She’ll never forget the day she died.
The high crescent moon illuminated their wet, scowling faces. They stood on edge, holding torches in one hand, and launching jagged rocks from the other.
Trudy cringed, turning her face however she could, catching stones with her cheeks. Pain erupted, shooting through her face like lightning striking the earth.
Deputy Hill yanked her arm, leading her through the narrow path the townspeople opened up just to swallow it whole behind them. Fists balled, she groaned as the rope around her wrists dug into her skin, and her bare feet picked up shards of glass and debris while she shuffled along.
Hands snagged at her lavender tea gown that draped down to just above her ankles, littered in blood drops and grime from the beatings and those awful nights in that putrid cell. She glared at the bare-faced man towering over her. The thick shadow from the brim of his ranger’s hat hid his dark eyes. Deputy would miss her. She was sure of it. He got off on the nightly assaults that bruised her face. His heavy fists pounded her bones and scraped her skin until she confessed. And even after, he continued with the evening visits, slamming her body into the cinder block walls and passing off open-handed blows to her nose, cheeks and eyes. She sighed. A bath with lavender and absinthe salt sounded rather good for the swelling. She hadn’t recognized how bloated and purple her once beautiful, smooth, fair skin had become until she passed by the picture window in front of the police station just before they began the walk of shame.
The sea of convictions roared, echoing across the dimly lit quarter.
“Adulterer,” yelled a woman.
“Traitor,” screeched a boy.
“Murderer,” said a pot-bellied man.
“How could you?” Trudy glared over to the small voice. Off to the right, a pale, round-faced girl sobbed. Arms across her chest, she grasped the sides of her smock dress: one of Trudy’s’ latest designs. She released it to Mary and Belle’s Boutique not even a month prior. “I looked up to you,” the girl shouted.
Trudy froze in place. How could the child not understand? Holding the girl’s eyes in her own, she thought, I did this for you. She caught the pale faces of women shouting and screeching obscenities. I did it for all of you.
“Eyes front!” Deputy said, his authoritative baritone struck Trudy in the gut. She frowned and did what she was told. Eyes forward; just like the man demanded. She watched her last stop in that ungrateful, staggering, dying town and thought, After all the fighting, this is how it ends. She swallowed the ball in her throat, bowed her head, and pressed on.
With every step, they drew closer to the burnt building just beyond the angry mob. The thing sat charred, reduced to rubble and ashes except for the lone, crooked beam that once held up half of the awning that read “Gallagher Hotel.”
She scoffed. These people had even gotten creative, tying the noose to the end of the last standing piece of the hotel. A hotel she invested in. The hotel that made this town into Saloon Alley. The hotel that was her own creation.
“I’m surprised you figured this out without my help,” she said. “You people are about to make a serious mistake.”
“You should save your breath for your last words,” Deputy said. He led her up to the beam. A wooden crate sat before it, facing the crowd. “Step up.”
Legs shaking and head throbbing, she placed a bare foot on the crate and hauled herself up. The ground seemed miles below. Her head lightened and the jitters threatened to knock her onto the charred wooden floor that used to be the porch outside the front door.
“Turn around,” Deputy said.
She rolled her eyes and faced the prosecuting crowd. They shouted and pegged her with more stones and spit. A cluster of women, her sisters Belle and Mary, stood amongst them, faces full of tears. Slowly, they turned their backs, leaving the last image of Trudy’s family dressed in fine silk lampshade tunics. She bought those for the girls. She bought the boutique and the bakery for the girls. Her face grew warm with anger. Betrayal. Abandonment.
She looked at Deputy, who had pulled the loop over her head and went to tightening the knot, fastening her neck. Her throat shrunk and butterflies circled in her belly.
Through heavy gasps, she said, “You know this town wouldn’t have grown without me.”
Ignoring her, Deputy pulled a note from his trouser pocket and opened it. Then, he reached into his breast pocket and pulled his reading glasses free. He placed them on his face and looked over the note.
“You—you people wanted to bring money into this town,” Trudy yelled. “I caught the train over to Detroit and brought it here! You people wanted Mayor Tucker out of office. I made him disappear! You people wanted this hotel built. I signed the permits! I paid the price to make Holloway the train-stop town! I made it Saloon Alley. While you people sat in your homes and collected money from tourists and travelers, I was out there, making deals that made us all rich!”
Deputy cleared his throat. The crowd fell silent.
“Trudy Mona Lisa Fisher, you have been charged with the following crimes against the town of Holloway, Michigan: treason, conspiracy to commit murder, murder, and arson. You have been formally convicted by the people of Holloway and I, Sheriff Deputy Davidson Lee Hill. You were not allowed a trial as Judge Benjamin Rowles, District Attorney Allen Clyde Albright, and Chief of Police Peter Kyle Louis have all perished in this very spot along with Michigan’s Governor Brighton James Gallagher, Mayor Richard Tucker, Mrs. Louise Gallagher, Mrs. Patricia Tucker, Mrs. Madeleine Albright, and Mrs. Freda Albany Louis. Also, amongst the dead are nineteen souls including the hotel’s waitstaff, maids, pianist, and bartender. You are sentenced to death by hanging on the grounds where your flames claimed innocent lives. I am sad to say that this will haunt Holloway for its remaining history. Your hands poured the accelerant, dropped the match, and barred the burning people inside. All that stand witness, aside from the townspeople of Holloway, are your two sisters, Mary Karen Welch and Belle Leanora Roth. Your husband, along with theirs, have been written. I hate to break the news to them as they fight in the mud of our enemies over in Europe during such a time in our country. How Ulysses will feel when he finds out his wife had lain with politicians and bootleggers alike to push her own sinister agenda is something I can’t imagine. You are a disgrace and hanging isn’t enough of a punishment, in my opinion. However, after days of deliberation, this is the conclusion to the life of a manipulating, traitorous whore. What say you?”
Tears fell down her face. Her chest trembled. She inhaled deep and pushed a weak breath through her shaking lips.
“Did you hear me?” he asked.
She smirked. “I never begged anyone for anything before and I won’t start now. Those people deserved what they got and if offered the chance, I’d do it again and again. No one stands in my way. Not you, not these people, and not those people.” She scoffed. “If I had a flame, I’d put you all up in a blaze. Trudy always wins and when you all go to sleep tonight, I want those words to sit deep in your conscience. I never beg.” She peered around. “I take,” she growled.
Deputy nodded and cocked his head. His face dragged in disdain. It tickled her heart. He’d never hear her apologize. He didn’t deserve it. Neither did they.
“Burn in hell,” he said.
The townspeople filled the quarter with cheers.
Deputy kicked the crate, sweeping it from underneath her.
A sickening crack erupted in her ears.
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