Death Comes to Grandstone
a novella of the weird west
Brian J. Jarrett
Copyright © 2018 Brian J. Jarrett
Elegy Publishing, LLC
All rights reserved by the author. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted by any means without the written consent of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Any names, people, locales, or events are purely a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any person (either living or dead), to any event, or to any locale is coincidental or used fictitiously.
Sitting atop his horse in the hot August sun, Gentry McNamara peered through an old pair of binoculars toward the decaying gold town of Grandstone. This sad and desperate place had once been a thriving upstart, bursting at the seams with hundreds of men chasing gold and twice as many looking to sell them the tools needed to make their embattled dreams come true. On the heels of these men, the whores and the grifters wafted in, feeding off the teet of the sow as it grew fatter and fatter by the day. A common story for just about every new town in the West.
But after the mining companies rolled in with hard men carrying Winchester rifles, rounding up the lion’s share of the gold, the good fortune of Grandstone dried up like a mid-summer mud puddle. Those who could leave did just that, leaving the most desperate men and women to a hard life trapped in a ghost town of their own making, lamenting their crumbling dreams in ramshackle houses.
And this too was a common end for so many towns in the West.
But Gentry wasn’t concerned about Grandstone’s grand past or its troubled future. He was there for a train robber and horse thief who went by the name of Bart Higgins.
Higgins had earned himself his own wanted poster, complete with a thousand dollar price on his thick head. That was a hell of a lot of money and it made him a juicy target for just about every bounty hunter east (or west) of the Mississippi. His bounty was the good kind too; dead or alive paid out in full. A bounty hunter worth even half his weight could track Higgins like a bobcat stalking a deer before putting a slug into the bastard’s heart from a hundred yards away. Easy money.
On any other day, Gentry would have been glad to be that tracker. He would have just as gladly put a bullet right into the center of Bart Higgins’s black heart, too. But truth be told, Higgins wasn’t the quarry Gentry sought today. The thing that Gentry McNamara was after today would strike fear into even the blackest and coldest of hearts; hearts colder and blacker than the likes of Bart Higgins.
Gentry placed the binoculars back into his saddlebag, fastening the latch. He gently patted his horse. She whinnied beneath his hand, shaking her head and giving a few snorts for good measure. Gentry had won the beast in a card game a few months back and she’d proven herself to be both gentle and sturdy. It was no wonder the man who’d lost her had been so angry. But some men couldn’t control their gambling any more than they could control their drinking and their whoring, and that wasn’t Gentry’s concern or charge.
Using the heels of his weathered boots, Gentry gave the horse a gentle nudge in the ribs. She responded obediently, trotting onward along the dusty road. She was a good horse, for sure. Gentry even considered giving her a name one day.
But not today. Today he had other things on his mind.
Two Colt Paterson Revolvers hung from each of Gentry’s hips, ten rounds between them, both riding snugly in worn leather holsters. Around his waist three dozen more deadly rounds were fastened onto the leather belt of his holsters. And that didn’t include the rounds lying in wait, tucked inside one of his saddlebags. Just as a carpenter had his tools of the trade, Gentry had his.
The buildings grew larger as he approached, ramshackle things that had already turned as gray as the dead limbs of a rotting tree. Grandstone was slowly dying; a cancer had gotten deep into its core and was now eating it from the inside out. Pretty soon, nothing but a shell would be left.
And God have pity on the souls who were still around by then.
Within a few minutes, Gentry found himself on the town’s main street. A fetid mixture of both horse and human shit lined the edges of the mucky street. Thousands of flies lit sporadically on the turds before taking to the air again with an angry buzz. Gentry ignored the smell, something to which he’d become accustomed. Duty took him to some of the worst places man had ever seen.
Voices drifted along on hot, dusty wind; the unmistakable rabble of an excited crowd. Rarely did an agitated crowd turn out to be something good. And on this day, he knew what those sounds meant. He just hoped he’d gotten there in time.
Gentry nudged the horse onward with another gentle prodding of the ribs. She responded quickly, picking up the pace and rounding the corner. Ahead of him, Gentry quickly found the source of the commotion. At the center of town stood a crudely constructed gallows, built with wood as gray as the crumbling buildings surrounding it. A crowd at least a hundred strong stood before the gallows, their voices high and agitated as they watched the show unfold before them.
Standing upon the gallows platform, Gentry saw a man with a thick noose around his neck. Another man stood beside the condemned, a flash of sunlight reflecting from a polished tin star pinned to his chest. Two revolvers hung around the sheriff’s waist as he read from a book that Gentry could only assume was a Bible.
Nothing in that book could save Bart Higgins, nor could it save any of the poor bastards in attendance.
And it sure as hell couldn’t save Gentry McNamara.
Gentry trotted up to the rear of the crowd. He gave the reigns a yank and the horse slowed, coming to a stop just behind the back row. She grunted, tamping the ground with her front hoof before giving her head a good shake. A few of the observers turned and gave Gentry a sideways glance before quickly returning their attention to the spectacle before them.
People were the same all over, Gentry found. It was humanity’s curse.
The sheriff’s voice traveled loud and clear over the crowd. “Deuteronomy twenty-one, verse twenty-two says, ‘And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree.’” He closed the book and looked upon the crowd. “Well, we’ve got no tree here, as you can see, but we have wood from a tree. And for a scoundrel, I’d say a wood post is as good as anything else.”
The crowd cheered their approval.
Gentry frowned. He retrieved his binoculars again, focusing them on the condemned man’s face to get a better look. It was Bart Higgins, all right, twice as ugly as his wanted poster.
