Here’s the first chapter of PASSAGE TO PEDREGOSA, Book 3 of the Cody Cavanaugh series, on sale March 23. Give it a read!
Late Autumn, 1877
The air on the morning before the raid, as crisp as the first bite of an apple right off the tree, didn’t strike Cody Cavanaugh as killing weather.
Some others seemed to think otherwise.
Cody and Freeman Douglas rode north, headed for the railroad town of Maley, up the valley from Pedregosa. When they’d started out at daybreak, every exhalation sent a puff of steam into the air, and the breath of Freeman’s borrowed horse and Cody’s mule Rocky expelled great clouds of it. A couple of hours into the trip, they stopped to remove their coats and sip from their canteens. Cool or not, this was still desert country, and the air was dryer than a Pentecostalist on Sunday.
“What would you say your profession is?” Freeman Douglas asked as they climbed back into the leather.
“Just makin’ conversation is all.”
Cody shrugged, thought about it for a moment. “Librarian, I reckon.”
“Uh-huh. How many librarians you figger could end a war? Or start one, for that matter, then finish it, too?”
“There must be some,” Cody said. “Can’t say as I’ve known any librarians since Miss Edith, back in Springfield. And I only saw her once in a blue moon, when I was a kid.”
He thought Freeman would drop it then, but his friend kept pushing. “So, when you meet somebody new, you say, ‘Howdy, I’m Cody Cavanaugh. I’m a librarian, how ‘bout you?”
“I don’t know as I’d put it in those words exactly. What are you getting at, Freeman?”
“I’m just wonderin’ how you think of yourself, is all. Me, I’m a stable hand. I wrangle horses and the occasional mule or burro. I know how to feed ’em, curry ’em, brush ’em down, shovel manure. In a pinch I can shoe one, long as somebody else made the shoes. I know what I am. I just wonder if you do.”
“But you do more than that,” Cody countered. “Those wars you mentioned, you had as much to do with as I did. And when I’m not fighting somebody or trying to help someone out, I’m organizing books, then reorganizing them because somebody else messed them up. Or checking in new ones, checking out old ones, taking money. Librarian stuff. Hell, we’re riding to Maney on library business, and you’re coming with me. Unless you came along just to shovel manure—and that animal you’re riding has dropped plenty, but I haven’t seen you get down and pick it up—then you’re not just a stable hand.”
Freeman nodded. “You could be right. I’m just sayin’, I know what I am. I don’t think you’ve figgered out yourself yet. I reckon if you stayed in that library for six months without someone comin’ along needed to be helped out of a tight fix, you’d go crazy.” He chuckled. “Crazier, I mean.”
Cody was glad to see a rider headed toward them from the north, because it might mean that Freeman would drop this line of conversation. On the other hand, Cody had known mules—Rocky was one—that weren’t as stubborn as Freeman. He might just keep it up all the way into Maley.
The man rode a huge gray that looked plenty spirited, but somehow seemed small in comparison to his rider. He was a burly man, made more so by the buffalo coat he wore. That coat, Cody thought, must have been with him a long time, for it was patched in seemingly dozens of places with fur of various colors. His hat was black and pulled down low over his brow. He had a full beard and mustache that curled around the lower part of his face like lambswool dyed black; if he had a mouth, it couldn’t be seen, and it was impossible to tell how long his chin was. More black hair coiled up from under his shirt’s collar, blending with the beard.
As he approached, his mouth revealed itself with a toothy grin, and he tapped the brim of his hat with two fingers. “Howdy, gents,” he said, his tone affable.
“Morning,” Cody said, returning the salute.
“How do?” Freeman added.
“How far you headed?” the man asked. “Snowin’ some, up around Camp Bowie.”
“Not that far,” Cody replied. “Just to Maley.”
“Not too bad there.”
“How about you?”
“Heard a man might could get decent meal in Pedregosa,” the stranger said. There was something about his eyes that Cody didn’t like. They were narrow slits, widely spaced, and they never stopped moving, as if he were studying the two men he’d encountered the way a scientist might a new species of insect. “Might stay the night. Got some business down old Mexico way, but I don’t reckon I’ll ride that far today.”
