Robert B. Parker's The Bridge (A Cole and Hitch Novel)

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9780399171130: Robert B. Parker's The Bridge (A Cole and Hitch Novel)

The next gritty, gun-slinging entry in the New York Times–bestselling series, featuring itinerant lawmen Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch.

Territorial Marshals Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch are back in Appaloosa, where their work enforcing the law has been exceptionally quiet. All that is about to change. An ominous storm rolls in, and along with it a band of night riders with a devious scheme, who show up at the Rio Blanco camp, where a three-hundred-foot bridge is under construction.
 
Appaloosa’s Sheriff Sledge Driskill and his deputies are the first to respond, but as the storm grows more threatening, news of troubles at the bridge escalate and the Sheriff and his deputies go missing.
 
Virgil and Everett saddle up to sort things out but before they do the hard drinking, Beauregard Beauchamp arrives in Appaloosa with his Theatrical Extravaganza troupe and the promise of the best in lively entertainment west of the Mississippi. With the troupe comes a lovely and mysterious fortune-teller who is set on saving Everett from imminent but indefinable danger.
 
The trouble at the bridge, the missing lawmen, the new arrivals, and Everett’s shoot-out in front of Hal’s Café aren’t the only things on Cole and Hitch’s plate as a gang of unsavory soldiers ease into town with a shady alibi, shadier intentions, and a soon-to-be-discovered wake of destruction.
 
As clouds over Appaloosa continue to gather, things get much worse for Cole and Hitch...

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About the Author:

Robert B. Parker was the author of seventy books. He died in January 2010.
 
Robert Knott is an actor, writer, and producer, as well as the author of the New York Times bestsellers Robert B. Parker’s Bull River and Robert B. Parker’s Ironhorse. His extensive list of stage, television, and film credits include the feature film Appaloosa, based on the Robert B. Parker novel, which he adapted and produced with actor and producer Ed Harris.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue

The dense mass of stars was unusually ominous and threatening, as if the whole tangle of constellations was up to no damn good. The wide night sky pushed down hard on the four weary horsemen, appraising them, like a powerful and intolerant observer.

With their tilted brims and slouching shoulders, the mounted men rode single file and without word, as their horses carried them toward their destination. They were all fairly young. One was a hefty fellow with a large gut; the second was gangly with a narrow face and shoulders; the third was also skinny but was dark-skinned, maybe a half-breed; and the fourth was small and wiry.

Hard to know what the hell these night riders were thinking. What was going on in their heads? They would have had to feel the overhead pressure, the challenging and unforgiving weight. The stars loomed close enough to reach out and touch; a twisted twinkling expanse. The four horsemen rode slowly, deliberately up the eastern rim of the Rio Blanco River.

The only sound was the occasional clink of a bit, the footfalls of their horses, and the soft rumble of the white-water river in the canyon far below.

The dropping moon provided enough light for them to see their dogged and hell-bent way, and just ahead, where he was supposed to be, they saw the big man waiting for them.

They had met him only once before. They knew from the brief encounter he was not someone to cross. Not ever. He was different, above average in every respect. He could smile and show his nice white teeth, but he was menacing and ill-tempered to his very core. There was something even more dangerous about him: it was as if he were from another place in time. One of the riders told the others that the big sonofabitch reminded him of what the warrior Achilles might have been like. He was handsome and rawboned. He had a warrior swagger to him as if he’d single-handedly just wiped out an army and was looking forward to his next victim. His movements were swift and specific. He had thick, broad shoulders and his hands and forearms were sinewy with muscle. His neck was wide and corded. He had a full head of shiny, coarse hair and his eyes were deep-set and dark blue.

The night riders were also fearful of the two brothers who would accompany them later, but they were in this, all of them. They would not turn back and they could not turn back, not now, not tonight. They were all committed to what they rode out on this night to do.

The big Achilles man got to his feet in the buckboard. He stood looking at them as they neared and then jumped down from the wagon as they came to a stop.

“You’re late,” he said.

He threw back a canvas uncovering the wagon’s freight.

“What about the telegraph lines,” he asked, before they could defend their belated arrival.

“They’re cut,” the dark-skinned man said, as he dismounted.

“You see anybody?”

“We did not,” the hefty man said.

“Anybody see you?”

“No, nobody.”

“You sure?”

“We are,” the hefty man replied.

“All right,” he said. “Let’s get a move on it.”

“How far from here?” the small, wiry man said.

“Quarter-mile,” he said. “From here we go in on foot. Each one hauls a load.”

“Where we gonna meet ’em?” the hefty man said.

“Just carry your load and follow me,” he said. “Got one hour before sunup.”

The riders didn’t waste any time. They tied their horses under a stand of small sycamores and went about the task at hand.

One by one, each of the men removed the supplies from the buckboard and followed the big warrior man, the Achilles man.

They walked along a narrow deer path through thickets, high above the river. As they neared their destination, they could hear someone up ahead of them.

