Trouble is in the cards for Clint Adams when he saunters into a saloon to quench his thirst. After hearing Clint’s name, two shady customers look to improve their standing with their prospector boss, Mr. Torquelan, by greeting the Gunsmith with guns drawn. But they quickly feel the sting of regret…
When Clint learns the gruesome twosome were motivated by a local fortune-teller named Madame Giselle, he visits the sultry psychic and discovers that she’s far more interested in the length of his love line than in cutting his life short. But the outlook is no good for Clint if he doesn’t leave town soon—because there’s no predicting what dangers the sinister Mr. Torquelan might unleash.
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Gigi removed another couple of layers. The silken fabric she wore consisted of strips of various sizes that combined to form a solid layer. The more she removed, however, the less that fabric covered. All that remained was two wide pieces. One of them hung loosely from her neck and down the front of her chest while the other was tied about her waist. Beneath the silk, pert, rounded breasts swayed as she moved, and the thatch of hair between her legs became increasingly moist. Clint realized that second fact for himself when she took his hand and guided it between her thighs.
“What?” she whispered. “What don’t you like?”
“Right now, I can’t think of a damn thing.”
She smiled and began unbuckling Clint’s belt. “Now that’s what I wanted to hear.”
Clint Adams didn’t think much of the town called Las Primas. The only reason he stopped there at all was to give his Darley Arabian stallion a much-needed drink after a hard day’s ride. Since there was a perfectly good trough in front of what looked to be a perfectly good saloon, he shrugged his shoulders and decided to kill two birds with the same stone by slaking his own thirst as well.
“Here you go, boy,” he said while tying the stallion’s reins to a post and giving his nose a few pats. “Don’t get too comfortable, though. I reckon we can still cover plenty of ground before the day is through.”
Clint and Eclipse had ridden enough miles together to cross one end of the country to the other and back again. Even though they didn’t speak the same language, horse and rider knew each other better than most people Clint had ever met. Huffing and shaking his head, Eclipse put his nose into the cool water and started to drink. Unable to resist the temptation himself, Clint dipped a hand in and then splashed some of the water onto the back of his neck before looking up at the sign hanging near the window. The words SWEET CAROLINE’S SPIRITS were written over the painting of a woman’s leg in a black stocking.
“Then again,” Clint said to the thirsty stallion, “I might just stay a short while.”
Knowing Clint as well as he did, Eclipse wasn’t surprised in the least.
As soon as he opened the front door, Clint was greeted by the sounds of a banjo being strummed to a lively melody by a man who gave him a friendly nod. He sat on a stool next to a piano that didn’t have a player at the moment and a narrow stage that was about the same length as the bar, which was built against the opposite wall. In between the two structures were tables of varying size and shape. Even though the saloon seemed to have been cobbled together from parts of several other places, none of the customers there seemed to mind one bit. Of course, the women making the rounds among those customers most likely had a hand in keeping smiles etched deeply into all those faces.
The moment Clint stepped inside, he was spotted by one of those women. She had a smoothly rounded figure and long red hair that flowed over one shoulder. Her dress was worn off the shoulders, exposing a generous amount of creamy white skin.
“Well now,” she said as she walked up to take his arm, “why haven’t I seen you around here?”
“Because I just arrived,” Clint replied.
“Consider me the welcoming committee. How about a drink?”
“You read my mind. Now let’s see if you can guess what I’m thirsty for.”
After tapping her chin in a show of deep concentration, she said, “You look like a man who prefers beer over whiskey.”
After bringing Clint over to the bar, the redhead leaned back on it to rest her elbows against the chipped wooden surface. “Now let’s see if you can guess what I want.”
Clint could almost feel her hungry gaze brushing against him as she slowly ran her eyes down below his belt. “How about I start with the beer and we’ll see about the rest in a short while?”
“Don’t you forget about me,” she said while brushing her hand along Clint’s cheek. As soon as she turned away from him, she’d already caught another man’s eye and was heading over to try her luck with him.
“No chance of that,” Clint said as he watched her hips sway beneath her skirts.
The man behind the bar was a tall fellow with the build of someone who hadn’t lifted anything heavier than a full bottle of whiskey in some time. Even though his hair was plastered to his scalp, several clumps still managed to protrude at odd angles. “Did I hear you mention wanting a beer?” he asked.
“You did,” Clint replied.
“I got something imported all the way from England. Real dark, thick stuff. Care to give it a try?”
One of the many things Clint liked about California was that even places like this one could acquire any number of fine delicacies brought into any number of ports. “Sure,” he said. “Why not?”
