Hi guys, we have a brief visit from Abigail Roux as she shows off her newest release According to Hoyle. We have a great excerpt and a brilliant giveaway, so enjoy the post and then leave a comment to enter the giveaway. <3 ~Pixie~
According to Hoyle
By the close of 1882 in the American West, the line between heroes and villains is narrow. Total chaos is staved off only by the few who take the law at its word and risk their lives to uphold it. But in the West, the rules aren’t always played according to Hoyle.
US Marshals Eli Flynn and William Henry Washington—longtime friends and colleagues—are escorting two prisoners to New Orleans for trial when they discover there’s more than outlawry to the infamous shootist Dusty Rose and the enigmatic man known as Cage. As the two prisoners form an unlikely partnership, the marshals can’t help but look closer at their own.
When forces beyond the marshals’ control converge on the paddle wheeler they’ve hired to take them downriver, they must choose between two dangers: playing by the rules at any cost, or trusting the very men they are meant to bring to justice.
(This title is a revised and edited second edition, with minor new additions, of According to Hoyle, originally published elsewhere.)
Introducing Abigail Roux
Hi! I’m Abigail Roux, the author of ACCORDING TO HOYLE. Thanks for having me. And don’t forget the giveaway! Check out the details at the bottom of the post to see what you can win!
Deputy US Marshal Eli Flynn’s boots echoed on the wooden sidewalk as he trudged the last few steps of his trip. He hardly recognized this section of the town; most of the structures had been rebuilt after the fire burnt them all to the ground. When he’d left, this area had been merely foundations and frames. Or rubble.
Lincoln, Nebraska, had grown in leaps and bounds the last several years, trying to become what the residents expected from the capital of a newly formed state. The buildings rose two and sometimes three stories, making the streets feel closed in and dark. Flynn didn’t like it. But the Marshal Office remained on the outskirts of town, where the breeze could still reach him and the sun still shone down to warm the cold mornings.
He stopped at the shining new window to the dry-goods store, intending to straighten up a little, to at least seem respectable when he went in. But one look told him it was no use. He was dirty and haggard, and his normally well-manicured goatee was bordering on the wrong side of woolly. But an hour at the bathhouse would fix all that right up too.
He turned away and headed for the Marshal Office. He had to check in before he could even think about trying to remedy any of it, though. It wasn’t as if being dirty and tired were unusual west of the Mississippi. Nor was it unexpected after a trip like the one he had taken.
He stopped at the door to the new Marshal Office and wiped his face with his kerchief, took his hat off and swiped at his forehead and eyes, then stuffed the bit of red material back into the pocket beneath his frock coat. He squared his sore shoulders and took a deep breath before strolling into the building that still smelled of fresh pine.
A bell hanging above the door dinged as he walked in. He glanced up at it curiously. The tiny brass bell was just as new as the rest of the construction. A bell there made sense, though. A marshal should have a way of knowing when someone walked in.
The sounds of the bustling street outside reached through the walls of the Marshal Office: horses’ hooves clopping along the packed-dirt street, ladies’ boots clacking against the raised walkways, men calling greetings to one another in the early-morning cold. It was a comfortable, familiar scene. One that Flynn had missed.
The office, however, was anything but familiar. Flynn looked around at the bright, whitewashed walls and the pristine pine floors. The old office had been sparse and dreary, with scuffed floors, no windows, and very little light. He and Wash had seen fit to fix that when they’d rebuilt. The cells, rather than being all in one room like before, were out of sight in the back of the structure.
Flynn removed his hat and held it at his side, not wanting to knock the dust off his clothing in the clean room.
“Flynn?” The voice boomed from the rear of the building.
Flynn peered into the dim, his eyesight still ruined from the bright morning sun outside.
