A Wild Journey for Payback (Preview)


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Chapter One

Territory of Montana, 1872

The Indians didn’t bother with him when he passed through the basin. Once he saw the Crow warriors astride their wild ponies, he began to doubt the certainty of reaching his destination. The five warriors watched from the ridgeline as he passed through the rough country below. Their mounts looked like living growths on the mountainside at that distance. He saw them, but did not attempt contact. Waving to strangers, especially Indians in the territories, didn’t make friends; it made corpses.

Instead, he kept his head level with the ground, the Stetson shielding his view from the sun and a sudden attack. He hoped the Indians’ accuracy wasn’t any good if they had rifles. Or that they didn’t want to waste an arrow on him. He didn’t have enough bullets in the revolver for six Indians on horseback racing downhill for a frontal assault. He’d get some with the rifle, but the bolt action military breech-loading rifle had four shots, and though he was a good shot, he had no fight with the Indians and didn’t want one. But he knew he’d share a bullet with Clyde before letting them have the horse. When he looked to the ridge again, the Crow had disappeared.

Perhaps it had something to do with him traveling alone. Maybe it had something to do with the horse. Since Clyde threw his rear shoe miles back over rough terrain, he didn’t notice right away. Clyde didn’t start limping until after the overnight storm. Once the sun rose over the mountains, he saw the injury. The horse had pulled a muscle. The hoof took some damage; the superficial cracking could lead to something more serious. Clyde limped alongside his owner, and the two of them finished out their journey side by side. Did the Indians take pity on him or his horse?

It gave him a deeper appreciation for what he asked of Clyde. He had a good pair of boots. The soles needed reinforcing, but the Calvary footwear proved durable in summer or winter, rain, mud, and desert heat. He had picked up the boots from a trader once he crossed the Mississippi. If he walked in a dead man’s boots, it wasn’t the first time. He entertained himself though the pass imagining Clyde wearing the boots, and himself marching barefoot.

After another hour, heading away from the mountainside, he meandered deeper into the valley where the creek bed had water enough for Clyde, and was maybe sufficient enough to soak his feet. He needed to rest, check the split hoof, and get another few bites of his jerky before it turned too much more.

Clyde pulled at the reins and snorted. He let the horse guide him down to the trickling stream. The ground had worn tracks. He saw a scrap of fabric and an empty whiskey bottle just under the surface of running water. People traveled that route often enough to leave waste. Maybe that was another reason the Crow let him be. They had enough trouble with the settlers and the Cavalry. He pulled at the bit in Clyde’s muzzle. The horse flicked its ears and clomped on the ground near his boot.

“You hold up,” he said. “You step on my foot again, and I’ll ride you into town; shoe or no shoe.”

Once he had the harness off, he worked the saddle straps. Freed of the pack and saddle, Clyde limped to the water’s edge and drank from the mountain stream. He waited, scanning the area. Garbage in the water and a tamped trail meant people traveled through the area often. He wanted a nap but had sense enough to know sleeping along the trail sometimes asked for trouble.

The lodgepole pine had a little shade; enough to catch an hour’s sleep before he reached the city limits. He wound the pocket watch after reading the time. If he put on another two hours’ hike, he’d reach Bozeman a little after nightfall.

He patted the horse’s shoulder. “What do you think? Want to camp for an hour before we finish this trail?” he asked. He tapped on Clyde’s hind leg to examine the hoof. It had caked mud along the sole and the frog had some swelling, but Clyde still could pull his weight.

Clyde continued to drink deep drafts from the stream. He removed the cloth-wrapped rifle from the pack and put it on the ground near the saddle. He dropped the saddle and bedroll on the dusty ground before grabbing the cloth-wrapped jerky. Before he pulled back the flaps, he knew it had finally gone completely bad. He’d have some food and water at the saloon or hotel. He wasn’t picky, as long as it filled the empty gut.

He sat on the shoreline near Clyde, who was still hoofing the creek bed and drinking. One by one, he pulled off his boots and wool socks. The water on his bare feet felt like cold bliss. He sighed and leaned back on his hands and closed his eyes. A nap after washing his feet would take his mind off missing another meal. He’d get rid of the spoiled jerky before breaking camp.

