Don't Know From Adam

by Jordan McKenzie


Chris slapped an offending tree limb from his view as he entered a small clearing. He staggered, nearly blinded by the light that swelled outside the shadows of the trees behind him. His determination to find his friend forced his eyes open but the sight that greeted him nearly swallowed him in terror. Ezra, still trying to force another scream from his heaving chest, was dangling from an inch-thick wooden bolt that had pinned him to a huge tree on the other side of the clearing. The gunslinger paused in disbelief as he took in the grisly sight.

From what Chris could tell with the eight or so inches that protruded from high in Ezra’s left upper chest, the wooden shaft that pierced the struggling man was a heavy spear of sorts. He was effectively "harpooned" to the old tree. The gambler’s eyes were clenched so tightly together that his cheeks had turned bone white. His right hand fumbled, trying to raise itself past his waist but failed to do so; his left hand jerked in spasms by his hip; and his feet tried to find solid ground to take the weight off his upper body, but they just scrambled uselessly against the curve at the base of the tree. Finally, Chris could see Ezra open his eyes when the terrified man realized he was not alone. He didn’t act as if he could see; he just seemed to sense that he had company.

Larabee looked upon the anguish of the man as tears began to fall from disbelieving green eyes. Shaking himself free of his own fear, Chris moved to confront that of his companion. He could actually feel the involuntary tremors running through the man.

"Ezra?" Chris’ voice quivered. He shook himself again and tried to regain control. "Ezra, can you hear me?" This time his voice carried strong.

Ezra didn’t answer. His neck arced back and he bumped his head on the timber against his back. The screams that had been torn from him just minutes before were now strangled breaths that he felt he couldn’t push out or pull in. He was suffocating. His world of agony was growing around his senses and there was very little he could do. Ezra’s only coherent thought was, Pain…Dear God, there is so much pain!

Chris tried again, working to penetrate the haze the pain-filled man swam in. "Ezra, I’m right here. I’ve got you. Just hold on." He wrapped his arms around the weakening man and tried to hold him up so the weight of his body didn’t continue to pull at the wooden bolt. "Ezra, hold on," he repeated firmly when he realized the gambler was past hearing him. Then came a small voice to his right ear.


Chris pulled his head back to stare into the swimming green eyes. The look he saw bore into his soul. There was something familiar in those eyes, something just outside his reach. He gathered Ezra in his arms even tighter as he tried to come up with some way to end this nightmare.

He had to help…he had to…help… A mantra formed in the back of his mind. He listened to Ezra try to control his breathing. A slow, steady rhythm began to replace the panicked struggle and Chris began to drift with the tight sound of his exhalations. The initial burst of energy that had carried him to his friend’s rescue began to wane. Sadness began to flood his mind… an ache began to fill his body. There was a numbness that passed across his face, through his hands and into his feet. Without realizing it, the gunfighter’s eyes closed and his forehead fell forward to rest on the gambler’s healthy shoulder. He was losing the advantage of the rush that had filled him only moments before, but still he held tight to Ezra’s shuddering body. "I’ll help you…I swear it…I will help you… I will try…" Chris’ mantra began to find voice.

Standish resisted his desire to completely give in to his terror when he felt an added heaviness near his chest. His lungs were already overtaxed with the effort to breath, but now there was a second pressure that weighed heavily against him. He tried to focus his eyes when he felt a fevered brow burn through the thin prison shirt he wore. The weight was physically uncomfortable. The sight nearly broke his heart.

Ezra managed to wrestle enough presence of mind from his agony to understand his survival depended solely on a man who had been so badly abused these past couple of weeks that his mind and body should have collapsed long before now. He had been to hell and back and it seemed that Chris’ nightmare was requesting a return trip. He had to break through to the man; keep him awake and motivated long enough to see them both clear of these woods and back to the safety of their friends. The Southerner coughed, then whispered again in a strangled voice, "Chris, don’t…go there…"

Ezra managed to lift his right hand just enough to slide it across Chris’ left forearm and weakly grasp the muscle in his upper arm. He tried to squeeze with deadened fingers and draw the weary man back from the frightening abyss he knew he was being dragged into.

