Western reporter Brady Kenton has made his living with the power of his pen--capturing the conflict and the courage of the American frontier. But there's one story that has always eluded Kenton: the truth behind his wife's purported death in a fiery train crash. Victoria Kenton's body was never found. Now, a nervous young Englishwoman has shown up in Leadville, telling Kenton's sidekick, Alex Gunnison, that she is the reporter's long-lost daughter--and that she knows Victoria's fate. But before Gunnison can bring the girl to Kenton, a Texas manhunter warns him, calling the woman an insane killer who is spreading lies across the frontier. In a land where fact is stranger than fiction, Brady Kenton is going to have to take a chance. He is sure that the truth is close at hand. And so is a killer--or two... from bestselling author Cameron Judd comes The Quest of Brady Kenton.
About the Author
Cameron Judd is the author of more than 30 published historical and Western novels, and is an award-winning newspaperman. Two of his novels, Crockett of Tennessee and The Canebrake Men, were national finalists in the annual Spur Awards competition of Western Writers of America. He lives near Greeneville, Tennessee, with his wife.
Read an Excerpt
Alex Gunnison looked out over the crowd gathered before the platform erected in front of the grandiose Tabor Grand Hotel. On his face was a rather ghastly smile, put on for the assembled public and reflecting not at all his true feelings at the moment.
Not a soul smiled back.
Gunnison was seated at rear stage, beside Jack Dunaway, founder and editor of the Leadville Guardian, sponsor of this special town-wide celebration of Leadville's growth and heritage.
At front stage, standing at a podium, the mayor of Leadville was droning on in boring fashion, as mayors at podiums are obliged by tradition to do.
Gunnison leaned to the side and whispered to Dunaway.
"Look at them, Jack!" he said. "They hate me! You can see it in their faces!"
"They don't hate you," Dunaway whispered back. "They just expected Kenton, that's all."
"No. They hate me."
Dunaway studied the group. "Well, if they do, they hate me more, because I'm the one who promised them Kenton —"
"Only to deliver Kenton's subordinate partner instead."
"Uh ... yes. But when this is over, you at least get to leave. I have to stay and put up with the complaints."
"I'm sorry this has fallen out like it has, Jack. It's inexcusable on Kenton's part."
"Any chance that this is one of Kenton's stunts, and he'll show up at the last moment and surprise us?" Dunaway asked.
"Kenton is in Denver, Jack. He won't be here."
"I know he's your friend, Alex, but I could very nearly kill Kenton for leaving me in the lurch this way. A lot of these people came a long way to see him."
"Oh, don't go killing Kenton," Gunnison said. "That pleasure is to be mine alone."
"He does this kind of thing to you a lot, I hear."
"Not like this. Usually he just vanishes, and I don't know where he is. This time he at least had the decency to tell me he was about to stab me in the back before he sank the blade."
The mayor was at last reaching the end of his speech, so Gunnison began to pay attention. Waving his hand dramatically, the mayor declared, "Ladies and gentlemen, I give you now the editor of the Guardian, Leadville's newest and, dare I say it, finest newspaper, the sponsoring business behind this special day. Mr. Jack Dunaway, please come to the podium and introduce our guest of the day."
Almost no one clapped as Dunaway, looking ashen, headed for the podium.
Somebody yelled, "Where's Brady Kenton?" Dunaway, ignoring the shouter, shook the mayor's hand, then gripped the top of the podium.
"My friends," Dunaway said, "we're privileged to have with us today one of the journalists who, a few years ago, redoubled the fame of this town."
"We don't want that one!" a man shouted. "We want Brady Kenton!"
Gunnison, tense in his chair, closed his eyes and wished he were somewhere, anywhere, else.
"Brady Kenton was, unfortunately, unable to fulfill his pledge to be here today," Dunaway said, not fully masking a tone of bitterness. "But we are quite lucky to have his associate, Mr. Alex Gunnison, here in his stead. Mr. Gunnison was here with Kenton during the Briggs Garrett affair, as some of you surely recall. Why, he even found his wife in Leadville — so he's very nearly a Leadvillian himself!"
"Send him away! You promised us Kenton!"
Dunaway feebly raised his hand. "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Alex Gunnison!"
Six people, perhaps, applauded. A score actually booed. The rest stood silent. Gunnison rose, the smile on his face as fixed as a dead man's, and advanced to the dreaded podium.
Right now he truly hated Brady Kenton.
When it was finally, mercifully, over and nothing was left but the residual mental anguish, Dunaway very kindly bought Gunnison some supper and a couple of tall beers. Gunnison largely ignored the former and paid devoted attention to the latter. Neither had said more than a handful of words since the conclusion of Gunnison's speech.
"So, how's the wife?" Dunaway asked at length.
"Good. See her much?"
"Not enough. Like always, most of my time is spent away from home, trailing around after Kenton."
"Yeah. Well, I'm glad she's doing well, anyway." And there Dunaway's feeble attempt to start a conversation died pitifully.
After a few minutes of silence and another beer, Gunnison asked, "Did all that go as badly as I think it did?"
