Don't Know From Adam
The warden sat in his office pondering the new situation in which he found himself. Overall, he didnt really think much of the threat that the new information presented. Still, he did need to put some thought into making this problem go away. Larabee did seem a bit bigger than life when he had been brought in, but now, he seemed nothing more than a pain in the ass. He took another sip of the whiskey he had poured himself and smiled. Some pains are more fun tending than others, he thought.
A knock on the door interrupted his train of thought. "Enter," he called out somewhat perturbed.
The deputy from Jericho eased around the door and came into the room cautiously. "You been lookin for me, warden?"
"No, I am actually lookin for Sheriff Quince. Where is he?"
"I think hes in town, sir."
"Uh, he is in town, sir. He said somethin about checkin out those Larabee boys."
The warden shook his head in disbelief. This idiot still hasnt grasped the fact that Inmates 78 and 93 are not brothers. Agh! Such incompetence! "Get out of here. And find Quince! I want him back here by morning," he shouted.
"Yes, sir! Ill get him for ya." The deputy gratefully took his leave and headed for his horse. "Those Larabee boys have been nothin but trouble. Dont know why the warden just dont put em outta our misery," he fussed.
The warden looked out his window and watched as the deputy mounted and rode off. Shaking his head again, he turned his attention to the stone building that held his newest captives. Yes, he was going to have to think on those two just a bit longer.
+ + + + + + +
The gambler who slept on the floor began to ache. His back was disapproving of his awkward position so it alerted his mind and woke him up. Ezra tried to straighten carefully; aware that he would be foolish to try and force his limbs into something they werent prepared to do. Things must be pretty grim if Ive taken to sleeping on the floor, he sighed.
Just as Ezra was about to reprimand himself for such an act, he heard a sound come from behind. He looked through the dim light to see that Chris was beginning to stir. Chris? Oh no. Ezra, you idiot, you fell asleep!
Righting himself, Ezra forced his legs to carry him to his cot. He sat down, scooted the bed closer to his cellmate and reached a hand out to stop Chris tossing head. He took him by the chin and tried to wake him. "Chris, can you hear me? Its Ezra."
"Dont " Chris answered.
"I assure you, you are quite safe at the moment. Just rest easy. I need to take a look at you and see if I can make you more comfortable."
"Dont " he repeated.
Ezra shook his head. "Good, as long as were in agreement."
Using his fingertips, Ezra raised sore hands to unbutton what was left of the shirt that Larabee wore. He peeled the material away from his upper body and moved down toward the wound he knew he would find on his lower left side. The first night he had brushed his hand across the wound and felt moisture. Raising the lantern over Larabees abdomen, he could now see what he had touched. There was what looked like a four-inch knife wound that had been sewn closed. It wasnt as fine a job as he had seen Nathan perform, but it did for the most part seem to be holding up against the gunfighters aggressive movements. A couple of the stitches had given way near the outside edge of the slice, but he supposed that was to be expected given the none-to-gentle moves he had seen Chris make.
Ezra leaned closer to the injury and again ran his fingertips across it. He didnt feel any moisture now, but he did see a trail of dried blood that led away from the torn stitches and into the top of Chris pants. There was a hint of redness around the wound as well, so infection was a definite possibility. Perhaps that would explain the warmth he felt emanating from Larabees body.
Standish moved the light so he could see the rest of Chris stomach and chest. There were an unbelievable number of cuts and bruises covering his torso. Ezra pressed against the mumbling mans ribcage as carefully as he could, avoiding the deeper wounds. Chris moved away from the probing hand but never jerked away in pain. Excellent, Mr. Larabee, no broken ribs. At least you were saved that injury.
Chris voice took Ezra off guard. "Im sorry."
"Im sorry. I " Larabee tried to raise himself off the cot.
"Careful now. You need to rest. Do not be taxing yourself." He pushed the man back down.
"He followed me up there I told him to go home. Just keeps following me. He wouldnt listen he never listens," Chris said sadly.
"Damn. Youre still not quite among us, are you?" Standish said disheartened. "I have got to get you out of here."
Ezra looked back at the bucket of water, wishing it were closer. Realizing that it was indeed not going to come to him, he went to fetch it. When he returned to his seat, he noticed that Chris eyes were open and following him. They had a soft, glassy look to them that worried the Southerner.
"Why did you have to follow me?" Larabee asked.
"Easy, Chris," Ezra shushed.
