A Wicked Revenge Plan (Preview)


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Chapter One

San Quentin State Penitentiary, 1860

Mallory Hammond stepped into the conference room, where some of the people he hated most sat in judgment of him, as always. He didn’t like looking into their faces any more than they liked looking into his, but he was happy to show them the grisly results of their so-called justice.

The stuffed-shirts of the prison board shared grim glances when Mallory approached them, standing with his wrists and ankles in chains—for the very last time, he swore. The heavy iron dug into his skin despite it being hardened from years of those vicious shackles.

The warden sighed and opened the folder in front of him. “Mallory Hammond, prisoner one-nine-six-three-nine-two-five-dash-aught-six.”

The number rang in the back of Mallory’s head. He’d seen it on his own chest, upside-down as he looked down on it and backward when he caught sight of himself in the polished metal of the infirmary doors and kitchen cabinets.

Mallory had watched his own reflection change in those warped metal sheets, a blurry visage only becoming more distorted and twisted, but it had been his own reflection, at least for a few good years.

That was before the fight, before the hot frying oil had been slung in his face during the riot in Sacramento, before he was transferred to the newest and most inescapable prison west of the Mississippi and North of the Rio Grande.

The warden went on, “Mallory Hammond, for the crime of manslaughter, and various violations during your incarceration, you have served eleven years and six months of an eight-year sentence. In the eyes of the penal system of the Great State of California, you have served your sentence, and you are now free to go.”

Mallory nodded. There was little more that he wanted other than to break those chains, climb over that polished walnut table, grab that warden by his neck, and strangle the very life out of him. He’d move on to the man next to him, the sadistic master at arms, and then take out eleven years without a woman on that priggish matron who followed the warden around like some withered-up old dog.

But he had other plans. As terrible as the warden and his crew had made Mallory’s life in San Quentin, they were no worse than the guards and staff in Sacramento. They were all just doing their jobs as far as Mallory was concerned. His stay wasn’t supposed to be pleasant, the place was designed to be as close to hell on Earth as it could be. For their efficiency, Mallory almost had to admire them.

He could almost see himself becoming one of them. Running a place like that would be a goldmine, it had always seemed to Mallory. The amount of contraband that came and went was considerable and could only increase. Prisons could be networked, information harvested and sold along with all manner of goods and services. As warden of a prison, Mallory would be in a position of power, instead of spending almost twelve years of his life having no power at all. He went where he was told, when he was told. He ate what he was fed, bathed when they let him, interacted with the scum of the Earth though they were far beneath his natural station.

He’d spent years in his cell, thinking about the life he could have had, one he would never have even when granted his freedom. Though Mallory was about to walk out of San Quentin a free man, any possibility life may have held for him had ended when that splash of sizzling oil sent bolts of white-hot agony through his head, his body. He could still feel the pain a dozen years later, though the nerves of his flesh had been entirely deadened by the scarring.

The warden asked, “Do you have any plans for your life, Mr. Hammond?”

Mister Hammond, Mallory repeated to himself. He hadn’t been called that in over twelve years. Mallory broke a little smile and shook his head.

“I thought I might try my hand at farming,” he said. “I’ve got family, show me the ropes.” The warden and his sergeant at arms traded knowing glances. “Or maybe I’ll join a traveling circus, in the freak tent. Step right up, ladies and gents, and see the incredible melting man!”

“Mister Hammond—”

“Nobody knows what… what terrible affliction has stricken this poor soul. It is a curse from Satan, or perhaps this wretched creature is the devil himself!”

A vacuous silence filled the chamber, the warden clearing his throat.

“Mister Hammond, we want to wish you luck on the outside, and to send you out with confidence that you have, in fact, been rehabilitated.”

“Oh, yes, Warden, yes,” Mallory said. “I’ve changed… as you can see!” He broke out into a fit of laughter, but it didn’t last long when he realized he was the only one. “I’m sorry, I… a man’s got to keep his sense of humor, right?”

