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Lightning Strikes Twice

©2016 150 Seiten


The night the boy was born, lightning knocked down the tree next to the wagon, but never touched the mother in labor. She named the boy Lightning of God. By the time he turned 12, he’d strapped on a gun and killed his own pa for beating his ma to death. Lightning of God. Real Lee chose Lightning to be his deputy at Payson, Arizona. And a year later, Real disappeared. Lightning of God had to keep the peace in Payson and find Real Lee at the same time. He called on Jaime Sparrow, a Jicarilla Apache who lived on Wolf Wilder’s ranch. Then a gunman named Will Trask rode into town to work for King Elliott, pushing along his plans to take over Payson for himself. Lightning’s just 18, but when he strikes, things explode.


Lightning Strikes Twice



by Chuck Tyrell



A new Novel






Ein CassiopeiaPress Buch: CASSIOPEIAPRESS, UKSAK E-Books und BEKKERpublishing sind Imprints von Alfred Bekker

© by Author/ Titelbild: Edward Martin/ Schottland & Steve Mayer, 2016

© dieser Ausgabe 2016 by AlfredBekker/CassiopeiaPress, Lengerich/Westfalen in Arrangement mit der Edition Bärenklau, herausgegeben von Jörg Martin Munsonius.



The night the boy was born, lightning knocked down the tree next to the wagon, but never touched the mother in labor. She named the boy Lightning of God. By the time he turned 12, he’d strapped on a gun and killed his own pa for beating his ma to death. Lightning of God. Real Lee chose Lightning to be his deputy at Payson, Arizona. And a year later, Real disappeared. Lightning of God had to keep the peace in Payson and find Real Lee at the same time. He called on Jaime Sparrow, a Jicarilla Apache who lived on Wolf Wilder’s ranch. Then a gunman named Will Trask rode into town to work for King Elliott, pushing along his plans to take over Payson for himself. Lightning’s just 18, but when he strikes, things explode.



Lightning quotes:


Chuck Tyrell is the consummate storyteller who knows how to weave a story that places the reader right in the middle of the action and entertains them there until the exhilarating conclusion.

-- Edward A. Grainger, creator of Cash Laramie


I'm an avid reader but have been reluctant to try Western books because the ones I read in high school were melodramatic and the heroines too Perils of Pauline. Chuck Tyrell has totally changed my mind about Westerns.

-- Lynn Franklin, author of The Jeweler’s Gemstone mystery series


Mr. Tyrell is a storyteller. His paragraphs are “fighting lean” and filled with everything you need to get a first class introduction to a time when—as Louis L'Amour used to say—“Men wore out their clothes from the inside.”

-- Dan Chamberlain, author of The Long Shooters









The Novel



To Tab and Janice, who always keep me honest.
















That’s odd,” Deputy Lightning of God Brewster said as he stopped at the door to the Marshal’s Office. It was still locked. He glanced at the town clock. He wasn’t early. And it was not like Marshal Lee to be late. Sure, it had happened a few times lately, Lightning had to admit, but he never asked Marshal Lee why. He just figured it had something to do with Miss Lilywhite. Maybe this was one of those times. He fished his key to the office from his vest pocket and opened up. He’d promised to clean weapons today, so he set to work on his Remington Army .45, then the Winchester ’76 and the Parker 10-guage in the gun cabinet. After he’d spent a good hour cleaning the weapons, mopping the cell floors, and sweeping out the office, a nagging anxiety wouldn’t let him be. Marshal Real Lee had not showed up, and it sure wasn’t normal.

Then Kendall Johnson poked his head into the marshal’s office. “Seen Marshal Lee?”

Not since last night, why?”

Kendall held out Real Lee’s walking stick, the one with the silver knob. “This here was laying in the alleyway between Auc Pieper’s Saloon and Bouderman’s Mercantile. Thought maybe he lost it.”

The anxiety in Lightning’s gut ratcheted up a notch. Has something happened to Real Lee? “Show me where you found the cane, Kendall. Could you?”

Sure. Come on.”

Lightning clapped his straight-brimmed Stetson on his head and hurried after Kendall while still buckling his gunbelt around his slim hips.

Lightning was little more than a youngster not yet dry behind his ears. But he had two years as deputy marshal of Payson under his belt, and the marshal was Gabriel Winston Lee, a graduate of VMI, a well-known lawman, and a shootist of the first order. But if something had happened to Real Lee, if he was gone, then everything was up to Lightning.

Right in there,” Kendall said. He pointed to the four-foot-wide space that ran back between Auc Pieper’s and the mercantile. “I seen a speck of white in there, and wondered what it was. Turned out to be Marshal Lee’s walking stick. Don’t know why.”

Me neither,” Lightning said. He knew who could read the signs but Wolf Wilder and Sparrow were at least two days’ ride away—one down to get them, one back to Payson. By the time they got here, Real Lee might be back sitting behind the desk in the Marshal’s Office, bottom drawer pulled out to act as a footstool. Might. Lightning wondered what Real Lee would do.

Lightning could almost hear Real Lee’s voice. Do whatever it takes to get the job done.

But what’s the job?

Real Lee had not shown up today. Not to the Marshal’s Office. Not to Ma Becker’s place for breakfast. Not shown up . . . at Miss Lilywhites?

