The Outlawed Wanderer (Preview)

Chapter One

Artie Rivers wondered if some men just never grew up. Was it possible for somebody to stay a toddler their whole lives?

He was thinking of the two ranchers he’d spent a frustrating hour with that morning: Elmer and Wayne, cattlemen engaged in a fierce boundary dispute about a section of adjoining rangeland. He had invited them to meet in “neutral territory”: his office, hoping the locale might help them negotiate the issue.

No such luck.

Nothing but six-foot, square-jawed toddlers, he thought with a frustrated sigh, recalling how the ranchers had sat there in front of his desk, carrying on like two-year-olds fighting over a corner of the sandbox.

Even though the men were a decade older than him, Rivers had wanted to reach over, grab them by the scruff of the neck and knock their heads together. Maybe that would’ve helped them stop being so damned stubborn.

But probably not.

The meeting had ended in a stalemate, just like the two previous negotiations. The marshal regretted offering to help them work out the dispute in the first place. “They don’t pay me enough for this crap,” he muttered with a shake of the head.

He thought of his sister, Jessie, and her two boys. The kids were only a year apart and had gone through the toddler stage together under her watchful eye. Maybe Jess could give me some tips on how to deal with these men? Or maybe I should just let her deal with Wayne and Elmer?

He chuckled at the thought of his fireball of a sister scolding the ranchers into playing fair with each other.

The office door opened, flooding the interior with sunshine as his deputy marshal stepped inside. “Mornink,” Gunter Knutson said with a nod. A tall, thin Norwegian of twenty-six, the blond, angular man worked on his parents’ farm part-time and had also proved an able lawman.  “Shot fired over by the town office a few minutes ago. Bystander says sounded like it came from inside.”

“Great.” Rivers got to his feet and grabbed his hat. “I was hoping to take the afternoon off and go fishing.”

Knutson grunted. “The meeting went dat bad, huh?”

“Same as before, Gunter.”

They stepped out into the light. Rivers enjoyed the warm feel of it on his body after being stuck in the office listening to grown toddlers squabble.

It was late April in Wyoming Territory; most of the snow had gone, and the day had proved balmy. Many pedestrians and riders were out on the streets, enjoying the warm spring day.

The town of Boone was a small yet prosperous ranching community nestled amid some of the best cow country in the West. Founded only a few years prior, it was growing at a steady pace due to the great cattle boom the Territory was enjoying.

The town office was only a block away, but Rivers and Knutson climbed into the saddle and rode, knowing from experience that anything could be waiting for them. They might need the horses.

Cantering toward the stone building, Rivers saw two men standing near the hitching rail. Knutson told him they were the witnesses who’d heard the gunshot. He had asked them to remain there to keep an eye on the premises.

“G’morning, Marshal,” one of the men said as they drew up.

“How many shots did you fellas hear?” Rivers asked briskly.

“Just the one.”

“See anyone enter or leave the place?”

“No, sir. Been all quiet since.”

The other witness nodded in agreement.

“I’ll cover the front door; you check the back,” Rivers directed Knutson. The Norwegian drew his pistol and began moving cautiously toward the rear of the building.

The witnesses, however, showed no signs of moving. “Thank you for sticking around,” the marshal said. He gave them a nod of dismissal. “Deputy Knutson and I will take it from here.”

He saw a flicker of disappointment on the men’s faces. They hesitated, shifting their feet.

“If there’s a gunman inside that building, I don’t want to be responsible for one of you fellas catching a stray bullet. You hear? Bystanders could get shot if there’s more gunplay.”

The face of one of them, a young portly fellow, suddenly lit up like a Christmas tree. “I’d be glad to stick around and keep folks away from the scene while you and the deputy take care of business, Marshal.”

Rivers looked at him and held back a grin. Here was one eager and entrepreneurial gawker. “Ever see a gunfight before?” he asked.

“No, sir,” the kid replied. He looked all of seventeen, raw-boned and eager.

“It’s a damn ugly business. But if you wanna help out, try and keep folks a block away so they don’t get shot up.”

The other bystander, not to be outdone, jumped in too. “I can help him if you like, Marshal.”

“Alright, alright. Both you fellas get on with it then.” He watched as they scurried away like two excited children who’d been picked as schoolyard monitors.

