Chapter 6: Waiting In The Shadow Of The Noose - Day 1
The bang of the gavel on the table proved a catalyst to the fear that had been steadily growing in Vin. He’d lived through this before. He’d survived by luck and a rare chance. He would not allow his friends to meet the fate that had almost been his.
Standing quickly, he grabbed the back of his chair and swung it in an arc; he brought down the men standing immediately behind him.
Seeing the opportunity, Ezra and Chris joined the fray.
In the initial surprised chaos of the day, the trio of peacekeepers brought down or slowed down a fair number as they made their way toward the door.
Fists flew and the sound of flesh hitting flesh filled the air. Those who had been gawking at the window forced their way inside to join the fray. The three were losing ground quickly.
As two men grabbed Chris from behind, he caught Vin’s eye. The tracker was just a few feet from the window. “Get help!” Chris ordered as he managed to shake loose of one of the two holding him.
Ezra heard the command and saw Tanner break free from his assailant. The young man then dove through the window, shattering the glass.
The sound of breaking glass distracted the mob long enough to allow Chris and Ezra to break free.
Taking down the men closest to them, the duo moved toward the now open window as the sound of pounding horse hooves echoed in the street.
A loud cry went up from the mob and they descended upon the two remaining peacekeepers.
Standing back to back, the two defended themselves, but were soon overcome.
Chris was forced on to his stomach on the floor by the sheer weight of men who pressed against him. Lifting his head, he ignored the blood trickling down the side of his face, as he searched for Ezra.
The gambler was focused on trying to catch his breath. He hurt in too many places to focus on one. All he wanted was for the punishing hands to stop. Another fist landed on his ribs followed by one to his stomach. The air rushed out of his lungs as the blow landed.
The hands that had been holding him still released immediately as the sound of a gunshot echoed in the room. As he sank to the floor, his consciousness began to fade, but not before someone got in one more, good swing sending the gambler out of the window onto the shattered glass.
Ezra floated on waves of blackness. Peace and silence were his world. Oddly, though, the silence and lack of images didn’t disturb him. There was no panic, no fear in this place, just a floating peace.
He could feel himself smile as he floated along. After a while, though a thought began to plague him. He should be worried about something, but he wasn’t sure what. Deciding to ignore the niggling though, he decided it would come to him eventually if it was important.
He felt a faint pressure against his ear – almost that of a sound that wasn’t there. Becoming annoyed, he began looking around for the source of his discomfort. That’s when he noticed that the comforting darkness was becoming lighter, fading to gray.
“Ezra,” he heard the faint voice call. It was a familiar voice. One he knew well. But as the world around him grew brighter, he became aware of more than just the voice. He became aware of the heaviness of his body. It was uncomfortable and was dragging him down.
“Ezra,” he heard again, this time easily defining the tones that bothered him. Worry. Fear.
“Wake up Ezra,” The voice pleaded.
Chris. The voice belonged to Chris.
With a sudden gasp, Ezra found himself once more bound to the confines of his body. A wave of pain washed through him as his eyes opened and then closed against the assault.
“Calm down Ezra,” Chris soothed with a quiet calm Ezra had only ever heard the man use with Billy. “You’re going to be fine. Just take shallow breaths.”
Ezra fought against breathing at all, but his body betrayed him and he inhaled. Trying to follow Chris’ command, he took a series of quick, shallow breaths, in too much pain to worry about sounding like a panting dog.
Chris held Ezra’s hand as the Southerner tried to catch his breath. He felt a deep sense of relief when Ezra came to which was tempered by the pain the Southerner was now experiencing. Now that Ezra was awake, he allowed his mind to replay the events leading to this moment.
When he saw Ezra flying through the window and landing with a crunch on the broken glass, a bellow of rage that stilled the entire room was ripped from Chris’ soul. He watched as men shied away from his glare and slowly left the room, heads hanging in shame at their actions. They would receive no quarter, no sympathy from Larabee.
Finally, just the three men holding Chris down and the sheriff remained.
Chris glared at the sheriff, daring him to meet his gaze, daring the man to explain the travesty that had taken place.
The sheriff simply ordered the men to take Chris to the jail and lock him up.
Chris had been there only a few minutes before two other men came in carrying the unconscious figure of Ezra Standish.
The Southerner had been laid on the cot and the men left. Chris called after them, demanding a doctor or at least water and clean rags. It had been three hours before his request was granted, and then, it was only because the woman who brought their lunches had been appalled by what she’d seen.
