The stifling heat hung over the makeshift courtroom enveloping the twelve men walking from the open door of the saloon’s back room. Angling up the staircase, they resumed their seats on the stairs facing the three tables in front of them.
To the right of the staircase, at a lone table, sat Judge Thomas Becker, who regularly held court in The Lucky Lady Saloon on his visits to the town of Sweetwater.
To the left of the staircase, facing Judge Becker, were two tables. The one closest to the staircase was presently unoccupied. At the near end of the other table sat attorney Jacob Wyatt, Marshal Cooper Smith at the far end and Wyatt’s client, Charlie Gilson, who was accused of killing a man in a saloon fight, sat between them in shackles.
Spectators to the proceedings sat in the rows of chairs arranged behind the two tables. Everyone’s attention were on the twelve men who’d entered the room.
“Has the jury reached a decision?” asked Judge Becker when the jury settled themselves on the staircase.
“Yes sir, Judge, we have,” said Asa Hartley, rising from his seat on the stairs.
Judge Becker looked over at the three men sitting at the table across from him. “The defendant will rise and face the jury.”
Jacob Wyatt and Marshal Smith rose from their seats, but Charlie Gilson remained slouched in his chair.
“Marshal Smith,” said Judge Becker, nodding at Charlie Gilson.
“Get up, Gilson,” said Cooper Smith, looking down at his prisoner.
After a moment’s hesitation, Gilson heard a shotgun being hammered back. He looked over at Deputy Marshal Otis Fuller, sitting in a chair against the wall next to the table. Fuller waggled the shotgun at Gilson.
“Judge said stand up,” he whispered with a smile.
Slowly, Gilson stood up between his attorney and the Marshal. Satisfied, Judge Becker turned back to the jury. “Tell the court your decision.”
Asa Hartley cleared his throat. “Judge, the jury finds Charlie Gilson guilty of killin’ Jodie Wilkins.”
When the room erupted in cheers, Judge Becker beat his gavel on the table until the outburst subsided.
“Another outburst like that and I’ll clear this court,” said Becker and turned his attention to Charlie Gilson.
“Charlie Gilson, you’ve been found guilty of murder by a jury of your peers. As a result, I sentence you to be hanged by your neck until you are dead. Sentence to be carried out one week from today. May God have mercy on your soul.” Judge Becker beat his gavel on the table. “Court is adjourned. Marshal Smith, the prisoner is remanded to your custody.”
“It ain’t never gonna happen!” shouted Charlie Gilson. “When my brother finds out, he’ll come in here and burn this town to the ground.”
“Come on, Gilson, let’s go,” said Cooper Smith, guiding Gilson from the table.
A cowboy sitting alone in the last row of chairs watched as they hurried Charlie Gilson from the saloon. Rising from his chair, he went out onto the boardwalk in front of the saloon, pulled the fixings from his shirt pocket and rolled a quirley.
Striking a match on the handrail, he lit the quirley, watching Cooper Smith and Otis Fuller escort Charlie Gilson through the door of the Marshal’s office. Stepping off the boardwalk, he threw the spent match into the street and untied a sorrel from the hitch rail. Stepping into the saddle, he turned the horse and rode out of town.
Otis Fuller stopped at the window as Cooper Smith escorted Charlie Gilson through the office and into the cellblock, locking him in the nearest cell visible from the barred window of the door. Smith walked back into the office and threw the keys on his desk.
“What’re you looking at?” asked Smith, hanging his hat on a wall peg next to the door.
“There was a fella sittin’ in the back row all by his lonesome during the trial. He was still there when we left with Gilson. He just left town.”
“I just got a bad feelin’ about him is all. Lotta things can happen. When word gets out we’re gonna have a hangin’, it’ll look like the Fourth of July around here.”
‘Nothing we can do about it, Otis. Judge Becker sentenced him and we gotta carry it out.”
“Why do we have ta wait a week? Why couldn’t we just hang ‘im in the mornin’ and be done with it?”
“Where were you going to hang him, deputy?” asked Judge Becker, walking through the open office door, “throw a rope over a rafter at the livery and hang him in a barn? Maybe there’s a tree outside of town where you could throw a rope.”
“No sir,” said Otis, turning back to the window.
“Marshal, I’ve arranged for the building of a gallows to start tomorrow. I’ve also wired Fort Smith and they’ll make sure someone is here within the week to execute the sentence. All you have to do is make sure the prisoner is there.” Judge Becker threw a side-glance at Otis Fuller.
“He’ll be there, Judge,” said Cooper Smith.
“I’ll be leaving on the morning stage, I have to be in Fort Worth in two days.” Judge Becker extended his hand to Cooper Smith. “See you in a couple of months.”
“Deputy,” said Becker as he walked out the door.
Otis Fuller didn’t leave the window until Judge Becker crossed the street and entered the hotel.