As he rounded the corner he saw Joey in a heated conversation with a dark-haired neatly bearded man, vaguely recognising the man as Alexandra McLean he hastened to listen.
Joey leaned towards the smaller southern gentleman. “It is immoral!”
“Sir you have no idea of what you speak of.” McLean’s Carolina accent cut through the air. “The economy relies on slave labour to survive, to release the slaves would be suicide for the south.”
“Ha” Joey resisted the urge to laugh in the face of the dandy standing before him. “And what of your runaway Mr McLean? Will he be given a fair trial?”
“Joshua is long gone.”
Joey regarded at the man he was arguing with. “How do you know that?”
McLean stepped closer to the large Italian man and whispered in his ear. “Because I let him go.”
Joey gasped “You! Why would you do that?”
“ Joshua is more than a slave to me, he could have been my brother we were so close.” McLean snatched his brandy from the table and took a large gulp before continuing with his tale. “Joshua was bought for me by my father when he was four years old. You see I was in need of a suitable playmate. Joshua fitted the bill. We grew up together, first as children, then as adolescences. He slept at the foot of my bed and then later in it as my lover. My father of course threw a fit when he found out that I was fucking Joshua and he took him from me. He had always been a house slave, and suddenly he was being forced to labour in the fields.” Alex paused and stared out towards the iron gates that stood wide open.
“It was so hard for him. Too white to be accepted by the other slaves, too black to be free. My father made me stay way from him, threatening to sell him if I approached him.”
“Why did you let him go if he attacked your sister?” Joey asked.
“Because I believe him when he said he didn’t. Ashley is a spoilt little brat and is used to getting what she wants one way or another. Joshua is a beautiful creature, but he is a slave and as a slave he must obey. He told me she made him touch her.”
“And you believed a slave over your sister?” Justin interrupted the conversation letting his presence be known.
“Randall! Should have known you’d be skulking round somewhere eavesdropping.”
“You never answered my question.”
McLean emptied his glass and poured another from the cut glass decanter that sat on the low table. “Yes I believed him, never in his life has he lied to me, even when it resulted in a strapping he still told the truth. I couldn’t stand by and watch my father emasculate him.” He lifted his glass “To Joshua. May you reach safety.” He drained the glass again and staggered down the steps calling for his horse to be brought.
“Oh and one more thing Randall, tell anyone I helped him escape and I’ll kill you.” He grinned “After all I’m a McLean, I have a reputation to live up to.” He wheeled his horse and kicked it hard with his heels urging it into a gallop.
Justin and Joey watched him go standing silently side-by-side.
The curly haired blond took a deep breath. “Can I show you something Joey?”
He walked off towards the barn not waiting for an answer subconsciously knowing that Joey would follow him. He opened the wooden door to a seemingly empty stall revealing the tearstained, dirt streaked man shivering in the darkness.
Joey inhaled sharply. “Joshua?”
Justin nodded. “What am I going to do with him? If I let him go they will have him within days, but I can’t keep him here.”
“Justin have you ever heard of the Underground Railroad?”
“No should I have?”
Joey grinned “No , it’s an organisation committed to helping slaves escape to freedom via secret pathways. They are guided by conductors and there are stations where they can hide out during the day.”
Justin eyed his friend suspiciously “How do you know so much about this?”
“Because I’m a member, so is Chris.”
“And so am I” The deep bass voice made him spin round.
Lance knelt by Joshua’s side and turned his head gently so he could examine the burn. “I’ll get some ointment for that.” He said kindly. “Its ok now, you’re safe. Justin can he stay here till we can get organised?”
Justin nodded absentmindedly as he watched Joey untie the pale wrists. The leather had cut into them, leaving raw open wounds. Joshua sat motionless his huge blue eyes rimmed red with crying, confused at what was happening around him.
Justin found his voice. “Just keep him out of sight. Just cause Alex is willing to believe him don’t mean he’s innocent, you are responsible for him. He puts one foot out of line and I’ll hand him over to McLean myself.
“He won’t.” Joey said. “Is there somewhere he can stay?”
Justin dragged the hay from the floor revealing a trapdoor. “Put him down there.” He turned to the terrified slave “Make sure you stay there boy, some one will bring you food and water.”
“Thank ya mas’er, I’ll be good.”
Justin cringed at the broken English; it was so foreign coming from his mouth. “Make sure you are.” He strutted out of the barn, his friends reassuring voices whispering behind him.