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“McCauley's Westerns move at a pace that leaves readers sweating and out of breath. Blood on the Trail is one wild, entertaining ride.” —Johnny D. Boggs
Thanks to Deputy U.S. Marshal Jeremiah Halstead, Ed Zimmerman has failed to take over the mining town of Silver Cloud, Montana. But now the ruthless, hard-hearted outlaw has his eyes on a bigger prize.
No sooner has Montana become a state than Zimmerman launches a diabolical campaign to turn a remote swath of land into an outlaw kingdom. Some of the richest mines in the West are in Zimmerman’s sights, and he’s rallied allies on both sides of the law to stake his claim.
The corpses are piled high in Halstead’s war with the vicious outlaw, but now Zimmerman proves himself as cunning with a pen as he is deadly with a six-gun. When news of his plot reaches the state capital of Helena, U.S. Marshal Aaron Mackey and Deputy Billy Sunday step into the fray.
Halstead is taking no prisoners to prevent Zimmerman from getting filthy rich off land bought with dollars . . . and soaked in blood . . .
Praise for Terrence McCauley’s Where the Bullets Fly
“Imagine a spaghetti Western with flawed characters and nonstop action. Or
Rooster Cogburn, without the eyepatch and a whole lot meaner.”—Roundup Magazine
“Blood on the Trail is one action-packed, western . . . and Jeremiah Halstead is a lawdog to fog the outlaw trail with!” —Peter Brandvold, author of The Cost of Dying
Release date: March 28, 2023
Publisher: Pinnacle Books
Print pages: 320
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Halstead fell back against the building, grabbing his attacker’s wrist before he could plunge the blade into his neck.
Halstead could have ended it quickly had he been able to reach one of his pistols, but he did not dare weaken his grip on the man’s wrist.
The stench of rot and filth from his attacker almost made him gag.
“I heard you’re tough to kill.” The man’s voice strained as he put his weight behind the knife. “This won’t hurt but a little and then it’ll be over. I’ll get my money and you’ll get peace. That ain’t so bad, is it?”
Halstead tried to bring a knee up into the man’s ribs but was too close for maximum impact.
The assailant responded with a knee of his own that hit Halstead’s inner thigh instead of his groin. The attempt had put the man off balance enough for Halstead to shove the man against the building, pinning his knife hand against the wall.
The stranger delivered a hard left hook that knocked Halstead back, breaking his grip on the knife. The man charged before Halstead could grab one of his guns.
The long blade of the bowie knife raked across his chest but failed to cut through the thick cowhide of his vest.
Halstead jumped backward to dodge the next slashing arc meant for his neck. A third thrust aimed at his stomach caused him to jump to his left as he pulled his Colt from the cross draw holster on his left side.
His gun fired as he slammed the stranger in the temple with his pistol. The man tumbled into the thoroughfare.
Halstead jumped down from the boardwalk and kicked the knife out of his attacker’s hand, though he was clearly dead. The back of his head had been ruined by the discharge of Halstead’s gun.
The dead man’s face was as unfamiliar as all the others who had come before him. Desperate men looking to claim the bounty Ed Zimmerman had placed on his life. Ten thousand dollars was the latest rumor. Some said more, many said less.
The correct amount did not matter, for Halstead had given each man lead instead of gold for his trouble.
Halstead tried to catch his breath as he looked around the darkened street for anyone else looking to try their hand at earning the outlaw bounty. They usually came in pairs. Flickering oil lamps along the boardwalk offered just enough light to show Battle Brook was as deserted as it usually was at that time of the morning. Even the saloons were quiet now, given that sunrise was just a little over an hour away.
Yet in the silence of the slumbering town, he heard a boardwalk plank creak behind him.
Halstead turned as he dropped to a knee and raised his pistol. A bullet struck the rail of a hitching post several feet from his head. A stocky man half in shadow cursed and was about to fire again when Halstead cut loose with three shots from his Thunderer.
Each bullet struck the man in the chest. He fell to his knees as he feebly pawed at the holes through his middle.
Halstead kept his Colt trained on him as he rose and stepped up onto the boardwalk. The dying man looked to be in his late thirties and had the sturdy build of a farmer. His blondish beard had grown unevenly. His coat was patched in several places and the shirt beneath it looked threadbare. Another stranger.
