JUST GET ME TO THE NEXT TOWN

by Jackie, a.k.a. Phoenix1972

 

Part 11

 

Ezra trudged along beside the wagon, fearing never to be warm again.  They had been plodding on toward the town for what had seemed like days, though Asa had assured him it had only been six hours.  The short fifteen minute respites every couple hours did nothing to reenergize worn bodies and flagging spirits.

 

“Mr. Ezra, we’re stopping again.  Come sit on the tailgate and keep us company.”  Rupert peered over the side of the wagon at the weary gambler.  Rupert’s face was red from the cold despite the blankets he was wrapped in.

 

Pulling himself slowly and painfully along the side of the wagon, Ezra stopped as he rounded the back.  “How is Mr. Larabee fairing?”  Ezra asked wearily, slumping against the wagon bed.

 

“A little moaning and groaning, but nothing much since you gave him all that stuff.”

 

“I did not want to give him so much laudanum, but there wasn’t any way around it.  He’s got to be in agony.”

 

Squinting down at the man in question, Rupert grimaced.  “He’s not doing much of anything.”  Crawling to the end of the wagon to sit next to Ezra, he asked quietly, “Do you think he’s dead?”

 

Ezra jerked around to stare at Chris hoping the child was wrong.  He watched with baited breath until, finally, he saw a slight movement from his friend.  Clapping Rupert on the back, “Boy, don’t do that again.  At this rate I’m going to be old before my time.”

 

Rupert giggled and slapped at his knee.  “You’re funny Mr. Ezra.”  Rupert quieted and looked at his toes before whispering soberly, “I’m really glad they let me stay with you and Mr. Chris until we get to town.”

 

Ezra’s breath hitched at the sudden flutter in his chest.  Could this child actually like him for who he was?  Unfortunately he’d not been his usual self for quite a while and he couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to spend time with someone as frazzled as he’d been.

 

“Mr. Ezra?”

 

Looking down into Rupert’s upturned face Ezra gave him a small smile and panted him on the leg.  “Sorry.  I was wool-gathering.  I am also glad you were able to stay with us.”

 

“Do you think Grams will be at the town when we get there?”  Rupert asked as he picked at a thread on his blanket.

 

“Well, let me tell you something.  If for some reason your Grams has not arrived in town once Mr. Larabee is settled I will personally take you to her,” Ezra declared ruffling Rupert’s hair.  “And I will be sure to tell her how you helped Mr. Larabee and myself get back to town.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Really.”

 

~o~

 

“We’re here,” Asa called as he slapped Ezra’s right leg from where it hung over the side of the wagon.

 

“What?” Ezra moaned as he wiped at gritty eyes and pulled himself up to look around.  He felt as if he’d been on a week long bender with no relief in sight.  His head was pounding mercilessly and his vision was blurry.

 

“I said, we’re here,” Asa chuckled as he dropped the tailgate on the wagon.  “We made good time.”

 

Realization dawned as Ezra stared at the buildings on either side of the street with his mouth hanging open.  “Where are the other wagons?”

 

“They’ve gone up the street a bit.  Figured this was the first stop into town and Ms. Millie has some of the softest beds around.  The hotel’s up the way a piece if you’d rather stay there.”

 

Ezra peered at the woman standing on the porch holding a lantern aloft.  She had a kind look about her and she was as round as she was tall.  “How many you got?”

 

Clearing his throat, Ezra called out as quietly as he could and still be heard, “There’s three of us.”

 

Nodding, she moved down the three steps and carefully made her way to the wagon.  Patting Asa on the back she smiled.  “Glad you and your brother made it.  It’ll do you mother’s heart good.  We weren’t sure who’d survived.”

 

“Ma’s a strong woman.  She’d a been ok.”  Asa smiled sadly and gestured to the occupants of the wagon.  “Like he told you, we got three.  Little boy here is fit as a fiddle, lost his mama though.  Mr. Standish here’s been watch doggin’ his friend and the boy.  The fellow lyin’ in the wagon is Mr. Larabee and he’s feeling pretty poorly.  He’s got a broken leg, a gash in his side, and arm.  Running a fever also.”

 

Ezra gingerly slid off the tailgate and stretched as best he could, pulling up short as pain shot through his arm.  Noticing Ms. Millie’s concerned look he explained, “A minor inconvenience I assure you.  The young man and I are for the most part fit as two fiddles.  We really need only concentrate on getting Mr. Larabee settled and comfortable.”

 

Patting Ezra on the arm she smiled gently, “Asa brought you to the right place.  My boarding house may be on the outskirts of town but it’s quiet and I keep it clean.  You won’t find any lice or bed bugs within these walls.”

