Partners in Crime
"Aw, com'n, Ez. Help me out here! I been cooped up in here for a week now. At least he lets ya sit out side... some." Vin Tanner turned woeful blue eyes on his fellow captive.
Ezra Standish shook his head. "Mister Jackson has promised me my freedom as of tomorrow. If I assist you in escaping his attentions he will no doubt rescind that agreement."
The two men were arguing inside Nathan Jackson's clinic. Vin lay on the cot, his left leg propped up at an angle. He had taken a bullet through the thigh a week earlier during an attempted bank robbery. He had sworn it was just a flesh wound but he had lost a good bit of blood then developed a fever and Nathan, Four Corners resident healer, had insisted that he stay off the leg until it was healed.
Vin hated being in the clinic. He had already made one escape attempt... aided by Ezra, who was also chaffing under Nathan's care.
Ezra had taken a bullet through the shoulder in the same altercation that Vin had been injured in. He had been healing well until his and Vin's aborted escape attempt resulted in him tearing out his stitches. He'd been returned to the clinic under threat of being tied to the bed if he didn't behave. Now he had no intention of jeopardizing his chances of being removed from Nathan's clutches by helping Vin escape.
Vin crossed his arms over his chest and pouted. He looked about five years old.
Ezra shook his head, "No. Absolutely not. *I* will be free tomorrow."
The eyes turned back to him, pleadingly, "I'm goin nuts in here, Ez. Please...."
Ezra sighed. He could not *stand* it when Vin looked at him like that. It made him feel like a wicked stepparent. He was *not* being cruel. He wasn't. Really.
The eyes didn't waver. They gave him no respite.
He blew out an exasperated breath. "Where do you think you could get to that Nathan can't find you?" He demanded. His jaw dropped at the answer. "Are you mad? Have you utterly lost you mind? How do you intend to get up there?"
Two hours later
Nathan Jackson stormed into the saloon wearing a glare that would have done Chris Larabee justice and snarled, "Them two idiots come in here?"
"Which two idiots?" Larabee asked mildly, knowing perfectly well that the only two of the seven that were currently under Nathan's care were Vin and Ezra.
"That gambling idiot and that tracker idiot!" Jackson clarified.
"No, Brother Nathan."
Replied Chris, Buck, Josiah and Inez respectively.
Nathan stomped past where the three peacekeepers were sitting and up the stairs to check Ezra's room. After all there was a back way in.
A moment later the others heard a door upstairs slam, hard enough to rattle the windows downstairs, and Nathan came stomping back down the stairs and stood looking around the saloon like he expected to find the two escapees hiding under a table there.
"You check Vin's wagon?" Josiah offered helpfully.
Nathan sighed and pulled out a chair, dropping into it. "Ain't there. Ain't in Vin's room at the hotel. Ain't in the livery. Ain't took their horses. Thought sure they'd be here."
"If ya done looked ever where ya think they might be, reckon maybe you oughta look where ya'd think they wouldn't be." Buck suggested.
Chris and Buck exchanged glances. "The church."
Nathan blinked. "The church. That's the last place I'd expect them two ta go."
"Exactly." Buck and Chris said in unison.
"They know yer gonna be huntin'em. They ain't gonna hide anywhere ya'd think ta look for'em... and it ain't like they could go too far. It's already dark out and they are still hurtin'." Buck explained.
"Okay, I'll check the church out."
As Nathan rose to go the others stood up and followed him out.
As the little parade filed past the jail, JD looked up from his chair and called, "Where's everybody going?"
"Church." Josiah replied.
"What for?" JD asked.
"Looking for Vin and Ezra." Nathan replied.
"I seen them over behind the livery 'while ago." JD informed them.
Nathan stopped, "How long ago?"
"Ten maybe fifteen minutes."
"Shit!" Nathan swore and turned towards the livery.
"What?" Buck demanded.
"Been near half an hour since I checked the livery. Was the first place I went. They musta waited till I'd done been."
Everyone turned to follow Nathan into the livery.
It was immediately obvious that neither man had taken their horses. JD quickly scrambled up the ladder to the loft and announced that the two escapees weren't hiding in the hay up there.
