It’s here! The Ogre Apprentice audiobook is live. Read the continued adventures of Fist and Squirrel (and Justan) narrated by Andrew Tell. I gotta tell you, folks, I enjoyed listening to his performance. Get you one! Link HERE
It’s here! The Ogre Apprentice audiobook is live. Read the continued adventures of Fist and Squirrel (and Justan) narrated by Andrew Tell. I gotta tell you, folks, I enjoyed listening to his performance. Get you one! Link HERE
Howdy folks.The release date on this book is coming soon. I know that I said that months ago, but this time I mean it! Seriously! I love this storyline and the new world I have created and I think you will too.
Here is the last preview chapter as promised. This one introduces Tom Dunn; the youngest member of the Red Star Gang. He is the gambler of the group and his backer is the mischievous specter known only as The Kid.
If you haven’t read the previous preview chapters, you can check them out below:
As always, please let me know what you think!
An excerpt from the Tale of Tom Dunn
“There’s no such thing as cheating at cards. It’s all just part of the game.” – William “Canada Bill” Jones’ last words before being choked to death, Charity Hospital, 1880.
Now that the trains ran through Luna Gorda, the town boasted of no less than four hotels. The Cloverleaf Hotel was the oldest and smallest of them. It was a narrow two story building consisting of three small guest rooms and a bath upstairs and a common area and kitchen downstairs. Established in the early days of the settlement, the Cloverleaf Hotel had long been owned by the O’Malley family. Proprietorship had been passed down through two generations until, at the time of this tale, it was owned and operated by Miss Joline O’Malley.
The small, but cozy parlor of the hotel was filled by a modest bar and two tables, one of which was occupied by four men playing a game of cards. This meant that the small bar needed to be tended and, this early in the day, that meant that the responsibility fell to Joline herself.
She sat glumly behind the bar reading a dime novel, only looking up occasionally to shoot irritated glares at the men when they asked for something. Most of those glares fell upon Tom Dunn. The nerve of him, calling a game together in her parlor in the middle of the day. If she’d had the ability, her eyes would have burned a hole right through the back of his head. She had better things to do than wait on him. On top of that, he expected her to keep her mouth shut about his reputation. If the three men he was playing with hadn’t been guests at her hotel, she would have kicked him out.
Tom, who had his back to her, was wearing a new hat he had bought just the day before. It was a wide brimmed Stetson in the ‘gambler style’ and he had pinned a tilted red star to the side of it. His jacket was lying across the back of the chair behind him and the striped blue shirt he wore had the sleeves rolled up so that the men he played with couldn’t suspect him of hiding cards.
Tom grinned as he dealt out the latest hand of cards. “Joline! A round of whiskey for my friends here! I’m buying!”
If the other men at his table were pleased by his generosity, they didn’t show it. All he got was a general grunt from the three of them. After all, he had won the last three hands and at this point he was buying them drinks with their own money.
Joline slammed her book down on the bar top. Grumbling, she poured four shots of whiskey into tumblers and carried them out to the table.
She started with Albert Swen, a railroad employee that was staying at the hotel while waiting for his next assignment to roll into town. He was a hard, but mild-faced man with a thick chin strap of a beard.
He nodded at her as she placed the glass in front of him, but addressed the man sitting at the table to his right. “So you live in Puerta Muerte, huh?”
“Yep,” said Jorge with a drunken smirk as he cast away the cards he didn’t want. Jorge was a squat Hispanic man who had the rough demeanor of someone who knew how to handle himself in a fight. He had come in town to visit his mistress on his day off and things hadn’t gone well. Jorge already had a tall bottle of cheap wine open in front of him and barely noticed when Joline gave him the whiskey. “Gimme three.”
“Puerta Muerte? That’s about twenty miles from here,” said Denny Dodge, a traveling salesman passing through town. Unlike the other two of Tom’s players, he was dressed all neat and tidy, his mustache oiled and shaped into neat curls on the ends. “In Texas, right?”
Jorge nodded. “Yep. Five miles east of the border.”
Joline served Tom last. He was a handsome man and his mixed Anglo and Mexican heritage showed in his tanned skin and thick black hair. He was grinning cockily as he looked at the cards in his hand. He barely looked up at her when she placed the glass in front of him.
“Thanks, darlin’,” he said in an offhand manner and she realized that he hadn’t drank the first glass she had given him. It was still full.
Joline wanted to smack his narrow mustache right off of his lips. She settled for leaning in close to his ear. “You and I are gonna have us a little talk when this is over.”
If Tom heard the menace in her tone, he didn’t show it. He spoke to Jorge. “I hear Puerta Muerte’s a dangerous place. Folks say it’s full of bandits.”
Jorge chuckled. “Well, that ain’t wrong. But it’s safe enough if you got the Sheriff on your side.”
Joline turned to storm back to the bar and wasn’t aware that she had walked right through the specter of the fifth man at the table. She did, however, feel the pinch that the apparition left on her behind. She lurched and gritted her teeth, but resisted the urge to break a glass over Tom’s head. She resolved to spit in his next glass instead.
Jorge tossed some coins into the small pile in the center of the table. “I’ll call.” There were a few grumbles, but everyone matched his bet.
Albert shrugged. “Two pair.” He laid his cards down to show a pair of tens and jacks.
“Blast!” said Denny, throwing his cards down.
“Three of a kind,” Jorge said with a grin, showing off the three nines in his hand. He reached for the pile of assorted coins.
“Wait,” said Tom. He laid his cards down to show three kings and two jacks. “Full house.”
Jorge’s smile fell. “Aw hell. Again?”
“Best luck I had in months,” said Tom.
Denny picked up the cards and Tom pulled in the coins.
The specter disappeared from behind Jorge and reappeared next to Tom. The strong smell of cloves rolled past Tom’s nostrils. It always smelled like cloves when the Kid appeared.
The specter looked to be somewhere in his teens, but Tom wasn’t sure how old he really was. All he knew was that the Kid was slight of frame and had a youthful face. He wore a pistol on each hip just like Tom did and a Mexican sombrero hung on his back, held there by a cord around his neck.
The specter leaned in close to Tom’s ear. “Boooored!”
Tom winced slightly but he didn’t reply to the loud outburst, knowing that the other players at the table hadn’t registered the disturbance. The Kid was like an impish ghost that only Tom could see or hear. An annoying, but sometimes useful ghost.
The Kid flounced into an empty chair, sitting in it sideways with one leg over the armrest. “What’re we doing here, Tommy?”
Denny finished shuffling the cards and started to deal, but Tom stuck out his hand. “Cut?”
Denny plopped the cards down and Tom cut them. As he did so, he expertly palmed a card. Denny started dealing again.
The Kid snorted. “Cheating for small stakes? You ain’t gonna make your name that way. Come on. There’s bigger fish elsewhere in town.”
Tom cleared his throat. “So Jorge, I hear they got some good games going down in Puerta Muerte but I never dared try heading down there. How does a man get the Sheriff ‘on his side’ as you say?”
“What’re you talking about, Tommy boy?” the Kid asked. “You hate that sheriff.”
Denny nodded in interest. “Yeah, how do you get in with the man? I been looking for a new place to sell my wares.”
The specter, with a bored look, gestured at Denny and the cards spilled clumsily out of the dealer’s hands. Denny swore and picked them back up to reshuffle them before he could continue dealing.
Jorge put down his emptied whiskey tumbler and grinned at being the center of conversation. His voice was slightly slurred. “Well, it ain’t easy. I’m okay ’cause I work for him. Other than that . . . well, you ain’t heard it from me, but you gotta grease the right palms if you know what I mean.”
Tom pretended innocence. “Grease palms? Sounds unsanitary.”
The Kid laughed sarcastically, then gave Tom a deadpan look. “Seriously, I’m gonna cause all kinds of havoc if you don’t get out of here soon.”
“Gimme two,” said Albert the railroad employee, oblivious to the Kid’s threats. He discarded two cards and picked up his replacements as he replied to Tom. “He means you got to pay the Sheriff for protection. I heard about that. It’s a shame, but he ain’t the only sheriff around with that policy.”
“Oh,” said Tom, discarding two cards of his own. He looked to Jorge. “Is it expensive?”
Jorge hiccupped. “Depends if he likes you.” He leaned towards Denny. “I wouldn’t go there if I were you, salesman. The Sheriff don’t like ballyhoo men.”
Albert tossed in two quarters. “Raise you fifty. So what do you do for the Sheriff that keeps you safe, Jorge?”
Jorge took a drink directly from the bottle in front of him and wiped his mouth before saying proudly, “I work at the bank in town.”
Tom shot a meaningful glance to the Kid and scoffed. “A bank? In a town full of outlaws? Who’d dare put their money in there?”
“Hey! I keep it safe!” Jorge said with a frown. “’Sides, no one’s even tried to rob it since the Sheriff started putting his own money in there. No one would dare.”
The Kid was now leaning forward with interest.
“The Sheriff puts his own money in?” Tom’s eyebrows furrowed in disbelief. “I heard he sends it out of town.”
Jorge shook his head. “No way. I seen it myself. He has his own safe in the vault that no one else can use. Makes the deposits hisself.” Jorge paused, blinking suddenly as if realizing he had said too much. “But you didn’t hear that from me.”
A smug look briefly crossed Tom’s face and he winked at The Kid. “No worries. It’s none of my business anyhow.”
“Now you’re talkin’,” said the Kid with a chuckle.
Jorge looked blearily down at his cards and scowled, then tossed them on the table. “I’m done, boys. Gotta try and see the missus one last time before I head back to town. Got a shift tomorrow.”
He picked up his bottle, which now had about a third left in it, and planted it against his lips. He tilted his head way back. The Kid, a mischievous look on his face, reached out and made a squeezing motion with his hand.
The remaining wine in the bottle sprayed out into Jorge’s mouth and down the front of his shirt. The man coughed and sputtered, looking at the bottle like it was possessed. The other three men stared at him for a moment, then laughed.
Jorge looked back at them as if trying to decide whether or not to get angry. Finally, he chuckled and stood from his chair. He shook his head as he wiped off what liquid he could. “Well that caps it. I’m off.”
The bank guard grabbed what remaining money he had off of the table and walked out toward the front door, muttering to himself.
“The rest of you still in?” Tom asked.
“Yeah,” Albert said, scratching his head.
“Me too,” said Denny. He chewed his lip while looking at his cards. “I don’t get what he was saying. If Puerta Muerte’s full of outlaws, why would they be so scared of a lawman? You’d think they’d just shoot him.”
“Some have tried,” Tom said and tossed in another quarter. “I’ll raise you two bits.”
Denny tossed in a quarter of his own. “And?”
“Ain’t you heard?” Albert said. The railroad man’s eyes went wide and his voice took on a mysterious tone. “They say he can’t be hit by bullets.”
Tom snorted. “Yeah, I heard that, too. Bunch of hogwash if you ask me.”
“I don’t know,” said the Kid. The specter turned in his chair and propped his feet up on the table, placing his hands behind his head. “Come on, Tommy. You seen stranger things.”
Denny seemed just as dubious as Tom. “Seems to me they just haven’t found the right shooter.” The salesman sighed. “I call. What yall got?”
Albert laid down his cards. “Two pair. Aces high.”
