Nice Day for a Hanging — episode #37

Jason rode into a town one day to find everyone getting ready for a party. Men were making tables and spreading tablecloths on them. Yep, it was going to be a real celebration! But the celebration wasn’t exactly as one would expect.  No, what one man sees as a party, another sees as the gravest day of his life. There was going to be a hanging today, and the man in charge of performing the event didn’t see the reason for such a joyous celebration. He wasn’t laughing. Somberly, he asked the men to go back home.
A beautiful lady called out to Jason as he watched. Jason was happy to see her and wondered if she was going to print about the hanging in her newspaper. She told him it was news, after all. “It looks like they’re getting ready for a picnic,” Jason commented.
“It’s barbaric!” Nan declared.
“Say that in your paper then,” Jason advised.
“I will.” The she asked him why he was there.
“The man they’re going to hang once saved my life.”
The Deputy was testing the gallows with a flower sack. He stated that their town had never had a hanging before. Apparently the ‘murder’ had happened in the saloon. Allison had walked into the salon, Cud shot at him…a man had never died so hard!
A young man had just walked into town. He listened to the talk. He watched the festivities. He watched as men brought out the beer keg and glasses. He looked at the gallows with the hangman’s noose all ready to use. Then he sprung forward and swept the glasses off the tables. They fell with a loud crash.
The street grew quiet as they all turned and looked at the young man. “You can’t wait to see him hang, can ya? And you enjoy it!” He continued yelling as he pushed a table away.
The Tiny, the Deputy, sprung forward and grabbed the young man, Lon, by the coat. “You want trouble? Well, you just bought some!” he announced. Tiny started smacking the boy around.
Jason hurried forward and grabbed Tiny. “You proved your point, friend…whatever it was,” he muttered.
“He went crazy. I was just doing my job.”
“Well you did it,” Jason stated. He went to help Lon up, but Lon wanted none of it. He shoved Jason’s hand away and looked around at the people. “I swear to ya that your going to pay the devil in hell for hanging my father!” He looked straight at Jason. “All of ya!”
Later, Jason, Lon and Nan sat in the saloon having lunch. Lon watched the saloon girls flutter around. Grief was on his face. “I read once where folks used to go and sit all day in the hot sun and watch men hack away at each other with swords.”
“That was the Roman Empire, almost two thousand years ago,” Jason explained.
“People haven’t changed much.”
“Yes we have, Lon,” Nan assured him. “We’re trying to make things better.
“Are we? You came here to write a story about how a man shot away his life at the end of a rope. You’ll sell all your newspapers.” She admitted she would write about it. The reason she was doing it was to say that there has to be a better way to satisfy judges. “Well, you won’t find it by tomorrow, and that’s all I care about.”
Lon asked Jason what it was like in the war with his father. “He was a good soldier, and a friend.”
“Did he say anything about me?”
“Nobody talked much about their past during the war, Lon. They were all too busy trying to stay alive.” He took out a medal his father had given him after the war. “Not many men got that medal. Those who did earned it,” Jason assured him.
Jason wondered what had changed it all. “I was ten when my Ma died. My dad started to drink. On night he thought I was asleep and he came over to my bed. I’ll never forget what he said. ‘Why do you have to look so much like her? Can’t you let me forget?’ Then after that, he just didn’t have much time for me. I had the worst time.  And he didn’t have any place to put me so he put me in an orphanage. He said he’d come back for me when it was all over. I stood behind this closed gate and I looked after him until he was out of sight. And that was eight years ago.”
“Have you seen him?” Jason asked softly.
“No. That fat deputy told me I could see him when they walked him out to…When he walked out to…”
Saying the words was tearing Lon up. Jason interrupted him. “Nan, do you think you can get back to the hotel by yourself alright?” She assured him she could. Jason looked at the boy who was now sobbing. “You come along with me, young fella.”
“Where to?” Lon asked in a broken voice.
The sheriff permitted that they could see Frank Allison for five minutes. Jason walked in and greeted his friend. Frank was happy to see him. “A lot of guns, a lot of miles, a lot of regrets,” Frank stated. Frank noticed someone standing in the dark. “Who’d you bring with ya?” Frank ordered the person to step into the light. When he finally did, Frank shocked to see his son. “Why’d you come here? To see me like this?”
“I had to come,” Lon answered. “Why didn’t you come back for me?” No answer. “The things they say about you aren’t true, are they?”
“Get out of here. Get out of this town tonight. Forget you ever saw me, you hear?”
Lon walked up to the cell and stared at his father. “How do I forget, hm? How do I get the memories out of my head? How?”
Frank grabbed him by the coat and pulled him hard against the bars. “After all these years your still a good for nothing, gutless kid!” He assured Lon he didn’t want to see him ever again. “Get out of here. GET OUT!” He shoved Lon back. Lon turned and slowly walked out of the jail.
Jason watched all this with painful surprise. He couldn’t believe his friend behaved like this toward his own flesh and blood! “Where did it go wrong for you, Frank?” Jason asked.
“A man kills for four years…kills to stay alive. Then one day they tell him to go home and forget all about it. He tries, but when he gets backed into a corner, frightened…You remember one thing – how to kill. But now it’s different. It’s not legal anymore. So, he starts to run and he stays alive any way he can.”
“This man you killed…was he after you?”’
“You mean did I have to kill him?” Lon gave a short laugh. “A couple years ago, we robbed a bank in Joplin. We got clear out of town, and my friend shoots me in the back, takes the money, and leaves me for dead. HATE kept me alive, Jason. Revenge was my doctor.”
