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Edward The Confessor
Judge Steele Story

By Lon Williams

The case against Edward Slocum looked as airtight as Judge Steele could hope for—but somehow, he was worried. Slocum's lawyer was a real tricky-looking gent, and didn't seem at all disturbed by the fact that the prosecution had a signed confession from the accused.

JUDGE WARDLOW STEELE eyed a courtroom jammed with Flat Creek's hard-crusted citizens, and uneasiness disturbed him. Not because a murder had been committed. Events of that sort filled him with troubled anger, confronted him with vexatious problems, but seldom presented insurmountable difficulties.

This time Steele was less confident. Unofficially, he had learned that a new lawyer had arrived in town—one reputed to possess a sackful of tricks designed to defeat justice. It had been Steele's determined policy that no consarned lawyer should save a murderer's neck. Of course there had been acquittals—either from lack of convincing evidence, or because of legal technicalities—but never as a result of downright fraud and flummery. Well, by thunder, there had to be a first time for everything.

He growled toward his right, "Bucky, call this herd of animals to order."

Big Jerd Buckalew rose and pounded with his forty-five. "Court's now in session; any off-brand ox as thinks it ain't will get his tail twisted."

Steele nodded briskly at Clerk James Skiffington. "Skiffy, let's have it."

Skiffington got up and screeched loudly, "People versus Edward Slocum. Charge, first-degree murder."

Below, on a bench reserved for doomed apes, sat a baboon of about twenty-seven years, long-chinned, blackhaired, with an expression between arrogant confidence and innocent stupidity. Steele glared at him with repressed fury. "Murder, eh? Beconsarned if your looks don't make that easy enough to believe. Whar's your lawyer?"

A tall character got up nearby. In looks he rated well; he was dark, well-dressed, and dean-shaved. Thick hair rose from a straight left-side part, and lay in a thick mass over his head. In facial expression and mannerism, however, he did not impress so favorably. No smile was evident, nor was there the hint of one. Instead, one side of his mouth rose in a surly twitch.

"I am this man's lawyer sir," he said frigidly. "Moreover, as a beginning, I should say that your honor's insinuation as to my client's murderous looks is objected to as both improper and totally unbecoming to a judge. This man, though charged with murder, is entitled to courteous treatment and every presumption of innocence. I demand that he be protected from insult, and that his constitutional right to a fair trial be respected."

In Steele's opinion, this character would be hard to get along with. "What's your name?" he snapped angrily.

"Osius W. Bonefish," came in sharp reply.

Steele's anger merged suddenly with his crude sense of humor. "All right, Fishbone, we'll see that your client gets a fair trial. But after it's over we'll hang him just as high, by thunder, as if he'd had no trial at all." He swung left. "Anybody over hyar got anything to say?"

A dignified, disapproving redhead got up. "Wade Claybrook, your honor. Prosecuting attorney. I have only this to say, sir. A murder trial should proceed in an orderly fashion, without bias of any nature. I, therefore, suggest that this defendant be required to plead, and that a jury be empaneled to try him."

STEELE turned away in disappointment. Claybrook had learning and ability, but he lacked a fighting man's spirit. Except on rare occasions, he was too much a gentleman to deal with scoundrels. The judge scowled down at Slocum. "All right, you two-legged stinker, what's your plea?"

Osius W. Bonefish snarled contemptuously, "If a plea is anything in this court except mockery, defendant's plea is not guilty. Treatment this man has just now received illustrates what kind of indignities he has been subjected to since his arrest, as will be proved in due time."

In short order, a jury was empaneled, witnesses sworn and herded to their back room.

Claybrook nodded at a deputy. "Call Cotter Going."

Going was brought in and seated as a witness. He was a homely, sad-eyed gold- digger of about thirty, with an upper lip left white by removal of a mustache of long standing. His thick brown hair showed no sign of having ever been combed.

"Your name, sir?" asked Claybrook.

"My name's Cotter Going," replied the witness. "There's two Cotter Goings in Flat Creek country, though. One has a claim in Dead Crow Gulch, one in Lower Sarlay."

"Which Cotter are you?"

"I'm little Cotter. Not that I'm so little, mind you; I'm five feet eleven and weigh a hundred and seventy pounds on Scrugg Amory'...

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