Ex-lawman Nate Sathow never cared much for the letter of the law. But when he was hired to kill former preacher Frank Waverly, Nate’s sense of justice stayed his hand. Now Nate and Frank ride together—an unlikely pair specializing in tracking down escaped outlaws.
For their latest job, Nate and Frank must first round up a few men who know their way around trouble. Once gathered, the ragtag souls set their sights on one Casey “Dog Ear” Pescaterro—a depraved killer with a hefty price on his head. There are plenty of rumors about how he got his nickname—each one bloodier than the next. Since breaking out of jail, he has been gathering a posse…for what, nobody knows. Ordinary lawmen are too scared to find out. And now it’s up to Sathow and his sinners to put Dog Ear back in his cage.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“What can I get for ya?” the scrawny bartender asked.
Some folks thought the world was a stage. For Nate Sathow, it was a madhouse. One big, sprawling madhouse. That didn’t necessarily make the world a terrible place to be. The sun rose and set in the sky above a madhouse. Cool winds blew around it. Any walls could provide shelter, warmth, or be filled with the scents of freshly baked pies. But make no mistake. It was still a madhouse. The moment a man lost sight of that, he allowed himself to be locked away with the other lost souls.
“What’s the matter, Nate? You look troubled.”
The man who’d asked that question rode a tired gray mare that most other men would have sold or put out to pasture long ago. But Francis Waverly didn’t give up on any living thing, no matter how poorly regarded by others. As far as Nate could tell, that was the reason Frank associated with those who might be called dregs or unsavory characters by more respectable portions of the world. It’s also why Frank wore the plain black shirt and white collar of a preacher whether he had a congregation listening to him or not. His wasn’t a blind or childish sort of hope. It had been tempered by fire, which was why Frank also wore a gun. Two of them, in fact. A man could have buckets of faith in his god or fellow mortals, just so long as he didn’t let it impede his common sense.
Nate hacked up a breath that had been festering in the back of his throat since his last cigar had gone out, looked over at Frank and told him, “Ain’t troubled. Just thinking about madhouses.”
Frank nodded while looking up at the clear Missouri sky. “Suppose it’s as good a time as any for that sort of thing.” He savored the touch of a passing breeze against his cheek before shifting his gaze toward a sprawling old mansion at the end of the trail. “Perhaps it’ll be a short visit. He may not even be here.”
“He’s here. Not like this is the first polecat I’ve tracked through a field.”
“Three fields,” Frank corrected. “And don’t forget the two towns, four camps and three rivers in between.”
Smiling didn’t come easy to Nate Sathow, or perhaps it just didn’t come often. Most folks didn’t spend enough time in his company to decide which. Wide through the shoulders, he filled out his battered duster like a hastily piled stack of bricks. Callused hands gripped the reins of a spotted gelding he’d purchased with the profits he’d made hunting down a pair of escaped killers from Wichita. A .44 Remington was holstered across his belly where it could be quickly drawn in a pinch. The smirk on Nate’s face parted a sea of salt-and-pepper stubble on his chin and bent the scar that ran from the corner of his left eye, along his cheek and around to the lower portion of his ear. “He did give us a run, didn’t he?”
“Nothing we’re not used to. I recall a couple of robbers who led us through every bayou in Louisiana.”
“The Frimodt brothers,” Nate groaned. “Crossed paths with them within a few days of meeting the fellain that house up yonder. They put the fear into an entire county when they busted out of that sorry excuse for a jail in Baton Rouge and shot at you every chance they got.”
Frank looked over to the man beside him and asked, “Why is that? You were there just like I was. In fact, you were the one riding up front with the shotgun in your hands the first time we caught sight of the Frimodts. Why was I the one in their sights?”
“Maybe they don’t like preachers,” Nate replied.
Scratching at his white collar as if it had suddenly gotten a little tight, Frank said, “What kind of nonsense is that? Why would they hold a grudge against preachers?”
“I may be the one shooting at these dogs, but you’re the one tellin’ ’em their souls will burn afterward.”
Frank recoiled as if he’d been struck. “I make it a point to say nothing of the sort!” After a hard glare from Nate, he added, “Not on a regular basis, anyway.”
The grin left Nate’s face once he spotted a large sign posted alongside the trail that read McKeag Sanitarium—Visitors report directly to front desk. Do not approach patients.
“Perhaps I should be the one to go inside,” Frank offered.
“I’ve tracked down worse than this one,” Nate said. “After all the trouble we been through to get this far, I ain’t about to hang back now. Besides, you should be outside in case there’s trouble.”