Rivers turned and gazed at the office. The squat little building was made of Wyoming cut stone.  The door was constructed of heavy timber, with touches of ornate carving on it.

The building had been built solidly and impressively to reflect the confidence of the growing community. It also served a practical purpose: protecting tax monies kept onsite and other sums held for local expenditures.

As the county seat, cash flowed into Boone from every town in the county. Rivers knew a large safe was inside; he’d seen it himself. It was a tempting target for any thief bold enough to try and steal it from the fortress-like structure.

Is that what this is, a robbery?  he wondered, drawing his pistol.

Knutson reappeared, walking toward him. “Back door’s locked.”

“Let’s try the front,” Rivers said, striding forward.

It was locked, too.

He knocked loudly, but there was no response. “Should we get the ram? Or go in through one of the windows?”

“Last time we busted a window, the town billed us for it,” the deputy replied. “Dat was a big chunk of my paycheck.”

“I’ll go get the ram, Gunter. I posted those gawkers on each side to try and keep folks away from the scene.”

He rode back to their office and dragged out a heavy, homemade ram that Knutson had constructed from a section of hardwood tree. It was made of a single log, seven feet long, with handles adapted from the base of a couple of large branches. Knutson had carved and sanded the branches down to perfect-sized handles.

It was a masterful piece of work, and Rivers had successfully lobbied the town council to pay the man for his efforts.

Grabbing his rope, he threw a loop around the contraption and tied the other end onto the saddle horn. Climbing into the leather, he began dragging it down the street.

Pedestrians and riders paused to stare at the sight. “Incident at the town office,” Rivers called out. “Best keep away from there for a while. You hear?”

“Sure thing, Marshal.”

When the ram was lying on the ground before the large, ornate door, Rivers dismounted, took off his hat, and wiped the sweat away with a forearm.

“Tanks, Artur,” Knutson said. “Next time I go bring dat ting.”

“No problem. You ready?”

The deputy nodded, bent down, and hoisted up the front end of the ram, taking up a position at the lead handle, the one closest to the door. This was potentially the most dangerous place as the person in the lead position would be exposed to whoever was behind the door, if anyone.

Rivers always appreciated his deputy’s courage in the line of duty. Gunter was no coward; he took his turn offering himself first in harm’s way, just as Rivers did for him. They were a good team.

“Okay, on three,” he said. “One … two … three!”

They smashed the ram against the door. It made a slight cracking sound but didn’t budge.

“Dat is a strong door,” Knutson observed drily.

“Sure is. Let’s try again; give it all we got.”

“You bet, boss.”

“One … two … three!”

This time, the door broke open with a splintering sound, swinging inward and smashing against the wall with a thud. The lawmen dropped the log and grabbed their pistols. They stood there, listening into the space.

“Quiet as an undertaker’s office,” Rivers mumbled. “I’ll go in first.”

He stepped over the threshold into a small foyer, looking carefully from side to side. A pair of boots sat next to a spindly wooden chair. There were clumps of fresh mud stuck to the soles.

Looks like somebody might be in here.

During April, the streets of Boone were thick with mud. Men of the town who worked in offices wore high-topped boots this time of year to prevent their fancy suits from getting splashed and soiled.

“Anybody here?” he called out. The sound echoed off the wooden walls and faded into the silence.

He knew the layout of the building. At the end of a short hallway off the foyer were two rooms: one larger for town council meetings and a smaller one for the mayor’s office. Like most buildings in Boone, an outhouse stood in the back, indoor plumbing being a luxury reserved for states back East.

He looked over his shoulder at Knutson, then nodded toward the muddy boots. The deputy’s eyes darted to them.

They crept slowly down the hallway, guns at the ready, the occasional floorboard creaking beneath their feet. “I’ll go right; you take the left room, Gunter.”

As they neared the end of the hall, the lawmen flattened their backs against the wall to make themselves smaller targets. For all they knew, an assailant might burst out of the rooms at any moment.

Reaching the mayor’s office, Rivers came to a halt. The door was open. He peeked inside and winced at the gruesome sight: Mayor Weighbridge was sitting at his desk, slumped backward in the chair, his mouth hanging open grotesquely. Above the staring eyes was a bullet hole in his forehead.

