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Mother Dearest
            By Kelly

Would Maude risk Ezra's life for her own monetary gain? The seven are
about to find out.
 


 

Part 1

The two men entered the hotel lobby and paused, taking in the
crude surroundings.  The larger of the two wore a long, dark
duster with a red vest underneath.  He sported a bushy mustache
which covered his upper lip.  His partner, a much younger man,
balding prematurely, but with a boyish face wore a plain
brown coat and trousers. Both men carried six-shooters strapped
to their hips.  They approached the counter and were met by the
hotel manager, a small middle-aged man, who assumed by their
dress they were either business men, lawyers or hired guns,
either way, men of position, which meant men of money.

"And how may I be of service to you gentlemen?"  The manager
stated, a wide toothy smile pasted on his face, it was a
practiced smile one reserved for business.

"Yes, I'm Mr. Tilly and this is my associate Mr. Brok we're
looking for someone."  He leaned forward on the counter placing a
booted foot on the bottom rail which ran the length of the
counter.  "An elderly woman about so tall."  Mr. Tilly indicated
with his hand the height of the woman.  "She usually travels
alone and she's real good at poker."

This brought instant recognition to the manager's eyes. "Ah, you
must mean Mrs. Maude Standish."  Mr. Tilly looked over his
shoulder at his associate who stepped up closer.  He returned his
attention to the fervent hotel manager whose smile never left his
face.

"Does Mrs. Standish frequent this town?"  Mr. Tilly asked in an
even and courtly manner.

Unfortunately the manager did not think it odd that these men did
not know Mrs. Standish's name, if he had, he might not of been so
forth coming with his information.  "Well sometimes to visit her
son, Ezra."

The two men glanced at each other.  Mr. Tilly's mouth twitched
slightly.  "She has a son?"

"Yes, he's one of the lawmen here.  You can find him over at the
saloon he's also a gambler."  The manager chuckled as he added,
"Like mother like son, huh."

The two men also chuckled slightly at this, but they were not
amused.  Mr. Tilly tipped his wide brim black hat turned and
walked away, Mr. Brok falling in step alongside.  They stopped
just outside the hotel the bright sunlight causing Mr. Tilly to
pull the brim of his hat down to shadow his eyes. He leaned
against the post railing looking over the small backwater town.
He preferred Kansas City and looked forward to returning there as
soon as this little task was complete.  "So she calls herself
Mrs. Standish now," he mused thinking over what the hotel manager
had disclosed to them.

"What do you want to do, Mac?" Hank Brok asked as he casually
placed his hand upon the butt of his revolver. Hank Brok tried to
appear harden and confident without much success, unlike his
partner, Hank had never once shot a man.  He was brought up
fairly sheltered having been sent to various eastern schools for
the past five years.  He was only here at the demand of his
father who thought it would be a good experience.  Actually his
father had his doubts that he would be able to take over the
ranch when he was gone, but he had no choice.  Hank's older
brother, Samuel who was to inherit the ranch was killed last year
in a barroom brawl.

"We find this Ezra Standish," Mac replied regarding Hand through
narrow eyes.  A worried smile slowly emerged on Hank's face.

Hank didn't like this man much, but he was his father's right
hand man and was very loyal to his father, doing whatever it took
to get the job done.  Hank started to worry for Mr. Standish.

Several small dust devils swirled about their boots as Hank and
Mac walked across the wide dusty street towards the saloon.  They
heard the music and laughter pouring out of the saloon and
stopped at the entrance casually surveying the bar room. They
then continued in maneuvering around tables and trying to avoid
the drunk and jovial patrons as they made their way to the long
bar in the back.  They motioned to the bar tender for a beer.
The two men received curious glances from several people, but
interest was soon lost.  Hank and Mac stayed at the far end of
the bar surreptitiously glancing around the room.  Hank nudged
Mac in the ribs and motioned with his head towards a far corner
table where four men were engaged in a poker game.

"There he is, Mac."

Mac Tilly turned around and leaned casually against the bar still
holding his beer.  He watched as Ezra Standish raked in the
winnings from his latest poker venture the grin on his face so
wide it showed his gold tooth.  Mac took a swig of his beer and
turned back around wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

"Yep, that must be him."

