Disclaimer: Characters belong to Mirisch/Watson/Trilogy Prod/CBS-just
borrowing, not making money
When the Lights Go Down
How many parts does it take to make a whole
And are they torn apart when one part goes?
We each play a part in one another's show
But now the lights have gone down.
2 + 2 + 2 leaves one
Clinging to the fringes but never alone
Wishing to fit and finding a home
But now the lights have gone down.
Never thought you could lose, till somethin' can't be found
A part of your soul is taken to the ground
But if you care to look, you'll find pieces all around
Even though the lights have gone down.
Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful...
...And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and souls delivery.
Thou are slave to Fate, chance, kings and desperate men.
'Death be not Proud' (John Donne, 1572-1631)
"I don't get it." The young man pushed the ever-present slip of
that hung in his eyes away from his forehead and tried not to look as
puzzled as he felt.
"What you have to remember is that, in general, amateurs subconsciously
aggressive when their hands are weak, and sad or indifferent when the hand
is strong. Take that fellow there, in the brown," Ezra kept his voice low
so the players at the nearby table would remain ignorant of the fact their
moves were being anticipated. "I'll bet you a dollar that he's about to
take that pot."
Ezra and JD leaned back against the bar of the saloon, nursing their
and watching the slow moving poker game. As they observed the rest of the
hand JD was amazed again at his friend's accurate prediction.
It was an exceptionally quiet late afternoon and Dunne had finally managed
to corner Ezra into teaching him some of the gambler's tricks of his trade.
Standish had put up quite a string of arguments and excuses over the past
weeks as to why he couldn't or wouldn't take time with JD to instruct the
lad; finally giving in when it was clear he had run out of viable and
non-viable excuses. That and JD finally resorted to 'the look'.
Six grown men, hardened gunfighters. But one puppy-dog, kid-brother
expression from an eager young man from Boston and they'd fold like grass in
the wind. If it weren't so damned sincere they would most likely have an
easy time ignoring it. As it was, not even the self-proclaimed cynic, Ezra
could say no.
So here they were, against the gambler's better judgement picking apart
every move made by the men at the round table. It wasn't that Ezra didn't
want to teach JD; hell, Standish certainly was not one to turn down an
opportunity of admiration toward his God given talents. But a little
knowledge is a dangerous thing and with as cocky as that boy could be
sometimes, well, it was just against his better judgement.
The southerner took another sip of his beer and continued. "There
'the freeze'. A player that is bluffin', when confronted with an opponent's
big bet, involuntarily ceases movement and holds his breath. Though you're
unlikely to see it at this level of play."
"And I've heard tell that the best players, and I do mean the best,
judge pupil dilation. Though I admit, I myself have never been able to get
it to work consistently."
JD's eyes were wide as he shook his head. "How do you know all this stuff?"
Standish glanced at Dunne with almost a hint of a sad smile, "How old
you now? Nineteen, twenty? When I was your age I had already been workin'
gamin' halls for nearly ten years. And that doesn't include the years I
spent before that watchin' from the fringes." He focused back on the
players at the table. "After a time, it just becomes second nature."
"Keep your eye on the fool in the vest. The way he tosses his
money in with
that pathetic attempt at panache while bettin'; insecure about his hand."
The man folded twenty-seconds later.
JD couldn't help but laugh in amazement.
"And what is so funny?" Buck sauntered through the bat wing doors
Josiah and Nathan following a few paces behind.
"Well, considerin' JD's laughin' and Ezra ain't, I'm thinkin' JD's got
his'self a new joke." Nathan stopped beside the two men at the bar to flag
down Inez for a lunch order.
JD chose to ignore the slander against his sense of humor opting instead
puff his chest a little. "I happen to be schooling in the finer points of
tells. So next time I clean you out at the poker table you can bet I'll
still be laughing."
Buck barked a laugh, "Kid, 'bout the only thing you could clean out
The tall man gave Inez his customary wink, grabbed the beer she passed
him and headed for a table at the back of the saloon to join Nathan.
Josiah too, laid a coin on the counter in exchange for a beer but stayed
the bar, eyeing Ezra. The gambler, sensing the scrutiny, gazed up at the
preacher with a questioning look.
