On that dusky evening in early September, Roy played poker as he always had, sipping lightly on his whiskey, so as to keep a keen eye on the game. Roy couldn’t abide a drunk in a hand, as no one could ever hold a debt over on an unconscious player, no matter if he began alert or not. Just after ten o’clock Charley O’Doherty added his chips to the pot, sipping frantically on an oversized mug of beer. Charley, though always seen as a coward, had the type of no-good reputation that caused discomfort at any table. He’d killed three men in his thirty-four years, but always in the back and without witnesses. He hit his women, and was in repute to have had many children throughout the state of Texas. He bragged that it was his Catholic roots that made him procreate, but it was his Irish good looks that “kept ‘em coming.” No one could deny that Charley had been handsome in his day, but years of drinking and riding through the hot dust had weathered him like an old glove. He didn’t appear to be a day under fifty and had fewer teeth than most all the newborns he fathered.
Though Charley had a poor reputation, no one hated him more than Judge Roy Bean. Roy had his suspicions that it had been Charley behind the string of missing horses that fall, as well as a gold pendant that had disappeared from the jeweler’s store window. For all the drinking and gambling he did, Charley didn’t work much, yet he always seemed to have cash on hand for any occasion.
Roy stared at the back of Charley’s playing cards, mentally burning a hole through the paper. As bad as Roy was at poker, Charley was quite good. He didn’t appear to have giveaways in the form of ticks, scratching, or holding his breath. Roy knew that there must be something to give him a clue – maybe the way he shifted his leg back and forth, rolling on the heel of his worn boots. The hairs in Charley’s mustache lay painfully still on his pock-marked face, except when he smiled across the table, waiting. With a grunt, Roy threw down the cards and Charley, laughing, scooped up his winnings. As the clock ticked on toward the morning, the oil lamps burned softly in the windows, lighting their nightly game.
At six o’clock, Roy hobbled home to his office. He slept there on an old worn sofa that had been in the little building when he found it so many years ago. His old mutt lay beside him on the floor, panting softly in the already warm morning air. Though he had sipped carefully all night long in order to keep his skills, Roy was drunk. Snoring loudly, he slept late into the morning until he was woken by a knock at the door.
“You, Judge Bean!” came a high voice. “Judge Bean, you in thar? You need to talk to me!”
Begrudgingly, Roy sat slowly up, and with a sigh said “come in.”
The visitor, Calvin Miller, ran the local butcher shop as well as the post office, as they were all one building. He hadn’t a hair on his head, and hid his bald pate under a beat-up bowler cap. His stained apron stunk of rotten meat and he had blood under his fingernails. Still, he seemed excited about something, so Roy let him in and poured him a cup of yesterday’s coffee.“I heard you lost another hand last night, Judge,” Calvin said. “How much you out this time?”
Roy stated that he only lost “about a dollar” which wasn’t completely true. Yes, he had lost “about a dollar” but he had also lost several other dollars. He had come to collect on a fee that day for hanging a local rustler, and had had more cash on hand than usual.
“Well, I suppose that’s good,” said Calvin. “The way I hear it, some folks down yonder lost a lot more than you. The way I hear it, they say the game warn’t all in fairness.”
Upon hearing this, Roy set his cold coffee slowly down. He could not abide a thief stealing from others, and he could not abide a thief stealing from him. In all truth, he had lost nearly ten dollars at the table last night, and that was more than he could afford at the time. He put his hand in one pocket to find only a small pebble that he had not remembered being there the day before. But certainly no money remained.
“What makes you think the game unfair?” Roy asked, pulling at his long, white beard.
“I don’t know, Judge,” Calvin said, leaning back. “But they’re sayin’ it. You’re the law ‘West of the Pecos.’ Ain’t no other rules out here. If something’s to be done, it’s you that’s done it.”
With a pause, Roy swallowed the last of his coffee and got up from the table. Following behind, Calvin tipped his hat and left to butcher a pig. Though Roy always liked a good case, he knew Calvin to be somewhat of a gossip and needed real evidence. He hitched up his wagon, dropped a pot of beans for the mutt, and headed off to talk to the “them that’s sayin’ it.”
