Dark Territory

Dark Territory

by Terrence McCauley

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Overview

In the boomtown of Dover Station, Montana, tracks have been laid and everyone’s looking to make a fortune, lawfully or not. And the law has something to say about it—one bullet at a time . . .
 
DOVER STATION—WHERE DEATH RIDES FASTER THAN THE WIND
 
A rash of deadly train robberies has the chief investor of Dover Station feeling itchier than a quick draw without a target. And he wants Sheriff Aaron Mackey to scratch that itch with every bullet his battered badge authorizes him to shoot. When Mackey and his backup gun down four kill-crazy bandits, they uncover a plot cooked up by respected citizens of Dover Station—someone who can pull enough strings to replace Mackey with a disgraced marshal from Texas. Now Mackey’s badge may not say much, but his gun defies all fear. Anyone who stands between Mackey and the future of Dover Station is about to become buried in the pages of history . . .
 
“Hard to put down . . . because of the gritty and stylish narrative, the virtually nonstop action.”
Publishers Weekly on Terrence McCauley’s Sympathy for the Devil

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786043446
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 03/26/2019
Series: A Sheriff Aaron Mackey Western Series , #2
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 244,304
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Terrence P. McCauley is an award-winning writer of crime fiction, thrillers, historical fiction and Westerns. His Western fiction debut, Where the Bullets Fly, received a Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award and was named Best New Western Paperback of the Year by True West magazine. His short stories have been featured in Thuglit, Spinetingler Magazine, Shotgun Honey, Big Pulp, and other publications. A Spur Award and ITW Award nominee, he is a recipient of the Silver Medal for Historical Fiction from the Military Writers Society of America. He is a member of the New York City chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, the International Crime Writers Association, and the Montana Historical Society. A proud native of the Bronx, New York, he can be found online on Facebook, Twitter or at TerrencePMcCauley.com.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Dover Station, Montana, late fall of 1888

Sheriff Aaron Mackey and Deputy Billy Sunday came running when they heard the shotgun blast from Tent City.

Mackey was not surprised to find one of the Bollard twins blocking the end of the alley between the new Municipal Building under construction and the old bakery on Second Street.

Since the man was facing the other way, Mackey could not tell which Bollard twin it was, not that it mattered. Both buffalo skinners were as big as they were mean, with the same bald head and long greasy black hair that hung practically to their shoulders.

Whichever twin this was, he was holding a smoking double-barreled shotgun at the end of the narrow alley. He was most likely drunk, too, given the way he was swaying.

The crowd that had gathered booed when the sheriff ran toward him and slammed the butt of his Winchester into the back of the bigger man's skull. Bollard timbered forward into the dense mud of Second Street. Mackey yanked the shotgun from beneath the fallen man and handed it to Billy.

His deputy opened the shotgun. "Both barrels are spent." He cast the shotgun aside. "I'll cover you from here."

The sheriff stepped over one Bollard twin to confront the other on Second Street; the heart of what had become known as Tent City. He almost gagged at the stench of over-boiled meat and drying laundry filling the cold air as he pushed through the bedraggled crowd that had gathered to watch the spectacle.

The rapid growth of Dover Station thanks to investment from the Dover Station Company had attracted too many people looking for work and not enough places to live, hence the creation of Tent City. Many who lived there had plenty of money in the bank, but nowhere to spend it except the saloons and joy houses. Such squalor tended to breed a misery of its own devising, and Tent City was no exception. They never had much occasion to cheer and made the most of it when they did.

They were cheering now.

Mackey saw the other Bollard brother was putting on quite a show, standing over a man bleeding from the kind of chest wound only a shotgun blast could make. Surprisingly, the victim was not dead yet and was doing his best to squirm free from the giant looming over him with a skinning knife.

Mackey, tall and lean, turned sideways to make himself harder to hit if Bollard pulled a gun. It also made it easier for Mackey to draw and fire the Peacemaker holstered next to his buckle if it came to that. But the sheriff made a point of keeping the barrel of the Winchester down. No sense in forcing Bollard to act and make a bad situation worse.