“You got something to eat, Mister?” The voice had gravel and youth. The stranger got closer than he liked, more sneaking than stomping. He managed to hold back from drawing the sidearm. Not everyone in the west wanted to kill him. He knew that. Still, strangers wandering out of the shrubs after he’d pulled the saddle made him uneasy. How long had that young man watched before he came out of hiding?

“I got some jerky, but it went bad already.”

“Oh, I don’t mind. I ‘et a cat three days dead once,” he said. By the look of the stranger’s teeth, he hadn’t skinned it before consuming it.

He gestured to the folded fabric on the rock near the pack. The stranger scrambled to it, squatting like an animal and clawing through the canvas wedge to get at the dried beef. He pulled a chunk off with his teeth. The stranger ignored the pungent stink from the rotten meat, and choked down the hunk of rot. His unwashed body made Clyde snort.

“What’s wrong with that horse, Mister? I sees it limping. You gonna shoot it? I can help skin it for ya. Maybe you can give me some rump steak if I help.” The stranger had eyes like muddy water and piss. He glared at Clyde hungrily. The spoiled beef jerky wasn’t enough for him; eating a horse wasn’t too heavy for the stranger.

“He threw a shoe a ways back,” he said. Scanning the copse of trees where the stranger emerged, he got the sense the guy wasn’t alone. “I’ll get him to the farrier once we reach Bozeman.”

“Is that where you’re going, Mister?” the stranger asked quickly. “Are you going to Bozeman? I knows where that is. I been there a couple of times.”

He blanched because the stranger wanted more from him than he had to give. He had nothing left – no food, a good saddle, Clyde, and the clothes on his back – nothing else.

“I could show—”

“I’m sorry, I don’t need a guide, son,” he said. It was enough for the stranger to stop talking.

“Uh, sure, okay, Mister, sorry,” the stranger said. He went back to finishing off the rancid jerky. It was a slow process, but nothing would separate the dirty, smelly man from the free meal.

“What are you doing out here?” he asked. It wasn’t his business. He knew better than getting involved. But a lone coyote sometimes was more trouble than a pack. “Look, what’s your name, son?”

“My Ma calls me Ed, but Pa called me Flea before he gone away,” Flea said, scratching something on his scalp. “Me and the boys are out looking for gold or whatever.”

That sent a shock of goosebumps up his spine, and as fast as he could, he grabbed his boots and socks.

“What’s the matter, Mister?”

“Where’re your friends, Flea?”

It took a moment to sink in, more time than it took Flea to finish the jerky. “I ain’t got no friends, Mister. It’s just me. I sure am grateful for the meal too.”

He slipped on the socks without looking, keeping his eye on the areas where anyone could snipe him. One boot at a time, he got them back on again when Clyde whined. He didn’t see Flea’s friends, but the horse knew they were out there.

How many shots in the revolver? How many bullets for the rifle? Where were Flea’s friends, and did any of them have guns? He knew if it came to them taking Clyde or him, he’d put Clyde out of his misery before they took his steed.

“Hey Flea, did you go and eat something?” The call came from a skinny, rusty haired man with slits for eyes and a scraggly beard. The second stranger appeared from around the same thick copse of trees where Flea had emerged from. He watched as Flea scrambled to hide the fabric wrap from the newcomer. “Hey Mister, did you go and give my brother something to eat without me?” It was an accusation.

“It was bad jerky,” he said quickly. “It wasn’t fit to eat.”

“Wasn’t fit to eat?” The newcomer had to look once he opened his eyes enough to see. Bad eyesight, he thought, how far can he see? Skinny and hungry, two dangerous things to encounter in the wild, the newcomer flipped a lanky wrist at his brother. “He done ate it all. Must be fit for Flea, but not one else,” he said. When the newcomer closed the distance between him and Flea, it gave him time to square off with Clyde at his back.

The horse was edgy. Ears flicking, head bucking, he removed the bit, but Clyde still had the bridle. If they had a gun between them, how far could he get bareback before the newcomer got off a shot?