Roy arrived in Grand Mesa in the heat of the day. Sweating off the night before, his parched tongue sent him straight to the “Red Star Saloon.” He sat down with a cold beer in hand and asked to speak to someone in charge. Expecting the bartender, he was surprised to be tapped on the back by a lacy, white glove. He turned to see a heart-shaped face of perfect olive complexion, full red lips, and green eyes that pierced him straight through. He felt his jaw drop but was powerless against her beauty.
“Don’t worry, stranger, I don’t bite,” she said, with a musical laugh.
Embarrassed, Roy grabbed her hand (in what she expected to be a kiss) and started shaking it violently. Seeing that he was unable to go on with the conversation, she started again:
“I hear you want to talk to me? I figure it’s about O’Doherty, right?”
Roy nodded dumbly and took a deep breath. He somehow untied the knot in his tongue and introduced himself. She was known in those parts as “Rosemary Dove,” and worked an unspoken profession upstairs in the saloon. She knew all too well about Calvin O’Doherty and had the misfortune of spending several evenings in his presence. Leaving out the improper details, Rosemary Dove described Calvin as the coward that everyone knew him to be. He drank by the quart and he cried himself to sleep over his “poor dead mama.” No one really knew what happened to the woman, but it can only be assumed that she died out of regret for the burden she had brought on the world. Still, Rosemary Dove claimed that Calvin was no card cheat and any money he had--while he didn’t work for it--came from an inheritance.
Numbly, Roy listened, awash in the conversation of a beautiful woman. He knew he wasn’t getting anything he needed, but he couldn’t seem to leave, either. Time ticked by as they engaged back and forth until the sun crept behind the only tree for miles. With a jingle, one of Rosemary Dove’s “regulars” swaggered in and demanded “the usual.” With a sigh and a slight role of her jeweled eyes, she grabbed the stranger’s hand and headed upstairs, stopping only to give Roy a small wink before disappearing behind the door. Not wanting to know any more, Roy quickly stumbled out and back to his wagon. Heart pounding, he sat and stared off into the distance, seeing nothing but her beautiful face, hearing nothing but the soft strings of her voice. The sun set while Roy stared on until the cold jerked him awake and he started back towards town.
That night, back at the table, Roy started winning a little. True, his only competitors were the drunk doctor and a man so old his children had all preceded him in death. But whatever the reason, Roy needed a win. His safe showed little of his earnings as the “Hanging Judge,” and he had nearly scraped the bottom of the bowl. But he knew that big jackpot stood out in front of him, and if he could just reach a little farther…
In walked Charley O’Doherty. The glint of the gold on one of his few remaining teeth caught the lamplight as he snapped his fingers at the bartender.
“Drinks all around, Shawn!” he said with a cocky bounce to his step. “I’ve got money to burn and plenty of matches!”
Roy groaned under his breath but took the free drink eagerly and swallowed it so as to get another before Charley’s generosity ran out. Picking his teeth he stared hard into the deck of cards, as the dealer passed five across the table. He was determined to win. So determined, he felt, that if the game was at all honest, he would go home a very rich man. This seemed to cheer him up a little and he leaned back in his chair, shuffling the cards back and forth.
Sooner than later, all Roy’s high hopes sat underneath the floorboards. He had sunk so low in his chair, that his bushy white beard lay moist in a puddle of beer on the table. Charley, on the other hand, had continued to buy drinks for his “good friends” all night long. As the cards were dealt each game, Charley excused himself, and went for another round at the bar, bringing back glasses full of all manner of amber liquids. This continued, blurring the lights deeper and deeper until Roy sat stumped, unable to continue. Pulling himself up with a little help, he walked slowly out, broke, drunk, and miserable.
The next morning Roy awoke to the sound of wagon wheels and a small team of horses. Through the window he saw a whitewashed wagon parked out front of Tanner’s Hotel; seated in front sat a beautiful woman with green eyes. He could tell they were green, even under the yellow parasol and so far away. Down stepped Rosemary Dove. Had Roy been a clever man, he might have looked around, tidied up a little, and combed that knot of a beard. But Roy hanged for a living and hadn’t had a woman’s touch in years. He adjusted his suspenders a little, grabbed a crust of bread and cold coffee, and stepped out into the sun. Though he desperately wanted to go into the hotel and shake the woman’s hand violently again, he had a man to hang today, and he needed the money.
