By Enola Jones

Ezra Standish looked up from where he was sitting, shuffling his cards. “Ah, gentlemen! Care for a game?” He smiled warmly, though it didn’t quite reach the blue eyes.

One of the brothers frowned at him; taking in the sandy blond short curls and blue eyes in the thin face, though the dandy clothes were the same. “Who the hell are you? Where’s Standish?”

“I’m right here, gentlemen.” Ezra’s smile fled. “I assure you – this alteration is merely skin deep. I am myself.”

“Huh?” another brother frowned.

A quiet drawl from the bar answered, “He’s sayin’ he just looks different.”

The four brothers turned to see a familiar face looking at them. The tanned skin made the lengthening auburn hair seem lighter than it was. Emerald eyes scanned them as if looking through to their souls, and it made the brothers shiver. Seeing it, a cold smile passed over his lips – revealing a quick glint of gold.

“What the hell kind’a joke is this?” the spokes brother burst out. “Who is this in yer clothes and what’re you doin’ over there? Scared to play us, Standish?”

Calmly, the man at the bar knocked back a drink and stood up slowly. He was shorter than all the brothers, but the bright shirt and otherwise dun-coloured clothing belied an ease of movement that showed he was tightly controlling himself. He glared at the spokes brother and the voice was the same soft drawl of earlier. “He ain’t scared. He’s right there.” He nodded toward the table. “I’m no more Ezra Standish than you are.”

The younger brother finally pinpointed the accent and speech pattern. “Tanner?”

This time the grin was broad. A gentle tilt of the head was the answer.

“Holy shit!”

“I assure you,” Ezra said from behind them, “there was nothing ‘holy’ about it. Are you going to play or shall I look for other prospects?”

Grudgingly, the men sat down. Three hands later, one of them stood up angrily. He flung the cards and his drink into Ezra’s face. When Ezra cleared his eyes a mere second later, he found himself looking into the business end of a Colt. “Now I know you’re Standish!” the man roared. “You’re a damned cheat!”

“Sir,” Ezra said coldly and low, “I do not cheat.”

The youngest brother tugged the gunman’s sleeve. “He’s right, Hank. We’ve played him what, a million times? He ain’t never cheated us!”

“First time for everything,” Hank growled. “You give us our money back, or—“ He pulled the hammer back with an ominous ‘click’.

He then stiffened as a second ominous ‘click-snakt’ sounded. He felt metal press behind his ear and heard Vin’s soft drawl in his ear. “Put it down. He didn’t cheat ya.”

“He stole our money,” Hank whimpered.

The spokes brother stood up slowly. “Hank, you’re drunk. Give me the gun.”

“He stole our money!” Hank repeated with more heat.

“He did nothing of the kind,” the third brother spoke up. “You’re drunk and upset and you’re takin’ it out on him. You won the last hand, remember?”

For a moment, nothing happened. Then Vin whispered so only Hank could hear, “Brains take forever t’get out of velvet. You really want that?”

The gun was handed butt-first to Ezra, and the mares-leg was removed from Hank’s neck. The brothers apologised to Ezra, and the spokes brother dropped Hank with one punch. Then they left, carrying their brother out.

Ezra sighed. “Vin….thank you. Were it not for your intervention….”

“Yeah, well, like I told him – brains take forever t’get cleaned up.” Ezra shot an incredulous look at Vin, only to see the devilish grin.

He laughed in return and haltingly spoke the language Vin was beginning to teach him. “Nya ish…. My brother.”

“You’re welcome, Ez.” Touched by the Cheyenne words, Vin nodded and sat down. “Deal me in.”

The End

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