Sequel to 'Five Dollars'
JD Dunne stormed into the saloon and threw himself into a chair at the seven's regular table. "It ain't right!" He protested.
"What is not right, Mister Dunne?" Ezra asked, looking up from his game of solitaire.
"Judge wants me to serve an eviction notice on the McGlamory's."
"I take it that the bank has decided to foreclose and asked the Judge for an eviction order." Standish said quietly.
"It ain't right! I won't do it!'
"Now JD..." began Buck, "I know ya don't want to but..."
"But it is part of your job as Sheriff." Standish informed him. "You can not simply pick and choose what part of the job you will do and what part you will not. Either you do the job and remain sheriff or you refuse to do the job and the judge removes you as sheriff."
JD looked stricken, "He wouldn't do that would he?"
"If you refuse to do your job he will not have a choice." Ezra paused then went on, "I can understand your sympathy for the McGlamory family. It is tragic what happened to Mister McGlamory, however he owes a debt to the bank and the bank is within its legal rights to foreclose now that it is obvious that the man can not make the payments."
"But he's paralyzed!"
"Exactly. He can not run the ranch from his bed. He does not have an heir old enough to take over. Mrs. McGlamory is not physically able to run the ranch and they can not afford to hire someone to do the work for them. The bank has already allowed them three months to make some other arrangements to pay off the debt and they have done nothing."
"What could they do?" Nathan demanded. "Mister McGlamory is flat of his back in bed!"
"Basically they have had two choices. They could have put the ranch up for sale or they could have attempted to get someone to run the ranch for them in exchange for a partnership in the ranch." Ezra stated.
"That ranch has been McGlamory's life for nearly ten years!" Nathan snapped angrily. "You can't expect them to sell it!"
"I don't expect anything, Mister Jackson. I am merely pointing out the cold hard facts of life. The fact is that the life the McGlamory's have lived for the last ten years is over, one way or another. Had they sought to sell or find a partner before the bank decided to foreclose they would at least have something to show for the years that they put into the ranch. Like it or not the bank is within its rights and because the McGlamory's refused to see what was coming they will now lose everything."
The men sitting around the table looked down or away, unwilling to admit that whether they liked it or not, the gambler was right.
After a long moment Nathan looked back at Ezra, "Easy to say what needs ta be done when it ain't you."
Ezra looked up at him, straight into the healer's eyes. "I am a realist, Mister Jackson. Life goes as it will, not as you or I would have it. Either you deal with life or it deals with you. Even when you do not make a decision, you have made a decision."
"That don't make no sense." Buck said in a confused voice.
"He means that if ya don't *do* something then ya've *decided* to just let what ever happens happen." Vin clarified.
The men around the table fell silent then after a long moment most of the men got up and left. Chris, Buck and JD heading to the Clarion to try and talk to the Judge about the eviction notice, Nathan went to the clinic and Josiah to the church.
When they were gone Vin asked, "Ez... could we...?"
"We do not have sufficient funds." Ezra replied, knowing what he was asking.
"But the mortgage is only a thousand dollars. I thought we had..."
"We *did* have but if you will recall, you insisted on buying into the livery when it burned last month so as to give Yosemite the money to rebuild. Our funds are down to less than eight hundred dollars... again. Besides paying off the mortgage is not the answer. It leaves the McGlamorys right were they are... with a ranch they can not run and with no one to run it for them."
"So there's nothing we can do." Vin said sadly.
Ezra had leaned back in his chair, one finger tapping lightly against his lower lip. "I did *not* say that."
He pulled out his watch and looked at it then pushed his chair back and stood. Laying a hand on Vin's shoulder he said, "Go and saddle the horses. Kit them up for a fast ride to Willow Creek. I need to speak to the judge."
"Ya thought of something!" Vin grinned at his lover.
Ezra turned to him his eyes clouded with worry. "I know that you may not be able to remain in this town indefinitely but... if this works out we shall be buying the McGlamory ranch.... I can neither get the money alone.... I will have to take the seed money from our savings... nor can I run the ranch alone. If you want to try this, I shall need you to be there with me. Therefore before we go any further I need to know: Are we in this together?"
Vin glanced around the saloon noting that there were too many other patrons still there for him to kiss Ezra like he wanted to so he just laid a hand on his lover's arm and said softly, "Always, Ez. Always together... in everything."
A sharp nod of the gambler's head told Vin that his lover understood and agreed. "Then let us do it."
They turned and headed out of the saloon.
Vin was half way to the livery when he realized that he hadn't even asked Ezra what they were going to do.
Ezra Standish stepped into the Clarion's office to hear three voices raised in anger arguing with Judge Travis about the eviction notice that he had ordered JD to serve on the McGlamorys.
"Gentlemen, if I may make a suggestion...." He offered over the shouting.
Larabee turned to glare at him. "Thought you didn't have a solution, Ezra," he said grimly.
"Not a solution, Mister Larabee, merely a suggestion." Ezra smiled at the gunfighter then turned to the Judge. "It occurs to me, Your Honor, that this is Friday afternoon and quite late as well. The bank will close in a few minutes and not reopen until Monday. Therefore might I suggest that it would make little difference to the bank, if the eviction notice is served today... or perhaps the first thing Monday morning?"
The judge raised an eyebrow at him, "If, as you say, it makes little difference, why wait until Monday?"
"That is not what I said. I said: That it would make little difference to the *bank*." He smiled that dimpled smile of his. "It might well make every difference to the McGlamorys."
"The only way it would make any difference would be if they can come up with a thousand dollars to pay off the mortgage before Monday morning." Judge Travis stated.
