Notes: What? No one gets hurt? Well, fancy that!
Chris caught Ezra when he appeared at the reception desk
in the guest accommodation. "Ez? Could you take the two Johnson boys out for me tomorrow? No one else is free and they really
wanna go trail riding. Nettie said she could come and help out here for you, if yer willing."
"I think I can handle
those two young reprobates. It would make a nice chance to do some riding. What time do you need me? Not too early, I hope?"
Ezra asked cheekily.
The blond smiled, knowing how much Ezra hated an early start. "Be ready to go out at ten o'clock."
"Perfect. I'm already looking forward to it. It will present a good opportunity to obtain a decent sun tan. The rest
of you are nice and bronzed already, whereas I'm still as white as a ghost. I shall go and find my sun cream in preparation."
Ezra headed to the barn at nine the following morning and
picked out two suitable ponies for the youngsters to ride. He tied them up and began getting them ready by first picking out
Ezra looked up as he worked. "Ah, Mr. Tanner, I hope I haven't deprived you of suitable
mounts for your clients."
Vin shook his head as he patted the paint's rump. "Nah, Patch and Halley are a mite too
small for any of my adult riders," the man said as he ambled on to see to his own horses. "Picked a good day for riding, Ez.
The weather's gonna be good by the look of it."
"Yes, I'm rather fortunate, I agree." Ezra saddled both ponies after
brushing them down and checked that everything was ship-shape. He then stood stroking Patch's neck as he stared into space.
Vin looked up from the horse that he was dealing with and spotted the ex-attorney's faraway gaze. "Alright, Ez? What
ya thinking about?"
Ezra snapped to attention and looked over at Vin with a smile. "Funny how drastically your existence
can change in such a short time, isn't it? One minute you're perfectly settled in an occupation that you find fulfilling,
and then you are fortunate enough to find something that surpasses it. I wake up each morning and can't wait for what the
day will bring. I know I quite often staff the reception desk, but even that is challenging. The variety of the work here
is what makes it so rewarding. One day I'm indoors dealing with bookings and client complaints, and the next, maybe I'm out
in the fresh air, skiing or canoeing. Life's grand."
"I know what ya mean, Ez. I feel the same and I'm real grateful
about what you did so that I could be part of it. It was real generous of ya to buy a share for me."
have been right if you weren't a full partner. It would have been uncomfortable to have you just as an employee.
I made sure that that couldn't occur and I don't regret it for a second," Ezra said as he smiled broadly. "You deserved it."
"Thanks, Ez. Have a good day, won't ya?" Vin said as he began leading his horses outside to await their clients.
Ezra turned to find his two small clients behind him looking fit to burst with glee. "Hello, boys. Come and
meet your ponies then," Ezra said as he waved at the mini equines.
"Can I have the paint?" Andy asked in excitement
as he jumped up and down, unable to contain his joy any more.
"Of course, you can, if your brother is happy with a
boring bay, that is."
"I like brown; my eyes are brown. What's he called?" the youngster asked as he approached the
pony and patted its neck.
"Halley, after the comet," Ezra said as he watched the two children indulgently. He really
enjoyed taking kids out.
"What about mine? What's his name?" Andy asked.
"Patch, for obvious
"Hey, Patch. We're gonna have fun, just you wait and see," Andy said as Ezra held the pony while the child
"Right, hold on there while I get Guy on Halley and then I'll find my own horse." Ezra made sure Guy was
comfortable on his pony and then mounted his own sorrel, which Vin had saddled for him.
"What's your horse called?"
"Lincoln, after the President, Abraham Lincoln." It always amused Ezra that people wanted to know the names of the
animals that they were riding. It all added to the enjoyment, he supposed, if they could call them by name, like a friend.
"He kinda looks like him," Guy said as he studied the animal's face.
"I don't know about that," Ezra laughed
as he kicked the animal out into the yard with his two clients following behind.
"Have you got any other horses?"
Andy asked as Patch trotted up behind Ezra.
"Yes, I own a mare called Pernickety."
Guy giggled and put his
hand over his mouth to hide the huge gap where a tooth had recently fallen out. "Hah, that's a funny name."
it is, but it suits her temperament on occasion."
