A Fearless Bandit to the Rescue (Preview)

Chapter One

A hooded warbler chirped and fluttered out from the branches of a nearby hemlock. Ricky Kagen waited on his skittish palomino. It was a brisk morning in the area of New Jersey folks called Pine Barrens. It was densely wooded, but not too dense, the smell of pine thick in the area named for the numerous, tall, straight trunks. There was room to move in, to shoot from hiding, if one knew the area. And Ricky Kagen knew the area. He’d staked out Pine Barrens as his own territory. He’d held it despite a move against him by Black Jack Larson, and he made sure any interlopers in the area didn’t get the wrong idea. The ones he couldn’t kill, he hired, then he killed them when they became dangerous or otherwise disposable.

His men were staked out in their usual spots: Sammy Reed on his paint, Jerry the Jinx on his stallion. Other men were on foot, armed with Winchester repeaters and Colt pistols. All were waiting, quiet in the mist, but all knew what Ricky himself knew—they wouldn’t be waiting long.

Settlers kept moving west. Even with talk of war on the horizon, a war among the states, people were pouring west; or perhaps because of it. It was the beginning of a new decade, eighteen sixty. There was rumor of freed negroes running rampant over Philadelphia, Boston, New York, tearing their way through white households and bedrooms and leaving ruin in their wake. Others warned that it would be the whites of the South that would move against their own brothers and secede from the Union to become its own country. Were that to happen, the money and foodstuffs and other domestic crops would vanish, with the States to the north expected to crumble to riots and even a return of the British.

Either way, a lot of people were gambling on the dangers of the west over those of the east. It seemed death by disease, starvation, freezing cold, or attack by savage Indians or bloodthirsty road agents was preferable to attack by cutthroats or errant negroes.

But it only worked to Ricky’s advantage. It meant a steady stream of travelers through Pine Barrens—pairs of men on horseback, families in covered wagons, stagecoaches. All Ricky had to do was wait and keep the boys in line. That was getting harder and harder, but with plenty of booty coming across the Barrens, it was easier to keep them placated. There was money and gold in those saddlebags, good blankets and cookware, guns and ammunition, and women to pass among the men or sell to outsiders.

All that good fortune was beginning to spoil them, however, and Ricky could sense dissent among their ranks. With the pigeons flying by so frequently, they began to wonder if they needed Ricky at all. Sammy Reed was eying Ricky more and more, and that problem would have to be dealt with.

Waiting for their next victim, Ricky decided it was time to take Sammy Reed out during the raid. The boys would get the message without having reason enough to come against him, and the corrosive influence would be removed, quickly and easily.

But it wouldn’t be possible until the next target came along, and Ricky knew it could be a day or more.

Ricky sat there, wondering how long he could go on. Killing Sammy Reed would solve one problem, but it may only cause another. The gang could come to believe that any of them could be next, and that was the truth. Eventually, one of them would overtake him, Ricky knew that, a chill crawling up his spine every time he thought about it.

Live by the sword, Ricky silently reminded himself, die by the sword.

He reviewed other plans, like making a big enough score and then killing the entire gang and heading off alone, setting up someplace new. The law was bound to get wise and finally track him down, Ricky knew that, too. Survival and success in his line of work meant not staying anywhere or with anyone for too long.

He thought about the men of power in New York and Boston and the other hubs of wealth. That was where Ricky saw himself, not scratching out an existence robbing travelers and evading the law and his own men.

A yellow-breasted chat darted out from a nearby pitch pine, drawing Ricky’s attention to a covered wagon rolling down the road toward them. He glanced at the positions of his other men, hidden unless one was on the lookout. They were all at the ready, hairs on the backs of Ricky’s arms standing on end. His muscles tensed, horse clopping nervously as if it also knew what was about to happen.

Ricky waited until the wagon was in just the right spot, his men waiting for him to take the first shot. There were two men at the helm, and that was a good sign. They wore sombreros and ponchos, an even better sign. Mexicans meant they were going far south. A trip that long would mean a lot of supplies and probably a fair amount of savings. One of them carried a shotgun, and the other drove. That meant that there was something worth stealing in that cart, perhaps somebody worth stealing, too.