Just before lunch, Roy, and a small crowd of onlookers stood around Caius Jones as he sat sweating upon his horse. The Father read him his last rights, fed him communion, then turned to Roy. Caius couldn’t be thought of as a bad man, but he made poor decisions and ended up running with a band of rustlers who had come through town. Drunk one night, he thought it might be fun to go with them to round up some horses. In the morning, they and several horses had disappeared and Caius was discovered drunk and asleep on the back of stolen pony. With a slap to the hind-quarters, justice came swiftly to Caius Jones and swung into eternity. Ten dollars exchanged hands and Roy headed back to the saloon.
Inside, Rosemary Dove had already made several “friends.” Nearly every man in town, sat in a circle around her, listening to her with the focus of a horse race. She didn’t really have anything of importance to say, but then the men weren’t listening to the words as much as they were drinking in her whole being. As Roy approached quietly, he sat amongst the suitors feeling important, as he knew her first. He felt that they had a sort of bond, though she really didn’t recognize him at first glance. It wasn’t until the Barber, Manuel, started introducing the lot, that she looked into Roy’s eyes and said,
“Well, Roy! I was just tellin’ these boys about you and your big ‘Law North of the Pecos.’”Roy nodded dumbly, unable to correct her. He thought he might even change his sign out front, just to please this angel. He turned a violent shade of red as she clasped his hand between her two small palms, and smiled. “Go on Roy,” she said dreamily. “You tell ‘em about your hangin’.”
Sheepishly, Roy looked around the room, knowing that every man here knew what he did for a living. But everyone had come to an unsaid consensus that they were there to butter up Rosemary Dove. So Roy lapsed into a long and heroic tale of capturing criminals and bringing them to justice “even if it meant sacrificing (himself) for the law.” Truthfully, he had never had to “capture” anyone, but simply strung them up. But his audience all played the part and nodded, wide-eyed, “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing” at every breathtaking crescendo. Amid a sentence of bleeding heroism and martyrdom, the door swung open.
“Why, Dove!” came the all too familiar drawl. Charley O’Doherty stepped swiftly up, and grabbed Rosemary Dove around the waist, pulling her from the sad lot. He whipped her around a couple of times to the plinking and planking of the old player piano and gave her a kiss on the cheek. All the men watched in awe. For as much as they hated Charley, they envied him too.
“Hello, Charley” Rosemary Dove said, the tune stalled in her voice. Clearly, she was about as pleased to see him as the rest. “I thought you were goin’ to California to find your gold.”
“Why would I, when I’ve got gold right here?” His smarmy grin churned at the stomachs of his audience. In a moment, the bar had cleared out including Roy, who’s ten minutes of fame, or love, seemed to have passed. He walked down Main Street “lookin’ for something to hang,” but found only good church-going folk and small children and cats. With a snort, he headed back home to sleep away his troubles.
Roy walked into that night’s poker game with the few cents he had left. He knew he would lose them, but he also knew that Rosemary Dove would be there. Maybe, all he had ever needed was a good luck charm, of sorts. Having a beautiful woman around was just about the luckiest thing he could think of, and her emerald eyes might be a sign from the beyond. Roy didn’t claim to be a praying man, but he took a quick glance at the stars that night and thought good thoughts.
Sure enough, Rosemary Dove sat at the table, a feather in her hair, and black lace gloves covering her long fingers. She said she didn’t play cards, but she would attend for a night of good conversation and a few mugs of beer. There was something about a beautiful woman drinking a man’s beer that stood Roy’s hair on end. With a happy little shiver, he sat down and grabbed his cards. Good hand or bad, bluffing or truthful, Roy began losing almost immediately. One by one, his fellow players rose angrily from the table and stormed into the night. By midnight, Roy sat alone with Charley O’Doherty and Rosemary Dove. The latter encouraged him with each hand to “give it a shot,” or “play it safe.” Time to time, she would lean in to him pulling a mirror from her carpet bag and with a few adjustments saying “how do I look, Roy?” Roy always turned bright red at these leading questions and replied with a gruff “Oh, fine, fine.”
