Read Brings the Lightning (The Ames Archives Book 1) Online
Authors: Peter Grant
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #War & Military, #Genre Fiction, #Westerns
Brings the Lightning
This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without prior written permission of the publisher, except as provided by Finnish copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any similarity to actual people, organizations, and/or events is purely coincidental
Copyright © 2016 by Peter Grant
All rights reserved
Editor: Vox Day
by Frederic Remington
This book is dedicated with gratitude to Jim, Rita and Ian.
Better friends a man can’t hope to find.
Walt cursed beneath his breath as another runnel of water found its way over the brim of his black felt hat and down the neck of his blue greatcoat. He’d only owned them for a few months, their former Union Army owner having had no further need for them after a vicious little skirmish. They had proved very useful against the March and April cold and snow, but weren’t as good at keeping out the rain. The hat’s brim drooped and the coat was almost soaked through, doubling its weight.
The narrow, winding, overgrown path rounded a corner of the steep bluff to his right, then opened onto a small clearing. His horse began to turn the bend, hoof beats almost completely silent on the sandy soil of the little-used trail, its passage marked only by a soft swish as it brushed against the vegetation on either side. It suddenly lifted its head, ears pricked forward, and looked across the open space into the woods beyond. Walt tensed as he saw its reaction, and gently pulled on the reins, halting the animal before it entered the clearing.
He knew the animal’s brown coat and his blue and gray clothes, all darkened by rain, would be almost invisible in the gloom beneath the trees; therefore, whoever waited ahead probably hadn’t seen him yet—or, if they had, they weren’t showing any reaction. He slipped off his gloves, tucking them into his greatcoat pockets, then slowly, silently unfastened the flaps of the holsters on either side of his saddle pommel. He drew a Colt Army revolver from the right-hand one, but didn’t cock it yet, wanting to make no noise to give away his presence. With his left hand he eased the drooping hat backwards off his head, letting it hang from its cord around his neck. Now he’d be able to see clearly to shoot, if he had to. He waited, sitting motionless in the fading light.
Why would anyone be up here, anyway?
he thought, puzzled.
Sillman’s Hollow’s five miles behind me. Only rocks, trees and bushes grow in these hills, so it’s not a farmer. Prob’ly not blue-belly troops. War’s over now, and besides, there’s been no fighting round here for months. They’d have no reason to be here. The only folks likely to use this old trail are people like me, trying to stay out of sight and keep moving.
Walt’s horse moved restlessly beneath him. He reached down with his left hand and patted the brown’s shoulder gently to calm it. Like the bay behind him, it made no sound. Both horses were well accustomed to cautious, stop-and-go travel like this. He’d captured both of them from the enemy, then trained them for his specific needs as a scout. They’d smelled powder smoke many times before, and wouldn’t flinch at the sound of gunfire. He knew he could trust them to do what was needed when the time came. He silently loosened the lead rein of the pack horse, ready to release it the instant anything happened. Both horses had been taught to stand in place, ground-hitched, if he dropped their reins.
The light faded further, the sky growing an even more leaden gray as the sun sank below the cloud-obscured horizon. Still Walt waited, motionless. The first to give away his position was usually the first to die. He’d learned that lesson early and often in bitter encounters along too many dark, narrow trails, as both attacker and defender.
Suddenly the silence was broken by a shrill, irritated call from the top of the bluff to the right. “
What’s keepin’ ya, dammit? Come eat!” It was a woman’s voice. Walt couldn’t see her, but it sounded like she was no more than twenty yards away. He tensed, startled, but remained still.
Across the clearing, a voice came from behind a tree. “Aw, hell, Mattie! Awright, we’re comin’.” A man wearing dirty buckskins stepped out, lifting a Sharps carbine, lowering the hammer to half-cock and laying it in the crook of his left arm. Water dripped from his long, greasy gray hair and beard. “C’mon, Sim. Let’s go.”
“But, Paw, I was sure I heard a horse!” A younger man, wearing similar clothes and carrying a long-barreled Springfield rifled musket, came from behind a tree on the other side of the trail. “It might be another Johnny Reb.”
