Now they’ll have to deal with Caleb York...
Times are changing. Caleb York is saddling up to try his hand as a Pinkerton man out California way. But before he can leave Trinidad, New Mexico, a peaceful morning erupts in a barrage of gunfire. When the dust settles, Caleb has gunned down two bad men, with another just dodging a ticket to hell . . . but leaving one very good man lying dead in the street.
Lightning quick, Caleb rides after the fleeing gunman, only to be swept up in an evil wind blowing back through the sleepy town, threatening its very existence. Caleb’s only chance to restore justice is to load his guns, dig in his spurs, and take on a ruthless killer. In a town drowning in blood, riddled with bullets, and hoping for a hero, Caleb York is the right man at the right time—ready to face the vengeful outlaws in a chilling, storm-swept showdown.
“Spillane is a pioneer of tough-guy ethics.”—Washington Post
“Collins displays his mastery of Spillane’s distinctive two-fisted prose.”—Publishers Weekly
“Spillane is a master in compelling you to always turn the next page.”—The New York Times
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. 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
The Big Showdown
A Caleb York Western
By Mickey Spillane, Max Allan Collins
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Mickey Spillane Publishing LLC
All rights reserved.
Caleb York was getting out of town on the noon stage. Despite his reputation as a deadly gunfighter, York was not being run out of Trinidad, New Mexico, by the sheriff. After all, until very recently, York had been the sheriff here himself, a position he'd held down for six months until a replacement could be found for the previous holder of that office.
It was the least York could do for the dusty little community, considering he'd killed the man.
Not that Sheriff Harry Gauge hadn't needed killing — a petty tyrant seeking to become a cattle baron, a ruthless murderer that the West was well rid of. But removing Gauge from the Trinidad scene, on the heels of a cowpox epidemic, had left the town in something of a topsy-turvy mess. The Trinidad Citizens Committee had asked York to pick up Gauge's badge, wipe the filth from it, and pin it on. At least for a while.
This York had done.
But now he'd found a suitable replacement in his old friend Ben Wade, who'd been a lawman in Kansas and Arizona, working alongside the likes of the Earp brothers and Bat Masterson. Even at fifty-some, Wade was twice the man of most anyone he was likely to come up against.
Right now York was walking down the boardwalk, its awning shading him from morning sun, mercilessly bright in a clear sky, though the temperature on this dry, lightly breezy September morning was around sixty degrees. He was on his way to the office that had been his till he turned it over to Wade last week.
Townspeople nodded at York, and he nodded back, casting smiles at the men, tipping his hat to the ladies. He was unaware that many of the latter turned to look at him as he passed, with wistful smiles and the occasional girlish giggle. Even from the older ones.
York indeed made a fine figure of a man, long of leg, broad of shoulder, firm of jaw, his hair reddish brown, his face clean-shaven, his features pleasant, rawboned, with washed-out blue eyes that peered out a permanent squint. He had settled easily into that vague space between thirty and forty when a man was at his best and, in the case of a Caleb York, his most dangerous. His Colt Single Action Army .44 rode his right thigh at pocket level, the holster tie loose and dangling; his spurs sang an easygoing, jingling song.
When he'd ridden into town last year, those who didn't know how to look at a man saw only a dude, and York still dressed in a manner unlike either the cowhands of the surrounding ranches that Trinidad served, or the shopkeepers who did the serving. York considered his somewhat citified attire professional, and it reflected the time he'd spent in big cities like Denver and Tucson.
But even Trinidad's few professional men — Doc Miller, the bankers, the lawyers — did not approach the sartorial flair of Caleb York, who wore black as did they, only with touches of style — gray trim on collars and cuffs, gray string tie, twin breast pockets, pearl buttons down his shirt, black cotton pants tucked into hand-tooled black boots, curl-brimmed black hat with cavalry pinch, gray kerchief knotted at the neck.
But ever since Caleb York had gunned down Gauge and half a dozen of his hardcase deputies, no one in Trinidad had called him "dude."
