In Lou Prophet’s lawless West, justice comes from the barrel of a gun—his gun. Peter Brandvold’s acclaimed two-fisted Westerns tell of the bloody days (and thrilling nights) of the bounty hunter called Prophet, and the dangerous woman he dared to love. . . .
BLOOD AT SUNDOWN
Lou Prophet and the deadly Louisa Bonaventure have torn a bloody swath across Dakota territory in search of the Griff Hatchley gang. When they finally catch up to them, an epic blizzard threatens to turn the Dakota prairie into a frozen hell. To bag their prey before the storm hits, Prophet and Louisa split up—and take separate paths towards damnation.
DEATH IN THE SNOW
Prophet’s course takes him into a town packed to the gills with the deadliest outlaws that roamed the frontier, while Louisa gets caught in Sundown, a one-horse town where a hatchet-wielding maniac threatens to paint Main Street red. When spring’s thaw comes, they’ll find a city of corpses beneath the snow.
And nobody gives a damn about the law . . .
“Here’s a writer with the hot, fast violence of the early Mickey Spillane and the guts to write what he wants.”—Tom McNulty, Dispatches From the Last Outlaw
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Lou Prophet quietly pumped a fresh cartridge into the action of his Winchester '73, off-cocked the hammer, and turned to his partner. "How you wanna play this one?"
Louisa Bonaventure lay belly down on the face of the bluff beside him. She turned to him, one pretty hazel eye arched. "Are you all right, Lou?"
"No, I ain't all right. I'm in Dakota Territory. It's winter. It's colder'n a gravedigger's behind. There are sundry parts of myself I haven't felt since we left Deadwood early last week. In fact, I'm not sure everything's still where it's supposed to be and hasn't frozen off. I fear when I finally pull off my moccasins, my toes are going to come rollin' out of my socks like dice off a craps table. I need a hot toddy worse than I ever needed one before, worse than I ever hope to again. That said, why do you ask?"
"You asked me how I wanted to play this one. You usually like to call it yourself since no one — especially a woman — is as smart as you are."
"Oh, that. Well ..." Prophet shrugged then, chuckling, turned his attention to the rambling, wood-frame roadhouse nestled in the snowy hollow down the bluff's far side. A skein of gray smoke curled from the building's large, stone chimney poking up from the pitched roof, behind the broad front veranda. "You called it right the last coupla times. You seem to have an eye for strategy ... when your neck ain't in such a hump you can't see straight."
Prophet scowled over at her. "You don't got your neck in too big a hump to see straight, do you? I can usually tell — not by an actual hump but usually by how quiet you've been on the trail. Like a whiskey still about to blow from an overheated firebox. You can't hear nothin' until all of a sudden all hell breaks loose and your britches have caught fire an' your ears are ringin' to whistle 'Dixie'! I can also tell by the color in your cheeks. Usually, when your blood's in a boil and you're primed to go off half-cocked, to start shootin' at folks left an' right with those pretty Colts of yours, your cheeks are as red as the yams ole Ma Prophet used to grow in her garden patch."
Louisa gazed stone-faced down over the barrel of her Winchester carbine at the roadhouse below.
The trail of the thieving killers had led her and Prophet here, several days north of Bismarck. Judging by the tracks they'd been following along the old stage and army road north of Devil's Lake, all six killers were likely warming themselves with whiskey, women, and the fire popping in the stone hearth down yonder, while Prophet and his comely blond partner, Louisa Bonaventure — the infamous, notorious Vengeance Queen herself — lay belly flat against the frozen slab of this haystack butte lightly dusted with a recent Dakota snow.
The bones of Lou Prophet, born and bred in the warm and humid climes of north Georgia, were rattling from the cold. He couldn't feel his toes inside his high-topped, fur-lined moccasins. True, the Georgia mountain winters could be cold, but not like this. He thought he could feel the temperature plummeting like a bucket down an empty well. His breath frosted in the air before his face, freezing in the bristles of his nearly two weeks' worth of sandy beard.