That thought stopped Lightning. Miss Lilywhite. Jorge Valenzuela. He was Yaqui. Maybe Yaqui could read sign like an Apache. “You stay close for a couple of minutes, Kendall, could you? Don’t let no one into that space. I’ll be back directly.”

Lightning sprinted for the Stockman Hotel, where Miss Lilywhite stayed. Jorge would be nearby. Lightning waved at the desk clerk and bounded up the stairs. When he turned the corner, Jorge was standing there. No one could approach Miss Lilywhite without Jorge knowing.

Lightning’s chest heaved. He wasn’t used to running. He took a couple of deep breaths, then spoke. “Jorge Valenzuela. Good morning to you.”

Buenos dias, señor.” Jorge’s face as hard as stone.

Would Real Lee happen to be with Miss Lilywhite?”

No, señor. We have not seen Señor Real since he came by Swan’s Lake when, what do you say, when he was making his rounds. There was no trouble at Swan’s Lake, so he went on. He said he would come back, but he never did. La patrona said law business probably kept him engaged.”



You full-blooded Yaqui?”


You any good at reading sign?”

Jorge shrugged. “I am alive, señor.”

Lightning gave a short nod. He moved closer to Jorge and spoke in a low voice. “Real Lee ain’t come around this morning. Kendall Johnson found his walking stick in the alley space between Pieper’s Saloon and Bouderman’s Mercantile. I can do with a six-gun, but I ain’t never had no one teach me how to read sign real good. I’m not saying something happened to the marshal, but could you come and read the sign where Kendall Johnson found the walking stick? Could you?”

Señor Real? I must tell la patrona.”

Wait. Can you wait until we see if something has really happened? Please?”

Jorge’s dark eyes stared at Lightning’s blue ones. At last he nodded. “Si. Esta poder.”

Lightning turned on his heel and headed back down the stairs. He was out the front door of the hotel before Jorge reached the bottom of the stairs.

Leaving sir?” the desk clerk said.

Por un tiempo.” Jorge held up his hand with thumb and forefinger measuring off a tiny bit of space between them.

Yes, sir,” the desk clerk said, but his face said he didn’t understand.

Lightning waited in the dust of Main Street for Jorge to emerge from the Stockman Hotel. As soon as the Yaqui appeared, Lightning made a beeline for the spot where Kendall Johnson stood guard, trying to look nonchalant while keeping anyone from entering the alleyway.

Lightning reached Kendall first. He lifted an eyebrow.

No one’s been in the alley,” Kendall said. “Not even a stray dog.”

Tell me what you found, por favor,” Jorge said.

Jorge’s half Yaqui,” Lightning said. “Been following sign ever’ since he was a shaver. We’ll let him have a look at what’s in the alley.”

Ain’t nothing there,” said Kendall, “not since I took Mr. Lee’s walking stick anyway.”

Precisely, señor, where was the bastón, the walking stick?”

Kendall Johnson pointed at a small indent in the dirt of the alley. “It was lying right there where that little dig in the dirt is,” he said. “Looked like the end of the walking stick mighta dug a little hole or something.”

Bueno,” Jorge said. He stood for a long time, one hand against Pieper’s and one against Bauderman’s. His eyes searched the alley for signs of what happened to Real Lee.

Jorge stepped into the narrow space. “Two men,” he said, pointing at boot tracks. “Riders. Walk easy coming, walk muy difícil when returning. Perhaps carry a man.”

That’s all?” Lightning wanted more. He wanted to know if Real Lee had been waylaid and carried off. And he wanted to know who did it.

Lo siento. I can only see what the signs say.” Jorge left Kendall and Lightning to walk carefully through the alleyway. He nodded to himself. “Dos hombres,” he said. “Come, Señor Lightning.”

Lightning followed Jorge through the alleyway. He stepped carefully, doing his best not to mess anything up.

Not to worry, Señor Lightning. I have seen. Come. We look at the horse tracks.”

Lightning stepped to Jorge’s left and peered at the tracks of shoed horses. “Three,” he said.

Si.” Jorge pointed. “That one shied. Maybe not like an unconscious man. Some scraping around, then three horses go away.”

Lookit.” Lightning pointed at the short stub of a cigarillo.

Jorge picked it up. “Mejicano,” he said. “I have seen some peacock Mejicano officers smoking these.”

Why would a Mexican grab Real Lee?”

Maybe for dinero. Perhaps hired to capture Señor Real.” Jorge rolled the cigarillo between thumb and forefinger. “Perhaps these two men are professionals sent to capture, not to kill. But why?”

Lightning shrugged.

Quién sabe? Perhaps only God himself can know.”

What do we do? What can we do?”

Señor Lightning. If someone has Senor Real for some purpose, a message will come. If there is no message perhaps “Señor Real, he die.”

Sits wrong with me. Truly does. Someone oughta do something.”

But what?” Jorge said.

Lightning had no idea. He was just deputy marshal of a quiet town, but now, what in hell needed to be done? And was he man enough to do it? 









Real Lee tried to remember where he was. Tried, but his head hurt too much. He wanted to hold his head in his hands, but he couldn’t. Somebody, something, held his hands away, made them so they couldn’t move. He forced his eyelids open a crack. Nothing. Only pitch black. Patterns of red and orange ran across the backs of his eyeballs, but closing his eyelids didn’t make them go away. He tried to shake his head, but it wouldn’t move either. Maybe he was dead. Maybe that’s why he couldn’t move anything. But no. His eyelids worked. He opened his eyes again. Nothing. Nothing but blackness. Nothing . . . then his awareness fled again.

