Friday, August 29, 2014

Derrick Ferguson Has A Martini At EL MOROCCO

Having read four of his books now and one of them twice I think it’s safe to say that I’ve become a fan of Raymond Embrack. It’s always such a pleasant surprise to discover a writer who really makes me sit up and pay attention to what he’s doing and Raymond Embrack certainly does that. Why do I like his writing so much? I think it’s because he has that Swing For The Fences quality I always enjoy reading. Each and every one of his books I’ve read so far reads as if he’s afraid he’ll never write another one again and so they’re stuffed with off the wall characters, wild ideas and wilder concepts.  Add to that playful dialog married to descriptive passages and labyrinthine plot twists that I do think he gets carried away with at times.  But we’ll get into that later on. Right now let’s get into the plot of EL MOROCCO.

It’s the swingin’ hepcat 1960’s and Guy Roman is a hot up-and-coming comic working Atlantic City. He’s not quite big time yet but he’s on his way. Until he gets derailed by New Jersey wiseguy wannabe Jackie Rockafero who blatantly hijacks Guy’s comedy routine as he thinks it would be fun to trade leg-breaking and loan sharking to be a stand-up comic. Naturally Guy takes exception to this. Jackie offers Guy gold or lead. Guy takes lead and winds up left for dead in a filthy A.C. alley alongside the ridiculously gorgeous showgirl Tess Revere who has also pissed off Jackie in a way I would not dare dream of revealing here.

Once he recovers, Guy, along with the brain damaged but still recovering Tess heads to Los Angeles where Jackie has become a comedic megastar. Guy’s intention is to not only take back his act but to make Jackie Rockafero sorry he was ever born. The conflict between them escalates into a major war that before it’s over involves the Hollywood film industry, celebrity gangster Mickey Cohen, crooked gossip columnists, high powered agents who are little more than scam artists and the West Coast Mafia a.k.a. The L.A. Set.

One of the things that makes EL MOROCCO so much fun to read is Raymond Embrack’s affinity for the language, attitudes and feel for the 1960’s. His characters all have a wonderfully smart-ass way of talking and yet he manages to not have them all sound the same. Everybody’s a smart-ass in their own way, if you know what I mean. And the characters and tone of the book are totally authentic to the time period. So those of you who are actively PC should be warned. The people in EL MOROCCO talk, act and think like people who lived in the 1960’s talked, acted and thought and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m actually more comfortable with that than with books that are supposed to be set in the 1930’s, 40’s, ‘50’s or ‘60’s but are peopled with characters from the ‘00’s.

What else can I say to recommend the book? Raymond’s way of writing is one where he’s clearly having fun with language and with words. He obviously enjoys the way he’s telling the story in the language and style and rhythm of the dialog and description. It’s really enjoyable to read his prose as it sings and swings with the patois of 1960’s hipster jive talk.

What’s my only quibble with the book? Remember earlier when I mentioned that Raymond gets carried away with plot twists? The plot twists at the conclusion of EL MOROCCO come so fast and there are so many of them that I felt he was pushing it and I was wondering if he was deliberately trying to see how many plot twists he could throw in there before they collapsed under their own weight. But that’s okay. Above all, I like and admire Raymond Embrack for his sheer audacity and willingness to take the chance of going too far with his bizarre plots and outrageous characters. It’s always more fun to read a writer who isn’t afraid to Go There instead of one that offers up easily digestible prose that is no more exciting to read than recycled oatmeal is fun to eat. He’s an extremely entertaining writer and if you’re going to start reading him, EL MOROCCO is a great place to start.

File Size: 313 KB
Print Length: 174 pages
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ASIN: B009625IDC

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Derrick Ferguson Battles The BRIDGEPORT BRAWLER!

I think it’s safe to say that the FIGHT CARD series of books are not only a success but a validation of something that New Pulp writers, editors and publishers have been saying all along: it doesn’t matter what you call it. If it’s written well and professionally packaged, people will read it. By the end of 2014, there will be thirty-six FIGHT CARD books, all unique in their own way and touching on various aspects of the fight game. FIGHT CARD has evolved enough to now boast romance, luchadore and MMA novels as well as the core group of FIGHT CARD books which take place in the 1950’s.

For those of you unfamiliar with the traditional FIGHT CARD books, here’s the set-up: the protagonists are orphans that grew up in Chicago’s St. Vincent’s Asylum For Boys where Father Tim Brophy, a battlin’ priest of the real old school teaches boxing to his boys as a way to help them grow up and be men. At 25,000 words, the novelettes are designed to be read in one or two sittings. Having contributed to FIGHT CARD myself I can testify to the fact that it’s a genre that’s a lot of fun to work in and really put me in touch with the spirit of being a real pulp writer.

BRIDGEPORT BRAWLER by David White (writing under the FIGHT CARD house name of Jack Tunney) is a little different from other FIGHT CARD books in that it sometimes reads more like a character study than a boxing novel. Don’t get me wrong now. There’s boxing action. Plenty of it. In and out of the ring. But I can’t help but wonder if David White was more concerned in his story in trying to show us how sometimes the best thing in the world we can do can also be the thing that leads to our downfall. Our protagonist Pat White is simply not smart enough to do anything to solve his problems except use his fists. And using his fists only gets him into deeper and deeper trouble. Asked by his best friend and manager Homer to throw a fight because of a heavy debt he owes the mob, heavyweight boxing champ Pat “The Hammer” White is understandably upset, to put it mildly. 

