Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Western Novel in 30 Working Days--Eleven

On a cruise boat in Tokyo Bay
You start off with a cut and dried concept. In the case of Stryker's Bounty, the current project, the concept was for Stryker to rescue a battered woman, wife of an acquaintance, from her captors. Well, as we get deeper and deeper into the story, things happen to add depth. The objective goes from trying to find four misfits who burned a stage station, killed four people, killed four horses, nearly killed the man who ran the station, raped the man's wife in front of him (not knowing he was still alive), so something more. Gold.

We get a whiff of that gold when Finn is drinking in Alamo. Talking to the bartender Todd, he says:

Supplies. Pa said the Dent column’d be going through Hell’s Gate and east over Hell’s Trail to a place where they could hunker down until people’d kinda forgot about Miller’s Well. Not that Miller’s Well was connected to the Dents and the Dents to Miller’s Well, but there was the missus. Finn liked poking the missus. And she looked good. But she knew the Dents and what they’d done at Miller’s Well. Finn shook his head and grabbed another mouthful of coffee. Prolly be best to just conk her on the head and toss her down a canyon. Plenty of those around. Finn was surprised when something wet splatted on the back of his hand. Then he realized tears ran down his cheeks. What for? If she had to hit bottom in a canyon, so what? He swiped at the tears with the back of his hand. Supplies.

Todd came back. “Nother whiskey, Finn?”

Finn shook his head. “More coffee.”

Todd didn’t look happy, but he got the pot and filled Finn’s cup. “You could have another whiskey with what’s left a that cartwheel,” he said. “Prime whiskey.”

Finn stared down into the coffee cup. Another whiskey sounded downright good. Awful good. And that prime whiskey carried a powerful punch. He shook his head. “Cain’t,” he said. “The whole Dent column’s depending on me to being supplies. Gotta get through Hell’s Gate. Gotta get through Hell’s Trail. The column’s waiting.”

Todd’s ears pricked up. “Column?”

Finn nodded, his face as solemn as the prime whiskey he’d imbibed would allow.

“Lots a soldiers?”

Finn straightened. This man was asking questions about the column. Better be careful. “Nough,” he said. “Nough to handle just about any situation,” he said. “Don’t matter who’s looking for our gold, they ain’t gonna find it.”

If Todd’s ears pricked up before, they fairly wagged in the air around his head now. “Gold? Your column’s guarding gold?”

The Rim country, where the town
of Rimrock is, looks like this
Whenever you read a Stryker book, you gotta know that things ain't all as they seem. Remember Road to Rimrock, the Stryker novel published by Black Horse Westerns? Well, listen to this little turnabout, then. 

“No way we could just ride up on you, Marshal. Not with Wildman tagging along. Had to sneak up, get the drop on you, make you promise to listen.”
“I’m listening.”
Squirly stirred the coals of the little fire they’d used to brew the coffee. “Not looking for money, Marshal,” he said in a small voice.
Stryker heaved a sigh. “Then what in hell are you doing here?”
“You go, and there ain’t no reason for me to stay in Rimrock no longer,” Squirly said. “And Injun Jake bet me a dollar I couldn’t get the drop on you.” The boy-man smiled, a tentative look in his eyes. “I won,” he said.
“What’s that got to do with someone paying to have me killed?”
“Good reason to catch up with you. Good reason for you to listen. We’uns got something to say after all.”
“I wonder what it is.” Stryker’s tone was flat and hard.
“Well, it’s something, we’uns figure. It surely is.” Squirly looked up at Stryker, his little eyes wide and his broad smile showing small, pointed teeth.
Stryker’s face could have been made of stone. He said nothing.
“Tell you what, Marshal. Me and Injun Jake was up in the loft at the livery, you know. It’s a good place to catch a wink or two without we’re in someone’s way.”
Stryker nodded, showing Squirly he was listening.
“Ruben went over to Goldfinch’s store or somewhere so it was real quiet. I could even hear horses chewing their oats, it was so quiet.”
Stryker folded his arms, his face still stern.
“Then two peoples come back.”
“Come back?”
“Yeah. Come back. It was the big one’s horse what was chewing the oats. They was talking. Well, one of them was talking. He handed a pile of clothes to the big one and told him to put ‘em on. I could see ‘em over the edge of the hayloft. The one that were talking were just a little fellow, not much bigger’n me. And he were saying to the big one that new stuff would keep people in town from telling him apart. Yeah, that’s what he said.”
“Get to the point, Squirly.”
“Well, the little one gives the big one a piece of paper and some gold. I seen it shine. It were gold. And he said it were half what the big one would get for doing Matt Stryker in. Said you was worth five hundred dollars dead.”
“I know that, Squirly.”
“Here’s what’s funny, Marshal. After the big one left, the little one went back under the loft wheres we couldn’t see. And he never come out.”
“Where’d he go?”
“God only knows,” Squirly said in his deepest voice.
“You don’t have to imitate the parson.”
“Anyway, we’uns, me and Injun Jake, we climbed down from the loft after a while, but the little one was gone. And the carriage that were parked out back were gone, too. Then Ruben come back and we asked him who the young feller driving the carriage were and he said, what young feller. He said Miss Melanie Powers were the only one driving that carriage. That’s what he said, and we’uns figured you’d want to know about a little man who turns into a woman, and here we is.”

See? Women who dress like men. Now we have four men, man and sons, pretending to be a column, a column with enough men to guard a lot of gold. But wait. Four dead people in the way station. Driver and shotgun. Man. Woman. Dead horses. Burnt buildings. Burnt stagecoach. Why go to all that trouble?

This photo is of Old Tucson studios,
but the hotel could well be the
Royal, where Stryker and Paul
are talking over Hershey's body
In Tucson, Stryker finds there's a man named Elrowe Hershey, part owner of a big copper mine that also produced gold and silver. But before Stryker can talk to Hershey, he turns up dead. 
Cochise County Sheriff Bob Paul (a historical person) and Matt Stryker talk about the body.

Bob Paul scrubbed at the carpet with a shiny boot toe. “You don’t figure Hershey done himself in, then.”
 “Don’t reckon so.”
“Why’d he get killed?” 
Stryker shrugged. “No can tell. You know as well as me, Bob. Reasons to kill a person can range from adultery to jealousy to punishment.” 
“Yeah. But how’d you know it wasn’t himself?”
“Take a good look, Bob. You’ve been around more than one dead man. You’ve been to more than one hanging, too, I reckon. Even notice how the rope marks are after a hanging?” Stryker didn’t wait for an answer. “Rope usually comes across the hanged man’s throat above his Adam’s Apple and up behind the ear on one side or the other.”
He stepped over and put a finger on the rope burn that ran horizontally around Hershey’s neck. “Somebody got Hershey from behind,” he said. “Choked him to death. And the burn goes below his Adam’s Apple, see?” Then Stryker pointed at a torn nail on Hershey’s middle finger. “Looks like he hurt his own finger trying to get it under whatever they was choking him with.”
“Hmm. Makes a man think,” said Paul.

I reckon there's a lot of gold concerned here. And I reckon that's going to bring a really bad bunch of men looking for it. Which means Stryker might find himself in a pincher between two sets of baddies who want to be sole owner of all that gold. How much gold to you think that burned up stagecoach was carrying?

Word Count: 19, 305