Women were the great wealth of the burgeoning nation. White women, especially, were highly valued among all the Great Nations. A white slave or wife elevated the status of any brave or chief. They made valuable gifts to international diplomats or traders, especially treasured among the Mexican officials as vengeful prizes to levy against the humiliation of Mexico and Santa Anna and San Jacinto.

But they were also of great worth to bandits across the west, brutal men who lived as Ricky and his gang did: hidden away in camps and huddled around campfires. Men of the sort went for weeks, months, sometimes even years without female company. Countless traveling fur trappers and other rugged types were eager to pay a high price for a pretty wife, and they made for quick and easy customers.

Ricky knew that holding onto a woman in a gang this small was a dangerous proposition. As the leader, he’d have to claim any usable woman as his own or risk losing his standing and appearing weak in front of the other men. But those conditions always bred contempt, jealousy, bickering, scheming—Ricky had enough trouble keeping his men in line as it was. A pretty young woman would be all the excuse they’d need to rise up before he had a chance to put them down like the dogs that they were.

So, if they were lucky enough to find a woman, or even a small girl in that cart, he knew he’d have to sell her sooner rather than later.

But he also could not deny the stirring in his loins just to think about having some squirming female form beneath him. He could already whiff that feminine smell, see that pretty face twisted in fear, hear those whimpering cries, feel that tender flesh beneath him, around him, legs kicking and hips wriggling.

Ricky had to snap himself out of it. There was no more time to reflect, to consider, to be lost in thought. The cart rolled right into place on that dirt road, Ricky raised his rifle. He aimed at the shotgun rider, dead in the chest. He had one shot to take the man out before they lost the element of surprise. And the horse and whoever or whatever was in that wagon had to be preserved. Ricky lined up the sights on his Winchester, closing one eye, index finger curling around the trigger.

Bang!

The horses flinched, his own and the wagon’s, but the rifleman snapped back, gun falling to his feet as he slumped to the side. Ricky knew Sammy Reed had already lined up his shot on the driver, timed to shoot immediately after he did.

Bang!

The driver snapped back, too, the wagon’s horse frightened and already increasing its gait to escape. Larry Martin rode in to block the cart while Paulie Crop-ear ran up on foot to control the wagon’s horse.

It was over in a matter of seconds, just as Ricky had planned it. He rode in with the others, converging on the wagon from different points, a circle of eight men, each armed to the teeth and ready to collect their bounty.

But they moved in slow. There was certain to be somebody in that cart, and that person could be armed. Even a little girl or an old lady could be deadly with a shotgun in their hands, and nobody in Ricky’s gang was inexperienced enough to race in and be the first to die.

Ricky pulled a cigar out of his shirt pocket and a match from his vest, then struck the match and lit the cigar. Once he got a good cherry glowing, white smoke wafting, Ricky called out, “All right, now, whoever’s in that wagon, we gotcha dead to rights. Yer rider and yer gunman er dead.” He took another glance at the two men to see them unmoving, lifeless, staring up into the heavens they were surely spiraling toward even then. “We just want the goods y’got in there, that’s all. We don’t wanna shoot, in case we break something good. Now, y’don’t wanna die just to save a few blankets or a coffee pot, am I right? I got seven men here with me, all with guns trained right on your wagon. So, why not just come on out, with yer hands out and empty, and we’ll take what we need and leave you in peace?”

No answer came back, save the sound of a painted redstart calling from a nearby black cherry. Sammy Reed glanced at Ricky, then at the wagon. They all stepped closer, Crop-ear’s hands gripping his Winchester, ready to fire.

Ricky puffed on the cigar, then called out again, “Look, we’re sorry about having to kill these two men, but… that’s just part of our business. You understand that, don’t you?” Silence was the only response. “All right, well…” He pulled another match and struck it against the saddle, lighting it. “We’re just gonna burn the canvas off this damn thing, and we’ll see who’s hiding behind it. After that, we’ll—”

Clang!

Ricky turned to see the wagon’s rifleman standing at the helm, a metal plate falling to the ground by the side of the wagon. Another clang rose from a second metal plate that dropped from the driver’s poncho as he stood next to his partner. He was bigger, red-bearded, with a Colt pistol in each hand.

