A Trapper’s Infallible Instinct (Preview)

Chapter One

Zadie Smallwood had been feeling ill all day. Something was wrong. Pueblo, Colorado was growing fast, and there was a sense of change in the air. Since the end of the War Between the States, as far east as that fight had been, there was a sense of rebirth, of new possibility. New citizens streamed in from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and a variety of points beyond. Telegraph poles were carrying messages as if by magic, and there was even talk of carriages that moved under their own power.

Things were changing.

But Zadie’s instincts told her that an even bigger change was coming. It was the people themselves, Zadie knew that. They were all basically the same. Most seemed interested only in themselves, and they could rank among the harmless. But not all of them, and some were every bit as villainous and wicked as any in history. People didn’t seem to be getting worse, or any better. Some things never changed. Yet for all the advances in technology, despite the growth of the towns and cities, everything seemed to be getting smaller—the Rocky Mountains, the country, the whole world.

But that wasn’t what was nagging at Zadie’s instincts. It was something else, something deep in her belly, in her heart, in her soul. And it wasn’t the first time.

Zadie had been struck by instincts such as those her entire life. Her mother claimed she was given a gift by the angels; her father sometimes remarked that she was a witch. But just the way some folks could sense the rain by an aching in their bones, Zadie could sense trouble approaching. But she rarely knew where it was coming from or when.

Zadie had also developed a strong instinct to run. She been on the run from her father since her mother died under mysterious circumstances. She couldn’t prove that her father had done it, but her instincts told her so. They’d propelled her through the plains, across territories infested with Shoshone and Apache, crawling with banditos, cougars, and bears both black and grizzly. They’d helped her avoid flash floods and survive trails that had taken traveling companions and predators alike.

And those same instincts were telling Zadie to run, run for her life.

She looked around the Colorado Belle Saloon. It was the quiet late morning, when business was at its slowest. Even the heartiest of stragglers had gone home, the girls were getting some sleep to ready for another hard day of satisfying the most depraved needs of the worst men in Pueblo.

It wasn’t where Zadie had ever imagined herself winding up, and it certainly wasn’t where she wanted to stay. There were worse places to be, she had to admit. Lucky Deats wasn’t a bad man, as far as pimps went. He was firm but fair. It wasn’t easy running a saloon and also a bunch of girls, though Miss Margaret saw the girls much more than Lucky ever did. Still, he lorded over everything in the Colorado Belle, and over much of Pueblo, too. He worked with the sheriff to keep the town running smoothly, and he protected the girls from the worst of the outside world.

Lucky kept them fed, let them drink, and tried to keep them away from the junk that was coming in with the Chinese.

But he didn’t like it when his girls left, for whatever reason. And he wasn’t going to appreciate Zadie’s leaving, either. She was popular for her good looks; she was young and blonde with blue eyes and a pretty face, her body still firm and soft at the same time.

And she didn’t come cheap. Lucky knew what an asset he had in Zadie. He charged extra for her and got top dollar. She didn’t have to be bothered by the lowliest of the saloon’s visitors, and Zadie appreciated that. Ginger and the other girls didn’t, but that didn’t matter to Miss Margaret or to Lucky Deats. They really only cared about one thing: money.

Like so many people, Zadie thought, sitting in that little room alone, musty from a night of plying her trade. Money is all they care about, all anybody cares about. She thought about life on the plains, how it likely was in the Rockies. The predators didn’t care about money, the Apache and the Shoshone didn’t care about money, even the banditos didn’t seem to care as much about the money. For them, it seemed to be about power. Road agents relished their power as much as the grizzly bears relished their own. They traveled in packs for greater strength, as the gray wolves did. They killed the weak, ate their fill, and birthed their young. It all seemed so simple, unchanged since man’s earliest days upon the Earth.

But that wasn’t the kind of simplicity Zadie was looking for. The safety of the Colorado Belle was preferable to the primitive honesty of the rugged landscape. She’d barely survived her travails getting to Pueblo, to the shelter of the Belle. She didn’t much care for the idea of trying to escape Lucky’s dominion. He wouldn’t let any of his girls survive an escape, even if it meant killing them in pursuit. The main thing was that he maintained control over his girls, his saloon, his town.

Money and power, Zadie thought. Some things never change.

She took a deep breath and tried to get some sleep. It would be another long day, and she’d need all the—

Bang! Bang-bang!

