Extract / Preview: Your Resting Place by David Towsey

*** NOTE: If you’ve yet to read David Towsey’s The Walkin’ Trilogy you may wish to sample the second volume – Your Servants and Your People – on Carabas here before reading this ***

CB - JF - Nov - Your Resting Place PROLOGUE
Walter had five bodies on the bed of his wagon. Judging by the clean holes through their heads, they’d stay that way. He liked that: one less thing to worry about. They weren’t bleeding much, either. The boards of his wagon were stained plenty already; the rusty smell was a constant, as were the specks. But it was important to keep the bed clean. He had a reputation to think of.
He waited on the edge of Pine Ridge until dawn, and then waited some more. Law-Man Miller was not an early riser. Walter couldn’t fault him for that – Pine’s trouble kept late hours. He licked his lips at the memory of whiskey and took a slug from his water-skin, then grimaced; he didn’t have the imagination to fool his mouth. Collect from the Law-Man first, then see to Patches and the wagon, and then a soft bed and a soft body. He rubbed the base of his back. He’d earned a little respite. He glanced at the bodies in the wagon. A canvas sheet covered all but their feet.
‘I too have earned it!’ They  stayed silent.

*
He rubbed his nose and was shocked at the chill of his finger. He’d waited long enough. The first flick of the reins had no effect. He leaned over to find Patches asleep. The shaggie’s talent for sleeping standing up rankled him and he slapped the reins harder. He was pleased with the resulting snort as Patches lurched forward, the wheels creaking their own protest. They were all idle – he was the only one in this outfit who understood hard work. As he rolled into Pine Ridge, he figured he might be the only  one  in  the whole county.

The streets were empty: not just the  main thoroughfare, but the side streets and alleyways. He was relieved to see a mouser scratching at the side of a tanner’s shop – he was starting to worry that this was a dream. Dreaming of coming to town with a full wagon wasn’t new to Walter, and it was after those dreams that he generally thought seriously about his line of work. He waved to the mouser. Its contempt was real. He pulled up outside the Law-Man’s building, one of the smaller places on the thoroughfare. It was just a single storey; the windows were barred and the door was reinforced with heavy studs. He eased himself down from the seat, his cold joints popping with the first few steps, and knocked on the door with the side of his hand, hitting one of the studs. He cursed under his breath. ‘He’s not in  yet.’

The face at the window had a rough red beard with plenty of knots and what looked like bits of food tangled in the hair. That and his nose were all that poked through the bars.

‘Many of you in there?’ Walter said.

‘Just me and two old-timers. If they’re still breathing.’ ‘Will you shut it?’ a voice came from inside.

‘Drink,  was  it?’  Walter said.

‘Don’t remember. S’ppose he’ll tell me.’

Walter sat down on the narrow porch, shifting until his back was comfortable against the wall. Miller shouldn’t be too late if last night’s duties were limited to three scruffy drunks.

‘Full load, I see,’ the bearded man said. ‘For once.’

‘What’d they do this time?’ ‘Does it matter?’ Walter said. ‘Don’t you wonder?’

‘I just collect. The things I wonder about happen after that.’

The man spat through the bars. ‘Bet you don’t even find out  their  names, do you?’

Walter noticed a streak of dried mud on his boot. He took out his pistol and scraped away the flakes.

‘Do you?’ the man shouted.

‘Quit your noise, Robson,’ someone said, and Walter looked up to see Law-Man Miller coming round the corner of the building. His deputy, a large lad with small eyes, followed close behind.

Miller tipped his hat when he saw Walter. ‘Morning,’ he said.

‘So it is.’ Walter stood with some difficulty. Miller made no offer to help. ‘Full wagon today.’

‘That’s what I said,’ Robson squawked.

Walter led the Law-Man and his  deputy  to  the  back of the wagon. He pulled back the sheet with a little flourish. Five dead men, eight pistols still in their holsters. Five hats. Ten boots. One or two pockets bulged with who-knew-what. Walter made sure their possessions were easy to see; he wasn’t  a thief.

‘Recognise them?’ he said. ‘Do you?’

Walter laughed awkwardly, unsure if Miller was joking. ‘’Course I do – every one’s on a poster.’ He pointed towards the Law-Man’s office and the wall that was papered with faces.

The deputy – Lacey or Macey, something like that – went to the side of the wagon and lifted one man’s hat to get a better look.

‘You working alone these days?’ Miller said. ‘Henry’s  off  planting crops.’

‘And these – all the same gang?’

Walter spread his hands. ‘Who can tell, with all their comings and goings?’

‘All clean shots,’ Macey said – it was definitely Macey. ‘One here, one here.’ He pointed at his head and then his heart.

Miller glanced up and down the street. ‘You’d best come in. Put the bodies in the back,  Deputy.’

Macey set to, ignoring the jibes of the bearded prisoner.

Inside the office, Miller put his hat on his desk. ‘Sit,’ he said.

Walter did as he was told, and Miller put his hands on the desk, palms down, and leaned forward. Walter noticed his greying ponytail was tied tight back today.

‘You can stop pissing up my wall now, Walter.’ ‘Wh—?’

‘As in: I know how small the cock is, despite the display.

That’s not your work out there.’ ‘I don’t follow,’ he  said.

‘Yes, you do. You’ve brought in bodies before with more lead in them than bone.’ He turned to the wall of posters, examined them for a moment, then yanked five from their pins. ‘And now you bring me half a gang threaded as neatly as needles.’

‘Well, there’s no need—’

‘Walter, if these posters are right, this isn’t just a bunch of roughs. You’re talking about guns who ride with the Pastor’s boy.’

He sighed. ‘Does it really matter? They’re here . . .’ ‘That’s not what I’m worried about. I’m worried about who isn’t here, who isn’t sitting in that chair claiming their bounties.’

