He brings the Old West to vivid new life in his action-packed stories of heroism, adventure, and excitement. With over one million of his books in print, Cameron Judd powerfully depicts, as no other writer can, the struggles of a generation of Americans on a harsh and beautiful frontier.
The met in a hot, bloody bar fight on a cold Nebraska afternoon. The Fiddler was skinny, one-eared, and on the run from a vicious feud with another man missing an ear of his own. Luke McCan was on the drift, driven West by the death of the woman he loved. Now they would become partners, signed up as lawmen in a town without crime. At least, Walden City, Colorado, was without crime, until Fiddler and McCan arrived. By the time their career as peacekeepers was over, Walden City was in flames, Fiddler and McCan were on the run-and a long, hard ride of adventure and vengeance had only just begun...
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
(Previously Published as Fiddler and McCan)
By Cameron Judd
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1992 Cameron Judd
All rights reserved.
It was hard to know who to side with: the skinny fiddle player with the missing ear or the hefty trail bum with the harelip. The former was taking some fierce punishment from the latter, but then, he had brought it on himself by his heartless teasing. I am a man with little sympathy for anyone who taunts another because of his looks, for there's not a one of us who can control what nature gives us, or fails to.
Of course, I couldn't stand by and see a small man beaten to death by a big one, either, no matter what the circumstances. That made my decision for me. I hefted up a big cuspidor, advanced, and brought it down as hard as I could on the back of the bigger man's head. It made for quite a messy explosion.
I had hoped it would drop him. It didn't. He turned and glared at me in disbelief, stinking cuspidor muck running all down both sides of his wide head. He had eyes that drilled like augers. His nose was wide and flat, like his face; his whiskers were as coarse as wool and thirstily soaking up the foul stuff I had just baptized him with.
The whiskers hid his mouth deformity fairly well, but his speech betrayed it. I couldn't make out all he said — mostly just catch cusswords that came out with their edges rounded off. His general point came through even if his words didn't, that being that I had been mighty foolish to cut into his business in so rude a manner.
His partner had been holding the fiddler from behind during the beating. He gave me the ugliest, most threatening grin I had ever received. He was a shrimpy man with a beard worthy of Elijah; his eyes were bright with the prophecy of my impending doomsday.
The fiddler was the only one who welcomed my intrusion. He took advantage of the distraction to wriggle free and dance off, very spritely, to the corner. From there he poked fun at his interrupted tormentors, obviously having gained no wisdom from suffering.
I felt surges of both anger and fear. I had butted into this situation only because I had thought that the fiddle player was about to be killed, for he had howled pitifully at every blow he took. Yet now it seemed he hadn't been hurt at all — in other words, I had endangered myself for darn little reason. That accounted for my anger. The fact that the harelipped man was big enough to single-handedly separate me from my limbs accounted for my fear.
"Have yourself some tobacco, rabbit-mouth, have yourself a chew!" the fiddle player chortled from his safe distance. His fiddle and bow lay at his feet, kicked into the corner earlier by the two hardcases. The fiddler stooped and snatched them up. The rosiny bow dragged across the strings and made a high, scratchy drone that melted into music. The fiddler's voice rang out, shouting more than singing in raucous jubilee — "Well, I went down in Helltown, to see that devil chain down ..."
Now I knew how the Romans felt as Nero fiddled while their world crumbled to ash around them.
The hardcases advanced and I backed up, promising myself that if I lived to get out of this place I'd never lend a hand to any more one-eared fiddlers for the rest of my days.
"Here now, let's have no more trouble!" pleaded the wiry barkeep from behind his protecting counter. He had been yelping and begging for peace throughout the whole thing.
The harelipped man said something to me that I couldn't understand. Elijah the Prophet interpreted: "Peahead says he's going to pluck out them curls of yours like the feathers of a roasting hen."
Meanwhile, the exuberant fiddler was scratching and shouting away, "... Johnny, won't you ramble? Hoe, hoe, hoe ..."
I wanted to ramble myself, not that there was any way with these two between me and the door. If the side window had been open I would have made a dive out of it, but it wasn't open, for outside the February cold still crawled over the western Nebraska landscape.
