Shooting his Way to Payback (Preview)

Chapter One

Wells Fargo special agent Jack Caldwell sipped a cup of coffee as he finished his breakfast with friend and fellow agent Chad Drake. The waitress, Amy  Rodgers, knows both men. She walked over and gave them a bright smile.

“Would you like anything else?” she asked.

“Only the check,” Caldwell said.

The waitress scribbled on a pad and placed a piece of paper in Caldwell’s hand. “Good to see you again, Jack. You must have been out on the road catching bad guys.”

“I was on assignment,” Caldwell said.

“And he did catch a bad guy,” Drake said. “We both came in from assignment; figured we might take some time to go fishing. There are a lot of good fishing holes around here.”

The waitress laughed, but knew what Drake said was true. She looked again at the two Wells Fargo agents and thought they actually had a slight resemblance to each other. They might not be brothers, but they could be cousins. Both were tall men with a similar build. Drake was six feet while Caldwell was six-two, with brown hair and gray eyes. Drake had gray eyes and blond hair. They both had a sense of humor and both tipped well, which she appreciated.

There was a low rumble of conversation in the half-full café. But several diners were, like the two Wells Fargo agents, about ready to leave. In about thirty minutes, the lunch crowd would come in.  Amy could smell the apple pies baking in preparation for the lunch crowd. The cook was known for being good at his craft, but his specialty was pies. The smell of apples made your mouth water.

A man in a business suit and hat walked in and made a direct line to their table. Caldwell grinned at the local Wells Fargo agent who ran their office in the town.

“Dale, what’s up? We haven’t taken too long, have we?” Caldwell said, smiling. “You miss us already?”

“Actually, I haven’t missed you, but Clement Farley just walked into the office, and he wants to see you, both of you, but you first, Jack.”

“Farley, the vice-president of this district?”

Dale Conklin nodded. “He’s the officer over about half of Colorado.”

“Why does he want to see us?” Drake asked.

“I don’t know. He didn’t tell me. He just asked where you were and when I told him you were having breakfast, he said have you report to him when you got back to the office. That’s why I’m here. But I guess if Mr. Farley is taking a personal interest, it must be an important case.”

Caldwell nodded. “Must be.”  He winked at his friend. “Let’s go see what it is.”

When they returned to the office, Farley had taken over the spare room, and there was no waiting. Caldwell knocked on the door and smiled.  “You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Yes. Come in and shut the door, Jack.  Sit down.”

Caldwell did as told, taking off his hat as he sat down. The desk in the room was bare of papers or documents, but Farley didn’t need such things to appear impressive. His manner gave off an aura of professionalism. He was as tall as Caldwell and had a thin mustache on his upper lip and an officious manner.  While his voice was firm, it was also friendly, which Caldwell welcomed as a good sign.

“Jack, you are being chosen for a prime and difficult assignment. You’ve heard of the John Hudson case, haven’t you?”

Caldwell nodded. Everyone who worked at Wells Fargo knew about the Hudson case. John Hudson was a fine agent and was guarding a money shipment ten years ago when outlaws attacked. There were two drivers and Hudson was the security guard. All three were gunned down and killed. Hudson killed one of the outlaws and investigators surmised he wounded another one. The number of bandits was still a matter of speculation, although most Wells Fargo investigators thought at least five men had attacked the wagon. The money was going to be used to pay the wages of mine workers at the Green Hill Mine, a silver mine located a short distance from the town of Sunset Falls. No one knew the dead man. It was assumed he was not from the region but was hired simply as a gunman. The company made a thorough investigation but did not find the killers. And that was something that stuck in Wells Fargo officials’ caw. They hated that the men who had killed a Wells Fargo man had gone unpunished.

“Yes, I’m aware of the case. I believe it’s still unsolved,” Caldwell said.

“Hopefully, it won’t be after you finish your assignment.  Although it’s been ten years, Wells Fargo doesn’t consider the case a dead file. We still want to find and hang those men who killed our agent. We are going to reopen the case for active investigation and want you to handle it. We can give you an assistant, a man you know, Chad Drake. You have worked well with him.”

