Ezra pushed into the livery, his head down, eyes glued to the floor. His mind tripped between anger, fear, and depression, never staying on one feeling for more than a moment. Between Chris’s distrust, Kite’s assumptions and threats, and Josiah’s dark words…he felt oddly disconnected. So, he was seeking comfort in the one place he knew he would find none of those things.
Movement from the shadows near Chaucer’s stall caused him to look up, hand automatically reaching for his gun. He let the weapon go as he recognized the sweeping black coat and hat. He frowned, chin lifting defiantly.
“Runnin’ away Ezra?” Chris delivered the line with a strange smile. Ezra’s eyes narrowed.
“And I take it you are here to prevent my daring escape?”
Chris’s odd smile flickered, “daring escape?”
“After my recent larcenous endeavor, I expect you believe me to be a flight risk.” The voice he spoke with was neither cold nor angry…just resigned. “I assure you, sir, I was only planning on…,” he paused, not wanting to admit he was going to brush down and talk to his horse. Instead, he shrugged, “What does it matter. I obviously have not earned the right to assure you of anything. And I realize now that I never will.” With that, he turned, heading back to the doors.
The smile disappeared on the gunslinger’s face, and Chris blew the air out of his cheeks.
“Ezra…stop. We need to talk.”
The gambler did as he was told -- he stopped -- but he did not turn around, “Whatever you think of me, Mr. Larabee…whatever I may think of myself…I did not steal the brooch.”
“Shit, Ezra, I never thought you did. Thought never entered my mind until you put it there.”
Ezra shrugged at the words, eyes focused on the slit of light between the livery doors.
“Really,” the gambler drawled. In other words, yeah, right. Tell me another one.
“Yes, really,” Chris said, walking forward and moving around Ezra so that he could see his face. “And it wasn’t my idea to take you off the case.”
“Oh?” There was no belief in the response, nor in the pale green eyes that now regarded the man in front of him. “Then, pray tell, who’s idea was it?”
Chris grimaced, “Well…fact is…Mary asked me to take you off. She was afraid of how it would look, should word of your past get to Mrs. Pigeon.”
Ezra’s eyebrows flickered, then he smiled slightly. “Huh,” he nodded. “Yes…that makes sense.”
Chris smiled, “it does?”
“I do believe Mrs. Travis asked you to take me off the case, yes,” Ezra said.
“Good,” Chris nodded. “And look, for what its worth, I’m sorry for what happened.”
“So am I.”
“Then we have an understanding?”
Chris frowned, eyes narrowing. “What?”
“Mary didn’t take me off the case, Chris.”
The gunslinger shook his head, “Ezra, I already….”
“You took me off that case.” The gambler’s eyes narrowed, “When it comes down to it, Chris, rather than sticking up for me, you agreed with her and took me off. Tell me, when she approached you, did you even try to defend me? Or did you just accept that, yes, I am obviously so untrustworthy that I can’t even help find one piece of gaudy jewelry?”
“No!” Ezra raised a hand, “I’m not finished. I am…or at least I thought I was…one of your men. Am I wrong to think that?”
Chris frowned, “You’re not wrong. But, you have a reputation, Ezra. A past….”
“Fine, yes, I have a past, one I’m trying to overcome, same as you, same as Josiah, same as Vin. But tell me, Mr. Larabee, how am I supposed to earn the trust of this town, to prove myself to you and the others, when you deny me the chance to do so? And if I can never earn that trust…then why the hell am I still here?”
Chris’s eyes were dark, “I can’t just forget what happened with that money, Ezra. Or what happened at the Seminole village.”
“I know that.”
Chris shook his head, “So, what do you want me to do?”
“I need you to give me a chance.”
“I have….Twice,” Chris’s lips pursed, “You failed.”
“Ah,” Ezra nodded, and backed away, no longer hiding the pain in his eyes. “There it is.”
Chris grimaced, then swore under his breath, rubbing a hand down his face. “Damn it Ezra.”
“All I want…all I need…is for you to show me you trust me. Just once. To give me something of value, and tell me to keep it safe. Then, when I give it back to you, for you to nod at me, as if that was exactly what you expected. Do you think that will ever happen?”
