JUST GET ME TO THE NEXT TOWN

by Jackie, a.k.a. Phoenix1972

 

Part 7

 

“You look a lot lighter than you actually are.”  Yanking Scruffy another three feet Ezra stopped to catch his breath.  “I should just shoot you and be done with it, but I feel Mr. Larabee would whole heartedly disapprove,” Ezra grunted breathlessly, wiping at the sweat that had broken out across his forehead.

 

Sizing up the large tree not four feet from where he’d managed to drag his unconscious nemesis, Ezra plotted the best way to secure him.  What to do?  What to do?”  Ezra mumbled under his breath, his brow furrowing in deep contemplation.  Glaring down at Scruffy and back at the tree he suddenly realized how to solve his problem and chuckled evilly.  “Mother would be proud of you, old boy.”

 

Using the short length of cord he’d found in the debris Ezra tied it securely around a tree branch. 

 

Grabbing Scruffy by the right leg he dragged him over to lie beneath the branch and yanked off the drunk’s boot.  “Good God! Have you ever changed your socks?”  Ezra gagged as he began wrapping the length of cord around Scruffy’s foot in such an intricate pattern there would be no way of slipping his foot out. 

 

Once complete, Ezra stepped back to admire his handiwork.  Scruffy was currently lying flat on his back in the snow, his leg at an almost ninety degree angle to his body, and his foot attached to the tree branch about six feet in the air.  Unless Ol’ Scruffy was extremely flexible it was going to take some effort to free himself of his bindings.

 

Trudging back over to where Chris was stirring once more, Ezra squatted down and helped pull him to a sitting position.  “Welcome back.  I wasn’t sure how long you’d be out.”

 

Glancing around blearily Chris’s nose twitched and he wheezed, “What’s that smell?”

 

“What smell?”  Frowning, Ezra slowly brought his hands toward his face and sniffed cautiously.  Jerking his head back he held his hands away from his body.  “Blech!”

 

“What?”

 

Thrusting a hand beneath Chris’s nose Ezra asked, “Is this what you smell?”

 

Chris’s eyes practically bugged out of his head before narrowing to mere slits.  Slapping Ezra’s hand away he growled, “Get your fingers out of my face before I break every one of them.  I will shoot you, don’t think I won’t.”

 

Pulling his hand away Ezra wiped them in the snow before wiping them on the blanket.  “You already did.”

 

“If you hadn’t moved you wouldn’t have gotten shot.”  Looking around the clearing he noticed the tree and Scruffy.  “Interesting setup you got going over there.”

 

“Wanted to make it difficult for him,” Ezra quipped as he dug around in the carpet bag for the bourbon and some cloth to use as bandages.  Holding the items out to Chris he stated, “I require your assistance.”

 

“Fine.  Then we get out of here.”  Chris took a quick swig from the bottle Ezra handed him and waited for the gambler to remove his coat.

 

A short time later Chris had Ezra’s wound bound and was anxious to meet up with the other survivors Ezra had seen.  Without any material for a proper crutch, Chris was forced to lean on the gambler for support and what little strength Chris had depleted quickly.

 

“You can do it.  It’s not much further,” Ezra ground out as Chris trembled in exhaustion next to him.  “I can see the others and they have a fire going.”

 

Staring straight ahead, the gunslinger grunted his acknowledgement and stumbled along beside the gambler, his jaw visibly clenched against the pain.

 

“Just think.  In the next few minutes we’ll be warming ourselves by the fire as we wait for the good citizens of a nearby town to come and rescue our collective souls.”

 

“Someone’s coming,” Chris mumbled as he swayed in place and his grip tightened on Ezra’s shoulder.

 

Ezra turned his attention from the paling, increasingly heavy gunslinger to the two men hurrying toward them.  “Our salvation I hope.”

 

The men who stopped before them were bruised and bloody but apparently not seriously injured.  The younger of the two apparently noticed Chris was faltering and stepped forward to take Ezra’s place.

 

“Sorry,” the young man apologized as Chris gasped in pain and squeezed his eyes shut.

 

Wincing in sympathy Ezra rubbed at his sore arm.  “Do you know when the wagons are coming?”

 

The older man looked at Ezra in confusion.  “Wagons?  I don’t know anything about any wagons.  Next town’s about a day away on foot and we’re fresh out of horses.”

