This story, (which was "inspired" by Russell Crowe’s song by the same name) takes place a few years before the events that happen in the movie, "3:10 To Yuma".
Ben stared at the stone walls of his jail cell that had encompassed him for these past few days as he awaited his fate. The judge’s decision had been swift and he had made no bones about it – Ben Wade would be hung at daybreak.
He surveyed his surroundings as he had done so many times before…his eyes tracing each crevice of stone, each bar of iron. Ben had escaped Yuma prison before and he fully intended to do so again. It was just a matter of time. Time – which he now had very little of - and above all, determination.
As he sat quietly in the cramped, darkened cell, Ben’s mind wandered once more to the events that had led him here. Why’d he have to go and linger so long in town with that barmaid? He knew they’d be comin’ for him. Knew they’d be out for blood. He swung his legs around and leaned his back against the cold stone wall. The sound of his shackled hands clinked loudly as he did so. He was tired. Though he hadn’t had much sleep in what seemed like weeks, it was more than sleep that Ben craved. He closed his eyes, only for a minute, trying in vain to block the images of events that had led him here to his possible impending demise.
Just days earlier, he’d been ridin’ high on life and enjoying the spoils of his latest train robbery. How many was it now? 10? 12? And that was just the trains, which didn’t count all of the stage coaches he’d held up over the years. He smiled to himself, chuckled out loud. Ben had been in this prison before. Hell, he’d even been in this same cell before! Escaped, too! Only, last time they didn’t have the conscience of mind to leave him shackled. A mistake on their part, but a lucky break for Ben. ‘Course, Ben knew that even the shackles that bound his hands together were no match for his quick thinking and cunning mind. He’d find a way to escape. He always did.
"Shame they had to kill the entire gang, though," Ben thought to himself, as he shifted on the hard stone slab that served as his cot. "Might have come in handy havin’ an accomplice on the outside." He opened his eyes, looked around – as if searching for one of his fallen gang members to suddenly appear. A single beam of sunlight shone through a small crack in one of the walls, causing him to squint. Ben let out a long sigh, closed his eyes again. "Just as well. Don’t like keepin’ familiar company around too long, anyways. About time I found myself some new blood, so to speak."
There’d been plenty of men that had served as "his gang" over the years. Some, like his most recent, had been killed in the process of trying to escape; others simply just seemed to vanish along the way. Most, of course, Ben had done away with himself. An unfortunate fact since it usually meant that they had made some sort of mistake during the job at hand. And everyone knew how Ben hated mistakes. "Mistakes could cause a man his life," he’d tell them. "Kinda ironic," he chuckled inwardly to himself, thinking of the mistake he himself had just made and the possibility of him losing his life over it.
As the sun began its slow dance from one end of the horizon to the other, Ben contemplated what his next move might be. They’d be here for him soon, he knew all too well. And, they – unlike him – would be armed and ready for him to make some sort of move. If he didn’t come up with something soon, they may just very well end up hangin’ him. Ben wasn’t ready to end his life just yet; he had more things he wanted to do, more places he wanted to see. Hell, he might even try his hand at settling down some day and startin’ a family. He smiled at this thought, knowing it was just that – a thought – and not one to likely ever happen.
The sudden sound of keys rattling and a door slamming startled Ben out of his thoughts. It was time. They were here for him. He listened as the sound of scuffling feet came closer and closer, until finally stopping just outside of his cell.
"Ben Wade?" the voice boomed out at him through the darkness. Ben opened his eyes slightly, flashed a wide smile at the 3 men standing in front of him.
"’Bout time," Ben smirked, "Thought ya’ll had forgotten our little appointment."
As the man holding the keys began to insert one in the lock, Ben quickly jumped up and made his way to the door, surprising all three men. They jumped, two of which raised their shotguns – pointing them towards Ben. "Up against the back wall!" the first man yelled, motioning to Ben with his weapon. As they unlocked the door and entered the cell, Ben suddenly realized that the third man was in fact a chaplain, and not one of his jailers. His smile broadened, as it dawned on him what was happening and how he could use it to his advantage.
