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,
The Death of Bobby Estrella
“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