But the warden only looked again at his assistant, then at his sergeant-at-arms. He redirected his attention to Mallory and said, “Your release is ordered by the courts, Mr. Hammond. And we do wish you the best. But keep in mind that… that repeat offenders get increased sentences. If you ever come back here, you’re not likely to leave such a relatively young man. Do you take my meaning?”

“Oh, I do, sir, yes. And I… I assure you, Warden, all of you, that I don’t have any intention of coming back here again, not here or any of these… these fine establishments.”

The warden shrugged one shoulder, tipping his head to the side and closing the file. “Very well, let the record show that the prisoner has been released without prejudice.” He rapped his gavel and the guard led Mallory out of the room.

He would be unchained, bathed, given the few belongings he had when he was arrested, and released within an hour.

The sunlight was bright in his eyes, the glare almost stinging. He took a deep breath of fresh air and looked around the area in front of the prison. A highway stretched out in the distance, and Mallory already knew which direction he was headed.


Chapter Two

Los Angeles, CA 1861

Jack Larson’s cart took every bump of the road, wooden slats pounding his backside repeatedly all the way back from the farmer’s market. Jasmine huffed as she pulled the wagon along, shaking her head, black mane flapping against her chestnut hide.

It had been a good haul, every picked orange sold. Jack glanced around, glad to see he was virtually alone on the trail back to the foot of the Santa Ana mountains. The farm wasn’t more than a few more hours away, and he could already envision his lovely future wife’s face smiling at his return, feel her pride at his take. Their orchard had delivered a bumper crop its first fruitful year, and their future looked bright. Jack had to wonder if it hadn’t been a sign from God, that He was blessing their union, that He had always intended it. Their cup would be overflowing with His gifts, Jack felt certain, and he knew Delia felt the very same.

What a girl, he had to think, not nearly for the first time. It has to be destined, or why would God have put us together the way He did? We’re a couple born of tragedy, that’s true, but who isn’t? Everybody has tragedy in their lives. And everybody’s lives bring them together, if they ever find each other at all.

People marry younger than us, but at nineteen, we’re both fast approaching old age! But we’ve waited as long as we needed to. Now, I can support her, we can raise a family with some security. A man’s gotta find his way in the world; a boy can’t marry. But I can make my way now, we can make our way together. And surely that’s just what God always intended.

He couldn’t help reflect on the years they’d spent together, best friends until her poor father died. Moving her into their own house, Jack had treated her like a sister. She’d helped bury his mother, right there on the farm. He could still see that sad day, two teenagers standing in witness to the only person left in the world who could rightfully claim to love them.

Delia was going to make an excellent wife and mother, Jack knew that. She was a woman apart from most others, from all others. She was courageous, sassy, a fighter. She had to be. Jack had seen those qualities in her as a child, and while most families would have squelched a little girl’s contentiousness as bratty, taught her that most men wanted a compliant woman, Jack knew different. He always felt Delia would need every bit of gumption she had to survive in the New World, especially in the West. They were surrounded by Washoe and Hupa, by banditos from Mexico, fur trappers from Florida and the swampy south, mountain men looking for wives of their own. She’d needed to know how to fight and how to shoot, and Jack had been able to teach her both.

It still rankled Jack to leave her alone, but of course they had little choice. They could barely afford to keep Manuel on the farm, though that was about to change. Maybe get two hands next season, Jack thought. But he’d left Manuel with her, and with her own sizeable moxie, they’d be fine for a day.

Jack could hear her voice echoing in the back of his head. “You worry too much,” she always said. “God watches over the meek.”

And it was true, by and large. They lived a quiet life, with honest, hard Christian labor. They’d endured suffering and always abided the local laws. They’d tried to live lives of quiet dignity. Really, they’d just tried to live.

But the trying seemed to be coming to an end, and the enjoying was about to begin. With a reliable crop, their children would never starve. And as the years went on, the area would only become more heavily populated, Jack was certain of that. He looked around the vast, flat valley north of the Santa Ana mountains. Someday, it would be filled with travelers, going one way and another. Buildings would be lined up, shops and hotels and blocks of homes for new families. The Gold Rush was still bringing people west, and though the fabulous riches and terrible decadence of San Francisco hadn’t yet come to Los Angeles, the newcomers were still gathering among the missionaries, Indian tribes, and traders.

