Authors: George G. Gilman
2 • THE DEPUTY
George G. Gilman
Dorset DT7 3RS
An EDGE Western --• --86,000 Words
without who there
could have been
CHAPTER • 1
ALL FOUR members of the Bellamy family considered they were fortunate to count
Judge Hiram Miller as a friend. Not just because everyone of consequence in the area regarded him as a highly principled and fair-minded pillar of the law who performed his sworn duty without fear or favour.
Also, he was good company, generous to a fault and had never for a moment made these ordinary farming folk feel less than his equal when he came to visit their small spread outside of Bishopsburg in south east Texas.
In the opinions of Ward and Mary Bellamy and their two sons, they did not see nearly enough of the judge. But Bishopsburg was a small and less than bustling town of some one thousand mostly God fearing souls a day’s ride from the Rio Grande border with Mexico and four times as far from the ocean at Corpus Christi and it was generally a law abiding community.
Thus there was infrequent need for Judge Miller to swing this far south on his circuits. And even when he did hold court in the meeting hall on River Road, the cases he tried were invariably misdemeanours – drunkenness in a public place, boundary disputes or the
borrowing without consent
of a neighbour’s property. So the rarity of the judge’s visits to Bishopsburg was evidence of what a fine town it was. If a little dull, maybe.
And since the judge was a famous figure by local standards, the fact that on the day before he held court in town he always called at the Bellamy farm in time for supper and stayed the night in the neat little house surrounded by well tended crop fields and pastureland gave the family a certain prestige among their friends and neighbours.
But they regarded this aspect of his visits as of small consequence. Ward, Mary and their elder son Rick simply liked the grey bearded, twinkling green eyed, tall and slightly stooped man of sixty seven for himself.
While the younger boy, Andy, looked upon the judge as something of a grandfather figure instead of an important man who was also a family friend: doubtless because of the presents he invariably brought with him. 4
The judge arrived in the middle of the afternoon this fine August day and readily consented to Ward and Rick taking care of his horse and buggy while Mary fixed him a hot tub in the second largest of the three bedrooms of the single story frame home.
Afterwards there was the customary distribution of gifts in the parlour: some pipe tobacco for Ward, a bottle of perfume for Mary, an illustrated book about sea clippers for Rick and a toy pistol for Andy.
Followed by eager talk of what was happening in the world beyond the confines of Bishopsburg. Some of these events the judge knew of from personal experience travelling his circuit. Others, from further afield, he had heard of from his wide circle of acquaintances or had gleaned from the broad range of his newspaper reading.
Unusually, on this occasion the Bellamys had some interesting news for their visitor. This concerned Ben Darnell, who was the judge’s godson. They were able to tell him Ben had come through this part of the country a few days ago, looking for two buddies who had mustered out of the army a short time ahead of him. When all three were soldiers there had been talk of them all starting up in business together when they left the service. But first there were some traces to be kicked over by the young men. And since Ben had heard his friends had gone down into Mexico in search of their pleasures, he stayed just a few hours in Bishopsburg before he rode south, eager to find them.
It was an unwritten rule of the friendship between the judge and the Bellamys that the details of the cases he was to try during his visits to Bishopsburg were never discussed. And so it was during this hot afternoon into cooling evening as Mary readied the special supper she always cooked for the special guest while the men and boys sat in the parlour and had their appetites whetted by the fine aromas emerging from the kitchen.
The connecting door left open so the short, rather thick set, red haired, forty years old Mary could hear what was being said and make a contribution to the exchanges whenever she felt moved to do so.
The rule continued to be adhered to throughout the meal which was eaten in the kitchen: tonight pot roasted beef with all the home grown trimmings followed by apple and blueberry pie.
The judge though, so familiar with the ways of this family, was surely aware of a mounting anticipation among three of his fellow diners. Most eager was the forty five years old, tall and broadly built, prematurely grey haired, element furnished Ward Bellamy. His wife and the tall and gangling, freckle faced, aggressively jawed sixteen year old Rick were just a little less obviously on tenterhooks.
But all three were certainly waiting for an opportunity that would allow for something to be said outside of the small talk that became the order of the table conversation after the usual trading of news.
Finally, after the judge pushed away his empty dessert bowl, it was Ward who could contain himself no longer.
‘The talk in town is of how this is going to be a big case, judge. The biggest to be tried in Bishopsburg since the killing of Herbie Starr by John Croxley . . . Must be twenty or so years ago?’
‘Now Ward,’ Mary chided as she stood up and began to gather the dirty dishes. ‘You know we never make mention of matters that – ‘
‘Aw, mom!’ Rick’s face showed he was as keen as his father to talk about the forbidden subject.
‘Is it okay if I go out in the yard to play with my new gun, pa?’ Andy asked. He was not yet eight and his more heavily freckled, rather flat nosed features expressed an impatient frown that showed exactly how bored he had become with adult conversation.
