Ella had stopped wailing by the time they reached the jail. The sheriff was shocked half out of his skin when he saw the scruffy, buckskin-clad stranger come stumping into his jail leading a woman tied by her hands with rough rope. His eyes flicked sharply from Vin’s side-arm, to the rope, to the bleeding wound in Ella’s arm. There was doubt, and even some outrage at the vision, but something about the stranger’s momentum evidently convinced him she needed to be locked up, despite the lack of explanation.
“Shot a man’s wife,” was the bare bones of the story he got.
Vin wasn’t sure whether Ezra had loosed off a shot of his own, or whether Chris had. Three bullets had been fired and two had hit their target. From Chris’s face, Vin figured if he had taken aim this time around, he would have made sure he didn't miss.
“Shot dead?” the sheriff asked as they key scraped in the lock. Once Ella was inside the cell, she’d sat down on the cot and leaned her head between her knees, her curtain of long dark hair falling to the ground, her hands scrunched in her lap. From time to time she muttered something to herself.
Vin swallowed hard. “Not sure.”
“This one needs a doctor.”
Vin looked at her sitting there, rocking slightly backwards and forwards. She was dressed well as always, in unusually sober gray silk. “Tell me where he is, I’ll fetch him.”
“What about the other lady, the wife? She-?”
“Being taken care of.” Vin leaned into the bars, spoke to Ella. “And you better hope so.”
“She,” Ella said, her head rising. She laughed at him in scorn, her eyes glittering. “She. He.” Then she looked beyond Vin, towards the jailhouse door and the street. “Chris isn’t married.” She sounded calm, and that made the hairs stand up on the back of Vin’s neck.
He called the doctor for her, much as it stuck in his craw. Then he left the doc and the sheriff trying to work it all out, jogged back to the hotel. The place was still in a fair amount of turmoil after all the excitement. Upstairs, Chris was leaning on the wall outside room 215. Slowing his step to join him, Vin tried to ask the question stuck in his throat.
“Stupid plan,” Chris said harshly before he’d got it out. Sounded as if he was already well mired in a bog of self-recrimination. “Stupid fuckin’ plan.” He rubbed the back of one blood-stained hand across his forehead, then stared at it. “His stupid fuckin’ plan - never should’ve gone along with it.”
“How’s he doing?”
Dull eyes stared at him. “Nathan got the bullet. But he’s bleeding bad.” It seemed to be an explanation as to why he was standing out in the corridor rather than being in the room with Ezra.
Vin looked at the door, touched his palm on it instinctively. “She’s behind bars. Sheriff wants a statement from you ‘bout what happened.”
Chris laughed humorlessly. “Obvious ain’t it.”
“To me... maybe.” Vin couldn’t keep the doubt out of his voice and Chris looked sharply at him. “Sheriff don’t know what the hell’s goin’ on. He’s as likely to arrest the both of you as anything right now.”
Chris dismissed that with a fierce gesture.
“I lost blood for that bitch.” He rubbed his chest reflexively. “But that wasn’t as bad as this.” He looked at Vin, brow deeply lined. “Damn well feels like she’s won everything.”
Vin wished Buck were here. He didn’t know if Buck would be able to rein in his emotions well enough to say the right thing, but at least he was used to Chris and everything he’d lost. Used to him picking and poking his own internal wounds until they bled just as hard and fast as Ezra was doing behind that door.
In the ensuing silence they both looked at it. There was no sound from the other side.
“We played married,” Chris said, a catch in his voice Vin hated deep in his guts. “And it was good. You know? Fuck’s sake, Vin, it was good.”
Vin didn’t know. Not about that. Not about how to get his head around Chris and Ezra waltzing round this town arm in arm like man and wife. Not about why Ezra would get all dressed up in silk and lace so’s that crazy hellcat would come and take a pot shot at him. But he knew this man standing next to him, who he cared about more deeply than he thought made sense, was hurting. So bad Vin could feel it coming off him in waves.
And it wasn’t over. Not by a long chalk. Ella Gaines was in the jail but on what crazy kind of charge? What damn jury in the world would convict her over some swindler goddamn well dressed up as a woman? No damn jury, that was what.
He took a breath. “Nathan tell you to stay out?”
It took a long time for Chris to raise and drop his shoulders in a defeated shrug. “Said to get some air.”
Vin jerked his head towards the door. It was a command as much as a suggestion. When Chris didn’t move, he took a step forward, tapped on the panels and then turned the handle. Chris didn’t follow.
The room was still pretty much a mess, same as before but Ezra was lying on the bed now. The wig, like a dead animal, was still on the floor by a brown patch of blood. Ezra’s face, framed by clumps of matted hair, looked like a mask. He was painted, like that time in Wickes Town, but even under the powder and rouge Vin could see he was awful pale. All wrong, all wrong and back to front. His lips were smeared dark red, just like his ribcage, and his legs were still covered by the elegant skirt of a green silk dress. Worst of all, Ezra’s whole chest, bare to the waist, was moving up and down much too fast. Nathan had cut away the corset he’d been tied up in. It stood bone-stiff, like two sides of a box, either side of him. Nathan had plugged up a hole in his side. He was pressing on the bandaging, was sitting still and watchful with his other hand wrapped round the nearest wrist. Like he was listening to something. Vin didn’t like the tense set of his shoulders, didn’t like whatever it was that Nathan could hear.
He turned to the open door, to the shadow hovering outside.
“Git in here,” he said harsher than he meant to and watched Chris stumble over the threshold.
Nathan lifted his head. Vin didn’t care one bit for the look on his face or the way Ezra’s chest was still struggling up and down.
“Doctor still at the jail?” the healer questioned.
“She ain’t hurt too bad.” Vin knew his tone was bullish. “Reckon so.”
Nathan slid his fingers from the slack wrist palm up in his hand, laid it quiet on the top of the sheets. Carefully he lifted his other hand from the stained bandage. For a moment or two he stared fixedly at the dressing, and then he got quietly to his feet as if any sudden move would start the wound bleeding again. “Keep an eye on ‘em,” he said, inclining his head towards the bed.
Vin met his eyes, understood. He nodded. The door shut quietly behind Nathan and then there was just the two of them standing in the room. A long way from home, and everything falling apart. Vin wished for Josiah then, as well as Buck. Even for J.D. Because at least they all knew, about Ella Gaines and what she was. Now they needed to hear about Chris and Ezra as well. They needed to know.
“Go on,” he said. “Sit the hell down and let him know you’re here.”
His stomach did a strange flip as he watched Chris lower on to the chair, slide his fingers through Ezra’s and squeeze shut his eyes for a second like he couldn’t bear to be in this moment.
“Hush now,” Chris said in a hoarse but strangely gentle tone that Vin didn’t quite recognise. It was the voice he’d heard his pa use to his ma in her sickbed. The voice Casey had used to J.D. when she thought she’d lose him.
Body stiff as an old man's, Vin bent to pick up the wig.