Riding the rails across America’s uncivilized and unpredictable western frontier requires true grit. For Wolf Stockburn, Railroad Detective, it takes a keen eye, quick draw, and dead aim to protect passengers from the most dangerous outlaws in the west—or avenge them . . .
WHEREVER HE RODE, HE LEFT BLOOD AND BODIES IN HIS WAKE
Red Miller is more than a thief and a killer. He robs banks and trains not just for the money, but to spit in the eye of every badge-toting lawman who dares enforce law and order. He surrounds himself with only the deadliest of desperadoes—and takes a perverse pleasure in deadly bloodshed.
Five of those people have banded together. They have all lost something to Red’s murderous rampage. There is no place in America or Mexico where the bandit and his gang can hide from their vengeance. And they’re led by Wolf Stockburn, Wells Fargo detective and a dead shot who knows that sometimes justice comes only from the barrels of smoking guns.
Release date: May 24, 2022
Publisher: Pinnacle Books
Print pages: 416
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Stockburn had heard the plea, which an old graybeard had shouted into the street, a half second before a large clenched red fist came arcing toward Wolf from behind a stout shoulder clad in green plaid wool. The clenched fingers were broad and white, pink at the tips, and with dirt showing beneath the thick, shell-like nails.
That fist slammed against Wolf’s left cheek. It was a hammering, brain-numbing blow. Having just thrown a punch of his own, this one came before Stockburn could prepare for it. It was obviously delivered by a big man who’d thrown a few punches before. Stockburn flew back onto a table, his six-foot-four-inch frame clad in hard muscle breaking the table right down the middle.
The railroad detective smashed through the table to the floor, both halves of the table dropping toward him at steep slants, spilling onto him several shot glasses and their contents, a whiskey bottle and its contents, a couple of ashtrays, playing cards, coins, and greenbacks.
Wolf sat up, shook his head, then scrambled to his feet, brushing the whiskey and cards and ashes and half-smoked cigarettes off his chest and belly, and looked around for the man who’d thrown the punch. Through a fog of senseless fury, he saw the green plaid shirt before him. The shirt was crowned with a big, square head and a cap of thinning dark red hair behind a bulging forehead, and a thick beard of the same color. The big man, a muleskinner named Whip Larimore, was crouching, waving his fists, smiling at Stockburn in challenge.
His brown eyes glinted with inebriation and open mockery.
“If you liked that one, Stockburn, get up! I got plenty more where that one came from! I’ll turn you inside out and beat your head flatter’n a pancake grill!”
Bellowing like a poleaxed bull, Stockburn leaped to his feet then dropped to a crouch in time to avoid another savage blow from Larimore’s swollen fist. He heard the whoosh of displaced air over his head. Larimore gave a startled grunt when his punch missed its mark by a good foot. Staying low and still bellowing, Stockburn leaped forward and bulled into the muleskinner’s broad, lumpy chest, driving him up off his feet and backward.
Now adding his own yells to Stockburn’s as he and Wolf went airborne, flying backward toward a large plate-glass window over which the words THE ATHENAEUM SALOON were written in large green-leaf letters in a broad arc. Those letters separated, shattered, blew outward, and fell along with the rest of the window as the two men, locked together like two rogue grizzlies in a battle-to-the-death over the same sow, flew through it.
They landed together on the boardwalk fronting the saloon, still locked together, raging, lips stretched back from gritted teeth, broken glass peppering them both.
“You four-flushin’, double-dealin’, fat, ugly poker cheat!” Stockburn raged, rising to his knees, glass tumbling off his head and shoulders. He slammed his right fist across Larimore’s heavy jaw.
The man’s head was so large and solid it was like punching a side of fresh beef. Larimore shook off the blow, grinning, then rose up sharply to slam his big head against Stockburn’s own.
Ears ringing, vision swimming, Wolf sagged backward.
Larimore slammed his meaty fist into Stockburn’s left cheek.
That drove Wolf farther backward. Somehow, he managed to lift himself to his feet. He’d seen Larimore gain his own stout legs and knew that if he was low when Larimore was high, that would be the end of him.
Vaguely, beneath the yells of the crowd that had followed him and Larimore out of the saloon and onto the boardwalk, he heard someone shouting his name. The shouts grew louder as the shouter drew closer, but Stockburn gave the shouts no more notice than he would a fly buzzing several feet away.
