Out for Dreadful Revenge (Preview)

Chapter One

Alma, New Mexico Territory 1878

Friendship was something not everyone got in life. Unlike family, friends were a choice and not made by blood. At thirty-two, Thomas Reece had lost touch with his family. In the years leading up to the war, his father had used a belt when words wouldn’t get through to his son. After the War Between the States, his father made it clear to Reece before he enlisted: no son of his had a right to defend the Blacks when he lived in Georgia. For Reece, it made more sense to fight for a cause instead of a hopeless struggle to appease his father.

For Reece, choosing between a simple farmer who didn’t own slaves but defended those who thought people were property and fighting for what turned out to be the right decision made sense. He never went back to Marietta, Georgia, after ’65. He didn’t know if the hardnosed old man still lived; Reece wasn’t interested in seeing his father again. So the man would never know that Reece returned to the place of his birth in the summer of ’64 during the Atlanta Campaign to kill as many as his father’s neighbors that fought against the Union Army on Kennesaw Mountain—a stone’s throw from Reece’s childhood home.

There wasn’t a day that went by when meandering thoughts about his life and that moment didn’t wake him from a sound sleep or stab at his guts whenever thunder rumbled, reminding him of the bombardment that took place that day in June. Reece was under Major General John M. Schofield’s command and a survivor of the battle that lasted from sunup to sundown. When the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston, retreated from the battlefield, leaving three thousand dead men and boys wearing gray soaked in blood, Reece and his friend Aron Cash remained standing victorious.

The war changed most men, Reece among them. He saw what violence through warfare wrought, and once he got rid of the Union uniform, he ceremoniously burned it. He wasn’t alone in trading a gun for a strong horse and a saddle. With his decommission payment, Reece and Aron rode west to a new life far removed from the industrious east coast and the poverty-stricken southern states that refused to amend to a peaceful transition of the rightful authority. Even after the war officially ended, the Confederate States of America still ran gray with men willing to uphold beliefs that freedmen weren’t people but property that ran on two legs.

The further from Georgia Reece and Aron went, the fewer men they encountered who saw Aron as chattel. Both men were decorated Union soldiers who fought for a cause beyond arrogant and ignorant Southern beliefs.

Aron was an African American as designated in General Order No. 143 from the War Department in May of ’63. He was first on the battleground, branded a runaway before receiving his uniform and gun to fight against the people who put him in chains. He was one of the founding enlisted men for the USCT—a United States Army auxiliary branch composed of Blacks and other groups not recognized in the South to have rights as people.

Reece proudly accepted his post within the USCT and served with some of the bravest men he ever knew. Many of his fellow soldiers fought harder than any white soldier in the Union Army. Aron was one of the many African Americans that fought with distinction. He had received a Medal of Honor for his efforts in the war that saved generations, giving back freedom that they rightfully deserved.

After the war, many of Aron’s colleagues received permanent placement within the Union troops as part of the 10th Cavalry Regiment in ’66 stationed at Fort Leavenworth. The Cheyenne had called the African Americans Buffalo Soldiers. Aron had cheerfully declined his continued service with the other Black soldiers and rode out with Reece into the frontier, never looking back.

Once Reece and Aron reached New Mexico Territory, both men agreed they’d gone as far as they could from the war-torn regions where they grew up, fought, and bled. When they began their second careers outside the military as cattlemen, they took positions as lead foremen for a sprawling six-hundred-and-forty-acre cattle ranch owned by a generous man named Nathan Hartman. Hartman never saw the color of people’s skin, only evaluated them by their integrity and the quality of work his drovers and stockmen put forth.

Oaks Ranch, located five miles outside Alma, had a large group of able-bodied African Americans who worked hard for a decent wage. New Mexico Territory didn’t care what people looked like, and it took all kinds to live in the high summer heat and bone-chilling winters. The area wasn’t ideal for agriculture, which allowed Hartman to keep free-roaming longhorn cattle without the worry of impeding on farmers’ territories.

When Reece got up that June morning, he was first of the laborers inside the canteen where Mexican and African American women had been awake since four in the morning preparing breakfast for the drovers and ranch hands.

