I'm hard at work on the second book in the Ames Archives, my Western series. I won't give away the plot, but it's a lot more involved than the first book, 'Brings The Lightning'. That was basically the story of how my protagonist, Walter Ames, made it from Tennessee to Colorado after the Civil War. In this volume, he runs into a lot of trouble with a stock theft syndicate. There's robbery, arson, murder and mayhem galore.
I've just finished the first half of the book, which culminates in a tragic gunfight, setting the stage for vengeance in the second half. To whet your appetite, here's an excerpt from midway through the first half. It's set in a mining town high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Walt looked around the cantina as he mopped up the last of the savory, spicy enchilada sauce with a piece of tortilla, and popped it into his mouth. The room wasn’t large. Its four tables were all occupied with eager diners. Other men stood at the bar, glasses of beer and tequila in front of them. Several young and not-so-young women circulated, bearing trays and glasses. A hubbub of conversation in Spanish filled the smoky air. He and Isom were the only non-Mexicans there.
Walt chewed slowly, swallowed, then sighed with repletion. “Man, this is only the second day we’ve eaten here, but I already feel like I’m gettin’ fat! If I could figure out how to hire Rosa’s cook away from her, I swear I would. This is the best Mex food I’ve tasted in years.”
“It’s pretty good,” Isom mumbled through a mouthful of burrito. “Trouble is, Rosa would probably shoot you if you tried.”
“I certainly would, señor,” a woman’s voice said behind them. Walt looked up to see Rosa standing there, a slight smile on her face. “I value my cook.”
“Rosa, you must have ears as sharp as an eagle’s eyes, to hear what we were sayin’ over the noise in here!” Walt waved his hand around the cantina.
“It is my business to hear things of interest to me, señor. However, if you want a good Mexican cook, I can find you one. You hire him for your house?”
“I’m goin’ to be settin’ up a horse ranch near Pueblo. I reckon on buyin’ breedin’ stock in Mexico, an’ also hirin’ some of their mesteñeros to catch wild horses, then break and train them. I reckon they’ll prefer their own kind o’ food. The rest of us will, too, if it’s as good as yours.”
“You sound like a man of importance, señor.”
“I dunno ’bout that. I’m just tryin’ to build my business, that’s all. I did well in Denver, an’ now I’m investin’ the proceeds.”
“You must have done well, to talk so freely about buying horses south of the border. Good breeding stock is expensive. So is hiring your own team of mesteñeros. Such skills don’t come cheap.”
“I did all right.”
“He owns a freight company, too,” Isom told her. “He’s a good man to work for.”
“Indeed? Well, señor, when your horse ranch is ready, send word to me. I shall find a good cook for you – for a small fee, of course.”
“I never mind paying for good service, or for other things I need. I can be real generous.” Walt laid a gold double eagle on the table. “That’s for starters.”
Her eyebrows rose as she picked up the twenty-dollar coin, hefting it in her hand. “We do not often see one of these in here, señor.”
“You get me what I need – not just a cook – and you’ll see more of them.”
“Indeed? What else are you needing, señor?”
“Information. I –”
Walt was interrupted as the batwing doors slammed back, and a big, burly man stalked through them. His gait was unsteady, as if he’d already had more than a few drinks and was feeling their effects. He was dark-haired, with a big, bushy beard. His grubby, stained checkered shirt was tucked into black trousers that fell to mud-stained boots. A revolver was holstered at his right side, balanced by a long-bladed knife on his left. He was followed by what looked like a younger version of himself, dressed and armed in the same style, also not very steady on his feet.
Rosa hissed in anger, and started forward. The men at the bar looked around, then backed hurriedly away from the new arrivals as the bartender lowered his hands out of sight behind it.
Walt pushed back his chair, and murmured to Isom, “Stand by for trouble.”
“Got it.” Isom gently moved his chair back as well, to give himself room to move.
Rosa stepped in front of the burly man, arms akimbo, fists clenched. “I told you not to come back here, Señor Furlong!”
“Aw, shaddup, Rosa!” the man slurred, trying to focus his drink-sodden eyes on her. “I gotta wait here in town for a reply to a telegraph message, an’ I want someone to keep me warm ’till then. Here – I’ll pay.” He fumbled in his pocket.
Rosa exploded with rage. “You hurt my girl last time! She couldn’t work for two weeks! No more of them for you! You get out of here, and take your son with you!”
“Aw, you’re cute when you’re angry. Maybe I’ll take you tonight instead!” Bart’s hand shot out and grabbed her right breast, squeezing. Rosa’s eyes bugged out and she yelled in pain, pulling back, trying to free herself.
The bartender lifted his hands above the bar. They were holding a sawn-off double-barreled shotgun. He began to swing it into line, but Walt was faster. He threw himself forward, drawing his right-hand revolver, lifting it, then chopping down with vicious force, clubbing Bart over the head with the butt of the gun. The man collapsed as if he’d been pole-axed.
