The Frontier’s Most Wanted (Preview)

Chapter One

Late April in the Rockies made for comfortably cool days, but at this altitude, the temperature could drop swiftly come nightfall. Having spent a month out in the elements, panning for gold in streams along the eastern slope, Derek Logan had come to expect the unexpected where the weather was concerned. His campsite would require tending before it got much darker.

He gulped the last swallow of cold coffee and spit out the bitter grounds that wedged in his teeth. He stood to stretch his six-foot frame, his joints popping like kindling in a campfire. Before crossing back over the ridge, he took a moment to savor the patchwork of lights glowing in the distance below. Like fireflies dancing at dusk, the lights flickered on and off as suppers were served and young’uns were put to bed.

Denver looked downright pretty from his perch, but as inviting as it appeared, Derek had no desire to get any nearer than where he now stood. While he could appreciate the diversions a big city offered folks with money to spare, he had no cravings for sundries and such. He could do just fine without Denver, and he was sure that the denizens of Denver would feel likewise toward him.

Derek’s antipathy might have been shaded by his first—and likely last—visit to Denver a year prior. He’d gone to ask Violet’s father for her hand in marriage. Thomas Boyette was a successful banker and a widower, and he lived alone in what may have been the largest dwelling in the Colorado Territory. Derek hadn’t expected a warm welcome, especially under the circumstances prompting his proposal, but he had imagined that a man of Boyette’s social standing would be more gracious—or, at a minimum, more civil. Derek grimaced at the recollection.

“You’ve got a lot of damn nerve, mister,” Boyette snarled, by way of introduction. “My daughter has just barely reached marrying age. She’s an educated, refined woman with a whole world of opportunities before her, or at least she did before you came along. Thanks to you, any worthy suitor will now consider her to be damaged goods. I can assure you that her late mother and I did not provide her with the upbringing she’s had just to end up with the likes of you.”

Violet’s father hadn’t even offered Derek a seat before unleashing his wrath upon him. Following the butler’s lead, Derek had been ushered into Boyette’s study, a room surrounded by shelves of books standing twelve feet high. The butler stopped two dozen feet from where Violet’s father stood, warming his backside before a fire, and Derek stopped as well. The butler disappeared without making a sound.

Derek didn’t object to Boyette’s deliberate lack of hospitality; Riverwood to Denver was a seven-hour trip on horseback, and by the time he had arrived that evening, Derek felt as if he were still bouncing on the nag’s back. But what he didn’t appreciate was Boyette’s disdainful tone, as if he were dressing down one of his servants, or disciplining a child, though Boyette only appeared to be a decade older than Derek, if that. Still, he could empathize with a father’s deep disappointment and feelings of helplessness, so he held his tongue and took the verbal lashing.

Clearing his throat, Derek responded. “Mr. Boyette, sir, while it’s true your daughter and I don’t run in the same social circles…”

“Same social circles?” Boyette cackled, incredulously. “Mister, you don’t even breathe the same air as my daughter! In some countries, a man of your ‘social circle’ wouldn’t even be allowed to look her in the eyes. You’d be flogged, or worse.” He shook his head and twirled the ends of his long, thin mustache with his fingers. “I should have you arrested for what you did to her.”

“Oh, it was completely consensual,” Derek countered. “Unanimous, in fact; we were both drunk.” 

Derek nearly volunteered that Violet had been even more ‘consensual’ than himself. In her alcohol-fueled passion, she had dragged him by the arm to the Riverwood Hotel, even paying for the room. Derek sensed, however, that these facts would do little to tamp down her father’s rage.

“Plying her with drink.” Boyette scoffed. “How many other young women have you preyed upon and despoiled with liquor? Why, if I didn’t have a reputation to uphold, I’d have you horse-whipped in the town square at high noon.” Still tugging on his mustache, Violet’s father stared at Derek as if considering whether the satisfaction of a beating would outweigh any tarnishing of his reputation. “She told me you live in a one-room shack, and that you’re not employed,” Boyette charged. “Tell me how you plan to support my daughter.”

