Sunday, May 17, 1970

Sample Readings

The excepts from the novels are incomplete, but the short stories and essay are presented in their entirety. Nevertheless, all the readings are merely samples, provided to offer only an indication of the type of works, characters, plots, settings, techniques, and themes of the fiction and nonfiction works that I have written and which I am selling on Amazon. 

Click on the link to the title of the selection you wish to read. 

I write in all genres of fiction. The contents of this sampler includes a historical murder mystery (Death in the Old Dominion), a Western (Good with a Gun), a Viking adventure (The Flame ofthe Sea), a science fiction-horror hybrid (Townies), a romance (Reunion Rendezvous), a young adult adventure novel written from a Christian perspective (Revelation Point), a short story from one of my two volumes of horror short stories (Sinister Stories), and an essay from my book of literary analyses (bit Lit).

After each sample, I invite you to order a copy of the books in this sampler, including URLs (web addresses) for your convenience, and ask you to do a favor for me: please review the books you've sampled. Thank you!

All books are under copyright protection, as noted in their respective publications.

Gary L. Pullman

Friday, May 15, 1970

Death in the Old Dominion (Sample Chapters)

Chapter 1

My fingertips tapped the spiral vine. Inside the stem of the wineglass, it ascended to a round funnel bowl engraved with branches festooned with grapes and leaves. One of two dozen that my wife Frances had inherited from her grandmother, we reserved its use for special occasions. This evening was, in its own way, such a time.

I'd set aside the quill pen I'd been about to dip again into the inkwell beside the stationery on which I had begun writing the story of a life, attempting to capture, in mere words, the essence of a man who, even in death, was bigger than life. It was a much more difficult task than I had imagined it might be, for my subject was a complex man who'd lived in complex times.
An hour ago, Frances had entered my study. So softly had she tread, and so caught up had I been in my reminiscences, that she'd seemed simply to appear from nowhere.

“Patrick, it's late,” she'd said. “Won't you come to bed now?”

Her beauty was so astonishing and intense that it made my heart ache, and I'd realized anew what an utterly blessed man I was to have won the heart of an angel. “I cannot.”

“You will get sick. You need your rest.”


She'd sighed, knelt before me, and gazed into my eyes. “I love you.”

I'd hugged her to me, holding her tightly. I had not trusted my voice to speak.

“You were a good friend to him, Matthew.”

“He died too young.” My voice had been hoarse.

She'd kissed me, lightly, upon the brow. “We all do, my love.”

She had gone, then, to bed, to lie awake, waiting for me. She knew that I needed time alone with my grief.

After packing and lighting my pipe with tobacco—tobacco cut from his fields—I read the words I'd written. So far, it was only this:
The year, 1841, had been rather unkind to American statesmen.
All three branches of the federal government had suffered a loss. The nation's ninth president, William Henry Harrison, died on April 4. 
Preceding him, Philip Pendleton Barbour, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, passed away, on February 25. Finally, on October 21, John Forsythe, one of Georgia's two contributions to the Senate, left that august body bereaved.

In the Old Dominion, the greatest loss of the year had occurred more recently still, with the passing of my good friend and client Patrick Turner, who'd owned The Magnolias. Under his direction, the lavish plantation's hundred and fifteen slaves had begun to transition, earlier in the year, from the exclusive cultivation of wheat to the planting and harvesting of other crops as well.

Taking a long draw upon my pipe, I leaned back in my wing chair, gathering my thoughts and sorting my memories.

It had rained earlier, and the streets beyond the room's casements were wet. The streetlamps cast flickering gaslight upon the glazed pavement, creating a sight that was, although beautiful, somehow also sad.

Idly, I stroked the blue damask upon the curled arms. I was aware—intimately aware—of the Chippendale's cushions, of its high back, even of its stop fluted front legs, as I was of the needlework rug underfoot; of the walnut shelves of precious old books; of the clock's mahogany cabinet with its feet, frame, and handle of brass; and of the warmth of the flames dancing and crackling in my study's great stone fireplace.

All these familiar things were dear to me again, for I yet possessed them. Like the wet, shining world beyond the blue-curtained windows of many panes overlooking Duke of Gloucester Street, they belonged to me, even as my beloved Frances remained my treasured wife, for I, unlike Patrick, was yet alive. My great friend was gone, and, for him, all the world had vanished, as if it had never been.

Grief swept through me at the thought of his demise and at the thought of all that he—and I—had lost.

If I could preserve, in print, a semblance of the man, he might not vanish altogether; my friend might survive his demise, after a fashion, and not be lost for all time, for all eternity.

I closed my eyes. Amid the smoke of my sweet-scented tobacco, I remembered. For some time, I sat, as one entranced, before returning to myself, still seated in my chair, as though awakened from a bittersweet dream.

Finishing my drink, I thought of pouring another glass, but decided against it. I wanted sharp memories. I needed to focus. I had to get the details right. I must create as lifelike a portrait as I could.

Taking pen in hand, I resumed my account of the life and death of my friend and client, uncertain of whether to call upon Calliope, Clio, Melpomene, or all three, and wishing that there were a muse of biography whose aid I could beseech.


I nodded toward the hundreds of acres surrounding the massive mansion in whose parlor we were seated, I in a wing chair, champagne before me, my host on a divan, across from me, brandy in his hand. “I should think, Patrick, that I would hardly need to remind you that, as a man of means, you can well afford to experiment with the cultivation of a variety of crops.”
“It seems a risky and an unnecessary enterprise and, therefore, one unwise as well.”

“Then both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were fools, according to your reckoning?”

He frowned. My rude characterization of his heroes nettled him, just as I'd intended it should do. Indeed, had we not been friends, Patrick would, no doubt, have evicted me forthwith. “How so?”

“They both did the very thing I recommend you to try.”

Looking down, he swirled the brandy in his glass. “Perhaps I will.”
“'Perhaps' never accomplishes anything.”

He arched an eyebrow. “It is a decision of some moment.”

I sipped my champagne, watching him over the ogee bowl above the glass' knopped stem. It was a simple vessel, such as a bachelor might choose. My eye strayed to the foot of the glass and its engraved script, Amicitia Aequalitas, Friendship Is Equality.

“Wheat requires little more labor than the production of peanuts and fruits, does it not?”

“So you are a planter now, as well as my attorney?”

“Your friend, as well as an attorney—and one who merely repeats words I have heard you speak yourself, in this very room.”

“A man must have a view not only to his own, but to his wife's, welfare and to the welfare of his progeny, should he have any. Wheat is a reliable crop, which pays well. Have I not also made these same remarks before, in this very chamber?”

“You have a wife? Why have you been so unkind as not to have introduced her to me—and to Mrs. Brewster, for that matter? Have I not mentioned how my wife relishes feminine companionship as much as any other of her sex?”

He blushed. “Then she may be in luck, soon enough.”

“Patrick! What news is this? Charlotte has agreed to your proposal of marriage?”

He frowned, as if to suggest that I lower my voice, although there was no one nearby but his upstairs maid, the slave Taddy, who, as far as I was aware, had retired to bed in her log-cabin quarters an hour or more ago. He looked as if he had spoken more than he'd intended, and whispered his confirmation, as if he were, in doing so, imparting a secret intended for my ears alone: “She has.”

I stared, mouth open. “We are talking about the twenty-year-old Miss Spencer from Richmond, the same lovely creature we've seen you with about town—accompanied, of course, by her quite disagreeable chaperon?”
Patrick's naturally ruddy complexion reddened the more. “The same.”

“How did you manage to win the heart of one so young and, if you will pardon my saying so, so beautiful?”

“We were talking agriculture, sir, not the affairs of my heart.”

Leaning forward, I chuckled. “Once, the two were nearly synonymous, but I see that such is no longer the case, or not entirely, at least.”

“We were discussing your suggestion that I supplement my production of wheat with the cultivation of other crops.”

“You prefer talk of crops to talk of love and holy matrimony?”

“You and Mrs. Brewster will receive invitations to the wedding, if it should come to that.”

“Invitations? What grave misdeed have I done to injure you, whom I have been proud, for years, to call 'friend' as well as 'client?'”

“Invitations, that is, as my best man and his lovely wife.”

