The sun had barely risen when Waverly came busting through the Community Center’s front door, yelling, “Boss! You gotta come see this!”
Dag Potter frowned, fighting the impulse to cuss the kid out for disturbing his breakfast. Okay, so it was only a bowl–a big bowl–of plain oatmeal with a dash of milk from one of the town’s few goats they hadn’t eaten yet, but his old man had always said breakfast was the most important meal of the day. He’d said that right up to the morning when his nine your old son had shoved a rusty medieval collector’s piece, a wide-bladed dagger, into his considerable gut and up through his diaphragm. A great day, that had been, all kinds of birds whacked with the same rock. That one stroke had meant no more whippings with the equally medieval razor strap Jefferson Potter had kept hanging behind the woodstove, it had put an end to bullying at school, and it had been done early enough in life to guarantee he wouldn’t be tried as an adult.
It had also given him a new name, of course. “Dagger” Potter, long since shortened to Dag.
Ah, what the hell; the oatmeal was already cold anyway. That sniveling bitch Wanda would have to be reminded not to let that happen again.
“Whaddya got, Wave?” He lifted his ponderous bulk from the former Mayor’s chair, curiosity beginning to stir. Getting down off the stage to head for the door usually meant going around by the stairs, but this might actually be something worth seeing. He sat near the edge, turned to swing his legs over the edge, and dropped the short distance to the main floor. Not much of a drop, but he still felt it. Really should think about getting back in shape, he realized. Not that he’d ever been anything close to an athlete. Most of his life had been spent in one prison or another. It didn’t take a lot of conditioning to submit to the assholes who did work out constantly.
“I can’t hardly believe it,” the lookout replied. “There’s a truck coming this way.”
A truck? The youngster must be hallucinating. But no; he could hear it now, a sound he’d thought was gone from the world forever. Not loud yet, but it must be getting close.
It was. Potter stepped out on the sidewalk, shading his eyes out of habit rather than need. The newly risen sun was directly behind him, bathing the oncoming vehicle in golden light. A sure enough by all the witches in the West pickup truck, loaded with three men in the cab and five, six…eight men crammed into the back. Another dozen men followed on horseback in a column of two’s, their mounts trotting to keep up with the unhurried pace of their leader. The column pulled to a halt on the far side of the street. The driver stepped out, mirrored sunglasses shading hiding his eyes. That jet black hair and handlebar moustache…there was no mistaking this man’s identity. Quentin T. “Dagger” Potter began to sweat. He didn’t need the deep-gold painted SHERIFF on the side of the truck or the uniforms or the badges to tell him he was in deep shit.
The law had come to town.
Waverly asked softly, “Is that–?”
Potter replied out the corner of his mouth, just as quietly. “Sheriff John Penney, kid. In the flesh.” How this could be, he had no clue. Penney should be dead. He’d been reported dead, dammit! No law left in the whole damn county, that’s what he and every other Derringer resident had believed. Had he thought for one second this day would come, that The Man with his badge and his umpteen deputies would show up here, of all places….
“Quentin Potter, I presume?” The Sheriff’s deep voice rolled across the street, grabbed the man he was addressing by his fleshy neck, and froze him in place. What could he do? Duck back inside, quick like a bunny? He’d never make it; every one of those deputies had eyeballs of ice that pierced the head of the Derringer Defense Association to the quick. If he tried to turn and run, even the few steps to the doorway, he’d get a dozen bullets through his back. And even if he did make it, would his men fight? Forty-seven of them, twice the numbers of the lawmen, but of course they wouldn’t fight. Not against these men, this uniformed, organized, terrifying police force.
No. It was over.
“Yes sir,” he said, surprised at how calm he felt. “That would be me.”
The subsequent arrests didn’t faze him at all, neither his own nor those of seventeen of his people. Not that they were really his people; they’d only followed his orders because he’d put them more or less in power. That, and because he’d had a few knifed in public to get the point across to the others. Couldn’t be wasting good bullets on something like that.