“Hotel Carlson,” Cody said. “Ought to be plenty of rooms. Silver Spoon across the street puts out a decent spread.”
“Or Utley’s Saloon,” Freeman added. “Gib Utley got him a new Chinese cook, Li something.”
“Li Jiang,” Cody offered.
“Right. Cooks dishes like you’ve never seen, but every one’s tastier than the last.”
“Appreciate it,” the man said. He raised his hand again. “Pleasant journey to you.”
“Same to you,” Freeman said.
The stranger continued heading south, and Cody tapped Rocky with his heels. She started up at a walk, Freeman’s blood bay close behind. “Nice feller,” Freeman observed.
“Nice enough, I reckon,” Cody said. “I notice he didn’t ask if Pedregosa had a library.”
“That how it’s gonna be? Person has to patronize your library to pass muster? You ain’t even there to check out a book to him. And you wouldn’t anyway to a stranger headed for Mexico, on account of the chances of him bringin’ it back are about as good as the chance of you drawin’ a straight flush over at Utley’s.”
“I’m not saying he has to stop in,” Cody said. “But he could’ve asked.”
He was not, in fact, disturbed by the man’s omission. But as Freeman had said, the fellow had seemed pleasant, except for those eyes. They seemed to take in every detail. Cody had given him the once-over, too, had spotted the Winchester in its scabbard and the Colt Navy at his side, half-hidden by the buffalo coat. He couldn’t blame a man for going about armed—this was still Apache country, after all, and the daylight hours were when they were most likely to be out looking for prey.But those weapons looked well-used, and the expression in the man’s eyes hadn’t matched the smile on his lips. Cody’s discomfort was too vague to mention directly, so he talked about the library instead. Just the same, he thought about the stranger off and on all the way to Maley.#Cody and Freeman hadn’t been to Maley since late summer, after the cattle drives were over. Plenty of blood had been spilled on that visit, much of it at their hands. But since then—or so he’d heard—the town had been quiet, and prosperity was returning. The railroad helped; anyone in this part of the territory who wanted to travel by train had to come to Maley. It was the railroad that drew Cody now. His friend Doc Cobb had told his wealthy Boston benefactor, the white man who’d paid his way through Harvard Medical School, about Cody’s library. The Bostonian was dying, and no one in his family wanted the collection of books he had amassed during his long life. In his will, he had left the books to Cody, and his family had loaded them onto a train car. The journey had been a long one, but they had finally arrived. Cody and Freeman intended to rent a buckboard from Maley’s livery stable and haul the books back to Pedregosa.
When they arrived at the depot with the wagon, Cody explained their mission to the stationmaster. “Oh, you’re here for the books, are you?”
“That’s right.”The man eyed the buckboard and arched one eyebrow. “You’re gonna need a bigger wagon.”
“How many are there?” Cody asked.
“Come with me.”
He led them to a boxcar that had been shunted onto a secondary track. It had been painted red once, but the rigors of cross-country travel and years of weather had tamed it to a pale pink.
“There you go,” the stationmaster said. “Take a look.”
Cody and Freeman locked eyes, neither knowing why the stationmaster was playing coy. Then Cody shoved back the sliding door. Inside, crate after crate after crate, each one loaded with books, had been stacked almost to the ceiling.
“There must be hundreds of books in there,” Freeman said in a shocked whisper.
“More like thousands,” Cody corrected.
“You need some help, try the Four Aces,” the stationmaster said. “Usually some out-of-work hands sitting around playing cards for matchsticks. It’s just up on El Paso Avenue.”
“Know it well,” Cody said.
The stationmaster scrutinized them more closely, smoothing down his yellow mustache as he did. “Say, you ain’t them fellers came in a few months back—”
“Well, I’ll be dogged.”
Cody wasn’t entirely sure what he meant by that, but it didn’t much matter. At least the man wasn’t running for help or pulling iron. “How long do we have to unload these?”
“I’m in no hurry,” the stationmaster said. “How about noon tomorrow?”
“No hurry,” Cody mumbled, eyeing the crates.
“Nothing,” Cody said. “Reckon we’ll go see about some more wagons, and somebody to drive them.”