Tense, vivid, and surprising from the first page to the last, Here by the Bloods is an instant Western classic.
In the Shadow of Sangre de Cristo Mountains
It happens in a sudden flash of terror. A band of kill-crazy outlaws smash the bank in Caliche Bend, New Mexico. And by the fine white powder that covers everythingeven the deadeveryone knows The Snowman has struck again: for this notorious bank robber uses bags of flour to stabilize the nitroglycerin used in his dynamite blasts.
The First Blood has Been Spilled
This time the Snowman has done more than rob a bank. He has made a blood enemy. Harlan Two-Trees loved the murdered sheriff like a father, and sets off to bring the Snowman to justice. Harlan cannot guess how many times he will be betrayed, how a beautiful woman will cross his path, and how violence will rain down all around him. . . But Harlan knows this: somewhere along the line he himself must become a killerto stand a chance when he finally looks evil in the eye. . ..
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Brandon Boyce was born in Staunton, Virginia, and received a BA in English from California State University, Los Angeles. He is an accomplished screenwriter and his films include Apt Pupil, Wicker Park, and Venom. His short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. His first novel, Here by the Bloods, was published in 2014. Storm’s Thunder is his second novel. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife.
Read an Excerpt
Here By the Bloods
By Brandon Boyce
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Bullet Park Productions, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The way the clerk tell it—and the clerk, a churchgoing man name of Frank Wallace who always calls me by my name, never that other word, has no reason to lie—the four men come into the Loan and Trust together at quarter past four, brims pulled low, mascadas covering the rest. Wallace is no fool, sees their Colts drawn for business, but before he can reach for the bell cord or the ten-gauge behind the counter, the voice of the fifth man cuts him cold.
"Leave the scatter gun be." The fifth man steps in from the street and takes his time moving across the plank floor to the window where Wallace stands behind a few steel bars that seemed a lot sturdier five minutes ago. "Farley does not pay you enough to get killed, so do not be pulling on the bell either." The man flashes a snarled grin of neglected teeth stained yellow from coffee and whiskey.
Wallace wishes he had a slug of rye himself right now, because this fifth man is taking no care to conceal his face. That bothers Wallace, as if the man is daring him to remember his pocked jaw, or lake-water eyes, or hair so black you would swear he scalped it from a Chinaman. Or maybe he is saying without saying that remembering his face hardly matters because it is the last face you will ever see. That bothers Wallace even more.
"What is your business, then?" Wallace asks, keeping his eyes straight ahead and his voice strong. The fifth man smacks his lips a bit and the four with him grow perceptibly agitated by the question.
"Our business is relieving financial institutions of their fiduciary responsibility. That and blowing holes in them what try to stop us."
"Enough talk." The blue bandana muffles the tallest man's voice, but not the seriousness of its tone. He shoves the leather satchel through the window at Wallace, who takes it and clangs open the till. Wallace does not mind surrendering the hundred or so dollars in his drawer. The concern is that these men are dumber than rope and that he will pay the price for their dumbness with his life.
The real prize, any fool would know, is not the pocket money in the till, but the stout wads of bills, pallets of silver ingots, and bundles of gold coin resting under the protection of seven inches of steel in the safe behind him. And when these goats realize Wallace has not the numbers in his head to open it—only Mr. Farley has those, and he will not be here until five minutes before closing time, when the time lock releases and allows the heavy knob to turn at all—they will surely kill him in frustration. But maybe these men do not know about the safe, even though it squats in the center of the room like a green, pregnant heifer. Wallace hides these thoughts as he loads up the satchel and passes it back through the bars.
"Now open the door," the barefaced leader says.
"You have your money," says Wallace.
"We are not here for your farm boy's allowance! It's the vault we want. Now unlatch that side gate or, I swear it, I'll send a lead slug straight through your eye."
