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:
Half an Outlaw
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