"I just don't recall the last time I've seen you looking so... casual."
"I suppose I decided to take pity upon the rest of you today and do
to not make you all look as uncouth as I know you to be." Though the words
were cutting, the comment was made with an obvious sly smile and raised
Attired in dark pants, a long-sleeved white shirt, suspenders and a
tied, silk cravat-style tie, Standish did appear quite a bit more dressed
down than his usual vest/three-quarter coat combination. But even so, he
still seemed to radiate the 'southern gentleman' aura that had gotten him
into and out of so many scrapes in the past.
"He's taken pity on us all right, by not blindin' us with that red coat
Ezra hadn't even heard the tracker come in. Not that it surprised
it did always manage to unnerve him. Standish covered it smoothly though,
glancing at Vin who leaned next to JD on the bar.
"Better to be blinded by style than knocked unconscious by the smell
dead buffalo." This was mumbled into his glass as the southerner raised the
mug to his lips.
A peanut hit Standish just above his ear and was responded to by a slow
of the head and a slit-eyed stare. JD hitched a thumb in Vin's direction
indicating he had nothing to do with the bean projectile and concentrated
again on the nearby poker game.
"Hey, Ezra," whispered JD, "the guy in the brown, I think he touches
money when he's got something really good."
The gambler raised the glass in a small toast and smile at his young
companion, "Why Mr. Dunne, I do believe you have just spotted your first
Vin drifted past the two as he followed Josiah to the table their friends
lounged at. "C'mon, Ezra, we ain't got enough to worry about with Buck
corruptin' the kid, now we gotta worry 'bout you too?"
Standish didn't acknowledge the comment but as Vin walked away the tracker
felt something small nail him between the shoulder blades and clatter to the
floor. "Sinkin' to my level now, huh?" He called, without turning around.
A half-hour crept by, Chris joined the group in the back after having
most of the morning helping Mary fight with her printing press. And JD and
Ezra continued to nonchalantly watch the fool in the vest lose more of his
When Chris sat down Buck noted with a small smile the light gray shirt
friend wore. It seemed to make the man's aquamarine eyes less intense than
usual and picked up more of the silver-blond highlights in Larabee's short
On any other man it wouldn't mean a thing but Buck knew that for Chris
Larabee, an ex-gunslinger frequently referred to as 'the man in black', it
meant that Chris was one step closer to moving past his self-imposed period
of mourning. And a large part of that was due to a remarkable woman with a
Buck knew the other large part could be credited to the quiet tracker
sat beside Larabee as the five men ate lunch, drank beer and discussed
recent events. Wilmington had know Chris for nearly twelve years, he'd
known Sarah and Adam, he'd known the suicidal path that his friend had tried
so desperately to follow after their deaths, he knew too well the struggle
it had been to care for his friend's weary soul.
And he knew, the first time he saw Chris and Vin communicate on a silent
level all their own that it was time to pass the responsibility of care on
to another. Besides, he had his hands full just trying to keep JD from
getting himself killed on a regular basis. Sometimes that alone made Buck
want to find his own road to suicide.
Wilmington shook his head and grinned at the thought of how exasperating
that boy could be and of how he couldn't possibly imagine his life without
him. But Buck's smile faded slightly as he glanced over Chris's shoulder
and saw JD in what appeared to be a mediating stance between two of the
players at a gaming table.
Both players were still sitting and all three of the men's voices were
low to be heard so it didn't appear to be that serious, but Buck still kept
his eyes locked on the tableau and unconsciously let his hand fall onto the
but of his pistol.
Ezra had seen it happen so many times in his life his first reaction
roll his eyes in disgust. One man wins, one man loses. Which is the way of
the game, until one man wins consecutively and one man loses just as much.
Then someone is inevitably accused of cheating. Ending in, usually, one of
three ways; one man leaving, a fistfight or a death. The last two usually
requiring imbibing considerable amounts of alcohol on one or both parts of
the parties concerned.
But since no one at the table had had more that a beer or two and neither
the men in question had visible firearms, Standish figured he would let the
scene play itself out. Although he did, at least, rest his beer next to
JD's on the bar when the young man took it upon himself to attempt to
arbitrate between the man in the vest and the man in brown.
