Don't Know From Adam
Ezra dozed. Having made certain that his cellmate was resting comfortably, he tried to grab another few minutes of rest. There was little else to do at this point. The powers-that-be seemed for all intents and purposes to have forgotten that he and Chris were there. Perhaps that was the punishmentto keep them wondering what would happen next. Larabee seemed to have overcome the dark episodes he had endured earlier. Whatever had caused his madness seemed to have left him in peace, at least for the moment. Now he slept, free of the fear that had so consumed him upon and since Ezras arrival.
The weary gambler had closed his eyes, deciding that he would deal with whatever came his way when it came his way. He just wanted to give in to his bodys need to remain still. Alas, he was only allowed his surrender a very short time a noise in the distance vaguely caught his attention. He thought about checking to see what had caused it, but he was just so sleepy. Just another minute, he thought. Then the sound came again, closer. He lay perfectly still, cracked an eyelid and tried to get his bearings. He reached an arm out to touch the man who was supposed to be snoozing at his side then he opened both his eyes and caught sight of a shadow hovering above.
"Chris? What are you doing?" Ezra asked tiredly.
The shadow didnt speak.
"Do you need some help? Are you feeling sick again?" Ezra listened and tried to focus but no one answered. When he rose, his hand slid further across Chris cot until it collided with a warm shoulder. He stiffened when he realized that the gunfighter was still curled up in his bed. "Whos there?" he asked nervously.
No voice gave reply, but a large hand came down to grab his upper arm. Ezra was roughly pulled from the shabby mattress and drawn up to stand face to face with an enormous wall of flesh. Two beefy hands then felt their way up his arms and shoulders and were brought to settle in a loose grip around the Southerners neck. Ezra gagged when he realized who had him Briggs, the mans breath hadnt improved one bit.
"Wha-what," the gambler wheezed, "do you want?" He had a good idea, but that thought was too gruesome to hold on to for very long. "L-let go," he said with as much strength as he could muster, his aching fingers pulling at the hands that held his head so close to the ugly beast.
The light was nil, save for the glow of the lantern. Still night. No one will be up at this hour, Standish fretted. He tried again to pull at the large fingers threaded around his throat, but Briggs showed no signs of turning him loose.
"Be still," Briggs said as he moved one of his hands to the back of Ezras head.
"Like hell," Ezra gasped. "Let go!" The smaller man struggled more and more with each passing moment. The prospect of what was about to happen to him was more than his heart could take. He would stop this or die trying. "I really " he said, drawing up his right leg, "must insist!" He brought his foot down as hard as he could on Briggs left knee. It had the desired effect and Ezra pulled free as the huge man released his hold on him and fought to grab his injured knee.
Briggs fell in pain and watched as Ezra retreated to the far wall of the cell and stood in ready for his next attack. "You aint gonna win, little man," the bulky man threatened. "You shouldnt fight me."
Ezra stood away from the wall, trying to make himself look bigger to the man at his feet.
"I been watchin you," Briggs added.
Ezra shuddered. He knew the man wasnt lying on that point.
"They locked you away, but I still been watchin."
"In here?" Ezra asked before he realized he was actually speaking. "How on earth?"
Standish watched as Briggs raised his eyes up to the little window high above his head.
"Oh, Lord," he mumbled.
Briggs stood up painfully. "You been carin for him real good," he said as he motioned towards Chris back. "Like hes somethin special."
Ezra raised an eyebrow at the disgusting insinuation. "We work together. Hes a friend."
"Maybe hes needin a new friend," Briggs replied as he moved closer to where Chris lay. He reached down for Chris shoulder and rolled him onto his back.
The action brought Ezra further away from the wall. "Leave him alone," he warned.
"You dont like me touchin im, do you? Well, maybe youll be wantin to do somethin to stop me." Briggs hand went to Chris chin to roll his head towards him. A moment later the hand was brought to rest on Chris belly, near the knife wound.
