A Silence Broken by Bullets (Preview)


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Chapter One

Sheriff Stuart Avery followed Mayor Harvey Mills through the politician’s mansion in the best part of Gary, Indiana. It was built on a little slope above the town, visible from almost every section of town beneath it.

Stuart asked him, “What kind of an emergency?”

Mayor Mills shrugged, his thinning hair clinging to his shiny pate. “The wire didn’t say. But when the governor summons you personally, you go, no questions asked.”

That made some sense to Stuart, though it left plenty of questions unanswered. “You don’t think it’s anything on a federal level?”

“That’s my concern, Stuart,” Mayor Mills said, waddling in front of him as he filled a toiletry case with shaving equipment and other accoutrements for the well-dressed man.

The mayor was nothing like Stuart, short and fat compared to Stuart’s taller, stronger build. The politician had become soft and round with his leisurely lifestyle. He struck Stuart as a good man, if limited by certain physical and mental shortcomings that seemed both inherent to and the result of excessive wealth and power.

“After that war,” Mayor Mills went on, “it haunts me even now, in my dreams…”

“Yes,” was all Stuart had to say.

He’d fought in the war as well, on the side of the Union army. He’d taken a side staunchly against the idea of slavery. He’d seen the way that institution treated people, and it was the very epitome of everything America stood against, everything it was founded to stand against. It seemed the very manifestation of England returned, as if the colonies had never achieved independence at all. Men born of one class were still lording over men born of another. Laws were meant to favor the rich and persecute the poor. The only difference between a serf and a slave, as far as Stuart was concerned, was a matter of a few letters.

“In any case,” Mayor Mills went on, “I could be gone a week, maybe more. To ensure things go on running smoothly, I don’t see any reason to make more of my absence than necessary.”

Stuart nodded, understanding his superior’s missive. Gary was getting bigger every day, gossip flying about every little thing. No matter how quick Stuart himself was to draw conclusions, the citizens of Gary would be even quicker. There was little way of knowing what things they would assume, or what some people would do based on those assumptions.

Stuart said, “I won’t mention it unless I have to.”

“I know you won’t.” Mayor Mills closed his kit and walked on, Stuart following behind him. “You’re a good man, Stuart, a good sheriff. I know I’m leaving the place in capable hands.”

“Speaking of hands, Mayor, I could use a few more of them—deputies, I mean.”

“We’ve talked about this, Stuart. There’s only so much in the coffers for that kind of thing.”

Stuart looked around the mansion. “Perhaps one or two fewer items for your personal museum here?”

The mayor spun to give Stuart a harsh glare. “I pay for these things myself, Stuart.”

“Then perhaps a cut in pay?”

A long tension seemed to thicken between the two men. But Stuart didn’t flinch, standing his ground against the shorter but heavier man, one type of power staring down another.

“We’ll discuss it when I get back.” Mayor Mills went on leading Stuart through the mansion and down the stairs.

Even the mayor’s mansion itself seemed like a preposterous edifice. It was meant to represent the seat of power, and it did. It was also a presumed beacon for those with ambition and inspiration, those who could pull themselves out of the muck and into greatness. That was the essence of the American dream after all, as far as Stuart understood it, that even the lowliest person could become President based on the merits of their deeds, efforts, and character.

That was the promise of the dream, though Stuart was disillusioned more and more to discover that power was in fact inherited as often in the United States as it was in England, where those in power were born into it. It seemed no different in Gary, Indiana, or anywhere else Stuart had ever been, including his hometown of Philadelphia. The rich kept their wealth and increased it, while the poor were saddled with poverty they could not escape. Power was easier to steal than it was to earn, and the glory of the so-called electoral process seemed more dubious with every passing cycle.

“I’m bringing Nelson, of course,” the mayor said of his bodyguard, a good man who spoke little. Whether the mayor needed a bodyguard was under some debate, and his salary could certainly cover another deputy or maybe two. The man was even then standing by the mayor’s private carriage, which also had a salaried driver. “The house won’t be entirely empty,” the mayor went on, “Ester will stay, and Stanley.” Stuart nodded, giving little thought to the negro servants the mayor kept on, also at the expense of the Gary taxpayer.