“Mister, I ain’t had nothing’ to eat in two days. I caught a lizard—”

“That you didn’t share with me,” Flea said quickly as a rattlesnake strike. He pointed at the newcomer accusingly. “He didn’t, Mister. That lizard he caught it and ate it.”

“I told you! It weren’t big enough to split.” The newcomer stopped shouting at Flea when Clyde bucked. His front hooves came out of the mud long enough to remind the horse he couldn’t put weight on the rear right leg. “What’s wrong with that horse, Mister? Why ain’t you riding it?”

“He threw a shoe. We’re going into Bozeman. I stopped to get the horse watered. We’re going as soon as I get my pack.”

The newcomer’s eyes moved from left to right, squinting at the saddle, bedroll, and the wrapped rifle. Ten paces, that’s how far he was from everything he owned on the planet. He knew to go after the saddle compromised Clyde. Both strangers believed the horse was nothing more than walking meat. If he moved away from Clyde’s shoulder, he thought one might try to shoot him or use a knife to puncture the horse’s heart.

The newcomer ran his wrist over the scruff on his face.

“We should eat that horse, Mister. You’re going into Bozeman anyway. They got better horses.”

“I’m sticking with the one I got, thanks.” He kept the tone level and counted the distance between Flea, standing slightly behind the newcomer, closer to the pack at the lodgepole pine.

He could shoot both of them, quick and dirty. The trouble with that thought, other than spilling more blood, came with the fact that Flea had said ‘boys’ when he first arrived. He didn’t miss the count. There were two shots at the front, Clyde at his back – where was the other guy, or the rest of them? He wondered if they were smart enough to flank him. If one of them came in from the other side of the creek, he’d hear the boots in the creek bed behind him.

“Mister, we ain’t ate in two days. We sure is hungry.”

“Come into Bozeman with me. They got food there.”

“We can’t go to Bozeman on account of—”

“Shut up, Flea.” The newcomer was alpha to the pup.

He saw Flea cower at the command. But watching the newcomer wasn’t what made him weary. It was Flea’s glances behind him. The third man started to make his move. It was in Flea’s expression. Flea stared over the water instead of watching him. The newcomer’s direct squinty stare told him everything he needed to know.

If he shot Flea and the newcomer, the third man behind Clyde could knife or shoot him in the back. That’s when he heard the boots in the water, splashing toward him, picking up speed. He crouched and pulled at Clyde’s mane. The horse whined and twisted toward him, craning his neck down. His rear spun toward the water. Clyde didn’t need a shoe to kick. When Clyde’s hooves collided with the third man he drew the pistol, pointing it between Flea and the newcomer. Whoever moved first got shot first.

“Mister, that horse, he kicked Larry.” He watched as Flea responded to the incident instead of looking at the damage Clyde caused. Flea hopped in one place, pointing to the creek.

He had to rely on best judgment. Clyde’s powerful kicks could level cannons, and bust wagon wheels; breaking a few thin ribs wouldn’t pose any trouble for the horse. There was a groan from the creek. Flea and newcomer looked over his shoulder to the third man lying in the water. The groaning stopped with a ragged cough, and the trickle of water returned. It was an eerie hush that came over the area. The kind of stillness he knew well.

“Larry ain’t movin,’” Flea said in a pout. “Larry stopped moving.”

“Mister, your horse kilt my brother,” the newcomer said.

“Son, your brother came looking for trouble that wasn’t his to find,” he said. “Now, I’ll let you take your brother and bury him. I’ll let the sheriff know what happened out here. But we’re going our separate ways.”

He remained crouched, shoulder to leg with Clyde. The reins in his left hand, revolver in the right, leveled at the newcomer. He didn’t want responsibility for taking more lives.

“Paul, he’s goin’ to the sheriff,” Flea hissed.

“I heard, Flea. Shut up,” Paul said. “Now, Mister, you done caused a world of trouble when your horse kilt our brother, I needs justice.”

“Son, there’s no justice in dying,” he said. “That’s all it is – dying. There ain’t no more than that.”

