Shiny Bullets in the Wild West (Preview)

Chapter One

Miles McCallum approached the Show Me Saloon in Genevieve, Missouri. Night in the little town went on, as he imagined it often did. Pedestrians walked up and down the uneven, elevated wooden sidewalks in front of rows of restaurants and cafés, open for business. The shops and services, however, were closed for the night, and the lamplighter had already made his rounds, a row of whale oil lamps on wooden posts creating a double row of glowing yellow orbs ten feet above the thoroughfare.

Miles hadn’t come for the lamps or the nightlife. He wasn’t there to establish a new trade route or to open a cobbler’s shop. He wasn’t going to the Show Me Saloon for the watered-down liquor and rigged games of chance.

He was going to the saloon to kill a man.

It made little difference to him what the man had done. The owner of such a raucous place could be guilty of any number of things and probably was. The list of men and women he’d killed was undoubtedly long and varied, as were the reasons for his actions. Miles didn’t even allow himself to indulge in thinking about it. His job was not to think, to reconsider his orders. He’d been given his assignment and it was for him to complete it, lest he be the next to appear on somebody’s list of corpses in waiting.

And in a land where death reigned supreme, Miles McCallum could hardly be matched. He might yet be bettered, but that would only happen once, and it would happen at the very end of his career and of his life. Until then, he was a lethal shadow, a man licensed to kill with every skill and instinct to carry out his gruesome duties.

Miles stepped into the saloon and glanced around. Nobody seemed to notice his entry, and that was just as well. Wearing a wide-brimmed black hat and a black leather duster, he wouldn’t attract attention, his face primarily hidden. He wasn’t anything or anyone to them, nor they to him. He wasn’t there for them. But like Death itself, Miles would take whatever came. As long as his target fell, the rest could be considered collateral damage.

It would a shameful waste of life, one Miles hoped to avoid. He couldn’t help but look at the men slumped over their drinks, their poker tables, their painted-up women, and be certain that none of them know how close they were to a random death, their only crime being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But a different view, a slight turn of the head, revealed another aspect to their jaunty hilarity, their devil-may-care revelry. From that angle, it was easy to see that they did in fact know how tentative life was, how easily death could be stumbled over at just about any time. These people seemed to know that as well as, if not better than anyone. Their glee couldn’t disguise their desperate fear of their near-certain fates; in fact, all that good humor only revealed their looming horror.

And they were right to be afraid. Even without his own lethal presence, Miles could sense the crime and villainy in the room. Men sat at corner tables, eyes shifting over their tangled beards as they conspired murder or kidnapping or worse. Unlike a lot of unincorporated territories, Genevieve and Missouri were both officially part of the United States, so there was law and there should have been order. But Miles had seen enough corrupt or incompetent sheriffs and politicians in his life to know the true meaning of law and order—both were of great value to the rich, but basically unavailable to the poor.

Anybody in the Show Me Saloon, therefore, was essentially responsible for their own lives, their own deaths. It would take a lot to be held to account in a place like Genevieve. But Miles was a man who was not held to account. He was rarely held at all, or even noticed. Were anybody to try to hold him, he would have no compunction about killing them too.

But nobody in that saloon was likely to care one bit about the lives of anyone or even everyone else in that building. They’d all kill every last man and woman if it would spare their own lives, or even earn them a few extra dollars. They were people without an interest in life, only in living. They had no fear of death, only of dying.

Miles scanned the saloon. A piano sat in the corner, the pianist sitting among a gaggle of giggling women. Men gambled at the tables, poker and faro, smoked cigars and drank and glared at one another. There was no sign of the man he was looking for, the saloon’s owner.

The man wouldn’t be an easy target. He had a bouncer at the door, a big man with a red beard and curly hair, about three hundred pounds of meat and muscle and Colt pistols strapped to his wide hips. There was a rifleman at the end of the open balcony at the top of the stairs, leading guests and their hostesses to any of a series of little rooms, set aside for their private purposes.

But at the end of that hall was an office, Miles felt certain, probably with an adjoining bedroom. That was where his prey would be waiting. But he’d never get past the guard, and killing him would only reveal his presence and his purpose. And that would make success much harder.

Failure was not an option.

So this particular assignment would require a creative approach. Miles had already given it considerable thought, and he was ready to put his plan into action. He had to drive the man out of that office, and he needed to distract the other patrons, and the saloon owner’s men, while he accomplished his grisly task.

