A very heartfelt Thank You to ErikThread for his fabulous editing. His skills make your reading pleasure better.
His cold eyes looked out the window of the dingy room at the busy street below the hotel. When he turned from the window the coldness did not leave, nor did the hardness of his mouth relax. Tomorrow he would face, across a courtroom, the man who killed his fiancée. He would not be happy to answer the questions asked of him. He should be, but he was not. The man did him a favor, although Richard did not like it.
However, that was a matter for tomorrow. For now, he would have his supper in this unfamiliar city and try to find some peace that would allow him to tell the truth, a truth that would see his brother convicted of murder and sentenced to hang.
"Yes, he did."
The attorney looked at Richard as if he didn't believe him, and then asked, "Do you know that, because it was something you heard, saw, or did someone tell you?"
"He told me."
The attorney paused for a moment and walked a little nearer. "Tell me what he said, please use the same words, as nearly as you can recall."
"Ronnie said, 'Hell, Richard, you got you a good one. I was in her room last night and she welcomed me like a whore gettin' a twenty dollar gold piece from a cowboy off a long hot trail drive.'"
"And tell this fine jury what you did after hearing this from your own brother."
"I turned around, left him standing there, walked out of the hotel and went to the saloon."
"Did you say anything to your brother?"
"Did you strike your brother?"
"No, I did not."
"What would you say if I told you someone said they heard you yell at him and saw you slap him?"
"That person would be wrong."
"What did you do when you arrived at the saloon?"
"I asked the bartender for a drink."
"And then what happened?"
"I heard yelling in the street and went to see what was happening."
"You walked out of the saloon?"
"Yes. Me and several other men were standing on the boardwalk."
"And what did you see?"
"I saw Ronnie walk out of the hotel and Sandra was running after him."
"And then what happened?"
"She tried to grab his gun and he slapped her."
"He took the gun away from her. He raised it and shot her in the chest."
"And then what happened?"
"I believe I leaned over the edge of the boardwalk and vomited." There was a faint smattering of laughter in the quiet courtroom. "But I am not exactly certain of that. I know I felt sick."
"What did you do after you vomited?"
"I went back into the saloon and finished my drink."
"What did you do after finishing your drink?"
"I ordered another drink, then several more after that."
"Do you recall what happened to you after you finished drinking?"
"No. I woke up the next morning in jail, in the cell next to my brother."
"The two of you look somewhat alike, don't you?"
"Some people say so."
"Then tell me, and this fine jury, how anyone can be certain that you did not shoot her?"
"Because I was still a little wobbly-legged and smelled like vomit. Ronnie was clean and sober."
"I have no further questions, your honor."
"Mister Patten, you are dismissed."
He did not stay around. He simply walked out of the courtroom, got on his horse, and rode out of town. He didn't ride fast; his horse was cold and would not appreciate being whipped. Richard calmly walked the horse until the animal felt warmed and began to trot on his own.
It was a long ride back to the small ranch, but it would be no easier for him when he got back there. No one would understand why he had sat there and let that attorney ask him all those questions. Half the people he knew were still sitting in the courtroom, and some of them would not believe what he said. At least two of them were there, that day, standing beside him on the boardwalk.
The first night, on his ride back to the ranch, was not easy. He made a small fire, mainly to keep away the darkness, and chewed on a piece of tough jerky from his saddlebag. He tried to sleep, but only stared at the stars in the sky, wondering how many there were up there. He thought about his brother and all the fun they had growing up together.
The second night was a little easier. Near sunset, he shot a rabbit and watched as it roasted over his small fire, but could eat only a small amount of the meat. Any other time he would finish the whole thing and see what else there was to fill his hollow belly. For the past several days he had felt like the time he fell off his horse and his mother wrapped his chest, saying he probably broke some ribs. Tonight, however, he could finally breathe without constriction.
The third night of his ride back to the ranch was better than the first two. He considered why he had not taken the train and put his horse in the cattle car. But he knew. He was not ready to be back with people who knew him. They would wonder why he was not angry about what happened.
He remembered the woman. God, she was beautiful, especially when she looked at him and smiled. Ronnie followed her around like a puppy wanting to be petted, but Sandra would send him away and then turn to Richard and smile.
Sometime the next day, he began to see a brand on the cattle that belonged on his ranch. By noon, he was off his horse, walking into the house. He found the cook in the kitchen and told him he was going to town to see his mother. Richard packed some clean clothes and got back on his horse. He knew he was asking more of the horse than he should have, but he needed the time to think and believed his horse would forgive him because he was taking his time.
Richard saw the dust where the hands were moving some cattle and looked for the palomino his foreman would be riding. When he was near enough to be heard, he called to Smitty. "I cannot stay here ... for a while yet. If you need something, go see my mother." He did not answer questions nor acknowledge a hand waved by any of the men, but merely walked his horse toward town.
In late afternoon, he reached the first few buildings of town. He dismounted and walked to the stable, and after removing the saddle, he turned the horse into the corral. The horse was well known and would be taken care of until he returned. With his saddle bags over one shoulder, Richard walked behind the few buildings at the edge of the small town. He wasn't avoiding people, he just wasn't interested in talking to anyone. His chin was down, watching as he calmly placed one foot in front of the other as if his next step were the most important thing to do that day.
Richard stopped when he saw two women sitting in the shade of a tree. He watched his mother stand and go inside, returning a moment later with a handful of knitting. She sat down on the rocking chair, said something to the other woman, and then began to knit.
Richard turned and walked between two buildings. He crossed the street and got his ticket at the train depot. The station master recognized him and asked where he was going. He told the man he was going to see his Uncle John. When the train arrived, Richard climbed aboard and did not look back at the small town. He did not know when he would return, but for the time being, he could not stay there. The pain was too much to bear.
It was a long train ride through the darkness of the night. Before dawn the cars moved to a side railing to let another train pass. Richard remembered very little of any conversation he may have had with any of the other passengers. He probably bought a sandwich from someone on the platform when the train stopped, but couldn't recall doing so. One night he slept on the train during the overnight stop and another night he went to a hotel.
By the time he arrived at his destination he was running a fever, aware he was very sick. He had managed to find a small buggy outside the train station and told the driver where he wanted to go.
He knocked on the front door and was greeted by a black man. Richard didn't recall saying a word to Perry but felt himself being led into the house, up the stairs, and into a room. That was all he remembered for a very long time.
"You gave us quite a scare, young man."
"Yes sir, I'm sorry, Uncle John. I did not know where else to go."
"Well, I'm glad you came here. You get some rest. We will feed you some good food and we can talk when you want."
"Thank you, Uncle John."
Richard fell asleep before the bedroom door closed. His next recollection was being awake with a young girl sitting beside his bed. She had a tray on her lap with a bowl of soup on a plate and a spoon beside the bowl.
"Papa says you must eat every drop of this soup or he will not allow you out of bed."
"Can you help me? I'm afraid if I try to lift the spoon I will drop it."
"That is why I am here. Let me put a pillow behind you so we don't make a mess." With the honesty of a young girl, she said, "You stink. And you need a shave, but I don't know how to do that."
It took some effort to raise his trembling hand, but he felt his beard and was surprised at how long it had grown. "Marie, how long have I been here?"
"Lots of days, Papa says you were in a 'stupor, ' but I do not know what that word means."
"Then if you will help me with the soup, I will try to wash and shave so you will know who I am."
.... There is more of this story ...