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Stephen Lodge

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Charley Sunday's Texas Outfit!
by Stephen Lodge   


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Books by Stephen Lodge - View all
· Shadows of Eagles
· And .... Action!
· Nickel-Plated Dream


Category: 

Western

Publisher:  Behler Publications ISBN-10:  0974896217 Type:  Fiction
Pages: 

157

Copyright:  May 1, 2004


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Charley Sunday's Texas Outfit!

In a day and age where reliance on cellphones, computers, cable and fast food is essential, how many people actually have the chance to step back in time to experience a bit of our Western heritage? Charley Sunday's Texas Outfit!, a lighthearted, present-day yarn for the entire family, offers a unique glimpse into our Western history.

Charley Sunday, a sensible, sober-minded Texas grandfather, imparts the American Cowboy legacy to his only grandchild as he and several of his grizzled cronies concoct a 1,000-mile longhorn cattle drive across 21st Century America . Four leathery cowboys, one insightful Indian, two strong-willed women, a two-gun oddball, a dog, and a little boy make an unlikely team as they trek from Colorado to Texas, continually running up against the forces of corruption. Finding salvation from the most unlikely sources, this rip-roarin' tale of faith versus greed will touch your heart, and take you back to a time where the lines between right and wrong were defined by bravery and honor.
 


Excerpt


CHAPTER ONE



Yes we shall ga-ther at the ri-ver
The beau-ti-ful beau-ti-ful ri-ver
Ga-ther with the saints at the ri-ver
that flows by the throne o-of God

Listening contentedly as church bells pealed in perfect confidence behind the escalating voices of the Juanita, Texas, First Baptist Church Junior Choir, Charles Abner Sunday knew this particular Sabbath Day was going to bring something special.
The silver-haired Charley, riding along comfortably with his friend and cohort of many years, Roscoe Baskin, who also lived and worked on Charley’s ranch, were on their way into town for weekly, Sunday morning services. With Charley driving, they calmly bounced along in his pickup—a rickety old bucket of bolts Charley had won in a pool game many years earlier.
Charley was dressed in his best three-piece pin-striper, topped off with the same “John B.”—Stetson hat—he’d worn for more than a few years—the highlight of his customary Sunday-go-to-Meeting garb. His raw-boned visage, etched from countless years of exposure to the Texas elements, and on a normal day adorned with a three day growth of pure white stubble, was on this morning sparkly and clean-shaven.
Roscoe Baskin, Charley’s salty, beer-bellied ranch-foreman, a cowboy somewhere close to Charley’s sixty-seven years, was snoozing peacefully as they drove along. He’d thrown on an old, threadbare dress coat and a frayed string tie for the special occasion, but that was as dressy as he would let himself get—he refused to give up his old worn work-hat: a decaying, straw Bailey.
As they drove slowly up the main street of Juanita toward the glimmering, white façade of the local house of worship, Charley made his usual mental note—that they were passing through his town: a little Texas village that, until recently, dripped heavily with a unique turn-of–the-nineteenth-to-twentieth-century mode of living where the way of life he had cherished for so many years was fading away just too damn fast.
The local barbershop with its red, white, and blue rotating pole had always been closed on Sundays. Now in its place stood a six-chair “Beauty Shop for Boys,” as the old timers called it, open seven days per week. The corner drugstore was shuttered, as it should have been on a Sunday, except for its coffee shop, which catered to the city slickers who had been moving to the smaller Texas towns in droves over the past few years. The old movie house—where Charley had spent every Saturday afternoon of his childhood—had been converted into a foo-foo art gallery. Now, about a mile or so out of town, there was a new multiplex which showed everything but the “G” Rated movies Charley and Roscoe had always loved so much—the ones they enjoyed taking Charley’s grandson Henry-Ellis to see on those special occasions when the boy visited them at the ranch. Even the livery stable with its fine, hand-carved hitching posts had lost out to a brand new gas station and mini-mart that sold everything from throwaway diapers to South American beer.
As they neared the church, they passed yellowing lawns going to weed alongside once white, and now just as gray, paint-peeled clapboard houses. A row of rusting vehicles up on blocks dotted more than several of the withering yards. Charley nudged his friend. “Better wake up, Roscoe,” he said softly. “We’re almost there.”
Roscoe blinked, straightened up, adjusted his wire-rimmed eyeglasses, pulled at his handlebar mustache, fixed his hat, and stretched. “Well, by golly,” he yawned, extending his arms. “I see we finally made it. How late are we?”
As they approached the church with its almost full-to-capacity parking lot, Charley swung the truck into the small area and into one of the last vacant spaces. Once stopped, he shut down the engine that let go with a fading bang, pop, and chug.
After the engine had quieted and the vehicle was resting in its parking spot, the two long-time friends climbed out, both shrugging at the noises the vehicle was still making—sounds that were becoming more and more familiar to both of them each day.
Charley took out his gold pocket watch, checking the time. “We’re not that late, Roscoe,” he told his friend. “They’re still at the singing part of the service. Soul-saving always comes later on.” The truck let off a final BANG! Charley patted the pickup’s hood while at the same time noticing Roscoe was looking rather uneasy. “Something wrong, Roscoe?” he asked.
“I don’t know, C.A. I reckon I just wasn’t raised on prunes and proverbs like you was. I really don’t think being a regular churchgoer is truly in my nature.”
Charley patted Roscoe on the shoulder using a motion of his hand similar to the one he had given the truck. He smiled softly. “I expect a lot of folks have second thoughts,” he told him. “I’m sure the good Lord’ll understand if you miss one more meeting.”
Roscoe nodded, letting out a sigh, looking quite relieved to Charley.
Charley tossed him a wink. He had been through Roscoe’s hemming and hawing about his personal religiosity on more than one Sabbath in the past.
Roscoe grinned. “Thanks-a-plenty, C.A,” he said nodding humbly.
“Why don’t you go on down to the drug store, have yourself a cup of jamoka, read the funny paper,” suggested Charley. “Pick me up in about an hour. Okay?” He tossed his old partner the keys.
Roscoe continued to smile as he moved around to the driver’s side and got in. “Hey, C.A.?” he called back, leaning out the window. “Say a little prayer for me, will ya?”
“Always do, Roscoe, always do,” Charley said, smiling. He watched as his friend of many years drove off, and then turned and walked toward the church. As he passed a nearby planter, he extracted his ever-present wad of chewing tobacco, depositing the smelly, brown lump on the edge of the wooden box that held the drooping shrubbery trying to grow there.

