Category: Gen, AU, Western
Characters: Dean, Sam, Crowley
Summary: The year is 1882, the place is Yuma prison. Fergus MacLeod is awaiting trial and less than impressed with his new cellmate, the notorious outlaw Dean Winchester. Can they resolve their differences and form an escape plan, or is there a bigger agenda in play? What follows is deception, double dealing and deadly peril as the stakes increase along with the six shooters.
Fergus MacLeod reclined in bed and strained his ears until they popped. Outside rain lashed at the windows but inside the hospital, a pin dropping would have been deafening. It was easy to believe he was the only living soul in the place, which wasn’t far from the truth considering everyone was watching the flogging and the isolation chamber next door contained a corpse. It would be so bloody easy to stroll out of Yuma at this opportune moment, if it weren’t for the cuff securing his ankle to the bed, which was bolted to the floor.
The chain was barely long enough to access to the piss pot stashed below, let alone reach a man in another bed. It was a neat solution to violence between patients, minimised the need for guards and MacLeod hated the damned thing with a passion. He was bored and there was nothing inside the ward to occupy his attention. The walls were whitewashed stone, three barred windows offered pleasant views of the river but from his prone position, all he could see was glowering sky. A fierce storm was approaching and lightening flashed periodically. It was perfect escape weather, like the devil had sent it personally and MacLeod’s pulse quickened when the first clap of thunder shook the building.
There were six beds in the ward and five were currently standing empty. That suited him just fine since he didn’t need a bunch yammering, whining prisoners distracting him at such an important juncture. He flexed his back experimentally and winced at the pain, which wasn’t letting up. Winchester’s attack contained a ferocity he wasn’t expecting but the essence of his deception meant he couldn’t fight back. He could only lay there and yell for help, fending off the worst while he waited for the guards. They took their sweet time arriving, by which time his cellmate had beaten him bloody. His kidney took a hiding and he was pissing blood again, like he’d claimed but it wasn’t nearly as bad as he’d pretended. He wasn’t sure the cantankerous old bastard Singer had bought the fabrication, but it didn’t matter now. He was where he needed to be and he’d legitimately be in here another day. All he had to do was count down the hours…
MacLeod was itching to know what was happening in the yard, his curiosity inflamed by the information he’d wheedled from the scrawny gofer named Fitz. The kid looked at him like he’d crawled out from under a rock but couldn’t help spilling his guts regardless. Winchester had been sentenced to twenty lashes and MacLeod’s sphincter clenched when he considered the consequences of that. The flogging wouldn’t prevent his former cellmate joining the escape, he was way too fucking stubborn for that, and there would be swift repercussions outside prison walls. Winchester would be looking for revenge and MacLeod needed to be ready for it.
He mulled over the predicament. With foresight and planning he could neutralise Dean Winchester, no matter how dangerous he considered himself. A gunfight would be the obvious outcome but disagreements didn’t necessarily have to end like that. There were many ways to take down an enemy without resorting to bullets and MacLeod favoured a knife to the throat as an effective means of dispatch. All he needed was a single opportunity and every man needed his beauty sleep…
The whipping would be underway now. That was always the keystone to his plan since goading Winchester to violence would bring that exact punishment down on him. What he hadn’t reckoned on was Zachariah’s severity. Ordinarily a prisoner received ten lashes and though he could only wonder how Winchester earned himself the rest, he could take a pretty fair guess.
With nothing better to do, he ruminated on events which triggered the fight and congratulated himself again on his near perfect execution. Things might not have gone exactly to plan, but Fergus MacLeod was nothing if not adaptable. Winchester had shown uncharacteristic restraint when confronted with reminders of his family’s destruction and for a while MacLeod wasn’t sure he’d get the result he needed. A quick dousing in horse piss had kicked things along spectacularly and MacLeod smiled at the memory.
The rattle and grind of an opening door caught his attention and he pushed himself upright, pasting an expression of dignified suffering onto his face. There were voices in the corridor outside, a dragging sound he couldn’t identify and when a group of men passed his door he got a glimpse of Singer and the beefy black guard called Turner. Neither spared him a glance as they carried the wet and shirtless form of Dean Winchester into the treatment room opposite. He was unconscious, his head hanging down and his laboured breathing was audible at a distance. His back resembled a slab of bloody meat and MacLeod winced, trying to convince himself he wasn’t responsible for that. Fitz brought up the rear, closed the door with a bang and silence returned. MacLeod’s ears were burning now.
Five minutes later the prison doctor hurried into the same room and MacLeod waited, drumming out a staccato pattern with his fingers. They’d bring Winchester into the ward eventually but whatever they were doing was taking forever. Outside the slate grey clouds weren’t moving and the wind was picking up, howling round the walls of the hospital building. MacLeod found it soothing and coupled with the tapping of rain on glass; it lulled him into a light doze.
He started awake to the sound of quiet voices in the ward. Fitz and the doctor were laying Winchester belly down on a corner bed, the one furthest from his own and MacLeod could see bandages on his back. Blood was beginning to spot through them. Fitz frowned as Turner chained Winchester’s leg to the bed and the warden shrugged apologetically.
