If you follow the link, you can see the great review of my latest novel, Dreaming Wide Awake. The story of a slightly psychic PI who unravels a mystery involving the secret government Stargate Project, (a remote viewing program) and finds it leading to the trail of a possible serial killer.
Solid 4 Stars! ****
A Grown-Up First Contact Story
Infinity 7 is a story about a man casting one arm into the future while gripping a guilt-ridden past, and he’s doing it while battling unforeseen obstacles which threaten a lifetime of achievements and he has to do it in a space environment, which carries it’s own set of problems. Smooth, polished writing, a strong sense of pacing, tension builds well. Both the main character’s grief and the technology throughout felt authentic, as well as the rounded supporting characters. Smart characterization and plausible downward spiral in a scientific research environment. There were a couple spots I found circumstances eddied a bit too long for my comfort, and a loose end with the smarteye camera that I wanted tired up at the end. But the ending, although a bit abrupt, was strong and cleverly done. I’ll be thinking about this story and the concepts it introduced me to for quite some time. Fantastic voice talent performance. Worth listening to this one. I’d read this author again.
Dreaming Wide Awake by Charles R. Hinckley is the second book in the August Chase series. The author said his inspiration for this series came from a precognitive experience he had in which a crime was committed. The first novel was a standalone story. In the current tale, although the questions having to do with the current investigation are answered, a major unresolved issue will continue over into the next book. However, it can still be enjoyed on its own. After reading the first novel, Dream State, I found the author’s impressive writing imaginative and thrilling and looked forward to his next story. Therefore, after seeing this one, I seized the chance to read it and wasn’t disappointed in the least.
Written from the first-person point of view, this 339-page crime drama/mystery was thrilling. The tale started with action as Gus witnessed a murder in his dream. Then, as Gus investigated the murder and dealt with Grossman, the twists and turns kept the novel mesmerizing and intense and had me wondering what would come next.
I love books with unique characters. Each character here has their own distinctive personality. Gus and Mill are both believable and likable with obvious strengths and flaws. Gus hates his paranormal gift. Not only does it cause many sleepless nights, but it has cost him his girlfriend. He takes dangerous chances, and Mill does not hesitate to point that out. Mill is a tech-savvy genius with a love for muscle cars, who sold his company for a fortune. He represents a true friend, who is there through thick and thin. Their friendship and witty banter lightened the story and frequently made me smile. It was hard to know who to trust at the beginning of the novel. Therefore, not wanting to provide a spoiler, the villains will not be identified, but they are sufficiently creepy and will make one’s skin crawl.
There was absolutely nothing about this book that I didn’t enjoy. Therefore, I enthusiastically award it a rating of four out of four stars. Readers who enjoy thrillers, crime dramas, mysteries, and paranormal stories will appreciate this novel. Sensitive readers need to be aware there are violence and profanities in the book.
I came upon the small man in a dream.
He squatted by a river teaming with fish. As he looked into the rippling waters, I asked him where he came from and he said, “It is a closed system. There was nothing before and something since. The idea was strong, intense and consuming. It took root in the soil of imaginings and grew by way of hopes and dreams, emotions, gradually taking form. This is the eye of man. It sees all in front of it, none behind and certainly not into tomorrow. It’s frightened by things it does not understand, is wary of new events, yet trudges on in hopes of finding sameness, a lack of pain, some joy, perhaps a feeling of enlightenment. Happiness even. It marvels at small acts of physical manipulation. It doesn’t know what’s best for it. And it dies, leaving behind that which it has created.”
“Do you mean to say I was born of an idea and am the eye of man?”
He looked at me with his white and tearing eyes, unable to make out my form and whispered, “Do you have a dime?”
I pushed him into the water and walked on.
After a few minutes of staring at the bathroom door, the cracked and faded white paint ignited memories of summer nights spent with his wife in a similar cabin, on a similar island not quite two miles from where he lay. His wife’s soft features backlight from the window, her gentle smile, her delicate hands and long fingers as they found his. The familiar sensation of mounting sexual anticipation caused him to harden.
He heard water trickling onto the shower stall and it brought him back to the present. After a few minutes he hollow ring of the metal enclosure softened and he knew she stepped under the spout.
Her teasing had ignited strong desire, it ran through him like a thirst. But it wasn’t a desire for sex as much as a desire to travel back to a better time. It had been years since he’d been sober when making love to a woman, and now, in the next room, as she stood naked under that dribbling stream, as he imagined her skin glistening with foamy soap, it was all he could do to keep from going to her, ripping the plastic shower curtain aside, and taking her. Then he wished it was his wife standing under that stream, and shame came upon him. She was a stranger.
He lay down on the bed and closed his eyes. Grief shrouded his heart and today. The desire for love thrust him back into loneliness. It ran through him like a current. Beaten down by memories that bit at him, he closed his eyes and felt the embrace of his wife. Her body warm and soft in his hands. The soft smell of her perfumed skin, familiar and perfect in his memory.
