The Daring And The Doomed...
It's the last chance for Jacob Gamble, Rough Rider, outlaw and man of a few principles. Nearing 50 and flat broke, Jacob bends his own rule about robbing trains. But by the time he reaches the payroll safe on a Rock Island train, he finds another thief there first with a bullet in his head. Jacob is caught holding the bag--and turned into hero. A broke hero.
In A Place Called Damnation Road...
Shackled by unwanted fame, running from a life gone wrong, and raising the suspicions of a Pinkerton detective, Jacob listens to a woman: beautiful and tattooed by the Indians who seized her as a child. Olivia Weathers knows of a treasure hidden in a cave along the Jornada del Muerto--a merciless hundred mile stretch of hell on earth guarded by Apache warriors. Now, Jacob will follow Olivia into the most savage and deadly territory in the southwest--where few ever come out of Canyon Diablo alive.
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August 31, 2010
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Excerpt from Damnation Road by Max McCoy
Jacob Gamble limped into Farquharson and Morris Hardware, favoring his right leg, glancing behind him at dust-blown Oklahoma Avenue. His right boot was filled with blood and the red stuff oozed from the seams with every other step, leaving a sinuous trail on the freshly polished oak floor.
"Show you something?"
The clerk was a boy of seventeen and until a few moments before had been enthralled by a ruddy account in the Police Gazette of a Chicago meatpacker who had tired of his wife and disposed of her body in one of the sausage vats. The cover of the Gazette was a full-page illustration of three swarthy Spanish agents searching a disrobed and comely young American woman in her berth on a steamer in Havana Harbor.
Gamble slapped a revolver on the top of the display case so hard the boy was afraid the glass would crack. It was an old gun with a brass frame, an open top, and an octagonal barrel. It was filthy with residue and the rotten egg stench of recently discharged black powder radiated from the gun. The boy whistled as he tossed the Gazette aside. "Navy Colt."
The gun wasn't a Colt, it was an old cap-and-ball Manhattan converted to .38-caliber rimfire cartridges, and the boy hadn't even noticed that the loading gate and ejector rod had been placed opposite normal, making it a left-handed gun, but Gamble didn't have the will to correct him. Gamble was light-headed, there were splotches of white crowding his vision, and his legs were weak. He gripped the display case with his dirty hands to keep himself upright.
"Carry this at Gettysburg, Granddad?" the boy asked as he picked up the Manhattan. "Damn, it's warm. You been target practicing?"
Gamble clenched his jaw and concentrated on forcing the whiteness back.
"You all right, mister? You look a might peaked."
"Cartridges," Gamble managed. "Thirty-eight rimfire."
"Don't got 'em," the boy said, rummaging among the boxes of ammo on the shelf behind the counter.
"Had a box or two, a few months ago, maybe longer. Sold 'em. Have a couple of boxes of .38 Colt center fire--that's what most conversions use nowadays. Got plenty of 38-40Winchester. Everybody wants to shoot the same round in their rifles as their pistols."
"I'm not everybody," Gamble said. He took a couple of deep breaths and concentrated on forcing the whiteness back to the edges of his vision. "Show me something new."
"Absolutely," the boy said. "Probably time you replaced that ancient iron with something modern, if you ask me. Forty-five is the most popular caliber."
Leaning over the display case, Gamble caught the ghost of his reflection: a jaw bristling with salt-and pepper whiskers, a shock of long hair turning gray at the temples, a black leather patch over his right eye. His black coat was powdered with road dust and smeared at the elbows and cuffs with red clay.
"For my money, the best handgun is the .44 Russian," the boy continued. "Top break, fast loading. Accuracy and power combined. A real manstopper."
"What do you know about stopping a man, son?" Gamble took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. "The Russian is what Bob Ford used to shoot Jesse James in the back of the head while Jesse stood on a chair dusting a picture. I'm predisposed against it."