“Ah, that is better! When shall the momentous event transpire? Mrs. Brewster will need all the notice you can provide; she'll insist upon acquiring yards of new fabric for the garments that she will have sewn just for the occasion—quite expensive ones, I fear.”

“When I know, you shall know. And, now, if you don't mind returning to the topic of conversation at hand—” 
“My dear Patrick, Miss Spencer is the topic of conversation at hand.”
Ignoring me, he persisted. “Even if I were to take your advice, Matthew, I would need slaves. A plantation the size of The Magnolias cannot be worked without many hands.”

“But, then, they might be paid hands,” I countered, “and free hands.”
“Even if I reduced my wheat planting by half, in pursuit of cultivating alternative crops of the sort you mention, I should not be able to afford the emancipation of my slaves.”

“In addition, you could sell some of your land and rent other acreage, as Washington did.”

“And have tenant farmers work the soil of The Magnolias?”

“Aye, Patrick, the same way that the father of our country allowed his own fields to be worked for hire. Jefferson's Declaration of Independence proclaims the equality of all men, and Negroes are human beings as much as the members of any other race; to pretend otherwise is both foolish and hypocritical, to say the least. It was worth the bloodshed of many thousands to secure our freedom from the tyranny of King George; is it not worth an attempt, now, costing only time and money, to set free the men in bondage to you, my friend?”

“Washington did not free his slaves until his death.”

“He could not find men enough who were interested in buying or renting his lands, so he had no alternative.”

“Nor, it is likely, would I.”

“You don't know that, Patrick. Times have changed. Things are different today than they were in Washington's day. Besides, if you cannot free your slaves by these means, there is always the alternative that Washington employed.”

“Freeing them upon my death?”

I nodded.

The swirling glass in my friend's hand stilled. Raising it to his lips, he drank, and his eyes seemed to blaze as he swallowed the fiery amber spirit. He gathered himself, setting the glass down, drained, upon the low table before the divan upon which he sat.

From my wing chair, I waited, knowing that he had made up his mind and was now resolved upon one course of action or another with regard to the fate of the hundred and fifteen souls who labored in his fields without recompense of wages or of freedom.

“All right, by George!” he declared. “I will try your remedies, and, if they succeed, I will free as many of my slaves as I can, as soon as I can.”
“Ah! Capital, my friend, capital!” I rubbed my palms together. “And, now, we may resume our discussion of the charming Miss Spencer and the holy wedlock to which you have committed yourself for the balance of your days.”

“We will do nothing of the kind, sir, and what talk has occurred between us, you must promise me, shall not go beyond these walls.”

“But, Patrick, everyone in Williamsburg—and, for that matter, Richmond, if not the whole of the Commonwealth—knows, already, of your courtship of the splendid young lady. It's not as if it did not take place, as is proper and fitting, before the eyes of one and all for miles around our fair city!” 

However, I saw that he was serious, indeed, which was an attitude I found mystifying. “What occasions the trepidation I perceive in your hesitant demeanor and your uncertain countenance?”

“At forty-five, I am more than twice her age,” he mumbled.

“Surely, she is aware of this fact, as is her father, who gave you his consent to woo his daughter?”

“Aye, but I fear that she may find me rather dull, and—” 
I laughed. “You? Dull? None could make a discovery such as that, not about a man like you! The very idea is preposterous.”

“The love of a young woman may be less constant than the challenge of circumstances that she has not yet encountered.”

“Patrick, your doubts dishonor your betrothed. You are not yet wed, and, already, she is fickle?”

“Aye, fickle,” he allowed, adding, rather shamefully, I thought, after some hesitation, “or unfaithful.”

So this was the doubt that rankled him. He was anxious that his marriage, if not his wooing, might not prove to have the happy outcome for which he hoped.

“Patrick, surely you see that her father's consent and the lady's own commitment to you, which has been exclusive for a year, as well as her acceptance of your proposal, indicates both her own devotion to you and her family's acceptance of you as her spouse?”

“Aye, Matthew; I concur, but—well, that which seems sure today may prove far from certain tomorrow. She will encounter many a man more of her own age than mine, young men who are handsome and strong and more energetic than I and who have interests more in common with her own—” 
“She loves you, Patrick. Do you think that she has not had many admirers before now? Do you think that she has not had numerous proposals? Do you think that she has not broken young men's hearts by the dozen?”
“Then why would she choose me?”

“Why do you suppose?”

He shrugged. Having confessed his secret fears to this degree, he seemed to have decided to hold back nothing else. “I am a man of social distinction, a man of political influence, and, as you point out, a man of means. The Magnolias alone is worth a fortune unequal to most. Her family has money and distinction, but not to the degree of my own, and such status, conferred through marriage, can secure for her all that a beautiful woman in her prime could ever want.”

I eyed him across the space between his divan and my chair. “If you have such reservations, why, pray tell, have you asked for her hand?”

“I am no longer a young man, Matthew. I shall not live forever. I wish to sire children who will carry forth my name and the heritage of my family, as heirs to my estate. And, I admit, I am not so noble of mind or heart that I do not desire the company of a young and beautiful woman who, if she does not love me now, may learn to love me over time.”

“Have you reason to doubt her love?”

“None that would pass the test of rigorous examination, but—” he hesitated.
I waited.

“But I have seen her look with favor at other men, at younger, flirtatious men of abler bodies than my own.”

“I am no physician, as you know, old friend, but I think that you may well have developed a malady that is, fortunately, more wretched than it is menacing.”

Patrick looked alarmed. “What do you mean?”

I drank the rest of my champagne. “A certain sudden loss of fortitude, an onset of timidity, if you will, comes over a man, sometimes, as his wedding day approaches and he realizes the degree to which the event is likely to transform the remainder of his days and, indeed, himself. You may not have experienced such a feeling, Patrick, when you wed your first wife Shirley, God rest her soul, but I had such momentary doubts, although, as you know, Frances and I have been married, most blissfully, ever since we exchanged our wedding vows, fifteen years hence, and, I have every confidence that you and the future Mrs. Turner shall be likewise.”

The fact that Patrick's first marriage had ended in the double tragedy of his wife's death, as she gave birth to their stillborn son, leaving him, at age thirty, a childless widower who'd sworn off marriage, if not women, altogether, might have exacerbated such belated anxieties, I surmised, but I was pleased—albeit surprised—to find that this beautiful young Miss Charlotte had brought him to repentance in the matter. Patrick had much to offer a woman and a family, and he was, by nature and by disposition, a marrying man, whether he had realized as much himself in the wake of his dual calamities. All he needed was confidence in himself.

“Give me your word,” Patrick persisted, despite my assurances, “that you will say nothing of my engagement; I want no one to know until the invitations are dispatched.”

I could see that, whether he had cause to be so worried or not, he was in earnest. “I give you my word.”

He nodded gravely. “I suppose that is sufficient, although, were I as wise a man as your flattery suggests I must be, I should, perhaps, rather insist that you commit to your vow in writing.”

“Ah, but, then, we would need a witness' signature.”

“Aye, and it is for that reason that I take you, sir, at your word.”

There was a soft rap upon the open doorway, and we turned to see Taddy standing at the entrance. I was surprised, having assumed that she had retired for the night by now.

“Will Master Turner or his guest require anything more?” she asked.
“No, no, Taddy; we're fine.”

“I thought I'd go to bed, then, if that's all right with you, Master.”

“That's fine, Taddy.”

She turned to leave.

“By the way?”

She faced us. “Yes, sir?”

“Maggie—is she better?”

“Yes, sir, thank you. She's fine now. She'll be able to take over her own chores tomorrow.”

Patrick smiled. “That's good, Taddy. You may go now.”

She bowed. “Thank you, sir.”

After she'd shuffled off, I asked, “What was that about?”

“Maggie, my cook, has been sick, and Taddy has taken on both Maggie's duties and her own the past few days. I just inquired as to Maggie's health to suggest my appreciation to Taddy for her standing in for Maggie. It can't be easy to cook and clean both, especially at her age.”

“How old is Taddy?”

Patrick looked embarrassed. “No one knows for certain,” he admitted, “not even Taddy herself, but she suspects that she's approaching seventy.”
“Shouldn't she be taking things easy?”

