Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Western Novel in 30 Working Days -- Nine

I was once a little boy.
Things always happen. That's the way a novel goes. Sometimes the things are dangerous to the protagonist, sometimes they are puzzling, and sometimes it's what you might expect.

Naturally, in writing my western in 30 working days, things happen. Like, I had no idea that Elijah Carpenter, who showed up while Matt Stryker was eating breakfast, was related to Molly Miller. I didn't even know that her maiden name was Carpenter. Things happen.

Matt Stryker is nothing is not pragmatic. That doesn't mean he has no feelings, not at all. But he IS a manhunter, and that means gathering information, which sometimes makes things happen.

He went to the Ridges & Hale stage line office in Tucson to see what he could find out. Any good private eye would do the same.

“I went to Sheriff Paul and told him what I found at Miller’s Well,” Stryker said. “I’d like to know if there’s any more to it.”

When McCabe didn’t answer, Stryker went on. “Seems unusual for robbers to burn the station, kill the driver and shotgun, kill the passengers, then shoot the horses. Is there anything about that stage that doesn’t meet the eye?”

“Sheriff Paul let us know of the problem only a few hours ago,” McCabe said.

“But you had a stage late, late more than a few hours, too,” Stryker said. “How long do you wait before sending a rider up the line?”

“A day. Maybe two.”

“So someone is on the way right now?”

“They are.” McCabe adjusted his weight in his chair. He looked unhappy at the direction talk was going.

“I saw four burnt bodies, McCabe. Couldn’t tell no more than that three were men and one was a woman. Like I told Sheriff Paul, I found Dodge Miller alive in the outhouse. They’d left him for dead. He heard ‘em say they was Dents. Sheriff had a flyer on the Dents.”

Carpenter broke in. “Mr. McCabe, has anyone else come asking about Miller’s Well?”

“Someone else?” McCabe said. “Anyone?”

Carpenter nodded.

“Well. Elrowe Hershey, you know, he’s a partner in the Old Dominion mine in the Globe City area.

“Heard that mine was copper,” Carpenter said.

“So it is. Along with traces of gold and silver, and some lead,” McCabe said.

“What’d Hershey want?”

“Well. The stage was long overdue, and Mr. Hershey was inquiring as to any news about when it would arrive.”

“Wonder why.”

“Mr. Hershey was not specific, but I got the impression that he was waiting for someone called Neil Bascomb.” McCabe settled back in his chair, dug a stubby pipe from a coat pocket and began filling it from a pouch.

Questioning McCabe further, they found that the man called Hershey was at the Royal Hotel. Which naturally meant that Stryker would go there to shake the tree. 

In my Black Horse Western novel Road to Rimrock, Matt Stryker is a younger man and the marshal of a town on the edge of the Mogollon Rim called, unsurprisingly, Rimrock.

He made a promise to the town drunk that he spent the whole book fulfilling. Here's how the story starts:

 The shot came as Marshal Matt Stryker started his midnight rounds of Rimrock. He drew his six-gun and trotted down Washington Way. As he passed the President saloon, he saw a crumpled shape in the shadow of the dilapidated boardwalk in front of what was once Rimrock Mercantile. No more shots.

Stryker knelt by the fallen man. He grasped a shoulder and shook it. No response. Keeping his gun ready, he levered the body over. It smelled of whiskey, and he recognized Stan Ruggart.

Lying face up now, Ruggart began to snore.


 Like the street, the lobby of the Rimrock Hotel was empty. A coal-oil lamp burned low at one end of the counter. The register lay open. Keys hung from pegs within easy reach. ‘Sign the book and take a key,’ said a sign next to the guest register. Stryker checked the signatures. Ruggart’s was last. No one else had checked in since. Stan Ruggart lived in an empty hotel and had done for nearly three months. Stryker picked up the lamp and climbed the stairs. Once the ground floor had housed a restaurant. Now it lay silent like the rest of the town.

Ruggart often said his room number brought him good fortune. Lucky Seven, he called it. Stryker raised the lamp to check the brass number over the door. No mistake – 7. He tapped on the door. Silence. He knocked. No sound. He banged. No response. He tried the knob, and the door
opened. A step into the room, Stryker raised the lamp high. Ruggart lay on his bed, fully clothed, his eyes wide as if in shock, his mouth open as if crying for help, his throat cut so deep the wound looked like a second mouth. 

‘Ah shit. Too late.’ Stryker covered the body with the spare blanket folded at the foot of the bed and went to look for Tom Hall.

