Western Short Story
The pounding on the door was loud but brief. Priest Fransisco, in a nightshirt and holding a candle, groggily shuffled through the mission church to the front door.
It was around four thirty in the morning and Fransisco could hear some of the orphans rustling from the noise. The last thing Fransisco wanted to deal with at this hour of night was a dozen, cranky eleven year olds. He breathed a deep sigh of relief when the knocking stopped. He paused for a moment and listened. Silence. The orphans were back asleep. Fransisco quietly shuffled up to the door.
The sound of the door opening echoed through the adobe building. The high ceilings of the church were reflecting the slight glow of the early morning. There was a large mahogany cross in the sanctuary behind a simple wooden alter and a bookshelf with bible, hymnals and various book of catholic philosophy. The orphanage was a large timber framed adobe wing off the back of the church and adjacent to the rectory.
Fransisco opened the large, iron shod door to the church. There was the crack of whip and the whinnying of a horse as a carriage rushed off. Fransisco stared, bleary eyed.
As the dust trail disappeared he took a step forward to get a better look and stubbed his foot into something. He stepped back in pain, almost dropping his candle. He looked down. There was a small wooden chest with a sheet of paper pinned to it.
Fransisco limped over to the chest and plucked the paper off of it. He held the candle close to the paper. After a few seconds his eyes began to widen. Fransisco looked up and stared in the direction the cart had gone off in.
A few of the town’s people were gathered on the wooden sidewalk. Several of the older women, dressed in hoop skirts, stood in the shade of the over hanging roof of the town’s bank, gossiping. As mid-day approached small groups of people began to cluster around the sand covered town-square. One entire side was dominated by the imposing town hall. The old timber framed structure had an aged, grand entrance, stained glass windows and a tower clock, which read 11:15 AM.
A few brave souls had braved the Nevada sun to take up spots in the very center of the square. It wasn’t everyday the town of Drycreek had a hanging.
The gallows has been built two days earlier and the three nooses had been put up at sun-up that day. On the front of the scaffolding a notice had been tacked, which read:
Wheelhouse gang to be executed!
Notorious criminals to hang at
Noon August 5th, A.D. 1887
Several of the town drunks had congregated in a far corner of the square and began passing a couple of flasks around.
The sheriff meandered out of the town hall, followed by a half dozen deputies who were armed with Winchester repeaters. The deputies quickly scurried to their posts around the base of the gallows while the sheriff strutted his way to the scaffold. He chewed a large chunk of tobacco, spitting frequently. The sheriff wore a wide brimmed, gray felt hat and a dusky blue coat. A colt navy six-shooter was at his hip. His long, stingy and mustache were unkempt and graying.
At the base of the scaffold steps stood parson Stevens. Stevens was well into his seventies and unnaturally thin. His sunken face was clean-shaven and shaded by a flat wide, black hat. He clutched a black, leather clad bible.
“Mornin’ Parson” the sheriff said, and then spat some chaw at the base of the steps.
“Hello sheriff” the parson sighed, with a wan smile.
The sheriff mounted the steps, followed by parson Stevens. As they reached the platform a carriage with several armed guards pulled into the square. It rolled right up next to the scaffold. Its weather door was sealed with a decent sized pad lock. One of the guards hopped down off the carriage and took out a large ring of keys. He carefully approached the door and unlocked it. The remaining guards jumped off the carriage and made a perimeter between the gallows steps and the carriage door.
A crowd was staring to gather around the gallows. Children clustered around the base of the scaffold. Wobbly salon patron tottered up to the drunks already gathered. Churchgoers, in their finest clothes congregated in the middle of the square. Poorer families and immigrants filled up the wooden sidewalks.
The guard removed the padlock and cautiously tossed the door open. He quickly jumped back from the carriage.
“Alright” the sheriff bellowed “get yer’ asses out here!”
A tall, broad shouldered man with manacled hands stepped out. His pale skin contrasted the dark, waxed mustache and goatee he sported. His cold, blue eyes sat behind a pair of gold wire rimmed glasses. He wore a white shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His red brocade waistcoat had a gold pocket watch chain across it. Knee high brown riding boots, black pants and a smartly fitted bowler hat completed his attire.
The tall man walked up to the base of the scaffold’s stairs and turned around. He gave a slightly twisted smile.
“Come along” he stated, with the slight twang of an Irish accent “We don’t want to keep the quality people waiting.”
“Be right a long, Tom” a young woman’s voice sang out, followed by the sound of a man yawning.
A petite woman hopped down from the carriage. The manacles she had didn’t properly fit her small, slender hand. Her round, sun burnt face had a broad toothy grin across it. Her auburn hair was braided and her bangs were mostly pinned back by several barrettes, but a few locks of hair still fell across her face. She wore a long, frocked dress made of black clothe with a green vine pattern running through it.
She skipped up to her tall companion. She barely came up to Tom’s elbow. She gave Tom a sad, brown eyes stare. She knotted her eyebrows into a pitiful expression.