A bang against the shower stall caused him to open his eyes and stare at the wall in front of him. He could call the police, have them come to the island, but for what? She hadn’t broken any laws, and it was her word against her husband’s any abuse had taken place. He’d observed no bruises on her, except on her head. She could have hit that on anything. She was well-developed, no sign of an eating disorder or malnutrition. She appeared perfectly normal in most ways, except one. And that abnormal part, the compulsion to come back to his island and present herself to him, not only made him wary, but enlivened him, jolted his nerves and he feared the entanglements she might bring. Why should he get between a man and his wife? It didn’t matter if he beat her or not. Didn’t it take two to ruin a marriage? But he knew that was wrong. It only took one. The abuser.
The scar just above his left hip ached, and he moved onto his back. It had taken fifteen stitches to close the semi-circle of wounds, when he’d woken up from a blackout. It was in the alley behind a dive bar on 57th street, early last year. He bled in the cab on the way to the hospital. The driver kept looking in the rearview, his eyes wide, trying to see if that was actually blood, and swearing loudly about the clean-up he’d have to do.
The doctor at the hospital didn’t really care how it happened, but he had to ask anyway. Garrett didn’t remember, the truth at the time. Later, as he sat in bed, as the lidocaine wore off and his wound began to ache, he remembered the bet he’d made, with a drinking buddy, that he could pull his pants down and run across the alley, touch his hip on a lamp post and make it back to the bar in under ten seconds. He smiled as he remembered the look of surprise on his friends face when he’d actually pulled his pants down around his ankles and ran across the alley, his penis flapping, legs stretched far as possible, hindered by the pants. Then he remembered the fall and the sting of broken glass as it pierced his side. He thought it was funny until the pain set in and blood began to soak his shirt. When he looked up from his fall, still sitting in the alleyway, the small crowd that had gathered to watch the fool do his trick were gone. He was alone, pieces of glass from a smashed bottle of schnapps embedded in his side.
Now, as he lay waiting for his uninvited guest to exit the shower, it seemed ten years since that incident, instead of ten months, and he realized how closely he still teetered on that line he dared not cross. The booze would end him the next time he fell, of that, he was sure. If he started drinking again, especially here on the island, the one place he felt safe and himself, he didn’t think he could stop.
The door to the bathroom opened, and she stood naked in front of him. He stared at her breasts, white-lined at the top where her bathing suit ended, then her dark nipples, slightly erect in the coolness of the room, at her stomach, flat and smooth, the skin darker then he’d expected, the small bellybutton, slightly protruding outward, and just below that, he followed the line of her inner hip through the tan lines there, down to her dark, neatly trimmed pubis. She smiled slightly and walked toward him. He sat still, his hands by his side, as she moved to him and stood close, her breast near his mouth. He pulled her close, sliding his face across her breast, his hands moving around, down to her hips. He held her there for a moment, his mouth on her tummy, breathing in her fresh scent, then turned his head away. “No,” he said, and pushed her back. She took a step away, looking him in the eyes, her expression openly confused for a moment before going blank. He turned his back to her and stared out the window. The yard was quiet. The breeze moved the tall grass. A chipmunk moved along the woodpile and disappeared in a crevasse of wood. Rose sat next to him and dried her hair with a towel.
“Put something on,” he said.
She silently got up and slipped into her clothes. He ached to touch her, could feel the want, like a sucking monster inside. It took hold of him and he thought for a moment he would go to her, but he let the monster stir, but die of neglect. His eyes never left the window. Thin clouds moved slowly toward the West.
Now fully dressed, she walked to the door and stopped to look at him. He felt her stare and looked up. She smiled, then walked out the door, leaving it slightly open. He sat in the room for a long time watching the clouds, the bushes angered by the wind. When finally he got up, the sun was almost directly overhead. He’d been sitting for longer then he knew. He stood in the doorway and watched her as she shuffled cards at the kitchen table.
“Why did you come back?”
“I didn’t come back. I escaped him and this is where I ended up.”
“I can’t have it.”
She held the few remaining cards in her hand and looked at him, her eyes pleading. “He beats me.”
“Beside the point.”
“He’ll kill me.”
“Where are the marks?”
She threw down the cards and pulled the hair apart on the left side of her head. Just above her ear, the scalp was red. A curved welt revealed through her spread fingers.
“He did that?”
“His belt buckle.” She stared defiantly at him. Tears filled her eyes, but she wiped them with the back her hand and dealt the cards. When all the cards lay in a pile on the table, he sat down across from her. He sorted his cards until they were in a neat stack, then he threw down the king of spades from the top. She threw down the ace of diamonds and smiled. “You owe me a truthful thing about yourself.”
He nodded at her, staring into her strange light-blue eyes. “Go ahead, ask.”
She offered a slight smile. “How did you like it when I touched you?”
“You never touched me.”
“You wanted me to.”
“Did you want to?”
“Not really,” she said, looking demurely down at her hand. She shuffled the cards again.
The wind picked up and something hit the side of the cottage. He went to the windows and looked out, following the trail with his eyes down to the dock. The bushes and trees swayed in the strong gusts. White caps dotted the bay. “The wind has shifted.”