"You know they dont like it when youre with me always said I was trouble theyre right "
Ezra tore a piece of cloth from the bottom of Chris shirt and soaked it with water. He wrung it out as the gunfighter continued to stare at him.
"I have no inkling where you are right now, Chris Larabee, but I wish above all else that you were once again here to browbeat and harass me." The Southerner began to wipe at Chriss face and neck with the wet cloth.
"Bear should have killed me," the incoherent man said as wells of moisture began to cloud his blue eyes even more.
Ezra was stopped by the overpowering despair in the mans voice and looked up to face him.
"I should have died; not you. Im so sorry, Adam." Tears fell from eyes that refused to blink. "It was my fault."
Ezra was so overwhelmed he hardly knew what to do. He finally wet the cloth again and used it to wipe away the tears that fell then he used a bandaged hand to reach up and close Chris eyes.
"How many times can a mans son die?" Ezra feared the tortures the gunslinger was creating in his mind to punish himself for not being able to protect his son. Somehow this prison and these sadistic bastards had managed to get to him and what they had done had resurrected some of the peacekeepers most painful memories.
Standish leaned over to speak near Chris ear. "Heed my words, this is not how its going to be. You will not surrender. Do I make myself clear? You will fight this, this whatever, " he declared with more conviction than he actually felt. Dear Lord, what is the matter with you? I have a feeling this is much more than just abuse.
Waiting a moment to allow his words to sink in, Ezra slowly removed his hand to reveal a pair of very wet, sad eyes. Then, as if a river of pain had finally breached his self-control, Chris Larabee wept.
Ezra tried to move his attention away from Chris; tried to see, hear and think on anything other than the battle being lost by his leader and friend. Friend. What a sweet word. Not one he was used to tasting, but one he found amazingly easy to push past his lips. The cool, calculating demeanor the gambler had so perfected melted away. He tried. Oh, how he tried to not be affected by the sorrow that flowed from Chris. This wasnt his business. It wasnt what Chris would want -- for him to be witness to his deepest grief. Sadly, there was just no way to separate himself from what was being revealed by Larabees loss of control. The man had suffered so many years of torment and this moment seemed his to say enough.
Ezra had often wondered about how Chris must have felt when he was away from his fellow lawmen, when he went home and found himself in the company of ghosts. He knew that Chris had always felt guilt for the death of his wife and son, but he never knew how caustic that guilt had been to his soul. My God, Chris, is this what you carry with you every day? The Southerner pondered. I think I always suspected that you hurt more than you permitted the rest of us to know, but the strength it must take for you just to get through each day... Your courage is truly more than that Peacemaker you carry or that hard-ass attitude of yours
Ezra wasnt aware that he had tightened his arms around Chris. That is, not until Chris moaned and pulled at the gamblers hold. A bit startled, Ezra looked down at the pained look on the gunfighters face. "Easy now, lie still," he soothed.
"I shouldnt have put you there," Larabee said, almost too softly for Ezra to hear. "I didnt know I swear, I didnt know "
"No, no. Of course you didnt," Standish answered reassuringly.
"Hold on to me, Adam Hold on I wont let him have you You cant let go "
Ezra didnt know what to say so he resumed wiping at Chris face, neck and chest.
"C-c-cold. Its getting cold." The two men sat so close that the shiver that ran through Chris shook them both.
Standish stopped the bath he used to keep himself busy and set the cloth aside. He closed Chris shirt and brought the blanket lying across the shuddering mans legs up to his chin.
"This should help."
Chris was oblivious to the small comfort. "So cold Leg hurts. My leg hurts."
Ezra was immediately alerted. "Where, Chris? Where does your leg hurt?"
"Hurts," was the only answer.
Damn, Ezra thought in frustration. How was he supposed to help this man?
Chris twisted on the cot and tried to move his legs. Ezra watched and noticed that his friend seemed to be having trouble with his left leg. The pain seemed to increase as the man wiggling on the cot moaned louder. "It hurts," he complained again.
Ezra looked down at Chris left leg and saw that the limb stiffened under the blanket. Chris tried to reach for his leg, but his hand fell heavily back onto the bed.
"Its alright," Ezra patted the fallen hand. "Let me take a look. Perhaps I can help. Just try to hold still now."
The Southerner drew back a moment and listened to himself. Sounding a bit like a mother hen, arent you, Standish? He took a deep breath. Anxiety, sir. Simple anxiety, he mused. Realizing that he was much more nervous than he had even admitted to himself, he decided to allow his newly found skill as caretaker to guide him. Especially since it was obvious that there would be no one to bear witness to his actions any time in the near future. He shook off his embarrassment and moved ahead with the task at hand.
