Brothers in Guns and Dust (Preview)

Arizona Territory 1861

A young man and his pregnant wife are walking fast through the streets of a small town. The man holds her hand as they move through the darkness, gazing warily about them. The only illumination is a small lantern he’s holding and the occasional glow from a lighted window.

A gunshot erupts from behind, and the couple increases their pace. “Hurry!” he says, even though his wife is eight months pregnant and probably moving as fast as she can—but their lives are in danger.

A second shot cracks, and they round a corner and duck into an alleyway, taking shelter behind a stack of crates. The husband blows out the lantern. “Hopefully he didn’t see us turn in here.”

“Did you get the ledger?” she whispers.

“Yes.”

“Good.”

Together, they peer cautiously over the top of the crates toward the street, dimly visible from the alley. She is breathing hard, panting from the exertions. 

“Shh…” he says softly. Her breathing quietens a bit.

A few seconds later, the silhouetted form of a man appears at the end of the alley, pistol in hand. He stops, turns toward them for a moment, then continues walking.

The husband exhales a breath. “That was close.”

Their pursuer’s voice echoes off the buildings in the quiet street: “You can’t run forever. I’m gonna find you!”

He takes his wife’s hand again and helps her to her feet. “C’mon, let’s go!” He leads her toward the opposite end of the alley and out of town.

Chapter One

Northern Arizona Territory 1883

In the bunkhouse of the orphanage, Jake and Sammy each had a bucket of soapy water and a brush. Down on their knees, they busily scrubbed the floor.

“All done my side!” Jake called out. He threw the brush into the bucket with a splash and stood up, putting his hands on his hips and glancing at his friend in triumph.

Sammy shook his head ruefully. “How come you always finish first?”

“Because I always have a good book that needs reading, that’s why.” Jake strode over to his bunk, picked up his latest adventure novel, and plopped down on the mattress.

 The bunkhouse had twenty beds, each built exactly the same and stacked two by two. As he lay there, head propped on a pillow, Jake’s lanky frame stretched the entire length of the bed, his feet extending another foot over the end of it.

“I think you like them books better than real life,” Sammy chided him as Jake opened the novel.

“Why not? It’s safer reading about villains than having them chasing me, isn’t it?”

“But what about the beautiful girls? It’d be better to have them chasin’ you in real life!”

Jake chuckled. “That’s a good point. A very good point.”

Twenty-one years old, Jake McCullough was towheaded, thin, and a full six feet and one inch tall. With his long frame and jug ears, he felt like he wasn’t attractive to girls at all. No woman would ever call him handsome. It didn’t stop him from dreaming about it, though.  

“And what about adventures?” Sammy went on. “Wouldn’t it be good to have some real adventures instead of just reading about ‘em all the time?”

Jake thought this over for a moment. He liked the orphanage; it was the only home he’d ever known. And he really enjoyed reading adventure stories—a guy could get to know the world just by lying in bed with a good book. Still, it would be something to experience an adventure for himself. 

“Sure that’d be good, buddy. When do we leave?” 

“Tomorrow morning,” Sammy said without missing a beat.

“Okay, count me in.”

His friend chuckled and went back to scrubbing his half of the room.

The headmistress of Haven House, Mrs. Franklin, knocked on the door and entered. For Jake and Sammy, she was the closest thing to a mother they had ever known. 

Mrs. Franklin was always—well, almost always—kind and patient with them. And the times she wasn’t, there was usually a good reason; probably because they were acting up.

“How are you doing, boys?” she asked warmly, striding toward them.

“Good,” Sammy replied, jerking his head in Jake’s direction. “The scholar finished work first, as usual.”

She held out something in her hand. “A postcard for you, Sam.”

Drying his hands on his pants, he took the card and looked it over. “The usual…” he murmured, tossing it onto the nearest bunk.

She gave him a sympathetic look. “I’ll see you and Jake at supper tonight.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied and went back to scrubbing.