It was a glorious morning, and the coffee tasted like sweet chicory as he watched the eastern sky turn gold with the rising sun. Alone with his morning thoughts, Reece wanted to ignore the pain in his knees and lower back—the kind of aches that came with riding horseback for hours and wrestling ornery cattle, too stubborn or too smart for their own good to herd, into the ranch enclosures for shipment.

“It’s a bumper season,” Aron said from behind Reece. He had bid good morning to the women busy at the outdoor cooking pots before taking up a post beside Reece, watching the sunrise.

“I don’t know if that term works with cattle,” Reece said humorously.

“Well, the steers might not be crops, but when we got as many like this, you can’t think it’s not a success.”

“You think we got enough men for the haul today?”

“They’ll do fine,” Aron said. He sipped at the coffee before taking a bite from a warm biscuit he pilfered from the cook’s table.

They had three thousand head of steer ready to drive out of the ranch. Once the drovers and cattlemen emptied the fields and headed south to Silver City, Reece and Aron could cut loose most of the men for a month before the ranch needed them again.

Before the next batch of cattle arrived and they reared the calves, Reece, Aron, and a few younger men worked as ranch hands during the off-season. Reece liked the moments of calm around the ranch when there was a handful of people around and fewer complications to sort out in a day.

Growing up a farmer’s son, he understood soil better than people. And he liked dealing with cattle more than cattlemen. But he was good at being a foreman for Oaks Ranch, and he knew one day, when he had enough earnings, he’d turn over leadership to his second in charge, Aron, and find a small patch of land. He intended to raise chicken and corn and forget about drovers and rustlers and the competition of men when they had too much time on their hands.

“I think Mr. Hartman plans to give everyone an extra dollar or two this time out,” Aron said.

“Well, I’m going to turn down extra wages if he’s handing them out.”

Aron got Reece’s attention as the rest of the teamsters left the bunkhouses, making their way to the canteen. They saw Nathan Hartman leaving the big house and walking to the enclosure fence across the yard. Both men emptied their tin cups to join their boss.

Hartman got down to business once morning pleasantries were out of the way. “What time are you pushing out of here?”

“We’ll get on the road with the steer by ten this morning. We can reach Gila River before we make camp if all goes well, and we’ll be in Silver City before nightfall tomorrow.”

“That sounds good,” Hartman said.

Reece forgave the older man for his indifference to the journey from the ranch to the stockyards in Silver City. Hartman wasn’t hands-on with the cattle, only with the money he got from rearing and delivering beef on the hoof.

“You hear anything about rustlers in the area? You sure we got enough men to keep an eye out?”

“Over the last two days, we went out and counted every steer,” Aron said. “You hired thirty drovers for this season, which is twice as many for double the head of cattle you had last season. You got nothing to worry about, Mr. Hartman. I’ll make sure Reece can keep in line with the rest of the men, or I’ll kick him to the trail.”

Hartman and Reece laughed. Aron was a jovial man who didn’t like conflict any more than Reece. Unlike Reece, Aron carried a sidearm. Reece kept a lever-action Winchester in the saddle holster but didn’t have a use for a revolver on his hip. The stockmen respected Reece without the need for intimidation. Hartman valued him for his cool head in hot situations.

Men who caused too many problems for others didn’t last long whenever they hired new drovers—Reece and Aron weeded out the worst of the troublemakers as soon as they started mischief. Most of the stockmen working on Oaks Ranch were repeaters, coming back season after season whenever Reece or Aron put out the call for additional help.

“We ain’t heard of any trouble between here and the city,” Aron said.

“I’ve got a recent Tribune that has articles about stagecoach robberies from Mexico to El Paso,” Hartman said. “I don’t want that kind of problem for the ranch.”

“Highwaymen don’t usually go for cattle rustling, sir,” Aron said. “They want to hold the money in their hands, not have to find someone to buy it off the hoof from them.”

“You can rest easy, Mr. Hartman. Your investments will garner more this season than any other before now.” Reece glanced at Aron before adding with a smirk, “It should be a bumper crop this year.”

Hartman seemed satisfied with Reece and Aron’s confidence. “I got a telegram yesterday from the stockyard owner saying the buyers are putting down $20 a head this year.”

Aron whistled through his teeth. “That is a fine haul for certain.” They peered out at the grazing and waiting steers, fattened up and ready to hit the trail that day.