And even though he agrees to do so, his pride and his anger gets the better of him and he reneges on the deal. A decision that has the expected result. But it doesn’t end there. That decision not to throw the fight results in Pat White descending into a black hell of alcoholism, depression and petty crime. It seems as if no matter what he does to try and pull his life together, things just don’t go right for Pat. And as usual in these kinds of story, the hero is redeemed by the love of a good woman and reaching deep inside himself for that reservoir of hidden strength he never knew he had, brought out by a wise old mentor. And as in every FIGHT CARD novel, the hero must step into the ring one more time to prove to himself that he’s worthy enough to call himself a man.

BRIDGEPORT BRAWLER is a good fast read. Maybe too fast in spots. There were some sections where I wished David White had taken more time with the characters and firmed up their relationships. There are several parts where characters make life-changing decisions on the spur of the moment and it’s in those parts where I can see the wires being pulled by the writer. It doesn’t feel as if the characters are making the decisions organically and naturally. The last thing you want as a writer is for the reader to be able to see you working the story from backstage.

But there’s no doubt that David White knows how to keep a story moving. There’s absolutely no fat or padding here and if you’re looking for a quick yet solid read to entertain you a couple of hours then you should pick up a copy of BRIDGEPORT BRAWLER and enjoy.

File Size: 2216 KB
Print Length: 80 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Fight Card Books (July 9, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Kickin' The Willy Bobo With: ANDREW SALMON

Derrick Ferguson: Who is Andrew Salmon?
Andrew Salmon: Andrew Salmon is a pop culture junkie with occasional deep thoughts. He loves his wife, football, hockey, great movies, books and comics, nature and writing.

DF: Where do you live and what do you tell the IRS you do for a living?
AS: I currently live in Vancouver, BC. Hey, I'm Canadian! I don't have to tell the IRS anything. Ha! Seriously though, I work as an extra in the film industry here as well as being a full-time writer.
DF: Tell us a little something about your background.
AS: I was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, which is not a good thing if you're English. They've got a few hang ups about French there and the discrimination is palpable. I graduated from Loyola High School, an all boys school and, yeah, that sucked. Got a BA in Creative Writing from Concordia University, which allowed me to work in a cabinet factory (because I didn't speak French) where I somehow managed to become head of my department. With no desirable future in Quebec, the wife and I went West for greener pastures, no winter, and plenty of opportunity.
DF: What are your influences?
AS: My Holy Trinity of writing influences consists of Charles Dickens, Rod Serling and John D. MacDonald. Great TV like the original Star Trek, Babylon 5, 24, The Shield, The Wire, The Twilight Zone all push me to create. Classic literature helps as well as dozens of great writers past and present. Crime fiction, hardboiled fiction, pulp - these are my reading passions.
DF: How long have you been writing?
AS: I began writing before I knew I was a writer. Back in grade school, we'd be asked to write a half-page story based on an image or idea and I'd write 12 pages without batting an eye! I didn't know I was a writer until June, 1982 when I went into Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as a fan and came out a writer. The movie changed my life as, for the first time, I saw the machinery that drove storytelling. I got a glimpse behind the curtain and instantly understood how it was done. Of course learning to do it oneself takes a little bit longer. But that day in '82 was the day I became a writer so we're looking at 32 years! Yikes!
DF: What’s your philosophy of writing?
AS: Make it good. Know the clich├ęs and don't use them. Drop into the text what John D. MacDonald called a little unobtrusive poetry so that the prose is a pleasure to read. Create interesting characters or if you're using someone else's, do so with respect.
DF: You a plotter or a pantser?
AS: Bit of both. I'll start out with the overall plot concept, then just wing it on that first draft to see what happens. I don't know what any of my stories are about until I've finished that first draft. This is why I suffer the woes of Job when I have to pitch. "So, what's your story about?" "I don't know! I haven't written it yet!" Just letting it happen for that first draft works well for me because the story is at a point where it can go anywhere. Revising the first draft, the story and its meaning slowly rise out of the mire and I shape the revised versions of the work accordingly. I wrote once from a detailed outline and, I have to tell you, it was boring as hell! Each day was, okay, I have to do this, then this, then this. Ack! I went nuts!
DF: You write in a variety of genres. Which one is your favorite?
AS: I love writing historical action. I'm a research guy. Hey, I'm nuts for research! I love digging into the past for those entertaining, thought-provoking or just downright fun elements of yesteryear and weaving those into my tales across genres ranging from detective, hardboiled and hero pulp. Detective fiction seems to be my meat and potatoes these days, which makes sense since I've been reading classic hardboiled fiction for decades. So, yeah, it's detective fiction for me.
DF: What audience are you trying to reach with your work? Is there an audience for Andrew Salmon?
AS: I hope so or I'm out of a job! I'm trying to reach an audience who likes a good tale. Historical fiction really strikes a chord with many readers and I'm with them so that seems like a good enough answer so far as an audience goes. Of course historical fiction must resonate with today's reader and that's a challenge I find invigorating. As for a specific audience for what I do, I don't think I've done enough stand alone work to determine that. I've been so busy working on classic, public domain characters that I haven't had a chance to create enough of my own work. That's going to change though, soon.
DF: You've had Sherlock Holmes stories in Volumes 1 to 5 of airship 27’s SHERLOCK HOLMES-CONSULTING DETECTIVE anthology series. And you've written a FIGHT CARD novel featuring Sherlock Holmes. Obviously you like the character. What is it about Sherlock Holmes that fascinates you?
AS: That I'm able to write him! Seriously, that fascinates and mystifies me. When Airship 27 first tossed out their offer, I said no simply because I hadn't read the tales and had seen the bare minimum of the endless adaptations on TV and for the movies over the years. I knew only what had seeped down through pop culture so who was I to write a Holmes tale? Only thinking about it later, did I realize that I couldn't pass up the chance to write, arguably, the most popular character in the history of pop culture so I grabbed the last opening for that first anthology, then tried to figure out how the hell I was going to write the story. Bring on the research! 
When that first tale won an award, I knew I was on to something. What came out of that first experience was a fondness for Watson and now, with 7 Holmes tales under my belt to date (multiple nominations and two awards), that fascination hasn't faltered. I like Watson and his voice. From that my obsessive research into Victorian times and trying to get at the heart of Holmes keeps me on my toes. Doyle created characters for the ages and doing them justice is important to me. Holmes and I seemed to have found each other - and things are getting freaky. Fooling around with those stupid online quizzes recently, I learned that I'm Arthur Conan Doyle (What Famous Classic Author Are You?) and that Doyle should be writing my biography (Which Author Should Write Your Biography?) so things are getting a bit weird.

