Greetings friends, I’m taking the plunge and working on my first book, which I hope to publish via Amazon by the end of the year. But to get your taste buds wet, I’ve decided to publish Chapter 1 of The Devil’s Deal here as a taste. Keep your eyes open for the novel just in time for your holiday shopping needs.
The Devil’s Deal is a journey into the Old West where men and women did what they had to do to scratch out a living. Everyone has a story, and for Jack, it’s a long twisted tale that landed him at the crossroads after a bad night at the poker table.
I hope you enjoy it.
The Devil’s Deal – Chapter 1
Sweetwater, Texas 1875
“Rattlesnake Jack, I’m calling you out.” The voice cried through the dusty streets of the failing boom-town. The bar fell silent, as the tall cowboy laughed, and lifted the shot of whiskey to his lips. Throwing the amber liquid down his throat, he touched the tip of his hat to the Bartender, and motioned for his pistol belt.
His black glove hand laid a silver dollar on the bar. “If he beats me, have a shot for the house on me in my memory.” The raspy voice sounded nearly gleeful, as he strapped the gun-belt around his waist, and sauntered towards the door. At the frame, he looked out to see his opponent, feet wide, gun on his hip still. He didn’t recognize the man, so he assumed it was some shootist come to make a name for himself. Jack took one of his little cigars from his shirt pocket, and struck a match on his heel. Small puffs of smoke drifted out of his nose as he walked into the dirt road.
“I don’t know you, kid. And your life means nothing to me, go home and farm,” Jack’s raspy voice cut through the air, a chill in it as he judged the man to be barely 16 years old.
“No! You killed my father four years ago, and you’ll pay now.” Jack shook his head. It was always the same. Four years ago, a different boom-town, a card game perhaps? Perhaps a dispute over a hooker? Jack couldn’t remember the men he killed, the 28 notches on his pistol grip were memory enough. Someday he’d have to pay the Devil his due, but not this day.
“Fair enough, kid.” The cigar smoke clouded out of his mouth as he took a wide-legged stance. His elbow bent slightly, his fingers caressing the yellowed grip of his Colt. It was a familiar feeling, one that gave him comfort even in this life and death situation. “One thing, tell me your name.”
The kid’s hand jerked, and the pistol cleared leather. Jack’s hand flew like lightning, drawing the .45 up, level and firing before the kid could raise his arm. A small round hole appeared in the kid’s forehead before he hit the ground. Jack shook his head, and pulled his knife from his belt. “29. Dammit all. 29, it doesn’t have to be like this.” Jack feared 30. A deal struck years ago came to mind. Thirty souls would Jack end, and then he would have to return to the crossroads. The crossroads where it all began.
Jack sauntered back into the bar, cursing under his breath. The foul cloud of smoke clung to his head, as he returned to his stool. “Round on me,” he said, his voice flat as he undid the buckle on his pistol belt. He laid it on the bar reverently, and watched the bartender return it to its place. The pianist resumed playing, shifting to Clair de Lune, adding a melancholy melody over the sanguine mood of the tavern. The serving girls distributed drinks to the few remaining patrons who had not left to carry the dead to boot hill.
“It’s always the same, Dillon,” Jack’s voice barely above a whisper as he took in the melody of the piano. “It never changes, the whispers that a man with lightning in his draw has come to town, and some kid wants to make a name.” He shook his head wryly. “29 souls I’ve fed to the devil. For what? The chance to be the guy who took down Jack?” He threw the amber liquor down his throat and motioned for a refill. “My dreams are haunted to where I wish I’d never picked that damnable thing up.”
Dillon refilled the glass, and eyed Jack through his spectacles? “Then why’d you start? Didn’t your momma ev…” An icy stare from Jack caused the words to catch in his throat.
“My mother didn’t have a chance to warn me about anything. And it’d be smart of you to remember that. I don’t wanna kill another man today.” Jack looked at the bar, and shook his head. “Not your fault, you couldn’t have known. Apologies, Dillon.” Another shot of the burning amber Kentucky whiskey flowed down his throat, and his mind wandered. It had been a score since, but he could remember it better than the young man lying dead in the street.