The judge smiled sympathetically at Ward and winked at Mary. Then angled a large cigar into the side of his mouth and struck a match on a thumbnail. He lit the tobacco, waved out the flame and said reflectively on a billowing cloud of aromatic smoke:
‘That was a little before my time as a judge on the circuit. When I was still an attorney. Recall hearing of it though. Case concerned an alleged claim jumper who 6
shot and wounded a local miner. Then was himself stabbed to death. Isn’t that what happened?’
‘That surely is exactly right,’ Ward confirmed. ‘Joe Croxley got off scot-free. On account of the jury’s verdict was that he stabbed Starr to defend himself.’
The judge nodded and smiled wryly. ‘Yes indeed, I recollect the decision. Self defence even though Mr Joseph Croxley sustained no more than a flesh would in the shoulder. And then stabbed Mr Herbert Starr seventeen times.’
‘I never knew it was that many!’ Rick blurted in the shrill tone of an excited youngster whose voice was not yet broken. ‘But I hear tell he cut off Starr’s – ‘
‘Richard!’ his father chided grimly. ‘You and Andrew both ought to get outside the house for awhile, I reckon. Best thing for boys your ages is to get some healthy exercise after a heavy dinner. Ain’t that right, judge?’
The visitor showed a benign smile and shared it equally among all four members of the family so that the two chastened boys should not feel they were being patronised.
‘Exercise in the fresh air is indeed excellent for the constitution of the young, Ward. Whereas those who have attained the great age of this humble servant of the law require just a good smoke . . . ‘ He drew against the cigar and exhaled as he concluded: ‘and a glass of something to round off such a first class meal?’
Rick looked about to complain at his exclusion from the promised discussion concerned with a legendary murder that occurred several years before he was born. Which would maybe lead to talk of the sordid case Judge Miller was to try in town tomorrow. A case everyone in and around Bishopsburg knew involved the killing by the son of a rich out of town Mexican of a local girl who was said to be no better than she should be.
But he was dissuaded from pleading to remain in the house when the judge feigned a sternly dismissive expression before he showed another smile as he said:
‘However, drinking alone is not to be recommended for anybody at any time. And if there is among the company a charming and attractive lady then so much the better?’
Ward laughed and Mary blushed. The judge made an open handed ushering motion and the two boys obediently rose from the table. Went to the door that opened on to the yard between the house and the larger of two barns. Both youngsters remained respectful of their parents and the guest but the elder boy clearly harboured resentment while his brother was just as obviously eager to leave the adults to their talk.
The only one of the judge’s presents that had not been left in the parlour was the realistic looking toy Colt .45. This lay on a small pine table beside the doorway and Andy picked it up as he unlatched the door: began to pull it open. Caught his breath when he saw that a man stood just beyond the threshold, one hand reaching forward and the other fisted around the butt of a genuine Colt revolver.
‘Pa!’ Rick blurted thickly.
In an instant surprise became terror as both boys saw the piercing gaze in the dark eyes of the gunman that glittered above the triangle of a black kerchief that masked his lower face.
‘What is it, Richard?’ Ward Bellamy was irritated as he turned in his chair, suspecting his elder son of a ploy to gain more time in the house.
‘It’s big trouble, Ward,’ the judge said tautly and began to rise off the chair from where he had a clear view of the doorway and beyond.
With a mother’s intuition for knowing when her offspring are in genuine distress, Mary had already halted and turned on her way to the sink. She dropped the stack of dirty dishes and they shattered on the floor with a crash that almost covered her choked shriek.
This as two identically masked men entered the house, forcing Rick and Andy to back off from them. The second man was armed with a Winchester rifle that he raked menacingly from side to side along the same arc as the levelled revolver gripped by the other intruder.
They had clearly made careful plans in advance of coming to the Bellamy house. Spoke not a word to the terrified people in the room. Or to each other. There was an instant of silence: then they opened fire. Before the two boys could turn and flee toward their horrified parents. Or Ward and Mary and the judge 8
could shake themselves free of the petrified attitudes that transfixed them in the wake of their initial shock.
Andy took a bullet in the side of his head. His brother in the centre of the chest. The impact of the shots fired at such close range lifted the slight bodies clear of the floor and hurled them toward the table they had just left. More bullets tore into the half risen judge and partially turned Ward and Mary. Cries of terror ended as bodies twisted and tumbled and collapsed into heaps on the floor, gushing blood from ugly wounds. Muscles jerked. The two silent killers fired in unison during the opening fusillade. Then, after their victims were down there was less studied discipline about the way in which the hammer of the revolver was thumbed back, the lever action of the rifle was pumped and triggers were squeezed.
But the icy calmness of the slaughter was maintained as they advanced further into the room, the barrels of their weapons angled to fire again and again at the Bellamy family and Judge Miller. To ensure that if any one of the victims continued to cling to a thread of life, survival lasted just moments. There was a mechanical precision and an utter lack of compassion about the way in which the two masked men moved around the furniture and among the corpses: took careful aim and fired at the unfeeling targets. A chest here, the centre of a back there, next a head.