Louisa turned to him slowly. Slowly, she blinked her long, catlike hazel eyes. "Two things we know for sure haven't frozen off of you, Lou."
"Oh? What two things are that, pray tell?" Prophet gave her a lusty smile. "Keep it clean, Miss Bonnyventure. This ain't the time nor the place for your farm talk."
"Your vocal cords."
Prophet shrugged with chagrin. "Well, shit, you know ... I just know how you get when the devils we find ourselves on the trails of have killed women or children. And, you know, when these devils robbed that bank over Wyoming way, they ... they ... well, let's just not talk about it. I'm sorry I even brought it up, consarn my big mouth, anyway!"
"They kidnapped two young female tellers and held on to them, using them for their pleasure until they tired of them and tossed them away along the trail like used-up airtight tins but not without cutting their throats first."
Prophet ground his molars. "Damn my big mouth, anyway!"
"You go around back," Louisa said. "There must be a back door since there's a privy back there. I'll wait here until I see you're in position. Then I'll head on down the butte and go in the front."
"Like a proper lady."
Louisa sighed tolerantly as she continued staring down her carbine's barrel.
"That sounds all right to me, but don't you start thinkin' I'm a back-door sort of fella." Prophet grinned at her.
Louisa cast him a dull stare. He used to get that look from the schoolmarm back home, on the rare occasion he'd attended classes, that was. He was usually admonished with such a look after he'd slipped a snake into the girls' privy or had brought an old, dangerous blunderbuss to school to shoot squirrels during recess, or sundry other misdeeds his pa would later haul him out to the woodshed for.
Only, the schoolmarm hadn't been half or even a quarter as easy on the eyes as Louisa was, and she hadn't cut as fine a figure as Louisa did, either — though Prophet had to admit he'd never seen Mrs. Darryhemple in a snug pair of Levi's or a skintight pair of boy's-sized longhandles like the ones Louisa tended to wear in cooler climes, under her Levi's and tight wool shirts. Not that he would have wanted to see Mrs. Darryhemple in those clothes. Louisa, on the other hand, he could stare at all day ... and all night ... especially when she wasn't wearing anything at all.
Now he returned her flat, incriminating stare, trying not to imagine how she might look later standing before that popping hearth down there, the fire silhouetting her willowy, high-busted, round-hipped body, and shrugged.
"All right, I can see you're losing patience with this old rebel, Miss Starchy Bloomers," Prophet said, "so I won't tarry any longer."
Prophet leaned forward and planted a kiss on her peach-colored right cheek, enjoying the warmth, the smoothness, and the softness of her skin. "You just be careful, understand, Miss Starchy Bloomers? Without you, this old Confederate would be a drunkard and a fool, totally unmoored."
"We wouldn't want that to happen," Louisa said, rolling her eyes.
Prophet crabbed backward down the hill. When he was nearly to where Louisa's pinto and his own horse, the appropriately named Mean and Ugly, stood tied inside a fringe of bur oaks and cedars at the base of the butte, Louisa said just loudly enough for Prophet to hear:
Prophet stopped crawling and looked up at her, brows raised.
Looking back at him over her left shoulder, Louisa held his gaze with a stern one of her own. "You be careful, too."
He gave her a wink then turned toward Mean and Ugly. He plucked his sawed-off, double-barreled, twelve-gauge Richards coach gun from his saddle, broke open the nasty-looking gut-shredder to make sure both tubes were wadded, then snapped it closed and slung its leather lanyard over his head and right shoulder, letting the shotgun hang down his back.
The gut-shredder cleaned up well at close range in tight quarters. He'd save it for inside the roadhouse, if he needed it.
He picked up his Winchester and felt hot breath on his neck. He jerked his head away from his horse just in time to avoid a nasty nip to his earlobe, which protruded slightly from the muffler securing his hat to his head.
"Doggone it, Mean — you cussed cayuse!" Prophet wheezed, slamming his left, mittened fist against the horse's stout jaw. "You're plumb evil, you know that!"
The horse turned its head away, laying its ears back against its head, grinning and whickering softly in satisfaction with itself.