Owensboro, Kentucky – 1855
A man had ridden into town, wearing the blackest clothes young Jack had ever seen. Covered in dust and sweat, Jack couldn’t make the man’s features out, but extended his hands for the lead reigns of the man’s pale gray mare. Animal husbandry had been his chore around his parents’ tavern, and this man, though chilling, appeared to afford to pay.
The man swung down from the 18 hand horse, and slide a shiny silver dollar into Jack’s hands. “Brush her out good.” A second coin appeared, “And if anyone asks, you’ve never seen me.” Jack pocketed both coins, “Yessir!” his eyes agleam. He’d never seen a dollar coin before, much less two dollars of Federal silver. He ran along with the mare, and took to tending to her to earn the two coins in his pocket. He brushed the horse, and checked her hooves. “Your rider should have you to the farrier,” he told the horse, “you’re going to throw a shoe if he’s not careful.” He guided her into stall number 4, and put two whole flakes of straw in the stall. He knew father would scold him later. But he figured the federal silver would change his father’s mind.
He walked back towards the family’s inn, and saw the discussion between the stranger and his father. In his 10 years, he could tell from his dad’s body language that the two men did not speak kindly. His mother, the one tempering agent in his father’s life, appeared by his side. “John dear, just let it go.” His father’s hand was fast as lightning, for a moment, Jack thought his dad was going to hit his mother. Jack had felt that slap many times throughout his young life. Instead, he was confused when his father gave a gentle caress to his mother’s face.
“We knew today would come, Molly. We knew we couldn’t run forever. The past never stays in the past.” John picked up his hat, and looked at the stranger, “Okay, Marshall, let’s go. I just pray that Jack did not see any of this.” At hearing his name, Jack fled back to the stable.
Before he was out of earshot, he heard the stranger’s voice again, “I paid him to groom my mare, didn’t want him to see guns drawn if it came to that.” Jack returned to the stable, and set about making himself busy. His dad’s strawberry roan could outrun the wind, so after he went about getting the horse ready to ride. As he pulled the flank cinch tight, he heard it. The noise that would shape his life forever. Running to the inn, he saw the stranger with a brand new 1851 cap and ball Navy Revolver, a whisper of smoke rolling out of the barrel. His father sat in irons, sobbing, and his mother lay draped over the balcony, a hunting rifle in her hands, and a swelling crimson pool beneath her. The stranger grabbed John by the irons and walked towards the stable. “Saddle my mare boy, your mom’s dead by her own stupidity.” Anger and hate swelled through Jack.
“Do as he says, son, then take my horse, and ride off. Just ride until that roan can’t ride no more. Forget about here.” John heard the Navy revolver cock again, and set about getting the mare saddled. He was tempted to load the blanket with cockleburrs, but the stranger kept a solid eye on him. He threw John over the withers, hopped onto the saddle, and dropped a bag on the floor.
“I’m a bastard, but I’m not heartless,” the marshal’s voice rang into Jack’s ears. “Wipe your tears, and go build a better life. There’s 200 dollars of federal silver in that bag.”
John’s voice rang out, “Forgive me, son. Your sins always catch up to you, even if you think you run far enough.” Jack sank to the floor in tears as the marshal spurred the pale gray horse out of sight. Night fell, and Jack had found himself, for the first time, very alone. Two hundred and two dollars was all he had left in the world, that and a fast horse could take him far away, but where? He had no kin, his mother lie dead draped over the balcony, no clue as to where the Marshal would take his father, and he could trust no one with that type of fortune.
Dillon’s voice cut through the memory. “Another shot, Jack? Or you want a room for tonight? Seems like you drifted miles away.”
Jack snapped back, paused, and nodded. “Both. One more shot, and I’ll take room number 2. And have someone look after my roan, wouldja? I need to ride towards Aqua Fria tomorrow.”
Dillon nodded, and handed him the key. “Have a restful night then. Settle up with me before you head out, it’s 2 dollars for the room, 5 if you want me to send up one of the girls.”
Jack pulled two dollars from his pocket, and nodded. “I just want to be alone, thanks the same though.”