A while back I wrote a violent Western novella called 'When the Man Comes Around', which is probably my most downloaded story on Kindle, although given the genre it faces a lot less competition than the likes of Murder Inc.
I had toyed with the idea of doing a sequel for a long time, but then Murder Inc started growing from a novella to a full blown novel and my six shooter sequel sort of fell by the wayside. So, I figured why not post up the prologue and intro. Feel free to praise it and tell me to finish the story.
- - - - - - - -
There was still gold in those hills, not much but there certainly was some. Not that miners ever really saw much benefit from it, the only people to see profit were the merchants, innkeepers, tradesmen, craftsmen and basically anyone else doing business during the waning years of the Gold Rush other than mining gold.
The town of Shasta was doing exceptionally well out of the boom, mule trains and stagecoaches rolled in to this hub of trade before heading further north along the Siskiyou Trail toward Oregon or back south toward Sacramento.
With all the comings and goings and the legends of rivers of gold there was inevitably going to be another type of person also attracted to the town, the grittier sort, men of spit and blood.
Two large gangs had established themselves in the surrounding countryside, engaged in a bitter rivalry with one another that more often than not came to bullets and death. Shasta was spared much of the violence as out of necessity it became something of a neutral territory, a place were either side could trade or otherwise entertain themselves without having to watch their backs.
Not that this did anything for the local population. The Oregon Regulars, a legion of deserters formerly a regiment in the Union’s Continental Army took the view that the locals were a nuisance, whilst the California Defenders simply took what they wanted.
You could not have referred to one side or the other as good, the Oregon Regulars had deserted the army for the sole purpose of making it rich off the sweat of the miners’ backs. The California Defenders on the other hand were simply carrying on the tradition of making life as difficult as possible for the Union that had annexed the territory over twenty years ago.
Where the two met, north against south, was as violent and cataclysmic as that fault through San Andreas, and embattled Shasta was the buffer zone.
For the past two months the Regulars had held the Hotel Royale as their base in the town whilst across that very same street the Defenders had claimed the saloon, marking out the borders of one another’s territory.
Carriages rolled down the street as a fine breeze lifted a layer of dust from the gutters of the busy thoroughfare, a man stood in the centre as stage coaches and wagons berthed around him casting glares in his direction but remaining silent.
Wind caught his long, navy blue coat revealing a pair of pistols at his side that gleamed as if lit by the fire of angels, the navy blue garments underneath could easily be mistaken for the uniform of a Union officer. His white hair was blown about a face that gave no clue to his age save that he was no coddled child.
Looking first to his left and then to his right he seemed at last to come to a decision.
Walking down the street ignoring the vehicles rumbling to his left and right, the brim of his hat casting a shadow over his eyes shielding him from the sun as it set fire to Heaven as it drifted toward the distant horizon. He turned north to the Hotel Royale, its red and white paint sand blasted and sun baked, stepping onto the porch he reached out a gloved hand and gently rapped the door.
This was as good a place to start as any.
He waited patiently as a barrage of cursing came from the other side before a few moments later the door was flung open by a young man in a Union uniform, clearly drunk.
“Yeah? What do you want?”
Without a word and fast as daylight the white haired man reached out and strangled the drunk silently on the doorstep.
Drawing his guns the man stepped inside and closed the door.
That same day.
The wharf of San Francisco was a forest of masts swaying with the gentle rise and fall of the sea, schooners and merchantmen that had been abandoned as their crews sought their fortune inland.
The city itself was booming, what had once been a small coastal settlement serving as a stopover for ships heading to better places was now the hub of California’s growth.
In the hustle and bustle of the area now known as Fisherman’s Wharf a young man sat on a jetty sketching the Italian immigrants toiling on their fishing boats. He ignored the crowds about him and the stares of the curious young women as he carefully etched the crooked lines of a gnarled old fisherman unloading nearby.
There was something about the old man, an adventure or strife, some hardship hidden beneath the lines on his face that gave him energy and determination. He was an excellent subject that the young man loved to try and capture, if even only the slightest glimpse he wanted to find a way to express the vibrancy under the sea-worn skin. If only he could speak Italian, the conversations they could have.