With his last chip and will on the table, Roy asked for two new cards. The dealer passed him the cards, a bit awkwardly, knocking over and breaking a glass in the process. Nervous and apologetic, he grabbed a rag and a broom and scooped away the mess. Something caught Roy’s eye as the dealer passed between him and table, still shaking his head in apology. Charley O’Doherty, swifter than the naked eye, had reached over and slipped a card from the bottom of the deck.
“Cheat!” hollered Judge Roy Bean. “Goddamn, filthy card cheat!” Charley raised his hands in innocence and looked alarmed at the accusation.
“Roy, now I don’t know what you seen, but you didn’t see nothin’.” With a smirk, “I supposed all the free drinks is shaking up your head a little.”
Feeling alone, Roy looked around. The dealer stood stock still, and a little guilty, himself, while Rosemary Dove powdered her nose and kicked at the broken glass around her shoes.
“Now boys,” she said with impatience. “Let’s not get worked up over a little card game, please?” And with a huff, she rose with her carpet bag and parasol and climbed the stairs. “It’s time for bed, I think, Charley.” Again, a wink to Roy.
Roy knew himself enough to know that he had seen what he had seen. Beer or no beer, he had sweat himself silly in the Texas sun that afternoon and it would take a lot more than an evening of cards to make him fall down. He marched straight over to the sheriff’s family home, and banged on the door, hollering “Yooo, Sheriff! Wake up, you old bastard; I need to hang somebody!”
The term “sheriff” had little meaning west of the Pecos. Badges passed from man to man with little more reason than the “last ‘un got kilt.” Sheriff Bigsby, while a big man, was least qualified yet most willing of all the men in town. He had lost a toe to gangrene a few years back and couldn’t keep up with most chickens, let alone men. Not that he tried. Bigsby preferred the “finer things in life,” which just so happen to be wine, women, and song. If you could find him sober, you’d grab him up quick, for he was always on the way back to the bar. Stupid and disliked though he was, people generally treated him well, being that he was the law. Roy, feeling more like the law, himself, didn’t care for Bigsby’s reputation and considered him little more than a squat figurehead.
Bigsby opened the front door slowly, his bulbous nose poking out into the moonlight under his white night cap.
“Bean, it’s late,” Bigsby said with a sigh. “Why are waking me up?”
Roy pushed his way into Bigsby’s front room, which appeared to be little more than a lean-to for kicking the dirt off his boots. He elaborately replayed the evening’s events, adding unnecessary details about Rosemary Dove’s eyes, gloves, and rosy red lips, until Sheriff Bigsby threw his hands in the air and said “what is it you want me to do?"“Why, arrest the thief, Sheriff!” said Roy, a little flabbergasted at Bigsby’s nonchalance. “I’m the judge in these parts. Give him to me for trial. I’ll take care of the ugly bastard.”
Again, with a sigh, the sheriff raised his hands. “There’s no evidence, Roy. It’s only you that seen it, and no one else.”
Grumbling, Roy said something under his breath about the poor luck of getting a clumsy dealer. Giving up, he rose, bid the sheriff good-night, and walked back into the street. In the eastern sky, the pastel colors bloomed on the open frontier. Roy cared little for the “goddamn sunrise.”
The next day, Roy attempted a citizen’s arrest on Charley O’Doherty. Hoping against hopes that Rosemary Dove would be out, or at least decent, he banged on the upstairs door of the saloon.
“O’Doherty, come out! I arrest you in the name of the law!” Bang! Bang! Bang!
Slowly, the door opened, and a sleepy-eyed Charley O’Doherty looked at Roy with a smirk.
“Whatchu want, Bean? I’m busy.”
Roy quickly grabbed Charley by the wrists and hog-tied them together before pushing him towards the stairs. Rosemary Dove appeared in the doorway, concern lining her forehead as she gripped the knob.
“Don’t worry, Dove. He’s just an old lunatic; I’ll be back in time for lunch!” said Charley as Roy pushed him down below.