He glanced across the hall to the council room. Knutson was standing in the doorway, staring at the mayor’s body. “Nobody in dis room. The safe is open and empty,” he said without taking his eyes from the corpse. “Who would want to kill Weighbridge? He was a goot man.”

“I dunno.” Rivers slipped his pistol into the holster, then stepped into the office for a closer look.

One of the desk drawers was half-open. Glancing into it, he saw a Colt revolver lying there. “Looks like the mayor was going for his gun when he got shot.”

“Robbery?” Knutson asked.

“Could be. Wonder where Bishop is?”

“Who?”

“The town clerk.”

“Big Rob? I don’t know.”

Rivers pondered the situation. It seemed like whoever had shot Weighbridge probably had a key to the building. How else could all the doors be locked? They had to have been locked from the outside. The mayor and clerk would probably have a key, and maybe some of the town council, too.

He shared these thoughts with Knutson.

“An inside job, den?”

“Could be, Gunter. Far as I know, Rob Bishop spent the most time with the mayor. They worked side by side here every day. Town council only meets once a month. What do you say we go find him?”

“Okay, boss.”

“You said the safe is empty?”

“Uh-huh. If there was any money, dey didn’t leave a cent behind.”

“Let’s see what Big Rob has to say about this.”

Chapter Two

Robyn Bishop sat in the armchair in his room, hands trembling. He stared down at them. His hands never trembled! But then again, he’d never shot a man before. This was very upsetting.

He concentrated on his breathing, trying to slow it down to a normal rate instead of this heart-thumping, adrenaline-fueled pace that would surely give him away.

They would be here soon; he knew that. He had to be ready to face whoever came to talk to him.

Probably be the marshal first. Or somebody from the council if they hear about it before Rivers does. Evans is just the type to rush over here. He hated my guts from day one. And I him.

He exhaled slowly and waited a moment before drawing another breath. Then, despite himself, he started rapid breathing again like a dog on a hot summer’s day.

He hadn’t wanted to kill the mayor. It had been the farthest thing from his mind when he’d gone to work that morning. He’d only tucked the pistol into his coat in case the conversation didn’t go well, and he had to defend himself.

Amos Weighbridge, the great man! He scorned the current, first, and only mayor Boone had ever known. The silver-haired elder was loved and respected by everybody else, it seemed, revered as the champion of the honest man and the honest rancher. But not by Bishop.

What a joke! Amos had been taking graft on town contracts since the first month he was elected.

People would have trouble believing this, he knew. Weighbridge put on such a great show with his fine speeches and glad-handing ways that nobody would suspect he was a criminal in a million years.

He thought about how shocked he’d been when he found out. He was thirty-five, been around the block a time or two, seen a lot of things. Still, the reality of the great Weighbridge being a serial con-artist had bowled him over.

Surprisingly, the man hadn’t covered his tracks well at all. Anyone looking closely at the town’s accounting books could’ve figured out the scam. It was plain as day to Bishop.

The sloppiness of the accounting made him think that Weighbridge probably wasn’t a career criminal or a veteran crook.

Maybe he just stumbled into it after getting into office? Wouldn’t be the first politician to do that, I reckon. Was a temptation dangled under his nose that he couldn’t resist?

The clerk could only guess. One thing he did know was that it had become a habit for the politician. This much was clear from the books.

This was why he finally decided to talk to the mayor about it. The fraud was so obvious and longstanding that people would assume that he, Bishop, was an accomplice. They would say that as the town clerk and accountant, Robyn Bishop had to have known what was going on.

So, he’d gone in to work that morning to confront Weighbridge with everything he knew and make the man an offer.

It hadn’t gone well.

He’d been sure the old fraud would make a deal. Bishop had the drop on him, had him over a barrel.

Why didn’t he take the deal I offered? he fretted. It was a good deal! We’d both have been rich. Nobody had to die. We could’ve carried on, and nobody the wiser.

“But, no, he was too damn greedy,” he muttered bitterly. “The great Weighbridge wanted it all for himself. He wasn’t about to cut anybody in on his arrangement … he had to go for his gun and get himself killed.”

He remembered how the mayor slowly, casually reached over and opened the desk drawer while they were talking as if he were just going to grab his snuff box.

As if I hadn’t searched the desk three days ago and found the Colt pistol he kept there.

