by Cat Standish
Disclaimer: As much as I wish they were, these characters aren't mine. I make no claim to any character but Martin Collins…and he ain't much.
Apologies: Vixens... I'm really sorry (the reason will become apparent). I am. BrigaDears: I make no apology for this....I know you wouldn't want one (again... the reason will become apparent).
Author's Notes: I cast Armin Shimmerman in the role of Martin Collins.
Thanks: to my betaists... Carla and Katie.
I trust this missive finds you in better circumstances than you relayed in our last communication. You always were quite adept at verbally extricating yourself from predicaments. Really, Mother, you must be more careful in your entanglements. Nonetheless, the idea behind that particular contrivance was quite genius. I regret that your partner in the endeavor was not up to the task. Before you even think it, no, I've not reconsidered my position here.
Ezra Standish looked up from the secretary he was sitting at. It was an exquisite piece of furniture, and one that he had procured only recently. Ezra opened one of the drawers and took out a few sheets of paper, then he patted the desk. It was made of oak and had several drawers and caches. His room had darkened, and he looked at his watch.
Ezra blew on the letter to help the ink set, then he carefully folded it and placed it in his jacket pocket. He stood, checked his weapons, and placed his hat on his head. Ezra glanced in the mirror once to make sure his appearance was in order, then left his room.
A few minutes later, he crossed the street and headed to the jail. As he approached the jail, Ezra could hear that JD Dunne and Buck Wilmington were having another one of their friendly arguments. The two carried on loudly enough to wake the dead. Ezra could tell that JD was maintaining that he was most definitely not lovesick. Buck's simple response of "moo" had Ezra forcing a smile off his face.
Just then, Ezra saw Casey Wells leave the general store. He could tell that she was heading over to the sheriff's office. With a twinkle in his eyes, Ezra entered the office.
"Hey there, Ezra," JD said politely. Buck just nodded at the gambler's entrance.
Though it was undignified, Ezra replied to JD's greeting by mooing at him. Buck burst out laughing.
"See, kid, even Ezra here thinks you're a lovesick calf."
"Now, Mr. Wilmington, let's not be hasty. I was clearing my throat, I assure you. Besides, would Mr. Dunne choose your company over that of young Miss Wells if he were?" Ezra looked pointedly at JD.
JD, for his part, glared at Buck and nodded his head, as if to say "see, told you."
The prisoner in the cell looked at the men with malice, but he was ignored singularly by the three men.
"By the way, Mr. Dunne," Ezra continued. "Miss Wells will be here momentarily. If one were inclined to take note of her potential timing, one might conclude that the meeting was prearranged." Ezra nonchalantly brushed some dust off his jacket.
Buck grinned and once again mooed at JD. "I told ya son, you just treat that little gal right and you'll be okay."
JD looked guiltily away from Buck and Ezra. "Geesh, how'd you do that, Ezra?"
"In any profession, but most certainly in the one in which we are employed, failure to take note of surroundings can be detrimental to one's welfare."
"He saw her walking this way when he came in," Buck supplied, removing all preternaturality from Ezra's information.
Casey knocked on the office door and then came in. If she was surprised to see all the men there, she didn't show it. "Hey, Mr. Standish, Buck," then she looked at JD and smiled. "Hey, JD."
"Hey, Casey," JD replied while the other two men simply nodded in acknowledgement.
"Why don't you two love birds get on outta here and go have some fun? Me and Ezra here'll hold down the fort."
JD and Casey both shot Buck a look of embarrassed horror and sputtered out denials. Ezra tried not to laugh, but Buck was not so kind.
"Don't you even try foolin' Buck here; what I don't know about women…" Buck started, but before he could finish, he was interrupted.
"Would fill an encyclopedia," Ezra finished for him.
Buck cast an indignant look to Ezra. For his part, Ezra merely moved over to the desk and sat down. He took out his cards and began to shuffle them. "Care for a game of cards, Buck?"
JD turned to Ezra, "Vin'll be around about midnight."
