The Biggest Gamble Part 8:
A Nightmare For Their Future
Author's Note: I have taken a writer's liberty of shuffling the episodes of Vendetta and Wagon Train about slightly to allow the timeline of this story to work. If this causes you any problems, then please consider this an AU story, but I know that Ezra and Vin were destined to be together. :)
Back to: The Biggest Gamble Part 7: The Shirt
Charlotte Richmond sat back on the seat of the wagon and eagerly looked about the town of Four Corners. The town was alive with activity in the early afternoon light, and Charlotte was awash with emotions, suddenly she felt alive again, the last seven months with her husband Will had been nothing. She had felt like a flower dying under the winter's snow, but here, now with the anticipation of seeing Vin Tanner, her lover of only a few days, again she was growing once more. She tilted her head up to soak in the rays of the sun and let her mind play with the thought of how pleased her tracker lover would be to see that she had chosen him after all.
"I'll drop you at the local hotel if you don't mind Mrs Richmond." Jacob Pope spoke for the first time in hours. Charlotte smiled benignly at the elderly gentleman who moved his one wagon and two mules from town to town, picking up and trading supplies with the outlying settlements along the way and she nodded eagerly. She had a lot to thank Jacob for, as he was the only one who'd agreed to help her leave her husband and take her back to the town of Four Corners.
As Mr Pope pulled up outside the hotel, Charlotte eagerly clambered down and waited while he dug about in the back of the wagon and retrieved her small collection of bags. She stood up straighter and looked about again, impatient hoping to catch a glimpse of Vin Tanner, the man she had left her husband for and pinned her future happiness on.
Charlotte was very aware that her parting from Vin had not been on the best of terms, and he had indicated clearly that he didn't believe that their relationship would work, but during the long lonely winter, while she had tended to her wounded husband, she had convinced herself that she could soon use her womanly charms and sway Vin to her way of thinking and back into her bed.
Jacob tipped his hat and slowly climbed back onto his wagon. He was nearly sixty years old, and was wise enough to smell trouble on a woman, but when he had first been approached by Mrs Richmond he had felt obligated to offer her the escort that she requested, as he was too much of a gentleman to see a woman in such distress. It was not until they were a day out on the trial that he realised that the only distress the lady was in was of her own making. While she had prettily painted a picture of a poor woman being abused by her brutal husband, it had only take a few hours for him to realised that she had duped him. By then he was too far on his way to turn back. He was personally glad to see the back of her, and after picking up his supplies he planned to be out of town before the trouble he could see she was carrying caught up with her. As he geed his mules up, he shook his head and felt slightly sorry for the man who had fallen into Mrs Richmond's sights.
Ezra Standish was in foul mood, and it clearly showed as he stepped out of the jail and into the bright sunlight of the main street. He had just spent the night in the jail baby sitting a drunken cowboy who'd considered it great fun to shoot holes into the ceiling of the saloon. The gambler very rarely caught Jail duty, and did not normally mind his stint in that position, but last night had been particularly hard as the drunken cowpoke had decided to inform the gambler just why he loved his job of watching cows. It had taken the man over five, long noisy hours to explain the pleasure he got from his job.
"That man needs help.... Serious help..." Standish muttered under his breath as he straightened his jacket and placed his hat firmly on his head. "Or at the very least he ought not to be allowed to work with cows...." He squinted up at the sun again and groaned out loud. He had planned to grab a quick breakfast and then retire, but remembered that Vin had somehow managed to talk him into going for a ride this morning. Now, normally Ezra would have made an excuse and arrange to meet the Tracker later on in the day, but the last week had been a bit hectic for all seven of the protectors of the town. Especially as cattle rustlers had sprung up, seemingly out of nowhere, and Chris and his team had narrowly averted a range war. That being the case Ezra had only seen his lover in passing, sometimes as one was rolling out of their big double bed, the other was dropping into it. No, today Ezra and Vin had put aside several hours for their soul enjoyment of each other and the gambler was prepared to crawl over hot coals before he missed that.
Suddenly the day seemed a lot brighter and Ezra smiled as he noted the spring that he slipped into his step. Vin would be waiting for him, and the Tracker had appeared in the night to promise a lazy ride followed by a lunch worth waiting for. Again Ezra grinned as he thought about the actual amount of food he might, in reality, get to eat. The smouldering look in Tanner's eyes when he spoke of the lunch had kept the gambler warm for several long hours.
Vin Tanner came out of the stable and smiled, it was going to be a beautiful day, he could just feel it in his bones, and if given half a chance he would also feel it in Ezra's bones. He had missed the gambler over the last week, and was surprised at how quickly he had grown use to having the other man sleeping beside him. The rustlers had kept the tracker pretty busy following their trial, and when he had managed to climb into bed it had been as Ezra was heading out to cover his share of watching the town. With Chris, Vin, Josiah and Buck out chasing the rustlers it had been up to Ezra, JD and Nathan to keep an eye on the town, which had also coincided with the winter thaw and an influx of people eager to escape their homesteads at the first sign of spring.
Vin moved down the main street, heading towards the jail, he knew from JD that Ezra had had the night watch over some drunken cowboy. He had to smile when he remembered his brief visit during he early hours before he retired, and was now eager to gather up his lover and head out of town for some well earned time together. He was just passing one of the small eating places that had sprung up in recent months, when he heard his name called. He titled his head, recalling the voice, but not quite and was totally surprised when his arms were suddenly filled with a woman, who grabbed tightly about his neck and then lips were pressed against his own, a tongue insistently demanding an entrance to his mouth.
He struggled for a few seconds, arms trying to unhitch the woman's from about his neck, but who ever it was, was persistent and it was several moments before he was able to force the woman back a few paces, and get a good look at her. "Charlotte!!" he gasped, recalling the married woman he had had a brief affair with many months before.
"Oh Vin darling, I just had to come and see you..." she was bubbling over with joy at seeing him, he was as handsome as ever and from that one kiss alone she knew that she could win him back. The fire of passion burned in her eyes.
"Charlotte" Vin began again, the stopped to swallow, he could taste her on his lips and he discovered that he didn't like it, it was not what he was now use to, then looking sharply about he demand, "Why are you here? Where's your husband?"
The woman stood back and titled her head to one side, a confused expression filtering across her pretty face, before she shrugged and with a winning smile she offered up, "Why Vin... he's not here... I've... I've left him... for you... my darling... now we can be together..."
"Left him... For me...." Vin asked his horror growing; his jaw also dropped opened in shock. It was all the invitation that Charlotte needed as she swooped back in and pressed her willing lips once more against the tracker's, who was too stunned this time to force her away.
"Why, Mr Tanner." Came the biting southern tone directly behind them, "I had thought that WE were going to take a ride this morning, but I can plainly see that you have your arms filled with other... pleasurable pursuits."
Vin roughly pushed Charlotte away as if she was a rattler about to strike, but the damage had been done. "Ezra..." he stuttered, "I can explain...." but stopped when a firm hand was held up and the gambler allowed his gaze to slowly travel up and down the woman's body. His lips twisting with disdain when he saw whom exactly it was his lover had been kissing.
"Please Mr Tanner, there is no need to explain." Came back the ice-cold retort, as angry green eyes met Vin's. "Your actions, I fear, explain far more effectively then any words you might chose to use."
By now Charlotte had gather herself and smiling broadly she held out her hand to the Gambler she remembered from the wagon trip. "Why Mr er....Standard? It's a pleasure to met you again." she stated warmly. Blushing sweetly, like a flustered schoolgirl caught in the act of romance after school.
Ezra's glacial gaze slipped from his loves eyes to the woman holding out her hand, he glared at it briefly, then titled his head he raised an eyebrow at her saying in his most Southern upper cut accent, "It's Mr Standish... and you are er... MRS Richmond... isn't it... Tell me my dear, how is your poor wounded husband?"
"Will..." she stammered, almost stumbling back under the burning rage she saw in the other man's eyes. "Why Will is fully recovered from his injuries..."
"And you are here because?" Ezra asked not allowing the woman to finish; suddenly his tone had gone from iced outrage and slippery intent.
Charlotte hearing only what she wanted to, nodded eagerly and offered, grabbing hold of Vin's arm and drawing closer to him she confided quite proudly, "I found that I could no longer live a lie and I've left my husband Mr Standish. I am now free to be with Vin."
Ezra smiled politely, his face frozen for a brief second, before casting a deathly look over towards his lover as he hissed, "Well from the greeting he just gave you, I can only assume that you will be warmly received. Good day to you both." With that he span about on his heels and all but flew across the road and into the saloon.
"Charlotte..." Vin began vainly trying to extract himself from the woman's clutches. He had seen the flare of broken agony in Ezra's eyes just before he had fled, and knew that he lover was deeply hurt by what he thought he had seen, and Vin needed to catch up with him and explain exactly what had happened.
"Vin honey... what's the matter...." Charlotte asked, her face crumpling into confusion, turning to fear as Vin, unable to remove the woman's clingy grasp easily, just grabbed her roughly and forcibly pushed her away, she stumbled backwards as he stated firmly, anger now colouring his tone.
"Charlotte... I'm truly sorry that you left your husband. Especially if you were thinking there was.... Was something between us, but I thought I'd made it clear that there wasn't... it's over... there is not and never can be anything between us..." The last ended as a shout, as she once again reached for him, he side stepped her and actually lightly slapped her hands away before he finished, "...there's someone else now. Someone who means a damn sight more to me then you ever did."" With that he spun about and sprinted across the road towards the saloon, narrowly missing being run over by a wagon in his haste to reach the bar.
Charlotte stood in shock for several long minutes, just looking across the street to where Vin had gone, her mind slowly going over what had just happened, her whole life had just fallen apart. She had left her husband; left him for the man who had just cruelly informed her they had no future together, who had roughly shoved her love aside and told her that there was another woman! Slowly her face-hardened, and her eyes flashed, recalling the anger in Standish's face, the words that the man had tossed at them both, how Vin had reacted to them. Then she recalled how the gambler had fled towards the saloon, and how Tanner had chased after him.
She stumbled back, and somehow managed to slip into a chair that was placed out in front of the boarding house. Was Standish going to tell the other woman about her? Was that why he had rushed into the saloon? Was the other woman a... a saloon girl... a cheap whore... somehow Charlotte didn't think so, there was something just off kilter... not right about Mr Standish's reaction to seeing them kissing, and then Vin's reaction... almost like he was chasing after... chasing after... Mr Standish... Charlotte's world suddenly narrowed to a pinpoint as the reality of what had just occurred slapped her in the face.
She gasped and bending over she hugged her middle, as if to prevent the pain from welling, a cousin back home had been a lover of men, she knew about such things from her father's angry, bitter words on the subject. Louis had been a shame to the family for his god forsaken, perverted way, and yet he showed no remorse for his perversion. Going so far as taking a local farmer's son as his lover, living like a married couple her father had said. Finally he and his male lover had moved away, sold the land that his father had left him and departed to live his life elsewhere.
Biting her lip she knew that Mr Standish was cut from the same cloth as her cousin and Vin! Her poor beloved Vin had obviously been lead astray by his vile perversion, more then likely on the rebound from his love from her, Charlotte, and Standish had taken advantage of her Vin's weakness.
Standing Charlotte pushed back her hair that had come lose and with a shaking hand she straightened her dress, she was a stronger woman then that, she would save Vin Tanner form that man if it was the last thing she did. With that thought in mind she headed back inside. She had plans to make.
Vin entered the saloon at a dead run, only to be brought up short by Buck who was standing looking up the staircase.
"Wooo there partner." Buck said, barely keeping a hold of his beer glass, "what's gotten into you two today?"
"Have you seen Ezra?"
In answer Buck just looked back towards the stairs. He then tilted his head and motioned towards them. Vin gave him a brief glare and hurried after his lover.
Vin opened the door and paused on the threshold. Ezra was frantically tossing items of clothing into a large carpetbag, shoving uncaringly them in, moving from the dresser to the bed, in fluid motion.
"Ezra..." Vin exclaimed, "You're leaving?" He could not hide the fear in his tone.
The man in question paused in his task, surprise falling across his face before it cleared and he snarled, "Not me, Mr Tanner... YOU." It was then that Vin realised that it was his clothes that Ezra was tossing into the bag. "I am merely assisting you in joining your lady love."
Tanner reached forward and snatching the bag from Ezra's grasp, he tipped it up, emptying the contents over the bed, and slung it behind him shouting forcibly, "I am not leaving you... and I especially am not going to join my... my..." even to say it was distasteful to Vin, but he pushed on, "my lady love.... Charlotte and I are over Ezra... that woman means nothing to me... nothing... not like you do..."
The gambler paused as the bag was snatched from his grasp, and took a deep breath as he tried to steady his raging emotions. He could not believe how angry, how jealous he had been when he had looked up to see that... that woman kissing Vin. He had to fight to resist the urge to drag her away from his lover and slap her into the street. "Then I must caution you against greeting every woman in such a manner, as they will surely walk away with the wrong idea, Mr Tanner."
"Hell Ezra I didn't kiss her... she damn near raped me in the street... I was just coming to get you, when she leapt on me..."
"Really." Standish was unable to keep the incredulously tone out of his voice nor prevent the eyebrow from raising as the tracker's words. Yet, it was the totally devastated look on the Tracker's face that gave him pause. If Tanner was leaving him for the woman, why was he looking so pale and fearful? Letting out the breath he had not been aware that he was holding, he dropped the garment that he still held and sat slowly down on the bed. "Really." He repeated, but this time there was just sorrowfulness about the slummed shoulders and voice.
Tanner seeing that his lover was prepared to listen, sat on the bed beside him and reaching out he gently picked up the other man's hand and raising it to his lips he kissed the palm and offered, "really... Ez... you know what we've been through, what we now have... it's...." He paused at the lump in his throat threatened to overwhelm him, but he pushed it back down as he continued, "it's the best damn thing that's ever happened to me... you... you make me happy, far happier then I've ever been... in my whole life." He lifted his other hand and cupped the precious face of his lover as he finished, "I'm not going to blow this for anyone or anything.... You're it Ezra..."
Standish closed his eyes and lent into the hand, realising that he believed Tanner, that he really had no choice. He loved the man, and he also trusted him. "I'm sorry..." he began, but soft lips pressing against his own prevented him from finishing, and he surged forward into the embrace. Finally as they parted for air he hissed, his green eyes flashing, "damn it I can smell her on you!!"
Vin licked at his lips and sighed when he tasted just his lover. This was the only taste he wanted now. "Remove it from me Ez... take it away... I only want you Ezra. No-one else." He didn't get any further as Standish snarled and with a fierceness that sent Tanner's blood pounding in his veins, his lover proceeded to rip his cloths from his body and claim him once more as his lover, clearly wiping out any preconceived believe that Tanner belong to anyone else. The tracker harshly encouraged his lover as he staked his claim, for this was the only place where Vin wanted to be.
Charlotte looked about the small room that she had managed to rent. It was not what she wanted or had expected. Her thoughts had been that she would declare her love for Vin, and he would take care of her. That had not come about and she knew that Ezra Standish was the reason for this.
She placed her bag on the bed, and sat down. She had to get Vin back - she just had to. There was no way that she could return to her husband, he had made that very clear when she had left. She had no way to support herself and she was not going to become one of those women who ended up selling themselves just to survive. It was that damn fancy gambler's fault. She fumed; he had stolen her man, and like many women before Charlotte Richmond was prepared to fight to get him back, and she would fight dirty.
Standing, she began to empty her beg. First she had to gain employment, for that she would speak to Mary Travis, the woman had always lent her a friendly and understanding hand. From Mary, she could also learn just how many people were aware of Standish's influence over Tanner. Charlotte briefly considered making their affair public, but then she dismissed it, as it would have a detrimental affect on Vin. No, she wanted the gambler punished, but she did not want to lose Tanner's reputation once it was done. After all she planned on marrying the man, once the situation with her husband was sorted.
She changed into her Sunday best dress and after refreshing her face and hair, she made her way over to the local news office. She smiled at Mary as she opened the door and the other woman broke into a bright smile and moved swiftly to embrace her.
"Charlotte." Mary said, her expression warm. "How have you been... is Mr Richmond in town with you?"
Charlotte pulled away from Mary and quickly raised her hanky up to tab at her eyes, which had filled. "No... No.... He's not... he... he..." she burst into tears and Mary rushed to comfort her, wrapping an arm about the quivering shoulders and guiding Charlotte gently into the back room that served as her living room and kitchen area. Once she had settled the crying woman and placed a steaming cup of coffee in front of her, she also sat and asked gently.
"What happened Charlotte?"
"Oh Mary..." The crying woman began, "it was awful... just awful, Will... he changed... he changed so much," seeing that she had Mrs Travis full attention she began her story, gasping and crying in all the right places as she spoke. "He got nasty Mary... really mean and nasty... he said that he forgave me... but he didn't every day he threw it up in my face... but I tried to ignore it, after all I had done wrong... but then he started to get violent... he would hit me."
"Hit you!" Mary exclaimed as she sat back in her chair in shock.
"Yes, but oh Mary I tried to live with it, I truly did... but once he beat me so bad that I had to miss church and stay inside for over a week..."
"Oh Charlotte it must have been awful... just awful..."
"It was, but then one day." She paused for affect, swallowing hard, "one day he came in with a gun... started talking real crazy like, about how I'd ruined him, his reputation, and how the land was barren and nothing would grow, and it was all my fault."
"Did he threaten you?" Mrs Travis asked, titling her head with concern.
Charlotte know that she had to be careful here as she did not want Mary to speak to her friend Chris Larabee and have them ride out to arrest her husband, as her lies would be discovered. "No... not in so many words, but it was there and I knew that if I stayed he would kill me... so I wanted until Jacob Pope was passing by and begged him to give me a lift into town."
"Will he come after you... Will I mean?" Mary asked, her face now creased with worry for her friend.
"I don't think so," Charlotte explained, calming now that it appeared that Mary was going to believe her, "I left him a letter saying that I was going to return to my family back east." She really knew that she had left Will a broken man, who had literally flung her out of the house on learning that she still hungered after Vin Tanner. No Will Richmond wouldn't come looking for her. She doubted that he had even crawled out of the whiskey bottle.
"So what will you do now?" Mary asked, wondering how she could help the other woman.
"Well, because of the way I left, I er... didn't take much money with me... just the small amount that I had saved, so really I need to find employment, anything.... So that I can get back to my family back East."
"Employment...." Mary repeated slowly, considering the options of employment in the small town, they were very few. "Well, I know that Inez, she runs the Standish Tavern..."
"Standish Tavern... as in Mr Ezra Standish..." Charlotte stammered, unable to hide the flare of hate that washed over her. Luckily Mary missed it as she swiftly assured.
"No... no... Mrs Standish... Ezra's mother owns the tavern, but Inez is the Manger and I know that she had been looking for a cook, come helper in the bar... now I know that it's not what you use to..."
"Oh Mary I'm not sure that I could work as a... as a saloon girl..." Charlotte blushed as she recalled some of those loose women that she had seen on her trip out west.
Mrs Travis smiled warmly and rested a hand reassuringly on Mrs Richmond arm as she reassured. "No, it's nothing like that Inez runs a very er... respectable bar, and if you work there, I can assure you that you will be treated with nothing but respect... Chris, Vin and the others will see to that."
Charlotte paused considering what Mary had just said, "is that where they er... they go?"
Mary smiled warmly, "yes, they do tend to go there rather a lot."
"Do you think this Inez will employ me?"
"Yes, yes, I'm sure she will... I'll have a word with her, she really is a lovely person, and she has been through a similar situation as yourself, so I am sure that she will be very sympathetic." Mary's mine was already leaping ahead as she concerned the best way to help her friend, finally she said, "Now why don't you just drink your coffee and relax and after we'll go and have a word with Inez."
Charlotte did as advised, tossing grateful looks towards the other woman, and as she drunk Charlotte pulled the conversation round to the town and especially seven men who protected it. By the time they had finished talking, Charlotte had a pretty good picture of exactly what was gong on in the town. She noted with interested that Mary, made no mentioned of a particular close friendship between Vin and the gambler, even those Charlotte had expertly questioned her on it.
Within a few hours Charlotte found herself standing in the kitchen beside the lovely Mexican woman who managed the Standish Tavern.
"And this is where I cook most of the food... While I can cook all of the Mexican dishes, I have found that many of my customers really like to have a choice of foods, and I need someone who can cook what they like."
"I have been cooking since I was able to walk. I'm sure I'll be able to cope." Charlotte offered with a warm smile, while looking about the kitchen, it was small but clean and everything was neatly placed.
Inez looked at her for a second then smile broadly before she continued; "you will need to be here fairly early as I offer breakfasts and lunch. If needed, I will require you to work in the bar in the evening, just picking up the left glasses and any food that is ordered. I know the pay isn't very much, but Mary said that you want to head back East, so I can also let you have room and board, if it will help you save your money?"
Charlotte bit her top lip as she considered her options, Inez had already explained that she would not been needed to work behind the actual bar itself, not unless she wanted too. The room and board sounded very promising and it would put her in a position to keep contact with Vin, who she understood spent most evening in the bar with his friends when he was not on patrol. "I'll take it." She said with a bright smile.
Inez nodded her head with a smile and said, "That's good, now let me show you the room, and after you have settled in, you could start tomorrow if you want."
"I could start right now, if you want," Charlotte offered her face showing just the right amount of gratitude. Although she hated the thought of working for this Mexican woman, who was so obviously below her, she did need the money, and in a town the size of Four Corners there were not many opportunities of employment.
Inez smiled again, seeing only the image that Charlotte carefully reflected, and waved the woman ahead of her as she showed her to a small, clean tidy bedroom near the rear of the building.
Vin Tanner nearly bounced down the stairs towards the saloon below, he had spent a very pleasant morning with his lover in their warm bed, and he had only left after Ezra had fallen asleep from exhaustion. A fact he was mighty proud off. He chose to ignore the fact that Ezra had also been up all night. Nothing was going to wipe the grin of Vin's face in a hurry.
Chris looked up as he spied Vin and was unable to keep the smile off his lips, the man just looked so damn happy. "I thought you and Ezra were going for a ride cowboy." Larabee said, as Tanner bounced over towards him.
Vin slouched guiltily down in his chair and reaching over he stolen Chris's coffee, saying as he did so, "we did! Ride that is." There was no mistaking the gleam in his eye.
Larabee was unable to prevent the bark of laughter that burst from his being. He was amazed at how open Tanner now was about his relationship with Standish. Admittedly it was only with the other five peacekeepers of the town, but it still warmed the gunslinger to see his friend looking so happy. "Hear that you and Ezra had a bit of a storm this morning?"
Vin frowned at the words and taking a breath he set the cup down, and explained more calmly then he felt. "Charlotte Richmond's in town..."
"Ar hell." Chris said, his face twisting at the news, that was one woman he just didn't like. "What the hell does she want?" he muttered as he snatched back his cup from Vin's lax fingers.
"Me..." Vin stated, then seeing the look this earned him from his best friend, he held up his hands and hurried on, "but I set her straight... that is well over with.... Only problem was Ez came up and saw her... well her more the enthusiastic greeting and he was less the er... impressed."
"I can imagine." Larabee agreed dryly.
Silence settled between the two men, it was comfortable and lasted until Buck and JD burst into the room. JD was settling his hat on his head, and it was obvious that he had just picked it up from the ground where Buck had no doubt knocked it.
"Any problems?" Larabee asked, leaning forward and moving two spare cups in front of the men and then pouring the coffee. Vin snatched JD's before he could pick it up and the younger man frowned at Vin before he took another cup and poured his own coffee, he glared at Vin when only half a cup appeared before the pot was empty.
"Ah... patrol was pretty quite." JD offered before tossing a glare at Buck and continued, "except for this fool who keeps knocking my hat off."
"Hay, I just want you to understand how easy that hat falls of your head... you need to get a real hat... one that stays on, when a man puts it on his head." Buck stated firmly, before reaching over and attempting to knock the hat in question off again, but JD was too quick for him, and leaning back out of ranged he took a deep slurp of the warm liquid.
"More coffee Gentleman." A voice spoke behind Buck, and spinning about Buck and JD looked on in shock as Charlotte Richmond lent forward and removed the empty coffee pot.
"Mrs Richmond." JD stammered in total surprise, before he quickly removed his hat and stood up.
"Oh no JD... it is JD isn't it." Seeing the nod of agreement she continued, "you don't have to stand up..."
"What are you doing here?" Chris asked, his voice was hard and his manner unfriendly.
Charlotte swallowed hard and was unable to prevent the shiver that swept her body as she looked into the eyes of the man who questioned her. She forced a smile to her lips and answered as strongly as she could. "Miss Inez has been kind enough to offer me employment... I am attempting to gather enough money to return home to my family Mr Larabee."
"Your family." Vin said looking hopeful, then feeling ashamed when he saw the wounded look she threw his way.
"Yes," Charlotte continued, "I have family back east... now if you will excuse me, I will refresh your coffee." With that she picked up the pot, and turning she moved swiftly across the room towards the kitchen.
"Well would you believe that." Buck said, unable to keep the shock out of his tone, as he looked back in the direction that the woman had taken.
"That woman is nothing but trouble." Chris said, his eyes flashing as he contemplated the damage she could to do the small group he now considered family.
"Yeah." Vin agreed under his breath as he wondered what Ezra's reaction would be when he discovered that Charlotte was working under the room where they made love.
Ezra awoke slowly and stretched, he knew that Vin had left the bed, the cold spot behind him informed him of that. Yet, he could not suppress the warm smile that filtered across his face as he remembered the morning activities. Whatever concerns he had harboured about Charlotte Richmond's presence in Four Corners had been swiftly laid to rest by Vin's intense attentions.
Knowing that he must have slept well into the afternoon, he rose and quickly made himself presentable and making his way downstairs he was surprised to see Tanner waiting for him. "I thought you had jail duty this afternoon." He said as the tracker rose and walked swiftly towards him.
"We need to talk." Vin said nervously, reaching out and resting his hand lightly on Ezra's arm. The sound of glass smashing brought both of them about to look towards the bar, where Charlotte was just bending to pick up the tray and glasses that she had dropped. Inez was with her, telling her not to worry about it and to be careful. The two ladies swiftly cleared up the broken glass and continued with their quite discussion.
"What is she doing here?" Ezra demanded with a hiss, his anger building, but stopped when Vin said firmly.
"That's what we need to talk about. Now."
Ezra looked deep into Vin's eyes and saw the building fear there, a fear that he had placed there. "OK." He replied, this time his tone was gentle, as he didn't want his lover to think that it was him, he was angry with.
Tanner felt his fear ease slightly and he offered a grateful smile, which Standish returned and without a word, both men moved swiftly from the room.
Inez watched them go with a smile. Those two just looked right for each other. Then she turned and continued her conversation with Charlotte. The woman had expressed an interest in learning to serve behind the bar, and while Inez had been surprised at the offer, she was not going to turn the help down. "This is called Red Eye, and is a the most common Whiskey drunk in here..."
"Red Eye." Charlotte repeated as she took the bottle that was held up for her inspection. "and this goes in the small glasses?"
"Yes, those are called shots glasses," Inez went on to explain the cost and the amount, and then moved on to beers and the different drinks they severed, right down to the coffee and the price of the meals.
Charlotte spied an expensive looking bottle on the shelve at the back of the bar. Almost hidden from sight "What's this one?" she asked pointing towards it, as Inez had not mentioned it and there only seemed to be one.
Inez looked up and a warm smiled filtered across her face again as she carefully took the bottle and said, "Now that is Brandy... real French Brandy..." Inez smiled as she continued, "Mrs Standish sent it to Ezra for his birthday."
"Ezra... This is Ezra Standish's personal bottle?" Charlotte asked, struggling to keep her tone casual. Seeing the pretty Mexican woman nod she continued, "I suppose he share his drink with his friends?"
Inez laughed good-naturedly and offered, "rarely, he himself only ever drinks it on special occasions, or if he's had a particularly good evening gambling."
"Really." Charlotte said, slowly running her finger up the dark glass bottle, an idea starting to form. Then Inez was moving along the bar, and the older woman carefully replaced the bottle and followed after her, knowing that she had made the right decision to work in this saloon.
Ezra followed Vin into the livery stable and watched while he quickly and efficiently saddled both the horses. The gambler could see by his jerky movements that Tanner was upset, and he wanted to make this misunderstanding as easy as possible. But to do that he had to let Vin get his nervousness out of his system, and the best way to do that was either sex or riding the open range. Standish looked about the stable and knew that sex was out of the question in such a public place, hence he was allowing his lover to saddle the horses while he silence stood by and watched.
They rode out of town still shrouded in silence, but it was a comfortable silence. After several miles Vin pulled his horse up and reaching over he firmly clasped his lover's hand and began, "she says that she is only working at the Tavern until she has enough money to get back east to her family."
Ezra looked down at their joined hands and nodding he swallowed and said firmly, "I trust you Vin... you know that... I was being foolish this morning and it won't happen again..."
"And I love you, you know that don't you?"
Standish smiled warmly at Vin and offered with a slight tilt of his head, "Yes, every time you look at me, Vin, every time you look at me."
"Then you're alright with Charlotte working at the Tavern and being in town?"
Ezra took a deep breath and let it out slowly before he offered carefully wanting to be totally honest with Vin. "Alright might be too strong a word, but I think that I can now accept that she is not a threat to us." He stopped again before he added with a growing smile. "Exactly how much money do you think Mrs Richmond needs to reach her relatives."
"Ez." Vin groaned, but then laughed when he caught the twinkle in the other man's eyes.
"Race yeah." The gambler yelled in a totally unlike Ezra way, as he kicked his horse into a gallop and sped away from his lover. Vin gave a yell of pure pleasure and chased after Ezra, thinking about what he was going to do once he caught his errant lover.
Charlotte spent the next two weeks working diligently in the Standish Tavern. She cooked the food and when needed she worked behind the bar. She smiled and laughed with the customers and made sure she was always polite to the seven men who kept the law in the town, especially the gambler. She went out of her way to be particularly nice to him, and noted that he drunk from his bottle of brandy only twice during the two weeks, usually on Friday or Saturday night.
She also noted the closeness between the gambler and the tracker, and had to stop herself on several occasions from going over and brutally pulling the men apart. They never actually did anything in public that would highlight their relationship. Yet every glance they threw at each other, every smile that creased Tanner's face whenever Standish spoken or whispered to him, tore into her very soul. It was considerably worse at night when Standish and Tanner would retire for the night to play their private game of poker. Her anger grew and her hatred for the gambler bubbled, at night she would dream of hurting the man, of torturing the man the way that he was torturing her. Until finally she woke up and knew what she had to do.
Early the next morning, before anyone else was up she rose and went down to the kitchen, carefully opening a small cupboard at the very back of the store room. With a shaking hand she removed an unopened packet of poison, that Inez has placed there the week before, after rats had been discovered in saloon.
Moving as silently as death in the early dawn, she crept into behind the bar, and carefully slipped some grains of poison into the bottle of brandy that Ezra used. She made sure that she only put a slight amount into the bottle as she did not know if the poison would have a taste to it, and in her twisted way she also wanted him to suffer a slow death. She shook the bottle vigorously, before replacing it exactly in the same spot where she had found it. Then she carefully returned the poison to the kitchen cupboard. She then returned to her room and got ready to start a new day. That morning she walked with a bounce in her step, and a smile on her face, and was especially nice to Ezra Standish.
As she worked, she daydreamed of how Vin would turn to her in his hour of grief, and she would woo him back into her arms and bed, and her future would continue as she had originally planned it, when she first arrived in Four Corners.
The following Friday night the Saloon was crowed and noisy, and all seven of the peacekeepers were on duty. As yet there was no one in the jail, and the cowboys who where in town seemed quite happy to just enjoy themselves noisily without the use of their guns, or fighting.
Chris, Buck and JD where sitting at their usual table, watching Ezra and Vin as they sat at the table on the raised platform. An intense game of poker was taking place, but the gambler was ensuring that it was remaining friendly, and Chris knew that the money would be flowing about the table evenly and that all would leave with approximately the same amount of money that they brought with them.
Josiah and Nathan were taking a turn about the town to ensure that all the establishments were locked up for the night and that nothing suspicious was going on. They had only left a short while before, so Chris was not expecting them back for a while.
He tilted his head to see about the cowboy who stood in his way, and saw Vin disgustedly threw his card on the table a burst of good nature laughing burst from the table at his actions. Chris smiled when he saw Vin nod towards Ezra's empty glass, before he stood and made his way to the bar. Inez was there to serve him, and he ordered his usual beer, Chris smiled again when he saw the expensive bottle of brandy come out from behind the bar. That was usually a sign that Ezra was enjoying the evening.
