Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Free Sample Chapter from CONFEDERATE KNIGHTS - book 4, REBEL EMPIRE

I'm actively working on book 4, of REBEL EMPIRE - CONFEDERATE KNIGHTS. As a preview I'm posting a free sample chapter.

**Caution--- contains violent and adult themed material**

If you have taken the time to read this teaser chapter and have enjoyed it, I would appreciate comments etc.  

Thanks John R. Stuart.

A sample chapter from book four of CONFEDERATE KNIGHTS




September 1st, 1889 - 4pm - Ciudad Juarez, South Texas, Confederate States of America

“Forgive me father for today I will certainly sin.”

“You are forgiven my son,” the priest replied with a touch of distain in his voice.
“If you were a Catholic I would suggest at least ten Hail Marys. However, I realize that penance will not occur.”

Knowing from previous experience that the confession was at an end the young priest stood and stepped out, he then paused beside the door to the confessional and waited for Captain Colm Campbell to exit the darkness of the booth. The priest adjusted his cassock and waited for the tall man to speak, but as usual he was reticent, as if the cool darkness of the confessional offered protection and sanctuary. The priest tended to like men that were careful with their words, but this soldier, well ex-soldier took the art of Spartan speech to new levels of brevity.

Campbell surprised him by speaking first, “Technically aren’t you obliged to stay in the confessional and allow me to leave in privacy?”

“Captain you have taken confession with me now for quite awhile, I find the pretense of secrecy redundant in this situation.”

“Ugh, I suppose considering how long we’ve known each other there’s little need for anonymity any longer.”

“Coffee Captain?”

The Captain just grunted and followed the priest to the small shady courtyard at the rear of the church. Father Hortez added a heaping teaspoon blue and white splatter ware coffee cup that held the strong black coffee that he brewed. It was cool under the wild Olive trees but the late afternoon heat simmered like flames on the tiles of the courtyard dancing before both of their eyes after the darkness of the church.

“Thanks father, for a holy man you make a reasonable cup of coffee.”
The soldier took a sip of coffee and then added a dash of rum from his hip flask. As always he drew his gleaming revolver and laid it on the table beside the coffee pot. The table seemed to groan from the weight of the .36 caliber Griswold.

The priest grimaced at the sight of the large handgun.
“Father, in my line of business a man can never be too careful.”

“Captain, I truly don’t understand why you come to me for confession. Clearly you are not a member of the Holy Catholic church, yet every Thursday you arrive at my church. Without fail, every Thursday at precisely four in the afternoon. What are you, Presbyterian, Anglican - United perhaps?”

“Regular as clockwork Father, aren’t I. I trouble you for confession because there are no Presbyterian churches here in Juarez and I patronize your church in particular because it’s the closest to the Conquistador.”

“The Conquistador is one of the vilest saloons located here in Juarez; you could find much better accommodations, considering you are a God fearing man, a man of learning and fine manners. Why anyone would reside in a whore house is beyond my imagination?”

“Father - a whorehouse and saloon is one of the most honest places of business that a man can find. There’s no bullshit. You pay for the women, you pay for the food and booze and no one offers any pretenses. I find the honesty of free trade - quite refreshing.”

The Conquistador was one of the oldest saloons and whorehouses in Juarez. It had survived the bitter fighting in 1870 when the Mexican forces tried to stem the initial invasion of Mexico by the Confederate army. The attack by the Rebel military had come across Rio Grande River on river rafts and had turned Juarez into a hotly disputed battlefield for nearly a week.

The gallant yet, ill prepared Mexican army had been concentrated at Juarez in anticipation of an attack, but the Mexican Generals had not foreseen a land assault from the north and a simultaneous river borne attack from El Paso. It was the first disaster suffered by the Mexicans in the war, but was later considered a minor battle in the war of invasion which Mexico eventually lost.

Prior to the surprise invasion relations between Mexico and the Confederacy had been tense for several years and Confederate President Robert E. Lee saw Mexico as the next jewel in the crown that was Confederate global expansion. The invasion and subsequent seizure of Mexico had consolidated the Confederacy’s control of North America and later had further spurred President Longstreet to turn the Confederate military machine North into British controlled Canada.

 “The Conquistador may be vile but it has amply met my needs Father for nearly a year. Let’s say I have grown attached to the ladies, and the food is tolerably good. Especially the enchiladas. You should try them some time. The enchiladas, not the prostitutes.”

“I don’t think the Holy Father,” and he glanced towards the sky, “would approve if one of his humble servants were to patronize that den of iniquity, no matter how good the enchiladas are!”

“Your loss.”

“Both God and I worry about you Captain. You walk a dangerous path.”

“You and God seem very interested in this lowly sinner.”

“God is interested in every member of his flock and when you visit me here at Sacred Heart you become a member of my flock.”

“I guess priests should be worrying about sinners, it sort of comes with the territory, don’t it Father.”
“Captain Campbell - you are unusually chatty this afternoon. It’s a nice change, but distinctly out of character for such a dour and infamous pistolero as yourself.”

