For reference sake: In this story, Four Corners is set approximately 40 miles east of Yuma and 15 miles north of the Mexican border. Prescott is approximately 60 miles northwest of Phoenix. Coppertown is not a real town (for you folks that check accuracy); it is set 15 miles south of Prescott. The distance from Four Corners to Coppertown is approximately 125 miles north and slightly east as the crow flies. Prescott was the seat of the territorial government.
A side note: For the intent of this episode…. Serpents did not happen. (Though I am snagging the name of the governor for it.) Also, this story has been in the writing stages for well over a year. (I only say this because there are certain similarities that you might see if you've witnessed the episode, but nothing that can be qualified as "spoilers" if you have not.)
Cat (CatStandish@thewateringhole.com), Carla (Marcaich@aol.com)
When Mary discovers a skeleton in the closet of an individual being considered for a territorial appointment, her life and her livelihood become endangered. Can the Seven rescue Mary, and her story, before it is too late?
Billy - Justin Cooper (because there were two, this is the one we're using)
Karl Jacobsen - Fisher Stevens
Kyle Jordan - Donald Sutherland
Tom "Shorty" Jones - Martin Short
Ray Kivers - Kevin Smith
Ned Jones - William Katt (okay… so I loved Greatest American Hero)
Jimmy Johnson - Cirroc Lofton (from DS9…but put him at first season age)
Cat Standish and Carla Rodriguez
Mary worked the hinges on the printing press to check the mechanisms before placing the letter blocks into position. It was a little sluggish so she oiled the machine. It might not have been ladylike, but Mary enjoyed working the press, and she truly loved the smell of the printing ink blended with the oil that made the machine work. It wasn't like the smell of roses or lilacs…that wasn't the type of love that she had for the smell; she enjoyed the aroma because it made her proud of the work she did.
Mary was taking special care with this edition of "The Clarion." This was the issue that would make "The Clarion" a respected paper outside of Four Corners. She could hardly wait to send off this issue to the territorial archive in Prescott. The other papers would soon be printing her lead story. She was about to put this little town on the map with her article. She placed each letter into position, and smiled as she heard the soft clinking sounds that they made as she aligned them. This machine was a clacky, musical piece of equipment.
Normally, Mary reported on the little things that happened in town and reprinted articles from the larger newspapers in the state and country. She also had information on the activities of the seven protectors. But she had never before stumbled on a story of territorial significance.
Mary carefully set the letters into the press. She inked the press and placed one sheet on top and stepped on the pedal. The press came down. She let the ink set a few moments and then released the lever and removed the page. This story was too important to her and "The Clarion" so she wanted to double check the letter placement. It was easy to misplace letters. This article was going to be perfect.
Mary sat down at her desk and picked up a pencil. She spread the sheet in front of her and prepared to read the article. Mary was grateful that Billy was off fishing with Chris today. She loved her son, but it was very hard to watch him and do all the work required to put the newspaper together. Mary smiled fondly as she thought of how attached Billy was to Chris. The gunman had a very hard exterior, but she'd seen a softer side to him every time he looked at her son.
Mary started her reading. The first time she read it, she read just for content. She wanted to make sure everything made sense. She'd done this before, but a last run through was definitely in order. The next read through would be to check spelling and grammar. Then she'd do it one more time, just to make sure that she had not missed anything.
She was so engrossed in the edit that she didn't hear the noise behind her. Mary felt a hand cover her mouth. She struggled violently against her captor. In her struggle, she knocked most of the contents of her desk onto the floor.
A muffled voice told her to stop fighting. She was not about
to do that. Cloth covered her face and she smelled the distinct odor
of ether. Mary tried not to breathe it in. But she could not
hold her breath forever, and eventually she succumbed to the drug.
Chris could tell that Billy could hardly wait to get home and show all his fish to Mary. The young boy had caught just as many fish as Chris himself had. Billy had already invited Chris to dinner. Chris had laughed and said, "We better ask your Ma first." Billy told him he was sure she wouldn't mind.
Chris and Billy met up with Vin and JD about half a mile out of town. "Evenin', boys," Chris said amicably.
"Hey Chris!" JD called out enthusiastically. "Vin's been showin' me how to track."
Vin sat silently on his horse, but raised one eyebrow and shrugged.
"Did you find anything?" Billy asked.
"You," JD said proudly.
"Us? No kidding?" Billy said, awestruck.
"It's not as if we were covering our trail, JD," Chris pointed out.
"I know. But it's a start," JD replied.
Chris looked over at Vin, silently asking if JD had known what they were tracking. Vin nodded. Chris was impressed.
They continued back to Four Corners in relative silence.
Buck and Ezra sat outside the jail. Karl Jacobsen was incarcerated within. Neither Buck nor Ezra wanted to listen to the ceaseless tirade of vile threats spewed forth by the prisoner, but they could still hear him from without. Every once in a while, Buck would cast a dark look toward the jail. Ezra appeared to be unperturbed by the prisoner, and idly turned his cards in his hands. It was bad enough that they'd had to restrain the man after he'd attacked poor Jennie Carlton, who'd merely brought in a tray for the man's lunch.
Buck stood up and paced in front of the jail. "When did you say them federal guys are gonna come get this piece of vermin?"
Ezra tossed him a look of forbearance. "The telegram stated that the prisoner transfer will occur tomorrow. We will have to tolerate his presence in our demesne for one more day."
"That's one day too many," Buck muttered, casting a dark look to the jail.
"Agreed," Ezra stated. Just then he noticed three horses entering the town. "It appears our esteemed colleagues have returned. And as you lost to me earlier this afternoon, I will be willing to forget your indenture should you relay the events which transpired to Mr. Larabee."
"Sorry, Ezra, I been waiting for someone to get over here. I got my eye on this sweet little blonde who just arrived day before yesterday…." Buck started.
"Spare me the details of your escapades, Mr. Wilmington. Perhaps, upon their return from young Miss Carlton's, Mr. Jackson or Mr. Sanchez would grant you a pardon from this watch so that you might pursue your most recent amorata."
Buck looked chastened for precisely two seconds. "I ain't telling Chris. Way I see it, I'd rather owe you five dollars than tell Chris about that poor girl."
"Coward," Ezra muttered. He quite agreed with Buck. He was willing to lose the five dollars to be spared the task.
"Well, the boy's back now. I'll get him to watch out here."
Buck stood up and moved toward the newest arrivals, leaving Ezra faced
with the task of informing Chris that the prisoner had managed to nearly
Chris set Billy on the ground.
"I'm gonna go tell Ma we're back!" Billy said excitedly.
Chris smiled and nodded. "I'll be right along with the fish soon as I finish at the livery."
Billy shouted, "All right!" as he ran off toward the Clarion office.
Chris, Vin, and JD rode to the livery. Chris turned over his shoulder to watch the boy, and he saw Billy standing at the threshold of the Clarion office. The door was open, and Chris couldn't see in. But Billy could, and Billy was standing still as a statue at the opening. Something was definitely not right.
Without another word, Chris turned and headed to the Clarion. By the time he got there, the other men had noticed that something was not right and were on their way. Billy still had not moved.