Deputy US Marshal William Henry Washington, or Wash to friends and strangers alike, emerged from the back of the office, into the light, and surveyed Flynn with sharp, clear green eyes. His sandy hair was shorter than it had been the last time Flynn had seen him. His beard and mustache were gone, with only the sideburns near his ears still present. And for the first time in Flynn couldn’t remember how long, Wash wasn’t wearing his guns.
“You look like hell,” Wash observed with a grin.
“Stillwater to Lincoln is a long trip.” Flynn shook the hand Wash offered.
“But it’s easier on the return.”
Flynn smiled weakly and nodded. Transporting prisoners was never a simple task. Stillwater was one of the better transits because nearly every stop offered a decent place to lock someone up or otherwise restrain them with a minimum of fuss. Other locales weren’t so convenient, like when you had to tie your prisoner to a telegraph pole just to get a decent hour or two of sleep. The solo return, of course, was always less stressing.
“Sense of humor is still top notch, I notice,” Wash said. He turned away and headed for the desk against the far wall. He picked up a small yellow piece of paper and waved it in the air. “I’ve got another one for you.”
Flynn narrowed his eyes at the telegram with a sinking sensation in his gut.
“They’re waiting to be picked up in Junction City,” Wash continued as he glanced at Flynn, looking over Flynn’s tired face and slumping shoulders. “You ready for another one? I might can give this to someone else . . . Actually, I can’t give it to no one else ’cause no one else is around, but I can offer and pretend I care that you’re about to yell.”
Flynn merely glared at him.
“It’s an easy one,” Wash offered in a voice that was probably meant to be enticing.
“The last ‘easy’ one you gave me tried to kill me,” Flynn reminded him. “Twice.”
“They’re outlaws, Flynn. By and large, that’s what they do.” Wash walked around the desk and held the telegraphed message out to him with a whistle.
“Is this one going to the gallows?” Flynn sighed as he reached for the paper. Prisoners going to their execution always gave the US Marshals escorting them one hell of a hard time. They were fighting for their lives, after all, and more lawmen were killed while transporting prisoners than any other activity they performed. Neither Flynn nor Wash had ever had a prisoner escape on them, though. Not one that they hadn’t recovered almost immediately, anyway. Or shot dead during their escape attempt.
“No gallows. There are three in the group you’re picking up,” Wash told Flynn. “Two are heading to Fort Smith, some sort of military to-do, but you’re only taking them as far as St. Louis to meet up with the Army escort. The last is going to trial in New Orleans. You’ll have to—”
“Three?” Flynn blurted. “This is an easy one? Goddamn, Wash!”
“Taking the Lord’s name in vain, Flynn.” Wash smirked. “I’m shocked. What would the lady folk say?”
“You ain’t no damn lady. And I can’t escort three men by myself. Who’s going with me to ride herd?”
“You want someone to go with you?” Wash feigned surprise.
Flynn smacked his hat against his jeans and sent a puff of dust swirling into the clean office.
Wash just chuckled and held up his hand. “I’m going with you as far as St. Louis,” he said, still laughing. “Then I’m to head to Natchez to convene with the governor, and I’ll meet up with you again in New Orleans for the return home.”
Wash shrugged and nodded. Flynn’s attention strayed to the crisp linen sling that hung over Wash’s shoulder, supporting his left arm, and then back to the man’s eyes in question.
“I can draw a gun with one hand,” Wash assured him quietly, suddenly serious as he sat on the edge of the desk.
“You can’t restrain a prisoner with one hand,” Flynn argued. “You can’t chain and unchain them with one hand. You can’t expect them to see you as a serious authority figure or anything of a threat with one hand.” He waved his hat at Wash’s shoulder. “They’ll be trying to escape left and right.”
“Then I’ll be sure to let them know,” Wash responded with his customary calm, “that since I can’t chain them or restrain them peaceably, I’ll just have to shoot them if they cause problems. Will that satisfy you?”