"Where are we going?" Andy asked as he kicked his pony upsides Ezra
and stared up at the man expectantly.
"Up to that mountain," Ezra said as he pointed into the distance to the majestic
"All the way to the top?"
Ezra laughed and shook his head. "Not unless your pony is a mountaineer.
We'll get about quarter way up, I should think."
"Great," Andy said as his freckled nose almost quivered in anticipation.
Patch trit-trotted next to Lincoln in an attempt to keep up with the giant striding horse.
Ezra looked down at the
boys and smiled at the younger one. "Okay, are you ready to go a bit faster, Guy?"
"You bet," the youngster said as
he booted his pony into a lope before Ezra had finished talking.
"Wait for me!" Andy yelled as he set off after his
"Oh, good Lord. Come on, Lincoln, can't get beaten by two little Bill Shoemaker lookalikes." Ezra set his
horse after the two racing ponies and made sure that the youngsters didn't go too fast or get too far ahead.
"Well, this looks like a nice spot to stop for some lunch," the man said two hours later as the three equines ambled
into a clearing.
The two youngsters dismounted and tied their ponies to a nearby tree. Ezra smiled and did the same.
They set their picnic down under a tree and unpacked the mountain of food that Josiah had provided.
"Well, this looks
a veritable feast. Mr. Sanchez has done us proud. Tuck in, boys."
The youngsters chatted excitedly about everything
they'd seen so far and argued about whose pony was fastest, most handsome or cleverest.
"My pony could win the Kentucky
Derby. He went so fast that I felt as if I was flying."
"Rubbish. Halley's as fast as a comet, just like his name.
He'd beat you any day," Guy disagreed.
"Boys, boys, both ponies are rather nimble-footed. You both beat Lincoln, didn't
you?" Ezra pointed out, trying to put an end to the argument.
The youngsters looked at each other and smiled broadly.
"Yes, we did. I'm gonna tell Dad when I get back," Andy said.
"No, I'm telling him," Guy disagreed.
"I want to tell him how we beat Lincoln."
"Why doesn't one of you inform your father while the other enlightens your
mother of your tremendous feat? I expect she'd be agog to hear of your riding abilities too. That seems a good compromise,
"Yeah, I s'pose."
The boys finally concentrated on eating their sandwiches and Ezra then watched
as his companions began exploring the campsite. He'd allow them another hour before taking them back to the ranch by the fast
"Mr. Standish? Come and look at this," Andy called.
Ezra stood and ambled toward the boys to see what
they had discovered. Before he could reach them, though, he stepped on something strange that made a noise that he wouldn't
have expected to hear in the wilderness. He stopped in his tracks and looked down and blanched at what he saw.
good God," he mumbled in horror.
Under his right foot was what appeared to be a landmine. He stayed rooted to the
spot and tried not to shift his weight at all.
"Boys!" he called sharply.
"Yes, Mr. Standish?"
come anywhere near me," he warned as the taller boy started to walk toward him. "Can you two find your own way home?"
think so," Andy said, sounding slightly doubtful about his statement.
"Then please do so as soon as possible. Take
my horse back too, if you can. Tie him to the saddlehorn and he'll follow along alright. When you get back to the ranch, find
Mr. Larabee, or one of the others, and tell them.......tell them that I need their assistance. I seem to have stepped on a
"Jeez," the younger boy said in awe as his gaze automatically hit the ground to try and see it.
now. As fast as you can," Ezra ordered urgently.
"We'll be quick," the boys promised.
They hurried to their
ponies and mounted them after collecting Ezras horse. After taking a quick look at Ezra, they set off in the correct direction
Ezra looked up to Heaven and concentrated on staying absolutely still. He listened to the sound of departing
hooves until he could hear them no more. Then the only sounds nearby were cascading water from the nearby waterfall, and the
sweet song of a bird somewhere in the clearing. Ezra stared at a tree on the other side of the clearing in an attempt to find
his feathered companion. He worked his eyes up from the root to the top, hoping that it would help pass the time more quickly
if his mind was occupied. His eyes were drawn to movement and he watched the bird hopping from branch to branch as it sang.
Suddenly it flew away and Ezra felt quite alone as silence fell.
