Cooper Smith stepped up onto the boardwalk as Emil Dessler jerked back on the reins bringing the horses and stagecoach to a skidding stop in front of the stage depot.
Setting the brake with his left foot, Dessler wrapped the reins around the brake lever, climbing down from his perch atop the stagecoach. Shifting his chaw to the other cheek, he spit a stream of tobacco into the street, opening the stagecoach door.
“Only one passenger today, Coop,” said Dessler, wiping his mouth with the back of his gloved hand.
Cooper Smith watched a man, in a black suit and black derby; duck his head as he stepped from the stage onto the platform. Cooper smiled as Harlan Hancock brushed the dust from his coat.
In his time as a lawman, Cooper had the necessity to meet Hancock a time or two and always thought he looked more like a school teacher than a hangman, but, Harlan Hancock was efficient at what he did.
“Marshal Smith,” said Hancock, extending his hand to Cooper.
“Hello, Mister Hancock,” said Smith, always surprised by the firmness of the handshake of the frail looking hangman.
Unstrapping the baggage boot at the back of the stagecoach, Emil Dessler set two large carpetbags at the edge of the platform near the two men.
“There you are, Mister Hancock, enjoy your stay in Sweetwater,” said Dessler, waving as he walked past the two men and into the depot.
“I shall like to see the subject after I freshen up a bit, if you don’t mind, Marshal Smith,” said Hancock, picking up his carpetbags.
“I’ve arranged for your room at the hotel, Mister Hancock. Drop by the office when you’re ready.”
“Thank you, Marshal,” said Hancock, walking off the platform toward the hotel.
An hour later, the hangman walked through the door of the Marshal’s office. Otis Fuller, with his feet up on the desk, sat in the Marshal’s chair reading the latest edition of the Sweetwater Star for the third time. He looked up when Hancock came through the door.
“I was looking for Marshal Smith,” said Hancock, stopping at the desk.
Dropping his feet to the floor, Otis folded the newspaper in half, laying it on the desk. “Marshal Smith is having a bite to eat. I’m his deputy, Otis Fuller. Who might you be?”
Hancock straightened up, hands on the lapels of his coat. “I, sir, am Harlan Hancock and
I am here to execute the sentence handed down by Judge Thomas Becker.”
“Oh, you’re the hangman.”
“That is a very barbaric term, I must say Mister Fuller. Now, may I see the subject?”
Rising from the chair, Otis picked up the ring of keys from the desk. “The subject is in here,” he said, unlocking the door. Swinging it open, he followed Hancock into the cellblock.
“Stand up, Gilson, gentleman here wants to fit you for your necktie,” ordered Fuller.
“He what?” asked Gilson, looking up at them from his cot.
“Stand up,” repeated Fuller.
With a look of irritation, Gilson rose from the cot, standing in a slouch.
“A little scrawny, wouldn’t you say?” Hancock said to Fuller.
“Scrawny, I’ll show you scrawny,” shouted Gilson, reaching through the bars of the cell causing Hancock to back step.
“A little extra weight ought to do the trick,” said Hancock, turning from the cell.
“Yeah, we want his neck to snap real clean. Don’t want him dancing around,” said Otis, looking at Charlie Gilson over his shoulder as he followed Hancock out the door.
“It ain’t gonna happen, Hap’s gonna get me outta here,” shouted Gilson, as Otis Fuller locked the door.
“What’s all the shoutin’?” asked Cooper Smith, as Harlan Hancock and Otis Fuller walked back into the office.
“Gilson took exception to being fitted for his noose is all,” replied Otis.
“Thank you for your help, Deputy Fuller,” said Hancock, “I have some work to do and only a couple of days to it in.”
“Marshal,” said Hancock, tipping his derby to Cooper as he walked out the door.
“I’ll sure be glad when these next coupla days is over,” said Otis.
* * * *
Hap Gilson looked up from his plate of beans and salt pork when Tuck Ainsley rode into camp. Ainsley dismounted, took a tin cup from his saddlebag and walked to the fire, pouring himself some coffee.
“Well?” said Gilson, as he watched Ainsley drink his coffee.
“Hangman come to town today,” said Ainsley.
“How you know it was the hangman?” said Gilson, spooning another bite of food into his mouth.
“Seen ‘im once before. Strung a fella up in Yuma. Pretty good at what he done too. Snapped that fella’s neck like a dry twig. Didn’t dance at all.”
How much time we got?” Gilson asked, turning to Jennings.
“Judge said a week. Way I figger, we got ‘til day after tomorrow.”
“That’ll be plenty of time. Here’s what we’re gonna do.”
* * * *
Finishing his rounds, Cooper Smith walked down the deserted boardwalk toward his office turning doorknobs and looking in windows, noticing two men dismount in front of his office. Waiting for him at the edge of the boardwalk, Cooper caught a glint of metal on their shirts in the lamplight.
“Cooper Smith?” asked the taller of the two as Cooper reached his office. US Marshal’s badges adorned the shirts of the two newcomers.
“I’m Roy Hickman, this here’s Early Grimes, Judge Becker sent us. He said you might be in need of some help.”
Cooper Smith smiled as he shook the hands of the two Marshals.
“And welcome help you’ll be. Come on in, I want you to meet my deputy.”
"Otis, I’m comin’ in,” said Cooper as he turned to the door.
“Come ahead,” replied Otis. Cooper Smith led the two lawman through the door.