With a bag full of gold dust, Newt "Widowmaker" Jones is set for life. Then he makes his first mistake, trusting a cheerful stranger. By dawn the stranger--Javier Cortina, the son of the famous Texas border bandit, Juan "Red" Cortina--is gone. So is the gold. So are Newt's horse and even his fearsome Colt .44. It's enough to make a man want vengeance. And vengeance will be Newt's.
Newt chases Cortina into Mexico, where the man is legendary for the horses he's stolen, the women he's bedded, and the men he's killed. As for Newt, he has a unique talent for choosing the wrong partners, from an angry, addled judge named Roy Bean to a brother and sister pair of circus gypsies, Fonzo Grey and Buckshot Annie. The more Newt pursues the cunning and deadly Cortina, the angrier he gets, until somewhere on the border the whole crazy journey explodes into an all-out battle of bullets and blood. . ..
Praise for Spur Award winner Brett Cogburn:
"Fans of frontier arcana will revel in Cogburn's readable prose and lively characters." --Publishers Weekly on Rooster
"Cogburn amazes and astounds." --Booklist
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By Brett Cogburn
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Brett Cogburn
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The night was so pitch-black that not a single star shone overhead, and the wind howled like a banshee through the mesquite brush. Maybe that was what had Newt Jones feeling so edgy, or maybe it was the poke of gold tucked away in his saddlebags.
Either way, he was a careful man, and the sound of what he thought was a horse coming was enough to give him pause. He held the coffee to his lips and squinted through the steam lifting from the mug, cocking his head one way and then the other, trying to hear again whatever it was that was out there. The hissing, whipping flames of his campfire lit his pale blue eyes above the scarred knots of his cheekbones, and he set his coffee aside and took up his rifle, his thumb hooking over the Winchester's hammer, and the walnut forearm fitting into his other palm as comfortably as an old friend.
Behind him on their picket line, his horse and pack mule lifted their heads and cocked their ears forward in the direction of the sound of shod hooves clattering over the caliche rock ledge that banked the near side of the river crossing. Whoever it was, they were making no attempt to be sneaky.
When the horseman finally appeared in the edge of the firelight, he was a tall, broad Mexican; almost as tall as Newt, but wearing a wide-brimmed sombrero and with a set of pearly white teeth shining beneath his thick mustache.
"Buenas noches. May I warm myself at your fire?"
It was the middle of summer and far from a cold night. Newt's eyes searched the blackness beyond for signs of anyone else. When he was semiconfident that the Mexican was alone, he motioned with a lifting of his chin for him to dismount.
The Mexican noticed the rifle in Newt's hands and the careful watch he kept on him. He chuckled and nodded slightly as if he approved, and made a point to turn his horse and dismount where Newt could see him plainly, loosening his cinch and dropping his reins on the ground. "¿Un hombre cauteloso, eh?"
"Hmm?" Newt was so focused on the Mexican's every move that he only half heard him.
"You gonna take no chances."
"Always cost me when I did."
The Mexican's horse was well trained to ground tie, and even in the poor light, Newt could see that it was a good horse — big and strong, and a better mount than any he had ever owned. But that was nothing. The fancy saddle on its back was worth more than Newt had ever sunk into a piece of horseflesh. He grunted to himself and hunkered down again on the far side of the fire with his rifle laid across his thighs.
"¿Con su permiso?" The Mexican gestured at the coffeepot sitting on top of some hot ashes raked out of the flames.
The Mexican pulled his own enamel coffee mug from the long saddlebags behind his saddle and walked to the fire with his spur rowels rattling and raking the ground. They were the big Chihuahua kind, with the wide, heavy bands overlaid with silver and rowel spokes half a finger long. They left lines in the sand where they dragged, like tiny snake tracks.
"Muchas gracias, amigo." The Mexican took up the coffeepot and poured himself some. "I have far to go tonight, and some coffee will help."