Chris’s grimace tensed to a frown. Ezra’s breath had quickened, his eyes sharp as he watched the man’s face.
“Well?” the gambler demanded when no answer appeared to be forthcoming.
“Ezra…I can’t just….you stole that money, Ezra.”
“Yes,” Ezra nodded, “Yes, I did.” He smiled, but there was so much anguish in his eyes, it almost hurt to look at them. Chris lowered his gaze and turned around, turning his back on the gambler.
“So where are we?” the gunslinger asked after a while.
Ezra’s smile grew, and he shook his head. “Honestly, I don’t know.”
“Do you want to leave?”
“If I did, I wouldn’t still be here.”
Chris turned around, looking Ezra in the eye again, and shook his head. “Then stay.”
Ezra just shook his head, his voice cracking as he said: “No. How…can I?”
“After this,” Ezra explained. “What would be the point? You have to trust your men, Chris. All of them.”
As he spoke, he lifted his hat off his head, and rubbed a hand through
his hair, using it as an excuse to break eye contact and knowing full well he
had used the pronoun “them” instead of “us.”
He smiled at the ground. “As I
said…if I can never earn that trust…then there is no reason for me to be
here.” He shrugged, “And you know the
worst part? Deep down…I know you’re
right. No matter what I may do to make
up for it…I will always be this…person…the one you can’t totally trust…the one
you hesitate with…the one who, for all that I try, will always be a thief. I stole
Chris’s eyes narrowed.
Ezra looked at him, and his brow furrowed slightly. Then he closed his eyes, “Thing is…I seem to be…having some trouble…actually leaving….And…well…this would be a lot easier…if you would just order me to go.” He opened them again, meeting the shadowed eyes of his leader.
Chris watched him a moment. Then growled.
Ezra blinked, surprised at the command. “What?”
But Chris was already walking away, heading over to Solon’s stall. The big black lifted his head as Chris pushed through the half door, then turned his heavy head to watch his rider slide to the back of the stall where a handful of items, including Solon’s blanket, were hanging in the corner. Ezra watched as Chris lifted up the blanket and pulled out a small pouch. He looked at it a minute, hefting it in his hand as if testing the weight, then carried it back out of the stall.
Chris handed the pouch to Ezra, practically shoving it at Ezra’s chest. The gambler took it gingerly, eyes confused.
“There’s over eleven hundred dollars of my money in there,” the gunslinger said quietly, pointing at the pouch and tapping it into Ezra’s chest. “Everything I have in the world. Keep it safe.”
Ezra’s eyes widened, the pouch still held to his chest, as Chris nodded at him and pushed his way out of the livery. The gambler’s weak demand for him to “wait!” fell on deaf ears.
Kite crossed his arms, eyes narrowing as he peered over the growing crowds of people at the livery. Chris Larabee had just left…a fact that surprised him. The gunslinger had walked out of the livery stable, looked around at the people filling up the small street, then waded through them to head towards the saloon, his face looking as if it were etched from stone. Kite had followed him with his eyes for a little while, curious, then turned his attention back to the livery.
He was rewarded a few minutes later when Ezra Standish walked out of the livery, looking somewhat less calm than when he walked in, as if he had a host of demons on his coattails. Kite glanced to his left, up at the boarding house, and pointed in the general direction of the gambler for Jay’s sake. The red headed thief was still hiding up in the room, but was watching from the window. Though he couldn’t see him because of the shadow on the window, Kite knew Jay had seen the motion.
Stepping off the boardwalk, Kite walked towards Ezra, then stopped as he saw what the gambler was doing. Ezra was tucking a blue leather pouch into his waistcoat, the action well practiced, but the look on the man’s face made Kite suspicious. Standish looked…what, nervous? Shaken? As if he’d just been caught with something…or trying to do something.
And what was in that pouch?
Then he figured it out. Standish had been trying to run. Larabee had stopped him. Perhaps expecting the gambler to try and escape, the gunslinger had waited for him in the livery. He’d scared Standish somehow, forced the man to stay. But he hadn’t gotten the brooch back. Ezra still had it…was keeping it in that pouch…and was now trying to find a way out.