 

“I sincerely appreciate you letting us stay here.”  Turning to Asa, Ezra inquired, “I think we should get Mr. Larabee inside and settled before the current dose of laudanum wears of.  I fear we are running low.”

 

“You best be careful with that the laudanum Mr. Standish.  I’ve seen people get hooked on it pretty quick.”

 

“I am aware of its addictive properties but it could not be helped,” Ezra replied heatedly, “Though he is rather stoic when it comes to pain this had become even more than he could bear.”

 

“Boys, there’s no sense jawing out here in the cold when we’ve a nice warm fire going inside.  The boy looks plum frozen through and you two don’t appear far behind,” Ms. Millie interrupted as she stepped up to help Rupert down from the wagon.

 

“Please excuse my outburst ma’am, we’ve had quite an arduous journey and are far from home.”

 

Coughing, Chris rasped, “Ez, you think you could hurry things along?  I’m freezing and like you, I’d really like to sleep in a real bed.”

 

Trudging around to the other side of the wagon to look in on Chris he scowled.  “You, sir have the worst timing.  It would have been quite helpful if you had remained asleep for the next part.”

 

“Let’s get this done and over with, then we can call it a night.”

 

Snorting loudly Ezra moved back down to the tailgate, “Fine.”

 

~o~

 

“Go to bed.  I don’t need a nursemaid,” Chris snapped irritably as he twisted his fists in the quilt.  His fever was up but not as high as before.

 

Placing a cool cloth across Chris’s forehead Ezra sighed, “Well I’m afraid you are stuck with me.  Has the pain in your leg lessened any?”  Ezra and Ms. Millie had elevated Chris’s leg and redressed his other wounds after finally getting him settled in a vacant room on the main level of the house.

 

“I know it’s there if that’s what you mean.”

 

Ezra handed Chris the bottle of laudanum.  “I seem to be lacking a spoon so you’ll have to drink it from the bottle.”

 

Chris took a very small sip and handed the bottle back grimacing, “Tastes like piss.  Whiskey’d be better.”

 

“I agree but laudanum’s more effective.”  Placing the bottle on the bureau Ezra moved to the window to stare out at the street.  “Later this morning I’ll find the telegraph office and send word back home and to Judge Travis in Denver.  They’ve probably heard about the train wreck and have no idea if we’re still alive,” Ezra mumbled absently.  “Probably ought to inquire about young Rupert’s relatives also.”

 

Pulling the cloth from his forehead, Chris flipped it into the basin.  “Fine, do that, but first get some sleep.  There’s no need to make yourself sick.  The boy and I are fine, we’re safe now and comfortable, or as comfortable as possible.”

 

Ezra yawned widely and rubbed at his gritty eyes.  “You’re positive you don’t need anything?”

 

“Ezra,” Chris sighed, “go to sleep.  I don’t plan on doing much more than sleeping myself.”

 

“Fine.  But if you need anything I’ll be across the hall.”

 

“I’ll be sure to holler.  You know me.”

 

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

 

 

Part 12

 

Silence greeted Ezra as he stepped into the hallway and pulled the door to Chris’s room shut behind him and as he leaned back against the door his eyes closed with weariness.  Taking a steadying breath he pushed off the door and forced his heavy feet to carry him the four steps it required to reach his own room.  Turning the door knob gently and lightly pushing the door open, he silently slipped into the room only to cringe as the lock clicked into place as he shut the door.

 

Though not as grand as some hotel rooms he’d stayed in, the room was cheery and warm.  Unlike the smaller beds found in most boarding houses Ms. Millie had outfitted hers with larger frames boasting feather beds and down comforters.  She’d told him travellers appreciated the subtle touches and as a result she had many repeat customers.  Of course, Ezra would attribute some of her success to the woman’s motherly personality and was thankful for it since it appeared they would be enduring an extended stay until Chris was fit to travel.

 

Moving with slow measured steps to avoid waking Rupert, Ezra shucked his vest and boots before blissfully sitting down on the edge of the mattress.  Rupert had been sent to bed several hours earlier and the boy was sleeping deeply under a mound of blankets.  Reaching for the quilt laying across the foot of the bed, Ezra laid back into the clean smelling pillows.  No use getting too comfortable.  I’ll have to get up in an hour or so anyway to send those telegrams and look into finding Rupert’s family.  Tiredly sinking further into the bed, he closed his eyes and soon drifted off into a much needed sleep.

 

He jerked upright as the sound of screeching metal and splintering wood filled his consciousness.  Gasping for air and clutching at his chest he looked around frantically expecting to be back on the train, but all he could see was brightly colored wallpaper and the room’s modest furnishings.  Ezra flung the quilt back and slid to the edge of the mattress as he wiped at the sweat coating his face.

