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Western Action, March, 1957
EDWARD THE CONFESSOR
Judge Steele Story
by Lon Williams
The case against Edward Slocum looked as airtight as Judge Steele could hope for – but
somehow, he was worried. Slocum’s lawyer was a real tricky-looking gent, and didn’t seem
at all disturbed by the fact that the prosecution had a signed confession from the accused.
UDGE WARDLOW STEELE eyed a
courtroom jammed with Flat Creek’s
hard-crusted citizens, and uneasiness
disturbed him. Not because a murder had
been committed. Events of that sort filled
him with troubled anger, confronted him
with vexatious problems, but seldom
presented insurmountable difficulties.
This time Steele was less confident.
Unofficially, he had learned that a new
lawyer had arrived in town—one reputed
to possess a sackful of tricks designed to
defeat justice. It had been Steele’s
determined policy that no consarned
lawyer should save a murderer’s neck. Of
course there had been acquittals—either
from lack of convincing evidence, or
because of legal technicalities—but never
as a result of downright fraud and
flummery. Well, by thunder, there had to
be a first time for everything.
He growled toward his right, “Bucky,
J
WESTERN ACTION 2
call this herd of animals to order.”
Big Jerd Buckalew rose and pounded
with his forty-five. “Court’s now in
session; any off-brand ox as thinks it ain’t
will get his tail twisted.”
Steele nodded briskly at Clerk James
Skiffington. “Skiffy, let’s have it.”
Skiffington got up and screeched
loudly, “People versus Edward Slocum.
Charge, first-degree murder.”
Below, on a bench reserved for
doomed apes, sat a baboon of about
twenty-seven years, long-chinned, blackhaired, with an expression between
arrogant confidence and innocent
stupidity. Steele glared at him with
repressed fury. “Murder, eh? Beconsarned if your looks don’t make that
easy enough to believe. Whar’s your
lawyer?”
A tall character got up nearby. In looks
he rated well; he was dark, well-dressed,
and dean-shaved. Thick hair rose from a
straight left-side part, and lay in a thick
mass over his head. In facial expression
and mannerism, however, he did not
impress so favorably. No smile was
evident, nor was there the hint of one.
Instead, one side of his mouth rose in a
surly twitch.
“I am this man’s lawyer sir,” he said
frigidly. “Moreover, as a beginning, I
should say that your honor’s insinuation as
to my client’s murderous looks is objected
to as both improper and totally
unbecoming to a judge. This man, though
charged with murder, is entitled to
courteous treatment and every
presumption of innocence. I demand that
he be protected from insult, and that his
constitutional right to a fair trial be
respected.”
In Steele’s opinion, this character
would be hard to get along with. “What’s
your name?” he snapped angrily.
“Osius W. Bonefish,” came in sharp
reply.
Steele’s anger merged suddenly with
his crude sense of humor. “All right,
Fishbone, we’ll see that your client gets a
fair trial. But after it’s over we’ll hang him
just as high, by thunder, as if he’d had no
trial at all.” He swung left. “Anybody over
hyar got anything to say?”
A dignified, disapproving redhead got
up. “Wade Claybrook, your honor.
Prosecuting attorney. I have only this to
say, sir. A murder trial should proceed in
an orderly fashion, without bias of any
nature. I, therefore, suggest that this
defendant be required to plead, and that a
jury be empaneled to try him.”
TEELE turned away in
disappointment. Claybrook had
learning and ability, but he lacked a
fighting man’s spirit. Except on rare
occasions, he was too much a gentleman
to deal with scoundrels. The judge
scowled down at Slocum. “All right, you
two-legged stinker, what’s your plea?”
Osius W. Bonefish snarled
contemptuously, “If a plea is anything in
this court except mockery, defendant’s
plea is not guilty. Treatment this man has
just now received illustrates what kind of
indignities he has been subjected to since
his arrest, as will be proved in due time.”
In short order, a jury was empaneled,
witnesses sworn and herded to their back
room.
Claybrook nodded at a deputy. “Call
Cotter Going.”