Well, perhaps he could help.
Ezra tucked his jacket around him, the pouch feeling like a heavy stone against his chest. Fingers reached up to touch where it was tucked inside his waistcoat, as if trying to convince himself he had not just draped an albatross around his neck.
Eleven hundred dollars. A lot of money. Not ten thousand, no…but a lot of money. A serious…amount of money.
What the hell was Chris doing with over a thousand dollars in a pouch in the stables?
What if he ran again?
What if he couldn’t resist?
Eleven hundred dollars.
And Chris had given it to him. Just…given it to him.
A rush of feathers exploded over his head, jolting him out of his reverie and causing him to look up. A quick count had five magpies gliding down the street, heading towards the large tree at the far end opposite the hotel. They settled in amongst the branches, disappearing from view.
And to think…he had it in the stall that whole time. Just sitting there, practically under the noses of every thief in town. Where no one would ever think to look. After all, if you don’t expect it to be there, then why look for it there….
Ezra stopped dead, staring at the tree, watching the birds shifting around inside of it like sparks inside a fire. Josiah’s off hand statement from earlier drifted through his mind, what he’d said just before Ezra had asked him about the brooch:
‘…where no other sensible bird would even think to look.’
With sudden clarity, everything he had seen and heard this morning about the brooch fell into place. His eyes seemed to light up from inside; ideas and realizations hitting him all at once, as if someone had just lifted the proverbial molasses from his mind….
“No,” he whispered, “it couldn’t be that simple…could it?”
His hand had fallen from the pouch, its existence forgotten as Ezra picked up speed. He started pushing past the people surrounding him, as if noticing them for the first time. With a renewed sense of purpose, he headed directly for the hotel.
Kite picked up his pace as well, as soon as he saw the change in Ezra’s demeanor. The gambler’s shoulders straightened, and his head had lifted.
“This is it,” Kite thought. “He’s going to put it back. That’s how he’s going to solve his problems with Larabee.” Looking again at the boarding house, he lifted a hand and made a “come on” motion for Jay’s benefit. Then he started jogging. Ezra was moving very fast now, and he wasn’t about to lose him. He wasn’t about to let the gambler give that brooch back now.
Vin and JD rode back into town, the tracker’s eyes roving the full streets, his hackles rising at the size of the crowds. There were people everywhere.
As they passed the livery, he looked down the side street at the brightly lit grain exchange. People were gathered outside, waiting for the concert to begin, while others were pouring out of their houses and off of wagons all around them, all with the same intent. Laughter and chatter drowned out the quietness that usually marked the town in the late afternoon.
“Lotta people,” JD said slowly, the kid’s wistful tone
drawing Vin’s gaze. “I remember when
they used to have concerts in
He stopped, frowning in his reverie. He glanced to his left…but there was no one there. Stopping his horse, he twisted around in the saddle. Vin was looking up at the big tree next to the grocer’s.
JD turned the horse around, getting a few angry stares from concert goers that were pooling around him. One woman squealed as she nearly stepped in the manure his horse had just dropped. She held a kerchief to her face, her satin pink shoes backing up quickly in order to go around. She glared at the oblivious young man as he steered through the people back to Vin.
“What’s the matter?” the kid asked, noting the speculative look on the other’s face.
“You said the hotel manager told you that other things had been stolen. Were they small things?” Vin watched the movement in the tree with some interest.
“Small things?” JD had no idea what Vin was looking at, but he stared upwards anyway.
“Rings, earrings, the like.”
“Well…yeah, I think so.” He looked back at Vin. The tracker was smiling at him.
“Kid…you ever heard the saying, “thieving magpie?”
JD shrugged, “Yeah…but that’s just a story…isn’t it?”
“All myths are based in fact, kid. They’re scavengers -- natural thieves -- and they like shiny objects.” Vin looked up again, eyes seeking the magpies’ nests. “What if the thief didn’t need a rope to get into that room? What if he flew in?” Vin looked back at JD, eyes literally twinkling now.
