The Outlaw Clears His Name (Preview)

Chapter One

Willard Coffey sat in the same seat at the same long table, one of eighty, as he’d done twice that day, three times the day before that, and every day for three years, eleven months, and ten days. The men sat around him, chewing their wheat bread and ground beef, slurping their coffee, and shoveling mashed potatoes into their rotting mouths.

Wil kept his head down, chewing on the lukewarm, fatty meat—enough protein to see him through the night. It had been another long night of working the chain gang on the side of the road heading south to Alliance. It was far in the distance, as was befitting any city of civilized citizens. The murderers and cutthroats of the US State Penitentiary at Chadron, Nebraska had no place near the good, decent, lawful citizens of O’Neill, or anywhere.

Wil looked into the eyes of the prisoners around him, men who’d lost their names to numbers, their futures to lives of perpetual misery and bondage. Virtually all of them were guilty of the crimes that had put them into that terrible place, most of them for the rest of their lives. Lesser criminals served lighter jail sentences, some being let off with fines.

But it was not to be for Willard Coffey, 83654836, wrongly found guilty of homicide in the first degree. He’d gone over it in his head a number of times, and countless times more before that. He had too long to think about it, until he felt that it was going to drive him mad. Wil had no familiarity with the man he was said to have killed and had no enemies who might have wanted to see him convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. He had a small plot of land, but it wasn’t much to speak of, not enough to become a target of any chicanery. Though that could be the only author of the circumstances that had put the murder weapon in Wil’s possession, which had nearly put his neck into a hangman’s noose.

The man’s business partner, Wil couldn’t help but review the facts, that Percival Kane, he’s the one who benefited most from Devon Brookes’ murder, he’s the likely culprit. But… why me? I’ve little enough that a man like that could want.

Beyond that, theories became scarce and scrambled, and they haunted his long, sleepless nights.

And it hardly mattered. Even were the Lord Almighty Himself to descend to Earth and tell Wil everything he needed to know, he was unlikely to get a retrial. Warden Adam Starr kept a tight rein on his penitentiary, controlling as much of what happened inside and even outside its walls as he could. When he couldn’t, he had manhunters at his disposal, men who could pursue any escapee without depleting the store of guards needed to keep place in that brick and mortar hell on Earth.

Wil tried not to think about it. To do so was its own punishment, and he was already serving one of those. He had persecutors enough and more, and he didn’t need to join their ranks and turn against himself. Down that way lay madness, and he wouldn’t be the first.

Wil was surrounded by the lowest men society could create and then reject. They would murder one another on a whim, and few enough in on the staff would even notice, much less care. It was only the warden’s iron will that kept the place running smoothly, and it was the iron hand of the guards that kept it running at all.

The hall stank of body odor and stale coffee, the bland food wafting no more smell than it had flavor. The din of the chewing and slurping was almost enough to make Wil too sick to eat, but he’d learned to block it out. He needed nutrition, and he’d had almost four years to get used to it. He knew he’d never become truly accustomed to it, to any of it. It was even worse to know that he wasn’t likely to have a chance.

Thoughts of escape returned to the back of his brain. It was an idea he knew others fostered as well, sharing ideas and even slowly enacting campaigns in different areas of the prison. Most of them would never get as far as the wall, of course, and those who did were likely to be gunned down. There was no way of escaping like that, Wil knew it.

But there were ways of escaping—to his way of thinking, there had to be. There were a number of scenarios that he’d run down in those long hours in the yard, on the chain gang, which was one of the very scenarios he’d considered. But as this was the most vulnerable time, they were the most heartily guarded. Nobody could organize a band of twelve men to run together with those chains with enough speed to get far, and it hardly would matter if it were possible. No chain gang would escape the manhunters.

Some were digging tunnels, but the brick walls of the buildings made it impossible. Many tried, but the work was so slow that they were rumored to be found out, in that prison and in various others which had sprung up since the close of the Civil War ten years before.

Riots were breaking out in some prisons; even the nearby Nebraska State Penitentiary was having such difficulties.