Hotels are deadly. Maybe you readers should think twice before checking in to one. Especially if its full of Western authors. Matt Stryker seems to find that things happen in hotels.

Stryker and Carpenter rode side by side down Toole to where the road branched into Arizona Avenue. They followed Arizona to Congress Street, where they turned west. The Royal Hotel stood on the corner of Congress and Granada.

A group of men milled around the entrance to the Royal, talking in subdued tones. Stryker dismounted Saif at the side of the hotel where hitching rails allowed horses to stand for a while. Carpenter got off the dun and checked his Lightning. They pushed through the crowd, making their way in the front door. The first thing Stryker noticed was the huge form of Sheriff Bob Paul. From the looks of things, the sheriff wanted answers, not questions.

“Now’s not the time,” Stryker said to Carpenter. Whatever’s happened, Bob Paul don’t like it.”

Carpenter faded back into the crowd outside and Stryker waited the chance to talk to the sheriff. He sidled closer, hoping to catch some of the conversation.

“Why do you figure so, Mason?” Sheriff Paul asked.

“I have no idea, sheriff, honest to God.”

“Hmmm. Ain’t too often a man turns up dead like that. Not one like him.”

“I have no idea, sheriff,” the man called Mason repeated.

“Hanging,” Carpenter said at Stryker’s shoulder. “Man hanged himself up in Room 214. That’s what they say.”

“A man don’t usually hang himself,” Stryker said. “Usually eats his gun.”

“Lots of townies don’t carry a gun these days,” Carpenter said. “Maybe he had no gun barrel to eat.”

“Could be. Any word as to who it is hanging up there?”


Stryker gave Carpenter a sidelong glance. “Well?”

“You ain’t gonna like this.”

“Try me.”

Them outside said the maid found a man hanging dead in his room. They say it was Elrowe Hershey.”

You see? Things happen.

Word count: 13,514

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Western in 30 working days--Eight

Dapper at the age of 19 or so
I was once a young and dapper man. But the years have added wrinkles and splotches and several feet around the waist. But still, it is good to have a challenge.

The eighth day of the Write a Western in 30 Working Days marathon is almost finished. So close, in fact, that I have decided to go ahead and do this blog entry.

A new character came upon the scene as Stryker was eating breakfast. But what happens when he meets Dodge Miller, wounded husband of poor Molly?

Let's see.

After a long minute, Miller said, “Lige Carpenter? Lige Carpenter from Higgins Bottom?”

“The same.”

“I heard you went wild,” Miller said. “Before we come west, I heard you rode with James Danby’s boys.”

“I did, but I quit. Them Dents what got my cousin Molly, they was once with Danby, too. Well, at least Lester and the two older boys was.”

“You know them bastards!”

Stryker stood to one side, interested in seeing what Dodge Miller made of Lige Carpenter.

“Not that I’m proud to say it,” Carpenter said. “Don’t like to admit it at all. To anyone but you, I’d say I didn’t know no Dents.”

“So wha’choo doing here?” Miller’s brows remained knitted in puzzlement.

“I’m here to go with Matt Stryker to get Molly back for you. If he’ll let me, that is. You can’t. Not right now. Molly deserves kin to get her away from them Dents.” Carpenter stuck out a hand. “Dodge. I figure you’re kin, too.”

In Westerns, you'll find that families mean a lot. How many Sackett novels did Louis L'Amour write? A bunch. And if you've taken the time to read my Pitchfork Justice book, you'd know how older brother Garet Havelock comes to help his younger brother Ness. At the end of Chapter 30:

"Wilson did it," Gatlin said from the door. "He likes to hurt people. Makes him feel good."
"I'd better get word to Garet Havelock," Hubbell said. "With people thinking Ness killed Prince and Cruger, all hell's liable to break loose."

Then, in Chapter 31:

"What's this about you killing Roland Prince," Garet demanded. He'd rode too long as a lawman to let serious things like murder slide. So I told my story again.

"Hubbell, you want to deputize me? I'd stand against those rowdies," Garet said. And he would, too. He'd stopped a mob of miners cold in Vulture City when he was marshal there.
"I'll stand, too, Sheriff," Sid Lyle said from where he stood outside the door. "And I got four good men. Ain't nobody gonna take Ness Havelock outta that cell while we're here."
I grinned at Sid as he walked in. "For a man who took a shot at me, you're all-fired loyal, Sid."
He grinned back. "Mistake," he said.
"All right," Hubbell said. "Garet. Lyle. Raise your right hands."