Vin returned to the table with the drinks and made a big show of handing over the gamblers who, saluted with the glass and a broad smile before he took a sip. He frowned slightly looking down at the glass, but then his attention was pulled away as he tilted his head to listened to one of the other men who addressed him. He smiled briefly, in answered to what was said to him, before nodding his head in agreement before tossing back the rest of his drink, and then began to deal another round.
The evening continued much in the same vein, and by the time the saloon closed up for the night, all of the peacekeepers admitted that it had been a particularly good night. Everyone had had a good time, the town had made some money from the cowboys, and they had gone on their way, happy with the treatment they had received.
Vin lay in bed watching his lover sleep. They had returned to their room and began to make lover, but Ezra had reluctantly stopped it, turning away from Vin saying that he didn't feel well. The tracker had been concerned, and offered to go for Nathan, but the gambler had waved his words away saying that he didn't feel that ill, and that he would be fine by the morning.
Ezra suddenly started up, gasping and clutching at his stomach, swallowing hard he pushed Vin's concerned grasp aside and stumbled from the bed, grabbing the chamber pot under the bed he began to be violently sick. Vin was by his side in a second, gently rubbing his back in smoothing motions while he continued to retch into the bowl until Ezra had nothing left to offer the small pot.
Tanner then assisted the shaking Standish back into bed, they argued slightly about fetching the healer, but Ezra won the agreement by stating firmly that if he still felt bad in the morning then he would go and see him. Vin made sure he was warmly wrapped up before he left to empty the pot. When he returned Ezra had fallen into an uneasy sleep, and Vin spent the rest of the night sitting by the bed making sure that his lover rested as comfortably as he could. As the night wore on Ezra woke again and again to vomit into the pot; he fought any suggestion to get Nathan. Vin desperately wanted to run for the healer, but the gambler was insistent that it was nothing, just something that he'd eaten, and that he would be better in the morning.
Vin spent the worse night of his young life sitting with Ezra, and hated how helpless he felt as he watched his lover fight whatever it was that had caused his sickness.
The next morning Ezra awoke feeling like he been strapped out in the desert for the week, and beaten by a pack of savage beasts. He knew that his lover was worried and had spent the night tenderly caring for him, so he put on his best porker face and struggled from the bed. Tanner was not impressed, and caught Ezra as the world tilted and he slid towards the hard floor, the gambler soon found himself firmly planted back in the bed, and he finally had to admit defeat and agreed that maybe fetching Nathan might be a good idea. Vin was out of the room before he finished groaning his consent.
Vin hurried downstairs, and was pleased to note that Nathan was sitting at their usual place, along with Chris, Buck and JD. He quickly made his way over to them, "Nathan... could you come and have a look at Ezra?"
The darker man smiled and offered, "Did he enjoy himself too much last night?" The smile fell from his face when he saw the flash of real fear in Vin's eyes. "What's wrong?" He demanded standing up.
"He spent the night throwing, Nat, he looks really bad." he spun about and chased after the healer who took the stairs at a fast pace, as soon as he heard Vin's words, over his shoulder Nathan called.
"JD can you go to my room and fetch my bag." The younger man raced out of the room, while Buck and Chris followed the other two men up the stairs.
Nobody had noticed Charlotte, who came from the kitchen at the back to stand behind the bar, slowly she began cleaning some glasses, humming as she did so, her day had suddenly brightened.
Ezra winced as the door was flung open with a loud bang, and Nathan speed into the room closely followed Vin. He sighed when he saw Chris and Buck standing in the doorway. If he hadn't felt so ill, he would have been inclined to give them an earful before he tossed them all out of his room. He hated being ill. But luckily for them, at the moment he didn't think that he could actually move out of the bed, let alone force anyone from his room.
"Hay Ezra," Nathan began, "Vin said that you've been feeling a little under the weather."
"Mr Tanner has a tendency to say things that would be better off left unsaid." Ezra might look like he was deathly ill, but he still managed to put enough bite into his words that Vin winced and looked away guiltily. Seeing this Standish, felt his own guilt wash over him, as he knew that he would not have acted any differently if he had been in his lovers place. "Vin." He said, waiting until Tanner met his look before continuing, "I'm sorry..." He began, but whatever else he was about to say was cut short, as he scrambled to reach for the pot again.
Nathan firmly supported the shaking sick man while he weakly retched into the pot, nothing came up, but the healer could feel the heat rising from the other man. When Ezra finished Nathan laid him back on the bed.
JD appeared in the doorway and pushed pass Chris and Buck, holding out the bag that Nathan had requested. "Thanks JD." He slowly opened Ezra's night-shirt then paused when he felt the other man tense up, he noted that the gambler was staring at the men waiting by the door. "Er.. Chris, Buck could you and JD wait outside while I check Ezra over... I think he'll be more comfortable if you did."
The gunslinger nodded in understanding and firmly ushering the other two men out he quietly closed the door, leaving Nathan and Vin to tend to their sick friend.
Back in the room, Nathan had removed the night-shirt, and was gently feeling about Ezra abdomen. Closely watching the Gambler to gage his reaction. Finally after several long minutes of prodding and poking the sick man, Nathan finally stood up and said, "I think you might have a bit of food poising... I'll give you something to settle your stomach, and then I want you drinking nothing but boiled water that's cooled for the next two days." With that he took some items out of his bag, and using the water and glass on the dressing table he mixed up his herbs and then assisted the gambler to drink.
By the time the concoction was finished Ezra was sweating even harder and looking green about the edges. Nathan seeing this explained, "If you want to be sick, then do... this will either settle whatever it is or bring it up."
"That is very reassuring Mr Jackson." Standish gasped out, before closing his eyes and allowing his exhaustion to sweep over him. Seeing the man finally relax into sleep, Vin asked.
"How bad is he really, Nathan?"
The healer look over towards the Tracker and offered, "I'm not sure... get that boiled water sorted out and I'll come back later and give him some more of this potion... the local Indian's swear by it for their stomach aliments."
"Can you tell Chris that I won't be able to do the patrol today, I want to stay with Ez."
"Not a problem, I think it would be best if you did stay with him. I'll have a word with Inez and get some boiled water up to you." He paused and gave Vin a hard look before he added, "and I meant it about just the boiled water... anything else could set his stomach off again."
Vin swallowed and looking over towards the mumbling Ezra, who was once more tossing restlessly in his bed and offered, "I'll make sure he doesn't eat or drink anything other then what you've said."
In the hallway, the other's waited. When the door opened Chris stepped forward and demand his tone filled with his concern, "What is it Nathan?"
Nathan frowned before he answered, "It's defiantly a stomach upset... now whether it's from something that he ate or something else I can't say... but I will keep a close eye on him today and see how he is tomorrow."
"He'll be alright?" Larabee demanded and the healer was once again amazed to see how protective the gunslinger got whenever one of them was hurt or ill. The man almost oozed concern for his men at such times.
Never-the-less... maybe just the American way of saying that?)Nathan seriously considered the question before he answered, "it's hard to say Chris, without actually knowing what set this off... but if he does what I told him to do and sticks to boiled water only, then I think so, but." He added firmly, "I would like to know what he ate yesterday."
"He had breakfast with us downstairs yesterday," Chris offered, "I saw him at McCanny's lunchtime."
"We were there, " Buck put in waving a hand between JD and himself, "he had the same as you JD...." There was a brittle edge of fear in the older man's tone as he peered as the younger man. "Are you feeling sick JD?"
JD looked startled by the question before he shook his head and offered firmly, "No... no... I feel fine, and it was only beef stew, and we have stew at McCanny's all the time."
"What about last night?" Nathan asked, "did anyone see what he had to eat last night?"
"He ate here last night Nathan," Chris stated, "had the same as Vin... and Vin looked alright to me just now."
"Yeah... yeah he is... What about drink... did he have anything different to drink yesterday or last night."
Larabee thought about it before he said, "No... he had coffee with us..."
"And coffee at McCanny's." JD interrupted before Chris carried on.
"Then he was on the red eye, the cowboys got a bottle at the table and they all were drinking it... and he had a shot of his brandy, you know that one that his ma got him..."
Nathan frowned again before he asked, "Did Vin have any of that Red eye?"
"No." Chris said his voice firm, "he was drinking beer last night."
The healer sighed and said, "Well I think we should send someone out after those cowboys and see if any of them are feeling ill this morning... I er..." he paused looking back toward the closed bedroom door before he finished, "I don't really want to leave town, just in case Ezra takes a turn for the worse." The his face brightened as he went on, "we could send Josiah he knows how to mix up the herb drink that I've just given Ezra... as it's an old Indian recipe."
"I'll go with him." Buck said, but Chris interrupted him saying.
"No... let JD go, I want you to take over Vin's patrol today."
The scoundrel of the group slowly nodded, and smiling he said, "No problem."
"I'm going to ask Inez to boil some water and bring it up...." Seeing the looks this earned him from the other's Nathan explained, "It's all I want him to drink for the next couple of days, it will flush his stomach out, and hopefully get rid of whatever this is."
"OK." Larabee agreed, then turning he headed down the stairs. The other men, after casting one last look at the closed bedroom door, silently followed their leader.
Vin lay on the bed, his lover head resting on his lap, as he gently swept his hand over the sweating brow. He had been sitting holding Ezra for the last two hours now, as the other men fitfully slept. He moved his hand down to draw a gently circle over his back, again and again. The movement was desperately gently as he fought back his fear of losing his lover.
"Vin!" Ezra said, his voice barely above a whisper.
"Shh... Ez... it's alright, don't' worry... just rest."
"Vin." Ezra started again, this time he weakly waved his hand about, searching, Vin caught it and held it tightly before he brought it up to his lips and kissed it tenderly. "Vin.... Please."
"What?" the tracker finally asked when it became apparent that the gambler was desperately trying to say something.
Vin felt his heart catch and his stomach clench and his jaw tighten as he slowly nodded his head, tears spring to his eyes he swallowed hard and replied in a choked voice. "I know babe.... I know... 'cause I love you too."
The tone of the voice must have slipped past Ezra's suffering because he struggled to turn over on to his back and look up at his lover. Seeing the anguish etched on the beloved face, he gently pulled his hand from Vin's grasp and raised it up to rest on the tracker's cheek saying slowly.
"Mr Tanner... I do hope you... realise that... this is nothing... a mere ailment... of eating... the wrong thing... I shall endeavour... to be more... careful... on what... I ingest in future." Seeing the doubt in the other man's eyes he continued, "I assure you I will be fine by tomorrow."
"You promise?" Tanner asked quietly, a shaky smile now playing about his face.
Ezra looked deeply into his lover's face and answered with total honestly. "I give you my word Mr Tanner."
"Mr Tanner.... Oh Ez...." The tracker said remembering their old arguments of the past, "it's Vin... remember?"
Ezra smiled weakly and offered sincerely in return. "I give you my word Vin."
Leaning down Vin moved in to slowly kiss Ezra, but the gambler moved his head slightly saying with obvious distaste at himself, "I've not be able to rinse my mouth out properly..."
"I don't care." The other man insisted as he gently rested his lips against those of the man who had come to mean more to him, then his own life. He felt as slight resistance, which faded as the mouth under his slowly opened to admit him. He savoured the kiss and deepened it. To him it was a taste of heaven. To Ezra it was a re-affirmation of the tracker's love for him.
Ezra smiled, enjoying the loving attention of the man beside him, and slipped back into a deep healing sleep.
About an hour later there was a gently tap on the door, and it opened to reveal Charlotte standing hesitantly on the threshold.
"What?" Vin demanded his tone harsher then he intended, but he was embarrassed to see her standing there, while he was holding Ezra so intimately.
"Vin..." She began hesitatingly, than taking a breath to steady herself she hurried on, "Inez asked me to bring you up some food..." She indicated the tray she held and waited for him to give her direction as to where he wanted it.
"I'm not hungry." He answered grimly, although this time his tone was slightly softer.
"You have to eat Vin... you need to keep up your strength." She insisted, making as if to move into the room, but the tracker's harsh tone stopped her as he snapped, keeping his voice low so as not to wake the sick man.
"No! I will eat when Ezra does...."
"But you..." Charlotte would have argued, but she suddenly felt a presence behind her, twisting about she saw Chris Larabee standing there. She swallowed hard when she saw the frozen expression in his eyes. "If you're sure Vin." She said, determined not to allow Larabee to chase her away from this chance of seeing Vin, and offering her support. Seeing Tanner firmly shake his head she turned and brushed past Larabee to make her way down the stairs.
"What the hell was she doing here?" Larabee snarled as he entered the room and firmly closed the door behind him.
"Inez asked her to bring some food up." Tanner answered, looking down, as Standish to make sure that Charlotte's entrance had not disturbed him. He was still resting peacefully.
"I'll let Inez know that one of us, will bring the food up to you in future.." Larabee offered, knowing that Tanner was still uncomfortable about the Richmond woman, in fact the gunslinger was surprised that the beautiful Mexican woman had asked her. The tracker smiled his thanks.
"How's he been?" Chris asked, moving over to look down at the sleeping man.
"He was pretty sick after that first lot of medicine that Nathan gave him, but he managed to keep the second lot down, his been sleeping on and off ever since."
"He looks like shit." Chris commented looking down at the pasty white face of the gambler.
"Mr Larabee... I would prefer... it... if you would keep... your opinion... on my looks... to yourself." Came a weak voice from the bed as Ezra spoke up.
Vin broke into a wide smile and offered, "Don't worry Ez, as long as I think you're beautiful, that's all you've got to worry about."
"Talking like that Mr Tanner is only going to have me worshipping the chamber pot again." Ezra commented, blinking owlishly up at the two men. His voice was stronger then before and the fear that had been holding Vin's heart slowly began to release.
"Romance is dead." Vin bemoaned towards his darkly dressed friend, but he got no sympathy as Larabee answered.
"Hell Ezra, if Vin started spurting love poems, I think I might join you..." Chris smiled, before he said, "Joshua and JD just got back, none of the cowboys are ill."
"Cowboys?" Ezra asked, the hint of interest in his tone.
Larabee went on to explain Nathan's concerns about what could have made the gambler so sick, and his fear that other people might have either eaten or become ill from the thing. The conversation moved on to other subjects, with Ezra only showing a slight interest until he drifted back into sleep. Chris remained in the room, vigil over both his men as Vin also slipped into an exhausted sleep.
Charlotte carried the tray back to the kitchen, unable to hide the smile that resided on her face. The gambler had looked ghastly, almost near dead as he lay in Tanner's arms. She frowned pushing down the flare of jealously that swept over her, when she remembered the tender way her one time lover had been holding the sick man.
The gambler was nothing more than an abomination who had used his perverted wiles to win over the innocent tracker, and for that crime she was determined to make sure that Ezra suffered.
"Where were you?" Inez suddenly appeared by her side, looking at the tray with slight frown.
"Oh, someone ordered some food, but when I took it out, he'd left." Charlotte lied, plastering an innocent smile on her face.
"These gringos... they drive us nuts.... No?" Inez stormed throwing down the wet rag that she had been using, "I just caught Samuel sneaking behind the bar again... I had to chase him out into the street."
Charlotte let out a breath of relief. Inez must have been chasing Samuel, the local drunk, when she had come down the stairs. She would have to be careful in future, as she didn't want the Mexican woman to know that she had taken the tray up, as she had already been told that morning, by Inez to give anything requested by Vin or Nathan, to one of the other peacekeepers and they would take it up.
"That Samuel..." Mrs Richmond began with a slight smile. The man was always after just one more shot of whiskey.
"That Samuel indeed," Inez fumed, "if you see him behind the bar you take the broom to him, you hear... he got away with a whole bottle last week..."
"Why do you allow him to come in then?" Charlotte asked in some confusion.
Inez smiled, it was a sweet look as she confessed, "He's not really that bad, and he does do odd jobs about the Tavern when needed, and he cons someone into buy him a drink..." she sighed as she continued, "it's just that occasionally he gets sticky fingers... I'll have to find him another job to do, that way he can stay on the right side of the bar and pay for his drinks." Inez said, before she heard her name called from the bar and went to tend to a customer.
Later that evening Chris sat as his usual table listening to Buck and JD talk when he spied Inez coming towards their table, another bottle of red eye in her hand and a smile on her lips.
"Heard you had to chase Samuel out again." JD said, unable to prevent the wide smile on his lips.
"Oh that man... he can run faster then a jack rabbit when he wants to." The Mexican woman smiled, glancing over towards the man in question who had slipped back into the saloon with the coming of darkness. The man was standing by some local men who, from time to time, would include his glass in the fill ups they were ordering, so he was happy.
"Hay Inez, you know if you want to chase a man, I'll be glad to volunteer." Buck said, a bright smile on his lips and his eyes shining.
The beautiful woman looked at him for a long second before she snapped, "I fear that you will be too easy to catch... and where is the sport in that?"
Before they could get started in one of their famous arguments, Chris interrupted his face serious. "Inez... if you want anything taken up to Ezra's room... get me or one of the others to do it in future."
Inez gave him a funny look and said firmly, "But I usually do Chris."
Larabee shot a hard look across the room, to where Charlotte was working behind the bar, and commented, "Well could you pass that along to Mrs Richmond... she took a tray up to Vin earlier and he was a mite embarrassed about it."
Now the woman was frowning as she offered, "but I told her this morning, when Nathan asked for the boiled water... she knows that already Chris."
Larabee was now starting to look annoyed, "well, can you tell her again... just to make sure that she understood."
Now Inez was biting her top lip, not liking what she was hearing, "when was this... that she took the tray up to Vin." There was an uneasy feeling growing in the pit of her stomach.
"Late this afternoon.... You'd just took off after Samuel." Buck put in, remembering seeing Charlotte heading up the stairs with a tray. Seeing the annoyed look this earned him from Larabee he held up his hands and offered, "I thought she was going to one of the other rooms Chris."
"She had a tray, in the kitchen with her, when I got back." Inez replied, "but she said she had brought it out to the bar for someone, but they had left."
"Why would she lie about it?" JD asked in innocent confusion.
"Why indeed." Larabee repeated as he watched the woman laugh at something that locals had said. "I think we need to keep an eye on Mrs Richmond." The other's followed his gaze and slowly nodded in agreement.
Ezra felt well enough to leave his room the following Tuesday, he had been confined to his sick bed since Saturday and he felt glad to be able to sit outside the Tavern and have Inez bring him a weak cup of coffee. He had been eating Nathan's specially prepared broth for the last day and was getting tired of the water like substance, but he had not be in a position to argue too much as Vin ate a mouthful to each of his. The tracker had almost turned it into a game, supplementing at times a kiss as a prize for eating. Ezra had to smile, as he knew that he would never be able to get enough of his lover's kisses, and this was an excellent way to encourage him to eat.
"How are you feeling Ezra?" Nathan said coming up to sit beside the gambler.
"All the better for being allowed out in the sunshine."
"Well, you just make sure you don't tired yourself out too much." The healer said, not like how pale the man was.
"I'll make sure he doesn't Nathan." Vin said from Ezra's other side.
"When can I get back onto real food Nathan?" the gambler asked, ignoring the glare this earned him from his lover.
The darker man gave the question serious thought before he offered, "How about breakfast tomorrow?"
The gambler thought about it then nodded his head; if he was honest he was not keen to endure another bout of sickness.
"Good," Nathan smiled warmly before he added, "Vin, the moment he starts looking tired, take him in to rest."
"Gentlemen I am sitting right here." Ezra groused, looking from one man to the other.
"Don't worry I will, Nathan." Vin agreed, giving his lover a hard look, the gambler wilted under the determined expression, but as he looked away he was unable to hide the small smile of affection that crossed his face. He quite enjoyed seeing his lover this protective, he'd never really had anyone who cared for him, as much as Vin did, and it sent warm shivers down his body to know that Tanner cared for him enough to argue the point.
"Good." Nathan smiled again, before he stood up and nodding to each man he headed over towards the jail.
The next two weeks passed slowly for Ezra as he was slowly recovering from his bout of sickness. He was now able to eat what he wanted, but was still being cautious about the amount of liquor he drunk, as it still cause his stomach to flip threateningly.
Vin was keeping a watch on his lover, that would have made a mother hen proud, and Ezra allowed it for the most part, the only time he put his foot down was when Tanner had tried to ease up on their love making. The gambler didn't object to the ban while he was feeling so ill, but once he started getting his strength back, he objected strongly and had even resorted to seducing the tracker one evening when they had retired for the night.
While Tanner determination might have been strong. It was not strong enough once those hot lips began their track across his skin, leaving a searing heat along their path. It had been a gentle lovemaking that left both men greatly satisfied, and each fell asleep with a smile on their lips, and a slow rocking bout of sex the next morning on their waking. It was at that point that Vin actually realised that his lover had recovered, and slowly the knot of fear that had built up in his stomach began to relax.
Nathan still refused to allow Ezra to partake in the full duties of the peacekeepers, stating firmly that he was not strong enough to sit a horse for long periods of time. Although Ezra was allowed to sit in the jail and cover that shift of their work, but only during the day and if no one was in the cells. The gambler had accepted this with tight lips and a frown of displeasure, but his arguments stilled on his lips, when Chris told him to shut up and accept the fact that they were not going to allow him to do anything stressful until Nathan give him the go ahead.
Chris Larabee had taken to watching Charlotte Richmond closely. He did not like the way her eyes followed the handsome tracker as he walked across the room, nor the glint of irritation, that boarded on rage whenever Ezra appeared. The gunslinger had heard from Mary Travis, the reason why Charlotte had left her husband, and while he knew that Mr Richmond had a temper, he had also seen a lot of love for his wife in his eyes, and found it hard to believe that he would resort to beating the woman.
To this end he had asked Buck and JD to swing by the Richmond farmstead on their way to delivering some papers that Judge Travis had requested, and find out from Will Richmond exactly why his wife had left him. The two men were due back later that day and Chris would be interested to hear what they had to say.
JD rode quietly beside his friend, they were about an hour's ride from Four Corners and he was still trying to come to terms with what Mr Richmond had told them about his wife.
They had found the man working hard in his field near his cabin, as they had rode up. He had straighten, storm clouds of anger filling his face when he saw who his visitors where, and he reached for his rifle and held it casually in his arms as they approached.
Buck seeing this held out his hands to show that they didn't mean any trouble. Before he could speak Richmond snarled, "if you've come for Charlotte you'd best be looking towards that wife stealing bastard of a bounty hunter that rides with you."
Buck plastered a friendly smile on his face and moved his horse in front of JD's, effectively blocking Richmond's aim at the younger man. "No sir, Mr Richmond, we just want to ask you a few questions about your wife and why she left."
"Ain't none of your damn business." Will spat out as the rifle slow rose to point directly at the man sitting on the larger horse.
Buck still holding his hands out in plain sight offered, "well to be honest Mr Richmond, she has been saying some mighty damning things about you."
Richmond's face twisted into a grimace and he spat out, "no doubt saying that I beat her..." He saw the answer in the other men's eyes. The man before Buck and JD suddenly wilted, and lowering his rifle he offered, "You'd better come in then. I guess you guys deserve to know the truth about the real Mrs Richmond." The way he spoke caused a shiver of fear to trickle up JD's back. The man before them suddenly looked old, worn and broken.
After Will had poured out a cup of coffee for each of them, he settled down and looking at Buck he asked, "how is she?"
Buck gazed down at his drink, looking uncomfortable as he answered, "She doing well... talking about returning to relatives back east."
Richmond snorted and then holding up a hand, which prevented Buck from talking he said, "I seriously doubt that... they wouldn't allow her in, if she knocked on their door." Seeing the strange look this earned him he continued, "our leaving was not entirely on friendly terms." It was his turn to look decidedly uncomfortable as he continued, "your tracker isn't the first man to turn my Charlotte's head... there was a fancy dude back east... Mike Sutton... she played up to him... just like she did your friend."
"And you didn't do anything about it?" Buck asked, this time his voice was gentle, as he could see the pain; this telling was causing the other man.
"Yeah... we argued about it, but she just insisted that they were friends, and after a while I could see that... that he wasn't really interested... Charlotte was... Well... we had Alison back then... our daughter." He stopped, swallowing hard as his voice was catching as he spoke; he swallowed hard again and took a long drink of his coffee, before he continued. "He wasn't a bad man, I guess... he just didn't understand that she was already married, once he found out... he cooled towards her." Again he looked slightly ill at ease as he spoke. "She took to calling on him, in town... it was... not right... got a lot of people talking." He stopped again, lost in his memories.
"Then what happened?" Buck could tell from the way the man talked that there was more to the story and he felt sure that he didn't really want to hear it, but if he was going to get to the information that Chris required, then he needed to.
"Then what happened?" Will repeated tears filling his eyes, "then my beautiful, beautiful, precious Alison died." This time he was unable to stop the tears as they trickled down over his stubble shadowed cheeks.
"Mrs Richmond told Vin that she died of the fever." JD put in, trying to be helpful, but he wilted under the glare that Buck gave him. Will didn't seem to have noticed the mention of the tracker's name as he continued.
"Yes, a fever did strike our town... many died, but I made sure that we stayed clear of it, and it had pass according to the doctors, but I came home one day to find my baby girl ill... she was so sick... throwing up, fever... I got the doctor to her as soon as I could... Charlotte hadn't even fetched the doctor... she kept saying that it was only something she'd eaten... I took Alison into town to see the doctor..." he closed his eyes as the doctor's words came back to him. "There was nothing he could do... she just wasn't strong enough... I lost her that night..."
"We're mighty sorry for the loss of your daughter." Wilmington began, but Richmond waved his words aside, it was as if now that he had begun to talk about it, he was unable to stop himself.
"People began to talk... Alison's death was too sudden for the fever... she had been fine when I left that morning... and it was made worse when Charlotte began telling her friends, that now Alison was dead, Mike Sutton would come back to her... It started people talking, nasty rumours started... it... it became too much... Sutton never came back... he left town, when he stated to get pulled into the rumours... some saying that he might have had a hand in Alison's death... He was horrified... came and spoke to me... man to man... said he was leaving town... apologised for the misunderstanding... I knew what he was saying... could understand how he felt about my wife... I was glad he left town and then, well, we saw the advert for this land... and I persuaded Charlotte that it was what we needed. A fresh start, she agreed to it, as she was by then a virtual outcast, no one would talk to her... they had had enough of her and her lies."
"Her lies?" Buck asked, unable to suppress the uneasy feeling now churning in his gut.
Will shook his head and wiped his hands over his face, he was truly broken by what his love for Charlotte had done to him. He had turned a deaf ear to the warnings from his friends and family, he had finally left them all behind in the hope that he could recapture the love of his wife. Had even chosen to ignore, the implications that he's own child had not died from a natural illness. Bitterly he realised that he could deny it no longer.
"Yeah... she began to tell people that she thought I'd poisoned Alison, that I beat her... that I..." at this point he broke down, unable to say the words, and Buck didn't have the heart to push him any further.
"No more Mr Richmond... I think that you've told us enough." Buck reached out and rested a comforting hand on the distraught man's shoulder as Will began to cry uncontrollably into his hands repeating over and over again.
"I love her... God help me... I still love her..."
JD sat in stunned silence unable to believe the words that Mr Richmond has spoken, and yet they had held an undeniable truth about them. Was it possible that Charlotte Richmond had murdered her own child? Could she have killed the child, in the hopes of regaining the love of the man, who had left her when he realised that she was a married woman, with a family?
They spent the night with Mr Richmond, neither having the heart to leave him to his memories and nightmares. Buck had brought in the bottle of whiskey that he carried, and between them they finished it. In the morning they quietly shook hands and his parting words tore at their hearts. "Tell her... Tell her I still love, and she... she will... always have... a home here."
Buck took a deep breath, pushing his feelings of frustration aside. It was obvious that this man still deeply loved his wife, and nothing she did would ever change that. If only that love was return then their love would be the story of legends.
JD came back to himself and sighed deeply, drawing the worried attention of his friend.
"JD... are you alright boy?" Buck asked, drawing his horse closer to the younger man.
"Yeah." The youth lied, before he continued his tone unable to hide his confusion, "No... no... I'm not.... I mean how could any mother harm her child?"
Buck felt a tear at his own heart, JD had loved his own mother so much, and his feelings had been returned that he simply could not comprehend any mother not loving her own child, finally Buck answered. "I don't know JD... I just don't know... but JD... you need to remember that little Alison might have died from the fever... we only have Mr Richmond's word for what actually happened, and he was pretty distraught about it all... he could have read more into it then there actually was."
"Do you think he was lying?"
"Lying." Buck stated trying to sort out his own feelings with the matter, and finding it hard to do so, "No.... Maybe... it's just hard to say..."
"Don't you think it's strange though.... Mr Richmond said those rumours were about Alison dying because Mike Sutton wouldn't have anything do with Mrs Richmond because of her daughter, kinda like she stood in the way, and now Ezra been so sick and he kinda stands in the way of her and Vin."
Buck closed his eyes and wished that he could push away that same nagging thought that had been plaguing his ride back from the Richmond homestead. Was it just a coincidence? "Let's get back to town and tell the others... Check on Ezra." Buck was unable to stop himself from saying and he was not surprised when JD kicked in his heels and speed off in front of him at a full gallop. Their own fears giving the horses more speed then they thought possible.
Their overnight stay with Will Richmond had delayed their return to town, and it was late Saturday evening by the time they rode into the town of Four Corners.
The fires were lit in the main street and the Standish Tavern was bustling with life, in silent agreement, JD took Buck's horse and headed for the stable, he would unsaddle and settle the horses and then meet up with Buck in the saloon.
Buck found Chris, Vin, Nathan and Josiah sitting at the table near the back of the saloon, and glancing about urgently he saw Ezra quietly playing cards with a couple of gentleman Buck didn't recognise at his usual place on the raised platform. He walked up to the table occupied by Chris and the others and threw himself into the chair that Josiah drew out.
"You're late." Larabee stated his tone sharp and his eyes hard, a clear reflection of his concern.
"Yeah... stopped off at the Richmond place like you asked." Buck offered, accepting the drink that was passed to him.
"Richmond's place?" Vin questioned sitting up, he was not aware that Chris had asked them to do that.
"Yeah..." Chris said as his only explanation. He ignored Vin angry look and demanded, "what did he have to say?"
Buck looked decidedly uneasy and cast a look over towards the bar, only Inez was serving tonight, and then unwillingly his gaze slid across towards the gambler. "How's Ezra been?"
"He's doing fine." Nathan said just as eager to hear what Buck had learned from Richmond, but understanding the other man's concern for his friend. "Been as happy as a sand mite since those men arrived on the stage this afternoon... he's been winning straight up since they entered the place." He smiled and nodded over towards the gambler, noting that Ezra must be happy with his game, as he had his personal bottle of brandy on the table and was slowly sipping from the shot glass in front of him, as he keenly watched the other men's expression as they played.
"He's better... now what the hell did Richmond say?" Chris snarled his gut telling him that Buck was not happy with what he had learned and the fact that he was concerned about Ezra didn't bode well.
Wilmington was glad that JD had offered to see to the horses and knew that the boy had done it for precisely the reason that he didn't want to be there when the ladies man told the rest of them what Will Richmond had told them.
Taking another gulp of the drink before him, he started slowly to go over what he had been told, and as he spoke his words came faster, as he saw that he had their total attention. The other's listened in silence and growing horror. When Buck finally finished Vin gasped out his voice hushed as he denied Wilmington's words, "No... She wouldn't do that.... Not her own child... He's lying... the bastard." While he no longer had even the slightly interest in Charlotte Richmond, he still could not accept that the loving woman he had known was capable of such a cruel act.
"Buck?" Chris questioned the honesty of Will Richmond and Buck answered as he felt.
"I think he was telling the truth Chris... there was... there was just too much pain about the man."
"But why would he want her back if he honestly thought that she'd killed their child?" Nathan questioned his own tone low as if to speak too loud would make the horror seem realer some how.
"Love is a very powerful emotion brothers, it allows even the most horrendous crime to be acceptable if it's your heart that directed it." Those listening shifted uneasy as it sounded as if Josiah was speaking from experience.
"I know that we only have his word about what happened back east..." Buck went on, "but can we really take the risk? If he's right?" As he spoke he threw a telling glance over towards Ezra who was still playing, totally unaware of the conversation that was taking place at the table of his friends.
"I'll kill her with me bare hands, if she even looks in Ezra direction." Vin snarled, the sudden gleam in his eyes boarding on insanity. As the true implications of what was being discussed crashed down on him.
"I think it might be best if you take Ezra out to my place for a few days Vin. Give us sometime to contact the Judge, see if he can dig up any more information about all this." Larabee said, before he took a swallow of his own drink. "We might be seeing more in this then there actually is... after all Ezra's been fine the last two weeks, and we DO only have Will Richmond's word for what actually happened back East."
