Shooting Rampage in the West (Preview)

Chapter One

A brisk September breeze whipped past Benjamin Taylor, forcing him to pull his old, faded cloak close. He grunted in irritation. He had forgotten how cold Montana could be at any given time of the year. At this rate, he wouldn’t be surprised if it started snowing.

Beside him, his horse huffed like he was thinking the same thing. That wouldn’t surprise Ben. The two of them had been through a lot together over the last ten years.

“Ten years,” he mused, glancing at the creature. He’d bought Red just before the horse was about to be sold to a butcher. Still unbroken at three years of age, the dusty brown mustang was considered too much trouble. Until Ben decided to take his chances, paying the last of his wages to purchase the stubborn animal. “Ten years long enough for you?”

His horse huffed and trudged along.

That was probably for the best, Ben mused. They had been traveling on their own for the last five days. His voice was rough with a lack of use. Both of them were weary to the bone, eager for a chance to settle down after so long on the road.

He ran a hand through his cropped brown hair before rubbing his chin, feeling thick stubble that reminded him he hadn’t shaved in a few days. He glanced at his hand. It was clean but dark, sun-kissed since he rarely wore his cloak and a hat only covered so much.

Shaking off thoughts of the past, he focused on the road ahead of them.

“Don’t worry, old Red. We’re almost there,” Ben promised.

Except he wasn’t sure he could keep his word. Glancing around, he wasn’t certain they even knew where they were.

Rolling green hills were spread out before them, though not so high that they prevented him from seeing the taller mountains surrounding them. The bold blue sky had faded to something a little grayer. Although he had crossed a few wagon trails along the way, they hadn’t passed anyone in hours. Folks didn’t come this far north except for two reasons.

One, the trapping. Folks came through Montana up to the Canadian border to hunt for beaver, elk, and all sorts of creatures for fine pelts. There were small colonies all over the place filled with trappers who had come from around the world to make a living there.

Memories flashed by and he blinked them away. While he had the time, he wasn’t quite ready to live in the past.

He sniffed the air. There was a smoky tinge as he drew nearer to the old mine. The thought made his stomach clench.

For so long, Ben had pushed the past aside to forget his history. That kept him safe, and it helped him to keep moving on. And yet he still remembered the way the mine smelled.

Red snuffed and jerked his head, irritated with Ben’s heavy hand. He quickly loosened up his grip on the reins. “Sorry, Red,” he muttered. “I didn’t do that on purpose. Come on, we’ll call it a day soon enough.”

Some time ago, they must have passed the into Montana from the Nebraska territory. That had taken them a long time since they left Kansas and his last job as a cowboy.

Maybe he didn’t know where they were, but Ben knew where they were going. And it appeared they were closer than he expected if he could already smell the mine.

Reaching the last of one of the hills, Ben guided them another three miles. The sun remained high in the sky, albeit not very warm. Shades of green and yellow flooded the world around him before growing dark with blue and gray.

“Isn’t this a beautiful piece of heaven?” he heard his mother’s voice whisper against the back of his neck.

Brushing it off, Ben frowned. He hadn’t thought of her saying that in a long time. It was what she said most mornings back at his family home after she finished whistling her favorite hymn, just as they all got the day started.

More memories. They tempted him to turn around.

Except he had come too far now to go back. It was time he faced the past once and for all. He shook his head in distaste, wishing he weren’t a fool, and glanced at his horse.

“You don’t mind going a little farther, do you?”

His horse swung his head around, making no reply but to give him a look. A look, Ben decided, of exasperation.

“That’s what I thought,” he said gruffly. “Come on. I’m sure we can get there before dark.”

If he was already here, then it was best he got it over with. There was much to be done. He had hidden from the past for long enough.

The scent of the mine grew faintly as he continued leading his horse with the sun setting behind them. Though they were both weary from their long travels, neither would stop until he decided they were done.

One more turn and Ben stopped.

His breath caught in his throat at the sight of the mine directly ahead of him, the old familiar entryway now boarded up. It had been so long since he had been here that he hadn’t been confident of where he might first show up.