“What is it Nessy?” Tom asked
“Stan is still asleep.” Nessy whimpered.
Tom shook his head and chuckled.
“Oi, Stan get out ‘ere!” Tom shouted.
“One moment” A voice lethargically yawned.
Sliding out of the carriage came a man with a medium build and long frizzy hair, pulled into a ponytail and tied with a red ribbon. Five days worth of stubble covered his triangular jaw. He wore an open oversized flannel jacket and patterned leather shoes. A silver watch-chain hung limply between his narrow belt and pants pocket.
Stan scanned the square with sleep heavy, green eyes and yawned deeply, exposing oversized teeth.
Tom rolled his eyes and Nessy dropped her shoulders.
“You weren’t waiting on my account, were you?” Stan said with a sleepy eastern European accent.
“Stan, me old lad, you’d be late for your own funeral.” Tom clucked.
“You really should get a wiggle on, Stan.” Nessy stated matter-of-factly, with a nod.
“I’ve got nothing else to do today.” Stan mumbled as he shuffled over to his companions.
One of the deputies walked over to the trio and opened a parasol. He held it over Nessy.
“What are you doing?” Nessy asked as she turned to face the deputy.
“Well, miss, it’s customary to shade a condemned woman.” The deputy said, sheepishly.
“I don’t need a parasol” she glanced sideways and pointed to Tom “He needs a parasol.”
Tom scowled, narrowing his eyes and growling slightly.
“But Tom, you’re so… pale.” Nessy chirped.
Tom growled again.
Tom mounted the stairs to the platform, grumbling all the way. Nessy bounded up behind him. Stan slogged after his companions. The deputy stood at the bottom of the stairs holding the open parasol over his own head and staring.
“These stairs are really… high.” Nessy complained.
“That is because these people don’t normally hang criminals the size of twelve year olds,” Stan said.
Nessy stopped. Her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed.
Stan grunted as a small elbow was rammed into his ribcage.
Tom was already on the platform, surveying the animated crowd and the gallows. He walked over to the far side of the scaffold where his noose was. He examined it for a moment then peered over the railing.
“Where’s the hearse?” Tom rumbled, turning to the sheriff “You can’t expect to hang us without a cart to haul us off afterwards.”
“It’ll be here” the sheriff spat some chaw over the railing.
On cue a cart rumbled into the square and stopped beside the gallows right below Tom. It was empty, save for a grizzled driver.
“Oi, where’s the coffins?” Tom growled ”you don’t intend to stick us in the bone orchard without proper rituals, do you?”
The sheriff spat again.
“In this state your body’s gotta be examined by the doc before we can dump ya’ll to the worms.”
Nessy and Stan tromped their way next to tom. Nessy gave Tom a questioning look, Stan yawned.
“After we dance the hempin’ jig our bodies have got to be examined by the local sawbones” Tom stated.
“Really?” Nessy asked. Tom nodded. She looked from Tom, to the sheriff, and then to the parson, who was standing in the corner of the platform, then back to Tom.
“Why?” She wondered aloud.
“We got to make sure you don’t have any diseases,” the sheriff snorted.
Nessy and Tom looked at each other. Stan stared blankly.
“What difference does that make if we’re dead?” Nessy asked slowly.
The sheriff took a deep breath and opened his mouth to answer. Nothing came out. He looked around, searching for an answer.
Nessy gave Tom a sideways glance. Tom shrugged. They both looked at Stan.
“Do not ask me. I’m not a member of the state legislature,” he said, stifling another yawn.
Nessy breathed deeply, closed her eyes and shook her head. She turned from the befuddled sheriff and her comrades. She spotted her noose and walked over to it.
“Awww” she sighed with a little smile “they got my height right.”
“You’re lucky this isn’t Dodge City,” Tom said over his shoulder
“They hanged a thirteen year old there recently. But the noose was too high, so they made him stand on a box,” Stan finished the comment.
“I wouldn’t want to stand on a box at my own hanging,” Nessy pouted.
“That is just because…” Stan started with a grin.
“Stop!” Nessy snapped, “I may have to die today, but I don’t have to listen to any more of your short jokes!”
Tom rolled his eyes and scanned the growing crowd. Drunks had grown into a fine collection and the number of raggedy children had doubled. Several of the young urchins caught his attention. He walked over to the front railing and dropped down onto one knee.
“Oi, lads come here” He gestured for the children to come up to the gallows. A number of them did.
Tom took off his hat and tossed it to a tall boy with suspenders.
“Me father gave me that hat, now it’s your.”
Tom then reached into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out a few gold cuff links.
“Hold out your hands,” he commanded and dropped one cuff link into each out stretched hand.
Tom then removed his pocket watch. It was large and ornate. He looked over all of the youngsters.
“You” Tom pointed to a particularly ragged looking urchin “come close lad, I won’t bite ya’.”
The youth crept closer. Tom reached down and handed him the watch.
“Lad, where is your father?” Tom asked.