If pressed, he'd have admitted that he would miss this prospering little town of three hundred, and the surrounding ranchers and their families and hands who kept it thriving. Not that there was anything particularly special about the place.
One end of Main Street — the dust kept down by a layer of sand brought in from the nearby Purgatory River — was home to a white wooden church, the other end a bare-wood livery stable, steeple and high-peaked hayloft mirroring each other. Between them was a typical collection of businesses — hardware store, apothecary, barber, hotel with restaurant, telegraph, saloon, café — false-fronted clapboards and now and then a brick building, like the bank.
As he neared the livery stable, York felt a twinge — his black-maned, dappled gray gelding was in a stall within that homely structure. The blacksmith, Clem Wiggins, would sell the steed and wire the proceeds to him in San Diego. It might take a while, because the animal was worth a small fortune — less than five hundred would be horse theft. But even twice that couldn't make up for the loss of a loyal steed like that.
He doubted he'd even need a horse in San Diego. That would likely be a city where you either walked or hopped an electric streetcar. Where the only horses you saw were attached to buggies or milk wagons. A different world, but a world he needed to learn to live in.
He was nearing the scarred, bullet-pocked adobe building that wore a high-up sign saying SHERIFF'S OFFICE AND JAIL. Across the way was a handful of smaller adobes, the homes and businesses of the town's modest Mexican population. He took the few steps up to the wooden porch, sheltered by an awning, and knocked at the rough-wood door, a solid thing that could help make the office a fortress when need be.
"It's open!" a deep voice boomed.
York went in and took off his hat.
The office was a plank-floored space with two barred windows onto the street, a wood-burning stove, and a roughhewn table overseen by a wall of wanted posters and a rack of rifles. This was at left; at right was a big dark wooden desk with a chair behind it and a man in the chair.
Ben Wade was white-haired and white-mustached and wore his white flat-brim, Canadian-creased hat indoors as well as out, probably to hide where he was balding. Wade was a mite touchy about his age, since most gunfighters didn't live as long as he had. The lawman had a well-fed look that replaced the leanness York had first known in him, when Wade was a deputy marshal in Dodge City.
Wade, in a light blue shirt and tan cowhide vest, was making a cigarette. "Find a chair, Caleb," he said.
York pulled one up and sat down. "Nice to see a geezer like you with such a steady hand."
The sheriff licked the paper, finished making the smoke, and fired it up with a kitchen match. Waved it out. "You're not that young yourself, friend."
"No. I'm not. That's why I'm headed to the big town."
Wade shuddered. "Exactly where I don't want to be. Six years in Denver, working as a hotel house dick. You don't want to know the horrors I seen."
"Pay was good."
"Costs plenty living in a big town. You'll see. But your loss is my gain."
York gestured toward a window. "It's a decent little town, Ben. Your biggest worry is the handful of Gauge's men who're still out there. Gunnies pretendin' they're ranch hands."
He nodded. "You told me such enough times that I'm startin' to pay attention. But ex-gunnies have to make an honest living, too. Times have changed. Times are changing."
"Not that much, Ben, not in Trinidad. Maybe over in Las Vegas, since the train come in. But this little town — could be twenty years ago, and you'd never know it."
"Cowboys still get drunk on payday," Ben said, with a deep chuckle and nod of agreement, "and kids who read too many dime novels will always try to play gunfighter. And die young like those who went before them."
"Old gunfighters who hang on too long, they die, too. Don't forget that, Ben."
"Judas Priest, Caleb," the sheriff said, letting out blue smoke, leaning forward. "You got in touch with me. You got sudden second thoughts about leavin' this little slice of heaven? You tryin' to talk me out of this job? You want this badge, son, you'll have to rip it off my shirt. Because I am right where I want to be."
"How does Hazel feel about it?"
He flinched, took another deep draw on the smoke. "She's, uh ... not happy. She likes her house in Denver. She likes her creature comforts. Our son and his daughters live there, you know."