Tom grinned and dropped his cards on the table. “Three kings.”
“No way!” said Denny, scowling as he threw down his cards. “Five hands in a row you had three kings. No one’s that lucky.”
Tom pulled the pile of coins towards him. “You’re right. I’d best stop now.”
“Just a minute,” said Albert with a frown. “That’s my drinking money. I want a chance to win it back.”
Tom gave them both an apologetic smile. “Sorry, a good gambler knows when his luck is out and that’s my last gasp. I’m calling it a day. Maybe we can play again another time.”
“Finally!” the Kid groaned and disappeared in an aromatic cloud of clove.
The two remaining men grumbled as Tom stood. He pulled on his coat and gathered his winnings into a leather pouch, then stopped by the bar to pay his tab. “Joline, your service was dag-gum remarkable. As usual.”
He smiled back at the scowl she gave him and dropped a few extra dollars and change on the bar. With a tip of his hat, he turned and walked out the door.
Tom stepped out onto the hotel’s front porch and winced at the sunlight. It was a beautiful day, clear and hot. The old main street was sparsely populated with people going about their business, mostly locals. He could hear the hammering of nails from two streets over. New buildings were still being built.
Tom’s grin widened. He loved the new Luna Gorda. It had once been a dreary place in his mind; a slow-paced town where the locals got nowhere, but the train’s coming had brought new life to the place. He envisioned that one day it could be as big as Mesilla or Santa Fe.
Part of him itched to head over to the new street and peruse the shops again, perhaps spend some of that money he had just made. Unfortunately, his business was in the old section of town. He started walking down the street towards the saloon, nodding to folks along the way.
Tom stopped in front of the jailhouse as something caught his eye. He turned and looked at the bulletin board covered in wanted posters. A giggle escaped his lips and he moved closer, jumping up the two steps to the porch. Amid the jumble of bounty promises were the three members of his gang.
Luke’s poster read, Luke Bassett, of the Red Star Gang. Wanted for Robbery and Public Disturbance. Reward, $150. The artist’s rendering was a decent one, highly detailed, though the person who had drawn it obviously was working only from eyewitness accounts. They had drawn a surprisingly accurate depiction of Luke’s intense eyes, but most of his face was obscured by a bandana marked with a tilted star.
Sandy’s poster wasn’t quite as well done. The artist had drawn him with a full beard and his hair looked darker than the dusty brown it really was. His bounty was a bit higher than Luke’s for some reason at $175.
Tom’s grin fell away as he saw his own wanted poster. The artist had drawn Tom with an overwide nose, his eyes slightly crossed, and there was a stupid grin on his face. His bounty was also lower than the others, which he found insulting. But the thing that bothered him the most was the way they had written his name. It read, Tomas Jefferson Dunn, of the Red Star Gang. Wanted for Robbery. Bounty $125.
Tom drew back, his face twisted with disgust. He caught the smell of cloves as the Kid appeared next to him. The specter pointed at the wanted poster and let out a guffaw.
“They still ain’t changed it, huh? You never have told me how that happened. What was it? Marshals get your name wrong? Or was your daddy just a bad speller?”
Tom frowned. It was actually worse. His mother had wanted to name him after one of the founding fathers, but his father had wanted to name him Tomas after his grandfather. “Shut up, Kid.”
“Hey!” said a child’s voice and Tom looked down to see that just a few feet away was a young boy with a piece of coal in his hand. He was using it to draw on the walkway.
Tom put on a smile. “Sorry. What’s your name?”
The child’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Neddy.”
“Hi, Neddy. Mind if I borrow that piece of coal?” Tom asked. “Just for one second.” He snatched it from Neddy’s hand before the child had time to decide. “I’ll give it back. I promise.”
His jaw set, Tom took the piece of coal and began working on the poster.
In the parlor of the Cloverleaf Hotel, Albert and Denny were still sitting at the table looking unhappy.
“I just know my luck was about to turn around,” Albert was saying. Surely there was a way he could make the money back. “Denny, you going anywhere soon?”
The salesman put down his drink and shrugged. “My train don’t come in for a few hours yet. Why?”
Albert turned towards the bar. “Hey, Miss Joline. There anyone else staying here that we can call down to play a game?”
Joline put her dime novel down and gave him a dull look. “Nope. You two are the only ones here for the day.”
“Aw hell,” Albert moped.
Joline frowned. Why wouldn’t the men just leave already? As long as they were sitting in the common room drinking, she had to stay. She made a decision.
Joline shook her head exaggeratedly. “I really can’t believe you boys actually went and played a game with Tom Dunn in the first place.”
“What do you mean?” Albert said, suddenly suspicious. “He famous or something?”
Joline didn’t bother to suppress her smile. “Famous for cheating, maybe.” Both men stood and she added, “He couldn’t have gone far.”
Tom stood back and nodded in satisfaction at the changes he had made to the poster. The smile on his face in the poster no longer looked quite so goofy and he had given it a proper mustache. More importantly, he had blackened out some of the letters and it now read, Tom Dunn, of the Red Star Gang. Wanted for Robbery. Bounty $725.00.
“Sad,” said the Kid in amusement.
“I think it’s a definite improvement,” Tom replied.
He tossed the piece of coal back to the the child just as the door to the inn burst open. Albert and Denny spilled out, wincing as their eyes adjusted to the sun. Tom quickly turned to head across the street, but it was too late. The two men started towards him.
“Hey!” shouted Albert. “You stop there, Tom Dunn!”
“Yeah, you . . . scoundrel!” echoed Denny. The other people in the street turned to look.
The Kid chuckled. “Gee, I wonder what gave you away?”
Tom sighed. “Joline, I’d bet. She still hasn’t forgiven me for kissing her sister.”
“Well, you gonna fight it out in front of the jail?” the Kid asked, gesturing at Tom’s wanted poster.
“Uh, no,” Tom replied and walked towards the two men, wearing a disarming smile. He met them in front of the general store. “What is it, gentlemen?” He started patting his pockets. “Did I forget something back there?”
“We want our money back, sir!” Denny harrumphed.
Tom blinked innocently. “And why would I do that?”
Albert pointed a stiff finger. “You were cheating!”
“Woah now,” Tom said, feigning shock. “Hey, that’s a slanderous charge. Why’d you think that?”
“We know!” Denny insisted.
“That’s right,” Albert agreed. “Pay up. No one gets three kings five hands in a row.”
The Kid appeared atop a horse tethered in front of the store. He sat atop the horse’s rump cross-legged, and sucked at his teeth. “Sloppy.”
Tom placed his hands on his hips not far from his two pistols, “That was just blind luck, sirs. Do you have any proof of this?”
Albert, eying the guns, drew his own pistol and pointed it at Tom. “The hell with proof, cheater! Give us our money and we’ll be on our way.”
“Put the gun down, Albert,” Tom said. He left his expression unfazed, but he was surprised by this aggressive behavior from the railroad man. “You ain’t gonna shoot. Sheriff Dale’s office is just over there and he is a personal friend.”
“Oh ain’t I?” Albert’s lips pulled back from his teeth and he pulled back the hammer with a click. “I ain’t about to let a thief cheat me and get away with it.”
Denny licked his lips. The salesman had seen enough gunfights in his travels and had no desire to be caught in the middle of one. The other onlookers had similar thoughts and began entering buildings or heading for alleyways where they could watch from safety.
Looking uncomfortable, Denny said, “Just give the winnings over, Dunn. Then we’ll let you go like nothing happened.”
“Well, I protest! I take great offense at being called a cheater,” Tom said. “Still, I suppose I have no choice . . .”
Tom reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out the pouch of coins. Albert held out his free hand, but Tom tossed the pouch at the man’s gun. Albert turned and fumbled with the pouch, finally catching it in the crook of his arm. By that time, Tom had already run up to him.
He started with a punch to Albert’s nose, which rocked the man’s head back. Tom then grabbed the man’s wrist and twisted, wrenching the gun from his fingers. He breathed a sigh of relief that it didn’t go off.
Albert punched him in the ribs with his free hand and Tom swung an elbow into the side of the man’s face. This knocked the railroad man back far enough that Tom was able to get his foot up. Tom’s front kick caught the railroad man in the stomach and sent him stumbling backwards.
Tom let the purse fall and cracked the railroad man’s gun open. He shook the bullets onto the ground, then tossed the gun to the side and took a step back. “Now I want you two to stop and think for just a dag-gum moment-!”
Denny surprised him with a flying tackle from behind that took Tom to the ground. Tom’s hat flew off and he ended up with a mouthful of dirt. He twisted, trying to shake the man off.
Tom sputtered and, spitting mud. “Damnit, Denny! Get off me!”
The salesman was no brawler, but he held on tight and he was behind Tom in such a position that it was hard for Tom to get any leverage. They tussled for awhile until Tom was finally able to flip over so that he was on top of Denny.
Tom pried at the man’s fingers, twisting them until, with a yelp of pain, the salesman finally let go. Tom rolled to his feet and when Denny tried to sit up, Tom lashed out with a right hook. The salesman fell to his back; out cold.
“Stop right there!” said Albert. The railroad man was down on one knee and was clutching his pistol, having used the time of Denny’s distraction to retrieve and load it.
“Great.” Tom grimaced, spitting again. He was now covered in fine dirt that had adhered to his sweat and his hair was sticking up in all directions. “I’m sure I look ridiculous.”
Albert stood. “Now pick that purse back up and this time you walk over and hand it to me.” He cocked the hammer and glared. His split lip and bloodied nose made him look all the more furious. “And don’t you think I won’t shoot.”
What Albert didn’t know was that he was now standing directly behind the horse that Tom’s ghostly companion was perched on. Just as Tom was about to retrieve the purse, the Kid cried out and smacked the horse across the rump.
Tom was the only one who saw what had happened, but the horse definitely felt it. The poor beast felt a sting like twenty horseflies biting at once. It let out a scream and kicked out with both rear hooves, catching Albert right in the lower back.
The kick sent the unfortunate railroad man up on his toes. He let out a shocked cry and his finger convulsed around the trigger. The gun went off, causing the spectators to gasp. Luckily, the force of the kick had knocked Albert’s aim high and the bullet shot harmlessly into the air.
Tom took the opportunity to step forward deliver an uppercut that knocked the man out. As Albert hit the dirt Tom dusted himself off and picked up his pouch of winnings.
He looked up at the Kid. “I’m surprised you interfered like that.”
The Kid shrugged. “The horse did it.”
They were interrupted by the sound of the door of the Sheriff’s Office slamming open. “Tomas Jefferson Dun!” shouted Sheriff Jim Dale.
Tom rolled his eyes at the way the Sheriff had pronounced his name, putting so much emphasis on the Mexican way of saying it. He turned. “It’s just Tom! You know that, Dale.”
Dale stood in the open doorway of his office with a shotgun in his hands. He was a middle-aged man with a thick mustache and a confident demeanor that came from his years of experience training under the retired Sheriff Paul. He stormed toward Tom, his deputy following closely behind him with a rifle at the ready.
“What the hell’re you doing starting a fight right outside my door?” Dale asked, his voice flabbergasted. “Right in front of your wanted poster, even?”
“I didn’t start no fight,” Tom insisted. He pointed at the fallen forms of Albert and Denny. “I was being robbed! That man drew on me and that man tried to help him.”
