Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Western in 30 days -- Chapter One

Lots of other things to do today. Nik says 1800 words a day will get your book finished in 30 working days. Today I did about 1500, in and around all the other stuff I was doing. Here's a segment. What do you think?

Stryker's Bounty

Chapter One

Lester Dent and his three boys rode up to Miller’s Well a good two days before the stage was due. But then, they had no intention of riding that stage at all. They just wanted its strongbox, and Molly Miller.

Miller’s Well supplied Ridges and Hale stages with fresh horses and the driver, shotgun, and passengers with alkali-tinged water and Molly Miller’s good cooking. Molly and Dodge Miller operated the station from the time the company set up its run from Globe City to Tucson by way of Camp Grant. At first, the stages came once a week, then the silver strike in Tombstone put two stages a week on the run.

Molly kept a truck garden year round, watered from Miller’s deep well. Dodge kept a shotgun on a rack and a long-shooting Creedmore for taking pronghorns, whitetail deer, and sometimes an elk, to put meat on the table at Miller’s Well.

With the stage not due for two days, Dodge took the Creedmore off up in the craggy foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains just south of the stage station. With luck, he’d have fresh meat by nightfall. Molly weeded the truck garden, her calico dress’s hem brushing the ground as she hoed. A bonnet tied securely under her chin shaded her face from the vicious Arizona sun, but it still got to Molly’s skin enough to raise a rash of freckles that she didn’t like but men thought made her look like a girl. A tiny frown of concentration showed that Molly Miller was dead serious about keeping unwanted weeds from stealing precious moisture from her vegetables. In fact, she was so focused on the weeds that she failed to notice until four men reined their tired horses to a stop near the well and hollered, “Hey, missus.”

Molly’s head came up and she turned to see who called.

“Hey, missus!”

“I hear you,” Molly called. “Be right there.” She patted the Pocket Colt in her apron and let the hoe fall between rows of string beans. She lifted her skirts a mite in front and walked quickly out of the garden patch and across the stage road to her home, which doubled as the stage station.

“Missus.” The same man called.

“Coming.” Molly rounded the corner of the house. “What can I do for you?” she asked.

“Awright to water our hosses?”

“Help yourself,” she said.

“Bite to eat?”

“Beans and sourdough,” Molly said. “Two bits a head.”

“Sounds good.” The man doing the talking put a finger to the brim of his hat. “I’ll be Lester Dent,” he said, “ and these’uns’re muh boys.” He pointed at each as he intoned their names. “Finn, Rob, n’ Wee Willy. Ya’d do good to watch out for Willy. He’s a bit crazy some say.”

“You’re welcome, gentlemen,” Molly said. “Water your horses. Beans are on the stove and I’ll pop a loaf of sourdough into the oven to warm up.” She turned her back on the horsemen and went into the house.

Lester looked at his brothers. “Reckon she’s the one?”

“More’n likely,” Finn said, standing in his stirrups so he could scratch his butt. “Don’t see no other woman around.”

“Then she’s the one what knows. Water the hosses, Willy. Then come in ‘n’ eat.”

“How come I gotta do all the work?” The youngster called Wee Willy Dent pouted. He was big, bigger as any of the other Dents, but somehow looked younger, naïve, kinda like.

“Make yerseff useful, boy. Cut out the bitchin’.” Lester Dent swung off his black-legged bay and dropped the reins to the ground. The bay stood obediently ground-tied. Finn and Rob followed suit. They’d been riding with Lester long enough to know he was always a step ahead of them when it came to planning and getting things done.

The overgrown boy they called Wee Willy clambered off the three-color paint he rode, dropped the reins to ground-tie the paint, and fairly stomped over to the well. He took the wooden bucket off its hook and dropped it down the well. Seconds later, a faint splash came, telling Willy that the bucket had hit water and was probably full. The rope ran over a pulley that helped hoist the bucket full of water up out of the well. Willy poured it into the horse trough. It hardly covered an inch of the bottom. “Goldam,” Willy muttered. “I’ll be here all day just pulling up enough water for the damn hosses.”

Finn threw a comment over his shoulder. “Get a move on, kid, else you’ll miss out on the grub.”

Willy tossed the bucket back down the well.

Lester led the rest of the Dents through the door into the main room of the Miller’s Well stage stop.


Molly stuck her head out the kitchen door. “Won’t be more’n a minute or so,” she said. “Sit yourselves down at the table there.”

“Reckon we might as well eat,” Lester said. He waved the other Dents to places around the big table. “Smells right tasty, missus,” he called.

Molly’s voice came from the kitchen. “Some says my beans’s good. Ain’t been nobody died of them yet.”

Lester leered at Finn, then winked at Rob. “We’re a waiting,” he called. “Hungry as we can get.”

Molly came in with an armload of bowls and spoons. She plonked one down in front of each Dent and one where the one called Wee Willy would sit. “I can load them bowls up with beans soon as you’re ready to eat,” she said.

“Any time’s fine,” Lester said, drawling out his words. “Say, missus, you heard of a woman called Sharon Sue?”

Molly’s hand paused for the barest second before she said, “Sharon Sue? Nope. No one here at Miller’s Well but me, and my name’s Molly.” As she disappeared into the kitchen, she said over her shoulder, “Why?”

“Kinda wanted to talk to Sharon Sue,” Lester called.

Molly came back with a steaming kettle of beans held between two hot pot pads. She set it on the table, took up the ladle, and began filling the bowls. “Sourdough’ll be good and warmed up,” she said. “Sorry we’ve got no butter for you. Don’t have a milk cow.”

Lester grabbed a spoon and dug into the beans. “Damn good,” he said. “Oh, ‘scuse me, missus.”

Molly grinned. “Glad you like ‘em.” She went again to the kitchen and came back with good warm sourdough bread, sliced an inch thick, piled on a platter, and ready to eat. She put the platter in the middle of the table. “Help yourselves,” she said.

Finn and Rob reached for the same slice of bread. Finn glared at Rob, who drew back. “Yours,” he said.

“Damn right,” Finn said. He was soon dipping hot sourdough into the beef and beans Molly had served them. He said nothing, but the speed of his eating said a great deal about what he thought of the food. The men settled down to serious eating.

Lester called toward the kitchen. “Any more of them beans left, missus?”