Ezra nodded as JD and Casey left. Then Ezra turned to Buck. "Any word yet on when this vermin will be transferred?"
Buck replied, "Judge will be here in a couple of days to try him. He's got a couple of men coming to haul him off to Yuma, if he's found guilty."
Ezra raised an eyebrow. Martin Collins was most definitely guilty. "That's hardly an issue. So we will be required to baby sit the miscreant for a few more days. Most tiresome."
Buck nodded. "I think Chris would just as soon shoot him. I'll see you around dinner, Ezra. Anything in particular?"
Ezra smiled briefly in appreciation, then said, "I suppose a peach cobbler would be too much to request."
"Steak and potatoes would be nice," Collins stated sullenly.
"Indeed it would, but I assure you, your fare will be beans and toast, if you're lucky," Ezra remarked calmly.
"We'll see what Jennie's got cookin'," Buck winked. "Maybe I can persuade her to make a cobbler. And steak and potatoes. I'll get JD to make the beans."
"Why, Mr. Wilmington. You know the lad can't cook."
Buck laughed and tipped his hat to Ezra before leaving.
Ezra spent a while playing solitaire before taking out the letter he'd been composing earlier. He looked over at Martin Collins, who had stretched out on the cot.
When Collins noticed Standish watching him, he spat out, "You give me beans for dinner, and you'll be wearin' em."
Ezra laughed humorlessly. "Oh, I don't know. You wouldn't want to hurt Mr. Dunne's feelings now, would you? Mr. Wilmington may like to tease the boy, but he does not allow others to get away with it. Perhaps you should consider that before attiring me in your repast."
Today's duties entail, of all things, dancing attendance upon a miscreant who is presently incarcerated within our facilities, though I assure you he does not have such amenities as you saw fit to provide during your brief visit. The tale of how this odious individual arrived in his present predicament is quite interesting. His name is Martin Collins, perhaps you remember him? Yes, he was one of Davison's partners in that regrettable disaster in Montgomery several years back. As of yet, he has not recognized me, for I've no doubt that he would certainly attempt to exchange my freedom for his own if he did. There is an advantage to working with the local constabulary; disgruntled former associates do tend to overlook you.
As I was relaying, Collins attempted to rob the Four Corners bank. His attempt, however, was rather inept, and he was apprehended before he could garner any cash. The fool neglected to familiarize himself with the town. He simply rode in, made straight for the depository, and attempted to hold it up. Seniorita Recillios had chosen that time to make the deposit for the saloon's take, and Mr. Wilmington, you know how he is, had elected to escort her. Anyway, this fool Collins, standing right in front of Mr. Wilmington, informed the teller to relinquish the cash to him. The teller looked at Mr. Wilmington. Mr. Wilmington smiled, so the teller carried out Collins' instructions. While the cash was being placed in the satchel, Collins committed yet another egregious error. He neglected to pay attention to his surroundings. Mr. Wilmington, who is a rather large individual, tackled Collins. The man's ineptitude in this endeavor clearly was the cause of his incarceration.
Ezra finished the first page and allowed the ink to dry before refolding the page and replacing it in his jacket pocket. He'd just secured the letter when Nathan Jackson walked in to the office. Ezra looked at his watch. Three o'clock. He'd only been here for a little more than an hour.
"Mr. Jackson," Ezra stated in greeting.
Nathan looked at him a moment. "Don't suppose you wanna explain it to me."
"Explain what?" Ezra asked, genuinely shocked.
"What happened to the funds in the church poor box?" Nathan demanded.
Ezra narrowed his eyes. "Just what are you attempting to suggest, Mr. Jackson?" Ezra asked dangerously.
Nathan made no comment.
"I assure you, I did not take any money from the poor box. I make my money honestly," Ezra replied evenly. In fact, Ezra had added a significant amount the previous evening. Nonetheless, Ezra had an image to maintain, so he couldn't let on to that fact.
"Yeah, real honest. You con people out of their money at the gamblin' table."
"I do not force them to play against their will. And I resent the implication that you are making against me. Do you even have one shred of proof?"