Newt merely nodded while he noticed the clean white shirt underneath the Mexican's embroidered and brocaded vest, and the row of silver conchos laced with ribbon that ran down each leg of his pants. A real dude, a man of means, or a man who cared a lot about how he looked and spent everything he could on his outfit.
"You wonder where I go?" the Mexican asked.
Newt wondered nothing of the sort, more concerned with where the Mexican had come from and whether or not he was alone.
The Mexican shrugged when Newt didn't reply, and sipped at the hot coffee. "I have a rancho to the east, but my sister, she lives in Socorro and is very sick."
Newt waited long to answer him, while the mesquite wood in the fire popped and crackled between them and the Mexican's dark eyes watched him. "Hope she gets well."
The Mexican nodded gravely, shrugged his shoulders, and made the sign of the Trinity in the air before him. "Maybe I don't get there in time. Maybe she die. Maybe I go there, and she already well. Sólo Dios sabe."
Only God knows. It was a term Newt had heard many times since he had gone west. It was a perfect excuse for anything and everything in a hard country. Something bad happened and you blamed it on God. Some miraculous bit of luck came your way, and you counted it a blessing. More good than bad for most, but Newt couldn't complain. He'd finally had a bit of luck. What did they used to say back home? Even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then? Sólo Dios sabe, sure enough.
It was a hundred miles up or down the river to anything that resembled civilization — nothing but burnt grass and scrub brush as far as you could see in any direction. If there was such a place as "nowhere," then he had found it. And yet, the Mexican's horse didn't look like it had come far, nor did the Mexican.
The Mexican uncurled a finger from the handle of his coffee mug and pointed at the jackrabbit carcass hanging over the coals on a leaning stick jabbed in the ground. "Your dinner?"
"It's not much, but I won't turn you away if you're hungry."
"You are very generous." The Mexican rubbed his belly and smiled again, as if to demonstrate how hungry he was. He jerked a leg off the rabbit and made a show of picking delicately at the meat and smacking in delight, as if it were the most exquisite thing he had ever eaten.
Newt grunted again, but with a little humor. A touch of a smile hinted at one corner of his mouth. Tough, stringy jackrabbit wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. And he was one to know, for until the rabbit darted from under the shade of a mesquite tree and ran in front of his rifle sights, he hadn't had anything to eat in a day and a half.
"I was considering eating my pack mule before that rabbit showed up." Newt didn't know why he said that, but he found himself relaxing his guard. That wasn't a good thing for a man camped alone on the Pecos. He cast a quick glance at his saddlebags out of the corner of his left eye and then looked back at the Mexican just as quickly.
"Your stock, they look tired." The Mexican pitched the rabbit bones aside after he finished picking them clean, and pointed to Newt's picket line.
Newt couldn't argue with that. Not that his saddle horse and the little pack mule had come so far or so hard, but neither of them were particularly good animals to begin with. But that's what a man got on short notice when he left in the middle of the night and in a hurry. Every miner in White Oaks knew that you risked your poke and maybe your life riding in any direction out of town. There were some that made a living breaking their backs digging in the hard New Mexico ground, and some that made a living waiting beside the trail for some unsuspecting, prosperous sort to come along.
And that was why he had saddled up in the wee hours and rode like hell. Not north to the railroad at Las Vegas like most would expect, but south along the Pecos, hoping to strike the Texas Pacific line and catch a ride back East with his fortune intact and some crook wondering how he had gotten away.
"You look familiar," the Mexican said. "Do I know you?"
"Never saw you before." Newt ignored the hint and opportunity to introduce himself.
"You got one of those faces that makes me think I see you somewhere before. Maybe that's it," the Mexican said.
Newt didn't take offense, but there was a time when any mention of his battered face made him self-conscious enough to want to run his fingers over the knot of his oft-broken nose or trace the buckshot and gristle texture of the lump that was one cauliflower ear. Or it might make him want to hit that person in the worst way. A good, solid lick planted right on some unfriendly's nose always did short-term wonders for his temperament. But he told himself those days were long past and he had learned to dismiss the looks strangers gave him. He had fought for every one of those scars, and he'd be damned if he would be ashamed of them. Let them think what they wanted.
