Chapter 15 – Truth and Consequences

Frank Reardon hurried down the boardwalk from Doc's office. His first stop was the Long Branch to let Bill and Laura Pence, Sam, and Maria know they were back without Brooker or knowing the outcome of the court martial because Matt was seriously ill. None of them were particularly hungry, given the circumstances, but they stepped into Delmonico's to eat a light lunch anyway. To lighten the mood, Bill and Laura talked of their plans for Pueblo and their hopes for a family. They even ordered meals for Kitty and Doc, which Frank said he'd have Chester deliver if he found him in the office. From there, Frank walked rapidly to the jailhouse while the others returned to the saloon to deal with the early drinkers.

Chester was there, guarding a couple of prisoners. However, that wasn't as much of a surprise on a quiet fall afternoon as learning the Washington bureaucrat Rex Proctor was in town along with a special appointee who had been investigating those two men without telling Matt. It galled Frank that Proctor and his agent didn't trust Matt and even suspected he was involved despite all Matt had done for the man three years earlier. At least Chester had figured out who the men were and jailed them, but he wasn't as sure that Matt's name would be cleared when they came to trial. His best friend's naïve and ever-hopeful assistant might not have gotten enough evidence to do it or it might never be introduced at the trial if he had gathered it.

Chester had come and gone with the food, although Doc had a terrible time convincing him to stay out of his back room where Kitty was tending to the delirious Matt. The food tray he'd brought was still sitting on his desk. He'd heat the food on his stove when the office cleared and perhaps he and the very worried saloonkeeper would pick at it before he prevailed upon one of his patients to return it. For now, he still had a patient and her husband in the office.

Judge and Mrs. Kendall were just leaving when Caleb Brooker burst through Doc's office door. Upon seeing the lawyer, the judge helped his wife to a seat so he could learn what the man had to say and inform him of the events in town while the court martial was proceeding out at Fort Dodge. He planned to add to his own report for the Appeals Court, which he hoped would help keep the gravely ill Matt Dillon out of prison. Of course, the man's attorney didn't need to know that. It was enough he'd confided in the town doctor, who he now considered to be a friend.

The three men knocked on the door of Doc's back room and quietly filed inside so Kitty could also hear the news. Brooker had already told Chester and Frank and had walked down Front Street with the jailer, who was heading to the Long Branch to let the Pences and Sam and whoever else was in the saloon know, as far as Doc's stairs. They could only hope that Matt, in his delirious state, also heard that the men who'd tortured him were found guilty. McClendon was busted down to Private and given five years at hard labor. Sargent Sommers was also demoted in rank to private and sentenced to three years while Private Jamison received four years.

"If you don't mind, Judge, I have a private legal matter to discuss with my client, Miss Russell and Doctor Adams. Therefore, I'd appreciate it if you would rejoin your wife in the outer room."

"I don't mind at all. I'm sure the doctor agrees with me that I need to get Mary into bed in our hotel room so she can get the rest he prescribed. Good day. I expect most of you will be in attendance at the upcoming trial in four days, especially you, Mr. Brooker, since you'll be prosecuting the case," he added just before he closed the door behind him.

"I expect what I bring out in this new trial will help Matt's cause considerably," Brooker told those who remained in the room. "After my report on the outcome of this trial, I don't believe the Appeals Court will need anything more. I'm up against a Washington area attorney who's scheduled to arrive on the Santa Fe tomorrow, but no matter the outcome, the crucial information will come out now that I'm the prosecutor thanks to Judge Kendall's recommendation to the governor and State Attorney General as well as Mr. Proctor's positive message to his superiors as well."

"What's Proctor have to do with anything?" Kitty asked. "Is he here in Dodge?"

"In answer to your questions, yes Rex Proctor is in Dodge. He and another man, Hank Collins, a special investigator for the Justice Department, temporarily on loan to the War Department. They've been investigating the two men about to go on trial, Clovis Richards and Garth Pendleton, for almost a year, but Mr. Goode got the evidence needed to bring them to trial, at least in conjunction with the robbery Matt was convicted of, in a few days. Richards is with the stage company and Pendleton works as a liaison with the War Department."

"Good for Chester. This should give Matt more of a chance with his appeal," Doc added. "That bit of good news can't be everything. What else do you have to tell us?"

"It has to do with Matt's will. He drew it up during one of my private sessions with him. Mr. Goode and Marshal Reardon already know what is bequeathed to them. However, Miss Russell, you are the primary beneficiary and Doctor, you are the executor. Miss Russell, have you done anything about investing Matt's money? I know he entrusted you with that task."