Who knows the time? The day? The place? This place of dark and damp and cold? Who knows? Real pried his eyelids open. Totally black. No sliver of light. No glitter of reflection. No break in the veil of darkness that surrounded him. But there was a whisper of air. A breath of movement across his skin. Skin? Skin? Why could he feel air against his skin? He shivered. Moving air sent goose bumps across his chest, up his arms. Goose bumps? Goose . . . .

Cain’t have ‘im dying,” a voice said.

A hand grasped Real Lee’s jaw and turned his face up. Something wet dribbled on his chin. Automatically his mouth opened, searching for the wetness. Water. Praise the Almighty, water.

Three full drops of water hit his open mouth.

Ung. Ung. Ung. He stretched his mouth wider and was rewarded with a full swallow. Muddy. The water tasted muddy. Who cares? Ung. Ung.

Nowhere near dead,” the voice said.

Water splashed into Real Lee’s maw of a mouth. He choked, but still managed to swallow most of the muddy wetness.

His eyelids showed red. Light. He pried an eyelid open. The golden glow said coal-oil lantern, but he could not make out who poured the water, and he didn’t recognize the voice.

Reckon that’ll keep ‘im alive for a while,” the voice said. A bucket clanked. The golden glow of the lamp faded. Real Lee strained his ears, listening to the clomp of boots against stone. Then the sound was gone and blackness was all Real Lee had. The dark, the black, and the muddy film in the back of his throat, the aftertaste from those few swallows of water. He swallowed again, but the wetness was gone. Ung, he said. Ung. Ung.

There was no answer, not even an echo.


* * *


After Jorge read the sign, Lightning knew Real Lee would not come back. Not on his own, anyway. He dearly wanted to follow the tracks of those three horses, but they’d left the trackable ground back of Bieber’s for the confusion of Main Street, going east among the tracks of horses and wagons, sometimes mules, and herds of cattle.

We know . . . we can assume they ride eastward,” Jorge said. “May I suggest that you send for your friend, the Sparrow? I will follow . . . I will ride eastward, looking for the place where the horses leave el carretera, as they must. Somewhere.”

Lightning chose a hilltop south and east of Payson. There he built a small fire of branches from a pine deadfall. When it burned well, he placed green juniper branches on it. As the fire tried to devour the green leaves, thick fragrant smoke rose straight up in the warm windless air. With his hat, Lightning broke the smoke three times, then let the column rise again. He repeated the process three times. Then, after allowing the smoke to rise undisturbed for two or three minutes, he quenched the fire, pouring water from his canteen on the burning sticks and scattering them when the fire died away. Now he had to wait.

Al Sieber came riding into Payson on his big mule. He rode straight down Main Street and turned onto Frontier. “Whoa up,” he said to the mule. It stopped and faced the hitching rail. Lightning leaned against the wall of the Marshal’s Office.

Howdy, boy,” Sieber said.

Name’s Lightning.”

Sieber showed half a grin. “Know that, Deputy Brewster. But some of my men said they seen a help smoke going up just south of here. Who’s in trouble?”


No guff?”

Real Lee’s missing. Sign says someone took ‘im. I was hoping my smoke would make it to Lone Pine so’s Sparrow’d know to come.”

Want me to send ‘im word?”

Nah. If your boys saw the smoke, someone’ll get the word to Sparrow. That’s the way it works.”

He don’t come, you send up a nother smoke. We’ll be right over. You hear?”

Lightning put a finger to the brim of his Stetson. “I’ll do that,” he said.

I’ll be off. Take care, boy, er, Lightning. And you find Real Lee. This country needs the likes of him.” Sieber reined the mule around and retraced his course to Main Street, and from there east toward Camp Verde. What about the likes of me? Lightning thought.

Sparrow showed up soon after Sieber left. He didn’t ride boldly up Main and onto Frontier. Lightning stood watching the morning traffic of mine wagons and farm rigs, men riding whatever they could throw a leg across, and once in a while a woman in calico striding purposely toward Bouderman’s Mercantile.

What is your trouble?” Sparrow’s voice came from the foot-wide space between the Marshal’s Office and the saddle maker next door.

Come on out of there,” Lightning said. “We’ll talk inside.” He went into the office, leaving the door open. Sparrow slipped inside and sat in a chair with its back against the wall. A glance around the room took in the empty cells, the silence. “Real Lee?”


Sparrow said nothing.

Two men on horses waylaid him, looks like.”


Not sure. He went on midnight rounds night ‘fore last. Never came back. Randall Johnson found his walking stick in between Bauderman’s and Pieper’s. Jorge said two men, three horses.”

Sparrow said nothing.

Jorge’s out looking for a place where they left the rim road.”

Sparrow gave a short nod. “Good.”

Gotta find Real Lee, Sparrow. Gotta.”

Do you know? Can you think of anyone who hates Real Lee?”

All I know is he came from Virginia and he fought in Africa or someplace for some kind of king or something. Then he got some kind of a name as a gunfighter. Tom Easter and Finn McBride and Wolf Wilder count him as friend. Some people like Red Skousen and Ben Seffleck count him as enemy. Seffleck’s in Yuma, though. Don’t know who else wants to get back at him.”


