Rancher George Cullen doesn’t like the Santa Fe Railroad’s plan to drive a spur through his town. He intends to put up a fight—even though everyone else in Trinidad, New Mexico, including his own daughter, stands on the side of the railroad …
Sheriff Caleb York rides out to the Bar-O to reason with his old friend. But Cullen’s ex-partner, Burt O’Malley, is back in town after a twenty-year stint in the pen. And hired gun Alver Hollis, aka the Preacherman, has shown up with two cronies, claiming they’re in town for a big poker game. With the whole town on the verge of a shootout, Caleb keeps a firm grip on his Colt .44. Soon enough, he’ll take dead aim to keep the peace …
“Spillane is a master in compelling you to always turn the next page.”
—New York Times
“Collins displays his mastery of Spillane’s distinctive two-fisted prose.”
“Spillane is a pioneer of tough-guy ethics.”
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
Being dead, Caleb York had come to realize, had its advantages.
When he'd ridden into Trinidad, New Mexico, six months back, York had been a stranger just passing through. For a year or more, the rumor had spread far and wide that the celebrated Wells Fargo detective had been gunned down. That Caleb York had gone the way of all flesh, or at least the way of all gunfighters.
That rumor had given York a blessed anonymity. As his midthirties reared up ahead of him like a spooked horse, York had grown ever more tired of facing down gunnies who wanted to make a reputation at his expense. Too often, reckless men and sometimes boys sought to force a showdown with a living legend whose prowess with a handgun had forged a name for him that only the likes of Wyatt Earp, John Wesley Hardin, and Wild Bill Hickok might rival.
As it worked out, when he bumped up against corrupt Sheriff Harry Gauge, York found it necessary to step out of the blessed obscurity of a supposed dead man to deal with a patch of trouble. Now he was sitting in Gauge's chair behind a big dark wooden desk in the plank-floored office/jail with its two barred street windows, wood-burning stove, and rough-hewn table under a wall of wanted posters and a rifle rack.
Wearing the badge of a sheriff whom York had been obliged to kill.
Caleb York was a big, lean man, with a jaw that stopped just short of jutting and reddish-brown hair barely touched with gray at the temples. His pleasant features were set in a rawboned, clean-shaven face with washed-out blue eyes peering out from a permanent squint.
When York rode in those many months ago, some had called him a dude, although his way with a gun — and his fists — made it unlikely he'd hear that denigration again. Truth be told, his mode of apparel was on the dudish side, although in his view — the view of a man who'd been heading for San Diego and a job with Pinkerton's when fate and the needs of Trinidad had waylaid him — he merely looked professional.
In the manner of Bat Masterson and other serious law enforcement officers, York wore a black coat and black cotton pants tucked in hand-tooled black boots; his shirt was a light gray, with pearl buttons, and the string tie was black. His black hat had a cavalry pinch; a gray kerchief was knotted at his neck. His preferred weapon, a Colt Single Action Army .44, he wore low on his right hip, about pants-pocket level, and he kept it tied down.
Right now, however, the black coat and hat were on wall pegs to his right, and the gun in its bullet-studded belt was curled up, as if a snake in slumber, on his desk before him. He was staring at it, wondering how many more years would have to pass before men could walk down a street not wearing one. He wondered if, when law and order finally came to the land, lawmen themselves could go out unarmed. He'd read that such was the practice in England.
As if in answer to York's unspoken question, his deputy — Jonathan Tulley — burst in like a jolt of reality.
"Sheriff!" Tulley blurted.
The old desert rat, skinny and white bearded, swam in his baggy canvas pants, though the badge-pinned BVD top under blue suspenders fit close. His shotgun was over one arm.
Then words tumbled out of the sun-creased face. "Get yourself down to the Victory, Sheriff, in one hell of a hurry! There's a kid down there shootin' up the place! Miss Rita's fit to be tied, and there's folks cowering under tables like skeered rats."
"What brought you to the Victory?" York asked, slow and cool, reaching for his gun belt. "Why court temptation?"
The bowlegged town drunk had dried out when York made it a prerequisite of the deputy post.
"That there gunfire!" Tulley yelped.
"You're armed." York was on his feet now, still behind the desk, strapping on the gun belt. "You're paid to enforce the peace."
"I know I am, but —"
York raised a finger, which stopped his deputy, and glanced at the wall clock. "I have a meeting to get to over at Harris Mercantile. The mayor says it's important, and he's the man who hands out our pay envelopes."
York knew damn well what the meeting was about. He'd seen the fleshy man with the fine frock coat step from the stage this morning, wearing self- importance like a cloak. He'd asked "Bull" Mason, the stagecoach whip, who his passenger was, and Bull had made a face and said, "Railroad agent." To a stagecoach man, that was worse than a hostile Indian.
Tulley swallowed and staggered over as if he had been drinking. "You ain't follerin' me, Sheriff. This just ain't any kid. It's Kid McCurdy!"
Though no wanted poster bore McCurdy's name, the young gunslinger had made a name for himself in nearby Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he'd finally been run out of even that wild town after four killings "in self- defense."