“Only trouble you’re likely to find is the trouble you make. I’ve visited plenty of sick folks. They don’t need someone coming in and—”
“The only sickness those folks got is between their ears,” Nate snapped. “And I ain’t about to ruffle any feathers. I’m the one in charge of finding this fugitive, so I should be the one to speak to whoever’s running this asylum.”
The trail widened a few yards beyond the sign. Judging by the ruts worn into the dirt veering to the right toward a large carriage house, plenty of wagons made the trip to McKeag Sanitarium. Frank reined his horse to a stop and allowed Nate to continue on his own. “If you don’t want to ruffle feathers with the staff, you probably shouldn’t call this place an asylum,” he called out as Nate was still moving down the path leading to the mansion’s front porch. “It’s a hospital. Better yet, don’t call it anything. Just be respectful. You hear me?”
“Yes, Ma,” Nate grumbled under his breath so just his horse could hear. “Every loon in this damn place can hear you.”
After swinging down from his saddle, Nate tied his horse to a hitching post next to a watering trough, patted the gelding on the neck and climbed the steps to the sprawling front porch. Rocking chairs were situated along the front of the house, one of which was occupied by a young woman with stringy hair and vacant eyes. Nate tipped his hat to her as he strode toward the front door. She watched him for a moment, lowered her head and curled herself into a ball between the rocker’s arms.
Inside, the place looked like anything but a mansion. The wide, luxurious spaces of the original design were now smaller rooms partitioned by walls that smelled of freshly cut pine. The desk, a few paces in and to the right of the main entrance, reminded Nate of one that would be found in a hotel. He stepped up to it, removed his hat and addressed the large, stern woman seated behind it who was dressed in a simple, starched dress.
“Pardon me, ma’am. I’d like to have a word if I may.”
She looked him up and down with eyes that had seen more than their share of just about everything ugly in the human condition. “Are you visiting someone?”
“Not as such. I’d just like to ask a few questions.” Although Nate’s years as a lawman were well behind him, he’d hung on to a few relics from those days. Most were badges he’d stolen from the lawmen who’d employed him. Those tin stars weren’t just handed out like candy, so he would explain their loss by claiming once they were ripped from his chest lost in a fire during a bloody shootout that was still talked about in parts of west Texas another time. He reached into his inner coat pocket for one of the smaller pieces of tin with the word DEPUTY engraved in simple lettering. That one, he’d pocketed after riding with a posse in the Dakota Territories. After the hell he went through in the Badlands for so little pay, he didn’t feel the first twinge of guilt about the theft. Today, it served to grease the wheels with the woman behind that desk.
Her face brightened somewhat and she sat up while asking, “What can I do for you?”
“I’m here to inquire about someone that may be in your care. Probably only just got here in the last few weeks and might have mentioned spending some time in—”
“Stop that man! He’s armed!”
Nate instinctively reached for the pistol in his holster when the voice shattered the calm within the fancy house. He quickly realized, however, that the stomping steps rattling the floor were coming from above his head instead of from anywhere close to him. The woman behind the desk came around to push him toward the door.
“You’ll have to step outside,” she said. “We can handle this.”
“But I . . .”
“We don’t need any heavy hands in our sanitarium. We are well versed in keeping our patients in line.”
Once the stampede had worked its way to the left side of the house, Nate could pick out the sounds of bare feet slapping heavily against stairs. He allowed himself to be pushed toward the door, if only to get a look into the next room that was filled with more rockers, bookshelves that reached all the way to the ceiling and a wide staircase with a sloping polished banister. A skinny man wrapped in a flimsy cotton gown came down those stairs in a jumble of bony arms and legs. Even though he somehow remained upright, he stumbled in such a rush that it was impossible for Nate to tell if he was racing down to the ground floor or falling.
“Stop right there!” another man shouted from higher up the staircase. “This is just soup! I’m bringing you your lunch. No need for any of this.”
Extending a long arm up the stairs, the man in the gown pointed up at whoever had spoken and shrieked, “I know what you monsters put in that soup! It’ll twist my mind! It’ll put me to sleep! And when I’m twisted and asleep you’ll . . . you’ll . . . there’s no telling what you’ll do!”
A young man wearing plain black pants and a rumpled white shirt eased his way down the stairs, closely followed by reinforcements that outweighed him by no fewer than forty pounds each. “Take it easy now. Aren’t you hungry?” the smallest orderly asked.
Nate had almost been tossed outside when the screaming man at the bottom of the stairs pulled a paring knife from where it had been stashed beneath his gown. “None of you are gonna get your hands on me!” he shouted before snapping his wrist and sending the knife whistling through the air to skip along the wall. While the men coming down the stairs ducked to avoid the flying silverware, the man in the gown pulled another knife and several other pieces of cutlery from wherever he’d been hiding them.
