Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hangman's Noose...Part 6

Gil Jennings stuck his arm through the coiled rope, sliding it up to his shoulder. Grabbing Harlan Hancock under the arm, he helped the bound hangman to his feet.

“You know what you gotta do?” asked Hap Gilson.

“Hap, we been over it so many times, a danged retard could do it. Relax, your little brother will be in the saddle before you know it.”

Jennings led Hancock from the room, out the back door of the hotel and down the flight of stairs to the alley.

“Make sure you wait for me to call out,” shouted Hap Gilson from the top of the stairs. Jennings waved at Gilson, leading the hangman down the alley. Arch Wilkes, Paco Sanchez, Turk Ainsley and Tap Willis were waiting for Gilson when he came back to the room.

“Willis, I want you on the balcony with that Henry of yours. Ainsley, you, Sanchez and Wilkes come with me. If any shootin’ starts, you just make sure Charlie don’t get hit.”

Tap Willis went out the door to the balcony, as the remaining gunmen followed Gilson down the stairs, through the lobby and out onto the boardwalk.

The gathering crowd paid no attention to the gunmen as they stepped into the street. On the balcony, Willis hunkered down behind the hotel sign, maneuvering to get the best view of the jail. Ainsley, Wilkes and Sanchez spread out behind Gilson when they stopped in front of the Marshal’s Office.

“Marshal Cooper Smith,” shouted Hap Gilson.

Gil Jennings guided Harlan Hancock to the back of the livery, pushing him through the open barn door. Stopping at the ladder to the loft, Jennings motioned Hancock up the ladder with his thumb.

“Start climbin’.”

“You expect me to climb a ladder when you’ve tied my hands?” objected Hancock.

“Your feet ain’t tied and your hands are in front of you, start climbin’,” replied Jennings, pulling his Colt, waggling it at the hangman.

Taking a long look toward the loft, Hancock slowly climbed the ladder, one rung at a time, stopping below the edge of the loft.

“Climb,” said Jennings, reaching Hancock.

Hooking his hands around the top rung of the ladder, Hancock took a step up. When Jennings followed him up, Hancock held tight to the top rung of the ladder, kicking downward with both feet. Striking Jennings in the head, the outlaw lost his balance, falling from the ladder to the dirt floor amid a cloud of dust. Climbing into the loft, Hancock looked down at his motionless captor.

Attacking the knot of rope with his teeth, Hancock worked to free his bound wrists.  Dropping the rope to the floor of the loft, he saw movement from Jennings on the floor of the barn. The outlaw was reaching for his Colt, while trying to get to his knees.

Harlan Hancock quickly surveyed the loft, finding a pitchfork stuck in a pile of hay in a corner. Pulling the pitchfork from the hay, the hangman held it up in one hand like a spear, moving his hand along the shaft for the right balance.

“Hancock,” shouted Jennings, swaying on his feet, struggling to keep his balance.

Harlan Hancock knew he was only going to get one chance, so he’d better make it good. He had to show himself to make a good throw.

Looking through the floorboards, he caught a glimpse of Jennings. He bounced the pitchfork in his hand to test the balance. Taking a deep breath, he rushed to the edge of the loft, making his throw at the first glimpse of Jennings.

The outlaw fired a wild shot at Hancock, an instant before the hangman launched the pitchfork. It found its mark in Jennings’ chest, sending him onto the floor of the empty stall behind him, his gun sliding under the rail of the neighboring stall.

Jennings raised his head, looking at the tines of the pitchfork buried in his chest. He made a feeble attempt to remove the pitchfork, before dropping his head back to the floor. Looking around the stall, coughing once, a bloody forth appeared on his lips. Watching Hancock climb down the ladder, he let out a gurgled breath and fell silent.

Walking into the stall, the hangman looked down into Jennings’ lifeless eyes. Removing the pitchfork, he tossed it on the floor, looking around for the outlaw’s gun. Finding the Colt in the next stall, he went out the back door of the barn and ran down the alley toward the hotel.

“We got company,” said Early Grimes, standing at the window when Hap Gilson called out.

“Gilson?” asked Cooper Smith, getting a nod from Grimes in return.

“Who’s with ‘im?” asked Otis Fuller.

“I see three,” said Grimes, taking a quick look at the buildings directly across from the jail.

Roy Hickman went to the window on the other side of the door, concentrating his search on the balconies and second floor windows of the buildings across the street.

“Marshal Smith, I want to talk to you,” shouted Gilson again.

“I got movement on the hotel balcony,” said Hickman, “hunkered down behind the sign.”

“That leaves one unaccounted for,” said Otis.

“I’m listening, Gilson,” said Cooper, from the partially open door.

“I want to make a deal for my brother.”

“Can’t do that, Gilson, your brother’s gonna hang for what he done.”

“I can’t let that happen, Marshal. Besides, your hangman seems to have disappeared.”

Just then, a gunshot rang out from the direction of the livery stable.

“Go see what that was,” said Gilson, turning to Ainsley who jogged toward the livery.

“Sounds like we just found out where the hangman was,” said Cooper Smith. Otis Fuller checked the load of his scattergun, snapping it shut.

