Revenge on the Wagon Train (Preview)

Chapter One

Caleb Morgan looked up at the clear blue sky that stretched out over the Ozark Plateau. He was traveling north toward Springfield, thriving forty years after its founding. Though Caleb had never been, he knew it would be a tantalizing target for a man like the one he was hunting, he and the men he led.

There was no way of knowing how many men were in the Broken Finger Gang. The gang was only rumored to exist in some circles, and Caleb would have no reason to believe or to care one way or the other, had things not worked out the way they did.

A red-tailed hawk cried out overhead. The bird could see more from above than Caleb could from the ground, and its interest in events below triggered Caleb’s sense of danger. It was as if the Earth itself was warning him, calling to him the advanced information he’d need to be prepared, to prevail.

Native Americans of various tribes whom Caleb had come across had spoken to him of spirit guides and the consciousness of the planet, but he had paid it all little mind. There was not so much mystery or adventure to it that he could cipher. Nature came down to little more than a matter of cause and effect, one event naturally triggering another. Those were the ways of man, after all, and man was still a part of nature, as much as he seemed wanton to convince himself that he was above it, that he ruled nature herself.

But matters of such grand nature held little attraction to Caleb. For him, to live another day was the answer to any riddle he might face. But that simple goal required more skills than most men would have, and those skills would have to be the sharpest in the contest, or they would go to waste. After years of hunting bounty in the United States and in many of its territories, Caleb had little worry of his own skills. But other men had skills too, ones they would pit against Caleb’s in contest to the death. It had happened countless times before, and it would certainly happen at least one more time before Caleb took his last ride off the face of the Earth.

That screaming hawk above told Caleb that it would likely happen again more than once, perhaps many more time. And the killing would likely happen much sooner than Caleb had planned.

Maybe one of the Broken Finger Gang, he thought. Maybe Hank Harris himself! Caleb was flush with the notion of good luck and better timing and a handy quirk of fate that would bring his year-long hunt to a prompt and relatively bloodless end. A quick death for Harris would be good for everyone and harmful to none but to the Hangman himself and whatever seconds he happened to be traveling with.

Flashes of imagined horror blinded Caleb, memories of an event he’d never seen. But visions of the night still rang in his head, his dear brother kicking at the air, body spinning as the rope pulled taught above him, pepper tree branch creaking but holding firm. The Hangman had earned his nickname, and Caleb was glad enough to be able to take it from him, along with his life.

But the hawk could be a false prophet, more interested in the carcass of some felled creature, and that could present a horror all its own. He was riding through bear country in the early summer, when the animals were actively hunting after a long winter’s hibernation. Stumbling on a grizzly protecting a prize could result in an altercation even Caleb might not survive. Or he could lose his mount, Pal, which was more than just a reliable friend on the open trail. Trapped on foot on the Ozark Plateau, Caleb would face the option of never reaching Springfield at all—or anywhere else, for that matter.

Caleb’s muscles tightened along the back of his neck, shoulders tense. His Winchester repeating rifle was holstered to Pal’s saddle, but his Colt pistols would better serve him in close combat, and the screams of that circling hawk told him that the inevitable clash was perhaps only moments away.

He rode cautiously through a clutch of dogwood trees, wafts of smoke and animal fat carried on the breeze.

A camp, he told himself, knowing it could be innocents or hunters just as easily as road agents or even lingering Shawnee or Delaware tribes as it could be road agents lying in wait to ambush him, much less Hank Harris or any of his men.

Pal carried him closer, down a slope thick with dogwood and elm. He could approach in relative stealth, and as voices leaked into the back of his ear, Caleb knew he’d have to do just that. To be revealed would undo him and force a conflict before he could secure a strategic advantage. For Caleb, for any bounty hunter or anyone living in the United States, in the open or in the towns or cities, a strategic advantage was necessary.

He climbed off his mount, Pal nodding to wait dutifully as he stepped slowly through the elms and toward the voices. A wagon sat somewhere past the trees, in what appeared to be a meadow. The voices became clearer, their timbers and inflections, even their language. One was a crying child, a shrill sound that carried above the others.

A woman spoke in English, her voice cracking with desperation. “Please, just leave us alone!”

