Tuesday, November 8, 2011
With 20 nominations, Donoghue’s Room (Picador) was the most popular title longlisted for the €100,000 annual award, the world’s most valuable literary prize for a single work of fiction.
Also nominated was another Galaxy National Book Award winner, Jennifer Egan, for her novel A Visit from the Goon Squad (Corsair) and last year’s Man Booker winner Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury)
The list also comprises 34 translated works from authors including Isabel Allende, David Grossman, Daniel Kehlmann, Per Petterson and Bernhard Schlink. The full longlist can be viewed here.
Dublinls lord mayor Andrew Montague urged people to borrow the novels from their public library: “You will find books and authors, particularly those novels in translation that you might otherwise never come across and you can pick your own favourites, before I announce the winner on 13th June next year."
The shortlist will be announced on 12th April 2012 and Montague will reveal the winner on 13th June.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
“Who’s asking?” the man behind the table asked gruffly.
“A concerned citizen.”
Evan Taylor grunted at hearing this and chewed on his tobacco. He’d had enough of concerned citizens in the two weeks he’d been marshal to last him a lifetime. The job wasn’t proving as enjoyable as he thought it would be. He’d imagined roaming around Baxter Springs, untouchable and unaccountable. The reality was somewhat different. The last thing he wanted that morning, as he nursed a heavy hangover from the night before, was someone coming into his office, asking awkward questions. But, he reasoned to himself, short of shooting this feller dead right there in front of him, he’d have to at the very least listen to what he had to say.
Taylor stood up slowly, giving his head a chance to catch up with his body, hoping that his queasiness eased a little. “Well, citizen,” he asked, “what’re you so concerned about?”
“My name’s Adam Crean,” the stranger said authoritatively as he offered his hand to Taylor. “And I’m a Pinkerton.”
Taylor shook his hand roughly. “A Pinkerton?” he asked, surprised. “What business have you around here?”
“Powers Bank have employed me.”
“Oh,” Taylor muttered. “You’re here about the bank robbery. Well, I don’t know nothing about that.”
This time it was Crean’s turn to show surprise. “What d’you mean, you don’t know nothing about it? You’re the marshal, aren’t you?”
“Sure am.” Taylor paused as he spat out a wedge of chewing tobacco. “But I wasn’t when that happened.”
“But that was only two weeks ago. Did the last feller get shot or something? I hadn’t heard.”
A smile crossed Taylor’s face. “A Pinkerton that don’t know everything? Maybe you’re not such a great detective after all?”
Crean’s face reddened. “My mistake,” he said. “Maybe you’d tell me where I can find someone who does know about the robbery?”
Taylor still wore his stupid grin. “Gee, I’m only a lawman two weeks and already I got a Pinkerton asking for my help,” he said.
There was no one else in the room to hear him. This little performance was purely for his Crean’s benefit.
Crean stared at Taylor. “Afraid so, friend,” he said, seeming to force a smile. “You’ve got the better of me here.”
Taylor chuckled deeply, savoring this small satisfaction. He could feel the pounding in his head returning, however, and decided that it was time to send this feller on his way. “You’re looking for Pete Baker,” he said. “He was marshal when the bank was robbed, killed all the gang except the feller that had the money.” A flash of pain passed through his brain. His hangover was returning fast, and with a vengeance. “You’ll probably find him in the Rancher’s saloon, his wife runs the place.”
“Much obliged,” the detective replied and tipped the brim of his hat, but seemed reluctant to remove it. Taylor never did get a good look at Crean’s face, and then the Pinkerton turned and left him to his hangover.
* * * *
Joe and Pete sat around the kitchen table in the back of the Ranchers’ Saloon, listening to the sound of drunken customers that carried through from the bar
“I thought we’d be able to leave this behind,” Pete said grimly. “Bring Tom up out in the country on a homestead. This isn’t a good place for a child.”
“I don’t know,” Joe said. “Dorothy grew up here and she turned out all right.”
This drew a smile to Pete’s lips. He could always rely on Joe to stay positive, to say something to try and keep his spirits up. But he had had his heart set on a farming life, on leaving the Ranchers’ Saloon behind. Yet that dream seemed to be gradually disappearing. The search for the outlaw wasn’t going well and he’d come to realize that he acted rashly when he pledged to bring him in. In his role as marshal he had spent most of his time locking up drunken cowboys and trying to maintain law and order. Chasing all over the countryside following faint clues wasn’t what he was used to. None of the dead bodies yielded any helpful information, either. They’d been outcasts, known up and down the trails as guns-for-hire; troublemakers who’d do anything for the price of a drink.
Pete and Joe quickly reached a dead end. The bitter truth was that there wasn’t much appetite for helping the law in and around Baxter Springs, particularly when no reward was offered. And since it was known that Pete’s days as a lawman in town were numbered it, it soon became obvious that his authority amongst the townsfolk diminished, making his job that much more difficult, if not almost impossible.
“Maybe working in the saloon won’t be so bad,” Pete mumbled. “I’m sure I’d get used to it, eventually.”
“Sure,” Joe replied.
Pete slipped into a listless silence, absentmindedly listening to the singing and shouting from the saloon. There was nothing more to be said. Even Joe couldn’t fill the void. They both raised their coffees to their lips and the sound of them slurping the drinks drifted into the air.
“Pete,” Dorothy said as she entered the room, “there’s someone here to see you.”
A tall man with his hat low, obscuring his face, came in. He kept his long coat on as he sat in the chair Pete offered. All in all, Pete thought he was a strange looking feller.
“Name’s Pete Baker, and this here’s Joe Flaherty. What can I do for you, stranger?”
“Adam Crean,” the man said. “I’m here to ask you a few questions about the bank robbery.”
Pete and Joe looked at him, hard. “What’s your interest in the matter?” Pete asked.
“I’m a Pinkerton.”
“You employed by the bank?”
“Well then, let’s all have some more coffee and then you can ask your questions.”
About an hour later, after much questioning and almost as much coffee, Adam Crean said he’d gotten all the information he sought and left the Ranchers’ Saloon.
* * * *
Pete waited until Crean left and then grabbed his hat from the back of the chair. “Come on, Joe,” he said urgently.
Joe jumped to his feet, clearly surprised by this sudden call to action. “Why?”
“We’ve got to follow him.”
“That ain’t no Pinkerton, Joe. That’s Dan Bogue, and if he’s interested in our robbery, then he might know something that could help us.”
They left the building as quickly as possible and from a safe distance followed Dan Bogue down the street.
* * * *
Bogue was preoccupied as he walked. He kept to the wooden boardwalk as much as possible, sticking to the shadows where possible. Baxter Springs was busy, the stores and saloons all doing brisk business. Horses snickered as they stood tied to hitching rails all along the street. He wasn’t sure what to make of his meeting with Pete Baker. He’d learned all the details about the robbery, some of which McGraw had already provided. What Bogue discovered was that Weston escaped somewhere on the plain and almost certainly killed one of his own men in the process. That wasn’t good news. He knew that it meant Weston meant to disappear, maybe even retire and hadn’t intended sharing the money. But then something happened, some event provoked his furious killing spree in the saloon in Lawrence, a piece of information the marshal didn’t mention. Something that led to a price being put on his head and drawn Dan Bogue into his story. A story that must end with Weston’s death.
He’d come across Weston before but it was untrue to say that there was a sense of brotherhood or even empathy between the gunmen. They weren’t soldiers. They weren’t fighting for a greater cause. They were working for their own selfish needs. For material gain, and for power. And, no matter what concerns Bat Maxwell might have about Bogue’s willingness to carry out his task, killing Charlie Weston carried no more significance for him than he might attach to squashing a bug underfoot. He slipped into a saloon; he needed a drink to help him think.
As always, he sat at a corner table to ensure that he held the whole saloon in his field of vision. He ordered a beer and when it arrived he took a thirsty mouthful.
He relaxed a little and began to run through the course of events involving Charlie Weston.
Weston had robbed a bank here in Baxter Springs and gotten away, but then turned up just down the road in Lawrence two weeks later, where he killed two men. There, the trail grew cold. As he considered what to do next, Bogue ordered a whisky.
He felt the liquid easing his aching bones after the long ride to get there. He sat, taking stock, debating what to do next.
* * * *
Pete watched as Bogue emerged from the saloon. Evening was creeping in and twilight was descending on the town. After exiting the building, Bogue turned left and made his way along the busy street. Pete set off after him at a brisk pace, Joe just behind.
Bogue walked determinedly, rarely breaking his stride. He kept to the sides of the street and occasionally looked from left to right, surveying the passers-by.
Pete stayed well back, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible. After about five minutes, Bogue took a sharp turn to his right, leaving the street abruptly. He entered the Hakluyt Hotel. Pete paused, unsure what to do now. Follow him inside or stay? He lingered outside the hotel, trying to see if Bogue lurked inside the doorway, waiting for him to blunder in. He couldn’t see anything but the dull interior of the entrance hallway, however, so he stepped in off the street.
Bogue was nowhere to be seen.
Pete immediately crossed the lobby.
“What can I do for you?” asked the man behind the reception desk. He paused before adding, “Marshal.”
“I need a little help, Benjamin,” Pete said as Joe now joined him.
“Anything you ask, Pete.”
