Now Available: On The Far Horizon

ON THE FAR HORIZON

WESTERN, CRIME, THRILLER

CLINT WESTGARD

Cattle rustlers on the run, caught between a storm and someone bent on revenge. Cowboys pursued by the law and their own demons through a long night. A dive bar in the middle of nowhere hosts five criminals for a deal that goes terribly wrong.

These and other stories explore the lives of those who populate the west. Homesteaders with mysterious pasts they’d prefer to keep hidden. Women wronged by the men they love and caught up in events beyond their control. There are killers, thieves, cops on the make, and people just trying to get through their days with their eyes On The Far Horizon.

All of these characters, and many others, meet in this pulse-pounding collection that will keep you at edge of your seat.

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Excerpt: Border Crossing

In advance of the publication of Border Crossing on May 18, here is a short excerpt:

The moneychangers surround the bus as it comes to a halt next to the concrete platform that leads to the border post, their arms uplifted as though to welcome a returning hero. There are shouts of dolares and pesos as passengers begin to descend to arrange their exit papers. Some huddle with the moneychangers to negotiate, but most force their way through the crowd and go to the long line that leads into the border post.

George descends with the rest, squinting and looking about, somewhat confused. There are two lines, one snaking into the post, and the other, more formless, leading to some counters lined by glass outside the building. Like ticket booths at a stadium. As he looks at the various signs, trying to ascertain which line he needs, a wiry man sidles up to him.

You need to go there first, señor,” the man says, speaking in accented English. “Get the paper. Then you go inside.”

Gracias,” George says, glancing at the man.

You need a bus?” Here the man points at a bus parked in front of the one George arrived on. “Our bus goes on to Liberia. Still space for you. Twenty neuvo pesos.”

That’s all right,” George says. “Thank you.”

Your bus ends here,” the man says.

I know,” George says, with a nod, already moving to the first line the man gestured to.

On the surface, chaos reigns. The line is disjointed and shifting, with people forcing their way forward and others drifting away before they reach the windows, for no apparent reason. The moneychangers, bus touts, and other sellers ebb and flow around the line, along with others whose purpose George cannot identify. One of these approaches him, a tiny man, who looks as though he can’t be older than sixteen, wearing a faded blue uniform and cap.

Tendría usted que venir conmigo,” the man says.

George frowns. It seems unlikely this boy is here in any official capacity. “Necesito mis papeles,” he says, in his halting Spanish, gesturing to the windows. The man repeats his demand and George shakes his head, turning away, making clear his intention to remain where he is.

The man is waiting for him after he receives his exit papers and moves toward the second line within the building. “Tendría usted que venir conmigo,” he says, sternly.

George frowns in irritation, preparing to dismiss him once and for all. “You better go with him,” the bus tout says, materializing from somewhere within the crowd. He nods in the direction of the youth and George looks at him closely for the first time. Though there is no insignia on his cap, or badge on his uniform, he does have a handgun clipped into a holster on his hip. Somehow George did not notice it before. He swears to himself.

Tendría usted que venir conmigo. Continue reading

Excerpt: The Devious Kind (Chapter Three)

In advance of the publication of The Devious Kind at the end of the month, I will be publishing a few excerpts online. What follows is the third chapter of the novel:

As he turned the car around and headed back to the Johnstone house, he reported the murder to the detachment in Hanna, requesting backup if they had it. The woman in the detachment office told him that all the officers from Youngstown and Hanna were dealing with an accident on Highway 9, but once they were done there they could send someone along. One of them was supposed to be coming anyway, with Lara leaving for the week yesterday, but obviously circumstances had delayed that. She would also put in a request for a forensics team from Calgary to be sent as soon as possible. The way the storm was going, none of them might make it, he thought.

He pulled up in front of the house, stopping behind Leonard’s truck, and sat for a moment, unwilling to start this just yet. Why the hell had Lara picked this week for her vacation? The one time when he actually needed the backup, she was visiting her in-laws in BC. He put his hand to his temple as if to stave off a headache, and thought briefly about having a smoke. Lara had told him he should quit, though, and he was trying for her. That thought got him moving again up to the house. Continue reading

Now Available: The Devious Kind

THE DEVIOUS KIND

A MYSTERY

CLINT WESTGARD

The body of a local woman is found in a coulee on a ranch north of Loverna, her head blown off with a shotgun. New to town and the job, Constable Martin Thomas arrives on the scene as a spring snowstorm begins to wipe out all evidence before his investigation has even begun.