They walked through the two-story mansion, filled with British furnishings of the most current fashion, little round tables and overstuffed chairs they were already describing as Elizabethan. The house was more opulent than Stuart could ever provide for his family on a sheriff’s salary. He couldn’t imagine his Rachel in such a big and well-appointed kitchen, or envision his boy Charlie siding down that polished walnut banister.

But Stuart had no bitterness, no jealousy or longing. It seemed wrong to him, a public servant living in such a grand manner while so many of his constituents struggled. True, it was a time of renewal after the war; good times had returned. There was work available for those willing to put their backs into it.

Though more and more Americans seemed anxious to receive without earning. They seemed to feel entitled to have simply by virtue of being born in America and not having just arrived. They considered themselves something like royalty, a notion Stuart thought antithetical to everything he and his country stood for.

They walked out of the mansion and to the carriage, where Nelson waited with a Winchester rifle. The mayor kept his toiletry case as he climbed into the vehicle. Nelson closed the door and the mayor stuck his head out the little carriage window.

“I’ll wire when I get to Indianapolis to let you know of my safe arrival,” Mills said.

“Please do,” Stuart said with a glance at the beefy and stiff-postured Jack Nelson. “Though I know you’re also in capable hands.”

Nelson nodded at Stuart, then climbed up onto the helm of the carriage, rifle across his lap. The driver shook the reins and the carriage rolled off, carrying the city’s most important man off on some business Stuart still could not identify.

It wasn’t good news, Stuart was certain of that. To think it might be a recurrence of hostilities with the South was an ugly notion indeed, not one worth discounting.

Well, Stuart told himself, I’m probably just expecting the worst, as usual. The South was roundly and soundly defeated. They don’t have the resources to try that again. Now that the doubters have all seen how truly easy it was for the nation to slip into war the first time, and how terrible it was, nobody will let that happen again.

We don’t dare.

Stuart walked around to his stallion, which Rachel had named Horace, as close to the generic horse as it could be. The horse was a tool, not a pet. And Stuart knew he was little more that that himself. The horse served him, he served the people, the mayor served the governor.

Everybody serves somebody, Stuart thought. Nothing so wrong with that, no real reason to over-worry these things. Life goes on, things are fine.

It wasn’t an easy notion to get used to in Stuart’s line of work. But the streets were under reasonable control, despite thickening traffic and an increase in petty crimes. He was doing what little any man could do to keep things peaceable, to raise his son right, to provide for his wife, and to stay alive long enough to go on loving and protecting them.

Rachel, Stuart thought, Charlie, they’re what counts, they’re what matters. As it goes with them, so it goes with the others, with all of Gary and all of Indiana, the entire country. But that’s not my purview, not anymore. My responsibility is this town, my family.

Stuart climbed up onto his mount and returned to that responsibility, that family. They were the things that made up his purpose, his livelihood, his very life. But he had a terrible feeling all that was about to change—and he had no way of knowing how right he was, or how terrible those changes were going to be.

Chapter Two

Clay McCane waited behind the rocky outcrop just north of the bank in the railroad tracks, the smell of white baneberry heavy in his nostrils. They were pitched beside the most-used route both east and west passing through Gary, Indiana. It was a new way to travel, to ship, and it was going to break the nation wide open in every regard. Great wealth and opportunity traveled along those tracks, and so did the promise of the future. Trains carried people to new futures, faster and safer. They encouraged further progress and development.

They were also fairly slow-moving and often laden with treasure.

Clay surveyed his men. The Iceman, Slip, and a few others were riding with him, Budd Donald waiting with other men farther around the pass. They would close in from the other side.

Everything had been planned out, necessary for this particular hit. It was a once-in-a-lifetime score, and it had to be executed perfectly. Clay had thought it through, rejecting a variety of plans offered by his men. Budd Donald had wanted to hit the train as it pulled into the station; Slip had imagined taking the whole train and rerouting it south toward Missouri.

Clay was still their undisputed leader. This score was meant to solidify that among the other men, all of them. They were gathering in number, but that only meant more men willing to usurp or betray him. Still, Clay could hardly found his own town and criminal network without adequate numbers of men.

But a cache of so many guns, all at once, could have unexpected and widespread ramifications. His only choice would be to kill them all, but he’d never be able to manage so many guns on his own, and life as a lone wolf had long since lost its appeal.