Flynn pursed his lips and blew air heavily through his nose. He didn’t want to insult Wash or hurt him, but he also didn’t want to be stampeded by a herd of escaping prisoners. “Can you use it at all yet?” he asked, already regretting his criticism. It was bad enough being injured. It was worse seeing that people didn’t have much confidence in you, especially for a man like Wash, who had always been so capable.
Wash flexed his fingers against his chest. He tapped his silver badge and smiled crookedly. That was more movement than he had been up to when Flynn had left for Stillwater Prison three weeks ago. But Flynn struggled to keep even a hint of sadness out of his expression as he watched. Would his friend ever get the full use of the arm back?
Wash obviously read him like an open book. He flicked his wrist, producing a derringer attached to a gambler’s gauntlet out of the end of the sling.
Flynn blinked in surprise, his body instinctively twitching to reach for his own Colt. He laughed and offered Wash a fond shake of his head.
“You crazy bastard.You’re going to get yourself shot.”
“Hell, I already done that,” Wash said. “And you might find me taking exception to such talk.” He turned away, going to the potbelly stove in the far corner and retrieving a tin tray of food that had been warming nearby.
Flynn remained where he was. They’d spent plenty of years together, battled Confederates and Indians together, and become US Marshals together when they’d run out of wars to fight. But since Wash had been forced to take over the Lincoln Marshal Office a year ago due to the untimely death of their superior, Flynn had seen little of him other than the occasional drink or their nightly dinner at the saloon, and that just wasn’t the same. It would be welcome, actually, to be able to travel with Wash again and spend some time with him.
“When do we leave?” he asked as Wash retreated into the row of cells with the tray of food.
“After supper. Best you get a bath and some rest,” Wash answered over his shoulder.
Flynn hummed. He had slept on the train from Stillwater, and though the thought of a nice soak was highly appealing, he didn’t feel like leaving just yet. Escorting prisoners was a lonely task. They weren’t much for conversation, and neither was Flynn when criminals and horses were the only things around to talk to.
“When’d they get this finished?” he asked, following Wash back into the darker recesses of the office.
“Last week,” Wash answered. “The design we laid out worked perfect.”
And one of the newly minted cells was already occupied.
“Who’s this?” Flynn asked with a wave of his hat at the man who lay curled on the hard cot within.
“What, you don’t recognize Larry Fitz?”
Flynn’s lips parted in shock. The man’s clothes were thin and tattered, and he was covered in caked mud and blood. His hair was stringy and his face was sunken. Flynn had seen a man dragged by a horse who had looked something like Larry did now. “What happened to him?”
Wash’s answer was grim. “He got caught.”
Flynn glanced at Wash and saw the familiar hard set of his jaw and the glint in his green eyes. The expression told Flynn that the man inside the cell was lucky to be alive. Larry Fitz, who lay bruised and battered and barely recognizable, was essentially a harmless drunkard. Or he had been, until the night two months ago when he’d gone on a bender and decided to set fire to the Feed and Seed, the building that had shared a wall with the old Marshal Office.
Wash had been inside the jail that night, and he had nearly lost his life trying to release the prisoners from their cells as the building burned down around them. His hands still bore scars from the burns he’d received from the heated metal of the bars as he’d opened the doors. The fire had leaped from the building that housed the General Store and Feed and Seed and the jail beside it, to the buildings on either side of them: the stables and the saloon.
The horses had all been saved, which was a stroke of luck considering their value in a town like Lincoln, but the buildings had burned down like the dry kindling they were, and with them went the livelihood of some of the town’s most prominent citizens. The biggest tragedy had been the deaths of three guests renting the rooms above the saloon who hadn’t been able to get out in time. The damage to the town and to its reputation hadn’t made anyone particularly happy.
The prisoners Wash had risked his life to save had promptly tried to escape as the townsfolk dealt with the spreading fire. That was how Wash’s arm wound up in the sling. A bullet from a stolen gun had taken him cleanly through the shoulder as he’d tried to retake the prisoners without violence. Of course, after being shot, violence had not been one of Wash’s concerns and the escaped prisoners hadn’t made it very far.
