Shuffling his deck, Ezra eyed the crowd around him. Only a handful of people had staggered into the saloon, windblown and dripping from the storm outside. They seemed much more interested in nursing their drinks rather than pursuing games of chance. With a deep sigh, he surrendered to the idea of a solitary evening. Cutting the deck and fanning it out, face down on the table, he picked out a random card.
Turning it over revealed the Jack of Clubs. His mouth curved as he considered the figure. Ah, surely this represented the young JD Dunne. A dark-haired youth; a reliable friend – certainly this fit the young man quite well. A bit naïve perhaps, but JD always gave people the benefit of the doubt, and that could be quite refreshing even to a professed cynic such as himself.
As he turned over two more cards, he chuckled. The Jack of Hearts and the Nine of Clubs went next to JD's card. Ah, perhaps young love would blossom then. As the Jack represented the youth of either sex, he would wager it stood for young Miss Wells in this instance. She would certainly keep JD on his toes!
A slight frown marred his features as he looked at the next card – the Jack of Spades. That seemed a bit more ominous to him as he laid the card at the start of a second row, directly beneath JD's Jack. A rival suitor, perhaps? Quickly he turned over two more cards the finish the row. His jaw clenched. To join the troubling spade card, he had turned over the Eight of Clubs and Nine of Spades. Yes, a jealous rival then, and the spade pointed to death and destruction.
Eyes narrowed, he turned over three more cards to make the square. The last row consisted of the Five of Clubs, Ace of Spades and Nine of Hearts. Well, that certainly spelled out his duty! He gathered up the cards with quick movements. Rising to his feet, he began striding towards the exit. With a glance outside, he saw that the storm had not abated in the slightest. Wincing as he looked down at his forest green jacket, he heaved a sigh before raising a hand to the swinging doors.
The question caused him to pause and glance over his shoulder. Chris Larabee had come downstairs just in time to see him standing up from the table. Eyes of stormy green raked across the gambler's apprehensive face before focusing on the man's own emerald gaze.
"I find myself with a sudden…desire to ascertain the well-being of our young sheriff."
The blond stiffened.
"Something wrong with JD?" he snapped out.
"I cannot say. I simply have a…feeling, an intuition if you will that someone should take a look."
With another weighted glance, Chris nodded and moved to stand beside him.
"Well," he said, "let's go have a look."
Ezra blinked, shock holding him still for a moment. Chris tilted his head in question.
"My apologies, Mr. Larabee, but I should warn you that I have no actual proof of any reason for concern…" he began to state.
"Ezra," Chris interrupted. "You and I have issues; no secret there. Still, you're as watchful as I am and as paranoid as Vin. I'm not going to ignore you when you're worried enough to go out into a storm like this."
They exchanged a long glance before the gambler gave him a two-fingered salute. With that, the two men ventured into the storm. Fighting the wind, they forged through the rain and up the steps to the Sheriff's office. Even as they reached the door, they could hear shouting from within. The storm hid the words from them, but there was no disguising the anger and instability of the voice. Chris' face hardened and he slammed through the door with Ezra at his heels.
A dark-haired man with wild eyes held JD at gunpoint. The storm had allowed him to sneak up on the young sheriff. Chris and Ezra moved into the room, with Ezra slightly behind and to the left of the leader.
"Let him go."
The very coldness of Chris' voice caused the man's aim to falter slightly. Blinking, he stared at the two men before shaking his head violently.
"No!" he exclaimed, gesturing towards JD. "He's in the way; he took her away from me. I have to do this so Casey and I can be together."
Ezra winced, knowing those words would be salt in a wound for Chris, echoing as they did the poisonous words he had heard from that…female that had arranged for the murder of his family. The temperature of the room seemed to noticeably drop as Chris glowered at the man from a lowered brow.
"I will not tell you again."
As the arctic chill of that soft voice permeated every corner of the room, Ezra moved to lean on the nearby wall. Affecting a casual air and giving a slight shrug, he directed his gaze at the strange fellow.
"I would really recommend you take Mr. Larabee up on his offer. He almost never offers second chances, and a third chance? Well, that would probably require the personal intervention of the Almighty."
The disdain in the Southerner's drawl put the man's back up and he snarled at the chestnut haired gambler. For his part, Ezra merely lifted a brow and rolled his eyes unconcernedly.
"Sirrah, if you are attempting to frighten me with a mere look, may I suggest you work on that glare? Right now I sincerely doubt it would frighten a toddler on his first steps away from his mother."
