Xanadu - the ABC Fic!
Finally, it is Finished. The marvelous ABC Fic, completed by members of the Mag7Challenge community. Enjoy the works of these wonderful writers
E F G
H I J
K L M
N O P
S T U
X Y Z
A B C
Featuring the writing skills of NotTasha, Helen Adams, Jen Brooks, Debby, Tipper, Heather F, Katy, TwylaJane, Q'Mar, Celesta SunStar, Angela B, Violette, and LilyOfTheWest
Part E: by NotTasha
Ezra sighed and rested his head in his hands. It had been a long, tiring day, and it didn't look like things were going to be getting better any time soon. He was tired, damn tired.
"Excruciating," he muttered to no one in particular. "I'm just not made for this type of work." He glanced up to see if anyone had heard. Apparently, they were either ignoring him or were too wrapped up in their own issues to pay him any mind.
"Extracting teeth," he uttered, loud enough to garner attention. "Getting them to listen to me is exactly like extracting teeth." And Ezra received the same reaction as before. He frowned. "Expected, I guess," he breathed out.
Even the palms of his hand hurt. This was most unkind! He rubbed his hands across his trousers, and grimaced at the dirt.
"Everything will have to be replaced," he groused
Everyone seemed to be busy with their matters, paying him no mind whatsoever. He frowned and huffed.
"Explosions might bring them around," he said under his breath. "Dynamite, planted in convenient locations. Boom!" he raised his eyebrows and flung back his hands at the exclamation.
Each man went on as before, not even looking toward the frustrated gambler.
"Exactly as one might expect," Ezra sighed. "I might as well be a ghost."
Exasperated, he stood and dusted at his abused clothing. "'Evening, gentlemen," he stated, not turning to see if anyone returned the farewell.
Expecting nothing more, he stood and attempted to depart..
Part F: by Helen Adams 12/04/03
"Forget something?" a voice called out.
Finally, somebody had noticed and perhaps might even sympathize with his predicament. His face fell as he turned to find Josiah holding out a hammer he had tossed carelessly to the ground.
"Frankly, I don't see the point in this whole ordeal," he huffed. "It wasn't that long ago that I saved your life, by the grace of my skills with words and my tactful demeanor. Not from indulging in pointless, mindless, graceless bouts of backbreaking labor! Surely, you cannot still hold me partially responsible for-"
"Forget it, Ezra," the ex-preacher intoned. "You're in this just as surely as the rest of us and griping about it isn't going to make the job go any quicker."
Frantically wracking his brain for anything good enough to warrant an early escape from this drawn-out form of torture, he suggested, "It's really Mr. Dunne's fault we're here at all. He should be the one sullying the condition of his wardrobe and blistering his palms on this frustrating exercise. Not us."
"Frustrating it may be," the other man agreed, "but a penance is a penance, and we're not leaving this spot until the job is done, whether it takes two more hours or two more days."
"Funny, I don't recall rebuilding sections of roofing, fixing fences and digging waste irrigation channels as being on the list of payments for sins in any version of ecclesiastic literature I have ever encountered," the gambler muttered sourly, snatching the hated tool out of Josiah's hand. "What did I ever do to deserve this?"
"Forgot that while JD might be damned good with a handgun, he don't know squat about using a Spencer carbine. You should have been reloading that gun for Nettie yourself, and you definitely shouldn't have tossed the thing before making sure it was really empty!"
Fed up with the unfairness of the accusation, Ezra snapped, "Well, how was I supposed to know he'd miss it? Damn thing took ten years off my life when it hit the ground and fired."
"Fired a big old hole right through Nettie's roof," Vin agreed, joining the conversation. "Only right you should be up there patchin' it since you let it happen."
Feeling his temper starting to boil over, Ezra countered, "I am not a babysitter nor am I responsible for keeping that boy's wandering mind off his young paramour long enough to do what he was supposed to be doing in the first place!"
Frowning, Ezra noticed that neither of the other men was looking at him. Instead their gazes were locked on a point over his left shoulder. The gambler flinched, knowing even before he turned around that the three of them were no longer alone.
Part G: by J Brooks 12/05/03
"Good-fer-nothin', lying, sneaking, shiftless, no account, snake-bellied cheat!" an unfamiliar voice shrilled behind him.
Grimacing, Ezra turned to face his unknown accuser, only to fall back in surprise as two burly young men elbowed past him to confront ... Josiah. Incredible. Now even victims of fraud and chicanery were ignoring him.
"Gus," Josiah smiled nervously as one blond giant reached out to latch onto his left arm.
"Gunter," he added with a grunt as the other man cut off his escape to the right. "You boys are a long way from home."
Gus and Gunter exchanged a look over the top of the preacher's head. "So are you," they said in tandem and began frog-marching the reluctant man away. Vin and Ezra trailed behind, fascinated.
"Going somewhere, fellas?" Vin called after the strangers. Ezra hefted the hammer experimentally, cursing himself for shedding his guns along with his jacket when he began the day's labor.
"Goin' home," Gunter grunted over his shoulder. "Preacher man here's gonna make good on his promise to marry our Ma."
"Good Lord," Josiah muttered, catching sight of the wagon hitched to Nettie's newly repaired fence. A blowsy middle-aged woman lounged in the wagon bed, her low-cut pink satin dress clashing hideously with the toxic-orange dye in her hair. "Oh no. No, no, no." Josiah dug in his heels in an effort to shake off his escort.
"Gone and broke Ma's heart when you sobered up the next mornin' and disappeared," Gus chided, tightening his grip. "Been lookin' high and low for you ever since."
"Goodness, boys," Josiah said, eyeing the woman in the wagon with growing alarm. "That was years ago. Surely a fine figure of a woman like your mother has had other offers since then?"
Gunter gave Josiah a shove toward the wagon. "Not marriage offers." In the wagon, Ma fluttered her eyelashes and belched discreetly into a soiled handkerchief.
Glumly, Ezra decided the joke had gone far enough. Glancing over, he saw that Vin had reached the same conclusion.
"Go low," the tracker whispered, nodding toward the brother on the left. "I'll hit `em high." With that, Vin launched himself at Gus's shoulders. Ezra followed seconds later, catching Gus around the knees and toppling him like a young oak.
General chaos erupted. Gus landed on Ezra. Josiah pounced on Gunter. Ma sprang out of the wagon with a shriek of rage and wrapped herself around Vin.
"Gah!" Ezra gargled, spitting out a mouthful of sod and whacking at Gus's trunklike shins with the hammer. Forget laundering. His wardrobe would have to be replaced entirely. He ducked, swearing, as Josiah and Gunter rolled over him in a flurry of fists and elbows.
Gunfire erupted over their heads, freezing the fight. Ezra rolled his eyes -- the only part of his anatomy not currently pinned beneath the combined bulk of Josiah and one of the idiot brothers -- searching for the source of the shots. He closed his eyes in resignation as he recognized the shooter.
Groaning, he let his forehead thump against the ground. "Awww..."
Part H: by Debby 12/05/03
".hell," he muttered into the dirt.
"How about getting up off my friends. Nice and slow now." JD was alone as he waved his gun, motioning for Gus and Gunter to comply.
"Hey look," Gunter pushed himself up purposely driving an elbow into Standish's back as he did. "They got an elf."
"He ain't no elf," Gus laughed climbing to his feet. "He's a leprechaun."
His anger rising, JD took a threatening step forward. "You just shut up!" he ordered.
Heaving himself off of Ezra, Josiah managed to suppress his grin. "They're just baiting you, kid. Ignore 'em." He glanced at the young sheriff but JD wasn't listening.
"Hows about you boys get back in your wagon. Josiah's not going anywhere with you."
"He is so," Gunter pointed emphatically.
"He has to marry ma!" Gus pleaded.
Hammer still in hand Ezra finally managed to get to his feet. He didn't even bother to attempt to straighten his clothing again. "Do you have any documentation to prove such a promise was ever made, a contract perhaps?"
"Huh?" Gunter scowled and looked to his brother for help.
"His word is all," Gus said, finally putting it together. He looked from man to man his expression suddenly livid. "Enough talk!" he growled grabbing Josiah again.
"Hey now" JD raised his gun again. "Don't make me hurt you."
"Hurt me?" Gus grinned suddenly. "Don't think you can little man."
Hastily Ezra tried to yell out a warning but was too late.
"Humph!" JD emitted as he slumped to the ground in a pile of unconsciousness.
"He promised to marry me and he will." 'Ma' had laboriously crawled off of the unconscious Vin and, in the midst of their arguing, no one had noticed. She panted, slightly out of breath from her excursion but without hesitation she fired off two shots from the gun she'd clubbed JD with.
"Hurry up," she ordered her sons. "Preacher's waiting." She said, marching determinedly back toward the wagon.
Horrified Josiah didn't protest as he was roughly shoved into the wagon and it lurched into motion. His hands were tied and he was ordered not to try anything but he heard none of it as instead he stared numbly at the three unmoving bodies that littered Nettie's property.
Part I: by Tipper 12/05/03
"Isn't that Josiah in there?" Buck asked, turning his horse around in a circle to peer more closely at the wagon that just passed them by on the road. For a moment, he thought he had seen Josiah's face looking forlornly out from behind the driver's seat, but as he didn't recognize the heavy set blond man driving it, he couldn't be sure. Chris looked up from his distracted concentration on the ranch nestled in the valley in the distance.
"I'm sorry, what?"
"I said, isn't that...nah, forget it," Buck shrugged. "Must be seeing things. How's it look?"
"I can't tell from here. About the same, I think. Surprised I can't see anyone working the fences that were destroyed by the rustlers...or Ezra on that roof. After that big hole he made, I would have expected the other's to have hoisted him up there to do the repair work himself." Chris gave a small smile, thinking about the idea of Ezra performing "menial labor."
"It is a fun image," Buck said, the same thought crossing his mind. Then his smile fell, and he peered more intently at the ranch. Was there something red lying on the ground in front of the house? Two brown lumps and a red one...on the ground...now, what in the sam hell....
"It's them!" Chris said suddenly, reading Buck's mind. With a shout, the two men spurred their horses into a run, racing down towards where the three men lay.
"I like the way you're keeping your hair now, Josiah," the woman said, sidling closer to the preacher, who was now staring blankly at his bound feet as the wagon rocked around them. "And that beard, very handsome. Suits you to have it closely shaven. That big bristly thing you wore when I knew you was a little ignoble." She reached up to finger the hair on his chin, and he jerked his head away. Her smile became more crooked, "though I must say, sweety, a little dye might go a long way to making you appear a little younger...." She poofed her own orange hair. The whole thing shifted slightly on her head in response. Josiah didn't notice, only now finally shaking himself from his stupor.
"I fail to understand," he said slowly, lifting his eyes to look at her, "why you had to fire on my friends, Yvonne."
"I only winged the dirty one with the hammer, honey pie, to stop him from attacking me with it," she offered defensively, blinking her fake eyelashes rapidly up at him. "Speaking of which, you know that young man really must learn to take care of his appearance more, that jacket was in a terrible state." She looked down at her own clothes, straightening out the pink satin material, "And I wasn't really aiming for either of them, dumplin', just trying to distract them--you know I'm a terrible shot--I just got lucky hitting him like that. Besides, my sweet boys did the rest, knocking him and the scruffy one out. They'll be fine, I'm sure."
"I'm not," Josiah snarled. "I have no idea what damage you may have done! All I know is you fired, and they went down." He sat up straighter, anger finally taking over, "In fact, turn this damn thing around before I...."
"Impossible, I'm afraid. We don't have the time," Yvonne sighed, backing up only a little. "And on that note, pumpkin, we really must talk about our wedding...."
"It isn't going to happen," Josiah snarled. "And nothing you do or say will ever get me to say yes at the alter, Yvonne. Not in a million years."
Interestingly, she seemed not the slightest bit perturbed by his attitude. With a smile, she tilted her head, her eyes twinkling, "Oh, I don't know about that, sugarplum." Her eyes hardened, "I think you'll find I can change your mind."
"Ick," Ezra muttered, rolling himself off the pile of dried manure he'd landed in. This really was not turning out to be a good day. Just then, a sharp stinging sensation rippled up his right arm, and he glanced over at it. Blood. "Aw hell," he muttered, rolling the rest of the way over to lie on his back and stare up at the sky, "Inevitable. Invariable. Inescapable. Ill-fated. Immutable. Incorrigible. My life is...."
"Insane?" a groggy Vin offered, the tracker trying to decide whether he had the wherewithal to stand up while the word was still spinning like a top around him.
"Inelegant," Ezra finished, closing his eyes again as the sound of hooves galloping towards them rumbled the ground.
Part J: by Heather F 12/06/03
“Judge ain’t gonna be happy ‘bout this,” Buck whispered as he and Larabee hauled their horses up short in Mz. Nettie’s front yard. Their two geldings sat back on their haunches extended their front legs out as the slid from a gallop. Wilmington swung his leg over the back of his horse hitting the ground before the big grey slid to a complete stop. Larabee shadowed Wilmington’s movements with lethal grace.
JD bounced upright like a child’s jack in the box. His hand shot to the back of his head right before he toppled over to his side with one leg bent raised in the air. His bowler tipped from his head laying rim up to the sun.
“Jus’ hold on there hoss,” Buck hollered out as he side stepped around Larabee and headed for the gambler, who struggled gamely into a sitting position while staring numbly at his bleeding arm, while stilling clutching a hammer.
“Jeezus, Vin,” Larabee growled out squatting next to the bounty hunter as Vin labored to keep his seated position. “What the Hell happened?” Chris pulled at the neck of Tanner’s shirt to inspect the furrow that that gouged a chunk a meaty flesh from between the neck and shoulder. It bled freely. Chris swiveled his head to watch Buck when he heard the Ladies’ Man curse.
“Jumpin’ lizards Ezra!….sit ya damn ass still and quit swinging that damn hammer or I’ll brain ya with it.,” Buck stumbled back out of the way as the hammer was swung at him in a lazy, heavy arc. Wilmington lashed out and wrenched the hammer from the gambler’s hand. Buck looked up when movement caught his eye.