Going was brought in and seated as a
witness. He was a homely, sad-eyed golddigger of about thirty, with an upper lip
left white by removal of a mustache of
long standing. His thick brown hair
showed no sign of having ever been
combed.
“Your name, sir?” asked Claybrook.
“My name’s Cotter Going,” replied the
S
EDWARD THE CONFESSOR 3
witness. “There’s two Cotter Goings in
Flat Creek country, though. One has a
claim in Dead Crow Gulch, one in Lower
Sarlay.”
“Which Cotter are you?”
“I’m little Cotter. Not that I’m so little,
mind you; I’m five feet eleven and weigh
a hundred and seventy pounds on Scrugg
Amory’s hay scales.”
Claybrook’s mouth twisted in sarcasm.
“You are being most informative, sir; you
are sometimes called Going Gone, are you
not?”
“I am, except when I’m called just
plain gone.”
“Well, Mr. Gone, are you acquainted
with Edward Slocum?”
Going glanced at defendant. “You
mean him?”
“Yes. “
“Sure, I know him. Hired him to work
for me now and then—though he was such
a lazy no-good bum, I couldn’t trust him
as far as I could throw a sack of potatoes.”
Osius Bonefish got up. “That
slanderous remark is objected to.
Aspersions on this man’s character are not
admissible, unless he himself puts his
character and reputation in issue. I suggest
that Mr. Claybrook hold a tighter line on
his witnesses if he knows how.”
“And I,” retorted Claybrook, “Suggest
that Mr. Bonefish hold his tongue, unless
he can think of something intelligent to
say.” He stared hard at Going. “Sir, when
were you last in defendant’s company?”
Going again glanced at Slocum. “You
mean when was I last with him?”
“You heard my question.”
Steele was losing patience. “Wade, ask
him what he knows about this murder.”
Claybrook nodded at Going. “All right.
Mr. Gone, what do you know about Rufe
Budnick’s murder?”
Bonefish was up again. “Now, sir,
defendant objects. This witness knows
nothing about rules of evidence, hence
should confine his statements to answering
proper questions.”
“Bonefish,” said Steele, “when I tell a
lawyer to do anything in this court, he
most generally does it.”
“From what I’ve heard of justice in
this court,” retorted Bonefish, “I can well
believe your honor’s remark. Trials are not
conducted by lawyers versed in law and
procedure, but by a tyrannical and
overbearing judge who knows little
beyond how to hang men accused of
crime—guilty or innocent.”
This, in Steele’s opinion, was
outrageous contempt of court. Yet,
because contempt and truth were so nearly
identical as applied to him, he withheld his
vengeful hand. “Set down, Bony,” he
ordered softly.
Bonefish saw ruin about to descend
upon him from Buckalew’s rough
deputies. Hastily he sat down.
LAYBROOK nodded at Going.
“Were you with Edward Slocum last
Wednesday evening, about sundown?”
“I was,” Going answered.
“Where?”
“In Lower Sarlay Gulch.”
“Where were you headed?”
“I was coming in to town. Ed Slow-go
was coming down Lower Sarlay with me
and about to pass Rufe Budnick’s shack. It
was kind of chilly. Budnick was outside
with his big woolly overcoat on, by
hisself. As we was about to pass, Ed says
to me—”
“Object,” shouted Bonefish. “That’s
hearsay evidence.”
“Go ahead, Going,” said Claybrook.
Bonefish sprang up. “Object, sir;
hearsay evidence is not admissible. I
recognize that Mr. Claybrook’s legal
endowments are rather skimpy, but even a
jackleg lawyer knows he can’t introduce
C
WESTERN ACTION 4
hearsay evidence.”
Steele jerked his head at Claybrook.
“Wade if you want to bash his nose for
that remark, you’ve got my permission.”
“Your honor’s thoughtfulness is
appreciated,” responded Claybrook, “but I
think that Mr. Bonefish, given time, will
fall into his own pit.” Claybrook faced his
witness. “Mr. Going, what did Ed Slow-go
say to you?”
“Well, sir, he said to me, ‘Cot, I think
I’ll stop and gab with Budnick for a spell.’
