"Boggs is among the best western writers at work today." --Booklist
"Boggs is unparalleled in evoking the gritty reality of the Old West." --The Shootist
‘Til Death Do Us Part
Stranded in the Mojave Desert, Micah Bishop is about to cash in his chips for good when he's rescued by an unlikely savior. Whip Watson is hand-delivering two dozen brides to the silver boom town of Calico, where miners are going loco for companionship. Better still, Watson asks Micah if he'd help escort the wagons--and far be it for Micah to pass up both cash and some very pretty faces.
But Micah doesn't know that Whip Watson has some killer competition. Candy Crutchfield is racing to get to Calico first with her own maids-in-waiting. Neither Watson or Crutchfield are going to back down. Both are willing to kill to beat the competition.
Now, Micah is going to find out just how far he'll go for a buck. Because these "wives" aren't what they seem. And they're all about to be delivered straight into a living hell. . .
"Johnny Boggs has produced another instant page-turner. . .don't put down the book until you finish it."--Tony Hillerman on Killstraight
"Johnny D. Boggs tells a crisply powerful story that rings true more than two centuries after the bloody business was done."--The Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier on The Despoilers
Raves For The Westerns Of Johnny D. Boggs
"Another dramatic story by a finalist for the Spur award of Western Writers of America." --Amarillo Globe-News (on Once They Wore the Gray)
"An entertaining western in the classic mold. The characters possess enough human frailty to be believable, the author includes interesting stuff on the weaponry of the times, and there is enough gunplay to satisfy genre purists." --Booklist on Ten and Me
"Boggs has once more written a humdinger of a book with wonderful characters, even the villains. The Despoilers tears at one's heart, which is what really good fiction should do." --Roundup on The Despoilers
"Boggs' unique approach to the Lincoln County War's legal skirmishing is both eye-opening and memorable." --True West on Law of the Land
"A finely crafted historical novel with fully developed characters playing out their lives against the backdrop of early Texas settlement." --American Cowboy on Spark on the Prairie
"Boggs delivers a colorful, clever and arresting tale." --Santa Fe New Mexican on Camp Ford
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About the Author
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By JOHNNY D. BOGGS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Johnny D. Boggs
All rights reserved.
The Mojave Desert ain't hotter than hell.
It is Hell, with a capital H.
Get stuck in that fire pit, without horse, canteen, or the good Lord's mercy (or some poor, dumb son of a bitch to rob) and, quite honestly, there ain't much for a sinner to do. Except stick that Spiller & Burr in your mouth, and let a .36-caliber ball put you out of your misery. Which is what I was about to do—would have done, in fact—excepting that I had no powder, balls, or percussion caps. Did I mention that a Spiller & Burr is an old relic from the late War of the Rebellion, and even way back then Rebels never had much use for them thumb-busters, and bluecoats knowed better than to shoot them? Least that's what the one-eyed cur told me after I won the pistol from him with one damned fine bluff, convincing him that I had a straight against his pair of kings showing when all I really had was queen high. Besides, tired and parched as I was, plumb out of my sun-fried head, I doubted if I had strength to cock that revolver even if I had the ammunition.
Like as not, you've likely read that story about that California Gold Rush gambler that this gent named Twain or Hart or maybe it was Dickens wrote where this gambler gets hisself caught in a blizzard and sits down beside a tree and puts a bullet through his own heart, saying his luck has run out. I ain't read it, but there's this gal from some hifalutin society who the warden fetches into Folsom, and she's read it a time or two to some of us more literary-inclined inmates not being punished on the rock pile. It's a right fair story. Only that gambler never had it so good. He was in a blizzard, where it's cold and wet. Wasn't frying in a furnace with vultures just waiting for fresh supper.
My luck really played out about the time I won that Spiller & Burr. I had sat down inside this bucket of blood near Beal's Crossing on the Colorado River. The Army boys still soldiered at Fort Mojave, and, seeing how I wasn't wanted for nothing in Arizona Territory, I had lighted out that way to make my pile.
