Sunday, 29 January 2012

Gone West - a Daisy Dalrymple Mystery by Carola Dunn

Excerpt from GONE WEST, a Daisy Dalrymple mystery, set in Derbyshire in 1926. Published January 2012 by St Martin's Minotaur. My website/blog is and I'm on Facebook. So is Daisy, with her own page.

"Pink gin, sir?" Simon offered his father.
"Thank you, my boy." He looked at the doctor and said half laughing, half defensively, "No need to look like a stuffed turkey, Knox. I didn't have a drink with my lunch."
"I'm glad to hear it."
"You see, Mrs. Fletcher, cowboys are—or were in my day—a hard-drinking bunch, and the habit is hard to abandon. The hooch we used to drink was known as whisky, but they had only the name in common. As pond water to Malvern! To this day the very word brings back the taste, and I never touch anything that goes by the name of whisky."
Daisy didn't feel it incumbent upon her to comment on his drinking habits. "You actually worked as a cowboy, Mr. Birtwhistle?"
"For a few years. I went looking for adventure but I started life in America as a humble tout for a travelling quack. The English accent impressed the rubes—the local yokels. I'd stand up on the seat at the front of the wagon and give the spiel, and they'd be queuing up at the side to buy 'Dr. Pangloss's Potent Purple Pastilles, Patent Pending.'"
"Pangloss. Voltaire?" she asked cautiously.
"'All is for the best, in the best of all possible worlds.' The chances of any of our marks having heard of Candide were extremely slim, but if they had, what could be better for their health than a little optimism?" Almost inaudibly he added, "It's what keeps me going."
Thinking it best to ignore this comment, Daisy said, "I hope the Potent Pastilles didn't actually kill anyone."
"Not in my time. They were made with 'the best butter.' Chicle, actually, the stuff they make chewing-gum from. Purple dye from beetroot and he wouldn't tell me what else. Useless, perhaps, but not deadly. We sold them in tins of twenty, to be taken one a day, no miracle cures to be expected till the entire course was finished."
Daisy laughed. "By which time you'd left town, to avoid being tarred and feathered."
"Of course. We headed west, and by the time we reached cowboy country I'd saved enough money to buy a decent horse. As I wanted to see the country, I moved from ranch to ranch, from Montana down to Old Mexico."
"Old Mexico?"
"As opposed to New Mexico, one of the United States."
"Oh yes. Alec—my husband—and I didn't have time to go there."
"You've been to America, Mrs. Fletcher?"
"Just a short visit, most of it spent in Washington and New York. But we flew across the country to Oregon and returned by train."
"You flew! You had a very different view from mine, then, crawling along at horse-speed. That must have been interesting."
"A lot of the scenery was beautiful from the air, but the aeroplane was so noisy and I was so cold, I wasn't able to appreciate it properly at the time. The view from the train was better, of course, but limited. You spent several years in the West, I gather. You must have loved the country to have stayed so long."
"I did, and do. I have a special fondness for New Mexico, which is where I met Ruby. She misses it. We always intended to go back some day for a visit, until this wretched illness overtook me. But we won't talk of that. Ruby was a school-marm, as they called it, in a one-horse town. I was a nearly penniless cow-hand. So I took my grub-stake to Nevada, went prospecting, and struck silver."
"Right away?" Daisy asked in surprise.
He laughed. "Not quite. But soon enough to make some of the old-timers look green. It was a nice seam of ore."
"What luck!"
"Yes, and if I'd worked it, I might have ended up richer, or I might have ended up dead. I didn't care to spend my time watching over my shoulder for claim-jumpers. In any case, the life of a miner didn't appeal, and Ruby was waiting—I hoped. So I sold out, went back to New Mexico, and got married. I was negotiating for some land when the news reached me, by what roundabout route I never did discover, that my father had died the previous year. Add the fact that New Mexico was suffering a serious drought, and I decided to head for home."
Glancing at Mrs. Birtwhistle, Daisy wondered whether she had had any say in the decision to leave her home and her country. She caught Daisy's eye and came over, looking anxious.
Daisy explained, "Mr. Birtwhistle's been telling me about his career, or careers, rather, in America, and how much he loved your part of the country."
"New Mexico is very beautiful. I miss it, especially when the winter rains set in here!" She laid a hand on her husband's shoulder. "But it just wasn't the right time to try to get a start in ranching. Even well-established people were in trouble because of the dreadful drought—not something you can imagine here in England. Also, there was Humphrey's family to be considered."
"He'd've done better to have stayed away." The muttered comment coming unexpectedly from behind Daisy made her jump. "We were doing very well without."
The dog, back in his spot on the hearthrug, creaked to his feet and moved stiffly to meet the speaker.
Birtwhistle's eyes briefly flickered towards the newcomer, then turned up to his wife. Her gaze was fixed on the intruder in an inimical stare. Birtwhistle raised his hand to cover Ruby's on his shoulder. She glanced down at him and nodded.
"Hello, Norman," she said in a neutral voice. "Let me introduce you. Mrs. Fletcher, this is Humphrey's brother, Norman."
Norman wore a baggy, shaggy tweed suit and an air of disgruntlement that had carved permanent lines into his face. Daisy added this to his sister Lorna's general put-upon-ness and realised that the Prodigal's return had not been welcomed by his siblings. Thirty years later, they still resented it. Did Humphrey now own Eyrie Farm, left to him by a father in a dynastic mood, or were the three forced uneasily to share?

