

'You will regret this, Ezra!' the voice of bitter experience promised.

"...But there's no reason to see more people killed. If you won't turn the prisoner loose, we'll release him ourselves!" weasel Conklin finished with a threat.

"Try it..." J.D.'s voice trembled. "You'll be wearin' a coffin tomorrow, Mister."

'Better listen to the kid,' Ezra counseled as he surveyed his new cards.

"Stand aside!" weasel Conklin ordered. "Come on, he won't shoot us!"

Ezra had the satisfaction of seeing Lucas jump at the full-throated bark of a rifle discharging. Gold tooth gleaming, the gambler laid down another winning hand. The only thing about the shot that had surprised Ezra was that it had come from Vin Tanner's sawed-off Winchester.

' thousand nine, one thousand ten, one thousand eleven...' Ezra silently counted off fourteen seconds as he shuffled his cards.

"Y'gotta problem here, sheriff?" Tanner's voice growled.

"We don't want your kind in this town!" weasel Conklin spat. "You bring nothing but trouble!"

"Can't be worse than what you already got," Vin scoffed.

'Touché, Mister Tanner!' Ezra applauded the tracker as he listened to the crowd disperse, weasel Conklin apologizing to the widow and J.D. thanking Vin for saving his neck. If Tanner was still in town, Ezra mused, then Larabee was also around... An interesting occurrence, as J.D. had artlessly informed him last night that the tracker and the gunslinger were leaving for the certain death of Tascosa that very morning.

The thought occurred to Ezra that, once shed of the small complication presented by the iron bars of the jail and Travis's petty warrant, it would be no difficult matter to let his path cross theirs before they reached Texas. Surely circumstances could be arranged which would allow him a perfectly justifiable reason for joining them on their ride to Tascosa....

The 'thud' from Ezra's better judgment, common sense, and bitter experience fainting en masse from shock gave him a sudden, merciless headache.


J.D. came for Lucas James less than half an hour later, his young face pale under its grim expression. It seemed the young man had begun to realize what he'd gotten himself into. Both the rancher and the sheriff had left Ezra on his own without so much as a backward glance. He'd waited a few minutes to see who would replace J.D. as his jailer, then realized to his chagrin that Dunne hadn't thought he'd needed watching. It seemed that while he was a felon in the boy's eyes, he wasn't a dangerous one.

'Mistake number two, Mister Dunne,' he grinned to himself, pulling up his trouser leg and plucking the appropriate lock pick from its sheath in his custom made boot. The lock on his cell was old - ancient, in fact - and it took less than a minute to spring it open.

'Very nice,' he congratulated himself. Even nicer was the sound of the rain pelting the dirt streets into mud. Not even the most experienced hunter of men would be able to follow his trail in this weather.

He began to whistle 'Dixie' to himself, very, very softly as he methodically unlocked the drawers of the old wooden desk and retrieved his guns and ammunition. Just to add insult to the injury of the empty cell, he locked the empty drawers behind him. Let Messieurs Dunne and Wilmington stew on that.

'My kingdom for a garter snake --!' he thought longingly.

Afraid that the subtlety of the gesture might be lost on the young man and his hirsute keeper, Ezra popped an ace of spades from its hiding place up his sleeve and left it lying on the center of the desk.

"Adieu, gentlemen," he grinned, tipping an invisible hat to the card.

The sound of horses chunking through the mud drew his gaze to the windows that looked out onto the street. It appeared that Master Lucas's tardy thugs had finally arrived to spring their charge. They were sopping wet from the thunderstorm, their surly voices raised in unintelligible complaints as they pulled their horses up in front of the saloon. Ezra rather imagined it was the first bath they'd had in some time.

"Ah, the picturesque West," Ezra sighed, thinking of cleaner, if not better, days. He looked away from the window, casting about for anything that might be useful -- or amusing to contemplate -- on his journey. He decided to lock the front door, then went back to get the desk chair and shove it under the knob.