He turned aside then, and I come on by
myself.”
“That’s all.” Claybrook sat down.
Steele glared at defendant’s lawyer.
“Cross-examine?”
Bonefish got up with a sneer on his
lips. “Sir, what this witness has said is so
near nothing that I do not consider crossexamination worth while.”
Steele held his temper. Claybrook, he
figured, had been at least half right. But
instead of falling into a pit, Bonefish was
in danger of being thrown into one. “Next
witness, Wade.”
“Collie Six,” said Claybrook.
Six was brought in. He was a snooty
looking young dude, about five-feet-seven,
slim, with sandy, middle-parted hair and a
thin waxed mustache. “Your name is
Collie Six?”
“It is not, sir,” replied the witness, with
a glance along his nose at Claybrook. “My
name is Collingworth Six.”
“Your name,” Claybrook commented
dryly, “might have been more fitting, had
it been Worth Six. You are employed at
Pfleuger’s General Store, are you not?”
“To be more exact, sir, I am leading
salesman at Pfleuger’s.”
Claybrook’s expression was sour and
sarcastic. “In your distinguished capacity
as Pfleuger’s leading salesman, did you
see defendant Edward Slocum last
Wednesday evening shortly after
sundown?”
“Well, suppose we come to cases,” Six
replied loftily. “It appears to me, from past
observation and reports, that judge and
lawyers of this court are too much engaged
in what Shakespeare would have called
much ado about nothing. What is needed
here, I should say, is slightly more
adeptness in crime detection.
“Let me illustrate what I mean. Last
Wednesday evening Edward Slocum,
otherwise known as Ed Slow-go, came
into our store to buy a new suit of clothes.
On that occasion he was wearing a woolly
overcoat somewhat too large for him. To
me that immediately seemed cause for
suspicion. When he bought this new suit,
he paid for it from a bag of gold money.
Clue number two. See what I mean? I
should say that bag contained at least five
hundred dollars—too much money for a
common bum, eh? Would it be of interest
to you to know, also, that said money bag
was stained with blood?”
TEELE GLARED at Claybrook.
“Wade, can’t you prove murder
without bringing such conceited jackasses
as this in hyar?”
Six sat erect and stared indignantly at
Steele. “Sir, are you referring to me?”
Steele’s anger boiled over. “Bucky,
throw this stuffed monkey out of hyar; if
thar’s a horse trough handy, dunk him in it
for contempt of court.”
Four deputies seized Six and carried
him out. Seconds later they came back in,
wiping their wet hands.
“Claybrook, call your next witness,”
growled Steele.
“Deputy Daniel Trewhitt,” Claybrook
directed.
A man almost seven feet tall and
weighing two hundred fifty pounds came
in and sat down.
Claybrook eyed him with satisfaction.
S
EDWARD THE CONFESSOR 5
“Your name is Dan Trewhitt?”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Claybrook, it shore is.”
Claybrook handed him an iron rod
three feet long and about as thick as a
man’s thumb. “Do you recognize that?”
“Yes, sir, shore do. I found that in
Rufe Budnick’s shack, beside his dead
body.”
“Was it bloody when you found it?”
“Shore was.”
“Any evidence of its having been used
on Budnick’s head?”
Osius Bonefish was up. “Object, your
honor. A witness is not permitted to draw
conclusions.”
Before Steele could tear into Bonefish,
Claybrook changed his question. “Mr.
Trewhitt, did you examine Budnick’s
head?”
“Shore did. That corpse’s head had
about ten gashes, top, sides and back—it
had been hit with an iron rod.”
“Another conclusion,” stormed
Bonefish. “Defendant excepts and assigns
error. This witness should not be permitted
to speculate on what old Budnick’s head
had been hit with.”
Claybrook said hurriedly, “Mr.
Trewhitt, was Budnick’s skull bashed in at
any point?”
“Shore was. It was just about all
bashed in.”
“Did you arrest defendant Edward
Slocum? “
“Shore did. Also took him to jail and
locked him up.”
Claybrook handed Trewhitt a piece of
paper. “Do you recognize that?”