"What do you want to do? Do you think he'll tell us where his
mother is?"  Hank innocently asked.

Mac gave Hank a dubious look. The only reason he was paired up
with the naïve young man was that he was the boss's son.  He had
promised his father he would introduce him to the real world.  He
realized that this boy would probably one day be his boss and the
thought disgusted him.   "Who would turn in their own mother?  I
have a better idea, this just made things a whole lot easier."
Mac glanced over his shoulder to gaze at the fancy dressed
gambler. "I didn't like the idea of roughing up a woman,"  Mac
stated as he looked over to Hank.  "All we have to do is take her
son."  Mac finished off his beer and headed out of the saloon.
Hank took one last look at Ezra, downed his drink and followed
after Mac.

Hank and Mac decided they'd just wait in the alley between the
saloon and the mercantile, they figured that Ezra would have to
come out sooner or later.  As the evening wore on more people
started making their way into the saloon.  Hank watched as a
tall dark-clad gunslinger went in followed by a younger man
dressed in buckskin the pair looked dangerous and sent a slight
shiver down Hank Brok's spine.  He never thought of himself as
a coward, but he was also not a fool.  He was doing this because
of his father, but he started wondering now if it was worth it.

The days were starting to get shorter and the shadow of night
came quickly shutting down most other activities within the small
backwater town, the saloon being the exception.  Men would
congregate until the wee hours of the morning trying to relax
after a hard day on the ranch or on the range.

Ezra was on his usual winning streak and had just finished the
last hand.  "If you'll excuse me gentlemen, with your kindly
donations I feel like treating myself to a pleasant dinner
tonight."

"Hey, Ezra you comin' back so I can try and win back some of my
pay?" Buck asked as he counted what he had left, his face showing
that he was severely lacking in the monetary department.

"Yeah, Ezra, I thought you were goin' to give me some pointers?"
JD complained to the silver-tongued gambler as he also took in
the paltry remnants of his money.

"My dear boy, there is no better teacher than experience," Ezra
cited as he smoothly stood, picking up his hat and placing it on
his head.

"By the time I get experience I'll be broke. I think I want a
different teacher," JD remarked sarcastically.

Ezra had to smile at the young sheriff.  He hated taking the
boy's money, but soothed his guilt by attributing it to his
higher education.

"As you wish Mr. Dunne when I return I will endeavor to convey to
you my many stratagems and to pass on my well-advanced poker
skills."

"Huh?"

"He means he'll take more of your money," Buck interpreted
ignoring Ezra's playful glare.

Ezra tipped his hat and walked across the bar room towards the
door tipping his hat at Chris and Vin who remained at the bar.
The night was slightly cool which felt good after the stuffiness
of the smoke-filled saloon.  Hank and Mac watched as Ezra walked
across the street heading towards the restaurant.  They felt this
would be there only chance. The moon was hidden and there weren't
many people on the street and if they did this right no one would
be the wiser.  The two casually stepped out from the alley way
and started to follow the genteel-looking man.

Mac drew his gun and jabbed it into Ezra's side just as he
reached the other side of the street. "Listen, you cause any
problem and we shoot the first person who approaches us after we
shoot you," he said in a low and menacing voice.

Ezra's face remained impassive he didn't know if these men were
serious, but was not about to risk it to find out.  He didn't
know what was going on, he had never seen these men before and
could think of no reason anyone would want to do this. Well
actually he could.  There was a long list of people he had pissed
off, but he knew these men were not on that list.  He slowly
nodded in acknowledgment, his face showing not a hint of emotion
which started to unnerve Hank a little.

"C'mon Mac let's get out of here," Hank whispered as he looked
around to see if anyone was watching.  This gambler was to
confident, to calm.

Ezra could hear the nervousness in the smaller man's voice and
was even more perplexed at the situation.  He kept hoping that
one of his partners would come out of the saloon.  He then would
feel confident enough in trying to take the two men.