Marching down Font Street, Roy and Charley caused quite a crowd. Every store owner, barber, bartender, and working woman came out to see the ruckus. Charley did his best to appear as confident as always, and winked at the whores as he passed. Roy stared straight ahead as he approached Sheriff Bigsby’s door. Bigsby, who had come out with the rest, stood waiting for the two.
“Sheriff Bigsby,” said Roy, somewhat formally. “I, with God as my witness, saw this man steal a card from the bottom of the deck in last night’s game at the saloon. I aim to try him, convict him, and hang him.”
“Now just wait a gol darn minute, Sheriff!” said O’Doherty, starting to see cause for concern. “I already told him he didn’t see what he thinks he seen. I am an honest man who plays an honest game, God sure as my witness.”
As unwilling as he was to perform his duties on a regular basis, Sheriff Bigsby certainly didn’t know Charley O’Doherty to be an “honest man,” in the eyes of God or anybody else. The idea of him playing an “honest game” was almost laughable, and inclined the lazy sheriff to proceed with Roy’s request. He turned to face Charley O’Doherty and read him his rights in the name of the law. Pale, O’Doherty looked around until his eyes met Rosemary Dove’s.
“Sheriff,” Rosemary Dove cooed, softly placing her hand on his fatty forearm. “Please don’t do this. I know Charley’s a nuisance, but you can’t convict a man for winning at cards.” Turning to Roy, her eyes melted away his frozen heart and he nearly let go of Charley’s tied wrists. Blinking twice, he looked away, regaining his convictions and with a deep breath said to Charley:
“You are arrested in the name of the law. You will be tried in my court at two o’clock to be sentenced to hang by the neck until dead.”
By 2:15 the trial had finished with the desired results. Outside Calvin Miller tied the noose tight around Charley’s neck, as he sat on the back of a deep brown mare.
“Charley O’Doherty,” Roy began. “On this day of September 5th, 1879 you are hereby convicted of cheating in a game of cards and so stealing from your town. You are sentenced to hang by the neck until dead and will so be hung.”
With a last check of the noose, Calvin gave Roy the all-clear. With a slap to the hind-quarters, Charley O’Doherty swung to eternity. Throughout the crowd, several of the whores fainted onto the dirt. Callous and disliked though he was, Charley knew every “woman” in town, and had had a piece of all of them.
Feeling somewhat perky, Judge Roy Bean kicked up the dirt and headed off to the saloon for a beer. Behind him, Father O’Connor pulled Charley down from the rope and blessed him before carting him off for burial. Rosemary Dove watched silently, without tears. She had never seemed to like Charley O’Doherty, but certainly never wished him dead. Seeing him wheeled away, she headed back to her quarters to think.
Over the next few weeks Roy won back nearly all of his losses. Without O’Doherty around, the games became “honest” once again and real winners won, and real losers lost. Feeling rich, Roy bought a few drinks here and there for the locals, but always glanced upstairs as if to use his earnings on something a little more memorable. Still, Roy Bean had no gumption in the area of women, and sat stump-like on his stool getting older, fatter, and richer.
Two weeks after the hanging, Rosemary Dove came downstairs. Beautiful as always, she didn’t appear phased by the death, and smiled at all of her “boys.”
“Hello boys,” she said. “I’ve had a two-week nap and I’m ready to talk cards.” In an unusual move, she scooted in and requested that the dealer pass her five cards. Dumbly, she stared at her hand and shuffled the outside in, inside out, and so on. “I’ll be, Roy, but I sure don’t know what all these numbers mean,” she said coyly. “Is it good to have all the people, or just the red ones?”
A toothless stranger across the table smirked and added ten chips to the pot. Roy felt protective of the lady, saying quietly: “Shhhhh, Miz Dove. Don’t let nobody know your cards.” Nodding in wide-eyed understanding, she pushed a chip into the center of the table. Old Toothless won that hand, but then Rosemary Dove won the next two. Happily, she leaned into Roy and squeezed his shoulder. He smiled back at her as the light from the lamps glinted on her gold pendant.
