Monday, April 30, 2012

A.C. CROOM


SHOWDOWN IN SHADOW CREEK

EXCERPT:  COMING MAY 7, 2012 from Eternal Press


Cold starlight beamed into the dimness of the room. Eve and John sat at a small table on one side with only a single candle to light their features. They spoke in whispered voices, kept low to avoid waking two sleeping babies.

“John, what can we do? These people live and die by the feud. I do not want our children to become part of that kind of life simply because we became targets for standing our ground and defending Tex after he was shot. It just isn’t fair.”

“Fair has nothing to do with it, Eve. There will always be someone who wants something and is willing to take it at the end of a gun. Do you remember? Once I told you that I have to face my enemies, we have to face our enemies. If we don’t, we might as well pack up and run. That hasn’t changed. We could run, but they would keep after us until we had to run again. Eventually, it would become habit and we’d keep running because it was easier than facing the hard choices. I couldn’t then and I won’t now; especiallynot now!”

Eve smiled sadly. “Very well then, we stand and fight.”

John pulled her close and sat quietly focused on the reflection staring back at him from the imperfect glass of the window. Moments like this had defined each metamorphosis his life had taken. His thoughts were not on the family that had bound together to kill him, or his current family. They were instead shadows of a past filled to overflowing with death and loss.

At seventeen, his father had died in his arms, shot by mistake as two drunken Kansas Bushwhackers let a fight over a spilled shot of whiskey come down to a wild shootout in the streets of Lawrence, Kansas. William Patrick Bell, a gentle farmer trying to raise his family the only way he knew how, lay dead on the plank sidewalk because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. John Bell, eldest of the children, found himself thrust prematurely into the role of his father. He took the path he was born to.

A year later, at the height of the devastating Civil War, sweat poured from his sun-reddened skin as he guided an aged mule down a dusty turn row. He tried valiantly to fill the boots of his father and supply the sustenance needed by his mother, sister, and younger brothers. From the direction of the farm house gunshots rang out. Four hundred Missouri raiders rode past the farm from the gentle slope of Mount Oread in a murderous dash into the streets of Lawrence. Unarmed, his family had no chance. Though he ran as hard as he could, the raiders were gone as quickly as they had appeared.

The house was filled with dark black smoke and shooting flames. He found dead and nearly dead family members under the willow tree beside the pond. His mother, as was her wont, reclined in her rocking chair, her torso now draped over the arm, her blood soaking into the weathered, dry wood. In her lap lay the worn, much used bible given her on the day of her wedding.

Sixteen year old Caleb lay near her in a fetal position, the back of his head a mass of clotting blood. William Jr. was lucky to be still among the living. He sat cradling a shattered left arm. Tears streamed down his twelveyear-old face. Celeste, pretty Celeste, youngest of the Bell family, wandered aimlessly across the yard toward the water. She made no sound at all as she stepped into the cool liquid, one step, then another, and another. John pulled her from the water and she fought to return. Even at this young age, she longed to join her dead mother and brother. Her screams of anguish tore holes in John’s soul. Once clear of the waters’ edge she stopped fighting and began a quiet sobbing for the loss she suffered.

* * * *

Celeste sat silently beside her wounded brother as both watched John dig two fresh graves adjoining the one their father occupied behind the burned out farmhouse. Her gaze focused entirely on the gaping holes that would soon hold the bodies of her mother and older brother…John watched her closely, fearing another onset of the insanity that swept over the child initially.

William Jr. sat in a semi-drunken stupor. Having nothing else to kill the excruciating pain as he dressed and bound the shattered arm, John had made him drink glass after glass of whiskey. It dulled the pain, but, it also dulled the senses. Lost in his thoughts about the children and where he could take them where they could safely sit out the war, John didn’t notice Celeste had risen and walked to the edge of the grave until she spoke.

“Johnny, can I help?”

“Honey, you can do anything you want. What do you want to do to help?”

“I want to go up on the hill and pick some flowers for Mama and Papa and Caleb…can I?”

“I think that’s a fine thing to do. Don’t take too long though, I’ll have this digging done soon and we need to finish before dark. Can’t have a proper funeral after the sun goes down you know.”

“I won’t be long, and I will stay in sight. Mama loved flowers.”

“Go ahead then, but stay where I can see you. If the bad men come back, you come running as fast as you can, ya hear?”

* * * *

Lack of sleep was wearing young John Bell thin. After the burial of his mother and brother, he had loaded the slab sided farm wagon with all the worldly possessions of the Bell family and hitched the mules. The two day, forty mile ride to the home of his father’s brother in Kansas City was like a trip through Hell. Every farm and homestead on that rough road had seen some type of attack from northern forces operating out of Missouri.