Tulley leaned his free hand on the desk. If his eyes had been any wider, they'd have fallen out and bounced around like acorns shaken from a branch. "McCurdy says he won't stop till you come see him personal."
York came out from behind the desk and tied the leather string that kept his holstered weapon snug to his thigh. He reached for his hat but left his coat hanging, since it might restrict movement.
"Shot up the place, you say," York said. "Did he bust up the mirrors with his target practice? Shoot the liquor bottles to pieces? Splinter the chuck-a-luck wheel?"
Tulley deflated some. "Well, no. Jest fired two rounds in the ceiling, and then, when I stuck my head in, he said to come fetch you. Waving his gun around! That's why he come to Trinidad — to see you."
"And you did what he told you to. Here I thought you were on Trinidad's payroll."
Tulley shuffled in place. "Well ... what else was I to do?"
York pointed toward the door. "Right now, you're to go down there to the Victory's rear door, off the alley," the sheriff said, "and keep the place covered. Should things get out of hand — like should this pup manage to shoot me dead — I'd appreciate you plugging him for me."
"In the back?"
"Or have him turn around first, if you don't mind maybe dying."
Tulley thought that over, nodded, said, "We'll do 'er your way," and scurried out.
York made a disgusted click in his cheek as he checked the action of the .44. Then he slipped the iron back into its well-oiled home.
The afternoon was cool and crisp — this was November — and the boardwalks of Trinidad were empty, though faces in the windows in storefronts and the living quarters above peered out in anticipation of witnessing gunplay. That made York smile just a little as he walked along, spurs singing a lazy little tune. Gunfire sent everybody inside, he knew, but now a good many citizens were peeking out in expectation of more.
He didn't judge them harshly. The three hundred or so souls who lived in Trinidad were decent enough people. The town existed to serve the surrounding ranch-land area, and the folk here were mostly shop owners and clerks, whose days were usually dull, each one indistinguishable from the last. Part of why York was pulling down a hundred a month, plus his cut of the taxes he collected, was that reputation of his. He was something of a tourist attraction, like the Alamo or the O.K. Corral. Everybody who came to Trinidad wanted a glimpse of Caleb York.
Some, like Andrew "Kid" McCurdy, wanted more than just a glimpse.
York pushed through the swinging batwing doors and saw the small figure pacing by the bar, a mug of beer nearby. The Kid's gun was holstered. That was good. That was half the battle. Still, the biggest thing about the boy was the long-barreled Colt army revolver, worn high, not tied down.
McCurdy was seventeen, eighteen, somewhere in there. He stood perhaps five feet eight and was skinny enough to look scrawny in the blue cavalry bib- front shirt and shapeless Levi's; his Montana-peak Stetson looked new. This was no cowpuncher. Stick slender though he was, the Kid had a baby face, round and stubbly, with a snub nose and tiny dark eyes set too far apart. Like that other famous Kid — Billy — this one had buck teeth.
Stupidity came off him like steam over coffee.
Around them — with York just inside the doors and the Kid over at the left, near the bar — the Victory was like a church without worshippers, that big, that quiet. The elaborate tin ceiling was home to kerosene-lamp chandeliers, while gold-and-black brocade rode the walls; the long, highly polished oak bar went on forever, with its mirrors and bottles of bourbon and rye, towels dangling for divesting mustaches of foam, an endless brass foot rail broken up by spittoons. No bartenders were visible — likely cowering down in back of their counter — and patrons were huddled under tables, shivering, brave cowboys and town folk alike.
The casino section of the place was empty, from roulette to wheel of fortune. One poker table had been abandoned mid-game. Several satin-clad darlings shivered under their own table down toward the end, near the little stage with its unattended upright piano.
Tulley was tucked back behind a wooden post, not far from where he'd come in off the alley. Shotgun high and ready.
As for the proprietress, the lovely dark-haired Rita Filley — a slender but shapely woman in her twenties, in the nicest satin gown in the house — she cowered for no man. She had positioned herself across the wide room from the bar, near the staircase. She looked irritated, her arms folded on the impressive shelf of her bosom.
Her eyes were hooded as they traveled to York, as if to say, About time! Or possibly, Will you please do something about this? He gave her the barest glance of reassurance.
McCurdy's dark, wide-set eyes were already on him, cold, hard, yet there was nervousness around them, marbles in twitchy housings.
"You're him, ain't you?" McCurdy said. The voice was high pitched, squeaky, but alive with the kind of crazy that made people dead.
"I'm the sheriff," York said.
"You're Caleb York!"
"Sheriff York, yes. Can I help you, son? In a bit of a hurry. I have a Citizens Committee meeting to attend. They're the folks who passed an ordinance against firing off handguns in a public place. But seeing as you're just passing through, I can let that ride. If you ride."
Fists swung at the air. "You killed a pal of mine!"
"Sorry to hear it. What was his name?"
"You wouldn't even remember! His name wouldn't mean nothin' to the likes of you!"
York hadn't meant to call a bluff, but that was what he'd done, judging by how McCurdy couldn't summon the name of the pal York had killed.
The Kid's chin crinkled. "That's what I mean to do, York — try you."