“Shore do, Mr. Claybrook. That’s
Slow-go’s confession.”
“Who wrote it for him?”
“Deputy Gueley wrote it. He wrote
what Slow-go told him to write.”
“Did Slocum sign it?”
“Shore did. Made his mark. Me and
Gueley and Sheriff Buckalew witnessed it.
Here’s where we signed our names.”
“Will you read it, please?”
Trewhitt lifted his eyebrows, then
drew a huge hand down his face. “I’ll
shore make a pass at it, Mr. Claybrook,
though I ain’t much good at readin’
writin’.”
Defendant’s lawyer was up, waiting.
“Now, sir, defendant objects.”
“Naturally,” said Steele. “If you didn’t,
we’d think you was loco.”
“I’m far from being facetious, sir,”
Bonefish retorted haughtily. “Mr.
Claybrook, being a lawyer of sorts, should
know that a confession cannot be put in
evidence until it has been qualified as
competent.”
“All right, Wade,” said Steele. “If
that’s law, qualify it. We don’t want
Bonefish excepting and assigning errors.”
F YOUR HONOR please,”
Claybrook commented graciously,
“inasmuch as defendant has objected, it
might be well to do some qualifying.” He
faced Trewhitt. “Sir, did you use threats
against defendant in order to obtain this
confession?”
“No, sir, shore didn’t.”
“Did you promise him anything, such
as recommending that he be let off easy?
Did you persuade him that it might be
good for his soul?”
“No, sir, Mr. Claybrook, neither one.
Never used no threats, and never promised
him nothing.”
“Do you mean then to say that he gave
this confession freely, voluntarily, and
with understanding that it might be used
against him?”
“Yes, sir, that’s what I mean—them
very words. Might say, too, that when he
told all that’s in this confession, he was
feeling as free as a bird in a bush. In fact,
seemed right happy about it.”
Claybrook arched his eyebrows at
“I
WESTERN ACTION 6
Steele. “May it please your honor, it would
be proper procedure to allow Mr. Bonefish
to cross-examine Mr. Trewhitt as to this
confession.”
“All right, Bony. Cross-examine.”
Bonefish rose but stayed at his table. “Mr.
Claybrook does deserve commendation for
this one instance of fairness. Naturally I
should like to cross-examine this big
lummox who speaks so glibly.”
“Now, see hyar, Bonefish,” Steele
snarled dangerously, “you be careful what
you say about Dan Trewhitt or, by
thunder, you’ll find yourself soaking up
horse slobbers.”
Bonefish’s eyes widened. “Yes, your
honor,” he replied. He then faced Trewhitt.
“So you used no threats against
defendant?”
“No, sir, shore didn’t.”
“Nor any violent language?”
“Yes, sir, shore did. Used violent
language. Called him about every name I
could think of.”
“Indeed? You also gave him whiskey,
didn’t you?”
“Shore did.”
“And it was after he had drunk
whiskey that he confessed?”
“Shore was.”
“Yet you say that his confession was
as free as a bird in a bush?”
“Shore was, yes sir. You ought to
heard him brag about how he beat up pore
old Budnick’s head. Would’ve made you
sick.”
“He was pretty drunk, wasn’t he?”
“Shore was. Happy as you please.”
Bonefish looked up at Steele. “Sir, I’m
shocked at Mr. Claybrook’s outrageous
conduct in offering in evidence a
confession obtained in such illegal and
infamous fashion.”
“Now, see hyar, Bony; according to
my lights, some men are more likely to tell
the truth when drunk than when sober.”
He swung round. “Dan, read that
confession.”
Trewhitt furrowed his forehead and
read laboriously:
“To who it may concern. I killed old
Rufe Budnick. I done it partly to get his
money, but mostly because I hated him.
We was both from Old Crab, Missouri. He
was a old tightwad. Always had money,
but wouldn’t never give nobody none.
Except kids. Sometimes he’d give a kid a
nickel. But he never give me none. Not
even a penny. Said I was no good. When I
beat his head into smush I kept telling him,
Well, old tightwad, this pays you back for
treating me like you did back in Old Crab.