"Come to hear all my sins, Preacher?" Ben asked the man, chuckling, his eyes narrowing as he watched the men enter his cell.
The Chaplain, dressed in black robes, calmly walked up to Ben and stopped in front of him. "Why yes, my son," he replied with a slight smile. "I have come to hear what your soul may bear and give you forgiveness before you leave this world."
Ben chuckled again, a bit louder this time. "Well, better have a seat then, Preacher Man, this might take a while." Ben started to take a seat back on his stone cot, but instead found the barrel of a shotgun jabbed in his gut. "Don’t get any funny ideas, Wade," jailer number one snarled at him, shoving the gun barrel harder into him. Ben stumbled a bit, shot the man an evil glare, and slowly sat down on the stone slab. The chaplain smiled down at him, nodded for him to go on. Ben glared over at the two jailers, both of who held their shotguns in a ready position…just in case.
"Not sure that God would want to forgive a man such as myself, Preacher," Ben told him, a bit solemnly. "Can’t rightly say that I’d blame him, neither. Not with all the people I’ve robbed and men I’ve done killed over the years, not to mention all the women I’ve…well, best leave that bit unsaid in present company." Ben smiled sheepishly, looked down at his shackles, then back up to the chaplain’s eyes.
"My son," the chaplain said, filled with concern, "God will forgive anyone…even an outlaw such as yourself…if you ask."
"Got him!" Ben thought to himself, as he tried to stifle a grin. He took an exaggerated deep breath, turned his head away. Exhaling slowly, Ben looked up into the chaplain’s caring face once more – trying his best to convey a look of shame. He was good, real good. Even the two jailers appeared to believe his remorse.
"Don’t know about that, Preacher," Ben told him. "I ain’t never even been baptized. Don’t think even with me fillin’ your ear full of my sinful deeds will get me into Heaven without being ‘washed’ first." Ben studied the chaplain’s face, hopeful of what his response might be. He shifted a bit on the hard stone, bit his bottom lip a bit, and stole a quick glance at the two armed jailers in the corner. They still seemed to be buying it. "Good," he thought. "Real good."
The chaplain, truly concerned for the outlaw’s soul, took a good hard look at Ben, as if deciding on whether or not he should even suggest what he was thinking to himself. Finally, after what seemed like to Ben a near eternity, the chaplain nodded his head – a sweet smile spread across his kindly face. "Then that’s what we’ll do then, Mr. Wade. That’s what we’ll do."
The two jailers, a bit shocked at hearing the words that had just come from the chaplain’s mouth, quickly glanced at one another, nervously, then back to the chaplain. "You’ve got to be jokin’…right, Father?" The chaplain nodded his head no. "You seriously wanna take Ben Wade…THE Ben Wade…down to the river and…and…" the jailer, unable to finish his last sentence, just stared at the chaplain in disbelief.
"Baptize him, yes," the chaplain replied, with a smile. Ben couldn’t help but grin. He had the chaplain eating outta his hand. The two jailers, however, might take a bit more work than he thought.
Ben cocked his head to the side and looked at the two men. "Somethin’ wrong with that?" he asked them, staring dead into their eyes. Nervously, they shifted on their feet a bit, tightened their grips on their gun handles. Ben softened his demeanor, tried to look more remorseful again, then added, "Like the preacher here said, God will forgive anyone….even me. Just might take a bit more than others, to cleanse my soul. You gonna deny a dying man his chance to get into Heaven?"
"Ummm…" the first jailer stammered, looked at his friend next to him, and continued, "Well…no. No. I guess we can’t rightly deny a man…even if he is Ben Wade…the chance to get right with God before he’s put to death."
"Just wouldn’t be right, I ‘spose, if we did," the second jailer added, sheepishly looking over at the chaplain and back to Ben.
