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The Hanged Man’s Hero

Summer Devon

Smashwords edition

Hanged Man’s Hero

Copyright © 2017 by Summer Devon

Cover by Fantasia Frog

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

This is an expanded version of the story The Scent of Hope


Goodreads on a good day.

Chapter One

England, 1870

“And do you regret your actions that have brought you so low?” The elderly gent wore a fixed smile as he examined Dez. “I do not speak of the crimes of which you are accused. I mean all the sad conditions of your life.”

Dez sat at the edge of the metal platform that functioned as a bed and wiggled his perpetually cold toes. Hell, yes. I regret getting so drunk that I was caught almost at once. “Yes, Father.”

The vicar leaned far back on the wooden chair he’d brought into the cell. The poor man probably wished he hadn’t settled so close to the prisoner. Dez got a bucket of water every couple of days, and he didn’t waste more than a few drops on cleaning his stinking self and he hadn’t had a change of clothing for…too long.

But Dez had underestimated the old man who’d been shifting about on his chair for another purpose: to pull some crumpled blank pages and a pencil from inside his fusty black jacket. “Do you have someone to whom you can write, and beg forgiveness?” the vicar asked. “Can you write?”

Writing? Dez considered the notion. “I was a clerk, once,” he told the vicar. “In another life.”

Messing about with pencil and paper seemed more interesting than sitting and watching the rats chew on his dinner. His first week in prison, he’d tried to tame a rat— that seemed a standard way a convict might entertain himself. The creature bit him. After that, Dez decided to ignore his fellow “inmates.”

“Yes, Father. I’ll write a letter. It’s a fine plan.”

If the vicar gave him paper, he’d figure out what to do with it later on. But then his plans to make salacious drawings were destroyed with the vicar’s next words. “I shall carry these pages from this place and send them. No official eyes will see what you’ve written.”

A generous offer, although perhaps the man of God was lying like the devil. Dez considered writing to Bill and ask that he bring some tobacco and the ten shillings he owed Dez, but he supposed his friend would ignore any pleas.

No one he knew had tried to come to his rescue…and wasn’t that a lowering thought.

The vicar said, “Do you have a mother? Father? No? A sister? No one?”

“A sister,” Dez said. “But she wouldn’t want to hear from me.”

“Write to her. Do you have anything better to do with your time?”

Dez laughed for the first time in days. He liked this old crow of a man. “I’ll cancel my luncheon appointment with Her Majesty immediately.” He took the papers and pencil and got to work.

He even wrote something as close to the heart as he could manage.


Horses clopped and carriages rumbled past, and two businessmen argued over the price of a shipment—too many sounds drifted through his office window. Carl gave up trying to read and summoned his secretary.

She appeared at once, her bustle swaying. Crimson appeared far too elegant to work in an office. She tended to startle and then distract the gentlemen who came to do business with Carl, and that suited him fine.

Fellow businessmen made snide remarks because he had a female assistant—but he ignored them. He needed Crimson far more than she needed him. She could keep secrets.

He handed her the pages-long letter. “Go on, take a look. It’s from a man named Dez Moore. I understood enough to be interested.”

His secretary gave a puff of air that, on anyone less ladylike, would be called a snort. “From a stranger—then it’ll be another plea for funds, sir. That’s why I placed it in the pile of correspondence to ignore.”

“No need to protect me.” He was mildly touched at her concern, but it wouldn’t do to show it.

“I disagree. You were nearly hoodwinked by that scoundrel claiming to be an Austrian prince.”

“No such thing. I wrote back to the pretender because I was fascinated by his scheme.”

“You are always interested in evil idiots.”

“Such as you?”

“Exactly.” She paused. “Is this in pursuit of your hobby again? Another lost cause, another undeserving good-for-nothing?”

“Enough, Crimson. You know well enough they are rarely undeserving.”

She glared. “Ha. So the answer is yes, another one of those. Haring off like a distracted puppy.”

“I said enough.” He didn’t shout, yet she looked startled. He usually allowed her to carp at him.

Perhaps she’d come too close to the truth with her words. Carl resembled a dog let off a lead.

He’d set his course whilst a child beggar in London. His goals were simple: he wanted wealth and power. Yet every now and again, with no warning, his discipline slipped and he found himself expending effort on people or projects that didn’t increase his wealth.