DF: For those reading this who may want to write a Sherlock Holmes story of their own: how do you construct a proper Sherlock Holmes mystery true to the character and his method of solving mysteries?
AS: For me, it begins and ends with the canon and getting the characters right. This is the foundation on which to build. Read through the canon, and only the canon, to get a handle on Holmes and Watson, how they think, how they speak, the whole nine yards. Once you have an understanding of who they are - and that will grow with time - then you have to come up with something to get Holmes off his butt. There are examples of his solving cases Nero Wolfe style. It takes something of great interest to get him on his feet and working. And here's where the understanding of the characters comes into it. This 'something' can't just be of interest to you, the writer. No, it's got to be something that piques the interest of the greatest fictional brain that ever lived. For me, that's the hardest part of writing a Holmes tale. 
I've gotten to the point where Holmes and Watson will have discussions in my head when I'm not writing so I've developed an understanding of who they are. It's the damned case that's the challenge. What can be so important, mysterious or challenging that Holmes would want to look into it? You've got to impress Holmes! That ain't easy. This is why it takes me longer and longer to write my Holmes tales. After that, you've got to make the detecting difficult, throw in things that only Holmes could uncover. If your reader has it figured out before Holmes does, you're in trouble.
DF: Did you have much of a problem selling the idea of a FIGHT CARD novel featuring Sherlock Holmes to Paul Bishop and Mel Odom?
AS: Actually it was the reverse. Fight Card came to me. The way I heard it, it went like this: Paul Bishop was at the Pulp Ark convention and a bunch of the creators in attendance were sitting around shooting the bull when someone mentioned doing a Fight Card Sherlock Holmes. The assembled liked the idea and the question of who to approach to write it came up. My name was thrown out there and was met with some enthusiasm so when Paul returned home, he got in touch. The funny thing was that I had been thinking for awhile that I'd like to be part of the Fight Card team and was going to approach them when I'd finished the tale I was working on at the time. So Paul's call to me was met with considerable excitement. I said yes right off and was honored that the folks at the con gave me the thumbs up. Of course after we'd ended the call, I was left trying to think how to write the thing. Ha!

DF: Are you working on a sequel to SHERLOCK HOLMES: WORK CAPITOL?
AS: Yup. The working title is Sherlock Holmes: Blood to the Bone and it's for a December release. Unlike Work Capitol, this one won't be a Christmas tale but will still make a great stocking stuffer regardless! The going has been tough this summer as the last few months have been marred by personal tragedy but the work progresses. The idea was to top the first one, which was very well received. So far so good but there's still a long row to hoe.
DF: Tell us about THE DARK LAND.
AS: The novel was a long time coming. I got the idea during the Clone Saga in the Spider-Man comics back in the 90s. The name of the lead, C-Peter Reilly, should be a tip-off there. The first Clone Saga, from the 70s, was and still is my favorite Spider-Man story and I loved the conundrum of how do you prove you're you? Then, during the terrorist attacks in 2001, I was struck by the tragic loss of so many police- and firemen who were killed en masse while doing their jobs. Taking this a step further, I wondered what would happen if disasters killed these first responders on a global scale? Who would be left to maintain order? This lead to the idea of gifted police officers having their DNA and minds preserved for future catastrophes where billions of people perished and chaos resulted. 
The idea that a ready-for-the-street police force could be produced quickly via cloning with digital mindfiles inserted into the new-grown clones seemed like a strong premise. Instant experienced law enforcement rather than rookies overwhelmed by what was going on around them. When a clone dies or is killed, you just grow another one and insert the updated mindfile if it can be recovered. For the novel, the disasters have already happened, and C-Peter Reilly is grown to do his part. 
In this world, clones are given computer-generated, random names and all of the personal memories of the original officers have been deleted from the mindfiles. So why does C-Peter Reilly have the memories of his Source? His search for the truth while hunting a killer in the ruins ensues. Although this one tells a complete story, THE DARK LAND is the first of a series. The next two books are mapped out. I've already written a short story that is the last C-Peter Reilly adventure, jumping 100 years into the future. I want to return to the world again. However a certain Victorian consulting detective is taking up a lot of my times these days...