"Sarah Timmons saw you there last night. She said you looked around you like you didn't want no one seein you there."
"And obviously those glances were complete failures as I did not notice Miss Timmons lurking in the shadows." Ezra was furious, and the anger glistened in his eyes. He took out his cards and looked at Nathan. "I had nothing to do with the poor box. You have my word." This wasn't actually true.
"The word of a two-bit conman."
Ezra looked back up at him. He bit off several cutting remarks before looking at him and stating evenly. "Where I come from, Mr. Jackson, the word of a former slave isn't worth much either. Yet I've always taken yours as good currency. It's a pity you can't learn to do the same for me."
Ezra dealt out a game of solitaire, ignoring Nathan. After several tense moments, Nathan smiled at him. "Sure, Ezra. Thanks." Then he left without saying anything else.
Ezra paused in his game for just a moment. The pause was almost imperceptible. Almost.
Ezra sorted through the drawers of the desk. He pulled out a few old wanted posters, and actually laughed when he pulled out Vin's. He stared at it a moment, then put it aside. His hands came upon a dime novel: "Disbanded." It was the next in the Magnificent Seven series that Jock Steele was writing, obviously well-worn already.
Ezra flipped open the pamphlet and began to read.
"Montgomery. I thought I recognized you. You're that fancy-talkin' man that cost us the job." The man continued to speak. "You ain't gonna be so high and mighty once them fancy law friends of yours find out about your past."
Ezra merely ignored him.
"They're gonna, you know."
Ezra put the pamphlet down and looked at Collins. He smiled humorlessly. "First off, sir, and be advised I use the term liberally, the job you refer to was abominable and not what I contracted for. Secondly, nothing you could say regarding me to my associates would surprise them. Feel free to try." It was a bluff, but only a minor one. When Ezra finished speaking, he once again directed his attention to the dime novel. Every once in a while he shook his head.
When he finished reading the story, Ezra took out a clean sheet of paper and continued writing.
An interesting turn of events--I spoke too soon about Collin's failure to recognize me. Seems Mr. Jackson is going to persist in his efforts to malign me. I know; I've brought this upon myself. I cannot fool you, Mother, never really could. I've turned almost honest. I know you consider this a waste of my gift, and there are days when I do tend to agree with you.
There is a great difference between a theft and a con, you will no doubt agree. Those who do not engage in this profession can never truly realize the finesse and skill required. It is an art form. The mark must willingly part with their possession, regardless of the reason behind it. Thievery is a poor substitute and shows a decided lack of subtlety.
Nonetheless, I'm sure I've discomfitted Collins severally by asserting that my colleagues are aware of my history. To a certain degree, this is not an untruth; however, my past is mine to reveal.
Perhaps fifteen minutes had past when Casey Wells came into the office. She looked angry enough to spit nails. Ezra put down his pen and looked at her.
"When you see that--that--" Casey spat out angrily. "Next time you see JD, tell him I never want to see him again!"
"What malfeasance did our young sheriff perform to provoke such ire?" Ezra inquired. Casey shot him an exasperated look, so he repeated himself. "What idiotic thing did Mr. Dunne do?"
She looked at him, shocked. "You think JD caused it?"
"My dear, a rational young beauty such as yourself would hardly be inclined to such a level of irritation if he had not done something idiotic. Would you care to discuss it?"
She was completely taken aback by his statement and sat down almost without thinking about it. "He just doesn't respect me. Thinks I can't take care of myself."
Ezra almost smiled. "How so, my dear?"
"We were going riding. He tried to saddle my horse for me. I can do that myself. I didn't need his help."
Ezra placed his elbows on the desk and drew his hands together. "Mr. Dunne has been reading stories of gallantry. Perhaps his offers of assistance were not intended to imply that you were incapable."
"Then why else would he do it?" Casey still sounded upset and frustrated. Tears were threatening to fall from her big brown eyes.
This time Ezra did smile. "Do you recall me saying 'a gentleman does not engage in menial labor'?"
Casey nodded. "I didn't hear you say it, but Aunt Nettie did."