The man stood with his weight mostly on his right
foot, which was slightly in front of his left foot. As he'd been in the process of walking at the time of stepping on the
mine, he was forced to remain standing with a forward tilt. The effort of remaining in that position was beginning to tell
already. A bead of sweat started trickling down his face from the hairline at the left of his brow. It reached the edge of
his eye and then continued down the side of his cheek. It tickled and all he wanted to do was scratch it but he couldn't even
do that. It was tantalizing and made him want to yell in frustration. It was similar to Japanese water torture.
"Mr. Larabee! Mr. Larabee!" the two youngsters yelled as they came careering into the yard on their sweaty ponies.
"Whoa, whoa, boys. Where's Ezra?" the blond asked anxiously when Ezra didn't appear in view. The man stepped forward
quickly and grabbed both hyped-up ponies before they could cause any trouble.
"He needs you," Andy panted as he slid
off his pony's back breathlessly and untied Ezra's horse.
"Is he hurt?" the blond asked as his heart began beating
faster as he tied the ponies safely to the hitching rail.
Andy still stood holding Ezra's horse and he stroked its
neck to try and calm himself down. The touch of the animals sleek coat beneath his hand was comforting. "He stepped on a landmine,"
he said, suddenly embarrassed.
"What?" Chris asked in disbelief as he snapped round to face the boys again.
mine. He's standing on it."
"Where did you leave him, Guy?" Chris asked as he dropped to his knees before the smaller
child who was nearest to him. He put his hands on the child's upper arms and softened his tone.
The boy's eyes were
wide and frightened as he stared back fearfully at the blond. "The clearing where we had lunch."
"Up by the waterfall?"
the black-clad man asked as he let go his hold on the boy.
"Yeah," Guy said as he nodded vigorously before wiping
a hand across his brow to wipe off the sweat.
"Right. See to yer ponies and then go to your rooms. You did real well."
Chris stood up and looked up the yard. He spotted one of his business partners and waved to gain his attention. "Josiah?"
The big man halted his journey to the barn and turned to face the slender man. "Yeah?"
"Make sure no one goes
up near the waterfall," the black-clad man instructed anxiously.
Chris took a deep breath and said,
"Ez found a landmine up there."
"What? Where's Ez now?" the big man asked as he looked round the yard curiously. His
gaze settled on the two boys briefly when he realized Ezra was not in sight. The youngsters were hovering around the ponies
still, listening to the conversation intently. His frown deepened before he looked back at Chris.
"Standing on it."
Josiah almost shrieked.
"He's standing on a fucking landmine."
"Shit! I'll make sure no one leaves the ranch
and I'll call the bomb squad," Josiah said as he took off at a run to the guest accommodation.
"Vin?" Chris yelled
as he cupped his hands to his mouth. He turned three-sixty degrees as he scanned the area worriedly. He knew the man was somewhere
nearby because he'd just returned with his own clients. "Vin? Where the hell are ya?"
"Here, cowboy," the younger
man said as he hurried out from the corral behind the barn at his friend's frantic call.
Chris strode to meet him
and fixed his with a penetrating stare. "What're the chances of someone surviving a landmine if it explodes?"
Vin asked with a puzzled frown.
"'Spect Ez would like to know. He's stepped on one."
Vin's heart almost stopped
beating. "Jesus Christ, I'd better get going. Where is he?"
The blond reached out a hand and clamped it round his
friend's upper arm to prevent him leaving. "Vin? I don't want you going up there."
"Chris, it's my job."
anymore, it ain't. Leave it to the experts."
"Hell, cowboy. I am an expert. Ez's life depends on me. I can't
wait for anyone else to get here."
"No, Vin. I won't allow you to go."
"Won't *allow* me to go?" Vin said
ominously as he pulled forcefully against the grip that Chris still had on him. "Who the hell are you to tell me what I can
and can't do? Don't you care about him? He can't stand still for too long."
"Of course I care, but I don't want more
people hurt than need be."
"*No* one need be hurt. While were arguing about all this crap, Ez is tiring. Now get the
hell outta my way. I ain't taking fucking orders from you when Ez could die." Vin yanked out of Chris's hand and pushed past
the blond before taking Ezra's horse from Andy, who was standing open-mouthed at the language he'd just heard.
