A Gunslinger’s Quest for Family (Preview)

Chapter One

Marshall Rolan’s cough rattled Claus to his bones. 

He said nothing, carefully picking up one card and placing it over the next, working his way through a game of solitaire. The coughing fit continued, lasting longer than most, which caused Claus to worry more about his friend and mentor than he had been already. 

“Deadeye!” Marshall called out. “Deadeye! Are you out there, man?” 

Claus chuckled to himself. He had been sitting in the same spot behind his table for the past two hours. Most of those two hours, he and Marshall had been talking off and on, reminiscing about their time together and the more difficult men they had encountered along the way. 

“Where would I have gone, old man?” 

“You got quiet!” 

“I’m playing cards,” Claus said. 

“Well, come here.” 

Claus sighed. He took another drag off his bottle of whiskey and snuffed out his cigar before sliding the chair noisily across the wooden floor. 

Marshall was lying in one of the three open cells in the office, but as the bottom half of the cells were wooden walls and only the top half were barred, it was impossible for Marshall to see what Claus was doing from where he lay. 

His boots fell heavily on the floor as he took the few steps across the room. 

“What do you need?” he asked the dying sheriff. 

“Morphine would be nice.” 

“You’ve already had twice what the doctor prescribed,” Claus replied simply. He had taken to locking up the sheriff’s supply once he realized just how much Marshall was taking.

Of course, the decision hadn’t come without a lot of guilt. Claus knew Marshall was in a lot of pain, and the morphine was one of the only things that was got Marshall up and moving. But with the amount of the drug his friend was taking, he feared Marshall was only hastening his own death. 

And Claus wasn’t sure he could be a willing aid to that end. 

“I don’t care if I’ve had ten times what that hoot gave me!” Marshall snapped. 

“But it’s getting on toward midnight.” 

“What’s your point?” 

“The point is that you’re supposed to be going to bed,” Claus said with a chuckle he knew would be loud enough for his friend to hear. “Why do you need it now? Don’t you want to save it for when you wake up in the morning?” 

“I’ll be damned if I do wake up in the morning.” 

“Don’t say that,” Claus said. 

“You know I’m dying,” Marshall replied simply. “Hell, I know I’m dying. I’m sure this whole blasted town knows I’m dying at this point!” 

Claus knew the drug altered Marshall’s brain, and while it pained him to see his old friend in such a state, he still spoke with Marshall as though the older man was the same as he’d always been. Claus didn’t want to think about what would come after the sheriff died. 

He wasn’t sure he was ready to step into the role himself. 

“A lot of things are said in this town,” Claus commented. 

“Give me that.” 

Marshall pointed to the bottle of whiskey in Claus’s hand, and before Claus had the chance to argue, Marshall managed to snatch it away from him and take a long swig. 

“You surprise me with how fast you can still move,” he commented. 

“Didn’t think you’d hand it to me if I gave you time to think about it,” Marshall said as he gave the bottle back. 

“I wouldn’t have. It’s not good to mix it with your medication.” 

Marshall laughed, but it didn’t take long for it to turn into another rattling cough. “I wouldn’t call that stuff medication,” he snorted. 

“Whatever you call it, you’re not supposed to mix it with alcohol. Doctor’s orders.” 

“The doctor ordered a lot of things, but here I am,” Marshall said. “Speaking of orders, have we heard anything from the fort recently?” 

“Fort Casper has been quiet,” Claus said. “I guess they’ve got enough food, booze, and women to keep themselves content for the time being.” 

“Lazy bastards.” Marshall shook his head. “With the size of Bluestone, I don’t know why we have to have the alleged protection of the fort, anyway. Wyoming is changing. It’s becoming settled. Having those soldiers there is just a waste if you ask me.” 

“It would be more helpful for them to lend a hand with the growing crime we’re facing here in town,” Claus commented. He didn’t want to let on that he was worried about what might come after the sheriff’s death, but it was on his mind. 

Marshall dragged his hand down his face. “That’s the government for you. More worried about expansion and whatever it is they told us the last time. But, my boy, I fully trust we’ve got the town handled. Why, we’ve hardly heard a thing all night.” 

“I figure that’s on account of the time of year,” Claus told his friend as he turned and walked heavily back to his seat. “Being the middle of autumn, we’re not getting a lot of settlers. You know that.” 

“They don’t want to get caught in the mountains in the winter,” Marshall said, using the tone he often used when he thought an idea was ridiculous. “But why? If you think you’re going to make it out here, you’re going to have to deal with the winter sometime.” 

“Not everyone understands just how hard it can be out here, I suppose,” Claus said. “But they take comfort in the fact Fort Casper is so close, so they keep coming.” 