Flea bounced a little in one place. Flea had a tick in his face and a tremble that showed up once he saw death up close. He suspected there wasn’t something right in that boy’s brain. Paul had sense enough not to move, but with Larry dead, Paul wasn’t going to let him and Clyde walk away.

Paul had something hidden in the small of his back. He didn’t know if it was a pistol or a knife. If Larry had a gun, it had gone in the creek. Likely, it’d misfire with waterlogged bullets. If he had a knife, it wasn’t any good to Paul at that distance.

He saw it before Paul moved. When the young man turned his head, looking at the wrapped rifle, he knew someone else might die that day. Maybe more than one person.

“Don’t do it, Paul. Don’t touch the rifle.” It was the only warning he’d give the young man.

“Rifle?” Flea repeated.

“Go get it,” Paul said, pointing to the saddle and bed roll.

He released Clyde’s reins and launched from the crouch toward the pack. Two young men closed the distance between him and the saddle. When Flea grabbed the rifle, he went after Paul instead.

Judging the predictability of both, Paul was more dangerous than Flea. Even as Flea pulled the rifle from the canvas, he kept the pistol pointed at Paul. The barrel of the pistol level with Paul’s chest kept him pin-wheeling backward. That’s when the Bowie knife appeared. The bent and rusted blade stuck just as easy as a clean sharp one. Paul swiped at him. He kicked the boy in the chest. The Bowie knife spun away in the gravel. Flea struggled with the rifle.

“Shoot him,” Paul shouted. “Shoot him.”

“I can’t.” The rifle didn’t respond to his fumbling hands. Flea began shuffling backward, struggling to understand the mechanics of the rifle. Flea pointed it directly at him as he strolled boldly forward. The level clicked. Before the boy pulled back the bolt on the empty breach, he launched the tip of his boot into Flea’s groin. The rifle fell away from the boy’s hands, and he caught it. He spun in time to see Paul charging at him.

The pistol shot echoed through the valley. The acrid stench of black powder burned his sinuses. He glanced at Clyde. The horse stood favoring the rear right hoof. He didn’t spook by the pistol shot. The horse had endured much worse than a single shot from a small pistol.

He held the rifle by the stock in his left hand. Smoke spilled from the barrel of the pistol.

“What did you do?” Flea whispered. Confused whimpering bubbled out of him. “You kilt him.”

Paul fell flat on his back in the gravel. He stared at the sky, which looked like butterscotch with sunlight reflecting off the distant mountains. Paul wasn’t looking at the air anymore. The bead of crimson on his oily shirt barely looked like a welt. Flea went to his brother and ground his knees in the rocks. He pushed at the body. It was a straight shot in the chest, a clean shot through the heart. Paul wouldn’t move on his own again.

He stood up and pressed his hand on Clyde’s flank. He turned to look at the body in the river. Larry had turned on his left side, legs drawn to his chest, arms over his ribs. It looked like he’d survived the initial kick, but died of trauma seconds later.

“Flea, I’m sorry,” he said. He meant it, but Flea didn’t hear him. The boy pulled at Paul’s oily shirt in fists, trying to shake him back to life. “Come in with me to Bozeman. We’ll go to the sheriff together. We’ll get this sorted out.”

He backed away from Flea. The rusty knife lay on the ground a few feet from Paul’s dead hand. The boy was alone and without the commands of a demanding older brother to boss him around. Flea was a powder keg of unpredictability in the setting sun.

“Mister, you kilt my brothers,” Flea moaned.

Don’t debate with him, he thought. That boy’s as dangerous as a dizzy rattlesnake. “We can talk about it in Bozeman. I’ll fetch the sheriff. We’ll come back and handle this properly.”

“I ain’t goin’ to Bozeman,” Flea yelled. He buried his head against Paul’s shoulder. The blood pooled on the greasy shirt spread over the rest of his chest. Flea got blood on his face and hands.

Clyde whinnied. He turned to see what had spooked the horse. Silently, gracefully, the six Crow warriors rode along the opposite shore along the creek bank, assessing the carnage. He holstered the pistol and began saddling Clyde. He tied off his bedroll and slipped the rifle into the bedroll, leaving the rifle wrap on the ground. He mounted Clyde. The horse complained. There was no time for worrying about the horse. The six Crow warriors halted their ponies and watched the three white men settle their differences with fiery words and gunshots. It wasn’t civilized; it was the settlers’ ways.