DF: How come we haven't seen a sequel to GHOST SQUAD: RISE OF THE BLACK LEGION yet?
AS: Ask Ron Fortier. I had a lot of fun working on the first one. Ron's the plot-master here and he's been kicking around an idea for a few years. And it's a good one. But he's a busy guy. When he's got it locked up, I'll get an email, I'm sure. Hey, if there are any Ghost Squad fans out there, start a sequel campaign and we'll make it happen. I'm game.

DF: THE LIGHT OF MEN is probably your best reviewed book and one you obviously invested much of yourself in. What was the initial idea that spurred you to write the book?
AS: Well, that horrible chapter of human history has always fascinated me as much as it repelled. Reading through the history, I found I was more overcome with anger than sadness. I would become furious that such a abominable situation would ever arise and that no one could do anything about it. Then while reading an account of people who had visited Auschwitz, I learned that visitors tended to burst into tears upon first passing through the gates, as if the very ground was steeped in sadness but, upon leaving, they were angry, furious. I had never visited any of the camps still standing but shared the same feelings towards them as those who had. So I decided to channel that, empower the powerless while trying to come to some personal understanding of how and why these camps happened and the effect they had on survivors.

DF: THE LIGHT OF MEN is a unique book. Was the writing of it equally unique?
AS: Thanks! I lived with this book for 12 years. Researching/writing the novel while working on other things. I started out on the novel having barely written anything and one reason the book took so long to write was because I wasn't a good enough writer to write it. There was so much I wanted to do with the story. It was beyond my abilities. So I kept researching while I wrote other things, kept honing the plot. Then when the time came to sit down and do it, I still didn't know if I was up to the task. The novel kept changing and evolving. The last chapter, set in stone for 12 years, suddenly had a new ending WHILE I WAS WRITING IT! 12 years of getting to this point just flew out the window and what took its place was infinitely better. The writing process was difficult as well because I had to reconcile whether or not to present the history or shape it and tone it down for fiction. I decided to go for accuracy because it seemed to me that the camps have faded into history. People know the basics of course, but the details have been glossed over by time. Believing that nothing about the camps should be sugar-coated, I set out to place the reader in one so they could experience it first hand and KNOW what such a camp was like. But did I pull it off? Even after the novel had been accepted for publication and was released, I still didn't know. 
It was only after reading positive reader reviews, receiving thanks from the 761st Tank Battalion (the African-American unit that had liberated a camp only to have their name scrubbed from history), having the book included in the Holocaust Memorial Museum Library, a nibble of interest from the film industry and seeing the novel become the subject of book club readings/discussions that I was assured I had done the material and the history some justice. Sadly the book has yet to find a wider audience but I'm hoping the Kindle version will encourage readers to give it a try without breaking their wallets. It's not for the squeamish but it'll stick with you. I guarantee it.
DF: I’m fascinated with your BERLIN NOIR website. For those who are unfamiliar with the genre, explain what Berlin Noir is and what you accomplish with your website.
AS: Berlin Noir began with Philip Kerr's initial trilogy of books: MARCH VIOLETS, THE PALE CRIMINAL and A GERMAN REQUIEM. These were released as separate novels before being collected in an omnibus entitled BERLIN NOIR:

The genius of the set up was to have the novels follow a police detective, Bernie Gunther, from the early days of Nazi rule (March Violets) when Germans had just begun to learn and deal with the fact that the Nazis weren't a joke, then move on to 1938 for THE PALE CRIMINAL when the Nazis had a stranglehold on Berlin, and the rest of the Germany as war loomed before jumping to REQUIEM where it's 1947 and Germany is a graveyard. The collection proved so successful that the title became the name for this type of fiction. Kerr went on to write more successful Bernie Gunther novels, which inspired others to write tales of crime and espionage with this fascinating historical setting and a new genre was born. From series to stand alone novels set during the Nazi regime, the books kept piling up. 
But when you google Berlin Noir or punch it in at Amazon, you get Kerr's collection for the most part and it's hard to find the others entries in this burgeoning genre. As a fan, I thought a one-stop place to learn about the books would be a great help. I read the books anyway, so why not review then for the blog? This way fans, new and old, can see what's out there, read reviews, see the cover art on the various editions and from there, hopefully, decide what their next Berlin Noir fix will be. I've heard from visitors to the blog who were unaware there were so many Berlin Noir books (29 reviews to date) and have been grateful for the blog. More than 9000 visits later and the blog is still going strong.
I have had to cut back on the reviews because I'm running out of books! Ha! Turns out reviewing them takes less time than writing them. Who knew? So to give the various authors time to add to the genre, I've slowed things down to once a month or so. That seems to be working and it gives readers time to find the blog and read the reviews before the next one comes along.
DF: What are your future plans for your writing career?
AS: More Holmes! The idea is to do one more Fight Card Holmes after this year's to make three entries overall. After that, unless I get an idea for a fourth, it'll be time to move on. Ultimately it'll depend on the readers. If they really like the books, that fourth idea might come a little more easily. We'll see. I've got a Holmes book to do for Pro Se Press as well as a Moon Man story for them. I've got an idea for a Holmes novel I've been toying with and I hope that will come together. There's also my own Berlin Noir entry that's been simmering for a few years now and looks to be about ready to serve. Other than the above, I'll see what comes along. Earlier this year, I was offered a chance to contribute to a different type of Holmes anthology and that was a lot of fun. Can't say more about it just now but the news will be breaking soon. That invite was out of the blue so I'll keep my eyes and ears open for more of those should they come down the pike. 
Hint to publishers: I'm always open to hear what's cooking so don't be shy. I've got a Secret Agent X idea I'm going to develop once more of the stuff mentioned above is in the can. And I want to give Mack Bolan a try. There's more but who wants to hear about vague stuff in the works? I'll be keeping myself busy at any rate.
DF: What’s a Day In The Life of Andrew Salmon like?
AS: Just the typical glitz and glamour of a writer's life. I run errands in the morning to get the blood going, then it's keyboard time followed up by research then more keyboard time and revisions. Added to that is beating the drum online to get readers interested in what I do. And all this between film gigs. Not terribly exciting stuff. Unless you're a writer, and then you know just how exciting all this can be. I love what I do.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Andrew Salmon: Well, I think it's all about covered. If anyone's interested in my stuff, they can look me up on Amazon. And the BERLIN NOIR blog can be found here  Thanks for getting this far, dear readers. And thanks to everyone who has tried something I've written. I hope you enjoyed it. Much appreciated!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Courtesy of Mr. Sean E. Ali....