'Lesson two,' the gambler thought to himself, 'teach that boy to let
dogs fight amongst themselves or at least make sure you are out of biting
distance if you decide to throw water on them.'
Buck still couldn't make out words but the accusatory way the man in
vest pointed his finger at the man in brown said volumes.
"Whadda you think, Buck? Buck?" Nathan's voice pulled Wilmington's
and attention away from the muted scene. Buck would later question again
and again the paradox that allows a man to live a life in a span of seventy
years but yet can end one in the fraction of a second it takes to turn your
JD's back was to the man in the vest. The youngest member of the
suggesting to the man in brown that he not insult the man who had just
accused him of cheating because that wasn't going to help the situation any.
Ezra had his focus on the man in the vest and took a step forward, sensing
it was time to step in and escort the gentleman to the door.
The sound of a wooden chair hitting the floor and Ezra yelling JD's
snapped every eye to the poker table. And to Buck, it all seemed to happen
in slow motion. From where he sat he could see the man in the vest begin to
rise, his hand reaching around to his back to retrieve the weapon.
Standish, too, saw the six-inch Bowie knife as the man pulled it from
sheath at the base of his spine. JD heard the bang of wood against wood and
his name being shouted. And as he spun around he felt two hands grip his
upper arms tightly and saw Ezra's face, inches from his own.
The gambler's expression was one of pure surprise. JD heard the
intake of air and watched as the jade green eyes locked with his hazel ones
and the surprise shifted to a painful shock. Dunne's confusion began to
fade as the tight hold on his arms lessened and Ezra slid to the floor
pulling JD down with him.
Dune recalled hearing the loud pop of Wilmington's pistol that drove
in the vest back off his feet with a bullet through his heart but the sound
seemed so distant as he stared into the suddenly pale face before him.
For the second time in seven seconds JD heard his name being shouted.
was at the boy's side before the echo faded from the room.
"JD! Are you all-" but the concerned question died in Wilmington's throat
he took in the scene before him.
Ezra had crumpled straight down. JD's arms wrapped around the
torso in an effort to keep him upright. But Dunne's awkward position didn't
allow him the leverage to hold the weakening form and he attempted to lay
A split second of resistance and an excruciating scream drove home the
for JD that the knife which had not been intended for either he or Ezra was
still imbedded in the man that he now held in his arms.
The room exploded with noise. Buck and JD yelling for Nathan,
already at their side along with the three other regulators. An overlap of
questions and shouted orders.
"Get him on his side!"
"Inez! Get me some towels!"
"Get his legs, get his legs!"
"What the hell happened?!"
"Hang on, pard."
"Ezra? OhmyGod, OhmyGod."
"I need more towels!"
A sharp cough sprayed a mist of blood across JD's shirtfront and silenced
the room. The young man sat on the floor, his legs now stretched out before
his. Ezra's head rested on his lap, watery green eyes locked a fix on a
pocket of JD's vest, blinking occasionally and squeezing tightly shut as
Nathan jarred the blade slightly as he pressed another towel around the
Chris, standing on the fringe of the tight circle swept a vicious eye
few patrons in the bar staring at the result of the poker argument.
"GET THE HELL OUT!"
Seconds later only the swinging of the bar doors and a shallow, raspy
could be heard. The sheer volume of thick crimson that pooled around the
still form prevented the men from saying anything.
Two more short coughs and the speckles of blood dotting the southerner's
lips forced the tears that balanced on the edges of JD's eyes to spill down
Ezra's hands squeezed one of JD's tightly and Dunne's other hand brushed
repeatedly through the gambler's dark hair in a motion that the young man
hoped would calm them both.
Wordlessly, each man had knelt beside the figure lying on the saloon
Inez had backed up against the bar, not wanting to leave but realizing the
intrusion she would make on the circle if she attempted to get any closer.
A raspy, accented voice finally broke the silence. "pull it out."
"It's gonna do more damage if I-" but Nathan stopped as Chris lay a
the healer's shoulder. Nathan knew it didn't really matter, the damage had
already been done. As quickly as he could, Jackson grasped the blade of the
large knife and slid it out, pressing red-stained towels against Standish's
Ezra turned his face into the scratchy fabric that rubbed his right
and tried to muffle the scream that he couldn't prevent.
