Title: Going Home Again
Disclaimer: The characters and Four Corners aren't mine, though I suppose the modern version of them are. MGM, Mirisch and Trilogy are the brilliant ones. I'm just trailing on the coat tails.
Length: Number of pages is 46 in Times New Roman 11, normal margins.
AU: Yeah, here's the trick. If you know my color schemes, you may sort of have guessed already, but this is both OW (usually green) and my modern day NYC AU (usually purple). For those who don't know, in the NYC AU, all you need to know here is that Ezra's a lawyer, Chris is a detective and Vin is an apprentice detective. Otherwise, in the OW, they are who they are.
Notes: In answer to a challenge from Michelle on the M7 challenge site. In essence, the theme has to be supernatural and there has to be some otherworldly figure involved. This story totally, totally, totally got away from me. I'm just hoping it makes sense.
Description: When Chris sees a silver VW rolls into Four Corners in 1876, you know something is very wrong. Involves Chris, Vin and Ezra.
was the sickening feeling in the bottom of your stomach; the shiver that runs
down your spine, the raising of the hairs on the back of your neck; the pure,
unadulterated, absolute certainty that something....
Something is very wrong.
For a man like Chris, such feelings were very rare.
He preferred to believe in what was real; what was right in front of his face. It wasn't a choice that he made; this was just who he was. He'd never had those odd moments when he felt something was wrong. There was no tingling when Sarah and Adam were killed; no awareness when his father had died or his mother passed; no forewarning when one of his men were hurt....He was simply told and he had to deal with it.
at least get blinding drunk.
And, truth be told, when he did get that sensation of something going wrong, it was usually related to a prematurely moldy vegetable.
Grimacing, he rubbed the hairs down on the back of his neck and stood up, looking vaguely around at the empty jail then back down at the paper he'd been reading. His morning coffee still steamed, only a few sips taken from the mug, and the headline he'd been reading - about events occurring hundreds of miles away in the nation's capital - were hardly surprising or even that interesting.
Laughter ran past the jail house, and the gunslinger looked outside. Picking up the coffee, he took a few steps to reach the open door and leaned against the frame, watching as Billy Travis, the two Greene boys and young David Potter chased each other up the boardwalk. He gave a half smile and looked past them to the rest of the town.
Everything looked ordinary.
He spotted JD and Josiah by the church, clearing away some more of the rotted wood along the base near the back. He saw Mrs. Potter talking with a very pregnant Sarah Weathers outside the mercantile, both women taking a break from the store. Mr. Bucklin was painting a new sign to proclaim his grocery a little further along, and Yosemite was banging away at something outside the livery. He also spotted Ezra sitting in front of the saloon, feet up on the post, reading something.
All perfectly ordinary.
Then he heard it.
The rattle of a stage rolling in.
Normally, this was not something that he would react to, but just then the buzzing along his shoulder blades became more fierce. Grimacing, he turned to look...
And dropped the coffee mug to the floor.
The stagecoach wasn't a stagecoach.
Chris felt his jaw drop as the bizarre contraption pulled up outside the jail. It was made entirely of metal, painted a rather bright shade of silver, and seemed to be moving entirely of its own volition. There were no horses pulling it, and the wheels were made entirely of rubber - very fat pieces of rubber. Without even considering what such things must have cost to purchase, he took in the darkened glass...windows...that kept the people
inside, his mind imaging that it must get very hot inside the metal and glass interior. The only insignia the machine had was what looked liked two letters on the front, atop a grill - VW. Was that the owner's name?
Whatever it was, it died upon coming to a stop. He vaguely wondered if it was like a steam engine, but he couldn't figure out how so small a thing could function like a train, especially considering the heat those engines produced. Frowning, he stepped back into the shadows of the jail as the doors opened.
And, had he been holding the cup still, he would have dropped it a second time.
this is the place," Ezra said, turning off the engine and looking over at
Chris in the passenger seat. "Not much to look at. Just another
small town in the middle of nowhere."
"Hmm," Chris shook his head and opened the door, grimacing at the hot air outside invaded the air conditioned interior. "How many towns does this make?"
"This is the sixth small town we've checked out today. It's called Northfork. Not much more than a couple of gas stations, houses and some farms...just like the last town."
"How many residents?" Vin yawned from the back seat, stretching and blinking a few times. He'd been napping, the unfortunate consequence of which was a serious crick in the neck.
"The sign said 1670," Ezra noted. Sighing, he opened his own door and looked around. Most of the buildings looked to be about circa 1940, probably built in and around the war. The building they had stopped in front of was the sheriff's office, and across the way was the town hall. A lot of brick and concrete.
Vin got out behind him, slamming the rented Jetta's door and rubbing at the back of his neck. Something about this town was bothering him, but he couldn't figure out what.
"Well, time to meet another clerk," Vin said, walking over to the town hall. Chris and Ezra sighed and followed, neither paying much attention to their surroundings.
gambler leaned back on the chair in front of the saloon, feet propped up on the
post, rocking himself slowly back and
forth on the chair’s back legs, and turned the page to the next chapter.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw spotted Vin walking towards him, and he
looked up to say hello.
And completely fell out of his chair.
to his feet, he leaned against the saloon wall and watched dumfounded as three
apparitions looking an awful lot like Chris, Vin and...himself...walked
straight through the batwing doors into the saloon without stopping.
Roughly, he rubbed at his eyes and face, and when he looked up again, there was
no one there. That's when he saw the...thing, across the street.
"Nice fall there hoss," Buck laughed, coming up behind him and clapping him on the shoulder, making the gambler jump. "Someone should teach you how to lean back in a chair without falling backwards sometimes."
Ezra glanced at the ladies man, who was still grinning as he picked Ezra's chair up for him. After putting it back in place, he wiped his hands together and smiled at the gambler.
"Buck...can you answer something for me?"
"Sure," he replied as the slightest evidence of concern for Ezra's odd expression crossed his face.
"Can...can you see something in front of the jail?"
Buck looked over, taking in the plain clapboard building and the open door. He saw Chris' silhouette inside, watching them curiously from the shadows inside.
"Other than Chris, you mean?"
"Chris?" Ezra looked more carefully at the jail beyond, and saw that, indeed, their leader was leaning against the doorframe. He hadn't seen him before. Then he shook his head, looking at the silver thing again. "No, I didn't mean Chris. Don't...don't worry about it, Buck."
"Hope you didn't hit that head of yours in that fall, boy," Buck laughed, patting Ezra on the sleeve and walking into the saloon. Ezra gave a crooked smile and rested a hand on his nape. As far as he could tell he hadn't hit his head...though that might have been a nice way of explaining this away.
"I see it," a voice said softly behind him. Ezra gave a small jump and turned to find Vin walking down the boardwalk to join him. The tracker had a strange expression on his face.
"You see...what exactly?" Ezra prompted, hoping for confirmation. Vin stared at him, then back at the thing.
"No idea. But it is painted silver and is covered in red road dust. Wheels suggest it's a wagon or carriage of some kind." He shrugged. Ezra sighed in relief, and nodded.
"Look," Vin said, arching an eyebrow.
Ezra looked back, and felt the urge to shout as Billy and the other children ran headlong into the object...and passed right through it.
"Oh, wow," the gambler couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Chris sees it too."
"What?" Ezra saw Chris heading towards them from the jail, "How can you tell?"
"He stepped around it."
Ezra gave a small smile and straightened up as Chris approached.
"You see them too?" the leader asked quietly, indicating the saloon with his head. Ezra nodded. Vin frowned.
"He came late," Ezra explained to Chris. "He didn't see them get out of the...wagon."
Chris nodded, then pushed his way through the batwing doors into the saloon. Ezra and Vin followed, the tracker's eyes widening as he saw the three apparitions leaning against the bar.
looking for who?" The clerk sniffed and arched an eyebrow at the
three tired looking men leaning on her counter. She was a tall black woman, attractive, with large dark eyes.
"We're trying to find the family of a Miss Anita Kramer," Chris said. "Unfortunately, we have reason to believe that she made the name Kramer up to hide her real background from our client. Miss Kramer has disappeared, but if we can find her family, we might be able to track her down and find out why she ran the night our client was arrested."
is potentially a material witness in a murder investigation, ma'am," Vin
added. "And, the fact is, we think
she may be in danger from whoever did do the killing."
The clerk arched a suspicious eyebrow.
"Look, if the other side finds her first, she's going to be in serious trouble," Vin pressed. "They have the same clues we do, and it's just a matter of time before they think to come looking for her here, as we have."
The clerk frowned and looked again at their identifications. Then she sighed.
"For some reason, I trust you boys. Don't know why, but I do."
"Thank you," Ezra said, smiling. She smiled back, finding his a hard one to ignore.
she said, "what do you know about this Anita Kramer and her family?"
"Well, we know that she came from around here somewhere based on some things she told our client. We also know that Anita is definitely her first name," Chris said, "and that she was named after her great grandmother, another Anita."
"Great grandmother?" the clerk gave a bemused smile.
"We have a locket of hers," Vin said, reaching into his pocket for a piece of paper. "Inside was a photograph of a very pretty young woman dated 1892," he passed a photocopy of the faded photograph across to the clerk.
"She's black," the clerk noted. Chris nodded.
"Yes, which we thought might help you narrow down the population. I don't imagine there are too many black families living in these parts."
In response to that statement, the clerk just shrugged. "Actually, there was a Seminole village established near here once a long time ago. We have quite a few families living here descendant from those folk."
"The picture also had initials written on the back," Vin said, bringing the woman's attention back to the photograph. "AW - FC 1879."
"AW...," the clerk looked at the picture, trying to recognize the features. Then she shook her head. "I can't think of any families around here who have last names beginning with W, gentlemen."
"What about FC?" Ezra asked. "Might there be someone around here with C as a last name?"
The clerk shrugged, "Sure, the Carters and the Chambers."
"Well, that's something," Ezra grinned. "We think Anita W married FC, changing her name."
"Could we have their addresses, ma'am?" Vin asked.
The clerk was still frowning, "Sure, but, I'll tell you something, I think you've got this wrong. The Carters are old and childless, and the Chambers have only been here since the fifties."
Ezra's face fell.
"Looks like we're moving on to the next town," Chris muttered.
"No, wait," the clerk smiled. "What I meant when I said you had it wrong was your assumption that FC was a person."
They looked at each other, then back at the clerk.
"This town is named Northfork now, but that's only been since about 1920. Before then, it was called Four Corners. 'FC 1892' probably refers to Four Corners 1892."
Vin gave a tiny smile and looked at Ezra, who was looking at the picture again.
"But there is still no black family with the last name of W," Chris said. "You told us that already."
"True, but that doesn't mean there wasn't. As you said, she could have married someone to change her name, or her daughter could have married, or her daughter...." She shrugged.
"You wouldn't happen to have records going back that far, would you?" Ezra asked. The clerk pursed her lips, and shook her head.
"No, not exactly. But we have something better. Hold on." She disappeared into the back room, leaving the three men in front.
"Four Corners," Vin said, testing the name on his tongue.
"You think this might be it?" Ezra asked.
"Even if it is, the family might not have stayed in this town. This could be another hopeless lead. Just like visiting that family, the Callahans, back in Eagle Bend."
"Eagleton," Ezra corrected.
"Really?" Chris said, then he frowned. "What did I say."
"Huh," the detective frowned, walking over to look at an old town map hanging on the wall. Looking closely, he noted that it did in fact say "Four Corners 1875" in the corner beneath the cartographer's signature. Looking more carefully, he suddenly gave a small laugh.
"What?" Vin walked over, leaving Ezra to wait at the counter.
"Look at the name of the saloon."
Vin leaned in, squinting to make out the name, then laughed as well. Then he looked at Ezra.
