Authors: Larry D. Sweazy
A desk sergeant sat just inside the tall double
doors leading into the jail. He was an older man, with broomstick arms, a mustache that was neatly tended to, and eyes that looked like they could have belonged to one of the vultures overheadâblack and glassy, focusing, unimpressed, on Josiah as he walked in the door.
“Remove your weapons,” the sergeant demanded, then extended his hand. He was dressed in a dark brown long-sleeve shirt, wore a silver star above his heart, and was hatless.
Josiah stared at the man, sure that they hadn't met before.Â “I'm a Ranger.”
“I don't care if you're Ulysses Simpson Grant hisself. Rules is rules. No man gets past me without checking his gun.”
“Is Sheriff Farnsworth in his office?”
“Won't hep you none.”
“What's your name?
“What's it matter, Ranger? If'n you really are one. I hear everything sitting here at this desk, trust me on that. You could be John Wesley Hardin for all I know, 'ceptin' I'd know that scoundrel anywheres.”
Josiah shrugged. “I guess it doesn't matter. I'm not the enemy here, Sergeant, that's all.”
“The name's Emery Jones, for what it's worth to you. Every man who steps in that door there might have cause for trouble. You here on official bizness?”
“No, sir. I'm here to see a friend.”
“Check your weapon then. That's all there is to the matter.” Jones stood up and squinted at Josiah. He wore a gun on each hipâSheriff's Model Colts with three-inch barrels, hanging on a nicely tooled belt. “You look familiar. You ever been in here before?”
“Not recently.” Josiah glanced away. There was a newspaper scattered off to the left side of the desk. His name and description had been in the
more than once in the last few months, most recently for the killing of Cortina's spy, Edgar Leatherby, aka Leathers.
The light was dim inside the foyer, only a few sconces burned along with a lamp on the desk. The ceiling was high, fourteen or fifteen feet, and the hanging lamps hung unlit. There was a musty smell mixed with an underlying odor that was not too difficult to identify. The jail smelled of human excrement, piss and shit, and the natural odor that came from warehousing men without the demand, need, or decency of washing facilities that would probably just serve as a manner of escape or violence.
“I swear you look like somebody I should know.”
“I don't think we've ever met,” Josiah said.
Sergeant Jones twitched quickly, casting a quick glance to the exterior wall, where all of the wanted posters hung. Satisfied that Josiah's picture wasn't there, he turned his attention back to him. “I guess you ain't John Wesley Hardin.”
“It'd be a fool thing to do, walking straight into the jail, if I was an outlaw, wouldn't it?”
“It's been done. Outlaws start thinking they're smarter than the rest of us, kind of a ruse, you know. Rules is rules. No guns, no matter who you is. No knives, either.” Jones nodded at the Bowie knife strapped on Josiah's belt. “You got a stingy gun hidden about, I'll need that, too.”
“I only have what you see, nothing else.”
“So you say.”
“I suppose you're just doing your job. Can't be too careful, I expect.”
“There's no supposin' to it. Who you here to see?”
“Scrap Elliot. He's a Ranger, too.”
Jones shook his head no. “Ain't got no Scrap Elliot here.”
“Yup. Sure as it's a fine spring day and I'm stuck here inside this stinkin' hole, talkin' to the likes of you, I am.”
“There's no Scrap Elliot here?” Josiah repeated.
“There's a Robert Earl Elliot. But no Scrap.”
“That's him.” Josiah looked to the locked door behind Jones, which obviously led to the cells. There was noise coming from behind itâhoots and hollers, laughter, and snoring. It was most likely where the smells were emanating from, too.
Just inside the foyer was a small room with another hallway leading off in the opposite direction. It held the offices, kitchen, and residence for the sheriff. Josiah had been in the sheriff's office once, but no farther than that. He had no desire to see the inside of the residence, or Rory Farnsworth for that matter. Though he doubted that there was any way around that. If he was going to help Scrap, he was certain he had to speak directly to the sheriff.
“I know who you are now. You're that Ranger who kilt his captainÂ .Â .Â . among other things. Josiah Wolfe. That's who you are, ain't it?”
“You're a lucky man to be walkin' around free, and still a Ranger to boot. They sure did scurry you out of the city for a while. Looks like that ploy worked, eh?”
“Don't believe everything you read.”
“Because what's in the papers isn't always true. It's been my experience that newspaper writers hold grudges and make things up to suit their aims.”
“Really?” Jones asked sarcastically.
“Yes, really. If I killed a man unjustly, I'd be behind bars myself, or hung out in the gallows, wouldn't I? Put away in a prison instead of a jail if I was allowed to live out my days. I'm an innocent man who was just doing his duty. My guess is, my friend Elliot doesn't belong here himself.”