Judge Roy Bean cleaned himself up a little over the next few weeks. Having won money, and gotten rid of a scoundrel, he felt a little more confident than usual. Hair slicked back with bear grease and wearing his red suspenders (usually meant only for special occasions), he picked a few of the orange poppies that had broken through the cracked earth next to his office. Shaking only a little, he approached Rosemary Dove who sat chatting with Calvin Miller, and handed her the flowers. Smiling, she thanked him and sat down for a drink.
The game that night went on as always, though Rosemary Dove had returned to just watching. She wore one of Roy’s poppies over her ear, and stroked his white beard with her long fingers. The hours passed, and Roy sipped his whiskey and gin, feeling as happy as he had ever felt. His eyes began to droop as the room swayed back and forth. Rosemary Dove grabbed his bear paw and pulled him towards the stairs. As they climbed, she turned and winked at him, as she always had, though now he needn’t leave.
As Roy lay next to her, he stared blurrily up at the ceiling. The wallpaper, dotted with red roses, seemed so appropriate for a woman like Rosemary Dove. At this very moment, he thought of her as his and his alone, as his drifted off to sleep to her rhythmic breathing. Minutes later a fire erupted at the livery stable, but Roy and Rosemary slept on. As the red glow lit their bedroom, the townspeople below ran with buckets of water, in vain, as the fire burned the stable to the ground.
The next morning Roy awoke alone beneath the soft silk sheets. Remembering only little of his happy evening, he rose, confused, and went downstairs. Through the windows of the empty saloon, Roy saw an angry crowd gathered in the street, shouting and pumping their fists. Sheriff Bigsby stood in front, hands raised.
“Now, people, we’ll get to the bottom of this. Your money ain’t gone, it’s just missing.”
“Isn’t that a wonder?” came a musical voice from the end of the bar. Rosemary Dove smiled and pointed towards the burned livery opposite the street. “Someone burned down the stables last night, horses and all. While folks were runnin’ to save the place, same someone seems to have robbed the bank.”
Still not yet awake, Roy sat at an empty table to think. He had never trusted banks, and so had never ventured to put his money into one. A mattress had always worked perfectly fine – should he ever have that much money – or a cookie jar, or underneath the floorboards. But the poker games would stop for a while, there being no money left in town, and the first man to walk into a game with a stack of money would be arrested for arson and theft. So, no, there would be no game, at least not tonight. Grumpier over that loss than anything else, Roy huffed and walked out into the street. The crowd had dispersed, leaving Sheriff Bigsby to pretend to follow tracks in the dirt, as if solving the crime.
“Any witnesses, Sheriff?” asked Roy, squinting in the morning sun.
“Only God, Judge" said Bigsby, nearly smiling at the irony. “One of the whores claims she saw Charley O’Doherty’s ghost run in the livery last night, but I don’t believe I’ll keep that one on the record.”
Eyebrows raised, Roy pondered his own beliefs. He’d never seen a ghost, himself, but he’d never gone looking for one, either. He considered himself to be a bit of a coward, and couldn’t stand the idea of running into the dead poker cheat. But even a ghost couldn’t win money with an empty bank in town.
As news spread of Charley’s ghost, every man, woman, and child came up with a story of bumping into the dead fellow. Some claimed he sat with them at dinner, while others saw him in the back pew of the church, “with his neck all crooked-like.” Rosemary Dove scoffed at the idea and said that, despite her profession, she was a God-fearing woman who had no time for believing in the risen dead. Roy always agreed wholeheartedly, more often than not to please her, but also to convince himself.
As the only man in town with any money, Roy made more friends these days. People wanted to shine his boots, cut his hair, and sing for him at his dinner, all in hopes for an extra penny here or there. The old tightwad never spent a cent on anyone but himself or Rosemary Dove, as he prized her companionship above all else in his life. Even his old mutt had been neglected to the point of starvation and had died on the back porch, while sunning itself. But even Rosemary didn’t know that Roy’s true wealth lay just below the front stoop in the form of one solid gold brick.