“How many men do you want us to hold onto after we deliver?” Reece asked.

“How many youngsters you got working in the barn?”

“Four, maybe five,” Aron said.

“Are they old enough to work without a lot of watching?” he asked.

“I cut loose the tougher boys pushing around the youngsters. The rest of them are good listeners and hard workers.”

Hartman nodded, and Reece knew he was considering how many mouths he needed to feed during off-peak when they carried twenty head of cattle for the ranch needs. “You figure how many men you think we need to keep around. What about the fences?”

“I went out last week and rode the parameter fences; there are about five miles that need repairing. It should take us about a week, if that, to handle it.”

“Well, you boys got everything under control. What do you need me for?” Hartman asked lightly.

“We need someone to pay us for the effort, Mr. Hartman,” he said.

Hartman laughed. “Well, boys, I will get around and take the carriage down to Silver City. I’ll meet with the broker and grease the wheels before the herd gets there.” He shook hands with Aron and Reece before walking back to the house.

A few cattlemen tipped their hats or raised their coffee mugs to Hartman as he walked by the outdoor canteen. Hartman gave them a wave and went on his way. He didn’t spend much time getting to know the names and faces of the men Reece and Aron were responsible for because they managed the steers and the teamsters. Hartman only had to pay the wages and reap the rewards.

“Did I do my math right?” Aron asked once Hartman went into the house. They walked alongside the wood rails leading back to the canteen to grab breakfast. “That can’t be right. There ain’t no way Mr. Hartman will make $20 per head with three thousand steers.”

“I don’t worry about that end of the job, Aron.” The sun had fully crested the distant low mountains as the rest of the teamsters sat down to a big breakfast before they got started for the day.

“We should be all buttoned up by tomorrow evening, and you can go see your lady,” Aron said.

“She’s not my lady.”

“Well, does she know that? Because Judy don’t pay no mind to anyone else whenever you’re around.”

“Are you trying to get her attention?”

“Only for a dance or two,” Aron said, laughing. He clapped Reece on the shoulder. “You got nothing to worry about from me. She’s your woman and I got no mind to step out of line.”

“Let’s get everyone up to speed and ready to move out,” Reece said, changing the subject. “If we can get started before nine this morning, we’ll get there before dark.”

“I’m on board for whatever you got, Sergeant.”

“Please, don’t call me that around the boys,” Reece said and got a plate heaping with eggs and green peppers. It was a good day, and he didn’t want anything to bring it down, including the memories he’d rather forget.

Chapter Two

Sometimes, when everything went right, Reece liked to look over his shoulder in case bad luck walked in his shadow. The cattle drive to Silver City went off without any issue. They didn’t lose one steer, and Hartman handed out generous payments to the teamsters before shaking their hands.

When Hartman was alone with Aron and Reece, he took them to supper at the Southern Hotel on the northeast corner of Hudson Street and Broadway. The sizeable two-level facility featured finely furnished rooms and meals fit for royalty. That was when the trepidation Reece felt dragging at his heels got in the way of a better night.

“I’m sorry, sir, your man here must leave,” the man said, looking skinny, nervous, and a little sweaty as he approached the dining room table.

Reece hadn’t noticed the other patrons stop talking when he arrived with Hartman and Aron. It wasn’t until the hotel manager approached the table that Reece realized bad luck had followed them into the hotel.

“What are you blathering about?” Hartman asked. “This is a free country, remember?”

“Well, sir, we have a policy.”

“Where? Is it posted?”

“Yes, sir, behind the front desk,” the manager said, wringing his hands.

“We came in the side door,” Reece said.

Hartman slammed his fists against the table as he stood up. The patrons jumped and whispered; with the dining room full of nervous-looking guests, he had a big audience. But two men approached the manager from behind.

Reece and Aron kept quiet, ready to step in and protect Hartman when it came time. The men wore matching buckles on their gun belts and silver stars on their brown suede vests. Aron and Reece made eye contact. They had been friends long enough to communicate without words.

“What is this?” Hartman asked. “I will not tolerate this. Where is the owner?”