“Still partially drunk. Too much tequila last night.”

The priest laughed. “Ah, the evil tequila. It does tend to loosen a man’s tongue. Some of the things I have heard in the confessional from my parishioners when they are drunk would truly shock you.”

Campbell drained his coffee and picked up his revolver. He spun the chambers, cracked open the breech and double checked the six shells. He took a soft oil impregnated cloth from his duster’s pocket and carefully wiped the weapon as if he were polishing a piece of priceless ecclesiastic silver.
The priest sighed to show his displeasure that a weapon was displayed within his sight, “I believe you revere that weapon more than you love God - Captain. You worship that killing machine as if it were a divine angel.”

Campbell raised the big Griswold towards the sun, “Father Hortez I have been a member of the Church of the Gun since I rode with General Nathan Bedford Forrest at Murfreesboro and with General Jeb Stuart at Gettysburg and the Serpents Mounds. This Griswold Avenger revolver has been my priest and my savior and continues to do so to this day.”

The soldier took his watch from his vest pocket and snapped it open, as he did so the town clock began to chime the hour.

“Four o’clock - almost show time, I’ll take my leave Father. Perhaps I’ll be back later in the evening.”

“Captain before you go may I tell you a story. I suspect you will not heed my advice, but there is an old Roman parable I would share with you.”

“By all means.  God’s word should be reflected upon, but do so quickly.”

“Not God’s words. I heard a story at seminary school- the tale of the Two Gladiators and the Giant. Have you heard it- ah no, then I shall proceed. In the early days of the Roman Empire two brothers were taken prisoner by the Romans in Britain. Both Gauls were fierce warriors and seeing their true value they were sold as slaves to the finest gladiator school in all of the Roman Empire. In Rome they fought dozens of battles for the enjoyment of the frenzied crowd in the famous Coliseum. So great was their prowess that the Emperor granted them their freedom. The two brothers knew no life other that war and the arena. They had developed big egos and they were very full of themselves. They considered themselves undefeatable. With no trade other than combat they remained gladiators even after they were freed, however now they were able to choose who they would fight. They grew rich and prosperous. Then one day a new champion arose in the arena - a giant Moor, he was said to be seven feet tall. This Moor defeated all comers and rose to prominence. So famous was he that he challenged both of the warrior brothers to combat. The brothers debated the merits of facing such a giant. Ultimately one decided to fight and the other did not. The Moor killed his opponent, and the other brother retired and took up farming and lived out the remainder of his days in peace and tranquility.”

“This grows tiresome Father - what am I to glean from this parable?”

“Captain, the morale of the tale is this.  You hold your fate in your own hands.”

“Well then Father, I sincerely hope I don’t chance to encounter any giants.”

“Good luck Captain Campbell. I’ll say a prayer for you. Remember my son the longer a streak of good luck continues, the greater the odds it will end. May God watch over you.”

“Many thanks Father. It’s nice to have God’s protection, but I’ll stick with the Griswold.”

Eight hours earlier.  - The Conquistador Saloon

The sun was streaming through the curtains of the third floor window of the whore’s room. Dust motes danced in the beam of light like tortured fairies as the naked whore crossed the room to squat above the camber pot. When she was finished pissing she returned to the wide brass bed and poked the sleeping man under the sheets with her finger.

“Wake up Colm. You have much to do today. Today is Thursday my pistolero,” she said in English that was heavily accented with Spanish.

Campbell rolled over and started to snore, “Mi dios,” she swore and she climbed onto the bed and began to aggressively shake him.
He came awake with a start and pushed her away, “Esperanza for Christ’s sake woman, can’t you leave a man in peace?”

“Get up, get up you lazy drunken bastardo. Today is Thursday and I want to be paid. You owe me for the last month. I don’t fuck you and let you sleep here in my bed for the goodness of my soul. Get the fuck up,” she yelled.

“Quiet Esperanza - I beg you. Your wailing will deafen me.”

“Then get up, you lazy prick,” and she shook him again.

He grabbed her pale arm and pulled her on top of himself and proceeded to kiss her deeply, “Fuck me first and then I’ll go and attend to business.”

She raised herself over his groin and deftly positioned his erect cock at the opening of her pussy, “I think I should renegotiate our arrangement. You are far too horny, even for a Scotsman,” and she settled into a steady gliding rhythm above him.

When they were finished he pushed her gently aside and went to retrieve his clothes from the chair beside the whorehouse window. He paused and brushed aside the dirty lace curtain. Across the street he could see a party of six men gathered in front of the barbershop. They were an eclectic group, both young and middle-aged, two looked like Mexican desperados, one looked like a dapper dude from the East, one was an tall ebony skinned Negro wearing a gray Buffalo solder’s coat and hat and the last two looked like regular run of the mill gunmen of the Confederate West. Campbell had seen two of them before, one looked like the albino, but the rest were newcomers to Juarez. They were a diverse gathering of men, but they all had one thing in common, there was a simmering violence in their stance and bearing, as if they were perpetually at the boiling point.