Chris made his demand, ignored his own cuts and bruises and began a quick assessment of Ezra’s condition. The cut along the chestnut hairline was easy to identify and appeared to be the only cut on his head.
Knowing he would have to check for broken ribs, he began removing the gambler’s coat. Ignoring the protest of his own muscles, Chris lifted the other man’s torso off the bed, resting him against his chest as he removed the coat.
It was the sound of glass on glass that caused him to stop. Shifting Ezra’s position, Chris looked at the back of the coat he was trying to remove. A few strong curses escaped his lips at what he saw. The back of the coat was covered in glass shards. Though it was obvious a number of them hadn’t penetrate beyond the outer fibers of the coat, there were at least three which looked large enough to have pierced the skin, especially given the force with which Ezra had hit the boardwalk and the way the men had thrown him onto the cot.
Knowing he would have to be careful, Chris tilted Ezra’s body and slowly lowered the man to his side. Glaring at the door to the cells, he wondered where the doctor was.
Taking a closer look, he cold see that blood was seeping out along the edge of the three larger pieces. He prayed none of them had cut too deeply.
He didn’t want to just pull the coat off along with the glass, so he slowly worked one of the smaller pieces of glass free from where it lay imbedded in the fiber.
Taking a deep breath he tried to steady his hand as he used the piece of glass he’d freed to cut the coat, the lining, the vest and the shirt beneath. When he finished repeating the procedure around all three pieces of glass, he slowly and carefully removed the clothing.
Once the clothing had been removed, he turned to look at the damage and had to swallow down the bile that threatened him. Ezra’s back was mottled with the shades of coming bruising and smeared with blood. The three pieces of bloody glass protruding from him did little to reassure the man in black.
Taking a shaky breath, Chris moved in to get a better look at each shard. Though he couldn’t be positive, it didn’t look like any of the pieces were in too deeply. Of course, there were a lot of smaller abrasions from glass that hadn’t stuck in Ezra’s flesh but had gotten through the protective cloth barriers.
Knowing he had no choice but to remove the glass and once more cursing his captors that his requests had either been ignored or forgotten, Chris reached in his pocket and pulled out the bandana he always carried. Glancing at Ezra’s clothes, he figured he would have to use them for bandages as well. What he really wanted, though, was someone else to handle the wounds. Still, there was no one else and Ezra needed him.
Ripping Ezra’s shirt and trying to isolate the cleanest parts, he searched the Southerner’s pockets, but found little that would be of use. As he was picking up the coat to move it aside, he felt a small prick on his palm. Pulling back, he searched out what had poked him and sent his thanks heavenward as he found a needle with about ten inches of thread on it. He would ask Ezra why it was there later. At least now he had something for stitching if it was needed. And he really hoped it wasn’t.
The whole process of removing the glass and stopping the bleeding had taken a lot longer than Chris had thought it would. Of the three cuts, it looked like two of them might need stitching, but he was extremely reluctant to do so with the needle and thread he’d found. Shutting out the small voice in his head that was calling him a coward, He pressed down on the still seeping wounds and prayed he wouldn’t be forced to stitch them closed.
After doing all he could, he used the remnants of Ezra’s clothes as well as his own jacket to help prop up the pillow under Ezra’s head, knowing from personal experience that it would help the gambler’s breathing.
After doing all that, it came down to waiting – something Chris had never enjoyed.
It was maybe an hour after he’d done all he could for Ezra – the whole time praying that the wounds would remain infection free despite the less than clean condition of what he had on hand – that a sound was heard outside in the office area of the jail. Turning to meet his assailants, Chris prepared for an attack, but was met by an elderly lady carrying a tray of food.
The small woman had taken one look at the state of Ezra and nearly dropped the food. So horrified was she by the sight before her that she set the tray down and ran from the room, returning only a few minutes later with the keys, a pitcher of water and some clean towels. Chris had also heard her calling outside to someone.
She looked sternly at Chris and told him, “I’m just going to go take a look at your friend. Don’t you try anything funny. You just stand over there and Edgar or I will see to you soon enough.”
Chris was so relieved that Ezra would be getting some real help, that he did exactly as the woman instructed, feeling his own wounds for the first time as some of the stress of tending for Ezra passed onto her capable shoulders.
Of course, what he hadn’t told her was that he had no intention of leaving despite the threat of the noose. After all, Vin was on his way to get help and Ezra couldn’t travel. There was no way Chris would ever leave Standish.