Since the management is running this elsewhere, I get to embellish a bit on the image I posted earlier...

Coming soon in print (though it is already available as an ebook) PulpWork Press proudly presents the final entry in the HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD anthology series with, HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD, VOLUME III (naturally)!

Featuring 12 stories, including tales by talented folks like Derrick Ferguson, Joel Jenkins, Thomas Deja, and Dale Glaser among others, it takes the western, mashes it up with genres like horror, science fiction and fantasy, mixes liberally, then conservatively (that way no one's offended), and BOOM! you have some fine reading...

Edited by Russ Anderson, it's bound to make the world a cleaner, brighter place, change your life as you know it, it'll pick up your dry cleaning and bring world peace...

...or whirled peas, I really didn't read the box that closely...
And if it doesn't do a single one of those things that I never really promised it would do in the first place...

...wait for it... STILL have some fine reading ahead...!

BOOM goes the dynamite!

So buy a dozen (they make great gifts for Yom Kippur or Columbus Day), and share the love!

Now get out there and pick up a case and inhale that new book smell...

...unless you're doing the ebook thing, then I guess you have to just sort of wing it...

But I digress, buy it already!

You did? Well buy it again...!

These guys are trying to support a lifestyle they'd like to become accustomed to...

...and I'm out.

(insert mic drop here)

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Trail of Sebastian Red #3

Here’s a preview of “The Bloodstained Trail” a new Sebastian Red story I’m working on for the SEBASTIAN RED anthology I’ve been promising you guys for a couple of years now. Enjoy and let me know what you think, okay?

        The mutilated, gory man sitting on the back of the saddleless horse wept tears of blood as he had no eyes that would cry normal tears.  Naked he was and all the hideous tortures he had suffered were plain for all to see.  As he rode into the town of McBain’s Bluff, women stifled screams as they turned the fascinated faces of their children away from the horror on horseback.  Men dashed over to take the ruined man away, shouting at the women and children to get off the street.

         The tortured man screamed as well-meaning hands took him off the horse’s back.  Their touch seared his raw nerves with fresh agony.  The men took him to Doc Henry’s where they laid him on a cool white bed that soon became stained crimson.  Doc Henry got the men out of his operating theater with curses and generous blows of his huge fists.  Fists that soon worked at the task of healing they had been trained for.

         The cry went up for the sheriff to be summoned and the town drunk scurried to the task.  He was no longer drunk.  One look at the tortured man sobered him up right quick.

         Sheriff Morton reluctantly left his supper and ambled on over to Doc Henry’s.  He pushed his way through the crowd gathered outside Doc’s office.

         “Who do you reckon he is, Sheriff?”

         “Y’think he coulda run across Madman McGee, Sheriff?”

         “Mebbe he’s an outlaw, Sheriff?”

         “Won’t somebody think of the children, Sheriff?”

         Sheriff Morton paused at the door and turned around, glared at the crowd.  “Soon as I know what’s going on, you’ll know what’s going on!  But right now, the best thing y’all c’n do is go on ‘bout your bidness and let me tend to mine!” 

         Sheriff Morton went on in the cool interior of Doc Henry’s office.  And past that into his operating theater.  Doc Henry looked up from his grisly work.  His arms were crimson up to the elbows and his white shirt no longer white.  But Doc’s face was white.  Deathly white with fear.  “I’m glad you’re here, Will.  He ain’t gonna last long and you need to hear what he got to say.”

         Sheriff Morton took off his hat and bent down to look in the man’s face.  Doc had cleaned up the ravaged features as much as he could and Sheriff Morton reacted with shock on recognizing the man.  “Holy God!  Is that Chuck King?”