He grunted and began to slip on his trousers, Esperanza asked, “How many are there today?”

“Only six. Perhaps the novelty of challenging me has begun to pale.”

“Then I certainly want more money for fucking you. Soon they will stop coming.”

He was pulling on his dull worn brown boots, “It’ll be a frosty day in Hell when they stop coming!”
She shrugged on a chintz patterned robe and began to brush her long black hair, “It could end in another fashion, and then I’d be sad. I do like being your special Chiquita.”

He turned and examined his right boot; the sole was beginning to come loose at the toe and would require attention very soon. Either that or he’d need to squeeze some cash from his upcoming wages for a new pair. He hated wearing shabby boots and decided the only solution was to buy a new pair.

She saw him looking at his boots and smiled, “You pay me first then you look for new boots. My payment comes first, before you waste any money my pistolero.”

He gave her a long look that was difficult to interrupt, “Have my uniform ready, and make sure that little coach roach does a better job on my dress boots. I want them gleaming,” and he buckled his holster around his waist.
She raised her hand and with the brush gave him a mocking salute, “Si my General. As always, all will be ready for you. Enjoy your haircut and shave.”

“I plan to enjoy my quiet time with barber. It’s one of the few opportunities when I find some peace and solitude. And don’t call me General.”

“General, pistolero, Capitán, Gun Smith or Angel of the Gun. What does it matter what I call you? One day you will walk out that door and never return. You don’t have to do this. There are other ways to earn a living.”

“If I don’t do this, then what would I do. I am what the Confederacy has made me.”

“One day you will end up in Boot Hill with only a crooked wooden cross to mark your passing and then what will become of me?”

“Will you place flowers on my grave?”

She threw a pillow at him, “Don’t come back without my money,” she called but he was already halfway down the stairs and didn’t hear her.

As he stepped through the swinging saloon doors a short wide structured caballero in leather chaps and a red fireman’s style shirt, topped off with a green sombrero with silver embroidery fell into step behind him. The Mexican was armed with a pair of Colt Peacemakers and he carried a sawed-off Winchester shotgun in his powerful hands.

As the Captain passed him, he said, “Buenos Diás Rodrigo. It looks like it will be a beautiful day.”

“Si Capitán. I see the dogs have gathered at Esteban’s. I have heard of the Buffalo Soldier. He has a formidable reputation Senior Capitán,” His mouth was full of chewing tobacco and he stuffed another chaw into the side of his mouth as they walked across the street.

“Don’t they all my friend, don’t they all?”

Campbell barely nodded at the six men that were gathered in front of the barber’s shop. The two desperados kept their sombreros low across their faces and Campbell heard them softly murmur with reference in their voices as he passed, “Ángela de la pistol.”

Before the Captain reached the door the young well dressed dude who was leaning against the red, white and blue striped barber’s pole said, “Looks like today’s the day you die Captain Campbell.” His voice cracked with nervous tension.
The oldest man on the porch, the albino, he was dressed in good quality, but worn trail gear, cuffed the dude on the shoulder and said; “Show yer betters some respect boy.”

The Captain ignored the discourteous remark and entered the barbershop.
Rodrigo placed his back to the door and raised the gun into the ready position. The dude snarled, 

“Looks like the fearsome Captain is afraid to walk the streets without a dog to watch his back.”

Rodrigo spat a long string of tobacco juice at the dude’s feet, the brown juice splattered onto the man’s gray spats, “Careful senor fancy pants - this dog as a nasty bite.”

The dude smiled and pointed at the Captain’s bodyguard, “After I kill the Captain, I’ll kill you as well.”

There was a cardboard “OPEN” sign on the door and Campbell flipped it around to the “CLOSED” side.

“Have a seat Senor Campbell,” and the barber locked the barbershop door behind his client. The barbershop was empty except for Esteban the proprietor and the Captain. The proprietor bowed and waved Campbell towards his new hydraulic black and nickel plated Koch barber chair. Esteban’s chair was the first of the new modern chairs to come west of the Rio Grande River and the chair’s arrival had elevated Esteban’s from a mediocre shop to that of the best in town.

Campbell sank into the black tooled leather and wiped the sweat from his brow as Esteban spun the chair so it faced towards the shop door. Before he settled in for his haircut, Campbell eased the brass Griswold Avenger from the holster and rested it on his lap. With a flourish the barber draped him with a clean white cotton sheet and wrapped his neck with a length of paper to keep the clippings from falling under the Captain’s collar.