"Listen, friend, you've got my apology," I said placatingly. "I thought you were getting a little rough on the fiddler, that's all."
Another muffled statement, another interpretation: "Peahead says the fiddler made fun of his mouth. Peahead don't stand for nobody making fun of his mouth."
"I don't blame you, Peahead, I don't blame you at all," I replied. "He had no right to tease you. Listen, I'm mighty sorry about the cuspidor. I'll pay right out of my own pocket for a bath for you, I promise."
The white-bearded one shook his head. "You shouldn't have called him Peahead. Peahead don't like nobody but his friends calling him that."
"Peahead!" yelled the fiddler at once, having heard the last statement. His fiddle droned up high like an excited bee. "Well, I went down in Hell-town, to see old Peahead chain down! Peahead, won't you ramble, hoe, hoe, harelip!"
"Here now, don't do that," the barkeep said feebly.
The fiddler's mockery proved helpful to me this time, for it snatched the attention of Peahead and his partner away from me for a moment. In that moment I balled up my fists and lunged forward, striking two blows in tandem, the first pounding into Peahead, the second into his companion.
The effort jolted me worse than my victims. These fellows were solid, even the little one. My attack did no more than draw their attention back my way.
"Fiddle man!" I yelled, backing up again, wishing my gunbelt was hanging around me, not that wall peg behind the bar. "Fiddle man, this is your fight, not mine! Get over here and help me!"
"... Peahead, won't you ramble? Hoe, hoe, hoe!" He was so caught up in his mocking music that I'm not sure he even heard me.
They fell upon me then and the world became a confusing whirl of grit, muscle, motion, and the stink of the tobacco spittle that dripped from Peahead. Then came pain, the dull pain of repeated blows that pounded me like spikehammers and made me sink toward a floor that was beginning to spin beneath me. I tried to fight, but there can be no fighting when your main foe weighs twice what you do and doesn't mind using it to full advantage. How long this went on I did not know; time had come to a halt.
I heard my voice yelling for help, calling out to the fiddle player, the barkeep, anyone at all, to give me aid, but aid did not come. A fist struck my jaw and I called out no more. I felt tremendous weight atop me, felt the floor hard as an undertaker's slab beneath my back. My eyes, already swelling, opened enough to let me see the fearsome faces above, the massive fists that went up and down like shafts on a locomotive — and then a bare blade, glittering and sharp, that sliced open my shirt and exposed my chest. For some reason I noticed right then that the fiddle music had stopped.
I didn't hear Peahead speak, but he must have, because his partner said, "He says he's going to carve his initials on your chest for you to recollect him by."
I was near passing out when the knife pricked my chest. Writhing, I tried to pull free, but couldn't. The blade was cold and stinging. My eyes began to flutter shut and the images above me were almost gone when a third figure appeared behind the two that leaned over me. A heavy chair hovered, descended, crashed against the rocklike skull of Peahead. My last light dwindled and everything turned black. All I could hear as I sank away was the voice of the barkeep saying here now, don't do that, here now, don't do that, over and over.
* * *
The face that slowly put itself together before my blurry eyes was slender and brown and wore a mean expression. I groaned and swiped a hand across my eyes. When I looked again, the face was in sharper focus, and glittering somewhere below it was a badge on a blue shirt.
"What's your name?" the man with the badge demanded.
"McCan ... Luke McCan," I answered in a whisper.
"Luke McCan, you think I need your ilk drifting through our town and stirring fights with the locals?"
"I ... didn't stir any fight ... just tried to help out ..."
"You've helped yourself into a cell, that's what you've done. The barkeep says you lit into Peahead Jones with a spittoon, then fisticuffed with him and his brother before they raised a hand against you. Is that true?"
"The fiddler ... they were slapping that fiddler ..."
I pushed up a little and groaned. Somebody had put me on a bed in a small room. It might have been a spare bedroom in somebody's house, or maybe the sickroom of a doctor's office.
"It was to help out the fiddler that I got into it," I reaffirmed. I found a window to my right and looked out it. The sun was edging down.