It’s a trap, Ricky realized too late.

Bang! Bang-bang-bang-bang-bang!

Ricky took a shot in the belly, white-hot pain racking his body, horse scuttling backward in the barrage of gunfire. His men opened fire around him, Sammy Reed and the others cocking and firing, gun smoke rising up around them.

In the corner of his eye, Ricky could see rifle and pistol barrels piercing small holes in the canvas on one side, and he knew instantly that they would be shooting out of the other side as well. But there was no more time to think, no more time to wonder. There was time to fight, to die, or to run.

Ricky ran.

His horse had turned and bolted forward, deeper into the Barrens. He had no way of knowing who, if any, of the others had managed to get away, but the shooting went on in a mad flurry before ceasing almost entirely. Behind him, the battle raged on. He didn’t dare look back. A few stray shots told Ricky that he likely wasn’t the only one to escape the ambush. He—

Bang!

The horse cried out beneath him, gait suddenly disrupted before the massive beast fell forward and to the side. Ricky held on, his right leg pinned under the horse’s side, foot caught in the stirrup. The horse was in pain, flailing and writhing and grinding Ricky’s leg into the barren ground.

His gut was gushing blood, mouth dry and black hair soaked with sweat. He pulled a Colt from the holster on his gun belt, aimed it at the back of the horse’s head, and pulled the trigger.

Bang!

The horse wailed out a final death cry before becoming instantly motionless, weight pinning Ricky’s leg to the ground. He put down the pistol and tried to push the dead horse off his leg, but his foot was caught in the stirrup and he knew he’d never be able to clear himself alone.

A man stepped up to him, too fast for Ricky to respond. One of the men who’d been in a ponchos at the front of the wagon, the rifleman, picked up Ricky’s pistol and pocketed it, stepping back. Ricky desperately reached for his other gun. But another man, the red-bearded driver, took the other weapon to leave him defenseless.

Ricky collapsed flat on the forest floor, pinecones digging into his back as he started to cry.

“What… you… why?”

The rifleman, with long, brown hair and big brown eyes—not a Mexican at all—looked at his massive, red-bearded friend, then back at Ricky. “Because I don’t like men like you. Because somebody has to stop your kind from running wild all over the country. And because, well, because it makes me happy.” He broke a little smile, a wave of chill passing through Ricky’s body. He knew he was at the man’s mercy. “One of the few things that does.”

Ricky strained to look over at the others but didn’t see any sign of any of them.

The rifleman said, “Your friends are dead… most, I think.”

The bigger man said, “I think one got away, Hank.”

Another man from their gang approached, a smaller man with long, blond hair. “He did,” the blond man said, “I think we might have winged ‘im. Sorry, Hank.” The man with the long, brown hair, clearly their leader, shrugged and returned his attention to Ricky even as he tried to pull himself free. But his strength was receding with his blood loss. “What’re we gonna do with this one? Could be worth something.”

The man called Hank asked Ricky, “Who’s got a price on your head, pal?”

But Ricky knew better than to tell. “Your mother,” he hissed.

The big bearded man threw a vicious kick into Ricky’s head. His brain began ringing with pain, one ear hearing only a dull tone, his vision blurred.

Hank said, “Don’t bother. Gutshot, bleeding out, he’s finished, horse’s useless, too. Let’s collect what we can, horses and guns, take the wagon to town.”

He turned, and Ricky croaked out, “Yer not gonna just leave me here to die?”

Hank stopped and turned. The blond man said, “We should finish him off, take him to Newark with the rest of ‘em.”

Hank seemed to think about it, glancing around and sighing. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right. He won’t last the day, anyway.” He turned to Ricky. “Should have chosen a better path, pal.”

Ricky tried one last time to free himself, whimpering with the futility of his struggle. They were right, he was dead; his life was about to end there and then. The man pulled out his pistol and aimed it at Ricky’s head. “Any last words, anything you’d like me to send along to your survivors, your family?”