But more daunting for Wil was not the prospect of escaping the prison, but what he would be escaping to. He’d never seen his young daughter’s face, having left his pregnant wife behind as they carted him off, an innocent man with a life sentence.

She’s better off without me, Wil told himself, as he’d told her, though only through messenger. He disallowed her from visiting, urging her to consider him dead. Were he to escape and flee to her, he’d only be bringing in a manhunter to exploit her vulnerability. She would have to pack up little Mary and go on the run, likely for the rest of their lives. That wasn’t the man Robert Coffey had raised, not the man Willard Coffey was cut out to be and held himself up to be. Of course, a murderer wasn’t that man either.

But his wife and child deserved better—a good man who could provide for them, protect them, raise Mary to be a respectable young woman. Well, Martha will see to that, Wil could reassure himself. May heaven help the force that chooses to stand against that stubborn resolve!

It brought a cold wave through his blood to realize that the same quality of survival, that indefatigable stubbornness, could yet be her undoing. She would hear nothing of Wil’s admonishments to find another, to abandon him to his horrible fate. Martha clung to the certainty of his innocence, and she seemed determined to prove it somehow.

Poor woman, he thought, that poor, beautiful, pigheaded woman! Lord, give her the good sense to cut me loose, to find a better man, a better life.

“You there,” a man said, his name known to Wil, though he didn’t look up to acknowledge his accuser. “Yeah, you,” the man said. “Yer name’s Coffey.”

Wil kept eating, and the man grumbled louder, “Don’t you ignore me, boy!”

“I know my own name,” Wil said without looking the man in the face.

A long, tense silence passed as the men went on eating, snorting and slurping like pigs at a trough.

The man, known to Wil as Spud Barns, was a mass of pale white muscle and fat with the face of a gargoyle. He had narrow eyes, pearly blue, and a ring of tan hair clinging to the sides of his big, round head.

“I had brother,” Spud went on, the other men paying more attention that before. They glanced at one another, leaning up and back, arms lowering as if ready for a quick retreat.

Wil had no similar intention.

“Got killed, up in Illinois,” Spud went on. “Heard tell it was by a man called Coffey.”

Wil turned, lowering his own spoon to look the lardy Spud square in the face. “You sure it wasn’t Coffee?

“That ain’t no proper name!” Spud glared at Wil, the other men exchanging glances and seeming ready for anything.

A glance from the corner of his eye told Wil that the guards were watching from the doors. A riot in the mess hall was a hard thing to contain, Wil knew that as well as they did.

“Coffey, that was the name.”

Wil shrugged and went on eating. “Sorry to hear it.”

Spud went on watching Wil eat before saying, “You ever been to Kansas… Coffey?”

The other men waited for a response, a lingering silence creeping over their table and others nearby.

“Once or twice,” Wil said, still not looking at Spud.

“Ever kill a man in Kansas… Mr. Willard Coffey?”

Wil sighed and turned slowly to meet Spud’s eyes. “I did, matter of fact. He was a big, fat tub of lard, like yourself.”

“That so?”

The spreading quiet reached the guards, already stepping closer.

“It is,” Wil said. “Man felt he could impress himself upon an innocent woman… well, she was almost a woman… and he was barely a man.”

Spud began quivering with rage, his white face turning red.

Will went on, “I had to intervene.”

Spud repeated, “Intervene?”

“Kill him, I did,” Wil said. “I bashed his skull, matter of fact, with my bare hands.”

The big man seemed hardly able to speak, nobody else was even close. It seemed the general assumptions. “Did you?”

“I did for a fact,” Wil said, pointing to his own temple. “I was gonna shoot him, but that’s the way you kill a dog. This… this thing required a bit more understanding of what was happening, and why.”

Spud was immobile with rage, the other men caught in a tension like a coiled rattlesnake, ready to strike.

“There are places of the skull, remarkably thin.” Wil raised his fist, middle knuckle protruding above the others. “First blow sends shards of skull inward, blinding the victim. And once the skull’s ruptured, well, the cracks just keep growing with every punch.”