Chris quickly dismounted and secured the reins of his horse. Then he went to Billy. Billy didn't seem to notice that Chris was there. Chris looked into the office. The printing press had been pushed over; the office was in shambles. Mary was nowhere to be seen.
Chris tried to get Billy's attention, but the boy just stood there. He did not want to leave the lad alone, but he also wanted to check inside and find out what had happened. Buck and Ezra arrived beside him. He hadn't really noticed that they had joined him, but they were there. Chris entered the office as Ezra steered Billy off to a bench.
It was a mess. That much was for certain. The press would have to be repaired, possibly replaced. Obviously the room had been the scene of a struggle. Chris charged into the area behind the office, the area Mary made her home. He went through the rooms like a storm. Mary was not there. She was not in this building.
"What the hell happened?" Chris demanded as soon as he came to a stop in front of Buck.
Buck glared right back as him. "Don't know."
"Why not? You were here."
"Jesus, Chris. You know how headstrong that woman is? Can't keep an eye on her 24 hours a day….not like she'd let us. Sides, Jacobsen caused a bit of a ruckus took us some doin' to calm."
Chris still glared at him. "We'll discuss this later."
Buck didn't back down. Chris turned to Vin. "Go see if you can find tracks. Buck, you and JD get the horses ready. Nathan, Josiah…" Chris started. "Where are Nathan and Josiah?"
"Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sanchez are providing escort to Miss Carlton. I expect they'll be returning," Ezra started to state, then noticed two figures riding into town, "presently." He indicated the two figures, which stopped short in front of the Clarion.
"What's goin' on?" Josiah asked.
"Mary's missing." No one failed to note that Chris had used her first name.
"I'll get supplies and join you back here," Nathan supplied.
"Let me give you a hand, Brother Nate," Josiah added.
The men disbursed and Chris started to look around Mary's office. Ezra walked in with Billy.
"Get him out of here, Ezra!" Chris snarled.
Ezra infuriated him by showing no fear at Chris's tone. Billy shrank against Ezra. Chris noted that the man absently reached down and squeezed Billy's shoulder, calming him.
"Young Mr. Travis wished to enter. He thought perhaps he might be able to assist." Chris could hear the ice in the gambler's voice.
Chris closed his eyes for a moment, trying to get control of his anger. Billy walked around the office. Ezra began sorting through papers on the floor, papers that had obviously been on Mary's desk. Chris waited impatiently for the others to return. Ezra's calm manner was making Chris more irritable. He watched as the gambler righted Mary's chair, sat down, and began to read something.
Chris was about to ask what he thought he was doing when Vin came in.
"What did you find?"
"It's gettin' dark out, and whoever took her covered their tracks. Gonna need more light."
"Damn!" Chris exclaimed. "You gonna be able to find them in the morning?"
Vin shrugged and nodded, a determined look in his eyes. "I'll find them."
"Actually, gentlemen, I believe I know who has abducted our fair editor," Ezra said quietly without looking up from the paper.
Chris and Vin both turned to him. "You plannin' on sharin'?" Chris asked.
Ezra glanced up at Chris, raising an eyebrow. "It would appear that Mrs. Travis has come upon some rather dangerous information."
"Ezra," Chris started dangerously. "This ain't the time for one of your long-winded speeches. Out with it."
"Kyle Jordan, one of the territory's wealthiest cattle barons and a contender for a territorial appointment, is the subject of this rather interesting article I've been perusing." Ezra handed the paper to Chris. "This information, in the right hands, could ruin Mr. Jordan's future. I'd say that it might be considered grounds for some type of action. Wouldn't you, Mr. Larabee?"
Chris stopped listening and started reading. He wanted to be
angry with Mary. If they had known this information, they'd have
known she needed looking after. Stubborn woman.
Mary Travis was not happy. She had a headache from the ether, and whatever was bouncing her around was making her nauseated. She groaned before she could stop herself. The motion stopped, which was a small blessing. She opened her eyes, but she could not see anything. Mary realized something was covering her eyes…a blindfold. She also was aware that her hands had been tied behind her back, and there was a gag in her mouth.
No, Mary Travis was not happy. She was angry.
She heard a voice, the same voice she remembered from before, say to her, "I'm gonna take this out your mouth and give you some water. Don't want no trouble from ya. You hear me?"
Mary nodded. She wanted to bite the hand that grasped her face, then held the canteen to her mouth, but she didn't know where they were, or how long it would be before they next offered her water. Until she could get her bearings, there was no way she could alienate her captors. They were the only people keeping her alive. So she drank the water that was offered.
The canteen was taken away, and a rag was pressed against her face,
and once again, Mary smelled the distinctive odor of ether.
"Mr. Jordan has a spread approximately one day's ride out of Prescott, near a small town of Coppertown," Ezra was saying. "By all accounts, he is a gentleman."
"Gentlemen don't abduct…" Buck began.
"Quite correct, Mr. Wilmington. This isn't quite his style. Ordinarily, Mr. Jordan attempts to buy his way out of situations." Ezra looked around the room.
"Mrs. Travis wouldn't be bought."
"Hence her current predicament," Ezra stated. "As I was saying," Ezra looked pointedly at Buck. "Jordan is a respected man in Coppertown, primarily because he owns it."
Vin raised an eyebrow. "How you know this, Ezra?"
Before Ezra could answer Chris said, "Because he values his skin and pays attention."
"I would have phrased it otherwise; however, that is basically accurate. You realize that riding in with guns drawn will only bring her injury?"
The others nodded.
"Josiah, Nathan. You'll stay here. The rest of you: be ready to ride in 15 minutes."
"Perhaps we should wait until daylight, Mr. Larabee."
Larabee fixed a cold stare on Ezra. Surprisingly Vin backed the con-man. "He's right, pard. Jes 'cause we know where they're headed don't mean they're goin' there direct. 'Sides, it's a six-day ride ta Coppertown."
"We ride in 15 minutes," Larabee insisted.
"Then you ride without me," JD said softly. "Because I want to help Mrs. Travis. Seems we can do that better if Vin can find the right trail first."
Larabee looked at them all. Buck nodded at JD's words. Vin shrugged. Ezra merely looked away from him. "Dawn then. Vin, you and me will follow the trail. Buck, JD, Ezra, I want you to ride on to Coppertown."
The six men breathed a collective sigh of relief. Vin nodded; Buck smiled. Ezra tipped a finger to his hat. JD took his hat off and ran his fingers nervously through his hair.
Then Larabee looked at Buck. "What was that about Jacobsen?"
Buck and Ezra both groaned.
Mary gradually became aware of the sounds of two men talking. She didn't move. She wanted to get an idea of where she was going and why. Actually, Mary knew where she was going. And she knew why. She just wanted confirmation.
"I don't see why we have to take her there. Long damn way to carry this piece of baggage," one of her captors said.
"All I know is Boss wants her. We're gonna hole up here couple days. You're gonna go get a wagon tomorrow. Don't want no nosey folks seein' us with a trussed up woman," another one said.
Silence came after that. So, she was close to a town. If she could get away from them, she might have some place she could go for help.
Not for one moment did she doubt that Chris would come for her. Chris and the others.
Mary kept quiet, listening for sounds of movement. After a several minutes of silence, she heard the sounds of the two men snoring. She tried to work at her ropes. Much to her dismay, they were tied very tightly. She couldn't loosen them.