Still, Jack felt alone out in that valley, because he was alone. He was miles from his home, out in the open, with no shotgun rider.

Even worse, Jack suddenly realized that he wasn’t alone.

A small cluster of riders approached from the north, directly ahead of him. The hairs stood up on the back of his neck. No stranger could be taken for a friend, that was something Jack had learned through terrible experience. Farmers didn’t often travel great distances without carts unless there was some emergency sending them into town.

Could be a few ranch hands, Jack reasoned, heading in for a weekend at the saloon. Or it could be missionaries, though they usually travel with carts, too.

Jack glanced back at the empty cart behind him, the smell of oranges lingering in the wood. He knew what any reasonable rider would make of a man returning from the town marketplace with an empty cart, and that was that he had a full purse.

The Winchester repeater was next to him at the cart’s helm. As the riders approached, they looked like three, and if Jack got close enough to them to know they meant him harm, the rifle wouldn’t be too big and clumsy.

A gunfight would require the Colts, which Jack adjusted in their holsters to make them an easier draw.

The riders came closer still, Jack’s heart beginning to beat faster in his chest. He recognized the wide-brimmed hats even at that distance, about a hundred yards and closing in. The men beneath them called them “sombreros.” Jack had seen them all too often in his young life. His mother had learned their language and taught Jack enough to learn the rest for himself, another skill that was of periodic benefit. It helped him navigate the mid-chaparral, to hire and instruct Manuel even as Delia taught the man English.

Jack hoped he could talk to the men as a friend, as an equal, and that they’d leave him in peace. If not, their aim would be to leave him in pieces.

They rode up to him, Jasmine shaking her head and clopping nervously as the three banditos closed in and blocked their path. The horse halted, the cart’s creaky wheels coming to an eerie, silent stop.

Jack looked at the men, two of them past thirty, it seemed, twice Jack’s age. They rode hard and often; Jack knew what kind of lives men like that led. It made them stiff, lax. He watched the men trade glances, dark eyes peering out of sun-hardened faces. They could see how young he was, his cheeks still smooth. He’d seen that look before, on men who took him for incapable, a mere child.

It was another tactic he’d learned to use and use well. His mother had coached him in how to deal with some people just as his father had taught him to shoot. Those had been some of his most-cherished memories, standing with his father and holding that rifle, the same one he carried on the cart—the bond they’d created, the swelling of the great man’s chest as pride filled him to overflowing. Jack’s natural gifts were a blessing, but his desire to perfect those gifts had arisen from his desire to please his father and protect his mother.

There was nothing more Jack could do for them. But there was still Delia to think about, Manuel and the orange farm, and the family and business they would raise there, to the greater glory of God.

“Hola, amigo,” the one in the middle said. “Junto con el cuerpo?”

Jack just shook his head, knowing what they were asking. They shared another mean glance, and Jack knew what they were thinking. Our Father, Jack silently muttered, an erstwhile prayer for peace, hallowed be Thy name.

The banditos muttered to one another in Spanish. One said, “Es un buen caballo.”

It’s a good horse, Jack silently translated.

“Buen carro,” another said. Good cart.

“Nosotros quemamos el carro,” the one in the middle said, clearly the leader. We burn the cart. “Junto con el cuerpo.”

Along with the body.

Jack sized them up, deciding which to shoot first. The thin one would be the fastest-moving, quicker on the draw, he’d have to be dropped first. Thy kingdom come, he went on praying, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Another said, “Apuesto a que tiene dinero.” I’ll bet he’s got some money.

Give us this day our daily bread…

The other asked, “¿Qué estamos esperando?” What are we waiting for?

The leader looked around, and Jack could feel the moment coming.

…And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

They drew. Everything seemed to slow down, everything except for Jack. His arms moved as if of their own accord, instinct and muscle memory wrapping his fingers around the handles of his Colt pistols.

