Sam knew Luke had a swing in his backyard. Everyone in town knew of it. They were used to seeing children playing back there. It was sort of like the town’s park. Luke had also crudely fashioned a seesaw for them to play on, using a short-legged sawhorse and a long, wooden plank. Plans were underway to build a treehouse up in the same elm that held the swing. He’d already finished the ladder, and had hoped to begin the rest of the work next spring. They had yet to see any kids come over on this day. Parents were worried over their safety, after all that had gone on the night before, and had kept their children in-house for good reason. Until the killer was caught, there’d be no playing outside.
Luke went on out the back to see what it was that they wanted. He was working up the gall to say ‘no’, just in case. His frazzled nerves made him feel anxious again, easily and quickly. As soon as Sam saw him open the door, he began to speak. “Hey, Luke! I was hoping you’d do me a favor.” Luke held his breathe, and raised his eyebrows, then responded nervously,”What do you need, Sam?” Sam noticed the worried look on Luke’s face, and put his mind to ease at once. “No, it’s not that. We don’t need you to go along with us.” Luke sighed in relief. “Here’s the deal,” Sam began. “Our Deputy Marshall has just sworn us in. It is now official. We have lawful orders to carry out. We will assist the Deputy in this manhunt. We are to bring our stranger back alive, if at all possible. From what we’ve heard, the murderer doesn’t even carry a gun, which is hard to believe. Of course, we know he carries a knife, and it’s likely to be the murder weapon. That’s not a problem, he’ll be no match against us. We did ask around. Nobody saw him wearing a pistol. No one saw a rifle in his saddle. He bought no ammunition while he was here. The man must be crazy. That’s plain stupid. Anyway, he’ll be an easy catch, if we can find him, that is. I think I know where he’s off to. The Deputy is staying here to keep watch over the town. He’ll send word out to his boss, the nearest Marshall, on the next train that comes through. It’s due tomorrow.”
“Here’s the problem, Luke. It’s nothing much. We need a long, strong rope, like that one over there, the one you’re using for a swing,” Sam continued. Luke jumped all over that admission, and sarcastically replied, “I thought you said ‘alive’…that you’d bring him back alive.” Sam wasted no time, “No. It’s not that. We don’t need it to hang him. Heaven’s to Betsy, no. We have some smaller rope to tie his hands behind his back. But I hear he has a mighty fine horse, and I want to get it back here. If I can work things out, I hope to keep it. I need a rope like yours, so we can pull it along behind us. I don’t want it getting away. So, what do you say? I’ll bring it back to you just as soon as I can. If anything happens to it, I’ll buy you another. We don’t have time to mess around right now. The man has a pretty good head start on us as it is, and we need to take off here shortly, or just as soon as we can. I’m sure you understand.” Sam had kept a serious look on his face during the whole explanation, and his eyes never left their target. That didn’t matter to Luke. He thought it was a lame excuse for wanting the rope. “He’s a hankerin’ for a hangin’, if anything,” he silently spoke to himself.
“Well, since you put it that way, I suppose so.” Luke was doing his best to act enthused over the whole deal. “No problem, Sam. No problem at all. The kids won’t miss it for a day or two. Besides, most of them will be stuck in their houses for awhile. I’ll climb right on up and untie the knots. It’ll only take a few. Hang on a minute, and I’ll go get it.” But before he could take two steps, Sam stopped him. “That’s alright, Luke. Don’t bother. We’ll get it down, no problem. Thanks a lot! You’ve saved us some time. It may take us a day or two. I want you showing up at the ranch Monday, no matter what. My help will be expecting you. They’ll show you around, and you can see what’s what. I know your a self-starter, so I’m sure you can find some work to do. We’ll be back as soon as we can, by Tuesday at least, with or without him. Don’t you worry about us now. I’ve been through this before. We’ll get ‘er done. Okay?” Sam appeared self-assured, as usual. Luke wasn’t at all happy after he heard the idea, but he continued to be agreeable. He had many fond memories tied up in that rope, and he didn’t want to lose them altogether in one shot. Luke knew it was silly to think about it like that, but he did it anyway, and quite naturally, in fact.
“Sure, Sam, sure,” answered Luke, thinking as he spoke. “Oh, yes. I’ll be there Monday, you can count on it. Sounds great!” Luke had thought of some questions while Sam was speaking, and he finally remembered what they were. “Can I ask you something? I was wondering. You know, that foreigner doesn’t speak English. How will he know why he’s being tied up and made prisoner? I mean, how would he even confess? Do you hope to find the pastor’s blood on his knife, or what? Won’t you need some kind of evidence?”
Sam had already asked himself these questions, so he already knew the answers. “Yes, Luke, evidence would help, if it comes to that. Blood on his hands, especially. I think he’ll know the why’s, though. Do you think he didn’t turn around once and look at the fire? Even if he didn’t start it, I surely think he’d of noticed, or heard your cry for help and looked back. As far as the confession goes, a simple nod either way will suffice. We’ll just stand that bastard in front of the burnt down church. Excuse my language. I think he’ll get the picture, if he hadn’t figured it out by then.” Luke was regularly struck by Sam’s unending show of confidence. Yesterday’s hero had a small sliver of doubt in his mind, concerning the stranger’s guilt. It was acting like a thorn stuck in his side, painfully and constantly pricking away. He’d yet to get beyond the shadow.