And on, until Garet and the men who stand with him are able to keep the mob from lynching Ness. Now, we have family coming together to rescue Molly Miller, if there's anything left of her body and mind to rescue when the time comes.

Miller reached for Carpenter’s hand. “Dear God, it feels good to have kin.” His eyes glittered with unshed tears.

Carpenter clapped his left hand over his handshake with Miller. “Dodge, Matt Stryker’s about the best man you could have going after your Molly. And I’ll be right with him. All the way, I’ll be there.”

“I thank you, Lige. I truly do.” He swiped at his eyes with the heels of his hands. “And you, Matt, what takes you out after my Molly?”

“Men like the Dents don’t deserve to run wild, Dodge. I’ll bring them in, like I said, and if they won’t come, I’ll bring them in anyway. Belly down, if that’s how it’s got to be.”

Keeping his grip on Lige Carpenter’s hand, Miller stretched his other one toward Stryker. “I’d have your hand on that,” he said.

Stryker gripped Miller’s hand.

“Kin and good friends. Sometimes that’s all that gets a man through,” he said.

Word Count: 12,224

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Western in 30 Working Days--Day Seven

Me in an earlier day. Could be a Dent, though
I KNOW. The days in the title and those in the calendar don't jibe. Still, that's what time I've been able to put in as of right now. Two days on the road didn't give me any time, and a half day reporting today evened out the time to seven working days on the novel. My count.

We know Molly Miller's in trouble. And she is. Read this.

Molly squatted not far from Wee Willy, but in the shade of a boulder. She was thirstier than she’d ever been in her life, but she refused to drink or even look at the canteens, unless told to fetch one.

“You all’ll die if’n you don’t take some water,” Wee Willy said. He spoke only loud enough for his voice to carry to Molly’s ears.

Molly shook her head. “I don’t care,” she whispered. “I just don’t care.”

“You gotta care, missus.”

“I’m just a bitch. A bitch’s an animal. No use living.”

Question: will Molly survive until someone can rescue her? Could any woman survive the sadistic treatment they'd receive from the Dents?

“Move’ut,” Leroy hollered.

She dogtrotted across the sunburnt patch of ground and halted in front of Leroy, her shoulders slumped and her head bowed. Her ratty hair fell in snarls around her face.

Leroy took a roundhouse swing at her that sent his right hand splatting against the side of her face. “Bitch. When I call ya, come running.”

Molly dropped to her knees without a sound.

“You hear me, bitch?” Leroy’s voice nearly screeched.

Molly toppled forward, but caught herself with hands spread wide, elbows locked and fingers splayed. She panted. Ung. Ung. Ung. Ung. Like a child who has been told to shut up, but can’t hold the sobs back completely. 

Stryker has his problems, too. But Tucson's a populous town so privacy or not being recognized is an iffy situation. 

“Hold up, Saif,” Stryker said. The black Arabian stopped.

Carpenter pulled the dun up beside Saif. “Damn. That’s some horse you’ve got, Stryker. Never seen the like. Like he knows everything you say.”

“He hears me when he likes what I say,” Stryker said. “Where’s your friend?”

“Upton ain’t no friend of mine.”

“You don’t say.”

“He had a foot on the rail over to the Red Garter,” Carpenter said. “I stood alongside, and he bought me a drink. That’s about it.”

“Red Garter’s a ways away from Chez Bennie.”

“A man’ll go all the way across town for good food. Ever been to El Paso?”

“Passing through.”

“Ever hear of Rosa’s? Just across the bridge into Mexico? Now that’s a place men ride halfway across Texas for. Good, dark Mexican brew and the best machaca this side of San Lucas.”

“Why are you following me, Elijah?”

Why would Elijah Carpenter follow after Matt Stryker? Well, I'm not going to tell you. In fact, I may not tell you next report either. 

Until we meet again, then. Hasta la vista.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Western in 30 Working Days--Midday Six

Church work kept me pretty busy over the weekend, but I'm back in the groove now. Talked with artist daughter last night. We've decided to take new photos of me. Look forward, or cover your eyes, whichever suits you best.

Off for a hospital checkup in the afternoon, but let's see some of what's happening with Matt Stryker and those crazy Dents.

