Authors: Lyle Brandt
Die, damn you!
Hubbard thought and marveled at the fury that possessed him, facing down these cowards who had come to murder him, his wife, his friends. The thought of Josey weakened him, but only for a heartbeat, sending up a silent prayer that she'd be safe with Emma's trusted men.
He dropped behind a hedge of shrubbery. No decent cover there, but it was better than the porch. He fired the second barrel of his twelve-gauge blindly at the lynchers, trusting buckshot to find someone as they scattered, then he drew his Colt and cocked it, seeking targets on the street. As in their first engagement, most of the assembled “Knights” had dropped their torches, fearful of attracting gunfire with their light. Some ran toward nearby houses, then discovered that the neighborhood was turning out against them in a rage.
Encouraged, Hubbard rose to join the charge against the mob. He'd taken two long strides when something struck his chest with a sledgehammer's force and drove the breath out of his lungs.
You never hear the shot that kills you,
Hubbard thought as he collapsed.
Titles by Lyle Brandt
The Gideon Ryder Series
The John Slade Lawman Series
The Matt Price Gun Series
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eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-62376-3
Berkley mass-market edition / November 2014
Cover art by Bruce Emmett.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Agent Joseph A. Walker
End of watch: November 3, 1907
t was a good night for a lynching. No moon to speak of, and a dark ceiling of clouds concealed whatever starlight might have helped illuminate the streets of Corpus Christi. Streetlamps, few and far between, guttered and did more to accentuate the lurking shadows than relieve them. Anything could happen on a night like this, and something was about to.
Gideon Ryder lay prone on the flat roof of a cotton warehouse, peering north along the dark street below him, waiting for the lynchers to arrive. They were late already, likely drinking courage to prepare for their adventure, getting fired up for the task they'd set themselves. Hanging a man was thirsty work. Toss in his wife, and it could be downright nerve-racking.
Ryder was as ready for them as he'd ever be. His lever-action Henry rifle was loaded with sixteenÂ .44-caliber rounds in its tube magazine, plus one in the chamber. His
Colt Army Model 1860 revolver, holstered on his left side for a cross-hand draw, was likewise fully loaded, and he carried three spare cylinders to save on time, if it became a standoff. Finally, a Bowie knife was sheathed inside the high top of his right boot, but it wouldn't come to that.
Or, if it did, Ryder supposed he would be out of luck.
One blade against a mob armed to the teeth wasn't the kind of odds he favored. Not for getting out alive, at any rate.
The house across the way, intended target of the raid, was dark and still. He almost envied those inside, likely asleep, or maybe making love. Ryder would happily have taken either option, if he'd had a choice, but duty placed him where he was, another shadow in the night, waiting to see if someone had to die.
I'm on dry land.
His last job had involved considerable sailing on the ocean, not a circumstance that he was anxious to repeat. He was a landlubber, no doubt about it, and would take a desert over rolling wave crests any day. Not that the choice would necessarily be his. He went where he was told to go and dealt with what he found awaiting him, upon arrival.
Last time, it was pirates smuggling gold. This timeÂ .Â .Â . he wasn't absolutely sure yet, but planned on finding out.
His first job was to keep the mob from stringing up a man who might be able to supply the information Ryder needed to complete his task. He'd snooped around the town sufficiently to get a feel for what was happening, but details had been sparse to nonexistent. Rumors wouldn't get him far, distorted as they were from traveling by word of mouth, and maybe by design.
He knew a group of terrorists was operating in the neighborhood of Corpus Christi, making life a hell on Earth for
former slaves and anyone who offered them a helping hand, but that was it, so far. No names, no addresses, and dropping hints in various saloons had gotten him more dirty looks than answers.
know whom the night riders despised. That much was common knowledge, more or less, and when a plan was hatched to throw that fellow a nocturnal necktie party, word of it had filtered to the streets. Ryder supposed it must have reached the local law, as well, but they were steering clear, probably shaking down some of the city's countless pimps and prostitutes to supplement their meager city wages.
So, he'd do the job alone, or try to. Preferably without anybody getting killed.
But if he had to make that choice, Ryder intended to go home alive tonight.