Wavering, Ben leaned against his horse. He hadn’t had anyone to rely on since he fled from this place as a boy just ten years old. Twenty-one years had passed since he was last here.

“It’s closed,” he said dumbly, not sure what else to say.

Red pulled on the reins to keep them moving. Ben obediently followed, but he led them away from the shelter of the trees into the clearing. Pebbles, meant to create the clearing, crunched under his worn-down boots and Red’s shoes. It was the only sound echoing in his ears.

As much as he dreaded getting close to the mine, a place he had only entered three times in his life, Ben couldn’t stop himself from moving forward.

He recognized the doorway and the board left overhead that labeled it the Bannack Silver Mine, opened over forty years ago. He saw the grooves in the wooden doorframe with nails bent out of shape and tasted the metallic ash that lingered in the air from the mine on his tongue.

Tension vibrated through his entire body. Already he could hear voices from twenty years ago calling out to him, carrying on with their lives like nothing had ever happened.

“Come on, boys, time to find that ore!”

“You say that every day, Pa.”

“This will be the day, I’m sure of it. Can’t you smell that, Ben? It’s hope! One of these days, you’ll come in here as well.”

He was proud to have conquered most of his fears from the past. Horses, for starters, along with heights and the dark. Ben had worked hard over the years to move on and grow up. But this history of his, he realized now, was something different he was going to have to conquer. It would be more difficult than anything he had faced through the years.

“Let’s get out of here,” he muttered, eager to be away from the shadows creeping in.

The mine must have been deserted for a couple of years based on how the place had been shut down. Boards barred anyone from entering the shaft, but indents remained where supplies had once been stacked alongside the mountain. Across the clearing on the edge of the path that led toward town was an old shelter leaning heavily to the side.

It was an option for shelter they could use for the night, but Ben decided against that. This offered no security and he doubted he would get a wink of sleep if he lingered too close to the mine.

He turned his back only to hear the threat told to him once again, a harsh voice in the darkness. “I see you, boy. I know what you think you saw. Do you hear me? You can’t hide. But I’ll give you this chance: you can run. Run as fast as your fat little legs can guide you. Because if I ever see you again, I’ll do the same to you.”

A shiver ran down his spine.

Red was moving slower and nudged his shoulder to comfort him. Shaking his head, Ben didn’t have anything to say. Instead, he pushed them farther from the mine. There would be time enough to think about the night that changed his life.

Trying to keep the painful memories at bay, Ben reminded himself that he had come here for a reason. It was time to face the past, to face this town, and find his family once more. The future was in his control, and he intended to do with that as he desired.

The town of Bannack was a smudge of brown against the landscape. He skirted the streets and buildings, keeping his head down but his eyes and ears open.

“Who’s that, Mama?”

He glanced down the alley he was passing to find a young child staring his way. The boy’s face was in shadows, but judging by his size, he couldn’t be more than five years of age.

Another shadow appeared to yank the child away.

“Don’t go pointing that finger of yours, Danny. Get back here.”

The hushed voices fell to silence. No one else caught Ben’s attention as they moved along. If anyone glanced his way, he doubted they lingered for more than a heartbeat. The town of Bannock seemed to have grown quieter since he had left.

It didn’t take him long to reach the family homestead just off the main road and beyond a dirt path. His steps slowed in dismay at the lack of life he found there.

Ben’s heart dropped. Letting go of Red’s reins, he moved quickly toward the cabin he had been raised in all those years ago. The west wall was crumbling and the ceiling had caved in.

“Hello? Ma? Pa?” he called.

They owned only a few acres of land, harsh dirt that never grew much for them. That was why his two older brothers and father had ended up working in the mine. He had been too young at the time to join them.

Ben looked for some sign of his family, but there was no way of telling where they had gone. He stood in the center of the bare cabin and turned in a circle, perplexed. When he left, it had been a spur-of-the-moment decision, a threat he couldn’t ignore. He thought if he ever returned, his family would still be here.