Caldwell nodded. “I know Chad; he’s young, but a very fine man.  He’s dependable and smart.”

“Then he’s just the type of man you need. We – we being the company – would like for you to reopen the case and find the killers. We know it won’t be easy, but we have confidence in you, Jack. You have proven yourself to be one of our best men in the field.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“However, this is perhaps the most difficult case currently in our files. We will give you the file to study before you begin but, to be frank, there is not much there. Sadly, there are very few clues to the identities of the killers. A few men in the company think they left Colorado and are probably a thousand miles away.”

“You sound like you don’t, sir.”

“I’m neutral. They could have galloped away and left Colorado in the dust, but I’m not sure about that. I think the outlaws could be much closer to home. But I’m not going to say anything else because I don’t want to sway you in any way. You will have the files and the notes of the previous investigators.”  Farley leaned back in his chair. He took a cigar out of his coat pocket and lit it. He blew out some gray smoke, then sighed. It was the sigh of a man in a funeral home, looking at the casket of his best friend.  But while there was sadness and anguish in Farley’s sigh, there was also a trace of anger.

“John Hudson had been with the company for seventeen years, and he was exemplary in every way. He was not only a good employee, he was a wonderful man and a deacon at the First Baptist Church down in Deerfield, his home town. To be honest, and this is often not said in the executive offices of the company, several of our executives blame Wells Fargo for his death. There should have been more than one man guarding the shipment. Prior to this attack, the shipments had gone peacefully, but that was no reason for being careless. We should have had two guards on that wagon. That may not have helped or stopped the robbery, and maybe the only thing that would have come from it would have been two guards killed, but we still should have done it.”

“I understand.”

“We would like to correct that mistake. We want the killers found, tried, and hung, or killed. We’re not picky as long as justice is served.”

Caldwell nodded. “Justice will be served, sir.”

“I’m putting two agents on this case. You will be in charge, and I’m assigning Chad Drake to the case. I believe you know Drake and the two of you are friends.”

“That’s correct, sir. And thank you. He’s a good man.”

“All the files on the case are kept in the regional office in Danville, but I brought them down and will give them to you. Take them and study them. Maybe you will see something that the rest of us missed. I have also informed the local sheriff that two Wells Fargo agents will be in his town soon. We like to cooperate with local officials.  The sheriff is a man called Andy Offat and, from the little I’ve heard, he’s a good sheriff. Any questions?”

“One comes to mind. Were there two drivers on the money wagon or just one?”

“Two. The mining company preferred two men, with one acting as a semi-guard. Their names are in the file.”

“Do you recall where the attack happened?”

“A curve in the road named Buffalo Bend. You ride through a forest and suddenly the road bends quickly. It’s a sharp curve, and it’s a good place for bandits to hide.  A random rider heard the shots. He rode over and  was shot at. The robbers headed off, but he checked the men, who were dead, and raced to the nearest sheriff’s office. A posse was formed, but by that time, the outlaws had disappeared. A few men in the posse said before the tracks vanished it looked like the robbers were headed for Sunset Falls. There was no identification of any of the outlaws, no clue whatsoever. You can see why we want a fresh look at the case, with a good agent or agents with a fresh pair of eyes.”

Caldwell nodded.  “Well, sir, I will do what I can, and I’m sure Chad will do the same. But after ten years, I can’t promise you anything but, we’ll do the best we can.”

“I understand.  I will also say this is an important case for Wells Fargo. It’s always been active. An agent died and we want to obtain justice for him.  If you two find the killers or even find a few clues, there will be a two thousand dollar reward for anyone who helps us.  We want to find the men who killed our agent and we’ll pay for it.”

“I understand.”

“Then, good luck. I wish you the best.”

Caldwell took the file with him as he left. He noticed it wasn’t a big file, and it looked rather thin.  That meant there were not many clues in the case. He and Drake needed to find more to solve the case. He found Drake sitting patiently in a chair.  He tapped his shoulder with the file.

“Come with me,” he said. “We have work to do.”

“We need to arrest a bad guy?” Drake asked.

“No, we need to read some papers,” Caldwell replied, smiling.  “You know about the Hudson case, right?”