He was, however, startled right out of his shorts–or would have been, had he owned any shorts–when the charges were read against him. The deputies had been short of handcuffs, but the Derringer Eighteen were well secured with a homemade coffle put together by what’s-his-name, the welder. They weren’t going anywhere until Sheriff Penney decided. Chain gang, Dag thought. I’m ending up on a freaking chain gang. That was unexpected, sort of, but then Derringer didn’t have a jail. Nor, once he and his fellow felons were properly secured, did it have the presence of a Sheriff. Before the sun had reached its zenith, John Penney stood up on the stage that had been Potter’s own personal seat of power for these past months–the finest months of his life, for sure–and made a speech to the assembled townspeople.
“You all know me,” the Sheriff began, “from before, when my face was on every TV in the county, sometimes on the national news. You know this is a big county, we’ve got a big war going on, and we’ve got big troubles. That means I can’t stay–”
He paused as an uneasy murmur swept the room. After going through the entire winter with no legal structure to give them guidance, nothing but Dag Potter’s opportunistic tyranny, they were none too happy to see this symbol of authority talking about leaving them again, mere hours after his arrival.
Penney held up a hand. His deputies were positioned around the great room, with a few on the stage. All of them were hard eyed and heavily armed–but it was the Sheriff’s personal charisma that quieted the gathering.
“I can’t stay,” he continued, “but neither will I leave you without law enforcement personnel in place. In each town I visit, I select one good man to serve as my Chief Deputy for that town. It’s not always worked that way; usually there has been just one Chief Deputy for the entire County. But the old ways have to bend a little. Now, I talked to a number of citizens from this area, asked them who they’d nominate, and came up with a good man. Let me present your new Chief Deputy for the town of Derringer…Hiram Jacobson.”
That startled Dag Potter right down to his smelly toes. Hiram strode out from stage left, joining his new boss. The man no longer looked like a stick figure out of Auschwitz; in his crisp new uniform–somehow tailored to fit his long, lean frame–he looked like…a gunfighter. An icon of the Old West. Okay, so his sidearm was a square-muzzled Glock with double triggers, not a single action black powder Colt Peacemaker, but he radiated confidence, authority, the works. His eyes swept the crowd, unsmiling, serious.
“I don’t believe this shit.”
“Nothing, Ray. Just talking to myself.” Potter shook his head. This could not be good.
An hour later, the Sheriff was gone for real, with some but not all of his deputies. The deputies who stayed, it turned out, were locals recruited by John Penney before he’d let the town know he was in the area. Not from the town itself; word of that would have leaked. From outlying ranches, mostly, the Nestossin place and others.
Somewhere around midafternoon, things got worse. Much worse. Jacobson was already throwing his weight around, appointing people to set up the blasted kangaroo court that would without a question convict Dag. Again. Oh, it’d probably convict most if not all of the other seventeen sitting along the wall in chains, too, but who gave a bony rat’s ass about them? It was every man for himself. Potter pondered–heh, he thought, Potter pondered. Potter the pitiful ponderer. Potter–stop that! There had to be a way to weasel out of this. Really. How tough could it be?
His misplaced optimism shattered into a million pieces when Jacobson called the next meeting, somewhere around three o’clock. That scrawny girl, Holly whatever, seemed to be acting as Court Clerk. At least, she was taking notes.
“I’ve got a few announcements,” Hiram said, “relating to the trial we’re going to give the Derringer Eighteen. Um, well, trials. There will be more than one. I’m pretty sure everybody in this town knows we need to decide what’s to be done with Dag Potter, specifically, before anything else.”
“Just hang me and be done with it!” Dag’s outburst hadn’t been planned. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he found himself wishing he could take them back.
“Hanging is a possibility,” the Chief Deputy replied. “Most certainly, the death penalty is on the table. If you’re convicted, though, the form of execution is still up for grabs. Not lethal injection; we’re obviously not set up for that. But there are a number of ways to go about it without reverting to the barbarism of, say, impalement or crucifixion.”