Jake watched Mrs. Franklin leave and glanced at the card lying on the bunk. As far as he knew, Sammy had been receiving the ‘usual’ postcards his whole life. 

They had both come to live at the orphanage within a year of each other as children. His first memories of the place were as a wobbly toddler, and Sammy was getting the postcards even then. 

They had grown up together like brothers. Mrs. Franklin had told Sammy he’d arrived at Haven House shortly after being weaned from his mother’s breast. That was why his friend didn’t have any memories of his ma or pa. Jake, on the other hand, had some faint memories of his parents before they gave him up as a toddler.

For more than twenty years now, Sammy had received a postcard every few months. But the thing was, there was never a return address on them, never a photograph or a message… only drawings. Hand-drawn, they looked sort of like maps, resembling the finely drawn illustrations in adventure stories.

Sammy had become so used to receiving the cards that he had grown bored, taking one quick glance before storing them away in a tin box under his bunk. The drawings were always unlabeled, he had no idea what they were about. But in the early days, his friend would tell Jake he hoped the mysterious mailings would make sense someday.

“Well, that’s it. I’m done my side of the floor,” Sammy said, getting to his feet and having a stretch before dropping the brush into the bucket.

“You should take up reading, Sam. You’d get your work done faster,” Jake suggested wryly. He knew Sam wasn’t much of a reader.

“Not likely, amigo.”

 Sammy picked up the postcard off the bed, went over to his bunk—located right next to Jake’s—and pulled out the tin box beneath it. He tore off the lid and flipped the card onto the pile inside.

***

Later that night, Jake finished reading and blew out the candle in his bunk. He lay on his back, thinking about the story he was in the midst of. 

“Sam? You awake?”

“Mm…” came the mumbled complaint. 

“You awake, Sam?”

“I am now… What d’you want?” he said grumpily.

“I was just reading this book about—”

“Tell me tomorrow,” he growled. “I was havin’ a good dream… I wanna get back to it.”

“The book’s about an orphan who finds out he’s not really an orphan after all,” Jake whispered, hoping to grab his attention.

“Uh-huh. G’night, Jake.” He rolled over onto his other side.

But Jake wanted to ask the question that was on his mind. “You think we still got family out there somewhere?”

“Prob’ly not. They would’ve got in touch by now if they wanted to. Lemme sleep now!”

“Okay. G’night.”

There was no reply. A few seconds later, Sammy’s breathing became a snore. In the darkness, Jake reached for his mother’s pendant, which hung on a leather string around his neck. 

It was the only keepsake his parents had left with him. Mrs. Franklin said that his mother—whose name he didn’t even know—had told the headmistress to give it to him.

Jake held the pendant in his palm, enjoying the familiar feel of the smooth, teardrop-shaped piece of rock. It was flat and black, made of a gemstone called jet. 

On one side was a relief carving of a young and beautiful woman, a side view of her face and shoulders. Luxurious hair spilled down onto her shoulders. 

There was a look of compassion and love on the woman’s face. Jake liked to think it was what his mother looked like when she was young, though Mrs. Franklin had not told him the carving was of his ma.

Fondling the pendant, he ran his fingers over the familiar surface, wondering where his parents were now—if they were even still alive. He had heard nothing from them in his twenty years at the orphanage.

Sighing, he wondered for the thousandth time if he would meet them someday.

Chapter Two

A week later, the boys were outside cutting the grass. Haven House was built on a large five-acre lot, and it took them hours to cut the grass using a couple of heavy push mowers.

But it was a beautiful spring day in Northern Arizona: sunny and fair,  with the scent of ponderosa pines in the air. The town of Davidson was built in the midst of one of the biggest stands of timber in Arizona. 

The work was strenuous, but there was a light breeze. When Jake stripped off his shirt to keep cool, he enjoyed the feel of the afternoon sun on his skin.

