The Fifth Horseman
A Magnficent 7 - Highlander - Wild Wild West Crossover
by Terrance K. Harrington
Part Two: Clouds Gather
Two men rode into Four Corners from the east of town, both looking slightly out of place. With the exception of Ezra, few men in the area dressed like Sunday-go-to-meeting, but both of these men were sharply attired. They stopped briefly at the Sheriff’s Office, and asked Josiah, who was sitting out front, a question. The Preacher Man nodded toward the Saloon, and they thanked him.
Once in front of the only (official) drinking establishment in Four Corners, the two dismounted, fastened reigns, and went inside. Buck looked up with faint interest from his whiskey, but, since the two seemed uninterested in him, he returned to Nathan’s conversation. Both he and Nathan stopped talking when one of the two asked to speak with Ezra.
"You them Secret Service men come lookin' for him." Buck stated flatly. It wasn’t a question.
The two looked at each other, as if gauging what should be said. The younger, leaner of the two shrugged. The older man replied: "Why, yes. Might you tell us where we might find Mr.. . " the man frowned, as if he had to remember the name, "Standish?"
A voice came from the top of stairs: "They might were they of such mind."
All eyes turned toward the speaker. "However," Ezra drawled from his vantagepoint, "I had asked them that I not be disturbed, and it is unlikely that you'd gotten the response you wanted, if I did not speak." The gambler was dressed in his finest red jacket and vest, looking for all the world like a man without a care in it. He ambled slowly down the steps, as befitting one recovering from a heavy hangover.
The older man moved toward Ezra as he reached bottom, and held out his right hand. "It’s been a very long time, Captain."
Ezra merely looked at the hand for a moment, then grasped it with his own, turning his bloodshot eyes toward the speaker. "Under other circumstances," he said, "I might say it were a pleasure seeing you again, Captain Gordon. Under other circumstances." His grasp was friendly, nonetheless.
"Please have a seat gentlemen, and allow me to introduce you to a couple of dear friends. The quiet young gentleman sitting to my right is Mr. Nathan Jackson, the local healer, and my more boisterous friend," he said as Buck nodded, "is Mr. Buck Wilmington." Then, turning to his friends, he added: "Captain Artemus Gordon I know well, but I only know Special Agent James West by reputation."
"Well, this is right dandy. But, you still haven’t told us why the Secret Service is interested in you, Ezra."
"The reason is private," the man identified as West said curtly.
Gordon started to speak out, but Standish only shook his head. "No, Mr. West. Whatever we shall discuss, shall be discussed with my friends also." He sat down at the table, between Nathan and Buck, concluding his thought: "or not at all."
"Now see here," West began, but Gordon placed a restraining hand on his shoulder.
"It’s OK, Jim. Mr. Standish knows full well that we can’t force his cooperation. And, trust me, he’s not the sort of man whose cooperation can be forced. I know. Believe me, I know."
It was late in the year of 1864. Most of the country had been torn apart by civil war, but the end was not far off. The Confederate States' primary forces, under General Robert E. Lee, had taken a major defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg in July, 1863, and Lee's army had been harassed mercilessly by Ulysses S. Grant and the Army of the Potomac ever since.
However, the Confederacy would not die quietly, and a plan had been hatched to prolong the war. In a series of schemes designed to thwart Union victory, the Confederate government made secret deals with the British, who still stung over the loss of their "most prized colony" and with Czarist Russia, which had begun having serious imperialist dreams of its own. One such deal was designed to get arms and gold to the South via a sympathizer in central California, and a group of bold young men volunteered to make contact.
The Secret Service, headed by Allan Pinkerton, gained knowledge of the action, and was ordered to stop it at all costs. The group assigned the task was headed up by a youthful, but brilliant Captain named Artemus Gordon.
The plan, simple in form for both sides, seemed routine. That was before each group reached their destination. What they found stunned both sides, and forced, even if briefly, an alliance among enemies.
"He didn’t call himself Standish back then, of course. What was your name?"
Ezra smiled weakly, "I can’t always remember, myself. I try to forget those days."
Gordon nodded sympathetically.
Nathan interjected at that moment, heat beginning to rise in his voice, "Now, let me get this straight: a man I call friend fought for the people who called me 'slave'?" Nathan, an escaped slave and former army healer, still bore physical and emotional scars from the period. He glared at the gambler.
Ezra was silent for a moment, but looked Nathan straight in the eyes when he replied. "Nathan, I cannot coerce you to believe other than you will, but, if you believe nothing else about me, believe this: I never owned another man nor have I ever used another human soul for property. I was an idealist back then. My fight was for the pride of state and my country. I cared less for politics then than I do now, and I care little enough for it now."