 

“We were told there were wagons on the way,” Chris bit out as he wiped at the sweat coating his brow.

 

“Well. By my calculations we’re about five hours late for the Henderson stop.  Not sure how late the train would have to be for them to be overly concerned to send out someone to look.  Me’n Jake were on our way back home.  Took the train down to Ridge City last week.  Schedules were all off then.  Lot’s of bad weather up north.  Oh, name’s Asa Jones and that’s my little brother, Jacob.  We call ‘im Jake for short.”

 

Nodding in thought Ezra replied, “Ezra Standish, Chris Larabee.  Well that’s disappointing to say the least.”  Looking over at his friend, he noticed Chris’s eyes were now barely open and his jaw was clenched tightly against the pain.  I wish Nathan was here.  “If you would assist us we would be grateful.  My travelling companion is a little worse for the wear and needs somewhere to lie down.  Broken leg and a sundry of other maladies.”

 

“Ha!  A train wreck’ll do that.  We believe there are at least forty-six lost souls.  Wait.  Forty-four with you and your friend still breathing.”  Asa took Chris’s other arm and they began trudging through the snow to where the others were waiting.

 

“How many survivors?”

 

“Fifty-some.  Maybe a little more, little less.  There are a few up ahead who may not make it through the night,” Jake puffed as they neared the group of people.

 

Hesitating as they drew near, Ezra grimaced at the moans and cries of the wounded and dying.  “Do you think there could be a rescue soon?”

 

“Maybe, maybe not.  It depends on when the town realizes something’s wrong.  Some men checked up the track a piece and found evidence this was probably not accidental,” Asa grunted as they neared the remaining cars that had been left undamaged on the track.

 

“This is a horrible turn of events,” Ezra choked out as he realized there was only a passenger car, baggage car and two box cars left untouched.

 

“We’ve set up some additional pallets in one of the box cars.  The passenger car is already full.” Jake and Asa led Ezra and Chris back to an open box car.  “Not the best accommodations, but at least it’ll be out of the weather.”

 

Chris looked up at the box car and groaned, “Oh, shit.”

 

“Um, are you sure there’s no room on the passenger car?” Ezra asked eyeing the distance from the ground to the opening in the box car dubiously.  “If we have to lift him all that way the pain will be excruciating.”

 

“Sorry.  This is the only one with any room.”  Asa adjusted his grip on the gunslinger as Jake pulled himself up into the car.  Once Jake was ready he said, “We’ll make it as quick and easy on you as possible.”

 

“Just do it,” Chris grunted and closed his eyes, obviously preparing for the inevitable.

 

Asa shared a look with his brother and with Ezra’s assistance lifted Chris into the box car.

 

Ezra would swear later, Chris’s bloodcurdling scream could be heard all the way back to Four Corners.

 

~o~

 

Leaning back against a wall of the car, Ezra pulled his blanket tighter about himself and looked down at Chris who was fitfully dozing on a nearby pallet.  Ezra had told Asa and Jake about Scruffy and they had informed him they and a few of the others would handle the cretin.  Ezra had grinned at that and hoped Scruffy got his just reward.

 

As Ezra was finally starting to drift off a commotion outside drew his attention. One of the passengers near the door spoke quietly to whoever was there and the conversation seemed to be getting louder by the moment.

 

“What’s going on?” Chris asked groggily as he tried to lever himself up to look about.

 

Placing a hand on Chris’s shoulder, Ezra whispered, “I’ll check.  I’d like to get a little sleep myself.” 

 

Cautiously stepping over his friend, he worked his way through the other sleeping passengers.  As he neared the door he asked, “Whatever is wrong?”

 

The woman sitting near the door hissed, “They want to put this little boy in here.  Apparently his mother just passed and he’s now alone.”

 

“Why here?” Ezra asked, not comprehending.

 

“He keeps crying for his mother and keeping the other passengers awake.”

 

Poking his head around the door he looked down at the man and sniffling child.  “Rupert?” Ezra gasped as he looked closer.

 

“You know him?” The man asked in a loud whisper.

 

“We were travelling companions for a short time.  There was another woman travelling with him and his moth...  Uh, do you know where she is?” Ezra asked as he knelt down by the doorway.

