Including Shelly Thacker, who was supposed to be on the schedule for today LOL. In her absence, I figure I’ll fill in with something from my own vast repertoire, something rough and tough and manly for Father’s Day. Read any good Westerns lately?
My Dad was a great Western fan. When I was young, we were the first people on our block to get a color TV. Why? Because he’d heard that Bonanza was going to be broadcast in color. Even before that, when we only had an 8 X 10 black and white TV full of tubes and wires, in a cabinet 20 times bigger than the actual screen, he and I would sit and watch Daniel Boone and Jim Bowie together, and Roy Rogers movies, and Gene Autry and augh, the Lone Ranger! and the Cisco Kid!. Randolf Scott was second only to the Big Guy, John Wayne, and nothing…absolutly nothing got done around the house if Wayne was on TV. He and my dad were about the same age, so it felt like they were getting older together, like good friends do, and although the TV’s changed over the years, everything still stopped cold if a John Wayne western was on TV.
When I started writing, my dad was as confused as the rest of the family as to why I would choose a career that kept me locked in my tiny office 12 hrs a day, 7 days a week, for very little pay that only came twice a year. Unlike my mother, he didn’t try to encourage me to get a “real job”. When he heard there was sex in the books, he wasn’t even sure if he should read them for fear my mother (who could inhale all the oxygen in the room on a gasp) would go into shock at the idea. He did keep a copy of all of them at his desk at the Police Station…which to me would have raised more eyebrows than a little oxygen deprivation…but he was proud of anything we kids did and I never really heard him say a word to discourage either of us from doing what we wanted to do. Well, okay, just once he told my sister she was an #$@#$ for wanting to buy a pair of transport trucks, but that’s intravenereal.
He did ask me once, with a twisty little smile and a twinkle in his eye, why I didn’t write a Western. This was after a gothic, two sea-faring adventures, and two books on the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland. I was, after mentally being in the Highlands for three years, pretty much tapped out on writing about wars and deaths and tragedies and battles, so his question twigged something in my brain. It reminded me of the afternoon I had tossed my son and his buddy into the car and taken them to see the movie Silverado. They had both protested, with much groaning and rolling of the eyes because they were deep into GI Joe and Star Wars. But I guess they figured free hot dogs and popcorn and candy was worth a couple of hours of humoring the old girl (me). When we came out of the show, the pair of them were hooting and hollering, shooting everything and everyone in sight with cocked fingers, and, when we got home, the theme for the rest of the week was running around the neighborhood playing cowboys.
The movie itself was full of every cliche in every Western ever produced, a lot of it with the director and the actor’s tongues firmly in their cheeks. It was Kevin Costner’s debut role too, just as an aside. But it was a good, fun movie and it got me thinking about a good, fun book that would also contain all the cliches from all the hoot-and-hollar-inspiring movies my dad and I used to watch. The finished product was Under the Desert Moon, and when the book came off the press and I gave a copy to my dad, his grin was ten feet wide. He read it that same night, oxygen or no, and called me the next day to say he had a tear in his eye at the end, not because of any sad parts in the book, but because his little girl had written a book just for him.
Not long after that, he got ill and we lost him a few short years later. I still miss him every single day of my life and I still think of him all the time, wondering what he’d say about this or that. I plan to fill a small water glass with vodka tonight and wish him a happy Father’s Day. That used to be our little secret. When my mother turned militant and banished all alcohol from their house, allowing only water at the dinner table, I used to fill his water glass–and mine–with vodka when they came over for a meal. She was blissfully unaware of that for years, which made for wonderfully mellow dinners.
Anyway, here then is an excerpt from my own book, Under The Desert Moon. By the way, when it was reviewed by Romantic Times, I nearly fell off my chair reading what Kathe Robin said. She called it the “Silverado of Western novels” and it thrilled me to know that someone else *got it*.
Aubrey sighed and retreated to one of the long wooden benches. She set her carpetbag on the floor and tried not to think of what another delay would do to her plans or her nerves. She blocked out the squabble of voices behind her and stared out the fly-spotted window, but there wasn’t much to see through the thick film, and after a few moments, she found her eyes wandering to the notice board hung on the wall beside her. A mosaic of scraps of paper was pasted and nailed up for display, including one for a miracle tonic that claimed to grow hair, cure warts, and prevent personal discomforts in warm weather. A gunsmith named Bullet had printed his handbills on paper cut-outs of pistols, complete with an artistic puff of smoke. Warnings were posted to be on the alert for a pair of con artists who had been seen last in the great state ofLouisiana; below that were neat rows of wanted posters, some with crudely sketched caricatures of faces, some with the ominous DEAD OR ALIVE stamped across the top.