Both he and Sammy worked at the orphanage as maintenance men. The year before last, Sammy reached his age of majority at twenty-one, the time when most orphans left to find employment for themselves.

But there happened to be an opening for work. The previous maintenance man had retired, and Sammy had jumped at the chance to stay there and work, remaining close to his best friend Jake.

When Jake hit his twenty-first birthday the following year, Sammy had offered to split his hours with him so they both could stay on. Mrs. Franklin approved of the arrangement and Jake accepted the position.

So here they were: maintenance men at Haven House, with small salaries but free room and board. They both enjoyed living there while they looked toward the future, saving money and thinking about what kind of jobs they could find together out in the big wide world.

The two often discussed the possibilities, and today was no exception as they took their afternoon break, sitting in the shade of a clump of pines. Sammy leaned his short, thick back against the trunk of a tree. He was a foot shorter than Jake, brown-haired with a pudgy face. “I’ve got an idea, pard,” he said.

“Congratulations. There’s a first time for everything,” Jake teased, taking a chomp on his sandwich.

“How about we join up with a trail drive? What d’ya think?”

“You mean become cowboys?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Cowboys earn even less than we do, Sam. They’re out on the trail all day, bums covered in saddle sores, wrangling steers from sunup to sundown, chasing ‘em out of the brush. No thanks, pard.”

Sammy looked annoyed. “Don’t you want to have some real adventures someday?” 

“Not that kind, I don’t,” he replied with a chuckle. “Let’s find something better, something where we won’t get trampled by an eight–hundred-pound steer. I mean, we can probably count on one hand the number of times we’ve rode horseback in our lives,” he added with a bit of exaggeration.

His friend took a swig from the water jar and shrugged. “Yeah, guess you’re right. It’s probably more fun to read about being a cowboy than bein’ one.”

Jake saw Mrs. Franklin striding toward them across the lawn. She was a tall, striking woman of around forty, her brown hair flecked with gray. She always seemed to walk fast wherever she went, like there was a great purpose in life she was hurrying to accomplish. 

Her sharp features were leavened by compassionate brown eyes. The boys loved her like a mother.

“It’s a gorgeous spring day, isn’t it?” she said, stopping in the shade of the trees. 

“It surely is,” Jake said.

“Did you come out here to enjoy it with us?” Sammy asked.

“I wish I had more time to enjoy it, boys,” Mrs. Franklin replied, handing him a postcard. “This came in the mail this afternoon.”

“Thank you.” Sammy took the card. “The usual?”

Surprisingly, she shook her head. “There’s writing on this one—not much though, I’m afraid.”

“What?” There had never been any writing before! Other than the orphanage address and his full name, written in a loopy hand: ‘Samuel Turner Junior.’

Jake watched as he examined the postcard. Mrs. Franklin smoothed her starched uniform and watched, too.

After a moment, Sammy glanced over at him. “All it says is: ‘It is time’.” There was a disappointed look on his face. “Time for what? I don’t get it.” He looked to the headmistress for an answer.

“I’m sorry, Sam… I don’t know what it means, either.”

He stood up and handed the card to Jake. “Let’s let the scholar have a look, see what he thinks.”

He read the three-word sentence and flipped the card over. As usual, there was another unlabeled, hand-drawn map on the other side. “I don’t know what it means either, pard. Maybe next time there’ll be more writing.”

Sammy took it back and read it over again. The disappointment on his face was replaced with resignation. “Yeah… maybe. Who knows?” He shrugged and gave Mrs. Franklin a thin smile. “Thanks for bringing it out to me, Mrs. Franklin.”

“You’re very welcome.” She stepped closer and put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t lose heart, Sammy.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, forcing another smile. “Let’s get back to work, Jake.” He tucked the postcard into his pocket.  

***

After the day’s labor was done, the boys went to the bunkhouse to change clothes, and Sammy pulled out the tin box from beneath his bunk. 