Carola Dunn

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Sarah's Journey by Ginger Simpson

When Sarah Collins set her sights on California for a new beginning, she never figured a war party would attack her wagon train.  After her friend, Molly, succumbs to her injuries, Sarah is the sole survivor, left alone to find her way back to civilization.  Stampeding buffalo, the black prairie nights, and eerie noises contribute to her woes, and just when she believes she's faced the worst, a rattlesnake bite threatens to accomplish what the Indians failed.  Is it her time to die, or does Sarah have a purpose yet to accomplish?


Sarah collapsed to the ground and buried her face in her hands. Sobs wracked her body as she mourned each person’s passing. She’d barely gotten to know them. Only fifteen days ago in Independence, Missouri, these twelve wagons had gathered, full of excited and happy faces, ready to journey to a new life.

She cried until her tears ran dry, then finding composure, convinced herself weeping wouldn’t help. At twenty-two-years old, she was determined to see twenty three. But how? She could walk for help, but in which direction, and how far? Even if she filled her canteen with fresh water from the stream, how long would it last before she reached another source? What if the Indians came back? It appeared they had taken all the weapons leaving her defenseless. She couldn’t just sit and wait. Besides, in the warm spring weather it wouldn’t be long before the bodies started to decay. Leaving appeared to be her only option.

She pulled a ladle from a nearby water barrel and took a long draw. The coolness quenched her thirst and eased her parched throat, but another scan of the deserted campground stirred her fear. It was time to begin her trek and she wasn’t ready. In fact she felt scared to death. She dropped the dipper back in place and struggled against consuming hopelessness by remembering her faith. God had seen her through other troubled times, surely he wouldn’t abandon her now. He saved her for reason, but what?

At the very least, she’d need a change of clothing for the trip, and something to keep her warm at night, but all her belongings had burned. She gazed at the Morgan wagon, one of the few still intact. Maybe she could find something there. Sarah loosened her long hair and combed her fingers through it to capture all the escaped locks in with the rest. She pulled her blonde tresses back and retied the ribbon at the nape of her neck.

Her face puckered into a scowl, preparing to view Molly Morgan’s remains for a second time. Sarah had thought it painful enough to see her during her earlier search for survivors. Such a waste of a young life. She steeled herself as she climbed up onto the back. Molly had died, but Sarah felt strangely remorseful for rummaging through another person’s belongings. It didn’t seem right. She lifted a foot to step over the tailgate, but paused with her leg midair.

Her head tilted inquisitively. Was that a sound? She sighed. Now she was imagining things. Her supporting leg wobbled, and goose bumps peppered her skin—not from the cold, but from the feeling of death all around. She lowered her suspended limb to steady herself, took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment.

Clearly, she heard the noise again—a moan from inside the wagon. She threw open the tarpaulin and peered in.

“Molly? Is that you?” Sarah held her breath.

“Help me.” The voice inside the wagon sounded weak and barely audible, but it belonged to a woman.

Sarah scrambled over the tailgate and knelt next to the bed. “Molly, it’s me, Sarah. I’m here.”

Molly moaned low in her throat—her front soaked with blood from an arrow protruding below her shoulder. Earlier, she had been on the floor, but somehow had managed to get to the pallet of blankets and pillows. Sarah had been sure the woman was dead. She should have checked for a pulse as she had with others, but after so many… God forgive her, had she wasted precious moments of this sweet life?

Sarah wiped her own dry lips with the back of her trembling hand. She wasn’t a doctor. What could she do to help? Before she could determine the extent of the injury, she had to remove the arrow, and there seemed only one way to do it—quickly and painfully.