Judging by the looks of this place, however, years had passed since anyone had inhabited it.

“Human, at least,” he muttered at the sight of old bird nests in the rafters that were clearly no longer used. “But where is everyone?”

No one was there to answer his question.

Ben returned to his horse, who had never wandered off when he left. Red was a smart animal like that, well-trained to stay put until Ben was ready for him to move.

“Come on,” he told the horse. “We’ll stay here for tonight. And tomorrow… we’ll try to figure out what is going on in Bannock.”

A simple notion, Ben hoped.

Chapter Two

Sunlight fell on Ben, waking him from haunting dreams.

He jerked up into a sitting position only to slouch upon remembering the day before. Here he was on the grounds of his family’s old home, the crumbling walls around him, without a clue of what had happened in the last twenty years.

Were they somewhere else in town? Were they even alive?

The latter question lodged a lump in his throat. He attempted to clear it out while putting his boots back on and cleaning up after himself. If there was anything he could do well––besides not talking to anyone for days on end––it was to disappear like he had never been there.

Leaving was only tough in the small cabin because the doorframe didn’t fit his height. He had to stoop his lean shoulders to get through—it seemed he was taller than his father now. The thought left Ben discomfited.

Walking outside, he greeted his horse and fed Red an apple while he glanced around to consider his options.

“Back into town, I suppose. What do you say, old boy?”

His horse only responded by nudging his shoulder, probably to ask for another apple.

It was the last one Ben had. Hoping they would find more soon, he offered it up. The horse ate while Ben fixed up their bags and saddled up. Soon, they were on the road. On the way into town, Ben slowed at the sight of movement at the house only a few acres from his family’s old homestead.

After debating with himself for a minute, he headed down the path.

“Mama! Someone’s coming!” A tall, skinny girl of twelve or so ran into the house when he neared the gate. “Mama!”

When a woman appeared, Ben stopped and offered a tip of the hat before removing it so she could get a better look. He couldn’t decide if it would be a good thing if he were to be recognized. It was likely inevitable.

“Good morning.” He cleared his throat and tried again. “Good morning, ma’am. I’m just passing through.”

“Then you should keep on going,” she said. “We don’t have anything to spare.”

The mother and daughter looked somewhat unclean, and their clothes had seen better days, stitched up again and again. When he glanced down at the girl, noticing how much she looked like her mother, the older woman stepped in front of her child.

He gave a short shake of his head as he refocused his attention on the woman. “I’m just looking for some information. The family who lived there before,” he said, gesturing toward his family’s cabin, “where are they?”

“That’s none of my business.” She jutted up her chin in the air. “And I doubt it’s any of yours.”

Never one to contradict, Ben asked her, “Are you sure? I don’t mean harm. I knew them once and wanted to see if they were still in town.”

“I don’t see how that’s possible. They’re gone.”

Ignoring the chill creeping under his skin, he asked, “Where did they go?”

The girl peeked around her mother. “Wasn’t that family gone before I was born? You said––”

“They’re gone,” she repeated, and her tone was more forceful this time. She looked at him through narrowed eyes before abruptly turning away. “Come along, Hannah. Back inside. You, mister, should be on your way if you know what’s good for you.”

Watching them disappear, Ben patted his horse’s neck. “That’s not the welcome I expected,” he muttered.

But then, he supposed, he wasn’t sure what sort of welcome a man like himself might receive. Even though he’d had a long time to consider what might happen upon his return, he had never come to a conclusion of reasonable expectations.

It wasn’t like he’d expected a welcome banner or feast. More than anything, he had anticipated that his arrival would be a shock to a family who probably assumed he was dead. Except even that was reliant on a family that was still in town and still alive.

As he turned his horse around to make their way to town, Ben glanced over his shoulder. That young girl had been about to say something.

“Gone. Gone where? Gone as in dead?” he muttered.

Frustration and unease simmered inside, and the trepidation only grew on the way into Bannock. Although he had been working up the courage to face the past over the last couple of years, Ben was still uneasy walking down the main street.