When he thought of himself haring off on one of those projects, he recalled a rat terrier he’d once seen scrambling up and out of a hole where it had been hard at work eliminating rats. It sped away into the sunshine without looking back. Its handler screamed after it, and the dog didn’t so much as slow. An animal bred for one purpose, a creature dedicated to its task, suddenly veered away from its path—and just as single-minded as always as it raced off.

Crimson, of course, had no intention of allowing him the last word. “Sir. We have more than enough on our plate at the moment.”

“We’ll manage. I’ll hire more help if you feel overwhelmed.”

“Never.” Her face pinkened.

“Very well, then.” He stared down his secretary. “Sit and read. Without comment, if you please.”

Scowling down at the six pages, Crimson sank into the chair next to the desk. Like everyone who worked in Carl’s office, she knew better than to use the chair facing the desk because it was built low and uncomfortable. Carl saved that chair for competitors or employees who required a stern lecture.

He watched her read the pages covered with a scrawling hand, hardly better than Carl’s own attempts, and Carl pondered the few lines he’d figured out—and had memorized.

I know you and Mum tried to change me and tried with love. And some days (a fortnight ago, when I was dragged into this cozy little home) I almost wish you had succeeded. Most of the time, I can’t say that. Truth is, and truth is all I have left, I’d do what I did again, and more slow even. If you’d seen it, you would have done the same, Lucy, or wanted to. Don’t bother praying for that change in me. If you get this, I hope you come, if not to help, at least to say I told you so. I sorely miss your face.

Carl was intrigued. Too intrigued. This letter seemed to call straight to that reckless part of himself. In the past, his interest had been triggered by an article in the paper of an injustice or the sight of a careworn face. As Crimson said, businessmen had their hobbies, and perhaps this was no stranger than golf, say, or a collection of some sort. Besides, last time he’d gained a valuable assistant.

“Would you care to hear the letter?” Crimson asked in a low voice. She knew how much he hated people to discover his weakness. He hardly cared that he had trouble with reading, and she didn’t either, but if anyone else should find out. No.

“I understand this was to go to someone named Mrs. Carl Rees, not Carl Reis. It appears that this town’s postmistress is as bad at reading as I am.” Carl rose, paced, then sat on the edge of his desk. “The man, Dez, is in prison, and he’s writing to his sister. I got that as well.” He didn’t admit that it had taken him nearly ten minutes to figure out that much.

“This material strikes one as unoriginal.” Crimson wrinkled her aristocratic nose. “One suspects he gets his basic plot from one of those melodramas in a music hall. Perhaps he sent out identical letters to any number of people with similar names, hoping someone will send funds?” She read a page, then said, “I’m not so far off. He apparently does want rescuing, the idiot.”

“Rescuing from Her Majesty’s care.”

“Yes, although no matter. I expect it’s a sham. Shall we get to the rest of this morning’s post, sir?”

Before he could protest, she tucked the pages under his blotter and picked up a letter from a lawyer. Ah well, he should work.

She read aloud several dull pleas for money disguised as business opportunities, but he knew better. He bought and sold properties, lent money, and did whatever else it took to make money. He was very good at his work.

He walked around to his big leather desk chair and settled in, not listening to Crimson, instead thinking about the note from prison that had fallen into his hands.

Crimson finished reading, then said, “Should I tell the solicitor we’ll agree to take over that estate?”

He forced his mind back to work. “No, far too risky.”

“You don’t mind risk, sir,” Crimson said.

“Never without reward. The costs to repair the buildings would outrun profits from the farmland for years.”

“What shall I write to him?”

“Whatever you like.” He tapped a finger on the desk.

If you get this, I hope you come.

“Crimson, never mind the other letters. Find out about Dez Moore. Huh, and what sort of a name is that? Desmond, I suppose.”

She heaved the sigh of a long-suffering employee about to launch into a complaint.

“Now,” he added. With anyone else, he might say please. Not Crimson. She had lost all respect for politeness.

She was also frighteningly competent, because the very next morning, she came back with a wealth of information. “Assuming the letter came from Desmond Moore, it is not a hoax, though it was sent more than a month ago. He’s a murderer, as he admits himself. Something of a scandal in the lesser London papers. He claims he was protecting a female, but she vanished into nothing.”

“I recall that was in the letter.” He’d read it through the night before, but he wouldn’t admit that.