"No, Matt and I talked about it and agreed I should wait until after he went to Leavenworth. Why?"

"In the event of his death that money and several personal items that belonged to his mother will be yours. I asked only to inform you that the money could very well be yours to do with as you wish even if his conviction is overturned. Still, I hope that good man recovers as I'm sure both of you do as well."

His business on behalf of his client Matt Dillon concluded, Brooker left the room and Doc soon followed, watching the lawyer walk down Front Street from his window. He was expecting a visit from Laura Pence. In a few minutes he opened the door to Laura and Maria. Maria went into the back room to talk with Kitty while Doc examined the pregnant Mrs. Pence.

"Kitty, how's Matt? Maybe it will perk him up when he hears what Chester's gone and done. He's caught the two men behind the stage robbery. Judge Kendall…"

She didn't get any farther when Kitty interrupted with, "I know. The judge and Mr. Brooker were just here and told us all about it. At least I hope Matt heard everything, he's unconscious and his fever's still quite high."

Maria and Kitty fell to talking as only two women can who have so much in common. Only another lawman's woman could understand what she was going through and this woman's man just happened to be her cowboy's best friend. Matt's and her troubles had only brought Kitty closer to Maria. Laura Pence, who Doc was treating in the outer room, was a good friend, but could never understand the dread feeling that each time he left her side might prove to be the last. Although being a saloonkeeper wasn't the safest way to earn a living, a drunk tossed out on his ear never bore enough hatred to try and kill the owner of the saloon. He'd probably have trouble remembering just which saloon he'd been tossed out of let alone the actual person doing the tossing.

Laura poked her head in and asked if Kitty would be joining her, Bill, Frank and Maria for supper at Delmonico's and if Kitty planned to get some sleep in her bed upstairs at the Long Branch. Once they heard her negative reply the two women departed, leaving Doc and Kitty alone in the room with Matt.

Doc examined his patient for what seemed the hundredth time. He put away his watch and stethoscope, tugged on his ear and swiped at his mustache and tried not to smile.

"Tell me, Curly, is there any change?"

"Yes, honey, there is. It's very slight, but it gives me hope that under the care of his skillful personal physician that overgrown public servant of yours just might have a better chance of surviving than he did, but it's still not good. His pulse is stronger and there might even be a slight drop in temperature."

The days until the trial of Richards and Pendleton passed quickly. Matt didn't awaken, but his temperature continued to go down and there seemed to be less fluid in his lungs as of Doc's last examination of him the night before. Kitty had just awakened at the sound of the doctor's knock and turned to watch him enter the room when they both heard a slight rustling of the bedcovers. She immediately turned her attention back to the man in the bed. His eyes fluttered open and he squeezed her hand, weakly turning his head so he could see her.

"Kitty, what am I doing at Doc's?"

"Don't answer that young lady. I'll take over from here," Doc commanded as he stuck a thermometer in his patient's mouth and grabbed hold of his wrist.

"Well, Mr. Marshal, it appears you'll live," he said as he finished his examination. "Your fever's broken and your lungs are almost clear. That doesn't mean you should get out of this bed. You still need lots of rest and so does your pretty nurse. I'll just have her give you some powders in your water so you get a good long sleep and so she can spend some time out of this room."

For once the big man didn't put up an argument. He allowed Kitty to lift his head so he could drink the glass of water with the sleeping powders in it. That small effort exhausted him and he was soon asleep.

Doc sent Kitty home to change into a fresh dress with instructions to meet him at Delmonico's for breakfast. Their meal over, he informed her, his prescription was for her to attend that day's trial while he watched over Matt and report back to him. Although reluctant to leave Matt's side for that length of time, she complied. She had an hour before the trial, during which just enough might come out to convince the Appeals Court to at least give Matt a new trial, would begin and used the time to sit by his bedside watching him sleep. Finally, she forced herself to rise and walk across to the Dodge House.

Kitty looked around the room while Proctor and Collins gave their testimony, although she did listen more closely when the defense attorney, one Wilson Harford of Baltimore, asked the prosecution witnesses about their dealings with the now former US Marshal out of Dodge City. Collins responded that he had no personal knowledge of the man and anything that he reported would only be what he'd heard. His questions to Rex Proctor were more pointed.