No more of that, Clay told himself. I’m not fit for long, lonely nights. There’s no power in that.

The train’s whistle called in the distance. Clay’s horse clopped beneath him, huffing nervously. The mare seemed to know action was coming, and she was readying for a hard ride, the gunfire and screaming that would follow. She’d been through it, though nowhere in the area.

With the advance of the railroads came an advance in robberies. More guards were hired, more lawmen were active and conscientious, more companies were on their guard. There was also more competition, more men looking for that perfect score, that easy coin, access to the goods Indians favored for bribery and trade. There was often medicine and other medical products that men like Clay and his followers couldn’t access so easily. Some of them were hiding from the law, laying low in Clay’s hideout in the hills. It was their notoriety that kept them in line, as they needed a leader who could come and go freely. They needed somebody who could organize them, who could outthink the increasing number of badges and bounty hunters and create something lasting, something worthwhile.

McCane, Indiana.

But there was little enough time to think about it. The train from Columbus, Ohio, was coming in fast, and the time to execute the campaign was seconds away. Clay had worked it out with Budd Donald, when Clay would strike with his party and when Budd Donald would come in to back his play.

The red maple would do most of the heavy work. They’d cut it down and hauled it by rope to lay across the tracks. The train would have no choice but to stop. After that, it would be a fairly simple matter, if those thugs did as they were instructed.

There were some dubious men among them, and Clay had been careful to choose a mixture of the best he had and the ones he could most afford to lose. Some losses were certain, but nobody was a better shot that the Iceman, whose white hair and pink eyes brought terror into the hearts of the men he inevitably killed. And once Slip was on that train, no man’s throat was safe from the cut.

His gambit was that the men he needed to thin out would take the worst of it, revealing the position of the guards who were certain to be on board. They could then be picked off by the better marksmen.

Clay would handle the engineer.

The train barreled up on them, what looked like twelve cars in addition to the coal car behind the engine. The last three were cargo cars, trailed up by the caboose. In this case, Clay expected the guns to be in the last cargo car, guards positioned there and in the caboose, closed to passengers.

But it wasn’t going to be that easy.

The train passed the first point, whistling again. Clay pulled up his bandana over his nose, drew his Colts, and led his men out. The horses were quick to launch into a gallop, the tension of the waiting becoming an explosive release of energy. Clay led them around the south side of the tracks, well behind the red maple they’d left to stop the train. They rode down the length of the train to draw out the position of the armed guards, including one in the engine, and several in the rear cars, as Clay had expected.

Clay and his men shot first, covering themselves while getting a good look at who and what they were up against. The weren’t Pinkertons, as Clay had predicted. The private hires would be less dedicated, though considering their client, they could just as easily be expert shots.

Bang! Bang-bang, bang-ba-bang!

The gunfire rang out as Clay led his men around the back of the train and to the other side. Budd Donald and his men were just riding up behind him, exchanging fire with the guards while Clay rode toward the locomotive engine. The train was already slowing to a halt, timed out just as Clay figured it would. The guard aimed and was about to shoot, but Clay anticipated the move and shot first, just where he knew the man would appear.


The gunman dropped his Colt and leaned forward, slowly toppling out of the engine as it slowed to a stop beneath him.

Clay ignored the screaming of the passengers and the ongoing shots of the gunfight behind him as he climbed up the metal step and pushed the barrel of his Colt five-shot repeating pistol into the engineer’s face.

“You got a family, steam jockey?”

The engineer nodded.

“You wanna see ‘em again?”

“P-p-p-p-llllllease, s-s-s-sssssir.”

“Then just sit tight. We’re gonna clear that tree soon as we’re done here, you can ride on. You try to be a hero, your family goes without a husband, without a father. Understand that?”

The engineer nodded, his hair thin on his gaunt face. “Y-y-y-y-es, s-s-s-sir.”

“All right then, sit tight and do as you’re told.”

Clay turned to take the internal route from the engine around the side of the coal car and to the passenger cars.

“Where are you going?”

“Tell your passengers.”

“No, please, leave them alone, I’m begging you. Don’t rob them, don’t… don’t molest the women. We have children on the train, sir, please!”