         “It is.  And what been done to him turns my stomach in ways I never thought it would be.  I done seen my share of outrage out here, Will…but this..”

         Sheriff Morton took a quick minute to further examine the man.  “I have, Doc.  God help us all, I have.”  And then he bent to listen to Chuck King’s final words.  It took the ruined man three minutes to tell what had happened to him and then he died.

         Doc Henry stepped away, making the sign of St. Ford’s Cross.  “If any soul deserved God’s blessing, it was him.  Who did that to him, Will?”

         Sheriff Morton slowly replaced his hat on his head.  “You’d best get washed up and come on outside, Doc.  Best if I tell ev’rybody at one time so’s we all know what we’re up against.”

         Sheriff Morton went back through the office and outside to the street.  The faces of the townspeople were a mosaic of fear, outright terror, resolve, hope and in a few, something that he hoped like hell was courage.  He waved the excited questions down, saying, “give Doc a chance to come on out so’s he can hear this along with the rest a’you.”

         It didn’t take Doc long to join the assembly.  Sheriff Morton raised his voice slightly and called out, “Tonnio, Clapper, Little Bill and Jason…y’all come up here to the front where you can hear me good.  Once I’m done I’ll want you to ride out to the ranches and settlements and tell everybody what I’m ‘bout to say and tell them they best come into town until this thing is settled.”

         “And what thing is this, Sheriff?”

         Sheriff Morton took in a deep breath and said, “It’s The Kreota.  They’re riding The Bloodstained Trail.”

         The ripple of astonished horror that went through the crowd was to be expected.  The fainting of a couple of women was also to be expected.  They were women who had been blessed enough to survive the last time The Kreota rose up.  Some men looked at each other uncertainly.  They did not know The Kreota.  The men who had the resigned look of prisoners sentenced to hang the next morning did.

         “That man just rode in ‘bout an hour ago.  I know he didn’t look nothing like him…but that was Chuck King.”

         Another ripple of astonishment. 

         “Chuck’s wife and two kids are dead.  He was tortured by The Kreota for fun and then they sent him here on that horse.  He said they told him that before they sent him off.  Laughing, they were.  Chuck said that he was told that the Ocnoi Black Conai himself had done him the honor of torturing him.”

         “Ocnoi?” Somebody asked.

         “It’s the Kreota word for ‘leader’ or ‘chief’.  And Black Conai is the worst of ‘em.  It was him what led the Kreota clans the last time they rode The Bloodstained Trail.  More’n a couple hundred folks got killed in that one.”

         “But why?” a woman wailed.  “We don’t bother The Kreota!  I’ve never even seen a Kreota!  Why do they want to kill us?”

         Sheriff Morton took off his hat and wiped his forehead clean of sweat with an already soaked forearm.  “Ma’am, I wish I could tell you.  I stick to my kind and that’s that.  But I was one’a those at Lancaster Canyon during the last great Kreota uprising and I can tell you that it don’t make a difference to them if they seen you or not.”

         A calm, strong voice said, “So what can we do, Will?”

         “I want every able man to go on home and secure his house and make sure his family is okay.  Then report to me.  I’ll assign reg’lar patrols of the town and we’ll barricade all ways in and out of town. And as of now, all women and children are under curfew.   We’ll set up lookouts on the rooftops.   If we keep our heads, don’t go off past th’ town limits, we should be okay.  Leastways until we can get some help from Fort Bronson.  Okay, y’all go on and do what I told ya.  But I want all you family men back here in three hours!  All single men report right now to my office.”

         As Sheriff Morton headed for his office, his way was blocked by two earnest young men with anxious looks on their faces.  He tried to get past them, saying, “Boys, you’re single men.  I expect you to volunteer for patrol duty.”

         “Sheriff, we need to talk to you.”

         Sheriff Morton stopped and took stock of the Horn brothers.  John was the older and looked at Morton with wide brown eyes.  On the short side he had a wiry build and from working out in the field his skin had tanned almost as dark as a Tonatore.  Yancy was the younger with a slighter taller, more graceful build.  One could tell they were brothers by their shared thick lemon yellow hair, hollow cheeks and full lips.

         “Boys, I got a lot to do so if you-“

         “Sheriff, you do know there’s a wagon train out there, right?” John said.  “Coming in from Fort Bronson.  Claudia’s on that wagon train.”

         “Oh.  I see.”  And Sheriff Morton did see.  “Look, fellas-“

         It was Yancy who spoke now; “if we could just take three or four men with us-“

         “I cain’t spare anybody, boys.  And you know that full well.  Matter of fact, I cain’t spare the two of you.  But I know better than to try and hold you back.  If you wanna go_”

         Yancy spoke again; “Sheriff, you can’t expect us not to go!”

         Sheriff Morton sighed.  “No, I can’t.  And I can’t stop you from going either.  I wish you would stay but if you got it in your heads to go-“

         “We’d just need two men!”

         And now Sheriff Morton’s face turned hard.  “Looky, boys…I ain’t gonna ask the married men to go.  I got a wife to look after myself.  And I need all the single men here to help defend the town.  That means you two as well.”

         “Sherriff, Claudia’s out there,” and Yancy couldn't have been more solid than a Sequoia when he said that.  “Now, me an’m’brother are goin’ out there to get her and bring her back here safe.  You gonna help or not?”