Vin yelled. "Hold this horse. I gotta get some stuff." Vin ran to his cabin and came back with a bag before mounting the horse.
"Where is he?" he demanded as he stared at Chris fiercely.
The long-haired man nodded and kicked
the horse out of the yard at a lope. He urged it on mercilessly in an effort to reach his friend as fast as he could.
I haven't had a bad existence really. I've had two occupations that I've loved and six wonderful friends, so I
can't complain at all. Oh, well, maybe I can be a trifle upset about my pacemaker. Part of life's ups and downs, though, I
s'pose. Ezra looked round the clearing slowly. I feel rather like a soldier on guard duty that has to stand perfectly
still, but at least they can wriggle a bit to keep from fainting. I daren't even fart for fear of exploding.
ex-attorney had a terrific pain up the back of each leg and he knew cramp would set in at some point. His neck was stiff and
he could feel his shoulders tightening up with each passing second. The toes on his left foot were numb. He'd been in the
process of lifting that foot to take the next step when he'd been forced to stop the movement because of the mine. At the
moment, his heel was slightly lifted from the ground so that his toes were supporting the weight on their own. He might as
well have been standing on one leg for all the good his left leg was to him right now. He didn't dare shift his body position
at all because it would totally overbalance him, which would result in him being blown up.
"Ez?" Vin shouted as he
neared the clearing.
The ex-attorney very nearly turned round to meet his friend and he had to make a conscious effort
not to move. "Here, Mr. Tanner! Believe me, I haven't moved. It seems your previous occupation is going to prove useful."
The long-haired man leapt off his horse and secured it a fair distance away. He took his bag off the saddle and first
studied the ground in front of him before moving forward. He finally saw Ezra standing awkwardly a few yards ahead, his balance
askew, as it had been since he'd stepped on the mine.
"How ya feelin?" Vin asked as he looked at the pale man before
him. He could see sweat beaded on the man's forehead showing the effort he was expending on not collapsing or moving.
and rather stupid at being caught in this predicament. I am experiencing a rather alarming faintness too. My lower limbs are
becoming cramped and I cannot ascertain how much longer I can remain upright," Ezra admitted truthfully.
try, Ez. Don't feel like being blown to kingdom come today."
"Nor do I, so I will attempt to make my knees remain
locked in their present position."
Vin got down on his hands and knees and studied the mine carefully. He scraped
away the earth from around it and began working carefully. He worked as fast as he dared, knowing Ezra's body was on the verge
of giving in. The bird that had been in the clearing before now returned, and started singing loudly. It seemed an odd noise
to have to listen to at such a tense moment. It was as if there was nothing wrong at all.
"Keep talking to me, Ez,"
Vin ordered as he tried to keep the man occupied.
"What about?" Ezra asked faintly.
"Hell, I don't know. Why
did you become a lawyer? How about that for starters?"
Ezra focused on the tree again and breathed in and out slowly.
His vision was beginning to become fuzzy and he blinked his eyes rapidly to clear them. He could feel his heart beating hard
and fast in his chest. It was like death knell and it seemed to be jumping about enough to set the bomb off all by itself.
"Ez? Talk to me."
"Oh," Ezra said as he made himself concentrate. "Being a lawyer was Mother's idea. One of
her better ones, I have to admit. As soon as I began learning about the law I found it fascinating and I couldn't imagine
doing anything else. I loved being the center of attention in the courtroom. I quite often confused the opposition with my
use of words and it was rather fun."
"Yeah, well you don't make sense to us, neither. I know how they felt."
sighed. "What about you? Why bombs?"
Vin shrugged as he shifted slightly on his knees, which were beginning to hurt.
He couldn't understand how Ezra had managed to stay still when he was already aching after only a short time. He
then realized that he hadn't answered Ezras question. "Just kinda fell into it, I s'pose. I only joined the army cause it
gave me somewhere to live really. I then chose to specialize in bombs after a friend of mine was blown up in the Gulf war.
I saw him die and it weren't pretty," the younger man said quietly as his eyes filled with tears at the memory.
sorry, Vin, but believe me, I'm immensely glad that you chose that vocation and that you show such prowess for the task."
