Friday, July 17, 2015

"Just Compensation" by Raylan McCrae

Just Compensation
(A Lucas Wade Western Book 1)
by Raylan McCrae

Just Compensation is the first book in the new Lucas Wade Western series by Raylan McCrae. The author stops by today to share an excerpt. Coming later this year: Gunfighter's Justice.

When a town comes under attack by a greedy, land grabbing relic of the past, lawman Lucas Wade comes to seek just compensation. Wade uses tough talk, a quick draw, and a deadly aim to draw the line between right and wrong. His attempt to get justice for those who can’t find it for themselves will be clouded by a past love, her jealous husband, and a new taboo infatuation. Can even a hard man like Wade face down a series of known gunslingers, including the gun fight of his life?

The dark street snaked through the center of town; dim lights flickered off kerosene lamps from the windows of a few houses. The storefronts, shadowy images of themselves, showed no life except for the saloon. The bright light coming over the edges of the barroom swinging doors was a beacon spreading into the worn, dirt street running through the middle of town.
I passed the saloon and found the livery stable at the other end of the street. It was an old two story barn with a corral, sitting off to itself like a worker waiting to be called. Its large double doors were open and although dark inside, my horse, Hannibal, spoke and was answered by the horses already stabled. There was a crescent moon inside a blanket of shimmering stars overhead, enough light for me to see the kerosene lantern hanging on a railroad spike at the edge of the livery doors.
I pulled a match from my vest pocket, struck it on the weathered wood door frame, and brought the lantern to life. Hannibal jerked up his head, like a morning glory to the sun. Not in response to the flash of light but in anticipation of seeing the other horses.
Carrying the lantern in one hand and reins in the other, I found an empty stall next to a big, gray mare. She looked like good company for my tired, black gelding. I tossed my bedroll and saddle bags outside the stall and leaned my Winchester up against them. I sat my saddle on an old sawhorse, hung the bridle on a railroad spike nearby, then laid out my saddle blanket to dry over an empty stall. I filled a water bucket from a barrel three-quarters full, hung it in the stall for Hannibal, tossed in some hay, and added a bucket with a few handfuls of oats. I curried Hannibal down good while I talked to him and the mare. Finished, I blew out the lantern and hung it where I had found it. The proprietor would expect me in the morning to settle up, and I would be there bright and early.
I set out to find some food and a drink. Four horses were tied up outside the saloon. As I got closer, I heard some noise inside, although it was pretty quiet by saloon standards. I pushed open the swinging saloon doors, which caused every head to turn. I sized up the situation pretty quick. A couple of ranch hands leaned on the bar talking to the lone bartender. Sitting at a table in the far corner was a kid that wore a Colt with walnut grips polished like a fancy dining room table. The kid was talking up a young, good looking whore, who seemed to be teasing him more than flirting. The whore was pretty as a picture, the color of coffee with just a little touch of cream, and a bit out of place in a little run down saloon in the middle of nowhere.
The rest of the action was at a round table in the back front corner where five men played cards. Another whore, this one older, good looking, but with signs of hard living in the lines of her face, stood by the best dressed of the bunch - he wore a white shirt, black vest, and black string tie. He sat with his back to the wall and, while I could not see if he was healed, I could tell he fancied himself a gunman.
An older man, maybe in his mid 60s, with a full head of gray hair sat next to the gunman; he was not as sharply dressed, but looked like a man that had others do his manual labor for him. He had broad shoulders and stood tall, but his hands and his belly were soft. The older man was the head bull, which meant he was the fellow with the money. The gunman, I could tell, worked for him.
I saw the two Colts with pearl handles strapped to the legs of a good looking, red-headed kid sitting to the front side of the card game. He was a puffed up, cocky kid, hat sitting back on the crown of his head, smiling big, afraid of no one. He wasn’t the old man’s main gun, but he wanted to be.
The other two men at the table were ranch hands, like the two men standing at the bar. Their chaps were dusty and their boots worn. Their skin looked like leather from too much sun. These were men that worked for a living the old fashioned way - hard labor that required strong hands and a strong back.
A fairly heavy game of poker had been underway with most of the chips in front of the old man and the gunman. But, the game was momentarily suspended as everyone in the barroom stopped to look me over.
“Howdy, partner,” the old man said, breaking the silence that had engulfed the room when I entered.
“How do,” I said.
“Pretty late to be traveling,” he said. “Can we help you find something?”
“Only if you cook or know the one that does,” I said.
“You don’t want to eat my cooking, but Ben there has always got some grub on the stove,” the old man said nodding to the bartender. The old man was smiling, friendly like a fox.
I looked at the bartender and he nodded affirmatively, giving me a friendly grin. The barman was a tall, lean man with thinning hair who wore a white apron tied around his neck and behind his back. I put my gear in a chair to a small table near the bar, stepped up to the wooden bar that ran down one side of the saloon, and ordered a whiskey and a beer.
“Name’s Clement Hastings,” the old man said from behind me. “Everybody round here calls me Captain.” He paused. When I didn’t speak, he continued. “What brings you to New Market?”
I looked at him like it was none of his business. Then I replied.
“A good horse and a long, dusty road.”
The old man sat mute for a moment, then laughed. The others joined in. They didn’t know what was funny, but were well trained to follow the lead of Captain Hastings.
“Well, what I mean is what are you doing in New Market?” Hastings asked, aggravation beginning to wear through the friendly veneer.
I looked at him without an immediate response. It caused the gunman to sit up a bit in his chair and move his right hand beneath the table. Two Guns, the red-headed kid, turned his chair; the legs of the chair squeaked on the dirty wood plank floor breaking the tense silence in the room.
“Kind of a touchy bunch aren’t you,” I said, looking first at the gunman then at Two Guns.