Halstead saw a rectangle of pale light spill out onto the boardwalk from the jail farther up Main Street. His partner, Joshua Sandborne, rushed outside in his long underwear, his Winchester rifle at the ready. Halstead figured the gunshots must have woken him.
Sandborne lowered his rifle when he saw Halstead standing over the dying man.
The farmer, still on his knees, held up a pair of bloody hands to Halstead. “You shot me.”
“You shot first.” Halstead kept his Colt trained down on him. “Zimmerman send you?”
“Not directly.” He looked down at his red hands, as if seeing them for the first time. “Good Lord, I’m dying.”
Halstead saw no reason to ease his passing. “Yeah, you are. You got a name?”
“Glenn.” He was struggling to breathe now. His lungs likely beginning to fill with fluid. Every beat of his heart only brought him closer to death. “Archer Glenn out of Deadwood.”
The name meant nothing to Halstead, but their names never did. He placed a boot on Glenn’s pistol and kicked it off the boardwalk. “Got any kin you want me to write to on your behalf, Archer Glenn?”
The dying farmer shook his head as he squinted up at Halstead. At the man who had taken his life. “I was supposed to get ten thousand dollars for you.”
Halstead was glad to disappoint him. “You never had a chance.”
Glenn coughed, then shuddered. “Never thought I’d meet my end by a no-good half-breed like you.”
Halstead grinned at the insult. He was half-Anglo, half-Mexican but doubted Glenn would appreciate the difference. “We all die from something.”
He watched another shudder go through Glenn before he pitched over on his left side. After a final wet rattle of breath, he died.
Halstead kept his pistol aimed down at him until the man’s eyes grew vacant. He lowered the gun when it was clear Glenn was dead.
Halstead looked at Sandborne. “His name was Archer Glenn. A mighty fancy name. Shame to see it go to waste.”
Sandborne kept his rifle low as he looked over the street. “How many were there this time?”
“Just two.” Halstead opened the cylinder of his Colt. “The other one’s back there in the street. He jumped me from the alley. Had a knife.”
Sandborne stepped down into the street and checked the man who had fallen into the thoroughfare. “Mr. Fitzgerald’s going to be happy for the business, but not the mess. You tagged this one pretty good to the back of the head.”
Halstead knew Battle Brook’s new undertaker was his biggest supporter. He had certainly kept the man busy. “Stopping men like that is our job, just as it’s his job to bury them.”
He plucked the spent bullets from the cylinder and dumped them out on Glenn’s corpse. “This one here said he was from Deadwood. Stands to reason his partner is from there, too.”
“Guess that doesn’t matter now.” Sandborne picked up the dead man’s bowie knife and carried it over to Halstead. It would bring a good price at the general store when he decided to sell it. “You hurt?”
“No.” Halstead fed three fresh bullets from his gun belt into the Colt, snapped the cylinder shut, and slid the pistol back into the holster on his left side. “After Fitzgerald picks up these bodies, head over to the telegraph office and send word to Deadwood.” He knew words were not Sandborne’s strong suit, so he added, “Have the clerk help you write it.”
“I will.” Sandborne frowned as he looked down at the dead man on the boardwalk. “I thought this bounty business would’ve played itself out by now, but these boys just keep coming.”
“And dying.” Halstead decided he had allowed the dead men to take up too much of his time. He was late for his daily appointment but could still make it in time if he hurried. “I’ll pass Mr. Fitzgerald’s place on my way to the livery and tell him to haul these two out of here. Folks will be waking up soon and I don’t want them seeing this mess first thing in the morning. Starts the day off on the wrong footing.”
Sandborne watched him begin to leave. “You mean you’re still going to take your ride? Even after all this?”
Halstead stopped. “They’re as dead as they’re gonna get, Joshua. Whether I’m here or not won’t change that. Tell the mayor I’ll write up a report when I get back. I know how he loves to have things documented properly.”
Sandborne had learned the futility of arguing with Halstead once his mind was made up. He rested the butt of his rifle on his hip as he looked over the quiet street. “Battle Brook sure is a funny place. I can remember when everyone would’ve run out in their nightclothes to see what the shooting was about. Now, they just sleep through it like it was nothing.”
Halstead started walking toward the livery to fetch his horse. “Guess folks can get used to just about anything if it happens often enough.”
Sandborne called after him, “If that’s true, I sure wish you’d get used to Zimmerman being a free man.”
Halstead did not bother answering. Sandborne should have known better than to expect the impossible.