“I've tried to convince her to do just that, but she claims leisure would kill her. She doesn't know how to relax. Hard work is all she's ever known.” He sighed. “I wish I could remedy that. Taddy has been more like an aunt than a servant; she helped to raise me, along with her own sons, Jake and Ben. The most I've been able to do is to make her the supervisor of a younger maid, Bessie, whose presence in the household Taddy only reluctantly accepts.

“I think Taddy wants to stay active because she fears that I might sell her off if I thought she was of no use, and she does not, of course, want to be separated from her sons. Nothing could be further from the truth, though, Matthew. She has a home here for as long as she likes, whether she does another day's work or not. To provide her a home is the least, the very least, that I can do.”

“Her freedom, if it coincides with that of her sons and many of the other slaves she has come to know and love as a family over the long years of her servitude will allow her to retire in peace,” I observed.

“Aye, if anything would give her peace—and rest—it would be such an act, and, as I say, it shall be done, if possible. However, I will not change the terms of my will to reflect their emancipation until I am certain that our scheme of planting alternative crops and renting and selling land proves financially feasible.”

I nodded. Here was a man, I thought, who would free his slaves before his death, if it were possible to do so.

Our talk, both of agriculture and of marriage, bore fruit. 

The next season, besides the narrow, green rows of dense, thick-leafed tobacco and the great seas of golden wheat that Patrick grew, peanuts and fruits, of the tree, if not yet of the vine, more and more appeared. In addition to strawberries, he'd planted a vineyard. Despite setbacks and the heat of humid summers, the vines had survived, if not thrived. Unfortunately, it would be at least three years before they would produce a crop sufficient for the fermentation of a Virginia wine and many more, perhaps, before their vintage would fit for sale to sophisticated and discerning palates. Otherwise, perhaps we would have drunk the fruit of his vines in our toasts to the health and happiness of him and his bride.

A year after he had asked Charlotte's father for permission to court his daughter, the lord of The Magnolias had proposed, Miss Spencer had accepted, and, six months later, they wed in a lavish ceremony at her father George's estate outside Richmond, before a gathering of nearly a hundred guests.

I had kept my promise, breathing not a word of Patrick's engagement. Consequently, our invitation to the wedding surprised—and thrilled—Frances as much as her friends were thrilled to receive theirs—and as much as I myself pretended to be. At once, Frances undertook a shopping spree, buying enough fabric and trimmings to fill an entire new wardrobe. I was glad that Patrick was Catholic, for, according to his faith, he should wed but once, sparing me, thus, from the fate of the pauper.

The affair took place in April, and Charlotte, looking ravishing in a brown gown accentuated with gold trim, wore jasmine blossoms and camellias and carried a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses.

She'd chosen Tuesday, the proverbial day of wealth, which seemed appropriate, since her dress had cost her father a small fortune in itself, Frances reckoned, describing it to me as fashioned of Chantilly lace and French watered silk and as having a fitted bodice, a narrow waist, and a full skirt. The veil was Chantilly lace as well. Frances had seen similar gowns depicted in Godey's Lady's Book. She'd priced the fabrics herself, during a visit to Richmond, but the cost—$700 for the dress material and another $200 for the veil—had dissuaded her. Apparently, however, Mr. Spencer—or his daughter, at any rate—had not been dissuaded by such expenses.
The cost of the bride's costume was only the beginning of the expenses that Mr. Spencer had incurred, for Charlotte's party included her sixteen-year-old sister, Belle, as her maid of honor, two junior bridesmaids, and half a dozen flower girls, each of whom wore long white muslin dresses tied with ribbon sashes that matched their shoes and stockings.

At additional expense for the father of the bride, there were roles for Charlotte's two young brothers, James and John, who attended her train, dressed in the manner of the pages of Old World courts, wearing velvet suits—green jackets and short trousers, and, I thought, rather comical round linen collars fitted with huge bows of white crepe de chine.

Their doleful expressions suggested that they found their attire quite humiliating, and I'm sure that their white silk hose and fancy shoes, complete with buckles, could only have added to their mortification. It could have been worse for the unfortunate lads, though, Frances assured me, for such costumes often include matching velvet hats, which, in the case of the bride's brothers, had been omitted. 
As the groom, Patrick fared better than his bride's male attendants, having to don only a frock coat of mulberry hue, a white waistcoat, trousers of lavender doeskin, and a rose from his beloved's bouquet, worn upon his lapel.

I am proud to say that I, as the groom's best man, was attired in a fashion similar to that of my friend's, although, by design, of a color more subdued, and without the addition of a flower favor upon my breast.


Some two months after their wedding, when Charlotte had moved to The Magnolias and had settled into the routines of her household, Frances called upon her, in our coach, inviting Mrs. Turner on a tour of the town. Charlotte had been many places with Patrick, both during their courtship and after their marriage, my wife had advised me, but the newlywed hadn't had the opportunity to discover the fine shops, salons, gardens, and other places of particular interest to the sex. Frances had offered to remedy this situation, and Charlotte had readily accepted.

“I shall be glad to see something other than wheat, servants, and livestock!” she told Frances, as they approached the waiting coach.

“But The Magnolias is such a beautiful plantation,” Frances objected.
“So is a gilded cage to a canary, perhaps,” the young woman replied, “but, beautiful or not, a cage is still a cage. Besides, I'm not a bird.”

The driver, having helped his mistress and her guest into the conveyance, asked what destination they had selected.

To their driver, Frances called out directions, and they were off.

Chapter 2

While Patrick's wife and mine toured the town, he and I paid a visit to one of our favorite establishments, Raleigh Tavern. Located half a block east of Botetourt Street, upon Duke of Gloucester Street, it is one of more than a score of other taverns and inns in Williamsburg, which includes (or, in some lamentable cases, had, at one time, included) Market Square Tavern, Brick House Tavern, Chowning's Tavern, King's Arms Tavern, Wetherburn's Tavern, The Red Lion, and Burdette's Ordinary. However, Raleigh Tavern is not only one of the most splendid, but it is also the most historically significant—an institution more than a place of mere entertainment and refreshment, numbering among the illustrious guests of its past men of no less stature than George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, and Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau!

Indeed, it was here that, in 1774, when the Royal Governor, John Murray, earl of Dunmore, dissolved the House of Burgesses, barring its members from the Capitol, the state's legislators convened. It has remained a cultural and historical institution ever since, even after the capital was moved to Richmond in 1780.

Shaped like an “L,” the edifice presents a long facade behind stately trees, its white weatherboards bright with sunlight and dappled with shade. Over its main doorway is a bust, of lead, of the man from whom the establishment takes its name, Sir Walter Raleigh himself.

From other angles, the tavern presents equally attractive views. Its western facade, for instance, bearing a dozen dormer windows, all in a row, and spouting one of the building's many massive brick chimneys, houses the famous Apollo and Daphne Rooms.

Within the former chamber's powder-blue, paneled walls, Jefferson danced minuets, and perhaps even reels and quadrilles, with Rebecca Burwell of Carter's Grove, his “fair Belinda,” as he called her, a beautiful young belle with whom he was seriously smitten, but lost, alas, to his friend Jacquelin Ambler. Despite his loss at love, Jefferson would have agreed, perhaps, with the maxim carved into the room's fireplace: Hilaritas sapientiae et bonae vitae proles, which translates, according to my understanding of Latin, loosely, as “jollity is the child of wisdom and the good life.”

Washington dined frequently by candlelight, amid the exotic Chinese décor of the Daphne Room, his meals made delightful and memorable, no doubt, by the gold damask curtains, the Chinese-patterned wallpaper, the elegant mahogany table braced with Old English chairs, and the twin walnut cellarets flanking the woodwork-framed fireplace.

Grace and beauty adorned the tavern's yard as well, offering formal gardens, lawns enclosed by picket fences, beds of flowers, picturesque paths and nearby lanes perfect for couples' midnight strolls beneath a full moon, and the covered well from which the tavern's supply of water is drawn for those who prefer coffee or tea to the tavern's famed Arrack punch or fine Madeira wine—or, in Patrick's case, its brandy.

The one aspect associated with the tavern that was odious, to my way of thinking and to Patrick's, at least, were the auctions of slaves and indigent women on the sidewalk outside the hostelry. They were sold into slavery or what amounts to indentured servitude, respectively, together with livestock, coaches, and confiscated property, before a crowd of festive, if not, indeed, drunken spectators who conducted themselves, at times, more as if they were in attendance at a fair than at such a shameful and detestable event. It was to such sales that Patrick and I were determined to put an end.