The barbershop smelled of tobacco, tequila, soap, hair tonic, French eau de cologne and the leather from the long black razor strap Esteban was using to hone his pearl handled cut-throat razor. Campbell and the barber had long ago settled into a routine. Esteban knew exactly what the soldier wanted and he did it quietly and efficiently, however, he did not perform the haircut and shave quickly. Campbell viewed his quiet time of solitude in the cool darkness of the barbershop as a brief interlude in his otherwise noisy and chaotic existence. Unlike most of Esteban’s clients he didn’t require the barber’s normal cheery banter and discussion of the latest town gossip and politics. The presence of Rodrigo with his sawed off shotgun at the door insured Campbell a short stint of peace and quiet. He paid Esteban well for this special attention and he viewed it as money well spent.

Campbell kept the revolver in his right hand and he focused his attention on the door and windows of the shop. Once, several years ago in a gold-mining town in Montana he had been attacked by three men while he was getting a shave and he had shot and killed all three with the Griswold he had concealed beneath the barber’s sheet. These days the presence of Rodrigo was a strong deterrent to another such surprise attack, but Captain Colm Campbell was not the type of man that liked to take any opportunity for safety for granted. The revolver remained in his hand.

As the barber worked on his hair Campbell thought back to the summer of 1861 when he had sent his students home, closed his classroom and walked out of the school. Three days later he presented himself to one of the recruiting officers at one of the dozen or so recruiting stations that had sprung up in Richmond, Virginia. Campbell was the oldest son of a family of Scottish immigrants that had settled and prospered in Baltimore, Maryland and while they were not a family of slave owners, his family were staunch supporters of the Confederate Cause.

As talk of war between the North and Southern States escalated he had been devastated when Maryland remained loyal to the Federal government. His elderly father had ranted and raved and argued with his brothers at the dinner table about State’s rights and their moral obligation to support the Cause, yet his father’s strict religious beliefs made him reluctant to send his sons to combat.  The younger Campbell was torn because he felt convinced that calmer heads would prevail and the discord would be solved without bloodshed. He was not a coward, yet he fervently hoped he would not be required to bear arms. His God was one of mercy and goodwill towards your fellow man, not the God of blood and thunder. Eventually Colm was the only member of the Campbell clan to answer the call to arms and to serve the Confederacy, his brothers remained neutral.

He was twenty one years old when the war began and he had just finished his first year as a history and philosophy teacher at the prestigious Orion Academy for Young Christian Men in Baltimore.
Campbell was mustered into Confederate army and initially found himself in the 101st Virginia Infantry. His potential and high intelligence, combined with his University education saw him transferred and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the 3rd Regiment- Tennessee Cavalry under the famous Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

After sustaining both a leg and arm wound in the action at the Battle of Murfreesboro he spent three months convalescing in Chattanooga, upon his return to active service he was promoted to Captain and was transferred to the 1st Virginia Volunteer Cavalry Regiment under the illustrious commander Major General J.E.B. Stuart. Campbell saw extensive service with the 1st Virginia and was twice mentioned in dispatches and was decorated with the Snarling Wolf’s Head -2nd class for heroism at the Battle of The Serpents Mounds. While a peaceful man by disposition he developed into a steady and resourceful officer and had earned a reputation as a fearless combatant that would never back down from a scrap. He carried a Griswold revolver throughout the war and when he left the service at the war’s end in 1863 he returned to Baltimore with the intention of returning to teaching. When he returned home he hung the gun along with his saber above the mantle in his father’s house.

Like many veterans of the Confederate War of Independence he struggled with his return to civilian life. He was restless and unsettled and found teaching boring. Dissatisfied with civilian life he took down his weapons and re-enlisted in the Cavalry in the fall of 1864.  Permanent life in the Army had changed him. He became short of temper and took offense easily. A fellow officer once described him as bitter, arrogant and aloof. Those comments led to a duel which ended the other officer’s life. Campbell had a distinct inability to deal with people that he considered idiots, cretins or fools. As a result he fought a series of twelve duels with fellow officers and the husbands of women that he had affairs with.

Colm Campbell never married, but he was very popular with the ladies. Southern Belles, officer’s wives, schoolmarms and ladies of every description found him dashing and attractive and he never had to seek the attention of the fairer sex. Perhaps he could have been more selective and discrete regarding his paramours and this inability to think with his big head as opposed to his little head often led him to trouble that inevitably ended in violence.

He always dressed well, even when he was out of uniform. He spent his much of his salary on good horses and fine clothing, and was considered a vision of sartorial splendor. In particular he insisted on wearing handmade boots and custom tailored uniforms of the finest materials for both his full dress uniforms and his field dress.

The fact that he fought twelve duels (all with the gun) while serving in the military and survived without a single wound made him a celebrity in the Confederacy where the law of the gun was now a Right. In a duel he exhibited the same calm and fearless nature that he presented in combat. He was a deadly shot and while he was courted by every firearms manufacturer in North America and the rest of the world to endorse their revolvers he stuck faithfully to the 1861 model Griswold that he had purchased when he first enlisted. The largest arms maker in the Confederacy - Peter Thorenson was severely miffed when Campbell refused to endorse his new Thor revolver. For Campbell the only gun that felt right in his hand was the Griswold.