"Drop the knife and step away from the man, Bollard," Mackey called out. "Right now."

The crowd booed, and the big man held his ground. "Not on your life, sheriff. Not after what he done. Stabbin' my brother? Sneakin' around, stealin' other people's goods? T'aint right and you damn well knows it."

Mackey kept his eyes on Bollard when he heard Doc Ridley yelling from the boardwalk across the thoroughfare. "That man is still alive. I might be able to save him, Aaron. Get that animal away from him!"

Bollard pointed his knife at the acting mayor of Dover Station. "Don't go calling me no animal, you little bastard. Check on my brother's wounds if'n you want to be useful."

Then he pointed the knife at Mackey. "And you had no call to buffalo my brother like you done. Tom's already hurtin' and was well within his rights to shoot this son of a bitch I got right here."

The crowd of Tent City grumbled in support. Keeping his eyes on Bollard, Mackey spoke over his shoulder to his deputy. "Check on Tom for me."

"Already did," the black man whispered. "Given the amount of blood pooling into the mud around his belly, I'd say he was gutted. Can't tell for certain, but I think he's dead. Slamming that rifle butt into him probably didn't help much, though."

The sheriff was glad Billy had kept his voice down. The crowd might riot of they knew Tom was already dead and the situation would quickly spin out of control.

Despite Mackey and Billy's best efforts, the law had a tenuous grip on Tent City. A riot would make him lose control of the ragtag settlement forever. He had no intention of allowing that to happen.

"I told you to do something, Bollard." Mackey raised the Winchester and placed the butt of the rifle on his right hip, careful not to aim it at him. "I won't tell you again."

"And I ain't heeled like you," Bollard yelled. "Toss yer guns and we'll talk."

"That's not going to happen." Mackey switched the Winchester to his left hand, once more keeping it aimed down at the mud. But his hand was on his buckle, near the Peacemaker holstered at his belly. "Now we're even. Drop the knife like I told you."

But Bollard refused. "Not good enough. I seen what you can do with a pistol and that cross-belly draw you got. You and that Negro ya brung with ya."

Emboldened by a cheer from the crowd, Bollard said, "Both of you toss all yer guns and we can parlay." He grabbed a handful of the dying man's hair and yanked up his head to the delight of the crowd. "Or, so help me, I take me the scalp I intend on gettin'."

Doc Ridley jostled to keep his place in the bustling crowd. "Aaron, there's no time for this!"

Mackey agreed.

In one fluid motion, he drew his Peacemaker and fired. The shot slammed into the center of Bollard's chest and sent the big man tumbling backward into his makeshift tent, snapping the post as he fell. He was quickly buried by the scraps of tarp and rags and animal hides he had used to make his home.

Mackey aimed the pistol at the crowd of men barring Doc Ridley's way. Every one of them froze. "Step aside and let him through."

The crowd reluctantly separated enough to let the doctor stumble into the street with his black medical bag at his side. The smallish man forgot about his own dignity as he ran as quickly as he could manage through the dense mud of Second Street to tend to the victim.

No one stepped forward to help him, including Mackey or Billy. The two lawmen eyed the crowd steadily. The Tent City residents were an unfamiliar bunch and in a damned restless mood. Mackey knew they were unhappy that the sheriff had disrupted their show. And given how badly Mackey and Billy were outnumbered, the best they could do was watch the doctor's back while he tried to save the shotgun victim's life.

Mackey kept an eye on the crowd as Ridley ducked under the collapsed tent and knelt beside his patient. He and the town doctor had never gotten along until recently. Ridley was a pious, religious man who had helped settle Dover Station after the War Between the States. Ridley often objected to Mackey's strict enforcement of the law, claiming his methods were against God's law. Doc Ridley had often told him, "Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's right."

But after Darabont's siege on the town, the two men had attained an unspoken respect for each other. He was the town's acting mayor until a new one could be elected the following month. But Ridley had never been a politician. He was a believer in humanity and in his own skill at easing the suffering of his patients. That was what he was trying to do now as he knelt in the mud, struggling to save the life of a stranger.