Jeremiah Halstead stood alone on the hill that overlooked the reborn town of Valhalla, Montana. By the time he had ridden there, ribbons of deep pink and blue had already begun to fan out across the eastern sky behind distant mountains.
Another day was about to begin. Another day that Edward Zimmerman would spend as a free man. As far as Halstead was concerned, it was one day too many.
The power of nature’s glory was lost on Halstead, for he had not come to witness beauty. He had come to hold his daily vigil for those who would never enjoy another sunrise. The many victims of former outlaws Ed Zimmerman and Rob Brunet. The outlaws who not only called Valhalla home but had set about making the town a thing of their own creation.
According to the maps, the spot Halstead had chosen was legally on the edge of Battle Brook’s jurisdiction. But his ongoing pursuit of Zimmerman had little regard for boundaries.
Halstead had chosen the spot for a more practical reason. It was just out of rifle range from the town, yet close enough to be seen by anyone who cared to look. And he knew Zimmerman always had someone watching. He guarded his freedom as jealously as he guarded the newfound power Valhalla had given him.
Being seen was part of Halstead’s plan. He wanted Zimmerman to awake each morning knowing Halstead had not forgotten him or the crimes he had committed. Come rain or shine, wind or snow, Halstead had not missed a day on that hill in the weeks since Zimmerman had received his pardon. His attorney might have gotten his cousin, the governor, to free him from prison, but nothing would free him from Halstead’s justice except death.
Halstead had spent many sleepless nights in bed with Abby wondering why he should not just ride into town and call Zimmerman out. Face him down with fists or guns. Halstead knew he could beat him with either, assuming it was a fair fight.
But men like Zimmerman never fought fair. Fighting dirty was why he and Rob Brunet were still breathing free air instead of rotting in a cell while they waited for the hangman to call their name.
Halstead took cold comfort in the knowledge that his daily presence on the hill galled Zimmerman’s pride something awful. He was practically daring the former outlaw to try to kill him by making himself such an easy, predictable target. Halstead rode to the hill each morning hoping that Zimmerman would send some men to ambush him. That one of Valhalla’s loyal citizens might try to collect the bounty their leader had placed on Halstead almost a year before.
But no one had come yet. He had heard from travelers between the two towns that Zimmerman would not allow it. No one in Valhalla disobeyed their leader and lived to tell the tale, so the stalemate continued.
And so did Halstead’s vigil. Vengeance was expensive and had cost him a great deal.
For as he watched the morning sky begin to brighten, his mind drifted to his love for Abigail Newman. The woman who had managed to capture whatever still remained of his soul. The woman who had set her own safety aside to leave the comfort of Helena only to come back to Battle Brook to be with him.
He watched the sky take on the same deep blue of her eyes. The thin streak of white from the rising sun was the color of her skin. The deep red of the horizon reminded him of her lips, and he found himself wishing he was with her in their room right now.
He wished he was still the man she thought he was. The kind of man she needed him to be.
But Halstead knew part of that man he had once been had died the moment he was forced to allow Zimmerman to go free. Abby had insisted on remaining with him in Battle Brook even though she had no reason to stay. She often told him he was a better man than he thought. That he was strong and honest and good and everything she could ever want in a man in this world or the next.
But Halstead knew better. Any qualities she saw in him had been long submerged in a pot of boiling water he could only describe as hate.
Hate that had been born years before and over a thousand miles away. Hate for men like Zimmerman and their cunning. Hate for his own inability to stop them. Hate for allowing such men to go free despite all the men they had killed and the lives they had ruined.
Hate for himself for not being strong enough to kill Zimmerman when he’d had the chance.
He felt his old resentment return as he remembered the look of smug satisfaction on Mannes’s face as the lawyer presented Halstead with Zimmerman’s pardon from his cousin, the governor. As if words on a piece of paper could rewrite what was right and what was wrong. As if the ink of a governor’s signature could wash away a man’s sins. As if the dead could be forgotten with the casual stroke of a pen.
The law books might say differently but in Jeremiah Halstead’s book, Zimmerman and Brunet still owed a debt. A debt Marshal Aaron Mackey in Helena expected him to collect. A debt Halstead still owed to Zimmerman’s many victims.
Halstead tugged his hat lower to shield his eyes from the light of the rising sun as it began to shine down on the growing town of Valhalla. Zimmerman had used the money he had stolen from countless people and from the surrounding mines to transform the forgotten township of Hard Scrabble into a place that would soon rival Battle Brook in size and population.
