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Stay here for the opening scenes of a
Joshua Dillard adventure – and
the heavily charged story of a woman
trapped in the stifling order of her times
A Black Horse Extra Book by Chap O'Keefe,
available from amazon.com and
the Book Depository (FREE delivery worldwide)
and other online retailers.
Also available as a Linford large-print
paperback from ulverscroft.com.
Crazy Bob McGill played Peeping Tom at Devil's Lake and his
old heart was pierced. The young woman Sheriff Dan Vickers
had brought to share the isolation of his fishing retreat was
McGill's sweet daughter, Liberty. What McGill didn't learn was
that Liberty had been blackmailed. Her self-sacrifice was to
preserve the dubious security of marriage to spineless rancher
Tom Tolliver, caught changing a cattle brand with a running-iron.
Meanwhile, Joshua Dillard, ex-Pinkerton agent and range
detective, came to Montana working undercover for Vickers' boss,
cattle baron Barnaby Lant. He quickly clashed with Vickers'
deputies, supposed allies, and Vickers' wife Sophie, on her own
Then lynching and gunplay muddied the picture. Could Joshua
bring justice to the range and save Liberty?
shores of the lake were dark and shadowed. Timber grew almost to the water’s
edge. It was also late, just minutes short of midnight, but the old man had
ridden and tramped the country roundabout in years past and knew the winding
trail to Vickers’ cabin.
An owl hooted; somewhere a long way off, a pair of mountain cats wailed;
nearby a stream gurgled, running over a steep and rocky bed to the lake.
Else it was silent and the man could easily believe he was the only human
soul within miles.
He’d left his horse tied to a tree a half-mile back. His advance was surreptitious,
announced to no one by the soft crunch of waxed calf, military-style, full
wellington boots on the fallen pine needles, or the slight heaviness that
exertion in advancing years – nigh on sixty – brought to his breathing.
He drew in deep lungfuls of the damp earth smell and the heady tree scent.
He studied on his behavior. If there’d been folks to see it, they would have
considered it odd, for sure. Why should a lonely old man be spying on Sheriff
Maybe they’d just think it was him – senile Robert McGill: “Crazy Bob.” He
knew how the citizens of Redstone on whose outskirts he now lived were apt,
when they thought he wasn’t looking, to tap their foreheads solemnly. Not
mad but not normal, they’d mouth to one another . . . or words to that effect.
Then again, they might put it down to voyeurism. Daniel Vickers was also
called a name behind his back: “Dirty Dan.” According to the official story
put about the town, the lakeside cabin was the sheriff’s occasional fishing
retreat, where he went on a weekend when he had a hankering to relax away
from the cares of office. But it was also known that Vickers was a ladies’
man, a Fancy Dan with a taste for the finest: well-tailored clothing, high-stakes
poker games, good whiskey and – a badly kept town secret – the likes of young
and fresh saloon girls.
Invariably, a comely female was also absent a spell from Redstone coinciding
with Vickers’ sojourns up at the lake, and it was never his wife, Sophie.
She professed no love of fishing. Sophie’s love was her haberdashery shop
behind which she and Vickers, childless, had lived in comfortable rooms some
eight years. In her late thirties, she did share Vickers’ taste for fine
clothes. She had a very full closet of them and a figure to show them off.
Vickers no longer seemed to notice. Maybe he never had. Their marriage had
been political; of convenience to Sophie’s father and Vickers’ larger ambitions.
Bob McGill reckoned it a damned shame Dan Vickers couldn’t stick to what
was morally and legally his and required constant novelty. And the shame
had turned especially and personally grave for McGill. He was filled with
heavy, nameless dread.
He suspected he might know the young woman with whom Vickers was sharing
his latest adulterous escapade. But suspicion was not enough for him to speak
up. Though he thought it might break his old heart, finding out for sure
who she might be was the purpose of his furtive night mission. He’d ridden
some hard saddles in his lifetime, but none harder than this.
Beyond the timber to the north a bleak mountain thrust its snow-capped peak
into the night sky, luminous in the moonlight, but it was plenty dark where
the trees grew together overhead. McGill flitted as best as rheumatic limbs
allowed from one patch of deep shadow to another till the lap of the water
on the lake’s shingle beach grew audible.
Lamplight made a yellow square in the dark, log-walled bulk of Vickers’ cabin,
which was a silhouette against the silver shimmers of the lake.