"You made history tonight, my friend. You just delivered the worst-received speech in the history of Leadville."
"Do I have the right to be as angry at Kenton as I am?"
"And was this evening a disaster for you, as its sponsor?"
"Yep." Dunaway drained half a glass of beer at a swallow.
"I'm sorry Kenton ditched you. And that I was so poor a substitute."
Dunaway hammered down his empty mug and wiped foam from his upper lip. "Kenton is a celebrated man. More so, frankly, than I can explain, him being the unreliable scoundrel he obviously is."
"It's his personality. His looks. His skill. People like him the first time they see him. And ever since he published the Gomorrah story, his celebrity is all the greater."
"I admit I've always liked Kenton myself. But not tonight. Tonight I despise him." Dunaway snapped his fingers for another beer. "I'll lose a few subscribers. But I suppose I'll get over the anger in a few days."
"You will. I always do. I've never been able to stay mad at Kenton. And the truth is, even though he's been more annoying than ever lately, I've been too worried about him to stay angry."
"Because of this crazy business about that serial novel?" Dunaway asked.
"Refresh my memory, Jack: how much did I tell you about all that?"
"Well ... that Kenton has gotten the idea that some serialized novel in American Popular Library contains clues about how he can find his dead wife. Correct?"
"Essentially so, yes."
Dunaway's beer arrived. "But that's bizarre. I always heard his wife died years ago in a train accident."
"There is, actually, strong recent evidence that she survived. That doesn't mean she hasn't died since from some other cause, of course."
"But if she wasn't killed, why didn't she return to Kenton?"
"Good question. I can't answer it, and Kenton can't, either. Between you and me, I think he's afraid to find the answer. But he's still devoted to finding her, if that can be done. More than devoted. He's obsessed lately. And it grows worse by the day."
Dunaway watched the bubbles in his beer rising and popping.
"How in the world could he have gotten such a strange notion about a novel in a magazine?" he asked.
"The idea was planted in his head by someone else. Do you know William Darian?"
"One of the editors of the Popular Library, I think?" The reference was to one of the day's most popular fiction magazines, which published serialized novels in six editions per year. Each edition would keep as many as ten novels running at a time, each one edited to make sure that each novel segment ended with the protagonists in some dreadful or unresolved situation.
"Yes, that's the man."
"I've only heard of him. Never met him."
"He's a fairly levelheaded fellow, apart from having a drink or two too many sometimes, though Kenton says Darian believes he has that situation hidden. Or I always thought he was levelheaded, until he wrote Kenton and told him this novel might have something to do with Victoria. Maybe Darian drinks more than people think! Anyway, when Kenton heard that, so much for his Leadville obligations. He was off to Denver to meet Darian and I was left to come here in his place to be abused by the rabble."
"Have you read this novel?"
"Only three installments have been published so far. I've read those. I do admit that there are some remarkably coincidental similarities between the details of the novel and those of the actual train crash that involved Victoria and her sister."
Dunaway leaned forward, growing interested now.
"Coincidental, though, as you say. That's the key distinction here, right?"
"Yes, clearly so. There are plenty of train accidents, after all, so it's not all that remarkable that some novelist would create a fictional train-crash scenario that happened to resemble an authentic one somewhere. In fact, perhaps the crash that involved Victoria was used as the model for the one in the novel."
"What's the novel's title?"
"The Grand Deception. I can't recall the author's name. Probably a pen name, anyway. I remember that it struck me as sounding like a pen name."
"So Darian is the one we can thank for starting Kenton on this wild-goose chase. All because he happened to serialize some cheap novel."
"That's pretty much it. Except that Darian wasn't the acquiring editor for The Grand Deception. Someone else at the magazine is dealing with the author and the manuscript. It has Darian stirred up enough to make him think there was some kind of conspiracy and dark, hidden clues. It surprises me, really. Like I said, I always thought Darian was levelheaded."
"So what does The Grand Deception say happened to Victoria's counterpart character?"
"Candice. The noble, abused heroine. In the novel, she survives the crash, with injuries, and is carried away unseen by a physician who also survived the same crash. He'd been on the train, following her, because he'd grown obsessed with her. He takes her away to California, hides her from her family and friends, and allows the idea that she's dead to grow and become accepted. Meanwhile, he's working on healing her and transforming her into his own idealized notion of a lover and mate. That's as far as the story's gone."
"Alex, this is obviously some hack novelist who has read about the accident that involved Victoria, and probably knows about Kenton's quest to find her and all that. He's applied a little imagination and come up with a plot for a melodramatic novel."
"That's what I think, as well. And maybe, if he keeps his head, Kenton will draw the same conclusion. But these days he doesn't keep his head as well as he used to." Alex frowned, hesitated, then ventured into territory he hadn't intended to explore. "I'll tell you something, Jack, between you and me. Kenton is losing his touch very quickly. He's neglecting his work, drinking more again, and devoting himself more to this quest for Victoria than to his professional duties — today being an obvious case in point. He spends much of his time sketching Victoria rather than working. And my father is beginning to notice. In fact, he's come to wonder if Kenton is even worth keeping around anymore. It's been five months since Kenton has turned out a publishable new piece of work, Jack. Did you realize that? The Gomorrah story has been big enough to carry him for a while, but he's ridden that horse about as far as it can carry him. And recently he's missed two assignments, and did such a bad job on a third that the Illustrated American opted not to publish the finished product. First time ever that's happened. Kenton's never been rejected by his own employing publication before."
