Named Best New Western Author by True West Magazine.
It takes more than a badge to keep the peace in a lawless hellhole like Ring Bit, Texas. It takes guts, grit, gunslinging—and one hell of a woman . . .
MEET TENNESSEE SMITH:
SHE SHOOTS FROM THE HIP.
There aren’t many options for an eighteen-year-old girl in the Old West. Especially an orphan like Tennessee Smith. She can either sell her body in a seedy saloon or take her chances as a mail-order bride. Tennie chooses the latter. Joining a wagonload of women across Indian territory, she arrives in the God-forsaken town of Ring Bit, Texas. Her husband-to-be is surprisingly decent. But after tying the knot in a quickie ceremony, he pops even more surprises on her. First, he introduces Tennie to his three young sons. Then he drops dead on their wedding night . . .
Some women would hightail it out of there. Not Tennie. She’ll do whatever it takes to save the ranch and raise those boys. Rusty is thirteen, Lucas is ten, and Badger is six. They need a mother. Tennie needs a job. And the town needs a marshal. Sure, the local gamblers, outlaws, and thieves have no use for the law. Then again, they never met a lawman, or woman, like Tennessee Smith . . .
About the Author
Easy Jackson (a.k.a. Vicky J. Rose) has written articles for Round-Up Magazine, The Tombstone Times, and many others. Her short story "Testimony" from the Broken Promises western anthology was nominated for a Spur Award from the Western Writers of America. She grew up with an abundance of quirky and colorful characters, the kind that can only be found in small-town Texas. A BAD PLACE TO DIE is her third novel. She cannot promise it will be her last.
Read an Excerpt
Tennessee "Tennie" Smith counted nine bullet holes in the RING BIT, TEXAS, sign swaying from one chain on the jail across the street. She glanced at the other buildings in town, most of them new, raw looking, and covered in paint that hadn't yet begun to peel. A third of them had windowpanes with the glass already broken out. She remained seated in the Conestoga wagon, letting the other excited women alight first, while she hoped the man she was supposed to meet had changed his mind.
"Tennie," Winn Payton said, holding his hand up to her.
She looked at the lined face with its wide white sideburns and thought Mr. Payton had aged twenty years since they had begun their journey from a state disseminated by war through a territory of renegade Indians and disgruntled ex- Confederate bandits. She had no choice but to take his hand and get down.
Three dead men lay bound in tarps on the sidewalk, and Mr. Payton began berating several slack-mouthed loafers for allowing the bodies to remain where the women could see them. An older woman took Tennie by the elbow and propelled her to the nearest storefront window to look at merchandise. Instead of looking at lanterns, shovels, and pickaxes, Tennie saw the image of herself reflected in the glass, an eighteen-year-old with soft curling brown hair, dark eyes wide with apprehension, and plummy lips that trembled despite her determination not to cry.
Moving her eyes away, she caught the reflection of a tall, lean man in his thirties walking on the street behind her. His wide-brimmed hat threw a shadow across half his face, but even so, an old scar running downward across both lips, as if made by the slashing of a knife or a saber, was visible. His eyes squinted as he stared at her in passing, causing her to lower her lashes when she realized he knew she had been observing him. She fought the urge to run to him and beg him to please help her out of the plight she was in. Pausing, she turned and watched him stride into a saloon. A man came out of another saloon, followed by a disheveled, dirty, and half-naked woman who screamed obscenities at him.
Winn Payton appeared at Tennie's side. "Tennie," he said in a low voice. "If you don't fulfill your bargain, that's what will happen to you."
She nodded, watching the beleaguered man push the drunken woman aside when he caught sight of them.
"The women are here!" he hollered at the top of his voice. Men began pouring out of buildings, most of them dressed in pants tucked inside boots with jingling spurs, wearing long-sleeved shirts and bright bandannas around their necks. A few others were dressed in suits; all wore hats. The better dressed ones swarmed the women, and soon, Mr. Payton was introducing a gray-haired man to Tennie as Ashton Granger, her betrothed.
At one time, he must have been considered a handsome man. Clean, dressed in a somber suit and a new Leghorn hat, his blue eyes were kind, but Tennie could not hide the dismay from her face. He was much older than she thought he would be. He, in turn, stared at her in surprise and appreciation before a look of apprehension made a slow march across his face.