B-bang! He took out the thinner man first with a shot from each pistol, then turned the other pistols on the remaining two men. His fingers squeezed with certainty, confidence. His hands aimed those guns as if guided by the almighty and avenging hand of God Himself. Bang, b-bang, bang, bang! They twitched and bent horribly, their horses already turning to run, guns barely out of their holsters to fall idly to the ground.

And lead us not into temptation…

The banditos fell slowly, one dropping forward but remaining in his mount. The horse turned to run off, the man forever in the saddle. The other went to the ground to join his friend, leaving two horses to be collected and brought back to Delia and Manuel.

…But deliver us from evil.

Jack was loath to leave the men to rot in the sun. There was no time to chase the errant horse down, but the others, even these men, had to be buried. There was no time to do it there and then, so Jack had little choice but to load them up into the cart and bury them on his farm.

With the others.

Jack climbed off his cart and stepped around to rope the horses up to the back of the cart. The men weren’t going anywhere.

For Thine is the power and the kingdom and the glory forever.

Jack loaded the dead men into the cart, leaving no trace of their lives or deaths other than their blood in the grass. He stepped around to climb back onto the helm, taking some time to reload his Colts before picking up the reins once again. Jasmine huffed and began the long trip back to the farm.


Chapter Three

Jack came up to the familiar land around the farm, near the foot of the Santa Ana mountains. It was windier near the hills than in the valley, and evening was falling fast. It accounted for the chill in his blood, but it hadn’t been that alone.

It was the chill of death, Jack was certain. The three men on his belt that day hadn’t been the first, and they weren’t likely to be the last. Jack had had more than one occasion to use his skills for more than just hunting. He had even joined a posse that prevailed over Black Daniel Dean the year before, and had played an active hand in the man’s fate. It had won him the respect of the men in Los Angeles, especially given his tender years. They’d chided him about it on the ride out. They said nothing of it on the ride back in.

But he took no joy in it. He was glad to be alive, to be returning to his home and his beloved, his heart and hearth. It brought him some comfort to know he’d be able to protect his wife and children if he had to, and it was a sad truth that he probably would. The more settlers came in from the Rockies and points east, the more crime there seemed to be.

Jack had to wonder if it would always be that way, if a criminal element lurked naturally in the heart of every man. He had searched for it in his own heart and found none, but he felt isolated in the fact. Other men, other farmers, men in town, bragged about their kills. Though Jack knew they used tall tales to impress and intimidate each other, to win rights to the prettiest saloon girls, to ward off competitors and prospective victims. Jack had no need of any of those things.

And he knew that bitter seeds were being sewn into the soil of their very country. They’d already taken root, strong and deep in the minds and hearts of men throughout North America. Violence was the solution to every problem it seemed, as events in the East were even then proving.

Brother was pitted against brother in a slaughter to eclipse all others before it. Men were fighting knee-deep in blood, some of it their own, for rights of some men to profit over the rights of others. It had only been a hundred years since the country’s revolutionary war, another gruesome conflict that seemed to inflate some men at the expense of countless others. Then the British returned through Canada, the French and Indians and Mexicans. It had been one bloodied campaign after another.

Will it always be that way, Jack wondered as he often had, do we have some need to kill each other? These wars, they’ll never stop, not really. Will men ever be at peace?

If so or not, Jack had long lost interest. He had who and what he wanted, and so long as he and his own were left to theirs, they would bring no harm to anyone. They would help others, if they could, as they did Manuel, hounded by a mob of drunken ranchers. They would accept help from others, as they did from Manuel’s offer of hard labor in exchange for room and board. They would love God and love their fellow man, as the bible dictated.

The light was fading fast; the farm was quiet. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong, and Jack told himself it was only his sad cargo that gave him that creeping feeling. But Jasmine huffed in a way that worried him even more. The horse had a keen instinct for things no human being could perceive.

And Delia hadn’t come out to greet him, which he had very much expected and anticipated. Manuel hadn’t come out for the news of the sale, nor to take Jasmine and see to the cart.

He rode the cart up to the house and pulled Jasmine to a stop. He stepped down off the cart and glanced around, nothing seeming out of the ordinary.

“Delia? Delia?” When no answer came, Jack reached back up and grabbed the Winchester, cocking it and stepping toward the house. “Delia?”

