The lawman sat on his bedroll with his back against several large canvas sacks stacked behind him, his legs flat on the wooden floorboard of the Southern Pacific Express car. Precious Pete sat on the floor, opposite him, with a hopeful smile on his face. The lawman noticed that when Pete began to smile there was something contagious about it. It made a person want to smile with him. Pete’s eyebrows lifted in the middle and his blue eyes sparkled, lighting up his handsome face. But when his full lips pulled up and back, his front teeth became the prominent feature of his face, and what teeth were not missing were yellow and stained brown from well-water minerals. Stained teeth were not uncommon in Arizona Territory, but it was the greenish, moss-like matter hanging between the teeth at Pete’s gumline that killed any contagious desire to smile with him.
In his forty-nine years of life, the lawman had seen men in all their shame and glory, but somehow, the spectacle of Pete’s teeth was more than he could handle, and he turned to look out the open door of the car. He fought the drowsiness brought on by the rhythm of the steel wheels rolling over the joints in the rails and had caught himself nodding off several times since the train had pulled out of Tucson station. The lack of sleep during the chase and capture of Precious Pete had begun to take its toll.
Earlier, the railroad agent had brought him a sugared coffee from the dining car in a delicate white china cup, and this had revived him for a while. He was not worried about Precious Pete jumping him, for Pete was secured with eight pounds of chain that was girdled around his waist. The chain ran down between his legs to a double wrap on his ankles, where it was secured with a padlock. It then ran a few feet across the floor, around the leg of a half-ton railroad safe, and back through the wrap at Pete’s waist to his wrists, where it took three tight turns and was padlocked again. Whenever Pete moved his hands or feet, the chain made a loud rattling sound as it moved along the wood floor and around the steel leg of the safe.
The lawman was taking Pete to Yuma Territorial Prison, where he would be held for the sheriff in Yuma County, who had the responsibility for Pete’s execution. The railroad agent, in full defiance of the rules and regulations of Southern Pacific, had slid open the mail car door, and the dry breeze created by the speed of the train flowed into the car and eased the oven-like heat of the Arizona desert. Coal smoke and cinders occasionally swept into the car, but that was a small price to pay for the breeze. The lawman watched the dry landscape flow by as the train headed west across the bottom of the territory; he could see the vague humps of dark blue mountains to the south as they floated above the heat rising from the desert floor.
“How long you reckon it’ll be?” Pete asked.
“About two hours, give or take.”
“No. I mean how long before they hang me?”
The lawman looked back at Pete. “Don’t know, Pete. That’ll be up to the sheriff in Yuma.”
Pete quit smiling and stared at the far wall of the car. “I never done nothin’ to hurt nobody!” His voice took on a sullen tone.
The lawman glanced back at Pete, shook his head, and then returned his gaze to the open door.
“It was the others done all the shootin’. I just helped move the cattle.”
“Not what the hands said.”
“And the rancher’s wife and the boy up on the Verde?”
“You know damn well that weren’t me! I was over in St. Johns, nowheres near the Verde! It was the Breed done that! I done some bad things, but none like that!”
The lawman reached for his saddlebag, pulled it close, and took out a fresh plug of tobacco. He drew his knife from its scabbard and began to cut off a corner of the plug.
“I offered to testify on that one!”
“Yes, and I told the judge that, but he needs an eyewitness, not hearsay, and you didn’t help yourself none when you broke out of jail in Benson and we had to run you to ground. No, Pete, it would take a lot more than good testimony to even things out.”