Just then JD strode into the saloon and moved swiftly over towards them, he sat down and with a shaky hand reached out and poured himself a shot of whisky into one of the spare glasses that Inez always left on their table.
Chris seeing how pale the lad looked said firmly, "Buck, JD get some rest tonight, we'll talk more about this in the morning..."
"Where is she?" Buck asked looking about the room for the woman in question.
"Mrs Johnson gave birth this morning and needed someone to help look after her other six children... what with her husband being out of town at the moment. Mrs Richmond offered to help her..." then said, a look of panic crossing his features Chris snapped.
"She's hardly likely to hurt them Nathan, there would be no benefit in it for her."
The other man relaxed slightly and smiled weakly, "yeah... you're right, and anyway, we don't even know if what Richmond said is the truth... do we?"
An uneasy silence settled across the table as no one answered his question.
Vin started awake with the knowledge that something was wrong, very wrong.
The evening had broken up a little while after Buck and JD return with their disturbing revelations about Mrs Richmond. Ezra had wandered over to their table and seeing their long faces had smiled brightly and offered, "well, while you gentleman where over here depressing yourself, I have been showing those gentleman from Kansas the fine art of poker."
"How much did you win?" JD asked, a flash of excitement in his eyes. Ezra had been taking the time to secretly teach him the finer art of the game. They had to do it in secret, as both knew that neither Chris nor Buck would be very impressed, and Nathan would more the likely chase the gambler out of town.
"Enough to ensure that I will be purchasing that new Jacket that Mrs Porter was telling me about." He answered rather smugly. Seeing the sour looks this earned him he frowned and asked, "is there something amiss?"
The other's looked towards Chris who slowly shook his head before saying; "we'll talk about it in the morning."
"What?" Ezra demanded, as the others began to stand. He looked over towards Vin who said quietly.
"I'll tell you later Ez."
The gambler looked at his friends, who were looking far too serious for him to feel settled, but seeing that real worry in Tanner's eyes he slowly nodded. He could see that the last thing Vin wanted at the moment was to go into whatever it was, in front of his friends.
"Well gentlemen." Ezra said before he grimaced and rubbed at his stomach, "I think that Mr Tanner and myself will adjourn for our own nightly game of poker." He looked towards his lover who smiled at his bad attempt at a joke.
"Ezra you feeling alright?" Nathan suddenly demanded not liking the way the gambler was holding himself, almost as if he was in pain.
The man in question straightened, and offered another bright smile, "I can assure you that I am feeling fine. Although I will admit that maybe I was too hasty in returning to my brandy bottle, I found I had no taste for it tonight."
The healer frowned again and wanted to say more, but he realised that he was more then likely over reacting to what he had just heard, and he knew that Ezra would only bulk if he tried to get him over to his clinic, and he knew that Vin would watch over his lover and call him if he was needed, so instead he warned them both. "You make sure you call me if you start to feel worse Ezra... maybe you should leave the brandy alone for a few more days."
"I believe you may be right Mr Jackson." Ezra said as he nodded his head, much like any man in history who wanted to express without words that he was being nagged too much, and giving them a small bow, both Ezra and Vin made their way towards the stairs after saying their goodnights.
That had been under an hour ago, and Vin had kept his promised and explained what Chris had asked Buck and JD to do, and exactly what Mr Richmond had said. The gambler had slowly undressed and settled into the bed, quietly, too quietly. Keeping his opinion to himself. Finally Tanner could stand it no more and demanded. "Well... what do you think?"
Ezra looked slightly green about the gills as he confessed in a quite tone, "having lived with my mother for a number of years I do not find it hard to realise the full potential of a woman, especially one who considers herself in love."
"So you'll go to Chris's cabin tomorrow?" The tracker was almost pleading, and the gambler smiled reassuringly.
"Vin." Lying down beside his lover he reached over and gently creased his face as he continued, "I would never endanger my life needlessly... and as you know, I abhor gambling against the odds, so yes, I will go to Chris' cabin, but only if you'll come with me?"
The ex-bounty hunter let out the breath that he had not been aware that he was holding and leaning into the hand he agreed firmly; "I wouldn't have it any other way." After several minutes of reaffirming their love, they settled down to sleep that claimed them quickly.
Now Vin snapped awake and felt the shivering of the man who lay beside him. He knew that they had only been sleeping a short while, and Ezra shaking was too reminiscent of his recent illness, for it not to scare the tracker. With growing fear he fumbled for the matches, and soon a feeble light splash across the room. Twisting about he looked down at Ezra who was trembling, and muttering in a fevered dream beside him.
"Ez...." not getting a response, he called his lover in a louder voice, his tone laced with fear. "Ezra," he shook the man for good measure. To his surprise the gambler surged up and coughed, as if gasping for breath, then he fell sideways and vomited over the side of the bed, before he slumped forward, semi-conscious. It was only Vin's quick action that saved the gambler from tipping head first over the side of the bed into his own vomit.
Carefully resting him back Vin heard Ezra begin to choke and recognising the signs he grabbed the chamber pot, turning back he swiftly tilted the sick man over it. The gambler was violently sick again, and after he had finished he weakly slummed back, totally spent. The man was so pale, eyes glassy and the heat raising from him informed Tanner that illness this was far worst than the last time.
Once he had settled Ezra up on their collective pillows, making sure that he would not choke, he rushed to the door, and leaning over the rail looking down into the darken saloon below, he bellowed. "Inez.... INEZ!!!" He kept ducking back into the bedroom to check on Ezra and then rushed to call for the woman again.
The young Mexican finally appeared, in her nightdress with a large shawl wrapped about her, a lamp held firmly in her shaking hands, as she demanded. "Mr Tanner... What is the matter?"
"It's Ezra, he's sick again... really sick." She heard the fear in his tone and rushed up the stairs as he continued, "I've gotta go get Nathan... Can you watch him while I go get Nathan?"
"Of course" she agreed moving swiftly pass him into the bedroom. Where she could hear Ezra groaning, as he feebly twisted from side to side, clutching at his middle.
Tanner took off like the devil himself was after him. Josiah, who was doing the night patrol saw him sprint across the road towards Nathan's clinic and rushed to catch up with him.
Vin was frantically pounding on Nathan's door, shouting as he did so. "Nathan... Ezra sick again... NATHAN!!!"
The healer swung open the door, already climbing into his clothes and snatching up his bag, thanking the lord that he had checked it before retiring that evening. Their earlier conversation had made him uneasy.
As they hurried down the steps they met Josiah rushing up. He didn't an explanation as to what was going on; Tanner's shouting must have awoken half the town.
"I'll get Chris and the others...." Josiah said, moving off towards the boarding house.
"Get Mrs Richmond as well" Nathan called out after the other man, "if she's poisoned Ezra in some way, the sooner we know what she used the better." He rushed after the tracker who was already disappearing into the Standish Tavern.
Nathan paused on the threshold of the bedroom as the smell and sight of the sickroom hit him. Ezra was again being sick into the chamber pot that poor Inez was trying to hold steady in one hand as she tried to support him with the other hand. Vin leapt onto the bed behind Ezra and was now holding him steady with his arms wrapped about his waist. The gambler was convulsing on the bed, the very force of his sickness causing him to suffer what appeared to be a fit, as he arms and legs jerked about without any coordination.
"Inez." Nathan cried, rushing over the taking control of the chamber pot, and releasing the woman for another task. "I need water... preferably warm, but cold if that's all you've got, and a bucket."
The Mexican woman rushed off to comply. Ezra finished convulsing and slumped back totally exhausted as he mumbled, "Oh god... oh god..." he was sweating, and shivering and already looked like death, his face was so pasty white, it looked almost grey. He was desperately gasping in breath.
Nathan quickly pulled out a cloth from his bag, and wiped about the sick man's face and neck. "Keep clam Ezra... it's alright... just breathe easy... you're going to be alright."
"Breathe..." Ezra gasped as his body spasmed and he groaned as he began to be violently ill again.
"Nathan?" Chris called rushing into the room, closely followed by JD.
"Chris pour me some water... quick... I need it now..." Nathan demanded, as he struggled to help hold the other man as he convulsive uncontrollably.
Larabee hearing the real fear in the healer's voice did as requested, and rushing to the sideboard he poured out the water from the pitcher that rested there, the water spilled over his hands as they shook. He pushed the filled glass towards the healer, who stood back saying, "Help Vin hold him..." he then handed over the sick man to Chris, who paled at the responsibility of holding the chamber pot in position while trying to steady the sick man. Larabee glanced up into Vin's face and saw tear tracks on the other's face and realised that Tanner believed that he was watching his lover die. That thought alone, caused him to realise that they very well could be.
Nathan searched in his bag and quickly pulled out two pots, he poured a thick black power, then a few drops of liquid from the other bottle, into the glass until the water overflowed, and he then used his finger to roughly stir the mixture together. Once he was satisfied with the concoction he pushed Chris side shouting at Ezra as he did so.
"Ezra... Ezra... drink this... you need to drink this..." but the other man was too far into his misery to hear. He had stopped throwing up, but was gasping and crying, desperately trying to get air into his tortured lungs. "Hold him..." Nathan ordered both Vin and Chris, who leapt to comply.
JD meanwhile was frozen in shock by the door. Unwilling to move, fearful that he might distracted his friends from their frantic fight to save Ezra life.
Nathan grabbed Ezra's face roughly in one hand and using pure force he opened the other man's mouth and poured the substance down. Ezra choked and coughed, but Nathan forced his mouth shut and held his hand over his mouth, tilting his head backwards as he did so, he then stroked Ezra's throat until he swallowed the black liquid. Ezra was panting in short gasps when Nathan refilled the glass, mixed the potion again and forced yet more of the concoction down his throat, while he shouted, "drink it damn you... swallow." He then slammed the mouth shut and held the nose. Ezra began to struggle in earnest but finally swallowed.
"Hold him." Nathan warned, "and be ready 'cause what he just threw up isn't going to be anything like..." he never got to finish as Ezra reared up and throwing himself forward he spewed over the man standing beside the bed. The black substance, purging the poison from his body with tremendous force.
Larabee froze for a spilt second, unable to believe that Standish had thrown up on him, before he pushed his thoughts aside. The chamber pot and his own clothes' condition were forgotten as they concentrated on just keeping Ezra over the side of the bed. The black liquid that Ezra had been forced to drink was coming back up with a vengeance.
As soon as Ezra paused, Nathan was back forcing more of the black liquid into his mouth and forcing him to swallow. Again and again he convulsive and threw up. Until those watching felt sure, that no man could survive such a vicious attack.
By this time Ezra was semiconscious, supported only by Vin's tight embrace about his middle and Chris holding his shoulders. JD finally moved towards the bed, as if to offer assistance. Then Inez was back, carrying the water and the bucket.
Ezra groaned loudly, before he slumped totally in the other's embrace, causing a cry of utter terror to leave Vin's throat.
"Nathan?" Vin demanded his voice shaking with fear as he felt his lover go limp.
The man in question quickly put the glass down and rested his fingers lightly on Ezra throat, and then he leant back and let out a breath before he said firmly. "He's exhausted... I think he's brought up as much as he can... we'd best let him rest now... Inez" he looked up at the woman in questions. "Can we use another room, while this one is cleaned up."
"Yes, certainly, the one next door is empty..." with that she moved out of the room taking her lamp with her, and when Chris and Vin carried the unconscious man in, she had pulled back the blankets. They carefully rested Ezra down. Nathan followed them and within a few minutes they had cleaned Ezra up and put him in a new nightshirt. Nathan gently pulled the covers up over his friend and rested a hand on his forehead wincing at the heat he felt radiating there.
Suddenly there was a commotion from down stairs and JD jumped in saying. "Buck and Josiah must be back with Mrs Richmond." Vin looked up, murder in his eyes, but Chris reached out and grabbed him before he could move.
"You're needed here Vin." There was no give in the voice, and glancing back at his lover Vin knew that he was right. As the gunslinger stormed towards the door, the tracker said, "Chris..." the man in black turned sharply back. "Do whatever you have to do." The other man smiled, and it caused the tracker to step back in shock, it was like looking the grim reaper in the face and seeing your name reflected in his eyes.
"Vin... Vin." Nathan suddenly called, pulling the tracker's attention back to his lover, "can you hold him while I see if I can get him to drink this."
"What was that stuff you gave him... that black stuff."
"It's a mixture of charcoal and gunpowder, with some herbs mixed in."
"What does that do Nathan?" Vin could hear the tremor in his tone, he felt as if he was recovering from a bout of fever himself. His body was screaming his exhaustion, but he knew it was only the reaction to the terror he had and was still feeling.
The healer seeing that the tracker needed something to take his mind of his fear explained. "They hopefully will soak up whatever is in the stomach, and then cause the person to throw up... if it was poison, I'm hoping that it's purged whatever was left in his stomach."
"Oh god Nathan..." Vin suddenly felt tears spill over his lashes, and Nathan was by his side in an instant reaching out to rest a hand on his shoulder saying firmly.
"Vin, I know this is hard, but you've got to think of Ezra... he needs you strong..."
For some reason his mother's voice filtered into his mind and he remembered the last time he'd seen her, fighting the illness that was eating at her body. "Be strong little one." She had said, "we Tanner's are a strong breed.... be strong for me."
"I will." He answered both Nathan and his mother, as he wiped his hands over his face and pushed his hair back. This was not about him. Later, later he could collapse into the dark hole that beckoned him, but not yet. He took a steadying breath and then another. "What do you want me to do." he finally asked, once he had himself under control.
"Let him know that you're here... that he's not alone, if he wakes I need to get this into him." He held up the medicine that he'd mixed up from the warm water that Inez had brought up.
The Mexican women suddenly said, surprising the two men, who had forgotten that she was there, "I'll go and clear up the mess next door."
"You don't have to do that Inez... I will." Nathan offered, torn between remaining with his patient and allowing the woman to do such a distasteful task.
"No... No." she said, "it will give me something to do." The look she gave the healer informed him that she knew what Chris's mission was downstairs and she didn't want to interrupt the man by going down stairs, and yet, she felt so helpless watching the gambler, that she desperately needed something to do. With that she nodded towards Nathan and left.
Chris descended the stairs, his pace slow and his glare deadly and directed at the woman who was in a chair in the middle of the well-lit room. Larabee noted that JD was just finishing with the lamps.
"JD" Chris spoke both calmly and quietly, "I want you to go and check the town."
"What!" JD asked, surprise in his tone as he turned towards his dark clad friend. He stopped the wick he had been using still burning in his hand. "Why?" he began, but the words died out when he saw the look in Larabee's eyes. He shot a nervous look towards the woman who sat still as a statue; she had not a care in the world as she quietly hummed to herself, gently rising her hand to brush her hair back from her face. JD then shot a glance at Buck and Josiah. His eyes widened and he swallowed hard without saying another word he spun about and left the room, without looking back. He knew that the three men left in the room would do whatever they had to, to get the truth out of Mrs Richmond and he also knew that they did not want him to be there when they did.
"Mrs Richmond." Larabee began, moving so that he was almost leaning over the woman.
"Mr Larabee." She stammered, her fingers falling from her hair, as she fought to meet this man's intense gaze. "Why have you had me dragged here like this?"
"Mr Standish is sick again..."
"The poor man..." she said, but her voice lacked the warm note of concern. "I do hope it not fatal." She finished meeting Larabee's look head on. It was at that moment that Chris realised that this woman was not totally sane.
"If I was you." The glint in Chris's eyes suddenly flashed, informing the woman clearly that he too had walked on the path of insanity, and knew it's companionship well on occasion. "I'd be more concerned about how fatal it might be for you."
"Me? Mr Larabee." Charlotte stammered sitting up straighter, realising that this man would not be susceptible to her honeyed words and womanly charms. "I don't know what...."
Buck interrupted her, taking his cue from Chris who flashed a glance in his direction. "I spoke to Will yesterday... he told me about your daughter... Alison."
"Alison?" Charlotte questioned her face draining of colour before she dragged in a breath and screeched, "told you... told you... did he tell you about how he use to beat me when I was pregnant, how he would slap me... kick me, if I was late with his dinner... or the coffee was not to his liking... He made my life a living hell."
"He told us the truth about you and Mike Sutton, how your baby died after the fever had left the area. About how you didn't even bother to fetch a doctor although you said she been sick since morning, and about the rumours that caused you to leave your home back East, and how your lies became too much, and the people refused to talk to you."
"Oh he would tell you that... because he would never admit to being a useless father and husband, and he would always whine about how his farm was failing" she spat the words, and glared that the men who surrounded her, "and how he couldn't get any more credit became his crops failed. I hated that place and I hated him."
Chris suddenly swooped in snarling, "so you killed your daughter because she stood in the way of your affair with Mr Sutton, and now your trying to kill Ezra because in your sick twisted mind you think that Vin might come back to you.."
"Vin loves me..." she snarled attempting to spring up, but Chris's presence over her refused to allow her and she wilted back hissing, "he told me he loves me.... He left you... yes you," her eyes flashed at the darkly dressed gunslinger and laughing in his face she snarled, "Yes, he left the great Larabee to be with me... that's what this is about isn't it..." the gleam of madness entered her eyes again as she ranted, "he left you for me, and that's why you are doing this..."
"What did you use to poison Ezra?" Chris demanded, his voice suddenly as cold as a crypt.
"Poison..." she stopped, her eyes growing with her innocence, as she asked in a child like tone, "Why would I poison Ezra... he is nothing but a cheat and a liar... why would I poison such a person, I feel sure that someone will shoot him one day as soon when they discovered his cheating ways." She stopped breathing heavily and suddenly said, "you accuse me of this... this poisoning and yet you have no proof..." this time she smiled, it was cold and calculating, "stand me before you judge Travis and show him the evidence... see if he will convict me... I think not Mr Larabee, I think not... now if you have finished." She attempted to rise again, but the firm hand of Josiah forced her back into the chair. He had said nothing and yet he felt the woman's evil soul as an aural about her. He could not find it in his heart to forgive a woman who had killed her own baby, and from her reaction, her lack of denial he truly believed that she had. No sane mother would let an accusation like that go unchallenged, but instead she had accused her husband of being less of a man and a whiner, not one word about the loss of her child had passed her lips.
"Mrs Richmond, hear me and hear me good. If Ezra dies you won't go before Judge Travis, for I will drag you out to that tree in the grave yard and I will hang you myself."
"You can't do that." She spluttered her hand going to her neck as if she felt the noose tighten about it. "You can't... Vin wouldn't let you."
Suddenly a voice spoke up from the top of the stairs, it was cold, it was hard and it was deadly. "I'd pay for the rope you murdering bitch." Larabee spun about, his heart clenching at the sight of Vin Tanner clutching the railings as if to support himself. Slowly he began to descend the stairs.
"Vin?" he asked, unable to voice the question that sprung to his lips. The tracker slowly shook his head knowing what the gunslinger was asking he answered.
"He's still unconscious... Nathan asked me to fetch some more water... but I want this woman to fully understand that I will kill her myself... and Chris it won't be with no rope either... that's too fast... I will peel her skin from her body and leave her in the desert for the birds and insects to eat." As he spoke he finished descending the stairs and now stood at the bottom, his eyes hard and his face as stern as any expression that had crossed Larabee's face.
"Vin," Charlotte broke away from Josiah and Larabee and rushed towards him, throwing her at him, clinging desperately to him "you love me, you would never harm me... we are going to run away... go across the border... together... remember?" He just looked down at her and then dropping the water jugs, ignoring it's shattering on the floor he forced her hands off him and threw her roughly to the floor.
"If Ezra dies, I will kill you Charlotte... and feel no more remorse for it than I would about putting an mad dog out of it's misery."
"No Vin... No... you love me... you told me you did." She was not looking at him but thumping her clenched hands on the floor, heedless of the water or the broken jug. Then as if the truth finally sunk in, she pushed herself off the floor, onto her knees; tears streaming down her face she took a deep breath and snarled. "He won't live Vin... I might not get you, but neither will you have your bastard lover... He will suffer the torments of hell before he dies..."
Larabee was there and pulling her to her feet he began to shake her back and forth like a terrier with a rabbit. "What did you give him?" But she would only scream and cry, ranting about Vin's love for her, no further words concerning the poison that she had used.
"Vin." Josiah suddenly said, witnessing the look on the tracker's face at Charlotte words of doom. "You'd best get that water back up to Nathan and help with Ezra." The preacher's words seemed to shake the other man from his shock, and with a nod in Chris's direction he moved towards the back of the bar, to fetch the water that Nathan had requested.
Suddenly JD burst into the room, panting, out to breath, his eyes wide and fear rolling off him. Buck caught him when he would have tripped to the floor, and demanded, his own nerves frayed by recent events.
The boy swallowed hard and looked as if he was about to be sick as he stammered, "By... by the stable... Samuel... he's... he's dead... his face... it's... it's.... oh God..."
"Show me." Chris suddenly demanded, tossing the hysterical woman towards Buck who caught her "Buck, you stay here with her... Josiah come with me." Before the scoundrel could even protest they were gone.
There was just enough light from the moon to see the twisted, sprawled body of Samuel Lee. He lay all curled up on himself as if he had died in tremendous pain, his hands were clenched like claws, his knees draw up so tight to his bony body that he looked like a small child folded there.
As they reached him Chris asked, "Josiah?" the preacher bent to look at the body, after Nathan, the tall man was the next person they turned to for medical advice. Josiah knelt down and pulled the body over, gasping at the horrified expression that was frozen across the twisted face. The lips were drawn back in a grimace of snarling proportions, the eyes almost bugging out, like he had been hung, but it was the white stain, the bubbled and burned skin that rested about the man's mouth that caught and held his attention.
"Chris look at this!" He said, pointing to the flaky and bloodied lips, the poor man had obvious bitten through his tongue or cheeks during his struggle with death.
The gunslinger leant in close, and then drew back as the smell from the man's mouth hit him. "What the hell?" he questioned throwing Josiah a look of confusion.
JD suddenly bent and picked up a discarded bottle off the floor, raising it to his nose, Josiah looked up and yelled, "JD NO!!!" the young man froze at the cry and turned wide frightened eyes on the preacher as he leapt up and snatched the bottle from the young man. He held it just close enough to his nose to barely sniff, then he gasped, coughed and held the bottle way, he wiped at his suddenly watering eyes. Then slowly held the bottle upside down, over his open palm, glad for once that the weather was now cold enough for gloves. After a few hard shakes a soggy substance slipped out of the bottle, and Josiah brought it closer to look at it, making sure he held his breath as he did so.
"This is it Chris..." he finally said, holding out the bottle, "wherever is in here, is what she used to poison Ezra."
"That's Ezra brandy bottle." JD suddenly spoke up, but the other two men were already aware of it.
"The bitch." Larabee snarled, and spinning about he ordered, "Josiah can you go fetch that bottle of brandy that we got Ezra for his birthday... then get Mary and Mr Johnson up... we're gonna need witnesses..."
Josiah suddenly understanding what Chris was up to nodded and hastened to do as asked. "JD." Chris went on. "Get the undertaker to clear Samuel off the street... tonight. Then bring that bottle," he indicated the empty brandy bottle that Josiah had carefully placed back on the ground when he left, "over to the saloon and wait outside... until I call you... wear your gloves, and be careful with that..."
"I will Chris." JD stammered, putting his gloves on before he picked up the bottle, he stood holding the bottle like it was the snake from Eden itself.
Larabee satisfied that the younger man would do as he asked, nodded once and returned to the saloon, after watching JD make his way over to the undertakers.
Chris crashed back into the saloon and ignoring Buck and Charlotte he rushed up the stairs, bursting into the room where Ezra was treated, startling Vin, Nathan and Inez. Larabee ignored their startled look and panted out. "It was in the brandy... Ezra's brandy... I don't know what it was... but Samuel must have stolen the bottle sometime tonight and drunk it 'cause he's dead."
"Oh no..." Inez cried, her hand coming up to rest against her cheek in horror.
"What the hell could it have been?" Nathan asked looking at the man who was twisting and turning on he bed, a fever having over taken his weakened body.
"Inez, she must have poisoned the bottle after she started working here... before his first bout of sickness... did you... do you have anything here that should could have used?"
The pretty woman shook her head, before saying, "no, I don't think so.... She wasn't here that long... unless she had it with her!!" Suddenly she stopped, paling as a thought hit her. "My lord..." she prayed and pushing past Chris she hurried downstairs not even sparing a look for the woman being held in place by Wilmington. Inez hurried to the cupboard at the back of the kitchen and knelling down she asked, "Can you fetch me that light." Larabee, who had followed her down like a shadow, did as requested and she reached into the back of the cupboard and pulled out a small packet. "It's been opened." She said standing up and holding out the small packet of poison. "I got it for the rodents a few weeks ago.... But they disappeared so I never used it... never opened it... but now it's open..." she continued, as if she found it hard to believe that her poison had been used to kill someone. "Samuel is dead?" she questioned again unable to stop the tears that filled her eyes.
"It's not your fault Inez..." Chris rested a comforting hand on the woman's shoulder before he continued, "Charlotte put this poison into Ezra's drink... she wanted him dead, you had no way of knowing." With that he span about and rushed back to the sick room.
"Nathan... we think it was this." Chris said coming into the room and holding out the packet of poison. "She put it in his brandy..."
"How many glasses did he have last night?" Nathan demanded, Vin slumped back unable to believe that Charlotte, the woman he had thought he loved at one time had poisoned Ezra. It was just too much for him to take in.
"Vin?" Nathan demanded, throwing the tracker a concerned look, as the other man looked as if he was going into shock.
"I'm not sure, but he usually only had the one, maybe two shots..." Vin finally mumbled, reaching out a shaking hand and using the cloth he held to wipe the perspiration from his lover's brow.
The healer nodded and let out the breath he'd been holding, taking the packet from Larabee he shook out the small crystals out onto his hands. "I think we were lucky, the crystals must have settled at the bottom of the bottle... not dissolved totally, and that mixture I gave him earlier should have cleared any remaining out of his stomach... now we only have to worry about what got into his system."
"Lucky!" Vin suddenly snarled. "You call this lucky?" he pointed towards the sick man.
Nathan took a few seconds to rein in his own anger, and knew that Vin was snapping at him out of his own fear and anger. "Yes, lucky 'cause if he'd had a couple of glasses with this stirred up in the bottle he would have been dead by now... Poor Samuel must have drunk most of bottle in one swallow, poor bastard never stood a chance."
"Will he be alright?" Vin asked, hope flaring in his eyes.
Nathan looked at the tracker and gave the only honest answer he could. "Vin I'm sorry I don't know, the fact hat he's still breathing and no longer being sick... that has to be a good sign."
Chris wiped a hand over his lips and said, "Samuel must have drunk what was left in the bottle, it was empty when we found it... you're right Nathan the poor bastard never stood a chance."
"I reckon the poison was stronger the nearer to the bottom you got Chris... He more than likely didn't suffer too long."
"Hell Nathan, he might not have been sick like Ezra is... but that poor bastard suffered, take my word for it." He said remembering the tormented body and expression.
"What do we do now?" Vin asked looking towards the door.
"You and Nathan stay with Ezra... leave Mrs Richmond to us." Larabee spat the words but neither man felt any sorrow for the fate that was about to befall the murderess.
Chris gave Ezra one last, long look before he turned and made his way slowly down stairs. Mary and Mr Johnson had just entered the room, and were looking confused, Josiah closely followed them, but he had his body slightly turned away form the woman sitting calmly at the table with Buck. Josiah nodded towards Chris and walked over to the bar. Slipping the new bottle of brandy, out from under his coat and placed it behind the counter. He had opened it and emptied half of it out, wincing as the sweet liquid hit and drained into the dirt. He then made a show of picking up a couple of beer glasses and the brandy and carried it from behind the bar and placed it in front of Chris had now sat down opposite Charlotte. The woman paled when she saw the bottle.
"Chris... What is going on?" Mary asked, her face still showing the signs interrupted sleep. Mr Johnson didn't look any better.
"Ezra and Samuel have both been poisoned Mary... Samuel is dead." Chris stated coldly, ignoring the newspapers woman gasp of horror.
"And they think that I did it Mary..." Charlotte turned suddenly wet eyes on her friend, she gave the appearance of having been weeping for some time. "How could they think that..." she pleaded, her tone one of totally bewilderment and innocence.
"You're right... why do we think that... and you were right earlier... we have no proof... no evidence to put before the judge... so I'll tell you what we'll do..." he stopped and looked over towards Mary and Mr Johnson. The older man was frowning, but he knew Larabee well enough to know that he would not do this without a reason. Mary made to protest but Chris snapped, "Trust me Mary... just trust me..." The woman fell silent. Larabee gave her a thankful smile before he turned his full attention back to Mrs Richmond, he continued. "Mrs Richmond is going to drink this." He poured a health slop of the brandy into a beer glass and pushed it in front of the woman. "If she does, she gets to go free and I will personally apologise to her, and pay her enough money to get to her family back east."
"And if I don't?" she asked, her words almost stuttering her fear was so great, as she glanced from the glass in front of her to the man sitting calmly opposite her.
"Why wouldn't you?" he shot back.
She sniffed and pulling herself up she brushed back a stray ribbon of hair saying as calmly as she could. "I can't drink brandy it makes me sick."
"Well I can guarantee not drinking this will make you feel a lot worse then sick Mrs Richmond... now drink." He slammed the bottle down on the table and glared at the woman. Slowly, she reached out a hand and picked up the glass. She was trembling so much that she spilt some of the contents on her hand and she squealed and threw the glass away from her, smashing it on the floor, then she frantically wiped the brandy off her hand, her eyes wide and her face pale.
"Here Mrs Richmond, let me pour you another one... I've heard that the brandy had a stronger taste the near to the bottom of the bottle you get." He said casually, and pushed another half-filled beer glass towards the woman.
Mary and Mr Johnson were frozen in shock at the play that was being enacted before them. Neither was sure what too expect, to this clash of wills was not one of them.
"Drink it." Chris ordered his eyes as hard as flint. "Now." He snarled slamming his hand down on the table and making all in the room jump.
"You can't make me." Charlotte hissed her face twisting with pure rage at what this man was doing to her.
"The hell I can't." he snarled back and standing he made to grab up the bottle, but a voice behind them stopped him.
"I'll drink it Chris." Larabee turned to see Tanner steadily walking down the stairs, his expression hard, his eyes determined.
"Vin!" Chris warned, not sure if the tracker was aware that they had exchanged the brandy.
The other man said nothing as he reached for the beer glass of brandy. Without pausing he raised it to his lips, his eyes firmly resting on Charlotte Richmond. The woman was shaking as she stood there, her look flittering from one person to another. Then just as Vin was about to swallow, she let out a screech of pure terror and leaping forward she knocked the glass from his hand, with enough force to send it smashing to the ground.
"No..." she cried at the same the same time, "you can't die, you're mine." Then before anyone could react, she pushed at the table, roughly over turning it, causing the bottle to smash to the ground. Then she turned triumphant eyes towards Larabee and snarled, "Where is your evidence?"
Chris returned her smile with a cold flash of his own as he called out, "JD."
"Here?" JD said coming into the bar, carefully carrying the bottle that Samuel had taken his last drink from. He had been waiting as requested outside the saloon, listening to the drama unfold.
Chris turned towards Mary and Mr Johnson saying, "I wanted two independent witnesses to see that she wouldn't drink from that bottle... she knew it contained poison because she put it there... that's why she wouldn't drink it, and why she wouldn't let Vin drink it."
"You don't have proof." She screamed again, this time charging towards JD. Buck Wilmington caught her about her waist and threw her non-too gently back down, where she landed sprawled on the ground crying. "He loves me... me... he's mine... that pervert... has... has..." She stopped and threw a look of such hate at Larabee that the man almost stepped back as she snarled, "he's mine... Standish deserves to die for even thinking that he can take what's mine." Gone now was the weeping woman, who was proclaiming her innocence a few moments before, in her place stood a vengeful woman who was justifying her right to take another human life.
Larabee leant forward and hissed, "but it wasn't him who died Mrs Richmond, it was an innocent man. Samuel Lee had done nothing to harm you... nothing... yet he lies dead out in the street." He pointed out the saloon doors as he continued; pushing home his words when he saw the woman wilt, "he drunk from the bottle that you poisoned and he died, and it wasn't a pretty death...." he finished almost spitting the words.