Ezra began to gently tug at the blanket that he had just tucked closer around Chris body. He pulled until he had exposed the legs that had fought against their cover. Just to look at the stiffened leg, you couldnt see that there was anything wrong. Standish circled the cot and looked again. Still nothing.
Deciding that he would have to risk hurting Larabee by closer scrutiny, he softly apologized for what he had to do. "Please forgive my familiarity, Mr. Larabee, but since I can see no visible cause for your discomfort I shall have to resort to a somewhat more personal examination."
Starting at his left ankle, Ezra gently ran his fingertips up and around Chris lower leg. There was too little light to actually see, but he knew his touch passed over many bruises and scrapes. Slowly, he moved up Chris shin and knee. That was as far as his hands could go due to the impediment of the prison pants his patient wore. There didnt seem to be any breaks or punctures, so he pulled his wrapped hands from the thin material and continued moving further up the limb, feeling as best he could through the fabric. When his fingers reached the outside part of the upper thigh and lower hip, the tormented man cried out and tried to roll away. Ezra caught him just before he managed to throw himself onto the floor. "Im sorry, Chris. Im so sorry. But please, lie still. Let me help you. I have to find the cause "
"No, no, leave it. Leave me be."
"I do not think that would be advisable "
"Leave it. I can take care of myself," Chris panted.
"Certainly, and I believe that about as much as I believe that Buck Wilmington is a bashful man. Now shut up, lie still and let me tend to what needs doing," Ezra said forcefully.
Chris didnt respond. He just lay quietly, wheezing and shaking. He was coiled as tightly as Ezra had ever seen a man. Aware that there might well be repercussions to his next move, the gambler carefully reached down to again press his fingers against Chris upper leg. The gunslinger didnt disappoint Ezra. With a groan and a yell, Chris came up swinging. "I said NO!!"
Standish quickly pulled back out of the angry mans reach. As Chris fell back with the swing, Ezra easily pinned him to the cot and stated firmly, "And I said yes."
Chris looked blindly at the man leaning over him. There was absolutely no recognition, but there was a sense that there was nothing else that he could do. He lay as he was pinned and didnt try to get up again. He simply uttered a breathless plea, "Please. No more."
Stopped by the sheer desire and sincerity in the request, Ezra closed his eyes, leaned back and pulled his hands away from those he had captured. Realistically, there was little he could do to repair an injury anyway, so he decided to side with the emotional request and leave his friend in peace. He touched Chris arm in compliance and rose to return to his own cot.
Ezra laid himself down on the filthy thing that imagined itself a bed and surrendered to the fatigue. How much more would they have to endure? So much, too much, had already happened. Things he would never forget, although he would most definitely try. Too many potshots had been taken at him these past few days. And Chris, how on earth had the man withstood his torment?
How much more? Perhaps he didnt really want to know.
It had been a long ride back from Jasper Creek. Vin and Buck had made pretty decent time, but it still had taken nearly two days. Now it was just after dawn and they were anxious for news about their missing leader. Once they arrived in Four Corners, they
headed straight for The Clarion.
As the two lawmen pulled to a stop in front of the newspaper they saw Mary running out of the building behind a fast-moving JD. They both seemed upset.
"JD, please! Wait for the others to get back."
"I cant, Mrs. Travis. I shoulda started looking for Chris when you first brought it up that he was late. Now Ezras gone missing," he shouted as he headed for his horse, tied to the hitching post in front of his office.
"But it could be dangerous!" Mary insisted.
"Mrs. Travis, please! Just let me do my job!" JD replied and turned around to stop her from chasing after him.
"Im sure the others will be back soon," she reasoned.
"JD!" Buck yelled.
JD looked over Marys shoulder and spotted his friend. He nearly fell over at the welcome sight. "Buck!"
Buck and Vin quickly dismounted and ran to the two standing on the sidewalk.
"Buck, am I ever glad to see you two."
Vin nodded to Mary and turned to speak to JD. "Whats goin on? Where are you off to in such a hurry?"
"Well, Chris still aint come back and now Ezras disappeared," the young man answered.
"What do you mean Ezras disappeared?" Buck asked. "Whered he go? Hes supposed to be watchin the town."
"He was watching the town, Buck. It was me who left. Damn, whyd I ever agree to leave him alone?" JD slapped at his knee. "I knew better."
"JD, it wasnt your fault. You couldnt have known," Mary said reassuringly.
