Shots Fired in the Dark (Preview)


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Chapter One

In his room at the boarding house, Deputy Don Hardesty looked at himself in the mirror, focusing on the badge on his vest. He wore a standard blue shirt with a brown vest over it. He thought the brown vest, the blue shirt, and the shining silver badge looked good. He smiled. He was tall, with black wavy hair, brown eyes, and pale skin, at least for Texas. He was twenty-five, but the dark seriousness of his eyes ensured people didn’t mistake him for a foolish young man. There was an element of maturity both in his eyes and in his manner.

He’d always wanted to be in law enforcement and happened to be in Buffalo Springs when Sheriff Lon Merkan needed a deputy. His former deputy had up and quit two weeks ago. Hardesty’s previous law enforcement experience had only involved riding with a few posses, but that was enough for Sheriff Merkan, who said he would give the young man a try. He swore Hardesty in and pinned a deputy’s badge on him. To Hardesty, it was a great day.

That had been five days ago. And the first five days of his job were, to be honest, rather dull. He picked up a drunk one night on the street and ushered him into the jail but didn’t lock the door. Homer Holliday was a native of Buffalo Springs and had almost become a tourist attraction. It was not unusual to have him roaming the streets drunk. The town put up with it because everyone knew Holliday had had a streak of bad luck in his life, and the town overlooked his drinking. Plus, he was never violent or loud, he just smiled at people and said hello. He wasn’t a mean man when he was sober and he wasn’t a mean drunk, either. The new deputy had never asked just what type of bad luck Holliday had experienced but just treated him kindly, including giving him a place to spend the night for free.

Hardesty bent his knees so his entire face would show up in the mirror. He was taller than the mirror, and when he stood up, only his nose and chin reflected in the glass. He would have to do some room remodeling and raise the mirror.

There was a slight hesitation about the job, and it concerned Sheriff Merkan. Hardesty was a bit ashamed of himself for thinking it since the sheriff had given him a job, but the sheriff didn’t strike him as a dependable man. He smiled and said good things and told him a few things about the job. Still, Deputy Hardesty didn’t get a good feeling about his superior and he couldn’t really put his reasons into words.

It was more of a feeling.

He thought of his father, who had now unfortunately passed away. His father was named because his parents were traveling when his mother was pregnant and the baby arrived unexpectedly early when his parents were in Denver, Colorado. The baby’s arrival, though early, went fine and with no complications. And his parents decided to name him Denver. Hardesty’s father was honest through and through. If Denver Hardesty told you the sun had turned blue, you would rush out of the house to see the astronomical oddity. You would never think Denver Hardesty was lying to you, or even kidding you. You rushed out to see the blue moon. It was an example of the rock-solid honesty and trust Denver Hardesty was known for.

The deputy sensed his boss didn’t have that rock-solid honesty. But he shrugged it off, hoping he was wrong.

Grabbing his hat, he headed to the restaurant for breakfast. He didn’t know it when he signed on as a deputy, but lawmen in town got a twenty percent discount at The Red Steer, an eatery run by Dan and Nancy Rollins. Both were slightly overweight—Hardesty assumed from eating their own cooking—and both smiled and laughed most of the time. They had enthusiastically welcomed him as a new deputy. He walked and sat at a table. Nancy Rollins was on the other side of the restaurant but gave a merry yell at him.

“Hey, here’s a new deputy sheriff. Everybody say hello to him.”

Most people looked up from their meals to glance at Hardesty. He smiled and waved to the crowd. Nancy walked toward him to take his order. “Same as you had yesterday?”

“Yes, that would be fine… and thanks for the introduction.” He laughed.

“Just wanted to let people know who you are. The last deputy was a pretty nice guy. I’m sure you will be, too.”

“I’ll try my best. This is my first job as a deputy and I’m still getting used to it,” Hardesty said.

“I’m sure you’ll fit in fine,” she said. Then she leaned over and spoke into his ear. “Some of us feel the sheriff had gotten a little lazy and we need new blood in the office. He’s a little odd at times.” She stepped back and smiled. “I’ll go get your breakfast.”