His surroundings didn’t help him feel any better.

Although his feet kept moving, Red was slowing down like he knew something was wrong. It took Ben a minute to realize what felt so odd.

Bannock was quiet.

Checking his pocket watch, he found it was shortly after nine in the morning. That made no sense. A town like this had to have people up and about at this hour. While he walked in the middle of the street, he could see a few horses at some of the hitching posts and a few faces near the doors.

But hardly anyone was out. The streets were quiet. Too quiet.

What had happened?

He tried to push back the guilt of his past, but it grappled with his courage now. Bannock had been thriving when he ran away. If he had stayed, would life here be different for everyone?

“I don’t need much,” he heard a tearful woman’s voice. “Please. Anything. Just for my babies. Please, I’ll do anything.”

She was two shops down in the doorway of the town’s restaurant. There was a small child clutching her skirts and another in her arms. He had never heard anyone sound so heartbroken.

While he couldn’t hear what was said to her in reply, it was evident that it was nothing positive. The mother choked out a sob and fell to her knees.

“It’s been two days. Please. What else are we to do?” she cried.

Slowly walking in their direction, Ben listened as the woman made one final plea for help. She had already been to the other stores, she hadn’t been able to find work, and there was no husband to help her.

Both of her children were crying by the time the restaurant door was slammed in their faces. Ben dug into his pockets trying to find something as she moved along the street. When she saw him, she stopped short and gasped before dropping her head.

“Let’s go,” she told her children. “We’ll try the weeds again.”

He found a few coins. “Wait.” She froze and he hesitated before coming closer. “Here. Take this.”

The woman gasped, reaching out a skinny arm to take the coins. Only once she was clutching them close to her chest did she glance up and hesitate. “Are you certain?”

“I am. Take care of yourself. And your children,” he added.

She nodded jerkily before hurrying away.

Nothing seemed to improve as he rounded the next street. Only a few people were moving around this time. None of them were friendly or familiar.

“You don’t belong here.”

Pausing before the saloon, Ben glanced over to the alley where a large man was slumped against the wall. His head was bent over but now straightened, the vague look in his eyes explained by the bottle in his hand.

“Do you?”

Ben worked his jaw, not sure how to answer that.

Once, he had belonged here. Bannock was growing with high hopes that a fresh stream of silver would be found in the mine. Everyone was eager to make something of the town. He thought of all he had left behind. His family, his friends, and a certain future.

His return was confirming that might never have been the case, that Bannock wasn’t the town it once was. Nor was he the same person.

Glancing around, Ben thought of the few people he had come across so far. His heart ached for them. Everyone here was struggling, including the man who had to be the town drunk.

“Maybe not,” he said finally. “Is that a problem?”

The man chuckled. He fumbled clumsily with his beer bottle before raising it to Ben and drinking the last of it. He leaned against the wall. “You tell me, young man. You tell me.”

Seeing that the drunk’s head was drooping, Ben hoped he would be all right. He tied Red to the nearby hitching post before walking through the double saloon doors. A drink might be nice. But more importantly, saloons had a way of bringing together people who always knew more than they might share in any other situation.

The saloon was dimly lit with a handful of candles all around the place. Any windows had been shuttered closed so no one could see in, and several of the corners were too dark for him to see anything of detail, especially with the smoke.

It took him a minute in the flickering candlelight to count everyone. Eight people were already inside.

There was a man at the bar, another walking around with a serving platter, a musician fiddling on the bench of an off-tune piano, and the rest were seated around the room. Three sat together playing cards with the last two on their own.

A few men glanced his way without saying anything. Keeping his eyes and ears open, Ben took a corner seat at the bar where he could keep his back to the wall and a straight line toward the exit.

“Here.”

He looked at the bottle set before him and raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t order yet.”

“Here,” the bartender repeated, an older man who was tall, bald, and had a roving eye. “We don’t serve anything else.”

Nodding, Ben accepted the bottle. “Thanks.”

“Passing through?”