Our opposition to slavery, of course, would not go unchallenged, for it adversely affected the livelihoods of many others. Indeed, slaves made up a vast majority of the wealth of Virginians, and slavery was the basis for regulating the value of all other property. One of the principal beneficiaries of the wealth that slavery conferred upon the Southern gentry was the detestable Leland Marsh. A slave trader, Marsh had imported not hundreds, but thousands, of African men, women, and children across the Atlantic Ocean, prior to the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves, which became effective in 1808.

Chained in the sweltering, overcrowded holds of ships, they had endured such hardship and deprivation during their miserable passage that some did not survive the forced journey. After 1808, rather than flout the law and risk a death sentence, Marsh began to purchase slaves from owners—often the sick, the lame, and the aged—at discounted prices at auctions in Williamsburg and elsewhere and to sell them for profit to the states of the deep South, where cotton crops created a lucrative market for Marsh's “commodity.”

As a result, many slave families were broken, as children and siblings were separated forever. Marsh, who had made a handsome living on the misery of Africans he imported in the old days continued to live well today by his adoption of this equally cruel expedient. Slaves feared nothing more than to be separated from their loved ones, and they begged and pleaded, to no avail, both to their masters, the sellers, and to Marsh and his confederates, the buyers. It was to prevent his own slaves from suffering such a fate that Patrick was determined, one way or another, to free them—during his own lifetime, if possible, after his death, if necessary, and preferably sooner than later.

We could be found, when not dining with our wives, in the tavern's bar. It is paneled in pine, and its small tables are surrounded by captain's chairs, grouped like small islands, in the center of the room, amid cabinets and sideboards, an arched corner fireplace without a mantle radiating warmth and light, with unobtrusive portraits of mounted knights and landscapes on the walls. Chandeliers bearing candles illuminate the room, which is, nevertheless comfortably dim and shadowed because of the paneling.
The bar itself is truly barred; the bartender is able to protect his stock of liquor from pilferage when called away briefly to attend to other duties by lowering a wooden wicket inside the wooden frame which forms the upper part of the bar, rising from its counter to a height but inches below the ceiling.

Venetian blinds hang at the windows, helping to keep the room dark and sealed off from the concerns of everyday life. It was here, among businessmen, soldiers, planters, merchants, and bon vivants that Patrick and I now sat, they with their pewter mugs of ale, I with my champagne, and Patrick with his inevitable glass of brandy, smoking our pipes and discussing commerce, militia matters, agriculture, and, of course, Patrick's passion, politics.

Much to Charlotte's consternation, Patrick was, in her view, rather too regular a patron of this establishment. Her concern was not without cause, perhaps. Her husband's visits to the tap house occurred nearly as often as had those of his illustrious grandfather, the late Brigadier General Sean Turner, whose exploits during the Revolutionary War had made him as much a hero to the Commonwealth as were his fellow Virginians Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee.

According to Patrick, Charlotte ascribed the frequency of her husband's patronage of Raleigh Tavern to his fondness for drink and to his preference for the rowdy—and, no doubt, bawdy—company of his political cronies to that of her own sober and decidedly more domesticated companionship. There was some truth in her view. Patrick loved brandy, but he adored politics. Apart from The Magnolias, he had no greater passion than the latter. Poor Charlotte was but a distant third in the affairs of her husband's heart—not because, as she thought, he was her senior, but because campaigning for office, if not the actual day-to-day obligations associated with it, was more intoxicating to him than liquor or, for that matter, even the comely charms of his young wife.

This night, I can personally attest, Patrick was certainly rather more intoxicated than usual, having drunk many glasses of his favorite spirit during the course of the afternoon, as he argued politics with friends and foes alike, chief of whom, among the latter, was Danny O'Bannon.
Principally, their arguments concerned slavery. O'Bannon was for the preservation of the institution, Patrick against it. Because the issue divided nearly all citizens of the Old Dominion, as it did many of those of the other states, North and South alike, both Patrick, the incumbent, and his rival for the seat that my friend occupied in the House of Delegates had many supporters among these respective factions of the townspeople, quite a few of whom among the most influential were met with us here this day.
“A creature who bears the human likeness, who speaks the language of men, and who feels the same passions as we ourselves feel is as much a man as we,” Patrick declared, “and, if he bears a human likeness, he is made, moreover, in the very image of God Himself. It cannot be right to keep a man in chains, compelled for all his days into forced servitude and without liberty or the other rights with which he is endowed by his Creator, for the sole cause that the color of his skin differs from that of our own. It is preposterous, and it is wrong.”

“Here, here!” I chimed in, lifting my glass of champagne. “To freedom for all!”

Of the men assembled there with us, a dozen took up the toast. More than twice that number, however, did not, some because they sided with O'Bannon, others because they feared to identify themselves as being against an institution that is vital to the welfare of the South, and still others because they were undecided.

“Aye, you're so dead-set against it that you own well over a hundred slaves yourself!” O'Bannon sneered.

Like many political rivals, the big Irishman was a rough-and-tumble adversary. He wasn't above straddling—or, at times, even crossing—the line between public decency and social impropriety. If he saw a political advantage in pressing an attack, O'Bannon would leap at the chance, the justice of his charge be damned.

I glared across the room at O'Bannon. Although there was truth in his remark, it was, nevertheless, an unfair comment. I challenged him, calling out loudly, “A man of principle must eat, just as he must provide for the welfare of his wife and his progeny, if any. To do so in the South—and, indeed, parts of the North as well—most landowners must also own slaves. Patrick is no more responsible for the agricultural basis of the South's economy or the nature of its labor force than you yourself, O'Bannon!”

Patrick agreed. “While slavery is repugnant to me, it is, unfortunately, also an economic necessity for me, at least for the present. Not everyone, after all, has the luxury of being able to live a life of leisure, as you do, O'Bannon, thanks to the generous inheritance that you have received from your wealthy European forebears.”

Patrick, I knew, had already taken measures to afford the emancipation of his slaves. A tavern, though, is no place to discuss personal and private affairs. Unwilling to share his plans in such a public forum, Patrick spluttered, “All things come of their own time, Danny O'Bannon, and so will the end of the detestable institution that is slavery.”

“Although you yourself will expend no effort—or personal cost—to bring about its demise,” his rival charged.

“You have no idea what I do or do not do in that regard, O'Bannon,” Patrick replied, “but all Williamsburg knows the extent to which you are indebted to those who would preserve the institution of slavery, including the likes of the unscrupulous slave trader Leland Marsh. He has increased the misery of thousands, separating mothers and fathers from their children, and brothers from brothers and sisters from sisters, selling family members to plantations hundreds and hundreds of miles from their places of birth. This man is the chief donor to your campaign, upon whose support and endorsements you depend and of which you proudly proclaim.”

“And, yet, I own no slaves, as you yourself admit. I support the economy of Williamsburg and our Commonwealth. You would sell your neighbors into poverty before you would allow the sale of a slave, though the welfare of the the whole South depends upon such commerce. It is you, Turner, who are the enemy of this town, this state, and this country—and it is you who are the hypocrite, not I!”

Before I could hold him back, Patrick launched himself from his seat, overturning his chair with a clatter, and sprang across the distance separating him from the bully who harangued him. The men, both red-faced, stood nearly toe to toe, fists clenched and jaws set.

A brawl surely would have erupted, had Edward Ross, one of Patrick's friends, not intervened. “This must be a first,” he observed, his eyes merry and bright in the light of the tavern's great hearth, radiant with the heat of an immense, crackling fire, “someone who advocates slavery censuring another, who calls for its abolition!”

Laughter, at first nervous, and then genuine, filled the tap house.
The adversaries glared, even as their supporters drew them away, advising them that fisticuffs was not the way to settle their dispute. News of a fistfight in such an esteemed place as Raleigh Tavern, especially if there should be damage to the furnishings or décor or injuries to any assembled, would serve neither of them well when it was reported, as it most definitely would be, in either The Virginia Reaper, The Old Dominion Chronicle, or both. Seething, the would-be combatants allowed themselves to be withdrawn.

