WHERE THE BULLETS FLY, VENGEANCE REIGNS
If anyone can smell an investment opportunity, it’s railroad men and big city bankers. They’re not the kind of folks that Sheriff Mackey is used to dealing with. But greed is greed, and if anyone knows how money can drive men to murder, it’s the sheriff of a boomtown like Dover Station. But when Mackey is forced to gun down a pair of saloon rats, it brings a powderkeg of trouble—with a quick-burning fuse of vengeance named Alexander Duramont. This bloodthirsty psychopath wants to kill the sheriff for killing his buddies. And he plans to get his revenge using a highly combustible mix of fire, fear, and dynamite . . .
Mackey’s not sure how he’s going to stop this blood-crazed lunatic.
But it’s going to be one heck of an explosive and very violent showdown . . .
“Hard to put down . . . because of the gritty and stylish narrative, the virtually nonstop action.”
—Publishers Weekly on Terrence McCauley’s Sympathy for the Devil
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Dover Station, Montana, 1888
Sheriff Aaron Mackey had just finished another coughing jag when he heard the ruckus carry up Front Street from the Tin Horn Saloon. A gentle breeze carried the sounds of shouted curses and breaking glass to the jailhouse porch where Mackey sat with Deputy Billy Sunday.
Billy glanced down the street while his long black fingers built his cigarette. "Think we ought to see what that's all about?"
"No." Mackey wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and set his rocking chair to rocking once again. The Tin Horn Saloon had always been a bucket of blood, even back when it had been called Lizzie's Stopover when Mackey was a boy. "Probably some miners getting into it with some loggers or cowpunchers brawling with some cardsharp. Best let Sam's new bouncer earn his keep. Bastard's making more than either of us, anyway. If they need us, they know where to find us. Always have."
Normally, Mackey would've walked down to the Horn to make sure things didn't go too far, but that day was not a normal day. It was the first time he had been out of bed in a week. The pneumonia made him feel like hell and look even worse. A week's worth of beard stung his fingers as he rubbed his hand over them, and his hair was greasier and longer than he liked. His lungs ached something awful, and he felt like he was breathing through a wet towel.
But wheezing in the rocking chair on the front porch of his jail was better than suffering fever dreams in bed.
He didn't walk down to the Tin Horn because he didn't dare risk falling over if he tried to stand. The pneumonia had left him far weaker than he'd ever admit and was not finished with him yet, no matter how much he willed it so.
Besides, it was a beautiful afternoon and he saw no reason to ruin it over another drunken brawl down at the Horn. Hopefully, it would run its course and that would be that.
Mackey stifled a cough as he watched the town settle into the same drowsy mood it usually reached that same time each day. A few of the regular townspeople moved about their business, either shopping at the general stores or on their way someplace else. Unfamiliar men and women browsed the shop windows along Front Street the way horses nose grass. He knew they must have been waiting for the stagecoach because the train wasn't due to make a stop in town until the next day. They didn't need anything and had no intention of buying anything, either. Looking in the windows was just something to do while they were hitched to the town, waiting to move on to the next place. None of them seemed especially bothered by the sounds of the brawl coming from the Tin Horn.
Neither were the two men from the town's Veterans Committee, who were climbing atop wooden ladders to stretch a new canvas banner across Front Street. They managed to tie it off fast before the banner billowed in the wind.
Dover Station Veterans Dance – To-Morrow Come One ~ Come All WELCOME MR. RICE AND MR. VAN DORN
Despite being veterans themselves, neither Mackey nor Billy had attended the dance since they had returned to Dover Station five years before. Mackey had always thought of the dance as a bunch of nonsense; an excuse for old men to wear faded uniforms and tell lies about the War Between the States. Every year, he received a formal invitation addressed to Captain Aaron Mackey, United States Cavalry. Every year, he threw it away unopened.
Mayor Mason had already decreed that this year's gala would be the biggest, most impressive event in the town's history. Several bankers from New York City would be in attendance, including Mr. Frazer Rice and Mr. Van Dorn of the Rice Van Dorn Company. Mr. Rice and Mr. Van Dorn had indicated that they were seriously considering investing in the town, and Mayor Mason wanted to give them a warm welcome. The mayor said the gala wouldn't just celebrate the town's veterans, but the Town of Dover Station itself. Another crew of volunteers was over at the train station making signs of welcome for the dignitaries and hanging bunting all around the station.
It was all window dressing, as far as Mackey was concerned, like hanging lace curtains in a whorehouse. They could make the town as pretty as they'd like, but no one could hide what it really was: a cow town with decent mining and logging concerns. Mackey saw no reason to hide it, for those were the very reasons why the investors were coming to town in the first place. Men like Rice and Van Dorn weren't interested in bunting and dances and cheering crowds. They were interested in making money.
As the volunteers finished tying off their banner, Mackey watched Billy finally lick the cigarette paper and seal his smoke. Given how long Mackey had been bedridden, he decided his deputy could stand some teasing. "I've seen houses built faster than you build a smoke."
But Billy wasn't a man to be hurried. "You've got no intention of going back to bed, do you?"