Ignoring the narrowed gaze, he shrugged. He knew better than to give out too much information. “Something like that.”

It was a bitter drink, but it was warm going down. Ben hadn’t realized he had a chill still trapped inside him. The feeling ebbed with a second sip. Relaxing his shoulders, he watched the bartender move away before shifting his gaze to search the room.

One of the men, older with a beard, was deep in his cups. His head was nodding slowly offbeat with the somber music. Then there was the other man who had brought a knife to play with; not someone Ben wanted to speak with, he decided.

He noted the party across the room, where three men were playing a round of poker.

“It’s just more trouble we don’t need,” the dealer was saying in a low voice. Parts of the conversation could be heard while the musician struggled to keep track of the piano keys that still worked. “…our town.”

“What town?” asked the one in a hat.

Something was said by the third man, the redhead, but Ben didn’t catch that. It might have been a question based on what he heard next.

“A kid. A girl. Hasn’t been around… calls herself Kate… missing sister.”

Scoffing, the redhead shook his head. “We’ve all got enough problems…” He said something more that the men nodded to in agreement. After a short melody, Ben heard, “We don’t need more troublemakers in Bannock.”

Sensing them turning his way, Ben lowered his gaze and nursed his drink to feign ignorance.

He fiddled with his bottle as he tried to catch more of the conversation. Not a lot more made sense. But it was clear that someone else had come to town in search of something, of someone who wasn’t around.

It felt strange to him how two different people could be in Bannock at the same time doing the same thing.

As he took another sip, his gut told him that something was wrong. He didn’t think it was a coincidence. Maybe he needed to understand what was going on here to learn where to find his family.

Which meant his next clue was to find this Kate person, the one with a missing sister. Whoever she was, she might lead him to his family. And from there, he could right the wrongs of the past once and for all.

Ben finished his drink and left, a plan once more in place.

Chapter Three

Matters were not going well for Kate Hayworth.

She couldn’t decide if it was best that she knew this or was innocent in her awareness of how badly she was failing.

It had only been two days in the odd town of Bannock, Montana. The town was surrounded by nature, a beautiful setting that would normally be enough to make a soul breathless. But this place had a way of deflating any uplifting thoughts she had.

Which only served to add to her irritation.

“Ridiculous,” she muttered under her breath despite knowing she should try harder to cut the habit of talking to herself out loud. But what else could she do? There was no one with her. The couple who had offered a room for her to board were off somewhere else. Her aunt had passed away three years ago. And now her sister…

Kate dropped her hand so she would stop chewing on her thumbnail. Yet another bad habit that she would normally receive a scolding for.

“See what happens when you’re not around?” she whispered, her eyes searching the town’s main street. “I need you, Wendy.”

Her older sister made her look sensible most of the time, more spirited than flighty. Because it was Wendy who clung to the drama and sought to make the most of any moment. Wendy Hayworth loved nothing more than a good laugh and a charming man at her side. Kate, on the other hand, at least tried to do things right.

Or so she hoped. What else could she do?

“Where are you?” she asked for the hundredth time. And still, no one answered her.

Kate lingered at the open window for a few more minutes, her eyes searching the area for movement. Particularly for a young woman of twenty-seven years who would look very much like herself: a slender figure of average height, with long wavy brown hair and an upturned nose.

But there was no one else matching that description. Only brown buildings, uneven sidewalks, and strangers who sent her odd looks for traipsing around town.

Two days and still she had no clue where Wendy might be.

Kate left the window, closing one of the creaking shutters. The attic she was renting had a low roof, old furniture and boxes scattered about, and smelled terribly of mothballs. But it was cheap. Additionally, no other place would take her.

Sliding to the ground beside the bag she had brought on her travels, Kate pulled out two crumpled letters.

The first was from a no-name town on the edge of South Dakota, where a traveling tradesman had delivered it to the door of the hog farm that they managed since Aunt Dorothy was gone. In this letter, Wendy had promised her younger sister that all was well, and they were headed to California.