It was Ezra's turn to quirk an eyebrow at the judge, "May I take that to mean that should the McGlamorys, by some miracle, acquire one thousand dollars between now and Monday morning. You would then void the eviction order and require the bank to accept the money in payment of the mortgage?"
The judge studied the gambler for a long moment then he nodded. "I hate to see the McGlamorys lose their ranch as much as anyone. If they have the money when we ride out there Monday morning I will rescind the eviction order and order the bank to accept the payment." He gave the gambler a piercing look. "Might I ask what you intend to do, Mister Standish?"
Ezra grinned, his gold tooth flashing, "Why, I plan to take a gamble of course. It *is* what I do!" He turned to Larabee his eyes sparkling, "Mister Tanner and I shall be riding out immediately. If all goes well, we will be at the McGlamory ranch when you arrive Monday morning."
With a tip of his hat he turned on his heel and walked out of the office. As the door closed behind him, they could see Vin ride up on Peso, leading Chaucer. The gambler swung into the saddle and the two men rode off down the street.
Mary Travis turned to the men cluttering up her office and asked, "Does anyone have any idea what they are up to?"
Only silence answered her.
They rode in silence, pushing the horses as much as they dared. The road to Willow Creek was well traveled and therefore quite rutted. To avoid the ruts they paralleled the road a few dozen feet to the side.
When they stopped to rest the horses, Ezra turned to Vin, "You haven't asked what I have in mind."
Vin smiled at him and stepped closer, using the privacy of the trail as an opportunity to hold and kiss his lover. After the kiss he drew back and said. "I thought 'bout askin' but then I realized that I trust ya so I didn't need to ask."
Ezra leaned into Vin's embrace. He still found it hard to believe sometimes that Vin truly loved him and the trust that Vin had shown in him by just riding off with him without questioning anything was overwhelming. "What did I ever do to deserve you?" He murmured softly.
"Don't know... just like Ah don't know what Ah did to deserve ya." Vin replied with a grin. "Reckon we just lucked out."
Ezra grinned back, "I sincerely hope that isn't all there is to it, if so, I have used up all my luck for the rest of my life and will not be winning the money we need at the poker tournament in Willow Creek tomorrow night."
"So, that's why we're going to Willow Creek!" Vin crowed. "Reckon you'll just have ta fall back on your skill and god-given talents... seeing as how ya think yer luck's all used up." He grinned.
Ezra chuckled. "Shall we ride on Mister Tanner, the horses seem to be rested and we have some moonlight for a while yet."
"We got about two more hours then we'll have to call it a night. I know a place where we can camp." He moved in close again, rubbing against Ezra just a bit. "It's real private like... secluded..."
Ezra smirked up at him and did a little rubbing of his own, "And we both know how you like secluded don't we?" He practically purred.
"Yeah... and we both know why." Vin grinned back at him, stealing a kiss before moving away to tighten Peso's cinch and mount up.
Ezra chuckled as he saw Vin shifting in the saddle. At least he wasn't the only one that would be uncomfortable until they reached the secluded campsite that Vin knew of.
They rode into Willow Creek at mid-afternoon on Saturday. Ezra checked them into the hotel then went over to the saloon to ask about the monthly poker tournament that took place every first Saturday of the month. It was on for that night and he signed up, putting up his five hundred dollars for table stakes and getting his receipt. The game would start at seven and he checked his watch against the clock in the saloon that would be used to start the game.
He went back to the hotel.
Vin was waiting for him, sprawled across the bed.
He couldn't help but grin at the sight. He took off his boots and guns then crawled onto the bed to lie beside his lover.
Vin turned over and offered his shoulder for Ezra to lie on.
Ezra was glad to snuggle close against him. "Game starts at seven. I need to be up by six-thirty at the latest." He held out his watch to Vin.
The tracker took it and glanced at the time. Three o'clock. Ezra would get about three hours sleep. He slipped the watch in his pocket and turned half on his side gathering Ezra close. "Go to sleep, Baby. I'll wake you." He pressed a kiss to Ezra's forehead and felt the gambler relax against him.
It never failed to surprise and please him that Ezra could relax so completely when in his arms. Like himself the gambler had never had anyone to rely on, so like him, he tended to sleep with one eye open so to speak, always alert even in sleep. That Ezra had come to trust him enough to sleep soundly in his arms meant the world to him and he knew the gambler felt the same about Vin's newly found ability to relax and sleep soundly when he knew that Ezra was watching over him.
He wasn't surprised when Ezra began to stir just before the appointed time. The gambler seemed to have a clock in his head. He would say I'm going to sleep a set length of time and when that time was up he'd be awake.
With a chuckle, Vin rolled over on him and kissed him awake.
Ezra chuckled softly and opened his eyes. "As much as I enjoy being awakened in this manner. I fear we must forego the usual outcome. I really must get ready of the game."
"I know." Vin smiled down at him. "I'll let ya up in a minute. Want my kiss first."
"...and you shall have it my love." Ezra replied, letting his eyes close as Vin leaned down to brush his lips gently across the gambler's.
Vin gradually deepened the kiss, slipping his tongue past his lover's lips to tangle it with Ezra's in a now familiar dance of pleasure and love. After a long moment he withdrew, slowly.
"Reckon ya better get up."
"Reckon, ah, bettah." Ezra's accent had thickened with his arousal.
"Shouldn'ta got ya going, huh? Sorry."
Ezra grinned at him, "Don't you dare be sorry. Having you get me going... gets me going... if you know what I mean. I shall be wide awake and alert for the game now... thanks to you."
Vin leaned in for another quick kiss then rolled off him.
