Meet Tom

 

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The man with the double-rig gun-belt and long black duster, wore his hat pulled low over his eyes. He settled back in the chair across from me but didn’t say much for a few seconds. And then his lips started to move.

“So you’re a writer, huh?”

“Yep.”

“What do you write about?”

“About the West—about people like you…”

“People like me? What’s that supposed to mean?” His voice rose a little, maybe in anger or disbelief. I couldn’t tell.

I cleared my throat, leaned my elbows on the top of the desk, and clasped my hands together to stop them from shaking.

“No offense,” I said. “I write about different men and women in the West—lawmen, outlaws, cattle barons, cowboys, storekeepers, Indians, preachers, saloonkeepers, gamblers, card sharps, people who own and operate stagecoach lines and railroads. Lots of different people and events.”

A shadow from the brim of his hat fell across the upper part of his face so that I couldn’t make eye contact.

“Why do you write about this stuff?” he asked.

“It’s a unique time and place in American history—a  storyteller’s paradise.

I smiled.

He didn’t.

So I kept talking. “The frontier was a period of incredible growth and independence—a separation of sorts from European influences.”

He sat back in the chair, slipped off his dusty gloves, and the took one of my books from the stack at the corner of the desk.

LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK,” he said aloud. “What’s this all about?” 

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“It’s about a burned-out Union Army spy by the name of Grant Bonner who wants to get back to civilian life and resume his career after the Civil War. He wants a fresh start so he can distance himself from those years he spent living in the shadows behind enemy lines. But he’s asked to carry out one last assignment—supposedly a routine surveillance mission.”

“True story?”

“Parts of it are.”

“What happens to him?”

“Bonner hasn’t been told everything he should know about the mission. When his suspicions get aroused, things go terribly wrong, and he finds himself in the crosshairs of a high-ranking and cunning military leader who wants him dead.”

“Does he die?”

“He’s ambushed and left to die. But he’s consumed by the desire for revenge and the need for redemption. He takes matters into his own hands and travels a long trail to uncover an elaborate conspiracy. Along the way, he’s  blackmailed, hunted, and arrested. Alone, and facing death, he seeks help from  an unlikely source, risking everything.”

“What happens at the end?” my visitor asked, leaning forward.

“I can’t tell you,” I said.

“Why not?”

“You have to read the book.”

He mumbled something under his breath and then turned his attention to other books on the desk and thumbed through a couple of them.

TALL TALES FROM THE HIGH PLAINS & BEYOND,”  he said, reading the title aloud. “Looks like three different ones…” 

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“Yep. Three volumes featuring dozens of true stories of the American West. THE UNEXPECTED … THE LAW KEEPERS … THE LAWBREAKERS.”

“Seems like a lot to read.”

“They’re all quick reads. Each story takes less than five minutes. Trust me, you’ll enjoy them.”

“And, if I don’t?”

“I’ll give you back your money.”

He tipped his hat up and, for the first time, I saw his eyes. Steel-gray in color and sort of penetrating.

“You want me to pay to read these?”

“I do.”

“You sure got a lot of guts, Mister.” He stood up, parted his duster, and adjusted his gun belt. “What else do you write?”

“Well, I write a blog a few times a week—”

“Blog?”

“Never mind,” I said and picked up a stack of books. “Here, take these with you. Read them between gunfights. Maybe they’ll help get your mind off your worries.”

“Much obliged.” He nodded, took the books from me, and walked out the door. 

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