THE TRUTH-A Laramie Story by Patricia "Laramiekid_2000"
In Laramie, the stage depot was located at the south end of the town right next to the livery stable. A chilly wind blew the smell of horse manure so that anyone standing outside the stage depot could smell this foul odor. But the two men who stood on the board walk didn't seem to notice. The Overland Stage sign rattled as the cold wind blew against it. Still the men didn't react to its loud sound or the icy breeze. But they did take notice as a pretty woman dressed in black silk boarded the stage. Her clothes were stylish.
"She didn't waste time leaving Laramie did she?" Mort Corley the sheriff observed.
Jess Harper kept his eye on this woman until the stage door closed. "I hear she's got the ranch up for sale."
Mort nodded. "Put it up for sale the day after Clem died. He wasn't even buried yet. Reckon a woman like that wasn't meant to be a rancher's wife."
"Odd pairing wasn't it? Her and Clem."
Mort nodded. He had been sheriff in Laramie going on eight years. "Jess, I sure appreciate you going to Cheyenne for me."
Jess dug his hands further into the pockets of his jacket as the wind whistled through the trees. "I should be thanking you. Slim had fencing he needed put up. Much rather do this."
Mort smiled, but laughter quickly died on his face. "It may be a long trip for you. You know what the doctor said."
Jess glanced at the woman sitting on the bench outside the stage depot. She was only a few years younger than Jess. Her dress was simple. Jess's eyes suddenly darted to a man boarding the stage. "You ever seen him?"
Mort studied the stage passenger. This passenger's clothes were dusty as if he had lived in the saddle. His hair needed cutting. His hat's brim covered part of his tan face. A beard covered the lower part of his face. "He looks familiar but...No, can't say I recognize him."
A man in a dark business suit was the next passenger to climb aboard the stage.
"Looks like Judge Stevens is traveling with us," Jess observed, frowning as if he didn't like the idea.
"Judge should prove interesting company,." Mort said with a smile tugging at his lips.
"Doubt if a man like that is going talk to me."
Mort replied, "Judge Stevens may be a hard man but he's fair. Of course someone he's sentence to jail may think different." The smile on Mort's face widen.
Mose Simons was the last person to leave the stage depot. He climbed to the stage seat.
"Jess, you and the lady want a special invite?" He then chuckled at Jess's glare.
Jess moved to the bench. "You ready?" he asked gently.
She nodded. "Thank you, Sheriff." Both men noticed that she was trembling.
Mort's eyes crinkled as he grinned. "Now you don't fret. Jess here will get you to Cheyenne safely. Father Johnson will meet you in Cheyenne. I wish you luck at the mission."
"I'm just hoping when I get away from Laramie that finally I can make some sense out of what happened," she said as her face frowned with worry.
"I wish you luck, Maddie," Mort said.
Jess took hold of her arm. She jumped as if he had hit her. Her face turned beet red. "I'm sorry."
Jess shrugged. "It's all right."
She walked ahead of Jess. Her head was slightly bent as if she was afraid to make eye contact with anyone. Jess made no move to help her board the stage. She sat by the window. Jess eased his body into the seat between her and the judge.
The stage left Laramie in a cloud of dust.
"You look familiar," the judge said to Jess.
"Just got one of those faces, your honor," Jess said, looking away.
"Well I see you're a deputy," the judge noticed the badge on Jess's shirt.
"Just for this trip," Jess replied. "I'm escorting this lady to Cheyenne."
"I'm going there too," the judge informed. "I have a trial there to preside over."
"You just finished one in Laramie didn't you?" the cowboy sitting across from Jess joined in the conversation. "I hear you hung him."
The judge nodded. "Tom Hanson was a murderer."
"Judge Stevens, I wanted to thank you for ordering Tom Hanson to be hung," the older woman replied.
"You're Clem Parker's widow, aren't you?" the Judge answered.
She smiled, showing dimples. "Yes, I am."
Judge Stevens said, "Well no need to thank me. Justice demanded it."
The cowboy sitting beside the widow said, "I've heard that Justice is blind."
"Not in this case, sir," the judge snapped.
The cowboy said, "I heard there was a witness, who saw the whole thing. But the witness never testified."
Jess felt the woman beside tense. "Easy," he whispered to her.
