Chapter 4: Eventful Dawn
Vin watched silently as Chris walked over to Ezra’s door to knock and make sure the gambler was up. Normally he would have tried something fun to get Ezra moving, but today there wasn’t room for levity. Chris had informed him of his suspicions from the previous night and Vin figured they couldn’t get out of there soon enough.
Though still early for most travelers, it was just after dawn and the restaurant would be open.
Chris was just completing his first knock when a fully dressed Ezra Standish pulled open the door – saddlebags ready to go. “Are you gentlemen ready for our morning repast?”
Vin smiled and ducked his head as Larabee tried to pull up short. Chris looked a bit discomfited by Ezra’s sudden appearance and by the fact the man was ready to ride. “I’ll stay here and watch,” Vin offered, knowing that whatever else they faced, the possibility of him being recognized was still a legitimate concern.
Chris turned to look at the tracker. “You sure?” he asked. “We can always just bring it with us.”
Vin smiled. “I’m fine. Just send up somethin’.”
With a nod and a tip of his hat, Chris and Ezra headed for the door, waiting to ensure the doors were locked behind them. As they made their way down the stairs, the two men allowed their eyes to roam the area. Nothing seemed amiss.
Approaching the clerk, the man didn’t seem nervous or out of character in any way. While that was reassuring on some level, there was no guarantee that he clerk would know what was going on outside the hotel.
“With what may I help you gentlemen this morning?” he asked, smiling at the approach of the two travelers.
“I was wondering if you would mind sending breakfast up to our room for our companion,” Ezra inquired, smiling politely.
“Certainly, sir,” the clerk responded, mentally adding the cost of another room-delivered meal to their hotel total. “Anything in particular?”
Larabee left Ezra and walked toward the door to see if anything was going on outside. He had thought that someone passed by the door, but couldn’t be sure. Scanning down the street, he saw the liveryman from the day before stepping into the Sheriff’s office. Another man was heading toward the jail from the other side of town. Chris’ eyebrows drew down in thought. This didn’t look good. The sooner they were on the trail, the happier he would be.
“Mr. Larabee,” Ezra called slightly louder, finally catching the man’s attention.
Chris turned his frowning face and troubled eyes toward Ezra. “What?”
“Our table is ready,” Ezra stated, indicating the dining room with his hand. He waited for Chris to catch up to him before walking beside the man into the dining area.
Taking his seat, Chris’ eyes wandered toward the window, unease growing within.
“How long do you think it will take us to get back?” Ezra queried, watching Chris force his gaze away from the window.
With a shrug he replied, “Not sure. Vin said a hard day’s ride.”
“Yes,” Ezra responded. “I do recall that. However, I also recall a hard ride to Mr. Tanner is not always the same as a hard ride to the rest of us.”
Chris smiled at the statement. “No indeed,” he agreed as someone arrived to take their orders.
With that done, Ezra frowned at his friend whose eyes had once more sought out the window. “What are you worried about, Chris?” he asked softly.
Chris shifted in his seat uncomfortably and focused on his breakfast companion. A small shake of his head and a frown indicated to Ezra that whatever was the source of his friend’s current unease, Larabee had yet to identify it. “Not sure. This whole place just doesn’t sit right,” he admitted. Then, thinking of what he saw earlier, he continued, “Last night I thought I heard a gunshot.”
“Just one?” Ezra inquired, sitting straighter in his chair.
Chris nodded the affirmative. “Then this morning I saw some men heading into the jail before we came in.”
At this Ezra nearly jumped out of his chair. He’d seen set-ups like this and didn’t like it one bit. Glancing up, he saw their breakfasts just coming out. Though it smelled very appetizing, he suggested, “Perhaps we should forego our morning repast and hasten our departure.”
Chris nodded, but said nothing more until the stranger had left. “You may be right,” Larabee agreed.
Taking several quick bites of food, Ezra placed a few coins on the table to pay for their meal and then stood. Before he took a single step, however, he found himself looking down the wrong end of a shotgun aimed in his direction. Shooting a quick glance over at Chris, he saw the gunman’s jaw was tight with anger, but his hands were clear of his weapons. They would find out what was going on and act only if necessary.
Chris cursed silently. Why hadn’t he paid attention to his instincts? He knew better than to ignore that feeling of trouble. Scanning the room quickly, he found himself surrounded by men with guns. There was the sheriff, the deputy, the liveryman, the barkeep and, if he wasn’t mistaken, several people from Ezra’s poker game the night before. “Help you gentlemen?” he asked, his voice cold and edged with death.
The sheriff saw his deputy shudder and worked at suppressing his own response, knowing that to show fear in front of this man was just inviting trouble. “Need to speak to you boys about a little problem we had last night at the bank,” he began, not missing the steel in eyes of the man in black. A trickle of cold sweat trailed down the sheriff’s neck. “Understand you have a third man with you,” he continued. “We’re going to have to speak to him too.”