"Maybe you have ancestors here as well, Ezra. The saloon here is marked 'the Standish Tavern.'"
Ezra smiled and walked over to join them in order to see for himself. Chris, meanwhile, was taking a look at a more recent map, comparing the two.
"Looks like most of the buildings are gone," Chris noted. "Except the church. I think it's the same one."
"Must have been built well," Ezra noted absently.
"Or rebuilt well," Vin said.
"Well, if they were in service back then, they should have wedding and funeral rolls," Chris said. "Why don't you go check it out Vin."
"Me? Why not you?"
"Because I'm your boss," the detective replied simply. Vin grimaced.
"Nice answer," the apprentice muttered as he walked to the door. "If I get converted or baptized, I'm blaming you Larabee," he called as the door shut behind him.
they ghosts, do you think?" the tracker asked, leaning forward on the
Ezra shook his head, "Ghosts of us? Dressed like that?"
"Sure, why not," Vin shook his head. "I don't look much different."
"Well I do. There's no color in that outfit - its all browns and whites and blues. And, I'm sorry, but I can't imagine ever wearing... waist overalls. Levi's no less. Not unless I were being punished for something," the gambler replied. "And what is that brown coat – leather?"
"I think leather suits you," Vin replied, smiling.
leather coat – clearly, whatever my future profession is, is doesn't pay
well. How the mighty have fallen."
He gave a short laugh, a tinge of the hysterical at the edge of it. It
was the only outward sign of just how much this was disturbing him, though he
was trying to keep the tone light.
Vin, though he smiled at Ezra's words, was equally bothered, hiding it by putting all of his energy into trying to understand who the ghostly apparitions were and what they wanted.
Chris simply sat back in his chair with a black expression and watched them. The more he watched, the darker the expression got, his upper lip twitching in anger and his eyes smoldering. Ezra spotted the highly tensed jaw out of the corner of his eye and edged a little closer to Vin.
"Wish I knew what they were saying," the gambler whispered after a moment, looking at Vin. The tracker glanced back at him then returned to watching the three men speaking to someone invisible behind the bar.
"Something about a woman being in a lot of trouble, and looking for her great grandmother."
"You can hear them?" Ezra asked, surprised. Vin nodded, then shrugged.
"Who's great grandmother?" Chris asked quietly, his tone bordering on barely contained rage.
"Someone named Anita Kramer," Vin replied, glancing at the gunslinger with a slightly worried gaze. "Sounds like they need her for some sort of trial."
"A great grandmother!" Ezra laughed. "Hell, there wouldn't have been anyone living out here that long ago."
"No, not then," Vin frowned, returning his gaze to the apparitions, "Now."
Chris glanced at Vin. "What?" he hissed.
"The great grandmother...they have a picture of her...dated 1892."
"Six...sixteen years from now?" Ezra's voice actually squeaked a little.
"Vin, are you implying that, what we are looking at, are men who are existing at some time in the future?" The gambler's brow furrowed in confusion. "But...but they are...aren't they us?"
Vin shook his head. "I'm just guessing, here, Ezra, based on what they're saying. But this much I can tell you -- they're not us, Ezra. At least not us now. I think...I think they may be people who look like us sometime a long time from now. Maybe a hundred years or so."
"People who look like us?" Ezra shook his head, "But that is insane. Even if it is possible to have doppelgangers in the future, descendants perhaps, those three men are all three of us. Together. How is that possible?"
Vin shrugged, "Maybe all our kids grow up together?"
Ezra stared at him, not hiding his disbelief. Vin rolled his eyes.
"Ezra, I don't know! But they're here, right? We can all see them. We're seeing through time, Ezra! That folks who look like us happen to be friends in the future don't seem so impossible in comparison."
Ezra's eyes squinted imperceptibly as he listened to Vin, and, after a moment, he shrugged.
"They're moving," Chris said quietly. Ezra refocused his attention and sat up straighter, watching as the one who looked like Chris walked to look at something in the air near where they sat. A few minutes later, the one who looked like Vin joined him. Ezra frowned as he tried to discern what was so interesting about the space they were looking at, then he brightened. He looked at Vin, "Are they talking about my saloon?"
Vin nodded, and gave his own smile.
"And now the church," Chris agreed. "I can hear them now too. Almost as if they're becoming clearer."
"They're also less ghostlike," Ezra noted. "More substantial." It was true, almost as if, they longer these apparitions stood in the saloon, the more real they were becoming.
"But why are they here?" Chris demanded angrily. "Oh, to hell with this! I don't care!" Abruptly, he stood and, glaring at the ghosts, he turned heel and left the saloon. Vin and Ezra watched him leave with slightly stunned expressions.
"What was that about?" Ezra asked finally, looking at the tracker.
Vin shrugged, "Don't want to believe they're here, maybe?"
Ezra's eyes narrowed, "Are you implying that our unshakable Mr. Larabee might actually have met with something that he was afraid of?"
Vin just arched an eyebrow, "Maybe." Then he looked around, "Hey, hold on...where did the one that looks like me go?"
The wind blew through the frontier town with window-rattling strength, and most of the Four Corners folk were now keeping their heads down. A storm seemed to be brewing out of nowhere, though what kind of storm it would be was anyone’s guess. The sun still shone, though clouds were moving across the sky with alarming speed, and who knew what the wind would eventually bring.
strode rapidly away from the saloon, heading rather mindlessly towards the
church at the end of town, part of him simply wanting to get as far away from
the saloon as possible. As he
walked, the wind buffeted and blew at his long black duster, giving him almost
black wings. After a while, his steps
slowed and he came to a stop, staring at the dirt on the ground. He still
felt the wrongness of what was happening in the pit of his stomach, and it was
beginning to make him feel ill.
"Man, this town is quieter than a ghost town," Vin's voice said from behind him.
Chris snorted, and was about to reply to what he thought was a joke when he realized that the Vin that had spoken was not...Vin.
The Vin...from the future?...walked past him without seeing him, also headed for the church. He seemed to be looking around as he slowly moved, showing some of the same alertness that singled out the real Vin.
some reason, Chris found himself following the apparition, watching as the man
walked around objects Chris couldn't see, then came to a stop at the steps of
Josiah's church. As the gunslinger got
closer, he saw the apprentice detective walk gingerly up the stone steps and
lean over the stone banister to peer at the wall.
"Four Corners 1876. This plaque signifies the final resting place of three men who fought and died for this town, and for whom this completed church is dedicated. In loving memory, never to be forgotten...." The man who looked like Vin leaned a little more and reached out with his hand to brush at the wall, then he grunted. "Not to be forgotten, eh?" he muttered, leaning back. "And the names have all be worn off. Sad." He looked up at the church. "No use puttin’ off the inevitable," he groaned. Pushing at the doors, he made his way inside the church.
Chris stared at the blank wall where the future Vin had touched, his brow furrowed. Three men who fought and died for this town...1876....
That was this year.
The tightness in his chest grew. Shaking off the sensation, he bounded up the steps to the doors and pushed them open, determined now to get answers from this ghost....
He would figure this out, damn it!
open the church doors with a dark ferocity, Chris's angry frown turned to
surprise when he realized that the future Vin had spun around at the sound and
was now staring directly at him.
"Place was pretty big, for a frontier town," the lawyer noted, still looking at the map while Chris went back to the counter to wait for the clerk. "Three livery stables, couple of boarding houses, blacksmith, hardware store, grocer, mercantile, barber..." he tilted his head, "And a newspaper."
"The Clarion," the clerk said, returning from the back room with a box. "Still called that, though its merely a local rag now. It used to have a wider circulation back in the last century, and the editor was pretty influential, by all accounts. She was a woman, too."
"Well, that is unusual," Ezra said, returning to the desk. "Must have been quite a woman."
"Yes. After she died, her son took over the paper for a while. Then, when he moved on, no one ran it for a long time. Last twenty years or so, though, a new family moved in and started it up again. Does pretty well, by all accounts." She took out a box cutter and cut through the tape sealing the box.
"Those aren't records?"
"No, they're journals," the clerk said. "You're in luck, as we just got them back from the Library of Congress. They scanned them and put them online. They also restored them somewhat, but you still need to be very careful with them."
"Journals," Chris peeked into the box and frowned at seeing about twenty or so leather bound notebooks.
"A former slave who acted as healer for this town for well on forty years wrote them. Sadly, he died childless, but he left his legacy by writing these books. They're really amazing, though somewhat fantastic. You should probably read them with a grain of salt." She pulled out the one on top and gently opened it up.
"The first is dated...well, look at that," she gave a small laugh. "May 7, 1876. That's, what...?"
"A week from today, 125 years ago," Ezra replied, smiling. He took the book from her, and read the cover page. His eyebrows arched as he took in the healer's name.
"Shame your Dr. Jackson isn't here," he said, looking at Chris. The detective was
leaning on the counter, watching. "Look at the name of the diarist."
"Nathan Jackson," Chris shrugged. "Common enough name."
Ezra sighed, "You are far too much of a realist sometimes, Mr. Larabee."
"They run from 1876 to around 1916 or so,” the clerk continued. “Mr. Jackson was probably in his seventies when he finally passed on. Unfortunately, these are the closest things we have to records of the town other that the old issues of the Clarion we have in the back. Real town records didn't start up until 1920, when the town changed its name and became 'official.'" She tapped the first journal, "But, I reckon this is all you'll need to find your AW. Mr. Jackson's journals are a real history of this town. If there was an AW here, she'll be in there."
Ezra grinned and thanked her, taking the book and placing it back in the box.
"Is there somewhere we can read these?" he asked. The clerk nodded and pointed to a side room. Thanking her, Ezra went to pick up the box.
"Um, actually, I think maybe I'll go and do some reconnaissance, Ezra," Chris said, standing. "If this is the right town, I might just spot our girl out there wandering around."
"Words are for lawyers, Ez. You have fun now."
Ezra snarled as the detective walked out of the clerk's office, then turned and thanked the clerk again. She nodded.
"More interesting than working on the tax rolls," she said as he lifted the box up off the counter and headed to the side room. "And good luck," she called after him as he disappeared around the corner.
Ezra stood up as Chris’s ghost walked past his table towards the outside.
"Go ahead," the tracker said to him, "I'll stick with you."
The gambler looked back at him, his eyes unreadable, then he nodded his thanks. Truth be told, he really didn’t want to watch "himself" anymore. Ghosts, or whatever they were, were bad enough, but ghosts of yourself? An unnatural chill touched Ezra's bones at the thought, and he turned to follow the future Chris.
jumped a mile as the church doors banged open behind him, turning to stare at
the empty town beyond them. Shaking his head, he gave a small laugh.
"Just the wind, Tanner," he said to himself, walking back to the doors and closing them. "Man, I'm acting more nervous than cat in a room full of rocking chairs." He laughed again and walked back down the flagstone lining the aisle towards the alter at the other end, "Not to mention that I'm talking to myself. Never a good sign."
He stopped again and turned around. For a moment, he thought he heard Chris's voice say something about it being a good thing he was talking to himself.
He looked again around the simple rustic church hall, frowning. With a sigh, he continued his walk to the alter.
"Hello!" he called, looking towards the door he could see to a side room, "Anyone here? Preacher?"
He reached the alter and walked past it. An old lectern stood off to one side, the ancient wood polished to a dark shine. He touched it lightly as he passed, and another shiver went up his spine. Stopping, he walked back to the lectern and stepped up onto the dais to look behind it.
The inside was hollow, as expected, and contained shelving. A large bible sat on one shelf, and, on the one below that, sat a ledger. Fighting his curiosity, he ignored both volumes and tried to see why else the lectern had given him the shivers. When no answers were forthcoming, he sighed and stepped back down on the ground, and then to the door to the side room he could see.
He knocked a few times, then tried the handle. It wasn't locked.