 

The man shrugged and pushed Rupert toward the car.  “Guess he’s your responsibility now.”

 

Ezra was about to say that he wasn’t prepared to care for a child, but one look at Rupert’s tear-streaked face and he knew he’d have to take the child in.

 

“Come on Rupert.  Mr. Larabee and I have a nice corner staked out for ourselves and there’s plenty of room for one more.”  Ezra smiled softly down at the child as the other man lifted him up.

 

Once Rupert was safely within the car, Ezra grabbed up a blanket from a nearby pile and led him over to their corner.

 

“What’s going on?” Chris asked as Ezra drew near.

 

“It appears that we have been charged with Rupert’s wellbeing,” Ezra explained as he ushered Rupert into the corner.  At Chris’s confused look he replied, “I’ll explain later.”

 

Rupert curled up in the corner and at a loss as to what to do, Ezra draped the blanket over the small frame.

 

Sliding down the wall, Ezra brought his knees up and rested his head on them.  It was going to be a long cold night.

 

 

Part 8

 

Moonlight slipped between the spaces of the boards that made up their temporary refuge.  The light was welcome as it kept the darkness at bay, but the cold wind that blew through those same cracks was bone chilling.  Many huddled together for comfort as much as for warmth and prayed for a speedy rescue.

 

Jerking awake, Ezra peered into the dimness and tried to discern what had pulled him from his fitful slumber.  Before he could wrap his sleep deprived mind around it a chill racked his body.  Pulling the blanket tighter about himself he breathed warm air into his hands and glanced into the corner Rupert had curled into.  Chris’s red-rimmed, dull green eyes stared back at him.  Glancing at the pallet near his feet Ezra realized his eyes were not playing tricks on him and Chris had indeed moved into the corner.  When and how were you able to do that without me being the wiser?

 

“What are you doing up?” Ezra asked the obviously exhausted gunslinger.

 

“Nightmares.”

 

“You had a nightmare?  Are you feverish?”

 

Shaking his head Chris whispered, “No.  Rupert was having nightmares.”  Moving the blanket away Chris indicated the child who was curled into his uninjured side.

 

“Oh.” Ezra peered at the blonde tuft of hair resting against Chris’s chest.  “You could have woken me.”

 

“I was already awake.  Besides, you need the sleep just as much as I do.”

 

“Yes, but I am not as injured as you are.”

 

Chris frowned and hissed, “Just drop it.  We still have to get to Denver and we’ll need you more when we have to travel.”

 

Ezra watched Chris grimace in pain as Rupert whimpered and burrowed closer.  “I’ll take him now.  He’s obviously hurting you.”

 

“Leave him be,” Chris gritted out as he rubbed soothing circles on the child’s back.  “He’ll settle down in a moment.”

 

Knowing once Chris had set his cap on something it was no use trying to change his mind, Ezra crawled onto the empty pallet.  Well, if Chris won’t use it I will, no sense in letting a perfectly good pallet go to waste.  After a few moments Ezra realized the pallet was just slightly more comfortable than the floor.

 

Ezra lay on the pallet listening to the people around him, a few were moaning or shifting restlessly where they lay, trying to get comfortable.  Every once in a while he would hear Chris whispering to Rupert.  Straining to hear what the gunslinger was saying he realized Chris was spinning some childhood tale in an effort to keep the nightmares at bay.

 

A hard kick in his back brought Ezra out of a deep sleep.  Jerking upright he looked around for the culprit, he came face to face with Rupert.  “Did you kick me?” Ezra asked incredulously.

 

“He told me too,” Rupert frowned as he pointed back at Chris.  “Tried to shake you awake but you were snorin’ so loud people were starting to complain.”

 

Rubbing at his sore back Ezra grouched, “I do not snore.  It must have been someone else.”

 

Rupert shrugged and quipped, “I was only doin’ as I was told.”  Rupert bent down close to Ezra and whispered in Ezra’s ear, “I don’t think Mr. Chris is feeling too well.  I was one hot potato sitting next to him.  I asked if he was okay.  He just said he was fine.”