“They’ll find out sooner or later Bluestone is changing. It isn’t the same town it was when I came here thirty years ago, and mark my words, by the time you’re my age, you’ll be telling your own deputy the same thing.” 

“Hopefully it won’t continue getting worse,” Claus said, though he kept his tone low enough Marshall wouldn’t hear him. 

“What was that?” 

“I said you should get some sleep,” Claus lied. 

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead. And with how this is going, I doubt that’ll be much longer.” 

“Don’t say that.” 

“It’s true.” 

Claus didn’t argue. There wasn’t much he could say. There was no denying that Marshall was dying, and offering an alternative perspective would only lead to Marshall pushing the point harder, and Claus didn’t want to talk about it. 

“Come back here with that. Or bring me my morphine!” 

“I think you’ve had enough morphine for the night, and no,” Claus replied as he settled back into his chair. “I’m nearly done with this game, and you’re keeping me from it.” 

“It’s not like you’ve got money on it,” Marshall grumbled from his cell, and Claus smiled to himself. Marshall was feisty. He’d always been that way. But then, that was likely the reason he had been so insistent on taking Claus under his wing and helping him reform his life. 

He had seen potential in Claus, and thanks to him, Claus now had a future on the right side of the law. Claus was already a respected deputy in Bluestone, and after the sheriff was gone, he would step into the lead role himself and find another deputy to take the place he currently occupied. 

“You don’t know that.” 

“You bet money against yourself?” 

Claus heard shuffling from the cell as Marshall shifted around. 

“Why not?” 

“It’s ridiculous.” 

“The way I see it,” Claus replied, “if I put money down against myself, I always win.” 


Claus laughed. 

“What do you do when you lose to yourself?” Marshall asked. 

“That’s the thing of it,” Claus said. “I never lose.” 

He heard Marshall grumble something, and he smiled to himself once more. 

Before he had the chance to ask what the sheriff was saying, however, he was startled by the sound of someone frantically pounding at the door. 

“What in tarnation?” Marshall cried from inside the cell. 

Claus could hear the sheriff scrambling to get to his feet, but he was faster. He knocked the chair over backward as he flew toward the door. 

“Don’t they know the door’s unlocked? It’s always open,” Marshall said as he reached the door of the cell. 

Claus wasn’t listening, however, as his mind was on their visitor. He heard the desperate voice of a woman shouting outside the door as she beat against it with her fists. 

“It’s open,” he said as he pulled the latch, and she came tumbling inside. 

“Sheriff Rolan! Sheriff Rolan! Deputy! Come quick! Come quick!” 

“Slow down, easy there,” Claus said, trying to calm the hysterical woman down. He didn’t know her name, but he recognized her as one of the workers from the Casper Cabaret, the local brothel. 

He never paid any visits to the soiled doves, as Marshall called them, but he wasn’t surprised when he heard of the tragedies that befell them. Beatings and even murder were incredibly common crimes committed against ladies of the evening, though it didn’t seem that the woman who had come to the office was harmed. 

She was crying, her makeup running down her cheeks in two dark streaks. Her hair was also disheveled, as though it had been done nicely earlier that evening but had since come undone.

“There’s no time!” she cried. “Amanda! Come quick, he’s killing her! Come quick!” 

“What’s going on?” Marshall had been standing in the doorway of the cell, but Claus wasn’t surprised he was unable to process what the woman was telling them. Considering the amount of morphine he had taken along with the drink of whiskey he’d managed to steal from Claus, it wasn’t likely he was able to think very clearly in that moment. 

“Robert Corral—he came to pay a visit to one of the girls at the brothel, and he’s lost his mind,” the woman said, fighting to speak as clearly as possible. “He’s beating her, and no one is doing a thing about it! If we don’t hurry, he’s going to beat her to death! Please, you have to come quick!” 

Claus had grabbed his hat and his gun from the table and was on his way out the door before the woman was even finished with her story. He hadn’t been entirely sure what had happened before, but as soon as he heard the name Robert Corral, he knew he had to move quickly. 

If Robert was left unchecked, he most certainly would murder the woman he was beating. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d done such a thing, either, and Claus feared it wouldn’t be the last. 

He’d never had enough proof against Robert to charge him with murder, but he knew who was responsible for the death of the last woman who had been beaten at the brothel. He wasn’t going to let it happen again if there was anything he could do to help it. 

Claus jumped the few steps leading down to the road and hit the ground running, getting to the brothel as quickly as he possibly could. He’d easily outdistanced the weeping woman behind him, but she’d seemed alright from what he could tell. 

Apparently, it was only Amanda who was in danger. 

