The July 2002 Challenge: offered by Enola (jennytork) I would like to see stories where a physical change of some kind happens to one or more of the Seven, how he and the others react to it. Any change you want, as long as it's physical -- some kind of disability, sense removal, becoming another gender or another age -- anything! All I ask is, please, no death stories. If it's temporary or permanent, that's up to you. Any universe. Have fun!!
With that said, here is my take on the Challenge...
Climbing the side of the mountain was not an easy task, especially when you are free climbing bereft of appropriate climbing equipment; he would have liked that luxury, but since he was on the run and the law was right on his trail, well your choices were quite limited.
Ezra P. Standish, financial wizard had been accused of embezzlement. To say Ezra was shock would be an understatement, and then of course the man who accused him was the father of the real embezzler. Ezra himself had found out about the embezzlement and for the first time trusted the man he had come to respect with the information.
In the past Samuel Lamont had looked at Ezra as the son he had always wanted, of course, the man had his own son, but that didn’t stop Ezra from lavishing in that role. But sometimes all good things must come to an end sooner or later. The young man would have preferred later. Ezra who at twenty-six was a young wizard with numbers. The financial institution, which hired him, had prospered mainly because of him, now several weeks had pass, his trial was a sham as he was found guilty and Lamont was there during the whole thing never once did he even attempt to help. No, that would mean exposing his son Nathaniel and the whole matter becoming scandalous.
No, he was once again the scapegoat. How many times had his mother warned him about trusting others? Well looks like he, Ezra P. Standish finally learn the lesson the hard way.
Now climbing another ledge he spots an open cavern, looking back down he made a decision and entered the cave. Ezra had been in some of these grottos, knew some of the entrances had exits, and of course some of these entrances also were dead ends. He’d hope for the latter. But the way he’s luck had been going he wasn’t counting on getting out of here alive.
He starts recalling how he ended up in these mountains of all places New Mexico. This whole thing started in Houston, Texas, after the so-called trial was over he was to be transferred to Dallas. When it came time to transport him the vehicle had been ambushed, there were three guards inside with him and two other prisoners, plus the two men up front.
The shoot out lasted only a few minutes. Three guards were dead, as well as several of his would be rescuers. One of the other guards was seriously injured and unconscious, the last one had run when the shooting started. One of the prisoners was dead as well and the third was missing, as for him, he was shot on his left shoulder.
Luckily those still alive managed to get him to a secreted place where a doctor who evidently was paid well, took care of his shoulder. He found out his mother had devised the whole fiasco.
Ezra could not believe what his mother had done; she had now made matters worse for him, because a manhunt was now in full swing. Could nothing go right? He sighed, when in fact things could indeed get worse. Maude Standish wanted her darling boy to leave the country and return with her to Europe where the possibilities were limitless. ‘Yeah, right,’ thought Ezra.
Maude was not the type to allow her son leave her side once they left the country, because she always wanted to get her hands on her sons “god-given talents,” that was the only reason she even bothered coming to her sons rescue.
So, the first chance of escape Ezra took it. The young man of twenty-six, who was raised in the deep south, hopped on the first available transport out of Texas and ended up in New Mexico. Realizing where he was, he basically made his way up the Chaco Mountains, which is now where we find our lost fugitive.
Following behind is one of the best bounty hunter outfits out west. Larabee and Wilmington, Detective, Bail Bonds, and Bounty Hunter Agency; of course, the agency only really has their names on the sign, but Wilmington, sometimes known as the ladies man feels that he and his other associates are jacks of all trade.
Chris Larabee, an ex-police lieutenant, who along with Buck Wilmington open the agency some five years ago, it had taken Buck nearly three years before to get his friend straighten following the death of his wife and their unborn child, at the hands of a drunk driver. Even today Chris still wears black in morning.
When their reputation became well known, they hired on an ex-army ranger, tracker and bounty hunter by the name of Vin Tanner, later came Buck’s young nephew JD Dunne who left Boston and moved west following the death of his mother. JD became the wiz as he put it on their computer system, which young Dunne can get any information he wants. Nathan Jackson joined the team only last year when he came to New Mexico searching for his friend Josiah Sanchez who had yet to report in when he came in search of the meaning of life. Sanchez an anthropologist was communing with several Indian tribes, such as the Zuni, Tewa, Tiwa as well as the Navajo and even the Hopi, learning their various spiritual ways.
Though Jackson did ask for the agencies help, they soon learned the young man was a quick study, and with his medical background as an EMT in Denver, Colorado, he was offered a position as an apprentice. Of course, provided they offered the same position to Sanchez, Nathan didn’t feel comfortable letting the man out of his sight.
Although, the agency was based in New Mexico, they took jobs that took them all over the US, they had yet to leave the country, but young JD was working on the guys not to be chicken, as he put it, ‘maybe they didn’t know the lingo, but think of all the places they could visit.’ Buck just hit the boys head tossing the kids Red Sox baseball cap off.
Now the team was right behind one Ezra P. Standish closing the gap, right in their own back yard. At least that’s what Vin kept smiling about; he grew up in these parts among many of the tribes here. Vin and Josiah often spoke about his experiences with these people.
Sneaky came to mind when Ezra entered the mouth of the cave; it was pitch black inside, so making sure to stay on the left side of the wall, he wondered in.
The southern gentleman traveled for want seem hours, which was in reality only half that before he came to what look like ‘a light at the end of the tunnel,’ Ezra mused. As he neared the light, he began to hear sounds or maybe voices. It seem to resonate all around him, which was why he couldn’t tell if it were voices or sounds. But then if you were alone in a dank, dark place, any sound or voice would be welcome.