"What's that got to do with how long it takes you to build a cigarette?"
"Because you get bored when you're sick and you only pick on me when you're bored." Billy tucked the cigarette in the corner of his mouth and thumbed a match alive. "You need to go back to bed."
Mackey doubted he had the strength to stand, but knew he wasn't strong enough to argue with Billy Sunday. Mackey was only thirty-five years old, but the pneumonia had left him feeling closer to eighty. Or at least what he envisioned eighty might feel like; not that he had any illusions about living that long.
"Got no time for bed," he said as he resumed rocking. "Fell behind on some things during my convalescence."
He looked north toward the town cemetery behind the blacksmith's shop. Most of the men he had killed in his five years as sheriff were buried in a section the locals had taken to calling "Mackey's Garden." He usually didn't like such names because they caused a man to acquire a reputation, and reputations caused more trouble than they were worth.
But the term seemed to dampen men's zeal about breaking the law in Dover Station, so he decided to allow the name to stick. "Was planning on watering my garden."
"You're too weak to sit up straight, much less tend to any gardens. Besides, dead men don't need watering. You'll find that out personally if you don't get back to bed."
Mackey knew Billy was right, but it didn't dampen his enthusiasm to keep the argument going. "I decided the garden could wait." He ran his hands over the wooden arms of his rocking chair. "Got behind on my rocking the past week or so. Need to keep my hand in lest I lose the knack for it."
Billy blew the smoke into the wind, away from Mackey. "You're too young to be taking up a rocking chair, Aaron. Best leave the rocking to older men."
"At this rate, I may not get any older." He stifled another cough and winced. His sore lungs ached with a vengeance. "Just as soon get it in now while I can."
"You'll be doing more rotting than rocking if you don't take care of yourself. Pneumonia calls for bed rest and plenty of it. Being out here will only make it worse."
Although the sun had disappeared behind the jailhouse half an hour before, Mackey made a show of looking up at the sky. "Don't want to go in just yet. The sun feels good on my chest."
Billy didn't laugh at the bad joke. "You've had enough sun for one day. Any more, you're apt to start looking like me. Can't have two black lawmen in town. I couldn't stand the competition. I like being an oddity." Billy turned his head and blew more smoke into the wind up Front Street. "You need to go to bed."
"Jesus." Mackey closed his eyes and kept rocking. "If I wanted nagging, I'd go home to Mary."
"As if she'd have you. She might not like you very much, but you're the only husband she's got. She'll blame me if you die and make her a widow."
Mackey ignored the growing sounds of a brawl from the Tin Horn and pondered Billy's statement as he rocked. His wife hadn't said a civil word to him in years and wasn't apt to do so in the near future. If she cried after his death, it would be to mourn her own widowhood rather than her husband's passing. She had already buried one husband and knew her complexion was much too fair to look good in black. Appearances mattered a great deal to Mrs. Mary Hannon Mackey.
Mackey didn't let the growing noise from the Tin Horn distract him from his thought. "Probably get a good turnout at my funeral, though. Bet Mayor Mason, Doc Ridley, and the rest of those sons of bitches would throw themselves one hell of a planting party to celebrate my demise. Might be good for the morale of the town."
"All the more reason to spite them by going back to bed." Billy nodded at the shadow of the new banner hanging across Front Street. "Besides, your daddy's party will boost morale enough to suit me just fine. Your death would just spoil things, and you know how much he looks forward to that shindig."
But Mackey wasn't done exploring the prospects of his own passing. The morbidity of death had lost its grip on him long ago. "He'd get over it once the bar opened up. Besides, if I kick, you'll probably get the gold star and the big chair behind the desk."
"And the big headaches that go with them." Billy took a long drag on his cigarette. "The mayor and his new friends from New York wouldn't take to having a black sheriff in town. The star you gave me suits me just fine and ..."
Both men looked at the flurry of movement and color that appeared on the other side of Front Street.
The men up on the ladders whistled and cheered as a round, red-haired woman came barreling out of the alley between the Tin Horn and the Dover Station Dry Goods Store. She had bunched up the skirts of her faded red dress high around her hips as she ran up the boardwalk toward the jailhouse.
Mackey recognized her as one of the new sporting ladies Sam Warren had brought in on the stagecoach from Butte a month before, though he couldn't recall her name.
"Damn." Billy took a final drag on his cigarette before flicking it into the thoroughfare. "Looks like trouble."
Mackey stopped rocking. "A whore running in broad daylight usually does."
"Want to go see what's wrong?"
Mackey still wasn't sure how weak his legs were. The town was already full of rumors about his impending death. Falling into the muddy thoroughfare of Front Street would turn rumor into fact. "The girl is moving at a good pace. If she needs us, she knows where we are."
The woman skidded to a stop directly across from the jailhouse. Like most of Warren's sporting ladies, she was incredibly top-heavy and had to grab a porch beam to keep from falling into the thoroughfare. That's when Mackey realized she was in her bare feet. Another bad sign.
"Sheriff," she yelled across to him. "You need to come right quick. There's trouble in the Tin Horn, and you gotta come now."