Hardesty frowned. He knew not everyone in a town likes any sheriff. By the nature of his profession, a lawman may have a few, or even many critics. But he thought it odd a business owner would share reservations about a sheriff with a relatively new man in town, a deputy of the very man she was criticizing. But Nancy was such a friendly person, he couldn’t criticize her.

She came back with a plate of bacon and eggs and small, cut potatoes.

“Thank you,” he said as he picked up his fork. “And thank you, Lord, for the meal,” he added.

His mother had always said grace at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And he had picked up the habit, if not the piety of his mother. He believed, but his mother was truly a woman of faith. He was more a man of half-faith—well, maybe seventy-five percent faith, but he fell short of his mother.

He stabbed the yellow scrambled eggs with the fork and brought some to his mouth. Excellent. The Rollinses had established a reputation for being good cooks, and they were. The bacon was crisp and as good as the eggs. He sipped on his coffee thinking he should start every day with a good breakfast. It got a man off on the right foot in the morning.

A medium-height man with brown hair and blue eyes walked into the restaurant. His hair was a bit long in the back, and a bit shaggy too. Hardesty thought he had seen the man before but he couldn’t think of the name. Hardesty had traveled quite a bit before he landed the job in Buffalo Springs, and he just couldn’t think of the town where he saw the man.

Through the window of the café, he saw four men ride down the street. For some reason, a warning note sounded in his brain. There was nothing distinctive about the men; they looked like regular cowboys, except one was exceptionally tall. The slender, redheaded man was at least two feet taller in the saddle than his three friends. Hardesty had a hunch the red-haired man was the leader of the group. He shrugged and bit off another piece of the bacon.

The meal was excellent. He left a large tip on the table and then paid the bill.

“Off to the sheriff’s office?” Nancy said.

“Yes, gotta keep the peace.” He laughed.

Merkan had said he would be out of town briefly this morning due to some business. Hardesty walked the two blocks to the office and opened the door. The sheriff’s desk was in the middle of the floor, while Hardesty had a smaller desk to the side. Sheriff Merkan had left him a stack of wanted posters. They must have been new ones that came in the office late in the afternoon the day before.

He picked them up and immediately stared into the face of a really ugly outlaw with a long scar on his jaw. His lips were pulled back in a nasty sneer. The black letters under the name read “Diego Lopez, Wanted for Murder.” Hiding out might be difficult for the man—once anyone had seen him, he couldn’t forget him. You can’t forget a face like that, Hardesty thought.

He skimmed through the other posters and found one other man wanted for murder. He had killed two men in Amarillo Springs. The name was Hector Dolan and he, unlike most of the wanted men, was handsome with blond, well-kept hair and a smile on his lips. The two posters reminded Hardesty that outlaws could come in all shapes and sizes, and could be ugly or handsome, fat or thin.

He went over and tacked the posters to the bulletin board in the office. The sixth day of the job looked like it would be routine, just as the first five days had. He wasn’t disappointed. He knew lawmen didn’t spend all their time engaging in gunfights with bad men and riding down outlaws. There was a great deal of routine work connected to a sheriff’s or a deputy’s job.

He heard a stirring from inside a cell.

“Hey, can I get out of here now?” yelled a voice.

“Door’s open, Homer,” Hardesty called back.

“It is?”

“Yes, just get up, open it, and walk out.”

He heard noises again as Homer stood up. “Yes, the door is open,” he said. “You run a good place here.”

“Glad you like it, Homer.”

The former prisoner stumbled out into the room. Homer was about five-foot-ten and a bit stout in the belly. He had jet black hair and day-old black beard stubble. He spoke haltingly, as if he was hungover. He pointed at the deputy.

“Yes, you’re the new… sheriff.”

“Deputy sheriff, actually.”

Homer hiccupped. “Deputy sheriff. Thank you, Deputy, for leaving the door open.”

“We like to be kind to our guests, Homer. We don’t consider you a prisoner, but a guest.”

“Thank you.”

“Be careful on your walk home. You still look a bit tipsy. Don’t fall down and break your neck.”