“I’m not without skills, sir,” Derek replied. “I served sixteen years in the Fifth Cavalry and receive a modest pension. I will find work, especially with a baby on the way. But the way I see it, sir, nobody gets a free ride. Violet will also have to contribute to the household. She’ll have to work.”

Boyette’s mouth opened, but he said nothing. His eyes bulged out as if he were being pumped with air and fixing to explode. Then he exhaled in a loud burst of laughter.

“Work? Violet?” he bellowed. “Exactly which trade did you think she apprenticed in at her finishing school? Blacksmithing? Mule skinning?”

Boyette’s laughter continued until he ran out of breath and began coughing and wheezing. Finally, he composed himself and addressed Derek once more.

“Mr. Logan, you may have stood toe-to-toe and eyeball-to-eyeball-with the Cheyenne, but if you try to tell Violet Boyette what to do, you’ll soon realize that you’ve met your match. But you go ahead and try, by all means, and for what it’s worth, you have my blessing to marry her. May God have mercy on your wretched soul.”

Unsure how to respond, Derek mumbled his thanks and began backing out of the room.

“One more thing, Mr. Logan,” Boyette called out, bringing Derek’s retreat to a halt. “My daughter will not be living in that hovel you call home. There’s plenty of room at our ranch in Riverwood. There are two houses on the property, and that should accommodate my son Vincent, Violet, and you. I don’t want everyone in town to know your marriage is a sham, so you’ll live together like one big, happy family. Is that understood?”

Derek nodded. “Yes, sir. Of course.”

“Good.” The banker smiled, pulling out a pocket watch from his waistcoat. “Now that our business is concluded, I’m giving you exactly two minutes to get off my property. Two minutes, and then I release the dogs. Starting now!”

Though their paths hadn’t crossed since that initial encounter, Boyette’s warning had continued to taunt Derek over the intervening months, for it proved prophetic. Violet’s beauty was surpassed only by her temper, and a bowl of soup served too cold or a steak cooked too well done would ignite a tantrum that could clear a room. Whatever finishing school Violet had attended owed her father a full refund, by Derek’s reckoning, and an apology to boot. 

Derek and Violet’s skirmishes had become so frequent that he’d finally settled permanently in the smaller house adjoining the servants’ quarters. On occasions when even that proximity proved too near, he would then retreat to his cabin—or ‘hovel,’ as Mr. Boyette had called it—until sufficient time had passed to venture back.

As he stepped over the crest of the mountain path, the cold western wind cut him like a knife. Hightailing it to his campsite, he grabbed two sarapes and draped them over the backs of his horse, Emma, and Jack, the donkey, giving each an affectionate pat.

Derek started a small fire not too far from his tent. He poured out some of the water from the potful of pinto beans he’d been soaking all day, added salt and chunks of rabbit meat, and placed the pot on a latticework of sticks over the fire. He huddled over the pot as it boiled, soaking up the warmth of the flames. 

This was the second year Derek had braved the elements to try his hand at some panning, and once again, he’d be returning to Riverwood empty-handed, though he wasn’t disappointed in the least. Breathing in the crisp mountain air had shaken off the stale, winter lethargy that had settled into Derek’s bones. His mind seemed keener, too, and though his body ached from all the climbing and squatting, and from sleeping on the ground, the fatigue he felt was the good kind, the kind of tired a man had to earn.

It would take him two days to get back to Riverwood, maybe three, depending on how much he dawdled and panned along the way. He was certainly in no rush to return.

At least it’ll be all downhill from here, he thought. In more ways than one.

The ironic thing about marrying Violet due to her compromised condition was that she’d ended up losing the baby in her third month. One moment, Derek had been a father-to-be, and then he wasn’t. Yet here they were, still married and still making each other miserable.

What’s that old saying? ‘One night of pleasure begets a lifetime of regret?’ That sounds about right. Maybe Violet could stitch that sentiment on one of those needlework samplers to hang on our wall, he thought, if she were ever inclined to take up stitching.

