April, 2019

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Issue #115

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
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Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

Bounty Hunter
by Scott Harris
Three men, trapped in a remote cabin, pinned down by a band of Crow. One of the men was just passing through, the others an uncommunicative bounty hunter and his prisoner, bound to die for a crime that wasn't. Will any of them survive?

* * *

The Quick and the Deed
by James Hold
The Yegua Kid roams the Texas southwest observing many strange things as he goes along. He keeps to himself and lets life unfold as it will. In this episode an ornery sidewinder rigs a gunfight so the man he bets against loses. But the gunfighter's ghost has objections.

* * *

Trying to Heal Old Wounds
by Charles McCormick
A young man struggling to make a living in west Texas after the Civil War is ambushed by a murderous bully, but survives, setting in motion a much more complicated life.

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The Ransom For Miss Lydia Weston
by Lara Alonso Corona
Sheriff Bennett had to keep playing the game, had to keep pretending the Ward brothers, after years of personal antagonism, had finally gotten the upper hand—at least long enough for them to confess where they kept their hostage.

* * *

Final Judgment
by Tom Sheehan
It takes a man like Harvey Walter, an old man of the West, a pure spirit standing before man and God, to lead a jury right to the promised land of justice, in no uncertain manner.

* * *

The Deputy
by Corinna German
A former sheriff's deputy must relive his past as he searches for a mad, murderous trapper in the mountains of Montana. What does he have to lose?

* * *

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All the Tales

Final Judgment
by Tom Sheehan

Harvey Walter, sixtyish, slightly bent, white beard as full as a good poke, was still wearing his outer coat, as the last juror in the last row in Elmer Gentil's Saloon, though it was warmer inside than outside. But his attention had not been lost for one minute in the on-going trial of Karl Rickert, a young man he had known a few years here in Daw's River. He fidgeted, squirmed and tormented himself with the nature, manner and intent of the murder trial. Everybody in the room had heard him gasp loudly several times at statements made by the sheriff, by one supposed witness (who was "nearby" when the commotion or crime was in progress), and even some legal folderol and ministrations tendered by the judge. And he knew everybody in the room but one big gent near the back wearing a Mexican-type sombrero and the sleazy looking fellow leaning on the bar as if he thought the bar would open in the middle of the trial.

Harvey Walter made all of them hear him, hawking deeply in his throat, gagging, as if he had spent the morning busy at the bar instead of at the trial setting. If someone vouched a lie in Walter's estimation, he'd let loose his foul reprobation and reproval of the statement.

He was clearly understood by jurist, jury, defendant, prosecutor ("If'n you can call him that," he'd say) and the sheriff who Harvey thought had always been as crooked as barbed wire after a stampede.

Finally, the judge, Hector Glandford, generally a saloon regular because Elmer Gentil's Saloon was in the territorial seat, stood up and pointed directly at Walter and said, "Any much more of that kind of comment, Harvey, whether I understand it or not, I promise I'm going to lock you up for the duration of the trial."

"Hector," Harvey Walter said as he stood by his chair, wild gestures now helping mark his main defense, "you might as well git this whole dang town in jail because they know what's happenin' right here in front of us. Don't try to tell me one minute that George Blaney hisself ain't here in this room as if he was here in his own person. Just put him in a jail cell with me and I'll get this trial on the straight 'n' narrow in a matter of minutes, way it belongs."

Glandford slammed his cane down on the bar top. "You keep getting after me, Harvey, and I'll see you don't see the inside of this room for a month a Sundays. That'd be enough punishment for you, as this is a court of law."

The undercurrent of laughter and snide snickering had not died down since Walter's first admonishment ran across the whole room, right to the door where everybody in the room could see George Blaney's foreman standing at attention, occasionally nodding at the judge's comments. He was big and mean and most people referred to him as "Him," George Blaney notwithstanding.

Every person in the saloon courtroom, sober or a bit in the drink so early in the day, knew the story about the crime, the murder of Charlie Chesley, making the rounds about town, the way some stories get a new push every time they get exercised, the way the wild story went on about the giraffe being stabled at Cal Tucker's livery "jest in case Cal's ladder was broke and he can't get up to bed in the loft the way he morm'ly does, which ain't hardly normal any time, bein' as him missin' for good his good leg which ain't hardly the one he's got left, bein' his right one."

The story, "The rumors," as Walter had yelled out earlier, "was pure made up to take care of George Blaney's interests by gettin' Karl Rickert out of possible romantic entanglements, if'n you can stretch your imagination thet far, with Pearl Whitestone in the mix, Pearly bein' about the prettiest thin' since old man Carter had the near-pink pony thet one year when all other thin's was bad or worser than thet."