“I’ll burn this corner of hell down before I let one more atrocity get committed here!” the lunatic screamed as he threw another knife.
The young orderly was shoved aside as one of the bigger men vaulted down the stairs, launching himself toward the ranting patient with both arms outstretched. Somehow, the man in the gown managed to hop back and gain enough footing to perch upon the sill of the closest window. He remained there for less than a second before gravity dragged him down again. By the time his feet touched the floor, the second big fellow was coming at him.
“You’ll have to leave, sir,” the woman from the front desk said as she continued herding Nate toward the main entrance. “We have a situation here.”
“Sure as hell do,” Nate grunted as he put his back to her and raced outside on his own. The door was immediately slammed shut behind him, which did nothing to mask the sounds of struggle from within the house.
“Need a hand?” Frank asked from his saddle.
“Just stay put and watch the road,” Nate shouted as he stomped past the girl in the rocker to run along the wide porch toward a corner of the mansion. “Make sure nobody gets to that carriage house!”
Before Nate could round the corner, two men shattered a window and spilled outside. One of the big orderlies landed heavily on his back with the man in the gown on top of him. Nate drew his pistol and roared, “Both of you stop!”
Neither man was listening. The slender one in the gown thumped a fist against the orderly’s shoulder and cocked his other hand up over his head like a hammer he intended to drop. His raised fist was wrapped around a shiny fork with three wickedly long tines. Nate sighted along his barrel for as long as he dared before squeezing his trigger. The Remington bucked against his palm, sending its bullet through the middle of the crazy man’s improvised weapon.
Before Nate could follow up, a heavy hand dropped onto his shoulder and spun him around so he could look into a pair of dark eyes set within a red face atop a thickly veined neck. “No guns around the patients!” a muscular orderly said. “Hand it over, or you’ll be hurt worse than him.”
The woman from behind the front desk came outside, hollering, “He’s a deputy!”
The orderly let Nate go and grunted, “Just step aside and let us do our jobs.”
Suddenly, something poked Nate in the shoulder. It was a sharp, jabbing impact from something much narrower than a fingertip. When the object fell onto his boot, Nate looked down to find the severed handle of the fork that had been in the patient’s hand. Less than a second later, something else hissed through the air. The orderly let out a surprised yelp and twisted around to reach over his shoulder. Lodged in the thick meat a few inches below the back of his neck and just out of his reach was another fork from the same set that had been stolen by the patient.
Another orderly climbed through the window and was promptly dispatched by a spoon. Its tip cracked solidly against the bridge of the orderly’s nose, causing the young man to stagger. The patient shoved him back through the window and then bolted for the carriage house.
“To hell with this place!” the escaping madman hollered. “And to hell with all of you!”
By the time Nate yanked the fork from the orderly’s back and shoved him aside, he was nearly tripped up by the one with the spoon welt on his face, who was tentatively climbing through the window again. “I’ll handle this,” Nate said as he sped by. That was enough to convince the orderly to climb right back inside again.
The crazy man rushed toward the carriage house, his hands outstretched and his fingers clasping in anticipation of opening the door to get to a horse. A rifle shot cracked through the air, spitting a round to knock a hole into the upper corner of the wide wooden structure. Still in his saddle, Frank levered another round into the Winchester he’d just fired and sighted along the top of its barrel.
“I knew it!” the crazy man shouted without even taking the time to look in Frank’s direction. “Everyone at this place wants me dead!” He changed his direction faster than a jackrabbit and darted around the carriage house.
“He’s making for the woods,” Frank said.
Nate was already running to catch up to the escapee, leaving the sanitarium and its workers behind. “I see him, damn it.”
“Want my help now?”
“No! Just stay put.”
Knowing that Frank was surely grousing about how stubbornness was some kind of sin, Nate kept moving. About twenty yards ahead of him, the escaping patient ran, his loosely fitted gown flapping around his legs. Bare feet dug into rich soil warmed by the ever-present humidity of a waning Missouri summer. Insects darted through the air, growing thicker in the short distance between him and a dense patch of trees that stood like a wall at the edge of the McKeag property line.
“Stop!” Nate shouted.
The crazy man didn’t spare the time it took to look over his shoulder. Instead, he pumped his arms even harder to build up steam before vaulting over a log that lay half-buried in a mess of weeds and dirt.
