Authors: Louis L'amour
May There Be A Road
To Most Readers, Louis L'amour Is The Quintessential Writer Of westerns; few know that among his 118 published volumes are stories set far from sagebrush country. In this volume of 10 previously uncollected short stories written early in his career and issued now, 13 years after his death, with an afterword by his son, Beau, L'Amour's broader interests are on display.
Two of the tales, "Red Butte Showdown" and "The Cactus Kid" do indeed evoke the frontier settings L'Amour is best known for, but three of them, "Making It the Hard Way," "Fighter's Fiasco" and "The Ghost Fighter," are about prizefighting and indicate the influence of writers like Jack London and Ernest Hemingway.
No less surprising in their modern California settings are "A Friend of a Hero" and "The Vanished Blonde," which echo Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett; Hemingway's themes are again reflected in "May There Be a Road" and "Wings Over Brazil," two yarns set against the volatile backdrop of war and revolution far from the purple mountains of Montana or the desolate plains of the Dakotas. The title story (never before published) unfolds in a rough-riding Tibet.
Though influenced by other writers, each story follows L'Amour's patented formula, evident already in this early work. A tense situation is revealed, brief characterization and background follow, then the tale is tied up in a sequence of hard-hitting action sequences.
Friend of a Hero.
The Cactus Kid.
Making It the Hard.
The Hand of Kuan-yin.
Red Butte Showdown.
The Ghost Fighter.
Wings over Brazil.
The Vanished Blonde.
The gravel road forked unexpectedly and Neil Shannon slowed his convertible. On each side orange groves blocked his view, although to the right a steep hillside of dun-colored rock rose above the treetops. On that same side was a double gate in a graying split-rail fence.
He was about fifty miles northwest of Los Angeles, lost in a maze of orchards and small farms that was split by abrupt ridges and arroyos.
Neil Shannon got out of the car and walked to the gate. He was about to push it open when a stocky, hard-faced man stepped from the shrubbery.
"Hold it, bud.." what do you want?"
"I'm looking for the Shaw place. I thought someone might tell me where it was."
"The Shaw place? What do you want to go there for?"
Shannon was irritated. "All I asked was the directions. If you tell me I'll be on my way."
The man jerked his head to indicate direction.
"Right down the fork, but if you're looking for Johnn he ain't home."
"No? So where could I find him?"
The man paused. "Down at Laurel Lawn, in town. He's been dead for three days."
Shannon shook out a cigarette. "You don't seem upset over losing a neighbor, Mr.
"Where'd you get that name?" The man stared suspiciously at Shannon.
"It's on your mailbox, in case you've forgotten. Are you Steve Bowen?"
"I'm Jock Perult. The Bowen boys ain't around. As for Shaw, his place is just down the road there."
"Thanks." Shannon opened the door of his car.
"Tell me, Jock, do you always carry a pistol when you're loafing around home?"
"It's for snakes, if it's any of your business." He tugged his shirttail down over the butt of a small pistol.
Shannon grinned at him and put the car in gear.
Scarcely three hundred yards further along the gravel road on the same side was the Shaw place. Marjorie Shaw saw him drive through the gate and came out to meet him.
The man who followed her from the door had a grizzle of gray beard over a hard chin and a short-stemmed pipe in his teeth. He looked at Shannon with obvious displeasure.
There were formalities to be taken care of. She read the contract standing by the car and looked at his private investigator's license. Finally she raised the subject of money.
"Let's not worry about that right now," he told her. "Johnny Shaw was a friend of mine, I'll do what I can for a couple of days and we'll see where we are. I'm warning you, though, on paper his death looks like an accident. I'm not sure there is much I can do."
"Come in, and I'll fix you a drink."
As he turned to follow he caught a tiny fsh of sunlight from the brush-covered hillside across the way. Then he glimpsed the figure of a man, almost concealed. A man interested enough in what was going on to watch through binoculars.
Shannon glanced at the older man. "You're Keller? How about it? Did Johnny have any enemies?"
"Ain't none of my affair and I don't aim to make it so," Keller replied brusquely.
"I'm quitting this job. Going to Fresno. Always did figure to go to Fresno."
Marjorie Shaw was Johnny's sister, and though Shannon had never met her, he and John Shaw had been friends since the days before he had joined the police force. They had first met on a windy hillside in Korea. Now John was dead, his car crushed in a nearby ravine, and his sister thought that he had been intentionally killed.
The inside of the house was dim and cool. Shannon sat on the plaid sofa and listened to the girl moving about the kitchen. The door to the Frigidaire opened and closed; there was the sound of a spoon in a glass pitcher.
"After you called'mhe spoke to her through the doorway--"I checked the report on the wreck.
There was no indication of anything wrong. The insurance investigator agreed with the report. Clark, who investigated for the sheriff's office, said it was clearly an accident. Driving too fast or a drink too many."
She came in carrying a pitcher of iced tea and two glasses. "I didn't ask you out here, Mr.
