Sam looked out the window as the predawn light reached his eyes. He had lost friends before. That was the nature of the life he led, the life that Jimmy was starting to lead.
That thought made him stop. Jimmy would lead no life after today. Today it would lead him to a hangman’s noose. Jimmy was one of Emma’s boys and now he, Sam Cain, was the one required to lead him to his death.
He sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed so he could sit, but he didn’t sit. Sam Cain slumped. He stared at the floor for a moment and saw his boots.
He’d have to put them on before he left. There were a thousand little things he had to do, things that he could do to delay Hickok’s execution, but in the end Jimmy would still be dead.
He gave a heavy sigh and looked at himself in the mirror. He was the man who was going to do this to a young man he cared about. What kind of man did that make him?
He had known it could come to this but now, today, it was too much. Sam forced himself to stand. ‘Shower, then shave,’ he thought. ‘First you move your left foot past your right foot, then you move your right foot past your left foot.’
A quick shower did nothing for his mood. If anything it made it worse.
After this Jimmy would never take another shower. He’d never lose his temper, never get in another argument or gunfight. He would never have a wife or children. All his hopes and dreams would die with him.
Sam found himself loathing the man he’d become.. How could he do this to Hickok?
Sam forced himself up and stared at himself. “Because you took an oath because you promised to uphold the law.”
Because he had taken an oath his would be the last face Jimmy saw,
He spent as much time as he could preparing for his trip to the office. If nothing else it would buy Lou and Kid a few more minutes. He prayed they’d find something, but time was running out.
He looked out the window and smiled to himself. They’d missed dawn by a good hour. It was something.
All too soon he could hear the crowd gathering. How they loved a hanging. Sam could feel his bile rising. That’s all this was to them: a show. It was a show and there would be no encores for Jimmy.
Sam finished dressing and put his boots on. He took a moment to polish them, but he knew the crowd would only wait so long. People were starting to get restless. He slipped on his vest and straightened his Marshal’s Badge. It reminded him why he was here, why he’d come to this moment in his life. He had accepted certain facts when he put it on.
The biggest fact was that someday, like today he would have to carry out a sentence he didn’t agree. It was his job because the judge and jury had spoken.
Finally he stepped out of his apartment and headed down the stairs.
It was hard, remaining calm and professional when he saw Jimmy sitting on his cot, looking so lost. He wanted to put his hands on Jimmy’s shoulders and tell him that it would be all right, but he couldn’t. Things were never going to be all right.
He squatted down, pulling out the small he’d draped over the hammer of his gun. He sighed and gently took the younger man’s hands and began winding the rope around them. If nothing else, he was in position to give Jimmy the courage to face his fate.
“I don’t want to die Sam,” Jimmy told him softly. “’Specially for something I didn’t do.”
“I know Jimmy,” Sam told him. He knew all too well. “I know.”
There wasn’t much Sam could say. The Judge was watching from the cell door. “Let’s get this done with.”
Sam helped Jimmy up then led him to the door. As he did he heard some one yell something about hanging Jimmy at dawn. Sam was tempted to tell them that if that was the case they’d have to wait until tomorrow, but he knew it wasn’t to be.
If he didn’t do something soon to get Jimmy out, it would be too late.
As they walked, Sam’s respect for Jimmy grew. There was no fight, no false bravado as they walked, just Jimmy slowly accepting his fate. If anything, he sought out his friends, but there was nothing they could do for him. He had danced, and now it was time to pay the band for the tune.
While Jimmy scanned the crowd, Sam couldn’t look. He knew that if he saw Emma that would be it. He couldn’t hurt her like this, he just couldn’t. A plan started for form as they reached the stairs. His gun was easily in Jimmy’s reach.
When Jimmy started to climb the stairs he ignored Sam’s weapon, Sam wondered if Hickok was too honorable to try for his gun, or was he too concerned about his fate to think of anything else? Sam didn’t know, but he liked the idea of Jimmy being too honorable.
Still, the graveyards were filled with honorable men, and today one more would join them.
Sam forced himself to guide Jimmy the rest of the way. “Over here Jimmy,” he said, but he barely recognized his own voice. As the Judge began his own speech, Sam stiffened slightly, it was time. He was about to reach for his gun when he heard several weapons being cocked.
He managed to not smile when he heard someone yell “Good for you boys.”
He watched as Ike, Buck and Cody moved towards the gallows, weapons drawn and ready.
“You boys know what you’re doing?” he asked, again fighting the urge to cheer.
Cody apologized, but he knew all too well there had been no choice. He kept his hand away from his gun after that. The town was being held at gunpoint, it was as good an excuse as any not to react.
He watched as Buck cut Jimmy free and the others teased Jimmy. No matter what happened after this, the four of them would be there to watch each other’s backs. It wasn’t as clean a break as he’d hoped, but since it meant that Jimmy was still alive he’d accept it.
As suddenly as things had changed before, they changed again with the arrival of Lou and Kid. Sam slipped down the stairs and quickly took a sheaf of papers from Kid. As he read, he smiled in relief.
“You can put your guns away boys, there ain’t going to be no hanging today.”
He wanted nothing more than to run to Emma and sweep her off her feet, but there was still work to do.
‘We bit the bullet this time,’ he thought. ‘And this time we won.’
Sam Cain prayed it would always be that way.