DARK TRAIL HOME

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CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

Tyree climbed down from the top bunk of the jail cell. He hadn’t slept. There was ice formed on the block wall under the barred window. He shivered and tightened his coat.

“Wish he’d open that door so we could get some heat from that stove.” Donny moaned. Donny’s face was black and blue, purple welts across his nose and cheekbone, blood dried on his shirt. His chin had a big lump on it. His lips were swollen.

“We don’t deserve no damned heat. You’re lucky we got a blanket.” Tyree growled.

Tyree felt his own lips and nose and imagined he looked much the same as Donny.

“We ain’t damned animals.”

“Matter of opinion.” Tyree muttered. “Your opinion.”

“I didn’t shoot your man,” Donny said. “That was Clem. He said he was sending you a message. You’re next.”

Tyree didn’t answer.

“Tyree,” Donny called to him, his voice whiny, “he made me ride out there with him. I wanted to warn you. I just didn’t get to you in time.”

“Oh, you got to me all right. You worthless shit.”

“I didn’t have a choice. He said it was you or me.”

Malone had been the one to finish him. Having Pete question him had been no surprise. Malone’s questions, though, had sucked out his soul. Tyree couldn’t imagine why he thought Malone would ever believe him.

They had dragged him and Donny into the stable, standing guard over them until Malone came in from Ms. Aileen’s. They had kept Mark away from him, though he’d been yelling at them outside. Tulsa hammered at Pete to get ropes ready, but Pete had held them off. Malone out front talking, Tulsa and Pete were arguing, yelling, and finally they left. Their voices faded as they went to the house.

Nobody came for hours after they finished talking. He waited, wallowing in misery as his nose dripped blood onto his shirt. His hands were tied behind him, numb with rope cutting into his wrists. The stable was quiet, too quiet as he lay over on his side and tried to work some circulation into his hands. Donny had sat there staring at the wall, trembling. He might have trembled too, he didn’t remember. When Malone finally came, he trembled then. Two of the ranch hands sat near the doorways, front and back, guarding them.

Malone had returned alone. Malone bent over him, setting him up with his back to the wall.

He untied his hands and offered him a wet bandanna for his lips and a drink of water.

“You should have told me you were a Kettering.”

“I’m not. My name is Allison.”

“You know this piece of shit?” Malone jerked a thumb at Donny, who looked as miserable as Tyree felt.

“He’s my brother.” Donny had a twisted sneer on his face.

“Shut up, Donny, you worthless piece of shit,” Tyree growled, “I ain’t your damn brother.”

Malone had looked at him sadly and shook his head. It didn’t even matter what Donny had said. The fact that Tyree had acknowledged Donny at all was enough.

“Malone. Honest to god I ain’t one of them. I work for you.”

“I’m sorry it came to this boy. I truly am.” Malone looked like someone had just shot his favorite horse.

“No, Malone. Boss. Please. I do know him, but I don’t ride with him.”

Malone tied his hands again, in front this time. Tulsa was sitting on a keg of nails watching him and Donny. Sitting there with a shotgun. Another rider, Thomas, was in the loft, a rifle in his hands.

His mouth was dry, his lips were crusted with blood, broken, his face bruised. His nose was probably broken. He was tired, so damn tired. They were finally going to hang him. It was always going to end with a bullet or a rope.

“Malone, please.” He had pleaded, but Malone had just shaken his head and walked away.

Morning came too soon. Malone came in the livery and Tyree ground his teeth together, refusing to beg. Malone took him by the arm, dragging him to his feet, walking him to his horse. Two ranch hands carrying rifles flanked him and Donny. He think we’re gonna run for it?

Nobody had anything to say, even when they got to the jail. He snuck a look at Malone’s face and saw it was hard and grim. The jail stunk of piss, vomit, dust, cobwebs and dirty socks. He walked into the cell, sinking down against the wall. He crossed his arms over the tops of his knees and let the tears fall into his lap. He felt sick to his stomach and sucked deep breaths to keep lunch down.

Time stopped. He knew it was passing, as meals came and went. He tried to eat, but it was all he could do to swallow. Malone came in and squatted outside his cell holding a wanted poster. He could read his name from across the room.

“That you?”

“I was twelve.”

“So it is you?”

“Yup,” he said without emotion. It was for horse stealing. It had to be. The reward was a measly fifty dollars. About what he was worth, he reckoned.

Malone folded the paper up and put it in his pocket. He looked over at Donny.

“What about you, boy? You killed a good man out there.”

“I didn’t kill nobody. That was Clem Kettering.”

“Where might he be?”

“Who knows? He’s like a damn rat, he can slip through cracks you couldn’t slide that wanted poster through.”

Malone nodded. “Tyree. I will get you a lawyer. I want you to have a fair trial.”

Well, that’s thoughtful.

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