Jerry, Sandy, and Turk relax in the Durant saloon while sipping whiskey, showing off their new clothes, and waiting for night to fall. They have just finished a long drive, and decide to dream up ways to spend their money when one of their trail mates staggers into the saloon, a knife in his back. He gasps out a partial warning, then drops dead on the floor.
Whip marks crisscross the dead man’s back—the signature of their trail boss, the sadistic Amos Coyne. Sandy and his friends bury the body and return to the bar, expecting the drama to be over. But when Coyne vanishes with their horses, the men set off on a dangerous new trail that leads to a showdown with a killer—one who packs a gun, a whip, and a smile.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||1 MB|
About the Author
Paul Lederer spent much of his childhood and young adult life in Texas. He worked for years in Asia and the Middle East for a military intelligence arm. Under his own name, he is best known for Tecumseh and the Indian Heritage Series, which focuses on American Indian life. He believes that the finest Westerns reflect ordinary people caught in unusual and dangerous circumstances, trying their best to act with honor.
Read an Excerpt
By Paul Lederer
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2013 Owen G. Irons
All rights reserved.
The saloon was pretty much silent except for the soft slap of playing cards meeting felt, the chinking sounds of poker chips being stacked or exchanged at the card table, and the muffled laughter at the bar where Jake Koons was sharing a private joke with the bartender, Pete Faber. Koons was a local gambler, a steady drinker who always seemed to have a smile on his face.
The quiet mood of the saloon suited Sandy Rivers just fine. The morning was still cool, and sharing a beer or two with the men seated at the round, red-painted table was almost like sleeping with his eyes open, much more welcome than the wild carousing that was expected of cowboys fresh off the trail could have been. None of them felt like celebrating in that way.
All three were still bone-tired. They had been fired off the trail crew only the day before, and were plain weary. Not that they had been treated unfairly. The boss had made it clear that after the herd was delivered to trail's end, they would be let go. There was no need for them on the home ranch, the Sky Box which was located down near the Ruidoso corridor.
They had been hired on for the trail drive, had done their hot dusty work along the way, been paid for it and cut loose. It was the bargain they had made in the first place. With their pockets jingling with the silver from their pay they were making a pleasant, relaxing morning of it, each happy that they were not needed on the long ride homeward. Turk Bemis had put it best:
'Well, boys, we're trail-bums again, and for myself I couldn't be more pleased.'
Jerry Higgins hoisted his beer mug and said, 'Here's to spending the day sipping cool beer and not seeing the rear end of a single cow.'
The three Sky Box riders had agreed that it was time to enjoy a brief vacation. They had been bathed, shorn and shaved and had purchased some new duds without saddle holes in the seats of the pants. This was a moment of peace to be spent on an island of calm – the town had even been stocked with women, anticipating their arrival, but the cow hands were careful not to let one another give their trail wages to one of these prowling foxes with their innocent expressions and worldly experience, although they had lost Turk Bemis for a few hours the night before.
'No matter,' the burly Arkansawyer had told them early that morning, 'my jeans still jingle when I walk; it was worth having it once.'
Now the three men were content to sit and let the morning roll by with no work to attend to, with no plans for the murky future, without really having given a thought as to what tomorrow might bring. They had always managed, somehow, to make their way.
The red saloon door behind them opened on squeaking hinges. (Sandy thought someone must have gotten a bargain on red paint once, for every exposed wooden surface in the saloon was painted that color.) A man they knew from the Sky Box stumbled in, looking around frantically before his eyes settled on their table. He started their way. The man, whose name was Len Storch, had not been popular with the other hands. He had a face that reminded Sandy of what a bearded hawk might resemble: sharp nose and concave cheeks cluttered with a scraggly dark set of chin whiskers. He wore a battered hat and a faded red shirt with a torn shoulder seam – the same one he had worn all the way from Sky Box.
Jerry Higgins nudged Turk and all three of them looked toward the man in the open doorway.