His military service took him to every conflict fought by the Confederacy from 1864 to 1884. He saw extensive action in the Mexican campaign, did duty in numerous forts across the Western Confederacy, fought in two Indian campaigns and for three years he commanded a company of free Black Confederate Buffalo soldiers in the 23rd Alabama Cavalry out of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
His military career came to an end when he seduced the youngest daughter of the Major of San Francisco. This affair created a serious scandal and Campbell was called out for his actions by both the girl’s father and brother. The duels were fought back to back in the highly ritualized Dance of Arms on a frosty February morning on a hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In his normal detached, calm deliberate fashion he killed both the father and son and then rode out of town. Campbell said he retired from military service, but in reality he was forced to resign his commission - he never truly felt in his heart that he was anything other than an officer of the Confederacy.
He took to wandering across North America, visiting Canada, Mexico and what was left of the U.S.A. Not quite a nomad, he was a restless gypsy and he tried his hand at a wide variety of jobs as he travelled. For a brief period he was a history teacher at the famous Texas Military Institute in Galveston.

In every case his previous history as a gunman would follow him and gunmen anxious to prove their skill with a gun and their courage would seek him out. These gunfights were not the regular ritualistic duels sanctioned by the Confederate government; they were vicious, wild, no holds barred dirty street fights- where anything was acceptable.

By the time Campbell arrived in Juarez by stage coach in 1887 he had killed an additional sixteen men, and he had become a living legend - he was known as the Captain of Death. Not even Campbell could explain why he stopped his ceaseless wandering when he arrived in Juarez, he had no concrete reason for remaining in Juarez, perhaps he simply couldn’t face the effort required to initiate further movement.

He settled first in the Diamondback Saloon, where he dealt faro and doubled as a strong-arm man to protect the whores. A week after he arrived at the Diamondback he was in a gunfight with a notorious gunfighter from El Paso. While Campbell killed his opponent with a single shot, his adversary’s bullet struck the muzzle of Campbell’s beloved Griswold revolver. The bullet entered the muzzle of Campbell’s gun and lodged itself in the chamber and shattered the firing mechanism - destroying it, the gun he had carried for close to twenty years was beyond repair.

Campbell dropped his revolver and walked towards the General Store which was a hundred yards down the main street of Juarez. To reach the store he had to step over the body of the man he had just killed. In the store he bought a new holster and a pair of Thorenson Thor .44 caliber revolvers. After he loaded the guns and belted the holster around his waist he went to the Western-Confederate telegram office and sent a telegram request to the Griswold & Gunnison Manufacturing head office in Georgia to commission a custom made brace of their new Griswold Avenger single action .36 caliber revolvers. He insisted that they be stock guns, except for two alterations, his new guns would have rosewood plough shaped grips and no sights on the barrel. The Avenger was virtually the same as the original 1861 model, but was now a single action gun.

As Esteban brushed the hair clippings off Campbell’s neck some fell onto his lap and he realized that his once black hair was now grayer then previously.

“Esteban, soon my hair will be the same color as my uniform. Appears I’m getting old.”

“No Capitán, you are still a young caballero.”

The Captain reached into his waistcoat pocket and found his last silver dollar. He stood up and stretched and handed the coin to the barber. He looked in the mirror to admire his fresh haircut, “Superb job as always Esteban.”

Esteban deftly pocketed the coin, “Muchas gracias Capitán Campbell. Best of luck today, I have seats reserved near the front today, seats for the entire family. It cost me fifty cents.”

“That’s double what the Herald was charging last month.”

“Supply and demand Capitán, supply and demand!” and he unlocked the door.

The barbershop porch was empty as Campbell stepped out. He jumped down the three steps to the dirt road as if he had suddenly developed a burst of boyish energy and Rodrigo had to hurry to catch up. They made an incongruous pair as they walked down the street. The tall gringo and the short squat caballero, but this was a trip they had made numerous times before and they arrived at the livery stable on the south end of town without incident.

The six gunmen from the barbershop were standing in a line before a worn oak desk that was sitting in the shade just inside the livery’s interior. The desk was manned by two representatives from the El Paso Herald. Justin Larue, the paper’s managing editor and his crony Eli Crozier, and behind them leaning against a stall wall was Joe Pendleton- their ace reporter.

Crozier was bent over the table carefully entering in his ledger the name of the first man in line. The man standing before Larue and Crozier was the arrogant dapper Eastern dude. The applicant was wearing a cheap light blue suit, a gray Derby hat and gray spats over his boots. He was sporting a long waxed moustache that curled up at the ends until it nearly touched his sideburns.

“All right Mr. McNichol, where do you hail from?” asked Crozier.

“Boston, Massachusetts - born and raised.”

“Next of kin and their address please Mr. McNichol.”

“That won’t be required. I plan to kill that old soldier today and collect the Herald’s two thousand dollar bounty.”

“Next of kin and their address, this is required Mr. McNichol. But if you don’t want to provide the information you can take your sorry Boston ass out of here,” drawled Larue.

