The Gunsmith #396: A Different Trade by J. R. RobertsThe Gunsmith #396: A Different Trade by J. R. Roberts

The Gunsmith #396: A Different Trade

byJ. R. Roberts

Mass Market Paperback | November 25, 2014

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A DAY’S JOURNEY INTO A LONG NIGHT
 
Danger greets Clint Adams on the winding streets of the mysterious town of Larga Noche. After stable owner Danielle Hagerty loses control of one of her horses, it’s up to the Gunsmith to subdue the beast before it does anyone harm. But while Clint can think of more than a few ways for Danielle to repay him, he doesn’t have time for pleasure just yet.
 
Because the Gunsmith has a special delivery for Leo Parker, owner of the Dig Dog Saloon, one that could prevent Parker from seeing red in his ledger—and his shirt front. But with one lowlife already circling in for the kill, it’s up to Clint to protect the beleaguered barkeep before more than beer is spilled… 
 
OVER 15 MILLION GUNSMITH BOOKS IN PRINT!
J.R. Roberts is the author of the long-running Gunsmith western series, featuring the adventures of gunslinger Clint Adams.
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Title:The Gunsmith #396: A Different TradeFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:192 pages, 6.75 × 4.25 × 0.5 inPublished:November 25, 2014Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0515154997

ISBN - 13:9780515154993

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While he was crouched down low, Clint drove a few quick punches into Westin’s midsection. The big man’s stomach felt more like a slab of beef wrapped around a post. Clint was still doing his best to chop that post down when a pair of beefy forearms dropped onto his shoulder like a sledgehammer. The impact stole some of the breath from Clint’s lungs and dropped him to one knee.Leering down at him, Westin hunched over a bit as he asked, “Did that hurt?”Clint’s reply to the taunt was to reach up with one hand, take a firm grip on Westin’s beard, and pull him down sharply. The big man’s chin thumped against the edge of the bar, and he staggered back while letting out a pained roar. Clint pulled himself to his feet and put every bit of strength he could muster behind a right cross to the head.Although Westin was hurt by the last blow, he had enough of his wits about him to catch Clint’s incoming punch. The sound of knuckles slapping against his left palm still hung in the air when Westin tightened his grip around Clint’s fist. “You made a whole lot of mistakes here, boy,” he snarled into Clint’s face.When Clint tried to pull his hand free, he only felt Westin’s grip become even tighter. Already, sharp jolts of pain shot up through his arm.“You picked the wrong saloon to come into,” Westin said. “You opened your mouth when you should’a kept it shut. And you raised a hand to a man who can put you six feet under anytime he chooses.”Clint balled up his other fist and took a swing at Westin. That punch bounced off the big man’s side, and before Clint could follow up, the bones in his trapped hand were mercilessly ground together. Even though Clint was able to stand up in front of the bigger man, he couldn’t do much else at that moment.ONELARGA NOCHE, NEW MEXICOMost towns had a story that could be read in the way they were laid out, where they were located, or what sorts of business were run within its boundaries. Some towns had played host to well-known events or even legendary ones. Others simply . . . were. As far as Clint could tell, Larga Noche was one of the latter.Located close enough to the desert for the winds to carry a harsh warmth along with the gritty texture of sunbaked sand, it wasn’t trapped within the scorched rocks like so many other settlements. There was a meandering stream on the town’s northern edge and some vistas to the southwest that were downright breathtaking when the sun hit them in the morning. None of these things was reason enough for a town to be built, however. There were no major trade routes passing through. The closest railroad station was a day and a half’s ride away. Even getting there by stagecoach required a five-mile ride to meet a driver who only bothered to come along every other week. Clint didn’t need to know why every town had come to be, but he usually could get a sense for such a thing after spending a minimal amount of time there. Larga Noche might as well have sprung up from the arid dirt like an old tortoise that didn’t have the good sense to draw its head straight back into its shell again.As far as he could tell, there was barely any organization to the town at all. Its crooked streets were irregularly spaced. Some buildings looked