Tag Archives: western

Review – The Shootout Solution (Genrenauts #1) by Michael R. Underwood (Audiobook)

Shootout_Solution I’ve known about Michael’s work for some time. We interviewed him for the Dead Robot’s Society.

Synopsis: Leah Tang just died onstage. Well, not literally. Not yet. Leah’s stand-up career isn’t going well. But she understands the power of fiction, and when she’s offered employment with the mysterious Genrenauts Foundation, she soon discovers that literally dying onstage is a hazard of the job!

Her first assignment takes her to a Western world. When a cowboy tale slips off its rails and the outlaws start to win, it’s up to Leah – and the Genrenauts team – to nudge the story back on track and prevent a catastrophe on Earth. But the story’s hero isn’t interested in winning, and the safety of Earth hangs in the balance….

Production: Mary Robinette Kowal is the performer for this audio book. I say “performer” because she does a lot more than a straight read. Each character gets their own distinct voice, complete with accent. The efforts are consistent and it adds some nice depth to the piece. It’s always a little dodgy when a person attempts a voice where the character is a different gender from the performer. Mary does a very good job with the male voices. I’m not a huge fan of one particular character’s voice, since it sounds more like she has a bad chest cold due to the low register. It doesn’t detract from the story, though.

Grade: A

Story: Before I get to reviewing the story in particular, I wanted to say a few words about the idea. The concept that story has a deep impact on the real world is evocative and dare I say true? While I don’t believe in other dimensions where these tropes live and breathe is a real thing, I want to. This is the kind of idea I as a writer wanted to have. This is the kind of series I’d love to write. Only one problem, Michael did it first, and I suspect did it better than I would have. His education in this matter shines through.

Having a team who injects themselves into stories to solve their problems and tame the ripples these problems cause in the real world is brilliant. It allows for commentary on the genre itself (as one character says, there haven’t been (m)any groundbreaking movies or books in the genre for decades and this makes me said), and it also lets him play with tropes many of us know and love.

Now, on to the story. I love westerns. While I haven’t read very many, I consumed movies in the genre in massive doses ever since I was a small child. When I saw Michael’s first genre out of the gate was a Western, I was intrigued. I was not disappointed. The story uses many of the tropes and characters I love, and it puts a new spin on some of them. Since each of the genrenauts has to inhabit the body of a character in the story world, there’s a great fish out of water element. Leah becomes the young cowboy “Lee”, so not only must she play a part she’s not familiar with, she also has to become someone of a different gender and race.

Most of the conflict comes from finding out where the story is broken. The mystery elements are strong and the solution is satisfying. There’s some real teamwork on display and we also get to see Leah find her place on it. Everything is tied up fairly neatly by the end, just as it would if this were an episode of a TV show (which is sort of the point as I understand this series).

The world outside of the genrenauts, the one inhabited by Leah and her crew is interesting and it’s inhabited by a diverse cast. They have to keep the existence of this organization and the identity of its members a secret. If word got out that there were multiple dimensions, much less that there was a group who could travel to and from them and did so in an effort to save the world, chaos would ensue. The stakes are high, as a result. It means Leah will need to keep her public and private escapades separate, so there’s a super hero vibe to it. I would like to see more conflict as those worlds rub up against one another.

if I have a complaint, it’s a small one. Something about the whole story feels a little too “perfect”. Leah gets a phenomenal job with amazing pay and cool people. Yes, there’s an element of danger. People get hurt. But, she’s literally a chosen one who has the right skill set to get the job done. Of course, I suppose these elements are also a commentary of sorts on the tropes in question. I’d like to see more conflict or a little more mistrust coming from Leah. After all, the entire experience she has should cause a massive upheaval in her world view and in her life. Now, having said that, this is a novella and Michael is faced with the challenge of telling not just one story, but effectively two in tight confines.

Grade: A-

Verdict: I enjoyed “The Shootout Solution” a great deal. Everything from the concept to the execution is well done. The characters are a little thing in some cases, but Leah feels like a fully fleshed out person. The audio was a great listen, though in the future I’ll probably stick to reading the e-books. I highly recommend you have a look at this book and I will definitely be picking up book two.