The doc was certain he would make a nearly full recovery. Flynn, however, was certain that the doc spent too much time in the saloon, and so he worried for Wash and his arm.
The two prisoners who had attempted to escape that night now occupied permanent spots up in the shady little grove of headstones the local residents had naïvely named God’s Acre, thinking an acre would be enough to hold the dead in a town west of the Mississippi.
Fitz, the man who’d caused the whole damn mess, had gone to ground as soon as he had sobered up and realized what he’d done, and he’d been in hiding ever since. Until now, apparently.
“Who found him?” Flynn asked softly.
“Cyrus Beeson, over on the flats,” Wash answered. “It’s a damn miracle they didn’t kill him ’fore I got to him. Just happenstance I was anywhere near when they dragged him in. They were heading for a hanging tree, making a damn mess of it.”
“Shame you got to him at all,” Flynn muttered.
“Law don’t work that way, Flynn.”
“It does out here.”
“It ain’t supposed to.” Wash slid his key into the lock and turned it slowly. The man inside didn’t move as the hinges groaned. Wash knelt and placed the tray of food on the floor.
“Maybe it should,” Flynn argued quietly. “It’d make our lives a lot easier.”
Wash eased his way back out of the cell and retrieved his key, locking it and watching to see if Larry would move. When it didn’t appear that he would, Wash pursed his lips and turned to Flynn.
“Life’s not easy to come by. I don’t mind mine being hard, and I don’t take it lightly when I’m forced to take one. You shouldn’t neither.”
“I ain’t the one deciding to waste my life by stepping outside the law.”
Wash brushed by him and headed back out into the front office. Flynn followed him.
“Even outlaws got their stories, Eli,” Wash told him.
“And they can tell ’em to the Devil when they see him,” Flynn insisted.
Wash sighed as he sat himself in front of the stove and propped his booted feet on the bench in front of him. “Go get yourself a bath, Marshal Flynn,” he suggested with a resigned smile, obviously recognizing the argument as just as hopeless as it had been the last time. “I’ve ridden horses that smelled better’n you.”
A bitter wind whipped through the cottonwoods along the Rosebud Creek. Snow flurries rode the gusts, falling erratically amidst the soldiers from nearby Fort Robinson who labored in the cold. Their breaths were visible in the frosty air even from the ridges that rose above the river. The soldiers were being pushed hard, picking through the rocks that lined the river and piling them carefully into large crates. Some of the rocks contained what appeared to be skeletons; outlines of bones that looked like animals no one had ever seen, trapped inside rocks with no explanation for how they’d gotten there. The soldiers tossed some of these rocks into stenciled crates along with the rest.
Another band of soldiers worked atop one of the high hills above the river, searching the ground for something long buried and digging random holes to find and recover it.
Bartholomew Stringer knelt amidst the scrub ponderosa pine atop the edge of a low butte, his dark eyes narrowed under the brim of his hat. His second-in-command hunched beside him, the man’s reedy shoulders bent against the brisk wind that howled down from the Black Hills to the north, into and across the badlands.
“You sure ’bout all this, Cap?” Frank Alvarado muttered as they watched. He was thin and twitchy. His stringy blond hair hung lank around his narrow face, and his deep-set eyes were a pale blue that made him seem weak and sickly. He was anything but. His weedy appearance worked to his advantage more often than not.
Stringer glanced at him. He wasn’t used to having his orders questioned. But this was not a normal excursion, so he was giving his band of half a dozen men some leeway. They had traveled all the way from Texas, and most of them had never been somewhere this damn cold. Back home they were known as the Border Scouts, a name retained from ties to the sharpshooters and rogue bands of the now-defunct Confederate Army because of the fear it instilled in those who heard it. Here, they were nothing but another gang of men with guns. It had been a lot to ask of them to give up that esteem and comfort without telling them why they were here.