Benjamin Hakluyt had been running his hotel since before Pete came to town, and Pete had few dealings with him. Any time they met, Hakluyt seemed polite and courteous. He valued peace and quiet, but he also valued his guests’ privacy. That meant that he had always complied with Pete, but he was aware of where the law ended and his rights began. This could be difficult, Pete mused. But he needed Benjamin’s help and he was going to have to get it, one way or another.
“That man who just came in. Is he a guest of yours?”
Benjamin paused before answering, obviously thinking over the implications of anything he would say. “Yes, he is. Why do you ask, Pete? Last I heard, you weren’t doing any more law work around the town. Heard you were trying to catch the bandidos that robbed the bank.”
“That’s right.” He could see where this was going. His authority had been eroded and the uncertainty of his position meant that the local townsfolk no longer felt compelled to cooperate with him, not that they ever really welcomed the law into their lives, anyway. Pete took a deep breath before continuing. “It’s like this, Ben. That feller who just walked up your stairs is a murderer. A gun for hire. His picture’s hanging in the jailhouse.”
The color drained from the hotelier’s face.
“Now, either you’re going to keep an eye on him for me, and tell me personally when he’s about to leave, or I’m going to tell Evan Taylor that Dan Bogue’s hiding out in your hotel. And I can only imagine the kind of damage Evan would do to these fine premises of yours if he should come in here to arrest this man.”
Ben nodded and then spoke very softly: “Yes, Marshal.”
“So, I want to know if he looks like he’s going to leave town. Is that clear?” He didn’t wait for a reply. “You’re a good man Benjamin; I know you’ll do the right thing.”
He gestured to Joe and they exited the premises and returned to the street, leaving a troubled Ben Hakluyt behind.
“Gee, Pete. Weren’t you a bit harsh with him?” Joe asked.
“I didn’t enjoy that. He’s a good man; too good. He’d think the best of all his customers and wouldn’t tell us a thing without a little persuasion. Evan Taylor certainly helped us out there, even if he don’t know it.”
“It’s the only way he’d ever help us,” Joe replied, laughter in his voice.
They headed down the street, back toward the Ranchers’ Saloon with a spring in their steps. Progress, at last, Pete thought. He wasn’t sure what kind of progress, but at least things were moving forward.
* * * *
As the two lawmen walked past an alleyway, they didn’t take any notice of the cowboy lighting a match off of the sole of his boot. But the cowboy noticed them; he’d been waiting for them, and kept a safe distance from them until they had entered the saloon.
Confident that they were more than likely in there for the night, he returned to the alleyway near the Hakluyt Hotel and watched the doorway, waiting for any sign of Dan Bogue.
* * * *
Joe and Pete sat heavily at the kitchen table once more. Dorothy was with them, holding baby Tom in her arms. Pete gestured to her and she passed the baby across and watched as her husband stared lovingly into the eyes of his son. Something was amiss, she could tell. Pete wasn’t much of a one for deception and he could never keep his true feelings from her. She held her tongue, however, and allowed father and son time together. He’d tell her when the time was right.
She bustled about and poured coffee for herself and the two men. They looked weary, she thought. Inwardly, she’d reconciled herself to the fact that Pete would lose his job when the two months were up. He didn’t seem to have made any inroads into the solving of the case, despite an enthusiastic start, and both he and Joe now seemed to spend their whole time sitting at her kitchen table, drinking coffee and staring into space.
But something was different today. A light had returned to Pete’s eyes. Something had happened, but what? She couldn’t hold back any longer, it wasn’t in her nature. She was a woman who called a spade a spade and said things as they were. Time to get everything out in the open. Pete often thought that he was protecting her, she knew, by sparing her details of his work but she always got them out of him. And, she was sure, he was always glad she did.
“Spit it out, you two,” she whispered, trying not to wake the sleeping baby. “Something’s after happening and I won’t be left out.”
Pete looked up at her with a wry smile, while Joe just concentrated on his coffee.
“I was just about to tell you, darling,” he said. His voice was lighter, as if some of the lethargy that smothered him in the previous weeks had dissipated.
“Well then, get on with the telling.”
Pete explained to her about Dan Bogue, a hired gun, not a Pinkerton detective, and told her of their conversation with Benjamin Hakluyt.
“I hope you didn’t scare Ben too bad,” she scolded. “I hear Jane talking about his heart all the time.”
“He knows the right thing to do. That’s all that matters.”
“Well, what are you fixing to do?” She couldn’t keep the worry from her voice. On the one hand, she was happy to see her husband regaining his sense of purpose while, on the other, she was worried where it might lead him. She could already feel that it might take him away from her for a time; she could only pray that it would allow him to return.
* * * *
Pete took a deep breath. He looked down on the sleeping figure of Tom, all swaddled up in his blanket, just his soft face uncovered. Dorothy beckoned for him to pass the baby over but he shook his head and held his son even closer, feeling the warmth of his body. Everything was here in Baxter Springs: Dorothy, Tom, even Cal, his father-in-law, and of course Joe, his friend. All the family he had in the world. Was he foolish, was he being stupid or rash or reckless in what he planned to do?
Then he thought about the man Dorothy married. Thought of what life had been like when he’d been marshal, doing something he loved until the politics of the position interfered. In truth, the last few weeks were a blur of depression, indolence and general dissatisfaction. He hadn’t been himself, something he hadn’t even really realized or acknowledged until Dan Bogue walked into their kitchen and energized him like a bolt of lightning. He must continue; he had to see it through. It wasn’t just for him, it was for all of them. If he was successful, he was sure he could make a better life for his family. He must find the bank robber.
“When Bogue leaves town, Joe and I will be going after him,” Pete said eventually. His voice was steady as he desperately fought back the emotions that welled inside. “He knows something about the robbery and I intend finding out what it is. He might lead us right to the culprit.”
“Or he might kill you,” Dorothy said quickly.
“I’ll be careful. You know that. I can look after myself.”
“I know,” she said softly. “I know.” Tears brimmed her eyes and slid slowly down her cheeks.
Joe pushed his chair back from the table. “I better go home and get my things. I might not have time later.” He left, hurriedly.
After they placed Tom in his crib, Dorothy and Pete headed for their bedroom. When they got there, Dorothy clasped her arms around Pete and kissed him hard on the lips. “I’m sure Dan Bogue won’t leave town tonight,” she whispered softly.
* * * *
The knock on the door came early the next morning. Joe and Pete were ready and waiting.
“He’s checking out,” Benjamin’s son, Amos, said breathlessly.
Pete kissed baby Tom and Dorothy goodbye, his hand lingering on her shoulder as he pulled her to him. “See you soon,” he said and let go of her.
The pair left the saloon.
Dorothy couldn’t muster any words. Tears ran down her face.
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His hand slipped to the ornately engraved Colt in its holster. The well-dressed man crossed the floor quickly. Bogue glared at him as he approached, all the while searching for any signs of aggression or danger. As the man drew closer, Bogue noticed that the man was older than he first thought, maybe in his sixties. Even though his clothes were well made and refined in appearance, his face bore the signs of a life well lived. He stood directly across the table from Bogue, his broad frame dominating his line of vision. “Dan Bogue?” he asked, his voice a deep bass.
“Maybe,” Bogue replied. “Depends who’s asking.”
This brought a smile to the other man’s lips. “Name’s Maxwell,” he replied. “Bat Maxwell. And I know that you are Dan Bogue.”
Bogue eyed him. There was a spare stool at the other side of the table and he used his boot to shove it out. “I think you’d better sit down, Bat.”
Maxwell lowered himself onto the stool.
A waitress drifted over and Maxwell barked gruffly at her for a whisky. The two men sat in silence until the drink arrived, sizing each other up. Maxwell downed his drink in one swig and beckoned for another. “You want one?” he asked Bogue.
“My throat’s burned enough already,” Bogue replied.
Maxwell smirked. “I hear you’re a feller who can find people,” he said, peering across the table.
“For a price, of course.”
Bogue nodded. “Depends on the person and depends on the price.”
“This feller doesn’t want to be found,” Maxwell said.
“They rarely do. What kind of a feller are we talking about? Anyone I might know?”
Maxwell drained the rest of his whisky. “Charlie Weston.”
Bogue lowered his glass, slowly, trying to hide his surprise. “Charlie Weston?” he asked, just to make sure he had heard correctly.
“Are you sure?”
Maxwell nodded again.
“It’s going to cost you, that’s all I’m going to say.”
“Do you know him?” Maxwell looked directly at Bogue.
“Know Charlie Weston? Of course I know of him.”
“No,” Maxwell interrupted. “I asked, do you know him?”
This time Bogue paused before replying and met Maxwell’s glare dead on. At last, weighing his words carefully, he said, “Yes, I know him.”
“Can you do it?” Maxwell said. “I need to know now if I’m wasting my time. I know you’re both…”
“…outlaws,” Bogue finished the sentence for him.
“That doesn’t mean we’re brothers,” Bogue said. “How much are we talking about?”
Maxwell held his gaze. “You’re really willing to do this?”
“Without even asking me why I want him killed?”
“You have the money, I’ll pull the trigger.”
“Fine. Two thousand dollars.”
Bogue fought to hide his shock.
“I’ve heard that you’re the best,” Maxwell said, “that’s why I’ve made you such a generous offer. It’s a lot of money, but if you want the best you have to pay for it, that’s what I believe.”
“I get half the money now, and the other half after the job’s done.”
“That’s what I thought you might say.” From inside his coat Maxwell pulled out a leather satchel and passed it across the table.
Bogue opened it and looked inside. The satchel was stuffed full of dollars.