The name's Bishop, Micah Bishop. The time I tell about, I was around thirty or thirty-one years of age. I've never been rightly certain on account that I got brung up and educated and my knuckles rapped by the Sisters of Charity in an orphanage in Santa Fe. Course, I can't go back to New Mexico Territory. Truth be told, if it weren't for a couple of nuns who figured my hide was worth saving, I'd be buried facedown in some potter's field in Las Vegas with a noose still wrapped around my neck. So I was done with New Mexico Territory. Same as I was shed of Missouri, where I'd also had to kill a body. And in the Indian Nations. And there was even those down in the great state of Texas who would like to see me hanging from what passes for a tree in that country. Not for killing. No, sir. No, the late Big Tim Pruett, a gent I rode with for a spell, once warned me never shoot no Texan, because there will be more Texans coming after you, and there's just too many Texans to kill. But I did admire the horses they breed down in that great Lone Star State, and I sometimes wound up selling some where the legality of a bill of sale I'd forged might could have been called into question.
Anyhow, since I got freed from that stinking dungeon in Las Vegas, I'd rode out of New Mexico and come to Arizona, and pret' soon set myself up dealing faro, Spanish Monte, and stud poker for them soldier boys at Fort Mojave. Won a right smart of money. Then a worthless Spiller & Burr .36. Only a short while after that, some of them infantry boys begun to question how come luck favored me so much and the methods I was using when I was dealing.
Well, you've heard that sad story. Least I have, often enough, here in Folsom. Honest gambler gets called a cheat. Harsh words get spoke. Some fools pull their pistols, and they ain't no twenty-something-year-old relics, but long-barreled, center-firing Colts, Remingtons, or Smith & Wessons.
Next thing I knowed, having gotten out of that stinking adobe gambling den with only a bullet hole through the crown of my hat, I was forcing the ferry man at the crossing to fetch me into California, muy pronto, while still trading lead with them infantry boys whose lousy shooting made a body wonder how in hell we had preserved the Union, freed the slaves, and whipped the Mojave and Paiute Indians.
Well, it was pitch dark. And, like me, them soldiers had been drinking a mite, and the misnamed Honest Abe Rohrbough didn't serve nothing but the worst forty-rod rotgut he brewed hisself at that gambling palace.
Suffice to say that I made it across the Colorado River and into California, and I don't think I'd killed nobody, so I reckon I could still make my presence known in Arizona at some later date. Not Fort Mojave or Beal's Crossing, but down south or somewheres. Besides, I'd been calling myself Corbin—nothing else, just Corbin—so I figured that Micah Bishop would likely be free from law-dogs, and if that son of a bitch Corbin—never caught his first name—who almost got me hung in Las Vegas, happened to ever show up at Beal's Crossing and got bruised and maybe even bloodied and possibly even killed, good for him.
Not sure how long it would take the ferry man to get his boat back to the Arizona side, and how angry them bluecoats was at me, I pushed the buckskin gelding I'd borrowed into a fast lope across the Mojave. At night, the desert gets cold. I'd never been to California, so I kept to the military road for a spell, then turned off toward the northwest, thinking that might fool the infantry boys was they bound and determined to catch up with me.
I doubted if they would. Remember what I said about my luck playing out? I'd left most of my piles on that poker table—betting that Honest Abe Rohrbough, the cheat, had already taken a healthy cut for his house percentage—along with the Remington over-and-under .41 derringer, which was empty when I dropped it by my tumbler of Rohrbough's barleycorn. Gamblers would be wiser if they'd pocket something other than a derringer. I mean, two shots ain't gonna turn away five angry poker players. I'll have to remember that next time I set down at a layout and deal with a marked deck.
The only thing I'd managed to leave Beal's Crossing with—not including my hide, hair, and life—was my black hat, my vest, my boots, and that Spiller & Burr, which I had emptied along the path from Rohrbough's and then on the ferry.
But I did have a canteen hanging from the saddle horn and a good buckskin gelding.
Had, that is.