This is what you get for how you talked to
me back there too. It’s good enough for
you. I’m glad I killed him. Signed, Ed
Slocum, his mark. Witnessed, Jerd
Buckalew, Hugh Gueley, Dan Trewhitt.”
Claybrook raised his eyebrows and sat
down. “That is our case, your honor.”
Steele tugged at his mustache. “That’s
case enough, by thunder.” He scowled at
Bonefish. “Want to cross-examine
further?”
Bonefish got up. “I do not, sir. But I
would like for defendant to have a chance
to speak for himself.”
“It’ll take a lot of speaking,” Steele
told him frigidly, “but put him on. Swear
him, Skiffy.”
Slocum rose and held up his right
hand. Skiffington raced through his
rigmarole and sat down.
ITH SWAGGERING strides,
Slocum took his seat as a witness in
his own behalf.
Bonefish came round and stood
directly between Claybrook and Slocum.
This, Steele suspected, was deliberately
done to shut off Claybrook’s view of
Slocum.
Steele pointed angrily down to his
W
EDWARD THE CONFESSOR 7
right. “Bonefish, stand over thar.”
A moment of suspense followed.
Bonefish had not moved; now he lifted his
chin and declared haughtily, “Sir, an
attorney is privileged to stand wherever he
pleases.”
Sheriff Buckalew nodded at a cluster
of deputies. They descended upon
Bonefish, lifted him by his pants and coat
collar and placed him where he had been
ordered to stand.
“Now,” Steele added, “you are fined
ten dollars for contempt of court. Bucky,
you will put him in jail until it’s paid.”
For seconds Bonefish stood in angry
silence, after which he apparently decided
that courtesy would pay off better. “I
apologize, your honor.”
“You are still fined ten dollars, by
thunder.”
A flash of hostility suggested that
Bone-fish had mentally withdrawn his
apology. He faced his client. “Your name
is Edward Slocum?”
“Right,” Slocum replied.
“Were you acquainted with Rufe
Budnick?”
“Knowed him when I seen him, that’s
all.”
“Did you sign a confession?”
“Signed something.”
“Did you know what it was?”
“No.”
“Was it read to you before you signed
it?”
“No.”
“As to why you signed, it we shall put
to one side momentarily. Putting Rufe
Budnick aside for now, also, did you ever
kill anybody?”
“Yes, sir,” Slocum declared proudly.
“Killed a lot of men.”
“Name at least one.”
Claybrook eased up. “Now, your
honor, this defendant is not on trial for
having killed anybody except Budnick.
What sharp practice Mr. Bonefish may be
up to is not yet fully apparent, but
Slocum’s record as a manslayer has got
nothing to do with whether he murdered
Budnick.”
“Wade,” Steele responded dryly,
“you’re a learned lawyer; and in all
respects an honorable one; but your
objection would deny this court one of its
most needed lessons—namely, a lesson in
what you call sharp practice. Go right
ahead, Fishbone.”
Bonefish regarded Steele resentfully.
“Sir, may I remind you that my name is
not Fishbone.”
“It seems to me,” Claybrook
interposed, “that his name should be Bone.
That’s especially true with respect to his
head.”
Before Bonefish could reply to
Claybrook’s insult, Steele stormed at him,
“Question your witness, Bonefish.”
ONEFISH took time to reestablish his
composure, then asked, “Mr. Slocum,
you say you have killed a lot of men?”
“Right.”
“Name one of them.”
“Well, sir, when I was fifteen years
old, I killed a man in Old Crab, Missouri.
Killed him and hid his body in a cave.”
“What was his name?”
“Name was Trenkle—Fadway
Trenkle.”
“Were you ever prosecuted for that
killing?”
“Never was. Nobody found out who
done it.”
“Name another man you’ve killed.”
“Well, there was Horace Waddy.”
“You mean you killed Horace
Waddy.”
“Yep.”
“What did you kill him for?”
“Nothing much. Mostly because I
didn’t like him.”
B
WESTERN ACTION 8
“Where did that occur?”
“You mean where did I kill him?”
