Western Wednesdays—THE LASSITER LUCK + Giveaway

Before strapping on his famous guns and making his mark in Riders of the Purple Sage, Lassiter had done plenty of hard living. Today, we preview the first chapter of The Lassiter Luck and get a taste of the hero’s earlier adventures. Loren Zane Grey continues in the grand tradition of his father, Zane Grey, with the further adventures of Lassiter—the rough-riding loner who became America’s favorite hero.  

Giveaway: Let us know who your favorite recurring character is, either in literature or on film, and be entered to win a mass market paperback of Lassiter by Loren Zane Grey.

Happy Reading,
Allison Carroll
Editorial and Web Coordinator

Chapter 1

A sudden spring rainstorm hammering the flatlands only added to the hell of the evening as a lone rider, his slicker a shiny yellow, moved slowly across a rise of ground. He rode with his right foot deeper in the stirrup than the left to ease the burning of his wound. It felt as if a wire had been plucked from hot coals and laid across the skin. All because of the kid who had been trying to kill him—no doubt about that. He was full grown but with the mentality of a ten year- old trying to act like a man.

His name was Rodney Rucklor II. The man he had shot was known throughout the West simply as Lassiter. Lassiter kicked his horse into a trot, heading through the rain-swept darkness toward a distant haze of lights where he had a strong hunch he’d find his attacker.

The pain was beginning to subside, but not Lassiter’s anger, which was aimed mainly at himself for getting talked into such a trap. It had been Len Crenshaw taking his last breath in a doctor’s back room up atOverlandthat had tightened the spring on the trap. Lassiter had been summoned by telegraph.

“I knowed the kid’s gran’daddy, I worked for his pa,” the gray-bearded old man said hoarsely. “Ham left everything to his kid.”

“Leave the ranch to his son? Sure, Ham would do that.” Lassiter studied the gaunt face of the dying man. “How old is the boy?”

 “More’n twenty, I reckon,” Crenshaw gasped.

“You calling him kid, I thought he was younger.”

“Ham never called him nothin’ else. Rodney was raised by his ma’s sister, back inPhiladelphia.”

Crenshaw extended five skeletal fingers and gripped Lassiter’s thick wrist. Lassiter smelled the man’s sweetish breath and saw the grayish cast to the face. Both were indications of the dreaded scourge of the West— cholera. He had ridden practically night and day after receiving the old man’s plea. Crenshaw was saying, “I had my doc write the kid up atDenver. I can’t hold a pen so good no more. I said I was sure I could get you to give him a hand with the Fork Creek outfit. Till he gets things squared away.”

“I dunno, Len. . . .”

“Do it for me if not for Ham Rucklor’s memory. You an’ him was mighty close. Do it for one of us, anyhow.”

Lassiter was a solidly built man at a hundred and seventy-five pounds, five foot eleven, now hunched in a chair beside the brass bed. His blue eyes could be friendly or as cold as a January midnight, depending on the occasion. His mouth was wide and most times friendly, under a strong nose. Heavy shoulders tapered to a narrow belted waist that supported a holstered .44. The ends of black hair curled from under a flat-crowned sombrero tipped back on his head.

“Len, about this kid, this Rodney the Second . . .”

“Lawyer is Rex Manly,” Crenshaw interrupted. “He’ll see you get some money out of it, Lassiter…”

Lassiter’s blue eyes were saddened at the sight of the man he had looked up to when he was younger, had ridden beside on long trails into danger. A man cut down by the dreaded cholera while on the way home after a visit to his sister. The fat and nervous doctor said he hoped Lassiter hadn’t picked up any germs from the old man.

As with most things, Lassiter had no fear; he had to be that way or he would never have survived so long on the rough frontier. He was a fatalist. Each morning when he awakened and drew a deep breath, he would give thanks and say to himself, “Well, I made it through another day.”

 But he was realist enough to know that at any time a faster gun or swifter knife blade could finish him. He would never have thought in a hundred years that the end might come at the hands of a petulant greenhorn in a lonely campsite.

Len Crenshaw had worked up to the last for the Fork Creek Cattle Company, which Rodney Rucklor had inherited. The VillaRosacountry was no place for a timid soul, which Lassiter had a hunch would describe Ham Rucklor’s offspring.

But he learned differently when they finally met down at Villa Rosa. Rodney was a slim, handsome and well-dressed dude, but he was also brash. They were in Rucklor’s shabby hotel room.

 “Oh, yes, you’re Lassiter. Mr. Crenshaw wrote that you would no doubt work for me.”

“Len died.”

“Oh, a pity.” The curly ends of brown hair showed at the edge of a bowler hat. His eyes were steady enough. His suit of dark brown wool was slightly wrinkled from long hours in a stagecoach. He pointed to a portmanteau and a large carpetbag where they had been dumped after being brought from the stagecoach two days earlier. “You may bring my baggage along to the next stagecoach that we’ll be taking to the ranch. By the way, when does it leave?”

