Table of Contents
“I’ll tell you what,” Clint said. “I’m going to throw a bottle into the air. If you hit it, you can come with me.”
Alice braced herself, her hand hovering above her gun. Clint picked up a bottle, said, “Ready?” and tossed it up.
She drew her gun but didn’t fire. When the bottle fell to earth, she walked over to it, pointed her gun at it, and fired. The bottle shattered.
“What was that about?” he demanded.
She ejected the spent shell, reloaded, and holstered the gun, then looked at him.
“I hit it,” she said. “You didn’t say I had to hit it while it was still in the air.”
DON’T MISS THESE ALL-ACTION WESTERN SERIES FROM THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
THE GUNSMITH by J. R. Roberts
Clint Adams was a legend among lawmen, outlaws, and ladies. They called him . . . the Gunsmith.
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The popular long-running series about Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long—his life, his loves, his fight for justice.
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Today’s longest-running action Western. John Slocum rides a deadly trail of hot blood and cold steel.
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An action-packed series by the creators of Longarm! The rousing adventures of the most brutal gang of cutthroats ever assembled—Quantrill’s Raiders.
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Dex Yancey is Diamondback, a Southern gentleman turned con man when his brother cheats him out of the family fortune. Ladies love him. Gamblers hate him. But nobody pulls one over on Dex . . .
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The blazing adventures of mountain man Will Barlow—from the creators of Longarm!
TEXAS TRACKER by Tom Calhoun
J.T. Law: the most relentless—and dangerous—manhunter in all Texas. Where sheriffs and posses fail, he’s the best man to bring in the most vicious outlaws—for a price.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
THE BANDIT PRINCESS
A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author
Jove edition / May 2010
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ONEFORT SMITH, ARKANSAS
As Clint rode down the main street of Fort Smith, he thought about Judge Isaac Parker. Back in ’75, when Parker was appointed to this territory, he was the youngest federal judge in the West, at thirty-six. Of the first eighteen defendants brought before him and charged with murder, fifteen were convicted, and eight were sentenced to hang. Parker quickly became known as “The Hanging Judge.”
Just barely on the good side of fifty, the judge had recently sent out word that he was looking for Clint Adams and would like the Gunsmith to come to Fort Smith to meet with him.
Clint knew the judge, but would never have called them friends. He did, however, respect the man, so when he “got the word” that the judge wanted to see him, he headed for Fort Smith.
Clint took the time to get Eclipse settled in a stable and himself in a hotel. He didn’t know what the judge wanted, but whatever it was, he planned on spending at least one night in town. Some rest for both him and Eclipse, as well as some food, would do them both good.
He got a room in the Fort Smith Hotel, figuring he might as well spend his one night in town in the best hotel in town. Once he had his room, he stowed his saddlebags and rifle there and left, walking to the building where the judge did his business.
He knew that in 1883, Judge Parker’s jurisdiction had been cut down by the federal government, which had ceded parts of the Indian Territory to other jurisdictions. And there were rumblings from Washington that capital crimes might soon be handled exclusively by the Supreme Court. He wondered how the judge felt about all of that. Maybe he’d had enough, and with all that was happening and might happen, he’d take the opportunity to retire.
But from what he knew of the man, he doubted that retirement was in his plans for the near future.
When he reached the two-story brick building that housed the judge’s office, the jail, and the court, Clint had to be passed in by an armed guard. Too many attempts had been made in the past to shoot the judge while he sat on his bench, so now everyone was searched and relieved of their weapons.
“You want my gun?” he asked the deputy marshal.
“No, sir,” the deputy said. “The judge said to pass you right in.”
He turned and gave the judge’s gallows a stare before going through the door. The structure had been specially constructed to accommodate multiple hangings—as many as half a dozen at a time.
“The judge is in his office, top of the stairs, sir,” the deputy called after him.
“Yes,” Clint said, “I’ve been here before.”
Clint climbed the stairs to the second floor. He knew the judge’s office had a window that overlooked the gallows. The man always watched when the men—and women—he had sentenced to death were to be hanged. He thought it was only fair.
Clint knocked, and entered when a rumbling voice called out for him to do so.
As he entered, he saw the judge standing at that window, looking out.
Without turning around, the man said, “I’ve watched from this window as a lot of men and a few women dropped to their deaths.”
Clint didn’t respond. He just closed the door and waited.
Finally, after a few more moments, the judge turned and looked at him. The man had aged since Clint had last seen him. His ever-present beard had grown longer, and gone white, as had the hair on his head. For a man of barely fifty, he looked quite a bit older.
“Do you know what a priest once told me?” the judge asked Clint.
“That for every person I sent to those gallows, for every life I took, I aged a bit more. I can see from the look on your face that’s probably true. I looked older, eh?”
“Well, so do you,” Parker said.
He moved forward, hand extended. Clint shook the man’s hand, found the grip as firm as ever.
“Thank you for coming, Clint,” he said. “Have a seat. Brandy?”
“Sure,” Clint said, grimacing inside. He preferred beer over whiskey or brandy, but he didn’t want to refuse the offer.
The judge poured two snifters of brandy, passed one to Clint, and then sat behind his desk.
“What’s on your mind, Judge?”
“What about her?”
“You know her, don’t you?”
“I’ve met her,” he said.
“And you knew Sam Starr?”
“Yeah, I knew Sam—better than I knew Belle anyway. What’s Belle done? I thought she was laying low since Sam’s death?”
“She has,” the judge said, “which doesn’t mean I still wouldn’t like to have her in my jail. In fact, I sentenced her and Sam to prison in 1882, so I had them once, but I couldn’t keep them. But you’re right, she has been laying low.”
“Then why are you interested in her?”
“There seems to be another young lady who fancies herself an outlaw, and she’s running with a pretty mean bunch.”
“So she’s fashioned herself after Belle?” Clint asked. “Another ‘Bandit Queen’?”
“Well, actually,” Judge Parker said, “she’d be more of a Bandit Princess.”
“Her name is Pearl,” the judge said, “Pearl Starr. She’s Belle and Sam’s daughter.”
“I never heard of her.”
“Nobody had, until a few months ago. She and her gang began pulling jobs in the Indian Territories and Arkansas,” Judge Parker explained.
“Are you sure they’re being led by this woman—young woman? How old is she?”
“I believe she’s nineteen or twenty.”
Clint fell silent.
“When did you know Belle Starr?”
“I met her for the first time about twenty years ago,” Clint said, “give or take.”
“And Sam Starr?”