Thursday 31 December 2009

2009, a writing year

And now the end is here
And so I face the final curtain
My friend I'll say it clear
Something do-dah, dum-de highway...

With the year about to become history it's time for some reflection, I guess, on the stuff what I wrote in 2009. I had two novels out this year. Riders of the Barren Plains came out in July and gathered a few positive comments, which was warming as I didn't think the book was very good, but perhaps with hindsight I was a bit hard on it. It told the action tale I set out to write, so I couldn't ask for much more. On the other hand The Treasure of Saint Woody came out to deafening silence. I don't know anyone who has even read it, so it might be gathering quiet approval or it might have missed the mark entirely. But the publisher reckoned I should enter it for a Spur Award and even though I thought my epic tale of pig rustlers might not be literate enough for the judges I've given it a whirl. I've written my acceptance speech and it starts, 'WTF...'

Early in 2010 Sharpshooter McClure comes out, although I actually wrote it in 2008. I still think it's a fairly decent story. It has some good action scenes and the plot twist at the halfway point was one that I agonized over a lot. Even if I didn't quite go the whole hog as I'd intended to on first draft, I think that makes it a slightly different tale, for me anyhow, with a good balance of character and good-natured plotting.

Of the novels I wrote in 2009, Railroad to Redemption is out in August. I thought this decent when I'd finished it, but then shortly afterwards I received the galleys to Riders of the Barren Plains and I realized that both stories had a similiar plotting point as well as some similiarities in structure. It might have been nice if that'd occurred to me while writing, but I guess it's hard to be completely original every time. Bleached Bones in the Dust will be out around next Xmas or perhaps into 2011. I've found no reason yet not to like that one, although that's mainly because I can't for the life of me remember what it was about. I also sent The Miracle of Santa Maria to Avalon early in the summer, but I have heard nothing yet. I have an idea for a follow-up book so if they accept Maria, I'll get writing that up, otherwise I won't.

On work-in-progress I have the usual collection of half-written efforts sitting all over the place at various stages of abject failure. The nearest to coming out of redrafting hell is The Prairie Man. I wrote this under the title of The Redemption Trail, but it was only when writing the final line of the third draft that a character said the words 'The Prairie Man' and suddenly the story came into focus and stopped being a tale of redemption and became a tale about The Prairie Man. Hopefully when I've neatened things up some more it'll make sense.

Less developed is The Secret of Devil's Canyon. I've written only the first draft of that and in the end the secret turned out to be really dull and it wasn't even found in Devil's Canyon. Also the murderer turned out not to be the man I thought did it, the dead person turned out to be someone else too, the hero changed half way through, the bad guy disappeared half way and a new one appeared then he got forgotten about and the sidekick turned out to be the evil genius behind all the events even though he wasn't about when everything happened. Oh and the leading lady changed her name at some stage and became someone else, which was doubly confusing as she was living under an alias anyway, except her secret alias was accidentally the name she'd started with. So that one's going well.

Also on the going well front is Devine! featuring the return of the cuddly lawman Marshal Jake T. Devine. This one had several false starts this year and in the end I just banged down words to complete a first draft that on reflection is as unpublishable as anything I've ever written. Devine solves a mystery that I didn't know the answer to until the final chapter by the simple process of killing off everyone in the cast until the one left standing did it. So on the way he kills all the bad guys, kills the person he was supposed to be rescuing, kills the hero, kills the sidekick, shoots up a horse, the mayor, the state governor, two monks, three nuns and a passing saloon owner who only came in to give him someone to talk to. I think in hindsight this might be a bit too cynical and violent for anyone to read, including myself, so I'll let it sit for a few months then set about reworking out its excesses.

Even less developed is the long delayed Bermuda Bi-angle a non-western that's stalled twice. First at 10,000 words because I had no idea what on earth I was writing and then the second time at 30,000 words because I couldn't decide if it was a romantic comedy, an action thriller, or a cosy murder mystery. I still don't know the answer, but after putting it aside for a while I don't care any more so I'll just write to amuse myself and get to an ending then worry later about how I can get it into a state that can get rejected.

Anyway, that's my writing year. Happy Hogmanay, everyone!

Wednesday 30 December 2009

The Story with No Name - Part 22

The guest blogger today is Jim Griffin with part #22 of the Story with No Name:

Parts 1-16

Parts 17-21

“Hold up a bit, you three,” Vic Sawtell called before the trio could enter the bowels of the ruined ship. He and Choo How had chased Bourbon and the Apaches only a short distance, before they disappeared into a maze of dunes. “You’ll have plenty of time to explore that wreck. Right now, we’ve got other worries.”

“Like what?” Lola demanded.

“Bourbon and his Indians, for one. They’re not gonna go far from this ship, knowin’ we’re still here. They’ll be back, and we’d better be ready for them,” Sawtell warned.

“Victor’s telling it straight,” Choo How agreed.

“Sawtell’s right,” Arnside concurred. “This ship ain’t goin’ anywhere. What’s your thoughts, Vic?”

“First, this.”

Sawtell raised his Winchester and sent several shots just over the camels’ heads. The ungainly animals ran squalling into the desert.

“What’d you do that for?” Roden cried, still bound hand and foot.

“I’d rather walk forty miles than get on the back of one of those stinkin’ beasts again,” Sawtell replied. “Besides, if things go our way, Bourbon will provide us horses. And I’ve still got mine.”

Sawtell whistled, and his chestnut appeared from behind a dune. The gelding trotted up to Sawtell and nuzzled his hand.

“I’ll get you some water in a minute, Rojo,” Sawtell told the horse.

“You mind untying me and Hassan first?” Roden pleaded.


Sawtell and Arnside cut the two men’s bonds, then gave them short drinks from their canteens. The entire group huddled in the scant shade of the ship’s skeleton.

Arnside dug in his pocket and removed the Ranger badge he’d picked up before leaving Bartlett’s corpse.

“What’s that?” Choo How asked.

“A Texas Ranger badge that was stuck in my chest. Can’t figure it. I’’ve never been a Ranger, and neither was Silas, Roden, or anyone else tied in with this,” Arnside replied.

“I’ll take that,” Sawtell said. The blonde outlaw plucked the badge from Arnside’s hand and pinned it to his shirt.

“What’s the meanin’ of that?” Roden demanded.

“My kid brother Joe was a Ranger. This was his badge. Joe was workin’ undercover, investigatin’ a smugglin’ ring led by Bourbon down in Galveston. Somehow they figured out who he was. Joe was strung up by his wrists, slit open from crotch to breastbone, and he was left hangin’ there with his belly ripped open and his guts pulled out and danglin’ like sausages hangin’ at a butcher’s. He must’ve hung there sufferin’ for hours before he died. I vowed to track down Bourbon for that. The badge stuck in your chest was a message to me, not you, Walt. Sorry I left it there when I cut you loose, but I couldn’t pull it out without givin’ myself away. I knew once you found Deuce’s horse you’d catch up to me.”

“You didn’t actually join the Rangers?” Arnside questioned.

“I wear the badge, and I draw pay from Austin every month,” Sawtell shrugged.

“What about the treasure?” Gabe asked.

“What treasure? I’ll believe that when I see it,” Sawtell retorted. He spat in the dust. “I’m not interested in gold in any event. I just want to see Bourbon dead, and with this badge I can do it legally. None of you will believe this, but I actually like workin’ on the side of the law. I’m figurin’ on makin’ the Rangers my new career.”

Lola snuggled against Sawtell’s side. She slipped her hand inside his jeans, to begin massaging his crotch.

“Vic, what about me and you?”

Sawtell pushed her away.

“Lola, you’ve had me and every other man here, plus some that aren’t, and you still haven’t decided which one you want. Take your pick, darlin’, but whoever you choose, it ain’t gonna be me.”

“Mebbe it’ll be him she’ll want.”

Zack Roden pointed to where Emilio Escobar Bourbon had reappeared on the horizon.

Next week's instalment will be written by Paul Dellinger...

Tuesday 29 December 2009

The Story with No Name - Parts 17-21

I'll be posting the latest instalment of the Story with No Name tomorrow and so for ease of reading for new readers below are sections 17-21:

Part 1-16

Part 17 - Peter Avarillo

The town of Bannon was quiet under the heat of the midday sun when Walt Arnside rode along the main street.

He was stiff and tired from the journey that had been punctuated with nights of fitful sleep.

All he wanted was to fill his aching belly and find a soft bed where he hoped to sleep without being plagued by the nightmares of his desert experience.

He had howled as the blood flowed back into his right hand causing painful spasms. Pain that was replaced by anger as he fought the knots that bound his left hand to the stake. Anger that was not spent when, with a rasping roar, he sent the Texas Ranger badge flying through the air to plop, in a spray of sand, close to Silas Bartlett’s feet.

And then more pain as blood rushed through his starved ankles into his feet. Rolling, cursing as each spasm surged up his legs.

Only when his body settled did he try to stand and staggered over to the remains of Silas Bartlett where he plucked the lance free. He paid no attention as the corpse crumpled to the ground. Instead he concentrated on plunging the tip into the sand to clean it. But even then his imagination played with his anger as each time the tip hit the sand so it was stabbing into the body of Zack Roden. Into the body of Silas Bartlett. And into that of a man named Bourbon.

Until exhaustion and tears of frustration drove him to his knees.

Slowly, sanity came back to him and with it an absolute priority. Using the lance as a support he pulled himself back to his feet, then hacked at the cactus. Holding the mashed flesh above his mouth squeezing precious drops of water onto his tongue. Groaning as the water moisted his tongue, mouth and throat.

It was nearly dusk by the time he felt strong enough to crawl to where Deuce Harmon’s body still lay stiff in death. Painfully, stretching taut burned skin he had stripped the clothes from the corpse and dressed himself before laying back in the sand waiting for his strength to return.

He stared long and hard at the mass of tracks that pointed south west and knew that he was in no fit state to go off in pursuit. He had to be stronger and better equipped before he could even think of going on the vengeance trail.

The galleon, even if it existed, was no longer the goal. He wished that he had never heard of the damned boat. Wished that he had not stopped that train nor heeded Silas Bartlett’s call. For from that point on he had been shot at, gutshot and left for dead and, been staked out to die in the desert. He had put his life on the line for people that he had looked upon as friends and each had turned out to be an enemy. Nor could he be certain where Lola stood in all this.

Where to go? Matlock would not be safe and he had no wish to head back to Lola’s cabin. Bannon seemed to beckon as the safest haven where he could work out what to do next.

Slowly, he climbed to his feet and crested a dune. He stopped dead, his mouth gaping as he saw Harmon’s horse tethered to a cactus. Looking cautiously around him he approached the animal.

“What the hell?” he croaked, sure that the animal had run off after Sawtell had emptied the saddle. Then allowed himself to grin. “Thanks, Sawtell. I do have a fighting chance – now.”

After leaving his horse in the livery, Walt strode across the hardpan to the cafe opposite. He felt a tad rich after he had discovered just over fifteen dollars in notes and loose change in Harmon’s denims. At least he could pay for his immediate needs.

Part 18 - Cap'n Bob Napier

Arnside washed the trail dust from his hands and face at a watering trough, beat the dirt from his clothes with his hat, and strode into Molly's Cafe with hunger tearing at his belly like cats in a sack.

"I'll have whatever's ready," he told the plump, smiling waitress, "and a pitcher of water, please."

She took one look at his red, chapped skin and peelings lips and hustled off, returning moments later with a large blue ewer and a tin tumbler. Walt filled the tumbler with shaking hands, drank deeply, and sighed.

"Appears like you haven't drunk nothin' in a month of Sundays, mister."

"Feels like it, too, darling. Are you Molly?"

"She's the owner, cook, and my ma. I'm Gretchen. I'll fetch that food now. I hope stew's okay."

Before Walt could answer she scurried away and was back in two shakes with a large bowl of steaming mulligan, napkin and utensils, and basket of bread.

"Anything interesting happen in these parts?" he asked around a mouthful of stew.

The juice burned the roof of his mouth but after what he'd been through a little heat was like an old friend.

"Interesting? Our marshal got his head busted and had to get shipped off to a home for the feeble-minded, our undertaker had a bunch of fingers broke, and an old prospector was in earlier swearin' he saw The Magi riding across the desert. Says it means the Second Coming is nigh and we'd all best prepare our souls."

