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 shot 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. 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. It was littered in blood drops and grime from the beatings and those awful nights in her 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. 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 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 town’s jail as they began her 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 to the right, searching for the small voice. A pale, round-faced girl sobbed with arms across her belly. She grasped the sides of her smock dress: one of Trudy’s’ latest designs she’d released to Mary and Belle’s Boutique not even a month prior. “I looked up to you,” the girl shouted.
Trudy froze. 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. Some threw stones over the crowd, rearing to crack Trudy’s skull open. 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. 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. Her hotel.
“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, she 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 reluctantly faced the prosecuting crowd. They shouted and pegged her with more stones and spit. Her tearful sisters, Belle and Mary, stood amongst them. When she met their eyes, they slowly turned their backs. 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 and fastening her neck.
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 at home collecting 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 Gallagher, 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 Sheriff Peter Kyle Louis have all perished in this very spot along with Michigan’s Governor Brighton James Fisher, Mayor Richard Tucker, Mrs. Louise Fisher, 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, God rest his soul, must flip and twist in his grave because of you. He died in the muds of enemy territory for you. For all of us. How you can defy him in such heinous acts is something you can explain to Satan.” He turned to the mob. “Trudy Gallagher has lain with politicians and bootleggers alike to push her own sinister agenda. She poisoned the streets of Holloway with unholy outsiders, hooch, prostitutes, thieves, and brawlers! She is an illness to this world and needs to be extinguished once and for all.”
He turned back to Trudy. “You are a disgrace and hanging by the neck isn’t enough of a punishment, in my opinion. I wanted the firing squad to take you down. However, after days of deliberation, this is the conclusion to your life of manipulation, greed, and murder. What say you?”
Tears fell down her face. She inhaled deep and pushed a weak breath through her shaking lips. The taunting and accusations made her chest swell. She knew the risks were great. Keeping up with those deals and tracking lies day in and day out was enough to drive anyone mad. But the rewards and the freedom that came along with them were life changing. Trudy grasped an enthralling feat, becoming the most powerful woman in Holloway. The reward was much anticipated and well deserved, and in the name of Ulysses, she’d always claim that crown. Even after death.
“Did you hear me?” Deputy 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. His face dragged in disdain. It tickled Trudy’s heart to see him disappointed. He might be taking her life, but he’d never hear her apologize. He didn’t deserve it and neither did they.
“Burn in hell,” he said.
Cheers filled the quarter.
Deputy kicked the crate, sweeping it from underneath her.
Her body dropped and a sickening crack erupted in her ears.
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