Charlotte swallowed convulsively before she confessed wildly, "No.... NO.... it wasn't him who was suppose to die... I wanted that bastard Standish to stay away from Vin... he's rotten with wicked ways, and he's trying to take my man away from me." Suddenly the desperation slipped from her once more as she drew a breath and snarled, looking towards the man in question "you're mine... Vin Tanner, you said you loved me... you promised to take me away, remember... by the river... you promised, and you," she glanced toward Larabee and the others, "you'll so jealous of our love, so twisted with bitter jealousy that you are trying to destroy it..." Her eyes flickered over towards Mary Travis and Hal Johnson; both were watching her with open-mouthed horror. She suddenly smiled sweetly as if a switch had been flicked and offered, "I'm going to invite you to the wedding... it's going to be the best this town has ever seen." She smiled over towards Vin, who was standing dead still, as if frozen to the spot. She reached out for his hand, but before she could touch him, Josiah was on her, pulling her away from Tanner as he snarled.
"Buck... help me get this... this woman to the jail..." The scoundrel nodded and Charlotte seeing no pity in the faces before her burst into tears again, holding the sobbing woman between them, Buck and Josiah supported her from the room, as she went all could here her still talking about her plans for the big wedding.
Mary looked at the others and asked, "you said she poisoned Ezra... is he... is he alive?"
"Yes... Nathan's with him, but he can't say if he's going to live or not."
"Why... why did she do it?" Mr Johnson asked, confusion clearly heard in his tone.
Larabee looked at him long and hard, before he answered carefully, "Vin wouldn't leave... the town or us for her... I guess she thought... thought Ezra was a good place to start."
"That woman is mad." Johnson stuttered recalling her confession, "totally insane."
"She was sane enough to plan Ezra's death." JD stated, sounded far older then his years before he offered quietly, "Mary, Mr Johnson... can I escort you back to your homes."
"I guess there isn't anything else to do here." The elderly man said, and after one long look at Chris, Mary nodded in agreement and left with the young sheriff.
When they were gone, Chris turned to look at Vin, who was still standing by the overturned table. "Vin?" The gunslinger questioned, not sure that the tracker was actually with him.
"My god she really did poison him." The bounty hunter stated before his legs gave out under him. Luckily Larabee had been watching him closely and he managed to catch the other man before he hit the floor. With sure support he guided him over towards a chair and sat him down. Then he crouched down in front of him and said firmly.
"This is not your fault Vin... Mrs Richmond put that poison in the bottle... not you... Ezra needs you... Ezra needs you strong... you have to pull yourself together... Nathan has his hands full at the moment just looking after Ezra." Chris then stood, moving behind the bar he pulled out a new bottle of whisky and preceded to pour Vin a healthy slug, which the tracker swallowed in one gulp. Larabee saw colour return to Tanner's features.
Finally after several long minutes Vin looked into Chris' eyes and smiling weakly he offered, "I'm fine now...", he made to stand, but Larabee rested a warm hand on his arm asking.
"You'll be alright?"
The tracker raised a hand and wiped at his eyes, it had been a long night and dawn was nearly on them. "Yeah... I'd better go and give Nathan a hand." He stood and moved towards the stairs, as he began to ascend them, he paused and looking back he said, "Thanks cowboy."
"Anytime." Larabee answered, with a slight smile, watching him disappear up the stairs. "Anytime."
Ezra awoke slowly, it was like clawing up from under the deepest of oceans and he wondered if he would have enough breath to make it. His body just felt so heavy, useless and he was fighting to understand what was happening. One part of his mind was telling him to just open his eyes, that Vin would be there waiting, while another part was saying that their affair, their love for each other had all been a dream, a wonderful, contented dream... but now it was time to awake and get on with his lonely life.
Ezra groaned. He decided in his half sleep state, liked the sound of it... it sounded so normal... so he groaned again, this time he allowed his body to react to it, and relaxed into it. It felt good to be able to issue a sound that encompassed his feelings.
"Ezra?" a voice spoke out of the void. "Ezra... you come on now... open yer eyes."
As usual he responded the Nathan's persistent orders, and slowly he fought to open his eyes. It was hard and he heard Nathan calling his name again and again.
Finally his lids slid open and the light hurt his eyes, he had to admit that he felt like death warmed over, but at least his eyes were open. He squinted, a face was floating above him, but as yet he could not make it out. Suddenly his eyes came into focus and he pulled his head back deeper into the pillow. Then relaxed when he realised that it was Vin. His lover looked worn and tired, his face etched with worry.
"Vin..." he tried to say, but his voice came out as a strangled croak.
"Oh Ezra." The other man gasped, it sounded suspiciously like a sob, his hands reaching out to cup his lover's face, he was unable to prevent the tears from dribbling over his lashes, as he closed his eyes and every so gently kissed the trembling lips under his. As he drew back he took a shaky breath and rested his forehead on Ezra's saying, "I thought I'd lost you."
The gambler was shocked, totally frozen by such an open display of affection from his usually shy lover. "Lose me..." He whispered harshly, his own throat closing with the strong emotion. "Never..."
"Here... Here..." Nathan suddenly butted in, his tone trying to sound harsher then it actually was, "let me have a look at him now..."
Vin smiled sweetly and reluctantly stepped back, allowing the healer to tend to his lover.
"So Ezra." Nathan began, resting his hand on the gambler's forehead, testing for fever. "How do you feel?"
The other man seriously considered the answer before he said, "hum... I've felt better." He finally admitted.
"Do you feel sick? Stomach cramps? Headache?" The healer demanded, resting his hand on Ezra's chest to check his heartbeat.
Again the man on the bed had to consider his answer as he felt really drained, and thinking seemed to be a big problem at the moment. He wondered what had happening, he didn't remember being shot, and felt not pain from a bullet wound. So what had happened to him to make him feel so weak. He had been shot in the past and this certainly didn't feel like this then.
"What happened?" he finally asked, then added as his parched throat refused to be ignored any further, "thirsty." He gasped.
Nathan frowned and looked over towards the door. The sick man glanced pass Vin and saw Chris, Buck, Josiah and JD crowding the threshold. A bite of real fear suddenly bit into his soul and his breathing sped up, as he demanded weakly, "What has happened?" He tried to rise from the bed, but Nathan and Vin leapt forward to prevent him, but they were not needed as he groaned, his stomach rebelling and he slumping weakly back onto the mound of soft pillows. The pounding in his head increased so that he was seeing spots in front of his eyes.
He vaguely heard Nathan through his pain and discomfort. "Ezra, it's alright... take shallow breaths.... Don't worry about it.... You've just been ill... but you're over the worst of it now..."
He lay there panting for a few seconds then realised that the others had moved into the room and were now standing clustered about the bed, "been ill?" he questioned, he was starting to feel decidedly uneasy with the way they were surrounding him.
The healer looked at the other men in the room, and unnoticed by Ezra, he quickly shook his head; he did not feel that the sick man was strong enough to hear the truth. Instead he said, "Ezra... you've been ill... very ill for the last five days..." he winced when he saw the look of disbelief that spread across the gambler's face, but he pushed that aside as he went on, his tone firm. "I really want you to concentrate on getting better, and to do that you need to drink this," he held up some of his home brew tea, "and then I want you to rest again."
The gambler looked at the cup that the other man was holding out to him, his face full of suspicion. Nathan seeing this said in a voice that clearly carried exasperation. "Ezra it will make you feel better... I guarantee it." He finished with a winning smile.
The sick man looked from the cup to Nathan and back again, until finally he accepted, with a slight nod of his head. "Here, I'll help him." Vin offered reaching a secure arm about his lover's shoulders and carefully lifting him higher, then taking the cup he made sure that Ezra was able to comfortably sip the contents.
Nathan moved away and watched with the others as the two lovers interacted. The tracker was determined that Ezra was going to drink every drop, and when the gambler started to bulk half way through, he started to whisper encouragement. Soon he was resting the sick man back on the pillows and handing the empty cup back to the healer. Vin then shifted his body so that he was lying beside Ezra; gently caressing his neck and face until his eyes closed and he slipped back into a healing sleep.
Chris silently watched the interaction and once more thanked the god that Josiah believed in that they had discovered Charlotte Richmond's plans before they had lost the gambler. Although it had been touch and go for quite a few days, as the gambler fought against the bouts of sickness, fever and diarrhoea. Nathan, Vin, Josiah and Inez had been instrumental in ensuring that the man survived and survived in a certain amount of comfort as they cleaned, wash and changed the sick man. They had moved him between the two rooms, ensuring that his bed and sheets were always clean and dry, even Mary and Mrs Porter had assisted by offering to loan items that were needed. A bath had been placed into the larger bedroom, and unbeknown to the sick man he had had more then one warm bath.
"How is he?" Larabee asked as he followed Nathan from the room. The others following and waiting by his shoulder as he asked the question, only Vin remained in the room with Ezra.
The healer looked tired, but pleased as he stated, "he'll be alright now... although that kind of poisoning takes a lot out of you, and it will be a few months before he's back to his old strength."
"But he will be alright?" JD asked, his face splitting open with pleasure.
"Yes, but knowing that man." Nathan went on, "he will want to run before he can walk, and we will all have to make sure that he doesn't overdo it, as he could have a relapse."
"But you said he was better?" Buck said, his eye flashing, and the healer held up his hands saying firmly.
"Yes he is, but those telegrams I got back from those doctors said that he will still be delicate...." He stumbled over the word, "and must rest, no excitement or upsetting him. His body had been under a lot of strain, and he might not be able to fight off a minor illness, a cold could easily turn into pneumonia...." He gave the others a hard look as he continued, "So we make damn sure he takes it easy..."
"Is that why you didn't mention that he was poisoned?" Josiah asked his face still showing that he was not happy with what he had just heard. While he was pleased that Ezra was better, he was very aware that ensuring the gambler rested was going to become a major headache for them all.
"Yes... I really don't want him to know until he has to." Nathan insisted, moving towards the stairs, wanting to take the conversation away from the sick room.
"Nathan." Chris offered, "the Judge is due in town any day now and he is going to want to start the trial as soon as he gets here... you know how uneasy the people are about having her in jail... they act like we are the ones who committed the crime... as soon as the truth is laid out in front of these people the better."
"I can't believe that Will Richmond is bringing that damn lawyer from Eagle Bend."
Will Richmond had arrived in town the day before, and after visiting his wife in the jail had sent a telegram to Eagle Bend.
"The evidence is too strong, that bitch isn't going anywhere expect to the gallows."
"I ain't ever seen a woman hung." JD offered into the silence that followed Chris words, and the gunslinger looked at him and said bitterly.
"She ain't a woman JD... she's a cold blooded killer... and if her husband is to be believed she killed her own baby."
"Any news come back on that Chris?" Buck asked, knowing that Larabee had spoken to Mary Travis and she was using her contacts back east to see what she could discover about the Richmond's family life before they had come out east.
"No, not yet... but she thinks she might be on to something."
They had reached the bottom of the stairs and with a nod they split up. Josiah to return to the jail and relive Reg Harmon, who had offered to sit in the jail, when word of Ezra's waking had reached the preacher. Nathan left to check his stock of medicine at his own humble abode. Buck and JD were due to ride the patrol outside of the town. They had taken to alternating with Ezra's and Vin horses to give them some excise, as Vin had refused to leave his lover's side, and no one had the heart to force him when Ezra had been so ill. Chris, he sat at his favourite table and after smiling at Inez who brought him a beer, he settled to brooding.
Judge Travis arrived in town the next day and his first visit was to Ezra in his sick room. He had been very disturbed when he had heard about the attack, and was surprised at how concerned he was for the younger man.
"So..." Orrin began, seeing Tanner was sitting by the bed; he also noted the way the two men had separated hands and leant away from each other when he had entered. He had been in the West and seen life wasted for too many years to let something like affection between two men effect his judgement as to weather or not he liked someone. "Mr Standish, how do you feel?"
The gambler looked slightly surprised but answered well enough. "I'm feeling much better thank you, although Mr Jackson still refuses to allow me to raise from my bed."
"Well from what I understand you were fairly sick there Ezra." Travis said, waving Tanner out of his seat and taking it. "Had a long journey." He said as if by way of explanation to the tracker as he willing gave up his seat.
"And may I enquire as to why you are visiting our fair town again so soon?" Ezra asked, he looked pale and worn, and Orrin could see that the weight had just dropped off the younger man, making him look gaunt and tired.
Orrin raised an eyebrow when he realised that the gambler was not aware that he was in Four Corners to oversee the trial of Charlotte Richmond's for the death of Samuel Lee and the attempted murder of Ezra. He glanced at Vin and saw the flickering fearful look in his eyes, and knowing that the men would have only kept it from the gambler if it was of the utmost important, just smiled and answered, "I never pass up an opportunity to visit my lovely daughter-in-law and Billy had commissioned me to deliver his latest letter and picture to his mother in person."
"A most charming lad." Ezra smiled in return but the old judge could see that he was fighting back exhaustion and standing he said firmly.
"I will be by to see you later young man... now," he reached out and patted the pale wasted hand that lay listlessly on the bed. "You take care of yourself and do as Mr Jackson says."
"I will do my best Judge Travis... but sometimes it is hard." He offered with a gold tooth grin. The Judge let out a bark of laugher, seeing a flash of the old Ezra, and after nodding in a friendly manner towards Vin he left the room.
The Judge then made his way to the jailhouse. He paused just before he entered and gathered himself. He never found it easy to whenever he had to try a woman, and yet he knew that they were more then capable of committing the most horrendous crimes, sometimes with even more cold bloodiness then their male counterpart.
He entered and smiled when he saw the presently surprised look that cross Chris Larabee's face, he knew that he had made good time in reaching the town.
"Judge." Chris said, moving from behind the desk and holding out his hand. He firmly shook the older man's hand. Larabee had a lot of respect for the old Judge, and had always admired the man's ability to cut to the point and see the justice in any situation. Travis proved it with his next words.
"Just saw Ezra." The older man commented dryly, "Looks like hell."
Larabee tilted his head down and smile, "he sure does," He agreed, "but a hell of a lot better then yesterday and the day before."
"But getting better?" Travis queried, a frown marring his craggy features. He was surprised at how fond he had grown of all the peacekeepers he had hired to protect the town of Four Corners.
Chris looked up, directly into the other man's eyes and answered honestly, "we hope so although Nathan is still very concerned about how weak he is, how much weight his lost, and how much stress he can handle."
"Hence you've not told him about this." The judge waved his arm towards the cells.
"No." Was all that Larabee said suddenly looking down at an interesting spot of the floor. Finally he looked up and asked, "Do you want to talk to her?" It was now his turn to indicate the cells. Both men could see Charlotte Richmond sitting on the bunk in the cell. She wasn't paying any attention to the men, as she appeared to be lost in her own world.
"Yes, I understand Mr Richmond is standing by his wife." Seeing the hard look the gunslinger gave him he went on to explain. "He sent me a telegram to that effect... he says that his wife had been unstable since the death of their child... unstable but harmless. Chris?" There was a question in the name and Larabee heard it.
Chris smiled at the judge, it was the smile that froze men in their step, and he said, "The evidence is there judge... Samuel is dead and Ezra nearly died... she did it. She showed no sign of insanity while she was planning it, worked in the saloon as cool as you please, it was only after she was found out that she started to act like this." Again he pointed towards the woman sitting in the cell, before he continued, "she knew what she was doing Judge, and she is going to pay for it."
The older man saw the light of truth in his friend's face, and knew that the woman in the cell was dead either way. If she were not found guilty, she would not be walking free from her crimes. "Let the law will handle this Chris." He said firmly, making sure the gunslinger fully understood that he would not stand by and allow any form of vigilante activity.
Larabee smiled again and tilting his head offered cheerfully, "That's why we sent you the telegram Judge." He then opened the drawer in the desk and drew out the keys, moving towards the cell, he opened the door then moved aside so that Travis could have a quite word with the woman.
"Mrs Richmond." Travis said, wiping a rough hand across his face. The woman turned pale weeping eyes towards him. He remembered her from the courtroom, where the legality of the settlers' claim had been sorted. "How are you?"
"They say that I murdered a man." She spoke with a quivering voice and looked small and frail. Hardly the image of a cold-blooded murderess, as she wrapped her womanhood firmly about her frail shoulders.
"That is what the trial will determine." He stated firmly, before he continued, "I understand your husband has engaged the services of a lawyer from Eagle Bend?"
Mrs Richmond slowly shook her head saying, "No... That lawyer was not available... but I understand that Will had engaged a Mr Simpson from Pine Ridge... he should be here in a few days."
The judge absorbed this information before he said, "Then we will await the arrival of your lawyer before we begin the trial." He turned to go, but Charlotte jumped up and rushed to the bars pleading.
"How is he... have you seen him?"
The judge frowned in some confusion before he asked, "Ezra... are you talking about Mr Standish?"
"No." she snarled her face twisting with bitter hatred, "Vin... have you seen Mr Tanner... He hasn't come to see me..." she moved back, away from the bars, wringing her hands and allowing the tears to beginning to fall. "Why hasn't he come to see me?"
Orrin Travis stood up straighter and snapped, annoyed to have thought that this woman was actually feeling remorse for what she had done, "control yourself woman, you are going to go on trial for murder and your husband has come to support you... if I were you I could concentrate my energies onto that and not anything else." With that he spun about and stormed back towards Larabee.
"What is her interest in Tanner?" the Judge demanded once they were out of hearing of the cells.
Larabee looked slightly uneasy, but then straighten his shoulders said, "Buck is due to take over from me in about twenty minutes, I will met you in the saloon then, and explain it all to you."
The judge glared at the other man, but saw that he was not going to talk to him while in the jail, so he finally nodded saying, "Make it an hour, as I really do have to give my respects to Mary, otherwise I will be missing out on some of the best home cooked meals around while I'm here."
The gunslinger smiled and watched while the other man left. The smile slipped from his face as he returned to his desk. He had overheard Charlotte words to the judge, and her continued obsession with Vin was worrying. Very worrying.
Larabee had a bottle of whiskey waiting when the judge appeared, and he had also asked for Vin to join them. The tracker looked ill at ease, but determined to give the judge whatever information he needed to ensure Charlotte Richmond's conviction. He knew that his lover would never be safe unless that woman was either locked away for life or dead.
"So gentlemen," Orrin said, "what do you need to tell me." He accepted the shot glass that Larabee pushed towards him and poured himself a drink.
Chris looked towards Vin, who slowly nodded and began. "It really started about the second day out on the wagon trial...."
The judge listened, nodding and frowning in places, but he let Vin have his say without interrupting, and when Tanner had finished he asked, "and she returned to her husband when you left them there, at the settlement?"
"Yeah..." Vin sighed and looking suddenly tired he stated, "Mr Richmond had been injured and I just thought that it had made her realise that she wanted him more then me."
"And you had no idea that she was going to return to Four Corners to..." the judge paused as he considered his wording. "To continue your liaison?"
"No sir." Tanner insisted his indignation coming to the fore, "I had no idea that she was coming back..."
"And you are now in..." again the judge paused choosing his words with care, "in a stable relationship?"
Chris drew in his breath saying nothing, but Tanner met him look for look and said without any embarrassment. "Yes... with Ezra... Ezra Standish, that's why she tried to kill him... because of me..." his voice broke at that confession, the strain of guilt was still weighting heavily in his heart, and Larabee interrupted.
"Will this make a difference during the trial Judge Travis?" Chris paused then added, "I mean, will she get a fair trial if that becomes common knowledge?"
Orrin frowned and taking a sip from his glass he said, "Mr Simpson, Charlotte's lawyer is not a fool... he will try to bring it out during the trial, it is a very strong motive, and will increase her chances of pleading momentary insanity, when she learned about your relationship... and I have to be honest with you gentlemen, there will be some that will be shocked and disgusted by it."
"Are you?" Larabee was pushing hard now, leaning forward in his chair, his gaze intense. While he respected the Judge greatly, he wanted to firmly know where the man stood in this, as it was important to know if the judge was going to be bias.
"Chris, I have spent too many of my years seeing this hard country destroy love, I am now a firm believer in accepting it whenever and wherever you can find it... so no, I am neither shocked or disgusted by it." He shot Tanner a hard look, "But I can assume that you have not flaunted it in pubic?"
"No..." Vin answered the relief showing in his handsome face, before he said sharply, least the judge misinterpret his relief, "but nor will I deny it... if it comes out, I'll stand by Ezra and I think he would stand by me... and if this town doesn't like it then to hell with them." He suddenly stood, anger flashing in his eyes as he snarled, "I'm going back up to Ezra... if you need me that's where I'll be." With that he nodded towards both Chris and Orrin and left.
"This could turn very nasty Chris." The Judge advised seriously, watching the young man disappear up the stairs.
"It already has for Samuel Lee." The look in the gunslinger's eyes gave the judge pause and finishing his drink he sadly agreed.
"Yes... yes it has." The judge pressed his lips together for a few seconds before he went on, "That's why I'm going to engaged the services of Bradley Wayne."
"Who?" Chris asked, leaning forward in his chair.
"He's a lawyer out of Kansas City, I want him to prosecute the case... on behalf of the state... he's a good man... knows his job." The older man paused before he finished carefully, not sure how the gunfighter would take his next words, as he seemed very protective of the other two men, "he is also of the same persuasion as Mr Standish and Mr Tanner."
"Same persuasion as Ezra and Vin?" Chris was frowning at a lost now, not understanding what the judge was getting at.
Orrin leant forward across the table and whispered said just loud enough for Chris to hear. "He likes men too."
The gunslinger leant back and wasn't sure if he was supposed to take the judge seriously or not. Travis seeing this explained, "I want to make sure that Mrs Richmond has the fairest trial possible. I'm not sure she would get that if the prosecutor objected to the motive behind the poisoning," seeing Chris frown and realising that he didn't understand he explained, "the prosecutor might allow his own bias to interfere with his ability to present the case properly, and anyway we will need a professional lawyer to outsmart Mr Simpson, and Bradley seemed like our best option. I'll send him a telegram but he owes me a few favours from the past so I expect him to agree to come."
"Why?" Larabee asked, not sure if he was happy knowing that this man was coming to his town, not because of his preferences, but because he would be another stranger who would be taking the trial out of their hands.
"Like I said he owes me a few favours, and I know that he is free at the moment." Seeing Larabee raised brow at the word favour, he snapped, "He worked me with when he first passed the bar... a lot of people would not even open their doors to him."
"If you think it's for the best." Chris finally agreed.
"Yes... yes I do." the judge replied happy that Larabee had been agreeable to his suggestion, and with that he turned the conversation onto the town and daily life of the town of Four Corners.
Bradley Wayne stepped from the stagecoach and looked about with a critical eye. The town was small, and he knew that some people would consider it quaint. He reached up and wiped a trickle of sweat from his brow. He hated the town already. He closed his eyes and pushed his feelings aside. He was here to do a favour for his old friend Judge Travis, and while he did not necessary like the idea, he did owe the man.
"This your bag?" Called the driver as he pulled a large carpetbag across the roof of the stage and tossed it over the side before Bradley answered. Bradley glanced up and then winced as the bag landed heavily beside him.
"Thank you." He mumbled before he reached down and picked it up. Giving it a firm shake to remove some of the street dust that had immediately attached itself to his fairly new bag.
"Hotel's that way Mister." The driver shouted as he pointed down the road. Bradley raised his hand in thanks and walked away. All he wanted was to find a half decent room have a warm bath and then talk Orrin.
He entered the hotel and sighed in relief as the coolness of the interior washed over him. The clerk was looking at him expectantly as he walked up to the counter and he said.
"Mr name is Bradley Wayne.... I believe that Judge Travis has reserved a room form me?"
The clerk looked Bradley up and down slowly, noting his fancy clothes and smiling he twisted the large book on the counter about and said, "Yes, sir he sure has.... Sign here." He then turned and grabbed a key from the row of keys behind him. "Got you the best room in the hotel sir." He stated as he handed the key across. "Right at top of stairs... looks out right over the main street."
"Thank you." Bradley said, signing the book and then picking both the key and his bag up, he made his way towards the stairs, pausing he asked, "Could you have a bath sent up please."
"Er..." came the unsure tone behind him. "Bathhouse is across the street mister... cost two bits... but the water's hot, and you get to use it first time if you pay for it."
Bradley stopped on the stairs at hearing the clerks words and felt his shoulders slump in defeat. He would have paid Travis back in full after this little trial. As he continued up the stairs he realised that he really hated the town of Four Corners.
After dropping off his bag and then taking full advantage of using the fresh bathwater, at the extra price of a cent, he felt more refreshed and Bradley made his way to the local newspaper office, as the judge had informed him that, he would be there waiting for him.
"Bradley." Judge Travis said, with a genuine smile on his face as he rose and held out his hand.
"Orrin." Bradley smiled back, no matter how he felt about the town; he really did like Judge Orrin Travis. "It's been a long time sir."
"Too long... too long... but I'm glad that you were able to come so quickly."
"Judge." Bradley replied with a wide knowing smile, "it's the least I can do, after all that you have done for me, and I was between trials anyway... as you must be aware, I am in the process of starting up my own law firm in Kansas city."
Orrin looked at the smiling young man before him, and saw that he was sincerer. "Yes, yes, so I had heard..." Then Travis's face fell grim and he said, motioning towards the back of the shop. "Come on through Bradley, my daughter-in-law has some coffee on... and I think that we will need it."
The young lawyer frowned at the judge's expression but followed without comment.
An hour later Bradley was leaning back in his chair, the coffee now cold in his grasp. "So she was attempting to kill this Ezra Standish because he is the lover of Vin Tanner, who was the one time lover of her?" the disbelief was clearly heard in his tone.
"Their affair is not really relevant in this case, as it was Samuel Lee who died."
"Because he stole and drunk the brandy that belonged to Mr Standish, who was the intended victim." Bradley continued making sure he fully understood the implications of the case.
"Yes." Orrin reluctantly admitted.
"The brandy that usually only Mr Standish drunk."
"I know this is going to be a difficult case Bradley, but as I said before, the real victim here was Samuel Lee, and he is dead and that woman did killed him, and it is only by the grace of god that Mr Standish isn't dead as well..."
"Judge... Orrin, if it comes out in court that Mr Standish has a male lover, and that that male lover once ran away with Mrs Richmond... her lawyer could plead insanity due to the ungodly act of a union between those two men, and more then likely get away with it..." Bradley wiped his hair from his eyes and offered dryly, "I guess it's pure luck that Samuel died..." Wayne threw the judge a dirty look and asked, "unless he was having an affair with either Standish or Richmond?"
Travis frowned; he was not pleased, "Samuel's Lee's death was not easy Bradley... rat poison is nothing to be glib about... and" he pushed on when he saw the look of contrition on the others face, "I will not allow my court room to become a forum for debate of man's supposedly ungodly acts with other men... do I make myself clear, and I would suggest that you talk to Mr Simpson.... If Mrs Richmond tried to use that as her defence, then it will also be a very strong motive for her attempting to kill Mr Standish, and will do her case more harm then good. While some people of this town might agree with her, there are others who will only see the tormented death of Samuel Lee, and will demand justice."
Bradley could see why the judge was concerned, he was a man who had a strong sense of justice, and this woman might use other people prejudice to escape the penalty for her crimes. He sighed and offered, "I will speak to Mr Simpson, if he thinks it's in his clients best interest, then he will bring it up."
"If he does, then you can also inform him that I will declare a mistrial and move the trial to another area." Seeing the surprised look this earned him, Orrin carried on, "There are seven men who risk their life every day to keep this town save. Ezra and Vin are two of them, they don't deserve to be run out of this town because of that woman..."
"Then I think we should have a meeting with Mr Simpson as soon as possible, then he can talked to his client and set out the ground rules..."
"That is what I was hoping you would say... I've arrange for a meeting first thing in the morning... and the trial will start the day after."
Bradley sat up sharply saying, "That isn't giving me a lot of time to prepare my case."
Orrin Travis smiled and offered, "you've got the rest of the day, and tomorrow to speak to your witnesses, and you can start right now by talking to Mr Larabee."
The young lawyer stood up and placing his untouched coffee on the table he asked, "Mr Larabee?"
"Yes, a very interesting man, who you do not want to get on the wrong side of."
Bradley sighed as he followed the judge out of the back room through the newspaper office to the main street beyond, "Orrin you always give me such interesting cases."
"Only as long as you keep winning them Bradley." Travis shot back with a wide smile as he ushered the other man out into the main street.
The meeting with Chris Larabee had been an eye opener. The gunslinger had been found sitting at one of the back tables in the saloon with five other men, who the judge introduced as members of the local peacekeepers. Bradley had to admit that apart from the youthfully looking sheriff he would not want to cross any of the men.
He sat and listened when the judge asked Larabee to tell his version of events. The man did so calmly and coolly, and the look in his eyes was enough to ensure that Bradley only asked relevant questions as the young lawyer got the sure feeling that this man would not take well to having his time wasted.
"So you're saying that the bottle must have been poisoned over a week before Mr Lee died?" Bradley asked, when Larabee mentioned Ezra's illness of the week before.
"Yes." This was from Nathan Jackson, the dark man who acted as the healer for the others. "The symptoms were the same, vomiting, stomach cramps, fever and diarrhoea."
"Mr Standish is recovered now?" Bradley asked with some concern.
Nathan shot a look towards the other men sat about the table before he answered honestly, "Not totally, although he will try to push himself... but he's still weak, and not eating properly."
"So on the night that Samuel Lee died, he had somehow got hold of Mr Standish's bottle of brandy... and drunk it... and it killed him, but not Mr Standish?"
Again it was Nathan who answered, "Ezra... er Mr Standish only had two glasses of the drink that night... as he was still feeling poorly from the first bout of illness, but poor old Samuel.... Well he must have drunk well over half of it, and judging from the way the sludge sat at the bottom of the bottle, I reckon the poison got stronger the further down the bottle you got. The poison was in crystal form, and settled at the bottom which was lucky for Ezra... but not... not poor Samuel."
"Not a pleasant way to die, I gather from your expression Mr Jackson."
"He looked like he'd seen the devil himself before he died," JD put in, his own face pale as he remembered, then seeing the look this earned him from the lawyer he hastily finished, "the way his face was all twisted up."
"As agreed, not a pleasant way to die." Judge Travis offered.
"Well, I believe that you gentleman had told me everything that I need for now." Bradley said, before he asked, "and the bottle is safe?"
"Yes," This was from Larabee who nodded before continuing, "I got Mr Hammond, the banker to put it in his safe... and it'll stay there until it's needed for the trial."
"Good... it seems a pretty clear cut case, what with her confession in front of so many people, when she stopped Mr Tanner from drinking the supposed poison." Bradley said, then standing up he continued, "Now if you will direct me towards Mr Standish and Mr Tanner residence, I would like to get their version of events for that night."
"No." Larabee said, with sudden force, startling the lawyer.
"I'm sorry." Bradley asked, his face creasing with confusion, not understanding why Larabee was denying his request so vehemently.
"You can speak to Vin, but Ezra's still too poorly to be questioned." The healer slipped in and like Larabee's his tone held a note of finality.
"Mr Larabee, Mr Jackson," Bradley began addressing both men, "we go to trial in under two days... Mr Standish will no doubt be called upon to testify, as it was HIS brandy bottle that contained the poison... Mrs Richmond's defence could even suggest that HE placed the poison in the bottle himself, or that she was so shocked by his relationship with Mr Tanner that she acted to save her one time lover from ungodly acts."
"Why would he want to poison himself?" JD asked his face showing his bewilderment. Totally ignoring, as only youth could the tail end of Bradley rant.
"Maybe he had some grudge against Mr Lee that we know nothing about." Bradley insisted, "after all you stated that he left the bottle on the table, and it appears to be common knowledge that Samuel would try to sneak off with a bottle if he could.... That alone must show some carelessness on Mr Standish's part... after all it was an expensive bottle of brandy."
"Ezra was still feeling poorly, and after drinking those two glasses, he felt worse so he left the table without thinking about his drink... beside Inez usually saw that it was put away safely." Buck said his face creased with anger.
Bradley held up his hands to ward off the growing anger that was being directed at him by the rest of the men and said, "Gentlemen I am going to prosecute this case, and to do that I need to talk to everyone involved, and I mean everyone, if you want this woman convicted..." He tossed a glare at each of the men in turn "don't tie my hands behind my back before we even get into the court room."
"You can talk to Vin... I'll even go and get him." Larabee offered standing firm, "but Ezra doesn't even know that he was poisoned."
Bradley felt his jaw drop open at that statement. "He isn't aware that he was the intended victim of this lady?"
Larabee almost bristled and Bradley Wayne winced when he saw the other's hand slip casually to his gun belt.
"Mr Wayne," the lawyer turned towards the healer, who had spoken. "We haven't told Ezra about Mrs Richmond, because he is still so weak and I felt it would be better to wait until he was stronger."
Bradley looked at the men seated about the table and could see their genuine concern for the sick man, yet he had a duty to perform and he needed to get his facts straight before the trial and that was only a day away. "Gentlemen, I do not want to cause Mr Standish any more distress, but I will need to speak to him. He will be called on as a witness and he will have to answer questions on the subject, even if it's just to state that he was not aware that Mrs Richmond wanted to kill him."