“Mrs. Pigeon refused to stay in that room. She insisted she didn’t feel safe in there.” Mr. Chambers sighed, shaking his head, as if it were his fault. Ezra gave him a comforting smile.
“So she’s in a different suite?” he said.
“Yes, and the people we displaced were none to happy about it,” Mr. Chambers grimaced. “Sykes gave up his room for them, so he’s bunking with me. At least our schedules are opposite. Man snores like a steam train…he gathers speed the deeper he gets. Horrible.” He shuddered.
Ezra chuckled as he glanced up the stairs. “So who is in that room now?”
“No one. She demanded that no one rent it until her brooch was found…plus the Boss was afraid to disturb it. Silly, I know.”
“On the contrary,” Ezra’s dimples deepened, “That was a very wise decision on his part. Mr. Chambers, may I have the key to that room?”
Chambers didn’t even hesitate. He simply nodded and reached behind him and took off the only room key still hanging on the board behind him – evidence that all the other room keys were taken – and handed it over.
Ezra took the key and grinned. “You see, I have a theory, Mr. Chambers.”
Chambers leaned forward on his desk, “A theory of what?”
“Of what happened to that brooch. Tell me, when we looked at her room this morning, what were we looking for?”
Chambers frowned, “well…clues to who the thief might have been, like how he got in and whether he left any marks…that sort of thing.”
“Right. And what else did we look for?”
Chambers’ frown deepened, “I don’t understand. What else would we look for?”
“Exactly!” Ezra pointed at the man’s nose, and Chambers backed up a little. “Wish me luck, Mr. Chambers!” Still grinning, the gambler turned and bounded up the stairs, heading towards the top floor of the hotel.
Chambers watched him go, still leaning over his desk. “Good luck,” he whispered. His lips twitched into a smile, and he shook his head. Standing straight again, he turned to look at the board, then put a tag over the hook where the room key had just been, indicating it to be leant to someone.
With his back to the lobby, he never saw Kite slide up the stairs after Ezra.
JD grimaced, staring up at the branches. He could make out the movement now. Birds hopped from branch to branch, and glimpses of black and white coloring among the green seemed to mock him.
“You think a magpie stole the brooch,” the kid said.
Vin nodded. Turning Peso around, he edged the horse closer to the tree, planning on using him to climb.
“Whoa, whoa!” JD pushed his own horse closer, “what are you doing?”
Vin just looked at the kid like he was an idiot. “What do you think. I’m climbin’ it.”
“Branches ain’t that sturdy, Vin. Tree’s not much stronger than a juniper bush. You’re too heavy.”
Vin shrugged, “I’ll stay near the trunk.”
“Let me do it.” JD put his hand on Vin’s arm, and the tracker turned around.
“Kid…you got a nasty bump on your head as it is. No.”
“I’m lighter and smaller, plus, I don’t know much about where you grew up, Vin, but if there’s one thing back east that we got more of n’ anything else, it’s trees. All different kinds, big, small, thick, thin and they’re everywhere. We learn how to climb ‘em as soon as we can walk.”
“C’mon Vin, it may not happen often, but you gotta know I’m making sense right now. You want those nests checked, you send me up there.”
Vin grimaced, turning his attention back to the tree.
“Yeah…fine,” he conceded. “Just be careful.”
JD grinned, and rode up close to the tree. Climbing up onto the saddle, he swung himself up onto a low branch, then started up. Vin backed Peso up, jumping off the horse and letting him get some water from a nearby trough. Moving back to the tree, the tracker crossed his arms and watched as JD steadily climbed.
Vin arched an eyebrow. Kid was flying up that thing.
“Hey mister…whatcha looking at?” someone asked.
Vin turned to see a young man dressed in what the town considered finery staring up at the tree with him.
“My friend’s climbing the tree,” the tracker answered.
“Really? Don’t look strong enough to hold anyone.”
“I know,” Vin agreed, frowning.
Around him, others had also stopped, curious to know what Vin and the young man were looking at. Soon, a small crowd was gathered…watching as JD made it about two-thirds of the way up the tree…and started carefully maneuvering himself out along one branch to the first magpie nest….