Grade: A

Michael’s Blog
Amazon E-book
Audible book

Review – West of Dead by Eric Bahle (Ebook)

This is another one of those books/authors that I found out about through the Twitter-verse. I saw zombies and wild/weird west and I was sold (though this one was another freebie when I picked it up).

Fans of Joe R. Lansdale, Robert Davis, and Adam Millard will love this fast paced tale of the Weird West.

What good is a six-shooter against a horde of the undead?

Nathaniel Caine wants to forget the War and see the frontier, and a trip by stagecoach seems like the perfect way. When the stage pulls into a deserted way station with obvious signs of violence, but a disturbing lack of bodies, he suspects things are going bad. Things go from bad to worse when the passengers fall under attack by people that should be dead, and Caine must call on old skills just to survive. He’ll also need the help of a fellow passenger who knows more than he’s telling if the restless dead are to be put back in the ground.

This book grabbed me from the very beginning. That’s important in a book like this (or perhaps any book really). The action and tension started at a fairly high point within the first few pages. Most of the characters are exactly as deep as they need to be for something like this. There is one character that was a nice surprise, but I won’t spoil said surprise. I don’t think Eric’s breaking really new ground here, but this is pure Saturday afternoon fun.

The thing I appreciate most about this story is that he makes an attempt at least to pay homage to zombieism’s historical roots. These zed heads are a good mix of walkers and their Caribbean ancestors. The latter is mostly for flavor, so it seems to me, but it’s a nice spice.

The writing is good. He kept the pace quick and I was “flipping” pages like mad to see what happened next. The only time I ever stumbled in the reading process was later in the book when he did some abrupt POV shifts. It’s good practice in my opinion to make some kind of hard break when you do that, but it didn’t happen a lot and I picked up and kept right on reading.

This book is now $2.99 at Amazon. The question is, is it worth it? If you want a fun, solid shoot-em up with some scares and a little gore this is the book for you. The only thing cerebral about this are the brains liberally spattered around during the last third.

I give this book four out of five brass cartridges.

Eric’s Site
Eric’s Twitter
Amazon Kindle Link

The Way of the Gun – Kickstarter

Some of you may remember my experiment on something called The Lessons of the Gun. I am writing a novelette and I am giving away the first six thousand words to whet your appetite. So far there haven’t been too many takers. That’s okay. That kind of thing happens in experimentation. I’ll continue to let it ride.

There’s been an addition though, a sort of “LEVEL UP”, to the mix. I approached five authors about writing a story in this world and we’re doing a Kickstarter. There will be six stories total in this world, including mine. If you’ve already chipped in for the story I’m writing you’ll still get it. If the Kickstarter succeeds you’ll get the edited version.

So what’s all this about?

The short stories in this anthology will have all of the action and adventure that you’d expect from a Sunday matinee shoot’em up with a dash of philosophy and tension as ancient codes deal with an increasingly modern world.

In addition to my own story, this anthology will contain works by some of my favorite authors. Jake Bible, the mind behind Dead Mech and The Americans, Justin Macumber, author of the military sci fi novel Haywire, Zach Ricks, editor of Flagship magazine and author of his own Weird Western series, Jared Axelrod, creator of the rich world behind Fables of the Flying City and Doc Coleman podcaster and author of the steampunk series Crackle and Bang.

The goal is five thousand samolians, which will go towards paying this fine people, as well as an editor and cover artist. As of the writing of this post we’ve hit $640, which amazes me. Even more amazing is that three people pledged at the $100 level. For that they get a character named after them in their choice of author’s story, the e-book, and the printed book signed by all authors. Pretty sweet deal.

So go have a look, let me know what you think, and help us make this happen!

Lessons of the Gun – Progress Report

Last week I posted a PDF of my latest work in progress (you can download the PDF here). It’s an alt-history/weird western that treats gunslingers a bit like the samurai of the old west. I’d love it if you’d download it and tell me what you think.

