The Way Home

by Arren

Chapter One



dunno what time they brung him in. It musta been sometime after midnight. Probably a couple hours after. Lights out at the Kane County jail is midnight and I remember laying there, listening to the crickets while I dozed off. Next thing I know, I hear keys jangling, doors slammin’, and the door to the cell next to mine crashing open and banging against the bars. Enough noise to wake the dead, not to mention an out of work cowpoke trying to sleep off a three day drunk.


The bunk that I lay in shook as a weight was dropped, no thrown, onto the bunk right next to it on the other side of the bars. I raised up to see who the new occupant was, but it was too dark to see much. Just outlines of two big deputies, musta been Jake and Early, leaning over the bunk and struggling with the man they had just unceremoniously dumped. He seemed to be putting up a little fight. Futile if you ask me, but if I said so, I might get my share of his beating. I’d tangled with Jake and Early before, both separately and together. They was mean. Just plain ol’ bone-deep mean. I’m not afraid of any man. I’m bigger’n most, but I don’t like to fight. I hurt a man once, bad. So I don’t fight no more.


The new fella didn’t fight for long. Seems like most of his fight had been spent awhile before he got this far. ‘Course the final blow that Jake let him have didn’t help none. A right hook from that angle probably wasn’t enough to knock a healthy man down, but this fella’s head was right next to the bars, and when it snapped back, that’s all she wrote. Well, at least he was out of his misery and I could get some sleep.


Early struck a match and lit the lantern on the wall by the door to the outer office. It wasn’t much light, but it was enough. Jake got to work taking the new fella’s belt off him. They both pulled and wangled till it come off. I guess they figured that was enough ‘cause they both left the cell and slammed the door. After they closed the outer door, I realized they had left the lantern burning.


The meager light gave me a chance to check out my new bunkie. He was on his side, back to me. I got up on my knees and leaned close to the bars. He seemed to be breathing. That was a good sign. Wonder what he did? I noticed his hands were tied together in front of him. Damn those two! Couldn’t they at least untie him in the cell?


I took a deep breath and hollered, “Hey Jake! You gonna untie this feller’s hands? Ain’t no need to be tied when you’re in a cell!”


No answer.


“Jake!” I waited for an answer. “Early, you out there?”


“Shut up and go to sleep, Macy!”.


Okay, I got my answer. Guess I should be thankful they didn’t come in and deliver it personal.


Okay, I’d have to see what I could do. Bein’ the sensitive soul that I am, I hate to see another’s discomfort. Besides that, his hands looked blue. I couldn’t see real well in the dim light, but damn, they sure looked blue.


I reached through the bars and grabbed a belt loop. He was scooted to the outside edge of his bunk, but I managed to get one finger through and rolled him onto his back. Okay, well this didn’t look too good. My eyes were adjusting to the light by now, and what I saw didn’t make me optimistic for this feller’s continued good health.


He seemed pretty slim, had dark hair and it looked kinda curly. Couldn’t tell if it was brown or black, but it was dark. He was layin’ down so I couldn’t tell how tall he was, but he wasn’t too tall. About average, I’d say. Not like me. My Ma always said she don’t think she coulda possibly give birth to me seein’ how she was only a smidge over five feet. Daddy was five and eight inches. I didn’t stop growing until I was six and seven inches, and I was that before I was sixteen. She always figures God sent me to her because he knew that she wanted lots of boys, but he could only let her have one, so he made it a big one.


The thing I noticed right off ‘bout this feller was his clothes. They was workin’ man’s clothes. I think they used to be blue. Kinda light blue, like the sky on a pretty spring day, but sometime recently, they had got a bit mussed up. They was covered with twigs and leaves and big brown patches of dirt. He was wet too. Not just a little, but wet all over. Soaked to the skin. And I was right, his hands was blue. Those mean buzzards had tied them too tight.