Ezra knew Briggs was provoking him, but the sight of the animals hand on such a man as Chris Larabee was too much to take lightly. "Get away from him! He cant hurt you," he said firmly.
"No, but I can hurt him real good," Briggs said with a sneer.
Ezra stepped closer to the two. This couldnt be happening. How was he going to fight a man three times his size? He watched, horror-struck, as the hand on Chris stomach began to move. "You son-of-a-bitch!" he yelled as he launched himself at the repulsive man.
Briggs fell back not expecting such a violent reaction from the Southerner. He soon righted himself however and grabbed Ezra up in his arms. With one quick motion, he had Ezra pinned back against the wall. "So, its gonna be you, is it? Good," he breathed into the gamblers face.
Ezra choked on the foul breath that once again caught him off guard. "No," he wheezed. "This will not happen."
"Oh, but it already is. You aint gettin away. There aint no place to go." Briggs pushed himself into the squirming man.
"NO, but theres a place you can go, you piece o crap!" Ezra heard a familiar voice shout just before the man on top of him fell in a heap on the floor.
The gambler curled into himself and dropped to the ground as well. He could still feel He shook off the thought as he fought for composure. Its all right, Ezra thought. Nothing happened. It didnt happen.
"Ezra?" the voice asked quietly.
"It didnt happen." Standish mumbled.
"Ezra? You okay, pard?"
"Not again. It didnt happen again," he stated strongly despite the fact he was visibly trembling.
"Again? Did he try before, Ezra?"
"That asshole on the floor. Did he hurt you before?"
Ezra bravely lifted his face up to see the person rubbing the back of his neck. "Chris?"
"Yeah, whod you expect?" Larabee said with a small smile.
"Uh, no one. You and I are the only ones here the only ones." Ezras voice and stare drifted. He saw Briggs lying beside him. "Well, almost the only ones."
"You okay now?"
"Fine. Im fine," Ezra said. "Just had the wind knocked out of me."
Chris screwed his face up questioningly. "Ezra, has he hurt you before?"
"Before? No. No he didnt. Well, aside from the fact that he worked me like some animal in the yard." Ezra stood slowly and straightened. "The man has no respect for those less inclined to participate in hard labor."
Chris stood, using the wall to lean on. He brought his arm up to wrap around his waist. "I heard that," he said with a grimace on his face.
Ezra caught the look. "You, sir, need to be resting."
"Ezra," Chris started.
"Do not fight me on this. Mr. Jackson will have my worthless hide if I permit you to hurt yourself further before we return home."
"Well, you may not have to worry about that much longer," Chris stated as he nodded towards the other side of the small room. "We may be going home sooner than we thought."
Ezra blinked in disbelief when he saw what had caught Chris attention. The cell door was standing wide open. "How fortunate that that asshole is as stupid as he is grotesque," Ezra said with a toothy grin.
"Yeah. You ready to get outta here?" Chris asked, trying to stand up straighter.
"Well then, I think we should probably make our departure. By the way," Ezra began to ask.
"Yeah?" Chris answered as Ezra pulled one of his arms over his shoulder and helped him over Briggs unconscious form.
"How was it that you persuaded our guard to stop," Ezra hesitated, too shaken to name what it was Briggs had attempted, "you know."
"Well, you know me, Ezra. I believe in reasoning with a man," Chris replied with a look down at his hand. Still clutched by his fingers was a large chunk of stone from the cell wall.
Ezra grinned as he aimed his friend towards the exit. He used the hand wrapped around Chris back to catch the door and slowly pull it open. Taking a couple of seconds to peek outside, he pulled Chris into the shadows of night that fell across the building they occupied.
"Tell me again. Where are we?" Larabee asked in a low voice.
Ezra moved Chris closer to the building and up against a row of crates that lined the outside wall. He pointed parallel to the prisons fence. "About 30 feet in that direction, and about eight or nine feet down, youll find our previous accommodations," he answered.
"The hole," Chris confirmed.
"Yes. The fence runs alongside it and this building, about 20 feet to the outside. The wardens office lies in that direction," Ezra whispered as he directed the blond mans attention to their immediate right.