Finally, he entered what seem like a large opening, inside was where the light was coming from. There in the middle was a small circle of fire, seated in front of it was an old man chanting in a strange language. Ezra approach the fire with caution, he didn’t know what to expect if he startled the old man.
“Hello sir?” Ezra’s voice seems to echo in the cavern.
The old man looks up, pausing in mid-song. “You have come, I was afraid you would not hear my plea.” He stated.
Ezra frown not understanding what the man was implying, “pardon?” He asked.
“I have been calling you for days now, my time here is short, I thought I would fail my people, but here you are.”
“Sir, you obviously have me confused with someone else. Believe me when I say I had no intention of coming here.” No Ezra would never have wanted to be accused of embezzlement and end up in this dusty cave.
The old man smiled understanding the confusion in the younger man. “You are Ezra P. Standish, the ‘P’ is for Pierce, after your father, are you not?” The man question, which through the southerner.
“Who are you, what is going on here, how did you know my name?” Ezra came closer to the light, frighten and angry, frighten because he had only decided to come here as a last resort, angry because since this whole fiasco started he no longer felt in control of his life. Now this stranger knew his name and had been expecting him. “Are you just going to sit there, or perhaps you can enlighten me as to what the hell is going on?”
“My name is Oshula, I am apart of all the Indian nations, from the Acoma to the Zuni people.” He said.
“You seem very well spoken for an Indian.” He looked at the man's frown. “I mean no disrespect, it’s just most of the people living in the reservation seem to avoid speaking English.” He shrugged his shoulders.
“Ah,” the old man simply stated. “Would you prefer hearing cryptic verses with meanings that seem to elude the white man?”
Ezra laughed, “touché sir.”
“Please sit, we don’t have much time.” The southerner sat across from the old man and waited. “From before the ancient one came to the world there lived one older than time itself, who pledge to protect all beasts, with his strength as well as compassion. When the ancient one came to this world he brought with him the hairless ones, those that were weaker than the beasts of this land. The Ancient one asked him to protect the hairless ones, and he vowed to do as he was asked. The Ancient one therefore changed him to walk among the hairless ones as them. Only when they cried for justice would the old one change into the beast of old, since then there has always been an old one. Each new generation has past the gift to another. Now it is time for me to pass that knowledge on and for you to become the old one.”
Ezra just stared at him more confused then ever. “But I’m not an Indian nor do I believe in your superstitions, and just what is this old one?”
“There will be one to help you, but now the ceremony must continue…” He left those words hanging as he resumed his chanting.
Ezra stared at him for a few moments then he stood to leave, thinking the old man must have been smoking the local weed. When he stood, he suddenly swayed and then the world seems to tilt for a moment. A sharp pain hit him, then another and still another. He fell to the ground on his knees and felt or rather heard his bones snap. It was a horrible sound, which only made the others sounds of cracks even more horrible as well as painful.
His body suddenly wasn’t his any more, as hair started to grow from all over his body, looking at his hand, they began to grow in length as well as size. His finger nails changed into claws and ‘dear god’ his back legs started to grow or shift back wards. The pain was becoming more intense as he could hear the chanting become loader and still loader. He heard him self-growl then roar, which somehow he knew came from his own throat. Ezra heard his cloth start to rip apart as he felt his body begin to stretch or was he growing in size, he wasn’t sure. Suddenly the chanting stopped, and Ezra looked around his surrounding nothing made sense, the cavern was lighter, but it wasn’t illuminated by the fire, he could somehow see in the dark, it was an odd feeling.
Ezra’s whole body seems to be on fire, he could feel the sweat pore through, the world was tilting again and then he collapsed unconscious.
The old Indian walked to the unconscious beast, touching his body he smiled, “your journey will begin soon, while mind will end. Good luck my son, may you find peace in your destiny.” Cryptic words as Ezra inexplicably changes back to his human self. The old man stands and continues further into the cave, to continue another path.
Ezra lay near the fire, when the others finally arrived. They found the southerner, unconscious and nude, looking around no one else was there, his cloths looked like an animal had shred them, yet there were no marks on his body.
“Some one else was here.” Vin whispered.
“Nope, was a man, about JD’s size, not as heavy? Went that way.” Pointing to the back or the front of the cave depending on which way you was coming. “Not long.”
Chris nodded understanding what the tracker was asking, “we’ll take Standish, we don’t have any lights to go by, and not sure what’s out there.” Vin nodded, not wanting to take any chances him self.
A slight groan emanated from the bed, Ezra tried to move his hand, only he couldn’t as it was in restraints. Looking as his hands he tried again, but it wouldn’t budge.
“You had a fever, kept trashing about. Doc thought it best to tie you down.” Came the heavily accented Texas voice.
Searching for the sound he turn to his left and blinking owlishly the last remains of fog a young man about his age, if not a year or two younger looked back at him with a grin. He had long curling brown hair, startling blue eyes, a slender build, and was that buckskin he was wearing, did he suddenly fall into a western moving.
“And you sir, who might you be?” The accent on the southerner was more pronounce, due to the last remnants of sleep, as well as a dry throat.
Vin grab the pitcher of water over the night table and using the cup next to it pours some inside and helps lift the man’s head and lets him drink his fill. After the southern man finished he introduces him self. “Names Vin Tanner.”
“Pleasure I’m sure, where am I?” Again looking around the room, he knew he was in a hospital; the antiseptic smell was a dead giveaway. What he wasn’t sure of where or which hospital he found him self.
“Your actually at a clinic with in the Zuni Reservation near Gallup.” Vin replied.
Ezra frown, he didn’t think he was any where near Gallup. “You’ve been here two days. Really out of it. Nathan, he’s our medical expert said we’d need to bring you to the nearest hospital.” Vin grin, “ain’t much like them fancy ones your use too, but the Doc here is real good,” in way of explanation.