“JD! ya best sit ya ass down on that ground, fer I use Ezra’s hammer, here to nail ya scraggly butt to the dirt,” Buck watched cautiously pleased when Dunne toppled again to his side, apparently unable to get his balance.
“Josiah...” Vin whispered out struggling to his feet using Chris as a crutch and fighting to keep his balance.
“Josiah? Where is he?” Buck asked incredulously looking to Chris who merely raised his eyebrows.
“Joined in holy matrimony,” Ezra mumbled out rubbing at his head staring at Buck in confusion. An unsure grin dimpled his cheeks. Josiah getting married seemed a little surreal.
“Joined?” Chris started to ask, staring at Tanner, while the bounty hunter wavered and slunk falling back to the ground only to try again.
Juggling Vin’s second attempt to stand and trying to maintain his own balance Chris followed Tanner to his feet. “What happened out here?”
“JD shot a hole in Mz. Nettie’s roof and as usual I got unjustly blamed for it.” Standish mumbled out using Wilmington to pull and tug his way back to his feet.
“Just admit it Ezra ya blasted the hole in her roof….”Vin pointed out while he turned in a circle trying to get his bearings. He noticed JD fighting to gain his feet. Tanner turned back to Standish and noticed the filthy coat, dust covered shirt, dirt stained hands and twigs in his hair. “Damn, Ezra ya a mess,” Vin paused, “don’t you ever bath?”
“Japing again Mr. Tanner?” Standish snorted back while discreetly trying to wipe his bloody hand on Buck’s shirt, “perhaps you should return to your former life as a bounty hunter, you’re better suited at that than attempting humor.”
“Josiah!,” Chris shouted out. “Where is he?” Larabee spun his head searching left and right.
Joining the others in their shocked expressions, Buck stared at his oldest friend as if he had suddenly sprouted horns. Larabee returned the expressions with a heated glare, which would have been more effective if JD hadn’t stumbled into him from behind.
“JD!,” Larabee ground out, stepping to the side letting Dunne fall back to the ground. Chris still clutched Tanner by the arm, dragging the unsteady tracker with him while he moved.
Jolting his arm, Vin tried to free it, to no avail. A low frustrated snarl rattled in Tanner’s throat.
“Josiah, Mr. Larabee,” Ezra carefully articulated each syllable as if talking to a slow child, “its Josiah who is about to be married, not JD.” Ezra paused, “he is currently rolling in the dirt at your feet.” Ezra furrowed his brow, “Where is Mr. Jackson? Is he missing as well? Perhaps he has been invited to Mr. Sanchez’s wedding. It should be a shot gun type of affair.” Southern tinged amusement rolled from gambler.
Jabbing out a hand, Larabee made a concerted effort to grab Standish by the neck. Buck slapped Chris’s hand away, tugging the off balanced gambler somewhat behind himself.
“Just tell us what happened.” Chris hissed out tightening his hold on Tanner’s upper arm, and placing a boot on JD’s shoulder to keep the young peace keeper on the ground. Larabee nailed Standish with a penetrating stare trying to silently threaten the slightly swaying gambler from uttering useless answers. “Where…is…Josiah?….” Chris rumbled out ignoring the humor in Wilmington’s expression. Larabee had to concede, though, Ezra had a point, “and Nathan?”
Part K: by Katy 12/07/03
"Karl! Karl you get back in here and help
your Ma!" Nettie shouted at the lithe ten-year-old who was playing with his
dog in the yard.
Karl Muller reluctantly gave up his game and came back into the cabin. His father was away; he drove a freight wagon and was often away for days at a time. Unfortunately, his baby sister had decided that today was a good day to be born. To make it worse, Mrs Muller, Karl's mother , didn't speak very good English. Always shy and living mostly on isolated farm in Minnesota, she had never needed to learn until they moved west.
**Kommen!** , Karl said, then he remembered who was calling him. "Sorry - coming."
"Kindly take off those muddy boots before you come into the house," Nettie instructed as he ushered him in to greet his new sister.
Kneeling down to undo his laces, Karl peered in to see if he could get a peek at the new family member. Once he was on his feet, Nettie led him over to the bed in the corner of the one room cabin. Helena Muller was sitting up in bed. She looked tired but happy, cradling the swaddled baby in her ample arms. Karl slowed, almost slipping behind Nettie.
**Kommen mein Sohn kommen Ihre Schwester sehen,** she whispered to her hesitant son.
Keen to see the new family member and now reassured, he did indeed come to see his sister.
**Kem ich sie jetzt einziehen?** Helena asked her son and then looked at Nathan.
Kind, good-natured and trusting though she was, it hadn't been easy to deliver a child when the mother and 'midwife' can't speak the same language.
Karl translated. "Can she feed the baby?"
Knowing how desperate she was to bond with the newborn, he nodded and smiled at her. The baby suckled enthusiastically.
**Kind is gut?** she asked with beaming smile.
"Kind is very good," Nathan agreed, guessing at the meaning.
Knocking back another long lemonade, the tall healer stretched as he looked out toward the west and where the sun was now casting long shadows.
"Kin is the only thing that makes life worth living, don't you reckon?" Nettie asked as she joined him. He nodded his agreement as he drained his glass. "But we need to be heading home, see what kind of chaos those boys have wrought on my home. Ezra's probably fallen through the roof by now."
"Knew we shouldn't have left them there alone," Nathan commented.
Keen eyes were one thing Nattie prided her self on. She couldn't see to thread a needle unless she held it at arms length, but she could spot a wild turkey and shoot even if it was hundreds of yards away. So, as they approached the main trail that would lead them back to her property, she had no difficulty spotting the wagon as it headed away from the place. It was recognising Josiah Sanchez in the wagon that puzzled her.
Part L: by TwylaJane 12/07/03
"Larabee… Mr. Larabee I assure you… May I call you Chris? …
Christopher … that is your Christian name isn't it … now mind you I once
knew a Christian… No… that was a Kristoff… and that was back in the
days before the war… oh my dear sir, what was the question?" The words
rolled as quickly off Ezra's tongue as his mental acuity rapidly fled and green
eyes glazed over.
Lucidity seemed to rapidly slip away from the gambler. Chris quickly noted this, tried to rein in the befuddled southerner and get some answers before they lost any more time.
"Look Ezra…" Chris grasped on to the weaving man's collar trying to gain his attention. "Dammit Standish concentrate… can ya tell me what happened to Josiah?"
Lost, well almost, in the background was J.D.'s soft irritated confused plea.
"Lemme up Buck!"
Laughing at the absurdity of the moment Wilmington found himself at the end of a scathing glare and managed to stifle any further outbursts by turning his full attention to the kid releasing his hold on the gambler as Standish continued, unnecessarily, to verbally back pedal.
"Lord… Judge… I swear I had nothing to do with this debacle."
Luckily, or unluckily depending on the point of view Vin Tanner decided it would be in his best interest if he bolted. Unfortunately he managed to knock Larabee off balance abruptly sending the trio crashing to the ground on top of Dunne. Buck bent down and grasped onto Ezra's good arm in an effort to help him to his feet.
"Lavish your attention elsewhere Mr. Wilmington!"
Lying there amid the tangle of arms and legs Larabee was beginning to realize that this was a losing proposition and rolled out from under the others.
Livid with frustration Larabee jumped to his feet and began searching to see if he could find any trace of Josiah's trial.
Lurching off slowly in the distance was the wagon that carried Josiah. The big man remained huddled low in the back of it, hoping that neither Gunter nor Gus would impede his escape, he lay there completely unaware that the horse drawn wagon had long ago veered off the well worn path and had headed into the brush. An act driven on animal instinct as the beast began to forage for a tasty meal.
Part M: by Q'Mar 12/08/03
Munching on the vegetation proved more difficult than the horse expected. He was still bridled and his bit was preventing anything reasonable from going into his mouth, but he tried gamely to get some food into his system. Gus pulled harshly on the reigns and threw off Josiah's attempts to get out of the wagon. The horse was irritated and fought back. It took some doing but the brothers were able to get the wagon onto a lesser used road heading out of the Four Corners area. In the back of the wagon, Josiah sighed, listening as Gus and Gunter tried to bring the recalcitrant beast under control.
"Move it along, dogmeat!" Gus hissed. Beside him the boys' mother, Yvonne, giggled and simpered, a pale mockery of a lady. Josiah wondered what else could possibly go wrong.
Making him wish he'd kept his thoughts to himself, the big preacher suddenly found himself, along with Gus, Gunter, and their mother, in the middle of a band of men wearing bandanas across their faces.
"Milk it for all it's worth." Buck grumbled. Chris had finally sorted out the situation at Nettie Wells's place and was complaining about the fact that the head-injured gambler had done the obvious, he'd thrown up all over the 'Man in Black'. Oh, Larabee had had a lot to say about that!
Meeting Nettie and Nathan on the trail, he'd sent them back to help with the wounded and confused trio at the farm. Truthfully, Chris was worried. Vin hadn't been making a lot of sense, a sure sign of infection. Ezra had made even less sense. Concussions, as Nathan called them, would do that to a body. For some reason Four-Corner's resident gambler was going on about Justice of the Peace-ing. JD didn't think highly of this new career idea of Standish's. But then again, the young sheriff was still upset about Ezra's remarks about Casey Wells...
Marking trail, Chris wished that Vin was with him. Earlier, Buck had been irritated because the job had interfered with a planned 'trist with Miss Rosalba', one of the new Doves at Hallahan's. Now he was complaining that he'd have to put Miss Lily off as well. How Buck kept track of his women was one of life's little Mysteries. Larabee cursed. Vin would be able to explain why out of all the world, Chris Larabee got stuck with every crazy situation possible. Why the Hell would some old bat and her sons kidnap Josiah of all people? If the others were to be believed it was a Shotgun wedding! Chris cursed again, loudly and fervently. For good measure he added a few Kiowa oaths he picked up from Vin. It didn't matter if he pronounced them properly!
Mutely, the brothers surrendered all of the money they had on them, plus the guns that they'd used at the Wells place. A thin, shorter than average, man wearing a mask was the obvious leader. Without saying a word, the leader directed his men to separate the 'Family' and Josiah. It wasn't without a bit of a fight.
"Mine!, He's Mine!" Yvonne screeched.
"Madam." The leader said in a strangely scratchy voice. "He's not yours." The voice went Cold. "All of you are mine. To do with as I please." He pointed a Colt at Yvonne. Gus and Gunter both pled for their mother's life. "Money, Boys. Give me money and I might consider sparing the Harridan."
"Money?" Gus echoed. "We ain't got no more money. We gave it all to you when you took us! Every other penny we had was spent on getting here to Four Corners and getting the Preacher man to marry Ma."
"Ma didn't even let us get anything for those mangy cattle we stole while lookin' for the Preacher. All we got to do was have a little fun knocking down fences. The others got the money."
Miserable, Josiah hung his head. It seemed that the recent troubles Four Corners had suffered were his fault. If only he hadn't promised to marry Yvonne. Looking at the woman, he wondered how Drunk he'd actually been to make that promise.
"Money or life." The leader replied firing his weapon. The boys both blubbered their terror. Their mother seemed to have finally realized the severity of the situation.
"Mister?" She asked. "Mister? How 'bout a trade?" Yvonne pulled at the buttons on the front of her dress.
"Madam. I think not." The leader replied in a voice dripping with disgust.
"Mister, What do ya want? Ain't got no more cash, ain't got any land. Don't want me. What can we do? I don't want ta die, don't want my boys to either." A thought popped into her swarmy little brain. "Mister. How 'bout you take Josiah."
"Much ado about marrying the man a moment ago. Now you want to hand him over to me?"
"Mister, Ol Josiah has a secret." Yvonne sidled up to the leader's horse. The man kept his weapon on her, but bent down to listen as she whispered in his ear.
"Might I know the name of the individual?" The leader asked a moment or two later. Yvonne whispered it to him. Josiah's blood chilled. There were a lot of things in his past that he regretted. Yvonne knew several of them. Most of them would be dangerous to the Seven, even more so than Vin's bounty...
Moments later, the masked leader came to an agreement with Yvonne and her sons. Josiah Sanchez belonged to him. He even made the 'Family' put it in writing. The Seven's preacher found himself praying as he never had before. There was no way that he wanted to be the death of the men he loved like sons. The masked leader secured the written paper giving him all rights to Josiah's person. Yvonne looked at him a little sadly, but she and her boys loaded themselves onto the wagon without much backward glancing. Soon the little wagon was far off, then out of sight.
"Making your peace?" The leader enquired seeing Josiah's bent head. Sanchez refused to give the man so much as a look. When Josiah didn't respond, he laughed. "Make camp." he told his men, confusing Sanchez. Why would they stay here? The Others would be coming for him, of that he was certain. The Others... Was this now a trap for them? Vin and Ezra and probably JD were wounded. Chris and Buck would be terribly outnumbered and out gunned.
"My Goodness, Mr. Sanchez. Whatever are we going to do with you?" The southern accent startled him. Josiah looked up into the face of his captor.
"Maude!" She had removed the bandanna, but the outfit was something he'd never ever have guessed the smooth talking conwoman owned.
"Magnificent!" one of the others started with and suddenly all of the "gang" was talking at once. "What a grand con!" Josiah could place many of the now revealed faces as Gamblers from Ridge City and Darling. His confusion must have shown, but Maude gave him a smile and dimpled the way Ezra would when he intended to keep his own secrets.
Maude bowed to her assembled group of cons, gamblers, ranch hands, and especially to the two Lawmen from Darling.
Part N: by NotTasha 12/09/03
"Now, Maude," Josiah said, stepping back from the con woman, his eyes wide with surprise.. "Just what are you doing here?"
"Negotiating for a new investment." She paused and smiled coyly. "Well, not here... not right now. That'll come once we reach a more profitable locale." She fussed with her manly clothing, looking totally comfortable in trousers. "These gentlemen will figure prominently in my plans." Leaning close the preacher, she confided in a low voice, "I was even able to convince these two rubes from Darling to forsake positions as lawmen." She smiled smugly. "There's hope for Ezra yet."
"Natalie," one oily-looking gentlemen broke in. He split his attention between the departing wagon and the pair before him. "Natalie, what about the money?"
