AUTHOR'S NOTE: Here we have Vincent leaving Red Sticks, but the cool thing about this first draft is you can see an introduction of a character (Gail) who was later blended into Samantha. Originally, both existed, but proved far more interesting when put together.
He chose to slide down the rough shingles, the angle allowing for little else. Choosing the least lighted corner, Vincent reached the gutter, rolled on his belly, and eased himself into an ungainly drop on the street next to the veranda. He froze, seeing lights inside and what looked like several men lounging around a table. Men with those big sticks like he’d seen out on the street earlier. Damn right they were intent on keeping him here. Vincent slipped into the plaza’s shadows, taking advantage of the large oaks decorating the field around a gazebo large enough to accommodate a county fair. Cleveland, and House Erie, would be to the northeast whether these folks believed it or not. A good plan B since he hadn’t any idea on how to track down some wandering hobo in the wilderness.
Keeping low, and wishing he had his bike, Vincent darted through grass and across decorative paths for the northern corner. He glanced toward the flickering light to his left that he’s spied from the roof, and froze in his tracks. He’d seen pictures of stocks - old New England monstrosities complete with shackles and locks reserved for public humiliation and punishment. The one he looked at now in the weak light of a nearby campfire was of that ilk, although this one had been hewn from the overhanging branch of an old oak. That wasn’t the problem. Those stocks were museum pieces. This one was in use.
She hung there like a ravaged Madonna, long black hair streaming down to all but cover a narrow face etched in the hell between exhaustion and malnourishment. Head and arms clamped, her legs dangled free within the drapes of a long green dress that seemed to be the uniform of the day for most ladies he’d seen. She couldn’t have been out of her early twenties from the look of it.
Wrong was wrong. He also could use a guide. Silently speeding across the small park in a manner that would have made a yegg proud, Vincent drew out his brass knuckles and bore down on the unsuspecting fellow in green jeans lounging on a chair next to the fire near her. The guard barely rose before Vincent slammed a right cross into the mustached face. His adversary landed in a senseless heap next to the tree trunk. Vincent grabbed the staff next to the chair and hurled it into the darkness for good measure, then turned to catch two black almond eyes staring at him as if determining if he were real or a dream.
Intent on clarifying that fact, Vincent pulled a chain off it’s hook embedded in the old bark and gently eased the girl to the ground. A quick search of the moaning guard produced no keys to unlock a clasp. Frustrated, and wanting to be out of here before her keeper came to his senses enough to raise alarm, Vincent aimed his brass knuckles at the clasp itself. A few hard smashes and the black iron plates tore loose from the wood. “Can you move?” he asked after throwing off the stock.
The girl struggled to her knees between gasps. “Who...are you?” she answered with a slight accent he couldn’t place.
“Hobo...traveler,” he answered, glancing back at the guard’s gurgled moan. He looked to have a broken jaw. It would be a pity to have to hit him again. “You need to get up.” Vincent knew that a good taste of Mulligan stew would help. Especially if he had to drag her out of here, being responsible for her newest predicament. There was a half a loaf of bread and a jug on the grass next to the chair. He helped her up, wrapping his arms around the girl’s sturdy waist. “Get the food. Going to make you something to get your strength back once we get clear.”
“You get it,” she protested, heartening him with a show of spirit despite her condition. “I can barely walk.”
“It don’t work that way,” he said, having remembered Timepiece’s words. “You have to contribute. Trust me, just grab the stuff. I’ll carry you if I have to.”
Her attempt at standing alone was more of a lurch that ended up with her crumpling to the ground again. “I can’t,” she cried out. “They’ve had me hanging for most of the day!”
Her fingers were wrapped around the bread and jug. Close enough, Vincent reasoned. “I’ll put your stuff in my bag.”
She ended up a damn sight heavier than the bindle, Vincent shrugging off the added weight as he put distance between himself and the injured guard. Being early, he ran without incident down empty streets toward the beckoning darkness beyond lamplight. There were signs of waking households all around him, but a steady pace won him the perimeter road before anyone was about and questioning a hobo running out of town with one of their women across his shoulder.
His breath grew labored while plowing through a thicket that tore at his strength as much as his duster. She wasn’t getting any lighter. One way or another he needed this girl on her feet or otherwise safe. “Is there any place safe I can take you? Family?”
There was no answer.
Guessing she swooned, Vincent continued on until he saw what looked like the yard of a wood mill in the dim light. The lights were off, save for a few running up the stairs of a building from feeding cable toward dimly outlined towers.
He set her down next to some logs and fetched some nearby kindling. The fire was small, but it heated up the can of beans nicely enough. Hoping he was doing it right, Vincent poured a measure of beans into Timepiece’s tomato can and mixed in the bread along with a dash of what smelled like cider from the jug.
He sat beside the girl and gently tapped at her broad cheeks until those dark eyes opened, a short breath sucking through her lips. “Here, this should fix you up. Some...uh, traveler magic. Mulligan stew.”
His explanation may have sounded as crazy to her as it did to him, but Vincent swore he saw new fires light her face and bring focus to her wandering gaze.
“Mulligan stew,” she repeated, her voice firming as she stared at the can. Hands trembling, she lifted the can once more. Only after she had scooped out the remnants with her fingers did his damsel in distress regard him with an earthy practicality. “Who are you?”
“Name’s Brass.” Vincent looked skyward. “Sun’s coming soon. Listen, I’ll take you where you’ll be safe. All I ask in turn is how to get to Cleveland...it’s up northeast of here.”
“Only thing up there is the Confederacy...your name’s Brass?”
“Moniker...hobo thing. Traveler,” he hastily added after her blank look. “Confederacy...what’s that?”
Her incredulous laugh didn’t help his collapsing hopes. “You’ve got to be...” She wiped at her cheek, then continued, her words delivered softly. “You really are a traveler.”
“We’ve got to go,” he urged, getting up. He wasn’t sure, but it sounded like dogs in the distance.
“There isn’t anyplace safe,” she spoke up, reaching for his hand. Her sullen words firmed. “Northeast it is, then.”
He hauled her up, grateful to see her standing without passing out. Vincent rubbed out the small fire and found a rain barrel to rinse the cans before putting both back in his bindle. Half expecting her to be gone when he returned from doing dishes, he found her busy climbing out of her dress. Fortunately for her modesty, the young woman was wearing heavy tan cotton pants and top. “Was already fixing to run when they caught me,” she explained with a slight grin. “Would’ve been in more trouble had they noticed what I had on beneath the rest.”
“What did you do?”
“Young women don’t go out unescorted,” she said in what sounded like a derisive parroting of another’s admonition. “Elders didn’t appreciate me hitting that sekaakwa back in public with his own cane when he thrashed me.”
“They hung you up for that?”
“Name’s Gail...Gail Hunter.” She thumped at her thighs. “I don’t know what you gave me...Brass, but it sure made the feeling come back. Gail turned to regard distant barks, her expression draining newfound hope. “They’re setting the hounds on us.”
Doubt I could get you into a run. Leaving her behind wasn’t an option he could stomach, either. He’d enough of that sort of thing already. Vincent eyed the tower, his ears catching a familiar chugging rhythm. “Can we get out on that thing?”