He reached for the front door and found it ajar, opening easily in front of him. The house was quiet, everything still. Jack’s voice got louder, more urgent as he repeated her name. He stepped into the living room and looked around, but nobody and nothing gave him pause, other than the fact there was nobody and nothing to give him any reassurance.

Must be out in the back, Jack reasoned, out in the yard? At this time of night? He walked quickly through the small kitchen adjoining the living room. He pulled the door open to step outside, but he didn’t make it that far.

Jack gasped in horror at the sight, a face mangled and bloodied, swollen and misshapen and miscolored. His mouth opened in a silent scream, hand reaching out before he fell forward and into Jack’s arms.

“Manuel!” Jack lay his friend down on the kitchen floor. One quick glance over his battered torso revealed a massive black hole in his belly enough to have killed him long before. “Manuel, what happened?”

The stricken farmhand was trying to speak, lips quivering and mouth opening. He choked and gurgled and coughed, swallowing hard. Jack took his hand, covered with crusted blood. He squeezed tight, as if to imbue the man with as much strength as he had.

“Manuel… where’s Delia?”

“Hombres, amigo…”

“Men came, raided the farm?” Manuel barely nodded, his hand squeezing just a little tighter before releasing. “Did they hurt her, Manuel? When did this happen?”

“Lo siento… mi amigo.”

“You don’t have to be sorry, Manuel, you… you tried to protect her, but… they took her away, is that what you’re saying?”

Manuel nodded, squeezing again with even less strength. “Lo siento, lo siento…”

Jack’s heart was pounding in his chest, lips pulled tight across his teeth. His head was swimming, his soul was bursting. He wasn’t sure where to start or what to do. But one thing was certain.

“Manuel, who… who took her? Do we know them?”

Manuel’s eyes rolled up and he coughed, blood trickling out of the corner of his mouth.

“Manuel, I have to find her! Was it somebody we know?”

He shook his head, and Jack’s mind flashed from one face to the next. “Hombres,” Jack repeated, “they were Mexicans, banditos?”

He thought about the three men he’d killed that very day, riding out from the general vicinity of the farm. But they didn’t have Delia, that much Jack knew for sure.

“Were they white men?”

Manuel’s head lolled on the floor before finally coming to a rest.

“Manuel? Manuel!”

Jack touched the back of his fingers to Manuel’s neck, the blood unmoving beneath his flesh. That terrible, familiar coldness returned to Jack’s belly, like the hand of death itself touching him on the shoulder. He reached over and closed Manuel’s eyes.

“Our Father,” he said, quietly and quickly, “hallowed be Thy name.”

Jack finished the prayer and let his friend rest, pushing himself up and stepping away to get some distance, some air, some thought. He could hardly find any.

Who could have done this? Somebody from in town, perhaps? I’ve brought her there, been seen with her. Lovely as she is, she might have captured somebody’s eye. And they’d know I’d be at the market, selling the oranges.

Or… Hupa? Chumash? But the notion of that was too terrible to envision. And a glance around the house told him it wasn’t likely any of the tribes, nor mountain men, who would have robbed the place of so many things that were left behind. The fact that the house was left standing told Jack that it wasn’t Indians, though it could have been banditos, perhaps fractured off from the men he’d killed. That would have them on a course coming from the south and heading north… right into town, or at least past it.

His next move seemed clear. And there was no time for proper burials of Manuel and the other men. He was loath to leave his friend, but the man was dead—and his beloved bride-to-be was probably alive and certainly in terrible danger.

“Forgive me, my friend,” Jack said to Manuel. “I’ll be back, lay to you rest. If not, they probably won’t be burying me either.” He formed an imaginary cross over his chest and walked back through the house to the kitchen door, slamming it closed behind him.

Chapter Four

There was no time to unhitch Jasmine, who was already tired from dragging the cart to and from Los Angeles. So, Jack took one of the banditos’ horses, with speckled rear and a scabbed-over brand to disguise the original owner, a common move among the banditos. Using the animal wasn’t without some risk, as it was likely stolen. But there was no time to worry about that, about anything other than getting back to town as quickly as possible.