Ezra could imagine what Nettie Wells had told Casey about it. "Well, neither does a lady. I imagine Mr. Dunne was likely trying to treat you like a lady."
She looked at him and cocked her head to the side. "I ain't no lady."
He merely raised an eyebrow. "Miss Wells, you are a lady. Perhaps not one who adorns herself in silk ruffles and lace. However, a lady is determined by more than her apparel. Rest assured, my dear, you are a lady."
"Why didn't JD just say so?" Casey asked.
Ezra decided to answer her question with one of his own. "Would you have listened?"
Casey looked at him for just a moment, then smiled crookedly. "No. But he wouldn't listen to me either."
"He usually means well, my dear. But he can be overenthusiastic in his efforts."
"Who are you tryin ta kid, that boy don't like her none. You shoulda heard how he was talkin about this young lady with that other man before you got here. She's better off without the likes of him," Collins stated.
"I suggest you shut your mouth, before I do it for you. Permanently," Ezra growled. Ezra smiled back at Casey. "Pay him no mind, Miss Wells. You know that he said no such thing, don't you?"
Casey nodded at him. "He ain't here cuz he's an honest man."
"Indeed not. Run along, now, dear. I'm sure that Mr. Dunne feels miserable enough."
Casey left and Ezra picked up his pen.
On another note, young Mr. Dunne is pursuing Miss Wells. Have you met Casey Wells? Charming young lady, though she would hardly qualify as a lady in most society circles. But she is indeed a lady. She dresses like a young lad most of the time, and has been known to beat Mr. Dunne in horse races. In honesty, you probably wouldn't like her; I find her to be quite refreshing. Miss Wells makes no issues about telling you what is on her mind. Unless it is in regards to expounding her feelings towards Mr. Dunne. Mr. Wilmington finds the entire situation quite humorous and goes to quite lengthy ends to assure himself that Mr. Dunne is properly humiliated at all time, much to Mr. Dunne's chagrin.
Mr. Dunne, for his own part, oft-times listens to the advice of Mr. Wilmington, instead of his own good sense. With regards to Miss Wells, JD really does have the best notion of how to act. Whenever he listens to anyone else, an argument invariably ensues.
Ezra laughed cynically just as Josiah Sanchez entered.
"Afternoon, Ezra. Thought you might like some company."
Ezra smiled at Josiah. "Indeed," he said as he folded the sheet of paper and tucked it away. The action didn't go unnoticed by Josiah.
"Letter to Maude?" he asked. "Give her my regards, would you? An amazing woman, your mother."
"Indeed," was Ezra's short reply. "Would you care to join me for a game?"
"Sorry, Ezra. I can't afford to lose to you right now," Josiah stated. "Trying to get the old Patterson place fixed up so we can have an orphanage. Too many kids around here losin' their families and have no where to go."
"A few hands, perhaps. Anything you lose, I'll contribute to the fund," Ezra replied.
"Awful generous of you, Ezra."
"Nonsense. I'm bored. Small price to pay for an afternoon's distraction." He grinned at Josiah.
Josiah sat down and indicated that Ezra deal the cards. Ezra obliged him and the two played for nearly two hours. Josiah glanced at Ezra on occasion. "Seems Lady Luck is not with you this afternoon, Brother Standish."
"I don't believe in luck, Mr. Sanchez. Poker is a game of skill. Obviously, you have been practicing."
Josiah merely cast Ezra a knowing glance. "Obviously."
"I fear I must deal out, Mr. Sanchez. This has been a most costly diversion." Ezra gathered his cards off the desk.
Josiah looked over at the prisoner, who had been silent throughout the afternoon. "He giving you any trouble?"
Ezra grinned. "Nothing beyond my capabilities, I assure you."
Collins stood and approached the bars. "You do realize you have a thief as a lawman, don't you Mister?"
Josiah shot a grin at Ezra. "Friend of yours?"
"Former associate. An idiot, I assure you."
"Not as stupid as you think," Collins shot back.
Ezra grinned at Josiah, then looked at Collins. "Of course not. You allowed us to catch you as part of a greater plan, no doubt."
