Read Staring Down the Devil (A Lou Prophet Western #5) Online

Authors: Peter Brandvold

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Staring Down the Devil (A Lou Prophet Western #5)

BOOK: Staring Down the Devil (A Lou Prophet Western #5)
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Issuing new and classic fiction from Yesterday and
Today!

Even though bounty
hunter Lou Prophet is clean out of money, he'd rather ride a cactus
than be saddled with foreign royalty. But comely Russian Countess
Natasha Roskov has a problem: Her sister has disappeared after
finding a treasure trove in Arizona — and all the countess has to
go on is a map. Prophet knows that a beautiful woman with a
treasure map will attract trouble like wolves are drawn to a fresh
kill. Now he's forced to take his noble employer on the ride of her
life — while fighting off a pack of ruthless villains
.

 

STARING DOWN THE
DEVIL

LOU PROPHET 5

By Peter Brandvold

First published by
Berkley Books in 2004

Copyright
©
2004 by Peter Brandvold

Published by Piccadilly
Publishing at Smashwords: December 2013

Names, characters and
incidents in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to actual
events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead is purely
coincidental.

This ebook is licensed
for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or
given away to other people. If you would like to share this book
with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each
reader. If you’re reading the book and did not purchase it, or it
was not purchased for your use only, then please return to
Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting
the hard work of this author.

Cover image © 2013 by
Westworld Designs

This is a Piccadilly
Publishing Book

Published by
Arrangement with the Author.

Chapter One

It would be
remembered forever in the annals of the Slap & Tickle Saloon as
the night a pretty whore goaded Lou Prophet into wrestling a
bear.


Oh,
come on, Lou,” the girl pouted before the infamous event. “It’s not
a very big bear.”

Prophet was playing poker with four other gents at one of the
Slap & Tickle’s four gambling tables. The game was stud, ten
cents the limit, and the dull-eyed houseman had a bad case of the
yawns. Prophet had been trying to fill in a straight when the girl
had come into the gambling den and poked a wet finger in his ear,
voicing her request.

She
was a short, round-faced girl with a delectable rosebud mouth and
large breasts doing all they could to wriggle out of her skimpy
purple dress. Skin like cream and
hair like
corn silk. A fake pearl necklace was
looped
several times around her neck, spilling over the ridge of her bosom
to her waist. That, her snakeskin headband, and the feathers in her
hair lent an added exotic flair.

Tillie
Azure was the sexiest whore in Denver. Prophet had never had the
pleasure of her pleasures before, but she’d assured him earlier the
night was his. Now he was trying to earn enough money to afford
her. He’d come to town two days ago fairly flush, having
apprehended a bandit named “Walleye” Ned Whitcomb with a
two-hundred-and-fifty-dollar bounty on his head, but Cherry Creek’s
pleasure girls and poker tables had cleaned him out.


I
don’t care how big he is,” Prophet said around the cheap cheroot in
his mouth, chuckling dryly, “I ain’t wrastlin’ no bear.”


It’s
a black bear, not a grizzly,” Tillie said.


Good
for him.”


What’s the bear’s name?” asked the traveling drummer sitting
to Prophet’s right.

Prophet looked at him. “How could that make a
difference?”


Curly,” the girl said.


Oh,
Curly.” The drummer grinned.

Prophet frowned. “You know him?”


That’s ole Cal Dyson’s bear. Dyson’s an ex-mountain man.
Raised the bear from a cub. Dyson’s old, kinda stove up from layin’
traps in all that snowmelt, so now he and the bear just hang out
here at the Slap & Tickle, and the old coot makes money off
chumps who wanna wrestle his bear.”


You
mean,” Prophet said, his forehead creased with incredulity, “men
actually pay to wrestle the bear?”


No,”
said the stocky miner to Prophet’s left. “They bet they can beat
him.”


Some
can,” the drummer said, “some can’t.”


He’s
old,” Tillie said.


Well,
I ain’t bettin’ I can take no bear, old or not,” Prophet told the
girl. “And that’s that.”


Well,” Tillie said, crossing her arms over her ample breasts
and stomping one heel on the floor, “I just bet fifty dollars you
could. And if you don’t go in there and wrestle that bear, Lou
Prophet, you won’t be spending this or any night with
me.”

Prophet looked at her, his mouth open, about to tell the girl
that Ma Prophet of Murray County, Georgia, hadn’t raised no fool
and that she could go to hell. But then his eyes ran down her soft,
curvy figure before returning to her sexy indigo gaze, and he
imagined how she would look, wearing only the headband and the
pearls . . .


Step right up here, Mr. Prophet,” the
old
mountain man said, his right fist full
of bills.
Turning to the bear sleeping in
the corner, he said, “Curly, get up here now. You got work to
do!”

“What’s the matter with him?” Prophet asked, indicating the
man passed out on the floor behind Dyson’s chair. The man had a
pained snarl on his face.

