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Rye James

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The Assassin
by Rye James   

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Category: 

Western

Publisher:  iUniverse ISBN-10:  0595436765 Type: 
Pages: 

112

Copyright:  Feb 27, 2007 ISBN-13:  9780595436767
Fiction

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Matt Beck is a man hired to eliminate problems. So when the deadliest gunman in the West wanders into an Arizona town, the residents instantly fear one of them has been marked for death. Once Beck arrives, he tangles with the law, a young gunslinger itching to make a reputation on his death, a treacherous preacher, and a gunfighter hired to kill Beck. Through it all, he must protect a secret he's carrying that would surely mark his own death if found out.

Excerpt
Chapter 1

“Beck, c’mon! P-p-please...whatever he’s giving you, I’ll double it! We can work this out,” Murphy begged.

“You know once I take the job, that’s it, ain’t no way out of it for ya,” Beck explained. “It’s a darn shame for ya, but you shouldn’t have went and done nothing for him to be puttin’ money on your head.”

“Do you even know what I done for him to want me dead?” Murphy asked.

“Nope,” Beck replied. “Don’t really matter to me one way or the other. You did what you did, he wants you dead for it, and he paid me to do it. Whether I know what happened, or whether I agree with you or him don’t make one bit a difference. I’m getting paid, that’s what I care about. So I reckon that’s that.”

Murphy started to shake realizing the fate that awaited him. Finally, his fear and frustration caused him to yell out at Beck.

“You’re like a leech that attaches to something and doesn’t let go till you’ve sucked the life right out of it. Been on my tail for days and days not letting up. No matter what I do I can’t shake ya, you’re always a step behind. You’re nothing but a bloodthirsty animal, who enjoys chasing your prey till you finally grasp it around the neck with your kill-happy hands.”

Beck just stood there silently, looking at him with that evil glare that he’d looked at many a men with. Beck slowly moved his right hand down to his side, just barely giving the handle of his Colt room to breathe.

“Murphy, I’m getting a little bit of a chill standing in this Arizona night air,” Beck said, becoming increasingly annoyed. “I haven’t had supper yet, looks like some rain is movin’ in, and I’m getting tired of listening to you bellyache and babble like the coward you are. We might as well do it now so you can be on your way to your maker.”

Looking at the bottle of whiskey in front of him by his saddle, Murphy asked, “Mind if I have a drink first?”

Beck nodded and obligingly said, “Man shouldn’t die thirsty.”

Murphy reached down and grabbed the neck of the bottle, stood back up and took a swallow. He put the bottle to his lips for another swallow, but suddenly threw it at Beck, hoping to get the jump on him. Murphy removed the gun from his holster. But with Beck’s lightning speed, he managed to draw at the same time as Murphy, even while ducking the bottle. They fired their pistols simultaneously, and as the smoke from the multiple shots filled the air, both men were hit and dropped to the ground. After a few seconds, Beck clutched a handful of dirt in his left hand, as he staggered to his feet. He held his right shoulder as he picked up his pistol. He walked over to Murphy’s lifeless body to see if he was still alive. He nudged him in the side of his stomach with his boot. He was lying face down, not moving, and Beck knew that he was dead.

“I can’t believe you shot me, you bastard. Lou Murphy shot me,” as he shook his head in disgust. “Of all the men I’ve gone up against, nobody’d ever shot me, and some of them fellas was right handy with a pistol. It took a coward and a bottle to draw blood on me.”

The clouds then opened up, letting out a fierce, driving rain. Beck went to his horse and pulled out some cloth from his saddle bag, applying it to his shoulder to stop the blood. Before putting on his slicker he changed his shirt to avoid anyone seeing blood on him. Then he mounted his Pinto and began riding. He figured he could make the town of Galena in an hour or two, depending on the rain and how his shoulder felt.

