Disclaimer is fully stated in Part One of Penance. Any aspect of the story which is not owned by those named in the disclaimer belong to the author, C. Knox Binkley.

Penance - Part Eleven

"You have got to be the most obstinate, pig-headed son of a bitch who ever lived."

"I made a promise, Buck," Chris Larabee said as he buckled the unfamiliar holster which he'd hung loosely over his narrow hips.

Buck was sitting propped up against a stack of gear, his bandaged ankle stretched out in front of him. It hurt like hell, but the laudanum would kick in soon.

"You don't have to go," Buck repeated emphatically. "You've got a dream posse going after him." He watched as Chris painfully leaned over to pick up his hat. "Look at yourself," Buck kept at it. "You're in no condition to take on fight like that."

Buck was right. Chris knew it.

Buck knew he knew it.

But they both also knew Chris would go.

He slowly squatted and looked Buck in the eye. "I told him I'd find him. I mean to do it."

Buck squinted back at his oldest friend and chuckled. "Well, I had to try to talk you out of it. It's my job . . ." He extended his hand and Chris reached out and grasped it firmly.

"Be safe, my friend," Buck said softly.

A wry smile crossed the gunslinger's face. "Always," he answered.

Without releasing his hand, Chris nodded toward the slight figure sleeping soundly face down on the ground beside Buck.

"Take care of him . . ." Chris said, soberly.

Buck looked down at JD and rested an easy hand on the boy's hair.

"Always. . ."


It had been just over a day.

Just one day.

And he had lost everything.

His friends, his freedom . . .

Himself . . .

His wrists were bound. His ankles were bound. Mindlessly he curled his arms around his knees and lay his head down. The wagon was rolling over rougher terrain, jostling him and the sun was even more abusive than it had been the day before, if that were possible.

But he didn't really care about the discomfort. He didn't even care that he had lost so much.

He was separating from himself. He had long ago mastered the art of numbing himself - and the process was almost complete. A deadly apathy was setting in and it would protect him.

Only one thing kept intruding, upsetting the process.

One thing would not allow him to give up completely.

One shred of hope that was too much to hope for.

"I will find you."


Judge Travis had the posse divided and organized in under an hour. Prisoners bound and a plan in place. Even jaded gunslinger Chris Larabee was impressed by the assortment of men who had dropped everything to come and help. The assault against Larabee and his friends had involved a veritable who's who of outlaws. It would only stand to reason that a who's who of lawmen would set out after them.

Josiah and Ezra would go with Chris and the posse to find Nathan Jackson. And, God willing, they wouldn't be too late. They took horses from the prisoners, leaving their captives to double up or walk.

The preacher had to chuckle at the sight of Ezra Standish trying to eat beef jerky.

"Never thought I'd see you eating beef jer- ......."

"I unfortunately dropped my last one in the dirt, having been overwhelmed with the . . . esteemed company of the posse." The gambler swept an elegant hand toward the great peacekeepers who were talking with Chris Larabee and Judge Travis.

"Yea - that's quite a group." Josiah took another bite of his lunch.

Ezra tried to take a delicate bite, but the attempt was unsuccessful.

"You have to eat it like an animal, Ezra, or you're gonna go hungry."


"Yes." Josiah put a shrunken strip of salty beef in his mouth and demonstrated, ripping a bite and chewing with his mouth open.

Ezra looked self-conscious. He looked at the strange food and brought it to his lips as though it were a croissant.

"What have you eaten the last two days, man?"


"You can't live in the desert on biscuits. 'Man cannot live on bread alone.'"

"I am quite certain that is not what the writers of the gospel had in mind in that bit of scripture. But nevertheless, it is germaine to this situation. All right, Mr. Sanchez." The gambler took a large bite of the beef jerky, and Josiah thought for a moment that the fine gambler looked like an adolescent as he sloppily chewed - with his mouth open.

Ezra Standish then committed the ultimate breach of dining etiquette. He spoke while chewing. "This is . . ."

"Fun . . ."

Josiah laughed heartily for the first time in a week. "Well, you've had your initiation"

Ezra swallowed and regained his demeanor, but a twinkle remained in his eye.

"My baptism of fire, as it were."

The men continued to eat, talking easily. The familiar patter offered them a bit of relief - before going back out to face enemies they could not understand. This whole evil experience had threatened to plunge all of the men into an insurmountable despair.

But they had each other. And, at least for now they had JD. And they had help.

And they had beef jerky.

"You know, Sir, I regret that I have previously dismissed the culinary delights of hardtack."


"Easy . . ." Buck was barking orders from the big chestnut he was riding. "Watch it -- he's got broken ribs."

Buck watched impatiently as a couple of the younger riders in the posse moved JD to a new buckboard.

And they weren't doing it carefully enough to suit him.

"Hey - hey - turn his head the other way." Buck yelled, exasperated. "Don't let anything touch that side of his face . . ."

One of the two turned a hard eye toward Buck. It was too damn hot for this. A fleeting thought crossed his mind that he may just take that sorry son of a bitch's horse and leave him in this barren wasteland.

But then he looked back at the boy they were moving. He probably wouldn't last all the way back to Four Corners. Obviously the big man cared for the boy.

