Chapter 2: Dinnertime Conversation
Walking down the boardwalk, the two men soon found themselves outside the town's only saloon. Over the years both men had learned to step into a strange saloon with a certain amount of caution. Though for different reasons, both Chris and Ezra had learned the hard way that entering any establishment without being aware of all of the possible exits as well as the people you would be meeting could prove dangerous at the least and deadly at most.
Stepping through the swinging doors, the two men moved slightly to the side, their hands hovering near their sidearms. While it took a few seconds for their eyes to completely adjust, no one seemed to take offense at their entrance or their presence. All eyes had momentarily shifted in their direction at the sound of the swinging doors opening, and Ezra had seen the slight pause in people's actions as Chris stepped into the building, but everything quickly returned to normal.
Scanning the room, Ezra's eyes sparked as he saw not one, but two poker games currently being played. Making a quick tally of the amount of money on each table, he made his decision as to which he would like to join. Unfortunately, there didn't appear to be an opening at either game at the moment, so his own entertainment would have to wait.
Chris looked around, not really caring for much. There was only one table left unoccupied and that was by the back door. Still, it was in a fairly quiet and out of the way location that would still afford the gunslinger a good view of the establishment. Right now things seemed to be quiet in the place, but years spent sitting in saloons all over the territory had taught him how quickly that could change. After the long, hot day they had just spent, he had only one thought - whiskey. He wanted a good, stiff drink and some food. He knew he couldn't overdo because they still had a hard day's ride ahead of them tomorrow; but one drink would hit the spot.
Making his way across the tavern to the far table, Chris settled in and smiled at the thought of arriving home. He shook his head slightly at the word. If anyone had told him that he would ever find another place he would claim as home, he would have laughed at them - or shot them. After Sarah and Adam's death, Chris had sworn off all the comforts of home and taken to a path of self-destruction. Looking back upon it, he realized that his wandering had really just been another way to lose himself. Among the gunfights, the travels and the alcohol, it was amazing he'd ever found his way back to humanity.
Yet, here he was, thinking of home. There really wasn't anything special about the place, nothing special about his shack even; but the other peacekeepers, his friends... Chris nodded slightly at the realization, pleased the thought no longer terrified him as it had the first time he'd had it.
Ezra watched as Chris headed for the only open table in the saloon. Releasing a sigh, he followed along, allowing himself one final glimpse of the games in progress before walking past. Watching as the man in black settled at the small table, Ezra couldn't help his smile. If anyone had tried to tell him he would be associating with the likes of his fellow peacekeepers a few years ago, he would have laughed in their face and called them a fool. What business did a conman and gambler have with the likes of a gunfighter, a tracker, an ex-priest, an ex-slave, a rogue and a greenhorn? And worse, why in the world would he agree to work for a dollar a day plus room and board when he could easily win one hundred times that amount at the poker tables?
Ezra's small smile grew slightly at the answer: friends. Somehow during the course of their association, he had become friends with these men and was now growing to fear the loneliness of life without them. He knew his mother would be appalled by such an admission and that he should be as well, but somehow having friends just didn't seem like such a bad thing. True, there were trade-offs, like the annoying conscience he seemed to be developing - but still, if pushed, he would admit - to himself at least - that he wouldn't give up his time with these men for all the money in St. Louis.
Though both men would have been stunned by the similarity in their trains of thought, neither hesitated to provide their drink order when the bartender finally came to their table.
Watching the man head back to the bar, Chris noted Ezra's eyes wandering over toward one of the poker games. "Going to try to get in?" he asked. Not one for conversation, Chris had to admit that he'd been a little unnerved by Ezra's silence both during the ride and as they entered the saloon. It was just unnatural for the man not to be talking.
Ezra turned his attention back to the man with whom he shared his table. Nodding, he said, "The thought had crossed my mind." The statement drew a smile of approval from his friend. Still, it didn't answer the question that had been plaguing him since they picked up their cargo. Now seemed like as good a time as any to ask, after all, he had Chris to himself, yet somehow the words would not form.
Chris frowned slightly as the watched Ezra. Standish seemed to be struggling with something. "What's on your mind, Ezra?" Larabee asked, unsure if he would get a reply.
If he had wanted a better opening, he couldn't have planned it. Still, the question wouldn't come. Just as Ezra was about to divert Chris' question, their drinks arrived. After an assurance from the barkeep that their food would be out shortly, the two were left alone once more. Turning his attention back to his dining partner, Ezra assured, "Just thinking how much I'm looking forward to returning... to our colleagues."
Larabee smiled. "Just can't bring yourself to call it home can you?" he asked.
Ezra returned the smile. "So at what ungodly hour are we to depart this quaint village?"
"If Vin's right and it's a hard day's ride, I reckon we should be heading out not long after the sun rises."
