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Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Old scores being settled

The Linford Western Library large print version of my 2012 book Old Guns is now published, with a particularly striking cover. I love the cover of the hardback by Tony Masero, however the publishers L.A. Thorpe never use the Hale covers but rather different ones.

The blurb: Sam Ransom, broadsided by the death of his old partner Abner, learns of a note left by the dead man – warning that the infamous Meak twins are after Ransom’s life because of what happened at Bur Oak Springs over two decades ago. Ransom knows he must alert the rest of his gang, who were there at the time. His family is in jeopardy and their only hope of salvation is the gang’s return to confront the Meak brothers…

The old guns find themselves up against young guns. It’s a classic situation, where the past returns to not only haunt the hero, but to threaten disaster and death. While the story is set in July 1892 and spans a period of twenty-one days, it harks back to 1859 and also 1866.

This excerpt is early on, when the twins Gideon and Justus Meak have been let out under custody of the deputy sheriff to visit their dying mother.

‘Ma, don’t go on so.’ Gideon resembled his brother in many ways, though his dark brown hair was cut short and his eyes were the colour of shadow – umber. His thin pallid lips and receding chin were inherited from her late husband, God rest his damnable soul. ‘He was only saying–’
            ‘Now you both gang up against your poor mother, do you?’ She scowled and eyed their handcuffs. ‘What a sorry pair you’ve become. I only wish your poor father was here!’
            ‘Shucks, we know, Ma,’ said Gideon.
            She let out a harsh laugh. ‘Know? You know nothing!’
            Justus moved nearer and sat on the side of her bed. He reached out a hand for hers, but she pulled away. ‘Ma, we remember what you told us, about Pa being murdered an’ all.’
            ‘That wasn’t the half of it, son,’ she whispered bitterly.
            Leaning closer, Justus said, ‘What d’you mean, Ma?’
            ‘Where’s that lawman you brung with you?’ she whispered.
            ‘Out on the porch rolling a smoke,’ Gideon said softly. He moved to the other side of the bed. ‘Why’re we whispering?’
            ‘I don’t want that lowdown skunk of a lawman to listen in, that’s why.’
            ‘I’ll go check.’ Gideon moved to the door, cracked it open a little. He nodded, pushed the door to and silently returned to her bedside. ‘He’s dozing in the rocker.’
            ‘My chair,’ she said in a raised tone then caught herself. She looked around at the poorly furnished room and her heart lurched when she glimpsed her reflection in the dressing table mirror. Her once auburn hair was now grey and thin, while her hazel eyes seemed dull, as if diluted pigment. Her thin lips pursed. The family nose was prominent, however, and both her sons took after her there. She tore her eyes away as flames of anger and frustration burned afresh in her breast. Now she must tell her boys and set them on their road of vengeance. ‘There were six men in your father’s gang,’ she said, clearing her throat. She closed her eyes and recited, ‘Carter, Ransom, Tylor, Baines and Nolan.’
            ‘That’s five,’ Justus said.
            Her eyes sprang open and impaled him. ‘Your pa made up the six, idiot!’
            ‘Oh, right.’
            ‘What happened?’ asked Gideon.
            Her lower lip trembled. ‘They decided to share their loot between five, that’s what, and so your pa was shot in the back.’ Tears blurred her vision. She glanced down at her hands, thin and worn like an old woman’s and here she was only fifty-five. Going before her time. ‘Those no-goods not only killed your pa, they ruined my life and yours as well.’
            ‘We know that, Ma,’ said Gideon. ‘You’ve said it often enough, we could’ve ridden a straighter trail if we’d had pa to guide us.’
            ‘Well, it bears retelling.’
            ‘Sure, Ma.’
            Justus said, ‘This is the first time you told us their names – the killers’ names.’
            ‘Well, I tried to bring you up right, but you still went down a crooked path. I didn’t want you going out after them, claiming justice – though the Lord knows, your pa deserves it!’
            ‘So why are you telling us now?’ Gideon asked.
            ‘Yeah, after all these years. We were about six when pa was killed, right, Gideon?’
            ‘So Ma says.’
            ‘I had to bring you up, fend for you and feed and clothe you.’
            ‘We know, and we’re grateful…’
            ‘You still haven’t answered my question,’ Gideon said. ‘Why tell us now?’
            She nodded and glanced down at her trembling thin hands. ‘My conscience, I suppose. They left your pa for dead but he managed to get home and told me everything, how he’d been double-crossed and dry-gulched. They ran off with his share of the loot. A lot of money, it was. Money that should’ve been ours – now it could be yours.’ She wiped tears away with the heel of her hand. ‘I nursed him till he died.’
            ‘But why now, Ma?’ Gideon persisted.
            She raised her head and eyed her sons. ‘Because now you’re men and you’ll soon be free – free to exact revenge.’
            ‘We still have four years left to serve,’ said Gideon.
            ‘Maybe two, if we get parole,’ added Justus.
            ‘Is that so? Well, the doctor tells me I have maybe two weeks left to serve in this life, so I needed to speak to you both before my time was up.’ Her hands reached out to each side, fingers interlacing with theirs. ‘Don’t fail me, boys. Do it for your father.’
            Gideon looked across his mother at Justus.
            She watched them, warm contentment in her chest, and smiled as Gideon said, ‘We’ve got to get rid of Deputy Stone.’
            Justus pursed his lips then nodded.
            Gideon was the strong one, she knew. He’d do her bidding. And Justus, the weaker one, would follow.
            She let go of their hands and twisted her thin right arm behind her, under the pillow and pulled out a Colt Model P .45. She was surprised how heavy it felt; when she’d put it there, its weight had barely signified. ‘I thought you might need this,’ she said. ‘It’s loaded.’
            Blood drained from Justus’s face.
            Gideon nodded then took the weapon, hefted it, his handcuffs chinking.
            As Gideon moved towards the door, she wanted to call to him, but that might alert the deputy. She’d dearly love to watch blood being spilled but consoled herself that she’d listen instead.

Hardback version still available:
Cover my Tony Masero

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