He’d leave his traps for another day. He turned to her. She sat with her back to him, looking at her cards. “I was going to go into town to buy some supplies. You can come, tell your story to the sheriff.”
She scoffed. “Why don’t I just hang myself?”
“Well, why the hell did you go with them, then?”
“They’d blame you. I didn’t want you to get hurt.”
“Maybe. But, you can’t stay here. Don’t tell the sheriff, it’s up to you, but I can’t help you.”
“Did I ask for your help?”
“Don’t be an idiot.”
She stood and threw the cards onto the table. The wind hit the cottage again. A loose windowpane trembled. After a few seconds she said, “I’ll go to town, but I’m not talking to the cops.”
“Fine.” He reached for the list off the table, but she snatched it up and began reading.
“Why an aluminum pole?” she asked.
“Ask your friend, Jack.”
“He’s Bill’s friend, not mine.”
“I thought they were brothers.”
“What does Jack have to do with the pole?”
“He tore down my antenna.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because it’s broken and he’s the only one who could have done it.”
He reached for his coat hanging by the door, then went to the back shed and got another jacket for her. She put on the blue windbreaker. It fit loosely around her frame and made her look small, fragile even.
He walked quickly, deliberately fast, like he was trying to get away from her. She followed him down the path leading to the boat, He held the small craft steady as she got in. Once settled, the wind blowing their faces red, their hair waving in the wild breeze, he pulled the starter and the engine coughed, then started, blowing blue smoke into the air. He reversed the boat, the waves slapping the stern, water spaying them. Finally, he thrust it into forward and they were off.
“How do you know which way to go?” she asked.
“I follow the path in the water, he said. ” She turned and smiled at him. He smiled back. “Can’t you see it?”
She turned back, and looked straight ahead, her face in the freezing wind, and said nothing else.
The small whitecaps rocked the boat and she held on, her hands gripping both gunwales, as water spray dampened her wind-tossed hair. She sat rigid, like a dog in the wind, he thought, staring straight ahead, never daring to move or look around.
When they reached the harbor and tied up at the public dock, he saw her hands were stiff and her face was cherry red. She rubbed her hands together and flexed her fingers. As they walked to his truck, he looked around for men who might be waiting for them, but saw no one of consequence. The small shack in the parking lot was dark. The man overseeing the operation was sitting with his legs up on the porch rail drinking coffee and chatting with another man, with whom Garrett was vaguely familiar. He waved to them and continued walking to his truck, the girl close behind.
They said nothing as he drove them into town, his old pick-up comfortable, if not a bit rocky. “You need new shocks,” she said. He grunted and kept driving without saying anything. They stopped in front of the Sheriff’s office. The girl looked straight ahead, as if they were waiting at a light. After a few minutes, he turned to her. “Do you want to go in?”
He put the truck in gear and they headed to the hardware store.
After loading the truck with the new aluminum tubing and cable and other supplies, they headed for the grocery store. In the check-out line, as he was paying for their supplies, a tall man with dark hair walked into the store. He stood at the door, near the checkout and waved to Garrett. When the six bags were loaded into the cart, Garrett stopped next to Jim. “Jim, how are you?”
“Got a day off, been busy otherwise. Who’s your friend?”
Garrett turned to Rose, who partially hid behind him. “This is Rose. She’s my wife’s cousin, from Boston.”
Rose nodded at Jim. He reached to shake her hand, and his gun became visible under his jacket, on his belt. Garrett saw her bristle at the weapon and said, “Jim’s a Deputy Sherriff.”
“Off duty. Right now, I’m just a guy getting food for the family.”
After a few minutes of small talk, Garrett said, “Well, good to see you, Jim.”
They nodded at each other and Garrett and Rose walked back to the truck. She slammed the door closed as she got in. Garrett loaded the back with the bags and closed the tailgate and got in on the driver’s side and turned the key. “We can get lunch over there if you want.” He pointed to the Woodbine Café, a place he frequented on trips to the mainland. She looked straight ahead and said nothing.
He turned to her and she looked at him for the first time. He saw fear and hate in her eyes, and he knew she was going to accuse him of setting up the chance meeting with the Deputy in the store. “I didn’t know he’d be there,” he said, wanting to cut her off before she said anything. “Besides, you’re on the mainland, you need to go. Find your family and stay there, they can help you.”
“What do you know about my family?”
“Look, I told you before-”
She got out, slammed the door shut and walked down the sidewalk to the street corner. She stood under the Woodbine sign, and bummed a cigarette from a young man as he passed by. They talked as he lit her cigarette. She seemed flirty, like she’d go anywhere with him and Garrett didn’t like what he was seeing. He shut off the truck and walked over to them. Rose turned away as he approached. He touched her shoulder. “Let’s get going, Rose.”
She looked at him, while closing one eye and taking a deep drag of the cigarette. The young man felt the possessive vibe from Garrett and silently turned and walked into the Woodbine.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Nothing. I’m not doing anything.”