'Enough!' his better judgment ordered. 'It's time to ride, Ezra!'

'Before the bullets start flying,' his common sense warned him.

The cell doors, he decided. He'd lock them -- yes, lock them and then break them so they'd stay locked even with the key.

The dull report of a shotgun blast echoed from inside the saloon and Ezra froze.

'Too late,' his bitter experience sighed, not at all surprised to find Ezra unlocking the front door.

'THE BACK DOOR!' his common sense and better judgment shrieked together. 'What the hell are you doing, Ezra?!'

What the hell was he doing? That he would even ask such a question, that he was standing here, about to run into the middle of a gunfight to -- to do what? His hand turned white on the doorknob and he realized he'd lost count of the shots -- had there been four, five -- six? Good Lord, what was happening to him?

The deep-throated roar of Tanner's mare's leg and the steady bark of Larabee's Colt Model P blew away any chance the gambler had of making sense of the gunfight. He could either throw open the door and join the other Galahads in opposing the James' family minions, thus throwing away his chance at escape, or he could grab his hat and get out the back door while the getting was good.

Or he could do what he was doing right now -- which was nothing. Surely, there was nothing he could do? Lucas James was one of many; the scion of a powerful house with money and political clout behind it. The loss of this brash Paris to the gallows would do nothing more than make the fight personal for the family he left behind. This little backwater didn't stand a chance, not in the long run, no matter how gallant a fight it offered....

Ezra knew all about lost causes and gallantry and honor and pride. It was that knowledge that allowed bitter experience to prevail where his better judgment and common sense had failed.

His foot was on the top step of the back stairs when Ezra heard Tanner shout, "J.D.! Get down!"

The words careened in his mind like a ricochet, so much so that he couldn't tell who or what fired the final shot of the conflict, a loud BANG that hung on the air, rolling into the coming thunder.

Ezra breathed in short, sharp, silent gasps. J.D., so young he could still fly....

"Nathan!" the kid's voice yelled from the street.

'Nathan!' Ezra's knees were shaking when he stepped backwards into the jail, shutting the back door and locking it out of reflex. Moving unsteadily, he returned the chair to its place at the desk. If J.D. was running for Nathan, someone was down, maybe even dead....

'Probably dead,' bitter experience amended as he stepped back into the cell, closing the unlocked door behind him.

His common sense and better judgment clamored for the solace of whiskey as they realized Ezra wouldn't be leaving until he knew who had been left broken and bleeding by the range war this two-bit town's pretensions had provoked.

Taking off his jacket, he draped it across his pillow, laying his hat down on top of it. Methodically unbuckling his gunbelt, derringer, and shoulder harness, Ezra laid them neatly in the middle of the bunk, covering them with his waistcoat.

"Good Lord," he muttered as he sat down upon the foot of the narrow bed, his elbows on his knees and his head bowed over the silver flask clasped in his hands. Maybe he would've been better off walking out the front door and catching a bullet in his aching head, before he failed to remember that he'd given up on seeing justice done years ago.

'You foreswore noble causes and damsels in distress and anything and everything that didn't put money in your pocket and food in your stomach,' his bitter experience reminded him. The world hadn't changed since he'd made that vow, and nothing he or anyone else did would ever change it. The devil could take the ghosts who reproached him in the eyes of fools like J.D. Dunne and Buck Wilmington... or Chris Larabee, or Vin Tanner, or that demented, monosyllabic preacher....

Ezra's thoughts strayed to the ghosts he saw in Nathan Jackson, and he hid from them by opening the flask and slugging back a jigger of whiskey. The smoky single malt betrayed him, taking him back to days of his grandfather's tumbler of whiskey and water and the piano in the parlor....

He shook himself out of the false nostalgia, remembering instead the fresh graves on which he'd sworn to never again care whether anyone other than Ezra Standish lived or died.

'So why aren't we leaving?' his common sense demanded.