Walt grinned at the girl's recitation and tucked back into his meal. When he finished he left a half dollar on the table, twice what the meal cost, and strode out to find a quiet saloon. A whiskey would satisfy right handsome about now, he allowed.

He took three steps down the boardwalk when the import of the girl's story slammed him like the board that sent Marshal Stryker to the drool academy. He ran back into Molly's and grabbed Gretchen by her shoulders.

"That sourdough, where can I find him?"


"Tell me!"

"Stop it, you're hurting me."

Walt loosened his grip. "Sorry, Gretchen. I need to find that prospector, right away."

She thought for a moment, tongue out. "He has a shack behind the saddle shop. If he ain't there try The Silver Palace saloon."

Arnside raced off.

He found the shack where Gretchen said it would be, but no one answered his knock. Should have tried the saloon first, he chided himself.

Walt stood at the bat wings of The Silver Palace and scanned the room before entering. Wouldn't pay to have some of Zack Roden's men inside. His glance fell on a table at the center of the room where a shabby old cuss was regaling the room with a story, much to their amusement.

"I tell ya', I seen 'em with my own eyes. Long-legged critters with necks long as stovepipes and backs like anthills, just a-lumbering across the sands like they owned the desert. I seen a picture once of the three magi when they come calling on baby Jesus and they was riding the same critters. If that don't prove it, I don't know what does."

"Sure, Gabe, sure. Have another drink. Maybe you'll tell us about seeing the Noah's Ark next."

The crowd burst out laughing. Gabe jumped to his feet and pushed through the men having a laugh at his expense. He nearly plowed Walt Arnside down as he crashed out of the saloon.

"Whoa, there, old timer. What the rush?"

"Dang-blasted fools. Wouldn't know the truth if it crawled up their dumb asses."

Walt laid a comforting arm on old Gabe's shoulder. "Why not tell me your story? I'm the believing kind."

"Can't talk on a dry throat, pardner. Let's mosey up the street and find a joint where we can dip a bill in peace."

With a bottle between them and each man holding a full shot glass, Gabe proposed a toast.

"Here's how."

"Now, about the magi. . ." Arnside prompted.

"Yesterday, I was coming back from digging in the Mohawk Mountains when I seen a passel of riders out in the Yuma Desert. Makes no sense. Nothin' there but sand and snakes. No water for a hundred miles. Even the A-patch go 'round it."

Gabe refilled his glass and continued. "They was maybe six or seven on horses, but the others were ridin' those Bible animals like I seen in the picture. Four of them, they was."

"Was one a woman?"

"Too far to tell, even with my spyglass."

"Any Indians?"

"Nope. Like I said, the A-patch got more sense than to go out there."

"Can you tell me how to find this place, Gabe?"

"Sure. Might as well. The world'll end soon enough anyway."

Armed with a detailed description of how to find the last place Roden, Lola and the others had been spotted--assuming Bourbon allowed them to live--Arnside stepped from the saloon and aimed himself toward the stable.

"You!" a voice cried. "You do this!"

He turned to see Choo How pointing at Walt with his bandaged hand. Behind the Chinaman, a crowd began to grow.

Part 19 - Richard Prosch

“You make this happen, Walt Arnside!” Again, Choo How drunkenly shook his injured hand, its dirty bandage all but unraveling. “You owe me something for it!” he slurred, tipping slightly toward the dusty street.

Walt grimaced at the memory of his visit to Choo How’s mortuary. He and the renegade sheriff Stryker had been looking for Bartlett’s map and Stryker broke the kid’s fingers. How long ago had it been? How many weeks? Walt carefully weighed the crowd, then shot a glance toward Gabe. The old prospector’s eyes sparkled in the sun, and Walt pinched the bridge of his nose, smiling at the little undertaker’s daring. That injured hand, plenty healed up by now, had earned Choo How many a sympathetic drink.

Walt stepped forward quickly then, telegraphed a wide right and swung in with a left. In the space of a breath, the undertaker blocked the punch and sent a hard jab to Walt’s ribs –with the injured hand. The crowd gasped as the bandage fell away. Walt clutched his middle, but the spasms that wracked his shoulders were laughter as Choo gazed at his naked fingers, then slowly at the crowd, his deception revealed.

“Looks like the game is up, Choo How!” he said as Gabe helped him to his feet. “But I’ll make it up to you,” he turned to the prospector, “to both of you.”

Walt knocked the dust from his britches and pitched his offer. “Ride with me into the desert, and if what I suspect is true, we’ll all be rich men come Friday.”

“Why trust you, Arnside?” asked Choo, all signs of his previous anebriation gone. “Especially after you betray me again?”

“The Chinaman can’t go with you,” came a voice from the glowering crowd. “We’re gonna be busy stringin’ him up.”

“Show him how we treat con men ‘round these parts!”

“Yeah!” Shouts went up, the gang surged immediately forward, and then with a thundering pistol crash —came just as quickly to a silent stand still.

With an easy lope Vic Sawtell emerged from the shadow of an alley on his chestnut gelding, the pearl handled .45 still smoking in his slim, gloved hand. The blonde outlaw led three horses behind him. “We ain’t got time for this, boys.” He smiled down at Walt. “And they ain’t riding with you. You all are riding with me.”

Arnside grinned. “What’s the story Sawtell?”

“Story? The story has no name, Arnside. We’re just gettin’ on with life…and death.”

“It’s wages for a job,” said Choo.

“And maybe…revenge?” said Walt. “As I recall, Bartlett was killed before you were paid. That’s gotta make you mad. Especially since you don’t believe in the boat. Or the gold.”

Sawtell spit a stream of tobacco into the dirt. “Yeah, I been studyin’ on what Bartlett owed me. Back pay for, shoot I don’t know…three, four…” Choo held up his palm and Sawtell nodded. “Five jobs he owed me for.”

“He was in debt to me and Choo How too,” said Gabe. “We all got us a stake in that boat o’ gold.”

“Whatever it turns out to be,” said Sawtell, “part of it’s mine. You still got that map memorized, Choo How?”

“I do indeed, Victor. I do indeed.”

Walt noted the undertaker’s forced Asian accent had vanished. “Old Silas had more friends…or should I say employees, than I imagined,” he said.

“Let’s just say the man had a secret society of his own,” said Sawtell.

“I just hope there’s enough for all of us,” said Choo How as he swung into the saddle.

“I just hope we find it before the rapture,” said Gabe.

Twenty miles to the northwest, a brief windstorm blew itself out as Lola Metivier awoke for the final time atop the camel she’d come to think of as her last real connection to Walt Arnside and the life she’d led before all this began.

Zack Roden rode his mount beside her, bobbing along, apparently still asleep. Bourbon and his Apache thugs had been riding them in circles. Time no longer had any meaning. Nothing did. The blowing, stinging sand was the cloud stuff of bad dreams.

A towering structure of shimmering gold danced directly in front of them just out of reach.

Lola’s eyes shut tight, and she drifted through a red haze. When she again looked ahead the air had cleared and a monstrosity of burnt timber and jumbled iron rigging lunged from the desert floor to hover against the backdrop of a sea blue sky.

“Damn me to hell,” whispered Roden, “there really is a boat.”

Again Lola took in the broken keel and charred capstan. “That’s as may be, but there sure as hell aint any gold.”

And before she could see any more, rough Apache hands drug her to the ground.

Part 20 - Evan Lewis

Lola lay on the ground, wrists straining against a strip of rawhide. Beside her, likewise bound, were her erstwhile lover Zack Roden and the camel driver Hassan.

Scowling down at them were six fierce-eyed Apaches armed with spears and buffalo rifles.

“Where,” Lola said, her tongue caked with sand, “where is your master?”

One of the warriors spoke a few guttural words. The others laughed.

“I demand,” she said, striving for a ring of command, “that we see Mr. Bourbon at once!”

An Apache grasped her leg, ran a hand up to her thigh as if judging horseflesh. He spoke, and the others nodded agreement.

“You demand it, do you?” The voice, accented with hints of both French and Spanish, came from outside the ring of Indians. Two warriors stood aside, allowing Esteban Escobar Bourbon to enter. His black hair and beard were flecked with sand, and the feather protruding from his broad-brimmed hat was wilted.

Lola felt the heat of Bourbon’s dark, glittering eyes upon her. So, she thought, he was a man like any other. “A gentleman should always cater to a lady’s demands.”

Bourbon bent, wrapped strong fingers about her arm and pulled her to her feet. “I have a fascinating tale to tell. Perhaps you would care to hear it.”

Through the swirling sands, Lola again saw the huge, charred skeleton of the ship rising up out of the desert.

“My grandfather,” Bourbon said, “was a famous man. Doubtless you have heard of him. His name was Jean Lafitte.”

“I have heard,” Lola said, “that he was also quite handsome.”

Bourbon smiled. “My grandfather captured many prizes, but richest of all was the Spanish galleon Contessa, captured with great damage to his own ship off the coast of Venezuela. He assigned one of his most trusted lieutenants, a man named Eastman, to captain a prize crew and follow him Cartagena, where he then had his headquarters. Instead, the rogue fled with the treasure south along the coast of South America. Lafitte’s ship was too damaged for immediate pursuit, but he was a man who never let betrayal go unavenged. He charged one of his own sons with punishing Eastman and reclaiming the treasure.”

Lola listened with interest. But as they neared the remains of the ship, she noticed piles of something white and gleaming at the base of each of the frame’s great ribs. It looked like ivory. Was this the treasure?

“The man Lafitte sent,” Bourbon said, “was my father. He followed Eastman clear around the tip of South America, and up the other side. The voyage took many years, and along the way the crew took wives and had children - such as myself” He thumped his chest. “But eventually they ran Eastman to earth, here, in this very desert.”

“But how did this ship come to be here, in the desert?”

“That is a tale for another time. Suffice it to say that Eastman and his followers paid dearly for their perfidy.”

“And you recovered the treasure. The ivory.”

Bourbon eyed her strangely. “The treasure, I am sad to say, has so far eluded us. But one day we shall find it. In the meantime, we have made certain no one beats us to it.”

Grunts and curses announced the approach of men from behind. Lola stared as Roden and Hassan were dragged past and thrown to the earth at the foot of two of the remaining ribs. Their bonds were cut and quickly retied, so that each was bound with his back to the blackened timber.

Bourbon led Lola steadily closer, until the mystery of the “ivory” was revealed. This was no treasure at all, but lengths of bone and skulls bleached white by the sun.

“Many have sought the treasure,” Bourbon said, “but none have returned.”

Lola pressed her body against Bourbon. “You would not do the same to me.”

“Not just yet,” Bourbon said, leering down at her.

The six Apaches, finished with Roden and Hassan, now formed a ring around them.

Lola felt faint. Then Bourbon’s broad-brimmed hat leapt from his head, and she heard the bark of a rifle shot.

Over a rise of sand came four figures on charging camels. Two of them she knew, and one brought a glad cry to her lips.


Part 21 - Jack Martin

'They're scattering,' Arnside yelled, whooping and hollering. It wasn't like Apaches but they had turned tail and were running.

'Guess they know what's good for them,' Sawtell screamed with joy and let of a shot towards the retreating Indians. One of them threw his arms up and with a scream pitched forward into sand.

'I'm enjoying this,' Gabe yelled, holding onto his camel for grim death. He was jostled about on the beast and several times he always lost his grip but each time he managed to keep his balance.

'There's Lola.' Arnside yelled.

'We separate,' Choo How yelled. ' Sawtell and me we chase off the Indians. Don't need to kill them just make sure they run far enough away.'

'Sounds good to me,' Sawtell said and set off another shot but hit nothing. 'Just as long as I get my share of what's coming.'

'That's a certainty.' Arnside said and sped his own camel forward as the two men set off in pursuit of the fleeing Indians.

Below standing before the ship Lola felt Bourbon's grip loosen and then she was thrown to the ground, face down so that she didn't see which way Bourbon had run and when she managed to turn around she saw that he had vanished. She lay there, eyes directed at the magnificent wreck that was the ship. She was still staring when she felt an arm lifting her to her feet.

