In a bloody attack, ruthless outlaws hijack the morning stage from Trinidad, New Mexico. Not for gold or money, but for Denver banker Raymond Parker. Even more valuable to Sheriff Caleb York are the money man’s fellow passengers: York’s ex-flame, ranch owner Willa Cullen, and Rita Filley, the sensual owner of the Victory Saloon.
Holding their captives at a hotel in the ghost town known as Hell Junction, the Hargrave gang demands a high ransom. Caleb must find a way to infiltrate the gang and rescue the hostages. Because Caleb York knows when you’re in Hell, justice takes no prisoners . . .
“Spillane is a master in compelling you to always turn the next page.”
—The New York Times
“Spillane is a pioneer of tough-guy ethics.”
“Collins displays his mastery of Spillane’s distinctive two-fisted prose.”
“No one can twist you through a maze with as much intensity and suspense as Max Allan Collins.”
About the Author
Max Allan Collins is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of Road to Perdition, the graphic novel that inspired the Oscar-winning movie starring Paul Newman and Tom Hanks. He has been named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. Also a filmmaker, Collins created the documentary Mike Hammer's Mickey Spillane. He lives in Iowa.
For more information about the Caleb York westerns by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, visit www.maxallancollins.com.
Read an Excerpt
Friday night at the Victory Saloon in Trinidad, New Mexico, was a pleasant sort of chaos, payday always generating festive affairs at the tavern. Before Sheriff Caleb York cracked down, the whole town had been under more or less friendly siege every such weekend, merchants boarding up their windows and seldom leaving the safety of their domiciles.
These days, the sheriff — tin star tucked in a shirt pocket — could take the evening off. Right now he was sitting at a round, green-felt-topped table with a quartet of merchants, all of whom sat on the Citizens Committee, as well as at this table's weekend poker games.
The Victory remained the only watering hole in town, in part because Trinidad, with its population of three hundred or so, didn't require any more; but with all the ranches in the area, and for thirsty travelers on their way to Las Vegas, New Mexico, the Victory presented a palace where the customer was king.
From the towering embossed-steel ceiling hovered kerosene-lamp chandeliers, their flicker dancing off the gold-and-black-brocaded walls, saddles and spurs riding there as if deposited by bucking broncos. Those flames high above also reflected off the endless, highly polished oaken bar, in back of which ruled a quartet in white shirts and black bow ties.
Behind these bartenders — bottles of bourbon and rye lined up like soldiers ready to do their duty — mirrors made the chamber seem even bigger. Dusty cowhands hugged the bar, where towels dangled for patrons to wipe foam off mustaches; elbows rested on the counter supporting hefty mugs of beer, while one boot per customer hooked on a brass footrail punctuated by occasional spittoons.
Though tables for drinking men were clustered to the right as you pushed through the batwing doors, most of the cavernous enclosure was a casino, bustling with already well-juiced cowhands getting rid of their paychecks at dice, roulette, chuck-a-luck, and wheel-of- fortune stations. At the far end of the chamber, on a little platform, a piano player was providing lively rinky-tink noise for a tiny dance floor crowded with pairs of rough-hewn cowboys and silk-and-satin dance-hall gals, males and females paired off for some herky-jerky cavorting.
To one side of the tables where patrons sat drinking, and before the casino asserted itself, were a pair of gaming tables. House dealer Yancy Cole, a former riverboat gambler who still dressed in that manner, had a faro game going. The other table of York and four local city fathers was provided as a courtesy with no house dealer, or cut of the winnings going to the Victory. The pair of tables was positioned near the stairway that led up to the second-floor quarters of Rita Filley, owner and manager of the Victory.
Under the prior owners, one of whom was Rita's late sister Lola, the upstairs had been a brothel. But the sheriff had convinced Rita to restrict her girls to encouraging, by way of dancing and flirting, the purchase of drinks.
