A Wild Road to Redemption (Preview)


Chapter One

John Whitmore was the first to stir within the house on that mid-July morning. The evening had provided some respite, but the stale, stagnant air was still uncomfortably warm. 

Before availing himself of the outhouse, John entered the kitchen side of the one-room structure to make some coffee. The coffee tin was empty, but the pot still contained grounds from the day before. Or was it the day before that? It would be a weak brew, for sure, but something was better than nothing, he reckoned. When John reached for the water pitcher, however, he found it was bone dry.

“You ain’t got that brown bellywash done yet?” Uriah yawned. The older man stood in his stained long johns, scratching himself in the doorway. His thinning gray hair stuck out in all directions. John couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight, though he knew that he probably looked just as disheveled. 

Uriah Duncan was John’s best friend, and the house they stood in belonged to him. The men had served together in the First Regiment of the Texas Brigade, and had met when John—all of sixteen years old—joined the unit in Virginia. John was grateful to the grizzled quartermaster sergeant who issued him a mess kit, blanket, and rifle, and his gratitude turned to admiration the more time they spent together. 

Both men served in the headquarters platoon, John as a telegraph operator. In their close, daily proximity, he learned a few things about Uriah which he found to be admirable: that he had fought the Apaches while stationed at Fort Worth; that he issued supplies to the men based on their need, refusing to give in to officers who fancied new boots when theirs were merely worn; and that he’d sown some wild oats as an outlaw before his military career. 

To John, these qualities spoke of Uriah’s courage more than any medal that could have been pinned upon his chest.

After General Lee’s surrender, John found himself at loose ends. Twenty years of age by then, he saw no point in returning to his Austin home. Escaping his sadistic father’s abuse was the main reason John had enlisted in the first place. When the war ended and the soldiers were to be sent home, Uriah had offered John an appealing option when he’d asked John to come and stay with Uriah and his family in Mansfield.

“There’s plenty of room, and my wife’s a damn good cook. After the swill we’re used to, you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven.”

But when the train had arrived in Mansfield, Uriah’s homecoming hadn’t turned out quite like he’d envisioned. The men had off-loaded the horses they’d been issued as severance and rode the short distance to Uriah’s home. The house was well-worn, with peeling paint and bare boards showing. A weathered fence in a sad state of disrepair ringed the residence, and a wagon pulled by a pair of horses was parked just outside the fence. The wagon’s driver tipped his hat in acknowledgment of the two riders.

“Claude Miller,” Uriah bellowed with exaggerated joviality as he dismounted. “Did you come to pay your respects to those of us who served?”

Claude stared back blank-faced, as if severely underwhelmed by Uriah’s braggadocio. Uriah guffawed and poked his partner in the ribs. Nevertheless, John tipped his hat respectfully in return. He noticed several satchels loaded in the back of Claude’s wagon, along with a chipped, faded hope chest. 

Standing on the front porch to greet them was a stern-looking woman wearing a white bonnet and a dark green, long-sleeved dress. Her arms were folded across her chest. John knew this had to be Lucinda, the woman whose exalted culinary skills and sweet disposition Uriah had regaled him with for years.

Uriah kicked aside a gate dangling by a single hinge and dropped his sack of belongings. “Sugar, you didn’t have to get all decked out for me, but I sure do appreciate it.” He held out his arms to welcome Lucinda’s embrace.

“You’re back,” she declared, walking toward him with a quick, determined gait. She brushed aside his arm and continued marching straight toward the wagon. “I’m leaving.”

Claude reached out to help her up onto the seat. Lucinda cast a glance toward the house. “Eli! Are you coming, or are you staying?”

A blond-haired boy appeared in the shadow of the doorway, staring at his mother but not budging from where he stood. He did not reply.

“Fine. Suit yourself.” She glared at Uriah. “He’s all yours, then. Let’s go.”

Claude flicked the reins and off they went. Uriah stood open-mouthed in disbelief. In the year that had passed, Lucinda Duncan was never known to have set foot in again in Mansfield, Texas.

John’s reverie faded, and he once again focused on his former brother-in-arms standing before him, scratching and yanking at his crotch. Uriah had put on weight since his fighting years. His hair was grayer, and so was his beard. They say war can take a toll on a man’s physical appearance, John reflected, but civilian life appeared to have taken its own kind of toll, as well.

John tipped the water pitcher bottom end-up to demonstrate the predicament they faced before they could wet their whiskers.

“Eli!” Uriah hollered. “Eli, get dressed and fetch some water from our neighbor. Step lively, boy. This here’s an emergency!”

