Saturday, April 26, 2014

Closer than Brothers - Chapter Three

It's NOT a romance. It's not very funny, there just wasn't much comedy to be mined for me in Andersonville Prison.
It's not even a real story
Part #3 of 13 episodes of how my heroes from Trouble in Texas met and how they became so loyal to each other.
Book #3 Stuck Together --Vince's story--releases in June 3.
Closer Than Brothers

Chapter Three
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Luke—The Kid

 “He’s crossing the Dead Line.” Luke surged forward.

Dare caught him under one arm. Vince under the other.

“It’s too late,” Jonas blocked Luke, standing square in front of him, facing him, but looking over his shoulders, knowing what was coming. They were halfway across the camp. No possible way to get to the battered, staggering man in time to stop him. They couldn't even get close enough to shout a warning.

“I can get to him.” Luke desperately fought their grip. He couldn't stand to see another unarmed Union soldier shot down in cold blood.

“No you can’t.” Dare hissed in Luke’s ear. They were doing all of this quietly, not wanting to attract any unnecessary attention. Attention in here was usually bad. “He’s out of his head. He won’t hear you if you yell for him to stop. Look at him.”

The man was barely on his feet, weaving but moving forward at a determined clip. They couldn’t get to him. Maybe his knees would give out. Luke prayed something would stop the fool.

They'd all watched Wirz only an hour ago, do his usual vicious welcome when new prisoners came in. Pull his pistol and threaten to personally shoot anyone for any reason. He'd list off the rules and laugh about the Dead Line. Almost beg the newcomers to step across it and just see if they didn't earn a bullet. Wirz had a heavy foreign accent. German maybe, Luke wasn't sure, but it sounded ugly and made Luke feel like he was truly in a foreign prison.

There had never been a man who had so utterly focused Luke's hatred as Major Heinrich Wirz. And now here was this new prisoner, only just locked in Andersonville and already attacked and robbed and so badly hurt by the Raiders that he was going to cross the Dead Line and end up…dead.

“The Raiders got to him.” The bitter fury made Luke want to hunt down every man Jack of them. The Raiders had got to him, too. They’d stolen everything. The Rebs had let him keep what he’d had on him when he’d been captured save for his weapons. But the Raiders took it all but the shirt on his back. He’d fought them and they’d set in to giving him a beating. Vince had put a stop to it and, with a few friends, Luke had felt fairly safe ever since.

But even teamed up, they couldn’t stop all the beatings. It was too big a job.

The man stumbled right up to the front gate, only inches from the Dead Line.

Luke braced himself, waiting for a shot to ring out.

Dare let Luke go and turned to watch. Vince, too and made room for Jonas. The four of them stood, barely breathing. Waiting for the crack of rifle fire.

“They picked the guards for this place by seeing who enjoyed being sadistic.” Vince muttered.

“Anyone with a shred of human decency can’t stand it and asks to be transferred." Jonas crossed his arms, his jaw so tight it was a wonder he could talk. "So what you’re left with is sadists. It isn’t a plan, it just that the monsters remain.”

“There he is now.” Big John came up behind Luke. “The biggest monster of ’em all, Wirz.”

Big John said his name so it sounds like ‘worst’. It was the private joke they all told. Luke suspected if Worst heard it, they’d all be shot. He’d shot people for less.

The prisoner stopped and spoke loud and clear. Because nearly every man in Andersonville was holding his breath, waiting for Wirz to fire, they heard the man speak.

"My name is Dowd. I have just been robbed. I demand you do something about it."

Luke gasped and he heard the same sound repeated over a thousand times through the camp.

"You demand?" Wirz looked at Dowd as if the man, bleeding and stumbling was a source of entertainment. "What iz it dat makes you all such vermin, Mr. Dowd. Why are you filthy Yankees vittout honor? Why do you rob and beat each utter?"

"Are you saying," Dowd continued in outrage, "that you are powerless to keep order here?"

Wirz gasped. The question hit him right in his pride.

Luke couldn't tear his eyes away. Wirz had his gun out. Brandishing it. He pointed it in the air, the slowly brought it done and aimed it straight at Dowd's chest.

"I won't let a brave man die alone." Luke strode forward.

If his friends tried to stop him, they failed. And that's when he realized they didn't try. They were right behind him. And they weren’t the only ones

Other groups walked toward Dowd.

Luke and he friends weren't alone in banding together for protection in this purgatory.

Voices raised, crying out for justice. Shouting for an end to the Raiders cruelty. Luke looked at the large tent some of the Raiders lived in, sewn together with the stolen clothes and blankets of other prisoners. The Raiders didn't even try to hide their crimes.

A crowd grew behind Dowd as Wirz sat there on his white horse. They called him the Pale Rider, or Death on a Pale Horse, one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. A more perfect name for such a foul man had never been found.

He might gun down one man, but would he kill them all? Luke wasn't one bit sure Wirz wouldn't do just that and enjoy it.

Suddenly, Wirz looked up, swept his eyes across the shouting men, all gathered behind Dowd. "Silence!"

He spoke in his foreign voice, amused, cold as a northern gale. "Very well. Ve vill have law and order if you wish it."

He extended his gun hand and pointed it across all their chests. Luke felt that gun aim right square at him. Wirz spoke again.

"I vill giff you the authority of the law, within these valls. You may arrest. Call a jury. Punish. Yankee will punish Yankee." A harsh laugh broke from Wirz throat. "Eefen condemn men to death."

Wirz's eyes and sweeping gun went back to Dowd. "I vant a list of traitorous Yankee polizia who will turn on der fellow soldiers by first light. Your name, Mr. Dowd, to be first on dat list. To make sure dat justice is swift, no man eats until dee lawbreakers are caught."

Turning, Wirz rode out of the prison yard.

Silence reigned in the prison yard, but not inside Luke. His mind rioted. His heart pounded loud enough to deafen him. It wasn't traitorous to end thievery. It wasn't traitorous to bring order.

But no food? None at all?

Wirz might take twisted pleasure in setting Yankee against Yankee, but that was the situation already in here. He'd just given permission for it to end. There were a whole lot of men volunteering to help. As many ways as there were to die in here, it made sense to control the ways you could.

And the Raiders could be controlled. Finally. It had to be done fast. Men died from hunger everyday on the slim rations they were given now, to cut them off entirely was to condemn men to death almost hourly. They had to act fast.

For the first time since he'd been thrown in here, Luke felt like a man. In fact, considering he'd left his family ranch in Texas after a big fight with his pa; who wouldn't let Luke take charge of anything at home, didn't want Luke fighting for the North, and didn't want Luke fighting at all come to that, maybe Luke was feeling like a man for the first time in his life.

He liked it.
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Abbi Hart said...

And it just keeps getting better!!! Great job once again!

Anonymous said...

What Abbi said! There is such a strong feeling of place and desperation, Mary. Thank you, again, for sharing this story.

Nancy C

Mary Connealy said...

In a bit, another week or so, I think I'll gather up all of the posts and create their own page on my blog and paste them together. So someone coming in later can read straight through.

Mary Connealy said...

BTW this scene is very carefully researched. Down and Wirz are real much of their dialogue and their actions are very similar to what I read.

Abbi Hart said...

Mary-That's awesome! I was wondering if they were real characters!

Chill N said...

Tell me Wirz didn't live to a ripe old age. I'm not sure how you did it, but you had me not liking him from the get-go.

Nancy C