“I’ll come back here with the sheriff, Flea. I’m sorry this happened.”

Clyde winced under his thighs as he pressed his heels into the horse’s flanks to prompt him. Leaving the boy with the Indians wasn’t ideal. He didn’t know the state of the relationship between settlers and the local indigenous people. He figured since they let him go once, they’d do it again. Clyde trotted out of the creek. He crossed to the spanning prairie, where the wagon trail led away from the water and cut a path through the valley toward the nearest township.

Chapter Two

The town of Bozeman in the territory of Montana wasn’t much more than a long stretch of broad acreage split by a dusty stretch of road. Buildings were attached to each other for added support, and ran parallel with enough room in the street for several wagons and single riders. The structures with hitching posts and watering troughs were bustling places, even after nightfall. Other businesses off the main avenue sprang up like mismatched featureless boxes. Structures in the territory needed to withstand heavy winters and high winds; they weren’t made for aesthetics.

By the time he’d reached the main road into town, he had stopped worrying about Flea and the Crow Indians who kept the boy company with his dead brothers.

A figure in the shadow of a porch coughed and lit a pipe with a wood match.

“Sir, you know where I can find the sheriff?” he asked. He walked beside Clyde, staring at the silhouette in front of the featureless shack.

“You got a lame horse,” the old man said.

He had stopped riding Clyde as soon as he’d put enough distance between himself and the Crow, Flea, and two corpses. He couldn’t see the lodgepole pine anymore behind him. Chasing the setting sun into town, the cold from the mountains had descended over the plains. He had a canvas duster to keep him warm during his long walk to town.

“I know.”

“You can’t ride a lame horse. It’s best to use ‘em for meat.”

“He threw a shoe is all,” he said.

“Mooney’s got a stable around the corner down a pace,” The older man pointed with the mouthpiece of the pipe. “He’s got a smithy to do some work on that horse.”

“Thank you.” He pulled at the reins, and Clyde limped alongside him. “I think he’ll be fine when I can get a farrier to look at him.”

“Farrier, huh?” the old man grunted. “We got O’Brien, Mooney’s got the smithy, and if you want better shoes, you can head out to Fort Ellis. The Calvary got a forge and blacksmith. They trade for labor sometimes.”

“Mooney or O’Brien’s fine with me.” He still had something a little more pressing than Clyde’s limping. “The sheriff?” he asked again.

The old man sat on the wood planks outside of a shop. It looked like a general provision store. The old man had a corn pipe in the corner of his mouth and a shotgun across his knees. He sat in the dark like it kept him company. Traveling at night without light helped his eyes adjust. If he’d had a torch, he’d have missed the watcher on the porch.

“Who’s asking?” the old man said. It was a fair question. Strangers were frequent. Getting a name upfront helped sort out the trouble from the competition.

“It’s Smith,” he said, hoping that was enough to sate the old man’s curiosity.

“What do you need with Sheriff Saxton?”

Sooner or later, the whole town would know what happened under the lodgepole pine near the creek. Smith knew it wasn’t a secret, even in the wide-open space of Montana territory.

“I had a run-in with three young men. They tried to ambush me.”

The older man stared at Smith from the dark. Even in the shadows, he looked unimpressed. Lawlessness wasn’t a new concept for an older man guarding a general store in the night.

“Did you kill ‘em?” the old man asked.

Smith blanched. Death in Montana happened no matter what, either at the end of a gun or the end of a cold winter. “I’d like to talk to the sheriff about it, if it’s all the same to you, sir.”

“Well, he’s probably got his boots off upstairs of the saloon. You can go ask for him. Follow the noise.”

“Thank you,” Smith said.

He led Clyde further along the wide street. More people emerged, wandering in different directions. Most stayed close to the hanging lanterns. The few who moved out of the light paid Smith little mind, and he preferred it that way.