The stranger's face flushed with embarrassment and then paled in anger. He surged towards Ezra, completely forgetting about JD. He only managed two steps before a strong right hook from an irate gunslinger knocked him to the ground. He did not get back up.
JD slumped back against the walk, huffing out a breath.
"Am I happy to see you two! I don't know why you came over, but I sure am glad you did!"
Ezra gave him a quick smile before turning to watch Chris visibly shake off his cold anger. The leader gave the young sheriff a quick, searching look.
"You okay, JD?" he asked.
The young man nodded, looking back down at the unconscious fellow. Ezra and Chris followed his gaze.
"I take it this boorish fellow was interested in the young Miss Wells?" questioned Ezra.
"Yeah," replied JD with a shrug. "Casey doesn't like him much. Said he's been hanging around and staring quite a bit. He follows her whenever she's in town, and Miss Nettie won't leave her alone at the house anymore."
Ezra lifted a brow in bemusement. Nettie Wells could be as quick with a sharp word and a rifle as any of them. If she had begun to get concerned, this fellow must be quite the nuisance. Chris' thoughts ran along the same path.
"Well," stated the leader. "Looks like we'll have to do something about the man."
"Oh, indeed," agreed the gambler. "We simply cannot have someone such as this person running around town bothering our ladies and threatening the Sheriff. It might begin to darken the reputation of our fair community to have some such lowlife about."
For the time being, the men decided on locking the fellow up in the jail after removing his weapons. While they dealt with him, the storm outside finally abated and they stepped outside to get a look at the town. Other town folk were peeking out of doors and windows as well. They would get a better look in the morning, but for now, the damage appeared to be mostly superficial.
As they stood looking, two of their fellow peacekeepers, Vin and Buck, strolled across the street to join them. Ezra gave both men a bright smile. The two stopped, exchanged glances, and took a step back, all in unison.
"Whatever it is, Ez, the answer's no."
"Why, Mr. Wilmington, whatever makes you think I plan to ask for something?" asked the gambler, injured pride in every syllable. Unfortunately, the twinkle in his eye ruined the attempt.
"Because you only get that particular smile when you're up to somethin'," Vin said.
"Well," Ezra acknowledged. "That may be true. However, in this instance, I am merely pleased to see the two of you as we could use your advice on a…troubling situation."
"What's up?" asked Buck.
"We three have managed to detain a rather foul miscreant who has been making quite a nuisance of himself, and we are attempting to determine how we should handle this situation. Perhaps you will be able to assist us in this matter."
Vin glanced over to Chris who had leaned back against the wall, a small smile playing around the edges of his mouth. The leader had figured out Ezra's angle and was letting him play out the scene. The tracker shrugged. If Chris was okay with it, then he had no arguments.
"Sure, Ez, what'd he do?" asked the lanky Texan. Buck tilted his head in silent question.
"To begin with, this unsavory fellow has apparently been bothering young Miss Casey Wells to the point that her rather formidable aunt will not allow her to remain alone on their homestead any longer."
JD shook his head.
"Nope, and Miss Nettie keeps her rifle handy whenever they're out doing chores. Plus, he follows Casey around whenever they come in to town."
Vin's lips and eyes both narrowed, but he held his silence, waiting for his friends to finish.
"This evening, Mr. Larabee and I decided to come and check on JD here, only to walk into the office to find the miscreant holding him at gunpoint while raving in quite an unbalanced manner."
Now, Buck's frown deepened and furious eyes focused on the door to the jail.
"Now, while we find these instances exceedingly disturbing, it is unlikely that things will go much further. As no one has been harmed, it is doubtful as to whether the Judge would even bother to hear such a case. We know the fellow is a menace, and a threat to our little town, but that is no enough to bother the Judge about. So, we were attempting to come up with a solution to the conundrum. How do we teach this fellow what behavior is simply unacceptable?"
The two men exchanged a glance. Vin gave a nod and Buck turned back to the other three.
"Tell you what. You three went to the trouble of apprehending him. Why don't you let Vin and I take it from here?"
"Sure about that Buck?" Chris asked, finally joining the conversation. His amused gaze crossed Ezra's in time to catch a slight wink as the gambler stepped back and let him take the lead.
"Yeah, Chris. I figure me and Vin can handle this part."
"All right," agreed the leader. "You two take care of this. We'll head on over to the saloon."
With a quick nod, the tracker and the rogue began stalking into the jail. The other three strolled away, ambling towards the saloon.
"Say," JD piped up suddenly. "Why did you two come out into the storm anyway?"
"Ezra got himself a notion," shrugged Chris.
When the young man looked over at him, Ezra just gave a wink.
"It was in the cards, JD."