Stringer’s patience with their doubts was reaching an end, though. He was taller than most and wide along the shoulders. His deep voice was often enough to keep order amidst the ruffians who called him Cap, but his size and his piercing gaze helped to remind them just how cruel he could be when they got unruly. It wasn’t often he had to resort to actively keeping his men in line.
“You know about Fort Robinson and the Indians, don’t you Frank?” Stringer asked in a whisper.
Alvarado shook his head jerkily as he continued to watch the soldiers below. His teeth were chattering.
“Three years ago, there was this Cheyenne Chief named Dull Knife got captured near Fort Robinson and held there. He’d tried to escape with his band of Indians and been massacred, and that was the end of the Indian Wars in the Nebraska Territory.”
“How you know this, Cap?”
Stringer shrugged. He hadn’t known a lot about the Cheyenne or the Lakota Sioux at the time, and like most in the country, he hadn’t cared when he’d heard news about the mass death. But then he’d met John C. Baird in Denver a month ago, who’d told him quite a tale.
“They called Dull Knife an admirable outlaw, whatever that is,” Stringer continued. Alvarado gave him a confused frown.
“He hid tribal valuables in the clothes and ornaments of his people as they ran from the Federal troops through the Nebraska badlands. Even their guns got dismantled, hidden in blankets and parts of beads and jewelry.”
“I don’t know,” Stringer admitted. The Cheyenne had been poor, starving, and desperate by the time they’d reached the badlands. Most of the ceremonial trinkets and ancient baubles considered sacred by the elders weren’t of any interest to the soldiers who chased them. “Didn’t help them much when the cold caught up to them.”
Dull Knife, the ill-fated leader of the Cheyenne who’d tried to return to their ancient homeland, had been among the first to be buried, put in the ground atop the very ridge the soldiers now searched, his grave lost to the shifting winds of the badlands. And with it, the goods that had been buried with him to keep them safe.
“What’s that got to do with us?” Alvarado finally asked hesitantly.
“Well, Frank,” Stringer said with a small, cruel smile. “They say after he was buried, the Rosebud Creek started running with gold.”
“Gold?” Alvarado repeated with a dubious lift to his eyebrow.
Alvarado stared at him for a moment, then turned his pale eyes back to the dozens of soldiers laboring below them. “I don’t understand.”
“Me neither,” Stringer told him softly. “I don’t believe in magic or no Indian hogwash. All I know is that government man wants whatever these boys dig up, and he wants it bad. Our job is to get it for him.”
“If you say so, Cap.”
Stringer’s men were growing restless. He could occasionally hear the snort of a horse or the cough of a man as they waited behind the ridge amidst the cover of the ponderosa.
They might not be getting a river running with precious ore, and Stringer didn’t believe whatever the Cheyenne had buried with Dull Knife had the power to turn anything into gold. But what the government man meant to pay them for whatever the soldiers pulled out of the earth would be worth the wait.
“Mr. Baird, I trust your end of this issue has been taken care of?” the old man rasped.
“I’m afraid there were some complications,” Baird reported. “Stringer is well on his way, but Rose refused to work with us. He then escaped before we could dispatch him.”
“Yes, sir. Escaped.”
“Pure luck, I assure you, sir. An earthquake, in fact.”
“An act of God,” the old man said in his disconcerting voice. He raised his spotted hand to scratch at his eyebrow. The gold and jewels of the rings on his fingers reflected the light in odd patterns.
Baird fought not to be distracted by it. The silence fell heavy in the room. Dust motes floated by his head in the shaft of light let in by the frosted window. Baird waited for the old man to continue.
“Very well. Can his knowledge harm us? Harm our plan?”
“Certainly, if ever he were to find all the pieces.” Baird knew better than to hedge his answers. The truth and only the truth was the thing to give to his employer.
“He couldn’t possibly, sir.”