The cowboy's eyes shifted from the judge to the young woman sitting by Jess. He then looked back at the judge. "Seems to me there wasn't justice if the witness didn't tell what happen."
"Tom Hanson had every opportunity to call any witness he wanted," the judge clarified. "But everyone he wanted to speak for him, spoke against him."
The cowboy glanced at Jess. "You said you knew Clem Parker. Did you know Tom Hanson too?"
Jess nodded. "He did some odd jobs for my boss at his ranch."
"He seem like a murderer to you?"
"No. He was always friendly. Did his work. Never had no trouble with him. Mister, why are you so interested in Tom Hanson?" Jess asked bluntly.
The stranger smiled with closed lips. "Guess because of who we got on this stage. The judge who presided over his case. The murder victim's widow. And..." His eyes bore into the young girl by Jess. "Miss, did you know Tom Hanson?"
Maddie hesitated then said, "He came out to the ranch a couple of times. He occasionally did some work for the Parkers."
"You worked for Clem Parker?" he asked quickly.
"Did you see Clem Parker get killed?"
Her eyes filled with tears. She clasp her hands together as if trying to hide that her fingers were shaking.
"That's enough questions, Mister," Jess ordered. "This ain't no trial. The trial's over. Tom Hanson was hung this morning. Tom Hanson is dead. It's over."
The cowboy tipped his hat. "Didn't mean to upset you, Miss."
Mile after mile no one spoke. The judge tried to sleep. The widow and Maddie watched the scenery. But the stranger kept his eyes on Maddie. His stare never wavered off of her.
"Jess," Mose hollered from outside. "We've got company."
Jess leaned across Maddie so he could see outside the window.
"He's been following us for miles now," Mose yelled. "Reckon I should pull up?"
"I reckon you better keep going. No telling what he wants," Jess screamed back.
"Are we in danger?" the widow asked. Her eyes wide with fear.
"Ma'am, there's only one man following us and we got three men in the stage plus the driver, who I know for sure has a shotgun with him," Jess answered. "So don't you worry. You're safe."
"You're Jess Harper, aren't you?" the widow asked.
"You knew my husband."
"Do you have business in Cheyenne?"
Jess hesitated. "I'm escorting Maddie."
The widow finally glanced at the young woman next to Jess. A look of disgust flashed across her face. "After Clem died, I wanted her to stay at the ranch and help me. But she chose to stay at your place."
Maddie turned her head so she was facing the widow. "I couldn't stay at your ranch, not after what had happen. Daisy was so kind to me."
"I must say Daisy wasn't so kind to me. Did she tell you that I visited...several times. She wouldn't allow me to see you. Said you weren't up to visitors. Well I'm glad we're on the same stage. We must keep in touch. So you're going to Cheyenne. It's best to start over
again. Don't remember the past."
"But I want to remember..."
"Nonsense girl!" the widow snapped. "What's done is done. We must not dwell on unpleasantness. I'm going to San Francisco. I'm catching the train in Cheyenne. A whole new life is waiting for me in California. I'm starting fresh. New clothes. New shoes." She smiled. "I'm starting over. You should too, Maddie. Put the past behind you. I'll be in Cheyenne for
a day or two. Maybe we could dine together?"
"I'm meeting Father Johnson."
"Surely one meal before I leave. I insist. Just you and me."
"Yes ma'am," Maddie replied as if she still worked for the widow.
"Jess!" Mose called out with alarm. "There's two riders now."
Jess knew the closest stage stop was still miles away.
"Why do you suppose they're following us?" the judge asked.
Jess didn't get a chance to reply for a gunshot was heard and the stage suddenly stopped. Before Jess could react, the cowboy sitting across from him whipped out his gun. "Keep your hand away from your gun, deputy."
"Is this a robbery?" the widow asked nervously.
"No ma'am," the cowboy said. "Now everyone out. You first," he motioned towards Jess.
Jess started to leave. But Maddie grabbed his hand.
"You'll be all right," Jess squeezed her hand. "Don't be scared."
Judge Stevens said to the cowboy, "Young man, I advise you to stop this and...."
"Shutup, Judge!" the cowboy snarled, then snapped at Jess, "Get out and keep your hands raised high."