“Hmmm.” Stryker scowled. Dodge Miller’s account of what happened to Molly seemed to make her assailants the Dents, no mistake. “The station master at Miller’s Well said there were four Dents who burned down his station,” Stryker said. “Who do you think would be riding with Dent?”

“Him and his three boys. They’re about as nasty a bunch as you’ll ever run into.”

“Tell me.”

“The oldest is Phineas. Finn for short. Mean as a bobcat. Sneaky as a coyote.” Carpentered emptied his coffee cup and held it up until Marie noticed. “Second is Leroy. Cut from the same mold as Finn. Then there’s Wee Willy.”

“Wee Willy?”

“Yep. Big giant of a man, he is. Bigger even than Bob Paul. But he’s never growed in his head past about seven or eight years old. His pa beats on him a lot, too. Wee Willy. Always trying to do things right, but never quite making it, and always getting beat for his mistakes, real or imagined.

Marie came with the coffee pot and filled their cups.

“You seem to know the Dents right intimate.”

“I rode with Danby. We were right upset about Suthrun cecesh. But more ‘n more, raids got to be about money, not revenge. After we got shot to pieces by Sheriff Slaterlee’s posse from Wolf Creek, I left. Told Canby to keep my share. I left. Quit being a raider.”

“Good choice,” Stryker said. “But I’m gonna have to ride them Dents down.”

The Dents themselves are headed for Hell's Gate, and from there to Skeleton Canyon.

Word Count: 9004

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Blacksmith scene

Marc Cameron wrote a blog on Western Fictioneers about shoeing horses. Some time ago, in Pitchfork Justice, I wrote of the meeting of two blacksmiths. I wonder if Marc thinks it rings true.

     I climbed off the buckskin and looped his reins over the hitching rail. I motioned for the Norway men to do the same. We strode to Swede's forge, me being the smallest of the three. Swede just kept working that hot iron while we stood there. But I saw a gleam in Bjornsen's eye. He saw that the Swede worked the iron well. 
     I'd noticed Swede laboring alone before. No one worked the bellows for him and no one helped him beat out a rhythm on the anvil. 
     At last, he shoved the piece in a bucket of water. A cloud of steam arose, along with the wet smell of hot iron. He laid the work back on the anvil and looked at us. 
     "My name's Ness Havelock," I said, "brother to Garet Havelock of the H-Cross ranch on Silver Creek." 
     Swede nodded that he knew Garet. 
     "I seen you working by yourself the other day, and Bjornsen here says he's a journeyman smith. Thought you might have a few day's work for him." 
     Swede motioned to Bjornsen. The big Norwegian went to the bellows without a word and started pumping them with a pair of arms as thick as a grown man's thigh. Swede took some tongs and turned the work in the coals, making sure it heated to a uniform cherry red. 
     As he pulled the work from the forge, Swede nodded toward the other hammer on the bench. Bjornsen took it up in a ham-like fist and stepped to the far side of the anvil. Swede hit the anvil twice with his hammer to set the rhythm, then those two big men took to pounding that piece of iron one after the other in perfect time. Each time he turned the work, Swede would hit the anvil twice and they'd take up their rhythm again. Before you'd know it, Swede was holding a perfect buggy spring in his tongs. The two had not said a single word to each other. 
     "Good," Swede pronounced. "A dollar a day." 
     Bjornsen looked at Roald, who spoke to him in Norwegian. The big man grinned. He stuck out a huge hand to Swede, who gripped it, sealing the deal. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Western in 30 Working Days--midday 5

Things happen. A man like Matt Stryker goes into a restaurant to eat a belated breakfast, and things happen.

Maybe her name is Marie.

“Thank you, Marie,” he said. “Mighty good omelet. You can tell Marcel I said that.”

“Why thank you. Merci beau coup. Coming from Matt Stryker, that is high praise indeed.” She turned to the other men. “Moment, Messieurs.” She’d noticed that Stryker’s coffee cup was nearly empty and needed refreshing. “More coffee in a moment, Matt,” she said, and hustled into the kitchen for the coffee pot.

“Scuse me,” said the broad man. “Did the waitress say you were Matt Stryker?”

“She did,” Stryker said.

“No shit?”

“I’ll thank you not to use such language in a public place,” Stryker said.

“Ah. Sorry. Just kinda slipped out.” The thick man said, “I’m Garth Upton and this here’s Elijah Carpenter.”

Stryker nodded. He’d never heard of either name. He took another bite of omelet.

“You’re that man what gunned down King Rennick up to Ponderosa, ain’t ya?” the thick man said.