If you really enjoy it you can vote with your dollars. Hit the Paypal link below and When the completed version comes out you’ll get it (and you’ll have paid less for it than later adopters). If I get enough “pre-orders” I’d like to pay someone for a good cover and perhaps even get it professionally edited. Think of it as a mini Kickstarter. I’ve been working on it over the last week and it’s a fun universe. I’ve been told that it’s “lovely” and have had more than one person say that they’re going to be blogging about it. Feel free to share the link to the download with your friends!

Picture Credit

Lessons Of The Gun

I am in the process of writing a novelette called “The Lessons of the Gun”. It’s an alternative history western that blends gun fights with philosophy. What if marshals and rangers were part of a belief system that treated the Colt .45 like samurai treated their katana? An old gunslinger faces one final battle for the peace of his town, the life of his acolyte. and possibly the future of his Order.

I decided that I’d see if something a little different would work. I’m making a PDF of part one available to you for free. If you decide it’s worth it hit the PayPal button and when the finished e-book comes out you’ll get it for free. Like it, but not enough to pay right now? The e-book will be coming out soon, but given the length I envision I will probably be charging at least another buck or so.

Get it here!

Werewolves and Haunted Cemeteries

A little over a week ago I put Fetch up on Smashwords. I thought to myself, “Let’s just see how an expanded version does.” I’ve been tickled with the results. While I’ll grant you that the overall sales numbers haven’t broken into the double digits yet (one more would do it), it’s my best selling story to date in terms of how quickly I’ve reached that number. More importantly, a number of people have discovered my back catalog of stories there. So overall I’d say it’s a success for me personally.

A number of reviews have gone up and all of them have certainly pleased me. Critical Press Media says that, “Roche, true to form, sets out to turn folklore on its ear.” Fred Grenvile said that it’s “a remarkable little story with a number of uncommon observations lurking just beneath the surface” and compared me favorably to Flannery O’connor. David Sobkowiak left a review on Smashwords that tickled me utterly when he said he was “more than a little moved by this story.” He went on to say this, “It not only scares me on a spiritual level, but also on an emotional level. It speaks to a greater battle that we as humans often never consider.” It’s exactly the kind of reaction I was shooting for.

John Wilkerson went through the trouble of leaving me a video review (which blows me away).

So, if any of this speaks to you and you’re interested in buying the story, go here. You can read the first half for FREE and that in and of itself is a complete story, though it may leave you wanting more. It’s only $1.49, as at least one reviewer said, well worth the price of admission. I get a healthy cut of that.

In other news I released two werewolf stories under one title on Amazon over the weekend. The first one, “The Good Doctor”, was written for Great Hites. I should go on to say that I think this particular episode of Great Hites is possibly the best of the bunch.

The other story, called “Changes”, was inspired by a prompt from News From Poughkeepsie. The original story was posted here so feel free to read it. The version on Amazon has been tweaked, but I believe runs about the same length.

So, feel free to read the stories as I’ve put them out there for free and if you like them, go buy them in one tidy package for your Kindle. I will likely be putting this on Smashwords this week and putting most, if not all my Smashwords stories on Amazon, since at this point they don’t talk well to each other. So stay tuned and thank you for supporting my work!


So this week at News From Poughkeepsie is all about Werewolves and will be focusing on character rather than plot.

Day 126 is Werewolves I have known…

Zach says he doesn’t mind the change much anymore. Says he’s come to terms. We’ve all got our rows to hoe, he says, his isn’t any different. Old Roger Gilbert mutters something about his destroyed rabbit hutch and my he has to pay for Zach’s hoeing, but no ones pays him any mind.

Zach says he’s a changed man, but he didn’t need to say it. We can all see the return of Zach’s beard. He shaved it off right after he got bit, and it’s good to see it back. Zack said he didn’t want hair on his face, not while human. Good to see human nature–and probably a bit of sloth–win out.

“I’m okay,” he said, ordering another beer. “I’m a werewolf.”

“Naturally,” said the bartender. “You and everyone else in this town…”

He slid a frosty mug to the young man. “Now the question ya gotta ask yerself is what yer gonna do with it.”

Zach’s thick brows knit together in confusion. “What do ya mean Joe?”