As he climbed back down he noticed Chris staring at Vin's saddle and tack.
Buck saw where JD was looking and cocked his head at Chris, "See somethin'?"
"Vin's rope ain't on his saddle."
"What would they need a rope for?"
"Don't know. But I sure as hell intend to find out."
"Hurry up!" Ezra hissed at Vin. "They're headed this way."
"I'm doin' the best I can!"
The two men were in the bell tower of the church. Vin was sitting on the edge of one of the four openings, the one facing away from the main street and town, with a rope in his hands trying to rope the steeple that rose from the bell tower roof.
Ezra was holding on to Vin to keep him balanced since Vin only had one good leg. It wasn't an easy task as Ezra only had one good arm to use to hold on with. The other was in a sling.
Ezra breathed a sign of relief as the group stopped in front of the jail to speak to JD then veered off towards the livery. If Vin would just hurry up they could be on the roof and out of the sight of the others before they arrived at the church.
"Got it!" Vin crowed. It had been his idea to camp out on the roof of the bell tower. He had sworn to Ezra that they could get up there. And that it wasn't any steeper than any of the other roofs that the two of them habitually waltzed around on to the dismay of the rest of the seven peacekeepers, who couldn't for the life of them understand how the two kept from breaking their fool necks.
"Good. Now tie this end around your waist." Ezra instructed.
"Do it. I'm not having Mister Larabee shooting me, if you fall."
Vin grudgingly nodded. It was a long way to the ground. After he tied the rope around his waist he slowly stood up on the ledge he had been sitting on, balancing on his good leg with Ezra's help.
Ezra kept a good hold on Vin's good leg as the tracker began pulling himself up using the rope to help. As the tracker moved higher, he stepped up on Ezra's good shoulder. A moment later he was on the roof.
He undid the rope from the steeple then looped it around the steeple once before dropping it over the side to Ezra.
Ezra tied the bundle of blankets that they had brought with them to the rope and Vin pulled it up. When the rope reappeared, he tied it around his waist and Vin began to pull him up. He couldn't be much help with one arm and by the time that he made it up they were both panting... and the others had exited the livery and were on their way back towards the church.
"What makes ya think they're in the church?" JD asked.
"Last place we'd look." Josiah told him.
Chris strode into the church in the lead. "Josiah, you search your quarters. Nathan the sanctuary. Buck, you and JD search the basement. I'll check the bell tower."
They all moved off to do as instructed.
Vin and Ezra held their breath as they heard Chris climb into the bell tower.
The gunslinger walked all around the tower, looking out each of the four openings and checking the church roof for any sign of the wayward twosome. He had the feeling that Vin was near but he couldn't figure out where he could be. For just a moment he looked up at the ceiling of the bell tower. [Nah. They couldn't've.] After a few minutes he shook his head and went back down to join the others.
It was a disgruntled bunch that met back in the sanctuary.
"No sign of'em." Nathan sighed.
"No sign that anyone's been in my quarters." Josiah supplied.
"Basement's clear." Buck said and JD nodded agreement.
"Nothing in the bell tower." Chris said. He looked around at the others. "We're not gonna find them tonight. Might as well get some sleep. We'll go door to door in the morning and see if we can smoke them out. I don't think that they've left town."
Reluctantly the others nodded and they slowly filed out. Chris and Josiah headed back to the saloon. Buck decided to stay at the jail with JD and Nathan headed back to the clinic.
When the others had disappeared up the street Vin let out a sigh of relief. "Told ya they wouldn't find us up here." He gloated to Ezra.
"That only leaves the question of how are we going to get down from here?"
"Hell, they'll find us tomorrow." Vin said. "Ya got your flask?"
Ezra lay back on the roof and tugged his flask from his coat pocket. "Always, Mister Tanner... however I would advice temperance."
Vin snorted, "Ain't enough in here fer getting' drunk!" He took the flask from Ezra and opened it taking a sip before handing it back.
Ezra dipped his head at Vin and saluted him with the flask before taking a sip, his way of thanking the tracker for leaving the cap off as he knew that he would have difficulty removing the lid with one hand.
