I have no excuse for this one. The opening just showed up in my head one day and wouldn’t go away until I wrote it down. I did eventually figure out some (not all) of the background and plot, and wrote on past the opening.
We were three days late for the hanging, so there wouldn’t be much to see, but I stopped in Osborne anyway. We needed supplies, and I thought I’d pay old Tom my respects. Dan Bates didn’t have any objection – leastways, none he saw fit to communicate to me, given as he wasn’t able to talk just then, so getting my attention could be a touch problematic. Oh, he’d act up right enough if he thought it was important, but a visit to Osborne didn’t trouble him sufficient to stir him to action. He went where I pointed him without putting up a fuss.
Osborne wasn’t that much of a town. The main street was about three blocks long before it trailed off to nothing at either end, and the two cross streets didn’t go but a block in either direction before petering out. There were a few establishments outside that tight little collection of streets, but for the most part, that was what there was to see. The courthouse was dead in the center, of course, on the south side of Main Street, but they’d had the good taste to build their gallows around back, where it wouldn’t trouble any townsfolk who might be of a sensitive nature. I thought I should go take a look.
I didn’t need to use my heels on Dan, just pointed him in the right direction, and he ambled around the courthouse to the square.
There was the scaffold, fresh-built of raw lumber by the look of it, and there was old Tom, dangling from the crossbeam. That was a bit of a surprise, that they hadn’t taken him down and buried him, the climate being what it was, but it was an even bigger surprise when Tom kicked up his foot at me.
I frowned, and hopped down off Dan’s back. I could see now that Tom was watching me, and moving his tongue as if he were trying to talk, but he couldn’t get a word out with that noose around his neck. Didn’t have the air. And he couldn’t wave or sign to me, as his hands were tied behind his back.
I walked over to the base of the scaffold and looked up at him and said, “You ain’t dead.”
I could read in his expression that he was well aware of that fact, and didn’t much appreciate my pointing it out as I had.
“Seems to me that must mean Seth Pemberton ain’t dead, neither.”
It’s a sorry thing to see a man with his neck in a noose try to nod.
“Well, why the hell not? Seems to me that was at the heart of our agreement, Tom – you were to kill that son of a bitch.” My frown got a tad deeper. “And if you didn’t kill him, what the dickens are they hangin’ you for?”
“Horse theft,” someone said, and I turned to find a young fellow with a shiny badge standing behind me.