Chapter 5: Trial By Mob Fears
Ezra could feel a cold sweat breaking out on his upper lip. This was not good. He'd been witness to too much of what could happen when a crowd lost control. More than once he'd had to slip out of town just ahead of vengeful marks and citizens. "Gentlemen," he said with a smile, hiding his own misgivings. "This can all be resolved with a simple wire to Judge Travis. He will..."
"Shut up!" one of the men shouted, shoving the back of Ezra's head.
"Now, boys," the sheriff interjected. "We won't be having any of this. We're going to do everything nice and legal. First we'll have a trial, then we'll build a scaffold..."
Chris glared at the sheriff, taking small comfort when the man flinched. "It doesn't matter how you pretty it up. A lynching is a lynching and you'll hang for it." He saw the sheriff and deputy pale slightly.
"Shut up," Hank hissed at them. "We'll give you a trial." Then nodding toward several of the men standing behind Ezra, Chris and Vin, he sneered as they roughly pulled the three men to a standing position.
"Bring them down to the meeting house," the sheriff instructed, standing and heading out the door, his face reflecting his growing misgivings.
The trio of peacekeepers found themselves being manhandled by several members of the growing mob. Trying to keep their feet, they had little time to notice the scene around them. Ezra caught sight of several of the working girls peering out of the door of the saloon. Chris noticed the hotel clerk's horrified look. Vin noticed the horses saddled across the street from the meeting house where they had been led.
Forced up the step into a building three doors down from the jail, the three men found themselves seated in three chairs near the front. A table had been set up to the side of the large window overlooking the street - the perfect place for the overflow of the crowd to watch the proceedings.
The sheriff moved forward and took the seat at the front. "Come to order!" he called out and immediately a hush fell over the crowd. "We're here today to determine the guilt" - a cheer went up from the mob - "or innocence" - silence - "of these three men in the robbery of the bank last night and the death of the Bank Manager." Looking over the crowd, he asked, "Does anyone have anything to say."
Ezra tried to stand, his anger evident in the heightened color on his face. A rough hand shoved him back into his seat."I must protest," he said. "This is a mockery of justice, I insist you wait until Judge Travis comes..."
"Judge Travis isn't scheduled to come back here for two months," the sheriff explained. "I'm the law here and it's up to me to protect these people. That's something I can do with a speedy trial."
Ezra was about to protest again, when the felt the tip of a knife poke into his ribs. Sitting perfectly still, he glanced back and saw one of the mob sneering back at him.
"Since no one else has anything to add, let me call the first witness. Deputy Peters, please come to the stand." The deputy who had questioned them the night before stood and approached. Before he was seated, the sheriff asked, "Do you swear to tell the truth?"
"I do," the deputy replied before taking his seat.
"Tell the court what you know," the sheriff prompted.
Clearing his throat, the deputy began his recitation. "I heard from Hank that there was three new people in town. As you know it's my job to find out people's business and make sure they aren't going to cause any trouble. Well, I saw two of them - the feller in the fancy coat and the one there in black - enter the saloon, so I went to talk to them there."
"And did you find out their business?" the sheriff prompted.
"Not really," the deputy admitted. "All they'd say is that they came from the east and were headed on home."
"So they gave you no other indication of their destination, of their purpose?"
"Are you aware of the rumor of outlaws and bank robbers in the area?"
"Yes, sir. Reports have been coming in for several days of a trio of outlaws robbing banks to the east of here. Last report had them heading toward us."
"And the description of the men?"
"They were kind of vague," the deputy replied. "Said there were two tall men about the same size, one with long hair and a slightly shorter man."
"After interviewing the men and getting no responses, what did you do?"
"I asked around after them and then reported in to you."
"Thank you deputy," the sheriff said, dismissing the man.
"But we haven't had a chance to question him!" Ezra protested, only to be prodded again by the knife.
"Next we call Hank Wilson to the stand."
The trio watched as the livery owner stepped up to the stand. "Do you promise to tell the truth?" the sheriff asked.
"I do," Hank replied.
The sheriff called up several more people, none of whom had anything truly negative to say about the three other than they were strangers, looked dangerous and the third man hadn't been visible at all. In fact, most people had assumed it was only the other two who were in town.
The atmosphere in the room became more hostile and more vile with each word, each testimony, each slur against the peacekeepers. None of Ezra's protests were allowed or heard, Chris remained stoically silent and Vin kept scanning the room looking for the best way out, looking for some way to escape and fighting down the fear that threatened. He'd been through this all before - in Toscosa.
The antipathy of the room swirled around the three peacekeepers as sparks of hatred flared into flames.
After hearing the testimony of the townspeople, the sheriff signaled the deputy to bring up the evidence. Chris saw the look pass between the deputy and the sheriff and knew it could only mean trouble. There was something else going on in Dry Gulch, something more than setting up the three of them. Chris only wondered if they would live long enough to find out what it was.
Vin's eyes were on the saddlebag. Travis had given them a special bag bearing the initials O. T. Something about this bag bothered him. Sliding his eyes to the man sitting on either side of him, Vin saw Chris was glaring at the sheriff, Ezra was sitting unnaturally straight in his seat, his eyes also looking at the saddlebag. He read the same suspicion in the gambler's eyes. Something was wrong with the saddlebag. Vin could only wonder what that meant about the money they'd been transporting.
Ezra watched closely as the saddlebag was brought forward. Something was off about it. It only took a few minutes to identify the first problem - there was no trail dust on the bag. He remembered chastising Vin the night before for placing the dusty saddlebag on the settee. The saddlebag in the deputy's hands was missing that coating of dust as well as the gentle scuffing that one would expect from the wear and tear such a saddlebag would experience, especially given the knowledge that the bag had originally been a gift from Travis' father when the man was still a boy.
Vin finally figured out what was bothering him about the bag. The lines of the letters were too clean and the letters too dark. In addition, the bag didn't look quite as full as it had, almost as if some of the money had gone missing.
The sheriff cleared his throat. "This bag was found by us in the hotel room shared by the three suspects. As you all can see, it's fairly unique, bearing a brand on it. Inside this saddlebag," he continued, opening the bag and reaching in, "We find the money from the bank." Gasps and shouts of anger and indignation filled the room. Shouts of "hang 'em" echoed throughout the mob. After a few minutes, the sheriff managed to settle the crowd. "Now, as you can see, there are stacks of money here totally twenty-one thousand three hundred and forty-two dollars. Pete bring up the ledger."
The crowd grew more restless as the deputy brought the ledger forward. The evidence was overwhelming and their anger at the death of a respected member of their community grew.
Opening the ledger which had been placed before him, the sheriff looked at the last page, at the last figure. "As shown here in the ledger, that is the exact amount from the bank's safe."
Before Larabee could silence him, Vin blurted out, "We were carrying forty-thousand." His plea was ignored, just as their requests to wire the judge had been ignored. They had been convicted before they even had a chance to defend themselves.
Settling back into his seat. The sheriff glanced downward, out the window and seemed to grow slightly pale. Clearing his throat, he announced. "Based on the evidence we have before us, it is apparent that these three men, Chris Larson, Ezra Simpson and Jack Dunne, are responsible for the robbery of the bank and the murder of Cecil Kinson, the bank manager. According to the law, the punishment for these offenses is for the guilty parties to hang by the neck until dead." A loud cheer went up from the mob. "It is the judgement of this court that these men will be hung for their crimes at dawn in two days' time."
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