The easterner begrudging gave Crozier the name and address of his mother. Larue coughed and held out his hand, “Twenty dollars in gold, no folding money. You know the rules.”

McNichol dropped a Confederate double eagle twenty dollar gold coin onto the table.

“Excuse me Sir, we are not done,” said Crozier.

“What more do you want - a full biography?”

“Your tally Sir, we require your tally.”

“What do you mean tally?”

“Why - how many men have you fought and killed?” asked Larue.

“Oh, that’s easy. Fourteen.”

Both Larue and Crozier raised an eyebrow and turned to look at each other in disbelief. If McNichol had killed fourteen men they most certainly would have heard of him before today.

McNichol sensed their doubt, “Do you doubt my word gentlemen? I won’t be disrespected.”

Crozier bent to his ledger, “Fine Sir, fourteen it is.”

Campbell had come in and joined Pendleton in the stable’s shady interior, the day was starting to heat up and the shade was a welcome relief.

“Howdy Captain.”

Campbell remained silent, he was there for the shade for the coolness not conversation and he held the reporter in the same low esteem as he did the two newspaper men at the desk. All three were vultures that profited from the death of others. He despised them, but realized that in his present circumstances they were a necessary evil, but one he barely tolerated.

Pendleton continued talking and Campbell continued to ignore him, he was completely focused on the six men before him. He had seen two here before and had a reasonable idea as to their skills and the danger they presented, the other four were new to Juarez and he watched them intensely. He observed every movement, they way they held themselves, their manner of speech, were they calm or sweaty and anxious. He took in every detail. Pendleton had written in one of his articles that Captain Campbell studied his opponents the way a tiger watched his prey just before he stalked, killed it and devoured it with gusto. It was the only newspaper account of his exploits that Campbell had read, and he’d only read it because Father Esteban had insisted. Campbell had to admit the El Paso reporter had an excellent way with words, but he was still a snake in the grass.

Once the administration work of the newspapermen was finished, Crozier took the six men out behind the stable to a small shooting range. Across the rear yard a twenty foot long, three foot high field-stone wall had been built. Positioned on top of the wall about six feet apart were two sets of six brown whiskey bottles. Sixteen feet in front of the wall a section of rope had been strung between two posts establishing the position for the marksmen.

Larue called out, “McNichol you’re up first. Stand at the rope and draw and fire when I give the word.”

McNichol strutted proudly forward and stood at the rope; he took a thin black flask from his hip pocket and took a long drink. Campbell was reasonably certain the man wasn’t quenching his thirst with water. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, screwed the cap back on and returned the bottle to his pocket. Then he turned to the look back towards where Campbell stood under a sun awning with the newspapermen and smiled. He turned away and ground his feet into the red dust as if he needed better traction. McNichol pushed his coat away from his left hip and exposed in his belt a .45 caliber 1873 Colt single action Army revolver, the Equalizer model.

Larue called out, “Fire.”

As the gun leapt forward with considerable grace and speed Campbell noticed that the front sight had been filed off the muzzle. McNichol’s arm leveled out and he quickly fired six times. The roar was deafening and the sound of the bottles exploding was lost in the noise of the gun fire. Larue and Crozier stood with their hands covering their ears. McNichol slid the gun back into his belt and walked back towards Campbell.

He said with a smug smile, “That’s how you do it old man,” and he took a position behind the other gunmen where he began to reload the Colt.

Crozier scurried forward through the smoke to inspect the results of McNichol’s shots.

Larue nudged Campbell with his elbow and leaned towards the Captain, “I’m not a man that approves of violence, but I’m looking forward to seeing that smug little man’s blood on the ground.”

“Perhaps,” was Campbell’s answer.

Crozier called back, “Five of six.”

The next man up only hit two bottles and then Crozier replaced the bottles for the next gunmen. Thus all six men had their turn in the hot sun, firing at stationary glass targets. Crozier dutifully recorded the results of each man’s attempt in his ledger.

Larue approached them, “Present yourselves at 4:30 today at the grandstand and I will announce the name of the lucky gunman. Until then gentleman I suggest you have a good meal and try to relax. It may well be your last day on this earth.”
Campbell wiped the sweat off his face as the six men left, “Gentlemen, I’ll see you at the diner. I’m powerful hungry.”

The waiter brought four plates piled high with steak, fried potatoes and beans and positioned them before Campbell and the newspapermen. Campbell said a short prayer and then dug into his steak with zeal.
“Are you hung over Campbell?”

“Just a touch, I’ll be right as rain by show time.”

“You’d better be.”

Larue took a drink of beer and then lit a short cigar, through a mouthful of smoke he said, “I like the Mexican in the white leather chaps. He has an interesting look and he hit all six bottles. His record is twenty men. He’ll look good in a photograph propped up in his coffin, with that big sombrero and those droopy moustaches.”

Crozier added, “True, true - he has the look of a true desperado. Makes for good press.”