Miles stepped up to the bar and ordered a whiskey. The bartender poured it and Miles took a sniff. It was indeed watered-down, not likely to catch fire as easily as Miles would have hoped. But there was another way, reliant upon the lesser instincts of the men and women in that saloon. Those instincts could be as dangerous a weapon as a gun or a knife when manipulated by a skilled hand.

Miles turned to the man next to him, a big fellow with a balding pate and a thin, brown beard. He said, “Watch your feet, partner.”

“My feet’re just fine where they are,” the man said.

“Maybe they’d be better off carrying you outta here… while they still can.”

The man turned to Miles, hand hovering hear a hunting knife in a leather sheath hanging from his gun belt. Miles knew the move, a quick motion that would bring the knife out of the sheath and into his belly, meant to happen before he could realize it, before he could react. But he wouldn’t be the first man to underestimate Miles McCallum, and he wouldn’t be the last.

Miles threw the whiskey into the man’s face just as he made his move with the knife. He grabbed the man’s knife hand, and with a quick turn and jerk, Miles had the bigger man flipping over his shoulder. The man’s big physique smashed into the man on Miles’ other side and the two men standing next to him. All three and the big man collapsed into a heap, knocking others. One person turned to throw a punch, the person receiving it quick to return the blow.

A huge fight broke out in the main floor of the saloon, everybody becoming infected by the contagion of malice. The big bouncer came in to break it up, but there was already more violence than he could manage, even his big body becoming lost in the tangle.

Miles slipped out of the malaise, his eyes not on the bouncer on the first floor but the rifleman on the second. He had three choices, as far as Miles could tell: to inform his boss of the fight, to enjoin it himself, or to stay where he was.

Miles’ actions would depend on the rifleman’s, though there was another option, this one Miles’ own. It would depend on how much gunplay, if any, broke out in the fight dominating the room downstairs.

But the rifleman opted to retrieve his boss, which would have been Miles’ first choice. The lanky fellow knocked on the door and waited before the door flew open. A man with a black mustache stepped out of the office, fitting the description Miles had been given.

There he is, Miles silently told himself. Come to me now.

The saloon owner, whose name was Daniels, followed his rifleman down the long indoor balcony to the stairs. He bellowed, “Who’s causing this riot in my joint?”

Nobody bothered to answer. Daniels remained in the middle of the staircase while his rifleman joined the fray.

Damnit, Miles thought, realizing his prey had stopped short of falling into his trap. A gunshot would set off a crackle of gunfire that would kill perhaps a dozen innocent people. Avoiding it if he could, Miles knew of another way. It would be quick and quiet, but it wouldn’t be painless.

Miles sidled up to the staircase, as close as he could without being seen by his target. The man Daniels wouldn’t know him from Adam by his face, but the man could have suspicions of being hunted, he could be on his guard with the strange and violent outbreak in his saloon.

Miles got closer… closer…

Daniels shouted, “Get these hooligans out of my place!” He didn’t seem aware of Miles’ approach. “I swear if I have to come down there, I’m going to cut every throat I see until we’re drowning in blood or peace is restored!”

Miles reached for his own hunting knife, sheathed on his gun belt. His fingers deftly loosened the strap fixing the knife in place, ready to draw and throw in a single, swift motion.

“Free drinks for anybody who gets these riotous pugilists out of my—”

Slllliich!

Daniels stopped short, the ruckus still roiling on the first floor beneath him. He braced himself against the banister, looking down at Miles’ hunting knife planted in the left region of his chest, deep between two ribs. He reached up to the handle, slowly, clearly stunned into weakness.

“I … I’m slain,” he muttered, slowly falling forward. His gravity pulled him with increasing speed to the bottom of the staircase, amid the chaos of the fight encompassing the saloon’s first floor.

The job was done. If the man still drew breath, he wouldn’t much longer. No sawbones would be able to patch him up. Miles regretted leaving the hunting knife behind, but that was a type of collateral damage he could tolerate. He could always get another knife, and he would, before arriving in Bellevue if possible.

He’d probably need it there, it was easy for Miles to assume. He’d need the knife and a good deal more to do what he had to do.

 

Chapter Two

Audrey Ambers looked out over the audience. They were like most audiences in her experience, initially rowdy, rude, and loud. They hooped and hollered and threw things at the stage. They laughed too loud and shouted things at the actors.