"Hello?" he called, leaning into the side room. "Father? Reverend? Preacher?" He grinned, "Non-denominational male or female religious icon?"
Still no one answered, and he sighed, walking the rest of the way into the room. Actually, it was more of a wide corridor, and he could see another doorway at the far end that probably led to the small room he noticed attached to the back of the church. He was about to go and knock on that one when he heard footsteps behind him in the church.
Walking back into the main room, he stopped. Chris was standing in front of the alter, looking up through the red stained glass window. The sun was pouring through it, coloring the man's face red and yellow.
"Chris?" Then he grinned, "Nice outfit cowboy! When did you get time to change into that get-up?"
The town seemed to shimmer at the edge of the detective's vision as he walked outside, the heat playing tricks with the light. Chris grimaced slightly as he stood looking at the quiet town, and he wondered vaguely where everyone was. It was a Saturday, so folks should be home, but no one walked down this main street; no one checked the stores.
Like a ghost town.
Had he known Vin had said the same thing not five minutes before, he would have smiled.
Shrugging slightly, he walked back to where they had parked the VW and peeked inside. He frowned when he realized that the glove compartment was still in the locked position – it meant Ezra had left his gun in the car. Lawyer rarely thought ahead, Chris thought snidely, fat lot of good it would do him there. Turning, he considered going back into the town hall to get the keys from the man, but, as the sun warmed his skin, he changed his mind. He didn't want to go inside again just yet.
Instead, he started walking farther from the hall, in the opposite direction of the church. There were more houses in this direction. Maybe he'd get lucky.
Ezra watched as the "future" Chris looked inside the silver carriage and then frowned. He wondered what the apparition was looking at. Casually walking across the dirt street, one hand vaguely holding onto his hat as the wind grew in intensity around him, he stood next to Chris and looked inside.
His lips parted slightly at the comfortable looking chairs, the wheel and all the other strange looking mechanical items. His head tilted a little as he realized there was also a colorful piece of paper on the front seat with writing and lines on it...a map.
His heart beating a little faster, he wished he could reach in and pick it up, and his fingers even reached forward. What did the world look like 100 years form now? Were the towns the same? Was this still a territory? Was it a state? Did the United States even still exist?
He stopped when he felt the glass of the window under his fingertips, and a tiny gasp came from his mouth. Eyes wide with wonder, he pressed his hand against the glass window, fingers splaying across the smooth, warm surface.
Unable to resist, he reached down and grabbed the door handle, pressing down on the catch.
And jumped a mile as the most horrible raucous whining nearly split his head open. He fell backwards, eyes wide, as the silver carriage beeped, honked and squealed, and his hat rolled away in the dirt. His limbs were still shaking as he somehow got back to his feet, vaguely wondering what the people walking around the town must be thinking.
He frowned as he realized that no one seemed to have noticed. Mrs. Travis was barely three feet away, her hands holding fiercely on to a basket filled with fruits and vegetables she'd just picked up from Bucklin's, and she walked right past him without even seeing him. Her head was down, turned away from the growing wind, but she couldn’t have missed his peculiar leap.
Frowning even more, he considered sarcastically thanking her for her "concern" at seeing him fall, but then thought the better of it. Did he really want to have his odd behavior made more obvious? The frown lessened into a grimace and he turned his head to see where the apparition of Chris had gone.
Around him, the wind had stopped.
Chris had been walking away from the car when the alarm went off, surprising him as well. Turning around, he took in the empty street around the vehicle, frowning and wondering what the hell could have set off the alarm. With a slight shrug of the shoulder, he returned his gaze to the end of town and continued walking.
Vin sat opposite the future Ezra, slumped in the saloon chair. He'd watched as the man's face had blanched as he obviously read the first few pages of the book the Clerk had given him, and a few "My Gods" had emitted from his lips. Now Ezra's face was still as stone, and he seemed to be rereading the same page over and over again – or at least Vin hadn't seen his hands move to turn a page for a while.
"Damn, I wish I knew what you were reading, Ez," the tracker muttered, shaking his head.
"Mr. Tanner," the future Ezra said, his body coming into stark focus as he looked up, "I didn't hear you return," he smiled. Abruptly, his expression fell. "My God, what happened to you?"
Vin's eyes widened, and he sat up perfectly straight in the chair. "You can see me?"
"You look terrible! Like you've aged ten years. And what are you wearing? Is that...fringe?" he said the last word with such distaste, Vin almost laughed.
"You can see me!" the tracker replied, smiling. "Can you hear me as well?"
"Of course, I can hear you. What did you do, Vin? Raid the country western store on your way to..." Ezra's words slowed down as he looked around him,"...the...church? Oh Jesus Christ...what the hell is going on here?" Ezra stood up abruptly, the chair he'd been sitting in clattering to the floor behind him. "Where the hell am I?
"Why? What do you see?" Vin couldn't help the excitement in his voice.
"The walls! Where have the walls gone?"
"Walls...painted that sickly tapioca color all government buildings seem to favor...This is...this is a room...a very large...very poorly lit room...." He was beginning to hyperventilate. Then his face screwed up, "And what is that smell?"
Vin's smile was one of wonder, "Wow!" he said. "You're here! You're really here."
Ezra's eyes took in the saloon, his chest heaving. Inez watched him curiously from the bar, as if he'd suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and several other patrons watched him as well. If Buck hadn't left to go and find JD, he's probably have been staring as well.
"Everything all right, Senor Standish?" Inez called, her eyebrows high as she took in his odd clothes. Ezra stared at her.
"Senorita Roscillos?" he asked, his voice strained.
His mouth opened in shock, and his hand grabbed at the table to keep himself upright. Vin was still smiling, looking at Inez and then back at Ezra.
"They can all see you! This is amazing!"
Ezra's eyes locked on Vin's.
"Vincent Tanner, what the hell is this? If you slipped me something...."
Vin's face registered a slight frown for the first time since the future Ezra had appeared fully.
"Vincent? The name's just Vin, Ez. Not Vincent. You know that."
At the statement, Ezra's eyes fell to the table, and his hand slammed down on the empty tabletop.
"The book...the book...I'm dreaming...that has to be it...Where has it gone?...Where..." he looked around the floor, shaking his head. "This has to be a dream," he said again, hoping to God it was true.
"No, Ezra, you're not. This is real," Vin tried smiling again, and he stood to face him. Ezra simply stared back, taking in the sawed-off Winchester strapped to the buckskin clad leg, the tanned skin, the confident stance.
"You're not real," he hissed, meeting gray eyes with bright green ones. "You can't be real."
Vin shook his head, "Ezra Standish, welcome to 1876."
he watched Vin disappear into the side room, the gunslinger began to realize
that this was a lost cause. The man who looked like Vin was no longer
talking to himself, which meant Chris had no way of learning what the hell he
was doing here. His fingers gripped themselves into annoyed fists, and he
looked vaguely out through the window above the alter, as if God could perhaps
provide him with answers.
"Chris? Nice outfit cowboy! When did you get the time to change into that get-up?"
Chris's eyes widened, and he looked back at the future Vin. The man was suddenly looking very solid, the grin on his face fading only slightly as he realized the gunslinger wasn't smiling back at him.
"Seriously," Vin continued, "you've even got dust all over you. What did you do, buy yourself a new coat then roll around in the dirt or something?"
Chris just continued to watch the man, still wondering if he were imagining this.
Vin's smile faded then completely, "Chris? You...you all right there, pard?"
"Are you talking to me?" Chris replied, vaguely looking around him at the empty church in case the man who looked like him had shown up.
"No, I'm interviewing the Indonesian girl's soccer team; Of course I'm talking to you! What's with the outfit?"
Chris looked down at his duster, then lifted the hat in his hand and moved hang it on the edge of one of Josiah's still in progress pews. Vin watched him with confused eyes.
"You bought a hat too? You tired of your Mets cap?"
"Okay," Vin shook his head, "You're acting mighty strange here, Chris. What is it I'm missing here, huh?"
Chris smiled at the question, then laughed. "You're definitely not the same man, though you're close. For one thing, you talk more. And you have less confidence."
Vin gave a half smile, though his eyes remained narrowed. "You keep talking like that, Chris, and I'm going to go get Ez to help me talk you down from wherever you are...."
"Tell me, Vin Tanner...," Chris looked up at him, his eyes icy cold, "It is Vin Tanner, isn't it?"
"Nothing, nothing," Chris smiled was almost evil, "I'm just curious. Is there some reason you're haunting my town?"
Vin's eyebrows shot up. "I’m sorry, but…did you just use the word 'haunting?'"
"What are you? Some sort of messenger? A ghost? Or are you, as I truly want to believe, some really bad dream?"
Vin just stared at Chris, completely baffled. Then, as he looked more closely, he realized that this man standing in front of him looked different in more than just clothes. His face was dirty and more tanned, and there was a faint scar on his neck. He also stood more stooped, and his teeth were not as white. Bit by bit, the differences became clearer...and Vin took a couple of steps back.
"Who are you," he hissed, eyebrows knitted together.
This time Chris laughed more openly, "Oh this is rich! You know who I am Vin. It's you I'm not sure about. I don't know what you are, and I really do want to know. Explain it to me." The last sentence came out as a growl, and the gunslinger raised his hands as if he were about to grab Vin's shirt. The detective jumped backwards and, without conscious thought, pulled his gun.. Chris looked at it, then at Vin's eyes, and shook his head.
"Can a ghost shoot a real person?" Chris asked.
"Stop it! I am not the ghost here!" Vin wrapped both hands around the .357 magnum. "Now, who....No, what are you!"
Chris looked at him a moment longer, then, slowly, the anger on his face softened. Slowly, it was replaced by an odd thoughtfulness.
"You're serious?" he asked.
Vin blinked, "I...what?"
Chris frowned, "You don't know what is going on here?"
Vin lowered the gun, completely confused now. "Obviously, no. If this was some weird joke of yours, Chris, I ain't laughing."
Chris frowned, "So you're not a ghost. You're not some mistake come back to haunt us? Or some messenger from the future returning to spell our doom?"
Vin just looked at him, and shook his head. "Please...just...who are you?"
"I'm Chris. Who are you?"
"Okay," Chris scratched at his head. "I figured you might say that. Try this, when are you?"
"The date, what is the date."
Vin blinked a few times, finally getting an inkling of what this man was saying. "May...May 1."
"Hell," Chris laughed and shook his head. Turning, he saw down heavily in a pew and looked up at the half-finished ceiling. He could hear the roaring wind blowing roughly across the newly shingled roof.
"What...what do you think the date is?" Vin asked tentatively.
"Well," Chris replied, looking back at him, "where I sit, it's 1876. May 1, 1876."
Vin gave a short laugh of disbelief, "Yeah, right! This is getting old, Larabee. I don't know how you are doing this, but, right now, I'm willing to believe that you've decided to play some seriously twisted practical joke on me. Look, I'm sorry I drew on you, but you're spooking me. Why don't you go frighten Ez, or something, eh?" He put the magnum back and turned around, ignoring the prickling running up and down his spine.
"Maybe I will," Chris sighed, standing, watching as Vin's shoulder's tensed slightly. Then the apprentice detective was walking back into the side room and disappearing down the corridor.
The gunslinger walked back to the center of the aisle, his face a mask of confusion. Vaguely, he looked again up through the window to the dark gray sky beyond. There had to be a reason for this, didn't there?
"Woah!" Vin's rang out of the side room, and Chris looked sharply back to the door. "Now, now, now...hold on there, Miss...I...put the rifle down now...."
Chris's featured hardened, and he drew his gun just in time to see the future Vin back out of the doorway, his hands in the air. Forcing him back was a young, rather pretty, black woman, her hands very steadily pointing a rifle directly at his face. She wore a black t-shirt with the name VASSAR across the chest, and what looked like men's denim jeans - though they were obviously cut for a girl.