“Get in the truck.”
“Yes, just get in.”
She tossed the cigarette and he placed his hand on her arm as they walked back to the truck. They sat silently, the engine idling. She turned on the radio. A rock tune blared from the speakers. She turned it up. Garett leaned in and shut it off. “I don’t know what your game is, but latching onto the first person you see isn’t a healthy thing to do.”
They let the irony of that statement sink in, then he added, “You lucked-out with me. I only want to help you. But others, they’ll hurt you, use you…” he involuntarily looked at her body and she got the message. She sent a message back. She knew the power she held over men. It was obvious.
They sat in silence for a while and when he took a breath to say something else she said, “He’s not my husband.”
“We’re not married. Only in his head. He’s got a fantasy that he’s married to me because he said so. But we’re not married.”
“I just want to make that clear. He has no hold on me.”
“He shouldn’t hurt you, either way.”
They sat staring out the front windshield. He wasn’t sure what to do, drop her off somewhere or take her back to the island. A cold front was moving in. The clouds were high and thready. People dressed in fall clothing walked the sidewalks, cars stopped and started, smoke rose from tailpipes. He couldn’t think of what else to say that wouldn’t spoil things, in his mind. He wanted her, and he knew he could have her. All he had to do was listen to what she was saying. Desire flamed up in him and he glanced at her knee. She wore jeans, but he they were thin. He wanted to touch that knee, slide his hand up to her thigh, feel the soft flesh there. These thoughts surprised him. He knew it was wrong. The whole thing was wrong. It was like she was a gift. One that could make him feel so much better, fill his emptiness, but he didn’t trust any of it.
“I really don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. After a few minutes she added, “My sister lives in Portland, but she’s gone away with her husband for a week. They went to Florida on vacation. Guess I’ll go there when she’s back.” She turned to him and he saw her hopefulness. “Otherwise, I have nowhere else to go.” She touched his thigh, and smiled. “Besides, I can help you chop wood.”
She adjusted closer to him, and he could feel the heat of her. For a few moments, his crushing loneliness was replaced by her warmth.
“Let’s just go,” she said.
He nodded and put the truck in gear.
The soft touch of her hand caressed the back of my neck as I sat upon the bed in the dim light of the evening lamp, a cool breeze coming from the open window, the street noises occasionally echoing in the halls of my room, the dull low rumble of the city layered below. Shivers ran down my spine and the hairs on the back of my head stood up. It was a perfect spring evening with the scent of cross pollination in the air. Budding trees held new shiny leaves just outside the window. She leaned into my naked back and her warmth met mine in perfect contour. She melted into me. I felt the dread of loneliness then. The emptiness of being one, alone, not sharing, no one to care what happens in my world but myself, and sometimes even I don’t care, capitulation being a long tradition running through my life. Scattered pictures of her embrace echoed in the darkness of my dream.
Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of “Dream State” by Charles R Hinckley.
4 out of 4 stars
When August was almost thirty years of age, he started experiencing intense dreams of people dying. Initially, he merely thought they were nightmares. Then, a dream about the death of a young woman named Emma began repeating. Because they were incredibly vivid and believable, he started looking for the place of her death, discovered it, and later was able to find her. Regrettably, she thought he was creepy and didn’t believe him. Sadly, dreams of her soon stopped because of her murder. This dream was followed by one of a man named Carrillo, who was observed dying from a car accident. August tracked him down; instead of listening and using the information to save himself, Carrillo threatened to injure him. A short time afterward, Carrillo died in the foreseen car accident.
August is tired of no one believing him and being unable to alter the outcome of his dreams. Realizing he possesses an ability for finding people and wanting to utilize his gift constructively, August decides to become a “Psychic Detective.” Subsequently, he places an ad in the paper. His first client is a creepy, morbidly obese hoarder by the name of Frank, who had something tragic happen in his childhood and has been haunted since. He is hoping August can dream about that event and figure out what to do to get his life back on track. Then, Emma’s sister, Carla, requests his help in apprehending Emma’s killer since the police are getting nowhere. Although she is gorgeous and August feels drawn to her, she is not entirely forthcoming with information. With his friend Mill, a retired computer tech millionaire, August begins trying to solve both cases. However, there is a lot more to being a detective than he had realized, including dangerous situations.
At 301 pages, Dream State: The Sleeping Detective Series Book One by Charles R. Hinckley is a thrilling and suspenseful crime novel with aspects of paranormal activity, romance, and humor mixed in. The author’s prose is highly descriptive and easy to understand. Although the first book in the series, it is a standalone novel with the salient points answered satisfactorily by the end. It transports readers into August’s world and holds them captivated as he solves his cases, frequently making rookie mistakes. The suspense represented my favorite aspect of the book as the novel kept me tense and spellbound.
The character development is superb in the novel. Because it is narrated from August’s first-person point of view, we are able to understand his thinking and motives. Although unsure of himself and frequently rushing into things without a clear plan, he has the best of intentions. His loyal friend Mill supports him every step of the way, even being willing to endanger himself; however, this may partially be because he is lonely, bored, and craves excitement. Their humorous repartee lightens the mood.