“I don’t like it either, son. Procedure’s a bitch.”
The doctor pulled a sheet over his patient before addressing Fitz in a voice which carried.
“Don’t leave him alone. If you need to piss then you call somebody first and make sure he takes that laudanum. Three drops every hour, you got it?”
Fitz nodded and pulled up a chair. MacLeod roundly resented the fact a two bit outlaw like Winchester was getting so much attention, not to mention morphine and was about to voice his displeasure when Captain Singer arrived. He strode directly to his bed and looked down at him coldly.
“I don’t want any shit from you. We can’t keep the two of you separate but if I hear so much as a whisper of trouble you’ll be right back in your cell.”
MacLeod screwed up his face in indignation. “I didn’t just get flogged for disobedience but it’s clear to me you value some convicts more highly than others.”
The Captain smiled tightly. “No flies on you.”
MacLeod snorted. “So much for institutional egalitarianism.”
“Stow your fancy words, MacLeod.”
He beckoned to the doctor, who followed him from the room and Turner trailed after them. MacLeod studied Fitz as he hunched over the limp form on the bed. He seemed nervous, checking his pocket watch and fussing with bottles of medicine constantly. The continual clinking of glass quickly wore MacLeod’s patience to the bone.
Medical assistants never lasted long in Yuma and he’d witnessed several come and go in this very ward. Not one of them offered a fraction of the care or attention Fitz was giving Winchester. It was like he had some kind of vested interest and that led MacLeod to ponder, yet again, the fourth man on the escape detail and whether he might be looking right at him.
Winchester coughed and MacLeod chuckled when Fitz almost fell off his chair.
“Why don’t you go ahead and kiss him better?”
Fitz shot him a look of utter contempt from beneath his scraggy fringe.
“Shut your hole, MacLeod. This is all your fault.”
“My fault? Really?” MacLeod eyed him keenly. “Did your mother never teach you there’s two sides to every story?”
“She taught me just fine, which is why I’m tending him and no one gives a shit about you.”
The barb didn’t sting, since nobody had ever given a shit about Fergus MacLeod. “You keep telling yourself that, sonny; while you play nursemaid to a worthless convict.”
Fitz reddened, seemed about to retort then bit his lip with an effort. MacLeod gave him a moment before turning the screw tighter.
“How much do they pay nursemaids these days? I hear it’s less than your average knocking shop.”
The kid glared at him. “I don’t care what you call me, MacLeod. I came here to help sick men and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
The tone of his voice said something different and MacLeod knew why.
“But this man wasn’t sick an hour ago, was he? That tends to fuck with a superior moral standpoint like yours.”
Fitz’s eyes widened in surprise and MacLeod snorted disdainfully. The kid was like an open book so he really shouldn’t be astonished when somebody read out loud.
“It’s not fair. It’s not why I got into doctoring.”
“Then it’s lucky you’re not a doctor.”
Once again Fitz looked set to retort and again he bit back whatever he was about to say.
“One more word out of you, MacLeod and I’ll call Singer.”
MacLeod let him stew. He couldn’t risk getting sent to his cell just to score points over a kid. He’d got little sleep last night on account of the pain and nobody had been tripping over themselves to dole out laudanum on his account. Tonight wouldn’t be any better so he decided to rest while he could. The sky outside was black now, rain hammering at the windows though the storm centre had moved off a few miles. The persistent wind was a clear indicator it would be back and MacLeod closed his eyes; let the weather take him someplace better.
He slept soundly and dreamlessly. When he awoke night had fallen and the ward was in shadows, illuminated by a single lamp. Rain still beat at the windows and the thunder was back, booming across the Colorado River. He dozed for a while, snug and warm before casting a discreet look at the corner bed. Winchester was face down and motionless but his bandages had been changed at some point. The fresh ones bore no traces of blood. A guard was sitting beside him and MacLeod was irked by the lack of progress. If they carried on drugging him like this, they’d be hauling his dead weight all the way to the river and his back was already hurting like a son of a bitch.
He asked for the time and learned it was nearly 8.40. The guard asked if he wanted supper and MacLeod accepted the offer eagerly; he’d slept through lunch and his stomach growled loudly at the thought of food. The man headed to the kitchen, leaving him to contemplate his last supper inside Yuma prison. They were in the final stages now and just as he was wondering where Campbell had got to, the lanky guard stepped through the door and went straight to the corner bed. He ignored MacLeod totally, but he was getting used to that. Campbell shook Winchester and seemed surprised when he didn’t react
“They’ve been dosing him with laudanum all day. He’s out for the count, mate.”
Campbell didn’t look over. “We switched it a few hours ago. He should be coming round.”
MacLeod smiled at his unwitting use of the plural, which reinforced all his suspicions. Campbell shook Winchester again and was rewarded by a slurred expletive. He smiled triumphantly though MacLeod didn’t share his joy. Winchester out cold was a lot safer all round in his opinion.