'Lola,' Arnside said and looked at her, his eyes never once leaving her face.

'The ship.' Lola said, dreamily as if her words had been uttered deep within a trance. 'There's the ship, Walt. It's real.'

Arnside nodded and only now did he look at the wreck before them. It sat there, as if it had been deposited in the desert. Its timbers were impossibly aged and most of its rigging had snapped so that planks of splintered wood, like dead fingers, reached for the sky. There was a gaping hole in the hull, looking almost like a rictus mouth, and through which could be seen the darkness within the nautical tomb.

'I say we go take us a look see.' Gabe had joined them and he stood looking at the ancient wreck.

'Shall we untie them?' Arnside asked, pointed back to Rodan and Hassen. Both men were rolling about in the sand, their hands still bound behind their backs and their feet tied together.

'Yes.' Lola said but she seemed to be answering some inner thoughts rather than Arnside's question. She walked towards the ship as if led by some ethereal force. Gabe followed just behind her and seemed to be in a somnolent state himself.

'Sorry fellas.' Arnside said and set off after them. Together the three of them entered the fractured hull of the ship.

Monday 28 December 2009

My three most annoying books of 2009

These are the three books that annoyed me the most this year. There were others that I started reading, found I didn’t enjoy, and stopped, but these are the ones that I had high hopes for and so I kept ploughing on, then wished I hadn't.

3. Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

If I'd had a blog last year, the author's first trilogy would have been on my list of best books of 2008. His First Law series burst on to the scene from nowhere and proved there was still life left in Sword and Sorcery. The tale was a slight one and did nothing new, but the characters were excellent. Angst ridden barbarians and sympathetic torturers filled an action-packed story that was told with wit and a nice turn of phrase: 'Say one thing for Logen Ninefingers, say he's a c***' has already gone to the top of my list of the greatest lines in literature.

Surely it could only get better, I thought, and yet it didn’t. Having created memorable characters who are on the face of it unpleasant but who have hidden depths, this story attempts to repeat the trick, but instead it forgets the hidden depths element. Everyone is repellent, the story is dreary, nothing matters much, and the wit is missing. I struggled with this one and only goodwill from the earlier books kept me going to an ending that had me rustling through the blank pages at the end wondering if that was it.

2. Iron Angel by Alan Campbell

This was the sequel to Scar Night, which despite this book I'd still rate as a classic novel. Scar Night was set in a city dangling over the bottomless pit of Hell. The story was fast-paced, contained numerous throwaway events that were highly original, had many fascinating characters and was written with a glorious gothic feel.

The sequel did one thing right: it continued the invention by taking the story in an unexpected direction. The bad thing was I had no interest in that direction to the extent that every element I'd enjoyed in the first book was ignored and every element I hadn't enjoyed was developed. Most of the book is set in Hell, and I felt I was in it trying to read through hundreds of pages describing odd things happening to characters' immortal souls, none of which I understood and in which anyone can transform into anything for no reason I could see. The whole story leads up to the ultimate battle to end all ultimate battles in which the soulless minions of Hell gather together somewhere or other to fight a really big robot with manic staring eyes for the eternal control of civilization as we know it, time, space, heaven, hell, every alternate reality, infinity and all the bits that lay beyond. It takes about two pages and I had no idea who won.

1. The Scarpetta Factor by Patricia Cornwell

This book set the bar too high on the annoying scale for me not to mention it, even if it was my own fault for reading something that was on the bestseller list. I loved the early Scarpetta books in the 90s, but gave up on them when the author became too famous to waste time on writing and listening to an editor. But the books kept on coming out and so I was tempted back. Big mistake. My other two choices for annoying books above were written by excellent writers and it's just that these two books weren't to my taste. I can happily accept that other readers will enjoy the stories and I'll certainly try any future books they write. I can't say that for this one. It's just bad. Period.

Oh and the movie version of Scarpetta provisionally entitled Scarpetta, the smuggest bint in the world is getting closer with Angelina Jolie on board so even more people will be tempted to read what has become a terribly written series filled with the most unpleasant set of main characters imaginable, who solve confusing and dull crimes in the most uninvolving way possible in their spare time when they are not living their depressing celebrity-obsessed perfect lives in what, as far as I can gather, is a bizarre psycho-analytical exercise by the author to create a wish fulfillment alter-ego, despite the fact that the perfect creature she's created in Scarpetta has you rooting for the bad guy to blast her away.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Bah, hum...

I hate Xmas so much I can't even get up the enthusiasm to go: Bah, Humbug.

All that wishing people you can't stand Merry Xmas, rabid shoppers buying enough toilet roll for a year-long siege, Xmas cards with Xmasy things like Shrek on the cover from people whose addresses got lost 20 years ago, tacky Xmas tinsel that drops tinsel bits everywhere, tacky Xmas trees that drop spiky bits everywhere, tacky Xmas baubles that if you look at them break into thousands of shards of razor-like glass, tacky Xmas lights that don't work and only light up while you're electrocuting yourself, tacky Xmas everything that destroys a religious and pagan ceremony for a retail stunt to save an economy that's been mortgaged off by politicians, who probably pay for their whole Xmas on expensives, to some bunch of cockney rhyming slang bankers who are so important we have to shut every hospital and school in the country just to pay for their bonuses so they can lose the country another fifty trillion pounds next year, and then there's Santa, I mean why is that meant to be a great idea with kids being taught that some fat bloke will give them presents if they sit on his knee when for the rest of the year they tell them to avoid fat blokes who want to give them presents if they sit on his knee and so people lie to their kids and don't tell them the presents really come from their parents who are going into debt to buy them tacky rubbish that won't have batteries and that'll break before everyone's finished getting paper-cuts opening their presents, and they'll have more fun with the box the over-priced present came in anyway, and then there's the expensive sales where everything is trebled in price just so it can be halved to give you a bargain, the guilt trips, the annoying friends and relatives who won't go away even after you've thrown their coats out the door, gone to bed, turned out all the lights, and got a taxi-driver to drag them out the house, and there's all the excuses you have to dream up to avoid parties and you just know someone is going to compare notes and find out you haven't emigrated and so the week you spent hiding on the bathroom floor to avoid people was wasted, the inane drivel on the tv that was recorded in sweltering June where everyone pretends it's all right to be rubbish because it's Xmas and even that program about grumpy people being grumpy about Xmas is a repeat, which can't be said for that old biddy on the screen interrupting the 25th showing of a Harry Potter film, which are all rubbish, to drone on about the Commonwealth, which now consists of a small potting shed in the Pitcairn Islands, and about all the worthy flunkies in grace and favour housing she gave awards to in the year for doing something of no use to anyone better than anyone else, all those cakes and mince pies that get scoffed by late November so you have to buy more, the cheap booze that gets drunk by late October so you have to buy more, the disgusting liqueurs made out of cream, coffee, 100% proof vodka and aniseed flavoured sage and onion stuffing that nobody in their right mind would ever drink because they make you go blind and they taste disgusting, but it's Xmas so you trough your way through them along with the skip-size tins of teeth-rotting sweets and biscuits that you'd never feel inclined to eat at any other time of year but because it's Xmas you have to finish every rancid, sugar-coated morsel to stop it all going mouldy in the month you have to wait for the dustbin men to begin spilling your rubbish everywhere again on the way to the landfill sites the size of a small country that are all adding to the greenhouse effect, except global warming is all a myth anyhow because all those politicians and tree-huggers who jetted around the world trying to save the planet thought it was more important to organize another big get together some time next year despite the increasing danger that Bono will write a song about it, and then there's the monster-sized tubs of nuts, I love nuts but not in eighteen kilogram buckets that are six months past their sell by date and have the big slogan on them that they might contain nuts, and they make me feel like I'm turning into a nut when I've finished even though you can't buy real nuts any more, they have to be covered in salt and roasted, whatever happened to simple brazil nuts where you could have hours of fun trapping your fingers trying to snap off a bit and then break your teeth nibbling on something brown that smelt vaguely off, is that another health and safety thing where we can't be trusted to make our own nuts any more or did Brazil pave over all their rain-forests and kill off their nuts, and then there's Xmas carols with their message of peace and goodwill to all Mankind, well I hate Mankind, we're ruining the planet so war and badwill might just kill us all off and let someone else have a go who might make a better fist of it, and rotten Xmas songs with dreadful X-factor warblers and Cliff Richard and Noddy Holder's bad miming telling us what the day is as if we didn't know and Wizard wanting it to be Xmas every day so they can get even more royalties for their terrible song, and I hate turkey, it's the most pointless meat ever invented, if only it tasted like chicken it'd be fine but it tastes of nothing and you chew for hours and still it does nothing for you but give you heartburn and it always comes in ten-ton sizes and the alternative of goose is too expensive and duck is too fatty and the butcher didn't listen this year and so we ended up buying a pork loin that's slightly bigger than a hog on steriods and it'll take until next Xmas to defrost, so you end up eating something you don't like because it's Xmas such as brussel sprouts that smell like old socks and cabbage that ends up being boiled for three days beforehand and smells like old socks filled with brussel sprouts, and don't get me started on kids, oh look at their faces, aren't they happy, I don't want to see kids happy, I don't want to see kids, period, but it's Xmas and that excuses everything, but nothing but nothing can excuse Noel Edmonds appearing on my tv and It's a Wonderful Life sucks too, it's the most depressing movie ever made, and that weepy theatre luvvie Richard Attenborough is not Santa and neither is that smug sitcom actor Tim Allen and why isn't The Great Escape on again this year, apparently everyone knows that The Great Escape is the most seasonally relevant film ever made and so it's on every Xmas except for the simple fact that The Great Escape is never on at Xmas, and the only thing to look forward to is another Dr Who special except the specials are always rubbish, and then there's the weather, Heather the Weather retired yesterday so it's anyone's guess what the weather will be as the new weather forecaster looks about fifteen and anyway according to the BBC London is the only place in the world that gets weather, or news for that matter, but it's snowing now and I hate snow, slushy stuff making me fall over and get cold, and nobody ever clears away snow outside their doors any more except me because people fall over and sue them so they ignore the snow leading to even more people falling over, and other people are off work so you can't get stuff done and you just know you'll get a burst pipe or a yellow icicle will fall out of the sky and spear the cat and you can't get anyone to do anything about it, and then there's charities wanting money for something whiney probably involving kids and giving them happy faces for us to look at, and it gets dark about two hours before it gets light, and the one and only good thing about it all is that it's the only time of the year when you don't feel guilty about having a pint of whiskey in the morning, except afterwards you're an alcoholic, you're skint, you're fat, you're cheesed off, and you need a holiday and then just when you think you might have the joy of normality another great big fat pointless holiday comes along seven days later where you have to wish people you can't stand a happy Hogmanay, and rabid shoppers are buying enough toilet roll to build a fortress...

Merry Christmas, one and all!

Monday 21 December 2009

My three favourite books of 2009.

The following are the three novels I've read in 2009 that I enjoyed the most, although none of them were actually published this year.

3. The Chosen by Ricardo Pinto

This book surprised me as it contained pretty much everything I usually don’t like in fiction, and yet somehow I still enjoyed it. The story is set in a version of ancient China in which slavery is the norm and the ruling elite are brutal in the extreme. The slightest error by a slave leads to mutilation, and to even look at the elite is punishable by death. But life is no better for the elite as every aspect of their lives is controlled by stifling protocol and ridiculous conventions. A young member of the elite is called to the main city to take part in the election of a new emperor and... and, well, that's it. There is no story beyond that.

Instead hundreds of pages are devoted to describing a bizarre society in massive detail while absolutely nothing happens. Strangely I enjoyed this as the writer was confident enough to just write what he wanted to write rather than fitting in with the usual plot conventions. So the hero is passive and suffers only minor angst as hundreds are slaughtered. He doesn't feel so aggrieved by the suffering that he raises a rebel army or any of the ways I expected the story to develop. Oh, and the hero is gay, which is a bit daring for the notoriously backward fantasy genre.

2. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

I finally got round to reading this, and then almost wished I hadn't. The first hundred pages are terrible and I was about five minutes away from giving up when there was a gladiator fight with sharks, a scene that was so unusual I gave it another few pages to grab my attention, and it did. The story is set in a version of medieval Venice. The hero is a thief who steals from the rich and keeps it. But then a bigger, better and stronger thief comes along to challenge him. They lock horns, but then their battle for supremacy becomes personal...