Vin faced the blonde woman. "Mary, tell us what happened."
Mary rubbed her hands together and took a deep breath. "Mrs. Welles was having a problem with a prowler out at her place. Someone has been sneaking around there for the past several days. Mr. Standish and JD decided it would be best if JD were to stay with her for a little while just to check it out. As it turned out, it was just a couple of schoolboys playing pranks."
"Good job, JD," Buck said proudly to JD as he patted him on the back.
"In the meantime," Mary continued, "I got a telegram from a town called Jericho."
"Jericho?" Vin interrupted.
"Yes, it seems that there is a prison outside of Jericho. Chris is being held there."
"What?" Buck moved his hand from JD and let it drop absent-mindedly on his gun.
"The telegram was a request for bail money. They want five hundred dollars to secure his release," Mary said worriedly.
"What the hell is Chris doin in prison? Whatd they say he did?" Buck asked.
"They didnt. They simply said that he would be released on bail if his brother showed up with the money," Mary answered.
Vin looked up sharply. "Brother? Chris aint got a brother."
"The telegram was addressed to Vin Larabee," she added.
Vin Tanner looked down, his heart feeling as though it were being squeezed in two. "I knew I should o come back sooner. He needed me and I wasnt here."
Mary touched Vins arm and continued. "I took the message to Mr. Standish. He felt it was a setup and he went to get Chris. He was planning on posing as Chris brother to find out what was going on."
"How?" Buck asked. "How was he plannin on gettin Chris out of a prison alone?"
JD spoke up, "He was hopin to gain their trust by paying Chris bail."
"Five hundred dollars? Where in Hades could he get his hands on five hundred dollars?"
"The money he saved up for his saloon," Vin put in quietly. He raised his eyes to look at Buck. "Hes usin it to help Chris."
"Damn fool," Buck said, trying to cover his approval of Ezras unexpected actions. "He could get himself killed goin in there on his own."
Vin looked at JD. "Where are Nathan and Josiah?"
"I reckon theyre still at the Indian Village. I just got back in town myself an hour ago."
"Mrs. Travis, how long ago did Ezra leave?" Tanner inquired.
"Not too long after you left with that prisoner. More than three days ago. What are we going to do? How can we help them?"
"Dont you be frettin none. Well get em out, rest assured," Vin said with confidence. He motioned for Buck and JD to follow him back to their horses. "JD, ride out and get Nathan and Josiah. Tell em whats goin on and yall meet up with us at Jericho. In fact, run on over to the clinic before you leave and gather up a few of Nathans things. Chris and Ezra might be needin some doctorin when we find em."
JD nodded and ran down the street towards the clinic.
"Buck, lets you and I get some fresh horses and a couple of extra guns. We got a long ride ahead of us," the sharpshooter said in a low voice.
Buck moved back to where Mary stood and reached out to take her hand. "Dont you worry none now. Were gonna bring those boys back home," he promised as he wrapped his fingers around hers.
Mary took a deep breath and nodded as she watched the two men hurry away.
+ + + + + + +
Another night spent in this God-forsaken place, Ezra realized when he saw tiny shafts of daylight splinter their way into the building where he and Chris had been confined. He could hear movement outside; the sounds of prisoners feet skidding across the hard earth, orders being shouted by over-confident guards and the clank and rattle of "yard" tools being put to use. No one had come for him yet, but Ezra knew it was only a matter of time. He would be taken away from Chris and forced to labor even if his hands were unable to hold a shovel for very long. He didnt want to think about what Larabee would be put through this day.
Early this morning, Chris had settled down a bit. He appeared to rest without the invasion of nightmares or echoing images of his past. The tensions in his limbs eased, the heaving in his chest subsided and the lines on his face smoothed until he actually looked peaceful. It was a welcome sight, even though he knew it was probably to be short-lived.
Ezra rubbed at his eyes once more before he rose from his protective position at Chris side. Earlier in the night, he pushed the two cots as close together as he could and leaned up against the wall so he could be ready for anything that happened should he doze off. He had slept, with the hand he placed on Chris upper chest serving as his alarm. Every time the sleeping gunslinger shifted, Ezra was alerted and he moved to check on the man. This worked each of the five occasions it happened. Every time the gambler comforted his charge, and every time Chris fell back into an uneasy sleep.