“Say what!” Again, Potter couldn’t help himself. He was not having a good day.
“Or drawing and quartering. Skinning alive should probably be out, too, though in your case I’d be tempted to vote for an exception. Disembowelment, now….” He trailed off, letting the images hang there, and he did it with an absolutely straight face.
The room fell silent. Nobody really knew if Hiram was joking or not. Some few were clearly mulling it over.
“Basically, there are three realistic options. If the death penalty is applied, either to Potter or to any of the others, then yes, we could hang him. Or we could use a firing squad; there’s still plenty of ammunition lying around. Or we could use a squad with bows and arrows, which would be economical because we could retrieve the arrows. Or behead him. Or hang him upside down from a tree limb and simply cut his throat, let him bleed out like a stuck pig.”
No one objected to this line of thinking. You could see the people were considering it. For the first time, Potter felt sick; he really didn’t want to be bled out like a stuck pig. Pigs squealed when they were dying like that. He’d always thought that was pretty funny, but not if he was going to be the pig.
Nosiree. Not funny at all.
When Deputy Jacobson announced the appointments of the Officers of the Court who would be determining his fate, Dag finally vomited. Not much; after all, he’d never gotten around to eating breakfast and they’d overlooked feeding the prisoners at noon. But some, with plenty of bile. He had reason. Former DHS Superintendent Walt Norcross would be the hanging judge. Harrison Polson would serve as prosecuting attorney, with café owner Marcus Grady–who was in uniform, sporting a deputy’s badge–acting as bailiff.
Potter was doomed. Still, cornered rat that he was, lessons tendered by his former jailhouse lawyer cellmates surfaced, forcing him to protest. “Grady should be right here in chains with the rest of us! He killed Derringer men when we went out there to ask him to share a few things with us, gunned us down when we were all peaceful like–”
Hiram’s raised hand shut off his rant, just like that. “Marcus Grady had every right to defend his café,” he pointed out, “but that wasn’t him shooting at his fellow citizens that day. That was a group of five heavily armed Chinese, flyboys who’d been shot down and got the drop on Marcus. Prosecuting Attorney Polson can verify that; he helped Grady wipe the Chinese out a few days later. And, in addition, I’ve seen the bodies. They were definitely Chinese military.”
That was the end of it; Dag Potter had no comeback for that.
“Frankly,” the newly minted lawman continued, “yes, Dag, I do expect you to die. I don’t know where we’re going to find anybody willing to argue in your defense, so you and the others are likely going to have to plead your own cases. You’ll at least get the chance to do that much; Judge Norcross and I and Prosecuting Attorney Polson are agreed on that. Finding an unbiased jury of twelve will be impossible; we’re going to have to wing it when it comes to jury selection. But we will follow standard legal procedure as best we can.
“So, people, it’s getting late in the day. We have eight temporary deputies to back me up until the trials are over. This building will have to serve as a holding facility–we’ll keep armed guards here in shifts–and as a courthouse. Dag Potter’s trial for murder, rape, arson, and about a hundred other charges will begin on Monday morning at 8:00 a.m. sharp. Judge Norcross tells me it will be an open Court; anyone is welcome to sit in and observe. Weapons, except for law enforcement and Court officials, will not be allowed inside the door, mostly so nobody decides to pass sentence on these men before they’ve had their trials.”
Not that I heard any of what was said after Sheriff Penney left town, but Holly’s notes reported it all verbatim.
I asked Tori, “Where’s that acetone?” The fake moustache had stayed in place just fine, but the leftover glue was irritating my skin something fierce. Thankfully, the black wig had simply sort of snapped onto my head, leaving me with a ringing headache but no extra necessary cleanup work.
“Here, Master. It was on the kitchen counter.”
“Thanks. We’ll leave the Sheriff’s truck in the garage and the uniform in the truck. Never know when I might need to play Sheriff John one more time.” Although hopefully not; we wouldn’t want anyone to start wondering why Sheriff John and Prosecuting Attorney Polson never showed up together. “And babe?”