Sheriff Dale chuckled. “They were robbing you? Right. What’d you do? Cheat them at cards?”
Tom frowned. “I cheated nobody, Dale. It was just a friendly game.”
“I saw it, Uncle Dale, sir!” said the boy that Tom had taken the coal from earlier. “Those men did start the fight.”
Dale glanced at the child, then gazed down the street at all the onlookers that had come out from their cover. He raised his voice. “Anyone see anything different?” There were a few noncommittal head shakes, but no one spoke up. He turned back to face Tom. “I should arrest you right now.”
“What for?” Tom protested. “I didn’t shoot nobody. I didn’t rob nobody. You can’t even get me for being drunk in the streets.” He took a few steps toward the Sheriff and opened his mouth. “Here! Smell my breath.”
The Sheriff raised a disgusted hand and called out to his deputy. “Ted, go get the Doc. These men need seein’ to.”
Tom feigned offense. “Ain’t you going to ask me if I want you to arrest these men?”
“There’s only two reasons I don’t haul you in right now,” Dale said, raising two fingers. “First, your momma makes the best pie in town and I know she won’t forgive me. Second, your tiny bounty ain’t worth my time.”
“Two reasons?” Tom said. “I’m impressed, Sheriff. I didn’t know you could count that high.” At Dale’s enraged scowl, he raised his hands and added, “Just a joke. I wasn’t gonna ask you to haul them in. I think they’ve learned their lesson.”
Dale spat. “Get out of my sight, Tom. Next time you make a ruckus in my town I will arrest you. And that’s a promise.”
“Understood,” Tom replied. He walked over and picked up his new hat. He smacked the dust off of it, frowning at the way it clung to the felt.
“And that goes for your friends too,” Dale added. “You tell ‘em I said it!”
Tom raised a hand in acknowledgement and headed across the street and into Hank’s Saloon.
End of Preview Four.
Noose Jumpers: A Mythological Western coming soon! Stay tuned for more details.
As usual, Andrew tell did a fantastic job with his rendition so please leave a review and let him know. Also, this is the second longest audiobook so far, at 17 Hours 47 Minuites
I will post again once I know it is purchasable for sure.
One last thing. I will post one last preview of Noose Jumpers later this week. The chapter is titled, “Right in Front of His Wanted Poster” and is the introduction to the last member of the Red Star Gang; Tom Dunn, and the mischievous specter that guides him.
I am very close to being finished with that book and am so eager to share it with you. More news coming soon!
Howdy folks! It’s been awhile.
I feel I must explain why the book isn’t here yet. That house purchasing deal I mentioned in my last post dragged on and on. Financial issues suck. Every day they need something else. Every day the story changes. I don’t need to get into details or name names, but the first half of this year has been one of the most stressful in my life. Unfortunately, that struggle led to a bad case of the dreaded “writer’s block” we hear so much about. This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced it, but it has been the worst.
The good news is that’s over now. The house is ours. The burden is lessened. Life goes on. I’m back at it. I estimate that Noose Jumpers is just a few short weeks from being finished.
I know that most of you are waiting for the next Bowl of Souls novel, (And the audiobook for The Ogre Apprentice which is currently in production.) but I hope you are excited for this book as well. It’s new and exciting for me. It will be the first non Bowl of Souls book I have written and the beginning of a new series that I’m hoping will continue between installments of the adventures of Justan and Co. It’s a new world, an alternate history of the Old West, and full of mythological tropes, (Gods and spirits and otherworldy power.) that I think make it really unique.
To help keep you hungry for the project, I’m posting a third chapter from this book. The last sample was an introduction to one of our three young outlaws; the gunfighter, Luke Bassett. This one introduces Sandy Tucker; the Red Star Gang’s sharpshooter.
Now, if you haven’t read the first two samples, I suggest you read them first. Links below:
An excerpt from The Tale of Sandy Tucker
“The ignorance of these bastards! Just ’cause a man’s good at using a gun don’t mean he’s bad.” – Wyatt Earp, while reading the paper one morning in San Francisco, 1896
The town of Puerta de la Muerte was a Texas town located fifteen miles from the New Mexico Territory border. It was a no-good place full of no-good folks and the hills around it were no better. It was bandit country, a lawless part of the countryside where bad men could freely roam. Unfortunately, it was also on a prime spot of land. Built over an aquifer, the town was an ideal stop for people looking to take the long journey over desert plains to the more populous areas of the state.
Folks who knew the area avoided the place whenever possible. But not all people were savvy enough to understand the wisdom of taking the long way around. Folks with the misfortune of having a desire or need to travel through the area had a difficult time finding drivers willing to take them. Those few carriage drivers willing to make the journey charged high fees for their service.
Ted Bertram, was such a driver. He was a weathered man with a hunched over frame, but keen eyes and a sharp mind. He was a veteran coachman with decades of experience and had been guiding folks through Puerta de la Muerte for a number of years. In all that time, his carriage had only been robbed twice and that was because he had a system that worked.
On this day, though, he was wondering if the extra money this journey made him was worth it. It was a hot day and he had a head cold and, to make matters worse, his passengers were wealthy and naïve to the ways of the frontier. They looked it, too. The old man and his granddaughter were the types of folks that would get an outlaw salivating. Ted worried that his usual methods for passing through the area unscathed would fall short this time.
His plan required making it within five miles of town without being hassled. This was normally an easy matter. Just stick to the main road. The bandits knew better than to attack people on the way into town. But this day there had been several times when Ted’s keen eyes had caught the figure of a rider in the hills. The rider had kept his distance so far, but seemed to be watching the coach.
Several times, Ted grasped the rifle he kept on the bench next to him, taking strength from its comforting weight. He also had a short barreled shotgun in a holster next to the bench, but he rarely had to use it. These weapons were mainly for show, something he carried in plain view to give his passengers confidence. He wondered if he would have to use them this trip.
Time crawled by at an incredibly slow pace. Ted would have urged his horses forward faster if the road hadn’t been so heavily rutted. Despite his concerns, the rider never approached. Ted chuckled with relief as the carriage came to the top of the large hill at the appointed place without incident. His contact would be waiting nearby.
Sure enough, standing in the middle of the road at the bottom of the hill, was a gray horse with a yellow flag affixed to its saddle. A man stood in front of the horse and waved the carriage down. Ted’s smile faded when he saw the silver star gleaming on the man’s lapel.
Ted slowed the horses down and brought the carriage to a stop at the bottom of the hill. He scowled as the man approached.
Deputy Ed Willis had an odd shape. He was slender all over except for a tight potbelly, like a snake that had just swallowed supper. In fact, a snake was a good description for the man. His eyes darted about too much and his lips wore a permanent sneer.
He approached the carriage, walking with the strutting bravado of an underling confident in the power of his position. He looked up at the driver and his voice had an oily drawl as he said, “Morning, Ted. You don’t look too happy to see me. You prefer to see Santos or some of the Black Spots maybe?”
“Some days,” Ted replied gruffly. In his mind, Willis was almost as bad as those bandits. “Where’s Buddy?”
“Couldn’t make it,” the deputy said with a smile. “Got himself shot last night.”
From the pleased look in the man’s eyes, Ted wondered if Willis had been the one to shoot him. “That’s too bad.” Not that Ted had any particular affection for his regular contact. Buddy was just another one of the Sheriff’s lackeys. He was a lot less likely to be trouble, though. “Buddy gonna be okay?”
Deputy Willis shrugged. “He was only shot in the foot. The doc’s looking after him, but then again, Doc got shot in the hand, so . . .” He chuckled. “We’ll see.”
Ted tried not to let his disgust for the deputy show. “I suppose you’ll be wanting the Sheriff’s toll?”
Willis raised a sarcastic eyebrow in response. “Ain’t standing here waiting to shine your shoes.”
Ted reached into his jacket. Willis warily placed his hand on the gun at his waist in response. Frowning, the driver pulled out a pouch of coins. He tossed them down to the deputy. Willis weighed the bag in his hand and peered inside.
Ted waited for the deputy to give him a nod, then held out his hand expectantly. “Now give me the flag so I can go on my way.”
The flag told the outlaws in the area that the bearer was under the Sheriff’s protection. None of the local outlaw gangs would dare rob someone riding under that flag. Ted’s agreement with the Sheriff was the only reason he was still in business.
Deputy Willis reached into his jacket, but paused, staring at the carriage door. Ted leaned over the side of the bench and peered back. He winced when he saw that the old man inside the coach had opened the door and was sticking his head out.
“I say!” the old man said in a pompous manner. A neatly trimmed wisp of white curls surrounded the sides of his balding head and he wore a golden monocle tucked over his right eye. A polished brass chain hung from his vest pocket. His voice had an aristocratic British lilt as he continued, “Driver, why have we stopped? It was hot enough when we were moving. It’s insufferable without a breeze through the window.”
A greedy smile grew on the deputy’s face as his eyes took in the man and his finery. Then he saw the pretty woman peering out from behind the old man and his grin turned into a leer. Willis removed his hand from the inside of his jacket and to Ted’s dismay, he wasn’t holding the flag.
“It looks like I’m not quite ready to let you go yet, Ted,” Willis said. The deputy walked to the side of the carriage and turned his predatory smile on the two passengers. He took off his hat, revealing a greasy tangle of thinning hair. “Howdy folks. I’m Deputy Willis.”
The woman pushed the door further open and gave the deputy a skeptical gaze. She had a head full of red curls, plump lips, and wore a lacy dress that strained under the weight of her bosom. Her voice had a similar tone to her grandfather’s, but with a light and airy lilt. “Deputy of where, sir?”
Willis’ smile just broadened as he took her in. “Why I come from the town of Puerta de la Muerte, just a few miles away.”
The old man, finally noticing the unsettling demeanor of this newcomer, narrowed his eyes. “Er, and why are you stopping us, good deputy?”
“Well if you ain’t noticed, you just entered the great state of Texas,” Willis replied, putting on a serious face. “The border is a dangerous place. Banditos and outlaws everywhere. Hell, you’re lucky that Puerta Muerte’s so close by. Sheriff has me patrol this here road. You know, just to make sure that honest folk such as yourselves are safe.”
The old man sighed with relief, but the young woman just squinted at him. “Outlaws everywhere, you say? And you patrol this road alone? One man?”
“Oh, it only takes one if’n you’re the right kind of man,” Deputy Willis said. He leaned up against the carriage, his leer reappearing. “And what is your name, miss?”
She hesitated at first, then arched a haughty eyebrow. “Sarah Covington.”
Ted cleared his throat loudly. This was a scene ripe to get out of hand and exactly the reason why he had been so worried at the deputy’s arrival. “It’s time we left now, Willis. I got a place to be with these folks by sundown. Just give me the flag.”
Deputy Willis didn’t take his eyes off of the woman. “You ain’t leaving yet, Ted. I need to inspect the contents of this here wagon. I think I smell . . . contraband.”
The old man swallowed. “Now that, sir, is an insult! What is this about?”
Ted raised his voice. “Look, like I said, these folks are in a hurry. I already paid the Sheriff’s toll. He and I have a deal and that means you let us be.”
The deputy drew his gun and turned, pointing it at the driver. His face was twisted with anger. “You’ll stay till I say you can leave!” He returned his attention to the passengers. “Now step outside! Both of you! Unless you mean to get yourselves arrested!”