McGill set course for the window, darting across the last open space with
all possible speed to come up close to the wall. The window was partly open.
He heard voices inside – one man’s, one woman’s – and he raised up to look
“Go on, woman, do it. It won’t kill you.”
Dan Vickers chuckled at the expression of distaste that crossed his companion’s
face. “And remember, it’s for the sake of your dear husband. It has his specific
sanction. Whatever I ask, he told you!”
At this point he laughed out loud.
Liberty, who was on her knees before him, said nothing. She employed her
mouth otherwise, as he’d indicated. Far better that she should co-operate
than be forcibly choked. The sheriff would do as he pleased anyway. Besides,
she’d grown accustomed to doing as she was ordered, whether she liked it
She always toed the mark when Tom told her to do something. This occasion,
she might have said to Tom justifiably, “No, not this time. You’ve pushed
me too far. I won’t go with this man, even if it is to save your neck.”
But she hadn’t.
What good would it have availed her if she had?
Liberty knew she’d been on a slide to hell just weeks after she’d married
Tom Tolliver, but she’d decided it took a woman considerable less pride than
she possessed to renounce her vows and quit. More courage, too.
On a practical level she was aware, as all wives were, that society and its
leaders condemned women who repudiated the concept of a man’s ultimate authority
over his spouse and household.
After the bloodbath of the War Between the States and the emancipation of
the slaves, many influential Americans chose as their goal nationwide spiritual
and moral revival. They were motivated by growing concerns over obscenity,
abortion, sex without the sanction of marriage, the changing role of women
in society, and the increased procreation by the lower classes these sins
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church condemned as evils birth control and abortion.
States began enacting laws that made it more difficult to divorce and gave
single people greater incentive to marry.
In New York City in 1872, twenty-nine-year-old Anthony Comstock became head
of a Society for the Suppression of Vice. His campaign was financed by some
of the wealthiest and most influential philanthropists. These men had a broad
definition of vice. Comstock used their money to lobby the State Legislature
for laws which, while criminalizing sex outside of marriage, also included
much else, such as restrictions on what could be sent through the mails.
Twenty-four states passed similar prohibitions which were known collectively as the Comstock laws.
In this climate, women of the West like Liberty were denied information on
even the basics, like family planning. Commonly, their hard lives turned
them into drudges. Though outnumbered by men, and therefore prized by them,
they were also vulnerable to exploitation. Their comforts came courtesy of
the men, who upheld the letter of the law yet often perverted the moral code
that informed it.
Beyond the rigors of housekeeping and homemaking, the expectation was that
women should do their duty, ask no questions, and above all obey. They were
cut off from communication with their sisters, from enlightenment and education,
living in harsh, often lonely rural conditions.
To Liberty, marriage had once seemed a good idea. She’d had no one else to
rely on, other than an aging father of odd habits and declining fortunes.
Tom Tolliver, although many years her senior – in his middle years, in fact
– had a small ranch and therefore a living. He also had an air of bonhomie
she now realized should have appealed only in a younger man yet to achieve maturity.
Tolliver’s apparent flair was no more than garrulousness and shiftlessness.
It was cheerful foolery in company that won him the ladies’ favor.
It was Liberty’s own silly mistake that she’d allowed him to charm his way
into a marriage he’d subsequently proved he didn’t deserve.
He shied away from hard work and decisions. Caught in any fix, he lacked
backbone. His property was mean – a log shack, a pole-and-brush shed and
a brush corral. Nothing to be proud of.
And though he’d been savage in carrying out her sexual initiation, Tom Tolliver
later proved nigh on impotent as well as a general loser.
But by then the damage was done. She’d always had a good measure of self-confidence
as a child, but her wedding-night “breaking in”, as Tolliver termed it, had
stolen much of it.
A pretty young girl should have made a wiser match, but she’d done her best
to make a home and bring comfort to the crude log shack. She’d tried to save
herself from becoming a slattern.
That she’d succeeded had contributed to her present predicament.
While Liberty had been hard at work, without which the marriage would have
long since failed, her husband had been caught redhanded by Sheriff Vickers
crudely altering a brand on a Flying L yearling to a Rocking T with a running
The Lant family, who owned the Flying L, ruled the roost in the Redstone Gulch country. Worse, Vickers was their man.
