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Savage Texas Seven Days to Hell
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Spud Barker went to the Sunrise Café in Weatherford, Texas, to chow down on his daily breakfast feed. He didn't know it but his regular routine was about to be rudely interrupted. He was heavyset with a face like a fresh-dug potato: gnarly, lumpy, and none too clean, thus giving rise to his handle, "Spud." He dressed like a businessman and wore no gun in plain view. He was trailed by two bodyguards, Vic Terrill and Chubb Driscoll. Terrill had a face like a horse's clean-picked skull, long, bony, and dead-white. Driscoll was an unjolly fat man with the permanent expression of a colicky baby.
The Sunrise Café was the best eatery in town, in the county for that matter. Which wasn't saying much. To be a regular there meant one had arrived, was an insider. It gave one prestige — so Spud Barker reckoned. He liked to see and be seen there. The food was good, too. Spud was a big eater.
Sunrise Café at weekday breakfast time was the last place he expected to find trouble. This morning trouble would find him.
It was about eight in the morning and the breakfast rush was over. Westerners were early risers generally and Weatherford folk were no exception. About a dozen patrons were scattered among the tables on both sides of the central aisle.
Among them but not of them was Sam Heller, no citizen of Weatherford he. He sat alone at a front table facing a window, which gave him a view of the entrance and beyond to the town square.
He was laying for Spud Barker, and when he saw him coming he rose from his chair and quietly sidled over to the front door, standing to one side of it.
Sam Heller was a yellow-haired and bearded well-armed titan in buckskins and denim. A Yankee born and bred, he was Texas sized, standing several inches above six feet, broad shouldered, raw boned, long limbed.
A Northerner who stood alone in Texas 1867, when the War Between the States was recent history and Yankee-hating by the populace was the rule rather than the exception, had to be able to take care of himself.
Sam Heller was such a man.
No one in the café knew him. They didn't know he was a Yankee, didn't know him from Adam. They were blissfully unaware he was about to set in motion a chain of events guaranteed to generate considerable bad feelings.
Sam felt good about the prospect.
Spud Barker came in first, then Terrill, then Driscoll. None of them spared more than a passing glance at the big galoot gawking at the picture on the wall. Their minds were on their bellies for they were hungry. More, they assumed they were safe on home ground. Spud's bodyguards had perhaps grown too comfortable in the seeming security of familiar everyday surroundings.
They moved toward Spud's usual table on the left-hand side of the dining room, comfortably set back from the strong morning sunlight filtering through red-and-white-checked curtains that covered the pair of windows bracketing the front door.
The first warning Spud Barker had that something was amiss was a sudden sense of rushing motion in the immediate vicinity. That was the sound of Sam Heller coming up fast behind Terrill and Driscoll.
He grabbed each of them by the back of the collar and slammed their heads together, making a loud thumping noise. Chubb Driscoll took the brunt of the hit, eyes rolling up in his head as he went down, hitting the floor.
Vic Terrill went wobbly at the knees but stayed on his feet, stunned, seeing stars. He went for his gun more by instinct than anything else, groping blindly for it, but before he could find it Sam grabbed his gunhand by the wrist. Terrill struggled but could make no headway against Sam's iron grip.
Sam used the arm as a handle to swing the bodyguard hard against the wall on the left. Terrill hit an empty table along the way, rocking it but not knocking it over, upending several chairs.
Terrill slammed into the wall, crying out. Sam closed in on him, powering a pile-driving right uppercut that connected square on the point of Terrill's chin. Terrill's head snapped back, hitting the wall. His eyes showed all-whites, his face went senselessly slack.
Sam's fist was cocked, ready to deliver a follow-up blow but it was unneeded. Terrill was out cold. He folded at the knees, sliding down the wall with his back to it, falling in a crumpled heap at Sam's feet.
Spud Barker's bodyguards had been put out of commission in less than thirty seconds.
Sam turned, bearing down on Spud. It had all happened so fast that Spud hadn't had time to react. Now he did. He felt the Fear.
Spud's mouth went cotton-dry and his belly felt like the bottom dropped out of it. His hands flew up in front of him in a warding gesture: "No! Don't —"
Chubb Driscoll stirred on the floor, groggy, glassy eyed. Getting on hands and knees and trying to rise.
Sam swerved from his path toward Spud to kick Driscoll in the head. Driscoll flopped down and out.
The distraction gave Spud time to recover some of his wits. He started to reach toward his right-side jacket pocket for an object inside that made a suspicious bulge.
Before he could put a hand in his pocket, he was the recipient of a punch in the face that rocked him back on his heels, sending him hurtling backward. Sam crowded Spud, giving him no time to recover.
Sam grabbed Spud by the lapels, holding him upright and giving him a good shaking.
"W-what are you p-p-icking on me for? I don't even know you —"
"But I know you, Spud," Sam Heller interrupted.
Sam had set his attack inside the café to maximize the element of surprise, hitting his targeted men where and when they would least expect it.
