Hanging On: Chapter Seven
Luke spent most of the morning torturing himself over a certain secret, and the type of confession he would deliver to the deputy in the form of a testimonial. He liked to think of himself as an honest man. He was raised to believe that honesty was the best policy. But was it? In every case? He was beginning to believe otherwise. The ‘talking to’ he gave himself went something like this: “What harm is there in withholding this kind of information? Besides, if I answer truthfully with a full disclosure, it will only exacerbate the future consequences that shall stem from this particular crime. It wouldn’t diminish the hardships that are sure to follow for all those concerned, namely those two kids. No, on the contrary, it would definitely increase the extent of the damages done for many years to come. Those kids have been through enough. Haven’t they? Why make matters worse? And what about our town? We want folks to move here. We wish ours to be a thriving community. We’re just getting started. On the whole, we simply can’t afford to let this kind of news get out and damage our town’s reputation. It’s not worth it. Well then, the matter is closed. I will not tell all. No way.”
Around 10 o’clock that morning, Luke headed out and made his way to the deputy’s office. The town had yet to build a jail, and they were still waiting for a sheriff to be appointed to their region. The deputy had been sent there as a lawful, temporary keeper of the peace. He was a meek and timid man who’d had an easy go of it, so far. The town was fairly crime-free before he arrived, and had stayed that way since he’d taken on the job. The horrible goings-on of the night before were unlike any he’d ever seen, and he was beside himself as to what he should do next, and how he would go about carrying out the law, given what he had to work with, which wasn’t much. He was expecting Luke that morning, but not the group of men who showed up a few minutes prior to Luke’s appearance. It was Luke’s new boss, Sam was his name, accompanied by a half a dozen of his hired-hands. The deputy knew Sam as the most powerful man in town, and thus showed him all due respect at all times, and at every event.
They’d come to town to shop for food and whatnot. While in the store they heard the news, and now they’d come to see what was being done about it. Sam wasn’t too happy when he saw the deputy sitting there, basically doing nothing. As Luke’s employer, he was doubly impressed to learn that the man he’d just hired was the new hero in town. He was also saddened and troubled when he got word of what all happened. Sam, by the way, was not averse to killing. He’d been out West for a while, and had had to defend himself more than once. The results had been death for his opponents. Being a rich landowner, when it came to taking the law into one’s own hands, he knew the ropes, so to speak. A killer was on the loose, and he therefore intended on doing whatever was necessary to apprehend the criminal. Then he’d mete out justice according to the unspoken rules of the wild.
Luke knew going in there what he would say, and how he would say it. He knew that if he told them he saw the foreigner leaving town just as the fire had gotten started, and that he was the only one he’d seen outside in the vicinity at that time, then obviously they’d have to assume that the stranger was the guilty party. Instinctively, Luke had his doubts about that assumption, but he also looked at the big picture, and by that I mean the future. This was his town, too, and he wanted the best for his family. Someone was going to pay for this, and they only had one suspect. He had to tell them who he’d seen. Whatever happened after that was beyond his control. That he knew. Furthermore, there’d be no more blood on his hands, not if he could help it.
Luke walked in and received a warm reception. Everyone wanted to shake his hand, and tell him what sort of hero he’d been. Luke had no way of knowing his new employer would be there. It threw him for a loop, and knocked him somewhat off balance. Sam was proud of him, no doubt, and told him as much in no uncertain terms. Luke was flattered, but also embarrassed from all the attention. Sam proceeded to take over the whole affair from there, and the deputy shrank back into the corner. “Have a seat, Luke, and tell us what all happened. No need to spare the details. We’re all men here.”
Even though Luke had just been through hell, he was none the worse for wear. He enabled himself to remain calm, and gave an overall coherent account of what he’d seen, and what he’d done. Here and there he’d feel the need to explain himself. Naturally, he got emotional, and as you might expect, a few teary rough spots were encountered. When it was time to skip the unbelievable part of the story, his heart began to race and he stammered a bit. But keep it to himself he did. The secret was his, and his alone. He already felt it’s weight.
Sam thanked Luke for the pertinent information. It was enough, and it was all he needed. There was a suspect, and they had sufficient cause to go after him. The evidence was circumstantial. No motive could be comprehended. That didn’t matter to Sam, he could overlook those things. What they needed was justice, and someone to blame. They already had the latter, and he’d take care of the former. Then Sam put forth his plan.
Sam glared at the deputy, “If my men will help to form a posse, will you swear us in?” The deputy immediately consented. Raising one eyebrow and wearing a smirk, Sam asks, “Will it be legal? Officially, that is?” The deputy replied, “I think so. At least, I’m fairly sure it would be, sir. I know the words, all you’ll have to do is raise your right hands, and repeat after me.” Sam was content with his answer. The law would be on their side. He offered his men a substantial bonus, and asked them if they’d agree to join him in this endeavor. They all nodded in agreement and subtle trepidation. “Good!” Sam continued, “As you know, we have no way to keep this man jailed up and locked away. I say we swap the speedy trial for a speedier delivery of the penalty. It might be months before we could get a court and judge to convene. We haven’t the time nor the patience to wait around, for who knows how long? That foreigner is guilty. Who else could it be? We have a witness.” Sam turns to Luke and smiles. “He is trustworthy, and comes highly recommended.” Luke remained silent, and kept a straight face.
“Now, deputy, answer me this,” says Sam with an imploring tone. “If we catch this vicious, wanted murderer…can we hang ‘em high tonight? Yes, or no, deputy. Answer me at once!”