"So am I, Ez," the long-haired man said quietly. He had no intention of allowing another friend to die in the same
Ezra closed his eyes briefly but felt that he might fall so he opened them quickly and fixed his gaze
on the horizon.
"All done, Ez," Vin finally said in relief.
"Thank God for that," Ezra replied weakly as he
allowed his legs to buckle.
Vin managed to catch him and eased the man to the ground gently. Ezra sighed and passed
out, giving into the faintness that had been tugging at him for so long. Vin sat with Ezra's upper body cradled in his lap
while he waited to make sure that he was really alright.
"Ez? You okay?" Vin asked when Ezra woke shortly afterwards.
Ezra blinked rapidly and shaded his eyes against the sunlight before rubbing a hand over his face. "Still no sensation
in my legs and I'm shaking all over. I seem to have lost all control of my body."
Vin moved Ezra onto the ground and
shuffled down to the other end of his friend's body where he reached out and began massaging the man's calves and then forcefully
pushed each foot forward to try and ease the cramp. Ezra groaned as his legs began coming slowly, but painfully, back to life.
He felt as if he'd just cycled up a very steep incline and had lost all the power in his lower limbs. It was a very odd sensation.
He felt that he had to move to ease it, but he hadn't the energy or co-ordination to do so.
he thought to himself.
Vin stopped what he was doing as Ezra tried stretching his legs out straight before bending
them again with a loud groan. He was in absolute agony even though he wasn't injured.
The younger man left him doing
his exercises while he stood and picked up his radio from the bag. "Chris? Do ya copy, cowboy?"
"Yeah, I'm here."
Vin ran his fingers through his hair and blew out a noisy relieved breath. "Disarmed it."
"Thank God. Is Ez
okay?" Chris asked anxiously as he gave a thumbs up sign to the rest of his friends who were waiting with him for news.
but he passed out for half a minute just after I'd dealt with the mine. His legs had cramp and were going a bit numb but by
the look on his face right now, I'd say they're waking up. He looks real pale, cowboy."
"Can he make it back?"
I'll just let him recover a bit and then we'll start for home."
Chris smiled. "See ya later and well done, Vin."
stood up with Vin's aid but his legs shook uncontrollably. "God, I can hardly remain vertical. My legs don't feel as if they
belong to me."
Vin put his arm round the smaller man quickly and the two men struggled to the horse. Vin got on first
and then pulled Ezra up afterwards. He felt Ezra's head rest against his back and then he felt the weight of the man's whole
body leaning on him. He could detect his friend still trembling mightily.
"Ez? You okay?"
"Yup, just fatigued
and achy," the ex-attorney said quietly as he closed his eyes with a sigh.
"Okay, just hang on to me and well be home
soon. Nate can check you over when we get there."
Ezra put his arms round Vin's waist and the grip tightened as Vin
urged the horse forwards. The hold lessened the more the journey progressed as Ezra dozed fitfully.
Josiah was standing in the yard watching for them. "Chris? They're back."
The big man walked forward to meet
Vin as he pulled the horse to a halt outside the ranch house. "Hey, fellas. Good to see yer still in one piece. Come on, Ez.
Down ya get, son."
Ezra tried to swing his leg over the back of the horse but couldn't. His brain sent the message
for his leg to move but his badly affected limb refused to obey. Josiah reached up and pulled him down but Ezra's knees gave
way once more as they touched the ground.
"Damnation," Ezra complained as he clutched weakly at Josiah's body.
got ya, son," Josiah said as he held Ezra upright.
"I'm embarrassed to say that I feel as weak as a day old kitten,
Mr. Sanchez. I never knew standing still for so long could be so tiring and I think riding home didn't help. I'm all a-tremble."
"You weren't just standing still all the time, Ez. Yer whole body was tense from trying to stay on yer feet. Add to
that the anxiety that ya musta been feeling and you can't wonder that yer body has been so affected."
"Ez? Come inside
and let me check you over," Nathan said as he stepped off the porch to help.
"I'm not physically hurt. I'm just tired
and wobbly," Ezra said as he grabbed Nathan's arm tightly.
"All the same." Nathan escorted him inside and sat him
on the couch.
Ezra leant back and closed his eyes as the therapist checked him over carefully.
"Here ya go,
son. Get that down ya," Josiah said as he passed over a whiskey.
