Western Wednesdays—WEST OF THE TULAROSA + Giveaway

Louis L’Amour’s collection of stories, West of the Tularosa, was released yesterday in tradepaperback. Today, I’m previewing the first short from the collection, “Mistakes Can Kill You.”

“…some of Louis L’Amour’s finest work is to be found in his early magazine fiction.  Several of those stories are collected here, reprinted as they first appeared, and possessing the characteristics in purest form that I suspect account in largest measure for the loyal following Louis L’Amour won from his readers: the young male hero who is in the process of growing into manhood and who is evaluating other human beings and his own experiences; a resourceful frontier woman who has beauty as well as fortitude; and the powerful, romantic, strangely compelling vision of the American West that invests L’Amour’s Western fiction and makes it such a delightful escape from the cares of a later time—in this author’s words, that ‘big country needing big men and women to live in it’ and where there was no place for ‘the frightened or the mean.'” —Jon Tuska, Introduction to West of the Tularosa

 Giveaway: When do you prefer a collection of short stories to a full length novel? Do you feel particular genres lend themselves to the short better than others? Leave a comment and be entered in the drawing for a FREE trade paperback copy of West of the Tularosa.

Happy Reading,

Allison Carroll

Editorial and Web Coordinator

Mistakes Can Kill You

     Ma Redlin looked up from the stove.  “Where’s Sam?  He still out yonder?”

     Johnny rubbed his palms on his chaps.  “He ain’t comin’ to supper, Ma.  He done rode off.”

     Pa and Else were watching him, and Johnny saw the hard lines of temper around Pa’s mouth and eyes.  Ma glanced at him apprehensively, but when Pa did not speak, she looked to her cooking.  Johnny walked around the table and sat down across from Else.

     When Pa reached for the coffee pot, he looked over at Johnny.  “Was he alone, boy?  Or did he ride off with that no-account Albie Bower?”

     It was in Johnny neither to lie nor to carry tales.  Reluctantly he replied: “He was with somebody.  I reckon I couldn’t be sure who it was.”

     Redlin snorted and put down his cup.  It was a sore point with Joe Redlin that his son and only child should take up with the likes of Albie Bower.  Back in Pennsylvania and Ohio the Redlins had been good God-fearing folk, while Bower was no good, and came from a no-good outfit.  Lately he had been flashing money around, but he claimed to have won it gambling at Degner’s Four Star Saloon.

     “Once more I’ll tell him,” Redlin said harshly.  “I’ll have no son of mine traipsin’ with that Four Star outfit.  Pack of thieves, that’s what they are.”

     Ma looked up worriedly.  She was a buxom woman with a round apple-cheeked face.  Good humor was her normal manner.  “Don’t you be sayin’ that away from home, Joe Redlin.  That Loss Degner is a gunslinger, and he’d like nothin’ so much as to shoot you after you takin’ Else from him.”

     “I ain’t afeerd of him.”  Redlin’s voice was flat.  Johnny knew that what he said was true.  Joe Redlin was not afraid of Degner, but he avoided him, for Redlin was a small rancher, a one-time farmer, and not a fighting man.  Loss Degner was bad all through and made no secret of it.  His Four Star was the hang-out for all the tough element, and Degner had killed two men since Johnny had been in the country, as well as pistol-whipping a half dozen more.

     It was not Johnny’s place to comment, but secretly he knew the older Redlin was right.  Once he had even gone so far as to warn Sam, but it only made the older boy angry.

     Sam was almost twenty-one and Johnny but seventeen, but Sam’s family had protected him and he had lived always close to the competence of Pa Redlin.  Johnny had been doing a man’s work since he was thirteen, fighting a man’s battles, and making his own way in a hard world.

     Johnny also knew what only Else seemed to guess, that it was Hazel, Degner’s red-haired singer, who drew Sam Redlin to the Four Star.  It was rumored that she was Degner’s woman, and Johnny had said as much to Sam.  The younger Redlin had flown into a rage and, whirling on Johnny, had drawn back his fist.  Something in Johnny’s eyes stopped him, and, although Sam would never have admitted it, he was suddenly afraid.

     Like Else, Johnny had been adrift when he came to the B Bar.  Half dead with pneumonia, he had come up to the door on his black gelding, and the Redlins’ hospitality had given him a bed and the best care the frontier could provide, and, when Johnny was well, he went to work to repay them.  Then he stayed on for the spring roundup as a forty-a-month hand.

