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Authors: George G. Gilman

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Seven Out of Hell

BOOK: Seven Out of Hell
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Table of Contents

Title
Credits
Author's Note
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
COMING SOON!

© George G. Gilman 2012

For

A.R.J.

and his fellow drummers
in the West

(as well as North, South and East)

 

Author’s Note

This book relates the further adventures of Captain Josiah C. Hedges during the American Civil War. While the story is complete in itself, the reader’s enjoyment may be enhanced if he first reads
Killer’s Breed
and
The Blue, The Grey And The Red.

Chapter One

T
HE
sun was at the midday peak of its height and intensity and nothing moved on the dusty floor of the wide valley between the brooding Sierras. An eerie silence clung to the cluster of buildings at its centre which seemed to be held prisoner in the shimmering heat mist by the dual silver threads of the railroad track, stretched in an arrow straight line from one end of the valley to the other.

In an inky patch of shade from a rock overhang against the north facing side of a slab-like bluff, a man sat astride a roan mare and studied the desolate vista. He was a tall man - over six feet - and deceptively lean for his more than two hundred pounds was evenly distributed upon his frame and not a single ounce of it was excess fat. He wore a sweat-stained black shirt and levis, dusty from a long ride, and tight fitting enough to reveal the muscular development of his body. His face was poised on the borderline between handsomeness and ugliness so that the decision had to be made by the beholder. A fusion of Mexican and northern European blood had formed the features, so that clear blue eyes contrasted vividly with the dark coloration of skin stretched taut over high cheekbones. The whole was framed by thickly matted black hair which reached from under a low-crowned black hat to brush the man’s broad shoulders.

It was a face which, even in repose, looked incapable of expressing warmth and as the man looked out across the valley, narrowing his eyes to mere glinting slits and folding back his thin lips to emit a low whistling sound, a subtle hint of underlying cruelty could be seen in his features.

He was armed with an ageing Colt-Walker in a holster tied down to his right thigh and a Winchester rifle slid into the boot behind his saddle. He carried a third weapon but its presence was merely hinted at by a tell-tale bulge at his back, extending from under his hair and following the line of his spine for three inches. This bulging of his shirt was caused by a leather pouch containing a cut-throat razor.

The man on the roan mare was called Edge.

His survey completed, he heeled his mount forward, out into the burning heat of the sun, on a diagonal line towards the huddle of buildings. He held her down to a walk and appeared to be utterly at ease as he rode, straight in the saddle. But he was constantly alert, his hooded eyes sweeping the arid terrain, his right hand primed to claw for the pistol or rifle.

But he had covered a little more than three-quarters of the mile distance to the buildings before he heard a sound above his own regular breathing and the slap of the mare’s hooves against the sun-baked ground. Edge did not break pace: simply concentrated his steady gaze upon the centre of the group of buildings, trying to recognize the origin of the sound. It was a gentle creaking noise, as if from a door swinging on neglected hinges in a wind. But the cadence was too steady and there was no wind today.

Edge steered his mount between two buildings, The Big Valley Saloon and the Big Valley Bank, to emerge upon a plaza. To the left and right it was flanked by a large house with an impressive verandah, and a church with a half-finished bell tower and a schoolhouse. The fourth side of the plaza was formed by a railroad track with the depot beyond. A sign proclaimed: BIG VALLEY STATION.

Every building except the church seemed to be complete in all respects save one—there were no people. The tiny town of Big Valley had been built and then immediately deserted, for there was about it an unmarred newness that bore no mark of habitation.

Edge showed no reaction to the strangeness of the town as he halted his horse in the centre of the plaza and raked his glinting eyes across the facades of the buildings. Then, when he had pinned down the direction from which the creaking sound came, he concentrated his scrutiny upon the cool shade of a doorway at the centre of the depot building.

“Come and set a spell, young feller,” a man invited easily, his voice croaky with age. “Don’t do a body no good being out in the sun like you are.”

Edge shaded his eyes with his hands, but was still able to see no further than the black rectangle of the open doorway. He rode a few more yards to the railroad tracks, then dismounted.

“Anyplace I can water the animal?” he asked.

The regular creaking continued. “Ain’t a drop to be had within twenty miles of here, young feller.”