"Hell, I didn't mean to bust up your happy home."
Wade shook his head. "She'll get over it. One of these days, the stage'll pull up and she'll step off. Mark my words. She was beautiful once, but now she's old and fat like me. She knows I'm the only man on God's good earth who looks at her with eyes that still see beauty. She'll show."
York twitched half a frown. "I hope you're right. I don't need that on my conscience."
Wade's laugh exhaled smoke. "Since when does Caleb York have a conscience? How many men you put down, anyways?"
"I don't rightly know."
Wade's mustached grin filled a bunch of his face. "Sure you do, son. Only the crazy ones don't keep track. You're hard, but you ain't crazy. How many?"
"Countin' the war?"
"Not counting the war, Ben. You never really know in war how many you put down."
"How do you sleep at night?"
"Only if I got a fever."
"Good. So I guess I can risk troubling your damn conscience. I got the job I want — this is how I want to spend my last working years. With a badge and a gun and a desk and a chair ... and a hundred a month. More than that, with my cut of the taxes I collect."
"Much more. It's a good-paying job. I'm glad you're pleased. I hope Hazel comes around."
Wade was nodding. "She'll come around. She'll step off that stage. You'll see."
"Speaking of stages," York said, and stood. "I have one to catch, in about an hour."
Wade gave York another face-splitting grin. "I have a bottle in this desk, if it ain't too early for you. You can spend the rest of your time in Trinidad tellin' me how sorry you are you got me this job I so dearly wanted."
York grinned back, snugging on his hat. "No, I have an early lunch date."
"Certain pretty gal?"
"Certain pretty gal."
"And I reckon she's not real happy with you, is she, son?"
"No. Not happy at all."
"Well, then that's a knack we share."
"Disappointin' our womenfolk."
York gave his old friend a smile and a nod, then went back out into the pleasant morning. Last night, however, had not been so pleasant. That was when he'd told Willa Cullen that he would be leaving at noon today.
* * *
Both Willa and her father had been seated at the big carved Spanish-style dining-room table in the rustic ranch house of the Bar-O. They were having coffee in china cups.
Willa, typically, wore a red-plaid shirt and denims, her straw-yellow hair up and braided in back. Her mother had been Swedish and that came through in pretty features and an hourglass figure. Tall, sturdy of frame, Willa was feminine, but in a Viking kind of way. And right now she looked like she'd be pleased to send him to Valhalla.
Or maybe someplace more southern-ward.
Seated across from York, she met his news with cold eyes and flaming cheeks. At the head of the table sat her father, George Cullen, his white hair thin as desert grass, his eyes milky with blindness.
A big man made smaller by time, Cullen wore a white shirt and a black string tie, his strong, white-mustached face undercut by sunken cheeks, his flesh gray from too much time of late spent indoors. Blind men did not ride the range with their cowhands, no matter how much they might want to.
The old man was first to respond. "I'm disappointed, my boy. I reckoned you and Willa here ... I'd hoped ..."
York said nothing, looking away from the man's milky gaze.
Cullen stuck out his hand, still rough from work, despite how little of it he'd been able to do these last few years. York shook the man's hand. Across from him, Willa was a pretty stick of dynamite trying not to explode.
"Won't be the same around here," Cullen said. "We've come to think of you as part of the family. Be that as it may, we remain in your debt. Without you, this ranch would be lost to us. That cur Harry Gauge might well be sitting here, where I am ... and I would be under the ground."
"Hard to say," York said. "Your men were there, backing you. In a pinch, the townspeople came through. But I'm happy to have pitched in."
Willa's hands were clenched into small, trembling fists, held before her on the table like those of a child about to throw a tantrum. The red was fading from her cheeks, but her chin was crinkling and trembling and her eyes were tearing up.
Cullen was smiling, his blank eyes looking past York. "You know, my boy, I thought perhaps I might make a rancher out of you. With no son of my own ..."
"You have Willa. She can run this ranch. She'd be better at it than most men. Maybe any man ... because you raised her, Mr. Cullen."
