Weary of hunting men for a living—first as a Texas Ranger, then as a bounty hunter—Pharaoh Smith sets out on what he hopes will be a fast and lucrative bounty to end his long career. But nothing’s ever been easy for Pharaoh, and right on cue his latest manhunt quickly spirals into death and deception on an epic scale as bounty hunters, outlaws, crooked lawmen and bullets light up the Old West in this thrilling adventure novel.
When three armed men rob a Wells Fargo Stage and kill a passenger, a one thousand dollar reward is offered for their capture. But as fate would have it, Pharaoh isn’t the only manhunter on the crooks’ trail. Two bounty hunters with unsavory reputations, Shadrach “Sweet Tater” Johnson and Roscoe Buffalo Soldier, are also on the trail to claim the reward money. But after attempts are made on all of their lives, Pharaoh and the others realize that this is about something more than a stage robbery.
A thousand dollars split three ways isn’t what any of them had in mind, but the three bounty hunters are forced to form an uneasy alliance to figure out what’s really going on before they all end up dead.
|Print + eBook||ePub||Kindle|
|Save when you buy a Book & eBook bundle!|
“Lee Pierce has a talent for creating suspenseful tales with believable, many-faceted characters. Readers are in for a great ride!” —Margaret Tessler, author, Black Widow, White Lies
Sheriff Tom Mathers spooned four scoops of honey into the tin cup of coffee he held in his hand, then methodically stirred the hot black liquid. “Pud Cruickshank and Ozzie Gotch? Good Lord, those two ner’ do wells are the biggest waste of flesh and blood I have ever had the displeasure of knowin’. Both of them boys’ mamas should’ve tied rocks around their necks when they were born and throwed them into the river.” He put the cup to his lips and slurped down the coffee. “You say you got papers on those two nitwits? What in blazes did they do?”
The tall, broad-shouldered man facing Sheriff Mathers sighed and stroked his long mustache. “Six weeks ago they robbed a Wells-Fargo stage outside of Waco. A passenger was killed.”
“Whoa there, son! What did you say your name was?”
“Well, Mr. Smith, I got to tell you, those ol’ boys ain’t worth the spit on my tongue, but they ain’t no killers. Are you sure it was them?”
Pharaoh dug a folded piece of paper out of his shirt pocket and opened it up. “Poster says one man was short with a fair complexion, clean shaven, and slender with long, black hair braided Indian style.”
“Sounds like Ozzie Gotch, all right,” said Sheriff Mathers, nursing his coffee.
“Another man was medium height with a large pot belly, red hair and a red handlebar mustache.”
“Yep, that’s Pud for sure,” Mathers said, shaking his head in disbelief. “Dang! I still can’t believe those two would shoot anybody.”
“There was a third man,” said Pharaoh, squinting to read the fine print. “He was tall, large build, long brown hair and beard. Witnesses say he did the killing.”
“Hmm,” said the sheriff as he refilled his cup, “looks like those two losers finally found somebody to take care of them.”
Pharaoh folded the wanted poster and stuck it back in his pocket. He sensed the sheriff’s discomfort with having to deal with him. Most lawmen in Texas knew his name. The bad men did, too. He was a hard man who always brought in his quarry—usually laying across a saddle, dead as yesterday’s news.
“Mr. Smith, do you mind if I ask you a personal question? It’s about your name.”
“My father was a student of ancient Egypt, Sheriff,” said Pharaoh, telling his story for the umpteenth time. “Back in those times, the rulers of the land were called Pharaohs. My father was partial to the name.”
Sheriff Mathers looked puzzled. “That sure is a moniker you don’t see everyday.” He was still shaking his head when Pharaoh left the office.
The bounty hunter walked up to his paint mustang gelding, Texican, who was tied to the hitching rail. He patted the horse’s neck and stepped out into the street. Spying a saloon across the way and down a bit, he set out in that direction. The day was warm and he had been in the saddle a long time. A cold beer sounded like the best thing going.
Pharaoh stepped up on the greasy plank sidewalk and peered through the doors of the saloon. He loosened his pistol and walked inside. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the smoky haze in the long, narrow room. A dozen or so men occupied the place; four of them were playing poker at a table in the back, and the rest were drinking at the bar. Pharaoh sidled up and ordered a beer. As he was gulping down his brew, a round, florid-faced man dressed in a wrinkled brown suit, boiled white shirt and bowler hat moved down the bar until he was beside him. Pharaoh tried to turn away, but the man caught his eye.
“Howdy there, pardner,” said the man. “I know almost everybody in this fine town, but I don’t recognize you. Do you live around here, or are you passing through?” The man barely paused for a breath before continuing on again. “Not that it matters, of course. Everyone has to be from somewhere. Please permit me to introduce myself. My name’s Henry T. Peabody, and I’m in women’s underwear.”