* * *


King Elliott wanted Payson, the place they used to call Green Valley. Good cattle country. Out of the way. A hard ride, coming from Globe City, or off the rim from Diablo or Winslow. Bounded by mountains: Mazatzal, Sierra Ancha, the Mogollon Rim. And in those mountains, silver, copper, and gold, perhaps. A good chance, geologists said.

King Elliott was no gun shark, though he was not adverse to the use of force to achieve greater objectives. Like taking over Payson, Arizona. When he arrived in Payson, he already knew Lee was taken out, leaving his stripling boy deputy to try to do a man’s job. Elliott stepped off the Ridges & Hale stagecoach into bright September sun. He took a deep breath of clean mountain air, borne by a breeze off the Mazatzals. The air braced him. He felt invincible. He showed his teeth in a broad, open-mouth smile. He clamped a stogie between those strong teeth and struck a Lucifer against the side of the coach. As he puffed the cigar alight, his cold gray eyes inspected Main Street. Naturally, he noticed the drinking establishments. The Branding Iron. The Ox Bow. Pieper’s. The Monarch. But his eyes also stopped at Jed Walker’s saddlemaker, Millie’s Millinery, Verdell’s livery at the far end of the street. Bouderman’s, Solomon’s General Store. A new building was nearly finished, and stood across the street from the Ox Bow. Few knew it would be the King of Diamonds, Elliott’s main business and his headquarters. The building needed only a sign and some interior fittings. Later he would live on its second floor. For the moment, he’d stay at the Stockman Hotel.

Driver,” King Elliott said. “Have someone take my trunks to the Stockman, if you would.” He held out an eagle to Skeeter Bates, who handled the ribbons of the Ridges & Hale stagecoach.

Skeeter palmed the coin and smirked a smile. “You just leave ‘em up to me,” he said. He waved a hand at a couple of the older boys who loitered nearby whenever the stage came in. “Hey there. You boys want four bits real quick? Come haul Mr. Elliott’s trunks over to the Stockman.”

They jumped to do Skeeter’s bidding.

John Bingham, King Elliott’s nephew and personal assistant, waited in the lobby. He stood as Elliot strode in the door.

Everything ready?” Elliot said.

As you ordered, sir.”

Will Trask will be in soon. Send him and whoever he brings up to my room when they get here.”

Yes, sir.”

And get me a bottle.”

I put two of Old Potrero in your room, sir.”

Well. Good, very good.” Elliott took the key Bingham offered and tromped up to the second floor. His suite was across the hall from that of Lillian Whitehead, the woman everyone in Payson knew as Lilywhite.

The boys lifted two large trunks from the stagecoach into the hotel and up the stairs to Elliot’s suite. “Damn heavy trunks, mister,” one said. Elliott gave them a smile and a nod, but didn’t offer any more money. A bargain was a bargain, after all.

The boys left, bantering as they went down the hall.

Bingham stayed, standing in a corner and fading into the shadows, unobtrusive, as always. Silent. Someday, when the time is right. . . . He said nothing.

Elliot shed his frock coat and removed his ascot. He poured water from the ceramic pitcher into the commode’s washbasin. He rolled his shirtsleeves up, then worked soap from a bar into a washcloth he’d wet in the basin. He washed. Forearms. Hands. Face. Neck. Ears. All scrubbed with the soapy washcloth. Then he wiped with the same cloth after rinsing it in the basin and wringing it out. He breathed a sigh of satisfaction. “A man doesn’t like to be dirty.”

No, sir,” said Bingham.

You get back to the lobby, Bingham. And bring Will Trask up when he comes.”

Yes, sir.” Bingham left.

King Elliott sighed again. He ambled over to the window that overlooked Main Street. Two farm wagons and a big Murphy freight outfit. A steady stream of people on horseback and on foot. My town, he said to himself. My town.


* * *


Will Trask had a name on the Outlaw Trail. He was a hard man, one not to cross, one who wore a gun and knew how to use it, but one who was slow to rile—no one ever saw Will Trask draw a gun or use a fist in anger. He was cool—some said cold—about everything he did. Law didn’t mean much to him, as he considered himself a free man and laws made free men into meek, milquetoast, spineless stringbeans. Will Trask never broke his word, and he never killed a man who wasn’t asking for it. Still, when he rode into Payson, he rode careful. He dressed like a gambler in a wide-brimmed planter’s hat and sleek trousers that hooked beneath his insteps before he shoved his feet into calf-high, low-heeled boots. His gray frock coat came halfway to his knees and covered a ruffled shirt, gold cufflinks set with opals from New South Wales in Australia, and a .44 Colt’s Police revolver riding in a shoulder holster that Trask designed himself. The full cut of the frock coat’s sleeves more than adequately hid the .41 caliber two-shot derringer in a spring clip that held it along the inside of his forearm. A slim knife of his own design rested in a sheath slipped into his trouser waistband at the small of his back. Will Trask did not believe in luck. No one had ever seen him drunk. Few had seen him smile. But almost every eye followed him as he rode a short-coupled Morgan bay along Main Street in Payson, Arizona Territory, on a pleasant day in September 1884.

Although he knew King Elliott waited in the Stockman Hotel, Will Trask stopped his Morgan in front of the Branding Iron saloon. He dismounted, his cold dark eyes sweeping the street and the boardwalks for possible competition. There was none. He looped the reins over the hitching rail and stepped up onto the porch. Again he checked.


He pushed through the batwings into a nearly empty saloon. Again he checked his surroundings. Nothing looked dangerous. At the moment, Payson was a peaceful town. He stepped to the bar.