The story is a convoluted one with some classic plot twists that I'll freely admit I didn’t see coming. The writing is in some ways the opposite of my number 3 choice as description is usually kept to the minimum and yet the city is as much a main character as the people. The only downside is that it appears the author is set to write many, many books in this series and diminishing returns nearly always set in when that happens.

1. Fevre Dream by George RR Martin

I've enjoyed Martin's books since his early science fiction novels in the 1970s and yet somehow this book, written in 1982, passed me by. It doesn't appear to have much acclaim or popularity although it's as accomplished as his more famous works. The story is set in the 1850s on the Mississippi. A steamboat captain is down on his luck when an offer that's just too good to miss comes his way. A mysterious man builds him the finest boat on the river and all he has to do in return is never annoy his odd friends and never try to rouse him in daylight...

Part antibellum western, part horror tale, the story is a lot of fun in which Martin displays his ability to write perfect scenes with just the right amount of description, plot movement, character development and tension. Oddly for Martin it's also short!

Next week, the three books that annoyed me the most in 2009.

Monday 14 December 2009

A Fistful of Legends - An Extra Special Offer

On Jan 31, 2010 Express Westerns will publish a second anthology of western short stories A Fistful of Legends. To help celebrate Christmas and Hogmanay, we are pleased to announce that for a limited time you can buy a copy of the book at a special discounted price. Order before Jan 11, 2010 and you can buy A Fistful of Legends with FREE POSTAGE.

Even better, the book will be shipped to you as soon as you've paid.

This is a one-off, never to be repeated offer, after which you'll have to wait until Jan 31 to buy a copy and then pay the full retail price plus postage.

The retail price is $15.95, so US readers can buy at that price. UK readers can also buy at $15.95 if you know how to pay in dollars, otherwise you'll have to pay in pounds, which with the pound now trading at about one thousand pounds to the Zimbabwean cent, will be £10.50. Sadly we can't offer completely free postage to anyone outside the US and UK, but a discount will be applied (so for instance the total cost for most of mainland Europe will be $18, Japan will be $20).

In addition, if you haven't already got a copy of Express Westerns' first anthology Where Legends Ride, for the duration of this offer you can buy a bundle of the two books with free postage. That's a total of 35 action-packed western stories! Where Legends Ride retails at $13.95, so you can get both for $29.90 or £19.50.

To take advantage of this offer please contact me at with AFOL in the subject line and we can arrange for you to pay to my paypal account. Or if you prefer contact Dave through his blog at Davy Crockett's Almanack as he is also running this promotion.

So what are you waiting for? Saddle up for action and adventure ... and grab yourself A Fistful of Legends!

Saturday 12 December 2009

A Fistful of Legends

Express Westerns' latest anthology of western short stories A Fistful of Legends will be available to buy from and all on-line retailers on 31 January 2010. The ISBN is 978-0-557-19954-9 and the price will be $15.95 (about £10 or 17.50 Euros)

The book has been edited by Nik Morton and co-edited by Charles Whipple. It features an introduction by James Reasoner along with a front and back page cover illustration designed by Jennifer Smith-Mayo based on an original painting by David McAllister. I am confident this is a western title all western fans (and anyone who enjoys a good yarn) will want to buy. The 21 stories in this bumper size book are :

DEAD MAN TALKING by Derek Rutherford
BILLY by Lance Howard
HALF A PIG by Matthew P Mayo
BLOODHOUND by C. Courtney Joyner
BIG ENOUGH by Chuck Tyrell
ON THE RUN by Alfred Wallon
THE GIMP by Jack Martin
VISITORS by Ross Morton
THE NIGHTHAWK by Michael D George
DARKE JUSTICE by Peter Avarillo
CRIB GIRLS by Kit Churchill
MAN OF IRON by Chuck Tyrell

Acclaim for our authors in Express Westerns' first anthology Where Legends Ride:

From Meridian Bridge:
One of the very best tales is ‘Bubbles,’ by Ross Morton. Within a handful of pages Morton presents three-dimensional characters that live and breathe and wander through the years like real people, and we’re treated to a heartfelt overview of a friendship that spans the decades.
Gillian F. Taylor too offers more than a routine reworking of old formulas in ‘Easier Than Working’ as bank robbers Irish and Tomcat Billy come across a homesteader family in need. More than just a pair of good-hearted rogues, these two express a real range of emotion in their creator’s hands.

From Ron Fortier, Pulp Fiction Review:
‘The Prodigal’ by Chuck Tyrell is a poignant, classic cowboy tale of right and wrong with a dedicated marshal having to hunt down his own son. Likewise ‘The Man Who Tracked a River’ by Derek Rutherford offered up a story of guilt and redemption that was steeped in the dust of the badlands. ‘Desert Surrender’ by Kit Churchill is a raw, grim adventure that had me turning the pages fast. These are all classic western gems. ‘Once Upon A Time In Mirage’ by I.J. Parnham and ‘Snows of Montana’ by the editor Matthew P. Mayo read like saddle-tramp sagas inspired by O’Henry, their twisty ends fun.

From Pog’s Literary Reviews
Not only do Lance Howard’s westerns contain enough action and traditional shoot ‘em up for the most discriminating western novel reader, but they craft vivid characters and explore the vast panorama of human experience and emotion with situations relevant and immediate for a modern audience’ll find gunslingers and crooked lawmen right alongside battered wives and homeless outcasts...a western writer for the non-western reader and horse opera lover alike!

Now Express Westerns is back.

Discover what it’s like to ride with damaged men and sinister night stalkers, tragic doves, plucky homemakers and gun-toting belles. Experience for yourself the harsh reality of birth and death, love and hate, revenge, retribution and robbery. You'll find it all here, penned by a whole posse-full of Western writers old and new.

So what are you waiting for? Saddle up for action and adventure ... and grab yourself A Fistful of Legends!

Available from The Express Westerns store as from 31 January 2010. Where Legends Ride, currently available.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

The Story With No Name - Part #18

Bob Napier has supplied the latest section at: The Cap'n's Blog

The first 16 parts are here

Part 17 - Peter Avarillo

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Robert Holdstock

I read the sad news today that Robert Holdstock passed away over the weekend. He was a versatile and stylish writer whose novels covered a broad scope in science-fiction originally and later fantasy. I particularly enjoyed his early works such as Earthwind, Where Time Winds Blow and Eye Amongst the Blind. He though gained lasting fame for Mythago Wood, a rich story that has many levels and which has become one of the most analysed fantasy books ever written.

Holdstock died of an E.Coli infection. He was 61.

Monday 30 November 2009

Express Westerns Announcement

Express Westerns is proud to announce the publication of a brand new anthology of Western Short Stories. Official publication date for A Fistful of Legends edited by Nik Morton will be 12 December 2009 and the first copies will be available for ordering from and on-line retailers on 31 January 2010.

Discover what it’s like to ride with damaged men and sinister night stalkers, tragic doves, plucky homemakers and gun-toting belles. Experience for yourself the harsh reality of birth and death, love and hate, revenge, retribution and robbery. You'll find it all here, penned by a whole posse-full of Western writers old and new. So what are you waiting for? Saddle up for action and adventure ... and grab yourself A Fistful of Legends!

On 12 December 2009 the full cover will be unveiled along with the ISBN and price, so watch this space...!

Wednesday 25 November 2009

The Story with no Name - Part #17

Peter Avarillo has supplied the latest part at: Jack's Open Range

The previous 16 parts are here

Monday 23 November 2009

The 100 Best Horror Novels of all Time

This week's 100 best is Horror novels as chosen by a panel of authors and reviewers headed up by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. Obviously the choices are a bit literary, are light on some popular authors, and include numerous non horror stories to provoke readers! For the record I'm surprised to find I've read 40 of these, with only 95 that'd make my personal top 10, and number 29 makes my personal list of the worst books of any kind I've ever suffered.

1. Christopher Marlowe - The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus
2. William Shakespeare - The Tragedy of Macbeth (!)
3. John Webster - The White Devil
4. William Godwin - Things As They Are; or: The Adventures of Caleb Williams
5. Matthew Gregory Lewis - The Monk: A Romance
6. E.T.A. Hoffmann - The Best Tales of Hoffmann
7. Jane Austen - Northanger Abbey (!!)
8. Mary Shelley - Frankenstein
9. Charles Maturin - Melmoth the Wanderer
10. James Hogg - The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
11. Edgar Allen Poe - Tales of Mystery and Imagination
12. Nathaniel Hawthorne - Twice-Told Tales
13. Jeremias Gotthelf - The Black Spider
14. Eugène Sue - The Wandering Jew
15. Herman Melville - The Confidence Man: His Masquerade
16. J. Sheridan Le Fanu - Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bertram-Haugh
17. Robert Louis Stevenson - The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
18. H. Rider Haggard - She

19. Robert W. Chambers - The King in Yellow
20. H.G. Wells - The Island of Dr. Moreau
21. Bram Stoker - Dracula
22. Henry James - The Turn of the Screw
23. Joseph Conrad - Heart of Darkness

24. Bram Stoker - The Jewel of Seven Stars
25. M.R. James - Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
26. Arthur Machen - The House of Souls
27. Algernon Blackwood - John Silence, Physician Extraordinary
28. G.K. Chesterton - The Man Who Was Thursday
29. William Hope Hodgson - The House On the Borderland
30. Ambrose Bierce - The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce
31. Oliver Onions - Widdershins
32. E.F. Benson - The Horror Horn: The Best Horror Stories of E.F. Benson
33. David Lindsay - A Voyage To Arcturus
34. Franz Kafka - The Trial
35. James Branch Cabell - Something About Eve
36. E.H. Visiak - Medusa
37. Guy -The Werewolf of Paris
38. Marjorie Bowen - The Last Bouquet: Some Twilight Tales
39. Alexander Laing - The Cadaver of Gideaon Wyck
40. Sir Hugh Walpole (ed) - A Second Century of Creepy Stories
41. C.S. Lewis - The Dark Tower and The Day After Judgment
42. Dalton Trumbo - Johnny Got His Gun
43. H.P Lovecraft - The Outsider and Others
44. Clark Ashton Smith - Out of Space and Time
45. Fritz Leiber - Conjure Wife

46. Cornell Woolrich - Night Has a Thousand Eyes
47. H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth - The Lurker at the Threshold
48. Paul Bailey - Deliver Me From Eva
49. Boris Karloff (ed) - And the Darkness Falls
50. August Derleth (ed) - The Sleeping and the Dead
51. Walter Van Tilburg Clark - Track of the Cat
52. Sarban - The Sound of His Horn
53. William Golding - Lord of the Flies
54. Richard Matherson - I Am Legend
55. Ray Bradbury - The October Country

56. Joseph Payne Brennan - Nine Horrors and a Dream
57. Robert Bloch - Psycho
58. Nigel Kneale - Quatermass and the Pit

59. H.P. Lovecraft - Cry Horror!
60. Shirley Jackson - The Haunting of Hill House
61. Philip K. Dick - The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (eh?)
62. Jerzy kosinski - The Painted Bird
63. J.G. Ballard - The Crystal World (double eh?)
64. Robert Aikman - Sub Rosa
65. Kingsley Amis - The Green Man
66. Anthony Boucher - The Compleat Werewolf, and Other Stories of Fantasy and Science Fiction
67. John Gardner - Grendel
68. William Peter Blatty - The Exorcist
69. John Brunner - The Sheep Look Up
70. Manly Wade Wellman - Worse Things Waiting
71. Robert Marasco - Burnt Offerings
72. Stephen King - Salems's Lot
73. Harlan Ellison - Deathbird Stories

74. Hugh B. Cave - Murgunstrumm and Others
75. Bernard Taylor - Sweetheart, Sweetheart
76. John Farris - All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By
77. Stephen King - The Shining
78. William Hjortsberg - Falling Angel
79. Whitely Streiber - The Wolfen
80. David Morrell - The Totem
81. Peter Straub - Ghost Story

82. Jonathan Carroll - The Land of Laughs
83. Richard Laymon - The Cellar
84. Thomas Harris - Red Dragon
85. F. Paul Wilson - The Keep

86. Deniis Etchison - The Dark Country
87. Karl Edward Wagner - In a Lonely Place
88. Tim Powers - The Anubis Gates
89. Robert Irwin - The Arabian Nightmare
90. Iain Banks - The Wasp Factory
91. T.E.D. Klein - The Ceremonies
92. Robert Holdstock - Mythago Wood
93. Michael Bishop - Who Made Stevie Crye?
94. Dan Simmons - The Song of Kali
95. Clive Barker - The Damnation Game
96. Peter Ackroyd - Hawksmoor

97. Lisa Tuttle - A Nest of Nightmares
98. Charles L. Grant - The Pet
99. Robert McCammon - Swan Song
100. Ramsey Campbell - Dark Feasts

Sunday 22 November 2009

The Story With No Name - Update

The decision has been made to work towards an ending for The Story With No Name. There will be around another ten sections although a definite number will be provided soon. For now here is the complete magnum opus of 16 parts in one place.