And the boy planted his feet and faced the sheriff, a hand hovering above that cavalry .45.
"We have no score to settle, son."
Holding his hands up mid-chest, palms out, York took a few steps toward the Kid.
York said, "Nobody has to die this afternoon. Ride out and tell everyone how you faced down Caleb York, and how the big man was afraid to fight you."
"Are you afraid?"
"What do you think?" York sensed the Kid was about to go for the .45 and said, "Stop!"
The Kid did.
"This is a nice place," York said conversationally, nodding around. "Everybody in town likes it, the Victory. Folks like yourself, passing through, find it a surprising palace for a bump in the road like Trinidad."
The Kid's forehead furrowed. "What the hell does that have to do with the price of beans?"
An easy shrug from the sheriff. "I don't want to see this place shot up. I don't want Miss Filley, the owner, to lose a mirror. Do you know how long it takes to get a new mirror in from Denver?"
"I don't, either, but I bet it's a good while. And those hooch bottles along the counter, those don't come cheap. And this fancy wallpaper, if it got tore up by bullets —"
"Damn it, York! What the hell —"
Hands still up, as if in surrender, York said, "Let's step outside and do this in the street. Like the grown-ups. We'll face each other, and I'll even let you draw first." He raised his voice. "Everyone hear that! If this doesn't go my way, you're to let this boy ride out. This is a fight I personally sanction."
The Kid was grinning, but one eye had a tic going now.
York held open the door for the Kid, who edged over and, still facing the sheriff, slipped out on the wooden porch and went down the steps slow and careful and backward.
Tulley was at York's side now, as the sheriff still held open a single batwing door.
"Ye can't mean that, Sheriff," Tulley whispered, squinting.
York smiled out at the Kid, nodding, almost friendly, and whispered back, "Of course not. If this doesn't go my way, blow his head off his shoulders."
Tulley said, "Be a pleasure."
York, moving slow, almost casual, went down the steps. He might have been strolling out into the afternoon to enjoy the gentle breeze, but his eyes stayed tight on the Kid. This boy was dumb and foolhardy, and that was just the kind of person who wound up killing somebody like Caleb York.
York raised his hands again mid-chest, palms out, and approached the Kid.
"Okay, son. You position yourself down there by the Mercantile. I'll stay right where I am."
"Hell no! I'll stay here, and you go down there."
York shrugged. "Fine. Do I have your word you'll let me get that far?"
"You got my damn word! I don't mean to have it said I bushwhacked Caleb York."
"Of course not," York said, with that easy smile. "This will be a fair fight between two men of honor."
The forehead on the roundish face squinched in thought, as if these words needed interpretation. "Right," the Kid managed to say. "Fair fight. A duel. Like in olden times."
"Like in olden times. We best shake on it."
York held out his hand, and the boy immediately accepted it. Then York clasped hard and twisted harder. The bones breaking sounded like distant gunshots.
Then the Kid was on his knees and screaming at the sky.
York leaned down, plucked the big gun from the boy's holster like a dandelion, and handed it to a grinning Tulley, who had come rattling down the steps when he saw what his boss was up to.
With a hand on Tulley's shoulder, York said, "Go get Doc Miller. He'll have to set that hand." Then he crouched and faced the weeping would-be gunslinger. "We'll get you fixed up, son."
"You ... you bastard!"
York shook his head. "That hand, though, it'll never be the same. Unless you're ambidextrous."
"Ambi ... ambi what?"
"Unless you can shoot just as well with your left hand."
"'Course I can't, you miserable son of a bitch."
"Well, you can always go off and practice for six months or so. When you're good enough as a southpaw, you come look me up, hear?"
The friendly tone seemed to confuse the Kid, who had no apparent sense of irony.
Then York gripped the boy's shoulder, hard, hard enough to make him wince, despite the pain his broken hand was already providing. The eyes in the round bundle of tics that was Kid McCurdy's face looked at York, whose smile disappeared into cold nothing.
"But if you do," he said, "I will kill you. You get just this one pass."
York rose from his crouch, dusted his knees off, and waited for his deputy to bring the doctor. The boy was a whimpering pile of bony humanity who'd likely never had a worse day.
Or a better one.CHAPTER 2
Willa Cullen, the only female at the meeting of the Trinidad Citizens Committee, was in attendance at the sufferance of the men, who knew her blind father — however he might resent or even deny it — required her aid. She had, for example, driven the buckboard into town from the ranch this morning.
The young woman — she had just turned twenty-three — was a familiar tomboy sight in Trinidad, attired today, as she so often was, in a red-and-black plaid shirt and denims and stirrup-friendly boots, her golden hair up and braided in back in a fashion that, like her lovely features and tall, shapely frame, suggested her late mother's Swedish heritage. So did her cornflower-blue eyes in their long-lashed setting.
Seated with her in a semicircular arrangement of chairs at the back of Harris Mercantile was a group of citizens who included both local merchants and ranchers, their attire sharply distinguishing which was which. One of the latter, seated beside her, was the rather shrunken figure of her father, George Cullen.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Bloody Spur"
Copyright © 2018 Mickey Spillane Publishing LLC.
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