The Outlaws - Part Two

by the Desperado's Daughter


Buck sat alone in the saloon, nursing a whiskey and nursing his own wounded feelings. What could he do to make things right? He hadn’t been “cheating” on Miss Ally because he hadn’t actually been courting her. Still, he wouldn’t hurt her for anything in the world.

One of the working girls sat beside him, and, once again, Buck appreciated being in the bosom of his real family -- the family he grew up with, not in the company of his so-called friends who thought of him as a fool. Oh, not in a gunfight, of course, he knew that, but maybe they thought he was “boorish” in his “regular” life.

Well, to hell with them and what they thought about him. At least JD looked up to him. Buck paused and laughed. JD got excited about a new frog gigger.

“What’s on your mind, honey?”

Buck smiled sadly for a moment and he took her hand gently. “Nothing I have to worry on tonight, darlin’.”

“You can tell me . . .” she said, her easy voice drifting, soothing him like his mama’s voice used to. “Come upstairs . . . we’ll talk . .. “

Buck was good to the working girls in town and they loved him . . . differently. He knew they had fun together, but when the chips were down, he could go to them and talk it out.

That’s all he’d do tonight.



Chris had either fallen asleep or passed out. It didn’t much matter. Waking up to being thrown out of the wagon felt about the same either way, he figured.

He could hear JD struggling--still in the wagon. A moment later, he saw two big men push JD out of the back of the rolling cage, then pull him up short with that g**d*** “leash” around his waist. Chris could see it now. It was a lasso, for crying out loud and when it caught, it forced JD’s air out. The boy started wheezing. His captors were laughing.

And Chris was burning.

Chris’ instinct was to break somebody--but his better sense prevented it. If he reacted, then they would take it out on JD. And JD couldn’t take much more.

“Take him.” The man in charge indicated JD. They pulled him to his feet, but he couldn’t put weight on his hurt leg. He fell hard.

And got kicked in the gut for it. The one who’d kicked him then hoisted the kid unceremoniously over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

JD had passed out, thank God.

But God only knew what awaited him once he reached the prison cell. ********************************************************************************************************************************************


Something was not right. Call it a premonition but something wasn’t right. Usually those feelings or messages came to Josiah in a dream, but not tonight. He’d tried to sleep. He read, had a drink, prayed, had another drink, but he still couldn’t get rid of the uneasiness.

He figured it was about 3 o’clock in the morning when he gave up trying and went out for a walk. So it was probably a quarter after when the horses came loping into town.

He knew these horses as well as he knew his own.

Chris’ and JD’s horses were clearly spent from running full out for a good part of the night. They were skittish--saddled and rider-less--and Josiah’s approach spooked them.

Josiah’s heart pounded mercilessly, but he stopped and spoke in low, steady tones. Once they settled a bit, he took the initiative again. He took a tentative step toward them, and Chris’ horse bolted.

JD’s let Josiah take his reins, and he whinnied and blew as if to let Josiah know there was trouble.


Vin Tanner felt a whiskered muzzle nudging him urgently. The tracker rubbed his eyes and reached his hand up to stroke the horse, but it took him a moment to realize it was Chris’. Vin squinted then his eyes widened.

“Sweet Jesus . . . “ he whispered, seeing the horse without seeing his friend.


JD had told him that you could tell one animal’s “talk” from another, so when Buck heard the familiar whinny, he smiled. JD and Chris were back, and Buck sure could use JD’s chatter. He got up from the wing-back chair that been dozing in and went over to Miss Lisbeth’s bed. They’d fallen asleep in the middle of a sweet conversation, and she hadn’t even taken off so much as a shoe. Tenderly, Buck pushed her auburn hair out back and kissed her forehead.

“You leaving?” the molasses voice asked him.

“JD and Chris are back. I’m gonna go check on things. Ain’t like them to ride in the middle of the night.”

Miss Lisbeth turned her head to see him better. “Are you gonna be all right?”

Buck pressed his lips over hers and kissed her deeply. Then he smiled, “I am now.”


Vin led the horse to the livery and found Josiah unsaddling JD’s horse.