Before the meek manager could answer, one of the deputy marshals took over the conversation. “Evening, sir,” he said, offering a hand to Hartman. “I’m Deputy Gaines, this is Deputy Maddox, and we’ve noticed you’re upset about something.”

Gaines looked at Reece and then at Aron. Reece watched as the deputy glanced at the pistol on Aron’s hip.

“Yes, yes,” Hartman said. It wasn’t like their boss to get upset. The city had to tolerate change, but the business owners made the rules under their roofs. “This jackass is telling me—”

“How about we talk about this outside like civilized men,” Gaines said, interrupting Hartman.

Reece and Aron stood up respectfully. Hartman glared at the manager before snatching his hat off the table. Reece walked behind Hartman, separating him from the deputies as they passed through the dining hall to the side door exit.

Aron followed behind the first deputy while Maddox covered Aron’s exit. Outside, it was cooler with the sundown and a slight breeze from the north.

“We don’t make the rules,” Gaines said. “And before you get too worked up about who does, it’s in the city ordinance.”

“You know who this man is?” Hartman asked, gesturing to Aron.

“He looks like a man who earned his right to stand tall and carry that piece,” Gaines said.

“But that’s not allowed here either,” Maddox added.

“What the devil are you talking about?”

“Mr. Hartman,” Reece said, ready to step in and mediate, “I know you intended to treat us for a job done, but you don’t want to start something that we can’t change.”

“Spoken like a man with a head on his shoulders,” Maddox said.

“The hotel owner don’t want no Blacks in the hotel.”

“What about cooking?” Reece asked quickly. “Are they allowed to cook the meals? I wonder how many Blacks work in the kitchen.”

Gaines held back from smiling and nodded slowly. “It might make a few people cross if they found out who cooked their meals. I agree with you. But we can’t change the city ordinance, and the owner of the hotel has a right to tell anyone to stay out if he wants.”

“I’m happy to go my own way,” Aron said.

“That’s good to know. And I think my partner and I will let you and your friends leave here without worry about you breaking the law carrying that pistol.”

“I like that agreement,” Aron said. He offered Gaines a handshake.

“I will never set foot in that establishment again,” Hartman said. “They have no right to treat people like inferiors.”

Gaines nodded without words.

“We treat people with respect in Alma,” Hartman said. “No one looks at the color of their skin. Mr. Cash is a decorated soldier.”

“That may be, but we don’t make the rules. And if the town of Alma allows anyone inside their businesses, it sounds like a better place to have dinner.”

Maddox and Gaines went through the side door, leaving Hartman, Reece, and Aron standing on the street outside.

“I don’t understand. The owner never stopped us before,” Hartman said.

“I think they’re under new management,” Aron said. “I saw a sign at the front when we passed. I think it was above the new sign about colors.”

“You deserve my thanks, Mr. Cash,” Hartman said. “I’m sorry for what you must endure.”

“I think we got ahead of the others moving west,” Aron said as they began walking toward the livery stables. “Now it looks like the people I thought were still in the south might be buying up places out here, too.”

“You deserve the same respect as any other man.”

“I do alright.”

“You don’t have a short fuse. I’d be livid if someone barred my entrance.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, Mr. Hartman,” Aron said. “I can’t change people, but I can control how I respond to them. When people disrespect me, I like to ignore them. I think they dislike that more than a confrontation.”

“How can I make it up to you both?” he asked, stopping in the street. “You and Mr. Reece are the reasons the ranch has so much success. I see that every day. Pride in your work shows through, and I know you deserve more.”

“Well, maybe you can buy me a drink at Charlie’s Place. As far as I know, I can still get in there without a fuss.”

Hartman smiled and nodded. He reached inside his jacket pocket for the leather billfold. Hartman handed Aron and Reece each a $50 banknote.

“This is your share on top of what you’ll get for your monthly wages.” He shook hands with Aron and Reece. “I will see you gentlemen back at the ranch. I’ve got business here for a few days. I want to see about purchasing some Hereford for next season. There’s a broker from Kentucky I’m eager to meet.”

“You want us to accompany you?” Reece asked.

“You’ve done more than enough, son. Take a few days off, get back to the ranch by Monday. I want to go over next season’s plans.”

“Certainly, Mr. Hartman,” Reece said. “We’ll get started on the fence repairs as soon as we get back.”

