Vengeance Has Come To Town (Preview)

Chapter One

Kansas, 1889

Sydney ‘Syd’ Koester stared down at the deep red puncture wounds in the man’s neck and shuddered involuntarily. “What a way to die.”

“Well, at least he expired quickly,” Sheriff Martin Davis muttered, standing next to him.

“Yeah, it must’ve been over fast for the poor guy.”

As they rolled the dead man over, his head bent grotesquely to the side like a wet noodle. 

There were no wounds visible on the front of the body.

“Looks like a chomp on the neck is all we got,” Syd noted.

“Wonder why? I mean, if that lion was pissed off, you figure he might’ve chewed him up some more.”

“Good question. Maybe lions are like house cats and sometimes they just kill for the fun of it?”

“Maybe,” the sheriff hedged. “I hate house cats, myself.” He bent down and pulled a white linen sheet over the body. 

The two of them gazed around the cage. It was made of iron bars and stood some twenty feet by twenty feet, with a barred ceiling. The cage itself was housed in a large tent, where it was kept for the lion tamer’s rehearsals.

It was during one of these rehearsals that the body of Horace Berry, co-owner of the Berry Brothers Circus, had been found. The body was lying just inside the door—as if he had been trying to leave the cage when the cat jumped him from behind. There were no witnesses to the attack, except the lion that had been with him.

“Mr. Berry’s brother was sure tight-lipped about their show when we interviewed him, wasn’t he?” Syd commented.

“Yep. They say circus folks are like that. It’s like they live in their own little world when they’re on the road, and they’re mighty protective of it.”

Syd nodded. “Everyone else we talked to seemed to be the same: just the facts, nothin’ more.”

“What do you think, Syd?” Davis asked. “This looks like an accident to me. One of the animals jumped him, for whatever reason, and that was that. It happens sometimes in the circus world, his son told me. What was his name?”

“Malcom.”

“Yeah, the kid said even the best lion-tamers have been known to get attacked. These beasts are still wild animals at heart, no matter how long they been with people.”

“But what a way to go,” Syd said again. “Gettin’ your neck snapped by a lion! I think you’re right though, Martin, looks like it was an accident.” 

They had interviewed everyone associated with the act, and all agreed it was a sad and tragic event—but one not unknown to occur in the lion cage. Men died sometimes at the hand of the dangerous and unpredictable animals they worked with. 

The lawmen left the tent and shared their conclusion with the co-owner of the circus: Jerome Berry, Horace’s younger brother. 

He took the news with a stoic, sad expression. “Perhaps I’m naïve, but I never imagined such a thing to befall my brother. He has worked with these same animals for ten years without the slightest incident, beyond the usual growl or swipe of the paw at his whip. Those are mostly for effect, you understand. Horace wanted to have them in his act.”

Sheriff Davis grunted. “I guess that’s show business, huh? The cats have to seem very dangerous to give your audience their money’s worth.”

“Exactly.” Berry nodded solemnly. “But, in fact, deep down they are dangerous animals, Sheriff. The lion tamer takes his life into his hands each time he enters the cage with them.” He suddenly put his hand to his mouth as if to quell an outburst of grief. “I’m sorry… as I said, one never expects someone like Horace to succumb to such a fate. It is terrible.”

The lawmen glanced at each other then back at Berry. “Once again, please accept our condolences for your loss,” Davis said, reaching out and shaking his hand.

“Thank you so much, Sheriff. I do appreciate that.”

“Will you be canceling the rest of the shows here in town?” Syd enquired.

Berry stared back at him, his dark hazel eyes blinking in apparent surprise. His face was framed by long black hair, his skin had an olive hue, and his accent sounded vaguely Eastern European. “No, Marshal. As we say in the circus, the show must go on. I believe Horace would have wanted it that way. We have salaries to pay and a performance schedule to meet.”

“I understand,” Syd replied, shaking the man’s hand also. “My condolences, sir.” The lawmen turned away, heading back to the office to file their reports.

***

Syd and Davis shared an office in the town of Clayton, located in the Great Plains area of western Kansas. It was mostly Syd’s office, as he was town marshal, but Davis used it when he was in the vicinity. 