“Because you and Ralph made such a perfect match,” Kate muttered sarcastically. “If I knew you two would go off on this escapade, I would have tied you both to chairs.”

Her other letter from Wendy was even less helpful in giving her a clue on where to locate her sister. The letter merely noted that Wendy had made it safely to Helena, Montana, nearly four months ago, and that they were headed up to Bannock to visit the silver mine.

“Three months, two weeks, and four days.” Kate bit her tongue. “It’s not good. But how bad is it, really?”

She stewed over this while searching the letters again for any clues. But Wendy was never good at sharing the details. All she said was that she was madly in love with Ralph Lorentz, and they were going west to make their fortunes. Once they had enough, they would send for her.

“I’m not even that foolish. Who believes a boy with blue eyes like that? He’s probably gotten them both killed,” Kate said with a scowl.

Sighing, she dropped the letters in her lap and closed her eyes.

It had been only her and Wendy for the past twelve years. When Kate was eleven, their parents had brought them on a wagon trail westward from Virginia to Oregon. But in Wyoming, both of their parents had fallen ill and passed away. Knowing they couldn’t carry on without them, she and her sister had gone north instead to South Dakota, where they knew the last of their family remained.

Aunt Dorothy had taken them in, giving them a life. A rough one, but it was better than nothing. They’d taken over the hog farm when she passed.

While it wasn’t exciting, Kate had tried to make the best of it. She worked hard and kept matters afloat. All the while, her sister was flirting with every boy or man that came their way.

Kate should have probably expected Wendy to someday take off with someone.

But since she hadn’t heard from her sister in months, Kate needed to do something. She had set their neighbors in charge of the farm while she started off on her journey, all of which brought her here to Bannock, Montana, a mining town that didn’t seem very fond of strangers.

It was odd, she thought. It was almost like they were scared of her. No one wanted to talk.

“I’m just looking for my sister,” Kate mumbled before dropping her face into her hands. She had lost count of how many times she had said this since her arrival as she went door to door asking if anyone had ever seen Wendy.

Even those who were home didn’t always open the door for her. Two of them had spoken through it before suggesting she leave them be.

The only one who had opened the door was the judge’s wife. Kate screwed her face up in concentration, trying to remember the woman who had offered her a cup of bitter coffee just the day before.

“Max, Matty… It was French.” She snapped her fingers when the name came to her. “Martin. Something Martin. With an S like Sarah or Sally or Sar…”

She gave up after sounding out a few syllables, none of which sounded right. Still, Kate wasn’t sure she should go back to the house. The woman had acted very distracted, nor had she been able to share anything else.

“What do you mean?”

Closing her eyes, Kate could hear her sister’s voice from several years ago when they had first begun to settle into a new life with their Aunt Dorothy.

She remembered clarifying for Wendy.


“Shooting Rampage in the West” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Ben rode into the desolate town with the weight of his past as heavy as the six-shooter at his hip. Running from a threat of death as a boy, he carried a secret so toxic, that it had hollowed him from the inside out. Now, he returns to find his family and salvage a semblance of peace from the shattered pieces of his life. But as dust rises in his wake, Ben wonders if the ghosts he left behind would be better undisturbed…

Is his homecoming a path to redemption, or a trail leading to a dead end?

Kate stood at the edge of her aunt’s farm, gripping the leather reins of her horse, and peering into the looming unknown. The quest was straightforward: find her missing sister. Yet, when she crosses paths with Ben, Kate discovers that the small, enigmatic town hides more than just her sibling. The encounter with this troubled stranger awakens a sense of urgency, but also complicates her feelings in ways she didn’t expect.

Does she have what it takes to solve the riddles that keep multiplying around her?

Drawn into the heart of the town’s darkness, Ben and Kate find themselves ensnared in a web far more treacherous than they’d anticipated. Bound by necessity and a reluctant trust, they plunge headlong into a gauntlet of deception and peril. Will they unravel the town’s hidden agenda before it devours them? And when the final truth is laid bare, will either of them emerge unscathed?

“Shooting Rampage in the West” 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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