“Yes.”
“That was back in Missouri, too. I was
eighteen when I killed old Waddy.”
“See hyar,” Steele interrupted.
“Fishbone, don’t you know you’re putting
a rope around this baboon’s neck?”
“Sir,” replied Bonefish, “I know that
you cannot touch him for any crime he
may have committed in Missouri.”
“What do you mean, we can’t touch
him?”
Claybrook got up. “If your honor
please, he means that for a crime
committed in Missouri this defendant can
be legally tried only in Missouri.”
“Wade, that may be law in your book
and in Fishbone’s, but be-consarned if you
ain’t about to learn some law that ain’t in
books at all. It’s a long way from hyar to
Missouri. According to my figuring, we’d
be doing Missouri a favor by saving
people back thar a heap of bother. Go
ahead, Fishbone. Hang him, if you’ve got
your head set on it.”
Bonefish proceeded with confidence
unshaken. “Ever kill anybody else?”
“Right.”
“Who?”
“Killed old Roe Shovlin.”
”Who was he?”
“Storekeeper.”
“Where did that killing occur?”
“Missouri.”
“Why did you kill him?”
“Because he had me arrested for
stealing corn.”
“Did you steal any corn?”
“No, but he swore I done it. Had me
jailed for thirty days. Every day in jail, I
swore to myself I’d get even. So I did.
Waylaid him one night when he was going
home from his store. Blasted him open
with a double-barrel shotgun.”
“Were you indicted?”
“Never was. It happened in dark
woods. Nobody could track me but
bloodhounds, and I throwed them off my
scent by wading in a creek about two
miles. Hid my gun in a holler log. For all I
know, it’s there yet.”
Claybrook rose indignantly. “If your
honor please, what Mr. Bonefish is leading
up to is beginning to reveal itself. May I
say—”
“Mr. Claybrook may very
appropriately wait until this leading
process is finished,” declared Bonefish
warmly. “When I have finished, he will
have his chance to cross-examine. Until
then I suggest he refrain from
interrupting.”
TEELE considered briefly. Beconsarned if he could figure what
Bony was up to. He’d heard of shifty
lawyers; in fact, he’d had some smooth
ones in his court. But if there was a trick
he hadn’t yet seen, he’d welcome a chance
to see it, so long as it didn’t interfere with
justice.
“Fishbone,” he said, “I reckon you
know what you’re doing?”
“Sir,” Bonefish replied “if I didn’t, I
wouldn’t be doing it.”
Steele’s anger flared suddenly. “Well,
sir, if it’s some concerned trick you’re
working on, it’d better be mighty good.
It’s our aim hyar to hang murderers, no
matter whar they done their murdering.”
“It could matter a great deal, sir,”
returned Bonefish. “A court has
jurisdiction to try persons accused of
crimes within that court’s geographical
limits, and not elsewhere. Your court, sir,
if I am informed correctly, is a mere
usurper of judicial authority, with no
legislative sanction whatever. As an
interim of makeshift institution, you may
be a connecting link between Vigilante
lawlessness and duly constituted
S
EDWARD THE CONFESSOR 9
government; but by no stretch of
imagination can you assert judicial
functions over more than Flat Creek and
its immediate environs.”
Claybrook was waiting. “If your honor
please, this learned dissertation on judicial
authority may have sounded fine to its
utterer, but it has no meaning to a
murderer when he’s swinging from a limb.
When this court hangs a criminal, he’s just
as dead as if he’d been hung in Missouri.”
Steele was delighted with Claybrook.
It was his opinion that someday Claybrook
would develop into a humdinger. Maybe
he as judge had not been giving Wade
enough rein.
“Wade,” he said stoutly, “you’re
talking my kind of talk. When we hang a
two-legged stinker, what difference does it
make whether we’ve got jurisdiction or
not?” He scowled at Bonefish. “Go ahead,
Bony. You’re helping us out just fine.”
His face hard and confident, Bonefish
said frigidly, “Sir, this trial is not over yet.
Furthermore, it is to be remembered as one
element of respectability that no man can
be hanged, even by this outlandish court,
until a jury has pronounced him guilty.