Ten-year-old Eli dug out from his bedding on the floor and wiped the sleep from his eyes. He stepped into his britches, yanking his suspenders up over his shoulders. His long blond hair had twirled itself into a greasy, pointy cowlick.

“It’d sure be nice if we had some water to wash up with,” John suggested.

“Take two buckets,” Uriah instructed.

“Pa, you know that I don’t mind carrying two buckets back,” Eli said, stooping to grab an empty pail in each hand, “but I sure hate to hear old man Miller bitch about it. ‘When’s your daddy gonna dig his own well? When’s he gonna pay me somethin’ for using mine?’ Two times the water will likely mean twice the bitching.”

“Sounds like your school lessons are paying off,” Uriah cracked. “You just tell him that the tide will be turning soon enough. Now, get.”

John wondered if Eli truly believed his father’s optimistic pronouncements of late. For that matter, John wasn’t so sure that he believed them, himself. 

There was little doubt that Lucinda had finally lost faith in Uriah’s potential for betterment. 

Even though President Lincoln had granted amnesty to former Confederate soldiers under the rank of colonel, the army had their pick of the litter in retaining the soldiers it required. An older man like Uriah, whose war wounds had left him with a limp, was considered to be expendable. Returning to his previous position in Fort Worth was, therefore, not an option.

When the steady flow of allotment checks had trickled to a halt, Lucinda had apparently felt no further loyalty to continue in her role within the family unit. She knew that, without the structure and discipline the army afforded, it would be just a matter of time before Uriah would return to his outlaw ways—and she wanted no part of it.

When all those Confederate troops returned to their hometowns, unemployment greeted a good many of them. The lucky few reclaimed their old jobs. Most had to take up new trades, starting from scratch at meager wages. And then, there were men like John and Uriah, living hand-to-mouth, day to day, waiting for an opportunity to present itself.

John managed to earn a few dollars here and there, cleaning out the livery stables, but most of those earnings went to boarding his and Uriah’s horses. Such menial work was beneath Uriah’s contempt. He’d laugh when John returned from his labors at the stables, caked in dirt and manure dust, even though it kept his own horse fed.

John would stop by the grist mill, the town’s largest employer, every other day to see if they were hiring. R.S. Man, who owned the mill, seemed amused by John’s dogged determination.

“I’ve got your name in my files, son,” he would say. “Now, you know that I wish I could hire every veteran who comes my way, but there’s more of them than I’ve got work for. You feel free to keep pestering me, though, if you want. One of these days, you just might get lucky.”

Uriah was amused by John’s efforts, and chided him for setting his sights too low. Uriah claimed that his own destiny lay in a higher calling—the most lucrative of which was pulling off heists with a couple of bushwhackers from Missouri by the name of Oates.

When gearing up for another caper, Uriah would ask John to look after Eli for a couple of days, explaining that he was off on a run with the Oates brothers. Sure enough, when he’d return, there would be money for food and firewood, maybe even some whiskey. But the money never lasted for very long.

As Uriah was pulling on his boots, John observed him stuffing a Derringer down into the left one. John clearly recalled the day when Uriah had lifted it from a young, Yankee corpse.

“You still totin’ that dainty little pea-shooter?” John smirked.

“Always,” Uriah nodded. “To tell the truth, I’d feel naked without it.” He stomped his boot to make sure the Derringer was lodged securely without causing any discomfort as he walked.

Uriah was loaded for bear, John thought. John had cleaned and oiled his own pistol every day for the past week, but he was of a mind to do it once more. For today, Uriah’s destiny would become his own, as well.

***

Eli set down his pails and knocked at Claude Miller’s door. There was no immediate response, and Eli hoped that the man wasn’t still sleeping, but he felt obliged to ask permission before availing himself of Claude’s well. It just seemed to Eli like the polite thing to do.

The door creaked open and a bleary-eyed man peeked out. “What do you want?” he snarled. Then, looking down at the empty buckets, he frowned. “Let me guess—you want to borrow more water. Goddamn it, son, when’s your daddy gonna get his own well dug? You know how long it took me to dig down in that dry-ass ground? You got any idea how many buckets of sweat it took before I hit water? Now, how is it fair that I should just let you waltz over here any time you’ve a mind to and help yourself? Is that how your daddy raised you?”

“My daddy’s a Civil War veteran, Mr. Miller,” Eli pointed out defiantly.

“Well, Yankee Doodle Dandy for him!” Miller spat. “You know, that excuse is gettin’ awful thin. Go on, get your water and leave me alone. You know where it is!” he barked as he slammed the door.

Eli sighed, picked up the buckets, and trudged toward Miller’s back yard. He dropped one pail and hooked the bail of the other over the pump spout. As he yanked up and down on the handle, he reflected on the many reasons for his dislike of Mr. Miller.