     He volunteered no information, and they asked him no questions.  He was slightly built and below medium height, but broad-shouldered and wiry.  His shock of chestnut hair always needed cutting, and his green eyes held a lurking humor.  He moved with deceptive slowness, but he was quick at work, and skillful with his hands.  Nor did he wait to be told about things, for even before he began riding, he had mended the buckboard, cleaned out and shored up the spring, repaired the door hinges, and cleaned all the guns.

     “We collect from Walters tomorrow,” Redlin said suddenly.  “Then I’m goin’ to make a payment on that Sprague place and put Sam on it.  With his own place he’ll straighten up and go to work.”

     Johnny stared at his plate, his appetite gone.  He knew what that meant, for it had been in Joe Redlin’s mind that Sam should marry Else and settle on that place.  Johnny looked up suddenly, and his throat tightened as he looked at her.  The gray eyes caught his, searched them for an instant, and then moved away, and Johnny watched the lamplight in her ash blonde hair, turning it to old gold.

     He pushed back from the table and excused himself, going out into the moonlit yard.  He lived in a room he had built into a corner of the barn.  They had objected at first, wanting him to stay at the house, but he could not bear being close to Else, and then he had the lonely man’s feeling for seclusion.  Actually it had other advantages, for it kept him near his horse, and he never knew when he might want to ride on.

     That black gelding and his new .44 Winchester had been the only incongruous notes in his get-up when he arrived at the B Bar, for he had hidden his guns and his best clothes in a cave up the mountain, riding down to the ranch in shabby range clothes with only the .44 Winchester for safety.

     He had watched the ranch for several hours despite his illness before venturing down to the door.  It paid to be careful, and there were men about who might know him.

     Later, when securely in his own room, he had returned to his cache and dug out the guns and brought his outfit down to the ranch.  Yet nobody had ever seen him with guns on, nor would they, if he was lucky.

     The gelding turned its head and nickered at him, rolling its eyes at him.  Johnny walked into the stall and stood there, one hand on the horse’s neck.  “Little bit longer, boy, then we’ll go.  You sit tight now.”

     There was another reason why he should leave now, for he had learned from Sam that Flitch was in town.  Flitch had been on the Gila during the fight, and he had been a friend of Card Wells, who Johnny had killed at Picacho.  Moreover, Flitch had been in Cimarrona year before that when Johnny, only fifteen then, had evened the score with the men who had killed his father and stolen their outfit.  Johnny had gunned two of them down and put the third into the hospital.

* * * 

     Johnny was already on the range when Sam Redlin rode away the next morning to make his collection.  Pa Redlin rode out with Else and found Johnny branding a yearling.  Pa waved and rode on, but Else sat on her horse and watched him.  “You’re a good hand, Johnny,” she said when he released the calf.  “You should have your own outfit.”

     “That’s what I want most,” he admitted.  “But I reckon I’ll never have it.”

     “You can if you want it enough.  Is it because of what’s behind you?”

     He looked up quickly then.  “What do you know of me?”

     “Nothing, Johnny, but what you’ve told us.  But once, when I started into the barn for eggs, you had your shirt off and I saw those bullet scars.  I know bullet scars because my own father had them.  And you’ve never told us anything, which usually means there’s something you aren’t anxious to tell.”

     “I guess you’re right.”  He tightened the girth on his saddle.  “There ain’t much to tell, though.  I come West with my pa, and he was a lunger.  I drove the wagon myself after we left Independence.  Clean toCaldwell, then on to Santa Fe.  We got us a little outfit with what Pa had left, and some mean fellers stole it off us, and they killed Pa.”

     Joe Redlin rode back to join them as Johnny was swinging into the saddle.  He turned and glanced down at the valley.  “Reckon that range won’t get much use, Johnny,” he said anxiously, “and the stock sure need it.  Fair to middlin’ grass, but too far to water.”

     “That draw, now,” Johnny suggested.  “I’ve been thinkin’ about that draw.  It would take a sight of work, but a couple of good men with teams and some elbow grease could build them a dam across that draw.  There’s a sight of water comes down when it rains, enough to last most of the summer if it was dammed.  Maybe even the whole year.”

     The three horses started walking toward the draw, and Johnny pointed out what he meant.  “A feller over to Mobeetie did that one time,” he said, “and it washed his dam out twice, but the third time she held, and he had him a little lake, all the year around.”

     “That’s a good idea, Johnny.”  Redlin studied the set-up and then nodded.  “A right good idea.”

     “Sam and me could do it,” Johnny suggested, avoiding Pa Redlin’s eyes.

     Pa Redlin said nothing, but both Johnny and Else knew that Sam was not exactly ambitious about extra work.  He was a good hand, Sam was, strong and capable, but he was big-headed about things and was little inclined to sticking with a job.

