Robert B. Parker's Bull River
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“Clever detective work and considerable shooting. It reads lightning fast...Suspenseful.”
Itinerant lawmen Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch are back in the saddle with guns blazing in this gritty, intense addition to the New York Times–bestselling series.
After hunting down the notorious desperado Alejandro Vasquez, Territorial Marshal Virgil Cole and Deputy Everett Hitch return him to San Cristóbal to stand trial. No sooner do they remand him into custody than a major bank robbery occurs and the lawmen find themselves tasked with another job: investigating the robbery of the Comstock Bank, recovering the loot, and bringing the criminals to justice.
But when their primary suspect is found severely beaten outside a high-class brothel and turns out to be using a false identity to escape a torrid past, it is Alejandro who becomes the key to their investigation. Cole and Hitch are soon on the trail of the money, two calculating brothers, and the daughter of St. Louis’s most prominent millionaire in a Cain and Abel story that brings revenge to a whole new level.
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***
Copyright © 2014 by The Estate of Robert B. Parker1
We rode hard up the road to the governor’s mansion. Virgil was on his chestnut stud, Cortez, and I was riding Tornado, a big black gelding with a white lightning bolt–blazed face I’d won in a game of faro near Odessa.
When we got to the gated entrance, two sentries tried to stop us, but Virgil flashed his badge and we passed on through. The setting sun flickered behind tall pecan trees as we galloped up the drive to the mansion.
At the door, a butler met us, and we entered the stately manor just as the huge grandfather clock in the lobby sounded off six echoing chimes. Virgil’s bone-handled Colt was on his hip, and I carried my double-barrel eight-gauge.
“I’ll have to ask you for your weapons, gentleman,” the butler said.
“No,” the governor said, entering the lobby.
“Evening, Governor,” Virgil said.
“These men are allowed to carry their guns wherever and whenever they please!”
Then I saw her, Emma, coming down the huge stairs, wearing a pale yellow dress. She smiled at me.
“Everett,” Emma said. “So nice to see you again.”
“What about me?” Virgil said.
“Oh, silly me,” Emma said. “Of course it’s wonderful to see the both of you.”*
At dinner, the governor stood and raised his glass.
“A toast! To you, Marshal Cole, and to you, Deputy Hitch.”
The governor paused. He looked to his daughters, Abigail and Emma, and then his wife, before he looked back over the top of his glass held up in the direction of Virgil.
“I am so very grateful for what you, Marshal Cole, and you, Deputy Marshal Hitch, did for me, for my family.”
The governor’s tone of voice was solid, sincere, and it resonated with a dignified inflection that most likely helped get him elected.
I looked across the table, and behind the arrangement of daffodils, bluebells, and grape hyacinths, Emma sat stoically, gazing directly at me as her father continued his toast.
After dinner, Emma excused us and led me out of the dining room.
“Where are we going?”
“Oh, no place in particular,” Emma said. “It’s such a beautiful evening.”
Emma kept her arm locked in mine as we made our way out the door and onto the back porch.
“Where is your fiancé?”
Emma stopped and turned to me. She placed her back to the post at the top of the railing that followed the steps down into the garden.
“Tell me something, Deputy Hitch,” she said with a lift of volume in her voice.
“What would you like to know?” I said. “And it’s Everett.”
“Yes, Everett,” Emma said.
She said my name like I’d never really heard it spoken before. She put emphasis on the last three letters, as if she were speaking French.
“If you could be anywhere in the world,” Emma said, “where would that anywhere be?”
I thought about the question for a moment as she looked at me with an expectant, almost enthusiastic look on her face.
“Well, I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never really thought about being anyplace other than where I am.”
“Oh, indulge me, Everett.”
“Well, okay, let’s see . . . the Rocky Mountains are awful pretty.”
Emma pulled me slightly closer to her and pleaded with me as if I didn’t understand the essence of her question.
“Anywhere in the world,” Emma said.
I looked down, studied the boards of porch for a moment, and then looked back to Emma.
“Let me think about that.”
Emma let go of my hands, turned, and walked down the steps as if I had disappointed her.
“Where would you be?” I said.
“Follow me, I’ll show you.”
The rose garden behind the house was enormous, with rows and rows of yellow fragrant roses. The night was warm, with a gentle breeze. It was a clear evening, the moon was almost full, and there was not a cloud in the sky. Emma moved ahead of me some. She turned back to me, taking my hand, and led me toward a gazebo at the far end of the garden. When we were in the center of the gazebo, Emma twirled and twirled with her arms raised above her head like a ballerina.