"Well, this fiddler was gone when I got there, and the barkeep seems to hold you most at fault," the man with the badge said.
"He's a coward, then. Blaming it on me because he's afraid the other two will come back on him if he tells the truth."
"You can argue about it with the judge, Mr. McCan. You're under arrest on a charge of brawling, city ordinance number fifteen. However, if you'll make restitution for the saloon damages, I'll drop the charges and let you go. Fair enough?"
"Restitution? I'll pay no restitution for a fight I didn't start."
"Have it your way, then. If you won't do the responsible thing on your own, we'll let the city judge make the decision for you." The lawman reached over to a chest of drawers and fiddled with a pile of bills and change lying atop it. I recognized the prior contents of my pockets. "Let's see — three dollars and seven cents, a folding knife, and a handkerchief. Not a lot, but the cash I'll take to be applied toward your fine and the knife I'll take as a potential weapon. The handkerchief you can keep."
"Thanks very much. You're too kind." My attention was somewhat diverted from the lawman at the moment because I was examining my chest to see if there were any initials carved onto it. There weren't. The fiddler had brought that chair down on my attackers in time to save me a slicing.
"Old Doc says he wants you to stay here a few more hours so he can keep an eye on those bumps and bruises. I'm going to chain one of your ankles to the bed, in case you think you might like to run away. Tomorrow morning I'll move you to a cell, unless you've had more cooperative thoughts about paying that damage bill. Do you own a horse and saddle?"
"No." It wasn't really a lie, because the horse and saddle I possessed technically were property of my brother-in-law. In a way, you might say, I had stolen them from him, but not really, for he was dead when I took them. And he would have gladly given the horse and saddle to me, anyway, had he been alive. We got along well, my brother-in-law and I.
Without more talk the lawman produced a chain and linked me up firmly to the metal footboard. "That will do, and that's all for now. Good evening, Mr. McCan."
I gave an ill-tempered grunt in response, and closed my eyes. Every inch of me hurt, and from the feel of my face I knew I was probably no beautiful sight. But at least I was alive and uncut.
A little later a boy brought me supper on a tray. It must have been provided by the doctor, whom I had yet to talk to, rather than the jail, because this was better food than any jail would put up for a small-time prisoner like me. It was hard to chew the chicken because the left side of my jaw hurt every time I moved it. As I ate I wondered what had become of my pistol and gunbelt, which I had left hanging on the peg in the saloon. The lawman had not listed them among my personal effects, which must mean he was unaware of them. After supper I dozed off.
A pecking on the window beside the bed awakened me. I sat up. There was a face looking back in at me. It was lean, battered, familiar ... the fiddler. He pecked lightly on the window again and made motions to indicate I should be careful and quiet.
The window was stuck, my muscles sore, and my ankle chained to the footboard; sliding up the lower window section proved difficult. With help of the fiddler outside I finally got the job done.
"Come on — I got your horse out here — we can ride out of this sorry town!"
"Not with me chained to a bed, I don't reckon."
He looked in over the sill, saw my situation, and swore beneath his breath. He clambered in through the window, making too much noise even though his thin, Lincolnesque form moved with the lightness of a wind-blown feather.
There proved to be strength as well as suppleness in those long limbs. He squatted at the end of the bed, wrapped a hand around the picketlike metal post I was chained to, and with a few grunts and twists worked it out of the footboard top-piece. My ankle chain slid off. The fiddle player stood and grinned.
"The name's J. W. Smith, but call me Fiddler," he said in a low voice. "You're ..."
"McCan. Luke McCan."
"Pleased to know you, McCan, and thanks for your help today. This here's my way of repaying the favor."
"What's going on in there?" came a gruff voice from the other side of the door. The knob began to turn.
