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It's my most hard-boiled western - a story of redemption. It is the story of a man who has no future and must reclaim his past.
Below find an exclusive extract from The Ballad of Delta Rose by Jack Martin.
Shouting followed by gunfire.
The sound of gunfire can be quite distinct. The roar of a Colt, for instance, is nothing like the crack of a Remington. Similarly a Henry sounds nothing like a Derringer, and whilst it is true that to the untrained ear, a gunshot is a gunshot with no variations in cadence, Delta knew that he was being awakened by the very fierce shout of a Colt.
Delta went from a state of complete sleep to total awareness, within the blink of an eye. He got to his feet and stood there in the darkened corner, body rigid, hands hanging by his side, ready to draw iron.
His eyes narrowed to slits, he looked around the room.
There was a man on the floor; he rolled about sobbing and clutching his arm. Delta could see blood seeping through the man’s fingers where he held his arm. Someone had winged him and that someone must have been the young man – man, more a kid really – standing with a smoking Colt in his hand.
The kid’s eyes travelled to the gloomy corner and looked directly at Delta.
‘I got no argument with you, mister,’ the kid said.
‘Suits me, fine,’ Delta replied but he held the kid’s stare. Both of them were oblivious to the man on the floor with the shot up arm. The winged man looked from one to the other, spittle and snot over his face, and then went back to his whimpering.
‘He drew first,’ the kid said, pointing down to the whimpering man at his feet. The man rolled over and tried to scuttle out of harms way but he collapsed, yelling out his pain.
‘Shut up,’ the kid said, his eyes briefly glancing at the wounded man. He returned Delta’s gaze and even though his dander was up he felt hesitant. He sure enough didn’t want to fight this stranger. ‘He drew first,’ the kid repeated.
‘Ain’t none of my business,’ Delta replied without taking his eyes off the kid. ‘Less you want to make it so.’
The kid shook his head.
At that moment the bat-wings swung open and a man entered. The man was in his mid fifties but lean and powerful looking. A shock of silver hair curled under the brim of his hat and he had the bluest eyes imaginable. He wore the badge of the sheriff’s office and his rig was hung low on his hip.
‘What happened here?’ he asked.
Delta relaxed and sat back down. He reached for his beer and took a sip. It had gone flat, but that didn’t bother him none.
‘He drew first,’ the kid said yet again. ‘I could have killed him but I didn’t.’
‘Then put that iron back in leather,’ the sheriff said, pointing with the eye of his own Colt.
‘Sure thing, Sheriff Masters.’ The kid slid the colt back into its holster and adjusted his belt. He stood there, looking at the sheriff.
The sheriff looked at the man on the floor, then at the kid. ‘Harvey,’ he shouted and the barkeep yelped from his position behind the counter. ‘Is it like the kid says.’
‘Sure is, Sheriff Masters,’ the barkeep, evidently called Harvey answered. ‘I don’t know what went on outside but they came in here arguing. Billings went for his gun first and the kid put one in his shooting arm. Quick as a flash he was.’
‘Someone get the doc,’ the sheriff took a look around the saloon and for a brief moment his eyes fell on Delta. He frowned and turned back to the kid. ‘You’ll have to come with me.’
‘Why?’ the kid protested. ‘You heard how it was. I did nothing wrong.’
‘That maybe so, but I’ll have to take a statement from you.’
‘I ain’t under arrest?’
‘No,’ the sheriff said, wearily. ‘You ain’t under arrest.’
The bat-wings swung open again and a small balding man, the doc, Delta guessed, came into the saloon and looked at the man on the floor. He clucked his tongue on the roof of his mouth and then bent to the man, and proceeded to administer to his needs. After a moment he stood back up.
‘Someone get him over to my place,’ the doctor said. ‘He can be moved. He’s not in any danger of death but I’ll have to get that bullet out.’
The sheriff nodded and two men lifted the semi-conscious man from the floor, and dragged him out of the saloon.
The doctor followed behind them.
The sheriff looked at the kid and smiled. ‘Wait there,’ he said and walked over to the corner and stood before Delta’s table. ‘You’ll have to come along too.’
‘I’m nothing to do with this.’ Delta snapped. There was firmness to his voice and hard edge to his eyes.
‘You witnessed it.’
‘I was asleep. I saw nothing more than you.’
‘Yeah, I’ve been riding some. I was tired and the gunshot woke me.’
‘Nevertheless, I’ll need to talk to you.’
‘You’re a stranger in Hayes,’ the sheriff said. ‘That makes you being here my business. Hayes is a quiet town, we don’t allow transients and I like to know what’s going on with any newcomers.’
‘Friendly little town you got here.’
‘I just need to talk to you is all.’
Delta looked across at the kid who was now leaning against a table, watching the exchange with the sheriff.
‘Like him,’ Delta said, pointing to the kid. ‘I ain’t under arrest.’
‘You ain’t under arrest,’ the sheriff agreed.