Josiah waited a moment for the shallow breath to slow, then leaned forward
and eased Standish onto his back, gently wiping away the spots of red on the
pale lips. The lump of towels made it slightly awkward but Sanchez knew it
was more important for the southerner to be able to see the men that grouped
"I'm sorry." JD's voice was just above a whisper.
Ezra squeezed the boy's hand in a weakened grip. "No JD...no.
me...you'll believe..I would have it this way..not..the other."
Dunne could only nod and grip both of Ezra's hands in his own shaky two.
Standish coughed again but this time it was accompanied by a sickening
gurgle in his throat. He attempted a smile as he looked to the group around
him. So many things he would liked to have communicated, so much more time
he would liked to have had with this family.
"thank you." His eyes settled finally on Chris, "thank you."
Vin reached out first, blinking away the water that blurred his vision
ran salt drops across his lips. Crouched by the southerner's legs, Tanner
lay a hand just below Ezra's right knee. Nathan followed suit with a touch
on the dark fabric, above the point on the opposite leg. Kneeling close to
Vin, Josiah rested a large, gentle hand on a shoulder draped in a fine white
shirt and began to murmur a prayer. Buck, at JD's side picked up where they
boy left off, letting his fingers settle in the short, dark hair, now damp
Finally, Chris centered a callused hand on his friend's chest and stared
back into the persistently cocky green eyes.
Infusing the words with as much respect as he could, he replied. "Thank
Lowering his head when the beat he felt under his palm ceased.
They had each other. Chris allowed Mary to sit with him, choosing
company over that of a too-familiar whiskey bottle. Vin allowed Chris to
come with him when the tracker rode to the solitude of the low-lying hills.
Buck helped JD remember that living your life by 'what ifs' isn't living
all. And JD helped Buck remember the same thing.
Nathan sat with Josiah in the candlelight of a half-built church, sharing
cigar and laughing about a man who could make you throw up your hands and
walk away in frustration or make you proud to stand next to him when things
looked like they couldn't get any worse.
And it was because they had each other they could get through losing
Inez had taken it upon herself to go through Senor Standish's things.
Pretending to clean the fastidiously kept room with the number five on the
door. And see to it that the instructions of the note that she discovered
in the bureau drawer be carried out.
An undated letter, written in a melancholy mood stating that when the
inevitable happened those still around should be offered what he offered.
To Mr. Larabee, a well-worm, well-traveled copy of The Bards 'Henry V'.
To Mr. Tanner, a less-worn but still as traveled book of Gerard Hopkin's
poetry. It will be waiting, when you are ready.
To Mr. Sanchez, Chaucer, not a gentler hand nor a more equal sense of
could I ever find to take over.
To Mr. Jackson, the total amount of currency in this envelope when it
discovered. For Heaven's sake, man, get out of that room at the top of
those God-awful stairs and purchase yourself a ground floor facility. I
would not wish to subject my worst enemy to what I had to go through
attempting to maneuver Mr. Sanchez up said stairs after the fool managed to
get himself shot.
To Mr. Wilmington, a gold pocket watch, a silver flask, a ten-year old
of Ginger brand playing cards. Useful items for a rogue of any social
To Mr. Dunne, a selection of haberdashery. Although it is the
as opposed to the Southern region, you hail from, it is still the East. As
such, there are standards which should be maintained and examples which
should be set. Especially in the company of those with whom you travel.
To Mrs. Travis, a silver filigree locket. Being the first thing
I ever won
from my mother in a game of Blackjack at age five and a half. From one
extraordinary woman to another. Albeit, and thankfully, in a much different
To Senorita Rosios, a list of two things which may be used, if I may
candid, to blackmail my mother with, should the need ever arise. I would
like to believe you shall one day wrest The Standish Tavern from her grip.
Preferably in a public display.
Two years, four months and one day later
August: JD and Casey exchanged their vows of matrimony. Josiah presided
over the ceremony.
Chris gave away the bride. As the couple lit a candle to their
and their new one, Nathan sang a hymn taught to him by his father. The
proud best man fiddled nervously with the chain of his gold pocketwatch and
dropped the ring. Twice.