The young boy pointed to a large, fat man with a snaggled beard. Tom stood up.
“Mister, I just gave your boy my time piece, see to it that he takes good care of it.”
The man just nodded.
Tom scanned the crowd again. He stopped and grinned.
“Oi, old man!” Tom exclaimed, pointing to one of the old drunks. “You want my boots when I’m dead?”
Tom put one of his feet up on the railing to display his footwear.
The old drunkard gave a jack’o’lantern smile and nodded.
“Fine then!” Tom declared, “Once I’m dead these are yours!”
The drunks started clapping and slapping the back of their fortunate friend. Several of the older women put on expressions of shock and disgust.
Tom turned from the crowd and strode back to his noose.
“That was really sweet, Tom,” Nessy said, warmly.
“You always have to be the one playing to the gallery, don’t you?” Stan stated with a good-natured, snort.
The parson stepped, somberly, up to Tom.
“Your generous act hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Lord, my Child.” The clergyman said in a practiced tone.
“If I thought that handin’ out a few gold trinkets to some rough younglings would keep Satan from stickin’ his pitchfork into me gut” Tom chided “I’d have done this long ago. And don’t you be calling me your child, gospel sharp.”
Nessy and Stan nodded in agreement.
A murmur darted through the crowd. The people parted from the town hall to the scaffold. An old, tottering man wearing a black coat and top hat shambled his way toward the gallows with the assistance of a knotted cane. Alongside him was a middle-aged man with a worn hat, a Strauss mustache and a shoulder sash that read ‘mayor’ across it.
The two men meandered their way to the gallows and ambled up the steps. Stan was leaning against one of the vertical supports, napping. Nessy was trying to adjust a couple of locks of hair that fell across her face. Tom stood, tapping the toe of his boot in impatience.
Once the two reached the platform the crowd went quiet and the sheriff strutted up to them.
“Morning judge, mayor,” the sheriff brought his hand up to the brim of his hat. He then signaled to a deputy, who brought two folding chairs. The old judge sat, the mayor stood, fidgeting.
The sheriff strode forward between Tom and Nessy. He stopped at the front railing and scanned the crowd.
“Alright folks!” he bellowed ”We’re gonna’ start. First the mayor has got to read his part, so ya’ll be quiet.”
The mayor timidly walked over to the sheriff. He held several sheets of paper. The sheriff slapped him on the back,
“All yours, Hec.”
“Yes, thank you,” the mayor replied.
The sheriff sauntered to the back of the scaffold. He spat his chaw over the railing, almost hitting several children. He took a small leather pouch out of his jacket and took a pinch of tobacco out of it, then proceeded to chew it loudly.
The mayor examined the condemned. Tom was glancing around with an air of impatience. Nessy was looking straight at the mayor with a warm smile. Stan was still leaning against the vertical support, fighting to keep his eyes open.
The mayor closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Present and chained, your lordship.”
The crowd let out a little collective laugh.
“Agnes Za…Za…” the mayor stammered.
“It’s Tzadakos,” Ness stated, more than a bit annoyed “Tzah… Dah…Kos. Tzadakos. It’s Greek.”
“Agnes Tdazakos,” the mayor said with trepidation.
Nessy smiled and nodded in approval.
“And,” the mayor stopped and stared at the paper in his hand. Nessy started giggling.
“Oi, Stan!” Tom cut in.
“The lord-high, mayor can’t pronounce your name.”
“What? My name?” Stan sighed, waking up “It’s Stanislas, Stanislas Brzinski.”
“Stani…Stnisal…” The mayor attempted.
“Why can’t anyone here say my name right? It’s only Polish.”
“Because” Tom exclaimed “Your name is bloody impossible to pronounce!”
“Just keep going!” the sheriff shouted.
The mayor swallowed then cleared his throat.
“You three have been found guilty of capitol offences and will be hanged my the neck until dead and may God have mercy on your souls.”
“He won’t,” Nessy sang out under her breath.
The crowd went silent, save for a few gasps. The mayor stared at Nessy. She gave him a toothy, good-natured smile while rocking back on her heels. The old judge chortled to himself.
The mayor cleared his throat again as the crowd began to murmur again.
“I will now read the individual charges against the accused,” the mayor declared “Thomas O’Flarity.”
“Yes, your lordship!”
“You have been found guilt of bank robbery.”
Tom leaned his head back and laughed.
“Seventeen counts of murder.”
“What!” Tom shouted. Anger grew in his eyes “I’ve put thirty three men in the ground, not seventeen!”
“Shut yer mouth.” Sneered the sheriff.
Tom looked over his shoulder, glaring.
“I’m not going to close me mouth!” tom growled, “I’ve got me honor to consider. I beat the kid my eleven, that’s a respectable number.”
“Son,” the parson stepped forward “are you proud of killing innocent men?”
Tom gave a wicked laugh.
“I’ve killed many men, but never an innocent one! Every man I’ve killed would be standing up here next to me if Johnny law here had caught them.”