An elegant sigh escaped the Southerner. "So I suppose I should plan my gaming accordingly?"
"That would be a good idea, Ezra," Chris agreed., leaning back in his chair and taking a sip of his drink. A movement by the door caught his eye. Directing his intense gaze upon the entryway, Larabee watched as a young, thin man entered. He was wearing brown pants, a blue shirt, a gun and a deputy's badge.
Ezra raised an eyebrow in question, noting the gunslinger's intent gaze. "Problem?" he inquired.
"Deputy just walked in," Chris informed, surreptitiously keeping his eye on the man's movements. He noted the way the men responded to the deputy's arrival, and more interestingly, the reaction of one of the saloon girls. Most of them smiled their welcome to the man, but one of them gave him the cold shoulder. His interest piqued, Larabee observed the man, offering Ezra a quiet running commentary of what he was seeing.
The deputy walked up to the red-headed woman and leaned against the counter next to her. They were just close enough that Larabee and Standish could both hear what was being said, so Chris fell silent.
"Susannah," the deputy said, his voice filled with all the eagerness of young love.
"Fred," she greeted coldly.
"Aw, don't be like that," he said, placing his hand on her shoulder.
Anger flaring, Susannah spun quickly around to face him, blue eyes ablaze. "How do you want me to be?" she demanded. "You keep making promises and there are never any results. You keep being errand boy for the sheriff and I keep... Fred," she continued, her voice softening, "you're a sweet man, and I love you, but things just aren't going to change for us. Now you need to go let me work."
Standing straighter, Fred put his hand on her shoulder, "They will change, Susannah, I promise. Just give me a little more time." He sighed in relief as his love smiled and nodded her agreement. Watching her disappear into the crowded saloon, Fred took the opportunity to glance around. Noting the two strangers sitting in the corner, he made his way over to them. "Gentlemen," he greeted.
"Deputy," Standish acknowledged aloud as Larabee just nodded.
"New in town?" the deputy inquired.
"Indeed," Ezra agreed, amiably. "We're just passing through. We'll be staying the night and moving on in the morning," he offered, hoping it would encourage the deputy to leave them alone.
The deputy's friendly smile hardened slightly at the subtle dismissal. Chris and Ezra exchanged a look. Something wasn't quite right here.
"That's good to hear," Fred said. "But as deputy, the sheriff relies on me to find out what all our visitors are about and what their business is. Seems to me there were three of you gents came riding in today. I only see the two of you here."
"Our compatriot was feeling a little wrung-out by our journey today and decided to retire early," Ezra explained smoothly.
"I see," Fred agreed, not at all sure he did. "So what direction did you all come from?"
"East," Larabee filled in before Ezra could respond.
The deputy nodded. There wasn't a whole lot to the east other than a stretch of barren land. The nearest town in that direction was at least two days away. Something about their statement rang alarm bells in the deputy's head. "Anywhere in particular?" he asked again, fishing for more information.
"Town to the East," Larabee supplied.
The deputy frowned slightly. He didn't often run across people so reluctant to reveal their intentions. Three men as different as the three who rode in - a buffalo hunter, a gambler and a fancy cowboy - didn't just happen together. All three looked to be dangerous on their own. They were hiding something. "What were you doing there?" he prodded. He was met with two cold, silent stares. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "Where you boys headed to?" he demanded, authority ringing in his voice.
Larabee and Standish exchanged an amused glance at the deputy's demand, obviously this man hadn't heard of their reputations. "Home," Ezra supplied, a small smirk on his face as he recalled Chris' earlier statement about not being able to call their town home.
The deputy nodded. "Heard tell of some of the towns east of here having some trouble. You wouldn't know anything about that would you?" he asked, fishing for information.
"Wasn't us," Chris replied, his voice as cold as his stare. "We're just looking for a peaceful night's sleep and then pushing out come morning. Don't want no trouble."
"Good to hear," the deputy agreed, nodding his head. Something just wasn't sitting right with him; these men were hiding something. Figuring he'd ask around a little more before reporting back to the sheriff, he nodded to the two men just as their dinners arrived and headed off to mingle with the men in the saloon.
"That fellow seems quite interested in our movements," Ezra observed.
"Yep," Chris agreed. He could understand the deputy's curiosity and need to ask, after all, it wasn't everyday that three men looking as dangerous as he knew he, Vin and Ezra looked, wandered into town. Still, something just didn't sit right with him.
Ezra watched Chris and could easily guess his thoughts, for they must closely mirror his own. "Perhaps some information gathering would behoove us as I mingled with the locals," Ezra supplied.
Chris nodded and turned his attention back to his meal. There really wasn't anything they could do, but the sense of unease that had been hovering on the distant edge of his conscious mind came a little closer.
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