“Of course, everybody at Wells Fargo knows about the Hudson case.”

Caldwell held the folder and swatted his friend’s chest with it. “We’re on it now. It’s ten years old, but the company still wants the killers found.”

Drake smiled. “I’m rather surprised they gave it to us…wait a minute. I’m guessing they gave it to you, and I’m sent over to help.” He nodded.  “I rather like a company that doesn’t forget its employees. Wonder if they would do the same for me?”

“Of course, they would, Chad. No one would forget you.”

“I take it you mean that in the best of all possible ways.”

“I do. Before we head down to Sunset Falls, we have some reading to do.”

“Reading?” said Drake, laughing. “Hey, I’ve got an eighth-grade education. Nobody told me I’d have to read when I joined Wells Fargo. I figured I just had to hunt bad guys and shoot ‘em if they didn’t throw up their arms and shout, ‘I surrender.”

Caldwell chuckled. “Sometimes we have to solve cases too, partner, and at times that calls for reading. They taught you to read by eighth grade, didn’t they?”

“They did. And I’m proud to say I’ve read at least one book a year since then.”

“I’m proud of you, Chad. You would make your teachers proud. But don’t worry. We don’t have to read a book. Frankly, there isn’t too much evidence or too many clues about the robbery. The file is thin. Plus, it was ten years ago, so that won’t help either. It’s not going to be an easy case.”

Drake smiled and slapped his partner on the chest.  “A ten-year-old case with few clues. That’s when Wells Fargo needs its best men, and that’s why we were chosen. We’re the best.”

Caldwell thought he was about eight, maybe ten years older than his partner. He had experience with Chad, but  wished he had his partner’s optimism.  He did not kid himself.  The company hated losing men. Wells Fargo had put their best men on the job ten years ago, and those very good men couldn’t find the killers. The case was kept active, but other agents discovered nothing of value. The odds that this investigation would turn up something was slim.

But then again, he told himself he had beaten the odds before, and he would this time too.  He frowned. He also knew there had always been rumors about the shipment. The company had never officially confirmed the amount the outlaws stole. It was rumored the wagon had taken shipments from more than one bank or other institutions, but the company officials had never commented on the rumor.

Chapter Two

The two men moved into a small room where there was a table full of papers. Drake smiled as he sat down.

“We’re Wells Fargo investigators,” he said. “We should be out on horseback hunting down the robbers and other bad guys, not in a room reading papers.”

Caldwell chuckled. “To investigate a crime, you first have to get all the known details about it, and that involves reading a lot so you can find out all the details.” He settled down in a chair and picked up the first stack of papers.

“You know, they don’t put that in all the dime novels I read. The good guys just go out and shoot people. They never spend their time reading files.”

“Those dime novels are not absolutely accurate. Fiction, especially bad fiction, and reality, are two very different things.”

Drake shook his head. “I think fiction may be better than reality. Or at least more interesting.” He sighed. “I guess you will never have a best seller if your literary hero is reading files all day. It’s not all that exciting. It’s a shame I’m not a writer. I could make a living just sitting at a typewriter.”

“That would be too dull for you, Chad.”

Drake laughed. “Yes, I think it would.”

Caldwell had brought a small pad with him. When he read a detail he thought relevant, and jotted it down.

After an hour, the two felt they had a good grasp of the details of the robbery. The reports did not indicate if the three guards, including Hudson, were bushwhacked and murdered in cold blood or if there was some mistake and the robbers fired when they did not intend to. Wells Fargo had a reputation of tracking down outlaws who killed their agents. Many outlaws knew of the company’s dedication to its employees and did not senselessly kill Wells Fargo agents.

Drake slapped a stack of papers with his hand. “The reports say Hudson fired off two bullets before he was killed. The two guards on the wagon didn’t get a chance to pull their guns.  When they were found, their guns had not been drawn. That points to an ambush. The gunmen didn’t give them a chance. They just fired.”  He held up a page. “Perhaps Hudson was quicker so that’s why he fired twice before being killed.”