Nate fired a quick shot into the air, which did nothing to slow the other man down. Even a lunatic would most likely know that anyone who had a prayer of gunning him down wouldn’t be able to do it while at a full run. Unwilling to holster the pistol, Nate pushed himself until the muscles in his legs started to burn and made certain to keep an eye open for that log. He launched himself over the obstacle, clearing it with significantly less space than the man who was just about to reach the cover of the trees.
Skidding to a halt, Nate stretched out one arm so it could be used to steady the Remington. His breathing was heavy enough to be a problem, so he swallowed a gulp of air and ignored the pounding of his heart while taking aim. The first time he squeezed the trigger, he knew his shot was wide. Nate kept track of where the crazy man was headed using the edge of his vision. Then he shifted his aim a bit and fired again.
Although his bullet struck exactly where it was supposed to, it still wasn’t enough to get the job done. Nate fired again, blasting through the rest of the branch he’d picked out until the entire gnarled length of wood toppled from its tree. Its thicker end dropped to form a rough barrier in the path the crazy man meant to take.
The man in the gown leapt without breaking stride and for a moment, it seemed he might actually clear the branch in front of him. Although his right leg made it over the obstruction, his left snagged on the branch and brought him down amid a storm of flailing limbs and foul language.
Nate put everything he had into his strides. His boot twisted at a painful angle thanks to what could have been a rabbit’s hole, but he kept charging forward. Even when something silver whistled past his head, he kept going. The crazy man had gotten to his feet by now, so Nate ran even harder.
Having chased more fugitives than he could count, Nate could feel all the way down to the marrow in his bones when he was close enough to capture another one. The rest of the world and all of its other inhabitants faded away as he focused on the skinny man in the filthy cotton gown. That man headed deeper into the woods, moving faster than most creatures on two legs could despite the limp marring every other step. Nate didn’t waste time in firing another shot or taking the breaths needed to form any more words. He simply tore after his prey as if it was what he was put on God’s earth to do.
Sunlight barely touched this stretch of wooded ground, stabbing through between a leafy canopy the wind was constantly moving and the birds that called those boughs their home. Nate could tell the crazy man was catching his second wind and would eventually find a way to prolong this chase or make it a whole lot worse. Slowing to a jog, Nate aimed his Remington from the hip and fired two shots. They hissed wide and to the right of the fleeing lunatic but were enough to convince him to circle around the other side of the tree directly in front of him toward a much harder path.
The man in the gown had to leap over another log, and once he was airborne, it was too late to dodge the stump behind it that was partially buried in mulch. Screaming like a banshee, the lunatic hit the stump and landed in the bushes.
Nate rushed forward to leap over the log headfirst. It wasn’t a graceful landing, but most of his weight dropped onto the thrashing lunatic’s back. Before the crazy man could get his bearings, Nate grabbed one of his wrists and jammed it up tight against his back. Just as his elbow was reaching its limit, the patient attached to it twisted around to relieve the tension and pull his arm loose. He squirmed out from under Nate’s weight then scrambled to his feet and started to run again, unmindful of the fact that Nate still had a hold of his gown.
Using the crazy man’s momentum to help pull him up, Nate tightened his grip on the muddied garment and dug his heels into the ground. When the man’s gown snapped taut, Nate hauled back and pulled him to a halt. No matter how fired up the crazy man was, he couldn’t outmuscle his pursuer, and when it became clear that the man in the gown was still going to put up a fight, Nate dragged him around and swung him into the nearest tree. The lunatic bounced off its trunk and fell awkwardly onto his back.
Nate took a knee beside him, placed the Remington’s barrel against the other man’s forehead and thumbed back its hammer. There wasn’t anything better than that metallic click to catch someone’s attention.
Breathing heavily, the escaped patient blinked and smiled up past the revolver. “As I live and breathe,” he said with a hint of a Virginia drawl, “is that Nate Sathow?”
“It sure is. How’s life treating you, Deaugrey?”
“I seem to have found myself in a bit of a pickle right this instant, but I’m sure that’s about to improve.”
Nate stood up but didn’t holster his .44. “Don’t be too sure about that. After all the trouble I went through to find you, it might be better for me to just hand you over to them doctors back at the hospital.”
Now that he wasn’t flinging utensils or scampering like a rabid squirrel, Deaugrey Scott conducted himself with quiet composure. Accepting Nate’s assistance to stand back on his feet, he straightened up to a height that was just shy of average and dusted off a lean, wiry frame. The fact that he was still wrapped in a cotton gown soiled with blood, dirt and sweat didn’t make the slightest bit of difference to him as he straightened it like a gentleman tugging at the lapels of an expensive overcoat. “Considering the food they serve in that hellhole, I’d consider it more of a zoo than a proper hospital.”