“Your seamstress work on those uniforms was outstanding. Especially considering we didn’t really have material that matched the original official uniforms. But people see what they expect to see.”
“There’s a bit of makeup still there on your cheek. Want me to–?”
“No, I got it. Ah. Can’t believe I forgot to get rid of these soggy cotton balls. They did fill out my cheeks, but they’re just plain nasty.”
By the time we got the horses saddled, they were more than ready to hit the road. Home was, for them as for us, the Quonset area. We didn’t make it before dark, though; by the time we started into the second switchback, we were navigating by starlight. With the forest flanking us on both sides more often than not, there weren’t any too many stars to be seen.
Thankfully, the white crescent on Moon’s rump provided a right handy beacon for Dolly Parton and Tori to follow. They followed it closely, too, the mare’s nose mere feet from the gelding’s tail. At least the road had dried out during the ten days we’d been down country, planning our takeover of Derringer and rounding up those who would serve as deputies while Tori used Marcus’s old sewing machine to create uniform after uniform.
We were pretty chilled by the time we made it home, brushed our mounts down while they were munching oats, and turned them out with Tex. The little stud was beside himself; he could survive alone in the wilderness, but he was more than glad to see his companions return to the pasture. Surprisingly, he even seemed friendly toward Moon.
A true blessing, that.
For our part, Tori waited just inside the Quonset’s front door while I unlocked and ran a routine inspection of our home, our ship in a bottle. The first part of that involved a trip around the house, designed to flush out any varmints–human or otherwise–who might be lurking on the premises. Tori’s part in this was important; she stood with pistol drawn, watching to see if anything or anybody came out under the overhead lights. If I did flush an intruder, she was to yell and take cover in front of the backhoe.
No surprises. Then it was time to do the same thing for the inside of the house, checking every closet and yes, under every piece of furniture that could harbor anything larger than a mouse. Again, no surprises. The place was ours.
“I’ll get the furnace going,” I said. She simply nodded. The big Timberlands wood burner was something she could feed efficiently enough once it was going, but her fire starting skills were not quite there yet.
With the place warming up, Tori headed for the propane cookstove–we had a wood-fired version, too, but it was late and we were tired. As careful as we were, the big propane tank would give us two, maybe three more years of service. After that, barring a whole cluster of miracles, there would be no more propane. It would be wood fuel only. Which was fine by me; that was part of why I’d situated the Quonset deep in the forest in the first place.
“Soup, hot dogs, or venison steak?”
“Just one hot dog for me, hon,” I replied. “That’s quickest and easiest, and I don’t really have much appetite.” Besides, I was thinking.
Come Saturday morning, I was still thinking. My slave girl joined me in my study around 10:00 a.m., settled into her favorite chair, and waited. I could tell she was waiting. There’s something about a woman with something on her mind that puts out a vibration like nothing else on the planet, or at least it seems that way to the man who pays attention.
Eventually, I lifted my head from the book I’d been reading. “What?”
She twitched a bit, startled. “It’s that obvious?”
“To me, Little One. What’s on your mind?”
Nodding, she took her trademark deep breath and got right into it. “It’s not what’s on my mind, Master. It’s what’s on yours. You haven’t really noticed I’m even here, not since we got home.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Not enough sex?” That was no idle question. Any slave, properly mastered, becomes far more needy in that area than does the average so called free woman…and come to think of it, I hadn’t had her once since we’d been home.
“No.” She shook her head decisively. “That’s not it.”
“You’re not horny?”
“Hey, I’m always ready!” She laughed, genuinely amused. “But that’s not what I’m talking about. Its…I feel like something is really troubling you…and I want to help.”
It was my turn to sigh. “Well, I might as well let you try. I don’t seem to be getting anywhere on my own. I’m worried, Tori. It’s all been too easy lately.”