“Well, this Moore is not long for the world. His trial’s over and done with. He’s guilty. He’s to hang in Lincolnshire in ten days.”

The fact, so casually stated, made Carl blink. He wiped a hand over his mouth to hide his dismay.

Crimson tucked the newspaper under her arm and gathered up Dez’s letter that Carl had battled his way through. She flipped through the pages. “There are some rather overdone bits in the letter about how he only wants a chance to see his sister one last time. If I hadn’t found those clippings, I would think it came straight from some penny dreadful.”

He felt annoyed that a man’s pending death provided the source of Crimson’s mockery. Usually her sarcastic manner didn’t bother him—in fact, he found it refreshing.

He picked up the envelope that had contained the letter. “And he hangs in less than a fortnight. I’d better arrange to visit as soon as possible.”

Time to scramble from his usual hole and dash off—and ignore his sterner self that would run after him, shouting. Carl Reis, distracted rat terrier. Perhaps he’d put it on a set of calling cards.

“What? A visit?” She frowned.

“I’ll take a train, if possible, and perhaps a carriage from an inn. Even if there is such a thing as a train, I’m sure it won’t run more than once or twice a day.”

“Sir, what are you planning? What happened to never taking risk without reward? You said that only yesterday.”

“This is hardly a risk. I lose a day’s work, perhaps.”

“It’s lunatic.”

“Probably,” he agreed. “Find me a train in the Bradshaw’s.” He paused. “And get Wendell in here.”

By the time his other assistant and main enforcer Wendell sauntered into the office, Carl knew exactly what he wanted to do. Plans came to him quickly as they usually did, although these thoughts made his heart beat faster than any aspect of business had in a long time. “Wendell, I need you to track down some people starting with this sister, Mrs. Carl Rees. She’s likely in this town since the letter came to me, and she’ll be easy to find. Crimson, we’ll arrange for her to visit him. We’ll write a note to Moore, send it to the prison. I’ll dictate that one in a minute. And perhaps… Yes, we’ll also need lawyers. I have some questions about this case.”

Crimson opened her mouth but closed it again.

“Best to stay quiet, Miss Crimson. The boss is stubborn as a wall,” Wendell said. “And no one wants to be crushed against rock.”

He ignored his underling’s comments. “I’ll have to visit his sister first.”

“No.” Crimson raised a finger, the signal she was about to educate him in the ways of polite society. He waited without protest. After all, he was a foreigner in the land she’d once known well.

“It won’t do for a businessman of your stature to chase after an unknown widow. I shall arrange for her to call upon you. She’ll meet you in the temporary offices of Reis and Company that we’ve set up.” Wendell agreed. “We’ll make it all proper like, won’t we, Miss Crimson. Make it respectable.”

“Since you’re in such a great rush, I’ll see if she can be fetched by tomorrow.” She gave a small nod. “I suppose we’ll get a maid for the occasion. We wouldn’t want the poor lady to have to venture out without an escort.” The acid in her voice would have bitten through steel.

She and Wendell proved even more efficient than usual. That afternoon, Carl sat at his desk, adding up columns of figures for a prospective investment, when Wendell announced, “Mrs. Rees, sir.”

The lady shrank away from Wendell, who was a large, ugly devil, and moved closer to Crimson, who at least appeared harmless. Wendell left, but Crimson remained in the room, neatly folding herself onto the clerk’s chair by the open door. Carl supposed they followed a set of those mysterious rules that applied to well-bred females.

Thin Mrs. Rees resembled a mouse in her black gown with gray ribbons. She refused the offer of refreshment and balanced at the edge of one of Carl’s more comfortable armchairs. “Please, I haven’t much time. I must return to my employer,” she said in a shaking voice. “I understand this has to do with my brother?”

That fact and not his presence seemed to be the source of her fear. Maybe she wasn’t always such a timid creature.

“I believe this was intended for you.” Carl handed the letter to her.

She took it into gloved hands with reluctance, and, as she read, she began to weep silently, hiccupping occasionally. When she was done, Reis offered her his handkerchief and watched her destroy the fabric with twisting and tears.

“I’m sorry to give you such bad news,” he said.