“Looked nicer than any house I ever owned, but I guess you’re the expert on being locked up.”
“I suppose you were summoned here to talk me into staying?”
“Not at all,” Nate replied while walking back through the trees. “I heard you were thrown in here after running some sort of swindle in Jefferson City and came to offer you a proper job.”
“We’re a long way from Jefferson City,” Deaugrey pointed out.
“That’s right, because you pissed someone off there and then scampered all the way across the state before ending up in a hotel near the Arkansas border.”
“Nice hotel. Excellent breakfasts. I recall you’re fond of breakfast.”
“I sure am, but I can do without being forced to pay for some crazy man’s hotel bill just because I let it slip that he is a friend of mine.”
Deaugrey smiled even wider while moseying along as if he were merely out to stretch his legs. “You said that? I’m touched.”
“Was a friend of mine,” Nate amended. “Them cordial notions turned mighty sour the longer I had to follow your crooked trail all the way up here.”
Pressing a finger to Nate’s chest, Deaugrey said, “You went through an awful lot of trouble to find me. That’s the sort of thing a friend does.”
“It’s what a partner does and, God help me, I could use your talents for a job being offered to me and Frank.”
“He fired the rifle at you,” Nate told him. “You might have seen as much if you would have slowed down long enough to look. Come to think of it, if you would have taken a breath somewhere amid all that running and screaming you might have seen me before throwing all of that damn silverware.”
“It was a spoon,” Deaugrey scoffed. “Surely you can’t have gotten so soft that a spoon worries you?”
“You stuck a fork into one of them boy’s shoulders.”
“He was the one trying to feed me that god-awful soup.” Having followed Nate far enough out of the woods to sight the repurposed mansion, Deaugrey stopped and placed his hands upon his hips. Only now did he show the first signs of fatigue. “What’s this job you mentioned?”
“Do I get to hear more than that?”
“Not before those orderlies catch up to us, and I’d rather get you away from here than think of some excuse for the doctors to turn you loose.”
“You’d do that for me? I knew you still called me friend.”
Nate holstered the Remington and shoved Deaugrey along, limp and all. “I’ll get you away from here because the pay for this job is enough to make up for the trouble.”
“What’s my cut?”
“You get out of another asylum.”
Deaugrey stopped and twisted his face into a contemplative expression. “What happens if I refuse? These jobs of yours are rarely without their dangers, and the worst I get at McKeag’s is bad soup fed to me by lummoxes in smocks.”
“If you refuse, I’ll shoot you in the leg to make sure you stay at McKeag’s without making such a pest of yourself.”
“Would you honestly do that?” Deaugrey gasped.
Nate’s smirk could barely be seen. “What are friends for?”
The man who greeted Frank and Deaugrey upon entering Weslake’s Finery was none other than Monty Weslake himself. He made that much clear the moment he spotted Frank from behind the tailor’s frame that was being used to hold a silk waistcoat while it was being altered. The tailor’s enthusiasm waned a bit when he saw Deaugrey step inside the shop wearing his filthy, rumpled and torn dressing gown.
“A good day to you, sir,” Deaugrey said while tapping his fingers to his brow as though doffing a hat.
“Um . . . yes,” Weslake said. “What can I do for you gentlemen?”
Frank stepped forward while adjusting his long black coat so it covered his guns while allowing his black shirt and starched white collar to be clearly seen. “My friend here is in need of some clothing.”
“Recently discharged from McKeag’s?” the tailor asked.
“That’s right. I suppose it’s fairly obvious. A simple shirt and pair of pants will suffice.”
“And a hat,” Deaugrey added. “Don’t forget the hat.”
“Yes,” Frank said. “Something simple.”
Weslake approached a table of assorted selections folded into neat piles. “I hate to be one to question a man of God, but these items you’re asking for . . . do you expect . . .”
Before the other man was forced to struggle even more with his words, Frank stepped in and told him, “While donations are always appreciated, I do have money to pay for these items.”
“That’s good to hear, Father,” Weslake said. “Business has been rather slow lately.”
Frank smiled and nodded once. “I understand.”
“So do I,” Deaugrey said. “I understand most folks only want to give to the poor when it suits them. They talk about charity only when they’re in a room filled with a congregation that can appreciate what they’ve done out of the kindness of their hearts.”
Weslake’s brow furrowed. Looking down, he selected a shirt from the bottom of a pile and held it up to Deaugrey. “This is about your size. The collar is frayed and a few of the buttons are missing. I can let you have it for half price.”
“Much obliged, sir,” Deaugrey said with a slightly thicker Virginia drawl. He hiked up the bottom of his gown like a saloon girl showing her wares and added, “I can also use some knickers, if you don’t mind.”