"Why would they hold prisoners here, so near the fence?"
"Perhaps those kept here are not normally well enough for the proximity to be of concern. When I was brought here, you were in no condition to be contemplating escape. Seeing that I came in here looking for you, it was probably a good guess that I wouldnt be leaving without you." Ezra leaned himself and Chris against a crate and looked back at the building. "Then again, perhaps this was the only place they had to separate you from the other inmates. According to our Mr. Simmons, you were quite the irritant for the warden."
"A pain in the ass, I hope," Chris corrected. "We best be headin to the fence and away from the compound. Where are the guards?"
"Excellent question, however I am not disappointed by their absence," came the soft whispered reply.
"Somethings not right. I wonder " Chris began to say when a sound caught his attention. "Someones coming."
Standish straightened and took a step away from the building. When he did, his foot collided with something that fell and clattered to the ground. What fell into the moonlight was nearly inconceivable --a rifle. Chris looked at Ezra blankly for a moment then the sound of running feet snapped him back to awareness. "It must belong to Briggs. Grab it and lets get out of here," he urged.
The gambler retrieved the weapon and the two men made their way towards the wire barricade. Just as they rounded the corner of the building, Ezra looked back over his shoulder. He saw someone, Phillips he thought, running to the door the two prisoners had just exited. He could have sworn the dark face had looked in their direction, but since the man made no move to chase them he counted his blessings and ran.
Chris groaned as Ezra brought them to a stop at the fence. "Can you make it?" he asked nervously.
Larabee held a hand against his side and nodded.
"We cannot cut through this nor can we pull it down," Ezra said as he fingered the wire.
"We have to get through it," Chris panted, "try to find a weak spot."
The smaller man lowered Chris to the ground and moved up the fence. Several feet down the line, he pulled and yanked against the wire and their supporting posts. Nothing. They were trapped.
Chris stumbled towards Ezra weakly and pointed past the Southerners shoulder. "There, Ezra, when you pulled the wire that post moved," he said breathlessly.
"What? How "
"Dont know dont care," Larabee stated as he dropped to one knee.
Ezra went to the next post and pushed until it gave way. "This cannot be just another bit of luck. Its a trap," he said as he turned to Chris, who was sinking further to the ground, "you know that."
A flurry of activity could be heard behind the two. Men were shouting and circling the old shack.
"Ezra, I aint going back into that cell. I cant," Chris said with conviction. "Whatever is going on, Id rather take my chances on the outside of this place. We have to try."
Ezra moved to pick Chris up off the ground. "You will get no argument from me. I too believe our odds would be better if we took our leave. Just hang on to me and run like hell."
Chris bearded face shined with a renewed hope as he felt himself being hoisted from the dirt and propelled towards the newly created opening in the prisons fence. Maybe, just maybe
+ + + + + + +
Buck, Vin, Josiah, JD and Nathan stopped by a placed called the Lullaby Inn after they left a somewhat flustered deputy at the towns entrance. They once again tried to obtain information about their missing friends, but no one had much to say on the subject. The general consensus was that there were folks coming through town all the time bailing out loved ones and then moving on. The lawmen finally gave up asking and made a show of renting a couple of rooms for the night so they could rest before their journey back home.
Tiredly, they left the bar and went upstairs. Once out of sight, they all moved into one of the rooms and closed the door behind them. Buck went to the window and looked out. It was so late that all the shop owners had closed their stores and everyone had gone home. No one at all roamed the streets.
The ladies man sat on the windowsill and looked at the large man who eased himself into an oversized rocking chair. "Alright, Josiah, what do ya think? Did Chris and Ezra make it out of the prison or not?" he asked in a low voice.
"Dont rightly know. My gut tells me these folks are lyin."
"Yeah, me too."
Vin, who sat on the bed, scratched at his chin and asked, "Does it seem odd to yall that there are so many people bailing out kinfolk?"