"Who's here with you!" she demanded, looking around him into the main church. "I heard you talking to someone! Where are they?"
Vin's mouth opened, then shut. Turning, he saw Chris pointing an old fashioned gun at the girl. Larabee seemed to be as puzzled about this as he was. She growled, and poked Vin in the chest so that he stepped back some more.
"I said, where are they!"
"You...you don't see anyone here?" he asked stupidly.
"Would I be asking you my question if I did?"
"Oh wow," Vin muttered.
The gambler blinked, rubbed his eyes, and shook his head. Something had to be wrong here. Where had the town gone?
He was looking at a paved street, a pair of yellow lines painted down the center, and more carriages like the silver one sat on the sides. The buildings were all completely different, larger, many made of stone. Large glass windows reflected the sun, and someone had planted trees into stone sidewalks.
It was...very wrong.
Swallowing, Ezra tripped forward, choosing to follow the now very solid seeming Chris Larabee doppelganger as he walked away from him. He opened his mouth to call him, then shut it.
Was he the ghost now?
His mind spun, the blood pulsing behind his ears. Turning, he looked behind him and saw that Four Corners had disappeared. Mrs. Potter had walked by without seeing him, perhaps because she hadn't seen him. He was no longer there....
Was this real?
He picked up the pace, trying to catch up with the familiar face, even if it wasn't his Chris Larabee. Soon he was jogging. The man in front of him had walked over to one side of the street, and was looking vaguely through store windows. If he heard Ezra coming up behind him, he gave no sign.
Just then, out of the corner of his eye, Ezra saw something that made the situation feel even worse.
From out of a side street on the other side of the road, three men appeared, dressed in black and carrying what looked like shotguns and guns. The Chris he was following was still walking, oblivious to the threat.
Ezra started running.
The men saw Chris, smiled, and raised their weapons.
"Chris!" Ezra shouted. "Behind you!"
Chris turned in his direction, obviously hearing the shout, then twisted further to look behind him just as the first bullets rang out.
The lawyer closed his eyes, counted to three, then looked at Vin again. The tracker was smiling at him, clearly amused.
"Could...could you repeat that?" Ezra asked weakly, blinking a few times and still gripping the edge of the table as if it were the only thing keeping him standing.
"I said," Vin grinned, "Welcome to 1876. Tell me, what year did you come from exactly?"
Ezra continued to blink rapidly, and shook his head.
"I think I heard you say 125 years from now, "Vin continued. "That's, what...?" the tracker frowned, trying to work out the math.
"2002," Ezra replied, still acting dazed. "You know, for a dream, this place is amazingly real. I can even feel the roughness of this table – OW!" The lawyer pulled his hand up from the edge, eyes widening at the site of blood welling up around the tiny thorn that had stuck itself in his forefinger.
Vin shook his head, "Not a dream, Ez. Not sure what it is, but it's not a dream."
"Of...of course it is," the lawyer whispered as he stared at his finger. "Maybe...maybe we got into a car accident. We never actually reached Northfork, and I never really read the first few pages of that journal. I'm lying in a coma in the hospital, listening to you read me a western...."
"Not a dream," Vin inisisted again. "This is real, Ez. You're bleeding, for God's sake!"
"This is a dream," Ezra said more loudly, "this table, the journals, this town, all of it….because it is impossible that seven men with the same names as those with which I work in New York could have existed at the same time in the same place in 1876."
"Seven men?" Vin's excitement grew. "You mean you work with Buck, Nate, Josiah, and JD too? This is amazing!”
"And it’s not just them," Ezra continued, looking up again at the saloon, and at the senorita behind the bar. She was still throwing him curious glances as she served her other customers. Vin's eyes widened as he took in Ezra's meaning.
"So you see," the lawyer finished, looking again at his hand, feeling the pulsing of his blood around the tiny but painful piece of wood, "this must be a dream."
"Well then," Vin said, grinning again, "It's my dream, 'cause this is reality and it's you that's appeared in it. From wherever you came from. 125 years from now, I think you said. Even if you're not real, want to tell me what happens in the future anyhow?" the tracker's eyes fairly sparkled as he watched the lawyer's grimaced reaction to the comment.
"125 years...." Ezra repeated, gently pulling the thorn from his finger. Suddenly, as if the sun had just risen, his expression shifted from confused to downright terrified. Vin's grin fell at the change, recognizing the expression from his own Ezra – he made it when one of them was in trouble. The lawyer touched the table again, where the book had been.
"1876...," he repeated, he looked up at Vin with startlingly familiar green eyes, "When?"
Vin's brow furrowed, "You just said...."
"No, no, the day? What day is it?"
"The date you foul apparition! What date is it?"
"I am not an apparition," Vin countered.
Ezra frowned darkly at him, then shoved past him to the bar, stopping in front of Inez.
"Senorita Roscillos, please, what is the date?"
"May 1," she replied, she said, her face clearly bewildered. "Querido, what...?"
But, before she could finish her question, Ezra was running for the doors. Vin tipped his hat at Inez, then ran out after him.
The tracker found the lawyer stopped dead in his tracks on the boardwalk in front of the saloon, his eyes wide as he looked around the frontier town. The wind was screaming now, and the sun was broken into patches as the clouds thickened overhead. Folks were packing up and heading indoors.
"This is Four Corners," Vin supplied, trying to be helpful. "Over there is the jail, the hotel, the Clarion," he pointed out each structure as he named them.
"The church," Ezra said quickly, "Where is the...?" he turned his head to the left, answering his own question as he saw the nearly-completed structure.
"Is it really the same?" Vin asked. "I overheard you talking to your Chris and Vin about it."
Ezra didn't answer, still lost in his own world. He took a couple steps in that direction, then stopped. His eyes were fixed on two women making their way towards the church, one of them very pregnant.
"Where is...where is your healer? Mr. Jackson?"
"Nate? Left town about an hour ago to check up on a sick family over in the direction of Eagle Bend."
"Eagle...Bend," Ezra repeated the town's name, Chris's voice echoing in his head.
"Ez, what's the matter?" Vin asked seriously. The tone of his voice finally got the lawyer to look at him, as if really seeing him for the first time.
"Your Mr. Jackson wrote journals of his time here, in this town. He began the first one week from today, its purpose to chronicle what happened today."
"On May 1, while Mr. Jackson was tending to a family outside of town, a large gang of outlaws entered the town to rob the bank. Or rather, they were already here, having arrived one at a time over the course of the week." He looked around him, "According to Mr. Jackson, they took their opportunity when a severe storm abruptly blew through without warning, which apparently trapped the town’s lead protector, a Mr. Chris Larabee, with a Sarah Weathers and a Gloria Potter in the church when the roof caved in after a lightning bolt set it ablaze.” He looked up at the lowering sky as he spoke, his voice rising with the wind. “As the robbery commenced, Mr. Vin Tanner was shot in the shoulder protecting…me, I guess." The lawyer swallowed, realizing for the first time that his gun was still locked in the glove compartment of a car he could no longer see. "And, though the outlaws were eventually taken down, Buck Wilmington, JD Dunne and Josiah Sanchez were all killed in the ensuing melee."
"Who are you?" the girl hissed, staring down the rifle at Vin's face where they stood near the alter. "What do you want?"
"Miss Kramer?" Vin replied, his voice taut. A ripple of consternation crossed her face before it was replaced again by anger.
"I said who are you? Did Palasco's goons send you?"
"No, Palasco did not send us. We're working for Steven Leeds. He needs your help."
Her face frowned, "Steve? What do you mean, working for him?"
"I'm a detective. Steven's lawyers hired me and my friend to help track you down."
"Ezra Standish and Josiah Sanchez."
"They're lawyers?” This was Chris that said that, and Vin turned around to look at him. Chris shook his head and gave a small smile.
"Why would Steve need lawyers?" Anita asked.
Vin turned back to the girl pointing that rifle in his face. "Miss Kramer, I don't know if you are aware of this, but Steven has been arrested for the murder of your roommate."
Anita’s eyes widened, and her gun lowered slightly. "Murder? Alicia? Alicia's...she's dead?"
Vin frowned, "You didn't know?"
"No, I....." Her eyes dropped, and, in that moment, Vin reached up and grabbed the barrel of the rifle, roughly shoving to one side. With a small gasp, she let him, her fingers falling from the stock and trigger lifelessly.
"She's really dead?" she whispered, searching his eyes. "I...I didn't know they'd kill her. She wasn't who they were after...." Her hand went to her mouth, "Oh God...Alicia...." She started to shake.
"I'm sorry." Vin didn't know what else to say.
Anita continued to shake, and she wrapped her arms around herself. "And they think Steve killed her? That's crazy! He loved Alicia!"
"Yeah, but they found him standing over the body with the knife. No matter how you look at it, that looks bad, even if they haven't figured out motive yet. And with you missing, there is no one who can back him up."
"Oh God," she shut her eyes and fell sideways, sitting down hard on the nearby pew.
"Anita," Vin said, resting a hand lightly on her arm, "I need to know what happened."
She shook her head.
"Please," he whispered.
At that same moment, the doors of the church banged open roughly, startling both Vin and Chris. The two men looked towards the doors, just in time to see a very pregnant black woman stumble inside supported by another older woman. The older woman had to work to close the doors behind her against the incredible wind blowing up outside.
“Mrs. Potter, Mrs. Weathers, what are you doing here?” Chris demanded brusquely, as the two women turned to look at him.
“Not that it is your business,” Sarah Weathers replied, her voice taking on a slight edge of defensiveness as she touched her swollen belly. “But I came to pray for the baby. Though now this wind has blown up…we may stay here until it has done.”
“The weather just turned awful, Mr. Larabee,” Mrs. Potter added. “All of a sudden, it was as if the world were turned upside down.”
“And what are you doing here, Mr. Larabee?” Sarah asked, her tone challenging.
“Now Sarah, remember we saw Josiah at the hardware store with Mr. Wilmington,’ Mrs. Potter interjected, touching Sarah on the arm to calm her. “Perhaps Chris is going to help them with the church?” She looked at the gunslinger for confirmation.
“Ah…yes,” Chris replied, a strange look on his face. “That’s right. Uh, you two…go ahead.” He backed away, moving to stand next to the apprentice detective.
“Thank you kindly for your permission,” Sarah said sarcastically. Holding her head high, she walked forward and, with Mrs. Potter’s help, sat carefully down on one of the front pews. Then Gloria walked over to Chris, indicating that he lean over so she could say something.
“Sarah’s late, Mr. Larabee, and she’s a mite temperamental as a result,” she whispered. Chris nodded and offered a weak smile at the young black woman, who scowled back.
Vin frowned, seeing the newcomers, and realizing with some amazement that they couldn’t see him. When he looked back at Anita Kramer, he found her watching him curiously, her head turning with confusion to the doors of the church.
"What is it?" Anita asked Vin, looking up at him. "Do you hear something? Is there someone else here?"
"No...nothing," Vin replied. "It's just you and me." She nodded, sighing slightly, and put her head in her hands.
Just then, everyone in the church jumped as gunshots exploded outside, echoing through the church, at the same time that a thunderous boom rang down from above.
“What was that?” Sarah and Anita asked at the same time, their voices identical.
“Fire!” Gloria screamed, pointing upwards.
barely had time to think as he felt Ezra barrel into him, knocking him down
just as the bullets whizzed overhead.
"Move, move!" he heard Ezra shout, "the alley!"
Shaking his head, Chris got to his feet and kept low, jogging the few steps that allowed him entrance to the alleyway. Ezra fell in behind him, rolling the last few feet, and hugged the wall down low. In a fluid motion, Ezra had drawn a gun from some kind of holster strapped to his leg and was firing up the street.