Collins just glared back at Ezra.
Josiah leaned against the back of the chair. "How did you meet this fella, Ezra?"
"Mother hooked up with some of his associates several years back. Actually, we believed we were assisting with the Underground Railroad. And we were, but it wasn't one we should have been."
"You actually worked for the Underground Railroad, Ezra? I wouldn't have expected that," Josiah asked incredulously.
"Not exactly. As I said, we thought it was at the time. Actually, it was a con." Ezra's eyes took on a distracted look and he began to shuffle the cards in his hands. "Collins and his other associates were using it as a way to supply a demand. The passengers were sold back into slavery."
Josiah cast a dark look to Collins. "Surprised you got out of that alive."
Ezra let out a sarcastic laugh. "I as well. Mother and I had to expose the operation. Unfortunately, a legitimate one was inadvertently exposed at the same time."
Josiah fixed a long, unreadable gaze at Ezra then nodded once before standing up. "Watch your back, Ezra."
"I always do, Mr. Sanchez." Ezra paused a moment. "Mr. Sanchez?"
Josiah looked back at him. "Yeah, Ezra?"
"I'd appreciate it if you made no mention of this to the others."
Josiah smiled at him and nodded.
Ezra removed the paper from his pocket and continued his correspondence.
Mr. Sanchez has requested I send his regards to you. The man is altruism personified. He's taken it upon himself to create an orphanage in this dusty little backwater. That man seems bent on bringing the trappings of civic responsibility--repairing the church and creating an orphanage. His greatest weapon against the bad elements is not his guns--it really is his heart. Good lord, that was a maudlin sentiment.
Ezra looked up in time to see Chris Larabee storm through the door.
"May I assist you, Mr. Larabee?"
Chris tossed a half grin to him. "Why don't you give me a few minutes with Mr. Collins here? Alone."
Ezra raised an eyebrow, stood up, stretched. "I was in need of a small break, now that you mention it. Thank you for relieving me. I shall return in fifteen minutes"
Chris nodded, and Ezra left.
Ezra walked down the street. He was curious as to what had angered Chris so much that he wanted time with Collins. And he worried about what type of story Collins might come up with to get Larabee to leave him alone. Nonetheless, he took the opportunity to procure a bottle of whiskey.
Ezra looked at his watch. Eight o'clock. He still had a while before Vin would stop by. He picked up the bottle and headed back to the jail. From his position outside, he could hear Chris talking to Collins.
"You're saying he killed someone?"
"Damn straight. Shot a man down right in front of his eight-year old daughter. Tore the kid away from the man's body and took off with her. I don't know what he did with that little girl. Scared me to watch it. You can't leave me alone with him. He's a monster."
Ezra narrowed his eyes and waited for Chris's response. For a moment, he heard nothing. Then Chris responded. "Mister, now I know you're lying. Ezra's a lot of things. But he'd never hurt a child."
Ezra smiled and took a deep breath. Shaking his head, he opened the door to the office. "Mr. Larabee. Thank you for that break."
Chris nodded at him and smiled. "Thought you looked like you needed one."
Ezra put the bottle on the desk and noticed Chris's glance. Ezra shrugged and took out his cards. Chris touched a finger to the brim of his hat and left.
Ezra looked over at Collins. "You carried the prevarication too far."
Collins smiled maliciously at him. "What prevarication?"
Ezra ignored the man, but Collins didn't stop talking. "Heard you talkin' about our scam to that friend of yours. You like to pretend you didn't know, don't you? You like to pretend you were doin' something good. Folks like you and me, we don't do good things."
Ezra muttered, "I am nothing like you."
Collins snorted. "Keep on pretending; it lets you sleep at night, don't it? Remember that little girl? The one you tried to rescue from us. I killed her. Just because of you."
Ezra was on his feet in a second. Without hesitation he picked up the keys and opened the cell. Quickly he opened the door, and headed straight to Collins.
"Finally, you decided to stop hiding on the other side of them bars," Collins hissed before charging Ezra.