"You mean to the point that everyone we asked acted like it was an everyday event?" Buck answered.
"There must be an awful lot of men runnin around out on bail right now," the tracker added. "Appears the biggest job round these parts is bookkeepin at the Sheriffs Office."
JD looked up from where he sat on the floor near the door. "All this bailing prisoners out, its a scam, aint it. You think thats what Ezra figured out when he got the telegram about Chris?"
"Might o been, little brother," Josiah said as he slowly started to move in the rocker. "Ezras pretty clever that way. What we dont know is what happened to Ezra when he got here and if he ever made it to Chris."
"Im bettin theyre still at that prison," Buck alleged.
"Me too," Nathan added as he sat next to Vin. "But howre we gonna find out for sure?"
"We could go back to the Sheriffs Office," Vin suggested.
"What good would that do?" Nathan asked. "That deputy aint tellin us nothin."
"He may not have to. We rattled him pretty good. He might rabbit to wherever the sheriff is."
"Or he could lead us to where Chris and Ezra are," JD finished.
Buck stood and headed for the door. "Alright then, lets sneak on outta here and track us a deputy."
Each of the five men knew their plan didnt offer much chance of success, but at least they were doing something. Without another word, and without being seen, they left the Inn.
The five lawmen from Four Corners returned to the Sheriffs Office to find that it was still occupied by the deputy. Their plan wasnt going well so far, which only served to infuriate Buck more. Thoughts of Chris and Ezra filled his mind. He felt in his very soul that his two friends were in terrible trouble and it was that certainty that drove him to act rather than think. A force to be reckoned with, he burst into the Sheriffs Office before anyone could stop him.
"Buck, damn it!" Vin shouted as he followed the tall man.
Bucks dynamic entrance caught the deputy completely off guard and he found himself bent backwards over the desk with an angry, snarling face looming inches from his own. To say his heart was about to explode from panic was putting it mildly. "W-what? Whatre you doin?" he cried.
"Well it looks to me like Im about to break your neck," Buck said so softly only the deputy could hear.
The eyes of the man beneath Buck widened. Wilmington took note of the fear and knew he had the mans full attention. "Those Larabee boys, theyre lawmen from Four Corners, but I think you already know that."
"Nnghooo," came the strangled reply.
"You know where they are, dont ya!"
No reply came this time, probably because the man on the desk was suffocating.
"I dont hear ya," Buck yelled, blind to the fact the man couldnt answer. It wasnt until Josiah grabbed him by the shoulder and pointed to the mans blood red face that he eased off a little.
The deputy sucked in as much air as he could, the large forearm pressing against his throat making it extremely difficult.
Just as Buck was about to begin the questions again, he heard JD call his name. He turned his head and caught sight of the young man holding something up for his attention.
"Buck, I found this in the cabinet here," JD hollered as he revealed his discovery. "Reckon Ive only ever seen one of these in my life. It has to be Ezras!"
Buck focused angry eyes on the shiny metal JD held in his hands. It was the rigging Ezra wore beneath his coat, the one that delivered the hidden Derringer from up his sleeve. Buck gripped the front of the deputys shirt, raised the limp man up a few inches and then slammed him back down against the desktop. "That is Ezras! Theres no way hed give that up unless it was taken off him!"
"Ezra? Who " the dazed man tried to remember having heard that name during this conversation.
"Why youd know him as Vin. Small feller, good looking, nice dresser, likes to post bail for his brothers."
"Brothers? He has more?" the deputy wheezed.
"He has six, you piece o shit, and youre starin into the face of one who will kill anyone who hurts him!" Buck replied threateningly.
The deputy looked into the eyes of the deranged man holding him down. There was no doubt in his mind he would die this night if he didnt reveal the truth about this mans friends. "Alright, alright just dont hurt me," the deputy gave in.
The trembling man was jerked upright. It only took a few seconds for him to begin talking for all his life was worth.