She was going to have to wait until Chris and the others came, and
hope that they weren't too long in coming.
Vin looked at the ground. He sat there for a few minutes just looking. Chris sat atop his horse and fixed him with an impatient glare, but he didn't say a word. Ezra, Buck, and JD had left twenty minutes ago, but Chris and Vin were still in just barely out of town.
"You about got it?" Chris finally asked.
Vin nodded and mounted Scout. He nodded and said, "They're headin' a bit west. Likely to Fortuna first, to pick up a wagon. Be less suspicious if they had somethin' like that. Be a bit suspicious if they didn't have a way to hide her."
Chris nodded. "Fortuna then."
Without another word, the two men rode toward Fortuna, hoping to
find Mary there.
Ezra turned to Buck and JD. "We'll ride most the way there together. You will go into Coppertown first. Above all, we must not demonstrate that we are together."
Buck and JD nodded.
"And you're going to require a new wardrobe. We'll acquire that at Buck Eye."
"Now hold on just a moment, Ezra. What do you mean 'a new wardrobe'?" Buck asked.
Ezra looked at them. "If they've heard of Mary's story, they've heard of us. They know about us and how we dress. They know about Mr. Dunne and his three piece suit and twin colts." He picked at his red sleeve. "They know I am a gambler." He explained. "Therefore, we must not be ourselves. I've already brought my more sedate apparel. I believe Buck Eye should be more than capable of providing for our needs."
JD nodded. "Then what are we gonna be."
Ezra grinned. "You two are brothers." He looked at them. "Mr. Wilmington, you won't need to change much. Mr. Dunne, you'll need to dress a bit more casual. Ranch hands, looking for employment. This will get you onto Mr. Jordan's spread."
"What about you, Ezra?"
"Mr. Jordan is aiming for a territorial appointment. I shall be a somewhat corrupt investigator. After all, the appointment must be verified. He'll be willing to entertain me, provided I demonstrate a willingness to overlook any infractions, for a price."
Buck muttered, "Sounds like something right up your alley, Ezra."
Ezra appeared unruffled. "Mr. Wilmington, why do you think
I placed myself in that role? Mr. Dunne is far too honest, as are
you. I'll be about a day behind you, for I must come from the direction
of Prescott, so I'll have to circle around the town. I expect you'll
be situated by the time I arrive."
Nathan and Josiah sat outside the jail. Karl Jacobsen was incarcerated within. The man had already proven to be dangerous, but now they were beginning to wonder about the timing of the attack on Jennie Carlton. It was timed perfectly so that no one would be aware of Mary's predicament. Could it be a coincidence?
Or was there more to it then that?
Josiah looked at Nathan. "I think we should go have a little talk with our guest."
Nathan nodded. Both men stood. Jacobsen looked up from the cot. "Dinner time?"
Josiah shook his head, as he picked up the keys to the cell then sat down at the desk. "I think not."
"Where's that pretty little gal you sent me yesterday? She was quite….delicious," Jacobsen taunted.
Nathan glared at the man, but Josiah gave him a warning look. "I'm afraid she's not available. And we can't find no one to bring you lunch. Guess you'll have to starve."
Jacobsen looked at him. "Ain't no reason you can't bring it."
Josiah grinned. "Not in my job description. I watch you, make sure you don't go nowhere." Josiah played with the keys absently then looked up at Jacobsen.
"What about him?" Jacobsen pointed at Nathan.
"Oh him? He fixes up the injuries I get to give you." Josiah smiled broadly. "Course, if you wanna talk, I might not have to hurt ya…and maybe we'll have time ta feed you."
Jacobsen looked at the two men, suddenly no longer sure of himself. "Talk about what?"
Nathan approached the cell and smiled. "For starters, why'd you attack that young gal yesterday?"
"Don't suppose it'll hurt to tell you now. Man paid me to make a distraction."
"Describe him," Nathan stated.
Josiah shrugged and turned to Nathan. "You hungry?"
Nathan grinned. "Shore am."
Josiah winked. "You stay here with him. I'll go get dinner." With that, he tossed Nathan the keys.
Nathan nodded and Josiah left.
About half an hour later, Josiah came back with a basket of fried chicken, biscuits, corn on the cob, and a blackberry cobbler." Nathan sat at the desk, sharpening his knives and occasionally looking up at Jacobsen and smiling.
"That smells right good, Josiah."
"Sure does, don't it?" Nathan and Josiah set to the food, ignoring the growling stomach of Jacobsen.
"You gonna let me have some of that?" Jacobsen asked. The prisoner approached the bars.
"Nope," Josiah answered, parroting the man's earlier reply to his own question.
Nathan looked at him. "Course, if you described that man for us, we might just let you have somethin' ta eat."
Josiah mumbled. "Longer you wait, less there'll be." He reached in and took another piece of chicken. "Mighty good chicken."
"That it is," Nathan agreed as he reached into the basket.
Jacobsen cast them dark glares. The two regulators unconcernedly ate fried chicken. Finally, he broke. "All right. I'll tell you. But I want some of that cobbler."
Josiah winked at Nathan.
Chris and Vin rode into Fortuna and headed straight to the sheriff's office. Neither man's face showed surprise when they took in the empty feeling of the jail….the cobwebs in the corners, the empty desk, the open cells with no furnishings. Apparently, Fortuna was not a haven for law-abiding citizens.
Vin looked to Chris and shrugged. He walked toward the telegraph office, and Chris turned to the saloon.
"I'm lookin' to see if there's a wire for Vin Tanner or Chris Larabee," Vin said.
Without a word, the operator handed Vin a piece of paper. Vin nodded his thanks and went to the livery. A stable boy was mucking out stalls and Vin watched a moment before picking up a fork and helping him. They worked for about an hour. Vin cleaned about twice as much as Jimmy did.
"Gee thanks, mister," the stable boy said with a smile when they finished.
Vin's eyes twinkled and he nodded. "Name's Vin Tanner."
"Say, Jimmy. I'm lookin' fer some one. Kinda tall. Dark hair. Probably lookin' fer a wagon. You see anyone like that?"
"No…." Jimmy's eyes brightened up. "But I did see a short guy…'bout my height. He came in and took one of our wagons earlier this mornin'. Didn't pay for it neither."
"You see where he headed?"
Jimmy nodded and pointed to the northwest.
Vin smiled. "Thanks Jimmy."
"No problem, Mister Tanner. 'Sides…I might get to spend some time fishin' today, since you helped me with my job!" Jimmy smiled broadly and Vin nodded.
"Catch a few for me, all right?"
Vin moseyed over to the saloon. There he saw Chris, in his own "subtle" way, asking around. He gave Chris a small grin and picked up a bottle of whiskey, moving to an empty table. He knew in a moment Chris would join him.
Vin didn't have to wait long before Chris strode over to the table.
"Got a couple descriptions, and a direction. They got them a wagon, just as we expected they would." Vin handed Chris the telegram.
Chris read it quickly and stood up, striding out the door.
Vin finished the glass of whiskey and followed him. Within ten minutes,
Vin had found the trail of the wagon.
