Saturday, 12 September 2015

Western Books Spotlights by Paul Lederer


Blurb 1: Climax by Paul Lederer 
Buy from Open Road Media

In a lonely western town, a marshal stands in the way of a gang of killers.

There is nothing to love about the town of Climax, a godforsaken speck of earth with one saloon, one restaurant, and one lawman. Ever since he got too old to ride the range, Giles Frost has worn a silver star, sleeping in the jail, patrolling Main Street twice a day, and waiting for trouble that has never shown its face—until now.

On his nightly patrol, a gunshot rings out and Frost falls to the dirt, shot in the side. A gang of renegades has decided to make their home in Climax, and they have no interest in retaining the services of the law. But although he may look soft, Giles Frost has a spine of steel. There’s not much to this town, but its sheriff will kill to keep it free.

***

Blurb 2: The Reluctant Gun Hand by Paul Lederer 
Buy from Open Road Media

Fresh out of prison, a gunman who wants to put the past behind him has no choice but to join a gang of outlaws.

There was a time when Jake Worthy wouldn’t have been arrested for killing the gambler in the Tucson saloon. The card cheat drew his gun first—Jake shot only in self-defense. But the West is on its way to being civilized, and the sheriff has no choice but to throw Jake in jail. After six months behind bars, he is released and immediately sets out for home and his sweetheart. His first night on the trail, a bandit shoots Jake’s horse and leaves him to die. Stranded in the desert with a bullet in his leg, he starts walking, dreaming of the woman he may never see again.

Near exhaustion, Jake is picked up by three riders bristling with guns. They give him food, shelter, and a bandage for his leg. Without their help, he will die, so Jake joins their gang, starting down a path that will lead him right back to prison—or the grave.

***

Blurb 3: Showdown at Guyamas by Paul Lederer
Buy from Open Road Media

In the thrilling first installment in this genre-busting series, Spectros journeys to Mexican mining country to confront the conjurer who kidnapped his bride.

A narrow carriage rumbles through the treacherous mountains of Sonora. Inside, surrounded by countless books and pieces of scientific equipment, rides Dr. Spectros—the most brilliant magician of the Old West. For years, he has pursued the fiendish sorcerer Blackschuster, who long ago stole the only woman the doctor ever loved. Spectros has now chased his nemesis to Mexico, where he discovers a town just as rotten as the conjurer who hides there.

Blackschuster has come in search of the silver he requires to keep the bride of Spectros trapped in eternal sleep. With the help of his associates, the gunslinger Ray Featherskill, the knife expert Inkada, and the hulking bruiser Montak, Spectros corners his enemy, but defeating him will take a magic more powerful than any the world has ever seen.

***

Excerpt from Climax by Paul Lederer

Climax was the name of the dog-tired pretense of a village which lay in the afternoon shadows of the San Jacinto Mountains, east of the good timber country, west of the rich grasslands. No one remembered how the town had gotten its name. Speculation only concluded that whoever had named it must have been a very desperate and lonesome sort of man.

The rutted main street of Climax sprouted weeds along its length – greasewood and other hardy plants predominating along the edges of the thoroughfare where the passing ponies could not easily trample them down. The truth was not many ponies passed along the street. A dog lying in the middle of the road was in little danger of being disturbed.

For schooling the kids of Climax played marbles in the dusty alleyways, rolled hoops down Main Street and sat outside the Alhambra Saloon, learning how to cuss from the men inside. The men inside the dark, over-warm saloon profited as much, drinking whatever whiskey and beer they could afford at the moment, playing loud games of poker or losing their money on the spinning numbers on the Alhambra’s warped roulette wheel. Everyone knew the wheel was crooked – not rigged, but certainly it did not spin true, but no matter – when a man feels compelled to lose his money he’ll take any available game to do it.

A few of the old-timers had figured the wheel out, but these never had much money, having lost it all in the days before they figured it. No one complained. Where was Charles Toledo, the Alhambra’s owner, to be expected to get another wheel? Even if one were available, Toledo, of course, would have been disinclined to purchase it. This one had paid him off so well over the years.

Now and then a stranger would ride his horse at a walk past Marshal Giles Frost’s office, shake his head and continue on his way. That was a source of enjoyment for the local dogs and kids who would call at the stranger and pursue the wanderer far out of town, sometimes throwing rocks at his horse to hurry it on its way. Once one of two-day-a-week stagecoaches had passed through town with a woman on board. The saloon had emptied out with all the men clamoring for position, gaping at the remarkable sight. They talked about the grand event for months afterward.

For the most part the excitement in Climax came from watching two dogs fighting in the middle of the street, or the occasional fist fight in the Alhambra, usually instigated by sheer boredom. For the most part the Alhambra did nothing more than sit and bake in the desert sun, slowly if imperceptibly fading from the world’s memory. Four of the twelve buildings along Main Street were faced with peeling white paint. It baked, flecked and peeled away from all the south-facing fa├žades. The kids liked to peel of the larger flakes and sail them on the breeze. The rest of the town was raw, sun-grayed wood. People had learned that it was no use trying to apply paint.