A large and detailed map was on the wall of the room.  Caldwell walked to it and made a ‘x’ with his pen. He tapped the map with his finger. “We need to ask about this.”

“About what?”

Caldwell tapped the map again. “Wells Fargo was carrying money and silver to Denver.” He pointed to a black line on the map. “The most direct way is here, which means the trip would go through Swanee City. The wagon took another, roundabout route, through some forests and timberland. There is a road there, but it’s a longer route. The papers indicate the wagon and guard were originally going to take the shorter route, but it was changed. I wonder why.”

“Maybe because the first route would have been too obvious. Someone along the way might have gotten ideas.”

“Possibly. I’m going to ask Dale about that. I think he was at this office when the robbery happened.”

“OK, we’ll ask him and then take a break. I didn’t realize reading could be so strenuous.”

Dale Conklin nodded, “Yes, I was here. I had been in the office for about six months when the robbery occurred. The original route was the direct path to Denver. It was later changed by company officials. They didn’t want to use the main road. They wanted to take a less conspicuous route. The trip would take about five or six hours. They didn’t really spell out their reasons.  They just sent me a telegram telling me about the change of plans, because they knew I expected the wagon to go through Swanee City. They didn’t explain their reason though.”

“How long before the run did they change the route?”

Conklin thought for a moment. “It was two or three days before the run. I was new here so I wasn’t experienced enough to ask questions. I just accepted the decision.”

“I can understand a change of plans. Sometimes you want to take the back roads, but this time it was a mistake.”

“Well, if the outlaws were following the money wagon, they would have made an attempt at a robbery whichever route it took.”

Caldwell nodded. “Possibly.”

“You look puzzled, Jack. Anything wrong?”

Caldwell scratched his chin.  “Well, not really. Just wondering if the robbers somehow tracked the money wagon. Did they pick it up on the trail? Did they somehow know to watch both trails?”

“They might have, if they suspected  there might be an attack. But the deliveries from the mine had been regular for some time.  And they continued. At one time, that was thought to be a small mine that would play out in a short time. But that was wrong.”

“That was a plus for Sunset Falls. It was a small town, and I mean a very small town until they discovered silver nearby. It’s much bigger now. It’s not Denver, but it’s a booming community. Houses and businesses have sprung up,” Drake said. “For a western town that is not a capital or a cattle center, it is a fine city. There are restaurants there that can rival those in Denver, anda few clothing shops that will give you the latest styles. There is even a gun shop or two that will sell you the best firearms.”

Caldwell smiled. “Good, that means we’ll have a fine hotel room that Wells Fargo will pay for. We rarely get good accommodations.  At least we will with this job. I think we’ve done all we can in reading the background of the robbery. We might as well head on down this afternoon.”

“Fine with me. The sooner as we go down, the sooner I get to eat the good food and sleep in a fine bed. Can’t say that in every job.”

“No, we can’t,” Caldwell said. “I knew John Hudson. He was a fine man;enjoyed working with him.”

“What do you think are the chances of finding the men who killed him?”

Caldwell gave a grim stare and shook his head. “To be honest, very slim. At times, the company can find a new clue or a new piece of evidence that does lead to an arrest and conviction, but that doesn’t happen often. I want to find his killers too, but I won’t be overconfident.”

“But we won’t be under confident either,” said Drake.

“Partner, I don’t think you have ever been under confident.”

Chapter Three

By the time they completed reading the records of the robbery, it was about noon. Caldwell knew it would only take about four hours to ride to Sunset Falls so he suggested to his partner they should travel today instead of waiting because they could easily finish the trip before sundown. Drake said that was fine with him. He looked up at the sky.

“It’s a bit cloudy. That’s the time to travel.” He shook his head. “No one wants to travel on a hot day. A day that’s cloudy with a little breeze is the best time to be on the road,” Drake said.

Privately, he didn’t think a trip with Caldwell would be easy. Not that he didn’t like or admire his friend, but Caldwell spoke  when he needed to,  could tell a good story,  and joke occasionally. At times he even responded with a humorous retort, but he wasn’t  a talkative man.  He could be silent for long stretches of time. Which meant, Drake thought,  he would have to do all the talking. Which he could do, but once in a while he’d like his partner to speak up .