The saloon doors opened and a man and woman walked out laughing,
they turned and went in the opposite direction completely
enthralled with each other.  Mac prodded Ezra with the gun
motioning him to a nearby alley way where they had three horses
tied.

Mac quickly searched the gambler and found all his guns, he
grinned at the derringer he found up Ezra's sleeve.  "Hank, cover
him while I go take a look around."  Hank nervously pulled his
gun and aimed it at Ezra who eyed the youth with a knowing smile.
Mac left to check the area and make sure no one was around.

"What is someone like you doing in this business?" Ezra asked
hoping to get some answers.

"Ah, what business are you referring to Mister Standish."

This momentarily stunned Ezra, this man had called him by name.
"Why, the kidnapping of a local law officer, you do know that's a
Federal offense."

Hank's brows came together and his palms started to get sweaty.
Ezra saw the boy's face fall than darkness crashed over him.

Mac came up behind Ezra and hit him with the butt of his gun
knocking him to the ground.  "Why'd you do that?" Hank asked.

"Because he talks to much and it'll be safer if he's unconscious
I don't want him doing anything that'll call attention to us.
Now help me tie him on the horse and let's get out of here."

"Mac I don't know, this is starting to get complicated. He's a
lawman," Hank's voiced raised slightly in pitch.

Mac grabbed a handful of Hank's coat.  "Listen, your father told
me to bring you hoping to put some backbone in you.  Now I happen
to like my job and have no intention of losing it because you
start running scared."  Mac released Hank's coat and the smaller
man took a step back smoothing his coat down.  He looked up at
Mr. Tilly with a slight tinge of disgust.  Mac took a deep breath
to calm down and forced a smile to his face.  "Look, no one has
to get hurt.  Mrs. Standish is sure to hand over the stolen
property with no trouble when she learns we have her son, then
we'll let him go."

Hank seemed to consider this.  He knew his father would be
infuriated if he returned without the stolen property.  He had a
hard time living up to his father's expectations, maybe this time
he could do something his father would be proud of.  He went over
to Ezra who laid in a heap on the ground and started to lift him
up.  Mac came over and gave him a hand and together they flung
him over a horse and tied him so he wouldn't fall off than the
three quietly left Four Corners.

*****

Mid morning found Chris and Vin sitting outside the saloon
waiting for the stage.  Josiah and Buck came up to join them.

"Hey, has anyone seen Ezra?  He didn't come back to the saloon
last night," Buck asked the three men hitching his thumb into his
gunbelt.  He had figured the reason that Ezra hadn't returned was
that he had got a better offer last night, but Buck checked his
room this morning and the bed had not been slept in, this caused
a twinge of worry to replace the annoyance he had felt.

Chris continued to lean back in his chair his head bowed with
his chin resting on his chest, his hat pulled low. "Nope," he
replied without looking up.

Vin glanced between Buck and Josiah who was sitting against the
railing.  "I haven't seen since last night.  Have you checked his
room?"

"Yeah," Buck answered absently as he ran his hand down his face
his brows coming together in concern.  "I know he said he was
going to get a good dinner for once, but I thought he was going
to come back and play a few more hands with JD and me."

Before Buck or anyone else could continue the conversation or thoughts
the stage roared in getting everyone's attention.  The four men
watched as passengers started to disembark.  A smile broke out on
Josiah's face that the other three couldn't help but notice.
Josiah removed his hat and smoothed down his graying hair and
proceeded to walk over to the stage.  Buck, Vin and Chris could
not help but smile at the ex-preacher.

Josiah came up to Maude Standish and took her hand bringing it up
to his lips.  "My dear lady what a pleasant surprise."

Maude flustered slightly as she regarded the handsome preacher
turned gunslinger, her southern drawl like a song to Josiah's
ears.  "Why Mr. Sanchez, it is always a pleasure."

Buck, Vin and Chris approached.  "Howdy Ma'am can we help with
your luggage?" Buck asked, much to Vin and Chris' regret.  They
remember the last time they had to carry Maude Standish's
luggage. She seemed to travel with every item she ever owned and
then some.

