Charlie entered the packed courthouse at Bledsoe's side. He wasn't aware that other reporters noticed this duet. They found two seats near the table where Moses sat alone.
The proceedings had not started and Charlie was able to catch Moses' eye. The man sat with his hat in his lap, dressed in his normal clothing brought to him, newly laundered. He looked very relaxed.
Moses contemplated Charlie with his normal unreadable stare and smiled slightly. He then turned back to look at the front of the room. Charlie knew that look. Moses wasn't worried, which made him worried.
The raised podium with a row of leather chairs behind it, all facing the room, was currently empty. It was reserved for the jury of six people.
The single table in the center was for the 'judge' of the Inquest. Bledsoe was at his side explaining the proceedings. "It's not a civil or criminal trial, Charlie. A Coroner's Inquest is just an inquiry into the manner and cause of a person's death. The jury..." he nodded towards the six empty seats, "are citizens of the county. They bring in a verdict after they hear testimony. But the verdict they issue merely qualifies the death..." Henry glanced at him to see if he understood and continued, "as to whether it was murder, suicide, accident or death by natural causes. However, if someone is implicated as a murderer then they are arrested and held for a criminal trial."
Moses was being held in jail, charges had not been filed against him pending the outcome of the Inquest, but a murmuring in the town and the use of the word 'murder' was enough. A lot depended on whether Moses would testify at the Inquest.
The reporter was right, Charlie thought, people have already made up their minds. He could almost sense it in the atmosphere in the room. The Inquiry was just a formality.
They sat quietly with just a few low mumblings in the audience until seven men entered at the front. One man sat at a table and the other six filed one-by-one into the jury box. A simple explanation of the proceedings was given by the judge.
Charlie was not interested in the testimony given during the morning hours. It was the continuation, the recitation, of the events that occurred on the day of the wreck.
Thomas Ramsour, Esq., an attorney, but not a local, was appointed as the counsel for the Coroner's Inquest. Everyone assumed he was hired by the railroad men.
He cast a rather regal figure at the front of the room. The man was tall, well-dressed, with salt and pepper hair which crowned his head and was brushed to a sheen from his temple straight back. His voice was full, deep and rich and easily reached the back seats of the courtroom. It was a voice made for the stage.
Ramsour began by calling the first witness; he called Sarah Hawthorne to the stand. Charlie had to cover his mouth to keep from giving away his smile. He knew better then anyone that people were watching him for all kinds of reactions. He did not want them to see this one.
A tall, thin girl, dressed in a plain calf-length housedress, wearing a hat and gloves and clutching a purse, took the stand. The hands holding the purse were red from hard labor. They were unusual because of their size; man-hands, Charlie called them. They were her only distinguising feature other than her weight. She was this rail-thin wisp of a girl with these mitts hanging at the ends of her arms. Charlie respected those hands. He'd been on the receiving end of a punch or a slap from those hands on several occasions.
Moses glanced over to her when she looked their way and then turned back. She nodded just enough that Charlie thought only Moses and he had caught the movement.
The man in the center of the head table motioned for Ramsour to begin his questioning.
The attorney stood and looked at his witness. "Will you please tell us your full name."
She squirmed slightly, clutched her purse tighter and turned to the audience and answered, "It's Sarah Rebecca-Jane Hawthorne. These folks here don't know me by that name though." She nodded towards the front row of seats and Charlie knew to whom she was speaking. There were 'boes and tramps from all over the country seated there, many of them he knew well. She continued, "To some I'm known as Stick."
Ramsour walked to the front of the room and stopped at the witness stand. He folded his hands, fingers laced, down in front of his hips. It was obvious that he was preening for the audience, primarily the women in the audience.
He used his soft sonorous voice, tuning it like an instrument and calculated his moves to soothe her nervousness. "How old are you Miss Hawthorne?”
"If you are going to call me by my name it's best if you call me Sarah," she said, nervously. After a short pause she answered his question, "I'm seventeen."
He nodded and continued, smiling charmingly at her. "And are you currently employed, Sarah?"