I stopped to gather my thoughts and she jumped into the breach. “Easy? We don’t know what the future holds, the trials may decide on killing a bunch of Derringer people, the Highland West bunch could show up at any time, we’re back to a low tech society or at least headed that way in a rush…what do you mean, exactly?”
“That’s just it, babe. I’m not quite sure what I mean. I don’t even have to go to town for jury selection; that’s being handled as we speak by Norman Nestossin as my Assistant Prosecuting Attorney. I haven’t argued a case in a courtroom for decades, but I’ve got my old lawbooks here–you’ve seen me browsing through them–and there’s no reason to think we’ll be facing any ugly surprises on Monday. Plus, having a few days between the appearance of Sheriff John Penney and Prosecuting Attorney Harrison Polson should help keep the average citizen from connecting the two of us. There’s no visible reason to be any more worried than usual, not that I can see. But I am. I just am.”
“So-o,” she said slowly, drawing it out, “what’s that book you’re reading now?”
“Pondering the Imponderable, by Ennis Freeman.”
“Don’t know that one.”
“No reason you should. Freeman lived in the 21st century. He became known primarily as an organizer, a man who could put things together, make things happen, but never one to step out into the limelight himself. Some authors credit him with being the primary force behind President Ingrid Yeoman’s election in 2046 and also with being her most trusted, albeit mostly secret, advisor during the War of Attrition. Pondering the Imponderable is the only book he ever wrote, at least that I’ve been able to find, but it’s a classic. Let me read you the passage I’ve been staring at for the last half hour.”
“For years, but more intensely these past months, I’ve found myself doubting my course of action. I delve into politics, become by any definition of the word a political activist, and find to my astonishment that I am exhilarated by the work, by the toil and trouble it takes to assist an ethical, honorable, talented public servant to high office. This stretches me, and I find nothing but joy in the stretching.
“And yet, am I following the proper muse in this matter? As an ordained priest of Currus Dei, do I not owe it to my Church to bend my efforts in that direction? To teach the Five Great Tenets, those of reincarnation, karma, Soul travel, the Living Master, and of course the Hu? Should I not be assisting with the various classes, joining in the public Hu songs, helping to set up Seminars, things of that nature? Currus Dei does not dabble in politics; who am I, then, to do so?
“Ah, but therein lies the rub. I do not want to do these things. I would prefer to be invisible to the outer Church, to those members who have never been able to understand my joyful immersion in the day to day workings of my country, this great nation called America, cursed by many, loved by many, ignored by so many of her own.
“And I find myself distressed, torn inwardly. Do I follow Love, or do I follow Duty? Or do I even know, truly, which is which?”
I stopped reading and looked to gauge Tori’s reaction. She sat quietly for a long moment, one hand cupping her chin, deep in thought.
“Hang on a sec,” she said suddenly, bounding out of the chair and heading toward the wall completely covered with shelves full of books. Few people owned a regular library these days, having long relied on electronic reading and storage devices. I’d done an awful lot of that, too, but even so, there were more than a thousand books on those shelves.
Tori found what she was looking for, a big red binder I recognized as one of my scrapbooks. I couldn’t remember what I’d put in that one, though.
“I was looking through this a couple of months ago,” she explained, turning pages. “Ah. Here it is.” She brought the binder over, turned it to face me…and I got it. I was looking at a photo I’d taken of a billboard I’d seen during a trip to Denver some years back. Who had erected the sign, or who might have been its intended target, I had no idea. I did remember that I’d been driving along, doubting myself (again) about a very deep and personal issue, not unlike Ennis Freeman’s anguish in the passage I’d just read out loud…and the wording had slapped me right in the face.
WHAT MATTERS MOST
“Huh,” I remarked sagely, grinning at my girl. “I’d forgotten about that one. I really had.”
“I hadn’t.” Her voice was soft, her blue eyes full of trust. “Ever since I found it, I come in here to look at it every so often. And I think, hey, that’s right. As long as we’re together, what matters most is safe.”