Mackey could see by the way the proud doctor's shoulders sagged that the struggle had ended.

Ridley slowly stood, looked over at Mackey and shook his head. "He's gone. The blast took out half of his throat. I'm surprised he managed to hold on for as long as he did. He must have been a very strong man. Young, too."

He glared at the people looking at him from their tents and their spots along the boardwalk. "Like most of you. Young and in a bad way, fighting against the world. It isn't bad enough that you have to live like this, do you have to kill each other, too?" His voice rose to a shrill. "I hope you bastards are happy. You certainly got your show, didn't you?"

Mackey called out to the crowd. "Anybody know the stranger's name?"

A man in the crowd said. "I see three dead men, sheriff." The man was tall and skinny with a misshapen hat, a scraggily gray beard, and clothes that were little more than rags. "Three hard working men ground to dust in the machinery of this place. The gears of greed have been oiled today by the blood of the workers."

A murmur went through the crowd, and the man continued. "We must make sure their deaths were not in vain."

Another murmur went through the crowd. It was clear they knew him, but Mackey had never seen him before. "Step forward. I want to talk to you."

But the gaunt man did not step forward. "And what if I don't, sheriff? Will you shoot me, too? I think you've done enough of the Dover Station Company's bidding for one day, don't you?"

The man stepped back and the crowd shifted to block Mackey's view of him. The sheriff decided not to push the matter.

The quicker they got out of there, the better. He gestured toward six young men standing near Doc Ridley. "Go fetch a flatbed, load up the bodies, and take them over to Cy Wallach's place for preparation for burial. And make sure you bring the wagon back where it belongs after you're done."

The six men looked at each other and laughed, embarrassed by the sudden attention and unsure of what to do.

But Mackey didn't laugh. He hadn't holstered his Peacemaker yet, either. "You boys just saw what happens when people defy me."

The six men bolted like scared horses. Mackey tucked the pistol back into his holster and shifted the Winchester to his right hand. "Go with them, doc. Make sure they don't forget what they're supposed to be doing."

Ridley looked down at the dead young man, whose worn shoes were sticking out from beneath the ruined tent. "What are any of us supposed to be doing, Aaron?" He looked at the half-built buildings and the tents and shacks of Second Street. "This used to be a fine place to live. Now look at it. Being torn down and rebuilt, only to be made worse than it was before. People living like pigs in the mud and squalor? Workers dropping from exhaustion? Is this what progress is supposed to look like?"

First, a bunch of nonsense from a mouthy stranger, now poor Doc Ridley was getting in on the act. Mackey had no intention of discussing weighty subjects in the middle of Tent City. The longer they stood among the mob, the more likely they were to become targets.

"There'll be plenty of time for questions later, doc. Right now, we have to clear these bodies off the street, and I'd appreciate your help doing it."

As Doc Ridley reluctantly followed the six men, Mackey turned his attention to the Bollard twin he had hit.

Billy had managed to roll the big man onto his back, despite the thickness of the mud. There was a large gash at the man's belly.

"Looks like I was right," Billy said. "Bollard, too. His brother wasn't staggering because he was drunk. He caught a bad one in the belly before he blasted that man."

"Didn't give him the right to scalp anyone," Mackey said, "but at least we know why it happened."

Mackey felt all the eyes of Tent City on him and decided this was no time to leave. It was dangerous to turn away from a mob, especially when it was watching your every move. He had to say something.

"I know none of you wants to be living like this, but it's the best any of us can do until more houses get built. A lot of people want me to break up this place and send you up to the old mining camps and logging camps Darabont burned out when he attacked the town. Since the company hasn't rebuilt them yet, I don't want to do that."

He made a point of looking as many of them in the eye as he could. "But I won't have a choice if things around here get out of hand. You've all got a hard time of it here. I know that. But don't make it worse by stealing and killing each other. Don't make me come back." He looked at the collapsed tent that partially hid the two corpses. He pointed at the dead man in the mud at his feet. "You won't like it if I do."