The sheriff turned to Higgins, speaking directly to the man, but loud enough for the crowd to hear. “Bartholomew Higgins, you’ve been convicted of the crimes of horse thievery, bank robbery, and general indecency. By the power placed in me by the United States government, you are hereby sentenced to hang by the neck until dead. Do you have any last words?”
Higgins glared at the crowd before turning to the sheriff. “How ‘bout you go fuck yourself? And your whore momma while yer at it. Better yet, I’ll tell her when I see her.”
Gentry shook his head. Higgins was a brutal cuss.
The sheriff’s brow furrowed, his face now a mask of pent up frustration. That look told Gentry that the lawman was about two seconds away from sending Higgins through the trapdoor and straight to Hell.
Gentry took a deep breath. Time to get to it.
“Stop the hanging!” he yelled, loud and clear, his voice carrying over the crowd. “Stop it right away!”
The sheriff froze, his hand on his pistol as he scanned the crowd for the man who dared interrupt the show. His eyes quickly fell upon Gentry, sitting high above the crowd on his horse. Beside him, his deputy also stood at attention, hand poised and ready to pull.
“Just who might you be, friend?” the sheriff asked. “And just who do you think you are to demand the suspension of justice in our fine town?”
There was nothing fine about Grandstone, but Gentry said none of that as he nudged his horse onward and into the tightly packed crowd. They parted for him like the Red Sea for Moses, glaring at him for the inconvenience. A few of the men in attendance watched with a hand near their side arm. Gentry met their eyes directly. None of them pulled on him. That was a good thing if they valued their lives, miserable as they were.
At the front of the crowd, Gentry brought his horse to a full stop just before the gallows. He identified himself to the sheriff.
“Well, Mister McNamara, this here is a hanging, if you couldn’t tell,” the sheriff said.
“I can tell.”
“Then I’ll ask you again…what makes you think you got the right to stop justice from being served here today?”
“I need this man alive,” Gentry replied.
“And why might that be?”
“He has information I need. Valuable information.”
The sheriff frowned. “This got anything to do with gold?”
“I don’t care about your gold.”
“Then what do you care about?”
“That’s my business.”
The sheriff’s brow furrowed as he stared into Gentry’s eyes.
Gentry had to give the man credit; he possessed some fortitude.
“Your business or not,” the sheriff continued, “this man’s due to meet the Devil on this fine day and I’m the man who’s been charged with making that so.” The sheriff’s hand tensed on his pistol as he held Gentry’s gaze. “I’m a man of of the law. More importantly, Mister McNamara, I’m a man of my word, and I aim to keep it that way. A man without his word is no better than this scoundrel that stands beside me today.”
The crowd had now gone silent around them. Only slight murmurs and the scuffling of feet in the dung-infested dirt could be heard.
“You’re a man of your word, Sheriff. I trust and respect that. You wear the tin, as I once did. I respect that even more.”
The sheriff’s brow raised at the mention of Gentry’s law upholding days. “You were a lawman, eh?”
Gentry nodded. “A long time ago.”
The sheriff regarded Gentry for some time as he considered his next move. “The fine folks of Grandstone came out to see a hanging today. They expect what they’ve been promised.”
“Then these people are not fine folks at all,” Gentry replied. “Anyone who takes pleasure in the death of others should be ashamed and admonished.”
That comment earned Gentry more than a few evil eyes from the crowd.
“You’re a sympathizer with criminals?” the sheriff asked. “Odd for a lawman.”
“No, this man deserves to die. Killing for justice is honorable, but killing for spectacle is wanton debauchery. As a lawman, I’m sure you understand the difference.”
The sheriff watched Gentry for a while longer, still contemplating. His hand never left the butt of his revolver, but Gentry watched the muscles in the man’s forearm loosen.
Minutes passed like a slow fog rising over the ridge.
Eventually, the sheriff found his voice. “Show’s over!” he yelled to the crowd, his voice traveling easily through the muggy air.
Groans and boos wafted up from the disappointed crowd. Even the deputy had a look of sour disappointment on his face.
“You heard me,” the sheriff continued, undeterred. “You get yourselves back to where you came from. This hangin’ is postponed until further notice.”
The crowd persisted, looking around at each other as if they might all be the butt of a practical joke.
“Go on!” the sheriff repeated, as if addressing a pesky stray dog. “Git!”
Grumbling, the crowd began to slowly disperse. Gentry turned to watch them leave. It didn’t do a man much good to leave his back turned to an angry mob. As the townspeople filtered out of the square, a tall man with a thick beard glared at Gentry, his pistols visible on either hip.
Gentry let his right hand fall to the butt of his Colt revolver.
The tall man kept his eyes locked for a few more seconds before he decided to move on.
Lucky for him.
The crowd moved with little enthusiasm, taking their sweet time to get back to their whoring, their drinking, or whatever the hell people did in forgotten pockets like Grandstone.
The sheriff waited patiently until the last of the spectators had gone. He glanced at Higgins, still standing with bound hands, the noose coiled snugly around his neck like a large Amazonian snake. Higgins glared back.
“Santiago,” the sheriff said, addressing his deputy. “Take Mister Higgins back to his cell. I’ll be around later to follow up.”
The deputy nodded. “Yes, sir.”
The sheriff turned to Gentry. “Mister McNamara, you owe me a drink and an explanation. In that order.”
Gentry nodded, tipping his hat. “Fair enough, Sheriff. I trust this town has an establishment that can provide us a place for both?”