“Your views are not in sympathy with the majority of this community,” O'Bannon charged, “nor with those of Southern gentlemen in general, for that matter, and they will cost you your seat in the House come election time.”

“We will see,” Patrick replied, his tone even, now that he had recovered himself, despite his rage, “come election time.”
“You, not Matthew Brewster, should be Patrick's campaign manager!” George McBride cried, clapping Ross on the back. “Have another drink, on me!”

“Thanks, George, but I'd better be getting home.” He studied Patrick, who was studying, and being studied by, O'Bannon. “What do you say, Patrick? Don't you think it's time you were getting home to Mrs. Turner? Come along; I'll ride with you, as far as Nicholson Street. You're on your own from there.”

“You are a friend, indeed, but that's unnecessary,” I advised Edward, “for I rode out with Patrick, and I shall see him home.”

He eyed me dubiously. “Do you think you are sober enough, either of you, Matthew, to ride?”

“We haven't far to go, and, sober or in our cups, both Patrick and I are accomplished horsemen.”

“Aye, and the cemeteries are full of accomplished horsemen who have drunk too freely at the liquor trough before mounting their horses for a ride home from a public house, I fear.”

“They were not as accomplished in the saddle as I, and they were certainly not the match of a rider such as Patrick, even should they have been sober and Patrick and I more inebriated yet than we are this afternoon.”

Edward shook his head. “Well, it's your life, and, God forbid, your demise.”
“Seriously, there is no cause for concern: I have seen Patrick make such a ride with double the number of glasses of brandy in him as those he has imbibed this day. If there were the slightest danger, I should insist that he stay overnight at my house, which is just down the street, rather than ride with him the five miles southeast to The Magnolias and the ire of his wife.”
All the way to his estate, Patrick was every bit the horseman I had described him to be, as steady and as sound in the saddle as a sailor abroad upon a pitching deck.

How he would fare with Mrs. Turner—now that is a question to which I would not dare to venture a surmise, except to say that I'd wager that he was safer on horseback, upon the road home, than he would be afoot in the domicile he shared with the lovely, but not long-suffering, Charlotte.

Death in the Old Dominion
When attorney Matthew Brewster investigates his best friend Patrick Turner's death, he discovers that it was no accident. His quest for the truth uncovers political intrigue in colonial Williamsburg. The more he learns, the stranger things become. Voodoo, adultery, slavery--could any of these have led to Patrick's murder?

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Wednesday, May 13, 1970

Good with a Gun (Sample Chapters)

Chapter 1

Despite his long journey, Bane Messenger rode easily astride his gelding. Tied to the pommel of his saddle, a chestnut horse followed his own roan. The little caravan was all but lost in the thick dust that rolled behind them, a wake in a sea of sand. As his mount scrambled to the top of a rise, among sage and junipers, he saw his destination laid out in the long valley below.

A few blocks of false-fronted buildings faced each other across several wide dirt roads full of ruts. The buildings were surrounded, at a distance, by slopes covered with aspens, firs, and pines. Beyond the town, tall mountains touched the deep, blue sky. Excelsior, Nevada, wasn't much to look at, despite the scenery that surrounded it, but it was as close to home as Bane had ever gotten in his twenty-six years.
Squinting, he adjusted his neckerchief. It was windy in these parts, as usual, and, at the lower altitudes, where the desert yet held sway, the gritty sand blew hard against him and the horses.
The man who accompanied Bane didn't object, though. His companion was a hard-bitten man who'd weathered more than most. Besides, he was dead. Bane had shot him when the outlaw had drawn his Colt, and, now, nothing would ever bother the desperado again, unless there was a hell; in that case, he'd likely have plenty to worry about.
If there was one thing Bane could do well, it was shoot. He had both quick reflexes and an unerring aim. Together with his cool head—and, some would add, his cold heart—these characteristics gave him a decided advantage over most other gunmen. The four years he'd spent in the Army hadn't detracted any from his skills with a rifle or a revolver, either; he'd had plenty of opportunities to practice his aim on targets during the Civil War.
When the war ended, he'd drifted, eventually into Nevada, where he'd teamed with Jake Miller, a retired Confederate colonel. Older, Jake had been, in some ways, the father Bane had never had.
Together, Bane and Jake had delivered the nation of quite a few robbers and killers during the nearly five years they'd partnered. Then, Jake had gotten sick or, rather, the sickness that had been in him had begun to win over him. Dying, Jake had had no choice but to end their partnership.
The colonel had left Bane with some parting advice: quit the business of bounty hunting, find a good woman, and settle down. “Live a little of the good life, before it's your time to die,” Jake had counseled.
The idea of a ranch of his own, outside town, with a vast, well-furnished house on acres that spread over the majestic mountain country just miles beyond Excelsior painted a pleasant picture.
It was too bad that the dust wouldn't prevent the citizens of Excelsior from seeing the latest corpse that Bane had brought them. They didn't cotton to his way of making a living. Most of them were God-fearing, law-abiding men and women who believed that an end had come, or should come, to the days of the Wild West.
They wanted a school and a church to go with the stores and homes they'd built, not more dead bodies for Pike to plant in the boot hill on the outskirts of the town. Still, to get the reward, Bane had to deliver the goods; otherwise, he'd have been happy to leave the corpse in the desert, for the coyotes and the buzzards.
From the corner of his eye, Bane saw that many of the townspeople were outside, lining the boardwalks that fronted the shops and stores on either side of the street, just as they'd been on previous occasions when he'd ridden into town, a dead man tied across his horse. Some might call their presence a coincidence, but Bane knew better, because he knew human nature.
As always, the news of his arrival had traveled fast.
Still, the good citizens of Excelsior had to keep up appearances, and they wore the same frowning faces he'd seen many times before, when he and Jake had ridden past their disapproving stares. The women gripped their children's hands, pulling them away from the sight of the dead man draped across the chestnut's saddle. Several of the men shook their heads.
Despite the unwelcoming committee, Bane felt glad to be back in town, among familiar, if not always friendly, faces. Riding through lonely landscapes made a man lonely himself; the want of society made him want society. Except for his Aunt Flossie's house on the Kansas prairie, where he'd lived as a boy, Bane had never known the comforts of hearth and home. Maybe he never would know them. Maybe living in the hotel in Excelsior, where he'd rented a room for nearly five years now, was the closest he'd ever get to putting down roots.

Looking neither to his left nor to his right, Bane rode slowly along the rutted street to Pike's. Dismounting, he looped his horse's reins around the hitching post, and entered the undertaker's establishment. “Pike?” he called. “Got one for you.”

A slender, wizened old man shuffled out of the back room, wiping his hands on an apron stained with dark splotches that might have been juice from the tobacco he worked like a cow chewing her cud—or might have been blood and other body fluids. He didn't offer his hand, but he did say, “Bane! It's good to see you. Who've you brought me this time?”

The undertaker's greeting sounded hearty, and Bane had no doubt but that it was, indeed, genuine. Over the years, Bane and Jake had brought him a good deal of business. He grinned at the mortician. “Do you really care?”

“Not personally,” Pike admitted, “but I have to put something on the headstone.”

“The government's paying for headstones, too, nowadays?”

Pike laughed. “If he has relatives, they might spring for one.”

“I doubt he has any who care, one way or the other, about him, but if he does, his name's Nate Charles.”

Pike's eyes widened. “Nate Charles! The skunk who robbed the stage outside Carson City and killed all the passengers on board, men, women, and children alike?”

Bane nodded. “That's him.”

Pike shook his head, letting out his breath. “I'm glad you killed him, Bane.”

“Well, you might tend to him. After three days in the saddle, he's kind of ripe. His own horse would have thrown him by now if I hadn't tied him in the saddle.”

“Help me carry him in?”

Bane chuckled. “Okay, Pike, but you have to bury him yourself.”

“You plug 'em, I'll plant 'em: fair's fair.”


Bane hitched his horse to the post in front of Sheriff Clay Monroe's office and stepped onto the boardwalk, standing before the wanted posters that Monroe had nailed up most recently.

Three desperadoes stared back at him. Bane studied the faces of the wanted men, his gaze moving from left to right. In addition to treason, they'd all committed robbery, murder, or both.
Bane read the copy on the first poster out loud:

Will be paid by the U. S. Government
for the apprehension
Wanted for Robbery, Murder, Treason
and other acts against the peace
and dignity of the U. S.