There is no shortage of suspects to consider. A spurned husband. A jealous lover. A betrayed business partner. And family members battling over an inheritance. All have motive and opportunity. And no one seems to be telling him everything.

As he tries to sift the truth from the lies, the snowstorm continues to build, leaving Loverna cut off from the outside world. And Martin alone to face a killer who will do anything not to get caught.

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Excerpt: The Devious Kind (Chapter Two)

In advance of the publication of The Devious Kind at the end of the month, I will be publishing a few excerpts online. What follows is the second chapter of the novel:

Half an hour later, a police car drove slowly up the driveway into the main yard, pulling to a stop in front of the ranch house, where Diane stood on the porch, a dog at her feet and a hood thrown over her head to keep off the snow.

Hello, Diane,” Constable Martin Tomas said as he stepped out of the car.

She just nodded. “It’s down there by the coulee,” she said, pointing. “You can take your car if you think it can make it through the mud.”

I’ll be all right.”

She paused, and then said, “We called him. Wayne said I probably shouldn’t, but I had to.”

He nodded. “He’s down there now?”

Yeah.”

Martin got back into his car and drove slowly down the laneway that led to the far pens that edged onto the coulee. He went past pens filled with cattle still heavy with their winter coats, but he paid them no mind. Even six months ago he might have, but now, a year and a half into his term here, a cow was just a cow. Continue reading

Excerpt: The Devious Kind (Chapter One)

In advance of the publication of The Devious Kind at the end of the month, I will be publishing a few excerpts online. What follows is the first chapter of the novel:

The body lay, sprawled awkwardly, partway down the coulee, right before the slope turned sheer and plunged to the creek far below. The night had hidden it, but the arrival of dawn made its presence obvious. There were several sets of footprints from where the body lay to the road, clearly marked in the muddy spring ground. Even as the new day’s light revealed these details, the first flakes of snow began to fall, wet and heavy. For a time the earth resisted their intrusion, but eventually the storm proved too much and the ground turned white, covering over the tracks.
Continue reading

Fiction: The Bare Scent

Richard shot Matthews once, in the neck, and stood and watched as he crumpled to the floor, his breath coming in gurgles as the blood leaked out of him at a frightening pace. The sound of the shot had startled him. It had been both louder and quieter than he had expected. He stayed watching as Matthews bled out, his eyes blinking rapidly while he tried to speak, thinking only that he had been aiming for the head, not the neck.

Finally he remembered himself and, dropping the gun beside the dying man, he turned on his heels and walked out of the room, down the hallway, to the stairs. He moved at a steady pace, as though he had a purpose and was on his way somewhere, but he encountered no one. It was two flights to the main floor where he exited the stairwell into the hotel lobby and calmly walked out past the bellhops, desk attendants and guests, drawing not a single glance, through the revolving door and out into the glare of the sun.

There were two cabs parked out front and he got into the first one, giving the man an address—the first one that came into his head, a restaurant he had looked up the night before. The cab pulled out into the flow of traffic and Richard sucked in a deep breath, what felt like his first in a long while. He looked down at his hands and saw that they were shaking, and then realized that no, that was an illusion. It was his vision itself that was unsteady. The whole world was vibrating.

See the rest at Circumambient Scenery. A new story will be published there every Thursday.

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Now Available: It Came From Above

Monolith

When the object appeared in his pasture Frank was convinced it was alien in origin. Not only was it unlike anything he had ever seen, without solid shape or form, constantly shifting, it hummed at a pitch just beyond the range of his hearing. It seemed impossible that it could be anything other than an artifact from space. When the Concern, the corporation conducting secretive research in the area, claimed it as their own he was absolutely certain of its true nature and of his need to get it back at any cost.

