Inmate 78

We open on a quiet town at night. The subtitle tells us it's the town of Jericho. Inside, there's a traveling salesman trying to sell Chris a Smith and Lancolet watch. The older woman running the saloon/hotel tells Chris his room is ready. She asks if he's passing through on business. He says yes, his own. He's looking quite trail dusty and has better part of a week's growth of whiskers. The salesman tries again, asking if there's someone Chris would want to give a watch to. Chris gets sharp with him, tells him no. Salesman is contrite, offers to buy Chris a drink by way of apology.

The sheriff and his deputy come in carrying a wanted poster. They tell the salesman that he's wanted for armed robbery in Landon. Salesman says he's never been to Landon. Chris comments that he just spent three days in Landon and didn't hear about any robbery. Sheriff asks if he's a lawman, Chris says no, sheriff says maybe he's one of those who likes to cause trouble, that he should just keep his mouth shut. Salesman says the poster doesn't look anything like him. Sheriff slaps salesman for that, Chris pulls sheriff off and tells him to leave the guy alone. During the scuffle, salesman runs out, deputy pulls his gun to shoot the guy, Chris hits the guy's arm, tells him "you don't shoot nobody in the back." Sheriff comes up and knocks Chris out with the butt of his gun.

In what passes for a courtroom, the sheriff is putting on robes, he's the judge, too. Chris is held at gunpoint by the deputy, who is his "legal counsel." Chris is charged with aiding and abetting the escape of a known felon and resisting arrest. Chris says the guy was no felon. Judge tells deputy to have Chris hold his tongue, which is accomplished by a fist to the gut. Judge offers to postpone the trial for thirty days if he can pay the bail of $500. Deputy pats Chris down, no bail on him, trial begins immediately, judge asks how he pleads. Chris tells him to go to hell, which they interpret as a guilty plea. Chris is sentenced to five years hard labor with no parole.

Roll opening credits.

A prison wagon approaches the prison gate, goes through. Prison is full of guys digging, working. The warden is on his porch being shaved. Inside the wagon is Chris, they unlock it to let him out, he jumps out onto the riding guard, knocks over both horse and guard, when horse gets up, Chris is in the saddle. He tries to get out the gate, but he's knocked off the horse by a guard with a rifle, landing on the ground. He's picked up and dragged up in front of the warden, who congratulates him for buying himself four days in the hole for attempted escape. As he's telling Chris this, he's toweling off his face, putting on his aftershave. Warden tells him whatever his name was, to forget it, he's now Inmate 78. Warden says he gives a full bowl for a full day's roll. Do the work, don't backsass a guard, don't fight with other inmates. Any violation will get him in the hole. Chris says he wants to get a letter out. Warden tells him to use the proper appellation when addressing anyone in authority -- sir. Warden says Chris has an attitude problem, it's already got him four days in the hole, would he like to try for eight, and does he understand. Chris says a man like the warden is easy to understand. His attitude gets him the eight days.

Back in our town, JD, Nathan and Buck are playing cards. JD is telling a joke about the three legged dog who comes in a bar looking for the man who shot his paw. Nathan and Buck tell him it's not funny, JD disagrees, they argue a bit about it.

Mary comes in and interrupts the argument. Asks if they've heard anything from Chris. They say not yet, she asks if they should be concerned, that he said it would be three days and now it's been ten. Buck says not to worry, Chris just likes to go and cut loose every once in a while, unwind. They can't go riding out every time someone decides to have a little fun, they'd be looking for Buck half the time if that was the case. Chris is probably just blowing off steam in some little broth--, er, hotel. Mary isn't amused, says how reassuring that sounds and stalks out. Buck says wherever Chris is, you can be sure he's having a real good time. The boys snicker over Mary's reaction.

At the prison, they unlock the iron barred cover over the hole and pull Chris out. Warden asks if they've still got a problem, Chris says no, sir. They put him to work, now wearing prison stripes. The inmates are digging and mixing and hauling wheelbarrows of stuff around, making adobe bricks. They all wear chains on their legs.