"We already heard," Mackey shouted back, his voice cracking from the effort. "What kind of trouble."
"Some strangers wouldn't give up their guns when the new bouncer told them to, so Sam wouldn't serve them. They set to beating Sam and the bouncer, too. They're kicking holy hell out of both of them right now!"
Mackey was on his feet before he realized it. "How many?"
"Five, I think. I don't know for certain on account of me being busy upstairs when it started. I climbed out the back window to fetch you when I realized what was happening."
Five was a decent number, but not enough to worry him. "Head over to Maude's Rooming House and tell her I sent you if she gives you any trouble."
The redhead paddled on her way as Mackey went to get the rifles from the jail. He grabbed for the doorjamb as the world tilted sideways.
Billy grabbed his arm to keep him from falling. "How about you stay here and let me handle this. I'll find Sim Halstead and the two of us'll face them down together."
Mackey tried shaking off the dizziness, but no luck. After the second time, his head cleared a little. "I'm fine."
"Christ, Aaron. There's only five of them. Sim and I can ..."
"Sim's just an auxiliary and it's not his job. It's not yours, either. It's mine, and I don't get paid to let other people do my duty."
Billy let go of his arm. "Stubborn bastard."
Mackey went in the jailhouse and took his flat brimmed hat from the hook on the back of the door. After setting it on his head, he could've sworn the ache in his chest dulled a little. It could've been wishful thinking, too.
He took down his Winchester from the rifle rack and handed Billy his Sharps. Neither man levered a round into the chamber. Since their cavalry days, they had always made a practice of keeping their weapons fully loaded and ready. Both had Colt revolvers in the holsters on their belts, too. Billy wore his on his hip, while Mackey wore his just to the left of his buckle, another tradition they'd taken with them when they left the cavalry.
Mackey weaved as another wave of dizziness hit him. He shook it off and kept walking.
Billy gritted his teeth as he slammed the jailhouse door behind him. "You are one stubborn son of a bitch, you know that?"
Mackey was too busy fighting to stay upright to argue. "Don't forget to lock the door."
Billy locked the door and followed Mackey up the boardwalk toward the Tin Horn.CHAPTER 2
Mackey felt his steps grow steadier the more he walked. The sheriff and the deputy both wore Colt pistols — the sheriff with the belly holster to the left of his buckle for an easy draw and the deputy with his Colt on his hip. Both men kept their rifles at their sides as they walked. The townspeople had seen this walk before and reacted accordingly. They knew it was time to head indoors without question or protest. Doors of shops and homes slammed shut as the two lawmen walked down Front Street. The few visitors milling about the boardwalk town took a cue from the locals and made their way indoors.
The chilly spring wind blowing up Front Street helped clear the fog of sickness from Mackey's mind. He counted twelve horses hitched to the posts in front of the Tin Horn. Based on what the whore had told them, there were five men inside raising hell, but Mackey knew better than to take whores at their word. There might be more.
The exact number didn't really matter. He kept walking anyway. And so did Billy.
They stopped directly across the thoroughfare from the batwing doors of the Tin Horn just as a group of men stumbled out onto the boardwalk.
Mackey took a quick inventory:
Five men. Late teens to late thirties.
Four of them holding whiskey bottles.
The fattest of the bunch was the oldest. He was also in the middle and lugging a crate of whiskey.
All five men had guns on their hips.
All of them were drunk, too.
Mackey and Billy brought their rifles up to their shoulders at the same time.
It took a few seconds for the five drunkards to notice Mackey and Billy. It took another second for them to realize they were covered. Drunk as they were, they stopped moving when they did.
Mackey was glad his voice was strong when he called out: "You boys are under arrest for being drunk and disorderly. Set your bottles and your guns on the boardwalk and put your hands against the wall. Do it nice and easy and no one gets hurt."
The five men had formed a ragged, weaving line along the front steps and boardwalk of the Tin Horn. The two men on the far left side were still standing on the boardwalk. They were young and wide-eyed; their flap holsters buttoned. They looked eager, but unsure and scared. Mackey knew they'd pull if they had to, but they wouldn't pull first.
The fat man in the middle was holding the crate of whiskey. He'd have to drop the case to go for his gun. He'd be dead before the case hit the boardwalk, and he looked old enough to know it, too. Mackey paid him little mind.
But the two men on the far right were a different story. They weaved just enough to be drunk, but steady on their feet. No flap holsters for them. They wore their pistols just far enough down their legs to give them a faster, easier draw. Both of them had hard eyes.
One of them was even smiling.
If trouble started, it would start with them. They'd been through this kind of thing before.
But so had Mackey and Billy.
Mackey shifted his aim to the two gun hands on the right. Billy shifted his aim left.
The last man on the right spoke up. "You're Aaron Mackey, ain't you? The hero of Adobe Flats." He smiled. "I heard of you."
Mackey sensed something was about to break and tried to stop it. "Last warning, boys. No one has to ..."
The gunman on the far right dropped his bottle as he went for his gun. So did the man next to him.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Where the Bullets Fly"
Copyright © 2018 Terrence McCauley.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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