Because August wasn’t typically given the luxury of knowing the names of the people in his dreams, he assigned them nicknames like “Skateboard Kid” and “Motorcycle Jacket.” Most of the time, these were not disparaging. Frank’s name was known; nonetheless, August nicknamed him “Fat Man,” though not to his face. This was unnecessary and derogatory, and there are people who will be offended by it. It was one of the few things I disliked about the book.
I encountered a few minor grammatical and punctuation errors, which were not distracting; it was most likely professionally edited. Therefore, Dream State: The Sleeping Detective Series Book One achieves a rating of four out of four stars. It doesn’t deserve anything less because it is also intriguing and difficult to put down. It is enthusiastically recommended to readers who enjoy paranormal novels with suspense and mystery. Frequent profanities, some violence, and occasional sex scenes (not overly explicit) are encountered in the story. Subsequently, it is unsuitable for children and sensitive readers.
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There were two men at the door and one inside at a table set aside for ciphering. The man outside the bank nodded, signaling all clear, and Roscoe Hunter stepped up to the window. The teller was small man, wore glasses and a long handled mustache that hid his mouth when he talked.
“Yes sir, what can I do for you today? Would you like to open an account?”
“Why you say that?”
The teller looked startled for a second, his eyes darting from the man in front of him to the door and back again, then he smiled. “Well, I’ve never seen you before. I know all my customers.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what. I’m gonna promise I won’t kill you if’n you hand over all the money in that there cash drawer.”
The teller took two steps back, his eyes wide. Roscoe showed him the pistol.
Roscoe leaned in. “Now, easy there. No time for panic. Put you in a bad fix. You want yer bag’o bones without leaden pills, you bes’ start load’n that money.”
The teller nodded, wiped his mustache with the back of his hand and stepped up to the cash drawer.
“There’s only fifty-seven dollars, Mister.” His voice shook.
“Get the other drawer over yonder.” Roscoe pointed to his left, at second teller window.
“That station is closed sir, on account of it being noon. Lunch-time for the other teller, sir.”
Roscoe cocked the pistol. “Well then, go over there and get the money yer self.”
“I, I don’t have the key, sir.” The teller’s hands began to shake.
“Break it open or by God I’m gonna break yer head!” Roscoe rested the pistol on the counter, pointed at the teller.
The teller raised his voice and started acting strangely, hitting his leg with his left hand, his eyes rolling around in his head. ‘Yes, sir! Yes, sir! I’ll get you that cash right away, sir! Yes, sir.”
“Shut up, you.”
The teller twirled around, hitting his face and stomping his boots on the floor. “Yes, sir! I’ll do it! I’ll do it!”
Ben Farley, the fat Irishman who ran the bank, two-fisted a double-barrel shotgun and waddled out of his office to check on the commotion. Roscoe looked at him, and Farley looked at Roscoe. The pistol shot first, hitting Farley in the chest, causing him to pull the shotgun back and fire. The blast took out the front window of the bank and hit a horse tied up outside. The horse reared- up, broke loose the rail, and bolted down the street, buckshot holes seeping blood from its rump.
Roscoe jumped the fence to the second teller station, and shot the drawer twice, causing more screaming from the crazy teller. The three customers inside the bank were on the floor covering their heads in their hands. The draw was shot to splinters, but wouldn’t budge. Roscoe pried it open with the stolen Bowie knife. The teller continued to twirl in circles behind him, holding his ears and yelling something about brick-ovens and marmalade. Roscoe pushed him in the back. The teller squealed and keeled over like a dead fish.
Outside the bank, curious bystanders squawked at seeing real bank robbers. When the shotgun blast shattered the window and hit the horse, one bystander tried to stop it by jumping for the reins. A portion of the fence, still tied to the horse, hit him on the head, knocking him out cold middle of the street.
Roscoe and his boys jumped on their horses, hooting and hollering, and firing into the air.
To Be Cont’d…
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That night he drew up near a large pine tree and sat with his back against it. He was too tired to start a fire, but knew he must. As he gathered dead leaves and straw in the area around him, he noticed a piece of broken glass. He held it up to the setting sun and saw it sparkle, a blue hue in the sunset. He thought about the time he’d loaded small rocks and glass into his musket, because he had no more balls to load but still had powder and wadding. The glass killed a boy up close. And he once again saw the face of the boy as he took the shot. His stomach turned over thinking about it. He put the glass in the small cartridge box on his belt, just in case he ran out of lead. The nine cartridges he carried were still intact and he was glad of it. The three load in his revolver made twelve. A dozen rounds to defend his life. He didn’t want to fully load his pistol for fear he’d waste one or two shots. Better to wait and load them if he had to.
The fire was small and smoky. He had nothing to eat but venison jerky, and he drank an extra swallow of water to stave off hunger pangs.
He thought about burying coals and sleeping on them, but the ground had too many pine needles and he worried it would burn him in the night. The wind had picked up at sunset, then died down just as the chill air began to descend from the hills. It was a wet air and soon he was sitting in fog. The yellow glow of the fire surrounded by fog.