That was another reason Bishop had brought his own pistol to work that day. He’d known all about the mayor’s gun. If things went badly, he was ready to defend himself.

But he didn’t mean to kill him! He’d just grabbed the pistol out of his coat and shot as fast as he could. It was dumb luck that the slug caught the man in the forehead and killed him instantly.

“Well, at least the money’s all mine now. I don’t have to share it with the crook.”

A sharp knock sounded on the door of his room.

Who’s that?

“Yes?” he called out, trying to quell the panic rising in his chest.

“It’s Marshal Rivers. Can I talk to you, Mr. Bishop?”

Damn it.

He looked around the room to ensure nothing incriminating was in view. “Just a second, Marshal.”

Wiping his sweaty hands on his trousers, Bishop’s eyes darted to the loose floorboard near the wall. He’d pried out the nails with a hammer and stuffed the money into the wall, along with his gun. Nothing seemed amiss, so he walked over to the door and unlocked it.

Deputy Knutson was standing behind the marshal, a little bit to the side. “Good afternoon, gents. How can I help you?” he tried to say in his professional office voice. There was a slight tremor on a couple of syllables, however. He hoped the lawmen hadn’t noticed.

“May we come in for a minute?” the marshal asked.

“Of course. I’ve only got a couple of chairs, I’m afraid. One of you can have a seat on the bed if you like.”

“Thank you.”

The men followed him inside. He stood waiting as they took a seat. “You gents care for a cup of coffee? I can grab a pot from the kitchen. Mrs. Peterson usually leaves one on the stove for her boarders … for when we receive guests.” He looked at them cordially, hoping they would accept. He needed time to think, to go over what he should say.

“No, thanks,” the marshal replied.

Crap.

“We just came from the town office. Mayor Weighbridge has passed away.”

Bishop’s eyes widened. The marshal made it sound like the old man had keeled over in his chair, dead from a heart attack or something. What kind of game was he playing?

“Really?” he replied, feigning surprise.

“Yessir, somebody shot him in the forehead.”

The clerk averted his eyes toward the deputy, widening them again for dramatic effect.

He had no idea that he’d take to acting so readily. Still, the situation required it, didn’t it? His life might depend on giving the performance of a lifetime. He desperately needed a good script to go with it.

“Good God, Marshal! Who’d want to kill a man like Weighbridge?”

Rivers paused, studying him. He’d surely seen many desperate performances in the course of his job. Would this one be convincing? “We don’t have a motive yet. When was the last time you saw him?”

“I … just this morning.” He cast his eyes on the floorboards and knitted his brow, mind racing for a plausible scenario. “I was feeling ill, told Amos I was sick and needed to leave early.”

That’s it: make it sound like we were friends, not just colleagues. Public servants doing our duty together.

He let his fat cheeks puff out as he exhaled. Strangely, he felt calmer now, like maybe he could pull off this Shakespearean ruse after all.

An Englishman, he’d emigrated a decade ago from the East End of London with his older brother, Garry, after growing up the poorest of the poor in that depressed neighborhood. He’d learned accounting via the kindness of a local butcher who showed him how to do figures.

Excelling at the work, Bishop had tried to rise into the world of business and become a respectable man. But he soon found that all doors seemed to be closed to him.

It was his Cockney accent; he was sure of it. Nobody wanted a man from the East End working on their books. They’d think him likely to cook them.

Disillusioned with London, America had beckoned with its promise of a less prejudiced, perhaps less class-bound society. The Bishop brothers scraped and saved, then emigrated across the Atlantic.

Garry had found his promised land in some measure: rising to become a foreman at a large cattle ranch.

Robyn had not been so fortunate.

He blamed others for this, never himself. There was always someone, something or other, which held him back. Success seemed as far away as ever in America, and he became bitter at the world.

The job with Boone council had seemed to offer a glimmer of hope for a better situation. For a time, he experienced something approaching happiness. It was a respectable job in a growing town, and he was doing his part to build Wyoming. The bitterness subsided into the background.

However, his world seemed to crash down on him again at the discovery of the mayor being a crook. For some reason, the revelation shook him to the core. Ugly waves of bitterness had flooded back, full force, drenching his soul.

At that time, he’d given up any hope of bettering himself in this new society. Instead, disillusioned and melancholy, Robyn had chosen a criminal path that seemed to promise easy riches.