“That’s all well in good, but perhaps you can release me from these shackles.” He lifted both wrists off the bed, hoping to be free of the restraints.
“Let me get Nathan and see if that’s okay.” Before Ezra could complain Vin had step out of the room. A moment or two later he was back with two rather imposing men. One was dress fully in black the other was black.
“Well it’s about time,” was Chris’ curt reply, to what Ezra wasn’t sure.
“My apologies for the inconvenience I seem to have impose on you gentlemen, but who are you and how is it I find myself in your company?”
Vin just smirked, “if we knew you were this long winded we’d of let you sleep more.”
Now it was Ezra’s turn to smirk.
“Why don’t we remove these first,” Nathan reached over one side of the bed railing while Vin went over the other side to help remove the other restraint.
Rubbing circulation back to his wrists, he smiled at the men. “Thank you. How much longer will I have to be here?”
“Soon as the Doctor says your fit to travel.” Chris replied.
Obviously the man dress in black was the leader of this motley crew. “You gentlemen have neglected to introduce yourself.”
“Oh right, that there is Nathan Jackson, he’s our doc on the road, the grumpy feller is Chris Larabee, he’s not too happy about having to take a detour.” Vin whispered the last part by way of introduction.
Chris was surprised Vin was being so talkative, usually he let’s the others explain things but since finding Standish, he’d remain close to the other man. The dark clad man wasn’t comfortable with that, but didn’t say anything.
There was a knock at the door and a beautiful woman with dark curly hair, a dark complexion mix with what looked like an Indian heritage entered the room, followed closely by three other men, a tall lanky man with a finally cut mustache and a mischievous grin, another smaller younger man who looked to be about twenty if not younger with long dark hair, but not as long as Vin’s and right behind him was a stocky man about fifty, graying hair, but well built. Look like a bouncer or wrestler.
“Ah, good afternoon Mr. Standish, how are we this morning?”
Even in an Indian clinic doctors seem to have the same mannerism of using ‘we’ when asking questions. “We are just fine Doctor.”
The doctor smirked at the curt reply, while Nathan stiffen and Chris, did he just growled.
“I see we’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed.” Dr. Rain Toakhula replied as she exam her patient.
“I do apologies Doctor, that was uncalled for.” He explains by way of apology.
“That’s okay Mr. Standish, your no doubt feeling disoriented, care to explain what happen?” She asked looking at the other men surrounding her. “The others couldn’t tell me, but to say they found you unconscious and in your birthday suite.”
Ezra raises his eyebrows, “birthday suite?” Not understanding her meaning.
“That’s how Buck explained it; they found you nude, Mr. Standish. Do you remember what happen?” She asked again.
Ezra frown, he seemed to be doing that a lot since waking up. “No ma’am, I really don’t remember much after meeting the old man.” He said.
“Old man,” she looked at the others who shook their heads. “According to your friends you were alone.”
“The old man wasn’t there?” He asked, trying to sit up from the bed.
“Take it easy Mr. Standish, your still recovering from a very high fever, I’m sure you feel your body aches where you didn’t know could ache.” She said trying to lighten the mood around the room.
“You could be right about that Doctor,” Ezra lean back into bed, feeling suddenly tired.
“Why don’t you get some rest Mr. Standish?” Ezra nodded as he closed his eyes.
Chris waited until there bounty was asleep before asking his question, “how soon can we move him Doctor?” While the others called her Doc, Larabee still referred to her as Doctor, not that she was complaining, just she wished he’d loosen up.
“Let him rest for the night, he’ll feel better tomorrow and you can take him then.” She answered.
“All right, Josiah you and Nathan take the afternoon watch, JD you and Buck take the evening, Vin and I will take the early morning shift.”
“All hell Chris, there are some fine ladies that need ole’ Buck to take care of them.” The men just rolled their eyes; the self-appointed ladies man had a one-track mind.
“Sorry pard, but ole’ Buck is taking the night off. I don’t need you landing in jail, we’re leaving tomorrow when Standish wakes.”
Buck sighed, “ ‘kay.” Not really happy but he knew his old friend was right.
The next morning Ezra awoke feeling better than he had in a long time, not even he’s shoulder wound seem to be bothering him today. Yes life was good, and then he heard the voice.
“Bout damn time you woke,” was the curt voice. Ezra turns to his right and there was the dark clad specter from the other day. ‘Ah hell, it wasn’t a dream, but a waking nightmare,’ he thought. Then he heard laughter and turn to find the young Texan with a-lop sided grin plastered on his face.
“I see nothing funny Mr. Tanner,” replied the still sleepy man.
“Time to rise and shine brother,” he heard the baritone voice directly in front of him.
Ezra raised both eyebrows, he seemed to recall the older man but wasn’t quite sure, “and who might you be sir?” He asked; he hated being left out of the loop.
“Ah yes, you fell asleep before we had that pleasure. Josiah Sanchez at your service.”
“It’s a pleasure Mr. Sanchez.” Ezra sat up for the first time feeling no aches, save one as his stomach chose that moment to announce it needs.
“Sounds like someone’s hungry,” another voice entered the room. The tall lanky gentlemen with a moustache followed again by the younger man.
“Hell, I’m all for that,” which only made the others laugh, as everyone knew the Texan ate more than his own body weight, but seem to it faster than the initial intake.
Nathan came in with Rain right beside him.
“Doctor, if you don’t mind we’d like to get an early start. Hopefully we can make it to Albuquerque before evening.
“Is there a deadline you wish to achieve?” Ezra wasn’t too keen to leave just yet. Thinking on how to make his escape from them. But of course, six men that seem to hover over him was going to be real hard.