Wallace looks out at four pistols and a sixteen-gauge aimed square at his head. Resigned, he slips off his stool and thinks, Tuesday is as good a day to die as any other. The tall one in the blue mascada — a fine silk one, Wallace notes, now that he is closer to it—hovers outside the office door. Wallace keys the latch and turns the knob a twitch. The man in blue does the rest, pushing through into the office and going straight for the safe. The other men come in behind him, the leader entering last. The four hands set to clearing away all the furniture around the vault, upending tables, scraping Mr. Farley's desk to the corner, tossing chairs aside like kindling.
"Time lock," one of the men says.
"I cannot open it. Even if I wanted to," Wallace blurts out, his voice weaker now.
The leader steps up to Wallace. "No one asked you to." A lump of cold fear takes hold in the belly of Frank Wallace. The man is close enough for Wallace to smell the coffee on his breath, the boiled, cowboy kind, the drink of nomads. Beneath that is the dank, wet stench of leather, sweat, and what he believes is Mexican tobacco. But when the man grins again, letting out a half-breath of bourbon-tinged vapor, Wallace knows in that moment that these men have come from the East, riding hard. These are not broken gamblers, or rustlers in search of a stampede, or even desperate laborers from the mines, sick with boredom and hunger now that the copper has run dry. These men are professionals.
The barefaced man reaches into the burlap sack and comes out with a pound bag of wheat flour, sopped wet with liquid, like the whole lot of it had dropped in a creek without breaking open and got pulled out ten minutes later. Except this is no creek water oozing out of the paper. And that is the thing that bothers Wallace most of all, because the Snowman leaves no witnesses.
"You know what this is?" the Snowman asks through his piss-colored teeth.
"It appears to be a sack of flour," Wallace says. That lump of fear in his belly squeezes the base of his spine, leaving his voice little more than a whisper.
"And do you know the purpose of this sack of wheat flour?" Every soul in two territories knows the bandit's legend. The Snowman—so named for the simple, ingenious modus operandi represented by what he now clutches in his weathered, buckskin glove—didn't even have to ask.
About here is where poor Widow Daubman comes through the bank door that the bandits did not bother, or care, to bolt. Her eyes go big. She lets out a gasp that is more breath than sound and turns her little frame back toward the door. The nearest of the Snowman's men—the stocky one with the gray tasseled topcoat—swoops through the office door and buries his six-inch bowie through her paper skin so hard that Wallace hears her ribs crack before she hits the ground. No discussion. No gunshots. No witnesses.
The Snowman's eyes alone stay on the face of Frank Wallace, still awaiting an answer. "I say, friend, tell me to what end do I carry about this here pound of wheat flour?"
"They say it stabilizes the ni-ni-nitroglycerin." I suspect this is where Frank Wallace loses control of his bladder, but he was not as precise with that particular as he was with the rest of his account.
"I see my reputation precedes me."
The Snowman catches Wallace's gaze flicker toward the far wall, where hangs the notice of the bounty. The Snowman crosses to the posted sign and yanks it down. "Precedes me, and how." He holds the sketch up beside his own visage, inviting the comparison. "This artist has done my nose an injustice. Would you not agree, friend?"
Wallace need not answer. Despite its vagueness, there is not a curve of the rendering, nor a word of the type, that Wallace has not committed to memory:
for MURDER and BANK ROBBERY
A. K. A. THE SNOWMAN
$10,000 Dead or Alive
$3,000 for all known accomplices
In truth, the artist had done the Snowman a service, tempering the more pronounced Roman nose—presently huffing at Wallace—with a charcoal retelling of no discernable distinction, but no grotesqueness either. The sketch is blocky and indiscriminate, a product of winnowed hearsay and conjecture. The Snowman leaves no witnesses.
The fear gurgles up Wallace's spine into the root of his skull and digs in behind his eyeballs, drunk-spinning the room. He thinks of the sheriff, one of the few living men ever to see the Snowman's face. And that was in a card game years ago. The sheriff never thought much of the likeness on the wanted notice, but he figured it was better than no likeness at all and ordered a dozen bills printed and posted around town as the governor requested.