Roy had never dug up the brick, in fear that he would soon be shot over it, but he couldn’t spend it, either. On his poorest days, back when he could gamble, he thought about that brick sitting there, worth more by the day. Roy’s Great Uncle Felix Bean had struck rich back in the early gold rush days, and had filled a wagon (so they say) full of solid gold bricks before getting drunk one night and stepping into rattlesnake nest. As he lay dead, his riches were soon discovered and cleared away. All but one brick disappeared and was supposed to have been buried along with Felix Bean. But his mistress kept the brick for herself until his brother came to town and she gave it to him. No, Roy had never told anyone about his precious solid gold brick, and would probably die without ever touching it. Still, it made him feel safe just knowing it was there.
No one would have ever found out about that brick if Judge Roy hadn’t brought Rosemary Dove home one night after a few drinks at the bar. He’d tidied up a little, hoping she might come, and had made a fresh pot of coffee to go along with a few hard-tack biscuits. As he stumbled and she stepped daintily up the front stoop, a rotten board fell through, and with a shriek, she lost her shoe. Reaching clumsily down, he found the slipper and they went inside to eat, talk, and otherwise canoodle.
As was the custom, Rosemary Dove awoke early and left for the saloon, while Roy continued to snooze. In the early sun, something caught Rosemary Dove’s green eyes as she stepped to avoid the spoiled board. Beneath the step, sticking out of a wrapping of old rags, was gold. Real gold. Solid gold. Staring in disbelief, Rosemary Dove knelt to touch the soft metal, warmed by the air. With a sigh, she looked up at the old office, and covered the gold with its rag and a piece of the broken step. Slowly, without turning her head, she walked away. She knew Roy had lived there for a very long time, and the gold could only be his. His reason for keeping it a secret, would have to remain with him.
As drifters came through and farmers sold their Autumn crops, money began to filter back into the little town. But no one, not even Sheriff Bigsby, had put a single cent back into the bank. Thinking that it was the bank that had caused them to lose their money, the townsfolk began stuffing their mattresses, cookie jars, and under the floorboards. Any thief worth his salt could see that this town was a goldmine. All houses without dogs or guns lay as unprotected as a pocketbook left by the sink. Money still went missing day to day, and day to day Sheriff Bigsby followed horse tracks through the streets. Roy waited impatiently to hang the thief that still put a hold on his poker game. As the weeks passed, the reward increased from ten, to twenty, to fifty, and finally to one hundred dollars. Roy wanted that one hundred dollars.
But it was early one night when a scream came from up above the saloon. Out ran Milly, one of the older women, half dressed and shaking her finger at Calvin Miller who stood agape in his underwear and bowler hat.
“It’s him that done it!” she shrieked. “I found my necklace in his pants pocket! He’s the thief!”
Bigsby threw Calvin Miller into the town’s only jail cell and pointed his fat finger through the bars.
“You’ll be hung in the mornin’, Miller,” he said, his lip jutting out with disgust. “You’re gonna hang, and Roy’s gonna do it.”
Calvin Miller wept and pleaded for his life there in the cell. He said he’d never “burned nothin’ nor stole from nobody.” And the next day Calvin Miller swung to eternity out front at the “Law West of the Pecos.” Roy Bean spat on the ground before nodding to the Father to cut him down.
The robberies immediately stopped and people began depositing their money back into the bank. Filling like a hot bathtub, the cash flowed in, and poker commenced. Roy lost a little, and won a little, but felt so happy just to be back in his old routine that he gladly paid the winner with a smile on his face.
That night, Rosemary Dove asked Roy to take her back to his office. They were both drunk, but happy with each other’s company, though Rosemary did seem to have her mind on other things.
“What is it, Rose?” asked Roy, using the pet name he cherished.
“Nothin’, Roy,” she said, smiling down at him. “I’m just glad to be here, is all.” She poured a bottle of whiskey, brought home from the bar, into an old coffee cup and they drank. Before long, the room began to spin, and Roy fell asleep. He thought he heard the sound of digging, but didn’t care much and sank deeper into the sofa and Rosemary Dove’s arms.
“Git up.” Roy opened his eyes. There, leaning over him was the ghost of Charley O’Doherty. With a shriek, Roy jumped off the sofa and backed into the corner, spilling coffee and whiskey off the table.
“Glad to see me, are ya?” Charley said with a smirk.
“No, no, no,” Roy moaned. “You’re dead, Charley. Just be dead and leave me alone.” He gripped the hair on his beard and felt tears welling in his eyes as he shook.
