In advance of the publication of The Adventures of Holly Amos on October 26, here is a short excerpt:
1—Morris and Holly
They hit the payroll, catching them in a crossfire as they came into Horseshoe Canyon on their way to pay the miners at the Atlas Coal Mine in Wayne. There were only two guns protecting it, and Morris Danforth and Holly Amos picked one off each from their perches high across the canyon. Clean shots both, right through the chest. The gunfire reverberated around the canyon, sounding almost as though it were coming up behind them.
The two men leading the packhorses tried to flee, but they shot the horses out from under them. If the Atlas Coal men survived their falls, Holly and Morris did not see. They were too busy scrambling to their own mounts to catch up with the fleeing payroll. That they did, intercepting the stampeding horses before they could scamper up the narrow and winding trail that led from the canyon to the plains above.
When they had calmed the panicked animals, they left the canyon behind, heading up into the hills to the north, where they had a camp set up. There were no trees there, just wild prairie, but the hills hid them well enough from anyone passing through on the way to Wayne. The road was little traveled, except by the Atlas Coal Company men, and it would be a day or two—if they were lucky—before anyone chanced upon the ambushed payroll. Time enough for them to rest and be gone from here.
Holly saw to the animals, taking them to a nearby slough for water and putting them in hobbles so they could rest and eat. Morris paid no mind to the animals or to her. He was in a frenzy of delight as he counted out the well-creased bills and coins—over two hundred fifty dollars’ worth.
“If we get a good price on the packhorses, we should have nearly three hundred when it’s all said and done. No more worries for a while, Holly dear.”
He let out a whoop and pulled her in for a kiss. “No more worries, Morris honey,” Holly said, as she slipped away from his grasp.
Holly set about to making some dinner for them both, opening tins of beans and divvying up the pemmican they had. They had the beans cold, not wanting to risk a fire, and washed them down with what remained of the rotgut they had exchanged with the Indians by Fort Macleod for the pemmican and some rancid buffalo meat. Morris had spent the following week muttering about that, promising to return south and find those bastards and see that they got theirs.
Holly had learned long ago not to say anything when Morris got some damned foolish idea in his head, for it would turn his ire toward her. Just as when he drained the bottle of whiskey and found himself in an amorous mood, she knew enough not to point out that they needed to be going and putting some distance between them and the dead Atlas Coal men.
Morris was trouble when he drank. He was trouble all around. She had known that from the first. It was why she had left home to go with him.
Constable Clive Hestin of the Northwest Mounted Police had just started down the trail into Horseshoe Canyon when he heard the shots in the distance. Two rifles, he thought. Five shots in all.
He paused a good long while to consider his options before starting his horse forward again. Two against one, with him at the bottom of a canyon, seemed a situation that was likely to end poorly for him. Best to proceed with caution and hope that whoever was shooting was out of the canyon and up onto the prairie by the time he arrived.
One of Gordon Eaton’s sons had been the one to bring word of a stranger lurking in the hills north and west of the Horseshoe. That had been the day before yesterday, but Hestin had only now managed to head out to investigate. A cardsharp had been killed in a brawl at the Last Chance Saloon in Wayne the night before, and he had spent the last two days interviewing those present to determine which coal miner had killed him. It was tedious, aggravating work, everyone’s memories rendered opaque by alcohol, and he was glad for the opportunity to see who the lurking stranger was.
Now that shots had been fired, new questions came with them. Was the stranger involved in some way? As one of the shooters or one of the shot? Or was he a witness? No matter the answers, Hestin felt in his bones that it would be a long bloody day.
His intuition was proven correct when, an hour later, he came upon the bodies of the two guns hired to guard the Atlas Coal Mine payroll. Flies had already begun to gather on the corpses as the heat of this summer day reached its full bloom. There were four sets of tracks heading east, and when he followed the two that had turned course back west out of the canyon, he came across the two Atlas Coal Mine employees and their horses. He recognized them both, for they came every month from Calgary with pay for the miners. One man was dead, his neck snapped in his tumble from his horse, while the other breathed shallowly beside his fallen horse.
Hestin looked him over carefully and saw that an arm and leg were both broken, and got to work at setting them both. There were no trees in the canyon, it being in the badlands that stretched along this part of the Red Deer River, so he used bits and pieces from the men’s possessions and from the saddles of their horses to fashion splints. The man stirred to consciousness as Hestin moved his broken limbs and gave him some water. With that done, he lifted the man up onto his horse and lashed him to the saddle as best he could.
He started walking west, leading the horse out of the canyon, hoping that he came across one of the dead guns’ horses. If not, he would be hard-pressed to make it to Gordon Eaton’s ranch before nightfall. He kept his free hand ready near his gun, scanning the bare hillsides of the badlands that surrounded him in the canyon, though he knew it was unlikely the two shooters remained anywhere near. They had come for the payroll, it seemed clear, and had set an ambush. Given he hadn’t met them on the way here, they had obviously left the canyon and would be on their way to parts unknown.
Hestin thought it likely that one of the shooters was the stranger Gordon Eaton’s son had seen two days before. The question now was, where would the shooters flee? The answer to that would have to wait until Hestin saw to the Atlas Coal man.