"Mr. Proctor, isn't it true that three years ago you came here to investigate irregularities in how Mr. Dillon conducted himself, in particular the high rate of crime with seemingly no diminishment while the man served as marshal for both the entire state and in particular this town? Weren't robberies and killings extremely high?"

"Yes, I'd come here for those reasons. At the time I questioned his methods because I didn't understand the nature of the frontier and Dodge City in particular. I learned the circumstances made it impossible to compare procedures and crime rates to back east. By eastern standards crime was unrelenting but I found the town was actually safer than when Mr. Dillon started here as the US Marshal."

"However, you did find his methods and those of his assistant to be rather unorthodox to say the least. In fact he did things his own way regardless of how you, his superior from Washington, thought he should proceed, didn't you?"

"Yes, but…"

"Your yes will suffice. No further questions."

To Kitty's surprise Caleb Brooker rose to question his witness again. "Mr. Proctor, please finish your interrupted response to Mr. Harford's question. I'm sure the jury would like to hear it as a reminder that Matthew Dillon was already tried and is therefore not on trial now."

"He had his own approach, but I found him to be an honest man fully dedicated to the law and bringing it to bear on the rough and tumble ways of this town. As a matter of fact, his approach saved me from a humiliating assault on my personage."

Then Chester gave his testimony. It was extremely damaging to the defense, but no matter how hard he tried Harford couldn't put any cracks in it. Chester refused to allow that he had any doubts as to what he'd uncovered. He and Brooker had firmly established in the jury's mind that the two men on trial were behind the robbery for which Matt was convicted. There were no more witnesses until the defense presented its case, but that would wait until everyone had a few hours off to eat. Chester joined Kitty and Brooker as they walked across Front Street toward Doc's office. Frank, with Proctor, led the prisoners back to their cells, but Maria and Bill and Laura fell in behind them so they could learn how Matt was fairing. In the end, only Chester followed Kitty up the stairs to Doc's office.

Matt awoke when they arrived allowing Chester to proudly tell him all he'd done. He then went with Doc for lunch with a promise to return with sandwiches for Kitty and soup for Matt. Kitty was sure Doc planned it so she and Matt could have some time alone with both of them conscious. Kitty used the time to further reassure him that he'd be cleared. She told him of what Brooker was doing in this trial and the plans he had to send everything to the Appeals Board to strengthen the appeal.

"Maybe Brooker can bolster my appeal, but it's doing nothing for how weak I feel. I know what I'd like to do with you, but I hardly have the strength to turn my head. I reckon its for the best because the longer I lie here, the longer it will be before I have to take the trip to Leavenworth. I'm sure the appeal will grant me at least that much."

"Cowboy, I want you to regain your strength quickly. I'm tired of waiting on you in this bed. I'd much rather be doing it in our bed."

"Is that a fact? I do believe you're suggesting we use that bed to our mutual advantage. Maybe we could make use of this one as well. I have some things in mind that you might do for me to get a lift out of at least one part of my body."

"That's a fact. How well you know me."

Doc and Chester returned with the soup, which Kitty fed to Matt. However, the jailer soon left to help Frank escort the prisoners back to their trial, but he promised to return as soon as they reached the courtroom. Proctor, Collins and Frank could take care of things while he returned to sit with Mr. Dillon. Matt ate every bit of the soup Kitty spoon-fed him, while Doc, watching, couldn't hide his smile.

"Well, Matt it appears you'll live, but you still need lots of rest. I want you to sleep some more and if you wake up hungry for supper I just might let Kitty feed you some eggs and toast. Oh, by the way, while you're asleep, I plan to steal your girl and take her to the last performance of the big event across the street," he said as he made sure Matt drank a glass of water with more sleeping powders.

As soon as Chester returned Doc and Kitty left for the Dodge House, leaving Chester to maintain the vigil by Matt's bedside. The patient, thanks to the exertion of eating and the powders Doc had given him, was soon asleep.

Doc and Kitty took their seats just as Brooker was beginning his cross-examination of Clovis Richards. The stage company manager soon lost the smug expression on his face when he heard the first question. He'd expected his judgment to be challenged in that he'd hired a couple of drifters, who turned out to be crooks and were smarter than they appeared, roping him into helping them rob the stage company. At least that was the story he and the lawyer hoped to establish with the jury.

"Mr. Richards, as I'm sure you're aware, the two convicted men you hired implied that the US Marshal headquartered here in Dodge City had a hand in planning at least one of the robberies, the most recent one, which took place right here. Did you have any previous dealings with Matt Dillon? Did you even know he lived here?"