He was ready when the big bearded muleskinner bolted toward him, bringing a hamlike fist up from his heels. Again, Stockburn ducked. Again, he heard the whoosh and the grunt. He stepped forward, hips and shoulders squared, raised fists clenched, and smashed the right one against Larimore’s hard, meaty face.
He followed the right with a left and then another right.
“Wolf!” a man’s pleading voice yelled, closer now than before.
Ignoring the yells, Wolf kept moving forward, crouching, working his feet like a well-trained pugilist, hammering the muleskinner’s face with a blur of jabs and uppercuts as Larimore grunted and groaned and staggered backward along the boardwalk fronting the saloon. As the Red Sea parted for Moses, the yelling crowd made way for the two warring bruins.
Each blow so dazed and weakened Larimore, his face turning redder and redder with fresh blood oozing from his eyes, nose, and smashed lips, that he was no longer able to raise his hands to defend himself. Each punishing blow so tormented him that he was at the mercy of the big man before him clad in a black three-piece suit with white silk shirt and ribbon tie, broken glass still raining down from his head distinguished by a thick mane of roached, prematurely gray hair that stood out in sharp contrast to the brick red of his broad, chiseled face further singularized by a pair of deep-set, coal-dark eyes.
“Wolf!” came the pleading voice again from behind Stockburn.
Again, Stockburn smashed the muleskinner’s face.
“Wolf—stop, galldangit! I ain’t gonna say it again!”
Though Stockburn knew the shouter was close behind him, to his enraged mind the man’s pleas seemed to come from the bottom of a distant well.
Again, he slammed his left fist against Larimore’s jaw.
“All right—you asked for it. I’m sorry, old pard!”
Stockburn had started to thrust his left clenched fist forward once more when something hard slammed against the back of his head and everything went as black as night and as quiet as a mountain lake at midnight.
When Wolf opened his eyes again, a poison-tipped Apache arrow of raw misery pierced his pupils to drive deep into his brain. The fiery poison spread like acid, instantly corroding the tender nerves.
“Ayyy!” he cried, gritting his teeth.
He lay very still on a cot, a sour wool blanket beneath him. He squeezed his eyes closed, waiting for that arrow to give a little ground. Every muscle in his strapping, forty-year-old body was drawn taut as razor wire.
The arrow slid back a little, giving some ground, the pain abating if only slightly.
Wolf opened his eyes. He wasn’t sure where he was. He had no idea how long he’d been out like a blown lamp. It could have been a few minutes, several hours, or, hell, even a few days. His mouth felt stuffed with soiled cotton.
Lying there on the cot, he found himself staring at a small hole at the base of a mud brick wall. Something moved inside the hole. Light glinted off two tiny eyes and then the small, arrow-shaped head took shape as the rat moved closer and stuck its long-whiskered, pink-tipped snout into the room, the sides of the narrow hole pressing the rat’s ears back flat against its head.
As the rodent slid its head into the room, the hole slid back to release its ears. The ears sprang straight up in the air. They resembled a mule’s ears—albeit those of a rat-sized mule. They were stiff and triangular, a dirty gray color on the outside, pale pink on the inside.
The pointed snout worked, sniffing.
The rat looked around. It looked up at Stockburn.
The pair exchanged stares for stretched seconds. If the rat felt any fear of the man, it gave no indication. It peeped faintly, still working its nose, and pushed its body, roughly the size of a small man’s fist, out of the hole and into the stone-floored room. It swung to its right and scuttled along the floor against the wall, head down, sniffing, pausing to nibble what appeared to be tiny bread crumbs, maybe some bits of bacon from a bacon sandwich.
It paused to investigate a very small, shriveled, dried brown apple core, which had to be well over a week old. After giving the core a thorough sniffing, and apparently finding nothing desirable about it, the rat took two steps forward before its vaguely oval-shaped, gray-brown body erupted in blood and torn bits of skin and fur spraying onto the floor and the wall behind it.
The shredded beast lay shivering, little spidery feet quivering, before the mangled carcass lay still.
Blood dribbled down the wall above it.
Stockburn sucked a sharp breath and squeezed his eyes closed as the concussive report of the gun exploded inside his head, threatening to do to his skull what the bullet had just done to the rat.
A man guffawed as the echoes of the blast gradually stopped rocketing off the adobe brick walls surrounding Stockburn. “Sorry to wake ya, Wolf! I been after that rat for a week now!”