Chris looked over at the southerner; “yeah, looks like someone from the Marshall’s will be meeting us there, and I for one don’t want to be late.”
Vin was kind of disappointed, for some unknown reason, he didn’t think Ezra was guilty, but he knew the large bounty could be trouble, especially if some one else wanted to take the southerner from them.
After a hearty breakfast all seven were on the road, they traveled in two vehicles, Josiah’s suburban included Nathan, Buck and JD, while the second vehicle Chris’ dodge ram had Vin and Ezra.
For the most part the three in the dodge rode silently, which Ezra was grateful, although the thought that ran through his mind were not pleasant, not pleasant at all. The Judge had sentence him for fifteen years with a possible patrol after seven years. Inwardly he groan, just the thought made him cringe. He looked at the other men, they seem honorable men, would they believe him if he tried to tell them, maybe convince them to help? Would they?
Vin seems to sense the turmoil, “you doing okay Ez?” Came the question.
Ez? Where did that come from, he ignored the Texan and simply looked out the window of the ram.
“Your innocent ain’t ya?” The Texan asked; he was hopping to get the man to confirm what he suspected.
Ezra wasn’t sure he heard correctly – “What?” He sat up straighter hoping he heard what the Texan had asked. Was he taunting him? Or was he on the level?
Vin shrugged and explained, “I just have this feeling that you ain’t guilty. Am I right?” He asked again.
Chris looked over at his friend, “Vin, he’s a convicted felon, he stole 20 million dollars so don’t encourage him?”
At first he didn’t hear what Larabee said; too shock by what Tanner had just told him “Twenty million?” Looking startled at the man in black.
Chris refused to talk with the man and just glared at the Texan, ‘what was Vin doing toying with the man, he’d never would have thought that of his friend.’
Ezra this time lean forward, hands clasped in front with handcuffs. “I’m sorry, but I think I miss heard you, did you just say 20 million?”
“Yeah, you heard me, that’s why your bounty is 1.5 mil, it was even put up by the bank, guess they can afford to.” Vin replied, “not sure how if’en they lost that 20?”
Ezra shook his head, “no… no, no that can’t be correct. I discovered the embezzlement and it was only 7.5 million, I even showed Mr. Lamont the account on paper, his son is the real culprit.” He frowns and then thought on the result of his noble deed, and slump back on the seat, realizing for the first time that he was conned, him, Ezra P. Standish, was con. “Dear Lord, how could I have been so foolish, I didn’t see it, but I should have.”
“What are you talking about?” Vin asked; he could see the anger and surprise in his eyes.
“Don’t you see, I found the embezzler but the money missing was only 7.5 million, when I told Mr. Lamont, he just added the rest, and then the next day I’m arrested only no one said the actual amount, I just assumed it was for the 7.5 million not 20. I was the perfect scapegoat, I used my codes to discover the culprit, it would be easy to gain my codes and just change the numbers, and then the additional money would be transferred to another account overseas, with no one the wiser. It would be as if I did the whole thing.” Ezra just shook his head.
“Can you prove it?” Vin wanted to know, looking at Chris; he could see his partner getting angry. “Cowboy, I believe him, come on you’ve always trusted me?”
Has everyone gone insane, “Vin damn’it you just met the man how the hell can you trust him?”
“I don’t know, I just do.”
“Mr. Larabee, all I would need is access to a computer, they may have all ready deleted my files, but the initial transfer may still be traceable. Lamont will still need to maintain his status as VP. You don’t even have to un-cuff me. I won’t run, if I know Mr. Lamont, there won’t be anywhere to hide; he’ll want me dead now. My escape gave him the perfect opportunity.” Then he thought more on what he just said. “Oh God, Mother!” He exclaimed.
“Your mother, you think she might be in danger?”
“No Mr. Tanner, I think she maybe involved in all this.” Ezra looked stricken.
That was enough, he could see the look in Vin’s eyes, he was falling for all this non-sense, believe all the bull shit Standish was implying. Chris turn the steering wheel sharply along the interstate, nearly causing some major traffic accident and moved to the far left, kicking up dirt pass the meridian divider, Josiah heard the honking and looked in the rearview mirror.
“Oh,” was the older man’s only indication that something was not right.
Buck turn sideways and looked behind and swear, “Shit, what the hell happened,” he looked up front, “you better pull over.”
“Way ahead of you brother.” Josiah pulled over to the side of the road as well.
Chris had stopped the ram along side the dirt road, he got out of the vehicle releasing his seat forward and pulled the southerner from the back cab of his truck.
Vin saw the look on his friend and immediately got out as well running around front to the side of the vehicle.
Chris slams the southerner against the car. “Stop trying to sound like your not guilty, the courts found you guilty – you got caught deal with it.” Chris was livid, his own past clouding his judgment.
“Chris, stop, you’re hurting him.” Vin tried to pull the volatile man, put he wouldn’t budge.
Josiah had backed his car and was now in front of the ram. Buck jumped out, seeing his old friend losing it. Buck was privy to the man’s past having lived with the pain too.
The gregarious man grabs his friend from behind clasping and pinning his friend’s arms to his side. He pulled him away from the southerner, who after being release fell on his buttocks. Vin stood beside the down man, hoping Buck could hand Chris.
“Chris, damn’it calm down. What’s going on?” Chris was fighting Wilmington trying to get at the southerner, but Buck wouldn’t let go. Then Buck whispered, “he’s not responsible for there deaths pard and neither are you, let it go.” Buck hoped those words would be enough to bring Chris to the here and now. Finally, Chris resign himself to the realization that Buck was right, sighing he calmed down, Buck released his grip and then let him go, but was ready to grab him if need be.