“Women, children?” Clay let a snarl crawl over his face. “What kind of person do you take me fore? I’m… you’re telling me you don’t know what I’m here for?”

The engineer shook his head. “I… they… they don’t tell me everything.”

“You didn’t notice the guards in the back of your train? The crates in the rear cargo car?”

“There are always guards, sir,” the engineer said with a nervous shrug. “All the cargo cars are full, but they don’t tell me. They don’t, sir!”

“All right, all right,” Clay said, “keep yammerin’ and I’ll shoot you just to shut you up.” He turned, but stopped himself again. “Don’t worry about the passengers,” he added. “They behave themselves, they’ll all make it to Gary… maybe not quite on time.”

Chapter Three

Clay swaggered down the central aisle of the first passenger car, hot from the proximity to the engine. He held a pistol in both hands and read the terror on the faces of the passengers.

“Everybody stay calm and nobody will be hurt,” he said with the casual air of somebody who’d said the same things many times before. “We’re not here for your personal items, and we have no quarrel with any of you.”

But an old woman stood up in front of him, fat and grimacing, a stout little body giving her balance in the rattling train car. The other passengers gasped, and Clay looked right into her eyes.

“Sit down, Grandmother,” Clay said.

“I will not,” the old woman said, looking Clay over with a judgmental sneer. She looked remarkably like his own mother in that moment, and it hadn’t brought her to a good end, either. “Men like you make me sick! You’re young and strong enough, there’s paying work needs doing.”

But Clay had aways felt badly about his mother’s end, and he wasn’t about to repeat or relive it.

“This is paying work, Grandmother. Don’t slow me up.”

“Why should I care? What do I have to lose? I’m old, I’ve lived my life. You could kill me right now, what difference would that be? But I should spend what little time I have left watching this country be overrun by skullduggery and—”

“Spend it however you like,” Clay said. “But what about the others? There are innocent people here, some who might get caught in the crossfire. The longer we remain, so you can take your… your last stand, the greater the chances are that some innocent person might be killed.” He leaned forward to make his point. “That’s likely to be a person with a bright future worth having, worth saving.”

A tense silence returned to the car while he stared the old woman down. He’d made his threat clear.

“Now sit down and be quiet,” Clay said, “for their sakes, if not your own.”

All eyes fell on the two of them before the old lady shifted and returned to her seat, leaving Clay to move along down the aisle and to the other car.

He stepped through the metal breaches between the cars and into the next car. He started with the same routine about everybody being calm and nobody being hurt. They were all grateful not to be cleaned out of everything personal belonging they had, which on a trip like that could be everything they owned. And they all clearly knew that more than their money or jewelry was at stake. Some train robbers were known to be ruthless and vicious, every bit as bad as road agents or even Shawnee or Chickasaw. The women in particular sat silent and shivering, pretty eyes jutting around the cart. Clay stopped and lingered on one young woman, very fair, with a slight but womanly body.

He stood in front of her and raised his hand to touch her face, gently brushing the back of his gloved fingers against her creamy white cheek. She turned away, clearly disgusted.

Clay was almost tempted to change his plans. But there was too much at stake for him to be distracted. The timing had to be taken into consideration. The main thing was that a new, pretty woman would wreak havoc among the men, and that was what Clay could least afford at that particular time.

He was ready to turn and leave her, taking the high ground and instilling enough fear in the passengers to keep them quiet until the train could push off again. But another passenger caught his eye, a man with a well-tailored suit with a waistcoat, fitting him almost as tightly as his neatly groomed brown beard. He looked away from Clay just as Clay felt himself leaning forward, his instincts titillated.

“Something on your mind, partner?”

The man shook his head, fidgeting in his seat. He was just the kind of man Clay despised, at least one of them. He didn’t look like a lawman, first and foremost the lowliest of men in Clay’s estimation. But near enough to them were the dandies, the men of letters and papers, handshakes and winks and backroom deals. They were criminals of a greater sort than Clay had managed to become or would ever become. Only by being the founder of his own town, the unquestioned leader of a loyal army, could he taste the kind of power little men like the one in front of him swam in every day. And they were happy enough to enjoy the luxuries of train travel, no doubt the finest and most comfortable hotel rooms in exotic places like Gary, Indiana and even Kansas City, Missouri.

