As they had just a little while before, the townsfolk ran out of their homes and stores, eyes trained on the convent sitting on the plain below. For a while now they’d been ignoring the gunfire in the distance, pretending it wasn’t happening, that the sisters were not in danger and that everything that was happening was all for the best.
But this…for them to blow it again….
“My God, my God, my God!” Mrs. Crabapple had both hands over his mouth now, her small eyes as wide as grapes inside her rotund walnut-like face. “They’ve done it again! They’ve blown it up again!”
“They shouldn’t have tried rebuilding it in the first place,” Mr. Cortland stated, though he didn’t manage to sound entirely convinced.
“What if this time one of the nuns does die, huh?” Mrs. Cox grabbed Mr. Gravestein’s arm. “What if the Fishman’s have killed one of them? What’ll we do? Making ‘em go is one thing…but you don’t kill a nun!”
As before, the released water rushed down the hillside, moving even faster this time down the channels it had formed before. Gallons upon gallons flooded the plain, aiming unerringly for the convent…and for the people who would be trapped inside.
“What were we thinking?” Mr. Flax moaned, his hands on his head. “What have we done, allowing this to happen?”
“Where’s the sheriff?” Mr. Baldwin exclaimed, turning around. “Where’s Cotton?”
“Probably with Duval!” Mrs. Crabapple said, with an abruptly acidic tone. “They’ve done sold their souls, they have! Why did we listen?!”
“What’ll we do!” Mrs. Cox continued to pull on Mr. Gravestein’s arm, her repeated refrain getting louder. “What’ll we do? If one of the sisters dies….will we all go to hell?”
None of the townsfolk had an answer for her. Like spectators at a march that had just gone horribly wrong, they watched as the water headed for the convent like a growing tidal wave, .
“What’s is happening here,” a stern voice asked from the back of the crowd. “Why aren’t you people doing something to help them?”
Mr. Flax turned and his eyes lifted slowly to look up at the men on horseback flanking them. There were perhaps fifteen men and a handful of women staring down at the gathered townsfolk, all looking very competent with the rifles they carried. The one who had spoken was a older man with silvery-gray hair and a long white handlebar moustache.
“Because,” a young woman said, riding out from behind him, “they did this.”
“Donata?” Mrs. Crabapple said, recognizing the girl. “What…Who…?”
“My name is Hugo Block, madam,” the silver haired man answered, “and we’re here to help the men at the convent though…” he paused, looking up to look down at the structure, “We may be too late.”
The explosion shook the ground, and the hired guns staggered in surprise at the booming sound that spread over the whole plain. Andy and Jeb Fishman turned around, mouths falling open as what had just happened registered.
“They’ve blown their dam!” Andy yelled.
“Now you get to see it from this end!”
Andy looked up at the window, catching sight of the white
haired colonel and the blond gunslinger framed in the windows. Both men were smiling, and
“No Andy!” Jeb yelled, catching his brother’s shooting arm before he could fire. “We don’t have the time! We’ve got to get out of here!”
Andy’s growl erupted in a roar, and he shoved his brother away. Jeb fell to the ground, staring up at his brother with hurt eyes. Then those same eyes hardened, and Jeb spat at him.
“Fine! Die! See if I care!” Getting back to his feet, Jeb ran back to the open gates out of the back courtyard, following the rest of the Fishman’s hired guns as they all attempted to escape the flood heading for them.
Andy stared back up at the men laughing at him from the second floor, then ran after his brother, yelling at him to wait.
Buck held his rifle close, eyes narrowing as he trailed the gunmen slogging through the mud. He clicked his tongue as two fell face-down, while another slipped and ended up on his back.
On the other side, JD fingered the mud still in his own hair.
“Not going to make it, are they?” he deadpanned, hand falling back to his rifle.
“Nope,” Buck replied.
“God may be merciful,” Josiah said, “and so might man….” His eyes lifted to onrushing deluge, “but Mother Nature’s a bitch.”
“Josiah!” Antonia chastised.
The preacher grinned roguishly. Someone had to do it.
“Why do I still here gunshots?”
The mud was too deep, too slick. The gunmen that had jumped over the wall and run through the back gate found their footing slowed by the uneven, sticky ground. What had seemed an inconvenience before was now a severe obstacle, preventing them from doing anything more than stumble around as the water surged towards, unstoppable.