 

A squeak of the door hinges brought Ezra’s head up.  “Who’s there?”

 

“It’s just me, Mr. Ezra.”  Rupert sidled into the room and reached for the book Ms. Millie had given him the night before.  “I wanted to get my book.”

 

“By all means,” Ezra yawned as he stretched the kinks from his back.

 

With the book clutched to his chest, Rupert rushed from the room without a backward glance.  “Thanks.”

 

The sound of the door across the hall opening and closing quickly brought Ezra’s head up.  He scowled and hurried on stocking feet to grab Rupert before he woke Chris.  What was the boy thinking? Grasping the doorknob tightly, Ezra hesitated as he first heard Chris’s voice and then Rupert’s.  He could barely make out what Chris was saying though the heavy wood door but he decided he’d best intervene.  Chris was anything but jovial when he was under the weather.  He’d just have to take Rupert with him when he went to run his errands.  It would do the boy good to have a distraction.

 

Pushing open the door, Ezra huffed, “Rupert you’re going with me to the telegraph office.  Chris needs…,” the sight that greeted him stopped him in his tracks.

 

Chris was propped up with a large book in his lap and Rupert curled up next to him.  “He’s fine, I’m bored, and it’s snowing.  I’m sure you can handle the telegraph office on your own,” Chris stated as he picked the book back up and turned the page.

 

“You’re supposed to be resting.”

 

“I am.”

 

“Reading is not resting.”

 

“It is to me.  Besides it helps me keep my mind off my leg.”

 

Ezra was about to retort but Chris scowled darkly at him and asked, “Aren’t you supposed to be sending some telegrams?”

 

Without a backwards glance Ezra stalked to the door.  “It’d serve you right if you had a relapse,” he grumbled under his breath as he stepped back into the hallway.

 

“I heard what you said, Standish,” Chris called as Ezra was shutting the door behind him.

 

“I meant you to,” he snapped back as he pulled the door closed and stomped down the hallway.  He was halfway down the stairs when he realized he didn’t have his boots on.  “Damn it,” he cursed, turning on the stairs and making his way up to his room.  It had all the makings of a long day and he wanted nothing more than to languish in bed for at least a week.

 

~o~

 

Ezra smiled at his reflection as he turned to face the mirror.  The navy blue jacket fit like it was made for him and the blue silk brocade vest needed only slight alterations.  “To feel human once again,” he sighed, turning to admire the tailor’s handiwork.

 

“Did you want to wait to have these bundled up or did you want them delivered to the boarding house?” the tailor asked as he and his assistant folded Ezra’s purchases.

 

Picking up the sheepskin coat he’d purchased with his rapidly shrinking funds, Ezra smiled.  “Please deliver them.  I have a few other errands to attend to.”

 

“Certainly, Mr. Standish,” the tailor replied as he followed Ezra to the door.  “They will be delivered before nightfall.”

 

Ezra glanced up the street toward the center of town where he could barely make out what appeared to be a saloon through the driving snow.  Debating whether to turn back to the boarding house or continue on to the saloon he paused.  The large sum of money he’d just spent on clothing and coats for he, Chris, and the boy had taken a huge chunk of his reserves.  Ezra knew Chris was good for it but until the got back home they were dependent on his bankroll and it needed replenishing.  So pulling his coat tighter he strode up the street to the saloon and through the batwing doors.  Ezra had to admit he was pleasantly surprised to find the saloon so well attended in the late afternoon.  “I’ve died and gone to heaven.  New clothes and gaming tables are just what the doctor ordered.”

 

Sauntering over to one of the tables, Ezra asked with a lecherous grin, “Room for one more?”

 

~o~

 

It was after midnight as Ezra made his way back to the boarding house and Lady Luck had been on his side.  His pockets were fat with the evening’s winnings and the liquor he’d consumed still warming his insides.  As he meandered along the dark storefronts he came to an abrupt stop in front of the telegraph office and cursed quietly.  “Forgot to check for any replies,” he mumbled crossly before moving on, stumbling slightly.

 

Ezra stepped into the street to cross by an alley when he thought he heard his name whispered.  The street behind him was empty and the alley was dark as pitch.  He heard nothing as he listened intently and figuring it must be the fuzziness in his head, turned to continue his trek.

 

“Hey, Ezra,” a harshly whispered voice called from the alley.

 

Squinting into the darkness, Ezra couldn’t make out any figures so he stepped closer and called, “Who’s there?”

 

“Come closer.  I’ve got a message for you.”