The gentle pressure on Chris’ arm didn’t really serve to snap him back to the present, but the look he saw on Ezra’s face when he raised his head in response gave him what he needed to snatch his thoughts from the blackness and return to the urgency of their situation. He tried to stand straighter under Ezra’s weight and once again provide the man with support. Shaking his head slightly to clear it, he spoke with more energy than he actually felt. "It’s okay, Ezra. I’ll get you outta here. "

Chris took a moment to look around. There was nothing, absolutely nothing to use as a cutting tool. His only choice of rescue was not going to be easy. He had to get Ezra off the tree and he had to do it now. Having made up his mind to act, he reached for the wooden bolt that protruded from the blood-gushing hole. He looked once into a face that just barely registered what was about to happen, then grabbed a firm hold and with a quick twist, snapped the shaft nearer the entrance wound.

Ezra gagged with the suddenness of the act and a startled cry made its way once again from his tortured throat. His head lolled slightly and Larabee sharply threw the red-stained chunk of wood aside. Chris then took Ezra’s chin in his hand and raised the pale face to his own. "Ezra?" he asked with a fear-laden tremor in his voice.

"I’m …here," came the distressed answer.

"I have to get you off this tree."

"Please…" came an almost sarcastic reply.

Chris gently patted the bobbing head and tried to prepare Ezra for what had to happen. A surprise this painful would by no means be fair to the traumatized man. He just wondered if he himself had the strength to actually see his plan through. "Listen to me, Ezra, I have to warn you. I’m gonna have to hurt you again…" he started.

"Oh, God…."

The mixture of perspiration and tears on Ezra’s cheeks made it hard for Chris to hold the dazed man’s head up. "I have to get you off this tree." Blue eyes sought out green.

Without a word, the wounded man knew what Chris had in mind. "Do it…" came the murmured confirmation.

Chris adjusted his feet, legs and back into a position of better leverage and gently tightened his arms around the trembling man’s upper body. He drew in a breath, more to benefit his nerve than his strength, and then he put his head against Ezra’s and spoke a single, solemn vow, "I will get you down."

Ezra heard Chris’ promise in his ear and tried to relax into his rescuer’s arms. He knew that tensing up would only make his extrication that much more painful. …trust you… he thought….have to trust you

With his hands flat to the sweat-soaked back and positioned close to the point where the spear exited Ezra’s body and entered the tree, Chris quickly jerked the pinned man towards him. The spear passed on through the smaller man’s body in one agonizing move. Ezra came off the tree issuing a scream of mind-searing pain and horror at what had been done to him. His body convulsed in waves in Chris’ arms, but Larabee refused to drop him; he held tight and let the man ride out what he could not control.

The gambler slowly began to feel the fire in his brain recede. The overwhelming tear through his body was gradually being replaced by nausea and a loss of motor functions. The pain had nearly paralyzed him. The best he could hope for at the moment was that his fellow peacekeeper wouldn’t let him fall flat on his face.

Chris felt Ezra’s battle diminish. The muscles that jerked in spasms earlier relaxed until the exhausted man dangled loosely in his arms. Feeling his own strength fade, Chris used what energy he had left to drag Ezra behind the tree and into the shade.

The gunfighter fell across the Southerner’s legs, gasping for air. "Ezra!" he called hoarsely when Standish didn’t move beneath his weight. "Come on, Ezra." Chris sat up and straddled the unmoving man, putting his hands on either side of the slack face. "Ezra, damn it, look at me!"

The Southerner moaned.

"Ezra?" Chris pulled his hands away and looked into the downed man’s face. "Come on, pard."

When Ezra began to stir, he awoke to a phenomenal pain in his left shoulder. "Agghh," he gurgled.

"That’s it, come on," Larabee encouraged as he pulled his own shirt over his head.

"Ohhh, God…" Ezra pleaded through the tight grimace on his face.