"Natalie?" Josiah questioned.
"Nom de plume," Maude filled in with a wink. "Hold on to your britches, Pete." Her voice took on a condescending note as she said, "You just have to be patient. The mother lode is just around the corner"
Nits in his hair, Pete scratched at his head and said, "But you said this was gonna pay big!"
"Not this transaction, sugar-lump," Maude said with a lovely tilt of the head as she wound one arm into Josiah's. "That'll come in time."
Needing to go, Josiah drew his hand from Maude's. Anxiously, he looked in the direction of Nettie's. "Maude, thank you for freeing me from that unfortunate situation, but, I'm sorry, I really must..."
"No apologizes are necessary, Josiah," she laughed as she reached for him again, patting his arm lovingly. "I simply happened upon your unfortunate situation and did what I could to help."
"Never should have gone along with this, Oscar," Pete muttered to the man next to him. "I knew this was going to be trouble."
"News to me," Oscar returned. "You were the one who told me about this big 'plan.' Seemed pretty hot to join up with this...hussy." He jerked a thumb in Maude's direction.
"Never in my life!" Maude returned, her face the perfect picture of utter shock.
"Naw, I doubt that," Oscar responded. He stepped toward her, menacingly. "I gave up a decent job for this? You promised us a mound of cash, Natalie -- or is it Maude? You keep saying it's 'just around the corner.' Well, we keep goin' 'round corners and ain't seen a speck of this money. Where is it?"
Nefarious members of the mob closed in. Weapons were drawn and Josiah shoved the southern woman behind him.
Nervous suddenly, Maude bit her lip as she leaned around the big man. "Officer Quinn," she cooed to the most official looking gentleman. "Whatever is the problem? I thought we had an understanding?"
Nearing the woman, Quinn growled. "We want our money. You told us we'd get it when we stopped the wagon." He cocked his gun. "I remember you stating so quite clearly."
Nattering, Maude explained, as she clutched at Josiah. "Well dear me, I promised no such thing. I was simply stating that we should help this poor gentleman who was obviously in some difficulty. If I gave you any impression..."
"'Nuff!" Pete shouted. He leveled his pistol at the pair. "I've had enough."
Novenas were rapidly sent to heaven as Josiah tried to figure out how to get out of this latest situation.
Nettie shook her head as she watched Nathan try to deal with the three incapacitated men. One would think that concussions and bullet holes would keep these men down, but they kept popping up like prairie dogs. Time to give him a hand.
"Now, Vin," she uttered as she shoved her favorite tracker back into the bed. "You lay still 'til you get your bearin's."
"Nearly there," Vin said with a wince. "Gotta get after Josiah. See what's befell him."
"Never you mind," Nettie told him. "Chris and Buck are looking after him." Nodding to the healer she continued, "Nathan and I caught sight of that wagon on our way here. We showed them the way."
Nathan hadn't been successful in keeping Ezra down. The gambler sat in a chair resting his head in his hands. "I feel I've been here b'fore," he muttered, and closed his eyes.
"'Nother bout comin' on?" Nathan asked, ready with a bucket.
"No mention of that...occurrence ... shall ever be mentioned," Ezra grumbled, trying to forget what happened to Chris' shirt. "And I'm feelin' better by the moment."
Not one to be left out, JD declared himself fit as well, stating, "Let me at 'im, Pa! I can take him!"
No one said a word as they all turned toward the sheriff who still couldn't quite make it upright.
"Naughty naughty men!" Yvonne cried as her boys drove the wagon away from her beloved Josiah. "And that one in the mask was the most disgusting excuse for manhood that I've ever seen." She wept great globs into her handkerchief.
"Nives would have stopped them," Gus said darkly.
"Numbskull!" Gunther declared, whacking his brother across the pate. "Knives starts with an K!"
"Nowledge was never my strongpoint," Gus told him.
"Nobody move!" The strong clear voice broke through the coming dark and two horsemen blocked their path. The one in black looked particularly mad.
Needing no further prompting, Gunther dropped the reins and waited for whatever would happen next.
Part O: by Helen Adams 12/11/03
"Over there next to the-" Chris paused in his instructions to the two hapless kidnappers, telling himself it was just the remnants of Ezra's lunch on his clothing that brought a queasy roll to his stomach when the large pink-frocked woman beside them flashed him a snaggly-toothed come hither smile and fluttered her lashes, "lady."
"Obviously there's been some sort of mistake here," the woman oozed, turning her attentions on Buck when Larabee's rigid body language actually prompted his horse to back up a step. It just about broke her heart to have once again lost Josiah, but these two were fine specimens of manhood as well. Perhaps all was not lost.
Oblivious to the slightly greenish tone of his skin as he watched her, Miss Yvonne leaned forward to give Buck a good view of her bulging cleavage.
"Oh, no ma'am, there's no mistake," he blurted, thinking he might have to have Josiah teach him a thing or two about escape plans as he watched the peroxide and cosmetic treated creature in the wagon lift her hem to give him a good view of a log-like ankle. "We seen you driving off with our friend not more than an hour ago. Now tell us what you've done with him."
Oily streaks formed upon Yvonne's plump cheeks as she once again burst into a torrent of weeping. "We didn't do nothin' with him! We were all waylaid by outlaws on our way to the wedding! They kidnapped my darlin' Josiah right out from under me!" Her wailing sobs grew louder as she latched onto a squirming Gus and used his shirt sleeve for a handkerchief. Buck turned a bit green at the sight.
"Outlaws!" Chris snarled in disbelief. "What outlaws? So far the only people who've committed any crimes around here today are you three. Kidnapping, trespassing, assault, committing-"
"Olfactory irritation of the highest magnitude!" Buck blurted out when his friend appeared to stall for more charges to level at the three. At Chris' questioning look, he shrugged. "When I asked Ezra to tell me what happened, he claimed they'd done that to him, whatever it is."
"Oh, brother," muttered Larabee with a roll of his eyes.
"Oughtta be just a minute more now. Hold still," Nathan ordered tersely, trying once more to get Ezra to quit squirming as he finished putting stitches in his arm. "I'll give you something for the pain in a minute."
"Ooooh, Nathan, I will give you anything you ask or do anything you say for the next month if you'll just make my head stop pounding," the gambler groaned. "That damned hammer has somehow found it's way inside my skull and is about to drive me insane." Despite his earlier protests that he would no longer need it, Ezra held the bucket his friend had provided in a death grip atop his knees.
Observing the exchange from her place across the room, Nettie smiled. She had finally succeeded in getting Vin and JD to hold still long enough for sleep to overtake them and could now focus on the other two men for a moment. "I'd get that in writin' if I were you, Mr. Jackson. You know this'n will squirm right out of that promise as soon as he's feeling better."
"Only a barbarian would hold the words of a dying man against him," Ezra retorted, squinting fiercely at the three women sitting by Vin's bedside and hoping he was glaring at the real one. When her grin grew wider, he sighed and laid his aching head back carefully against the top of the chair. "I don't understand it. I was feeling better and then suddenly it seemed as if the entire world tipped on its axis."
"Only sure thing about a concussion is that they're unpredictable," the healer offered. "Sometimes you can feel right as rain in an hour and sometimes it can take weeks. Gotta say though, I ain't seem you turn peaked that fast since the last time your ma rolled into town. You didn't even know she was there. Just stopped what you were doin' and went so still and pasty I thought you were gonna faint. It was downright eerie."
"Our esteemed kidnappee once referred to the phenomenon as extra-sensory premonitions," Ezra agreed. "At least I know that can't be the cause of my malaise this time. Last I heard my mother was hatching a grand scheme in far away Philadelphia. A fact for which I am profoundly grateful."
"Ornery thing for a boy to say about his ma," Nettie scolded.
Owing to his experience with Ezra's finicky ways, Nathan laughed, understanding the comment as his fellow lawman cast a disgusted glance down at his ragged, filthy shirt, which was now missing one sleeve courtesy of Nathan's sharp knife. "Ezra's ma likes to press on him that appearances are everything, ma'am. He's just glad there ain't no chance that she'll get a good look at him today."
"One must be thankful for small favors," Ezra grunted, hoping that the tea Nathan was now preparing would work quickly, both for his own sake and for Josiah's. Laughable as the idea of that particular man being roped into a shotgun wedding was, Ezra could not shake the feeling that his friend was in more trouble than he would be able to handle on his own.
Part P: by J Brooks 12/11/03
Perhaps the only thing more unsettling than being kidnapped by an old
flame, Josiah reflected glumly, was being rescued by the woman he was
currently carrying a torch for. If *this* could properly be called a
"Poor, dear Josiah," Maude murmured absently, patting his cheek as she swept past him to confront her mutinous partners. "Now gentlemen, don't tell me you're letting this little side trip distract you? Have a little faith. Didn't I tell you we'd all be rich beyond the dreams of avarice by week's end?"
Pete eyed her dubiously, his pistol still leveled squarely between Josiah's eyes.
"Put your little pop guns away and let's discuss our rosy future like civilized folk," Maude continued brightly, preening in her dungarees as though they were the latest Paris fashion.
Pistols still at the ready, Maude's erstwhile partners fell back to confer. Josiah leaned closer to the con woman.
"Please tell me you haven't take up cattle rustling," he whispered.
Peevishly, she elbowed him in the ribs. "The very idea! I was simply attempting to extricate myself from a minor legal entanglement back in Darling…"
"Prison again?" Josiah guessed.
"Purely a misunderstanding. The charges against me were entirely specious," Maude said loftily. "I persuaded two of my jailers to spirit me out of town, in exchange for a cut of my next lucrative venture. Is it my fault they ended up recruiting half the town to come along for the ride? I was simply biding my time for the opportunity to slip away..."
Put that way, it almost sounded believable. But then, the Standish clan could make almost anything sound believable. Josiah rolled his eyes heavenward. Then again, he couldn't really imagine Maude turning her hand to anything as risky -- or smelly -- as cattle rustling.
Pushing aside Maude's legal concerns for the moment, Josiah reached out and caught Maude by the shoulders. He closed his eyes for a moment against the vivid memory of the three motionless bodies he'd left bleeding in Nettie's yard. "Maude, we need to get out of here. Now. Ezra's--"
Pete interrupted, grabbing Josiah by the arm, and pushing him roughly toward the horses ground-tied nearby. Maude sidestepped Officer Quinn and followed under her own steam.
"'Ppears to me we need to have us a little talk," Oscar sneered, yanking Maude into the saddle in front of him. "So what say we all head back to Quinn's place and settle a few things -- like how *exactly* `Natalie' here is going to make us rich. And while you're at it, you might as well tell us the big secret that crazy lady whispered in your ear."
Poker face still firmly in place, Maude settled herself in the saddle and smiled regally down at the watching outlaws. "Very well then. When we reach our destination, all will be revealed. Prepare to be amazed."
Precisely at that moment, a chill shot down Ezra P. Standish's spine. A familiar, foreboding chill; the sort that usually presaged sudden changes in the weather, catastrophically bad poker hands -- or the sudden unraveling on one of his mother's get-rich-quick schemes.
Paling, he jolted out of his chair, barely noticing that he'd sloshed Nathan's syrupy painkiller all over his shirt and pants. The world tilted crazily around him as he threw himself out the door and lurched toward the stables.
"Pity's sake! Where in tarnation do you think you're going?" Nettie cried, hurrying after him. The gambler ignored her, latching onto the first horse he came across and clambering gracelessly aboard.
Peso snorted incredulously, sizing up the intruder on his back for a good-sized chomp on the leg.
"Pardon my abrupt departure, good lady," Ezra called over his shoulder, kicking Peso into a sullen trot and making for the blurry stripe on the horizon that he assumed was the trail the wagon had followed. "But I've imposed too long on your hospitality. Lord knows what mischief Maude -- I mean Mr. Sanchez -- may have found in my absence."
*Philadelphia, my derriere,* he thought, squinting fiercely in an attempt to bring the wavering landscape into focus. *What have you gotten yourself into this time, Mother?*
"Pig-headed, pea-brained, pain in the ass!" Nathan howled, returning from an ill-timed trip to the outhouse just in time to watch Standish disappear over the crest of the hill. Flailing, he rounded on Nettie. "What the--? Where does he--? WHY?"
"Premonition of doom," Nettie harrumphed, catching Nathan by the elbow and steering the spluttering man toward the stable. "Boy went all pasty, muttered something about his Ma and Josiah and lit out of here like his britches were on fire. You best go round him up. He was so addled he took Vin's horse by mistake."
"Peso?" a voice croaked behind them. Nathan groaned and turned to study Vin, who was leaning against the barn door in pie-eyed outrage. The tracker pulled himself upright and wobbled toward Chaucer with a determined air.
"Put a bullet in my brain right now," Nathan muttered, pressing his forehead against his horse's neck. Badger nickered sympathetically. "You best think twice about this, Vin. You fall out of that saddle, I ain't gonna have time to pick you up until the return trip."
Pained blue eyes blinked innocently at him as Vin and Chaucer pranced past him without comment. Still grumbling, Nathan nudged his horse to follow. Maybe the addled gambler had the right idea. He was getting a mighty uneasy feeling about what might be happening to Josiah right about now.
Part Q: by TwylaJane
"Queer…" Ezra mumbled as he tried to keep himself balanced atop Tanner ornery beast as it came to an unexpected stop in the middle of the trail. He blinked rapidly as he scanned the area unable to discern the reason as to why the horse chose that particular place to halt. No amount of urging on the gambler's behalf could get the stubborn Peso to move. Instead the fickle creature snorted as it finally chose its own option, which was to back up a few steps and abruptly set down on its haunches. The movement had the befuddled southerner sliding out of the saddle, briefly flailing before his derriere painfully connected with the rocky ground.
Queasy Standish lay there staring up at the puffy clouds in the sky above wondering why he was there so far from the comfort of his feathered bed.
Quinn eyed `Natalie' as the mob and their mounts trotted down the grassy slope, finding no comfort that his homestead was just over the next rise, the woman was clearly up to something. Despite his best efforts to calm the others, the hardened men were on edge as was he. What he couldn't understand what her motivation was for rescuing this gray haired preacher man. But with no real proof he kept his mouth shut and his eyes glued to the pair as the quietly spoke.