“So . . . what? This is it?” I said. “Here? This gazebo?”
After her next revolution, she fell into my arms.
“Noooo,” she said. “This is where I’d be, right here, with you, Everett, in your arms.”
She reached up, sliding her hand behind my neck, and pulled my head down to meet hers. From somewhere I heard the faint sounds of a guitar.
“If I could be anywhere in the world,” she said as she closed her eyes. “This is where I’d be.”
I pulled her to me, and our lips met. We kissed, soft at first, and then we kissed deeply. Never in my life had I felt a kiss like this, never. I thought, This must be what love is, and then I heard Virgil.
“Everett . . .”2
“Everett,” Virgil said. I opened my eyes from kissing Emma in the gazebo on a beautiful night in Austin City, Texas, to find myself where Virgil and I had been holed up for the better part of a week; the second-story room in an adobe hotel overlooking the plaza of the dusty village of El Encanto, on the border of Old Mexico.
“I believe we have us a rummy,” Virgil said.
Virgil was sitting by the window, smoking a cigar and sipping on a glass of whiskey. Except for the light sifting within Virgil’s cigar smoke from the plaza, the room was dark. I could hear guitar music drifting up, with the muffled voices of villagers moving about in the plaza.
The night was hot and humid. Emma. That damn woman, I thought as I sat up. Another goddamn dream about Emma. I stretched the ache from my back and moved to the window to see what Virgil was looking at.
“Captain Alejandro,” Virgil said.
Across the plaza, seven men on horseback rode slowly into the plaza, and it was obvious Alejandro Miguel Vasquez led the pack.
Alejandro was much bigger than any of his seconds. He was at least six foot, handsome, with broad shoulders, long dark hair, and blue-green eyes. He rode a spirited tall tricolored medicine-hat geld with a thick, long blond mane and tail. Like the Sioux, Blackfoot, and Comanche, Alejandro claimed the medicine-hat protected him against harm.
The bandito was well known for his fancy Mexican attire: a large sombrero, tapered concho breeches, shiny spurs with huge rowels, and though it was hotter than hell out, he wore his trademark jacket: a silver-buttoned Mexican Naval Officers jacket with red velvet cuffs and a collar that he crossed with dual bandoliers. But he was no naval captain. Alejandro was nothing but a robber, a raider, an escaped killer, and now he was in El Encanto.
Alejandro was a wanted man. He was also a notorious gang leader and a mean sonofabitch. Virgil and I had tracked him down before and arrested him near Dead Man’s Ford on the Pecos, but he managed to escape the custody of two deputies in route back to San Cristóbal.
They were taking him there, where he was to stand trial for the very thing Virgil and I had arrested him for in the first place: the murder of two men he’d shot dead in the streets of San Cristóbal on Christmas Day.
Three months after his escape, he was apprehended by a friend of ours, a deputy named “Newly” Ned Newcomb up in Butch’s Bend. Within a few days of his capture, Alejandro got away yet again, and “Newly” Ned was found shot six times in the back.
It wasn’t long after his escape in Butch’s Bend that Alejandro got his gang back together and was instantly credited for a series of raids throughout the territories.
A week after robbing a Butterfield Stage between La Mesilla and Hatch, Alejandro and his desperados were said to have terrorized the border town of Santa Teresa, robbing every citizen and business in the place. The village was burnt to the ground before the looters set out for Mexico.
And now, here he was, at last.
We watched as Alejandro and his banditos circled around the stone water well in the center of the plaza.
“The captain and his crew,” I said.
“Yep,” Virgil said. “It goddamn sure is.”
“He’s returned to his port,” I said.
Alejandro and his men passed slowly by our hotel and angled toward a cantina across the plaza.
He sat tall in the saddle of a good-looking roan as his bandits followed him through the plaza. He acted as if he had not a care in the world, but he was looking at everything, taking everything in. They dismounted and hitched up in front of the cantina.
“Looks like Alejandro’s got a few less sailors,” I said.
“Maybe he killed ’em off himself,” I said.
“Wouldn’t put it past him,” Virgil said.
Alejandro stopped from entering the cantina. He turned and looked around the plaza. Virgil and I eased back in the dark of the room just as Alejandro looked directly at us. He continued looking in our direction until one of his men said something that made him laugh. Alejandro gave the plaza one last look, then turned, and the seven outlaws made their way into the cantina.
“Here we go,” I said.
“High time,” Virgil said.