 

“Mr. Larabee has a tendency to be rather peckish when feeling under the weather.  I’ll check on him in a little bit,” Ezra whispered back as he sat up a little straighter.  Noticing the sky was lightening he pushed off his blanket.  Standing up stiffly, he groaned when his back protested the hard bed he’d been sleeping on.  Judge Travis was going to get an ear full when he finally laid eyes on the man.  Stretching as far as he could, he sighed when his back cracked audibly.  While stretching the remaining kinks out Mother Nature suddenly demanded his attention.  Not wanting to brave the outside twice he asked Rupert, “Do you need to go?”

 

“Go?  Where would I go?”

 

“No, do you need to go?” Ezra asked as quietly as he could.

 

It finally seemed to dawn on Rupert as to what Ezra was referring.  Oh.  No I can hold it.”

 

“Let’s take care of it now so that we can give Mr. Larabee our full attention later,” Ezra whispered and pulled the child to the entrance.

 

~o~

 

When Ezra and Rupert had returned to the impromptu camp, they found a large group of people milling around the central fire where the aroma of cooking meat was strong in the air.  Ezra and Rupert’s stomachs had set to growling and fifteen minutes of standing in line had earned them a small bowl to share at the fire.  Knowing there was no way Chris could make it out to the fire Ezra had begged a small bowl to take back with the promise of a quick return.

 

“Do you think someone will come and get us soon?” Rupert asked as they neared the box car, “I really want to go home.”

 

Placing the bowl safely away from the door Ezra grunted in pain as he lifted the child up into the car.  “Help will be here before you know it, Young Rupert.”  Once he managed to get himself inside he snatched up the bowl and they wended their way through the injured and exhausted.

They found Chris lying in the corner on the pallet wrapped up in the three blankets, apparently sleeping.  Setting the bowl down Ezra reached out and gently shook Chris’s shoulder.  “Mr. Larabee?  Chris we have some hot stew for you.”

 

Chris’s red-rimmed eyes shot open and he reached for his gun.  “Don’t touch me,” he growled darkly seemingly unaware of where he was.

 

“Chris, it’s Rupert and I,” Ezra whispered urgently as he pulled his hands away not wanting to startle the gunslinger.  I never should have let you have your gun back, fevers and guns have never been good bed partners.

 

“I told you he wasn’t feeling well,” Rupert whispered by Ezra’s ear as he moved to stand behind the gambler.  “Is he gonna die like momma did?”

 

Ezra shook his head and patted Rupert on the leg.  “No.  I won’t let that happen.”

 

Chris ran a hand over his eyes and sighed, “Sorry.  I must have drifted off and didn’t realize it.”

 

“That’s quite all right.” Ezra helped Chris to a sitting position and held out the bowl of stew.  “Do you think you can eat some of this stew?  Well, actually it’s more like broth.”

 

Squinting at the bowl held before him Chris rasped, “Not sure I can stomach that right now.”

 

“You ought to try.  You haven’t had anything to eat since the day before yesterday and you left most of that on the tracks if you remember.”

 

“Don’t remind me.”  Chris swallowed convulsively before continuing.  “Ezra, I don’t feel well right now, maybe I can try later.”

 

“If you’re sure I’ll just set it over here out of the way,” Ezra replied with a concerned frown on his face.  Chris must be feeling really bad if he just admitted to it.

 

Chris laid back on the pallet and pulled the blankets around his shoulders as he shivered violently.

 

Reaching out a tentative hand, Ezra lightly touched Chris’s forehead.  “You have a fever,” Ezra sighed quietly and grabbed the blanket to pull it back.  “Let me take a look at your side and see if that’s what causing this.”

 

“Just leave it be.  All I need to do is get some sleep and I feel better,” Chris croaked, tightening his hold on the blanket.

 

Pulling a little harder Ezra was able to take the blanket from Chris.  “Rupert, my boy, would you kindly bring my bag over here.  I need to tend to Mr. Larabee’s wound. ”

 

“Yes, sir.  I can do that,”  Rupert crowed excitedly before moving around the two men and yanking at the bag.  “Gosh, this thing sure is heavy.”

 

“Do you need help?”  Ezra asked without looking up from where he was removing the soiled bandage.

 

“I have it,” Rupert huffed as he stumbled back to the two men.  “Eww.  That’s gross.  And look, it’s got puss oozing out.”  Dropping the bag, Rupert leaned closer to look at the wound.