The brothel wasn’t too far from the sheriff’s office, which Claus was grateful for now. He made it to the front door of the business in mere moments, rushing inside. 

As usual, the tavern was packed. Every table was filled with men playing cards and drinking. The bar was lined with patrons—some seated on stools chatting with the two bartenders who were serving that night, others simply standing and talking with those around them. 

There was a man playing a lively tune on the piano, and two other men playing along with him, one using a fiddle, the other a banjo. 

Thick cigar smoke filled the air, and women milled about. Some were flirting with the men at the tables, two were walking upstairs with men right behind them, and one was walking down the stairs alone. 

Laughter filled the air, with conversation filling in the gaps between the ruckus. One had to shout to be heard above all the noise, yet despite it all, Claus was certain he could hear the sound of the poor woman being beaten upstairs. 

When the chandelier in the middle of the tavern shook with impact, as though something heavy above it had fallen to the floor, Claus didn’t waste any time. He bolted up the stairs, pushing the people he passed out of his way. He told them to move as he did, but he didn’t think anyone was likely to hear him over the din. 

He moved quickly from door to door, eager to find the one that contained the man he was looking for. Claus knew he didn’t have a lot of time. He didn’t know how long Robert had been beating the woman, which meant she could be nearly dead already. 

When he heard a woman crying out as he rounded the corner, he didn’t hesitate. That had to be the right room. Claus moved in a fluid motion, grabbing his gun out of its holster as he raised his foot. 

A well-aimed kick to the door sent it banging inward. The lock broke as the wooden frame splintered, causing the door to bounce against the wardrobe that was along the wall, then it leaned inward as it barely held onto the bottom hinge. 

A glance toward the prostitute in the room told Claus that she was alive, but in bad shape. She’d scrambled away from Robert as the door came crashing into the room, grabbing whatever blanket she could from the floor as she did. 

She threw it over her shoulders as she slumped against the wall, looking as though she was about to lose consciousness. 

One of the bartenders had seen Claus rush into the tavern, and he must have decided to follow him upstairs to see what was going on. Claus heard him enter the room, but the bartender shouted something over his shoulder rather than interfere with what Claus was doing. 

Deciding that the other workers would tend to Amanda, he turned his attention to Robert Corral. Robert still wore his pants and a shirt that was unbuttoned, revealing his bare torso. There was blood on his shirt from the beating he’d been giving Amanda, and the sight of it only infuriated Claus. 

“What do you think you’re doing?” Robert shouted to him as soon as he’d entered the room. “I paid for this room and that girl. Get out!” 

He didn’t wait for a reply. Instead, he rushed forward, his head down and his hands in position to grab Claus. Claus had to act quickly, or Robert was going to send him back out the door and across the hall. 

It was clear the man was on the fight. 

Without even a second of hesitation, Claus flipped the gun he was holding, grasping the barrel as he whipped Robert across the face with the other end.

He felt the end of the gun connect with Robert’s face, and he was certain he’d heard the sound of Robert’s nose breaking. It was satisfying, though Claus wished to do far more to the man than simply break his nose. 

Robert screamed with rage as he pressed his hands to his face. He staggered back a few steps before regaining his poise, then he looked down at the blood in his hands with disgust. 

“You paid for her services, not to kill her!” Claus spat at him, preparing to make another swing if need be. 

“She ain’t dead.” 

“She’s nearly there,” the bartender said. “Corral, we made it clear the last time this happened that you weren’t to be violent toward the doves! I’ll have the owner—”

“You’ll keep your mouth shut if you know what’s good for you!” Robert interrupted. “I wouldn’t have to treat them like this if they would just shut up and do as they’re told. Really, it’s a problem with this whole establishment that the women have lip.” 

The bartender looked both annoyed and frustrated with Robert, but it was obvious he wasn’t going to push the topic any further. Though disappointed, he wasn’t surprised. Claus knew what a strong hold Robert Corral had on the town. Many of the inhabitants feared him, and everyone hated him. Yet regardless of how anyone felt toward Robert, no one would do anything about him. 

“What’s the policy on this?” Claus asked the bartender, ignoring what Robert had just stated. “Can you promise me he won’t be allowed back?” 

The bartender was occupied with gathering Amanda up in his arms. She had lost consciousness, and instead of answering Claus, the bartender told the next woman who appeared in the doorway to send for the doctor as quickly as possible. 

He then turned his attention back to Claus. 

“That would be up to the owner of the brothel,” he explained. “If it were up to me, no, but it’s not up to me.” 

He didn’t wait to hear what either Claus or Robert had to say in response. Instead, he walked out the door and rounded the corner, disappearing into the hall with the unconscious woman in his arms. 