“You can count it, if you want,” Maxwell offered.
“No need. Where can I get you?”
“My ranch is about five miles out of town. Anyone will tell you where it is.” Maxwell rose from the table and extended his hand toward Bogue. “Good doing business with you.”
Bogue rose also and felt his hand almost crushed in Maxwell’s grip.
He watched Maxwell’s back as he walked toward the door, all the while keeping one hand on his gun and the other on the leather satchel of money.
Bogue had one more drink after Maxwell left. The offer was a good one. Two thousand dollars was the most he’d ever been offered to kill a man. He could probably give up his gun if he succeeded in tracking down and killing Charlie Weston. But that was a big “if.” Charlie Weston was a killer, just like him, and if Weston didn’t want to be found, then things could get complicated.
Bogue left the saloon. His first objective was to try and find some information that could help him track down Weston. With his insides warmed by the whisky, he strolled along the boardwalk bordering Main Street. He kept under the awnings of the buildings. Being a hired gunman meant he had his enemies and staying in the shadows was always the safest course of action. It was impossible to tell when a relative of someone he’d killed would try and even up the score and restore some family pride.
He entered another saloon; a run-down, dingy establishment. Up on the raised stage danced two women, trying their best to attract the attention of customers who were steadily getting more and more drunk. Two men on a piano and a fiddle provided music and a feller swayed erratically around the floor, out of time with the tune. That feller was Chris McGraw.
Bogue grabbed McGraw by both shoulders and manouvered him toward a free table. A waitress came over but he waved her away. “Hey, I want a whisky!” McGraw whined as he tried to catch the skirt of the waitress as she flounced off. “In a minute,” Bogue barked. “After you answer a few questions.”
McGraw’s eyes were bloodshot and he smelled of stale sweat and smoke yet, Bogue knew, this drunk was just the man he needed to talk to if he were to have any chance of collecting the second half of his bounty. McGraw spent his whole life drinking his way up and down the trails and knew every saloon and every personality that frequented them. He was generally regarded by all and sundry as a harmless drunkard; to be tolerated like a stray dog. But McGraw heard everything and remembered almost everything, despite his drinking. He was a long time acquaintance of Bogue’s and his pocket provided the money for a lot of McGraw’s liquor. In return for a little information, of course.
“What you doing here, Bogue? You’re a long way from home. Business? This a social call or are you here to kill me?”
“Just some information,” Bogue replied.
“I don’t want your blood money,” McGraw spat. He got up to leave but fell to the floor, too drunk to walk.
Bogue picked him up and placed him back on his stool. “I know,” Bogue said. “But you need money and I need to hear what you know about Charlie Weston.”
McGraw cocked an eyebrow as best he could. “Charlie Weston?” he slurred. “You thinking of asking him to be your partner?” He smiled ruefully at his own joke. “Or you just trying to take out your competition?”
“Something like that,” Bogue muttered. He dropped some notes on the table and this time called the waitress over. “Two whiskies,” he told her and when they arrived he passed them both to McGraw, who drank them eagerly in case Bogue changed his mind and took them off of him.
“You must want this guy badly,” McGraw said, his voice hoarse from the harsh burn of the whisky. He eyed the notes on the table. Bogue still had his hand on them, both to make sure they weren’t snatched and also to make sure that McGraw’s drunken eyes couldn’t miss them.
“All yours if you tell me what I want to know. We both know the routine and, to tell the truth, I don’t have much time so let’s make this quick.”
McGraw knew he was only delaying the inevitable, that he was only barely hanging onto his last sliver of pride before giving up what he knew. “Fine,” he said. “Last I heard he was up in Baxter Springs. Bank job.”
“Same old Weston,” Bogue muttered.
“Nope,” McGraw replied, “not this time. Something happened, I heard. Shortly after the bank job, he shows up in Lawrence and shoots up a couple of men.”
“Where?” Bogue asked.
“In a saloon. The Kansas Belle, something like that.”
“Don’t think so. Hadn’t heard about him for a long time before that.”
Bogue nodded. He didn’t know why Weston had suddenly resurfaced. Maybe he was broke? Maybe he liked the taste of stealing and shooting too much to give it up? It was in some people’s blood. A fact he knew from personal experience. He rose to leave but stopped to ask one final question of McGraw. “You know anything about a Bat Maxwell?”
“Bat Maxwell? I know the name. He owns a lot of land around here. And cattle, too. His sons run most of it for him and he just collects the money. I’ve met his two sons, all right. Josiah and Robert. Didn’t like them much, Josiah especially. Sneaky. You’d want to be careful if you’re involved with Bat Maxwell. That much I do know. The only law he believes in is one that you carry in your holster. That’s about it, I’m afraid.”
Baxter Springs, Bogue thought as he left the saloon. I haven’t been there in a long time.
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Blood spattered the wooden walls and floor of the room. Two bodies lay on the ground, their life seeping through the floorboards and onto the dry ground below. The door to the saloon hung open, the gunman having just disappeared through it, quickly followed by the two men pursuing him. This had been more than just another job for the gunman. More than the usual order that involved killing a couple of men. This time he did it for himself.
His breath rasped in his throat, as if barbed wire were being forced down his gullet. His feet pounded the hard dirt as he ran into the night. He ached all over, his body was stretched to breaking point, but still he kept on going. He stole a glance over his shoulder but all he saw were the lights of the town behind him.
He had a head start on his hunters but he didn’t’t know by how much in precise minutes. At least the darkness hid his tracks. His Colt .44 slapped against his thigh as he ran, its barrel still warm from just minutes ago. Even though he sweated profusely, a cold chill passed through him. Voices. He heard them coming. Behind. Carrying the sounds of the chase on the wind. The sound of death. He changed direction, angling to his left, like a hunted rabbit. Sweat ran into his eyes, obscuring his vision. He felt lightheaded, running blind.
He stumbled once, falling in a heap in the dust. He smashed his right knee into the hard ground but the pain didn’t even register. Almost instantly, he was back on his feet, though weaker, his body responding more slowly. He stubbed his foot on a rock and fell forward, his hands cart-wheeling as he tried to keep his balance. This time, he fell heavily and his head crashed against a stone. A bearded face stared at him down the barrel of a Winchester: the last thing he saw before a black veil of unconsciousness enveloped him.
* * * *
He was alive. He opened his eyes slowly, gradually allowing the daylight to seep into his aching head. His whole body jolted and his head rebounded off of something hard. This time he was fully awoken and cursed loudly, the impact reverberating in his skull as if a mule had kicked him. He lay down, clutching his head in his hands.
“Looks like our guest is awake. Give him some water, Betty.”
He heard sounds of scrambling and within moments a canteen was pressed to his lips. He drank thirstily, washing away the dust and pain and fear. Slowly, his head cleared and he felt a little of his strength returning. He pushed the canteen away and propped himself up on his elbows, face to face with a woman wearing a gingham dress and a Poke bonnet. She smiled benignly on him and he was just about to ask who she was when there was another great jolt and he was slammed down once more. That’s when he realized that they were moving.
When he gathered his senses enough, he pulled up into a seating position. He looked about and discovered that he was in a wagon, lying on its flat wooden floor. The bearer of the canteen had left. Maybe he’d imagined her? He wondered who these people were and why they’d saved him. They couldn’t be Maxwell’s men; he’d be dead by now, if they were.
He wasn’t’t wearing his coat and he frantically scoured the wagon until he realized that he’d been using it as a pillow. He unfolded it and reached to an inside pocket. What he felt there reassured him and he allowed himself a smile. However, when he put his hand to his hip he discovered that his Colt was missing. He rose unsteadily to his feet, his back hunched over, as the wagon roof was too low to allow him to stand upright. “Time to figure out what the hell is going on,” he whispered to no one in particular.
The covered wagon was not designed for comfort and he found himself dodging various household items as he tried to gain his feet. He staggered toward the daylight that streamed through the open end of the wagon. Sitting up there was Betty, the woman who gave him the water, and what looked like the strong square back of a man. His boots banged on the floor as he moved so that the man must have heard his approach and turned to face him. He recognized the wagoner’s bearded face immediately: the last thing he’d seen before he passed out.
“Come up and join us,” the bearded man said, his voice booming in the confines of the wagon. “Bit of a tight squeeze, I’m afraid.”
Betty moved over and he sat next to her. Pulling the wagon were two yoke of oxen, plodding along slowly and deliberately. Ahead, four more wagons, similar to this one. As well as the wagons and the oxen pulling them, many more steers and cows wandered along the prairie, as well as some saddle horses and mules. From time to time, they all grazed lazily at the grass.
“Welcome to our Prairie Schooner,” said Betty.
The fact that this was an emigrant train slowly dawned on his aching mind. He just nodded in reply.
“Name’s Chet Harrington,” said the broad shouldered man, “and this here is my wife, Betty, whom you’ve already met.”
“Howdy,” he growled in reply.
“I guess you’re not much of a feller for talking,” Chet said. “That’s fine with me, but if you’re going to stay with us, you’ll have to speak to Bolster, the head man. He’ll decide what’s to become of you.”
* * * *
He said little for the rest of the day as they crossed the prairie, trying to get things straight in his head. As evening fell, he helped the wagoners get the cattle settled. The other emigrants hadn’t paid much attention to him during the day, besides a few curious glances cast in his direction.