He believed it was within his grasp, too. Surely the mayor, confronted with someone who knew all about his criminality, would choose to share the proceeds of his criminal enterprise rather than go to prison, rather than be disgraced before his adoring public.

But a cruel surprise had awaited: Weighbridge refused to cut him into the scheme. Instead, he told Bishop about powerful business friends and said that unless he kept his mouth shut and left the state immediately, those men would make sure he never worked in Wyoming again.

His mind had reeled in shock and anger. Who was this Yankee bastard to threaten him? They argued fiercely before the mayor went for his gun.

Now here he was, sitting in his room being interrogated by lawmen!

Bishop lifted his eyes and met the gaze of Marshal Rivers sitting across from him. He tried to focus on the task at hand, looked regretful about Weighbridge’s death, and searched for something to say.

“At the town office, we found dat the safe was open and the money gone,” Knutson said. “Do you know how much money was in der when you left today?”

Bishop saw a trick question. The lawmen couldn’t know whether there had been money in the safe. Nobody except him and the mayor knew that. “The safe was empty. Sometimes we have large amounts of cash on hand, but lots o’ times, we don’t. Amos and I decided to leave the safe door open when it was empty … to discourage would-be thieves.”

“I see,” the deputy said, glancing over at his boss.

“Do you have any idea why someone would murder the mayor if it weren’t for the money?” Rivers asked.

The marshal was still quite young-looking, Bishop observed. Thirty, if that. Yet, there was also a tinge of world-weariness about his features, a kind of wizened expression like he’d seen too many things—things a man can’t see too much without being changed.

He looked into his green eyes and searched for an answer while Rivers waited patiently. He had to be very careful here.

“I … I don’t know,” he began hesitantly, stalling for time. One more second of delay and maybe a brilliant answer would appear. “I respected that bloke very much, Marshal. Dunno why anyone would want to kill him.”

“Nothing unusual that you noticed recently? He had no enemies that you know of?” Rivers pressed. “Anything at all might help us find the killer.”

Bishop shook his head slowly and thoughtfully. “No. It’s always business as usual with Boone council. Amos had no enemies that I know of. He seemed well-liked by everybody.”

He threw the lawman a mournful frown as if to say, Poor Weighbridge. What a shame how he went. Nobody deserved it less than him.

“Thank you, Mr. Bishop,” the marshal said, standing up from his chair. “We’ll be in touch if we need to ask you any more questions.”

“Yes, of course. You know where to find me.” He got up and extended his arm for a handshake. “What a dreadful business this is. I hope you gents can find whoever killed Amos.”

Rivers gave him a thin smile. Did it contain an accusation? “We’ll nail him. I can promise you that.”

My mind must be playing games with me. He can’t possibly know. He’s testing me. It’s one of his lawman’s tricks.

“Sure you won’t have a quick cup of coffee?”

Feeling bold at having finished the interview without being arrested, he decided to try a little mind game of his own. The invitation would give an impression of innocence.

The lawmen stood at the door and glanced at each other. Rivers shrugged. “Okay. There is one more question I’d like to ask.”

“Have a seat then. I’ll go fetch the coffeepot,” he said quickly and slipped out of the room.

Walking down the hallway, Bishop silently cursed himself for a fool.

You stupid Cockney cad! What have you done? Couldn’t let them be on their way, could you? To hell with the money. I should just get out of here right now …

As the thought crossed his mind, Mrs. Pederson, the rooming house landlady, stepped out of the kitchen, apron tied around her waist. “Mr. Bishop? What are you doing home early? Is everything alright?”

He dodged her questions and pretended to be in a hurry. “Is the coffeepot on, ma’am? I have a couple o’ guests.”

“Yes, of course. Help yourself,” she replied, brushing by him and down the hallway.

He stepped into the kitchen and stopped. The screen door at the far side of the room was open to the breeze, letting in a draft of air to ease the heat from the cook stove. He eyed the door, fierce indecision twisting inside him.

Should I make a run for it?

Just as he stepped toward the door, Mrs. Pederson came into the room, whistling a cheerful melody. She was holding a bundle of crumpled linens in her arms. “Oh! There’s where I left my laundry basket,” she said, stepping over to a wicker basket by the door and dropping the linens into it.