The barkeep set a mug onto the bar and then reached down for a clay jug. The stuff he poured from the jug looked as if it had been brewed from tar. There was a bit of light brown foam at the top, which didn’t help the beer’s appearance in the least. “On second thought . . .” Clint said warily.
Stopping him with a patient nod, the barkeep said, “I know. I thought the same thing myself when I got a look at it. Try a sip, and if you don’t care for it, I’ll find you something better.”
Clint hesitantly picked up the mug. Not only did the beer look as thick as molasses, but it was even heavier than he’d expected. He brought it to his mouth, but stopped short of letting any pass his lips. Instead, he took a few sniffs and was surprised by a rather pleasant scent. Wincing slightly, Clint took a drink.
“Well?” the barkeep asked.
“It’s not bad.” Clint took one more sip. “Don’t know if I’d make a habit of drinking this sort of thing, but I suppose I’ll finish off this one.”
“I had you pegged as a man with refined tastes!”
“Seems like everyone knew about me before I even got here,” Clint mused.
“My name’s Barry. If you need anything else, just give me a holler.”
Since the barkeep had extended his hand, Clint shook it and introduced himself as well.
“Clint Adams?” Barry said, surprised. “The Gunsmith?”
“Well, it’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Adams.”
“Call me Clint.”
“All right . . . Clint. How long you plan on being in town?”
“Not long at all.”
“If you need a room, I’ve got a few real nice ones for rent upstairs. I can also arrange for someone to keep you company as well.”
“Yeah,” Clint chuckled. “I gathered that much already.”
After putting away his jug of heavy beer, Barry went to check on his other customers.
Clint turned around so he could lean against the bar while gazing out at the rest of the saloon. There were a few card games in progress, which looked to be very small stakes. The banjo player had stopped for the moment so he could fix a broken string. The redhead was having a heated exchange with the man she’d set her sights on. As Clint watched to see if she might need someone to step in on her behalf, he caught sight of two young men who weren’t attempting to hide the fact that they were staring at him.
Raising his mug, Clint let those two know that he’d seen them as well. Neither of the younger men responded in kind, but one of them turned to the other to whisper something while hooking a thumb in Clint’s direction. Taking another sip of his beer, Clint considered finishing his drink and putting the place behind him just to prevent his pleasant day from taking a turn for the worse.
The two men came to some sort of consensus before they both shifted their focus to Clint’s portion of the bar. As they approached him, they put mean scowls on their faces and their hands upon the pistols strapped to their hips.
“So much for a restful drink,” Clint sighed.
The first of the two men to get to Clint was less than an inch taller than him and a few pounds heavier. His wide nose had obviously been broken a few times and yet his rounded cheeks still wouldn’t allow him to look like the threat he so obviously wanted to be. Planting his feet and squaring his shoulders to Clint, he asked, “What’d you say your name was?”
“I didn’t say,” Clint replied. “Not to you anyway.”
Judging by the confusion on the young man’s face, someone might have thought Clint’s response was given in an exotic foreign language. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he grunted.
“It means I didn’t say anything to you.” Nodding toward the second young man, he added, “Or to him. Why don’t the two of you find some other way to pass your time?”
The other young man was considerably smaller than the one with the broken nose. He had the wiry features of a small animal that had been trapped in a cellar long enough to eat its weaker relatives. Bony fingers clawed at a rusty Peacemaker in his holster as twitchy eyes fixed upon Clint. “I heard what he told the barkeep. He said his name was Clint Adams.”
“That true?” the first man asked.
Before Clint could respond, the second fellow said, “’Course it’s true, Paul. I heard him and so did you!”
“I wanna hear it from him,” Paul said. “What about it, mister? Are you the Gunsmith?”
Clint took a longer pull from his dark beer, savoring the way it coated his throat. The stuff had a mighty good kick to it as well, which went a long way toward making up for the consistency. “One piece of advice for your friend. What’s his name?”
“That’s Mose,” Paul said. The man with the rodent’s features beside him nodded as if he were testifying to some kind of exalted truth.
“All right, Mose. Here’s some advice. Try not to introduce yourself with your hand on your gun. That tends to make folks nervous.”
Mose shoved Paul aside so he could step up to Clint and leer at him while saying, “Damn right you’re nervous. You’d be a fool not to be when you see—”
Clint’s hand moved in a flicker of motion that could barely be seen as he reached out and snatched the pistol from Mose’s holster. He flipped the gun around and pointed it at its owner, all without taking his eyes from Mose’s face.
Paul hopped back to bump against the bar, leaving Mose to stand there slack-jawed as Clint thumbed back the Colt’s hammer.
“There,” Clint said in a steady voice. “Now we’re both nervous. Seems kind of foolish, doesn’t it?”
