“It’s time, Parsons.”
Deputy Shel Stanton held a lantern to his face and peered into the dark cell.
Teddy Parsons sat on the straw cot, fidgeting with his fingers. He hadn’t slept at all. Neither had Stanton.
Parsons flashed big, worried eyes at the lawman. “It’s still dark, Deputy. I ain’t due at the gallows ’til dawn.” His voice shook as he spoke. “I’m an innocent man.”
Stanton pursed his lips. Nodded. “Everybody knows that, Parsons.”
The deputy jangled a key in his hand, then hung the lantern on a hook and unlocked the door. “You’re wrong, though — the sun is coming up. I was just out there on the balcony.” He hiked a thumb over his shoulder. “First rays are breaking over the horizon.”
Parsons hunkered back against the cell wall. “Can’t I have just a few more minutes, Deputy? I mean, what’s a few minutes gonna hurt?”
Stanton took three steps forward and grabbed Parsons by the shoulders, pulling him upright before the prisoner even knew what was happening. “Nope, you’ve spent enough time in here. It’s time to get moving.”
Stanton drew his six-shooter and shoved it into Parsons’ belly. “Now, turn around, and let’s get you on your way.”
Parsons dropped his shoulders, resigned to his fate. He turned to face the wall and put his hands behind his back. Stanton jabbed him with the barrel of his gun and stepped to the side. “Get on out there, now.” The deputy motioned to the cell door.
“Aren’t you going to cuff me?”
“Hush up and walk.”
Parsons did as he was told, passing onto the landing outside the door.
“Here’s where we part ways, Parsons.” Stanton holstered his weapon.
The convict stopped and turned toward the jailer. Stanton was backing onto the balcony. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” Stanton said, “we put condemned men here to make it harder for them to escape. Impossible, really.”
“But it’s also dangerous for us, because if you put up a fight, we could fall. Bust a leg.”
“But I haven’t caused you any trouble.”
“And sometimes, the railing gets loose out here.” Stanton was standing on the balcony now. “Why, I noticed just this morning that this here balcony is in some disrepair.”
Parsons blinked, watching the deputy move father and farther way from him.
“And, if something happens to the lawman — to me, in this case — why, what’s to stop the prisoner from just escaping in the night?”
Parsons lunged forward, reaching for Stanton, but he was too late. The deputy took one last step backwards, crashed through a section of railing, and disappeared into the blackness beyond.
A sickening crack pierced the night, and Stanton moaned somewhere below. “Go!” he called in a pained whisper.
Parsons looked around, listened for footsteps. He heard nothing but silence, so … he went.