That wasn't to say that every fallen angel had gotten herself up, or that each soiled dove was, strictly speaking, clean now — but any girls with customers of their own serviced them elsewhere. A particular rooming house was home to nothing but girls who worked at the Victory — not exactly a brothel, as not all the girls entertained "male friends," and no madam was on the premises.
Caleb York knew human beings were flawed animals, and that certain things found intolerable by some needed to be tolerated by the rest.
Right now York was looking at three aces — also a deuce of clubs and a ten of diamonds, but those he would discard on the draw. Very good hand, particularly in this company, who were not as card- smart as the sheriff, who himself had a bit of a riverboat gambler look to him.
Like the Earp brothers, Bat Masterson, and other law officers of the 1880s, York dressed as a professional man — black coat, black pants snugged in black hand-tooled boots, shirt a light gray, string tie black. Even seated here, he kept on the black hat with a cavalry pinch and gray-knotted kerchief at his neck.
He wore his Colt Single Action Army .44 low on his right side, and usually kept it tied down — at the card table, though, he let it hang loose. A weapon falling to the floor and discharging could be taken the wrong way.
Big but lean, rawboned, firm-jawed, his hair reddish brown, York wore a full-face beard, though in the past he'd either been mustached or clean-shaven. He was squinting at his cards with those seldom- blinking, washed-out blue eyes, but truth be told, that squint was his normal expression.
As Friday-night rowdy as the Victory was, Trinidad had been fairly peaceable, the big trouble lately a rabid dog he'd had to shoot — a canine one, for a change. January in New Mexico had been just cold enough — down around ten degrees some nights, edging no higher than forty degrees by day — to keep things quiet. That was how Sheriff Caleb York liked it; it was the winter chill that encouraged his beard, though he had the town barber keep it trimmed back.
After eight months or so in Trinidad, York was a well-established part of the little community. He'd rolled into town a stranger, on his way west to take a job with the Pinkertons in San Diego. He had been enjoying an anonymity from the false impression the world had that celebrated shootist Caleb York had met his match, gunned down in the street some months back.
With the age of forty looming, he'd decided being a live nobody was better than being a dead somebody.
And, anyway, he disliked his reputation as a notorious gunfighter. Yes, he'd taken down more badmen than most, in street fights, rural shoot-outs, and lowdown ambushes he'd survived. But that had been in his former and very legal role as a detective for Wells Fargo. He couldn't help it if the dime novelists like Ned Buntline had turned him into a damned storybook hero — a legend! Didn't people know that the definition of a legend was something that wasn't real?
Yet a pretty gal named Willa Cullen and the fine old rancher who had been her father, the late George Cullen, had managed to get him embroiled in taking down Trinidad's corrupt sheriff, Harry Gauge. And now, instead of working in the big city for the Pinks, he had allowed himself to be seduced by a pretty face and a Citizens Committee into taking over for that now-deceased crooked lawman.
As it happened, his romance with Willa had gone cold — though he sensed signs of rekindling — but that Citizens Committee had not only matched Pinkerton's offer, but thrown in some incidentals to boot. Thanks to the mayor's political connections, he was county sheriff, as well as the town's lawman, filling a marshal's role unofficially
And now the Santa Fe was about to bring a spur to Trinidad that would surely make the town boom, which made staying on as sheriff a profitable prospect.
At the table with him were four of Trinidad's most respected citizens: Dr. Albert Miller, druggist Clem Davis, mercantile store owner Newt Harris, and Mayor Jasper Hardy, the barber who kept York's beard at bay. Doc Miller, perhaps York's best friend in town, was dealing the cards, and was about to go around the table learning who wanted how many new ones.
But before that could happen, a figure who would have been unrecognizable a few months before, came hustling over to the table, saying, "Sheriff! There ye be!"
Skinny, bowlegged Jonathan Tulley, who had once been the town's bedraggled drunken sot, was now York's deputy. The old desert rat had sobered up, but his attire — baggy canvas pants and a dirty BVD top — had for months remained much the same, as had his reputation as town character.