 

Glancing at Rupert, Ezra replied, “I can see that.”  Grabbing the carpet bag, Ezra pulled out bandages and the bourbon.  “This is going to hurt, but I’ve got to clean it as best I can.”

 

Draping an arm over his eyes Chris ground out, “Just be quick about it.”

 

Taking a steadying breath Ezra set about the task of cleaning and bandaging the wound. 

 

Chris jerked and moaned several times but said nothing. 

 

After several minutes Rupert took a seat up near Chris’s head and patted him on the shoulder, trying his best to offer words of comfort.

 

After what seemed an eternity, Ezra finished his task and as he sat back, letting out a long breath.  “We really need a doctor.  The bourbon is almost gone and you need proper pain management if you are to get any rest.  And to top it all off, I’m worried about your leg.  It hasn’t been set yet.  How do you even set an upper leg bone?”

 

“We’ll have to do with what we have.  Hopefully we’ll be able to get out of here soon and find a doctor,” Chris replied tiredly as he pulled the blanket up around his neck higher.

 

Ezra nodded and closed the bag.  He sat there quietly wishing for the umpteenth time they’d never responded to Travis’s telegram.  Right now he could be sitting in the saloon enjoying an easy game of cards or having a savory lunch prepared by Inez. But instead he was sitting in a frozen box car with an injured friend and a child who’d just lost his mother.  This was totally unfair and when he saw Judge Travis he was going to let him have it with both barrels.

 

 

Part 9

 

Biting the inside of his cheek to keep from groaning out loud, Ezra worked the bandage free of the wound on his arm.  Using the late afternoon sun slipping through the cracks in the walls, he looked in dismay at the linen which seemed to have fused to his flesh.  Perfect.  Reluctance to let the minimal amount of warmth trapped within their temporary, but pitiful refuge escape had him all but chained to their corner unable to replenish their dwindling supply of water.  Cold was their enemy and even though he’d managed to scrounge a few extra blankets he was concerned Chris would die before help arrived.

 

Ezra forced himself back to the task at hand as he noticed Chris’s restless movements from the pallet.  “Please cooperate,” he whispered as he gently picked at the adhered bandage.  Neglecting the wound for too long had been a bad decision and the once trivial graze was now hot to the touch, oozing pus, and partially crusted.  Blowing out a breath in frustration Ezra reached for the bottle of bourbon and held it aloft.  There was less than two finger widths left.  Yesterday, he’d given Chris as much as he could spare to help him through the agony of setting his leg.  It hadn’t been enough.  Cursing Scruffy for drinking all their whiskey, Ezra poured a very small amount onto a linen square and laid it over the wound.  As Chris’s quiet moans the joined those around him Ezra hurriedly snatched up a length of linen to re-bandage his arm.

 

Reaching for his discarded shirt he scowled at its torn and stained condition.  Even the most skilled laundress would be unable to clean it to his standards.  Pulling it on over his wounded arm had him breathing deeply through his teeth as he waited for the pain to dissipate.

 

Chris had spiked a fever this morning and had been moving downhill ever since.  When he shivered in cold Ezra piled the blankets on.  When he was so hot he couldn’t take even a light covering, Ezra bathed his brow.  He’d even gone so far as leaving Rupert with Chris to go to the other car to find someone, anyone to assist him.  He hoped never again to witness the pure misery the passenger car held.

 

Dawn had not yet broken the horizon and it felt as if they were in the coldest part of the night when Ezra reluctantly hopped from the box car hoping to find assistance for the gunslinger.  Every breath felt as if sharp knives were slicing into his nose and lungs and his fingers were painfully stiff with cold.  A short distance ahead loomed the passenger car which held the more seriously wounded and dying, its darkened interior and the pitiful moans coming from within making it seem all the more forbidding.  There was no way he’d bring Chris to this car no matter how bad off the gunslinger was.

 

Slipping on the ice Ezra shortened his stride as it would do them no good if he injured himself further.  As Ezra neared the passenger car a figure approached him.

 

“Mr. Standish?” Asa Jones asked as he joined the gambler.  “What in pray tell brings you out in this cold?”

 

“I fear I am in need of assistance.  You see, my friend has developed a fever and nothing I seem to do will bring it down.”