“A fascinating overview of our society, don’t you agree?”
“I beg your pardon?” Aubrey glanced beside her and was greeted by an effusive smile beamed out from beneath a handlebar moustache.
“The notices.” The portly salesman pointed to the board. “Small pieces of life displayed for all to see.”
“Yes,” she murmured. “Quite fascinating.”
“I could not help but overhear the clerk mention you were a teacher. An admirable profession, Miss—?”
“Miss Blue.” He tipped his bowler and offered a curt bow. “Armbruster P. Shillingsworth, at your service.” He opened his mouth to say more, but a further disturbance behind them changed his intent somewhat abruptly. “Oh! Oh my!”
Two new arrivals were standing in the doorway of the stage office, their presence causing a sudden and absolute silence both inside and outside on the boardwalk. The first of the pair was tall enough and broad enough for his silhouette to block most of the flaring sunlight. He was dressed in an open-necked buckskin shirt and cord pants, neither of them too new or too clean. Brass-colored hair fell long and shaggy to his collar, the unruly waves framing a face that was weathered by sun and open air to the shade of warm teak. The eyes gazing out from beneath the wide brim of his hat were slate gray and moved casually around the airless little room, observing, assessing, dismissing his surroundings with a wry twist of his lips.
Not quite so easy for the occupants of the stage office to dismiss was the sight of the second man, a Plains Indian. He was nearly as tall as the white man and every bit as formidable, judging by the bulge of muscles that swelled beneath his buckskins. His starkly chiseled features could have been hewn from granite, for all the expression he betrayed. Straight, gleaming black hair hung to mid-chest, with several thin strands plaited into a braid that originated at his temple. His eyes were bottomless brown pools, threatening in their intensity, and not the least reluctant to challenge each stare that greeted him.
The white man crossed over to the wicket and nodded perfunctorily at the clerk. “When does the next stage leave?”
“I … well, uh—” The clerk’s nervous gaze flicked to the Indian and back again, “I was jest tellin’ these here good folks that I wasn’t too sure at all when the next coach would be headin’ out,”
“There is a scheduled departure at ten, is there not?”
“Well, ah … yes.”
“And that is a stagecoach pulled up out front, is it not?”
“I … uh, yes. Yes, it shore is.”
“Am I wrong in assuming it is still the custom of the stage line to sell seats on board their coaches?”
“Fine. How much for two seats toFortUnion?”
The clerk hesitated again, his eyes flickering now between the silent Indian and the bulging leather pouch the plainsman withdrew from his pocket. The solid chink of coin caused him to lick his lips and rub a finger nervously along the starched edge of his collar.
“Will, ah … will these seats be for you and your, ah, friend?”
The stranger’s smile was easy. His voice was deceptively soft as well, tinged with the friendly slur of the plains, but his eyes were hooded with a distinct and growing animosity, as if he knew full well the cause of the agent’s reluctance and was not about to make the going any easier for him.
He pushed back the brim of his hat with a tip of a finger and leaned his elbow on the counter. “I suppose you have a clever reason for asking, considering there are only the two of us standing here.”
“In that case”—the clerk swallowed hard—“the fact of it is, I can’t sell you two seats to nowheres.”
“Is the stage full?”
“No … ah, I mean … yes”
The gray eyes fixed him with a shriveling stare. “Which is it … no, or yes?”
“Fact of it is, mister, the Kansas Stage Company plain don’t allow Injuns on board their coaches.”
“Sorry?” The plainsman leaned farther over the counter, a motion which triggered the instant appearance of fine beads of sweat across the ticket agent’s upper lip. “I don’t think I quite heard you.”
The clerk cleared his throat and adjusted his pince-nez. “It ain’t my rule, mister. It’s the policy of the Kansas Stage Company, and I ain’t about to get fired for breakin’ company policy rules.”
“Come now, Mr.—?”
“Gibbon,” Magenta supplied smoothly. She had moved up behind the plainsman and was enjoying not only the clerk’s squirming discomfort, but the extremely interesting view of hard, rippling muscles where they strained the seams of the buckskin shirt. “His name is Sidney Gibbon.”
The plainsman acknowledged the inviting smile with an obliging grin of his own before he turned back to the clerk.