Quelling a nauseous belly was one thing but the unrelenting, agonizing pounding behind his eyes had Vin's teeth clenched together and wouldn't let him loose the tight knuckle grip that he had on the pommel of Chaucer's saddle and the chestnut nervously side stepped along the trail beside Jackson. The healer occasional glanced in their direction but said nothing. Nathan knew as Vin did they had better catch up with Ezra before disaster befell the southerner and hopeful they would able to find some trace of Josiah as well.
Questioning the source of the tacky mess that coated his jacket, Standish brought sticky fingers to his nose as sniffed. The substance smelled definitely familiar but it hadn't compelled him to his feet, nor had the fact it had started to rain. What finally got the bewilder gambler to his feet was the spine tingling sensation that something was wrong. Ezra grunted out, "Mother," and he was up in a shot on wobbly legs. A second later he was on his knees dry heaving.
Part R: by Tipper 12/13/03
"Right, here we are!" Quinn announced proudly, indicating a rather sad looking shack nestled on a hillside, "my home! My raising debt tree!"
"Raising debt tree?" Josiah repeated to Maude, who was sitting astride the horse at his side. She smiled slightly.
"Raison d'etre," she whispered back. "Believe me, I've heard worse versions, though rarely to something that…that…." She pursed her lips, then smiled brightly as Quinn turned back to her.
"Revelatory," she said to the officer. He blushed mightily, even though he had no clue what the word meant.
"Ramshackle," she whispered to the man next to her. Josiah gave a hint of a smile. The structure was indeed a crude single story house, with perhaps three rooms and what looked like a kitchen off the back, and not much of a roof. Half of it looked as if a bad storm had ripped it off and the rest had fallen into decay because no one had bothered to fix it. As the soft rain now falling on their heads began to increase in strength, they all secretly hoped the roof they could see as still intact would hold. At least the small barn nearby had a seemingly okay roof. Lucky horses.
"Room enough for all in the house," Quinn said proudly. "Just put the horses in the barn and meet me inside." He promptly jumped off his own beast, handing the reins to Pete. "Miz Natalie, if you would join me inside while these others deal with the horses?" He held his hand out to the lady. Maude smiled weakly.
"Rascal," she said to him, gamely fluttering her eyelashes as she slid off her horse, while her stomach recoiled in disgust. "What will the other's think." Quinn just grinned more broadly, while Josiah's expression darkened considerably.
Rain fell atop the wagon, splattering the thick oiled cloth and sliding down the sides. Yvonne looked up at the cloth, sighing at rapidly cooling air and reaching for her shawl. Gus and Gunter grimaced and backed closer to the wagon while Buck and Chris moved back slightly to confer.
"Reckon they're telling the truth?" Buck asked the other.
Releasing a sigh, Chris shook his head. "Well, Josiah's not here. If there story about bandits is true, we may have a bigger problem on our hands."
"Ragged bunch anyway, this," Buck replied, shaking his head. "Maybe we should find Josiah first, make sure he's okay, then track this lot down again if we need to. No way they're getting away fast in this rain."
Regretfully, Chris nodded. Trotting forward, he used his most threatening stare on Gus. The man visibly cowered, indicating it had worked.
"Recommend you boys and your mother find a place to hole up 'til the storm blows over, then move on. But be warned," Chris leaned forward, and Gus backed up some more into the wagon frame, "we find you lied to us for any reason, and Josiah's hurtin' as a result, no power on earth'll save you. Get me?"
Red-faced, Gus nodded, "Yessir. We ain't lied." He held up his right hand, as if swearing an oath, then used it to point back the way they came. "They went that-away."
Raising a disdainful eyebrow, Chris nodded, then, with a click of his tongue, headed his horse in that direction. Buck sneered at Gus and Gunter, then followed close behind.
Reaching a thin, veined hand out from the wagon, Yvonne grabbed Gus's shoulder in a vice-like grip, causing the man to wince. "If they're heading after Josiah," she spat, "then turn this wagon around, boys, and follow them. If they manage to get him free of them bandits, I want him back as soon as they do. I'll be married to the preacher yet, you'll see!"
"Remuneration beyond your wildest dreams," Maude promised, watching as her "bandits" made their way into the "living room" of the shack. There was a crude table in the middle, with two chairs, one broken, and there was a fireplace in the corner where Quinn had, at Maude's insistence (and to stop his roving eye and hands when they'd come inside together), built a weak fire.
Rain pelted the roof, landing in small puddles all around the half dirt floor. Men shifted to get out of the worst of it, encircling the table where Maude stood on one side, Quinn to her left and Josiah to her right. The conwoman smiled at them all, her eyes twinkling.
"Remuneration?" one asked. "What's that?"
"Reward for your hard work and effort. Behold!" she reached into her tunic and pulled out a piece of rolled up parchment. "This is what you have been waiting for!" Setting it on the table, she unfurled it, opening up to reveal a map…with no names on it but with one big, huge, honking red X right in the middle.
Recognition hit them all at once, and Josiah stifled a groan. Maude hushed the roar of questioning voices by holding up a hand.
"Rarest of all things," Maude whispered to the now quiet group, "a treasure map, with gold and jewels at the end, just waiting for us to find it!"
"Really?" Pete gasped, "It’s a real map?"
"Real as they come," Maude replied soundly. "I spent years tracking this down. It's the long lost treasure of Reverend Zachariah Young, who set out to create a town he wanted to call," she arched a dramatic eyebrow, "Xanadu!"
Rolling his eyes, Josiah had to look away before his expression gave her away.
"Reverend Young collected thousands in gold and jewels over a lifetime of preaching and begging," Maude continued, "and, with a group of loyal followers, headed into the desert to create his Xanadu. He kept a diary of their travels, seeking the perfect spot to build their haven. Soon they were lost, swallowed up into the sands like the bones of the dinosaurs, never to be seen again. Then I learned that his diary had been found, amongst other objects that some of the local Indian tribes around here had scavenged from the cruel land. I bargained long and hard, sacrificing much, but in the end, I retrieved the diary and I found in it this map. This, gentlemen, is where his lost treasure is, where our own Xanadu is to be found!"
Reactions were to be expected. Men whooped, others cheered, some clapped each other on the back. This was it – they way to get rich, and no one gets hurt. No one, that is, until they discovered the Maude's map was as fraudulent as her name. The con-woman smiled gamely back at them, her "all-purpose" treasure map getting its due as men attempted to tell from the general markings and topography what was what.
"Reckon this is Ulster here," one said, pointing to some hills. "Them's the hills overlooking that town."
"Right, and that's Upper Vista …and that's Lower Vista…and that means that this here is Vista!"
"River here could be the Waverly River," another man suggested, pointing a blue squiggly line.
Reaching a hand across to pull Maude away a little from the men now crowding the table and pouring over the map, Josiah brought the woman's ear to his lips.
"Risky business, Natalie. What are you trying to do?"
"Rope was around our necks, Josiah," she whispered back. "I just bought us some time. It’s a long way to Xanadu," she smiled up at him, "I'm sure we can find a means to escape somewhere along the way, or perhaps," she batted her eyes, and Josiah tried not to get lost in them, "my son and those other friends of yours might come to the so-called…."
"Rescue," Josiah sighed. The image of the three men on the ground came back to him then, and he frowned. "Maude, listen…."
"Relax," she said, patting his arm, "and trust me. I've used this ruse before. Everything will be fine…."
Roughly, Quinn grabbed "Natialie's" arm again and pulled her back into the group, demanding she explain just where exactly this map pointed.
"Row, row, row your boat," Ezra muttered, struggling back to his feet and finding himself surrounded by rivulets of rainwater on all sides, "gently down the stream." He blinked, then reached for Peso's reins.
"Recalcitrant beast," Ezra muttered, pulling Peso up onto his feet again. "Odd, your coat looks much darker than normal, Chaucer…and when did you get white paint on your nose?"
Reaching up, Ezra touched Peso's white star, then looked amazedly at his fingers when no paint came back.
"Rats," he muttered, finally understanding. "Wrong horse. Hell...Chaucer's going to kill me."
Part S: By TwylaJane 12/18/03
"Shit!" Grumbled Vin, it was hard
enough to track when a body can't think straight, the steady rain complicated
things further that and Nate was a might too close for his liking. Hell it
wasn't like the Texan hadn't been hurt before or in the healer's care but there
were a more important things to be worrying about. Like where they were headed.
It was at that moment when Jackson's steadfast mount trod too close to the
gambler's high-strung beast stumbling slightly. The sudden unfortunate misstep
took Nathan by surprise, unseating him and sending him tumbling off the side of
the rain slick trail.
Split second later a wide-eyed Jackson rolled to a stop ending up on his knees staring through the rain soaked brush.
"Sssss…" hissed Jackson as inched back. It didn't seem possible but from what he could see there was a several horses still hitched in front of a run down homestead as a familiar grayed man and blonde woman were roughly hauled inside. Several men were outside its dilapidated barn leading in at least half dozen saddle horses.
Some how it seemed they had caught up with Sanchez and a woman although dressed as a man looked suspiciously like Mrs. Standish. The question now was where was her boy?
"Spill it Natalie… I want…" Quinn sputtered out but with several furious glares shot in his direction he managed to stammer out. "We want to know where exactly these points are on this map… keep it plain and simple starting right here," jabbing at the damp paper, "and woman mind that double talk of yours."
Sighing loudly Maude began to speak as if she would to a slow child. "Now my dear Mr. Quinn if you would release me I shall endeavor to do as you bid but might we first go a little farther inside to get out of this weather before I catch a chill…"
Stifling a chuckle Sanchez struggled to suppress the grin that threatened to spread across his face as he listened to Ezra's mother as she started once again to successfully weave her tale of the lost treasure of Xanadu hidden deep in the Vista Hills and the old Reverend Zeke Young who had happened to hoard a massive fortune to a riveted audience. Josiah wondered how she could keep track of the ever-growing web of lies.
Snorting in response to the idle hand gently rubbing on his muzzle Peso leaned into the listing man momentarily stopping the swaying Standish had started mere moments early. The gambler stood there, water washing over him as the sky opened up and the rain came down hard quickly soaking him to the skin. Finally he moved loosely gathering Peso's reins as he began to tread wearily down the road. Not at all sure what compelled him to move on, but was compelled to do so all the same.
"Son of Bitch..." growled out Larabee. He wasn't sure what was worse losing half his men and not having a clue as to where they might be or being stuck with Yvonne and her boys on his trail. There wasn't much he could do about it short of shooting the old woman. A small smile crept across his face. Nope that wouldn't help matters either he just wished Sanchez would keep his amorous nature directed towards the saloon girls at then he wouldn't attract so much trouble. Scowling, Chris wiped the rain from his face. Nope some one would find some other trouble to get into. Whether it be Wilmington and his women, or Standish and his Cards, even Tanner's past and the worry that someone someday would collect on the price on Texan's head. Hell Nathan couldn't stay out of trouble not that he went of his way just the color of man's skin was enough to bring it on. J.D., well hopefully today he would have the sense to stay put.
Part T: by Celesta SunStar 12/19/03
Traveling together, if not companionably at least without overt hostilities,
Peso and Ezra had managed to come to a truce of sorts. It was however, not
something that Ezra would be talking about anytime soon.
Truly glad that he had been working with Vin and his... trusty steed... Ezra doubted that if he and Peso hadn't been familiar with each other, that one or both of them would have been seriously injured in the truce-making process.
Trusting the ill-tempered horse to at least not toss him off on purpose, Ezra closed his eyes in an attempt to get his vision back together again. Though why he should be seeing double NOW when a moment ago the only real evidence of the concussion he was supposed to have was his minor unsteadiness and his hellish headache...
Then it struck him...
"That..." He was momentarily lost for words, and obscurely glad that only Peso was there to see the ignoble state that he had fallen into. "Mother," he continued, striving for a calm, if exasperated tone. "Xanadu? Again? Don't you remember what happened last time?"
Tenaciously holding his temper against the women who wasn't even in front of him; he closed his eyes and licked his lips as he attempted to bring to mind exactly what the treasure map that Maude routinely carried with her. The treasure maps looked like so, and the criminal elements who would be regarding it, or in other words, idiots would be matching the symbols to... hmm...
"The erroneously named Vista Hills, to which we, dear Peso, shall make our way with due haste and precede my mother's immanent arrival to that unlovely area. Peso snorted in derision, or at least sounded like he did. Ezra ignored his companion's uncouth behaviors and attempted to find some landmarks to guide his way. A difficult procedure in the pouring rain. "Let me see, we need to go about southeast from here, which would be... that direction." Ezra turned his borrowed horse in what he thought was the correct direction.
The horse corrected him by about fifty degrees and they trudged off in the direction of the fabled lost treasure of Xanadu.
"The Hell..." Buck muttered as he glimpsed something completely unexpected out of the corner of his mind. He shook himself and grabbed Chris's arm, glad that they had momentarily lost the crazy lady and the idiot sons. He directed the hazel glare to the flash of muddy red in the near distance. "Hey pard, ain't that...?"
"That's Ezra all right," the blond cursed tiredly and turned his horse so that he could go intercept the gambler. "Thing is, I'd like to know what he's doing on Peso."
Turning to follow Chris, Buck chuckled as he tried to imagine the excuses that Ezra would try to convince them with.
"They left without me?" JD was trying to get all of the gear that he would need into his saddlebags at the same time. Needless to say he was not having much success at his venture.
"That gambling man just turned white as a sheet and muttered something about his mother and then grabbed Peso and rode off." Nettie confirmed. She knew that it would do no good to tie the boy to the bed, since he would likely just drive her batty anyway. She was better off with him somewhere else.
The sheriff of Four Corners frowned as he considered what he should do. What day was it?
The twenty-fourth, which meant that the bimonthly attempted bank robbery, was due any day now. As boring as town watch usually was, he probably shouldn't just let the bank get robbed, and besides for once Chris and Buck could have the hard job of locating the others and handling the assorted mishaps that always happened when the seven managed to go in seventeen different directions at the same time.