“You believe a man who would be so lucky as to stumble upon an earthquake when one is needed could not possibly have the good fortune to piece together this puzzle you have so artfully taken apart?”
Baird pressed his lips tightly together to hide his frustration. “Point well made, sir. What would you have me do?”
“It’s already in the works, sir.” Baird had hired two men to track Rose down and dispatch him. The last telegram he’d received had put them somewhere in Nebraska. Baird was confident Rose would find no earthquakes there.
“And Stringer?” the old man asked without acknowledging Baird’s forethought.
“He is quite capable. I have given him the bare bones of our orders and he assures me it will be done.”
The old man’s thin white hair flew in wisps around his head and his eyebrows seemed to weigh down the skin of his forehead, giving the impression he was constantly scowling. When he offered his snaggletooth grin, he appeared quite ghastly.
Baird smiled politely. He knew how this game was played. He’d begun his lengthy career as a Pinkerton agent during the War Between the States. He and others like him had acted as spies for the Union army, repeatedly going behind enemy lines to do the bidding of those with higher rank.
Baird had risen quickly. After the war, when the Secret Service department had been formed to help handle the workload of the US Marshals, Baird had been one of the first ones to be recruited. On the surface, the Secret Service were involved with suppressing the counterfeiting of paper money, which had become popular since the currency of the failed Confederacy so many people had hoarded lost its value. But their reach extended much further than that; though they still performed the duties that had been their beginning, now they were also tasked with protecting government officials at certain times, and more importantly, they still acted as spies for the government, on both native and foreign soil.
Baird did not like farming out jobs to untrustworthy and unpredictable outlaws. If they failed, it would be on his head.
“And the information you intended to harvest from Rose. Where do you intend to get it now?” the old man asked.
Baird had no good answer for that. Men who’d spent time peacefully with the tribes were few and far between. “I’m still seeking an answer to that, sir.”
“Very well. Inform me at once when you hear of any news.”
“Yes, sir,” Baird answered as he stood and tipped his head. “A good day to you, General.”
“John,” the general called after him as he turned to take his leave. “You may see fit to make certain your loose ends are tied. If Rose shows his face in New York, you had better not shows yours.”
Baird’s polite smile faltered only slightly. “Yes, General,” he said obediently, cursing under his breath as the heavy door shut behind him.
The creak of the wagon wheels and the clop of the horses’ hooves were the lone sounds that broke the late evening silence as Wash and Flynn traveled south to Junction City. Before setting out the previous evening, they had deputized an extra man they could trust to stay back in Lincoln and hold down the fort until one of the other marshals returned.
They expected to get into Junction City well before nightfall of their second day of trekking, but both men were veterans of plains travel, and knew how unpredictable it could be. They had given themselves plenty of leeway. The only problem with leeway was when you didn’t need it. Even with someone to keep you company on the trail, the silence could be oppressive at times.
“Know anything about these boys?” Flynn finally asked to break up the monotony.
Wash glanced over at him. He was guiding the cumbersome wagon over the deeply rutted trail with one hand as if it were easy. “Two of them are soldiers of some description,” he answered around the blade of grass between his teeth. When the dry-goods store had burned down, the town’s tobacco had gone with it. All the men who smoked for a fifty-mile radius had taken to chewing straw as a poor replacement until the new shipments came up the river. Wash claimed Lincoln had been witness to some very cranky town meetings in the meantime.
Flynn pondered telling Wash that he had bought more tobacco while up in Stillwater, but decided against it.
“Soldiers. Indian Wars? Or War Between the States?” he asked dubiously. Surely they weren’t still tracking down deserters and dissenters from the latter.
Wash shrugged and clucked his tongue at the plodding mule pulling the wagon. “I don’t think these gentlemen are deserters. I think they’re younger. Regular Army, Indian Wars and all that.”
“Huh. What’d they do?”
“Telegrams didn’t say.”