When Mary awoke again, she found she was lying down and she felt movement. She was still blindfolded and tied. She was also hungry. She moaned softly.
A low voice said, "I think she's comin' round."
There was no response, but the wagon slowed for a moment. Then she could feel movement beside her as the wagon resumed its previous speed.
The same voice asked, "You hungry or thirsty?"
Mary nodded and someone helped her to sit up. A canteen was placed to her lips. Mary drank greedily from it before it was taken away. The man helped her to eat a biscuit with some kind of meat in it. Mary didn't question what it was.
"You keep quiet back here," the voice whispered softly. She could hear the smile behind it. "I don't want to give you no more of that smelly stuff. You make a bunch of racket and I will."
Mary nodded. Her head hurt badly, she just wanted to sleep.
But she didn't want to lose any more time. For some reason which
thoroughly disconcerted her, she was beginning to trust the man with that
It was with great relief to Ezra when they rode into BuckEye. Between Buck's loud snoring at night and the constant chatter between Buck and JD, Ezra had hardly had a moment's peace in the five days since they'd left Four Corners. Buck had JD nearly convinced that he'd have to wear a dress for this fiasco, and Ezra was almost to the point he was going to make the kid go through with that. As if the bickering, good-natured though it might be, were not enough, someone had convinced Buck that he was a good trail cook, and Buck wasn't even a competent one.
Ezra's stomach growled loudly and he cast a dark look to Buck. Buck, for his part, just grinned.
"Ain't my fault you're such a fussy eater Ezra."
"Now Buck, you burnt almost all the rabbits. And if you didn't burn 'em, you tried to serve them raw."
"JD, you just don't know how to appreciate good cookin'," Buck said in reply.
JD just grinned. "Yeah...well, I bet Ezra does. And he didn't seem to think you done a good job."
"Indeed not Mr. Dunne."
"Ezra don't like nothin' the rest of us can pronounce."
Ezra rolled his eyes. "Nonetheless, Buck. Mr. Tanner's coffee is better than your cookin'." With that, Ezra pulled up in front of the livery and dismounted. He led his steed into the building, paid the board, and headed to the hotel, trusting that the two other men would be shortly behind him.
Ezra grinned when he determined that the hotel only had two openings. He secured one of the rooms for himself, then went directly to the room. He knew Buck and JD would have to share accommodations and smiled at the thought of the argument that was bound to erupt as the twosome made the determination of just who would be sleeping on the floor. It would provide an adequate entertainment for the evening.
Ezra unpacked his luggage, making sure to hang out his jackets. He didn't like wrinkles in his apparel. Then he left and rapped on the door to the room he already knew Buck and JD would be at.
The door swung open. Buck was reclined firmly on the bed, his position clearly declaring that he had been the victor. JD looked irritated.
"Are you prepared for our trip to the haberdasher's?" Ezra asked with a pull to his sleeve.
"I ain't wearin' no dress," JD proclaimed.
"And a poor ranch hand you would be if you were attired in one."
JD cast a "told you so" look to Buck.
Buck shrugged. "You two ladies have fun. I'm comfortable."
"Mr. Wilmington, your presence is required. Mr. Dunne's wardrobe may require the most adjustment; however, yours does need a little refinement."
"Who put you in charge Ez?"
Ezra grinned. "I did. Do you have any plans for getting Mrs. Travis without inflicting serious bodily harm upon her? Please. Feel free to share." Ezra looked at Buck, indicating that he was waiting patiently.
"I figure we could just pick up one of his helpers and get right in."
"It lacks a certain finesse."
Buck sat up and looked at the two men. Reluctantly he stood up. "I get the bed kid."
"We'll see Buck!" JD retorted.
Ezra just shook his head.
Buck looked at him. "Hey, how'd you get the room by yourself?"
"I, Mr. Wilmington, got here first." With that, Ezra turned
and headed down the hall, trusting that his compatriots would be behind
The wagon stopped. Mary heard two distinct voices. A third voice joined them.
"You did what?!"
"She wouldn't drop the story. You said you wanted the story dropped," the higher-pitched voice stated.
"So you brought her here. That was stupid boys."
"No one saw us take her. No one knows about this story either. There's nothing to connect you to her. Made sure of that." the lower voice said.
"Then why didn't you just kill her?"
Mary flinched. Chris and the others didn't know where she was because they didn't know about Kyle Jordan, because she hadn't told them. And Jordan didn't see any reason to keep her alive. Suddenly she felt very alone, and very scared.
Silence met the question. Finally the third voice, which she was assuming belonged to Jordan, said, "Bring her in. I suppose I can let her go after I get the appointment. Won't be nothing she can do then."
"Right boss," the low voice said.
"Ray," the third voice said.
"Yes, Mr. Jordan?" Ray answered. Mary now knew the name behind the lower voice.
"You and Shorty ever do anything like this again, I'll kill you both myself."
Ray and Shorty chorused, "Yes Boss."
Mary felt the wagon shift and knew someone had just climbed in. "Easy there, ma'am." It was Ray. "We're gonna take you inside now. Get you settled. You're gonna be Mr. Jordan's guest for a while."
Ray sat her up and took her blindfold off. Then he reached behind her and untied her.
Mary got her first look around the property. She saw the man she assumed was Shorty. He was very short, and that almost brought a smile to her face. None of the men here looked intimidating, except Ray. But Ray smiled at her, letting her know that she'd be all right and that he wasn't going to hurt her.
Somehow, she didn't find it very comforting.
Chris tapped on the pommel of his saddle and looked at Vin. Vin, for his part, sat calmly and looked through his spyglass. Finally, Vin turned to Chris.
"They ain't anywhere I can see. Tracks say they came this way. Probably about half a day ahead of us."
"Then let's go."
"Easy there, cowboy. It's gettin' to dark. Ain't gonna catch up with them any sooner. Best get some rest." There was a slight edge to Vin's voice, like he'd said this several times before. And truthfully, the tracker had. Every night.
Chris nodded. He wasn't happy with this. Truthfully, he wasn't quite sure why he was so worried. Sure, he was worried about the safety of Mrs. Travis…Mary. But he had to wonder if he'd be pushing so hell-bent-for-leather for Mrs. Potter. Chris shook his head and dismounted.
Both men unsaddled their mounts and brushed them down for the night.
"You think Buck and them are in Coppertown yet?" Chris asked.
"Ain't had time. Probably got to BuckEye today. Don't worry Chris. They ain't killed her yet, they ain't gonna."
It's the other I'm worried about. Chris thought silently. Vin regarded him curiously, and it was as if the tracker were reading his thoughts.
"Mary's a strong woman. She'll be all right."
Chris granted him a wan smile. "You realize if she ain't, we'll likely lose our jobs?"
Vin smiled. "Won't be the first job I lost; probably won't be the last. But I don't think we're gonna be fired."
Chris nodded to Vin, then carried his saddle over to the fire that
the tracker had started earlier.
Ezra sighed and wondered for the third time why he even bothered. From the second they had entered the clothing shop, Ezra had been on a trip to hell. First, JD complained that the clothes were too big, then too small, then the hat wasn't the right shape and why couldn't he use his bowler? Ezra had lost it and rather evilly suggested that by all means, if he wanted to use the hat go ahead, but everyone would know in a second who he was and he would undoubtedly get himself and Buck killed.