He prepared himself for the interrogation that he was sure would come. What would he say to them? Chet had saved his life but he was wary of telling him what he was running from. Chet might just as quickly shoot him or leave him hanging from a branch if he learned of what he’d done and who he was… He resolved to play it by ear. If the worst came to the worst, he could steal a horse and make his escape. Even without his Colt, he was sure that he could fight his way out.
They settled to eat in a clearing formed by the circled wagons. A fire burned in the middle and the families ate by their own wagons, in silence, weary from the day’s traveling. He ate his meal with Chet and Betty and as they finished eating the folks from the other wagons drew near and they all mingled and talked as they drank their watery coffee. There were four wagons in all, a small train, he learned, waiting to join with a bigger group as they made their way west.
“These are all nice people,” Betty told him, “but they can be suspicious of outsiders – especially those they know nothing about.”
He nodded. He didn’t know if Chet had told the others how he found him. He was sure he’d find out soon enough, though. Chet patted him on the shoulder as he got up. He walked away, leaving him behind with Betty. They would come for him soon, he knew.
The men gathered in a group. They stole glances at him out of the corner of their eyes as they talked amongst themselves. In the twilight, he found it difficult to make out how many there were in this group. He guessed that they were all families. Four wagons meant at least four men, and probably accompanying wives and children too. He assessed the situation as he had many over the years and thought the odds were in his favor; if it should come to it.
A figure emerged out of the gloom, the tip of his cigarette glowing in the darkness. “My name’s Bolster, Emmet Bolster. How’re ya doing, feller?”
He sized Bolster up. Maybe fifty years old, maybe a few less. Flecks of gray showed in his beard but he was still in impressive physical condition, no doubt honed by years of working the land.
“I’m in charge of this company and Chet’s told me all he knows about you, which ain’t much.” He received no reply, just a steely glare. “Says he left camp last night to go into Lawrence to buy some supplies and ended up with a stray. You…” He stared. “My only responsibility is to the folks in this wagon train. You could be a murderer as far as I know, waiting to slit everyone’s throat.”
Three more shapes loomed behind Bolster. He recognized one as Chet but not the other two. They didn’t’t offer their names. They were wearing their gun-belts and all but Chet had their hands on their shooters. They moved closer and stood over him, trying to intimidate him. He stayed sitting, sipping his coffee.
Chet spoke first: “Seeing as it was me that found you, and the bad state you were in, I think I’m entitled to a few answers at least.”
“Fair enough,” he replied. He looked Chet straight in the eyes and ignored the others. Chet was right, he knew that. At the very least he owed him some explanation, even if it wasn’t’t an entirely truthful one. If Chet hadn’t found him… The alternative didn’t bear thinking about.
“Ask away,” he said.
“What’s your name? And why were you running away from those fellers like they were the hounds of hell?”
He drained the last of his coffee and rose slowly to his feet. His interrogators took a step back as he stood, all except Chet. He looked at each of them in turn. “Name’s Charlie Weston,” he said, “and the first thing you should know is that I don’t want no trouble. The reason I was running out of town last night when Chet found me was because I’d danced with the wrong lady in the dancehall. Her husband didn’t’t take too kindly to that and decided to teach me a lesson. Had to go out through the window, couldn’t get to my horse. That’s the beginning and the end of it.” He met each of their gazes in turn until the men looked away. They weren’t going to get any more out of him, at least not for the moment.
“What d’ya think?” one of the men asked Bolster. Weston sized him up. Smaller than the others, but wiry. Strong-looking. These were probably all family men, with children most likely, as well. They wouldn’t’t take easily to him if they thought he might cause danger to their group. Maybe he shouldn’t have said that he’d danced with another man’s wife. Maybe he should have told the truth.
“I don’t know, Walt,” Bolster replied.
“Well, I don’t like the look of him,” the fourth man said. “I don’t believe a word he says. I can find out easily enough about him, Emmet. I’ve a brother living in Lawrence, remember? He’ll let us know who this feller really is.”
“I’m not from Lawrence,” Weston replied. “Just passing through when I got mixed up in that bother last night. Don’t know anybody there.”
“Now, take it easy,” Chet soothed. “Let’s go back to your wagon, Frank, and talk about this.”
Weston now knew the names of the four men. Chet: broad, bearded, reasonable; Emmet: in charge, imposing; Walt: small and wiry. And Frank, staring at him with thinly disguised distaste in his eyes.
The four men went away while Weston sat back on the ground and lit a cigarette. He could hear them discussing in hushed voices which were occasionally raised in exclamation. He couldn’t’t tell if things were going in his favor and neither did he care.
They returned after a few minutes. He rose to his feet and walked in their direction in his long purposeful stride.
“Where are ye headed?” he asked. “California? Oregon?”
“California,” Bolster replied warily.
“Through Fort Laramie, right?”
“Any of you crossed the Platte before?”
He could tell by their silence that they hadn’t.
“The question here is whether I should stick with you and not the other way around,” Weston said. “I know this country like the back of my hand, every fording point, the best places to camp and I know what to do if Indians start harassing you.” He paused for a moment.
The wagoners remained quiet.
“So,” he said at last, “I’ve decided. I’ll stay. Today is your lucky day.”
He turned on his heel and headed back to his resting place, leaving the four men standing stunned.
“Welcome aboard,” Chet murmured eventually.
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“So you got the money back?” she asked.
Pete didn’t answer. At last, Joe shook his head. “Afraid not. One of the jiggers got away. Saw his tracks heading cross-country. He was long gone by the time the shooting finished. Might even have been gone before the shooting started.”
“And he had all the money from the bank?”
There was silence around the table.
“This is the end,” Pete said wearily.
“What d’you mean?” she asked.
“Dell. He’ll definitely get rid of us now.”
“What?” she said, surprise evident in her voice. “Banks get robbed all the time and marshals don’t lose their jobs over it. Surely he can’t fire you just for this.”
Pete didn’t reply. He couldn’t be sure what he might say. He left it to Joe to tell her about the meeting they’d had with the mayor this morning.
“So what if he fires you?” Dorothy said defiantly after Joe finished.
“So what?” A little fire returned to Pete’s voice. “What about our plans?” he asked, the cadence of his voice rising. “What about the homestead we were going to buy? What about the life we planned? We can’t do all that if I lose my job. It’s just not possible.”
The sound of boots on the wooden floor of the kitchen interrupted him.
Paul Henry, one of the lawmen who worked with Pete and Joe, entered.
“Sorry to disturb you, Ma’am,” Paul said, nodding toward Dorothy. “But the mayor wants to see you fellers,” he said, looking at Pete and Joe.
“Thanks, Paul,” Pete said.
Paul hastily withdrew.
“This is it,” Pete said. He rose slowly and picked his hat up from the table. “We’d better–” The words died in his throat as he felt the sharp sting of a slap across his cheek. He staggered back a step, stunned by the sudden blow. He hadn’t seen it coming: Dorothy had lashed out like a rattlesnake.
“I’ll…” Joe stammered as he made for the door.
“You stay right there, Joe Flaherty,” Dorothy shouted, “unless you want some as well.”
“No, Ma’am, I mean, yes, Ma’am. I mean…” He collapsed into his chair.
Dorothy stood, her cheeks flushed. “I don’t know what’s happening to you today, Pete Baker, but I do know for sure that the man I married wouldn’t give up so easily.”
Pete opened his mouth to reply but her glare quieted him in no uncertain terms. “I’m here in the saloon, minding little Tom and helping my father. What would you say if I told you I was giving it all up just because some drunk made my life difficult? You wouldn’t let me, that’s what, because you know I love it here. Heck, even when we do move out to our farm, I’ll be back here helping out. I know you love being the marshal here, Pete, and if Mayor Dell is going to take that away from you, then he will. But you’re certainly not going to roll over to have your belly kicked. You’re not going to say ‘thank you very much’ when he takes the badge from your shirt. I know a good wife would tell her husband to do whatever he feels is right, that if he wanted to leave his job that she’d support him, no matter what. Well, that’s a load of bull! If you go in there and fight for what you love doing, then I’ll support you, if not…”
She left the sentence unfinished.
Pete exhaled slowly. He realized he’d been holding his breath. Dorothy’s words hung in the air like smoke after a gunshot. He stared up at her. He didn’t feel embarrassment at being castigated in front of Joe; all he could feel was love for the beautiful woman before him, the mother of his child. She was right, of course, like she always was; even when she wasn’t. Something had happened to him out on the plain, he’d felt his own mortality like never before. Discovered that he had more to lose than he ever realized. Baby Tom’s arrival had changed something within him which he only realized today. And the extra responsibility weighed on his shoulders.
That phrase rang around his head. That’s what he was scared of losing. Scared of leaving little Tom without a father; scared of not having those years ahead with his son that he hoped to enjoy.
But he couldn’t hide from reality. For the present, at least, he was still the marshal of Baxter Springs, and he had to act like it. He had to fight for his job and for his own self-respect, if not for any other reason. So he could hold his head high when he came back to his wife and child and call himself the head of his family.
He rose from his seat without saying a word and pulled Dorothy close to him.
She resisted for a moment but when she felt the force of his kiss, she relaxed gladly.
* * * *
Once more they sat in Dell’s office. This time, however, there was someone else in the room: Evan Taylor, standing over Dell.
“What happened this morning?” Dell asked. He smiled as a hungry cat might at a lame mouse.