Homer stood in front of the desk. He hiccupped again and put his hands on the flat surface. “You’re not going to let me go home without offering me a drink, are you? Sheriff Merkan always did. I need one to sort of get me on my way.”

Hardesty smiled, got up, and walked to the sheriff’s desk. He opened the bottom drawer, where he knew Sheriff Merkan kept his liquor. Hardesty also pulled out a glass.

“One drink.”

He poured whiskey in the glass and Homer picked it up, promptly swallowing half the glass.

“Ah, that’s good,” he said. “Always need one in the morning. It controls the shakes. Thanks.”

“My pleasure. Have a good day.”

Homer turned and started for the door. He paused and looked back at Hardesty.

“I’m glad the sheriff found such a good man as deputy,” he said.

The deputy smiled. “Thank you, Homer. I appreciate the compliment. Now take care on the way home.”

“Keep my room open.”

“We will,” Hardesty said.

Homer walked out and shut the door. Hardesty shook his head. “That’s probably the only business I’ll get today,” he mumbled, then quickly added, “And that’s fine. I won’t complain about a quiet day. Can’t have too many of those as a lawman.”

He went back to studying the wanted posters, but looked up quickly when he heard the shot. He leaped from his chair, drew his gun, and ran for the door.

The sounds came from the First Union Bank. He covered the two blocks to the bank in less than half a minute. As he approached, he heard yells and screams from inside the bank. He whipped the door open and ducked when a man inside aimed his pistol and fired at him. The bullet screamed through the air, two inches above his head. He pointed and fired his own pistol. The shooter yelled and grabbed a spot in the middle of his chest. As he did so, blood ran through his fingers. To Hardesty’s right was a desk with two chairs, one behind and one in front of the desk. He lunged right, hearing the ring of bullets flying at him. He landed behind the desk but jumped up almost immediately, firing at a second robber. He was behind the counter and hid beneath.

A woman screamed as a bandit grabbed her and put a gun to her head.

“Throw it down, Deputy!” the man said.

“Not on your life.”

The man had a menacing voice. “She’s dead if you don’t throw your gun down.”

“If you kill her then I will kill you!” Hardesty said. To emphasize his point, he pointed his gun at the outlaw. The desk covered most of his body, but his shoulders and head were exposed, as were his hand and gun. “You put a bullet in her, and we’ll come to your funeral—to spit on your grave, not to bring flowers.”

Hardesty quickly surveyed the scene. A male teller was in his cage, looking frightened. A tall, attractive redhead stood behind the counter and seemed more indignant than frightened. The four men were the group he had seen ride into town that morning. He guessed the one who held his gun to the woman’s head was the leader.

“Listen, lawman. There’s four of us and one of you. Those are not good odds for you.”

“Possibly, but if the shooting starts, you’ll be dead!”

Two of the men held sacks, which Hardesty assumed had been filled with cash. He held his gun steady on the bank robber.

“You’re an easy target at this distance. Let the woman go.”

“Tell you what, Deputy. You might be able to get one of us, maybe two, and three if you’re really good. But during all that shooting, this pretty young lady might be shot and killed. So, let’s make a deal.”

“That’s right. Might get two or three of you. And you’ll be the first to die.”

He squeezed the woman until she yelled. “And I have my gun at her head. She’ll die, too. But we can do it another way.”

“State your piece.”

He pointed his gun. “We’re going to go this side door. You stay inside. We take the woman with us and let her go when we get outside. Give us a five-minute head start and we let her live and set her free when we get outside. If you can outrun us, you have a chance to catch us. We’ll see who is better with guns. But that way, it’ll be just us and you. The woman will be safe.”

Hardesty considered the deal. It would keep the woman safe. And there were other customers in the bank who also needed to be kept safe.

“Get out and get on your horses. I’ll give you two minutes before I move. So git!” he said.

“Come on, boys!” the leader said.