A short story by  Clint Westgard
Available at Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords

Protocols

The wind did not begin to subside until late the next evening and it was not until the following morning that they awoke to a day glorious and calm. He had work to do around the yard in the morning, chores and repairs on one of the tractors, so it was only after lunch that he left, telling Emma that he was going up to check on the water at the lease. The dugout there had been low the day the object had been taken and there had been no rain since.

Though Emma had given him a look as though she suspected he were up to something, he had no intention of confronting the Concern about the object. He had thought about it the night after their argument and throughout the next day and had decided against it. He knew Emma well enough to understand which of her threats she would make good on. Stubborn as he was, even he could recognize that the object was not something that was worth risking his marriage.

The aftereffects of the storm were evident everywhere as he drove north. Ditches were filled with drifts of a fine powdery earth, almost like sand and several of his neighbors’ yards had trees that had been uprooted. There was a grain bin lying crumpled and warped atop Werner’s hill, an amazing site, for the nearest bins that could have been carried here were at Barthels, over two miles away. None of the power lines were damaged, as far as he could see, which told him that it had been blown high enough to clear them. The fences along the road were all filled with detritus, anything that hadn’t been weighted down had been scattered across the country.

The dugout in the lease was as low as he could remember it being. Two cows were standing right at its center with water up to their waists when he drove up. Unless it rained in the next few days he would be trucking water up here by next week. He swore to himself thinking of how much time that would take. Three quarters of an hour each way, with half an hour to fill up the water tank. Two trips every other day. That would be three mornings gone a week at least, to say nothing of Tommy’s pasture, which he would be hauling water to soon enough as well.

He was about to head home, his head filled with worry for what the rest of the summer would bring, when the ground where the object had been caught his eye. The grass had not recovered at all, had in fact turned a brittle shade of brown. It cracked underneath his feet as he walked across it, and each step was marked with the outlines of footprints. He could feel the color go from his face and he crouched down, as much to steady himself as to inspect the grass. He prodded the individual strands delicately with his fingers and they crumbled to dust at his touch. Cursing under his breath, he pulled the knife from the front pocket of his jeans and dug into the ground to expose the roots below. They too were utterly desiccated.

He said nothing when he returned home for supper, though he could feel Emma’s watchful eye upon him. They went to bed wordless and he again found himself staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to steal him from his thoughts. That night it would not though. Try as he might he could not forget the ruined, brown patch. Would anything grow there again? And was the object having the same unseen effect upon him even as he lay there? It was a terrifying thought to say the least.

The next morning he awoke tired and with an aching head. His jaw had been clenched tight through his fitful sleep, his anger not dissipating, even through his tumultuous dreams. He drank his coffee and had his porridge in silence, Emma watching him as she ate her toast. When he was done he pushed aside his plate and his cup and stared at her. Their eyes held for a moment and then she closed her eyes, warding herself for a blow.

I’m going to the Concern today. That fucking thing killed a bunch of grass up in the lease. They’re going to have pay for it.”

Emma offered no reply, her face impassive, as he left the house, letting the door slam in his wake.

He went into town after he was finished with the chores, getting some parts at the Agro Centre. On his way back he turned off the highway and headed down the road to the Baas. The three long barns loomed up before him, still the same white they had been when the Dutch company had been running pigs there. A chain link fence surrounded the yard now, which also had a dozen or so trailers near its entrance that acted as offices for the Concern employees. The trailers formed a sort of informal blockade between the gate and the barns where the research was done. There was also a small hut at the entrance where everyone had to check in before being allowed into the compound and Frank stopped there, asking to speak with Hildeck. He was sent to the largest trailer where he found the manager and a young woman he did not recognize.

Frank, this is Katy Miles. She’s actually working on the project that, uh, you encountered,” Hildeck said as he motioned for him to sit.

Frank stared at her fiercely, derision and rage written plainly on his face, so that Hildeck cleared his throat and motioned for her to leave, which she did, her face flooding with relief. “What can I do for you Frank?”

That fucking project of yours is killing my grass.”

David frowned and leaned forward. “How do you mean?”

Where it was, all the grass is dead. The roots are dead. It’s not coming back.”

Well,” Hildeck said, leaning back in his chair, “That is strange.”