When the wagon topped a slight rise above the small homestead relief flooded through Johnny Bell’s heart and mind. His uncle Thaddeus and aunt Elisabeth welcomed the trio of travelers and agreed to foster Caleb and Celeste.

* * * *

J. R. Bell was born that day. He had no desire to join with either group of fighters that had a part in the shattering of his family, and indeed, the entire eastern half of Kansas. He strapped on his father’s Colt pistol and rode west. He assumed the life of a gambler, and followed the Army camps earning a living from the bad luck of hapless soldiers on rare nights they could receive furlough.

He didn’t actively seek out Quantrill or his murderous band, but he did come across many of them and generally left them bleeding or dead on the sawdust of whatever saloon they happened to cross his path. A burning anger resided just under the calm outward surface of his persona, and he rode for two years seeking vengeance; a silent, personal feud for deaths he had been powerless to stop.

The few times after the Civil War ended that he was forced into lifting his gun, circumstance dictated the action. Always he faced his foe head on. There was no criminal intent to do murder. Each was justified, and each was an act of self-defense. Every gunfight improved his skill and his reputation grew, leading him to this time and this place. Now he would lift his gun to protect the ones he loved. He would never again walk the unbidden path of his youth and suffer the loss of everything and everybody dear to him. He made a silent vow that he would not let the hatred of others rob him of the life he had now gained.

As if to reinforce his thoughts, small, burbling, cooing sounds came from his daughter’s crib. He stood and went to her. Lifting the swaddled baby from the bedding, he cradled her close against his chest to look into her clear blue eyes. She was so lovely, so trusting, and so very fragile. No—he would not lose another family. He smiled, it seemed, for the first time in days.

“John?” Eve asked softly.

“It’s nothing. I was just thinking about Kansas.” He wiped the moisture from his eyes with rough, calloused fingers and brought his little Angelica to her mother.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

NEW RELEASE - PROPHETS REST

COMING IN JULY 2011
PROPHETS REST




A father’s incautious moment, a trusted friend’s indiscretion and a daughter’s na├»ve and
foolish mistake set the stage for a peaceful mountain valley to become a battleground. GOLD!

The one the magnet that could attract one of the deadliest band of outlaws in the west into
Shannon Hill’s serene world and turn her young life into a deadly blood feud to avenge her dead
father and kill Billy “Gunner” Farren and any of his bloodthirsty gang she can find.

Tucker Prophet, Ex-Captain in the re-formed Texas Rangers, and his men are on the same
trail for different reasons. It leads them along the Arkansas River, into the Colorado Mountains.

Billy Farren made a fatal mistake. He killed Tucker’s younger brother and only surviving
family member. The crime takes a back seat to vengeance and a sworn Texas Ranger gives up
his badge and will chase Farren through and beyond the gates of hell to see him pay with his life
for that killing.

Prophets Rest turns into a battleground as a daughter’s unfaltering love and deadly
anger team up with a brother’s vengeance to face Gunner Farren for the final showdown to
end this reign of terror.
 
 
EXCERPT:

“You say it’s all in there?” Prophet asked.

“Yes, along with the tools needed for mining.”
“Well, blast everything, who put it there? Maryanne said that it wasn’t her husband. That
leaves only the other two farm owners and neither one of them can tell us. Just who has been
mining that ridge if it wasn’t them? If that blood trail is as clear on the other side of the ridge as it
was here, it won’t be long until Farren and his men will be here, gunning for blood.”
“I put it there!” Shannon stated as she walked up to the group.
“Damn, you shouldn’t be up.” He rushed to her side.
“I’m fine, honestly. Don’t fuss so. I’m just a little shaky. If I move slowly it’s okay.” She sat on
a large tree stump. “Want to know what you found?”
“If you don’t mind. There’s gold hidden in there and I believe that’s why the other valley was
attacked.”
“All right. You found the Still Water Mine. Or rather, the gold my Papa, Red Baker, and
Shorty Hobbs dug from it. They have been coming up here for two years. Mama didn’t know.”

She cast a tearful look to Maryanne Hill. “I told Papa that someone was watching the valley.
Remember? He knew which valley I was talking about and he guessed what they were looking
for. I moved his share of the gold here two months ago so there wouldn’t be a reason for trouble
at the farm. I was wrong; trouble came anyway and Papa was killed because of that gold.