“Oh,
he’ll be all right,” Dyson chuckled. “He just wasn’t ready for
Curly’s turnip twist, is all.”

“You
mean he wrestled the bear?”

“Always does.” Dyson chuckled and wagged his head, thumbing
through the bills, his grizzled gray hair falling from beneath a
greasy wool hat with a narrow, upturned brim.

Men
and pleasure girls had gathered
around
Prophet. The bartenders had paused
to watch
from behind the mahogany. When he’d entered the room from the
gambling den, the room had erupted in applause, and Tillie had
marched him over to the mountain man’s corner, cheerily leading her
lamb to the slaughter.

“What
the hell’s a turnip twist?” Prophet wanted to know, scowling with
apprehension.

“Curly, get up now, damn ye!” Dyson said, prodding the bear
with his gnarled hickory cane. “You got work to do.”

The
bear’s head lolled, and it swiped at the cane with a heavy paw.
Dyson prodded the animal again, and the bear lifted its head, its
deep brown eyes blinking and clearing as it rose out of its
stupor.

Again, Dyson
prodded the beast. Prophet watched skeptically as the animal yawned
and stretched and slowly gained its feet. It ambled over to Dyson
and regarded Prophet dully.

It was
a big bear, but Prophet had seen bigger. Prophet weighed about
two-twenty in his birthday suit, and all his horse riding and
owlhoot chasing had chiseled every pound to hard muscle. The bear
weighed probably double that, but Curly had big jowls and flabby
shoulders and hips, and he
moved awkwardly,
swaying on his back hips,
as though his
bones were stove up from lying too long on the cold saloon floor.
Also, he had a sizable paunch. Glancing at the floor where the bear
had been lying, Prophet saw a pie tin of what looked like
beer.

Prophet grinned as he stared into the bear’s glassy eyes.
Curly was not only fat and stove up. He was drunk, to
boot.

Dyson
gave the bear’s rear a swap with the cane and said, “Don’t just
stand there, Curly. Have at it. And keep your claws in. And for god
sakes leave the poor man’s nose alone.”

“Nose?” Prophet crouched as he moved toward the bear, feeling
like an idiot, not quite sure what to do with his hands. He’d never
wrestled a bear. Maybe he should have sought the counsel of someone
who had. . . .

“And
leave off with the turnip twist!” Dyson ordered as the bear
shuffled toward Prophet.

Prophet looked at
the mountain man, who reclined in his chair like a lord, his boots
crossed on the table on which his money, beer glass, and notebook
lay.

Anxiously Prophet asked, “What the hell’s a turnip
twist?”

Several onlookers chuckled and elbowed each other. Dyson’s
brows furrowed. He scribbled something in his notebook.

Whatever a turnip twist was, it was too late for Prophet to
back out now. The bear had closed on him, the animal’s eyes dark
and dumb but deep with feral purpose. He smelled of beer and the
wild, musky-sweet smell of bear.

“Go,
Lou!” Tillie Azure cried from a group of several other doves,
clapping her hands. “I know you can do it. See, he’s not a very big
bear at all, and he’s been drinkin’ all afternoon!”

Prophet moved in.
His best strategy would be to act quickly and take the bear by
surprise. As the beast rose up on its hind legs, Prophet ducked
under its nailing paws, pivoted around behind it, and jumped onto
its back, crooking his arms around its neck.

The
bear cried out with surprise as Prophet tightened his hold on its
neck and dug his boots into Curly’s gut. Giving another cry, the
beast lost its balance, stumbled heavily, and fell with a
boom.

“Go,
Lou!”Tillie cried.

Gaining confidence, Prophet scrambled onto his heels, bolted
off his feet, and dived onto the bear’s shaggy belly, pinning one
hairy leg with both his knees while holding the other down with his
arms.

Curly gave an
angry wail, jerking all his limbs at once, and suddenly Prophet was
airborne, flying head over heels, brushing an onlooker, and
plunging through a chair. He hit the floor hard on his ass. Staring
at the rafters, he gulped air into his battered lungs.

“Lou-oo!” Tillie complained with more disgust than concern.
Several others, including Dyson, yelled and clapped for the
bear.

“Get
that son of a bitch, Curly!” a man yelled. “Get that son of a
bitch!”

Prophet turned to
see the shaggy beast awkwardly gain its feet, head swinging,
smacking its lips as though hungry, its eyes as dark and dumb as
before but with a vague glitter deep in the pupils, like a small
flame at the bottom of a well. It lifted its front paws eagerly,
giving Prophet an indignant glare.

Knowing he couldn’t remain on the floor without the bear
sitting on him or worse, Prophet gained his feet, staggering, red
flares flashing behind his eyes. The bear approached, chuffing and
growling and working its nose.

Prophet raised his fists, intending to smack the bear, which
stood about Prophet’s six-four. But the idea somehow seemed
ludicrous. Who in the hell ever heard of punching a bear? What in
the hell would you aim for — its nose? You’d only break your hand
if you tried smacking that thick skull.

The hesitation
was a mistake.