“You know well what happened, Mayor,” Pete replied. “The money was stolen from the bank and I all but got blasted to kingdom come for trying to get it back. But for Joe, here, I’d be worm food by now.”
“I understand your anger, Marshal, and I thank you for your efforts, but you didn’t get the money back, did you? Any of it? Not one cent?”
He imagined the satisfying feeling of his knuckles connecting with Dell’s fatty mouth, permanently knocking the sneer from his face. Dell didn’t care that Pete had nearly lost everything that morning. He fought to contain his anger. “We never had a chance of recovering that money,” he said. “And the men we killed would never have seen any of it either. Whoever was behind this job wasn’t going to share the cash. The others were just tools to be used to get what he wanted and then to be thrown away when he was finished with them. It just happened that we saved him from doing the worst of the dirty work.”
Perversely, Pete had a grudging respect for the outlaw. He wasn’t beholden to anybody, had taken what he wanted and gotten away scot-free. Not like him, an upstanding citizen dependent on the whims of a mayor who made him feel physically nauseous with distaste.
“We’ll get the money back, or at least catch the thieves,” Pete said suddenly. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Joe’s head turn, his eyes open wide, questioning. Pete kept staring at the mayor.
Dell’s face also registered surprise but he quickly hid it with the same insincere smile. “Will you, now?” he asked archly. “I take it, then, that you must have some idea who committed the crime, is that correct? Or maybe you know where they’re hiding out?”
Pete just shook his head. “Not a clue.”
Dell stared at him for a full ten seconds before bursting into laughter. “You hear that, Evan?” he asked Taylor. “Our marshal can smell stolen money. Sniff it out like a dog.”
Taylor just grunted. He hadn’t moved from his position beside Dell’s chair. He was like a silent sentry surveying all that was going on.
“You want to fire us, Dell,” Pete said, his voice even, but with a hard edge. He was going to fight, as Dorothy had implored him. He was going to turn this to his advantage, somehow. He just hoped he was going the right way about it. “But I’m going to make you another offer.”
“You’re going to make me an offer?” Dell said incredulously. “I’m not sure you’re in any position to do such a thing. Do you know what damage a bank robbery will do to this town? The bank may pull out altogether. I expect someone from their headquarters in Leavenworth today to come here and discuss the matter, and I’m not sure the outcome will be good for Baxter Springs.”
“That may be true, but what if me and Joe succeeded in finding that money or bringing in the robber? I’m pretty sure that would please the fellers from Leavenworth. And it would be a warning to anybody else planning to rob a bank here that they wouldn’t get away with it.”
“I’m sure it would,” Dell replied, “but, as I said earlier, how is that going to happen? We seem to be going round and round in circles here, Pete, without you making any sense.”
“Pay me and Joe our wages for the next two months; give us that time to find the money.” Pete saw that Dell was about to object, so he raised his hand. “Hear me out, Mayor, give me a moment.” Dell nodded, his eyes screwed up, wary. “Make Taylor the marshal while we’re chasing the money. I know that’s what you want to do anyway and this will give you the ideal opportunity. You can see if he’s the right man for the job. If Joe and I don’t succeed, then we’ll go quietly, without a fight. And when the feller from Leavenworth calls, you can tell him you even have the marshal and his deputy on the job. He’ll like the sound of that, and it might even buy you some time. That’s my offer, Mayor.” Pete sat back in his chair and folded his arms.
Silence filled the room. All eyes were now turned expectantly toward Dell. He looked up at Taylor, as if seeking a sign from the big man.
Taylor shrugged his shoulders. “Seems fine by me,” he mumbled. “Way I see it, I become marshal and these jokers will be out of here after two months. It’s a no-lose deal.”
Dell looked across at Pete. “You’ve got a deal.”
As they walked away from the town hall, Joe said, “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“So do I, Joe. So do I…”
* * * *
Weston woke early, the dawn just breaking over the prairie as he slid out from under his blanket. He was in the ruined remains of an old homestead that he presumed was burned during the war. Owner probably lying in a grave somewhere, his family too, like his own parents. He’d tried long enough to forget about what happened to them. These matters didn’t concern him now, however. He saw the ruins as to escape detection. He couldn’t care less what happened to the previous inhabitants, despite the similarities to the fate of his own family. Until now, he’d banished all thoughts of that time from his memory; it was as if it never happened. All he could think of now was how to avoid capture.
He thought of the previous day’s debacle. He’d been lucky to escape. It was the closest he’d ever been to getting caught. It was fitting that this was his last job. It was as if fate was giving him a warning. He had the money beside him, close to his body. It was everything. It was his future, everything that he’d planned. He rose to his feet and breathed in the morning air. It was important to keep moving. They were more than likely after him, searching for his tracks. He’d been careful, though. Left no evidence; well, as far as he could tell. There were no loose ends. Nothing to trip him up.
He tied the grain sacks either side of the saddle, making sure they were closed tight. There was no breakfast; food wasn’t important to him this morning. He had things to do and, all going well, everything would be sorted by the end of the day. No, everything would definitely be in place by the end of the day. It must be. The rest of his life was about to begin. He mounted up, the early morning sun beginning to wash the land with its soft light. He rode briskly away. Time to put his money to work.
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Patrick deWitt has put his Man Booker disappointment behind him after he clinched the $25,000 (£15,365) Rogers Trust Fiction Prize for The Sisters Brothers in Canada.
The prize is one of the most lucrative in Canada. The judges said of the title, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker prize: "The Sisters Brothers is a book unlike any you may read during this or the coming years. Unforgettable.”
DeWitt beat other Man Booker shortlistee Esi Edugyan to clinch the prize. The Sisters Brothers author said: "The experience just flip flops in such a radical way. It's hard to ingest it. Hard to take it in."
Walter Isaacson’s biography of the late Steve Jobs has become one of the fastest-selling hardback non-fiction books since records began.
Brought forward from its original publication date of 24th November following the Apple co-founder’s death on 5th October, Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography (Little, Brown) sold 37,645 copies in its first week on bookshop shelves. Only four hardback biographies/memoirs have sold more in their opening week since Nielsen BookScan records began in 1998.
The biography comfortably tops this week’s Official UK Top 50, ahead of Guinness World Records and James Patterson and Howard Roughan's Don't Blink (Arrow), which sold 21,643 copies and 20,242 copies respectively. More than 50 hardback novels officially hit bookshop shelves last week, with five of them earning a place in this week's Official UK Top 50 on part-week sales alone. John Grisham’s latest thriller, The Litigators, was the pick of the bunch. The book, his first adult novel published by Hodder following his switch from Cornerstone earlier this year, sold 12,962 copies in its first five days on sale last week, and takes eighth place in this week's Official UK Top 50.
Victoria Hislop’s The Thread (Headline Review); Michael Connelly’s 17th Harry Bosch thriller The Drop (Orion); Haruki Murakami’s Orwellian 1Q84: Book Three (Harvill Secker); and Conn Iggulden's Conqueror (HarperCollins) also all début in the Official UK Top 50.
Helped by the popularity of these enticing new releases, sales of hardback novels through BookScan’s top 5,000 bestseller lists were up 6% week-on-week and up 7% on the same week last year. Terry Pratchett's Snuff (Doubleday) was once again the bestselling hardback novel of the week, outselling Martina Cole's The Faithless (Headline) by 19,567 copies to 17,466.
Helped by the autumn half-term break, sales of children’s titles soared 20% week-on-week. David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny (HarperCollins) was the bestselling children’s title of the week, scoring sales of 11,248 copies—up 3,908 on his previous weekly sales personal best of 7,340 set by Billionaire Boy last year.
However, the non-fiction market remains weak in comparison to last year, with sales through the top 5,000 down 20% year-on-year. Just five hardback non-fiction books sold more than 10,000 copies last week, down from 12 in the same week last year.
Lee Evans retains his crown as the author of the bestselling celebrity memoir in the UK, but his The Life of Lee (Michael Joseph) was the only celebrity memoir to sell more than 10,000 copies. Nine, led by Keith Richards’ Life (Weidenfeld) with a sale of 28,200 copies, achieved the feat in the comparative week last year.
Even Jamie Oliver’s new TV series, which began on Channel Four last week, did little to invigorate a weak non-fiction market. Sales of his Jamie’s Great Britain (Michael Joseph) were up just 2% week-on-week, to 10,740 copies sold—well below the 78,606 figure scored by his 30-minute Meals in the same week last year.
In total, £32.5m was spent on printed books at UK booksellers last week, up 2.9% week-on-week but down 9.5% (£3.4m) on the same week last year.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
BookRiff, which launches tomorrow, lets readers to mix and match licensed content (book chapters, recipes, photos, etc) into a personalized package —
The veteran of five startups, Grayson joined BookRiff, the digital media company that is a partner of Vancouver-based Douglas & McIntyre publishing company, at the behest of founder Mark Scott, whom she knew from a philosophy book club.
“I like to go into chaos and organize it,” says Grayson. “I’ve always straddled the worlds of new and traditional media, so my strength is in seeing how to move back and forth between the two.” What she means about negotiating the worlds of new and traditional media when it comes to BookRiff is that their business model combines traditional media — vetted, edited, and formatted content — from book publishers, with new media capabilities of “slicing and dicing” that content into discrete chunks (BookRiff calls them “Notes,” in keeping with their musical theme) that consumers can purchase and recombine into any kind of form they can imagine. That means professors can put together coursebooks, avid gourmets can assemble custom cookbooks, and travelers can choose which pieces of content will go into their individual guidebooks.