Flynn hummed. Not many soldiers got sent back for trial and hanging. The Army needed the numbers and the guns while fighting the Indians, so for the most part they didn’t care about their behavior. And if it was something truly heinous, they were usually taken care of on site, before the bureaucrats got hold of it. These boys must have done something particularly interesting to be sent to Fort Smith. Of course, the Ute and Cheyenne wars had ended almost two years ago, and things had been pretty quiet since. Flynn remembered how soldiers could find trouble during peacetime.
These two unfortunates might be examples to keep order.
Flynn never really gave much thought to what their prisoners had done. He took them where they were supposed to go and then went on with life. He claimed that it was hard to watch a man you’d conversed with hang from the gallows, which it was, but it was also easier to not give a damn about the outlaws they met.
Some of them deserved a noose. Some did not.
“The third is a shootist,” Wash continued. “You might’ve heard of him. Goes by the name of Dusty Rose.”
“No kidding?” Flynn said with long look over at Wash. “I have heard of him.”
“Everyone’s heard of him,” Wash said with a laugh. “He’s in all those damn dime novels they sell back East.”
“Dime novels,” Flynn scoffed. “They never get anything right.”
Those damn stories made more trouble for people than most anything. If you were unlucky enough to get your name in a dime novel, it was likely you’d have wet-behind-the-ears young guns coming after you from all sides, hoping to make themselves a name by getting the drop on you. Or worse, calling you out across a town square, thinking they were Wild Bill Hickok in Harper’s magazine. Flynn shook his head, glad that he and Wash both had managed to escape the fate of fame in their wilder youth.
Dusty Rose had not been so lucky.
Flynn hated dealing with rumor. He couldn’t help himself when it came to Dusty Rose, though, because the man kind of fascinated him. “They say he’s just as fast as Doc Holliday. I heard he dealt faro with Doc out in Colorado for a spell.”
Wash laughed softly. It was a low, growling sound that always made Flynn smile. “You curious?”
Flynn glanced back at him and slowed his horse, coming abreast of Wash as the man grinned at him.
Wash looped the reins of the wagon around the toe of his boot and reached into his jacket with his good hand. He extracted a dime novel and offered it to Flynn. “Picked it up at the general store before we left.”
Flynn rolled his eyes and snatched the flimsy story papers from him. Of course a new shipment of dime novels would come in before the tobacco. He pursed his lips, reading the title with a frown. “Best of the West Series: Dusty Rose, the Desert Flower.”
On the front was a sketch of what the publishers figured Rose looked like. Flynn had found that they were never as handsome or as dashing as the public thought. And they were rarely ever as skilled or heroic. Most were just two-bit horse thieves with catchy names and a knack for dramatics.
“Says he can shoot with either hand,” Wash told him as Flynn opened the book and scanned it with morbid curiosity. “Says he’s got a dog he trained to take keys out of a man’s belt, follows him everywhere he goes. Says he’s a bit of a dandy and that he don’t drink one lick. Never gambles, never swears, never goes a day without bathing. Can’t all be true if he was dealing faro with Doc Holliday. Not if he lived to see the first sunrise after.”
“‘Always to be found in dapper dress,’” Flynn read with distaste. “‘Never a gold button or silk kerchief out of place.’”
“‘Nary a damsel in distress or blushing maid can resist his smiling face,’” Wash recited, his voice shaking with laughter.
Flynn grunted and tossed the dime novel over his shoulder. It landed with a plop in the back of the empty wagon. Wash guffawed raucously, obviously having expected the reaction.
“I wouldn’t put too much stock in it,” Wash said after a while, still snickering. “Kid Antrim down in New Mexico was said to be a dandy too, and you’ve seen those tintypes of him. Ugly, dirty, little bastard.”
“Lots of things was said about Kid Antrim. He’s a damn hero now that he’s dead and not shooting folks left and right. They’ll never call him a hired killer like he really was.”
“What is it they’re calling him back East now? Billy the Kid?” Wash asked.