In line for the day's rations, the men shuffle forward. The guy doling out the slop looks at Chris, thinks he recognizes him, asks if he's some kind of lawman. Chris says no, man says he knows him from somewhere, knows he doesn't like him. Spits his tobacco juice into Chris's plate. Chris goes to sit on a log, puts the plate on the ground. Old guy comes and sits down, asks if Chris is going to eat it, Chris shakes his head, old guy picks up the plate and starts eating. Old guy looks up, sees some guys coming up, looks at Chris, gets up and leaves, saying it's been nice knowing him.

Coming toward Chris are three pretty mean looking guys. Center one speaks, says they're the Lawless brothers, does Chris remember them? No, then maybe Chris remembers their cousin, Jackie Pinder, who Chris shot dead in Dodge City. Chris says he gave him no choice. Lawless says Pinder was only eighteen, a hothead, Chris was much better, could have winged him, but he didn't, he shot him through the heart. Chris says the kid wasn't trying to wing him. Lawless says that ain't the point. Chris says he doesn't want any trouble, then punches the guy in the gut. The other two brothers jump in, there's a big fight, one guy has a shiv, Chris gets cut in the gut. Guards come in, pull the fight apart, Chris manages to grab the shiv off the ground before being dragged off.

In the prison infirmary, Chris is chained to a cot, his shirt open, and the doc is stitching him up. Doc is drinking as he works, when Chris tries for the bottle, doc says no, it's medicinal, keeps his hand steady. Says Chris is kind of special to be thrown in the hole five minutes after arrival. Chris says he doesn't feel so special. Doc doesn't reckon he does, doesn't reckon he pays the bail, either. Wouldn't be there if he did. Sheriff and warden have a nice little racket going, sheriff picks out someone who looks like he has money and accuses him of some crime, then sheriff contacts the man's family to raise the bail money. Half the men in camp are waiting for families to raise the bail money. The other half are murderers, cut-throats who can make it difficult for an innocent man. Chris asks what happened to the other guy who's in the infirmary. Doc says this place happened to him.

Mary is coming out of the telegraph office, reading. Ezra asks if there's any word. She's just heard from Landon that Chris boarded his horse there for three days, but left two weeks ago. All the men are mounted, ready to head out. Vin asks how many towns between here and Landon, Nathan says four, could have stopped by any one of them. Vin says he guesses they'll find out. The men ride out.

Back at the prison camp, the men are working, Chris included. Warden comes up on horseback, brings up his rifle, shoots at the rock at Chris's feet, tells him he has a visitor.

The visitor is the sheriff, who thinks there might be a reason to re-open his case, if only he could come up with the bail money. The sheriff and warden are pouring drinks from a cut glass carafe for themselves. Chris doesn't respond. Warden says maybe Chris doesn't understand what they're offering. Chris says he understands. Sheriff says good, since they're his only hope of getting out of there. Chris says they don't want his money. Warden asks why that is. Chris says because if he gets out, he'll come back and take them both down.

Our guys are riding into a small town, stop in front of a guy on a porch. Guy asks if he can help them. Vin says they're looking for a friend. Guy says he must be a very valuable friend if it takes a whole posse to look for him. Josiah says the friend's name is Chris Larabee. Guy repeats the name, asks if he wouldn't be that egg sucking, horse thieving gutter trash from up Ft. Laramie way, would he? Buck takes offense and reacts by reaching for his gun. Vin puts out a hand to stop him, tells the guy, no, wrong man. Our guys ride on their way.

Next town is Jericho. Josiah says it doesn't look like any promised land to him. Vin says it's probably another dead end. Buck says maybe not. Ezra asks what in heaven's name would induce anyone to stay here. Buck says you don't know Chris.

Inside the Lullaby Inn, Josiah is talking to the older woman runs the place. She says she's open seven days a week. Josiah says even the Lord rested on the seventh day. She says the Lord wasn't running a boarding house. Josiah says he always figured that's what heaven was. She asks if he's a preacher. He says he used to be, now he's a man on a mission. Says that if she's there every day like she says, maybe she can help them. They're looking for a wandering friend. He introduces Vin to her. Vin says his name is Chris Larabee. She says she doesn't recollect anybody by that name staying there. Vin says he'd have come through Sunday before last, light hair, dressed in black. She says it doesn't sound familiar, but that the Lord blessed her with many things, but a good memory wasn't one of them. She goes to pour whiskey for the other guys.

