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The Trial of Gimpy Wilson - A Will Starr Short Story
The Trial of Gimpy Wilson
(Note: The following is a sequel to Gimpy Wilson)
“Gimpy? A word, if you please.”
Gimpy Wilson sighed and rose from his warm seat by the wood stove. After the bloody shootout at the County Bank, the Washoe City fathers made an unwilling Gimpy Wilson Marshal Bickford’s second deputy, with a nice raise. Harvey Jackson, the banker, opened an account in Gimpy’s name, and placed a sizable sum in it as a reward for saving the lives of all the citizens in the bank, not to mention the bank’s money.
To top it all off, the territorial governor also had a reward out dead or alive for all three of the men Gimpy laid to waste the day they tried to hold up the bank. That too went into Gimpy’s account, and suddenly, he was one of the town’s elite citizens, and folks now greeted him that way, to his everlasting embarrassment.
Marshal Bickford waved Gimpy to a seat. “Looks like we have trouble.” He glanced at his deputy from under bushy gray brows. “Seems that yellow haired fool that was using Wanda Pierson as a hostage last year during the bank robbery has a brother, and he’s on his way to settle up with you.”
Gimpy nodded. “Hope he can shoot faster and better than his brother did.”
“It’s worse that that, Gimpy. He’s a lawyer and he’s going to sue you for damages. He thinks you should have given them three a chance to surrender instead of just cutting the dogs loose on them.”
Gimpy snorted. “Hell, Bob, if I had hesitated at all, them three would have killed everyone, including me. Hell no I did not give them a chance, and that’s the way of it.”
“I know that and you know that. But nevertheless, if he can convince a jury that you shot too soon, it’ll cost you every penny you have and the town will have to fork over a goodly amount as well. This is a real pickle, Gimpy.”
The yellow haired outlaw’s name was Kane Bishop, and he rode with Quantrill’s murderous raiders during the war. So too, did his brother Rad who later became a lawyer of questionable repute. He was involved in the great Kansas land swindle, although no one ever came forward to accuse him. Some said that the mysterious deaths of a few of his victims convinced the others to remain silent. Rad Bishop’s brother Kane was also in the area at the time, so suspicions ran high. But after someone took a couple of shots at Rad Bishop through his parlor window, he and his brother packed up and moved on to the territories, along with their ill-gotten gains.
Kane Bishop rode with many of the frontier’s hard case outfits, staying far enough ahead of the law to avoid arrest, although he was suspected in several holdups and one or two killings. He was seen riding with both the James and Dalton gangs, and was also suspected of being involved in two bank robberies with the Younger’s. But until the fateful day he rode into Washoe City with the Baker brothers and faced Gimpy Wilson, he had always been lucky.
“The mayor is mighty worried about this, Gimpy. He thinks that although everyone knows you had little choice, a shyster like Bishop can put up a good case against you, so he’s hired Lawyer Benton from Carson City to represent you and the town. He’ll be here tomorrow, and that circuit judge will be here next week, feller by the name of Judge James Parker. They say he’s a hard man, but fair.”
“You tell it just the way you told it to me and that will have to do.” Lawyer Dalby Benton was a dapper little man with a keen legal mind, but Gimpy Wilson had the impression that Benton was prepared to lose the case. Gimpy’s split second decision to gun the outlaws down without mercy or warning was based on his instincts and long experience in dealing with dangerous and volatile men. That was going to have to be his defense, because there was nothing else.
The trial day dawned cold, gray, and rainy. A chill wind blustered out of the northwest, but the courtroom was still packed with locals. In a bleak land with little entertainment, a trial with dramatic oratory from lawyers was a big draw, this was no exception.
“All rise! “ The courtroom stood and grew silent as a tall man with a long black beard and wearing a black robe strode to the bench and seated himself.
“Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. This Territorial Court is now in session, the Honorable James Parker presiding. You may be seated.”
The Judge looked over some papers and then turned to the jury. “This is not a criminal trial gentlemen. Those outlaws were armed and in the middle of a holdup, so they knew the risk. This is a trial to determine whether Clarence Wilson acted appropriately when he cut them down.”
