He remembered too much.
He remembered arguing with Chris--Chris!--- and drinking anyway. He remembered fewer and fewer people at the table; and then there were none. None but him. Him and his bottle. The flask goes dry so quickly. But a bottle can last a long time, and be so easily replaced. Poor quality ale, though, tended to cause the suffering he was in now. He remembered saying ugly things to good people. Maude would be so proud.
Look out for number one, Son.
And he remembered someone taking him, not so very gently, to his room. Being sick and making a horrible mess. Being so very sick.
And now, lying in bed, staring painfully at the ceiling, he remembered. His head throbbed, his throat hurt, and he didn't think he could move. So he slept some more.
When he awoke, the memories were still there. Still the thought of someone coming into his room. What were they doing? Who was it? That he couldn't remember. But there was someone there.
He turned his sore body on his side and stared at the chair next to the bed. One neat stack of clean laundry sat on the chair. He reached out and fingered the shirt folded there. The shirt he was wearing last night. Was it last night? Or a week ago? God, could all this pain have accumulated in just 24 hours? He sat up slowly, so as to cause the least amount of pain, and remain conscious. He rubbed his face, struggled to his feet and eased his way across the uneven floor to the wash basin. Clean water, clean towel. He looked down at the floor. Someone had cleaned it. Cleaned up his mess. He started to wash his face, but even that was too much. He staggered back to the bed and eased his throbbing head to the pillow. And again, Ezra slept.
Josiah was sitting on the church steps when Ezra approached. The preacher was contemplating climbing back on the roof to chink the chimney a little better, but the sun was ruthless, and he had his whole life to finish the church.
"Mr Sanchez, I came to offer my gratitude for your benevolence of the past evening."
"I don't know what you're talking about Ezra."
"Thank you for assisting me in my less-than-able position."
Josiah shook his head. "Wasn't me."
Ezra studied him. He had thought it over very carefully, and it had to have been Josiah that had assisted him. Chris was ready to kill him, JD would never do anything Chris didn't approve of first, Nathan had little use for him on his best days, Buck would have been elsewhere with the ladies and Vin could have cared less what kind of dire straits Ezra had put himself into. But the preacher, he was a man of God and as such, may have been predisposed to assisting him. Ezra didn't have many friends, and had rapidly come to the conclusion the preacher would have been obligated to do what he did. There wasn't any other reason someone would have helped him. And he clearly remembered someone was there with him. There was evidence of it, too. The clean clothes, the clean water and the clean room. It had seemed like a nightmare, but it wasn't; it was real.
Ezra grasped the end of the stair railing and turned to look up the street. Who then?
He turned back to look at the man on the steps. "Excuse me?"
"Vin. It was Vin who dragged you upstairs."
He shook his head. "Mr Tanner would have absolutely no reason to care whether I drowned in my own ruminations. Why would he take the time to---"
"Reckon you should ask him that. It was him."
Ezra stared at Josiah. He simply could not absorb the information, because it held too much conflict within his expectations. He had laughed at Vin in a particularly ugly encounter a few weeks ago, generally tried to make him feel inferior by using language he was sure Tanner could not possibly understand, and had never even attempted to find out anything about him or his past. Vin?
"He's in the apple tree. Billys' got him up there pickin apples for him."
Ezra nodded and slowly started in that general direction, although he had no clue as to why he was going there or what he would say once he got there. Could Vin be setting him up for something? Could he have taken something from him while he was passed out drunk? Yes, Ezra, perhaps Mr Tanner wanted a pair of cufflinks. He almost smiled at the thought. None of those were acceptable answers, and Ezra kept walking toward the apple tree.
It was a bedraggled apple tree on the edge of town. It had been struck by lightning once, splitting the main trunk in two and leaving a crevice for a person to stand straddle while picking apples. Vin Tanner had one arm hooked on a branch, leaning out and picking apples, then dropping them to Billy, who cheered him on enthusiastically.
"Hey, Ezra, feelin' better?"
"Yes, Mr Tanner, I am."
"Good. Here comes another'un Billy."
An apple dropped from the branches into the waiting hands.
"Mr Sanchez advised me that you were responsible for my salvation the past evening."
"Thank you for seeing to it that I got to my bed."
"Yep. You want an apple?"
"No. And thank you for taking care of.... my other needs."
"Yep. God damn, Ezra, what you pay for havin somebody wash your shirt when you kin wash it yerself in the river..." He shook his head in disbelief. "You gotta pay Miz Clarks for the laundry."
"That I will do."
Vin continued to pick apples. Ezra continued to stand there and watch him.
"Nothing, Mr Tanner. I was just wondering.... why?"
"Cause they're ripe."
"No. Why did you go to the trouble?"
"Oh." He shrugged. "Looked like you could use a friend." Vin swung out to hang from a sturdy limb, dangling for a moment before he dropped to the ground to stand a few feet from Ezra. He clapped him on the shoulder and grinned. "You'd do the same for me, right?"
For once, Ezra was without words.
| Back |