Some good news this morning. My latest Western novel, fifth in the Ames Archives series, "Silver In The Stones", is almost ready for publication. It should come out later this month.
A tip o' the hat to friend, and fellow author and blogger, Alma Boykin for suggesting the title. I've been battling to find the right one for over a year, and she came up with it. I owe her a more feminine equivalent of a beer. (In the Western tradition, perhaps sasparilla, Alma?)
More good news on the Western front (for World War I & II buffs, you should pardon the expression) is that the print editions of the third and fourth volumes in the Ames Archives, "Gold On The Hoof" and "A River Of Horns", are also in the works. They should come out at the same time as the new volume is published. Click either image for a larger view.
For my snippet this morning, here's an excerpt from "Silver In The Stones". Walt Ames has formed a posse and gone after a gang of outlaws who've stolen a large and valuable herd of horses from one of his friends.
By eight the following morning Walt and Esteban were shivering with cold. Their position on the far side of the basin offered good cover and concealment, but was in the shadow of the canyon wall where it narrowed again, preventing the morning sunlight from warming away the early winter chill. Unmelted patches of snow along the canyon testified to the frigid temperature.
Walt looked over at Esteban. “Why’n’t you roll up in your blanket an’ get some more shut-eye?” he suggested. “You’ll be warmer. I’ll keep watch and wake you if anything happens.”
“Thank you, señor.”
For the next two hours Walt kept his solitary vigil, staring across the basin at the ambush on the far side. He could see the two men on watch atop the right-hand ridge of the canyon, but they made no movement to suggest anything untoward. At ten he woke Esteban, and wrapped himself in his own blanket to rest a while.
He woke a short while later to find Esteban shaking his shoulder gently. “The men on the ridge are moving, señor. They are climbing down to join the others on the lower slopes.”
“That means they’ve spotted the herd,” Walt grunted as he threw off his blanket and reached for his rifle. He wished he could be with the main party, but any shooting from this side of the basin would be at long range, and would have to be accurate, which meant he and Esteban were in the best possible place for their skills and heavy rifles to be useful. He knew Matt was more than capable of leading the initial ambush.
Wriggling into position behind a conveniently placed rock, Walt took half a dozen fat brass .50-70 shells out of his pocket and lined them up where his right hand could reach them easily. He drew back the hammer to full cock, opened the chamber, checked the round already loaded and closed it, then pushed the single-set trigger forward until he heard and felt it click into place. It would now fire with a pressure of just a few ounces. He laid the rifle across a folded shirt he’d placed on top of the rock to serve as a makeshift shooting rest. Beside him, Esteban drew back the big side-hammer of his Sharps Model 1874 buffalo gun to half-cock, then lowered the lever beneath the trigger to expose the breech. He took a big .50-90 cartridge from the bandolier slung over his shoulder and loaded it, then pulled up the lever to close the breech block and drew back the hammer to full cock. He pulled the rear trigger of the rifle to set the front trigger, then, like Walt, laid the weapon across a shirt and settled himself behind it.
From their position, more than a quarter of a mile from the action, they heard only a faint, indistinct shout as Matt called on the horse thieves to surrender. His summons was clearly ignored, because it was followed a few seconds later by two thunderous explosions, echoing out of the narrow canyon and across the basin. What seemed like a torrent of horses erupted from the canyon, fanning out in all directions. Mounted men could be seen at intervals, trying to control their panicked mounts while drawing their weapons, but it was a losing battle from the start. Gunfire erupted from both sides of the canyon and from the mounted members of the posse, who closed in on the horse herd as it emerged. One by one, the thieves began to fall. More explosions followed as the men with the dynamite threw more half-sticks behind the horses, spooking them even more, preventing the men escorting them from getting organized.
Esteban exclaimed aloud, “Magnifico! Your plan worked, señor!”
Walt couldn’t help grinning. “It looks that way so far, but let’s wait and see. It’s not over yet.”
His companion nodded, pointing. “There, señor – two of them are headed this way.”
“Make that three… no, four of them now,” Walt replied. “Get ready. We’ll wait until they’re two hundred fifty yards away, then shoot. If you can’t get a clear shot at a rider, take down his horse and let our mounted men deal with him when they come up. Look, the three of them are chasing the riders now. You take the outlaws on the right. I’ll take those on the left.”
