Scarlet - A Short Story

Scarlet


Clee Hanson has been postmaster of Scarlet for five years, and he took the job seriously, including wanted posters, so when he noticed the stranger having breakfast at Mabel’s, he was suspicious. Of course, all strangers made Clee suspicious, but this one was special, because he matched the description of the man who robbed the express office in Prescott in December. Of course, Clee himself also matched the description, but then, strangers always made Clee suspicious.

Clee pulled the circular out of his shirt pocket, and silently pointed at the stranger. One by one, the four other men seated around the table compared the description to the unaware stranger and nodded at Clee. Fat Jimmy Larson grinned, and wiped the grease off his lips with his dirty sleeve. He was the town’s self-appointed hangman, and he liked his work.

Bart Crawford finished the last of his beef and eggs, and cleaned the plate with a slice of bread. The redheaded waitress smiled at him and held up the coffee pot, a question in her eyes. He nodded, and she topped off his cup.

“Will you be in town long?” Her eyes were a clear invitation, and her lips formed a playful pout.

He grinned at her. “Any reason I should hang around?”

She had just started to answer, when her eyes suddenly darted over his shoulder and her lips parted in shock. Bart felt the cold steel of a pistol barrel in the back of his neck, and he stiffened. Men appeared on both sides and he was suddenly surrounded by hard faces. A hand reached over his shoulder and dropped a wanted circular in front of him.

“That description fits you right proper, stranger.”

Bart Crawford read the poster and glanced around side to side. “Maybe so, but it also fits half the men in this room!”

“We know all these men. We don’t know you.”

“That’s mighty thin, mister. My only crime is being a stranger?”

“Stand up, and raise those hands while I check for weapons.”

The red-headed waitress broke her silence. “Clee Hanson, are you going to hang another man? This man don’t look like a criminal at all! He’s just passing through!”

“Shut up Julie. This here is man’s work. You just fetch food for folks, and mind your business.”

“I will not be silent! You have no authority to hang anyone!”

“I am a federal postmaster, and that makes me the closest thing to the law in these parts. I’ll do my duty, and you’ll be silent!”

Bart Crawford slowly turned and viewed Clee Hanson for the first time, and a chill went down his spine. The man was clearly enjoying himself, and he could see the madness dancing in his eyes. He realized that these people were dead serious and he was in mortal danger.

“He ain’t armed, Clee.”

“Well, of course I ain’t armed! Why would I be armed?”

He licked his suddenly dry lips.

“I think I would like to see the town marshal, or the sheriff.”

Clee Hanson’s grin grew larger. “Ain’t got neither. I’m the only law in Scarlet, and I know a bad man when I see one! You robbed that express office sure enough, and now you’ll hang!”

“Hang? That poster don’t say nothing about hanging anyone or that anyone was killed! In any case, I ain’t never even been in Prescott. You’d be hanging an innocent man!”

“Well, we can hardly expect you to ‘fess up, now can we? We hang all you villains and scoundrels here in Scarlet on account of we don’t have no jail. Can’t let you go and can’t keep you neither, so you don't give us no choice, stranger. The way I see it, it’s your own damn fault.”

“My fault? All I did was stop for breakfast!”

“Well, you shouldn’t have robbed no express office!”

Bart Crawford stared all around in exasperation.

“I did not rob no express office. You’re crazy! You are all crazy!”

The grin disappeared from Clee Hanson’s face, replaced by a look of cold anger. Why did they all say that? He was not crazy! He was just dedicated. “Lock him up in the woodshed behind the Post Office, boys. We’ll hang him at noon.”

The town gallows was a good one, and it too was behind the one room post office. It had five steps up the platform, a trapdoor, a lever to pull, and two posts supporting a rough hewn beam. All but the beam had been sanded and varnished. It was obviously a work of love.

Fat Jimmy Larson made a show of tying off the rope, and measuring the drop. He pointed out to Bart Crawford that it was a brand new rope, and would be buried with him. It was deemed the proper thing to do, as a show of respect to the deceased. He patted Bart on the shoulder and reassured him that his neck would instantly break, killing him quickly and painlessly. Bart told him to go straight to hell and Larson scowled at him. Clee Hanson looked at his post office issued pocket watch and glanced at Bart.

“Twenty minutes, son. Best make your peace with the Almighty.”

The tall man with graying hair stepped into the coolness of Mabel’s Café, and looked around. The lone waitress was staring out the window, oblivious of his presence. Her red hair was beautiful in the narrow shaft of sunlight.

“Sort of empty for the noon feed, ain’t it?”

Julie French spun around, and faced him. “There’s a hanging about to happen, mister. All the men are over there to watch. Women ain’t allowed, although I would not watch such a horror anyway.” She put her hand to her heart, looking back out the window. “I think he’s an innocent man.” She looked back at the stranger, but he had vanished.

