Al’s hopes died with him. How long had he been standing there? Probably long enough to hear them admit that their story was a phony. Al’s right hand stole toward his hip and then froze. He had put his gun away, hoping the killings had come to an end.
The Judge stepped a little closer into the firelight. He spoke softly. “Good evening gentlemen.”
Neither of the men answered. What was this devil up to now? The judge stepped up close to the fire. There was a tired look on his face, also a faint smile. The gold tooth gleamed in the firelight. “I come alone, and I come in peace,” he said.
The two men could hardly believe their ears.
“That was a mighty fine story you made up to fool me. It would be a shame to let it go to waste.” One black eye focused on Al, the other on Kirkland. “Now if I were to take those boots and gun back to Quilali and tell that yarn, everyone would believe me. Especially the part where I ,with my own eyes, saw the scar-faced killer go to his death over the falls.”
Al thought he was dreaming. Kirkland’s mouth was hanging wide open. The Judge walked over and sat down on a log and lit a cigarette.
“Sometimes it is very hard being a Judge, much less a just Judge. Sometimes I am forced to use some peculiar methods to bring Justice. But I guess it is all in a days work.”
Al had recovered somewhat. “I agree your methods are quite unusual all right!”
Both of the Judge’s eyes were on the face of John Kirkland. “Like that night I pried the bars off the window and turned you loose.”
Kirkland gasped. “It was you that turned me loose, why?”
“In the eyes of the people you were a guilty man.” Said the judge slowly. “If the trial had been held the next morning I would have been forced to convict you. Either that or left town myself.
I have met people that bring me information. One of them told me about these three men you were accused of killing. They had gotten drunk and told how they had got all this gold. Also, I knew these men, and I knew that they were bad ones.”
The Judge paused for a moment and then looked up at Al. “And you, Mr. Mackey, if I had set you free that day you wouldn’t have lived until sundown. Someone would have shot you in the back. I was the only one that knew you were not guilty. So I had to figure out a sentence that would please the people and still keep you alive.”
“I almost killed this man today,” Al’s voice was cold. “Would that have pleased you?”
“No, and I apologize. I intended to catch up to you sooner, but that passageway was hard to find. I am really sorry.” A faint smile covered his face. “Yes, I was late, but I did get here in time to see the killer go over the falls.”
Al Mackey and John Kirkland sat there in a daze. They wondered if they were dreaming. The judge had the floor and he had more to say.
“And you Mr. Mackey, you remember the other night at the water fall and the man with a gun in your back?
Al was more bewildered then ever. “You,” he gasped!
The smile on the Judge’s face grew bigger. “Pretty fair shot for as dark as it was, don’t you think so?”
There was a great new respect in Al’s heart for this man. He had acted in many strange ways. But he was dealing with strange people and the Judge obviously understood these people.
The Judge turned to John Kirkland and stuck out his hand. “You are a free man now. As far as the public will know the killer is dead, case closed.”
He reached inside his shirt and drew out a leather folder. He opened it and drew out a brown envelope. He handed it to Al. “Here is your passport and your travelers checks Mr. Mackey. These I am returning to you. But I cannot grant you full freedom.”
For a moment Al had thought the case was closed. Now what? Surely he had been punished enough?
Pio and Nocho stepped into the firelight. They had heard a strange voice and had come on the run.
The Judge drew from his leather folder a legal looking document and handed it to Al.
The Judge was in a good voice. “It is my duty,” he shouted, “to pass sentence on you once more. Court is now in session.” He spun around and glared at Pio and Nocho. “You two,” he yelled, “get the girl, hurry, or I will find you in contempt of court!” he turned and glared at Al. “This time, Mackey the sentence is for life!”
A big grin was spreading over Al’s face. The document in his hand was a marriage license!