"Why Mr. Wilmington thank you ever so much you all are such
gentleman, Ezra must be rubbing off on you," Maude slyly replied
with a wink to Josiah whose mouth twitch as if holding back an
even bigger grin than was already pasted on his long face.

Chris winced at this and Buck and Vin couldn't help but notice
their leader's obvious dislike of anything rubbing off the
roguish con man on to him.  Sometimes it was hard to tell that
the two men really trusted each other with their lives.

As an after thought Chris asked, "Mrs. Standish, did Ezra know
you were coming?"

"No, this is a surprise visit I'm heading to California." Chris
nodded thinking that that ruled out Ezra skipping town for a few
days because of his mother.  He knew Ezra and his mother didn't
always see eye to eye on things and even more so these days.
Maude had raised Ezra to be a con man and a liar, to only depend
on himself and trust no one.  But the time he has spent with the
other six gunslingers was slowly changing his way of thinking and
his way of life, much to Maude's disapproval.

Chris had a feeling that Maude was here to again try and talk
Ezra into rejoining her in her fortune hunting escapades.

"Well let me escort you to our fine lodging establishment,"
Josiah added his eyes never leaving Maude's smooth and elegant
face.

Buck, Chris and Vin proceeded to carry in all the luggage that
the stage driver had brought down and deposited on the boardwalk.

The hotel manger greeted Maude with a smile reserved for only
prestigious people or people who tipped generously, which Maude
was the latter.  "Ah, Mrs. Standish what a pleasure to have you
grace our fine hotel once again. I do believe your favorite room
is available."  The manager reached behind him and handed Maude a
room key as she signed in the registry and passed the man several
bills.  Josiah stood nearby and turned as he heard the grunts and
complaints from his three associates who were lugging in several
bags of luggage.  Buck dropped three bags, one landing on his
foot causing him to yelp and land on his backside.

"Oh, do be careful Mr. Wilmington," Maude reprimanded the
fun-loving gunslinger.

"Yes, ma'am," Buck replied through gritted teeth.  Just as Maude
was about to turn the Manager added, "Mrs. Standish did the two
gentlemen meet with you yet?"

Maude brought a confused smile back towards him.  "Excuse me,
sir."

"There were two well dressed gentlemen here yesterday asking
about you," he answered.

Like her son, Maude was able to maintain a very placid appearance
showing no disturbance what so ever on her gracefully aging face.

"I told them that you frequent here mostly to visit your son,"
the Manager continued, hoping he hadn't done anything wrong.

Maude's face fell momentarily nothing that Buck, Vin or Josiah
caught, but Chris did and he suddenly became very interested. He
stepped up to the counter next to Maude bringing a fearful look
to the Manager's face.

"You told these men about my son?"  Maude slowly asked.

"What did you say?" Chris cut in.  The Manager looked at Maude
seeming to ask permission to tell the dark-clad gunslinger what
he had told the men.

"Well, I just told them that Maude's son was a lawman and a
gambler who was over at the saloon."

Buck and Chris looked at each other a bad feeling passing between
them.  Josiah was still to enamored with Maude to really notice
anything else.  Chris turned to Maude.  "Mrs. Standish, do you
know why these men might be looking for you?"

Maude gave Chris her most indignant expression. "I assure Mr.
Larabee I do not, is there some problem?"

"Well, no one has seen Ezra since last night," Chris explained.

No one could read Maude's face but inside she screamed.

*****

Ezra woke to a splitting headache.  He slowly opened his eyes the
bright sunshine causing him to immediately close them.  He was
laying on his side with his hands tied behind his back, he could
hear low mumblings and tried again to open his eyes.  This time
he looked upon a pair of brown boots which stood directly in
front of him.

"I was afraid he hit you to hard," Hank said as he reached down
and helped Ezra sit up.  He held a cup of water to Ezra's lips
and let him take a couple sips.  "There, is that better?  sorry
about having to tie you up, but, er, well you understand."

Ezra was very confused he knew he had been kidnapped for whatever
reason, but this gentleman was treating him like he was an
invited guest.  He nodded slightly to answer Hank's first
question.  Ezra swallowed and in a hoarse voice asked, "I don't
suppose you could relate to me the reason I've been abducted?"