     “Reminds me,” Pa said, glancing at the sun.  “Sam should be back soon.”

     “He might stop in town,” Else suggested, and was immediately sorry she had said it for she could see the instant worry on Redlin’s face.  The idea of Sam Redlin stopping at the Four Star with $7,000 on him was scarcely a pleasant one.  Murder had been done there for much, much less.  And then Sam was overconfident.  He was even cocky.

     “I reckon I’d better ride in and meet him,” Redlin said, genuinely worried now.  “Sam’s a good boy, but he sets too much store by himself.  He figures he can take care of himself anywhere, but that pack of wolves….”  His voice trailed off to silence.

     Johnny turned in his saddle.  “Why, I could just as well ride in, Pa,” he said casually.  “I ain’t been to town for a spell, and, if anything happened, I could lend a hand.”

     Pa Redlin was about to refuse, but Else spoke up quickly.  “Let him go,Pa.  He could do some things for me, too, and Johnny’s got a way with folks.  Chances are he could get Sam back without trouble.”

     That’s right!  Johnny’s thoughts were grim.  Send me along to save your boy.  You don’t care if I get shot, just so’s he’s been saved.  Well, all right, I’ll go.  When I come back, I’ll climb my gelding and light out.  Up to Oregon.  I’ve  never been to Oregon.

     Flitch was in town.  His mouth tightened a little, but at that it would be better than Pa’s going.  Pa always said the wrong thing, being outspoken like.  He was a man who spoke his mind, and to speak one’s mind to Flitch or Loss Degner would mean a shooting.  It might be he could get Sam out of town all right.  If he was drinking, it would be hard.  Especially if that redhead had her hands on him.

     “You reckon you could handle it?” Pa asked doubtfully.

     “Sure,” Johnny said, his voice a shade hard, “I can handle it.  I doubt if Sam’s in any trouble.  Later, maybe.  All he’d need is somebody to side him.”

     “Well,” Pa was reluctant, “better take yourWinchester.  My six-gun, too.”

     “You hang onto it.  I’ll make out.”

     Johnny turned the gelding and started back toward the ranch, his eyes cold.  Seventeen he might be, but four years on the frontier on your own make pretty much of a man out of you.  He didn’t want any more shooting, but he had six men dead on his back trail now, not counting Comanches and Kiowas.  Six, and he was seventeen.  Next thing, they would be comparing him to Billy the Kid or to Wes Hardin.

     He wanted no gunfighter’s name, only a little spread of his own where he could run a few cows and raise horses, good stock, like some he had seen in east Texas.  No range ponies for him, but good blood.  That Sprague place now…but that was Sam’s place, or as good as his.  Well, why not?  Sam was getting Else, and it was little enough he could do for Pa and Ma, to bring Sam home safe.

     He left the gelding at the water trough and walked into the barn.  In his room he dug some saddle gear away from a corner and, out of a hiding place in the corner, he took his guns.  After a moment’s thought, he took but one of them, leaving the .44 Russian behind.  He didn’t want to go parading into town with two guns on him, looking like a sure-enough shooter.  Besides, with only one gun and the change in him, Flitch might not spot him at all.

     Johnny was at the gate, riding out, when Else rode up.  Else looked at him, her eyes falling to the gun on his hip.  Her face was pale and her eyes large.  “Be careful, Johnny.  I had to say that because you know how hot-headed Pa is.  He’d get killed, and he might get Sam killed.”

     That was true enough, but Johnny was aggrieved.  He looked her in the eyes.  “Sure, that’s true, but you didn’t think of Sam, now, did you?  You were just thinking of Pa.”

     Her lips parted to protest, but then her face seemed to stiffen.  “No, Johnny, it wasn’t only Pa I thought of.  I did think of Sam.  Why shouldn’t I?”

     That was plain enough.  Why shouldn’t she?  Wasn’t she going to marry him?  Wasn’t Sam getting the Sprague place when they got that money back safe?

     He touched his horse lightly with a spur and moved on past her.  All right, he would send Sam back to her, if he could.  It was time he was moving on, anyway.

     The gelding liked the feel of the trail and moved out fast.  Ten miles was all, and he could do that easy enough, and so he did it, and Johnny turned the black horse into the street and stopped before the livery stable, swinging down.  Sam’s horse was tied at the Four Star’s hitch rail.  The saddlebags were gone.

     Johnny studied the street, and then crossed it and walked down along the buildings on the same side as the Four Star.  He turned quickly in to the door.