“Mama, I begged Papa not to use gold to buy our winter supplies last fall, but he wouldn’t
listen. He said that with the price of prime pelts and farm goods down, there was no other way to
feed us and have the seed for spring if he didn’t use the gold. I’m sorry, Mama.”

“That’s all right, baby. Your father and I didn’t have many secrets. If he was the man I
always believed him to be, it would be just like him to keep it from me to protect me. And, I did
know he and the others were prospecting in their spare time. But I didn’t know they had found
anything.” The two women embraced, tears flowed from their eyes as they faced the truth.

Shannon raised her hand to an aching head and Tucker saw the pain flash in her eyes.
“Here, let me help you back to the cabin.” He offered his hand.
“Thank you, it’s probably best I go back for a while.” She smiled.
She leaned into his shoulder as the two neared the cabin. The dizziness had returned. She
cast a sad eye on the temporary curtain they had hung on her door.
“I wish it had been me that shot that son-of-a-bitch. I would have killed him just for the extra
work he has caused me. Look at the damage in here.”

Tucker grinned. “Yeah, you’ll be all right.”
She punched him half-heartedly and they both started laughing. Sitting on the edge of the
bed, she cast her eyes at the floor.
“Please forgive me for not telling you about the gold. I’ve grown so used to hiding it that
it didn’t become obvious why this trouble started until I had my face rubbed in it out there just
now.” Tears dripped from her face to the cabin floor.

He reached down and took her hand. Shannon raised her head and he leaned down and
kissed her tenderly.
“Why all this started doesn’t matter much. These men would kill for the price of a bottle of
whiskey. Now, I know why Gunner Farren is here and I know what he’s looking for. He will come
to us.”
“Hmmm? I’ll kill him if he comes here!” Shannon declared.
“For the gold?”
“No, not for the gold; I’ll have his blood for killing my Papa, Caleb, and the others; and, for
leading a gang of rapists and murderers to my home.” Fatigue was showing in her voice.

****

Gunner tried for the fifth time to focus his eyes. One drink too many the night before left him
hung-over and in a sour mood. He counted four men and one woman near what he thought was
a storm or root cellar. He simply couldn’t see that well.

One arm of the dual ridgeline faded to a rocky ledge forty yards from the rear of the copse of
trees around the cabin itself. The cellar was near the corral outside the trees, and there were six
horses in the corral. He raised his hand to shield the sun from his eyes and looked again, trying
to see the sixth rider.

If I send in two men down each ridge to hide in ambush, and me and Fred sneak up the
middle, we can sit in the rocks and draw them out so the others can pick them off one at a
time as they try to take out Fred and me.

He pushed his bulk from the ground and returned to the rough camp hidden at the tree line.
It was far enough away that it couldn’t be spotted accidentally and close enough for surveillance
and launching the final attack. Once there, he motioned three men to his side.

“You boys done been with me a long time an’ I’m depending on you sons-of-bitches.”
“Yeah, Boss.”
“You betcha, Boss. We can do what ya want.”
Lefty was silent.
“Well, asshole, can I depend on ya or not?” Gunner demanded.
“Yeah, Boss, you can,” Lefty replied. “But I gotta tell ya. I have a bad feelin’ about this. It jus’
don’t sit good.”
“A bad feelin’? What the hell does that mean? Look, you little redneck, I need you in this
attack. You been harpin’ for years I don’t give ya nothing important ta do. Now that I do, you
start crawfishin’ ta beat tha band. Shit!”
“Well, ya want me to say if I can do it? Yeah! But it’s just somethin’ about those fellers —”
“Shut tha hell up. We move at first light. You take Ed and when I give the word, ride down
the right side ridge trail and set up to cover that cabin. Pete, you an’ Paco take the left trail;
same thing, ya hear? Fred, you and me gonna spur off the left side and get in those rocks in the
middle.
“Like as not, them men will just give on up and turn tail when the shootin’ starts. If they
don’t, we ride em down an’ kill ever mother’s son of them. I saw at least one woman; she lives.
An’ I saw another horse; might mean one more hiding in there.

“Y’all listen; theys either five, or maybe six, in there. I don’t want no shootin’ unless you
have a clear target. Y’all hear me good; they won’t be nobody walkin’ away from that cabin by
nightfall! Now, y’all go get ready. Fred, I want all this over as quick as possible. Then we ride to
that valley and tear the damn thing apart till we get the gold. Go on, move.”

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My New Trailer For Delta Trails



It took a little while, with a whole lot of help from my friends, but I finally have my first Trailer. I hope you enjoy it enough to want to read Delta Trails. 

Happy Reading