Chris Larabee looked towards the Judge who just met his look head on. It was this fact, more then anything that persuaded him, that they would have to let the lawyer talk to their frail friend. "Nathan and I will speak to him," seeing the others begin to protest he held up his hand and snapped, "If that's what it takes to hang the bitch, then that's what we'll do." There was such animosity in his tone that Bradley was glad that he was not the one being spoken about.
"I don't like it Chris, it's too soon." Nathan protested standing up and voicing his concerns, "but if you think it's for the best," he shot a look at Bradley and offered, "you can talk to him tomorrow morning... not before, and only for a short time, and when I say that the meeting is over... it's over."
Wayne would have protested, but out of the corner of his eye he caught the judge slight shake of head and knew that that was the best he was going to get. "Well, I do have a few other witnesses that I can speak to..." He glanced down at his note pad and said, "Mr Tanner?" he looked up just in time to catch Larabee shaking his head.
"Tomorrow... He's with Ezra at the moment... so you can speak to them at the same time."
"Yes," Bradley finally agreed interpreting the gunslinger, before he asked another question, "I understand that Mr Tanner is Mr Standish's companion?"
"You have a problem with that?" Larabee's voice was such that Bradley could guess very clearly how the gunslinger dealt with his problems, so he smiled broadly, confidently and with open hands he offered.
"I am the last person to 'have a problem' with that Mr Larabee, but it is important that we all fully understand the facts of the case, and are prepared for some of the questions that Mr Simpson, Mrs Richmond's lawyer might ask."
"Do you feel that he will use that as a form of defence?" Josiah asked, a frown marring his features.
The young lawyer looked at the older man and answered honestly, "he might... but that would be leaving Mrs Richmond open to very damming motive and it might not be in his best interest to do that."
"Also," Judge Travis spoke clearly, pulling everyone at the table attention to him, "Bradley and I will be speaking to him before the hearing and if he chooses that route then I will relocate the court case to another town." Seeing the surprised look this earned him he continued hotly. "Those two boys have suffered enough from this incident, and I do not intend to lose their valuable services to this town in that manner." He then turned to look at Bradley and offered, "I suggest you speak to these other men, that should take you the rest of the day."
"Yes sir." Bradley said looking at the men seated about the table. Their casual acceptance of Ezra and Vin's relationship was a refreshing feeling for the young lawyer, and he knew that these men had a special bond of friendship and he was almost jealous of the two men he had yet to met.
"Good." Travis said standing considering the matter now closed, "now I am going to see my daughter in law, and you can finish here and met me back at the Clarion later Bradley." With that he nodded towards Larabee and smiling added, "Chris, treat him nice, he's the best chance you have of 'hanging that bitch'."
"Will do Judge." Larabee agreed with a smile, which he turned on the lawyer, who suddenly felt like he was being eyed up for lunch by the local mountain lion.
Several hours later Bradley left the saloon, a wiser man. He had questioned the four men and was surprised at their depth of feeling for the injured gambler. They all told clearly and precisely their recollections of the events that had lead up to the discovery of Samuel's body and what had happened in the saloon afterwards.
Bradley knew that they would all make good witnesses. He knew that he would have to interview Mrs Richmond with her lawyer before the meeting in the morning and had made arrangements with Larabee and Jackson to speak to both Standish and Tanner after that.
Ezra lay on the bed, his eyes closed but his mind working furiously. Something was up. He could tell by the way his lover was hovering anxiously over him, even considering his recent illness; it seemed to be worse then normal. "Vin..." he began, then stopped as the man in question sat up straighter and looked at him expectantly. "Vin." He said again, "Do you think it might be possible for me to have a bath... a proper bath." Seeing the look of denial on his lover's face he hastened to add, "I desperately need to feel clean again and besides I'm going crazy being cooped up in here all day." He turned his most effective wide-eyed expression on Tanner and saw the slight melting in the other man's expression.
"Nathan is real worried about you catching a cold Ez, you're still not very strong." Vin looked towards the window. It was a warm sunny evening.
Standish seeing this pressed his advantage home by saying, his voice firm, "Vin... the bathhouse is quite warm, and while I don't need your permission to have a bath, I would appreciate your assistance."
Tanner looked back at Standish and saw the look of longing and knew that the gambler hated to be unclean or shut indoors for so long, and he also knew how much he himself would hate it. "Alright, but just a quick bath... an hour... no longer... and if Nathan catches us, it was your idea."
The gambler saw that this was the best offer he was going to get, smiled and reaching up he gently pulled Vin down to met his lips. It was a long, slow, loving kiss that conveyed all the warm passion that lay between them. Standish knew that once he was better, Tanner would show him no mercy.
Now that Ezra had won his lover's agreement to go outside, he willingly allowed Vin to help him dress and slowly they made their way downstairs. Ezra looked about knowing that if Nathan saw them, he would be stopped. As usual his luck held and they made it safely to the bathhouse.
An hour later Bradley made his way over to the bathhouse and entered, he had finished his discussion with both Mrs Travis and Mr Johnson and felt that a hot soak was now needed to put his thoughts in order. He had a lot to think over in connection to the case, not least of which, was who was he going to put on the stand first. The man just inside the door, pointed towards the back saying, "second on right... I'll be with you shortly." The young lawyer tiredly nodded his head and moved in the direction indicated. He heard a sudden burst of laugher and looking up he saw that he was not alone.
"Really Vin, I think that I can manage to bath myself, and I certainly didn't drop the soap down there." Came a very quite cultured tone, with just a hint of a smile in the voice.
"Yeah... but you're still weak Ez, and Nathan would eat me alive if he knew that you were over here." Then he continued innocently amidst a sudden splashing of water, "are you sure that's not the soap?"
A very male squeak was followed by the sound of a wet slap, then an indignant tone shot back "You surely did not expect me to go another minute without bathing."
"Ezra," came an exasperated reply, "If you catch a fever, then it's me in the deep shit here." There was just a hint of underling concern in the tone, which informed Bradley that Vin Tanner was still seriously worried about losing his lover.
"You can scrub my back if you want Vin." Shot back the other man in a sultrily voice. It was clear that he also heard the worry in Tanner's voice and was now doing his best to distract his lover.
"Hell." The other man shot back, "that's the only reason I agreed to this..." there was again laughter in the tone and Bradley just had to see these two men, as he realised that they could only be Ezra Standish and Vin Tanner. He knew that they were talking in low tones and would not normally have been overhead, but Bradley had always had exceptional hearing and it was quite in the bathhouse.
Boldly he stepped up to the curtain and pulled it back. The two men turned towards him, startled. One was already resting in a steaming bath; he was dark hair and devastatingly handsome, in fact the most handsome man that Bradley had seen in a long while. His body was glistened with water and the smile that filled his face showed a gold tooth. The other man, who was talking, had long dark hair; he had on the clothes of a tracker and was slightly crouched as he turned towards the opening. His hand had slid down and rested over his weapon. He also moved his body slightly so that he could shield the other man if necessary.
"Who the hell are you?" Vin Tanner snarled his face tight with concern at the way that they had been disturbed. He did not usually let his guard down to such a level in public, but Stan had assured them that no one else would disturb them.
"Bradley...." the lawyer stammered, still thrown by the sight of the other man in the bath. He gave himself a slight shake, gathering his thoughts and offered again, "Bradley Wayne... I'm here to..." He never got to finish as the clothed man butted in, obviously in full protector mode.
"I know why you're here, and Chris said we would talk to you in the morning." Larabee had already informed Tanner of the decision to tell Standish of the up coming trial that evening.
"Vin..." the wet man queried, reaching out and placing a comforting hand on the other man's arm. There was just enough caution in the tone to cause Tanner to pause. He was not sure what the tracker was talking about, but he didn't feel that it warrant this level of hostility... did it?
Then the green eyes were turned towards Bradley, who found himself licking his own lips in anticipation of what that mouth would taste like. He nearly missed what the wet man said, but managed to drag his errant thoughts back.
"My name is Ezra Standish and this is Vin Tanner... you must excuse our welcome but we had thought that we were alone..."
"Please... Mr Standish... I er.... I fully understand." Bradley offered with a bright smile, he was well aware that he was also a handsome man and was not beyond using his looks to get his own way. "I did not mean to intrude, but it has been a long day, I arrived on the stage this morning, and find that I am in desperate need of another bath."
"Well," the gambler looked at his lover, and then frowned as he saw that the handsome tracker was still brisling from the other man's unexpected entrance. "Please continue I'm sure Stan will be back with your water shortly, and we shall be finished in a few minutes."
"I could always come back later." Bradley offered looking from one man to the other. He could tell that Tanner wanted him to leave, and was not beyond telling him to butt out, but Bradley could tell that Standish was too much of a gentleman to allow that to happen.
"No, please... make yourself comfortable." Ezra waved with a friendly hand towards one of the other baths. The look he gave Vin clearly informed the bounty hunter that his decision was final. Bradley could also see that, and he gracefully gave in, with a warm smile of his own.
As he moved to the bath that had been indicated, he heard the door open and turning he saw the man, who must be Stan enter with two full buckets that were steaming. He offered one to Ezra, and allowed Vin to take it. He then turned and poured the other one into the bath that Bradley was standing beside.
The lawyer slowly began to undress, making a show of removing his clothes, but stopped as Tanner approached him, and with a cold smile he firmly drew the curtains that separated the baths saying as he did so, "We don't want yer to catch a cold Ezra, while Stan's filling up the other bath."
Bradley waited impatiently for his bath to be filled, but his attention was firmly fixed on the unseen bath next door, but they were now warned of his presence and no further discussion could be heard, except for the casual words and voiced assistance that Tanner offered the sick man.
Wayne was laying in his own hot water relaxing when the curtain opened and an immaculate dressed Standish walked passed being carefully supported by his lover, Vin Tanner.
After they were gone, Bradley lay back and soaked, still hearing the voice of the sexy southerner, and seeing once again in his minds eyes the almost perfectly sculptured chest, and allowed his mind to drift lower. He smiled at the warming thoughts, but it slowly turned to a frown as he could not understand what such a cultured man was doing with Vin Tanner, who was so obviously of a lower class, nor could he understand Mrs Richmond wanted to destroy such a man as Ezra Standish in favour of the uncouth tracker.
As he settled there, allowing the warm water to ease the ache from his joints, he realised that he was looking forward to seeing the gambler again in the morning, and made determined plans that he would insist on speaking to him alone.
Ezra was grateful for the support that Vin offered him, as they made their way back to the saloon. He could tell that something had upset his lover and that it had something to do with the stranger they had felt behind in the bathhouse.
As they entered the saloon, the gambler was surprised to see Chris and the other's waiting for them. Vin carefully steered him over towards their table, and a chair was pulled out for the sick man, as Buck moved over so that the tracker could sit next to him. Ezra turned to smile at Larabee, who was seated on his right, the smile faltered when he saw the look of concern in the gunslinger's eyes.
"Gentlemen?" Standish questioned as he looked about at the others, he suddenly noticed that the saloon was unusually empty.
Seeing this Chris said, "we asked Inez to close up the bar for a short while, so that we could talk." He motioned towards the door, which the Mexican woman had closed after they had entered.
"Why? What's wrong?" Ezra demanded, his eyes widening in fear, unable to prevent his heart from racing and his breath shortening.
"Now Ezra," Nathan piped up seeing the flustered and scared look that had entered the gamblers features, "Don't you go getting yourself all excited, we just need to talk to you, and seeing as you were not suppose to leave your room." He shot a glare at the tracker who looked totally unconcerned by it, "we thought it would be best to do it here rather then at the jail, which is not really an option at the moment." He stumbled to a halt, realising that he had near said that Mrs Richmond was in the jail. He wilted at Larabee's glare.
"Ezra." Chris continued slowly, making sure that he chose his words with care. He really didn't want to upset the gambler, but was not sure how telling him the events leading to his sickness and Samuel's death, could do anything other then upset the sick man, "we have something to tell you... about your sickness... how you got sick..."
"I thought I just ate something that didn't agree with me." Ezra said, looking from Vin to Chris and then at the other men.
"We..." Larabee started, and then stopped as he tried to figure out the best was to explain. "We thought it best not to excite you too much while you were so ill... but now... well now you need to know what's going on... as it will affect you." He stopped and before he could continue, Ezra butted in, his face flushing even more as he demanded.
"What do you mean, it's going to affect me, I thought you said I was getting better?" Standish shot his words towards the healer, his eyes flashing with anger as he got angry at the thought that they had lied to him. He pulled himself out from under the comforting weight on Vin's hand on his arm, as he continued, "So Mr Larabee what did happen?"
"Ezra, it not that... I mean... Nathan's said you are getting better... it's... it's..." Vin began, leaning forward and looking his lover directly in his eyes, he wanted his lover to see the truth of his words, and knew that the gambler would not appreciate him holding his hand, no matter how much he really wanted to at that moment. "Charlotte... Mrs Richmond... she..." he swallowed, feeling his throat start to close as he forced himself to finish. "She poisoned you Ezra." There it was said, and the silence was so profound that you could have heard a horseshoe nail drop.
"Poisoned me?" the gambler stumbled, losing what little colour he had. He felt himself swallowing hard and wondered if he was going to be sick again. "But.... Why?" he finally managed to croak out. Looking at the men who sat about him Ezra seeing the truth of Tanner's words.
"It was 'cause of me Ezra." Vin confessed, his guilt still overwhelming him, at the thought that he had nearly cost his lover his life.
"No Vin... not 'cause of you." Chris snapped, his anger flaring at the guilt and remorse he saw reflected in the tracker's eyes. "She did it because she thought Ezra..." he pulled up short realising what he was about to say, and knowing that neither Vin or Ezra would appreciate it, so he changed tack and motioning to the others he continued, "well, all of us were getting between her and Vin..."
"So she wanted me out of the way," Ezra asked, his quick mind instantly sizing on where the conversation was really coming from. A thought occurred to him and he asked, "How? How did she poison me?" As he spoke he reached out and gratefully accepted the small glass of redeye that Buck had hastily poured out and placed in front of him.
"No!!" Nathan exclaimed standing up and reaching to snatch the glass away from he sick man. Ezra's weak stomach was not ready for the sharp alcohol yet, but before he could reach to take the drink away, Chris had answered without taking into account Ezra's present actions.
"She put it in your drink Ezra."
The shaking hand stopped with the glass mere inches from his lips. "My drink." The gambler's eyes flickered down to the glass, and then rose to take in the concerned expressions of the men who sat about the table. Slowly he lowered the drink and placed it firmly on the table saying. "So is the poor woman dead?" He shot a quick look over towards Larabee then allowed his glance to slip to that of his lover.
"Not yet." Larabee stated with conviction, his eyes burning with silent fury, "but she will hang Ezra. That I can promise you."
"Hang... why should she hang?" now the gambler had turned his full attention back to their blond haired leader, his expression quizzical. "Surely it was only attempted murder as I am still here?" He said, reaching out and grasping Tanner's hand. He would not normally have expressed their devotion to each other in such a manner, but the tracker was looking as pale as Ezra felt, and he could see the unnecessary guilt that was still reflected in Vin's eyes. He gave a slight squeeze and smile. Tanner returned his squeezed and relaxed slightly.
"You survived," Chris confirmed, but his eyes were cold as he continued, "but poor old Samuel Lee didn't." seeing the confused look this earned him from the sick man, he continued, "he stole your brandy bottle, the night you became sick... he drunk it... In fact he finished the bottle... we found him dead Ezra."
This last bit of news seemed to upset the gambler significantly more then learning that someone had tried to poison him. "Samuel... drunk my brandy... drunk the poison intended for me... and he died." He released his hand from Vin's, and raising a decidedly shaky hand, wiped it across his forehead, wondering why it felt so hot in the saloon, and why he was suddenly having trouble breathing.
It seemed as if from a great distance he heard Nathan's cry of warning, "Chris!! Vin!!!" Then hands caught him and prevented him from slipping from his chair. "Lean him forward, so his head down... Yeah that's right," he heard the table being roughly scrapped way and then gently hands were guiding him down. He felt his eyes close and wondered if he would ever survive the embarrassment of his present position.
When Ezra recovered, he motioned to be allowed up and was grateful when he was carefully assisted to lean back in the chair. Opening his eyes he saw the other six men standing or kneeling about him, very troubled expression creasing their features. Ezra waved a weak hand, wanting to let them know that he was feeling better, but Vin caught it and held it tightly as Ezra insisted, "really, I feel fine now..."
"Really." Nathan offered dryly, as he run a critical eye over his patient, "well you look like shit."
Ezra smiled weakly, flashing his gold tooth and offered, "still working on that pleasant bedside manner Mr Jackson?"
"How do you really feel Ezra?" Nathan asked, resting his hand on the sick man's forehead.
"Fine." The gambler insisted, dogging his head away from the healer's hand, "it was just a shock... to know that someone died... because of me."
"No." Vin snapped vehemently, not wanting to Ezra to suffer the guilt that he was feeling, "not because of you Ezra... that damn woman's crazy... she did it... not you."
"She loves you Vin... and doesn't want to lose you," The gambler answered, his eyes suddenly looking years older, as totally ignoring the others, he reached up and rested his hand lightly on the tracker's cheek and offered sadly, "and I can't blame her for that."
"Love doesn't give her the right to murder Ezra." JD said, from Buck's side, his own innocent eyes marred by what he had seen.
Ezra wilted back, seeing that these men would never understand that from his background it did, and silently wondered if he really was that different from the woman, shaking the morbid thoughts aside he offered, "yes, you're quite right Mr Dunn. So can I assume that you have Mrs Richmond safely incarcerated, and no doubt awaiting Judge Travis's pleasure to see that justice is done."
"There is to be a trial Ezra..." Chris said, moving back to stand in front of the gambler, so that the other man did not have to strain to see him. "But her husband has gone and got her a fancy lawyer... so the judge thought it best to get another fancy lawyer to prosecute the case... and he wants to talk to you and Vin tomorrow morning."
"Why?" Ezra asked, looking slightly confused. "I will not be able to tell him anything, as I had no knowledge of Mrs Richmond's intentions or actions."
"That's what I said," Vin agreed his tone soaked with annoyance, his look informing everyone that he had been right.
"While I agree with you both," Chris offered in a reasonable tone, "he still wants to talk to you, and the judge has agreed, so he will be coming by in the morning to see."
"The man in the bathhouse." Ezra suddenly blurted out turning to look at Vin, suddenly understanding Tanner's annoyance with the other man while Standish was bathing. "That was the lawyer?"
"Bathhouse!" Jackson exclaimed glaring at the Tanner, "you let him have a bath? I told you he's not strong enough for that yet... you want to finish what Mrs Richmond started?"
Ezra seeing the tormented expression that flashed across Vin's face, snapped angrily. "Nathan... it was my decision, Vin only accompanied me, so that he could keep an eye on me..." He suddenly stopped and closed his eyes, as another wave of dizziness swept over him, pulling the steady ground out from under him.
"Alright, that's it..." Nathan insisted, standing up and taking hold of Ezra's arm. "You're going back to bed, and stay there until tomorrow."
It was a clear sign to the others of just how poorly the gambler must have been feeling, because he silently allowed Nathan and Vin to support him upstairs.
"Hell Chris" Buck snapped, snatching up his hat and slapping the side of his leg with it.
" I hate this already."
"I know Buck... I know... Josiah will you go and relive Jack at the jail." Larabee answered, then seeing the preacher man nodded, he turned his attention back to the three men, as they reached the top of the stairs and disappeared. For Larabee the feeling of unease just seemed to grow and grow.
Bradley Wayne stepped out into the golden sunshine of a new morning and took a deep breath. The air was fresh and the sunlight warm, and he had spent a very pleasant night dreaming of warm baths, silken flash and soft a southern gambler's gentle laughter.
Bradley had just finished a very satisfying breakfast and was in good spirits. The case was fairly simple as far as he was concerned, the witnesses were pretty strong and unwavering on what they knew, saw and heard. Mrs Travis would look particular good on the witness stand as he was discovering that she was well respected, and even the five peacekeepers of the town, who he had spoken to, would be listened to, when it came to telling their story. While they might be regard as nothing more then hired guns to protect the town, they did a good job, and where mainly liked by the citizens who they protected.
Bradley entered the saloon, and paused before he saw Chris Larabee sitting near the back of the room, a cup of coffee before him. "Good morning Mr Larabee." Bradley said, moving to take the seat across from the gunslinger.
"Mr Wayne." Chris offered quietly with a tilt of his head.
"I would like to speak to Mr Standish and Mr Tanner before I see the judge and Simpson this morning, I trust you got around to informing them of my intentions."
"You sure as hell sound like a lawyer to me." Larabee offered his eyes not particularly friendly.
Bradley leant forward and offered in a warm tone, which carried an edge to it. "Mr Larabee I am here to ensure that that woman pays for her crimes... but be nice to me... you're going to legally be allowed to hang that woman by the time I'm finished."
Larabee looked at the man before him. It was a steady cold gleam that had the lawyer shifting in his seat after a few seconds. Leaning forward Chris answered slowly and calmly. "If being nice to you is the price, I'll go over and shoot her now..."
Wayne slowly slipped back in his seat and forced a smile to his lips, but he was not so sure that the gunslinger was joking, and he gratefully tore his eyes away from Larabee's when he heard the tall man called Buck enter.
"Hell Chris, did you see those people who arrived this morning... word of this trial sure got about pretty damn quick."
Chris looked disgusted and Wayne answered. "A woman on trial... especially for murder always attracts attention and crowds... the judge will want to start the trial as soon as possible, to get it over with... now." he continued standing, "if you would not mind showing me to Mr Standish's room I would like to talk to him first."
Chris frowned at the lawyer again, before he turned his attention to Buck, who was waiting for him to speak. "Get JD and go over to the jail, Nathan's caught the night watch. With the amount of people coming into town, I want two of us in there with Mrs Richmond at all times from now on."
"Fine by me Chris, I didn't like JD being there on his own anyway." The taller man said, a frown marring his face as he shot a look towards the lawyer who was patiently waiting to be taken to Ezra. "You want me to send Nathan over, just in case."
Larabee again looked towards the lawyer, then nodded, the gambler had taken the knowledge of Samuel's death hard the night before and the healer had given him a potion to relax him enough to rest.
"I will need to speak to Mr Standish alone." Bradley suddenly spoke up, his tone firm.
Chris slowly turned, his eyes hardening as he looked towards the other man. "No." it was a simple word, and yet it was not a word that would be easily breached.
"Mr Larabee if I am to do my job properly then I will need to this particular witness.... Alone."
"You spoke to JD and Buck together, and Nathan was there when you spoke to Josiah, so you will either talk to Ezra with Vin or me present, or you won't speak to him."
"Mr Larabee," Bradley tried again. "Neither Buck or JD were the intended victim..." Bradley started to argue. He was brought up short as Larabee suddenly appeared in his personal space.
"You ain't seeing Ezra alone... Bradley"
Bradley swallowed, suddenly very aware of why this man was considered to be so dangerous, and offered once he was sure that his voice was strong enough. "Well if you feel that strongly about it..."
"I do." Larabee replied before he spun about and ascended the stairs; he walked along and knocked on a door. The gunslinger did not need to turn to see if Wayne had followed him, as he knew that the lawyer would.
The door slowly opened and Tanner peered out, he looked tired, his face haggard with worry over his lover condition. "Chris." He was all he said by way of greeting before he stood back and allowed the gunslinger to enter.
"How's he been?" Larabee asked, moving into the room, knowing that Wayne was still following.
"He had a rough night..." Vin began, but then slowed to a stop when he saw Bradley standing behind Chris. He frowned and demanded, "do we have to do this right now?"
Larabee actually looked apologetic as he offered, "Judge felt it was necessary... but either you or I will stay with him." As he spoke he glared at the lawyer, who returned his glower.
"I think it would be best if you remained Mr Larabee," Wayne said quickly, throwing a looked towards the tracker, who was obviously not happy with the turn of events, but Bradley ignored him as he continued, "as I will need to speak to Mr Tanner afterwards."
"Chris." Tanner questioned, definitely not liking the man who stood before him. He also felt uneasy about the way the lawyer had looked at Ezra the night before in the bathhouse.
Larabee reached out and rested a hand on his friends shoulder and offered reassuringly, "Vin... I'll be here the whole time." The tracker looked at his friend then slowly relaxed before he nodded saying.
"I'll wake him and let him know what's going on." With that he approached the bed. "Ez... Ezra" he said leaning down and carefully resting his hand over his lover's shoulder.
"Vin..." the gambler mumbled as he fought his way back to consciousness. He blinked bleary up at the other man.
"Bradley Wayne, that lawyer we talked about last night is here... he wants to talk to you."
"Why..." the gambler began still not fully awake, then he saw Chris and a stranger standing behind Vin. He remembered the bathhouse and recognised the man with Larabee. He struggled to sit up saying frantically, looking about for his clothes, "If you will allow me to get dressed."
"No Ezra." Chris said, moving forward and holding out his hand, preventing the other man from rising. "Nathan wants you to rest today... stay in bed... Mr Wayne won't mind asking his questions while you rest."
"No... no of course not." Bradley offered moving forward, he could see how worn and tired the sick man looked, and he thought that Nathan was quite right of insist on bed rest. "It will only take a few moments. Please Mr Standish... I will be a quick as I can, and it is important."
The gambler looked uncertain, then he seemed to come to a decision and offered firmly, "Well then Mr Wayne, you might as well make yourself comfortable." He motioned to the upright chair by the bed.
"Ez." Vin said nervously, "Mr Wayne wants to talk to you without me being here, as he's going to question me next." Seeing the look of protest that filtered across his lover's face he hastened to add. "Chris is going to be here with you, I'll be back as soon as Mr Wayne has spoken to me." As he finished talking the door opened and Nathan walked in. He stopped when he saw the three men in the room. Then he turned his full attention to the injured man in the bed.
"Ezra how you feeling this morning?" He asked moving forward, his concern clearly showing on his face.
The gambler frowned in slight annoyance and offered dryly, "like my room is too crowded and I would like to get this over with." As he spoke he waved in the general direction of Bradley Wayne.
"I'll be right outside if you need me Ez." Vin said, giving Ezra a last reassuring smile before he left.
Bradley looked towards the healer expectantly, but the only man just returned his stare. Knowing that he was not going to get his wish to interview Ezra alone, the lawyer sighed and moving to the offered chair he sat and began.
"Mr Standish, at any time did Mrs Richmond give any indication that she harboured ill will towards you?"
"No." Ezra stated firmly, he still found it hard to believe that the woman had actually attempted to murder him, and it was only the untimely death of Samuel Lee that had convinced the gambler that she had so intended.
"So you had no idea that she wanted you dead?"
This question did get a reaction from the gambler, who swallowed hard and tilting his head to look at the bedspread he offered quietly. "Not until Mr Larabee informed me of the facts surrounding my illness and..." he paused as he struggled against the look of desolation that crept into his eyes, "and Samuel's death."
"Samuel, the man who stole you brandy?" Bradley questioned seeing the wince that Ezra was unable to hide, reaching out the lawyer gently rested his hand over the gambler's and offered gently. "I know it's hard, and that you feel responsible for Samuel's death, but you really had no control over it. The blame for that murder rest firmly on the shoulders of Mrs Richmond."
Standish carefully removed his hand from under the lawyer's and offered coldly, "I am fully aware of Mrs Richmond's guilt, and I hope that she will pay for her horrendous crime. Yet I must accept some responsibility for the poor man's death, as it was I who left the bottle on the table, and Samuel was notorious for steal... er... removing any drinks that were left unattended."
Bradley drew back and shot a glance towards the other two men, wondering why they did not step into the breach and comfort the man who was so obviously hurting from his unsuspecting part in the town drunk's death.
"Ezra from the way that poison hit Samuel, it must have been affecting you when you left the table that night." Nathan spoke up, his voice quite, but some how that gave it more strength. "You were lucky Ezra."
The gambler contemplated the healer's words, before he gave himself a mental shake and pulled himself together he asked firmly. "Mr Wayne, do you have any further questions?"
Bradley seriously considered the man before him before he offered, "Please Ezra, May I call you Ezra?" the injured man nodded once, and waited for the lawyer to continue, "I can appreciate that this is hard for you Ezra, but you will undoubtedly be called on to testify, and it would be in both our interest to understand exactly, the events that lead up to your poisoning."
The gambler looked at the handsome man who sat before him, slightly confessed, while the lawyer had only discussed the case at hand, Ezra got an uneasy feeling about the other man, he shot a look towards Chris and Nathan, as if seeking reassurance that they would remain while he was questioned. He could see that they were there for him, and smiled slightly at the warm feeling this knowledge gave him, finally Ezra asked, "so what is it that you need to know Mr Wayne?"
The lawyer smiled and answered, "Please call me Bradley, and what do I want Ezra... why I want everything... everything, that is, that happened since Mrs Richmond came to town. Every meeting you had with her, every discussion that took place, what she said, and how you answered her... and Mr Standish, you can be totally honest with me as I am aware of the er... situation between Mr Tanner and yourself."
Ezra raised any eyebrow before he shrugged and began... "I was leaving the jail after my night shift, Vin... er Mr Tanner and I had made arrangements to get together for an excursion outside of town, when I spied her and Vin..."
The door opened and Vin stood up straighter. He had waited for over an hour for the lawyer to finished talking to his lover.
Larabee walked out first, followed by Wayne. "Ezra's sleeping, Vin," when he saw the concern that was clearly written on the tracker's face, "Nathan's going to sit with him while you talk to Mr Wayne." Chris said, as he motioned towards the stairs.
"Please call me Bradley." The lawyer insisted as he followed the other men down the stairs. Once they were seated with cups of coffee before them, he continued, "now Mr Standish has given me a very detailed description of his interaction with Mrs Richmond, and I would like you to do the same Mr Tanner."
"There is no interaction between me and Mrs Richmond." Vin countered hotly, leaning over the table and glaring at the other man.
Bradley held up his hands wanting to pacify the tracker and offered firmly, "I fully understand that Mr Tanner, but she obviously felt that there was a... a feeling still there, otherwise she would not considered removing the..." he paused and thought about the right word to use, finally he shrugged and continued, "the competition."
Tanner looked slightly startled before he stammered; "Ezra ain't competition... what we have is real and final."
The lawyer looked towards Larabee for support, but all he got was a raised eyebrow. He tried again, "Look Mr Tanner... may I call you Vin." Seeing the hesitation before the nod he pushed on. "I am sure that your feelings for Mr Standish are real and final, but they were not so in Mrs Richmond's eyes, and she is the person on trial here... not Ezra, nor you... Now I need to know exactly what happened between you and Mrs Richmond, every conversation, every meeting. Her lawyer is going to put you on the stand, and I don't want him to be able to give me any surprises. This is too important, if Mrs Richmond gets off," seeing the outraged looks this earned him he hastened on, "I will do my best to ensure that does not happen, but I will need your assistance for that." He paused and saw the look that Vin threw Chris and knew that he had made his point. So leaning back he took a sip of his coffee and ventured, "I need to know everything, everything that happened, from the first day you saw that she had returned to Four Corners... please."
Tanner started off slowly; explaining about how he had been looking forward to go out with Ezra for ride to a place they knew just outside of town, and how Charlotte had suddenly appeared and sprung into his arms. How he had been forced to push her away, but not before Ezra had appeared and fled the scene, upset with his lovers supposed betrayal.
Bradley listened intently and only stopped the tracker once when he came to the part where he had offered to drink the supposedly poisoned brandy that Chris had tried to force Charlotte to drink. "So she stopped you from drinking it?" He questioned.
Vin nodded, "knocked the glass out of my hand," then he continued with his story, finally finishing with the last events of that night. "So after that I was upstairs with Ezra... he was..." Tanner's voice broke and he swallowed deeply drinking the now cold coffee, before he continued, "he was really sick. I think Chris and the others took Charlotte, I mean Mrs Richmond over to the jail and I've not seen her since."
"I thought it best if Vin didn't have any dealings with her, and what with Ezra being so ill, he's been here most of the time." Chris added looking over at his friend and smiling slightly at the look grateful look this earned him.
Bradley was silent for a few minutes, thinking over the two stories he had heard and placing them with the other witness testimonies, before he nodded and said, "well I would like to thank you both for your time this morning, now I'd best get over to the jail for my meeting with Simpson and the judge... if I know Travis, he will want to start the trial as soon as possible, and that will more then likely be tomorrow, so I will wish you adieu until then." With that he stood and nodding to both men he made his way out of the saloon.
Tanner watched the man go before turned and offered, his eyes hard and his face as serious as if he were tracking a wild cougar, "I don't like that man Chris."
Larabee nodded in agreement before he said, "Yeah... me neither."