Flynn offered that a rude noise. “That’ll never stick.”
Wash shook his head, smiling as he pulled the mule to the right to avoid a rut that probably would have broken an axle. Flynn watched him as they plodded along, feeling the ache in his chest like he always did when he got a chance to sit back and watch his friend. It was a familiar ache, one that he had lived with since their early days in the Union Army.
“Dime novels never get it straight,” Flynn said when the ache became too much to deal with. “I heard that Rose favors the gentlemen over the ‘blushing maids,’ or whatever the hell they called ’em. Wouldn’t that shock the genteel society types?” he mused.
“I’ve heard that too,” Wash agreed. “Might shock the society types, but it ain’t uncommon out here. I do wonder how Rose gets by with it being so well-known.”
Flunn grunted distractedly.
“That bother you?”
Flynn glanced back at him in surprise and then shrugged uncomfortably. Something about Wash’s tone of voice told him that he may have offended him with the subject. “Man’s welcome to do what he likes, so long as it don’t hurt no one else. I thought Rose was all bluster,” he added, irritably shifting his body in the saddle, hoping to change the subject. “All tenderfoot hooey and big talk about how fast he was with iron. Finally turned real outlaw, did he?”
“Word is he killed a man,” Wash answered, giving a lopsided shrug. “Two men, actually.”
“Word is he’s killed lots of people,” Flynn countered. “I thought it was all bull.”
“Well, the dime novel stuff is bull. But the official reports ain’t too pretty. He’s been tried twice in New York, was absolved of guilt and let loose both times. Some say his family has big political pull, lots of money,” Wash said with another tug on the reins. “But he had to go west after the second trial to save his family’s name. Got into more trouble out here. He escaped from a sheriff in Arkansas somewheres, but after the fact it was proved he wasn’t even in town when the man he was accused of killing was shot, so they let him be.”
“Escaped, huh?” Flynn asked, frowning heavily.
“Seems to be pretty good at it. He’s been found innocent of four separate murder charges.” Wash grimaced as if the thought of someone getting away with murder caused him physical pain. “They were all self-defense incidents with witnesses and sworn statements and the like. But, rumor has it that in other cases he’s escaped from five different lawmen in three territories before ever being brought in front of a magistrate or judge.”
“Five,” Flynn repeated flatly.
Wash gave a jerk of his chin. “We’ll have our hands full.”
“Well, ain’t that just a treat. I ain’t ever hearing ‘easy one’ from you again, you damn liar,” Flynn muttered. “So, what makes this time any different? With the murder, I mean.”
Wash shrugged. “Nothing special about it, I don’t think. He shot two boys in the street, neither of them yet twenty, then he stuck around until the sheriff showed up, claimed the other men drew first. I guess he was counting on the self-defense thing again. Local magistrate ain’t gonna be around for another month and they’re worried about him escaping, so he’s being sent off to New Orleans for trial.”
“Huh.” Flynn glanced up at the darkening sky. “He stuck around.”
“That his real name, y’think? Rose?” Flynn asked after a long moment of nothing but the creaking wagon wheels and the clopping hooves. “Dusty sure as sin ain’t his given name.”
“Nah, it’s an alias,” Wash said with a small laugh. “I’m sure there’s another name on the papers.”
“Guess we’ll find out soon enough, huh?” Flynn said as the squat gray buildings of Junction City came into view over the horizon.
Abigail Roux was born and raised in North Carolina. A past volleyball star who specializes in sarcasm and painful historical accuracy, she currently spends her time coaching high school volleyball and investigating the mysteries of single motherhood. Any spare time is spent living and dying with every Atlanta Braves and Carolina Panthers game of the year.
Abigail has a daughter, Little Roux, who is the light of her life, a boxer, four rescued cats who play an ongoing live-action variation of Call of Duty throughout the house, a certifiable extended family down the road, and a cast of thousands in her head.
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