Ricky’s brain was scrambling for a thought, body cramping and quivering. “Tell ‘em… tell ‘em I… I wasn’t meant fer this.”

“Nobody is, pal. Nobody is.”

Bang!

Ricky’s world went black—no light, no sound, no motion or movement.

Dead.

Chapter Two

Neil Kasik and Big Jim Johns waited with the wagon in front of the sheriff’s office in Newark while the rest of their gang went to the local saloon, the Bridgegap. Newark was growing fast, but it was still nothing like New York or Philly or the other big cities of the eastern seaboard. Still, the blocks stretched out, almost innumerable, streets filled with horsemen and carriages. Whale oil lamps on wooden posts lined the elevated wooden sidewalks in front of shops, cafés, hotels, services like a cobbler and a haberdasher.

Rising out of the swamps of New Jersey, Newark was also attracting men and women who couldn’t compete in New York, who couldn’t survive there. And others couldn’t seize power in New York or Boston, but they could establish a foothold in Newark, and they did. But Newark was not a lawless place, no more than anywhere else and probably no less—as civilized as any place which laid claim to such a thing, and a lot of the nation simply did not.

The wagon was filled with the dead bodies of the men they’d brought in from Pine Barrens, the local sheriff having taken a good look at their faces before leading Hank into his office.

Neil asked him, “But how do we know for sure?”

“He brings out the posters,” Bill said, his voice deep and gruff as it came through his thick red beard. “He ain’t cheated us yet, he ain’t the type.”

“Yeah, well, my pa wasn’t the type either; least that’s what he wanted me an’ my ma to think. It’s the ones y’think y’can trust that you can’t trust more’n anybody.” He looked around as the sun went down, the town becoming slowly busier as evening encroached. “He may show us two posters, split that bounty, but… how do we know he doesn’t split another one or two with the sheriff and they tear the posters up?”

Big Jim glared at Neil, but he offered no answer. That was his only answer. Neil knew Bill was loyal to Hank, that they’d been together a long time, and that he was a formidable man in just about every way. Neil wanted to keep Bill as a friend and as an ally in the coming fight for control of the gang.

But he had to move slowly, cautiously, and strike at the right time. When that time came, he wanted Bill by his side, backing his play.

He said nothing more about it, turning as Hank stepped out of the office with at least one yellow poster rolled up in his fist.

Neil asked him, “How’d we do?”

“Five thousand for Kagen, two for one of the others. The rest are dead weight, but we’ll sell the horses to the livery, that’ll bring us past eight. Over a thousand each, after losing Douglass.”

Neil glanced at Bill. Both knew that losses were always possible; they all knew it. That raid had cost them a man, his body among the others.

Hank nodded. “Let’s take ‘em to the mortician, down the street. I’ll pay for Douglass’ funeral myself. Then we’ll take a few rooms, join the others for drinks at the saloon.”

“Sure thing,” Bill said, “we’re with ya.”

Hank climbed up on the horse leading the wagon to ride it down the street, Neil guiding the captive horses in a train behind him.

That night, Neil was quiet. The boys in the gang drank to their fallen friend and released the stresses and tensions of their work in the usual ways—at the bar and upstairs with the whores. Hank had shown them all the posters, his usual practice, and they had divided the money equally. Everybody seemed happy with another successful raid, and the night of celebration was enjoyed by all. Even Big Jim was laughing by the end of the night, that boisterous bellow filling even the loud, sinful saloon.

Neil watched and waited, knowing his time had not yet come.

The next day, the gang gathered with Newark’s pastor and mortician. Ricky Kagen and the others were buried in a single grave, all the little town’s budget could allow. Douglass had his own grave, a fine pine box, his friends gathered around him to shake a friendly hand.

The pastor’s voice rang out over the graveyard, booming even from his small body, withered with age and mourning. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Neil looked at Hank standing by the grave he’d paid for, solemn and respectful of the man who had died in his service. “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

What makes him such a man among men, Neil wondered, striding around as if his natural place were to lord over others, the rest of us? Yes, he’s capable and clever, and he put himself into the sites of the enemy’s fire as he always does, so he doesn’t lack for courage or pluck. But no man is courageous forever. Other men can be courageous too when the wind is at their backs the way it always seems to be at his.

