EXCERPT FROM OUTLAW WEST OF THE PECOS
BY PRESTON LEWIS
“We the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.”
“This is the greatest legal wrong in the history of the State of Texas,” I cried.
“Another outburst and I’ll add a second contempt charge to your list of crimes. You best keep quiet for your own good.”
I sat there fuming, but silent.
“Okay, for carrying a concealed weapon, I’m fining you fifty dollars. There’s a seventy-five-dollar fine for contempt of court. I’m tacking on the five-dollar inquest fee I would have received from the county had you fallen from the high bridge.”
“I’ve got the money, so I’ll pay the fine and leave on the next train,” I offered.
“No, sir, I’m also incarcerating you for the next ten days to teach you respect for the laws of this great state. That’ll be another ten dollars a day for a jail boarding fee.”
“What?” I sputtered. “Before I leave here, you’ll have all my money?”
Bean grinned at me. “That’s a good thought, Lomax. Now I want you to strip naked.”
I was as bewildered as a rat at a cat convention. This magistrate struck me as a lunatic, but I jumped down from the keg and unbuttoned my long johns.
The judge slammed his gavel against the bar top. “Not in here, not in front of Miss Langtry,” he shouted. “She’s a lady. Go out in the hall and throw your union suit and socks back in here.”
“Move or I’ll tack another contempt charge onto your bill.”
Bolting out of the room, I did as ordered, standing in the hallway making sure that Lilly’s lifeless portrait eyes didn’t see my nakedness. Now I hoped not only that justice but also Langtry was blind as I questioned my future in Texas. I stood there maybe ten minutes before I heard Bean call me from the front porch. Slipping just my head outside the doorway, I saw him sitting on a burro with a double-barreled shotgun pointed my way.
“Come on out, Lomax. Let’s go for a walk.”
“Where?” I wanted to know.
“To the river to bathe.”
“I need my clothes,” I pleaded.
“I don’t have any shackles,” Bean answered.
“What’s that got to do with my clothes?”
“I’ve found I don’t need shackles for naked men. Now come on out or I’m fining you another hundred dollars.”
Damn if Bean wasn’t right. As soon as I stepped outside, my hands dropped to my groin and stayed there all the way to the Rio Grande. We walked past the tracks and beyond the more numerous buildings on the railroad’s south side, where folks had built their homes and stores to put some distance between them and the law west of the Pecos. As I ambled through town with the double-barreled shotgun pointed at my back, some men and women giggled, but most made the sign of the cross over their breast. “El camino de la muerte,” cried one woman.
Bean translated for me, “The walk of death.”
I suppose it was a half mile or less from his courtroom to the ledge overlooking the Rio Grande River, but it seemed like forever, me being naked and barefoot and trying to miss the cactus and thorns that littered the trail. At the canyon’s edge, Bean pointed me down a path that led a hundred and fifty feet to the water’s edge below. I followed it and Bean’s instructions to wade out to an island that appeared to be an acre or more in the middle of the river. Bean followed me; the shotgun always pointed at my back.
“This island is neither Texas nor Mexico. Nobody’s certain who has jurisdiction, so if I shoot you, I won’t be prosecuted by me as law west of the Pecos or anyone else. Now if I do shoot you dead, and you float away, make sure you land on the Texas side of the river so I can get my five-dollar fee for handling the inquest.”
I emerged from the water on the island and Bean came close enough that I could’ve grabbed the scattergun’s barrel, but I feared he’d earn five dollars if I did. He reached
in his britches pocket and tossed me a bar of soap.
Catching it, I asked, “What’s this for.”
“It’s soap. Don’t you know how to take a bath?”
“I do, but why do I need one?”
“Every man needs to be clean on his wedding day.”
“You’re getting married when we return.”
Stunned, I looked from him to my naked flesh. At least I was already dressed for my wedding night.