Fat Jimmy pulled the knot of the noose tight against Bart’s left ear, allowing the slack of the rope to droop off his shoulder. “Ain’t got no black hood, so’s you’ll just have to shut your eyes. We got one on order from Saint Louis, though.”

He positioned Bart over the trap door and stepped over to the lever, nodding at Clee Hanson who began droning in solemn tones.

“Mister Stranger, you have been found guilty by a party of good town folks of robbin’ an express office, and on account of we can’t jail you or let you go neither, we are about to hang you. Any last words?”

Bart glared around, his neck twisting under the noose. “Y’all can go to hell!”

“You’ll be there in a few seconds, your ownself.” Clee signaled Fat Jimmy, who put both hands on the lever.

“Stay your hands mister, or you’ll pull back bloody stumps.” The tall man with the graying hair lifted a short, double-barreled shotgun from beneath his duster, and then pulled his lapel back far enough to reveal the shiny, silver badge of a federal marshal.

Fat Jimmy slowly lifted both hands in the air and stepped away from the lever.

“Take the noose off that man, but leave his hands tied, until I sort all this out.”

“The man what robbed that express office was arrested near two weeks ago, and he confessed in exchange for a shorter sentence. You damn fools were about to hang an innocent man.” He pointed at Clee Hanson. “You have the authority to sort the mail, and that’s about it. The law is my business, not yours. You lick your stamps and I’ll do the arrestin’ from now on.” He stared at Clee, until the postmaster hung his head.

The marshal was seated on a stool at Mabel’s lunch counter, his back to the counter and his shotgun in his lap. He was facing the five men in the hanging party, who were seated at a table, looking very uncomfortable. Bart Crawford was seated at the adjoining table, glaring at them and rubbing his rope-irritated neck.

The marshal sipped his coffee, eyeing the men over the brim of his cup. “If it had been five minutes later, all of you would be under arrest, pending trial for murder. You’d best hope that those you have hung were all guilty, or I may arrest you anyway.” He pointed a finger at Bart. “If I hear you molested this man any further after I’m gone, I’ll come back and arrest the lot of you. Do you hear me?”

The men nodded sullenly, and Bart spoke up.

“If it’s all the same to you Marshal, I’ll ride along with you. I have no further business in this town anyway, and I don’t trust this bunch.”

The marshal shrugged. “Suits me. I can use the company.”

They rode silently, putting miles between them and town of Scarlet. When they made camp that evening, the marshal regarded Bart silently as he built their fire and made coffee. He sipped the cup Bart handed him, and then spoke for the first time.

“Did you rob that express office?”

"Hell yeah! Got five hundred and fifty in gold.”

He eyed Bart, and took another sip. “Where is it”?

“I cached it at the line cabin, behind that loose chimney stone.”

“Dammit, Bart! How many times have Ma and I told you not to do that? I’d lose my job as Marshal if any loot was found on my ranch! Use your head, boy.”

“Sorry Pa. I won’t do it no more.”

“See that you do not. Now let’s get some rest, son.”


More by this Author


Comments 104 comments

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I was nor expecting that twist Will. Great suspense getting to it.


nighthag profile image

nighthag 4 years ago from Australia

This was a great read, family should stick together no matter what, thanks for sharing :)


Sunnie Day 4 years ago

lol what a great story with a fantastic twist..You got me on this one..I had no idea something was coming..Great job as always Will.

Sunnie


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 4 years ago from Asheville, NC

I really thought he was innocent until the end. And those terrible men in town... Great story once again.


Marlin 55 profile image

Marlin 55 4 years ago from USA

Another great story Will and with a very good twist.


Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

Great one, Will -- you had me, too -- right up until the end. The way you built up the suspense in this one deserves a Hub Oscar -- may suggest that! LOL! Hope you're getting a book together on these stories? Best/Sis


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Better than the movie endings... I was caught off guard. This sounds like it could be one of those Oceans 11, 12, 13 movies. Great story and enjoyed the read.


loveofnight profile image

loveofnight 4 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

A real page turner.


Nan Mynatt 4 years ago

Will I like your surprise ending, father of the robber? And the robber hid the money at their home. Smart thinking here. I marked you up on this one. The truth is always hidden in your stories!


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Will- I loved the line "he was the town's self appointed hangman, and he liked his work.". You had me right there...

I just read about a guy who spent 22 years in jail for a crime he didn't commit...I kept wondering if I'd rather be hanged or sit in jail for 22 years? You're guy lucked out:) nice twist!


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

If the marshal had arrived just a few minutes later, Will, this suspenseful story would have been a lot shorter. Happy he got there in time. So is Bart.


writer20 profile image

writer20 4 years ago from Southern Nevada

Will, another great story. You converted me to read cowboys stories, now I love them. voted up and amazing.