Part 1 - I.J. Parnham

"Come and see this," Merrill Wyman said. "Some fool is standing on the tracks."

Jerome Meeker stopped shovelling wood to join Merrill in peering over the side of the engine. Impossible as it had sounded, Merrill was right. A man was standing on the tracks, around 300 yards ahead. From such a distance and with the evening light fading fast Jerome couldn't be sure what he was doing but he appeared to be just standing there looking down at the ground.

Jerome dragged on the brake lever, tearing a desperate screech from the wheels. The reek of tortured metal overpowered the engine smell. It was a futile gesture as the train would require a quarter-mile to stop, but at least using the brakes would give the fool more time to move.

"Get off the tracks!" Jerome yelled although it was unlikely the man would be able to hear him while Merrill clanged the bell.

The sound would be loud enough to be heard in Matlock, four miles further on, but this didn't alert the man who remained hunched and staring downwards.

They were now 200 yards away and the man had around twenty seconds in which to move or die. Still he didn't react although the brake shoe was locking the wheels and the bell was tolling its insistent plea.

Now Jerome could see that the man was grey-haired and so stooped with age. There was also something familiar about him... But it was almost too late.

Then he looked up, but the train was only seconds away from hitting him. His gaze alighted on the engine looming over him. If its appearance shocked him, he didn't show it. Instead, he raised his arm and clutched in his outstretched hand was a six-shooter. He fired at the approaching train, his mouth opening wide. Blazing hatred contorted his face as he shouted something that Jerome couldn't hear.

Merrill and Jerome both jerked backwards. Lead cannoned off the engine. A stray bullet tore through the small window and ricocheted around before departing.

Then the gunfire stopped.

Merrill and Jerome looked at each other, sighing as they both wondered if the man had got his wits about him at the last moment and saved himself.

Jerome glanced over the right-hand side then backwards while Merrill took the other side. To his dismay Jerome saw a hunched shape lying beside the tracks. The cowcatcher would have tossed him aside but even so the pained look each man gave the other said they didn't think he could have survived the impact.

The train had now slowed sufficiently for one of them to jump down, yet both men stood frozen in place, reluctant to go back and find out what state the man was in.

"You check on him," Merrill said finally. "I'll see if there's a doctor amongst the passengers who can help him."

"I don't think he'd want that help," Jerome said. "He just let the train hit him."

Merrill provided a sorry shake of the head. "He sure did, but why would a man do that?"

Jerome shrugged. Then, with a heavy heart, he jumped down from the train.

Part 2 - Jack Giles

“What’s the hold up?” this curt question came from the portly conductor, Henry Cox, as he eased himself down the steps from the front of the first carriage. This as heads began to appear through the carriage windows behind him. He paused long enough to slip a fob from the pocket of a vest that was stretched, tightly, across his paunch and examined the watch face before glancing in Jerome’s direction.

“Better be good,” Henry snapped, shoving the watch back,as he turned to glare at Merrill who had halted with one foot on the footplate while gripping on to the brass handrail to maintain his balance. “We have a schedule to keep.”

Henry pounded towards them with a hiss of serge upon serge as his thick thighs collided with each other but neither man paid him much attention for they were watching the old man rise from the ground.

“Well, I guess, that’s my fault,” the old man told the trio of gaping men as he approached them brushing dust from his clothes with his hands. “Sorry if I’ve disrupted your schedule but you see I – yes, I needed to stop the train.” As he spoke his eyes wandered along the line of carriages until he spotted a red and white one at the end. Suddenly, he swung up an arm to point downline. “Hey, isn’t that Silas Bartlett’s private carriage?”

“It certainly is,” the conductor responded, pompously, finding it easier to answer the question rather than follow the oldster’s rambling drawl.

“Thought it was,” the old man nodded. “Good. I wasn’t sure if I’d stopped the right train.”

“And what if we hadn’t’ve stopped?” Merrill bellowed dropping to the ground. “God, by rights you should be dead.”

“But, don’t you see, you did stop,” the old man said, sagely.

“But if we hadn’t?” Merrill persisted.

All three stood there mesmerised as the old man reached inside his jacket and pulled out a stick of dynamite. As a man they took a few quick paces backwards.

“I’d’ve had to use this,” the old man mentioned. “Last resort – but the train would’ve stopped.”

“Just who the hell are you?” the conductor demanded, his eyes watchful as the old man slid the dynamite, carefully, back into his pocket.

“Didn’t I say?” the old man looked confused. “Walt Arnside.”

“You can’t be,” the Jerome gasped. “I knew Arnside and he’s dead.”

“Heard that rumour myself,” Walt nodded. “All the time I was in Yuma I had people telling me I was dead. But as you can see I’m very much alive.”

“Whoa! Whoa!” the conductor called out. “All this may be interesting but I don’t hear you saying why you stopped the train.”

“I didn’t, did I,” Walt nodded, scratching at the hairs at the side of his neck and glancing downline before facing the conductor. “Well, I’d’ve thought that was a mite obvious. I mean why would anyone try to stop a train, huh?” he glanced at each man expecting an answer and when none came stated the obvious. “To get on board.”

Part 3 - Chuck Tyrell

As Walt Arnside walked toward Silas Bartlett’s private car, his back seemed to straighten and his shoulders grow broader. His iron gray hair and close-cropped beard no longer marked him as a weak old man. Instead, his strides were firm and steady. A slight smile appeared on his face.

“Wait. Wait,” Cox cried. “You can’t just barge into Mr. Bartlett’s private car.”

Arnside never broke stride. “I can,” he said. “And I will. Get your crew back on that iron horse. In two minutes this train’d better be making up lost time, or if I know Silas Bartlett, you all will be looking for new jobs down the line.”

Merrell and Jerome jogged for the engine, and Henry Cox struggled across the sandy ground toward the passenger cars. Walt Arnside stepped up into the vestibule of the red-and-white Bartlett car. Less than a minute later, the steam whistle blew and the four-foot driver wheels of the locomotive began to turn.

Arnside stopped a moment outside the door to Bartlett’s car. The train moved out and each car clunked against its couplings in protest. He drew his .45 Peacemaker, turned the gilded knob, and pushed the door open as he stepped to the left, behind the door frame.

“That you, Straight? Come on in. Just me and the ghosts in here.”

A little smile showed on Arnside’s lips again. He shoved the Colt back into the well-worn holster that rode his right hip, and entered the well-lit Pullman.

“Put ‘er there,” Barlett said, his hand held out.

Arnside reached across the mahogany desk and firmly grasped his friend’s hand. “Long time no see, Scoot,” he said.

“Much too long, Straight. You still packing a star?”

“Nah. Too old for hard work. Never was as quick as you, Scoot.”


“Don’t mind if I do.” Arnside knew Bartlett would get around to telling him the reason for this strange visit when he was good and ready, and not before. Besides, he had no owlhoots to run down, no rustlers to catch, no wife to tie him down . . . no nothing. Waiting weighed easy on a man with nothing.

Bartlett poured four fingers of Jim Beam’s good whiskey into two of his fine glasses, all sparkles and facets. He handed one to Arnside, took one himself. He lifted the glass. “To memories past,” he said, “and adventures to come.”

“Hear, Hear,” said Arnside, one eyebrow raised. He clicked glasses with Bartlett and sipped the whiskey. It was real. The aroma filled his head and the heat of 80 proof Kaintuck lightning worked its way down his throat and into his guts. Fine stuff.

For a while, the two old friends tippled Jim Beam and communicated with the ghosts of times past. “Whatcha got up your sleeve, Scoot?” Arnside asked at last.

Bartlett leaned forward as if he wanted no one else to hear. “I know where there’s a Spanish treasure ship,” he said. “On dry land.”

Part 4 - Evan Lewis

Walt Arnside downed the last of his whiskey and placed the glass on the japanned table next to his chair. Bartlett’s remark buzzed about in his head, finding no place to light.

“Ever wonder how I made my fortune, Straight?” Bartlett hooked thumbs in the pockets of his silk waistcoat. A gold coin fixed to his watch chain caught the light and shone like a small sun.

Arnside dodged the question. “Ain’t a thing a man asks.”

“Or tells, unless he’s a damned fool. But I need your help. And your trust.”

Arnside’s eyes wandered about the private railcar. The plush carpet, velvet drapes and canopied bed looked like something out of The Arabian Nights. Bartlett had done well for himself, no mistake.

“I was raised by my grandfather," Bartlett said. "He was a queer old cuss, and more than half-mad. Claimed he’d once sailed with Jean Lafitte, but everyone knew that was hogwash.”

Arnside’s gaze settled on a painting hung between two windows. The subject was a high-prowed galleon, belled sails straining as she plowed a heavy sea. The ship’s side bristled with guns, and atop her mast flew the red and yellow flag of Spain. A treasure ship. Arnside’s pulse quickened.

Bartlett grinned. “The old fellow would sit for hours in his rocker, swilling rum and staring at that very painting. ‘A treasure ship,’ he’d mutter, ‘on dry land!’ Then he’d slap his knee and cackle, enjoying a private joke. After he died, I found an iron box under the floorboards. A box half-full of these.” Bartlett fingered the gold coin on his watch chain. “I kept one for luck, and I kept that painting, hoping to learn its secret.”

Arnside felt deflated. “But you said you knew…”

Bartlett rose and strode to the painting. “A month ago, the train hit rough track and the frame jumped from the wall, cracking free of the canvas. And what do you think I found?” He gave Arnside an owlish look.

A window exploded inward, showering Bartlett with glass. Bullets smashed into the opposite wall. More windows burst. The air was alive with singing lead, flying shards and acrid engine smoke. Bartlett gasped, clutched his shoulder and crumpled to the floor.

Arnside sprang from his chair, flattened next to a broken window. Five masked horsemen raced alongside the car, sixguns spitting fire. In one fluid motion, he drew his .45 and sent the nearest rider spinning from the saddle.

Bartlett lay on his side, his breathing ragged. A crimson stain spread over his fancy waistcoat.

Arnside’s gun crashed again, and a second rider pitched into the dirt. “Is there something you forgot to tell me?”

“I hate to say it, Straight, but you’re not the first man I asked for help.”

“Who was?” Arnside winced as a slug tore a chunk from his arm.

“You’re not going to like it.”

Arnside drew a bead on a third man, but the car lurched, spoiling his aim. Steel screeched on steel as the train began to slow.

“Damn it, Scoot! Who?”

A gas lamp shattered, raining hot oil over Bartlett’s bed. The comforter whooshed into flame. In moments the car would be an inferno.

Bartlett grimaced. “Zack Roden.”

A bullet scorched Arnside’s cheek, but he barely noticed. He felt like he’d swallowed a rattlesnake.

“If we survive this,” he said, “I’ll shoot you myself.”

Part 5 - Jack Martin

Arnside, back against the wall, looked out of the smashed window, hoping to spot Zack Rodin among the riders but a slug tore into the window frame, splintering wood and sending him once again ducking for cover.

‘We’re sitting ducks.’ Arnside yelled and turned to look at Bartlett but his old friend had succumbed to the gut wound. He lay there, a curious, contented look upon his face. Arnside crawled across the floor and made his way to the rear of the private car.