One by one the passengers left the stage until all stood outside. Three men on horseback and the cowboy from the stage faced them. Each of the intruders had a gun pointed at the passengers.
"If this isn't a robbery, then what do you want?" the judge demanded.
"Justice," the cowboy answered.
"Justice?" the judge questioned. "I demand to know what you mean by that?"
"Relax judge," the cowboy ordered. "I just want the truth."
"The truth?" Jess repeated. "Why don't you quit playing games, Mister, and tell us what you want."
"My brother was Tom Hansen."
The widow sharply drew in her breath. The judge swallowed hard. Jess's hand open and closed. Maddie trembled. Mose cussed under his breath.
"If you're thinking of taking revenge because I sentenced your brother to hang," the judge began.
"He was innocent!" the cowboy snapped.
"He had his day in court. And twelve jurors found him guilty," the judge argued.
"I know he was innocent," the cowboy insisted.
"How do you know that?" Jess asked.
"Because he was with me when Clem Parker was killed."
All stared at him.
"I ain't lying," the cowboy added. "I was in Medicine Bow with Tom. Tom Hanson was innocent of murdering Clem Parker."
"Then why didn't you testify?" Jess asked.
"Because I'm wanted. 'Sides I heard there was a witness who saw the whole thing. I figured
that would be enough to get my brother off." His eyes slid to Maddie. "But you didn't testify. If you had my brother would be alive today."
"Hold it, right there, Mister," Jess said threateningly.
"You stay out of this!" the cowboy ordered, pointing his gun at Jess. His gun moved to Maddie. "Why didn't you tell them the truth? We both know my brother didn't kill Clem Parker."
"I...I don't know that," she mumbled.
The veins in the cowboy's neck throbbed. "What do you mean you don't know that? Tom was with me. You were there. You saw who killed Clem Parker."
"Yes, I saw but..."
"Then why did you let them hang my brother for a murder someone else did?"
"Easy, Mister," Jess drew nearer to the girl, his body shielding hers.
The cowboy's voice rose with fury. "I want the truth! And lady or no lady, I'll do what I need to do to get her to tell me who killed Clem Parker."
"I can't tell..." she began but the cowboy cut her off.
"You'll tell," he threaten. "It's your fault my brother was hung!"
He cocked the hammer of his gun. "Now you tell me who killed Clem Parker. And I want the truth!"
Her eyes opened wide with terror. Her lips trembled.
"She couldn't tell the truth at the trial!" Jess snapped.
"Why not?" the cowboy demanded.
Jess replied, "She can't remember anything."
The cowboy frowned. "What..."
"The last thing she remembers is sitting with Clem on the porch."
"But she was there!" the man insisted. "One of my men went to town. Heard she was there when it happened. I figure Tom would get off. She knew the truth. I didn't know she hadn't testified until I found out that Tom had been hanged."
Jess nodded. "She was there all right. Probably would have been killed too but she hid. We found her in a cave about a mile from the house. She wouldn't talk for a long time. And when she did...she can't remember. The doctor says she's still in shock. Her memory may come back but when no one knows."
"She has to remember!" the cowboy said as if ordering her. "I got to know who killed Clem Parker. I want my brother's name cleared and the killer hung like they hung Tom." His face reddened. "I don't believe you! I think she's covering up for someone. A boyfriend ... or ... maybe she did it!"
"No!" Maddie cried out. "I wouldn't! Mr. Parker was good to me. He gave me a job cooking when my parents died. All I remember is being out on the porch shelling peas."
Jess added, "She didn't kill Clem-"
But the cowboy cut off Jess's words. "How do you know? If she can't remember."
"She had no reason to kill Clem."
"And where were you?" the cowboy swung his gun pointing the pistol at the widow.
The widow took a step backwards. "I...I had gone riding."
The cowboy's eyes narrowed as he studied her. "You don't look like a rancher's wife. You're dressed awful fancy."
"Mr. Harper!" she begged for help.
"Mister," Jess said, "she don't know nothing. All you're doing is scaring her. Now no one here can give you information on what happen. So why don't you leave? You hurt one of these women or the judge and you know the law is going chase you even if you ride into the badlands."
"He's right, Ray," one of the gun men said. "We best leave."