Turk growled, 'If he wants me to hire on again, I'll flatten his beak for him.'
'Probably wants to try to borrow some money from us,' Jerry Higgins said, turning his eyes down toward his beer mug as Storch shuffled toward them, boot leather scraping across the wooden floor.
'What is he, drunk?' Turk Bemis asked. For Storch seemed to be making heavy work of walking up to their table. He moved with the sort of bowlegged, uncertain gait peculiar to cowboys who have been living for weeks in the saddle. His boots dragged heavily.
Arriving at their table, Storch paused for breath as if he had been running to reach them. His eyes were wide; he held his right hand to his chest. When he spoke it was in a breathless, ragged tone of voice.
'I came to warn you ' Storch said, and then he fell forward, his face glancing off the round table, his body hitting the floor with a heavy thud.
'Drunk as hell,' Turk said, from across the table, but Sandy and Jerry Higgins could both see the bone-handled knife sticking out of Storch's back.
'Looks like someone should have warned him,' Higgins said drily.
'What ?' Turk asked, rising to his feet to take a better look. 'Well, I'll be damned,' he muttered after a minute or so. Len Storch lay still, sprawled against the saloon floor.
Higgins went to the man to crouch over him. Lifting his eyes he said, 'Doesn't look like he's going to get well, boys.' Higgins dusted off his hands and rose. The saloon had gone silent. The bartender and Jake Koons had broken off their conversation and they stared across the room in silence.
'Better get rid of him,' Turk said, taking a drink from his mug. Higgins glowered back and took his seat at the table again.
'I'm not going to do it,' Jerry Higgins said. 'Hell, I didn't even like the man.'
'I didn't like him either,' Turk Bemis said, growing surly. 'And he still owes me two dollars!'
Pete Faber spoke up from his position behind the bar. 'I didn't even know the man,' the bartender said, 'but I'd appreciate it if one of you would like him just long enough to remove him from my premises – it ain't good for business to leave corpses lying around in here.'
Grumbling, Turk rose from his seat. Jerry Higgins was looking away pointedly, his arms crossed. 'What makes it my problem?'
There was nothing else for it. Sandy Rivers sighed and stood.
'Let's put him outside at least,' he said to Turk. 'We'll figure out what we're going to do with him later.'
'Around here, it's customary to bury a man in his condition,' Jake Koons said from his place at the bar.
'I'm not burying the bastard,' Jerry Higgins grumbled.
'Then we'll find someone and pay a few bucks to have the job done,' Sandy Rivers said. 'Come on, Turk – grab an ankle!'
'You can take him out the back way,' Pete Faber said, nodding that way. 'No sense scaring off customers before they even get in the door.'
Sandy crouched down and struggled to remove the deeply embedded bone-handled knife from Storch's back. 'What are you bothering with that for?' Turk asked.
'Doesn't seem fittin' to drag him on his face,' Sandy said. 'Roll him over.' He looked at the bloody knife in his hand thoughtfully. 'Doesn't this look familiar to you?' He offered the knife to Turk's view. Scowling, Turk Bemis examined the weapon.
'I've seen a few like it,' he said, handing it back to Sandy Rivers, who tucked it away in the pocket of his leather vest. 'Why? You think you know who it belongs to?'
'Amos Coyne had one like it. I saw him cutting his meat with it one day on the trail.'
'Coyne? Why would the trail boss kill Storch now, after putting up with him all along the trail? Coyne's already paid us off and ridden south with the home crew. It's another knife like the one Coyne was carrying, that's all.'
'I suppose, but did you get a closer look at Storch's back? His shirt's torn to ribbons. He's been whipped. There's only one man we know who carries a bull-whip – Amos Coyne.'
Coyne had no real use for the long braided whip he carried coiled in his hand. On the ride north he had used it more frequently than was necessary to snap the flank of a steer that was moving too slowly to suit him. It had seemed quite unnecessary to Sandy Rivers. All that was needed to keep the steers moving was the nudge of a cow pony's shoulder, or the occasional slap of a coiled rope against their butts, but Coyle had enjoyed his sport, it seemed, and after all, he was the trail boss. If he wanted to amuse himself like that, it was no one's business.