After the sheriff had done his paperwork and left for the day, Syd put his feet up on the desk and let out a long sigh. He and Davis had signed off on Horace Berry’s death as being accidental. Yet now he found himself feeling restless and uneasy about their conclusion. Was that really all there was to it? 

He couldn’t put his finger on what exactly was bothering him about the case. So, as was his way, Syd turned the facts over in his mind dozens of times and tried to look at them from every angle as he sat there in the quiet office. Every time he did, they still added up to the same: it looked like an accident. 

Why does something feel so off about it, then?

 In his five years as town marshal, Syd Koester had learned to pay attention to the hunches that came his way. They didn’t always point to something he’d missed, but often they did. 

He decided to go back the next day and interview Jerome Berry again. 

Once this decision had been made, his restlessness dissolved. Syd stood up and stretched his six-foot, one-inch frame, running a hand through his sandy blonde hair. It had been a long day. With a luxurious yawn, he grabbed his hat from a peg on the wall and went home for supper.

***

First thing the next morning, Syd made his way on foot to the open prairie on the edge of Clayton, where the circus had set up their tents. Strolling past a large, brightly colored sign that announced ‘The Amazing Berry Brothers Menagerie and Circus,’ he found the grounds were quiet at that hour.

Guess these show folks probably stay up late after the performance and blow off a little steam. 

Syd asked the watchman where he could find Jerome Berry. The man pointed to one of two vibrant wagons sitting near a line of tents on the edge of the compound.

“Why’s there only two wagons?” Syd asked.

“Those belong to the Berry Brothers—the owners. A couple relics they kept from the old days when they were a mud show.”

“A mud show?”

“This circus used to travel by wagon before switchin’ to the railroad.”

Like the sign, Jerome’s wagon was painted in extravagant red with swirls of blue and white. It had fancy wood trim around the edges, which was brightly painted as well. The overall effect was one of vibrant high spirits. 

He rapped on the door a couple of times.

A minute later Jerome appeared, looking anything but vibrant. He seemed hung over, but perhaps it was just the early hour. 

“Good morning, Mr. Berry,” Syd chirped. 

“Marshal?” Jerome mumbled. “What brings you here at this dastardly hour?”

“I’m sorry, sir. I was just wondering if I could ask you a few more questions. I guess this is a little early for you show people to be up, I apologize.”

“A little early?” Jerome said with a sarcastic grimace, his eyes like slits. The sight almost made Syd chuckle. “We work hard but we work late, Marshal.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll come back when you’re feeling more disposed.”

“No, no! Seeing you’re here, we might as well get this over with.” The showman sighed. “Come on in, then.” He pushed the door open and turned around wearily. 

Syd climbed up the steps, took off his hat, and ducked inside the wagon. He found the living space cluttered but comfortable. Copious candles sat on shelves alongside books, carvings, and trinkets, the likes of which Syd had never seen before. 

It’s like a menagerie all to itself in here.

Elegant black top-hats and long-tailed suit jackets of various colors hung from the walls. “Let me guess. You’re a ringmaster, Mr. Berry?”

“Yes. Very good, Marshal. I see you have an eye for detail.”

“Comes with the territory.” 

“I suppose that it is quite handy in your line of work,” Jerome mumbled. “Please, have a seat.” He gestured toward one of the built-in benches that lined the sides of a small wooden table.

“Thank you.” Syd stepped forward, his hair brushing the low ceiling before he plopped down onto an embroidered cushion. “How was the show last night, sir?”

Jerome sat down with a weary grunt and fixed his amber eyes on his guest. “It was difficult… very emotional with Horace gone. I think all of us were feeling the same way about it. The Berry Brothers Circus is like a family. But even still—”

“The show must go on?”

“Yes. That is how it is with us. What can I help you with this morning, Marshal?”

“Just a few questions, sir. So, you and Horace were the co-owners of this operation. Correct?”

“Yes, as I already explained to you and Sheriff Davis yesterday,” he replied with an annoyed look.