"Wow. How'd he take it?"
"He hardly seemed to care. And that, more than the rejection itself, makes me worry about him. He's letting this Victoria-quest of his take him over. And — for heaven's sake, don't repeat this — my father is very nearly ready to fire him. When he learns that Kenton failed to appear here today ..."
"Whoa! Wait, wait. I'm mad at Kenton, sure enough, but I don't want to be the cause of him losing his job and his status. Maybe if we don't say anything, word will never reach your father that he failed to show up today."
"Word will get out. Your competing newspapers here will be sure to crow about your failure to deliver the great Kenton. But don't start getting a guilty conscience if something happens to Kenton. If he loses his job, you won't be the cause. Kenton is the one shooting himself in the foot. My father is sympathetic to Kenton wanting to find his wife, but he's tired of paying Kenton and getting no good work back in return."
Jack shook his head sadly and drank deeply from his glass of beer.
A man came by the table and looked sourly at Gunnison. "I was out there for your speech. You ain't no Brady Kenton, young man, and I suggest you no longer try to go filling his shoes. It was quite a disappointment, expecting to see Kenton and having somebody switch the goods at the last second."
Gunnison glared up at the fellow. Astonishing, how some folks would go out of their way to spread insult. "What do you expect me to say to you, sir? If you didn't like my talk, then ask this man here for a refund ... oh, wait. It was free, wasn't it. So you've got nothing to whine about."
The man grunted bitterly and walked away.
"Sorry about that," Jack Dunaway said. "That's Charlie Lee. Local hardware-store man. Known for his rudeness."
"The world's full of Charlie Lees. Jack, I'm ready to vanish into my hotel room and wait for tomorrow to get here. I'm taking the first train out."
"I'll get your honorarium to you tonight, Alex. Thanks for helping me out today."
"I'll not accept an honorarium. The Guardian can pay my expenses here and back and we'll call it even. Kenton let you down, Jack, and I'll not see you pay for being misused. Kenton owes you an apology, and I intend to insist that he provide it to you."
"Are you going to Denver to join Kenton?"
"I don't think so. I think I'll go to my father and try to dissuade him from firing Brady Kenton. And I'm going to see my wife, and spend some time with her ... and consider whether the time might have come that I need to break my partnership with Kenton. I've followed him around for a lot of years now, Jack. Always in his shadow. Always the one that no one is interested in seeing or hearing. Hang it all, I know I'm a lesser light in the journalistic world than Brady Kenton, but even a lesser light wants the opportunity to shine where it can be seen."
Alex Gunnison retreated into his hotel room, but not for long. A restlessness overtook him that he could not shake, and soon he took to the streets, walking and winding through the narrow, haphazard avenues of this famed mining town.
He recalled the first time he walked these streets, back in Leadville's less civilized days, when a man had best know how to watch his back, and his wallet, if he expected to survive unscathed.
The town had changed quite a lot since then. The rougher edges were wearing away. It was a town, not a mining camp. Sidewalks had become more uniform, streets better kept, buildings more permanent and beautified. Alex thought wryly, If a town can grow and become better, why can't I? Why am I still hardly any better off than I was the first time I was here?
He tried to argue back at himself. His future, he told himself, was bright. His father was the owner and publisher of America's most successful general-interest magazine. Eventually he would inherit it all. He'd be a wealthy man, able to work as much or as little as he wished. He could make up many times over all the time he had missed with his wife while he was busy traveling the country with Brady Kenton.
And besides, despite the feelings he'd aired to Dunaway, was working as Kenton's partner really so bad? Many other journalist/illustrators would gladly leap at the opportunity to do what Gunnison did.
Gunnison put all the weights on the balance and let them settle, and came to a realization: he was deeply unhappy with his life, personally and professionally. A shadow hung over him, and nothing he could do could seem to dispel it.
The shadow was Brady Kenton. It was as he'd told Dunaway: as long as he was Kenton's partner, he would never be noticed. He would always be second best, the fill-in speaker rather than the first choice, the tail instead of the head.
He thought: I've got to get away. For my own sake, and for the sake of the family I'd like to have before I get much older.
But could he do it? To no longer be Brady Kenton's partner would change his life dramatically ... a gain in most ways, but a loss in another. The truth was he was devoted to Kenton, angry as the man often made him.
And he was worried about Kenton. The man had done some strange things in his time, but it wasn't like him to shirk responsibility as he had lately. This running from an obligation firmly made to a friend, Jack Dunaway, was not at all typical of Kenton.
"Mr. Gunnison, sir."
Gunnison was surprised by the proximity of the unseen speaker, slightly behind and to the side of him. He turned quickly.
Excerpted from "The Quest of Brady Kenton"
Copyright © 2001 Cameron Judd.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.