The October 2001 Challenge: offered by Julia Neal
Five of the Magnificent Seven are headed to Tascosa to clear Vin's name for good. How will they prove he's innocent now that Eli Joe is dead? Two of the Seven are left to protect the town. Who will take the opportunity to terrorize Four Corners?
Want To Go Fishing?
Ezra Standish stared down at the winning hand of cards that would move to pot in the center of the table towards his growing pile of cash. He'd been playing for five hours now without a break and he didn't intend to take one until the game was over, and that would be when the other players ran out of money. He didn't care to leave much in these men's pockets. They may have come into the game separately but Ezra quickly worked out that they were together. Three men were trying to cheat their way through the game but they didn't know whom they were playing. Ezra was also a cheat, but he only used his skills against other cheaters.
JD had been in earlier to try and convince him to go fishing with him. The simple reply of 'no' had the young gunslinger turning on his heel and leaving. Ezra knew that his young comrade was feeling lonely. Buck had left with the others to go to Tascosa in an attempt to once and for all clear Vin's name. At first JD had become bored, then frustrated, angry and now lonely. Ezra had spent as much time as he could with him but JD's company had become too much. Before the rest of Four Corner's lawmen had left, Ezra had always been able to spend time alone, he could sit in a corner of the saloon without being bothered. But now JD seeked him out during day and night hours. The gambler had become sick of it. He had tried to let the kid down gently by telling him that they both needed space; he had listened for two hours then searched the lawman out. Ezra had then become angry and told JD what to do with himself.
"I call." the man to Ezra's left threw down the amount he needed to stay in the game.
Ezra smiled wickedly, he knew he had the winning hand; he had dealt it to himself. He put his cards face up on the table and watched as the others threw theirs down in disgust.
"Gentlemen, I think that means the end of the game does it not." his Southern accent rolled off his tongue.
"Yeah, it is." the one to his right growled.
Ezra knew he was going to have to keep an eye on the three men until they left town. Cheaters didn't like to lose, and they hated it even more to lose to a cheater.
Gunshots sounded just as Ezra was about to scoop up his winnings. He hesitated, it was only one gunshot. Surely JD could take care of it. A second gunshot told him that he was needed.
"Touch any of that money and you are dead!" Ezra threatened them.
He only received a snarl for his threat.
"I mean it!" Ezra snapped over his shoulder when he knew one of them was reaching for money that did not belong to him.
An arm moved slowly back when the threat finally sunk in. They may be cheaters but they knew a threat when they saw one.
Ezra pushed through the bat wing doors and surveyed the street. It was empty, not a person or animal in sight. Maybe it was over all ready. JD had taken care of whatever trouble had been instigated.
"GET DOWN EZRA!"
Before he could register the direction of the voice, a bullet tore through his side and spun him to the boardwalk.
"EZRA!" it was JD's voice, the kid sounded okay.
Ezra stared up at the light clouds that were drifting by and his thoughts moved to Vin and the others. Did Vin clear his name? Were they on their way back? I'm sorry Vin. I let you and the others down. Buck, I tried but it was my fault. I got impatient with him, if I hadn't, JD wouldn't be in this mess right now. All I had wanted was some space. I know, I'm a selfish bastard, I shouldn't have been thinking of myself. I promised you that I would look after him and I didn't. I sorry Buck, Vin, I'm sorry.
Darkness pushed the thoughts away as more gunfire sounded in the town of Four Corners.
"Ezra, come on wake up. Ezra, you're scaring me here."
He wanted to wake but his body had other ideas. He needed to know if JD was all right or if his selfishness had caused his death.
"Ezra! I know you probably won't wake up because you're tired of having me around but at least wake up so I know you're okay."
"I'm fine." Ezra finally managed to say something loud enough for JD to hear.
JD sighed with relief; Ezra had been unconscious since the day before. Now that he knew Ezra was fine he would leave the man alone, just like he wanted. He couldn't understand Ezra's need for privacy. The man had to feel just as lonely as he did. He missed his friends, it was only he and Ezra left and JD needed his friend to help him get through. They didn't know how long it was going to take the others to clear Vin's name, or if they would even be able to. It could be another week or another month.
"I'll go and leave you alone Ezra."
"JD . . ." he forced his eyes to open, "I'm sorry, stay . . . please."
"Okay, but are you sure Ezra?" JD sat back down in the chair.
"You want some water?"
"What happened?" Ezra repeated.
"A few guys decided to try and rob the bank. They heard that Chris and the others were gone. Thought they could take on us two without any trouble."
"Take on us." Ezra chuckled then grimaced in pain when the movement pulled at his injury. "Take on you JD, I was to busy trying keep you away to be of any help."
JD hung his head and kept silent, he didn't know what to say.
"I'm sorry JD, I'm just not use to having someone so close to me all the time."
"It's okay Ezra, I understand."
"No it's not okay and no you shouldn't understand. I've been alone all my life JD, I just can't get use to people wanting to be near me."
"I didn't think Ezra, I . . ."
"No JD, it's not your fault. You're not use to being alone, I should have thought of that, I should have paid more attention to you."
"It's okay Ezra."
"Ah hell . . . are you alright, did you get hurt?" Ezra could have hit himself for not asking earlier.
"I'm fine, not a scratch on me." JD sat up straighter and spread his arms out to show Ezra that he hadn't been hurt.
"How? I mean . . . I don't mean you couldn't have, but how?"
"I had help."
"You had help?"
"Yeah, a couple of the townspeople helped after that guy took you out of the fight."
"JD, I wasn't even in the fight."
"No you weren't were you." JD couldn't help but smile. "You didn't even get a chance to pull your gun."
"No." Ezra also smiled.
"I'm glad your okay Ezra, I was scared for a while there. I was scared you might die with things the way they were."
"I know." Ezra nodded, "It won't happen again JD."
"I better go anyway Ezra, let you get some rest." JD stood up and headed for the door.
"How about we go fishing when I'm up to it?"
"You don't have to Ezra."
"No I don't have to but I want to."
"Sure, I'd like that."