Jake felt sorry for him. How hard it must be to receive all these drawings over the years, never knowing who sent them, never any messages except a mysterious three-word sentence that didn’t even make sense.

Lying back in his bunk, he watched Sammy lift the lid off the box and take one more glance at the postcard. There was a melancholy expression on his face that quickly shifted into curiosity. He grabbed a few of the recent postcards and put them on the bedspread.

“What’s up, Sam?”

He didn’t reply, just sat there arranging the cards into some kind of pattern. 

“What are you doing?”

“Come and take a look at this.”

Jake swung his feet to the floor and stood by his friend’s bunk. Six cards were arranged in a perfect square.

“Can you see it?” Sam asked.

“No. See what?”

“They all form one map… the last six cards I’ve received over the past year and a half or so. I think it’s a map of this part of Arizona.”

“What?” Jake took a seat on the bed and leaned in for a closer look.

Sammy put his finger on the one in the top right corner. “This is the postcard I got today. I thought the drawing looked kind of familiar. When I put it next to these other ones, they all matched up. See?”

Jake recognized it now. It was their corner of northern Arizona Territory. Some of the unmarked landmarks were now recognizable to him. “Yes. I see it. But what does it mean?”

“Look at this: it’s the card from last week.” Sammy placed his finger on the postcard down at the bottom left side of the square. “I didn’t know there was something written on it till just now.”

Putting his face closer, Jake peered at it. “I don’t see anything.”

“Look right by the tip of my finger.”

And there it was—two tiny words: ‘Ponderosa Springs.’ He sat up straight. “That’s only a two-day ride from here.”

“Yup.”

They had heard of Ponderosa Springs but had never been there. It was a small logging and mining town that took its name from the spring-fed lake it was built next to. 

Jake’s mind was racing. What was the meaning of this jigsaw puzzle of a map? “It must be connected to the message you got today.”

“How?”

“Maybe if you go to Ponderosa Springs you’ll find out?”

Sammy shook his head. “I don’t know, Jake. I don’t wanna get my hopes up.”

“Why not?” he asked, regretting it the moment the words left his mouth. He knew why Sammy didn’t want to get his hopes up.

“Because if I go there and it’s nothing… there’s no one there for me…” His voice trailed off.

“Don’t worry, Sam. You’ve got time to figure it out.”

“Yeah. No big deal.” He gathered the cards quickly, dropped them into the box, and snapped the lid on. “There’s lots of time.” He slid the box under the bunk. “Let’s go for supper.”

***

Later that night, Sammy was lying in his bunk, thinking about the map and the mysterious message. He was alone in the bunkhouse. Jake had gone outside to read somewhere on the warm spring evening. Most of the other orphans were outside, too, enjoying the weather.

He had no idea what to do. Part of him really wanted to go to Ponderosa Springs. But he was afraid of what he might find there—and not find there. He was used to not knowing his birth family. Sammy had accepted this situation as a fact of life and had come to terms with it in his own way.

Now, the possibility that his family might be trying to contact him was bringing up a longing to meet them. It was a powerful longing, one he thought he’d never feel again. But here it was, filling his heart with an ache.

If he went to that town and found no one there to meet him, it would be a crushing disappointment. On the other hand, if he didn’t go, he’d probably always be wondering ‘What if?’ 

The prospect of more heartbreak did not appeal to him at all. It made him cringe inside. He’d already suffered enough of it just being an orphan all his life. Why pile more on top of it?

Sammy gazed at the sunlight streaming in through the windows, creating bright squares of light on the opposite wall—squares the shape of a map.

There was a knock on the bunkhouse door. After a discreet pause, Mrs. Franklin stuck her head in the room. She was so considerate of the orphans and always knocked at the bunkhouse door before entering, just in case one of the boys was getting dressed or something. 

“Oh, there you are,” she said.

“Hi, Mrs. Franklin.”

“May I come in? Or do you want to have some time alone?”

