Travelling Companions - Part 2
Buck, JD and Josiah canvassed the town, trying in vain to find the woman who had stolen Chris' horse, to no avail. Finally, having asked questions of every adult in town and the older children, they returned to the clinic to report their lack of findings to the blond.
"I don't understand this at all," Larabee said quietly, "there wasn't a stage this morning was there?"
Shaking his head, Wilmington said, "nope, and there haven't been any wagons to leave town since last night, neither."
"Then she has to be here, somewhere, "the blond said in growing frustration.
"Hidin'," Vin said softly, "but where?"
"Why would she hide? Does she know you boys were comin' here?"
Shaking his head, the gunman said, "I never told her specifically, just that we were heading for home and that we'd find medical care here..." he paused, adding, "I think I mentioned Nathan's name, but nothing else."
"Well, unless she asked someone specifically if we had a healer here with the name of Nathan, I doubt that would make a difference," Josiah said.
Nodding in agreement, the blond frowned, "where's Ezra?"
Shrugging, the big ladies man said, "didn't answer his door, and ain't at th' saloon. Horse 's still here, so he didn't leave town."
"That doesn't strike you as odd?"
"Figured he's spendin' time with one a th' ladies at Virginia's."
Something didn't sit well with the gunman. He knew that none of the men were particularly good at leaving word when they left for some reason, but Ezra wasn't fan enough of the 'great outdoors' to just wander off. Unless he was doing as Buck said, wiling away the afternoon in one of the rooms at Virginia's, then something was wrong. "Go check," Larabee said softly.
"All right," the big man nodded and slipped from the room.
"Vin, lay still," Jackson's voice drew their attention. The men looked to see him grabbing hold of a trembling Tanner as the thin bounty hunter struggled to move on the bed.
"Ah, hell, Nathan, 'm jis' tryin' t' turn over. Tired a bein' on m' belly."
"Well, you let me help, I don't want you tearin' nothin' loose." The dark healer put gentle hands on the smaller man and shifted him to his back. Placing several pillows behind the man, he also placed one so that he didn't put a lot of pressure on the deep gash on his shoulder.
Smiling his thanks, Tanner whispered breathlessly, "thanks Nathan," as he sank wearily into the pillows.
"You just remember, you ain't up to doin' a lot of movin' around right yet," Jackson said. "Just you lay still and rest for now."
Vin sighed, nodding in agreement as he accepted a mug of one of the former slave's herbal teas. He sipped it as he waited with the others for Buck's return. They continued to try and figure out where the mysterious Maeve Tanith could be, but none of them could offer an explanation as to where she had disappeared.
A few minutes later, Wilmington returned, a frown on his handsome face. "He ain't over at Virginia's, neither."
"Buck, go check his room. Don't leave until you either get an answer or
Ezra Standish slipped up the back stairway and into his room. His arms were filled with bundles from the Potter's store, as well as a covered basket from the restaurant. As he unlocked the door to his room, he said softly, "it's only me."
As he entered the room, he found his unexpected guest still curled up in his bed. She was wearing one of his nightshirts, her dark hair loose and spread across his down pillow. Smiling as she looked up at him, he said, "I've brought you some clothes, as well as some food. Neither are up to your standards, my dear, but I'm afraid they'll have to do."
"They'll be fine. I'm sure your eloquent tastes will show through, despite whatever limitations this miserable little town may have."
He found himself bristling at the term 'miserable little town', and shuddered when he considered his reaction. He couldn't actually be offended by her slight, could he? Forcing a chuckle through clenched teeth, the gambler set the bundles of clothing on the foot of the bed, then placed the basket on the bedside table. As the woman pushed herself up in the bed, he fussed over her, adjusting the pillows and straightening the bedding. Spreading a towel over her lap, he produced a tureen of soup and two bowls, as well as a smaller basket of biscuits. Dipping soup out into each bowl, he handed her one, then settled in the nearby rocking chair with his own.