He now wanted to take the action outside where there was less chance of innocent bystanders being hurt.
The windows flanking the front door caught his eye — and Sam was a direct actionist.
He grabbed Spud's collar by the scruff of the neck, his other hand gripping the top of the man's belt and waistband at the small of Spud's back.
Sam heaved upward, lifting Spud until only the toes of his boots were touching the floor, hustling him toward the front of the building.
Sam was giving Spud Barker the "bum's rush," a technique well known to bartenders and bouncers for ejecting belligerent drunks and troublemakers from the premises with a maximum of haste and a minimum of fuss.
"No! — What're you doing? Stop! You loco? Stop, stop! —" came Spud's wailing cries as he was swept forward toward a window to one side of the entrance.
"No, don't — !"
Sam stopped short, using his momentum to help heave Spud headfirst into the window.
It was closed.
Sam manhandled Spud Barker like pitching a hay bale into a wagon. A clean toss!
Spud hit the window in a tremendous explosion of shattered glass, splintered wood, red-and-white-checked curtains, and brass curtain rods — gone, now.
He spewed through the window frame into the outer air, landing with a bone-jarring thud on the boardwalk porch fronting the café.
Spud lay still, unmoving. After a pause he started groaning and twitching.
Sam grinned. He wasn't done with Spud Barker yet, not hardly. But first he had to make sure his rear lines were secure. That meant ensuring the bodyguards were still out of commission and stayed that way.
Sam turned, facing inward to the café. The customers were townsfolk mostly, judging by their clothes, and a few ranchers. They seemed a fairly prosperous lot.
Now they looked like a bomb had gone off. Sam's sudden outburst of violence had come as unexpectedly as a thunderbolt crashing out of a clear blue sky.
Customers and staffers alike tried to make themselves very still and small to avoid drawing Sam's notice. They looked away, not meeting his eyes.
Well and good. Part of the reason for Sam's shock tactics was to cow them into submission so none would be minded to interfere. Which took some doing with stiff-necked Texas men but so far it seemed to be working.
Vic Terrill lay sprawled on the floor, inert, unconscious. But Chubb Driscoll was showing signs of life.
Driscoll had managed to drag himself to an upright support pillar. The side of his face where Sam had kicked him was bruised with an eye swollen shut. His good eye glared hatefully, rolling this way and that. Sam started toward him. Chubb Driscoll went for his gun, pawing at it. Sam came on, not breaking stride. He grabbed a table chair and threw it at Driscoll. Driscoll had his gun in hand, he opened his mouth to shout —
The chair hit hard, breaking apart, silencing his outcry. Chubb Driscoll didn't break, but the hit didn't do him any good, either. He went limp, slumping to the floor.
Busting up the café was one thing but a shoot-out was a horse of a different color. Sam took his chances as they came but he'd hate like hell for some luckless breakfaster to catch a bullet right in the middle of his or her ham and eggs.
He took a look at Chubb Driscoll. Driscoll's eyes were closed, his smashed nose and lips bleeding. Was he alive or dead?
Sam didn't know. In any case the first thing to do was disarm him. Driscoll's gun was clutched in a closed fist but hadn't been fired.
Sam stepped on Driscoll's wrist, pinning his gun hand to the floor. Driscoll moaned, wincing and flinching like a dog having bad dreams.
"Alive, eh?" Sam said to himself. "But he won't be getting up any time soon."
He broke Driscoll's gun, emptying it and throwing the rounds out the broken window. He let the empty gun fall to the floor.
Sam absently rubbed the top of his big right hand, where he had skinned a couple of knuckles. He crossed to Terrill to give him the once-over. Terrill lay facedown, motionless in the spot where he'd been knocked out.
Sam grabbed a handful of Terrill's hair and raised his head off the floor to see what condition he was in. Terrill didn't so much as twitch.
Sam liked it when they stayed down after he hit them. He let go of the hair, Terrill's head flopping down.
Sam emptied Terrill's gun anyway. He wouldn't be getting a bullet in the back from either of the bodyguards any time soon.
Now he could do his business with Spud Barker undisturbed.
Sam Heller took a last look at the people in the dining room, a long hard look. Had any been minded to show fight, that steely eyed gaze stifled any fleeting impulse toward combativeness.
Sam went out. Unlike Spud Barker, he used the door.CHAPTER 2
Weatherford town was the capital of the same-named county. It lay in North Central Texas roughly along the same east-west latitude line as Dallas and Hangtree.
Dallas was a money town, Hangtree was a frontier cowtown, and Weatherford was ... what, exactly?
Weatherford town and county was a good locale for ranching and farming. It was a good locale for lawlessness, too, far enough away from Dallas to avoid attracting unwanted attention from Federal troops yet close enough to be within ready reach of the U.S. Cavalry when Commanche raiders were on the prowl.