It was my turn to put my two bits in. “What he means Zach, is that while you’ve come to terms with what you are, at least part of the time, you barely knew what you were all of the time, before the change.” Zach had only been eighteen when the bite happened. I’d say that was a shame, but that would be admitting that being a lycanthrope was somehow a bad thing. It’s not. “Now you need to rediscover what it is to be yourself.”

Zach now had a monobrow, his face was so squinched. “You talk too durn much Doc.”

I sighed and sipped my beer. “You denied your wolf half after the attack. That’s natural. Now you’re embracing it. But there is a whole that is greater than the sum…” No that was going to be too much. “You’re not just a man and you’re not just a wolf, you can be the best or the worst of both. What’s it going to be?”

Understanding dawned on his face like the moon breaking through the clouds on a crisp October evening. “I gotcha Doc. Pa used to say somethin’ like that about him and Ma. I got her looks and his brains, instead of the other way around.”

More’s the pity. Zach was a handsome enough boy, if rough around the edges. I nodded. “More or less. If you ever want to talk about it then you just need to come by my office any time.”

I made that offer more than once over the many years I’d been a doctor in the territory. After all everyone who lives here is here because they had “the curse” and were shipped off by the human world as a “humane” solution to our problem. Really it was their problem since while here, we were still what we were, and they are still bigots. So, as one of the few outcasts with real medical experience, I became physician, counselor, even alienist. I was able to help some of our people deal with the change and integrate into our society.

That night was not the first or the last time I’d made the offer to Zach either. Unfortunately he didn’t take me up on it. A month later I was in my office, consulting a few tomes on human and lupine physiognomy. There is no widely accepted scholarly work that tells us much about our form and I was determined to write the first. I had written extensively on the affects of wolfsbane on our change and examined the properties of silver and why it might be so toxic to us, but those were relatively speaking minor and there were larger fish to fry.

The loud knock on my door startled me out of my reverie and I went to answer. Lo and behold it was Sheriff Jeremiah with a body slung over one shoulder. I could smell the gunpowder clinging to them both and the unfortunate tang of silver underneath it all. Protocol and wisdom demanded that Jeremiah’s gun be loaded with the deadly metal. Thankfully over the years we determined how much of it was necessary to merely incapacitate, rather than kill.

I saw, to my chagrin, that he carried Zach. “Set the boy down over there.” I pointed to the table on one wall of my consulting chamber. The words weren’t needed since this was hardly our first time through this waltz.

He nodded and did as he was asked. “Caught him in the Miller’s sheep fold. He had too much ta drink earlier today and decided ta help himself.” He lowered the body to the table and strapped him down. The restraint system would do the trick, it always did. There was one wound in his right shoulder. He had also been beaten pretty badly. I held nothing against the sheriff for that. He had done what he had to do and the boy was still alive after all.

I took my bag and removed a scalpel, using it to cut away the shirt, already ripped in places due to the bulk put on by the change. Unconsciousness returned him to his God given form though and my cuts revealed pink skin. Silently I plied the tools of my trade and with little effort removed the offending slug. Thankfully it was in one piece. I dropped it in a steel tray, making sure to leave my instruments with it so they could be decontaminated.

A few stitches, fewer than a pure human would need, held the wound closed. It would be fully healed in a day or so. The silver contamination, which I refused to flush out in cases like this, would leave a scar. Hopefully it would serve as a reminder.

With the offending bullet removed, our amazing body’s ability to heal itself went to work. The external injuries would fade within hours. He began regaining consciousness in mere minutes. Eyelids fluttered open and the last actions that the body was undertaking were remembered first. He struggled against the bonds, but they were tested against the largest of our men in full transformation.

After a few minutes he remembered himself and lay still. His look went from angry to confused to sheepish. “Hey Doc.” The whiskey smell mixed with the sheep’s blood on his breath nearly gagged me. Separately the two odors were pleasing enough, but not so much when co-mingled.

“Hello Zach.” I nodded down at him. “If I let you out there will be no more foolishness?”

He shook his head, hair tossed with enthusiasm. “No sir.”