Shaking his head again, Chris drew his own weapon and started firing over Ezra's head in the same direction. He noticed with some surprise that one of the shooters was already down, while the other two had taken up positions behind some parked cars.
"Damn it," Ezra muttered, backing himself into the alley and leaning on the wall. He dug some bullets out of the pocket in his coat and reloaded his Remington.
Chris fired off a few more rounds, then looked down at the man near his feet.
"Where did you find the gun? I thought I saw that yours was still in the car."
Ezra glanced up at him, arching an eyebrow. "The car? Is that what it is called? How interesting! Is that short for carriage?"
Gunshots exploded again, pinging off the corner of the building they were hiding behind. Chris shot off a few more rounds.
"How many of them are there," the detective demanded then, thinking he might have to put in a new clip soon. "Did you see?"
"I only saw three, but there may be more. If any decide to come down behind us, we could be in serious trouble."
"And we're not now?" Chris smiled.
"Not as of yet, Mr. Larabee. Do you think there may be others?"
Chris looked at the man again, "Maybe. I don't know. If I'm right and it really is Mick Palasco we're up against, there could be a good number. This girl must really know something."
"Then we should find ourselves a more defensible position." Ezra looked down the alley, then stood up. He glanced at Chris, "Coming?"
"Uh...yeah," the detective replied, watching as Ezra started lithely running down the street, the tails of his red coat flying.
was the man wearing?
They reached the corner, and Ezra ducked down and checked both ways. Smiling he looked up at Chris, ignoring the strange look the man was giving him. Now was not the time to explain, even if he could.
"Look, perhaps we can get in behind them? If we head down here and back up that alley..." he pointed to a couple buildings down. Chris nodded.
"Sounds like a plan," the detective agreed. Ezra grinned, flashing his gold tooth, then headed off. Chris shook off the odd feeling running down his spine and followed. Soon they were quietly pacing their way up the next alleyway.
Ezra ducked down and peered around the corner. From here, he could see that the two gunmen were still watching the alley they had left, using the cars as cover in order to get closer. Now, however, they had their backs to the gambler and detective. Chris smiled.
"All right, Ezra. You stay here. I'll take care of these guys."
"What, alone? Why?"
Chris gave him an amused look, "Are you kidding? Christ, Ezra, put a gun in your hand and you think you're John Wayne. You just stay down." Chris slipped out of the alleyway.
Ezra gave a tiny smile, shook his head, and followed him.
Coming up behind the nearest gunman, Chris got up behind him and whistled. The assassin turned around, bringing his gun around with him, never even flinching at the discovery they their prey had gotten behind him. Growling, Chris tackled him, knocking the semi-automatic from his hand, and delivered a few good punches to the man's face.
The other one heard the sounds of the fight and turned, only to find Ezra Standish's Remington in his face.
"I'd drop it if I were you," the gambler hissed. The man grimaced, lowered his gun to the ground, then jumped forward to tackle the smaller man. Ezra laughed and jumped sideways, bringing the butt of his gun down across the back of the gunman's head. He went down like a stone.
"Ezra, on your right!" Chris yelled suddenly, looking up just in time to see another gunman appear from out the alleyway they'd been hiding in.
To his amazement, Ezra just spun around and shot, never missing a beat. Then, in the same breath, he turned again and pointed his gun behind Chris, letting off another shot. The detective fell back into the car and looked behind him, eyes wide. A fourth man who had been coming up from behind slipped downwards, the shot to his chest dead center.
Ezra tilted his head, and, looking around him again, made sure there were no more threats. Chris jogged over from where he was standing and came up next to the gambler just in time to see Ezra pop open the revolver in his hand and empty it of spent shells. He pulled some more bullets from a breast pocket and smiled up at Chris as he reloaded.
"Think that's it?" he asked, his tone curious.
"Ezra...you just shot two...," Chris paused, remembering the first man, "no...three men dead."
Ezra grimaced, "Yes, my apologies for that. However, we still have two, right? You should be able to get some answers from them."
"Your apologies?" Chris's eyes were beyond huge, "Ezra...I repeat, you shot them dead! You once told me you'd never even shot at someone before you shot at that kid back at your office. How can you be so callous?" He shook his head, then looked at the man in front of him more carefully. "More to the point, how the hell did you learn to shoot like that? And what the hell are you wearing?"
Ezra licked his lips, considering how to answer that long string of questions. Then he shook his head, making a decision.
"Well, um, first of all, these clothes were purchased from one of the local establishments. Sort of a joke, see? Probably seem a little old fashioned to you, I suppose. Um..."
"You bought them? When? When did you have the time?"
grinned, "Uh...". Chris raised an eyebrow, his irritation
showing on his face, then, suddenly, his gaze switched to something behind
"Down!" he yelled, shoving the gambler to the ground just as more gunshots echoed down the street. The detective grunted in pain as a bullet impacted his shoulder, and he fell down next to Ezra. The gambler had pressed his back against the car they were hiding against, holding his gun in both hands and looking worriedly at over at him. Propping himself up against the same car, Chris gripped his shoulder and nodded to indicate he was all right. With a dark look, Ezra then turned and listened with growing horror to the
They weren't ceasing.
"What the hell?" he hissed. How the hell did anyone shoot that fast? Not even gatling guns were that fast....
"Machine guns," Chris said back. "Damn it. Who the hell brings machine guns to a backwater town like this? Just to grab one girl?"
"Ma...machine guns?" Ezra repeated, listening to the never ending slew of bullets breaking the glass and hitting everything around them with abandon. A literal shower of bullets...that was the way it looked to him. My God, he thought, how the hell do you stop something that can do that?
Vin just stared dumbfounded at the lawyer, not sure what to think. “All of them? But how?”
“Mr. Jackson wrote his missive based upon witness accounts, which were not clear, not surprisingly.” The lawyer shivered as a fierce blast of cold air raked itself through town. “But, I believe all three men were shot in the back. Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Wilmington were running to get to the church, I assume, to rescue Mr. Larabee and the women. Mr. Dunne likewise, though I get the impression that he came from the jail. The other two were apparently in…” he looked around, then pointed, “the hardware store.”
“Did…does…did the book say who the robbers were?”
“No. They were gone by the time Mr. Jackson returned,” Ezra replied. “The only consensus was that leader was tall with a moustache, and that there were ten men all together. With your help, Mr. Larabee’s and, I suppose, mine, Mr. Jackson did go after them. Unfortunately, a week later, Mr. Jackson returned alone. I have no idea what happened to Mr. Larabee, you or me. He wrote in his journal that he needed to start a new chapter in his life, and that was why he wanted to write a chronicle of the town beginning with what happened today.” He shook his head despondently. “I’m afraid, Mr. Tanner, that was as far as I got in the journal.”
Vin frowned, “How much time?”
“I…I don’t know. But it all begins when lightening strikes the roof of the church.”
Vin looked up, grimacing at the black clouds filling the sky. It suddenly felt like dusk as opposed to mid-morning.
“All right. We can stop this. Have you got a gun?”
“My gun,” Ezra’s brow creased, “No, I left it in the car. Which has disappeared.”
Vin followed the lawyer’s gaze, and realized that the silver object had indeed disappeared. “Car, huh. Like a train car,” he nodded, liking the word. “Look, we need to get you a weapon. Go find JD, get a gun from him. If he asks why you don't have yours, just…lie or something. I’ll go get Chris out of that church and see if I can’t figure out where my Ezra Standish went.”
“Vin, wait!” the lawyer stepped forward, “Get the women out too. When the roof comes down, Sarah Weathers loses her baby and dies from the blood loss.”
“Oh, this just keeps getting better,” Vin scowled, glancing both ways along the street before running headlong towards the church. The lawyer just stood still and stared up at the sky.
A flash of light off a rifle barrel brought his eyes to the hotel opposite, and his mouth opened in surprise. The rifle trailed Vin’s movements, though the shooter didn’t seem inclined to fire…yet.
Ezra’s eyes narrowed, and he ran across to the double doors of the hotel.
JD came from around the corner, where he’d been standing not five feet from Ezra and Vin, listening to their conversation. He swallowed harshly and looked up at the clouds. He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but when he heard Ezra say his name the first time, he’d stopped.
Gripping his hands into fists, he had half a mind to run. He didn’t want to die.
Looking over at the church, he was just in time to see the lightening hit the roof.
“No Chris!” Vin yelled, as Chris ran for the front. “There are gunshots outside! Sounds like a machine gun!”
“A what?” Larabee skidded to a halt, “Vin, the roof is on fire, we have to get out of here!” He stopped when he realized he could hear shots as well – and frowned when he recognized the barking of Vin's Winchester out there.
“Chris, who are you yelling at! Vin’s not here,” Gloria yelled, helping Sarah to her feet.
“Stop! Stay there!” Chris ordered them, hand raised. He looked back at Vin, "The roof is on fire here – we have to risk it."
“Who’s Chris?” Anita asked Vin. “What’s going on!”
“Yeah, but who knows what’s going on out there!” Vin replied, ignoring the woman and looking up at the roof. He could almost see the flames, like a strange dream, as they licked at the rafters above his head without burning them. Still sitting down, Anita recoiled slightly as he appeared to talk to thin air.
The roof creaked, and Chris jumped backwards, just as a whole chunk fell almost dead in the center of the aisle. Sarah gasped as Gloria screamed – had Chris not ordered them to stop, they would have been right under it.
“The back room!” Vin yelled, “I read on a plaque that the whole back room is original, roof and all.”
“Get in the back room,” Chris said, moving forward to help Gloria with Sarah. “You’ll be safe there.”
“What’s going on!” Anita whined again, standing up and grabbing Vin’s arm. “Are you crazy?! There’s no one here! Who are you talking to.”
Vin just hushed her, listening more intently to the rapid firing shots outside. She moaned and covered her ears.
“Get to the back room,” he hissed, patting her arm softly, “hide.”
She just stared at him, then, eyes wide, hands still over her ears, "What's happening? Is he here? Palasco?"
Vin watched as Chris got Gloria Potter and Sarah Weathers through the door, then looked back at her.
"Yeah, probably. You need to hide. Take the rifle," he handed the weapon back to her, and watched her walk back through the doors. As he followed her through, he flinched and turned to see the burning roof of the church come down behind him.
The fact that the roof was also still there above his head was giving him a headache.
that thing ever stop?" the gambler hissed, looking up at the destruction
machine gun was causing with amazed eyes. Chris glanced at him, finally letting go his hurt arm to pick up his gun again. With a strange fascination, Ezra watched as the detective released his spent clip and, pulling another one from his jacket pocket, replaced it.
"How...how many bullets does that hold?" he asked. Chris looked at him, and shook his head.
"More n' six," came the simple reply.
"Huh," Ezra grunted, looking down at his Remington.
Just then, the hail of bullets stopped, and both the gambler and the detective took a breath in relief.
"Christopher Larabee!" a man's voice shouted, "Ezra Standish!"
"That's Mick Palasco's voice," Chris told Ezra, surprised. "He's here himself. He must be seriously desperate not to let this girl go."
"You have one minute to throw out your guns!" Mick shouted.
"Is he joking?" Chris hissed. Taking in a deep breath, he shouted back, "Now why would we do that, Mick?!"
"I am sure, Mr. Larabee, that you are aware we have you pinned down. However, I am equally aware, from the fact that three of my men are dead and two are unconscious, that you are not the type to give up easily. Nevertheless, I assume that you are also reasonable."
Chris arched an eyebrow at Ezra, who shrugged.
"Explain!" Chris shouted.
"We do not want to kill you, Mr. Larabee. We simply want to know where you have stashed the girl. She was not at her relatives, but, all evidence showed that she had been there this morning. Therefore, logic suggests that you must have gotten to her first....We want her."