They ate in silence, comfortable with one another's company but at the same time uncertain of what to say. Since she had come into the saloon last night, just as he was extinguishing the last of the lanterns, he had been both delighted to see her, and uncomfortable with her presence. He knew only too well that, wherever the raven haired beauty was, trouble followed.
Sipping her soup and nibbling at a biscuit, the woman watched her benefactor. He had changed since last they'd seen one another, although she wasn't quite certain as to how. All she knew was, she wasn't comfortable with it.
"Word has it that you've taken up permanent residence here," she said finally.
"Permanent? Doubtful, my dear, I cannot foresee me drawing my last breath here. No, this is no more permanent than the name I'm called." She giggled coyly at that, and he smiled broadly flashing his gold tooth. The lady didn't have to know the truth, after all. Their relationship had been built on anything but.
"Well, I'm happy to hear that, darlin', I truly am. I must say that the thought of you becoming a respectable member of society was a bit frightening."
"Respectable? No risk of that happening Angel, believe me."
"Angel! I haven't been called that for... for years," she smiled wistfully, enjoying the chance to see him again. "And I dare say you haven't been called - "
"Oh lord, don't say it!" He paled and cut her off.
"But darlin', what's the matter with being called - "
"No! Please, I beg of you, do not say it!"
She giggled, but relented. "All right, I won't. But do tell me what they call you here."
With a sigh, he said, "why?"
"Well, so I'll know what to call you, silly."
"You told me that you didn't want anyone to know you're here... that you're hiding out from the men who attacked you." He couldn't help recalling his first sight of her after so many years. She had been standing there in the doorway, trembling and battered. She had told him that she had been attacked on the trail as she came to see him, set upon by several men she had bilked at the gaming tables in... "where did you say you'd been riding from?"
"What? I didn't, love. Honestly, I can't tell you what the name of the little dust bowl was. Is it important?"
Important? Of course it was. It was one way of knowing whether or not she was telling the truth. He doubted she was, of course. The pretty brunette was not familiar with honesty. "No, of course not, Angel. I was just wondering."
She nodded and they both returned to their meals. Afterward, he stepped out into the hallway while she cleaned herself up and changed into the clothing he'd purchased. Leaning against the wall, arms crossed across his chest, staring at the floor, he looked up when he heard the door to his room open. Ezra couldn't help but smile at the sight he beheld. Dressed in a pale blue dress that matched her eyes, her long dark hair drawn back with a matching blue ribbon, she could easily pass for a respectable young woman. Of course he knew the truth.
"You look lovely."
Smiling, she said, "thank you. I must say, gingham isn't nearly as coarse as I thought it would be."
Sighing at the slight, intended or not, he managed a smile. "Yes, well, one must make do with what one has I'm afraid."
"Too true." She was cut off as they both heard the sound of boots coming up the stairs. Ushering her inside, Ezra closed the door, throwing the latch as he did. With a wave of his hand, he shooed her to the bed, out of the line of sight should he have to respond to the knock he suspected was coming.
"Ezra? You in there? C'mon Standish, wake up, it's important!" Buck's voice came through the door, loud and booming. "C'mon Ezra, Vin's been hurt, an' we need y' to help out."
His head snapped up at the man's words. Vin hurt? Then something drew his attention to his companion, and he saw a strange look cross her battered but beautiful features. And he knew, as sure as he knew he was standing there, she had some hand in it.
Pulling his shirt out of his trousers and unbuttoning it part way, the Southerner cracked open the door. "Vin's been injured? How badly?"
"He'll live, Nathan said he'll probably be up and around in a day or two, long as they get his fever down. Him and Chris ran into some trouble over Belson way, and Vin got tore up some by a whip."
"Whipped?" The gambler's throat went dry at the thought of his chivalrous friend being whipped. "Why?"
Shaking his head, the big man said, "rescuin' some pretty young thing. Then she thanked 'm by stealin' Pony. The horse showed up here late last night, though, so we figured the lady's here, too."
"Has she... has she committed a crime?"
"Ezra, horse stealin' is about the worst crime there is out here, you know that."