She gazed at Molly’s ashen face. Her eyes were closed and beads of perspiration dotted her brow; her copper hair cascaded over her headrest. Sarah caressed the young woman’s cheek. “Molly, this is going to hurt like the devil, but I have to get this arrow out of you.”

Her eyelids fluttered and she gave weak nod of acknowledgement. Discomfort creased her forehead and made her appear much older than her nineteen years. Before Sarah’s nerves failed her, she rose and locked her fingers around the wooden shaft and yanked with all her might. She expected a scream, but instead, Molly’s body flinched and went limp.

Sarah fell to her knees. “Please, don’t be dead, Molly, please, please, please.” She slapped Molly lightly on the cheek. “Wake up! You have to wake up.”

 Sarah's Journey is available via Eternal Press and also Amazon and various other ebook sites. I hope you enjoyed the taste I've offered you.  If you enjoy western historical novels or tales of the old west, please stop by Cowboy Kisses, my newest blog, and check out some of my posts.  I have some very interesting guests lined up, too.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Harold Titus: 'Crossing the River'

"Crossing the River" brings to life General Thomas Gage's failed attempt April 19, 1775, to seize and destroy military stores stockpiled at Concord by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Characters of high and ordinary station confront their worst fears. Illustrating the internal conflicts, hubris, stupidity, viciousness, valor, resiliency, and empathy of many of the day's participants, "Crossing the River" is both a study of man experiencing intense conflict and the resultant aspects of high-risk decision-taking.

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Working assiduously during the early morning hours and frenetically the final half hour, Colonel Barrett, his wife, his children, and his laborers had finished hiding about the farm the military stores that Barrett had stockpiled the past six months. Having left his property for the second time, a detachment of regulars a quarter mile away, taking the Barrett Mill road back to Punkatasset Hill, Colonel Barrett had surmised that the searchers, exercising diligence, would uncover a portion of what he and his family had concealed. Supposing that discovery, he expected reprisal.

Yet he had insisted that his wife and children remain at the farm. Their profession of innocence was a necessary part of the obfuscation. Abandonment acknowledged guilt. It countenanced defeat. It invited looting.

A satisfactory outcome would depend on the inefficiency of those soldiers ordered to search or the benign character of the commanding officer should a portion of the contraband be discovered, implausible outcomes, which with the regulars in his town and militiamen eager to fight he had no time to contemplate.

Early that morning her husband had supervised the burial of cannon wheels underneath a bed of sage. In the garret she and her children had placed feathers in open barrels containing balls, flints, and cartridges. With the redcoat soldiers almost within sight, a furrow had been plowed, cannon barrels and muskets placed in the furrow, and a second furrow plowed to cover them. When the soldiers entered the farm yard, Meliscent Barrett was sufficiently composed to watch them search. Seated in her grandmother’s wooden rocker, placed in the sparse shade of a red maple, she scowled at the soldiers’ use of her well.

“D’y’ave spirits, ma’am?” a ruddy-faced sergeant asked, having separated himself from scores of regulars crowding about the well bucket and windlass.

“I do. It is kept for the pleasure of the gentlemen. It is not kept for the likes of you.”

From her servants, children, and most all people of common birth Meliscent Barrett, the Colonel’s second wife, demanded absolute obedience.

The sergeant’s cheeks reddened. “’Ere now. Y’ don’t belong t’be talkin’ t’me like that! I be takin’ it whether or no I be ‘avin’ yer say so!”

“My husband’s liquor is privileged property. I will speak plainly so that you may understand. Not one poxy-faced, dirt-groveling, biscuit weevil knave of the King’s hounds shall taste it!”

“God rot yer eyes, y’ bloody old whore!” Poised to strike her, pulling his hand back, he shouted a one-word expletive. Two seconds later he was striding toward her back door.

“Mrs. Barrett, I believe?” a stocky, square-headed officer asked, having halted the sergeant with a proceed-if-you-dare scowl.

She glowered.

“I am Captain Lawrence Parsons, commanding officer of this detachment.” He gestured broadly. “Be advised that our purpose here is not to plunder. This soldier’s behavior notwithstanding, be certain that your private property is entirely safe.”

“How then, Captain, do you characterize that?!” She jabbed her right forefinger at the soldiers entering and exiting her barn.

“Munitions stored in defiance of the Crown, madam, are treasonous contraband, quite the exception. As for what has just transpired, as for that, you, sergeant,” -- He pointed his riding crop at the stiff-backed soldier -- “neither you nor any man under my direction shall avail himself of spirits!”

“No sir. Thank you, sir.”

“Be mindful, sergeant, of your duty, which you abrogated at Lexington.”