Chris gave a short laugh, running a hand through his hair. "You're crazy, Mick! We don't...."
Ezra whacked him in his hurt shoulder, causing Chris to gasp in pain and grip it before he could finish the sentence.
"What makes you think we would give her up!" Ezra shouted, one hand still touching Chris's arm. The detective angrily drew his arm out of the grip.
"What the hell are you doing!" the detective hissed at him. "You know full well we don't have the girl!"
just shook his head at him in response.
"We are willing to let you go in return for her deliverance," came Mick's reply
"Not good enough!" Ezra replied, watching the detective’s livid face darken even farther. "You assume you have the upper hand, sir, but I wouldn't be so sure. We did not come alone, for one thing."
"I thought you might say that,” Mick sneered. “I was wondering, gentlemen, if you noticed how quiet this town was?"
Ezra frowned, while next to him the detective grimaced as his thoughts of earlier came back to him.
"Because, you see, Mr. Larabee," Mick continued, "we have the sheriff, his deputies, and quite a few more townsfolk locked up in the sheriff's office, and I have placed several payloads of dynamite around it and the town hall. Should you not deliver the girl to me, I will detonate them. All I need to do is hit one little button." Had they been able to see him, they would have seen Palasco lift up a remote detonator in his hand, the smile on his face perfectly evil.
"This guy can't be for real," Chris muttered.
"Can he do that?" Ezra asked.
The detective ignored him, and squinted at something. "Look," he said, pointing.
Ezra turned. In one of the few shop windows that hadn't been shattered, they could see the reflection of a tall man standing on the other side of the road, holding something up in his hand. Two men stood to his right and left holding black objects that, probably, were the "machine guns."
"We need to get that detonator out of his hand," Chris said.
"That little thing? That’s the detonator?” Ezra’s eyebrows shot up. Chris just gave him a look.
“Larabee, what is your answer? Will you come quietly?" Mick yelled. "Or do I start exploding buildings?"
Chris sighed, looking at the reflection, "Listen, Standish, I realize this is not something you have much experience with, but I need you to focus right now. You're...well, you're obviously better with a gun than I thought you were, but this has just escalated to something far bigger than you and me. We could die here, and we probably will if we want to save this town." Chris was watching him carefully.
Ezra grinned, "Yeah, well, so what else is new?" He shrugged, ignoring the furrowed brow of the future Chris Larabee and looking at the reflection. "Listen, I have a plan. If all we have to do is take down the miscreant I can see in the shop window there and his friends, and get that tiny little metal thing out of his hand, I think that's doable."
"Ezra, this isn't a joke...."
"Mr. Larabee," Ezra shifted into a squatting position, "At this moment in time, I need you to trust me on something. I need you to trust that, however incomprehensible it may seem, I have indeed been in a position like this before...many times...and I do have some experience with these sort of standoffs. Now, give me your gun."
Chris just stared at him.
"Your gun, sirrah."
"Give me your gun, or I will take it. Understand?"
The slightest smile crossed Chris's lips at the threat, then he shook his head. "You're crazy."
"No, I'm a gambler, and a damn good one. Now give me your gun."
Chris shook his head, "Tell me your plan first."
Ezra sighed, "You wouldn't believe me. All you need to know is that, when the time comes, I want you to jump the man to Palasco's right. Okay?"
Chris stared hard at the man kneeling next to him for a moment, as if searching for something.
“Please,” Ezra whispered, “trust me.”
The detective sighed, and shook his head as if he thought he must be mad to do so, but, nevertheless, slowly gave the gambler his gun.
“Thank you,” Ezra replied, grabbing it from the detective’s hands. With a slightly awkward motion, he released the clip from Chris's the same way he had seen the detective do a moment ago, then dumped the bullets out of his own Remington. Chris had returned to gripping his bleeding arm, and watched the gambler with narrowed eyes.
had he been thinking? Ezra was going to
get them both killed!
"Here are the guns!" Ezra shouted, taking both his Remington in hand and Chris's and tossing them out over the top of the car they were hiding behind. "And we're coming out!"
“The church!” someone screamed, pointing. JD fell back against the outer wall of the saloon as the fire exploded across the newly shingled roof from the force of the lightening bolt, and watched dumbly as Buck and Josiah run out of the hardware store to see. The fire spread quickly, finding the flammable stuff Josiah had used to set the shingles, and soon the steeple was engulfed.
At the same time, the sound of a single gunshot echoed out of the hotel, from the second floor.
Vin, just a few feet from the church steps, backed up as he part of the roof suddenly collapsed into the church, and yelled Chris’s name.
“Vin?” Josiah called, heading towards him at a jog. The tracker turned, then rapidly drew his mare’s leg.
“Josiah! Buck!” he yelled, raising the weapon up, “Duck!”
The preacher and the ladies man didn’t even think, they just fell to the dirt, following the order without question. Vin fired three times over their heads, his expression stony.
JD gasped as he saw two men fall not twenty feet from where he was, both with rifles that, a moment before, had been pointed at his friends’ backs. He hadn’t even seen them!
Bullets exploded out of other hidden places, aimed at the three men down near the church. Still hugging the wall, the kid tried to find their sources. One seemed to be on the balcony over the livery, and another from somewhere above his head – one of the rented rooms in the saloon.
Both Josiah and Buck got back to their feet, weapons out, and sought cover. Vin glanced once more at the church, then, frowning, started running as gunshots pelted the ground around his feet.
The kid pulled his twin colts and fired upwards at an outlaw he'd spotted shooting at Vin from the balcony over the hardware store. The gunman jerked and swung around to fire back at JD.
Before he could, Buck took him down from where he was now safely behind cover in front of the grocer’s.
More gunfire echoed from the hotel room, and with a steeled jaw, JD ran across the street to get up there. Bullets touched the ground around him, and he saw Josiah aim at something above and behind his head from his cover in front of the hardware store.
A dark smile touched his face as he heard someone cry out in pain behind him.
The bullets stopped chasing him.
He burst into the hotel, trusting now that the others would be all right.
He had to find Ezra.
Or whoever that was that looked like Ezra.
As Vin came into the room, he was surprised to see Anita helping Sarah Weathers become more comfortable on the small cot in the room. The pregnant woman smiled at her before breaking into a fit of coughing, then groaning and riding out what looked like a wave of pain. She shook off Anita’s question of whether she was all right and smiled again.
“Vin, thank goodness you’re here!” Gloria said, reaching over to take his arm. “What’s going on out there? We can hear gunshots! And the roof! Are we going to die in here?”
The apprentice detective just stared at her. “You can see me?” he whispered.
“You know these people?” Anita asked, glancing only momentarily away from Sarah. “I found them in here. I don’t know how they got in,” she looked up at Chris, and instinctively backed up a step. The gunslinger gave her a curious stare, then went back to fighting with the window. Try as he might, he couldn’t get it open.
Not that he really wanted to. The world was going crazy outside. One window showed the storm, the rain shaking the storm windows and the wind whistling in through the cracks. The other window showed bright sunshine pouring down on more objects like the one he had seen the apparitions arrive in, and houses and buildings made of stone, brick and stucco.
“What is going on?” Anita asked plaintively.
Vin looked at her, then at Chris. The gunslinger shook his head.
“I don’t know, but, these people will not harm you, Miss Kramer,” the apprentice replied. “Trust me.”
She frowned, but accepted his word, “And…and the weather? And why do I smell smoke? And the gunshots….”
Sarah Weathers suddenly cried out in pain, grabbing at her belly.
“No, no, no, not now!” the former slave hissed.
“Oh lord!” Gloria hustled over, taking her arm. “Sarah?”
“I’m all right,” the pregnant woman said, gritting her teeth. “This isn’t happening now, I won’t let it!”
“You’ve gone into labor?” Chris asked, his eyes bright. He looked over at Vin, then returned to fighting with the windows.
“No, I’ve not,” Sarah replied, then grimaced, “I’ve not!” she swore, more for herself than for the others.
“Oh Heaven’s above,” Mrs. Potter shook her head, “And with Mr. Jackson out of town!”
“Jackson?” This brought Anita’s head up. “Russell Jackson?”
Gloria shook her head, “Nathan Jackson,” she said.
“I don’t know him,” Anita replied, clearly puzzled. “Who is he?”
“Our healer,” Gloria replied.
“Healer,” Anita’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Ma’am, this woman needs a doctor, not a healer.”
“My name is Gloria Potter, young woman,” Gloria replied, “And I’ll have you know that Mr. Jackson is one of the best….”
Sarah cried out again, doubling over. Gloria instantly returned her attention to her friend.
“Oh dear, oh dear, just keep breathing.” she rubbed Sarah’s back and looked up at the others, “I don’t…I don’t know what to do. I’m not a midwife.”
“Can we get her to a hospital?” Anita asked, looking at Vin. The apprentice had shut the door and was stuffing his coat to seal the cracks to stop the smoke.
“First we need to get one of these damn windows open,” Chris muttered, giving up with a grunt of disgust as he couldn’t move any of them. With a growl, he picked up a chair and threw it at one of them.
Nothing happened. It just passed right through the window without breaking it. As if the window weren’t really there.
Gloria Potter gave a gasp and stumbled back into the wardrobe. “What is going on,” she hissed. “Mr. Larabee, what is happening here?”
“Shit,” Vin whispered, looking back at the door behind him. Smoke still curled out from anywhere it could. Chris just leaned against the wall and rested his forehead against it, hiding his face. Gloria looked back just as Sarah gave another groan of pain.
“The contractions are too close together,” Anita said, looking at her watch. Shutting her eyes, she sighed and opened them again, suddenly appearing much older. “Okay…okay…we’re going to have to do this here. Is there any water in that basin?” She pointed to a washbasin on a small dresser off to one side. “And blankets. See if we can find blankets.”
Vin went over to the wardrobe behind Gloria and opened it. Inside were some old ponchos, a serape and…blankets. Grabbing them all, he carried them over to the bed. Gloria looked inside the basin, and nodded to say it was full.
“What are you going to do?” the older woman asked.
“Deliver her baby,” Anita replied, shaking her head. “It’s been a while, but I have done it before. Then we can figure out how we’re going to get out of here.”
“You…you are a midwife?”
“No,” she laughed, walking over to the basin and looking at the soap next to it. Picking it up, she back to clean her hands, “I’m…I was a doctor.”
Gloria frowned, “But you’re just a girl and…your black!”
Anita just gave her a strange look, and shook her head. “Thank you for pointing out the obvious. Listen, Mrs. Potter, my real name is Dr. Anita Jackson, and I'm 33 years old. I’ve been in witness protection for almost five years, living in New York. I came back here after I learned that my cover had been compromised.” She looked at Vin, her eyes tearing slightly. “I never meant for Alicia or Steve to get hurt.”
“I know,” Vin said.
“Jackson?” Chris said, looking at the woman speculatively.
“I’m sorry,” Gloria was shaking her head, “but that was all gibberish to me. Mr. Tanner, can you explain it, please?"
“Uh…no,” Vin gave a crooked smile. “But if she says she’s a doctor, I’d believe her, Ma’am.”
Gloria frowned, and looked back at the girl in the black shirt. “I’m very confused,” she said.
“Aren’t we all,” Chris said. Backing away from the windows. “But, I think the best thing to do now is let this woman take care of Mrs. Weathers.”
Gloria looked skeptical, but nodded.
“Okay,” Anita said, wiping her hands on the towel next to the basin, “time for a miracle.”
stood slowly, then reached down to help Chris up as well. The detective
grunted, his arm still smarting. The gambler gave him a nod and walked
around the vehicle, his arms raised, as one of the men with machine guns jogged
out to pick up the discarded weapons.
Mick gave a small laugh, "Nice outfit, lawyer. Something out of the old west, eh?"