Eli didn’t like being considered a mooch, but Mr. Miller was such a stingy bastard that Eli felt tickled by the torment Mr. Miller expressed when he darkened the man’s door. Stingy, yes, and a coward to boot. Eli recalled Mr. Miller explaining once to Eli’s mother how he was too old to serve The Cause, but he wasn’t much older than Eli’s father. They’d have taken him if he’d really wanted to serve.

But Eli’s main source of dislike toward Mr. Miller was the way he’d started coming around their house after his father had left to fight. At first, he’d thought Mr. Miller was just being neighborly, or sympathetic to the struggles a soldier’s wife faced every day. He sometimes brought food over, and, occasionally, even candy from his shop in his bid to win favor with the woman and her son.

But Eli saw through Mr. Miller’s overtures. Miller’s ‘giving’ nature seemed motivated by whatever it was he hoped to ‘get,’ and although he was only a boy, Eli had some vague inkling that it was something that his mother had to offer.

For her part, Lucinda appeared to be quite flattered by Mr. Miller’s attention. In fact, it was almost as if she transformed into a different person whenever Mr. Miller came calling. At no other time had Eli heard that flirtatious lilt in her voice, nor her girlish giggling. In anticipation of his visits, Lucinda seemed more attentive to her appearance and the tidiness of the house, and Eli knew it wasn’t for his benefit. Some days, when Eli returned home from school, Mr. Miller would be sitting there, sipping a cup of tea, a smug smile stuck on his face. The two of them would glance at each other over the rims of their teacups as if they shared some secret pact, a bond that left Eli out in the cold.

Mr. Miller sure hadn’t complained about Eli borrowing water back then.

Eli pumped the handle faster and faster. The nerve of that man! Not only had he conspired with Lucinda to abandon her family and flee to her family in Texarkana, not only had he waited in his wagon in front of their house on the day of his daddy’s return to take her to the train station, but most grievously, he’d had the gall to continue living next door to them as if he had played no part in any of it. To Eli, that would be like stealing a neighbor’s pig and then proceeding to eat it in front of him.

Eli realized that the water was spilling over the pail. He bent down to swap buckets, but then paused, letting the water pour onto the ground. He looked back over his shoulder at Mr. Miller, who was standing in the window watching him pump. Eli glared back at him.

“I wish I could piss in your well, you old bastard!”

***

John and Uriah stepped out onto the porch and spied Eli tottering along, the pails slopping water with each step.

“Let me give you a hand, son,” John said, running toward him and taking one of the buckets. “Did Claude Miller give you any shit?”

“Aw, I don’t pay him no mind. I just let it roll off like water on a duck’s back,” Eli grunted. “I’ll sure be glad when Pa has some money again, though. John, what do you think? Is my daddy just blowin’ smoke?”

“We’ll find out soon enough, I guess.”

Uriah grabbed the pail from Eli and assumed duties as the coffee maker. As the water heated on the wood stove, Uriah watched as John disassembled his Colt for yet another cleaning while Eli observed closely, spellbound by the process. 

Uriah felt a warm glow, and it had little to do with the stove. He was glad John and Eli had taken a shine to each other. Somehow, he’d known they would hit it off. The three of them were connected, and had become as much of a family as when Lucinda was there, and maybe even more so. There was certainly a lot less nagging, for which Uriah was thankful.

Once the water had boiled, the three sat at the table, a steaming cup set before each of them. Now, all the effort and delays were about to pay off.

“This is terrible bad,” Eli groused, a pained expression on his face.

“You’ll get no argument from me,” John said, “though I’m grateful to have any kind of hot eye-opener to start the day.”

A cryptic smile crept across Uriah’s face, as though he were privy to some glorious intelligence. “Things are gonna change for the better before you know it, fellas.” He turned toward Eli. “Now, John and me are gonna be headin’ out on business in a little while. We won’t be back tonight; may not return until late tomorrow or even the next day. There’s some hardtack and beans to eat for when you get hungry. You see to your chores and stay close to home, y’hear?”

“Okay, Pa,” Eli nodded, gulping down the rest of his coffee. “You meetin’ up with those brothers?”

“Yeah, it’s their plan, after all,” Uriah confirmed. “They know what they’re doing, those fellas, and this time, we’re cutting Uncle John in on the action.” He turned to wink at John.

 

“How come?” Eli asked. “You usually go alone.”

“Well, Lester—that’s the older brother—he determined that this was a four-man job, is all. Sometimes you need more manpower, depending on your objective.”