Men tried to use each other for purchase, climbing over the ones who fell, using them as stepping blocks, but it was useless. Some turned and tried to run back to the convent, perhaps to find some safety behind the back wall, or even get inside…but by now even the distance back to the courtyard was too far. The broken back door and open back windows suddenly seemed impossibly far away….
Andy Fishman fell back as the first wave hit the men furthest from him, engulfing them. They disappeared under the onrush, unable to keep their balance in the molasses like earth against the weight of gallons of water.
Chris leaned back, still smiling, when the report of gunfire turned his head. Why were Buck and the others still firing? Fishman was on the run….
“That’s not rifle-fire, Chris,” he hissed. “That’s a colt’s bark.”
“Ezra!” Chris realized. Checking once more out the window to make sure that Fishman’s men had indeed emptied back out of the courtyard, he turned and ran for the door.
“Andy!” Jeb shrieked, turning and running back to his brother.
Andy skipped backwards, half jumping, half scrambling as he ignored his younger brother’s cry. Every man for himself, he realized dumbly. He never saw the water that knocked his brother over, nor the waves that took down the rest of his hired guns like dead trees before a fierce wind. He staggered back into the courtyard and looked up at the windows. Someone stood in each of them, some carrying faces he knew, most not. They watched him without amusement now, just somberness. Hannibal Smith leaned out his window and glared down at him.
“Give my best wishes to the devil, Fishman,” he spat.
Andy yelled in frustration, once again raising his gun to point at the colonel’s smug face…
And the water slammed into his back, sending him to the hard flagstone floor of the courtyard and into blackness, his gun slipping from his fingers…he’d not even had the chance to pull back the hammer.
Ezra continued to fire upon the four shadows in the front courtyard from his position by the main doors, either ignoring or completely oblivious to what was happening around him. He couldn’t move from his location without getting shot, and they couldn’t move from theirs for the same reason. The gunfight was at a stalemate, as neither side could gain movement on the other.
“Ezra!” Chris came bounding down that stairs that led to the front door, “Ezra, didn’t you hear the explosion?”
“The what?” Ezra sent three more shots into the courtyard and clicked on an empty chamber. Without losing momentum, he switched the colt in his left hand for the Remington sitting on the floor and made a couple more shots, while his nearly useless right hand started digging in his waistcoat pocket for more bullets. Shots smacked into the frame of the door by his head.
“The explosion! Vin blew the dam!” Chris shouted, leaning over the banister to look down the narrow hallway towards the backdoor.
Ezra stopped firing and looked up at Chris, green eyes flashing with sudden understanding. Time seemed to slow as he too looked behind him down the hallway.
The water slammed into the open doorway that led to the back courtyard, splintering the already battered frame and taking what was left of the door off its hinges. It swirled down the stone hallway, sweeping into the rooms it passed, turning into a waterfall as it found the stairs leading down to the basement stores below. It seemed to rise and grow like a living thing as it surged towards the front….
Ezra leapt for the stairs, risking exposure just as the first swell swept his position. The men out front seized the moment by sending a shower of bullets in his direction, having seen the white shirt as it dove past the open doorway.
And suddenly water erupted through the doors and around the sides of the convent, catching them mid motion…..
The gambler hit the stairs at a dive, grabbing for the banister with his right hand, but the numb fingers missed, unable to grip the slick wood. At the same moment, the rising torrent swept his legs, pulling his feet out from under him, and he fell harshly on the bottom step, the bone-jarring motion robbing him of his breath just as the water swallowed him up….
And suddenly an iron grip seized Ezra’s left arm, lifting the gambler up and onto the stairs. Chris heaved, falling backwards so that he was practically sitting on the wooden steps, pulling Ezra up with him as he struggled higher, until he could get a grip around the man’s torso and get him above the spinning, swirling, whirlpooling water as it wended its way through the rooms and out the front door.
Ezra just breathed, leaning back against the other man, unblinking eyes watching as bits of wood, mud and even what looked like a gun floated and eddied past, headed out into oblivion.
“How…how could you not hear the explosion?” Chris demanded suddenly, his grip still tight on the gambler as if afraid he’d slip away again.
Ezra blinked, then slowly began to chuckle, “I…I guess I took your order to focus a little too seriously,” he suggested weakly. He shook his head, “All I could hear was the gunfire from Fishman’s men who had gotten round front. There were four of them, I might mention.” He smiled, and perhaps for the first time, noticed that he was leaning on the other man. Embarrassed, he tried to lift himself off.
