DARK TRAIL HOME

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CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

The day before the trial, his lawyer came in and handed him a suit. He’d never owned a suit. It must belong to Mark from the size of it. It hung off his lean frame loosely, and the waist was all puckered around his middle. In the pocket his fingers encountered a small piece of wood. Taking it out, he saw it was a carving of a wolf, its head lowered, teeth bared. It gave him comfort knowing Mark had placed it there deliberately, and he held it tightly in his fist.

A quick glance around the courthouse yard told him Malone was there, and Pete. They didn’t go inside. Lonny was there, and Tulsa. He hadn’t thought he could feel any more miserable, but Malone not coming in made him feel even worse.

“Tyree Kettering.”

Tyree stood with handcuffs and shackles in front of the judge. The scrawny little man wore long black robes and spectacles.

“Are you Tyree Kettering?”

“No, sir.” Tyree said. The judge glinted cold eyes over his glasses rims.

“State your name for the court.”

“Tyree.”

“Your last name?”

“I don’t have one.”

“Then it’s Kettering.”

“I ain’t no goddamn Kettering.”

The courtroom chattered behind him.

The judge rapped his gavel on his bench and glared at the back of the courtroom, then homed in on him.

“You answer the questions I ask, young man. Nothing more.”

Tyree didn’t hear much after that. The judge addressed Donny, then their attorney. Tyree slumped into his seat and lowered his head to stare at the cuffs on his wrists. It was going to be a short trial, a short rope and a long drop. It would all be over soon.

Lonny was a witness against Donny. Donny of course denied everything. “I went out there with Clem Kettering. He’s the one kilt that cowboy. He was looking for Tyree and we run up on that other boy. Clem shot him just cause he could. Then he knocked me off my horse and took off for the hills.” Donny blurted out. The hammer dropped multiple times while he spewed.

“Counselor, keep your client under control, sir.”

“If this rot could be controlled, they wouldn’t need hanging,” someone laughed. The judge didn’t find that amusing and charged the man with contempt of court.

They sentenced Donny to hang as Tyree had assumed they would, but he found himself without any witnesses against him. The judge was conferring with the lawyers when someone requested to speak on Tyree’s behalf. Tyree wasn’t expecting that person to be Kyle Brown.

“Your honor, if I may. I known this boy since he was about twelve. I know for a fact he did once ride with the Kettering outfit. I also know he hasn’t been around them the last several months. Since he’s been working for Malone he’s not been around the Kettering bunch.” The court sort of leaned forward to hear what was to come out of the bounty hunter’s mouth next.

“So you have proof he was not working with these rustlers?”

“Hard to work with someone who is out to kill you, I would guess.”

Tyree heard the sentence passed on Donny, later that same afternoon. Donny was going to hang. He waited for his turn. His mouth dropped open when the judge ordered him released.

“You are free to go, Mister Kettering. I don’t want to see you in this courtroom again.” The bailiff unlocked his cuffs and Tyree stood there stunned for a moment.

“Your honor. I claim this vermin, as he is still wanted in the Dakota territory in regard to horse stealing. I will be returning him there for that reward.” The judge looked disgusted but nodded to the bounty hunter. Kyle Brown grabbed his arm, and he tried to jerk away. Kyle smiled down at him. “You didn’t think I was helping you, did you?”

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