“The guard went to fetch food. He’ll be back soon.”
Campbell shrugged. “He’s off duty after that. I’ve been posted as night guard.”
MacLeod raised an eyebrow. “How did you manage that?”
“Singer wanted somebody he could trust.”
MacLeod barked out a laugh. “Then he sure as shit picked the wrong man.”
Campbell’s expression darkened and his eyes flashed dangerously but he didn’t respond. MacLeod tried again to engage him.
“No card game tonight?”
Campbell glanced at the door. “They start at nine but we can’t move until they’re all here.”
MacLeod digested that for a moment. “Is Fitz coming back?”
Campbell shook his shaggy head. “He’s off duty.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure; he was looking at Winchester like a love struck school girl. Where is he now?”
“How the hell would I know? Drunk in a saloon, most likely.” Campbell scowled. “Just shut the fuck up, MacLeod. I’m tired of your yap.”
He squatted beside Winchester and tapped his cheek lightly until he got another reaction. Winchester opened his eyes and blinked a few times before closing them again. Campbell kept up a running monologue, stopped while the guard delivered MacLeod’s supper then picked it up again. MacLeod was ravenous and he wolfed down the stew and bread while observing the scene before him curiously.
Campbell’s attentiveness was so much like Fitz’s that he wondered what kind of relationship these men shared. It clearly centred round Winchester but for the life of him, MacLeod couldn’t fathom how a fourth division outlaw instilled such devotion and loyalty in others. Campbell poured water, coaxed the patient into taking a few sips and MacLeod was getting impatient. It had to be nine o’clock by now and the storm had blown right back overhead. It was now or never and he coughed pointedly.
“Tick tock, ladies.”
Campbell ignored him but at least went up the corridor to check on the card game. He reported there were only three men playing tonight, the others deterred by the storm. They were well into their first bottle of whisky and he finally realised this was the perfect time to subdue them, while thunder obliterated any shouting and gunfire.
Winchester shook off the fog of laudanum and his face tightened with pain as he struggled to sit up, slapping away Campbell’s helping hand with a curse. When Campbell unlocked his ankle cuff he got slowly to his feet. It was a teeth grindingly laborious process but once up he seemed surprisingly steady. He hitched up his drawers, rubbed his eyes and glanced round the room, his gaze touching on MacLeod briefly. He muttered to Campbell who handed over his pistol then retrieved a rifle he’d propped by the bed. MacLeod’s pulse quickened as he realised he was alone and restrained in a room with two armed men, neither of whom bore him any love. His fear proved unfounded though, since both acted as if he wasn’t there. They exchanged a look then left the ward, Winchester stiff and limping but moving at speed in spite of it.
They were gone a long time, long enough for MacLeod to think they’d left without him and the thought made him queasy. This was his final chance to escape the noose but there was absolutely no reason Winchester and Campbell needed him except personal avarice. Perhaps they’d decided he was too much of a liability and he began regretting the lengths to which he’d pushed his cellmate. Fergus MacLeod didn’t generally miscalculate; he was too good at reading and manipulating people, but right now he felt like he’d made the biggest miscalculation of his life…
But they turned up eventually, dragging an unconscious guard between them and making no effort to be quiet. Neither spoke as they threw him on Winchester’s bed and stripped him of his uniform. Winchester pulled it on awkwardly while Campbell bound his hands, gagged him and chained his ankle. After that they pulled sheets and blankets over the body, making it seem like a prisoner was laying there. Winchester buckled on the prison issue gun belt and finally gave MacLeod his full attention.
“It’s time to go.”
MacLeod rattled his ankle chain. “You’d better unlock this then.”
Winchester’s grin resembled that of a prairie fox. “It’s time for us to go, MacLeod; you’re staying right here. Think of it as payback for that flogging if it makes you feel better.”
MacLeod’s heart began hammering but he kept his voice steady with an effort of will.
“You’re forgetting one thing. I know where you’re going and I’ll be sharing it freely with Zachariah. Might even buy myself some goodwill in the process…”
Winchester sniggered and glanced at Campbell. “Stupid fucker thinks we told him the real plan.”
MacLeod smarted at the thought of being hoodwinked by these idiots but he wasn’t about to back down. “I’ll shout for help. You’ll be dead before you get a hundred yards.”
He wouldn’t be heard over the storm, any guard in the vicinity would be unconscious or dead and Winchester was well aware of all that. But he got the threat out with conviction and his cellmate’s eyes narrowed.
“Open your mouth and I’ll put a bullet through your teeth.”
To prove it was no idle threat, his hand dropped to his hip and hung there menacingly. Campbell grabbed his arm, muttered urgently in his ear and Winchester pushed him away.
“I don’t give a shit about that anymore. This fucker’s going to hang and his last thought’ll be how he came this close to cheating death. We’ll see you in hell, asshole.”
He turned on his heel and stomped out of the ward. Campbell hung back for a moment, frowning at MacLeod before slowly taking his leave.
MacLeod could feel the hangman’s noose tightening round his neck and he nearly choked.
- ACES WILD (13/?)