“For your information, there’s no stage line to Fork Creek. It’s either the saddle or a wagon.”

“Oh. I wasn’t told. I’ve hardly been out of this horrible little room. I expected you to be here when I arrived.”

“Seems I wasn’t,” Lassiter said dryly.

“I understand you knew my father.”

“We were good friends.”

“Did he ever talk to you about me?”

“He mentioned only once that he had a son.”

Rucklor’s mouth twitched. “I see,” he said without emotion.

Rucklor tilted the bowler hat and mopped his forehead with a fresh linen handkerchief. A late afternoon spring sun boiled into the room from windows that overlooked an alley. An old man herded two burros laden with firewood along the rutted alley. Rucklor took one look at him, raised his chin and turned away.

“I imagine I’ll have to buy a horse,” Rucklor said.

“It’s late,” Lassiter pointed out. “Maybe you’d better stay over and we’ll get an early start. . . .”

“Stay another night in this dismal place? I prefer not to.”

 “Suit yourself.”

“You may bring my baggage.” Rucklor opened the door and started down the hallway at a brisk walk. Lassiter called him back. “Yes, what is it?” Rucklor demanded impatiently.

“Handle your own baggage.”

“You’re defying me.” Rucklor sounded incredulous.

Lassiter gave a short laugh and looked him over. Rucklor stood at six feet, with a long aristocratic looking face and an obstinate mouth.

“I’ll see you reach Fork Creek,” Lassiter said, “because I promised Len Crenshaw. Then you’re on your own.”

“That’s fair enough. I imagine I’ll find many loyal employees at the ranch.”

Lassiter didn’t say anything. Crenshaw had told him that the ranch was being run by the segundo,LakeBurne. “A pure son of a bitch,” Crenshaw had said in his gasping voice. “Me an’ Ham kept him under our heels. But he’s squirmed out from under since Ham went down an’ I took sick.”

“I was there when Ham was killed,” Lassiter had reminded the old foreman. “And I know all aboutLakeBurne.” Crenshaw’s mind had been slipping.

Rucklor purchased a saddle horse and pack mule at the livery stable. Lassiter bought a few supplies at the store.

When they were ready to ride, Lassiter eyed the dude in his fancy suit, bowler hat and button shoes. “You want to buy some riding clothes?”

“I wish to look presentable when I face my men for the first time. I’ll go as I am,” he said, causing Lassiter to shake his head.

They rode out with half the town coming to stare at the dark-faced Lassiter and the elegant-looking easterner. There were many sly smiles.

Just before sundown, Lassiter said they’d make camp.

“I don’t see why we can’t ride on. I’m anxious to get there.”

Ignoring him, Lassiter unsaddled his black horse and hobbled it where there was grass. Lassiter said that Rucklor should do likewise.

Rucklor’s lips tightened. “Isn’t it your place to do it for me?”

“Out here every man pulls his own weight. Or he damn soon goes under.”

Rucklor stubbornly said he’d do the unsaddling later. What he really meant was that he expected Lassiter to eventually do it for him.

Finally, when Lassiter had unloaded the pack mule, Rucklor said, “Sometimes I have the feeling I’m working for you, instead of the other way around.”

Without replying, Lassiter got a fire going. Soon bacon and beans were sizzling in a pan.

“It seems you don’t talk much,” Rucklor said when they were seated on the ground, eating their frugal meal.

“And you don’t do much to bring talk out of a man,” Lassiter snapped. “All you do is irritate.”

“If that is your attitude, I doubt very much if you’ll be working for me very long.”

“Got a hunch you’re right,” Lassiter said with a thin smile.

When the meal was over, Rucklor tossed his tin plate aside. Lassiter told him to find some sand and scrub it clean.

“I’m hardly used to doing my own dishes, Mr. Lassiter.”

“Then in the morning you can eat off a dirty plate.”

While Lassiter cleaned his own plate, Rucklor, grumbling, followed suit.

“I understand my father died a hero’s death.”

“Where’d you hear that?” Lassiter was mildly surprised.

“Rex Manly, the lawyer, wrote me. But he didn’t give many details. Do you know how he died?”

Lassiter nodded.

“Tell me, Mr. Lassiter.”

“Better let somebody else do it.”

Rucklor was suddenly hostile. “I demand that you tell me!” In the twilight, the gray eyes narrowed. “Or was there something strange about his death?”

“I liked your father. But I can sure see how you take after him.”

“Just how do you mean that, Mr. Lassiter?”

“Oh, for Chris’ sakes, lay off the mister. I mean that he was ornery and sure passed it on to you.”

“Before this discussion gets out of hand, Mr. Lassiter, I better tell you that I have been instructed in the handling of firearms by one ofPhiladelphia’s best marksmen. He is a captain of police and a close friend of my late aunt’s.” Rucklor made a move under his coat, then sucked in his breath when Lassiter’s .44 seemed to magically appear in his right hand, the hammer eared back.