"Gonna get a mite cool tonight." Vin said as he opened the bundle of blankets that they had brought with them and tossed one over Ezra before spreading his own over himself.
When Vin had settled back, Ezra handed him the flask again and Vin took another sip. Vin settled his mare's leg, which had been concealed in the blanket roll, at his side in easy reach before taking the flask back.
For a long few minutes they lay in silence then Vin said softly, "When I's little, my ma and I used to lie out in the front yard on a blanket and look at the stars. She knowed a lot of their names. Cain't remember what all she told me."
Ezra looked up at the stars in the clear night sky. "Well those three stars directly over us, in a straight line, that is Orion's Belt. Orion was a hunter in Greek mythology." Ezra kept his voice soft just loud enough for Vin to hear without them having to worry about anyone else hearing and figuring out where they were.
Vin listened to Ezra's soft honeyed drawl as the gambler spun ancient tales of the how the stars got their names and the legends surrounding them. Slowly his eyes closed and his breath evened out as he drifted to sleep.
Ezra let the story he was telling trail off as he realized that Vin had gone to sleep on him. Settling himself to go to sleep he pulled the Remington he had hidden in his sling out and gripped it snugly in his right hand before saying softly, "Sleep well, Mister Tanner." He smiled as he settled down to sleep. He would have preferred his feather bed but had agreed to Vin's plan because he knew the tracker simply couldn't rest well indoors. That had been the whole point of the escape from Nathan's.
They were rudely awakened by the sound of gunfire.
Ezra jerked awake and sat up the Remington thrust out in front of him hunting a target as he half rose from his position on the roof only realizing where he was when he felt himself starting to slide off the roof. His shriek of dismay, mingled with Vin's as the tracker had also come awake with his gun in his hand without realizing where he was.
Vin felt himself falling. He cursed creatively as he struggled to throw off the blanket that had somehow become tangled around his head. He let out a grunt that was echoed by someone from somewhere nearby as he hit the end of the rope he still had tied around his waist. He finally managed to get the blanket off his head and was able to look around just as he slammed into the side of the bell tower that he was now hanging off of. He swore even worse as his bad leg was banged against the wall.
He could hear Ezra using language that he was sure no 'gentleman' was supposed to as he tried to orient himself.
Finally he got turned so that he could see the main street and realized that the gunshots had been JD and Buck responding to someone trying to rob the bank. With an oath he threw up the mare's leg and fired off a round towards the bank and the two men crouched on the boardwalk in front of it.
Ezra, meanwhile, had also banged into the bell tower wall but had managed to hook a leg around the upright and pull himself in enough to wrap both legs around it so that he was at least stable enough to get oriented... even if he was somewhat upside down. He could see the main street and the bank. Two men crouched on the boardwalk in front of it, firing towards the jail where JD and Buck were hunkered down behind the watering trough firing towards the bank.
Two more men were already on horseback, spurring the animals up the street towards the church. Ezra aligned the Remington on one of them and fired. He missed but the shot alerted the robbers to the new threat.
The man that Ezra had shot at looked up trying to figure out where the shot had come from and spotted Vin, dangling off the belltower. He fired off a shot at the tracker and Vin ducked and shoved off from the side of the bell tower trying to move around to the other side and out of range.
At the same time Ezra released his hold on the upright and swung around to the back of the belltower. Vin passed him as he swung in the opposite direction.
Ezra swung into the side of the belltower and hooked his legs around the upright on that side as Vin continued on past him in an attempt to get another shot at the bank robbers.
Ezra's eyes went wide as he suddenly realized that he and Vin had just effectively unwrapped the rope from around the steeple. He only had time to shout, "Vinnnnnn!" before the tracker was falling, the rope sliding along the shingles of the belltower roof, catching and releasing as shingles popped off.
Ezra dropped the Remington and made a wild grab for the upright with his good arm hoping to catch it before Vin's weight hit the end of the rope. His fingers just brushed against the upright as he was jerked backwards. He lost his hold on the upright, his legs not being able to take the strain when Vin's weight hit the end of the rope. Blinding pain shot through his shoulder as he hit the roof hard. Then he was siding down the slope of the church's main roof, on his back and head first.