to have burned down years ago and been left to rot while others were immaculately maintained by their owners. But beyond any of that or anything else that could be seen or heard, Clint simply felt as if Larga Noche wasn’t going to be there for very long. It was similar to crossing a bridge that creaked and moaned with every step. A man in that spot didn’t need to know why the bridge had been built or how long it had been there. He simply knew he had to finish his walk to the other side before that shoddy structure inevitably fell apart.Scowling at the town as he rode through it, Clint patted the neck of his Darley Arabian stallion, Eclipse. “I know you’re thirsty, boy. We’ll get you something to drink and put a roof over your head for the night. Hopefully we won’t be here much longer than that.”When he looked up again, Clint saw a couple who looked to be somewhere in their late fifties. Judging by the near-lifeless stares they wore, neither the old man nor his wife was surprised to hear such words coming from a stranger. In fact, they seemed just as ready as Clint to get the hell out of that place. Even though it didn’t look like he’d hurt any feelings, Clint tipped his hat to them and smiled in a casual apology. The old man grunted under his breath and pulled the woman across the street toward a store with shoes displayed in its front window.“Might warn me next time,” Clint grumbled to Eclipse. “We’ve got business to conduct here, and the better it goes, the faster we can leave.”Clint continued riding down a street that had been called Linden at the south end of town and, for some unknown reason, changed into Preston Avenue farther north. Before long, he spotted a street that branched off to the right. If not for the ruckus coming from that direction, Clint might have overlooked the street altogether. As it was, a man would have had to be blind and deaf to move past it without noticing the cloud of dust being kicked up less than sixty yards away.Normally, hearing a whinnying horse wasn’t enough to catch Clint’s undivided attention. Since there wasn’t much else to look at apart from a shoddy town, he was all too eager to investigate what had made the animal so unhappy. It didn’t take him long to spot the woman dressed in dirty jeans and a dusty flannel shirt trying to grab hold of the anxious horse’s reins. When the horse turned its eyes toward her, it reared up and started churning its front hooves in the air. The woman in the dusty clothes was smart and fast enough to dive to one side before those angry hooves came down again.“Easy, girl!” the woman said as soon as she hit the ground. “Just let me—”Before the woman could finish what she’d been saying, the angry horse pounded its hooves against the dirt and then turned away from her while shaking its head as though a bee were trapped in its ear. Clint didn’t like the erratic way the horse was bucking and kicking, so he snapped his reins to get his own stallion moving a bit faster. He arrived just in time to lean over and scoop the woman up in one arm before the angry horse’s rear legs snapped back in a powerful kick.The woman was much prettier up close, even when she pinched her features into an expression of angry surprise. “Let go of me,” she said. She had the strength to back up her request and nearly wriggled loose from Clint’s grasp. When he tightened his arm around her waist, Clint was pulled from his saddle and barely managed to break his fall before breaking his neck.“What the hell is wrong with you?” Clint snapped as he rolled on top of her. “I’m trying to . . . look out!”The angry horse’s rump was so close to Clint and the woman that it blocked the sunlight from their eyes. Wrapping both arms around the woman, Clint rolled away from a water trough as the horse’s rear legs lashed out to smash through the long wooden container. Wooden planks cracked and broke into splinters. Water sprayed in every direction and ran onto the ground. When he felt the impact of those hooves thumping against the ground again, Clint was just as nervous as he’d been when shots were fired at him.If either one of them caught even a glancing blow from those raging kicks, Clint or the woman would be pulverized. He wrapped his arms around her even tighter, covered her with his body, and waited for the longest couple of seconds he’d suffered through in a long while. After those seconds had passed, Clint twisted his head around to get a look at the wild horse. He let out the breath he’d been holding once he saw the animal point its nose away from them and start running down the street.“Stay here,” he said to the woman. “I’ll be right back.”“Where are you going?” she asked.