Killing Time

The Arizona Territory was rough country in the late 19th century. Cattle barons ruled small empires, sometimes built on government lands, stolen cattle, and fast guns. The border between the territory and Old Mexico was an invisible barrier that men north and south of the border acknowledged or ignored, based on which proved to be the most expedient at any given time. There was silver and gold in the ground for a few lucky prospectors. On the other hand, cattle, proved to be gold on the hoof for those ranchers that could get a herd to market. That is why rustlers were pursued with a vengeance. Taking money out of the pocket of any wealthy cattle baron, was buying a ticket to a hangman's noose. Any man accused of rustling was sure to face swift, often vigilante justice.

Trey Connelly was a top cow hand, tired of eating trail dust, looking to try his hand at prospecting. It was just bad luck that his search for a rich claim put him in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Framed for rustling, defended by a drunken advocate, Trey Connelly is hanged by a vigilante mob, inflamed by the very men who had named him as a rustler. Swinging from a hemp rope was not an uncommon ending for many a rustler--in fact it was a common tale in Western folklore. Thus the hanging in the small town of Magdalena might not have been particularly noteworthy at all; if the attorney for the defense, Benton Hull, had stayed drunk and the accused, Trey Connelly had just stayed dead!



“Is there something I can do for you, Judge?”

“There is something you can do for your community,” the Judge smoothly replied, motioning to the bartender for a glass and a bottle. As he poured a glass and nudged it toward Hull, he continued in a low tone. “As this community grows, it needs men who will step forward and perform their civic duty.” Waxing eloquently, the judge continued to outline what those civil duties entailed. The Judge kept urging and kept pouring until the reluctant Benton Hull agreed to serve as a public defender in the upcoming trial that the whole town was talking about. Judge McCandless felt, by securing someone willing to speak in defense of Trey Connelly, he had upheld the spirit of the law, if not the letter of the law. The rustler would have representation at the trial—maybe not an attorney, but at least an advocate. He was also somewhat in awe of Benton Hull. The man seemed to have an unnatural capacity for hard liquor. When Hull pushed away from the door and left the saloon, he wasn’t unsteady on his feet, and his handshake was firm. If not for the fact he smelled like a distillery, it would have been hard to accept that he’d been drinking quite heavily.

Stepping out of the Nugget Saloon, Benton Hull was far from sober—but considerably more sober than he’d been just a few minutes before. The night air, dusty, smelling of straw, sawdust, and horse dung stung his nostrils, sobering him almost immediately. He shouldn’t have let McCandless pour him that last drink, or the one before that, or maybe even the one before that. Honestly, he had lost count. But the import of what he’d agreed to nearly shocked him sober as he stepped out of the saloon, and made slow, conspicuously deliberate progress toward his horse. What the hell had possessed him? He didn’t know anything about the law—he guessed he had understood the part the Judge had told him about, even a guilty man should have the right to an attorney. But he wasn’t an attorney—nor had he even studied law. The Judge had declared that what really mattered, with the short time available, that they would both have to be willing to work together—hammering out details—such as legal training or experience, so that it could be said Trey Connelly would get a fair trial, before he was hanged.

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Killing Time

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For more tales of the west, try the novel Anasazi Trail or The Resurrection of Cain. Happy reading! - SC