"I work at the Gladstone Hotel as a laundress. It’s in Wyoming."
"I see," he nodded and smiled slightly. "Is that your typical line of work Sarah?"
"Answer yes or no, aloud, Miss Hawthorne," Ramsour said quietly without looking at her. His friendly tone changed and was now firm. “Your answers are being recorded by a stenographer."
He nodded towards a woman at the end of a long table punching away at her machine so that there was only the soft 'clack-clackety-clack' of the stenographer’s keys and a faint rustling of people shifting and moving in the courtroom.
"Isn't it also true that you often dress as a man and jump onto trains and ride around the country?" the attorney asked. He stared at her without showing any expression on his face. Moses sat staring straight ahead and didn't move while Sarah, on the other hand, was shifting in her seat. She sipped at a glass of water in front of her and wadded a clean white hanky nervously in her fist.
"I don't know," she said in a whisper.
"Sorry?" Ramsour asked, arching his eyebrows menacingly. He now stood, hands behind his back, rocking on the balls of his feet. The movement stopped and he stared at her, waiting for her answer.
"If I was to answer ‘yes’ to that then I'd be confessing to breaking the law, Mr. Ramsour," she said, with a touch of defiance, not realizing that in a roundabout way she had already condemned herself.
She raised her head and cocked it in a determined manner and continued, "Women don't normally dress in men's clothes in public. In some places it's even against the law."
There was some mild laughter and conversation until Ramsour looked over to the head table and then turned to peer around the crammed courtroom. People immediately quieted when he spoke. "Miss Hawthorne, testimony given in a Coroner's Inquest is inadmissible as evidence in proceedings against you unless you falsify your statement or fail to answer the question put before you. Do you understand?" His waited a moment and added, "I'm saying that you won't be in trouble unless you lie or you decide not to answer my questions."
She hesitated and then nodded and shifted in her chair. She once again glanced at Moses.
"We know that you have been riding the trains illegally, Miss Hawthorne,” Ramsour said. “We are here to gather information and facts about the accident that occurred and to determine the cause of Mr. Lambert's death. We are trying to ascertain how you have come to know Moses Pulani and under what circumstances. We want to know what happened on that train the day it derailed and who was responsible. These questions I will ask all in good time, but I want you to answer honestly each and every time. Do you understand?"
"Do you know, Mr. Pulani?"
Sarah nodded, and looked again at Moses. "I know him mostly by his other name. People call him Gypsy."
"Why is it that people do not use their real names, Sarah?" he asked, his voice suddenly a study in gentleness, his brow furrowed with curiosity.
"They gave me the name of Stick because I'm thin. They call Gypsy that because he's a real Gypsy, only that's not what they call themselves o'course. The Gypsies, I mean. They call themselves Rom. Some come from different tribes, like the Sinti." She shrugged her thin shoulders, realizing that she was rambling. "A person just picks up a name, I guess."
"Why do you dress as a man to ride the trains?" he asked.
"It's not safe to tell everyone who you are if you're on the road or to let on that you're a woman," she explained. "It's just not. There are very few gals out there that aren't dressed up as men. They get hurt bad sometimes or they just give in and do a trade.
"Trade?" The man's eyebrows went up. Everyone in the room knew what she was saying but he was demanding that she spell it out.
Stick blushed and then lifted her chin and went on, "They trade protection for personal...sexual favors. I dress as a man and no one knows the difference and they leave me alone."
"So you know Moses Pulani well then?" Black asked repeating himself and ignoring her embarrassment from his last question. "Did you do a 'trade' as you say with Mr. Pulani for his protection?"
"No!" she exploded. "He's a married man and he ain't that kind' a person anyway. He never asked for nothin' like that- ever!" She had unconsciously lapsed into road talk.
The attorney bowed his head for a moment and then looked at her, smiling. "Very well. So you know Gypsy."
"I already said I did," she replied now sullen with anger.
"Can you tell us where you first met?"
Charlie leaned back in the seat and gazed out of the open courtroom window. He listened with half an ear to what she was saying. His mind drifted back to the first time that he met Stick.