Home in this case being a small room in a boardinghouse that cost him two dollars per week, no extra for the privy out back. His real home was in Washington, D.C.âor had been, until recently. He had been happy with the U.S. Marshals Service, till they'd sacked him for shooting a senator's son. It had been self-defense, and not even a mortal wound, but rich men got their way in Washington, like anywhere else.
Now he was lying on a roof in Texas, six blocks from the waterfront, waiting to see if he would live to see another sunrise.
Now, as if in answer to his thought, he saw light breaking to the northâwhich made no sense, time-wise, or in relation to geography. A second look told Ryder he was staring at the lights of torches, thirty-five or forty of them, held by ragged ranks of marching men. The torchbearers wore hoods resembling flour sacks, a few with hats planted on
top of them at awkward angles, and the firelight showed that all of them were armed. Two of the men in front had long ropes coiled over their shoulders, nooses dangling at their hips.
No false alarm, then.
Ryder watched the mob approaching, peering over rifle sights, wondering how many of those faceless strangers he might have to kill.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
hat is it, Tom?”
The sound of Josey's sleepy voice distracted Thomas Hubbard, kneeling in the darkness, fumbling for the Sharps breech-loading shotgun he kept underneath their bed. When he'd retrieved the long gun, Hubbard pulled a heavy Colt Dragoon revolver from its hiding place inside the top drawer of his night table.
Her tone had grown more urgent now, frightened.
“We're having visitors,” he said, half whispering, although they were alone inside the small frame house.
“Be calm now,” he commanded. “We've rehearsed this.”
“But I never thoughtâ”
“Where do you go?” he interrupted her.
She stopped, moved close enough to touch his shoulder in the dark. “The bathtub,” she replied.
Cast iron, it was, and capable of stopping bullets once they'd spent force punching through the walls. She would be safest there, unlessâ
“What if there's fire?” he pressed her.
“Run out through the back, to Mammy Waller's.”
“And if someone gets past me?”
“I fight, if I can't run. Thomasâ”
“Go fetch your implements. Quick, now.”
She ducked into the kitchen, not a long walk in the little house, and came back bearing steel, a cleaver in her right hand, and foot-long butcher's knife in the left. Settling beside him on the floor, she said, “Thomas, I don't know whether I canâ”
“You'll do what you have to do,” he said, trying to reassure her. “Kiss me, now, and then go hide.”
She made it last a moment longer than he'd planned, enough to stir him at this least appropriate of times, then Josey bolted for the bathroom. As they'd planned, she did not shut the door behind her. With it open, she could keep track of the action in the house and on the street outside, and it would be more difficult for anyone to corner her. Hubbard could hear her as she crawled into the tub, her nightgown rustling, weapons clanking as their blades struck iron.
Hubbard still didn't know exactly what had woken him. He barely slept, these nights, and hadn't had a full night's sleep since he arrived in Corpus Christi, but tonight was different. He'd bolted upright in the bed he shared with Josey, knowing there was danger on the way and that they did not have much time for preparation.
Just as well, then, that he'd been prepared for trouble from day one. He wished that Josey had stayed in St. Louis, but she wouldn't hear of it, insisted on living their vows to the utmost, for better or worse.
Till death do us part,
he thought, trying to swallow the lump in his throat.
Hubbard saw torchlight in the street outside and shifted his position at the window for a better field of fire. He hoped it wouldn't come to killing, but in Corpus Christi, when a mob showed up outside your home at night, it was a safe bet
they had murder on their minds. Hubbard had half a dozen buckshot cartridges preloaded, half a dozen pellets each, which ought to do some damage in a crowd. After he fired the first round, they'd be shooting back, and it would quickly go to hell from there, no matter how he tried to hold the line. The mob would have mobility and numbers on its side, and he could only hope that Josey would be able to escape before they stormed the house or burned it down around him.
Was it worth it?
Hubbard asked himself. And once again, he had to answer,
For him, at least. But JoseyÂ .Â .Â .