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 4 years ago from Hereford, AZ

Wow, I really disliked the hangman. This is probably the only man that was guilty of the one's they've hung. He was so lucky that the Marshall arrived. Great twist.


LABrashear profile image

LABrashear 4 years ago from My Perfect Place, USA

Ha! Liked the ending. I don't usually root for the bad guy, but you gotta give the family kudos for being clever! Voting up and sharing.


hecate-horus profile image

hecate-horus 4 years ago from Rowland Woods

Great story, I really enjoyed it!


Ghaelach 4 years ago

Morning Will.

With all the other comments you have become, I can only add that it's a shame that Clint "Roddy Yates" Eastwood isn't just starting his career in films as I think he'd fit in well with your characters

Great hub.

Take care.

LOL Ghaelach


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

I guessed he was a partner, not his dad, but I guessed the ending half way through and that's half the fun and takes nothing from the tale.

Another good read Will.

Bob


always exploring profile image

always exploring 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

I kept looking for the twist, i didn't see it coming. This is a great story. Like Father, like Son..


Dexter Yarbrough profile image

Dexter Yarbrough 4 years ago from United States

Very enjoyable story, Will! I loved the twist at the end. You indeed are excellent at this!


bethperry profile image

bethperry 4 years ago from Tennesee

Humorous tale, Will. I have to admit, for a little while you had me wondering if the Hang-em-high Postmaster was going to turn out to be Cheers' Cliff Claven, lol!

Voted up!


aguasilver profile image

aguasilver 4 years ago from Malaga, Spain

Great stuff, now off to bed with a neat tale to replay!

John


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Don! Glad you liked it!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi nighthag!

Thanks for the read and comment!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Sunnie, and thank you!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Suzie!

Vigilantes were often more outlaw than the outlaws!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Marlin!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Sis!

Hub-Oscar, huh? LOL!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Teaches, and thank you!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi loveofnight, and thanks for the visit!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, faithful Nan!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Kelly! From one BS writer to another!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi, drbj!

Timing is everything!


CMerritt profile image

CMerritt 4 years ago from Pendleton, Indiana

If I zig left....YOU zag right!

I was trying real hard to get ahead of you on this one!!!

Lost again....

but once AGAIN, I loved it.

Chris


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi writer20!

I'm delighted that you now like the old west!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Becky!

Fat Jimmy Larson was an evil man!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi LABrashear,

The vigilante cure was often worse than the disease!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, hecate-horus!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Ghaelach!

You're right! Eastwood would have been perfect for the marshal!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Can't fool Bob!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Ruby, and I'm delighted to lead you astray!

^_^


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Dex, and thank you, sir!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi bethperry!

Cheers to you, too!

^_^


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Sweet dreams, John!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Don't feel bad, Chris! I often don't know where I'm going either!


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 4 years ago from Jamaica

You never disappoint my friend. You always manage a little surprise at the end too! I love this.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Ah, my sweet Carolee! Thank you!


kryptowrite profile image

kryptowrite 4 years ago from Birmingham, Alabama

Good little story and well written.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, kryptowrite!


G-Ma Johnson profile image

G-Ma Johnson 4 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

Oh Boy!!! corrupt Federal Marshall's,, not surprised though tisk tisk tisk...Good story Will...:O) Hugs G-Ma


Sueswan 4 years ago

Hi Will

This one had a twist that I wasn't expecting.

"You lick your stamps and I’ll do the arrestin’ from now on.” LOL

Vote up up and away!

Take care and have a good evening. :)


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Hi, and there was me feeling sorry for him! lol! great twist! I love your stories, you just never know what the ending is going to be! voted up!


Diane 4 years ago

HAD A GOOD CHUCKLE WITH THIS ONE WILL!

THANKS FOR YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR AND HOPE YOU HAVE A GREAT BIRTHDAY!


marshacanada profile image

marshacanada 4 years ago from Vancouver BC

Thanks for another great story Will Starr. I loved it!!!


Rosemay50 profile image

Rosemay50 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

I love your stories, never know just what to expect. I was feeling sorry for him. What a corrupt world even back then.


poetvix profile image

poetvix 4 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

OK and here I was rooting for the guy all the way up until you knocked me over at the end. This was classic. Who would have thought the crazies had it right?


lilyfly profile image

lilyfly 4 years ago from Wasilla, Alaska

As always Will, a filling read, and I realize now, the world works along the lines you write about... love yaz, lily


The Frog Prince profile image

The Frog Prince 4 years ago from Arlington, TX

Will - A great story writer at work. Excellent my friend.