Such a lewd display in his shop could only be greeted by disgust or uncomfortable laughter. Opting for the latter, Weslake selected a pair of dark brown pants that matched the shirt in quality. When he handed over a pair of long underwear, he added, “You can have these for free if you put them on immediately.”
“Consider it done, my good man.” With that, Deaugrey went completely against the shopkeeper’s intent by stripping out of his gown and dressing himself in the middle of the store. He’d barely had a chance to button all of his buttons when he was distracted by a display of hats arranged on an iron rack.
Since he was the only one who took notice of Weslake’s discomfort, Frank stepped up to him with cash in hand. “Here you go,” he said. “I greatly appreciate your generosity.”
When he saw how much money he was being given, Weslake brightened up a bit. “And I appreciate yours, Father. This here is enough to cover those clothes along with a hat from the lower part of that display.”
“Excellent. What about boots?”
“And a gun!” Deaugrey chimed in.
“The shop next door sells any kind of boot you might need. Shoes too,” Weslake said. “As for the gun . . .”
“Never mind the gun,” Frank cut in. “You’ve been a great help. Thanks again.”
Barefooted, his shirt open to display a pale bony torso, holding his pants up with one hand, Deaugrey said, “I can use some suspenders too.”
Frank handed over a bit more cash to cover the request.
Deaugrey wasn’t in much of a hurry to finish dressing. In fact, he seemed to lose interest with each task once he was slightly more than halfway through with it. They walked to the neighboring leather goods store to quickly purchase some boots. The owner of that place was more amused with Deaugrey than the tailor had been and sent them on their way with a mismatched pair of boots that had been pulled from a bin. Upon seeing the sign above the bin, Deaugrey laughed. “Irregulars,” he said. “How appropriate.”
Frank paid for the boots without further explanation and showed the other man to the door. Once outside, Deaugrey was still hopping into his boots while Frank patiently followed behind with the newly purchased hat in hand.
“I owe you for these clothes and such,” Deaugrey said.
“You owe us for a lot more than that if I recall.”
“Oh, I suppose there was the matter of getting me out of that wretched sanitarium. I imagine Nate already has plenty of ways lined up for me to repay that debt.”
“If you don’t like that sanitarium or any of the others you’ve seen, then perhaps you shouldn’t put yourself into them.”
“I’m not the one who makes that arrangement,” Deaugrey replied. “It’s not like a hotel, you know. The folks who work there are usually quite insistent.”
Now that Deaugrey was mostly dressed, Frank handed him the hat, a dented bowler that looked as if a small animal had chewed on the left section of its brim. “What was it this time?”
“Looking for a confession, Preacher?” Deaugrey said with disdain.
“Only if you’re looking to give one.”
Deaugrey stopped at the corner of the boardwalk and looked at the crossroads in front of him. He stood up straight, buttoned his last button and placed the bowler on top of his head as if he were about to address a small audience. “I’ve had quite my fill of those looking to dig around behind my eyes, thank you very much. Did that one there ask you to rake me over the coals?” he inquired while nodding a bit farther down the street where Nate stood leaning against a fence. Beside him was a hitching post where two horses and a mule were tied. “Having known him longer than you, I’d suggest you put your foot down with him every now and then before you become just another one of his dogs.”
“Dogs?” Frank scoffed. “Is that what you think of the men who work with Nate?”
“Not all of them, but there are plenty.”
“I can agree with that,” Frank said. “Partially, at least. But you’ve known me for a while as well. You must know that I’ll always want to know what causes a man to sin or what demons may be whispering into his ear.”
Deaugrey smiled wide and said, “When those demons talk to me, padre, they sure as fuck don’t whisper.”
Frank wasn’t about to flinch at the claim or react in the slightest to the turn of phrase that was so obviously meant to jab at his sensibilities. Instead, he turned to look down the street intersecting with the one where Nate was waiting. “There’ll be a posse coming for you eventually. That could be them right now.”
When he saw the small group of men gathering at the other end of the block, Deaugrey shrugged. “It usually takes a bit longer for the assholes running those sanitariums to give up on their search and ask for help from the outside. I’d say we’ve got another hour or two at least.”
“Then do you have a place to recommend where we might get a bite to eat?”
“Come now, holy man. There was a guiding hand that allowed us to take our leave from McKeag’s house of horrors. I’d call it luck, but you may call it by a more fanciful name. Whatever name you prefer, I think we’d both agree it’s best not to test its limits.”
“If you think any sort of divine presence had a hand in what happened at that sanitarium, then you are more confounded than I’d imagined. It was undeniably luck,” Frank sighed. “And it’s best not to push it when it comes your way.”