The four rushed to the door, the leader running out first. The last outlaw, who had a bushy mustache and a beard, swiftly turned as he was at the door and fired at Hardesty. The deputy fired back as the bullet whizzed past his ear, and his bullet hit the escaping outlaw in the shoulder. Blood spit up in the air. He tried to aim the gun again but his arm was slow. Hardesty fired before the outlaw could move his trigger finger. The bullet plopped into his stomach. He groaned and fell to the floor.

Hardesty ran to him and knew immediately he was dead. He looked at the clock on the wall. The minute hand moved slowly.

A scream from outside startled him. Then, he heard the sound of hoofs. He opened the door and was shocked at the sight. The three outlaws rode away, but in front of one of them, a gun at her back, was the captured woman. They had ordered her to saddle up. But why? She would probably slow them down. It made no sense to him, but he didn’t have time to think about it.

He dashed back into the bank. “Everybody all right?” he yelled.

“My sister! Where’s my sister?” a woman yelled. He rushed over to her.

“That was your sister they took?”

She nodded. “I’m Kathy Weston. My father Henry is the president of the bank. They kidnapped my sister, Ellie.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll get them. I don’t understand why they took her. They got the money….” He shook his head. “Don’t worry. I’ll get her, and them.”

He rushed out of the bank and ran down to his office. His horse was tied to a hitching post. He untied her and jumped on Peggy’s black and white back. Several citizens ran from stores. They had obviously heard the shots.

“Sheriff, what’s going on?”

“Bank robbery!” he yelled. “Follow me if you can help!”

He spurred Peggy and she galloped down the street. He still didn’t understand why the outlaws had taken the woman. Did they want a hostage? They already had the money. He turned left when he got to the corner where the bank was located and spurred Peggy again. The outlaws were out of sight but they couldn’t be far.

As he rode past the bank, he saw a woman, not a man, in pants and shirt jump on a horse. She carried a gun. In a second, he recognized her as Kathy Weston, going after her sister. He didn’t have time to think about it. He sped down the road to catch the outlaws, Kathy riding behind him.

Kathy Weston could shoot a gun and ride a horse. Her father hadn’t had any sons, so when his oldest daughter liked to ride and shoot, he was delighted and figured she would be an outdoorswoman. He enjoyed that she could shoot as well as a man—better with a rifle than with short guns—and could ride as well, too.

Looking back, Hardesty saw she was riding well. He slowed down so she could catch up with him. He didn’t see anybody else following. Perhaps the townspeople didn’t have full trust in the new deputy.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Going to get my sister back,” Kathy replied. “Don’t worry. I’m as good as a man.”

“Okay, we won’t waste time with small talk.” He pointed toward the road. “In about a mile, the road splits…”

She nodded. “It’s Dawson’s Bend. One road goes to the next town, the other heads for the mountains. There’s a lot of bad country between here and the mountains, a lot of places to hide. And a lot of places that can be used to bushwhack anyone following you.”

“That’s good to know. The ground here is hard. I can’t make out many tracks, but I’m guessing they would head for the mountains. The only road leads to a town. One of the men was holding a gun pointed at your sister’s back. I don’t think they would want to go through a town like that.”

Kathy nodded. “I think you’re right. Let’s head for the mountains.”

They turned the horses slightly to the right and spurred them on.

“Why do you think they took my sister? I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I. I can’t explain it. It seems like a stupid thing to do.”

Kathy looked at him. “It’s also dangerous. My sister can’t ride well, and she doesn’t like horses. I’m afraid she’ll fall if she has to stay at a high speed.”

Hardesty nodded. “That’s another reason they shouldn’t have taken her. If you’re not used to it, it’s not easy riding, especially at a fast speed. The move makes no sense. Maybe a man panicked and told her to climb on a horse. He could have thought they could use her as a hostage. Let’s hope she’s more trouble than she’s worth.”

“And hope they don’t shoot her,” Kathy said.

“Yes, squeeze that into a prayer, too.”

“There’s a lot of trees between here and the mountains, and a lot of places to just drop someone off. Let’s hope they do that. These thugs seem to be bank robbers, not kidnappers.”

“Unless they’re branching out,” Hardesty said.

“Let’s hope not.”