What’ll it be?” The bartender, thick as a beer barrel, jolly as a barman should be, stood spraddle-legged across the bar from Will Trask.

A beer would be excellent,” Trask said, enunciating precisely.

Coming right up,” the barman said. He moved away, swiping a glass from the pyramid of glasses standing in front of the bar mirror. Moments later, he returned with the glass full of beer, topped with just the right crown of foam.

Here ya go.”

What’s the damage?”

First one’s on the house to first-time visitors,” the barman said. “I’m Fred Stewart, by the way. Most people around here call me ‘Stew’.”

Is that right? Many thanks. I’ll be Trask. Will Trask. I answer to either name, or both at once.” He sipped at the beer. Full flavor. No watered-down brew at the Branding Iron. Trask appreciated that.

Help yourself to the lunch counter,” Stew said. “Holler if you want or need anything.”

Well. Now that you mention it. Where does a man go to participate in games of chance?”

Stew grinned. “Plenty of them, Mr. Trask. But you’ll need to wait for a couple of hours. Marshal Lee says no gambling before four o’clock in the afternoon.”

Marshal Lee?”

That’s right. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Real Lee. Earned himself quite a name a couple of years ago when Kyle Benford tried to take over that nester village called Respite.”


Yep. Outfit called Assembly of Christ set it up. They’ve done all right. Good copper deposit over there.”

I’ll be damned.”

One more thing.”

Trask raised an eyebrow.

No guns. Marshal Lee says no guns. Nowhere there’s booze and gambling. So just leave the hardware home. Ain’t got no guns, nobody gets shot, the marshal says.”

Trask touched a finger to the brim of his planter’s hat, then downed the remainder of the beer. “Be back at four, or sometime thereafter,” he said. Time to see King Elliott anyway. Trask turned his back on the Branding Iron.










Sparrow noticed a man in a dark gray frock coat and nearly white planter’s hat ambling across the street toward the Stockman Hotel. Every alarm bred into him through generations of Apache warriors clicked on. His dark eyes followed the saunter. He saw how the man paid no attention to horses or wagons, like it was their job to avoid him, not vice versa. Sparrow’s eyes narrowed to slits. He recognized danger coiled like a diamondback in the man’s nonchalant stride. “Gunman,” he said to Lightning.

Lightning turned to look at what Sparrow watched. The moment he saw Will Trask, he hand instinctively fell to the handle of his Remington. “He is.”

He watched until Trask passed by, seemingly headed for the Stockman. “Who’s bringing in gunmen?” he said.

Lightning didn’t like the way things were piling up. Real Lee missing. Clean gone. Now a gunny in town. And Payson was known as a town where shootists and shooting were not welcome. Payson was a law-abiding town, but could Lightning keep it that way?


* * *


A knock came on the door to Lillian Whitehead’s suite. Lilywhite knew from the weight and timbre of the raps that the caller was male. Damn. Jorge was out. Lilywhite put a Colt Lightning in her purse and went to the door. “Who is it, please?” she said.

My name is King Elliott,” a voice said. “I’ve come to pay my respects.”

Thank you kindly, Mr. Elliott, but I’m not dressed to receive guests. Could you please make it some other time?”

Oh my,” the voice said. “It really would be apropos of you to see me for a moment right now. I promise not to make any unseemly advances.”

Lilywhite chewed her bottom lip. Her good sense said she should wait for Jorge to return. Her sense of propriety said she should take this voice that called itself King Elliot at face value. After all, Payson was a peaceful town.

She opened the door.

King Elliott swept his hat from his head into a bow that would do a courtier of Queen Victoria proud. “King Elliott at your service, ma’am,” he said.

What is it?”

I have taken the suite across from your own,” he said. “And, as I said, my name is King Elliott. My true name.”

Good day, Mr. Elliott. I am Lillian Whitehead, most often called Lilywhite. Thank you for introducing yourself.” She started to close the door.

I understand we are to be competitors,” Elliott said. “I’m the new owner of the Branding Iron.”

That place is no competition of mine,” Lilywhite said. “Swan’s Lake caters to gentlemen and whatever ladies may accompany them.” Again she started to close the door.

I also own the Heaven’s Gate Mine,” he said.

Heaven’s Gate? When did Ed Franklin sell out? I hadn’t heard of that.”

Mr. Franklin decided he preferred a more genteel atmosphere. I seem to remember him mentioning San Francisco. Or was it Denver?”

Is that all, Mr. Elliott?”

For the moment,” King Elliott said. “For the moment. But I hope we can have many more friendly discussions in the future. In fact, the fate of this town of Payson may well hang on the results of our conversations.” Elliott replaced his hat. He bowed again to Lilywhite. “By your leave.”

Lilywhite nearly slammed her door shut, but held up at the last moment. Still, it shut with a satisfying click. She threw the bolt locking the door from the inside. Just in case. Then she sat on her bed to think about what King Elliott had said.


* * *


The letters on the window read Payson Advocate. All that is news, thrice weekly. Will Trask showed a wolfish grin. When news of King Elliott got out, the paper would have plenty to print. He thought he was ready for whatever the Payson Advocate could bring on, but he certainly was not ready for the fireball that came barreling out of the door and crashed into him as he walked by. “Whoa up, lass. What’s the all-fired rush?”

