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A TOWN CALLED FURY REDEMPTION
By William W. Johnstone J.A. Johnstone
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2011 William W. Johnstone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe black, biting wind was so strong and so fierce that Jason feared there was no more skin left on his upper face—the only part not covered by his hat or bandanna.
His nostrils were clogged with dust and snot, despite the precautionary bandanna, and his throat was growing thick with dust and grit. Whoever had decided to call these things dust storms had never been in one, he knew that for certain. Oh, they might start out with dust, but as they grew, they picked up everything, from pebbles to grit to bits of plants and sticks. He'd been told they could rip whole branches from trees and arms off cacti, and add them into the whirling, filthy mess, blasting small buildings and leaving nothing behind but splinters.
He hadn't believed it then.
He did now.
He could barely see a foot in front of him, and just moving was dangerous—his britches had turned into sandpaper, and his shirt was no better.
At last he reached his office—or at least, he thought it was—and put his shoulder into the door. He hadn't needed to. The wind took it, slamming both the door and Jason against the wall with a resounding thud that must have startled folks as far away as two doors up and down, even over the storm's howling, unending roar.
It took him over five minutes to will both his body and the door into cooperating, but he finally got it closed. Slouching against it, he went into a coughing jag that he thought would never quit. He would rather have been cursing up a storm than coughing one up, but when it finally stopped, a good, long drink from the water bucket put the world right side up. Well, mostly. He still couldn't breathe through his nose, but a good, long honk—well, six or seven—on his bandanna put that right again.
With the wind still howling like a banshee outside and flinging everything not tied down against his shutters and door, he thanked God for one thing: The storm was, at least, keeping everyone inside, which included Rafe Lynch—wanted for eight killings in California, across the river—and currently ensconced at Abigail Krimp's bar and whorehouse, up the street.
He didn't know much about Lynch, other than that he was clean in Fury, and for that matter in the whole of Arizona, and Jason was therefore constrained by law to keep his paws off Lynch, and his lead to himself. Actually, he felt relieved. He didn't feel up to tangling with someone of Lynch's reported ilk. Still, he was worried. What if Lynch tried to stir up some trouble? And what if he or Ward couldn't handle it? Ward was a good deputy, but he wouldn't want to put him up against Lynch in a card game, let alone a shoot-out.
He sighed raggedly, although he couldn't hear himself. Outside the jailhouse walls, the storm pounded harder and harsher. Dust seeped in everywhere: around the door and the windows, even up through the plank floor. Jason knew damn well that the floor only had two inches—or less—of clearance above the dirt underneath, and this occurrence left him puzzled.
He'd managed to make his rounds, although a bit early. It was only three in the afternoon, despite the dust and crud-blackened sky. Everyone was inside, boarded up against the wind and wrapped in blankets against the storm's detritus and the sudden chill that had accompanied it.
Couldn't they have just gotten a nice rain? Jason shook his head, and two twigs and a long cactus thorn fell to the desk. He snorted. He must look a sight. At least, that's what his sister, Jenny, would have said, had she been there to see him. But she was nestled up over at Kendall's Boarding House with her best friend, Megan MacDonald, or she was at home, madly trying to sweep up the dust and grit that wouldn't stop coming.
His thoughts again returned to Rafe Lynch. It gnawed on him that Lynch was even in town. In his town, dammit! Well, not actually his. The settlers had christened it Fury after his father, Jedediah Fury, a legendary wagon master who had been killed on the trail coming out from Kansas City. He supposed the place's name was attractive to scofflaws, but they seemed (out of all proportion) drawn to the tiny, peaceful town in the Arizona Territory. Why couldn't they ride on over to Mendacity or Rage or Suicide or Hanged Dog or Ravaged Nuns?
He shivered. Now, there was a town he didn't want anything to do with!
His sand-gritted eyes were weary and so was he. He glanced up at the wall clock again. Three-thirty. No way that Ward was going to make it down here on time, if he came at all. It wouldn't hurt him to get a little shut-eye, he figured, and so he put his head down on his dusty arms, which were folded on the desk.
Despite the battering storm outside, he was asleep in five minutes.
Roughly twenty-five miles to the west of Fury, a small train of Conestoga wagons fought their way through the dust storm. Riley Havens, the wagon master, had seen it coming: the sky growing darker to the east, the wind coming up, the way the livestock skittered on the ends of their tie ropes, and the occasional dust devils that swirled their way across the expanses on either side of them.
But now the edge of the darkness was upon them, and if Riley was correct, they were in for one whiptail monster of a dust storm. He reined in his horse and held up his hand, signaling for the wagons to halt.
Almost immediately, Ferris Bond, his ramrod for the journey, rode up on him and shouted, "What the devil is that thing, Riley? Looks like we're ridin' direct into the mouth a'hell!"