Someday, Clay thought, someday. Someday they won’t be able to shut me out, to toss me aside, to walk all over me with the polished heels of their clean, scuff-free boots.

“What’s yer name, pal?” All the other passengers were fixed on the two of them, Clay’s eyes peering out over his bandana. The little fellow didn’t answer, Clay asked again, but this time with the click of his pistol’s hammer. “I won’t ask again.”

“Ballard,” he said. “Robert Ballard.”

“Well, Mr. Robert Ballard, you seem fairly nervous. Some reason for that?”

The mousy little man looked around the train car, other passengers looking away. “I… I must confess that I… I took a fondness to the young woman, that’s all. I was… concerned for her safety, but I’m gratified, as I’m sure we all are, that you were so merciful and… um… humane in your treatment of us.”

“You work fer these people, Ballard?” He shook his head, brown hair well-coiffed. “They elect you their… their representative, is that right?”

The little Ballard cleared his throat. “I… You asked me a question, I gave you an answer, that’s all.”

“You gettin’ smart with me now, Ballard? You think I won’t blow your head off just as a lesson to these others?”

“Please,” the young woman said, her voice cracking with the tension of the moment. Quieter, she said again, “Please… just leave us alone.”

Clay looked from one to the other, neither willing to meet his gaze. They seemed just like the kind of prim and proper couple Clay relished in terrorizing. Their type in particular was especially disgusting to him, and it only fueled his body’s fire to make the woman suffer in a way most satisfying.

But there was still the score. The gunfire was dying out, the transfer of the guns had to be seen to.

So Clay said only, “Wish you two the best of luck,” before walking off, almost wishing it were true. But he didn’t wish that, and they might not even get it. Though it was cold comfort, it would have to do for the time being.

Once through the passenger cars, Clay caught the flash of an armed man, standing up behind him to draw. But Clay’s instincts were better, and he spun and fired twice, the man bending and twisting before falling lifeless at the floor of his own seat. The other passengers screamed and cried out.

“Shut up, all of you, or it’s the same or worse!”

The passengers wrestled to quiet themselves as Clay walked through the rest of the cars to the three cargo cars preceding the caboose. The shooting had stopped. The first two cars were unguarded, filled with trunks and bags, as was the second. Clay had little doubt that these were the unguarded possessions of the passengers, of little use or notice.

In the third car, the crates were stained with the blood of the dead man shot from the outside. Clay opened the side door from the inside, daylight spilling in. Iceman and Slip and Budd Donald had all made it, as had several others, as Clay had calculated. The fact that nobody was left to fire upon them told Clay that the guards in the caboose had been dispatched.

The three carts were lined up and waiting, manned by other men of Clay’s choosing. The men lingering with them went right to work, loading the crates from the crippled train car onto the carts.

Clay nodded to one of his men, Big Dan Bickle, who already knew what his job was to be. He climbed up and began pulling the metal pin to unlock the mechanism connecting the rear cargo car and caboose to the train itself.

Clay walked back up the train to the engine, where the conductor was standing quietly with the same fearful expression on his face. “Nice to see you again,” he said with a smile. Clay turned to see that the hauling party was already pulling the felled red maple from in front of the track.

“We’re going to have to borrow that last train car,” Clay said. “We don’t wanna put you too far behind. And when you get to Gary, well, I suppose you’ll have to tell ‘em whatever you know… and that’s all yer gonna know. We clear?”

The engineer nodded.

“All right then. Fire ‘er up and get back on the trail, partner.” The engineer nodded again, and Clay gave him a little smile and a wink. “Have yourself a pleasant day.”

Chapter Four

Sheriff Stuart Avery paced around the platform of the Gary, Indiana train station, surveying the area. The citizens were gathering in greater numbers, those waiting to greet arrivals as well as those eager to take their seats and proceed west. There was a hum of excitement, or concern, just what Stuart continuously hoped to avoid.

“What’s wrong, Sheriff Avery?” He turned to see the familiar face of Dorothy Richman, stout with her aging face thrust forward. “Where’s the train?”

“I’m looking into it, Mrs. Richman. You should ask the man at the counter.”