At another table, JD is telling his three legged dog joke to Ezra as Nathan and Buck listen in. After JD delivers the joke, Ezra tells him he might need to work on his repertoire. Nathan and Buck chime in with told you sos.

The sheriff and deputy come into the bar, sheriff comments he doesn't like all these new guns coming through his town without so much as an introduction. Vin says there ain't much time like the present. Sheriff would like to know their business here. No one says anything. Woman breaks the uncomfortable silence by introducing Vin and telling the sheriff that they're here looking for their friend Chris Larabee. Sheriff says if they're going to stay in town, he's going to have to collect their guns. Buck snickers, sheriff wants to know what's funny. Vin says they'll be moving on as soon as they get some supplies. The guys get up and head out. Woman says to sheriff that they could be trouble, he says, no, ma, he can handle them.

At the prison camp, it's meal time again. Same tobacco chewing guy is serving the slop, again goes to spit in Chris's plate. Chris tells him if he spits, he'll spill the guy's guts. He flashes the shiv he still has. Guy reconsiders, goes to spit on the ground, Chris says he must not have heard him. Guy looks miserable, but swallows instead of spitting.

Prisoners are back at work, digging, hauling, etc. Two guards haul out the guy who was in the infirmary. Warden says 46 has been hiding in the infirmary, taking it easy. Tells the guards to put him to work. 46 can't even stand up. A voice says to leave him alone. Warden wants to know who said it. No answer. 46 is picked up and still falls down. Warden has a bat and goes to hit 46. Chris stops his arm. Warden asks if he knows the penalty for striking a prison official, tells chris to stand aside. Chris stands his ground until he is hit on the head by the warden. He falls, but stands up to the warden again, only to be hit behind the knees. He tries to get up again, is hit again. The senior guard tells him to stay down, warden says he's not going to make it, but Chris keeps working to get up. Other inmates start banging their tools on rocks in support of Chris, stop when he's back on his feet. Chris tells warden to leave 46 alone, sir. Warden says to take 46 back to the infirmary and tells Chris to go get fixed up, too, he has plans for him. The other prisoners get put back to work.

In the infirmary, the doc is telling Chris this is getting to be a bad habit, puts a cloth on Chris's head. Chris asks about 46, how he is. Doc says he's doing fine, shares a drink with Chris. Doc remembers when sheriff Quince first brought him in, one tough hombre, wouldn't take guff of the warden or guards. Some thought he was a Texas ranger come in to look for the missing, some thought he was an Indian tracker. Whatever he was, he was strong and proud and stubborn, kind of like Chris.

In the general store in Jericho, the guys are doing some browsing. Nathan has found a complete medical kit, Ezra is admiring the fine haberdashery, Buck is asking for salt and sugar and is eating an apple. Nathan looks more in the display case, sees a familiar gun, calls Buck over, shows it to him. Buck reacts badly, yells at storekeeper to come over, when he doesn't move fast enough, he throws the apple at him. The man comes over, Buck insists on seeing the gun, man can't find the key, Buck breaks the case, reaches in for the gun, checks the grip and says it's Chris's. He hands the gun to Nathan who looks and agrees. The storekeeper tries to get out of the shop, but is stopped deftly by Ezra. Buck grabs the guy, shoves him up onto the counter, leans down over him and demands to know how he came by that gun. Buck is livid and close to losing control as he demands an answer.

Ma Quince is hanging up her wash as Vin, Josiah, Nathan and Buck come up to ask a few more questions about their friend. She says she didn't see him. Vin says they just found his gun for sale in her local store. She says that doesn't have anything to do with her, maybe he sold his gun. Josiah tells her the store owner says she sold it to him. She says he's wrong, it's not true. Buck is losing it again, kicks over a barrel, shouting that she knows more than she's saying and they should get it out of her. He's wide eyed and growling. Ma asks Josiah for protection. Buck comes after her, is held back by Vin and Nathan. Josiah tells her Buck's got the devil in him, best she tells how she came by that gun. Ma says some men came in, all riled up and drunk, made her take the gun instead of money, to keep quiet about it or they'd come back and kill her. Josiah thanks her for her time, and the guys walk away.

Buck walks next to Josiah, asks if that's it, Josiah says yes, she ain't going to say any more, Buck says she's lying, Josiah agrees. They walk on a bit, then Josiah tells Buck it was a nice show he put on back there. Buck thanks him, says he learned from the best.