"We are," Riley replied grimly. "Get the wagons circled in. Tight."
"What about Sampson Davis? He rode off south 'bout an hour ago."
Riley didn't think twice. "Screw him," he said, and turned to help get the settlers, with their wagons and livestock, in a circle.
Down southeast of town, the storm wasn't as much sand and grit as twigs and branches, and Wash Keogh, who'd been working the same chunk of land for the past few years, was huddled in a shallow cave, along with his horse and all his worldly possessions. Well, the ones that the wind hadn't already taken, that was.
But despite the storm, Wash was a wildly happy man, because he held in his hand a hunk of gold the size of a turkey egg. It wasn't pure—there was quartz veining—but it sure enough weighed a ton and he was pretty sure that the mother lode was just upstream—up the dry creek bed, that was—just a little ways. If this damned wind would only stop blowing, well, hell! He might just turn out to be the richest man in the whole danged territory!
That thought sure put a smile on his weathered old face, but he ended up spitting out a mouthful of mud. The grit leaked in no matter how many bandannas he tied over his raggedy old face. Well, he could smile later. The main thing now was just to last out the storm.
Like him, his horse waited out the wind with his back to it and his head down. Smart critters, horses. He should have paid more attention when the gelding started acting prancy and agitated. But how could a man have paid attention to anything else when that big ol' doorstop of gold was sitting right there in his hand. He'd bet he would have missed out on the second coming if it had happened right there in front of him! And, blast it, he didn't figure Jesus would be mad at him, either! 'Course, he'd probably "suggest" that ten percent of it go to the Reverend Milcher or some other Bible thumper.
Fat chance of that!
He hunkered down against the howl of the storm to wait it out. But he was happy.
Back inside the stockaded walls of Fury—walls which had used up every tree lining the creek for five miles in either direction and used up most of the wagons, too—the wind was still whistling and whining through the cracks between the timbers. Solomon Cohen, who had been known as Saul until he changed it back to Solomon during a crisis of faith several months back, was huddled in the mercantile with Rachael, his wife, and the boys: David, Jacob, and Abraham. The back room of the mercantile was fairly tight, and so they had planted themselves there for the duration.
Solomon's crisis had come after a long time, a long time with no other Jews in town, no one else who spoke Yiddish, no one with an ancestry in common with himself or Rachael. Oh, there was her, of course, but it wasn't like having another Jewish man around to share things with, to complain with, to laugh with, and to spend the Sabbath with. How he wished for a rabbi!
And now Rachael was with child once again. He feared that they would lose this one, as they had the last two, and each night his prayers were filled with the unborn child, wishing it to be well and prosper. He didn't care whether God would give him a boy or a girl, he just heartily prayed that Jehovah would give him a child who breathed, who would grow up straight and tall, and who would be a good Jew.
Still, he wished for another Jewish presence in Fury. A man, a woman ... a family at best! His children had no prospects of marriage in this town filled with goyim.
If they were to marry, they would likely have to go away to California, to one of the big cities, like San Francisco. It was a prospect he dreaded, and he knew Rachael did, too. They had talked of it many times. They had even spoken of it long before the children's births, when they first met in New York City, and Solomon spoke of his dreams of the West and the fortunes that could be made if a man was smart and handy and careful with his money.
It had taken him over ten years (plus his marriage to Rachel and three babies, all sons) to talk her into it, but at last she relented. Although he always remembered that she had cautioned him that they didn't know if the West held any other Jews that their children could marry—or even, for that matter, would want to!
As always, she had been right, his Rachael.
He looked at her, resting fitfully on the old daybed they kept down here, her belly so swollen with child that she looked as if she might pop at any second, and he felt again a pang of love for her, for the baby. She was so beautiful, his wife. He was lucky to have her, blessed that she'd had him.
The wind hadn't yet shown any signs of lessening, and so he slouched down farther in his rocker and carefully stuck his legs out between David and Abraham, who were sound asleep on the floor. Glancing over at Jacob to make sure he was all right, too, Solomon said yet another silent prayer, then closed his eyes.
Almost instantaneously, he was asleep.
The Reverend Milcher angrily paced the center aisle between the rows of pews. Not that they had ever needed them. Not that they'd ever been filled. Not that anybody in town appeared to give a good damn.
Even though he hadn't spoken aloud, he stopped immediately and clapped his hand over his mouth. From a front pew, Lavinia, his longsuffering wife, looked up from her dusty knitting and stared at him. "Did you have an impure thought, Louis?" she asked him.
"Yes, dear," he replied, after wiping more sand from his mouth. "I thought a sinful word."
"I hope you apologized to the Lord."
"Yes, dear. I did."