Ezra sat up on the side of the bed and pulled on his boots. Then he moved to the washbasin to freshen up. "There is something that you need to know about this game, Vin. It is played tournament style. I cannot leave the table... no one who is playing can, so long as they have any of the money they started with left. I must either win the five thousand dollars or lose our five hundred. There is no in between."
"I understand that... but it's the only way ta get the money, right?"
"Correct. However, there is more. There will be ten players. I don't know exactly who will be playing, but there are three men that play in every one of these monthly tournaments. Edward Latham... the manager of the Willow Creek Bank. Andrew McLangior... the largest rancher in this area... and Mike Sandalson... who owns the hotel, the livery and the saloon. In the last year, with only one exception, one of these three men has won the tournament each time it has been played."
He turned to look at Vin, "I don't think they will take it kindly, if I win tonight."
"What do ya want me ta do?"
"The game should last most of the night. Don't come with me to the saloon. Get some more sleep. Then around midnight saddle the horses and take them to the rear of the saloon. There is a stand of trees not far behind it, leave them there out of sight. Then come into the saloon and watch the game. Hopefully it will come down to one other player and myself. I will attempt to raise the stakes so as to end the game quickly. When that happens, go out the back door as if you are going to the privy but go and tighten the cinches on the horses. When you come back in, stand against the back wall where you can cover me. When the game is over we will exit through the back door and ride out immediately."
"You sure you'll be all right alone till midnight?"
Ezra laughed softly, moving to stand in the circle of Vin's arms. "Yes, love... but it pleases me to know that you worry." He claimed a last kiss and putting on his hat, left for the saloon.
Vin slept lightly after Ezra left. Without his lover there to watch over him he reverted to his old habits. He had put a chair under the doorknob and set the washbasin under the window where anyone trying to enter that way would step in it and make a racket. He had pulled his boots back on and lay down holding his mare's leg in his right hand where it lay at his side.
If Ezra had to come back to the room for any reason, he would knock and call out. Anyone else would be greeted with a bullet.
He awoke shortly before midnight and lay a long moment in the darkness, listening for anything out of place before rising and lighting the lamp. Ezra had paid for the night in advance so he didn't have to worry about the hotel bill. He quickly gathered up the few things that they had brought with them.
He blew out the lamp then eased the door open. Checking to make sure he wasn't seen he moved silently down the back stairs. He went straight to the livery and got the horses. He led them around the back way to the stand of trees that Ezra had told him about. As he tied them there, he realized that Ezra had been thinking about this tournament for a while. He'd known the names of the major players, who normally won it and the layout of the saloon and the grounds around it.
He wondered if Ezra had been planning on using this game to win the money to buy The Standish Tavern back. He knew Ezra wanted to regain ownership of it. Maybe Ezra would want to just sell the McGlamory place after they bought it and buy the saloon. He felt a little sad at that thought. Although he really wasn't crazy about the idea of ranching, it would be nice to have a place where he and Ezra could be together without having to worry about what folks thought. Ezra's room over the saloon was nice but it was just one room and people were coming and going all the time. He had to be really careful not to get caught going in and out.
The McGlamory place was just over five miles from town, granted it was on the main road but it was far enough out, that while they could go back and forth to town when ever they needed to, they wouldn't be bothered much by unwanted visitors. With just the two of them living there, they could sleep together every night with no one the wiser. Even if they hired a housekeeper, they could maintain the fiction that they had separate bedrooms.
He gave a snort. They hadn't even got the money yet, let alone talked to Dewey McGlamory and here he was planning on hiring a housekeeper. He'd better get on over to the saloon and make sure Ezra was all right.
He grinned as he made his way to the saloon, wondering if he should tell Ez that he had already started making plans for 'their ranch'.
He pushed his way through the batwing doors to the saloon and stopped just inside to check out the crowd. It was mostly cowboys, a few businessmen and traveling salesmen. Several tied looking working girls delivered drinks and flirted half-heartedly with the men. Most of the attention was on the raised platform at the back where the poker tournament was taking place at a pair of tables.
He pushed his way to the bar and ordered a shot of whiskey, holding it he gradually made his way to a point where he could see the poker tables. The table Ezra sat at still had three players. The other one only had two. He found himself a chair at a table where he could put his back to the wall and see both doors, as well as the platform reflected in the mirror over the bar and settled in to wait.
It was a long night. The table with only two players shut down shortly after two in the morning but Ezra's table was still playing. The watchers started drifting out around three and Vin gradually worked his way closer to the platform. When Ezra's game finally ended, with Standish winning, it was almost dawn.
Ezra stood up and stretched as the last man at his table walked away. Turning to the man who had won the game at the other table he said, "Mister Sandalson, might I prevail on you to allow me a quick trip to the privy before we begin our game. You have had several hours to refresh yourself."
"Certainly... but I must insist that the money remain here."
"As you wish... however I must ask to be allowed to appoint someone to keep an eye on it."
"Of course. I'm sure the sheriff will be glad to do so."
"I sure he would... however I do not know him and I would like to choose at least one person that I do know to... assist him." He looked over at Vin and motioned for him to come near. "This gentleman is my guide in these wild environs. I would like for him to also remain and keep an eye on the proceeds."
The saloon owner looked the scruffy tracker over and shrugged, "I guess that would be all right. Don't take long though."
"I shall return momentarily." Ezra gave a half bow and exited by the back door, headed for the privy. He noted that one of the bartenders stood at the back door and watched him until he entered the outhouse. The same man was standing in the same place when he returned.
Reentering the saloon, he gave Sandalson a dimpled smile. "Shall we, sir?"
Sandalson nodded and the two sat down to play.