I unbuckled the restraints, aware of Jeremiah’s presence behind me. “Sheriff I’ll return him to you, when we’re done if that’s okay?”

“Sure Doc. I’ll be down at tha jail.” I heard the door open and close behind me.

Satisfied that we were alone, I stepped back and gestured for him to get off the table. “Have a seat young man. This talk is long overdue.”

Zach climbed down, trying to arrange his ripped shirt to cover himself. “Thanks Doc, all the same to you I want to go home.” He climbed down and started to follow the law man.

My growl surprised even me. It’s not often I give voice to my lupine half. When I do it’s been said to cause some grown human men to faint.

He had the common sense to stop, though I could see the small hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

“Sit down young man.” My voice was firm rather than angry. This time he sat, picking the smaller of the two chairs in the space reserved for my counseling sessions.

“What do you want Doc?” His cheeks reddened and he was actually able to meet my eyes. He was angry, though at whom I couldn’t say.

I sat in my chair, keeping his gaze. “I want you to think about the talk we had in the bar. You are embracing the worst of our natures instead of the best. We don’t attack the animals that belong to others. We don’t drink more than we can handle and let that cause us to be foolish. It’s bad enough that we have to be here, we don’t have to give them the satisfaction of knowing that they’re right.” I nodded east in the general direction of what passed for civilizaiton.

The anger turned to petulance. “Yer tha one denyin’ who ya are Doc. Tha wolf takes what it wants and so do real men.”

I took a deep breath. It wasn’t the first time I had heard this sort of talk. Plenty of our young men were angry. They came here without family, without any resources, and banded together, teaching each other the ways of life. “Is that right? Tell me Zach, would your father approve of this?” I gestured encompassing his appearance.

“Ah Doc you know I didn’t know my father.” He looked at the clean pine floor.

“So instead of coming to me, you listen to a lot of useless whelps and drink too much and stir up trouble. Is that what you want to be? A drunken rabble rouser?” My words were colored by the anger I now felt coming on strong. I was in control though, always in control.

Not so much the boy across from me. “You don’t understand Doc.” His words became mushy as teeth crowded his jaw and his voice deepened. “You don’t know…” His eyes flashed red.

Before he could leave the chair my hand moved and gathered the silver headed cane that leaned against my reading table. I kept it there, head down, just in case. The weighted end came out and struck him in the jaw. Bone cracked and the smell of scorched hair and flesh filled the air. I was surprised to see that my own thick white pelt covered the skin of my hand. I hadn’t felt the change happen. My own anger had almost gotten the best of me. I willed the hair back in and saw it recede.

I placed the cane back on the floor and stood, looking at Zach. While he lay there, once again looking for all the world like a man, clutching his jaw and moaning I swiftly unbuttoned my shirt. “Oh I understand.” Even as a man I was uncommonly hirsute. White hair covered my chest and belly, except for the long double scar. They went from shoulder to hip crossing over my sternum. “My own father gave me this and left me to die in the woods. He rejected me. My wife rejected me. My life became nothing. I lost more than you can understand.”

I held out a hand to him, letting my shirt hang open. He took it and stood. “Sorry Doc.”

“I didn’t tell you that so you’d be sorry for me.” I clapped him on his shoulder. “And I don’t want you to waste time feeling sorry for yourself either. You are a wonderful creation. Luna loves you. I love you. I want to be a father to you, if you want me to.”

There was still a coal of anger in Zack’s eyes. Some of it was likely at me, but I knew that most of it was directed at himself. He hated what he was. We all did at first, unless we were unhinged. That anger changed to resolve as we stood looking at each other. I’m not a mind reader, but I could see familiar gears turning. He was probably thinking about those young men he had been associating with. I hoped he found their quality wanting.

He held out his hand. I took it. “Thanks Doc. I do.”

I nodded. “Good. First you need to go down to the jail. Then you need to do whatever Jeremiah tells you. The Millers are good people and you did them wrong. When you’ve done that, you can come back here and we’ll talk about what it means to truly change.”