Ben smiled, turned to the chaplain. "Okay then, Preacher. Let’s do this. Let’s get me right with God." With that said, he quickly jumped to his feet – startling all three men in the cell with him, and waited for them to lead him out of the cell to the river.
The chaplain motioned for the two jailers to open the cell door, then followed along behind Ben as they led him out of the darkened room, down the dirt hallway, and out of the jailhouse. Every so often, as they continued to lead him down a path toward the river, the two jailers would take turns looking over at Ben…expecting him to do something in an effort to escape.
"Not yet, not yet," Ben thought to himself, as he nodded and smiled at the men holding the guns. He continued to trudge along beside them, shuffling a bit as he walked, until finally they arrived at the edge of the river, just as the sun was setting.
The chaplain made his way to the riverbank, stopping face-to-face with Ben. He looked down at Ben’s shackled hands, shook his head. "This won’t do, gentlemen. This won’t do," he told the jailers, pointing at the shackles on Ben’s wrists. "I’ll need you to remove these…now… if you please."
The two men just looked at him, as if wondering if they heard him right. When the chaplain didn’t smile, they looked at each other, and over to Ben. "Can’t expect a man to get into a moving river with shackled hands, can you now?" he asked, his eyes narrowing a bit, then added, "Judge won’t like it if you drown me before I’m set to be hanged."
The two men thought for a moment, staring into Ben’s eyes, wondering if he really could be trusted or not. Finally, after a moment, they let out a sigh, shrugged, and began to unlock the shackles. "You even look like you’re gonna do somethin’ funny, Wade…" the first man began. Ben stood, looking solemnly at them, nodded. "You won’t have to use your weapons on me," he told them, rubbing his wrist where the first iron had been removed. "I have seen the errors of my evil ways and I am ready to be free of my sins before I meet my maker." He grinned, adding with his thoughts, "and set free from ya’ll, as well."
As the last iron dropped to the ground with a loud clink, the kindly chaplain led Ben by the hands into the cold, muddy river. The two jailers waited back on the bank, guns slightly raised and pointed towards Ben. As the chaplain read a few scriptures from his small, leather-bound bible, Ben’s mind was working fast – planning his escape. "Just another second or two…" he thought to himself, eyes lowered yet surveying the scene.
Ben waited, his heart pumping faster and faster, yet his face remained stoic…not giving away a single thought that went through his mind. "Pray with me, my son," the chaplain told Ben, motioning for him to lower his head and close his eyes. Ben nodded, paused for a moment, then obliged. As the chaplain prayed to God to bless and cleanse Ben’s soul, Ben’s body tensed like that of a cobra…ready to strike at a moment’s notice.
As he stood, waiting…waiting…Ben felt the river move swiftly around his body, felt the cold chill of the water in the night air. More than once, he became unsteady on his feet, and he couldn’t help but smile inwardly and think to himself how much of advantage it could be for him. He squinted through his half-closed lids, keeping a watchful eye on the two men on the riverbank. Finally, as Ben heard the chaplain say, "Amen." he took in a deep breath and held it, then felt himself being led down under the cold, dark waters. Just as his head was submerged completely beneath the surface, Ben kicked out his legs as hard as he could…sending the surprised chaplain splashing backwards – his arms flailing in all directions. "Sorry, preacher," Ben thought to himself, as he swam as quickly as he could beneath the murky water…as far away from his captors as he could manage. "Like I said before, I doubt God would ever forgive an outlaw like me. Can’t take no chances."
Ben waited as long as he could before he finally had to come up for a breath of air. In the far off distance, he could hear the sounds of men yelling and gunshots going off. He swam for a while longer, making sure to keep completely submerged when possible, until his lungs and body were aching and tired. Finally, lifting himself out of the water, Ben lay on the edge of the riverbank, giggling to himself at his cleverness. He’d outwitted them all and escaped yet again. "Now.." he thought to himself, rolling his tired and achy body over onto his belly and jumping to his feet, "where did that horse of mine get off to?" And with that, he made his way into the blackness of night, thankful to be alive and ready to begin the next chapter in his life.