It quickly became obvious that the two men were well matched. The money seemed to seesaw back and forth across the table. First one would be well ahead then the other. By noon there still was not a winner.
Vin was by this time standing leaned against the back wall, watching the room more than the game. Quite a few of the spectators from the night before had returned and the bar was fairly crowded. He had gone out to the privy several times on one of the trips he had checked on the horses and tightened the cinches as Ezra had instructed.
As the day and the game wore on, Vin noticed Ezra checking his watch. He understood the reason. They needed to get back to Four Corners and the McGlamory ranch in time to talk to Dewey McGlamory before the arrival of the Judge and the other peacekeepers and Ezra had only had about three hours sleep in over twenty-four.
In the end though it was Sandalson who made the move to end the contest.
"You are quite good, Mister Standish. Might I ask where you learned the game?"
Ezra smiled, "At my mother's knee, Sir."
"Indeed? Your mother played."
"Plays, sir... and quite well."
"I see. Well, Mister Standish, it appears that we might well continue playing all day without a definitive winner. Might I suggest that we play one last hand... winner takes all?"
"If you wish sir. Shall we deal the cards face up? And play the hand we are dealt?"
"Certainly. Shall I deal?"
"If you wish... but I will shuffle."
Ezra reached for the cards and quickly shuffled them. He laid them on the table and looked at one of the working girls standing nearby, "Would you be so kind, my dear as to cut the deck?"
She giggled and looked to Sandalson. He nodded and she cut the deck.
Sandalson picked up the cards and began to deal the first card was dealt face down the rest face up.
Ezra got the first face up card, which was the jack of spades.
Sandalson got the king of diamonds, then dealt Ezra the ace of spades.
The saloon owner's next card was the queen of diamonds.
Ezra's was the ten of spades.
Sandalson drew the jack of hearts.
Ezra got the king of spades.
Sandalson got the ace of hearts.
As he saw the last card that Sandalson drew, Ezra smiled. "Would you like to show your hole card, Mister Sandalson... or shall I?"
"Be my guest." Sandalson said calmly.
Ezra grinned and turned over the queen of spades. "Ace high royal flush, sir... in the suit of spades. I do believe that I have won."
Sandalson stared at the cards for a long moment then picked up his cards and tossed them in the center of the table. "It would seem you have. Might I buy you a congratulatory drink?"
"Certainly, Sir." Ezra smiled charmingly as he gathered the money and stacked it neatly.
Sandalson stood up. "We can have that drink in my office."
"That sounds fine. I need to stretch my legs a bit in any event." Ezra stood up, the money still in hand as he followed the other man through the crowd towards the office, which was in the back of the saloon. He brushed against Vin, passing him the money and inclined his head towards the back door.
Vin slipped unnoticed out the back door as Sandalson opened the office door for Ezra.
The saloon owner closed the door behind them and crossed the room to a cabinet on the other side. He took out a decanter and two glasses, filling the glasses and offering one to Ezra.
The gambler took it but held it rather than drinking from it.
Sandalson smiled, "A toast. To a well played game and an worthy opponent."
"Indeed," Ezra smiled and lifted the glass, clinking it against the other man's. As he raised it to take a swallow, there was a crash from the direction of the barroom, quickly followed by shouts and cursing.
"Damn!" Sandalson yanked open the door and saw that there was a raging bar fight going on. He looked back at Ezra noting the now empty glass. "I'll be right back."
Ezra nodded pleasantly and sat down in a nearby chair. However as soon as Sandalson disappeared into the brawl, Ezra stepped to the office window, raised it and stepped out.
Vin appeared, instantly. "You okay?"
"Yes. Did you start that?"
"Yeah, thought you might need a diversion."
"Yes, I do believe that Mister Sandalson will be quite surprised when he returns to find me gone... rather than passed out in his office."
"You think he drugged that drink."
"I didn't drink it to find out. Let's get out of here."
"It's gonna be dark before the reach the McGlamory's"
It was well past nightfall when they reached the turnoff for the McGlamory ranch. They had dismounted, walking the horses for the last few miles on the main road as they did not wish to risk an injury to the horses by riding them in the dark. The quarter mile of road from the main road to the house was much smoother and they remounted and rode the rest of the way.
They were relieved to see that there was still a light in the front room of the house.
It was Vin who knocked on the door, being better acquainted with the McGlamorys than Ezra was.
Mrs. McGlamory answered the door. "Mister Tanner.... What are you doing here at this time of night?"
"Ma'am. We need ta talk to Mister McGlamory... if we could." When she hesitated he added, "It's real important."
"I've already put him to bed for the night...."
"Mrs. McGlamory?" Ezra put in, "I do not wish to distress you but... are you aware that the sheriff will be arriving first thing in the morning with an eviction notice for you?"
She slumped, "Yes. I don't know what we are going to do."
"We may have a solution to your problem... not an ideal one but one which will keep you from losing everything... but we do need to speak to your husband." Ezra's voice was calm and soothing.
She stood a moment longer, undecided, looking from Ezra to Vin and back again before finally saying resignedly, "Please come in. I will ask Dewey if he will see you."
She showed them into the sitting room at the front of the house and disappeared towards the back. Vin stood immobile near the door as Ezra moved around the room glancing at various items.
It was nearly half an hour before she returned, pushing her husband in a wheel chair.
Vin spoke first, "Mister McGlamory." He greeted the man politely. "Ya know me. This here's my partner, Ezra Standish."
"I've met Mister Standish. Played a few hands of poker from time to time. What can I do for you boys?"