Now, encouraged by the sheriff to clean himself up into a real deputy, Tulley sported clothes both store-bought and clean — dark flannel shirt, red suspenders, gray woolen pants, and work boots. His thinning white hair and once-bushy beard indicated he, too, was frequenting the mayor's tonsorial parlor.
He still had the habit of waving his shotgun in one hand, like an attacking Indian brave, but these things took time, York knew.
"What's wrong, Tulley?" York asked, his eyes still on the three aces.
The disappointment in the deputy's voice was obvious. "Why, not a dang thing! I jest been lookin' for you to report in, after my mid- evenin' patrol."
"Uh ... what I said before."
"Remind me what you said before."
"Not a dang thing is goin' on. It's quiet as Boot Hill out there. Quieter!"
"Good. You say you've been looking for me?"
"And where am I always on Friday night?"
"... Playin' poker with your friends, like."
"Yes. Now go have a sarsaparilla. Tell Hub to put it on my bill."
York didn't have to turn to see his deputy smile — it was in the man's voice. "Thank ye, Sheriff!"
This same scene had been enacted, more or less in the same fashion, the last five or six Fridays.
The difference was the sound of Tulley clomping over to the bar did not follow the exchange.
Now York did glance from the aces to his ace deputy. "Something else?"
"Mind if I go with coffee, Sheriff? Mite nippy out there."
York interrupted his concentration to grin. "Sure. Have cream and sugar, too, if you like."
"Thank ye, Sheriff!"
Now the deputy clomped.
"Sorry, gents," York said to his fellow cardplayers.
But the mayor, sitting across from him, was looking past York. Hardy, a slight fellow, had slicked-back, pomaded black hair and a matching handlebar mustache that overpowered his narrow face. He pointed past York, who turned to look.
Rita Filley, the proprietress, was seated at a table halfway between here and the bar. She was motioning for York's attention.
His sigh started at the toes of his well-tooled boots.
"Play without me, boys," he said, and tossed in his three aces with a growl.
Raven-haired Rita gestured for him to sit; she looked typically lovely in a dark blue satin gown, her full breasts spilling some, the rest of her almost too slender for them. Almost. She had a beer waiting for him — she was having coffee. The resemblance between her and Tulley ended there.
The heart-shaped face with the big brown eyes, gently upturned nose, and lush, red-rouged lips wore a pleasant, lightly smiling expression. But he could see through it.
"What's wrong?" he asked, pulling out a chair and sitting.
"You really don't know?"
"Rita, I'm in the middle of a game. I just walked away from three aces."
"I would think the sheriff would be more attuned to trouble."
"I'm not sheriff at the moment. What trouble?"
She nodded toward the dance floor at the end of the big room. A sort of aisle between the chuck-a-luck and roulette stations gave them a look directly that way. The honky-tonk piano was barely audible over the sound of well-oiled cowhands and the bark of the dealers and croupiers. But York could make it out: a lively version of "Clementine."
He could also see what the trouble was. Molly, a pretty little blonde in green-and-white satin, was being pawed and generally manhandled by a tall character who was weaving in a way that had nothing to do with dancing and everything to do with John Barleycorn.
"She's one of the newer ones," Rita said.
"I know. She was never a part of the upstairs festivities."
"Never. She's a nice girl. Good girl, considering."
"Considering she works here. I think you can see why this isn't a job for Hub."
Hub Wainwright was a bartender but also Rita's chief bouncer — a very tough man.
But the too-friendly dance partner was a breed apart, a breed York recognized all too well. The man wore a tan silk shirt and darker brown trousers tucked in his boots — they looked new. His hair was black and curly and better-barbered than either the sheriff or his deputy. This was not somebody who did ranch work. The low-slung, tied-down Colt Single Action Army .45 in a hand-tooled, silver- buckled holster was almost certainly how he made his living.
"Signal her," York said. "At the end of the song, she sits down. If he gets rough, let me know — I'll step in."
York rose, ready to get back to his cards.