“You only killed crooks?” the sheriff spat, advancing.
“Yes, Johnny law, I did your job for you.”
Tom gave an evil grin. Stan and Nessy groaned. The crowd’s murmuring grew.
“Perhaps” Tom hissed, “if you lads had preformed your function I wouldn’t have had to kill them I did.”
The sheriff stood stock still for a moment. With a rush he threw a haymaker. Tom’s glasses flew to the floor, the lenses shattering. Tom’s head recoiled to the side from the hit.
“Oh no,” Stan and Nessy chimed in unison, “he just woke up the wrong passenger.”
Tom slowly turned. The sheriff was suddenly launched back, blood spraying from his mouth and nose. Tom retracted both fists for a moment, and then he sprang forward into the sheriff. The manacle chain cut across the sheriff’s throat as Tom’s hands grasped the head between them. The sheriff grabbed at his revolver. Tom twisted his body. The crowd went silent as the gun went off. In the distance a cat howled, then fell.
“That was a mistake Johnny law! I’m from the five points, that means I hit back!” Tom snarled.
The deputies bounded up the stairs, cocking their Winchesters. As they got to the scaffold Tom suddenly leaned away from the sheriff, screaming. The deputies stood stupefied for a moment.
“Ow! Ow! Ow! Let go, let go!” Tom screamed.
Nessy stood next to Tom, holding him down. Her nails were digging into his ear. Stan stood next to her shaking his head.
Nessy let go of Tom’s ear. He straightened up with a jerk and rubbed his ear.
“Tom,” Nessy pouted, “you’re kicking up a row.”
Stan snorted and laughed. Tom clenched his jaw and started to growl when a Winchester muzzle was jammed into his temple. Tom glanced at the jittery deputy.
“That’s enough,” the old judge said. “Young man” he addressed Tom “Try not to damage our law enforcers.”
“My apologies your lordship, but he impugned me honor and broke me glasses.”
“You struck him in the face with both hands?”
Tom nodded, still rubbing his ear.
“One hit is warranted for the glasses and the other for the punch. Gripping his neck, however, was going too far.”
The sheriff was wiping blood from his nose and mouth as he regained his legs. Deputies stood between him and Tom, rifles at the ready. The sheriff began to move toward Tom, snarling.
“Stop right there!” the old judge boomed.
The sheriff froze.
“He,” the judge pointed to Tom “Did not strike first.”
“Jonathan!” the judge gave the sheriff an icy stare “you can’t bludgeon the condemned, even if you feel it is appropriate!”
The sheriff opened his mouth to speak. The judge cut him off.
“Don’t forget that your position depends on the sanction of mine!” the judge lowered his voice “also remember that one telegram from me and you will be back guarding coolies on the railroad.”
The sheriff set his jaw and obediently nodded.
“Young man,” the judge again addressed Tom.
“Yes, your lordship.”
“Would you like me to amend the charges to thirty three counts from seventeen?”
“Yes your lordship.”
“Hector,” the judge called out. The mayor turned to the judge.
“Amend the charges to thirty three counts of murder.”
Tom gave the judge a half bow.
“Now that that is settled,” the judge continued. “Hector, continue reading the charges.”
“Yes, right,” the flustered mayor fumbled for a moment. “Thirty three counts of murder.”
Tom nodded contently and resolutely.
“Ninety seven counts of assault.”
“What!?” Tom snapped, his eyes bugging. He stood straight up, horror on his face. The deputies started to tense. The sheriff his hand on his revolver. Stan was bent over double with laughter. The crowd rumbled.
Tom’s shoulders slumped and he hung his head.
“Why does everyone keep saying that?” he groaned aloud.
“Maybe it’s the way you dress?” Nessy sang out.
Tom raised his head and gave a blank stare, straight forward. Nessy stood on the tips of her toes and patted Tom on the head.
“You want a candy?” she asked.
“Your lordship,” he said, turning to Nessy and chuckling manically “you may have to alter that to thirty four counts of murder.”
Laughter and horror ran rampant through the crowd as Tom extended his hand towards Nessy’s small frame.
“Stop that,” Nessy stated, slapping his hands.
“Tom,” Stan gasped between bursts of laughter ”this is why I said we shouldn’t just claim guilt without hearing the what we were being charged with.”
“I though it would save time sitting around in hoosegow!” Tom exclaimed, his words slurred a bit by the swelling in the side of his face. “How was I to know there would be accusations of buggery?”
Stan laughed, Nessy shrugged with a little smile.
“Agnes Tzah…Dah…Kos,” sounded out the mayor.
“That’s me!” Nessy squeaked. She clapped excitedly then covered her mouth with her hands.
“You,” the mayor continued, “have been found guilty of counterfeiting.”
Nessy lowered her hands and smiled, sheepishly.
“Four counts of murder.”
“Actually…” Nessy cut in, “I’ve killed six people.”
The mayor lowered the papers and stared, dumbly, at her.