How had it all changed so quickly? It wasn’t that long ago that he’d embarked on a new life. Discharged from the cavalry to nurse his wounds, he’d returned to the property the territory had awarded his father for his service. With his own hands, he’d built the cabin and planted a garden. It was a hardscrabble existence, especially those first months as a civilian, but if he chose to do so, he could pull up stakes at any time and light out in any direction he pleased. Now he felt like he had to think twice before putting a foot forward to take a single step.

Lying on his bedroll, with the tent flap pulled back, Derek stared out at a sky full of stars. It felt healing to be out here, away from the manmade contrivances, and that included the whole concept of marriage. Alone with his thoughts and labors, his time in the mountains made him feel as if he’d reconnected with the natural world. The infinite array of stars suggested endless possibilities. If there were a way to escape his present predicament and start over with a clean slate, could he get back on the right track? The night sky gave Derek reason to be hopeful.

One thing was for certain: The road he was on was not the path on which he cared to continue.

 

Chapter Two

Violet Boyette rocked on the front porch chair as she rolled a cigarette. She wore only a long, emerald-tinted, silk robe and cowboy boots, which she propped up on the porch railing. Her long blond hair had been hastily pulled back and tied with a bow. Morning had yet to break on the horizon, but the darkness would not impede her task; Violet could roll a smoke with her eyes closed. She’d only gotten a couple of hours of sleep, but that would suffice for now. A lady of leisure, she could always curl up and catnap in the afternoon.

She heard bootsteps approaching from inside the house, and the screen door opened and slammed shut as her brother, Vincent, joined her on the porch.

“Did you have company, sis?” he asked, dragging the other rocker close to her. Vincent was dressed in long johns and boots, and his gun belt drooped on his hips. “Could’ve swore I heard a horse running off.”

Violet licked the cigarette paper and smoothed the ends with her fingertips. “I don’t know what you heard,” she said. “Might have been a dream.”

“Yeah, maybe so,” Vincent said, plucking the cigarette from her fingers. He dug his hand in the pocket of her robe and extracted a box of matches. “Or maybe your gentleman caller rode off before daylight would reveal him to the early risers. Aren’t you worried your husband might show up unexpectedly?”

“The more the merrier,” she scoffed and began the rolling process again.

“You think old Derek would see it that way?” Vincent asked, blowing smoke rings at the sky.

“Biscuits need butter and fish need water,” Violet replied. “A woman’s got to make do.”

“And here I thought you were out here pining for your one true love.” Vincent grinned. “He’s out there freezing his butt off, seeking his fortune, to provide you the standard of living to which you’re accustomed. Tell me, Vi, what would you do if Derek came down that mountain carrying a gunny sack full of gold?”

Violet lit her cigarette, inhaled, and blew out a long stream of blue smoke.

“I’d tell him to give me a divorce and to be on his way,” she stated. “I don’t need his money, and I sure don’t need him.” She glanced over at her brother. “I can’t believe you’re sitting there in your all-togethers, as if you were dressed for Sunday.”

Vincent kicked his feet up onto the railing alongside hers. “And if those Denver society ladies could see you now, they’d pull down their shades and roll up their welcome mats for good.”

“Yep,” Violet agreed, patting her brother’s arm, “I guess we’re just no damn good.”

“I think we’ve been languishing in this backwater town too long,” Vincent conjectured. “We’re starting to talk just like these bumpkins. Speaking of which, didn’t old Derek say he’d come down from the mountain by May Day?”

“Oh, like he’s got some kind of important schedule to keep.” Violet sneered. “I just want to be long gone by the time he returns. I’m thinking of taking the stage to Denver and spending a couple weeks with Daddy.”

“Dang, is it Tuesday already?” Vincent asked, flicking his cigarette butt over the railing. “I got a letter from Pa; he’s coming down on today’s stage. Should arrive by early evening.”

“Just when were you planning on telling me?” Violet demanded. “And why didn’t you let me read it?”

“Because it was addressed to me,” Vincent replied. “You know when Pa has important matters to discuss, he discusses them with me. Sorry, sister, but that’s just the way it is.”

“Fine,” she said, standing. “Then you entertain him. I’ll go up to Denver and stay with friends while you two discuss your manly matters.”