We had known it was only a matter of time before Alejandro would be coming to the village of El Encanto. We got a forewarning from one of his ruffians, a no-good named Javier who was arrested after the gang robbed the Butterfield Stage. A posse caught up to them and gave chase. Javier’s horse got shot out from underneath him, but Alejandro kept on the run, so Javier didn’t much care for Alejandro. He was more than bueno about providing us with the details of Alejandro’s soon-to-be whereabouts, and, sure enough, he was right.
Virgil knew we could not trust the Federales, and a posse would be hard to conceal in the small village of El Encanto, so we were doing like we did most of the time: we were going at this alone.
Virgil set his cigar in an ashtray and got to his feet.
“What were you moaning about?” Virgil said.
“In your sleep. You all right.”
“Don’t think I was moaning,” I said, and pulled on my boot.
“Just sleeping some.”
Virgil shook his head slightly.
“No,” Virgil said as he removed his holster from the back of the chair and strapped it on. “You were moaning. Thought you might be sick.”3
I pulled on my second boot and moved over to the washbasin atop a pinewood chest. I poured some water into the basin, splashed my face, and changed the goddamn course of the conversation to our business at hand.
“How you want to go about this?” I said.
I could see Virgil’s reflection in the cracked mirror above the basin. He picked up the cigar from the ashtray and took a pull.
“Figure I’ll go down,” Virgil said, with a point out the window.
“Position myself over there in the plaza corner, where I’ll have a good look at the cantina. Make sure they don’t decide to go nowhere.”
I moved to the window to see where Virgil was pointing.
“You get to our horses,” Virgil said. “Get ’em ready to ride. Bring ’em up the back side and meet me over there.”
Virgil looked out the window a moment, thinking.
“Be a good idea we remove their transportation,” he said.
The seven horses were in front of the cantina. Four were on one hitch and three on the other.
“Walk ’em off,” I said. “Or shoo ’em?”
“Get ’em gone,” Virgil said. “Send ’em.”
I thought about what Virgil was saying as I strapped on my Colt.
“Be quicker,” I said. “Might get their attention, though.”
Virgil nodded a little as he took a tug of the cigar and then blew out a roll of smoke.
“You been in that cantina since we been here, Everett?”
“Have. Bought our whiskey, beer there.”
“Back door open?”
“Was,” I said. “Both times.”
“Was when I was in there, too.”
“You want to go in each way,” I said. “Mix things up a bit?”
“Yep,” Virgil said. “We’ll see who’s interested in going to jail and who ain’t.”
“Sounds right,” I said.
I picked up my second Colt, loaded it, and put it behind my back, under my belt.
Virgil took a final pull on his cigar and loaded his second Colt. He secured it in the front of his belt, toward his hip.
I grabbed my eight-gauge and followed Virgil out the door and down the creaky stairs to the small hotel lobby. There was an old clerk sitting by a single lamp, reading a newspaper. He looked up at us, offered no smile, and went back to what he was reading. The door leading to the plaza was low. We dipped our heads some and walked out.
The plaza of El Encanto wasn’t crowded, but it wasn’t shy of people, either.
Since we’d been in the busy village we had stayed out of sight as much as we could. Two gringos residing in El Encanto for an extended period of time was conspicuous enough, so we avoided drawing attention to ourselves. When we did go out to get food, whiskey, or to check on our horses, we did so separately.
Our horses were stabled in a small corral with a lean-to shed a few hundred yards behind the plaza.
Virgil walked off down the boardwalk in the opposite direction of the cantina and I moved off between the hotel and the dilapidated mercantile building next to it and made my way out to the shed.
After getting our horses saddled up and ready to ride, I walked them around the back of the plaza and came up between the two buildings where Virgil was posted. I secured our animals there between the two structures and joined Virgil.
“You ready?” Virgil said.
I looked at Virgil. He met my eye.
“It’s what we do,” I said.
“It is,” Virgil said.
I gave Virgil a nod and we started walking across the plaza. We passed the water well in the center and continued toward the cantina.
“I’ll let go the four horses on the left hitch,” Virgil said. “You take care of them three on the right, then get yourself to the back. I’ll signal with an arm drop, and we go in with a five count.”
We did just that. Virgil quickly untied the four on the left. I untied two of the three on the right, slapped their rumps, and sent them running.
I reached for the reins of the third horse and a shot rang out. The bullet zipped by my head so close I felt it.
A second shot was fired; it was from Virgil. A heavyset bandito stumbled backward, discharging his pistol.
The bullet splintered into the boardwalk a foot in front of him, then he dropped in the doorway of the cantina in a hazy waft of sawdust and gun smoke . . . So much for plans.
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