The sheriff in Eagle Bend still owed them for returning the Fenkle Brothers, he could probably borrow a deputy or two. Or he could just deputize Inez and Mary, he didn't think that even Chris would want to try to stand against THAT pair.
That was a good plan. Nodding to himself, JD mounted and tipped his hat to Nettie and started off towards town.
Part U: by Angela B 12/21/03
Utilizing all of his strength to stay in the saddle, Vin kept his eyes on the
ground. Keeping track of Peso wasn't that hard. The tracker would know the
imprint his horse's hooves anywhere. The thing that made it difficult was that
he could almost feel Nathan's continual stare on his back.
"Useless to keep watching, Nate." Vin grumbled. "Ain't gonna fall and give you something else to gripe about."
"Ulcer," that's what you're giving me. You're more ornery than that horse of yours," grunted Nathan, turning his eyes back to what lay out in the far distance, where he thought he could see outlines of people. He should have stayed at the clinic today. Nothing this bad happens in town at least not usually.
Upheaval was the only word that came to Ezra's mind when he thought of Maude and the Xanadu con. Nothing good ever came out from the scam, which had Ezra wondering why the woman kept using it. The rattling of wagon wheels interrupted his thoughts. Turning his body gently, he saw a woman and two men approaching. Maybe help had finally arrived at last. Then he could find Maude and try and save her from herself. Though Ezra, himself, highly doubted it, the least he could do was keep her from getting killed.
Uneasy about the familiarity of the threesome approaching as they got closer, Ezra reached for his gun and belatedly realized it wasn't there. Feeling for the scabbard, he pulled Vin's rifle. Sitting precariously on Peso, he could only hope the beast remained standing still. He waited until the wagon came up next to him before shouldering the heavy weapon in his shaking arms.
Ubiquity, was how Ezra was thinking of these backwoods people. They seem to be wherever he turned. For a moment, Ezra truly questioned whether this was all happening, or whether it was a strange and frightening nightmare. Looking at the woman sitting beside one of her sons, he decided it had to be real. His nightmares were never this authentic. Straightening up as stiff as he could, Ezra prepared for the worse.
Unfazed by the man holding the wobbly weapon, Gus pulled his own gun. "Thought you was dead," he said.
"Unfortunately for you, I'm not," Ezra responded, despair ran rampant on the inside when he realized his ploy wasn't working. These men either knew he was not up to par or too stupid to realize they were in potential danger.
"Ungracious of ya, if you ask me," grunted Gunther, holding the reins. As he watched his brother pull back the hammer and squeeze the trigger, the empty click signified the chamber was empty. Gunther couldn't help from sighing. Perhaps mother would be happy in a nice little sanctuary and he could actually lead a normal life.
Unprotected without a working rifle, Gus threw it to the floor of the wagon and dove for an unseen bag while Gunther held the horses still and Yvonne looked about rather bored. All she wanted was a nice little home and a man to cook and clean for. Josiah had been the perfect specimen.
Undertaking a frantic dig, Gus got his hand inside the tied bag. "Ah ha," he cried victoriously, as he yanked something out. Holding it up as a weapon, Gus looked up to see what everyone was gawking at.
"Uh oh," he mumbled, as he stared up at the makeshift weapon.
Unequivocally today was not his day, thought Ezra. He should have stayed in town and kept an eye on the bank, anticipating its bimonthly attempted robbing. At least he would know what was coming. Out here everything kept coming up as a bizarre series of surprises.
"Ukulele?" questioned Ezra in disbelief. "You have a ukulele? What are you going to do? Kill me by playing it?" Ezra shook his head in despair.
Unbeknownst to any of them, Gus was quite fond of music and had purchased the instrument some time back in a mercantile store with hopes of becoming a famous musician and making lots of money. Now, he hung his head in embarrassment. Gunther would never let him live this down.
Understanding in theory, as he stood there holding his prize by the neck, that even if he were to use it as a weapon, it would do more harm to the beloved instrument than to the man on the horse, he said firmly, "Yeah, so what? I happen to be quite good at it." Trying hopelessly to still look tough.
Unsympathetic to whatever happened today, he was not going to harm his treasured Ukulele. Cradling his instrument, Gus and Ezra shared a flash of understanding for just a split second, both understanding what it was to have a prize worth dying for and standing one's ground to keep it.
"Unless you're planning on eating that thing, I suggest you put it down," Ezra instructed, fighting to keep his equilibrium as he shifted the rifle. The moment they had shared passing. "By the way where might Mr. Sanchez be? If I recollect correctly, he was last seen in your company," Ezra asked, suddenly very worried by the lack of the big man.
"Unnecessary violence; young man," Yvonne reprimanded, finally speaking up. " As for Josiah," Yvonne whined, dragging out his name in gooey sweetness, she said, "He was taken from us by a band of desperadoes and we are now on our way to find my true paramour." Turning her attention to Gunther, she commanded, "Onward son. We must find them before something befalls my beloved at the hands of those ruffians."
Ulterior motives made Ezra let them go. His was only too glad to let them pass as he was greatly relieved that he had managed to keep his balance during the confrontation. Listening to the ranting of the mother screaming at her son about his choice in instruments and the strains of the said instrument being played, Ezra Looked out across the plains and saw two riders approaching him. Hanging his head, he wondered what was next.
Unwilling to believe his eyes, Chris took in Ezra's disheveled appearance as they rode up. "You all right?" he asked in genuine concern.
"Undeniably," Ezra said as he swayed in the saddle, sliding the rifle back home.
Urbane was how Ezra liked to think of himself and on any other day the gambler would have complained about his disgraceful form and criticized the misuse of his person. Today, though, he was just counting his blessings that he was still alive and still able to save his mother.
Undermining any plans that Chris and Buck might have had, Ezra blurted out, " I have learned that Josiah is no longer with that hideous woman, but now in the hands of someone else, but I beg of you gentlemen, you must first assist me in saving my mother."
Unaccustomed to Ezra's bluntness, Chris and Buck stared at their friend for a moment before asking warily, "Your mother is in the area?" Both men tried to keep the thoughts of doom they felt hidden.
Understanding the sentiment hidden behind the words, Ezra nodded, "Indeed gentlemen, I am afraid she is." Thinking on it for a moment, he let out a long sigh. "I fear gentlemen that where my mother is, so too might we locate our Mr. Sanchez."
Ugly images ran through Chris and Buck's minds at the thought. Shuddering violently, Chris said, "I guess we best get moving before that woman and her sons finds them, then."
Universally, the other two agreed and three horsemen started down the trail.
Part V: by Violette 12/28/03
"Vista Hills?" Buck eyed Ezra like he was insane. "Why
would they be at Vista Hills? Ain't nothin' there but sand and
"Very simple," Ezra replied with a sigh, rubbing his forehead in an attempt to soothe the pounding in his head. "That is where Xanadu is to be found... at least according to the treasure map my mother is attempting to pawn off on some poor unsuspecting, yet doubtlessly greedy, souls." He gestured ahead of him, in the direction he hoped was correct. "My mother is on her way there as we speak." He turned to face his two comrades, then tilted in the saddle as the terrain started swirling around him.
"Vertigo," Chris noted with a sigh as Buck reached out to steady the wobbly gambler. "You really shouldn't be on a horse in your condition, Ezra."
"Verily, I assure you, I am quite well," Ezra insisted. Unfortunately, the inability of his eyes to focus and the unconscious back-and-forth swaying in his saddle gave him away.
Vainly, Buck and Chris attempted to convince the stubborn southerner to return to Nettie's ranch, but Ezra continued to assert that he was perfectly fine.
"Verbose, ain't he?" Buck said with a sigh while Ezra engaged in another long-winded argument as to his fitness... even as Buck held his arm to keep him from falling from his horse.
"Very," Chris agreed, rubbing a tired hand over his eyes. "Guess we'll have to take him along."
Visibly pleased with his victory – despite his feeble efforts to hide those emotions – Ezra continued his chatter as he rode alongside his two compatriots.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Voluminous quantities of treasure shall be yours, gentlemen," Maude told the restless group of men. "All we have to do is follow the map."
Vigorously nodding, the greedy band of men agreed with her, practically salivating over the thought of the riches that awaited them.
"Voluminous," Quinn said, a faraway look in his eyes. "Don't know what that means, but I like the sound of it."
"Veritable piles of gold and jewels," Maude added assuredly.
"Vista Hills ain't that far," Pete said excitedly. "Let's get goin'! There's still light enough to get there today."
Veiling her disgust at the greed being displayed, Maude smiled and batted her eyes at the men. "Indeed, let us be on our way."
Vexed with the situation, Josiah frowned. Unfortunately, he had no choice but to acquiesce in the face of a dozen armed men and a certain vivacious con woman.
* * * * * * * * * *
Variegated shades of yellow and brown streaked the barren landscape as the three parties (four, if one counted the wagonload of bumpkins trailing our intrepid trio of peacekeepers) converged upon Vista Hills. Each group remained oblivious to the others, having a singular goal in mind.
Part W: by NotTasha 12/28/03
Whistling, JD kicked his horse to a trot, determined to make it back to Four Corners before the upcoming bank robbery. "Wonder who it'll be this time," he said out loud, trying to ignore the roaring in his head. "The Whalen brothers? Naw, they're locked up in Yuma right now. Will Barlow? He's robbed us twice already. Probably learned his lesson. Xenia Devine and her gang of girls? That might not be too bad. Zed the Deadly? Hmmm."
Wiping his forehead, JD pondered how Vin and Ezra were able to do it? Just jump up and ride off as if nothing was wrong with them. Wishing he could be more like them, Dunne felt as if he'd been beaten like a rug. The kid could hardly keep in his saddle.
Winding his hands into his reins, the young sheriff was determined to make it back to town posthaste to take care of things.
"Won't fail 'em," he murmured. "Wouldn't want 'em to think I couldn't handle it." He pushed his hat back on his head. Buck and Chris would be proud of him. Yeah, he could handle this. He'd keep the town safe. "Well sure," he assured himself. "Won't be a problem."
"Will be a thing," he decided, with a smile. "To see Inez and Mary against a band of outlaws... band of outlaws," his thoughts diverted as he crossed a mess of tracks.
"What the hell?" He dipped his head against the rain. Even with the precipitation he could see that a small army had passed this way.
"Wagon, too," he observed, seeing the tracks left by the vehicle.
"Where they goin'?" he asked his horse.
Whickering in response, the horse tried to look thoughtful.
"What's out there? Ain't much of anything." JD gazed out, but the distance was hidden in a curtain of rain.
"Waverly River," he remembered. "What else?"
"Wouldn't be right to ignore this," JD said with a sigh. Wistfully looking toward town, he turned his horse and followed the tracks toward Vista Hills.
Whether the weather could get any worse, Ezra couldn't be sure. Certainly, he couldn't feel any worse.
Wobbling in his saddle, the gambler smiled first to Chris, on his left -- then to Buck, on his right. "Well, gentlemen," he said. "Have you caught sight of them yet?" He didn't trust his own vision in this instance.
"Wagon," Buck commented, pointing to the conveyance ahead of them.
"Would prefer that we avoid them," Chris commented and the other two men nodded in agreement.
"Would we wend our way where the wagon won't wheel?" Ezra asked, getting annoyed looks from the others. "Well, will we?"
"Whatever," Buck responded and they adjusted their path accordingly, avoiding what could only be described of as... weird.
With loving care, Gus cradled his ukulele as he watched his brother drive the wagon. "Where we goin', Gunther?" he asked.
"Wherever those other fellas gone," his brother responded.
Wanting her lover again, Yvonne let out a wail, raising her arms to the heavens. "Why?" she cried out. "Why oh why? I was so close... so close to having my dear Josiah again. Why does this have to happen to me?" The rain dug channels through her pasty makeup, leaving her striped like a tiger.
Wabash Cannonball played softly from the little instrument as Gus continued, "We got no idea what we're gettin' into. Could be a trap."
"We'll just have to wait and see," Gunther returned peevishly.
"Would be a good thing if we had weapons," Gus went on, as he plucked.
"Weapons?" Gunther replied.
"Well, you saw what happened when we met up with that fella in the dirty coat. Those bandits took most of our guns. Got no cartridges for the rifle."
"Wedding bells will ring!" Yvonne chimed, not listening to her sons. She clasped her hands as the rain pelted her, changing the color of her hair to a milky orange, but deepening the strange color of her dress.
With a careful expression, Gunther considered their options. "We got that gunpowder," he finally stated.
Wickedly, Gus grinned. "Whoo-hooo!" he exclaimed, clapping one hand against the tiny sounding board of the mini-guitar. "We gunna blow 'em up real good."
"Wonderful!" Yvonne spouted, suddenly seeming to hear them. "Josiah will be mine again!"
Part X: by Lily of the West 12/30/03
"Xanadu, gentlemen!" Maude reined in her horse and gestured
cheerfully towards the desolation of Vista Hills that lay before them in a
shimmering heat haze. Josiah raised an eyebrow and resisted the urge to shake
"Xeric, kinda, ain't it?" grunted Pete doubtfully while killing another nit on his scalp with one longish fingernail. Quinn and Oscar leaned forward in their saddles and regarded their companion in wonder. Where in hell did a pea brain like Pete pick up a word like that?
"Xeric, ya know," Pete clarified, seeing their confusion. "Means dry. Arid-like." Realizing he still had his finger in his hair, he added, "not ma hair, though. The landscape, I means. Though ma hair kinda does have a tendency towards xerasia in the summer, and since I bin a lil' nipper, I bin sufferin' right awful from xerodermia." He sadly regarded the squashed evidence under his fingernails. "Them lil' devils sure is xerophilic."
"Xanadu is waiting, gentlemen!" Maude impatiently waved the map in front of them. "I believe the good Reverent Zeke Young would be mighty disappointed if he knew you have more interest in head lice than in his legendary treasure." She winked knowingly at Josiah when Quinn greedily tore the map from her grasp.