"Yes, but if the horse has been returned - "
"She left Chris an' Vin in the middle a nowhere, down a horse, and Vin hurt. Might not be hangin' offenses, but I sure 's hell wanna give 'er a piece of my mind."
Nodding quickly, the smaller man said, "yes, yes, of course. You're right. I only meant... well, I wondered what it was that you needed me for?"
"Wondered if you'd seen the lady for one. For another, if you haven't, we need you t' help look for her."
"Yes, of course. I'll finish dressing and join you downstairs in five minutes."
Nodding, the ladies man said, "all right, five minutes."
Closing the door, Ezra quickly fastened his shirt and tucked it in as he listened to the retreating footsteps in the hallway. When he was satisfied that Buck was out of hearing range, he turned to the woman, green eyes filled with rage. "My God, what were you thinking? How could you have left them like that... and after they came to your aid, too! I have half a mind - "
"Well, thank you," she cried out indignantly. "How do you know I was involved in any way?"
Taking a step forward, his hands balled into fists, he said through gritted teeth, "because I know you, and that is very much something you would do. I had hoped to find you changed, Angel, but I see that you are still that cold, calculating and manipulative - "
"Well what did you expect!?" She cried out. "What else was I to do? You weren't around, I was left to fend for myself. I did so the only way I knew how. If that offends your newfound sensibilities, then... well, I'm sorry."
He glared at her, half tempted to just shoot her and be done. But he knew he couldn't. Knew that, at least in some respects, she was right. Lord help them both. Hanging his head, he said, "I'll go and see what I can do to... to send them off on a wild goose chase. Don't leave here until I return. We'll... we'll decide what to do when I return."
Without another word, he left, locking the door behind him.
Chris had eased into a pair of moccasins, his feet too sore and swollen to attempt his boots. He limped across the room to where Vin was struggling, once more, to get up. "Where the hell do you think you're going?"
"Ah hell, figgered I could git outta here 'fore anyone come back."
"Get back in that bed, you stubborn Texan. I didn't lose the top two layers of skin off my feet getting you back here so you could get up and undo Nathan's handiwork." He stood over the slumped man, glaring.
"Ah hell," Tanner repeated as he lowered himself back to the mattress. He had to admit that lying down felt a whole lot better than moving around at this point. The fever and pain were wearing him down far more than he wanted to let on, even to himself.
Smiling as he eased down onto a chair, Larabee said, "where were you thinking about heading, anyway?"
"Jist goin' t' th' privy," he stared wide-eyed at his friend.
"Yeah, and I'm supposed to believe that."
'S th' truth, Chris. I 'preciate all y' did t' git me back here 'n all. I ain't aimin' t' do nothin' foolish."
"Well, you do, and I'm gonna have your hide." The two men looked up as Nathan Jackson entered the room. He stared down at Vin, arms crossed across his chest. "You thinkin' on leavin'?"
Trying once again to look innocent, the sharpshooter said, "like I's tellin' Chris, Doc, I jist needed t' go t' th' privy."
"Uh-huh, well I've got a chamber pot right under the bed - "
"Ah, hell, Nathan! I cain't use them things, y' know that. Now look, I ain't that bad off, s'jist a little fever - "
"Not to mention your back looks like raw meat," Chris interjected.
Giving the man in black a look that clearly asked, 'who's side are you on?' the young man said, "ain't that bad."
"Like hell it ain't." Nathan frowned down at his patient. "Vin, I want you to listen to me. I had to stitch three or four of those gashes, not to mention the one I'll have to stitch up when I know for certain the infection's cleared up. Right now, I've got it covered with a poultice, so the last thing I need you to do is move around a lot. Now, if you can mind 'til later today, I'll check it and, if it's clean, I'll stitch it. When I can do that, I'll let you get up. Deal?"
Sighing when he realized that this was going to be his best offer, the younger man nodded. "Deal."
"Deal?" Ezra chimed in as he entered the room along with Buck, JD and Josiah.
"Well, nice of you to join us," Chris quipped.
"Yes, well some of us were... occupied... late into the night."