"Hector, you bein' the best customer Elmer Gentil's ever had 'ceptin' me when I got a poke, which ought to make us legal and my word just as good as your'n in this here court. From where most of us sit it sort of gives me a leg up in this law-yer stuff, at least equal footin' different from Cal down the livery. I got a say and you got a listenin', way I see it."

"Harvey," Hector said, like he was talking to a fresh neighbor kid, "another minute or two and I'll lock you up, I swear it."

"You takin' the oath now, Judge. Beats me how you kin do it, but if'n I go to jail, I'm aswearin' others'll be wearin' their jail pants with me." He paused right then, gave the jury all a look square in their eyes, and added, "'n' all us gettin' fed by the territory to boot, meanin' some cook's gonna get her tail feathers all aruffle pretty damned quick."

The judge stood up and motioned to the sheriff across the room. "Harold," he said with all his authority, "you take that bigmouth off to jail and keep him there until this here trial is done and over. We got some convicting to do, as well as prosecuting, and I don't feature it to be compromised by a town drunk and his ne'er-do-well pals."

Two other jurors stood up and one said, "Well, Your Honor, just for that remark alone, I'm goin' with my pal Harvey. Harvey and me is of the same mind about how there's so much Blaney smoke floatin' right here in this room like there's a damned campfire just raisin' all kinds of signal."

"Me too," said the other juror, smaller in stature. He jammed his sombrero down atop his head. "I'm ready a minute, Your Honor." For all his noise and his wide sombrero, he was only as big as a pony.

The undercurrent of steady tittering and snide laughter continued, easily getting to the judge, now rolling his eyes every time one of the audience, or the jury, made an inroad on his courtroom control.

"Lock the three of them up, Harold," the judge said, changing his tone of voice once more, smacking the bar again with the heavy end of his cane, which most knew was a stylish prop of pseudo-elegance. The sound of that exuberant rap was lost in the shuffle of chairs and boots sliding on the floor, and the omen of legal exodus. The weight of the whole room seemed to be shifting, tipping off to one side.

At the back of the room four more men said in unison, "I aim to go too," sounding to some of the crowd like a barbershop quartet at the chorus of an old favorite song at a trailside campfire.

"Me too," said two more guys in the jury, not as musical, and then three additional men spread around the saloon raised their hands as though they were in school and looking to be excused. One of them said, "We made up our minds that George Blaney ain't the judge in this room no matter who's supposed to be wearin' the robe if there was one to be wore here."

The sheriff strode up to the judge and said, "I ain't got the room, Judge. You know that. I can't lock up half the town."

"It's gettin' to look like the whole town if'n you wuz to ask me," Harvey Walter said loudly, looking out over the crowd in the saloon, now full to the doorway as the late-sleepers slipped into the folds of justice.

"Hell, Harold," said Judge Hector Glandford, "lock them in the other end of the room, if there's room."

Another voice, from way in the back of the room, sounding like he was outside the building itself, said, "Will the bar be open, Judge, case we get thirsty, it bein' late for coffee at this hour?"

"It's barely half hour past nine this morning, Glen," said the judge, to the tall man with the distant voice, who was about to start moving to a place in the line of business, and who replied, "I had my share of coffee today, Judge. I'm waitin' to get the real wake up stuff."

"Oh, hell," the judge said, as he hit the bar top again. "Let 'em be, Harold," and he waved the sheriff back to his chair. "Call the next witness."

Harvey Walter, waiting for the opening, jumped up again from his jury seat and said, "You ain't had any witnesses yet thet I can see, Your Honor, but just a couple out 'n' out liars 'n' hires aswearin' their oaths to George Blaney. Why ain't he here in his real person?"

He looked over at Blaney's foreman and said, to the big gent, "I guess you ain't important enough to get the really big man in here, are you?"

He smiled at the sleazy looking gent still leaning at the bar, figuring him to be another Blaney henchman. "You 'n' the other cahoots got some lessons comin' sooner 'n' you think. It ain't Karl Rickert gonna get hung for this. It's gonna be spread square 'n' fair to all the real guilty parties. Bet your pony on thet, I wuz you, and skedaddle 'fore it comes down like a whole avalanche itself."

The supposed Blaney hire, slight, wiry, with dark eyes and a healed slash, which could have been a knife wound thickly scarred above one eye, was still leaning on the bar, looking every bit the hired gun with his dark shirt, black vest with a red kerchief tied at his neck, and a hat that must have come from back east, as it looked entirely out of place in a saloon full of Stetsons and sombreros. He stared hard at Harvey Walter, his eyes bared with promise, as if he would, on a solitary cue, drop him with one shot. There was not the single sign of trail dust on him, no evidence of where he might have ridden in his days, no clues as to a personal trick or trade other than the shine on his guns and the sheen on his holster leather, the way drawing guns and replacing them hundreds of times leaves leather like old traces hanging in a barn, the silver light of day reflecting off them long as daylight lasted.