“Hancock might need some help,” said Otis and slipped out the back door of the jail.

Turk Ainsley drew his Colt when he reached the door of the livery. Slipping inside the barn, Ainsley listened for a moment.

“Jennings,” shouted Ainsley, listening intently for any sound.

He stepped around the corner of the end stall, moving cautiously down the length of the barn, looking in every stall as he went. Spotting Jennings, he took a quick look around before kneeling in the stall next to the outlaw’s body. The four bloody holes in Jennings’ shirt and the pitchfork lying nearby told Ainsley all he needed to know.

“I guess the hangman had more sand than we thought,” said Ainsley, rising and turning to leave the stall.

“Hold it right there and drop the hogleg.”

Ainsley stopped and looked at Otis Fuller who was looking at him down the barrel of his scattergun.

“I’ll cut you in two if you even think about it,” warned Otis when Ainsley hesitated.

“I ain’t goin’ to sit in no prison cell,” replied Ainsley.

“Then you best make your move,” challenged Otis, still looking down the barrel of the scattergun.

Suddenly, the outlaw swung his Colt around and Otis Fuller cut loose with both barrels of his scattergun, propelling Ainsley backwards, into the dirt of the barn floor. The deputy drew his pistol as he walked up to the fallen outlaw, kicking Ainsley’s gun across the floor. Otis holstered his own Colt when he saw the outlaw’s lifeless eyes staring up at the ceiling.

“Now to find Hancock,” said Otis, reloading the scattergun.

Hearing the scattergun, Hap Gilson looked toward the livery, wanting to see Ainsley, but realizing his plan to rescue his brother was falling apart.

“Watch the balcony,” said Cooper Smith to Early Grimes. "Roy, watch the two behind Gilson."  He opened the door, stepping out onto the boardwalk.

“It’s over, Gilson, drop your iron in the dirt,” ordered Cooper Smith. Hap Gilson looked back around to see the Marshal standing on the boardwalk.

“It ain’t over ‘til I get my brother,” said Gilson.

Cooper Smith glanced up at the balcony seeing movement behind the sign. He hoped Grimes was a good shot, his life might depend on it. He stepped off the boardwalk into the street.

Harlan Hancock crept up the back steps of the hotel and into the back door on the second floor. With Jennings’ pistol at the ready, he stepped lightly down the long hallway. Hearing the shotgun blast, he hesitated slightly, continuing down the hallway to the double doors of the front balcony.

Seeing Tap Willis bring the rifle to his shoulder, Harlan Hancock pulled open the balcony doors. Caught by surprise, Willis wheeled, triggering a shot as he rose from behind the sign. Hancock felt the sting of the bullet tugging at his sleeve as he returned the outlaw’s fire, hitting Willis in the shoulder. As the outlaw levered his rifle, Hancock fired a second time, hitting Willis in the upper chest sending him over the balcony rail to the street.

Hearing the commotion, Hap Gilson turned in time to see Willis raise a cloud of dust as he hit the ground. Seeing Hancock peer over the rail, Gilson drew his Colt.

“Gilson,” shouted Cooper Smith, drawing his Colt as Gilson wheeled around.

Two gunshots sounded as one. Gilson’s shot was wide, but the Marshal’s hit its mark. The outlaw folded up as Cooper Smith’s bullet caught him in the stomach. Falling to his knees, Gilson looked up at his foe in disbelief, his Colt slipping from his fingers. After a teetering moment, Gilson fell face first to the street. Without firing a shot, Arch Wilkes and Paco Sanchez dropped their guns and threw their hands up in the air.

Cooper walked to the dead outlaw, turning him over with the toe of his boot. The spreading stain on Gilson’s shirt told Smith the fight was over. Thumbing the spent shell from his Colt, he replaced it from his gunbelt. Looking up, he watched Otis Fuller walk toward him from the livery.

“There’s two more in the barn,” said Otis. “I got one of ‘em and I guess Hancock got the other.”

“He got that one too,” said Cooper, pointing to Willis, the outlaw’s corpse lying at an unnatural angle.

Both lawmen shifted their gaze when they heard footsteps on the boardwalk in front of the hotel. Holding the six-gun at his side, Harlan Hancock stepped into the street; stopping in front of the two lawmen, he offered his weapon, butt first, to the Marshal.

“I think we can go on with our appointed duty now, Marshal” commented Hancock. Pulling a watch from the small pocket in his pants, he glanced at the time.

“I’ll have just enough time to freshen up a bit.”

“I think you should see Doc first,” advised Cooper, noticing the bloody tear in Hancock’s sleeve.

“It’s just a scratch, Marshal, nothing to worry about. Although, I’ve ruined a shirt and will have to buy another before I leave town.” Hancock started to leave, but turned back to the lawmen. “I’ll be back within the hour. I have a lot to get ready.”
Walking back to the hotel, Hancock disappeared into the lobby.

Roy Hickman and Early Grimes greeted Cooper Smith and Otis Fuller when they returned to the office with the two remaining outlaws and deposited them in a waiting cell.

“What now?” asked Hickman.

“I believe Charlie Gilson has an appointment with the hangman,” replied Cooper.

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