In the war's aftermath Weatherford had attracted a bumper crop of outlaws who preyed on Hangtree, Dallas, and all points in-between ... The gangs raided neighboring communities, killing and plundering.
No lonely ranch house was too small, no settlement too large to escape their depredations. Travelers and wayfarers were prime targets. Many stagecoaches, freight haulers, and wagon trains had left their burned-out hulks scattered about the countryside.
And the sun-bleached bones of their passengers, too.
Weatherford was a clearinghouse for stolen goods. Outlaws from nearby counties disposed of their loot in town. Rustlers, robbers, bandits, and brigands all came knowing their plunder would find a ready market in the merchants of Weatherford. They paid pennies on the dollar but it added up.
People being people and times being hard, buyers and sellers alike were none too fussy about little things like titles and bills of sale for goods and livestock that changed hands.
Any fool could see that the newcomers thronging Weatherford were outlaws dealing in stolen goods, but only a bigger fool would call them on it. Such great fools tend to be short-lived.
That was Weatherford: a lot of folks doing all right by doing wrong. Making it of interest to Sam Heller, a soldier of fortune, bounty hunter, and more. Much more.
A class of men, and some women, too, had sprung up who served as contacts linking town merchants with the bandit chiefs.
These middlemen — or fences, to call them by their right name — insulated the merchants from the tricky and dangerous business of dealing directly with the outlaws in the field, providing much-needed protection for the townsmen to avoid being robbed and killed while trying to exchange money for stolen goods.
The fences took a fat cut of the profits from buyers and sellers in exchange for brokering the deals.
One such middleman was Spud Barker, making him of interest to Sam Heller.
Sam was even more interested in Loman Vard, Spud's partner. Spud took care of business in town but it was Vard who had the contacts with the outlaws. Spud was a businessman and politician, and Vard was an outlaw and killer.
Sam very much wanted to get his hands on Loman Vard, but Vard was a tough man to corner. To get at him, Sam needed a middleman: Spud Barker.
* * *
Spud Barker didn't know what hit him. Literally.
He came crashing through the café window into the fresh clean brightness of a spring morning, one he was unable to appreciate at the moment. Somehow he managed to rise to his hands and knees, head hanging down. Pieces of broken glass that had gotten stuck to his clothes fell off, making little chiming tones when they hit the wooden plank board sidewalk.
His vision swam in and out of focus. He raised his hands to his aching head. The backs of his hands and forearms were all cut up, covered with hairline bleeding scratches — his face, too. His hat was lost somewhere along the way between café and sidewalk, but that was the least of his worries.
He made quite a sight in that heretofore-quiet street scene, though there weren't too many people around to see it.
The Sunrise Café stood on the west side of the town's central square, which was lined along the sides by some of Weatherford's leading establishments. There was a bank, a hotel, the town hall, a dry goods emporium, a feed store, and so on. Also a couple of more or less respectable saloons and various shops and stores.
A few people were out on the street, mostly townsfolk running errands or doing some early shopping. They stopped what they were doing when Spud Barker exploded out the café window onto the boardwalk sidewalk. They paused to see what it was all about, staying a safe distance away.
A fancy two-wheeled buggy drawn by one horse rolled north, its driver slowing it to a halt when he came abreast of the café. The driver had a long bushy beard reaching to his collarbone. He wore a white shirt, black vest, and dark pants. He stared open mouthed, goggling at Spud Barker.
Spud stood on his knees, gingerly feeling around at the top of his head for damages and in the process dislodging more pieces of broken glass. He winced as his fingers discovered a goose egg–sized bump atop his aching noggin. The pain brought tears to his eyes. He blinked away the wetness until he could see clearly again.
Spud didn't like what he saw. A pair of boots had stepped into his field of vision. His gaze traveled upward, taking in the figure of the man looming over him — the wildman who had knocked eight bells out of his bodyguards and thrown him through the window.
Seeing Sam Heller come out of the café to hover over Spud Barker, the driver of the two-wheeled cart snapped the reins to get his horse moving up the street and away.
Sam Heller cut an impressive, even formidable, figure.
Beneath a dark, battered slouch hat his yellow hair fell to his shoulders in the go-to-hell style favored by certain U.S. Cavalry scouts, of which he had once been. That long hair taunted hostile Indians, "Take this scalp if you dare!"
By contrast Sam's beard was close cut, neatly trimmed.
He wore a gun, a .36 Navy Colt tucked handle out into his waistband over his left hip. But that was not his main weapon. That was a Winchester 1866 repeating rifle, chopped down at barrel and stock. A weapon commonly known as a mule's leg. It rested in a custom-made leather holster on his right hip.
Sam also carried a Green River knife with an eighteen-inch blade, secured on his left side in a belt-sheath low-slung enough to avoid blocking access to the Navy Colt. Like the famed Bowie knife, the Green River model was also balanced for throwing.
Excerpted from Savage Texas Seven Days to Hell by William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone. Copyright © 2017 J. A. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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