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,” Pastor Thom Reed kept reading, “the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at the break of day.”

A pastor, Neil thought, for what? Douglass was no God-fearing man, none of us are. I didn’t hear any preaching or praying when the bullets were tearing those men to bits, Kagen and his gang. Where was the Christian mercy there?

“Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Neil couldn’t help think of the rumors of a domestic war, a civil war, that swirled around the country. It was almost as if those cryptic words had real meaning to his life, so many years after they were written. Neil discounted it, returning his focus to more important matters.

“Come and see what the Lord has done,” Pastor Reed read on, “the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’”

The words settled in the back of Neil’s brain, almost like a divine promise of his own assured rise to greatness—almost as if God were telling him that his own exaltation was coming, that he would shatter the spear of Hank Devon, that he would wield the fire at long last.

“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

It was just a matter of time.

The next day, Neil wasn’t surprised that Hank approached him. Clever though he was, Hank seemed to have little idea that Neil had plans of his own, which, of course, was just what he wanted and what he needed.

Hank said, “Neil, I want you to take one of the men, ride out to Johnstown.”

“Johnstown? Why?”

Hank handed Neil a sack of coins, tied at the top. “My share of the loot. Douglass has a sister up there, he told me, a little farm outside of town. Tell them about Douglass, give them the money.”

Neil took the bag. “Sure, Hank, sure.”

Hank handed him a second bag, the gold coins clinking inside it. “For your snitch at the Red Rock Saloon. You sure you can trust him?”

“I can trust that he loves this,” Neil said, picking up the second little sack. “Big Jim, maybe, for the trip?”

Hank shook his head. “I want you to go into town, check in on our friend Jack Struthers. Bill’ll stand out, Struthers knows him.”

“I could leave him with Douglass’ sister while I go into town.” Hank gave it some thought, but before he could deny Neil’s request, Neil asked, “What’s Struthers up to, you think?”

“That’s what I want you to find out. It’s been two years, who knows what he’s got going on.”

“Sure you don’t just wanna leave him be? He ain’t nobody, not in Pennsylvania and sure not in Johnstown.”

“That’s why I wanna check up on him. Keep your head down, don’t linger on the trip back.”

Neil nodded and turned to pack for the journey. He’d have to leave right away, and it would be a long ride over the rugged Pennsylvanian landscape. It would be several hard days in the saddle, with plenty of time to think about how he should be running the gang himself and sending some other poor son of a bitch to do his spying and his bidding.

Soon enough, he silently promised himself, soon enough. But first he had to pick a riding partner, one he could win over to his side during the course of the trip, one who could influence the others.

“Martin,” he shouted, “Larry Martin, saddle up!”


“A Fearless Bandit to the Rescue” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Hank Devon is a fearless outlaw with nothing but good intentions. When a dreadful tragedy strikes, chasing ruthless criminals will become his only passion. Along with his notorious gang, he is always on the trail of vicious felons, with justice being his ultimate goal. When he finds out that Jack Struthers, his arch enemy, is going after a rich heiress on a train route to Chicago, he is determined to take action; he decides to take on this perilous mission and prevent the secret ambush. Their late arrival, though, will complicate the retaliation…Will he manage to complete the pursuit and rescue the defenceless woman?

When Elise Tulane’s father died, little did she know that his death would be the beginning of a series of unfortunate events. Wishing to fulfill her father’s final wish, Elise and her bodyguard will get on a train to Chicago. However, her journey will not be lighthearted for long… When she least expects it, the train will be hijacked by a merciless gang of bandits. The mysterious appearance of a man that will try to save her life, though, will be a blessing in disguise… Will Elise finally escape from this calamity without putting her life in deadly danger?

While Elise’s fate is in many different hands, shocking betrayals will add fuel to the fire. Will Hank triumph over his old enemy? And will there be a final end to this terrifying kidnapping before it’s too late?

An enthralling, action-packed story, featuring complex characters, drama and suspense, that will leave the reader breathless. A must-read for fans of Western action with a touch of romance.

“A Fearless Bandit to the Rescue” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

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