BookRiff CEO Rochelle Grayson
“With BookRiff, we have what we believe is a future for highly curated, highly customized content for very large niche audiences,” says Grayson. “It’s one solution of many on the digital publishing front, but it meets a need that isn’t being served anywhere else to this extent.” BookRiff, which is already working with over half a dozen traditional publishers and plans on agreements with dozens more, takes care of all licensing and copyright arrangements so that when a consumer comes to their site to assemble a “Riff,” all they have to do is purchase content and watch its tally on their screen.
Grayson believes that book publishers have neglected the experiential aspect of reading. “I’ll be honest, where publishers have floundered and sold themselves short is by emphasizing content over experience. For example, telling a reader that ‘This book has been well reviewed.’ The reader doesn’t care! The reader wants to know what she will get from that book. We’ve gotten too far away from that experience, which is what we’re actually selling. In publishing, we’ve been terrific about streamlining the production process — but too often, we leave the marketing message to retailers.”
As Grayson provides of tour of BookRiff.com, she notes that the company is in “soft launch with a lot of hand-holding. I make money when I sell content, but the back-end system right now is by invitation only, because we want to make sure we have good publishers, good content, and good curators (or “Riffers”), even if it means we don’t have as much content as we’d like at first.” The company has targeted several verticals and already has deals in place with O’Reilly Media, Harvard Common Press, Sterling Publishers, and, of course, Douglas & McIntyre.
Visitors to the site who go in “cold” will be able to browse and see which already crafted “Riffs” are for sale, as well as start crafting their own — but until a purchase is made, they won’t get the full text of any “Note.” However, you will always be able to see any Riff or book’s table of contents. For content creator and publisher comfort, everyone should know that content on the BookRiff site is carefully coded so that it cannot be copied, altered, or otherwise changed. “Separating the presentation layer from actual content is sometimes tough for mainstream publishers,” says Grayson, “but while BookRiff is tech, I see it mostly as an enabler of people. It still takes the creativity of the human mind to make it worthwhile. Think about it — Twitter in terms of tech sucks; what makes it interesting is the people who use it.”
Grayson believes that the time is ripe for BookRiff. “Many people now have grown up in a remix world and have more fluid ideas about how content is used. The low-hanging fruit, at first, is going to be the informational content, including market research, travel, and cooking—but who know what will happen after that?”
Monday, October 3, 2011
April 24, 1868. Kansas
Pete Baker and Joe Flaherty stalked down Main Street, Baxter Springs. Pete was on edge and Joe had finally given up trying to calm him. “He’s going to get rid of us,” Pete muttered. “I’m sure of it. He has his own man lined up, that sack of shit.”
“He can’t do that,” Joe replied. “You’ve done a great job as marshal.”
“Thanks.” Pete glanced at his friend. “And you’ve been a great deputy. But I don’t think that counts for much with Mayor Dell.”
Joe didn’t challenge Pete this time; he knew that there was no point. What Pete said could be true. He’d been marshal for two years now and he was doing as good a job as anyone could in a town as wild as Baxter Springs. But, he realized, if the mayor wanted to bring in his own man, there wasn’t much he could do about it.
The job didn’t mean as much to Joe, Pete knew. Joe was a Texan and could always ride back down the trail to the family ranch if necessary whereas he, on the other hand, had made his life in Baxter Springs. He had Dorothy, a beautiful and loving wife, and three-month-old Tom. Being marshal helped support his family, it was an important source of income.
The soles of their boots made a solid sound as they strode along the wooden boardwalk. They reached the entrance to the town hall and walked straight in the front door. Even though it was called the Town Hall, in reality it was a three room wooden building, not very different from most of the others in the town.
The door to the mayor’s office was open and they were beckoned in. The mayor offered them seats, smiling his nauseatingly obsequious smile at them as they settled into their chairs. The mayor sat behind an imposing oak desk which, Pete knew from his few dealings with him, Dell thought gave him an air of separation from the stream of commoners he dealt with on a daily basis. Joe looked like he wanted to run around that desk and plant a fist in Dell’s face. Pete hoped his friend would contain his temper.
“Welcome, men.” Dell’s large bushy mustache moved up and down as he spoke. He’d been appointed mayor six months before, much to Pete’s annoyance and frustration. The two men didn’t have a good working relationship and Pete felt that Dell was just waiting for an excuse to get rid of him in order to bring in some old friend or crony as marshal, which he was aware was a not uncommon practice. Pete’s position as marshal was relatively well paid and coveted by many.
Pete was very much his own man and it was this trait that he knew caused Dell most frustration. He didn’t feel the need to fill the mayor in on every little detail of his work. He simply believed that it was none of his business, just as he hadn’t burdened the previous mayor with the minutiae of the job either. Pete would never make a politician, he knew that for sure, but he now realized that he may have to temper his stubbornness or it might cost him his job.
“You’re probably wondering why I called you here,” Dell said.
“Let’s not drag this out any longer than necessary,” Pete replied. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Joe cast a worried glance in his direction.
“What do you mean, Marshal?” Dell’s voice was as sweet as molasses.
“Stop fooling around and get to the point, Mayor.” Pete was unable to play the game that he was sure Dell wanted him to play. The very injustice of the situation: the imminent removal of his job, his livelihood, his means of survival on the whim of a man like Dell was almost too much to bear. He wanted to get this over with quick.
Dell arched an eyebrow and beckoned with his hand for Pete to continue with what he had to say.
“You’re firing us, aren’t you?”
His words hung over the room like a pall. Everything was now out in the open. He’d said what was on his mind. He heard Joe shift in his chair and shuffle his feet nervously, his hard-soled boots scraping the floorboards. He looked toward Dell who wore a smirk on his face. A tense silence filled the air until he spoke again.
“Come on, Joe,” Pete said, “I don’t want to stay where I’m not wanted.”
He scraped back his chair and got to his feet. Joe, too, stood but Dell halted them before they could make for the door. “Not so fast, boys. I didn’t give you permission to leave.”
Pete felt his temper flare. He was about to tell Dell where he could shove his permission when he felt Joe’s hand on his shoulder. He eyed his deputy’s face and saw his look of concern. Concern that he might say or do something that might have serious consequences. He would hold his tongue, for now at least. Whatever happened about losing his job, spending a night in jail was not part of his plan.
“I didn’t call you here to fire you,” Dell said, unable to hide the smugness in his voice, “although after that little performance I might change my mind.”
Pete fought to keep a neutral expression on his face, to hide the surprise he now felt. He stared dead into the eyes of the mayor until Dell looked away.
“I know this is a tough town to control,” Dell said. “The cattle bring money but also trouble. But the bottom line is that we need the cattle business. We’d be broke without it.”
Dell spoke the truth. Pete was the one who had to deal with the violent, drunk and randy cowboys and the chaos they brought with them each time a herd was driven to the town railheads. The saloons, hotels, brothels, whores, stores; all were dependent on the cowboys and their money.
“I don’t know why you thought I was going to fire you,” Dell added. “I think you’re doing a good job.”
Something in Dell’s voice prevented Pete from believing him completely. “But... ” he uttered. He left the rest of the sentenced unfinished.
“Exactly,” Dell replied. “But...” He let the word hang there for a moment before continuing. “We need to get more money in taxes,” Dell said, speaking quickly to hide the quaver in his voice. “I was thinking of bringing someone in to help you. Someone the businesses couldn’t say no to.”
Pete left Dell’s words settle like stones dropped to the bottom of the riverbed. He knew well that this matter wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed. Collecting fines and taxes was his least favourite part of the job, so any help in that regard would be welcome. If that was what Dell truly had in mind.
“Who were you thinking of?” Pete asked.
“Evan Taylor? You sure?” Pete’s reasoned tone of voice hid his incredulity at Dell’s suggestion. Taylor was a thug and a gunsmith. During the previous cattle season, Taylor raised some hell in the town, beat up a couple of whores and shot up Carley’s General Store. In the end Pete and Joe gave him the option of either leaving Baxter Springs for good or spending some time in the town jail. Wisely, Taylor, chose the first option. But now he was back, and with the mayor’s blessing, it seemed.
“I’m not sure I could bear the sight of that thug wearing a shield,” Pete said.
“Well, I think he could do a good job for us and…” Dell raised his hand to stop Pete from interrupting, “…ultimately, the money collected from businesses goes to pay your salary. Just think about that, Pete.”
Dell didn’t need to elaborate any further; it was clear to Pete what he was getting at.
“This has already been decided, hasn’t it?’
Dell was silent.
“If I don’t agree to this, Taylor will take over as marshal anyway.”
Dell didn’t respond.
“Well?” Pete asked forcefully. He leaned forward in his chair, narrowing the distance between them.
“Now, Pete,” Dell said in a faltering voice, “the reason I brought you here was so we could talk about this.”
“And if I say no?”
The mayor took his time, trying desperately to regain his composure. Finally, he said, “You have a wife, Pete. And a baby…”
“I see,” Pete replied. “So that’s the way it’s going to be.” He sat back in his chair. He burned inside with frustration and anger. He loved being marshal of Baxter Springs and drew great satisfaction from trying to manage the town as best he could. He’d become part of the community and that had given him a sense of worth. And, most importantly, he earned a good living for himself and his family. And that had to be the foremost concern in his mind. Ultimately, he couldn’t afford to put that living in undue jeopardy.
