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 #2 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
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"They didn't even swing a fist, the cowards." Luke sounded disappointed. "Twenty against five and they just turned tail and ran."
"Save your energy, Kid." Vince said. "You'll need it in this place."
"I've been doing a man's work since I could sit a horse, which was about the same time I could walk, so I ain't no kid."
"I think of myself as a father figure to you," Vince smiled. Since it was pitch dark he didn’t figure Luke would care overly. Vince was standing, keeping watch. His father had taught him at a very young age not to let anyone sneak up on him. There was an ugly price to pay.
"You're five years older than me at best, that'd make the strangest father who ever lived. You were probably still running around in diapers in Chicago when I was roping and branding cattle. They grow up fast in Texas."
"I grew up mighty young. Trust me." Vince didn't bother telling more, but he didn't call Luke Kid again either. He'd save it for another time. "I'll stand the first watch. You all get some sleep."
Big John rolled to his side and was snoring within minutes. A man who knew how to rest when he got a chance.
They'd gone as a group and gotten their meager possessions. Most of them had little more than a ragged blanket. They'd found a spot together and would team up to protect each other from now until they got out of this place either by the war ending or death.
Vince felt his empty belly growl and still didn't have much doubt that he'd be taken out of this place feet first. But he was used to the idea.
Luke was asleep next. Two Texans. They seemed to have a way of using exactly the amount of energy they needed and saving up all the rest. Wise men. They'd probably survive in here if one of the dozens of deadly diseases didn't get them.
Dare was up, fidgeting, pacing. The man could not be still. Vince and Dare's eyes met. Jonas was quieter about it, but he didn't look ready to settle down either. They all stepped away from those snoring Texans so their wakefulness wouldn't rob their friends of sleep.
"Why don't you two sleep?" Vince could stand for them to leave him alone, honestly. Having friends was a new experience. It took some getting used to.
Dare shook his head. "I don't think I've ever slept much more than four hours at a stretch in my life. You two go ahead. My ma said I was the worst sleeping baby she'd ever heard tell of. I was a torment from the cradle."
Jonas gave a dry laugh. "I'll rest in a minute. Trouble like tonight always leaves me stirred up. I need to spend some time in prayer."
"Because you feel guilty for being trapped into a fight?" Dare asked.
"Because I love it.” Jonas’s eye flashed blue in the moonlight and Vince was surprised by a sudden urge to step back. “I feel guilty for standing here hungry for the missed chance to hurt somebody."
Vince gave Dare a startled look then turned back to Jonas. "Seems kind of bloodthirsty for a parson."
"Yep, it sure enough is. And it's way too close to the surface. I am a man of peace. A man of prayer and forgiveness. I preach love. And that doesn’t stop me from wanting to grab a gun and fill every one of those worthless scum full of lead."
Vince flinched at the venom in Jonas's voice.
"I'm more than sure the Lord is real disappointed in me right now."
Vince wasn't real sure how to respond to such a statement. In fact he should probably just shut up, but what he should do was often enough not what he did. "So is that hard to preach around come Sunday morning?"
Shaking his head, staring at the ground, Jonas said, "You have no idea how hard." He looked up, rubbing the back of his neck, and said, "I rode the outlaw trail for a few years, before I bought into this war."
Vince felt his brow arch. "You? Parson Jonas an outlaw?"
"Yep, and I liked it. I had a powerful need to hurt my stepfather when I was too small to do it, so I found a way to hurt other people by teaming up with some wanted men and holding their horses while they robbed banks and the like. I was eager for trouble and I was good at finding it."
"Your stepfather? Tina's father?" Dare asked.
"Who's Tina?" Vince asked.
Jonas looked up sharply. "She's my baby sister and she writes letters to me all the time. Dare's listened to me read a few of them. Tina thinks we share the same father, but my ma was married twice. Her pa—my stepfather—died before she was old enough to know him, thank the Good Lord."
Looking around, Jonas said, "I need to step away from the bunch of you. Do some praying to settle myself down and remember why God's way is better than mine."
"Don't go far," Dare said quietly.
"Not out of hollering distance," Vince added.
Jonas smiled and walked a dozen steps away, between men, lying side by side on the miserable ground. Not all of them slept, some moaned, too sick or hungry to sleep or be quiet. Their moaning was a mournful song that hung like a dirge over the entire camp.
The night hours were getting on and, if Vince didn't get some sleep soon, he'd need to get through the whole day tomorrow on precious little strength and with a whole stack of new enemies. Four hours sleep wasn't enough, but for one day he could get by. He'd learned he could live through most anything in this place if he just survived one day at a time.
Vince watched Jonas find a spot and crouch, then sit with his head bowed low. Probably too tired and hungry for kneeling.
That left Vince with the shaggy-haired, twitching man who'd bought in right after the Kid. Vince found himself liking Dare Riker for no reason he could explain. Vince liked to be still and watch. Dare never stopped moving. Vince considered himself smooth and polished. In here that was laughable considering he wore rags and hadn't bathed, shaved or had a haircut in six months. But he'd been masquerading as a Southern gentleman when he'd been caught, so he had a decent if battered suit of clothes on and Dare looked like he had on rags when he'd been brought in the place.
"How long have you been in here?" Vince asked.
"It feels like it's since the first mosquito hatched. Probably two months now is all. Finding out about your trouble tonight is the first thing that's been good since I was caught."
"Tonight was good?" Vince shook his head. "You made a lot of bad enemies tonight. From now on you're going need to be on guard every minute or you're going to find yourself with a knife shoved between your ribs."
Dare waved off Vince's worries. "If trouble's gonna find me it'll find me. I hate sitting around in here and watching those Raiders hurt good men. I've never been at the right place at the right time to stop them, but I've never tried to be at the right place either. I've called myself a coward for it plenty of times. Tonight I got to stand up on my hind legs like a man for the first time in a long time. It felt good and if it brings danger my way, so be it. Get some sleep if you think you can trust me to stand guard. I don't blame you if you don't. A man's gotta earn trust. And it isn't always easy for a man as edgy as you to give it. I won't sleep for a while whether you're up or not, but maybe you can. You look like you're tuckered."
"I expect I could sleep. I'm about as tired as a starving man can be."
Silence stretched between them. Two starving men. Strong beneath the strain of hunger and filth or they'd have succumbed to the sickness that ran through the camp.
No amount of strength could hold out forever in here. But so far, yes, they'd been strong enough to endure it.
"I think I'll try and sleep, Dare. Thanks. I suspect our trouble's just beginning." Vince headed for his blanket.
Dare said quietly, "Our trouble started when we got thrown in here. Tonight, maybe we took the first step to fighting against some of it."
Vince let the dirge of men’s suffering that hung over Andersonville sing him to sleep. For six months he’d been sinking down, more certain everyday he was going to die in this purgatory.
Tonight, for the first time in a long time, he felt a spark of hope.
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