 

Ezra ignored the uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach, chalking it up to an over abundance of drink and moved into the darkness.  “All right, I’m here.  Is it from Denver or Four Corners?  What did it say?”

 

“This!”

 

The glint of light off an upraised blade caught Ezra’s attention and before he could react it had begun its downward arc.  With an inarticulate gasp Ezra twisted away, catching the blade in his shoulder, his momentum carrying him to the ground.  He lay on the ground stunned as his attacker stepped forward to finish the job, his face lit by a nearby street fire.

 

“I thought you were dead?” Ezra choked out, as the man he knew as Silas Mathers, the travelling salesman from the stage, straddled his prone form.

 

Silas shook his head and grinned evilly.  “No.  I got off the train before those bumbling idiots could derail it.  You and Larabee were supposed to go with the train.  Now I’ve got to get my hands dirty.”

 

Ezra tried to struggle but his strength waned as his blood colored the snow beneath him at an alarming rate.

 

“You were never supposed to make it this far,” Silas chuckled and patted Ezra’s face.  “Well, you won’t be making it any further.  Oh and don’t worry.  I’ve got something special planned for your partner.  Your days of testifying are over.”

 

Ezra came close to passing out as Silas yanked the knife from the wound.  He watched in horror as Silas raised the blade to make the killing blow.  “Wait!” Ezra gasped, “I’ll pay you.”

 

Silas shook his head.  “You know money can’t buy you everything you want.  Besides, this one is free.”

 

As Silas brought the blade down, Ezra struggled to bring his derringer up.  A single shot filled the night air.

 

~o~

 

“Where the hell is the law when you need them?” Ezra grunted as he weakly pushed at the dead weight pinning him to the ground.  Ice crunching under foot brought Ezra’s head around and he glanced up worried that Silas had help.

 

“Can’t you stay out of trouble?” Asa asked as he pulled Silas off of Ezra and turned the body over.  “Friend of yours?”

 

“This is not the time for levity,” Ezra gasped as he tried to sit up.  “That man was sent to keep me and Mr. Larabee from testifying in Denver.  I need to get back to the boarding house.”

 

“You need a doctor and I need to get the sheriff.”

 

“Later.  We need to get to the boarding house before it’s too late.”

 

“You sure are a glutton for punishment,” Asa stated as he pulled Ezra’s good arm across his shoulders.

 

Ezra could only nod as the pain seemed to increase with each step they took toward Ms. Mille’s.

 

 

Part 13

 

“Not much further now,” Asa huffed as he readjusted his grip on Ezra.  “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

 

“Easy for you to say.  I’ve been skewered like a prized ham,” Ezra mumbled around a tongue that seemed thick and uncoordinated.  “He’s ruined my new waistcoat and jacket.”

 

Asa chuckled at Ezra’s lament and shuffled him along the deserted street.  As they turned the next corner the boarding house came into view.  It was dark except for a solitary light flickering softly on the upper floor.  The light was a welcome sight, but Ezra frowned as he noticed the curtain move and a small face appear in the window.  A face belonging to a small person who should have been in bed hours ago.

 

“Appears someone has been awaiting your arrival,” Asa chuckled as they entered the yard.  “Need to work on those parenting skills of yours, Ms. Standish.”

 

Before Ezra could answer, the front door burst open and Rupert charged off the porch.  “Mr. Ezra, where were you?  I waited all day for you to come back and you missed supper and everything.”

 

Pulling himself up straighter, Ezra grimaced slightly and replied, “You should be in bed, Rupert.  Not traipsing around in the cold.”

 

“I was bored.  There’s no one to play with and Mr. Chris has been sleeping since after supper.”  Drawing in the snow with the toe of his shoe, Rupert innocently looked up at Ezra from beneath his lashes and whispered, “Ms. Millie said she’d tan my hide if I didn’t stop pestering Mr. Chris for stories.  I swear, he said he liked reading ‘em.”

 

“Enough!” Asa barked, stopping Rupert’s breathless explanation.  “Get back in the house and wake Ms. Millie.  Mr. Standish has had a run of trouble tonight and needs a doctor.”

 

Staring wide eyed at the two men a light of understanding suddenly lit the boy’s eyes.  Shouting Ms. Millie’s name at the top of his lungs Rupert hit the porch at a dead run, banging into the house, and making enough noise to wake the dead.

 

“Subtle,” Ezra croaked out as they struggled across the yard to the bottom of the stairs.

 

“He’s going to wake the whole house,” Asa grumbled as he pulled Ezra up the stairs and into the foyer.  The door made a soft click as it was pushed closed and the two adults made their way to the upper floor.