A few minutes after the older woman had started cleaning Ezra, a man rushed into the jail carrying a doctor’s bag. As he headed into the cell, Chris moved slightly to catch his attention. He was rewarded with a suspicious look and felt the doctor giving him a once-over as he categorized Larabee’s injuries.
His first concern, though, was the man on the bed. As the doctor moved to Ezra, he began demanding information with regard to what had happened and what treatment the man in black had offered.
Chris had to agree with the snorts of disgust from the doctor and the sounds of dismay from the lady as he explained what had happened, what he had to work with and how he had helped Ezra.
The doctor and the lady finally finished tending Ezra’s wounds as well as Chris’ and left instructions on how to care for Ezra. The doctor also mentioned that it appeared at least one of Ezra’s wounds was infected, but he’d done what he could and he left a small bottle of carbolic acid, some clean cloths and a strict instruction to call him if things got worse.
The woman left the tray of food and provided a fresh pitcher of water.
That left Chris alone to wait and worry. Though he’d never admit it to anyone, the longer Ezra was unconscious and remained motionless, the more worried he became.
Finally, as the sun was beginning to set, he started tapping Ezra’s face and calling his name. His relief as the Southerner began to respond quickly disbursed as a cry of pain was ripped from the younger man.
As the pain washed through him, Ezra slowly became aware of a soft voice and of a hand holding his. Focusing on the soothing voice, he slowly got his breathing under control and blinked his eye open. It was then that he realized one eye had swollen shut. “Mr. Larabee?” he asked, his voice rough, his throat dry.
Chris smiled in relief. “Don’t talk a minute, Ezra,” he cautioned. “Let me get you some water.” He received a weak nod as Ezra closed his eye and rested back against the pillow. Quickly pouring a cup of water, he placed one arm under Ezra’s neck and shoulders and lifted slightly, holding the cup up to the swollen lips. “Slow and easy,” he advised
Ezra wanted the water so much he could smell it, but at the same time, he was afraid of drinking anything, afraid new pain would be awakened and he would lose what little dignity he had remaining. Still, he trusted in Chris and began to sip the water, turning his head to refuse any more when he felt he’d had enough. He felt more than saw Chris settle him back against the uncomfortable cot and pillow. One question burned in his mind. “What happened?” he asked.
Chris sighed. Where should he begin? “What’s the last thing you remember?”
Ezra thought that through. “I remember you telling Vin to run for help and nothing afterward.”
Chris nodded. “Well, Vin went through the window and I saw him racing away on a horse a little while after that. The deputy was out the door as quickly as he could with three or four others and they saddled up and headed out as well. You went through the window and ended up on the broken glass and I ended up under three oafs. We were brought to jail and I demanded a doctor for you. Everyone seemed to ignore me, but I heard the sheriff was headed out after the posse with a few other men to try and track down Vin...”
As Vin dove through the window, he felt torn inside. He couldn’t shake the feeling he was running out on his friends, but Chris’ order had been right. It wouldn’t do any of them any good to end up in jail and the sheriff was bound to keep them from seeking help.
Racing across the street to the horses he’d seen saddled, he quickly scanned the animals and settled on one that looked strong and fast. Freeing that one, he leapt into the saddle and tore out of town.
He knew it wouldn’t be long before a posse was on his tail and he needed to throw them off a little. Thinking of the land around town, he headed away from home and toward a small, confusing group of trees he knew. If the rider didn’t know that area, he would think he was on solid ground right up until he rode off a cliff, wound up dashed against the sharp rocks at the bottom and his body carried off by the rapids. Fortunately, Vin knew the area.
Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the approach of a posse behind him. Encouraging his horse onward, he entered the stand of trees.
The deputy saw the man enter the stand of trees and disappear. He knew the dangers of the area and that there was no way out. Encouraging his horse forward, he was within about twenty feet of the stand when the horse they’d been chasing came riding out. There was no sign of the rider as the mount raced away.
Slowing his horse, he cautiously approached. There was always a chance that the man hadn’t fallen off the cliff, but was hiding in the trees. Waiting for the others to approach, he gave them directions and then they slowly entered the stand. They would have to do a thorough search of the area although the deputy knew that could take hours.
As the horses of the posse entered the tree-line, a grinning figure in buckskins drew himself up from the side of the horse into the saddle. Only for a moment, though, did he triumph in the success of his deception. His mission was too important and the distance to travel too great for celebration.
His friends needed him to get through to the others and Vin Tanner wouldn’t fail them.
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