Buck jumped in and defended the younger man, but Ezra just smiled and gestured for JD to get into the latest get up Ezra had found for him. Grumbling, the man stalked into the changing room, ignoring the somewhat astonished sales person.
"Now Ezra." Buck turned towards the gambler, holding up the rather unflattering shirt Ezra presented him with. "Brown? I hate brown, I like blue."
"Buck, the task is to make you blend in to your surroundings, remember?" Ezra said exasperated. He thought he would have less trouble getting Vin into a tuxedo than getting these two to look like ranch hands.
"Ranch hands wear blue." Buck challenged.
"Down on their luck, UNOBTRUSIVE ones do not!" Ezra fixed the ladies man with a truly scathing glare. "Now get in and CHANGE!"
"No need to be rude!" Buck huffed off into the other changing room.
Moments later, JD stepped out, resplendent in modest beige trousers and an off white, coarse woven shirt. A tan leather vest completed the somber outfit and JD held a handkerchief in his hand, a rancher's hat in another. From the look on his face, he was about to complain again.
"What now, Mr. Dunne?" Ezra sighed. This was not going well at all.
"This shirt itches!" JD frowned. "And I look like a cowhand."
"Then the desired look is achieved," Ezra said, gazing heavenward.
"Oh." JD sat down ion the stool. "OK then. Where's Buck?"
"Trying on a more appropriate shirt. We are trying to make you two look like normal cowhands, not show you off at the county fair," Ezra drawled, maybe this was almost over.
Just then Buck came out of the changing room and sent JD into a fit of giggles. Ezra gawked in shock as the ladies man sheepishly looked at them both.
'Umm... I think it was a bit too small Ezra." Buck fingered the tear along the side, "Got anything larger?"
Ezra groaned. What else could go wrong?
An hour later, clothing finally decided on, purchased, and costing quite a bit more than Ezra had anticipated, the three headed for the saloon.
"Now, only one thing remains, gentlemen." Ezra grinned evilly.
"What's that Ezra?" JD asked lightly. The younger man was almost bouncing in anticipation of the coming role he was to play.
"I want the two of you to hop into that water trough and then roll on the ground; you are far too clean to be ranch hands."
"WHAT!" came two incredulous voices.
Mary sat down at the elegantly set table and looked across its length to the man sitting opposite her.
"Tell me, Mrs. Travis. Where did you get your information?" Kyle Jordan said as he picked up his fork and knife and began carving the roast beef on his plate.
Mary looked at her plate then up to him. "Mr. Jordan. I have no intention of revealing my sources."
"Come now, madam. You aren't going anywhere, at least not until I say so. No need to be contentious. I'm just making polite conversation. Try the beef." He looked up at her.
Mary picked up her fork and knife and cut a small piece of meat. "I hardly find holding me here against my will, not to mention kidnapping me from my home, to be an extended courtesy. You've already stated I'm your prisoner."
"You are. But I'm treating you well. I've provided you with suitable attire. I'm providing you with excellently prepared meals. This should be looked on as a vacation of sorts, my dear. I'm not asking you to labor in return for my courtesies. The beans are quite excellent, don't you agree?"
Mary slammed the fork down and stood up. "Courtesies?! Did I hear you correctly, Mr. Jordan? There is nothing about this that is courteous. You are acting in a barbaric manner…and you expect me to be grateful!?"
"Sit down, Mrs. Travis," he stated calmly.
"I most certainly will not sit down!" she exclaimed.
Kyle shrugged and rang a bell. Ray and Shorty came into the room. "Ray, Mrs. Travis requires assistance in seating. Please be so kind as to render that assistance."
Ray raised an eyebrow and looked over at Mary. Shorty drew his gun and pointed it at her.
Ray went over to her. "Mrs. Travis. Won't you have a seat?" he asked as he pulled the chair out for her and positioned it.
Mary looked at the two men, then sat down.
Kyle took another bite of his meal. "Eat. The potatoes are really quite excellent." He smiled charmingly at her.
Without another word, Mary ate her meal, occasionally shooting angry
glares at Kyle, Ray, and Shorty.
Ezra Standish, soon to be known as Zachary Carlisle, rode out much earlier than he ordinarily preferred to consider awakening. He bought a horse from the livery and trusted JD and Buck to get his own mount to Coppertown. He knew that Buck and JD would be attempting to gain employment around noon; Ezra wanted to arrive in Coppertown by stagecoach, as that would be expected of him.
The ride to Prescott was uneventful. The sun above was hot, and Nature was being her regular dusty self. Ezra detested dust and heat. But, he knew that the territorial capital would have amenities that would more than make up for his present state of discomfort.
As he rode into town, he saw several hotels, and elected to stay at one of the nicer ones. He did have appearances to maintain after all. Besides, a high-stakes game would be available at one of those places. He already had to fund Buck and JD's shopping trip, and pay for a stagecoach. He was also relatively certain that he would not be reimbursed for these expenditures.
Ezra found it odd, and somewhat disconcerting, to have no one watching his back. When he had come to rely on that reassurance, he wasn't entirely sure. But he missed it now.
Ezra rode to the stage office and purchased a seat on the stage leaving in the morning to Coppertown. Then he arranged a room at a hotel and got dinner.
Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.
Buck and JD rode into Coppertown, acting every bit like rowdy ranch hands. They stabled their horses, then wandered down to the saloon. Their first order of business was to get hired by Jordan and be in place by the time Ezra got into town.
Buck looked around the saloon and was surprised to see Vin sitting in the back. Chris was stalking around the saloon, trying to scare up information on Kyle Jordan. Literally.
JD looked to Buck as he saw Chris threatening his way through the saloon. No one was giving him the information he wanted. Chris looked over to JD and Buck. Buck came to his senses first. "Mister, we just got into town. We're lookin' for work, but we don't want no trouble."
Buck walked over to the bar and ordered a beer. JD followed him and also ordered a beer. Buck looked at him and JD shrugged.
The saloon was quiet. Finally, Chris gave a disgusted look and left the building. Vin gave Buck a slight nod, then stood up a few moments later and followed Chris out of the door.
Buck listened as gradually the noise of the saloon returned to a normal level.
"I hear you're lookin' fer work," a voice said next to him.
"Yeah, me and my kid brother here," Buck replied.
"Got experience with cattle ranchin'?"
"Yeah. Did some work for Stuart James a while back," Buck said smoothly. He saw JD smile.
"James. I heard of him. Kyle Jordan's lookin' ger some ranch hands. You interested?"
"Yeah, Bud. You hear that? We gonna get a job?" JD piped in.
"Jake, you just settle down some. You hear? Let the man speak." Buck grinned at JD.
"Name's Ned Jones. My brother's the foreman."
"Bud Williams, and this is my brother Jake," Buck replied.
"Why don't you men finish your beers and meet me at the liv'ry? I'll take you out to meet Mr. Jordan."
Buck nodded, then chugged the remainder of his beer. JD did
the same. Both headed out after the other man. Soon they were
on their way out to Jordan's ranch.
"Easy there, Cowboy. You're forgettin' something," Vin said.