“Take your time.” Hartman walked down Broadway, heading toward the train depot.

Aron took a long look at the banknote before slipping it into his pocket. “What are you doing with your extra?” he asked.

“I’ll put it with the rest.”

“You don’t want to spend any of it on that desert flower waiting for you back in Alma?”

Reece smirked and shook his head.

“Well, sir, I am going to see if I can spend a little of this cash on something that makes me happy. I don’t think they’ll say no to me.”

“You sure you don’t want to put some of that away for a rainy day?” Reece asked as Aron walked backward, expanding the distance between them. He had a spring in his step.

“Rain or not, I want to spend my money on what makes me happy. And those girls on the east side of Silver City, they make me happy.”

“Are you riding back tonight?”

“I’ll ride back tomorrow if I’m lucky. If not, I’ll find a place to put my head until morning. If I get real lucky, you might not see me until Monday.”

“Take care and stay out of trouble,” Reece said.

“Don’t I always.” Aron spun on his heel and strolled away under the streetlamps with giddy confidence.

Reece needed a bath and a bed before he got back to Alma. He had intended to stay at the Southern, but the establishment wouldn’t get a dime from him ever again. It wasn’t the only hotel in Silver City. Reece knew it could have been worse when it came to bad luck rearing its ugly head.

Chapter Three

Judy Stone had grown up in the dim-lit smoke-filled beer hall owned by her father. He had built the place from the ground up and had every right to take pride in what he accomplished. Her father was a simple man with the gift of gab but fell short on reading people when choosing acquaintances. She didn’t like some of his friends. Visiting men who knew her father from back east talked to him like he was a different man.

Judy distrusted some men based on how they treated her father. He was a likable man, chummy, with a disposition that helped bring in paying customers. Of course, her father’s saloon was the only beer hall in Alma, which meant it was the only place in town to buy a drink, play cards, and spend summer nights with friends and strangers passing through town.

Judy and her father lived in the upstairs portion of the building with private access to the stairwell. She did her best to keep the place clean and orderly while her father poured drinks, told tall tales, and sometimes collected payment for the whiskey he served. Judy took care of the saloon account and made sure they had orders delivered weekly from Silver City. She never took wages because she didn’t have expenses.

Her father’s contentment in having a place to call his own wasn’t what he wanted for Judy. He had made a promise to his wife before she died to make sure Judy had a future that wasn’t about serving drinks and getting slapped on the backside by punchy teamsters.

Judy didn’t remember much about her mother. But sometimes, Charlie reminded her of the promise he hadn’t fulfilled. Judy was ten when her mother died. Fourteen years later, she had to listen to her father talking about finding a wealthy man that could make her happy.

“Your mama wanted you to be happy,” Charlie said when he felt the burden of an unfulfilled promise. “Maybe it’s time you see more of the world than this place.”

They’d have lengthy conversations whenever he got melancholy, and it was Judy’s job to make her father feel better. Sometimes, Charlie liked to introduce Judy to travelers who stopped off Alma on their way to destinations she’d never see. If they spent frivolously in the tavern, Charlie took notice. He’d offer to pay for a drink and strike up conversations about their lives and what brought them through Catron County. If Charlie liked what they told him, his next step was introducing Judy to the travelers.

Many men considered her Charlie’s consolation prize for walking through the saloon door. Sometimes, it was exhausting work, disappointing men who thought they deserved Judy’s hand because they had her father’s consent. Oddly, when Judy finally took an interest in a man who had a kind soul and a quiet disposition, Charlie didn’t like him.

***

That Sunday night, Judy had a warm sensation in her chest when she saw Thomas Reece and Aron Cash walk through the door of the saloon. They had taken the last steers from Oaks Ranch into Silver City earlier in the week and returned to Alma only a few hours ago.

Spending most of her waking hours in the saloon gave Judy a conduit to the outside world. Some men who worked part-time at the ranch during the season came into the tavern without feeling scrutinized or judged because of their skin color. In the early years, when her father wasn’t as open to the idea, Judy suggested that if a man paid for their drinks, what difference did it make? Once they knew there was a place to go where people accepted them for who they were and nothing more, Charlie brought in more money than the citizens of Alma had for him.