Once off, Chris tore his shirt into two pieces. One half, he quickly wadded into a ball and forced against the hole in Ezra’s back. The other, he rolled similarly and pressed against the entrance wound. Ezra bucked up and cried out in pain.

"I’m sorry," Chris said, "but I gotta get this bleeding stopped."

The man on the ground blew air through clenched teeth and forced his eyelids open. He stared at the man sitting on top of him and tried to snatch back the overwhelming panic that iced nearly ever fiber of his being. It wasn’t until he realized who was there that he was able to calm himself down. "Chris…" Ezra coughed.

"It’s me, Ezra. I’m right here."


"Can’t do that. I’ve gotta take care of this hole in your shoulder. You just hang on, alright?"

Ezra nodded and tried to get through the next few moments as best he could.

Chris lifted the bloody shirt wadded up on his friends wound, but couldn’t really tell if the bleeding was slowing down or not. There was a huge hole and very little to cover it with. "Ezra, I’m going to have to rip part of your shirt. Can you sit up and lean against me for a minute?"

Ezra paled at the prospect, but again nodded his head.

Chris eased the man up and held him with one arm as he tore at the shirt with the other. When he had a good long strip, he used it to tie the two pieces of his own shirt to the gambler’s body. He then gently lowered Ezra to the ground again. "I have got to get you out of here," Chris said in a worried tone.

Ezra gathered his wits and raised a hand to the man who sat above him. He took Chris’ arm and offered, "… have to leave me…"

The blond man looked down. "Like hell."

"Chris… only slow you down… They will have heard… me."

"I ain’t leaving you, Ezra. Get that outta your head. We go together," Chris replied.

"You can’t… go back," Ezra tried again.

"Neither can you, remember. There’s a fate worse than mine waiting for you back there. I won’t let the warden or Briggs have you. We go together, Ezra, or we die trying."

"Definite…possibility," Ezra said between breaths.

"A little pessimistic for a gambler, isn’t it, Ezra? They haven’t caught us yet."

Ezra gave Chris a weak smile.

Chris smiled back. "We’ll give you a minute, then try to get you up."

Ezra swallowed, inhaled and then groaned in pain as he tried to rise.

"Don’t move just yet," Larabee ordered.

"Can’t breath… you’re on… my chest," Ezra said in a raspy voice, trying to point out the lawman’s position above him.

Chris raised himself to his knees, straddling the injured man. "Damn, Ezra, I’m sorry." He then slid to one side and seated himself on the ground.

Standish drew in as much as he could as Chris wearily kept watch. They still had a long way to go to escape the warden’s reach.


A very weary gunfighter reached out to put his hands on the trunk of the tree to which his friend had just been nailed. His mind registered the urgency in regaining his feet, but his body was quite unwilling. Chris Larabee gripped the tree and forced his arms and shoulders to pull. His legs were reluctant to push up, but he somehow found the flicker of energy he needed. Once he actually stood upright, he leaned his head against the bark and held on with his arms. Deep-reaching breaths escaped his lungs and sparkling white spots floated before his eyes.

"Will you… listen to me now?" Came a soft-spoken question touched with a Southern slur.

Chris didn’t answer. He didn’t dare. Answering would require too much of what he needed just to remain standing up.

"Chris… you have no choice," Ezra stated quietly.

The figure still holding onto the tree didn’t turn around.

"You have to leave me and," Ezra swallowed, "try to get away from here."

Chris raised his chin and looked straight ahead, as if he were closely examining the tree bark in front of him. The befuddled look on his battered face frightened Ezra, so the gambler tried harder to get Larabee’s attention. "Are you… listening? They won’t be far behind," he said louder. "Chris…"

Finally, Chris broke his silence. "Ezra," he said flatly.


"Shut up."


Larabee turned away from the tree and looked down at the wheezing man. "No."

Ezra rolled to his good shoulder and tried to push himself up. When he failed, he felt his back land on something very uncomfortable. He ignored it and tried to reason with his friend again. "Owww… Hell, just listen. You have to leave me here… I’ll only slow you down. There is no sense… gasp… in both of us being caught."

