Excerpt from Painted by the Sun

 
Breckenridge, Colorado
Fall 1875
     Cameron Gallimore hated hangings. He hated the gallows standing stark against the sky, the men who gathered beneath it and the anticipation in their faces. He especially hated hangings when he'd been the judge to condemn a man to die.
     Nor had he earned the right to do that by setting such a fine example. He'd only done his job. He'd done his job so well in the last four years, he'd sentenced eleven men to the rope. They'd hang the twelfth this afternoon.
     Drawing a sharp breath in resignation, Cam stepped into the vacant lot where the gallows stood. As he did, he caught sight of something he'd never seen at a hanging before—a photographer setting up a camera.
     Dear God! He thought as he shouldered his way toward the photographer. What kind of a man takes pictures of a hanging?
     No kind of a man, as it turned out.
     Cam stopped dead when he noticed a green tweed skirt flowing from beneath the camera's dark-cloth and a small, distinctly feminine hand adjusting the knob at the side of the lens.
     Cameron smacked his palm down on the top of the big camera, startling the photographer out from under the cloth like a gopher from its burrow.
     The photographer was a woman, all right—a small, sweetly rounded woman. The dark-cloth had mussed her hair so it straggled in corkscrews at her temples and cheeks. Though she was scowling, hers was the most arresting face Cameron had seen in months.
     "Just what is it you're doing here?" he demanded.
     "And who are you, sir—" she snapped back "—to be asking me?"
     "I'm the man overseeing Joe Calvert's hanging, and I never gave permission for anyone to take photographs."
     The woman straightened from her shoe soles. "I don't suppose I need permission, sir, since this is a public event."
     Several miners turned to stare at them.
     Cam couldn't say what was strictly legal; all he knew was he didn't want her here.
     "What earthly purpose could you have for taking pictures of a hanging?"
     There was neither apology nor compromise in her pale green eyes. "Selling photographs is my livelihood."
     "And someone will pay you for a picture of this?" he asked, incredulous.
     "Newspapers back east. Sensationalism sells papers."
     Cameron glimpsed the hard practicality in her face. But then, her reasons for wanting the photograph didn't matter. Even someone who'd stabbed his partner in front of witnesses deserved to die with dignity.
     "Well, I'm afraid you'll have to find something less sensational to sell them," he said and reached for her camera.
     "Here, now!" She caught his arm. "What do you think you're doing?"
     A few more men turned to stare at them.
     Though she clung like a terrier, Gallimore managed to collapse the tripod. "I won't have you taking pictures of one of my hangings."
     "Just how exactly is this your hanging?" she echoed, her voice rising. "Is it your neck they'll be stretching?"
     Some of the miners around them snickered.
     Cam shifted the weight of the camera against his shoulder and lifted the tripod off the ground. The contraption was heavier than it looked.
     "I'm Judge Cameron Gallimore," he told her. "I presided over Mr. Calvert's trial, and I'm responsible for seeing his sentence carried out."
     "Then go see to your job, Judge," she hissed. "Unhand my camera so I can do mine."
     "Let her take her picture," one of the miners said. "What harm can it do?"
     "Aw, don't t-t-t-take the ladies' c-c-c-camera," another pleaded.
     There was a slurry of laughter.
     Heat blossomed along Cam's jaw. He wasn't about to let a few drunken miners interfere with him doing his duty.
     "All the little lady wants is a picture of Crazy Joe swinging," someone called out.
     Images from the last four years washed over Cam—memories of stockinged feet dancing their final dance, of the crisp blue sky and the stench of death. They were visions that stalked him as he drifted to sleep, visions that lurked at the edge of his consciousness every time he sentenced a man to hang.
     "I'm confiscating your camera, ma'am," he told her and stalked off toward the sheriff's office.
     "You can't do that!" she protested.
     "I can do anything I damn well please on the day of a hanging."
     The miners hooted louder. Above their din, Cam heard her bustle up behind him.
     "Wait," she gasped. "Wait!"
     He deliberately lengthened his strides.
     "Please let me have my camera back!"
     "I'll see that the sheriff takes good care of it."
     She caught up to him. "Please, I need to take that photograph!"
     Cameron glanced down and recognized something dark and desperate in her face, but he refused to let that move him. He caught the woman's elbow with his free hand.
     She cheeped in surprise. "What are you doing?"
     "I'm taking you where you can keep your eye on the camera. You'll get it back when the hanging's over."
     "But that will be too late!"
     "Yes," he agreed and hurried her up the steps to the sheriff's office.
 
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