Ezra pushed the outer doors open slowly, to prevent them from creaking, eyes taking in the large suite. He was in the outside room, the small parlor, a room he’d been in many times before. People had died here, and people had been rescued here. All in all, a very busy room.
He might even think it was cursed.
He gave a small smile…silly notion.
Walking inside, he quietly walked over to the second set of double doors that opened into the bed chamber, practically tiptoeing, doing his best not to creak any of the wooden floorboards. With a quick twist of the knobs, he let the doors swing open of their own accord and watched.
A magpie jumped up from where it had been sitting on the floor, pecking away at something. It lit down onto one of the window sills and looked back at him.
“I thought you might be here,” Ezra smiled, talking to the bird. The magpie looked at him with its jet black eyes, titling its head, as if daring him to walk further inside. His smile turned into a grin, and he took a step forward.
It disappeared in a rush of feathers out the window.
“From magpie to chicken in one step,” he chuckled.
Still smiling, he walked into the room and catalogued the possibilities. Right in front of him, centrally located, was the full sized bed, the headboard set against the wall. On either side, two tall windows sat atop small bedside tables, and both windows were still open the way JD had left them. The magpie had flown out the one on the right, and Ezra could see the big tree clearly through it.
Looking to the left hand wall, he saw a small dressing table, complete with an oval mirror and a small chair, and the large full sized wardrobe wherein Mrs. Pigeon’s dresses had obviously been kept. The wardrobe lay bare now, its doors open, the hangers hanging askew, as if someone had emptied it hurriedly.
Against the wall to his right was the wide dresser, whereupon Mrs. Pigeon had placed the famous brooch, and, of course, the wide open side window which he had been so focused on when he first looked this room over.
Last, to his right, along the same wall as the doors and tucked into the corner, was a rolltop desk…currently open…and another small chair.
Licking his lips, he first walked over to the part of the floor where the bird had been pecking – a crack in the floorboards. It wasn’t far from the dresser upon which Mrs. Pigeon had said she placed the brooch. Kneeling next to it, he tilted his head trying to see what the bird saw in there, at what it might be that the bird was trying to get to.
He couldn’t see anything but blackness.
His eyes narrowed, and he looked up, vaguely peering around the room.
He really hadn’t expected it to be in the floor anyway.
Standing up, he crossed over to the heavy dresser. Placing his hands against it, he gave it a shove, and was rewarded by a dangerous wobble. It wasn’t stable. The floor was probably uneven. With more care, he let the dresser tilt forward slightly, and looked behind it.
And immediately sneezed. He held a finger to his nose, still sneezing as the dresser wobbled back into place after he let it go. Good Lord! Dustballs the size of cantaloupes!
“Must…achoo!…talk to…choo!...Sykes!” he muttered, letting out more explosive sneezes. “Shoddy…very shoddy!” He sneezed again, followed by a series of coughs. Blinking away tears, he backed up and studied the dresser as it settled, wiping at his nose.
He had to be missing something here.
“Okay…” he sniffed, “if its not hidden behind there…then where?”
He stood still, finger tapping against his chin.
Wings beating turned his head back to the window to the right of the bed. Two magpies sat there now, staring at him. One ruffled its feathers on its breast – a challenge. Ezra gave a tiny smile.
And then suddenly they both flew into the room, aiming, it seemed, straight for his head, followed by even more from the window on the other side of the bed frame. The gambler ducked, too surprised to react any other way as they flapped and fluttered explosively overhead. What in the world?
Seven magpies rushed around in circles, lighting atop knots in the exposed overhead beams and the decorative mouldings, landing on the top edge of the wardrobe and then jumping off again seconds later. They were clearly agitated by something, had flown in here because they were escaping something, and he wasn’t helping. One flew so close to his head, it knocked his hat off. He bent over and grabbed the black riverboat hat from off the floor and peered upwards with a confused and, yes, he could admit it, scared, gaze. Damn things could take an eye out!
And, as quick as they came, they were gone. Back out the window.
“What in the name of all that is holy….” He took in several deep breaths, trying to calm down as he stepped to the right hand window to look out, tossing his hat on the bed as he did so. His eyes narrowed as he took in the magpie’s tree opposite. They were kicking up a loud clamor in there. Screeching and shrieking as if someone were attacking their nests.
