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Authors: Joe R. Lansdale

Tags: #Deadwood -- Fiction., #Western stories -- Fiction.

Blood Dance

BOOK: Blood Dance
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Blood Dance
Joe R. Lansdale
 

In memory of my father,
Bud Lansdale,
and with thanks to my friends,
Jeff Banks and Greg Tobin

Contents

 

 

Preface

Blood Dance
was written in the early eighties, accepted by editor Greg Tobin for Ace books, in, I think, ’83 or ’84. I thought it was a pretty good conventional Western. It has humor, a fast pace, action, mystery, and even a bit of the fantastic; at least the fantastic is hinted at in one scene involving the Sun Dance.

I wasn’t a fan of Western novels growing up, but I was a fan of Western movies, and I liked Western history and stories about the West as told to me by my daddy. My ventures into reading Western books and stories, however, had borne little fruit. I had enjoyed some of the Max Brand books I had read, and a number of short stories by Twain and Bret Harte had been interesting, but I wasn’t hooked.

My father, who could not read or write, began to make an effort to learn to read, and though it could never be said he became a literate man, he did gradually manage enough knowledge to read the newspaper and ponder over a comic book; in his later days, even a Western paperback.

It must have been a great chore for him, as I remember seeing him mouth the words as he read, but once he began to get a bit of the knack, he stayed with it. I doubt he read more than a dozen paperbacks in his lifetime, and then probably had hito guess at a lot of it. He would ask me a word now and then, but I know it hurt his pride. Strangely, however, he enjoyed what little reading he was able to do, and, consequently, he started picking up cheap paperbacks.

Most went unread, but they ended up at his garage or on a shelf at home, and one day I picked up one called
Slip Hammer
by Brian Garfield. This was probably the first true Adult Western. Later, there would be a long period in time where the Adult Western was the most popular Western being written, but this was years ahead of its time.

And when I say the first Adult Western, I don’t mean the first thinking person’s Western, as that had existed for a long time. I mean a Western labeled
Adult
for its graphic sex content.

Sure, there had been books with Western backgrounds and sex in them before, but they were underground, and really were nothing more than sleazy screw books gussied up with hats and horses and a little shooting, and they were generally poorly and quickly written for the sex market.

(NOTE: When Adult Westerns became standard fare for the stands later on, they mostly weren’t as good as Garfield’s book, and, with a handful of exceptions, were only a little better than the old gussied up screw books.)

Slip Hammer
was well researched, well written with excellent character development. And though the sex was entirely comfortable within the novel, it was interesting, and, ahem, hot.

The villains of the book were uncharacteristically Wyatt Earp and his brothers. I had never read anything like it. Sure, lots of books have made Wyatt Earp a villain since, but at the time I hadn’t encountered this. And it was based on historical evidence, though based on the same evidence, conclusions about the Earps are still open to interpretation.

Although Garfield didn’t dodge sex in his books from then on, I don’t know that he ever wrote one like this again. This was an experiment, and once he had done it, he moved on.

As a side note, Garfield later became famous for his novel
Death Wish,
which was made even more famous by the film, which, by the way, Garfield hated.

Okay, that said, this has nothing do to with my Western, which is not a sex Western. What it has to do with is the fact that I began to read Westerns. Even those without the sex. I went back and read the classics, like The
Ox-Bow Incident, Shane,
and so on and so on.

By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I was pretty well read in both classic Western novels and popular ones, and by the time I was in my late twenties and early thirties, I was ready to write one.

My first was
Dead in the West,
a horror Western. My second,
Texas Night Riders,
was a pure dee ole fashioned pulpy shoot-’em-up written under the name Ray Slater. By the time I wrote
Blood Dance
I was a decent enough writer, thought the book was pretty damn good, and was proud to put my name on it.

Ace gave me a contract, paid me, but the only problem was Ace was sold to Berkeley Books, and the entire Western line was canceled.

I then placed it again at Silver Saddle, which was supposed to be an arm of Black Lizard, but the house folded before ,

I couldn’t face it. I collaborated by letting my friend Jeff Banks revise it. By the time we were finished, Golden Apple was gone.

I threw it in a drawer and forgot about it. Later, I rediscovered it, packed it off to the library that keeps my manuscripts. Bill Schafer wanted a look at it. He contacted the library, read it, liked it, and here it is in its original first person form.

I also like this. It’s no Western classic, but it is fun. I wouldn’t mind seeing it picked up in paperback. Mostly, I just hope you enjoy it.

—Joe R. Lansdale (his ownself)
 
Chapter One
1

Watching from the hills we could see the Northern Pacific coming into view, chugging rhythmically, coughing black smoke up to the clouds. It wound in amongst the trees and out of sight, but not sound.

It was a lovely day in the Dakota Territory, and I guess it was just as good a day as any for robbing a train. But truth to tell, my heart wasn’t in it.

Bob Bucklaw, my partner, said, “Getting close to time. Reckon we ought to saddle up.”

We had spent the night on the rise waiting for just this moment, but now that it had arrived I felt myself stalling. “Another five minutes,” I said. “It won’t be solid below us for awhile yet.”