Harvey Walter said in his loudest voice, "If thet ain't the promise of a killer I ain't never seen one thet went unsaid like thet, from old Cut-eye there. You all here be witness to thet, as I'm aleanin' on you for it."

Blaney's foreman walked to the hired gun, spoke in his ear, and newly named Cut-eye, malevolence on the loose, walked out of the saloon as easy as going fishing.

"Where's the main witness, Harold?" the judge said. "I don't have all day." He took a sip of what he purported to be water but all knew he had started on his true day of what Walter called, with a smile at the edges of his eyes and a curl on his lips, "the judge's day of imbibery."

"Bring the Number One Eye Witness to the bar." When he realized what he had said, as the laughter again surged around the room, he corrected himself by saying, "Bring him to the witness chair." He banged the bar top again, imbroglio or no imbroglio, his mind racing to catch up to Harvey Walter, his true nemesis, the phonetics of words grasping him by the throat. Glasses rattled out of sight, bottles jiggled on a hidden shelf. Some of the throng and some of the jurors began their daily sweat of time, waiting for their first pour, their first sip. "After all," they might say, "we're in a house of drink." But it went without saying.

Time hung like a dead man in a forgotten noose.

From a side room of the saloon, the sheriff brought a nondescript, thin, poorly dressed man who dangled marionette-like in the sheriff's hands. One could look for the strings of the apparatus. Nervous twitches rode on his skin and pulsed plainly visible on his body. The man, it might be thought, could be caught up with spasms. Two prominent bruises decorated his face, on one cheek and on his jaw, as if he had been pummeled well with gloves or a leather mallet. Smaller marks, purplish in nature, dotted other areas of his face. Hair stood on its roots on the top of his head and heavy curls of it hung over his ears. Apparently he had not shaved in a week or more, but whisker growth was not heavy, which went with his general unhealthy appearance, saying some of his organs had gone neutral. He was a walking visit to the local doctor, who happened to be now caught up in jury duty.

The light from the slanting morning sun, bouncing off shiny objects in the saloon, bothered the witness's eyes, which he closed every few seconds, blinking into deep frowns, shielding his eyes from the reflections. It looked like he had been hidden in darkness pending an appearance before the court.

From the first moment since the Number One Eye Witness had been brought into the courtroom, Harvey Walter stared goggle-eyed at him, his mouth agape, recognition sitting in his eyes.

In a glorious moment of complete schedenfreude, Harvey Walter smiled a wide smile at Blaney's foreman, "Him," still standing at alert at the door of the saloon. With his smile still loaded and wide, the old crank of sorts shook his head in the popular negative fashion, saying "no" as positively as one could say it. Glee rode his frame as he stared at the Number One Eye Witness now taking a seat near the bar in Elmer Gentil's Saloon, of all the places he could end up in this world, this side of the Mississippi, wide as it was, and the whole of Missouri thrown in for kicks, his near-blind nephew from Missouri he thought would have died by this time from plain poor living.

"Him" read all the signs and signals Walter had thrown out for grabs in his moment of schedenfreude and bolted from the saloon.

In ten minutes, with not much happening in the saloon but a kind of drawn-out swearing in of the witness, waiting for "Him" to come back and attest to adroit handling of the witness, Judge Hector Glandford looked up to see "Him" and the bigger "Him," George Blaney himself , walk into Elmer Gentil's part-time courtroom. He had completely avoided looking at or listening to Walter on the dais in the jury seats lined against one wall in two rows and had missed the recognition that had lit up Walter's face when he first saw the witness.

Glandford did not, however, miss seeing the looks on George Blaney's face and that of his foreman, both showing serious concern for the first time in the trial and tribulation of the innocent Karl Rickert. Now, for the first time in his judicial career, a sense of foreboding came at the judge that he could not avoid. It came with the bite of a pick ax, deep and serious. Even then, in such throes of imagined pain, apprehension and trepidation now aswim on him, he could not remember a single man he had sent to the gallows, not a one; no names came to him, no faces, no widows standing forlornly at the end of his courtrooms across the territory, no children crying on the way out of court. Fright grabbed at him. He did not know the word schedenfreude but he knew the feeling, and what was coming at him was the opposite, the complete opposite. "On the target end," he might have said.