“Trying to commit them to memory?” Monroe asked. The lawman had stepped out of his office and was peering at the bounty hunter near his doorway.

Bane smiled. “A man's got to know his inventory.”

“Help yourself to a copy. I've got plenty to spare.”

Bane took the first two, leaving the last in place.

“Why didn't you take the third one?” Monroe asked. “He's wanted dead or alive, same as the other two, and bringing them back dead does tend to make your job a mite easier.”

“I can't argue with you there, Monroe,” Bane explained, “but the third one's a little young yet. Given time, chances are that the price on his head will rise.”

“He's just not worth the trouble?”

“Not yet, but I have high hopes for—” he read the name on the poster—“young Mr. Kyle Hollis. By the way, speaking of 'ripe,' I brought you the mortal remains of Nate Charles; what's left of him is waiting for you, over at Pike's.”

“I reckon you'll find something to occupy you while you're waiting for the reward?”

Bane grinned. “I'm sure I'll find something, Monroe.”


“You look like hell,” Rose told Bane.

He grinned. “Thanks. That's just what a man—and a paying customer, at that—likes to hear most after he's risked his life to make the money he needs to support you in the grand lifestyle to which you've accustomed yourself.”

“Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home,” the madam declared, looking around her, at the third floor of the bordello that she reserved for her own private living quarters. Her “girls” had rooms on the lower floors.

It was an opulent suite, indeed—and not merely by the meager standards of Excelsior; it could compete with any of the better establishments in Carson City or San Francisco. Rose had feathered her considerable nest well, with fine Victorian furniture. The living area was one oasis, the dining area a second, and the bedroom area a third. Each was separated from the others not by walls, but by their distinctive types of furniture and decorations.
In the living area, marble statues of fauns and nymphs frolicked among gilded white chaise lounges, well-upholstered armchairs, ornate lamps, and tables, and oil paintings of mermaids and water sprites hung against wallpaper bearing pink and red roses. The hardwood floor was covered, here and there, with rich Oriental carpets, and the tall windows were flanked by thick velvet curtains.

The flickering flames in the immense fireplace in the dining area added a soft shimmer to the silver accompanying the china on the long table braced with chairs. A china closet displayed handsome dinnerware, and a sideboard held fine linens.
The bedroom's canopy bed, however, was the centerpiece of the suite. Ornately carved of rosewood, it gleamed beneath a crystal chandelier, its velvet curtains open to reveal deep pillows, silk sheets, and four posts topped with angels who, despite their cherubic shapes and virtuous smiles, had borne witness to many acts that would have stripped them, long ago, of any pretense to innocence.

Off the bedroom, a bathroom featured a cast-iron claw-foot tub, a marble washstand with a china basin and pitcher—pink and red roses painted upon it, to match the wallpaper—and a flush toilet.
“Humble, indeed,” Bane replied.

“I won't have you sitting on anything—or lying on anything, including me—until you've had a bath, a shave, and a change of clothes,” she told him.

“I can oblige you on the first two counts,” Bane said, “but, as to the third, I don't have a spare pair of pants, let alone—” 
“I have a shirt and a pair of trousers that should fit you until you've had a chance to get some of your own.”

“I'm not wearing some cowboy's cast-offs,” Bane protested.

“They're yours,” Rosie informed him, “from a prior visit.”

Bane grinned. “If you'll just bring me some hot water, then—” 
“I've had indoor plumbing installed since you were here last,” she told him.

He frowned. “Indoor plumbing? How's that work?”

“Get your clothes off, get into the tub, and I'll show you,” she offered. “I'll introduce you to a scrub brush, too, that, with a lot of soap and water, just might be sufficient to scour the dirt off your hide, if not your soul.”

“You're all heart, Rosie.”


After he'd soaked the dirt off himself, Bane had to admit, he felt considerably better.

After he and Rose had made love, he felt even better yet.

Now, as they lay side by side, on the broad canopy bed, afternoon sunlight streaming through the tall windows, Rose asked, “More champagne?”

“Normally, I'd have a beer,” Bane replied, “or a whiskey, but beggars can't be choosers.”

She paused, the mouth of the bottle poised over Bane's fluted glass. “I could send for a bottle of bourbon, from Bill's saloon. Of course, being homemade, it's certainly not from Kentucky, and it's apt to make you go blind or insane, but—” 
“I'll take my chances with your devil's wine,” he answered, using the term that she herself had once employed in reference to the beverage.

She poured. “Le vin du diable. So, you do listen to me,” she observed.

“Only when you speak French.”

They sipped. “Tell me about your last adventure,” she said.

“Nothing much to tell. Charles went for his gun, but I was faster. He got off a shot, but it went wild. Mine hit him in the chest, dead center.”

“I'm glad you're the one who survived.”

“Me, too.”

“You have plans for the reward money?” she asked. “Not that it's any of my business, of course.”

He shrugged. “Save it, I guess.”

“You must have a million dollars in the bank by now, the way you save money.”

He looked at her. “I doubt that even you have that much salted away, Rose.”

“Me? Where in the world would I get that kind of money? My girls are worth their weight in gold, all five of them, but, still—a million dollars!” 
“Jake told me he thought I should settle down.”

“That old bastard gave good advice; he should have followed some of it himself.”

“If I did have a place, I don't know what I'd do with it. I'm not a rancher or a farmer. I couldn't ride herd on cattle or bust sod. I'm not good at much of anything but killing other people.”

“Oh, I don't know, Bane,” she said, setting her wine glass aside. “I think you might be pretty good at making babies with a woman who wanted them.” Her lips found his, and they kissed, long and deep. “Not that I'm such a woman myself, you understand.”

“I understand,” he said, and they kissed again, their hands exploring and caressing the contours of each other's bodies. They slid down, atop the sheets, the satin smooth and cool on their bare skin. The sunlight was dim, and, except for the sounds they made as they made love, the room was quiet. Rose smelled of the scent for which she'd been named.

They wore themselves out, awakening after sunset.

Rose sat up and stretched. She yawned. “I'm hungry,” she announced.

Bane yawned, too, shaking his head to clear his mind. “I could do with some grub myself,” he said. “How about a steak dinner?”

“You're buying, so you pick.”

Bane shook his head. Rose was probably the richest woman in northern Nevada and maybe the whole state, but a man would never know it by the way she quibbled over the cost of a meal. She'd probably have the audacity to charge him for the clothes she'd loaned him, regardless of the fact that the shirt and trousers she'd given him were his own. “Steak it is, then,” he declared. “I've been wanting to sink my teeth into a juicy slab of beef for a couple of weeks now. Coffee, salt pork, and beans may keep a man's body and soul together, but they're sure not much when it comes to taste.”
Finnegan's House of Beef, between the dry goods store and the apothecary shop across the street from Rose's place, was a two-story adobe structure with a flat roof. A plain balcony, consisting of a floor supported by rough-hewn timbers, shaded the elevated boardwalk in front of the establishment. Otherwise, the front wall was blank but for the lower floor's two unadorned windows, which flanked the doorway, and the three upstairs windows, which looked onto the balcony. 
The side walls extended for thirty-six feet, with upper- and lower-story windows in tandem with one another, the first pair separated from the three sets that had been installed fifteen feet farther down the walls.

The architecture made little sense to Bane; probably, the structure had been expanded as business increased over the years and more tables and chairs were needed to seat additional diners. Despite the plain building, the proprietor, Patrick Finnegan, who was also the chef, cooked a variety of items better than most others who practiced his profession.

Finnegan's daughter, Sarah, who waited tables, started toward the couple, but Finnegan intercepted her. “Go upstairs. Take the rest of the night off,” he told her in a low voice.

“But, Daddy, we don't close for an hour yet; it could get busy, and—” 
“Do as I say!” he hissed.

Sarah gave him a puzzled look, but she did as he bade her to do.

“Welcome!” Finnegan greeted his guests. “It's good to see you again, Mr. Messenger.” He nodded at Rose. “Let me show you to a table,” he said, leading them through the open archway that led into the smaller backroom, where a few tables had been set aside for the rougher element among the town's populace.