“Kind of a smart ass sonofbitch ain’t ya,” said Two Guns, trying to look intimidating. Hastings started to say something. He was a man that liked to be in control. But he decided better of it, wanting to see how things played out. I turned to the bartender and asked: “Too late to get something to eat?”
“Not if you aren’t picky,” he said while wiping his hands off on the apron. The grin was gone; he was figuring I might make trouble in his bar.
“Not picky, just hungry,” I said with a somewhat disarming smile.
“We got some beans and tamales still simmering on the stove,” he said, relaxing a bit. “Been there all day, but ought to still be pretty good.”
“I’d be much obliged,” I said, then finished the whiskey, picked up the beer, and walked to the table where my gear was. I sat down in a cheap, wooden chair behind the table so I was facing the card game; play had still not been resumed. It wasn’t a large bar, but plenty big for a place like New Market. There was another big table like the one being used for the card game. Six other smaller tables, like the one I was sitting at, filled up the room. Opposite the front door, and now behind me, was a narrow wooden stair case leading to rooms upstairs, probably where the whores transacted business. To my right, but still in my view, was the kid with the young whore sitting at another of the smaller tables.
“You just unsociable?” asked the gunman with a condescending tone.
“We don’t like unsociable people,” said Two Guns, grinning with confidence, as he moved his hands onto the butts of his revolvers.
“Don’t seem you like much of anybody,” I said before taking a drink of my beer, paying it more attention than my interrogators.
“We’ve had some trouble around here lately,” said Hastings regaining his composure, reasserting his control of things. “It has made my boys a little cautious.”
I looked at the old man, then put my stare back on the gunman. Hastings followed my eyes.
“This is Clint Evers,” said Hastings with a proud smile introducing the gunman. “He’s helping me keep the peace around here. Maybe you’ve heard of him.”
I had. I didn’t know he was in this part of the country, but knew he rode where the money was best. Evers had a reputation for hiring his gun out to the highest bidder, and he had a reputation for killing whomever his employer wanted dead. He didn’t care about the cause and he didn’t care about the equities; he just cared about the money. Like a trained wolf, if you kept him fed right, he’d attack whatever you pointed him at. Last I heard Evers was working around Abilene; before that I’d heard he was down in Lincoln County. He and I had never ended up in the same town, till now.
“I’m Will Montgomery,” said the red-headed kid proud as a peacock, not wanting to miss out on the glory. “People call me Monty. You might have heard of me too.”
I hadn’t, but I’d seen a hundred just like him. They didn’t last long, trying to prove they were better with a gun than someone else only to find out they weren’t. Like bubbles on a running river, they would appear, burst, and be gone before you could hardly notice.
I grinned at the kid, then at the whole table.
“What’s so funny?” asked Evers.
“You guys try to shoot it out with every tired, hungry cowboy comes riding in here?” I asked.
“Only the smart asses,” said Evers.
There was already too much talk. Talk helps a man build up nerve. It was always best, in my experience, to look trouble right in the eye and offer to meet it head on. That usually breaks down a man’s nerve a bit. It had served my purpose to stoke the fire some, but now it was time to douse the flame.
“Well, pull whenever you’d like,” I replied. “Won’t hurt my appetite a bit to kill both of you.” Everyone knew I was talking about Evers and Monty, including them. “I’ll leave the rest of you alone unless you show some signs of wanting in on it.”
The two cow punchers put their hands on the top of the poker table where they could be seen. The one sitting next to Monty was close to my line of fire. He wanted to get up and move but didn’t, not wanting to offend the local guns. He quietly leaned back as much as he could.
Hastings had a cigar in one hand and still held his cards in the other. I didn’t take him for a man to do his own gun work anyway. There was no sign that the two cowboys at the bar wanted any part of this. The boy with the walnut handled Colt looked a bit excited - he probably worked for Hastings too - but he didn’t have the look of a man ready for gun fight.
Evers showed no sign of emotion, but sat perfectly still, staring at me, wanting me to think he was sizing me up. Monty was getting red in the face, scowling; he began to turn his body more in my direction and put his hands more firmly on the Colts.
“I’ve got no time to sit and stare,” I said. “My dinner’s going to be here soon, and I want to eat in peace.”
Monty jumped from his chair causing it to turn over backwards, hitting the floor with a clatter. He began to pull the revolvers from both holsters as he rose. I could see that Evers wasn’t going to make a move. He had an opportunity to watch this play out and see what I had. As Monty raised his head to look at me, his guns were barely clearing leather. He was looking down the barrel of my cocked Colt 45. His face, once gripped in rage, melted into a look of disbelief, and he froze in the middle of his movement, looked first at me, then at Evers who was giving him no support, then back at me.
“I didn’t come in here to kill anybody,” I said. “I came in to eat dinner.”
Monty sheepishly let his guns, which still had the barrels inside leather, slide back into their holsters. He stood there not knowing exactly what to do, then Monty picked up the overturned chair and sat back down, barely taking his eyes off me. I released the hammer on my Colt and put the gun back in its holster. Evers was grinning, silently laughing at Monty’s humiliation.
“So you’re a gunman,” said Hastings.
“Haven’t you asked enough questions?” I remarked as the bartender put a plate of good smelling food down in front of me.
“You got a name mister?” Hastings asked.
“I got one,” I said.
“Well, what the hell is it?” asked Evers.
“You going to start this all over again?” I asked while I took a bite of beans.
Nothing more was said between us. The talkers at the table exchanged some looks, but eventually started playing cards again. I finished my food; had seconds along with another beer. Monty never looked my way again, sitting quietly, going through the motions of the card game. He began to lose more heavily. Hastings would look my way occasionally without expression. Evers gave an occasional knowing smirk to let me know that I was lucky he hadn’t got involved.
I asked and the bartender told me I could rent one of the whore’s rooms upstairs because the night’s business was slow. I could rent one of the whores too, he added. I declined companionship, but took the room. I picked up my gear and went to bed. On the way up the stairs I noticed Hastings giving the bartender a disapproving look.