Turning to JD, Wilmington crowed, "told y' I smelled ladies perfume when I was up there at his room!"
"Shoot, Buck, you were probably smelling yourself," the youngest of their number teased.
"All right," Chris' voice cut into the merriment. "We've got other things to discuss right now. There's still no sign of the woman?"
Shaking his head, Josiah said, "no one's seen her, and we've looked in any empty buildings and storage areas. There were no wagons that went out of town, and all the horses are accounted for."
"Well then, that means she's still got to be here," the blond was becoming impatient.
"There is another possibility," Josiah said quietly.
"She could be out there, on the prairie. Your horse could have come back on his own."
"My gut tells me different," Larabee said with a shake of his head. "She's here."
"I must ask this again, as I did with Buck earlier. Why is it so important that we find her, since you've recovered all of your belongings, and both you and Vin are on the mend." Ezra kept his gaze firm, looking squarely at the gunfighter.
"Because she didn't intend things to end up this way. The woman is no good, and I want to find her. I'd be surprised if we didn't find a warrant or two out for her arrest. If so, I figure we've got a duty to see that justice is done."
"Justice? Justice!?" He knew he needed to shut up, but didn't. "We've watched justice beaten into the ground more than once, I dare say. And, as for warrants, well, I dare say that more than one of us has our picture gracing law offices from one end of the country to the other... Mr. Tanner included of course. And we're supposed to believe that justice is your only motivation?"
Glaring at the smaller man, Chris said quietly, "no, it's not. My first motivation is to pay her back for what she did. Vin risked his life to rescue her, and she thanked him by leaving him in the middle of nowhere, feverish and hurt. I don't know about you, Ezra, but I don't take kindly to people doing that to a friend."
"Ah, now we're getting to it. You're protecting a friend. Well, tell me, Chris... would you do the same for JD or Nathan? Would you do it for me?"
Looking calmly at the other man, the blond said simply, "yes."
Standish opened his mouth, closed it, opened and closed it again. He was speechless.
"Ezra," Buck broke into the silence, "just which lady did you have up there with you?"
"Jees, Buck," JD complained. "Can't you give it a rest? We need to concentrate on finding this woman."
"I'm bein' very serious, Kid," the big man said. The others looked at him, realizing that the roguish former lawman had not returned to his preoccupation with women. "What woman, Ezra?"
"A gentleman does not discuss such matters," the Southerner said.
"Especially when he's hidin' something. What are you hidin' Ezra?"
"Buck, just because you think you smelled perfume - " JD began, only to stop when the big man held up a hand.
"Are you hidin' this woman Chris' lookin' for? Is that who's in your room?"
"How dare you insinuate - "
"I ain't insinuatin' a damn thing, I'm sayin' it outright. Are you hidin' her in your room?"
Ezra's temper flared, and he advanced upon the bigger man, fists raised. There was fire in his eyes, his face almost the color of his jacket.
"Enough!" Larabee's voice once more drew the attention of everyone in the room. Tuning his gaze to Standish, he said, "what are you hiding? Is she in your room?"
"I don't have to answer to you!" He wasn't certain why he was risking everything he'd worked so hard to build over the last several months, but didn't back down. Couldn't back down. She had always brought out the worst in him.
"Fine, then I reckon you don't have a problem with us checking your room?" Chris had yet to raise his voice, but his growing anger could still be felt.
"You don't have any right to interrogate me, or violate my privacy! You find clear evidence that I have some guilt in all this before you take that step."
"That a threat?"
"Take it as a promise. If you push this issue, I'll resign and ride away."
"You're sure as hell not givin' us a reason to believe you're not guilty somehow," Buck barked. "You're only makin' it clearer by the minute that you are hidin' something... or someone."
"Why are you so defensive about this?" Josiah asked. "Is Buck right... are you hiding her?"
"What is it, Ezra? What are you hiding?" Chris pulled himself to his feet and limped across the room to stand before the smaller man. "I want an answer."