They continued toward the mountains. Occasionally, Hardesty climbed down from the horse to check the ground for tracks. The ground was hard but he thought he saw glimpses of more than one horse that had recently passed along the road. He kneeled down to get a better look.

“See anything?”

“Well, I could be wrong, but I’m guessing a few horses passed this way. The ground is hard, though, and the signs aren’t crystal clear. That’s my best guess.” He pointed to the trail. “Let’s keep going for a while.” He put his foot in the stirrup and climbed back on his horse. “Let’s go. But let’s go slowly. It would be easy to lose their tracks.”

Kathy eased her horse by Hardesty’s. “I’m glad you were there at the bank, even if they did take Ellie.”

The deputy shook his head. “I agreed to the deal because I thought they would let her go when they climbed onto their horses. I didn’t dream they would take her along. They would either have two people on a horse, which means you can’t ride as quickly as a lone man, or you risk having a person who isn’t a horseman, or horsewoman, as the case may be. Either way, it slows your gang down.”

“It’s very strange. Ellie just happened to come in today. Our father is the president so we often drop in to say hello.”

“Should you go back him and tell your mother?”

Kathy shook her head. “She died four years ago. She was a good mother, but she wasn’t all that much in love with the West. And was never all that comfortable with my riding and learning how to shoot. Still, there was a part of her that loved this country. Think it was a love-hate relationship for her, but I tend to love it. How about you?”

“Oh, the West is my home, and there is no place like home. This is where I belong. Love the land and the people.” He smiled and almost chuckled. “Went to a big city once. Didn’t like it, although I was told it was pretty good big city. New Orleans. It’s not too far from here. It was okay. I was impressed with the riverboats and rode one of them up to St. Louis. I enjoyed the ride. Very scenic, traveling by riverboat. Peaceful. I liked that part of the city, but it wasn’t the city. It was the Mississippi River and the riverboats. I guess I could like big cities if I lived on a riverboat that kept traveling from St. Louis to New Orleans and back.”

Kathy smiled. “We may have the same taste, Deputy. I liked the riverboats too. I took the same trip from St. Louis to New Orleans and enjoyed every minute of it. I liked New Orleans, too. Think I enjoyed it more than you did. If I had to, I think I could live in that city.”

“Well, if I had to,” he said, smiling.


The shout was more like a wail. Or a loud lament.

“That sounds like Ellie. Let’s go,” Kathy yelled.

They spurred their horses and galloped toward the sound. She wasn’t far, only about a quarter of a mile. When they turned the corner, a tall, blond woman with dirt and traces of mud on her dress stood with her hands cupped around her mouth, yelling. When she saw the two riders, she shouted and waved her hands.

“Over here!”

They rode their horses under the tree. Kathy jumped off her steed and hugged her sister.

“Boy, am I glad to see you,” the other woman said.

“I’m glad to see you, Ellie. I was getting worried about you.”

“I’m not one for guns. I didn’t ever want anything to do with them. But after being with that bunch, I think I may take gun lessons. I’d wish I could have blown them away.”

“For that type of impact, you would probably need a shotgun,” Hardesty said. He offered his hand. “I’m Don Hardesty, the new deputy in town.”

She grabbed his hand with both of hers. “I’m so glad to meet you. My kidnappers didn’t like you. You surprised them by being in the bank and by keeping your cool. You look young and they expected you to go stiff with shock or run away. They were shocked when you killed a member of the gang.”

“If they would have stayed still, I could have killed more of them.”

“I would have liked to have seen that.”

“Did they say what they intended to do with you?”

“No, we didn’t have any extended conversations during our ride. I was yelling for them to let me go and they were shouting at me to shut up. We didn’t get beyond that. But they were very busy. They kept looking behind them because they were afraid a posse was after them, and they were complaining about how they had lost a man to a deputy who looked like he was thirteen years old.”

“That’s utter nonsense,” Hardesty said. “I look fifteen at least.”

“That’s true,” Kathy agreed.

Chapter Two

Ellie sighed and shook her hair. “Do you have any water? That wasn’t too long a ride, but it was hot. I’m thirsty.”

