Western Short Story
The Master of Hanging, Bar None
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

Judge Elroy George Banterling held court in as many territorial sites that allowed him to do so, by declaration of his record of hanging killers only, all other convictions ended up in time-behind-bars for a short period. So, he was in demand in some places and hardly looked at by other sites, most of them of a soft-earth philosophy; Killers deserve their hangings, and the rest have it easy, like learning from experience, or starting life over from scratch, becoming a new man, the man you wanted to be, a new citizen of character.

Joe Carmody, petty thief, but a constant one, handsome as a man can be held up to the light, becomes and turns women’s eyes every which way, who lived off his thievery to the last spoonful of the day, and often the first spoonful, came out of the Great Curve jail at the big curve in the Snake River, fit enough for a killer or a thief, all Iowa looking on to see which way handsome Joe turned, what his mind had conjured up for him, if anything, in his short stay inside a steel cage.

Some folks were sure of the road he’d find and use, a used road to Hell not to be one of them on a sure bet, like dollars to an old doughnut, but they missed the point on that shot, Joe killing the first man he saw, the warden of the prison he just came out of, with the warden’s own gun, stripped from the man, levelled at his head, and fired away; dead forever, stone dead on a dusty trail not far from his quarters on the skirted edge of town.

“The warden,” Joe said, “tried to mate or match me with his daughter, a habit he’s been in since she came of age, still one ugly girl if there ever was an ugly girl.” He couldn’t emphasize the distinction any further. There definitely was one bit that handsome Joe couldn’t cotton up to, it was being paired up with an ugly girl in any and all possible situations. A single kiss, he alleged, would drop him in his tracks.

A call went out from the town fathers to Judge Elroy George Banterling, the dead-sure hangman, who’d take care of handsome Joe for all eternity, and starting pretty quick. There was no dawder or dawdle with the judge, as known far and wide as we’ve said already; for when he set out on horse or coach, he carried sure death with him, like iy was a tight playmate in a sandbox.

En route, he was held up by a stranger to most of the West, who demanded the judge’s spoiling values, each and every cent worth, so the judge shot him dead when his back was turned, hauled his body to the nearest town, had him identified as the town sheriff, opened court, found himself innocent of any charges, and went merrily on his way, a free man on a mission, the latest sheriff on a string of victims of the rope.

The judge, admitting that the sheriff, short term on the job, hadn’t learned all the turns in life as yet, had been cheated by his own ignorance. “The twists and knots, in any braiding, take a lot of time to get proficient with when life is in the loop.” He could have hummed himself out of town, on the way as quickly as the verdict was announced.

So, Judge Elroy George Banterling, the Hanging Judge, came to judge Joe Carmody’s case, found him guilty, pronto led him to the rope, because anyone just hanging around deserves a hanging if there’s a twist to be tossed in the loop. It sort of clears the air, the alleys, the dusty trails, the open roads. The Judge might say, if asked, but doubtful if someone would, “Law has reason and I’m here to explain by example.