At the end of the rutted street, Smith found the tavern. It had a set of rooms on the second floor that passed for a boarding house. The upstairs windows had enough light in each to show eight separate rooms. By the look of the flat-faced building, the proprietor had put a lot of money into expanding the place. It had a finished porch with overhanging roof, unlike the general store that didn’t have a covering over the planks out front. Just an old man with a gun in his lap.

Lanterns illuminated the hitching posts. People shuffled in and out of place, ignoring him. Something that passed for music spilled out of Pollard’s Place whenever someone opened the door to the saloon.

Smith saw U.S. Calvary branded horses and military-issued saddled on quiet steeds standing shoulder to shoulder at the posts in front of the tavern. He tied off Clyde to a railing on the building adjacent to the saloon. His boots clicked on the warped wooden planks while Smith took a deep breath, trying to ignore the stares. He let out a mouthful of foul air of stagnant beer and weedy tobacco smoke.

Smith made his way to the bar and had to wait to find a space. It did no good shouldering close to the alcohol bottles and the barkeep. That was a volatile zone where tough guys perched looking to show off their quick-draw skills or artistry with fists. Smith wasn’t interested in fighting or shooting. He’d had enough of both to last the rest of his life.

“What you need?” the barman asked, seeing Smith loitering to the side.

“Sheriff Saxton?” Smith asked.

The barman thumbed to the ceiling. The old man at the store knew the routine.

“What can I get you while you wait?”

“You got water?” Smith asked.

The barman grunted. “Water’s out front. We had a rain shower two days ago, should still have some in the trough.” It was the bartender’s speech for order spirits or get the hell out.

“A beer’s fine,” Smith said. When he scanned the room, he saw the wall hangings of ropes and rusty horseshoes. He saw holes in the wood bigger than woodpecker tracks. Smith knew bullet holes when he saw them.

Smith watched the barman pour the dregs of a dead cask into a dirty glass. He slid it over to Smith. The coin on the bar top was one of the last few in his pocket. He looked at the contents of the glass. Bits of hops and grit swirled around inside the meaty amber ale. He slipped at the weak foam.

Since he had to wait for Sheriff Saxton, Smith figured to get other business out of the way. “You know where I can find work around here?”

“Yeah, there’s a shitter out back you can slosh out,” the barman grunted with laughter. Then the man pointed across the tavern. “Take your pick. There are plenty of hard-working people in here. Ask around. If you ain’t got money, I ain’t got a room for you either.”

Smith followed where the barman pointed a beefy digit. He saw a steely-eyed man watching him from afar. The man sat with his back to the corner. The man wore a yoke and denim britches. He looked the part of a cattleman. His Stetson hung from the end of the chair by the stampede string. The man had a leathery face and coal-black eyes. He had an unkempt beard and a red checkered bandana around his neck, the distinctive look of a frontier cattleman. Smith looked around at the others in the busy tavern. He saw men and women enjoying each other’s company, throwing away hard-earned money on yellow swill and watery whiskey.

Leaning against the bar, Smith held the warm beer but didn’t drink it. He watched the cattleman lose another hand of cards and swear as he tossed the worn playing cards into the pot. The winner gathered the winnings. The winner had his back to Smith at the table. The man frowned at his empty beer glass and looked to the bar when Smith caught his eye again.

The cattleman stood, gathered his hat and the rest of his dignity, and stepped out from the corner. His poker-playing mates wore matching uniforms. Career Calvary men; the cattleman was the odd one in the mix. Theirs wasn’t the only poker table. Smith saw a few faces taking long looks at him from around the place. Mostly no one cared. Strangers came and went in Bozeman, Montana. Some left on horseback. Some left feet first.

The music was an out of tune violin played by a young man in suspenders and a striped shirt. If he knew how to read music, Smith suspected it wasn’t sheet music for a fiddle. It sounded off-key and without balance. Smith appreciated good music, and that wasn’t it. The scratching on the strings didn’t bother anyone else in the place. It was human noise and that’s what mattered.