         “You heard what I said and I meant it.  I got a whole town to look after, boys.  If the Kreota decide to attack McBain’s Bluff I’m going to need every gun right here.  An’ not to put the bad mouth on them but you got to know that the Kreota might have attacked that wagon train and wiped it out.”

         Yancy’s voice wasn't pleasant as he said, “I oughta knock your teeth down your throat for even thinking that, Sheriff.”

         “Never mind, Yance,” John said.  “We’ll go ourselves.”

         “Now, just wait a minnit, boys.  Mayhap I can help, sorta.  There’s a fella been in town a couple of days passing through on his way to Kelly Gap.  You heard a’ Sebastian Red?”

         John nodded.  “Gunfighter, isn’t he?”

         “Done his share.  He hunts bounty, done some scoutin’ for the Army. He’s even supposed to be something of a spellslinger if the stories can be believed.  If you got enough money I daresay he’ll hire on to keep the two of you alive out there long enough to get to that wagon train.”

         “He know anything about the Kreota?”

         “I dunno.  You can ask him, though.  He’s most likely over to the saloon.”

         John swapped looks with his brother, who nodded.  “We’ll go on over right now and talk to him, Sheriff.  And thanks.”

         The brothers headed toward the saloon.  All around them, the town of McBain’s Bluff seemed to have galvanized into a sort of ordered chaos as men and women dashed to and fro.  Many were lined up outside of the town’s three general stores, buying supplies. 

         “Now that I put my mind to it, seems to me I heard tell some stories of this Sebastian Red,” Yancy said.  “Wasn’t he the one put down that range war over to Bickford County?  Killed himself a mess a’folks over there.”

         John nodded in agreement.  “I heard a’ him some.  Heard he don’t come cheap.  They paid him a thousand gold sovereigns for that job.  There was some talk of him huntin’ down and killing all a’ Bloody Neil Singer’s bunch.  Don’t know if I’m comfortable with going out there with a killer.”

         “Where the Kreota is concerned, a killer is ‘zactly what we need, John.  In any case, it won’t hurt to talk to the man.”


         They reached the saloon and pushed their way through the batwing doors.  Most of the saloon had emptied out once word had passed.  The bartender busied himself with washing glasses, nodded in greeting at the Horn brothers.

         “Lookin’ for a man name’a Red, Harry,” John said.  “He here?”

         Harry gestured at a table near a window.  A lean bullwhip of a man sat there, dressed all in buckskin and leather.  A broad-brimmed sombrero hung from its cord on the back of his chair.  Sunlight twinkled on the charms woven into his dreadlocks.  He played Liar’s Solitaire with a deck of oversized hand-painted cards.

         The brothers walked over.  “Sebastian Red?”

         The man looked up, expertly sizing up the brothers with just a glance.  “Howdy.”

         “I’m John Horn and this here’s m’brother Yancy.  Can we sit and talk with you a minute?”

Sebastian Red gestured at the nearly empty bottle of tequila.  “Talkin’ is thirsty business.”

         John raised his voice.  “Harry, bring us a bottle of tequila and a couple of glasses, wouldja?”

         “Be right over.”

         Sebastian Red indicated that they should sit down.  “What can I do for you gentlemen?”

         Yancy said, “I ‘spect by now you heard about the Kreota risin’ up again.”

         Sebastian nodded.  “Some fool idjit come runnin’ in here yelling that everybody in town best to get ready to get slaughtered by the Kreota so most that were here went pilin’ out to run home and hide under their beds.”

         “You don’t think they got reason?”

         “Best thing to do is barricade every street in an’ outta town, arm every man and put them either on the rooftops or at the barricades.  An’ don’t leave town.”

         “Sheriff Morton is doin’ just that thing.”

         Sebastian nodded in approval.  “Smart man.  Sounds like he’s had some experience with the Kreota.”

         “He was at Lancaster Pass.”

         “Yeah.  He’s got experience then.”

         “But how about you, Mr. Red?  You know anythin’ ‘bout the Kreota?”

         Harry brought over the fresh bottle and shot glasses for the Horns.  Sebastian poured himself a drink and tossed it back before answering the question.  “I’ve dealt some with the Kreota.  Got into some scraps with them.  They ain’t a people to be taken lightly.  They know how to kill and once they got their blood hot, the best thing to do is stay right where you are until they cool off.

"The last time they rode The Bloodstained Trail was four years ago.  They rode it for about five days.  Time before that they rode it for five weeks.”  Sebastian poured himself another drink.  “Nobody knows why the Kreota take to The Bloodstained Trail or why they stop or how long it’s gonna last.  All anybody knows is that they’re gonna kill everything in their path until they’re satisfied and then go on back to their cliffs and mountains.”

         “You speak any Kreota, Mr. Red?”

         “Depends on the clan.  I know Bighand and Wormbone good.  I can get by with Eyefire and Shadowyell.  What’s all this ‘bout?”

         John toyed with his glass.  He’d poured himself a drink but he hadn’t taken it yet.  “My brother and I want to hire you to help us get to a wagon train.  It’s coming here from Fort Bronson.  That’s five days ride west of here.”

         “I know where Fort Bronson is.  I worked for the Army some a few years back.”

         “So you know this region, then?”

         Sebastian Red shrugged.  “Well, enough, I reckon.  But why you gentlemen want to throw away your lives riding out to catch a wagon train that’s on its way here anyway?”