“Aside from the people I killed during the robberies, I’ve also taken down a gambler and a soiled dove in Carson City.”
The entire platform went silent.
“I was gambling with this man and he cheated me! So I followed him to his hotel room.” She paused and looked around, “he was with this lady of the night, so I shot both of them and took all the money in the room.”
The mayor blinked and gave Nessy’s petite figure a once over.
“You… Held a gun?” the mayor asked in astonishment.
Nessy’s face puckered.
“It was a derringer.” She muttered.
“And you still had to hold it in two hands!” Stan burst out. He loudly sucked his breath in as Nessy’s foot came down on his instep.
“What else am I guilty of?” she asked turning back to the mayor.
Nessy smirked. The sheriff snorted loudly.
“You don’t believe I can pick a pocket?” Nessy inquired, looking back at the lawman.
The sheriff gave her an unbelieving look. Nessy shook her right sleeve and rolled her shoulder. She then held up a light brown wallet. The sheriff stared for a moment, then ransacked his pockets. With a grimace and a set jaw he strode over and snatched the wallet from Nessy’s hand. Nessy smiled at the mayor as the sheriff grumbled back to where he had been standing.
“How did you do that? You weren’t anywhere near him!” the mayor exclaimed.
“What else am I charged with?” she asked.
“What?” Nessy cried out, her face dropping into the saddest expression in could. “Why does everyone keep saying that?”
“I don’t know, maybe it’s the way you dress,” Tom quipped.
Nessy wrinkled her nose and raised an eyebrow as she slammed her elbow into Tom’s side. Tom grinned. Nessy withdrew her injured elbow with a wince.
“Ahem!” the mayor cleared his throat.
Nessy glared at Tom for a moment, then faced the mayor.
“Stani…slas Brzin… Brzin… “ attempted the mayor.
“Stanislas Brzinski,” He groaned, then added under his breath “That’s why I go by Stan.”
“You have been found guilty,” continued the mayor “of cattle rustling.”
“Hmmmmm…” Stan hummed.
“Very original guy, isn’t he?” Tom said to Nessy. She nodded. Stan rolled his eyes.
“One count of murder.”
The mayor lowered the papers and looked at Stan. The judge looked at Stan, intently. The sheriff and deputies all stared at the longhaired convict. Stan glanced around, his brows knit together. The crowd was watching him.
“What?” He asked, then a look of realization crossed his face. “They” he pointed to a smirking Tom and a giggling Nessy “Are the killers, not me. I’ve only killed one man and that was it.”
The entire town continued to stare at him.
“I’m serious! Tom and Nessy are the killers, not me!”
The staring continued. Stan sighed.
“Very well, just finish reading the charges,” He grumbled.
The mayor raised his papers, all the while keeping eye contact with Stan.
Stan bobbed his head side to side.
“To nie może się dziać!” Stan croaked. Tom exploded. Nessy covered her mouth, trying to force the laugh back down her throat.
“That ought to teach you not to laugh at me again!” Tom roared.
“When did I laugh at you?’ Stan howled, whirling to face Tom.
“When they said I buggered!”
“I was laughing at Nessy’s comment.”
“No, you were laughing at me!”
“I was not! Besides I’m the one who should be snapping at you!”
“Oh? Why might that be? Why should you be cross at me?”
“You yelled at me.”
“I yelled at you,” tom said calming down for a moment. He then howled “I yelled at you because you’re the reason we’re about to have our necks stretched!”
“That’s exactly why I should be mad at you, you’re unforgiving.”
“You fell asleep! It was your turn to keep watch and you fell asleep! The law was after us and you fell asleep! We were being chased and you fell asleep!’
“You and Nessy were asleep and I was tired.”
Tom gaped, open mouthed and wide eyed.
“Why, me old mate were you tired?”
“I spent all day looking for a hotel room.”
“It took you all day to find that room? It only had one bed! For three people and it only had one bed!”
“I told you I was tired.”
Tom screamed in frustration.
The sheriff sauntered up behind Nessy and leaned over her shoulder.
“What are they doin’?”
“Have you ever seen rams butting heads?” she grumbled back.
The sheriff slunk back behind the deputies to his corner.
“The hotel only had one room and that was it!” Stan rasped.
“Would you answer a question of geometry, Stan? How are three people supposed to sleep in one bed?”
“Do you want me to explain?”
Tom scowled. The parson cheeks puffed out. The old judge chortled to himself.
“All I’m aware of is that when I went to sleep Nessy was still out and you were keeping watch of the room. And when I awoke you and Nessy were in bed next to me and we were surrounded by deputies!”
“Do you think I like waking up with a loaded gun pointing in my face?”
“I thought that was how you woke up every morning, Stan” Nessy sniped.
Stan ignored her. Her shoulders dropped. She cocked her jaw and blew a lock of hair out of her eye as Tom and Stan both grew red in the face.
“How hair brained are you, Stan?”
“Do not make fun of my hair!”
“Why you kielbasa eater!”
Stan puffed out for a moment.