Now it was time to move around. Ezra ached from head to toe, but he had little time to focus on the fact. He had to plan a way out for Chris and himself. It seemed apparent that the guards would be coming for him soon. He was of little use to the warden as a babysitter. Or was he? Perhaps the warden needed him to keep Chris calm. Ezra smiled to himself when he thought about how difficult Larabee could be. How he would love to have seen how "well-behaved" Chris had been for the local authority. Chris Larabee, submit to captivity? Ezra imagined the warden to still be waiting for Hell to freeze over.
Standish looked down and shook his head. "Oh yes, you do know how to ingratiate yourself, dont you." He looked back at the man on the cot and smiled again. "Perhaps when we leave this place, you and I should discuss the finer points of tact and diplomacy."
A noise just outside the cell door caught the Southerners attention. They were coming for him. Carefully he moved back, away from the door and closer to Chris. He waited for the man and gun he knew would try to force him out of the cell. His mind raced, trying to think of anything that would keep him and the now sleeping man together. No ideas came to mind.
The door opened and allowed a mans silhouette to pour into the room along with a huge rush of light. Ezra shaded his eyes from the onslaught and waited for them to adjust. It wasnt until the door closed again that he realized someone had entered and stayed.
"Whos there?" he queried. "Who are you?"
"Names Simmons. Im the doctor round here," the shadow answered.
"I reckon Im as near to it as youll find in this place."
Ezras eyes managed to make out a face and body after a few more seconds. "Well then, I reckon Im grateful. My associate here could use a bit of medical assistance."
The gray-haired man, sporting a tall black hat, hesitated as he clutched a small bag to his chest.
Ezra raised his eyes upward and thought to himself, Yet another illiterate. Why me, Lord?
"Help, sir. My friend needs help," Ezra clarified.
"I figured on that. 78 has been in need of tendin since he arrived. Started with the lickin he took five minutes after he was brought in," Simmons said as he moved to the far side of Chris bunk.
"Five minutes? He may have broken his own record," Standish replied as he moved to kneel beside Larabee, opposite Simmons.
"Well, hes been takin a beatin pretty regular. Ive sewed and patched him up a few times now. Its a wonder his heads still sittin on those shoulders of his."
"So the stitches in his belly are your handiwork?" Ezra tried to get a feel for the man.
Simmons laid his bag down on the ground and reached to open Chris shirt. He pulled the dirty fabric away from his abdomen and looked down at the uncovered wound. "Yeah, sewed him up after he got knifed by one of the other prisoners. Dont think it tore into anything important inside, but it went deep. Didnt holler too much either when I took a needle to him."
Ezra flinched at the thought.
The prisoner/doctor poked around the healing wound until it elicited a groan from its owner.
Ezra reacted immediately, taking hold of Simmons wrist. "Dont," he warned.
"I have to find out if theres fever in there. Hes tough enough. Believe me, Ive patched him enough to know," the man answered calmly.
Sensing there was little to fear from the man, Ezra released Simmons and settled even closer to Chris.
The doctor returned to the wound. "Looks like hes split some of them stitches. Could also have a touch o fever. Should probably fix em back, but I dont have much time. Warden only gave me a few minutes to see to him."
"Why would the warden suddenly enlist medical attention for Chris?"
"Dont rightly know. Just told me to get in here and see that hes made fit. Maybe the warden wants him back out in the yard," Simmons reasoned.
"I doubt that, Mr. Simmons. I doubt that very much. From what Ive seen, there is more going on between the warden and Chris than meets the eye," Ezra offered.
"Oh, theres plenty going on between those two. Has been since this one arrived. Got worse though when the warden couldnt back him down after he protected another inmate."
"Yeah. Inmate 46 was in awful shape; bout like he is now," the doctor said with a nod towards Chris. "The warden decided 46 needed to get back to work, but that was crap because the man couldnt even stand on his own. 78 here stepped in and stopped the warden from administering punishment. Well, at least he stopped him from administering it to 46. This one took a few good licks before the rest of the prisoners made a show of support and the warden backed down."
Ezra smiled softly. "Sounds like our Mr. Larabee was being true to form. Helping those who cant help themselves."
"Family trait?" Simmons inquired.
Ezra looked up, confused by the question.
"Well, looks to me like youve been doing a bit of helpin yourself. Makes since to help your brother, but you took an awful chance trying to free him from this place. Didnt work quite like you planned, hunh."
"Mr. Simmons, Mr. Larabee and I are not brothers. That was a ruse to gain entry to your facility. And no, it did not work as I had planned," the Southerner answered.
"Well, the accents may be different and you may say youre not related, but Id say actions speak louder than words. You took a powerful risk for him."