Isom was right behind him. As the younger man staggered unsteadily, reaching for his holstered revolver, the teamster grabbed his shoulder, spun him around, and launched a haymaker that came around with all the weight of his body behind it. It landed on the side of the man’s jaw with an audible crunching sound. His victim flew sideways, crashing into the wall with an impact that shook the room. He hung there limply for a moment, then toppled forward to land face-down on the floor.
“Thank you, señor,” Rosa said, rubbing her breast absently, her eyes on the revolver in Walt’s hand. “You are very fast with that.”
“I get by,” Walt said shortly, holstering the gun and looking round at Isom. “I heard something break – not your hand, I hope?”
“Naw,” the other replied, massaging his knuckles with his left hand. “I think it was his jaw.”
Walt bent over and rolled the younger man onto his back. Sure enough, his jaw was bent sideways. “Yeah, you got him good. He won’t be eatin’ steak for a while.”
He straightened up and looked around. All the customers in the cantina were on their feet, eyes wide, staring in stunned silence at the scene. Walt said, “You don’t want trouble with this man when he wakes up. None of you were here tonight. You saw nothing, you heard nothing, you know nothing. Understand?”
Everyone nodded solemnly.
“Right. On your way.”
The onlookers hurried out. Most stepped over or around the recumbent men, but a few trod on them, very deliberately. One spat in Bart Furlong’s face.
Walt waited until all the customers had left, then looked at Rosa. “I don’t want them to remember anything about us, or even how they got hurt tonight. Can you fix that?”
She gazed at him expressionlessly. “I don’t know what you mean, señor.”
“Oh, come on, Rosa! I’m sure you’ve had to deal with rowdy drunks before. Don’t tell me someone in your line of work doesn’t have a bottle of chloral hydrate stashed behind the bar!”
She nodded slowly. “Yes, I have.”
“Then put a good dose of it in two glasses of tequila – not too much, mind; we don’t want to kill them – an’ make ’em drink it. Hold their noses until their mouths open, then pour it into them, bit by bit. Make sure they swallow it. That’ll knock ’em out for the rest of the night. Once they’ve drunk it, dump ’em down by the creek. It’s warm enough that they should be all right there overnight. They won’t remember much when they wake up in the morning.”
“I would rather dump them in the creek, señor – face down. I would prefer that they don’t wake up at all.”
Walt shook his head. “Too risky. Even if your customers don’t talk, someone may have seen them come in here.”
“I suppose you are right,” she sighed.
“I am. Besides,” and he grinned nastily, “I’d like them to live a while longer, to savor the misfortune that befell them tonight.”
“You mean, being knocked out like this?”
“No, I mean the fire that burned their place to the ground.”
“What fire – oh!” Her eyes sparkled with sudden, savage glee.
“That’s right. If this is Bart Furlong an’ his son, a bunch of his boys stole some of my horses the other night, an’ killed one of my men. They didn’t know who I was, or they wouldn’t have done that. They won’t be doing it again. I came up here to find out who gave the orders. I reckon he needs to be taught a lesson, and I know just how to drive it home.”
“What if he finds out who you are, señor? He is a bad enemy.”
“So am I, Rosa. I can be the best friend you’ll ever have, or your worst nightmare. Take your pick. Furlong’s already made his choice, by what he did.”
“You know… I think I believe you, señor,” she murmured, staring at him intently.
“Keep an eye on him. If he finds out who I am, or he’s fixin’ to try to get even with me, warn me. Send a letter or a rider if you have time; if you don’t, send a telegraph message sayin’ that Pedro is comin’ down the mountain to see me. I’ll know what it means.”
“I will do that, señor, and I will ask others to tell me if they hear anything.”
Walt took out his notebook, scribbled a few lines, tore out the page, and handed it to Rosa. “You can reach me there.” He took a coin purse from his pocket, extracted five double eagles, and laid them on the bar counter. The bartender’s eyes, and those of the four women waiting on tables, bugged out at the sight of the gold. “This is to make up for the trade you lost tonight, and for your trouble. Keep me informed of anything I need to know, and there’ll be more where that came from.”
She scooped up the money. “You are very generous, señor.” Her eyes and voice turned coy. “Will you come back tonight? We have reason to be grateful to you; and for a man who pays so well, many pleasures can be arranged – for his friend, too.” She glanced at Isom.
He laughed. “No, we’ll head out after we pay a visit to Mr. Furlong’s place. How do I get there?” Rosa gave rapid directions. “Thanks. Look after those two for me – and don’t hurt ’em more than they are already. You don’t want ’em lookin’ for evens with you, too.”
“We will be careful, señor. Thank you.”
“Thank you, Rosa. If you need anything shipped up from Pueblo, remember, my freight business will haul it for you at good rates.”
“I will use your services, señor, and tell others about them. It will be a good way to get regular messages to you.”
“Yes, it will.” Walt turned to Isom. “Come on, let’s get our gear and collect the horses.”
That's very much a first draft, unedited and unimproved. I'm sure it'll be polished under the guidance of Castalia House before publication.
I'm having a lot of fun writing this book. I hope you'll enjoy it too.