“No. No. I knew. I’ve had other letters months ago. But I don’t answer. Oh, you see, the dreadful situation hurts so very much. I’m twelve years older than Desmond, and I thought him such a sweet boy. I prefer to think of him that way still… He had a good job as a clerk and threw it away to drive a carriage and to drink and gamble.” She wiped her streaming eyes. “Where did we go wrong?”

“If you’re speaking of the crime, he claims he killed the man in the defense of a woman.”

“I have read as much.” Her voice faltered.

“I haven’t had time to read all I can about the case”—or have Crimson read it to him—“but a solicitor has already assured me that his defense apparently didn’t do a very good job. They didn’t make enough of an effort to find the innocent he protected.”

Mrs. Rees pressed the handkerchief to her lips. “Innocent? From the descriptions I’ve read, she wasn’t an innocent. She was… It was a lady with no shame.”

Interesting to know she followed the case after all. Carl said, “A prostitute?”

She flinched as he said the words, but managed a nod.

“You think it’s all right to murder one of them?”

She seemed confused by the question, and more tears came.

He cursed himself for the sarcasm he should leave to Crimson, who had a lighter hand.

“If you would allow me, I’d help you to visit your brother. Before…” He stopped himself before he said something blunt about hanging. No doubt about it, he was not used to dealing with genteel females with sensibilities.

“No. I am sorry, but I cannot. I am a widow now, a companion to Lady Mannering, and she needs me. I can’t risk losing my place.”

He didn’t point out that if Mrs. Rees were so essential, she probably wouldn’t lose her employment for an occasion such as this. Carl knew avoidance when he heard it.

She rose to her feet, so of course he had to as well.

Mrs. Rees reached into a leather-and-needlepoint bag she carried and pulled out two tin-backed daguerreotypes. “I hope you might know how to send these to him?” More avoidance. She had the prison’s address.

She placed one picture on the desk. It was a portrait of an extremely pale, thin lady holding a lily—dear God, an extremely pale, thin, extremely dead lady. “A memento mori?” he asked.

“Yes.” She nodded. “Our mama. Soon after she passed.”

“Perhaps mother and son shall meet again soon.” Crimson, who was obviously unimpressed by their visitor, spoke up at last.

Mrs. Rees shook her head. “No. My mother was a good woman, and my brother…” The tears trickled again. “He shan’t reside in heaven. I want him to have this. And another, a reminder of what he once was—what he’s lost.”

She managed to hand over the other picture. A young man in a tight-fitting dark suit stood, hands resting on a chair, not quite smiling—those full lips were pulled into a smirk.

But there was something, perhaps the way his brown eyes looked past the photographer? Carl decided this man was mocking himself.

“Dez,” he said, and allowed himself a few seconds to examine the face, the slashing brows, the strong nose, the chin that might show strength or petulance. Carl longed to know which. This picture, that almost-smile, put the seal on his interest. Carl Reis was hooked by his peculiar need to don imaginary armor, and by something more—an interest that went deeper, which he tried, and failed, to ignore.

He looked up at Mrs. Rees, who actually met his gaze.

Her eyes, red-rimmed, were rather pretty—like Dez’s? She said, “If you’d be so kind as to make sure he gets these, please do mention that I forgive him. It would not have been possible to forgive if our mama had suffered because of him. If he’d given her such sorrow and disappointment, not matter that I am a Christian…” She shook her head. “Yet she was sick for many years, and I managed to keep the truth of his scandal from her before she died.”

She closed her bag and squeezed the leather handles. “In the last two years, I have lost my dear mother, my husband, and now this. I can’t. I simply cannot see him again.” She made excuses for her weakness, of course. Over her shoulder, Crimson rolled her eyes.

Carl might well be ruthless, but he had no need to make this guilt-ridden woman feel any worse. He picked up the pictures and gravely nodded at her. “I’ll tell him you’ve forgiven him, and I’ll see that he gets these pictures.”

Her brow furrowed. “You’ll write to him for me?”

“I’m going to go see him.” He had to now. He’d already sent a letter saying he’d bring along the sister, and that wasn’t going to happen.

His heart beat a little faster at the thought of seeing that cocky boy in person and witness how he’d grown into a man.

Absurd. Carl knew where his thoughts now strayed. He had little time or patience for such matters. He’d had sexual encounters before, once in a train station on a trip to York, another time in a private room in a pub. His hand and imagination suited him well enough.