Gamble glanced over the row of Peacemakers, a couple of Bisleys, a variety of Smith &Wessons-- including a Russian--a half a dozen other brand names, many trash guns, and a vest pocket pistol of uncertain manufacture. Damn, he needed something . . . bigger. He glanced up at the rack of long guns, mostly lever-action rifles and shotgun doubles, Winchesters and Marlins and Stevens.
"Hand me that Winchester."
Gamble turned to glance through the front window to the street, and when he turned back the boy was holding out a heavy shotgun with a single barrel. Gamble was about to say he meant the lever-action carbine instead, but the big shotgun reminded him of a shoulder-mounted canon.
"Model 97," the boy said. "Twelve gauge. Only been for sale a few months. Improvement over the slide gun of a few years back. Smokeless. Shoots the new Nitro shells."
The gun was heavy. The boy said it was eight pounds and some change. Gamble put his right hand on the ribbed forestock and studied the tubular magazine slung beneath the barrel.
"Where's the lever?"
"You ain't seen one of these before, have you?" the boy asked smugly. "There's no lever. It's a slide action. You just pump it back and then forward again, and it puts a new shell in the chamber and you're still on target. Be careful, though, because if you hold down the trigger when you drive a shell home, it's going to fire."
"You can stuff five rounds in the magazine, through the slot beneath the receiver, and keep one in the chamber. So, she's good for six shots, as fast as you can work that pump."
Gamble found the release and pulled back the pump, which set the action into motion. The slide shot backward out of the top of the receiver, cocking the exposed hammer and grazing the top of his thumb. Then he drove the pump home, and the bolt. Together, the actions produced a metallic ch-chink! that presaged mayhem.
"Helluva sound," Gamble said.
"Imagine hearing that in a dark alley. I'd fill my pants."
"I'm sure you would." Gamble was sighting down the barrel, lining up the grooves on the top of the receiver that served as the rear sight with the bead at the far end of the thirty-inch barrel.
"What d'ya think?"
"It will do."
"Knew you had a good eye." If the boy realized he'd made a bad joke, he didn't show it.
"A box of shells."
"What size shot?"
The clerk took a carton of Robin Hood Smokeless Powder Company shotgun shells from a shelf behind him and slid them across the top of the display case.
While the boy went to retrieve the bottle from the shelf of cleaning supplies, Gamble ripped the top from one of the boxes. The shells weren't all brass, like Gamble was used to seeing, but had only a half inch ring of brass at the base, with the rest being paper that was slick with wax.
"I'll be damned," Gamble said.
"Can't shoot the Nitros in the old guns," the boy said, placing the bottle on the top of the display case. "They're so hot they'll blow the bolt right back in your face. That's why they make 'em red, I guess."
Gamble shoved the shell into the bottom of the shotgun's receiver.
"You'll have to wait to do that," the boy said, and all the while Gamble was stuffing more shells into the gun. "There's a law about carrying loaded gun in the city limits. Just wait and I'll write up your ticket and we'll settle up."
Gamble worked the pump, producing that bone chilling sound again, then pushed one last shell into the bottom of the receiver.
"You want to live?"
The boy nodded.
"Then we are settled up."
Gamble cradled the shotgun in the crook of his right arm and used his left hand to scoop up more of the bright red shells and shove them into the pockets of his dusty black coat.
"Jesus, mister," the clerk said.
"Jesus has nothing to do with it," Gamble said. The whiteness came in on him hard just then, and he closed his eyes. His legs were numb and he felt himself sinking toward the floor. Then he heard shouting outside, and he pulled himself upright, and roughly uncorked the brown bottle. He pulled the bandanna from his neck, sprinkled some ammonia over it, then brought it toward his nose. The fumes seared his nostrils and brought the world back, fast and hard.
"You'd better get down, because it's going to be raining lead in about thirty seconds," Gamble said. "You the law?"
"Not by a damned sight."
"Then you're . . ."
"A wicked man," the boy said, grinning. Some would say that, Gamble thought.
"How many men have you killed?"