“Well, Mr. Sidney Gibbon, with business as poor as it is these days, shouldn’t you be thankful you have customers who are willing to pay? A less accommodating fellow might simply stop the coach outside of town and insist that you pay him. Me? I could care less where I get on board—here, or ten miles down the road—but my friend there, why he might take it in his head that you insulted him deeply. You ever insulted an Ute warrior before, Mr. Gibbon?”
The clerk shook his head. “C-Can’t say that I have, mister, and can’t say that I particularity want to, but policy is policy. Besides … I got other passengers to consider. I doubt they’d be all that partial on the idea of havin’ an Injun ride on the coach with them.”
The plainsman’s mouth curved thoughtfully. He turned toward the profusion of purple silk and dyed ostrich feathers and waited for Magenta’s eyes to drag themselves upward from the gaping neckline of his shirt. “Ma’am. You have any objections to me or my friend joining you on the stage? I know it’s a long trip at close quarters, but I can assure you that both Sun Shadow and myself are housebroken. We can act civilized when the occasion warrants it.”
Magenta smiled. “And when it doesn’t?”
It was his turn to take a slow, leisurely inspection of the bountiful flesh testing the constraints of the purple bodice. Two good handfuls apiece, he judged, enough to keep a man busy for a few hundred miles.
Magenta read the interest in his eyes and moistened her lips. “I have no objections whatsoever to your company, sir. On the contrary, I’m sure we would all feel so much safer with you on board … wouldn’t we, Darby dear?”
Greaves was staring at the Indian, as he had been since the pair had appeared in the doorway. He made no effort to conceal his contempt or his distrust for a race he considered inferior even to slaves.
“Darby dear?” Magenta said again.
“No,” he said quietly. “I have no objection.”
“There”—the plainsman spread his hands easily as he addressed Sidney Gibbon again—“you heard it yourself: no objections.”
“They ain’t the only customers,” the clerk said tightly, grasping at his last avenue of escape. “The schoolmarm and the salesman over yonder; they both paid full fares.”
The gray eyes cast around again and found the dapper little man in the derby. Before he could pose his question, the salesman bustled forward, his moustache quivering around his assurances. “No indeed, sir. I have no objections whatsoever. And the name is Shillingsworth. Armbruster P. Shillingsworth. A household name for corsets and trusses, braces and splints for all areas of the body … er … not that either you or your friend look as if you require any further bracing. No indeed.”
The plainsman sought the final vote, his gaze turning toward the window. Aubrey’s brown worsted suit and brown hat blended perfectly with the dull brown walls of the office, a blandness not aided by the fact that a haze of sunlit dust hung suspended in a cloud around her, obscuring all but a faint impression of a pale face and glinting spectacles.
Conversely, Aubrey’s view was not hampered in the least. The eyes that had narrowed slightly in an effort to see who was passing the final judgment were as cool and unperturbed as a winter sky. His hair was very thick and cut by an impatient hand so that the ends curled in ragged lengths over his collar; the shoulders beneath the buckskin were broad and powerful and barely contained by the limits of mere cloth. His mouth was immodestly sensual, shamelessly curved with the devil’s own arrogance, no doubt the result of being too many years the recipient of the kind of response shining in Magenta Royale’s eyes. In fact, there was a general look of casual debauchery about him—as if he had spent the past few days energetically entangled in a tumble of warm bed-sheets, and would not have been the least dismayed by the prospect of returning.
Aubrey’s guess was closer to the truth than she might have wanted to know, for the plainsman had indeed been spending the better part of the last ten days and nights heartily enjoying the fleshy bounty ofGreat Bend’s finest whorehouses. He had innocently lost track of the numbers of long, white limbs that had eagerly locked themselves around his waist, nor could he have identified any one prominent feature of the many blurred faces, bodies, and breasts he had worshiped with such fanatical devotion.
He was, however, reasonably certain none of them had worn bottle-bottom spectacles or presented themselves for his pleasure in tweed armor—the only two distinctive qualities of the faded, dusty schoolmarm who stood before him now. That sobering reality, had it not been counterbalanced by the swish of purple satin at his side, might have done more to send him right back into the arms of Madame Pearl’s beauties than all the irritating company policies the clerk could splutter.
“Ma’am? Excuse me, but I didn’t see you standing there.”
Aubrey felt more than one pair of eyes turn toward her and she lowered her lashes quickly to avoid contact with any of them.
“No need to apologize, sir, and I have no objections to you or your companion traveling with us.”
