Slocum and the Spirit Bear (9781101618790)

BOOK: Slocum and the Spirit Bear (9781101618790)
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Trespassers Beware

“How many more are there, Ed?”

“Two or three. It's . . . hard to tell.”

Before Slocum could wonder how someone could lose count of men who had taken a run at them while in the open, he felt a dizziness that sent a shiver through his eyeballs. The harder he tried to focus, the more difficult that simple task became. The leaves attached to the closest attacker fluttered and twisted in a breeze that wasn't there. One second, the figure seemed to be hunching down and leaning to the left, and the next, it was swaying to the right.

Another figure walked forward, carrying a staff with what looked to be a small animal's head on top of it. The dirty, blurry figures formed a crude circle around this one and became still when the gruesome staff was lifted high.

“Who are you?” Slocum wheezed. When he didn't get a response, he shouted, “Why did you attack us?”

“You, white men,” the one with the staff said, “are trespassers.”

“This is open territory,” Slocum said.


No!
This ground is sacred. You insult it with the imprint of your wicked bodies. You scar it with the wheels of your wagons.”

“We're on our way into Colorado,” Ed insisted. “We're not going to harm anyone and never had any intention of settling anywhere near here.”

“That is what all white men say. You will turn your wagons around and leave.
Leave
,”
the earthen figure said, “or
die
.”

And then, like hazy mirages, the figures crouched down and disappeared.

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THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

SLOCUM AND THE SPIRIT BEAR

A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Jove edition / January 2013

Copyright © 2012 by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Cover illustration by Sergio Giovine.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-101-61879-0

JOVE
®

Jove Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

JOVE
®
is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

The “J” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Contents

MORE ALL-ACTION WESTERN SERIES FROM THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Title Page

Copyright

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

1

It was unseasonably cold for late October. The ground was hardened and dirtied by travelers heading west, and the trail they'd used was nothing more than a set of straight ruts in the ground. Countless wagons made the treacherous journey through Indian territory in the hopes of reaching lands more fertile or towns more prosperous than the ones they'd left behind. On all sides the ground was flat; beaten down by the elements and battered by a wind that never grew tired of tearing through dead stalks of wheat and corn. The most recent folks to brave the passage did so in a group of wagons lumbering westward through the howling winds.

When the group had left Springfield, Illinois, there were six wagons in the train. A fire set during a particularly brutal robbery outside of an unruly town in eastern Iowa forced them to leave one of the wagons behind like so many of the grave markers along the trails leading to California. Because so many of their possessions had been taken or burned, it wasn't difficult to consolidate what was left into the wagons that remained. If a sheriff and his deputies hadn't seen the flames from that wagon, the entire group could very well have been lost. But the lawmen came and chased away those robbers, allowing the wagon train to move along after burying their dead.

Foremost on the minds of the adults within those wagons was hiring on some protection. Josiah Pincher was handy with a rifle and had served some time in the Army, but one gunman in the group hadn't been enough to keep the bandits away, and when a nervous vote had been cast to look for another protector to accompany them, he didn't protest. They'd found a few likely prospects in some towns they'd visited, but none that were willing to travel with them all the way to the Rocky Mountains or were capable enough to do them much good if he did.

So, the wagons rolled the rest of the way through Iowa, flinching at every other rider they passed and praying their meager funds would see them all the way to their destination. The man who drove the lead wagon was Ed Warren; a tall fellow with broad shoulders and a wide face partially obscured by a thick, brushy beard. Narrow eyes set close together above a bulbous nose watched the trail for dangers and the skies for storms. A day's ride outside of Omaha, Ed parted ways with the wagons so he could ride down to Saint Joseph, Missouri, to see about calling in some favors that might be valuable enough to keep the wagons rolling. After his limited experience with hiring someone strictly for protection, he'd come to realize that many of the men best suited for the job were as much of a danger as those that might be chased away.

Ed's purpose for being in Saint Joseph was to call in a debt owed to him by an old business partner. As luck would have it, that partner was not only still in town, but still held Ed in high regard and was doing well enough to pay him back. Restitution was made in the form of a small bag of silver nuggets, a short stack of dollar bills, and a pair of solid gold cuff links. Eager to rejoin his wagons, Ed made his way to a general store closest to the edge of town to see what he could get for the silver and cuff links. Once his business was concluded, Ed climbed into his saddle. He caught sight of a man wearing a leather jacket buttoned over several layers of wool clothing meant to keep the cold from seeping all the way down to the marrow in his bones.