He pulled himself into my arm and hugged me fiercely. We held the embrace for a moment and then he backed away and dropped his hands to his side. The place where I had clubbed him looked bad and it too would scar up. He needed those scars as I needed mine. We needed to know our weaknesses, earn our badges, before we could really be different.

Without another word he left. I buttoned my shirt and turned to the sideboard. There were the pictures of the boys and even a few girls that I had been a surrogate father to over the years. Jeremiah’s picture was there. Others hadn’t made the change and together I and my pack had to put them down. I had a good feeling about this one though. Zack could do it. It wouldn’t be easy, but with the good ones it never was.

Lucky is a Lady

Day 116 is Western…in space I know, I’m doing them a little out of order, but that’s okay.

Lucky Goldstein thought this run would be easy. Protect a cargo ship through Vregonian space, collect payment on Halo, and spend a weekend or twelve with her toes in the sand. Probably wouldn’t even have to use her gun.

But when an asteroid plowed into the ship, leaving most of the senior crew dead or injured, things started to get difficult. And when the cargo was found out to be frozen Vregonians, packaged for slavery, well, that certainly didn’t make things any easier.

If Lucky’s going to make it to Halo, she better live up to her name real fast…

Lucky made herself comfortable, at least as comfortable as she could given the fact that her cot wasn’t exactly designed for the human frame. At one meter seven she was a little longer than the one meter five pad. Add to that that it was hard and square and at a slight incline and all of that made sleeping difficult.

She chuckled to herself. There was no reason to expect that her “hosts” would have done anything to make her comfortable. The cell that the Vregonians put her in wouldn’t have even been comfortable to a Vregonian. The relative humidity was lower and the temperature higher than the norm for this planet. The amphibioid race wasn’t known for their sentient rights policies. That made her presence here all the more frustrating.

Being busted for slave trading by a bunch of bipedal salamanders whose press gangs were legendary stung more than just a little. Not the least because it wasn’t true. Sure, the ship she was one held a dozen hatchlings in suspended animation. Sure, she was in charge of security. She couldn’t help it that she hadn’t double checked the manifest against the actual contents of the hold. For all she knew the folks piloting the ship were just as ignorant as she was. They were all dead now though.

Shaking her head, which caused her chocolate bangs to bounce, she blew softly into the electronic mouth harp. Sad notes filled the air. All of the excuses for her sloppiness or derision for her captors that she could muster couldn’t change the fact that she was here and wasn’t going to see the beaches of Maynor VII unless she got off this swamp world and back out into warp space.

A triple note from the door clashed with her own music. She tucked the e-harp into a slit pocket of her grey ship suit and stood quickly. Her black boots, tips pointed and steel reinforced, slapped the deck hard. The fact that they hadn’t confiscated those either meant they probably were that afraid of the petite human female’s ability to kick much butt.

When the two meter plus tall guard stepped through the open door, she had to admit that she could see why not. The Vregonian guard class were monsters. They reminded her more of the Komodo Dragons she had seen in a history vid. Their flesh wasn’t any less clammy and rubbery than their smaller overlords, but the ridged plasteel armor they wore and the long blades that they carried inspired a deep respect.

“Come with us, prisoner.” Their Standard was decent, though oddly accented. The wet, rumbling was just as intimidating as their appearance.

Lucky didn’t let it get to her though. She took her place between the two guards and held her hands behind her back to let them apply the spray foam hand restraints. Nasty thing about the ‘cuffs was the local anesthetic that the foam contained. She’s lose most of the feeling in her hands until they had been off of her for at least a half hour.

They walked out cool, damp hallway and she almost tittered when she thought about being from marched by actual amphibians. It may be horribly speciesist, but she didn’t care. Finding the humor in situations like this would keep her sane. She just wanted ten seconds with these guys and Sally, her favorite blaster.

The walk was mercifully short and ended in what passed for a magistrate’s office. They ushered her through the door, this one an iris and she stepped into two inches of muck. The smell of rotting vegetation filled the air. The fat, slimy representative of what passed for law on this planet eyeballed her. His flame red skin was mottled with green. Every square inch of it was visible, as he sat naked on a slightly raised platform.