Hold on…was someone climbing the tree?
Yes…someone was up there…what they hell were they doing?
Shaking his head, he turned and looked again around the room. Not his business.
Seven for a secret never to be told….
Suddenly, he looked up.
“Looking for salvation in the rafters, Mr. Standish?”
Ezra jumped and turned to the doors, just as Kite pulled back the hammer on his gun, a leering grin on the thief’s ugly face.
JD sighed. He’d looked in three nests so far. He’d found two different earrings, a tie clip, a ring and a cufflink…but no brooch. He still had two nests left, both perched much higher than the first three. Staring up at them, he had to admit…he was beginning to get nervous.
Fact was, with each foot he climbed in height, the tree’s branches got thinner and the wind seemed to get stronger, not to mention that the nests were a pain in the ass to look inside because of their shape, and, at every turn, he’d been attacked by the blasted birds because they thought he was pilfering their nests. His hat had long ago disappeared, and his head, neck and arms were alive with scratches. He’d nearly fallen twice because of the birds, and the collective gasp of the crowd below suggested they knew each time.
The crowd below. That was actually a fairly funny phenomenon. There had to be about fifty people staring up at him, mostly strangers…just waiting for him to fall. Perhaps they thought he was the pre-show entertainment. Even the townsfolk had joined them – he could see Mr. Chambers and Mrs. Potter talking animatedly down outside the front of the hotel, and Mrs. Travis with her arms akimbo standing next to Mrs. Greene, both women shaking their heads.
And then there were his friends.
Chris stood next to Vin now, the black clad gunslinger not hiding his disapproval, his arms crossed in annoyance. Buck was down there too, as was Nathan, both trying to see up through the branches. The healer, not surprisingly, looked very worried, especially after Vin mentioned JD’s “accident” earlier with Jason Blue. The ladies’ man, meanwhile, kept tossing up useless bits of advice, like “Watch that branch!” and “I wouldn’t step on that limb if I were you,” and, JD’s favorite, “Watch them birds! They’re coming round for another go! Sure got it on for ya, don’t they!”
Understatement. JD looked put the back of his hand to the side of his face, where one of the birds had clawed him. Blood smeared across the roughened skin. Great.
He had yet to reply to any of the catcalls from below, choosing instead to use hand signals. He didn’t want to make the birds any angrier than they already were by spooking them with his yelling. As it stood, the seven birds living in this tree seemed to hop and dance and fly around him, approaching and withdrawing as he gingerly made his way from nest to nest.
With another sigh, this one more shuddering than the first, he lifted himself up and continued his climb.
“Take off them guns of yours,” Kite ordered, both hands on his pistol as he pointed it at Ezra’s head. “All three of them, including that little piece up your arm, and put em on the desk.”
Ezra grimaced, making a show of carefully removing his Remington, Colt and Derringer and placing them on the rolltop, then lifted his hands up.
“What do you want, Kite.”
“The brooch, of course.”
Ezra shook his head, “I told you, I don’t have it.”
Kite smiled, “Really. Then you won’t mind pulling out the blue leather pouch you’ve got tucked inside your waistcoat.”
Ezra’s eyes narrowed, “What?”
“The pouch. I saw it when you were at the livery. Take it out.”
Ezra shook his head, “No. Go get your own pouch.”
“Get my own…?”
“I think I saw them on sale at Potter’s mercantile, just down the street. Dyed a nice variety of colors; she might even have another blue one….”
Kite’s eyes darkened as he understood Ezra was making fun of him, “Don’t be cute, Standish. That wasn’t a request. Give it to me.” He jerked the gun for emphasis. Ezra sighed.
“Listen, that pouch has nothing to do with the brooch, Kite. And it doesn’t belong to me. I’m holding it, and its contents, for someone else.”
“You’re a terrible liar, Standish.”
Ezra gave a small chuckle, “No. Apparently, I’m a terrible truth teller. The pouch isn’t mine.”
“Like I give a rat’s ass. Take it out.”