"Old west," the gambler repeated, then nodded, "Yes, I guess it is," he agreed, walking forward. Chris followed behind, his face bleak. He held his arm close to his side, hoping the black leather of his jacket hid some of his injury.
"I knew we winged him," one of Mick's gunmen said gleefully. Chris frowned -- so much for that idea -- and moved to “cover” the man on the right per Ezra's instruction.
"This weapon is odd," the one on the right said, picking up and looking at Ezra's Remington. "It's old fashioned. Looks like it could blow up in your hand if it weren't taken care of."
"My actual weapon is unfortunately still in the...car...we arrived in," Ezra said, walking forward so that he was about two feet from the other two men and lowering his arms to his sides. "That one came with the outfit."
"Serious?" the gunman asked. "Neat," he lifted it to his eye and sighted down it in the direction of Chris then towards a shop window.
“Throw it away,” Mick ordered, turned to look at his man.
that moment, Ezra acted, engaging the derringer and brining up his right hand
with the speed of a rattlesnake.
Mick gasped in shock as Ezra shot him directly between the eyes. The detonator skittered out of Mick's lifeless hand as he fell across the sidewalk, the "button" never depressed.
The man to his left, completely taken off guard, was still working to re-engage the machine gun when Ezra's second bullet caught him in the chest. The weapon fell from his hands, never having been reset.
trying not to react too sharply to Ezra’s actions as he saw Mick fall, attacked
the man holding Ezra’s Remington, getting a solid cut across the man's
jaw. The gunman lost his hold on Ezra's gun, but somehow got enough
ground under him to move back and come up with the machine gun back in both
A gunshot sent the gunman backwards, and a second, and a third, and the machine gun shot uselessly across the road as the final man fell down.
Ezra sighed, smiled, and blew the smoke off the top of the colt in his left hand.
Chris whirled on him, seeing the new gun in his left hand, and the derringer in his right.
"Three guns?!" he gasped. "What the hell! How...? What...? You're outfitted like a god damned arsenal!"
Ezra smiled and slid the colt back in his shoulder holster. Then he shoved the derringer back up his sleeve. "Did you see where he dropped my Remington?" the gambler asked curiously, looking around him.
Chris just continued to breathe, looking at the dead men on the ground, then at the men they'd felled earlier. It was like some scene out of a movie.
"I don't believe this," he said, shaking his head.
"Told you that you wouldn't," the gambler replied, shrugging.
I really don't believe you," Chris added, his eyes hardening as he looked
at Ezra. "What just happened
Ezra's eyes lifted up from where he had spotted his Remington, the green eyes pure as they met the confused darker green one's of the detective.
"What I get paid to do, Mr. Larabee," he said softly, picking up the gun and holstering it, "I protected the town. Now, shall we see about freeing those people?"
In the background, Neither man saw the one that Chris had knocked out earlier come round, dark eyes focusing on the two men arguing not far away. His hand felt down his leg, and he smiled upon finding his ankle holster untouched.
JD ran up the stairs, just in time to see a man literally come flying out of the second floor room and into the corridor wall. He landed on top of another man, also unconscious.
“Ezra?” he called, stepping over the two bodies and glancing into the room, his guns ready.
He was just in time to see Ezra deliver a fantastic flying roundhouse kick to a tall man with a moustache, the man thrown backwards into the wall. The gun in the man’s hand fell to the ground, its owner out cold as his head impacted the unyielding wood.
Ezra grinned and wiped a hand across his chin, wiping away some of the rainwater and sweat pouring in through the open windows. As a floorboard creaked under JD's foot, the lawyer dropped into some sort of odd stance, his hands raised before him, then stood up and grinned as he recognized the figure.
“JD Dunne! Look at you, you fit right in!”
JD arched an eyebrow at the odd comment and walked the rest of the way into the room.
“Damn, Ez, did you do all this?” he walked into the room, to find three men lying sprawled in various states of unconsciousness, while furniture, lamps, vases and other items lay strewn or broken about the room. The lawyer grinned, and wiped his hands together.
“Yes, well,” he shrugged, “I don’t think any of these gentlemen have seen a Jackie Chan movie. I thus had the element of surprise.”
JD just raised an eyebrow, “huh?”
“Nothing, nothing, just a form of ...uh...entertainment I saw in New York once.”
“Oh,” the kid knelt down next to the moustached man, “so how did you do it? I mean, without a gun?”
Ezra shrugged, “Years of training to achieve a black belt, and then years of competition and, admittedly, even some practical use.” He rubbed at the back of his neck, "the last being not the best of memories."
JD stared at him, looking understandably bewildered. “Okay,” he muttered, shaking his head. He peered again at the moustached man, “You know, I’ve seen this one before. He’s wanted for theft and murder, I think. Name’s…”
“Palasco?” Ezra smiled. “Michael Palasco?”
JD shook his head, “Nah, something else, I think.”
“Yes well, it’s probably something like that,” Ezra shook his head, and looked out the window. “Are the others all right?”
“Yeah,” JD answered. “Church’s roof caved in though.” He looked up at Ezra, and saw that the man’s expression had gone from a smirk to worried again.
“Did…did everyone get out?” he asked.
JD lowered his eyes and gave a small shrug.
“Can you take care of this, Mr. Dunne?” Ezra asked, looking around him.
“Yeah. I’ll throw their guns away, then get someone downstairs to help me take ‘em to the jail.”
“Thank you, JD,” the lawyer replied, “I’ll be right back to help, I promise.”
“Yeah, yeah…,” JD stood up as Ezra pushed past him to the door. “Ez?”
“Yes?” the lawyer stopped just inside the door.
“Could you teach me to fight like this?”
Ezra smiled, nodded, then disappeared down the hall.
Sarah Weathers cradled her daughter closely, unable to believe her luck. She looked up at the young woman in front of her, and smiled.
“Thank you, Anita,” Sarah whispered as she lifted the baby higher in her arms. “Thank you so much.”
"Yes!" Chris said, as he finally got one of the windows open. "I'm going for help," he called, jumping out the window to the soggy dirt ground below. Soon he was out of sight.
“I’ll see if we can get out the front,” Vin said, removing his coat from the door. No smoke came through. Opening it gingerly, he looked at the pristine white walls of the side room. Nodding back at Anita, he disappeared through.
The doctor frowned, and turned back to Sarah and Gloria. “You’ll be all right for a few minutes?” she asked.
“Yes, thank you,” Mrs. Potter said. “You did an amazing thing, my dear.”
Anita grinned, and went out after Vin.
Sarah looked down at the tiny baby, and cuddled her even closer. "Anita...," she said, "I like that name." Gloria smiled and nodded.
The tracker stood up and walked out, his sharp eyes looking for any other threats. All in all, he guessed there to be about five men out here. That meant five were still missing.
The sky was still moving rapidly, and, as quickly as it had come, the storm was disappearing. The rain was barely a strong mist now, and patches of blue sky were appearing in places.
“Mr. Tanner!” Ezra came out of the hotel doors and ran towards him. “Vin, are you and the others all right?”
The tracker nodded, “Yeah.” He looked over where Josiah and Buck were talking together, both men looking towards the church. The tracker didn’t want to turn around. “How does it look?” he asked Ezra, as the lawyer also looked past him to the church.
“The…rain has put out the fire. But the roof is gone, along with the steeple that was atop it.”
“Are you…are you sure Chris was in there? And Mrs. Weathers and Mrs. Potter.”
Ezra grimaced, "According to the journal, yes. The three people were found near the front doors, obviously having been caught in the process of trying to get out, unconscious beneath the rubble. Mr. Larabee and Mrs. Potter will be fine, but Mrs. Weathers...." He stopped.
“Well,” Vin stared in the direction of the town, “we've only got five men accounted for here, of the robbers. That means there are still five out there. Did you get a gun?”
“Oh,” Ezra shook his head, “The other five are unconscious back in the hotel, on the second floor. Mr. Dunne is looking after them. And no, I never did find a gun.”
Vin raised an eyebrow, “JD took all of them?”
Ezra gave a crooked smile, then shrugged. “Actually, no, that was me. I think the idea of someone fighting without a weapon in his hand except for the objects he finds in a hotel room may have confused them. I saw them up there, and brushing my hair forward to hide my face, I pretended to be room service. They assumed I was harmless until it was too late.”
Vin just regarded him with disbelief, and the lawyer smiled more broadly.
“Nice to know I have that effect on you in this time as well as in my own.”
“Huh,” the tracker shook his head.
“Perhaps we should check out the church?” Ezra said then, more softly. Vin swallowed, and nodded. Buck and Josiah were headed in the same direction.
“Mr. Wilmington!” Ezra called, stopping the ladies man.
“Yeah?” he replied, looking Ezra up and down. “Nice outfit, Ezra. You lose a bet?”
“Now is not the time, Mr. Wilmington. Could you please go and assist Mr. Dunne over in the hotel? He has his hands full with five more of these…miscreants,” he waved at the ones lying dead on the wet ground. Buck looked at Vin with a questioning glance, and the tracker nodded. With a snort, the ladies man turned around and jogged towards the hotel.
“My church,” Josiah said sadly, also joining them. “What a mess.”
“There were people inside,” Vin whispered.
“Chris, Mrs. Weathers and Mrs. Potter.”
“Oh my good God,” the preacher covered his mouth.
“Yeah,” the tracker finally turned to look, and then lowered his head. The rain stopped.
At that same moment, the sound of a baby wailing burst loudly from the church.
Or rather, from the room behind it.
Sunlight burst through to illuminate the wreckage, as Chris Larabee appeared jogging around the church from the back.
At the same time, the outlaw that had fallen from balcony over the hardware store groaned and rolled over, his hand reaching for his gun. Groggily, his hands grabbed the wet metal and he turned and aimed at the small group of men standing about ten feet away.
As Anita walked back into the main church, she found Vin looking up at the ceiling vaguely.
“Something interesting about the roof?” she asked, causing him to jump.
“No, just…it’s a nice roof.”
“Okay, whatever you say,” she smiled and watched as he headed for the doors. He listened at them a moment, then risked opening one.
Sunlight poured into the cool hall.
“Well?” she asked.
“We’ll wait a few moments. Why don’t you go check on them again.”
She nodded, and headed back to the room. He shook his head as she left, then jerked, startled, as he heard her scream his name, her voice echoing through the church. The apprentice instantly ran back to the back room. Anita was walking the tiny room in circles and sticking her head out the open windows, clearly searching.
“They’re gone!” she said, looking back at him. “How is that possible? And where did they go?”
Vin stared at the empty bed, which was still neatly made, and at the sink attached to the wall where the dresser had been, and the now obviously antique wardrobe.
“Home?” he suggested weakly, smiling at her.
“We're not moving until I get an explanation. A real one,” Chris Larabee said leaning against a nearby car and staring hard at the gambler. “Who are you? Because you are sure as hell not my Ezra.”
The gambler gave a crooked grin, and rubbed at his head. Then he sighed.
A gunshot rang out with a “BANG!” and Ezra’s eyes widened as he flinched at the noise.
Chris pushed him aside and grabbed one of the machine guns, firing in the direction of the member of Palasco’s group he had thought he’d knocked out. The man recoiled from the shots, and fell to the ground like a puppet.
“Christ,” the detective breathed. “This is never ending. One of us had better handcuff the other one before he comes round. And, then we'll get that sheriff....”
He turned and looked at where the gambler had fallen.
“No!” he fell to his knees next to the prone figure, tipping him on his side. The gambler blinked up at him groggily, the green eyes laced with pain, blood pooling out from the wound on his back, staining the red jacket. “Hold on!” the detective yelled, pulling off his jacket and pressing his hard against the wound. “I’ll get you to a hospital! Just hold on!”