“He doesn’t know! None of you people know anything!”

Stuart didn’t want to give it much more thought. “You might be right about that, Mrs. Richman.” He looked her over, bustier straining over her girth, a handbag and a parasol but no luggage. “You’re not leaving us?”

“My sister is coming to join me, if you must know.”

“Little wonder you’re so concerned then.”

The matronly Mrs. Richman looked him over. “Well?” Stuart waited, and she went on to demand, “Aren’t you going to do something about it?”

“I sent my deputy to scout the tracks, Mrs. Richman. He’ll be back soon enough.”

She huffed, hands on her hips, belly thrust forward under her layers of vadmal over silk velvet and brocades. “That boy’s about as useful as a horsefly in a butter churn.”

Stuart let a long sigh spill out of his nostrils as he turned to hit the rich woman with a look he knew would get through her arrogance to something even deeper-set. “Perhaps a donation to the civic fund from our wealthiest citizen would allow us to hire more good lawmen.”

But Mrs. Richman didn’t take the bait. “Perhaps that would be a waste of money.”

Stuart was glad to spot his deputy riding up on a familiar white-spotted brown paint. He said, “Let’s find out together, shall we?”

The deputy rode up and climbed down off his horse, tying it to a hitching post as Stuart and Mrs. Richman approached.

“Train’s on the way, Sheriff,” Dep. Marcus Martin said, brushing his long, black hair out of his face.

Clay asked, “Passengers?”

“Present and accounted, I believe.”

“You believe?”

The tall, slender young deputy nodded. “No caboose on the train, Sheriff, maybe a cargo car or two missing as well. Can’t be sure… the engineer… he wouldn’t stop. There was nobody riding shotgun, blood on the side of the train.”

Dorothy Richman turned to face Stuart. “You hear that? There’s chicanery afoot… and what are you going to do about it?”

The train whistle called in the distance, an excited hum passing among the waiting citizens.

“I’ll have to talk to the engineer first,” Stuart said. “In any case, I do not answer to you. So I suggest you step back and wait for your sister to arrive and I’ll see to things in the way I know best. If you doubt my ability to do so, I suggest you demonstrate that at the next election. Until then, consider yourself on the cusp of interfering with an officer of the law in the performance of his duties.”

“Arrest me? You wouldn’t dare!”

Stuart couldn’t help but look her over. “Missus Richman, I personally don’t care about you or your wealth one way or the other. I’m here to enforce the law, that’s the beginning and end of my interest in your life. And I’m certainly not intimidated by it. So you can stand here thumping like an empty barrel, or you can stand down and let me see to my duties!”

Dorothy huffed and stammered and then stepped back, very nearly disappearing in the crowd. Stuart turned to his deputy.

“Ride out, follow the tracks, find the missing cars and wait for me out there. Take a few of your hires with you. I’ll meet you out there when I’m done taking the engineer’s report.”

“A Silence Broken by Bullets” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Fifteen years after the end of the Civil War, Gary, Indiana is finally at peace. But sheriff Stuart Avery’s reign of calm is about to be overpowered by an attempt to overthrow him and install the man who harbors a deadly grudge against him. A series of events pits the former enemies against one another, with the fate of an entire town at stake, along with every single life there.

Will Stuart be able to overcome an army of cutthroats and criminals before he loses all he loves, including his wife and son?

Rachel Avery is suspicious of the mysterious man who appears all of a sudden and joins forces with her husband, the sheriff. There seems to be something more to him than a gun dealer seeking a stolen cache of guns. Can she trust her gut?

Perhaps her hunch be the thing that saves both her husband and the entire town…

Stuart and Rachel find themselves in the midst of new alliances and old, buried hatreds. The situation explodes in a frenzy of violence, but can they find it within themselves to protect each other and the truth no matter the cost?

“A Silence Broken by Bullets” 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!

3 thoughts on “A Silence Broken by Bullets (Preview)”

  1. A very good story of good versus bad. The Sheriff Stuart a good man and Clay an outlaw leader who leads his gang to stop the train and rob the catchment of arms and also who wants to take over the town and rule it. Will good prevail over bad. And will Stuart and the people of the town live in peace. Loved the preview. Can’t wait to read the book.

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