“Do you believe I’m going to take that from someone whose people almost lost a war against a potato!”
The two men snarled as they went forehead to forehead.
“Stan, Tom,” Nessy tried to interject.
She took a deep breath and brought her finger to her lips. Tom’s eyes crossed. Stan popped his manacle chain into his chin as he tried to cover his ears. The street urchins put their finger in their ears. The old judge winced.
“Tom, Stan,” Nessy said, as she lowered her whistling fingers.
“What?” both men shouted in unison, turning to their small comrade.
“You do realize that after pitching a couple of fits over being accused of sodomy, you both just admitted to being in bed with another man.”
Tom and Stan froze. Without moving, they both looked at each other out of the corners of their eyes. Nessy smiled. The old drunks cackled. The parson went red and hugged his bible. The crowd reverberated and shifted about.
“Stuff it!” both men shouted in unison.
“Well you would be adorable together. You could get a ranch in Montana.”
“Who would ever believe that?” Stan sputtered
“Hold fast!” Tom snapped, pulling himself straight up. “You were in bed with us, what does that say about you?”
Nessy raised her eyebrows.
“What do you think it means?”
“It means that they were correct when they charged you with prosti…” Stan was cut off by the toe of Nessy’s shoe crashing into his knee.
A loud tapping sound caught everyone’s attention. The old judge was rapping his cane against the scaffold.
“I’m afraid,” he stated, pointing to the clock tower “it about time.”
The clock read 11:57. The condemned trio looked up at the tower. Tom nodded.
“Wait,” Nessy said “your honor,” she faced the judge “could we have one moment, please?”
The judge took a slow, deep breath then nodded. Nessy smiled. She took her two companions by the arms and drew them close, their backs were to the entire town. Nessy sighed and shrugged with a sad smile. Stan shook his head while Tom chuckled. The two men looked each other in the eye, after a moment Stan smiled and nodded. Tom smiled too. Both leaned in and kissed Nessy on either cheek. She blushed. Stan patted her on the head, she shot him a dirty glance. Tom chuckled and patted her on the shoulder. Nessy and Stan nodded to Tom, who turned to the old judge.
“We’re ready now, your lordship.”
Tom, Nessy and Stan each took their place under their respective noose. With a nod from the judge the deputies stepped forward and started putting ropes around the legs, and securing the arms of the criminals to their torsos.
“Why are they binding us when we already have manacles on?” Stan wondered aloud.
“So as to keep us from kickin’ about when we’re dancin’ the hempen jig,” Tom replied.
Nessy squealed and wiggled. The rope across her chest slid down to her ribs. She clutched her bosom.
“Sensative,” she hissed, “I can tell you like tying girls up.”
An intake of air came from the churchgoers as Tom and Stan started laughing.
With the three bound the sheriff strode out to the mayor. He spat over the railing then turned to Tom, Nessy and Stan.
“When the clock strikes noon we’re gonna’ hang ya’” the sheriff gestured to one of the deputies.
“Well it would be a crying shame if you went through all this now to hang us at one,” Tom snorted.
The sheriff lip curled. Nessy giggled, Stan shook his head.
One of the deputies slid up to the sheriff and handed him three black bags.
“I’m gonna’ do this bit personally,” the sheriff said quietly, flicking a bag over Tom’s head.
“Any last words?”
“Your breath is wretched.”
The sheriff narrowed his eyes and pulled the bag over Tom’s face. He dropped the noose over Tom’s head and set the knot in place.
He shifted over to Nessy.
“Any last words?”
Nessy smirked, glancing first to Stan then to Tom.
“Will this make me taller?”
Stan cackled, Tom snorted. The sheriff blinked several times. He slipped the bag over Nessy’s still smiling face, he then set the noose.
He shuffled over to Stan, shaking his head.
“Any… last words?” He hesitated.
“Will this damage my hair?”
The sheriff pulled the bag over Stan’s head and yanked the noose tight. Stan choked.
“Not so tight,” he gagged, “We haven’t started yet.”
The sheriff walked over to the lever. The judge gestured to him and pointed to the clock. The crowd went quiet.
“Stan, Nessy it has been an honor and a privilege.”
Stan shook his hooded head. Nessy gave a sentimental ‘Awwww’
“It really has been an enjoyable go, hasn’t it?” Stan nodded, Tom exhaled loudly.
“Well I’ll wait for you on the other side,” Tom sated.
“Wait for us? How do you expect to get ahead of us?” Stan croaked.
“You know I’m a faster runner than you, lad,” Tom chuckled.
“Tom it’s not dry land that separates this world from the next, it’s a river,” Nessy said.
“That’s right, I seem to have forgotten,” Tom mused.
“That mean I will be ahead of both of you, since I’m the best swimmer,” Stan stated. Tom and Nessy laughed.
“Hey tom did you notice that Stan finally woke up?’ Nessy asked.
“Yes I did,” He replied.
The sheriff gripped the lever.
“You know what this means?” Stan asked.