"X marks the spot, boys!" Quinn cried excitedly and then looked up from the map towards the dusty hillside in front of them, as if he expected to see a large red X materialize in the expanse of sand and tumbleweeds. His face fell a little. "Well," he said philosophically. "If it were easy, it'd be called knittin' eh, boys? Let's start diggin, we got all day." With that, the trio spurred their horses on towards the hill, leaving Maude and Josiah behind in a cloud of dust.
"'xcuse me, dear Maude," Josiah sighed and frowning worriedly, "do you think this is wise? Those three may have the mental capacity of barnacles, but once they've dug up this whole hillside and haven't found a nickel, they'll put two and two together and well…I wouldn't put it past them to do violence to a lady." He leg-yielded his horse sideways until it stood muzzle to muzzle with Maude's roan gelding. In a show of concern and affection, Josiah laid his large calloused hand on Maude's slender thigh. The roan snorted hotly, threw his ears back and lifted a threatening rear hoof.
"Xerxes, behave yourself!" Maude admonished her horse. "Mr. Sanchez is only surrendering to a primordial instinct that he can no more control than you can control yours." Josiah blushed and withdrew his hand. His face, if this was possible, had grown even longer.
"Xerky is a good horse, really Mr. Sanchez. Please do forgive him. He has always been most protective of me." She suddenly laughed brightly. "You should see him with Ezra. Oh my, poor Ezra. Last time he tried to give me a birthday kiss, Xerky grabbed him by the collar and bodily lifted him off his feet and proceeded to trot down the streets of St. Louis with Ezra dragging between his front legs, screaming and cursing. Oh my, poor Ezra. He always has been a bit scrawny, hasn't he?"
Xerxes suddenly pricked up his ears and stared into the distance. A cloud of yellow dust arose under the approaching shapes of three riders. Maude shadowed her brow with her hand and sighed dramatically. "What do you know! Speak of the devil." The three riders rode up looking dusty and worn. Maude greeted Chris, Buck and Ezra with a cheerful smile. Ezra did not return the smile.
"Xanadu con, Mother?" Ezra asked wearily and leaned on his saddle horn. "How unoriginal. I'm surprised you can still find a sucker west of the Mississippi who hasn't heard of it yet. Running out of ideas, are you?" Buck and Chris, sensing an approaching family scene, nodded a careful greeting to Maude and stayed in the background.
"'xcuse me, son, is that any way to greet your dear mother after you haven't seen her in six months? It wouldn't be too much exercise for you to get off that lump of a horse and come over here and give me a welcome kiss, would it?"
Xerxes pranced excitedly at the very mention of that idea. "Well," Maude continued, "Xerky has a point. Not in your current state." She took in her son's tousled, dust-caked appearance and scrunched up her nose. "Really, Ezra. You do have to mind your appearance, even in this gopher hole of a town. You look like something that crawled out from under a rock. Have you gone native? And is that a bullet hole in your arm? How clumsy of you! And please do keep from rubbing your head with those muddy paws; it doesn't improve your appearance. What's wrong with you, do you have a headache?"
"'xcruciating'" Ezra mumbled darkly and gathered enough energy to sit up straight in the saddle and face his mother. "Mother dearest, I suggest we curtail the pleasantries and return to the safety of said gopher hole before those Xanthodonts" – he nodded toward the hillside, where Pete, Quinn and Oscar were busily digging holes like a trio of hyperactive prairie dogs – "discover that they've been jinxed. That's `jinXed' with a capital red X I should say."
"Xanthodonts?" a puzzled Buck whispered, leaning towards Josiah. "Think it's the concussion?"
"'Xantho' means yellow; `donts' means teeth," Josiah chuckled. "And so they are. It appears brother Ezra's vocabulary is quite shock-proof."
Xerxes watched with interest as Ezra carefully climbed down from his saddle and approached Maude. In his exhausted, scrambled state, the gambler forgot all about the horse and unthinkingly grabbed Xerxes' reins while fixing his mother with a stern – or so he believed – gaze.
"Xanadu or not, mother, you will come back with us on the double. I will not let you come to harm at the hands of those ruffians." Ezra was building up some steam as he spoke, and didn't realize that his hand tugged on Xerxes' reins as he spat out each word. "Really, mother, at your age, to involve yourself in such hare-brained, ludicrous adventures. X marks the spot! Puh. Xanadu my AAAAAaarhhhhg!"
Xerxes, with one smooth movement of his powerful neck, clamped his jaws around Ezra's collar and flung the man through the air in a wide graceful arc. The horse snorted and pranced excitedly as the annoyance in the red jacked hit the ground head-first in a puff of dust.
"Xerky!" Maude exclaimed and roughly checked the reins, "now that was rather rude. He is, after all, my son. Ezra, dear, are you alright?"
"'xecrable," came the muttered answer from the dust. `xorbitant. In'xcusable. I shall `xhort to..'xpedite `xtermination of that … that…" his gaze fell darkly upon Xerxes as he managed to scramble to his hands and knees. Maude was about to object, but Ezra cut her off. "Mother. Mother, you…you xanthous, xenomanic, xylophagous xanthippe!" One hand shot up to palpate the brand new bump on his head. Suddenly, a look of far-away concentration came to Ezra's face. His jaw worked briefly, and then he spat out what appeared to be a tooth – a golden one. Ezra chuckled once, bitterly, then collapsed back into the dust. "'xhausted," he sighed sadly and surrendered to unconsciousness.
"Xanti…what did he call her?" Buck asked Josiah as they worriedly checked their knocked-out comrade. Josiah just shrugged and tipped a finger to his head in answer. They carried the gambler into the shade of some boulders while Chris helped a worried Maude off her horse.
"Xerky really got him this time, I'm afraid," she lamented as Chris escorted her towards the boulder. "Oh, why must that boy always be so clumsy?"
"'xcuse me, Mrs Standish." At the unexpected voice they all turned to see Quinn, Oscar and Pete stand there looking all but pleased. Quinn continued, "Now we done dug up the whole damn hill and ain't found nothing. You sure this is the right spot?" His eyes narrowed suspiciously and he took a slow step forward, scrunching the map in one fist. "Unless, of course, there ain't no gold…"
"X marks the damned spot; how hard can it be, you numb skull," Maude answered tiredly without taking her eyes off her unconscious son, who was drooling through the new hole in his teeth. She suddenly found this adventure to be very wearisome.
"Xanadu…there ain't no Xanadu, is there?" Quinn snarled. Chris, sensing the impending disaster, growled in his throat and slowly let his hand drop towards his gun. Josiah and Buck rose to stand beside him. The air between the two groups of men was suddenly thicker than molasses. At that very moment, a shrill cry rang out behind them.
"Xanadu! I found Xanadu! Gold! It's gold!" They whirled around to see Pete kneeling in the dust, right at the spot where Xerxes had flung Ezra to the ground. Between his thumb and forefinger he held up a tiny golden pebble.
"X marks the spot!" Pete cried shrilly. "Right here! Come on, dig! Dig! There's gotta be a lot more!" The tension forgotten, Oscar and Quinn jumped to his side and began digging frantically.
"'xtraordinary!" a weak comment came from the shade near the boulder. Ezra, still flat on his back, his eyes half closed, smiled a dimpled, gapped-toothed grin up at his mother's face. Maude leaned forward and whispered in his ear.
"Xanadu always works, son. What did I tell you." With that, she pegged a welcome kiss on her son's dirty cheek.
Part Y: by Helen Adams 12/30/03
"Young's treasure will soon be ours, boys! Any minute now, I can feel it!" bellowed the excited Pete, tossing handfuls of soil over his shoulders like a madman, the hole growing steadily deeper as he scrabbled through the dirt like a dog after a juicy bone. A hard rap sounded suddenly as knuckles met wood, drawing everyone's attention. Pawing frantically around the surface he revealed one corner of what seemed to be a large well-worn chest. "I found it. It's here! We're rich!"
"You've gotta be kiddin'," Josiah muttered, not believing the evidence of his eyes for a moment. Moving back over to kneel by Maude, he shot her a sour look he said, "You mean to tell me you went so far as to come out here, dig a hole and bury an actual strongbox for these yahoos to find?"
"Yahoo!" Ezra echoed, sitting up suddenly and flailing his arms, spitting a mouthful of bloody saliva into the air with no care at all for the disgusted clucking of his mother's tongue at the action. His eyes, looking uneven and a little glassy as the effects of his second concussion-worthy knock on the head in less than four hours began to kick in, flared with interest at the mention of wealth. "Riches, ladies and gentlemen. Treasure beyond our wildest, greediest, most astoundingly lucrative dreams. And all because Josiah ran for the hills instead of keeping his promise to marry that perambulating circus tent." The look he gave Sanchez was pure unadulterated admiration.
"You shouldn't be moving around so much," Josiah scolded, grimacing at the reminder that in some twisted way this whole bizarre chain of events just might be his fault. Trying to press the gambler back into a supine position, he added, "Just take it easy now, son."
Yelping, Ezra twisted around, confused eyes widening still further as they darted back and forth between Josiah and Maude. "Son! Is that why you wouldn't agree to the proposal made by that fashion monstrosity and her two offspring? You should have said somethin', J'siah! Not that I blame you for not wanting to complete such a contract, particularly if you'd already taken nuptial vows, but given a choice between tellin' that creature the truth and letting her shoot two or three of your best friends, I really have to question your sense of propriety. And don't think I'm gonna forgive you for not invitin' me to the wedding either!"
"Young man, what in God's name are you blathering about?" Maude demanded. "What wedding?"
Yawning hugely, the younger Standish abruptly ran out of words, forgetting what he had been so worked up about as he lay back down on his side and plopped his damp, muddy, aching head squarely in his mother's lap. Flinging an arm around her knees, he snuggled in closer and mumbled, "Comfy," before collapsing into a happily snoring heap.
"You see what I see?" Vin muttered to Nathan with a low chuckle, headache forgotten for the moment at he realized that Ezra had effectively secured his mother against making an escape attempt. He wasn't quite sure how Maude had gotten involved in this whole mess but it appeared that Ezra had been right after all when he had gone off in search of her. He had found her and a whole lot more. There was Josiah; minus his kidnappers and looking none the worse for wear as he draped Ezra's much-abused red coat over his body like a blanket. Buck and Chris were standing by the horses, including Peso and a roan gelding that seemed intent on trying to take a chunk out of him. Peso seemed equally intent on returning the favor. Chris and Buck both looked as if they wanted to shoot somebody and weren't sure who deserved the first bullet. The only one missing from the party was JD, who was safely back at Nettie's place.
"Y'all are either the luckiest sons of bitches alive or the unluckiest," Nathan answered, shaking his head as he took in the scene below. "I can't decide which. What do you think we oughtta do now?"
"Yo, guys! How come you left without me? What'd I miss?" The voice from behind them had both men reaching for guns they didn't have and each breathed a sigh of mingled relief and exasperation when they recognized JD.
Yanking off his hat, Nathan slapped the young man's arm with the floppy brim. "You just scared about ten years off me, boy! What do you mean, sneakin' up on us like that?"
"You'd been paying attention, you wouldn’t have been snuck up on!" JD retorted. "Besides, I thought I was following whoever was in that wagon. I lost their tracks a mile or so back when the rain started coming down too hard to make 'em out. Just kept going in the direction I had been and here you two were. What's going on?"
Yvonne rubbed her hands together greedily. She could all but feel that little gold band on her left hand that would signal to the world that Josiah was her man. From the low hilltop behind which they had parked the wagon after finding the place where the two men on horseback had stopped, she could clearly see her beloved. He was crouching on the ground next to that messy little fella and a woman. Yvonne was tempted to resent the hussy who was daring to sit so close to her Josiah. She was quite the looker, but then Yvonne reminded herself, reaching into her dress and arranging her protruding bosom to better effect, so was she. And her darling would never run off with a woman who'd be unladylike enough to wear pants in public! Besides, soon her boys would blow up all those pesky friends of Josiah's, including the hussy, and then the path to wedded bliss would be clear.
Part Z: by J Brooks 12/31/03
Zed the Deadly surveyed the unprotected town of Four Corners over the
smoking barrels of his six-shooters. He couldn't believe his luck.
The twenty-fourth of the month and not *one* lawman in sight. No one
to stand between him and the bank vault this time. Maybe the third
time really was a charm.
Zeroing in on the bank doors, Zed stalked between cowering townspeople, throwing out his chest as he strutted past a stagecoach full of French showgirls that had just rolled into town.
"Zeke!" he hollered, scowling as his partner ignored him in favor of the quivering can-can girls.
"ZEKE!" Around him, he could hear townspeople snickering.
"Zed? Oh yeah, right," Zeke jumped guiltily and trotted toward the bank, where the manager, Ned Zimmerman, waited with a resigned expression.
Zimmerman crossed his arms and moved to block the doorway. "'Fraid I can't let you boys in today," he said.
"'Zat so?" Zeke huffed. "Well, me and Zed the Deadly got four pistols that say different. What you got to say to that?"
Zimmerman's smile widened -- and Zeke's smirk slid right off his face -- as the street echoed with the sound of rifles cocking. The two would-be bank robbers turned in growing dread to find Inez Recillos taking aim. The bank door opened and Mary Travis stepped out, rifle at the ready.
"Zed, Zed, Zed," Mary chided, tapping the gun barrel against the outlaw's forehead. "When will you ever learn?"
Zed the Deadly cringed and dropped his weapons with a clatter.
"'Zat was magnifique!" An accented voice trilled behind them. The French showgirls spilled out of the stagecoach and fluttered over in a flurry of feathers and perfume.
"Zee Wild West indeed!" one of the girls enthused, draping herself around Inez and kissing her vigorously on both cheeks. Inez blinked. Zed and Zeke watched enviously. "I am Zoe," the dancer introduced herself. "Zees are my friends Chloe, Fifi, Sophie, Amelie, Emilie and Babette!"
"Zed the Deadly," Zed introduced himself, tipping his hat hopefully.
"Zee Deadly?" the showgirls chorused, mildly titillated by the nickname.
"Zed's called `the Deadly' on account of his breath," Zeke butted in, ducking the kick Zed aimed his way. "I'm Zeke. Pleased to make your acquaint-awk!" His introduction cut off with a squawk as Yosemite grabbed both men by the neck and hauled them off to jail. The showgirls wrinkled their noses after them, then turned their attention back to Mary and Inez.