"You brothers or something?" he asked the man on the horse.

Buck thought for a moment and a tender smile crossed his face.

"Yea, I reckon we are."


Don't move me again. I been moved enough.

"Don't . . ." the ragged word finally made it from his brain to his lips.

The hands that lifted him were trying to be gentle - but they were unfamiliar.

Someone was taking him away from the others.

But they couldn't do that. Buck was hurt.

He thought he heard Buck's voice . . . but it was distant. He forced himself to open his eyes and try to focus.

"No . . ."

Why didn't anyone hear his protest?

They were laying him on something wooden. No - he remembered. Wooden. And very gently, someone was binding him to it.

"No," he cried out, louder this time.

"It's ok, son. It's ok."

He didn't know that voice.

And it wasn't ok . . .

"Lemme go." JD didn't have the strength to fight.

But he could damn sure try.

"It's for your own good, son." Someone was holding him down, easily restraining him.

And suddenly, JD panicked.

"No! God, no!" he yelled. Last time someone tied him up, they hurt him. He couldn't remember what happened exactly. But they hurt him.

And if he let them tie him up again, they'd probably kill him.


"No! God, no!" The kid's voice cut through the din of horses, riders, moving. . .

Faster than he should have, Buck swung his injured ankle over the horse's neck and jumped down, landing on his good foot.

And jarring his bad one. Ugh, he shouldn't have done that.

"JD!" he said as he hobbled over and practically fell down beside him. "Hey, kid, what's wrong?"

JD didn't look up, but clearly he was terrified. "Don't let 'em . . . tie me up, Buck." His voice sounded so young and and it quivered with apprehension. "Please . . . you gotta help me. Don't let . . ."

The men backed away from him and let Buck take over.

"It's ok," Buck's voice was easy. "You know I'm not going to let anybody hurt you." He took the frightened boy's hand in his big one. "These boys ain't gonna hurt you, JD. They're just helping you get settled on the buckboard, so we can take you home."

JD couldn't follow his friend's reasoning. "No, Buck. They're taking me with them." He was still so feverish. It almost seemed as though his moments of lucidity were more frightening than his unconsciousness had been.

"Oh, no, JD," he brushed the hair out of the boy's eyes. "You're coming with us. We're not letting anyone take you away."

"They're . . . killing me."

Buck spoke comforts to him, but his mind was drifting away.

He tried to look up. But it hurt him.

Everything hurt him.

He closed his eyes tightly and squeezed his friend's hand.

Then he remembered something through the haze of the laudanum.

Buck had been shot.

"They hurt you," he said simply.

JD didn't realize Buck was still talking to him. The boy was delirious.

"You shot him . . ." JD cried to those guys who tried to tie him up. "You hurt him." His voice became more hoarse as he yelled louder. "You bastards . . . bastards. . . "

Buck kept trying to reassure the kid, but it was no use. JD was wearing himself out. He would lose consciousness again in a moment. Then he would have some respite from the mental torture that would inevitably plague him the rest of his life. Just a moment of relief for JD. That would be a blessing.

"YOU F***ING KILLED HIM!!" JD's scream rocked the buckboard and he began to struggle.

Everyone in the camp turned toward the poor kid on the buckboard.

Chris and his other friends rode up close, dark expressions on their faces. They watched, heartsick, as the boy struggled with the terror, the laudanum creating a haze through which his friends couldn't reach. JD was hanging on by a thread, suffering the excruciating physical pain. But that couldn't compare with the emotional pain. And that was the most frightening of all. How do you explain to a teenager why someone would hurt him like this? How could they help him find peace?

Jacob Chiles was a dead man. Once they brought Nathan back and everyone had healed a bit, they would ride.

They would ride to the ends of the earth.

They would make their own justice.

"Oh, God!!!!!!" It was JD's momentary response to physical pain. His friends ached to help him. If they could have taken on his pain, they would have. But there was nothing they could do.

But ride.

Each renewed his own commitment to avenge this.

JD tried to regroup. "I can't help you, Buck. God I'm trying. They won't let me go."

He had no idea the hand holding his was Buck Wilmington's. He fought him, and it killed Buck that he had to hold him down so he wouldn't hurt himself.

"Lemme go! I gotta help . . . " And he fought some more.

A dry sob caught in JD's throat. "Buck . . . don't be dead . . .don't be dead. . ." Buck kept a steady litany going, but his words didn't make a dent. The kid couldn't hear him.

"You shot him. I'll kill you. I swear to God I will." JD kept yelling until he couldn't anymore.

The young members of the posse who had tried to move the boy were dumbfounded for the second time. They had already been overwhelmed when they initially saw JD's back. But this had to be worse.

The big gunslinger with the mustasche turned to them with red eyes and nodded for them to come help him tie JD to the buckboard. Very gently they held the wounded boy while Buck slowly and carefully lifted JD's arm and pulled the cloth tie around his wrist.


The wisp of a memory.



And JD began trembling violently.

Whimpering, mumbling . . .

Remembering. . .

Then he exploded.

"Oh, God - NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

The scream tore from his aching throat.

And everyone in the camp paused in sober silence.

"Don't. . . .let them . . ."

The boy shaped his lips before the next word came.

"Whip me. . . . . . . .."

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