“Rangers ain't no better'n the State Police if'n you ask me. He's here 'cause he murdered a whore, plain and simple. He'll have a noose around his neck before the week's out, Ranger or not. You wait and see.”
“Nobody asked you about the Rangers, did they?” Josiah hesitated, then unbuckled his gun belt, put it on the desk with ease and respect, and followed it up with his knife. “Now, let me in to see my friend.”
Jones took the weapons and walked over to the wall-sized wood armory, then unlocked it, put them in, and locked it back up. He walked back to Josiah with a frozen look on his face, void of any emotion. “Put your arms out.”
“I need to see for myself that you're not carryin' anything else.”
“I gave you my word.”
“I don't trust anyone. Do as I ask or leave. It don't matter to me.”
Josiah dropped his head a bit in defeat and extended his arms. “I've said those words before myself. I surely understand what you meanÂ .Â .Â .”
*Â *Â *
Jones led Josiah down a long, dank, smelly hall
with an exterior wall on one side, facing out to San Antonio Street, and the jail cells on the other. A series of barred windows let in the light, but there were no lamps within sight or available to the prisoners, for mischief or warmth. Even in the throes of a fine spring day, there was a chill in the air that caused Josiah to shiver.
The walk garnered some attention from the prisoners, though a quiet wave followed after them as they passed by a line of twelve fully tenanted cells. There was another wing of cells behind these and one above them. There was rumor of a dungeon, a hole for solitary confinement, but Josiah had never been in the bowels of the jail, and he hoped to never have reason to be.
One man stood nervously at the front of his cell, about halfway down to the end of the hall. He was a short man, with a bald patch on the top of his head, the rest of his stringy black hair wispy and unattended. His clothes seemed to suggest nothing in particular, whether he was a saddle bum or an outlaw, but what stuck out about the man, other than a long, cold stare, was the fact that his forehead was soaked with sweat. The odd little man was either nervous or ill with a contagion, and Josiah wanted no knowledge of either cause. He hurried his step a bit to get past him.
Scrap was in the last cell, at the very end of the hall. Instead of being in line with the rest, it crooked around a corner, stuffed in an alcove, and was about half the size of the other cells.
“You got company, Robert Earl Elliot,” Jones said.
Josiah stood behind the skinny sergeant, not trying to hide, but trying to get an extra second to gauge Scrap's state of mind and possibly his innocence or guilt.
Scrap was just a bit over twenty years old, maybe twenty-one, Josiah wasn't sure. He'd never asked directly. It was obvious the boy was young. He could hardly grow a full row of stubble under his nose, much less on his face, and his words and actions were mostly impulsive, lacking any wisdom or experience at all. Still, Scrap was a fine horseman and a better shot. Because of both skills, regardless of his untamed attitudes, Josiah owed the boy his life. Friendship was not an act of obligation, but respect was.
The boy was curled up on a cot at the back of the cell. Shadows fell hard in the alcove, and he looked more like a lump of grain sacks stuffed under a blanket than a body. But Jones's voice had roused him, and Scrap rolled over then sat up slowly on the edge of the cot.
He had a hard, thin face himself and a head full of unruly hair the color of coal. His eyes were blue, but distant, and he was rangy, not carrying an ounce of extra fat on his lean, muscular body. His shirt was soiled, blood-stained on the right side, and his lip was puffed, like he had taken a punch square in the mouth.
“I figured I'd see you here sooner or later, Wolfe.”
“You got anyone else who knows you're here?”
“Ain't a soul in this old world that gives a hoot about what happens to me, Wolfe. You know that.”
Scrap's parents had been killed in a Comanche raid when he was a few years into his teens. He was left to care for his younger sister, Myra Lynn, who was now at a convent in Dallas, serving the church and her God as an Ursuline nun. Josiah had never met Myra Lynn, but he had met Scrap's aunt Callie, who owned a boardinghouse in Fort Worth, and he knew that Scrap was, in fact, alone in the world, other than her and his relation to the Ranger company he belonged to. And there was no question that no one from the company would come to his aid, especially not if the charge of murdering a whore was true.
“I'm here,” Josiah said.
Jones stepped back. “I'll leave you two to yourselves.”
Josiah nodded, and Jones started to walk away, but he stopped once he was about to turn the corner. “You can see yourself back to my desk, but don't be talkin' to none of these heathens on the way out, you hear?”
“No worry there,” Josiah said.
“Good.” Jones walked on, eventually disappearing.