It was a man’s voice that answered, details grabbing Caleb’s eager attention. “Hagel, you take that child out the woman’s arms.”

“It’s hard on my conscience, boss.”

“Not so hard as I’ll be on yer hide if’n you don’t do as yer told!”

Another man’s voice shouted, “How can you treat us this way? We’re… we’re whites, like you! We have the same God!”

“God don’t live in the wild,” another man’s voice said, “an’ out here you ain’t spit. Now come on out from hidin’ behind yer woman. We don’t want nothin’ to happen to her.

Caleb had heard enough. He knew what was happening and what was about to happen. He didn’t know the men, which, as he drew nearer, he could see were covered by bandanas. He didn’t know if the men had any prices on their heads, but that hardly mattered. Most men would ride on and let things happen as they may. Some might kill all the parties involved and take the goods and other prizes for himself.

Caleb slowly drew his two Colts from the gun belt hanging around his waist. He stepped closer to the clearing, weaving through the last of the elm trees. The men were armed, already pointing guns at the family in the wagon, only partially visible to Caleb from his position.

But he wasn’t interested in the family.

“Howdy, fellas,” he said, his voice low and casual. “Mind if I join the party?”

The road agents, still on horseback, turned with a quick snap of their heads to see Caleb standing only a few yards off. One turned his rifle on Caleb, the others holding their aim on the wagon.

“Ride on, partner,” one man said. “This ain’t cher fight.”

Caleb huffed. “Partner, this ain’t no fight at all.” 

He left no breath between his last word and his first shot. Gunfire crackled between the parties as Caleb cut down the rifleman first, a neat red hole in the center of his forehead as he fell back off his mount. The others turned their pistols to him and away from the wagon, but it was too late. Caleb shot from both Colts at once, and his expert aim left not a single bullet wasted.  

The remaining three men became one before the cloud of gun smoke had cleared, their horses huffing and scuffling. Another shot came from inside the wagon, loud and robust and singular, from a rifle. It broke a hole open in the last road agent’s chest, just as a shot from one of Caleb’s guns pushed him off his mount from another direction.

The chaotic violence came to an end with as much suddenness as it had begun. The dead men’s horses lingered, clearly used to such interactions but also knowing that they were free of their enslavement, the mastery of lesser creatures.

But the horses were not Caleb’s initial concern. There was still a man in that wagon with a rifle, terrorized and ready to protect his family even against one who had tried to do the same.

“Hold your fire,” Caleb said. “I mean you no harm.”

“You kill the others,” the man in the wagon said, “only to take her for yourself, to blame it on them in the aftermath and color yourself the hero!”

“I don’t begrudge your suspicions of me,” Caleb said. “You’re well to be cautious, as you can see. You shouldn’t have camped out in the open like this.”

“We didn’t want to block the trail,” the woman said from inside the wagon, still a shadowy figure hidden by canvas and by terror.

“That could have been worse for us,” the man said.

“Fair enough,” Caleb answered. “I’m going to holster my pistols now, so don’t take the movement as a threat.”

After a pause, the man answered, “Go ahead, then.” Caleb holstered his weapons and he could hear the metallic clinks and clangs of a rifle being lowered. “What’s yer business?”

“Bounty hunter,” he answered. “I’ll be taking these men in, see what they’re worth.”

“Do as you wish,” the man in the wagon answered.

“I’ll have the horses too, for transport of the bodies and to sell in town. They’d only attract more danger to you out here in any case.”

After another pause, whispered voices leaking out of the covered wagon, the man answered, “Have them, just leave us in peace.”

“I will, and with my best wishes. You’re heading south… to Arkansas?”

“Yes, sir,” the man answered. “We’ve no interest in where you’re headed.”

“So much the better for us all,” Caleb said. He stepped over to the body of the man nearest to him, laboriously lifting it to sling over the saddle of his horse. “Good luck to you.” 

He pulled the rope off the horse’s saddle to tie the dead man into place to keep it from sliding off before his arrival in Springfield.

“We owe you our thanks,” the woman said.

“And our help,” the man said, stepping out of the wagon. He was a youthful man, a wisp of a beard on a face free of wrinkles. Tall and lean, he extended a bony hand to shake after climbing off the wagon. “Fredericks, James.”