“Oh quit bitchin’, I ain’t dead” Charley said, rolling his eyes. “If I was dead, do you think I’d come to your house?”
Roy slid down the wall and sat amidst the coffee grounds. His eyes shifted back and forth as he tried to comprehend what he was seeing. He remembered clearly seeing Charley O’Doherty hung by the neck until he was dead. He’d seen the life sink out of him as he jerked at the end of the rope. He’d seen the Father cut him down and cart him away to be buried. Or had he? He couldn’t remember. He knew he had hung, but what then?
Charley smiled down at Roy, sitting there on the floor. “It’s too bad Calvin had to hang,” he said, reflecting. “He sure’s been a help along the way. If it wasn’t for that meat hook he tied around my chest, I really would’ve hung to death.”
Roy’s eyes widened and he stared up at Charley. So Calvin Miller, the gossiping butcher, had helped Charley O’Doherty escape the gallows in front of the entire town. But what about the Father? Surely he could tell a dead man from someone who was still breathing.
“Oh, Father O’Connor? He’s no priest. He’s my brother, Seamus O’Doherty. Had to practice a long time to learn to run a church.”
And slowly the walls came down. The bartender was Shawn O’Doherty, while the clumsy dealer was young Patrick who had meant to tip the glass so that Roy would see Charley going for the extra card. Charley needed to be “dead.” Otherwise, how would he ever pull off the biggest bank robbery these parts had ever known? He had walked away with nearly $50,000, and no one came looking for him. And in the end, they hung old Calvin Miller for a mere one hundred dollars, just to clear the trail. Milly, the old working girl, got to keep thirty dollars to stay silent.
“Why are you here?” asked Roy, stunned by the sudden clarity.
“Why, Roy,” Charley said, the evil grin widening. “There’s one more thing I need. What’s hiding under your porch?”
Roy froze. He had never told anyone about that brick, and he had never planned to. No mistress, wife, nor child (if he ever had any of these) would ever have learned about the brick. Yet here Lazarus stood, clear as day, and he knew. Quickly, Roy contemplated whether it was best to lie or to just give him the brick and run. He figured, as Charley knew there was something hidden under the porch, it wouldn’t do any good to fib.
“Take it,” Roy huffed, rolling to his knees. “You can have it, just leave me alone.”
“You know I can’t do that Roy. You’ve seen my face.” Charley’s expression turned to stone as stared straight into Roy’s eyes.
Judge Roy Bean jumped to his feet and started for the door. On the other side stood “Father O’Connor.” Roy had never realized how surprisingly large the “priest” was, as “Godly” men seemed so small and meek. A freckled fist snapped him across the nose, and he barreled backwards into a chair. Seamus leaned in, all trace of religion gone from his Irish face, and grabbed Roy by the collar. It took two men, but they dragged him out front of the office, to his very own gallows.
“No, please, NO!” whimpered Roy, hands clasped at his chin.
“Stop screaming or you’ll wake somebody!” snarled Charley.
Strangely, though he had nothing to lose by yelling, Roy went silent and limp, waiting to be saved. His dear, dear Rosemary Dove. Where was she? She could sound the alarm, but oh! He didn’t want her strung up beside him. As they tightened the noose around his grizzled neck, he could see Patrick pulling the brick from beneath the rotten wooden steps. Cheerfully, he unwrapped it, gave a whistle at its weight, and tossed it into a gunny sack.
Roy felt the rope become taught and struggled to stand, delaying the inevitable. The other end of the rope tied to Shawn’s saddle-horn, Charley touched it softly and snapped his fingers. From behind the office stepped the beautiful Rosemary Dove. Green eyes shining with the moonlight, she stared up at Roy, who paused.
“Rose, run!” screeched Roy, fear welling up yet again. “Rose” smiled softly at him, as she walked up to Charley and, to Roy’s horrific surprise, kissed him tenderly on the lips.
“Oh,” said Charley with utter delight. “Have you already met my wife?”And with a slap to the hind-quarters, Judge Roy Bean swung to eternity at the end of his own rope. As she left, Rosemary O’Doherty turned and gave him a wink.