"The witness will give his name and make his statement of positive identification of the man and the circumstances so named as causing the death of the victim in this case." He pointed to the chair in front of the bar. The witness did not move.

"Sit down, sir, but say your name first and then make your statement as to what and who you saw shoot the dead man we mourn here." The victim's name, too, had run away from him.

The witness, still shaking, the bruises and body pains alive on him, sat in the chair with the assistance of the sheriff."

"Your name, sir," the judge said with a moment of mental stamina as he scratched for a semblance of propriety, as if he really did deserve a robe to wear here, even if it was a one-horse town. He wondered if his humor, at such times, would be appreciated.

"Conrad Bartlett," the witness said. He did not look at anybody in the room, not the judge, not the sheriff, not George Blaney, not a person in the jury. "I saw the defendant Rickert shoot the man in back of the livery. It was just before I went to bed. About 11 o'clock is when I always go to bed."

Harvey Walter stood up and said, "Your Honor, please, can we the jury ask a few questions of the witness so we don't make any mistakes here. Mistakes can ruin a man's whole day, and you and I know thet right from first handed experience. Your food sure don't taste as good, nor does the whiskey have the same bite thet we need always, 'specially on the law side of thin's."

The judge looked at Blaney and Blaney, shrugging his shoulders and not realizing what was in front of him, said, "Of course, Your Honor, sir, by all means do this up right and quick and get on with all good measures that you will deem fit for the coming judgment."

"Go ahead, Harvey," the judge said.

"What is your name, Mr. Witness."

"Why, it's like I said, Conrad Bartlett."

"Are you the Conrad Bartlett thet once lived in Missouri, on a farm outside of Liberty, in old Haystack County as what they called it in them days?"

"No, Conrad Bartlett never lived on any ranch in Liberty, Missouri." He stared at the area from where the question had come, apparently not knowing which juror had asked it.

"You're sure right on thet account, sir. Do you happen to know what I'm aholdin' here in my hands?" and Walter held up a holster he had taken off a fellow juror.

"It looks like a belt. A leather belt."

"Son, you can't see the side of a barn 'n' you can't see across this room 'n' you can't see in the dark any better 'n' you can see here in this mornin' light 'n' you have already forgotten your god-given name of Jacoby Bossler, bein' the son of Miriam and Joel Bossler of Liberty 'n' a nephew of an old man you ain't seen in ten or more years, though you couldn't see him if he wuz standin' right here in front of your pore eyes, 'n' we both know how pore them eyes is, don't we, Jacoby?"

"Uncle Harvey, is that you?"

"It shore is, Jacoby, and I'd give a barrelful of pickles to know how you got them marks all over your face. I don't suppose you just fell down on your face, did you?"

"No, I didn't fall down on my face, Uncle." Now, he knew, the bridge was crossed and he'd go with the flow of truth itself no matter the upshot. "Two big men beat me up and punched me all over and told me what to say when the judge asked me, and the sheriff was right there with them and I knew I'd be in Yuma in a flash if I didn't do what they said." He was staring hard at the area where George Blaney and his foreman were standing, as if trying to find a face he'd know.

And rising from the back of the room, a marshal's badge suddenly appearing on his vest from an inner pocket, the big man Walter had never known said, very officially, "This here trial is over. Me and my men are taking into our sworn custody George Blaney, his foreman, the gunsmith Tarbox we already have in irons out back, and the sheriff and the judge of this here court."

He turned to Harvey Walter and the other jurors and said, in very simple words, "Thank you for telling us all about these shenanigans going on here, Mr. Walter. We shore do 'preciate the advance warning." Then he said, with utmost honesty and a firmly official tone, "The jury is dismissed and the bar is open. The drinks are on the Territory."

There ensued all kinds of calamity and measurable approbation for the rest of the day at Elmer Gentil's Saloon, as a robe had finally been found for justice west of the Mississippi, beyond Tonto Creek, flush against Daw's River itself and the Mogollon Rim looking down from on high.

At the end of the day, as the last light went out, the last juror leaving the saloon was Harvey Walter, mighty pleased with his day, his arm across the shoulders of the innocent Karl Rickert who was actually supporting him and leading him to his night's sleep.

Once, in the darkness, Rickert heard the old man chuckle to himself as he whispered a single word, "Imbibery."

The young man didn't know the meaning of the word, but figured it would come to him sooner or later.

The End

Sheehan currently has 4 books in the production run at Pocol Press (Catch a Wagon to a Star; Between Mountain and River; Alone, with the Good Graces; and Jock Poems and Reflections for Proper Bostonians) and a novel, The Keating Script, coming in the spring at another site.

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