TFP


b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 4 years ago

And so goes another Great Ending...Although I'm not sure that I thought Bart was innocent knowing how you write...But a Son...NO, I didn't see that one coming. Another Fun Tale. Thanks Will.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi G-Ma Johnson!

Yes, I'm afraid that our marshal dotes on his son a little too much!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Sueswan,

Nothing is ever as it seems!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Nell Rose,

There are no innocent men!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Diane, and thank you! It was one birthday too many! I am now officially older than top-soil.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, marshacanada!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Rosemay50!

He wasn't exactly innocent, but hanging him was a little harsh!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi poetvix!

Judge Roy Bean believed hanging was the cure for all crime. Maybe he was right!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Lily!

It does seem that way sometimes, doesn't it?


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Jim!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

You have me figured out, b. Malin...almost!

^_^


SilentReed profile image

SilentReed 4 years ago from Philippines

You left us hanging and twisting in the air :) The end was a hearty chuckle.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

"You left us hanging and twisting in the air"

Then I was successful!

^_^


thougtforce profile image

thougtforce 4 years ago from Sweden

Interesting read from the first paragraph! Those few words described Clee Hanson and the town so good! I really thought the stranger was innocent though, it is a shame that people can't be trusted:) Thanks for a great story Will,

Tina


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Tina!

Some of us are less guilty than others, but none of us are innocent!

^_^


resspenser profile image

resspenser 4 years ago from South Carolina

Another great one, Will! Keep them coming, friend.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Ronnie!


SubRon7 profile image

SubRon7 4 years ago from eastern North Dakota

Oh, what goes through the mind of Will Starr. Another good one, Will, I sure was believing the innocense of Bart, right up until the last three sentences.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi James, and thank you!


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

Well that's all right, he still din't deserve no hangin! You got us all again! Great tale.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Jackie!


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 4 years ago

Ah, the family that robs together, sticks together. Up and awesome.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi, Pop!

Like father, like son.


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom

Fantastic - I didn't see that one coming!

Loved it Will thank you and voted up.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Lesley!


Wizzie Crone profile image

Wizzie Crone 4 years ago from wizziecrone@yahoo.com

You are really a good story teller. Didn't expect that twist.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

You tell a great story yourself, Wizzie!


Dog Advisor profile image

Dog Advisor 4 years ago from www.facebook.com/Family Dog Advice

thanks for the great story


wingedcentaur profile image

wingedcentaur 4 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

Voted up for awesome! What a wonderfully innovative way of running a family crime operation! That was a great DOUBLE TWIST at the end. First, it turns out that the man was the bank robber; and then.... I don't know what I expected after that. Cut the marshall in on the take as a thanks for saving his life? No, it turns out that the marshall was already in on it! As the commenter called breakfastpop said, 'the family that robs together, sticks together.'

Take it easy.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Dog Advisor!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, wingedcentaur!

Leading the poor reader astray is half the fun!

^_^


April Reynolds profile image

April Reynolds 4 years ago from Arizona

Hi Will, I have enjoyed several of your stories here today, but I think the twist ending of this one has been my favorite. For a moment I suspected the marshall was the guilty, but had no idea it was bart or they were related! You got me, I look forward to reading more.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, April. "Power" was a great story!


April Reynolds profile image

April Reynolds 4 years ago from Arizona

Thank you so much! That means a lot from someone with as much talent as you, I wasn't sure it was all that good and almost didn't publish it.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi April,

"...I wasn't sure it was all that good and almost didn't publish it."

I know. Some of my most well received stories were almost not published because I had doubts.

Self doubt makes us better writers, so write it, read it, edit it, and hit the publish button.


April Reynolds profile image

April Reynolds 4 years ago from Arizona

That is encouraging! It's nice to know I'm not the only one with doubts about my writing. :) Especially when your stories are so good and you have such a great following.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, April!


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 4 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Another fine read Will. Just what I needed this afternoon.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thanks, Mike! Glad you liked it!


ziyena profile image

ziyena 4 years ago from Southern Colorado

I do like it WillStarr ... I do I do!

Voting Up


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi ziyena!

I like your stuff too:

http://ziyena.hubpages.com/hub/Sundown-1


MisterH profile image

MisterH 4 years ago from Singapore

Good stuff Will, far better than a lot of the stuff I've read here.


Kebennett1 profile image

Kebennett1 4 years ago from San Bernardino County, California

Awesome twist, I loved it! Your a great short story writer, keep it up!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Mister H. There are lots of great writers here!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you again, Kebennett1!


Levertis Steele profile image

Levertis Steele 4 years ago from Southern Clime

At first, I thought that Bart was innocent, but near the end of the story, I expected him to be crooked, and I feared for the marshall's safety. To my surprise the marshall was a crook! This sounds like true life to me.

Another great one!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi, Levertis Steele, and thank you again!

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