To connect physical attraction to his…hobby. He wasn’t sure he approved. The disparate parts of his life were tidied away in separate boxes.

But that smile. The letter. He gazed down at the picture again, at the near-smile, and startled when Mrs. Rees grabbed his hand.

“You are a saint.” Mrs. Rees gasped and began to cry. Behind her, Crimson broke into silent laughter. At his glare, she mouthed the word saint.


“Ever hear of this bloke? Carl Reis?” One of the few guards who passed the time of day with the prisoners shoved an envelope at Dez.

“Carl Rees was my sister’s husband. This must be from her.” Dez caught a whiff of glorious tobacco and fresh air. It came from the papers in his hand.

“Naw, this isn’t anyone’s sister.”

The envelope had been opened and the contents read, of course. The letter was from someone whose name was almost exactly the same as his dead brother-in-law’s. For a long moment, he puzzled over why this man would write to him. And then Dez realized his letter to Lucy had fallen into the wrong hands.

A bitter disappointment filled him. He’d hoped to see her one more time.

“Well. Go on and read,” the jailer ordered. “Only, listen, if it’s the head of Reis and Company, he’s got fingers in all sorts of pies. If you knew him, why, you should have written him sooner.”

“I don’t know him,” Dez said and pulled the single sheet out. “God almighty,” he said and gave a snort of laughter.

“Well?” the jailer demanded.

“He’s going to bring my sister here.” Try to bring her, the letter said, but he grabbed hold as if it were a fact. He wanted a few facts to go his way.

The guard laughed too. “He better hurry, then.”

So bleeding funny—the hanging was scheduled in two days, and the jailers did love to remind him of that.

While he had light enough to see, Dez read the note again and again, particularly a line about we hope to help in any way we can. What could that mean? We? Help? Any way?

Dez wasn’t sure he liked this little squirm of hope, not at all. And what sort of a maniac would help a man he knew nothing about—well, nothing other than the fact that Dez, the man in question, was an admitted murderer.

He was looking a magical gift horse in the mouth. And since there was no such thing as magic, that was fine. But that night, he lay awake, staring into darkness and listening to the scurry of the rodents. “Carl Reis,” he said. “Carl. Carl Reis.” Funny to hear his brother-in-law’s name with so much interest and possibility attached to it. Poor old, dead Carl had the same interest in men as Dez—he’d tried to sneak into Dez’s bed one night soon after the wedding. Dez had kneed him in the bollocks, and then promised never to speak of the matter to Lucy.

Dead Carl Rees was too conventional to ever admit such an attraction to the wide world.

“Carl Reis,” Dez said. He conjured stories for himself in the dark. Perhaps he’d brought his sole surviving relation some consolation after all. If his sister married this man, she wouldn’t have to change her name much at all. And what a step up for her—from a clerk in a shipbuilding firm to some kind of wealthy pie-fingerer who used lovely paper. Dez held the letter to his nose again, and managed to fall asleep breathing its scent.

He dreamed about fucking his brother-in-law, who slipped a noose around his neck. He woke as he climaxed. He hadn’t had such a dream in years. His stupid body wasn’t giving up on life yet.

We hope to help in any way we can.


The day of his execution, Dez begged for a change of clothes and a barber.

He got the barber and the clothes they’d caught him in, still unwashed. He eyed the splotches of blood from the man he’d slammed into a wall. Perhaps it was some kind of justice to die wearing the bastard’s blood. And maybe some of the blood belonged to the girl the man had been slashing about the face—the girl who’d vanished into the night and hadn’t reappeared even when Dez wheedled a newspaper reporter into begging for her to come forward.

The barber’s hand trembled—probably he didn’t shave many murderers—so he sliced Dez’s neck. Would that cut chafe when the rope touched it? Not for long. Still, the barber made Dez look and feel more like a human than he had in weeks. He thanked the man.

“Will you sign this?” the barber asked. He placed a blank piece of paper on the platform of a bed and fished a pencil from his tunic.

Dez picked up the pencil. “Will the prison need it to pay you? Can’t the turnkey see my shiny face and short hair as proof enough?”

“No, no. It’s just that some folk pay a penny for a hanged man’s signature. ’Specially a man who’s attracted the attention that you have of late.”

“Ah.” Dez nearly threw the pencil at the barber, but why not? He signed the paper three times. “There’s thruppence for you.”