The play was nothing special, Audrey had to admit. Written by a passing newspaperman back in Arkansas, the melodrama was centered around an innocent young woman who loses her father to disease only to be marauded by their landlord, who wishes to marry the woman as a consequence. Upon her refusal, she’s forced to give up her farm, both shelter and livelihood, to be cast out into the streets to become a harlot or a common thief. But such a character would surely expire in a tragic manner after not too long, under such circumstances. Her only hope was a young local man, willing to stand up against the landlord and fight for her freedom.

The play included songs, dances, and several short skits before the main presentation. The skits were meant to let the audiences release their pent-up energy so that others could enjoy the melodrama in peace.

One of the short-piece performances was by Audrey herself, who tended to attract a certain audience. They were drawn to her natural physical beauty, the red hair, green eyes, and pale, freckled skin that so many men found instantly attractive. But it was more than that and Audrey knew it. Her smile seemed to appeal to men, and her innocence drew them. Much of that innocence came to her courtesy of her father, a fellow actor and the theater troupe’s founder and director. He’d protected her from forces that would have compromised her innocence, and she was grateful. Looking out over that unruly audience, she knew her innocence would be the first sacrifice to their endless need for entertainment.

She performed in a cute, spangly outfit that a saloon singer might wear, a tight dress to accentuate her curves, shoulders and arms bare. The pianist played the new song, one that had proven very popular wherever they played it. Arriving in Bellevue, it was likely to be a favorite for as long as they remained.

The song was easy to learn and had a part just for that purpose, the crowd joining in on the wordless refrain.

Audrey sang, “Camp town ladies sing this song…”

The crowd shouted back, “Doo-dah! doo-dah!”

Audrey sang, “Camp town racetrack five miles long…”

The crowd responded, “Oh, the doo-dah day!”

“I come down with my hat caved in,” Audrey sang.

The crowd responded, “Doo-dah! doo-dah!”

“I go back home with a pocketful of tin…”

The crowd whooped and hollered as if she’d sang something suggestive. Under the circumstances, it all seemed suggestive.

The crowd roared back, “Oh, doo-dah day!”

The piano changed chords, giving the song a new, forward thrust. Audrey sang, “Gonnnnnnna run all niiiiiiiight, gonnnnnnna run all daaaaaaaaaay!”

The audience hooted and hollered, Audrey throwing a little shake to her hips.

“I’ll bet my money on the bob-tail nag,” she sang as the song came crashing to its conclusion. “Somebody bet on the baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyy.”

The audience threw up a clamorous round of applause and Audrey threw a few kisses and waves before stepping off the stage. Her father was waiting, as always.

Randall Ambers gave her a kiss on the forehead and muttered, “The audience’s favorite.”

“Oh, Father.”

“But… with the hips? My dear…”

“Oh, Father!”

It wasn’t long before the melodrama began, Audrey playing the role that had been written for her. She stood on the stage surrounded by a modest set, kneeling by the bed where her own father, and producer and director, was playing the role of her dying patriarch.

“Oh, my dear daughter,” he wailed, overacting at every turn. “I should never have brought you out to this terrible place. We should have stayed in the Old Country!”

“No, Father, no,” Audrey said, in character. But the truth of their dialogue was as clear to Audrey as she knew it was to her father. “You’re a brave man, and you wanted the best for me, for my poor, late mother. We love you for your guidance, your patience, and your love.”

“No, my child, you are the only love in my life. And now, I must bid you farewell.”

Audrey cried, holding her father’s hand to her cheek. “Father… you must survive!”

“And I will, dear daughter, for as long as you remember me… and honor my name.”

With that, Randall’s patriarch character spoke his last words. The piano hit a thunderous chord of sorrow and horror as Audrey sobbed. The audience was enraptured, some of them crying along with her. They sat in silence, no more rude outbursts, no more loud revelry. They were absorbed by Audrey’s performance, and they held onto every word until the final curtain, the final bow, when they responded with explosive applause.

Audrey was glad enough to have entertained them for yet another night. The theater business could be rife with peril, much of it based upon somebody taking offense at the performance. Much of it, however, had to do with the fact that theater people were considered worthy of abuse. They were no longer quite as despised as they had been only a few hundred years before, but they were still seen as little more than sophisticated beggars. For a community longing for culture and entertainment, they were more than underappreciated. Actors could be beaten, robbed, raped, abused, and murdered, and most of their fellow citizens wouldn’t bat an eye or think twice about it.