“I…,” Ezra smiled up at Chris, “I would…have liked…to have ridden in a car.”
“What? No, Ezra, no! Vin!” Larabee looked up, for the first time realizing that he hadn’t seen the apprentice detective since he’d sent him to the church. “Vin!”
He got up and looked towards the church, then turned again to look at Ezra.
The gambler had vanished.
“Chris!” Vin laughed, “Hell Chris, we thought…the roof, we thought…You’re all right!”
“Yes, but I need help. Sarah Weathers…wait a minute, what the hell happened here? And how is he here?” He looked around at the men lying on the ground, then at Ezra, clearly recognizing that he was not the gambler.
The lawyer shook his head, indicating he had no idea.
“Ezra here’s the hero of the hour, Chris,” Vin said. “Arrived just in time to prevent…well, let’s just say it’s a good thing he’s here. What’s going on with Sarah?”
“She had her baby,” Chris replied, still looking skeptically at Ezra. “She and Mrs. Potter are trapped in your back room, Josiah.”
“Then, we’d best rescue them,” the preacher grinned, relief all over his face. “Imagine, a birth in the midst of all this,” he indicated the church and the town with a wave. “He never ceases to amaze me,” he added, looking upwards. Then he started running towards the back of the church.
“I’ll go with you,” Chris yelled at the preacher's retreating back, then turned to point at Ezra. “And you and I are going to talk later!”
“Whatever you say,” Ezra smiled, raising his hands in submission. Chris growled, nodded, then turned and started running to catch up with Josiah, who had already disappeared around the side.
“What an amazing...,” Vin said, rubbing at his neck as he turned to look at the lawyer again. His sentence was cut off as a single gunshot rang out, causing Chris to stop in his tracks near the front of the church and turn around.
Ezra staggered forward into Vin, letting the tracker catch him. At the same time, Chris pulled his peacemaker and took the last outlaw down before he could fire again.
“Ezra!” Vin felt the lawyer slip downwards in his grasp, and he clutched him tightly. “No!” Chris was already running back to them.
Ezra collapsed to his knees, then sank all the way down as Vin continued to try and hold him. The tracker tipped him on his side, and pressed his hand against the wound on the man’s back, trying to use the lawyer's leather coat as a psuedo bandage. Ezra hissed, trying to get away from the pain, but Vin held on. The lawyer breathed hard, and met Vin's eyes with his own.
“Vin,” he whispered, “Was I…was I really a hero?”
“Yes, Ezra, yes…you really were."
The lawyer smiled, and shut his eyes.
Vin's breath caught in his throat, and he shook his head. "Oh hell, don’t die Ezra. Not now.”
But Ezra had stopped breathing. Vin pulled him into a tight embrace, just for a moment. Then, gently, he set him down on his back and stood up, turning to look at Chris. The gunslinger met his gaze, his jaw tense.
"I don't understand this day," he said to the tracker, "none of it." He looked back down to the ground. Suddenly, his eyes widened, which caused Vin to look behind him as well.
Ezra was gone.
“Vin!” Chris bellowed again, running towards the church. “Vin!”
He saw the church doors open, and Vin stuck his head out. The apprentice detective said something to someone inside, then jogged down the steps.
“Chris, what’s the matter?”
“Where the hell have you been?”
"Where the hell have you been!" Chris shouted again, grabbing his arm. Vin flinched and backed out of the grip.
“Chris…I…look, something very weird just happened inside that church,” Vin said, looking at detective with a worried frown, “But, I found the girl. I think we should grab Ez and….”
"What, why not?" Vin looked at the town hall, "All we need is to find...."
“Ezra’s dead,” Chris said.
That stopped Vin in his tracks.
“What?” he asked, his voice incredibly soft.
“He’s dead. Shot in the back. After he…Christ.” The detective put a hand to his face, and Vin realized there were actually tears in the man’s eyes.
“If he’s dead,” Vin said, thoroughly confused, “then who is that?” he pointed at something behind Chris.
The detective twisted around, his mouth dropping open.
Walking out of the town hall, looking a little groggy but still very much alive, was Ezra Standish. He was wearing the same outfit he had arrived in – jeans and a leather coat. The red coat was nowhere to be seen.
“Ezra!” Chris yelled, causing the lawyer to cringe. He ran across to the hall and grabbed the other man's arms in his as if he were going to hug him, grinning madly. Then, just as quickly, the smile fell and he shoved Ezra away from him. “What the hell is going on here!” he yelled at the town. Ezra staggered backwards, putting a hand to his forehead.
"Please don't yell," he whispered.
"You okay?" Vin asked, taking his arm and helping the lawyer to sit down on the hall's steps.
“Mr. Tanner?” the lawyer said, looking up at his face. “What year is it?”
Vin grinned, eyes bright with understanding, “2002.”
Chris was pacing, looking at Ezra and then back where the bodies of Palasco and his men were still very much visible. He was muttering to himself. Vin looked up at him, seeing his shoulder for the first time.
"Chris, you're hurt."
The detective shook his head at him, clearly not bothered by that fact, and strode away, headed towards the sheriff's office.
"Should we go with him?" Ezra asked, still trying to get over the pain in his head. He felt like he had a massive hangover.
"Probably. Come on," the apprentice said, helping Ezra to his feet. Soon, the two were trying to catch up with the blond man. Ezra only stopped for a moment to smile at the silver Jetta as they went past, then up into the sheriff's office.
Inside, they found almost twenty people stuffed into four sets of cells. Chris was already working on getting them out. They were all talking and shouting at the detective, clearly looking for answers. One, a tall black man, was demanding to know whether they had seen his daughter...Anita.
"She's safe," Vin promised him. "Who are you?"
"Russell Jackson, I'm the sheriff," he replied. "But that low life Palasco is out there. He threw us all in here, and we heard all that gunfire...."
"Palasco is dead," Chris replied as he unlocked the first cell, having found the keys in the desk, "and so are all his men, except one cretin whom I've handcuffed to a bike stand."
"Thank God for that," another woman said.
"Who are you?" someone else asked. "And is anyone else hurt?"
"I'm a detective ma'am," Chris replied. "We came here hoping to find Anita before Palasco did. We succeeded. And," he looked over at Ezra, who had sat down and buried his head in his hands, "no...no one else is hurt."
"A miracle," the woman replied. "You boys must have been sent from heaven."
Chris smiled, and Vin shook his head.
"You know, they look sort of familiar," an older woman said, looking at them. "Have you been here before?"
"No," all three men replied simultaneously, their voices clear. She flinched.
"Well, okay then."
"We need to get everything that has happened written down," Russell Jackson said. "Carla, could you do that? I want to go and make sure that they are telling the truth when they say my daughter is safe."
"Sure, I just need to go to my office."
"Carla is our town clerk," the sheriff said to Chris. "She'll help us...."
"She's the clerk?" Vin asked, surprised. "But then...who is over in the town hall?"
"The hall?" Carla laughed, "Why no one, I should hope. Place has been abandoned for years. We really should rebuild it, but...."
"Chris," Ezra's voice was soft as he looked up at the ceiling, "I'd really, really like to leave now. Can we do this over the phone? Preferably from 42nd street?"
"Mister, I really don't think that that's such a good idea," Carla said. "After what happened...."
"Father?" a woman's voice asked from the doorway. "Are you all right?"
Dr. Anita Jackson pushed through the front door and into the room, her eyes watery. Chris stood up straighter, but didn't do anything as she jumped into her father's arms. The room quieted, until Vin finally cleared his throat.
"Dr. Jackson," he said, "I believe this is yours. I forgot to give it to you earlier."
The girl looked back at him, then smiled as she took the locket from his hand.
"My locket," she said. "This has my great-grandmother's picture in it." She smiled, opening it.
"We hoped it would help us track you down," Vin said. "But we never did find out what her name was."
"Anita," the doctor replied, "Anita Weathers."
"She married my grandfather, Obediah Jackson," Russell added. "He was one of the first black doctors in this area of the country – followed in his father's footsteps, this town's first healer."
"Nathan Jackson," Ezra said, smiling crookedly.
"Yes, how did you...."
"Chris," Ezra interrupted, burying his head again, "I...really...want to leave. Please."
"Um, I think perhaps I should get my friend to...to a...to somewhere else," Chris said, picking up Ezra by the arm from his chair. "And we should get Miss Kramer...I mean, Dr. Jackson here to somewhere safe. I'll stay for a few moments to help you deal with what you are going to find outside, but then I think we need to find Ezra a motel." He handed the still groggy lawyer to Vin, "Put him in the car."
Vin nodded, taking Ezra's arm as Ezra reached into his pocket for the VW's keys.
As they opened the doors onto the bright sunny day, Vin stopped, halting Ezra's forward momentum.
"Jesus Christ," the apprentice said. Ezra looked up, and frowned at the site of the boarded up town hall across the street. Then he simply shrugged and went down the rest of the steps, unlocking the car as he did so. Opening the back door, the lawyer crawled onto the warm back seat and curled himself into a ball. In moments, he was fast asleep.
Vin stayed on the steps, staring at the town hall. His eyes glanced across the different windows, until they came to a rest at one on the upper left that wasn't boarded up.
The black woman who had helped them before was leaning on sill, watching him. She waved a handkerchief, then, like the ghost she was, faded into nothing as he watched.
"Thank you," he heard her whisper in his ears, "again."
Ezra stumbled out of the saloon, blinking up at the sky, then started walking slowly over to where he saw Vin and Chris standing down near the church. He waved weakly as Vin called his name, and nodded as both men suddenly accosted him, patting his back and his head, as if they'd lost him somewhere. Vin even almost hugged him.
And, from the second floor of the saloon, a black woman watched the three men. She leaned on the sill, smiling.
For a moment, she felt the tracker's eyes on her, and she waved her handkerchief at him. He looked a bit puzzled, but nodded back.
"Thank you," she whispered to him.
And, the ghost of Nathan Jackson's mother faded away, happy to know that her family was going to be okay.
You might describe this as the story that got away. A word of advice to anyone wanting to write a short story – never break your protagonists up. Three story lines at once, in two and a half different time periods is really, really, really, really difficult to contain. This went through many revisions since it kept twisting worse than puppy trying to get out of being given a bath, so, if it is just completely messed....
Oh, but if one of the sources of confusion is that I said in the beginning that Nathan was childless, you might also have noticed that Sarah and her baby were also supposed to die in the reality in which he wrote about in those journals. Obviously, because of his "mother's" intervention, Sarah doesn't die, and the others don't die or leave Four Corners and...Nathan does become a daddy (somehow) of a lovely boy whom he names after his father. Young Obediah and Sarah Weather's daughter Anita eventually marry....
By the way, I got the name Anita from a real person. Anita Hemmings was an African-American woman who passed herself off as white in order to attend Vassar college, from which she graduated in 1897. She was (unofficially of course) the first African-American graduate of the college, about forty years before the college actually opened its doors to African-Americans. After she graduated, she married Dr. Andrew Jackson Love in New York City, a graduate of the historically blacks-only Meharry Medical College in Tennessee (though he said his alma mater was Harvard. Like his wife, he passed himself off as white in order to maintain his practice). I learned this from an article in my college quarterly. To learn more, historian F. James Davis wrote a book called Who is Black? about the subject, and Hemmings great-granddaughter, Julian Sim is currently writing a book about her family. She also wrote an article in the periodical American Heritage called "Fading to White," published in February/March 1999. Also, in the late 1920s, Nella Larson published two novels as part of the Harlem Renaissance called Quicksand (1927) and Passing (1929) both of which apparently deal with the psychology of "racial passing."
I know all that is off topic, but, if your interested in history, I thought some of you might be curious. I just couldn't resist using her first name after seeing that she married someone who had the name Jackson and who was a doctor.