"I can honestly say, I never paid the least bit of attention to the identity of the US Marshal for Kansas or where he chose to live. I darn well didn't have any personal knowledge of him and still don't. I've never seen, let alone spoken to the man and I certainly never had any correspondence with him."

Harford voiced his objections to the line of questioning, but was silenced as Judge Kendall responded. "Objection overruled. You introduced Matt Dillon into these proceeding yourself."

Brooker reinforced his message with each of the robberies Proctor and Collins had mentioned in their testimony. At no time did Richards alter his statement that he'd never had dealings of any sort with Mr. Dillon. Garth Pendleton also had no personal knowledge of Matt Dillon and hadn't heard the name until he came to town, not even from Proctor.

By three, the lawyers had summarized their case and the jury was escorted to a room upstairs to deliberate. They returned within a half-hour to announce they'd reached a verdict. The chairman, Harry Bodkin, read the verdict of guilty. Judge Kendall wasted no time in sentencing each defendant to 15 years in federal prison. Frank and Proctor escorted the prisoners back to their cells to await transport.

Doc and Kitty rushed back to Matt's side. They started to tell Chester about the afternoon's proceedings and the outcome when Matt awoke, if only briefly. For the first time he began to hope he might be spared facing a prison sentence at least in Leavenworth.

A week later Matt had gained enough strength that he was able to walk around for a bit, so Doc allowed him to move across to the Long Branch. Even if it wasn't farther down the street, he could no longer claim the jailhouse as his office. His room was also too far away for him to comfortably walk to and he'd be too isolated there. Although Doc declared his lungs to be clear, he was far from fully recovered. Matt was exhausted by the time he'd reached Kitty's rooms and willingly lay down on the bed and was asleep before Kitty had his boots off.

Refreshed after a couple of hours of sleep, the tall man slowly made his way down the stairs, holding onto the railing to help support his descent. Kitty, Doc and Frank rushed over as soon as they saw him, helping him to an empty chair at their table. Sam, Bill and Laura soon brought over a tray with drinks and food for everyone seated, including Chester and Maria. Doc relented and allowed that Matt was well enough to have a beer with his meal.

The friends had been eating and talking when Caleb Brooker strolled into the saloon and looked around. Once he'd spotted his client he lost no time in getting over to him.

"Matt, I didn't want to send a telegram, although the news would have been here faster if I had. I wanted to tell you in person. The Appeals Court has overturned your conviction on the grounds of insufficient evidence. You're a free man. My next step is to travel to Washington where Rex Proctor and I will argue for your reinstatement as marshal. I'll send a telegram as soon as they reach a decision. I wouldn't want to keep you waiting days instead of hours while I take the train back."

Another three weeks went by. Tomorrow everyone would celebrate Thanksgiving. Kitty, Maria and Laura planned a huge feast for their men and close friends, although Laura found she had to rest more often and would soon be leaving with Bill for Pueblo. Each day they hoped to hear that Frank and Maria could return to Hays.

Kitty had taken the evening off, leaving Bill and Sam to run the saloon. Laura had turned in early, so she, Matt, Doc, Chester, Frank and Maria decided to find a quiet table in Delmonico's for super. They were finishing up what they'd ordered when Barney came racing into the restaurant with a telegram. He passed it to Matt and left.

Matt opened the envelope and read, "Trip a success. Reinstatement effective first of December. Back pay retroactive to mid-October. Caleb Brooker."

Although there was a lot to celebrate, after congratulations were given, Matt and Kitty walked to the Long Branch alone. Upstairs in that big brass bed, they held their own private celebration. It was late when they came downstairs Thanksgiving Day, but their friends had been busy. The Long Branch became the site of the biggest Thanksgiving meal Dodge had yet seen and might ever see again.

The Christmas Eve party was winding down downstairs, but Matt and Kitty didn't care. Sam would take care of locking up. Bill and Laura were in Pueblo, but Bill planned to return for a short time to complete their move. Frank and Maria were back in Hays and Doc had left for his office. Chester was off somewhere with Magnus and would head back to the office to sleep. They were alone.

"Cowboy, looks like everything's back to normal. What do you say to exchanging our own very private gifts?'

"Oh, you mean I should wish you a Merry Christmas by doing this?" he said as he ran his callused hand over her already erect nipples. "Or maybe you'd prefer this?"

He turned silent as his lips made their way down her body. One thing led to another as they gave each other the best gift in the world, their love.