The artist, Patrick, was no more a native of San Francisco than his subject, his family were not part of the Gold Rush mania that had spread across the eastern US. Ten years ago they had been ranchers in New Mexico, but those days were long gone and would burn forever, the memory of a father and brother.
Things had been hard at first, adjusting to a new life and finding employment, but they persisted with the determination of people who refused to be defeated or browbeaten by their past.
His mother found work in an assessor’s office and Patrick when he turned fourteen found work on the docks, and in his spare time he liked to draw. And draw he did, every free moment for the past five years. He found serenity in art, being able to detach oneself from the world and observe dispassionately the ebb and flow of human emotion, to try and capture some of that energy in a single moment.
A young woman sat next to him but he paid her little heed, people always gravitated to him when he drew, he supposed that in some subconscious way they wanted to become subjects themselves.
She smiled at Patrick when he gave her a glance, he briefly returned it before lowering his eyes back to his etching. In truth he was a handsome young man, curly brown hair and green eyes that burned with intensity when he was bent over his sketch book, but he was also shy and distant in the way only a murdered family can make you.
“You’re very good,” she said, looking over his shoulder.
“Thank you,” he smiled but didn’t look up, “it’s just a hobby really, and I doubt my work will ever see the light of a gallery.”
She continued to watch him for a few minutes, sitting in silence as he smudged shadows across the fisherman’s face, his fingers making delicate strokes across the yellowed page.
“What’s your name?”
He paused in his drawing to look directly at her, curly blonde hair and blue green eyes like the ocean, she was dressed as a lady of some culture, not the sort that would normally associate with a dock hand or artist.
“Patrick,” he replied, “Patrick McElhone.”
“Patrick,” she smiled as she said his name, “that’s a nice name. My name is Patricia, Patricia Telford.”
He knew the Telford name, the family were big cotton traders from Louisiana originally but had come west when the Civil War became bad for business. They owned property all over the city and land as far out as Sonoma, including it was said a vineyard in Napa.
“Can I see your sketchbook please, Patrick?”
He handed it over without a word, struck dumb being spoken to by a woman whose family wealth was positively terrifying.
She flicked through images of the docks, the fisherman, the bay, even a sketch of Alcatraz Island before pausing at a drawing of a captivatingly beautiful woman, she looked to be in her early forties with flowing dark hair and slightly sad eyes.
“She’s beautiful,” Patricia whispered, “she looks so haunted. This is amazing work, who is she?”
“My mother,” he replied, “I drew that about a year ago, when she got engaged.”
“Why does she look so sad?”
“She has looked like that for a long time, it’s only since meeting my step-father that she has started to soften.”
“I take it this isn’t something that you want to talk about, not with a stranger certainly.”
She scanned through the remaining images, pausing to study the lines on each before moving on to the next, until at last she came to a blank page.
“May I borrow your pencil?”
Turning to the back side of the page she wrote a few brief words before closing the book and handing it back to Patrick.
“I have reserved a page in your book,” she stood and gave him a slight nod, “I would like to commission a picture when you have the time. You can find me at the address provided.”
He nodded, unsure and dumbfounded.
“Good day, Mr McElhone,” she offered her hand.
“Uh, good day,” Patrick found his feet, and taking her hand he gave it a gentle kiss, “Miss Telford.”
The exchange on the docks, between the McElhone boy and the Telford girl was watched by a figure standing in the shadows. He watched not only Patrick but everyone around, scanning from person to person, eyeing everyone, looking for something.
He had journeyed far to be here now, and it had been a journey in haste but now above all times was when he must be at his most cautious. There was far too much at stake to be reckless and impulsive now.
The Telford girl curtsied and left Patrick standing on the dock looking like a lost idiot, smiling to himself and gripping the sketch book, blissfully unaware of the imminent danger.
The man stepped out of the shadows and pushed through the crowds on the wharf keeping his hand on the knife hidden underneath his jacket.
Young McElhone was staring out to the bay, his back to the advancing figure, his mind full of wonder and new curious feelings.
The man stood directly behind him, hand still on the knife handle.
“She likes you.”
Patrick spun in shock and found himself staring at a tall Native American man with deep eyes like the heart of the earth and a tight lipped smile that only slightly curled at the edges.
Views expressed may not be representative of reality.
Available for sale