Bradley stood silently and watched the man before him with a keen eye. Chad Simpson was not a man to be taken lightly, and he was determined to save his client. The meeting that Judge Travis had called between the two layers and himself, had been going for over an hour, as each lawyer discussed their case and Travis laid down the rules of his courtroom.
Orrin Travis was a fair man, and as such wanted the trial to run as smoothly as possible, with all the evidence coming before the jury. Chad immediately tried to lay some subtle slander against the gambler, Ezra Standish by hinting at his sexual tendency, but the judge had demanded that he speak plainly and if he knew something about the intended victim then he'd best lay it before them, so that they could discuss the matter, as he had no intention of it being brought up at the trail without his knowing first.
Bradley was surprised to hear that while Mrs Richmond had been keen, even eager to cast the gambler in the role of a homosexual predator, she kept insisting that Vin was innocent, and was only a victim of Ezra perverted desire. Chad Simpson was uneasy with exposing this side of his client's defence, and yet he had indicated that he would bring Standish to the stand to defend this accusation. The judge was equally firm and informed the defence lawyer in no uncertain terms that this would not be a route that he would be allowed to follow, as Mrs Richmond was not on trial for Mr Standish's personal life but for the murder of Samuel Lee. Judge Travis would not allow the trial to become anything other then a trial for that death. If Mr Simpson wanted it brought up, then all the details, including Vin Tanner's part in it would be laid before the court, and Mrs Richmond's guilt would be more firmly set.
Chad Simpson was wise enough to know that Judge Travis had made his final decision, and gave in gracefully. With this awkward moment behind them, the date was set for the trial to begin. Again the judge felt that enough time had been lost and with the agreement of both lawyers the trial was set to begin the next day.
Simpson left to inform his client and her husband of the Judges decision, and Chad departed to check over his notes and consider the man who Mrs Richmond had attempted to kill. The man, who Chad had found himself unable to stop thinking about.
The saloon had been cleared and the tables and chairs set up to allow for the trial to start. Twelve men had been chosen and now sat quietly while the judge explained the complicated proceedings that they would be participating in.
Mrs Richmond sat beside her lawyer and looked eagerly about the room. She acted as if she was waiting for a show to begin, and totally ignored the looks and scowls that her actions drew from other members of the audience. She leant in close to Chad Simpson and asked in a stage whisper. "Will Vin be coming, will he be here?"
Her lawyer threw a frown towards her, and then glanced at her husband who had taken the seat directly behind her. The man was scowling at the back of her head; he had not been able to miss what she had asked.
Chad slowly shook his head and offered, "No... I believe that Mr Tanner is a witness for the prosecution and will be called in time."
Charlotte frowned before she asked, "but then he will be here... and I will get to see him?"
Chad shook his head and offered in a slightly annoyed tone, "Mrs Richmond, did you not hear what I said, Mr Tanner is a witness for the prosecution... he will be giving evidence against you."
Charlotte sighed heavily, in obvious annoyance, before she offered sharply, "Vin loves me... he told me so... he would do nothing to hurt me..."
"Charlotte." Will Richmond snapped, leaning forward and grabbing at her shoulder. "Those men," he nodded over to where Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington where standing by the door, checking that everyone who entered left their weapons outside with the young sheriff "Those men want you dead... don't you understand that, they want you to hang."
The woman in question turned a tired look on her husband and said with a quite confidence that caused both men to shudder with defeat, "Vin won't allow them to... he'll save me, after all I only did it for him... to get him away from that... that...." Her dislike of the gambler once more twisting her face into a mask of hatred.
Chad Simpson reached over and grasped Charlotte's hand, stilling any further words that she might utter as he hissed, "you will be quiet... otherwise I will not be able to help you."
Maybe it was his tone, or his words, but the woman fell silent and went back to looking about the courtroom with curious eyes.
Suddenly the judge was banging his gravel on the tabletop and calling the court to order and the trial began. Bradley Wayne patiently waited until Judge Travis had finished his introduction and looked in his direction before he stood and taking great care he clearly and in detail explained the charges against the woman who now sat quietly beside her lawyer.
The first witness was Inez Rocillos, the beautiful Mexican barkeeper, who looked sorrowful as she described how she had offered Mrs Richmond a job, and allowed her to stay in one of the small rooms out the back of the saloon. She answered the questions that Bradley asked, and soon the audience knew that Charlotte had access to the poison, which Bradley had held up to show that the packet was open, and the Ezra's Standish Brandy bottle, where the poison had been placed. Again the bottle in question was entered as an exhibit, and many people in the room gasped on seeing the carrier of the murder weapon.
Chad Simpson listened closely and when Bradley had finished he stood up and asked defiantly. "So Mrs Richmond came to you and asked you for the job, just so that she could be close to Mr Standish?"
Inez frowned in remembrance before she slowly shook her head saying, "No... no... it was Mrs Travis, she spoke to me, told me that Mrs Richmond was looking for a job."
"And you gave Mrs Richmond the job on Mrs Travis's recommendations."
The woman looked over towards the judge and then said in a low tone, "yes... Mary knew that I was looking for someone, and Mrs Richmond was keen to start."
Chad considered his next question, knowing that the jury was waiting for him to speak. "Did you at any time actually see her with the packet of poison?" He indicated the able where the exhibit stood.
"Maybe you saw her opening the poison perhaps... or did she ever ask you if you had any poison?"
"No... oh so you actually saw her put the poison into the brandy bottle then?"
Again Inez looked towards the judge, unnerved by the hostility coming from the lawyer as she answered, "No." She finally admitted.
"So in fact Mrs Richmond didn't come to you asking for a job, Mrs Travis did. You never saw Mrs Richmond with the poison, nor did you ever see her poising the brandy. In fact you didn't really see her do anything that might suggest that she is had anything to do with the poison getting into the bottle Miss Rocillos... now did you?"
"No." Inez admitted, but her facial expression told the whole courtroom that she was not happy with the way that the lawyer had spoken to her.
Chad looked coldly at the Mexican woman before he turned to the jury and smiled saying, "No further questions." Then he went and sat down, and firmly crossed his eyes, waiting for his counterpart to stand and interested in seeing how he would undo the damage the woman's lame testimony had done to his case.
Bradley considered re-questioning, but knew that to do so would give Chad's cross-examination more weight then it deserve, but he did want to clear up a few facts.
Standing he asked, "Miss Rocillos... when did you purchase the rat poison?"
"The same week as Mrs Richmond started working for me."
"Did you open the packet?"
"No." Inez said firmly shooting a dark look towards Chad Simpson, "I never opened it, as there was no need, the rats disappeared."
"Did Mrs Richmond know where the rat poison was kept."
"Yes, I had warned her that it was there and that it was dangerous, that was why I kept it separate."
"Could anyone else have had access to it, during a time when they could have poured it into Mr Standish's bottle?"
"No-one but Mrs Richmond and myself were allowed in the kitchen during opening hours, and there were always people in the bar, so it would not have been easy to poison the bottle with other people there, it could only have been done after the bar was closed, or before it was open."
Bradley Wayne looked towards the jury and said, "no further questions."
Simpson stood up and asked Inez, "So even if it was done after the saloon was closed, there was either you, Mr Standish or Mr Tanner..." Charlotte let out a small cry at Vin's name, but she hushed by her lawyer as he carried on, "who could have poisoned the brandy?"
"I did not poison Mr Standish, nor kill Samuel Lee," Inez spat back her eyes flashing, as she continued, "no man would suffer the illness like Mr Standish did, and Mr Tanner is too good a person to see another person suffer in such a manner."
Simpson seeing that he was not going to win this issue with the woman, and realising that the Jury was leaning towards her words, hasten to end his questioning and after a nod from Mr Wayne, which informed the judge that he had no more questions, Inez was excused and the next witness called.
Next came Chris Larabee, he took the stand with a confident air, and answered all the questions clearly and precisely. He was not a man to waste words. He explained about the first illness that Ezra had suffered. How after checking it looked as if the gambler was the only man affected. He then went on to explain about how he had first become suspicious about Mrs Richmond, and how he had sent Buck and JD out to the Richmond farmstead." All in the room noted the way that Will Richmond sat up and looked with real fear towards his wife. Chad Simpson had leant back and murmured something quietly to him; and he looked relived, but sat with a worried expression on his face as Larabee continued his evidence. Chris started to tell of what Buck had said about the conversation with Will Richmond, about the death of Alison, her daughter, but Chad a leapt up and objected saying it was only hear say, and the judge had sustained the objection, so Larabee had to bit his lip in frustration. He knew that Buck was the next witness and would tell his own story. He explained how he had taken to watching the woman, seeing how she would look at Standish when she thought no one was looking and again Chad objected. Bradley had been swift to defend saying that Larabee was only stating things as he saw them, the judge thought about it then allowed the questioning to continue, but informing the Jury that it was only Chris's opinion, and not actually fact that he knew why Mrs Richmond was looking at the gambler with such intent.
Then Larabee told about the second time that Standish fell sick. How the pieces had come together and of the scene in the bar when Mrs Richmond had refused to drink the brandy, and how she had knocked the glass of drink from Tanner's hand screaming at him not to drink it, and her subsequent confession that she had not meant for Samuel Lee to die, only Ezra Standish. This caused a murmur to go about the courtroom and the judge had called the room to order. When Chris had finished, Bradley thanked him and sat down.
Chad stood up and looked at the man before him for several long moments. Larabee matched him stare for stare. Finally Chad asked, "did you see Mrs Richmond put the poison in the bottle."
"No." Larabee conceded, "but she sure didn't want to drink any of that brandy." He added with a raised eyebrow.
"But you didn't see her poison the bottle... did you Mr Larabee."
"I already said no."
"Did it ever cross your mind that Mrs Richmond did not want the drink because she just didn't like it?"
Larabee considered the question for a few quite moments before he shook his head and said, "No."
"Did you even ask her if she liked Brandy before you started this charade?"
"She drank Redeye with no problem while she worked behind the bar... even saw her sneak a sip of the other drinks, when no one was looking... didn't look like she had a problem with drink to me..."
"She told you that Brandy made her sick, yet you just tried to force her to drink it... a woman Mr Larabee you used your brute strength to try to get Mrs Richmond drink that brandy... didn't you."
"She knew what was in that bottle... that's why she didn't want to drink it... that's why she smashed the bottle..." Larabee shot back.
Chad threw up his arms and dramatically said, "Mr Larabee you accused her of trying to poison Mr Standish... you then try to force her to drink brandy... what is the poor woman to believe... what would I believe... I would think that you were trying to get me to drink the poison just to see if I was innocent... that's not much of a trial now is it Mr Larabee... she's dead if she drinks it and she on trial for murder if she doesn't. Isn't she Mr Larabee?"
The court erupted in uproar, and the judge had to bang his gravel for several long minutes before anyone could be heard again. Chad waited for silence before he continued, "isn't that right Mr Larabee?"
"That woman had nothing to fear from that bottle if she was innocent..."
"That wasn't my question Mr Larabee." Chad looked towards the judge and demanded, "Please ask Mr Larabee to answer the question your honour."
Travis looked from the man giving evidence to the lawyer and then looking back at Chris he offered, "answer the question."
Larabee felt his anger raise, but pushed it back, this was too important for him to lost his temper, so he took a steadying breath and looking towards the twelve men of the jury he offered. "Poison is a woman's weapon... not a man's... She had nothing to fear from that bottle except her own knowledge of what she'd put in it..."
"Your honour..." Chad interrupted, beseeching the judge to stop the witnesses, but Judge Travis just held up his hand and offered.
"You wanted Mr Larabee to answer the question and he's doing so in his own manner... Please continue." He directed towards the witness.
Larabee waited until Simpson sat down, noting the angry expression on his face, before he continued, "She knew what was in that bottle... I could tell from the expression in her eyes when she saw JD walk in with that bottle..."
"Your honour I cannot allow this to continue, this is mere speculation... not fact..." Chad was once more objecting, and this time the judge nodded and said.
"I believe that Mr Larabee has said all he needs to say on that particular matter... do you have any further questions Mr Simpson."
"You say that Mrs Richmond confessed to the killing, but I believe that she was in such a panic by that stage, after your treatment of her, that she wasn't even aware of what she was saying." Simpson began. Travis interrupted.
"Make it a question Mr Simpson, and save your summing up for later."
The lawyer saw that the judge was running out of patience. He was not sure, suddenly if this was a wise course to continue as it would remind the jury of his client's confession, but he had started so he needed to ask a question. "Do you enjoy browbeating woman?"
"Your honour." Bradley leapt up, throwing his arms up in disgust and looked towards the judge whom snarled.
"I'm sorry your honour, I retract the question."
The judge looked at Simpson long and hard before he asked him. "Do you have any further question?"
"No." Chad Simpson said, before he sat down.
"Mr Wayne?" Travis asked.
The lawyer stood up and asked Larabee. "You are certain that she said that it was only Mr Standish that was to die?"
"Clear as day." Larabee offered his tone firm as he leant forward in his chair. "She was quite calm about that fact, and Buck, Josiah, JD, Mary and Hal heard her too."
"And she reacted violently when Mr Tanner accepted the drink." Bradley asked, and from the way Chad suddenly looked ill at ease he knew that the man had forgotten that aspect of Larabee's testimony.
"Said she didn't want Vin to die." Larabee agreed firmly, looking the woman in the eyes his own look reflecting his feelings on the matter. "She said that he was hers."
This caused another murmur to ripple about the room.
"No further questions." Bradley said, returning to his seat.
"Mr Simpson?" the Judge looked toward the defence lawyer.
The defence lawyer looked far from happy, but he held his piece and shook his head. He clearly had a worried expression on his face, and Chris knew that it had started to form when he'd mentioned what Will Richmond had said about his daughter's death. It was also obvious that he had also not been informed by his client that she had confessed to a room full of witnesses, and knocked the poisoned drink from Vin Tanner's hand.
Next came Buck and his testimony was unshakeable as he repeated nearly word for word what Will Richmond has said to him. Chad tried to object about the evidence saying that it had no bearing on the case. Bradley had stated quite clearly that it had every bearing on the case, as it was proof that Mrs Richmond was lying about her reason for leaving her husband, as he did not beat her. It also brought into evidence her almost obsessive nature as far as chasing after men who were not her husband.
Chad tried to say that it was hearsay, but the judge allowed it saying that it was an actual conversation that took place between Buck Wilmington and Will Richmond in front of another witness JD Dunn. Who would also testify to that fact. Chad tried to lower the impact of Buck's testimony, when he cross examined him, but the man spoke in a strong voice and never once let his eyes waver from the woman who sat looking at the table in front of her. Buck also made mention of the confession, and her strong reaction to Vin's attempt to drink the poison, but Simpson chose not to press that point home again. He could clearly see that the jury was slowly turning against the woman who was on trail.
JD was the next witness and he nervously told of his part in the scheme of things, how he had heard what Mr Richmond had said, then about finding Samuel's body. How he had fetched the brandy bottle and his version of what had happened that night in the bar when Chris had attempted to get Mrs Richmond to drink the brandy.
Chad stood and began to question the lad hard, demanding to know about his past, how he ended up out west, how he wanted to be one of the men, so to speak. How he would do what Chris wanted to him do, how he would say what Larabee wanted him to say. How his testimony would ingratiate him more with the other six men he called his friends.
It was JD's own innocence that caused this attack on his character to fail. He honestly didn't know what Chad was getting at, could not understand why lying would help Chris and the others to like him more. He stated firmly that his mother had always told him that lying was wrong, and he turned big eyes on the judge as he insisted 'and lying on the bible is the worse kind of lying you could do." He then looked back at Chad and offered.
"Besides, Buck and Chris wouldn't like it if I lied...." and that was the end of the matter for the young man. Chad could see that this particular line of questioning was only aliening the crowd from him, and he realised that the young man was very well liked by the town people, who obviously thought him to be an honest and trustworthy person, so trying to discredit him was only going to do his client more harm. With that thought in mind he dismissed JD from the stand.
Judge Travis looked about the saloon and saw that it was getting late, so he banged his gravel and dismissed the court for the day. As the people filed out of the room, several men stayed behind to get it straighten for that night's custom and Inez was grateful for their assistance.
The next day dawned with eager anticipation the courtroom was filled almost before the seats had been set out. The first witness was Nathan, who along with the undertaker Thaddeus Smith, had examined Samuel body. He spoke in a clear tone, and explained how they had found a crust of a white substance about the dead mans' lips. Also that nearby several witnesses had found a nearly empty bottle of brandy, which also held crystals in the bottom. From the strong smell, both Nathan and Thaddeus were able to agree that whatever had killed Samuel came from the brandy, and that after adding the rodent poison to another bottle of brandy they had recreated the same smell and crystals in the bottle.
The healer then went on to explain in great detail the illness that had affected Ezra Standish, and how the man had shown similar symptoms to a poison victim. That put together with the evidence that it had been Mr Standish brandy bottle that Samuel had stolen indicated that Ezra had also drunk from the poison bottle, not on one occasion but on two.
Nathan then explained that once they knew where the poison had come from, he had been able to effective a better method of treating the very sick man. He also mentioned that he had telegrammed several prominent doctors in San Francisco to seek treatment for the injured man, and holding up the telegrams he'd got in reply he was able to back up his belief that the poison was the same as the packet that had been returned to the exhibit table that morning.
Chad stood up and gently tapped his long finger against his cheek before he asked. "If you are so sure that Mr Standish drunk from the same bottle as Mr Lee, how can you explain that he survived and poor Mr Samuel Lee didn't?"
Nathan looked towards the woman on trial, before he began, "Ezra only had two glasses of the drink at most, and the bottle was nearly full... poor old Samuel drunk most of the brandy and his drinking stirred up the sediment in the bottle of the bottle. It was only the fact that the poison was heavier then the brandy and it sunk to the bottle of the bottle that saved Ezra's life."
Chad looked towards the jury and saw that they were intently listening to the healers words, so he quickly dismissed the witness and Thaddaus Smith, the undertake was called. He gave a very similar statement to that of Nathan Jackson, when questions about the state of the body and the test they had carried out on the poison.
Josiah took the stand and solemnly swore on the bible that he would tell the truth, he then patiently waited for Mr Wayne to being. He too answered the questions to the best of his recall. His testimony was brief as he was really only going over what had already been put before the jury. He did go into more detail when he explained about how he had been involved with discovering the body.
Chad Simpson could also see that Josiah was well respected within the small town and he waved aside the right to cross-question to preacher. The tall man stood up and glancing over at Mrs Richmond he looked as if he was about to say something, but instead he snapped shut his mouth and moved away from the witness stand.
Next came Mary Travis. She took to the stand throwing a nervous glance about the room. Bradley stood up and calmly, coolly led her through her testimony. She told of how Charlotte had told her that she left her husband, because of the beatings. She mentioned how she had approached Inez on Mrs Richmond's behalf. Then she told of the conversations that she had with the woman about Vin Tanner, how the woman seemed to always draw every conversation back to the tracker.
Mary admitted that she had thought Vin's feelings to Charlotte had altered and when she had tried to explain this to Mrs Richmond, the woman had turned on her and accused her of being jealous of their love. Mrs Travis had not broached the subject again with the woman.
Mrs Travis then went on to explain how on the night of Samuel's death, Josiah had asked both her and Mr Johnson to go to the saloon. When they had arrived, Chris had confronted Mrs Richmond about the drink, and Mary had hesitantly admitted that Charlotte had paled when she saw JD enter carrying the suspect brandy bottle. Mrs Travis remembered this because she could not understand why the woman was so afraid, it was not until Mr Larabee had spoken of the poison and Samuel's death, that Mary began to understand what exactly was going on, and she had been shocked and surprised when Charlotte had smashed the glass and then the bottle. Then when Vin Tanner had offered to drink the brandy, Mrs Richmond had gone berserk and knocked the glass from his hand, saying that he belonged to her, she had then broken down and cried saying that Samuel was not suppose to die.
When asked directly if she thought that Mrs Richmond knew about the poison, Mary stated that while Charlotte had never admitted it, her reaction to that particular bottle of brandy was puzzling if she had no knowledge of what was in it, also her strange words concerning Mr Standish and Mr Lee were very damning once the true nature of events were known.
Bradley asked Mary if Mrs Richmond had ever confessed to wanting Ezra Standish dead, and she replied nearly word for word what Charlotte had said, her reporter instinct for getting the words right, proving useful in this case. Yes, Mrs Richmond had confessed to only wanting Ezra Standish dead. It was damning evidence from a member of the community who was as respected as Mary Travis.
Chad Simpson stood up and asked if Mrs Richmond was correct and if Mrs Travis was jealous of the love between Vin and Charlotte. Mary looked the lawyer up and down slowly and answered in a tone that left no doubt that Mrs Travis had no reason to be jealous of the other woman, or any woman for that matter. Mrs Travis confident air fully informed the court that she was very secure in her own feelings and statue within the community.
Mary Travis left the witness box with a glare in her eye and a step of defiance. The murmur of words that followed her departure took several minutes to settle. Next on the stand was Hal Johnson who repeated that Josiah had awaked him and directed him to the saloon, much as he had Mary Travis. He too felt that Mrs Richmond's reaction to the drink was strong and very confusing, and mentioned the fact that she had spoken of only wanting Ezra dead. Mr Johnson did admitted while under questing from Mr Simpson, that Mr Larabee had been almost rabid in his treatment of Mrs Richmond.
Chad had leapt on that statement and got Hal to admit that Charlotte had stated that she did not like Brandy. Simpson looked about the court with a wide smile, which flatten as Mr Johnson went on to say that he felt that was strange as he had brought Mrs Richmond a brandy the week before and she had not mentioned it making her sick. With ill grace Chad Simpson dismissed the elderly man.
The afternoon sun was still high in the sky when the judge decided to call a halt to the proceedings. He knew that the next witness was Vin Tanner, and then Ezra Standish and Travis wanted to give the jury a night to digest the evidence that had already been laid before them.
The room cleared slowly, with Buck and Nathan waiting to escort Mrs Richmond back to the jail. He husband waited patiently by her side. The poor man looked as if he had not slept in several days, his eyes were red, and his face haggard, unlike his wife who looked radiant as she lapped up the attention that the trail was giving her.
Later that evening Bradley went in search of Vin Tanner, one of his prime witnesses for the next day. He knew that Chad Simpson was desperate to get his client off, and would quite happily throw the Tracker to the wolves to do so, the man's reputation would be torn to pieces by nightfall if he did not play his cards close to his chest. Whatever Bradley's feelings might be towards the tracker, he knew that he was not prepared to pay that price to get Mrs Richmond convicted. So Bradley wanted to make sure that Vin was ready for the next day. The lawyer found both Tanner and Standish sitting in the saloon at one of the back tables with three of the other men, Chris Larabee, Nathan Jackson and JD Dunn.
Ezra Standish still looked pale and worn, but he was fighting against the tiredness that rested about his eyes. He was still considered too ill by the healer of the group, to be allowed the freedom of the town, but Ezra had put his foot down and finally Nathan had begrudgingly agreed to allow him to sit for a few hours in the saloon.
"Mr Bradley." Ezra acknowledged with a bright smile on seeing the man approach, he was glad to finally be out of his room. He indicted the free seat with a nod of his head. Standish was pleased to see any new face, and the reprieve it might allow him, as the others were starting to make noises about him returning to his room to rest.
The lawyer smiled widely back in return, surprised at the enthusiastic nature of the greeting, and willingly accepted the chair that was offered. "You are looking better than when I last saw you Mr Standish." He offered as Inez moved over to take his order. He smiled broadly at her and ordered a beer.
"You are too kind Mr Wayne." Ezra answered with another smile, but the lawyer noted that it did not reach his eyes as he continued, "may I enquire as to how the trial is going?" Seeing the other men at the table sit up straighter, Ezra offered by way of an apology towards Bradley for the looks he was getting from the other men. "They feel that I will suffer a relapse if they talk about it in front of me." He then shot his lover a hard glare, which he switched towards Chris and Nathan. "They don't seem to realise, that it is the NOT knowing that is causing me the greater distress."
Bradley sympathised with the gambler and offered honestly, "I can fully understand your frustration, but it really will help the case if your testimony isn't influence by any other persons testimony that has gone before. So please I would ask you to bear with us... at least until tomorrow."
The gambler thought about it for a few moments before he settled back and holding out his hands offered in capitulation, "As you wish, after all, in this instance I am yours to command."
Bradley desperately wanted to answer that statement, to take command of the handsome man who sat before him, but the deadly glare he got from Vin Tanner refrained him. Instead he turned his attention to the tracker and said determinedly, "I actually came to talk to you, Mr Tanner."
"Me!" the man in question asked, surprise clear in his tone.
"Yes, I want to go over some of the questions I plan to ask tomorrow, and to give you some... er idea of the questions Mr Simpson might ask." He shot another look towards the gambler before he added, "Mrs Richmond's lawyer is going to be desperate, and he is going to be rough on you Vin... I just want you to be prepared."
The tracker threw a nervous look towards his healing lover and Ezra's eyes narrowed at the voiced threat to Vin, "I would also be interested to hear what Mr Wayne has to say. I agree that Mr Simpson will do everything in his power to prove his client innocent, or at least not reasonable for her actions"
"Ezra..." Nathan began, noting and not liking the fire suddenly burning in the other man's glance. The healer did not want Ezra to get excited, or over stressed as it would drain his already weakened body, but the gambler stopped him with a look and said.
"Mr Jackson, I refuse to be treated like an invalid any longer." There was true anger in the gambler's eyes, and Nathan was not sorry to see it. The healer sat back, and smiled at his friend, Ezra has been far too accepting of the attempt on his life, and while Jackson was not pleased with him over stressing himself, he was pleased to see a flash of the old Ezra "I would be interested to hear what Mr Wayne has to say to Vin." He turned his attention back to Bradley he offered, "Please continue."
The lawyer looked over towards the gunslinger, Chris Larabee, who had not said a word and saw that the man was not going to intervene; taking this as an acceptance to continue, he cleared his throat and began.
"Mr Simpson is going to try to make it look, as if you entrapped Mrs Richmond into a relationship and then spurned her, which in turn lead to her becoming enraged with jealousies, and deranged enough to commit this crime without actual knowledge of committing it."
No one at the table said a word as they all looked at Bradley in total shock. Finally Ezra demanded his face pale, "and exactly how will that defence save Mrs Richmond from the hangman's noose."
"Diminished responsibility... it has been used successfully back East... One never knows which way a jury will go... and finding a woman guilty of murder is not an easy verdict for a jury to arrive at... especially here, out west where women are rare and well respected, the jury just might grab at that rather then commit her to hang, especially if Mr Simpson can paint her as a woman wronged." Again seeing the look this earned him he offered sincerely, "I don't agree with it, but it happens, I want to make sure that you," he looked towards Vin, "fully understand how rough tomorrow is going to be."
"Exactly how rough will it be?" Ezra quietly asked, a frown marring his ashen face as he looked towards his lover.
Bradley thought about it for a few moments. Then leaning forward he said in a low tone, directed towards Vin. "Mr Simpson has agreed not to mention Mrs Richmond's er... hysterical allegations that Mr Standish has er... influenced you onto a pathway not acceptable to a moral man." Seeing that confused look his got him from every one but the gambler he said, "That you and Mr Standish had having an affair... But he will bring up the fact that you ran off with Mrs Richmond while you were suppose to be escorting and protecting her husband's wagon train. That you continued to hang around her, even after she chose to return to her husband."
"It wasn't like that, that woman is a viper who..." Vin snapped his eyes flashing, his face tightening as he glared at the lawyer.
"Mr Tanner, if you react like that in the courtroom tomorrow you will do more towards getting Mrs Richmond off, then her own lawyer." Bradley snapped angrily interrupting the tracker before he could carry on, "you have to allow his words, allow his vile accusations to flow over you... don't give them more weight by denying them, let him say what he needs to, then answer his questions with the facts of what actually happened..."
"Exactly what do you mean Mr Wayne?" Ezra asked, his face serious as he looked intently at the other man.
Bradley smiled in his direction, seeing that Ezra wanted to get the discussion back on track and offered, "Mr Tanner did you have an affair with Charlotte Richmond?" Seeing Vin about to answer with another burst of denial as to how it happened, Bradley hurried on placing the facts before them, "Yes, you did... that is fact... but she was a willing partner... that is also a fact that needs to be said, she knew exactly what she was getting into... I will cover much of this when I initially question you, but Simpson will try to twist your testimony, that is what you need to be aware of... and when he tries to lead you off of the facts, when he tries to paint you as the wrong doer, you need to state clearly and firmly that you did it together. She willing left her husband to be with you, and that you choose to come back when you realised that the danger to the wagon train wasn't over. You have to think about each of his questions and bring him right back to that point. You are not the one on trail, but he will try his best to make what you did look bad, to give Charlotte an acceptable reason for doing what she did."
Tanner looked confused and then an expression of distress filtered across his handsome face. The guilt he felt for the pain he had caused Ezra was slowly eating him up inside and he didn't know how to make it right. He could not deny that he did feel guilt that Charlotte had poisoned Ezra to get to him.
"Vin." Ezra said, leaning forward and gently touching his lovers hand in reassurance, "All you have to do is tell the truth about what happened when we escorted the wagon train, nothing you say up there is going to affect us... what happened between you and Mrs Richmond back then, happened before us, and what she did to me... to poor Samuel, SHE did... not you, don't let her win Vin... if you accept the blame for what she did, you will destroy us as surely as if you put a gun to our heads." He shot a look towards Bradley Wayne, his gaze defiant, clearly informing the lawyer that he was doing this for Vin, not for him as he continued. "I think I understand what Mr Wayne is concerned about... and I also think that he would like to run you through a question session, just so that you know what to expect... am I right?" the gambler asked the lawyer who smiled and offered relieved that at least someone understood why he needed to do this.
"If Mr Tanner is agreeable, it would make it easier for him tomorrow."
"Ezra?" Vin asked uncertainly filling his voice as he looked over towards his lover, who slowly nodded saying.
"I would prefer it, if someone else could be present." Ezra looked at his friend before he continued, "I think it would be in our interest if I was also there, so that I will have at least some idea of where Mr Simpson's defence might be coming from."
"I have no problem with that." Bradley offered knowing from pass experience that he was not likely to get these two men on their own. "If you are present Mr Standish, I could also go over some questions I believe that Mr Simpson might be asking you."
Ezra sighed, it was going to be a long night, but he could see the sense behind what Bradley was suggesting. Standing he said, "I think we should move this to somewhere more private." Vin stood and gently rested his hand, under his lover's arm steadying him. "I believe that Inez would allow us the use of her private sitting room on in this instance."
The young Mexican woman was more then willing to help, and after she had made sure that Ezra was settled in the most comfortable chair, by the fire departed with the promise of coffee as soon as it was ready.
Several hours after Bradley had left them, Ezra lay with his head resting on Vin's chest. He slowly stroked the warm subtle flesh under his hand. Tanner was now relaxed, sleepily enjoying the attention his lover was and had given him.
By the time the discussion with Bradley had finished, Vin was wound tight with tension. His muscles taunt and his face lined with worry. Ezra had sat watching the entire time, as the lawyer shot question after question at his lover. Noting the way the tracker would flare up, his anger rushing out as a rash of slander was tossed down on the gambler's head. He knew what Bradley was trying to do, and actually appreciated the fact that he was taking the time, to walk Vin through what he could expect when he was on the witness's stand. Ezra knew that it was not going to be easy for Vin. Yet the gambler was surprised at how hard it actually was for him to sit there, and see Bradley attack his lover over his initial affair with Mrs Richmond, then hearing Wayne's version of events that Vin had actively encouraged the woman once she arrived in town. Bradley had stressed that he was only acting out what he believed to be Simpson's defence in the cross questions, just to see how the tracker would react, and that he believed Tanner when he insisted that he had not encouraged the woman in any way since her arrival in town. Yet, it still hurt Ezra to hear the man say that Vin still had hidden feelings for the woman, and while he did his best to keep his pain from his features, he knew that Vin had seen the flashes of it.
After finally seeing the lawyer out, Vin had leant his head resting against the door. He was drained. Ezra had slipped up behind him, and wrapped his arms tightly about the man he loved. They stood there for a while. Then, slowly Ezra allowed his hand to slip into Vin's shirt and he felt the warm flesh. Then he turned him about, and pressing Tanner into the door Standish leant close and kissed him, forcing his way in. It was hungry, demanding, and just what the tracker needed to reaffirm their love.
Finally Ezra pulled away and shaky insisted that they return to their room to continue their activities. Vin has been keen and soon he was closing and locking their bedroom door behind them.