Ezra took another slug of whiskey to shut it up.

'At least this time you won't have to conduct the funeral services,' his bitter experience consoled him. Ezra rewarded it with another sip from the flask.

'Best to stay sober,' his better judgment counseled. In full-fledged rebellion, Ezra took another snort. So preoccupied was he with his warring thoughts that he barely heard the door opening in time to cap the flask and slip it out of sight under the waistcoat.

"Ezra!" J.D. cried in relief as he threw himself into the jail. "I saw bullet holes in the walls --!"

"Put there before my unjust tenure, Mister Dunne," Ezra answered lightly, his heart hammering against his ribs. "Was Mister James convicted?"

J.D. swallowed hard, his face taking on a decidedly green tint. "He got away," the kid confessed in a small voice as he collapsed into the chair behind the desk. "God, Ezra, they shot the judge...."

Leaning sideways, Ezra picked up his hat and tossed it onto the floor, crown down and several feet away from him. He plucked a new deck of cards from the hidden pocket in his trousers and proceeded to shuffle them. He would have to burn the deck Lucas James had played with to get rid of its bad luck.

"Nathan doesn't know if he'll make it," J.D. nearly whispered.

Ezra made no reply, continuing to shuffle the deck. The fate of Orrin Travis affected him not at all -- alive or dead, the old man's ridiculous conviction would still hang over his head.

"Anyone else -- hurt?" he heard himself asking.

"Three of Lucas's men were killed."

Ezra fought unsuccessfully against his smile.

"What happened to your head?"

J.D. rubbed the red mark turning into a bruise on his forehead. "I ran into a pillar post," he admitted, reluctantly. "But I wasn't runnin' out!"

Ezra's smile grew as he watched the boy squirm as he realized what he'd said -- and to whom he'd said it.

"Rest assured that I have complete confidence in your ability to trip over your own two feet while bravely chargin' the foe, Mister Dunne."

J.D.'s embarrassment turned into indignation. "Hey!" he spluttered. There was a sharp edge to the gambler's amusement that cut deep.

"I take it Mister Larabee has the situation in hand?"

J.D. looked very much like he wanted to cry. 'He and Vin are still leavin'."

"Then I suggest you use your authority as sheriff to deputize Mister Wilmington."

"I don't need Buck's help to do my job."

"Son, you need all the help you can get."

"You ain't tryin' to get me to let you out again, are ya?"

Ezra stopped tossing cards into the hat, suddenly furious that he had completely missed that angle.

"I didn't mean it like that," J.D. apologized, genuinely contrite.

A cold tingle went down the gambler's spine. The boy was as perceptive as a rock, which meant that he, Maude Standish's one and only son, had allowed his control of the current situation to slip completely out of his hands. Worse, an obtuse adolescent who could pick up and toy with an ace of spades he'd found on top of his desk without even wondering how it could have come to be there had just read him like an open book.

"Mother, where are you when I need you?" Ezra murmured plaintively.

"You got a ma, Ezra?" J.D. asked. He sounded surprised.

"As I understand it, one is required."

"No, I mean -- is your ma alive?"

"My mother is eternal, Mister Dunne."

"What's she like?"

"She is -- sensible. The worst predicaments of my life can be traced directly back to a stubborn refusal to listen to her sage maternal advice."

"My ma died this spring. That's why I came out west."

Ezra shuffled the scant deck he held.

"Why'd you come west, Ezra?"

"That is none of your damned business, young man."

J.D. shut up, staring at the ace his fingers tugged and tore at. After an hour of silence, ten minutes had passed. Sighing, Ezra tossed the remaining cards as a deck into his hat and pressed fingertips into his closed eyes.

"Go and see how the judge is, J.D."

'Unbelievable,' Ezra thought as the kid trotted out the door to do his bidding.


Ezra was sitting on the bunk tossing cards into his hat again when J.D. returned nearly an hour later. The ace of spades from the desk now lay face up on the floor in front of the hat.