“Far enough,” a man’s voice said.

The voice was raspy, with a distinct southern drawl.

They knew it was one of the brothers, and then they saw them both. The two men stepped out from a cluster of briars near a tree-covered wash that folded off down toward the river some two hundred feet below.

The brothers were stout men, with full, bristly beards and tangled, unruly hair. Two of the riders had known the brothers in earlier days and were not any more comfortable with them than they were with the warrior man.

Both brothers were intelligent men, but they were mercurial and quick-tempered. They presented themselves as polite and forthright, but a strange, disconnected quality lurked within. They both were quiet and though their eyes were kind, there was a constant callous and mistrusting element about their demeanor.

“Don’t ever turn your back on them,” the dark-skinned man said to the others.

This night, however, what these men were focused on was the brothers’ shrewd scheme. They recruited the warrior man and the four riders, and if everything went as planned, they all would make a lot of money. More money than any of them would have made in a lifetime.

Before tonight, they had done a mock run of the plan. Each man knew his job. When the taller brother said, “Let’s go,” they moved out.

It did not take long for them to plant the dynamite.

One of the men, the heavyset man, knew everything about how and where it should be placed. He had been the one who showed the others what to do. His extensive knowledge of explosives was the very reason for his recruitment in the first place.

Daybreak was upon them and the first rays of sun began to appear as the heavyset man instructed the younger brother how to terminate the last connection.

“I remember,” the younger brother said.

The heavyset man nodded. He started off walking toward the trail that led back to the buckboard. The others were ahead of him and he followed them as he unspooled the wire.

After the younger brother made the final connection and was headed back toward the deer path he came face-to-face with Percy O’Malley.

“Hey,” Percy said. “Good morning.”

The brother was startled to see the old man.

“Morning, Percy,” the brother said.

“What are you doing out here so early?” Percy said.

The brother looked around the old man to see if there was anyone behind him.

“I’ll show you,” the brother said, as he walked to the edge.

The old man followed him.

The brother pointed to the river, two hundred feet below.

“Look,” the brother said.

When Percy leaned over to look, the brother pulled his long knife from its sheath, cupped his hand around the old man’s mouth, and slit his throat. He shoved the man off the side and watched as his body tumbled into the river. If he had stopped to look, he would have seen the body swept up by the current, leaving a murky red trail dispatched behind it.

By the time he made it back to where the other men were, the heavyset man had the wires connected on the terminals of the detonator.

They had a good vantage point from their location.

“Who wants to do the honors?” the heavyset man said.

“Me,” the warrior man said without hesitation.

He got down on his knees and the others closed in behind him.

“On three,” the warrior man said.

“One . . . two . . .”

He lowered the plunger handle on the detonator and the men watched the three-hundred-foot iron bridge that crossed over the Rio Blanco River explode in a monstrous blast, earth-quaking and sulfurous as if it came from deep down in hell, delivered by the Evil Red Devil himself.

—1—

Weather.”

“Is,” Virgil said.

“Don’t look good,” I said.

“No,” Virgil said. “It don’t.”

Virgil and I were watching a faraway line of darkness coming toward us from the north.

“Got this place shingled just in time,” I said.

Virgil glanced up, looking at the underside of the porch overhang we were sitting under.

“Know soon enough if we got any leaks,” I said.

“’Spect we will.”

“This’ll be the first sign of weather since we’ve been back here in Appaloosa,” I said.

“It is,” Virgil said, looking back to the clouds. “Ain’t it?”

“Been warm and dry,” I said. “Hot, even.”

“Has,” Virgil said.

Virgil put the heels of his boots on the porch rail and tipped his chair back a little. We sat quiet for a long moment as we watched the dark weather moving slowly in our direction.

“What is it,” Virgil said, tilting his head a little. “Where are we, Everett?”

“November, Virgil. Second day of.”

Virgil shook his head a little.

“What the hell happened to October?”

“You had those two German carpenters you hired working my backside off on this place, that’s what happened,” I said. “Good goings for you things have been quiet in the outlaw racket.”

“Temperate times,” he said.

Virgil rocked his chair a little as he looked at the clouds.

“Hope it’s not the calm before the storm,” I said.

“Never know,” Virgil said.

“No reason to think about outlawing that’s not yet happened,” I said. “Or be downright superstitious.”

“No,” Virgil said. “No reason.”

We sat quiet a moment, watching the faraway storm.

“Bad weather does make folks desperate,” I said. “People get out of sorts.”

“Been our experience,” Virgil said, “people get cold, desperate, and hungry.”

I leaned back in my chair and looked through the open doorway into the house.

“Speaking of it,” I said. “What do you think she’s cooking up in there?”

“Don’t know,” Virgil said. “Allie said she was making something special.”

“That don’t sound good.”

Virgil smiled a little.

“She’s trying,” he said.