On a hilltop a short distance away Sandy Tucker sat astride his horse, watching the confrontation. Despite being just twenty-four years of age, he had a rugged look. He had sharp eyes that had been pinched by the sun and a rugged stubble covered his jaw. He wore a battered felt hat, a tan duster, and had a bandoleer of rifle bullets slung across his chest. On his belt hung a seldom used revolver and in the center of his wide silver belt buckle shone a tilted blood red star.
Sandy tsked in mild concern as he saw the deputy shove the rich old man roughly against the carriage. With trembling hands, the old man reached into his coat and handed over a thick wallet and a gold pocket watch. The deputy then switched his focus to the woman.
Sighing, Sandy reached down to the long holster attached to his horse’s saddle and drew his rifle. He was proud of this gun. It was a Winchester 1863 model, modified with an elongated barrel for extra range and accuracy. He peered down the sights, observing the deputy approach the woman. He watched as, with a growl, the woman swung her hand and delivered the lawman a ringing slap. Sandy smiled.
“What’re you waiting for?” asked a man from a horse a few paces to Sandy’s left.
Sandy’s companion was a much older man, looking to be in his late forties. He had a weathered face and a thick handlebar mustache that was peppered with gray. He wore a tall hat almost as battered as Sandy’s and he kept an unlit cigar clenched in the corner of his mouth. His brow was furrowed in amusement as he gave Sandy an assessing look.
“A good entrance is all about timing. You taught me that, didn’t you, Pecos?” Sandy asked, narrowing his focus on the stagecoach below as the deputy threw the woman to the ground.
Pecos scratched at his jaw. “Well, sure, son. But this is gettin’ on the hairy side. No hero needs to wait till mid-rape.”
“I never claimed to be a hero,” Sandy replied. He shifted his shoulders slightly and focused tighter, his finger moving around the trigger. “Still . . .”
Deputy Willis’ grin was all teeth as he looked down on the woman in front of him. She glared back up at him in outrage. “Get back in the carriage, Sarah. You and me are gonna have us a little reconnoiter.”
“Stop that this instant!” shouted Sarah’s grandfather. His face was beet red with fear and indignance. “What kind of lawman do you propose to be?”
Willis pointed his gun at the old man. “The kind that’ll shoot you if you don’t do what I say. Now you and Driver Ted are gonna take you a little stroll back up that hill and wait there until the young lady and I are finished with our little talk.”
“Hey!” snapped Ted and Willis looked up at the driver to see that the man had a rifle trained on him. “That’s enough! I may have to let you rob me from time to time, but I’m not putting up with this! You put that pistol away and get out of here.”
Willis’ grin turned to a snarl. He kept his gun trained on the old man. “You toss that rifle to the ground right now or I will pop this old man’s melon! If that happens then you and the girl will be next.”
Ted grimaced at having his bluff called. He was in a bad spot. If he fired first, he would likely drop Willis before he could get his shot off, but then he’d have to explain a dead deputy to the Sheriff and he knew that wouldn’t go over well. He let his gun drop to the ground. “I will make sure your boss hears about this.”
“Yeah? He ain’t hearing nothing,” the deputy snarled and pointed his pistol at the driver.
A shot rang out. Blood blossomed from the base of the thumb on the deputy’s shooting hand and a bullet splintered the wood of the stagecoach beyond him. He stared at the hole in the meat of his hand in shock as the pistol tumbled from his numb fingers and dropped to the ground.
Everyone glanced around, looking for the origin of the shot. They saw Sandy riding towards them at a trot. He was standing in the stirrups, his rifle still trained on the deputy.
Willis saw him coming. Clutching his wounded hand to his chest, he bent down to pick up the pistol with his uninjured hand. He fumbled with it for a moment, trembling with shock. By the time the deputy raised his gun, Sandy had closed in.
“I wouldn’t try that, Willis,” Sandy said. “You ain’t left handed.”
“I know you.” The deputy’s mouth quivered with pain and rage as he lowered his pistol. “You shot me in the shooting hand. You don’t shoot a man in his shooting hand! Might as well have shot me in the balls!”
“Believe me, it was tempting,” Sandy replied. “But I thought it was nicer this way. At least your hand has a chance of healing.” His voice turned serious. “Drop your gun, Willis.”
Willis’ eyes narrowed. “You shot a man of the law. You know what that means?”
“And I’m willing to put another one in your skull right now,” Sandy replied. “Now drop it!”
Deputy dropped his gun with a snarl. “You got a hankerin’ for that noose, don’t you, Red Star? The Sheriff’ll have your neck for this.”
Sandy grinned at that remark. He swung his leg over the saddle and hopped down from his horse, then pulled his own pistol. He stowed his rifle away in its saddle holster and approached the deputy.
“I doubt the Sheriff likes you that much,” Sandy said. “Hell, I doubt anyone would miss you. Now raise your hands.”
Willis gave out a pained gasp as he lifted his wounded hand into the air. Blood dripped down the man’s arm as Sandy went through his pockets. Sandy retrieved the old man’s pocket watch and wallet, along with the driver’s toll. Finally, he dug a yellow piece of cloth from within the deputy’s jacket.
“I think that’s almost everything,” Sandy said. He cocked his head. “But I know you don’t walk around without any money of your own.”
“Don’t carry any out of town,” Willis snapped.
“Check his boots,” offered Pecos helpfully. Sandy’s companion was leaning against the rear of the carriage. He had taken off his hat, exposing a mop of graying blond hair. He began tightening the hat band. “The sneaky ones always keep a stash in their boots.”
Sandy wrinkled his nose at the thought of touching bills that had been nestled against the greasy man’s foot, but shrugged. Money was money after all. He nodded towards the deputy’s feet. “Take off your boots.”
“That ain’t right,” Willis protested.
“Come on, now. I checked everywhere else,” Sandy pressed.
The deputy scowled. “It’s in my right boot. But my hand . . . How am I supposed to get it off?”
Sandy gestured to the wealthy old man. “You. Take off his boot.”
The British man looked aghast. “Me?”
“You,” Sandy insisted.
The old man hesitantly moved to the deputy’s side. Willis lifted his foot and wobbled on one leg as the gentleman, with a look of repulsion, tried to remove the boot using just the thumb and forefinger of each hand.
While the two men struggled, Sarah still sat on the ground her arms folded indignantly. She addressed Sandy. “Tell me, sir. Now that you have stopped this scoundrel, what are your intentions?”
“Yeah, Tucker. What’re you up to?” Ted asked. He had been watching the events unfold with a mixture of relief and concern.
Sandy waved a hand absently. “We’ll discuss that once the deputy’s gone, Ted.”
“Do you know this man, driver?” Sarah asked.
Ted shrugged. “I’ve seen him around.”
Sandy repressed a chuckle. Ted received most of his business from folks traveling through Luna Gorda. He was practically a local.
“I have it,” the old man announced triumphantly, holding the boot up. Deputy Willis lowered his bare foot to the ground and gave him a pale glare.
“Didn’t your momma teach you to wear socks with your boots?” Sandy asked. He nodded to the old man. “Take out the cash,”
The old man screwed up his face again and he stuck his hand inside the boot. He pulled out a loose handful of damp bills. “It’s not much,” he said, sounding offended that he’d had to stoop so low for so little.
“Well how much did you expect to find in my damn boot?” Willis grumped.
“It’s good enough,” Sandy assured the old man. “Now hand me the bills and toss the boot off the road.”
“But!” Willis said, watching in disbelief as the old man threw the boot into a tangle of tumbleweeds. “Now you’re just being mean!”
“That’s me,” Sandy replied. “Get out of here, Willis.”
Deputy Willis took a few steps and hesitated, eyeing the discarded revolver that lay in the dirt. “My gun-.”
Sandy pulled back the hammer on his pistol in response. Deputy Willis, scowling and wincing, walked over to his horse and mounted up. Before leaving, he looked back over his shoulder. “Wait till the Sheriff hears what you did. Next time I see you, you’re dead!”
Sandy gave him a half grin. “Ride back to Puerta Muerte with one boot. See if the Sheriff stops laughing long enough to care about your story.”
Having no response to that, the deputy growled and galloped away. Sandy holstered his gun and picked up the deputy’s discarded pistol. He spun it in his hand, looking it over. It was a nice gun, one of those newfangled Peacemakers. But Sandy preferred his older Colt. He had fine-tuned its accuracy and it used the same cartridges as his Winchester Rifle.
He turned to face the others and saw that they were all looking at him warily. Pecos, who was still leaning against the carriage behind them, chuckled. “So what do you have to say to the folks you rescued, El Bandito?”
Sandy ignored him and opened the old man’s wallet. He leafed through the bills, nodding appreciatively, then pulled half of them out and folded them up before tucking them into the interior pocket of his duster. He tossed the half-empty wallet to the old man and inspected the watch for a moment before shrugging and tossing that back to the old man as well.
“Can’t say as I need another watch,” Sandy said.
The old man frowned at the lightness of his wallet. “But my money . . .”
“Only took half of it. Finder’s fee,” Sandy said. He glanced over to Driver Ted as he pocketed the pouch of coins. “I’ll be keeping the Sheriff’s toll too.”
Neither of the two men looked too happy with this result. Pecos cleared his throat and gestured with his head at Sarah, who was still sitting on the ground, evidently waiting for someone to pick her up. Sandy pursed his lips and extended his hand to the woman. “Ma’am.”
She hesitantly reached out and allowed him to pull her to her feet. He took a step back and spun the deputy’s gun in his hand again. “Do you have a handbag?”
Pecos snorted, shaking his head.
Sarah scowled and reached in through the carriage’s open door. She yanked out a frilly looking purse and opened it up. Grumbling, she pulled out several bills and crumpled them, then threw them at Sandy with a snarl. They struck his chest and he caught them with his free hand.
“There!” she snapped. “Now you have half my money too!”
Sandy blinked as he tucked the crumpled money into his pocket with the rest. “Much obliged, ma’am. But that’s not why I asked.”
He lifted the deputy’s gun and walked over to her. Her eyes widened and she took a step back, but he simply shoved the gun into her hand bag.
Sandy gave her a dull look. “Next time a man like that tries to put his hands on you, shoot him.”
The woman frowned as if trying to decide whether to pull the gun out and shoot him for starters. “Then can I have my money back?”
Sandy smiled. “That’s a pretty hairpin. Are those real pearls?”
“It’s a hair comb!” Sarah growled and tore the item out of her hair, sending her red hair cascading about her shoulders as she shoved the comb into his hands. He hadn’t seen the detail before, but it was a beautiful piece, backed with polished silver. “And yes, those are real pearls. Except for the green ones. Those are jade!”
Sandy stowed the hair comb away, then bowed and held the carriage door open for her. With a harrumph, Sarah stormed inside. Sandy looked at the old man and jerked his head towards the door. The old man cleared his throat quite snootily and joined her.
Sandy shut the door and turned his attention to the driver. “If I were you, Ted, I’d get moving in case the Sheriff sends someone looking for you.”
The grizzled man nodded. “I’ll be needing that flag then.”
Sandy threw the yellow piece of fabric up to the driver. “You know this’ll only be good till the Sheriff tells everyone the color’s changed.”