Turned out, shortly before dawn, I realized that them infantry boys had gotten some good training in marksmanship at Fort Mojave after all. Since turning off the military road, I had given the gelding some breathers, slowing down, easing my way through unfamiliar country. Now some of them boys at Rohrbough's, and even Honest Abe hisself, had mentioned this mining camp in the California desert, around something they called the Painted Hills, that was named Calico. Big silver strike there, and I was just dumb enough to try to find it. I mean, I didn't have much in the way of possessions, as I just told y'all, but I think I forgot to mention that I did have a deck of cards in my vest pocket. And them cards was marked to my liking.
Way I remembered it, Calico was about a week's ride from Fort Mojave, so with the sky lightening up in the east, I figured we might as well make a beeline for Calico. How hard could them Painted Hills be to find? I'd been sitting in the saddle, letting the buckskin catch his breath, my left leg hooked over the horn, when I decided it was time to ride some more. So I lowered my leg, found the stirrup, and give the gelding a little kick.
Instead of moving forward, he started to fall. I leaped off the saddle, not wanting to have an eight-hundred-pound horse roll over me, and the horse just collapsed. Lifted his head once, snorted, and expired.
Well, I cussed that horse and cussed my luck and cussed them bluecoats from Fort Mojave. Turned out, a couple of them had aimed well enough to put two bullets through that buckskin. I'll say one thing for that horse, though. He carried me farther than he had no right to. Got me out of Beal's Crossing.
I looked up.
When the sun appeared, I got a good look-see at a spartan wasteland that stretched out in all directions. Couldn't see no Painted Hills, but, by jacks, I'd only covered maybe ten miles since the Colorado River. That left me a hundred and thirty or thereabouts to cover. Afoot. With one canteen.
Now, knowing what I know today, what I should have done was simple. Just backtrack my way to the Colorado River. I could have followed the river south, perhaps all the way to Yuma, a right far piece to walk, but I would have had water all the way down. Or even just wait a spell and sneak across the river at Beal's when the soldier boys was marching and drilling and sweating at the fort. What I done, of course, being the stubborn fool and thinking so much about plucking some greenbacks from dumb silver miners in a stupid town called Calico, was simple:
I just fetched that canteen, pulled my hat down low, and set out walking west.
Oh, there was hills. And washes. And rocks. And creosote and cholla. And one intense sun on my back. But I'd lived in harsh country before, and I knowed that this being summer, monsoons oftentimes brought down real gulley washers in the afternoon. I also knowed that a desert might look lifeless, but you could always find a seep or a spring with some good water. Hell, even a Mojave rattlesnake needs water to live. You just had to know where to look.
Alas, I didn't.
I was also wise enough, experienced enough, to know that only a fool walks across the desert in the heat of the day. So when the sun got too high, I found myself a patch of shade, stretched my legs out, and taken a sip of water. A small sip. Figured I'd better save some of that water for the days to come.
Funny thing about taking a sip of water on a hot day in a barren desert. It makes you thirstier. So I had myself another sip. And then another. Before I made myself put the stopper back in that canteen.
Then I fetched my deck of cards from my vest and dealt a little one-handed vingt-un.
I slept some—being a gambler, I am used to sleeping in the day, but usually I sleep in a hotel bed or at least in a wagon yard, and not in a desert where all sorts of things might kill me. When the sun finally dipped behind them hills waiting for me out west, I got up, taken another sip of water, and started walking.
Made sense, you see, to wander through this country in the dark. You didn't have to worry about dying of heat stroke. Just stepping onto one of them green serpents. Folks say that the Mojave rattler is the deadliest snake you'll run into out west. Then there was man-killing scorpions. Or just stepping into a hole and breaking your leg, or neck.
That first day and night wasn't too bad. Second day fared passably well, too.
After that, though, things get a bit fuzzy. I recollect singing. "My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean" and "Home on the Range," two tunes I never really cared about. Maybe I disremember. Maybe my mind was gone.
Truth is, I don't know how many days I wandered out in the Mojave. It felt far. Felt like forever. Somewhere along the trail—if you could call anything around me a trail—I had shed my vest. I'd even tossed that deck down some hole, and it was a good deck. Hardly even the best sharper could have noticed how I'd marked them pastecards.