As he slid down behind his rifle and nestled its stock into his cheek, Walt noted with approval that the three posse riders were staying well out to left and right from the men they were chasing, not falling into trail behind them. Clearly, they’d taken heed of his warning the previous evening.
As he settled himself, he was struck by a memory of his fighting days during the Civil War, more than a decade before. He called, “Esteban, shoot the men at the back first. If they see the men in front go down, they’ll swerve away to the sides and we’ll have a harder time stopping them. The men at the front won’t see those behind them go down, so they’ll probably keep coming long enough for us to get them too.”
“I understand, señor.”
Walt aimed at the rearmost rider on the left and waited. As he loomed closer and closer, he steadied himself, let out a half-breath and held it, his finger tightening gently on the trigger… gently… gently…
The rifle fired, kicking back into his shoulder with a loud roar. Instantly Walt drew back the hammer to full cock and opened the breech, ejecting the empty cartridge case, reaching for another round, and loading it, then flipping the breech-block closed. It took less than two seconds to prepare the rifle to fire again. As he did so, he saw that his shot had taken effect. The rider at whom he’d aimed rocked back in his saddle, clutching his chest, then slowly slid sideways out of the saddle and bounced on the ground, rolling over several times.
Beside him, Esteban’s rifle boomed. As the Mexican reloaded, the man at whom he’d aimed somersaulted dramatically backwards off his horse, almost as if he were performing in a circus. Walt grinned tightly at the sight, then focused on his second target. This man was bent low over the neck of his horse, spurring it onward, making himself as small a target as he could. Walt felt a moment’s regret at having to kill an innocent animal rather than its criminal rider, but he had no choice. His finger tightened, and the rifle roared again.
The horse took the bullet full in its chest and stumbled, screaming, before beginning to fall. Its rider kicked his boots free of the stirrups and tried to throw himself clear, but at full gallop he had no chance of keeping his feet. He tumbled face-first into the dirt, losing his grip on his six-gun as he landed hard. Meanwhile, Walt reloaded as rapidly as before.
The rider came to his knees, then to his feet. Staring ahead at where gunsmoke betrayed Walt’s and Esteban’s position, he hurled himself towards his horse where it had come to rest, struggling, on its left side. Ignoring the animal’s anguished neighs of pain, the man grabbed the stock of his rifle where it emerged from a saddle scabbard – but by then Walt had already reloaded. He didn’t hesitate. He lined his sights at the now clearly visible outlaw, and pressed the trigger a third time. The heavy bullet streaked across the grass and slammed into the left side of the rider’s chest, penetrating his heart and bursting clear through his body, exiting through the ribs on his right side, smashing him to the ground as if by the blow of a giant hand. He didn’t move again.
Esteban had fired again as Walt dealt with the third rider. He hit the horse of the last man in the head, killing it instantly, slamming it to the ground and launching its rider head-over-heels in a tumbling jumble of limbs. The outlaw lay stunned for a moment; then, as the posse’s riders approached, he pushed himself to his knees, lifting his right hand high above his head. His left arm hung limply by his side. Over the hundred-odd yards separating them, Walt heard him yell, “Don’t shoot! I’m done! My arm’s broke!”
“Nice shooting, Esteban! Let’s go!” Walt called crisply as he came to his feet. He grabbed his rifle, ammunition, blanket and shirt and ran to where his horse was picketed a few yards behind their firing position. Esteban joined him as they hurriedly stowed their gear, then swung into their saddles and cantered towards the fallen riders.
They arrived as the three pursuing members of the posse drew up. Walt cocked his ears as gunfire sounded from the further end of the basin, where the horses had emerged, and snapped orders. “You two, head back there and help them – you too, Esteban. Your rifle may be needed. Bob, round up those two saddled horses and bring them here. We’ll need one for this man.”
He covered the injured outlaw with a revolver. As the others rode away to obey his orders, he asked, “What’s your name?”
“I – I’m Hitch Higgins.” He was a very young man, Walt saw, possibly still in his teens. The front of his pants was soaking wet. He’d clearly lost control of his bladder in his fear.
“I see you’re carryin’ a revolver on your right side. With finger and thumb only, reach down real slow, take it out o’ your holster, and drop it in the dirt. Try any tricks, or even move too fast, and I’ll drop you right alongside it.”
“I – I won’t try nothin’, mister, I swear!” There were tears in the boy’s eyes. He obeyed, dropping an old, worn cap-and-ball 1860 Colt Army model revolver on the grass.