Driver Ted busied himself fastening the small flag onto a pole attached to the side of the driver’s seat. “You don’t have to tell me. I’m keeping these folks as far from Puerta Muerte as possible.”
“Smart,” Sandy replied. “You’d best be on your way then.”
He turned and strode over to his horse. Without so much as a look back, he climbed up and set off up the hillside at a gallop.
Sarah watched Sandy leave, not sure whether to be grateful or hate him. She stuck her head out of the carriage window. “Who was that man, driver?”
“That there was Sandy Tucker,” he said, giving her a knowing look. “An outlaw with the Red Star Gang.”
“An outlaw, Sarah!” said the old man excitedly.
Sandy kept up his speed until he was a good distance away. Once he was sure that he was completely out of eyesight, he slowed to a trot and began counting his money. A self-satisfied smile spread across his face.
A sudden gust of wind blew over Sandy and Pecos appeared beside him. “I can’t believe you took their money,”
Sandy frowned at his mentor. “I only took half of it.”
The old cowboy chewed the nub of his cigar in amused disapproval. “And the lady’s hair thing? Really?”
“Don’t look at me like that. I am an outlaw after all,” Sandy snapped. “What would you have done?”
Pecos shrugged. “I never had much need for money.”
“Well I do.” Sandy sighed and looked westward towards the New Mexico border. “Besides, I doubt I’ll be getting any where we’re headed next.”
END OF SAMPLE CHAPTER 3
Protector of the Grove; The Bowl of Souls: Book Seven and Part Two of the Jharro Grove Saga is available now! Andrew Tell did a fantastic job with the narration as usual.Here is the back cover blurb for those of you that are unfamiliar.
“Jhonate’s reprieve from her father has been cut short. She is forced to return home to Malaroo, bringing Justan along with her. The journey she has avoided for so long has become all the more difficult because someone wants Justan dead.
The rogue horse Esmine, a mythical beast of remarkable power, has been captured by a troupe of dwarf smugglers. They are taking her to the nation Alberri where a gnome scholar awaits with a vicious plan to sacrifice the beast and bind its powerful soul to make a weapon of mass destruction. Tarah Woodblade must gather a group of warriors and rescue Esmine before she is taken to Alberri.
Evil stirs. Darkness is building. But can anyone trust Xedrion, The Protector of the Grove?”
Here is the Audible link: http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Protector-of-the-Grove-Audiobook/B01DPY2FG4
It will show up on Amazon and Itunes within the next few days.
In additional news, I am still working on finalizing Noose Jumpers. It has taken me a lot longer than expected. The pressures of creating a new world that exists within our own history has been more complicated than expected. There is a lot more research involved and quite frankly there has been a bunch of stressful other junk I have been going through that has slowed me down. Still, I am mostly finished with the book. More updates to follow!
Things have been a little quiet on the site for the last few weeks, I know. The writing of this book has taken longer than expected. Partially because this is an all new world and all new characters and has required more research and creation time than I thought it would. Also partially because I am in the middle of trying to sell my old house and purchase the one we have been living in the past two years, (A long story that I don’t need to get into here.) Thus, the release date has been pushed back a bit. I’ll tell you know something more specific when I am close to being finished.
In the meantime, as an apology for the delay, here is a second preview chapter of Noose Jumpers. If you haven’t had a chance to read the first one, (The Death of Bobby Estrella) it’s here. http://trevorhcooley.com/noose-jumpers-preview-chapter-the-death-of-bobby-estrella/
Also if you haven’t seen the short film that I wrote based on the concepts in this book, you really should. It was directed by my brother, Jared Cooley (who you might recognize from the cover of War of Stardeon), and stars some great hollywood actors. See it HERE. http://trevorhcooley.com/noose-jumpers-short-film-and-book-trailer-premiere/
One last thing. Narration is underway for Protector of the Grove. We hope to have the audiobook available for purchase by the end of the month.
Now here you go. Preview chapter 2.
An excerpt from The Tale of Luke Bassett
“A bit o’ the devil in every bottle!” – Promise made by a horned cherub in an ad for ‘El Diablo Fine Spirits’ placed in the Tombstone Epitaph, June 21, 1886
The mid-summer sun blazed overhead as Luke reigned in his horse atop a dusty hillside just outside of Luna Gorda. He paused to peer down into the town below and a frown tightened his brow. So much had changed.
The town, which had already doubled in size in the twelve years since Estrella’s hanging, was quickly growing. The railway station in Luna Gorda had only been complete for just a few short months, but a whole new street of buildings had already been constructed. The builders weren’t finished, either. Luke saw the pale skeletal frames of several structures and could hear the rap of hammers and nail.
He supposed that the changes were a positive thing for the locals. More people passing through would mean more money brought in. His mother would be busy running the schoolhouse and with all the new construction, his stepfather was likely bringing home a lot of money. What Luke didn’t like was the possibility of Luna Gorda turning into a major town. More people meant more law.
Luke wiped the back of his arm across his brow and sighed at the muddy streak of sweat he left behind on the sleeve of his duster. The weather on his journey had been hot and windy. Dirt coated him like a gray blanket.
He slid down from his horse and removed his duster, shaking the road dust off of it. Luke folded it and put it away into his saddlebag, then beat the dirt off of his hat and pulled out a small mirror to examine his image. He saw that the duster had protected his finely-tailored blue suitcoat and vest against the majority of the dirt but, except for the one clean spot in the center of his forehead, his face was filthy.
Luke untied his canteen from the saddle and shook it. He had filled it at a creek early that morning and it was still half full. He took a quick swig, then used some of the water to wet down a clean bandana. He began to wipe the grime off of his face, keeping an eye on the mirror to be sure that he was getting all of it.
The face that appeared from under the dirt was still as freckled as it had been when he was a boy, though his face had filled out some. A thick red goatee now grew around his lips and prominent jaw. The green eyes that looked back at him had seen a lot in the past few years and there was a hardness in them that Luke noted with satisfaction.
“Primping?” asked a deep throaty voice.
A black horse appeared next to Luke’s, forming into existence with an audible whoosh. The Stranger sat astride it on a saddle red as blood. A black mist wafted around them for a brief moment before evaporating into the air. The Stranger wore his familiar black duster and black hat and, unlike Luke’s, both were clean of dust. He cocked his head and gave Luke a questioning look with his good eye.
Luke spared his theatrical arrival little more than a glance. He continued to wipe the dirt and sweat from his neck. “Aren’t you the one who told me how important appearances are?”
“It’s true folks should see you’re not some common dirty outlaw,” the Stranger conceded. “But no need to polish up standing out here in the open.”
“No one’s paying me any mind right now but you,” Luke replied. Satisfied with his appearance, he put the mirror and damp cloth away. He then reached down with his left hand and drew his revolver.
It was a well-used Smith and Wesson top break revolver with a smooth action and mahogany grips. It was his favorite gun, purchased with the money from his first big score. Quickly, Luke inspected it, wiping a thin coat of road dust off of it. He cracked the weapon open to spin the cylinder. He had cleaned it the night before, but it never hurt to check again.
Nodding in satisfaction, he slid it back into the holster at his waist. Then he reached his right hand into his suitcoat to withdraw his spare gun from its shoulder holster under his left arm. Luke knew it had probably been protected from the dirt, but he checked it anyway. This one was also a top break revolver, as he preferred, but he wasn’t sure of the manufacturer. It had a short barrel and a five shot-cylinder. The dead man he had taken it from had claimed he’d had it custom made, but there were no markings on it that Luke could find.
“You expecting trouble?” the Stranger asked, his voice filled with irritation.
Luke gazed down the hole in the barrel and spun the cylinder again. “You’ve always demanded I be prepared.”
“Still shouldn’t check your gun so often,” the Stranger said. “Makes you look nervous.”
“You seem awfully particular today,” Luke replied with a chuckle. He snapped his spare gun closed and put it away. He looked the Stranger in the eye. “Is there a problem I should know about?”
“Problem?” A cigar appeared in the Stranger’s fingers. He lifted it to his lips and blew on the end. The tip of the cigar burst into flame. He turned his eye to the streets of Luna Gorda below. “It’s this town. I don’t like it when you come back here. It’s a weakness.”
Luke snorted and climbed back up onto his horse. “It’s just a town, Stranger. No different from any other.”
The specter took a deep draw from his cigar. Smoke curled around his lips as he said, “Bobby Estrella told me the same thing.” Then he and his horse disappeared in a burst of black mist.
Luke winced. He had grown used to his mentor’s dark and demanding demeanor, but that last remark had hit a bit close to home. He shrugged it off and rode down the hillside towards Luna Gorda.
The new section of town was busy with people strutting about, some of them in fancy dress. These weren’t locals, but travelers stopping in town along the way. From the dearth of horses, many of them were likely passengers perhaps waiting for the next train to Albuquerque. The newest buildings were inns and shops built solely for the purpose of catering to the needs of these visitors.
For some reason this made Luke’s skin crawl. This place reminded him of other towns, bigger ones. It seemed wrong for something like this to spring up in Luna Gorda. He quickly turned down an alleyway and headed for the old main street.
Some of the tension left his shoulders as the familiar buildings came into view. Yet even here there were changes. The windows of the old barber shop were boarded up, the barber pole taken down. The street wasn’t even as well maintained as in years past. The huge ruts left by carriages on rainy days past hadn’t been filled in.
Luke paused outside the sheriff’s office, noting that there was no rocking chair in its place in front of the jailhouse. Old Sheriff Paul had retired a few years back and his replacement, Sheriff Dale, had decided to part with tradition. Luke’s eyes were drawn to the bounty board outside the office and a smile crossed his lips as he saw some familiar faces.
A peal of raucous laughter from across the street caught Luke’s attention. He slid down from his horse and tied it up outside the saloon. This, at least, would be a place where he could feel at home. His smile faltered when he saw that the old saloon sign had been taken down. In its place was a newly painted sign that said, Hank’s Saloon. Luke pushed his way through the swinging doors and stepped inside.
At least the interior hadn’t changed much. He found the familiar jumble of mismatched chairs and tables comforting. The only surprise was how empty the place was. Even though it was only mid-afternoon, the place was usually at least half-full of travelers and the sound of piano playing could be heard from the street. Today, the piano at the back of the room stood vacant and there was only one table occupied.
The three men sitting there were talking loudly and laughing like they had been drinking for a long while already. Luke’s eyes gave them a practiced glance. There were two bottles of liquor opened on the table and they were playing a game of cards but there was no cash at stake. The two of them with their backs to him wore pistol belts, but he dismissed them as a threat. Their clothes weren’t dirty and the fact that there hadn’t been any horses tied outside told him they had likely come by train.
Luke walked up to the bar and eyed the old barman who was facing away from him, cleaning a glass. “When did you start calling the place ‘Hank’s Saloon’?”
The barman spun around, rag and glass in hand, and blinked in surprise at his sudden appearance. A reproachful smile lit up his weathered face. “Well, hello to you too, Luke.”
Luke raised an eyebrow in response. “The hello was implied.”
The old man chuckled. “Got the new sign done last week. Some railroad tycoon built a saloon of his own next to the station. Don’t want folks to get confused.” He cocked his head. “You been to see your momma yet?”
“Just pour me some mezcal, Hank,” Luke said.