'Storch is dead; Coyne is gone, Sandy it's none of our business,' Turk said. 'Let's get him out of here and get back to our beer.'
The bartender was holding a side door open for them and they dragged Storch across the room by his ankles and through a storeroom stacked with beer barrels out into the sunbright alley behind the saloon.
'He's heavier than he looked,' Turk Bemis said, straightening up to take a deep breath of the dry air. Dust drifted on a light breeze. The leaves of a trio of cottonwood trees opposite fluttered in the wind. A crow rose from the trees and flew away, cawing with censure, its morning peace having been disturbed.
'Well,' Turk said, standing with his hands on his heavy hips. 'We got him out. Now let's get back inside where it's still cool.'
Sandy Rivers tilted his hat back and squinted along the alleyway. 'Nope,' the younger man said. 'We've got to bury him, Turk.'
'Why've we got to bury him?' Turk asked unhappily, thinking of the beer he had left on the saloon table.
'He was our trail mate,' Sandy said, shaking his head. Briefly he removed his new pearl Stetson to wipe back his pale hair. 'And he was a man. We can't leave him out here for town dogs and varmints to get at. Check that shed over there. They'll have shovels used to bury their garbage. I'll drag him up nearer the trees.'
Grumbling, Turk started toward the shed attached to the back wall of the saloon. There was a hasp for a lock, but on this morning, the lock had not been snapped in place. Reaching inside the flimsy shed, which seemed to be a place for black-widow spiders to congregate, Turk removed a shovel and a pick and returned.
'And me in my new clothes,' Turk complained, handing the shovel to Sandy.
'He'd have done the same for us,' Sandy Rivers said, nodding at the dead body, which was already drawing bluebottles.
'You think so, do you?' Turk growled. 'Name me one thing Storch ever did for anyone all the time we knew him.' The pick Turk was wielding arced through the air, flashing dully in the sunlight.
'He used his last bit of strength to come and warn us,' Sandy said, squatting on his heels, waiting for Turk to loosen enough dirt to shovel.
'Warn us!' Turk stopped his motion. 'Warn us about what? Rustlers, Indians, rattlesnakes?'
'I don't know,' Sandy had to admit, 'but he was trying to do something for us.'
'He had only gone berserk from the loss of blood,' Turk said, stepping aside so that Sandy could use his shovel. The ground was hard-packed on the surface, but mostly sand underneath with only a few rocks.
Another half an hour and they had a trench dug that was deep enough for their purpose. They rolled Storch into the grave and covered it up again. 'Why'd this have to happen just when I got myself a new set of clothes?' Turk grumbled. He was trying to dust off the black trousers he had purchased only the day before.
'There's a lady at the laundry down the street,' Sandy told him. 'She can probably sponge them off real nice.'
'They still won't be new no more,' Turk said almost sadly. 'Things are only new once, Sandy.'
'Come on,' Sandy said, throwing an arm across the big man's shoulders. 'Let's get back to what we were doing.'
They replaced the tools in the dilapidated shed and entered the saloon again, to find Jerry Higgins still at the table, sipping from a fresh mug of beer. Sandy Rivers sat at the table, dusting his hands off. He had borrowed a bar towel from Pete Faber on his way in, but his hands still felt dirty. Turk had ambled toward the bar and grabbed them two new beers. Jerry Higgins had drunk their last two. 'No sense letting them go flat and warm,' he had told them. Neither of his trail-partners bothered to make a comment.
As they lingered over their drinks the door opened and admitted two chattering bar girls. Minutes later another two colorfully frocked saloon girls followed.
'Must be time for the evening rush,' Turk observed.
'Which one was yours?' Jerry Higgins asked. 'I mean last night? I never did get a good look at her.'