Mose’s mouth struggled to form words, but no sound came out. For a second or two, he looked like a beached fish gulping for its next breath. As amusing as the sight was, Clint knew it would only make matters worse if he allowed himself to laugh at the young man.
Spinning the Colt around once again, Clint left the gun dangling from his trigger finger. “Go on,” he said. “Take it.”
Hesitantly, Mose reached for the pistol. When it wasn’t pulled away, he grabbed it and stepped back. He kept his fingers wrapped around the middle of the Colt, reluctant to shift into anything that might be construed as a threat.
“You heard correct. I am Clint Adams. Something I can do for you two?”
Neither of the other two had anything to say.
“If that’s the case, I suppose I’ll be on my way,” Clint said. “I’d say it was good to meet you, but that’d be a bald-faced lie.” With that, Clint tipped his hat to them and turned to walk out the door.
Every step of the way, Clint expected to hear movement behind him. He couldn’t get a hint as to what Paul and Mose were doing from the other customers since they’d been too wrapped up in their own affairs to notice there’d been any friction between the three men at the bar in the first place.
Once he was outside, Clint stopped and immediately stepped to one side of the door. Then, he put his back against the wall and crossed his arms while taking a look up and down the street. The only thing there that caught his eye was Eclipse, who was still drinking as if he had every intention of draining the trough dry.
Clint didn’t have to wait long before the saloon’s door was pulled open again. Paul was the first one to step outside. At first, he seemed puzzled since Clint wasn’t in front of him but he quickly spotted him standing nearby.
“Shit,” he grunted in surprise while making a quick grab for his pistol.
Leaning into him, Clint snapped his right fist out to catch Paul on the chin. When Paul staggered forward while grabbing his face, Clint kicked his knee as if he were cracking a low fence rail in two. Paul’s leg didn’t break so easily, but it came out from under him quick enough. Mose was next to come through the saloon’s door, and since Paul had dropped no more than a step past the threshold, it was all he could do to keep from tripping over him on his way out.
Mose already had his gun drawn, which made it easy for Clint to decide which arm to grab. Clamping both hands around Mose’s wrist, he pulled the slender man away from the door, continuing in a semicircle to fling Mose into the wall. Mose’s chest impacted hard enough to shake the nearby window in its frame. Disarming him after that was a simple matter of Clint removing the Colt from Mose’s loose grip.
“Since you can’t seem to hang on to this Peacemaker,” Clint said, “I’ll keep it for you.”
Mose stood with his face a few inches away from the wall to which he’d just been introduced, too stunned to do much else. That left a scant few options for Paul. Naturally, he chose the wrong one by drawing his pistol as soon as he’d pulled himself up to one knee. Fortunately for Clint, Paul was even slower after getting knocked down and tripped over than he’d been at any other time.
Clint’s boot came down onto Paul’s wrist, pinning it to the boardwalk that ran outside the saloon’s main entrance. He then reached down and tapped the barrel of the Peacemaker against Paul’s temple just hard enough to draw his attention.
“You make one more move as stupid as that one and I’ll give you another knock,” Clint warned him. “Believe me when I tell you the next one won’t be nearly as gentle as the first.”
Having regained what little sense he had, Mose turned around and said, “Give me back my gun!”
“Or what?” Clint asked. “You’ll hurt me some more? Oh, wait. I’m the only one here who hasn’t been hurt just yet. There goes that threat. Care to try your luck with another?”
As Mose fumbled with the effort of coming up with a retort, Paul said, “This was a mistake.”
Removing his boot from Paul’s wrist, Clint offered him his free hand while saying, “Now that’s the first smart thing you’ve said in what I imagine has been a hell of a long time.”
“We can still do this,” Mose snarled. “It ain’t too late.”
“Shut your damn mouth,” Paul said.
“What are you two talking about?” Clint asked.
Ignoring Clint completely, Mose fixed his eyes intently on Paul and said, “She told us we could do this! It’s all we got.”
“What seems to be the problem here?” asked a man who’d decided to wander up to the small group in front of the saloon.
Clint looked over at the man who’d just spoken, fully prepared to tell him to get the hell out of his sight. He thought better about that when he noticed the tin star pinned to that man’s shirt.
“No problem here, Sheriff,” Clint said.
The lawman’s lanky build and thick, wide mustache made him look like a broom that had come to life and been given the job of keeping the peace in a small town. Narrowing his dark blue eyes, he said, “Doesn’t seem that way to me. That man’s bleeding.”
Since both Paul and Mose were slightly worse for wear, Clint wasn’t certain which of them the sheriff was referencing. “Just a friendly disagreement,” he said. “Isn’t that right?”
“Yeah,” Paul sighed. “That’s all it is.”
The sheriff looked at each of the three men in turn. “You sure about that?”