"'Zee women of zees town are so courageous!" Zoe gushed. "One can only imagine 'ow rugged and manly and virile and handsome and brave zee lawmen must be! Ah...Where are zee lawmen?"
"Zzzzzz..." Maude Standish rolled her eyes at the disheveled figure snoring in her lap. With practiced ease, she disentangled herself from Ezra, tilting him up and over to snore on Josiah instead, then sauntered off to take the measure of the money-hungry morons from Darling. Best to conclude negotiations now, before the fools got a good look at the Reverend Zachariah Young's long-lost "treasure."
Zig-zagging between the fresh-dug treasure pits, she elbowed through the gawkers and made a beeline for Pete. The lawmen from Four Corners watched her go, not sure whether to make a break for it or settle back to enjoy the fireworks that usually followed when Standishes mixed with treasures.
Zen Buddhists held that a body could overcome all manner of physical discomforts through meditation. Josiah drew a deep calming breath, closed his eyes, and attempted to rise above the annoyances of the material plane. Ohm... Maude was chattering in the distance, warning the treasure hunters not to open the Xanadu chest until they reached the safety of their hideout. Ohm... Chris and the others were moving, gathering the horses, ready to get the hell out of the Vista Hills while the getting was good. Ohm... JD was crawling around, looking for Ezra's missing tooth. Ohm... Ezra was snoring against his shoulder, reeking of medicine, mud and manure...
*Zonk* Something small and hard came sailing out of nowhere to bounce off the top of his skull. Josiah cracked open one eye, searching, and spotted a familiar orange head ducking out of sight on he ridge above. With a sigh, he gave up any hope of finding Inner Peace that afternoon.
Zen Buddhists were full of crap.
Zither strings plinked in harmony with Gus's beloved ukulele. Gunter had given in and rooted out his own musical instrument and the boys amused themselves with a duet while their mother fussed with the barrels of gunpowder in the back of the wagon.
"Zip it!" Yvonne snapped, ignoring their hurt looks as they moved, grumbling, to help her shift more of the explosives toward the target.
"Zu Rüdesheim in der Drosselgaß…" Gus caroled softly, rolling a barrel to the edge of the ridgeline. He could sing drinking songs in eleven languages -- just one of the benefits of being raised by a mother who attracted so many gentlemen callers. Gus maneuvered the gunpowder close enough to blow the head right off the scowling man in black below. Yvonne dimpled fondly at her boys, then frowned.
"Zebediah…" she muttered under her breath. That was right. It had been Zebediah Santos who proposed marriage that week, not Josiah Sanchez! Huh. She pushed orange hair out of her eyes and pondered the moral dilemma for all of three seconds. No sense calling it off now. They'd come all this way, and that Josiah was one fine hunk of man. Humming happily, she turned back to her explosives.
Part A: by Q'Mar 01/07/03
Adjusting her men's clothing, Maude Standish watched the oddball pack of gamblers and rascals as they took the chest over to their horses, laughing with glee. The chest was unfamiliar to her and she was concerned that the con wouldn't end well. However, since Ezra and his band of ruffians were with her, she felt that she could get out of anything, scot free. Even though Ezra was definitely out for the count.
Across the vaguely arraigned campsite, Chris and Buck watched the Con-woman's movements uneasily. Standishes and money didn't mix, much like oil and water or matches and dynamite. As Chris was determining a way to deal with the likely fallouts from "Xanadu", a poorly pitched stick of dynamite landed near his horse. Pony knew what the thing was having encountered the strange "fire sticks" on several occasions with the gambler, and neighed in fright. Chris took hold of his reigns trying to calm the animal as Buck kicked the explosive toward one of the open pits on the hillside.
"Agh!!!!!" Cried the nearest hapless gambler as the thing exploded. "Thieves!" He added.
Acting with random awareness to the threat, Maude's motley band of "Outlaws", pulled their weapons, guns, clubs, whips, and a deck of cards. Quinn smacked the back of the one gambler's head. Pete was securing the "treasure" chest to a large pack pony. There were several more explosions as Yvonne and her boys started their campaign to get the Preacher back. The befuddled gambler who had drawn his deck pulled it back out again and began to futilely waive it around.
"Anson, put those dang things away!" Pete roared trying but failing to control the packhorse.
'Ain't gonna. The Reverend is angry about us takin' his treasure. I'm tryin' to show him I'm a sportin' man. I'll play him for it. After all, I'm the best." Anson declared.
"Anson, You dimwit. That ain't no ghost. Thems thieves! Besides, you ain't the best. That fox-faced southerner in Four Corners could beat the pants offa ya anyday o' the week." Pete responded, ducking a little as further dynamite came close to their position. The Packhorse reared and plunged.
Acting with little conscious thought, Josiah and Nathan had grabbed the still dazed Ezra and bundled him up into the nearest bushes.
"Acquisitive little beast, isn't she?" Ezra moaned, seeming a little more like himself.
"Are you askin' me?" Nathan asked. "After all, I wouldn't know. I wasn't invited to Josiah's shotgun weddin'" The healer made a little dig at Josiah and had the satisfaction of seeing the large man blanch.
"Ahm certain that if you wait a while, you will definitely be invited." Ezra replied, his accent thickening. Nathan had never enjoyed those southern tones until now. The whole thing was like a story he'd read in one of the books the "Cultured" gambler had loaned him. Standish said it was a Farce, for Jackson, this was one too. The healer grinned.
Abashed, Josiah listened to his friends. It was all his fault. He couldn't honestly remember asking Yvonne to marry him. Behind him he could hear Pony, Buck's grey Angel, and Peso trying to get free. Only Chaucer was unperturbed by the explosions, but then again, he was Ezra's horse and undoubtedly familiar with dynamite.
Abandoning her post at the Jail door, Mary Travis looked down the street at Inez who was patrolling. It would be nice when the Seven came back. She'd had just about all she could handle with Zeke, Zed the not so deadly and the French Floozies.
After listening to Zeke recount his "Greatness" to the women for the second time. Mary and Inez had looked at each other and then pushed all of the tarts into the cells with the would be bank robbers.
The Jail now smelled like cheap perfume, tobacco, burnt coffee and vomit. If the Seven didn't like it, they could clean it up themselves. Served them right for going off when there was sure to be a robbery. Mary was pretty certain that she'd throw up if she had to get any closer to Fifi and company who smelt like they hadn't had a bath in a century.
Acting "Lawman" Travis sighed and waited for Acting "Lawman" Recillios to get back and relieve her. At Least Inez had some experience with Drunks and Idiots.....
As soon as they heard the first explosion, Vin Tanner was dragging JD with him into the bushes. He couldn't see their assailants. Offloading his Mare's Leg, Vin searched for movement. Beside him the young Sheriff was scanning the area with his eyes and had drawn his pistols to back Vin up. Now if only they could spot the targets...
Angrily squealing, the Pack pony announced it's terror at the explosions landing all around it. It balked at the hands controlling the reigns, trying to pull away from the loud noises and ugly holes suddenly appearing on the ground. Many of the "Gang" were reaching for the horse, trying to get it under control. It was too frightened and broke away from the men rushing toward the freshly dug holes.
A single stick of dynamite exploded behind it and the animal reared, straining the ropes tying the chest to it's back. It jerked sharply, throwing the chest off it's back. The huge chest burst, throwing gold, silver and jewels into the recently dug holes.
Aghast, Maude Standish saw a king's ransom slide into the ground only to be blown to bits by a poorly aimed bundle of explosive. Her lovely face went still and blank. Imaginary smoke poured out her ears as she glared at the interlopers with a look that would have done Larabee proud. This meant WAR!!!!!
Part B: by Helen Adams
"Batten down the hatches, men. She's gonna blow!"
Bewildered by the strange comment, Nathan and Josiah exchanged a questioning look and a shrug. "Reckon he ain't gonna make sense until them two blows to the head heal up fully," Nathan decided. "What do you suppose that meant anyhow?"
"Bastards just blew up our treasure!" Ezra told them by way of explanation, a mixture of anger and trepidation flashing through his eyes as they struggled to focus on his two companions. "Mother's not gonna take that lyin' down. She's a dangerous woman when she's losin' money. We'd better do something."
"Brother, just what do you propose we do?" Josiah asked reasonably.
Blearily staring through the foliage at his mother, who had risen to her full height and was now marching stiff-spined up the hill toward the three bumpkins and their load of dynamite, seemingly unconcerned by the explosions littering the landscape around her so focused was she on her target, Ezra groaned. "Too late. Best thing to do now is take cover and pray."
"But the good news is," Nathan threw out, watching the determined woman's progress, "I don't think you're gonna be in much danger of havin' to marry that strange lady, Josiah. It don't look like there's gonna be much left to marry when Maude gets through."
Buck was shaking his head as he took in the scene. It was unbelievable! A few minutes before, JD had appeared out of nowhere. The kid had slithered past the treasure hunters on his belly, making his way over to Ezra and Josiah, then had started scratching in the dirt like some insane barnyard chick while Ezra pointed here and there, apparently forcing him to look for the missing gold tooth. Then the explosions had started and the boy had damn near got his head blown off; would have probably, if Vin hadn't materialized at his side like a genie from some hidden lamp and collared him, dragging him to safety.
"Boy, you are slicker than a greased pig on a frozen pond," he muttered admiringly as he caught a glimpse of Vin's sawed off rifle poking out of the bushes. Buck swore he had never seen the man go past him but the tracker had somehow managed to retrieve his weapon from its former place on Peso's saddle. So, JD and Vin were safe and judging by the southern-tinged swearing and deep grumbling complaints he could now hear off to his left someplace, Ezra and Josiah had also made it to safety with the help of Nathan.
"Bitch is gonna pay for this," Chris muttered, drawing his friend's attention back to him. Buck laughed before he could stop it. Maude's horse, the only one besides Chaucer who seemed utterly unconcerned by the dynamite jubilee going on around them, had taken his displeasure in the whole situation out on the gunslinger. Chris was rubbing his ass and shooting his best glare at the animal that had just taken a chunk out of him. Xerxes was about as affected by the look as any other member of the Standish clan - that is to say, not at all.
Blaring noise and blinding light suddenly filled the area again as a panicked yelp sounded from up on a hilltop, followed by a haphazard fling of several lit sticks of dynamite. Then, ominously, there was silence.
Buck saw his chance. Taking advantage of the lull, he stepped forward and grabbed two dithering treasure seekers and knocked their heads together. The men had begun shoving each other back and forth and arguing over whose fault it was as soon as it had sunk in that they had found then just as suddenly lost the treasure of Xanadu. Giving another two greedy scavengers, a lanky man wearing a tin star and a dandy who kept waving a pack of cards in every direction, the same treatment, Buck nodded in satisfaction and relieved the unconscious schemers of their weapons. The odds were looking better and he was glad. It was about time the good guys took control here!
Part C: by NotTasha 01/14/03
"Calamity," Ezra murmured, his hands feeling the ground around him. “Catastrophe. Cataclysm.”
“Concerning?” Nathan asked warily, as he prepared to enter the fray and assist Buck in subduing the outlaws.
"Canine,” Ezra moaned. “Well, actually it’s a pre-molar.” He poked his tongue through the empty space in his mouth. “Cavernous hole! Considerable disfigurement!”
Crouching, Nathan looked over his shoulder at the cross gambler. “Considering everything else that’s gone on, Ezra, this is the least of your worries.”
“Cost me a pretty penny, too,” Ezra added, but Nathan was gone, loping over the rutted earth, aiming himself toward a pair of unsuspecting bad-guys. “Crap, how will I replace it?” Ezra grumbled. “Gold doesn’t grow on trees.”
Crossing his arms, Ezra harrumphed, and then sighed contentedly as he spotted a glint of gold in his remaining cuff. “Caught ya!” he declared as he picked up the precious bit of shaped metal. He showed it to Josiah, grinning gap-toothily.
Caring not, Josiah shook his head and decided to join his friends in dispatching the strange assortment of lawmen, gamblers and thieves.
Carefully examining the gold tooth, Ezra decided that it was unharmed. He pocketed it – patting the place confidently. “I suppose I might join them,” he muttered, struggling to get to his feet.
Crawling first, Ezra then staggered to his feet and eased out to meet the rest of his companions. He stopped before he went very far.
Cringing at Josiah’s feet, one man held up his hands in defeat, sobbing pathetically. The ex-preacher simply stood above him, his face as stern as stone.
Chris moved through several unmoving bodies. Crying, one man begged for mercy. Buck sucked his teeth confidently as he toed at one man who didn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. No one – outside of the law from Four Corners – moved.
Crippled by their previous injuries, JD and Vin still had managed to impede their own baddies. Now that the work was done, they both had found ‘sitting’ a better position than ‘moving about.’ And a pair of incapacitated outlaws made adequate chairs for the time being.
“Congratulations, gentlemen,” Ezra called. “Excellent work. Now, to see after my mother.”
Clearly, he tried to follow his mother’s path, but a touch of vertigo stalled him, and his eyes traveled to where the Xanadu treasure had been blown to bits.
Carnivorously, Ezra’s gaze changed, to take in the scattering of blasted gold, silver and jewels. His heart leapt as he realized the metal was easily melted and a fortune was at his hands.
Circus tents seemed to form around him and a band played merrily. He nodded in time to the music that only he could hear and slowly sunk to the ground.
“Cretins!” Maude shouted as she headed up the hill. “Chowder heads!” She would wring their necks – if she wasn’t in danger of soiling her hands on them. “Clod pates!”
Clear eyes sighted the woman that headed toward their position. Gus pulled back before lighting the next fuse and gazed at his mother. “Criminey! It’s a lady, Ma,” Gus uttered. “She’s coming this way. I don’t want to hit her.”
Considering the situation, Gunther stopped lobbing explosives as well. “She looks mad,” Gunther told his mother.
“Could be she wants something,” Gus continued, as he ran a hand through his hair, trying to look his best. “Should get ready for visitors.”
Craning her head to see better, Yvonne examined the form that stormed up their hill. The woman’s face was red with rage – but her clothing was strangely familiar.