“It’s Vin,” he announced, and he joined Josiah. “What do you think happened?”

“There’s no blood. That’s good. But that’s the only thing good.”

Vin started to say something, when he heard a voice outside.

“Hey boys,” Buck thought he was greeting Chris and JD. “Why’re you riding so late?”

Then Buck stopped short. “Where are they?”

Josiah’s answer was succinct. “Dunno. The horses came in alone -- saddles and all.”

Vin interrupted. “Take care of the horses. I’m gonna look around and see if there’s any sign of them.”

“I’ll get Nathan and Ezra once we’re done here,” Josiah said.

Vin handed the reins to Buck then patted Buck’s shoulder.

This was shaping into a nightmare.



“Heard you took out two lawmen.”


“Heard you took out two lawmen. Good going, boy.”

Chris Larabee would never say that. Why would Chris let this person say that? JD’s brain was foggy. What was going on? Where was Chris? JD started to feel panic as he opened his eyes slightly. Where the hell was he?

It was dark, with one high window, and the tiny room smelled and JD was hurting and somebody was sitting too close to him. JD scooted away quickly, but his leg rebelled and he cried out.

Immediately, a meaty hand was clasped over his mouth and an arm encircled his waist and JD was utterly and completely terrified. His eyes opened wide and he wondered what was about to happen to him.

“You don’t make a sound,” a gravelly voice said, frighteningly close to his ear. “You don’t scream. You don’t cry. You don’t holler for help. You don’t make a noise. You understand?”

JD nodded quickly. The hand didn’t move. The voice, that sounded like the devil himself, continued. “Young boy like you . . . if you holler, they wonder what’s happening in here. But don’t think they’ll come in to rescue you, boy. They’ll come in to . . . have some fun with you. Not all of ‘em mind you. But the ones what don’t will look the other way. So I don’t care if your f***ing leg falls off. You don’t yell.”

JD’s thoughts were coming so fast that it took a minute for him to realize that the man was trying to help him. It made sense. The men that were shooting at him and Chris were the law. They’d beaten him up and thrown him in jail. It had been a set-up. So what this guy was saying was that the jailers were the enemies. Maybe they were the same people who had shot at them in the first place. Maybe this guy was innocent like he and Chris were.

“I said, do you understand?” The voice cut through JD thoughts and JD nodded again--slowly this time and slowly the man removed his hand.

“You yell,” the man threatened, “and I’ll knock you out myself.”

JD didn’t say anything. He was out of breath and trembling, but his eyes met the man’s.

The man’s eyes were hard and cold. There was nothing of Nathan’s compassion or Buck’s mirth or even Chris’ heart. JD thought they looked like Chris’ would look if Chris had never hooked up with their odd circle of friends.

Or if he’d never gotten out of that prison.

JD shuddered. What if they didn’t get out? Would he and Chris turn cold like that?

The man that had issued the warning had moved away from JD. There must be some good in him. Otherwise, why would he have warned him.

“Are we the only ones in this . . .”JD searched for a word as he looked around. “This cell?”

“For now. Usually there’s four in here.”

“Where are the other . . .”


JD’s eyes filled. “My friend?”

“No. These guys had been in here a while. They’s *hanged*.” The man pulled the last word out like he was telling a ghost story or something. Then he watched JD with amusement? . . . like he was expecting some kind of reaction from him--like he’d shocked him or something. But JD was so relieved that Chris wasn’t among the ones that were hanged, he didn’t feel scared by the word.

“That better scare you, boy. We all gonna wind up at the end of a rope or a knife. It’s just a matter of when.”

JD thought about it. But in the back of his mind, he remembered that Chris had promised to get them out of there. He held on to Chris’ promise. JD would wait for him.


“Where’s the kid?”

Nobody was telling Chris anything.

“Did you get him some medical attention?”

There was no answer except the hard slam of the cell door.

“Shit!!” He cried, and pounded his fists against the door.

“Won’t do you no good,” a grizzled old voice said. Chris turned around and glared. The cell was shadowed and Chris couldn’t see the speaker.

“Who’re you?” Chris asked.