Vin was tumbling down the slope of the church roof. He howled and cursed as his injured leg was slammed against the roof repeatedly. Then he was falling free over the side of the roof and the ground was rushing up at him.
Ezra, desperate to stop his slide and hopefully Vin's before they both hit the ground, swung his legs up and over his head, flipping himself over so that he was face down with his feet towards the ground. A gasping sob of pain tore loose from his lips as he again jarred his injured shoulder but he ignored the pain and tried to dig his toes into the roof to slow his and Vin's decent.
It worked somewhat and he managed to turn onto his back and dig in his heels just as he reached the edge of the roof. Shingles ripped loose and his heels broke though the roofing and caught in the top edge of the wall. For an instant he thought he'd managed to stop them.
Vin hit the end of the rope with his feet just a mere foot and a half from the ground. For a second he just hung there, swearing at the rope that felt like it was cutting him in two.
Ezra had bent his knees when his heels caught, not wanting to risk jamming them. Then Vin's weight hit the end of the rope. Seeing Vin directly below him and not wanting to land on him he did the only thing he could. When the rope again jerked him downward he trust out with his legs and catapulted off the roof, arcing over Vin to crash into one of the bank robbers knocking him off his horse.
The man hit the ground in an undignified heap, out cold. Ezra landed on top of him. The rope, that was still around Ezra's waist trailed back up and over the saddle on the horse. The horse shied sideways and the rope slid along the top of the saddle until it hung on the rifle that was still in the holster on the side of the saddle.
Vin was struggling to get to his feet and try to reach Ezra.
The horse trotted a few steps then stopped as it felt the tug on the saddle from the rope hanging on the rifle. Being a good cowpony he turned and faced the 'cow' on the end of the rope, tangling the rope farther around the rifle and the saddle horn. He began backing up, yanking Vin back down into the dust.
The tracker yelled as he hit the ground, jarring his leg again.
Ezra rolled off the outlaw and found himself being hauled along the ground on his back as the horse tried to control both the 'cows' it was stuck with.
Fortunately the rest of the peacekeepers had subdued the other outlaws and were coming to the rescue.
Chris couldn't help but grin at the sight of the two cursing, yelling men being dragged down the street by the calmly backing horse.
"Halt! Stop! Standstill you benighted equine idiot! Cease! Desist!" Ezra snarled at the horse as he struggled hanging on to the rope with his one good hand.
Vin's demands were much more colorful and completely unprintable.
The horse was obviously an excellent cow pony. It ignored the yelling and swearing and simply kept on doing its job... backing up until the 'cows' were under control and could be tied up and branded.
JD walked up to the horse, getting as close as he could, "Easy boy." He soothed, "Let me give you a hand there."
Buck and Chris shook their heads as the only ones who had ever actually worked with cow ponies they knew that the horse would only stop doing his job when the two 'cows' he had on the end of his rope where still.
The two former cowhands chuckled as they caught hold of the rope, one on either side and walked down the rope to the two, trapped men.
The cowpony stopped immediately and stood still as Chris and Buck quickly cut through the rope and dropped it to the ground.
Chris knelt beside Vin as Nathan hurried over to check on his wayward patients, shaking his head.
Buck began rolling up the rope, walking back towards the cow pony, which was now standing placidly waiting. He untangled the rope from the saddle and rifle and carried it back over to where Nathan was. "Here ya go, Nate!" He announced, "This time tie'em ta the beds. Hell, they brought their own rope!"
Vin and Ezra both looked up and managed to glare at the tall gunslinger.
Nathan just grinned, "Don't think I won't." He declared ominously. He glared at the two men. "Ya both done busted them stitches. I ain't putting up with no more of yer foolishness." He stood up and grabbed the rope from Buck. He started towards the clinic carrying it. "Josiah, bring that gambling fool. Chris, Buck ya'll grab the tracking fool!"
He marched up the street with a grin on his face. He'd teach them two to escape on him.