 

“We’re all doing the best we can.  Unfortunately there are no doctors or even someone close to a doctor in this group.  You can check and see if they have anything to spare,” Asa explained as he moved back to tend the fire.

 

Looking up at the dark hulk, Ezra cringed as he pulled himself up into the car.  The unhealthy smells which emanated from the car almost knocked him off his feet and he gagged repeatedly.  Turning away and leaning out the door to take in a few quick breaths Ezra yanked a handkerchief from his pocket and placed it over his nose and mouth.

 

"Close the door.  You're letting the cold in!" a rough voice growled from the darkness.

 

Squinting, Ezra tried to discern the owner of the voice.  “My apologies.  I need assistance for my friend who has developed a high fever.”

 

Ezra started as a figure rose to his left.  “Everyone needs help and there aren’t enough able hands to do it.  Not sure how many of us will be left by the time help arrives.”

 

“Do you happen to have anything to help with a fever?”  Ezra looked around the dimly lit car seeing the many wounded tended by the few trying to make them more comfortable.

 

“Only thing you can do is keep wiping you friend down and try and get some water into him.  Your best bet is to pray to the Almighty and hope for a rescue soon,” supplied a woman sitting nearby.  “We have nothing to ease their suffering and a few may not even see the rescue.”

 

Ezra nodded and turned to leave, feeling despondent.  “Thank you.”  Turning back he addressed the person sitting back in the shadows and the woman.  “I do have one last request.  My friend appears to have broken his femur and it has not yet been set.  How would I go about doing this without permanently maiming him?”

 

The tired voice from the darkness grumbled, “Get a few strong men and some sturdy branches. Now here’s where it gets a little complicated…”

 

“Wagons are coming!” an excited voice called from outside setting off anxious murmurs and rumblings from those around.

 

Pulling himself to his feet as he heard his name being called, Ezra hurried to the door someone had slid open.  Looking down at Rupert he asked, “Are you all right?”

 

“Mr. Ezra, did you hear?  We’re going home!”  Rupert cried joyfully as he hopped up and down on the snow covered ground.

 

“I’ve heard something of the sort.  Have you seen the wagons?  How many have they brought?”  Ezra asked almost breathlessly as he realized their nightmare would hopefully be ending soon. 

 

“I saw ‘em.  They even brought stuff and the men who came are up by the fire talking about what to do with everyone,” Rupert blurted as he fidgeted in excitement.

 

“Rupert, I want you to come up here and sit with Mr. Larabee while I go see about getting us out of this...,” Ezra stuttered to a stop when he realized he’d been about to use some rather course language.  “I’m going to see about shortening our stay at our current locale.”

 

“Is he still sick to his stomach?” Rupert asked as he hesitantly moved closer and held his arms up for Ezra to grab.

 

“He’s sleeping at the moment and I really do not think there is anything left to come up.”  Ezra smiled in understanding.  The broth had been a mistake and they should have stuck with the water.

 

Ezra tried pulling the boy up into the car with only one arm but it was too difficult.  Luckily there was someone standing nearby and they helped bring Rupert into the car without incident.

 

“Okay, you wait here with Mr. Larabee and I’ll be back before you know it.  If he gets restless again, try wiping his brow.  If it doesn’t help and you need assistance, ask for it.”  Giving Rupert a supportive pat on the shoulder Ezra headed out to find the wagons.

 

 

Part 10

 

Ezra doubted there was ever a more welcoming sight as what appeared to be at least eight wagons and at least two of them were weighed down with supplies.

 

Noticing Asa Jones standing on the edge of the group, Ezra hurried forward.  “What news do we have?”

 

Keeping his gaze on the wagons Asa replied, “Made mention that the seriously wounded would be transported back to town first and they would leave supplies here for those they don’t have room for.  Those of us who are left behind will probably have another two days out here.”

 

“Mr. Larabee may not have another two days.  He’ll have to go on this trip,” Ezra stated as he crossed his arms defiantly.

 

Asa quirked a brow at Ezra.  “They brought a doctor.  He’ll be the one to decide who goes and who stays.”

 

Ezra snorted and stared into the crowd.  “I think I speak for all of us in wanting to put as much distance from this place as possible.”