Vin, nearly as nervous as Buck, bravely read a poem he had written in
of the bride and groom. Mary smiled as the silver filigree, 'something
borrowed' that hung delicately from Casey's neck caught the sunlight and
sparkled as brightly as the young girl's eyes.
And, although it was the first and last time he ever wore any of the
that he kept protected in an English chest at Chris and Mary's house, the
groom looked positively handsome dressed in a fine white shirt, blue and
gray vest and indigo, three-quarter length coat.
The Following March
Had things been different, the group of six men sitting at the poker table
in The Standish Tavern would have been celebrating the birthday in,
undoubtedly, a much less quiet way. But as it was they sat at the table in
the back of the saloon as they did each year on this day, playing poker,
drinking beer and whiskey and leaving one chair empty.
It was near midnight and they were taking a break from the game.
stretched his lean legs out and rested them on the chair Josiah had just
vacated. The preacher had followed Nathan up to the bar to pull a cigar
from the stash Inez kept tucked in a drawer under the till.
Chris sat next to Vin trying to dab with a wet towel the whiskey spots
the cuff of his slate blue shirt. Buck's last toast was a little more
energetic than he had intended.
Buck and JD leaned against the bar and watched the proceedings of a
being played at a nearby table. A young man, late teens-early twenties,
with a clipped British accent held most of the winnings amongst the five men
JD watched the cowhand who sat across the table from the Englishman
scruffy man grandly tossed two more coins into the pot. Dunne also watched
the young man as, after the next two players folded, he casually saw the
cowhand's bet and called him.
The cowboy smiled as he lay down his straight but dropped the grin as
Englishman showed a full house and reached to collect his winnings.
"Ain't possible! You cheatin' sonofabitch!"
Buck and JD saw the movement at the same time. The cowboy's hand
already pulled the hunting knife from his boot and had just crossed the
plane of the circular table when three clicks made him freeze. Two came
from behind him and some part of his alcohol-laden brain recognized them as
the hammers of pistols being cocked into place.
The third would have been obvious even had he been deaf. A small,
pistol had popped suddenly into the left hand of the young man seated across
from him and the deep brown eyes held none of the casual joviality that had
lived in them for most of the evening.
"My mother was not a hound, sir, and I do not cheat." The lilting
made the words seem almost cordial. Almost.
Buck kept his tone casual as well but stated his point clearly.
it's time for you boys to take your friend someplace where he can sleep off
The other three cowhands wasted no time in muscling their hot-headed
companion from the room. Leaving the young Englishman to reset his
Derringer into the rigging under the sleeve of his threadbare mustard
colored coat and gather up his winnings.
Buck and JD holstered their weapons and exchanged dazed glances with
other four men left in the saloon.
"I must thank you for you willingness to intervene, sirs. I confess,
rather new to the west and am not quite used to the...wildness of it."
He looked up, finally, and was more that a little uneasy at the six
hard-looking gunmen that were scattered around the room and scrutinizing him
in a rather intense fashion.
He rose from the table and offered his left hand in a gesture of friendship.
The raised eyebrow from the rather tall man with the mustache made the young
Englishman realized they had just bore witness to him threatening to shoot a
man with a small pistol that had come from his sleeve.
The young man flashed an apologetic smile, hoping to cover his slight
anxiety and offered his other hand, "Benjamin Porter, pleased to meet you."
The man standing next to the one with the mustache was clean shaven,
practically the same height and build as Benjamin but with a slightly more
muscular build. He shook Porter's hand with a firm grip.
"JD Dunne, this here is Buck Wilmington. Tall fella 's Josiah
that's Nathan Jackson. And Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner there in the back
with the hat. We're the law here in Four Corners."
The last statement was offered not as a boast but as a fact.
The youth shook hands with Buck and tipped his hat to the others.
lot of law."
"We keep ourselves busy," replied JD. "What brings ya here?"
"I was on my way to San Francisco but...well, let's just say I fell
times. I rode the stage as far as it would take me and was lucky enough to
have my fortune change somewhat this evening." He tapped lightly at the
inside pocket of his coat where he had slipped his money. "Perhaps in a few
more days I'll have enough to continue on my way."
JD nodded sympathetically, "Staying at the hotel?"
Again the disarming smile was flashed, "I take it you have vagrancy
here in Four Corners?"