Chris pushed away from the wooden support and took the three steps necessary to reach his friend’s side. "Self-sacrifice, Ezra? A little outside your professed personality, isn’t it?" Chris said sarcastically, hoping to provoke the tired man.

"Simply the only reasonable option," Ezra said in frustration. Chris’ prodding had its desired effect.

"Ezra, you are not an option."

The gambler’s eyes grew wider but he didn’t say another word.

Chris leaned over, afraid that if he went down he might not be able to get up again. "Now, I know morning isn’t your favorite time of day, but how about we just get your lazy ass up and the two of us get out of here."

"Stubborn fool," Ezra muttered as he reached hesitantly for the hand he was offered.

Grunting against the weight he pulled towards him, Chris did manage to get Ezra off the ground. He brought the man’s uninjured arm around his shoulder and dragged the Southerner to his side.

"Which way?" Ezra asked.

"I see you’ve discovered one of the devices I use to ensure the integrity of my prison’s perimeter," a heavy voice called from the other side of the tree. "How about we call this the end of the line, boys."

Chris and Ezra looked up simultaneously to see the warden ease in front of them on horseback, holding the remainder of the bloody bolt he had broken off the tree. Just past him, they noticed Sheriff Quince, one of the guards from the prison and a tall, lean stranger dismount their horses. The three men left their animals and took up positions surrounding the duo.

"I know I have had quite enough of this little chase," the warden added.

"Yeah well, I imagine any movement must cause you discomfort, you corpulent piece of… " Ezra was cut off when the guard stepped forward and used the butt of his rifle to jab him in the ribs. The unexpected attack threw the two escapees off balance and sent them to the ground. Chris tried to break their fall, but he couldn’t untangle himself from the smaller man.

"93, I am beginning to tire of you. Now just stay down and shut up before I change my plans for the two of you and take you back to Briggs!"

Ezra clamped his lips together and fought the urge to return a barrage of insults. The warden had his full attention now, despite the agony that enveloped him.

Chris brought himself to his knees. "What plans?"

"Well, since you have been so keen on resisting my authority, I have devised a way to give you what you want," the warden answered as he leaned on the horn of his saddle.

"And that would be?"

"Why, your freedom, 78! Your freedom!"

Chris glared at the man. "You’re just going to let us go?" he asked as he stood up.

"Yes, I am. You and your partner will be allowed to leave and I will do nothing to stop you. I will even give you a little something to help you on your journey."

Ezra once again felt the uncomfortable presence of something underneath his back. When he realized that he had landed on the same "something" that had poked him earlier, he tried to ease himself onto softer ground. Everyone was so focused on the warden’s newfound generosity that he was able to move unnoticed.

Chris rubbed his neck. "You want to give me something," he said flatly.

"I insist," the man on horseback said with a wide grin.

Ezra found the less irritating ground he sought and put a hand out to try and determine exactly what he had been dropped onto. He reached across the small patch of dirt and leaves, and eventually touched the amazing object that had once again appeared out of nowhere. The weak man managed a small prayer of thanks as his bloody fingers curled around the rifle he had been carrying when he was speared to the tree, the same gun that had mysteriously appeared as he and Chris were escaping the prison.

"Denton," the warden called to the stranger of the group, "why don’t you show Inmate 78 what I have for him."

The tall man raised the black box he carried so that Chris could see it. A smile crossed the craggy face when he opened the box and saw Larabee’s reaction to its contents.

Chris saw the metal hypodermic and the small bottle that lay cushioned inside the box and involuntarily took a step back. He blanched when he realized what the warden wanted to give him.

Ezra couldn’t see what was in the container from the angle he lay, but he did notice his friend’s frightened look. "Chris, what is it?"

Larabee didn’t appear to hear him. He stepped back again, not saying a word.