Zadie sprang up in her bed, the gunshots feeling like they were barreling through her own body.

Bang, bang! B-bang-bang-bang! She sat frozen. Lucky had told them all what to do in case of a sudden explosion of violence; in their line of work, it was always a possibility. The rule was to stay in their rooms, and Zadie was happy enough to do that. She was certainly in no hurry to charge out into the gunfire.

Bang! Bang-b-bang!

The extended shooting was a bad sign. Lucky sometimes had to kill a customer, though it was always a move of last resort. Cutting their throats quietly when necessary was always the better move. The Colorado Belle’s bouncer, the big redhead Ian McLeish, kept a close watch on the door and on the throats of anybody coming and going. Formidable and frightening, he was a force for order the Colorado Belle needed.

B-bang! Bang!

Both Lucky and Ian were skilled gunmen, and the longer the shooting went on, the more likely it was that they were failing to quiet the violence. Instead, it seemed likely that they were being consumed by it.

A long, frightening stillness followed, which did nothing to soothe the worried nausea turning in Zadie’s stomach. She’d anticipated a terrible event and it had surely come. The footsteps getting louder as they approached from the hallway outside her door told Zadie the trouble hadn’t passed. On the contrary, it was coming straight for her.

She waited, helpless. She and the other girls were not allowed guns, and the Johns knew that. A lot of them took advantage of the fact, though none who could afford a girl like Zadie. But those weren’t the type of men who were fast approaching her door, Zadie felt certain.

Crack! The little door flew open with an obviously forceful blow from the other side. A man barged in, a bandana tied over his face. He moved directly toward the bed, the only real furniture in the little room, as if he knew just where to go.

Zadie screamed, but the man ignored her. He fell onto her in that bed without a word, without a moment’s pause. He smashed a second bandana over her face, a noxious smell she knew from the doc’s office streaming into her nostrils. It burned, her eyes watering. She grabbed the man’s hand, trying to pull it off her face, but her mouth and nose were covered by the cloth. She could hardly breathe, her eyes stinging with the acidic fumes. Zadie tried to swat him away, but he was practically on top of her and his strong arm pinned her own, gloved fist locked around her wrist.

Zadie’s vision blurred, her hearing becoming a dull hum as her body weakened. She remained conscious, aware of her surroundings. But her limbs went numb, her breath a strained wheeze.

The man pulled the handkerchief from over her face and scooped Zadie up off the bed. He slung her over his shoulder, her upper body facing his lower back as he carried her out of the little room. Zadie strained to take in her surroundings, upside-down and barely able to breathe.

Other girls were shrieking or crying out, and more muffled voices leaked in from the corners of the saloon as Zadie’s captor carried her down the upper hall, open to the barroom below. The room was filled with gun smoke and dust, little movement in the big room. Li’l Jimmy the bartender was nowhere in sight, as far as Zadie could tell.

She tried to punch the man’s back, but she was hardly able to clench a fist at all, much less use one to any good effect. Her captor carried her down the stairs, his shoulder pushing up and into her belly. She was near to vomiting if she didn’t pass out or suffocate to death first.

Descending the stairs, Zadie tried to crane her head in each direction, searching out a picture of the results of the gunfight, but she already knew what they had to be.

The men would never have made it up the stairs if Ian or Lucky were still alive.

A strained glance to her left confirmed the fact of Lucky’s death—the man was lying motionlessly on a poker table, arms and legs splayed, a massive blackened hole in his belly.

Another glance revealed that the other girls were being carried out of the rooms just as she was, slung over the men’s shoulders. One man, particularly large, carried two girls, one over each shoulder. Each seemed to be wriggling just a bit, and Zadie knew they’d been drugged just as she had been.

Miss Margaret also lay dead, big and round and crumpled in the corner. Only Li’l Jimmy was unaccounted for, and Zadie could only hope that he’d escaped with his life.

She managed to think, Where’s Sheriff Thomas? He’s in Lucky’s pocket… isn’t he?

It seemed likely that the sheriff was either dead or in league with the men who’d raided the saloon. Maybe his own hires, Zadie thought. But her brain was pounding and her lungs were burning, her face tingling.

It had been a calculated hit on the Colorado Belle. The men knew just where to find the girls; they came prepared to drug them into weakness so they could be carried out after the deaths of their protectors.

And Zadie had little doubt as to what was motivating the men.

