Chapter 101:

Chapter 101 - Sutures and Seduction


“Now, what would I need to do to get a pinch of your luck, darlin’?” the nurse said with a smile.

Despite everything, Roulette chuckled a little at that. She’d expected the prison’s chief clinician to be a scuzzy-looking drifter type like Randy and the rest of the guards, but she had been pleasantly surprised to find a kindly old lady with apple cheeks manning the infirmary instead. She didn’t seem to think much of Copperlock, the prison, or its staff either; when Randy had come in, blood streaming from his nose, she’d done little more than tip him over onto a bed and leave him to sort himself out.

She’d been much more accommodating toward Roulette and Marka. The woman had taken one look at Roulette’s improvised bandage (ripped straight from the fabric of her leggings) and laughed before bustling off to fetch some proper gauze. When she came back, she’d set about treating the bullet wound properly: alcohol to disinfect, stitches to facilitate healing, and a lovingly applied combination of dressing and bandages to hold it all together.

Marka had a rougher time of it. The formidable old nurse had sussed him out right away; with a single glance, she’d been able to tell that he’d been putting a terrible strain on his broken fingers and had threatened to deny him treatment until he apologized. Once he did, though, she set about splinting every one of his damaged digits until the job was done.

Now, after about an hour of watching the nurse work her medical magic, the time had come for the debrief. The nurse had just finished expressing her disbelief over the relative mildness of Roulette’s bullet wound–to hear her tell it, the bullet had pierced flesh alone and carried straight on through.

“Not sure you’d want my luck,” the girl mumbled, teasing at the fringes of her bandages. “I get into all kinds of trouble.”

“And you think I didn’t when I was your age?” laughed the nurse. “I’ve still got a bum knee left over from those days, you know. Yet here you are, gettin’ in gunfights, and you’ll be right as rain inside a month. There’s no justice in the world, I swear!”

She winked, then turned to Marka. “And as for you, young man, I can only hope I got through to you about those fractured fingers. If you use ‘em, you’ll lose ‘em. I’m not kiddin’ around here!”

“Yes ma’am,” Marka replied, nodding emphatically. “I will be careful.”

“If you absolutely must squeeze a trigger, use your left index. It’s in better shape,” she instructed. Then she looked to Antony, squinting as if she were trying to ascertain what–if anything–his ailment had been.

“I’m not hurt or anything,” he clarified. “But I wouldn’t mind hearing how to be just like you when I grow up.”

“Oh. Well, that’s easy, sugar. Eat healthy, get some medical trainin’, and lose your only son down in Copperlock’s mines,” she answered drily. “That last one will get you good ’n’ bitter. Then all you’ve got to do is live a lot of years.”

She stepped back and made a show of dusting off her hands before they came to rest on her hips. “So, what’s next for you all? Judgin’ by the state Randy’s in, I take it you’re fixin’ to break out?”

They each gave a nod, looking more than a little uncertain. She was a nice lady, and seemed sympathetic enough, but there was no way of telling how she’d react to such a revelation.

Thankfully, the smile that spread across her wrinkled face said it all.

“In that case, good luck! Give the warden a stiff kick in the ass for me on your way out, would you? He’s had it comin’ for a dog’s age.”

At that, Roulette nearly teared up. She’d never received such staunch, nonjudgmental support from an older woman before, and found herself hugging the nurse around the middle before she even knew what she was doing. “I don’t know how to thank you,” she breathed, struggling to maintain her composure.

The woman just smiled and stroked her hair. “Didn’t you hear what I said about the stiff kick in the ass, darlin’?” she joked. “Anyway, don’t mention it. You all just do me a favor and keep on livin’, y’hear? It’s grim enough out here already without good folks like you goin’ belly-up.”

After such a restorative respite, it was hard to say goodbye. But say goodbye they did, one after the other, before heading back out into the wide, gray hall of the administrative wing. With their bodies restored and the most arduous part of their escape behind them, there was only one thing left to do:

Wrest their guns–and their freedom–back from Lochlan McQueen’s grubby little hands.


After hours of swinging, squirming, and scraping his wrists raw, Morgan had abandoned all hope of getting loose.

His hanging place, high above the enclave’s smoky crown, was too perilous; his bonds, too tight. And, even if he somehow surmounted those two obstacles, the big, metal door to Copperlock’s tower seemed too distant to reach.