The men at the table behind him chose that moment to burst out in a round of laughter. Hank shot them an irritated glance, but returned his attention to Luke. “You should see her. I saw her over at the church just this Sunday. I heard her telling the pastor how worried she was, you know with that bounty on your head and all.”
“If I was looking for a lecture I would have been to see her first,” Luke interrupted with a glower. “Mezcal.”
The barman shook his head and placed the glass on the counter in front of Luke. He turned around and grabbed a bottle off of the shelf. “Just see her before you go. I promise I won’t tell her you came here first.”
Hank pulled the stopper and went to pour, but Luke placed his hand over the top of the glass. “Uh-uh. The real thing.”
Hank frowned and bent to fuss around under the counter. Bottles clinked and when he stood back up, he held a dusty clear bottle. He lifted it and wiped off the dust to reveal a gold label with a demonic skull on the front that read, El Diablo Mezcal. There was very little liquor remaining in the bottle and Luke could just make out the fat white worm sitting in the bottom.
“Don’t care what you say!” shouted one of the men at the table. He was the loudest mouthed of the three men, his voice gravelly and thick with whiskey. “I done worked the tracks on three different railroads and I say one injun’s worth ten of them lazy Chinamen!”
Hank rolled his eyes, but didn’t look directly at the men, instead focusing on wiping the dust off the neck of the bottle. He pulled out the stopper and sniffed at the liquid inside, his lips twisted in disgust. “I can’t believe you still like this rotgut, Luke.”
Luke watched as Hank poured the last dregs of the bottle into the glass, skillfully stopping just before the worm fell out. The bartender then started to set the bottle down, but Luke raised his hand. “Don’t spare the worm.”
“You know that thing’s not supposed to be in there,” Hank said, but Luke just gave him a dull look in reply.
Hank sighed. He tilted the bottle over the glass again and tapped the bottom. The pale plump worm tumbled out of the neck and plopped into the glass. Luke picked up the glass and tilted it slowly back, draining a good third of it. He swallowed and hissed through his teeth.
Hank winced. “Disgusting. This brand’s garbage. I used to tell Estrella that too. No decent brewer would let a worm into their liquor.”
“Nonsense,” said the Stranger’s deep voice. The specter appeared in a flash of black mist, leaning against the bar next to Luke. “Diablo is the only brand.”
Luke wasn’t surprised when the bartender didn’t react to the specter’s presence. No one seemed to be able to see or hear the Stranger except for him. He had learned that lesson early on, though it had taken several embarrassing episodes before he had been convinced.
A full glass appeared in the Stranger’s hand. Unlike Luke’s glass, it was filled with living worms. They squirmed in the clear liquor. He lifted it in front of his face and a grin parted the Stranger’s pale lips, exposing a set of yellowed teeth, several of them capped with gold. He chuckled. “A piece of the devil in every glass.”
Luke ignored him and took another swallow. “Don’t make any changes, Hank. That mezcal is why I keep coming back to you.”
While he nursed his drink, the men at the table behind him continued their argument. Evidently they weren’t mere passengers, but employees of the railroad; overseers of the workers. The gravelly-voiced one was highly opinionated and responded angrily to the quieter words of the other men at his table. “I tell you I seen ‘em every day! Sittin’ around the tracks in their stupid hats, layin’ down, beggin’ for water! Hell, the water boys spent half the day fillin’ Chinaman cups.”
“Pshh!” said another one. “C’mon, Gary! No way they’re lazier than any average Irishman. Half the layabouts in every town I been in are red-headed paddies.”
Hank shot Luke a cautious glance. When he was a child, Luke had been sensitive about his red hair and freckled face. He used to get into scraps with the other children when they teased him about it. But if the remark bothered him, Luke didn’t let it show.
“Bull!” said the one they called Gary. “That’s only if they’re drunk. You put a common sober Irishman on the line and he’d outwork any two Chinese!”
“What about the injuns?” asked the calmest of the three. “I used to work the chain gangs and they was always a problem.”
The Stranger growled and drained his glass in one big gulp. He slammed it back down on the bar and said, “Ain’t it a bit loud in here?”
“Damn right,” Luke said under his breath. He threw back his head and poured the last of the liquor into his mouth. The stiff worm tumbled across his tongue and he pinned it between his molars as he swallowed the liquid down.
The burning of the alcohol was nothing compared to the sensation when the worm burst. An acidic tang filled his mouth and the burning sensation travelled upwards from his throat into his mind, settling somewhere just behind his eyes. Luke shook slightly as he let out a slow breath. The Stranger grinned.
“ . . . and we hardly had to water the injuns,” Gary continued at the top of his voice. “Naw! I tell you it don’t matter if a man’s red, black, or brown. They’s all better than them yellow-!”
“Would you shut the hell up?” Luke shouted. He didn’t turn around, but just stared at his empty glass, processing the sensation in his head.
The men at the table were momentarily stunned into silence. Loudmouthed Gary was the first one to come to his senses enough to summon some outrage. “You talkin’ to me?”
“You’re the one hurting my ears,” Luke said, still not bothering to face the man.
The chair scraped against the wood floor as Gary stood. “What’s your problem, boy? Your momma a Chinaman?”
Luke said nothing. He wondered if the burning in his mind had really been caused by the worm or if it was the Stranger’s doing? He’d never had that particular reaction from eating a mezcal worm before. Whatever it was, he sure felt alive.
“You know who I am, boy?” Gary pressed, his low voice threatening.
There was another slight scraping sound and Luke turned his head just enough to catch the man’s silhouette out of the corner of his eye. Gary now held a rifle in his right hand. The reason Luke hadn’t noticed the weapon before was that it had been lying on the ground next to his chair.
Luke’s jaw tightened. How sloppy. “Yeah. You’re the loud one.”
The Stranger chuckled.
Gary growled and strode forward. He gripped his rifle in both hands and swung it back, aiming to slam the butt right into the back of Luke’s neck. He wasn’t expecting his prey to be so fast.
Luke spun, his left hand drawing his sidearm in one fluid motion. He shoved the revolver between Gary’s upraised arms and jabbed the end of the barrel right into the base of the man’s nose. Gary flinched in pain and let go of the rifle with one hand as he stepped back, but Luke moved with him, keeping his front sight jabbed into the man’s septum.
The other two men’s jaws dropped in shock as Gary stumbled backwards. The back of his legs hit the table and he fell backwards across it, sending their liquor bottles spinning onto the floor. Luke didn’t let up, putting one knee up on the table and leaning over the man, his gun still pressing painfully into tender flesh.
Gary cried out in pain and Luke reached for the rifle with his free hand, attempting to pry it from the man’s fingers. Gary resisted until Luke pulled back the hammer with his thumb and pressed harder. Luke’s eyes were feverish with intensity and to Gary it seemed he was looking into the gaze of a madman. Gary let go of his weapon.
“Luke!” said Hank, alarmed. “Don’t pull that in here!”
At that point, one of Gary’s friends had gathered his wits enough to grab his own pistol. Luke sensed the movement and released the rifle. By the time the man brought his weapon to bear, Luke had drawn his spare from the shoulder holster and had it pointed at his face.
“I’d put that back away if I were you,” Luke advised, his intense gaze still focused on the man pinned underneath him.
Gary’s friend trembled. As Luke had drawn his spare, his jacket had flapped open, exposing the offset red star sewn into the silky black interior. He put his gun away, licking his lips as he said, “Red Star, Gary.”
Gary swallowed. “Y-you’re Luke Basset? The gunfighter? I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean nothing about your mama.”
Luke smiled at the recognition in the man’s voice. It was good to know that his reputation was growing. Luke Basset of the Red Star Gang had a $150 bounty and a tendency for challenging other gunfighters.
Luke let his expression grow eager. “So . . . Gary who? You were anxious for me to know. You anyone . . . famous?”
“N-no! I’m a nobody!” Gary promised. “Just a drunk railroad man is all.”
Luke looked at the other two men that shared Gary’s table. “Is that so?”
The two men nodded their heads, backing away. Luke pulled away from Gary and stepped back, letting the man sit up. He kept both guns trained on the men as Gary rubbed blood from his nose with one shaking hand.
“Then get out,” Luke said. “You bother me.”
Gary snatched up his rifle and he and his friends rushed out of the saloon. Luke smiled and put his guns away. He returned to the bar.
The Stranger shook his head and downed another wormy shot glass. “I’d have shot him.”
Hank wasn’t so pleased. “What’re you doing, Luke? Chasing away my customers? They ain’t even paid yet!”
Luke sighed and reached into his jacket pocket. He pulled out a stack of bills and peeled off a few. He smacked them down on the bar. “I didn’t want that loudmouth around anyway. I’m here to meet someone.”
Hank picked up the money and counted it quickly. “Fine, but what if those railroad men bring back the sheriff?”
“Dale?” Luke scoffed. “He won’t do anything. No one was shot.”
“Yeah?” Hank said. “Don’t forget that bounty of yours. What if they try to collect it?”
“Dale’s not so eager to bring me in. My bounty’s not big enough to make it worth his while.” He smiled. “Yet.”
The barman gave him a wary look. “Will you promise me you’re not going to shoot this person you’re meeting? Least not in here?”
Luke leaned against the counter and lifted his shot glass, gesturing for Hank to fill it. “I paid you enough to open another bottle.”
Hank frowned, but bent down behind the bar again. When he stood he was holding an even dustier bottle of mezcal, this one full. Luke could see two worms drifting lazily in the bottom. “This is my last bottle. You’re lucky I didn’t just throw it out.”
“Order more. You know we’ll be back for it,” Luke said, gesturing with his glass again.
“We?” Hank said.
Luke pursed his lips, irritated by his slipup. The Stranger chuckled again and vanished.
Luke didn’t correct himself, but waited until Hank had opened the bottle and filled his glass before saying, “Don’t worry. I’m not here planning to shoot anybody. The person I’m meeting here is an old friend.”
END OF PREVIEW CHAPTER
Let me know what you think!
It’s strange how every book and comes about in a different way. For Eye of the Moonrat, it came about from childhood fantasies; literally years of dreaming up a complex world full of characters that caught my imagination. Tarah Woodblade came by way of a different process; my cousin and I brainstorming character ideas to use in a Bowl of Souls role playing game.
Noose jumpers started as a concept for an article I wrote back in 2008 on my old blog (which was basically a humor blog filled with fictitious posts. The blog still remains HERE if you are curious, though I can’t promise the writing quality you have come to expect from me.) The idea was that Noose Jumping was a predecessor to Bungie Jumping. The ultimate rush, an Old West sport where the goal was to try to get yourself hung by committing as many crimes as possible.
That germ of an idea stuck with me for several years, evolving in complexity until it was no longer a joke concept but evolved into an idea that could become the basis for a series of books and new type of magic system. The idea turned into a point of time in the Old West where a new wave of outlaws rose from the dust and wreaked havoc, guided by mysterious powers and competing to become legends of the west. It was called the Noose Jumper Era because many of them ended their lives hanging on the loop of a noose.
When my brother, who is an independent filmmaker, spoke to me about writing something with him it came back to mind. We started talking about the possibility of putting together a pilot for a television show. We both love old westerns and the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns in particular and I brought up Noose Jumpers because I felt that it was a concept perfect for television. Together we developed it, expanding on my basic ideas. I wrote up a short film script that showcased the concept and he started putting funding together. I then started writing a script for a full pilot episode and enjoyed the ideas and characters so much that I knew I wanted to start a new series of novels based on it.