Eli grinned excitedly. “Bigger job means bigger money, right?”

The two men laughed, but Uriah laughed longer. Earlier, they’d discussed John’s misgivings about aligning themselves with the former bushwhackers, and for the most part, they were in agreement about John’s views. Uriah, however, proved to be a pragmatist when it came to matters of making money, but John wasn’t easily swayed.

“I’ll admit that I’ve yet to meet the Oates brothers,” John had said. “But what I do know of them gives me pause. Bushwhackers were the lowest form of fighter in the Southern Cause. Instead of clear-cut military objectives, they wreaked havoc on civilians, ambushed small units, burned crops and homesteads, and killed anyone they suspected of offering support to the Union. And they didn’t care if women and children got in their way.”

Uriah watched as John dutifully cleaned his weapon. He knew that John still hadn’t come to terms with hitching up with the Oates brothers. He was an idealist, in that respect. But John was also seasoned enough to know that sometimes you had to set aside your principles for the sake of survival.

Uriah had an ulterior motive for recruiting John into the Oates brothers’ gang. At present, Uriah was just sort of a hired hand. Once John proved his mettle to them, Uriah was sure they’d want him to stay on, which would also make Uriah’s position more secure. And with John as an ally, Uriah’s standing in the gang might make the distribution of booty more equitable than it was now.

Turning to Eli, Uriah said, “Son, there isn’t another man I’d rather have with me on a caper than your Uncle John. You know, he wasn’t much older than you are now when we first met, two days before the battle of Manassas,.. Second Manassas. I seen grown men crying and pulling out their hair, afeard they were about to meet their maker. Not that I blamed a one of ‘em. It might as well have been the end of the world itself, for all the bloodshed and mutilation we beheld. But our man John, all of sixteen years old, gave those Yanks what for and then some!”

John looked away, his eyes falling upon nothing in particular, but Uriah knew that he was no longer in the same room with them. He’d been transported back to that field on that hot August day, his lungs burning with the acrid smell of gunpowder and the rotting remains of his comrades. Uriah often saw the same ghostly visions. Usually, they came at night, but they could just as easily haunt him during the light of day.

Eli sat open-mouthed, his head resting on his hand. He’d heard some of the men’s war stories before, but he never tired of their tales. “How many of them Yanks did you kill that day, Uncle John?”

The child’s voice startled John back to the present, and he shook his head. “War may sound real exciting, Eli, but believe me, it ain’t. Bad as it was being there, the memories are worse, like a nightmare that you can’t wake up from. I just pray that you’re spared from ever having to go to war. It ain’t like the speeches them politicians make. There ain’t no glory to be had, just miles and miles of death.”

Eli nodded, and then gulped down his coffee and stood. “I’m gonna go help Mrs. Brown round up her eggs. Those damn chickens are always tryin’ to hide them all over the barn.” He walked to his father and extended his hand. “Good luck, Pa.”

Uriah shook his son’s hand and gave him a pat on the shoulder. Eli then walked over to John and, again, held out his hand to shake. “Safe travels, Uncle John.”

That brought a smile to John’s face, for which Uriah was grateful. Eli was a good boy with a sunny disposition. Where did that come from? Certainly not from his mother! Uriah sighed. What was it about youth that filled a boy with so much hope? Abandoned by his mother, with a no-good thief for a father, living in hardscrabble straits—and yet, here he was, wishing the men good luck as he headed out the door, uncertain whether he’d ever see either of them again.


My new novel “A Wild Road to Redemption” is coming soon! Stay tuned for the announcement!

“A Wild Road to Redemption” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

When John Whitmore first became a member of a vicious criminal gang, little did he know that his reckless life was about to change forever. Almost two years later, betrayed by his fellow bandits, he has no choice but to leave his villainous business behind and seek a new beginning. In an attempt to cover his tracks, he will present himself as the father to his best friend’s son, Eli, and they will both start their life over in Arizona. However, there will soon be a cloud on the horizon… Will John manage to foresee the dangerous traps that will block his way?

With his former gang members on his trail, John is on pins and needles… Although he’s trying to dismiss the dark thoughts from his mind, an unexpected attack would terrify him. When the nasty criminals finally get to him, John will be confronted with a cruel threat: he will either help them pull off another risky heist, or both Eli’s and his life are in deadly danger. Will he eventually join forces with the evil bandits once more, or will he manage to escape this dreadful pursuit?

While John is severely trying to make this crucial decision, he will find himself trapped in the net of the lies that he crafted… Will this exhausting battle with the ghosts of his past finally come to an end? Or will he be forced to abandon the hopes and dreams for a new life forever?

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

“A Wild Road to Redemption” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

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