Scrap walked up to the front of the cell. “It's good to see you, Wolfe. I didn't mean nothin' by what I said.”
“I know. Now, tell me what happened.”
Before Scrap even got a word out of his mouth, a wave of screaming and shouting broke out, echoing back to Josiah and ScrapÂ .Â .Â . followed by a loud, ear-shattering
An immediate rush of air pushed through the jail, followed by the quick crumbling of the exterior wall. Dust and chunks of the brick wall flew everywhereâit was like a stick of dynamite had gone off just outside the jail. A hole big enough to ride a horse through suddenly appeared on the street side of the jail.
Josiah ducked and covered, shielding himself from a thick gray cloud that had filled the hallway and from chunks of wall that were flying through the air. It was like standing in the middle of a windstorm on the driest day in the summer; he couldn't see two inches in front of his face. His ears rang from the explosion, but he was far enough away not to have been seriously injured, at least he didn't think he'd been. He could taste the dust, smell the black powder residue of the dynamite, but still feel all of his limbs.
Only one thought crossed his mind as he shoved himself into the corner of the alcove: He was in the midst of a jailbreak, and there was nothing he could do. He couldn't hardly see, couldn't hardly breathe, and worst of all, he had no weapon to defend himselfÂ .Â .Â . or the jail.
Distorted imagesâsilhouettes of a group of men
rushing into the dust cloud, and then a team of horses following, whinnying and protestingâappeared through the hole in the wall, materializing like a willful dream collaborated on by all of the hostile prisoners in the jail.
Light anxiously pushed in sharply defined rays through the eight-foot-tall hole. It was as if such bright light had never touched the inside walls of the gloomy place, even though this level of the jail wasn't the dungeon.
As the dust cleared and the images grew less distorted, and more real, Josiah knew he was right in his thinking: This
There was yelling and screaming everywhere. Someone fired a gun just outside of the wall. All of the sounds echoed and reverberated harshly inside the walls. Josiah's ears still rang from the initial explosion.
A rope had been tied to not one, but three horses, and two men appeared alongside the horses and simultaneously tied the rope to the metal door of one of the cells.
There was no sign of Sergeant Jones, any of the other of deputies, or the sheriff, Rory Farnsworth. They certainly had to be aware of the explosion and, more certainly, what its purpose was. Anyone within five miles had heard the rumble of the dynamite and felt the ground tremble for a second or two. Surely the jail was fortified and staffed by more men than just the grouchy old desk sergeant.
Or maybe not. The fact that it was broad daylight, coming straight up on noon, the timing of the jailbreak was brazen, and a surprise to Josiahâhe would never have suspected a thing like this could happen in the middle of the day. Whoever was behind the plan must have had good reason to take such a blatant risk. Maybe the planners of the act were aware of something that Josiah was not, concerning the whereabouts of the sheriff and his men. It was the only thing that made sense.
For the moment, there was nothing Josiah could do but stay where he was and not give any indication that he had anything to do with the law.
If these men were as serious as they appeared to be, shooting a Texas Ranger would be of no consequence to them. Most likely, killing him would be just one more bloody deed to brag about after it was all said and done.
Outlaws had a mean streak that Josiah could never understand, and he hoped he didn't share any of their spiteful and heartless tendencies, like he'd been recently accused of in the newspapers.
The men on the horses were becoming clearer as the explosion and its residue quickly settled to the ground.
They were dressed in black dusters, with kerchiefs pulled up over their noses, both for protection against the dust and so they couldn't be identified. Typical. Nothing stood out. Nothing to identify them later. Even their hands were covered with black gloves. It was almost like they had uniforms on, another odd twist of forethought that stood out to Josiah, as he regained his senses and tried to pay attention to what was happening.
All of the prisoners in the cell block had recognized what was happening as Josiah had. They started shouting, banging against their metal cell doors with whatever they could find to draw attention to themselves: tin cups, pillows, shoes, their own bodies. It was an orchestra of salvation, pleas to be set free, beggars held tightly in the shackle of steel with no promise of escape, everâuntil now. The voices and cries were almost as loud as the explosion.
Where was Farnsworth?
Josiah wondered silently.
There was no way anyone within several blocks could not have heard the ruckus.
None of the prisoners had any privacy in the construction of the fortress of the Black Hole of Calcutta, not that it matteredâthey had all given up their rights when they committed whatever crime had landed them in the jail in the first place. There were no brick walls in between the cells, just bars, row after row, like cages set next to one another, and now that the dust had completely fallen to the floor, Josiah could see all of the way to the entrance.
