An excerpt from Redemption Song by John Hartness, from The Weird Wild West, edited by Misty Massey, Emily Lavin Leverett, and Margaret S. McGraw
Love is eternal, but being stuck in the heavenly beyond sometimes makes it hard to set wrongs to right again. Unless you can find just the right person to step up and lend a hand. Or a gun.
Time stopped when the man first showed up in the Golden Grin Saloon. It was one of those between-the-raindrops moments, when everything fell silent for an instant, and everyone’s attention landed on the same spot. Big Bob, the piano player who took an Ohlone arrow to the knee that ended his trapping days, finished one Stephen Foster tune and began leafing through a tattered Dan Rice songbook for another song to play. The man stood in the doorway, hat pulled down low over his eyes and a long leather duster hanging well past his knees. He looked like a man who had been rode hard and put away wet—thin almost to the point of gauntness, and so pale one could see the veins in the back of his hands if they let their eyes linger long enough, something not many were inclined to do.
He stood motionless, nothing about him even twitching except his eyes. Those chips of flint flickered back and forth across the room, taking in Leila and her dancing girls on the tiny stage in one corner near Bob, JR sitting at his faro table flipping cards and stacking chips, and Smilin’ Bill behind the bar polishing a glass in his eternal battle against the grime of the street. The man held the gaze of every soul in the Grin for a long heartbeat, then he stepped forward, and with the jingle of his spur the spell was broken. Big Bob launched into an old minstrel tune that had the girls high-kicking, JR flipped over a Queen to top the bettor’s nine and take his last chip, and Smilin’ Bill set the glass down on the bar and poured a slug of whiskey into it.
The stranger put one foot onto the bar rail and leaned on the polished oak. Smiling’ Bill gave him one of his trademarked grins, gold tooth sparkling on his lower jaw, and slid the whiskey into his hand. “First one’s on the house, friend. You look thirsty,” Bill said. “I’m Bill Evans, owner and proprietor of the Golden Grin Saloon, the finest drinking establishment for at least a hundred feet in any direction!” Bill laughed at his own joke, and a couple of the regulars at the bar joined him out of either manners or a hope for a free drink of their own.
“Thanks,” the man said. He slammed back his whiskey and dropped a golden eagle to spin on the bar. “Another.” His voice was more a rasp than speech, like the sound of two sheets of paper scraping across each other in the wind.
Bill poured another and slid two quarters across the wood. The man made a gesture to him, and Bill nodded his thanks as he slipped the four bits into his apron pocket. “Where you from, stranger?”
“Well, son, we’re in San Francisco, ‘bout everything’s east of here!” Bill laughed, but not quite as loud as the first time. There was something a little off about this stranger. Something about the way he talked, or didn’t talk, or maybe it was just those eyes, the way they never stopped moving. Either way, this fellow wasn’t quite right somehow, and Bill hoped he wasn’t planning on staying long.
Audrey Reese hadn’t taken her eyes off the stranger since he appeared in the doorway. And that was the right word for it—appeared. No one heard his boot clomp up the steps. Not a hint of a spur jingling announced his coming. There was no creak of a swinging saloon door to herald his arrival. One minute the doorway was empty, the next he was standing there, alabaster skin looking like it was carved from marble, not flesh. His perfectly black pants and coat seemed to absorb all the light from around him, as if a young gunfighter like him could just step sideways into his own shadow and disappear.
Audrey shuddered on the lap of Rich Spence, her current beau and the man sitting behind the biggest pile of bills, coins and chips at the poker table in the far corner of the Double G, as the locals called it. Goose walked over my grave, Audrey thought as she tried to adjust her bustle so her movements wouldn’t distract Rich.
“You okay, darling?” Rich asked. His voice rumbled deep in his chest, like distant thunder. She liked to lay against him when he talked, feeling that thunder peal across her face as he talked aimlessly in his deep voice. But now that voice had an edge to it, and Audrey looked down at her man. He caught her gaze and jerked his chin at the stranger by the bar. “You know him?”
“No, baby. He just . . . looked like somebody I used to know for a minute. But I don’t know him at all.” Do I? He looks . . . But that can’t be . . .
The untamed frontier is a challenge, a test of character, a proving ground for the soul. It’s a place where pioneers rewrite their future, or end their days…for better or worse. In the spirit of Bret Maverick, Cat Ballou, Kwai Chang Caine, and James West, The Weird Wild West blends western grit with the magical and mysterious unknown that waits beyond the next horizon.
With thrilling stories by Gail Z. Martin, John Hartness, RS Belcher, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Misty Massey, James R. Tuck, Robert E. Waters, David Sherman, Tonia Brown and many more, you’ve hit the Mother Lode!