Westerns are many and varied

Westerns may sound cliched to some readers but try to be open-minded. I have posted before about The Cowgirl Murders. To give you a taste, here’s how the book begins.

1870 Ten miles from Cheyenne, Wyoming

“Wasichu!” said the Lacota warrior as he emerged from the sage brush onto the trail. His voice wavered as he said the word, for the approaching rider, although dressed like a Wasichu, a white man, and sporting a heavy moustache, had a complexion, hair and eyes as dark as any Lacota along with the bony chin, nose and brow.

The rider eased his horse to a stop and tipped his bowler hat. The mule tied to the horse’s tail began nibbling spikey grass. “Howdy!”

“Are you a truth-seeker?”

The rider replied in the Lacota tongue. “I’ve been called a lot of things. Most folks call me Davy Reece, but last year I helped Mick McLuhan, a US Marshal, deal with some bad men. He was a seeker-of-truth right enough. I’ve been scouting again since then. Say, is that person – no, two people – creeping up on me in the brush – are they with you? Only someone’s likely to think it’s a coyote and take a pot shot.”

The man in front of him scowled and called, “My sons – show yourselves and stop playing that silly game!” Two lads stood up, looking amazed. One was in his early teens, the other in his late teens.

Davy Reece asked, “You know who I am. Will you tell me who you are?”

“I am Black Hawk. My sons are Swift Cloud, the elder, and Red Sky. I bring a warning of great danger. Two nights ago, the spirits came to me. At first it was just a smell. I think it was the smell of a flower, but not one I know.”

“Did you see anything? Will you two stop creeping up on me? It’s not polite and you can get into trouble.”

“I saw McLuhan. At first, he was alone, then a woman came, and they lay together. His face seemed to disappear, but I realised there was something over his face, a cloth perhaps.”

“AAAGH!”

As Black Hawk examined his younger son’s leg, he said, “It is not broken, but it is hurt. Did you not know a mule can kick?”

Davy said, “You picked the wrong one.”

Black Hawk asked, “Do you mean that you are not easily taken by surprise?”

“Hmm. I guess that’s true, but what I meant was he chose the wrong man to teach him how to creep up on anyone.”

Swift Cloud said, “You Wasichu are thieves: you take our land, our buffalo and our women. Do you now insult me?”

“When it comes to insults, you might ask who’s insulting whom. Now you mention it, my wife is a Shoshone. I did not steal her. We love each other.”

“Shoshone?” He spat. “You lie, like all your kind.”

Davy turned in his saddle and let his right hand hover near his holster. “You keep on insulting me and my wife and I might run out of patience. Why not take some of that back?”

Black Hawk said, “Please do not shoot my son. He speaks ill of everyone, Wasichu, Shoshone, even Lacota. But, my son, you have gone too far. You should apologise.”

“To a Wasichu? Like them all, his courage lies in his gun. They are all afraid of us.”

Davy took off his gunbelt and hung it around his saddle-horn. He then dismounted and laid his hat and coat over the saddle and slid his bowie knife out of its sheath and into the holster. “Now, I’m asking you one more time to take back some of those insults to me and my Shoshone wife.”

Swift Cloud spat again, almost reaching Davy, and began dancing around him, chanting and making a series of feints. Davy stood still, his hands at his sides, elbows slightly bent, following his opponent with his eyes, turning his head and body only minimally. When he moved, it was sudden, butting Swift Cloud in the face, kneeing him in the groin and punching him in the stomach. It was the uppercut that laid him out cold.

Black Hawk shook his head as he examined each of his sons. When the elder regained consciousness, his father said, “Go now. Take your brother home and behave yourselves.” Swift Cloud led two ponies from the sage brush and helped his father lift his brother onto one, before riding off.

Davy said, “Tell me, was there anything else in this vision?”

“The woman pressed this cloth onto McLuhan’s face. I felt death and evil. Soon he lay limp and she left.”

“Did he not fight?”

“No.”

“Why did the spirits tell you to reveal this to me?”

“You are also a truth-seeker and a brother to McLuhan. The evil seeks you too.”

“Why do the Lacota care about the fate of a Wasichu?”

“We know you are our friend, as was McLuhan. The Lacota value truth as he did. As you do.” He raised a hand in farewell, but paused and said, “There is something else. I do not know if it is important, but I saw the woman pick up a sheet of paper – like this.” He held his hands about two feet apart. “She looked and threw it down. Then she left.”

“Can you describe her?”

“Yellow hair. Not big. Not small.”

“I thank you. How may I repay you?”

“Water.”

Davy handed over his canteen. When it was returned, he took a long drink too. When he hung it back on his saddle he saw nobody.