Vincent laughed, tugging on her robe as a child might to an adult and patting the rocker seat next to him. “Oh, come on, Vi. I was only kidding. Sit down, girl. Pa said he needs to talk to us both about developments down here. Things must be falling in place with the plans for the railroad, is my guess.”

“Dang.” She sighed as she seated herself. “Now I wish I’d have gotten some sleep. By the time we sit down to dinner, I’ll be dropping face-first into my soup.”

“Well, you just had other priorities, didn’t you?” Vincent leered, patting her arm. “If I were you, though, I’d tell Marshal Wade McCord to stay scarce while Daddy’s around. I don’t think Pa would take kindly to a man of Wade’s caliber taking a shine to his daughter. Wade used to be a bounty hunter, you know. Dead or alive, it’s all the same to him.”

Violet ignored her twin’s advice. “Actually, Daddy coming here works just as well as me going to Denver. Instead of me spending a day on a stage, Derek can make himself scarce. He won’t want to be around Daddy, that’s for sure.”

“He’ll probably hole up in that shack of his,” Vincent speculated. “I wonder if he’s even got any heat in that place.”

“Or he’ll go see that aunt that raised him,” Violet countered. “I’ve never met her. He wanted to invite her to the wedding, but I laughed right in his face. We didn’t have time for anything like that. After Daddy told Derek what’s what, he wired Mayor Prescott and we were hitched within an hour of Derek’s return.” Violet waved her hand dismissively. “Sorry, Aunt Louise. Better luck next time.”

“Why don’t you roll us another smoke?”

“How about you let me read Daddy’s letter?”

“You know, coffee would go real good with that smoke,” he said, ignoring Violet’s suggestion. He turned his head and yelled as loud as he could, “Mary Little Bird! Get up outta that bed and make us some coffee! Don’t act like you can’t hear me! You’ll be sorry if I have to come in there and shake you awake!”

Within seconds, a flicker of light appeared as their cook lit a lamp in her room. In less than a minute, more light gleamed from the kitchen window.

Vincent turned to his sister. “I don’t know how many times I’ve asked old Derek to sell me that plot of land of his, but he always refuses. Maybe if we offered to throw in Little Bird there, it would sweeten the deal. She’s a young, pretty girl. Younger than you, I believe. She’d be good for him. Give him many babies.”

Violet looked up from her rolling and fixed her brother with a look that could cause his blood to run cold. The siblings could joke about almost anything. Such was their disdain for those less entitled than themselves that no subject was sacred. But Vincent’s remark had crossed a line and they both knew it. If her hands hadn’t been occupied, he’d have likely felt her fingernails dig into his face.

“I’m sorry,” Vincent apologized. “That was a stupid thing to say. You know I didn’t mean anything by it.”

Violet continued rolling, filing away her brother’s slight in her memory bank for future retribution. “Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat,” she said. “If money won’t do it, maybe dangling his freedom in front of him would work, though he and I have had that discussion, too. No matter how miserable I make him, he still thinks he can turn me into wife material, like breaking one of those mustangs.” She handed her brother the cigarette she’d rolled for him. “Maybe Daddy will have some ideas on the subject.”

Vincent leaned in as his sister lit a match. Her hand jerked suddenly, and the flame almost singed his eyebrows. He moved back in time, but Violet snatched the cigarette back from his fingers and claimed it as her own. She drew on it and blew the smoke in her brother’s face.

Vincent squinted back at his sister. “You almost got me there, Vi,” he said with a hint of admiration in his voice. They both laughed. “You sure are one ornery cuss.”

Violet stuck the cigarette between her lips and began rolling another. “Since you’re such a good sport, I’ll try again.”

Mary appeared wearing her robe, holding two cups of coffee.

“Well, just set them down on the railing,” Violet scolded. “You think we’re going to grab a hot mug of coffee? Did you wake up stupider than usual?”

Vince chuckled, but Violet could tell he was eyeballing their servant. Mary had been a fixture of the ranch since its founding, even before the twins were tasked to oversee its operation. According to Violet’s father, he’d purchased Mary and her brother from the local saloon, where they performed menial chores.