Ezra reached for him again, and Vin fell into the warm embrace, and hungrily accepted the ravishing kiss and willingly allowed the other man to pull him towards the large bed, shedding clothes as they went. Once he was laying on the bed, Ezra climbed on top of him, showering kisses along the tall lean body, until he had Tanner well in hand. He then replaced his hand with his mouth and with a slow motion he started to rock, allowing the hard member of his lover to slip easily down his warm welcoming throat.
Tanner feebly attempted to stop Standish, panting that the gambler was not strong enough to engage in such play, but Ezra brushed his words aside, by rocking fast and stealing the other man's ability to think clearly. Ezra needed this as much a Vin, and he as determined to get his own way. When it was over, Vin lay totally limp, as Ezra slowly crawled up, licking his lips, before he stole another kiss from his stated lover, then he rested his head on Vin's chest. This was the only place he wanted to be.
They had remained that way for quite a while, enjoying the moment and recovering slowly. When Vin attempted to return the favour, Ezra had gently refused, keeping his head resting on the broad chest, and his leg entwined with Vin's saying that he was totally content to stay were he was. The tracker had to capitulate; as he was not sure he had the strength to argue.
Ezra then started to talk to Vin, his southern accents sending shivers of love along the others body as he began to explain the reasons why he loved the tracker. It was a long list and each word warmed and reassured the bounty hunter, as no action could. By the time Ezra fell silent he knew that no matter what happened during the trial the next day, he would still have Ezra to hold the following night, and that firmly put into prospective his feelings on the matter of Charlotte Richmond, and her trail. She had tried to destroy them, but she had failed, the lover his held tightly in his arms was proof of that, she had not power over them.
As sleep started to steal over them, Vin murmured tenderly, "Ezra I love you."
The gambler smiled, and the tracker felt it against his chest as the quite reply came. "I know, because I returned your feelings in full Mr Tan... Vin." Both smiled at the old joke that passed between them.
When Vin Tanner entered the courtroom early the next day, everyone turned to watch his steady progress, but no one more so then Charlotte Richmond, who on seeing the man she loved, attempted to jump up, calling his name. Vin totally ignored her and waited quietly until Simpson and her husband managed to silence her so that Bradley could comment his questioning.
Bradley gently led Vin through the events that had led to his leaving the wagon train with Charlotte when they had first met, then dealt with the second meeting when she had arrived in town several weeks ago. Then Bradley questioned him about Ezra Standish first bout of illness. Finally he walked the tracker through the last night, when Ezra had fallen ill again and Samuel Lee died. Vin gave his testimony clearly and precisely. Where the bounty hunter stumbled, the lawyer gently re-led him over the ground, asking the question again, to give the other man time to regroup himself, so that he could tell the story in such a way that the jury fully understood. Finally Bradley recapped some of the relevant points before he finished.
"So after Mrs Richmond return to her husband, did you make any attempt to see her, or speak to her?" Bradley finally asked, wanting that point to be clear towards the jury.
"No. The next time I saw her was when she arrived in town."
"So you didn't agree for her to come to Four Corners, nor encourage her to do so."
"No, after she returned to her wounded husband, I never saw or heard from Mrs Richmond until she arrived in town."
Bradley stopped and considered his next question, he wanted to get this particular matter settled so that when Chad Simpson began to cross exam Vin would have some ground to stand on. "Why do you think Mrs Richmond wanted Mr Standish dead?" Everyone in the court drew in breath, and waited for the answer.
The bounty hunter licked at dry lips and shot a quick look towards Larabee and the others before he offered honestly, "I believe she thought that if I had no... attachments to the town, then I would go with her." For the first time during his testimony he looked directly at the woman who had tried to destroy his life. "That would never have happened... never."
Charlotte seeing Vin looked towards her for the first time, sat up straighter and smiled, then as his words sunk in she jumped up and screamed, "you're lying, you're lying... you love me... you told me you loved me... he's taken what we had and twisted it... he's...." she never got any further as Judge Travis banged his gavel and demanded, as the same time as Simpson leapt up and pulled her firmly back into her chair, stunning her into silence.
"Sit your client down and tell her to be quiet, Mr Simpson, otherwise I will be forced to restrain her...."
Chad nodding towards the judge and prevented Charlotte's from standing again, pulling her roughly back into her chair as he hissed into her ear. Whatever he said, had the desired affect as she swallowed, her eyes going wide as she turned to look fearfully at her husband. Will said nothing, his face as hard as stone as he kept his eyes firmly fixed on the man he had grown to hate. The man now giving evidence against his beloved wife. Will said nothing, his face as hard as stone as he kept his eyes firmly fixed on the man he had grown to hate; the man now giving evidence again his beloved wife.
Bradley waited until the court settled once more before he continued addressing the room, "Mrs Richmond has become obsessed beyond all reason with Mr Tanner," Seeing the annoyed look Travis throw his way, he hurried on, "would you not agree Mr Tanner?"
The bounty hunter looked surprised at he question but he slowly nodded, before he answered his tone as hard as a rock and his eyes as cold as ice, "I think that it was wrong of her to poison my friends."
"Your honour." Chad jumped up, but Travis forestalled him saying firmly, "Mr Wayne... please keep your opinions until your final argument, and do not allow your witness to make closing arguments for you." He then turned his attention towards the twelve men sitting off to one side "the jury is to disregard Mr Tanner's last statements," then he glanced back at Bradley and continued, "and if you have no further question for the witness, then allow Mr Simpson to cross examine."
Bradley looked towards the tracker and almost wished that he could prevent Simpson from questioning the other man, as he had no really way of knowing how he would react to the other lawyer's cross-questioning. Although he was satisfied by the time he had left Tanner and Standish the night before, he was now facing the reality of Vin Tanner blowing his case out of the water by just losing his temper once.
Vin shifted and settled his jacket over his well-built frame, as Simpson stood up and smiled at him. He had seen friendly smiles from angry snakes.
"Mr Tanner... you were Mrs Richmond's lover. Isn't that correct?" A murmur sped about the room, at that first question from Chad Simpson.
Vin licked at dry lips and nodding he answered firmly, "Yes, for a short period."
Chad accepted the answer and smiled again, moving out from behind the table where he and his client sat, and began. "So when you and your companions rode with the wagon train to offer it the protection that Judge Travis graciously allow, you saw that as your opportunity to encouraged Mrs Richmond, a married woman, to seek a liaison with yourself?"
"No." Vin offered sharply but firmly, "she was upset, frightened over what was happening to the wagon train, she felt lost and alone... her..."
"Alone." The lawyer butted in roughly, pointing back towards Charlotte and Will, who sat silently behind her; "she was with her husband Mr Tanner... that is hardly alone. Nor does it entitle you to prey upon her weaker nature and abscond with her."
Vin ignored the lawyer's outburst and pushed on with his original words, "she told me that she was lonely, that he husband didn't want her any more...."
"So you felt the need to alleviate that loneliness, had to take her husbands place." Chad stated again, but this time the judge hit the table with his gravel and snarled.
"Mr Simpson, if you want to ask a question of the witness then please do. I will not have you badgering the witness, now if you wish to just begin your closing argument; then do. But if you only wish to interrupt Mr Tanner, so that he is not able to finish a sentence or answer your questions, then I will assume that you have completed your cross examination and move on to the next witness..." he glared at the lawyer, "are we understood?"
Simpson had the grace to look slightly embarrassed as he offered, "Please forgive me your honour... I got slightly carried away." he turned to Tanner and said, "I apologise Mr Tanner." The tracker said nothing, as he looked coldly at the other man. Chad took a moment to gather his line of thought before he started again. "Mr Tanner, when Mrs Richmond decided to return to her husband... how did you feel?"
Vin looked at the floor for a few seconds before he replied. "I was surprised at first, but then seeing as how her husband got injured and all, I guess she just figured that she really loved him."
"And you allowed her to go? Just like that?"
"It was her choice, and I couldn't make her stay... she wanted him. I accepted that."
"Your love appears to be very short term and shallow Mr Tanner."
At this the tracker's head snapped up, his eyes blazed and he shot back. "At the time I would have left my friends for her, my life here... everything... but she made her decision back then, and I ACCEPTED it."
"So when she came to Four Corners looking for you, you wanted nothing to do with her?"
"No not in that way." Vin answered firm, "but I did want to... to help her. She told me that she had left her husband because he beat her... and that she wanted to go back East." He looked towards Will Richmond who was glaring at him with utter hatred. "I had no reason to doubt her... at the time."
Chad nodded slowly, before he continued, "I believe that you did want to help her Mr Tanner... but can you explain to me and the court, why, if you had no interest in Mrs Richmond, you were seen kissing her the first day she arrived in town... out in the main street, across from this very court."
Vin looked slightly uneasy at this line of questioning, but he answered slowly judging his words, "yes... when I first saw her, just after she arrived in town... she... she kinda leapt on me, took me by surprise, and kissed me."
"So you allowed this er... kiss to happen?" Chad looked over towards the jury, and smiled, his stance informed the court that he found this answer hard to believe.
"I couldn't stop it... it happened so fast." Vin stammered, shaken by the lawyer's attitude.
Chad frozen for a few seconds, as if surprised by the tracker's answer, before he stated incredulously, "you are a fully grown man Mr Tanner... more than capable of defending this town, and yet you expect us to believe that you were unable to stop Mrs Richmond, a fairly small women in comparison to yourself, from kissing you?"
"She surprised me." Vin stammered again, he took a breath and attempted to clam down, this was exactly what Bradley had warned him about the night before. Charlotte's lawyer would find something that threw the tracker and he would keep attacking him about it, hoping to unnerve him to such a state that he would make a mistake in his testimony. Vin was suddenly grateful that Bradley had taken the time to explain this aspect of the cross examination to him the night before, because he felt more confident with handling it. With that knowledge he was able to pull his anger back, and settled more comfortably in the chair to await the next question.
"Even being surprised you should have been able to control a woman of Mrs Richmond's size... but." Mr Simpson continued, "I think you enjoyed her attentions, and allowed her to continue in the false assumption that you still retained feelings for her..."
"No." Vin firmly, but Chad Simpson cut him off saying.
"No further questions... this witness is excused."
Vin Tanner was not the kind of man who could be dismissed so light, as he spoke up saying, "Mr Simpson, you asked me a question, and now you aren't listening to what I have ta say."
Chad looked annoyed and retorted loudly, "I said you were excused." He then turned his back on Tanner.
Judge Travis looked at the tracker who shot him a look, and said, "Mr Simpson, I told you before about not allowing Mr Tanner to answer your questions, now I am going to allow him to answer your last question, and Mr Simpson, just so we are such on the matter, it is I who excuse witnesses in this court room... not you." Travis actually got a certain amount of satisfaction from the surprised expression that crossed Chad's Simpson's face.
"So Mr Tanner," The Judge continued, "why didn't you stop Mrs Richmond from kissing you on the first day she arrived in town?"
The man in question looked from the judge back to Simpson, then over to Wayne who smiled encouragingly. He sat back and taking a steadying breath he began. "It was fairly early in the morning... and I was on my way to meet up with Ezra... er Mr Standish... I heard someone call my name, and when I turned, Charlotte, Mrs Richmond was in my arms... I was shocked to see her, and didn't want to hurt her by pushing her roughly away. Besides I didn't know if her husband was in town with her, and I didn't want to cause no more trouble between them, and if he saw us kissing it would cause a heap of trouble."
Judge Travis seeing that Vin had finished, looked towards Simpson and asked, "Do you have any further questions?"
The lawyer looked displeased with the turn of event, and shook his head in reply.
"You may step down Mr Tanner." The judge said, before he looked over towards Bradley. "Your next witness Mr Wayne?"
"I would like to call Mr Standish to the stand." The lawyer said, a frown still marring his features. He felt uneasy. Chad Simpson had not questioned Mr Tanner as extensively as he expected and that started a warning bells ringing in his mind, but he had no way of knowing just what it was that Mr Simpson was planning.
Ezra Standish walked slowly into the room. He epitomised the image of a Southern gentleman, with his immaculate suit, and clean-cut features, with just a rakish flare of his auburn hair falling over his handsome features. He refused to look at anyone as he made his way slowly over to the chair was being used as the witness stand. He kept his right arm firmly wrapped about his middle; as if his stomach hurt, and looked close to collapse. His face was ashen, almost white, and Bradley wondered if he would be able to take the stand.
Charlotte suddenly looked up and seeing Standish she started up, but Simpson was prepared and he pulled her down. "What is he doing here?" she said loudly, "He shouldn't be here." She stated again. Simpson leant in towards her and again whispered in her ear. She obviously didn't like what her lawyer told her, because she threw a look towards the judge before she settled back, not taking her eyes from the man that she had grown to hate.
Standish took the seat and settled himself carefully. He knew that Vin had just given testimony but he had no idea of what had been said, or how rough the ordeal had been for him. He shot a look towards his lover and noted the concerned look that was being thrown his way. He smiled back in reassurance. He felt surprising nervous, but it did not show on his classical features, which were blended into an expression of quite disinterest.
Bradley stood up and much as he had Vin, he led Ezra through his testimony. The gambler described how he had first met Mrs Richmond, when she arrived back in town. He then went on to tell about how he had heard, that she had moved into the saloon, and his relative short dealings with her. He admitted freely that he had not had much to do with her, and during his illness could not recall her presence at all.
Bradley then questioned him about the bottle of brandy that has been laced with poison. Ezra stated that he knew that the bottle had been imported from the East, and he had taken to drinking it while he had been in Boston visiting friends several years before. He also confirmed that last bottle had in fact been a present from his mother, and had only been opened a shortly before Mrs Richmond arrived in town. He did acknowledge that he had drunk from the bottle several times and that he had not been ill on those occasions.
Bradley then asked Ezra if he had any reason to suspect Mrs Richmond of wanting to do him any harm.
The gambler had looked perplex and glancing over at the woman in question he noted that she refused to meet his look he said clearly, "I had no reason to suspect that she wished me ill. She was always polite to me."
"I would never be polite to the devil." Mrs Richmond hissed, it was spoken just loud enough for the rest of the people in the room to hear, again Simpson rested a firm hand of his client's arm and she fell silent, but this time she sat glaring at the other man, and when she noted that Tanner was smiling encouragingly towards the gambler she let out a small mew, which only her lawyer heard. He threw her a concerned look, but said nothing as he turned his attention back to the witness.
If Ezra was distressed by Charlotte's actions he gave no indication as he finished with his testimony.
Bradley thanked the other man for his time, and slowly sat down. As he did so he bit his bottom lip, he had a slight idea of where Simpson might be heading, and he knew that the other six men who protected the town were not going to be happy with the cross examination that was about to take place. He only hoped that Standish was strong enough to face it.
Chad Simpson slowly stood up, he bent down and whispered harshly at Mrs Richmond, obviously telling her to keep quite, the woman appeared to be getting more agitated with the proceedings as Ezra's testimony went on. Chad straightened and adjusted his jacket and acting as if he had all the time in the world, he began by asking Ezra to confirm his name and occupation. The gambler answered honestly, and only winced slightly when Chad made reference to his past brushes with the law. He stated in a clear tone that he had only been arrested once, and had been released on bail. This caused Judge Travis to glare at him, but he prudently refused to meet the look.
"Mr Standish" Simpson began condescendingly, "you don't' exactly have a pristine past... do you?"
The gambler looked directly at Simpson and retorted strongly. "I am a gambler sir... according to the people who have lost money to them, gamblers rarely have pristine pasts." Ezra knew exactly where this man was going and finished boldly, "but to my knowledge I am not a cold blooded murderer..."
"A murderer... strange you should say that Mr Standish." Chad stated with just the right amount of a frown between his eyes, "you admit quite openly that you are a gambler, and it is well known that gamblers are renown for killing people for calling you a liar and a cheat... your own reputation in this town is that of a con artist, you have conned people out of their hard earned living, and yet you say you are not a murderer..." again the pause for dramatic effect, "I have to ask you Mr Standish, how many people in the past have died because of what you have done..." Seeing that Ezra was about to answer he held up his hand, to prevent him and pushed on. "Yet, you expect this town to believe that Mrs Richmond, who has no dark past, never been arrested, or had a sin placed at her door," he threw a hard look towards Larabee remembering his testimony concerning Charlotte's child he snapped, "the death of her child was an horrendous event for this woman, and there is no proof that it was anything other then a fever that carried the child away." He turned his attention back to the man who he was questioning, "Yet you have tried to frame this poor soul, allowing these people to believe that she poisoned YOUR drink, and attempted to kill YOU" he raised his hands and shouted, "you have used this woman as nothing more then a scrape goat, to cover your own crime Mr Standish."
"What?" Ezra demanded, his face pale, then before the eyes of the room he pulled himself up and looked Chad Simpson straight in the eyes and countered clearly and firmly putting the other man in his place, "Mr Simpson, I don't know who attempted to kill me..." a pin could have dropped and been heard in the room, as he slowly turned his glaze towards the woman in question. "I do know that Mrs Richmond has been accused. The evidence against her, I believe is quite damning, and her infatuation with Mr Tanner has been proven beyond doubt in this very room. No matter what her emotional feelings are, where or will ever be, that does not give her the right to attempt to kill me." He stopped again, and looked down at his hands, gathering his courage as he confessed, "Yes, in the past I have been labelled a conman, it is a hazard of my trade, and yes, in the past I have killed men who have not agreed with the turn of the cards." Again those green eyes flashed up and pinned Chad Simpson, "but it was always in self defence, any man in this room has he right to defend himself, and I have also killed to protect this town, again if any person within this room feels that I have done wrong, then they need only look towards their own safety to justify what I and my friends have done."
Chad attempted to interrupted, shocked at how well this man was countered his accusations, but the judge glared him into submission, and Ezra was having no of it, and the crowd was with the gambler as he continued, "well Mr Simpson... you also accused me of poisoning my own brandy," the look of pure distance would have had a weak man drop his gaze, but Simpson was caught, and had nowhere to look, "if I wanted to die, there are a lot easier and quicker ways to do it.... Why just being late for patrol two days in row guarantees Mr Larabee to come searching for me with his guns on... so it is safe to assume that poison is not by preferred method of suicide." Ezra paused and gathered another breath, his was fast losing his remaining strength but he was determined to continue, "So let us consider your other accusation, to poison my drink in such a manner must mean that Samuel Lee was my intended victim... Samuel Lee, a man who's path I had never crossed before I arrived in this town, a man with whom I was on fairly good terms, who I had drunk with in the past... who would run short errands for me in return for a glass or bottle of drink, I didn't have to poison my own bottle to do that, I could have used any bottle and given it to him. But, I had a reason for wanting Samuel dead... he was just a poor old man who had fallen on hard times, and if that is the best defence you have for you client, then I fell almost sorry for her." He stopped suddenly out of breath and leant forward, his energy coming to a swift end.
"Mr Standish." Travis said, leaning over towards the other man, whom he truly believed was going to topple from the chair. "Are you alright sir? Would you like a short recess?"
The gambler looked at the judge and smiled weakly at the concern he saw in the other's eyes. "I fear that I may have over stretched my healing abilities... would a glass of water be available." He said, licking at dry, perched lips.
Nathan, who was closer to the gambler, fetched the water. He did not like the too pale features, the sweat that beaded his forehead and upper lip, or the way the other man's hand shook when he took the glass. Nathan shot a warning look towards the judge, who nodded his understanding. Ezra Standish was near the end of his endurance.
Slowly the healer walked away, back to his seat beside the other six men who protected this town. He could see that Vin was being torn by what Ezra was suffering.
"Mr Standish, do you feel ready to continue." Travis asked, keeping a close eye on the witness. The gambler took a deep breath; let it out slowly, then smiling at the judge he nodded slowly.
"Mr Simpson, do you have any more questions for the witness?" Travis asked, the look he gave the other man clearly stated that he was going to be on a short leash.
Chad took the implied threat seriously. He now knew that his client was beyond saving. She had not been honest with him, had made no mention of her confession in the saloon, which had been in front of too many reliable witnesses. Neither had she nor her husband allowed him to use the insanity plea. Stating instead that they didn't have enough evidence against her, she had only ranted against Standish, saying that he was the guilt party. So Chad Simpson attempted to do the only thing he could to save his client. Even if it meant throwing this man to the wolves and with determination he went against the agreement that he had made with Judge Travis and Bradley Wayne. He realised that a mistrial was going to be his client's only chance to survive the hangman's noose in this courtroom.
"Mr Standish, why do you feel that Mrs Richmond saw YOU, personally as such a threat to her and Vin Tanner?"
Ezra raised green eyes to look at the lawyer, wondering where his questions where leading now. "I believe that Mrs Richmond thought that if we were removed," he indicated Larabee and the others, "then Mr Tanner would be more willing to accompany her."
"If we go along with that thought," Simpson said, as if working out the line of thought as he spoke, "why do you believe she choose you first?"
"Maybe she could get to my Brandy bottle, easier then she could get to Mr Larabee's whiskey." He sent a weak smile over towards the gunslinger. "Or maybe you should direct your questions on this towards your client Mr Simpson."
"Oh I have asked her Mr Standish, and her reply was most interesting... and distressing for a woman of her piety."
If possible Ezra paled even more, and shot a look alarm towards his lover. He did not fear for his own reputation, but would not allow Vin's to be destroyed, just to save that woman.
"Mr Simpson you are treating on very dangerous ground." Judge Travis interrupted, a frown marring his features. "A ground that you had been warned not to tread."
The lawyer held open his hands in stipulation and offered innocently, "I am only trying to do what is best for my client."
"Your client will be facing a mistrial, if you continue, and I will dismiss this jury and hold a closed court, I have heard the evidence and I am prepared to make a ruling on this matter, if you push me."
"I have to do, what I consider to be the best action for my client."
"Need I remind you that where you are going is only hearsay, and your client is accused of murdering Mr Lee.... Attempting to discredit Mr Standish and Mr Tanner in this manner will not..."
Suddenly a voice broke in from behind Simpson. "Why are you arguing, that man should not be here." All eyes rolled over to fix on Mrs Richmond, who was standing; she looked beseeching about at the other people in the room and continued, "not among us god fairing people..." She glared at Standish, "whenever I look up you are there... taking what doesn't belong to you." Her tone tilted into rage as she started forward. Chad was reacting immediately and was ready when she moved and he caught her, snarling at her husband.
"For lords sake kindly control your wife... she is going to condemn herself out of her own mouth." He hissed just loud enough for Will Richmond to hear.
Mr Richmond had also started forward, and his head snapped up at Chad's words and the way he grabbed his wife. "Leave her..." he snared reaching out to take her back from the lawyer, but Charlotte spun on him and slapped away his hands.
"Don't touch me." She hissed, "you sicken me... you're just like him..." she nodded over towards Standish who was quietly watching the scene unfold before him in stunned silence, much as the rest of the room was. Not a breath was heard. Then she turned her attention towards the judge; "interfering in things that don't concern you.... You don't have the right to judge me..."
"Mrs Richmond I would recommend that you shut up and sit down." Judge Travis snapped, not happy with the turn of events in his courtroom.
"Your honour." Chad began, turning to face the judge, but his words were lost as a scuff broke out behind him. Richmond was trying to drag his wife back to her seat, but she was fighting him, screaming out as she did so.
"Vin... Vin... my darling... you don't need him... we can go to Brazil... just like we planned..." She cried, turning a desperate look on the tracker who looked at her with mixed horror and distaste, she saw this and also saw the look of pure devotion and concern he tossed towards Ezra, before he stood to go towards him as Ezra was noticeably wilting on the stand, she screamed even louder, her rage beyond the cry of words, finally realising that her old lover no longer needed, wanted or loved her. She let out another screech of pure rage.
At the cry, and seeing Ezra about to pass out on the stand, Larabee leapt up from his seat, closely followed by Buck, Josiah and JD. The gunslinger, knowing that Vin would take care of his lover, decided to prevent the woman from causing the court any more distress by her actions, he tossed Chad Simpson out of the way, and reached for the demented Charlotte who was screaming obscenities at the gambler, and struggling with her lawyer to get passed him, her hands claws, she would rip Ezra to pieces with her bare hands, she yelled defiantly. Will seeing Chris intention to assail his wife, swung into Larabee's path, and threw a punch at him. Chris easily side step the attack and slammed one of his own into the other man's stomach, causing him to fall to the floor, gasping for breath, stunned.
Buck and Josiah meanwhile had caught a hold of Charlotte as she attempted to side step the fighting men, but she was possessed in her rage now, and they were finding it hard to restrain her. JD was hovering about the edges of the affray, desperately wanting to help, but not wanting to get in the way. Larabee turned away from Will Richmond as Charlotte let out another scream; this was a mistake as Richmond was up of the floor and attacking him again, shoving him forcibly into the other two men and his struggling wife. All five went down in a huddle of arms and legs.
What exactly happened next would have many different versions, in the retelling, but the end result would always remain the same.
Larabee pulled himself out of the group and fought to stand up, and was attempting to pull Will Richmond of off his friends, finally tossing him aside like a rag doll, his anger giving him strength, then he reached for Charlotte. As his hand went out, he saw her roll and scrambled away from him and the others, she showed surprising agility and speed in this action. He made to go after her, as Buck shouted, "My GUN!", even as the words were spoken, Larabee saw the deadly weapon clutched in Mrs Richmond's fists. She lifted it with shaking hands and was firing it before he could react.
The blasts echoed and rebounded about the room, throwing it into total chaos. Woman screamed and men called out, as they ducked for cover, but it was the sound of a chair spilling over and the strangled, gasping cry that Ezra issued that caused the ice to settle in Larabee's stomach. Without a thought, Chris struck Charlotte a blow that knocked her off her feet and back into the crowd who had gathered to watch the trial. They screamed as they scrambled to get out of the way of the avenging gunslinger.
Larabee was not sure what he would have done if he had reached the woman, but Buck was suddenly there, pulling him back saying, "easy there partner... easy... let Josiah and me take care of her... you've got to go check on Ezra?" These last words sunk into the other man, and he dismissed Mrs Richmond without a second thought and made his way over to the small crowd that had gathered about the down gambler.
"Nathan?" Chris questioned his fear clearly heard in his tone, the healer looked up, a frown marring his features as he offered worriedly.
"I think he must have hit his head when Vin tackled him off the chair..." Seeing Vin slump down beside his lover Nathan hurried on, knowing that Ezra's poisoning and continued weakness was hard on the tracker, who looked to be finally succumbing to the stress of the situation, "let's get him over to the clinic, so that I can get a better look at him." As he spoke he looked towards the judge who looked equally shocked by recent events.
"Yes, by all means Mr Jackson," Travis suddenly spoke up, gathering his wits about him once more, "The court will be adjourned until tomorrow morning," he said to the room at large, then he spoke to Jackson again, "I feel it would be advisable for you to also check on Mrs Richmond when you have finished."
Nathan threw a look over towards the woman in question and saw that Buck and Josiah, closely followed by her husband and Simpson, were carrying her out of the saloon. The crowded parted like before them as Nathan answered, "I'll do that Judge, as soon as I've checked out Ezra."
With careful hands the three men lifted the unconscious gambler and took him to the small room that Nathan used. Once Larabee was sure that Ezra was settled, he made his way over to the jail.
He walked in to be confronted by chaos as Mr Richmond, Chad Simpson and Bradley Wayne were rowing over the unconscious body of Mrs Richmond, who had been laid on a bunk in one of the cells. Buck, Josiah and JD were standing there open mouthed, unable to believe what they were seeing and hearing.
The door opened behind Larabee to admit Judge Travis. He took one look at the shouting men before him, and holding out his hand he indicated for the gunslinger to quieten the room. The man in questions smiled evilly and pulling his gun, he fired into the ceiling, all arguing stop as the three men span to face the man holding the smoking gun. Their glances then slipped passed him to face of the angry looking judge.
"Gentlemen.... This is totally unacceptable behaviour, if you cannot control yourself, you will be removed from this jail, and placed in contempt of court. Is that clear?"
The glare each man received from the judge was enough to shame them into agreement. "Now as to that farce of this afternoon, and Mrs Richmond's attempt to take Mr Standish's life in front of a room full of witnesses, I believe that it might be prudent of you to advise your client to change her plea Mr Simpson."
Mr Richmond stepped forward and demanded, "What... change her plea? What the hell are you talking about?"
Chad Simpson rested a hand on the other man's shoulder, but it was angrily shrugged off as Richmond demanded again, "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Mr Richmond," the judge answered firmly, "let us be straight on this... your wife is guilty of the crime that she has been accused off. I have already seen enough evidence to prove that, even without this afternoon's display. If I sent those twelve men out to decide on your wife's fate they would come back guilty. I am giving your wife a chance... if she changes her plea then I will be able to be lenient."
"Lenient." Will asked, his glance flickering over to his unconscious wife. "How lenient?"
"Yeah." Larabee stepped in his face twisting with anger at the thought of Mrs Richmond slipping from the hangman's noose. "How lenient Judge, considering she's already murdered one man, and attempted twice to kill one of my men?"
The judge looked towards the gunslinger and saw the brooding anger, and standing straighter he snapped, "Chris that woman isn't fit to be tried, her irrational actions of today have proven that."
"So what... you just let her go?" Demanded Buck coming to stand beside his darkly clad friend.
"No..." Travis insisted swiftly. "She is not fit to be allowed her freedom either. She did kill Samuel Lee and attempt to kill Mr Standish again this afternoon." He turned his look back to Will Richmond and her lawyer, "but I am prepared to change her sentence to life in Yuma prison."
"No." Will Richmond stormed, "no... if she committed the crime then she should hang, my wife is not insane, she is fit to be tried."
All movement in the room stopped as they looked at Richmond in shock. "You want your wife to hang?" Chad Simpson finally demanded, unable to the shock that was clearly heard in his tone.
"If Charlotte is guilty then she deserves to die, putting her in that place for life would be worse then hanging her... she'd never survive, it would be too cruel." He finally finished on a sob, as he turned and slipped desolately to the floor beside the bed where his wife lay.
"No crueller then what she did to Ezra, to the tormented agonies that she put Samuel through before he died." Larabee said, moving forward and firmly coming to stand before Will Richmond.
"I would have to advise my client to accept the offer Mr Richmond." Chad Simpson finally said, also coming to stand by the broken man. "I have no choice, I don't want my client to die."
The husband looked up at the group of men that surrounded him and said, almost choking the words out, "I promised... before we came out West, I promised to look after her..."
"You've done your best for your wife sir," Chad offered sincerely, reaching down and helping the distraught man to his feet. "Come, I think it has been a very hard day, and you need to eat and rest." No one actually thought that Will would leave his wife's side, but it was as if a tie had been broken and he had finally accepted his wife's fate, as he looked about once more at the men who surrounded him and said, with as much dignity as he could muster.
"Please will you let me know when Charlotte is awake, I would like to sit with her tonight... if that would be alright?" He directed this question towards the Judge, who nodded solemnly.
"I will come and inform you myself, brother." Josiah said gently, resting a reassuring hand on the other man's shoulder. The ex-preacher then opened the outside door, and followed Richmond and Simpson from the jail.
"JD," Chris said his expression one of cold determination as he ordered, "lock Mrs Richmond's cell. Buck, I still want two people on duty here, day and night, until this matter is sorted."
"How's Ezra?" JD asked as he locked the cell door and replaced the key in the desk draw. He then shot a look towards Buck, and relaxed slightly when he saw the slight nod the man gave him. The scoundrel would remain with him tonight. Both men felt uneasy about allowing Will Richmond to sit with his wife, but the judge had agreed so they were duty bound to allow it.
"He was still unconscious," Chris, answered shortly, his temper still on the dangerous side of boiling. He was not happy with Judge Travis's suggestion or his leniency towards Charlotte Richmond, then seeing the looks of concern on his two men's face, he's attitude softened and he added, "Nathan's will be over shortly, you can ask him them." He turned to the judge and said, "I don't think that Vin is going to be too pleased with your decision either."
The judge looked at the man who stood before him, a man he had grown to consider a friend over the past years, a man who for all his wild ways, still held a high sense of honour, and Judge Travis wondered if he had not fallen slightly in this man's estimation of him, because of his decision. He knew that the lawmen of Four Corners would not be happy with his decision, but he had to make his rulings on justice and law, and hanging a woman who was so obviously unfit to stand trail, would be morally wrong and illegally. Nor could he just let her be consigned to a mental institution, where she might be treated for a few years and then released, she needed to be placed somewhere, where they could look after her, and yet still allow Ezra some semblance of safety. Sighing the Judge said tiredly to Chris, "buy me a drink and we can discuss exactly how we are going to break the news to him."
Ezra slowly fought his way back to consciousness. He knew that it was important, and that to lie there was wrong. Someone was in danger, but he just couldn't seem to get his mind to work, as ideas and images kept flittering about his mind, and he found that he really couldn't fight it. So he didn't and slipped back into the welcoming darkness.