“To fetch that horse before it kicks someone’s head off their shoulders!”TWOClint swung up into his saddle and snapped his reins within the space of a few heartbeats. In that short span of time, the wild horse had continued farther down the street to scatter several small groups of folks who’d been watching the commotion from what had once been a safe distance. Fortunately for them, they were all able to dive through a doorway or duck into an alley before being trampled by the rampaging animal.Now that there was some distance between him and the other horse, Clint could pick a side from which to approach without being knocked into next week. Keeping one hand on his reins, he reached down with his other hand to snatch the length of rope hanging from the side of his saddle. By the time he got a lasso spinning, the horse had set its sights on a tall man and two children. Both young ones were pressed against the side of a clothier, boxed in between an outhouse and a stack of crates positioned next to the shop’s side entrance. With nowhere else to go in the short time that remained, the tall man spread his arms and stood in front of the children to shield them from what was charging straight at them.Although this wasn’t the first time Clint had held a rope in his hand, he wasn’t about to gamble anyone’s life on his skill with it unless there was no other choice. Quickly gripping his reins between his teeth, he used that hand to draw the modified Colt from his holster and fire a shot into the air well above the runaway horse’s head. Hearing the explosive sound, the wild horse reared up once again.Now that the horse had stopped and was even stretching its neck while lifting its head to the sky, Clint was given the best target he could hope for. He quickly got the lasso spinning again, raised it high, and sent it flying toward the other horse as he rode by. The lasso dropped around the wild horse’s neck and Clint cinched it tight with a few sharp tugs. After wrapping his end of the rope around his saddle horn, he rode down the street toward the edge of town.Although Clint had his sights set on the wide-open terrain beyond Larga Noche’s eastern border, he didn’t have to ride that far before the horse he’d roped began to slow its pace. As soon as he heard a few tired breaths come from the horse’s mouth, Clint turned around to smirk at the pretty young woman who’d almost been trampled, and he tipped his hat. Naturally, that was the moment when the horse within Clint’s noose caught its second wind.Without a hint of warning, the horse lurched forward sharply enough to loosen the other end of the rope from Clint’s saddle horn. As soon as it had enough slack, it broke into a gallop. Clint was lucky to hang on to his rope, but his luck ran out when he was yanked clean from his saddle. One moment he was trying to get a better look at the horse’s pretty owner and the next, he was about to land belly-first onto the ground. Clint reflexively twisted around before he hit, somehow managing to land on one side and a leg. The impact hurt like hell, but no bones were busted in the process.Perhaps inspired by the sight of open ground not too far ahead of its nose, the horse moved toward the edge of town with Clint skidding behind it. Buildings, wagons, and barrels rushed past Clint on both sides. Before long, he knew he wouldn’t see much of anything unless he let go of that rope. Stubbornness won out over common sense when Clint tightened his grip rather than let go after hanging on for this long. He was getting ready to swallow his pride when the horse slowed to a walk while breathing in heavy, tired gulps. Even at that less vigorous pace, Clint’s boots were still creating a pair of shallow ruts as he was dragged down the street.To his left was a hitching post in front of a short row of storefronts, so he maneuvered himself in that direction. Once there, he braced a foot against the post and pulled back on the rope. Despite the extra leverage he’d gained, Clint was still convinced he would be forced to let the horse go before being dragged all the way into the next town. At that moment, however, the horse lost its last bit of steam and gave up on its attempt to flee. Its head hung low as it gave a few parting tugs on Clint’s rope in a final show of defiance.Removing his foot from the side of the post, Clint walked toward the horse while reeling in the rope. “It’s all right, folks,” he said to the scattered locals, who were already losing interest in the show. “I’ve got this under control.”The people who were still watching him were now even less interested than they’d been a moment ago. The only exception to that was the man who’d been protecting the two children when the horse had reared. He ran up to Clint and slapped him on the shoulder. “Thanks, mister!” he said. “Thought we were gonna be put through that wall back there.”