Jimmy Talltree, Mary’s older brother, served as head wrangler at the fledgling ranch. He and two other hands rounded up and tamed the stray mustangs that roamed in the area. Once broken, their sale was almost entirely profit. Getting something for nothing and profiting handsomely was a business model that appealed to Thomas Boyette. He bought a sizeable swath of land extending from the foothills outward, ostensibly to build upon his horse ranching enterprise. Though only a couple dozen of the wild horses had thus far been broken and brokered, Boyette spoke of the prospect of a substantial number of mustangs being herded his way soon.

In the meantime, the siblings’ main task was to sign payments to vendors for hay, veterinary care, and provisions for themselves and staff. Violet rarely wandered any farther on the property than the front gate leading to town, and Vincent amused himself hunting small game and enjoying the company of the loose women at the Lucky Lady. 

Violet looked Mary up and down. She grudgingly conceded that Mary might be viewed by some as being somewhat attractive… for an Indian, and a half-breed at that. If Violet had had her way, though, Mary would be back at her old job, scrubbing spittoons at the saloon. 

Unfortunately, a small town like Riverwood didn’t have an abundance of domestic workers willing to cook, clean, and launder six days a week for a pittance. Mary also had a thick hide, able to stoically withstand Violet’s sharp tongue. Violet actually enjoyed raining verbal abuse on her servant, but lately, Mary had been sassing her back, much to Vincent’s amusement. If this kept up, Violet vowed to send the young Arapaho packing to the nearest reservation.

“After you make breakfast, you can start cleaning my bedroom,” Violet ordered. “I’m done with it.”

“Better let those sheets cool off first,” Vincent hooted, winking at his sister.

Violet stared as Mary walked off. “What were we talking about before she interrupted?”

“I believe we were talking about prying that property from Derek’s clutches,” Vincent replied, “and you thought that maybe Pa would have some ideas on how to do it. We’ll have to ask him about it when he gets to town. You know Pa; that brain of his never stops scheming.”

“He’s like a dog with a bone,” Violet agreed. “And a hungry dog at that.” She stood and held the freshly rolled cigarette out to her brother. “I still want to read that letter,” she said firmly.

“I would, Vi, but it’s not meant for your eyes. Most of the time when Pa and I write each other, we talk about you. I’m sorry, but I don’t want to break your heart, sis. You’d end up crying like a little baby.”

“Suit yourself,” she replied, crushing the cigarette in her fingers. She turned and walked into the house as the flakes of tobacco fluttered to the ground.

 

Chapter Three 

Cliff Crawford arrived at the Wells Fargo office an hour before the stage’s 7:00 a.m. departure. It was still dark, and he could see his breath when he exhaled. He showed his identification to the guard at the door and was met by the office manager, Mr. Ogilvie. The front door was locked, and the three men convened in a back office. 

There, they inventoried the contents of the strongbox that would accompany the morning stage: various documents, coins, jewelry, and $2,000 in bank notes bound for their satellite station in Riverwood. Both Cliff and Mr. Ogilvie signed off on the list, and the guard signed as a witness. A steel padlock was affixed to the box and locked. Cliff signed for the key, which he placed in his vest pocket.

The strongbox would be the last item loaded onto the stage, so Cliff went to the stable and observed the preparation. He introduced himself to the driver, Nick Bain, and his second, Mark Van Gilder. While Bain harnessed the team of four, Cliff inspected Mark’s scattergun and found it to be clean, oiled, and fully loaded. He handed it back to Van Gilder.

“How long have you been on this route?” Cliff asked.

“Two years, same as him,” Van Gilder replied, nodding toward Bain.

“If you were a bandit, where would be the best place for an attack?”

Van Gilder didn’t hesitate. “About ten miles south of town, there’s a narrow spot where the brush gets thick and overgrown. You’ve got to slow down for a stretch till you get through that.”