Oh, good one, girl. Right to the heart. “Come on,” I told her. “Let’s go to bed.”
Which we did, and of course I felt better afterward. Duh.
But by the time we’d made it back to the down country house on Sunday afternoon, the self-doubt had returned. Something is wrong. I still couldn’t put my finger on it, but the knowingness was there.
As a result, when we all began gathering at the Community Center in Derringer for Dag Potter’s trial, I approached Deputy Jacobson. “Need a favor, Hiram.”
“You got it,” he replied. “You know that, Harrison.”
“I’d like to have Tori recognized as my assistant.”
“No problem. I don’t think you need my approval for that.”
“No, but I do need you to know why.”
“Okay-y….” The tall young lawman gave me a serious look; he knew something was coming.
“I’ve got a feeling. Could be nothing, but the place is packed; anything really could happen. And I don’t want my woman unarmed in here. If she’s my assistant, she’ll count as an Officer of the Court.”
“She’s going to pack openly?” Hiram wouldn’t say no to me, but he looked alarmed.
“No. Boot gun only. Same for me; the only thing I’m keeping on my hip is my folding knife. You know I’d just feel plumb naked without that.”
He chuckled, relieved. “I do know that. Glad you won’t have guns out in the open. The table for the defense is set over there, see, a bit of an angle so no one in the audience can come at Potter without either me or Marcus having a clear shot at ’em, but your table has the audience right behind you.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, I figured you’d need to watch Potter’s back. And no, we don’t want one of our own guns grabbed so some vigilante can use it to kill Potter. Not that I’d blame anybody in this room.”
“Nor I, Harrison. Nor I.” He clapped me on the shoulder and went to his seat, situated to one side of the judge’s bench up there on the stage. Hiram would be my first witness called against Dag, but he had more than one role to play here today. It was important for him to be seen in his uniform, calm, confident, exuding an air of quiet authority. Amazing what gaining twenty pounds and putting on a badge can do for a fellow.
The trial would start in minutes. Tori and I took our seats, ignoring the buzz of conversation from the hundreds of people packed into the Center. I made a couple of notes, passed Tori a folder with a few key pieces of paper and more than a hundred photographs gathered from Derringer residents–and suddenly felt an arm snake around my neck.
There was no time to do anything but duck my chin a bit; the man behind me didn’t get the chokehold locked in. I could still breathe…for now. Whoever it was, he was a big bastard; his wrist filled my left hand, and my hands aren’t small. There was no way to spin out. My knees were effectively locked in between the table legs, the table being a small one but heavy and sturdy, made of oak or some such.
Marcus and Hiram, on opposite sides of the stage, were on their feet with guns drawn–but they couldn’t fire. I knew it, and my assailant knew it. No matter how accurate Marcus might be, any bullet he fired from his sidearm could well go through the bad guy and take out bystanders behind us…and Hiram couldn’t possibly be sharp enough to be sure he wouldn’t hit me instead.
I clawed back over my shoulder, going for my enemy’s eyes, but he had his head tucked, expecting the maneuver. Strong. He was strong enough to lock in the hold sooner or later. I had to act soon.
Which I did. I began waving that same left hand wildly in the air, purely as a distraction, while my right moved surely down my right hip, unsnapped the case, retrieved the Brocken folding knife with the thumb hole in the blade for easy opening. Felt the blade lock in place. Rolled the knife end over end in my hand–a thousand times I’d practiced this move, though I’d never before needed to use it–so that three inches of razor sharp stainless steel extended toward the rear, as it would be held for an overhead stabbing…
…and hunched my shoulder as hard as I could, ripping the blade back, up, and deeply into the man’s leg. I felt the tip touch bone, ripped it back out. The arm pressuring my chin flew away as if by magic, powered by the scream that like to split my eardrums.
Now I could shove the chair back and did, spinning around in a fighting crouch, ready to kill.