"Wicked hayburner," Prophet muttered, adjusting the muffler so that it covered his ear, then moved into the trees beyond both mounts. "The glue factory is too good for you. Oughta just put a bullet through your plug-ugly head!"
But then, he'd been saying that for years ...
He jogged through the woods that encircled the hollow, keeping an eye on the rambling roadhouse through the tangled branches.
The building was flanked by a barn with a hole in its roof, a corral, a privy, a springhouse, and an old Hal-laday Standard windmill that sat askew on one broken leg. The roadhouse had fallen on hard times since a spur railroad line, completed only last year, now spoked north out of Bismarck for a hundred miles just east of here, rendering obsolete the mule and ox teams that had once pulled big Murphy freight wagons along the old stage and army road on which the roadhouse sat. Those teamsters had once stopped here overnight to indulge themselves in a hot meal, a glass or two of stiff busthead, and a warm bed.
Now, of course, the iron horse hauled the freight the stout-wheeled, high-sided Murphys had once carried, leaving the roadhouse sitting high and dry, so to speak, likely patronized by only the occasional cowpuncher off area ranches, woodcutters, and market hunters, maybe the rare cavalry patrol out of Fort Totten near Devil's Lake. Now and then a begging Indian — a Sisseton, Wahpeton, or Cut-Head Sioux — too proud or restless to be confined to the agency, probably hoofed it by here on a broom-tailed cayuse with painted rings around its eyes, pausing for a free cup of whiskey and a plate of beans.
Breathing hard from the jog, Prophet pulled up behind a stout oak and turned to the roadhouse. He was parallel now with the western rear corner. He could see a back door from his vantage atop a low rise, roughly sixty yards from the building itself. A half a dozen horses milled in the corral off the slumped log barn, munching hay from a crib, their collective breath rising like fog in the air that was darkening now as the winter sunlight, filtering through high steel-colored clouds, waned.
Prophet dropped to a knee, drawing the raw, cold air into his lungs. Holding his rifle in his right hand, clad in a deerskin mitten over a thin wool glove, he clenched his left hand into a tight fist, trying to work some blood into his numb fingertips, cursing the chill air at these northern prairie climes, berating his bad luck at having been lured this far north this late in the year, on the trail of lucrative bounties carried by a notorious gang of thieves, rapists, and cold-blooded killers, when he should be a good five hundred or so miles south of here, heading even farther south, toward Mexico, where he'd planned to winter along the sandy shores of the Sea of Cortez, sunning himself with a couple of supple seÃ±oritas.
He'd just taken his Winchester into his left hand and was working blood into his right-hand fingers when a woman's shrill scream exploded inside the roadhouse. It was like a coyote's bereaved wail. Fast footsteps sounded on the heels of the cry — feet pounding raw wooden floorboards.
Prophet swung his gaze back toward the roadhouse in time to see the rear door fly open. A woman shot out of the door like a shell from a Napoleon cannon. Clad in a long buffalo robe and moccasins, she leaped off the small rear wooden stoop and into the backyard, running fast, loosing another shrill, horrified cry, and bolted straight back in the direction of the barn.
She was young and slender, with long brown hair, which flew back behind her in the wind as she tripped on something, nearly fell, then, regaining her balance, continued running straight out toward the barn. She looked profoundly delicate and nearly marble-white against the drab winter colors of the barnyard, even inside the bulky robe she wore.
"Oh no, oh no," Prophet said, his heart quickening.
Boots thundered inside the lodge behind the fleeing girl. A man burst out the door and onto the stoop, raising a rifle to his shoulder, bellowing, "Come back here, you little hussy!"
"No!" Prophet heard himself yell as he ran out from behind the tree.
The rifle of the man on the roadhouse stoop cracked twice, smoke and orange flames lapping from the barrel. The girl screamed and continued running toward a front corner of the barn.
The shooter ran off the stoop and into the yard, pumping another round into his rifle's action.
Running down the slope toward the roadhouse, Prophet shouted, "Stop!"
The man fired twice more. The girl jerked with both shots, bending forward as she continued running. Her knees buckled just as she gained the barn's front corner. She hit the ground and rolled wildly.