Fiddler Smith turned and dived headlong out the open window. Without a moment's hesitation I followed, hitting the ground with a grunt as the wind was knocked from me. I rose and ran, ankle chain jingling, struggling for breath that would not come, as behind me I heard the exclamation at discovery of empty room and open window. It gave me a joyful feeling, and as soon as breath returned, I laughed.CHAPTER 2
We rode like wind blowing through a narrow mountain gap. For an hour we did not speak to each other, and we looked behind us often to see if there was sign of pursuit. There was none, and at last we slowed our pace to a lope, then a walk. Fiddler Smith's violin bounced on the side of his horse, hanging from the saddle horn in a large flour sack.
"Reckon I'm not enough of a criminal to merit a chase," I commented.
Fiddler Smith grinned. "Reckon not." He dug into his pocket and pulled out a twist of hot tobacco. Carving off a chew with his knife, he shoved the twist at me. I declined.
"Thanks for helping me out," I said.
"No, sir, it's me who owes thanks to you. Them two in that saloon might have done me in if you hadn't stepped in."
"You didn't look much scared, not with the way you kept on teasing that Peahead gent."
"I never had much sense, I admit. Once somebody pushes me, I push the other way. He gave me a hard time about my fiddling, so I gigged him about the lip." He grinned again. "Right mean of me. A man can improve his fiddling, but he can't change a harelip."
I reached down and touched the butt of my pistol, finding it reassuring to have it there again. "You must have took my gunbelt off the peg," I said. "I didn't figure I'd have it again."
"A man needs his weapons. Hey, that is your own horse I gave you, ain't it? It was the only one tied out front of the saloon. I figured it for yours."
"It's mine. Thanks for fetching it."
We rode a while longer, me sizing up Fiddler. He was an interesting-looking man and as ragged a one as I had ever seen. He wore nankeen trousers that had gone out of fashion a decade and a half back, a shirt that once had been yellow and now had faded to a sickly tan and white, and a dark broadcloth coat that hadn't been sponged down for a year or more. His hat was a battered derby greased from much handling. It fit his head as perfectly as a cartridge case around a slug.
We made camp in a grove beside a little stream. Fiddler gathered wood and built a roaring fire. I commented that maybe the fire was a bad idea, in that followers were still a possibility. Fiddler just shook his head.
"Never could abide to camp without a big fire," he said. "A man needs the comfort of light and heat out in the wilderness."
Fiddler had several cans of beans in his saddlebags and broke out two of them. I was glad to see them, being down to dried-up biscuits and a bag of jerky. My plan had been to resupply myself in town, a plan ruined by the row in the saloon.
After we had food under our belts, we fell to talking. Fiddler Smith spoke cheerfully — he seemed one of those types who are always cheerful — and told of a most unillustrious past.
"The mountains of West Virginia's where I come from — that'll always be home to me, though I doubt I'll ever again live in them. Never had a thing as a boy except two good parents. But they died young and left me alone, and that's how it's been for me ever since. My daddy left me nothing but that old fiddle yonder. My two sisters are dead these six and seven years, and the only brother I've got lives up in Powderville, Montana. I ain't seen him in twelve years.
"I took to roaming when I was sixteen. Even though I'm a slender fellow, I was a lot stouter in my younger days, and I've always been strong. The only two things I've ever known how to do is fight and fiddle, and that's how I've made my living. I'd fiddle in saloons, and toss out drunks who got too rowdy and such. Every now and again I'd serve as deputy or policeman in this or that town back east. Mostly I roamed through the cities, doing whatever I had to do to keep body and soul together. I was in Colorado awhile, too, at a little mining camp called Craig City. You might have heard of it."
"I think I have."
"McCan, I'll tell you, I ain't seen a bright prospect in a long time, not until now. Back when I was living in Chicago, I got myself fired from a saloon over a bit of trouble. Well, right after that into town comes this fellow named Walden, Ike Walden, a big white-haired man who called himself a 'freethinker for temperance and health.' He lived in a big house and had some sort of bee in his bonnet about closing down this saloon that had fired me — he claimed it was destroying the community or something like that.
Excerpted from Renegade Lawmen by Cameron Judd. Copyright © 1992 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.
Table of Contents
Part One: Walden City,
Part Two: Back to Montana,
Part Three: Fiddler's Return,
St. Martin's Paperbacks Titles by Cameron Judd,
About the Author,