A feeling on loneliness ran through him as he stared at the flames. The face of the boy he’d shot came to him, blood spattered, half torn by glass. Then, the many battles he’d been a part of raged in his head. Each memory, a small snippet of moving images, like galloping on the back of a spooked horse, speeding through his mind’s eye: Running through the lines at the battle at The Wilderness. Trees exploding with shot. Dead men lining the trail as he ran over them. Blood and gut-spattered trees.
He stood up and paced, wishing the images away. He held his hand on the sap covered bark of the pine and smelled the pitch on his hands. His fingers stuck together with the pine pitch, but the smell made it better, brought him out of his memories.
He stoked the fire, laid out his bedroll, then rested his head on a small sack stuffed with his extra clothes. He fell asleep seeing the boy’s face as he’d died, cold and lifeless. Then he dreamed of his yellow haired girl, Jilly. She was soft and gentle and had a straight smile. She stood in a brown grass field, in the summer sun. Her whispers caressed his parched lips.
Jilly wanted what he thought all pretty girls want. A good husband, a home and children. A man to come home and take care of the family after a hard day’s work. And he had a mind to give her just that. The thing he remembered most was her soft smell and the touch of smooth skin. Soft as butter, and smelled of something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. It calmed him, that smell. Her lips were the color of wine when you mixed it with water and held it up to drink. He’d lost her exactly three weeks and two days ago. His Jilly. She’d left town suddenly, and under mysterious circumstances. As far as he was concerned, she was kidnaped. Witnesses saw it. Bad men took her by force and rode west. He’d been on her trail ever since.
Holding his bedroll in his arms, her in his arms, he was finally able to doze off.
That night, the Wolves came into camp. He couldn’t figure why they didn’t shoot him dead, but instead, they accepted his nervous invitation to chew some jerky. There was six of them. Bad men. He knew they were bad the minute they approached. Good men don’t come at you in waves, sending the kindest looking one first. Good men don’t scare you by the look in their eyes. Dead men reflected in those eyes.
It was the Tall Man who walked into camp first.
A shadow slowly came out of the foggy wood. A black mass. Then he stepped into the light, and Brett thought he was staring at Abraham Lincoln’s ghost. He wore the same long coat, top hat and beard, and had the same wrinkled, worn-out face.
The Tall Man removed his stove-top hat and held it in his hands, a dull twinkle in his eye. “Can you spare any food, mister? Been on the trail for a while.”
Brett held a hand on his revolver, but the Tall Man had a slow, kindly look about him, so he left it by the tree.
The Tall Man continued. “Yes sir, I seem to recall a time on the trail I helped a man and his son. They were half-near starved and cold as a block of ice in sawdust. I saw that in San Francisco. Big city. Ice in sawdust. Have you seen that type of ice, sir? They say it’s the coldest.”
There was a rustling in the bushes and a horse whinnied.
“Who’s that?” Brett asked.
Slowly the men appeared in the camp, legs spread apart, hands on their weapons.
“Just a few compadres. Drawn to the warmth of your fire. No anointing need be.”
A small man in buckskins stepped closer. “Shut your bone-box.”
The Tall Man bowed slightly and placed the hat upon his head. Brett wanted to reach for the revolver, but it was too late.
“That one there cuts the long bow. Pay no mind, neither.” The small man looked around the camp, like he was checking to see if anything was out of sorts. He nodded and said, “We got rum. What you got for trade?”
Brett said, “Not much.”
“What food you got?”
I got jerky. I’m just out of mystery bags. Ate the last for supper.”
“Month of Sundays since I ate a good jerky. What ‘er they?”
“That’s a good taste. Mind if we join yah?”
The men walked into the light of the fire and Brett saw there was too many for it to end well for him. He held out the pouch of jerky. The Small Man took it and smiled, a nearly toothless grin. He chewed on a piece, grabbed two more and passed the bag to the Tall Man, who grabbed a fist full and passed it on. By the time they were done, there was nothing left and the bag was ripped out. Small Man handed the bag back and smiled. Brett noticed him staring at his cavalry hat by the tree.
“That’s tasty, right there. Got coffee?”
“Well, then what else you got in that bread bag? Don’t want no hard-bread. Had enough of that to last.”
Brett frowned. “I’d be happy with some hard-bread. I was expecting that jerky to last me a while.”
“You got any shot?”
“Just for my own use.”
“I need my shot.”
“I don’t give a fart what you need.” They stared at each other. Brett felt the blood rise in his face. “You need yer bag of bones healthy, yah?” A few of the men took a step forward. Brett slowly nodded. “Then we do this my way, the friendly way, or we break yer bones. Now, give me yer shot.”
Brett handed over his cartridge box. The Small Man counted the contents.
“Two, four, six, seven…nine. That’s it?”
Brett nodded. Small Man took Brett’s Spencer repeating rifle and slung it over his shoulder. “You got any coin?”
“No. And please don’t take my rifle.”