I reached over him to grab another loop on the other side and roll him toward me on his side. That put his hands right up against the bars and I grabbed ‘em. Sure enough, they was cold as a witch’s tit. I started working on the ropes, but it weren’t easy. The knots were wet and, being in my current situation, I didn’t have the luxury of my huntin’ knife.


I musta worked for a half hour on that rope. My fingers is kinda big, like summer sausages my Ma used ta say. It took awhile, but finally I was able to get them loose and tossed the rope behind me. I took both his hands in mine and started rubbin’. I had a lot of practice at this sorta thing. See, when I worked for Doc Slater, he used to have me rub down the newborns to pink em’ up. I rubbed piglets, calves, foals, puppies. You name it, I rubbed it.


I kept rubbin’ and after a few minutes he moaned a little. I wondered what he’d think to wake up and find a big bloke like me holding his hands. I had to chuckle. He acted like he wanted to wake up but couldn’t quite muster the sentiment. I stooped down close to his face and watched.


“Hey mister,” I whispered. “You wanna wake up some?”


His eyes fluttered open for a minute. They were blue, kinda like his shirt, only darker. He looked at me, but I don’t think he saw me. He had that watery, unfocused look about him. In a minute, his eyes drifted shut again, kinda like those thick eyelashes were just too heavy to hold up anymore.


His hands felt about the same as mine now, so I let them go and put them on the bunk. In spite of being asleep, or unconscious, or whatever he was, he was shivering. Hell, I was cold, and he musta been more cold ‘cause he was wet.


I been in a few jails in my time, not many mind you. I’m basically a law-abiding fellow. I mind my business and try not to get in people’s way, but every jail I ever been in had one thing in common. The window consists of a hole in the wall with bars over it. No matter the time of year, the jail cell was as hot, or as cold as the outside.


I heard the outside door slam. That meant that one of them no-good deputies had went home, leaving the other on guard. I hoped it was Early. In the mean department, he was a few degrees this side of Jake. I’d been able to talk to him before when it was just him an’ me, and he wasn’t quite so ornery when Jake wasn’t there to prod him. I kinda felt a little for Early. He was uglier than a ape and his breath was bad enough to knock a buzzard off a shit wagon. Maybe that’s why he was so mean. All he needed was some blind, smell-impaired woman to take him on and he’d probably be fine. Seeing as this shit-hole of a town was way short on women, especially blind nose-less women, I didn’t think there was much hope for poor Early. I decided to give it a go.


“Early! That you out there?”


“Yeah, whattaya want?”


“It’s pretty cold in here. You reckon me and this here fella could have us some blankets?”


He didn’t answer me but I heard his chair scuff on the floor. The uncouth ass hadn’t taken his spurs off either, so every step was telegraphed. In a minute he came in carrying a small bundle. He glanced at the fella in the bed, then brought the blanket to me. There was only one.


“That’s all I could find.”


“Damn, Early. It must be ‘bout like the ice house in here and this man is wet. You put him in here all wet, Early. He’s gonna catch his death.”


“Just shut up, Macy.” He shoved the blanket through the bars. “He’s gonna hang anyway. Don’t matter none if he’s sick when we do it.”


Now I pride myself on being a man of experience, but I wasn’t expecting this. I don’t know why. “Hang him? What for?”


“Just shut up an’ go to sleep, Macy. Ain’t none of your business.”


Early turned away and left, closing the wooden door noisily behind him. I musta been in a daze. Finally I shook myself and stepped back. I opened up the blanket and held it up. It was kinda thin. I could see light through it in spots, but it was better’n nothing. I went over to my bunk and climbed on on my knees. I took the blanket in one hand and put it through the bars, then put my other arm through a few bars down and tried to spread it over my neighbor. It wasn’t quite big enough to reach his feet, but it would have to do. I pulled it up almost to his ears and tucked in the parts I could reach. He didn’t budge. Nary an eyelash fluttered. Just as well. I settled back on my own bunk, wrapped my arms around my chest, stuck my cold hands in my armpits, and tried to go back to sleep.


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Chapter Two