“It’s alright. Come on in.” 

She’s always so concerned about how we’re doing… even now that Jake and I are grown up and work here—just like a mother would be.  

He knew Mrs. Franklin had a couple children of her own at home. They were so lucky to have her as a mother.

“How are you tonight?” she asked, walking toward the bunk.

He sat up and ran a few fingers through his thick brown hair. “I’m okay.”

“You seemed a little downcast at supper, Sam. I just wanted to drop by before I go home and see how you’re doing.”

“Thank you. That’s kind of you, ma’am.”

“I understand if you might be feeling a little shaken up by that postcard from today.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He didn’t feel like talking about it.

“And I just wanted to say that I and the other staff really appreciate having you and Jake working with us.”

“Really?” She had never told him this before.

“Yes. You make a difference here, Sammy… to all of us, including the children. They look up to you and Jake.”

“They do?”

“Oh, yes. And I think you’re both very good role models for them—you are fine and honest young men, a real blessing to Haven House… and to me.”

Sammy was deeply moved. Although he and Jake loved Mrs. Franklin like a mother, they always kept their relationship with her at a professional level. After all, they were employees of the orphanage now, just like she was.

“Thanks, Mrs. Franklin. That means a lot,” he said quietly.

“Please, if there’s anything you ever want to talk with me about, feel free to do so. I’m not only headmistress here, but I consider myself a friend. You should call me Deena.”

He nodded, thought of telling her about Ponderosa Springs. Mrs. Franklin—Deena—was twice his age, with as much life experience as him and Jake put together. She’d been the headmistress ever since they could remember. It would be good to see what she thought.

“Well… there is something, ma’am.”

“Yes?”

He explained the new discovery about the postcards.

“Oh, my…” she murmured. “What do you think it means?”

“I don’t know. I’m considering makin’ a trip to Ponderosa Springs to find out. What do you think?” He looked at her hopefully.

Deena paused a moment before replying. “I can’t tell you what to do anymore, Sammy—you’re a grown man now. But if you want my opinion about it, I can certainly do that.”

“Yes, please.”

“If it were me in your situation, I’d go to Ponderosa Springs. You never know, it might be someone from your birth family reaching out to you… albeit in a most unusual and mysterious way.”

“But what if it’s not my family? I’d be so disappointed.”

She gazed at him with compassion in her eyes. “I know, my dear. I know. But sometimes in life, we have to take a chance on something that’s important to us, even though there’s a risk of getting disappointed. That’s just how it is. Now it’s up to you if you want to take that chance, Sammy.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Either way, I will support the decision you make.”

“Thank you.” Her support truly meant a lot to him.


“Brothers in Guns and Dust” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Jake and Sammy, two spirited companions, find themselves toiling away at the familiar confines of an orphanage they’ve called home since childhood. Yet, beneath the mundane routine lies an insatiable thirst for adventure. When Sammy finds a mysterious postcard from the distant town of Ponderosa Springs, hope ignites within him that this could be his long-lost parents reaching out.

With hearts ablaze with determination, the duo sets forth on a quest that promises to unravel the secrets of their past…

Their path soon intertwines with that of Clara, who discovers the purpose of their journey and offers to help by joining their quest. Her true intentions though will remain a mystery… Little do Jake and Sammy realize that their decision to trust Clara will thrust them into a maelstrom of peril and deception far beyond their sheltered existence.

Dark secrets from Sammy’s past resurface, propelling him into the sinister crosshairs of an Arizona crime lord…

With Clara’s allegiance called into question, the duo must navigate a landscape where danger lurks at every turn. Amidst the chaos, Jake finds himself entangled in a web of emotions, his burgeoning affection for Clara clouding his judgment. Can Jake and Sammy unravel the tangled web of lies before it’s too late? Will they uncover the shocking truth that could change everything they thought they knew about their past and their future?

“Brothers in Guns and Dust” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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