Ezra stepped forward, "The question Mister McGlamory is what can we do for you? You charming wife has told us that you are aware that there is an eviction notice to be served in the morning."
McGlamory nodded. "Damned bank." He gave a shake of his head. "Old man Tollenson was a bastard but he'd a give me more'n three months to get this all sorted out... that SOB Kellerman... can't wait to get his hands on this place."
"Yes well... unfortunately Mister Kellerman is the one in charge at the bank now. Sheriff Dunne does not wish to serve the eviction notice... but he has little choice in the matter. It is his job, either he does it or he loses his job and Judge Travis assigns someone else to do it."
"Don't beat around the bush Standish... I already know all this. What do you want?"
"We want to buy your ranch. I realize that we can not pay what it is actually worth to you. You have, after all, put ten years of your life into it. However what we can offer is better than nothing which is what you will have if you do not sell."
He held out his hand to Vin and the tracker handed him the money that he had been holding.
"I have here, four thousand dollars..." he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a paper, "and the deed to the leather shop in town. Mister Tanner tells me that you do excellent leatherwork... and it is an occupation that you can pursue in spite of your injury. I can draw up a buy/sell agreement, pay you a thousand dollars now with the understanding that we will pay the other three thousand dollars and sign over the deed to the saddle shop at the closing of the deal."
"Four thousand isn't near what this place is worth... stock alone is more'n that."
"This would be for the land and buildings only. We will negotiate separately at a later date for the purchase of the stock and equipment. Unfortunately this is all the money we have at this point in time. It will however allow you to pay the mortgage at the bank and allow you to continue to live here until we complete the bargain."
"Dewey..." Mrs. McGlamory began, "we don't have a lot of choices here..."
He reached up and took her hand, "I know... it's just that we worked so hard..."
"I'm real sorry, sir." Vin said softly. "We'd a tried to work something out sooner but we didn't learn about the eviction notice until Friday. Was just lucky that Ez knew about the poker tournament in Willow Creek and we's able to get over there and get him inta the game, else we wouldn't have this to offer ya."
The rancher sat looking around the room for a long moment, then gave his wife's hand a squeeze, "You do know that Stuart James wants this place? That's why Kellerman is so eager to foreclose."
"We are aware of Mister James' interest. Might I ask if he has made you an offer?"
"Yeah... and I turned him down. He offered more'n four thousand...."
"How much did he offer you?"
"Eight thousand. Reckon maybe I shoulda took it. He'll get the place from the bank for the thousand that I owe on it."
"Not if you sell it to us... and I am assuming that the eight thousand would have bought not only the land and buildings but your stock and equipment as well. Would it not?"
"This four thousand and the deed to the leather shop is only for the land and the buildings. As I said previously we will negotiate separately for the stock and the equipment. I can not make any promises at this time as to exactly what we will be able to pay but we will attempt to make a fair offer."
McGlamory sat a bit straighter in his wheelchair. "Ta keep James from getting' the place... reckon it might be worth taking a bit less than I'd hoped ta get." He paused and looked at his wife squeezing her hand, "All right. On one condition... two really. First I wanna throw that money in Kellerman's face myself. Have the pleasure of telling him ta get the hell offa my property while it's still mine... and second. That leather shop... the living quarters are up stairs. I can't get up and down stairs. Ya'll add a couple of rooms on the back of the shop... a sitting room and bedroom fer me'n the wife. Agree ta that an' it's a deal."
"That is acceptable. We can hash out the details after the mortgage is paid tomorrow." Ezra said. "Now, I'm sure we are all tired. If we may, Mister Tanner and myself will bed down in the barn."
Mrs. McGlamory smiled wanly at them. "We have a guest room, Mister Standish. I'm sure you'd be more comfortable there."
"It's not necessary, dear lady. Mister Tanner prefers the barn and I am used to roughing it when I travel with him." He flashed Vin a smile.
"Take the guest room, Ez. Ya ain't had but three hours sleep since yesterday morning. I caught close ta six hours while ya was in the game. I'll take care of Chaucer for ya. Go on ta bed. Yer gonna have ta be up early to draw up that agreement thing and get it signed 'fore JD and the others get here."
"Yes, well in that case. I appreciate the offer of a bed, Madame, and thank you kindly."
Vin was a bit surprised to find Ezra already up and in the kitchen keeping the three McGlamory children entertained while their mother prepared breakfast, when Vin came in from the barn.
Dewey McGlamory was sitting at the table in his wheelchair drinking coffee and talking to Ezra about the ranch. "We've only got about ten mares left and of course the stallion. Had to sell off some of the herd to pay for the doctor in Denver that I went to see right after my accident. Got six mares bred. They should foal in April."
Ezra nodded and said, "We shall have to hire a foreman unless Mister Tanner wishes to take over the active running of the ranch. I fear that I know little about the day to day operation of such an enterprise. I will take care of the record keeping, doing the ranch and household accounts. I can train horses although there are those who think that what I train them to do is not necessarily a good thing."
Vin laughed as he took a seat next to Ezra. "Yeah, ain't ever body that wants their horse to know how to open and close his own stall, untie his reins... and teach his tricks ta other horses." He grinned at McGlamory. "Damn horse taught Peso ta open his stall."
"But it was Peso that taught Chaucer to untie his reins. I didn't do that."
"Naw. Ya taught him how to con folks. 'Member that guy with the Arabian that come though here a while back racing folks." Vin asked the rancher. "Ezra brung Chaucer out... his ears all down, his head just a hangin', looking like he couldn't hardly stand up. Got the guy to go double or nothing. Soon as the starting pistol went off ole Chaucer made a remarkable recovery. After he won, he come prancing down the street, tossing his head like ta say, 'I fooled you... I fooled you!' Come ta find out that Ez has got him trained to act sick when he says 'sick horse' to him. Beats all I ever saw what that horse'll do fer Ez."