Now the mob was coming into view, their torches giving him a halfway decent look at them. They all wore hoods, of course, embarrassed to be seen doing their “patriotic” work. Most of the group wore workmen's clothes, although a couple out in front were dressed in suits and had their shoes polished, reflecting torchlight, so the flour sacks pulled down over their heads looked all the more ridiculous. All of the men that he could see were armed, most of them packing guns, although a few carried axes and long-bladed cane knives. The two well-dressed leaders had ropes, their hangman's nooses dangling.
nooses, he noted, which meant they planned on killing Josey, too.
A brutal rage welled up inside of Hubbard, blotting out most of his fear. Attacking him was one thing; he'd invited it, even expected it. But setting out to lynch a woman in the middle of the night was something else. A new low for the sneaky bastards who pretended everything they did was in the interest of defending “southern womanhood.”
Tonight, he swore, at least a few of them would pay for their effrontery. They'd pay in blood, by God, and if they took him downâwhich he supposed, based on their numbers, they
were bound to doâat least the sons of bitches would remember they'd been in a fight.
He eased the window open, shy of smashing it himself, and called out to the street, “What do you want?”
“You need to ask?” one of the rope bearers yelled back to him, making the others laugh.
“I reckon not,” Hubbard replied, hoping they didn't hear the tremor in his voice. “But you'd be wise to turn around and go back home.”
“Soon as we're done here,” said the other rope man, while the others laughed some more.
“You've got no right to do this,” Hubbard answered back.
“We're doin' this for God and for the State of Texas,” said the man who'd spoken first. “We aim to set a clear example for the other carpetbaggers.”
“And my wife?”
“Be pleased to entertain 'er for a spell, before we string her up,” said someone in the hooded ranks.
Hubbard cocked the Sharps and shouted back, “Come on, then. It'll cost you.”
He was readyâthought he was, at leastâbut when the first shot echoed in the street, he flinched away and wondered where in hell it had come from.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
yder didn't plan on killing anybody when he fired into the crowd. He sighted on a torch one of the hooded men was holding overhead, off to the far edge of the mob from where he lay atop the warehouse, held his breath, and squeezed the Henry's trigger just as gently as you please. TheÂ .44 slug found its mark, the torch head detonating, raining sparks onto the man who held it. When his hood caught
fire, the would-be lyncher started whooping, running aimlessly in circles while he batted at the flaming flour sack.
The others froze, then panicked, trying to determine where the shot had come from. Several turned their weapons on the house they had been planning to attack, blasting away, and someone at the nearest window fired a shotgun blast into the crowd.
He couldn't blame the mob's target for fighting back, but Ryder hoped to scare the lynchers off, not start a battle in the middle of the street. If the police showed up, he knew there was a fair chance they would take the lynchers' side and rush the house, claiming its occupants had started everything.
And Ryder hadn't planned on shooting any coppers.
Not yet, anyway.
He pumped the Henry's lever action, hoped no one would spot his muzzle flash, and fired a second shot above the shrouded heads below him. This one didn't have the same impact, with the other weapons going off down there. In fact, it almost seemed as if no one had noticed. Ryder cursed and took a chance, picked one of the mob's leaders, standing with a large revolver pointed at the house, and sighted on his gun hand.
This time, there was no mistaking the reaction. Impact sent his target's pistol flying, and a couple of the shooter's fingers with it, spinning through a puff of crimson mist. The man on the receiving end let out a howl of pain and dropped his torch, clutching the wrist below his mangled paw with his free hand. He wouldn't bleed out if he got some help before too long, but at the moment he was miles away from thinking straight.
One of his cohorts tried to help; he rushed forward with
his torch and grabbed the leader's wounded hand and brought it to the flames. That raised another cry of agony, more shrill and high-pitched than the last, before the leader snatched his helper's torch away and smashed it down atop the other's hooded skull. That set the pair of them to brawling, and it quickly spread among the others, fists and gun butts swinging, leaving bloody stains on cotton sacks.
So much for brotherhood.
Another shotgun blast came from the house and struck one of the brawlers in his hind parts. He went down, then struggled to his feet again and limped off toward the melee's sideline, hands cupping his wounded buttocks. Others, maybe stung by stray shot, bolted from the fight and started running back the way they'd come, dropping their torches in the street.