Jack still had to time to think about what had happened and what could have happened, and what was going to happen. If somebody from town had grabbed Delia, it wasn’t likely that he’d take her there, where she might be known. But she could be there temporarily, in holding, depending on what her captors had in mind for her.

And that was more than he could bear to think about, though he knew he had no choice. The different possibilities had different likelihoods and would have different outcomes. Knowing the best path to take would depend on knowing his adversary’s intentions.

The first terrible likelihood was that she was to be made the victim of carnal carnage. It was a fate that befell women across the country and across the known world. And in the world that was only becoming known, such as the dark continent of Africa, the problem was said to be even worse. White women were fodder for the hungers of men without morality, men of sheer and utter depravity.

But the risks would be too great, Jack reasoned with notable desperation in his own mind’s voice. Men with that intention would want distance and privacy, and the Santa Ana mountains would give them plenty of places to take their time and make the most of their opportunity.

Jack shook his head to wipe the thought from his mind’s eye, but he couldn’t ignore the fact that he was galloping at top speed, in the dark of a new night, precisely in the opposite direction.

The mountains are too big to search, he reassured himself, with too many places to hide. I could ride right past them in the dark! And they’re not likely to go far at night. They’ll stop and make camp.

And that was just what Jack was afraid of. But he knew he’d be on a fool’s errand trying to find her in the mountains, even if they were there. They could have shipped her north, south, east, west, or any combination of those directions.

He’d already committed, and the horse was galloping fast beneath him. He’d be in town soon enough. Then the question became where he would go first.

Sheriff Thomas Tyler was the first choice. He’s the law, and he can raise a posse. If somebody is going around making off with people’s women, he’ll have to act! And if anybody in town might be up to no good, likely to lash out in this way, the sheriff might know it.

An icy chill ran up Jack’s spine, attributable to more than just the wind and the night’s chill.

What if the sheriff is in on it, or behind it? There may be more to things than just some lusty savages or drunks. A man like the sheriff has power, and he knows men who have even more. Such men can claim any woman they choose, and have them delivered by any means necessary. That could include using the sheriff as a local agent, to hire thugs to get their hands dirty. If so, the sheriff won’t be any help at all. He’ll send me in the wrong direction! But he’s got to be expecting me, if he is involved. He knew I’d be away, and he knows I’m coming back.

Jack thought instead of Nathaniel Weatherby at the Golden Arms Saloon. He was more closely tied into the criminal element in Los Angeles, and probably elsewhere. And he was no friend of the sheriff’s, not by anybody’s account. At just nineteen, Jack had had little occasion to work closely with the man, but they’d interacted briefly during the posse the year before, and he’d made his character clearly known through his actions.

“A Wicked Revenge Plan” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Jack Larson is a humble farmer with an orange orchard in Los Angeles. The young man is about to marry his sweetheart, Delia, who grew up with him after both of their parents succumbed to illness. On the cusp of finally finding happiness, Delia is abducted by a vicious man on the run and Jack is left feeling hopeless. Jack’s only ally is a coarse, old bounty hunter who is pursuing the same man. Unfortunately, those two have a complicated past which might jeopardize their success…

Will Jack’s natural shooting skills tip the scales in their favor, or will the man they face claim his terrible prize, and even more?

Delia Windell’s simple life as Jack’s loving bride-to-be is upturned when she’s abducted by a scarred man recently released from prison. He has a wicked plan for revenge, and Delia is his pawn… and perhaps a good deal more. She only has her faith, her wits, and her wiles to stave off disaster and save her own life, Jack’s, and countless more.

Will she be able to preserve the future by solving the riddles of the past, or will her family’s shadows claim her as a sacrifice?

Jack and his unexpected ally are trying to survive through a rain of bullets. Αs the day bleeds into nightfall, they can either live to tell the tale or meet a tragic end. Is there any chance for the courageous men to save the girl and live to fight another day?

An action-packed story, featuring complex and fascinating characters, and twists and turns that will take your breath away. A must-read for fans of Western action and romance.

“A Wicked Revenge Plan” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

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

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