Western Short Story
Solomon's Misjudgment
J.R. Lindermuth


Western Short Story

Just because he shares the Christian name, Judge McLain considers himself on a par with that other Solomon. What he tends to forget is even that wise old Israelite had his share of mistakes in judgment. 

There was this case last week, for instance. Two Mexicans were fighting over ownership of a mule. They was raising such a ruckus, flashing knives and such, my deputy summoned me from my supper. Now since I had just set down to it, I was plenty riled myself. 

Tom's mostly a good deputy, but he haint much for courage. Anytime it looks like there's a chance somebody might get hurt he's likely to call on me rather than trying to settle things himself. 

I come upon these gamberros there in the street in front of Tucker's hardware and I seen right away somebody was going to get hurt if I didn't settle them down quick. A crowd had gathered around the two of them--as always happens when we get a little excitement out of the ordinary in town. People just can't seem to mind their own business when others get to quarreling. Anyway I saw right off these two had their allies in the crowd and things was getting hot. If they didn't stab one another, somebody else might take it to mind to do it for them. 

I fired a blast in the air with my shotgun to get their attention and part a path for me to get closer to the rowdies. The two Mexicans stopped circling and yelling at one another and turned to face me. One of them snarled in Spanish whilst the other just spit off to one side and glared at me. I stepped up close and slammed the butt of my shotgun into the belly of the spitter who went down on his knees, gasping for breath. Before the other could spout another word I smacked him hard aside the head with the barrel. Tom was helpful in getting the manacles on them before they could recover. Then we herded them down to my lockup for the night. 

There wasn't anything else on the docket, but McLain said we might as well get the hearing over with. Solomon likes to hold everything down at the Double Eagle. He claims deliberating works up a thirst and we might as well be in a convenient place for slaking it. I got no complaints about that. 

After Tom and me brought in the prisoners, the judge says we should bring the mule over to the saloon, too. "You sure you want to do that, your honor?" I asked. "The animal's safe over there at the livery stable." 

McLain gives me a look like I just expectorated in his beer. "I want the beast handy in case we need to reference it," he snarled. I shrugged and told Tom to go get it. I should have remembered the judge, he don't like to walk no farther than he has to. 

Once that was done the judge commenced to hear the evidence — which was difficult, given that neither of the parties spoke English and his honor don't know nary a word of Mexican. McLain halted the action long enough to ask if there was anybody in the courtroom could act as translator. He offered two dollars in pay and free beer after the conclusion of the court's business. Well, that got him several volunteers and after a little more deliberation he selected a fellow I know for a fact understands no more Spanish than the rest of us. 

The testimony continued for another ten or fifteen minutes with a lot of gesticulating and jibber-jabber what made no sense to most of those in the courtroom. I figured about that time the judge was getting thirsty. And I was right. He banged his gavel on the table and proceeded to make his pronouncement. 

"It is the decision of this court the plaintiff and the defendant shall share equally in the cost of the hearing," he said, "and then will settle their dispute by drawing straws to determine ownership of the animal in question. So ordered." He banged the gavel again. 

Noting that the two Mexicans was staring at him with their mouths hanging open, McLain leaned over to his translator and suggested it behooved him to explain the order. After more sputtering and arm-waving, the judge nodded to me. 

Tom and me grabbed onto shirt collars and hauled the two out of the saloon. As we came out into the sunshine I was momentarily blinded. I blinked and shook my head and had a look around. But I didn't see no mule. Turning to Tom, I asked, "Where'd you put the animal?" 

A puzzled expression on his face, Tom pointed straight ahead of him. "Right there, sheriff. I tied it up right there to the hitching rail." The Mexicans looked from him to me and then at one another. 

I commenced to laugh. It was plain as day what had happened. Whilst we was inside listening to McLain pontificate, some other varmint had made off with the mule.