“On that,” Deaugrey said, “we can agree. There’s nothing for us in this town anyway. Shall we take our leave?”
Frank threw an easy wave at the group of men who were now looking in his direction. “Sounds like a good idea,” he said quietly. “And if you could resist the urge to raise your voice until we’re gone, I’d be very appreciative.”
“I suppose I can do that.”
Both men strolled toward Nate at a brisk pace without appearing to be in a rush. “Since you’re feeling so agreeable,” Frank said, “perhaps you could answer a question for me.”
“Depends on what the question is.”
“Where were you keeping all of that silverware?”
Deaugrey looked over at Frank with a vaguely surprised grin on his face. Draping an arm over the other man’s shoulders, he said, “There are some questions with obvious answers and some with answers you truly don’t want to know. That question, my friend, is both.”
Frank accepted that with a slow nod, which quickly built into heartfelt laughter. By the time they’d reached the spot where Nate was standing, Deaugrey had joined in the merriment as well. Nate took one last pull from his cigarette, flicked it on the ground and stomped it out beneath his foot. “I see you two are getting along better than usual,” he said.
“At least he’s good for a bit of conversation,” Deaugrey said. “You’ve barely said two words to me since I agreed to come along.”
“‘Agreed’?” Nate grunted. “I suppose you’d rather be rotting in that sanitarium.”
“Not hardly.” Stepping up to the tired gray mare standing next to Nate’s gelding, Deaugrey patted the animal’s flank and said, “She’s not much to look at, but I suppose she’ll do. I like the color.”
“Thanks,” Frank said. “Hopefully you like that one’s color as well.”
Glancing in one direction and then the other as if he didn’t even see the mule, Deaugrey asked, “Which now?”
Frank pointed at the mule, but Deaugrey grimaced as if he’d just been asked to eat it raw. When he looked over to Nate, all he got was a nod. “You expect me to ride this out of town?” Deaugrey asked. “This?!”
“That or walk,” Nate replied, “because you sure as hell ain’t riding in the saddle behind me. The only ones who get to do that are a whole lot prettier than you.”
“Don’t look at me,” Frank said. “My charity only extends so far.”
“That’s fine talk from the two of you. Especially since you expect me to offer my assistance on whatever treacherous outing you’ve lined up.”
“You don’t have to offer your assistance,” Nate said while climbing into his saddle. “I’m taking it all the same.”
“There’s not even a saddle.”
“We’ll pick one up in the next town we find. This one’s about to get too hot for us. There’s a posse forming to hunt down the lunatic that escaped from McKeag’s earlier today.”
“Imagine that,” Deaugrey mused. “Almost as frightening as the prospect of a man needing to ride across this great sprawling land of ours on the back of a mule.”
“We’re not crossing the country,” Nate told him.
“Still . . . no saddle?”
“Do you have a blanket?”
Nate made a sound as if he were trying to suck something out from between his teeth. “Then I guess there’s no saddle. Come along with me like we agreed or stay behind to face the music. Your choice.” Without another word, Nate pointed his horse’s nose away from the hitching post and flicked his reins. The spotted gelding took even less interest in Deaugrey’s predicament than his rider had and ambled down the street with a casual swish of its tail.
“Here,” Frank said, tossing a bundle to the man who stood watching Nate in disbelief.
Deaugrey caught the bundle as it unfolded to reveal itself as the dressing gown that had been wrapped around his body when he’d started his very eventful day. Despite all the hard times that utilitarian piece of clothing had seen him through, Deaugrey was none too appreciative for its return. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“You take what you’re given,” the preacher said, “and be thankful you weren’t forgotten altogether.”
“Aw, to hell with this.”
Shifting in his saddle, Frank swept aside his coat to show one of the .38s holstered at his hip. “Watch that tongue of yours, boy. Some of the Lord’s servants are more forgiving than others.”
Frank got his horse moving at a pace that would catch up to Nate’s in roughly two miles. The expression on Deaugrey’s face was a mix of aggravation and smugness. The latter threatened to overtake the former when it became clear that neither of the other men was going to turn around and force him to follow them. Elsewhere in town, a commotion was brewing that had the promise to become quite a storm. Among the shuffling of hooves against packed dirt, the words “capture” and “drag back” could be heard interspersed with “beat him to a pulp.”
“God da—” Wincing as he looked at Frank’s back, Deaugrey threw his old gown across the mule’s back and climbed onto the tired animal. “Damn it,” he grunted. “Just . . . damn it.”