“How did you and Horace get along professionally? I mean, when it came to running the circus?”

 Jerome’s expression seemed to shift from annoyed to guarded and suspicious. “It was fine. Why do you wish to know these things? This is not the time to talk of business. My brother is dead and I am crushed with sorrow.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but as town marshal I’m obliged to make a thorough investigation of every death that occurs in my jurisdiction. It’s best done when circumstances are fresh in people’s minds.”

Syd knew from experience that people sometimes became guarded when such probing questions were asked—especially where the death of a loved one was involved. 

He had noticed, however, that Jerome became extremely uncomfortable when asked about the working relationship he’d had with his late brother. This was unusual, and it might point to something significant regarding the case.

The ringmaster exhaled heavily and stared down at the table with a sad and brooding expression. “I am sorry, Marshal,” he muttered. “I cannot continue this interview right now. Sorrow weighs too heavy upon me.” 

“No problem, sir,” Syd replied diplomatically. “You understand that I do need to talk to you at some point before the show leaves town?”

“Of course, I understand completely. Just give me a little time to grieve, please. That’s all I’m asking. The shock of Horace’s death is still so fresh.”

“I can certainly do that for you. I would like to do some follow-up interviews with some of the staff, as well—if you don’t mind. Could I wander about the grounds a bit and speak to them?”

“As long as you don’t interfere with their work, that would be fine,” he replied, getting to his feet. “But please, let them get some rest before you begin speaking to them, Marshal. As I said, we work very late. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m extremely tired this morning.”

Syd nodded. “Thank you for your cooperation.”

He turned and left the trailer, feeling like there was definitely more to this case than met the eye.

Chapter Two 

As Jerome Berry glanced out the window and watched the marshal walk away from his wagon, he felt disappointed. 

Those lawmen said they believed Horace’s death was accidental. What could possibly have changed their minds about it? 

The last thing he had expected was for one of them to return and start asking more questions at such a time. He stood up and began pacing back and forth inside the wagon.

It was his circus now, and his alone. Years ago, an agreement had been made between himself and Horace—in writing and on file with their lawyer—stating that upon the death of either one, ownership of the Berry Brothers’ circus would pass to the surviving brother. 

Once both brothers were dead, ownership would then pass into the hands of Malcom, Horace’s only son. 

I cannot allow anything to spoil this new situation. The show is finally mine to run as I see fit. What if the marshal discovers that Horace and I differed so greatly on the future of the business? He would immediately suspect me of some involvement in his death.

And what will happen when he talks to the staff? Horace and I sometimes argued in front of them—just last week, even. This discovery could ignite the marshal’s worst suspicions. We are a circus family and all of us know not to share the family secrets with outsiders. Still, our secrets are only as safe as the family’s weakest links… and we have many of those.

Jerome stopped pacing and stared out the window again, pondering the situation. Then he began hurriedly dressing, putting on his usual daytime attire: a pinstripe vest with a bold dress shirt underneath, a purple handkerchief sticking out of the vest pocket. 

He tugged on a pair of black pants and Spanish boots before grabbing a wide-brimmed hat on his way out the wagon door. 

The grounds were quiet, as they always were in the hours before ten o’clock in the morning. Only on moving days, when the show was packing up to leave town, was the site all hustle and bustle from the first light of dawn.

He took a deep breath of fresh prairie air and steeled himself to face the day. 

Walking slowly through the circus compound, he saw Syd talking to the watchman, a young lad named James, who was pointing toward Horace’s rehearsal tent. 

Perhaps the marshal is going to inspect the cage again? 

A moment later, Syd walked toward Horace’s tent and disappeared behind the canvas. 

An idea suddenly came to Jerome and he checked the inside pocket of his vest. Satisfied with what he found, he made a beeline toward the tent, throwing a wave to the watchman as he passed by.

Syd was inspecting the lion cage when Jerome walked inside. The lawman was bent over, looking at the lock mechanism on the door. Jerome stood there a moment in the shadows, watching as Syd closed the door and locked it from the outside by turning the latch.