Hank smiled, he liked the way Ezra talked, not just the southern
accent, but his words, they reminded Hank of the educated people
he had met in the schools back east.  "Well I guess I'll let Mac
explain that to you."

Hank stood up and walked over to the nearby campsite. Ezra could
see the other man sitting on a log, his back to them, drinking a
cup of coffee.  Hank went up next to him and knelt down informing
him that Ezra was awake.   Mac threw his remaining coffee into
the fire and stood.  He came up to Ezra and squatted down
bringing his dark brown eyes level to Ezra's green ones.  He
quietly scrutinized the suave gambler, trying to get a feel for
the man.  He hadn't known many gamblers, but the few he did know
were egotistical opportunists, he didn't think this man would be
any different, especially since he was Maude's son.  Ezra just
stared back, his usual poker face already in place.

"So you're Maude Standish's son?" This was said more as a
statement than a question.  Mac didn't notice any reaction on
Ezra's face and frowned slightly.  Hank stayed back by the fire,
but strained to hear the conversation.

Keeping his emotions in check Ezra replied, "And what if I am?"

Mac chuckled slightly and thought, he was definitely Maude's son,
they both had the same smart mouth.

"Well, your mother has got herself in a passel of trouble.  You
see she stole something from my boss and my boss wants it back,
real bad and he doesn't care how we get it.  Now me, I'm against
hurtin' a woman even one like yours."  Mac thought he'd get a
reaction to this last remark, but Ezra remained passive his face
giving nothing away.  Mac bowed his head for a few seconds than
raised it.  "But you, I have no problem with and if your mother
wants to see you alive and kickin' again she'll return our
employer's property."

Ezra's mind was racing, what had his mother gotten herself into
this time.  Maude steal?  That was unthinkable.  "My mother does
not steal," Ezra remarked coolly.  "She may con the shirt off
your back then return for your pants, but she does not steal."

Mac gave Ezra a rather unpleasant smile.  "Sorry, but she
blatantly stole.  She conned her way into my boss's home and
walked out with a valuable piece of art."

Ezra didn't know what to believe.  He hadn't heard from his
mother in over a month.  Her last letter was from Kansas City and
said the next time she saw him she would have a surprise for him.
This always made Ezra cringe, he hated when his mother visited
she always tried to get him to leave with her.  He tried to
explain that things were different, but either she didn't believe
him or didn't care. Ezra didn't know what he wanted, but he knew
he didn't want to go back to his previous life.   Four Corners
was growing on him and so were six gunslingers.

"Well if you gentlemen think that my mother will trade anything
for me you're in for a rude awakening," Ezra said, a faint smile
turning the corners of his mouth.

Mac stood up and turned to Hank ignoring Ezra's remark. "You keep
an eye on him, I'm going back to town and wait for Mrs.
Standish."

Hank grabbed Mac's arm.  "What do I do if you don't come back?"

Mac looked over at Ezra and calmly replied, "Kill him."

Hank's face fell as Mac walked towards his horse.  This was
definitely getting complicated.

*****

"My boy must of found out that I was coming and is off somewhere
waiting for me to leave," Maude explained to the six gunslingers
who crowded around the saloon table.  Ezra still had not returned
and no one had seen him.  Everyone was getting worried, except
perhaps Maude who appeared unconcerned for her wayward son.

Chris eyed her suspiciously.  He could tell that Josiah accepted
her story, but his reasoning was clouded with feelings for the
conniving woman.  Like Ezra in the beginning, Chris did not trust
Maude Standish.  He wondered how far she'd go in getting her own
way?

Josiah knew what Maude was, but believed, like Ezra there was
something else inside, one just had to find and nurture it.
He was the champion of lost causes.

Vin glanced over at Buck, who met the look and shrugged.
Everyone knew that Ezra and his mother had their differences, but
they didn't think he'd runaway.  And what about the two men who
were looking for Maude?

"Maude, it would be my pleasure to escort you to dinner this
evenin'?"  Josiah asked. "I'm sure Ezra will show up after he's
done brooding."