“Joe stays as my deputy, all right?” was all he said, trying to hide the defeat in his voice.
“I’m glad we’ve come to an agreement.” Dell rose and reached his hand across the table. It remained hanging in the air, untouched, as Pete and Joe walked out the door.
* * * *
Five men rode toward the outskirts of town. Charlie Weston drew his overcoat tighter around him and pulled his hat down lower over his eyes. The four men with him did the same. It wasn’t cold, or wet; they weren’t dressed in these heavy coats with high collars for any other reason than to conceal their identities and the weapons they carried.
Weston chewed on an unlit thick cigar, tense but not nervous. He’d been through this many times before over the last few years, although not with this band. He found it more and more difficult to find reliable and loyal gunmen. If all went well, this would be the last time he’d have to draw his Colt in anger. He was eager for it all to end. He found it harder to keep going. The lifespan of an outlaw was only so long, and he felt that his luck might be coming to an end. That was one reason why this job was so important. He had plans, and this payout should allow him to make them real.
It was early in the morning and the town was quiet as they rode along the street. The five men passed unnoticed; if anybody saw them, they’d be mistaken for cowmen or drovers.
Weston reined in outside a clapboard building, the bank. The men dismounted and tied their horses to the hitching rail. Not a word passed between them; they knew their roles. Two men fanned out and covered the approaches to the premises. The other two followed Weston.
He fought to control his breathing as he approached the front door. His nerve endings tingled with excitement. He felt no fear. What had he left to fear, anyway? He had nothing to lose, nobody waiting for him. He just had to look after himself, and this was his way of doing just that.
Weston pushed open the front door and entered the bank, closely followed by one of his men, a grizzled old outlaw named Stewart. The other stayed outside to make sure that nobody else followed them in. There were just two staff, a clerk and a cashier, sitting behind a wooden counter. Weston didn’t approach the desk but stopped and warmed his hands at the stove placed just inside the door. Instead, he watched Stewart approach the clerk. The cashier watched, too, as Stewart stood facing his companion.
“Can you change this for me, friend?” Stewart growled as he slid a ten dollar bill across the polished counter. The clerk reached for the bill but stopped midway as the steel barrel of Stewart’s revolver pressed against his temple. The cashier leaped to his feet to help his colleague, instinct trumping restraint.
“I wouldn’t do that,” snarled Weston round his cigar. The cashier was halted by the sound of the hammer of Weston’s gun being drawn back. “I said stop, feller. Or I will blast your head off.”
The tone of his voice left the cashier in no doubt that he meant what he said.
“Let’s not waste any time,” Weston said forcefully. His heart was racing, now. Even though the town was quiet at this early hour, he knew that they couldn’t afford to waste any time in here. His men outside would keep watch but there was always the danger that a curious lawman would show up and note the unfamiliar faces outside the town’s only bank and grow suspicious. He had to expedite matters and, from experience, he knew that brutality was often the best way of shocking people into action.
The two bank staff stared at him, either unwilling or unable to move. Weston nodded almost imperceptibly to Stewart. The thug’s right arm flashed across the desk, striking the clerk’s face with the butt of his Colt.
“Andy!” the cashier shouted.
Weston then grabbed the cashier by the shoulder. “Quiet!” He shoved him toward the open bank vault, the man half stumbling on his way, clearly shocked by what he’d seen happen to his associate, Andy. The clerk now lay on the floor, blood seeping from the wound on his face, his low moans rolling around the building. Weston shoved the cashier into the vault and flung him a grain sack he’d concealed in his coat. “Be quick!” he barked.
* * * *
Ralph, the cashier was glad to have a job, a purpose. Something he could focus his ordered mind on. Everything would be all right as long as he did as he was told. He began to fill the sack with gold and silver coins, the sounds from the currency temporarily drowning out the lowing from his injured friend, Andy. He worked methodically, the only way he knew how, doing his job, anxious to please. Outside the vault, the grizzled old outlaw hauled Andy to his feet and tried to shake the grogginess from him.
“Where’s the paper money?” the old outlaw demanded. Andy slumped back to his knees, a glazed expression on his face. The outlaw raised his gun again, ready to strike Andy once more.
“In the box,” Ralph shouted from inside the vault, his voice shrill with panic and fright. He wasn’t sure that he could bear the sight or sound of any more violence. Wasn’t sure if he could endure the sickening, sharp crack of gun striking bone. Wasn’t sure he could listen to any more primal, animal sounds of aggression and pain. His hand shook as he pointed to a large tin container inside the vault.
The old outlaw came into the vault and stuffed the contents of the box: currency, bonds, bank notes and sheets of revenue stamps, into another sack. The cigar chewing outlaw stepped out of the vault, his grain sack bulging, and then the old outlaw grabbed Andy and dragged him roughly across the floor toward the vault. He flung him inside.
“Stay in there,” grated the man with the cigar, “if you know what’s good for you.”
Ralph glanced at his fob watch. He reckoned the two outlaws had been in the bank for a total of eight minutes.
Darkness enveloped them as the vault door slammed shut. Relief flooded through him. Relief that the raiders had gone, that he wouldn’t be hurt, and that it was his colleague who suffered from their violence and not him. They could be in here for hours, he realized in an abstract sort of way, as if it was of no great concern to him. All he need do was just wait until someone let them out and he’d then go about his day as normal.
But Andy’s pain couldn’t be ignored. He lay at his feet, the sounds of his hurt filling the small room. Ralph knelt beside him. He couldn’t see Andy’s wound in the darkness, for which he was grateful. He didn’t know what to say to his friend, how to reassure him. As he dredged his mind for suitable words, he noticed a thin sliver of light entered the vault from around the door frame. Jammed in it was a loose coin, preventing it from closing fully.
“Back in a minute,” Ralph muttered to his stricken colleague as he shoved at the vault door. It gave, and he was out! The bank was empty; his attackers had left the premises but through the large glass window he saw them disappearing down the street.
He burst out the front door and shouted at the top of his voice: “Robbed! We’ve been robbed!” He pointed down the street at the group of riders heading out of town and frantically looked around for help.
* * * *
Pete was silent as he walked away from the mayor’s office with Joe.
“What’re you thinking, Marshal?” Joe asked.
“You know you don’t have to call me that. Pete will do just fine.”
“Well, whatever I call you, the question’s the same. What d’you think of what just happened inside there?”
“I think he’s trying to get rid of us, no matter what he says. Well, get rid of me at least. But he doesn’t have the courage to do it like a man.”
“I think it’s because he knows that he doesn’t have the support. If he got rid of you all the businessmen would be furious. He’d get run out of town.”
“I’m not so sure. He wants Evan Taylor in as marshal, that’s for sure. I don’t know why, but that’s the road he’s heading down and I’m not sure there’s much I can do about it. He is the mayor after all.”
He was silent for a moment and then added, “Let’s get some breakfast. Things might seem a little straighter after a cup of coffee and some food.”
Joe was about to speak but the words died in his mouth as a cry pierced the air, cutting through their worries about the mayor and wiping out their plans to fill their bellies. “What was that?” he asked.
Pete had already broken into a run and half-turned to shout, “Somebody’s just robbed the bank!”
They both rushed to their horses and mounted up and rode in the direction the distraught cashier pointed, their horses’ hoofs kicking up dust from the dry ground as they went.
Pete led the way as they rode the cattle trail that led into Baxter Springs, that broad worn sweep of ground gouged into the soil by the hoofs of the beasts that gave the town life. The outlaws couldn’t be that far ahead, Pete knew, but he could see no sign of the fleeing gang. He felt a fire burning within, fuelling a drive to catch the men who dared rob the bank in his town. This was the first bank robbery since he’d become marshal and he felt a personal hurt at the crime. And, though he wouldn’t admit it, or maybe even realize it, his meeting with the mayor spurred him on also. This pursuit gave him something to focus on, and prove that he was a good lawman.
* * * *
Joe gradually fell behind, his mount unable to match the speed of Pete’s.
Pete disappeared around a sweeping curve in the trail and Joe lost him from sight, the dust kicked up by his horse blocking his view. He fought to get more from his mount to try and gain some ground but with no success. But then he heard a sound that sent a chill down his spine; the sound of gunshots.
Joe drew his Colt and drew back the hammer. He rounded the curve in the trail, nerves jangling, wary of what might lie ahead. He heard a gunfire once more and felt a bullet whistle
past his ear. He pulled back on the reins, anxious not to ride into the ambush. He ducked his head low behind his horse’s neck for cover. As he did so, he heard a shout from his left.
“Joe,” Pete called, “get over here!” Pete had dismounted and lay crouched in a depression behind a small hillock off the side of the trail.
A shot cracked the air again and once more Joe heard the distinctive whistling sound of a bullet as it passed close by, the sound of death seeking him out. He was an easy target sitting in the middle of the trail like this; he had to get under cover.
Pete poked his head over the top of the ridge and fired off two quick shots at some target in the distance.
Joe took his chance, quickly dismounted and dashed over to where Pete lay. His horse turned tail and fled back toward Baxter Springs.
“They were waiting for me,” Pete panted. “Dry-gulched me.”
“You hit?” Joe asked.
Pete shook his head.
“Where they firing from?” Joe shouted above the sound of the gunfire.
“Behind a ditch just up the way a little. Five of them. Just saw the barrel of a Winchester
poking out as I came round the bend. Took cover just in time.”
“Bless your sight, Pete, I didn’t see a thing. I’d have ridden straight into them.”