The Mexican continued to study Newt across the fire. The two of them stayed like that for a long while, staring while the mesquite wood crackled and the wind pelted them with sand. Newt found it odd to be at such a test of wills with a man he had only recently met, and a smiling, overly friendly man at that.
"Now I know," the Mexican finally said. "You fight that Irishman at Silver City a couple of years ago. What his name?"
"Yeah, that was him. You pretty tough. Thought you gonna win a time or two."
Newt let a hiss of air out between his teeth that was meant as a scoff. "He broke two of my ribs, my nose, and I couldn't close my left fist for a month."
"¿Cuántos vueltas? Thirty rounds?"
"Forty-five. That Mick bastard knocked me down nine times."
The Mexican remained squatting, but shadowboxed and offered phantom punches over the flames. "That was a good fight. You never imagine some people you will run across. Like you, right here. Sólo Dios sabe. Widowmaker Jones in the flesh."
Newt frowned. It was a silly name, and not of his choosing. Seemed like all of his life he had been ending up with things he couldn't do anything about, trying to do things folks said he couldn't, and wanting what was always out of his reach. It wasn't some fight fan or newspaper editor that gave him the name — only a dumb Welshman popping it out of his mouth over a mug of beer in the midst of a victory celebration years before. Such a name shouldn't have lasted with only a half-dozen, not-so-smart pick-handle men and hired muscle in the saloon, and most of them too drunk or too battered to hear anything. But it did. Some things you're stuck with, like it or not.
"What you make for that fight?"
"Not a dime. It was a hundred dollars, winner take all."
"You like that kind of work?"
"What do you mean?"
"Beating people. Getting beat on."
"Money's hard to come by. Worked for the railroad some, dug graves one winter after that, and worked with a blacksmith that following spring. Ended up in a mining camp after that. Fought for prize money here and there when I could and worked as a mine guard and payroll escort when I wasn't swinging a pick or handling a muck stick. You know, whatever it took."
The Mexican nodded and pointed at where Newt's hands were draped over the Winchester cradled in his lap. "Big hands. Manos de piedra ... How do you say? A puncher's hands, no? All scarred from the men you've hit."
Newt glanced at his battered knuckles. He'd always had big hands. All those years ago, when he left the mountains, his mother had stopped him on the porch and taken hold of those hands. She looked at them and then looked at him with that wise old look in her eyes.
"Newt," she said, "God gives every one of us something — some talent. Some he gives smarts and some he gives beauty or the knack to make money or build things. You, he gave hands made for fighting and a head as thick as a Missouri mule. Some would tell a hot-tempered man like you to ride easy out there where you're going, and I'll say the same. It's a far land and no telling what you'll run into. But I'll also tell you, when it comes to a pinch, you use what God gave you. Smite them that vex you to and fro, and lay about you with them hands. Samson didn't have much else but muscle and bone, and he did all right."
Newt laughed to himself and savored the old memory a bit before he answered the Mexican. "I've smote a few that vexed me sorely, and been knocked around myself more than once. You take your licks same as you give 'em."
"How did you come to that line of work? This pugilist business?" the Mexican asked.
"It just happened."
"You were fast when you fight the Butcher. Most big men aren't so fast as you."
"I've always had fast hands."
The Mexican nodded and clucked his tongue, as if it were something he already knew, and as if it confirmed something he already suspected — like a doctor adding up symptoms to make a diagnosis.
"You ask a lot of questions," Newt said.
"Perdóneme. I no properly introduced myself. Me llamo Javier ... Javier Cortina."
Newt immediately recognized the name and started to raise his rifle, but it was too late. The pistol appeared in the Mexican's hand as if by magic, cocked and pointed leisurely across the fire at him with the nickel plating on the steel shining in the firelight like some kind of talisman.
Cortina laughed. "A good fist is something, gringo, but it don't reach so far as a bullet."
Newt's hand crawled up the stock of his rifle toward the trigger guard.