"No, you demand that I bend to your will, just as you always do. The great Chris Larabee, so noble and righteous! Self-righteous, if you ask me. I owe you no more than anyone else."
"What are you hiding? Are you hiding her? Who is she Ezra? Why is she so important?" Larabee shot questions as quickly as he shot his Colt.
"She's my wife! Are you satisfied?" Then his anger left him as quickly as it had built, leaving Standish to slump, head down. Scrubbing a hand over his face, he repeated softly. "She's my wife."
Silence fell over the room, growing until it became an eighth entity. Six pairs of eyes stared at Standish as if he had grown a second head or, even more frightening, stooped to manual labor. Finally, the tracker, rallying to sit up in the bed, voiced what they were all struggling to put into words.
Sighing, pinching the bridge of his nose in an effort to stop the pain trying to take up residence there, the gambler said, "that is usually what having a wife means, yes."
"Many years ago."
"It's not important."
"How come y' never said nothin' b'fore? How come she ain't visited b'fore?"
"It's, frankly, none of your business."
"Didn't mean nothin' by it, it's jist - "
"Vin's just saying what we're all thinking, Ezra," Chris took back the conversation. They all knew about Maude, of course. Other than that, they each knew bits and pieces of the Southerner's background. But just how much did they actually know the man? "It took us by surprise. But, if you are hiding that... woman... I want to know."
"Is she due to be arrested for anything?"
"Don't know yet, but if she is, I will make certain she's taken into custody."
Nodding, the smaller man looked around at his compatriots. He had spent several months in their company and had, in some degree at least, grown fond of each of them. He didn't want to lose what he had given up so much to foster, especially for someone he hadn't seen for years. Good Lord, had it actually been years?
Jumping as he realized he had allowed his thoughts to take over, the gambler looked at the man in black. "I... I don't believe I have anything to say right now."
Glaring hard at the grifter, Chris said, "then we'll just go take a look for ourselves."
"But, this is unfair! You can't!" His protests were cut off as Buck and Josiah stepped up on either side of him, each taking an arm. With Chris limping along ahead of them, JD at his side, the five peacekeepers moved from the clinic, leaving Vin and Nathan behind.
Sinking back on the pillows, Tanner drifted off into a light sleep, mumbling "married?" as his eyes closed.
Patrons in the saloon stared, open-mouthed, as the little parade strode through the saloon and up the stairs. Turning to one another, they immediately began to gossip, in hushed tones, as to what was going on.
The objects of their gossip marched up the stairs, going directly to the room Ezra kept above the saloon. Standish had ceased to protest their actions, and walked quietly between the two bigger men, head downcast. He barely looked up when they reached his door, and Larabee demanded the key. Fishing it out of his pocket, he handed it over.
Larabee opened the door, and the five men entered. Looking around, they each wore a frown. The room was empty.
"Where is she?"
No one had an answer for the gunfighter.
Ezra Standish was outraged. He had given so much of himself for the town and the other peacekeepers, had given up time that could have been better spent at the gaming tables. And how was he thanked? With the clank of metal as the cell door was closed and locked. He glared at the other men, only to see three of them looking back with anger and disappointment. The fourth, JD Dunne, wouldn't meet his eyes.
It wasn't as if he hadn't been treated like this before, even by these men, but he thought they had been able to get past the distrust. It seemed that he had been wrong. Nothing much had changed.
"All you've got to do is tell us where she is, and we'll let you out," Larabee said. He leveled a glare at the gambler, but there was something beneath it. Hurt. Chris Larabee was hurt that the Southerner had chosen to protect the woman who had been the cause of Vin's injuries rather than remain loyal to his friends.
The others moved away, leaving the jail as they returned to search for the mysterious Maeve Tanith. The blond remained behind, simply staring at the man in the cell.
"Would you expect less?" Ezra asked quietly. He stood close to the bars, staring back at the man in black. "Would you expect me to give up my wife to you so readily? I do have loyalties, Mister Larabee... however, not all of them are to you and this town."