Cliff nodded. He was already aware of that vulnerable location, having read reports of previous hold-up attempts over the years and through discussions with Lucien Sinclair, but it was good to hear directly from one of the crew that they were mindful of the location. Cliff turned his attention to the driver. Once he finished checking the wheels, straps, and other components, he opened the back and helped Van Gilder load luggage, including Cliff’s own satchel.

“You’re pretty thorough, aren’t you?” Cliff asked.

“I guess I’d rather ride than walk, especially if we were to break down in the middle of nowhere,” Bain answered. “I greased the axles when I got in last night,” he added, “but there wasn’t enough light to see the rest.”

Cliff nodded. “You’ve been on this run for two years. Ever have any trouble?”

“Other than the winters?” Bain grinned. “Nah, it’s a piece of cake. Never accosted, if that’s what you’re meaning.”

“Good.” Cliff winked. “No need to change your luck on my account.”

Cliff knew his questions would underscore their need to be vigilant on the road. He doubted there was any man who would climb up in that front booth and be oblivious to the potential dangers ahead, but routines could make a man dull. With silver strikes increasing on both sides of the Rockies and stagecoaches an essential part of transporting deposits and payments, a heightened sense of caution was deemed prudent.

By 6:55, the sun was up, and the passengers started showing. First to arrive was Cliff’s old friend, Lucien Sinclair. Sinclair had hired Cliff when the latter was considering leaving military service. Cliff had started as a driver, but Lucien had spotted some potential in him that led to other opportunities in the following years.

“Here he is, the top dog,” Cliff said, smiling and shaking his friend’s hand. “I want to thank you and Margaret again for that excellent dinner we enjoyed last night.”

“Always happy to break bread with you, Clifford,” Lucien replied. He was a portly fellow and Cliff’s elder by more than a decade. He reached into a coat pocket, pulled out an apple, and pressed it into Cliff’s hand. From the bulges in his coat, it appeared he’d brought more than just the one. “I sure wish you could spend more time out here with us.”

“Well, when headquarters sends me out on one of these cross-country jaunts, they don’t factor in a lot of time for socializing. You know that.”

As another passenger approached, Sinclair made his way up into the coach. Cliff held the door for the new arrival, a tall man in a long, dark overcoat with a velvet collar. Despite carrying a cane in his left hand, he didn’t seem to rely on it for balance, nor show any sign of lameness in his walk. The cane was therefore either for the sake of fashion or it concealed a weapon, likely a blade of some sort. This accessory was not uncommon for well-to-do travelers. 

The man stood before Cliff and asked, “Is this the stage to Pueblo?”

“Yes, it is,” Cliff said. “Do you have any luggage?”

“They were dropped here last night. Thomas Boyette is the name.”

“I can confirm that your bags are on board, Mr. Boyette. Please, have a seat while we await our last passenger.”

At a few minutes past seven, a man walked unsteadily toward the stagecoach, veering this way and that, rather than in a direct manner. His suit was wrinkled and soiled with dirt at the knees and elbows, and he wore a scraggly, little beard that could probably be wiped off with a washcloth. 

As the man drew near, Cliff stepped in front of him to block his entrance. “Excuse me, sir, but have you been drinking?” he asked.

“Oh, just a little bit,” the man replied, slurring his words. “Didn’t get much sleep, though. Don’t worry about me. I won’t get sick or anything like that.”

“I’ll warn you just this once,” Cliff said. “If you disturb any of the customers on this coach, I’ll have you removed. That includes dozing on one of your fellow passengers. Do you understand? You’ll be on your own out there.”

The man agreed to these terms and Cliff let him board, hoping he’d sleep most of the way. Cliff followed, sliding in next to Lucien and directly across from the tipsy man. With a yell from the driver, the stage lurched forward, and they were soon beyond the outskirts of Denver. Once the driver and horses found their pace, the ride smoothed out enough for conversation to ensue.

“You probably don’t remember me, Mr. Boyette,” Sinclair began, “but I’m Lucien Sinclair, from Wells Fargo.”

“Oh, yes.” Boyette sighed cautiously. “Were you at the Christmas Ball or something?”