The crowd murmured. Most of them had never heard Gimpy Wilson’s given name.
The Judge rapped his gavel sharply. “I will warn all of you just this once to remain silent in my courtroom. The last man who defied me is spending a year in Yuma Territorial Prison!”
Most of the crowd had heard the story, so they knew Judge Parker was a man of his word.
“Yes Your Honor?”
“State your case and call your witnesses.”
“Yes Your Honor. We intend to show that Clarence Wilson failed to give the Baker brothers and Kane Bishop a chance to surrender. He mercilessly shot them down without warning or cause.”
The judge pursed his lips and gazed at the lawyer. “Without cause, Mister Bishop? Do you mean to tell the court that they were not in the process of robbing the bank?”
“Well, no your honor. But there was no need to murder them over a little stolen money.”
Dalby Benton jumped to his feet. “Objection Your Honor!”
The judge turned to the jury. “Those men were armed and in the commission of a crime. Clarence Bishop had cause to suspect they might shoot, so I don’t want you to make cause a part of your deliberations. Understood?”
The men in the jury nodded and the judge waved his hand at Rad Bishop.
“Call your witnesses.”
“I call Harvey Jackson to the stand.” The banker was sworn in and seated.
“I’ll make it simple. When Clarence Wilson walked through the front door of the bank that day, what did he say?”
“Well, it all happened so fast…”
“Come now. Tell the court what he said.”
The banker squirmed and looked over at Gimpy. He shrugged his shoulders in defeat and spoke quietly. “He didn’t say anything.”
The judge leaned over. “You’ll have to speak up, sir.”
Harvey Jackson raised his head. “He didn’t say anything!”
Rad Bishop gave the jury a few seconds to mull that over. Then he spoke again.
“He just started murdering those men, didn’t he Mister Jackson?”
Dalby Benton jumped to his feet again. “Objection Your Honor!”
“Sustained. Those men were armed and committing a heinous crime, Mister Bishop. They were not murdered and if you use that term again, I will find you in contempt. Is that clear, sir?”
The judge scowled down at the lawyer, and Rad Bishop nodded meekly. There was no sense in drawing a contempt of court citation and jail time when the case was going his way anyway.
Rad Bishop called the teller and then Hank Goodman, the grocer. Both men reluctantly testified that Gimpy Wilson had indeed given no warning before opening fire that day. With that, Rad Bishop sat down.
Dalby Benton rose and waved Gimpy Wilson to the witness chair to be sworn in.
“Tell us in your own words, Clarence, what transpired that day. Start at the beginning.”
Gimpy told about sweeping up the pillow feathers an angry prisoner had strewn in the jail when he heard a faint scream. He told about seeing the three horses that were in front of Millie’s Café were now in front of the bank, and seeing someone’s arm around Wanda Pierson through the bank window.
“I knew there was three of them because all three horses were saddled, and as soon as I walked through that door, I saw all three were armed and looking my way. I had no choice because other than them bad men, I was the only one armed, so I did what I thought I had to do.” He sat back in the witness chair and waited
Rad Bishop came to his feet. “Did you give them a chance to surrender or give any warning at all?”
Gimpy shook his head. “If I had, they would have killed us all. I didn’t have time for such niceties.”
Rad Bishop turned his back on Gimpy and looked at the men in jury as he spoke. “So you just shot them down without warning or mercy. Is that right, Mister Wilson?”
‘It was them or me.”
“I have no more questions.”
The judge tapped his gavel. “The jury will now retire to consider…”
“Excuse me please.”
The entire courtroom stared at the lovely woman standing up in the third row.
“I was there and I want to testify.”
The judge stared at her. “Who are you, madam?”
“Me name is Wanda Pierson, and I wish to address this court.”
The crowd murmured again, and the judge rapped his gavel sharply as he glowered around menacingly. The court was suddenly silent.
“Is what you have to say relevant, Miss?”
“I believe it is very relevant, Your Honor.”
“Very well. Take the stand and be sworn in.”
