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Published on Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Noose With His Name On It

By J. R. Lindermuth

 

"Pappy said a man always gets what he deserves. It may not be timely in coming, but eventually it plays out as it should."

Weaver heaved a sigh and handed his empty supper plate back to the jailer. "I never seen a lynching as something I desired. But it looks to be the road layin' ahead of me." He sank down on his bunk and gave his head a weary shake.

The cell stank of perspiration, foul air and the piss bucket in the corner. Weaver stared at the opposite wall where a former prisoner had scratched his initials and an obscene comment in the whitewash.

"It may not come to that, Mr. Weaver. Sheriff still might get back in time."

Weaver snorted. "Either way, this town's got a noose with my name on it, ain't they? The jury wouldn't listen to nary a word my tinhorn lawyer had to say and voted mighty quick to find me guilty."

   

The jailor scratched at his bald pate and nodded his head. "That they did, sir." He drew up a stool and seated himself outside the cell. "I got nothin' better to do for the time bein'. Whyncha tell me why they should have decided otherwise?"

Weaver peered at the man a moment. Then he snickered. "Why not? I got nothing better to do either —unless that mob millin' around outside decides to come for me sooner rather than later."

The jailer rose. "Let me get us some coffee first. Then you can tell your tale."

The coffee was hot, so Weaver took a little time blowing and sipping before getting on with his story. The jailer's twitching and the increasing noise of the crowd outside the jail eventually motivated him.

"I gave up a pretty good life back east to come out here after reading one too many reports about how easy folks were gettin' rich just picking up gold off the ground. So, four years ago, I left my wife behind and come out here to California, intent on finding my fortune.

"Truth is, I didn't do bad. I didn't get rich, but I did good enough to send word for my woman to prepare herself to meet me, sending her money to enable her to do so with comfort."

"It's always good for a man to have his woman by his side," the jailer commented.

"So they tell me. Unfortunately, it weren't long after she got here my woman forgot her duty to me and formed a criminal connection with another man. As you might expect, this created some trouble between her and me and at last resulted in a separation. She went off to San Francisco and I remained here."

The jailer grimaced. "She run off with the other fellow?"

"No. She left him in her dust as well."

There was a banging on the door of the jail and shouts which made both the jailer and the prisoner uneasy. "Hope to hell the sheriff soon gets back here," the jailer said. "Not my job to protect you if'n they bust in the door."

Weaver waved a hand. "I understand. I wouldn't blame you if you was to step aside and let them have me."

"Don't want to do that neither. I guess we better both hope for deliverance by the sheriff." He scratched at his head again, tilted his neck and drained the cup. "You want a refill?"

"Might as well. Don't figger on gettin' much sleep tonight anyways."

Their mugs replenished, Weaver continued with his story. "One night sometime after she'd gone I went in a saloon and encountered the man she'd been messin' with, in there drinkin' with a crowd of his acquaintances."

"What'd you do?"

"I had a mind to take some action agin' him, but he convinced me he'd repented of his behavior and wanted to make amends. When he offered to buy me a drink I took him at his word. We spent some time drinking together and then I went home.

"When he was discovered missing the next day, suspicion fell on me. After his body was found in an alley, I was arrested and charged with his murder. I seen you at the trial. You know what the results was, despite them havin' nothing but circumstantial evidence.

"And now his friends, afraid a legal hanging next month is too long to wait, have gathered outside tonight, determined to take the law into their own hands." Weaver sighed. He turned his cup upside down and shook out the dregs. "You got any pipe tobacco?"

"I got some. It ain't the best, but you can have some if you want."

"I'd be grateful."

The jailer took his pouch from his pocket and handed it to Weaver between the bars. He stuffed his pipe, struck a match and worked to ignite the tobacco. He puffed a few drags in contentment.

The mob had procured a rail and went on banging it against the front door. The sound reverberated through the walls and Weaver shifted nervously on his bunk. The jailer glanced in the direction of the outer office. "If they get in, there's nothin' I can do for you."

"I know it. I'm not holdin' you responsible for them."

The jailer turned his head and listened. The crack of wood and squeal of bending hinges drifted back to where the two men sat. The jailer gazed at Weaver. "Would you mind tellin' me something before they come back here?"

"What's that?"

"Was you really innocent?"

Weaver laughed. He tapped out his pipe and rose, gripping the bars between them. "Hell, no. I shot that bastard. He got what he deserved."

"But you said he tried to make amends."

"He did indeed. And I took him at his word. I was ready to forgive and forget. Then the sumbitch started tellin' his friends how he'd cuckolded me and they was all laughing and making a big joke of me. No man can let treatment like that go by."

The jailer squinted at him. "You gave the impression you didn't deserve to be hanged."

"Did I? That wasn't what I meant. I just said it wasn't something I was looking forward to having done."

The door collapsed and a mob rushed back the hall.

THE END

 

J. R. Lindermuth lives and writes in a house built by a man who rode with Buffalo Bill. A retired newspaper editor, he is the author of 11 novels, including five in his Sticks Hetrick mystery series. His stories and articles have appeared in a variety of magazines.

 

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