“Please? Search him, if you please!” Small Man laughed.
Tall Man grabbed Brett. Two others went through his clothes. They found the five silver dollars he’d saved and had stashed inside his breast pocket. Another two men searched the rest of his belongings. When they were done and had everything they wanted, they mounted their horses and rode away, not saying a word.
Brett stood by the fire and collected himself. They’d taken his Colt Bowie knife, his coin and his Spencer Repeating Rifle. He could kill them, one by one, and vowed to get his things back. He wondered why they hadn’t just slit his throat, then he remembered Small Man looking at his cavalry hat. A veteran maybe?
After a while, Brett sat back by the tree and brooded. He felt hollow. Violated. Like he’d been punched sideways when not looking. The thieves were long gone, having been on horseback. Brett had a feeling he knew where they’d go, though. The only town within a few miles was Collins. Best to get in a few hours rest. They’d left his bedroll and his clothes in a heap. He gathered them up into a bed and after a while nodded off.
Daybreak came quickly and Brett awoke with a start. A tree branch snapped nearby. He sat up and listened. An animal walked in the leaves. Could have been a squirrel or something larger. Brett pulled out the Colt Revolver he’d kept hidden by the tree and cocked the hammer. He was glad they didn’t find his Colt. It had been with him since his darkest days in the war. Rode into battle with it in his left hand, the right being the horse’s reins. He’d shot men dead with that pistol. And as sick as he was of killing, now he would do it again, so help him almighty.
Brett stood by the tree and stared out at the trail. The Tall Man stood not ten-feet away, clutching his side. Blood covered the back of his hand, and he appeared near falling.
Small Man’s name was Roscoe Hunter, and he didn’t like weak men. He’d seen his share of cowards in the war. Turn tail runners, he called ‘em. But that man giving up his Spencer last night, he could tell, was no coward. He’d stood his ground and was polite about it. He respected that.
As they turned up the hill away from the game trail and headed ‘round the slope toward the town, Roscoe Hunter turned his horse and watched for Jeb Castor. He was a lying, fool talk’n, no good, sod busting coward if he’d ever seen one, and he’d grown tired of having to tell that fool what to do. Jeb approached slowly from the rear, riding that tall mare, came up lame every other day. When Jed stopped a few yards back, that stupid look on his face, Roscoe had had enough.
Jeb stood his ground, and Roscoe almost respected that, but he knew it was only out of confusion, not bravery.
Roscoe pointed at the mare and said, “That horse slowing us down a’gin. I ain’t have’n none of it. You get off that hoss and let’s see that rear hoof she bin favor’n.”
“It’s a loose shoe is all, Roscoe. I was gonna mend it first thing.”
Jeb dismounted and walked back his hand to the right rear hoof and lifted. Roscoe was close enough so he could see a nail had come loose and had torn out part of the hoof. “Let me see that.” Roscoe slid off his mount and took hold of the hoof. “You no account Jonah. How you let this animal be like that?”
Roscoe grabbed the nail, twist it out and in one swift motion, ran it into Jeb’s gut. When Jeb bent over, Roscoe slapped him on the face and kneed his forehead. Jeb fell back, the nail still stuck in his side.
“I can’t abide sloppy. I can’t abide cruelty to animals. Now get your ass out of here.”
Jeb sat up dazed, holding his side, a dumbfounded look on his face. “But Roscoe.” His upper lip quivered. “I ain’t done nothing to deserve that.” Tears filled Jeb’s eyes.
Roscoe turned away in disgust. “You ain’t done nothing….”
The other men gathered their mounts around in a circle. They’d seen this show before. Just last week Roscoe kicked a boy out of the group for being stupid with the gun powder, and now he was even angrier at Jeb.
“How long you been riding with us?” asked Roscoe.
“You know how long. I joined you all…”
“I joined you all…” Roscoe mocked.
Jeb turned to the other men for sympathy, but met stone faces. “You all know me.”
“How long, you tall-tale jawing, bone box yapper?” Roscoe said, waving the air the way Jeb did when unfurling a long winded story.
Jeb rubbed dirt into his palms, as if to sooth him somehow. “Since Charlottesville,” he said, almost like it was question.
“My horse’s teat! All the way since then. That’s been half a year or more, and I swear to God you been slowing us down ever since. You lazy! Let your mount rot under foot.” Jeb started to answer, but Roscoe continued. “I’ll tell you what fer. You a lazy, malingering, son-of-a-bitch, and I’ve had done with you. We called The Wolves. Not the Lazy Malingering Jaw-box’s! Now, go on. Git.”
Jeb started to get up, and Roscoe kicked him in the ass. Jeb fell back and the men laughed. When Jeb limped toward his mount, Jeb stepped in front of him.
“Oh, no. You done with this hoss. Now go!”