Chris eyed the man before him coldly. “Don’t see why. He never left the room,” Chris supplied Taking small pleasure at the sight of the sheriff faltering.
“Ain’t your place to talk,” the deputy inserted, finally overcoming his fear enough to make a statement.
With a nod toward the deputy, Sheriff Johnson waved his rifle in the direction of the lobby and the stairs. “Move, he commanded.”
Waiting just long enough to let the man question if he really was in control, Chris made his way slowly toward the stairs, hoping for some way to get out of this situation, but with so many guns focused on him at once, there was little he could do. He knew Vin would have seen the men coming toward the hotel, though the sharpshooter probably wasn’t aware of what they were doing there. He would have to find a way to let Vin know they were coming and what they were facing. Looking over he caught Ezra’s eye. Ezra nodded, obviously also having wondered about Vin’s reaction.
Clearing his throat, he said loudly, “Honestly, can’t you keep the barrel of the monstrosity out of my back? I assure you gentlemen I will be most willing to accompany you to the jail and sort out this misunderstanding. I see no reason why you should treat us in this manner. And I can assure you that our riding companion, Mr. Dunne, has not left the room since our arrival in this fair city.”
At Ezra’s pronouncement of “Mr. Dunne”, Chris had turned incredulous eyes toward the conman and caught the twinkle in them. He had to admit, it was a smart move to hide who Vin really was as long as possible, but Chris wasn’t sure Vin would be thankful for having to act like JD. On the other hand, it did make sense. When he came out West, JD wanted to be Bat Masterson, would it be that far a stretch to think he would change heroes?
When they reached the door, the Deputy poked Ezra in the ribs with his gun. “Open it,” he ordered.
With a sigh, Ezra extracted his copy of the key and inserted it into the lock. With a loud greeting, he opened the door.
Vin was standing in the middle of the room looking as non-threatening as he could. Scanning the rest of the room, Chris felt a momentary disappointment when he saw all of their saddlebags in plain sight. Looking into the blue eyes, he read Vin’s reason. Avoid trouble. He wasn’t so sure they could do that now, but they didn’t need to give the sheriff any excuse to mistreat them.
“Take their guns,” the sheriff ordered one of the men. He watched as the three strangers surrendered their weapons. “Grab their bags and let’s head over to the jail.”
With the orders given, the three men were forced down the stairs and to the jail where they were forced into the seats that had been set up for them.
Throwing their saddlebags onto the desk, the sheriff settled on the corner, trying to overcome his nervousness at having these three in his custody. Though he had them out numbered and had their weapons, something inside told him these men wouldn’t hesitate to take on him and his men – and that the trio might just win.
Trying to sound casual, he asked, “You boys wouldn’t happen to know anything about what happened at the bank last night?” He received three cold, deadly stares. Struggling against the urge to run, he continued. “No answer? I’ll take that as a yes. But just in case you’re wondering, someone broke into the bank last night. Cleaned it out and shot the bank manager dead.”
Taking note of those around him, Ezra could see the tension that grew at the mention of the bank manager’s demise. He no longer wondered if they had made a mistake in not running sooner, he knew they had.
When he was still met with silence, the sheriff, ordered, “Go through their bags and see if you can find the money.”
With a zeal they had not seen before, the liveryman and the deputy began going through the saddlebags. They quickly seized upon the paper-wrapped package and opened it up to reveal the contents. A low whistle escaped the deputy as he turned wide eyes toward the sheriff. “There must be twenty thousand here,” he said.
“That money belongs to Orin Travis,” Chris stated, his voice cold. “The circuit judge for these parts,” he added to let them know they were serious. He knew there was actually closer to forty thousand, but didn’t say a word.
A soft curse escaped the sheriff. Things had just gotten a lot trickier.
“Don’t change the fact that the banker’s dead, “ the liveryman stated. “Or the fact that this is exactly how much was stolen.”
“If you gentlemen will wire the judge, he will confirm…” Ezra began before one of the angry townspeople slapped him.
“Shut up, you.”
“I think we need us a trial now,” another member of the group said. “We got all the proof we need – got the money, got the dead banker.”
“He was my son’s godfather,” someone else hissed.
Chris caught sight of Vin and watched him pale. A sudden understanding passed through the blond man. This is what had happened to Tanner in Tascosa. Larabee swallowed hard. He now knew what they were facing.
“You have a trial without the judge, it’s a lynching,” Chris observed coldly.
“Yer guilty!” someone screamed at them.
“Hang ‘em now!” someone else called out.
The three peacekeepers exchanged a look. Things had just gone from bad to worse.
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