That’s one goddamn word for it alright,” Frank said. “I touched the thing. What the hell is it going to do to me?”

David started up, as though he had been awoken from his thoughts, and waved his hand. “Oh, it’s been fully tested. We have people working with it all the time. No long term effects have been observed.”

I bet.”

I wonder if we could get a look at that grass though. It might help the team get a handle on what happened there.”

Frank smirked and took off his ballcap, running a hand through his hair. “You don’t have a clue what happened do you?”

Well, I certainly don’t. It’s a little outside my expertise.”

Not a clue at all,” Frank continued, ignoring Hildeck. “You know what the thing is supposed to do?”

I’m afraid I can’t really discuss that, you understand. We have certain security protocols,” Hildeck said, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. “Now, to get back to your pasture, we’d certainly like to get a look at that. Can we discuss getting access? We’ll gladly pay of course.”

I know you will.”

David cleared his throat. “Well then. I’m sure we can come to some sort of agreement.”

I’d like to see the thing again.”

The prototype?”

Yes,” Frank said leaning forward in his chair for emphasis.

I’m afraid that’s impossible. We have protocols and I don’t think I can get permission. We’ll gladly pay our standard access fees. And of course for the damage the prototype did.”

Frank did not reply, standing up and walking out the door, leaving Hildeck to stare after him in disbelief. He got in his truck, spinning out as he turned around to head back out to the road, slinging gravel across the yard. He flew home, pushing the needle to 160 kilometers, oblivious of the other traffic on the highway. The radio was on but he talked over it, cursing Hildeck and the Concern for stealing the object, and Jennings for letting them. It was clear to him now that they had no more idea of what the thing did than he.

When he pulled into the yard he saw that Emma’s car was gone. He sat in the truck for a moment unable to quite process what he was seeing and then ran inside, calling her name. There was no answer and as he looked through the living room he saw that all of Colton’s toys were gone. There was a note on the kitchen table that read: I’ve gone to Mom and Dad’s for a few days .I’ll call on Saturday and we can talk. He slumped into a chair holding the note up and looking at the words, not reading any of them.

from It Came From Above

The Body in the Coulee

The body lay part way down the coulee, right before the slope turned shear and plunged to the creek below. The night had hidden it, but the arrival of dawn made its presence obvious. There were several sets of footprints from where the body lay to the road, clearly marked in the muddy spring ground. Even as the new day’s light revealed these details the first flakes of snow began to fall, wet and heavy. For a time the earth resisted their intrusion but eventually the storm proved too much and the ground turned white, covering over the tracks.

Wayne Johnstone was the one to find it later that morning. He caught sight of the red jacket out of the corner of his eye from the tractor where he was tubgrinding feed for the cattle. Thinking it was something that had come off of a passing car on the highway, he drove up to the fence of the pasture by the lip of the slope to see what it might be. Something in him recognized just what and who it was without really looking and he sat in the tractor, his hands clutching the steering wheel, feeling very cold. After a time he clambered down the hillside, now slick with the accumulating snow, to confirm his suspicions.

Half an hour later a police car drove slowly up the driveway in the main yard, pulling to a stop in front of the ranch house where a woman sat on the porch, a dog at her feet and a hood thrown over her head to keep off the snow.

“‘Hello Diane,” Martin said as he stepped out of the car.

She just nodded, “It’s down there by the coulee,” she said pointing. “You can take your car if you think it can make it through the mud.”

I’ll be alright.”

She paused, and then she said, “We called him. Wayne said I probably shouldn’t, but I had to.”

He nodded, “He’s down there now?”

Yeah.”

He drove on through the yard down the laneways, pens filled with cattle still with their winter coats on either side, until he came to the far pen that connected out to the pasture. He sat there a moment to gather himself and then stepped out of the car, putting on his hat to keep the snow off. The pasture was almost entirely covered over in white, ruining the scene no doubt. If the weather forecaster on the radio was correct his drive back to town would be interesting as well by the time he was through here.