And Halstead knew that as Valhalla grew, so would Zimmerman’s influence throughout the new state of Montana. Mannes and Cal Hubbard’s Valhalla Bank and Trust would see to that. Soon, Zimmerman’s reach would extend far beyond the valley and he would become an important man. Too important for even a federal deputy marshal to touch.
Halstead could not allow all that to happen. The dead deserved better. Jack McBride, the late sheriff who had been killed during Zimmerman’s robbery of the Bank of Battle Brook, deserved better. So did all the countless, unnamed others who had lost their lives and fortunes to Zimmerman’s murderous greed.
Every new building erected in Valhalla was built on a foundation of blood and corruption. Every success a mockery of any notion of right and wrong.
When his hands began to ache, Halstead realized he had balled them into fists against his sides. He forced them open again. There would be a time and place where his anger might prove useful, but today was not that day. Battle Brook was still without a proper lawman and, for now, Halstead and Sandborne were all that stood between the town and Zimmerman’s ambition.
And as the rays of the rising sun failed to warm him, Halstead renewed his daily vow to the dead that he would do everything in his power to stop Zimmerman by any means necessary. It was not much, but it would have to be enough for now.
Knowing one of Zimmerman’s watchmen must have spotted him by now, Halstead walked back to the shrub where he had tethered his horse, Col, and climbed into the saddle. He had left Sandborne quite a mess back in Battle Brook. It was time to tend to it and leave Zimmerman for another time.
Edward Zimmerman woke when he heard someone knocking at his door.
The former outlaw threw aside the heavy blankets and swung his legs over the edge of his bed. He stretched his long arms and basked in the warm sunlight streaming through the cracked panes of his bedroom windows. He was free and had an official decree from the governor to prove it to any man who doubted it.
“What is it?” he called out to the man who had knocked. He never closed the front door of the ramshackle house as a sign of the power he enjoyed over the town. There was no point in closing it because no one would dare enter without permission. Only the old heathen who tended to Brunet’s wounds was allowed to clean the place and bring him a bowl of warm water for his daily shave.
“It’s just me, sir,” a young voice responded. “Randy. You told me you wanted me to wake you at first light.”
Sir. Zimmerman closed his eyes, warmed as much by the title of respect as by the morning sun. He had insisted that all his men called him “sir” upon his return to Valhalla following his pardon. Randy was one of the new watchmen he had appointed to keep an eye on the town at night. Another group of young men kept watch during the day. And while they were all young men eager to impress him, Randy had proven to be the most obliging.
“Thank you, Randy,” Zimmerman answered. “Any sign of our mockingbird this morning?”
“Yes, sir,” Randy reported. “He was right there in the open, same as yesterday and the day before. Just standing like an old scarecrow before he ups and rides away.”
Zimmerman smiled at the news. Randy’s description of Halstead was more accurate than he realized. Travelers between Valhalla and Battle Brook had told him how Halstead had become a different man since the governor’s pardon. His spies reported that Halstead was not the same man. He was broken somehow. He had never been affable but had become distant and grim. He had taken to riding out to that hill each daybreak since as his way of making a point. To remind Zimmerman that he was still close. That he had not forgotten.
Zimmerman often wondered if Halstead realized he only rode back to Battle Brook each day because he had allowed him to do so.
The former outlaw stood up and stretched his arms and legs before pulling on a fresh shirt from his dresser. The new laundry that had opened the previous month did wonders for his clothes. Free of charge, of course. A sign of respect.
“Thanks for letting me know. Any trouble during the night?”
“No, sir,” Randy reported, “but you’ve got a couple of men here to see you. Spotted them myself just after sunrise as they approached the town from the north. They’re over in The Iron Horse right now, waiting for you.”
The north? That was rough country. “Who are they? What do they want?”
“They told me they’re the Riker boys. Said that you sent for them. They’re over at The Iron Horse right now, like I said. Blinky’s keeping an eye on them.”
Zimmerman had not expected the Riker brothers of Texas to be in the valley until next week at the earliest. He did not know what to make of their early arrival but would look forward to finding out.
“Thank you for telling me. Any other strange events?”
“No, sir. The town was quiet. Hardly a peep out of anyone, just how you like it.”
