Chapter 78:

Chapter 78 - The Ladder of Success


Morgan and Caden sprang into motion, shifting the two-tiered ladder across the ground with all possible haste. Without exchanging a word, the two men had agreed on the same course of action: catching the frantic, flailing lawyer above before he plunged into oblivion. They found a patch of solid ground and started sliding the ladder out across the gap.

Before it could bump up against the far wall, though, whatever force had been holding the man in place gave out. He dropped like a stone from the second-story window, howling all the way as he streaked down toward their flimsy bridge. Seconds before impact, Morgan winced–would this long, poorly constructed bridge of Caden’s really do anything to break the man’s fall?

Yes… And no. The tall man struck the joined ladders like a human meteor, and for a moment it looked as though they’d bend back and catapult him onto the very turf they stood upon.

Instead, they snapped. The wood of the far ladder splintered beneath his weight, casting the unfortunate man into the abyss. He fell down and out of sight, leaving the broken half of the ill-fated structure to hang precariously from the larger piece Morgan and Caden were standing on.

The sheriff shook his head sadly. “Damn shame,” he sighed. “Looks like Bubba Lee’s got another death to answer for.”

“We did our best,” Morgan reminded him. The words sounded hollow as they passed his lips; he knew well enough that neither he nor Caden’s sense of justice could tolerate such a loss.

He reckoned they both had a long, sleepless night to look forward to.

“Excuse me,” called a voice from below, disrupting his fit of mournful introspection, “but I haven’t died! I could use a little help, in fact, if you fine gentlemen are amenable!”

Morgan blinked and leaned forward to peek over the edge. Sure enough, on the other end of the ladder’s splintered portion, the man they’d attempted to save was still holding on for dear life. The piece of ladder he clung to hung vertically, swaying lightly in the breeze. Only a few shreds of unsplintered wood and a couple straining leather straps kept it joined to the rest on one side. Morgan suspected they had less than a minute–maybe as little as ten seconds–before the thing went plummeting to the ground far below.

“Ahh, Conrad! Glad to see you’re still hangin’ in there,” Morgan called, trying his best to come off comforting.

If he was honest with himself, though, he figured the man didn’t have a chance in hell.

“We’re goin’ to do our best to get you up. Just bear with us, okay?”

“What the hell’re we gonna go?” Caden whispered. “The guy’s hangin’ by a thread. Anythin’ we try might shake him loose!”

Morgan lapsed into deep thought, stroking idly at his chin. “Got anythin’ crook-shaped inside? Somethin’ we could use to hook on to the top rung of his ladder-piece?”

Caden shook his head again. “Nothin’ like that I’m afraid.”

“Hm. How ‘bout a long piece of metal? Like a beam or a rod?”

The sheriff thought about it for a spell, then pounded his fist against his palm. “Yeah, actually! Early on I managed to get one of the cell bars loose. Hasn’t done me much good, though–I had no way to bend it.”

“Good enough,” Morgan assessed. “Go fetch it. I’ll stay here and keep my weight on the ladder.”

Caden eyeballed him skeptically, no doubt wondering how he planned to use such a thing, but he ran off to get it all the same. He returned with the length of iron bar in short order: a narrow, rusty bit of metal just barely long enough to reach Conrad’s foothold.

“Like I say, we can’t bend it,” the older man complained. “If we try to hook a rung with this, it’ll just slide right off… Nevermind the strength it’d take to lift him up from here.”

“We’re not goin’ to try and lift him,” Morgan said. “Go and stand a few feet away with it. Hold it out above the gap and try your best to keep it level.”

The sheriff obeyed, and Morgan tugged Ricochet from its holster. Then, with a heavy sigh, he transferred the weapon to his left hand. Of course I’ve got to make a shot like this with my offhand, he lamented. Nothing’s ever easy, is it?

“Alright Conrad,” he shouted, peering down below at their potential rescuee, “we’re gonna try somethin’ now. If we get it right, you’ll be upside-down for a second or two. When that happens, you need to try and leap over here. Think you can do that?”