"Ezra!" the kid yelped, breathless with excitement and quivering with purpose. The gambler looked at him with what he hoped was an encouraging and expectant expression.

"Nathan thinks the judge --" J.D. stopped abruptly, looking over his shoulder out the windows before coming close to the cell bars and dropping his voice.

"Nathan thinks the judge will make it."

Ezra nodded seriously.

"But there's a couple of James's boys in the saloon, askin' questions."

'And two more in the restaurant, and two in the blacksmith's shop, and two just checked themselves into the hotel -- and you can bet your shiny silver star there's at least two more waiting just outside town on either end of the road to see if anyone's going to run.'

"Really?" Ezra said, frowning.

"Yep. Chris figures they're waiting to find out if the judge's gonna die or not."

'Tell them what they want to hear, Mister Larabee. Buy yourself and this town some time.'

"So Nathan's spreadin' the word the judge won't last the hour, and Missus Travis is cryin' up a storm and gettin' her widow's weeds out of the trunk." J.D. was grinning, obviously proud of the simple subterfuge Larabee had concocted. "My job's to get the casket and arrange the funeral."

"And what are you goin' to put in the casket, Mister Dunne?"

J.D. blinked. "Nothin'! The judge ain't dead."

Ezra pinched the bridge of his nose against his headache. "Yes, but you are tryin' to convince the James boys that he is. On the off chance that one of the men watchin' this town has a modicum of intellect, I suggest you make every effort to be convincin' in your morbid charade."


"Put some rocks in the casket so it'll look like you're liftin' a fat old fool into his final restin' place."

"Couldn't we just pretend?"

Ezra eyed him critically. "No."

J.D. cocked his head at him. "You ever done anything like this before, Ezra?"

The gambler smiled until J.D. could see the gold cap on his canine gleam. "Once or twice."

J.D. grinned back at him. "So, what else should I do?"

"Success lies in payin' attention to the details, Mister Dunne," Ezra instructed solemnly, flipping the ace of spades from the deck he held face up over his knuckles.


"Good Lord..." Vin grunted, struggling with the weight at the end of the rope as he helped lower the coffin into the freshly dug hole. "What'd you put in here?"

"Rocks," J.D. answered, glancing across the grave at the equally straining Chris.

"Y'didn't have to put so many in," the tracker complained.

"It had to look right..." the kid countered.

With a shake of his head, Vin addressed Chris. "They still out there?"

Chris let his gaze slide to the three riders on the bluff overlooking the cemetery. "Yeah...."

An awkward silence fell.

"Shouldn't we say somethin'?" J.D. prompted.

"Say somethin'?!" Vin repeated, flabbergasted.

"Like some words?"

"It's a coffin fulla rocks, J.D.!"

Unable to help himself, Chris grinned, laughing silently. He pulled his hat off, hoping the riders on the ridge mistook his shaking shoulders for grief.

"I know," J.D. hissed. "I put 'em there... but shouldn't we look like we're doin' somethin'? Like, maybe a prayer?"

"I think he'd appreciate that..." Mary said, looking at Chris through her translucent black veil. "I know I would."

Chris shifted his gaze away from the woman, back to the riders. They were turning their mounts and riding away.

"They're leaving," Chris said, relieved that he wouldn't have to come up with 'words'.

"The ones we can see," J.D. said. "How 'bout the ones that might be watchin' that we can't see? Shouldn't we go ahead and do it all proper?"

"Proper?!" Tanner echoed, staring at J.D. like he was mad.

"Success lies in paying attention to the details, Vin!"

"J.D.," Chris said, struggling to keep his voice steady, "you been talkin' to Ezra?"

The kid nodded. "You know, he's done this before! He said it's important to follow through, just in case the miscreants ain't dumb."

"Ezra said that?" Vin asked.

"Yep -- at least, I'm pretty sure that's what he meant."

