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A man haunted and changed by war?whose fingers are equally skilled in the arts of music and death?Mason Hawke has found a new home in Braggadocio, Nebraska. But a dustup in the local saloon has forced his hand, and now two bodies lie lifeless on the dirty floor?a situation an unscrupulous cattleman plans to use to his advantage.
Like Hawke, Clint Jessup is running from his past. But Jessup's sins turned him hard and greedy?and he's willing to drain bone dry a town that's trying ...
A man haunted and changed by war—whose fingers are equally skilled in the arts of music and death—Mason Hawke has found a new home in Braggadocio, Nebraska. But a dustup in the local saloon has forced his hand, and now two bodies lie lifeless on the dirty floor—a situation an unscrupulous cattleman plans to use to his advantage.
Like Hawke, Clint Jessup is running from his past. But Jessup's sins turned him hard and greedy—and he's willing to drain bone dry a town that's trying to build a future, if it puts an extra dollar in his pocket. The blood of a drifter named Mason Hawke is going to oil his money-making scheme. But it doesn't matter how many killers he sends Hawke's way, because the target plays by his own rules: draw first, shoot fast, and keep watching your back.
St. Louis Globe
April 10, 1864
Terrible raid in Sikeston, Missouri
confederate irregulars kill women and children
Special to the Globe--Intelligence received by this newspaper says that thirty-seven people were killed when Rebel raiders invaded the town of Sikeston, Missouri. It is said that the leader of the Rebels singled out all males between the age of sixteen and sixty, led them to the center of town and shot them before the eyes of their wives and children.
It is not certain who led the raid, though initial reports stated that that the leader was none other than William Quantrill. However, subsequent information suggests that it was more likely either "Bloody Quint" Wilson or Jesse "the Executioner" Cole.
The attack, it is said, took place just at sunrise, catching many of Sikeston's citizens during their morning ablutions. There appeared to be no military purpose to the raid, which resulted only in wanton killing and the looting and burning of homes.
"Are you sure the train will stop here, Major?" Kincaid asked.
"The train has to have water, doesn't it, Sergeant?" Jesse Cole replied.
"I reckon so," Kincaid answered.
Jesse pointed to the water tower that stood alongside the railroad tracks.
"Well, there's the water. That means the trainwill stop."
Jesse climbed up the rock-covered berm and stood on the track, looking back toward the east. "I sure wish it was a little darker, though."
The full moon made it almost as light as day, making the twin ribbons of steel gleam softly.
"Hey, Jesse, do you really think there is Yankee gold on that train?" Gus asked.
"It's Major Cole, not Jesse," Kincaid said, correcting him.
"I didn't mean no disrespect or nothin'," Gus said. "But technically, he ain't no major. The Confederate Congress ain't never give him a commission."
"No, but West Point did, and that's good enough for me," Kincaid said.
"West Point is a Yankee school," Gus said.
"Robert E. Lee went to West Point," Kincaid said.
"Yeah, I guess you're right," Gus agreed.
"So, what about it, Major? Do you really think there is Yankee gold on the train?"
"According to the letter that was on that courier we killed the other day, there is," Jesse said.
"What are we going to do with it? I mean, with the Yankees all around us, there's no way we can give it to the Confederate cause."
"We're Confederates, aren't we?" Jesse replied. "We'll just give it to ourselves."
"Yeah!" Kincaid said. "Yeah, now I like that idea. I like that a lot!"
"The only thing is, if there is Yankee gold on that train, then there's bound to be Yankee soldiers as well," Gus said.
"What if there is?" Jesse replied. "We've killed Yankees before, haven't we?"
Gus laughed. "Yeah, we have at that. Fact is, I reckon Cole's Raiders have killed more Yankees than just about anybody. More'n Quantrill or Anderson, or Quint Wilson."
From behind, they heard the sound of someone urinating.
"Damn, Van, that's the third or fourth time you've taken a piss since we got here," Kincaid said. "What's the matter? Have you got a leak in you, somewhere?"
"I can't help it," Van said as he finished his business and buttoned his pants. "I'm nervous, and whenever I get nervous, I pee."
"Yeah, well, there's nothin' to be nervous about, is there, Major? I mean there are ten of us and there isn't likely to be any more'n a hundred or so of the Yankee soldiers. I'd say the odds were about even." Kincaid laughed at his own observation.
"It's Sergeant Kincaid," Kincaid corrected.
"All right, Sergeant Kincaid. You're as full of shit as a Christmas goose," Gus said, and the others laughed as well. "How many soldiers do you think they'll have, Jesse . . . uh, I mean, Major."
"Probably no more than three or four to guard the gold," Jesse answered.
In the distance the men heard the long, lonesome wail of a train whistle.
"There it is," Jesse said. "Sergeant, get the men in position, and stay out of sight until I give the word."
"Yes, sir," Kincaid answered.
"I don't see it yet," Van said.
"You will. Just keep looking that way," Jesse said.
They heard the whistle a couple more times before they saw it. And even then they didn't see the train, but they did see the head lamp, a gas flame behind a glass, set in front of a mirrored reflector. The reflector gathered all the light from the gas flame, intensified it, and then projected it forward in a long beam that stabbed ahead, picking up insects to gleam in the light.
The train whistled again, and this time they could hear the puffing of the steam engine as it labored hard to pull the train through the night.
"Remember, nobody makes a move until I give the order," Jesse said. "We don't want to take a chance on being seen."
Jesse walked up onto the track and stayed there until all his men were in position. He looked to see if any of them could be seen from the approaching train, then, satisfied that they could not, he ran back down to join them. He watched the train approach, listening to the puffs of steam as it escaped from the pistons. He could see bright sparks embedded in the heavy black smoke that poured from the flared smokestack. More sparks were falling from the fire box, leaving a carpet of orange-glowing embers laying between the rails and trailing out behind the train, glimmering for a moment or two in the darkness before finally going dark themselves.
The train began squeaking and clanging as the engineer applied the brakes. It grew slower, and slower still, until finally it approached the water tower. The engineer brought his train to a stop in exactly the right place. By now the fireman was already standing on the tender, reaching for the line that hung down from the curved mouth of the long water spout.
Excerpted from Hawke: The Law of a Fast Gun by Robert Vaughan Copyright © 2006 by Robert Vaughan. Excerpted by permission.
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