Money and power, she thought, and even that was a struggle.

The man carried her toward the rear of the saloon, where there was a back door to the alley running behind the saloon. It had been the scene of many a mugging and murder, but on that day, it was serving another purpose.

Zadie looked across the saloon as the man moved through the room. Big Ian lay dead, rifle still in his hands, a neat red hole in the center of his forehead. Zadie’s view was blocked by another man, carrying Ginger over his own shoulder. Zadie recognized her from her feet, encased in the red shoes she always wore. She thought they made her legs look good, and she was right. Zadie knew then that they may have made her legs look too good.

The dark of the rear of the saloon was broken by a sudden rush of daylight as they carried Zadie and the other girls out to the shady alley. It stank of urine and feces, human and canine. But stray dogs weren’t Zadie’s concern.

The masked man slung her off his shoulder and onto a cart, her body hitting the hard pine planks. She couldn’t resist as he pulled her hands behind her back and tied them. She felt the rope being wrapped around and tied off, though she could do nothing to stop him. He looped a rope around her ankles and tied them, too. Zadie looked next to her at Ginger, also being trussed up. The twins, Lurlene and Darlene, were being hogtied on Ginger’s other side.

In a sudden intrusion, a bandana was jammed into Zadie’s mouth from behind, pulling tight around her head and digging into her cheeks. It pinned her tongue down and filled her mouth. He tied it tight behind her head and then shoved Zadie back down to lay on her side on the cart. Next to her, they shoved Ginger and the twins down, too, all tied and gagged just the way Zadie was. One of the masked men pulled a canvas from one side of the cart bed, draping it over the four women. Zadie’s world became dark, already stifling under that heavy canvas. Her weakened body was pinned down by the weight. But she lacked the strength to push herself up in any case. She couldn’t see anything and nobody could see her or the other girls.

The cart jostled as the men climbed on from different angles. One of them barked at the horse, which started to pull the cart forward. Zadie was jostled, aware that they were moving, but that was about all she could be sure of. She had no way of knowing who had raided the saloon or why, but she knew she’d find out eventually.

No, Zadie told herself, even as she lay flat on the cart. I’ll get away from these men, or be killed trying. But I’m not going to let them do whatever it is they have in mind.

It won’t be good.

But first Zadie had to regain her strength. She’d have to find the right time to make her move, and she’d need control of her body and her brain to do that—if she lived that long.

Chapter Two

Roddy Crippman stepped through the ash and pine, birds crying and fluttering out of the canopy behind him. He climbed the steady slope, Ghost further behind him. While the forest was too dense for the speckled stallion, Roddy knew it was dangerous to leave the horse behind. An easy target for cougars or bear, the animal could also be stolen or snake-bit or encounter any number of other perils.

Roddy himself was likewise compromised. On his feet, he was smaller and less impressive to potential predators than when he was on horseback. He also had considerably less speed.

And the big stag seemed to know all that. It was almost as if it was luring Roddy through the forest, higher and higher. The stag was in his place of power, and it had to know that Roddy was not. Roddy was a human; the animals of the Rockies could smell that. They knew the human was an animal to be feared, a predator to avoid.

But it was too late for that.

The rifle shot had struck the animal in the left shoulder. It had moved at the last minute, robbing Roddy of a quick kill and itself of quick death. Instead, the animal had fled. It was doubtlessly in pain and would certainly die after not too long, either by blood loss or the infection that would follow. The most likely scenario was that the animal would attract opportunistic predators that would kill it before Roddy could. Or worse, Roddy could get to the stag and kill it, only to be attacked by a grizzly bear or mountain lion while he was skinning and butchering it.

But Roddy had the skills and experience of an effective hunter. He could render the animal quickly enough, leaving the guts and bones to local predators. But he’d also be carrying twenty pounds of meat and ten pounds of hide back to Ghost in the clearing, and then all the way back to his camp.

The camp, Roddy thought. Once the meat’s smoked and the hide cleaned, I’ll leave and make camp somewhere else, leave the area for a while.

Why bother to stay?

Roddy pushed farther up the slope. His legs were strong, no doubt more so than the stag could imagine. Its kind knew what it was to be hunted, but the little human had to be less than intimidating to the mighty stag. This one was a whitetail, with ten points spread out over almost four feet. The beast stood five feet at that wounded shoulder. The Rockies were littered with the bones of hunters who’d been over-confident in confronting such a male animal, even when it wasn’t injured. That made any beast even more dangerous, filling it with an urgency to fight or flee or perhaps both.