“What?” Tom and Nessy inquired.
“I got the last word!” Stan exclaimed. Tom and Nessy exploded.
The judge nodded and the sheriff pulled the lever with a twisted grin.
The trio twitched for a moment like hooked fish, then became limp pendula. The street urchins watched them sway.
The entire crowd went silent, except for the sheriff. He stomped around barking orders to the deputies. With a flourish he drew a bowie knife and started cutting the rope that Tom dangled from. The deputies scrambled to catch the corpse as the rope broke. Tom fell, heavily to the ground. The sheriff leaned over Tom’s trap door and spat, missing the body completely. The deputies lugged Tom over to the cart and started hefting him in.
The judge stood up and ambled over to the stairs, the mayor in tow. The two men sauntered down the steps. The judge stopped half way down and turned to the mayor.
“Do you know what the defining elements of justice are?’ the old judge asked.
“Um… no, why?” replied the mayor.
“To protect society’s structure and to safeguard our individual liberties. Do you think we’ve done that?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Quite alright, I was just wondering aloud.”
Several of the churchwomen and their husbands milled about off to one side of the town square. Whispered discussions on the hanging were thick in the air.
“The way they behaved was unholy,” one short, fat woman in a gaudy sunbonnet commented. A tall, thin, silver haired man was standing next to her and nodding in agreement.
“I think they were possessed by the devil,” someone chimed in.
“Laughing on the scaffold, as they are about to hang? It was just… unnatural,” another mused.
“That’s not true” A gruff voice interjected.
The old drunk that Tom had promised his boots to stumbled over. He had an unkempt beard and ragged pants held up by thin suspenders.
“That’s not true at all!” He took a swig from a small brown bottle. “Back in Mexico when I was still in the marines, there were these Spanish sergeants we took prisoner. We decided we we’re gonna hang ‘em,” he paused and tottered, “these Mexicans were the same way, right up to when we hanged ‘em. Chattering the whole time.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” the silver haired man said. He turned to the rest of the churchgoers “What else could you expect from a drunkard like him?”
Snickering bubbled up from the group.
“You just don’t understand people who have no hope,” the drunk took another swig from the brown bottle. As he tottered over to the scaffold, the church members shook their heads.
The deputies carried Stan’s body to the cart. Tom and Nessy lay limp on the makeshift hearse. Their bodies were at odd, carelessly tossed, angles. As Stan’s body flopped into the cart the old drunk stumbled up alongside.
“You here for your boots old man?” one of the deputies sounded out.
“Yap,” the drunk replied.
One of the deputies jumped into the back of the cart. He pulled the ropes off of Tom’s legs and tugged the boots off. He tossed them down to the old drunk. The old drunk put the boots down and raised his brown bottle in a toast to the corpses, then took a deep guzzle. He corked the bottle and put it in his jacket then fished around inside his pocket. He pulled out three coins. He put one in Tom’s hand and wrapped the finger around it. Then put one in Nessy’s hand and one in Stan’s.
“For the boatman,” the old drunk said, patting Tom’s still hooded body. He tottered off, heading for a dilapidated shack on the edge of town.
He sat in the small, dark examining room, holding his head in his hands. He sighed and picked up a small, crystal glass of brandy, quaffing it in one motion.
He stood up, smoothing his grey beard, adjusting his waistcoat and putting the glass down. He took a deep breath, picked up several papers and his medical bag and stepped out of the room.
“Howdy, doc,” the sheriff grunted.
“Afternoon, sheriff,” Dr. Adler replied.
“We already got them in the parlor, waiting fer ya’.”
Dr. Adler followed the sheriff into the front parlor. The doctor’s house was a large, well appointed Victorian, with ornate, mahogany molding and dark, intricate wallpaper.
The two men walked into Dr. Adler’s parlor. Tom, Nessy and Stan were each propped up by several planks of wood next to three examining tables. One of the deputies stood next to the bodies, holding his six-shooter to Tom’s chest. A binding flash filled the room as a newspaperman took a snapshot.
“Wonderful work!” the newspaperman exclaimed, as he flipped the camera’s black curtain off himself.
“I can see the headline now: Dangerous Criminals Stopped by Heroic Lawmen!” he continued. The deputies smiled and nodded.
“Excuse me gentlemen,” Dr. Adler cut in, stepping forward. “But it would be easier for me to perform my duties without an audience.”
“Of course,” the newspaperman said and started gathering up his equipment. The deputies continued nodding. The entire group began slithering out of the house.
The sheriff stood next to Dr. Adler, waving his men out of the house. The doctor turned to him with a blank stare.
“’Excuse me gentlemen’ includes you, sheriff.”
“Oh, sorry doc.”
The sheriff slipped into line behind the last of his men. The doctor sighed as his house emptied.
“Philistines,” Dr. Adler muttered as his front door slammed. He put his medical bag down on a side table. He went around the parlor closing doors, lighting lamps and drawing the drapes shut. With the privacy of the cadavers ensured he began the examination.