Water run out. Oh, I kept the canteen, for a while, that is. Must have dropped it, or pitched it, or just forgot all about it somewhere between where the buffaloes was roaming and the zephyrs was so free. Anyhow, at some point, in the heat of the day—reckon by that time I'd done forgot about walking at night and resting in the daytime—I savvied that I was done for, so I sat down, back against a boulder, and tried to put that Spiller & Burr in my mouth. But didn't have the strength, or a paper cartridge and copper cap.
Along about that time, sounds come to me. The squeaking of wagon wheels, the creaking of harness leather, and good, fine American cussing.
But I didn't care. Closing my eyes, I decided that this was a good place and time to die.
Only a short while later, or maybe it was a day or two, a shadow crossed my face, and I heard this voice say:
"Reckon you owe me one, mister."
My eyes fluttered open, and I spied this shadow that was speaking at me. The silhouette wore a flat-brimmed, low-crowned hat and held the longest snake I'd ever seen in his left hand. Course, it wasn't a snake, just a blacksnake whip, but I didn't know no better. Not as dead as I was. He certainly wasn't some angel, unless he was "The Angel of Death."
I tried to answer him, to tell him, "Yes, sir, I reckon I surely do owe you one, mister," but my tongue had gotten so fat, my lips so cracked, my face so blistered, I couldn't say nothing. Which is exactly what I said.
The shadow leaned beside me, and he yelled something to some hombres somewhere behind him, or in front of him, or maybe he was just talking to hisself, as far as I knowed at the time.
"It's your lucky day," the specter told me.
Turned out, it sure was. Because instead of dying alone in the middle of the Mojave, I was plucked back into the living world by a gent called Whip Watson.
Course, now that I have time—five to seven years, the judge told me—to think about how things played out, I've studied on that bit of fortune. How I was to ride with Whip Watson, how I was to come right smack between him and another freighter named Candy Crutchfield, how an Oriental princess named Jingfei, which means "Quiet Not," and a passel of mail-order brides, was to come into my life. How I was played for a fool, flayed, flimflammed, flummoxed, flaxed out, and, finally, incarcerated here at Folsom.
Hell, I'd have been better off had I just died out in the Mojave Desert.CHAPTER 2
Like I said, I didn't die. Now, them first few days riding in the back of one of Whip Watson's freight wagons is about as forgotten as my Moses-like wanderings across the Mojave Desert. Had me some wild dreams, rare for me, some disturbing nightmares, but I've never been one for remembering such things. I do recollect this woman in white with black hair and a huge Mojave rattlesnake hanging around her neck feeding me soup. Least, she called it soup. It tasted like dung. And I recalled floating on a ship, sailing the high seas, and then I'd wake up, fearing that I'd been shanghaied, and finding myself lying in that freight wagon next to crates and crates of tools and kegs of gunpowder. And I'd start to sit up, but then I'd just fall back onto somebody's bedroll, and I'd close my eyes and go back to sleep.
Till one evening, I woke up.
The wagon wasn't moving. I smelled a campfire somewhere beyond the canvas tarp, heard voices speaking Mexican and what some folks might even call English.
"Evening," a voice said.
I turned my head.
A candle had been lit, and sat flickering atop one of the crates—not the kegs of gunpowder, or course—so I seen the gent real good.
He dressed hisself in a fine Boss of the Plains, black as my soul but with a fancy horsehair-hitched headband. He wore a blue silk shirt, double-breasted black vest, black-and-white polka-dot bandanna, black-striped woolen britches with the thighs and seat reinforced with black corduroy, the legs of which was tucked inside high-topped stovepipe boots, blacker than the ace of spades except for the red crescent moons inlaid in the tops. It was a right fancy outfit. Especially when you got a gander at the two nickel-plated Colts shoved into a black sash, their ivory grips butt forward, facing me.
Excerpted from Mojave by JOHNNY D. BOGGS. Copyright © 2014 Johnny D. Boggs. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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