Two days later
The clatter of shod hooves against dusty rock sang out behind Nate in an uneven staccato entwined with heavy, grunting breaths. By the time Deaugrey’s mule caught up to his horse, Nate swore the sorry thing was going to flop over and die on the spot. At first, it overshot him. Then, after several frantic tugs on a set of old reins that had been coiled at the bottom of Frank’s saddlebag for the better part of a year, Deaugrey fell behind once again.
“Jesus H.— Sorry, Reverend,” Deaugrey said.
“I’m not a reverend,” Frank said.
“Whatever. Will you let me catch up, Nate?”
“I’m not trying to stop you, Grey.”
Finally pulling alongside Nate and then matching his speed through concerted effort and sheer force of will, the mule plodded next to the gelding like a duck trying to keep pace with a bobcat. “How much farther to that town you mentioned?” Deaugrey asked. “I think this animal you provided is about to drop.”
“Shouldn’t be far now.”
“I hate to sound contrary, but didn’t we pass a town just before we made camp last night?”
“That’s not being contrary,” Nate said. “That’s just asking a question.”
Flustered, Deaugrey twisted around to get a look at Frank. The man in the black coat and shirt nodded. “He’s right. Being contrary means you go against most everything that’s being said.”
When Deaugrey looked back to him, Nate said, “You can look it up if you like.”
“If you ever wonder why I sometimes lose my mind, all you’ll have to do is think about moments like these.”
“Speaking of that, how’d you wind up tossed into the bin this time, Grey?” Nate asked. “I heard about Jefferson City, but that would have landed you in a jail cell. What’d you do to convince folks you were too crazy to roam free? Burn down another restaurant?”
“I’m not talking about that. And in case you’ve lost your memory, my name isn’t Grey. It’s Deaugrey. Dooooh-graaaay.”
Nate shifted back and forth in his saddle, expertly acclimating to every movement of the horse beneath him. His head swayed ever so slightly and when it swung back toward Deaugrey, he raised an eyebrow and said, “Talking to me like that, like I’m an idiot child, it’s a real good way to get yourself hurt.”
“So’s taunting a man who was, until very recently, considered dangerously unstable.”
“So what’s the job that was so important you came all this way to break one Virginian out of incarceration?”
Nate Sathow had seen many different brands of incarceration. Not one of them included renovated mansions, clean dressing gowns and rocking chairs. Rather than debate the finer points of misery with Deaugrey, Nate said, “I’d rather not get into it until we’re all in one place.”
“Can you at least tell me who ‘we’ are?”
“Sure. You, me, Frank and Pete.”
After thinking for a few seconds, Deaugrey asked, “Pete who?” Suddenly, his eyes widened. “Not Pete Meyer.”
“That oaf knocked me unconscious the last time we were forced to work on the same job!”
“Which is something damn near anyone who knows you has wanted to do at some time or another,” Nate said.
When he glanced back at Frank, Deaugrey got an affirming nod from the preacher. Since he was getting no help there, Deaugrey said, “Well, I can’t guarantee I won’t lose my normally cheery disposition once we’re in too close of a proximity.”
“I’ll roll those dice.”
“What’s the pay?”
“You’ll like it just fine,” Nate said.
When Deaugrey pulled back on his reins, he nearly slid out of the saddle they’d purchased the previous day. They hadn’t been able to find anything priced within the pittance Nate had been willing to spend, so Deaugrey wound up sitting on a collection of leather scraps stitched together with twine. He didn’t know the materials for certain, but the sore spots on his rump told Deaugrey that they surely hadn’t been chosen by a true craftsman. “We’ve known each other a long time, Nate,” he said. “And yes. I do owe you for getting me out of McKeag’s but I’m not an indentured servant! I insist on knowing what I’m in for.”
Since it was clear that the mule’s rider was even more stubborn than the animal itself, Nate brought his horse to a stop and turned it around. He approached Deaugrey, glaring down at him with enough fire in his eyes to make the mule shift nervously on its tired hooves. Finally, he said, “You’re right.”
“Yes,” Deaugrey said in a valiant effort to keep from looking as if he’d dodged a bullet. “Of course I am.”
“The pay is guaranteed to be at least two thousand each.”
“Two thousand? I would think it would take a bit more than that for you to go through all the trouble of collecting me.”
“Plus bonuses,” Nate added.
Deaugrey’s smile would have been just as fitting for a starving wolf. “Now you’re talking! What kind of bonuses?”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Marcus Galloway
“An amazing talent…Galloway writes with the sure hand of an old pro.”—Robert J. Randisi
“A fun, traditional Western…Perfect to while away a cold winter evening.”—Roundup Magazine