Besides, by the time they were built, Climax’s lone store had run out of house paint years ago.

This was the realm that Giles Frost was paid by the town to protect from lawlessness.

He was allowed free meals at the Genesis Restaurant, stabling for his horse, and forty dollars a month cash money which some members of the city council were still protesting, considering Frost an unnecessary expense.

Frost’s daily ritual consisted of boiling himself a pot of coffee, checking the mail – if one of the twice-a-week stagecoaches had delivered any, looking into the Alhambra, then walking the dusty streets and oily back alleys which he did early and then late again in the day, avoiding the dry heat of midday. It wasn’t a bad life, even if it was fairly pointless as the council had already considered.

Frost was still a young man, shading this side of thirty, but he had grown weary of the life of a drover. He had broken an arm and a leg on cattle drives, been shorted on his pay, worked sun-up to sundown moving stink-beef cattle from place to place under the blazing sun, sleeping on the desert floor where coyotes came into camp and tried to snatch away his boots while he slept. He had been kicked by steers, bitten by half-broken broncos and more than once been shot at by his own trail-mates. Both times the men had claimed they thought that they had seen Indians approaching the camp, but Frost remained unconvinced.

His present occupation lacked any excitement, which did not bother him at all. He had free cooked food every day, a bunk in the back of the jail where he could sleep off of the ground every night, and forty dollars pay a month, more than a cowhand got, for doing nothing but touring Climax twice a day, protecting it from some possible future bloodbath.

Plenty of men were worse off.

Life never really lets a man settle in, however; things can change in a moment. In Climax they started to change the day the first of the strangers arrived in town.

He was not a big man. He had his hat tugged low. His longish sideburns were silver, but tufts of red hair poked out from around the brim of his hat. He sat his weary-looking paint pony as if he were used to long stretches in the saddle. The holstered Colt revolver riding his hip looked as if it were comfortable riding there. The stranger looked up and down the street, appraising Climax expressionlessly. After a minute or two of surveying his surroundings, he walked the little paint pony toward the Alhambra Saloon – hardly a suspicious action for a man who seemed to have ridden long and would like something to drink that would cut the dust in his throat.

Still there was something about the man that caused Giles Frost to frown as he watched him through the greasy front window of his office. Frost watched until the man had tied his horse to the hitch rail and gone into the saloon. Then he returned to his battered desk and stretched out his long legs, resting his boots on the desk top, tilting his hat forward a little to protect his eyes from the afternoon sun that was beginning to slant into the office through the window. Briefly he considered going over to the saloon to take a closer look at the stranger, but pushed the idea aside. ‘You’re just bored, Giles,’ he told himself. Every stranger wasn’t bringing trouble to Climax. He closed his eyes and dozed until sunset when he was due to make his evening rounds.

When Frost did awake there was none of that bit of a lag that many people have while orienting themselves to time, place and purpose. He had lived inside this pattern for so long that his legs were already swinging to the floor as his eyes opened. He could see the color in the sky – burnt orange and deep violet beyond the window pane; he was on schedule.

Going to the door, Frost went out into the still-warm early evening and began his methodical, patterned rounds. Rattling the locked front door of the saddle shop, he walked on. In front of the Alhambra Saloon he was a little surprised to see the paint pony the red-headed stranger had ridden into Climax still standing at the hitch rail, one hind leg cocked up. It was not an overly curious sight – many men had trouble walking out of a saloon once they had entered. Still the horse, which seemed to have been ridden far on this hot day, should have been seen to by now. Frost walked to the dozing paint, ran a hand along its neck and walked to the saloon door himself.

Peering in, he noticed the stranger at a corner table. He was seated with Mayor Applewhite, whose bare dome gleamed in the light of the room and Charles Toledo, the saloon’s owner. Now that was curious, Frost considered. Most often the greeting for a stranger to town was a nod – if any welcome was forthcoming – nothing more. Seldom was a wandering man invited to sit and drink with the mayor of Climax and its wealthiest citizen. Frost had only seen such hospitality offered one other time, when a railroad engineer appeared in Climax to discuss the notion of building a spur line to Climax, a project that went nowhere after the railroad man had examined the town and apparently found it sorely lacking.

Frost shrugged, there was nothing else he could do, and sauntered down the street. In the near-darkness, he caught his boot heel on the boardwalk’s edge and nearly stumbled into Clara Finch.

‘I saw you coming out of the Alhambra,’ Clara gibed. ‘You must have had a good time there.’

‘You know that I just tripped,’ Frost said with a sour smile. ‘Why do you enjoy picking on me so much?’

‘Because I don’t like you, Giles Frost, and you know it.’

Frost did know it; what he never knew was why. Why did the small, dark-haired girl, who held a ready smile for everyone else, dislike him so much? Clara was a relief bartender at the Alhambra. Frost thought she was distantly related to Charlie Toledo, but was not sure. She did not dance, sing or wear revealing fancy clothes, but simply slapped down beer or whiskey on the bar – smiling at each and every man who placed an order.