Before Tennie could even say hello, they were hustled into the church, and after one mass wedding ceremony, she found herself sitting on a wagon seat by a man she'd just met heading for a home she'd never seen.
"It's not far from town," Ashton Granger said in a deep, likable voice, and Tennie assumed he was talking about his ranch. A series of popping noises came from a distance, and she turned to him.
"The boys in town are just blowing off steam," he said. "It's just a little gunfire. No cause for alarm."
Tennie knew it was probably more than that. She had already been warned about Ring Bit by a man who had stayed overnight on their wagon train. He had begged Tennie to run away with him rather than have her go to Ring Bit, but Mr. Payton had chosen that day to have the older women tell the younger ones what would be expected of them on their wedding night. After that, Tennie lost all desire to escape with a buffalo hunter who carried with him the overwhelming odor of something dead. Better to take her chances in Ring Bit, even though he had described it as a wild town unsafe and unfit for women.
Tennie stole short glances at her new husband. His skin was gray, and his breath came hard after every exertion. But he did not force himself upon her, and for that, she was thankful. Tennie knew before the night was over, she was probably going to be crying. To get her mind off it, she asked how the town got its name.
"It's named after a cruel bit used at one time here on wild horses," he said.
Tennie sighed, feeling fate had put a ring bit in her mouth. After that, she remained quiet.
The first sight of his ranch gave the impression of something that had once been worked on with care, but of late, had been neglected. Fences were falling down, the barns leaned, and one of them had a hole in the roof big enough to put a cow through. The porch of the ranch house had poles stuck under it hither and yonder, trying to hold up a sagging roof. Beside a broken gate, three boys with sullen eyes and turned-down lips watched them approach.
Granger helped her down. Taking her by the hand, he led her to the boys. "Tennie, these are my sons. Rusty is thirteen, Lucas here is ten, and little Badger is six. Boys, say hello to your, er —" He paused. "Say hello to Miss Tennie. We were married in town this afternoon."
They mumbled something while Tennie said hello. Rusty had reddish hair and freckles. Lucas and Badger resembled their father, blue-eyed and dark haired. Rusty and Lucas looked as slender as spring grass, but Badger still carried baby fat with him.
"We don't want her here," Badger said. "Why did you marry her?"
The look on his brothers' faces said they agreed.
Tennie felt her heart sink. Mr. Payton had only said the boys were "a little rambunctious," but she recognized malevolence when she saw it.
Granger reprimanded the boys then said, "Come, Tennie. I'll show you the inside."
She followed him through the house. It told the same story the outside did, of something once cared for and let go. The woman in the tintype on the mantle looked like Rusty.
"She's been dead three years," Granger said.
Tennie wished the woman had never died.
Granger indicated a chair for her to sit in. Before sitting down, she gave the cushion a surreptitious shake. Not to her surprise, a small grass snake slithered away. The boys looked at one another from under brows lowered in anger.
Granger looked old and tired. Tennie didn't even try to talk. When the boys announced two riders were approaching the ranch, everyone looked relieved.
Tennie walked outside onto the porch with the others, careful to miss the rotten boards. One man on horseback and another driving a wagon stopped next to the gate. She scanned their faces. With a start, she realized she recognized the one on horseback as the man she had seen in town.
Instead of carrying his guns under a jacket, he had them in the open. Two belts loaded with extra cartridges criss-crossed his leather vest. The collarless shirt he wore belonged to a workingman. Two guns were by his side, one facing butt backward. The one on his left faced butt forward. Both holsters were tied around his striped wool pant legs.
In the dime novel she and the other women had devoured on the wagon train out west, it proclaimed that was the way of a gunfighter, to allow swift removal of a pistol without having it hang in leather. Examining his face closer, Tennie thought him to be in his late twenties or maybe early thirties. By any standard, he looked like a man who knew far more about the bad side of life than he should have.
He sat with ease in the saddle, yet Tennie sensed he took in every corner of the house, every tree, and every shadow by the barn someone could be hiding in. As his eyes fell on her a little longer than the others, she also knew he recognized her. She turned away and studied the man in the wagon.
