Moonlight and Madness
Mother was right. He was a fool—a complete and utter fool. He’d stayed in Four Corners much too long. Why had he accepted the Judge’s pardon in exchange for thirty days as a peacekeeper? He’d known from the beginning that he would never be able to remain for the required number of days. It was just… Ezra sighed, looking down the dusty main thoroughfare of town. He spied Chris and Vin leaving the livery, deep in a conversation that required few words. He could discern the unmistakable sound of Josiah hammering away on the church roof. Nathan was walking in that direction, most likely to assist the ex-priest. The raucous laughter of Buck and JD made its way to his ears even before the lively duo appeared in his field of vision. He shook his head sadly. Ezra Standish knew exactly why he had stayed.
He needed them. And most surprising of all, they’d needed him, too. Mr. Larabee had declared it himself. Granted, being told one was needed because one was a good cheat wasn’t all that flattering, but it was far more than he’d had before in his life. No one had ever needed him. Not even Mother. He was merely an extra tool she’d had at her disposal—one she usually considered more a burden than anything else.
He hadn’t been sure of his place in this quaint little town until he’d saved Mary’s life, risking his own in the process. Even though a few of the good town-folk, such as the ever-moral Mr. Jackson, never let him forget he was absconding with Stutz’s money at the time, most of them often now viewed him with something akin to respect. A grudging respect, perhaps. At least that’s what he thought it to be. He had little experience with people respecting him as a person. They usually only respected his skill with cards, cons, and pistols.
He wanted to see that look in their eyes more often, wanted to learn what it was like to be accepted, or Good Heavens, even warmly welcomed! But such a thing was not to be. He’d already stayed too long. For the sake of the people of Four Corners and especially his associates…friends, he had to leave.
Josiah always believed that it was destiny that brought the seven of them together. Perhaps. But it was now his destiny to leave, to be alone again. Fate was a capricious dealer and had stacked the deck against him long before he was ever born. To see the full moon rise over the town with his own eyes would’ve been grand. If not for the Standish Curse, this place could’ve been home.
Ezra Standish slowly rose from his seat in front of the saloon. He needed to speak to Mother and assure her he would be departing. Then he would have to pack. He walked to the hotel, hearing JD and Buck’s laughter die on the wind as he moved further away.
Maude Standish was exiting the hotel when she saw Ezra striding towards her. He had a determined look about him. She only hoped it meant he had agreed to leave.
“Mother, we need to talk.”
“Yes, but not here in the middle of the street. And certainly not in the hotel. I find the employees here to be extremely nosy. Perhaps this would be a good time for you to check on your horse? I will accompany you.”
The two of them headed for the livery. No words were spoken. They went inside the building, and, seeing no one there, shut the door tightly.
Maude was the first to break the silence. “Well?”
“Yes. I will be leaving in the morning.”
“You’ve made the right decision. You know what would happen if you stayed. Someone could get hurt, perhaps even killed.”
Ezra clenched his fists, a sudden surge of anger colored his words. “Don’t you think I know that?! I’ve thought of nothing else!”
Maude flinched slightly, her foot twitched as if she were going to step back. She quickly recovered. A mere moment later there was no sign of emotion on her face or on her person. But Ezra had seen it. Fear. Maude smoothed her hair, appearing unperturbed.
He cursed himself for the loss of control that put that fear in her. He cursed his father for bringing him into this world and forcing him to live this way. He would not be like his father. “Forgive me, Mother. I am feeling the strain of the last few days.”
“That’s not it. We both know the real reason you find it hard to keep your temper. The first night of the full moon is tomorrow night.”
Ezra looked away, unable to meet her penetrating gaze. “Yes. I find it harder to maintain control as the full moon approaches.”
“As did your father. All the more reason you should’ve already departed. This sort of life wasn’t for you anyway—a stagnant existence in some dusty backwater surrounded by poor, uneducated hayseeds. That’s not the life I raised you to and it’s not the life that best suits your…condition. After your upcoming, ah, sabbatical, shall we say, you should join me in San Francisco until the next full moon. Think of the money we could make! It’s about time you stopped wasting yourself here with those rough cowboys and…”
“Don’t! Mother…just don’t. I’ve already said I would leave. I don’t know where I’ll go next. Maybe you’ll see me in San Francisco. Maybe not. I have a lot of thinking to do concerning the future.”
“Make sure you do your thinking away from town. I don’t want you to do anything foolish in the next week or so that would force me to keep my promise to your father.” There was a coldness in her eyes that Ezra knew ran deep. She had more strength of will than most men and would do whatever was necessary.
“Don’t worry. I know what ending father’s curse cost you. If it comes to that, I will take care of myself.”
“Then I should be leaving, as well. I’ll see you in San Francisco.”
“Maybe you will, at that. Goodbye, Mother. Have a pleasant journey.”
“Goodbye, Ezra. Take care.” She gave him a feather-light kiss on the cheek—so light it barely brushed his skin. The gesture was one of habit developed from years of keeping up appearances, not a token of affection. There was a time when such a thing might have been possible, but Father’s death had killed any tender feelings she’d had left in her.
Maude Standish gracefully swept from the livery, in a hurry to pack and leave on the next stage. Ezra left a few moments later, his movements slowed by the weight of loss.
After they’d gone, a head popped up from behind a bale of hay. Vin Tanner hadn’t meant to listen in. When he and Chris left the livery, he noticed all the coins in his pocket were gone. Sure enough, he had a big ol’ hole in it. He remembered hearing the tinkle of the coins before they got off their horses, so he knew he didn’t lose it on the trail. That money had to be in the livery somewhere. He’d been rooting around on the floor when someone came in and started talking. He was going to say something, but by the time he started to, he’d already heard too much. They would’ve been real embarrassed and maybe a bit angry to find out he’d heard any of it. He decided to just stay put and keep his mouth shut. Then he’d be the only one embarrassed. They were talking real quiet-like, but he caught most of it.
Ez was leaving? The others guys all thought he was starting to settle in. Maybe he was sick. Ez said something about taking care of himself. He sure hoped he wasn’t real sick. That would be just like that stubborn fool to go off and die somewhere alone so he wouldn’t be a burden to anybody. Ezra Standish thought he had them all hoodwinked, but Vin was a better judge of character than most, being on his own most of his life and all. He knew how much Ezra hated being a burden. If Ezra was planning on leaving, Vin was planning on following.