 

A few moments passed before Ms. Millie’s voice drifted up from below and the boy and woman raced up the stairs to the room Ezra had been given.  Bursting into the room, her hand clutched to her chest, Ms. Millie panted, “What in the name of heaven is going on?  Rupert said Mr. Standish had been in a shootout.”

 

“There wasn’t a shootout.  I was stabbed,” Ezra sighed as he fought to remove his outer garments which seemed to be working against him.  “And my new clothing has been ruined.”

 

“Here, let me help.”  Ms. Millie rushed forward and gently pulled Ezra’s wounded arm from the coat.  As she reached for the buttons on his waistcoat Ezra pulled back.  “I was a nurse during the war.  I’ve seen men in all states of undress.  There’s no need to go all modest on me,” Ms. Millie explained as Ezra’s blush deepened.  Knocking Ezra’s fumbling fingers away, Ms. Millie called over her shoulder, “Asa go after the doctor.  He mentioned he was going to the hotel earlier to check on some patients.”

 

“That was my intention.  Figured I’d collect the sheriff while I was out too.  Mr. Standish seems to think there maybe some mischief afoot and he and Larabee are targets.”

 

His shoulder aching horribly, Ezra wiped at the sweat beading his lip.  “My attacker said Mr. Larabee and I should have perished on the train.  We didn’t and he was supposed to finish the deed himself.”

 

“Goodness!”  Ms. Millie clasped her hands together and stared at Ezra in confusion.  “Why would someone want you and Mr. Larabee dead?”

 

“We were supposed to testify in a Denver courtroom.  Our testimony would have sent a man to the gallows and believe you me, he deserved it.”

 

“I better round up the doc and sheriff.  Don’t let anyone into the house.”  Asa hurried from the room, brushing past Rupert who was standing silently in the doorway, and out into the night.

 

“I apologize for the imposition, ma’am.  This was supposed to have been an easy trip north and it has been anything but easy.”

 

Pushing her bulk up from the floor, Ms. Millie squeezed Ezra’s hand.  “Don’t worry, honey.  The good Lord only puts those burdens which we can bear on our shoulders and you must have some pretty big shoulders.”

 

~o~

 

He awoke to the feeling of having been trampled by a herd of buffalo and the simple act to lift his arm seemed to deplete all his energy.  His eyelids felt as if they were made from lead and his mouth tasted like, well it didn’t bear thinking on.  Forcing his eyes open he squinted into the grayness of the room and realized the curtains had been pulled closed against what he assumed was the late morning sun.

 

Coughing harshly, Ezra groaned as his shoulder protested the sudden jarring of his arm.  When his shoulder calmed down he became aware of many more annoying aches and Ezra began to wonder how long he’d been lying in the bed.

 

Footfalls sounded outside the bedroom door seconds before the door quietly opened and Ezra knew he looked like the fool with his mouth hanging agape.  “Am I dreaming?”

 

“Well at least you didn’t ask if you were having a nightmare,” Nathan chuckled as he set a tray on the bedside table.  Looking Ezra over critically he asked, “How are you feeling?”

 

Contemplating the question for a few moments, Ezra mumbled, “Wretched.  Why are you here?”

 

“You sent the telegram.  You can’t think someone wouldn’t have come and it’s a good thing I did too.”  Nathan scowled as he strode to the windows and opened the curtains, letting bright sunlight into the room.

 

“I believe I mentioned everything was in order and we would return as soon as Chris was fit for travel,” Ezra croaked shading his eyes from the sun’s glare.  “Do you think you could shut the curtains?  It’s much too bright.”

 

“I need to be able to see to work.  Your eyes will adjust.”  Nathan returned to the side of the bed and pulled the blankets back.  “I need to check your shoulder.”

 

Jerking upright suddenly Ezra gasped, “What about Chris?  There are people trying to kill us!”

 

“Vin came along and he’s keeping watch.  Just relax and everything will be fine.”

 

“I just sent the telegram yesterday, how did you arrive so quickly?”

 

Nathan gently pushed Ezra back into the pillows.  “Ez, we got here three days ago.  You’ve been out of your head with fever for four.  You almost earned a spot on Boot Hill.”

 

“No.  That’s not right.  I couldn’t have lost four days, it was only a knife wound for God’s sake.”  Ezra shook his head in disbelief and fought the lethargy seeping into his bones.  “What about Chris and the boy?”

 

“They’re fine.  Just lie back and rest.  It’s the best thing for you right now.  I’ll explain everything later.”

 

 

 

PARTS 1-3 / PARTS 4-6 / PARTS 7-10 / PARTS 14-15

 

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Jackie  2011