Fortunately, our jury is yet to be heard
from.” Bonefish faced defendant again.
“Mr. Slocum, you have been relating
various killings of which you have been
guilty. Have you ever killed anybody in
Flat Creek, or anywhere close around?”
“You bet I have.”
Gasps swept over spectators like a gust
of wind. Men looked at one another and
grinned. Steele himself leaned forward in
astonishment. .
Bonefish smiled wryly. “So you have
killed somebody in Flat Creek or its
immediate neighborhood?”
“Yep, that’s what I said.”
“Who was it?”
“Feller named Alvis Newkirk.”
“Where did you kill him?”
“Back of his saddle shop. Called him
out from his workbench and bashed his
head with a wagon spoke.”
“When was that?”
“Couple weeks ago.”
Murmurs rose from spectators.
MAN GOT up, a few rows back.
“Judge, that ain’t so. I’m Alvis
Newkirk, and I ain’t no more dead than he
is. What’s more, that big windy ain’t never
hit me with nothing.”
Steele felt tight and hot. “What in
tarnation’s going on hyar?”
“Just this, sir,” replied Bonefish. “This
defendant is said to have confessed that he
murdered Rufe Budnick. It has just been
demonstrated that he would confess
anything.”
“Be-consarned if I don’t feel whupped
for certain,” Steele admitted, angrily and
grudgingly. “But don’t count your
chickens yet, Mr. Fishbone. Thar’s a
consarned puzzle hyar, but it’s got an
answer. We’re going to keep our hooks in
this baboon till we figure it out.”
Claybrook rose with a sour expression.
“Your honor, this has worked out too
precisely to have been accidental; indeed,
it has every earmark of a conspiracy. I
suggest that Alvis Newkirk be taken into
custody for questioning as soon as this
trial is over. If he allowed himself to be
drawn into a conspiracy to obstruct justice,
I think there will be some way he can be
punished.
“Now look here, Claybrook,” Newkirk
shouted nervously, “I never got into no
conspiracy with nobody. I didn’t know he
was going to tell that lie. He just picked
me out because he looked back here and
saw me.”
“Bucky, have Newkirk locked up. By
thunder, we’ll let him talk hisself out of
jail, if he thinks he can.”
While a deputy was obeying a nod
A
WESTERN ACTION 10
from Buckalew, Osius Bonefish walked
slowly back and forth in troubled thought.
When quiet had returned, he faced his
witness. “Mr. Slocum, you have admitted
that you signed a confession. You have
denied, however, that you knew what that
confession contained. Why did you sign
it?”
Slocum had broken out in a sweat.
“Signed it because I had to.”
“What do you mean?”
“I reckon you’d signed it, too, if them
deputies done to you what they done to
me.”
“What did they do to you?”
“Threatened to burn me with a red-hot
poker.”
“What else?”
“Kept me awake two nights and two
days.”
“What else?”
“Put soap in my food.”
“What else?”
Slocum held up his left thumb, which
was enclosed in a dirty stall. “Them
deputies done this to me.”
“And what was that?”
“Put my thumb in a vise.”
“Then what?”
“They screwed down on it till they
busted its bones. Said they’d bust my other
thumb and my fingers and toes, if I didn’t
confess and sign that paper.”
Bonefish lowered his voice to a sad
pitch. “So, in order to save yourself from
further torture, you confessed to a crime
you had not committed?”
“Yep, that’s exactly what I done. I’d of
confessed to anything to keep any more of
my bones from being busted.”
With sorrow in his voice, Bonefish
said, “I’m reluctant to ask you, Mr.
Slocum, to exhibit this evidence of your
torture, but would you mind removing that
bandage or stall from your thumb and
allow our jurors to see what atrocity has
been committed upon your person? “
“Sure thing,” said Slocum, “only it’s
mighty sore.” Slowly, carefully, he
exhibited his tortured member. His thumb
was black and swollen to more than twice
its natural size. “There it is, fellers,” he
said.
Two or three jurors gasped. Groans
were audible from various quarters.