Buck offered his own smile, "Ya didn't answer his question."
Benjamin knew he was caught. "I...was planning...on the livery
Then, sighing heavily, he muttered, "But I'm sure your...jailing facilities
will be more than adequate."
The Englishman started at the loud laugh from Wilmington, "Shoot, son,
ain't gonna lock ya up. Ya look like you had a hard enough time getting'
It was obvious the young man didn't believe the peacekeeper so Josiah
stepped in an attempt to allay his fears. "You're more than welcome to stay
with me. Isn't actually my house as much as it's God's but, all are
Porter took a second to register what Sanchez had said. Glancing
whiskey, cigar and sidearm the young Englishman raised an eyebrow, "You're a
"I just try to guide the lost."
Larabee's voice came from the back, "Well, guide 'em over here, we got
game to finish."
As they headed for the table Buck fell in step with Benjamin and tried
to let the catch he felt in his voice escape. "Fancy little pea-shooter ya
"I won it from a man in New York, although, to be honest I hadn't had
of it much until I crossed the Mississippi. Is it some sort of law that
once you cross The River you must get drunk and carry a gun?"
Chris and Vin glance at one another, each wearing their own familiar
Larabee looked up at the neat, brown haired young man standing beside him.
"Welcome to the West, Benjamin."
Nathan eased himself into his chair, "You got a gripbag or anythin'?"
Porter cleared his throat before answering, "Well, that would be part
hard times as well. I sold the last of my belongings at the last stop. It
gave me enough money to get here and a bit more to stake a game. I have the
clothes on my back and...well, that's about it. But," he continued in a
lighter tone, eyeing the cards and money on the table, "I'm a firm believer
in Fate and I am always interested in a game of chance."
It was Buck's glass that hit the floor, only because the others were
safely on the table. And for the second time that night Benjamin felt six
pairs of eyes on him.
"I'm...sorry. Did I say something wrong?"
As Wilmington cleaned up his spill, Josiah laid a hand on the young
shoulder, "Not at all, son. Just brought up a...bit of a tender memory for
us, is all." The preacher cast a glance at Larabee, silently asking
Chris's lips were pressed tight together. But as his eyes drifted
member of his team he allowed a hint of a smile to crease his serious face.
"We got a chair here, Benjamin, if you'd like to sit in."
The young man smiled, not sure what just went on, but not really caring.
pulled out the empty chair and sat down. Accepting Chris's offer in his
"Thank you, yes. I must admit, this is the first time I've felt
somewhere in a rather long time. I was starting to forget what if felt
As each man anted up, Nathan called the game and began to deal.
Josiah lit his cigar and puffed a small cloud of blue into the air.
"Interesting name, 'Benjamin'. Found in Genesis 35 if I'm not mistaken.
His father kept him at home 'lest peradventure mischief befall him'."
Porter offered a wry smile that made him look older than his years,
well, don't believe everything you read."
Sanchez picked up his cards and looked to his friends. "As I recall,
name means 'son of my right hand'. Though some have interpreted it as 'son
of the South'."
Benjamin was glancing at his poker hand and didn't notice the looks
exchanged following the translation.
"Never been to the south, actually." He replied, finally looking
it's beastly hot, though. Not quite my idea of a comfortable clime, if you
know what I mean."
He loosened the buttons of his coat, allowing the once fine coat to
open. "I don't suppose there would be a shop in town that would provide
inexpensive cleaning services, I fear my jacket is looking slightly rougher
Josiah took a drink and answered, "You could see Mrs. Pavano, she's
known to work miracles on everything from horse manure to bullet holes."
JD hesitated slightly before speaking, letting his eyes flit to the
they seemed to know what he was going to say, but no one interrupted him.
"If you're at the church tomorrow, I could drop by some shirts and I think I
have some pants that would fit ya. Look about your style."
Porter looked as if he were waiting for JD to state what the Englishman
would have to do in return for the favor. But when nothing else came he
stuttered an appreciative thank you.
He paused again looking to Nathan, "I'm sorry, Mr. Jackson, what did
The healer swallowed the lump from his throat that had cropped up suddenly,
"Jus' the Ace of Spades, son. Jus' the Ace of Spades."