Rita touched his hand as it was pushing the chair back in place. There had been something between them once. Or twice.
Her eyes begged him. "Look at Ben Lucas — young hand from the Bar-O?"
That was Willa Cullen's spread.
"I don't see him," York said.
Her head bobbed toward the right. "He's against the wall."
York casually moved out to where he could see that Lucas was halfway out of his chair, his expression tortured, his hand already closer to his holstered weapon than might be deemed wise.
Rita was at York's side suddenly, holding onto his arm. "Ben is sweet on that child. Something might happen. Something terrible might happen."
"Ben is no gunfighter."
"But we both know that man in brown silk is."
York drew in a deep breath, let it out, nodded.
He reached in his breast pocket and got out the badge. Pinned it on the pocket. "See what I can do."
She gave him a smile that said she could just kiss him for this. Not that he'd have minded.
But he — hell, even Rita — had taken too much time talking it over. Because Ben was clambering out of his chair, just as the man in the brown silk shirt was grabbing the girl's behind in two hands.
"You mangy son of a bitch!"
Ben was almost on top of them when the man in brown shoved Molly aside, pulled his gun, and fired. The thunder of it was soon eclipsed by the girl's scream and then a rumble of voices around the room seemed like the threat of the storm the thunder had promised.
"Doc!" York called, but the heavy-set, white-haired little physician was already on his way.
Then York was standing four feet or so away from the shooter, whose gun was still in hand, smoke curling lazily from the barrel, the smell of it scorching the air.
"You just hold it right there, Sheriff," the gunny said, that .45 steady and trained right on York's chest — he'd had way too much to drink, yes, but killing a kid over a dance-hall girl can sober a man up fast.
His face was narrow and pockmarked, the eyebrows heavy and black, the eyes a light blue and his features otherwise regular, near handsome. He may have been used to having his way with girls like Molly. Not that it cut any slack with York, whose hand rested on the butt of his .44 in his own low-riding holster, though unlike the gunman's, it wasn't tied down.
Doc was crouched over Ben Lucas, a red splotch soaking a red-and- black plaid shirtfront, head hanging loose. He was a tow-headed boy who would never be a man. Or so Doc indicated, with a shake of the head.
York's nod told Doc to move away, which he did.
A queasy smile and obsequious manner came over the shooter, though he kept that gun aimed right at York. "Now this was self- defense, Sheriff. Surely that's plain. You need to know I'm a respectable businessman."
"What business would that be?"
"Why, I'm a wholesale drummer — take my catalogues store to store. Name's Burrell Crawley. This is just an unfortunate misunderstanding."
The only item this character sold was a .45 caliber.
York said, "Damn unfortunate for this youngster."
The respectable faÀ§ade dropped and a snarling desperation came out. "He rushed me and went for his gun! Everybody here saw it! Just ask that little girl I was dancin' with."
"Molly?" York asked, not looking away from Crawley, whose gun was still trained on him. "Is that right? Speak up, girl."
"I ... I ... guess so ..."
The supposed salesman almost yelled as he said, "Anybody else here see it different?"
If anyone had, they were keeping it to themselves.
"The circuit judge will be through here next week," York said, hand still on the butt of his holstered gun, finger slipping onto the trigger. "May be that a witness or two will testify in your defense. Maybe others will have their own story to tell. Until then, you'll be my guest."
Crawley smiled, the slight mustache emphasizing it. "Not damn likely," he said.
"You know who I am?"
"I do. You're Caleb York. And I'll warrant you're faster than me. But my gun is already out."
With a tilt of his holstered gun, York fired, blowing a hole in the toe of the gunny's boot. The wounded man howled and did another dance, even more awkward than before, as York slapped the .45 from his hand.
Between moans and whimpers and yelps, the gunny cursed York with obscenities, the like and variety of which were rarely heard even in a saloon.
York slapped him. "You're in mixed company."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Last Stage to Hell Junction"
Copyright © 2019 Mickey Spillane Publishing LLC.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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