Walt realized at once,
They’re bushwhackers! They can’t have heard of the surrender at Appomattox yet; but even if they had, it wouldn’t stop their kind. They’re carrion-eaters, not soldiers.
His lips drew back in an unconscious snarl of fury.
“Thought I heard somethin’ myself,” the older man agreed as they stepped away from the trees, “but it was prob’ly just a deer brushin’ through the trees. A rider would have got here by now, if he was comin’ this way.”
“Deer don’t wear saddles. I figured I heard leather creak.”
“Well, I didn’t, and no one’s come down the trail, have they, boy?”
“Naw, but…” The younger man peered across the clearing, then stiffened, pointing in sudden panic at the looming figure.
“Hell fire, there he is!”
Walt didn’t wait for him to finish. He dropped the lead rein and dug in his heels. The brown responded instantly, jumping forward into the clearing as Walt thumb-cocked the revolver. The two men frantically tried to raise, cock and aim their rifles, but he was on them too quickly. He fired twice into the older man’s body. His victim shouted in agony, stumbling sideways into his son, dropping his gun as he clutched at his chest. Before the young man could untangle himself and line his rifle, Walt rode his horse into him. He toppled back, his gun falling from his grasp even as his father collapsed.
“D– don’t shoot, Mister! Don’t shoot!” The boy cast an anguished glance at the gurgling, twitching, dying man.
Walt looked down at him, holding his aim steady. “Why in hell were you trying to ambush me?”
“W– we wuz only gonna see who ya were! We wouldn’t hurt a Union man!” The younger man started to rise. “
I gotta help him!” he half-sobbed.
Walt’s steely voice stopped him. “You just stay right there, boy.”
“But– but– we’s patriotic Union men, jus’ like you! You c’n ask Lieutenant Ford up at Ripley. He gave Paw a paper t’ say we c’n stop any Rebs that come through, an’ keep any contraband they’s carryin’. We got three o’ them this past week.” His voice was rushed, panicked, his words stumbling over each other. He gestured down-slope. “We drug their bodies down there to get ’em out o’ the way. I ain’t lyin’, mister—I c’n show ’em to ya! M’ brother Tay rode to Ripley this mornin’ t’ sell their b’longin’s t’ the sutler an’ their hosses to th’ livery barn, an’ pay the Lieutenant his cut. He’ll be back t’morrer night, an’ he’ll tell ya th’ same as me. Now,
mister, c’n I see to Paw?”
“Too late for that, boy. Don’t let this blue coat fool you. I’m a Reb, just like you feared—and since you’ve robbed and killed my kind, I’ll be damned if I leave you alive to bushwhack any more of us who come this way.”
The young man’s eyes widened in horror, but Walt didn’t give him a chance to reply. He put a bullet through his head. The boy’s body convulsed in an involuntary spasm, then went limp.
As if echoing Walt’s shot, a rifle cracked from on top of the bluff to his right. A red-hot iron seemed to sear across the back of his neck, and he couldn’t hold back a shout of pain. He twisted in his saddle and whipped up his revolver, arm extended. In the gloom he could see only a shadowy, ill-defined figure through a bloom of grayish-white powder smoke on top of the bluff. He lined his sights on the center of the smoke and triggered a round. A shrill, high-pitched scream came in response. The figure toppled forward over the edge of the bluff, tumbled down the steep, almost vertical slope, and flopped onto the grass.
Walt tried to thumb-cock the revolver again, but its hammer wouldn’t lock back. He realized instantly that a fired percussion cap, or a piece of it, had jammed the action. Cursing aloud in frustration, he dropped the gun back into its holster as he pulled a Colt Navy revolver from the left side of the saddle horn. Transferring it to his right hand and cocking it, he glanced at the two men. Neither was moving. He tugged at the reins, backing his horse away from them, then trotted over to where the figure was lying.
Looking over the sights of his revolver as he drew nearer, he gulped in sudden dismay. It was a woman! A dark stain was soaking through her checkered gingham dress, centered over her groin and left upper thigh. It was already large, spreading with remorseless speed.
Got the big artery in her leg,
She’s bleeding out.
She had half-raised herself onto one elbow, but even as he watched she slumped back, eyes closed, gasping for air. She was done for.