‘You know already though, don’t you?’ he said. ‘I could take a guess.’

‘Is it my fault she don’t bring in the bodies?’

Deputy Macey came into the office, his smile so big his eyes were lost completely amongst the wrinkles. ‘They say she can’t be killed. Not like Walkin’ normally can, anyhows,’ he said.

Walter had to shift bodily in his chair to confront the deputy. ‘And how do you know who we’re talking  on?’

‘Oh, Deputy Macey has made her a special project,’ Miller said.

‘They say it’s because she drowned: so burning her would be like trying to set fire to a wet log.’

Walter shook his head. ‘Are you hearing this?’ he said to Miller.

‘The Drowned Woman – that’s what they’re calling her.’ ‘I  don’t  care  what  she’s  called, even if it is  as stupid a name as that. If she don’t want the bounties, then I do.’ ‘She just leaves the bodies there, out in the sun, ready for the blightbirds?’ Miller said.

Macey came over to him and stood real close. ‘Have you seen her?’

‘From afar,’ Walter said, undoing the top button of his shirt. ‘And yes, she leaves ’em where they  fall.’

‘You’re not there when it happens?’ Miller said. ‘No.’

‘You  don’t  chase  her  off ?’  ‘Are you serious?’ Walter said. ‘I need to hear you say it.’

‘No. I just cart ’em to town, is all.’

‘Picking over the bones,’ Miller said. ‘I’m not getting any  younger.’

‘Come on then.’ The Law-Man picked up his hat. ‘Let’s make sure it’s them.’

Macey led the way. He had laid out the bodies under an overhanging roof. Walter dabbed at his forehead with a handkerchief and then kept it pressed to his face, to mask the too-sweet smell of rot. Funny he’d not noticed it in the wagon.

Law-Man Miller looked at his first piece of paper, then dropped the poster on the chest of one of the men. The resemblance was clear as day. The number at the bottom would buy a drink and some company. Times that by five and it would be a good week. Or a bearable month.

Miller paused at the final body. ‘Deputy, you know little Billy Crawford, lives on Upper Lane?’ he     said.

‘My second cousin, Martha, she learns her letters with Billy.’ ‘Would you fetch him?’

As Macey hustled between the houses and was soon lost to sight, Walter asked, ‘Problem, Law-Man?’

‘This here is Arthur Crawford, Billy’s pa.’

‘Oh.’ Walter peered at the slack, clean-shaven face. ‘Wouldn’t Mrs Crawford want to know too?’

‘No, I don’t reckon she would.’

As they waited in silence for the deputy, Walter edged away from the bodies as much as he could without making it obvious. He couldn’t settle on whether it was better to breathe in through the nose or the mouth – more years than he could remember in the job and there was still no getting used to that smell.

Macey returned holding the hand of a skinny, dark-haired boy. Billy was wide-eyed, and Walter could see he was shaking a little.

The Law-Man said, ‘You’re not in trouble, Billy.’

The boy, so young he couldn’t have been into double figures, almost collapsed in relief. When he smiled he was missing most of his teeth – but no one else was smiling and he  soon stopped.

‘Come here, boy. I want you to see this,’ Miller said. The Law-Man put his hands on the boy’s shoulders. ‘This is your pa, Billy.’

The boy stared dumbly at the  body.  Macey  had  closed the eyes, though there was still the matter of the hole in the head. Walter wished he were back at the wagon or, even better, in the saloon – this boy’s grief was none of his business – but there weren’t any tears. Billy  stood  there until the deputy came and led him away. The  boy didn’t even look back.

Walter whistled through his teeth. ‘That’s left me cold.’ ‘How so?’

‘I hope someone weeps when I go.’

‘Don’t lose sleep over it,’ the Law-Man said. ‘Billy never met his pa.’

 

***

 

You can read more on YOUR RESTING PLACE on our Jul-Dec 15 Jo Fletcher Books page or our November New Book Recommends.

And there’s more extracts from our pick of titles – you can see in order of most recent in our EXTRACTS ARTICLES CATEGORY,  and below in order that we put them out!

DAVE VS THE MONSTERS: EMERGENCE – John Birmingham
SKY PIRATES – Liesel Schwarz
BLOOD RED CITY – Justin Richards
RADIANT STATE – Peter Higgins
THE SUMMONER – Taran Matharu
MARKED – Sue Tingey
BETE – Adam Roberts
FOUL TIDES TURNING – Stephen Hunt
STEEPLE – John Wallace
CRASHING HEAVEN – Al Robertson
BENEATH LONDON – James Blaylock
OUR LADY OF THE STREETS – Tom Pollock
CAUSAL ANGEL – Hannu Rajaniemi
YOUR SERVANTS AND YOUR PEOPLE – David Towsey
THE SEVENTH MISS HADFIELD – Anna Caltabiano
DETECTIVE STRONGOAK AND THE CASE OF THE DEAD ELF – Terry Newman
THE RELIC GUILD – Edward Cox
FOXGLOVE SUMMER – Ben Aaronovitch
THE MOON AND THE SUN – Vonda McIntyre
PATH OF GODS – Snorri Kristjansson
TIME SALVAGER – Wesley Chu
REGENERATION – Stephanie Saulter
THE SUPERNATURAL ENHANCEMENTS – Edgar Cantero
THE RETURN OF THE DISCONTINUED MAN – Mark Hodder
THE MARTIAN – Andy Weir
KOKO THE MIGHTY – Kieran Shea
THE UNNOTICEABLES – Robert Brockway
IF/THEN – Matthew de Abaitua
THE SAND MEN – Christopher Fowler
THE DRAGON ENGINE – Andy Remic
YOUR RESTING PLACE – David Towsey