My brother put together a great group of actors and key film personnel and shot the short film back in June of 2015. Post production took months but is finally complete and the finished product is ready for your eyes and ears. Now the scene in the film you are about to watch does NOT occur in the book, so there are no spoilers. It does nicely set up the ideas that are showcased in the series, though and we hope that it could someday lead to a television or film opportunity. Please enjoy.
In addition, if you want to get an idea of how the book is going to flow, check out the preview chapter I posted a while back. The book starts with a series of bangs. http://trevorhcooley.com/noose-jumpers-preview-chapter-the-death-of-bobby-estrella/
Howdy folks! It’s time for my traditional posting of a sample chapter of my upcoming novel. This book is new and different and has been a lot of fun for me to write. It is a western and a fantasy and a mythology and I hope you enjoy it.
Now, without further ado,
“Death ain’t always the end of a man’s story. Well, for most folks it is. I mean . . . they’re dead. You stop showing up, folks forget you after a while. But for some men, those that lived and died just right, their death is just the beginning of the story.” – Old Jim, town drunk and soothsayer.
It was twelve years before the trains came to Luna Gorda. The town was located in the southeastern corner of the New Mexico Territory, just fifteen miles from the Texas border. Luna Gorda had been built around one of the minor but well-travelled roads leading to the more populated cities to the north and west. Over its two decades of existence the town had become a frequent pit stop for merchants and travelers alike.
The locals were a hardy mix of Mexican and frontier American stock and the town showed it. The buildings were an eclectic jumble of adobe, brick, and wood plank constructions. The whole assembly looked a bit slapdash on first glance, but if the buildings had one common trait it was that they were tough and made to last.
The streets of Luna Gordo were clean and usually bustling with folks going about their business. On this day, however, trouble was coming and folks knew it. The town was quiet, the streets empty.
Three boys, Tom, Sandy, and Luke, aged ten and twelve and eleven respectively, refused to stay inside like the others. Quietly, they clambered out of the second story window behind the butcher shop and stepped onto the balcony. Once certain that no one was aware of their escape, they boosted each other up and climbed onto the roof.
The boys crept up the slightly sloping roof, careful not to make a sound. Upon reaching the front of the building, they crouched behind a high point in the decorative molding and peered into the street below. The butcher shop, owned by Sandy’s parents, was located on the main street and offered the boys a prime view of the situation below.
At the center of town, right across from each other, were two buildings seemingly at odds; the saloon and the jailhouse. Old Sheriff Paul had been one of the first settlers of Luna Gorda and had ordered the buildings situated like that on purpose. Drunken men were a lot less likely to start trouble if they exited the saloon to see the law waiting to take them in. There was a rocking chair set on the porch in front of the sheriff’s office and whenever the saloon was full either one of the deputies or Sheriff Paul himself would be stationed there, waiting with a shotgun across his lap.
There was no one stationed there today, though. Sheriff Paul had grown less brash and more wise in his old age. He and his deputies waited inside, content to deal with the aftermath of events instead of becoming part of them. It was probably a smart decision because in the street between the jailhouse and the saloon were four members of the Black Spot Gang.
The Black Spots were one of the most feared outlaw bands in the region. Made up mostly of ex-miners, they were known for smudging the right side of their faces with coal dust. They stayed mainly on the Texas side of the border, holding up stagecoaches and rustling cattle. Appearances in Luna Gorda were rare, but today was different. Bobby Estrella had crossed a line with Pablo Jones, the leader of the gang, a dangerous man with an $1,100 bounty.
They were ugly brutes; rough men with hard faces. Their legs were bowed by life on horseback and they were armed, each of them wearing well-used pistols and bandoleers of bullets slung across their chests. To the boys watching from above, it seemed as if the black smears on the men’s cheeks gave them some sort of supernatural power. They gave off a predatory aura that was so tangible it distorted the air around them.
The outlaws had turned a horse cart on its side and rolled several barrels of goods away from the front of the general store to block the street. One of them had even dragged the sheriff’s rocking chair into the middle of the road and sat in it. There they lounged on their makeshift barricade, dark hats pulled low over their eyes as they sweltered under the hot sun, waiting for Luna Gorda’s famous gunfighter to make an appearance.
“You see him?” whispered Tom. The youngest and shortest of the boys, he had found himself wedged behind the other two. He couldn’t see the street beyond the barricade from his position and he didn’t dare stand taller for fear of being seen.
“Shh!” Luke hissed. Heavily freckled, the red-haired boy had fierce green eyes and thick eyebrows that knit close together when he scowled. “I ain’t seen him yet, but he’s coming. I’m sure of it.”
Sandy turned his head away from the street to look at the two of them. “Well, he’d better come quick, ‘cause if my momma finds out we’re up here, she’s gonna kill us.”
Sandy was taller and thicker than the other two boys. Helping his father in the butcher shop had helped him build some muscle on his frame. He was also the most even-tempered and often found himself having to be the voice of reason in their little troop.
“I said shh!” Luke said looking back at his friends. “No one’s worried about your momma, Sandy. It’s those Black Spots by the saloon. They might shoot us if they hear us!”
Tom grinned at Sandy’s frown. “Yeah, Sandy. Shush! Think how mad your momma will be if you get shot.”
“My whispering was quieter than either of your shushings,” Sandy replied coolly.
Tom chuckled and raised himself up higher to get a better look at the street. His eyes widened. Tom stood and pointed, forgetting in his excitement the possible danger below. Sandy quickly pulled him back down, but Tom didn’t stop his smiling. “He’s here! Bobby Estrella is here!”
The other two boys quickly looked to see Bobby round the edge of the barn at the far end of town and turn onto the main street. He rode a white horse and was wearing a white hat and a fancy shirt with red fringe on the pockets. He wore black chaps and on each thigh was sewn his signature symbol; an offset white star.
To the boys, he shone like a hero out of legend.
Bobby “Estrella” Finn was a true son of Luna Gorda. His heritage was like the town in microcosm. His father was an Irish immigrant and his mother of Mexican blood. It showed in the way his light brown hair and Anglo looks were mixed with darkly tanned skin.
His ties with the town went deeper than that, though. Bobby was orphaned as a small child and the people of Luna Gorda raised him. He was passed from home to home and was fed and taught by the community.
Bobby had been the pride of the town in his youth. The orphan was charming, easy going, smart, and not afraid to work. The nickname “Estrella”, which was Spanish for star, had been given to him because of the way his personality shone. He latched onto that name with pleasure. As he grew to his teenage years, he began introducing himself as Bobby Estrella. If someone asked about his parents, he would tell them that his father was a ghost and that his mother was Luna Gorda.
(Observer’s Note: Though the correct Spanish pronunciation of Estrella turns the two “L”s into a “Y” sound, Bobby tended to prefer the local Americanized bastardization of the word. When he introduced himself it was Bobby Estrella with the two “L”s pronounced like in the word “fella”. This created a debate in the town that went nowhere. In the end, his name was pronounced differently depending on who you were talking to.)
The locals hadn’t believed it when they first heard he had become an outlaw. Every time the sheriff would put up his wanted poster, someone would tear it down. But as his bounty grew, so did the evidence against him. People that had housed him in his youth began finding small packages of money left at their doors and each time Bobby would travel into town, he was wearing more extravagant things.
This day, Estrella’s wanted poster advertised that his bounty in the Territory of New Mexico was $1,750. He was wanted for robbery, murder, and cattle rustling, but you wouldn’t have known it from the flamboyant manner in which he entered his home town. The cocky grin on his face didn’t lessen when the Black Spots’ barricade came into view.
Riding a short distance behind him was a much less resplendent man on a skinny mule. His cheeks were sallow and he had the rumpled look of a man who had slept in his clothes for several nights in a row. He was twitching and eyeing the waiting gang nervously. The boys watching recognized him right away as Jeb Wickee, town layabout and part-time deputy. He was also Bobby Estrella’s childhood friend and local informant.
The Black Spots stood as Bobby came into view and the air of menace surrounding them intensified. Estrella slowed down as he approached and hopped down from his horse. He then turned away from them and handed the reigns to Jeb.
“Here. Hitch ‘em up. I’ll be just a minute,” Bobby said casually.
“Estrella!” shouted the tallest of the Black Spots. His name was Gil Beverly and he had a bounty of $700. He was the one that Pablo put in charge of this mission. “I wouldn’t turn my back if I was you.”
Estrella turned back to face them and shook his head. “Just what are you desperadoes doing?”
“You know why we’re here,” said Gil.
Bobby sighed. “What I meant was, what are the four of you doing sitting in the middle of the street?”
Gil blinked at the question and when he didn’t respond right away one of the others spoke up, “We’re here to keep you from gettin’ away.”
“Yeah, but it’s blazing out here. Aren’t you hot?” Estrella asked, his face etched with concern. He took off his hat and fanned his face as he walked slowly towards them. “You could have waited in the shade in front of the saloon. I wouldn’t have minded.”
“That’s enough! We know how you are, Bobby, and we ain’t putting up with your jackassery,” Gill snapped and the hands of the Black Spots twitched near their revolvers. “Pablo wants the gold you run off with. Now hand it over.”
Estrella stopped. “Jackassery?” He let out a charming laugh. “Come on, Gil, I was genuinely worried about your comfort.”
Gill growled. The street was tight with tension. The boys watching from above were riveted, their mouths gaping open in anticipation of the gunfight that would surely ensue, but Luke found his attention drawn to a strange anomaly. A man had appeared on the porch in front of the storefront next to Estrella. Luke could have sworn he hadn’t been there before.
This new stranger was leaning back against the wall in the shade, placing a lit cigar in his mouth. He was wearing a wide hat and a long black duster and as he lifted his head, Luke saw beneath the brim of his hat. The man’s face was pale and he wore a patch over his right eye. As for his other eye, it was probably just a reflection from the burning ember on the end of the cigar, but to Luke it had a supernatural gleam. There was something oddly familiar about that gleam.
“Hand over the gold or we’ll fill you with holes,” Gil promised.
Estrella didn’t respond right away. He had noticed the stranger too. Bobby turned his head to look at the man and the cocky grin slid off of his face.
“He ain’t smiling now,” mocked one of the Black Spots.
Bobby paid him no mind. The stranger let out a puff of smoke and mouthed something that Luke could not hear. Bobby cocked his head questioningly and the stranger gave him a slow nod.
When Estrella turned his attention back to the Black Spots, his smile had returned. “About that gold. I’m afraid I gave most of it away. As for the rest . . .” He spread his arms wide. “I’m wearing it.”
“Then you’re a dead man,” Gil promised.
“I doubt you brought enough men for that,” Bobby replied, dropping his arms and hovering his hand over the pearl handle of his shiny revolver.
Gil drew his gun and the rest of the Black Spots followed.
Estrella was faster. By the time Gil had raised his weapon to firing position, Bobby’s first shot had struck him in the heart. Bobby held down the trigger and fanned the hammer three more times.
Two of the other men dropped, but the fourth man was just winged. He was able to squeeze off a shot, but it went wide. Bobby shot twice more and the man fell over dead.