"Say a prayer, Vin," Chris ordered, snapping down on the tracker's name to keep it from being a laugh.

Tanner glared at him as Mary turned her expectant gaze on the tracker. Shuffling his feet, he snatched his hat off and bowed his head.

"God is good, God is great, we thank thee Lord for what's on our plate," Vin mumbled.

"That's Grace!" J.D. hissed as Chris raised his hat to cover his face. Hopefully anyone still watching would think the judge was an old and dear friend.

"It's the only one I know," Vin snapped. "If'n you wanted prayers, you shoulda brought Josiah!"

"All right -- let's sing a hymn, then!" J.D. decided.

"Good idea," Mary nodded, turning the evil glint of her gaze back on Chris.

"Uh..." said Chris. The only hymns he remembered were fragmented at best, and at worst, completely and sacrilegiously transformed. "Well, I know the Battle Hymn of the Republic."

"That ain't my favorite song, Cowboy," Vin growled.

"Amazing Grace," J.D. decided, and he and Mary dutifully sang an off-key verse.

"That good enough?" Vin demanded of J.D.

"Well, shouldn't we cover the coffin? You know, really bury it?"

"If we really bury it, we gotta dig it up to give it back to the undertaker!" Tanner reminded him.

"Get the shovels, J.D.," Chris instructed. When Vin gave him a look, Larabee grinned. "Reckon the judge can pay for it."


"Where am I?"

Chris glanced away from the window to the man in the bed when he heard Travis's rasping question.

"Room I rent." He went back to watching the street. "You're safe."

"How long I been sleepin'?"


"Anyone else get hurt?"

"Nobody you care about," Chris said, looking back at the tough old man lying in his bed.

"Where's Mary?"

"I'll get her," Chris answered, taking a step toward the door.

"Now hold off," Travis instructed. "I want t'talk to ya."

Chris took a deep breath and crossed the room to stand by Travis, the chime of his spurs loud in the small room.

"I never got a chance to thank you for backin' me the other day.... But that kind of behavior could get you killed...."

'I know,' Chris sighed to himself.

"I had a son killed..." Travis continued. "And on days when I really miss him... I wonder if it was really worth it."

"He's the only one that would know." The words were cold comfort, but they were all that Chris had to give.

"Y'ever been shot?" Travis asked. "It gets your attention... makes you think, 'what d'you believe...?'.... What do you believe in, Mr. Larabee?"

Chris sank into the chair beside the bed. Smiling, he shook his head. "Not as much as I used to," he admitted.

"From what I can see, more than most."

"I have to choose my fights carefully these days."

"Glad you chose to help an old man arrest a cold-blooded murderer."

"Wasn't alone," Chris reminded him.

"Doubt that would've made much of a difference."

Chris smiled again, turning to look out the window. "What've you got Ezra in jail for?" he asked.

His answer was a bark of laughter that ended in a groan and a cough. It was eerily similar to the laughter of Francis Corcoran in the Seminole village, and it made Chris frown.

"The little bastard's still there?" the judge asked. Chris blinked both at the surprise and the fondness in the older man's tone.

"As of an hour ago."

"He must like ya," Travis smiled. "Unless your jail's better than the one the army has at Fort Laramie."

"What the hell did he do, anyway?"

"Disturbed the peace... by breaking the nose of a Federal Judge durin' sentencing."

Chris couldn't stop himself from chuckling. "What was the original charge?"

"He wasn't on trial. He was in my court as an advocate for the accused."


"Boy has a fine legal mind."

"Ezra's a lawyer?"

"Don't know.... But he sure as hell could be." It was the judge's turn to chuckle as his weary mind turned back to a cherished memory. "Got his clients off -- on a technicality."

Chris laughed outright.

"They were a couple of gullible idiots, left holdin' the blame for some slick carpetbagger who'd left town the night before the swindle was exposed."

"Sure it wasn't Ezra?"