Stockburn opened his eyes. The rotten egg odor of gun smoke fouled his nostrils as he turned his head to gaze through the iron straps of a cell door. A tall, skinny man in a worn, sweat-stained white shirt and black leather vest and patch-kneed black denim trousers crouched forward, thin shoulders jerking as he laughed. Waylon Wallace, marshal of Ruidoso, held his smoking Smith & Wesson Russian .44 straight down along his right leg, smoke still curling from the barrel.
That was probably the barrel that had caused the goose egg Stockburn could feel still rising, throbbing, on the back of his head, near the crown. Probing with his fingers, he felt a short cut on the swollen area, crusted with semi-dry blood, which meant he’d been out only an hour or so though it felt like days.
“Thanks a lot, Waylon.”
“Don’t mention it, Wolf.” Still chuckling, his craggy, gray-bearded, sixty-year-old face mottled red with wry humor, the lawman pulled a ladderback chair out from the wall by the door. He dragged it over in front of Stockburn’s cell and plopped into it, swinging his arms up and groaning against the creaks in his arthritic hips. “Rats carry rabies, don’t you know.”
“So do town marshals, apparently. A good dose of rabies must be what made you kiss the back of my head with that old Russian of yours.”
“Nope, nope.” Waylon crossed his long legs, skinny as broom handles, and wagged his head. “You caused that your ownself. You wouldn’t pull your horns in. Not for anything. I gave you fair warning.”
“I reckon I didn’t hear you,” Stockburn lied.
“You would have killed Larimore if I hadn’t introduced you to my trusty Smith & Wesson. Not that killing an underhanded varmint like that would have been any real loss, but I’d have had to arrest you for murder. Neither of us would have wanted that, Wolf.”
“Small price to pay.”
“What caused the foofaraw?”
“He and Fritz Carlson were cheating. They’d been cheating the whole damn game, since six o’clock this morning. I warned ’em twice but I still saw another creased card on the table.”
“That’s when you went off half-cocked and slammed Carlson’s face down on the table? The sawbones is with him now, tryin’ to straighten out his nose. Larimore’s over there, too, waiting for stitches.”
Stockburn looked at him with a question in his eyes.
“Nils Taylor filled me in.” Taylor was the barman on duty at the Athenaeum. “Says you exploded like a Napoleon cannon, just reached across the table, grabbed a handful of Carlson’s hair, and slammed his face straight down against his shot glass. Then you went for ol’ Whip and he went for you, and now you got a forty-six-dollar repair bill due over to the Athenaeum before I can let you out of here.”
“They were cheating.”
“You started the fight.”
“They started the fight when they started cheating.”
“You know their cheating ain’t what started the fight, Wolf.”
Stockburn opened his eyes, squinting against the pain in his head, scowling at his old friend Waylon who’d managed a Pony Express station back when Wolf, only sixteen years old, had been a hell-for-leather pony rider recently orphaned in western Kansas by a pack of rampaging Cheyenne. “What?”
Waylon narrowed his copper-brown eyes at the younger man. “You’ve played stud poker with both those jaspers before. Everybody knows they cheat but nobody cares because they’re so bad they still lose!”
“Oh, go to hell, Waylon!” Wolf rested his head back against his pillow, which smelled as sour as the blanket. “My head hurts.”
“You exploded because of what happened to Billy.”
“Oh, go to hell!” Stockburn fumed again then instantly pressed the heels of his hands to his head, sucking sharp breaths through gritted teeth.
The railroad detective was trying to suppress the raking agony inside his head as well as trying to obliterate the image of the young man, Billy Blythe, lying dead outside the Sierra Blanca Railroad’s express car, which robbers had blown off the tracks then peppered with lead before absconding with seventy thousand dollars in payroll money en route to the Pegasus Mining Company in Ruidoso.
“He was so damn young,” Stockburn said, grief rolling through him in hot waves.
“Had his whole life ahead of him,” Waylon said. “It’s not fair.”
“I assigned him to that train.”
“I know you did, Wolf. But you didn’t know Red Miller’s bunch was gonna hit it.”
“I didn’t even know Miller and his kill-crazy bunch of owlhoots was operating in this neck of the woods.” Stockburn dropped his feet to the floor, rising, and leaned forward over his knees. “If I had . . .”