After lunch, they filled their canteens and set out. Drake knew the job would be a difficult one. They might have  gone to another state and renamed themselves, making them almost impossible to trace and find. But he didn’t complain about the assignment. He was proud that Wells Fargo did not forget its employees but did its best to find  killers.

He looked over at his partner, who looked perfectly content. That was another thing about Caldwell. He never appeared irritated, angry, or upset. There was a calmness about him. But Drake was not perfectly content; he desired a little conversation.

“Partner, as you said, this is not going to be an easy case. Do you know where we should begin the investigation down in Sunset Falls? The case is ten years old. The town has grown a lot in the past ten years. Most of the population there were someplace else ten years ago. They know nothing about the past and nothing about the robbery.”

Caldwell said nothing for a minute or so.  He looked at Drake and said, “You’re right.”

Drake waited for a minute and then gave a sarcastic grin. “Is there any more to that sentence, partner, or are you going to stop there?”

Caldwell smiled.  “Actually, I’ve been thinking about that. Where do we start? I’m thinking about starting at the town’s newspaper office. Must have a number of reporters now.”

“Won’t do us any good. They probably were hired after the robbery.”

“Most reporters on the paper may be, but the editor and  the owner have been there a while, they may have information. I need something of a historian to ask my questions to.”

“What do you plan to ask him?”

“I  want to know if he has a good memory of the robbery. Three people were killed not far from Sunset Falls;that should be memorable.  I also want to ask  a historian if someone in the community seemed to come into any money after that dark day. .”

Drake opened his mouth, then closed it slowly. He nodded. “I see. If that happened, and if someone got rich after a robbery, that might raise some eyebrows.”

“Not if it was done carefully, or  had a good explanation for  it.  They might seem to gain money over a period of time so it would not raise eyebrows. It’s possible the historian will say he doesn’t know of anyone like that. But, there is no harm in asking, is there?”

“Not a bit,” Drake said. “If our historian does name someone, we have a starting point. Maybe he will lead us to another man which will lead us to another. And pretty soon, we’ll have the whole gang.”

They rode through a forested area with tall trees guarding both sides of the road. Clouds had covered the sun and darkened the day. Wind whistled through the tree branches.

“What if no one in Sunset Falls has that good of a memory?”

“First things first. I’m betting somebody does. If not, we just have to keep looking. But, I’m hoping someone will know,” Caldwell said.

Drake shook his head. “I’ve never worked on a case like this before and, I’ll admit, I don’t  know where to start.”

“We’ll start  by looking for a historian and go from there. If the robbers are in or around Sunset Falls, they might be a bit complacent now. It’s been ten years since their crime and the murders, and so far they’ve gotten away with it.  But there’s no statute of limitation on murder. So, the law still wants them…and so do I.”

“If the robbers are in  town, think we’ll shake them up when we come in?”

“I hope so. If we do, maybe they will make a mistake.  Don’t be shy in telling people you are a Wells Fargo agent, and we’re investigating that decade-old robbery. I want the word to get back to the killers, if they are in the town.” He grinned. “I even might give an interview to the newspaper and let a reporter write that Wells Fargo hasn’t given up on the robbery and is still looking for the killers. That might stir things up too.”

Drake thought for a moment. “That’s a good idea. We need to upset some people so much that they will come looking for us instead of us hunting them.”

“Beautiful trees here, don’t you think? Colorado is known for scenic areas.”

Drake frowned. “That’s a bit off the subject but yes, this is great scenery, unless you’re a city man.”

“Even in the most serious times and the busiest of days, you need to take a moment to wonder at the beauty of nature.”

The trees were picturesque, a flood of green beneath the blue sky that was now turning gray. A deer peeked his head out from between two trees. He must have  sensed the two men posed no threat and walked gracefully out from the trees.

“OK, we took a few moments for contemplation,” Drake said. “We better go back to the case.”

“If the men we want start hunting us, they are very stupid,” Caldwell said. “That tells us we’re on the right track. We don’t know they’re here though. They might be five hundred miles away. If they are here, I doubt they are that stupid, but we can hope.”

