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Authors: J. R. Roberts

Straw Men

BOOK: Straw Men
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Disturbing the Peace

The second Clint heard the shot, he dropped to one knee and reached for his pistol. Another shot followed the first, but that was just different enough in pitch to have come from a different gun. Soon the camp outside was filled with gunshots. The inside of the tepee wasn't in much better condition.

“They're trying to kill me!” Tolfox shouted.

That was all the braves needed to hear before they swarmed in two directions. Half of the warriors closed in around the chief and the other half ran from the tepee. A few of them stayed right where they were, however. Those were the ones who'd surrounded Clint.

“I didn't fire a shot!” Clint said as one of the braves grabbed his arms and another drew a long blade from a scabbard hanging from his hip. “You were watching me the whole damn time!”

The Indian who'd laid down the law to Clint was the one who got up close to him now. Pressing the knife against Clint's throat, he said, “If any of those soldiers did this, you will die.”

DON'T MISS THESE ALL-ACTION WESTERN SERIES FROM THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

THE GUNSMITH
by J. R. Roberts

Clint Adams was a legend among lawmen, outlaws, and ladies. They called him…the Gunsmith.

LONGARM
by Tabor Evans

The popular long-running series about Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long—his life, his loves, his fight for justice.

SLOCUM
by Jake Logan

Today's longest-running action Western. John Slocum rides a deadly trail of hot blood and cold steel.

BUSHWHACKERS
by B. J. Lanagan

An action-packed series by the creators of Longarm! The rousing adventures of the most brutal gang of cutthroats ever assembled—Quantrill's Raiders.

DIAMONDBACK
by Guy Brewer

Dex Yancey is Diamondback, a Southern gentleman turned con man when his brother cheats him out of the family fortune. Ladies love him. Gamblers hate him. But nobody pulls one over on Dex…

WILDGUN
by Jack Hanson

The blazing adventures of mountain man Will Barlow—from the creators of Longarm!

TEXAS TRACKER
by Tom Calhoun

J. T. Law: the most relentless—and dangerous—manhunter in all Texas. Where sheriffs and posses fail, he's the best man to bring in the most vicious outlaws—for a price.

THE GUNSMITH 320 STRAW MEN
J. R. ROBERTS

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

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.

STRAW MEN

A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2008 by Robert J. Randisi.

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-1012-1530-2

JOVE
®
Jove Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
JOVE is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
The “J” design is a trademark belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

ONE

The poker game had been going for close to two weeks straight. Having taken over one of the biggest tables in the back of the Jackrabbit Saloon, the game had brought more attention to the little town of Juanita than the night when Billy the Kid had used the place for a temporary refuge. Unlike that other time, the poker game could be talked about in the open and without fear of legal entanglements.

It was a bright day in Juanita and the air was warm without drifting too close to hot. But no matter how comfortable it was outside, nearly everyone in town was seeking the shade. That, after all, was where the action could be found.

The Jackrabbit Saloon was situated in the hub of the little town, so it was usually the first destination for newcomers. As such, nobody took much notice when a rider thundered up to the front of the saloon, kicking up enough dust to leave a gritty cloud in the horse's wake. The rider jumped from the saddle, flicked the reins around a hitching post, and stomped into the saloon. Even with all of this noise, the rider had yet to draw more than one or two quick glances.

“This where the Evans game is being played?” the rider asked.

The man tending the bar was a stout, balding fellow with pasty skin and a bulbous nose. “Sure is,” he replied. “It'll cost you two hundred dollars to buy in.”

“I don't want to buy in. I'm looking for one of the men that's supposed to be playing.”

So far, the barkeep hadn't even glanced toward the front door. When he'd answered the rider's question, it was plain to hear that he'd answered it several times already and was getting tired of hearing his own voice. Now that he had another reason to take his eyes off what he was doing, he seemed grateful for the disturbance. Once he got a look at the rider, he grinned from ear to ear.

“Well now,” the barkeep said as he took in the sight of the short woman dressed in buckskins. “If you're looking for someone, I'm the man to ask.”

The rider stepped up to the bar and rolled her eyes at the man's response. Since she had gotten that sort of reception plenty of times in recent days, she paid no mind to the barkeep's wandering eyes. Once she got closer to the bar, those eyes were forced up toward her face anyhow.

“The man I'm looking for is Clint Adams,” she said. “Is he still here?”

“He ain't about at the moment, but he should be around here before too long.”

“How long is that?” a dirty man standing farther along the bar asked. He looked to be somewhere in his late forties and had a long, narrow face covered in graying stubble. His chin was pointed and his eyes were cast in a severe squint. Shoving up to put himself closer to the barkeep, he also managed to shove the rider over a few steps.

“Take it easy, George,” the barkeep warned.

George's squint got even worse until it seemed like a miracle that he could see at all. “To hell with easy! Adams cheated me out of more'n three hundred dollars! Unless
you
want to pay me back, you'd best tell me where that cocksucker is!”

The rider in the buckskins gritted her teeth and knocked her shoulder against George with enough force to reclaim her original spot at the bar. Even though she was just shy of five and a half feet tall, she carried herself like someone who towered over the angry man beside her. Judging by the look on George's face, he surely hadn't expected to be pushed aside so easily.

“Watch your manners, mister,” the rider growled. “I was having a conversation.”

“An' you can still have it,” George replied. Now that he'd had a chance to look her over, his angry squint eased up a bit. “Matter of fact, you can talk with me if you like.”

The rider's buckskins covered her from neck to toe and were accented by a few layers of tattered fringe. A few strands of light brown hair hung down over her forehead and the rest was kept in place by a weathered hat or was tied behind her head. But her hair didn't seem to be what was holding George's attention. His eyes were fixed upon the curves of her breasts beneath the tanned leather. Her hips were slender, but the buckskins wrapped around them nicely.

Glaring up at George, the rider said, “You won't be able to do much talking once I break your jaw. Now, I suggest you back up a step before this gets messy.”

George started to laugh at her, but stopped short when he saw the fire in the rider's eyes. Doing his best to keep his scowl in place, he stepped back and shifted his gaze to the bartender. “This is your place, and I bet you'd lose a whole lot of business if it got out this big game was crooked.”

“It's not crooked,” the bartender said. “Everyone's just getting bent out of shape over nothing.”

“I'm not getting bent out of shape!” the rider protested.

“And three hundred dollars ain't nothin'!” George added. The moment he saw the bartender look over to the rider, George lunged over the bar to grab the man by the front of his shirt. “The bitch will wait her turn! I want this matter resolved right now!”

“What did you just call me?” the rider asked.

“You heard me, dammit. Now just wait yer turn!”

Before the bartender could say a word to either of them, he saw the rider pull back her arm and send a fist straight into George's mouth. Although George was stunned by the blow, he obviously wasn't going to take his lumps and be done with it. His hand flashed toward the gun at his hip as a string of obscenities spewed from his mouth.

So far, the men at the game in the back of the room hadn't looked away from their cards.

BOOK: Straw Men
4.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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