“I know—you never would have assigned a kid so green to that payroll shipment.”
“Hell, I would have taken it myself !” Stockburn wrung his hands together, seeing in his mind’s eye the freckle-faced young man he’d pulled out of an outlaw gang around Las Cruces, befriended, rehabilitated, and recommended for a messenger job with Wells Fargo, lying dead with his head resting against a blasted-off iron wheel of the express car.
Blood dribbling down one corner of his mouth, glistening in the sun.
The kid must have come out of the express car, flames from the explosion wreathing him, Winchester blasting. There’d been a half-dozen empty casings lying around Billy’s charred, bullet-riddled body.
“He just got married,” Wolf said. “I walked Sofia down the aisle myself on account of her father had passed.”
Billy had met Sofia Ortega, the shy young brown-haired, brown-eyed daughter of a Mexican seamstress, in the post office one day in Mesilla. He’d stumbled into her, knocking several parcels out of her arms.
By the time he’d collected them for her, he’d fallen in love with her. Sofia had returned the sentiment. Before they’d officially hitched their stars to each other’s wagons, Billy, with Wolf’s help, had put a down payment on a little frame house between Las Cruces and Mesilla.
“Ah, Christ!” Wolf said, raking a big hand down his face, pressing his fingers deep into his skin as though trying to plunder his brain of his grief.
“Here—have a cup of this.” Stockburn looked to his left. Waylon was extending a stone mug of steaming black coffee through the bars while holding a second mug in his other hand. “Make you feel better.”
Stockburn rose with a wince, his head feeling like a sadistic gnome was inside it, whacking at his brain with a miniature but very hard hammer.
Stockburn took the mug in his hand then leaned his right shoulder against the cell’s right, barred partition. “I’ll feel better when I pick up Miller’s trail.” He blew on the coffee and narrowed his eyes through the steam, angrily. “I can’t do that in here.”
“You couldn’t do it when you were gambling in the Athenaeum, either.”
“Yeah, well, I’m waiting for Sofia to ride up here from Las Cruces to claim Billy’s body. I can’t go anywhere, I can’t go after Miller’s bunch, till I’ve seen Sofia.” Stockburn winced at the bleak prospect of having to show Billy’s bride her young husband’s charred, bullet-riddled body. He shook his head and sipped the hot, black brew.
He’d gotten himself entangled in the stud game to distract himself from his misery. He’d drunk too much firewater for the same reason. Waylon was right. He’d started the ruckus with Whip Larimore and Fritz Carlson for the same reason.
He’d had to take out his fury over Billy’s brutal murder some damn way. Leave it to him to cut off his nose to spite his face. Someday his Scottish fury was going to get the better of him.
Waylon had been right. He would have killed Larimore if Waylon hadn’t intervened. Then where would he be except headed for a gallows?
He was glad he’d been in the area when the Miller gang had struck. In fact, he’d been on the work train one hour behind the express Billy had been on, guarding the payroll money. Wolf had just been finishing up another job investigating illegal whiskey shipments on the Sierra Blanca and was heading back to Kansas City. Instead of heading straight north from Las Cruces to Denver, he’d decided to take the Sierra Blanca to Ruidoso to meet up with Billy for one last meal before they parted. Afterward, he’d take a leisurely horseback ride, astride his smoky gray stallion appropriately if unimaginatively named Smoke, north through the mountains and back to his home base in Kansas City.
As a railroad detective, he spent a lot of time on trains. Sometimes he liked to get away into the wild on his horse—just him and Smoke and the streams and woods, curling up in his bedroll every night after several cups of mud laced with whiskey, stars trimming the sky like Christmas candles, coyotes yammering from distant crags, the heady tang of pine smoke lingering in his nostrils.
He was a loner, Wolf Stockburn was. Always had been, always would be. Whenever he could, he sought the quiet sanctuary of the high and rocky.
He’d be doing that again soon. Only, he wouldn’t be seeking sanctuary. He’d be running down the gang that had murdered Billy Blythe and taken the payroll money they’d blown from the Wells Fargo strongbox.
But not until he got out of this cell.
Stockburn frowned at the lawman gazing in at him reprovingly. “Come on, Waylon. Let me out of here!”
“Forget it.” The craggy-faced marshal shook his head. “You sit an’ stew for a while. If I let you out right away, you won’t have learned a damn thing.”