It was also frightened, Roddy knew, its own instincts telling it that time was running out. It knew it was being hunted, he had no doubt of that. How much more strength the animal had, Roddy was about to find out.

He couldn’t help but feel badly for the animal. It had a life, just as he had his own. The creature only wanted to survive, just as he did. But it was on in years, as well, proven by its many points. The creature had born a new generation or perhaps more. It had served the mountain and the mountain had served it.

It would now serve Roddy, in just the way that God and nature surely intended.

It was only a matter of time before the mountain took the same toll on Roddy himself. Life in the Rockies was brutal and short, and death was constantly tracking him. Roddy would never have the life he wanted or felt he deserved, so he would lead the life he had available to him. He was a trapper, a bringer of death, another meager soul trying to eke out a living at the mountain’s expense. But that massive hostess took her own toll in the end, Roddy knew it all too well. It wouldn’t be long before his manner of survival would become the manner of his demise.

Roddy climbed on, past a clutch of hickory to reveal a clearing beyond it. He peered through the branches to spot the big stag, grazing. It was limping, its front leg red with blood.

Roddy raised his rifle, pulled back the hammer, and lined up his shot.

I’m sorry, he thought. It couldn’t have been easy for you, this dance we had to do. I know you’ve accepted your fate, and it’s a sad fate indeed. But know that you are going to feed another, that your hide is a thing of value. The same can’t be said of me, not now nor ever. 

He lined up the shot. It had to be the kill, straight into the brain. The animal had suffered enough, it had put up a good and hearty flight. It would rest now, with no more pain and no more struggle. He readied his finger, slipping it over the trigger, ready to gently squeeze.

Raaarrrrrhhhhghghgh!

It sounded like a woman screaming, and Roddy knew instantly that a cougar had sneaked up on him from behind. By the time he turned, the cat had already leapt. Its five hundred pounds of weight pushed Roddy off his feet and into the clearing. The cougar cried out again as it dug its claws into his chest from the sides. It would dig into his belly with its hind claws and disembowel him in seconds.

Roddy dropped the rifle, almost useless in close combat. He grabbed his hunting knife instead, holding the handle tight before swiping it upward and driving it deep into the animal’s ribcage from the side. The cougar screamed out and flinched, its focus clearly dominated by the new and terrible injury.

Roddy pulled the knife out and drove it back in. The cat roared out again, this time jumping off of him, the knife still in its side. It was more than the animal was counting on, and Roddy could see the cougar was confused and furious.

He grabbed the Winchester and turned it on the beast, aiming and squeezing the trigger.

Bam! The shot landed square on the cat’s forehead, a cloud of red mist rising up as the animal staggered back and dropped to the forest floor. Roddy waited, the frenzy of the fight having been replaced by an eerie calm. A starling flew out of the canopy above him, Roddy glancing around to make sure no other threats were anywhere near. He looked through the white pine to the clearing.

The stag remained, despite the gunshots. Roddy knew the animal would associate the sound with its own injury. The fact that it remained meant that it was too tired to run any further, all of its strength dedicated to keeping it on all four hooves.

Roddy raised the rifle again. Thank you for your meat and hide, he thought, as he always did before a kill shot. I’m sorry this was so difficult for you, painful. I didn’t want that. I take no joy in your death. He steadied the rifle and closed one eye. It was as if the stag knew it was coming, like it craved the mercy of the final shot right in the side of the head.

No more pain, Roddy silently said in the back of his brain. No more running.

Bam!

The stag stumbled to one side, seeming to nod as if in some message of faith and alliance in the cycle of life and death. The stag’s front legs gave first, its hind quarters quickly following it to lay in the clearing. Roddy glanced around before walking out to the lifeless stag to do his gruesome but necessary task.

Chapter Three

Zadie lay in the back of the cart. Heat collected under the canvas as the springtime sun beat down from above. By the way the cart was tilting and leaning, she could tell they were heading into the Wet Mountains, leading them north of Pueblo and into the Rockies. From there, Colorado Springs, Boulder, and Denver lay beyond. But Zadie wasn’t sure that she’d live to reach any of them.

Her strength was slowly returning. Zadie tried to nudge Ginger awake, but to do so without showing too many signs of movement. It was crucial that the men who stole them not know that they were awake.