He groaned as he stood upright and opened the door. The train was still chugging alone, a few miles per hour at the most, the engine yet to build up pressure and get the wheels turning. He jumped down onto the ground and hugging the wall of the private car he made his way behind the train. He suddenly felt his age. He was in the autumn of his life and as he cautiously made his way to the rear of the train he felt November with each step.

The train started to pick up speed and Arnside cursed. The damn thing was providing his only cover and he fell to the ground, laying flat, trying to make himself invisible.

Luck was with him and he grinned as he saw the riders chasing after the train, which was now picking up considerable speed and easily outdistancing them. He lay there until both train and riders had vanished into the distance and then and only then did he get to his feet. He scanned the desert landscape, knowing that he had gotten at least one of the riders. At first he didn’t see anything but then perhaps three hundred yards away he spotted the crumpled figure of what could only be a man.

There was no sign of the riders returning even though they must have given up their pursuit of the train by now and Arnside withdrew his .45 and he made his way towards the fallen man, all the while his eyes scanned the horizon for the return on the riders.

He reached the man and after a final look around, spotting the the fallen man’s horse in the far distance, he knelt and examined the dead man. It had been a good shot that had brought him down – without aim, slung in his general direction, the slug had struck home right between the eyes and exited from the rear his of head, taking a sizeable chunk of skull with. A sponge of gore clung to a nearby rock.

Won’t take long for the flies to get at him, Arnside thought and wiped his brow. He removed the man’s rig and slung it one side and then went into each of the man’s pockets. There was nothing to identify the man but he did find three bucks and a tobacco pouch.

Arnside sat back with the makings and quickly put together a quirly. He sucked it to life and allowed the smoke to escape between his teeth while he regained some breath.

God he felt old.

‘Who the hell are you?’ Arnside asked the dead man and then raised a hand as if fending off any reply.

He thought about Bartlett. What was it the man had wanted to tell him? What was it he had discovered behind the painting he spoke of? He had mentioned a treasure ship so Arnside figured a map would come into it somewhere. Was that what the armed riders had been after? A map? A map leading to a ship filled with treasure?

He got to his feet and looked across the desert to the dead man’s horse. There was nothing for it; he would have to trail the riders if he was to find out what all this was about. Suddenly he didn’t feel so old and he started out across the desert to the waiting horse….

Part 6 - Jim Griffin

Luck was with Walt. The horse didn’t shy from him, but snuffed Walt curiously. He reassured the black and white tobiano with a pat.

“Easy,” he said. “We’ve got some hard ridin’ ahead.”

Walt’s good fortune continued. A Winchester rode in the saddle boot. The saddlebags contained spare cartridges, along with some beef jerky. A half-full canteen hung from the saddlehorn. Walt shoved a strip of jerky in his mouth, checked the cinches, and swung into the saddle. He put the pinto into a long-reaching lope. The powerful horse responded eagerly.

Dark had fallen, but the bushwhackers’ trail was visible under the light of a waxing gibbous moon. Walt expected them to veer off, but they kept alongside the tracks.

“We’ll be comin’ upon Bannon before long,” Walt murmured to the pinto. “Seems kinda odd those renegades’d ride straight into town.”

He slowed the horse to a walk. A mile later, the outlaws’ trail turned into the brush.

“That makes more sense. They’ll be sneakin’ through the back alleys.”

Walt avoided the railroad depot when he rode into Bannon. The train had already pulled out. Bartlett’s burnt-out car had been shunted onto a siding. Walt used an alleyway to reach the livery stable. He unsaddled the pinto and turned him into a corral. Walt took the rifle and extra ammunition. He headed for the nearest saloon, certain that was where he’d find Bartlett’s killers.
Just as Walt reached the street, two men emerged from the saloon.

“Arnside!” one shouted. He clawed for his gun. Walt put a bullet in his chest. The second man fired, his slug smashing the Winchester from Walt’s grip. Walt ducked behind a trough and pulled his sixgun.

More men were boiling out of the saloon.

“It’s Walt Arnside!” the second man called. Walt shot him through the gut. The gunman screamed in pain.

“I’m hit in the belly, Zack! Help me!”

“I’ll take care of you, Billy!” Roden shouted. He leveled his Colt at his partner’s back and fired twice. Billy pitched to the road.

“That way you can’t talk,” Roden muttered.

The gunmen concentrated their fire on Walt. He ran for the cover of an open doorway. He had almost made it when a horrific pain ripped through his middle. Walt clamped a hand to his right side and sat down, hard. He hunched over, unconscious.

“Let’s get outta here,” Roden ordered. His men gathered their horses and galloped out of town.

Several bystanders carried the gravely wounded Arnside to the physician’s office.

“He’s in rough shape,” the doctor muttered. “Dunno what I can do.”


Walt awoke to find the doctor and marshal staring at him.

“Must’ve died and gone to Hell,” he said.

“Not yet, but you still might,” the doctor observed. “You could be one of the few men who survive bein’ gut-shot. I believe that bullet missed your intestines. It did nick your liver. You’ll be laid up for quite a spell.”

“Then you’ll be tried for killin’ two men,” the marshal added.

“They were doin’ their best to kill me,” Walt protested.

“Not the way the townsfolk saw it,” the lawman answered. He was interrupted by a feminine voice.

“Marshal, I’d like to see your prisoner, if I might.”

“Lola!” The name escaped Walt’s lips. He’d last seen Lola Metivier years ago, in New Orleans… and she’d left him with far more pain than the slug which had just been dug out of his gut.

Part 7 - Joseph A. West

“It’s been a long time, Lola,” Walt said. He reopened the old wound. “Since you ran out on me in New Orleans.”

The woman smiled, white teeth in a pink mouth. “A gambler and a whore ain’t exactly a match made in heaven, Walt.”

“What did you want from me?”


Lola read the question on Walt’s face. She didn’t answer it. Not directly.

“I’m getting older, Walt. My tits and ass are sagging and I discover a new line in my face every morning. More than ever, I need what I tried to find with you, a man to stand by me, steady like, and give me his support.”

She shrugged. “Either that or I end up a dollar-a-bang slut on a hog ranch.”

“You’ve found that man, Lola?” Walt asked.

A rising wind off the Mohawk Mountains to the east rattled the wood shingles on the jail roof and somewhere a screen door slammed open and shut.

Defiance in her eyes, Lola said, “Yes I have. His name is Zack Roden.”

Walt felt like he’d been slapped.

“Roden is nothing but a two-bit killer-for-hire. He murdered Silas Bartlett, Lola. Hell, you recollect ol’ Silas.”

The woman nodded. “He wasn’t much.”

“And he tried to kill me,” Walt said, as though he hadn’t heard.

You! Shut your goddamned trap!”

Town marshal Heck Stryker, a big-bellied man with purple cheeks and pig eyes, crossed the cell floor and thudded a kick into Walt’s cot.

“Mr. Roden told us what happened. Him and his men saw it all. Bartlett told you where to find the big treasure boat, then you killed him to keep his mouth shut. During your getaway, you killed one of Mr. Roden’s men, then you tried to murder Mr. Roden himself in town tonight.”

“Why did Roden run, Stryker?’

“Because you scared him. You’re as guilty as hell, Arnside, and I aim to hang you.”

“Walt, it doesn’t have to happen this way, Lola said. “Zack is well-respected in this town, Walt. He can save you.”

“What does he want in return, Lola?”

“Tell him where he can find the big boat.”

“Go to hell,” Walt said.

“Want me to beat it out of him, Miss Lola?” Stryker asked.

The woman shook her head. “No, not now.” She glanced at the big lawman. “Maybe later.”


The cell smelled of piss and stale vomit and the pain in Walt’s belly was a living thing that clawed at him.

He stared at the cobwebbed ceiling, his mind working.

There was no big boat. A Spanish galleon hadn’t been left high and dry by Noah’s flood, and nobody had dragged it…wherever they’d dragged it.


Suppose it was an itty-bitty boat?

Maybe a golden galleon the old Spanish men had made for their king. Apaches could have stolen it and stashed it somewhere.

A boat like that could be worth a fortune, and the clue to its whereabouts could still be in Bartlett’s private rail car.

Despite his pain, Walt sat up. He would need help to find out.


“What the hell do you want?”

“I want to make you rich,” Walt yelled.

He had baited his hook. Now, could he catch a purple-jowled pig?

Part 8 - Bob Napier

Marshal Heck Stryker grunted.

“I’ll get rich charging folks four bits a head to watch you hang.”

“Chicken feed,” Walt said. “I’m talking about millions in Spanish gold. You’ll live like the Duke of Prussia.”


Arnside sighed. “No matter. What matters is I can find that treasure ship. Throw in with me and you share the bounty.”

Stryker screwed his face into a contemplative mask, which made him look dumber than usual.

“If you’re worried about Zack Roden,” Walt said, “we can sneak away tonight. By the time he learns we’re gone he’ll be picking breakfast from his teeth. Besides, he won’t know where we’re headed.”

Stryker smiled like a bullfrog who’d speared a fly. “It’s a deal, but heed me. I’ll tote your gun. If you even think about crossing me I’ll sink you with your own lead.”

“Done. Now, loose me from this stink hole.”

Stryker led Walt to the rear of Choo How’s Mortuary, cutting through back alleys in order not to be seen. They entered the unlocked rear entrance. Choo was in the room where he built caskets, laughing .

“Evening, Choo,” the burly marshal said.

Choo jumped up. The laughter ceased. An expression of wide-eyed shock replaced his normally inscrutable countenance. Choo quickly pasted on a smile and kowtowed to the occidentals.

“Ah, marshal, you scare Choo.”

Walt stepped forward. “Where’s the body of Silas Bartlett. He was killed in the attack on the train, burned up pretty bad.”

Choo’s smile widened. “Poor man. Back side all black. Front not so bad.”

“Where’s is he?” Stryker demanded.

Choo indicated a plank coffin, nothing like the opulence Bartlett enjoyed in life. Stryker and Arnside pried the lid off. Bartlett was sunk deeply into rough batting obviously arranged to hide charred flesh. He wore a broadcloth suit, white shirt with celluloid collar, and red vest. Shined boots covered his feet.

Stryker rifled Bartlett’s pockets. Nothing.

“Where’s his goods, Choo?”

Choo fetched a small wooden box.

Walt went through this. Empty wallet, turnip watch, insignificant papers.

“Something wrong?” Stryker asked.

“There’s no map.”

Stryker turned on Choo. “Well, Chinaman?”

“Choo no see.”

Stryker grabbed Choo’s left hand and bent the pinkie finger back. A sharp snap brought an agonized scream from the smaller man.

“The map?”

Give Choo credit, he didn’t surrender the map easily. Stryker broke three of Choo’s fingers and a thumb first.

Outside, Stryker and Arnside made their way to the livery stable. The dead drunk hostler was deaf to the sounds of the men saddling their horses.

“We’ll tie the horses behind the jail. I got supplies in there I keep handy,” Stryker said.

Ten minutes later, with a sack of provisions tied to Walt’s saddle, Stryker turned to his new partner and smiled his ugly smile. “No use waiting,” he said. “Time to dissolve the partnership.”

Walt looked at the .44 aimed at his gut. “Knew you’d show your colors, just didn’t expect it so soon. Go ahead and shoot. Wake Roden.”

Stryker held the revolver steady as he slid a Green River knife from a sheath on his belt.

“Reckon this’ll take you out quieter.”

He took a step towards Walt. The leering lawman’s advance stopped when he heard a wet splat. Then he felt what caused it. His knees buckled and a moment later he was face down in the dust.

Walt looked at the marshal’s recumbent form, then beyond it. There stood Lola, a length of lumber in her hands dripping goo.

“Okay, cowboy, let’s ride.”

Walt gathered Stryker’s weapons and mounted up. Lola climbed aboard Stryker’s horse.

“Like you said, lady, let’s ride.”

Part 9 - Richard Prosch

They put some distance then between themselves and Zack Roden’s town, Arnside’s pinto kicking dust across the ashen landscape, Lola on Stryker’s steeldust close behind. Neither spoke until the low lights of Bannon disappeared around a bend and they skirted the sage covered troughs and sharp granite ridges of the Mohawk foothills. Though the night was fair, Arnside was shivering with cold one minute, burning up the next, the bullet wound in his gut ripe and festering. He slowed his horse and Lola reined in close.