Caleb looked the man over and shook his hand. “Morgan, Caleb Morgan. Much obliged for the helping hand.”

James Fredericks huffed and walked with Caleb to the next man, the two hoisting the body onto the saddle. “It’s we who’re obliged, Mr. Morgan, very much obliged.”

Caleb shrugged as he tied the dead man’s hands together on one side of the horse, face down over the saddle. “I’ll be recompensed well enough. And I’m glad you and your family can ride on in peace… for now.”

James nodded and looked around. “It’s dangerous, that’s sure. Even with a rifle, I… we were taken unaware.”

“That’s how you’ll be taken again,” Caleb said. “Do you and your family a favor, Mr. Fredericks—get to where you’re goin’ as soon as you can, and then stay there.”

The two men shared a dire silence, the younger nodding and glancing at the remaining man. “Let’s get this last fella situated, get you back on your way. Any plans for when you get there?”

Caleb shrugged. “See the sheriff, visit the livery. Then, well, I suppose I’ll have to see where the trail takes me.” 

It was a lie, but the innocent family man didn’t need to know the details of Caleb’s mission, his hunt, or his prey. Caleb himself hardly wanted to speak it, simply to accomplish it and move on with his life, if circumstances allowed.

If not, then Caleb and his late brother would soon be reunited, a happy fate for which Caleb was ready—so long as Hank Harris died before he did.

 

Chapter Two

The streets of Springfield were crowded with riders and coachmen, the elevated wooden sidewalks filled with pedestrians headed from one store or restaurant or hotel to the next. The wide streets, pocked and pitted, were muddy stretches reeking of animal excrement. Some strolled past the sheriff’s office, where the four dead men and their horses were hitched, where the town’s sheriff and a man unknown to virtually all of them discussed private matters. Some looked, others didn’t even bother.

Caleb kept a keen eye on Sheriff Skylar Barnard. The man had grown fat, likely from too little effort at his duties behind the badge. That position brought a good deal of luxury and favoritism to men across the country, turning worthy civil servants into petty and greedy servants of their own desires.

Caleb had seen more effective men, but they were also men who might also be more dangerous to the public interests. None had ever betrayed him, however, nor would they dare. Even in a town he’d never been to, his name and reputation preceded him.

“Morgan,” Sheriff Barnard repeated, “of the Donal Gang bust-out last year, in the Black Hills?” Caleb nodded and Barnard shrugged, waddling his way around the horses hitched up in front of the sheriff’s office. “I’m lookin’ fer a deputy, if yer interested.”

“Other plans’ll take me out of town soon enough, I should think. What about these men?”

Sheriff Barnard looked at the last man’s face before dropping his head back down over the side of his horse. “I don’t know their faces. No bounties on ‘em, far as I know. Rider came through with some posters, you can look through ‘em if you like. But you won’t find these faces there. I suppose their luck held up… ‘til you came along.”

“Among those faces you have got inside,” Caleb went on, “would Hank Harris or anyone from the Broken Finger Gang be included?”

The sheriff leaned forward, squinting with new intrigue. “The… the Hangman? No, that’s… that’s just a tall tale, that’s… There ain’t any real Hangman Harris.”

“I’ve heard others say the same,” Caleb answered. “Nothin’ in yer office, then?”

The sheriff shook his head. Caleb had heard others denying the truth of the Broken Finger Gang, but others had said the opposite, and the stories that went along with that of his brother’s killing told Caleb there was truth there. Just what that truth was, he had yet to discover. And upon discovering it, Caleb would destroy it, whatever the truth happened to be.

The sheriff asked Caleb, “How’d you come upon these four?”

“Accosting a family headed south, the Fredericks clan.”

The sheriff nodded. “Yes, I… I know them. They’re well enough, then?”

“For now, though it might not have turned out so well for any of them. I’m glad I was there to help turn the tide.”

Sheriff Barnard said, “And you have… proof?”

“How’s that, Sheriff?”

“Well, I mean… you bring in four men, no bounties on any of them. I assume you’re taking the horses to the livery, to get the best price you can?” Caleb nodded and the sheriff went on, seeming to force the words out. “Yet a man of your reputation… and certainly your skill… could have …” The balding sheriff cleared his throat. “You could conceivably have ambushed them, bounty or not, and thereby… profited quite handsomely in so doing.”