The other just waited to see what had caused this out burst.
“Chris you okay pard?” Vin was still anxious about the attack.
Chris merely nodded.
“Now maybe one of you can tell me what the hell happen?” Buck still wanted an explanation for the attack.
Chris looked to Vin to explain, he wasn’t ready to talk just yet.
“Ezra say’s he can prove he’s innocence.” Vin stated simply.
“Yeah, how?” Buck was now on the defensive understanding his long time friend’s reaction.
Vin looked over to the kid, not put off by Buck’s response. “JD you still got your lap top?”
“Is it charged?”
This time JD was embarrassed he pride himself on having all equipment ready to go, but this morning he didn’t have time. “Sorry Vin, didn’t get to charge it.”
“But you can, can’t you?” He questioned.
JD looked across the freeway and saw what he needed. “Yeah, we can take the next exit, that motel should have a phone line I can hook up too.
Vin looked as the kid pointed and smiled, “The Last Stand Motel, it fits kid.” He replied, Vin turns to his friend. “What about it cowboy, you will to take a chance?”
“You sure about this?”
Ezra for his part was looking at the Texan, why did he believe him, what did he do that made this man trust him.
“Come on Ez, we got a plan,” he smiled at the disbelief in the southerners eyes.
After returning to their vehicles they took the first exit and rented one of the motel rooms. Entering room 7, JD quickly set up his laptop.
Ezra took over from there entering all the information that help obtain the original embezzlement, he merely used a back door he had establish when he first joined the company, he was still Maude Standish’s son. Retracing the 7.5 million he found the added amount and how Lamont managed to plant the additional money with no one the wiser.
“Here, I found it, Lamont’s codes were hidden nicely along side mine, unless you knew what you were looking for, it confirms only my codes.” Ezra explains, “very clever sir,” he sneered.
Chris and the others began to understand what really happen as Ezra continued to explain, “okay now how do we get this information to the right people?” Larabee asked.
“We download it, but we need a computer with more memory, this is a big file.” He looked at the others hoping for ideas.
Suddenly they all came up with the same thought, “Casey!” They all shouted.
JD smiled, she was a computer nerd, has all the latest gizmos and all the additional ware you could image. ‘Sure I was good,’ JD mused, ‘but Casey is still the best’. At least Dunn thought so, as he speed dial her phone number from his cell.
“Casey, it’s JD, need a favor.” The kid explains the situation and got her on line and down loaded the file directly to her computer, following her instructions.
“Okay JD, its complete, now what?”
“Just hang onto it until we get there.”
“Okay sweetie, I’ll see you soon.”
“Thanks Babe,” JD replied when he hung up, Buck was just smiling at him, “what?”
“Babe?” Buck started teasing the kid with that mischievous look he seems to invoke.
“Yeah, what of it,” JD shot back defensively; the ladies man just place palms up in mock surrender.
The kid quickly unplugged the equipment.
“Chris, what now, we can’t just hand Ezra to the Marshall’s until we get the information to the Judge.”
“Mr. Tanner, you and the others have all ready risk much, I can not let you jeopardize yourselves, by becoming fugitives. You would be of greater help if you were free to illustrate the proof of my innocence.”
“Although, I don’t agree with our brother, per se, he does make a valid point.”
“Chris made the decision, “all right Vin you and I will continue on to Albuquerque. Buck, I want the rest of you to head back home and print those files, get them to Judge Travis, make sure its to him personally. He’ll get the ball rolling. Everyone okay with this?” He wanted to make sure they all agreed; this was one hell of a detour they were taking.
The team split-up, Buck, JD, Nathan and Josiah reached Clovis, NM, by ten that evening. They went directly to Casey’s and had all the files that would clear Ezra printed.
Vin, Ezra and Chris reached Albuquerque about the same time and went directly to the airport terminal, where the Federal Marshal would be picking Ezra up.
“All right, we’ll park the vehicle and find out where the Marshal’s at. Both younger men agreed.
The three men approach the entrance to the airport.
“Mr. Larabee?” The tall man with ‘if you can believe it a trench coat; first a buckskin coat, now a trench coat, what next a duster?’ Ezra thought.
“Yeah,” was Chris’ weary reply, there was something familiar about the man, the hackles on his neck were prickling.
“Names Marshal Yates, I’ll be taking Standish off your hands;” a slight Texas accent evident.
“No problem, but we’re going with you.” Chris replied.
“Beg your pardon?”
“We’ll be traveling with you,” Chris repeated.
“It’s not necessary, I think my partner and me can handle him.”
“I have no doubt, but we’re still going.” This time Vin replied, not liking this man.
“I see,” changing the subject, “the reason I met you here is that our situation has changed. We have be ordered to take Mr. Standish by car, apparently there has been an interest in the large bounty we’re afraid there might be trouble, and the airline found out and has refused to let us board.” Yates looked at the two men, before continuing, “of course and as such maybe you coming along won’t be too bad after all.” He finished.
“No problem, we’ll be glad to help, we’ll follow you, where you park?”
“My partners out front. Black sedan,” was Yates reply as all four men made there way outside.
Yates then placed the restraints on Ezra from behind, Vin practically growled, Chris held him back, as the handcuffs made the southerner wince.
“We’ll be out front in five minutes,” Chris said as he pulled Vin to their car. The sooner they leave the better, and hopefully Ezra will be free soon.
All the while Vin was looking at the southerner, the man smiled in reassurance that he would be find, everything will work at in the end.
Marshal Yates; led the younger man to his vehicle, where another man stepped out of the car.
“They give you any problems?”