The sound of raised voices roused him again, and he knew that Vin was angry and shouting at someone. His lover rarely, if ever raised his voice. Again he struggled to open his eyes, and this time he was able to open them just mare slits, but it was enough to attract the attention of the healer who had been patiently sitting beside his bed.
"Ezra, hey... Ezra." Nathan began, "you awake there now?" He asked, then seeing the weak nod he smiled and fetched the drink that he had made up earlier, then assisting the man to lean up he helped him drink before he asked, "How are you feeling?"
Again the sound of raise voices interrupted the quite and Ezra gasped out in fear, "Vin?" he tried to rise, but the healer firmly held him down, but Ezra demanded again, "why is Vin angry?"
Nathan looked towards his closed door, listening to the argument with annoyance, before he answered slowly, "oh that's just him and Chris, they are having a... er discussion."
It was then that Ezra realised that he was not in his own room in the saloon, but in Nathan's small abode that he used as a clinic. "What happened?" he asked, his eyes wide as he tried to remember, but could not seem to push pass the haze that floated about his memory.
"What do you remember?" Nathan hedged, as he gently rested his hand on the other man's brow. Normally Ezra would have ducked out from under the others annoying hand, but in this instance he just did not have the energy, that bothered the healer more then he admitted.
"The trail?" Ezra suddenly began as memory flooded back, his face twisting into a frown of remembrance as he thought back. "Mrs Richmond's trail... I believe I was giving evidence, then there was a... a disturbance?" He looked towards Nathan to see if the healer would verify his words.
"Yes, Mrs Richmond er... got disturbed and caused a scene, in the fight that followed, she grabbed Buck's gun..." the healer paused, not sure if he should go on, but Ezra continued for him as the piece's fell into place.
"She tried to shoot me... didn't she? I can remember, Buck called out about his gun... and my chair... my chair... I think...Vin..." slowly he shook his head saying, "I'm sorry... but I can't seem to remember..."
"That's alright Ezra... you hit your head pretty hard when the chair got knocked backwards... Vin knocked you out of the way, saved your life... but I reckon you were just so darn exhausted, that it's taken you this long to wake up."
"How long?" Ezra asked, fighting against the weariness pulling at him, yet he had to admit that he felt better after the rest then he had for the last few weeks. Maybe he was finally healing.
"Early yesterday afternoon... it's about nine in the morning now..." Nathan said before loud voices again interrupted their conversation, Ezra lay listening for a few seconds before he asked tentatively.
"Why is Vin so angry with Chris?"
Nathan suddenly looked uncomfortable and Ezra felt a thrill of anxiety flash through him. Starting up, pushing against Nathan's restraining hand, he demanded, "Was anyone else hurt? Vin... JD."
"No... NO..." Nathan insisted gently but firmly pushing the other man back, "no one else was hurt... but... hell Ezra there ain't an easy way to say this, but Judge Travis has worked out a deal with Mrs Richmond's lawyer and he's not gonna hang her, says it won't be right, her not being right in the head and all, but she'll go to Yuma prison... for life, no parole... he's calling the court back this afternoon to give his verdict."
"And I take it that Vin is not too pleased with this decision?" Ezra queried, surprising the other man with his clam acceptance of the judge's decision.
"Ain't you upset by it?" Nathan had to ask, looking the other man directly in the face, but Ezra had his gambler face on, and it was not easy to read when he pulled that impenetrable shield into place.
Ezra took a breath and slowly let it out, before he answered slowly, having considered his answer, "I never relished the idea of that woman hanging Nathan... I know that she did wrong to kill Samuel... but at one time Vin did love her, and how can I condemn her for still loving him..." he paused and returned Nathan's look for look before he continued, "just how far would I go to keep him." There was such a raw honestly in the words that Nathan had to look away, giving both men a few seconds to recover.
Just then the door swung open and Vin stormed into the room. He paused when he saw Ezra awake and a smile lit his face as he made his way over to his lover, and settled on the other side of the bed. "Hay babe." He said, before leaning in and stealing a quick kiss. Then he settled back and demanded, "How are you feeling?" He took hold of the pale hand that rested on top of the bed cover and held it tightly.
"Rested." Ezra said, accepting Vin administrations, knowing from pass experience that it made the tracker feel better to have this contact. Slowly the gambler pulled up their clasped hands and rested them gently on his chest, as if to allow Vin to check that he was still breathing. "Vin, Nathan told me." He finally said broaching the subject he knew was preying on his lover's mind.
Tanner looked towards Jackson, who took that as his cue to leave saying firmly, " Now you rest easy there Ezra, and don't go getting yourself all excited." This last he directed towards the tracker.
"It ain't right Ezra." Vin stormed, as soon as the door closed, his face twisting at the injustice of it all, "She tried to kill you... twice, and she damn well killed old Samuel Lee."
"I know Vin, I know... but the judge wouldn't have decided to do something like this unless he felt that it was the right thing to do... Vin, Mrs Richmond... Charlotte, she isn't the woman you knew... she been warped by tragic events in her life... for all we know her poor child might have died from fever... and those people back East condemned her unjustly, and I know how cruel society can be if it believes that you have done wrong... Hell Vin, I've lived with it most of my life... and how can I see that woman hang, knowing that she is dying because she loves you..."
"Ezra it ain't like that...." Vin began, wanting to wash away the pain he saw in Ezra's eyes at the words he spoke, and he wondered who had hurt his lover so much.
"Yes... YES it is... you might not look at it like that, but lord Vin... who's to say how I would react if someone stole you away from me, if I lost you and never had the change to gain you back.... What would I have to live for?" A long silence hung in the air after Ezra's speech, finally Vin's face crumpled and he gathered Ezra up, pulling him gently up against his chest and hugging him tight he confessed.
"I'd never, ever leave you Ezra... never, I would die first..." He slowly began to gasp, then sob, until finally tears were falling down the tracker's face. Vin Tanner was not an easy man to be moved to weeping, yet the recent events had battered at his soul and torn at the strong defences that he had built as a child when he was orphaned. He had been terrified that he would lose the man he loved, more then his own life. He also cried for the love that he had once felt for the woman who now resided in the jail. While he could confess to not loving her now, he could never relinquish part of the guilt for having loved her once.
Ezra held Vin securely. His arms wrapped tightly about his lover as he leant back and cradled the other man allowing him to weep. The gambler knew that it was the best thing the tracker could do, knew that he needed to clear his heavy soul from the burden of guilt that he had mistakenly placed there.
Finally when the slight shudders ceased, Ezra carefully pushed Vin back and gently kissed first the tip of his nose and then his full trembling lips. "Hell Ez, now you've got me crying like a baby." Vin accused around a shaky laugh.
Taking in the blotchy face, the red nose and the weepy eyes, Ezra gallantly stated, "And a very handsome, well grown baby you are too." Again he kissed the lips and it naturally slipped into something deeper before Vin reluctantly pulled away saying, "Nathan said not to get you excited."
Ezra looked totally disgusted and offered dryly, "too late." Before Vin could come back with a suitable answer there was a knock at the door and it opened to admit Larabee closely followed by Judge Travis.
Vin attempted to scramble off the bed, but was caught and held firmly by Ezra who looked defiantly back at the judge. The older man waved aside the look and offered, "Please gentlemen I believe we have already covered this subject."
"So we have." Ezra agreed relaxing slightly.
Travis took the seat that Nathan's departure had left empty and began. "Nathan told us that he's already informed you of my decision regarding Mrs Richmond." He paused and waited until Ezra nodded, noncommittally.
"Mr Tanner are you alright?" Travis suddenly asked, noticing Vin's flush complexion.
The tracker looked down embarrassed to have been caught so close to his breakdown, Ezra answered in his stead, "Mr Tanner is fine, we were just enjoying our... er reunion." The look he gave the judge dared him to dispute his words, and Travis did not feel that the situation needed any more antagonism, so he said instead.
"I'm really here because I feel that I owe you both an explanation, as to why I have made this decision."
"I think that I understand why Judge Travis." Ezra glancing towards Vin he continued, "and I agree with your decision, in the circumstances it would be wrong to hang the woman... she is obviously in need of assistance, and I know that while Yuma prison is not renowned for it's gentleness, it does offer some support for prisoners with Mrs Richmond's background."
Vin also spoke up saying firmly, "and while I didn't agree with it at first," he threw an apologetic glance towards Chris who had borne the brunt of his anger, "I can understand what Ezra is saying, and well... I think you're right too." It was not an easy admission for Tanner to make and Judge Travis appreciated the effort.
"Well," Travis began clasping his hands on his knees to help him rise, "that was a lot easier then I expected."
"Judge." Ezra said, considering his words with care, "I understand that you will be convening the court this afternoon to render your judgement?"
The older man paused, wondering why the gambler might be interested and nodding he said, "That's right, I will need to dismiss the jury and then inform the good people of Four Corners of my decision."
"I would like to be there... this after..." Before Ezra had finished speaking his two friends were protesting.
"Ezra that's not a good idea..." Larabee began but a glare from the gambler stopped both men in their tacks.
The judge surprised the three men by saying, "I believe that would be acceptable Mr Standish... after all, you are the injured party in this affair... but only if Mr Jackson says that you are fit enough to attend."
"I will be there, sir." The gambler said, his expression set in his determination.
Once more the saloon had been turned into a courtroom. The seats were spread about, but this time there was no jury sitting off to one side, the judge had already dismissed them, before the prisoner was brought in.
The rumbled of voices about the room rose dramatically in volume, as Charlotte Richmond was escorted into the room, firmly clasped between Larabee and Wilmington. She was dressed all in black, and her pale face vividly showed the bruise from the blow that Larabee had delivered the day before, when she had attempted to shoot Ezra, as he sat on the witness stand. She walked silently between them, her head held high, and her face shuttered from all emotions, but anyone who looked in her lifeless eyes could clearly see that she was not the same woman who had sat in the courtroom the day before. Both Chris and Buck had a firm grasp on her arms, and her lawyer walked before her. Will Richmond was already seated in the chair, behind the defendant table, the same place where he had sat for all of the trail. As in the previous days of the trail JD and Josiah had removed all guns at the door. People had willing given up their weapons, as they were eager to see the drama unfold within the saloon come courtroom.
Ezra and Vin where also there, but they wisely chose to sit near the back, out of sight of the woman, but they could see the whole proceedings from where they where. Nathan sat on the other side of Ezra, not at all happy that the man had insisted on attending the courtroom, but understanding where his determination was coming from, finally he had agreed to allow Ezra to come, but only on the understanding that he was there with him, and at the first sign of fatigue Ezra was going to be taken back to Nathan's room where he was to rest, whether he liked it or not.
Reluctantly the gambler had agreed to the healer's terms, fully understanding that it was the only way he was going to be allowed to attend the conclusion of the trail.
Judge Travis waited until Mrs Richmond, her lawyer and Larabee and Wilmington were seated before he banged his gravel on the table and loudly demanded silence and order. It was swift in coming, and the older man looked sternly about the room. He waited until he had the total attention of every single person in the room before he began.
"As you all know, due to the events that took place in this courtroom yesterday, I have dismissed the jury from this case." Travis paused looking to see how his words were received. Everyone sat silent, waiting eagerly for his next words. "Also due to circumstance, Mrs Richmond's lawyer has advised his client to reconsider her plea of not guilty," a surprise murmur went up about the room at this, but the judge swiftly squashed this by using his gravel to good effect, once silence ruled again he continued, "this she has done and I have made my judgement accordingly."
Judge Travis then turned his fully attention directly towards Mrs Richmond and said in a grave voice, "Would the defendant please stand, while I hand down the judgement of this court." Chad Simpson stood and carefully assisted the quite woman to stand by his side. Travis nodded towards Simpson, who looked solemnly back at him. "Mrs Charlotte Richmond, you have altered your plea to guilty." Again a mummer arose from the room at his words, but his glare was enough to silence the room before he continued. "Your lawyer has plead you case and after listening to the arguments from both counsels and an acceptable agreement has been reach." Again he paused, he never found it easy to sentence a person, and it was only his strong belief in justice that allowed him to push on, "it is the decision of this court that you will be taken to Yuma prison where you will serve out a life sentence for the killing of Samuel Lee and the two attempts on Ezra Standish's life." Again he judge paused looking solemnly about the room before he added, "that is the decision of the court." He hit his gravel firmly on the table once more, finishing firmly, "this court is now adjourned." The room exploded into action as people rose began to moved towards the door to leave the room and gather their weapons. Voices rose as the trail and the decision were discussed. Some people were not happy with the decision as they had come to town to see a hanging, while other were more Christian and could understand where the judge's decision had come from.
Ezra sat silently for several long moments, for some reason he had expected more, and yet he was unable to deny that he was relived that the woman was not going to hang. "Ez..." Vin leant over and asked in concern. "You alright?"
The gambler glanced over at his lover and closed his eyes briefly before he answered, "yes..."
Buck suddenly appeared and said with concern. "Vin you'd best get Ezra and yourself out of here, she's started to ask for you again..." he nodded towards the woman still seated at the table across the room. There were still enough people in the room to hide the tracker from her view, as she started to look about the room, searching for him. He felt a frozen finger of dread creep along his spine.
Without a word the tracker stood and reached out a helping hand he assisted the gambler to his feet. As Ezra stood the world suddenly tilted and it was only Vin's grasp on his arm that kept him on his feet. "Woah there Ez..." Vin yelped as without warning he was supporting the gambler.
Nathan quickly took Ezra's other arm, taking some of the gambler's weight as he urgently said, "I knew it was too much for him, let's get him back to my room, we can't chance passing Mrs Richmond to get to his."
Ezra was feebly insisting that he was alright, but the other two men were not going to allow him to walk on his own, so he quietly accepted their help, if he was honest he was feeling faint, and did not relish giving the town a show of his collapsing on the main street.
Chris saw with concern that Ezra was lead from the room heavily supported by Vin and Nathan, but he didn't leave his position from beside Charlotte Richmond. He waited until they had escorted the gambler from the room, and Buck had rejoined him before he assisted Mrs Richmond to her feet. The room had cleared and only the judge, the two lawyers, the two peacekeepers and the defendant remained. Mr Richmond had filed out with the rest of the people. He had not spoken to his wife, since he had left her in the jail that morning. As agreed he had spent the night sitting by her side, but when she had awoken she had ignored him as if he was not there, and he had made no effort to speak to her, until shortly before he left. He had simply said goodbye to her, she had not return his words, nor even looked at him.
As they left the saloon come courtroom, Chris noted that Josiah and JD had finished returning the weapons, but were arguing with a man who was insisting that he had been given the wrong gun back. The man was a stranger who had obviously come to town just for the trial, as Larabee did not recognise him.
Chris halted with the prisoner and motioned for Josiah to come over and take his place, so that he could take over the discussion with the stranger, as it looked to be getting nasty. Chris purposefully did not call JD over, as the lad took his duties of Sheriff very seriously, and the gunslinger would never undermined him in such a manner. As Buck and Josiah moved away Larabee turned to JD and asked what was going on. The stranger seeing that he was no longer dealing with what he consider to be a boy and an old man, decided that he was not going to get away with his con and suddenly changed his story saying, "nothing... I thought I had the wrong gun, but I can see that I was mistaken."
Larabee met his look with a cold one of his own and said in a tone that froze harden gunman. "Be out of town by tonight." It was not a request and the would be con-artist realised that getting out of town was his best option.
Larabee turned from the now empty table and glanced down the street to where Vin and Nathan where still helping Ezra. He then spied Buck and Josiah with Mrs Richmond, even though she was a distance behind Vin she had spotted him in front of her and was now starting to struggle with her jailers. Chad Simpson was trying to calm the woman but she began to call out, growing louder when the tracker ignored her. "Vin... VIN... darling... I've been waiting for you... why haven't you visited me... Vin."
The tracker finally turned unable to ignore her any longer, as she was starting to cause quite a scene, and Chris saw him pale, when he realised that she would have to pass him and Ezra to get to the jail, as they were standing directly in front of her. Buck and Josiah had stopped in the street to allow Vin and Nathan to moved Ezra out of the way. Vin would have reacted badly if Ezra had not placed his hand firmly on his arm and pulled his attention back to him. Whatever the gambler said, seemed to ease the tracker as he turned fully back to him, intent on ignoring the still calling woman.
It was at this instant that Chris saw Will Richmond moved onto the street placing himself firmly between Larabee and the others, who were not paying him the slightly attention as the other drama unfolded before them. Chris saw the flash of a weapon, as Will brought it up to aim, and looking beyond Richmond, he saw the exposed back of Vin's Tanner, and recalled in that instant the hatred that he had seen on the man's face when the tracker had testified against his wife. Without a thought he drew and fired, hoping to be quick enough to save his friend's life, but he was not fast enough and Will Richmond fired just as Larabee's bullet found its mark.
The sound of the two guns fired so close together sounded incredible loud and as if in slow motion the town reacted. As Chris had fired he had called Vin's name, and he now saw Will Richmond slouch to the ground, his gun slipping from his hand as he did so. Then in shock Larabee saw Charlotte Richmond slump within the grasps of Buck and Josiah. Chad Simpson leapt back and stood as still as stone as Buck called for Nathan in a panicked tone.
Vin on hearing his name call so fearfully by Chris had thrown himself forcibly at Ezra and tumbled them both to the ground. The healer hearing his name called by Buck, and seeing Mrs Richmond fall, bolted back and knelt by the down woman. He had not even realised that Ezra had suffered further injury from his lover's tackle. Larabee raced towards the fallen Will Richmond and slipped to his knees and carefully pulled the man over, unable to hide his shock that the man appeared to have shot his own wife.
Will was gasping for breath, his eyes widened with pain. There was a trickle of blood seeping from one side of his mouth, and Chris knew that the man was dying. Richmond eyes informed the gunslinger that he also knew that his death was imminent, as he looked at Larabee and gasped, "Is... she... is she... dead?"
Chris glanced over towards where Charlotte lay, and saw that Nathan was approaching them fast, "Charlotte?" he asked he other man as he reached them, the healer slowly shook his head, before he knelt down beside the dying man and said the question in the eyes he answered clearly, "Yes... I'm sorry" Nathan was not sure why he was apologising to the man who had killed his wife, but he felt that it was needed.
The healer's words, seemed to release Will who relaxed back at the words, before he gathered his waning strength and explained. "Couldn't let... her go... to pris... to that place... not my... beautiful Charlotte... it would... have... destroyed her..." He stopped while he gasped for breath and then a spasm hit him and he convulsed before he settled back and whispered, Chris having to lean his ear almost to the man's lips to hear his last words. "Thank you... Larabee... now me... Charlotte... Alison... can be... togeth..." he never finished as his eyes dulled and the last breath escaped his body, gently creasing Larabee's cheek. Will Richmond was dead.
Larabee swallowed hard and looked up at the circle of people who had gathered about him. He saw Judge Travis and opened his mouth to explain why he had shot the man, but the judge said, "You did what you had to do Chris... he could have been aiming at anyone in the street... you had no way of knowing." Larabee knew that the judge did understand that it had been Vin's life that he had been concerned about.
"Nathan?" Vin suddenly called out, as Ezra slipped into unconsciousness, gasping for breath as he did so, and the attention was turned back to the injured gambler. The healer was off and running again, this time heading back towards his original patient.
Nathan wasted no time in getting Ezra settled back into the small bed in his clinic, with Vin safety seated beside him. Ezra had regain consciousness as he was carried up the stairs to the healers room, and now both Vin and Ezra were embarrassed, by the situation, especially as it was Tanner's enthusiastic leap on the gambler, and his being knocked to the ground that had caused his most recent injuries of two suspected cracked ribs.
Soon Ezra ribs were strapped, and he was resting back against a pile of pillows watching as Nathan pottered about the room. The healer had explained that Charlotte and her husband were dead. A stunned silence had filled the room for several long moments before Vin had sighed, but made no comment on the subject. The gambler seeing this had grumbled that he felt fine, as he only wanted the healer to leave the room so that he could talk to his lover who was looking more and more depressed with each passing moment.
Nathan was in his element, and soon had Ezra drinking the vile herbal concoction that he so loved to pour down poor people's throat when they were injured or sick. Ezra noting this commented dryly.
"Mr Jackson you seem to take an inordinate amount of pleasure from making me drink this devils brew."
"Now hush up Ezra and drink it... it will help the pain." Seeing the gambler about to open his mouth to protest again hurried on. "Now don't you go giving me the 'I'm not in pain' speech... otherwise I'll have to press your ribs to prove my point." He knew from the way Ezra slightly curled over his injured side, that he had proved his point. The gambler sipped his drink without fuss after that.
Once Nathan was satisfied that his patient was comfortable, he cleaned up his hands and said firmly, "I want you to rest Ezra... REST..." he glared at Vin then Ezra to make his point clear. "I will be back shortly and will not be knocking when I come in." With that he moved from the room a slight smile on his face. He knew that Ezra and Vin would not attempt anything if they thought that they might be caught in the act.
Vin turned to glance at Ezra and felt a small smile tug at his lips at the indignant look that was resting on his lover's face. "You know Ez." He said, climbing carefully up the small bed, then turned so that he rested beside Ezra, and pushing his shoulder slightly against the other man's to attract his attention he finished, "he does have a point."
The gambler turned his green eyes on to his lover and smiled back as he confessed, "is it my fault you tempt me so often... how can I be expected to resist your wiles, after all I am only human."
Suddenly the smiled left Vin's face, leaving him pale and drawn as he confessed, "she tried to kill you Ez... twice, she did kill Samuel Lee and now she's dead, and her husband along with her. How more people are going to die, because of... of... this." He waved his hand between the two of them, and there was such sorrow in his tone, that the gambler's heart ached for his lover.
"This isn't wrong Vin." Ezra stated firmly, reaching out and grasping the hand that lay nearest to him. "What Charlotte did was wrong, and her husband killing her was... that was just sad... But they both made their decision Vin's, you can't accept the responsibility for that. You can't expect US to take the responsibility for that."
"They why does it hurt so damn much Ez? Knowing that she wanted you dead because of me, that three people are now dead... because of me?" The tracker asked, his eye's pleading with the other man to explain it to him. He desperately wanted to clutch the other man to his chest, to hold the one thing in his life that had ever seemed right. Ezra seeing this and mindful of his recent injuries, carefully slipped down in the bed and held open his arms, offering the support that Vin needed. After a brief second of indecision the other man slipped carefully into the embrace, also mindful of Ezra injured ribs. He rested within the tender link of his lover's warm embrace as Ezra sigh in contentment, and offered.
"If it didn't hurt Vin, you wouldn't be the man I admire and love. You loved Charlotte at one time." He saw Vin about to protest but said instead, not allowing him to speak, "and her husband never stopped loving her... what they did, was their choice. Not yours... in this matter you are beyond reproach, you are a good person, and I love you Vin Tanner, nothing and no-one is ever going to change that."
"I haven't always been beyond reproach, and I've not always been a good person. I have done some bad things in my past Ezra" Vin retorted, stumbling over the words.
Ezra snorted and placing a kiss on the top of his lovers head, which was resting just under his chin commented, "Oh Vin, I know that you are a bad, bad boy... Thank the lord for that, otherwise our sex life would be very boring..." If Ezra wanted to change the subject he had just found the perfect distraction.
Tanner giggled, and turning his head slightly he placed a wet kiss on the nearest nipple and enjoyed the gasp, this action caused. He also felt another reaction to his kiss and his smile broadened as he gently began to lap at the raising nub.
Ezra sunk back even further into the pillows, greatly enjoying the attention his lover was paying him, before a painful twinge reminding him of his injuries and that in turn recalled Nathan's last words, so with a hard ache in his lower body he regretfully reminded the other man. "Nathan... Door!"
Vin having felt Ezra's wince of pain, had already stopped his assault, but the thought of Nathan coming in to discover them... involved, cooled his ardour somewhat, and with a regretful last kiss to the nipple, he settled back to rest his head on the inviting chest mindful not to put too much weight on the side of the injured ribs.
The both lay quietly, Ezra gently stroking Vin's hair, each man lost deep in their thoughts and gently placing the events of the day into perspective and locking them safely away in their mind. Neither man noticed when sleep crept up on both of them and pulled each down into it healing embrace.
Ezra awoke to find Nathan standing beside the bed, the other man held a finger to his lips, and the gambler knew that Vin was still sleeping, his head resting comfortably on Ezra's chest.
The healer smiled and offered in a whisper. "Just thought I'd pop in and see how you were doing."
The gambler smiled but didn't offer a reply, as he knew that if he spoke it would wake his lover up. Nathan seeing this smiled said, "I'll leave you in peace and catch you in the morning."
Ezra smiled again and nodded, watching as Nathan slipped from the room as quietly as he had entered. Once he was gone, the gambler felt a hand slip slowly across his stomach, mindful of the bandages about his ribs.
"I thought you were asleep." He said, gently brushing the head resting on his shoulder.
"Nah... Just playing possum."
"Possum." Ezra asked, accepting the pleasure his lover hands were creating. "I have to say Mr Tanner I love it when you er... play..." Then he ruined the moment by wincing again and drawing in a sharp breath, as his ribs once more protested his amorous movement. The hand immediately stilled and with a sigh it slipped away, to gently rest on his hip.
"I hate 'this'." Standish said indicating his strapped ribs, his tone unable to hide his disappointment.
"Ezra," Vin lent up and leaning over he pressed a kiss to his lover's warm lips. "'This' will heal and your right, Charlotte and her husband can no longer hurt us..."
"And what about the others... the others out there?" Ezra demanded, suddenly beset by his own demons concerning the danger he might present to his lover, as he gently but firmly moved his lover aside and struggle to sit up on the edge of the bed. "What will happen the next time Vin... the next time someone takes it into their head to end an argument, or settle a grudge with a gun... how much trouble have I left in my past that will come back and hurt you..."
Tanner slowly sat up beside his lover, surprised at how the tables had turned, a short while ago, it had been him demanding to know if their relationship was worth the lost of life and the pain, and now it was Ezra. Finally Vin demanded, unable to hide the fear in his voice, "so what... you want to stop this... us." He motioned his hand between the two of them.
"NO... no... never..." Ezra said, reaching out to embrace the other man, just realising how his words must have sounded. "I never want us to stop... that is not an option... I just wish... for a while, it could just be you and me... no town, no pretending... no threats... just us..."
Vin relaxed and leaning into his lover he offered, "Chris offered us the use of his cabin, why don't we take him up on the offer?"
"Do you think Mr Larabee will be willing?"
"Hell yes... I think he'd be pleased to get us out of town for a while... let the dust of all this settle... and well... Nathan did say that you needed lots of rest, and I can't think of a better place." He settled back again and smiled, "just you, me and the fish... yeah sure sounds restful to me."
Ezra licked his lips and smiled, it was a shy smile, which only the tracker saw on occasions. It was open, warm and so vulnerable. It had its usual effect on Vin who found himself leaning in to nibble at the lush lips. Several minutes later both men were out of breath and Tanner urged Standish back into bed, making sure the covers were firmly over his lover who now lay resting his head on Vin chest.
Soon Ezra's even breathing informed the tracker that the gambler was sleeping, but Vin lay awake watching over his lover and with each moment that passed so did his determination to ensure that nothing would come between him and Ezra. He would protect him with the very last breath of his body, just as he knew Ezra would him.
The funeral was a quite affair, the weather was dull and a wind had blown up giving the warm day a cool feel. Charlotte and Will Richmond were laid to rest side by side, joined together in death as they had been in life. Judge Travis, his daughter-in-law Mary, and Inez attended, along with the two lawyers, and a small smattering of town people.
Josiah was the only member of the peacekeepers who attended, and only because there was no one else to say a few words over the departed couple, and it was his Christian duty.
Ezra and Vin had departed that morning to spend a week at Chris's cabin. The gunslinger and healer had rode out with them; to make sure they were settled and had enough supplies. They were due to return to town the next day.
As the small gathering of people left the lonely graveyard, a cold wind picked up and sent shivers down the backs of those present, to some it seemed an omen, but Josiah preferred to take comfort form the fact that the sun had broken from behind the clouds at just that time and chased the cold winds away.
He thought back on the telegram they had received early that morning from Mary's enquires concerned the death of Alison Richmond. Although there had been some concern over the child's unexpected death, there had been a fever in the area. It was noted by the local sheriff who replied to Mary's telegram, that when he had investigated the allegations at the time, which was just before the Richmond's had departed to travel west, it appeared to be Will Richmond himself who had kept the suspicion alive, that his child's death had not been natural. Josiah had to wonder if the man saw their moving west as an extension of his plan to get his wife ostracized by the local community, and if Charlotte had not had justification for falling out of love with her husband. Had he really been too controlling, to stifling in his dealing with her? No one would ever know as the real truth of that matter had been taken to their grave, together.
As Josiah walked back to town he saw Buck and JD waiting for him, and knew that while they had not attended the funeral itself, they had wanted to give their support to the tall ex-preacher. As he approached them he asked, "Anyone fancy a drink?"
"Hell yeah." Wilmington shot back before he added with a sly wink. "We still have that half drunk bottle of brandy that we got Ezra for his birthday."
JD looked totally disgusted and hitting the other man hard in the arm stated firmly, "That is sick Buck... have you no shame."
"The only shame I see is letting a perfectly good bottle of brandy go to waste." Shot back the older man, rubbing at the arm that had been attacked.
Josiah realising that all of them needed to put behind them the events of the past few weeks smiled and offered, "Hell I agree with brother Buck, I feel like putting some ghosts to rest and drinking that bottle seems like a mightily fine way of doing it."
JD still looked unconvinced, but then he brightened and said, "Yeah, you're right... but." He added slyly, "let's make Buck drink the first glass and wait a while before we drink." Seeing the confused glances this earned him he reiterated, "see if he turns green or anything, just to make sure I didn't get the bottles mixed up or anything." Then he was off and running, and the lanky man was chasing after him, attempting to knock his hat off.
Josiah followed along behind them, he knew that Chris and Nathan would spent the night out at the ranch with Vin and Ezra just to make sure they were alright, and he would spend his time with Buck JD, and right at that moment, he felt as if all was right in their world, and taking a deep breath he realised that once again the seven men had beaten the odds, and they were still together... just as a family should be.
He let his glance slip over the two lawyers, who were chatting amicable as they walked together, and felt a shiver of concern when he rested his glance on Bradley Wayne, the man had been anxious about Ezra, and had actually demanded to talk to him before he departed from town, but Ezra had been slipped out of town early that morning and no one was telling the lawyer where he had gone. Josiah knew that his families problems had not all disappeared with the death of Will and Charlotte Richmond, but he did know that they would face any problems as a family they had become, and that made them far stronger then each of them independently had ever been in the past. He was also determined to see the lawyer out of town the next day when the stagecoach arrived. He shot a look towards Judge Travis and knew that he could easily enlist the older man's help in the matter, especially if he offered him a taste of Ezra fine brandy.... Without telling him exactly whose brandy it was of course. With that matter settled he turned his attention back to Buck and JD just in time to see the older man knock the young sheriff's hat flying.
Ezra and Vin had been staying at Chris's cabin for the last few days, and the gambler was definitely feeling better. Although Nathan had warned the gambler that it would be a few weeks before he would be fit enough to return to full duties. Ezra's only down side was that his lover was being very cautious, not allowing him to do anything, which while at first had seemed nice, was now stating to wear thin.
There was a small lake near to the cabin, and Vin had persuade Ezra to go fishing with him, and while the gambler didn't actually fish, he would rest beside his lover, and partake of his joy when the tracker caught a fish.
Now evening was drawing in and they were both resting in the large comfortable bed, in the one room cabin. They had just finished making love, their first real attempt since Ezra's poisoning. It had been tender, sweet and very, very loving.
Ezra now lay with his head resting on Vin's shoulder, the tracker's free hand was gently rubbing circles along the gambler's spine, and they were both just slipping into sleep, when Ezra suddenly leant up and said, his tone so serious that it caught the other man's attention immediately. "I have never loved anyone as much as I love you Vin Tanner." Then he lay back down, tenderly kissing the body under him.
Vin lay accepting the kisses for a short while, still gently circling his hand over the warm back, finally he said, in just as serious a tone. "And I have never loved anyone as much as I love you, Ezra Standish."
Ezra agreed as he offered sincerely, "good, because I will never let you go, you're mine Vin Tanner and I'll fight to keep what's mine." as he spoke he leant down and kissed the man's mouth, which opened under the light pressure that he applied, and soon both men had forgotten about saying how much they loved each other and were once more intent on showing how much they loved each other.
|The Biggest Gamble Index|
If you enjoyed this story, we're sure that Draig would love to hear from you.
HOME | DRAIG'S FIC | TITLES | AUTHORS | UNIVERSES
This website is maintained by Donna and Barb
with corrections and additions