+ + + + + + +
Phillips ran to the building that held the wardens newest prisoners. He observed a small glow coming from the side of the shack and when he came around the corner, he discovered the door standing wide open. Carefully, he moved inside the doors frame and looked around the lantern-lit cell. The guard noticed that the two cots, pulled close together in the corner of the room, were empty. He raised his rifle and stepped further into the shack. "78! 93! Show yourselves," the mustached man called out, knowing there would be no response forthcoming.
The dark man turned to leave, but was stopped by the sound of a throaty groan. He spun around and went in search of the issuer of the pitiful complaint. He found what he was looking for when he leaned over the foot of the first cot. "Briggs?" he asked as he knelt beside the oversized guard. "Briggs, wake up!"
The large man moved a hand to rub at the back of his head. "What?"
"Briggs," Phillips said again, shaking the man by his shoulder. "What the hell happened? Where are the prisoners?"
"Back off," Briggs snorted. He tried to roll over and sit up. "That son-of-a-bitch hit me!"
"Yeah, well, the wardens gonna do a whole lot worse when he finds out you let his two prize catches get away."
"Whered they go?"
"How the devil should I know? I was just about to turn in when I saw the light comin from this place. Found you dead to the world here," Phillips informed as he watched the huge man grope the wall in an effort to rise.
"Well, I aint gonna be the one dead to the world when I get my hands on those two pieces of "
"Briggs, quit yer jawin! We gotta find those two and fast. The warden aint gonna take it too kindly when he finds out what you done," the dark guard said sharply. "By the way, what were you doin in here?"
"Aint nothin to you," the big man snapped.
"Then maybe you oughta just find em on yer own. Ill let you tell the warden what you were up to."
"No, you gotta help me catch em!" Briggs reached a hand out to stop Phillips from leaving.
Phillips rubbed at the nape of his neck. "Damn, Briggs, youre a sorry shit, aintcha. Come on."
Together, the two guards left the prison shack.
"Wait up," Briggs called out when he bent down beside the crates next to the building.
"Whatre you lookin for?" Phillips asked after a moment of watching the larger man root around the boxes.
"My gun," came a nervous reply, "it aint here."
"You dimwit! You went in unarmed and left your gun out here in plain sight?" Phillips shouted at the man who now scurried around on all fours.
"No, no. I hid the gun behind the crates. There aint no way they coulda seen it."
"Well, you couldnt of hid it all that well, else it wouldnt be missin."
"Im tellin ya, theres no way they coulda found it. It was hid!" Briggs was now panicked.
"Well, I doubt that two men tryin to escape would take the time to search for somethin they didnt know was there," Phillips said impatiently.
"Never mind. We need to be findin those two. Go get yourself another gun and meet me in the middle of the compound. Ill get some of the other guards and well start trackin the prisoners."
Briggs forced his large body off the ground and moved as quickly as he could towards the guard shed.
Phillips gripped his own rifle tighter and watched the man lumber away. "Lord, help us all."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra eased Chris to the ground very slowly. The gunslingers arm slid loosely off the gamblers shoulders and he settled briefly on trembling hands and knees. Then he sagged to one side and looked up at his panting companion, his hand shading his eyes. "Why are we stopping?" he asked, trying to focus on the man leaning over him.
"Just a breather, Chris," Ezra gasped. "For the moment, I believe weve lost our pursuers."
"No, but they are not within shouting distance so I intend to re-introduce my lungs to oxygen."
The blond man nodded and looked around, continuing to protect his eyes from the daylight. When he spotted a rock nearby, he pulled himself towards it and leaned his aching body against its support. Ezra sat down on a tree that had fallen across the rock and leaned on the rifle he carried. He eyed his fellow fugitive without letting Larabee know he was being watched. He honestly had no idea how the man had managed to move as well as he had. By all rights, the exhausted man should have collapsed long ago. They had managed to avoid capture past sunrise, which was a feat in itself, but the fact that they had overcome their own physical needs to simply cave-in was a miracle.