"What's that?" Chris growled. Chris's patience was wearing thin. It had been nearly a week since Mary had been taken.
"Man owns this town. And you're just another gun to them." Vin looked down the street. "Buck and JD got an in. 'Sides…we know where the man is holed up. And now we got two men on the inside."
Chris nodded. "Now we gotta get Mary out."
Vin grinned. "I reckon you're right. Best head out and
set up camp."
Early in the afternoon, Ezra stepped off the stage coach and onto the dusty streets of Coppertown. The town was smaller than Four Corners, but appeared to have all the necessities: saloon, hotel, bank, restaurant, land office. And that land office was what brought Ezra and the other men there.
Ezra walked over to the land office and entered the building. He looked to the clerk and nodded. "Zachary Carlisle from Prescott. Governor's aide. I'm here to speak with Kyle Jordan."
"Mr. Jordan is not in the office."
Ezra fixed the clerk with a look of disdain. "I have traveled to see him. You run along and fetch him. I need to inspect the office records." Ezra waved a piece of parchment under the clerk's nose.
"You're here to…"
"Correct my good man. I am here to investigate Mr. Jordan pursuant to appointment. I require his presence. Now go. My time is valuable and you are wasting it." Ezra took out his timepiece and stared at it.
The clerk still looked at him.
Ezra rolled his eyes. "Mr. Jordan will be most displeased if he does not get this appointment due to your lack of initiative."
That did it. The clerk nodded and ran out of the land office,
leaving Ezra alone to inspect the records. He figured that he had
two hours before Kyle Jordan would come to fetch him. He needed to
have evidence before that time was passed.
Buck and JD rode behind Ned out to the Jordan ranch. It was easy to see that both men were impressed by the sheer size of the spread.
"Wow, Bud! Would ya look at the size of this place? I never seen a spread like this before!" JD exclaimed.
"Easy there, Jake," Buck said in a stage whisper. "Don't want the man to think we don't know what we're doin'. We been on ranches before."
Ned turned back to them. "Mr. Jordan has the biggest ranch in the territory. He don't have to worry about settlers or Injuns' takin' his land either. When the rail comes through, he's got access direct to it from his land."
Buck whistled. "Sounds right profitable."
Ned smiled. "He pays good too." Ned looked off in the distance, where a house was beginning to be visible. "That's the bunkhouse."
Buck and JD looked at each other. "Nice," Buck said.
"Used to be the main house. But when Mr. Jordan started expanding, he built a new one. Turned the old one into a guest stable."
The threesome rode a ways more. Another house came into view. House wasn't really a fair description. It was huge. Mansion was more accurate. "Wow!" JD exclaimed again.
Ned kept on riding. The two men followed him.
Finally, they rode up to the bunkhouse. Ned dismounted and tied his horse to the post. He went inside and came back out with a much shorter man.
By this time, Buck and JD had both secured their own horses. Buck towered over the new man.
"This here's my brother Tom. Most folks call him Shorty."
Shorty looked at Buck and JD.
"The tall fellow's Bud Williams. And that's his kid brother, Jake. They're lookin' fer work."
"Got any experience?" Shorty was eyeing JD suspiciously.
"Did some work with Stuart James a while back," Buck supplied.
"Out Four Corner's way? I just got back from there." Shorty looked again at JD. "Thought you looked familiar. What brings you here?"
"Had a bit of a run in with the law in Four Corner's," Buck said.
"Don't need no law comin' down on us out here," Shorty said.
"They won't come after us for it…just busted up the saloon. Damn gambler cheated us out of our wages. And he works for them, so they protect him," Buck muttered darkly.
"I told you not to play him, Bud," JD retorted.
"All right. Fine. You're hired. Just don't go bustin' up our saloon. We got a nice arrangement with the law in town, and don't need our help ruinin' it."
Buck and JD both nodded.
"Ned, show them to a room. Then show them the lay. You two start up tomorrow. Dinner's at seven. Breakfast is at five."
Ned motioned them to the entrance. JD paused and looked at Shorty. "Gee, thanks for hirin' us. Means a lot."
Shorty nodded, then walked to the main house.
JD and Buck went inside the bunkhouse.
Vin passed the glass to Chris. "Looks like Buck and JD are in."
"You see Mary?"
Vin shook his head. "She's probably in the big house. Doubt she'll be outside."
"So we gotta get in there."
Vin nodded. "Wait till dark, then we can sneak in."
Ezra looked up from the papers on the desk when an older gentleman walked into the office.
"I hear you were looking for me. I'm Kyle Jordan."
"Ah. Mr. Jordan. Zachary Carlisle, from the governor's office. I've been sent here to verify your qualification before your appointment is confirmed."
Kyle nodded. "It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Carlisle. I'll be happy to answer any of your questions."
"I've been reviewing your records." Ezra looked at Kyle. "I must secure a room at the hotel. Perhaps over dinner."
"Nonsense. I'll put you up at the ranch. We can discuss this business in more comfort and privacy. My cooking staff far exceeds the restaurant's."
Ezra regarded him for a moment, then nodded. "That arrangement is acceptable. Lord knows I do not wish to be here any longer than necessary." He looked directly at Kyle. "I do have several questions to ask you regarding recently filed homestead claims." Then Ezra picked up all the files he had been looking at and stuck them in his case.
Kyle looked at him a moment, but he didn't say anything about the files.
Ezra smiled. "If we will be discussing this at your residence, it would be best to have the requisite material readily on hand. My luggage is at the stage office."
"I'll have my driver retrieve it." Kyle stepped outside and made a motion.
Ezra stood and placed his hat on his head. The two men walked outside and waited for the carriage to arrive.
"How long have you been working for our governor, Mr. Carlisle?" Kyle asked.
Ezra smiled. "Call me, Zachary. I've been working at the capital for about five years. It is a," Ezra paused, "most….rewarding…occupation." He looked at Kyle knowingly.
Kyle smiled, understanding the implication of Ezra's statement.
The aide knew he was crooked; however, the aide could be bought.
This was good.
"Ezra's inside," Vin said.
"Good. We're all in place," Chris replied.
"Wonder what he's up to. Looked awful chummy with them."
Chris smiled. "That's Ezra. Let's give him a little time."
"He'll probably get Mary to take an evening stroll with him."
Chris almost growled. "I'm movin' in. When she comes out, I want to get her out of there as quickly as possible."
Vin nodded. The two men mounted up and rode to the very edge
of the cover, then secured the horses and moved in closer to the house.
Ezra stepped into the dining room, having donned a fresh jacket. He looked at the table. "Kyle, who is our lovely dining companion?" Ezra smiled roguishly at Mary.
"Zachary, this is my cousin, Mary Travis. Mary, this is Zachary Carlisle, governor's aide." Kyle gave Mary a meaningful look. She didn't contradict him. This concerned Ezra.
"Miss Travis, it is a pleasure to meet you." Ezra took her hand and kissed the top of it.
"Mr. Carlisle," she said.
Ezra smiled to her. "How are you doing on this lovely day?"
Mary glanced at him, then looked back to Kyle. "I'm doing well. And yourself?"
"Oh, my day has brightened considerably since my eyes fell upon your lovely visage." Ezra sat down next to her and smiled. "Tell me about yourself," he said.