"She was described as a beautiful blonde woman of indeterminate age. I'd've sworn out a warrant against her, but she'd made sure she wasn't directly connected with anything illegal. A real professional."

'Ezra's partner,' Chris privately decided.

"There wasn't much legal counsel for the defense, just a lieutenant who'd joined the army because they were the only ones who'd let him practice law. I saw Standish slip into the back of the courtroom when opening arguments began.... Fancy red jacket, expensive hat held in his hands, watching everything and everyone like a hawk.

"We were in the third day of the trial when that boy leapt to his feet and yelled, "I object!" during the most hamfisted presentation of witnesses I'd seen in twenty years on the bench. When I asked him what he objected to, he said, "I object to stupidity in general, and the crass ignorance of the law exhibited by the idiot counsel for the defense in particular!"."

Chris grinned.

"Next thing I knew, he was removing the lieutenant from the courtroom with a right cross. I fined him a dollar for contempt of court, he paid me, I declared a mistrial, and we started all over again -- only this time, the defendants had adequate counsel."

"Ezra does seem to develop a conscience now and again," Chris remembered.

Travis laughed again, wincing as the movement made his shoulder hurt even more. "You could almost see his eyeballs turn in their sockets to stare at himself in shock when he first opened his mouth."

Chris gave in to a howl of laughter. God help him, he could see that....

"Let me tell you, that boy can sling his Latin... and he's not afraid of throwin' a punch or pullin' a gun when necessary. That's the kind of man it's gonna take to bring justice -- real justice -- to the territories. As much as there's gotta be someone willin' to stand up and hang the criminals, there's gotta be someone who's willin' to stand up for the innocent."

"What about the guilty?"

"An American's supposed to be innocent until he's proven guilty. That's why we've got lawyers and judges and a constitution a hell of a lot of men gave their lives to protect and preserve."

"Why'd he break your nose?"

"Wasn't his fault, really.... The lieutenant went and got drunk and decided he'd overrule Standish's objection. Don't move quite as fast as I used to.... Wound up with a broken nose, lieutenant wound up with a court martial, and I gave Standish the choice of thirty days in jail or a thousand dollar fine." Travis smiled. "He chose neither. Took us half a day to get into the jail. Didn't find the lieutenant 'til the next morning.... Never did find his uniform."

"A thousand dollars?" Chris repeated. That was twice what Vin was worth, and he was supposed to have killed a man....

"I wanted him to pick the thirty days. Wanted to have a talk with him about his future -- wanted to find out what he believed in."

"Gold," Chris answered without hesitation. "It's life itself to Ezra...."

"Was hopin' there was more to him than that..." the judge grunted, disappointed.

Chris smiled a wolfish smile. "Gold is the education that makes a competent attorney." The gunslinger rose to his feet, looking down at Travis. "I'll get Mary -- then me and my boys are goin' after Lucas James."

Travis nodded. "I'll be ready to try him when you get back. And Larabee -- about Standish...."

Chris turned back, his expression making it quite clear the gambler was coming with him regardless of whatever Travis had to say.

"Don't turn your back on his goddamned horse."


Ezra leaned back in J.D.'s desk chair, making sure he couldn't be seen through the window as he watched Vin and Chris walk out of the saloon to join Josiah, Nathan and J.D. on the street.

'The troops are mustering,' he mused. 'I wonder where Mister Wilmington is?'

Chris glanced at the jail, saying something to J.D.

'Ahh,' Ezra thought with satisfaction. 'Finally! Yes, Mister Larabee, I think you should send the boy to ask me to join your quixotic little adventure....'

He saw J.D. throw back his head and laugh. The kid followed Larabee as the tall gunslinger headed toward the jail.

Ezra groaned aloud. The son of a bitch was going to make him volunteer --!

'You don't have to,' his common sense pointed out. 'As soon as they've gone off to get themselves killed and you know Wilmington's whereabouts, you can ride out of town free and easy.'