With thick brown hair poking from his hat, he looked equally tall, but bigger built. He, too, carried a rifle, along with enough ammunition to blow up half an army. The man with the scar began to speak, and Tennie turned back to him.
"Howdy," he said in a deep, clear voice. "My name is George Washington Jones; my friends call me Wash. This is Ben McNally." He motioned his head toward his friend. "We've got a sick man with an arrow in his abdomen. It's too tricky for me to get out. We can't get the doctor in Ring Bit sobered up enough to operate. Somebody in town told us you were a good hand at doctoring."
Granger had been looking at them in consternation, but he responded without hesitation. "Take him around to the sleeping porch in the back. He'll be more comfortable in the small bed there."
"He's a Mexican," the scar-faced man said.
Granger repeated they were to take him to the back. Tennie followed, helping to prepare the bed while the men carried a small, dark, unconscious man onto the porch.
"Tennie," Granger said, "Bring some hot water, soap, and clean towels from the kitchen. There should be some hot ashes left, but you may have to stoke the fire."
She nodded, finding everything as he said.
Carrying basins of hot water, she placed them on a small table next to the iron bedstead. With a start of surprise, she saw Granger had scalpel and forceps laid out among other tools. He rolled up his sleeves, and as he washed his hands and arms, he saw her glance at the scalpel.
"I was a surgeon during the war," he explained. "When I came home, I didn't have the stomach for it anymore."
She nodded. "I've never seen anyone wash their hands before working on a patient."
"It's something I experimented with during the war and had good results ... although I was never able to convince my colleagues of it. Stand nearby and hand me whatever I ask you for."
"What do you need us to do?" the man with the scarred lips asked.
"You hold his arms down, putting your knee on his chest." Granger turned to the larger man. "You do the same thing with his legs. Put your knee across his legs. I don't want him moving."
Tennie watched while he worked the shaft of the arrow in a gentle back-and- forth motion.
"It just might be far enough away from the intestines not to have punctured anything, and at the same time, not be stuck in a bone. There doesn't appear to be internal bleeding," he muttered.
His narrow fingers went down the shaft and probed the wound, while the patient gave a faint groan. Granger removed his fingers, instructing Tennie to wipe the blood from them. She complied, and he selected a wicked-looking knife, making the wound larger in one swift motion. Placing the knife on the table, he picked up another with a wire loop and worked it downward, wrapping it around the arrowhead. With great care, he brought it out, placing it on the table. He straightened and breathed heavily. "Tennie, hand me a clean towel, please."
Tennie gave him one, and taking another, she helped him wipe the blood and clean around the wound.
"He's a lucky man," Granger told the two men. "The arrow appears to have missed the organs. Who is the woman he is calling for? Rosita something?"
"Poco's been calling the name of every señorita between here and Mexico since he got shot," Wash Jones said.
"Where was that?" Granger asked.
"Near the Brazos. We went to Fort Griffin, but they, along with the camp doctor, were on patrol. Somebody told us there was a doctor in Ring Bit."
Granger concentrated on his patient, but gave Tennie a brief glance. "You are a good nurse."
"I helped my mother during the war," Tennie said. "My father was in the Alabama Brigade. He made it through the war, but he and my mother died of yellow fever soon afterward. I was sent to an orphanage." She stopped, not knowing why she had said so much.
Granger again glanced at her. "An orphanage? Was it bad?"
Granger looked back to his patient, but Tennie thought for some reason her answer had come as a relief to him.
"I'm leaving the wound open to drain," he said when he finished. "There weren't any major arteries cut, and I think he is in more danger of developing an infection than he is of bleeding to death. We'll keep it covered and change the dressings several times a day, though, to see how it's doing."
"Much obliged," Wash Jones said.
Dusk settled, and he and Ben McNally walked off the porch into the growing darkness. Granger sank down in a chair next to the ill man's side. He appeared exhausted.
"Would you like me to prepare supper?" Tennie asked.
He nodded. "Just bring us all plates of something," he said, his breath coming out shallow and uneven. "I can't face sitting at the table just now."