Turk looked the women over as they gathered near the bar to speak to the bartender. He scowled. 'To tell you the truth, I never did get a good look at her face myself. Besides, she's probably still resting up. She'd need it.' Turk grinned, tilted back in his chair, took a hefty gulp of beer and looked across the table at Sandy, who was deep in thought.
'Are you still thinking about the grave?' Turk asked.
'Not so much – I've seen my share of graves. It's the warning I was thinking about. What did Storch come to warn us about? It was important enough for him to walk here with a knife in his back.'
'I told you before – he was half-crazy from lack of blood,' Turk said. 'It doesn't matter anymore.'
'It might,' Sandy said unhappily. As the evening saloon crowd began to drift in, attaching themselves first to their drinks and then to the girls, Sandy shifted uneasily in his chair, wanting to be away from another stormy night. He was not cut out for rowdy drinking. Nor did he get paid enough to support such revelry. Finally, he slapped his empty mug down on the table and told the others, 'I believe I'll go along to the stable and check on my horse. Anyone want to come along?'
'Let's just stay for a while and see what kind of excitement we come across,' Jerry Higgins said. He was obviously getting a little drunk, having been seated at the table in front of a constant flow of beer most of the day.
'I think I'll stay here for a while longer myself. I might run into something interesting. Hell, I've seen horses, Sandy.'
'Do as you like then,' Sandy said, rising. He replaced the chair at the table. 'I mean to ride out of town with something left in my pockets.' Turk, he saw, already had bleary eyes fixed on one of the saloon quail. Jerry continued to see only the bottom of his beer mug. He was not going to easily convince those two to move. Well, it was their life, their night, their money to spend as they wished.
The door to the saloon was opened by a wide-shouldered man in a red flannel shirt as Sandy approached it. This one had plans too; he already smelled of whiskey and reeked of bay rum. Sandy edged past him, through the door and out onto the plankwalk in front of the saloon. The late afternoon sun was directly in his eyes, momentarily stunning him as he began walking up the street, finding that he was tottering a little. The stable was three blocks along the street on the opposite side. Durant Stable was prominently painted across its sun-faded face in four-foot high white letters.
Durant, Colorado was the name of the town in which they found themselves. Every third building had the name 'Durant' attached to it – Durant Hotel, Durant Saddlery, Durant Dry Goods Store. Sandy had no idea who Durant was or had been, but the man had swung a wide loop.
Sandy crossed the street after first letting a buggy with an older couple riding in it pass. The scent of cattle was still heavy in the air although the stock pens had been cleared of beef the morning before.
Durant was on no regular railroad line. It was a spur built to accommodate the cattle trade, and the trains only ran as requested. Many of the ranchers in Colorado and Utah found the arduous drive to the Kansas trailheads too time-consuming and too risky, so they welcomed the Durant spur. Of course, arriving too early or too late could leave a rancher with a herd of beef standing in the pens devouring feed at a costly rate. Still, Vincent Skye, owner of the Sky Box Ranch, welcomed the convenience. He was able to get a much more rapid turnover for his beef. And, being much nearer, his cattle still carried a better weight than those that had to be driven through to Kansas.
Sandy Rivers entered the shadows of the Durant Stable and looked around for his horse. It was a strapping gray with three white stockings and a splash of white on its chest. It couldn't make the fancy moves of the cutting horses that Turk Bemis and Jerry Higgins rode, but it got him to where he was going without complaint.
Lazily a man appeared from the back of the barn scratching his head and yawning. He wore tattered overalls and had a greasy head of lank dark hair.
'Help you?' he asked.
'I just wanted to see to my gray.' Getting a blank look, Sandy expanded his description of the animal. 'Big animal. Three white stockings.'
A light dawned slowly in the stablehand's eyes. 'Sky Box horse? I had to have somebody explain that brand to me! You would never guess—'
Excerpted from Whiplash by Paul Lederer. Copyright © 2013 Owen G. Irons. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.