“Pardon me, mister,” Ed said as he pulled his reins to steer his horse around the man before trampling him.

The man stepped in the same direction as the horse, and when Ed tried to move again, the man reached out to grip the horse's bridle. “Trouble you for a moment of yer time?” the man asked.

Ed pulled his arms in close to his body. His .44 revolver was at his side, but he put more faith in his horse's ability to get away than his own marksmanship. “Wish I had some to spare.” With that, Ed gave his reins an extra tug to pull away from the stranger.

The stranger not only held on, but pulled back with enough force to snap the horse's head toward him.

Nodding while subtly easing his hand toward his holster, Ed said, “What can I do for you?”

“You're the man that came by to see Matthew Jays?”

“Yes,” Ed replied, feeling it would have been pointless to lie since he'd ridden straight to Matthew's place of business upon entering town. “He's an old friend of mine. We did some business back in Illinois.”

“You came to collect some money from him. Silver, I reckon?”

Ed moved his hand closer to his gun, but the stranger either didn't notice or didn't care. “My business is my own,” Ed said. “Now, I'd appreciate you letting go of my horse so I can be on my way.”

The stranger tightened his grip on the bridle. “That silver's mine.”

“Did Matt take it from you?” Ed asked.

“No,” the stranger said. “But I aim to take it from you.”

“I don't have it any longer.”

“Then hand over the money you got from in that store. I'll take anything else you got as well.”

In the days following the attack that had resulted in the loss of one of his wagons as well as two of the souls who'd traveled with him, Ed had longed for an opportunity to stare those murdering sons of bitches in the eye. Throughout the search for another gun hand to ride with him, Ed had pondered the notion of doing the job himself just so he could get a chance to put a bullet into anyone else who might try to bring harm to the people who looked to him for guidance. Now that he was presented with such an opportunity, he wasn't about to let it pass.

Ed went for his gun. His finger barely scraped along the cold iron beside the trigger when he found himself looking down the barrel of a pistol held in the stranger's unwavering grip.

“Hand it over, mister,” the stranger growled. “All of it. Right now, or I'll kill you and take it anyway.”

Ed was weighing his options when another stranger lunged into view like a hawk swooping down to snatch an unsuspecting rodent from a canyon floor. The second stranger grabbed the first one's wrist and twisted until a pained grimace was written across the robber's face. Although the pistol was still mostly pointed at Ed, the man holding it didn't seem to be in any condition to pull the trigger.

“Best drop the smoke wagon before your wrist snaps,” the new arrival warned.

The robber winced and let go, allowing his pistol to fall no more than a few inches before it was snatched from the air by the man who'd come along. Glaring through a hateful mask, the robber looked over to the new arrival and said, “This ain't none of your affair, Slocum.”

“I told you to get out of town a few days ago, Vaccaro,” the man named Slocum replied. “You're still here. The fact that you're trying to steal right out in the open so soon after I had words with you means you're trying to make a fool out of me. I take that sort of thing very personal.”

Vaccaro showed Slocum a shaky grin while trying to force his arm out of the other man's steely grasp. Unable to reclaim his hand, Vaccaro said, “Fine, then. I'll leave.”

“You said that before.”

“Well, now I know better. Ain't as if I can leave with you holding on to me like this.”

When Slocum released Vaccaro's wrist, his fingers moved like the jaws of a steel trap. Cool eyes darted toward Ed just long enough to take the other man's stock. “Put your gun away, mister,” he said. “You won't be needing it.”

Since he'd barely moved it within its holster, Ed eased it back into place and kept his hand on the grip so he could skin the weapon if the need arose.

Vaccaro stepped back a few paces and squared his shoulders to the men in front of him. “Guess I'll be on my way, huh, Slocum?”

“Yeah.”

“No hard feelings?”

After a few tense moments, Slocum shrugged. “I suppose not. It's not like you hurt this man.”

“Right!” Vaccaro said through a sloppy grin filled with rust brown teeth. “A man's gotta earn his keep one way or another. Some of us are just wayward, is all. I'll move along and do better in the next town.”