Tennie nodded. Taking the bloody towels with her, she went into the kitchen and lit the lanterns. Someone had taken the trouble to stock the pantry, and she wondered if it had been done in preparation of her arrival. Disposing of the towels in a bucket of water to soak, she fried the ever-present salt pork and made biscuits and gravy. There was water and coffee, but the milk was canned.
She did as Granger had instructed and made three trips into the darkening evening carrying plates of food along with cups of water and coffee. The men gave polite thanks. The boys said nothing, but the food disappeared. Badger held his plate up and licked it. In a little while, she gathered the dishes and washed them.
Returning to the porch, she saw Granger had placed a chair beside his and indicated he wanted her to sit next to him. "You are not only a good nurse, Tennie, but a good cook. Did you do that at the orphanage?"
"Yes," she answered. "The food was terrible there, full of weevils and maggots, but sometimes they would hire me out to work in the big houses. The former slaves who worked there showed me what to do with better food."
He nodded. "Sometimes the neighbors get together, and we butcher a beef. All of us take some home, taking turns with the best cuts. I haven't felt like participating much lately."
She nodded and listened as he talked about coming to Ring Bit and the changes the war wrought. He wound down, and at the end, asked what brought her to Ring Bit as a mail-order bride. "You are too beautiful to have escaped a hundred proposals, Tennie, regardless of the shortage of men in the South."
"I thought I was signing up to be a missionary," Tennie said, feeling her face turn red.
"What?" Granger asked in surprise.
"It's such a long and embarrassing story."
When Granger did not reply, but sat waiting, Tennie found herself confessing everything.
"One day the matron at the orphanage called me into her office. A man was there who said he was my uncle, and he had come to take me home with him. I tried to tell the matron he wasn't my uncle, but she wouldn't listen to me. She said I had to leave." Tennie's voice rose, almost in hysteria, and she had to calm herself before continuing.
"The man forced me to go with him to a saloon, where he threw me in a room upstairs. Chains were on the bedstead. He said I was worth a lot of money to him, and if I didn't cooperate, he would chain me to the bed. As soon as he left, I jimmied the window and jumped out, running until I saw a church. I saw some men with the minister, loading up their things. They said, 'Have you come to apply? We are leaving tomorrow at first light.' I told them yes. I thought they were missionaries. They showed me your picture and asked if you were all right, and I said yes again because I thought you were to be my boss at the mission. The minister even put in a good word for me. We had traveled two weeks before I found out I was to be a mail-order bride, not a missionary. Everyone laughed at me. They couldn't believe I had made such a stupid mistake."
Tennie leaned closer to him. "I didn't want to marry someone I'd never met. I waited until there was a full moon. I took some food I'd hoarded, and I was going to leave, but then I looked up in the hills, and I saw a line of Indian warriors in the moonlight. I gave the alarm, and we were attacked. The men managed to repulse them, but they kidnapped one of the women. The next day, we found her. She'd ... she'd ..." Tennie couldn't repeat the horror she had seen. "Mr. Payton told me I'd never survive by myself, that I should just come here and do what I had signed up to do." Tennie stopped. She didn't want to tell him Mr. Payton almost had to twist her arm in Ring Bit, too.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Bad Place To Die"
Copyright © 2018 V. R. Rose.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The story is great
Easy Jackson writes with the passion of a woman and the gusto of a man. I know this person, as do the good people of the Texas Folklore Society. As I visited with these friends recently at McKinney, TX, and told them I was reading a great new Western written by one of our members. Several said, paraphrased, “I’m reading that book, and boy is it good.” They are right. I’ve never enjoyed a woman POV book as much as “Bad Place.” Easy Jackson weaves a couple dozen complex characters into the story and holds the mystery to the end. Will our heroin Tennie fall in love with Gentleman Lafayette, part time drunk and giant Honey Boy, or aloft and indifferent Wash Jones? Or none at all. None would have been my guess. Strong woman, engaging story line. Enduring characters.
This was a book that I couldn’t put down. Every chapter kept me wondering what will happen next and how will she handle it. Looking forward to the next book in this series.
I really enjoyed this book. A story about a woman who is placed as town marshal for cover and because they think she is not smart enough to uncover their crimes. You will enjoy the predicaments she gets into and her relationships with the town folk.