The man was cooked, both figuratively and literally. He’d been baking in the sun since shortly before noon, and it was getting mighty old. The fact that he had nothing to occupy his mind made the whole experience ten times worse; at this point, he reckoned even a long chat with Mimi would be preferable.

That settles it, then, he thought grimly. Sun’s cooked my brain. I’m losing my marbles.

He had to try something. Even if it was pointless, the mere act of struggling to earn a chance at freedom would keep him going just a little longer–then, at least, he could be ready with a quip or two instead of gales of manic laughter when Gunn’s people came to collect him.

Morgan turned his attention to the rusty metal door to his left. The top of it was about level with his thighs, so theoretically he’d be able to shift it with the tip of his toe at the very zenith of a left-hand swing.

That was his thinking, anyhow. So he got to swinging:

Right. Left. Little more right. Little more left.

Far right. Far left. Far right…


He managed to buffet the door with his foot, but the thing didn’t budge.


He managed to kick it again. Same result.



A sudden series of explosions issuing from the enclave’s northwestern wall caused him to lose all control of his motor functions. His legs wheeled in the air, leaving the sliding door un-budged, as he craned his neck in the direction of the blasts… But the blanket of smoke over that particular quadrant of the community proved too thick to penetrate. Whatever was going on down there, he was in no position to perceive what it was.

Maybe it’s for the best, he told himself, lapsing back into a dispirited dangle. He suspected that the noise was a byproduct of Segue Enclave’s industrial operations, which reminded him of just how much still stood between him and the promise of escape. Even if he did somehow wriggle out of his bindings and swing his way into the tower, what then? Sure, Copperlock had been kind enough to leave Ricochet untouched on his hip, but was he really going to be able to fight his way through an entire enclave’s worth of opposition by himself?

It didn’t seem remotely likely. Especially if he intended to break Marka out of prison–and pluck Roulette from the jaws of whatever ungodly fix she’d gotten herself into–before getting back to their regularly scheduled suicide mission.

No, it was past time for him to face the facts: he was the rescuee, here. There was no other way to square it. Bored as he was, he’d be better off leaving his delusions of heroism at the door–even if he was succumbing to a variety of madness insidious enough to make Mimi seem like acceptable companionship.

Then, just as he decided to abdicate all responsibility for his own well-being, a fresh wave of explosions erupted from directly below. He hollered in surprise and wriggled in place, staring down at the base of the tower in shock, but the source of the racket was no more distinct this time than the last. Whatever it was, though, it was definitely making an impact: the foundations of the tower creaked and shook with every blast, sending tremors rattling up through the structure…

…Until, finally, it began to fall.

Morgan screamed bloody murder, taking advantage of the moment he spent in freefall to thrust his hands out and grip the cable above for dear life. The tower itself plummeted, unchecked, toward the enclave’s northwestern wall and slammed into it with enough force to cave it in halfway. It ripped through the layers of cement and sheet metal beneath with a sound that set Morgan’s teeth on edge, even as the cable that supported him jolted so violently he felt his arms might pop out of their sockets.

The world around him was a whirl of chaos. He whipped around like a kite caught in a crosswind, fully expecting to be dashed against the ground below at any moment… But, surprisingly, that moment never came. In time, the jerking motions of the cable relented, and eventually slowed to a crawl. Relieved, Morgan released his iron grip on the cable to find himself hanging outside the enclave–just dangling beyond the wall, the crane arm that supported him having survived the building’s collapse unscathed. The sand and scrub of the open range lay several feet beneath him, both invitingly close and impossibly, depressingly far.

It wasn’t long before a figure came striding across that tantalizing terrain. He saw them emerge from a large gap in the enclave’s wall–ostensibly caused by the series of explosions he’d heard earlier–and come sauntering toward him with a posture too casual to be exhibited by anyone but the orchestrator of the whole mess.

As the figure came closer, Morgan was able to make out a lined face, long, graying hair, and a leather duster like those the Niners wore. When she finally arrived before him, she looked up at him with an easy smile and tipped her hat.


Morgan opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. She didn’t seem bothered by it, though, taking it as an opportunity to look him up and down. Eventually, she brought her cracked lips together in a low whistle.

“You’re better-lookin’ than I remember,” she observed.

“Don’t suppose you’re game for a tumble?”

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