Dewey McGlamory regarded Ezra with new respect, "Takes a lotta time and patience to train a horse to do stuff like that..."
"It helps to have an extremely intelligent animal to begin with. Chaucer is quite a remarkable horse."
Dewey smiled, "You have a lot of respect for your horse, Mister Standish... and concern. I'm glad to see that. One of the reasons that I refused to sell to Stuart James is that he doesn't really care about his stock. To him they are just animals... useful but if one gets sick or hurt and it will be expensive to care for it, he'll put it down rather than go to the expense."
"I have had to put down an animal. It was not a pleasant experience. Unfortunately it was unavoidable. The first horse I ever owned, Gamble... a big bay gelding, stepped in a gopher hole and broke his leg. He was eight years old at the time. I had raised him from a colt." He blinked trying to pretend that there weren't tears welling in his eyes. "He was a gift from my grandfather... the first and last thing that the man ever gave me."
"Reckon we've all had ta put a horse down at one time or another." Vin said, giving Ezra's arm a quick squeeze, the brief touch enough to let the gambler know that his lover understood the grief he could still feel at having had to shoot his horse. "Ain't ever easy... but ya can't let them suffer."
"No. You can't" Ezra agreed sadly.
Dewey McGlamory exchanged a look with his wife. He has known Vin Tanner for a while and knew how the man treated his horse and how he felt about the animals. Ezra Standish had been another question entirely. All McGlamory knew of him was what he'd seen across the poker table. A calm, cool, collected man with a poker face, that gave nothing away. He'd lost money to him on several occasions but had noted that the gambler seldom took all the money that the men playing with him had. Now seeing him here, talking with him, he began to realize that what he saw at the poker table, was a mask. The man that he saw now was much more real... and he liked this man... was glad that if he had to sell the ranch that he would at least be leaving it in the hands of men who cared about the animals.
"Exactly what do you plan to do about the stock. You said that you couldn't afford to pay a fair price for it now."
Vin looked at Ezra, indicating that he should answer.
"I thought that we could board the horses for you... until such time as we could afford to pay you for them... with the board coming out of the agreed upon price. We will keep records of what it costs to feed and tend them... I'm sure you will be able to tell if the costs are within reason. I expect to be able to pay for them within a year at the latest. If the mares foal before we are prepared to pay for them then we will also pay for the foals."
"That sounds plumb generous." He sounded a bit suspicious.
"I assure you, sir, that it is only fair." Ezra paused a moment looking for the right words. "I appreciate the hard work you have put into this place. I know that this ranch is more than just land and stock... this house is more than just lumber... it has been your life for a decade. Selling it can not be easy. This house is well built and well maintained that speaks volumes on what it means to you. The flower gardens that surround it... the kitchen garden out back, the apple and peach orchards... the pecan trees.... These all speak of a place that is not just a piece of property but a home. I have never had a home... never. My earliest memories are of being bundled up in the middle of the night and taken from one place to another. Until I came to Four Corners, I can not recall staying in one place more than a few months in my entire life... usually it was more like a few weeks or even days. This..." He looked around at the room a small smile playing across his face, "will be the first home I have ever had and I shall treasure it... and be eternally grateful that you saw fit to sell it to Mister Tanner and myself."
Vin had been watching Ezra's face while he spoke. When Ezra feel silent he reached over and lay a hand on the gambler's arm, "I know just what ya mean, Ez. I's just a sprout when my ma passed. Never knew my pa. Grew up in orphanages and foster homes... never really belonging anywhere... till I come here."
[Until I met you.]
Dewey McGlamory could almost hear the unspoken words. He'd had lived on the frontier for a lot of years before he went back east and found his wife, marrying her and bringing her west with him. He'd seem a lot of things and wasn't really surprised that the two men were together. Looking at them he could see how well they fit together. They were obviously good for each other... their relationship quiet and strong. They would take care of each other and neither having ever had a home would truly treasure it. The ranch that he had worked so had to build would be in good hands and he would have a new business, one that would allow him to continue to support his family despite his injury.
He glanced at the clock on the wall. "We'd better get that buy/sell agreement signed. Reckon the sheriff'll be here right soon now."
He smiled to himself. Everything was gonna work out just fine.
JD Dunne shook his head as he rode into the McGlamory's front yard and pulled his horse to a stop near the hitching post beside the front steps. Mister and Mrs. McGlamory were sitting in the front porch, Dewey in his wheelchair and his wife in a rocker nearby.
JD could scarcely believe how disappointed he felt at the realization that there was no sign of Vin or Ezra. He had been counting on them to some how save the day. He swallowed hard.
Chris and Judge Travis rode up beside him and dismounted, tying their horses to the hitching post.
Kellerman gave an unpleasant grin as he sat his horse several feet back. "Time to clear out McGlamory."
"Not so fast, Kellerman." Judge Travis put in. "I told you that, if Mister McGlamory here could get the money to pay you off that you would have to accept it and hand over his mortgage. That's why I requested that you bring the mortgage papers with you."
The judge turned to JD. "Sheriff Dunne..."
JD sighed, "Yes, sir." Turning to Mister McGlamory he said, "Sir, I have here an eviction notice, signed by Judge Travis. I am required to serve it on you unless you have the money to pay off the mortgage at this time."
There was a moment of silence as JD waited for the answer.
In that moment he caught movement out of the corner of his eye and turning his head slightly saw a grinning Vin Tanner step up on the end of the porch and lean against one of the porch supports.