“I was just about to suggest settling the matter with a drink,” Clint said.
“Good,” the sheriff said. “You’re making a disturbance out here. Move along.”
Clint tapped the brim of his hat in a casual salute. “No problem.”
Even though Mose was still unsteady on his feet, he was less than thrilled to be sitting down. He continued griping under his breath as Paul and Clint took seats of their own around the same table inside the saloon.
“Back already?” the bartender hollered from his post.
Clint nodded. “I’ll have another one of those beers. Actually, bring some for my friends here as well.”
“Coming right up!”
“I don’t want a beer,” Mose snapped.
“Take it and shut the hell up,” Paul snarled.
“But I ain’t thirsty.”
“Then do us all a favor and drown yourself in it.”
“My guess is that the two of you aren’t exactly the best of friends,” Clint mused. “From the amount of venom in your tone, I’d say you’re brothers.”
Paul glared at Clint. “Look, you got the drop on us without taking a scratch for yourself. What do you want by keeping us here?”
“I’d like to know what the hell you two were thinking when you stepped up to me in the first place.”
“Thought you were someone else, is all.”
“No,” Clint said. “You called me by name.”
“You mentioned it to the bartender and we overheard.”
“Right, so you know damn well who I am.”
“What’s that matter? I imagine plenty of folks know who you are.”
“That’s right and the ones who introduce themselves the way you two did aren’t normally out to strike up a new correspondence with someone.”
“You think you’re so smart with all them fancy words,” Mose said through gritted teeth.
The banjo player launched into a spirited rendition of “O! Susanna” as Paul said, “Shut up, Mose.”
“You got lucky, Adams,” Mose continued. “That’s all and I bet that’s the only reason anyone knows who you are.”
“I told you to shut up. Do it. Now.”
As the two men bickered, Clint merely sat back and quietly waited for the beers to be brought over to the table by a young lady with her black hair tied into two braids. After sipping the dark brew, Clint nodded his approval over to the man who’d poured the drinks.
“Told you, didn’t I?” Barry said.
“Yes, you did,” Clint replied. When he put the mug down, Clint noticed that the other two men at the table with him were now the ones keeping quiet. “You two through snapping at each other?” Clint asked. “I’d say if I was wrong about you being brothers, the only option left is that you’re married.”
“You plan on keeping us here?” Paul asked.
“I’m no lawman,” Clint told him. “I couldn’t arrest you if I wanted to . . . which I don’t.”
Paul’s eyes wandered to the modified Colt holstered at Clint’s side. Tucked beneath that same gun belt was the Peacemaker that had been confiscated during the recent scuffle.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Clint said as he pulled the Peacemaker from his belt and slapped it down on the middle of the table. “Go on and take it.”
Neither of the men at that table with Clint was inclined to accept that offer.
Taking advantage of the nervousness he’d fostered in them, Clint asked, “Who’s the woman that told you to come after me?”
“What woman?” Paul asked.
“When we were talking before, you mentioned something along the lines that ‘she’ said you could do this and that it was your only chance.”
“I don’t recall saying that.”
“That’s because he did,” Clint said while pointing across the table at Mose. “And don’t treat me like an idiot. Who’s ‘she’?”
Mose shifted as though a campfire had been lit under his chair. Even though he didn’t look like he was about to say anything, the expression on his face said more than enough.
Paul noticed that as well and sighed at his partner’s terrible poker face. “You won’t know her,” he said.
“I know plenty of people,” Clint said. “Try me.”
“Her name is . . .” Paul glanced over to Mose, rolled his eyes, and let out another labored sigh. “Her name is Madame Giselle.”
“She run a whorehouse around here?” Clint asked.
“Sounds like the name of a woman who’d run a whorehouse.”
“Maybe so, but she don’t run a damn whorehouse,” Paul snarled. “She works down the street.”
“Opium den?” Clint asked.
“I can probably come up with a few more guesses based on her name, but it’ll be easier if you just told me.”
“This has gone on far enough,” Mose said. “We don’t have to sit here and tell this man a damn thing.”
The only part of Clint that moved was his eyes as they shifted in their sockets to look at Mose. When he spoke, his lips barely even wavered. “You will sit there and you will answer my questions. It’s the least you could do to make up for the fact that you came at me with your gun drawn for no good reason.”
Placing both hands on the table, Mose pushed his chair back and got to his feet. “Then I suppose I’m runnin’ low on courtesy because I’m fixin’ to leave anyway.”
“If respect or manners don’t mean a thing to you, then what about self-preservation?”
“You threatening me?” Mose growled unconvincingly.
Excerpted from "The Gunsmith #398"
Copyright © 2015 J. R. Roberts.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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