Reece and Aron made their rounds through the beer hall, shaking hands and chatting with acquaintances. Their employer sometimes stopped by the saloon to speak with the town’s founders. Captain J.G. Birney and Dr. W. H. McCullough had a private table where they sometimes held impromptu Chamber of Commerce meetings with J.P. Holland, the grocer, and Samuel Wheeler, the hotel owner.

Judy found Wheeler repugnant because he was a slob of a man who talked too loud and prided himself a proprietor of the finest whorehouse north of Silver City. Judy had nothing against women earning a living in an unforgiving environment, but Wheeler wasn’t kind to the women.

He mined them of their earnings, claiming it was for room and board, treating them like prostitutes while they wanted to be courtesans. Sometimes, his snide remarks made it to Judy’s ear even when she wasn’t close. Unmarried, mostly unwashed, he had a habit of referring to all women as cocottes. Judy didn’t understand the business arrangement between him and Captain Birney or Dr. McCullough. Whatever contract Wheeler had with the founders of Alma, it wasn’t something written down for others to review.

That night when Reece arrived, Wheeler wasn’t at the saloon. Dr. McCullough and Captain Birney had stopped in for a drink, but that was three hours before Reece and Aron. Now, it was half-past eight, and Judy had a served the captain and doctor their fourth shots of scotch, and neither of them looked capable of walking out the door without assistance.

“Good evening, Miss Stone,” Aron said, always polite with a smile for her. “How have you been?” He motioned to Reece, stoic, tall, handsome, standing at the bar after shaking hands. “Would you care to get me and my friend a beer?”

Men spent entire days working as hard as they could only wander into the saloon to buy five-cent beers and talk about everything outside the territory. Current events were typically two to three weeks old by the time they reached Alma. The place didn’t have a telegraph or post office, two things that Birney wanted for the site to put on the map. However, the township had nothing to offer the outside world except the landmark legend as the last stop before the Whiterocks Mountains and the badlands.

“How are you, Mr. Reece?” Judy asked when she slid the beer mug to him.

“Quite well, Miss Stone, thank you.” He sipped the flat warm beer while Aron wandered away from the bar.

Reece lifted something in his left hand and placed it on the countertop. Judy saw it was a square wooden box about the size of his palm—just the right size for a ring.

“I saw this and thought of you,” he said.

Her eyebrows rose and she couldn’t contain the smile. “You thought of me?” she asked.

Reece’s face reddened and he used the beer to avoid talking. Judy turned the box so the hinge faced away from her and opened it carefully with two hands. Inside was a silver engraved locket. It gave him a chance to see her face clearly as she looked at the pendant. She had soft chartreuse eyes with long lashes. He never saw her hair down; Judy kept it swept up at the back, tied or pinned. Her hair was the color of autumn ash leaves, a silky earthy bronze.

She sucked air at the sight of the contents, drawing back her hands like it stung her. “Oh my, Mr. Reece, this is too much.”

It was vibrant and alluring, boasting an engraved panel on the front with a flower and vine surrounded by punched decorative trim. It was exquisitely handmade, with a foxtail chain.

“This is too much,” she said, quickly glancing around for her father.


“Out for Dreadful Revenge” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

After the War Between the States, Thomas Reece swore never to hold a weapon again. The only connection between his new life in the West and his haunting past is Aron, his fellow veteran, and best friend. When a notorious gang takes his friend’s life, Thomas must break his vow, grab his gun and do the right thing; to honor the sacred bond between soldiers…

What will Thomas be willing to risk in order to avenge the death of his best friend?

Ever since Judy Stone can remember, she has served drinks in her father’s saloon to wayward travelers. Yet, for the past three years, she has been dreaming of marrying Thomas, her one true love. Little did she know that upon meeting an evil gunman and his gang, all the hopes she had for a peaceful life would go up in flames.

In the face of unspeakable danger, she has no choice but to defend herself…

Thomas rides into hell and back as the wretched gang puts Judy’s life on the line. In the midst of murder and mayhem, his wild thirst for revenge flings him into a whirlwind adventure. Now it’s time for the barrel of the gun to do the talking…. In the end, will Thomas survive another bloody battle or will he also be doomed to a horrible fate?

“Out for Dreadful Revenge” 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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