As
Prophet tried to skip around the brute, the bear turned quickly,
lunging and bowling into Prophet with what felt like the weight of
an overloaded dray. Prophet went down, the back of his head
slamming the puncheons and igniting a chorus of hoarse trumpets in
his ears.

Sucking back the
pain, he scrambled to his haunches. The bear got down on all fours
and rammed Prophet with his shoulder. The weight and force was too
much. Flat on his back once again, his head feeling like a smashed
pumpkin, Prophet again found himself staring at the
rafters.

“I
give ... I give . . .” he mumbled, trying to be heard above the
crowd’s din.

The
bear rested its forearms on Prophet’s chest, forcing the air from
his lungs. Prophet struggled against the enormous weight,
desperately kicking his legs. The great beast lowered its head, its
eyes dark and flat and gold-flecked with rage. The toothy mouth
opened, then closed over Prophet’s nose.

“Owwww!” Prophet yelled as the teeth dug in. By instinct and
reflex more than cunning, he brought his right boot up hard into
the animal’s crotch.

The
bear opened its mouth, releasing Prophet’s nose. It tipped its head
back and cut loose with an indignant roar so loud that the hanging
lamps shook.

The
crowd fell silent as Curly sank to his butt, stubby back legs
straight out before
him, and dropped his
paws to his injured groin. With a more hurt, indignant look than
Prophet had seen on the face of man
or
beast, the bear wailed again, its eyes glaring at the rafters, its
head wagging from side
to side as if asking
why, why, why?

Prophet scrambled back on his butt and glanced around. The
crowd regarded the
bear sadly. Several
incriminating looks were
directed at
Prophet. Heads wagged.

“Jesus, what an awful thing to do!” someone
exclaimed.

“He
kicked him in the balls,” someone else said, as though he could
hardly believe his eyes.

As
Curly wailed again, still holding his crotch, Prophet said, “Well,
what in the hell did you expect me to do? The damn brute tried
bitin’ my nose off!” He grabbed the appendage in question and his
fingers came away stained with blood — not a lot, but enough to
know his kick had been justified.

“Oh,
Lou!” Tillie cried, gazing at Prophet reprovingly. “How could
you?”

“What?” Prophet raged. For god’s sake, the bear had tried to
bite off his nose.

“Lou!”
Tillie cried again, stomping her foot. Turning to Dyson, who’d come
out of his chair to check the damage to his bear, she said, “I’m
sorry, Mr. Dyson. I never
should have
suggested an uncouth brute like that” — she jerked her head at
Prophet — “wrestle poor Curly. I just didn’t know he’d fight like a
damn . . .
girl!”

With
that, Tillie lifted her skirts, wheeled, pushed through the crowd,
and marched haughtily up the stairs at the back of the room. The
other girls gave Prophet angry glares and followed Tillie’s
lead.

“You
okay, Curly?” Dyson asked the bear, hunkering down to get a look at
the brute’s crotch.

The bear only
glowered at him and snorted, then pushed the man away and climbed
to all fours. Wobbling like an off-balance Gypsy cart, it ambled
back to its place in the corner, gave one last bereaved sigh, and
lay down. Kicking one leg out, it planted its snoot on the floor
and snorted, staring balefully at a knot in the worn
puncheons.

Prophet looked around the room in exasperation, unable to
believe all the nasty looks directed at him. “What in the hell did
you expect me to do?” he yelled, his indignant voice breaking on
the high notes.

“I
know what you can do, mister,” a burly man in miner’s garb
declared, stepping forward. “You can get the hell out of here right
now.”

“Yeah,
you’re not welcome in the Slap & Tickle anymore, Prophet,” one
of the bartenders told him.

“Now,
wait a minute . . .”

Before Prophet
could say more, three other men came forward. Two took his arms and
two took his legs. Deaf to his objections, they carried him like a
battering ram across the room and through the batwings.

“Now
maybe you’ll think twice before fightin’ cheap again!” one of the
men said as he and the others threw the bounty hunter headfirst
into the street.

It had been
raining, and the mud was a foot deep, laced with a healthy dose of
horse dung. Prophet slid halfway into the street before he came to
a stop. He lifted his face from the mud and dung, spitting the foul
ooze from his mouth, blinking.

A pair
of lady’s cloth boots and the hem of a heavy wool skirt, held above
the mud, appeared before him. To the right was a pair of men’s
ankle-high, calfskin shoes below the hemmed cuffs of pin-striped
trousers. A black frock brushed the man’s knees.

“Well,” said the woman with cool disapproval, “that was a very
attractive display.” She spoke in an Old World brogue, pronouncing
her w’s like v’s.

“Yes,
very attractive,” said the man. His voice bore the same accent as
the woman’s. “Very attractive indeed, Countess. Are you sure he is
the one we are looking for?”

“No,”
the woman said crisply. “But bring him anyway.”

BOOK: Staring Down the Devil (A Lou Prophet Western #5)
8.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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