Spread with a linen cloth, the table bore a candle, a single red rose in a slender crystal vase, and four place settings, one before each of the table's chairs. Bane held a chair for Rose, then seated himself, his back to the wall, so that he faced the open doorway and the street beyond. Finnegan removed two of the settings and handed Rose and Bane each a menu. 
It was later than most of the townspeople would venture out for their evening meal, and Bane and Rose had the place to themselves. Even so, Finnegan had seated them apart from the main dining room, just in case more respectable diners decided to have their evening meal here. “I guess my money's welcome,” Rose observed, “even if I'm not.”

“It's my money that's being spent,” Bane reminded her, “not yours. I doubt Finnegan's any more fond of bounty hunters than he is ladies of the evening.” He gave her a sardonic smile. “Besides, couldn't you say much the same about some of your own clients?”

She smiled back at him. “You say the sweetest things. That's why, every time you go after another vicious killer, I worry you won't come back to me.”

When Finnegan returned, they ordered the same dinners: T-bone steaks, mashed potatoes and gravy, asparagus, and bread. For dessert, Bane planned to eat a slice of deep-dish apple pie, maybe two. “All we're missing is a violinist to serenade us,” he remarked.

“Do you mind if we're serious for a minute or two, Banan?”

His eyebrows lifted, and he sighed, resigned to the fact that she'd have her say, one way or the other, just as she insisted upon calling him Banan, rather than Bane. He didn't care for his given name, because he didn't care for the man who'd given it to him or for the reason it had been assigned to him. Except for the woman who'd raised him, no one but Rose called him Banan, or even knew that this was his given name. Reluctantly, he tolerated Rose's use of it. Their long and intimate acquaintance with one another had earned her the right to call him by his actual name.

He eyed her warily. “I said I'd pay for dinner, Rose.”

She smiled. “Tell me something. I can't figure why a man, especially a man as young and handsome as you are, would make his living by risking his life, hunting robbers and killers.”

He shrugged. “It's a living.”

“Not much of one,” she countered.

Bane sighed. “What are you, my mother now? 
Hell, Rose, you're no older than I am.”

“I'm younger, by two years,” she reminded him, “but a woman has better sense than a man twice her age, any day of the week.”

He sighed again. She wasn't going to let it go, it was pretty plain to see. “I don't know how to do anything else. Killing's all I've ever been good at doing.”

“You could learn.”

“I don't see why I should.” He sat back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest. “Do you?”

“Why did you become a bounty hunter? To right the wrongs of the world?” Her tone was light, but her gaze was direct. 

Instead of answering her question, Bane smirked. “Did you get into your line of work to make the world a more loving place?” 

“Are you saving for the future?”

“I live one day at a time, Rose, and what I do has nothing to do with justice, just money: I can earn more by killing a couple of desperadoes than I could by working years at a regular job.”

Their food arrived, and Bane pretended to eat with gusto. In truth, he'd lost his appetite, and he didn't bother with dessert.

Chapter 2

“What the hell is that?” Bane demanded.

After dinner, they'd made love again, which had drained what was left of their respective energy, and the lovers had fallen asleep. Now, some horrendous noise had awakened them from the depths of sleep.

Another loud crash sounded below them.

“Della!” Rose cried. “Her room is below us: 206!”
“Is she 'entertaining'?”

“From the sound of it, no,” Rose declared, “but she should be. I think she's in trouble. I'd better get the sheriff.”

“No need,” Bane said. “I'll go.”

“You will?”

He was already out of bed, hobbling on one bare foot while he pulled on his pants. He stepped into the other pant leg, pulled it up, and buckled on his gun belt, not bothering to button his fly or shrug into a shirt. Barefoot, he sprinted across the suite, to the door connected to the hallway that led to the stairs.

Another crash sounded from below.

“Hurry, Bane!” Rose called, but he was already on the steps, running down the stairs.

At the second floor landing, Bane raced down the hallway; at Room 206, he didn't pause to knock, but turned the knob and hit the door with his shoulder. It slammed into the wall, and Bane saw Della, cowering on her knees before a hulking figure who was obviously enraged.

The broken table and the bashed-in display hutch told Bane all he needed to know as to the origin of the crashing sounds he'd heard in Rose's suite: Della's customer had shoved her into the furniture or she'd fallen against it as the result of one or more of his blows.

Her bruised face streamed not only with tears, but with blood, also, and the sight of the injured woman made Bane's own blood rise. He could not abide a man's striking a woman, and Della had certainly been struck, multiple times, from the look of things.

“Get away from her, mister!” Bane ordered.

Her attacker didn't so much as glance in Bane's direction. Keeping his menacing gaze fixed upon his victim, he snarled, “This doesn't concern you!”

“That's where you're wrong,” Bane replied. He struck the other man with all his force, and the blow sent Della's attacker sprawling into a splintering wardrobe. Upstairs, Rose undoubtedly heard another crash. “It concerns me a lot!”

The huge man regained his footing, but, before he could charge, Bane hit him again, twice, following a left hook with a right cross. The customer staggered backward, and Bane went in for the knockout.

However, dodging Bane's uppercut, the other man delivered a roundhouse blow of his own, which snapped Bane's head back and made his vision swim. Pressing his attack, the big man landed three punishing blows, one to Bane's midsection and two to his head. The bounty hunter felt his knees buckle, but, managing to duck another blow from his adversary, he dodged behind a divan.
Bane's evasive maneuver gained him a few seconds, but his opponent possessed tremendous strength, and the hulking figure tossed the small, backless sofa aside as easily as if it were a toy. 

“You shouldn't have mixed in,” he warned Bane. “Now, I'm going to kill you.”

“Quite a few men have tried,” Bane retorted, 
lifting a statue of the god Pan over his head. 

Judging by the heft of it, the figure was carved of solid granite. He brought the sculpture down hard, aiming for the big man's head, but his adversary stepped aside, and the horned satyr struck a tremendous blow to his shoulder instead. Della's attacker screamed, twisting his upper body away.

“But, as you can see, I'm still here,” Bane said.
“Not for long.”

“You're a right big man,” Bane said, his tone suggesting that he was making small talk. “How tall are you, would you say?”

“What's it to you?”

“Nothing,” Bane admitted, “to me, but Pike's likely to want to know.”

“Pike? Who the hell is Pike?”

“The undertaker,” Bane explained. “When he makes a coffin, he likes to get the length right; otherwise, he might have to saw off your legs, or your head, to fit your body inside the box.”

“What's your name, mister?” Bane's opponent demanded.

“Now, it's my turn to ask: what's it to you?”

“His name's Bane Messenger,” Della volunteered. She said it as if she were speaking the name of the angel of death. In a way, Bane realized, she was, although Della probably didn't realize it. He gave her a sharp look. If anyone was going to share his identity with someone else, he'd just as soon it be he who did so. 
The giant sneered, “I just want to make sure the newspaper gets your name right,” he told Bane, “in your obituary.”

“The only death notice that appears in this town's newspaper will be your own, mister.”

Apparently, Della thought introductions were in order, because she told Bane, “His name's Frank Fallon.”

Bane furrowed his brow. “Nope, you're not one of the ones I'm after—at least, not today—so I may not have to kill you, after all.” 

“What do you mean, I'm not one you're after?”
Again, Della butted in on their exchange of words: “Bane's a bounty hunter.”

“All the more reason for me to kill him,” Fallon told her. “Then, I'll finish settling my score with you.” He rushed Bane, and, for a big man, he was surprisingly quick.

But Bane was quicker. He stepped aside, letting Fallon's momentum carry him past, and, before the giant could whirl back around, Bane stomped the heel of his boot into the back of the other man's knee, and Fallon started to fall backward. 

Reaching his left arm around his adversary's neck, Bane locked the crook of his elbow around Fallon's throat so that his biceps and forearm compressed the carotid arteries in his opponent's neck, strangling him.

Fallon's eyes went wide with panic, and he clawed at Bane's arm, but the bounty hunter kept his arm locked, pressing hard against his left hand with his right to apply additional pressure, and the frantic clawing became feeble. In a few moments, it ceased altogether, and Fallon's purple face, which looked as if it might explode, began to relax as Bane slackened the muscles in his arm, letting blood flow again through his foe's arteries. However, Fallon had lost consciousness, and Bane let him fall to his knees and pitch sideways, onto the floor.

