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