“Sure you will. Here,” Slocum said while tossing the gun he'd taken. “Can't leave you at the mercy of whatever you might find between here and wherever you're going.”

Vaccaro caught the pistol awkwardly, tossing it from one hand to another as if it were a piece of bread that had been pulled straight from the oven. Eventually, he got his hand around its grip. Judging by the look on his face, he was even more surprised than Ed that the pistol had been returned.

“Get out of my sight,” Slocum said. “If I see you again, you won't live long enough to regret it.”

Ed dared not move. When his horse shifted beneath him, he felt as if he'd reintroduced himself to the killers who'd forgotten he was there.

Slocum drew a breath and held on to it while shifting to face Ed's horse.

Vaccaro backed away, a venomous look spreading across his face. His eyes shifted between Ed's saddlebags and Slocum, who stood sideways so his back was partly to him.

Ed saw Vaccaro bring his gun up and meant to shout a warning to Slocum. His fingers even tightened around the .44's handle, but by the time he'd drawn the weapon, Slocum had already pivoted and snatched a Colt from his own holster. Two guns barked in quick succession. After that, Ed hunkered down and fired a shot from his .44.

For a moment, Ed thought he'd caught a piece of lead in the gut. Vaccaro, on the other hand, fared much worse.

The robber stood his ground, smoking gun in hand. His barrel was angled toward the ground and a stunned expression was etched onto his face. He blinked once, coughed up some blood, and dropped to his knees. More blood flowed from a hole in his chest as he spat out part of a grunted obscenity and then flopped onto his side.

Slocum stood his ground, holding his pistol at hip level. A long mound of dirt had been upturned near his feet, presumably by the bullet that had come from Vaccaro's pistol. He stalked forward, nudged the robber with his boot, and then stooped down to take the gun from Vaccaro's hand. Turning to face Ed, he asked, “You hit?”

“I . . . I'm not . . .” Ed stammered. Still feeling a pinching pain in his gut, Ed hesitated before moving. Finally, he started to sit upright. The pain jabbed at his innards, fading slightly as he straightened. “I don't think so,” he finally said. “Probably just a nervous stomach.”

Slocum watched as Ed prodded his midsection. “I don't see any blood,” he said. “You should be fine.” After tucking one pistol into his holster and the other under his belt, he turned to walk away.

“Wait a second!” Ed shouted. “Don't just leave.”

“I'm going to fetch someone to clean up this mess.”

“You mean like a lawman?”

“Either that or an undertaker,” Slocum replied. “Whichever's first to answer the call, I suppose.”

“Then what?”

“Then I'm having a drink.”

Ed flicked his reins, but his horse wouldn't move. The animal was trembling on account of the shots that had been fired. Rather than risk the horse bolting while he was still in the saddle, Ed climbed down and led it by the reins as he rushed to catch up with the other man. “Hold up,” he said while placing a hand on Slocum's shoulder.

Slocum stopped and spun around, fixing Ed with a glare that made him pull his hand back real quick.

“I don't mean to be rude,” Ed explained. “I'd like to thank you for helping me back there. My name's Ed Warren.”

Now that Ed's hand had been lowered and extended toward him, the other man nodded and shook it. “John Slocum.”

“So . . . you know that man?” Ed asked while risking half a glance back at the spot where Vaccaro lay. “Or . . .
knew
him?”

“He's just some piece of trash that blew in from Saint Louis. Been talking tough and stealing from drunks or anyone else who he thinks won't stand up to him. I don't like them kind, so I told him to get the hell out of this town.”

“I don't much like them kind either. Men like that one back there killed some good folks that were riding with me. Burned one of our wagons and made off with a lot of our belongings.”

“You think they're friends of his?” Slocum asked, staring down at Vaccaro as if the dead man might stand up and challenge him one last time.

Ed looked down at Vaccaro, over at Slocum, back to Vaccaro, and then back to Slocum before finally sputtering, “N-No, I mean they were men like him. As in similar. Bad men. Killers.”

Slocum chuckled once and turned his back on the carcass as if the former robber was no more than a pile of trash. “Vaccaro wished he was a bad man. I've seen plenty that were a whole lot worse. You want to have a drink with me? Looks like you could use one.”

BOOK: Slocum and the Spirit Bear (9781101618790)
2.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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