Kite arched an eyebrow and looked at the gun in his hands, “What do you mean, ‘or what?’ I’ll shoot you. What did you think I was going to do, launch into a rendition of Danny Boy?”
“You shoot me, and you’ll have the law of
Kite’s eyes narrowed, “I’ll take my chances. Give me that pouch.”
Kite grimaced, “Damn it, Standish. You think I won’t kill you?”
“Not if you want the brooch. It’s not in that pouch, but I know where it is.”
Kite paused, dark eyes searching the pale green ones staring back at him.
“All right, gambler,” he said, “you have one minute to produce that brooch, or you’ll have an extra hole in your forehead.”
JD was near the top of the tree now, sliding carefully along much thinner branches to the fourth nest.
Like the others, it was fairly large and shaped like an egg. The small hole in the side where the female magpie slipped inside to check on her young was designed to keep the eggs from being snatched by other predators, and, for the most part, it worked. It also made seeing inside the nest “kinda” difficult.
JD leaned over to look inside, where he could just make out four small eggs nestled near the bottom of the nest. With his fingers, he enlarged the hole and felt around the inside edges.
Lips lit into a grin as something smooth appeared to be lodged in the side. It was bigger in size than the other items he’d found. Digging with his fingers, he managed to loosen it…
“Something?” Vin yelled. He thought he could make out a smile on the kid’s face. Hard to tell, though, as JD was barely visible now, hidden inside the tree. He practically blended in….
JD didn’t answer, just tugged at the object, trying to get his fingers around it.
Standing well back, down the street and away from the crowds, Josiah stood with his hands behind his back, watching JD without expression. He could actually see the kid well from back here, now that the kid was so high up in the tree. His eyes were narrowed.
“Look out,” the preacher muttered, seeing it coming.
An ear piercing screech, and suddenly a magpie was in JD’s black hair, pulling at the strands and scratching at his skull. Letting go the object in the nest, the kid used the same hand to batter away the bird, knocking it silly as it tried to take half of his hair with it. The other hand was locked firmly on the branch…if he let go with that one, the bird would be the least of his problems.
Another magpie attacked him from the other side, and he smacked that one as well. He was actually getting pretty good at beating up birds. A confused “jeeeeek!” followed the poor magpie as it tumbled backwards into the branches, barely managing to catch itself. It was almost comic the way it swayed as it managed to right itself again, black eyes looking somewhat dazed.
Josiah couldn’t resist a small chuckle at the kid’s antics, his eyes dropping to the ground. Subdued conversation to his right caused him to look up again, and his eyes narrowed as he took in the gamblers standing in front of the saloon. They were obviously taking bets on whether the boy would fall….
Rolling his eyes at their opportunistic habits, he was at least pleased to note that Ezra wasn’t with them. Lifting his head again, he looked back at the tree, where the kid had finally freed himself of birds for a while.
Annoyed now, JD reached back into the nest and, less carefully, wrenched the object out, taking part of the nest with it. The stick and twig egg-shaped creation shuddered, a new hole appearing in the side. Luckily, it was high enough not to loosen the eggs at the bottom.
He lifted the object up to the light…and frowned.
A moneyclip. A silver moneyclip. Son of a bitch!
“Did you find something?” Vin yelled.
“No!” JD shouted, more loudly and angrily than he intended, which caused a renewed flurry activity from the birds. “Leave me alone, Vin! If I find something, you’ll know, damn it!”
Ezra had backed closer to the dresser, and Kite had followed, positioning himself next to the open right hand window as the gambler made a show of checking out the still wobbling piece of furniture.
“No!” JD’s shout pierced the room, as loud as if he were standing right outside the window, staring in. “Leave me alone, Vin! If I find something, you’ll know, damn it!”
Kite nearly jumped out of his skin, the kid’s voice was so close! He instinctively moved to point the gun out the window, to shoot the sudden threat….
And Ezra’s immediate reaction was to protect it.
The gambler pounced forward, hands shoving the gun upwards, fingers wrapping around the barrel, pulling it out of the other man’s grasp. Kite yelped as the two men crashed into the wall next to the window, slamming into the heavy dresser and tipping it up on two legs. It teetered for a moment before landing heavily on its side with a bang, and both men half tripped over it before righting themselves in their struggle.