"Ohh, you don’t like it. And after all the trouble I went to," the warden crooned in mock disappointment. "You have been a pain in my ass since the day you arrived. I tried everything I knew to instill obedience in you, 78. Nothing worked until I had Mr. Denton here come up with some ‘medication’ for you. Peyote is a wonderful drug and it worked pretty well. I was able to control you even though you were out of your mind. You must carry a lot of nightmares with you for it to have worked so well. Regardless, I have something new for you to try. I have been reassured that this will make your sendoff very interesting."

Chris looked up at the man, trying to piece together what he was saying. Missing moments, insane dreams, not remembering the past couple of days. It was all starting to make sense. He had been drugged.

"Now I need more than control. I need you to die."

The three men who accompanied the warden began to close in on Larabee. The guard came up from behind, grabbed Chris by the arms and forced him to stand closer to Denton.

"NOOO!!!" Chris screamed as he bent over and tried to pull away.

Since Larabee was now center stage, no one was paying Ezra any attention; he sat up and boldly reached for the gun that lay nearby.

The guard who held Chris suddenly felt him go limp. Thinking he had simply passed out, the warden’s henchman put all his efforts into keeping his prisoner upright. It was that distraction that gave Chris the opportunity he needed to use his arm to swing and catch the man in the side of the head. The guard turned him loose and dropped to the dirt in pain.

Chris fell to one knee and tried to get up. Quince appeared out of nowhere and tackled the man to the ground. He rolled and came up with Chris’ back pinned to his own chest.

"You sons-of-bitches! Let me go!" Chris shouted.

"Denton," Quince shouted. "Do it now!"

The tall stranger had been busy filling the hypodermic during the scuffle and was ready to inject the prisoner when called. He moved to where Chris lay and instructed the dazed guard to turn Larabee’s forearm up and hold it still.

The sheriff, having been able to turn loose of one arm while the guard held it, used his free hand to wrap around Chris’ throat. The pressure slowed the prisoner’s struggling considerably.

"Don’t do this!" Chris yelled. "Don’t!"

The warden laughed. "It’s over, 78! With enough of this stuff in you, you’ll not only manage to kill yourself, but take this friend here with you."


"Leave him!" Ezra shouted as he pulled the rifle on the ground to his side and pointed it at the man with the needle.

"Continue," the warden cried when Denton hesitated.

"You stick him with that thing and I promise you, you will die," Standish said, looking straight at the tall man.

"Do it, 93!" the large man on horseback roared.

"What?" Denton asked in surprise.

"Go ahead, 93. Shoot him."

Ezra positioned his hands to cock the rifle. He put every ounce of his strength into making the gun ready to fire, but he just couldn’t do it with the injuries to his shoulder and his hands.

"You can’t, can you? Sizeable hole there; lost a bit of blood. You’re as weak as a kitten. Now just put down the gun and watch the show." The warden nudged his horse closer.

"I myself wouldn’t miss this for anything."

Ezra’s face reddened with exertion, but there was no way he could fire the weapon.

He looked into Denton’s eyes. "Don’t, please," he pleaded.

"Denton, get on with it," Quince hollered from his place beneath the squirming gunfighter.

The man leaning over Chris did as he was instructed. Ezra heard his friend scream again and tried to use the rifle as support to regain his feet. He had to stop this.

Chris felt the needle slide into the skin of his arm. Terror flooded his mind as he felt the drug flow inside his body, burning where it entered his flesh. The pain only served to anger him. No more, he thought. No more. Then his mind exploded and he used his fury to break the hold the three men had on him. He would fight. He would very likely kill.

"Chris!" Ezra called out when he saw the man break free. He was now on his feet and about to toss the rifle he leaned on to Chris, but the warden brought the butt of his own gun down on Larabee’s head. The murderous look on the blond man’s face turned to pain and he fell to the ground.

Standish watched his leader drop and waited for the warden to come after him next. He raised his chin in defiance as the mounted man moved closer. He could feel the heat from the horse’s body as it stepped near him.