“I should be able to keep that from happening but you might want to tend to those two before things get out of hand again.”The grateful man was about to say something else when he glanced back at the spot where he’d left the two children. Rather than staying put, the two young ones were already wandering into the street to get a closer look at the animal that had almost done them in. “Aw, fer Christ’s sake,” the man said. “The both of you won’t be happy until you get your necks broke! Then your ma would skin me alive!”With that, the man hurried to gather the children in such a rush that the winded horse being led by Clint almost worked itself into a lather again. It was calmed by a hand that reached out to gently rub the horse’s head close to its ear.“You’ve got a real knack with horses,” the pretty young woman said.Clint looked over at her and realized she was even more attractive when she was calm than when they’d been wrangling the out-of-control horse. She had a thick, dark brown hair that was tied back behind her head to show high cheekbones, dark blue eyes, and a wide, full mouth. “Either that,” she added, “or you’re just a fool with a lucky streak.”“Well, thank you,” Clint replied. “I think.”“Whichever it is, I’m mighty grateful for your help. Anything I might be able to do to repay you?”He smiled at her. “I can think of a few things.”THREEAs much as Clint would have liked to continue his conversation with the horse’s pretty owner, there was still business to conduct. It made it even easier for him to get back to that business when he decided that wrapping it up would allow him to get back to other matters that much quicker. Before parting ways with her, Clint got three key pieces of information.First of all, he asked the lady for her name. It was Danielle Hagerty.Second, he set up a time and place where they could meet again.Third, he needed directions to the Dig Dog Saloon.Danielle had furrowed her brow when he’d asked her about that last one. “The Digger?” she’d asked. “Why would you want to go there?”“Is that another name for the Dig Dog?” Clint asked.“One name’s as ridiculous as the other.”“Good point. How do I get there?”“Why do you want to go there?” she asked as though Clint had wanted directions to the middle of a swamp.Instead of explaining every reason he had for being in Larga Noche, Clint simply told her, “I’m meeting a friend. Shouldn’t keep me occupied for too long, so it won’t interfere with our own meeting.”She showed him a mischievous smirk and said, “I don’t know why I let you talk me into this.”“Into what?” Clint replied. “It’s just a meal and—”“Right,” she cut in. “It’s the and part that’s got me concerned.”“Concerned or anxious?”Danielle allowed that to hang in the air between them before grabbing the horse’s reins, turning on her heel, and walking back to the stable where Clint had originally found her. He looked around, spotted Eclipse calmly waiting for him a short distance away, and went to retrieve him. When Clint got to the stable, the horse that had bolted not too long ago now stood in a stall of its own and was quietly working on a feed bag. He allowed Eclipse to drink from the water trough out in front. After the stallion had drunk his fill, Clint mounted up and called out to Danielle, “I’ll be back before you know it.” In response, she pretended as though she’d already forgotten he was there.Even as he thought back to it a short while later, he had to smile at her display. Mostly, he was looking forward to seeing that face again no matter what expression it wore. Unfortunately, Clint had more time than expected to think back to his conversation with Danielle as he wandered the streets looking for Sharp Bend.When she’d given him directions to the saloon, Danielle did indeed tell him to look for Sharp Bend off Third Avenue. At the time, however, he’d thought she meant to just look for a sharp bend in Third Avenue. After it branched off Linden Street, Third Avenue was full of sharp bends and Clint figured it would be quicker to just investigate every one.He couldn’t have been more wrong.Before Clint reached the end of one sharp bend, he found another. And when he reached the end of that one, he nearly forgot how far back he needed to go to return to where he’d started. There wasn’t much to see along those sharp bends. Mostly, they were just lined with a few shops, homes, or the occasional saloon. Naturally, none of those saloons was the one he was looking for. Clint was just about to give up the wild-goose chase when he noticed a sign nailed to a post at yet another small street branching off Third. The sign read, SHARP BEND. So her reference was for a street named Sharp Bend, not a bend in a road that was sharp. To top things off, as Clint rode down that street, the only bend he came to wasn’t even particularly sharp.