“Cheat!” she shouted as she excitedly bounced about in the wagon bed. “Charlatan! Corsair! She’s the one! She’s the one who took my Josiah!”
Crinkling his brow in thought, Gunther asked, “Didn’t you say the man was named Zebediah?”
“Chicken sticks!” Yvonne spat back. “I still got a soft spot for that Josiah Sanchez, and SHE took him from me.”
“Can’t be,” Gus told her. “That fella was a guy.”
“Clothing only!” Yvonne hissed back at him. “See! Clearly, it was a woman who took my Josiah from me. Now it all makes sense. Now, blow her to bits!”
“Can’t do that, Ma!” Gunther whined. “You taught me to respect women.”
“Cold hearted bastards throw dynamite at ladies,” Gus continued. “It ain’t right.”
“Cripes,” Gunther moaned, sitting down heavily in the wagon. “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Gus sat down with him.
“Come on!” Yvonne tried to encourage them. “When your mama tells you to blow someone up, you do it! Get cracking!”
Constantly, as they argued, Maude stalked closer to them, her rants becoming audible as she closed the distance. “Think you will get the better of me, do you? Nobody takes my money! You have yet to feel the wrath of Maude Standish!”
Crimson in her own rage, Yvonne stood in the wagon to get around her huddled sons. “Cry! My heart cries for him! My Josiah! My man!” She yanked one extra-large heavy-duty slipper from her foot and lobbed it at the quickly approaching gambling woman.
Con women are known to be astute, to be always aware of their surroundings. But Maude’s mind was fogged in her rage over losing her fortune and she didn’t see the missile before it was too late.
“Canary,” she shouted in surprise just before the bright yellow shoe whacked her in the forehead and she went down like a bag of bricks.
Part D: by Debby 01/31/03
“Damn it all to hell,” Chris muttered watching Maude drop like a sack of bricks as a yellow shoe bounced off her skull. “Enough is enough.” He grabbed his rifle and fired off three consecutive shots into the air.
Deafening blasts stilled everyone where they stood as all eyes turned toward the angry man in black.
“Dunne, you and Buck get these men tied up for the ride home.” Chris pointed his weapon at the gentlemen who’d been riding with Maude.
Directing Nathan to watch over Ezra and Vin, he nodded to Josiah and pointed to the top of the hill. “Let’s go.”
“Don’t you move,” he ordered Yvonne and her family with such authority that they didn’t dare to disobey.
Dragging his feet, Josiah reluctantly followed. They slipped and scurried up the hill that Maude had, in her rage, easily ascended. Once at the top, Chris regained his footing and waved for Sanchez to check on Maude.
“Don’t even think about continuing this scheme of yours.” Larabee glowered at Yvonne and then at her sons. The boys cowered slightly under his gaze while their mother tried to retain her wounded pride.
Desperate to save her attempt at matrimony, Yvonne stepped closer to the darkly dressed cowboy. “Please, sir. You don’t understand. Josiah is going to marry me. I love him.”
Disgustedly, Chris wrinkled his nose at the smell of her. “He can’t marry you,” he told her. “He’s already married.”
Doubt and then devastation washed over her sallow complexion making the horridly applied makeup stand out like that of a circus clown. “What?” Giant tears filled her eyes.
“Delilah.” Chris nodded. “ She lives back in Four Corners. Josiah’s not the most faithful husband, but he does love her and that being said, you need to just let him go and find yerself another spouse.”
Dejectedly, Yvonne cast one last look at Josiah who was gently patting Maude’s cheeks to bring her around. Then, to everyone’s surprise, Yvonne nodded to Larabee, called to her boys and started back toward her wagon.
Directing Gunter to take the reigns, Gus helped her climb into the wagon. “We’re going to find Zebidiah Santos if it takes years. Let’s go boys.” She settled with a sad sort of dignity and refused to look at any of the others as the wagon pulled away.
“Deceptive of you.” Sanchez smiled slowly. “What made you think up that story?” he asked as he stood and lifted Maude into his arms. The Southerner rested her head on his shoulder, still dazed by her encounter with the flying shoe.
“Desperation.” Chris shook his head. “Pure desperation.”
Down the hill, JD and Buck had the various bandits bundled and ready for a long walk back to Four Corners. Maude, now awake and only slightly disoriented rode double with Josiah as the men slowly started their ride home.
Despite the fact that Standish and Tanner spent the entire trip taking turns spewing random nonsense, they’d managed to stay in their saddles without much difficulty. The large group made it back to Four Corners without further incident.
Daylight was long gone as they weaved into town. Fires lit the streets and, though the saloon had long been closed for the night, a light shone from the sheriff’s office.
“Do you think there was trouble?” Buck asked as he and Chris led their captives toward the jail.
“Damn it, Ezra, stop that!” they paused to watch Nathan struggle with Josiah to get the Southerner, his mother, Vin and JD all up into his room.
“Don’t know, but there will be at Nathan’s.” Chris grinned in spite of his exhaustion. “Let’s get this over with before this night gets any worse.”
“Define worse.” Buck froze a moment causing Chris to bump into him as they entered the stuffy, smelly jailhouse.
Dismayed, Chris’ gaze traveled from the crowded jail cells to a confident, yet tired looking Mary Travis sitting behind the desk.
Drowsily she stood and waved to the cells. “We had a little disturbance,” she) explained.
“Did you arrest the whole town?” Buck asked, eyeing the ladies who winked at him behind the bars. A couple of them were cute despite the overuse of perfume.
“Don’t start with me.” Mary waved the keys at the two returning lawmen. “None of you were here to do your jobs so Inez and I had to step in. Mr. Deadly and his friend here tried to rob the bank and then these ‘ladies’” her tone left no doubt how she felt about them, “invaded town flaunting all sorts of…” her voice dwindled off as she ran out of steam her own tiredness overwhelming her.
“Did they do anything actually wrong?” Larabee asked, trying to control his grin.
“Does smelling and dressing badly count?” Mary’s voice slipped into a whine.
Discreetly, Chris shook his head. “Go home, Mary. We’ll handle it from here.”
Disheartened, Mary moved slowly toward the door, dropping the keys into Chris’s outstretched hand as she passed. She jumped in surprise when he grabbed her hand and squeezed it lightly in thanks.
“Dear ladies,” Buck took the keys from Chris as the door closed behind Mary. “You’re incarceration has come to an end. We ask that you respectfully find yourselves lodging for the evening at the boarding house and then come morning be on your way,” he said with a wink.
“Disrespectful.” Various heavily accented complaints emanated from the French women as they made their way out of the building but none of them argued with Wilmington’s instructions.
“Damn shame.” Wilmington shook his head discouragingly as he helped Chris push their new prisoners into the vacated cell. “All those pretties, having to leave town so soon.”
“Doubt Mary will mind.” Chris grinned again, knowing Mary’s ‘sensitivities’ to that kind of woman.
“Devil if I care. Just wish I hadn’t spent all day in the desert chasing after Josiah and buried treasure and all manner of nonsense.”
Dropping into the chair behind the desk Chris nodded. “Yeah but think of it this way…it’s over.”
“Delightful.” Buck laughed. “I’m going to bed.”
Epilogue: by NotTasha 01/31/03
Elegantly as possible, Ezra dismounted and looked about with greedy eyes. Everywhere, the forgotten bits of the Xanadu treasure glinted. He rubbed one hand across his bandaged brow as if in fever.
"Ezra," Josiah sighed as he stepped down as well. "You really think you should be out here right now? Nathan wanted you to stay put for a few days."
Erasing this idea with a wave of the hand, Ezra commented, "How can you even consider such, with this wealth at our fingertips? We shall be richer than our greatest dreams of avarice!" He was nearly sweating with anticipation.
Easing a smile, Josiah commented, "It isn't as if the treasure will get and walk away. Who do you think would pass by this place?"
Elongating his face in thought, Ezra commented, "Elves maybe? Ediles, misdirected and lost in this godforsaken place. Engineers seeking out a likely place for an irrigation system. Executors of Reverend Young's long forgotten Will?"
"Err I might, but I think you're trying to get here before your mother," Josiah stated with a smile.
Erupting in laughter, Ezra commented, "Exactly! Fortunately, she's still so addled that she cannot rise from her bed, otherwise you can be sure she'd have been here already. Let us hope she remains abed for a day longer."
"Expecting your mother to remain ill another day isn't exactly a Christian thought," Josiah told the younger man solemnly.
"Everyone, I believe, is aware of my mother's tendencies," Ezra returned sharply. "I only want a few moments lead to claim what is mine." With a tilt of his head he added, "Of course, I will share with my compatriots." He sighed when he noted Josiah's expression and continued, "I wish her a full recovery and truly hope she suffers no pain. She is my mother, after all."
Enjoying Ezra's discomfort in this line of questioning, Josiah smiled. "Let's get on with it then."
Entering the blasted area, Ezra took in the sight of shining metal and glistening jewels. His grin magnified as he carefully squatted down in the midst of it all, and then dropped his smile as he obtained a closer look at things. His eyes grew wide and came close to tearing.
Exasperatedly, Ezra clawed up a handful of twisted metal and flung it. "Eaaaggh!" he exclaimed.
"Ezra?" Josiah dropped to his haunches and looked querulously at his friend. "What's wrong?"
"Empty Element!" Ezra cried, reaching for another handful of broken bits. "Tin! It's all painted tin!" He scrambled forward, his hand closing on a red gem. "Eii!" he cried unhappily. "Glass!"
Excavating his own sample, Josiah picked up a twisted bit of metal and stared at it. It was obvious now -- the supposed riches of Reverend Young was nothing more than toys. He searched a bit further and found the blasted lock that had once held the chest closed. Upon examination, the truth was revealed. "Expected as much," Josiah said with a sigh. He lifted his gaze for a moment to watch Ezra plop down on his butt and hold his head in his hands.
"Everything I touch turns worthless," Ezra moaned. "It's as if God is mocking me."
"Evidence shows it wasn't God's doing," Josiah returned sympathetically. "It was just a lonely boy, looking for a little adventure." He held the broken latch up for Ezra to see. The gambler stood and retrieved it from the ex-preacher as Sanchez spoke. "Karl Muller," he pointed out the stamped name. "Looks like he was just looking for a little fun."
"Enjoying his new baby sister now, if Nathan's report prove true," Ezra commented, remembering where Nathan had been during part of their adventure. He handled the broken latch and sighed. "So nothing remains." With a shake of his head, he tossed way the latch and made his way to his horse. "Seems to me that it's time to return home and call this adventure to a close."
"Expect that we need to finish up our work at Nettie's," Josiah told him.
"Enough!" Ezra shot back. "I am an ill man!" He wrapped one hand around his bandaged arm to emphasize the point.
"Eh," Josiah said with a shrug. "If you can carry your sorry butt out here to look for gold, I figure you can tote it over to Nettie's to finish up that roof."
"Even if I know a certain secret concerning you?" Ezra said leadingly. "Perhaps there is a way to buy my silence?"
Emitting a short, "Eeep!" Josiah couldn't hide his surprise. "Maude... Maude told you...?" Josiah got out.
Exposing his replaced gold tooth, Ezra laughed. "I can be exceptionally tight lipped. How much is it worth to you?"
"Ezra..." Josiah started, darkly, his face growing red in anger. "Either you tell me or I'll take you down bit by bit." He started menacing steps toward the southerner, hoping that the threat was enough to unsettle the gambler into revealing what Yvonne had said.
"End your assault!" Ezra cried, lifting his arms to ward off the big man. But he grinned again when Josiah stopped, obviously realizing that Sanchez wouldn't harm him. He laughed as he said, "The lovely Yvonne seemed to know something about a past relationship of yours."
Edgy, Josiah said, "Go on..."
Enjoying the preacher's discomfort, Ezra mounted his horse and turned to him. "She stated that when she made your acquaintance, you were working for a man named Edwards."
"Edwards..." Josiah echoed and then slapped himself in the forehead. "Oh dear Lord..."
"Elucidate, Mr. Sanchez," Ezra commanded. "Were you really the bouncer at his brothel? Mother seemed to think you dressed like a eunuch in a harem. Dressed in silks and carrying a saber. A eunuch? Really? You?"
"Enough!" Josiah shouted, trudging toward his own mount.
"Eunuch," Ezra tittered. "Hard to imagine really." He turned his horse about to angle it toward Four Corners.
"Either you keep that quiet, or I'll throttle you in your sleep," Josiah growled as he clasped Chaucer's bridle. "And we're going back to Nettie's whether you like it or not."
"Eunuch," Ezra uttered again, his voice light and amazed. "I find it rather hard to believe that you.." he gestured toward Sanchez, "...of all people."
Expecting this to go on all day if he didn't offer an explanation, Josiah stated, "It was a job. I needed money. It was just a costume! And Yvonne should know for certain that..."
Evidently tickled pink by Josiah's discomfiture, Ezra laughed and winked at Sanchez. "Worry not, my friend, your secret is safe with me... as long as YOU get on that roof. I'll be more than happy to hand the tools to you."
Edged into a corner, Josiah nodded his consent to this plan. It was better than letting the rest of their group know this sorry fact about his life.
Exulting in his success, Ezra let out a whoop, and started Chaucer in the direction of Nettie's place.
"Expect we should tell your mother about what happened to the treasure," Josiah commented, not moving yet. "I believe she's rather excited to find out more about the wealth."
"Excited is not the word for it," Ezra commented over his shoulder. "Ecstatic. Euphonic. Enthusiastic. Extremely fervent. Eager to the point of getting herself onto the nearest horse despite the shoe-caused concussion." When Ezra faced forward, he had to shake his head to clear the vertigo that again caught him. "Enigmatic entity." With that, he kicked Chaucer into a gallop.
Eliciting a shake of his head, Josiah regarded Ezra's comments, then leaned closer to his horse and whispered, "Well, Delilah, think we'd better catch up before he causes any more trouble?" The horse snorted, and with that, Josiah followed the gambler back to where they'd started.
I hope you've enjoyed our little ABC fic... yes, it took nearly two months to complete, but here it is. Please let the writers know what you think of their work. We'd be happy to hear what you think of this silly thing.