Tears were rolling down the young woman's cheeks, but she made no effort to wipe them away, her hands still fists.
"You may be right," Cullen said. "But it's a hard road for a woman to travel alone. I won't be here forever. She'd be better with a man at her side. And perhaps one day she'll find herself one."
Willa got up, her chair scraping on the floor like a wheel coming off a wagon, startling her father, who bounced in his chair some.
Cullen said, "Girl!"
But she was already out of the room.
York said, "She's upset with me."
Cullen smiled. "Well, I don't need eyes to see that, son. Let her cool off some. Are you heading to San Diego? To that Pinkerton position you meant to fill, afore you got sidetracked in Trinidad?"
"That's right, sir. I'd be number two man in the office, but I won't be abandoned behind a desk. I'd be leading investigations. I'd be out on manhunts."
"I hope you know I wish you the best of luck. Should you get out there and it don't suit you, come back here to us. You'll always have a place at this table, and in our hearts."
York rose and rested a hand on the old man's shoulder and squeezed. Cullen put his hand on York's and squeezed back.
"Don't you go forgetting us now," the old man said.
She was on the porch in the moonlight. The ivory of it suited her. She'd wiped away the tears now, but her lush full lips were trembling.
"I'm sorry to just spring it on you," York said. "But you knew that I was just taking the sheriff post temporary."
She nodded. Swallowed. She either didn't want to speak to him or couldn't.
He risked a tiny smile. "Would you do a thoughtless lout a small favor?"
She glared at him.
"See me off tomorrow? The stage leaves at noon. Maybe we could have a late breakfast or early lunch — around eleven, there at the hotel?" She said nothing.
"Would you do that for me, sweetheart?"
She turned toward him, eyes and nostrils flaring like a rearing horse. He might have slapped her, judging by the reaction.
But then she'd done something truly surprising: she nodded, and rushed back inside the ranch house.
* * *
When he exited the sheriff's office, York almost bumped into a familiar figure, standing there waiting like an eager puppy dog: that old desert rat Tulley, skinny and white-bearded, but that beard barbered now, and the baggy canvas pants washed in recent memory and under blue suspenders a clean BVD top. The bowlegged town character had dried out, at York's encouragement.
"I seen ya go in there," Tulley said in the good-natured rasp that was what was left of a voice ravaged by years of smoke and drink. "You don't think I'd let ya leave town without an adios, do you, Sheriff?"
The unlikely friendship between the two men had grown out of Tulley befriending the stranger who'd ridden into town and into the middle of nasty doings.
"I'm not the sheriff anymore," York reminded him.
"And a damn shame! Damn shame all around. You had a good thing goin' in this here hamlet, Sheriff. Good pay, respect, folks looked up to ye ... and then there's that yellow-haired gal. You know when ol' Cullen finally up and croaks, that ranch'll be hers. You do know what you're walkin' out on, don't you?"
"I know, Tulley."
"And friends like Jonathan R. Tulley don't grow on trees neither, you know."
"I suppose not."
Tulley's face clenched like a fist. "Then to hell with you, Caleb York. I may jus' go back to drinkin', jus' find me a bottle and crawl back in, and whose fault will it be?"
"Yours! Your and yours alone. So to hell with you, you selfish son of a bitch."
Then Tulley gave York a big, startling hug, and almost ran back to the stable. He might have been crying.
York was laughing, gently. Who'd ever have thought that that old reprobate would be one of the things he'd miss most about Trinidad?
He walked back to the hotel where he checked out and left his packed carpetbag with Wilson, the weak-chinned, pince-nez-sporting clerk who'd given him a register to sign, all those months ago. The .44 in its holster with cartridge-laden gun belt was tucked in the bag, right on top. No need for a weapon on his hip, riding on a stage or a train, not in these times. Why not be comfortable?
Excerpted from The Big Showdown by Mickey Spillane, Max Allan Collins. Copyright © 2016 Mickey Spillane Publishing LLC. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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