Frost stepped aside a little, but it was unnecessary, Clara had already brushed past him on her way to another night’s work. Walking forward, he moved toward the center of the street where there was no traffic and he was distanced from the sounds and smells of the Alhambra. And from Clara? He shook his head and glanced up at the silver half-moon riding high across the dark desert sky. Why couldn’t the girl like him, at least a little, and why did Frost let her bother him so much? There were plenty of other women in town.

No, there weren’t.

Not for him.

Gloomily he circled the Genesis Restaurant; there were now only two or three men in there, lingering over coffee. But the restaurant would not be ready to close. Its rush of business came after midnight when the hard-drinking crowd at the Alhambra finally decided that they ought to waste the last bit of silver in their pockets to try to save their stomachs for another day.

Frost entered the cross alley behind the restaurant and turned back toward the center of town, walking past the rear door of the feed and grain barn. A small dog, Luke Waylon’s terrier, was barking inside the building, most likely at a rat in the grain bins.

The blank faces of the buildings were all familiar to Frost. The town was too familiar. He should leave, but he had no real idea where to go. Besides, as he grew older he found more comfort in familiarity than in change. In his time he had been beaten, shot at, snake-bit and crippled up trying to tame a bronco which had another idea about matters. Few of these things were likely to happen again – not in Climax.

The rear door to the Climax Stable stood open, probably for air on this warm, still night. Frost started that way, just to make sure that everything was as it should be. He called out before he entered.

‘Waxy! It’s Giles Frost! Everything all right in here?’

‘It was until about a minute ago when some fool town marshal woke me up,’ a grumpy Waxy Loomis said, emerging from the thick shadows of the stable’s interior. Waxy’s real name had been long-lost, perhaps by intent. Though the name ‘Loomis’ was painted on the front of the building, it had been left there by the stable’s previous owner who had since run off into the wilderness with a Paiute woman, abandoning the place.

‘Sorry,’ Frost apologized. ‘It’s my job to check.’

‘Always been your job; never have anything wrong around here,’ Waxy grumbled. He was a beanpole of a man with a bulbous over-large nose decorating his narrow face. Waxy repositioned a suspender over his shoulder and walked nearer. ‘What’re you going to do about your horse?’ the stableman asked.

Stunned, it took Frost a while to reply. He had not been paying much attention to his big buckskin horse lately, having little need to ride it. He had not exercised it enough, nor even taken the time to curry the animal, leaving those tasks to Waxy. Was the buckskin sick, dead?

‘What do you mean?’ he said finally. ‘Is it all right?’

‘Fat and sassy off free hay and grain – that’s what I mean, Frost. When are you going to start paying me for the horse’s care?’

‘Pay? Look here, Waxy, you know as well as I do that the horse is being maintained by the town of Climax for its appointed law officer.’

‘That ain’t what Mayor Applewhite told me last week,’ Waxy said. The moonlight through the door showed his beady eyes and the glowering set of his face.

‘What do you mean? That’s always been the way things are done. The town pays for stabling and care of my pony.’

‘Did,’ Waxy agreed, ‘but don’t now. That’s what Applewhite told me personally. If you two have a disagreement of some sort, talk to him. Me, I just need to get paid for the animals I tend.’

‘There’s some sort of mistake,’ Frost said. ‘I’ll talk to Applewhite.’

‘You do that,’ Waxy said. ‘Meantime, do you mind if I get back to sleep?’

Waxy turned his back and tramped back into the interior of the building, muttering to himself.

Frost continued on his way. The evening had grown noticeably cooler. He tugged his shirt collar up. His nightly rounds would soon require a jacket. The moon had begun its downward arc; the stars were silver-bright against a background of black velvet, like display stones in a jeweler’s display case. The blacksmith’s shop was locked up tight, his shed secured. Mona Blake’s little dress shop door was bolted. All as usual.

A slight breeze was blowing, just enough to ruffle the leaves of the half-dozen cottonwood trees that stood at the west end of town. Frost decided to peek into the Alhambra Saloon once more and then return to his office. He took three strides along the alley before the world exploded, and pain like the impact of a sledge-hammer against flesh shocked his side and reverberated in his skull. He took two more steps, found he could walk no farther and slumped to the cold earth, the acrid smell of gunpowder hovering in the air. Frost tried to claw his pistol from his holster although it could not have done him any possible good, but found that his fingers, his arm, refused to co-operate. He lay on his back in the alley, aware of the streaming of warm blood down his body.

He heard no further sounds. He tried to call for help, but no sound rose from his throat. He was looking skyward now, his chest rising and falling convulsively. He could feel dizziness and darkness trying to drag him down.

He raised an arm, grasping at the stars as if he might be able to use them to pull himself up. Then they blinked out and the night grew darker still and even more silent.

***

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