Bobby shook his head as he placed his gun back in its holster. “I told Pablo that if he was going to come for me he’d have to-.”
Another shot rang out.
Estrella jerked and stared down at his right leg. Blood blossomed from his thigh and ran down over his chaps, streaking the white star red. He slowly turned around.
The boys gasped. Luke’s eyes immediately searched for the stranger, but the man had disappeared from the shadows. Instead, standing in the street with a dirty pistol in his hand, was Estrella’s informant.
Bobby’s jaw dropped in shock. “Jeb?”
“Don’t bother trying to shoot me, Estrella,” Jeb replied with a sneer on his face. “You fired six shots. No bullets left.”
“But why?” Bobby asked. “Did Pablo get to you?”
The man didn’t answer, but kept his gun trained on Estrella as he walked onto the porch of the sheriff’s office. He kicked the door hard twice. “Sheriff Paul, get out here! I got a bounty to collect.”
Jeb Wickee, a man who’d never had more than fifty dollars to his name, had just become $1,750 richer.
“No way,” said Luke. Sandy and Tom couldn’t help but share his disbelief at their hero’s misfortune. The three boys watched sadly as the sheriff and his deputies apprehended Bobby and took him inside the jailhouse.
“I can’t believe that Jeb, turning Bobby in,” said Sandy with a glower. “You watch, Estrella ain’t going down this easy.”
“Yeah!” Tom agreed. “No way Sheriff Paul can keep Bobby behind bars. He’ll escape. Then Jeb will be the one that’s sorry.”
Luke wasn’t so confident. Something about the way Bobby’s shoulders had drooped as the sheriff had dragged him away gave the whole thing a feeling of permanence.
The street was soon swarming with people exclaiming over the scene. The boys climbed down from the rooftop and snuck back into Sandy’s room. They arrived just in time, because Sandy’s mother rushed in moments later and shooed his friends home.
The rest of their day flew by. Their minds were abuzz with what they had seen and they barely noticed the tedium of chores or the taste of their evening meals. They all had difficulty sleeping that night. As for Luke, his dreams were haunted by the pale-faced stranger and the glow of the cigar ember reflected in his one good eye.
The news of Bobby Estrella’s capture spread quickly through the town. The majority of them, still enamored with the charismatic boy that had grown up among them, wished for clemency. After all, he had never done any of them harm and the men he killed had all been outlaws anyway. Some of them even spoke with the sheriff, trying to get him to let Bobby go. But Sheriff Paul, though a man with many faults, was a true man of the law. He refused to do anything with the prisoner until he had heard from the judge.
Unfortunately for Estrella, Judge Wilson was not one of the town majority. He was relatively new to Luna Gorda and hadn’t known Bobby as a child. The list of Estrella’s alleged crimes was extensive and as a rancher himself, the judge found the crime of cattle rustling particularly damning. He didn’t take long to deliberate over his ruling.
Bobby Estrella was to be hung.
The week leading up to the hanging was a busy one in Luna Gorda. The town’s citizens were in an uproar over the ruling. Sandy’s mother herself brought a petition around, gathering signatures urging for a pardon. She handed it to Judge Wilson, but the man wasn’t to be swayed, not even with eighty percent of the people against him. As he reminded her, the rulings of the Judicial Branch of the American Government weren’t up for vote.
The townsfolk visited Bobby in droves. He was gracious to all of them and they kept him well fed but, despite his sparkling attitude, there was no reprieve. The gallows was built at the edge of town.
The day of the hanging was a grim one. The sky was filled with dark foreboding clouds and most of the locals, those that loved Bobby best, stayed home. Nevertheless, the area around the gallows was flooded with interested visitors. Some came with morbid curiosity. Others had more personal reasons for attending. There were a great many Black Spots in the crowd.
Luke, Tom, and Sandy were told to go nowhere near the terrible event. Of course, they ignored their parents’ edicts and snuck to the edge of town. Careful to avoid being seen by anyone they knew, the boys found a proper vantage point where they would miss nothing.
They watched as Bobby Estrella was marched up to the gallows. He gave the crowd a charming smile as he was led up onto the platform and his crimes were read aloud. Then the preacher took the stage. And since he rarely had the opportunity to preach to such an eager crowd, he made the most of it. The preacher gave a rousing sermon, prancing about and waving his Bible as he first damned Estrella’s actions, then cried to the Lord for mercy on his ever living soul.
Estrella rolled his eyes at first, but as the sermon went on, his humor left him. His face went grim and he began to stare off into the distance. Some people in the crowd craned their necks to see what he was looking at so intently, but they seemed to find nothing of note and returned their attention to the preacher.
Luke saw something different. Standing away from the crowd, next to a ragged oak tree, was the pale-faced stranger that he had seen talking to Bobby. He wore the same black hat and duster he had on the day of the gunfight and he was looking right back at Estrella.
The dark clouds above churned and their gazes remained locked, the stranger silently smoking his cigar until the preacher ran out of steam. Finally, a bag was pulled over Bobby’s head, cutting off their connection. As the noose was placed around Estrella’s neck, the stranger spat in derision and turned away.
Up to that point, Tom and Sandy had been certain that a reprieve was coming. There was no way this was the end. Somehow Estrella was going to pull some sort of trick and get away. The grim certainty of the moment hit them as the lever was pulled. The door under Bobby’s feet gave way and they gasped, closing their eyes, unwilling to see their hero die.
Luke, however, was unable to look away. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his expression was feverish as Estrella fell and jerked to a stop. Later, the scene would replay in his mind and he would throw up, but at the moment it happened, his thoughts were detached and emotionless. Was this real? Was any of it? He turned his eyes from the dead man’s twitching boots and saw that the stranger was gone.
Lightning crackled and the clouds chose that moment to release their bounty. Rain fell in a torrent and the crowd dispersed, their entertainment over. The three friends, as unafraid of getting wet as young boys are, walked sadly forward and stood before the gallows.
“I can’t believe it really happened,” said Tom.
Sandy grimaced, looking sick to his stomach. “They ain’t even gonna cut him down?”
“Maybe they will later. When it stops raining,” Tom replied. A look of determination crossed his face. “When I’m as big as Bobby, they ain’t catching me.”
“Me neither,” said Luke.
Sandy scoffed. “You two? As famous as him?”
“And why not?” Tom asked.
“You’re kids,” Sandy said dismissively.
“Everybody starts out that way,” Tom said. “What? Don’t you wanna be famous when you’re older?”
“Of course I do!” A smile crossed Sandy’s lips. “I just don’t think you can do it.”
While the other two continued arguing, Luke watched the body slowly rotating. He couldn’t take his eyes off of the hole in Estrella’s black chaps and the offset star that had been stained red with Bobby’s blood.
As he stared, the sounds of his friends talking and the falling rain faded. Luke’s eyes widened as, suddenly, the stranger was standing next to him.
For a moment it seemed as though the man was completely dry, but rain soon poured off of his black wide-brimmed hat. Luke looked up at the stranger’s face and was paralyzed with fear. Up close, the man’s face was terrible to behold. Scars crisscrossed his features, including a long one that started above his eyepatch and ended at his upper lip.
Luke realized he had been wrong. The gleam in the man eye wasn’t a reflection of the cigar’s ember. His iris gave off an internal glow of its own. He had a sudden memory of seeing that glow before, only it was two eyes instead of one.
The stranger with the demonic eye smiled and leaned in close to Luke’s ear. He spoke with a deep throaty voice, “You could be better than Estrella. You could be legends.”
There was a rumble of thunder and the man was gone. Luke’s fear vanished along with him, replaced by a strange eagerness. He swung around looking for the man, then turned to ask his friends if they had seen him, but they were still arguing.
“Like you’d shoot a man,” Sandy was saying.
“You’re the one of us that’s scared of the thought of shooting folks, Sandy,” Tom replied. “You ain’t brave like me and Luke.”
Sandy snorted. “I’m a way better shot than you.”
“Yeah, shootin’ tin cans,” Tom said.
“And prairie dogs. And rabbits,” Sandy reminded him. “Remember that rattler?”
Tom shrugged. “So you’re good at that. Whatever. We’re all good at different stuff.” He nodded, an idea forming in his mind. “Hey, I know. We should form our own gang in Estrella’s memory. We can call it, ‘Tom’s boys.’”
“We are not choosing that name,” Sandy said. He rubbed his chin. “Still, I like the idea. Three boys from Luna Gorda taking on every crooked gun in the west.”
“We could be huge,” Tom agreed.
Luke licked his lips and a feverish grin spread across his face as he echoed the stranger’s words. “We could be legends.”
THE END OF CHAPTER ONE
Thank you for reading and please let me know what you think in the comments below!
Trevor H. Cooley
Howdy folks and Merry Christmas!
It’s time to reveal the cover for my upcoming book!
Here it is and a beautiful job done by my brother, Justin Cooley. He also designed the covers for Hilt’s Pride and Hunt of the Bandham. Every aspect of the cover is symbolic to characters and events in the book.
Noose Jumpers is due out Mid January.
The book is a mix of Fantasy and Western genres and the story is about the myths and magic of the old west that are long gone to history, as told from the perspectives of three young outlaws determined to become legends. I can’t wait to share it with you.
I answered some questions about this new book in my earlier blog post here. http://trevorhcooley.com/dec-update-noose-jumpers-audioboo…/
Please feel free to ask me more in the comments!
Great news! The audiobook for Tarah Woodblade is now available for your ears!
Here is the Audible Link: http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Tarah-Woodblade-Audiobook/B01B56A6VK
It will be up on Amazon and Itunes within the next few days.
Here’s some background about the book for those who may not be familiar. This is the sixth book of The Bowl of Souls Series, but the first book of the Jharro Grove Saga. As such it is introducing new characters and a new story arc. It takes place four months after the events of “Mother of the Moonrat” and deals with the aftermath of the war. The thrust of the plot is a direct result of Lenny’s past.
Tarah Woodblade is a famous tracker and guide with unique powers who left Dremaldria at the beginning of the war. She is returning home expecting to be labeled a coward, but finds that people have developed a very different opinion. Justan and Co do not show up until the end of the book, but rejoin the series as main characters starting in book two. The main characters in the Jharro Grove Saga are Justan, Fist, and Tarah Woodblade.
I’m trying a crazy Kindle promotion right now. From January 8-11, both Book One: Eye of the Moonrat and Book Six: Tarah Woodblade are free and Messenger of the Dark Prophet is only .99!
I’m hoping to drum up some new interest and at the same time get the attention of some of those readers that for whatever reason stopped at the end of the Moonrat Saga and haven’t started the Jharro Grove Saga yet. This is an excellent opportunity also for any of you that have friends you have told the series about that are still sitting on the fence. Please share this info and let them know now. It’s a great deal!
In other news, the Tarah Woodblade audiobook narration is underway. It seems to be on track to an end of month release if all works out the way we are hoping with Audible and Itunes.
Also, the first book in my new Fantasy Western series: Noose Jumpers is getting closer to completion. Keep an eye out for a preview chapter to be posted on this site in the next few days. The cover looks great and it is looking like the short film inspired by the book is nearing completion as well. There will be more information regarding that development in the future.
As always, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments or use the contact form linked at the top of the site. Thank you!