Wallace does not like thinking about any of this as he watches the Snowman scoop up the flour sack and carry his trademark explosive toward the safe where the man in the silk blue mascada carefully unwraps the fuses from a square of cheesecloth. The Snowman wedges the sack beneath the front leg of the safe and forms it gingerly into the crevice between the door and side panel that the manufacturer will no doubt reconsider on future models.
There is talk between the men, Wallace says, but the fear grips Wallace's ears now and pummels the words into a flat, meaningless drone. The man in blue inserts the fuses with the precision of a surgeon. An artist, Wallace thinks, turning his head toward the customer side, where Widow Daubman bleeds out into an expanding puddle. Wallace looks down at his own puddle and steps out of it.
The commotion of the remaining men draws Wallace's gaze back to the office, where the haphazard destruction of the furniture seems to have taken on meaning. Nearly every stick and cabinet lies piled up against the partition that separates the office from the customers' area, forming a barrier, a shelter, from what is about to happen.
The fiery fuse snakes to life, shooting thin, gray whippets of acrid smoke in its wake. The Snowman appears before Wallace, his mouth moving with understated urgency. "You would be advised to secure yourself." The bandits scamper like schoolchildren around the partition and down onto the floor behind the tangle of furniture. Wallace stands there, unable to digest the one thought that chews through his reasoning brain. Why am I still alive?
His other brain, the animal one, tells him to move his legs. Wallace dives into the pile as if it were made of hay instead of oak and iron, clutching himself small behind Mr. Farley's upturned desk. And then everything goes white.
"How about crack us a window," Sheriff says. "Getting a mite close in here."
I lean my broom against the wall of the cell and walk around the desk where Sheriff sits, boots up, spit-shining his badge. Sheriff prefers this time of day, even though it is the hottest. The heat subdues lawless ways, he once told me, or at least sends them under a rock till the sun sets.
I throw open the shutters. The flecks of desert dust dance in the harsh beams of sunlight that cut through the gloom of the station house. Beyond the glass, the big red eye has just started to drop behind the Sangres, pulling the long shadow of the church steeple from one end of Caliche Bend to the other. The big red eye sees all, and at night the little white eye catches the rest. Mamma taught me that, in between her customers. I see best when there is no eye at all, in the dead of a moonless night. That is the Navajo in me.
I jimmy up the window sash and take the air deep into my lungs. A breath of sage rides the September breeze, undercut by the thick scent of horses from the stables and the frying bacon from the hotel next door. Dancing high above it all, like the thinnest wisp of a cloud, is the faint vapor of potassium nitrate.
"They start back up at the copper mines?" I ask.
"Lord, no. Those mines have not been step foot in, nearly two year."
"Somebody burning quick match."
The sheriff pulls his feet off the desk, rubs the stiffness from his knees before rising. "Well, I know better than to doubt your nose, Harlan. Or your ears, or eyes, for that matter. If I were not sure it was equal part Navajo and White Man blood running through your veins, I would swear it was half hawk and half bloodhound." He smiles as he heads over to the window, wanting to take a breath for himself.
I smile too. Sheriff's ribbing never bothers me. He and Mrs. Pardell earned the right through kindness.
"Cannot say I smell any quick match. Perhaps the chemist has concocted a faulty remedy and pitched it out the window." I nod politely. I do not think much of Sheriff's conclusion. So I swallow a little tobacco juice and go on staring.
The thundering boom cobwebs the glass before my eyes. Through the prismed lattice Sheriff and I see the charred, iron cube shoot clean through the back wall of the Loan and Trust and land on the dirt. White smoke rises from where the safe door cleaved from its hinges. The paper money, most of it aflame, flutters through the choking black cloud that billows from the shattered windows. Something wrapped in white, bloodstained cotton lies smoldering on the ground.
"God in heaven." Sheriff's voice trembles like it did when he told me the typhoid had taken sweet Mrs. Pardell, but then it regains its lawman timbre. "Get my Spencer thirty-aught."
I scamper to the cabinet and key it open. Sheriff has his second Colt loaded and holstered before I even free the rifle from the rack. I toss it to him and he catches it without breaking stride for the door.