Praise for the Book
"... if you’re looking for a bang up novel about a good man in a bad situation that stands up with the best in the genre, you can’t do any better than this. Personally, I hope that the next book in the series arrives soon because Mr. Wade is my kind of hero." ~ E. A. Gray
"... I loved it! It was actually really easy to get into the story (the writing just kind of takes you in), and Lucas Wade, our protagonist, is a character that was written with great depth. I was also pretty amazed with the author's writing skills. Something about the book just made his writing seem very effortless to me - yet with every scene, every little detail was taken care of, and I can actually see the demeanor of the characters, imagine their tones, as well as their surroundings. This made reading this book a pleasurable experience. I highly recommend this one, whether you are familiar with the genre or not." ~ cc2015
"Now, this is the kind of western I like. To me, Luke was Jimmy Stewart complete. From the way he acted and talked, to his attraction to women, he was the true image of a standup western character. The beginning confrontation drew me in from the start, and didn’t let go until the ending. As all westerns are, the plot was pretty straightforward. But the way the author told the story kept me entertained throughout, enjoying every step along the way. I look forward to the next chapter in the Lucas Wade saga." ~ Julie Baswell
"Just Compensation is an incredible western that is fun and fresh. I like that the author stays true to the genre with voice and tone, but at the same time brings a current fast-paced story with some nice twists and loaded with action. The best thing it has going for it is Lucas Wade, a gunfighter with a strong moral compass and a sharp wit that is only second to the speed of his draw. He shares his travels, exploits, a little bit of history, and then journeys on to the next town. It’s a great introduction to a fantastic and rich character. With a past romance in need of some help, Wade comes to this small town to clean up the scourge and crime. A wonderful story and an awesome new hero that is just the kind of character you look forward to hearing from again and again. I’m so looking forward to the next Lucas Wade novel." ~ D Roberts
"I am a big fan of westerns and I’m always interested in seeing a new twist on the genre. This story features a main character, Lucas Wade, who has impressive skills and an ability to instill fear and project toughness. Really fun to read and I couldn’t get enough of the story from the very start. I love the gunfights and the incredible odds he had to overcome have kept me in suspense the entire time. Highly recommended." ~ Marie E.

About the Author
Raylan McCrae practiced law in the upper echelons of the U.S. government and in the private sector; he now spends most his time writing but devotes some of his time to non-paying things he likes to do, including smoking good cigars, drinking old scotch, and reading books. Raylan loves to read books almost as much as he loves to write them. One of his favorite quotes, from George Martin’s Game of Thrones, says: "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies; the man who never reads lives only one."
Raylan grew up riding horses and herding cattle before heading to the city. He knows his way around trails and halls alike. Raylan currently lives in Southern California with his wife and children.
Raylan is finishing Gunfighter’s Justice, the second book of the Lucas Wade Western series, and it will be available before the end of the year. If you enjoy reading Just Compensation, you won’t want to miss what happens to Lucas Wade next. Raylan is also writing a new crime drama, Honeymoon Man, featuring Washington D.C. Detective John Priest - this book is scheduled for publication early in 2016.