“And took on the Nogales Guards all by hisself,” Carpenter said.

“If you will let M’sieur Stryker finish his meal in peace, messieurs,” Marie said. She poured coffee for Stryker.

“Just being friendly.” Upton’s voice had a pout in it.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” Stryker said. “Now. If I could finishing my breakfast, I’ll be on my way.”

The man at the left is probably not Upton. But he's a ringer. This is the kind of man I saw when writing the restaurant scene. 

Stryker didn’t wait. Once again he picked up the fork, and this time he attacked the omelet. Outside, it was golden egg, not over done, not runny. His fork gouged a large portion from the near end. Chopped ham, sausage, melted cheese, and diced onion oozed from inside. Stryker leaned over the plate and devoured the portion on his fork. As the robust flavors of the omelet and its filling invaded his senses, two men entered Chez Bennie. They glanced at Stryker, their eyes pausing briefly on his scarred face. Stryker seemed to ignore them, but his peripheral vision catalogued their peculiarities.

One was tall and gangly, dressed in a brown sack coat and California pants that seemed at least a size too big. He wore a bowler that he didn’t remove when he came into the restaurant. The other was shorter by half a foot, but broad-shouldered and thick bodied. They took a table close to the door and sat facing the windows that looked out on 12th Street.

Nevertheless. Regardless of who they are, Matt Stryker seems to attract trouble. Please note that the snippets from the scene are not in order.

“Why thank you. Merci beau coup. Coming from Matt Stryker, that is high praise indeed.” She turned to the other men. “Moment, Messieurs.” She’d noticed that Stryker’s coffee cup was nearly empty and needed refreshing. “More coffee in a moment, Matt,” she said, and hustled into the kitchen for the coffee pot.

“Scuse me,” said the broad man. “Did the waitress say you were Matt Stryker?”

“She did,” Stryker said.

“No shit?”

“I’ll thank you not to use such language in a public place,” Stryker said.

“Ah. Sorry. Just kinda slipped out.” The thick man said, “I’m Garth Upton and this here’s Elijah Carpenter.”

Stryker nodded. He’d never heard of either name. He took another bite of omelet.

“You’re than man what gunned down King Rennick up to Ponderosa, ain’t ya?” the thick man said.

“And took on the Nogales Guards all by hisself,” Carpenter said.

“If you will let M’sieur Stryker finish his meal in peace, messieurs,” Marie said. She poured coffee for Stryker.

“Just being friendly.” Upton’s voice had a pout in it.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” Stryker said. “Now. If I could finishing my breakfast, I’ll be on my way.”

You see, Matt Stryker had a face that had been terribly deformed and scarred by a man named Jake Cahill, who slugged him with lead-filled fists while his henchmen held Stryker pinned. He'll never look the same again.

“Perhaps an order of cinnamon toast to complement the coffee, then,” Marie said.

“Coffee,” Upton said, an edge of sharpness in his voice. “You hard a hearing or sumpin?”

“I’ll have one more cup of coffee, too, Marie,” Stryker said. “Marcel have any cinnamon rolls left?”

“Perhaps, Matt. I will look.” As Marie took a step away from Upton’s table, he grabber her wrist. “Where you going? We ain’t finished yet.”

“Upton.” Stryker spoke in a hard low voice, but it carried the impact of a shout. “Don’t know who you are. Don’t care. But no man restrains a woman by force. No one. Let go of the lady’s arm.” Stryker stood.

Upton pulled Marie around in front of him. “You trying to make me do sumpin? Huh?

Word count: 7279

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Western in 30 working days--kinda 4

My great grandfather put roots down in Joseph City, AZ.
He kilned 40,000+ bricks to build this house, which my grandfather
later purchased from him. The house still stands, an important historical property.

Today, just little part of Chapter Three. Something Stryker is thinking about.

Roots. Stryker stared at the celadon cup. Roots. Almost everyone he knew and trusted had roots. Ness Havelock at the RP Connected. Garet Havelock at the H Cross on Silver Creek. Wolf Wilder had the Flying W in Long Pine Canyon. Real Lee and Lilywhite seemed settled down in Payson. Laurel Baker and Finn McBride were married and their Rafter P supplied Ponderosa with good beef and better horses. The McCulloughs had their place in the Blues.


Stryker’s thoughts returned to Catherine de Merode, as they so often did. “Wire me, send me a letter, use one of those new telephones to talk to me, it doesn’t matter how you contact me, Matt, but when you’re ready to put down some roots, as soon as I can find transportation to wherever you are, I will come.”