Claus was practically shaking with rage, clenching and unclenching his free hand while the other still held the pistol. He wanted to arrest Robert right then, but little would come of that. 

He hoped and prayed Amanda would recover from her injuries, but the bartender was right. If Amanda did pull through, there was no real crime Claus could lay on Robert. Beatings like that happened all too often, and sadly, they weren’t against the law. 

The only protection Amanda had was what was offered from the brothel itself, and that wasn’t much. 

He heard the sound of someone chuckling behind him, and he slowly turned. 

“Is that what you want, Wolf?” Robert taunted. “You want me to be banned? You want them to tell me that I’m not welcome back here? Let me tell you something.” 

He was buttoning his shirt as he spoke, and Claus turned to face him. 

“I give this place a lot of money. That alone would be enough for Hank to turn a blind eye—sorry for the reference.” 

He nodded toward Claus’s eyepatch, and Claus found himself wanting to pistol whip the man all over again out of principle. 

Claus had lost an eye in a gunfight years before, leaving him half blind with an eyepatch. It was part of the reason for his nickname, Deadshot. Most of the town respected him and his injury, but there were those like Robert who would find any reason they could to belittle him over it. 

“You think just because you give this place your money, Hank isn’t going to ban you? I know you’re the one responsible for Martina’s death last year, and I have no doubt you’re behind Bonnie’s death the year before. How good of business is it really if you’re killing his means of income?” he challenged. 

Robert laughed once again, causing Claus’s blood to boil. 

“You have no proof for either of those, and let me tell you something, even if you did, it wouldn’t make any difference. No one is going to cross me in this town, and that includes you. I know you think things’ll change when the sheriff is gone, and you’re right—but they’re not going to change in the way you think,” he said. 

“Say what you will, but you’re not going to get away with anything,” Claus warned. “Now get out of here.” 

“Or what?” Robert challenged. “You going to sucker punch me again?” 

“I did what I had to do when you charged me,” Claus retorted. “Not that I have to explain a thing to you. And you’re lucky that’s all you got.” 

“Are you threatening me?” 

“Warning you, more like. Know your place, Corral,” Claus warned. “I could still take you into jail tonight.” 

“For what?” he sneered. “You’re nothing but a bastard playing sheriff, Wolf. I ain’t scared of you, and I never will be.” 

Claus had a temper. He knew he did, and Sheriff Rolan often told him to work on keeping it in check before it caused him real problems. Claus did his best most of the time to manage himself, but he didn’t like Robert, and he was already on edge after what he had witnessed that night. 

The doctor and the girl the bartender had sent to fetch him passed the doorway of the room, and Robert finished tying his boot. He rose and started sauntering toward the door, but not before he made another comment to Claus. 

“By the way,” he said as he pointed toward his nose, “you ever lay a finger on me again, and what I did to that whore is going to look like nothing. And that is a threat.” 

Claus had heard enough. It was bad enough that he had seen what he had, but to be threatened by the same man who had committed the crime right after was too much for him to handle. 

He gave in to his temper, his hand flying to the front of Robert’s bloody shirt. 

“Get off me!” Robert shouted, but Claus refused to listen. 

He’d moved quickly enough to catch the other man off guard. Though they had just been scuffling moments before, Robert clearly had expected Claus to back down like the rest of the town did whenever he threatened them. 

Instead, Claus had him by his shirt collar, and he was starting for the window. 

“Are you out of your mind?” 

He clearly guessed what Claus was intending to do with him. And Claus didn’t stop. 


Chapter Two

Robert shouted the words, but they were barely out of his mouth before Claus threw him against the window as hard as he could manage. The two of them had been moving quickly enough that Robert wasn’t able to slow or stop himself, stumbling forward as Claus let go. 

He threw his hands forward, but they did little to help him in the moment. The glass shattered, and Robert was moving with too much momentum to stop himself. He went right through the window and fell to the street two stories below. 

Claus’s chest rose and fell with emotion as well as exertion, but he wasn’t finished with the ruffian yet. There was so much more he wanted to do with the man, but he knew he couldn’t. Not only was he a man of the law who had to obey the bounds that were placed on him, he also didn’t want to be the kind of man that Robert was. 

He wouldn’t stoop to that level no matter how infuriated he was with Robert Corral. Instead, he would take him back to the office and lock him up for the rest of the night. He couldn’t hold Robert for long without placing formal charges on him, but it would still provide some level of relief and satisfaction to force Robert to spend the night in one of the jail cells. 