Caleb let a long, mean silence pass between them as he looked the plump man up and down, thinning hair clinging to his sweating scalp.

“That’s possible,” Caleb said. “They’re still on the Ozark Plateau, probably not too far south. Send a deputy out to ask them, to bring them in as witnesses against me. I’ll stand trial in that case. That man’s first name was James, does that ring a bell?”

“It does, but… it doesn’t mean you didn’t meet them at one point and then lay these others low somewhere down the trail.”

Caleb took a single step toward the sheriff, who was at least a foot shorter. “I suggest you fully investigate, Sheriff. I’ll be here a few days, eager for the results of your most careful scrutiny. And while I’m here, perhaps I’ll look into this town’s plump little pigeon of a sheriff, find out who really pulls the strings around here.”

“Why, I… I …”

“Perhaps it’s the Broken Finger Gang running things from the hills. Maybe Hank ‘the Hangman’ Harris is really boss of this little burg?”

The sheriff said, “That’s… it’s not true.”

“No, how could it be, since they don’t even exist. Isn’t that the line you toe?”

“It’s the truth,” Sheriff Barnard said, “as far as I know.”

“As far as you know.”

The sheriff nodded again, forcing a smile. “That is to say, to the best of my knowledge.”

“To the best of your knowledge,” Caleb repeated, his eyes fixed on the little blob of law, “that is to say.”

A long, tense silence lingered between the two men. 

“I’ll leave the bodies with you then,” Caleb said, “for your investigation, for your mortician to deal with.” He drew his hunting knife and cut through the bonds of one dead road agent, separating bound wrists from ankles under the horse’s belly. The dead man fell to the muddy street. “If you find some credible evidence against me,” Caleb went on, “you won’t find me reluctant.” 

Caleb let the second road agent fall to the street before cutting the third loose. “I respect the law, even if others don’t.” He cut the fourth man free, the rifleman, letting the body collapse into the mud. He turned to the sheriff to go on, “And those others? Often enough, they’re those who collect money to enforce it.”

Caleb unhitched the horses and wrapped their reins around his fist before climbing onto Pal to make the slow, short trip to the livery. He was leaving the sheriff uncertain behind him, he knew that. It was just what he wanted to do, just what he needed to do. The man had shown himself to be an incompetent, perhaps even corrupted. But he wasn’t much of a threat to Caleb in his role as a lawman unless he opted to use contrivance or chicanery to secure a verdict against him. And even were the Fredericks family returned to Springfield by force, they would testify honestly. Caleb had little doubt about that.

But about everything else, Caleb could hardly escape the unknown, the uncertain, not any more than he could escape his duty to face them no matter what truths they revealed, no matter who got hurt in the process. If Sheriff Barnard was among them, those would be his own just deserts.

All would get what they wanted, Caleb often came to reflect, but ultimately what they deserved. Hank Harris would be one of those men, and Caleb knew he would be, too, when all was said and done. But what would be said, how things would get done, were other matters soon to be seen to. 


“Revenge on the Wagon Train” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Caleb Morgan, a relentless bounty hunter, prowls the frontier in pursuit of vengeance from the gang that his brother belonged to. His brother’s death at the hands of The Hangman, fuels his rage… Tracking the gang’s trail, he spies a wagon train heading to their territory and seizes the opportunity by joining it undercover. But when Caleb starts falling for the wagon master’s daughter, love will clash with his quest…

Revenge neither forgives nor forgets…

As the wagon train inches closer to the gang’s lair, Caleb’s resolve is unyielding. Emily Thornton, who’s escorting wagon trains at her father’s behest, loses control in Caleb’s brave presence. While undeniable feelings grow inside her, she will soon realize that her love for Caleb comes at a price.

Can Caleb protect her during this trail of death?

As Law and order battle with crime and chaos, Caleb and Emily must work together to face the menace of the outlaws. When the scent of gunpowder hangs heavy, the final fight is ready to burst. Will Caleb be able to face his brother’s past? Can hope and love in his life fill the gap of a long-lasting will for payback?

“Revenge on the Wagon Train” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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