 

****

 

“A woman?” queried Davy, fidgeting as he sat in unfamiliar surroundings.

“That’s right, Marshal Reece.” affirmed the older man, as he took a cigar out of the box on his desk and held it in the air as if undecided whether to smoke it or offer it to his visitor.

“No! I’m sorry. I sure hate to tell a judge he’s wrong, but this time, you are wrong on two counts, General. First thing, I ain’t a marshal. Marshal McLuhan deputised me so’s it’d be legal if I had to shoot any of them varmints we was chasing. I’m a scout, not a lawman. And for another thing, I don’t believe the marshal would’ve gotten himself killed over a woman. He loved his wife, and he weren’t no womaniser.”

Although serving as a judge since the end of the Civil War, Henry Jeffries still liked to be addressed by his former military title. He proffered the cigar to Davy, who shook his head. Therefore, the judge lit it before saying, “I regret to have to correct you on both counts. Firstly, you are still a deputy US marshal. I suppose one could address you as Deputy Marshal Reece, if it made you feel better.”

He took a puff at the cigar and scowled as he discovered it had extinguished itself. He went on, “I might add that Marshal McLuhan stated in his last report that your actions in assisting him were exemplary and that he considered you to have a great future in law-enforcement should you choose it. He said you were more intelligent than you appeared: an attribute I have often found useful in myself. His opinion came as no surprise to me. I recall your particular service to your country, and to myself, during the Civil War. As a scout, you provided intelligence of the highest quality. You were far more useful in that capacity than you could have been in uniform.”

The judge smiled as he tried to relight the cigar, while still talking. “In the second place, you do not appear to have been listening to me. I did not state that the marshal was killed over a woman. He was killed by a woman.”

“But that’s even harder to believe than him being killed over a woman. How’d some woman get the drop on him?” Davy had been sceptical about the Lacota’s vision until then. What he was hearing made him wonder, and shiver.

The judge was holding a lighted match and failed to notice that a pile of papers had begun to catch fire. By the time he did, quite a blaze had developed. He grabbed a jug of water and threw it over the flames, soaking everything on the desk and extinguishing the cigar. Some of the water ran off onto his lap. He wiped himself, then most of the desk, with a large handkerchief, scattering some papers and smudging others.

When he had restored a modicum of order, he responded to Davy’s question. “He was found one morning dead in bed in a… err, a house of ill repute in Rawlins. At first, everyone thought he was just drunk. Apparently, he wreaked of alcohol. However, a doctor was summoned – one who was conveniently to hand – and pronounced the cause of death to be asphyxiation. In the absence of marks to his throat, which would have implied strangulation, he concluded that the man had been smothered, probably by a pillow.”

“Well, this is all mighty hard to swallow. Like I said, he was no drunk and no womaniser. I never knew him go into a place like that unless it was to arrest someone.”

Judge Jeffries sighed and took out another cigar, which he lit very carefully. He shrugged. “Right now, you know as much as I do. I suggest you go to Rawlins and carry out your own investigation. I’ll give you written authority and I’ll wire the local sheriff to cooperate.”

While Davy tried to take in all he had heard and to consider whether to agree to take over the investigation, the judge looked at a photograph of the late President Abraham Lincoln on the wall and said, “I know there must be a whole posse of villains got reason to want the marshal dead, but I got a feeling it could go back to that darned war. It’s been over now for five years, but that’s not a long time to hold a grudge. There are people on both sides who don’t seem to want to move on. Southerners are bitter at their defeat, obviously. I’ve even heard there are some who won’t accept it: think they could give it another try. Darned fools! But there are those on the winning side who don’t help matters. They keep rubbing it in, as well as making fortunes out of the South’s misfortune. It’s not right.”

“Why ain’t you just leaving this investigation up to the local sheriff? Don’t you trust him? Was he a confederate?”

Judge Jeffries took another long puff on his cigar and looked pensive. “Well, Sheriff Tom Sharp’s a good man in many ways, although I don’t recall which side he was on back then.  It’s just that he doesn’t quite live up to his name. He also has a set of prejudices that don’t matter too much ordinarily but can blind him to the truth in less straightforward cases. Whereas you, as I have noted, are indeed sharp and thorough. And you were fond of Marshal McLuhan. I’m sure you won’t let anything get in the way of finding his killer.”

“You’re right about that, anyway.”

“I need hardly remind you to be careful but do remember that this woman – or whoever it was – has already murdered a US marshal and will doubtless appreciate that we can only hang them once.”

What happens next?

To read more go to The Cowgirl Murders: A mystery set in Wyoming in 1870 eBook : Monmouth, Geoffrey: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

The cover of The Cowgirl Murders: not like most westerns.

The Cowgirl Murders: not like most westerns.