Josiah's deep silvery voice caused a warm feeling to radiate
throughout her body, if only he had money. "Why Mr. Sanchez, I
would be honored."

Everyone watched as Josiah pulled out Maude's chair and offered
his arm.  Maude smiled and nodded and the two left the saloon.
JD had a cocky grin on his face happy for the ex-preacher.  Buck,
Chris and Vin weren't so sure.
 
"What do you make of it, Chris?" Buck asked as he watched the two
leave the saloon.

"I think Ezra's in trouble and Maude knows it," Chris bluntly
replied.

Vin smirked, Chris never was one to mince words.

*****

Mac Tilly found Maude and Josiah enjoying an elegant dinner, or
as elegant as possible, in the town's restaurant.  He came up to
the table and sat down much to Josiah's astonishment.

"Can we do something for you, friend?"  Josiah asked in a deep
menacing voice, his hand instinctively hovering near his
revolver. He immediately saw this man as trouble, for who, he was
not sure.

"I wish to speak to Mrs. Standish, alone," Mac replied looking
Maude straight in the eye.

"Anything you have to say to me Mr. Tilly you can say to Mr.
Sanchez," Maude venomously replied.  She was already trying to
think of all her options and how to manipulate the situation.
She knew what card Mac Tilly wanted and was pretty sure she knew
what cards he held.  Now she just had to figure out what to throw
away and hope she was given a better hand.

Josiah was surprised that Maude knew this gentleman.

Mac looked Josiah up and down, shrugged and keeping his voice low
said, "We have your son."  Maude gasped believably, which was all
part of her plan.  Josiah placed his hand on his gun.  "If I
don't return he'll be killed," Mac quickly added glaring at
Josiah.

Maude took a deep breath.  "What do you want?"  Maude placed her
hand on top of Josiah's removing it from his holster.

Josiah was a little taken back by the fact that Maude didn't ask
if Ezra was alright.

Mac shook his head.  "Now, Maude is it? You know what I want and
I want it at noon tomorrow.  Meet me two miles north of town."
Mac looked back over at Josiah.

"I assure you sir I have no idea what you are talking about,"
Maude added, maintaining a confused expression.

"Suit yourself, you have until noon then we kill him," Mac stated
matter-of-factly.  He stood, tipped his hat and left.  Josiah
studied Maude for a moment not sure what to believe, she was very
convincing.

"Oh Josiah I'm afraid I need yours and the others services," Maude
pleaded, her green eyes threatening to spill the tears she held
back.

"You know we'll help to save Ezra," Josiah replied, for some
reason Josiah got the feeling that was not what she was referring
to.  They left the restaurant to find the others.

*****

Ezra realized he was sitting on top of a huge mesa, he thought it
was the one that was just north of town.  He had been propped up
against several large rocks and pretty much left alone.  Hank
brought him water on occasions.  He felt a sharp stone behind him
and began moving his bound wrists up and down slowly wearing the
ropes apart. He stopped as Mac came over to him.  Hank and Mac
had been in deep conversation ever since Mac had returned.  Ezra
was not sure what it was all about, but he knew he had to escape.
He did not know what his mother was involved in, but he was not
about to endanger her further by being a captive.

"Well by tomorrow you'll be out of here one way or another," Mac
sneered.  Ezra kept his face neutral his green eyes glaring at
the larger man which sent a slight shiver up his spine and
caused him to stand up rather quickly.  He would be glad when
this was over.  He didn't want to hurt Mr. Standish, but he would
not hesitate if it would get his boss's property back and help
him keep his job.

*****

Later that evening the six gunmen and Maude sat around the same
table they sat at earlier in the saloon.  Everyone else had been
chased out.  Buck could barely sit still in his chair anxious
to go out and rescue the gambler.  He couldn't believe anyone
would have the nerve to mess with any one of them.  JD paced behind
him.

"Okay, Mrs. Standish you have no idea what this man is talking
about?"  Chris asked for the second time hoping for a better
answer.