Charley entered the church vestibule as quietly as he could, almost tiptoeing into the sanctuary, moving down the aisle, his hat in hand. Good thing I remembered to take off the old John B., he thought. Old Caleb always pitches such a danged conniption fit if I don’t.
By the time the good reverend stepped up to the pulpit, Charley had stopped for the moment, looking for a seat. As usual, there were none left unoccupied in the rear.
“Mr. Sunday,” Pastor Caleb Pirtle snapped from the podium. “Why don’t you try pew number three right up here in front of me? I’m sure Mrs. Livers will scoot over an inch or two for you—let you settle in proper-like. Then I can start my sermon.”
Charley nodded awkwardly, then proceeded on down to the front, aware that all eyes were upon him. He reached the third row and smiled to the older lady who had moved over to make room for him. He sat down, nodding to the pastor.
“You can go ahead now, Caleb,” he told the man of the cloth. “And thanks for the nice seat. I plumb forgot to bring my old hearing aid. It wasn’t working, anyway.”
The minister cleared his throat.
“Thank you, too, Charley,” he nodded. “Now I’ll try and get along with what I have to say—if you don’t mind.
Charley shook his head, smiling. “No sir,” he replied humbly. “You just go right ahead, Caleb. That’s exactly what I come to hear.”
There was a laugh-covering cough from someone in the crowd then the good reverend began to speak.
“Then you should ask yourselves this question,” the church minister, Caleb Pirtle droned on. “Have I acquired in life, all the material possessions I want? Or just the necessities?”
Some members of the congregation nodded, while others shook their heads
“Most of you, I suppose, would answer ‘no,’ he continued. “Well, let me ask you this: Are material possessions what you think our good Lord put you here on earth to attain in the first place? Or—”
KA-BOOOOOOOOOM!
An explosion echoed through the streets of Juanita, Texas, sending shards of glass hurtling onto the dry, cracked pavement.
The entire, startled congregation rushed to the front of the church, trying to press through the narrow double-doors so they might witness what had caused the thunderous blast that had interrupted their peaceful service.
Charley, normally polite, put aside his good manners for the moment and wedged his way through the unsettled multitude so he could be first out onto the porch. He immediately noticed the squealing of tires. From his vantage point overlooking the town, he could see a black sedan moving rapidly toward them. Several blocks behind the car, Charley also caught a glimpse of a huge swirl of black smoke followed by a large, dissipating dark cloud rolling upward from the center of town in the direction of the pharmacy where Charley knew his pickup was probably stationed and where, as always, he knew Roscoe would be reading the Sunday paper.
A number of parishioners gathering behind Charley appeared to him outwardly distressed at the sight of the menacing automobile careening wildly up the street, heading directly for the intersection where they stood gaping from the church portico. “Better get your be-hinds back inside,” Charley ordered. The worshippers, who Charley knew could count on him to be more than straightforward when it came to matters such as the one at hand, ducked into the vestibule.
Charley continued to keep a narrow eye on the approaching vehicle. He moved casually to the planter where he found his chaw of tobacco, tucking it between teeth and cheek. All the while, the sound of the screeching tires grew closer and closer. Slowly and deliberately Charley bent down. He raised the cuff of his trousers to reveal a smoothly polished, freshly oiled, .44 caliber, antique, Colt pistol—a Whitneyville Walker, also known as the 1847 Army Model—removing the ancient six-shooter from his boot-top, and checking the cylinder before pulling back the hammer. When the getaway car was almost to the junction, someone inside the vehicle fired several slugs of burning lead in Charley’s direction. The bullets flew way wide of their intended target. Charley didn’t flinch. He unceremoniously spat some tobacco juice, raised the Walker with both hands, sighted in on the approaching vehicle, and took aim with the eyes of Argus. As the car careened into a sliding turn speeding past Charley’s position, Charley squeezed off two well-placed shots, shooting the sedan’s left tires out from under it.
The vehicle slid violently across the cracked asphalt and against the curbside where it glanced off several mailboxes before smashing into a sturdy, yellow fireplug, coming to a dead stop. After the briefest of moments, a massive plume of water gushed high into the air.
Moments like these reminded Charley of why the Whitneyville was his gun of choice. Not only was the revolver reliable and well made, but had been passed down from times of yore to the present and from father to son. The Whitneyville was 15½ inches long, weighed four pounds, nine ounces with the barrel measuring nine inches. It had a square-backed, brass trigger guard, and sported grips made of one-piece walnut. The Texas Rangers had used the Whittneyville from as far back as the middle of the 19th century. Just like Charley, the gun had a rich, proud history all its own.
Charley walked calmly down the church steps, crossing the street to where the sedan sat, immobile. Ignoring the cascading water, he made his way to the driver’s door, opening it and dragging the bleary-eyed operator from the front seat. He brought the heavy barrel of his Colt Walker down on the driver’s head while at the same time reaching into the back of the car and pulling a second man from the rear. As he had done with the first, he thumped him good with the gun’s barrel, and then casually shoved the hefty pistol back into his boot-top, covering it with his cuff. With both robbers collared, he dragged them clear of the spewing water and over to where several members of the congregation had gathered.
One of the men, Willingham Dubbs, was busy pinning a gold sheriff’s star to his lapel. “Damn it, C.A.!” he huffed. “If I told you once, I told you a hunnert times what I’d do if I ever caught you carrying that hog-leg into town again.”
Charley eyed the lawman sternly. He spit some more tobacco juice, narrowing his eyes. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, Willingham. So get off your high horse,” he warned. “All I done was to put a spoke in their wheels before you did–and that’s a fact. Go on now, lock ‘em up. Then we can get back to our Sunday meeting with our Lord." Charley continued to stare down the sheriff, but when nothing more happened, he spit another smooth, slick, stream of tobacco juice, turned abruptly, and headed back toward the church.
As he passed through the remainder of the flock, the ones who had stayed around to witness his confrontation with the sheriff, he began to whistle. Damn, I sure showed that old lawdog where to bury his bones, he thought to himself. And if he tells me one more time I can’t carry my gun in town, I’ll put that old Walker of mine right where them bones of his are buried—where the sun don’t shine.
As the soft strains of The Yellow Rose of Texas began to drift from his puckered lips, Charley found it somewhat difficult not to smile.


