Written in 20 minutes. No time for rereading.
Two days after the town of Diamond Springs lined up outside of the jail, Jason walked back to the cells, keys in hand.
Ric looked disheveled—his shirt was wrinkled and dirty, stubble on his face. He scowled, rising off the thin cot in the corner. “It’s about damned time you let me out! I’ll have your job for this—”
“No need,” Jason said simply. He unlocked the cell. “I’ve already submitted my resignation. Circuit judge is out front, waiting for you.”
Ric narrowed his eyes as he walked towards Jason who slapped a pair of handcuffs on his wrists. “Who’s the judge?”
“No one you know,” Jason told him. He grabbed his upper arm and shoved him towards the front of the jail. “You’ve been charged with sixteen counts of forgery and twelve counts of extortion. You know what that means if convicted, don’t you?”
Ric’s face paled as he turned to look at Jason. “Extortion—”
“Same sentence as stealing a horse, and out here, that’s still hanging offense.”
“Did you really think that no one was ever going to stop you? You stole people’s homes, their life savings—”
Jason steered the banker into the room where the judge held his hearings when he came to town once a month. “And now it’s time to pay.”
He sent a telegram to Elizabeth as soon as the judge passed sentence on Ric—with the testimony of the people in town, the documents that he and Dillon had unearthed from the bank, including the mortgage foreclosure papers he’d prepared for the Webber ranch—
It had only taken the judge twenty minutes to convict Ric and sentence him to hang. Ric’s face had turned a ghastly white—he’d never expected anyone to come for him—to turn on him. But as his grandmother had told him—sometimes it just took one person to stand up and say no.
Elizabeth had responded to his telegram with a brief message — simply Thank You. He didn’t know how to take it—how to interpret it. She’d boarded that train with her son, and now he wondered if she really had meant that night to be one last memory—if she’d really intended it to be a goodbye.
“I am deeply unhappy to learn you won’t take back the resignation,” Lila declared as she swept into the jail the day Ric was due to be executed. “Clearly, we have a need of you here—”
“Grandmother.” Jason got to his feet. “I came home to take care of you, but to be honest, once I got here—” He looked around. “I’m not sure this is where I’m supposed to be.”
“Nonsense. Who is going to do this job as well as you? Barely two months back home and you’ve already freed this town from the clutches of that dreadful man.” Lila sniffed. “I won’t hear of it.”
Jason shook his head, walked over to the post and took down his hat. “Elizabeth can’t live here anymore,” he said quietly. He met his grandmother’s eyes. “She made that clear before she left. She knows the ranch is hers again, free and clear. Patrick is coming back to arrange a sale. She’s not coming back.”
“I can understand why she would be reluctant to stay, but surely, you could speak some sense into her. If she doesn’t want the ranch, why, you’ll inherit my home here in town—”
“I can’t ask her to come back, so I’ll go to her.” Jason put on the hat. “If you’ll excuse me, Grandmother, I have to attend the execution.”
“I do wish we didn’t have these in public,” Lila grumbled as she followed him out of the jail. She wrinkled her nose at the lot next door where the gallows had been erected. “Such things should be done in private.”
“Well, you try to tell this crowd that they don’t get to see Lansing swing from the rope.” Jason looked at the crowd already gathered. It didn’t sit well with him—he’d never been a fan of sentencing a man to death for anything less than murder — but maybe Lansing deserved it nonetheless for what he’d done to the Lewis family. Alexander and Peter would likely still be alive if Ric hadn’t stolen their inheritance.
“How soon will you go to San Francisco?” Lila asked.
“This is my last official duty.” Jason unpinned the badge, handed it to her. “I’ll be boarding the train tomorrow morning—”
Lila sighed. “Well, if I can’t talk you out of it—”
“You can’t—” Jason started to walk over to the lot, then stopped as someone stepped out of the crowd, towards him. He stared at her for a long moment. “Elizabeth.”
“Well, perhaps you may need this after all—” Lila took his hand and put the badge in it, then walked away as Elizabeth approached.