 

A stiff, frigid breeze whipped through the center of camp, chasing several souls back to the comfort of the campfire.  Pulling his coat about himself, Ezra watched the man he assumed was the doctor, enter the passenger car.  “The man has his work cut out for him,” Ezra grumbled as he ducked his nose into his coat and wrapped his arms around himself. in an effort keep warm.

 

“He has more patients than he needs.  Your friend still sporting the fever?”  Asa asked as he turned back to Ezra.

 

“Yes.  He’s declining and needs to be in a comfortable bed in a proper shelter.  Not some box car sitting in the middle of nowhere.”

 

“It’s been hard on all of us, Mr. Standish.  You best be counting your blessings he’s still alive.  There’s many a poor soul who’d wish to be in your position right now, stead of lying dead in the wreckage,” Asa reminded as he moved away to help with the wagons.

 

“I didn’t say I wasn’t thankful,” Ezra mumbled as he rubbed at his sore arm.  “I just want this to be over already.”

 

~o~

 

If patience was a virtue then Ezra was as far from virtuous as you could get.  It had taken three hours for the doctor to make his way around to their little group and now Ezra was miserable.  The doctor had looked Rupert over, declared him healthy, and had then insisted on examining Ezra.

 

Despite Ezra insisting that Chris be seen to first, the doctor had rationalized tending Ezra’s wounds would take much less time and then he’d be able to devote his time to the injured man.

 

So wounds thoroughly scrubbed, medicated, and rewrapped, Ezra now hovered nervously as the town doctor looked Chris over. 

 

Snuffling quietly, Ezra hid a grin behind a bandaged hand as he watched Chris refuse to cooperate and even threaten to shoot the doctor if he didn’t leave him alone.  You shouldn’t be laughing, you are a horrible friend.  Nathan would not have tolerated any of Chris’s stonewalling. 

 

“I suggest you listen to the good doctor, Mr. Larabee.  He is quite put out with your shenanigans and I for one am ready to move on.”  Ezra watched as the doctor touched a particularly sensitive spot on Chris’s side causing him to hiss and jerk in pain.

 

“Get me my gun,” Chris choked out as he grasped the front of the doctor’s coat and glared daggers at the man.

 

“You should save your bullets for a more worthy cause,” Ezra chirped in over the doctor’s grumblings of ungrateful fools, “I would like to remind you, Mr. Larabee, the doctor has been more than sympathetic to our plight.  He’s brought medicines and supplies to make the situation a little more tolerable and we owe him our gratitude.  Ezra strained to hear the almost inaudible response from Chris but realized he’d actually thanked the doctor when the man chuckled.

 

After spending an inordinate amount of time draining and cleaning the side wound, the doctor sewed Chris back up, and gave him another dose of laudanum.  Piling the blankets back over his pale, shivering patient, the doctor levered himself up off his knees and motioned Ezra over.

 

“So?” Ezra asked as he joined the doctor.  Looking down at Chris, he could see the shivers running up the lean frame.  The pain was clearly evident in the lines of his face and the sunken appearance of his eyes.

 

“He’s in bad shape, but I’ve seen worse,” the doctor explained.  “I know you don’t want to hear this…”

 

Ezra held up his hand to stop the doctor.  “Don’t even say it.  You can’t leave him behind.”

 

“I’m sorry, my hands are tied.  There are only so many wagons and there are many worse off than he is.”

 

“Pray tell me, how much room can one person take?  I’ll pay,” Ezra rasped out desperately, “The boy and I will wait for the next trip.  He needs to get out of here.  He needs proper accommodations.”

 

Shaking his head the doctor looked on sympathetically.  “We don’t have the room.  Besides, the best thing for your friend is to lie still.  I’ll give you medicines to help with the fever and pain.  You won’t be alone, there will be others left behind with you.”

 

“Is it fair to leave the injured and sick behind to fend for themselves in these elements?”

 

The doctor reached into his bag and pulled out several bottles.  “I’m sorry, life’s not fair.  Believe me when I tell you the last thing I want to tell anyone is they’ll have to wait even longer.”  Pushing the bottles into Ezra’s hands he continued, “Make sure you keep after your arm.  You won’t do your friend any good if you’re ill also.”

 

Staring unseeing at the bottles in his hands Ezra grated out, “So we must wait two more days for our liberation.”