"Oh, Mr. Sanchez! Just what the doctor ordered,"
Ezra said in delight as he opened his eyes and saw what he was being offered. He took the glass and breathed in the aroma
"No, I didn't, Ez," Nathan said with a smile as he straightened up and sat down beside the man.
if you don't want it, all the more for me," Ezra said as he drank it down in one go with a satisfied sigh.
feeling better?" Chris asked as he sat down on the other side of the pale man.
"Oh, yes, thank you, Mr. Larabee. My
legs are beginning to feel as if they belong to me again." Ezra sighed. "How do you suppose a landmine came to be on your
land.. our land, I mean?" Ezra said, asking the question that all the other men had been thinking too.
and shook his head in bemusement. "No idea, Ez. Don't suppose you looked round to see if there were any more, did ya?"
'fraid not. One was quite enough for me but Mr. Tanner didn't come across any others after he'd released me," Ezra said as
he continued running his hands up and down his legs to ease the pain.
"Well, I can't believe there would only be one,"
"'Spose we'd better check," Chris said as he and Nathan stood up.
"Count me out, please," Ezra
begged as he lay down on the now emptied couch and looked set to fall asleep.
"The bomb squad is here, so they can
check the whole area for us," Josiah said as he headed outside to tell the men what had happened.
The leader of the
squad nodded in understanding after the ex-Academy instructor had explained the situation to him. "Okay, I want everyone to
stay here. Don't leave the area at all. We'll be back when weve secured the bomb site."
"Do ya need someone to take
you to the exact spot?" Chris asked.
"Nah, just point it out on the map. Don't want no civilians with us."
took the map that the man held out and showed him the clearing near the waterfall. He pinpointed where Ezra had been standing
"Thanks. See ya later," the man said as he climbed back in his vehicle and pulled to the head of the convoy of
Chris watched them leave and then turned to his men. "Right, guys. Tell all the guests to stay here. Buck
can you arrange something to keep the kids occupied? The last thing we need is one of them creeping off to watch. You know
what kids are like. Do a headcount every so often too, just to make sure no one's slipped off."
"Sure thing, pard.
I feel a game of baseball coming on," the tall man said as he went to collect all the youngsters together.
into a game that included all the adult guests too and no one seemed to mind being confined to the ranch at all. Chris, though,
kept one eye on the mountain in the distance where the bomb has been found. He kept expecting to see and hear an explosion.
The bomb squad returned several hours later and Chris walked to
meet them. "How'd ya get on?"
"Hello, Mr. Larabee. We found two more up there, which we've disarmed. They're an older
design so may have been up there for about thirty years," the bomb squad leader said as he stepped out of his vehicle and
followed the blond into the ranch house kitchen.
"How the hell did they come to be there?" Chris asked angrily.
got someone to check our records when we dug the first one out and saw its design. It seems your land was owned by the army
until the end of the 1970s. They used it for explosives testing and to practice disarming bombs. They were a bit lax in clearing
up after themselves, I reckon."
Chris stood with hands on hips and looked absolutely furious. "Jesus! Ezra
and those boys coulda been killed. Gotta good mind to sue you."
"I wouldn't blame you if you did," the man agreed
with a shrug.
"Yeah, well, Ez is an attorney; one of the best, so you'd better get yer check books out. You'll be
hearing from me in the near future." Chris took a deep breath and realized that he was ranting at the wrong man. The problem
had occurred years ago so it wasn't this particular individual's fault. He softened his tone and smiled ruefully. "Thanks
for what you did today. Appreciate yer swift arrival. It's safe to go back up there, is it?"
"Yeah, we checked a lot
of ground and it's all clear." The man shook Chris's hand and walked out just as Vin came in from the yard. Ezra appeared
as well from the living room after listening to the conversation discretely.
"Are you okay, Ez?" the blond asked.
"Yes, thank you. I think you'll agree that I had rather a lucky escape from being blown to pieces. I was only saying
to Mr. Tanner this morning that I love this job because it's nice to look forward to what each day will bring." Ezra grinned.
"I certainly didn't expect a bomb to be one of the delights that I would encounter when I joined your partnership, Mr. Larabee,"
Ezra said wryly.