“I’m really beginning to hate this town,” he grumbled.After rounding that single gentle bend, Clint found himself in the closest thing to a saloon district he’d found in Larga Noche. The Dig Dog Saloon was on his left a short ways up the street. A bit farther along and next to that saloon was a taller, narrower building with a colorful sign hanging in front of it. Clint couldn’t make out the lettering on that sign just yet, but it was impossible to miss the tiger drawn onto it. Across from that establishment was a place with two floors and windows decorated in expensive curtains. The softer colors and number of women lounging in front of that place made it clear that its primary specialty wasn’t liquor or gambling. Even from a distance, Clint had caught the attention of a couple of those ladies so he tipped his hat to them and moved along.Of the three places, the Dig Dog wasn’t the one that Clint would have chosen if he was just looking for somewhere to slake his thirst. When he saw the crudely drawn picture on the front window, that opinion only grew stronger. Stepping in through the batwing doors, Clint was already making plans to visit the other two places down the street.The Dig Dog resembled any number of saloons Clint had visited across the country. There was a long bar on one side of the main room, a small stage on the other, and several tables scattered in between. The woman on the stage was attractive, if a bit past her prime, but she merely sat on a stool beside a bearded fellow plucking a lazy tune on a guitar. Only two of the tables were occupied by card players, who looked to have been there since before the place was built. The only thing that stood out in Clint’s eyes was the bar itself. Part of that was due to the impressive array of bottles on the shelves behind it. The other part was the fact that the barkeep had just been grabbed by the man he’d been talking to and pulled halfway over the polished wooden surface.FOURClint made his way over to the bar and stood close enough to the other two men to hear what they were saying, but far enough away from them to be out of swinging distance.“Are you deaf?” the man on Clint’s side of the bar growled. He was a tall fellow with a muscular build that tested the strength of the stitching on his dusty cotton shirt. Thick brown hair hung down past his shoulders and was tied back with a leather cord in a sloppy manner that barely served to keep his face from being covered. That face was cruel, marred by scars, and partially covered by a thick, brushy beard.The barkeep looked to be somewhere in his early forties. Although his arms were spindly and his chest was narrow, a rounded belly could be seen now that he’d been lifted up by the man in front of him. Although his straw-like red hair had been trimmed to a respectable length, it sprouted at unruly angles from his scalp. “I’m not deaf,” he said. “I heard you. It’s just that—”“Just that what?” the other man snapped as he pulled the barkeep a few inches closer to him.Since he hadn’t seemed to have been noticed just yet, Clint leaned back against the bar and loudly cleared his throat.Both of the other two men at the bar turned to look at him. The big one with the long hair looked ready to bite Clint’s head off and spit it through the window. The barkeep, on the other hand, smiled warmly and asked, “Can I get you something?”“Actually, yes,” Clint replied. “I’ll take a beer.”Since the barkeep couldn’t move, he shifted his eyes over to look at the man that was holding him on top of the bar.The man next to Clint easily outweighed him by fifty pounds. When he glared over at him, the bearded man’s eye twitched as if it were trying to leap from its socket. “What the hell’s wrong with you, mister?”Clint shrugged. “I’m thirsty.”When the big man smiled, it looked more like an animal baring its teeth. “Why don’t you just hop on over the bar and help yourself. Me and this pregnant pencil here have just a bit more talking to do.”“Why don’t you let the man go so he can do his job?” Clint asked.That captured a bit more of the big man’s attention. Before he could say anything, the barkeep quickly sputtered, “There’s no need for more unpleasantness. Especially not to my customers.”“I’ll be unpleasant to anyone I damn well please,” the big man said.“I need every customer I can get, Westin,” the barkeep said. “Without them, I won’t be able to pay you anything.”