Maude looked up at Chris' stone blue eyes her patience running
thin.  Mr. Larabee was a hard man to convince.  "Mr. Larabee if
you do not believe me please just say so.  As I've said Mr. Tilly
is an old business associate of mine.  We broke off several
months ago so I have no idea, maybe he believes I've wronged him
in some way."

"This Mr. Tilly is probably one of the men who was looking for
you the other day?" Vin remarked.

"Yes, Mr. Tanner I would assume so, but at the time I had no idea
who would be looking for me and I still don't know why.  You will
have to ask Mr. Tilly,"  Maude replied her voice curt and sharp.

"Don't worry, we will," Chris added.

Maude didn't understand why her son had seen fit to take up an
allegiance with these men.  They were decent enough and so was
the town so why hadn't Ezra taken what he could and left.  She'd
have to figure it out later right now she needed them to finish
playing out this game.  She was using them to stack the deck in
her favor.

Chris folded his arms and hung his head.  Maude was so much like
Ezra it was scary.  For now he would have to take her word for
it, either way they had to rescue Ezra.  "Okay it appears that
this man, for some unknown reason believes you have something
of theirs."  Chris sat back in his chair.  "So we need them to
believe that we're bringing them their property at least long
enough so we can get the jump on them."

"We can carry a basket, hope they believe we have something in
it," Nathan suggested.

Chris nodded and continued to stare at Maude whose own poker face
was now in place.  "Okay everyone, get some sleep."

*****

Mid morning, Maude was hurriedly unpacking, but stopped as she
removed a statue of a young woman from one of her suitcases.  It
was carved out of ivory and encrusted with semi-precious stones.
The woman was beautiful, exotic.  Maude caressed the smooth
statue going over every jewel.  She turned around and gasped
almost dropping the statue as her eyes land on Josiah standing in
her doorway.

"Mr. Sanchez don't you ever knock?"

The sad look in Josiah's eyes almost broke her heart.  He stared
at the statue that she held in her hands.

"Is that what this is all about?" He asked.

Maude bowed her head unable to meet the ex-preacher's anguish
filled eyes.

"So, this Mr. Tilly was tellin' the truth, you stole it?" He
added.  His body slumped alongside the door frame.

Maude looked up at Josiah.  "Mr. Sanchez," she paused biting her
lower lip. "Josiah, you don't understand I'm not getting any
younger."  Maude turned and sat on the edge of the bed still
clutching the statue. Josiah didn't move.  "Ezra refuses to join
me how can I survive."  Maude holds the statue up.  "This statue
will provide the means for my retirement, and anyway Mr. Gill Brok owes
it to
me."  Maude turned watery eyes towards Josiah and choked back a
sob.  "We were to be married, I would of been set for life, but
at the last moment he backed out.  No reason just told me to
leave."

Josiah didn't know what to believe.  "What about Ezra?"

"He would understand," Maude casually replied stroking the
statue.

Josiah shook his head not believing what he was hearing. He knew
Maude believed that everyone should only watch out for number
one, but he had hoped that didn't always hold true.  He'd seen that
it didn't with Ezra as he now cared a great deal for the others,
even though he'd never admit it. "You would sacrifice his life
for that statue?" Josiah quietly stated his voice revealing his
disbelief and pain.

"Of course not, why do you think I got you all involved, you can
rescue him.  Ezra is very resourceful, I taught him myself,"
Maude replied very confidently.  "And anyway Mr. Tilly is not a
dangerous man, who wouldn't hurt Ezra."

Josiah wondered if she really believed it or was only trying to
convince herself.

Chris suddenly appeared behind Josiah.  "Maude are you ready
to..."  He stopped when he noticed the statue in Maude's hand his
anger started to push to the surface. His face clouded over as he
glared at Maude Standish.  He looked at Josiah who he could tell
was hurting inside, but he could not hide his anger.  "We're
leaving c'mon," he said tersely, turned on his heel and left.

"We're taking the statue," Josiah told Maude who looked up at
him in shock, but bit off what she was about to say and
slowly nodded her head.  She carefully wrapped the statue up
in several cloths.  Josiah stared a moment more, turned and walked
away.

Part 2

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