Pharaoh looked up quickly and scutinized the man closely. “Women’s underwear?”
“Yes, sir, I sell the finest line of undergarments for ladies this side of St. Louis, Missouri! Is there a special young lady in your life that I might induce you to purchase some nice, flimsy silk item for?”
Pharaoh laughed. “Okay, when you said you were in lady’s underwear, I thought you meant that you were wearing them.”
“Oh my, sir,” said the salesman, turning scarlet. “My choice of words was most improper. I apologize. Please, may I purchase you a cold libation?”
“If you mean a beer, that’s okay. I’ll buy my own.”
“Don’t worry, drummer,” boomed a voice from the front of the saloon. “It ain’t you. Mr. Pharaoh Smith don’t let nobody buy him a drink. That way, he won’t be beholdin’ to no man when he gets his ticket punched.”
The owner of the voice was a near giant of a man, broad-shouldered and thick-chested. Tree trunk forearms stuck out of the rolled up sleeves of his red flannel shirt, and a shapeless, gray hat topped curly black hair that hung down past his shoulders. The twin .36 Navy revolvers in his belt and the short barreled coach gun strapped to his back signaled that he was a soul to be reckoned with. He sauntered over to the bar and pushed the little man away as he stepped up next to Pharaoh.
“Howdy, Shadrach,” said Pharaoh, staring straight ahead. “What are you doing in these parts? I thought you were set for life after catching the Cavender boys last year?”
“Aw, hell, Pharaoh—you know how it is—fast women, slow horses, bad whiskey and marked cards. It don’t take long for a man like me to spend my money, no matter how much of it there is!”
“Excuse me, sir,” said Henry T. Peabody, the underwear salesman. “Please pardon me for overhearing your conversation, but did you call this gentleman Pharaoh Smith?”
“What?” said the bear of a man. “Who’s talkin’ to me?” He looked down at Peabody, who had managed to squeeze back in next to Pharaoh. He patted the shorter man on top of his bowler hat. “Was that you talkin’ to me, little feller?”
Peabody introduced himself to the behemoth, and then looked up at Pharaoh. “Are you truly Pharaoh Smith, the famous mercenary, gun-for-hire, and gladiator of the plains?”
“Yeah, I’m Pharaoh Smith, but I’m not any of those other things you called me.”
“Mr. Smith, I am honored to make your acquaintance!” Peabody said, tipping his bowler to reveal his shiny, hairless, and egg-shaped head.
“Feller, you don’t want to bother ol’ Pharaoh. He’s liable to get ornery and shoot you just for the fun of it. I’m the man you should be takin’ your hat off to. My name’s Shadrach Meshach Abednego Johnston. Most folks call me Sweet Tater, though, cause I love to eat them big ol’ fat things.”
“Sweet Tater Johnston! Oh, my goodness—I can’t believe it. The two most famous bounty hunters in the West are standing right beside me in this saloon! Gentlemen, I am speechless!”
“Don’t hardly sound like it to me, drummer,” Pharaoh said, looking down at the excited little man. “Why don’t you and Shad go find a table and he’ll tell you how he cleaned up the West.”
“Capital idea, Mr. Smith! I will do just that. Mr. Sweet Tater, would you join me at a table?”
“Does a dog lick his behind? Why, sure I will! Bartender, fetch me and my new pardner four beers over to our table and put ‘em on Peabody’s tab.” He glared down at the drummer. “That’s all right with you, ain’t it friend?”
Peabody wiped his head with his handkerchief. “Why, of course, sir, whatever you say.”
“Good deal, Peabody,” Sweet grinned. “You go over to the table and save me a place. I’ve got to tell Pharaoh somethin’.”
Henry T. Peabody did as he was told, but there was an odd look on his face as he walked to a table. For the briefest moment, his eyes flashed anger. Then the look vanished as quickly as it had appeared. When he reached the table and turned around, his smile was back in full force.
“One thing more, Pharaoh,” said Sweet. “Buffalo Soldier is in these parts, too. We need to have us a palaver about that stagecoach robbery and killin’. Somethin’ ain’t right about that whole doin’s.”
Pharaoh nodded and Sweet headed for his rendezvous with Peabody and the four beers.
“Buffalo Soldier,” Pharaoh sighed under his breath.
“Pardon me, sir?” asked the bartender, “Would you like another beer?”
“Huh?” said Pharaoh, lost in thought.
“Another cold one, sir? Would you like another beer?”
“Yeah, why not? It doesn’t look like I’m going anywhere soon.”