Edge unhooked the canteen from the saddle horn and shook it. It sounded no more than a quarter full. “What time’s the train due?”

“Goes through here at one. You come to watch her?”

Edge shook his head. “Get on.”

A cackling sound came out of the depot and it took Edge a moment to realize the old man inside was laughing.

“I say something funny, mister?”

The man inside contained his guffaws. “You sure did, young feller. Ain’t a train stopped here in Big Valley since the town was built. No need. Ain’t nobody to get aboard and there sure ain’t nobody wants to get off.”

Edge slid the Winchester from the saddle boot. “Train’ll stop today,” he said.

“Why’s that, young feller.”

“Cause I want to get on it,” Edge answered easily, beginning to lead the mare across the track.

“Horseshit,” the old man croaked.

“Wrong - horsemeat,” Edge shot back, raised the Winchester and pumped a shell into the animal’s brain.

As the horse sighed and rolled over on to its side across the track, the creaking sound ended abruptly.

Edge stepped up on to the planking of the depot and went through the doorway. “Best she went quick,” he muttered. “I seen animals die from lack of water.”

As his eyes became accustomed to the murky interior of the depot, Edge saw the old man sitting in the rocking chair. He was thin of body and wizen of face, dressed in a grey suit cut on city lines which had seen better days. His skin was crinkled and stained dark by the sun, emphasizing the whiteness of his hair and the ragged moustache which decorated his upper lip. He submitted silently to the scrutiny and then began to rock back and forth in the chair as Edge moved his gaze to look at the room.

There were benches along two walls. A counter with a wire mesh shield partitioned off a third of the room. Over a square hole cut in the mesh was a sign which read: TICKETS. A large pile of crates were stacked in a comer. One of the crates had been dragged across and rested close to the rocker. All the bottles except one had been opened.

“Redeye,” the old timer croaked, reaching down a bony hand to draw the full bottle from the crate. “What’s a man need water for?”

The shade of the room was deceptive and the trapped heat served to emphasize the stale odor emanating from the old man.

“To maybe take a bath in,” Edge said with a grimace, advancing no further into the room.

The old timer uncapped the bottle and sucked at it noisily. “I ain’t one for the bathing,” he said. “Name’s Rose, young feller.”

“By any other name you’d smell as lousy,” Edge said, moving inside now, to sit on one of the benches. “Depot manager?”

“I’m anything you want me to be in Big Valley. Today I’m depot manager ‘cause there’s a train scheduled through. Ain’t no train tomorrow. Maybe then I’ll run the hotel, or act like a preacher at the church. Might even teach school. Ain’t done that for a long time.”

Rose’s voice sounded rational, but Edge realized he was either drunk or insane, perhaps both.

“You the only one who lives here?”

The old man’s wrinkled face became sad. He nodded. “Ain’t the way I planned Big Valley when I built it. I figured to see streets being laid out from the plaza like spokes on a wheel. Weren’t no gold in the hills, though. And there sure ain’t enough rain in five years to make anything grow in the valley. So no reason why folks should move out here.”

Edge’s impassive features showed no sympathy for the old man’s shattered dream as he took out the makings. Rose apparently expected none, for he showed again that whatever he required could be extracted from a bottle of redeye.

“Like a drink, young feller?” he asked, holding out the bottle with spittle crawling down the neck.

Edge shook his head and lit the cigarette.

“Pleased of that. Last one I got.”

“Then what?” Edge asked with disinterest.

A fresh expression entered the bleary eyes and the ancient face showed something close to excitement. “A man builds a town, he’s got a right to destroy it.” He began to move the rocker again and the creaking sound restarted, as the runners curved down on to a loose floorboard. “You reckon, young feller?”

“I reckon,” Edge replied.

The conversation lapsed and the only sounds in the tiny town came from the rocking of the chair and the lazy buzzing of flies feeding upon the spilled blood of the dead horse. With the occasional wet noise of Rose sucking at the bottle.

But when a full thirty minutes had slipped by in the odorous, unmoving heat of the depot, each man content to be alone with his own thoughts, a new sound came in across the barren valley floor. Edge’s expression did not alter as he listened and when he finally recognized the noise as that of a wagon and two-horse team, he confined his action to pumping a fresh shell into the breech of the Winchester.

BOOK: Seven Out of Hell
7.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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