     Sam Redlin was sitting at a table with the redhead, the saddlebags on the table before him, and he was drunk.  He was very drunk.  Johnny’s eyes swept the room.  The bartender and Loss Degner were standing together, talking.  Neither of them paid any attention to Johnny, for neither knew him.  But Flitch did.

     Flitch was standing down the bar with Albie Bower, but none of the oldGila Riveroutfit.  Both of them looked up, and Flitch kept looking, never taking his eyes from Johnny.  Something bothered him, and maybe it was the one gun.

     Johnny moved over to Sam’s table.  They had to get out of here fast, before Flitch remembered.  “Hi, Sam,” he said.  “Just happened to be in town, and Pa said, if I saw you, to side you on the way home.”

     Sam stared at him sullenly.  “Side me?  You?”  He snorted his contempt.  “I need no man to side me.  You can tell Pa I’ll be home later tonight.”  He glanced at the redhead.  “Much later.”

     “Want I should carry this stuff home for you?”  Johnny put his hand on the saddlebags.

     “Leave him be,” Hazel protested angrily.  “Can’t you see he don’t want to be bothered?  He’s capable of takin’ care of himself, an’ he don’t need no kid for gardeen.”

     “Beat it,” Sam said.  “You go on home.  I’ll come along later.”

     “Better come now, Sam.”  Johnny was getting worried, for Loss Degner had started for the table.

     “Here, you.”  Degner was sharp.  “Leave that man alone.  He’s a friend of mine, and I’ll have no saddle tramp annoying my customers.”

     Johnny turned on him.  “I’m no saddle tramp.  I ride for his pa.  He asked me to ride home with him…now.  That’s what I aim to do.”

     As he spoke, he was not thinking of Degner, but of Flitch.  The gunman was behind him now, and neither Flitch, fast as he was, nor Albie Bower was above shooting a man in the back.

     “I said to beat it.”  Sam stared at him drunkenly.  “Saddle tramp’s what you are.  Folks never should have took you in.”

     “That’s it,” Degner said.  “Now get out.  He don’t want you nor your company.”

     There was a movement behind him, and he heard Flitch say: “Loss, let me have him.  I know this hombre.  This is that kid gunfighter, Johnny O’Day, from the Gila.”

     Johnny turned slowly, his green eyes flat and cold.

     “Hello, Flitch.  I heard you were around.”  Carefully he moved away from the table, aware of the startled look on Hazel’s face, the suddenly tight awareness on the face of Loss Degner.  “You lookin for me, Flitch?”  It was a chance he had to take.  His best chance now.  If shooting started, he might grab the saddlebags and break for the door and then the ranch.  They would be through with Sam Redlin once the money was gone.

     “Yeah.”  Flitch stared at him, his unshaven face hard with the lines of evil and shadowed by the intent that rode him hard.  “I’m lookin’ for you.  Always figured you got off easy, made you a fast rep gunnin’ down your betters.”

     Bower had moved up beside him, but Loss Degner had drawn back to one side.  Johnny’s eyes never left Flitch.  “You in this, Loss?”

     Degner shrugged.  “Why should I be?  I was noGila Rivergunman.  This is your quarrel.  Finish it between you.”

     “All right, Flitch,” Johnny said.  “You want it.  I’m givin’ you your chance to start the play.”

     The stillness of a hot mid-afternoon lay on the Four Star.  A fly buzzed against the dusty, cobwebbed back window.  Somewhere in the street a horse stamped restlessly, and a distant pump creaked.  Flitch stared at him, his little eyes hard and bright.  His sweat-stained shirt was torn at the shoulder, and there was dust ingrained in the pores of his face.

     His hands dropped in a flashing draw, but he had only cleared leather when Johnny’s first bullet hit him, puncturing the Bull Durham tag that hung from his shirt pocket.  The second shot cut the edge of it, and the third, fourth, and fifth slammed into Albie Bower, knocking him back step by step, but Albie’s gun was hammering, and it took the sixth shot to put him down.

     Johnny stood over them, staring down at their bodies, and then he turned to face Loss Degner.

     Degner was smiling, and he held a gun in his hand from which a thin tendril of smoke lifted.  Startled, Johnny’s eyes flickered to Sam Redlin.

     Sam lay across the saddlebags, blood trickling from his temples.  He had been shot through the head by Degner under cover of the gun battle, murdered without a chance!

     Johnny O’Day’s eyes lifted to Loss Degner’s.  The saloonkeeper was still smiling.  “Yes, he’s dead, and I’ve killed him.  He had it coming, the fool.  Thinking we cared to listen to his bragging.  All we wanted was that money, and now we’ve got it.  Me…Hazel and I.  We’ve got it.”