The pain in Chris upper leg hadnt seemed to return despite the amount of torturous running he had been forced to do. He favored the knife wound in his side foremost. He also appeared to be painfully aware of the bruises that covered his chest and back. Ezra winced when Chris turned and his shirt fell open. The dark splotches that were revealed reminded the gambler that his friend had suffered at the hands of the warden long before he had come on the scene.
Standish let his eyes travel to an unshaven face as Chris sat with his eyes closed. Odd. He hadnt taken much notice of the amount of hair that grew on the lean, dirt-caked face.
Ezra reached up to scratch at his own chin and smiled when he realized he too required the use of a soap and razor. Slowly the smile faded when he pulled back and took Chris entire person into consideration. The normally well-muscled physique looked thin and worn. His friend had lost entirely too much weight. Good Lord, how long had it been? How long had they been held in that damp, rat-infested, filthy abyss of hell? Ezra decided not to think about it. He needed to focus on getting them safely home.
When Chris didnt lower his hand from his face, Ezra asked, "How are your eyes faring?"
The man below him tried to look up again. "Still a little painful. Getting better though. How about yours?"
"Nearly there. Of course, you were confined in the darkness much longer than I. It may take a while before youll be comfortable in the light."
Several moments later, the heavy breathing grew less from both men and Ezra decided to take charge. He leaned forward and caught Chris eye. "I think I should have a look around; try to find out just exactly where were heading." The face below him looked as if it was about to argue, but Ezra threw up his hand. "You stay here. Rest. I am quite capable of handling a short reconnaissance." Again it looked as if there was going to be a protest. "No. I said rest. Ill return shortly."
"Bossy son-of-a " came the mumbled reply, but for once, Chris did as he was told. He watched Ezra stretch his back and then move out into the trees. He tried to pull himself up onto the rock he leaned on so heavily. It took quite an effort, but weak legs gathered their small amount of renewed energy and pushed him off the ground. The tired man lost his balance and landed his rear-end back on the rock with a hard "thud". Oh well, at least he was upright.
Chris was actually feeling a bit better. Perhaps it was the adrenaline rush from the escape, or maybe it was just the knowledge that he was finally out of that hellhole, regardless, he pulled his shoulders up and back and carefully tried to look skyward. The sky was crystal clear.
Blue eyes lowered as the man dressed in prison garb casually decided to take stock of himself. He stared down at his feet and noticed that for all practical purposes they were bare. The prison "shoes", if thats what you could call them, were split and torn half off. The lightweight pants he wore were more dirt than fabric. And the shirt on his chest and back was just that-- on his chest and back; it had no sleeves or tail.
Chris brought his right hand around and felt where his knife wound was covered. He tugged at the edges of the bandage and pulled his fingers across the jagged repair job that the Doc had done-- it was sore and just a bit warm to the touch. Hed have to have Nathan check it...
The weary man was stopped in mid thought as he let his gaze continue over the rest of his aching body. There were many cuts and bruises from his standoff with the warden, but there were many more that he couldnt remember acquiring. How the devil did I ? He tried to clear his head, to think back, but he honestly couldnt remember much after the confrontation with the warden.
Maybe Ezra can tell me what happened? Ezra. A hint of panic touched his heart as he tried to call to mind when the Southerner had been imprisoned with him. The harder he tried to remember the time before he was confined to that old shack, the thicker the fog around his mind became. What the hell happened to me? What ?
The agitated gunslinger was torn from his frightened thoughts when his ears picked up the most horrific cry of pain he had ever heard in his life. For an instant, he thought it was an animal crying out. Then he heard the terrified agony that used human vocal cords to scream once again. Chris jumped to his feet, swaying and stumbling a step. "Ezra!"
The shrill wailing came to his ears again and he propelled himself in its direction.
"EZRA! Where are you?"
A whirl of low tree branches thrashed at the running mans knees. He followed the grievous cries in search of its source. Source? Hell, he knew the source. Its just that hed never heard such a sound come from the normally collected gambler. He ran hard on legs that should never have been able to set such a pace. What could possibly have happened? What could . Oh, God! No
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