“Can you reach the knife sheathed at your left?”
“N – not with my left arm busted, mister.”
“All right. Raise your right arm again, and don’t make any sudden moves. We’ll wait for Bob to get back.”
Bob came up within a few minutes, leading the two dead outlaws’ horses. Walt had him dismount and remove Higgins’ knife, then search him for any other weapons. He had only a few dollars in his pockets, which Bob removed to add to whatever funds they found on the other outlaws.
As Bob worked, Walt asked the prisoner, “Who are the rest of those men?” He gestured to the bodies lying behind them.
Higgins looked at him with wide eyes. “You mean you didn’t know this was Cal Spivey’s gang?”
Walt frowned. “He’s a known outlaw, but as far as I know he’d never worked in Wyoming afore. He’s mostly raided in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri an’ Iowa. What brought him here?”
“I – I dunno for sure, mister. I wasn’t one of ’em. They came to our homestead near Rock River and left three wounded men there to recover. They’d been shot. They gave my folks a couple hundred dollars an’ two hosses to look after them, and offered me two hundred if I’d help them drive the herd to Brown’s Hole. We needed the money real bad, so I did. I ain’t an outlaw, honest, mister!”
“The court will decide that,” Walt told him firmly. “You’re drivin’ stolen property, an’ that’s a crime right there, ’specially if you knew the horses were stolen. Did Spivey say anything around the fire at night ’bout why he came to Wyoming?”
“Only that cattlemen were payin’ well for gunmen to run off nesters an’ sheepherders who was tryin’ to settle on open range. He reckoned this hoss herd was just the first, and there’d be more in the spring. I know he was paid to come here, but I dunno how much or who paid him. He said they got a lot more money from the camp they attacked. They was real pleased about it.”
“I hope he enjoyed it while he had it. It won’t do him any good now. Where is he?”
The youngster lifted a shaky right arm and pointed to the second man Walt had shot. “That’s him, right there.”
“Uh-huh. Bob, help him onto a horse, then bring him after me. I’m going to take a look.”
Ignoring the groans and sharp exclamations of pain as Bob hoisted the young man into the saddle, not sparing his broken arm in the process, Walt swung into his horse’s saddle and rode across the grass to the body Higgins had indicated. Dismounting, he moved closer carefully, made sure the outlaw was dead, then removed his empty holster and a sheathed Bowie knife from his belt. He walked over to the fallen revolver, picked it up, and examined it for a moment. It had clearly been worked over by someone who knew his business, with a light, easy trigger and smooth mechanism. He unloaded it and returned it to the holster.
Walt walked back to look down at his victim for a long moment. Spivey’s face was sallow, gaunt, with a couple of what looked like knife scars on his left cheek. Allied with his lifeless, staring eyes, almost bulging out of his face, and his expression of agony, they made him look cruel, even vicious, hardly someone to be mourned. His body was thin, hard, with very little fat, obviously from a life lived in the saddle and mostly on the run from the law. His grimy shirt had once been a checked blue-and-white pattern, but was now almost completely red with the blood that had poured out of the two wounds in his torso. It was already hardening to a crust.
Walt turned to Spivey’s dead horse, dragging the saddlebags out from under it and opening each in turn. He hissed in satisfaction as he saw thick bundles of banknotes and sacks of coin. This would be part of the money stolen from Pablo and Vicente. He had no doubt they’d find more among the other outlaws’ effects. He took the rifle from the saddle scabbard, slung the bags and Spivey’s weapons over his saddle horn, then remounted as Bob came up with his prisoner.
“Let’s check the rest o’ the men Esteban and I shot. Did the posse take any more prisoners?”
“Not that I saw, boss.”
Walt shrugged. “Iffen those critters wouldn’t have it any other way, I’m happy we obliged them. Men like these mostly need killin’, anyway.”
As they set off, Walt looked around. The stolen herd had scattered in all directions into the basin. As the noise of the fight ceased, the fleeing horses had slowed and stopped, looking around nervously. A few had already begun to graze on the still lush autumn grass. They all looked as if they needed food. They’d clearly been driven far too hard. Their ribs were showing against their hide, and all of them had lost the fat they should have been putting on in preparation for winter.
There you go. Short, sharp Western action. I hope you enjoyed it, and the book when it comes out in a couple of weeks.