Audrey knew the danger she was putting herself in, and her father knew it, too. He’d sheltered her from the basest instincts of his patrons, and that was just as well. Audrey’s physical beauty was dangerously appealing, her performing enough to beguile just about any man. And the fact that she was as visible as she was, younger and prettier than her other fellow female actor, chubby and aging Jane Dilly, firmly implanted her in the minds of men she didn’t want to meet or know.

But those dangers seemed to come and go, and Randall Ambers kept his daughter safe while still helping her share her gifts. He was dutiful, he was protective, but there would only be so much he could do to keep her safe. Audrey knew that. She was taunting the men in the audience in a certain way, and while she had no wish to, it seemed to be part of the life, part of the scene. Men came to be titillated. It wasn’t the same thing they’d find in the local saloons, of course; it was a different kind of excitement. But there was an undercurrent of the same ugly impulses and desires, with Audrey at the center of their imagined occurrences.

But they could retire to the new theater’s small bedrooms, provided for the cast. Little Ryan “Stretch” Edwards was off to the saloon, his practice as a single man. The poor little dwarf seemed to have little hope of a domestic life, a wife and child, though few enough in the theater business did.

Norman Teil lingered around Audrey’s rooms, but Randall distracted him with praise for his performance that night and notes on how to improve it. Audrey knew her father was only distracting Norman from his increasingly passionate feelings for Audrey. Being in the same troupe, a marriage seemed perfectly convenient for Norman.

Audrey could see the convenience of it, but that wasn’t going to be enough for her to marry, and she’d told Norman that. As much as he’d seemed to accept it, he was still persistent. He was in love with Audrey and was determined to marry her somehow. But he was basically harmless, nothing like the violent thugs they performed for every night, the men who would take her for their own regardless of her feelings on the matter, and regardless of her life, which would hang in the balance. Norman was handsome, brown-haired with eyes to match, and a body that was not offensive. He had an innocence Audrey could appreciate, and one that amused her.

But she just couldn’t find the feelings for him in her own heart that he had discovered for her. The more he tried, the less she felt that his commitment would result in anything other than heartbreak for the poor fellow.

Norman was an actor, and they all lived by the same motto: the show must go on. So whatever his romantic disappointments and frustrations might have been, he was more committed to his performances than to his personal feelings. But their melodrama cast him as her rescuing agent, young and handsome, and he seemed to take those character motivations close to heart during his erstwhile performances.

He was a good actor, and he was a good man. He was a good friend, too, but that was all he’d ever be. He’ll accept that someday, Audrey told herself, when I’m older and not so pretty as I am today, perhaps. Then he’ll be glad he waited for a younger woman to come along.

And they had. The young man had many female admirers, and Audrey wished him success with them all. But he only had feelings for her, troubling feelings that worried her and her father in a way Audrey could neither discount nor discontinue.

In the meantime, it was another quiet night for Audrey Ambers, in her little room in the back of the theater. She was left alone to wonder where a man might be whom she could love as much as Norman loved her. It seemed her life would be little more than a parade of rowdy roomfuls of men, nights alone in a room, while her best years drifted past, a songbird in a golden cage. But the cage was rotting wood, and the cats were at the door, paws reaching in, closer and closer.


“Shiny Bullets in the Wild West” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

In the sleepy town of Bellevue, danger lurks on every corner. Miles McCallum, the most trusted and efficient Pinkerton detective, is hired to kill the owner of a theater. Going undercover as an actor, Miles gets closer to the troupe, but realizes he may not be able to carry out his mission. After unexpectedly falling for the beautiful daughter of his mark, Audrey, he will find himself torn between duty and love.

Will he be able to carry out this perilous quest?

As Miles navigates his way through the treacherous world of theater and espionage, he must grapple with his newfound feelings for Audrey while risking becoming a target himself. His mission may jeopardize the lives of innocent people, and as the troupe prepares for a new play, secrets will be exposed… With a terrible storm coming and an unknown assassin on Miles’s tail, the troupe must work together to survive and perform the play.

Can the truth ultimately be Miles’ downfall?

With violence and cunning plans at every turn, Miles must choose between his loyalty to the Pinkerton agency and his newfound desire for a new life. But as the stakes rise and the danger intensifies, Miles realizes that the only way out may be to fight his way to freedom. Will he choose to escape the agency’s grasp and finally find redemption? Or will he be forever trapped in a life of violence and regret?

“Shiny Bullets in the Wild West” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

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