“No Mr. Fowler, hand him over like old bread,” Yates answered laughing slightly, the other man winces at the crude joke. “But they insisted on tagging along,” He sneered.
“Not to worry, Eli and his boys are waiting for us at the next exist, they’ll detour the gentlemen.”
Ezra didn’t like the sound of this, “excuse me, but what are you insinuating, you are US Marshal’s.” Looking at the two men, the hairs on the back of his neck were now standing on end. He started to pull away, “who are you?” Searching for the retreating forms of Chris and Vin, he was about to shout there names when his mouth was covered with, ‘is that chloroform?’ He thought.
Ezra tried to struggle, but with his hands cuff behind him, the southerner wasn’t able to fight for very long.
Once subdued, the trunk was open and Yates push Ezra in. He now lay unconscious with his hands cuff behind.
Chris and Vin reach the dodge and soon were backing out of the parking lot and driving along the front of the airport.
Yates and his partner waited, there was a third person in the back seat of the vehicle, because it was dark you couldn’t make out the person only the outline of the passenger, so Chris and Vin thought it was Ezra behind there.
As they signal they were ready, Chris fell in behind the sedan. Never realizing the trouble soon to come.
Inside the back trunk, Ezra seem to be floating, he began hearing the strange chanting from the cave. His muscles ached, as they began to stretch and ‘was that a break, ah hell, not again.’ Ezra thought as he’s body continued to twitch and change.
Behind the marshal’s car Chris and Vin drove quietly. Vin felt his stomach clench, hell he was worried about Ezra. For some unknown reason he felt an unease creep over him, he knew something was about to happen.
The vehicle in front took the next exit. Chris followed, he knew this was to be a straight drive back to Texas, so what was happening? Chris still followed behind.
“Chris, I got a bad felling.” Vin stated.
The dark clad man looked over at his friend and cursed, “shit, you sure?”
“No, but they ain’t supposed to be stopping just yet.”
Chris looked ahead to the vehicle in front, “no they ain’t, be ready,” as he grip the steering wheel so hard his hands were turning white, before releasing them again.
The vehicle made a right turn off the exit, traveling through a dark underpass, just as Chris made to follow another car a truck shun its hi-beams right at Larabee blinding him as he swerved losing control for a moment, which was enough as the truck managed to get between the Marshal’s vehicle and his.
Four men proceed to exit their truck, Chris tried to back away when shots were fired both men ducked as they too exit their truck. Pulling their own weapons, they return fire. Chris yelled as a lucky shot hit his leg. Vin ran to his friend pulling him away from the continued assault.
“Hey Larabee, you ever thought this would be where it ended?” Fowler shouted.
“Yeah,” Chris said as he grimace from the pain, “he’s a bounty hunter met him when I was still with the cops. Real bastard.” He winced again.
Vin looked above and over the truck to see what the situation was and how they could change the odds. “We’re out numbered.”
“Shit… shit,” Chris checked his ammo, which considering what was happening was pitiful.
“We’re not getting out of this alive.” Vin said the words.
Chris had to agree, “you see Ezra?” Wondering what was going to happen to the man.
“Nope, can’t see anything, too dark.” He replied.
“What’s it going to be Larabee,” smiling to himself. “You coming out or are we coming in?”
“Go to hell Fowler,” he looked at his young friend. “Vin, I want you to get out of here, I’ll hold them off as long as I can.”
Vin stared at him for what seem a long time, scrutinizing him and then he laughed, “you had me going their cowboy.” He chuckled, then he sobered and looked him in the eye, “no way in hell am I leaving a friend behind.”
Chris grabs his arm, “Vin,” he said again, but couldn’t say any more as he looked at the angry eyes. Larabee signed, “its your funeral.” He simply stated with a predatory smile that didn’t bode with for the bad guys. “Thanks.”
Vin laughed again, “wouldn’t have it any other way,” looking over at his friend, “ready to do some damage?” He asked.
Chris took a deep breath, letting it out to relax as well as too steady himself as he stood up to match Vin, “ready.”
Just when the situation was about to go from bad to worse, shouts, screams, followed by a lot of gunfire could be heard from their assailants.
Chris and Vin couldn’t make any thing out, there were no lights, except from the hi-beams, but they were blinding them so everything else was pitch black. The men’s screams were becoming more intense, this time it was followed by an inhuman howl? What ever was going on could happen to them.
While the others were distracted Vin help Chris to the passenger side, and then made his way to the driver side. The young tracker was about to start the vehicle when a body flew and hit the front windshield. “What the hell is going on,” Vin asked, not really expecting a reply as he tried backing out.
“Don’t know, don’t care,” Chris exclaimed as he fasten his seatbelt.
“Damn’it what about Ezra?”
“Shit,” Chris didn’t have a clue. They couldn’t see what was going on and now the southerner was in the middle of whatever trouble was happening. “Turn the hi-beams maybe we can see what’s going on?”
Vin complied, what they saw looked like a horror movie was playing out in the underpass in front of their eyes. Some sort of large monster was making mince meat of all the men.
“Ezra,” Vin gasped.
Chris just looked at him, “where, I don’t see him?”
Vin ignored him as he turn the lights off and jump out of the front seat and about to run towards all the killing.
“Vin, what the hell are you doing, get back here.” Chris shouted.
The Texan looked at his friend, “that’s Ezra.” He called back.
“What are you talking about?”
“I can’t explain it, only know that’s Ezra,” Vin had a smile that could only be described as excitement, and given the present situation had Chris wondering if the Texan wasn’t losing it.
Ezra woke into darkness. The area was small and he knew he had to get out. But first, how did I get here? Last thing I remember was… the airport. Chris and Vin walking away and then…
Ezra heard shouting, but not inside where he was, but somewhere near. He turn to brace himself and then push up, however, he really didn’t have too. As he moved his back hit the top and then just that lifting movement was enough to break open the door of where he was.