She looked at him oddly, but spoke when Kyle cleared his throat. "I run a small newspaper in Four Corners," she said contritely.
"Sounds enchanting," Ezra smiled.
"Yes, my cousin is quite the writer. You should see some of the things she has had to say about our governor."
Mary said nothing. This concerned Ezra. He wanted to find out if she was all right, but this subdued version of the usually-outspoken editor had him worried.
Some of the staff entered the dining room and placed the food on the table. The trio ate quietly. Ezra glanced at Mary often.
"You seem to be quite taken with my cousin, Zachary. Perhaps after our business is concluded, you and she might spend some time together?" Kyle stated.
Mary glared at Kyle. Ezra was disgusted. He had just offered Mary as part of the bribe. However, it suited Ezra's purpose. He was fairly certain that the others were in place. Until Mary was safely away from here, their hands were tied. "That sounds enchanting. A moonlight stroll then, my dear?"
Kyle looked at Mary, and Mary nodded.
When they finished dinner, Mary was escorted from the room. Ezra looked after her for a moment, then turned to Kyle. "A lovely woman, your cousin."
"She is, isn't she? Now, I believe we had some business to discuss."
"Indeed. You do realize that you're deeding off reservation land?" Ezra asked archly.
"Found that out already. Is it going to affect my appointment?"
"That depends, Mr. Jordan."
Ezra smiled. "On you. Or rather, what you are willing to part with in order to keep my observations off the record. You haven't much choice. Should I report this, you will be arrested."
"Would $500 be sufficient to keep your silence?" Kyle offered.
"You insult me," Ezra said indignantly.
"FIFTEEN Hundred Dollars?" Kyle sputtered. Ezra merely raised an eyebrow. Finally Kyle said, "One thousand….and my cousin."
"Agreed. I expect payment in cash. I shall depart this evening. I'll expect Miss Travis to be packed when we return from our stroll." Ezra stood up. "I shall pass on my highest recommendation regarding your appointment to the governor. I expect you'll be confirmed in the office within the month."
Kyle nodded and left the room. He was obviously not happy. But Ezra was. The bribe would be plenty to replace the destroyed printing press…and cover his expenditures. All that really remained was to put Kyle Jordan out of business.
Several minutes later, Mary entered the room. "I was told you wished to see me, Mr. Carlisle," Mary stated.
"My dear, would you care to join me on a stroll?"
Mary nodded. Together they walked outside. Finally, she turned to him and whispered, "Mr. Standish, what is going on?"
"In good time, Mrs. Travis. In good time. Now we do have appearances to maintain."
As they passed the edge of the building, Chris spoke up. "Are you all right, Mary?"
Mary nodded. Ezra looked at him and raised an eyebrow.
"Mr. Larabee, we shall be departing shortly for town. Seems Mr. Jordan struck a deal, and pardon me for saying this Mrs. Travis, sold her to me."
"A business transaction, my dear. I shall explain later; however, our extended stop at this location will garner suspicion. We must move on. We shall join you in town, Mr. Larabee."
Chris looked at Mary again. "It's good to see you."
She smiled to him. Then Ezra led her away.
Chris went back to Vin. "Ezra's got Mary and is going to take her back to town."
Vin nodded. "Came all the way here. I kinda want to say howdy to this fella."
Chris shot him a look.
"Don't wanna be called rude," Vin said with a quirk.
"All right." Chris allowed that he wanted to 'say howdy' too. He wanted it to be known throughout the territory that he wasn't going to stand by and allow folks from Four Corners to be taken.
"Chris," Vin whispered harshly, then held the glass up to his eye. "We got trouble."
As Vin said that, Chris took the glass and looked through it. Something was going on with Ezra and Mary. He watched, helpless, as Ezra and Mary were forced from the wagon and led back into the house at gunpoint.
Chris looked at Vin. "Guess we'll be paying that visit a lot sooner than planned."
Buck and JD were eating when Ned came in. "We're gonna have to pull guard duty tonight, boys," he announced without preamble.
"What for?" a ranch hand asked.
"Seems someone tried to take off with that lady from down south. Probably more came along. Boss wants us to keep an eye out for anyone coming on the land.
Buck and JD looked at each other. Both wanted to volunteer, but they were also both new. Volunteering would look suspicious.
Shorty looked around the room. "Any volunteers?"
Buck noticed that all the other ranch hands seemed to be paying close attention to their meals. He looked at JD. Then both of the lawmen found something interesting on their own plates.
"You two. New guys," Ned barked. "New guys get the short straw. You're on guard duty tonight."
Buck groaned. JD rolled his eyes. "JUST my luck. First night in a decent bed in over a week and a half….and I got to pull midnight shift."
"Jake, you know how it is. New guys pay the dues. Finish your dinner," Buck said.
Buck shook his head. Ezra had said it was always good to have a back up when running a con. Apparently something had gone wrong on Ezra's end. He wondered what it was.
He finished his dinner and stood up, then reached forward and knocking JD's hat off his head.
"Knock it off, Bud!" JD exclaimed.
Buck winked, "Jake, I believe that's what I just did."
JD glared at him. "You know what I meant."
"Come on." Buck walked out the door, expecting JD would be behind him. JD didn't disappoint him.
"Make sure no one goes near the old bunkhouse," Ned said.
Buck and JD nodded. Ned went back inside. Buck looked
at JD. "Well, little brother, looks like we got our work cut out
for us tonight."
Ezra stared at Kyle Jordan. Mary sat across the room. He did not look at her. He did not want to confirm anything this man said.
"Who are you?" Kyle asked him.
"As I informed you earlier, my name is Zachary Car…." Ezra began. He was interrupted when a fist connected with his jaw.
"He will strike you again, if you repeat that name," Kyle stated. "Now tell me who you are!"
Ezra looked at Kyle.
"Answer me!" Kyle shouted.
Calmly, Ezra stated, "Your man," he looked over at Ray, "will commit assault upon my person should I do so. It is more prudent to remain silent."
Kyle looked at him, "Where is the money I gave you?"
Ezra remained silent.
Kyle then turned to Ray. "I gave this man One Thousand Dollars. Find it."
Ray nodded. Ezra was summarily stripped of his jacket and his vest. Ray looked through the pockets. He forced Ezra to stand, then dug into his pants pockets. All this time, Ezra fixed Kyle with a stare promising retribution. After a few moments, Ezra was forcefully pushed into the chair again and his boots were removed.
"It ain't here, Boss."
Kyle placed a gun against Ezra's head. "Tell me where it is!"
Ezra looked at him. Inside, he was screaming. Never let them see your fear, son. That is the most important thing. His mother's voice echoed through his head, and his face betrayed none of that fear. His voice was steady as he said, "If you kill me, you'll never find out."
Anger flashed in Kyle's eyes, and he struck Ezra hard with the butt
of the gun. The last thing Ezra heard as the darkness overcame his
senses was the sound of wood falling on the floor.
Small hands were shaking him. "Ezra? Are you all right?"
Ezra didn't want to acknowledge it, but the slight quiver of fear in the voice made him open his eyes.
"Ezra?" Mary asked again.
She laughed. "I've been trying to wake you for two hours. You are most certainly not fine."