At the prison, the men are picking up tools to go out and work. When Chris gets to the shovels, the senior guard, a pleasant black man, hands him the shovel directly, tells him to take it easy out there. As Chris walks out, the other inmates nod at him. The Lawless brothers are waiting for him, they ask how 46 is. Chris tells them doc says he's getting better. Tells them they were right, he should have winged their cousin, he was a different man back then. They agree that they all were. They go to work, truce achieved.

In the warden's office, the sheriff shows up, tells the warden they got a little problem, this Vin Tanner and his bunch aren't going away. Warden says to stop worrying, he never forgets a name, then he pulls out a book with Vin's picture and that he's wanted for murder in Texas. Sheriff asks if it's for real, warden, with a grin, says how ironic it is. Sheriff asks about the others. Warden says if the others want Chris back so bad, they should give him back, in a box.

Our boys are coming out of the sheriff's office, there's no one there. JD says the deputy is down at the saloon, Vin says they should go pay him a visit. As they walk away, Ezra tells them they're all worse than General Sherman on a Georgia plantation. They stop, ask what he means. Ezra says, if he may, allow him to interview the deputy, Buck asks why him, Ezra says not to take it the wrong way, but they occasionally lack the essential skills of tact and diplomacy. Buck asks what he's saying, Josiah says he's saying they're rude. Ezra says rude would be an improvement, that he's saying that they scare people, and perhaps terrorizing them won't buy them any answers this time. Vin asks what he's got in mind. Ezra says a little subtlety is in order. They stand back and usher him through and on to the saloon.

Ezra is drinking with the deputy who has believed Ezra's story that the gang in breaking up, Ezra says they're an uncivilized bunch, unlike the deputy. Deputy says he guesses Chris wasn't such a special friend after all. Ezra says, truth be told, they were hoping to collect the bounty, Chris is wanted for several stage coach robberies, deputy says he knew there was something fishy about that guy. As they talk, Ezra continues to refill the glasses, but while the deputy drinks, Ezra pours his out into the spittoon.

At the prison, it's raining as the prisoners head out for work, the warden calls Chris over, tells him he has a talent for making trouble, Chris says he'll work on it. Warden says Chris spit on his shoes and he should clean it up, Chris says he didn't, warden asks if he's calling him a liar, Chris says no, but he didn't spit on his shoes. Warden tells him to clean them, Chris tells him to clean them himself, calls him a fat cow. The senior guard objects mildly to the punishment, Chris's insubordination gets him eight more days in the hole, warden tells Phillips (senior guard) to take him down, Phillips says he won't. Another guard takes Chris away, warden tells Phillips he's fired, to get his stuff and clear out by sunrise.

In the bar, JD is now with Ezra and the deputy, telling his three legged dog story, deputy laughs out loud, then falls over backwards, passed out on the floor. Vin swats Ezra on the arm with the back of his hand and says this is what he calls subtle? Ezra shrugs. Sheriff and some backup come in to the saloon, sheriff is carrying Vin's wanted poster, holds it up, says it seems Vin is a wanted man. Vin says the deputy was telling them an interesting story about the racket he and his ma got going with the warden. Sheriff says he's a stone cold liar, he doesn't want any trouble from the rest, he understands how they all got conned by this wanted criminal and he's sure none of them knew he was wanted for murder in the state of Texas. He's holding his gun on Vin as he talks. Nathan speaks up and says they knew all about it. Our guys all stand up and bare their guns. Sheriff says make one move and he'll gun him down where he stands. Vin says on the count of three, and starts counting. Sheriff says he's got a warrant from the state of Texas. All the backup guys leave, they weren't in for this sort of thing. As Vin gets to "three," all our guys have guns on the sheriff, who uncocks his and puts it on the table. At that, our guys also put up their guns.

In his office, the warden is pouring again from his cut glass ship captain's decanter and there's a knock on the door. Man comes in carrying a burlap sack, tied at the top. Warden asks if he got it, man holds out sack and the contents rattle, it's a rattlesnake. Warden says he doesn't want Chris to see the morning's light.