When the cattleman card player reached the bar he bumped into Smith, causing him to spill the beer. The flat, thick ale sloshed over his shirt, and splashed on the floor and his worn boots. The barkeep stopped chatting with a patron, expecting something entertaining to follow. Instead, Smith rubbed at the beer on the duster and put down the glass.

“I am sorry about that,” the man said. He had red, watery eyes. There was no malice in his voice or the action. Smith wasn’t in the mood for another fight. “Let me get you another beer.”

“No, it’s okay,” Smith said quickly. “First one wasn’t worth the dime.”

“What was that?” the barkeep asked over the drunkard’s laughter. “Shut up, Vaughn.” The bartender pointed a loaded index finger at the cattleman. The barkeep glared at Smith, waiting for something that resembled an apology.

“Look, I’m just waiting on Sheriff Saxton. I’ll wait here or go outside. I just need to see the man, and then I’ll be on my way.” Smith didn’t want to agitate the proprietor.

Vaughn didn’t help by instigating the barman with laughter. And it did no good for Smith when Vaughn said, “He’s right, Russell. That beer’s not worth a dime, but maybe a penny.”

Vaughn dropped one copper piece on the bar, and it rattled and spun until a glove slapped it flat. Smith followed the arm up, and he saw the look of experience on a man’s face. The stranger stood on the other side of Vaughn, but gave Smith a sideways look.

“You drunk, Vaughn?” he asked. His voice had an edge like saw teeth, rugged and dull. The small man stood opposite Vaughn, on the man’s left. He had appeared from the crowd, with two men standing at his back, watching for trouble.

Vaughn looked from Smith to the latecomer. “I am a little drunk, Farrell.”

“Now, how is it you got drunk on something you don’t think is worth a dime?” Farrell asked.

Vaughn sucked air through his front teeth and said, “I don’t know, maybe ‘cause it cost me a dollar to get there?”

Russell reached over the bar and grabbed Vaughn by the shirt. He heaved Vaughn off his feet and slammed him down on the bar top. Bracing Vaughn’s neck with his bulk and an elbow, Russell glared at Smith again.

“Your friend’s mouthy tonight.”

“He’s not my friend. I don’t know the guy.” Smith took a step away from Vaughn, flaying against the beer-soaked wood surface. Smith saw Farrell’s right hand reach his belt buckle and he stepped around Vaughn’s kicking legs.

The three soldiers from Vaughn’s table stood up and backed away from the area behind Smith in case bullets went that direction. If Farrell pulled on Smith, he’d have to put down the man. Smith didn’t want any more blood on his hands. There weren’t enough bullets in the revolver for the tough guy’s friends.

“You’ve insulted Russell’s fine establishment here. Your friend’s got a big mouth too,” Farrell pointed at Vaughn, still kicking at the footboards while Russell pinned him to the bar. “Now, I know Nick here,” he said, looking at Vaughn. Then he pointed at Smith, “But I don’t know you.”

“I’m just looking for work. I don’t want any trouble.”

“You was asking for the sheriff when you got here,” Russell said.

“Is that true?” Farrell asked.

“Yeah, but that’s a different business altogether.” Smith counted how many people stood behind Farrell.

The man wasn’t alone. He wasn’t the kind of guy who traveled alone. Smith knew the type. He had dealt with people like Farrell before. The man had a complex about his height. Smith saw the added heel on the custom-made boots. Farrell had a small-man syndrome. Anyone who looked like a challenge came up on the wrong side of his gun. Smith suspected Farrell was a good shot. He saw the clarity of his eyes. If Farrell drank, he sipped whiskey or ale. He kept the edge by limiting alcohol. Farrell was a dangerous man. If Smith had to choose between Flea and Farrell, he’d pick Flea in a fight. Farrell played for keeps.

“Where are you from, Smith?” Farrell asked. He had the floor. The fiddle player stopped. The patrons had a different kind of entertainment, and moved back from the field of battle. They murmured and stayed clear of the space behind Smith in case Farrell wanted to punctuate his questions with bullets.

“I’m from a place where I know how to stay out of the way.”

Somehow, under the weight of Russell’s arm, Vaughn managed to grunt with laughter. Others followed, humored by Smith’s comment. He saw the flaring nostrils on Farrell. The man suddenly felt ridiculed.

