Terry James at Joanne Walpole's blog http://joannewalpole.blogspot.com/
Jack Giles at Broken Trails http://brokentrails.blogspot.com/
Lance Howard at Dark Bits http://howardhopkins.blogspot.com/
Jack Martin at The Tainted Archive http://tainted-archive.blogspot.com/
IJ Parnham at The Culbin Trail http://ijparnham.blogspot.com/
This week the theme is the hero. I'm providing an extract from Riders of the Barren Plains in which I introduce the down-on-his-luck hero Jeff Steed.
'Sorry, cowboy. I ain't got no work for you.'
'Obliged for your time,' Jeff Steed said then shuffled off down the bar to stand beside his next target, a portly rancher.
The rancher put down his drink and turned. Before Jeff could even deliver his speech, he snapped out his decision.
'Like he said. I've got no work for you.'
'You weren't listening.' The rancher looked Jeff up and down with undisguised contempt, taking in his threadbare clothing, caked-on grime, and holed boots. 'I've got no work for you.'
The rancher roared with laughter at his insult then turned away to order another drink.
'Obliged for your time,' Jeff said dutifully then moved on.
When he'd ridden into Carmon, Jeff had been told that the local ranchers and trail bosses drank in this saloon, so if there was hiring to be done it'd happen here. But he'd had no luck.
Two days without food meant he'd had to hitch his belt in to its tightest hole to stop his stomach growling. Despite that his trousers were still loose, but he didn't have the energy to bore another hole. He had to find work soon and he didn't like to think what would happen if he didn't.
Only one man was left at the end of the bar to try. He was drinking with a stern expression that said he had plenty on his mind and didn't want interruptions. Jeff still sidled up to him, but he was so dispirited he couldn't even summon up the words to ask his standard question. After he had stood there for several seconds, the man spoke up.
'So you're looking for work?' Although he stayed looking straight ahead, the question sent a tremor of hope fluttering in Jeff's empty guts.
'Sure,' Jeff said.
'I'm Blake Kelly,' the man said, lowering his voice. 'Ever heard of me?'
'Nope. Then again I ain't from around these parts, but I just want to say, I'll do anything.'
'Anything, eh?' Blake sipped his whiskey then turned to consider him. His steady gaze took in Jeff's tattered clothing as the previous man had. He licked his lips and a lively gleam in the eye softened his dour expression. 'I'm a man short so I have some work for a man who'll do anything.'
Jeff heard the emphasis, but his pride had snapped some time ago, so even the possibility of a disgusting, backbreaking task for little pay made his mouth water with anticipation.
'What'll you pay me?'
'Straight to the point. I like that.' Blake withdrew a handful of bills from his pocket. 'Twenty dollars for an hour's work, maybe two.'
'An hour!' Jeff spluttered. His heart beat faster, but then experience told him where this apparently lucrative offer would lead.
'Sure, and don't worry about getting paid. I'll give you ten dollars now and the rest on completion.' Blake winked. 'Provided you can find me.'
Jeff smiled as Blake read his mind, not that that would have been hard when he was so downtrodden.
'What is this job?'
'And finally the important question.' Blake beckoned for Jeff to join him in leaning on the bar then lowered his voice to a whisper. 'You stand on the corner of the road opposite the bank and look out for certain men. If you see them, you tell me.'
Jeff frowned. He was about to say he didn't want to get involved in any trouble, but his stomach provided an encouraging growl and from down the bar braying laughter sounded from the man who had sneered at him earlier.
'Which men?' he asked.
Blake placed a ten-dollar bill on the bar and pushed it towards him.
'Lawmen,' he said.
(c) I. J. Parnham 2009, published by Robert Hale Ltd and available from all good on-line retailers such as Amazon