Ezra looked behind him, notice several men hidden at the back of a large truck he’s memories return, the chloroform, the two men and there implication of what would happen too… Chris and Vin.
The shouting from the man who’d met the Marshal, he was responsible, and anger began to fill his heart. He sprang from the back of the trunk and attacked the first man that was near him, suddenly he wasn’t himself, and a strange feeling came over him.
The death of one man created a domino effect as another and still another died. He heard there screams but they did not draw compassion from him. These men were here to kill his friends, they show’d no compassion, why should he?
There was a bright light that shuns his eyes, just as he clawed the last man, was it the last man? The anger that only minutes ago fuel his adrenalin, slowly sub sided. He looked all around, he smelled the blood, and it was stagnant. He felt sick. The light had broken the spell he’d been under as he began to look at himself.
Hair, he was covered in hair like some sort of hairy monster, created by Hollywood, how… how did this happen? He heard his name being called as he looked for the source shame began to pass through his soul, what had he done? He heard his name again. The creature, that was more appropriate because now, a creature, a monster, an inhuman beast. He felt ill as he let go of the last man.
The killing had ended, as Vin slowly approached who he believed was he’s friend. “Ezra calm down, okay pard?”
Chris wanted to get out of the truck but the injury to his leg prevented it. “Vin, get back here!” He shouted, “fools going to get his self killed.” He mumbled watching the young Texan cautiously moved towards the beast.
“Talk to me Ez,” he called out, and then whispering to himself, “at least I hope its you?”
The creature looked to the approaching man, he shook he’s head in warning, “don’t come any closer Vin, I’ll probably hurt you, or worst kill you.” He thought these words.
Vin stopped, he smiled, “thought that was you. I know you won’t hurt me Ez.” He stated, with enough confidence to surprise the beast.
“How can you be so sure, after what I just did?” He still couldn’t believe what he’d just done.
“Ezra, I know you won’t hurt me…” Vin pulled out a necklace from inside his shirt. “See this, this protects us, both of us.
Ezra looked at what appeared like a talisman, and then frowns at Vin. “Can you understand me?” As it occurred that their conversation wasn’t one sided.
“Yeah, I can hear ya.” He smiled.
“I don’t understand, how is that possible?”
“This necklace, I suspect.” Holding it to show him. “I think if you touch it, it’ll help you.”
Ezra laughed, “help me, look at my appearance, I don’t understand how I came to be this way?”
“I think you do, maybe you’re not ready to accept.”
He snorted in disgust, “all I accept right now is the fact that I’ve killed six men, and I seem to have taken on the appearance of a monster, best left to the imagination of Hollywood.” He all but growled.
“Please Ezra just touch it… trust me.” Vin pleaded.
Trust, trust, that’s how he first got into this situation. Trust is for fools, so mother tried to convince, but now, this man risk his life to ensure his life. He even went against his friends; no one has ever done that before.
Looking at the talisman, he reaches out and takes a second chance. The first sensation starts at his ‘what exactly is it, a paw or hand?’ In any case, it began to travel along his arm then continues to his whole body. It isn’t unpleasant, just strange, like that feeling you get when your foot has fallen asleep.
Ezra closes his eyes and lets the tingling continue, and once its over, he blinks his eyes open. He stares in to the startling blue eyes of Vin Tanner, who is wearing a knowing grin.
“What?” Was all he managed?
“Welcome back pard.” He slaps his now very naked body.
“Oh,” as he stared at himself and smiles. “I’m back.”
“Yeah, pard your back, now let’s get out of here before the police arrive.” He turns to go but was stopped by Ezra.
Pointing back to the vehicle he had been thrown into he said, “what about the man in the back seat?”
This time Vin asked, “What?” and looked in the direction the southerner was meaning. “Damn.”
Both men raced to the vehicle and peer inside, once the situation became clear both men laugh, it was a dummy made to appear as Ezra.
“Seems fitting,” Vin commented.
“I beg your pardon?” Ezra stopped laughing looking over at the Texan.
Vin shrugs, “just noticed the resemblance, that’s all.”
Ezra growled and ran after the Texan as they made there way back to the dodge ram.
“Will you two stop?” Chris yelled, “I’m bleeding all over the place.” He was not happy that these two were playing around and he was in pain.
Stopping both men in there tracks, “shit, sorry cowboy, guess I forgot.”
“Mr. Larabee, might I inquire how you came to be in this sorry state?”
“No!” He shouted.
“Come on Ez or he’ll never stop bitching.”
Two weeks after the underpass incident Ezra, had been cleared of all charges. Thanks to the team and largely to Judge Travis, a retired judge who’d often work with Larabee and his team and who pushes by calling in a lot of favors, he owed Larabee big time.
Chris was still recovering from the bullet wound to his thigh and only limped slightly. Buck; of course, tried to persuade him to use ‘it’ to its full potential with the ladies. Buck received the renowned Larabee glare and didn’t bring the subject again.
Vin had traveled to the Acoma reservation and spoke with Chanu an old friend from living among the people for a few years. Chanu and his father Kojay listened to the young man regarding any knowledge of Skin Walker legend. They had heard stories but are never practice by their people. The Yavapai who are a shamanistic people are believers of the myth but is never spoken with outsiders.
Vin didn’t have much luck regarding the necklace, he couldn’t remember who had given him the heirloom. He’d had it all his life, and one of the few things that no one was able to take from him, as a young boy growing up as a ward of the state.
Chris watched his friend as he lay in the hammock looking up at the sky. It had been a long two weeks, for all of them. “You think on Ezra?”