He climbed into the pen and set off for the pasture, nearly losing a shoe in the mud as he went. It smelled rank, a winter’s worth of manure and urine thawed and filling his nostrils. The cows ambled, and the calves darted, out of his way as he went, the footing growing more solid as he came to pasture. Still, he was glad he had not been tempted to try his luck with the car. The last thing he needed to add to the day was conducting a murder investigation while his vehicle was being pulled out of a pasture.

When he came to the fence separating the pasture from the coulee he saw them standing down the ridge a ways, looking down at the body, wiping the snow from their eyes. He cleared his throat and swung over the fence as they both turned to him. He just nodded at them and knelt down by the body. The face was mostly blown away. He could see the outline of one eye socket and most of the jaw, bits of brain and skull. Her neck and chest were perforated with pellet blasts. The blood was that curdled dark color, clumping against her skin and the earth below. He sighed and stood up, turning to Leonard.

It’s her alright,” Leonard said. “That’s her jacket and shoes.”

Martin looked at Wayne, “Anybody else been down here but you two?”

Wayne shook his head.

Alright. Why don’t you and Leonard head back to the house and wait for me. I want to look around a bit. Cory should be here pretty quick.”

What’ll they do with the body?” Leonard asked, his tone odd.

He’ll have to take it into town. Botha will have to look at it. We’ll take care of it.” He turned from them and knelt again by the body.

The snow had already obscured whatever tracks were around, but it seemed clear to him that she had been dragged here from the road. There was not enough blood around her, given the extent of her wounds, to say nothing of what had happened to the rest of her head. Why then had she been left here where the body would be easily discovered. A few steps farther would have taken whoever had carried her to the lip of the coulee where gravity would have carried the body into the darkness and trees. Of course, if all this had been carried out in the dead of the night without the benefit of a vehicle’s headlights, assuming the perpetrators were concerned about drawing attention to themselves, then whoever it had been might have thought they were closer to the precipice than they in fact were.

He paced from the body to the road. The fence along the ditch ended before the coulee started, and he wondered briefly why Wayne hadn’t bothered to extend it. There were no tracks into the ditch, which was hardly surprising given the snow. He climbed onto the road, kicking at the damp blacktop. It curved just ahead along with the coulee, the two running nearly parallel briefly, before the road curved again to wrap around it. The snow was coming down so heavily he could not see beyond that.

He went back to the body, snapping on the rubber gloves he had brought as he went, feeling faintly ridiculous as he did so. Wiping his eyes clear of water and snow he gingerly turned what was left of her head towards him and pulled back her remaining eyelid. The eye beneath was cloudy and the body itself stiff with rigor mortis, no doubt helped by the temperature, which had hovered around the freezing mark for most of the night through to the morning.

Martin stood, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth thoughtfully, and started to pull his gloves off when he spotted Cory heaving his bulk over the fence and waved him over. The ambulance drive wandered over, his jeans tucked into his unlaced work boots, his jacket open to the elements as well. He was unshaven and, as he came up alongside, Martin caught a whiff of booze.

Late night?”

Oh,” Cory said with a wave of his hand.

You good to drive yet?”

I made it here didn’t I?”

Don’t make me put the fucking breathalyzer on you,” Martin said. “I’ve got enough shit to deal with without you cocking things up.”

Cory waved his hand again and turned his attention to the body. “Kristi Taid.”

Yes,” Martin said.

Cause of death shouldn’t be a problem anyway.”

No.”

Well, how you wanna do this? Bring the stretcher down from the highway, probably the easiest.”

Martin agreed and Cory returned through the pasture to where he had left the ambulance parked beside Martin’s car and then drove back through the yard and down the highway to where the coulee began. Martin met him there and they carried the stretcher down, moving the body onto it and then struggling back up the slippery ditch to the ambulance.

Take it in to Botha then?” Cory said, turning to head to the cab of the vehicle.

Yes,” Martin said. “And for fuck sakes Cory don’t phone anyone, don’t let anyone know. This is an RCMP investigation now.”

Cory didn’t reply, giving him another wave and then was on his way. Martin sighed and swore again under his breath. He stood and watched until the ambulance had disappeared into the snow that formed a wall to his vision on the other side of the Johnstone yard. He shivered and started on his way back to the yard, already thinking of the questions he would have to ask Leonard. 

From The Devious Kind by Clint Westgard