Ezra pushed him back against the wall. The look in his eyes was deadly. "I should have killed you back in Montgomery. You and Davison."
Collins kicked back at him. The two men struggled for several minutes. Collins broke free a moment and charged the door. Ezra grasped his legs and brought him down to the floor.
"I got no intention of stayin here for the trial," Collins shouted as he grabbed the bottle of whiskey and brought it down on the back of Ezra's head. Ezra winced.
Ezra stood up unsteadily and punched Collins, who landed half in the cell. Ezra kicked the man's legs into the cell and locked the door behind him. Collins grabbed Ezra's head and drew it forcefully against the bars.
Ezra weakly threw the keys across the room, made an attempt to brush off the hands holding him, and then his knees buckled. Collins released him, and Ezra collapsed to the floor.
Ezra opened his eyes and shook his head. He was lying on the cot in the other cell.
"Hey pard, how ya feelin?" Buck's voice drifted over him.
Ezra just groaned and started to sit up.
"Don't you be movin none. You got a couple busted ribs," Nathan scolded. At the same time Nathan put an arm across Ezra's chest. "You jes stay right here."
"Wonderful. I suppose you plan on detaining me in this cell." Ezra grimaced.
"You deserve worse!" Collins shouted.
"Shut yer hole, Mister," Buck replied, obviously angered. "Damn, Ezra, you're just lucky I came in when I did. Bastard was kickin ya and I could see ya weren't movin. What the hell happened?"
"I exercised poor judgement." Ezra looked around the room and saw Vin.
"Need a better answer than that," Buck started.
"That man attacked me," Collins started.
"I told you to shut yer hole," Buck shouted again.
Ezra pointedly refused to answer the question. He looked at his watch. Eleven o'clock. "Mr. Tanner. You are early."
"Good thing too. You ain't gonna finish your watch."
Ezra grinned at him and nodded. Then winced. "You're likely correct. Mr. Jackson, would you mind releasing me so that I might retire to my quarters."
Nathan looked at Buck, then nodded. The two men helped Ezra sit up. On his way out, Ezra turned to Vin. "Mr. Tanner, a word if I might."
When Vin approached him, Ezra said, "Regardless of that man's assertions, I'd never hurt a child. Regrettably, he's a former associate of mine."
"Wondered what got you riled." A slow grin crept onto Vin's face.
"Admittedly, it was out of character. I do not like my person maligned."
"Ya want me ta gag him?" Vin's eyes twinkled in amusement. He said it loud enough that Collins could hear him.
"He attacks me and you're gonna gag me?"
Buck said, "I'll be right back." Collins was standing near the bars. Buck grabbed him by the collar and then punched him. "I told you to shut your hole." Buck then threw the man to the back of the cell.
Collins just groaned.
"Oh, JD wanted me to tell you thanks," Buck said. "He wouldn't tell me why. You know?"
Ezra just smiled.
Nathan looked at him. "I want you to go straight to your room. Get some rest."
Ezra tipped a finger to his hat and walked across the street.
Mr. Larabee and Mr. Tanner are both well. Amazingly, my colleagues took my side in a recent altercation. Mr. Collins' attempts to malign me with my associates fell on deaf ears. Any thoughts I had of leaving before must now be put aside. I do hope you understand, Mother. I've found a home here among this band of misfits: Mr. Larabee, who believed his heart burned with his family; Mr. Tanner, who hunted others for justice until he discovered justice wasn't always as it appeared; Mr. Sanchez, who lost his faith; Mr. Wilmington, who loved with no pattern; Mr. Dunne, who came out west searching for legends; Mr. Jackson, who healed the bodies of others while trying to heal his own soul. And me. We've all found something here, a piece of what we've lost.
Mother, I've found joy here. I do hope you'll wish me the best and understand who I'm becoming. People like you and me do not often receive chances like this. And this is an opportunity I cannot refuse.
Take care of yourself.
Ezra winced as the pain of his cracked ribs coursed through his body. He reread the letter he'd just completed, then held it over the fire and watched it burn.
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