About the same time, Chris noticed his grip, and abruptly let go. As Ezra slid over to sit on the stairs to the gunslinger’s right, Chris lifted his hand to his face and grimaced. There was blood on his fingers.
“You’re arm is bleeding again,” he said weakly. “Bandage must have come loose.”
“Oh,” the gambler looked at his right arm, lift hand lifting to retie the bandage, and frowned when he saw it was still tightly wound. Then, with the air of someone who just figured out the punchline to a bad joke, he looked at his left arm and groaned in annoyance.
Chris had leaned his head back on the steps, his eyes closed, taking a moment’s rest to regain his control. He looked up again at the groan.
“What?” he asked.
“My right arm’s not bleeding again,” Ezra sighed.
“It’s not?” Chris looked at him, and followed Ezra’s eyes to his left arm. Blood was seeping liberally down the white sleeve.
“Someone apparently decided I needed a matching set,” the gambler muttered, leaning his head against the wall.
For some strange reason, this made Chris laugh. “Well,” he chuckled, “Guess you could say you earned your stripes this time.”
This time Ezra’s groan reached even Murdock up in the belfry.
“Hey boys,” Buck called from the top of the stairs, looking down at Ezra and Chris with his rifle still resting on his hip, “Y’all right?”
Ezra sighed, wondering if the fact that he felt like someone had just crammed a fishbowl over his head meant he wasn’t all right. He vaguely heard Chris answer Buck in the affirmative, before he felt the gunslinger’s arms slide under his shoulders and lift him up to a standing position. He blinked blearily up at Buck….the ladies’ man looked a little distorted…and very far away.
Oh shoot. He was going to faint, wasn’t he. Frikkin’ blood loss. A couple of unlucky shots to the arm and….
“Actually,” Chris said as Ezra suddenly got heavier, “Buck…I think I could use a hand.”
The water still swirling around and through the first floor of the convent added a strange, but oddly soothing background to the men still stationed on the second floor, waiting for it to die down.
“I feel a little like I’m on a ship,” Buck said, leaning out
of the window in the room with Face in it.
“The creaking supports, the waves against the sides…if I close my eyes,
I can imagine I’m on a riverboat headed up the wide
Over on a nearby cot, Nathan finished tying the bandage around Ezra’s left arm, while the gambler sat watching him with an unfocused gaze, his green eyes glazed. The healer then slowly pushed the gambler back down in order to lie on his back, which Ezra didn’t have the energy to argue about. Instead, the gambler simply lifted up his right hand to cover his eyes, elbow pointing up, while his left – from which Nathan had actually pulled a bullet and discerned that Ezra had fractured his upper arm – was gently strapped to his chest.
Josiah sat at the head of the younger man’s cot, and he
lifted the Ezra’s right hand off his face to set it down. The gambler didn’t notice; he was asleep
already. Interestingly, so was Hannah in
the other room. The lapping water had
had a soporific effect on her; she was sleeping on the floor, with
Nathan, meanwhile, had moved to take a peek at Face, to make
sure the conman was also still sleeping soundly. After checking his bandage and his forehead,
the healer looked up at
“Awww,” Buck said, turning around in the quiet room to look down at the two conmen. “Aren’t they sweet. Innocent as babes.”
“Ha,” Nathan smiled. “Innocent as wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
“Yup,” Buck agreed, grinning, “very true.”
“They’re going to be all right?”
“Ezra will be fine in a couple of hours,” Nathan replied. “Face, though, will take longer. I know that, when the sisters come back, we’ll have to move him, and I don’t even like that fact, not until I’m sure whatever is knitting itself in there is more knit than broke.”
“I’d rather not move him into the town,”
“Army is probably already on its way,” Chris said, “if Mary got through to the judge.”
“Don’t worry,” Chris said, lifting his eyes to meet the colonel’s, “the army won’t find you.”
Chris’s smile matched the colonel’s, “What duty is that,
colonel? As Fishman said, we’re not in
“Then in that case, I’d have to say,” Chris looked at his nails, “it depends.”
“On whether you piss me off or not.”
“Water’s going down,” he said to the room at large. “Won’t be long now.”
Continue to Part Eleven (conclusion)
And because this image just seemed to apt not to add…