We're looking out of the hole from Chris's point of view, through the bars of the lid. As he sees the warden come close, he snarls and jumps up at him, and the warden steps back. Chris huddles back into a corner with a slightly manic grin. Warden says he sees Chris still has some spunk left in him. Chris says he better pray he doesn't get out. Warden says he'll do more than pray as he puts down his lantern and turns over the burlap sack, dumping the snake into the hole with Chris. It's a big one, coiled and angry looking.

Vin, et al, are heading out of the saloon with the sheriff, going to take a look at that prison of his. Ma is out in the street with her shotgun, tells them to hold it, to let go of her boy right there or she'll scatter their bones from there to the border, to let go of Quince. Vin says they just want their friend back. She says it's too late, he's dead already. Josiah gets in front of all of them, walks toward her, tells her she doesn't really want to pull the trigger, that she's done bad to lots of people, but it's not too late to mend her ways, they aren't going to hurt her boy, and they aren't going to cut him loose, the only thing she's accomplishing is getting killed, he has faith that she'll do the right thing, what's best for her son. She says go to hell, preacher man, goes to shoot, but Josiah has his hand over the levers preventing the shotgun from firing and yanks it out of her hands, says his faith only goes so far.

Back with Chris and the warden, warden is leaning down, asking Chris if he's ever seen a man bit by a rattler, how his face gets all twisted, his muscles lock up, pretty gruesome sight. Chris is huddled back away from the snake which strikes out, but Chris jumps away in time. Snake strikes again, warden says he bets that hurts real bad. Chris grabs snake at the neck, says you tell me, shoves snake up through the bars and onto the warden's neck where it bites. Snake and warden fall next to the hole, snake crawls away.

At the prison gate, riders come up, Sheriff Quince followed by our guys. Gates are opened, sheriff spurs his horse, yells that it's the Larabee gang, lookout rings the alarm bell, people run for guns, our guys get off their horses, get the horses out of the way, Nathan gets one guy with a knife, Ezra shoots another, JD runs over one with his horse, Buck gets one with an uppercut to the jaw. Sheriff heads to the warden's office.

Inside, Phillips is at the telegraph key, sending for help from Fort Yuma. Sheriff says no, no U.S. Army there.

Outside, the fight goes on, they get the guy on the tower.

Inside, sheriff asks where warden is, Phillips tells him out by the hole, but they don't have time, they have to get the army. Sheriff puts a gun to Phillips head, says no army and to open the safe.

Outside, still fighting, lots of shooting. At the hole, Chris works his way up, sticks his arm through the bars, finds the keys on the warden's belt. Our guys are holding their own in the battle, but a bunch of the guards go inside their barracks. Chris fumbles around with the keys, finally gets them. Buck says he'll keep the guys in the building pinned down, shoots out a couple of lanterns to start a fire, sends Vin and Ezra to get Chris. They head across the yard.

Inside, the safe is open, sheriff is taking all the cash out of the strongbox, putting it in his saddlebag. Phillips asks where it all came from, sheriff tells him to shut up. Vin rolls in through the office door, gets to the floor behind a desk, sheriff holds Phillips in front of him as a shield, then pushes him away, going out the door behind him.

Outside, Nathan tackles the sheriff, they grapple, one of the guards sees them and shoots Nathan, and the sheriff gets away from him. Vin comes out, sees Nathan down, shoots the shooter, asks if he's hit, Nathan says yes, but it's not bad. The men from the barracks are coming out, throwing down their guns as Ezra and Buck's watchful eyes.

At the hole, the sheriff stops and shoots into the pit, yelling that Chris should die. When sheriff runs out of bullets, Chris comes out from behind a wagon asking if sheriff is looking for him. Sheriff takes a run at him, Chris stands his ground and knifes sheriff in the gut with the shiv. Sheriff falls dead. As Chris walks away, we hear labored breathing from the warden. Chris walks up to him, warden croaks out "who are you?" and Chris answers "inmate 78."

In the morning, everyone's lined up, Josiah is reading from a ledger, reading off the names of the falsely accused, setting them free. When he's done, he hands the ledger to Phillips, who says they dind't know about the ransoms. Chris is no longer in prison garb, shakes Phillips's hand, tells him he's in charge now, it's up to him to change things. Phillips says he can be sure of it. They shake hands. Chris and the guys all mount up, Chris says let's get the hell out of here. Our guys ride out the gate and down the road as we...

fade to black and roll end credits.