Mackey stood alone as he watched the grumbling crowd slowly ebb away, ducking back into their tents or shacks or moving elsewhere. He made a point of stepping up onto the boardwalk and walking back toward the jailhouse. When the crowd had thinned out enough, he looked down at the dead man at his feet.

"Big son of a bitch, wasn't he?" Billy observed.

Talking about it would not make him any smaller. "You grab one arm, and I'll grab the other. Drag him over to the others. Might as well let Doc Ridley and his new friends make one trip of it."

With their rifles in one hand and one of Bollard's arms in the other, the men grunted under the weight of the corpse.

Billy said, "Can't believe we lost both Bollard boys in a single morning. The world may never recover."

Mackey struggled to keep hold of his rifle as they dragged Bollard's deadweight through the mud. "I'm sure they've got brothers. Bastards usually do."

When they had finally dropped the corpse next to his brother, Mackey noticed ten or so stragglers scattered around the boardwalks and the alleys along Second Street. He recognized the look in their eyes. They might not have been sporting feathers, but they were vultures just the same.

Billy had noticed them, too. "How long after we leave before they strip these bodies? Tent, too?"

"Fifteen seconds after we turn our backs," Mackey said. "At most."

Mackey and Billy raised their rifles as a group of men came barreling toward him. Mackey thought an angry mob from Tent City had come to avenge the death of the Bollard brothers. The riot was finally starting.

But they quickly lowered their weapons when they recognized the men as some of the ironworkers who were building the Municipal Building.

Mackey called out to them. "What's going on?"

Another man said, "You'd better come quick, sheriff. Jed Eddows is fixing to hang Foreman Ross right now before God and everyone!"

Billy trailed behind Mackey as they ran. "So much for a quiet morning in Dover Station."

CHAPTER 2

A stiff wind blew up Front Street as Sheriff Mackey gauged the situation.

It was not good.

Three stories above, framed against the gray sky of a coming storm, Mackey saw the wiry Jed Eddows had not only bound and gagged the portly foreman Jay Ross. He was also holding him at the edge of the scaffold by the back of the foreman's pants.

Eddows had cinched a noose around Ross's neck, and the sheriff had no doubt the other end had been secured to one of the many iron beams of the building. Mackey hoped Eddows was stronger than he looked, or Ross would be dead before they had a chance to talk.

The wind took most of what Eddows shouted down at him, but Mackey caught the gist of it. "You stay right where you are, sheriff. And that buck you have for a deputy best stay on the porch where he belongs. Either of you take one step toward this building, and I swear to God my oppressor will hang!"

Mackey squinted to make sure this was really Jed Eddows talking. He had always considered Eddows to be a quiet, forgettable man who came and went from his job at the Municipal Building construction site without incident or notice. He had never spent time in jail for being drunk or disorderly. In fact, Mackey only knew his name from hearing it called out so often during the summer while Mackey and Billy sat on the jailhouse porch, watching the future of the town rise across the street.

But judging from the amount of blood he could see on the foreman's shirt and the swelling about his head and face, Mackey now knew that a quiet fury had been building inside Eddows for some time. He had given his foreman one hell of a beating before trussing him up and bringing him outside to hang.

There would be plenty of time to find out why this had happened. Right now, he had to find a way to keep a skinny man from allowing a fat man to hang from the biggest construction site in the territory.

From behind him, Mackey heard Billy call out, "I'm not going near you, Eddows. I'm just going to speak to the sheriff about how to keep anyone from getting too close to you. I won't go an inch past him, I promise."

Eddows stammered before saying, "You try anything, black boy, and Ross hangs. Understand?"

Billy stopped a few paces behind the sheriff. "Let me shoot this son of a bitch, Aaron. I can take his head off with the Sharps, even in this wind."

Mackey had to hold on to his hat by the brim to keep it on his head. He had no doubt Billy could hit him, especially with that buffalo gun he carried. Billy Sunday had been the best shot in the outfit when they had served together in the cavalry, and his skills had only improved in the years since.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Dark Territory"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Terrence McCauley.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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