"I know that she has to have been important to you for you to be married to her. But you've worked to build something here," the gunslinger said quietly. "Is it so easy to give it up for a woman that you haven't seen in... in years?"
Standish sighed, and dropped his head. Closing his eyes he leaned forward, pressing his forehead against the bars. As if from a distance he heard Larabee leave the jailhouse. A few minutes later he scuffed across the cell and dropped to the narrow, hard cot. Leaning forward with elbows propped on his knees, he lowered his head to rest in cupped palms.
"Come here often, darlin'?"
The man looked to find a pair of seductive - and icy - eyes looking back at him. "What the hell are you doing here?"
The woman sighed, "I'm not certain, really. I was on my way out of this dusty little hole when I saw those men marching you in here. For some reason - I am at a loss to explain why - I realized that I couldn't just walk away. I had to come see you... to see if you're all right."
"I'm fine. You need to go. The others... the others are looking for you. Go to the stable, you can have my horse. She's in the third stall on the left - "
"Come with me," she said quickly, cutting him off. The woman's pale blue eyes sparkled. "Run away with me, darling. We could head back East - "
"But we were so good together! Can you sit there in this deplorable place and tell me that you would rather stay here than go with me? We could have such amazing and wonderful adventures - "
"Stop! Right now... stop. I don't know what you have in mind, but I know that it can't be anything that I care to share." He stood and approached the bars once more, wrapping each hand around one. He saw hurt in her beautiful face, then saw it pushed away, saw the woman's eyes grow cold. Taking a deep breath, he said, "I do miss you, Angel, and I think of you nearly every day. But it can never be... we aren't healthy for one another."
"You have changed!" She spat the words out disdainfully. "What happened? What made you so... so weak?"
He stood back from the barred wall, folding his arms across his chest. "Perhaps you consider it weak... I don't."
The raven haired woman shook her head, a look of pity masking any pain that remained. "Maude was right, she said I wouldn't recognize you as the same man I married."
"Maude," he huffed the word angrily. "I should have known that she would figure into this tale at some point. I suppose she told you just how disappointed she is in me."
"Yes, she did," the woman who called herself Maeve answered matter-of-factly.
Ezra couldn't keep the pain from showing in his handsome face. No matter how much he distanced himself from that needy and abandoned child, he still hoped that - one day - his mother would show him some small measure of love. Shaking off his morose thoughts, he said simply, "I take it that I haven't given you anything to make you think otherwise."
"No, you haven't." She moved away, going to the desk set on one side of the room. Rummaging around in the drawers, she picked the lock on one, finding the heavy key inside. Returning to his cell, she shoved it into the lock, twisting it with more force than she needed to.
Pulling it open, she said, "there. Don't let it be said that I left you without a chance of leaving this place. What you do from this point forward is completely up to you."
He stood looking at her as she stood framed in the cast iron doorway.
Chris returned to the clinic while the others returned to searching for Standish's wife. He entered to find Nathan prodding at Vin's shoulder. The sharpshooter's eyes and lips were squeezed tight, the color draining from his features as he endured the dark healer's ministrations. Larabee strode over and sat on the edge of the bed. Without a word he offered his friend his hand, letting the injured man squeeze it as tightly as he needed to.
Jackson continued to poke and prod at the injury, draining the infection from the open wound. As it cleared, blood oozing from it clear of the yellow pus, he said without looking up, "ain't gonna get easier. I've gotta clean it out with carbolic."
Tanner's only response was a groan, and he squeezed his friend's hand even tighter. He might feel self-conscious later, but for the moment all he cared about was holding the pain at bay. He tensed, waiting for the fire to burn through him. He wasn't disappointed, as Nathan poured a healthy portion of the liquid to finish cleansing the wound. Other than a sharp hiss of air and a grunt, the sharpshooter was silent. His grip tightened reflexively around the blond's hand, until the blood drained from the man's fingers.
Both men sighed in relief as the former slave finished cleaning the angry wound. Then came the next torture. "I'm gonna go ahead an' stitch it. I think it'll be safe now."