A holographic image floated in the air to his right. She wasn’t fluent in their writing and naturally it wasn’t in Standard. Her picture was plainly visible. It was the one that graced a few “Wanted” notices that she had seen before. That wasn’t good.

“Greeting Ms. Goldstein. I do have the pleasure of addressing miss Helenica “Lucky” Goldenstein, so I not?” His Standard was flawless though it sounded a bit like sewage backing up into a drain. His breath smelled like it too, even at four meters.

She hadn’t been traveling under her birth name. Riding shotgun on a freighter often meant a fairly close scrutiny of your background, even if the company in question isn’t’ the most reputable. Sometimes it meant that the scrutiny was even closer. Even taking precautions like DNA blockers and facial applications to subtly change her appearance was no guarantee, but so far it had worked. Until now.

Denying it would do little good. They had her. She nodded. “You do. And you’d do well to call me Lucky. No one calls me Helenica or Ms. Goldstein.” A glint of metal caught her eye. Sally was hanging from a brace of hooks behind a stasis field just over the magistrate’s shoulder.

He looked pleased. “Excellent. So now you can tell me what you can do for me that will keep us from turning your corpse in to this sector’s marshal so that we can collect the reward.”

She cocked an eyebrow. She wasn’t aware that she had any “Dead or Alive” bounties on her head. It was certainly possible. There had been a job or two she’d done recently that had involved her working on the opposite side of security and a number of sentients were decidedly unhappy with her continued breathing. “Do you… have anything in mind?” She wasn’t eager to her the answer, since if he didn’t then she’d be dead already and if he did it wasn’t likely to be pleasant.

“Of course.” He nodded eagerly. “If you will help us find the person or persons responsible for the illicit cargo you were carrying then we would be glad to let you walk.” A long black tongue flipped out of his mouth and licked one eyeball.

Lucky shuddered a little. “Like I told the heavy that brought me in, I didn’t even know our cargo contained your people. I admire you for trying to find out who’s kidnapping your people and stop them, but I can’t help you.”

His chuckle disturbed her more than the eye thing. “We don’t want to stop them. We want to make sure it’s not one of our own suppliers double crossing us.” He nodded sharply and she felt a blade’s edge at the back of her neck. “If you can’t help us then I can’t help you.”

Playground Showdown

The latest News From Poughkeepsie prompt is “Western…on the schoolyard“:

Big Lucy’s Black Hats were the terror of recess. No snack cake was spared their greed, no shin spared their wrath. The teachers were useless. The Black Hats were the queens and kings of Tombstone Elementary, and they knew no one could challenge them.

No one, that is, until the new girl arrived. Her name was Marshal, and she wore a white hat…

Marshal Dillan, yes her parents were well aware of the pain that bearing such a name might cause, moved to town in the middle of the school year. Her Dad got a new job as an English professor at the local university that he just couldn’t turn down and though she would miss her friends, she was always up for an adventure.

She would remember the first day that she sat foot, clad in a size eight white Converse, on the dusty playground at Tombstone Elementary for the rest of her life. The wind whipped up grit into her face, nearly blowing the white Yankees ball cap off of her head. A present from her Grandma, she clutched at it with her left hand and eyed the level playing field through squinted blue eyes.

A group of what looked to be three fifth graders, judging by their size and attitude, were ganging up on a a smaller kid by the swings. She spotted a few others here and there, all wearing similar black hats and all taking part in what Dad would call “dubious behaviors”. A few of them were just looking out for teachers to ensure that their friends wouldn’t get caught and no one was turning them in.

Satisfied that her cap would stay in place over her tomboy-cut, auburn hair, she lowered her hands to her hips and set her jaw. There wasn’t anything she hated more in this world than unfairness.

The Lessons of the Gun

Inspired by News From Poughkeepsie – Day 117

Bobby Joe believed in The Gun. He had met other Marshals, men and women who appeared pious, but who threw aside the Lessons of The Gun as it suited them. To them, wielding the gun was about power. To Bobby Joe, however, it was about salvation. Out here in the Wild, it had to be.