Kathy opened her canteen and passed it her sister. Ellie grabbed it with both hands and raised it to her mouth. She gulped down the water, then sighed and wiped her lips with her shirt. “Boy, that tastes good. Running from a posse, those guys didn’t take a break to drink.”

“Did either one of you two know any of the robbers? Do you know if they came from this area?” Hardesty asked.

Ellie shook her head. “I didn’t know any of them. I don’t think they were part of our social group. I don’t mean to sound snooty, but Dad wouldn’t allow men like that in our house.”

“You do sound snooty, Ellie, and it’s all right. Those are some people you can be snooty with. But no, I didn’t recognize any of those men. They must be from out of the county. I was born here and, although I don’t know everybody living in the county, I know a whole lot of them, and those men were not from this county.”

“Well, I had better get you two back. Townsfolk will be wondering about you.” He also grabbed a canteen and took a drink. “Let’s go on back to town.”

“Come to think of it, where was the sheriff today?” Ellie asked.

“I don’t know,” Hardesty told her. “He told me last night that he had some business he had to take care of out of town. Said he wouldn’t be in the office until later, maybe about noon.”

Ellie frowned when she heard the words. She shook her head. “You know, I’ve never thought he was a particularly good sheriff.”

“Neither have I,” Kathy said. “It always seems to me he was playing the part of a sheriff without really doing anything. And now when the bank is robbed, he’s out of town.” She smiled at Hardesty. “But at least we have a good deputy who killed one of the bad guys and at least scared the other three. Doubt they will come back to this town again.”

It was a typical hot day in Texas, with the glowing, yellow sun beaming through a cloudless sky. There was sweat on his shirt and on his face. He took another drink and walked over to his horse. He put his foot in the stirrup.

“We’d better get back to town,” he said.

“Thank goodness both of us are going back,” Kathy said to her sister.

“And I think I will be real careful before I go to the bank again. I’m going to check outside to see if there are four strange horses tied to the hitching rail.”

As they climbed on their horses, they heard hoofbeats in the distance. They waited, and soon a posse with a half-dozen men appeared. They halted when they say Hardesty and the two sisters.

“You got her!” yelled one man.

“Well, actually, they dropped her off. Maybe they thought I would chase them until she was free. So they let her go and skedaddled.”

One man rode up to Hardesty and offered his hand. “I haven’t met you yet, Deputy. I’m John White and I own the hardware store in town. I’m glad you’re the new deputy. You certainly showed you can do the work.”

“Thank you.”

Hardesty shook White’s hand, then shook hands with the other members of the posse. “I’m glad you all came out. Is the sheriff back in town yet?”

“Haven’t seen him this morning,” White said. “We’ll ride with you back to town.”

Hardesty looked back at Ellie. “Say, when those outlaws were riding, did you hear anyone call a name?”

She thought for a moment and shook her head. “No. They were yelling a lot, but no one mentioned a name. They were focused on getting away from you.”

“Shots Fired in the Dark” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

It is a happy day for Don Hardesty, who has always dreamed of becoming a lawman, when he is sworn in as Buffalo Springs’ deputy. On the second day of his job, however, an outlaw gang robs a bank, and during his chase of the group, Don kills one member. Unfortunately, the three others managed to escape… Now if he wants to prove himself worthy, he has to hunt them down.

Nobody ever said being a deputy would be easy…

The former sheriff and bounty hunter Aaron Duncan is a loner and not all that talkative but he talks straight and shoots straighter. When the rookie deputy asks for his help, he knows he has to oblige, as the fate of the entire town might be at stake…

And he thought his days of adventure were over…

As Don and Aaron investigate the robbery, they discover more than they anticipated. It looks like their whole community is being lured into a massive plot, and if they don’t act fast, everyone and everything they cherish could disappear in a flood of blood.

“Shots Fired in the Dark” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!


Grab my new series, "Legends of the Lawless Frontier", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

5 thoughts on “Shots Fired in the Dark (Preview)”

  1. A very good story of a young deputy sheriff Don and the Two sisters Kathy and Ellie. Will the bank robbers be caught. A very good preview can’t wait for the book.

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