Now, Jeb stood at the dude’s camp, hoping to get some food or water or more. Maybe it was because the dude had seemed a proper gentleman. Even in the midst of robbing him, he was polite and calm. Or maybe it was because he’d seen the pistol hidden by the tree and hadn’t said anything about it to the others. The dude saw he’d noticed the sidearm and hadn’t raised the alarm. He could have snatched that pistol for himself, but he hadn’t. He’d left the dude a fighting chance. Maybe that would make the dude trust him. Now, he needed that gun. He could talk to the dude, bide his time, gain his trust. Talking is something he could do.
Jeb moved in the shadows of the trees and spoke in a soft voice. “I came to this country as a lad of eight. Travelling with my uncle and cousins. There were five of us in that rickety wagon. We made our way by chopping wood, selling it for fire. Sometimes, we’d get in a bad scrape for chopping the wrong wood.”
The dude held the gun on Jeb. “That’s close enough.”
“We also skinned. Sold the pelts. Since I know how to read, sometimes I taught lessons for coin.”
“You took everything I had.”
“Not I, good sir. As you can see, I am no longer a member in good standing in the Wolves. I can no longer abide their ways. Your robbery was the last straw and I told them as much. Unfortunately, they didn’t see it that way and here I am. At your mercy.”
“What you want?”
“Nothing much, Sir. A crumb of bread. Perhaps a drink. I’ve been traveling through the night.”
“You’re a thief. Been kicked away by worse people that yourself.”
“That’ Sir, is indubitable. However, I’d like a chance to explain myself.”
“I’m leaving now. Go your way, I’ll go mine.”
The man with the gun took a step toward him. “Empty your pockets.”
“I came here in good faith, sir.”
The dude cocked the pistol. Jeb placed the contents of his pockets on the ground. The dude snatched-up his pocket knife.
“That’s my best blade, sir.”
“Y’all stole mine. I’m taking your piddling little sticker. Now, git.”
Jeb smiled, but stood his ground. “Perhaps I can interest you in a partnership? You’ll want your Spencer repeating rife returned, no doubt. I know where the Wolves are heading. You can get all your things back. My name is Jeb, by the way.”
They walked from the scrub and the frozen mud-trails up the rocky hills and into the higher elevations, then down into the cold and windless canyon. A deep hollow between the shimmering ridges of tall pines.
They sat, breathless and wind-burnt, in the snow under an immense pine tree, and struck cold flint to steel. They grappled with the twine and twigs, until sparks flamed into a smoky fire. He packed snow into the rusted can he’d slung along for drinking and it melted over the hot coals. After the can was empty, he packed it again and when it melted, offered it to Jeb, who was sitting, his back against a tall pine.
Jeb rubbed the spot where the nail entered his side. Blood still seeped onto his fingers, sticky and warm. He took the can and drank the warm water.
“Why haven’t we caught up to them, yet?” asked Brett.
Jeb stayed quiet, his hand clutching the wound.
Brett shook his head. “You’ve been playing me for a fool. Been three days. They ain’t up ahead. You’re bringing us up into the colder places.”
“The camp is just a few miles away. I know it well.”
“I don’t believe you. And I don’t have enough to take you any further.”
Jeb’s eyes fell to his worn shoes, his half-frozen toes peeking out the wear-holes. “So, my dear friend; I’m soon gone, anyway. The puss has got me.” He smelled his fingers and shook his head. “I ask you one last favor. Will you bury me when I go? I don’t want to be food for the animals.”
Brett looked away, then half-nodded.
“And take this letter to my girls?”
The tired man unfolded a wrinkled paper and held it out. Brett reluctantly reached for it. As he extended his arm, Jeb lunged forward, exposing a knife in his left hand. He fell on Brett and jabbed him with the blade. Twisting out from under his weight, Brett got to his feet and kicked the Jeb’s hand. The knife flew away, lost under loose snow. Then he kicked Jeb squarely in the head. The tall let out a yelp, staggered in a circle, then fell back, blood seeping from behind his ear.
Brett staggered back and touched his side, his fingers came back warm with blood. He leaned against the tree and carefully felt the wound. It was not deep enough to kill him, at least not right away.
The paper Jeb held out was lying in the snow. A drop of red blood highlighted the fold. He snatched it up and saw it was a receipt for grain, purchased at a store in a town many miles away. He looked at the tall man, his head haloed in red snow, and knew he wouldn’t wake up again.
A search of Jeb’s pockets revealed fifty-cents, a corn-cob pipe filled with half smoked tobacco and a metal button. The eagle on the button was used by the Southern Army in the war. Perhaps he’d been a soldier. Brett didn’t much care. He’d had his fill of the army and killing. He took the man’s meager belongings and started out of the basin.
His legs grew tired and cold in his ragged pants, but he was glad his boots were strong and felt good on his feet. Perhaps the cool weather would help him not need so much water? He walked until his legs ached and his feet began to freeze. When he felt too tired to go on, he walked another half-hour or so before collapsing on the hillside. The snow was melted, but his toes throbbed from the cold and he was sorry he’d waited so long to stop. He built a good fire and sat with his feet near the flames. All night his feet ached, and he had little sleep. Finally, around sun-up, he was warm enough that the pain stopped and he put his shoes on.
To be cont’d….