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Mason Hawke just wants to be left alone. Born with a musician's hands, Hawke has spent the past decade using his lightning?quick fingers to deal death instead of tunes, moving from one town to the next hoping to mute the voices of the dead that continually ring in his ears. But while playing piano in a two?bit saloon in Nebraska, Hawke witnesses a couple of roughnecks gun down a friend of his, and a few seconds later, the killer falls, by Hawke's hand. To honor his dead friend, Hawke travels to her home in New ...
Mason Hawke just wants to be left alone. Born with a musician's hands, Hawke has spent the past decade using his lightning–quick fingers to deal death instead of tunes, moving from one town to the next hoping to mute the voices of the dead that continually ring in his ears. But while playing piano in a two–bit saloon in Nebraska, Hawke witnesses a couple of roughnecks gun down a friend of his, and a few seconds later, the killer falls, by Hawke's hand. To honor his dead friend, Hawke travels to her home in New Orleans, but trouble seems to follow Mason Hawke like a hungry dog, and within days, he has put a bullet into a gun–toting thief.
But what should have been a simple act of justice becomes the beginning of a hunt. The man who Hawke shot was part of a business, part of a group, and that group is now determined to take revenge on Mason Hawke. That last tune in Nebraska began a trail that would take him on a winding road, to New Orleans, Missouri, and finally Kansas, before the vendetta that began in Nebraska can finally be put to rest.
When Mason Hawke returned from the Civil War he found, like many of his fellow Civil War veterans, that there was nothing left for him at home. So Hawke became a wandering minstrel, playing the piano in saloons and bawdy houses throughout the West. What practically no one who heard him playing "Cowboy Joe," or "Buffalo Gals" realized was that he was one of the most accomplished pianists in the world, having once played before the crowned heads of Europe.
That was a whole world and half a lifetime behind him, and Hawke never looked back in regret, never thought of what might have been. Instead, he continued to wander, knowing that somewhere on the other side of the next range of hills, or just beyond the horizon, there would be another town, another saloon, and another piano.
A seamstress in Texas thought he might be looking for love and she made herself available, but it didn't work out. A circuit-riding preacher told him he was looking for his soul . . . and Hawke agreed; at least in so much as he knew that his was a lost soul, but he had not yet found it.
Hawke did not openly seek trouble, but neither would he back away from it, and hotheaded hooligans would sometimes mistake the piano player for an easy mark. He had been pushed into more than one gunfight, and if truth were known, his adversaries did not always have to push that hard to get him to respond. When pushed into a fight, more often than not, someone would die. And then it would be time for Hawke to move on again.
It was that wanderlust that brought him to Nebraska City, Nebraska. He had just finished playing a set when the female proprietor of the saloon walked over to the piano carrying a mug of golden liquid, with a high, foaming head. She handed the beer to Hawke.
"Thanks, Callie," Hawke said. He blew away some of the foam, then took a drink.
Hawke was nearly six feet tall, clean shaven, with a square jaw and penetrating blue eyes. As always when he was working, he dressed well and at this moment was wearing a white ruffled shirt that was poked down into dark blue trousers. A fawn-colored jacket and crimson cravat completed his ensemble.
"Have you ever been to New Orleans, Mr. Hawke?" Big Callie Mouchette asked.
Big Callie got her nickname from her size. She was six feet tall and weighed three hundred and fifty pounds.
"No, I never have."
"You should go -- someday. I'm from New Orleans, you know. You would love it there. In the theaters and opera houses you will find talented musicians playing beautiful music. And the food! Well, let's just say I didn't get to be this size by accident."
"You are a good, healthy-sized woman," Hawke said.
Big Callie laughed out loud, a robust, booming laughter that could be heard throughout the saloon.
" 'Healthy-sized'?" she said. She put her arms around Hawke's head and pulled him in between her massive breasts. "You are delightful, Mr. Hawke. Absolutely delightful. It was a fortunate day for all of us when you brought your charm and talent to Nebraska City. Now, play something for me. I'm going to sit right over there at that table and listen."
Hawke began playing "Lorena," a plaintive melody.
Hawke had been playing the piano at the Trail's End saloon in Nebraska City for two months now. Two months was an exceptionally long time for him to stay in one place and he was thinking about moving on, but the piano here was considerably better than the pianos he had played at most of the other watering holes he had worked.
And Big Callie Mouchette was an easy woman to work for. She was good-natured and generous with her employees. She also enjoyed classical music and often let Hawke play the kind of music he liked to play. Hawke appreciated that so much that he had already stayed much longer than he ever intended.
Another thing that kept Hawke here was that his time in Nebraska City had been very peaceful. But that all came to an end when his song was interrupted by a loud shout, followed by the crashing sound of a breaking bottle.
"You cheating son of a bitch!" a man shouted angrily.
Looking toward the disturbance, Hawke saw a man standing over a table, holding a broken whiskey bottle. Across the table from him was another man, sitting in a chair. There were streaks of blood on the sitting man's face, streaming down from a wound on his scalp. The two other players in the game had backed away from the table so quickly that their own chairs were on the floor, having been knocked over by their rapid withdrawal.
"By God, nobody cheats me and gets away with it," the man holding the bottle said.
"He wasn't cheating, you, Ford," one of the other players said.
"The hell he wasn't. I ain't won a hand in the last hour." Ford put the bottle down and reached for the money that was piled up in the middle of the table. "I'm just goin' to take this pot to make up for it."
"That's not your pot," the other player said.
Ford chuckled. "Well now, by God, it's my pot if I say it's my pot."
Big Callie, who had been sitting at her table listening to Hawke play, got up now and hurried over to the site of the disturbance. She began to treat the wounded man.
"Are you all right, Gary?" she asked, solicitously.
"Yes, ma'am," Gary answered groggily. "I'm a little woozy is all."
"If I catch you cheating again, you'll be more than a little woozy. You'll be a little dead," Ford said contemptuously as he started to put the money in his hat.
Excerpted from Hawke: Vendetta Trail by Robert Vaughan Copyright © 2005 by Robert Vaughan.
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Posted February 20, 2011
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