Then, Jerome launched forward in a brisk stride, calling out as he went, “Marshal?” Syd turned and looked at him. “I must apologize for the inconvenience that I caused you today.”

“Like I said, that’s no problem,” Syd replied. “We’ll do the interview another day.”

“Please, I would like to make amends for your trouble.” He reached into the pocket of his vest. “I would like to make you a gift of a couple of passes to tonight’s show.”

“You don’t have to do that, sir.”

He ignored the comment. “Are you a married man?”

“No.”

Jerome held out a couple of passes. “Here, then, please take these. I invite you and a friend to be my personal guests at tonight’s show.”

Syd took the passes and peered at them. “Thank you very much, that’s kind of you.” He glanced up with a smile. “I’d be glad to attend the show, Mr. Berry. I’ll ask my brother to come along.”

“Wonderful. I think you’ll find our performance to be one of the best circuses you’ve ever seen. Indeed, it’s probably the best you will ever see, Marshal Koester.”

“I look forward to it, thank you,” Syd replied.

“My pleasure,” Jerome intoned, bowing deeply. He turned on his Spanish heels and walked away. 

I’m sure the clowns will be glad to show the marshal a good time tonight.

***

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the Amazing Berry Brothers Menagerie and Circus!” the ringmaster intoned in a booming, melodious voice as he strode to the center of the ring. “What did you think of that brilliant performance by our very own Berry Brothers Band? Aren’t they amazing?”

Elegantly dressed in his ringmaster clothes, Jerome extended an arm toward a dozen or so musicians clustered on a bandstand near the ring. He smiled as a round of applause and whistles filled the tent. 

The musicians got to their feet holding their instruments—mostly brass and woodwinds but with a few strings, accordion, and percussion instruments. They doffed their caps to the crowd with smiles and waves, soaking in the applause after a forty-five-minute concert to begin the evening.

 In the bleachers, Syd threw a handful of popcorn into his mouth, put the paper bag down on his lap, and joined in the applause. Then, he put his thumb and forefinger into his mouth and blew out a loud, appreciative whistle. The band had played their hearts out in a set that included everything from classical pieces and opera overtures to Broadway show tunes. He had thoroughly enjoyed it. 

“Wow, they were amazing, weren’t they, Reuben? I’ve never heard such a great band!” He grinned at his brother, sitting beside him in the bleachers. 

At twenty-six, Reuben Koester stood six feet tall: a paunchy, jovial cattle-shipper who was a couple of years older than Syd. Syd liked to joke that his brother never worked an honest day’s labor—he just sat in his busy office, shuffling paper and arranging for shipment of beeves by railroad to Eastern markets. “That’s why you’ve gotten so fat!” Syd would tease. “The only exercise you get is dipping your pen into an inkwell and pushin’ it across a page.”

“Maybe so, Marshal,” he would tease back, “but I still make twice as much money as you do.” 

Reuben had seemed glad to accept Syd’s invitation to come see the circus. He threw a handful of popcorn into his mouth and turned toward his younger brother. “Yeah… I guess the band is okay. I’ve heard worse,” he drawled. “But amazing? Not even close, Sydney.”

“You just got a wooden ear, that’s all. You wouldn’t know good music if it slapped you upside the head!”

“Ha! All that damn brass did slap me in the ears, come to think of it.” Reuben chuckled. “It’s the loudest band I’ve ever heard, I’ll give ‘em that.”

“They gotta be loud so folks can hear ‘em overtop all the oohs and ahhs.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Reuben conceded.

As the applause for the band died down, the ringmaster, resplendent in a shiny top hat and red jacket with tails, carried on: “And now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, before the Equestrian Extravaganza begins, we have a very special treat for you…”

A little girl sitting in front of Syd turned toward her mother. “What’s a ‘questrian ‘travaganza, Mama?”

“That means there’ll be a horse show with lots of riding tricks later,” the woman replied.

The little girl clapped her hands excitedly. “Oh, goody!”

A drum roll began, and after a dramatic pause, Jerome called out, “Please welcome: the Berry Brothers Tumblers!”