Every confined prisoner was one step from madness, screaming and dancing like a fire had been lit, trapping each man even further, his life at riskâthough there was no immediate threat of death, not even the slightest hint of smoke now. And the smell of freedom was an unforeseen stroke of luck that none of the prisoners could ignore. They were all in a frenzy, like someone had kicked a nest of red ants, sending them scurrying for escape.
“Let me out!” came a scream.
“Take me!” said another man.
“I'm next!” another voice shouted, rising over the rest.
The only man, it seemed, who was not excited about the break was the sweaty, mousy-looking man that Josiah had noticed as he and Jones passed by.
That man stood in the center of his cell, his head slightly down, his hands clasped in front of his waist, almost like he was looking down on a grave, praying. He was completely unaffected by the chaos around him, other than that he was sweating more profusely now. He did not share in the enthusiasm that was so palpable in the jail that it could be tasted.
“What the hell is going on, Wolfe?” Scrap whispered.
Josiah was stuffed as far back in the corner of the alcove as he could get. He held his index finger to his dry lips, hoping to avoid notice by the men conducting the jailbreak.
Scrap kicked at the ground, groaned, eyed Josiah angrily, then turned his attention back to the horses and the men standing in the blast hole.
“Pull!” came a command, and the horses danced backward with all their might, the rope on the cell wall tightening immediately.
After a quick tussle, the door popped off with a hard-fought and unifying tug from all three horses. Only after the metal fell to the ground, creating an immediate cloud of dust, did one of the horses begin to protest more strenuously than any of them had previously. Something had spooked the solid gray gelding. Fear and frustration boiled in the horse's eyes. If there was any identifiable creature among the outlaws, it was this horse.
The rider, who sat tall in the saddle, tried to calm the horse, but didn't seem to be able to get it to settle down.
“Explosion set it off,” Scrap mumbled. “Damn fool's gonna let that horse hurt itself if he don't get it out of there fast.”
Josiah said nothing. Just watched and kept an eye on Scrap. The boy knew horses and their behavior better than any man he knew, and the thought of one in trouble made the boy visibly nervous, agitated.
Scrap started pacing, pushing at the bars that separated him from his freedom, and from helping the horse. “You gotta get me out of here, Wolfe.”
Josiah shook his head no.
“Untie the damn thing,” the rider yelled. “Now. Untie it now!”
Only a few minutes had passed since the explosion, but it seemed longer. Everything was happening at lightning speed. The gang of men looked well rehearsed, with distinct roles to playâthe only hitch so far seemed to be the frightened horse.
A distant shot rang out, followed by another and another.
The rider jumped out of the saddle on the gray gelding, holding on to the lead as firmly as he could, and quickly untied the rope from the cell door. The horse continued to nay and protest, but it quit bucking once the rider dismounted. Josiah didn't have the insight to a horse's mind that Scrap didâit was one of the reasons that Josiah had grown comfortable with riding with him.
Once the rope was untied from the gray gelding, another man rushed inside the open jail cell, glanced over his shoulder in a panic, then grabbed the mousy man and headed back for the horse. The mousy man offered no verbal complaints, but he didn't aid in the escape, either. It was almost like he had to be dragged to the waiting horse.
It was an odd sight for Josiah, seeing a man busted out of jail in such dramatic fashion, not showing any emotion, specifically joy, or relief. He wasn't sure if the behavior mattered, but it sure did register with him as odd.
“Trouble's a-comin',” someone just outside the hole in the wall shouted inside.
The rider pushed the man up on the horse and yelled back, signaling for the first time that he might be the leader of the gang. “You know what to do.”
A heartbeat later, more shots rang in the air, sounding much like a July 4th celebration. There was no way for Josiah to know how many men were actually involved in the jailbreakâhe couldn't see beyond the blast hole, but from the sound of the guns, there were at least five, maybe more.
The gray gelding was quickly backed out of the hole, and in another half minute, the gunshots were trailing away, the firing continuing but growing distant.
The only noise in the wake of the jailbreak was the disappointed screams and whistles of the prisoners left behind. If there had been more will and opportunity, Josiah was certain that a riot could have broken out at any moment, leaving him in a worse position than he was in when the jail wall exploded open.
“They're gone,” Scrap said.
Josiah nodded. “Keep quiet. I need to go find Jones and Sheriff Farnsworth.”
“Well, I ain't goin' anywhere.”
“Don't worry, I'll get you out of here.” Josiah pulled himself out of the corner and started to head away from Scrap's cell but stopped just at the farthest corner of it. “Unless you deserve to be in here.”
“I didn't kill no one, Wolfe. I swear.”
“All right, that's all I need to hear.”