Reader Reviews for "Charley Sunday's Texas Outfit!"


Reviewed by Dennis Royer (Reader) 6/28/2004
Quality Western in the style of Louis L'Amour

A cross-country cattle drive complete with cowboys on horseback would seem an unlikely occurrence in today’s west. Using this idea as the premise for a modern novel would seem equally unlikely, yet author Stephen Lodge crafts a convincing tale in Charley Sunday’s Texas Outfit!

When a rich villain prevents Charlie Sunday from transporting his recently acquired 300 head of Texas Longhorn cattle by truck or rail, Charlie organizes an outfit of colorful characters to drive them home – the old-fashioned way. The trip also presents him with an opportunity to provide his 10-year-old grandson, Henry-Ellis, with a character building adventure. Existing “livestock right-away statutes” supply plausibility for what would otherwise seem an unrealistic plot, but the drovers still encounter plenty of other natural and man-made obstacles along the way.

Action packed scenes devoid of gratuitous language and violence create an enjoyable read for the entire family, but this doesn’t mean that the story is bland. The author’s flair for witty dialog keeps the reader engaged: “Used to be in Texas a man settled his own problems,” Charley said. “But that was when due process was a bullet.”

Reminiscent of a quality western in the style of Louis L’Amour, Charley Sunday’s Texas Outfit! draws a clear distinction between the good guys and bad guys. Readers longing for a family tale where justice prevails will be thrilled with this modern day saga.

Dennis Royer
Author of STRANGER


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Stephen Lodge



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