The large man looked down at him with a smirk on his face. "I’ll be sure to give Briggs your regards." The evil grin widened as he raised a foot and shoved Ezra back to the ground.

Standish groaned when he hit the ground, but still he managed to issue a warning for the man who towered over him. "Don’t believe for a moment that this is over, you arrogant bastard."

The warden couldn’t hide the surprise on his face – the fool had nerve if not good sense. "Boys, maybe you should help 78 out. Go ahead and put a few marks on this one." He reined his horse back towards the clearing. "I’m heading back."

Denton, himself not a physical man, re-packed his drug kit and returned to his horse. He took to his saddle and followed the man in charge of the prison.

Sheriff Quince walked over to Chris and nudged the unconscious form with the toe of his boot. Chris showed no signs of waking. "Amazing how hard this cowboy’s head is. He’s taken quite a few hits there and it still ain’t caved in."

The guard with Quince grinned and looked at Standish. "Ya reckon this one’s as tough? He’s such a fancy man."

"Well now, I don’t know. I suppose we can find out," the sheriff answered as he walked to where the other prisoner lay. He grabbed Ezra by the material that was wrapped around his shoulder and jerked him up. The howl that resulted was drowned out only by the unexpected sound of rifle fire.

The noise caused Quince to drop the man that dangled from his hand. He turned to see the guard beside him fall to the ground gripping a bloody bullet hole just above the knee.

Ezra raised himself up for what felt like the umpteenth time and located the issuer of the gunfire – Phillips. The mustached black man stood tall, holding his gun on the sheriff.

"Again," Ezra muttered, "thank the Lord for this man’s timing."

+ + + + + + +

"Warden, wait up!" cried Denton.

The larger of the two men pulled his animal to a stop and looked behind him. "What is it, Denton?"

"What was that shot back there?"

"Hard to say. Could be Quince entertaining himself," the warden said as he reached for his canteen. "Relax. Everything is under control."

"But Quince…" Denton started.

"The sheriff can handle it. Just let him do his job. I’m heading back to the prison to make sure everything is all right there. I still have a search to oversee, don’t I?"

The lean man looked confused at first but then understood.

"Denton, you need to disappear. I left your money back at the hotel in Jericho. Get it and get lost. I don’t want to see you again for a while."

"Yeah, sure. I don’t want to be hanging around here anyway. I’ve got a bad feeling about all this."

"Buck up, son. You’ve got to be tough to get what you want in life. Remember that," the warden said after he took a swig of water. "Now get on out of here."

Denton turned his horse and headed towards Jericho. The warden continued on towards the prison.

+ + + + + + +

Phillips finished tying the hands and feet of his two newest prisoners and went to check on the man lying unconscious nearby. Quince and the prison guard had put up quite a fuss, but the final word came from the man holding the gun.

Ezra watched in silence as the rogue guard subdued the two angry men. He didn’t utter a sound until the man made a move towards Chris. "What are you doing?" he asked worriedly when Phillips put a hand underneath the unmoving body.

"Just checkin’ to see if his heart’s still beatin’. His color ain’t good and he’s breathin’ funny, but he does have a strong poundin’ in his chest," Phillips answered in a gentle voice. "How ‘bout you? You gonna make it?"

Standish allowed a soft smile to appear on his face. "I think I just might. I am grateful, sir, that you arrived when you did. I do believe I was about to subjected to tremendous abuse at the hands of these two miscreants."

"Them, you mean?" He pointed to Quince and the guard.


"Well, you might be ‘subjected’ to a lot more if someone else comes up on us. I ain’t real sure what’s been goin’ on back at the prison, but I do know stompin’ him near to death and leavin’ you to bleed out ain’t right. ‘Sides that, I hear you two are lawmen."

Ezra looked surprised. "And how exactly did you hear that?"

"Let’s just say the warden fancies himself a big man; likes to hear himself talk. Me, I lean more towards listenin’," Phillips said as he looked around the area. "Someone else finds you and you’re gonna be dead men. We need to get you two outta here before the others figure out where I am. I think there are some men lookin’ for you who might be able to help, but only if you’re alive long enough for me to find ‘em and bring ‘em to ya."