Yes, Zimmerman thought. The people of Valhalla knew better than to defy him. Many of them were newcomers who had arrived looking to make their fortune in a new town. Outlaws and misfits, mostly, along with a healthy number of civilians to balance things out.
Those who agreed to live by the rules Zimmerman had set forth were allowed to stay and prosper. Those who refused were thrown out on their ear. He reserved his harshest punishment for those who intentionally disobeyed him. They were dealt with in a harsh and public manner.
It had been rough going when he first assumed control of the town upon his return, but the people soon fell in line. It was almost two weeks since he was forced to beat a man to death.
“That’s a fine report, Randy.” Zimmerman pulled on his pants and slipped his feet into his boots. “You may go now. Job well done.”
He enjoyed giving compliments to his men almost as much as he enjoyed receiving them. His time riding with Darabont had taught him the value of tempering his rule with a certain degree of kindness. Everyone knew he was in charge. There was no need to remind them of it every time he opened his mouth.
But he was surprised when Randy persisted. “Can I ask you a question, Mr. Zimmerman?”
He did not encourage questions from his men, but he’d had a good night’s sleep and was in a benevolent mood. He stood up and pressed his feet further into his boots. “You may.”
“It’s just that me and some of the other fellas were wondering why you don’t just let us shoot Halstead for you? Seeing him perched on that hill like a buzzard each morning is downright unsettling. It’s kinda like he’s thumbing his nose at you. At this whole town and everyone in it. It just ain’t right, sir. I sure wish you’d let us do something about it.”
Zimmerman started for the door as anger surged through his body. But he quickly remembered Darabont’s lesson that showing emotion was a sign of weakness. A true leader must always be seen to be above such things. To be better than those who followed him.
But Zimmerman knew men only followed if they were led. He also knew that silence could also be the loudest weapon when applied correctly, which was why he remained silent as he slowly stepped out of the bedroom and into the parlor.
Zimmerman was broader and taller than most men in Valhalla. Since his return, he had taken to shaving each morning to give himself a separate, cleaner appearance from the others.
But Randy, still standing in the doorway, was neither tall nor broad. He was ten years younger than Zimmerman, which put him at about twenty. He began to tremble and swallowed hard at his leader’s slow approach.
Randy had backed all the way out onto the edge of the porch by the time Zimmerman reached the door. He clearly had realized his mistake. He wanted to run but was unable to look away.
Zimmerman drank in the young man’s fear. He always had taken great pleasure in seeing terror take hold in another man’s eyes. It was one of the few habits of his outlaw days that he retained.
The boy flinched when Zimmerman finally said, “Are you questioning me, Randy? Do you doubt my orders? My wisdom?”
“N-n-never, Mr. Zimmerman,” the boy stammered as he continued to back away. “It’s really none of my business. I should’ve kept my big mouth shut. I didn’t mean any offense.”
“Offense?” The former outlaw threw back his head and laughed, though there was no humor in it. “You can’t offend me, boy. You’re not important enough to offend me, no more than Jeremiah Halstead is man enough to scare me.”
Randy stumbled off the porch and almost tripped over his feet. “I never thought otherwise, sir.”
Zimmerman kept walking toward him as fast as Randy backed away. “I haven’t sent anyone to kill Halstead because I don’t want him dead. I want him to live. I want him to see this town grow and thrive in the full knowledge that there isn’t anything he can do to stop it. I want him to live so I can turn his own weapons against him.”
Zimmerman picked up his pace. “Now do you understand, Randy? Does my decision sit well with you?”
The youth threw up his hands as he continued to withdraw farther across the street. “I don’t need to understand anything, sir. I just need to do what I’m told. What you tell me to do.”
Zimmerman was aware that some of the people on their way to work had stopped to watch them. Good. Let them see.
“Well, that’s a relief. I’m so glad you agree. I don’t know how I could sleep at night if I thought you didn’t like one of my decisions. My whiskey would turn to vinegar and my cigar to ashes if I didn’t have your approval. It would just about ruin my whole day. And you don’t want to ruin my day, do you, Randy?”
“No, sir.” The boy kept stepping backward. “I wouldn’t. I would never.”
Zimmerman continued to stalk the youngster, driving him back with the sheer force of his being until the boy bumped against the railing of the boardwalk at the far end of the thoroughfare. He felt the eyes of the townspeople and workers and knew they were watching. That was good. They would remember. They would see.
Randy cringed when Zimmerman b. . .
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