“Inmate 36.”

“Your name, man.”

“Ain’t got no other name.”

Chris moved away from the door and waited for his eyes to adjust to the poor light in the tiny room.

“How long you been here?” Chris asked.

“Don’t know. A while.”

Chris started to make out a large being on the floor, and as the light got stronger in the little slot near the ceiling that was pretending to be a window, he saw the man.

Chris felt his throat constrict. On the floor, cloaked in tattered clothes, sat a man whose legs had both been amputated just above the knee. Next to him was a crude little wooden platform with wheels, and Chris realized that that was how his cellmate got around.

“What are you in here for?” Chris asked, keeping the horror out of his voice.

“I’m an outlaw.” The man said it with pride.

“Yeah? What law did you break?”

The man chuckled. “Didn’t break no law--didn’t have to.” He motioned for Chris to come close. Painfully, Chris eased himself to the floor beside him.

“Usually an outlaw . . . broke the law,” Chris said, gently. He wasn’t making fun of the poor soul. Clearly, his cellmate wasn’t right in his mind.

“Mr. Bright said I was one.”

“Who’s Mr. Bright?”

“He runs this prison.”

Chris kept his voice low. “Why’d he put you in prison if you didn’t do anything wrong?”

“You don’t get it, do you?”

“I guess I don’t.”

“I was a nobody. Went to war. Fought like hell, but didn’t do any good for anybody. Wasn’t no hero. Bomb blew up in front of me the first time we saw action. That’s how I lost my legs, you know. Couldn’t remember anything from before the bomb.”

Chris’ jaw tightened. “Why do you think you’re nobody?”

“Mr. Bright said so. And he said he’d take me, seeing as how I didn’t have no family.”

“He told you you had no family.”


“And Mr. Bright told you you were an outlaw.”

“He said I was. Said everyone would be scared of me.” He squinted at Chris. “You scared of me?”

Chris swallowed hard. “Yeah, I am.”

The man laughed--a big belly laugh. “You better be, mister. You better be.”



Ezra Standish hadn’t had time to become the least bit dapper. When Josiah called him to ride, he’d thrown on the pants he’d had on the night before and grabbed a shirt he hadn’t even had time to button and they were off just as dawn was breaking. He knew time was of the essence. Chris and JD had left two days ago, so if they were lying by the road somewhere, they could be dying. If they had been kidnapped, they could be a day’s ride in any direction. This was not good.

It was odd. Ezra was not accustomed to feeling this weight on his chest simply because he was worried about other people. He’d felt it when he had a lot of money at stake and was holding a less-than-stellar hand. Now the lives of his friends were at stake and it made him sick at his stomach.

“This way,” Vin Tanner called over his shoulder, and the four followed his lead. They were lucky, the tracker had told them when they left this morning. The tracks were very clear. It was just a godsend that there had been no rain.

Ezra watched with admiration, and perhaps a little envy, as Vin worked. Ezra would not likely tell anyone this, but he wanted to learn to track. No, he wouldn’t tell, although he studied Vin at every opportunity. It didn’t seem . . . proper . . . for Ezra to get down on the ground and study little changes in the terrain. Yet something in him wanted to dig for clues--to be lithe on approach like the native peoples were--like Vin was. He wanted to know how to live off the earth and to be able to track.

Of course, then his better sense would always over and he would study his manicured hands and be thankful for linen napkins and cologne and fine, tailored clothes.

But still . . .


The only way to tell that dawn was breaking was to judge by the shift in the color of the gray of the room. Chris had slept fitfully, waking from time to time when a voice cried out during the night. The first couple of times he’d heard it, he was certain it was JD, but then he realized there were different voices. Some would wail, some would scream, and one actually sang.

Chris looked over at his cellmate. The poor bastard had been there for years. He probably didn’t have a family--not anymore anyway. If he ever had, they may have figured they couldn’t take care of him. Chris had heard horror stories about veterans who had been “sent away” to hospitals when no one could take care of them. Some went to decent enough facilities.

But others . . .

They weren’t in prison. They were in a f***ing asylum. And there was a madman in charge.