When she turned back toward him, a concerned look appeared on her face. “Everything alright, Mr. Bishop? You look uneasy. Are you ill?”

“No. I’m … I’m fine,” he stammered. Going to the coffeepot, he grabbed it off the stove and moved off, hoping she wouldn’t ask any more questions.

“Do you need cream and sugar?”

“No, thank you,” he called over his shoulder, already striding down the hall.

It felt like his destiny had been decided, and Mrs. Pederson had seen to that. Somehow, he must face the lawmen again.

Trying to compose himself, Bishop opened the door to his room and saw Deputy Knutson sitting on the bed—counting a large wad of cash. Marshal Rivers stood beside him with a pistol in his hand … his pistol, the one he had stuffed inside the wall with the money.

“What’s going on here, gents?” he croaked out, voice trembling.

“There was a nail sitting beside a floorboard near the wall,” the marshal said. “I couldn’t help wondering what it was doing there.”

“I … I didn’t know there was anything—”

“Robyn Bishop, I’m arresting you under suspicion of murder.”

Bishop threw the coffeepot at him.

He watched it hit Rivers in the face. Turning around, he scrambled down the hallway. Back in the room, the marshal shrieked in pain.

The coffee must’ve burned him.

As he neared the kitchen, Mrs. Pederson rushed into the hallway. He shoved her with a forearm, sending the woman flying into the doorframe. She crashed to the floor with a grunt as he went out the kitchen door and ran for his life.

Chapter Three

“Artur, you alright?” Knutson asked.

Rivers gingerly touched the side of his face as he looked into the dresser mirror. There was an angry red splotch where the coffee had scalded his skin. “I’m fine! Go after him, Gunter.”

The deputy sprinted from the room and found Mrs. Pederson struggling to her feet in the kitchen. “Are you hurt, ma’am?”

“Deputy Knutson? What are you doing here?”

“We came to talk to Rob. You okay?”

“I’m alright, I think. Mr. Bishop pushed me down and ran out the kitchen door.”

“Did you see which way he went?”

“No. I was sprawled on the floor.”

Knutson charged out into the backyard. He drew his pistol and went over to the laneway that abutted the yard. Glancing in both directions, he saw no one in sight.

Turning back toward the house, Rivers came out of the kitchen door, pistol in hand. “See him?”

“No.”

The men went to the front yard, a thin dirt strip with a few blades of spring grass. They stood there glancing around for a few moments. “For a fat Englishman, he can move pretty fast,” Rivers observed drily.

“You tink maybe he’s hiding close by?”

They searched the immediate area and came up empty.

Back at the house, the landlady stood in the entrance, waiting for them. “Did you see him?” she asked.

Rivers shook his head. “Does Bishop own a horse?”

“No, he doesn’t, Marshal.”

“Dose English like to travel by train,” Knutson said. “Maybe he went to the train station?” Boone was built on a new rail line and had become a shipping point for cattle to markets back East.

“Good thinking, Gunter. Let’s head over there and see if he’s gonna try and hop a train.” They left Mrs. Pederson and rode quickly toward Boone Station.

Knutson checked his watch on the way: it was 12:27 pm. The 12:40 heading east would be departing soon.


“The Outlawed Wanderer” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!


Marshal Arthur Rivers is the law in a small Wyoming cattle town. Tough and relentless, he is always ready to stand up to criminals. Nevertheless, when the corrupt mayor is murdered, Arthur finds himself in the crosshairs of a vengeful killer who will stop at nothing to see him dead.

This is gonna be a harder mission than he thought…

Bess Macklin is a brilliant and beautiful woman with a taste for adventure. When she answers a newspaper ad for a mail-order bride, she never expects to find herself in the middle of a deadly feud. However, just before she’s set to marry Arthur, a ruthless murderer sets his sights on him, determined to exact revenge.

What will Bess do when her dream of romance turns into a nightmare of violence?

In a heart-pumping adventure that will take them from the dusty streets of Boone to the rugged Wyoming countryside, Arthur and Bess will have to rely on each other to survive. But as their love grows stronger, so does the killer’s determination to see them dead. Will their love be enough to see them through, or will their foe succeed in his deadly mission of revenge?

“The Outlawed Wanderer” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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