Dammit,” she said. She swiped away a tear that dribbled onto her cheek. “Dammit all.” She stamped her foot.

Wait up. What all’s got you riled up, missy?”

That whoremonger who calls himself publisher of a newspaper wouldn’t know good writing if it bit him on the butt.”

Oh no?”

No.” The girl peered up into Will Trask’s gray eyes. “Who’re you?”

He touched a finger to the brim of his planter’s hat. “Will Trask. At your service, ma’am.”

Will Trask, are you?”

I am.”

The same Will Trask who shot and killed three men all by himself in Tascosa?”

Trask saw no reason to deny what most everyone knew. “I am.”

Well, well, well.” The girl-woman squinted at Trask. “A true-to-life shootist right here in peaceful Payson, eh? Well. Tell you what. You can buy me a piece of apple pie and a cup of coffee at Ma’s. Make up for running into me on a public walkway.”

She wasn’t beautiful, not by a long shot. Not with hair that looked like flames springing from her head. Not with eyes that looked green one minute and brown the next. Not with hands that looked like they’d be more comfortable pulling on cow teats than plying knitting needles. I wonder if she can cook. “Be my pleasure, ma’am,” Trask said. Elliott could wait.

Trask had to lengthen his stride to keep up with the red-haired woman. He didn’t try to speak until they were seated at a table in Ma’s Place, a down-home restaurant two blocks north on Frontier. Inside, the aroma of roasting beef, underlaid with the sweetish scent of apple pie, filled the dining room. The girl chose a table in the back of the room, away from the windows overlooking Frontier Street. “Sit against the wall, Will Trask, I have no enemies in town.” She dragged out a chair and sat with her back to the room.

Will Trask hung his planter's hat on a nearby rack and meekly sat where the girl indicated, but not before his eyes swept the room again, stopping briefly on each customer—a cowboy deep in a cup of coffee, probably wishing he had some hair of the dog; two women, obviously town housewives, in gingham dresses, one with a tiny hat perched on a mass of dark brown ringlets; one old man, his life’s story written in the lines of his face, sawing at a slab of roast beef at least two inches thick. None seemed interested in Will Trask or the girl with hair like the flames of a bush fire whipped up by a stiff west wind.

Seems a rather tame town,” Trask said.

The girl gave him a piercing look. “T’was, but now Will Trask is here. I wonder how many people will die before you leave.”

I’m not a killer.”

The girl raised an eyebrow. “Oh, no?”

What’ll it be, folks?”

Hi, Midge. I’ll have a huge piece of your fresh-baked apple pie, cream on top, and a cup of your best coffee.”

Gotcha, Charlene. What’ll the gent have?”

Midge Rogers, this is Mr. Will Trask. Shootist, late of Tascosa. I imagine he knows well just what he wants.”

Apple pie with cream sounds good to me,” Trask said. “And coffee. Black, and strong enough to melt a horseshoe.”

Midge gave Trask an up-and-down look. “Fancy, aren’t we? Apple pie and black coffee coming up.” She made for the kitchen door with the steady stride of someone who often carried two full plates on each arm.

Friendly,” Trask said.

And the pie is to die for . . . oh, Will Trask, I didn’t mean that as an invitation for you to use your prodigious gun skills.”


She nodded. “Most people call me Charlie though. I guess I’m not girl enough to rate a girl’s name.”

Charlene it is, then. Unless you prefer Miss Charlene.”

The girl said nothing.

What’s your quarrel with the newspaperman?”

He thinks he can run a paper from a little cubby hole of a back room in that shack of his. Ha! You’ve got to get out and around. Read the faces of the people, see who’s in the hotels, look to see what’s going on over at the railroad station. A telegraph key isn’t nearly enough.”

And how would you know?”

Common sense.”

Of course. Common sense.”

Don’t look down your nose at me, Will Trask. I know what people want to read. First, about what’s happening in their own neighborhoods, and that means Payson. Then what’s going on in the county, and then the territory. If there is any room left over, we can write about Washington City, or Chicago stock markets, or who held up the Southern Pacific after it crossed the trestle into California.”

Midge delivered two healthy pieces of apple pie with cream dribbled on top, along with two heavy ceramic cups, which she set down next to the plates. She poured the cups full of black coffee. “Strong enough to scorch the innards of Ol’ Ned himself,” she said. “An’ you watch out, Charlie girl. Some killers’s got a way about ‘em.” She threw a meaningful look at Trask.

After Midge left, Charlie leaned across the table and said in a most conspiratorial way, “Are you really all that dangerous, Will Trask?”

Harmless as a newborn lamb.” Trask’s wolfish grin said otherwise.

I’ll bet,” Charlie said. “I’ll surely bet.” She cut a hunk of pie, dipped it in cream, and stuffed it into her wide mouth. She threw her head back and closed her eyes as she chewed. Bliss covered her face. “Ummmmm,” she said, swallowed, then sipped in a large mouthful of coffee.

Trask watched, intrigued by her puckish manner. “What makes you want to work for that news rag?”

She had to chew and swallow another piece of pie before answering. “Where else can a woman make a difference in this country?” she said. “People read. People want to know what is happening. They don’t care if the reporter is male or female. That’s what I like.”

You don’t like being a woman?”

Wouldn’t be anything else.” She looked at Trask over the rim of her coffee cup. “That doesn’t mean I think women should be demure and retiring, with nothing to say outside the walls of their own homes.”

