The Big Gundown

The Big Gundown

by Bill Brooks


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The Big Gundown by Bill Brooks

A talented healer forced to become a fugitive for a killing he wasn't responsible for, Jake Horn found sanctuary in the rough Dakota town of Sweet Sorrow — and in the tin badge that marks him as the local law. Now his discovery of a dead ranch hand is bringing his demons home.

As a doctor and a sheriff, Jake's witnessed death in all its dark guises — and he recognizes a murder when he sees one. But asking too many questions of the wrong people is asking for trouble, and suddenly expert killers are gathering with their sights on a lawman who's got a need to see justice done. The big gundown is coming, as relentlessly as the winter snow whipping across the prairie. And there's nowhere for a good man to hide when five shooters blinded by hate won't leave Sweet Sorrow until he's dead.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781405682596
Publisher: Chivers North America
Publication date: 06/01/2009
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)

About the Author

Bill Brooks is an author of eighteen novels of historical and frontier fiction. He lives in North Carolina.

Read an Excerpt

Dakota Lawman: The Big Gundown

Chapter One

The way they found Nat Pickett was they'd been hunting for geese.

Toussaint had invited Jake to go hunting with him.

"Karen wants me to hunt her a goose for Thanksgiving," he said. "And since she's inviting you to dinner, I figure you might want to help me shoot one."

"It's the first I heard about it, being invited to dinner," Jake said.

"Well, she told me to ask you. I figure two of us will stand a better chance of shooting a goose than if just one of us was to go."

"Goose, huh?"

"Said it's traditional in her family. She's German, you know how they are. She wants to give the boy a nice traditional dinner, I guess me and you too. She's over to Otis's store right now buying the rest of the works, candied yams and that sort of thing. Says all she needs now is a nice fat goose."

"I don't have a goose gun to shoot with," Jake said.

"Hell, I got a pair of shotguns."

"What time?"

"Need to be there when it gets light -- the place where the geese are. Meet me out to our place. We'll follow up along the creek to a little lake where I think we might catch a few of those suckers napping."

"About dinner . . ." Jake said.

"What about it?"

"You think Karen would mind if I brought a friend or three?"

The breed's eyebrows arched.

"Clara and her two girls," Jake said.

"Sure, bring 'em along. Little Stephen will be glad to have playmates."

"Okay then, tomorrow, your place, before daylight."

"A good hour or so before so we can make that little lake, be sitting there with our guns ready. They see usriding in, they'll fly off.We have to be therewaiting for 'em."

"That's how you hunt them, huh?"

Toussaint shrugged, said, "Hell, I guess, I never did hunt any; it's just what I heard from some others who have hunted 'em."

"And if we don't get lucky?"

Toussaint looked toward the mercantile where his wife and stepson went.

"Hell, then I guess we'll feast on candied yams."

The next morning Jake rode through the black cold, the sky poked full of stars. That hour not even coyotes howled. Everything was asleep except for men wanting to go goose hunting.

He was still thinking about the supper he'd had the night before at Clara Fallon's house. Clara and her girls sitting around the table with him, talking amicably. He liked them all a lot, and being there with them like that caused him to feel halfway normal again. It didn't take very much imagination to think of them all as family. Later, after Clara put the girls to bed, they sat and talked awhile longer. Then when he got up to put his coat on she stopped him, said, "Jake," and he knew what she wanted and she must have known what he wanted too.

"It's terribly cold tonight," she said. The wind had been bothering the windows all evening. They could hear it keening outside. It had a lonesome sound to it, like a train whistle or the howl of a lost wolf.

"You want me to stay, Clara?" he said.

She didn't say anything but instead took him by the hand and led him to the back bedroom and set the lit lamp there by the bed and he watched her start to unbutton her dress.

"I don't want you to think this is something I'd do with just anybody," she said. He liked how the light fell soft on her face, leaving some of it in shadows. He came and took her hands away and undid the buttons himself, slowly, allowing time for her to change her mind if she wanted.

"I don't think this is something you'd do with just anyone, Clara."

Her hands now free of the undressing stroked the sides of his face then brought it down closer to her own and their lips touched softly, as though they were old friends who'd not seen each other in a very long time. Their kiss was tentative at first, then they kissed again, their need more needy, and each time thereafter more still, even as his hands worked at the buttons, even as hers fell to raising his shirt over his head. As clothes dropped away, they found themselves in the most passionate of embraces. The lamplight flickered against the flocked wallpaper, causing their shadows to loom large until he reached over and turned down the wick and the light went out of the room and all that was left was just their breathing, their whispers to each other there in the darkness, their bodies entwined and falling to the bed. But he could still see her in his mind and she could see him.

She said his name again and he said hers.

And later he lay with her in his arms, staring into the darkness and wondering if he'd done the right thing. For trouble was still a hound with a fine nose that pursued him and wouldn't easily give up. And in spite of his not wanting to, he could not help but think of the last woman he'd been intimate with, the one who had betrayed him. And her betrayal would ultimately cause men to once again come looking for him, men who would either want to kill or capture him for a murder he did not commit, but one he could not prove himself innocent of either.

"Jake?" Clara said softly after long moments of silence.

He stroked her hair, said, "Can we just savor this moment?"

He could feel her nodding against his bare shoulder.

In a little while her breathing grew heavy and he was pleased that she felt safe enough with him to fall asleep, for to sleep with another was to be completely vulnerable. He set a clock in his own head, a habit . . .

Dakota Lawman: The Big Gundown. Copyright © by Bill Brooks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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