She cleared her throat and began. “The man who was holding me saw Clarence coming up the bank steps at the same time I did. So did the man who was with the teller. They were raising their guns when Clarence burst through the door. They were both going to shoot, but I pushed down on the arm of the man holding me so he could not bring his gun to bear.”
She looked around the courtroom. “Clarence realized immediately that he must act quickly, and shot the man by the teller, Then I screamed, pretending to faint and collapse, hoping to distract the man holding me and also giving Clarence a clear shot. It worked and Clarence killed him too. Then he shot the last man, who was fumbling with his gun.”
She turned and addressed the jury. “I have not spoken of this incident because I wished to put it behind me, but I will not allow a good man to be besmirched by a greedy shyster lawyer.”
Rad Bishop glowered at her and started to speak, but thought better of it when he noticed the judge’s eyes narrowing. He looked down at his lap.
“There’s one more thing.” Wanda Pierson looked at her hands. “I am a lady so this is very difficult for me.” She raised her head defiantly. “But it has to be said. These were very bad men. The man who was holding me, whom we now know was this lawyer’s bother Kane Bishop, whispered in my ear that they were going to take me with them and all have their way with me that night. Then he laughed. Clarence Wilson saved me from that awful fate, and I shall always be grateful for his courage.”
With that, she rose and walked quickly out of the courtroom with her head held high. For a long moment, there was silence and then the judge turned to the jury.
“You may retire now and consider your verdict.”
The jury foreman came to his feet. “That won’t be necessary, Your Honor. Gimpy here didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, he did exactly the right thing that day.”
The judge rapped his gavel a final time. “Case dismissed”
Dalby Benton followed Gimpy outside to the boardwalk. “To tell you the truth, Clarence, I thought we would lose until that Miss Pierson stood up. Oh, by the way, she passed this to me to give to you.”
It was a folded note from Wanda Pierson: “I need to talk to you. Would you please take the noon meal with me at Millie’s café?”
She was seated alone at a corner table by the far wall, and she waved him to the chair across from her. He ordered from the waitress, and sat down.
“Thank you for speaking up today, Miss Pierson. I reckon you made all the difference. That shyster lawyer was fixing to take everything I had.”
"That may be, but I owe you far more, Clarence. Had it not been for your gallant act, I might very well not be alive today.”
Gimpy blushed, He was not used to compliments, especially from a beauty like Wanda Pierson.
“You need a husband to look after you, Miss Pierson. I can name half a dozen young men who would be happy to have you.”
“I have someone in mind, thank you, so you needn’t worry about finding me a husband.”
“Oh, well I didn’t mean it that way, ma’am. I just meant you need a man to look after your safety.”
“I’m older than I look. In fact, I’m just this side of being an old maid. I’m thirty one. I’m not interested in the boys who come calling. However, the man I am interested in pays me no attention.”
“Well, maybe you should just up and tell him, ma’am. Maybe he doesn’t know. Men can be like that you know.”
“I am telling him. He’s sitting across the table from me.”
Gimpy Wilson blinked and swallowed hard. He started to say something but nothing came out. He swallowed again and stared at Wanda Pierson. Finally he spoke.
“But I’m an old man, Miss…Wanda. I’ll be fifty two in a month.”
“I’ve always admired older men, Clarence, and have never had much interest in men my own age. I noticed you when I first came to Washoe City, but since the day you saved us all, I’ve thought of no one else. I know I’m being bold and not very lady like at all, but it has become obvious that you will never come courting on your own, so now I’m asking you.”
He nodded his head slowly. “Are you sure, Wanda?”
“I’ve never been surer of anything in my life, Clarence Wilson.”
She smiled. “Just inside the gate to my house are some rose bushes. One has a beautiful deep red bloom with dark edges that just came out this morning. When you come to call this evening, you may cut the stem so it’s quite long and present it to me when I answer your knock at my door.”
Gimpy Wilson grinned. “I reckon I'll do just that, Wanda.”
He got up to leave, and then hesitated and turned to face her. “I never knew until today that you and those men saw me coming through the bank windows, or that he said that to you.”
“We did not see you coming, and he never said that.”
He stared at her. “But you testified…”
She smiled again. “A woman has to protect her man, Clarence.”