Bucklaw was already tightening the cinch on his saddle. “You know how Carson is. One minute late and there will be hell to pay.”

“Since when do we care?” I said, but I began saddling my horse in spite of what I had said.

“Since he’s paying us four thousand dollars in gold, that’s when.”

“Maybe I don’t cotton much to train robbing.”

“Yeah, and maybe you don’t cotton much to eating, either.”

“I’m thinking about riding out of this. Let the boys down there do the train robbing. I think I’ll just go look for me a real job.”

Bucklaw smiled at me.

“Doing what, Jim?”

“I don’t know.”

“Punching cows? Herding sheep? Hunting men? You call those real jobs. Not me.”

“This sure isn’t a real job. Let’s not do it.”

Bucklaw put his foot in the stirrup. “Sorry, Jim. After the war they didn’t leave nothing for us Johnny Rebs. We’ve got to take what we want, just like the James Brothers or the Youngers.”

“Can’t say I think all that much of Dingus and his boys.”

Bucklaw swung into the saddle. “I’m going down there,” he said. “I hired on to back Carson’s play, that’s what I’m going to do.”

“You don’t owe that scum anything. Besides, we’re outsiders; we haven’t got a price on our heads. Yet.”

“You coming?”

I sighed. “Hell, why not?” I climbed on my horse. “I’m saying now that I don’t like this none. Not even a little bit.”

“All right, you’ve said it. Just this one time, Jim. Then we’ll quit. Four thousand apiece can give two men a hell of a life somewhere. Texas, maybe.”

“I reckon.”

“You know… Let’s go.”

We started down the rise, the train smoke rising upwards to meet us. I took my watch from my coat pocket and looked at it. We were a minute behind Carson’s schedule.

Down below came the sound of gunfire and shouting men. Spurring our horses, we went down to meet them, rifles in hand.

2

It was a long fall from country gentlemen to ragtail train robber. Once I had been full of dreams; dreams of studying law and building up my own practice.

That was before the War between the States tore both my dreams and the nation apart, washed them in blood, slapped them with gun thunder.

After the war, I went home. Wasn’t much left for me in Louisiana. My mother and father were dead and the farm was burned to the ground. My brother had been lost in action, somewhere up Virginia way.

I tried to make a go of the place for awhile. Built a cabin and farmed the land, but my heart wasn’t in it. Every day reminded me of what the place had once been. Each time the magnolias bloomed or the bayou kicked up childhood memories with the odor of its sludge, I was sick at heart.

So I sold the place and got away from there, tried my fortune in Texas punching cows. That was where I had met Bucklaw. He, too, was a war veteran, a lost soul in a new Yankee world. We became fast friends. It was as if God had given me Bob Bucklaw to replace my brother Blue. And Bucklaw was not unlike my brother. He was quick-witted and charming, a good hand with a gun, a bit too inclined to take the easy way out.

Couldn’t complain, though. I followed right after him, just the way I had my big brother. Yeah, Bob Bucklaw and Blue Melgrhue were much alike.

From Texas we drifted to Kansas, herded sheep and worked around stockyards. Once we hired on to trail Apaches in Arizona Territory and Mexico. That didn’t suit us much. Those Apaches reminded us of ourselves. We knew what it was like to lose a way of life, to drift aimlessly in a world of hate.

I would just as soon have forgotten the war. Not Bucklaw. He wore it like an old, ragged shirt he was fond of and would not throw away.

We went up north to the Black Hills and panned for the gold that Custer had found there in July of ‘74. But though the strikllogh the e was real, and the winter of ‘75 was unseasonably mild, our luck was no good. Gold was there all right, and miners were carrying it out by the sackful. But Bucklaw and I had lived our lives behind plows, cows and guns. Our shovel and pickmanship was not so good; in fact, it matched our knowledge of mining.

Where others found gold, we found rocks and their meager leavings. There wasn’t much to recommend it.

It was late in December, down in the mining town of Custer, that we met Mix Miller. The man was five-foot-six, stoop-shouldered with droopy brown eyes. I didn’t like him the minute I saw him. He sat outside the general store, which had just recently been founded by a fellow by the name of W. H. Cole, and whittled on a piece of wood with a knife made from a broken saber.

He watched us enter the store, and I didn’t like the way he was looking at us. Not one bit. It reminded me of how stockmen eye prime beef and pick out the ones for butchering.

The general store was also the new minter’s service, and we went in there to trade our gold for money and pick up a few supplies.

The little fellow followed us inside and I elbowed Bucklaw. “That guy’s been eyeing us since we hit town.”

“Yeah.”

“I think we should keep an eye on him.”

“What’s he going to do? Kill us with that saber and pointed stick?”

“That .44 looks like it could help.”

“He’d have to draw it first,” Bucklaw said with a wink.

We got our gold weighed without being laughed at, collected our money, bought some supplies. Basic stuff. Tobacco and flour. When we went outside the little man followed us.

BOOK: Blood Dance
6.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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