“...No!” Conrad replied at length. “But do what you’re going to do anyway!”

Morgan looked to the sheriff, who was holding the bar aout across the gap as best he could. “Maybe stand on it instead,” he advised, “unless you want your arms vibration’ like a tunin’ fork for the next day or so.”

Caden obliged, and with that the stage was set. It was all on Morgan, now. He braced his injured hand beneath his left wrist and took aim at the bar. With the solid, broad-bodied sheriff standing atop it, he had no doubt that it would hold firm.

As for his aim, well… That was another story.

Keep it together, Morgan.

He lifted his finger to the trigger and took a deep breath.

You’ve got this.

Morgan fired. An unbroken line of consecutive shots erupted from the tip of his gun, striking the bar again and again at his chosen angle. The sheriff did an admirable job of keeping his target steady, which aided him greatly in diverting his shots toward his real target:

The side of the ladder Conrad was hanging from.

The bullets hammered at the wood, never striking the same place twice. Each impact sent the tenuous length of beams and rungs swinging further to the left, straining the collection of leather straps that held it there almost to their breaking point, until the dangling ladder had swung parallel to the very ground they were standing on.

Morgan lowered his weapon, then, and let gravity take over. The ladder swung back the other way, groaning as it went, just barely holding to the intact portion of Caden’s improvised bridge as it spun in a wide arc. It came up even with the ground on the right hand side this time, then–just as Morgan had predicted–it kept right on going, rising higher, higher…

…Then, a split second before it reached the zenith of its spin and hung fully upside-down, the leather straps snapped. Conrad detached himself from the whole mess on instinct, clawing at the air like a frightened cat, and hurtled toward the intact portion of the bridge. Morgan leaned on it with his full weight and was relieved to find that, following his volley, Caden had wisely dashed over to help.

Conrad hit the ladder ahead of them like a sack of potatoes. The part he’d just leapt from went spinning off into the endless sky below, but, luckily, his new perch held fast this time. He crawled along the stretch of ladder with slow, faltering movements until he finally reached their feet, then he collapsed in the dirt, looking more shaken than anyone Morgan had ever laid eyes on. If it weren’t for his constant twitching, he might have thought the traumatized lawyer had fainted dead away.

“Thank you…” he gasped, dirtying his olive-green suit as he scrabbled about in the dust. “Oh, thank you…!”

Morgan smirked down at him, stowing Ricochet away after a job well done. “Don’t mention it,” he said, turning his head to regard a very relieved-looking Caden. “Nice work, Sheriff. Think you can take care of him while I’m away?”

“Sure thing,” he replied. “But what d’you mean by ‘away’? The bridge is broken–we’re stuck here.”

“Even broken things have their uses,” Morgan said, his smirk turning to a genuine smile. “Keep your weight on it, y’hear?”

With that, he turned toward the law office and charged across the broken ladder. Caden yelled something from behind, but the wind was rushing too strongly in Morgan’s ears; he couldn’t make it out. He cleared one rung, two rungs, three rungs, then jumped. And, for a moment, everything seemed to stand still.

Then he landed on the very end of the broken bridge. As expected, the springy lengths of lumber beneath his feet held up, launching him high in the air. His legs wheeled below him as he flew across the gap, his hands reaching for the sliver of porch railing protruding from the end of the office’s eastern wall.

Without thinking, he reached out to grasp the railing with both hands. Pain shot up his right arm, nearly foiling the whole attempt, but his left hand managed to maintain its grip. He grunted and huffed as he struggled to pull himself over the railing, relying on the strength of his lower body to get him clear of the barrier.

Then, in a final burst of adrenaline-fuelled motion, he swung himself up and over. He came down hard on the law office’s front porch, sinking gratefully into the shade beneath its eaves. He looked back to find Conrad and Caden on their feet, whooping and hollering at the sight of his incredible feat. Morgan grinned and rose to his full height, gracing the two men with a triumphant wave. Then, without further hesitation, he made for the door.

It was time to confront Bubba Lee.

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