“Come on—I’m not an eighteen-year-old firebrand!”
“No, you’re a forty-year-old firebrand!” Waylon chuckled without mirth then sipped his coffee. He swallowed, turned, and started walking over to his cluttered desk. “I’ll let you out tomorrow. First thing. And then you’ll go over to the Athenaeum and pay for the damages.”
“I’ll pay for them now!”
“No, you’ll pay tomo—”
The lawman stopped and turned as the office door latch clicked and the door opened. A matronly, gray-haired lady clad in a green felt hat with a half-veil poked her head into the door. “Waylon, dear, I brought the dinner you asked . . . for . . .”
She let her voice trail off as she turned her gaze toward Stockburn, a surprised, puzzled frown cutting deep lines across the age-wrinkled, Southwestern-sun-seasoned skin of her forehead. She had an oilcloth-covered wicker basket hooked over her left forearm. “I certainly didn’t know it was for Wolf!”
Waylon’s wife, Ivy, walked into the office, the pleated skirt of her lime-green velvet gown buffeting around her legs and black ankle boots. She clucked in both amusement and curiosity as she strode toward where Stockburn stood just behind his cell door, flushing sheepishly. “Wolf, what on earth are you doing in there?”
“Drunk and disorderly,” Waylon said. “Stay away from him, honey. He’s as dangerous as a stick-teased rattlesnake!”
“What did you do, Wolf?”
“Ivy, do me a favor, will you?” Wolf said. “Grab those keys over there and unlock this door. Waylon won’t stop you. We both know who’s been wearin’ the pants in the Wallace house for the past—what is it?—thirty, thirty-five years . . . ?”
“Forty-two,” said Ivy, shifting her eyes to her husband with mock disdain. “Though it sometimes feels like sixty.”
“She might wear the pants at home,” Waylon said. “But if my lovely bride touches those keys, I’ll lock you two up together.”
“Hmmm,” Ivy said, flouncing on her stout hips and arching her brows at Stockburn, playing the coquette. “I might not mind being locked up with such a tall, handsome drink of water as the storied Wolf of the Rails.” That was what the newspapers and magazines had dubbed Stockburn several years ago, after his reputation as a dogged rail detective had grown into legend. That was after he’d been known as the Wolf of Wichita, having once been town marshal of that fair, hoot cow town.
“I don’t know, Ivy,” Wolf said, grinning at his lawman friend, “you might not know how to handle a real man after all those years living with that sissy over there.”
Waylon had just taken a sip of coffee; with a loud chuff, he blew it into the air before him.
Ivy smiled sidelong at her husband. “He may not look like much, but believe it or not, Wolf, the old boy can still curl this gal’s toes from time to time.” She flounced over to her husband and rose up on the tips of her shoes to plant a peck on her blushing husband’s leathery left cheek. “Can’t you, my wild stallion?”
“Wild stallion,” Stockburn laughed. “Hah!”
“Oh, hell,” Waylon said, his flush deepening as he turned to his desk. “Just feed that damned criminal over there, will ya, honey? I have enough trouble with him alone without you two throwin’ in together against me!”
“I have to tell you I’m not exactly hungry, Ivy,” Wolf said. “I hurt too bad thanks to that old bruin and the barrel of his Smith & Wesson, not to mention a few lucky licks from Whip Larimore.”
“You just wait till you see what I—”
Ivy stopped abruptly as a gun blasted out in the street beyond the office door. “Oh, my gosh!” she said, raising a hand to her mouth.
The first blast was followed by another . . . another . . . and another. Ivy’s shoulders jerked with each loud report. Men shouted. A horse neighed shrilly.
“What in the hell . . . ?” Waylon hurried to the door, grabbing his hat off a wall peg and saying, “Ivy, you stay here!”
“Waylon!” Wolf said as more guns blasted in the street. “Let me out of here, dammit!”
But the marshal had already opened the door and run into the street, leaving the door half open behind him. The shooting continued, a veritable fusillade growing more and more heated with every shot. More men shouted, a woman screamed, horses whinnied, hooves pounded.
“Oh, my God!” Ivy said behind the hand over her mouth, staring in shock through the half-open door.
“What’s going on, Ivy?” Wolf asked, his heart racing. He walked to the cell’s far side and peered through the door but all he could see was dust being kicked up by the running horses, and gun smoke.