Ezra didnt quite know how to respond so he just changed the subject. "My friend needs help, Mr. Simmons. Shall we see to him?"
Simmons reached into his bag and brought out a bandage and a small bottle of whiskey. Popping the cork from the bottle, he poured the amber liquid over the stitches in Chris side. The only response from him was a soft moan and a weak attempt to move away.
The doctor watched his patient, wiped a bit at the edges of the wound and placed a new bandage on it. Then he had Ezra help him to tie it in place.
Once the bandage was secured, Ezra slid his fingertips across the sleeping mans forehead. Chris unconsciously pushed into the hand. A soft whisper came from his pale lips, "Sarah?"
Ezra pulled his hand down the bearded face and brought it to rest on a warm shoulder. "No, Chris. Sarahs not here."
"Sarah," Chris insisted. "Sarah, I saw him. I saw Adam."
Ezra didnt even try to stop the mumblings. There didnt seem to be as much fear attached to the imaginings so he just let the weary man have his dreams.
"Shouldnt shouldnt see him," Chris said as he licked his dry lips. Ezra reached for the cloth he used earlier and soaked it in the small amount of water remaining in the pail. He then touched the less than sanitary rag to Chris mouth. The gunslinger didnt give any indication he felt the soothing coolness; he simply continued his rambling.
"Wait whys he there he shouldnt be there Adam?"
Chris began to toss a bit more and Ezra moved his hand from his shoulder to his chest. He looked up at the man across the cot.
Larabee reached out to grab at the air in front of him. "Get him off," came as menacing a growl as he could produce in his weakened condition. Ezra reached for the outstretched hands, but couldnt seem to convince them to stay down. Chris spoke again in a more urgent tone. "Youre not takin him like that not on a death wagon he aint dead get im off "
Ezra gave Simmons a nervous glance. "Death wagon? What is he talking about?"
"Could be talking about a hearse. The town I was brought up in didnt have no proper hearse to speak of. Just used a wagon from the livery. Some folks called em death wagons. Seems once you carried a body or two on them, no one ever wanted to use em for much else," Simmons answered as he too reached for Chris groping hands.
"Im worried about the disturbing behavior my friend has been exhibiting as of late," Ezra said in a low voice.
"Whereas Mr. Larabee has been known to display a severe temper at times, one could not accuse him of behaving irrationally. Since being reunited with him, he has been having horrific delusions and nightmares."
"Well, Id say thats pretty normal behavior for anyone locked up in this place," Simmons replied.
"Not for Chris. He is one of the strongest men Ive ever known, but hes been imagining things," Ezra put it as delicately as he could. "The behavior is not normal to him. Do you have any idea what could cause his hallucinations?"
The gray head leaned forward so he could better see Chris face. He touched the sleeping mans brow, checked his eyes and ears and then settled back on his haunches. "Its hard to say whats causin his seein things. Its so dark in here, cant tell if hes bleedin from any place on his head. Hes warm, so its a good guess that hes workin on a fever. And like I said, hes taken a beatin or two. Probably more, knowing the guards around here. That head of his has been knocked around pretty good. In fact, Id say thats most likely why hes seein something that aint really there."
Ezra finally grabbed the flailing hands out of frustration. Chris tried to pull away, but the tired gambler was determined to stop whatever was reoccurring in the fevered dreams.
Chris still wanted his hands free. "Let go. Listen to me. He doesnt belong on the wagon. Please get him off Hes just a boy Oh God, please "
Ezra held tight to the hands.
Simmons looked at Larabee sadly. "What you reckon hes rememberin?"
Standish closed his eyes and pictured what must be playing out in his friends distorted memory. "I believe hes recalling the pain of his sons death."
"Lordie, howd the poor youngn die?"
"The boy and his mother were both murdered while Chris was away on a trip. What concerns me is that the details of his death are somewhat confused in Chris mind. He is interchanging the events with another horrible memory that apparently involved a bear attack. From what he has related in his imaginings, the animal ripped the child apart. The mention of the death wagon would indicate to me that he is now seeing his son carried away on that horrid contraption," Ezra said quietly, not quite sure why he was telling this stranger the intimate details of Chris past. Perhaps he held hope that the man would be able to offer some insight.
"Hes surely seen his share of sufferin, aint he," was the only response.
Ezra nodded sadly and watched as Chris began to once again surrender to an uneasy slumber. At least the violent episodes were lessening in severity and length, for that he was grateful.