The indignity in her voice made him chuckle softly.
Then Mary started in on him. "One thousand dollars? You were willing to let him kill you for one thousand dollars?"
"Don't start with me, Ezra. I don't know why, or how….but you used this situation to turn a profit."
Ezra closed his eyes and softly asked, "How much will a new printing press cost you?"
"A new press? I couldn't afford one if something happened to mine. I'd have to close the paper."
"My press?" Mary asked again. "They destroyed my press?"
"I am sorry, Mrs. Travis."
"No, Ezra. I'm sorry. I misjudged you."
Ezra shrugged and went back to sleep. He felt Mary trying to
wake him again, heard her saying that she didn't think he should be sleeping.
But he chose to ignore her.
Buck and JD walked the perimeter, looking for Chris and Vin. An owl hooted and Buck smiled. "That's Chris."
"How you know that?" JD asked.
"'Cause I recognize what bird that is. Vin would have chosen some odd bird no one ever heard of."
JD grinned. The two men walked toward the sound.
"Chris!" Buck whispered.
"Over here," came the response. Chris stood up from behind a rock; Vin came forward. "What have you heard?"
"We've been put on guard duty tonight. Ezra and Mrs. Travis are in the old bunkhouse for now. Walked past it while back. There are two guards outside the building. And we're the guards for the property. Everyone else is asleep."
JD spoke up. "From the way the guards were talkin', Ezra's hurt."
"How bad?" Vin asked.
"Don't know. But he was awful quiet in there."
"We'll assume he can't ride," Chris said. "If he can, it makes it easier. But if he can't, then we're ready."
"So we'll need a distraction?" JD asked.
Chris shrugged. "The more quiet we are the better. Buck. JD. Find us a wagon. Vin. You and me are gonna get Mary and Ezra out. And remember. Quietly."
The others nodded. JD smiled. "Buck? Quiet?"
Buck took his hat and whacked JD over the head. "I can be quiet."
"Enough. Meet at the bunkhouse in 20 minutes. You think you can do that?" Chris asked.
Buck turned serious. "We'll be there."
Buck and JD moved on, leaving Chris and Vin to get to the bunkhouse.
Chris and Vin sneaked up to the bunkhouse. There were two men sitting outside the door. They barely looked awake. The tracker and the gunslinger strode up behind them. Within moments, each of the guards were taking forced naps. Chris opened the door and dragged a sleeping guard into the bunkhouse.
"Chris! Um…Mr. Larabee!" Mary exclaimed.
"You all right?" he asked her with concern as he removed the jacket from the man he had brought in.
Mary nodded. "I'm fine."
"Where's Ezra?" Chris looked around.
Vin dragged in the other guard and stripped his jacket off as well.
Mary looked over to Ezra's sleeping form. "I think he has a head injury. I can't get him to wake up."
"All right. Vin, go wait outside for Buck and JD."
Vin nodded and went outside.
Chris moved over towards Mary. "You sure you're all right."
Mary nodded. "I'll be fine. I just want to go home, Chris."
"We'll get you there. I promise," Chris said with a small smile. Then he looked down at Ezra. "Come on, Ezra. Time to get to the tables. Wake up."
Ezra stirred a little, then woke and looked at Chris. "Mr. Larabee. How good of you to join us."
"Can you ride?"
"I have been riding since I was very young."
Chris sat Ezra up and propped him against the wall. He held up two fingers. "How many fingers Ezra?"
Chris looked over at Mary. "Buck and JD are getting a wagon. We're hoping to get out of here quietly."
"But what about Mr. Jordan? You're not just going to let him get away with this?"
"We're going to Prescott, Mary. We're going to talk to the governor, and we're going to see to it that he goes to jail," Chris said.
"Come on, Ezra," Chris said as he helped the younger man to stand up. As soon as he was sure Ezra would not fall over, he released his hold on the man.
"I'll wait outside with Vin. When Buck and JD come up with the wagon, I'll come in here and get you. Ezra, you keep awake; I don't want to have to carry you out. You hear me?"
"I assure you, I am quite fine, Mr. Larabee," Ezra replied.
Chris looked to Mary and nodded, then went outside and sat next to Vin. "Ezra ain't gonna be able to ride."
"Good thing we got the wagon."
"Be easier to get out without it, but we ain't got much of a choice," Chris stated.
"Nope," Vin agreed.
Buck and JD drove up behind the bunkhouse. Chris looked over at Vin. "It's time." Chris knocked on the door. Mary and Ezra came out. Ezra leaned against the frame of the door.
"Where are our esteemed colleagues?" Ezra asked.
"Come on, Ezra."
The group walked as quickly as possible to the wagon. As soon as everyone was on board, Buck snapped the reins and drove.
Mary looked to Ezra. "Where is that money anyway?"
Chris glared. "Was this over money, Standish?"
"I attempted to allow Mr. Jordan to bribe me. It was hardly my fault that one of his henchmen recognized me from Four Corners. I did, however, manage to retain both the bribe….and the proof of Mr. Jordan's actions."
"You have proof?" Mary asked.
"Forged land rights, deeds, protests lodged by the Indians." Ezra closed his eyes again.
Chris looked at Buck. "Head to Prescott."
Chris smiled at Mary.
She was watching Ezra, then she looked up to him and smiled.
"I knew you'd come, eventually."
By the time they arrived in Prescott, Ezra was feeling better. He headed directly to the newspaper office. Chris took Mary to the capital building to attempt to get an interview with the governor. Buck and JD headed to the telegraph office to send a wire to Nathan and Josiah.
Ezra waited outside the newspaper office with a slight smile on his face. It wasn't too long before an angry Chris and a frowning Mary walked over to him.
"I take it the meeting did not go well?" he asked.
"Governor Hopewell refused to see me," Mary stated. "By the time I get a new press, he'll be confirmed."
"You could always run the story in the Prescott Gazette," Ezra suggested.
She looked disappointed. "I could. I know." Mary took a deep breath. "This story was mine, and now I have to give it to another paper."
Ezra stood up and brushed something off of his jacket. "Not necessarily." He handed her the title plate for the Clarion.
"Mr. Standish, this won't do me any good without a press."
"Let's just say the owner of the Gazette is a poor poker player. He has granted me full use of his press for the period of twelve hours, in recompense for his inability to provide sufficient funding to cover his indebtedness."
Mary was speechless.
"Good job, Ezra."
"There is a small catch."
"And that would be?" Chris asked.
"He was only willing to forego the privilege from six in the evening to six in the morning."
Mary smiled. "That is more than enough, Mr. Standish. It is more than I had hoped for. I've got a lot to do before I can start the run. I've got to rewrite the article, since my first one is gone."
This time Chris smiled. "You mean this?" He handed her the page, which still had some of her editing marks on it. "Found this in your office. It's what led us to Jordan."
She nodded. "Gentlemen, I cannot thank you enough."
Several weeks later, Mary once again was producing her newspaper. Using her new press. It was better than the one she had been using. She lovingly traced the lines of the machine.
She already had the first article written and ready to be typeset. The news had only recently arrived, but she felt it was the perfect story to headline the first return edition of the Clarion.
"Territorial Appointment Denied to Kyle Jordan"