 

Ezra followed the doctor to the door of the boxcar, hoping he would have a change of heart and let them go with the first group.  “Mr. Larabee and I are very important witnesses at a trial in Denver.  Judge Orrin Travis sent for us and was expecting our arrival several days ago.”

 

“Your friend won’t be attending any trials any time soon and I’m not familiar with Judge Travis.  And why if it was so important for you to be in Denver has he not sent someone for you?”  Not waiting for an explanation the doctor climbed down out of the box car.  Jumping the remaining distance from the last rung to the ground the doctor grunted, “It’ll probably be at least three days.  You’ve been left extra blankets, food, and other provisions.  Make use of them.  Keep your wounds clean, and stay positive.”

 

“Easy for you to say,” Ezra hissed as he turned away from the door.  “You get to leave.”

 

“Ez?” Chris rasped out as he clutched the blanket close.

 

“Relax, Chris.  I’m right here.” Ezra hurried over to sink down next to his friend.  Picking up a damp cloth, Ezra wiped at the perspiration coating Chris’s face.

 

Swallowing audibly, Chris asked, “When are we leaving?  Rupert said the wagons were here and we’re leavin’.”

 

“Soon.  We’ll be leaving real soon.”  Patting Chris’s hand Ezra put his best poker face on.  “Why don’t you try and get some rest.  Sleep is the best thing right now.”

 

“Can’t Ez.  I’m too uncomfortable or maybe the floor’s too hard.  I’m not sure which.” Chris sighed as he tried to shift to a different position which only caused him to gasp and pant through the pain.  His eyes squeezed tightly shut and his fists grasping at the blankets.

 

Ezra beat the floor in frustration.  “I can’t do this anymore!” he cried, jumping to his feet.  Practically hurling himself from the box car, he staggered out into the snow mumbling, “What am I supposed to do?”  Staring down at his shaking hands, he bit back a groan of frustration.  We’re leaving with the first group, even if I have to build a wagon and pull it to town myself.

 

Pushing to his feet, Ezra hurried to where the wagons were being loaded, hoping to find the doctor and plead his case.  Moving among the people clustered about the wagons Ezra came upon Scruffy.  The man was tied and sitting in the corner of a wagon surrounded by two burly men.  Highly incensed that the reprobate was taking up valuable space in the wagon, Ezra moved off to find Asa Jones to find out what was going on.

 

~o~

 

“Rupert, get ready we’re leaving,” Ezra huffed out as he climbed up into the boxcar.  Grimacing as his arm protested the abuse, Ezra hurried over to their corner.

 

“We’re leaving?  I thought you said we’d have to stay?” Rupert asked in confusion as he watched Ezra stuffing their meager belongings into two carpetbags.

 

Ruffling the child’s hair, Ezra smiled.  “Lady Luck has decided to smile on us today.  A wagon suddenly freed up and with a little persuasion I was able to secure our passage.”

 

“How much did it cost you?”

 

Turning to glance down at the gunslinger, Ezra frowned, “A paltry sum I assure you.”

 

“Did you come by it legitimately?”  Pulling the blankets up tighter under his chin Chris leveled a red-rimmed stare at Ezra.

 

Mouth gaping open, Ezra gasped, “You think I would stoop so low as to cheat some poor individual out of their possible salvation from this, this existence?”

 

“I know how much you want to get out of here.”

 

“I’m flabbergasted that you would think so low of me after all I’ve done for you,” Ezra bit out as he continued to shove things into the bag.  And Rupert.  I’ve watchdogged you both.”

 

Scrubbing at his face Chris sighed, “That’s not what I meant.  I know what you’ve been doing for me and the boy.  I’d be toe up if you hadn’t taken charge of the situation.”

 

Suddenly realizing Chris was trying to make light of a bad situation, Ezra squeezed Chris shoulder in understanding.  “We’ll be heading to the wagon in about twenty minutes.  You ought to try and rest until then because I’ve heard this will be a hard trip on all of us.”

 

“Did you expect anything different?”

 

Ezra just snorted and straightened the blankets that were piled on and around the gunslinger.  “It seems our trip was cursed from the outset.”

 

 

 

PARTS 1-3 / PARTS 4-6 / PARTS 11-13 / PARTS 14-15

 

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Jackie  2011