The screen door creaked and he looked back there to see Ezra Standish step through, holding a cup and saucer. The gambler strolled over to the railing around the porch and sat down. He leaned back against the upright and stretched his long legs out along the banister.
He took a sip from the cup. "Excellent tea, Mrs. McGlamory." He commented then nodded to Kellerman. "A truly lovely day isn't it Mister Kellerman... but perhaps not from where you are sitting."
Kellerman scowled, "What the hell does that mean?"
Dewey McGlamory held up a bundle of bills. "It means, here's yer damned money. Give me my deed and get the hell off my property."
With a grin JD sprang forward to take the money and hand it to the judge who did a quick count and gave McGlamory a nod, "One thousand dollars."
He turned to Kellerman. "Here's the money, sir. Now hand over the deed."
Kellerman looked around with a sour expression on his face, but noting the looks from Larabee, Dunne and Tanner as well as the judge, he reached in his pocket and pulled out the deed, tossing it on the ground.
Without even looking up from his tea Ezra said quietly, "That was very rude, sir. May I suggest that you get off that horse, pick up that deed and *hand* it to Mister McGlamory." He hadn't moved nor raised his voice but when he turned his head to look at Kellerman it was clear that it was not a suggestion.
The banker held the gambler's gaze for a moment then his gaze dropped. He slowly dismounted and picked up the deed. Walking slowly to the porch he handed it to Mister McGlamory.
"Now," Ezra continued, "Get the hell off this property."
Kellerman looked as if he wanted to say something but Ezra came to his feet with easy grace sitting the cup and saucer down on the porch railing as his hand dropped to his gun, "Now, sir." The voice was deadly and Kellerman hurriedly mounted and rode away.
JD turned to Ezra grinning, "Wow! How'd you get the money?"
Ezra smiled at him as he picked up his tea again, "Now, what makes you think that I got the money?"
"Cause... ya said that you was gonna... well... do something..."
"JD, let it be. If Ez don't want ta tell us, he don't have ta... although I'd love to know." Chris said.
Vin strolled over and sat on the railing near Ezra's feet raising a brow at him. Ezra gave him his quirky smile and nodded. Vin grinned, "Ez won the poker tournament in Willow Creek. Sandalson, he's the guy that holds it ever month, weren't real happy about it."
"Think there might be trouble?" Chris asked.
"Hopefully not. I lead him to believe that I was new to the west... that Mister Tanner was merely my guide. I never mentioned Four Corners or any names that he might associate with it."
"Good." Chris gave an approving nod. Ezra had played it smart not giving Sandalson any place to start looking for him.
Ezra grinned, "In fact I mentioned that I would most likely be heading on for San Francisco immediately."
That earned him a grin and a shake of their heads from Chris, the judge and McGlamory.
Judge Travis turned to Dewey McGlamory. "I am delighted, sir that you were able to pay the mortgage, however that still leaves you with the problem of running it."
"I'm selling the ranch, your honor. Vin and Ezra have made me an offer an' I've decided to accept."
The judge looked to the two peacekeepers, "You're buying this place?"
"There are still some details to be worked out... but yes, we are."
"Then you will be staying in Four Corners?" the judge asked, his eyes starting to gleam. These two were the ones that he had most expected to leave. If they were staying... then more than likely the seven would all stay. Granted the town was much quieter now than it had been when he hired them but still their presence was what had brought that peace and more than likely what kept it.
"Always wanted a home." Vin said quietly, "Never really figured ta get one... but reckon this is the best chance I got of havin' one."
"Likewise." Ezra said softly.
"Thought you wanted the saloon..." JD said.
"I did... unfortunately that was not to be. This however may well be a workable solution." Ezra regarded the young sheriff with a smile, "I think you will learn in time that dreams are flexible things. They can change to accommodate circumstances. The basic dream was to have a place of my own. A place that no one could throw me out of... a home, JD."
"A home is where you make it." Judge Travis said. He regarded the two men for a long moment then nodded as if something had fallen into place for him. "More to do with friends and family than just a house."
He turned to Chris, "I need to get back to town. Ride with me?"
Larabee nodded and motioned for JD to join them. Goodbyes were said and Larabee, Dunne and Travis departed, leaving Vin and Ezra to work out the details of the sale with the McGlamorys.
The rest of the seven were in the saloon, sitting around their regular table having lunch when Vin and Ezra came in. They joined the group and ordered lunch as well.
Nathan gave Ezra a hard look. "Heard ya bought the McGlamory place. Reckon ya got yourself a real bargain seeing as how they pretty much had ta sell."
Vin's head came up, "What're ya trying to say, Nate?"
"Just that it seems a mite convenient for him ta buy the place when the bank was about to foreclose."
"Ezra didn't buy it alone. I'm half owner... and if we hadn't bought it... Dewey McGlamory woulda still lost the place and he'd a'had nothin'. He's right pleased with the bargain we made. Seems to me that if he's okay with it, it ain't none a'yer business."
"Just don't see how ya'll coulda paid him what it's worth." Nathan persisted.
"We couldn't." Ezra put in calmly. "However we were able to come to an agreement. As Mister Tanner said, as long as Mister McGlamory and his family are happy with the arrangements it is none of your business." He paused then went on, "I understand your concern, Mister Jackson. You hate to think that anyone would take advantage of the situation. Perhaps a conversation with Mister McGlamory would set your mind at ease. I'm sure he wouldn't object to your stopping by to check on him. After all you were the one that treated him when he was first injured... and the one who recommended the doctor in Denver that he went to."
Nathan nodded, "Might just do that."