Dr. Adler looked over the three bodies. Tom’s face was twisted into a sneer. Nessy’s eyes were open and staring up, the tip of her tongue was peeking out from her mouth. Stan’s head was tilted back, his eyes closed and his mouth open, as if he were asleep.
“It’s always unfortunate when young people go astray,” Dr. Adler said, picking up several of the papers on the side table.
“Oh where are my manners? You must understand that I have a habit of talking to my patients, living or dead.”
He scanned over the paper.
“Thomas O’Flarity, age 23, born Five Points, New York. Agnes Tzadakos, age 19, born Providence, Rhode Island. Stanislas Brzinski, age 21, born Krakow, Poland.”
He sighed and rubbed his eyes.
“I’m older than the three of you put together.”
“He put the papers down and approached the bodies. The doctor lifted Tom’s arm, examining the nails, fingers, palm, wrist and forearm. He pushed Tom’s rolled sleeve up almost to the shoulder.
“I was in the Five Points once, on my way back from medical school in Scotland. You must have been exceptionally strong to survive that upbringing.”
He paused for a moment, palpating Tom’s inner arm, then he looked to Nessy.
“I must admit my respect for your people, young lady. Very clever and rather resilient. One of my classmates in Edinburgh was Greek, a very smart man, he knew more about the structure and function of the brain than anyone, save the professor himself.”
The doctor examined Tom’s neck, noting the imprint of the noose’s knot, this was followed with palpation of the ears, jaw muscles and eyes.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Brzinski, I have had very little opportunity to interact with people of your nationality.”
Dr. Adler started unbuttoning Tom’s waistcoat.
“You may be wondering why you’re still standing. Truth be told I intended to have the sheriff’s men help me place you on the examining tables, but when I saw how you were being treated I imagined you would prefer waiting for me to find a few more respectful people.”
Dr Adler stopped opening Tom’s waistcoat. He took a paper out of the innermost pocket.
“What is this then?”
He opened the paper. The doctor’s eyes grew wide.
“Well this is interesting.”
He scanned over the paper and began reading softly to himself.
“The last will and testament of Tom O’Flarity, Nessy Tzadakos and Stan Brzinski: We want the money we didn’t spend to be divided among the five orphanages nearest to Drycreek. Our money is in a trunk in the cabin on mount San Sabastian. We may have been liars, killers, cheats, thieves and general outlaws, but we do have hearts. We don’t want kids to meet the end we did.”
The doctor lowered the paper and glanced at the bodies. He strode up to the front door and called for a deputy. Dr. Adler asked the deputy to bring the judge immediately.
As Fransisco stared at the two men riding away he was joined by Ignacio and Raphael, his fellow priests. They also stood in nightshirts, holding candles.
“What’s going on?” Ignacio asked, “the children’s sleep is going to be disturbed.”
“Nacho, read this,” Fransisco handed his compatriot the letter. Ignacio’s eyebrows shot up.
“This is stolen money! We cannot take it!”
“What does the letter say?” Raphael asked, tugging on Ignacio’s sleeve.
“It says,” Ignacio snorted, “That three criminals, who were hanged several days ago, wanted their money to go to local orphanages.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” Raphael seemed puzzled.
“The money is almost certainly stolen, Raphael. We shouldn’t take stolen money.” Fransisco sighed.
“If we can’t keep it, shouldn’t we at least bring it inside to safeguard it until we find the rightful owner?” Raphael suggested.
Fransisco and Ignacio looked at each other and shrugged. They handed their candles to Raphael and picked up the chest. All three shuffled into the church.
“It’s heavy!” Ignacio grunted.
Fransisco and Nacho heaved the chest onto a pew. Raphael held the candles over his companions.
There was a small metallic clink from the other end of the church.
“Did you hear that?” Raphael exhaled.
“Yes it sounded like someone dropping a coin in the collection plate,” Fransisco said.
There was a second clink. After a few moments a third clink.
“Perhaps one of the orphans is in the sanctuary playing a joke on us,” Ignacio whispered.
The sound of heavy, unshod footfalls came as if in response. This was followed by a light, tapping step and lethargic plodding.
“That wasn’t a child,” Ignacio said softly.
Raphael handed the candles back to Fransisco and Ignacio. The three priests fanned out across the church. A tall shadow cut across one of the windows.
“Did you see that?” Raphael gasped.
The other priests nodded silently.
A medium sized shadow slid across the other side of the church.
“What’s happening?” Ignacio hissed.
A third, petite shadow danced across another window.
The priests froze. They held up their candles and nervously looked around the sanctuary.
“We’re alone, but we aren’t alone,” Raphael’s teeth chattered.
“Do you smell that?” Fransisco sniffed the air, “It smells like brimstone.”
The priests, again, looked around the church.
“There is something on the alter!” Raphael said, shaking slightly.
All three priests cautiously stole up to the alter. Sitting between the communion plate and chalice were a broken pair of gold wire glasses, two barrettes and a singed red ribbon.