The band broke into a fast-tempo circus march with crashing cymbals and pumping brass while a half-dozen tumblers ran into the ring. The acrobats spread out and erupted into somersaults, jumps, and spins to the delight of the crowd, who clapped and cheered them on.

Syd laughed. He was glad to be at the circus—he hadn’t attended one since he was in his teens. Because the show was under investigation, he was also keeping an eye out for anything that might provide helpful information. Seasoned professional lawman that he was, however, he could enjoy the performances at the same time. 

The acrobats gamboled about the ring, all wearing skin-tight leotards. A pretty, dark-haired woman caught Syd’s eye. Atop her pink leotard, a short, frilly skirt bounced and fluttered as she jumped, rolled, and spun.

Wow, she’s gorgeous!

The troupe, composed of three men and three women, began to form a human pyramid in the center of the ring. As the band segued into a slow, dramatic tune, the men took their positions side by side on their hands and knees. 

 Two of the women backed up to the edge of the ring, then began somersaulting toward them in synchronized tandem. After a few spins, they both sprang into the air in one smooth movement, landing gracefully on top of the backs of the men.

A cheer of amazement went up from the crowd, followed by applause. Then, all attention focused on the pretty, dark-haired woman. She was backing up slowly toward the edge of the ring, eyes fixed on her fellow acrobats. 

A hush fell over the audience.

When she raised her arms into the air and struck a pose, a drum roll began. Then, she sprinted forward. After a couple long strides, she threw herself into a sideways somersault, rolling like a wheel with her hands and feet, spinning toward the pyramid.

Syd stopped chewing his popcorn and stared. Dozens of spectators around him leaned forward in anticipation. 

Just before she reached the pyramid, the woman came out of the roll and used the momentum to soar high up above the troupe. She did a somersault in mid-air and landed smoothly on the backs of the two women at the top. 

With a slight wobble, the dark-haired girl lifted her arms and broke into a triumphant smile.

The bleachers shook as the crowd erupted into applause. Syd put his fingers in his mouth again and whistled. He glanced over at Reuben. Even his brother seemed impressed by the acrobatic feat. He sat there with a big grin, clapping enthusiastically. “Good Lord, I swear that woman can fly!”

“Yessir, and that’s the prettiest bird I’ve ever seen, too,” Syd quipped.

“Ladies… and… gentlemen,” Jerome said dramatically, “the Berry Brothers Tumblers! Featuring the Flying Minerva… isn’t she amazing?” A roar of appreciation went up and Minerva acknowledged it with a wave.

Then—as gracefully as it had been built—the human pyramid disassembled itself, one piece at a time. The band kicked into another rollicking circus march, and Minerva dropped from the apex to the floor. She bowed then sprinted out of the ring.

Next, the two other women dropped down and bowed. Finally, the three male acrobats stood up, took their bows, and exited. When they were gone, Jerome was left standing there alone with his nose in the air and a puzzled look on his face.


“Vengeance Has Come To Town” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Marshal Syd Koester is enjoying his quiet life in Kansas, until the Amazing Berry Brothers Circus comes to town. In a matter of days, he will be thrown into chaos following a string of mysterious deaths. Dead set on solving the crimes, Syd must deal with the circus owner who is violently opposed to letting him complete his investigation. The situation spirals out of control once again, when Syd is caught up in a terrible misunderstanding…

Will Syd manage to protect his town even though the showmen are blocking the course of justice?

To complicate things even further, Syd finds himself completely smitten with Minerva, a member of the crew. Despite knowing he shouldn’t get involved with a woman who’s part of the case, his heart has already been captured. Their mutual feelings are at risk because of Minerva’s family, but the dark beauty of the trapeze is determined to get to know Syd better…

How will Syd overcome the obstacles that threaten his relationship with Minerva when there is no one he can trust?

Unbeknownst to them, Syd and Minerva will be plunged into a dark whirlwind of deceit and loss that will leave everyone wondering where it will all end. Will their romance survive the clash between two proud families from very different backgrounds? Will justice prevail despite the efforts of the circus master to stop the marshal, using every trick at his command?

“Vengeance Has Come To Town” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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