Josiah smiled, "How about I ride out there with you when we're done eating?"
"Thanks, Josiah." Nathan said.
Josiah saw Ezra smile at him and gave the gambler a small nod.
Nathan and Josiah arrived at the McGlamory ranch at mid-afternoon. They were bit surprised when Dewey answered the door himself. The last time that Nathan had been out to visit and check on the family, he had been depressed. Lying in his bed staring at the walls, barely willing to speak to anyone. Today he was smiling and seemed to be in a better mood than he had been since before the accident.
"Mister Jackson, Mister Sanchez, ya'll come on in here!" He wheeled the chair around and led the way to the parlor. Lissa!" He called to his wife. "We've got company, Honey."
Melissa McGlamory came down the hall and met the two men with a smile. "It's so good of you to drop by. Would you like some tea?"
They both declined politely.
Nathan watched the smiling couple with some confusion. "You seem in much better spirits, Mister McGlamory." He finally ventured.
Dewey grinned. "I am. Reckon ya heard that I sold the ranch. Mister Standish and Mister Tanner bought it."
"Heard that. Figured ya probably took a loss on it."
"A bit... but I'd sure rather that they had it than James. He'd a had it from the bank in a wink if they hadn't got me that thousand to pay off the mortgage."
"You seem to be pleased with the deal they made you." Josiah put in.
"I am. Not only did I get the money to pay off the mortgage, I got the leather shop in town."
"The leather shop?" Nathan asked.
"Yep. Standish had the title to it. Don't know where he got it. Maybe Lyle lost it to him before he headed back east. Anyhow he offered it as part of the deal. Lock, stock and barrel so to speak. Gonna get some cash too when we get the details worked out."
"You ain't sorry ta lose this place?"
"Course I hate to let it go but I don't have a future here anymore... with the leather shop I do have a future."
Josiah regarded him thoughtfully and asked, "You were really depressed just a couple of days ago. What changed your... outlook?"
"Something that Standish said... it made a lot of sense. I wasn't real happy about having to give up on the ranch an' we got to talking about what we wanted outta life. I asked him about the saloon, wouldn't he have rathered have had it."
"I'd a thought he would've." Nathan put in, "he was real happy when he first bought it."
"That's what he said." McGlamory's eyes took on the look of a man remembering just what had happened and looking for how to explain it.
["Seems to me that you'd be happier with something like that saloon you had for a while." Dewey McGlamory regarded Ezra Standish speculatively. "Be more your style."
"Yes, well that didn't work out." Ezra paused staring at the other man for a long moment before going on. "Mister Tanner will, no doubt, tell you that in the wilds it is the fittest that survive... but I have observed that among men it is often not the fittest but the more adaptable that not only survive but thrive. A man must be able to see the possibilities of a situation and take advantage of them. If one has tunnel vision... can only see one possible solution to a problem, that one is doomed to failure should that particular solution not work."
He rose and paced across the room to the fireplace and turned to look back at the man in the wheelchair. "I always dreamed of owning a saloon... because saloons were what I knew. I bought the saloon with that in mind and I failed to make a go of it for whatever reasons. Now this opportunity has presented itself. It may not be exactly what I dreamed of but looking back at the dream I realize that what I really wanted was a home... a place that was mine, somewhere that no one could throw me out of. I am flexible enough to see the possibility that this can offer me the stability, the security that is what I truly crave."
He moved back to stand in front of McGlamory, "What is it that you truly want, Mister McGlamory? Can it only be achieved by owning and operating this ranch or can it be achieved by other means? You have a family. I would guess that your number one priority would be to take care of them, see to it that they have what they need. The physical things such as a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear and the non-physical things such as friends and respect, love and happiness."
McGlamory nodded, "I reckon that is what's most important to me."
"Then surely you can see that you can no longer provide those things by clinging to this ranch. The leather shop however is a business that can provide you and your family with both the physical and non-physical things you want for them. Keep your eye on the goal, Mister McGlamory but be flexible as to the means to achieve that goal. That is the secret of success. I believe that we can all come out winners here. You will have the means to provide for your family. Mister Tanner and I will have the home we have always wanted and never had."
Dewey McGlamory sat back in his wheelchair and gazed up at the gambler. He had been so focused for so long on what he could no longer do that he'd failed to see what he could do. It seemed strange that a man, he'd never given any thought to being anything more than an itinerant gambler should be the one to point it out. There was definitely more to the man, than first appearances would indicate. He was feeling better and better about this deal. It was true that he would be taking something of a loss but he would still be able to provide for his family and that was what was important. The man was right. It was time to stop looking at what he couldn't do and start looking for what he could do.]
Nathan and Josiah sat in silence for a moment after McGlamory finished telling them about the conversation. For the first time Nathan realized that Ezra's constant scheming as he had always thought of it might have just been the man's way of dealing with set backs. When one plan didn't pan out he always had a backup plan... something else that he could try.
Josiah chuckled, "Ezra's real good at turning most anything to his advantage. Reckon that comes from starting over on a regular basis."
Nathan glanced at Josiah. He'd never thought too much about that either but come to think of it the way Ezra was raised, always moving around he'd had to be able to adapt to whatever circumstances he found himself in. [Why am I surprised at the man being adaptable? Hell, he put on a dress and sang in a tent saloon to save Miz Travis at Wickestown. He played a stagecoach driver when we's hunting the men that killed Mister Travis. Acted like a fool lawyer when we was trying to get information outta that man that rode with Spivick. Drunk that deputy in Jericho under the table. Course he was dumping *his* drinks.]
Maybe it was time for him to rethink his attitude towards Ezra.