“Seems your captain friend didn’t tell you never to make a move for a gun unless you mean it.”

The speed with which Lassiter drew his weapon had obviously shaken the younger man. Finally, Lassiter let down the hammer and returned the gun to its holster.

“You had me at a disadvantage,” Rucklor said, once he had gotten himself under control.

“In what way?” Lassiter asked narrowly, not really giving a damn. He was more than fed up with Rodney Rucklor II. “I’m wearing a coat and you’re not.”

Lassiter let out a bark of laughter and shook his head. “The way things are going, we might not even last together till I can get you to Fork Creek.” There was a strained silence while the small fire sputtered and smoked.

“If I’ve annoyed you, and apparently I have, I’m sorry. But there’s one thing I do wish you’d do. Tell me about my father.”

“I’d rather somebody else did it.”

“For some reason, are you afraid to speak the truth?” Rucklor was leaning forward, his face taut in the firelight.

Mention of the truth was all Lassiter needed from this upstart. “It’s the truth you want?” he demanded.

“The unadulterated facts concerning his death. You’re so evasive that I’m beginning to wonder . . .”

“Your pa was moving cattle and he came across this old buffalo. He decided to get him with a rifle. He missed. The buffalo gored his horse and set him afoot. Instead of getting the hell out of there as he should have, your pa tried to bring him down with a pistol shot. He shot off the old bison’s ear. The bison charged. End of your pa.”

“An entirely different version than the one I’ve heard,” Rucklor said stiffly. “The part about the bison is correct. But my father gave his life to save two of his men who were about to be attacked by that savage beast.”

“I knew I should’ve kept my mouth shut.”

“It was a clumsy attempt on your part to malign my father.”

“You better hold that tongue in your head. It’s flapping like a sheet in the wind.”

“I want to know why your version is different from the one my father’s own lawyer tells.”

“Your father was a plain damn fool. Maybe the lawyer didn’t want to let on to you. Now are you satisfied?”

“I am not!” Rucklor jumped up. “On your feet, Lassiter!”

“Oh, for Chris’ sakes . . .”

 “On your feet!”

“Listen to me, you crazy fool! I told you the truth.”

In the early darkness Lassiter studied the strained white features of the young man. Then he got carefully to his knees, making calming motions with his two hands. “Just hold it, Rucklor . . .”

But his voice was drowned out by Rucklor’s shout. “On your knees, begging, by God!”

That was too much. Lassiter started to spring to his feet, intending to slam into Rucklor. But as he came up from the ground a wink of orange-red in the early evening told him the ending would be different. With the spiteful crack of a weapon came fire slicing across flesh.

Lassiter swore as a frantic Rucklor bounded into the saddle and spurred madly toward the distant glow of yellow lights.

Already Lassiter’s left arm was throbbing and beginning to stiffen. The pain was dull but aggravating as he saddled up. Then he kicked out the fire and rode north, leaving behind Rucklor’s gear and the hobbled pack mule.

As he rode in the direction the young man had taken, pain from the wound and his rage were equally raw. His face, heated from anger, felt a cooling drop of rain, then another. Soon it was pouring. As he halted and reached for his slicker, he hoped Rucklor got caught in a swollen creek and called for help. Lassiter would have to debate with himself whether or not to pull him out.

By the time he reached the lighted windows of Simosa’s Tavern, the rain had stopped. Several horses were drooping their heads at the rack. But not Rucklor’s pinto. Lassiter found it wandering on the far side of the building and brought it back. Rucklor had not even taken time to tie it at the hitch rail.

Lassiter removed his slicker and moved his left arm a few times, bringing stiffness and increased pain.

A glance through a front window showed only five men in the big room, with its empty deal tables and long bar. Lack of customers, he supposed, was because roundups were over and men hired on extra had already drifted. Added to that was a silver boom inColoradothat had drained off most of the young and adventurous males. As he stared through the window, his wound burning like fire, he wondered if his pledge to the late Fork Creek foreman included saving the heir from his own stupidity. Rucklor was facing three known troublemakers.

Lassiter slipped into Simosa’s and put his back to the door. The three men at the bar were listening to Rodney Rucklor. Their eyes, those of the predator, were amusedly on the tall young easterner as he spoke in a strident voice. . . .


2 Responses to Western Wednesdays—THE LASSITER LUCK + Giveaway

  1. Christy says:

    One of my favorite recurring characters is Nevada Barr’s ANNA PIGEON

    • Allison Carroll, Editorial and Web Coordinator says:

      Hi Christy,
      Well, it was a close one, but you’re the winner of the giveaway:) Congrats! Shoot me an email at contests@dorchesterpub.com with your shipping address and I’ll get your copy of Lassiter in the mail.
      Thanks for being a voice on the blog!
      Happy Reading,
      Allison Carroll
      Editorial and Web Coordinator
      Dorchester Publishing

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