Simmons tore his eyes from the two men and looked back down at the bag he carried. Out of it, he pulled a cloth haphazardly wrapped around an unknown object. He looked at it pitifully and extended his arms to pass it to the man across from him.
"I know it aint much, but maybe itll help a mite," he apologized then motioned towards Chris. "Since the wardens interested in gettin him up, Ill see to havin some broth sent in."
Standish, convinced that the gunslingers hands would not return to their search, raised his own hands to accept the tiny gift. He pulled the corners of the cloth away and smiled at the sight-- two small pieces of bread. "Doctor, please do not ask pardon for such a kind favor. I dare to speak for my friend, but we have had little to eat since our incarceration. This food is much appreciated. I thank you kindly."
Simmons beamed for a very brief moment, then turned his eyes back to the bag on the floor. "I dont know what the warden is up to, but I have a feeling you and your partner here are in for some rough times. Just know that most of the men here are beholding to seventy uh, Chris, here. If its at all possible, any one of us will be glad to sneak you help if need be. Course, there aint much were able to do, but if the moment comes and we see a way clear, we will help ya. Chris stood up to that animal and protected one of our own. We wont be forgetten that."
Ezra sat, a little stunned by the strong voice of commitment. He watched as the dirty little man gathered his bag and once again clutched it to him. "It would appear that Chris can instill loyalty in the strangest places," he stated with a small grin.
"Not so strange." Simmons smiled back. "Were all still men here, and we all can tell a good thing from a bad thing. Hes a goodn, your friend. Still has his self-respect. That goes a long way with those who thought theyd lost their own."
"I take your point, sir. Thank you." Ezra rose to offer his hand to the man.
Simmons glanced down at his own dirty hand. He started to wipe it on his shirt, embarrassed by the stains of blood and dirt that had tinged his skin. Ezra stopped him with a hand to his wrist and slid it against the bandaged palm of his other hand. Filthy teeth flashed at him in a large smile as the prison doctor stood a little straighter and gently shook the hand he was offered.
The gray head leaned over to look at the wrappings on his fellow prisoners hands. "Youre hurt," he said in quiet surprise. "Let me take a look."
"I am quite alright, I assure you. Ive just been overpowered by a yard implement," Ezra said as he tried to tuck his hands behind his back.
"Boy, you do like them fancy words, dontcha? Dont change nothing though. Words aint gonna help you heal none. Come on." He motioned for the Southerner to sit on the cot.
Ezra did as he was instructed, but he was not forthcoming in presenting his hands to the physician.
"If youre bashful, I could turn my eyes away," Simmons spoke with a grin. Then he sat down next to Ezra on the ratty mattress. The hesitant man reddened slightly, but finally produced his hands from behind his back.
The doctor didnt say anything as he unwrapped the hands. He just aimed the torn palms at the lantern and grimaced. He reached into his bag again and pulled out a jar and a couple of dingy bandages. "You said you cleaned these hands?"
"Yeah, well I reckon there aint much around to work with. Theyll do. Ill just put some of this here salve on em and wrap em back up." Simmons went about his work, passing the minute or two it took with distracting conversation. "I seen plenty of this kind of injury round here. A man aint meant to hold a shovel 12 hours a day."
"I have to confess that I am in complete agreement with you," Ezra said. "Honestly, I see no need to hold the ridiculous thing at all."
Simmons laughed as he finished up his task. "Now that I think about it, youre right. Screw the shovel and the asshole who invented it."
Now it was Ezras turn to laugh. It was strange to find humor in the midst of all this misery.
Just as he was about to reply to the doctors wisdom, Briggs yelled out behind the closed cell door, "Listen up, 21! Yer times up! Get your ass over to the door right now! Inmate 93, back away!"
The older doctor heard his prison number called and did as he was told. Hanging his head slightly, he faced the door. As it opened, he looked back over his shoulder. "Luck to you " he began.
"Ezra," Standish supplied when the man hesitated.
"Luck to you, Ezra, and to Chris," he said with sincerity.
"And to you, sir," came the reply as Briggs grabbed the tired-looking man and yanked him out of the cell. The door swung hard and slammed.
Ezra stared into the semi-darkness that had become his world. He lowered his face into aching hands. "And to you."
+ + + + + + +
JDs heart was pounding hard in his chest when he arrived at the Indian Village. The dark-haired youth went straight to Josiah and Nathan when he spotted them at the far end of the settlement. He quickly explained the situation with Chris and Ezra and filled them in on the plan to meet up with the others in Jericho.