Russell released Vaughn. The man staggered backward and recovered. He’d stepped between Farrell and Smith. Farrell continued watching Smith, not Vaughn. But Vaughn mistakenly thought the danger had passed. When he landed his hand on Farrell’s shoulder, it was too much for the small guy.

“Lighten up, Far—” Someone came from the right side of Farrell and slammed a fist against Vaughn’s face, knocking him against the bar before he finished talking. One of Farrell’s friends got a cheap shot at Vaughn.

When Smith glanced at the soldiers they stood back out of the way, watching. Somehow, if it didn’t involve them directly, it didn’t include the U.S. government. Farrell stepped around Vaughn, closing the space to Smith. When he saw Farrell’s right hand move from the belt buckle to the holster, Smith rushed him.

Farrell was smaller than Smith; being stable and closer to the floor meant he had a better center of gravity. But the heels lifted him higher from the planks than his natural footing. While he recovered, it wasn’t fast enough for him to throw Smith off him. When he reached for the pistol once Smith spun clear, Farrell found an empty holster.

The moment someone brandished a weapon inside the tavern, the mood soured quickly. Smith knew better than to point the pistol at anyone. He saw flaring nostrils and glaring brown eyes as Farrell realized Smith had disarmed him.

Showing submission, Smith held the pistol away and to the floor. He quickly thumbed open the chamber and spilled the .44-caliber bullets over the floorboard like lead gumdrops. Once all six shots cleared, Smith put down the pistol gently.

When Farrell rushed to grab the Colt Open Top, he’d have to actively load the weapon before he pointed it at Smith and fired. Smith hoped that before that happened, someone might intervene. He watched Farrell pull a slug from his belt rig.

“Michael, don’t load that gun,” a voice called from overhead. Smith looked up to see a man with a rifle pointed at him and Farrell.

“Hey, Sheriff,” Vaughn said. He found a chair out of the way and rubbed his jaw. He pointed at Smith. “This guy’s been looking for you.”

Smith sighed and stood up to face the sheriff from the balcony. Welcome to Montana, he thought. How long you going to stay alive here?

“A Wild Journey for Payback” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Smith is a mysterious man that does not go unnoticed. Having no interest in gold or fame, he had his fill of adventure before arriving in the untamed backdrop of the wild frontier. When he first set foot in Bozeman, Montana, trouble was the last thing he expected to find, but after the sudden attack of three notorious felons wanted by the law, he figured out that his stay there would not be a child’s play, as he wished. As if that weren’t enough, running low on bullets and cash will soon throw him on the mercy of a ruthless rancher, who has nearly complete control of the town. Will Smith finally take the risk to accept a tempting job offer from the vicious man?

Rumors about Smith spread in town like wildfire, but little did he know that this crime was only the beginning of his perilous adventure. While riding on a rainy day, he rescues a helpless woman, trapped in a criminal’s dirty hands. Smith will soon find out that she is Josephine Compton, the daughter of a powerful cattle baron, and he will take it upon himself to return her to the ranch. How will their unexpected encounter change their lives once and for all?

Even though Josephine and Smith meet under the worst variety of circumstances, the attraction between them is impossible to deny. However, their love cannot flourish, as Smith’s temporary stay in Bozeman will soon turn into a bloody undertaking without end. Will he manage to choose the right side and fight for good against evil? Or will they both be doomed to a dreadful fate?

“A Wild Journey for Payback” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

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10 thoughts on “A Wild Journey for Payback (Preview)”

  1. My head is spinning ! Just how much action can one guy face.
    I predict a riot.
    Looks good and now I can hardly wait to read it in full.

  2. Nice, fast-paced tale, with murder and mayhem in just the first two chapters!

    P.S. I believe “Calvary” should actually he “Cavalry”.

  3. As much as I enjoy reading your stories, I won’t be following you any more. I can never get the extended epilogue to a lot of your books. It’s disappointing to be left hanging in ‘limbo’ because we don’t know where you took the main characters. Sometime I can get the epilogue on my computer, but only about half of the time.

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