“You want your man jailed or killed on the orders of Barnaby Lant?” Vickers had asked.
Of course she didn’t. Her lot would then become completely untenable. A woman
left alone without money, family or position, and thus obliged to support
herself, had few recourses in frontier places. A hasty remarriage or prostitution
were highest on the short list of options.
Consequently, Liberty had schooled herself to put aside repugnance and gone
along with a scheme to buy Vickers’ silence. Tom had had only one thing worth
a damn to the man they sometimes called Dirty Dan – her pretty, still youthful
body. As payoff, she’d complied with an arrangement that she should be available
to Vickers. Tolliver plainly saw this as no great loss to him.
Liberty had thought she could deal with the distasteful situation. Tom Tolliver
had already fouled up her life. She didn’t feel that she belonged to him
or anybody. And as a rancher’s wife, she’d had practice rebuffing the average
But now, though steeled and stoic, she was beginning to wonder. It was difficult
to overcome her instinctive horror of the practices that appealed to the
man who wore the sheriff’s badge.
“Show some keenness, bitch!” Vickers growled.
He clasped her head more brutally, twisting the hair at the back and bringing
her closer. She had in front of her eyes only a belly white as a slug’s.
A kind of panic gripped her when her throat filled. It became necessary for
her to swallow rapidly and without reserve before she gagged or suffocated.
Maybe she should try to ask if he’d let her drink more of the rotgut liquor
from the two-gallon stoneware whiskey jug that stood on the floor. He’d forced
her to drink so much of the stuff already that her head was swimming. With
more, could she make herself senseless? Would it help if she didn’t know
what he did to her?
But Vickers’ desires were turning in another direction. He pulled her up
urgently and threw her down, gasping for breath, on her back on the rope
bed. Stains on the straw-filled tick and a stale-sweat smell suggested it
had served in similar situations before.
He pushed her knees up and apart, forcing them high and wide, curving her
body, bending it to his will. She stiffened, wishing to put this part of
her life behind her as quickly as she could. Surely Dirty Dan would soon
tire of her impassive resignation. After this one weekend he would move on
to fresh spoils, as everyone except his wife knew to be his wont.
Within minutes, he was altogether ready again. She felt his bare, hairy legs
against her inner thighs. He rammed. She groaned, feeling nothing except
Crouched by the window, Crazy Bob McGill saw the back of a woman on her knees
before Dan Vickers. She was completely naked; Vickers had his pants off and
his suit coat was on a wall peg, the five-pointed, nickel-plated law badge
pinned to the lapel. McGill couldn’t remember the time he’d last seen a woman
in a state of nature. It would have had to have been his long-departed wife.
His heart took on the weight of a lump of cold lead.
The shocking part wasn’t the young woman’s nakedness, or what she was doing
to Vickers, but that he knew instantly who she was. His worst fear was proven
– it was his own daughter, Liberty.
He cussed profanely under his breath. What the hell was she thinking of,
giving herself over to the randy sheriff’s cheating games? He’d never hated
a man’s guts more.
Of course, it was all Tom Tolliver’s fault at bottom. He’d never approved
of him as a son-in-law. She should never have married him. He was a no-hoper;
a lazy, weak man overly fond of his own bragging voice. A bag of wind. It
should have always been evident that he would be incapable of satisfying
and holding a good woman.
But why this, Liberty? Why sneaking, cheap adultery in the woods with a man
who, though virile in his appetites, was no more ideal than her wretched
Consumed by his rage and his inability to do much about it, except maybe
to create later a private chance to remonstrate with and condemn his daughter,
McGill didn’t hear his attacker’s approach until way too late.
He started to turn, a smell of stale cigar smoke coming to his nostrils and
aware suddenly that he wasn’t alone and his watching had been watched from
a dark corner where the cabin’s igneous-rock chimney abutted the wall.
“Sheriff won’t like a Peeping Tom, you ol’ has-been,” a voice graveled.
That was the only real warning he was given before a gun barrel cracked him
across the back of the neck. He cried out in pain as he fell, his body sliding,
bumpety-bump, down the log wall to slump in a heap at the bottom. Then the
gun iron was applied again, harder this time, sending him into deep sleep.
“What was that? I heard a voice – some scuffling,” Liberty said.