Vin turned and stared at his friend. The others would be arriving soon; Chris had invited everyone out for the Fourth of July Celebration.
“Yeah, wish he call let us know how he’s doing.” For some reason the Texan had hope Ezra would decide to stay, but deep down he knew that the southerner had his own life to live.
Ezra had return to Houston where he still had to remain in prison until, the evidence had been reviewed, and with the disappearance of Lamont and his son did not go unnoticed by the authorities. The recovery of the money, with the help of Ezra, Casey and JD, was also a plus to expedite the release of the southerner from jail.
* * * * * * *
Ezra drove from the airport out to the Larabee ranch. Buck had mention that it was still a working horse ranch. Chris bred stock horses some of the finest if you can believe the ladies man boasts.
Ezra felt nervous, Chris had called him after everything was cleared up, an invitation to celebrate the 4th of July, as well as, to celebrate his freedom. He was a little unsure if he was making the right choice. His former employers had asked the southerner to return with a good size raise for helping track and retrieve the stolen money. The sizeable bounty put up by the bank was honor but only at 10% of its original fee since Ezra was found to be innocent. He just hopes Chris was happy with that result.
One of the reasons he agreed to come out was to thank the men who took a chance and saw him through a very crucial time in his life. Another reason he wasn’t doing anything, and this diversion would help him decide on what to do next.
Going back to the bank was clearly not an option, after what he’d been through he couldn’t face being the scapegoat, should something similar happen again. And being the financial wizard that he is helped establish a very nice nest egg, for an early retirement.
Of course, there was also this new ability, ‘Skin Walker,’ is what Mr. Tanner referred to his shifting. He hadn’t changed into the creature since that night and the nightmares are now finally gone, the memory however will always be there.
So what to do with the rest of his life, was the question and answer he couldn’t find.
He straighten up in the seat of the jag he rented, he was three miles from the ranch. Ezra wondered what everyone would say when he arrived. Would they be glad, or would they rather he’d decline the invitation.
Pulling into the front gate, the place Ezra noted is impressive. It is almost a mile from the gate to the front door of the house. He could see several vehicles out front. He parked next to an old beat up jeep and exited the jag and made his way to the front.
An older woman answered the door. “Good afternoon ma’am, I’m Ezra…”
He didn’t have to finish, “Standish, yes Casey described you to a tee, names Nettie Wells, young Casey is my niece.” She let him through the door.
“Yes, she did mention you’re name.” Ezra polite replied.
“Everyone’s in the back,” she led him through part of Larabee’s home, it was impressive as well. Real rustic, ‘no wonder Vin refers to him as cowboy,’ he thought. The whole atmosphere feels like the old west.
Outside the barbecue was in full swing, orders of steaks as medium, or well done were called out.
“I’ll have mind, rare… bloody rare.” The smooth southern accent drawing attention, as the others looked for the source.
“Ezra!” Vin shouted practically jumping off the hammock. “How… when?” Vin was all smiles as he extended his hand in greeting. “Damn it’s good to see you, how’s everything, when’d you get here, how come you didn’t tell me you’d be here?”
“Damn junior, you been taking lessons from the kid?” Buck laughed, he never heard the Texan ask so many questions before.
“Shut up Buck,” is JD’s down-to-earth response.
“What Buck’s trying to say is breathe.”
“Very funny cowboy,” thinking a moment, it occurred that he was the only one surprised by the southerners arrival. “You plan it?” He questioned.
“Yep, couldn’t stand all that mopping around you were doing.”
Josiah and Nathan walked over and shook the southerners hand in greeting.
“Glad to know things worked out.”
“Thank you Mr. Jackson, but I couldn’t have done with out ya’ll. Thank you.”
Josiah thought, ‘we’re seven once again.’ Out loud he said, “How are you doing son?”
“Couldn’t be better, sir.” That was Ezra’s way of saying there is no parental ties between us Mr. Sanchez; it was his subtle way of making a point. Josiah accepted but wasn’t discouraged.
After the meal was finished and the fireworks started, they all sat watching the show in front of the T.V. There were the usual ooh’s and awe’s, mostly from the two biggest kids, Buck and JD.
The others relaxed entertain more by their friend’s antics then the fireworks.
Ezra, for his part felt well about coming, this place, these people, it felt like a home. He had never had one and probably never knows what that’s like, so he wanted to enjoy it as muck as possible.
Chris watched the facial expressions of the southerner for once he was an open book. “You have any plans for the future, Ezra?” The evening’s host asked.
Ezra turns to Larabee and swallowed, “no sir.” Why was he asking, he’s throat felt suddenly dry and hadn’t realized the others listening to the conversation.
Voices were lowered as Chris continued with their discussion.
“We could use another good man,” he said, “wouldn’t be able to pay you what your use to and you’d have to start as an apprentice.”
Ezra’s heart started beating faster, hell he’d work for free. Of course, he’d never admit that. “I’d like to think on that.” He replied.
Ezra saw the disappointment in JD and Vin, not that the others weren’t disappointment, they were older and more schooled on hiding their feelings. Ezra was silent a moment longer and then answered, in his most charming southern accent.
“After considerable consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion, yes, I’d like to join the team.” He said seeing the relief in all their faces.
Buck whoop, followed by JD, and Vin merely smirked, Nathan shook his head at the speech, Josiah sent a prayer of thanks and Chris, and well he’s never been subtle.
“Next time just say yes.”
Ezra smiled, full dimples in bloom, as well as his gold tooth glistening from the lighting in the house and he said, “yes,” once again.
Bringing laughter all around, they were seven strong now, and who knew what tomorrow would bring.