With Hell’s Marshal just under a month from its April 14th release date, I thought another teaser might be in order, especially since I haven’t done a blog post lately.
This excerpt is from a scene where Frank and his posse–a dead hooker named Camille, and an equally dead bartender named Spike–have entered the town of Creede, Colorado, a tiny mining town that’s just burned to the ground. That actually happened to Creede in 1892, when this story is set. At the time, the town was run by a man named Jeff “Soapy” Smith, a small-time crook. This is also when Ed O’Kelley shot Robert Ford, the man who’d killed Jesse James. Since Frank is charged with sending Jesse James’ soul back to hell, he wants to question the shooter.
When Camille asked, a passerby directed them to the sheriff’s office, one of the few buildings still standing. Frank and his group approached the front, where a man lounged in a black suit, a matching hat flat on his head. His mouth hid inside a bushy beard, and a six gun rode at his waist. Something about the man seemed off, shifty. This time, when Frank put his hand on his gun, no one stopped him.
“You the sheriff?” Frank asked. He moved his hand away from his gun. They weren’t here for trouble.
The man rose and flashed an oily smile as he descended the wooden steps, extending a hand.
“Jeff Smith,” he said. “Folks call me Soapy. Sheriff Light’s left town, so I’m holding things down until the marshal gets here. I’m the sheriff’s brother-in-law, and boss of this town.”
Anyone who called himself “boss” had to be trouble, and sure enough, the man’s handshake was too tight, like he was trying to outdo Frank.
“Understand you have a murderer named O’Kelley locked up,” Frank said.
“Red? Yep, he’s in there. Damndest thing, him killing Bob. Like he wasn’t himself.”
“We’d be mighty obliged if we could palaver with him a moment or two,” Spike said. A handful of armed men had gathered behind them, while everyone else fled the street. “We don’t want trouble, boss. Just a few questions and we’ll move along.”
Smith gave them a once over and shook his head. “Not armed, you won’t. How do I know you’re not old members of the Ford family, come to get even?”
Frank considered their situation, catching Camille’s slight head shake and Spike’s nervous glance at the men behind them. Batcho trotted over, tongue wagging in the sun, and lifted his leg at the closest thug. The man danced out of the way just before the yellow fluid would have hit his boot.
He turned a bright red and reached for his pistol.
“Steady, Jack,” Smith said. “No need for shooting. Yet.”
One of the toughest, but also most rewarding parts of writing Hell’s Marshal was getting the history right, or as close to right as possible. I used antique insurance maps, history websites, old photos, books, and even Google Earth to get things right in Creede, and the other locations in the story. But in the book’s acknowledgements, you’ll also find a long list of historians who were invaluable in filling in the blanks. All volunteers, these people are always eager to help us remember our history so we don’t doom ourselves to repeating it.
One of these days I need to head out to Creede. Maybe I’ll take some of the printed books with me, signed, for the historians there!