The other men dipped their heads in what seemed like horror… and respect, but not for the dead.

“Finally, the big fat flounder that he was,” Wil went on, “he would up lying on the floor, quivering, blue eyes staring up… eyes a lot like yours, actually.”

The big Spud was ready to attack, and Wil knew he exuded just the calm that was required. He added, “S’funny. Called himself… Barns, Jessup Barns—”

“I’ll kill you!” The big man threw himself across the table, cutting the angle as the other men jumped back. Wil was ready for the move, and he grabbed his clay plate and smashed it over big Spud’s forehead. It did little damage, but the fragments remaining in his hands were each sharp and lightweight, easy enough to swipe at the big man’s face. Wil could feel the clay edges cutting the man’s supple skin, once across the right cheek and across the left with the other.

Spud howled out like the injured beast that he was, even more dangerous than in any other circumstance. The man reached out from his bloodied face to grab Wil and exact revenge. But Wil was fast to step up onto the bench he’d been sitting on to stomp one of Spud’s hands down and onto the table. Wil leaned down and the big man screamed, struggling to pull his hand out from under Wil’s heel.

Wil was perfectly poised to kick his other boot straight into Spud’s vulnerable, bleeding face. He stood up to stand on the table, crushing the bones of the man’s hand. Wil’s other foot hit the man’s fat face with a loud crack, more blood pouring out of his little pugged nostrils.

The other men erupted in a massive riot. The tensions the men lived under for every minute of the day finally exploded and they tossed up a massive, communal roar before throwing themselves at one another. None were driven by anything other than the sheer desire to exert their physical dominance over another, to lash out pointlessly, needlessly, mindlessly, blindly at whoever or whatever they could get their hands on.

Wil stood on the table, a sea of fisticuffs around him. He scanned the area to see the guards embroiled in the scramble to sort out the rioting, battling inmates. It was a place that was prone to chaos, and that was its weakness. It wouldn’t take much.

Bang! Bang-b-bang!

Wil turned to see a familiar figure at the prison: Warden Adam Starr, standing one doorway with a Colt pistol in each hand. The men froze and turned to him, the entire room going quiet.

“Once the shooting starts,” Warden Starr said, “who knows which one of you will be the first… or the last to die?” Wil stood on that table, the warden’s eyes finally finding his. “But I promise you all this, to a man… we’ll kill as many of you as we can, as quickly as we can do it. The rest will die afterward.”

The guards began ushering the prisoners back into line to hustle them out and back to their cells. But Warden Starr and Wil were locked eye to eye from across the mess hall. Wil had fended off one attacker, but he’d made a much worse enemy, and there wasn’t going to be a way for him to keep his head down any longer. His time at Chadron was already limited, and there was only way it would end.

Death.

Chapter Two

Martha Coffey strung the wet tablecloth out on the line, the Nebraska sun shining down on her. It was a feeling she’d always enjoyed, doing things she’d always enjoyed doing. Martha had been a little girl at her mother’s side, just as little Mary sat at Martha’s side. They had been the happiest days of her childhood, sitting in the fields of Kansas City, Missouri, when life was so simple and so decent.

Martha stood just where she always wanted to be, on a small and simple farm, enough to bring in whatever her loving family needed. It would give them food and drink and even commodity at the market. It would give them shelter, security, just a modest little piece of what people were starting to call the American dream.

And it felt like a dream. Lark sparrows sang in the branches of the boxelder and silver maple trees. The air was clean, the landscape pure. The buildings of O’Neill stood in the distance, the clamor and the stench far from the calm of the farm. It couldn’t be far enough, as far as Martha was concerned. Though there were some conveniences in town, there were perils that made Martha shudder. It was where the worst men of the area conducted their worst business, devising schemes of fraud and thievery, rape and murder. There were women of terrible repute, men of drunkenness and vengeance.

