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[Sourtoe] [Delivered from Evil] [The Darkest Night]
[Outlaw DC] [Outlaw Texas] [Outlaw Rockies]
[Angel Fire] [The Deadline] [The Obituary]
Now only $2.99 on Kindle and Nook!
A dying convict's last request thrusts small-town newspaperman Jefferson
Morgan into a deadly maelstrom as he explores a fifty-year-old case of child
murder -- a wound his town still isn't ready to scrape open.
Named one of the 25 best crime fictions of 1999 by Poisoned Pen ...
"Ron Franscell has undeniably hit his mark. His masterful storytelling strikes hard at the heart. It leaves his readers stunned one moment and tenderly moved the next. ... a brilliant and engaging blend of fast-paced suspense, painstaking prose and characters so real they could drive down southbound I-25."
— Denver Post
"Full of well-drawn human relationships that make the reader care about Morgan and the people who cross his path, but Franscell's second book has healthy doses of crime, death, destruction, violence, sex and page-turning action to go along with its terrific characterizations."
— Rapid City (SD) Journal
"What separates Franscell from the rest of a large pack of mystery writers is the sheer quality of his writing. ... When you add writing that flows smooth and runs deep, like a proud old river, you have something different: A mystery novel that transcends and separates itself from all the others."
— Ken Blum, Publisher's Auxiliary
"The Deadline is a masterfully woven mystery, filled with colorful characters."
— Charlotte Austin Review
"[Franscell] makes us entirely forget that we've been down this road many times. As a bonus, he packs the novel with plenty of fascinating details about the newspaper business. A nice little sleeper of a mystery that deserves a wide audience."
"Fascinating and beautifully crafted, in my book, this is the best mystery of the year."
Two weeks after the quiet funeral in the Madigan family cemetery, an out-of-work sawmill hand named Neeley Gilmartin was arrested for the murder of Aimee Little Spotted Horse.
[Delivered From Evil] [Outlaw Texas] [Sourtoe]
Gilmartin had been fingered by a couple of the pool-hall regulars. They claimed Gilmartin was dead drunk when he lost a stud poker game a few months before in the back room at the Cozy Club out Highway 57. He picked a fight with Charlie Little Spotted Horse, who'd finally had a bellyful of being called "a cheatin' mother-fuckin' prairie nigger."
Gilmartin threw the first punch, they told the sheriff, a blow that flattened the Indian's nose and spattered blood on the other players. Charlie flew across the table. The two men tumbled in the sawdust until he got his hand on a beer bottle and smashed it across Gilmartin's skull.
And they were fairly certain that the enraged Neeley Gilmartin, blood spattered in a red web across his face, promised "to make that dirty fuckin' squaw-nigger sorry he ever was fuckin' born."
That was enough for Deuce Kerrigan. Just after sunrise on a dewy September morning, Deuce himself arrested Gilmartin. He found him still asleep in the arms of a prostitute at a brothel down on the railroad tracks. The sheriff had his Colt cocked and ready when a startled Gilmartin leaped straight up in the bed and stood there on the mattress confused and naked, his penis semi-erect.
His only possessions were a bottle of bootleg whiskey he'd bought at the front desk, a pile of smoky clothes, a couple of torn ticket stubs from the Biograph Movie Theater, and a black leather wallet containing eighty-five dollars.
The authorities of Perry County knew Gilmartin well enough. The former sailor spent a month of Sundays in the drunk tank, and done two six-month sentences in the past four years for assault and battery. He couldn't stay out of bar fights and he couldn't tell the truth to save his life. In one, he'd bitten a man's ear clean off and denied he was even in the bar. Once he dried out, he got on well with his jailers, but he was such a violent drunk, deputies regularly beat him with the thick oak truncheons hidden in a jail broom closet.
Gilmartin was a tough son of a bitch. Short and sturdy, he was barely twenty-five years old and well suited to the heavy work in the mill, when he was sober. His arms were smooth and well muscled, with a malevolent tattoo on his left biceps: TERROR. His chest was thick and hairy, tapering down his flat stomach to narrow hips.
Gilmartin's black hair was shaved close on the sides, but tumbled in uncombed, greasy curls across his forehead. A swollen red welt kept his left eye almost closed, and his thick upper lip was split by a fresh gash.
Perry County Judge Darby Hand appointed the unluckiest lawyer in Winchester to defend him. Not that he had much of a choice. Simeon Fenwick, who had the pretentious habit of signing "Esq." after his name, even on his personal checks, was one of only four lawyers in town. And to be fair, none of them had ever defended a capital case.