"But you were in California," West said.
"Indeed, I was most certainly in California. A young man filled with juice and intrigue, running a most important errand for my compatriots. Little did we know."
"You were a Reb soldier?" Buck asked, incredulously.
"I never swore in," Ezra said.
"He was a spy," West amended.
Standish nodded lightly, "That would be more accurate, yes."
"As I live and breath, Ezra Standish, you have more secrets than a room full of priests!" Buck laughed.
"That would also be accurate," Ezra chuckled.
Nathan had now calmed back down, and the scientist in him wanted more information: "Mr. Gordon, you said you found something in California. Something bad?"
"Worse than bad, my good man. We found the Devil."
Most of the West Coast, at that time, was still in development. Yet, many who ventured west for the allure of gold came away sadder, if wiser. Some could not make it very far back, at all. Unscrupulous men took advantage of families, especially those with unmarried women in them. Prostitution, corruption, and crime became the sources of income for those who came too late to pan for nuggets and possessed too little wit to do anything else.
But, there are worse things than a simple criminal mind, and one man possessed the genius and cruel will to bring a malicious dream to pass. His name was Walter Drakeson, his passion was war, and his goal was to become a god among men.
No one knew where he came from; despite his all-too British name, his English was thick with some central European accent. However, he had a regal bearing about him, and, as Buck would say, "a rattlesnake's temper." If he were some deposed prince, he was the very model of Machiavellian menace. He considered himself without peer, and brooked no disobedience. An entire mining town of 137 souls discovered the price of crossing him.
He demanded half of everything this town owned, as tribute to him and his cause. He was rejected.
A haunted look came across Ezra’s face as he nearly whispered, "My squad had to travel through this town on the way back from the coast. It was a lively place when we passed through before, filled with hardy men, women and children. I didn’t find out until much later why it happened, but what we saw. . ."
Silence made the room thick.
Buck ventured, "You saw. . .?"
Gordon spoke up, "The entire town was dead. Drakeson came back with an army, and the people stopped laughing. They stopped doing anything but dying."
Standish found his voice, "He had them beaten. Beaten, stripped, tortured, and finally crucified, upside down, on every piece of unvarnished wall, railing, and post in the town. Every living body. Even the children. I’ve never seen Hell before, gentlemen, but I’ll recognize it if I do."
"How do you come into this picture?" Nathan inquired of Gordon.
Artemus was somber, "Most of my men were captured by Drakeson’s forces at his camp, nearly five miles distance from the town. At the time, we thought we might be witnessing a far west Reb training ground. In fact, we thought this might be the good Captain’s destination." He added, as he looked at Ezra.
"His sentries were good. Very good," Ezra commented. "Yes. We never heard them coming. Three of us fought our way out, but we left seven men behind. Seven very good men.
"We heard the shooting as we moved eastward from the town. Fortunately, we were far enough away not to be observed. Normally, back then, I would not jeopardize a mission to investigate. However, I had been... moved to anger, to hatred... by what I had witnessed in the town. I had to know if the villains behind the townspeople’s horrible demise were also behind the gunplay . . ."
"Hard to imagine you moved by anything but a double eagle, Ezra," Buck mused, half-jokingly.
Ezra, for a moment, appeared to be a very different man than the one Buck had come to know. There was an unusual blaze kindling in the depths of his eyes, and his face took on a rigid forcefulness Buck had only seen before in Chris.
"I have witnessed horror before, mind you," Ezra spoke with a softness that belied the emotion behind the voice, "On the field of honor, where combatants meet, I have seen the young men bleed and die, limbs severed from bodies. Oh, yes, Mr. Wilmington, I have seen blood and death, from afar, and very near. But, despite these horrors, these represented the price paid in honest, if ugly, warfare, the results of conflict among honorable warriors. For, in those same fields of bloodletting, I have seen strange mercies, as soldiers in one color uniform give comfort to a brother soldier in another. I have seen an enemy, one moment past, hold the hand of a dying antagonist, venturing with him to death’s veil, as a friend should.
"What I saw in that mining town was not the act of a war, but of butchery! I had every intention of finding the ones responsible for the slaughter of innocents..."
"What did you hope to do, Ezra?"
"I was a spy, not a soldier. Dishonor was part of my trade. I intended to find them, then visit upon these loathsome murderers war most vile. I intended to see that the merciless received no mercy."
"And he did," quipped Gordon.
"What happened?" Nathan asked breathlessly.
"First, he found us," Gordon replied, "then Drakeson and some of his troops found the Captain. That confrontation, gentlemen, is a tale even I wouldn’t believe, if I weren’t there to see it. . ."Part 3
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