“That was their plan.”
The shooting stopped momentarily and Pete took the opportunity to take a quick look
over the top of their cover. He dropped back down just as quickly. “They’re going to try and roust us out,” he said. “They’ve got us outnumbered but I’ve never known an outlaw to have more stomach for a fight than you or me.”
Joe nodded in agreement.
“They’ll probably send two fellers around our side, try to outflank us, under covering fire from the other three. That’s what I’d do anyway. They’ll try to keep our heads down until the other jiggers are close enough to blow our heads off. But we’ll be ready for them,” he said with grim determination.
“Just like the war again,” Joe said quietly.
Pete nodded. He quickly described his plan of action to Joe. “It’s risky but right now it didn’t seem as if we’ve got any other choice.”
* * * *
Weston finished giving his instructions to his men. He was furious that they hadn’t killed the marshal outright but Travers had fired too early. To make matters worse, they’d also failed to hit the deputy. Now, instead of being home free they were stuck in a shootout in the middle of the plain. This couldn’t continue, Weston knew. There might be a posse on the way from the town, hungry for blood. His blood. Even in a place like Baxter Springs, a full scale
gun-party couldn’t continue indefinitely without attracting some measure of attention. It was time to resolve this impasse, and quickly.
“Travers and Collier,” he called.
The pair reluctantly looked at him, aware from his tone of voice that they wouldn’t like what he had in mind.
“You two fan out and come around the sides of that hillock. We’ll cover you. And,” he said pointedly at Travers, “make sure you don’t miss this time.”
“Why us?” Travers protested. “Why don’t you go if you’re so worried we won’t do it right?” Anger welled within Weston once more. He hated Travers, now, his emotion was that strong. Hated them all, in fact. If he’d thought that he could’ve pulled off the robbery by himself, he would have; it would have been worth the risk instead of having to now stare at the sullen face of this idiot. The face of a man who just wanted to collect easy money, who didn’t want to work or take orders.
“Because I said so,” Weston replied, slowly, as if he were speaking to a child. He had to use all his strength to keep his frustration in check.
“So what?” Travers rasped. “Who said you could boss us around anyways?”
A single shot rang out and Travers clutched at his chest. The others ducked for cover, all except Weston and Stewart. Smoke drifted from the barrel of Stewart’s Colt and dissipated slowly into the late-morning air.
“Any more questions?” Weston asked.
There were none.
“Donnachie, you take Travers’ place.”
This time there were no arguments. Donnachie and Collier stepped over the dying form of Travers as they left the cover of the ditch. Seconds later, Stewart and Weston lay down covering fire.
* * * *
Joe was about to jump into action when the shot that killed Travers echoed. Pete grabbed him by his shirtfront to steady him and gestured for him to wait a moment.
“What’s happening?” Joe mouthed.
Pete wasn’t sure, but he knew he couldn’t afford to betray his plan too early. If it didn’t come off, they’d be going home as corpses slung on their mounts, of that he had no doubt. He had no illusions about the savagery of gunfights. He’d seen too much of their aftermaths and witnessed the barbarity and brutishness they brought out in people. Gunfights unleashed base instincts, the instinct for survival, to live, even if it was at the expense of another person. He’d never previously had any fear of slaughter. But things were different, now.
Must stay alive. For them.
He thought of Dorothy and little Tom back in the Ranchers’ Saloon. Dorothy’s father, Cal, owned the business and Dorothy helped him run it. Did they even know that he was out here, his life hanging by a thread? They’d be wondering why he hadn’t come home for breakfast, why he hadn’t checked in. Maybe they wouldn’t be wondering, after all. Word of the bank robbery would spread. They’d know, all right. He couldn’t be farther from them now, he thought. But there was only one way to get back there. Kill or be killed. It was the law of this land.
He took a deep breath. There was still no firing from the ditch. Maybe he’d been wrong? Maybe the outlaws were crawling toward them even now, Bowie knives drawn, ready to slit their throats? This thought sent a chill through him, despite the growing heat.
He tensed his body, ready to crawl around the side of the hillock to see the lie of the land. He knew that he might be offering himself as an easy target. But he also knew that he couldn’t just lie there doing nothing, waiting for death’s cold embrace. He dropped onto his belly and removed his hat, left it. He turned to Joe and indicated that he must not follow him.
He crawled along, using his elbows to propel himself forward. It was only a few feet to a spot where he could peer round a small undulation and get a view of the plain. They wouldn’t be expecting him to appear there, he reckoned, away from the main cover of the hillock. And, if the worst came to the worst and he was seen and fired upon, maybe even killed, at least he would have given Joe warning without putting him in immediate jeopardy.
He lay flat against the dry, dusty ground, his nose pressed against the dirt. Without his hat, the sun’s rays felt intense on his scalp and sweat drooled down his face. Any upward movement and he’d break cover. The ridge was just high enough to hide him but it tapered away until it became one with the plain. He brought his revolver up from his hip and pulled back the hammer, ready to fire. He knew he’d be a sitting duck if spotted. One gun against five, as far as he knew, with very little cover. One of those bullets was bound to find its target. But the other option, to wait for death to come around the hill and take them, was no option for Pete Baker. He wasn’t going to allow that to happen.
He tensed, ready to stick his head into the open. “Now or never, Pete,” he muttered, sounding braver than he felt. His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden fusillade of shots that filled the air and the impact of bullets into the hillock.
* * * *
Joe wasn’t sure what to do. Pete’s plan hadn’t involved him being yards away with his nose buried in dirt when the lead started flying. To his left, he saw Pete trying to make himself as small as possible to avoid getting hit. He heard bullets singing overhead as well as thudding into the hillock and the ground all around him. But Pete didn’t seem to have been hit. They mustn’t have seen him, he concluded. They weren’t firing at him, either. This must be their covering fire for the men who were going to outflank them.
“Pete!” he roared, straining to be heard above the din. “They’re not firing at you, they haven’t seen you!” Joe saw Pete rise onto his haunches. He looked about for a moment before shouting to Joe: “Do it!”
Joe understood immediately and pressed his back hard against the hillock. Its summit was just above his head. Joe removed his hat and in one smooth move landed it on top of the ridge. Before it landed, he was rolling away to his right.
He heard lead being emptied into his hat, as though the robbers’ fire concentrated on that one point. He regretted the loss of that hat, a gift from his mother. His Colt ready, he looked across at Pete and received a definite nod. It was time.
* * * *
Both Pete and Joe broke cover at the same time, guns blazing. As they rose up they charged almost directly into Collier and Donnachie. The outlaws’ expressions changed from shocked surprise to terror as they realized they were now easy targets. Joe and Pete cut them down. Pete was so close he could smell the stale sweat that permeated the outlaws’ bodies as they fell dead. Now there were just those behind the ditch.
Bullets chased their feet, kicking up dust as they ran. Pete didn’t bother crouching low, he just ran as hard as he could toward the low ditch. He saw the man firing at him, an old grizzled feller with his hat pulled low and the barrel of his Winchester tracking. Yet Pete moved fast and closed the distance between them quickly. He couldn’t see the other gang members, and presumed that they were somewhere close by. Maybe Joe was dealing with them? He fired a couple of shots quickly at the ditch, forcing the outlaw to duck for cover. The barrel of the rifle reappeared, just feet away. He fired his Colt but the bullet missed and struck the ground directly in front of the outlaw. His gun clicked empty: he was a sitting duck.
Time lengthened as Pete clearly saw the features of the man who prepared to kill him. The sun-bronzed face, beaten harshly by the wind, the lines like furrows that creased his forehead. And there was nothing Pete could do about it; he was powerless, destined to run into the ball of lead that would travel toward him at a ferocious speed and rip through his shirt and skin and make a mess of internal organs, tearing them beyond repair and rendering the shiny marshal’s badge on his chest no more useful than a toy little Tom might play with.
In those seconds, all he felt was loneliness crashing over him like a wave, smothering him. What would his family do when they heard of his death? Would it help that he died bravely, or would it have made any difference if he’d died between the legs of a whore? The result would be the same: extinction. Would Dorothy remarry? Would Tom even remember him? He thought of the experiences he would never share with his family and he mourned the life he would never have. His mortality, his perishability was laid bare; the brutal transience of life was brought home to him. This was the end.
* * * *
Sound cleaved the air. It was the sound of an explosion in a weapon, propelling a projectile from a barrel toward its target until it met with skin and bone and gristle and all manner of life-giving matter.
The body collapsed to the ground, existence draining from it. It was little more than a shell, a husk from which the seed had been eaten. Dead.
* * * *
Pete’s mouth had gaped open when he had heard the report and a shout, a primeval roar, had forced itself from his lungs as if competing with the noise of the very thing destined to kill him. He felt nothing, surprised that the impact of something that could take so much from him, take everything from him, didn’t cause more pain. Didn’t strike him like a bolt of lightning, dissolving him on the spot. His legs kept moving, his cry kept calling out, filling him from within, blocking out all external sensations, wrapping him in a cocoon of black noise until he found himself standing over the prone body of the grizzled outlaw, blood seeping from the man’s temple.
He stopped, stunned and confused. Unable to comprehend what had just happened.
“Pete!” Joe called.
Pete stood still, dazed, gazing foolishly at the dead man at his feet. He lifted his head and looked across at Joe.
“I got him, Pete,” Joe said, holding up his smoking revolver. “I got him.”
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