The Mexican extended the pistol and pointed it at Newt's forehead. "Don't try it. You fast, but not fast as me."
Newt cursed under his breath. Damned Cortina sitting there smiling like he was doing him a favor holding a pistol on him. The thievingest bandit on the border, they said he never met a horse he couldn't steal, a woman he couldn't bed, a priest that he couldn't make cross himself, or a man that could run him down or best him with a gun. Of all the people to ride into his camp, and him stupid enough to let his guard down.
"I should have known you right off."
"Don't take it so hard," Cortina said. "Maybe you come through this alive. I get your gold, you know, and you get to keep your life. Fair trade."
"I don't have any gold."
Cortina clucked his tongue and shook his head. "I follow you all the way from White Oaks. Maybe if you wanted to keep it a secret you shouldn't have a drunk for a partner. That Yaqui Jim, he buy everyone in the house rounds and pay for it with gold. All the people, they know Yaqui Jim made a strike."
"You kill Jim?"
"That Jim, he don't listen to reason good."
Newt had always worried that Jim couldn't keep things quiet, despite all the promises he made when they found the pay streak. Nobody would have ever believed the two of them would find anything when they quit their mine guard jobs and headed up the side of the mountain to do a little prospecting. What did a barroom thumper and a half-breed, drunk Indian know about ore? Everybody expected to strike it rich, but few ever did.
But Newt and Yaqui Jim had — a little pocket on the side of the mountain not yet claimed by the company and with a little ledge laced with gold. It was only a small find, and it had been their plan to high-grade it and get gone before the bushwhackers or company men snooping around found out about it. They were so close to getting away with it, but Jim always loved a bottle and wanted to celebrate and show off a little.
There were more riders coming through the brush — a lot of them. Cortina heard them but, smiling smugly, didn't even look their way.
"What say you lay down that rifle and get your poke for me? Save me the trouble of digging through your things," Cortina said.
"Go to hell."
"You first, señor."
Cortina's pistol roared, and that was the last thing Newt remembered until he wasn't dead anymore.CHAPTER 2
Bullets hurt like hell going in, but they can hurt worse later. A lot worse, until you can't think and until you don't know where the hurt begins and ends and you would rather be dead than suffer so. But then again, the only good thing about that kind of pain is that it lets you know you aren't dead. If you're a stubborn sort, hurting like that will make you mad enough to fight through it, if only because getting to your feet is the only way you can find the son of a bitch that did it to you and do worse to him.
Newt Jones woke with his face in the dirt, and it was a long time before he could recall how he came to be in such shape. There was a bullet hole through his chest, still intermittently and slowly seeping blood. There was a lot of blood — some wet and sticky and heavy, and other blood, older, dried and matted and mixing with the sand and forming a pasteboard crust of the front of his shirt. Yet, he was still alive. Cortina's bullet had passed through him like a hot knife, but somehow it hadn't killed him.
Cortina and his men had taken everything he owned: his livestock, his gun, his gold. Made a fool of him. The damned gold. The most money he ever had. Blood and sweat and backbreaking work. The thought of losing it hurt almost as bad as the hole in him.
At least Cortina had left his boots on his feet. There was that, even if he was too weak to walk. As it was, it took him half an hour to crawl the fifty yards to the river's edge. Most times, he would have complained about the bitter Pecos water, but it tasted like heaven. He drank and drank and then dunked his head under until his mind was clearer.
It took him most of the afternoon to rebuild his fire from the feeble coals left from his previous one, and to bathe his wounds. The second day he smashed a rattlesnake's head with a rock. There were plenty of snakes.
Excerpted from Widowmaker Jones by Brett Cogburn. Copyright © 2016 Brett Cogburn. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A likeable bruiser who might be a bit of an outlaw
Good story line .
Loved the subject matter
I don't normally read westerns but I loved this one. The hero didn't get the girl but it doesn't always work out that way.
A good entertaining read. Storyline stretched a bit thin at times, but still very worthwhile. A few characters are subject to revisionist history to have them interact with the story, but done tongue-in-cheek so it works. Would recommend.