"You have any idea what kinda shape those two are in?" Nathan asked.
"No, weve only had the one contact, the request for bail. It didnt say anything about how Chris was. And Ezra, he aint been heard from at all," JD answered as he helped his friends finish saddling up their horses.
"Damn, those two could be in a whole mess o trouble by now," Nathan said to himself softly.
"The Good Lordll watch over em until we can get to em," Josiah said as he finished cinching his saddle. "Weve finished seein to this flock. Now how about we go see to our own."
The three men mounted their horses and rode towards Jericho.
+ + + + + + +
The warden heard a knock on the door. "Come," he called as he lowered the cup that held his third serving of coffee.
Sheriff Quince swung the door open and sauntered inside.
"Where the devil have you been? I told that idiot deputy of yours I wanted you right away."
"I didnt run into the deputy until a little while ago. Looks like your appetites holding up pretty well," he said as he pointed to what was left of a huge breakfast on the wardens desk.
"I was up late last night," the heavy man explained.
"Oh, yeah?" Quince raised an eyebrow suggestively.
"Shut up, Quince! Weve got a problem to discuss."
"And what problem would that be?" asked Quince.
"Those two lawmen we have in lockup. You know there will be someone out there wholl come looking for them." The warden took another sip of coffee.
"So just kill em. Dead men cant talk, so whats the big deal?"
"Dead men can speak volumes if their demise is suspicious enough."
The warden shook his head. "Quince, use your head. We have two lawmen in custody. We picked them up on bogus charges. Those who know them might think twice if the two of them arrive here and just die."
"So we say it was a bad mistake. We got them here and didnt learn they were innocent until after their demise."
"And how do they die, Quince? Should we just shoot them down in the compound? No, Ive been thinking about it. That son-of-a-bitch with the attitude has cost me some respect around here. The other prisoners are watching what he does and even some of the guards are starting to favor him some. Well, that is they were until we figured how to keep him preoccupied."
The sheriff looked up at the warden and smiled.
The heavyset man continued. "Those two have to be dealt with. We need to use them to set an example around here, get our control back. Maybe the best way to do that is to make it look as if their deaths are out of our control." The wheels were obviously turning behind the wardens squinty eyes.
Quince sat on the corner of the wardens desk. "What do you have in mind?"
"How about if one of them were to go over the edge?"
"78, you mean. That one was a bit of a nutcase to begin with." The sheriff thought back to his first encounter with the person he deemed a wild man.
The warden grinned. "Yes, even more so since we found a way to keep him distracted."
"Tell me, warden. What was that stuff you gave him anyway?" Quince asked as he reached across the desk to pick up a cold piece of toast.
"Inmate 78 has been enjoying the effects of a delightful little cactus known as peyote," the heavy man answered as he raised a knife to the hand that dared touch his food. Quince dropped the bread and stood away from the desk.
"Peyote? You mean that stuff the Indians use. Damn, I didnt know that stuff could tear a man up so. I thought it was used in spiritual rites and all, not to make a man see demons," the tall man said with a shiver.
"Given enough of the stuff, it can make you see all sorts of things. It was just to our advantage that the man had enough demons to begin with to keep it interesting." The warden grinned.
"So how is this stuff gonna help us now? How are we going to handle 78 and the other one?
"Well, I thought we might let the poor souls go."
"Wait a minute. Let them go?" Quince looked at the warden as if hed lost his mind.
"Yes. Ive already arranged to have that hack, Inmate 21, sent over to see to their needs. Well let the poor men have a day to rebuild their strength and then send them off with a dose of good will," the warden nearly hummed as he held up a little black box.
"A dose of " Quince soon suspected what the warden was up to. "Ah, you mean 78 should get a little something to help him on his way. Hell go crazy."
"I see you grasp the implications. The drug inside this box is somewhat stronger than what hes used to. He should last long enough to get outside the prison before his mind begins to create the monsters that will ensure his death and that of his friend."
"And if he doesnt, well help him along. Brilliant! So if they do have someone out there looking for them, it wont matter. They escaped before we knew who they were and died as a result of their own carelessness."
"Certainly. I mean all we can do is go after them and then clean up the mess. The rest of the prisoners and the guards who arent in on our little operation will witness a genuine prison break. Theyll learn that we do not stand by and let disobedience go unpunished," the warden said around his last bite of breakfast.
"Oh, that is good," Quince cheerfully confirmed.
A smile peaked out from behind the napkin the large man used to wipe his mouth. "And so damned entertaining."
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