“Your men must obey orders, sergeant. Orders you must obey absolutely! Is that not so?!”

“Aye, sir. I d’catch yer meanin’.”

“Very well. Process beforehand what you are about to say. Process similarly your employment. I shall be keeping my eye on you. Carry on!”

A half minute passed. Hearing the sound of Parsons’ riding crop flicked against his right calf, Meliscent watched what she could of the activity inside her barn. A thin, dark haired young officer, his eyes taking note of her for the briefest of moments, approached. Authoritatively, Parsons departed. Meeting a short distance away, they conversed.

The Captain nodded once, glanced at her, averted his face. She heard him say, “Have them make a pile. Upon my command, burn it.”

They had found the gun carriages, which her laborers had hastily buried under the hay.

Captain Parsons returned. Hands clasped behind his back, he gazed at her. “My soldiers are hungry,” he said, blandly. “They will pay, with coin, what you will provide. They will be kept here in the yard, well regulated. The provisions will be conveyed to them by your servants.”

Meliscent snorted. Parsons’ eyebrows arched.

Jabbing her elbows against the backrest of her rocker, she scowled. “We are commanded to feed our enemies.” Her hands worked combatively. “You cannot buy good will. I will not accept your coin!”

Parsons stiffened. Anger colored his face. “A curious decision,” he responded. “Imprudent. Obstinacy thrown in the face of courtesy. Madam, you invite resentment!”

Her eyes castigated him. From his coat pocket Parsons withdrew a shilling. Scowling, he tossed it onto the lap of her frock. A second officer, freckle-faced, exhibiting a swagger, added his own. Two nearby soldiers, observers, now approached. Parsons’ angry eyes taunted her.

“This,” she exclaimed, “is the price of blood!”

Pivoting, Captain Parsons strode toward the three carriages now parked outside the barn. “Burn them!” he shouted. “Burn the whole bloody batch!”

“No!” She rose. “God be my witness, no!”

Refusing to turn about, he said, “I shall no longer accommodate you!”

“Burn the carriages if you must.” Raising the hemline of her dress, she hurried to him. “Do not burn the barn!”

Parsons turned.

They glared.

Advancing his chin, Parsons said, “The flames won’t ignite your barn.”

“If you’re mistaken?!”

“I’m not mistaken!”

“Realize, if my barn burns, you’re not destroying contraband! You are destroying what you declared to me you would protect! Move the carriages farther away, Captain Parsons! Use a scintilla of common sense!”

Mounds of hay were being heaped underneath the carriages. Parsons signaled the sergeant in charge to strike a spark.

The soldiers in the yard had watched the confrontation. At least half of them witnessed the pell-mell dash of a farm laborer through the barn’s opened doorway. Hurling his upper body against the ribs of the sergeant, the laborer sent the man sprawling. The laborer bounded to his feet. Four soldiers immediately wrestled him down. The ruddy-faced sergeant who had demanded spirits, suddenly amongst them, raised his musket stock.

“Bring him to me!” Parsons shouted.

Grunting, cursing, the soldiers yanked the laborer, a husky lad, across the yard.

Having closed half the separating distance, Parsons pressed the end of his crop against the boy’s chest. “You, pile of midden! You have assaulted a soldier of the King!”

“T’hell with that.”

Parsons rose upon the balls of his feet. “You! Scab! You shall not say that! I wilI have you transported to London in chains! Your name!”

His arms pinned by two burly soldiers, the boy spat at Parsons’ boots.

Face raging, Parsons whipped his right calf. “You! Whore son! Bleeding sodomite! You will pay for your insolence! Your name!”

Meliscent thrusted her body between them. Her left shoulder struck Parsons’ chest. Flailing her arms, she widened the narrow space. “Enough!” she demanded.

“No, Madam!” he stammered. “It is, … not enough!” His suffused face contorted. “Step aside! This man has committed treason!”

“He is not a man!” she answered. “Look, for God’s sake! Look! He is a boy!” She inhaled deeply. Tightening herself, she exclaimed, “He is my boy! My son! What would you expect?!”

Gray particles obstructed her vision. Her shoulders quivered. Lord, strengthen me! she mouthed. She met Parsons’ fierce scowl.

“Whether he is your son or not,” Parsons said, enunciating each word, “he has attacked soldiers of the Crown, in the performance of their duty. He shall be punished!”

“For defending his parents’ barn, Captain Parsons! Private property!”

“A matter of contention, Mrs. Barrett. A mother’s desperate defense!”

His entire being threatened her.

She saw what her intransigence had wrought.

“For everybody’s sake, Captain,” she said, exhibiting sudden dignity, “you should remove the carriages to a safer place, then ignite them. We will not resist you.”