"Son of a buck!" Prophet dropped to a knee.
He thought he was within range now of accurate shooting. He chewed off his right-hand mitten, let it drop to the ground, then pumped a round into the Winchester and raised the rifle to his shoulder. As he did, the shooter swung toward him.
Prophet fired, the Winchester '73 kicking back against his shoulder. He was breathing too hard and his fingers were too cold for accurate shooting. That bullet and the next one he sent hurling toward the girl's shooter plumed snow-dusted dirt in the yard beyond the man.
Prophet quickly stuffed his mitten into his coat pocket, heaved himself to his cold feet, and resumed running down the slope. There was little cover between him and the yard — only a couple of widely scattered, small boulders and brush clumps.
"Hell!" the shooter cried as two more men came running out of the roadhouse to his right. "That's Lou Prophet!" he bellowed. "I knew I seen that ole rebel devil on our back trail! Ringo, saddle our hosses! I'll try to hold him off!"
The third man running out of the roadhouse glanced over his shoulder to yell through the open door, "It's Lou Prophet! Cut an' run, fellas! Cut an' run!"
The first man ran to the edge of the barnyard and dropped to a knee behind a boulder little bigger than a rain barrel. He poked his rifle over the top of the boulder and fired two quick rounds. The first bullet sliced a hot line across the outside of Prophet's right cheek while the second bullet nipped the sole of his left moccasin.
The bounty hunter cursed as he dropped and rolled up against a small, thick clump of shadbush growing up around a rock about the size and shape of a wheat shock.
From inside the roadhouse came the horrified cry of another young woman.
"Damnation!" Prophet spat out through gritted teeth. "They're gonna kill the girls, the blackhearted sons o' witches!"
Rising onto his right knee, he glanced over the shadbush thicket, toward the hill on which he'd left Louisa. His stomach fell.
Louisa was running down the hill toward the roadhouse. She was halfway between where Prophet had left her and the front of the roadhouse, running hard, her hat, secured to her neck by its horsehair thong, flapping behind her on the wind, her honey-blond hair bouncing on her shoulders, clad in a green and brown wool coat that dropped to halfway down her shapely thighs. The cuffs of her Levi's were stuffed down inside her high- topped, rabbit fur boots.
She clutched her Winchester carbine in her black-gloved right hand. She'd stuffed her heavy fur mitten into a pocket of her coat. Even from this distance, Prophet could see the gravely determined expression on her face, the menacing chill in her hazel eyes.
She'd turned her wolf loose, and the devil take the hindmost!CHAPTER 2
"Louisa, hold on!" Prophet said. "Now ain't the right time to go in there, damnit!"
He pulled his head down as rifles thundered from straight ahead of him. Bullets plunked into the face of his covering rock.
They snapped branches off the shadbush thicket and threw them up over his head. Two tumbled onto his hat, which he'd tied to his head with his spruce-green muffler, covering his ears so they wouldn't freeze, turn black, and fall off.
Edging a look around the rock, he now saw five men — three in various states of dress. Four were spread out near the first man, triggering their rifles toward Prophet while another man, with long, bushy muttonchop whiskers and wearing a fawn-colored rabbit hat with earflaps, just then threw a saddle, saddlebags, and a rifle over the top corral slat, into the corral, then climbed in after them. His woolly chaps flapped around his legs.
Prophet snaked his rifle over the top of the rock and began returning fire, first planting a bead on the man who'd shot the girl, and squeezing the trigger, feeling a lurch of satisfaction as the girl-killer's right eye was turned to jelly as the .44 slug punched through his head.
Lou drew his head and rifle back down behind the rock as the other three men, on knees and spaced about ten feet apart outside the corral, threw lead at him. As they did, he heard glass breaking and peered around the rock's right side to see two more men busting out two of the roadhouse's side windows and poking their rifles through the sashed frames.
Those rifles, too, began barking, stitching the air around him with screaming lead.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Blood at Sundown"
Copyright © 2019 Peter Brandvold.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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