Bobby Joe said a prayer for every bullet as he loaded his weapon. He thought about about the two marauder gangs outside his door, ready for war. He though about the town they were about to tear apart as scratched at each other. And he thought about the Lessons of The Gun.

“This about salvation,” he said, walking into the streets. “This is about salvation…”

Preacher looked out the window of the Constantinople and swore under his breath. That fool kid was going to mess with the wrong people one day and get his head shot clean off. Today wouldn’t be the day if he had anything to say about it though. His fingers checked to ensure that all of the Elements were present.

The hardware was all old so he still carried percussion caps, loose powder, and lead balls. While he didn’t hold with some of his brethren that the new cartridges and double action revolvers were sacrilege there was something to be said for the old ways. Loading the gun was meditative and allowed him to recite the Prayer.

“The Gun is is my Protector, I shall not Fear. It makes the crooked path straight and levels the field. It rights wrongs and commands respect. Yeah though I walk through the valley of darkness I will not quaver. Its metal and its fire will save me. I shall not use The Gun to wrong others and will protect and avenge those wronged. Surely Justice and Respect will follow us so long as we keep to these. And may I dwell not as the cowards do. Amen.”

His weathered hands settled on the ivory butts of the two six shooters and he moved through the bat wing doors. A broad brimmed hat, as much a part of his uniform as the rust colored serape, kept the sun out of his eyes. Down the windblown street he could see Bobby Joe step into the Circle. He was actually going to call someone out.

A barely used double action hung heavy from the ginger haired lad’s belt. The new leather and shiny metal cartridge casings shone in the sun. His jaw was set with determination and Preacher could see his lips moving even from here. The man was old, but his eyesight was the envy of eagles. He had trained Bobby Jo Morales in the Way only after two years of begging. Finally he relented after realizing that the boy might go on ahead and teach himself. That way lay certain death.

Unfortunately, Bobby Jo turned out to be something of a zealot. There was a place for that, certainly. Zeal needed to be tempered with some good sense though and there was a shortage of that in these parts. The zeal bore skill though. Bobby was fast, damn fast. His hands danced and his aim was true as any acolyte could ask for. His brain soaked up all the knowledge of the workings of the Gun and all of the traditions. There was talk that he would be going out further into the Wild next year. Most of that talk came from Bobby Jo.

Now the Wild had come to them in the form of the the Cowboys and the Oklahombres. The two groups controlled most of the territory for a month’s ride in any given direction. They were here to see if combining their resources could expand their power base. A treaty between the two gangs would be bad news indeed and no one official would stop them. The Marshals in these parts were every bit as corrupt as Bobby Jo believed and had done and would do nothing about it.

Preacher felt no small amount of shame at the state of the Marshals. As a Ranger it was his job to train new recruits and feed the machine that the Order had become. All of that guilt needed to be left behind for now though. Arkansas Tom and John Ringo broke off from their groups and began the slow amble towards the Circle and that was Bobby Jo’s death warrant. Either man by himself was enough, but the two together represented a challenge that only the most talented and experienced could face.

“Well, well, let’s see what we have here.” Ringo drawled. “Looks like this boy wants somethin’.” The tall man walked with crossed arms. His fingers weren’t far from the sawed off shotgun on his left hip or the horse pistol on his right. Either one could be out an blazing death in a heartbeat. The red sash of the Cowboys seemed to almost connect the two weapons across his narrow waist.

Arkansas Tom nodded, his long dirty dishwater hair moving as a mass. Preacher could see that his forty-five hogleg was in a swivel holster. The gun didn’t even need to come out to be used. Dirty trick. “Looks like. You issuing a formal challenge boy? Or you just drawing water?” He jutted his chin towards the well behind Bobby Jo.

Bobby Jo stood his ground. “I hereby challenge the leaders of the Cowboys and the Oklahombres to a draw down. Losers goes to Boot Hill, winner gets control of the two gangs.” His voice was rock solid, though barely into its adult register.

Preacher nodded. That would be the only way. That was if there were any chance in Hell of the leaders of the two gangs honoring such an agreement, assuming they accepted it and assuming Bobby Jo won.