"No! We ain't leaving! Not until I get the truth!" Ray argued. "Maybe a little persuasion will help."
"Mister, I ain't going allow you to hurt these women," Jess threaten.
Ray fired his gun.
Jess grabbed his arm. Blood oozed through his fingers.
"Jess," Maddie said with so much fear in her voice that some of the men were startled. She moved quickly to Jess. He cuddled her, his good arm wrapped around her.
"Easy girl," Jess comforted. "It's only a flesh wound. Don't be scared."
But Maddie couldn't hide her fear as she tried to bury herself into Jess's chest.
"You satisfied, Mister? You scared an innocent," Jess said as his eyes threw daggers at the cowboy.
"I ain't sure she is innocent," Ray replied then focused on the widow. "I bet you could tell me something."
The widow shook her head no.
"Ray, let it go!" one of the gun men argued. "I ain't going hurt no woman. And I sure ain't going hurt no judge. And that deputy there don't know nothing."
The other two gun men nodded. Then without another word all three gun men rode away. Ray watched them until they were no longer seen. All the while he kept his gun pointed at the passengers.
"Give it up, boy," the judge ordered. "Ride out like your friends did."
"It won't be long before they come looking for us," Mose said. "We're due now at the stage stop. They'll come a looking all right."
"Quiet old man!" Ray hissed.
"Old man!" Mose snapped back.
"Easy Mose," Jess stated. "Mister, the judge gave you good advice. Ride out while there's still time."
Ray though kept his gun pointed at the passengers. He neared Jess and the trembling girl. "Honey, I'm sorry I shot. But you got to understand Tom was my brother."
Maddie said nothing. But her body shook hard.
"If you could just try to remember...you got to remember!"
"You're scaring her!" Jess snarled. "Back off."
"I thought you learned your lesson!" Ray moved the gun so it was almost touching Jess's face.
"If you didn't have that gun to hide behind..."
"Either you shut up or I'll shut you up," Ray threaten.
Maddie began crying. At first it was a whimper then a sob then her body jerked as she cried. She drew as close to Jess as she could.
"Sh! Don't cry," Jess said over and over but his words had no affect on her. "Mister, you keep doing this, you might just get her not to talk at all."
Ray grunted his anger. He moved to the widow. "You and me are going to talk."
"I don't know anything! But Maddie does. Leave me alone! It's her you should be talking to," the widow replied, her voice shaking. "Why don't you try again to get her to talk. After all she knows what happened. I don't."
"Don't tell him to talk to her," Jess argued. "Don't you understand. She's fragile. Her mind..."
"Go on!" the widow urged. "I'm sure you can convince her to remember."
Jess couldn't hide his shock. "What kind of woman are you?"
"He wants to know the truth!" she fired back. "I can't help him! But she can. She was there."
"Mister if you do want the truth, scaring this girl isn't going to help you or her," Jess stated.
The cowboy looked undecided.
"Maybe I can help," the judge interrupted. "You say your brother was with you when Clem Parker was killed?"
The cowboy gave a short nod. "My brother had no reason to kill Clem Parker."
"Robbery is what we assumed. We found Mrs. Parker's brooch on him."
Ray's eyebrow shot up with surprise. "I didn't know that."
"The way we figured was that Clem must have heard a noise inside and caught your brother stealing."
"But he was with me!" Ray said. "He wasn't even near Clem Parker's place."
"Then how did he get the brooch? Mrs. Parker testified that she kept her brooch in her jewelry box."
"Oh I see...my word don't mean anything. All right, Judge, you're so sure my brother was at Clem Parker's place. Let me ask you a question. You say you figure Clem Parker walked in on my brother robbing. If that's so, then how come that girl, Maddie is her name?"
Ray continued, "How come Maddie remembers Clem was on the porch?"
"Her mind is..." the judge waved his hand as if to dismiss her testimony.
"Judge, my brother was an honest man. I was the black sheep in the family. But Tom would never steal."
"I know it might be hard for you to accept. But like I said we had proof."
"Did you find anything else on him?" the cowboy questioned.
"No. Just the brooch. But he might not have had time..."
"And it was the only jewelry worth stealing," the widow said then became quiet as Ray glanced in her direction.
"Where'd you find Clem's body?" the cowboy asked.
