Sheriff Montoya had Esther May by the back of her collar. He shook her until she quit yelling.
“Shut up, woman. Won’t do you no good bellering. Everybody I ever arrested said they was innocent.” He shoved her out the corral gate, never releasing his grip. As he pushed and dragged Esther May toward town, he locked eyes with Brother Pablo. “Send the drunk doctor for Samuél.”
Esther May felt for her holster. No gun. The last she remembered was holding it after shooting the vaquero. She couldn’t recall what happened to it.
A little crowd followed Esther May and the sheriff along the dusty street to a squat rock-walled building. Over the door was a shingle with “JALE” printed in whitewash.
Esther May took it all in as she cast about for a possible way to escape. Inside, three cells took up the back wall. The office furniture was a kitchen-type table and chair. A twenty-five-pound keg with no lid, stamped California Powder Works – Santa Cruz, California, served as a garbage bin.
On the floor next to the table sat a sand-colored clay pot that may have been a spittoon. At least it was in the target zone judging from the tobacco stains on the outside and the nearby floor.
Prisoners – One In, One Out
The cells were bare except for the center one where a rheumy-eyed, dark-haired man sat on a blanket. Montoya opened the cell. “Get out.”
The copper-skinned man jarred Esther May’s memory to the Navajo that had accompanied C.J. to the Rio Grande. This man was young though, only slightly older than C.J. The cell inhabitant rubbed his eyes and glanced around.
“Out!” the sheriff growled. “Leave the blanket.”
The erstwhile prisoner disappeared through the crowd. The sheriff shoved Esther May in the cell.
“I hope you had breakfast,” Montoya said. “It’s the only meal we serve and we’ve already had it.” He laughed. “I ate plenty. The cowboy slept too late, so I got his.”
Esther May rattled the door. “I didn’t steal horses or anything else. Ask the man at the mission. His name’s C.J. and he was with me the whole time.”
Montoya’s brows bunched together. “What’s this? Was he there this morning?”
“No. He took an arrow wound and turned sick with a fever. The doctor and Brother Pablo can tell you that I came in with him.”
Montoya went to the door and shouted, “Bring Brother Pablo.”
A voice yelled back, “Are you going to put him in jail, too?”
The sheriff threw the stub of a cigar into the crowd. “Get him!”
Hot sunshine poured through each cell window casting bright squares on the floor. Esther May tied the threadbare blanket around the bars for shade and waited.
Running Out of Time
The sun had moved a considerable distance on its arc before Brother Pablo arrived.
“What took so long?” Montoya said. “I sent for you this morning. I’ve been stuck in here with the prisoner while the chickens cackle outside.”
“Did you forget this is The Lord’s Day? I must be about His duties. Also, if you haven’t looked outside, your flock has grown. You need a bigger hen house.”
The sheriff pushed himself off the chair by leaning forward and pressing his hands against his knees. He wiggled his shoulders in a way that stretched out the kinks while walking to the door. “What are they all doing here?”
“They want to know if you’ll hang a white woman.”
“Depends. Is there a man at your mission that can swear the prisoner tells the truth?”
“There is a man, yes. But he is in and out of sleep as he recovers.”
“Can he testify?”
“Not at this time.”
“Then we’d better have the hanging and get it over with before the coyotes outside go wild.”
Is Sheriff Montoya’s haste necessary? Leave a comment now.
Will Esther May receive a last meal? Here’s a look at the tradition and some requests.
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