Gil Jennings walked his sorrel through the trees to the brush-hidden crevice in the rocks. Ducking his head as the horse stepped through the crevice, he straightened up when his horse came out on the other side into a small clearing where six men sat huddled around a blazing campfire.
Walking his sorrel to a small spring, he dismounted and let his horse drink while he unsaddled it. Putting a couple handfuls of grain from his right saddlebag into his hat, he let the sorrel feed.
Slapping his hat against his leg, he picked up his saddle and rifle, carrying them to the clearing, dropping them near the fire. Taking a tin cup from his left saddlebag, he filled it with coffee from a pot on the fire.
“We got trouble,” said Jennings, standing at the fire sipping the steaming liquid from his cup.
Hap Gilson lay on his bedroll near the fire smoking a quirley, his hat partially covering his eyes. “What kind of trouble?”
“They’re gonna hang your little brother.”
Hap Gilson lifted the hat from his eyes. “They’re gonna what?”
Jennings took another sip of his coffee. “They’re gonna stretch your little brother’s neck. He’s sittin’ in the jail in Sweetwater right now. He got drunk and killed some sodbuster. Had his trial today and the judge sentenced him to hang.”
“Where were you when all this was happenin’?”
“I didn’t get into Sweetwater until they already had him locked up. Wouldn’t a mattered none no way. Cain’t nobody control Charlie, Hap, not even you.”
“We’ll pay Sweetwater a little visit in the mornin’,” said Gilson, putting his hat back over his eyes.
“You’re thinkin’ about bustin’ him out, ain’t ya? Cooper Smith is the Marshal in Sweetwater. Think about that,” warned Jennings, tossing the last of his coffee into the fire making it sizzle.
Leaning back in a chair outside the Marshal’s office, Otis Fuller sat with a scattergun across his lap. Listening to the staccato of the carpenter’s hammers constructing the gallows, he watched Emil Dessler load travel bags into the boot of the stagecoach.
For the first time in three months the noon stage would be leaving on time. He’d always wondered why they called it the noon stage, because it never arrived or left before two or three o’clock.
Dessler greeted each of the passengers as they climbed into the stagecoach, saving a special greeting for Judge Becker. Climbing to the top of the stage, Dessler slapped the reins and cursed the horses into motion, rocking the stagecoach on its thoroughbraces.
Watching the stagecoach thunder down the street, seven riders caught Otis’s attention. As they neared the Marshal’s office, the deputy rose from his chair and leaned into the doorway.
“Riders comin’,” he shouted inside to Cooper Smith.
Watching the riders dismount at the hitch rail, Otis slipped his finger through the trigger guard of the scattergun, resting it in the crook of his arm, cradling it like a baby. Seeing the six riders step up on the boardwalk, Otis sidestepped, blocking the open doorway.
“Howdy, name’s Hap Gilson, I understand you have my brother locked up in your jail,” said the man leading the way.
“He’s here,” replied Otis.
“I’d like to see him.”
“Gotta talk to the Marshal,” stated Fuller, stepping from the doorway. The deputy hammered back the scattergun, leveling it at the five riders behind Gilson. “No reason for you to move, he ain’t your brother.”
Hap Gilson turned in the doorway. “You boys go on to the saloon, I’ll meet you there.”
Gil Jennings stopped at the edge of the boardwalk as the other five riders remounted, walking their horses to the Lucky Lady Saloon.
“I’ll wait for Hap,” he said, reaching into his shirt pocket for the small sack of tobacco and papers. He stood facing Otis Fuller and rolled a quirley.
Cooper Smith moved from behind his desk when Hap Gilson entered the office.
“I’d like to see my brother, Marshal,” said Gilson.
Cooper picked up the keys from his desk, unlocking the cellblock door. “The hogleg stays here,”oredered Smith, pointing to Gilson’s holster.
After a slight hesitation, Hap Gilson placed his gun on Cooper’s desk and strolled through the open door.
“I knew you’d come, Hap,” shouted Charlie Gilson, hopping off the cot, “When you gettin’ me out?”
“You couldn’t stay out of trouble, could you, Charlie? You’ve caused me a big problem.”
“You gotta get me outta here, Hap, they’re goin’ to hang me.”
Hap Gilson looked back at the door, seeing Cooper Smith through the barred window.
“Just sit tight, Charlie, I’ll think of something,” whispered Gilson.
“You need anything?” asked Hap, turning to the door.
“Bring me a bottle before you go.”
“Ain’t that what got you in here?”
Cooper Smith closed and locked the cellblock door when Hap Gilson came back into the office.
“Thank you, Marshal,” said Gilson, picking up his Colt from Cooper’s desk, dropping it into its holster and continuing on toward the office door.
“Whatever you’re thinking, Gilson, don’t,” warned Smith, tossing the keys onto his desk.
“Have a nice day, Marshal,” replied Gilson, stepping out onto the boardwalk.
Gil Jennings followed his boss into the Lucky Lady Saloon, finding their five companions sitting at a table against the back wall.
“Ainsley, you and Willis stay in town and watch the jail. I want to know if you see anything happen,” ordered Gilson, dropping a double eagle in front of each of them. “Don’t drink it up all in one night or you’ll be sleepin’ in the street. The rest of us are going back to camp. I don’t want nobody hung over when I get ready to move.”