He began to pace again. They were running out of food, and he needed to fill the church with folks who would donate to hear the word of the Lord. That, or bring a chicken. He had tried and tried, but nothing he did seemed to bring in the people he needed to keep his church running. And now, this infernal dust storm! Was the Lord trying to punish him? What could he have possibly done to bring down the Lord's wrath upon not only himself, but the town and everything and everyone around it?
Again, he stopped stock-still, but this time his hand went to the side of his head instead of his mouth. That was it! The dust storm! Oh, the Lord had sent him a sign as sure as anything!
"What?" he replied, distracted.
"You stopped walking again."
He pulled himself up straight. "I have had a revelation, Lavinia." Before she could ask about it, he added, "I need some time to think it through. Good night, dear." Soberly, he went to the side of the altar, opened the door, and started up the stairs.
Lavinia stood up and began to smack the dust out of the garment she'd been knitting, banging it over and over against the back of a church pew. She kept on whacking at it as if she were beating back Fury, beating back her marriage and this awful storm, beating back all the bad things in her life.
At last, she wearily stilled her hand and started upstairs.
When Jason woke, he still found himself alone, surrounded by unfettered wind whipping at the walls. And it was, according to the clock, ten forty-five. And there was no Ward in evidence.
He let out a long sigh, unfortunately accompanied by a long sandy drizzle of snot, which he quickly wiped on his shirtsleeve. Well, he should have expected it. He gave himself credit in foretelling that Ward wouldn't brave the storm in order to come down to the office. Jason just hoped he'd found himself a nice, secure place to hole up in.
Jason reminded himself to hike up to the mercantile and see if they had any caulking. That was, when the storm let up. If it ever did. He was going to make this place airtight if it killed him. There was still dust coming in around the windows and the front door, and right up through the floor. He didn't want to see what was happening around the back door, but he knew it'd be bad. It wasn't nearly as tight as the front one.
Just then, a loud bang issued from the back room, and he shot to his feet, accompanied by the soft clatter of thousands of grains of sand falling from his body and hitting the floor.
Whispering, "Dammit!" he went to the door to the back room and threw it wide. He had expected to be met by the full force of the storm and the outer door hanging off its hinges, but instead he found Ward, struggling to close the back door.
He fought back the urge to laugh, and instead helped Ward. The two men succeeded in closing and latching the door, and Ward leaned his back against it, his head drooping, his hair hanging in his eyes. Jason grinned. "You look like you been rode hard and put up wet, man."
"Feel worse," Ward replied after a moment. Then he looked Jason up and down. "You don't much look like a go-to-town slicker yourself, either, boss."
Jason smiled, then led him into the main part of the office. "There's clean water in the bucket. You want coffee, you're gonna hafta make it yourself."
Ward went to the bucket and had himself two dippers of water, then splashed another on the back of his neck. "You ever seen a storm like this?"
Jason said, "I never even heard a'one." He hadn't, either, not one like this!
"Well, I heard about 'em, but this one's sure a ripsnorter. Don't believe I ever heard tell'a one lastin' so long or goin' so hard. Oh—what I come to tell you. One'a the Milcher kids is missin'. Found the reverend out lookin' for him, but you know him—he's like buttered beef in a crisis. Made him go on home."
Jason nodded. "When'd he go missing?"
"Sometime between seven and nine-thirty. The reverend thinks he's out lookin' for the cat. She's missin', too." During the passing years, the Milcher's original cat, Chuckles, had been replaced several times. The latest one was ... well, he couldn't remember the name at the moment. But it was either a grandkitten or a great-grandkitten of Chuckles.
"Shit." Jason put his hands flat on the desk, then pushed himself up. "I reckon now's as good a time as any." He shook out his bandanna and tied it over his nose and mouth. "You rest up. Come out when you're ready."
But Ward was on his feet, his clothes dribbling sand on the floor. "Naw. I'll go with you. Four eyes are better'n two. Or so they tell me."
Jason nodded. "Appreciate it. Pull your hat brim low."
He opened the front door. He had a firm hold on the latch, but the sudden influx of wind shoved Ward off his feet and into the filing cabinets.
"You wanna warn a fella afore you do that?" he groused.
Jason didn't blame him. "Sorry, Ward."
Muttering something that Jason was glad he couldn't hear, Ward slowly got back to his feet, using his feet and hands and back for traction. He made it to the desk, and finally to the door.
Jason shouted, "We're gonna hafta get outside, then pull like crazy, okay?"
Ward nodded, and they did, each bracing a boot on either side of the doorframe. It took them nearly five minutes just until Jason lost sight of the wall clock, but eventually the door was closed and latched.
"Which kid was it?" he asked Ward over the howling wind.
Excerpted from A TOWN CALLED FURY REDEMPTION by William W. Johnstone J.A. Johnstone Copyright © 2011 by William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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