"On the porch. He was shot in the back."
Anger flashed across Ray's tan face. "Tom would never shoot a man in the back! Never!"
Jess said quickly, "The prosecution figured Clem heard a noise in the house. He walked in, saw your brother. Your brother had a gun. Sheriff found a bullet fired into the door. Clem must have run when he saw your brother. Your brother followed and killed him on the porch."
"No!" Ray answered. "What did Tom say?"
The judge glanced worriedly at Jess. Jess's eyes fell from the stranger's face.
:"You ain't telling me something."
"Your brother tried to lie about what had happened," Jess said gently. "But the prosecution proved he was lying."
"I want to know what Tom said." The bullet whipped by Jess's face. Maddie's cries suddenly turned into silence.
"Maddie?" Jess said her name quickly. "Maddie, I'm all right. Answer me, are you?"
She said nothing.
"Come on, girl, answer me. Don't worry me. Answer me. Are you all right?" Jess's voice rose with anxiety.
"I...I...I'm fine, Jess,"she whispered.
Jess gave her a hug, mumbling, "Good girl, " then he said to the cowboy, "Mister, if you frighten this girl any more, I give you my word you and I are going tangle."
Ray studied Jess. "If you want me to back off then you answer my question. What did Tom say about how he got the brooch."
Jess said nothing.
Ray pulled back the gun's hammer. Its' loud clicking sound seemed as loud as a cannon to all the passengers.
The judge said hurriedly, "Your brother said someone gave him the brooch."
"Why that proves, don't it, that someone else could have killed Clem Parker?"
The judge informed, "The person your brother claimed gave him the brooch denied ever..."
"Well why didn't you see if that person had killed Clem Parker and..." Ray stopped as he saw a look pass from the judge to Jess. "Who did he claim gave the brooch to him?"
Neither man spoke.
"Did she?" Ray pointed his gun at Maddie.
"No," Jess said quickly as his arms wrapped tightly around Maddie. "She never owned a brooch. This girl never owned much. Clem Parker never paid her much. Mostly food and board."
"Then who gave..." Ray stopped and looked at the widow. "The judge said it was your brooch Tom had on him. You gave him that brooch, didn't you? Tom didn't steal it. You gave it to him. Then you denied you gave it to him. Why?"
Ray's eyes lit with anger. "If you're thinking I won't shoot a woman..."
"Mister!" Jess snarled.
Ray ignored Jess. "Answer my question. My brother said you gave him the brooch. That's right, isn't it?"
"Yes he did but..."
"No buts, Widow, If my brother said you gave that brooch to him, then that's what happen. Now widow, tell me why you gave Tom the brooch then lied and said you didn't."
The widow's face paled. "I swear I never..."
"Sir," the judge said calmly, "why would the widow give your brother the brooch? It was her mother's."
"That's true!" the widow said quickly. "Sir, don't judge me by my clothes. My husband never spent money, only saved. For years I owned just three dresses. The brooch was the only thing of value that I had. I would never give it away. Never!"
"I told you. My brother was no thief. He never stole anything in his whole life. He was honest." The cowboy thought a moment. "Why did you decide to arrest Tom? If what you say is true, then no one would have seen him at Clem Parker's place. So why did you even look for stolen items on him?"
The judge responded, "Your brother did odd jobs for the Parkers. The day before Clem was killed, your brother had been in the house repairing a floor. Which means he knew what they had in the house. He had remarked to Mrs. Parker about needing money."
"For what?" the cowboy's gun wavered between the judge and the widow.
"He never said!" The widow clasped her hands tightly together.
"It just figures your brother stole to get money," Jess said quickly. "And the brooch was valuable."
"Or maybe the widow here wanted him to do something and that's how she paid him. By giving him the only thing she had of value, a brooch."
The widow's hands shook. "What on earth would I want your brother to do..."
"I don't know. But Tom often took things instead of money for jobs. Maybe you had an anniversary and wanted him to make you something to give your husband. That makes sense don't it?"
Jess said, "Mister, Clem Parker might have been known as tight fisted about his money but..."
"And his lovely wife might not have liked living poor while her husband had money. But look at her now. Her husband is dead and she's all fancy up. She finally has the money her husband wouldn't give her."