Frank Wallace opens his eyes and learns that the Snowman's moniker is well earned. The whiteness drifts through the air like a high-country flurry, catching the golden sunlight through the brand-new crater in the back wall. Settling on the shoulders and brims of the bandits, the flour casts each man in a ghostly pall.
The Snowman is on his feet, stuffing the scattered gold pieces into a satchel. He yells something to the man in blue, but Wallace hears nothing—nothing but the constant, high-pitched ringing in his ears. He looks left where the bandit who killed Widow Daubman now slumps against what is left of the woodpile. A chair leg protrudes from the murderer's skull, wet with the pink liquid of brain and blood.
The third bandit hops down through the blast hole and snatches the remains from the scorched, upturned carcass of the safe. The man in blue strides for the front door. Frank Wallace feels the warmth in his left shoulder and looks down at where his arm used to be.
I see Frank Wallace fall out the back of the Loan and Trust as I follow Sheriff Pardell down the boardwalk. Sheriff moves fast when he needs to. "Back inside, Polly!" Sheriff yells without looking. Polly McPhee retreats into her boardinghouse and bolts the door. "You too, Merle, get these drunken fools inside! The bank is being robbed." The drinking men clutter the boards outside the Jewel as we pass.
I hear Merle try to wrangle his customers back to the bar. "You heard the sheriff. Get back inside and I'll buy you cocksuckers a drink." But the promise of a shootout draws men's attention like flies to a dead cow, even under the threat of free whiskey.
A drunken voice yells out, "Send the halfbreed in after 'em, Sheriff. No sense in gettin' you'self kilt." I want to turn around, but do not.
Elbert Pooley's wagon lies jackknifed in the middle of the road. His two mules, spooked by the explosion, strain and whinny against the reins, dragging the wagon in a slow-moving arc. Elbert is down with the mules, holding the bridle of one and trying to grab the other. "Take cover, Elbert. Leave them mules be," I say to him.
"Their legs will snap!" Elbert pleads, trying not to cry. I take the bridle of the bucking mule and calm her.
"Cut 'em free then." I know by Sheriff's tone that this is meant for me and I start pulling at the leather. Elbert stops dithering and gets busy on the other mule. Sheriff takes a knee behind the overturned wagon and peers around at the bank door directly in front of him. I get my mule free, slap her hindquarter, then set about helping Elbert, who is making a mess of it.
"This one here," I say, unfastening the proper line. The mule pulls free and I put Elbert's hand up to her bridle.
"God bless you, son. God bless, you!" Elbert says, leading one mule off with him to chase after the other.
I glance over at the bank, squat down behind Sheriff. "Two geldings hitched up out front."
"And neither one spooked," Sheriff says. "I suspect they have seen this before."
"Not much cover here with this wagon."
"No, but it will have to do." Sheriff turns his head toward me, but not all the way, keeping one eye on the door. "You best go on. Get over to the post office. Tell Bertram to wire the governor's office. Tell him to send marshals. Then go fetch Doc. We are going to need him for sure." Sheriff sees that I do not want to leave him so he says, "I will be all right, Harlan. Now go on."
I stay crouched and run off down the alley opposite the Loan and Trust. At the end of the building I turn left and flank Main Street from the alley behind the chemist's. I enter the post office through the back door, all the while hoping I do not hear a gunshot, or worse, a scream. I arrive at the front of the post office but find no one behind the counter. "Anybody here?" I ask.
"We're down on the dang floor and I suggest you do the same." The voice of Bertram Merriman, the postmaster, sounds far away. I turn toward the window and see Jasper Goodhope on all fours behind the writing desk, still clutching the letters he came in to post. Through the window I have a clear view of Loan and Trust. The upturned wagon is off to the left and I can just see the edge of Sheriff's boot behind it.
"Who is it?" Jasper asks. "Is it the Snowman, you reckon?"
Excerpted from Here By the Bloods by Brandon Boyce. Copyright © 2014 Bullet Park Productions, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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