The choice of Sim Fenwick was defensible, if only because he had as good a shot as any of them to get his client acquitted, and that chance was zero. Zero because the public sentiment against Gilmartin was already simmering, and because the lackluster, bookish Sim Fenwick had never tried a criminal case before.
When Sim Fenwick, just six years out of law school, first visited his new client in the courthouse's basement jail, a deputy sat nearby and later reported every word to Sheriff Kerrigan. But it didn't matter. A defensive, nervous Gilmartin told his lawyer what he'd told the sheriff and the two deputies who'd roughed him up that first morning: He didn't know anything about anything.
"Where were you on the day she disappeared?"
"What day was that?"
"Fuck if I know," Gilmartin growled, taking a long drag on a cigarette. The smoke curled toward the open barred jailhouse window high above them. It was the only ventilation they had.
"Did you ever threaten the girl's father?" the lawyer asked him.
Gilmartin shrugged, staring at the floor.
"Can you help me at all?" Fenwick said.
Gilmartin rocked silently with his head bent forward above his knees. His powerful forearms rippled as he laced his calloused hands behind his head, covering his ears.
Gilmartin was headed straight to Hell and he knew it.
County Attorney Calvin Davis, a stuffed shirt whose rancor for criminals was rivaled only by his political savvy, was on his way up. Playing matchmaker to the child-killer Gilmartin and "Big Sparky" -- the pet name of the Wyoming State Penitentiary's electric chair -- would only enhance his gubernatorial prospects.
Gilmartin's lawyer was a nervous little mouse, the public was growing more antagonistic as each day passed, and the judge was known among the county's criminal class as severe and unmerciful. Without saying as much, a photograph in the local paper made him out to be a child-killing monster. Worst of all, he had no alibi and his mind was too muddled to lie convincingly.
Gilmartin saw no forgiveness in his abbreviated future.
He pressed a lighted cigarette against the inside of his wrist and tried to imagine what it would feel like to have a lightning bolt rip through his body, cooking his guts and frying his brain. After dark, demons visited his sleep. One night, he shit his pants there in the dark and awoke crying like a baby.
Gilmartin heard voices in the dark. Some were real voices, driving by on the street outside the courthouse. Although most the basement jail was submerged beneath ground-level, its narrow, grated windows were placed high on the interior wall and opened onto the courthouse lawn. He could hear them, jeering and throwing beer bottles and revving their engines: Burn in hell, you son of a bitch! they yelled as they passed. Fry, you fuckin' baby-killer!
The guards made no effort to quell the slow, deliberate parade of hateful kids who circled the courthouse most of the night. To them, it seemed fair enough.
Other voices came from inside him. Voices from the past, long dead.
Would he feel the heat flash through him before he died?
As much as any living man, he knew it was like to die by fire. Sometime, he held his forearm tight against his nostrils, blocking some odor that only he could smell. The memory of charred flesh seared his brain, its unearthly smell haunting him still. He was frightened.
For three nights after that first meeting with Sim Fenwick, he dreamed not just about dying, but about being cooked alive in Big Sparky, a killing contraption he imagined to be part iron maiden and part torture-fire wired directly to Hell.
The nights were endless, the horror of his memories unrelenting. The fire ...
On the fourth morning, he scribbled an anxious note to his lawyer, summoning him to the jail immediately.
Gilmartin, boiling with fear, proposed a deal. Begged for it. He'd plead guilty to Aimee Little Spotted Horse's murder if his life would be spared.
"Are you sure about this?" Fenwick asked him.
"Don't fuck with me now," he said. "They'll pay you just the same. Just take this to the man."
Half relieved, Sim Fenwick trudged up two flights through empty, echoing stairwells, and knocked meekly at the prosecutor's door. For two days, Calvin Davis let Gilmartin's hasty note sit under his green desk blotter, allowing the prisoner's raw nerves to stew a little longer. He felt in no particular hurry to offer a child-killer solace. Privately, he had his doubts about winning a death sentence anyway, because the evidence was weak.
But Gilmartin couldn't fight off the death dreams. He sat awake, his gut knotted around him like a noose, waiting for word from the prosecutor. He vomited so much, the deputies stopped bringing food.
Barely three weeks after he'd been arrested, the county prosecutor accepted his plea. Gilmartin was hideously relieved. He'd spend the rest of his life in prison, but he wouldn't die. Not by fire anyway.
The sheriff made him sign some papers he couldn't read, then left him alone in his cell. He smoked a cigarette and slept for the first time in two days. The next morning, two deputies shackled him and stuffed him in the back seat of Deuce Kerrigan's black Buick for the five-hour drive to the Wyoming State Penitentiary.
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[The Darkest Night] [Angel Fire] [Outlaw Rockies] [The Obituary]
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