Friday, February 25, 2011

Hangman's Noose...Part 4

By the time Hap Gilson and his men rode into Sweetwater, the town was in a festive mood. Wagons and buggies, carrying folks from miles in all directions, lined both sides of the street. Tinny piano music and raucous laughter collided with the four riders as they passed the Lucky Lady Saloon.

Wedging their mounts into the crowded rail, they dismounted, hitched their horses and strode across the boardwalk into the hotel.

Tables were scattered around the lobby, doubling as the hotel bar. The clink of dishes and glasses from the dining room emanated from the curtained doorway to the left of the small bar.

Walking through the lobby, Hap Gilson trudged up the staircase followed in single file by Gil Jennings, Arch Wilkes and Paco Sanchez. Walking to the end of the hall, Hap Gilson knocked three times on the door of room 210.

After some shuffling in the room, Turk Ainsley cracked open the door. Seeing Gilson, he unchained the door, opening it to admit his four companions. Tap Willis lay snoring on the bed.

“Where’s the hangman?” asked Gilson.

“Down the hall in 214,” replied Ainsley.

“Is he there now?”

“Been there since he left the dining room.”

“Come on,” said Gilson, motioning to Jennings as he slid back through the door.

Stepping lightly, the outlaw leader led Jennings down the hall to room 214. Motioning Jennings to the other side of the door, Gilson drew his Colt, knocking on the door three times.

Harlan Hancock sat at the small table near the window inspecting the noose he’d just tied in the rope.

“Who is it?” asked Hancock, continuing his inspection.

Gilson knocked three more times. Sighing, Hancock rose from his chair and went to the door. “Who is it?”

“Deputy Marshal,” replied Hap Gilson, moving in front of the door when he heard the key turn in the lock.

When the door cracked open, Gilson kicked it as hard as he could, snapping the door chain, sending Hancock tumbling backwards to the floor. Looking up at the two intruders, Hancock saw the barrel of Gilson’s cocked Colt.

“Howdy, hangman, glad to make your acquaintance,” said Gilson, smiling.

                                     
Hap Gilson and Gil Jennings went out the back door of the hotel and down the stairs to the moonlit alley. Ducking between the hotel and the General Store, they stopped at the street, looking toward the dark jail. Scampering across the deserted street, they ducked in beside the jail, hugging the wall. After a moment, Gilson led Jennings down the side of the jail, counting barred windows as they went.

Scooping up a handful of pebbles, Gilson started tossing them, one by one, up through the bars of the window in front of him. When the first pebble came through the window, Charlie Gilson lifted his head from the pillow, looking around the cell. Feeling the second pebble land in his bed, he looked up to see the third pebble come through the window. Jumping up, he pulled the end of the bed to the window.

“That you, Hap?” whispered Charlie through the bars.

“Charlie boy,” said Hap, seeing his brother’s head in the window.

“You come to get me, Hap?”

“No, not tonight, Charlie, but we got a plan. Just sit tight ‘til tomorrow,” whispered Hap.

“Easy for you to say, they ain’t stretchin’ your neck tomorrow.”

“And they ain’t gonna stretch yours, neither. We wanted to let you know we’re here and gonna git you out. Now be quiet and go back to sleep before you wake up that marshal and his deputy.”

Charlie watched Jennings and his brother walk back toward the front of the jail. When he lost sight of them, he pushed his bed back against the wall, crawling under the blanket. A big smile spread across Charlie’s face and he rolled over pulling the blanket up over his shoulders.

Seeing the street still deserted, Gilson and Jennings scampered back the way they’d come. What they didn’t see was Otis Fuller looking through the shuttered window of the office, watching them disappear across the street.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hangman's Noose...Part 3

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 Smith.”

“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.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hangman's Noose...Part 2

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.”

“When?”

“Next week.”

“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.

“Okay, Hap.”

“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.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hangman's Noose....Part 1

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.”

“Yeah, so?”

“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.