“I disagree,” said Pendleton. “You’ve fought more than your fair share of Mexican pistoleroes. It should be the obnoxious little dude from Boston. I can really portray him as a nasty little prick.”

The newspapermen continued this discussion and Campbell continued with his steak until he was finished. He took a drink of black coffee, leaned his chair back and said, “The dude.”

“Pardon,” said Larue.

“I said - the dude, he’s an obnoxious little piss-ant, but he’s a quality gun hand,” and he stood up and pushed his chair back, “I’ll see you at five. I’m going to change into my uniform.”

Outside Rodrigo was waiting, “Capitán, this gringo wishes to have a word,” and he pointed to where the tall albino waited in the shade of the diner’s wall. “I watch your back Capitán.”

Campbell shook hands with the man and said “Well?”

“I need this chance Captain Campbell. I need it bad. That was my last twenty dollars. I can’t go back to my wife without that bounty. I can’t feed my family anymore.”

“That’s no concern of mine.”

“I’m good, fast and true. I can kill you. I know I’m the one.”

Campbell smiled, “You are good. I’m doing you a favor, just go home to your wife. She’d rather have a live pauper in her bed than lay you to rest in the cemetery.”

At five in the afternoon the sun had reached a position over the western sky from where it bore down with a startling intensity over the promenade that had been constructed in front of the twin sets of bleachers. Each of the grandstands was twelve rows high and held 240 spectators. It was unusual to see a full house. Campbell could see that the seats were nearly full today, garnering a very nice profit for the El Paso Herald. Vendors were mingling with the crowd hawking small wrapped packages of food and several bartenders were selling cool beers and sarsaparilla under a tent at the rear of the arena.

This entire production had been the brainwave of Larue. Before Campbell had first arrived in Juarez he had passed through El Paso and before he crossed the river he fought and killed a man who accused him of cheating at poker. Then within a month of settling in Juarez Campbell killed three more men.

Larue had approached Campbell in the poker room of the Conquistador Saloon and presented his idea of a modern day gladiator contest, but instead of swords and spears the combatants would face each other with guns. At first Campbell refused, but Larue pressed his point. The newspaper editor suggested that since the gunmen were going to come and challenge Campbell he should at least be able to profit from the deadly gunfights. Campbell had to agree, his father had once told him, “If you’re good at something- you should never do it for free.” Campbell was deadly with a gun, perhaps the best in the entire Confederacy.

The El Paso Herald had constructed an arena to host the weekly gunfights, paved the narrow rectangle where the fights occurred and built a sturdy grandstand of wooden bleachers covered with awnings to keep the paying spectators cool. In homage to the days of the Roman Empire the shooting gallery was christened- The Juarez Coliseum.

Under an awning set up near the grandstand McNichol was posing for a photograph. Crozier took three pictures, posing the dude in a variety of positions. In each pose he was brandishing his Colt. Then to his surprise the Mexican in the white leather chaps moved in and stood before the camera. Campbell stormed over to Crozier.

“What’s this mean? We selected the dude.”

“Better discuss it with the boss Captain. This weren’t down to me.”

Campbell found Larue talking to the Mexican and the dude at the center of the promenade.
“What game are you playing at?”And he grasped Larue by the shoulder and turned him away from the two gunmen.

Larue shook him off, “One moment Captain Campbell,” and he turned back to the two contestants,

“Take your spots over at the red brick line and await the signal.”

“I asked you what game are you playing at here?”

“It’s simple Captain. We’re raising the stakes. Profits are down. Considerably down. We needed to spice things up - to maintain profits etc. Don’t forget this is a very lucrative business we have here. So today you fight two men.”

“This wasn’t in our agreement Larue. The deal was - one gunfight for fifty dollars in gold, plus ten percent of the take for the sale of the seats. I’m not fighting two duels today.”

“Perhaps I wasn’t clear. You do it my way or you go back to your whore with an empty wallet. And it’s not two separate duels. You fight them simultaneously.”

 “That’s suicide. I won’t do it.”

“Alright, then you disappoint this fine crowd and Pendleton writes the article branding the Captain of Death as a craven coward. Your name won’t be worth two bits. Either way I make money.”

Campbell stood sweating. He was caught between a rock and a hard place. He could walk away without his payment and be branded a coward. He wasn’t particularly concerned about that word. He knew he wasn’t craven; after all he’d ridden with Forrest and Stuart through the smoke and thunder. But he was broke and he didn’t have any prospects other than turning to bank robbery.

He weighed his options, and then said, “A hundred dollars in gold and twenty percent of the rake, and I’ll take the gold now.”

Larue laughed, “I knew you were a cold blooded killer, it’s was just a question of the negotiating an the right price!”

Larue handed him five - twenty dollar gold coins, which Campbell slipped into his jacket pocket. Campbell smiled, “Larue, you should remember men that are killers like me are often take offense easily.”

“Pardon me….” But the Captain was already walking towards his mark at the west end of the arena.

Crozier looked up from the three legged stool he was sitting on, “If you’re successful Captain, this will be numbers 65 and 66. Good Luck.”