Dan Vickers smiled thinly. “That’s no mind to you or me, whatever it is. Now you be a good girl and lie back, damnit.”
“But there could be someone outside. A snooper!”
“Forget it. Prob’ly just a rat or somesuch.”
Liberty persisted. “What if we were found out? Your wife told? This is shameful. It’s adulter–”
“No one’s finding out anything! No one in Redstone Gulch’s gonna dare open his mouth. See?”
He slapped her face lightly.
Flinching, she fell back into the position he wanted but had the spirit to mumble, “Maybe you should go look.”
“You think a sheriff should be poking his nose into everything?” he snarled.
“Well, it ain’t so, ma’am – I’m doing all the poking I want already, see?
So shuddup and bear up!”
The sounds outside had stopped as quickly as they’d begun. The revulsion
of what was happening to her made it impossible to think straight. She could
produce no further means to distract him from having his way.
Vickers reached down and hooked his thumb into the ear of the whiskey jug
and tilted it on a hairy forearm. He took a deep swallow and smacked his
lips in satisfaction.
“Ahh!” He thrust the jar toward her. “More?”
She turned her head away dumbly, pressing her lips together. Her head was
swimming from the raw liquor she’d already been obliged to swallow. Surely
he’d done his worst. How would it help if she got drunk and senseless now?
Vickers laughed thickly. “Suit yourself, woman. We’ve just started, mind.
Thought you might’ve wanted a bracer for a night of it.”
[Read on in UNDER A MINUTE!]
"You could as well have been watching a movie as
reading a book. . . O'Keefe writes westerns with the
coolness of a hired gun."
– New Zealand Herald
"Joshua Dillard once again emerges as a wholly credible and
eminently likeable protagonist. . . . In addition to being
a first-class western, Liberty and a Law Badge is
a story about human beings and humanity (and
indeed inhumanity), all
set against a clearly accurate historical
backdrop. Without meaning to
get too pretentious, I also
see it as a commentary on the times and the
attitudes that prevailed within them. . . . A wonderful
second title for BHE Books."
– David Whitehead aka Ben Bridges
". . .the quintessential action-packed western."
– Saddlebums Western Review
"Yep, pardners . . . Chap spins a mighty fine yarn that
should send yuh moseyin' on down tuh yuh local
bookshop pronto. This excitin', fast-paced, quickdrawin'
book is jest thuh thing for puttin' in the
cowhands' Christmas stockings."
– NZ Rural Press
"This book is a lot of fun, pulpish but with a sharp, contemporary
edge. The dark, complex plot, the emotional angst, and the
storytelling remind me very much of many westerns published
fifties by Gold Medal, by authors such as Lewis B. Patten,
and William Heuman. The pace is very fast,
the action scenes are
handled well, and Joshua Dillard
is a very likable hero, tough and
competent enough to handle
just about any situation, despite his
but not a superman by any means. I’m ready to
about him right now.... If you’re a fan of hardboiled
I definitely think you’ll enjoy it."
– James Reasoner
"... what kept me going was O'Keefe's sensitive approach
to the scenes and his interweaving of the oppressive lives
that women had to lead in the 19th century into the book... Dillard's determination
to help Liberty as his number one priority endeared
him to me forever. It's an action-driven novel and a page-turner
that will keep you going until the very end. And the end is worth
all the discomfort you feel when reading about Liberty's helplessness:
the ending is chaotic, surprising and actually pretty funny. Or maybe
that's just my take on it because I love it when women who have been victimized
come back and get theirs. Revenge can be so sweet."
– Laurie Powers, grand-daughter of
pulp legend Paul S.Powers
"Chap O’Keefe has created some excellent characters.
The book moves quickly from beginning to end, and
has many action-packed scenes. There are plenty of
surprises along the way too, some characters not being
quite who they say they are. . . . Definitely worth
picking up a copy, if you can find one."
– Western Fiction Review
"O’Keefe writes a fast-moving tale with
panache, great characters and a real-West feel."
– Roy Bayfield, director of corporate marketing,
Edge Hill University
The Sheriff and the Widow
Shootout at Hellyer's Creek
Misfit Lil Cheats the Hangrope
Blast to Oblivion
Misfit Lil Cleans Up
A Gunfight Too Many
Misfit Lil Hides Out
Misfit Lil Robs the Bank
Faith and a Fast Gun