“There,” said Bonefish, “is your
evidence of this so-called free and
voluntary confession. I’ve seen many
cases of torture, inflicted as a means of
extracting false confessions, but never
before have I seen one as atrocious as this.
Everything that’s civilized and decent
cries out against it.”
Bonefish wiped his eyes with a
handkerchief and returned to his seat.
Slocum put his stall back on and likewise
returned to his place.
TEELE was tense with that wrath he
always experienced in defeat.
He turned in desperation to Claybrook.
“Wade, what in tarnation have you got to
say?”
Claybrook got up hesitantly. “Your
honor, I’m confident that this harrowing
story of torture can be fully and
completely rebutted by Sheriff Buckalew
and his deputies.”
“Sir,” said Bonefish, rising
indignantly, “Sheriff Buckalew and his
deputies are disqualified by reason of their
having been present throughout this trial.”
While Claybrook and Bonefish argued
and fumed back and forth, Steele’s mind
was busy with his own hard thinking. Beconsarned, that yarn about torture was a
pure lie.
“Your honor,” said Claybrook at last.
“I doubt if your honor has heard what was
said in this argument. Would you have it
repeated?”
Steele replied with an angry growl,
S
EDWARD THE CONFESSOR 11
“No, by thunder. You lawyers set down;
we don’t need no rebuttal testimony.”
Something smudgy he had seen on
Slocum’s thumb-stall, to which he at first
attached no significance, now began to
reveal its meaning.
He scowled at Sheriff Buckalew.
“Bucky, what did this murderin’ baboon
have for breakfast?”
Buckalew looked puzzled. “Why,
Judge, I’d have to think a minute.”
“Well, think, consarn it.”
Buckalew began to think out loud.
“It’s like this, so it is. When a murderer
comes to his day of trial, we always figure
that it’s likely to be his hanging day, also.
Accordingly, we give him anything he
wants for breakfast, if we’ve got it, or can
get it. Now, let’s see. For breakfast Slowgo wanted fried chicken, which we give
him. Honey and butter which we give him.
Hot butter, which we give him. Hot
biscuits, which we give him.”
“That’s enough,” said Steele.
Buckalew glanced up. “Huh?”
“I said that’s enough.”
“But I ain’t told you nothing yet.”
“You’ve told enough. From now on
it’s something you can do.”
“What is it, Judge?”
“Have water and lye soap fetched.”
“Water? Soap?”
“Consarn it, Bucky, are you deef?”
Buckalew nodded at a deputy. Shortly
afterwards a basin of water and a cup of
lye soap appeared.
“Here it is, Judge.”
Steele jerked his head at Slocum. “You
deputies wash that lying polecat’s thumb.”
Lawyer Bonefish sprang up. “Sir,
hasn’t this man been subjected to
indignities enough? Torture in jail is
heinous, but when brought into a court
room it descends to low bestiality.”
A deputy stood by Slocum’s shoulder.
“Slow-go, do you want to take off that
stall, or do you want us to take it off?”
Slocum removed it and stared dumbly
while his hand was lifted and his thumb
smeared with soap. In short order his
thumb was washed dean. It was pink, but
no longer showed any black.
A deputy stepped aside so Steele could
see. “There it is, Judge. Clean as a
whistle.”
Steele scowled down at Buckalew.
“Bucky, can honey bees get into your jail
cells?”
“Sure can, Judge. Swarm around in
there a right smart when somebody’s
eating honey.”
“You deputies take a look at that
thumb,” said Steele. “See if it’s been
stung.”
Slocum’s thumb was promptly
examined by deputies. One of them
stepped aside again. “Sure has been stung,
Judge. Got three red specks, like where’d
been pin jabs.”
Steele was mad enough to bust. He
glared at Bonefish. “Be-consarned if
anybody but a stinker like you could’ve
thought up that. A bee-stung thumb,
blacked with boot blacking looked mighty
suspicious, but it’s like Claybrook says.
Your trick was too perfect.” He jerked his
head to his left. “You jurors fetch in a
verdict.”
They were out and back within two
minutes.
“Guilty, Judge.”

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