“Much obliged.” The plainsman turned back to the clerk and tapped a long, calloused finger on the countertop. “Two tickets toFortUnion, if you don’t mind.”
“I tell you I don’t make the rules,” Gibbon declared, his complexion flooding a sullen red. “Stage company says no Injuns, it means no Injuns. You want to take it up with Mr. H. P. Nanglinger at the head office, you be my guest. Telegraph is right up the street. If’n he says he has no objections, then hell, I’ll sell you two tickets toChina, you want ’em.”
What might or might not have happened next was forestalled by a furious burst of energy that exploded through the rear door, bringing with him a fresh cloud of dust and the echo of a raucous oath. A small, wiry grunt of a man, he reeked of cheap hair pomade and even cheaper whiskey, both of which caused Magenta to reach for a perfumed handkerchief and flinch away from the wicket as he approached. His pants and shirt were soiled stiff with sweat and grime, his face was partially hidden behind the fuzz of a coarsely maintained beard that might have been any color beneath the layers of dust and expelled tobacco juice. A much abused Hardee hat was crammed low over his forehead, the crumpled rim level with the slits that were his eyes.
“Well, Gibby?” A bullet-shot of tobacco juice poinged against the lip of the spittoon as he wiped the cuff of his sleeve across his mouth. “You find me a gun yet?”
Gibbon’s shoulders squared for battle. “No. No, I ain’t. Strange as it sounds, I been busy with my own job and—”
“I ain’t a goin’ nowheres without a gun. Man cain’t be expected ter ride six hunnerd mile with no gun an’ no relief. That there coach’ll jest set there where she be till I gits me one, takes a week o’ Sundays to do it!”
“Now you listen here, Jim Brody,” Gibbon said, relieved to be able to turn his back on the plainsman. “You were hired to drive the coach toSanta Fe—”
“I know’d my job, boy. Been doin’ it five years now.”
“Then you should also know that if you lost your outrider on the last run, it is your responsibility to go out and find a replacement!”
“Been lookin’, ye danged syrup-ass! Ain’t no one willin’ to git hisself shot at ner scalped jest ter git yer blamed coach to Santy Fay.” He shifted his cud into an enormous bulge in his cheek and grimaced. “I ain’t neither, fer that matter. Not fer the handful o’ cow chips I’m paid.”
“Perhaps my friend and I can be of some assistance,” the plainsman said.
“Ho!” Jim Brody raised his head and squinted along his nose as if seeing the formidable pair for the first time. “Travelin’ ter Santy Fay, are ye?”
“FortUnion, actually … that is, if we can manage to overcome a slight problem with company policy.”
Stink Finger Jim Brody looked at the Ute and snorted. “Policy, eh? Policy be damned. What be yer name, young fella?”
“McBride,” said the plainsman. “Christian McBride.”
“McBride.” Brody rolled the name around on his tongue as if he were tasting day-old bread. “I know’d that name from somewheres.” He peered up at the sun-bronzed face again and worked his cud with a vengeance. “Yep. I know’d that name … but the why of it ‘scapes me fer the time being. You wanted fer anything, McBride?”
“Not that I am aware of.”
“Mmmm.” He tilted his scrawny head toward the Indian. “Either one of yus shoot worth half a damn?”
“Fair to middling,” was the casual reply.
“And this y’ere Injun … he Comanche?”
“Ute! Cain’t say as I’ve ever seen one this fer east afore. Cain’t say it makes no never mind anyhows. My ma always told me: never trust an Injun ner a whore, they’d both as soon take a knife to yer balls the minute yer back was turned. Right then—” He crooked his head and spat juice out of the corner of his mouth. “You and yer Injun can come along so fer as one of yus is willin’ to ride topside with me, and I don’t rightly care which one. The other’n had best pay up to ol’ Gibby there afore he ruptures a natural vessel. By the by—” He hooked a stubby thumb in Sun Shadow’s direction. “He savvy English?”
“Some,” McBride nodded.
“Best tell him in his own lingo anyways, so’s there’s no misunderstandin’: he so much as blinks funny I’ll plug a hole in ‘im so wide the shit’ll fly fer three counties. Think he’ll catch my meaning?”
“I’m sure he will.”
“Fair an’ good.” Brody scratched savagely at an armpit and bellowed over the spluttering protests of the company clerk: “Best shrink yer bladders whilst you have the chance, folks. We roll in ten minutes!”
Happy Father’s Day Chief *s*.