He heard the cries from the people below when Robert fell, and he knew he had to hurry. For as many people as there were in Bluestone who hated or feared Robert, there were still others who were his friends. They were the same kind of men Robert himself was, and it was likely they, too, were in the area. Claus didn’t want them to help Robert before he had the chance to take him into the jail, so he had to get down to the street quickly. 

All the commotion that had been caused with the doctor rushing in had quieted the upper level of the building, but downstairs was just as chaotic as it had been when Claus went through the first time. He ignored the music and the patrons, heading straight through the door and onto the street. 

The cool night air was a welcome reprieve from the stuffiness inside the brothel. Claus would have been happy to simply stand and take a few breaths to cleanse not only his lungs, but his mind after being in the tavern. But a crowd had already formed around where Robert had fallen, and it wouldn’t be long before his friends heard about it and showed up. 

“Out of the way, nothing to see here,” he called to those who had gathered. 

“What’s going on?” a man asked. 

“Is he okay?” a woman chimed in. 

“Leave this to the law,” Claus replied simply, not wanting to stand and talk to the spectators. “Please, get out of the way and let me do my job.” 

“Is that Robert Corral?” he heard a voice say as he pushed through the people and grabbed Robert’s ear. 

“You’ll pay for this,” Robert mumbled, dazed after hitting the ground. 

“With any sort of justice, you’ll be the one who’s paying for this,” Claus told him. Robert cried out as Claus dragged him to his feet, using his ear alone. 

“You’re going to tear it off! Let me go!” Robert whimpered. 

“Shut up,” Claus snapped. “If only I could.” 

“First you break my nose, now you’re going to tear my ear clean off,” the man continued. 

“You’re drunk, and you deserve everything you got. You deserve more, if you ask me, so you’re pretty lucky you’re walking away from all this with nothing more than a busted face,” Claus retorted. “After what you did to that girl, I’d rather be stringing you up in a tree right now than taking you to sleep off your booze.” 

“You best let me go if you want to see tomorrow,” Robert warned. “It’s not going to take long for the boys to realize I haven’t come back to the game, and they’re going to be looking.” 

Claus didn’t reply. Robert’s friends were likely around, but he hadn’t thought that they might be in the saloon playing cards. He halfway hoped that they, too, had decided to pay for some attention from the women rather than sticking to their game. 

That would give Claus more time to get Robert locked up before he had to deal with the rest of them. 

“You scared?” Robert taunted. “You’ve gone all quiet.” 

“Just don’t have anything to say to scum like you,” he replied. 

He half-dragged, half-walked Robert with him back to the sheriff’s office, finding Marshall had left the cell and was seated behind the desk when he returned. 

“Goodness, what’s this then?” the sheriff cried when he saw Robert. 

“What the girl said was true,” Claus replied as he walked straight to one of the cells and threw Robert inside. Whether it was from the fall or the amount he’d had to drink, Claus didn’t know, but Robert stumbled forward and smashed his shoulder against the wall before sitting heavily on the bed. 

He started to threaten Claus once more, but Claus didn’t listen. He grabbed the keys from the desk in front of Marshall and locked the cell, continuing his conversation with the sheriff rather than listening to what the ruffian had to say. 

“I kicked down the door to find the girl almost dead, Robert beating on her like she was nothing to him. I’m telling you, Sheriff, there’s few times in my life when I’ve seen the face of evil, and I believe tonight was one of them.” 

“Are you going to charge him?” the sheriff asked. 

“Sadly, I don’t think there’s anything I can charge him with, unless she dies,” Claus said. “You know the law as well as I do, if not better.” 

“Then do you really think it’s a good idea to lock him up tonight?” the sheriff pressed, and Claus realized what Marshall was really concerned about. 

“He’s going to sleep it off,” Claus said. “I’ll let him out of there in the morning, unfortunately.”

“Still,” Marshall said with a sigh. “His friends aren’t going to like this.” 

As if they had heard the words themselves, a half-full bottle of whiskey came flying through the front window of the sheriff’s office, shattering the glass and scattering it across the floor. 

The bottle’s neck broke clean off with the impact, spilling the amber liquid across the floor as well. Robert laughed at the sight, then turned his attention back to Claus. 

“Gone and done it now, haven’t you?” he sneered. “Told you they weren’t going to like it.” 

“Lock the door,” Sheriff Rolan said. “Let them sober up and come back for him in the morning.” 

But Claus shook his head. They would keep throwing things at the office until they either saw Robert being released or Claus did something about it, and he wasn’t going to do the former. 

“I’ll deal with them,” he said with a frustrated sigh. 

“You sure?” the sheriff asked, but Claus was already on his way back out the door. It wasn’t going to be a pleasant interaction, but it had to be done. 

And he always did what needed done.


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