“Yes, twice, I believe,” Lucien replied. “And this is Clifford Crawford, from our headquarters. His title is vice-president of…”

“Prevention and recovery,” Cliff said. “Security.”

“I see.” Boyette looked Cliff up and down. “Does that mean you prevent robberies, like on coaches?”

“It does,” Cliff answered. “And in our branches, as well.”

“And if you can’t prevent a robbery, then you try to…”

“Recover,” Cliff answered with a smile. “That’s pretty much the whole story. What about you, Mr. Boyette? What do you do?”

“I work at a bank,” he replied.

Lucien interjected, “He’s a co-founder of BM Savings and Loan. Believe me, if you were local, you’d have heard of BM. I’ve forgotten the M.”

“Merriweather. Floyd Merriweather. More of a silent partner,” Boyette confided. Turning to Cliff, he said, “No offense, Mr. Crawford, but I’ll be glad when the railroad runs a line from Denver to Pueblo. I take the stage three or four times a year, and a train would be so much more comfortable.”

“I’m not going to argue with that, Mr. Boyette,” Cliff said. “Eventually, they will run a line, if there’s a demand.”

“It wouldn’t be good for your business, through,” Boyette pointed out. “I don’t have to tell you gentlemen that Wells Fargo is already losing the intercontinental business to the railroads. Your routes and earnings are bound to grow smaller and smaller.”

Boyette’s comments were more than idle conversation. He seemed to be enjoying his pessimistic pronouncements regarding Cliff’s employer. Cliff tried not to sound defensive.

“There’s still a need for the stage, sir. The trains only stop in the more populated areas. Someone has to move people and mail to the outlying areas. Eventually, the trains will run everywhere, as you say.” He looked to his left. “I’m counting on financial geniuses like Lucien here to guide us into the future.”

Boyette smiled. “I guess that’s the advantage of being a company man. I’m envious. I wish I had someone to lean on, but I’m stuck with me. At least I don’t argue with myself.”

The three men laughed while the fourth man seemed to feel left out. “Hey,” he cut in, using a resentful tone, “doesn’t anyone want me to introduce myself?”

Cliff’s smile dimmed, but he replied courteously. “Sure. Tell us who you are.”

The man reached into the left side of his coat with his right hand and produced a pistol, which he aimed at Cliff’s middle. “I’m the man who’s going to rob this damn stagecoach, is who I am!”

Cliff held his hands up to his chest, palms facing the bandit. He saw now that the man’s inebriated state had been a ruse. “Easy, mister. If we hit a bump, I don’t want to be without a head.”

“In a minute,” the robber said, “you’ll hear shots and notice the stage slowing down. That’ll be my fellas, and when we come to a halt, you’ll go out ahead of me. Got it?”

“We hear you,” Cliff said. “There’s not that much money on this run, just so you know. None of us wants to lose our lives over a pittance, so no need to fret about us.”

“Do I look like I’m fretting, Mr. Vice-President?” The man glowered. 

Shots rang out, but instead of slowing, the driver yelled and cracked his whip. Van Gilder’s shotgun roared, deafening the passengers. The robber seemed rattled by the course of events and leaned down to look out the window. 

That second of distraction was all that Cliff needed. He pushed himself into the robber, his left hand clasping the robber’s right wrist to keep the gun confined. He repeatedly slammed his shoulder into the bandit’s face until the man loosened his grip on the weapon.

Cliff fell back in his seat, pointing the pistol at the would-be robber. He turned the door handle and the door flapped in the wind.

“Get out,” Cliff said. The bandit gulped as he stared out at the scenery blur by. “You’ve got two ways off,” Cliff clarified. “Flying or dying.”

Boyette grabbed the man’s collar and pushed. The robber resisted, but Boyette and Lucien’s combined efforts got him to the door. Boyette put his boot heel to the reluctant man’s backside and out the door he went.

“Good riddance,” Lucien said, brushing his hands as if he’d just beaten a rug.

“Well done, gentlemen,” Cliff said. He leaned out the window. “Are they following us?” he yelled.

“Hell no,” Bain called out. “Van Gilder’s blast made them think twice about a chase.”