“We’ll head for Matlock,” he said, hoping not to show sick, “I have friends there.” Walt turned his ride in the direction of the barren water hole he’d left just before all this began. From Matlock he’d gone to meet the train…

How long ago it now seemed, sharing a drink with Silas Bartlett, a friend from his gambling days in New Orleans, and meeting up with Lola, the girl they both loved then. Weren’t they all dandies, twenty years past: the gambler, the businessman, and the whore. And the lawman Zack Roden, who also loved Lola from afar. And then Walt, always roaming far from home, always after a new game, took up as Marshall in Yuma, and it was Sheriff Zack Roden himself that shook his hand and pinned the star to his shirt, the same Zack Roden who joined the Vigilantes and became nothing more than a hired killer.

The man who had planted in him the hot slug of death. Arnside’s head spun and he started to weave.

“Walt?” Lola’s voice from far away. “Walt? What is it?” A query from the bottom of a canyon; a cry from the deep, black abyss.

When Arsnide woke, he wasn’t in Matlock. “Where? Where are we?” he managed.

“My place,” said Lola.

“Your place? Not Matlock…?” His vision cleared and he saw Lola tying the horses to a hitch. The shack behind was surrounded by moonlit rock and sand.

“You’re sick Walt. You need rest.”

Then black.

When he opened his eyes, they were inside and he was covered in buffalo skins, a nearby lamp burning low and warm. He shook with the fever, determined not to nod off again.

Lola had Bartlet’s map in her hand, or rather, a booklet of folded paper. “It’s part of a journal by Bartlett’s grandfather. It’s about the big boat and the Secret Society that guards it.”

He shook his head, “No big boat…”

“According to this, there is. It’s in the Colorado desert, a dozen miles out of Dos Palmas.”

“A Spanish captain looking for a northwest passage to California,” said a familiar voice from behind. “Lost in temperamental flood waters, he thought he was still in the gulf.”

Arnside saw the gold coin and watch chain first as they caught the light. Silas Bartlett stepped from the dark.

“Scoot, thank God…”

Then he saw Bartlett’s pistol pointed at him, the same little Derringer he’d always carried in New Orleans.

Walt rolled in his blanket, clutched at his holster, found empty air.

“You said it yourself back on the train,” said Bartlett, pulling the trigger. “You never were quick as me.”

Part 10 - Paul Dellinger

The little pistol spat flame. But the bullet, instead of smacking into Walt, drilled a neat little hole into the roof of the shack.

“No!” Lola screamed, as she pushed Bartlett’s arm upward.

Before Bartlett could bring it back down to fire the second barrel, Walt sat up and flung one of the heavy buffalo skins at him. Bartlett staggered back and Walt, ignoring the burning in his stomach, was on him.

With a grunt which reflected both effort and pain, Walt wrested the weapon from his old friend’s hand and promptly sat, or staggered, back down into a sitting position. But he kept the Derringer steady on the gold coin which hung around Bartlett’s middle.

“Saving my bacon is getting to be a habit with you, Lola,” Walt said through gritted teeth to the woman who now stood watching the two of them. “Scoot, you want to tell me why you want me dead, all of a sudden? As a matter of fact, why aren’t you dead yourself?”

Bartlett pushed the odorous hide away distastefully, but his cockiness was gone and seemed to have left him deflated.

“I told you,” he replied sullenly. “Back on the train. You weren’t the first man I asked for help.” He hesitated. “You were insurance.”

“Against Zack Roden double-crossing you? Hell, you should’ve figured that as a given.”

“Yeah, I should have. But I never expected him and his gang to hit that train. I thought they’d wait until it stopped in Bannon, at least. But I had some friends there, and figured I could lose him.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“A slug in the shoulder, as you might remember.”

“I remember. I thought you were dead. That smirk on your face when you were lying there making like a corpse should’ve told me different.”

A trace of that contented look had returned to Bartlett’s face. “I’m a good actor, Straight. You should’ve remembered that.”

“But I saw your burned body in that mortuary back in Bannon...”

“Yeah, burned body. There were some other casualties aboard that train, and at least one body burned beyond recognition. Poor old Henry. He was a good conductor. And what was left of him fit into one of my extra suits of clothing just fine. Choo How, the undertaker, is one of those friends of mine I mentioned. Although he never bargained for three broken fingers and a thumb from your friend, the late marshal.”

“Stryker was no friend of mine,” Walt said.

“Don’t try to fool me, Straight. You and Stryker cost me a good deal more than I paid Choo How originally. I had to pay his doctor bills, too, after what you’d put him through. Loyalty has its limits.”

“That was Stryker, not me. He had the guns. In fact, after he got those papers of yours, he figured he didn’t need me anymore. If it weren’t for Lola here, I’d be lying back in Bannon with a knife in my gizzard.”

“Lola is Zack Roden’s girl!” Bartlett almost shouted. “Don’t you think I can see that you and Roden have joined together in the double-cross?”

Walt’s mouth dropped open, and then he laughed. “So that’s it. You figured I’d partnered up with Roden.”

“You mean you haven’t?” Bartlett said, staring at him.

In reply, Walt turned the Derringer over in his hand and tossed it back to Bartlett. “No, Scoot, I haven’t. But I can see how you might have thought so.”

Bartlett shook his head, hefted the Derringer, and pocketed it. “Well, I’ll be damned.”

“You may well be,” Lola spoke up. Both men turned to where she was standing, holding Walt’s pistol covering them both.

Part 11 - Peter Averillo

Silas Bartlett stood there stunned with his mouth gaping wide open.

“What the hell?” he managed to squeeze out, the words strangling in his throat.

The gun in Lola’s hand swung in his direction. A coldness seemed to seep into her honey brown eyes.

“Sit down, Silas,” Lola nodded towards the rickety chair close by his side.

She waited for him to obey before speaking again.

“I don’t trust you, Silas,” she continued. “Never did. But you got one thing right – this is about Walt and me.”

“Don’t include me in,” Walt groaned laying back on the bed.

Lola just smiled: “Like I said this is about you and me.”

“There is no me and you,” Walt spat out. “You made that plain some time back.”

“So I made a mistake,” Lola shrugged. “And you’ve never made any?”

“Plenty,” Walt mumbled.

“Well so did I,” Lola insisted. “The biggest was believing that Zack was the solution to all my problems. He keeps me safe and secure just like I wanted but that’s as far as it goes. We’re just partners in a business. He can’t give me what I really want.”

“And the gold solves all your problems,” Silas snapped as he attempted to rise but sat down again as Lola glared at him.

“No, Silas, this not about the gold,” she snapped.

“If it’s not about the gold - ,” Walt began before choosing to shut his mouth and wait for Lola to say her piece.

“I saved your life, Walt,” Lola reminded him. “I brought you here for a reason. To talk to you. To explain some things to you.”

“Don’t listen to her, Walt,” Silas implored. “She’s in this for herself. Her and Zack Roden, they want my treasure for themselves.”

Lola laughed: “You can believe that if you want to Silas but all the gold I want is lying on that bed.”

“Lola, it’s too late for all that,” Walt groaned, trying to rise up but forced back by the pain in his belly. “’Sides, the way I figure it you’re trying to drive a wedge between me and Silas there. Lull me into thinking that I’d best go with you for the gold.”

“Walt, believe me when I say the gold means nothing to me,” Lola pleaded. “If you don’t believe me all you’ve got to do is burn that damned map.”

The moment that Lola turned her attention to Walt, Silas saw an opportunity to jump her and take the gun away from her. But when she mentioned the idea of burning the map it knocked him back leaving him sitting in stunned silence.

“You serious?” Walt asked, his eyes narrow and watchful.

“Yes,” Lola nodded.

“You can’t,” Silas screamed.

“Certainly not, old chap,” the soft, silky tone of voice had three heads turning towards the open door.

So engrossed in their own problems they had not heard Zack Roden make his entrance nor did they know how long he had been standing there.

“Well, well chaps and chapess,” Zack continued. “It has been a long time since the four of us were last together. Quite the reunion don’t you think?” when no one responded he carried on. “Quite an impressive speach, Lola. Most convincing. Now be a good girl and give Walter the gun. Man looks positively naked without it.” Then, as though it was an afterthought. “Oh, and Walter I don’t think it would be prudent to burn that map. Do you?”

Part 12 - Chuck Tyrell

Walt Arnside sat with his back against the bedstead and his chin on his chest. His eyes half closed, he studied the others in the room.

“Look here,” he said, keeping his voice natural and even. “There’s only four of us, and it ain’t like we don’t know one another. And if Scoot’s old grandpa is right and there’s a treasure galleon somewhere south of the border, then the booty’s not gonna be like holding up some Wells Fargo stage.

Roden watched Arnside closely. If there were anyone in the room to fear, it was Walt Arnside.

Silence filled the room for a long moment.

“Well, what are you getting at, Straight?” Silas Bartlett sounded garrulous.

Maybe he was older than I figured, Arnside thought. Age ain’t always a matter of years.

“I heard a story once,” Arnside said. “An old sailor talking about crossing the Pacific. He said they went ashore on an island called Tano’sasi to fill their water casks. They found gold coins in the coral there. The natives said a large ship struck the reef, ripped its guts out, and sank in deep water outside.”

“So what?” Zack Roden stared out the window.

“If Scoot’s treasure ship is the real thing, there will be more gold and silver there than you could ever hope to count in a lifetime.”

“I’ll say it again, Walter. So what?”

“So there’s more than enough for all of us. Why are we feuding?” Arnside looked from one face to the next. “Shouldn’t we be doing this thing together?” He swiped a hand across his unshaven jaw.

“Look. I was marshal in Yuma for a dozen years,” Arnside said. “I’ve ridden into that corner of hell they call the Yuma Desert, chasing men who thought they could escape Yuma Prison. Some did, but none ever escaped that desert.”

Lola sat with her elbows on the table. She rested her face in her hands, watching Arnside. The years hadn’t been as hard on her as they were on many western women. She still had a spark. A bit of devilment in her eyes. And those eyes held a smile for Walt Arnside.

Silas Bartlett rested on the other cot. His gunshot wound obviously pained him. His breathing was ragged and his face was white.

“You gonna make this, Scoot?” Arnside asked.

“It’s my goldam treasure,” Bartlett rasped. “I’ll goldam see it through.”

Arnside grinned. “Thought you would,” he said.

Roden leaned his chair back against the wall. “Just tell us what you’re driving at,” he said. He waved the cocked Colt Navy in his hand. “If I don’t like what I hear, you’re dead.”

“The map gives a spot in the Yuma Desert,” Arnside said. “It’s a hell of a place. Sand dunes constantly shifting. Wind always blowing. No water. Salt flats that run for miles. Even the lizards climb sticks to keep their feet off the hot sand.”

“So. What?” Roden ground the two words out from between clenched teeth.

“So. I’m the only one who knows the desert. Scoot’s the only one with enough money to outfit us good enough to get through it. You’re holding the ace card; you could kill us all and take your chances. And Lola? Well, Lola’s hanging on.”

Arnside sat up on the bed, ignoring the pain in his gut as best he could. “I say give me and Scoot time enough for our wounds to heal; time enough for Scoot to bankroll us with the right gear; time enough for you, Roden, to go up north to Las Vegas and get us some camels; and time enough for me to plan the ride.”

Part 13 - Jack Giles

“Whoa, there,” Zack Roden frowned. “Who made you boss of this outfit?”

“Why don’t you just do as you’ve been asked?” Lola intervened, moving so that she placed her body between Roden and Walt. “Just take a look at them. Neither Walt nor Silas are in a fit state to run away.”

Roden nodded: “Then I’ll take a little insurance. Just hand over the map Walter and I’ll be on my way.”

Walt shook his head: “What happened to trust, Zack?”

“That was then,” Zack admitted, unable to make eye contact with his old friend. “Time changes things – now I don’t trust anyone.” He lifted his head to look directly at Walt. “This time – I will.” He paused, dramatically. “For old times and the fact that you won’t be going anywhere for a while. But, be warned, you betray my trust – I will hunt you down and kill you.”


The days passed into weeks as Walt Arnside healed wounds old and new. When he had become fit enough both he and Lola had sat outside talking over old times to the point that he believed that they had a future together. The more they talked so Walt became convinced that the supposed treasure meant nothing to Lola.