My Pa always said kids should be seen, not heard,” Trask said. “He didn’t say more’n two words a day to my Ma. She did something he didn’t cotton to and she got the back of his hand across her face.”

See what I mean? Men all figure a woman’s no more than a drudge.”

Drudge? Where’d you learn all them big words? What do you mean, ‘drudge’?”

Men! A drudge is someone good for nothing but chores. Stuff you do around the house or in the yard, that kind of thing.”

Women? Drudges?”

Will Trask, I know we just met and I don’t want you to think I’m forward and all, but could I ask one favor of you?”

Trask gave her a sharp look, trying to read her face, but all he saw was hair of fire, eyes of green, skin as fair as a fairytale princess, and a wide mouth that showed even white teeth. The green eyes were open wide, showing the little girl behind the grown woman. “What’s the favor you need, Charlie? I’ll sure do what I can.”

Would you? That’s wonderful.” Charlie hugged herself.

But I don’t know what you want,” Trask said.

Oh. Well. It should be easy for you.”

How can I tell, if you don’t let me know what kind of favor you need me to do for you?”

Like I said, it’s something that should be easy for you.”

Don’t beat around the bush on me, girl. Out with it.” Trask’s voice was sharper than he’d actually intended.

Charlie bit her bottom lip. “I’m gonna make tracks in this town,” she said. “Some of what I write won’t set well with some people. My uncle used to publish the Daily Star in Fountainville, Missouri. His paper said things against owning slaves, and some people wearing white hoods came. They smashed his press, poured hot tar on him, and dumped on a pillow’s worth of feathers.”


So I’d like to ask you a favor.”

I said I’d do it if I could.”

I want you to teach me how to shoot.”










Real Lee was missing, and Lightning of God Brewster was the only man in Payson who wore a badge. And Jaime Sparrow and Jorge Valenzuela had found no sign that told them where Real Lee’s captors had taken him. Lightning didn’t like it. Real was a tough man. But still . . . .

The sun was fast going down. Time to make the rounds. Lightning put on his best Stetson and buckled on his Remington Army in a no-nonsense handmade leather rig. He checked to make sure the six-gun moved smoothly as he plucked it from the holster. He stepped out of the Marshal’s Office and walked across the street, then west on Main to the Branding Iron saloon, traditionally Real Lee and Lightning Brewster’s first stop on their rounds, done once in the early evening, once more just before midnight.

He put a hand on the left batwing door and looked over it into the Branding Iron. A group of men, miners by their garb, crowded around the roulette table, bucking the tiger. The faro table was full, and two smaller tables had games of poker under way. None of the miners looked familiar. Lightning sidled in through the batwings and made his way to the near end of the bar. Bill Henry, one of the regular bartenders, came over.

Busy night,” Lightning said.

New crew from Heaven’s Gate’s in.”

Something happen I don’t know about?”

Man named King Elliott bought Heaven’s Gate. Says he’s gonna make it pay or die trying.”

Ought to be good for the Branding Iron, then.”

He bought the Branding Iron, too.”

Lightning’s head came up. His nostrils flared as if he could smell something fishy. “Who is this King?”

King Elliott. Dunno exactly. Talk has it that he made a hunk at Silver City. Rode high and mighty there until they run him out.”

Run ‘im out?”

That’s what I hear.” Henry moved down the bar to take care of a group of miners.

Lightning turned his back to the bar and hooked a boot heel on the rail that ran along its front. King Elliott. He ran the name over his tongue and didn’t like the taste. He didn’t know anyone in Silver City, but U.S. Marshal Havelock would know if there was something off-kilter about Elliott. He caught Bill Henry’s eye, waved to him, and left the Branding Iron to continue his rounds.

The Ox Bow had just a regular front door with a turn knob handle and a couple of glass panes at eye level to the average man. Where the Branding Iron was a drinking and gambling house, the Ox Bow had a piano, played by an elderly black man everyone called Jangles. The piano tinkled “Darling Clementine” as Lightning entered the saloon. Marybelle saw him and flounced across the room to intercept him.

Good evening to you, Lightning of God Brewster. Where’s Marshal Lee?”

Lightning gave her a very small smile. “’Lo, Marybelle. Top of the evening to you. Marshal Lee’s indisposed at the moment. I’m making the rounds.”

The Ox Bow’s polished mahogany bar ran down the right-hand side of the room. A flight of stairs led upstairs to rooms where a fellow could avail himself of female companionship. Marybelle was a companion. No interest in chit-chat with a dove, Lightning strode across the room to the bar.

Howdy, deputy. Get you something?”

Howdy, Jimbo. What’ve you heard about the Branding Iron?”

Something wrong over there?” Jimbo asked.

They got a new owner,” Marybelle said. “Some kind of king.”

That right?” Jimbo sounded uninterested. “Where’s the Marshal? Ain’t seen him around lately.”

Gone,” Lightning said.

The front door crashed open. A group of miners poured in, shouting. Lightning slipped around the end of the bar and stood within easy reach of the Parker 10-gauge that hung there. He hoped the gun was loaded.

Yow-wee! I’m a curly wolf from way back up in the timber,” a burly miner yelled. “An’ I’m ready to hang one on!” He swaggered to the bar, hardly giving Lightning more than a glance and seeming not to notice the star on his chest.

The miners crowded the bar, standing two and three deep, clamoring for whiskey.