Prepared to speak, he blinked. “Be assured of that!”

She persisted. “Had your soldiers already done so, this would not have happened. Nor would my son have acted as such had my words to you been dispassionate.”

Parsons’ mouth closed. Eyes cloaked, he lowered his left hand. The tip of his riding crop touched his right boot. Sensing that her refined, gentler voice had tempered him, she looked at her hands. Her anger had incited his wrath more, she judged, than had her son’s foolish battery.

“We disagree about my son’s intention,” she said, risking what she had gained to attain all. “We will not argue about that. But, Captain Parsons, he is but a lad, thirteen. Alas, influenced by his mother’s rash temper. He is not the master of the house. Please do not punish him as if he were. I ask you to be amenable, sir, charitable.”

Her son, James Jr., wisely submissive, stared at his shoes.

About the Author:

Born in New York, I moved with my family to Pasadena, California, from Donelson, Tennessee, at the age of seven and lived there until I was drafted into the army in 1958, having graduated from UCLA with a bachelor's degree in history and a year later having obtained a general secondary teaching credential. I taught English and American history to eighth grade students in Orinda, California, and coached many of the school's sports teams until I retired in 1991. "Crossing the River" is the culmination of 17 years of parttime research, writing, and editing, family responsibilities and other activities permitting. I value introspective, empathetic characters who are unwilling to accept exploitation and injustice.

Harold Titus

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Peter Alan Orchard: 'The Painter of Lemnos'

The new story follows Kindulos, a painter from Bronze Age Lemnos in the Aegean. When he is forced to flee the island for fear of his life, he finds himself amongst the soldiers of Agamemnon who are embroiled in the Trojan War. But he is sent back to the island, with a mission...

The Painter of Lemnos (c.12,000 words) is $1.99.

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The dog was barking. The yelping filled the roof space and bounced off the walls of the houses on the street below. It brought Kindulos tottering to his feet, clawing at his ears with both hands and desperate for peace.

It was morning and a thin, grey light washed over the harbour. One of the ships, a broad-hulled merchantman, its square sail lowered, had been launched off the beach and rocked gently in the shallows.

The dog fell silent, its job done, its eyes bright with unfocused satisfaction. In the courtyard below Kindulos and the dog, a thin elderly man stood with the stub of a torch.

'Have you seen him, Senefu?'

'Seen who?'

'The runaway. Had his brother killed, that's all I know. The word's gone round since yesterday.'

'Word from where?'

'From his village, up the coast. The king's making a gift to the Akhaians again, so there's wine coming from all over. One of them probably passed it on, the wine people.'

Senefu began to laugh, a sound like jackals fighting. 'And they told you, Kratas? A miserable, cheating piece of rubbish like you?'

'I live up the road, my friend,' said Kratas evenly. 'I was sent round here. That's all. Other folk went other ways. No-one likes a man who cheats the gods or fratricide, and this one's both.'


There was silence for a moment or two, then Kratas mumbled, 'He's a painter, the man. Walls. Flowers and stuff.'

Kindulos lay down flat on the roof and froze to the stone. Not a word, Senefu, he begged in his mind. Not a word.

'No-one here, Kratas,' Senefu said.

'If you -'

'Don't wag your finger at me. I've seen no-one. Off you go, Kratas. No fun for you here.'

The dog set up a low, determined growling and Kindulos heard Kratas leave. The dull red of his torch brushed against the grey of the street and was gone.

A few moments later Kindulos heard footsteps on the stairs and Senefu's head appeared over the parapet.

'Leave,' he said. 'Now.' Apologetically he turned his palms upwards. 'If you're the one he's looking for, which I think you are, you have to leave the city. Every damn fool with a weapon will know who you are. No painter will be safe, no outsider will be safe and I won't be safe. That old rat wanted to get me out of this house years ago - don't ask, it's not your business - and finding you here would have the mob at my door.'

'So why protect me?'

'I'm not protecting you, I'm getting rid of you. If you're not here, you never came here.'

There was a ripple of sound up the street. From somewhere in the distance came shouting, wheezing and the rattle of hooves on the stones. Kindulos shrank down behind the parapet.

'Calm down, ' Senefu said. 'It's donkeys with cargo. There are ships leaving with supplies for the Akhaians, so the king's sending wine over to the leaders. Keep them drunk, keep them friendly, keep them on the plain outside Ilion.'

Kindulos stood up again, his decision made. 'Then the wine will come from all over the island and no-one will notice a stranger. Back up down the steps, Senefu. I'm going with them.'