“You look magnificent Capitán,” and Rodrigo touched his hand to his sombrero in a salute as Campbell walked past him and stepped to his mark in the arena.

He was wearing his custom made cavalry uniform. Light gray Jodhpur style pants with a wide gold strip down the leg, gleaming thigh-high black boots with Mexican silver spurs. A short black Hussar jacket with multiple rows of silver braid across the chest covered a crisp white cotton shirt; the sleeves of the jacket were decorated with the swirls of shining silver braid that indicated his rank of Captain. Perched on his gleaming salt and pepper hair was a black kepi with a silver C.S.A cavalry cap badge. His Griswold was set on his left hip in a finely tooled gray leather holster and the brass cartridges gleamed in the afternoon sunshine.

The crowd went silent as he stood on his mark approximately twenty feet away from the Mexican and McNichol.

This was when the Honorable Don Martinez Lopez, the Mayor of Juarez made his appearance as announcer. He began in Spanish and then repeated his spiel in flawless English.

“Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls. Welcome to the 33rd gunfight of the Captain of Death here at the Coliseum, the greatest and may I say deadliest gunman in the world. The illustrious Capitan Colm Campbell. This is a special occasion, yes, very special, because today the Captain will make history. You are all thinking how can the great Captain possibly exceed his previous exploits? Well, let me tell you.”

He paused for effect and then continued, “Today he will engage two combatants in simultaneous combat. A no rules contest were the victory goes to the man that walks away. Be that wounded or unscathed. The good Captain has made history by eliminating his previous sixty-four adversaries. And today he faces the Dapper Kid, direct from Boston, Massachusetts. An effective and vicious killer, his tally is fourteen men.”

McNichol bowed to the crowd on either side of the arena and waved his Derby hat.

“And our second deadly and esteemed contestant, hailing from Mexico City is Jesús Romero Medina, a calm and effect gunman, his nickname is El Rayo, the Lightning Bolt. Twenty men have died at his hand.”

While the announcements were being made Campbell remained quiet and calm, he looked neither to the right or left. He didn’t see the sea of faces waiting patiently to see blood spilled and men die. If he had looked to the right, he would have seen Esteban sitting with his wife and four children and behind them near the back of the bleachers was Esperanza. As he waited for the signal he prayed, he recited the Lord’s Prayer.

Larue stepped away to the side of the field of fire and took a large red silk handkerchief from his pocket, “Ready Captain?”

Campbell nodded.

“You know the rules gentlemen, there are no rules. At my command - commence firing.”

Campbell had spent the afternoon reviewing in his mind how to best to face McNichol in the gunfight and avoid death. McNichol was fast, but was he as fast and accurate when the sun was shining in his eyes and he was wired full of nervous tension. The Mexican Lightning Bolt was another story. He was much older more mature, more experienced and he didn’t appear to be wired with fear. He’d kill the Mexican first as he seemed the greater risk.

The Dude and the Mexican were standing facing him, the Dude was on the Mexican’s right side, they were approximately 3 feet apart.

When Larue yelled -“Fire,” Campbell took two quick steps to his left and as he drew the Griswold from his hip he dropped to his right knee. He could hear both the Dude and the Mexican’s guns firing. Campbell’s first shot took the Mexican in the shoulder and spun him around 180 degrees, the second bullet went through the back of the Mexican’s right leg.

As he turned to fire at the Dude he felt bullets plucking at his jacket sleeves. He could see the Easterner’s eyes widen in surprise as Campbell’s third and fourth shots hit him directly in the chest. McNichol fell to the paving as twin fountains of blood spewed forth from the wounds. Campbell’s gun hand dropped towards the ground with a spiral of smoke snaking up from the muzzle.

The crowd which had been dead silent during the fight went hysterical, screaming “Captain, Captain and Ángela de la pistol.”

Rodrigo ran forward and clapped Campbell on the shoulder. The Captain shook him off with a grunt and began to walk towards the exit - his gun was still in his hand. He paused in front of Larue, raised the revolver and shot the newspaperman between the eyes.

The sun was dropping behind the adobe walls of the church as Campbell stepped into the interior’s cool darkness. The only light inside came from a bank of stubby white candles that the pious had lit before the altar and from the huge stained glass window depicting Christ in his moment of torment on the cross. Campbell sat on the smooth worn seat of the confessional.

“Have you come to confess my son?”

“Not this time Father, It appears I need my final rites.”

The priest heard a thud as Campbell’s revolver crashed to the floor and discharged, then another loud crash as Campbell collapsed against the confessional wall and his head hit the pierced screen.
The priest rushed to open the confession and assist the Captain. When he pulled the door open Campbell fell completely out of the booth onto the stone floor of the church, he landed in a pool of blood that had seeped out from under the door.

“Mi dios!”

The Captain of Death’s final words were, “Weren’t no giant Father Hortez, appears that little piss-ant from Boston was faster than I thought.”