The men laughed as they relayed their reactions to what had transpired. Cliff sensed a bond among them that hadn’t existed earlier. As they composed themselves, the conversation turned toward their intended destinations.

“Are you traveling for business, Mr. Boyette? Bound for Pueblo?” Lucien asked.

“No, I’m getting off in Riverwood,” Boyette answered. “My two children live there. I’ll spend a couple of days with them and relax a bit. How about yourselves, gentlemen?”

“We’re getting off in Riverwood, as well,” Lucien replied. “We have a small office there. Headquarters likes to stay in touch with the smaller offices. Keeps us all connected.”

“Is that another of your tasks, Mr. Crawford?” Boyette asked. “Tell the workers in the hinterlands to shape up or ship out?”

Cliff smiled politely. It was another of those verbal jabs Boyette seemed to delight in hurling. Cliff could tell by Lucien’s response that they would not be confiding in Mr. Boyette.

“I don’t see it being that simple, Mr. Boyette,” Cliff said, keeping his voice even but firm. “If I’m not mistaken, isn’t Riverwood that town on the western slope that had the rockslide a while back? Almost cut the town off from the rest of the world, yes?”

“That’s the one,” Boyette agreed, nodding. “Are you going to pat yourself on the back for maintaining stagecoach service through the pass?”

“I suppose I could, if I were so inclined. The reason I ask is because our service keeps them connected to the East. It put a crimp on mining in the area, and that no doubt affected the migration of people to the area, but I’m proud the stage helped keep them from becoming a ghost town. I guess what I’m saying is, there’s still a place for a nimble form of transportation. Sometimes, we can do what a railroad can’t.”

“Touché, Mr. Crawford,” Boyette conceded. “You can count me among those grateful that your company is willing to pursue a profit wherever it can. Well, I hope you men won’t think me rude, but I’m going to close my eyes for a bit. If I start snoring, just open the door and throw me out.”

The men laughed, but when Mr. Boyette pulled his hat brim down, shielding his eyes, Cliff and Lucien exchanged glances. They didn’t speak, however. This was partly out of respect for Boyette’s withdrawal from their companionship, but was also due to an unspoken understanding that any further discussion of their trip’s purpose should be continued outside of Boyette’s presence.

Cliff closed his eyes, though he didn’t expect to nod off, given the bumpy trail ahead. But he did let his mind wander as he thought about a close acquaintance whom he’d heard had settled in the Riverwood area. He was the son of a fellow cavalryman, and when the boy’s father had met his ignominious end seventeen years ago at Sand Creek, Cliff had taken the boy under his wing, acting as a sponsor to the unit’s adopted mascot until the boy was old enough to enlist, albeit with a slight exaggeration of his age.

They’d even corresponded with one another after Cliff had left the Army. Now, it appeared as though fate’s design might have them cross paths againand Cliff would enjoy nothing more than to see his young friend, Derek Logan.


“The Frontier’s Most Wanted” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Haunted by his past, Derek Logan, returns to his hometown in search of redemption and solace. However, his hope is shattered when a stagecoach robbery disrupts the tranquility of the community, leaving behind a trail of death and chaos. In the aftermath, Derek finds himself thrust into the spotlight as the prime suspect in the heinous crime, targeted by the relentless town Marshall who is quick to assign blame to the nearest scapegoat.

Will Derek be able to unravel the truth and clear his name?

Determined to restore justice, Derek is forced to embark on a perilous quest for the truth. With courage and a desire for redemption, he confronts corrupt lawmen, merciless bounty hunters, and his own haunted past. Throughout this mission, he will earn the unwavering loyalty and support of a woman from his past…

Will they become yet another casualty in a town plagued by darkness?

Amid escalating danger and mounting stakes, Derek Logan emerges as an unlikely yet unwavering hero. Driven by an unyielding determination to right the wrongs of the past and safeguard the ones he holds dear, he becomes the beacon of hope that Riverwood desperately craves… Can he evade capture by those who seek to claim him dead or alive?

“The Frontier’s Most Wanted” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

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