He was in quite a bit of discomfort and knew he needed to get some medical attention, but he’d have to be very cautious about it. If anybody knew he’d been shot, especially in his gun arm, his name could be carved up onto some gunslinger’s reputation very quickly. Any man who’s good with a gun would cherish the opportunity to notch Matt Beck’s name into the handle of their revolver. Matt Beck was one of the most known gunman in the Arizona territory. Although he was not a wanted man, and he’d never done anything against the law, nobody was more feared. He was a gun for hire. If you wanted another man dead, and had enough money, Matt Beck was the man to get the job done.

He always made sure it was self defense; as he was so fast that he didn’t need to draw first. Every lawman knew that when Matt Beck rode into town, somebody was going to die. Every undertaker knew, that when he saw Beck, he was going to pick up another customer. There was nothing extraordinary in itself about Matt Beck, other than his mastery of a gun. He was of average height, build, and looks. He was a great judge of character though, always knew the right thing to say, and seemed to know what made other people tick. The only thing that ever concerned him was his next job. Beck was an old veteran at his trade, although he was only 27 years old. He never kept an actual count, but as far as he could figure, he’d killed 27 men in the last 4 years.

A few hours soon passed, and he started to come up on Galena. He first came across the cemetery, which was located just on the outskirts of town. It had become a ritual for him. Just before entering a town, and just after leaving it, he would go to the cemetery and stare at the gravestones. He was never sure exactly what he did it for. Maybe it was out of respect to all the men who he’d gunned down, or for the men who he’ll make it a permanent home for. Or, maybe as he looked upon these graves he visualized his own name written on them. So he sat atop his horse, with the heavy rain dripping off the brim of his hat, just looking at the names carved on the graves. Then, one grave caught his eye. There was no name, or birth on it. It simply said Died April 17, 1875. He wondered who the unfortunate soul was who was buried without a name. Though he was obviously not against killing, he figured a man should at least be buried with his name.

Beck then began his slow ride into town. Because of the heavy rain, there was nobody on the streets. But as he led his horse through the town, he could feel the eyes of a dozen people on him. As he looked to the buildings that were on both sides of him, he could see some of the faces that seemed to be glued to his every movement.

“They must be dying to know who I am,” he said to himself. “Well, I reckon they’ll know soon enough.”

Suddenly, Beck pulled up on the reins of his horse. He thought he heard sounds that were different from the rhythmic pattering of the rain. He just sat there listening, trying to decipher what the sounds were that he was hearing. They seemed to be coming from an alley between the saloon and the general store. He led his horse through the alley, and saw what he expected. It was the sounds of bare knuckles hammering on some poor soul’s face. The sounds of boots pounding away on the ribs of his midsection.

Two men were unmercifully beating a man, with the blood pouring from his mouth, nose, and above his left eye. Beck couldn’t remember seeing a worse beating before. The two men turned around and noticed Beck sitting on his horse, watching them. As he was sizing the men up, Beck noticed something on the left chest of the two men. The glare that reflected from the objects they were wearing made it obvious as to who they were. They were both wearing badges. I reckon they’re the law around these parts, he thought.

Beck locked eyes with the two men for several seconds. Both men then dropped their hands to the holsters of their gun, expecting to have to use them. But Beck was not looking for gunplay, especially with his shoulder shot up, and the possibility of his hand slipping off the handle of his gun with the heavy rain. He grinned, and slowly backed his horse out of the alley.

“Not today boys, not today,” he said barely whispering. “Looks like a right friendly town I’ve come across,” he mumbled.

Figuring he might be followed, he decided to go get something to eat instead of finding the doctor. He glanced around town, and he saw a sign for Kaley’s Eatin’ Place a little further down the street. He was getting hungry, and his shoulder, surprisingly enough, wasn’t hurting all that bad. As he tied his horse up in front of Kaley’s, he looked back, and sure enough they were following. He ordered a steak, and took a seat in the back of the restaurant so he could see them coming through the door.

Beck made it a point to never let his back be exposed to a door or window. Many men were afraid of him, and some wouldn’t be opposed to shooting him in the back. He kept his eyes on the door while he was waiting for his steak. He had a feeling the lawmen would be wanting to talk to him after he snuck up on them in the alley. A few minutes later, while eating his dinner, they came wandering through the door. The two men walked up to his table, and sat down in front of him.

