Justice of the Peace

By: Gary Gray

For some strange reason, this place looked familiar. As he stood outside the gate, Gill McClure directed his gaze along the curved arch of an entrance to the cold grey brick building.

Beyond the Iron Gate, a pale red sandstone path beckoned the way to a large oak door, ten sinister steps above the ground.

“Go on in and see the Judge.” Echoed a grizzled voice from above and to his right. Gill looked up and spied a pair of pale white hands wrapped firmly around the bars of the second story window. “Don’t you worry none; the Judge will take good care of you. Ha ha ha…” The coarse gravely laugh emanating from beyond the window was not of humorous nature.

Pulling upon the metal latch of the gate, it swung open to a slow creaky grinding halt. His one trembling leg found its way through the opening but pulling his trailing limb through was more difficult. As a sinking feeling from deep within his chest, fear, and dread, in his soul he felt, he believed that somehow if he entered this mysterious compound he would not be able to leave. With a wimpish tug of his leg, he brought his second reluctant foot inside the archway and stood frozen in place. The gate slammed behind him and he turned only to see the gate was gone and a stone wall existed where once the gate had stood. There was no way out now, he must move forward towards the large wooden door at the top of the stairs before him.

Ten stone steps upwards, he moved each foot one after the other, the sharp clap of the sole of each foot smacking against the stone with each hesitant step. Gill paused at the top of the steps before the wooden door. A single iron handle on the door was the only observable feature. No seams in the wood, no nails holding planks, the door was solid. One iron handle had rendered him but a single choice. Grasping this handle with his outstretched hand, he pulled, expecting the door to resist. The door moved towards him with gentle ease as if it were weightless. As he walked through the doorway the sound of his shoes striking the wood plank floor echoed throughout the hallow hallway where he was now standing.

“Over here.”

Startled, Gill turned to his left towards the voice.

“Come over here.” Said an old man sitting at a bare wood table in the darkened corner at the end of the hallway.

Gill walked to the desk and sat upon the straw laced chair before the old man.

“What’s your name?” Asked the old man, never lifting his gaze from a leather bound journal, a bantam trail of red ink droplets dripping from the feathered pen onto the bare table top as he scrawled.

“Gill McClure.”

The old man made his final scrawl then stood and disappeared through the door behind the desk as Gill sat in silence, drawing a deep breath. The smell of rotted wood and something more permeated the air. The musty and pungent breath that filled his lungs made him falter. The door behind the desk opened and the old man poked his head through the opening.

“Go down the hall to the door on your left and go on in.” He said, closing the door as his words echoed along the hallway.

Gill walked the length of the hallway and pushed the doors along the left wall as instructed. Standing inside the courtroom, Mort entered from a doorway across the room.

“Come with me.” Mort spoke as he motioned with his hand. Gill shuffled forward as he looked towards the doorway from whence the man had appeared.

Fleeting shadows of confused movement coursed from the dim yellow hue of the room beyond the doorway. As he walked through the court room he observed the bars on the windows and the isles of seats to one side of the room. The Judge’s bench, an ominous and ancient looking wooden fixture of oak and hand carved features stood with authoritative presence as he walked past. Gill followed Mort into the room and up a cramped, narrow stairway, halting at another massive wooden door with thick iron bars. Mort inserted a single key into the bolt and pushed open the door.

“In here.” Mort ordered, motioning towards the open door. The space beyond the door was dark and Gill hesitated. “C’mon now, don’t make this difficult.” Mort whispered with a sympathetic tilt of his head. Gill proceeded through the narrow doorway into long dim hallway and Mort followed, locking the door behind them. “Down here.” Mort escorted Gill to a cell door, again opening it with the single key he clutched in his massive and weathered hand.

The door slammed and Gill found himself interned in the cramped room, with a mere single barred window to explore. Gill approached the window and wrapping his hands around the bars, peered through the opening. Below this window, amid the empty dirt yard stood a gallows and a single shallow grave. Above the dirt hole, a single wood cross was visible and upon that cross he could see carved, his name. Horrified and confused, he grasped the bars of the window, focusing for hours on his grave astride the gallows in the yard below.