Word count: 6435

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Western in 30 Days -- Full Day Three

Two chapters done. Pretty good rate for someone as slow at the typewriter as I am. Some excerpts:

Only one structure stood. A small outhouse located behind the ashes of the station. Small, but probably at least three holes. Stryker moved toward it with careful steps, his eyes sweeping the ground, then the horizon, then the far hills, then the nearby desert growth. Dark splotches led to the outhouse door. Blood.

“You touch that door, mister, and you’ve got a .56 caliber slug through your guts.” The voice cracked, like its owner’d not had a drink in days.

“I’ve got water,” Stryker said. “I’m Matt Stryker.”

“You following someone?”

“Who’s in there? Dodge? That you?”

“It is, and I got a goldam hole in me. All the way through.”

“I’m gonna open the door, Dodge. Don’t you shoot me with that Creedmoor.”

Dodge Miller didn’t answer, he just groaned. Stryker tried the door handle but the door wouldn’t budge. “You’re gonna have to lift the toggle, Dodge. Can you do that?”

“Cain’t move, Matt. Bust the damn thing.”

A mountain that might be called Signal Butte, but its real name is Picketpost Mountain.
“Four of ‘em, Matt. Old man and three younger ones. The old man sent one of the youngsters over to check me. ‘Wee Willy’ he called the boy. Big. Really big. He come. Shoved me with the toe of his brogan. I flopped. He stood there looking for a long time, then he want back. ‘Dead’ I heard him say. But I figure he knew I was still breathing. Wee Willy. That’s what they called him.”

“Wee Willy.” Stryker stored the name in his head. “You hang on, now. I’ll get stuff for your shot places.” A clump of prickly pear grew across the stage road and halfway up the hill from Miller’s Well. Stryker lopped three pads from the cactus and carried them back to where Miller lay.

Lots goes on between now and Tucson. But you can read that when you get the book. So what about Tucson?

Old Tucson looks like this today, and Tucson may have looked like this in the mid 1880s.

Stryker left Miller at Doc Singleton’s place. “I’ll be back as soon as I’ve talked to Bob Paul,” he said. “Then we can go see Gil Steiner. He’s the best horse trader in these parts.”

He rode Saif down Pennington, past the courthouse to North Court. He looped Saif’s reins over the hitching rack and went into the courthouse looking for Pima Sheriff Robert Paul’s office. He heard Paul long before he saw him. Standing six foot six inches in his sock feet and weighing out at nearly two hundred fifty pounds, Sheriff Robert Paul dominated any gathering he was in. In this case, a gaggle of four newspapermen who stood around the door to his office.

“Listen. You’d better hear what I’m saying.” Paul folded his arms and looked down on the newsmen. “The judge said the land deal is legal, and for the moment, that’s all there is to it. Now shove off. Let me be.”

Stryker raised his voice. “Hey Bob. You getting in over your head?”

Paul pushed his way through the newsmen. “Matt Stryker. What in heaven’s name are you doing in Tucson. Thought you’d have had enough of this country after that little fiasco down in Sonora.”

After niceties, Stryker gets down to business. 

“Bob, you got any wanted flyers on anybody named Dent?”

“Gol. Who knows? Pile of them damn things over there,” Paul waved at a card table on the far side of the big office. “I shuffle through them once in a while, but never pay much attention. Help yourself.”

“Obliged.” Stryker hitched his chair over to the card table and started sorting through the dodgers. Some he knew had been apprehended, so he put them aside. He had a three-inch stack of wanted flyers before he found a Dent. The flyer was out of Kansas, of all places.

Wanted for murder and robbery. Lester Dent.

The flyer showed a drawing of a gangly oldish man with straggly whiskers that might or might not look like the real Lester Dent.

Still, according to the wanted dodger, he’d held up trains and stagecoaches and done his share of killing. The reward was set at five hundred dollars.

“They’re here,” Stryker said. “Reward’s five hundred.”

“Doesn’t sound like enough for you to mess with,” Paul said.

“Knowing they’re wanted is enough, Bob. Plenty enough. Me and Dodge’ll ride after them soon as he’s able.”

“If the stage was carrying enough, the reward might be jacked up.”

“Don’t matter. We gotta get Molly. If we can bring the Dents back alive, we will. If not, they’ll come back belly down over their saddles.”

Word Count: 5494