There were times when he could envisage a future where he settled on this tract of land and raised his own herd of cattle. Yet, he knew, that to realise that dream it would take hard cash and that was something that he did not have.

He knew that the answer lay in a share of that gold. All he had to do was convince Lola of his necessity in continuing with the venture.

The only doubt in his mind was Silas who had recovered from his wound. But it had left him aged and ashen skinned. He spent all day sitting by the open grate with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. It was as though the fight had gone out of him.

“Damn hell, how’d I get caught up in all this?” he demanded of the bucket that he was taking towards the pump.

A distant cough had him dropping the bucket as he spun around; his hand reaching for the butt of his pistol. Only to stop and grin at the sight that met his eyes.

Long legged and ungainly the camels looked but it was a sight to behold. It had been many years since he had laid eyes on the beasts and back a few years to the time that he had joined the US Camel Corps. It was a pity that the troop had been disbanded for he had a great love for the gentle creatures. Sure they had a bad side for they spat or bit out at those who did not treat them decently.

The lead camel knelt down close by the corral and Roden looked as though he was about to fall over the long neck. His body tilted at an angle of 45 degrees but the hook of his leg and hold on the saddle pommel kept his balance. With practised ease he dismounted and ambled towards Walt.

“Absolutely marvellous,” Roden grinned by way of greeting. “An experience to savour,"

“You brought company,” Walt observed as he spotted a turbaned head behind one of the camels.
“Oh, Hassan,” Roden replied. “Well, someone has to teach us how to handle those beasts.
Besides he comes strongly recommended by Hi Jolly.”

“What?” Walt gasped, recalling the troop’s lead camel driver, Hadji Ali.

“Didn’t go to Las Vegas, old chap,” Roden said, seriously. “I heard that old Hi Jolly was over in Tucson and I thought it might be better to hear things from the camel’s mouth – as it were. Which was just as well as it turns out. We have a problem – a big problem. There’s a chap called Vic Sawtell hunting camels.”

“Sawtell?” Walt queried. “You sure? The man’s a killer.”

“Exactly,” Roden agreed. “Seems he was waiting for someone in Bannon.”

“Silas,” Walt deduced.

Part 14 - Evan Lewis

Walt Arnside had died and gone to Hell.

Or so it seemed, as the Yuma Desert pitched and rolled like a stormy sea.

What madness had put him astride a camel? True, he’d served in the U.S. Camel Corps, but that was ancient history. Before the war, before the gambling, before the marshaling. He’d been young then, young and stupid. And even then, he’d ridden the beasts only as a lark. The Corps had used them as pack animals, not mounts.

Walt’s clothing was stiff with sweat, his eyes poached, his throat ravaged from breathing sand. He'd forgotten the camels’ least endearing quality: an odor like curdled milk, piss, decayed flesh and pigshit - all rolled into one.

To make matters worse, Zack Roden was clearly enjoying himself. He perched atop the high saddle like a rooster, regaling Lola with tales of his none-too-savory past.

Lola, too, was remarkably at ease. She sat side-saddle on her camel’s hump, lovely legs curled against the beast’s flank. She glowed like a child on her first pony ride.

Walt’s only consolation was that Silas was at least as miserable as he. Having long since lost his breakfast, Silas sagged forward, bracing hands on the camel’s neck.

The handler Hassan rode rings around them all. Scorning a saddle, he’d straddled his mount behind the hump, leaning back with legs outstretched, and fairly flew across the sands.

Walt cursed himself for joining this mad quest. A ship in the desert. A treasure in Spanish doubloons. A Secret Society of guardians. It was the stuff of an opium dream.

Then there were his allies - two men who had once been friends, a woman he’d once loved. All had betrayed him at one time or another, and one was betraying him now - to a human scorpion called Vic Sawtell. But which? The question clogged his throat with bile.

A jolt nearly toppled him from the saddle. The camel, of its own volition, had begun to gallop. The others were running too. Hassan steered his mount between them, barking orders in his strange tongue, but to no avail.

“They smell water!” He shouted. “And will not be denied!”

All the riders could do was hold tight as the camels charged pell-mell across the desert.

The beasts did not slow until they reached a small stream, where they thrust their heads into the water and slurped noisily.

Roden’s face was a mask of fury. Jumping to the ground, he buried the sharp toe of his boot in his mount’s underbelly. The beast squalled, whipping its head about. Flashing teeth bit deep into Roden’s thigh. Roden howled, jerked the Navy Colt from its holster.

Walt leapt headfirst from his saddle, still flying as his fist crashed against Roden’s jaw. Roden’s head snapped full around before his body struck the earth.

Lola squealed, but for whom?

Roden’s camel arched its neck and spat. Its foul-smelling cud smacked against Roden’s cheek, dribbling ooze between his lips. Roden sputtered, shook his head and groped blindly for his gun.

Walt tensed, ready for whatever came. But a sharp cry from Hassan spun his head around.

“Look!” The handler aimed his riding crop toward the West.

Atop a distant ridge, two dark figures sat their horses. Watching.

Walt strode to his camel, drew the Winchester from its scabbard.

Lola clutched his arm. "Who are they?"

Walt levered a shell into the chamber, spat onto the sand.


Part 15 - Jim Griffin

Arnside gave up the idea of using that rifle when at least twenty more Apaches topped the dunes, surrounding the erstwhile Camel Corps. In the Indians’ midst rode another figure, dark-eyed, with black hair and beard. A flat-crowned, broad-brimmed hat, with an enormous feather perched jauntily in the band, topped his head. The man’s appearance was almost exactly the same as an engraving of the pirate Jean Lafitte Walt had seen back in New Orleans.

Surrounded by the Indians, he rode his Andalusian stallion up to the apprehensive group.

“Who are you, and what are you doin’ with these Apaches?” Walt demanded.

“I am Esteban Escobar Bourbon. These Apaches are my bodyguards,” he announced, his eyes glittering. “You seek the ship of my great-grandfather. My family has been bound to guard the ship and its secrets for three generations now, against all interlopers. You also shall not succeed where others have failed.”

One of the Apaches separated himself from the rest, approached Arnside, and clubbed him on the side of his head. Walt crumpled to the sand.


When Arnside came to, he was alone… alone, stripped naked, and staked out, rawhide thongs biting into his wrists and ankles. For some reason he couldn’t fathom, a rawhide strap ran across his hips, holding them firmly in place. He opened his eyes, blinking against the harsh sun.

“At least they didn’t slice off my eyelids,” he murmured. “Reckon they couldn’t find an anthill, neither. Not that it’s much comfort.”

As his vision cleared, Walt realized, to his horror, he wasn’t exactly alone. Silas Bartlett was also there. He’d been skewered through his belly by an Apache’s lance, which held him pinned to a giant cactus, ten yards beyond Arnside’s feet. Bartlett hung there like some macabre scarecrow, his eyes bulging with terror. Arnside’s old partner wouldn’t be coming back to life a second time. Walt’s guts roiled when a zopilote buzzard landed on the lance’s shaft, to pull a chunk of flesh from Bartlett’s face. Others joined it, tearing at the corpse. Bile rose in Arnside’s throat at the scavengers’ ghastly banquet. He forced his eyes shut and lay unmoving. One of the bolder buzzards dropped next to Walt and tore at his ribs. When Walt screamed, the ugly bird flapped away, squawking in protest.

Shortly, the zopilotes had reduced Bartlett’s body to the bones. They remained perched in the cactus, beady eyes watching Arnside with infinite patience.

The sun rose higher, baking Arnside’s flesh. An intense burning between his legs forced him to once again open his eyes. For the first time, he spotted the mirror angled into the cactus just above Bartlett’s skull, a lady’s mirror with an elaborately carved handle and frame. Walt recognized that mirror as belonging to Lola. Rays of sunlight reflected off the mirror, down to a magnifying glass stuck in a mound of sand. The magnifying glass concentrated the beams directly onto Arnside’s groin.

“No Apaches rigged up that contraption,” Arnside moaned. “Hadda be Bourbon’s doin’.”

He writhed in agony. Those rays were frying his balls like Rocky Mountain oysters. When he attempted to shift his groin, he couldn’t move it one inch. Now he understood the reason for the strap over his hips.

With a scream, Arnside tried to pull himself upright, knowing the effort was futile. A sharp pain stabbed into his left breast.

Preoccupied with the buzzards feasting on Silas, and the sun roasting him alive, Arnside hadn’t noticed the thing causing this pain, until now… A Texas Ranger’s badge, its pin driven deep into his skin.

Part 16 - Jack Giles

Walt closed his eyes and lay back. There was a deep throbbing along the right side of his skull. Apache war drums that signalled his demise.

What was the point of trying to escape, anyway? His mind dwelt on the lack of a future. Even if he was free the heat of the desert would still kill him and if that didn't - even if he survived that long - then the deep chill of the desert night would finish the job.

He laughed. A patchy, croak from his parched throat that edged towards insanity.

Just thoughts that invited the vision of a naked man without food and water wandering around in ever decreasing circles until the inevitable end.

Too engrossed in his own problems Walt failed to hear the faint jingle of harness.

When he did open his eyes he found himself looking up into the face of an angel.

"I've died and gone to heaven," Walt sighed.

"You wish," the angel's voice was soft and husky. "Believe me, this is Purgatory."

Pale blue eyes that were almost white held Walt's for a moment. Fine blond hair framed a face that was almost feminine except for the fine bristles that curved over the upper lip and peppered the chin.

The eyes flicked away to glance at the corpse hanging from the cactus. The angel raised a quizzical eyebrow.

"Silas," Walt groaned. "Silas Bartlett."

The angel nodded: "Thought it might be."

He strolled over to inspect the corpse. In doing so he dislodged the mirror but Walt could not be sure if was by accident or design. Whatever, he was grateful for the relief.

Having finished his inspection the angel hunkered down close to Walt's outstretched right arm.

"Where's Roden?" the sharp question made Walt look over the angel's head to where a bunch of riders waited impatiently.

The man who had asked the question looked like the one who had put the lead into Walt's belly.

"I would have thought that was obvious," the angel spoke softly as he pointed in a south westerly direction. "Just follow those tracks, Deuce."

Deuce Harmon, Roden's segundo, stared at the direction indicated before turning his gaze to Walt's prone body.

"He's done for," Deuce stated. "Let's get going."

"You go, Deuce," the angel suggested. "This is as far as I'm going."

"The hell with you, Sawtell," Harmon shouted. "You signed on for the whole shebang."

"Deuce, you just happened to be going in the same direction as me," Sawtell did not move; he just sat there staring down at Walt. "The man who was going to pay me is dead. So no incentive to go any further."

"Leave it, Deuce," one of the other riders suggested.

"Leave it, hell," Deuce sneered.

Walt could only lie and watch and even then could not believe what he had witnessed.

It was like watching a rattlesnake uncurl and strike. That was the speed with which Sawtell moved. A fluid action that saw man and gun as one, the single shot crashing out to leave Deuce Harmon dead in the sand.

Harmon had no chance to draw his gun when his life was plucked away. Nor were any of the others prepared to exact vengeance as, to a man, they rode out into the desert to follow the tracks that would lead them into the arid wastes of the salt flats.

And Sawtell just sat there as though he had not moved.

"Well," Sawtell smiled. "I suppose I had better go."

"Not interested in the gold?" Walt blurted out, fearing that Sawtell would leave him to die.

"Fool's gold," Sawtell shrugged. "The deserts are full of myths and legends. Spanish galleons and fabulous cities. Fool's gold, friend."

"Silas had a map," Walt insisted.

"Of course, he did," Sawtell laughed. "And how many lives has the desert claimed of idiots that had maps that promise nothing?" as he spoke he drew a long bladed knife from a boot sheath. "If I were you I would give up and go home."

"I don't think that's possible, right now," Walt growled.

"This is true," Sawtell laughed, leaning forward to cut Walt's right hand free.

"Now you have an option."

Sawtell straightened and began to walk away.

"Hey, what about the rest?" Walt shouted at the retreating back.

Sawtell paused only to glance over his shoulder: "Gave you a fighting chance, friend. You have a free hand."