The booming crash caused JD look towards the hotel opposite, eyes training on the shadowed third floor windows. What the hell?
Kite growled and voluntarily let go of the gun in order to shove an elbow into Ezra’s unprotected face and then slam a fist into the gambler’s side, knowing Ezra wouldn’t be able to avoid them if he wanted to keep hold of the weapon. Unbalanced by the unexpected move, the blinded gambler fell away, first into the corner of the bedside table, then clumsily onto the bed beyond. The gun flew from his grasp, flying across the room and skidding across the floor to the corner.
Before Ezra could recover, Kite attacked, jumping onto the bed and sending a knee into Ezra’s stomach. The gambler gasped and rolled away across the mattress, but Kite stayed with him. punching him in the lower back, and then throwing him off the bed to the floor on the other side. Ezra gasped in pain, but, with a hand to his bruised stomach, somehow found his feet again. He turned back around at the same time that Kite jumped off the bed next to him, headed towards the gun in the corner.
Growling, Ezra launched himself at Kite’s side, grabbing the back of the thief’s jacket and shoving the blond man back towards the edge of the bed. Kite tripped on the bottom of one of the bedposts, and Ezra took advantage of the distraction to double fist him back on to the bed. The thief skidded across the mattress and off onto the floor, where he tripped over his feet trying to stand and landed with a painful cry against the sharp edge of the felled dresser. By the time he had his feet under him again, Ezra was already there, slamming another fist into his chin, spinning Kite around and into the window. Shaking his head to clear it, the blond thief grabbed the window sill for balance…and pulled a hunting knife from a sheath he had strapped to his belt. Ezra stopped, eyes reflecting the silver of the weapon.
“Hey!” JD yelled, seeing the man and the knife framed clearly in the dark window. Around him, the birds were making a lot of noise, still reacting to his yelling. Down below, Vin frowned and looked at Chris. They couldn’t see what he was reacting to, but they could hear the birds….
Kite went after Ezra with the knife, but the gambler ducked to the side, just avoiding having his chest slit. But Kite hadn’t completely missed, catching Ezra’s arm as the gambler avoided him and twisted around to Kite’s other side. The blond thief turned around. Now he was the one standing by the bed, while Ezra backed past the window. The gambler was gripping his arm as he backed away, blood seeping through his fingers.
Kite grinned through bruised lips as Ezra stopped at the window, the gambler looking around for something to help him.
Looking out the window, green eyes caught JD’s hazel ones, and opened wide in surprise. Then he disappeared….
JD’s own eyes widened. “Hey!” he shouted more loudly this time as Kite’s knife caught the sun where seconds ago Ezra had been. Without thinking, he reached for his guns with both hands, wanting to help Ezra…and his feet slipped on the branch he was standing on.
“JD!” Buck and Vin both yelled the name at the same time.
Kite sliced wide, his arm painfully hitting the side of the window frame with the force of his follow through. That, coupled with JD’s sudden agonized yell, turned his head to look out the window.
The distraction was more than enough. Instantly, Ezra was there, grabbing Kite’s arm and slamming it against the window frame. Kite let loose the knife, hoping to use the same trick he’d managed with the gun, but this time Ezra was ready for him. The gambler avoided the elbow and delivered his own rib snapping punch to the thief’s side. Kite buckled in half, gasping, and Ezra brought up a knee to the man’s head, snapping Kite’s head…and then his whole body…backwards.
As soon as Kite hit the floor, Ezra was on top of him, pinning his arms down with his knees. The gambler grabbed the fallen knife and pressed it against Kite’s throat. He gritted his teeth, the blade digging into Kite’s throat.
Kite grunted, his dark brown eyes bright with fear as he stared at the man on top of him, lips opening as if about to beg for his life.
Then, oddly, he smiled.
Ezra frowned, confused at the expression.
Abruptly, Kite’s eyes shifted to look just over Ezra’s right shoulder.
Terror gripped Ezra’s chest. He turned to the right…but he was too slow.
Jay’s rifle caught him solidly on the side of his forehead.