“So you never game him a chance.”
“About the same as he gave me,” Frank stated.
“So you became like him.”
“I didn’t have to kill him, Jason. I wanted to.”
“Len…The medal they gave you for bravery…honor…The boy carries it with him.”
“What does it mean?” Frank questioned.
Meanwhile, Long was angry and went to Nan’s hotel room. He came up behind her, covered her mouth with his hand, and held a gun on her. “Just don’t make any noise. Please, don’t make any noise.”
The celebration outside was on. Everyone was celebrating as they drank beer. Yep most of them were excited to be watching a hanging. Jason watched nervously. He wasn’t too excited about viewing such a thing, but he was there for his friend, and his friend’s son.
Suddenly, the sheriff and deputy stepped out with Frank Allison between them. The street suddenly grew quiet. “We do this quick and neat,” the sheriff declared. “We’ve gone over it enough times. So let’s make no mistake.”
They made their way through the crowd. Frank stopped at the bottom of the steps and nodded toward Jason. Jason nodded back, sad that his friend’s life turned out this way. Frank turned and looked up at the top of the steps where the hangman’s noose sat. Then they slowly made their way up the steps. Everyone watched in silence as the Deputy put the hangman’s noose around Frank’s neck and tightened it. Jason was nervous. He didn’t know where Lon was.
Then as the Deputy stepped back to allow the execution to take place, the balcony door to the hotel opened. “Hold it!” Lon shouted as he stepped out with Nan. He held the gun on Nan. “You said I was a good for nothing kid. Well, I’m going to show you how wrong you are. Sheriff, you get that fat deputy off that platform!” The sheriff looked at the deputy who stood up on the platform. “Get him off!”
The sheriff turned and looked at the deputy. “Get down from there.” Then he ordered for him to bring three horses and cut his Pa loose. The crowd started shouting, but Lon called for them all to shut up.
“Now, you do as I say and I’ll let this woman go when we get outside of town. But you don’t and I swear, I’ll kill her!” Jason watched helplessly, looking back and forth from father to son. “She owns a big newspaper, and if I kill her it’s going to spread all over the country! Then this stinking mob will really have something to brag about – how you murdered three people today, and one was a woman! And it’ll make you all real proud!”
Jason heard a gun cock behind him. He turned and punched the deputy before he could shoot. “He’ll kill the woman,” the sheriff warned Tiny. Then he told Tiny to go get the horses.
Frank watched everything silently, the noose still around his neck. Jason asked the Sheriff to let him talk to Frank. The sheriff didn’t think Lon’s mind could be changed, but Jason thought it might. “I know him.”
Frank laughed wickedly at the goings on. The Sheriff told him to make it fast. Jason turned and walked up the steps. “Keep away from there, McCord!” Lon warned. Jason ignored him and went to stand in front of Frank.
“Talk to him, Frank. What are you buying yourself? A few extra days? A few weeks? Not much more than that.”
“Right now it’s a lifetime,” Frank pointed out with a smile.
“McCord, you keep away from there!” Lon screamed.
Jason turned and stared at the boy still standing on the balcony with his gun pointed toward Nan’s temple. “What about him, Frank? What about your son? Oh, he’ll stay with you. And he’ll run with you. But why, Frank? Because he loves you?  No, because he loves a memory. The memory of a father he had for ten years before you left him in that orphanage. Yes, he’ll stay with you, Frank. And if you’re caught, he’ll stand with you on another scaffold in another place and he’ll die with you. Why Frank? Don’t you want a chance to prove to him that you’ve changed? Talk to him, Frank. Talk to him now.”
“Lon, listen to me,” Frank spoke to his son. “You blame this town for putting me up here. You blame them for all that’s happened. Maybe I did too. I blamed this town and a hundred just like it for every mistake I made. But we’re both wrong, son. I put myself up here. I’m guilty. I’m guilty. Lon, do you understand me? Men change, and I’m no exception. Your life is up ahead. It can be a full life if you make it one. Do it, boy. Do it! Don’t make the mistakes I made! I don’t want you to change. Because…I love you, son.”
Jason looked from father to son, hoping Frank’s words made a difference.
Lon looked down at the trapdoor. He knew what he had to do. He gave the side of the scaffold a hard kick. The trap door opened.
Everyone was in horrified shock at what they had witnessed. Jason’s eyes grew wide at the final actions. At the man’s final words…Lon stared as his father hung dead from the noose. Non shot backwards, fearful of what Lon would do.
Lon dropped the gun and fell to his knees, weeping. Nan, her motherly instincts kicking in, hurried toward him and took him in her arms. He was no longer the young, hard man. He was now a little boy grieving for his father. Nan hugged him tight, allowing him to cry. His head clung to her breast as he wept bitterly for all the wrong he’d had in his life.
The time of celebration had quickly come to a halt.
The bond Nan and Lon formed that day would last a long time. Long agreed to go back with Nan and learn the newspaper business. Jason warned him that Nan would run him ragged. “But if you stay with it, you’ll learn a fine trade.”
“I’ll stay with it,” Lon promised.
After he went back into the hotel, Nan told Jason she believed him. He had a strength bigger than his father’s. “Well, it may take some time and doing…but he’ll come to know what he wants.”
“And you, Jason? Will you come to know what it is you want?”
“Some day, I hope,” Jason answered.
“Well, I’d like to be there when you do.”
“I’d like that too, Nan.” They kissed goodbye. Jason shook Lon’s hand and said goodbye. No words could express what he’d been through.

Jason watched the men tear down the scaffold, then he rode out of town.

Nice Day for a Hanging ― Cast

Next ― Barbed Wire

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*Thanks to Michelle Palmer for writing this episode!

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