“We can hope, but hope never solved a case.”

“Well, we’ll be looking for a few facts too.”

“Glad to hear it,” Drake said. “So we start looking for a historian to speak too.”

“And find the sheriff. We’ll talk with him too.  Maybe he’s been here ten years and has a theory on the crime.”

Drake sighed. “We can give it a shot.”

They stopped at the hotel first and found Wells Fargo had already paid for their rooms.

“Two of our finest,” the clerk said. He was a thick, bald man but he seemed eager to help. “I’m sure you will enjoy them. They are a bit larger than the regular rooms, and you will have them for a week. If the job takes longer, your company said it will take care of it.”

“That’s nice of them,” Drake said. “I didn’t know we had any fringe benefits with the job.”

“There will be a bottle of whisky and a glass in each room too, courtesy of the hotel. We always  welcome our special guests. I hope you can solve that terrible crime. I’ve been here for twenty years, and that was the worst crime I can remember.”

“Thanks. The company must have told you why we’re here.”

“Yes, sir. I  asked them,but, I suppose it’s no secret.”

Caldwell nodded. “No, it isn’t. In fact, probably the more it’s talked about the better. Let the word go forth.” He turned to his partner as they went up the stairs.  “Let’s take a little time to rest, then let’s spread the word while we have dinner at the saloon. If those outlaws are still around, I want them to know they’re being hunted. It might make them nervous, and then they might make a mistake.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Actually, it sounds a little like grabbing at straws, but I’ll try anything in a ten-year-old case.”

The  meal at dinner was excellent, and the saloon was quiet, at least for a saloon. Caldwell and Drake  finished their dinner and were having a drink. The bartender occasionally nodded at them, as if he wanted to keep on the good side of Wells Fargo agents. He was a tall, hefty man with mutton chops on his cheeks. Several other tables had customers, and a dozen or so men stood at the bar.

“Should we check in with the sheriff tomorrow morning?” Drake asked.

“Yes,  we will go to the sheriff’s office to pay our respects. A lot of lawmen don’t like other guys with badges stomping on their turf. We go say hello and tell him what a good job he’s doing and how we want to work with and cooperate with him,” Caldwell said.

“I understand.”

Caldwell sipped the last of his drink.

A slim, medium tall man walked toward the door. As Caldwell watched, a larger man with a mean looking face took three steps and slammed into him. The blow knocked the man down and he hit the floor, groaning with surprise and pain.

“Sorry, didn’t see you,” the large man said with a laugh.

“Why did he  do that?” Caldwell said, anger in his voice.

“Let it go,” Drake said. “I know you don’t like bullies, but we’re here to work on a Wells Fargo case. Nothing more.”

The smaller man stood up, but realized his assailant weighed about eighty pounds more than he did.  He merely turned and headed for the swinging doors.  Caldwell stood up.

“Don’t do it,” Drake said. “We are not…”

His words trailed into the air when Caldwell rose from his chair and walked slowly toward the assailant.  Drake shook his head.

“Shooting his Way to Payback” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Ten years ago, a Wells Fargo agent guarding a payroll shipment was ruthlessly murdered by bandits. Jack Caldwell, a tough and intelligent deputy, has just been assigned to solve the cold case. This is far more than just a job to him though… The victim was his friend, and he won’t rest until blood is finally paid with blood.

He is on the prowl for revenge…

Samantha Evans, the daughter of a rich banker, falls madly in love with Jack Caldwell. When he suspects her father of involvement in the murder plot, she will have to make the toughest choice of her life. Even if that means unleashing mayhem on the town.

Never before has she felt so torn…

As Jack and Samantha try to solve the crime, violence threatens to erupt. Their life soon turns into a hurricane of bullets and peril, and their future may end up ruined by a thorny past. Jack has sworn an oath and is determined to follow through with his duty though, no matter the cost…

“Shooting his Way to Payback” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

4 thoughts on “Shooting his Way to Payback (Preview)”

  1. A great story but since I read on a kindle paper white I cannot get the extended epilogue . Would like to be able to read that also.

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