"Damn," Vin hissed through clenched teeth, his voice muffled by the pillow.
As careful as possible Jackson stitched the wound closed, grateful that Larabee was there. The blond, one hand still clasped in Tanner's, held the wide shoulder still with the other. His eyes flicked from Vin's face to where the healer pierced the ragged flesh and drew the heavy thread through it. He knew only too well how much it hurt, and rubbed the sweat-soaked flesh compassionately.
"Done," Nathan announced softly a short time later. With Chris' help he bandaged the wound and settled the sharpshooter back into bed. While the blond lifted the semi-conscious man up, he fed him one of his teas. The injured tracker was soon drifting off to sleep. With a nod of his head, he led the other man out onto the landing.
"He gonna be okay?"
"Yeah, he'll be fine. I'll probably let him out of here tomorrow evening, as long as there's no sign of infection, and the fever's gone."
Relief filled the handsome features, and Chris leaned tiredly against the railing. "Good."
"How 're you feeling?"
"Like I walked a whole bunch of miles," one corner of the wide mouth quirked up in a smile. "I'm fine. And I promise to soak my feet tonight before I go to bed."
The other man chuckled, "just see you do. Now... what about Ezra and that woman?"
The blond's features darkened. "He's locked up in the jail. The others are looking for her."
"Locked up? You locked up Ezra?"
"Didn't see any other way."
"Any other way? To what?"
Looking across the landing, locking eyes with the other man, Larabee said, "to keep him here."
Chris Larabee walked into the dark office, letting memory take him to where the lamp sat. They had scoured the town, but there was no sign of the woman. He had ordered the others to stay away from the jailhouse, but to keep an eye on the doors in the event Mrs. Standish decided to visit her husband. The gunman hoped that several hours sitting in the jail alone would give the man time to think.
Lighting the lamp, he turned to look into the cell. His mouth opened in shock as he stared through the open door. Stared at the man sitting on the narrow bunk. After a few moments he stepped across the room, leaning against the metal doorjamb. Standish looked up at him, a small smile playing across his lips.
"You look surprised."
"Gotta say, I am," Larabee admitted.
Shrugging, the smaller man said, "you warned me once before about running out on you."
Shaking his head, Chris said, "she was here."
"That's fairly obvious."
"You could have left with her."
"Yes. Is it that much of a surprise that I would stay?"
Larabee wasn't certain how to answer that. He wasn't certain what he had expected. There were still times he didn't trust the Southerner, he couldn't lie about that. Standish's love of gold often clouded his judgment. At the same time, he had shown himself to be a good man time after time. That he had kept his marriage a secret wasn't that much of a shock. All of them had past lives that they kept to themselves, that was just the way it was. Ezra didn't owe them an explanation. And he had stayed. Suddenly, Chris realized the truth. "No, I guess it isn't a surprise at all."
Nodding, the other man said, "you won't find her, you know. My dear wife is as proficient at hiding in plain sight as Mr. Tanner could ever be. The chances are that she's already gone."
Larabee nodded. He wasn't happy about it, but he also knew that Standish was telling the truth. Pushing himself off the cold bar, he turned and started away. Standish's voice stopped him.
"The door is still unlocked."
"Yeah, it is. Reckon there's no need to lock it." Without another word, he left the building.
Ezra watched the man in black disappear. He couldn't help but smile, even as he shook his head. He doubted that he'd ever understand the enigmatic gunman any more than he understood his own actions. He had been truthful, though, about the woman. She wouldn't be found if she chose not to be. He wondered if he would ever see her again, and was surprised when he felt a pang of loss at that thought.
Picking up his hat, the handsome gambler placed it on his head, then pushed himself up off the cot. Walking across the room, he doused the lantern before he stepped out into the night air. Taking a deep breath, he let a smile play across his face. There was a hint of something in the air, and he fancied it to be freedom... or perhaps it was friendship. His gaze turned toward the lights of the saloon, pulling his ever present deck of cards from one pocket. His smile broadened as he stepped off the boardwalk, striding confidently toward the beckoning lights.