Shannon, to tell me what I've already heard.
However, Johnny did not drink.
Furthermore, he was extremely cautious.
He had never had an accident of any kind, and he had been driving over that road two or three times a day for four years. I want it looked into. For my peace of mind, if nothing else. That's why I called you. Johnny always said you were the smartest detective on the Los Angeles police force."
"We'll see... I'm not with the police force any longer."
After the iced tea Marjorie Shaw drove Shannon out to the site of the wreck. They cut across the property on a dirt track and headed to where the county road came over the mountain from town.
Emerging from Shaw's orange groves, they cut along the base of the hill. Although the car threw up a large cloud of dust, the track was well graded, and in the places where water drained, culverts had been installed. Obviously, Johnny Shaw had worked hard on his place and had accomplished a lot.
Marjorie pointed off to one side. "Johnny was going to dam that canyon and make a private lake," she explained. "Then, he intended to plant trees around it."
The canyon was rock-walled but not too deep.
Dumped in the bottom were several junked cars.
"Did he intend to take those out?"
"Johnny was furious about them. He insisted the Bowens take them out, and they said that if he cared so much he could take them out himself."
She paused. "This could be important, Mr.
Shannon .... He tried to take it up with the county but the sheriffs and commissioners are all friends of the Bowens. I was with him when he went to the courthouse.
They all got in a big fight and Johnny told that county commissioner that he would go to the DA if that was what it took and they got real quiet. After that we left. I was angry for Johnny and I didn't think about it much, but that's why I called you... it wasn't two weeks later that Johnny died."
"He mentioned the DA?" Shannon asked.
"Yes, why would he do that? Over junked cars, it doesn't make sense!"
"Unless he knew about something else and was making a threat."
"That's what I thought, but what could it be?"
"Well, if it has something to do with his death it's something that either someone in county government or the Bowen brothers don't want known."
The Bowen brothers... Shannon thought.." and their buddy Perult who carried a gun inside his shirt.
They turned out onto the county road and within minutes were at the curve where ('ohrmy had run off the cliff. She stopped the car and he got out. The afternoon shadows were long, but down below he could see the twisted mass of metal that had been Johnny's car.
"I'd like to go down and look around. I'll only be a few minutes."
At the edge of the road, starting down, he paused briefly. There was broken glass on the shoulder. Bits of headlight glass. He picked up several fragments, and the ridges and diffusers in them were not identical. Pocketing several, he climbed and slid down the cliff.
Examining the wreck, he could see why Johnny had been killed. The car had hit several times on the way down. The destruction was so complete that the sheriffs had had to use a torch to cut the body out.
Surprisingly enough, one headlight was intact.
Two pieces of the glass he had picked up conformed with the headlight pattern. The others did not.
The police and ambulance crew had left a lot of tracks, but there was another set that stood off to the side, and they turned off down the canyon. In two places other tracks were superimposed upon them.
Curious, he followed the tracks down the canyon where they met with the tracks of someone who had waited there.
He was back beside Johnny's car when there was a sharp tug at his hat and an ugly whap as something struck the frame and whined angrily away.
Shannon dropped and rolled to the protection of some rocks. In the distant hills there was the vague echo of a gunshot.
It could have been a spent bullet .. . from someone hunting or shooting targets in the hills.
Yet he knew it was nothing of the sort. That bullet had been fired by a man who meant to kill or, at least, warn. If he tried to get back up to the road, he might be shot.
He glanced up. Marjorie Shaw stood at the cliff's edge, looking down. "Get into the car," he called, just loud enough for her to hear, "and drive to the filling station on the highway. Wait there for me, in plain sight, with people around."
She looked pale and frightened when he got there a half hour later. His suit was stained with red clay and he showed her his hat.
"I called the sheriff," she said.
They heard the siren, and Deputy Sheriff Clark drew up. It was he whom Shannon had talked to about the accident.
He chuckled. "You city cops!" he scoffed.
"That shot was probably fired by a late hunter, maybe a mile off. Now don't come down here trying to stir up trouble when there's no cause for it. Why would anyone try to kill someone investigating an accident?"
"What do you know about the Bowen outfit?"
Clark was bored. "Now look. Don't you go bothering people up here. The Bowens have got them a nice little place. They pay their taxes and mind their own business. Furthermore, the Bowens are rugged boys and want to be left alone."
"Didn't Johnny Shaw complain about them once?" Clark was annoyed. "Suppose he did?
Shaw was some kind of a hero in the Korean War and he came out here thinking he was really going to do big things.
He may have been quite a man in the war, but he sure didn't stack up against Steven Bowen."
"What's that? They had a fight?"
"I guess so, seem' that Johnny Shaw got himself whipped pretty bad. I think Steve got the idea that Shaw was throwing his weight around over those junk cars, comin' on high and mighty because he had a medal or two. They went at it out back of the hardware store in Santa Paula. I offered to take Shaw's complaint afterwards but I guess he was too proud."