It was where men of power gathered to use those with less, toward ends Martha didn’t even want to think about. She was engaged in a wholesome endeavor, the blessed tasks of heart and hearth.

It was a tablecloth where so many family dinners would pass, blessed conversations of daily doings, lessons learned at the local schoolhouse. It would witness Mary’s confessions of first love, and then of true love. It would witness the patriarchal wisdom of the man of the house.

But it seemed like a dream, because it was a dream. Her reality was quite other than it seemed, than it felt. She’d had simple dreams, and they’d been so close to coming true.

Mary turned as their dog Marvel trotted up and licked her little face. He’d found them on a fluke and adopted the family as much as they’d adopted him. His gray and brown fur suggested too many breeds to count. He was little more than a rejected mutt who’d found a home and human companionship. In return, he was a faithful protector and an able guardian.

And he wasn’t the only one.

Mary looked over to see John Whitefeather plowing the fields, his massive frame leaning into the labor. His long, black hair hung over his long, angular face. The man worked without pay for a family that was not his own. He had the size of one-a-half men, the strength and endurance of three, and the dedication and loyalty of ten.

Mary couldn’t help but be grateful for his company on the farm. He drew discerning stares and gossip from the people of O’Neill, and that couldn’t simply be sloughed off as Martha would like to have done for those four long years. It was just another reason she enjoyed the distance of the little farm, removed from their chicanery.

And in that relative isolation, he was the strong, male figure the farm needed. There was no money for any hands, and few enough were willing to work for room and board only. And there were even fewer who could be trusted to live on the farm with Martha and her daughter. Most of the men available for such an arrangement would be lazy, drunken, perhaps even dangerous. There was little enough to steal, but what was there had the greatest value anything in the world could have: her family’s virtue and security, in the absence of the true man of the house.

But John Whitefeather was an able substitute, and he was the one man in the area Martha knew she could truly trust. Whitefeather was there for other reasons, not for money or any other personal desires.

In fact, Martha knew Whitefeather was putting himself in danger, remaining on the Coffey farm. He was too long in the area, and the whites in O’Neill were of a shared mind not to tolerate regular residents not of their ilk. The Civil War had finally ended, but that didn’t mean that everybody’s dispositions had changed. It made them even more vigilant against the encroaching immigrants, the Indians, everybody who wasn’t of a common mind and cut from the common cloth.

The white tablecloth flapped in the breeze as Martha began stringing one of Whitefeather’s shirts.

But he stayed and labored, standing as a guardian against any number of perils, of man and nature. And he did it for the only reason any real man did anything, not for greed or indulgence.

He was there for honor.

He’d known Willard Coffey long before Martha herself had. The two had ridden into O’Neill together, in fact, an unlikely pair. But they’d soon won her trust, volunteering to hunt down and retrieve the men who’d murdered her father. They’d stayed in O’Neill to see the men tried and hanged, and Wil eventually won her heart and her hand. His only requirement was that his friend stay on as a hand, a position the faithful John Whitefeather was more than capable of. He knew things that other white farmers did not know, and it increased the sum of the farm’s labors by a marked amount. It made the small operation enough to sustain them, all that Martha ever really wanted.

Though in Wil’s absence, there was something else she needed more than anything else. But prison walls and many miles separated them. It had been over three years since he’d been convicted of murder, one Martha was certain he hadn’t committed. And whatever power had arranged it was yet another force standing between them, one she could never better and probably would never identify.

It gnawed at her, as nothing ever could. She couldn’t get the images out of her head. He was even then wasting away in a living hell, so close that it was in her own state. He was so close in physical terms, but it felt as if he was on the other side of the Earth. And he was no doubt thinking of her, thinking of the little daughter he’d never even met. She knew the lost years of their shared company were as painful to him as they were to her.

But she also knew the perils each faced without the other. It was Martha and Mary’s blessing to have John Whitefeather with them, but Wil was alone in the US State Penitentiary at Chadron, Nebraska. And he was surrounded by men even worse than those in O’Neill, though somebody in O’Neill was behind the frame that had put Wil behind those bars. He or perhaps even she was even closer to Martha than Wil was, and each seemed more frustrating than the other.