     “Not yet.”  Johnny’s lips were stiff and his heart was cold.  He was thinking of Pa, Ma, and Else.  “I’m still here.”

     “You?”  Degner laughed.  “With an empty gun?  I counted your shots, boy.  Even Johnny O’Day is cold turkey with an empty gun.  Six shots…two for Flitch, and beautiful shooting, too, but four shots for Albie, who was moving and shooting, not so easy a target.  But now I’ve got you.  With you dead, I’ll just say Sam came here without any money, that he got shot during the fight.  Sound good to you?”

     Johnny still faced him, his gun in his hand.  “Not bad,” he said, “but you still have me here, Loss.  And this gun ain’t empty.”

     Degner’s face tightened and then relaxed.  “Not empty?  I counted the shots, kid, so don’t try bluffing me.  Now I’m killing you.”  He tilted his gun toward Johnny O’Day, and Johnny fired once, twice…a third time.  As each bullet hit him, Loss Degner jerked and twisted, but the shock of the wounds, and death wounds they were, was nothing to the shock of the bullets from that empty gun.

     He sagged against the bar and then slipped toward the floor.

     Johnny moved in on him.  “You can hear me, Loss?”  The killer’s eyes lifted to his.  “This ain’t a six-shooter.  It’s a Watch twelve-shot Navy gun, thirty-six caliber.  She’s right handy, Loss, and it only goes to show you shouldn’t jump to conclusions.”

     Hazel sat at the table, staring at the dying Degner.

     “You better go to him, Red,” Johnny said quietly.  “He’s only got a minute.”

     She stared at him as he picked up the saddlebags and backed to the door.

     Russell, the storekeeper, was on the steps with a half dozen others, none of whom he knew.  “Degner killed Sam Redlin,” he said.  “Take care of Sam, will you?”

     At Russell’s nod, Johnny swung to the saddle and turned the gelding toward home.

     He wouldn’t leave now.  He couldn’t leave now.  They would be all alone there, without Sam.  Besides, Pa was going to need help on that dam.  “Boy,” he touched the gelding’s neck, “I reckon we got to stick around for a while.”


7 Responses to Western Wednesdays—WEST OF THE TULAROSA + Giveaway

  1. I love short stories! I think there are several genres that lend themselves well to short stories, and a few that don’t. If you have to build a world or develop characters highly, a full-length novel makes more sense.

    • Allison Carroll, Editorial and Web Coordinator says:

      Congratulations Casandra Carr—you’ve been randomly selected as the winner of a trade paperback copy of West of the Tularosa.

      Cassandra, please e-mail contests@dorchesterpub.com with your shipping address.

      Allison Carroll
      Editorial and Web Coordinator
      Dorchester Publishing

  2. I really like short stories when I’m going to appointments or other places that I’m going to wait for a short amount of time. It gives me a story in the perfect amount of time. They are also great when I’m deciding to read a new genera or to get the feel for new authors.

  3. sandysho says:

    I find that there are days when I need a story of substance with the instant gratification of completing a good book. That is when short stories serve my needs best. I find that the romance or western categories work well in short story form or at least those are my favorite.

  4. Yvonne B. says:

    When do you prefer a collection of short stories to a full length novel?
    When I would like to get a “flavor” for a genre from either a wide variety of authors (though I think that’s more of an anthology) or simply when it’s simply nicer to be able to read shorter stories (i.e., finish a story within an hour or two and then be able to set the book aside for a day or two without worrying about losing the story thread).

    Do you feel particular genres lend themselves to the short better than others?
    I think that, for me at least, some authors are better at writing shorter stories than others more than genres.

  5. Allison Carroll, Editorial and Web Coordinator says:

    I think great short stories are ones that can provide some closure to the events of the story but at the same time leave you wanting to spend a little more time in that world with those characters. I know I wish some of my favorite shorts had sequels of the full-length novel variety:)

    Now, down to business. I’m here to announce the winner of the giveaway. Congratulations to Casandra Carr—you’ve been randomly selected as the winner of a trade paperback copy of West of the Tularosa.

    Cassandra, please e-mail contests@dorchesterpub.com with your shipping address.
    Thanks to everyone for joining the discussion. Be sure to check out the latest installment of Western Wednesdays where I’m previewing (and giving away) The Tall Men by Will Henry.

    Happy Reading,
    Allison Carroll
    Editorial and Web Coordinator
    Dorchester Publishing

  6. I have always been a big Fan of Louis L’amours, and since I grew up in the west its easy to love the westerns. I so miss the books coming in every other mo. Sure wish you would go back to that. I just love westerns!! This new one by Louis L’amour sounds like nice reading!!

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