         “Because there’s no way they can know the Kreota rose up again and they need to be warned.”

         Sebastian Red shook his head.  “Chances are the Kreota done killed them already.  You’d be wasting your lives.  You’d best hunker down right here in town.”

         “You don’t understand!”  Yancy snarled.  “Claudia’s with that wagon!”

         “You gonna get yourself killed over a girl, boy?”

         John placed a calming hand on his brother’s shoulder.  “Claudia’s not just a girl, Mr. Red.  She’s a woman I’m hoping will consent to be my wife.”

         “Or mine!”  Yancy shrugged his brother’s hand off.  “Claudia’s coming out here with her pap to settle.  John an’ me, we both courted Claudia back in Jenning Falls before coming out here to ranch.  We got us a pretty good spread outside of town.  Couple hundred acres, some good cattle, horses.  We ain’t big and we ain’t fancy but we’re doing all right.”

         “So what are we talkin’ about here?  You boys are gonna have this young lady decide between the two of you?”

         John nodded.  “We’ve agreed to abide by Claudia’s decision.”

         “What if it’s you?”  Sebastian gestured at Yancy.  “You gonna be able to live with your brother marryin’ a woman you love?”

         “If that happens, I ‘spect I’ll be leaving for a while to get over it.  But I’ll be just as happy for my brother as I would be for myself.”

         Privately, Sebastian wasn’t so sure about that.  He’d know brothers to cut each other’s throats over a woman but that wasn’t his lookout.  He shook his head.  “I appreciate what you wanna do, boys.  An’ you’re right.  Somebody should ride out and warn the wagon train and push ‘em until they get here safely.  But just the three of us…” again he shook his head.  “And you boys are city born and bred.  I can tell.  I need men I can count on when we run into trouble.”

         “We may not be big shot gunfighters or bounty hunters but we can carry our own water when we have to,” Yancy said.

         Sebastian looked at him with approval.  “I believe you can.  But still…”

         “If it’s money we can put two thousand in your hand in an hour.”  John said.  “If you want more than that you’ll have to wait until we can wire Hayes City and our bank there.”

         “That’s not it.  Not everything is ‘bout money.  I just don’t believe in throwing away my life or that of other folks if’n there ain’t no need.”

         “But we’ve just got to go help them, Mr. Red.  There’s a small force of Army soldiers with the wagon train but-“

         That caught Sebastian’s attention.  “You know any of the soldiers with that wagon?  Any mention made of a Lt. Finney with them?”

         Yancy shrugged.  “Claudia’s last letter only made mention of a Captain McAllister in charge.  That all.  Why?”

         “When I worked for the Army I got to be pards with this Lt. Jim Finney.  He saved my life when we were out on patrol.  We got surprised by a wild minotaur.  Critter would have tore me to pieces if Finney hadn’t got him with the first shot.”  Sebastian Red looked out the window.  “I’d sure hate to think of Finney out there with no idea the Kreota done rose up.  I owe him.”  Sebastian took another drink and sat in silence, still looking out the window.

         “So does this mean you’ll take us?”

         “Yeah.  Yeah, I’ll take you.  I can pretty much guess which route the wagon train will take.  We’ll ride out to meet them and push ‘em back here.  Hopefully we can do it without runnin’ into the Kreota but that ain’t much chance at all.”  Sebastian looked hard at John.  “And looky here…we find ‘em dead, I still expect to be paid.”

         “Two thousand is yours just for going.  That’s agreed.”

         Sebastian grunted in satisfaction.  “You boys got horses?”

         Yancy looked offended by the question.  “Of course we got horses.”

         “I mean real animals with strength and endurance you can depend on, not them nags you use on your ranch to pull plows.  Out there, a good horse may make the difference between you keeping your liver or not.”

         “What do you mean, ‘keeping your liver’”  Yancy asked.

         “Kreota cut out the livers of their kills.  That’s where they think the soul is.  They take livers, cook ‘em up in a tasty stew and eat ‘em.  Believes it gives them the power and smarts of whoever it belonged to.  We may have to run.  An’ more than once.  You want a horse what ain’t gonna drop dead on you after a mile or two.”

         “We’ll get good horses.  Ben Rollins raises some fine horses on his spread.  We’ll get a couple from him.” John said.

         “Make sure your guns and rifles are clean.  Bring dried meat, airtights, bread.  We won’t be making a fire out there.  We leave at first light.”

         “Why can’t we leave today?  There’s still five hours of daylight!”

         “One, because I been drinkin’ all day and I ain’t fool enough to go out there without a good night’s sleep to get sober.  Two; you boys need a solid night of sleep yourselves because once we get on the road, you ain’t gonna get another one until you get back here to town.  That’s if you get back.”

         John frowned.  “I’m not sure I like your attitude, Mr. Red.  You’re supposed to be keeping us alive but you act like you’re expecting us to get killed.”

         “What you don’t understand is that once we leave this town there’s a mighty good chance that we will get killed.”

         “Then why are you going?”

         “I told you why.  There’s a man out there I owe my life to and he don’t have no idea of what’s going on.  He deserves an even chance.”  Sebastian Red poured himself another drink.  “Now the both of you best be about your business.  Meet me back here at sunup.  And if either one of you are particularly religious, y’might wanna get your prayin’ done now.”