Even nearer was a possible resolution to the whole matter. If the true matter were revealed, Wil’s sentence could be overturned and he could yet be returned to her, perhaps none the worse for wear. Martha knew how strong he was, capable of enduring, surviving, prevailing. But that resolution seemed as far away from her as anything else.

She could hardly stand to live with the injustice. The war had been won, justice was supposed to reign over the country. It had been what so many men had fought and died for, what so many wives and girls and sons and daughters had sacrificed for. Yet so many men still pursued unlawful ends by unlawful means, a sad truth of which Martha was reminded with every glimpse around the farm, every imagine vision of Wil working the fields with Whitefeather, sitting at the head of the dining room table, sitting next to her in church on Sundays.

Something inside of her raged at the loss. It seemed to no good purpose. Only the dead man’s business partner had benefited, but every investigation had revealed nothing. Martha had hoped to rely on the good work of Sheriff Sidney Fields, but her worst expectations had been proven true. The man was either incompetent, corrupted, or both.

Either way, it had been enough. And it would go on being enough. Martha had exhausted every effort, and that only left her with an empty sense of loss without any hope for recovery.

It was the death of hope that hurt most of all.

Martha looked down at Mary, who’d never know the sense of loss that Martha would never forget. But the child needed a father, and there’d only been one man for that job. The idea of having another in the role brought physical pain to her chest. She’d never love another man, she knew this. But she would have to tolerate one for her daughter’s sake. It would mean the sacrifice of every minute of every day for the rest of her life. It would mean compromising her every instinct and the truth of every breath she would take. She would have to embark on a lie that would last a lifetime, and she would spend not a single happy moment until her death, when she and her true love were reunited at last.

But her life was on that farm, and she knew nobody in O’Neill save but for a very few. She knew the pastor, Reverend Charles, and the sheriff, of course. The idea of introducing herself to strange men, introducing her daughter to them, struck Martha as wrong in every fiber of his being.

She could see John Whitefeather as a father figure, Martha suggested to herself, there’s no finer man available. But there were complications to that, ones that could stigmatize poor Mary for the rest of her life. She knew what kind of reputation she’d have, improperly deemed a half-breed. The consequences could be far-reaching, devastating, even deadly.

But few enough white men would keep a Cheyenne on the farm, another complication Martha had no choice but to consider. His duty to Wil had extended years beyond their physical separation. He took the dangerous journey to and from the prison, the only connection Martha had to her beloved and imprisoned Wil. Her daughter adored him. Martha owed him her life, several times over. She was not going to repay her friend with betrayal and cast him out at the behest of some strange man seeking to brand the place and everyone in it.

Her duty to her daughter and to her friend were tearing her apart, as were her hope for her husband’s return and the terrible truth that it was never going to happen.


“The Outlaw Clears His Name” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Wil Coffey is serving a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit. When his wife believes she has discovered the man who framed him, she sets out to prove it. To prevent her from making a deadly mistake, Wil escapes prison. In his journey to freedom, he will face more twists and turns than he could have ever imagined, pushing every instinct to the limit… and beyond.

Will he escape a vicious manhunt, or will the past finally catch up to him and consume him, along with everything he ever loved?

Martha Coffey is certain of her husband’s innocence. But she has a child to look after, and sinister forces are closing in all around her. She has one final chance to reunite her family, but the price could be everything she holds dear.

Will she be tough enough to survive the trials ahead, or will she and her daughter be sacrificed to a corrupt penal system?

A life-changing adventure awaits Wil and Martha together, and they will be tested at every turn… Is their love strong enough to withstand the danger, or will they succumb to a barrage of bullets that are coming for them?

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.

“The Outlaw Clears His Name” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

3 thoughts on “The Outlaw Clears His Name (Preview)”

  1. Really enjoyed the preview! Can’t wait to find out how Will clears his name or what happens with his wife and daughter who got left behind.

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