Waylon’s voice muffled by distance and gunfire, shouted, “Hold it right there, you devils!”
More guns blasted. A man screamed.
“Waylon!” Ivy cried, dropping the wicker basket and hurrying toward the door.
Stockburn shoved his right hand through the door to try to stop her. “Hold on, Ivy! Don’t go out there!”
But then she, too, ran through the door and was gone.
Stockburn stared in frustration and horror through the half-open door. The din continued—shooting, shouting, screaming, the thunder of maybe a half-dozen horses.
A horse and rider appeared in the street beyond the half-open door. The pair was galloping from Wolf’s left to his right, heading north. As the rider, clad in a cream hat and a black duster, passed the jail office, he cast a glance over his right shoulder and triggered a pistol shot behind him.
He gave a savage, coyote-like howl and then he was gone, galloping off to the north.
“Oh, Waylon!” Ivy Wallace’s voice wailed beneath the din. “Wayon! Oh, Waylon!”
Her cries were cut off by an agonized scream.
“Ivy!” Wolf shouted, stretching his right arm helplessly through the strap-iron bands of his cell. “Ivyyyyy—come back!”
But something told him she wasn’t coming back.
His heart a runaway train inside him, Stockburn grabbed the bars of his cell door and shook them wildly, cursing. He looked at the keys hanging from a peg by Waylon’s cluttered desk—from the same peg on which hung Stockburn’s cartridge belt and two holstered, ivory-gripped Colt Peacemakers as well as his sheathed bowie knife.
Only ten feet away, but they might as well have been a hundred.
Amidst the din of crackling guns and running horses, thumping sounds rose from the boardwalk fronting the jailhouse. A man appeared, crawling on the boardwalk from Stockburn’s left to his right. Waylon stopped just outside the open door and turned a craggy-faced, gray-bearded, agonized look toward Wolf.
The man’s face was drawn and pale. His hat was gone. He was dusty and sweaty. Blood dribbled onto the boardwalk from his bullet-torn belly as he remained there on his hands and knees, face turned toward Stockburn, the poor man’s cheeks sunken, his eyes sharp with pain.
Thumps rose from behind the lawman—the heavy, regular thuds of someone walking toward him. Waylon lifted his right hand from the boardwalk. He was holding his Russian .44. He winced, as though the gun weighed a hundred pounds. Stretching his lips back from his teeth, he tossed the revolver underhanded into the jailhouse. It landed only a few feet away from the lawman then slid up to within three feet of Stockburn’s cell.
As the Russian came to a stop, a gun popped in front of the marshal’s office. Stockburn stared in horror as a bullet slammed into Waylon’s head from behind, pluming his hair then exiting his forehead while blowing out a fist-sized chunk of bone, brains, and blood.
Waylon dropped belly down and lay quivering as he died.
As the foot thuds resounded on the boardwalk, Stockburn dropped to his knees, reached through the bars, stretched his right arm straight out before him, and closed his hand over the Russian .44. Before he could bring the revolver back toward him, a tall, broad-shouldered, long-haired man with a patch over one eye turned through the jailhouse door, kicking it wide.
Wolf pulled the Russian into his cell.
He was too late.
The pistol in the hand of the long-haired, one-eyed man leaped and roared, flames lapping from the barrel. The bullet ricocheted off an iron bar directly in front of Wolf and thudded into Waylon’s desk, blowing up papers and toppling an ashtray.
Ears ringing from the ricochet’s deafening clang, Stockburn poked the Russian through the bars, thumbed the hammer back, and lined up the sights on the big man before him.
The killer’s eyes widened suddenly with the recognition of his own imminent demise. The man’s lower jaw sagged in shock.
The Russian spoke.
“Choke on that, you devil!” Stockburn shouted.
The Russian thundered twice more as Stockburn punched two bullets into the cell door’s lock plate.
The bolt broke after the second bullet struck it, and the door whined and sagged in its frame.
Wolf dropped to his knees and clamped his hands over his ears, trying to quell the renewed pounding in his head. When those bullets had struck the lock plate, he’d felt he were inside a steel barrel being assaulted with large rocks. He suppressed the thunder still rocketing around inside his tender head—as much as he could—and heaved himself to his feet. He grabbed his hat off a stool near the cot, gingerly set it on his head, shoved the door wide, and steppe. . .
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