A Time for Hanging
in the dark. He had almost reached the trail when he heard voices.
He stepped back into the trees, pressing himself to the trunk of a large elm. The sharp point of a broken limb poked him through his thin shirt.
At first the voices were just a blur, but then he began to distinguish them. There were obviously a number of men, all of them talking loud.
"Dammit, Harl, watch out where you're goin'," someone said. "This trail's too narrow for more than one of us."
Harl, Paco thought. That would be Harl Case, the owner of the livery stable, the only man in town by that name. What was he doing there?
"All right, I'm a-movin'," Harl said. "We got to spread out anyway, if we're gonna find anybody around here. Myself, I think we're chasin' all over the territory for nothin'. That girl's got clear of this town and her daddy, and I don't blame her."
"Damn right," the first man said. "He's had her on such a tight rein, I expect she's hightailed it. Wouldn't be surprised to find out there's some young fella missin', too. Hell, if I was young enough, I'd've run with her myself."
"That'd be the day, Jack Simkins," a third voice said. "Even if you was young, you're so ugly a blind mule wouldn't run off with you."
There was the sound of laughter.
"On second thought, maybe I could be wrong about that. A blind mule might be 'xactly the kinda thing that'd catch your eye."
Paco knew Jack Simkins, or knew who he was. He was the sheriff's deputy, a big, lazy man with a glass eye and a scarred face. He was ugly, all right, but everybody liked him. He was easy-going and good-natured, but that didn't matter to Paco right then. He didn't want to be found by anybody, no matter how good-natured. It was easy-going men like Simkins who had stood by when his father was killed and let the gambler go free.
He heard the men crashing through the brush as they continued to call back and forth to one another. He thought that maybe he could make a run for it. They were making so much noise that they weren't likely to hear him.
He didn't know for sure how many of them there were, but he figured that there were about six. Five for sure. He moved stealthily from the shelter of the tree trunk, bending low to the ground and staying in the shadows.
He had not gotten far when he heard someone cry out.
"Jesus Christ a'mighty!"
"What is it, Len?" Harl yelled. "What's the matter?"
"I found her, fellas. God a'mighty, I found her! Get over here, quick!"
The sounds of the crashing around increased as the other men ran to where Len Hawkins was. Hawkins was the owner of a hardware store, a rail-thin man with no hair at all on his head. Paco had often wondered just how old Len Hawkins was. His wrinkled bald head made him look ancient, but his eyes were young, and the skin of his face was like that of a young girl.
Paco began moving faster. There was no way, in all their excitement, they could
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