The lock of the door slapped its cold sound. Gill turned as an ominous man, six feet tall with a spindly frame, the Judge, gazed upon him with cold resolve.

With nary a glint of emotion or movement, Gill surveyed the pallid Judge. The Judge had thinning white hair, cut short and groomed to a light wave on the right of his gaunt head. His eyes were light grey and hollow, with a pronounced and lengthy gap between his cold and hardened eyes. His bulbous nose and long white chin whiskers stood in prominence on the front of his ghastly pale face. Large sculptured ears hung from the side of his head like brittle handles upon a pottery vase, his obscured narrow lips projecting a scurrilous grin as he gazed with indifferent purport at Gill.

“What shall we do about this man standing here before us?” The Judge said, looking at Mort now standing beside him.

“Your Honor. We have Gill McClure here before us, and before we proceed Your Honor, it may please the court to know that Mr. McClure was the horse thief we talked about earlier.”

“What say you to this Mr. McClure?” The Judge asked.

“Judge, your honor, I’ve had no trial. Why am I here?”

“Son, you’re accused of being a horse thief.” The Judge replied. “We’ll have no horse thieves here so we’re sending you back to where you came from.”

Mort grasped Gill with a cold hard grip and forced him from the cell, down the narrow stairway and into the yard of the gallows. Climbing the stairs of the gallows, Gill gazed downward to the empty hole and the lazy swirls of dust blowing across the yard. Mort placed Gill over the trap door. A hood, smelling of sweat and puke, was placed over his head. Swallowing hard as the noose was tightened around his neck, the knot pressing firm against his ear, Gill’s knees buckled.

With a slight flick of his hand, the Judge gave the signal. The trap door swung downwards and Gill felt the rope around his neck tighten ever so slow as he fell through the opening.

A moment later, Gill lost consciousness.

*

“Go ahead and cut’m down Jake. He’s been up there long enough.” Boss Johansson said from atop his horse. “That son-of-a-bitch won’t be stealing any more horses out this way.”

The Boss, as he was referred too by his ranch hands, was an enigma. A large and neatly dressed man, he rode, ate and slept with his crew, but would only communicate directly with Jake, his foreman. The crew followed Jake’s orders as if the Boss had given them directly. At two dollars a day, working for the Boss was a well paying job in these parts. The Boss and the crew had been chasing Gill for three days when they finally caught him sleeping along the bank of Sweetwater River.

“You reckon we should take his body back to town?” Jake asked.

“The man can rot out here with the buzzards; don’t fret about taking him anywhere. Just drag him over yonder and dig a hole to cover him.” The Boss replied.

As his eyes opened, the only thing visible to Gill’s blurred vision was the contour of a man wearing a hat. Jake returned the gaze and tipped his hat back.

“Boss, this ole boy ain’t dead.” Jake said.

“Reckon we’ll just have to hang him again.” Said The Boss.

“Go fetch that damn horse and grab more rope, the old ones too short.”

Gill, still in a state of confusion, was lifted to his feet by Jake and a few of the crew. With the rope securing his hands behind his back still in place and his feet still tied together, Gill was unable to resist.

“We gonna hang’ya again, you horse thieving scum.” Jake said staring directly into Gill’s eyes. Gill was raised to the horse from which he fell. Another rope was found and placed around his neck and the horse was led into position beneath the thick cottonwood tree branch. Jake tossed the rope over the branch, next to the first rope that had been prematurely cut and then tied it to the trunk of the massive tree.

“You’re going to take another trip to hell boy.” Jake yelled, slapping the rump of the horse. As the horse bolted, Gill felt the rope around his neck tighten ever so slow as the horse darted from beneath him. He slid off the back of the animal and dangled, his body swinging above the ground from the rope tied to the cottonwood tree.

A moment later, Gill lost consciousness.

*

For some strange reason, this place looked familiar. As he stood outside the gate, Gill McClure directed his gaze along the curved arch of an entrance to the cold grey brick building.

Beyond the Iron Gate, a pale red sandstone path beckoned the way to a large oak door, ten sinister steps above the ground.