Jess's eyes traveled the length of the widow, taking in her expensive clothes.
"You must have resented him not giving you money, huh widow Parker?" the cowboy taunted.
She crossed her arms. "I didn't mind that my husband was cautious about how we spent money."
"Don't you lie to me. Woman or no woman, I'll make you tell me the truth." He turned with fury towards Jess. "Is that why she won't tell who killed Clem Parker? Because the widow paid her off. Answer me!" He grabbed hold of Maddie, pulling her shoulder hard.
Jess angrily pushed him away, then grabbed for the gun. The cowboy and Jess fought for control of the gun. Jess twisted the cowboy's arm until he let go of the gun. It fell to the ground with a loud thump. Jess swung to strike Ray. Then stopped in mid flight as he heard Maddie cry out, "Jess, help!"
He turned and saw Maddie grow so pale he was sure she would faint. Then he saw what was causing her fear. The widow had pulled a gun from her handbag. She had the small derringer
pointed at the cowboy.
"It's all right, Mr. Harper," the widow said. "If he moves I'll shoot him."
Maddie began trembling. "Jess, please don't let her kill..."
"It's all right, Maddie," Jess cooed. "She ain't going kill no one."
"But she already has. She killed Clem Parker. I saw her do it."
"What?" Jess glanced with confusion from Maddie to the widow.
"She's lying!" the widow cried out as she tighten her hold on her gun. "We all know she's unstable."
"She did it!" Maddie pointed at the widow. "I remember. She fired through the window. She pointed the gun at me but it misfired. So I ran and ran and..."
The gun fired as both Ray and Jess grabbed for the widow. She was helpless against the two strong men. Ray grabbed the gun which had dropped. Jess froze.
Maddie's cries were soft but all heard them.
Ray motioned towards Maddie. "Go to her. She needs you."
Jess approached Maddie as if she was a frighten animal ready to bolt. He slowly reached out for her.
"I remember, Jess, I remember," she mumbled.
Jess stroked Maddie's arms as his eyes traveled across her face. "Maddie, it's over," Jess said softly. "You got nothing to be scared of."
"She killed him, Jess."
"I know," Jess said still talking in a gentle voice.
"She tried to kill me."
"But she didn't. And she won't. I won't let her. You're safe." Jess gathered her in his arms, cuddling her. He glanced over her shoulder at Ray. "You know the truth. Now what?"
The widow's face paled. "Please don't hurt me!"
Ray's eyes narrowed into slits as he studied her. Finally he looked at the judge and said, "Judge, I expect you to do the right thing and clear my brother's name and make sure this here widow gets hung."
"I don't suspect they'll hang a woman. But I will be sure she spends a long time in jail."
Ray nodded. "Good enough." He mounted the extra horse the gun men had brought with them. He walked his horse to Jess and Maddie."I sure am sorry, Miss, that I scared you. But I needed to know what happen. My brother was a good man."
"I needed to know what happen too," Maddie replied.
"I'm thinking the widow meant to be on this stage,"Jess said. "So when I left you in Cheyenne she would be there to make sure something happen to you. So you'd never remember."
"The dinner invitation," Maddie mumbled.
The Widow Parker's face showed that Jess's hunch had been correct.
The cowboy tipped his hat. He then said to Jess, "Another time we might have been friends."
Jess nodded. "Another time had it not been for a man named Sherman giving me a job I might have been like you. A wanted man."
"Adios." Ray held out his hand.
Jess shook it. "Adios."
As the cowboy rode away, Judge Stevens looked at Jess as if seeing him for the first time. "Medicine Bow. Ten years ago. I sent you to jail for a short time."
"Yes sir. I wondered if you remembered."
"I see you turned your life around."
"You know I believe in justice and the courts deciding a man's fate. But what happen to Tom Hanson shouldn't have happen. I've hung an innocent man." The judge's shoulders sagged. "I was so sure."
'We all were, Judge."
As the passengers boarded the stage, the widow whispered to Jess, "I have money. Lots of money. We could be happy. Very happy."
"I'd never trust you," Jess replied. "You've already killed two men. No ma'am. I'm not interested in making any deal with a she devil. I'm honest now and I intend to stay honest.
No more hoot owl trail for me."
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