After the barber left, Dez sat on the bed alone and waited in the chilly, damp cell. By some miracle, he’d managed to avoid contracting lice, but the fleas bit, and he had their welts on his skin to occupy himself. If only he had more paper—he might write another letter. This time he might tell Bill he was sorry he hadn’t tried harder to make their time together something more than a simple lark.

Carl Reis hadn’t managed any miracle after all. Dez felt a moment’s rage at the man. But he hadn’t promised anything—and maybe Dez’s sister waited for him outside.

Unlikely, but Dez didn’t have much more time, and he wouldn’t spend it in anger or in regretting a moment of his life. Too much drink might have led him to that dark street at the wrong time, but he’d moved along from dwelling on that time.

Funny, it wasn’t the drink he’d missed in prison—once the shaking and headaches had passed. He’d had plenty of hours to consider the other days and nights of his life. The list of what he missed was simple. The wind on his face as he drove, huddled in his greatcoat, the half-wild creatures hooked to the carriage, the bugle and call of the yards as he steered the animals in, knowing a good meal waited. Those were the parts of life he’d mourned losing. Oxtail soup. Hot tea. Waking in a bed with someone else and using that person’s bulk as a shield against the world and cold. Warm beds. Oh yes, warm beds. The touch of another person, smiles, a good laugh.

It seemed a crime that he would leave this life without feeling warmth again. Although perhaps hell would be warm enough.

“Nearly time.” The turnkey was at the bars. “We generally do this work at dawn. Sorry for the delay.” He grinned.

God, these people and their awful jokes. He forced himself to grin back, because screaming or ranting would be worse.

They’d offered him a portion of rum, but he’d turned it down. His new sobriety, the only gift prison gave him that he appreciated, wouldn’t last long—though he would be sober the rest of his life, oh ha-ha, and wasn’t that a joke worthy of the jailers.

He picked up the letter again. In the two days he’d had it, the paper had turned grimy and lost all its pleasant scents. But as talismans went, it wasn’t half-bad. He tucked it into the side of his trousers. Someone had made an effort for him, even if it was to write a passel of lies. Someone had given him hope and a sense that he wasn’t entirely alone.

“Come on, then, Moore. Hands forward, time for the shackles.”

Dez rose to his feet slowly, hoping his knees wouldn’t give way in fear. He remembered an execution he’d witnessed—the man had fallen and wailed on the walk to the gallows. The crowd jeered and laughed.

He hadn’t joined the mocking crowd, but that didn’t lend him much comfort at the moment.

They manacled his hands in the front with heavy cold irons. Then the leg irons that made him shuffle.

Two men walked with him, one tall and stout, and the other taller and stouter. Every second seemed to take far too long, even as time moved too quickly. At the door to the yard, they were met by the clergyman who’d visited him. The old man looked anxious and pale, which didn’t go well with his pure white hair.

“Hello, Father,” Dez said, glad of a friendly face.

He tried to ignore the noisy crowd—so many people gathered to watch—and concentrated on the feeling of sunlight on his face.

Good morning, Sun.

Good-bye, Sun.

“Fine morning for it,” said one of the guards. Oh, they did love their stupid japes. Dez wanted to ram his foot down on the man’s instep. Instead, he forced his mouth into an imitation of a smile. Because he would not allow these people to recall him and think coward.

And why did he care at all what they thought? Why was he wasting his last precious moments on this absurdity?

“Are you making your peace with God, my son?”

Hardly. The rotter hadn’t come through for Dez. “I’m still working on making peace with myself.”

The men laughed. Even the vicar smiled.

“What’d he say?” Shouts came from the front of the crowd.

“A funny fellow, is he?”

“Not for long.”

“Take down his last words. They’ll sell well,” one of the guards said to the vicar. “I’ll sign off that they were true too.”

“That’s not why I’m here. The newspapermen are here for that,” snapped the old man. Wasn’t he supposed to be concerned with Dez’s soul and not his own dignity?

They climbed the wooden stairs to the platform slowly because of the irons on Dez’s ankles. At the top, Dez looked around at the upturned faces.

“Has anyone seen my sister?” he asked.

Someone laughed, but then the cry went up, and all around, people turned and gazed at each other, and the mutters rippled through the crowd. Sister? Where is the near-dead man’s sister? He has a right to see his sister. He watched the heads twist side to side.

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