“Maybe you ought to get her a cookbook,” I said. “With recipes. Where she learns how to measure stuff out and how long to cook it and what goes with what and so on.”

“I offered,” Virgil said. “She told me all good chefs cook by the seat of their pants.”

We both thought about that for a moment.

“You got some of that Kentucky?”

“I do,” Virgil said.

“Might as well have ourselves a nudge or two,” I said.

“No reason not to,” Virgil said.

Virgil removed his boots from the porch railing and lowered the front legs of the chair he’d been tilting back in. He got to his feet just as three men on horseback wearing oilcloth slickers rounded Second Street, riding directly toward us at a steady pace. It was Sheriff Sledge Driskill with two of his deputies, Chip Childers and Karl Worley.

“Got some intention,” I said.

“They do,” Virgil said.

—2—

Might be the end of those temperate times we were talking about.”

“Might,” Virgil said.

Sledge and his deputies slowed as they neared and came to a stop just in front of the porch.

“Virgil,” Sledge said. “Everett.”

“Afternoon,” I said.

Virgil eased up to the porch steps.

“Sledge,” Virgil said with a nod. “Boys.”

Sledge was a big man with thick black eyebrows and a full dark beard streaked with silver. Karl was a skinny Canadian fella, an ex-cowhand who was never without sheep chaps. Chip was a chubby overgrown kid with a large wad of tobacco crammed in his cheek.

“What brings you here?” Virgil said.

“Wanted to let y’all know,” Sledge said, “got some business away. And the town will be scarce of us for a bit. Only deputies left on duty will be Skinny Jack and Book. Chastain is sick in bed with a stomach bug.”

“Where you headed,” Virgil said.

“We’re headed up to the bridge camp.”

“Now?” I said.

“Yep,” Sledge said, tipping his head to the dark clouds on the northern horizon. “Storm’s a comin’.”

“That it is,” I said.

“Need to beat it best we can,” Sledge said.

“Why the bridge camp?” Virgil said.

“Know Lonnie Carman?”

Virgil shook his head, then looked at me.

“Know who he is,” I said. “Little fella with the tattoos, did some time, works at the Boston House?”

“That’s him,” Sledge said. “He don’t work there anymore. He’s been working on the bridge crew.”

“What about him?” Virgil said.

“Well,” Sledge said. “His new wife, Winifred, believes something has happened to him.”

“What?” Virgil said.

“He didn’t return from his bridge shift when he was supposed to,” Sledge said.

Bridge camp was a construction site a day’s ride south of Appaloosa. The bridge had been a major undertaking for the territory. It spanned a wide chasm across the Rio Blanco, where rotating crews of workers had been constructing the massive timber-and-steel truss crossing for the better part of two years.

“Why does she think something has happened to him?” I said.

Sledge shrugged a bit.

“Says it’s unlike him. Says he’s punctual. She came to see me yesterday. Said Lonnie was supposed to be back home by now. Said she sent two wires to the way station near the bridge where they correspond bridge business, materials and what have you, but got no response back. I told her, give it a little time, maybe he was just busy bridge building.”

“She’s been back three times since,” Karl said.

Sledge nodded.

“Each time she’s been more riled. She put her nose in my face,” Sledge said, shaking his head a little, “said if I didn’t go and find her husband she was gonna come roust the two marshals in town to do the lookin’ and, well, I don’t want that. Having her coming over here pestering y’all.”

“She hollered in his face last time,” Chip said, then spit a stream of tobacco juice in the dirt. “Eyes damn near popped out of her skull.”

“Hollered, hell,” Karl said. “She screamed like a cut calf.”

“I didn’t have the heart to tell her maybe he run off,” Sledge said.

“I know I damn sure would,” Chip said. “Can’t imagine marrying a lady like that.”

“Hell, no,” Karl said with a nod in agreement. “Me for sure, neither.”

“No matter,” Sledge said. “Wanted to spare you two of the misery of her coming over here. We’re gonna ride up, see if we can find the poor sonofabitch.”

Virgil nodded some.

“We’ll be here,” he said.

Sledge gave a sharp nod, then backed up his big bay a bit.

The lawmen turned their horses and rode off south. We watched them as they galloped off and disappeared behind the mercantile at the end of the street.

“Winifred?” Virgil said. “That the fearsome lady churns butter at the grocer?”

“It is,” I said.

Virgil nodded a bit, then walked into the house to get the Kentucky whiskey.

—3—

Virgil and I had been working our job as territorial marshals for close to a year before we returned to Appaloosa. We spent the last part of the summer and near the whole of the fall helping the two German carpenters Virgil hired to rebuild Virgil and Allie’s house.

It was a bigger house than the one Allie had burned to the ground during a cooking mishap while Virgil and I were over in the Indian territories. The new house was a two-story with a three-sided porch. I told Virgil, and Allie, I was happy to help build it but had no interest in painting it. So, with the exception of the place being unpainted, the house was complete.

“She’s barefoot, covered in flour from head to ...

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