Zadie tried to gather her wits. Her stomach turned, her mouth was dry. She tugged at her bonds, her blood collecting in swollen layers of flesh and skin. She tried unsuccessfully to reach for the ropes around her wrists. She tried to pull her ankles free as well but she was pinned like a hog, ready for the slaughter.

But her mind was slowly becoming more aware of her circumstance, and glimpsing her future. It didn’t look good.

The men seemed interested enough in talking to one another. That was not only a valuable distraction, it provided a lot of the information Zadie wanted and needed.

“I dunno,” one of them said, “I just don’t see the harm in it. Who’s gonna know?”

“The boss man said not to.”

“But if we’re real, um… not nice about it, but, y’know, careful not to leave any marks…”

“The answer’s no. Any man talks more about its gonna get cut, maybe gut-shot.”

After a few more moments, another man with a higher-pitched voice asked, “What about, not the blonde, but the other two? They’re ours to play with, far as I can tell. Boss man don’t want them.”

That told Zadie that she was the one they wanted. She’d been kidnapped at somebody else’s behest and was being delivered to this mysterious boss man. The other girls were targets of convenience; they were there. And the other men likely knew they were there. The hit had been calculated, Zadie already knew that. It meant they knew who the desirable girls were, which ones were worth grabbing and for what reason. Zadie, Ginger, and the twins were the best-looking girls in the Colorado Belle, and that reflected a lot on their desire, their intentions, and their status.

“I say no,” one of the men said, his low baritone brimming with authority. Their voices were muffled by the canvas over Zadie’s head and by the wooden creak of the cart’s wheels. “We start doin’ that, things’ll get messy.”

“Sure will,” the one with the higher voice said, following it with a mean, squealing cackle and a long bout of laughter.

“That’s what I mean,” the man Zadie took for their leader said. “Soon enough, you’ll all be fighting about who takes who first. I been runnin’ women like this fer years, boys. Don’t squat where y’eat, if y’take my meaning.”

The men grumbled their compliance as the cart rolled on. Zadie’s arm was throbbing with pain, her wrists numb. She could see that Ginger was awake, too. Using only her eyes, Zadie tried to indicate to Ginger that she should turn around. If both girls did, they could untie each other’s hands under the cover of the canvas. Ginger finally nodded that she understood and then rolled slowly over to present her back to Zadie, who did the same. This was the most dangerous moment, when they were most likely to be spotted moving under the canvas.

But each girl finally made it, and they inched toward one other. Ginger’s fingers intermingled with Zadie’s before Zadie swatted them off and began fiddling for Ginger’s rope, then the knot. From there, she pushed her lithe fingers in and tried to pull out the loops constraining the other girl.

The gang’s leader said, “We drop off the blonde, and offer the others for an additional price. So we treat ‘em the same. After that, we go into town and find some working girls, best in Denver.”

Denver, Zadie thought, that must be the nearest town to where this boss man is. He lives outside of town, she deduced even as she tried to work Ginger’s bonds loose. That makes him a… a farmer or a rancher, maybe a trapper with a shack in the woods?

No, a tracker couldn’t afford such a team, and would never want more than one woman, unless they were for resale.


“A Trappers Infallible Instinct” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

There was a time when Roddy Crippman used to have it all; a home, a wife, and everything he had ever imagined for himself. That time is long gone now… Nowadays Roddy pursues a lonely and nomadic life as a trapper in the wilderness of the Wet mountains. He wants nothing more than to stay invisible, far away from the memories and the tragedies of his past.

He has nothing to fear since he has already lost everything, hasn’t he?

Zadie Smallwood is a saloon girl that gets kidnapped by road agents in the service of a mysterious, wealthy man. She manages to escape but is terrified they will find her again. When she crosses paths with Roddy, he appears to be her only hope to escape her kidnappers and survive these treacherous, snow-covered mountains.

Will Zadie manage to find the strength inside her, when she won’t have Rody to rely on?

As winter blows in full force, Roddy vows to do whatever it takes to help Zadie, while forcing himself to keep his emotions in check. The two of them will find courage in the bond that grows between them, but whether it can withstand the danger and the forces of power and greed is far from certain in this wild, unpredictable land…

A pulse-pounding drama, which will make you turn the pages with bated breath until the very last word. A must-read for fans of Western action and romance.

“A Trappers Infallible Instinct” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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