Jimbo lined a dozen glasses up on the bar and poured two fingers of booze in each, using a long-necked bottle with no label. Eager hands reached for the glasses. “Two bits a shot,” Jimbo hollered.

Put ‘em on the tab,” shouted the miner who claimed to be a curly wolf. He slammed his glass down on the bar. “And fill ‘er up,” he said.

Jimbo set the bottle on the shelf in front of the bar mirror. “No more whiskey until I see the color of your money.”

Hey! We’uns is from Heaven’s Gate. Mr. King-by-the-Good-Lord Elliott said we could drink on him at any place in town.”

Never heard of no King Elliott,” Jimbo said. He edged over toward Lightning and the Parker. “I’ll see the color of your money, then I’ll pour your booze.”

Lightning lifted the Parker off its hooks and eared the double hammers back. “Gentlemen,” he said, imitating Real Lee. “This is a place where working men come to spend a bit of their extra cash on good whiskey. And if you’re extra gentlemanly, a young lady might allow you to buy one of the Ox Bow’s special drinks for her and her conversation. Now, I’m the one wearing the badge, and I’m the one with the cocked Parker 10-gauge. Were I you, I’d put some cash on the bar for my drinks. What say?”

The lead miner said, “We ain’t got no money.”

Then why are you drinking?”

We was told we had free run, that the Heaven’s Gate’s name would get us booze anywhere in Payson.”

That right, Jimbo?” Lightning asked?

Ain’t heard nothing about it.”

Lightning held the Parker steady with one hand and dug into his pocket with the other. He brought out a five dollar gold piece and tossed it on the bar. “That’ll buy ya a couple of drinks apiece, I’d say. Were I you, I’d take the drinks and mosey off. Maybe get a good night’s sleep before your shift starts in the morning.”

Why you buying us drinks?” the curly wolf miner asked.

Lightning showed his teeth in a smile. “When I was young and full of myself, I tried to brace a man called Real Lee. He threw down on me with a double-barrel. But he never pulled the triggers. ‘Better drink with a man and be his friend that trade lead with him,’ he said. I feel the same way. Have a drink on me. Remember my name. Lightning of God Brewster, and that’s the truth.”

Lightning of God?”

Lightning nodded. “That’s my name.”

I’ll be damned.”

Lightning grinned. “You try to rush me or something like that and you’d be shaking hands with the Devil. As it is, we can be friends and you can have a couple of drinks on me until your boss gets things squared away.”

The curly wolf miner nodded. “Makes sense, young’un. Not that we couldn’t take you if we wanted, but no use losing good men over such a trifle.” He raised his voice. “Lightning of God Brewster, the man with the star and the shotgun, he’s buying two rounds for Heaven’s Gate men. Belly up.” He pointed at Jimbo. “You,” he said. “Pour.”

Jimbo poured. And Heaven’s Gate miners drank. Then they drank again.

All right. We’ve drunk the deputy’s booze. Let’s go back to the Branding Iron. Heaven’s Gate credit’s good there.”

The miners made their way to the front door in high spirits. The leader stopped by Lightning on his way out. “That was well done, Lightning of God. You quieted us down without getting nasty about it. My name’s Seamus O’Grady. My pa came over from the old country when the potatoes ran out, but I reckon I’m about as American as the next man. Be glad to buy you a drink if’n I had two pennies to rub together.”

I’d be glad to oblige, Seamus O’Grady, if you’ll not take offense at me drinking sarsaparilla or some such.”

It’s usually manners to drink the other man’s spirits, is that not so?”

It is,” Lightning said, “but liquor killed my Ma and then my Pa. So I stay away from it. One drink could be just one too many for me.”

Yer ma tippled then, did she?”

She didn’t drink atall.”

Shamus O’Grady’s brows shot up. “But you said drink killed her.”

It did, but that drink was in my Pa’s belly. She died under his fists.”


Then I killed my Pa. But it were the drink what done him in. I won’t go down that trail.” Lightning grinned. “But I’ll join ya for a drink any time, Seamus O’Grady.”


* * *


Wake up, shitface.”

The voice came from far away, but the slap across the face was close up. Real Lee’s eyes sprang open, searching for a form to go with the voice and the slap. His focus narrowed on the low light of a coal-oil lantern.

The king don’t want you dead, shitface,” the voice said. “Eat.”

Then Real Lee caught the smell of food. Not the warm wet smell of beef and beans, but the dry scent of day-old bread. Day old bread and something else. Ham? Bacon? No fire, so it wasn’t bacon grease from a frying pan.

A hand caught Real Lee by the jaw. The voice growled. “Open up, shitface.”

A dark shape came between Real’s eyes and the lamp. The grip on his jaw hurt. He shut his eyes and opened his mouth to relieve the pressure. A hunk of bread came barging into his half-open mouth. “Now chew,” the voice said.

Real tried to chew. His jaw went up and down, but no saliva came. The dry bread cut at his gums and the insides of his cheeks. Ung, he said, unable to form words.

Then the neck of a canteen was at his lips, wet and smelling of earth and water. He pursed his lips at the canteen neck. Someone tipped it up and water came, soaking the bread and wetting Real’s parched mouth. He chewed. Then swallowed.

That’s it. Open up.”

Another hunk of bread pushed at Real’s mouth. He opened wide to accept the bread. Water from the canteen followed. Real Lee lived.


2016 (Dezember)
lightning strikes twice



Titel: Lightning Strikes Twice