"Other men? Five other men?"

"Don’t rightly know. Just heard tell that you two were bein’ asked about back in Jericho. You think someone’s come for ya?"

"I pray they have. There are five other lawmen from Four Corners who should have an idea where we are by now. Why don’t we just head back to town now?" Ezra asked.

"Can’t do that. These parts are crawling with the warden’s men. We’d never make it and I can’t hold ‘em all off with one rifle. I would take you in myself and say I caught ya, but the warden would make sure you disappeared before your friends could get there."

The dark man looked up and saw the sheriff’s horse in the clearing. An idea formed in his mind. He looked at Ezra with a serious expression. "You reckon you can sit a horse?"

The gambler regarded him curiously.

"If I can get you and your friend here on that horse, you reckon you could hold on for say a mile or two?" Phillips clarified.

Ezra grinned. "You get me on that horse and I can ride to hell and back if I have to."

"I figured you might."

Phillips took Quince’s horse by the reins and led him to where the wounded men lay,

He then leaned over to help Ezra off the ground. "Come on, lean on me."

The Southerner put his healthy arm around the large shoulder of his rescuer. Phillips raised the smaller man up and hefted him behind the cantle of the saddle. Ezra was sure he would pass out from the effort but he was able to hold on. The guard saw the effort it took.

"You alright?"

"Yes. Yes, I’ll be fine. Just wasn’t ready to take on great heights." Ezra swayed.

"You gonna be able to do this? I gotta put your buddy up there with ya."

"Give him to me. I can do this," he said, not sure if he was trying to convince Phillips or himself.

Phillips rolled Chris onto his back and scooped him up. He then moved to slide the oblivious man belly down across the saddle seat.

Ezra noted his friend’s position and recalled his injury. "His side and chest, he’s hurt," Ezra muttered.

"He ain’t feelin’ nothin’ right now. Best we just tie him down and get you two on your way," the guard explained.

Standish agreed somewhere in the back of his mind. He watched as Phillips used rope to loosely tie Chris’ hands and then his feet to the saddle’s stirrups.

"This should keep him from sliding off. Can you hang on to the horn for a little while or should I tie you too?"

"No, no. I can hold on. Just tell me, where is it we’re supposed to be going?"

"If you follow the treeline for about a mile, you’ll see where it gets a little less shady. The trees die down and the rocks take over. There’s a trail headin’ west. Take it for another mile and start lookin’ for a cave. It’s hidden pretty good in the rocks so you should be able to hide out there ‘til I find those other lawmen."

"What will you do with them?" Ezra asked pointing at the two men sitting on the ground.

"Those two? I’m gonna leave ‘em. They can just sit tight ‘til this is over. Me, I’m gonna make a lot of noise so the other guards’ll start tracking me. Maybe I can lead them away ‘til you get yourself hidden."

Phillips reached down and pulled out a knife with a five-inch blade. He put it between the gambler’s hands and nodded. "You use this to cut him loose at the cave. I seen you can’t fire a gun, so maybe you can use it to protect yourself if you need to ‘til I get there."

"Thank you," the man on the horse said with sincerity.

"Let’s get you on your way. There’s water in that canteen, probably food in the saddlebag. Just watch around you and keep outta sight." With that, Phillips led the horse to the clearing and sent the two injured lawmen on their way.

+ + + + + + +

When the warden neared his prison camp, he heard gunfire and men shouting. Wondering what the uproar could be, he moved his horse quietly towards the perimeter to get a better look. What he saw completely unnerved him -- five men brandishing guns and shooting at what was left of his remaining contingent of guards. From the looks of things, his side was losing the confrontation.

He tried to contain his panic and soon reasoned what had to be done. He had to get to the safe in his office, sack up his money and get the devil away from this place before he was caught. He decided very quickly that Quince and the others would simply have to go it on their own. With that plan formulated, he began to work his way towards the rear of the compound.


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