The country was all geared up for the Bicentennial. Everything was going to extremes.
Seven-year-old Ezra had been dragged along into his mother’s new marriage to a wealthy Georgia man. It was a sweltering June night when Carson drug the boy from his bed. “To the den, child. Now.”
Blearily, Ezra followed orders, wondering what was so important that he had to be woken up in the dark.
Ezra sat in a chair, and was shocked to full awakeness when his stepfather tied him to it! “….what?”
“It’s time to collect, child.”
His eyes went huge. “….collect?”
“I’ve taken a substantial insurance policy out on you – with myself as beneficiary, of course. You’re worth more dead than alive right now, and it’s time to collect.”
Ezra’s large eyes followed the knife Carson produced. “….sir, I don’t understand…” ‘When in doubt, stall until you can figure a way out,’ was one of his mother’s earliest lessons to him.
“How do you think I got so wealthy?” he laughed. “I’ve a string of mothers grief-mad over the untimely deaths of their children and more than happy to give me money to relieve themselves of it.” He smiled and stepped closer. “Now it’s your turn.”
He twined his hands in Ezra’s auburn curls and pulled the boy’s head backward. “Just relax, child. It’ll be over soon.” And the knife drew closer.
There was the sudden roar of a gun, loud in the night, and Carson’s shoulder exploded blood all over Ezra. The man grunted in pain and released Ezra, standing shakily and turning to see who dared to interrupt this sacred moment.
Looking like an avenging angel, his new bride stood in the doorway with his shotgun in her hands. Her blonde hair was down and her robe was askew. She was shaking with visible rage.
“Maude…” he said, taking a step toward her. “You understand….tell me you understand…. You love money as much as I do…”
“Oh, I understand,” she snarled. “That is my boy! You touch him again and you’re dead.”
And Carson’s eyes widened in comprehension. “I understand… you want to do it yourself! Come on, then!” He held out the knife to her. “We can both be filthy rich – it’s just a life for money! Business!”
Maude’s lip curled. The shotgun roared again, and Carson fell to the ground, his chest all but destroyed.
“That is my son,” she snarled as the man became a corpse. “No amount of money is worth a life. Especially not his!”
She took the knife from where it fell and cut the ropes that held Ezra to the chair. She held him close, not caring that he was blood-covered. “Are you all right?” she asked. “Did he--?”
“He didn’t hurt me, Momma,” Ezra sobbed softly. “I’m fine.”
From the doorway came the voice of the butler. “I’ve called the police. I suggest you get Master Ezra cleared of the blood—“
“No,” Maude said. “No, we’re leaving everything as it is. I want them to see that it was self-defence.”
“And that’s what the police ruled it as,” Ezra said, taking a sip of his whiskey and smiling. “The policy was canceled the next day and we left as soon as the police cleared us to leave town.”
Vin and Chris whistled. “That’s some story,” Chris said, his tone and posture indicating that he believed every word.
Vin nodded. “I remember my Sergeant talking about that – his cousin was one of the ones Carson had murdered and he never forgave the guy. He said something about one of his would-be victims turnin’ the tables and doling out Old West judgment. Said he’d like t’meet the lady someday.”
“And you have,” Ezra laughed with them. When it died down, he sighed. “Something else came out of that horrible night, as well.”
“What was that?” Chris asked.
Ezra contemplated his drink for a moment, then spoke softly. “My mother lacked as a mother in many, many ways. She still does, in some ways. But.” He looked up and smiled. “After that night – not once did I ever doubt in my heart that my mother loved me. She proved that a hundred times over that night.”
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