Sighing, Ezra put the chair in the opposite corner from where J.D. had left it and returned to his cell and his game of tossing cards into his hat.

J.D. came through the door first, his expression one of deep purpose as he removed his badge from the back of his lapel. Ezra waited in vain for the boy to remember that the desk drawer he tossed it into was one he'd left locked. Larabee went to the rifle rack, making a show of removing several of them -- as if Ezra didn't know that those of their number who used rifles had their own.

Resisting the urge to shake his head and ignoring the whimpering protests from his common sense, better judgment and bitter experience, he stepped with resignation into the role the gunslinger had cast for him.

"Mister Larabee.... Might I assume you've come to take me with you?"

"Oh, I couldn't do that...."

'The Yankee bastard's enjoyin' this!' Ezra realized.

"May I ask why?"

"You broke the law.... You been a bad boy."

'Evidently the Honorable Orrin Travis isn't quite at death's door....' Ezra put a spin on the card he tossed into the Stetson. 'Let him fish, Ezra,' his pride commanded. 'Let the damn fool go and get his head blown off, like he's been tryin' to do since you met him.'

"I know where Lucas went," Ezra said.

"You do?" Larabee asked with a blink, coming to stand closer to the cell. Obviously, so did he.

Gritting his teeth, Ezra played it the way the gunslinger seemed to want it. Abandoning his cards, he stood and walked to the bars. Assuming the expression that never failed to melt the heart of rich dowagers, he said, "Yes, Sir."

"So do we!" Larabee grinned.

'The Yankee bastard was enjoying this too much.'

"Well, great..." Ezra let his frustration show. "But he likes me. I can get us in -- you try walkin' in there, you'll just get yourself shot."

'Oh, Ezra!' moaned his common sense, better judgment, and bitter experience. At least his pride had the satisfaction of seeing Larabee actually listen to him.

"You ran out on me once before. You wouldn't be thinkin' about doin' that again, would ya?"

'If you only knew, Mister Larabee....'

"I swear upon the grave of my sainted mother."

"Now you told me your mother was still alive," J.D. countered from where he sat on the edge of the deputy's desk.

'It seems the boy isn't completely oblivious,' Ezra thought with a sense of relief.

"Figure of speech," he told Larabee.

'Wishful thinking,' his common sense, better judgment, and bitter experience corrected.

Larabee cocked the rifle in front of Ezra's face. "Figure you're dead if you're lyin'."

J.D. snatched the keys from the nail on the wall where Ezra had hung them after removing them from the top of the desk, tossing them to Larabee. The gunslinger fielded them easily, throwing them through the bars to Standish as J.D. left the jail.

Ezra caught the heavy ring in both hands with an expression of glee, giving Larabee what he wanted. The older man waited for him to find the right key, looking the gambler up and down just to reinforce the fact that he didn't make idle threats.

Ezra did his best to look properly intimidated -- until Larabee's eyes went wide as he realized that the mud he was seeing on Ezra's boots was fresh.

'What the hell,' Ezra decided, tossing the unused keys through the bars, past Larabee, to land on the sheriff's desk behind them. He kicked his hat up into his hands, scattering cards across the floor of the jail, grabbing his jacket off the bunk in the same step. Flipping his waistcoat aside, he gathered up his guns and his flask and turned back to Larabee, whose face had turned a most satisfying shade of red.

Grinning like a coyote, Ezra came up to the door of the cell. Locking eyes with Larabee, he softly blew on the closest bar, opening the door with a nudge from his toe. He sauntered past the gunslinger, strapping on his Remington as he went. A step away from the door, he started to softly whistle 'Dixie' again.

"Son of a bitch!" Larabee barked, the jangle of his spur blending with the clang of the cell door as he kicked it shut.

After the jail door closed behind Ezra, Chris allowed himself to smile.

"Little weasel," he muttered fondly to himself.


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