“Write this down,” Bane told Della, and he dictated a note to her. Although he didn't see anything amusing about his message, she giggled a few times as she read it back to him.

Bane stuffed the missive into his shirt pocket. “Now, open the door,” he told her.

Taking Fallon by his heels, Bane dragged the giant's considerable bulk across the floor, into the hallway, and down the stairs, the burly man's head striking each step on the way down. Fallon was going to have a terrible headache come morning, Bane thought, but no worse than the one he'd given Della.

After he'd dragged the unconscious man into the street, Bane paused long enough to transfer the note Della had written for him from his shirt pocket into Fallon's own. When he was able to sit up and had gotten his senses back, Fallon would read:

I could have killed you tonight. The next time you strike Della, or any other woman, I will.

Leaving the woman-beater in the dust, Bane climbed the stairs back up to the third floor. He figured Rose would still be awake, worried about Della, and she was.

She didn't act concerned, though. Still, Bane would have bet the reward money he was due to receive for Charles' apprehension that she was worried. Now, she wouldn't have to be.

“What was all the ruckus about?” she asked.
“You ought to have a talk with Della. She's young yet, and she might not realize how dangerous it is to make fun of a man, especially a mean one the size and strength of Frank Fallon, who has trouble maintaining—well, a certain level of excitement when he—” 

Rose laughed, but, sobered by a sudden thought, she said, “Don't expect me to pay you for helping Della out with her customer. That was your idea, not mine.”

“No need.”

She snorted. “You do believe in justice, Bane, just like I said.”

“I didn't do it for justice,” he contradicted her, “and I didn't do it for Della.”

“Oh? Then why did you run off one of my best-paying, regular customers?”

“I did it,” he replied, “so I could get a good night's sleep.”


Quaking Aspen, Nevada, depended on three enterprises for most of its revenue: silver, cattle, and businesses that supported the mining and ranching operations, one of which was the bank. Despite the looks of the town, both mining and ranching were booming, and the bank's safe was about to burst with gold and cold, hard cash—at least, that's what Kyle Hollis had gleaned from conversations he'd had with the men who frequented The Gold Leaf Saloon. 
Despite the wealth of some of its townspeople, it was just another two-bit, one-horse town, as far as Hollis was concerned. Weather-beaten false fronts faced off across a dirt road that was muddy in the winter and cracked and rutted during dry times. The buildings, except for the bank, were constructed of wood. False fronts with balconies ran the length of their non-existent second stories. Most were badly in need of paint, and a few looked on the verge of collapsing altogether.
On either side of the road, well-trod boardwalks led the length of the buildings, most of which butted up against one another, most without so much as an alley between them. The only break in the monotony of peeling paint and sagging awnings was provided by the few rain barrels, benches, hitching posts, and watering troughs stationed haphazardly along the storefronts and the wooden Indian outside the tobacco store where, earlier this morning, Hollis had bought makings for the cigarettes that, other than beer and whiskey, were his sole indulgences. About the only thing colorful in this desolate locale, besides its painted ladies, were the towering trees, and even those turned from green to gold only in the fall of the year.

The only substantial structure in Quaking Aspen was the bank, which was fairly new and built of brick. Its tall, narrow windows were not only curtained, but also barred. A tall, narrow doorway led in one side of the building, which stood alone, at the south end of town, across one of the few alleyways, adjacent to a dentist's office, and a second doorway, identical to the first, led outside. The former bore a sign that announced “Enter”; the latter, a sign that read “Exit.” The bank was one of the few structures in town that was located next to an alley—the one that separated it from its neighboring building to the north.

Huge water-powered ceiling fans churned the dust in the air, and a row of teller's cages, five in all, stood side by side, interconnected booths with barred windows that left a gap of six inches at their bottoms, over the counter that fronted them, so that customers could interact with the tellers. The safe was in the back of the bank, as was the banker's private office.

Well, a man couldn't expect much of a town that had named itself for a tree, Hollis thought.
In truth, he knew that, in time, the locals' prosperity would transform the place, if the town survived the mining boom. At the behest of their wives, some husbands would relocate their families to San Francisco, Carson City, Denver, or points east as soon as they'd mined enough silver or sold enough cattle to finance a better life in the city. Their wives were content, for now, to bide their time.

The women who couldn't persuade their men to move would insist, eventually, upon a school and a church, and they'd want to spend their money in stores that were modern and attractive, with paint on their walls, curtains at their windows, and potted plants and flowers on their windowsills or flanking new, wrought-iron benches on sidewalks out front.

Yes, such transformation was inevitable, if the town survived, but it was years away yet, Hollis suspected, which was fine with him. He didn't plan to become a permanent resident of this town or any other, at least not for a while.

It was late afternoon, and the saloon was fairly crowded, but the men at the bar made room for him.

“We were wondering when you'd turn up,” a mustachioed older man in a Stetson, a plaid shirt, a blue neckerchief, blue trousers, and chaps remarked, by way of greeting, as Hollis bellied up to the bar.

“Any whiskey left, Lloyd,” Hollis asked him, “or have you and Ben drunk it all?”

“Might be a bottle or two we ain't had time to drain yet,” Lloyd replied.

Ben called to the bartender, “Carl, Kyle's dry, and he wants to get wet.”

“A man needs to be drunk to drink in a dump like this,” Ben joked.

Carl Rogers, the bartender, who also owned the place, set a mug of beer and a shot of whiskey on the bar before Hollis. He smiled at Ben. “If you don't care for my establishment,” he suggested, “you can take your business elsewhere.”

“I would, if I could,” Ben shot back, “but your run-down watering hole's the only one around for forty miles.”

“I guess we're just stuck with each other, then,” Carl said.

Like the others, Hollis chuckled, but, he had to admit, if only to himself, that, despite Ben's joking demeanor, The Gold Leaf was among the most pathetic in which he'd ever sought to satisfy his eternal thirst. Small tables and chairs occupied the front of the one-room establishment. The walls were bare planks, unadorned but for a photograph of the proprietor, a picture of a desert landscape, a wall calendar, and a mirror behind the single, long counter that served as the bar.

There was also the picture of a naked woman that, as everywhere throughout the West, was a standard feature of a saloon's decor. Although a bit on the plump side, she was beautiful, young, healthy, and nicely rounded in the right places. Nevertheless, the portrait was a tad disappointing, because the more interesting parts of the figure were obscured by strategically positioned foliage.
One thing the saloon did offer in abundance, though, was information. Hollis had learned a lot about the town during his visits to the watering hole.

“Course, only a fool would think about robbing a place like the Quaking Aspen bank,” an old-timer had told him.

“Why's that?” Hollis had asked.

“Too much law.”

The old man had been right on that score, Hollis had found. There was not only a sheriff and two deputies, but most of the town's able-bodied men were ready, willing, and able to be deputized whenever the need arose. The only man to have tried to rob the bank, four or five years ago, had been shot from his horse and filled with lead by a dozen men firing rifles and six-guns from the street and the windows of their businesses and homes. “The townspeople of Quaking Aspen don't cotton to robbers and thieves,” the old man had warned.

To rob the Quaking Aspen bank, Hollis had determined, a man needed a plan. Over the weeks he'd been staying here, at the hotel, posing as a newspaper publisher who was awaiting the shipment of his press and other equipment before setting up shop as the town's newspaperman, he'd conducted several informal interviews and had learned a lot about the town. He'd also formulated a plan for robbing the bank.

Now, like the women who yearned to move away from this God-forsaken wilderness, Hollis was biding his time, waiting for the right opportunity to present itself. It shouldn't be long in coming, he reckoned. In the meantime, he had plenty of money left from the stage holdup he'd committed a month ago to last him. He might as well enjoy the wait. He might as well keep the locals happy, too, as long as it served his purpose to do so.

“Drink up, boys,” he told Ben and Lloyd. “I'm buying.”

Good with a Gun

Bounty hunter Bane Messenger was good with a gun, but he wanted more out of life than hunting down fugitives from the law. He wanted a family: a wife and children. He wanted a home of his own. He wanted to know why his father had abandoned his mother and him. But all he knew was how to track and capture or kill the worst sort of men who roamed the West, taking what they wanted, whether money, property, or women, at the point of a gun. When he met the right woman, though, he vowed his life would change, he would change, if he could . . . .


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