I needn’t have bothered. The thirty-something year old man who’d attacked me was indeed a big one, Teddy Staten, son of Cameron Staten, both of them principals in Staten and Staten Auctioneers.
“What the Hell?” I wondered, straightening, staring at the six foot three fool lying on the floor, clutching his bleeding leg. My blade had hit the outside bottom corner of his right leg quadriceps muscle, not an artery slice but effective all the same. He wasn’t exactly bleeding like a stuck pig, but he was definitely bleeding. And squealing.
I stooped and wiped the knife clean on the cuff of his jeans without thinking.
“Get away from him!”
Straightening, I decided not to put my weapon away just yet. Cam Staten had bulled his way through the crowd and stood over his fallen son like a wolf at bay, snarling. There was rage in his eyes.
Which I met with a cool stare of my own. There wasn’t anything to say right then. Not really.
Marcus and Hiram had a different opinion. “Why’d he do it, Cam?” Hiram asked the question calmly enough, but there was heated steel behind the words. The elder Staten took it from the uniformed Deputy where he’d never have taken it from me. The rage in his eyes simmered down a bit. It didn’t exactly disappear, but he answered the lawman.
“Well,” Marcus interjected, kneeling to cut the leg from Teddy’s jeans so he could start treating the wound, “he won’t be walking on this leg for a while. I can stitch him up, he’s bled enough to clean it out good, and Potter’s hoard of antibiotics will come in handy. I say if you can get your son to man up a touch so’s he’s not piercing every eardrum in the building, we should be able to get on with the trial shortly. Interrogation can wait until court’s out of session.”
“Interrogation?! Inter–!” Cameron Staten sputtered. Looked like he might explode, all purple in the face and everything. There wasn’t a resident in Derringer who didn’t know Daddy Warbucks Staten, possibly the richest man in town before the shit hit the fan (not counting me, but I lived out of town), had pussified his only son from infancy, ignoring complaints from those the big fellow had bullied in school and later, buying him pretty much anything he asked for, etc. In other words, the usual; it certainly wasn’t a unique story.
Could be, I thought, that one Quentin T. “Dagger” Potter had found a way to capitalize on the younger man’s weakness. I was betting the interrogators would find out Teddy Staten thought ol’ pea-pickin’ Potter was the best thing since sliced bread.
Cam didn’t get his boy to shut up, but he did get it down to a sniffle-and-whine by the time the Statens left the building. The lawmen didn’t feel like forcing them to stick around; the squealer was way too distracting. Besides, where was he going to go?
Not that they cleared the premises without one last bit of drama. Cam did his best to appeal to the crowd for volunteers to help him carry Teddy home on a litter, but the townspeople were having none of it. Most of them, I strongly suspected, were secretly tickled to see Terrible Teddy get his comeuppance, or at least a portion of it. Besides, going with the Statens would mean missing part of the trial. No way.
In the end, Cam lugged Teddy out in a fireman’s carry. Daddy Staten stood three inches shorter than his son, but he probably weighed more, and most of that weight was muscle.
“Think that was it?” Tori was at my elbow. I knew what she meant.
“Could be.” I thought for a second. Action did always clear my head. “Either way, we’ve got a trial to win.”
“All rise!” Marcus intoned from the stage. How had he gotten back up there so quickly? “All rise for the Honorable Judge Walter Norcross!”
Walt came striding in from stage left, looking for all the world like a prewar real life no joke judge. He’d even found a robe somewhere, or what passed for one. I thought it might have had a previous life as a blackout curtain in somebody’s home. He settled in, said, “You may be seated,” and we all sat. I checked my watch. Eight twenty-seven a.m. plus seventeen seconds. Not bad. Here we’d had some major extracurricular action in the courtroom right near kickoff time, yet we were starting the trial less than half an hour late. Back in the days of high tech and political correctness, that little dustup would have shut things down for days at least, maybe even tainted the jury and required a complete do-over. Not so, these days.
We don’t mess around in the New West, I thought, and found myself smiling inwardly.