“Excuse me, I don’t think we’ve been introduced. I’m Sheriff Hague, and this is my deputy, Cal Morrissey. And you are?” he said smiling, extending his hand to Beck.

Beck kept his eyes focused on his steak on the table, ignoring the hand that Hague was offering. Hague and Morrissey looked at each other, unsure of what to do next. Hague, being the sheriff, was the leader and talker of the two. He was a little over six foot, clean-cut looking, but had a mean streak that stretched on for miles. He often would put up a front of being a friendly, mild mannered, and good natured fellow, but in actuality was as bad as men could come. Morrissey was a good gun, but not much in terms of thinking. Prone to violence, he also had a vicious streak, but would never unleash it without Hague’s orders. They had known each other for several years, even before they became lawmen. He sported a scar along his right cheek, most of which was covered up with his beard.

“I don’t think you’re being very hospitable,” said Hague.

“And I think you’re interrupting my dinner,” Beck replied.

“Well, we’re just trying to be friendly. Let you know we’re a nice friendly town here, you being a stranger and all.”

“I saw how friendly a town this is by the display you two were putting on in that alley back there. A mighty impressive accomplishment it was, too,” Beck mentioned sarcastically. “Must’ve took all the strength you two could muster to put down that man.”

Hague began squinting his eyes, and licking his lips. He knew the man before him was going to cause some kind of trouble. He could sense he was as ornery a man as he’d seen in some time.

“I’m gonna give you some nice, friendly advice, mister. You forget what you saw back there, and since it’s rainin’, you’re more than welcome to stay the night here. But when mornin’ comes, you better be on your way,” Hague said leaning forward.

“That sure does sound like some good advice, it surely does. I believe I’ll take ya up on that offer, Sheriff.”

“Well that’s fine. I’m sorry you had to wander into our town and see that little unfortunate incident. But, I’m sure you understand as peace officers, we sometimes have to deal with the riff raff in unpleasant ways. Well, enjoy your meal, and have a pleasant stay tonight.”

And with that, Hague and his deputy got up from the table and left. They walked straight over to the jail and began discussing the stranger they had just run into.

“You think he’s gonna give us any trouble?” Morrissey asked.

“No, I don’t think so. I think he’s probably just a drifter passing through. He’ll leave by morning.”

“What makes you so sure?” Morrissey countered. “Cause why would he want to make trouble? He’s got no stake here. He’ll move on in the morning. Probably just looking for a place to spend the night, trying to stay out of the rain. If he‘s not, he‘ll be looking at the insides of a pine box.”

Meanwhile, Beck finished his meal and put his horse in the stables. He then walked over to the hotel. He signed the guest book, and was handed the key to his room on the second floor. As he climbed the stairs, the hotel clerk turned the guest book around to see the signature. His eyes almost bulged out of their sockets upon seeing the name Matt Beck. He rushed over to the bottom of the stairs to make sure Beck wasn’t still in sight. As soon as he determined that Beck had gone into his room, he flew out of the hotel and ran towards the sheriff’s office. He barged into the jail a little winded and out of breath.

“Sheriff, a stranger just checked into the hotel. Do you know who he is?!”

“No, why don’t you tell me,” he said sounding unconcerned.

“He’s Matt Beck,” the clerk remarked.

Hague and Morrissey just looked at each other, with an expression of concern falling over their faces.

“Matt Beck, eh? So that’s him. Sure wasn’t what I envisioned him to be. I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to go up against him,” Hague exclaimed.

“Well, you may get your chance sheriff,” Morrissey said. “What do you suppose he wants? Or should I say, who? I’m not liking this. He’s bad news. If he’s staying, somebody’s gonna have a new home in the cemetery.”

“Just relax, Cal. He may not be here after anybody. Like I said, it’s raining, he may just want a place to spend the night till the rain lets up. If he’s still here tomorrow...then I guess we’ll see what happens.”

While in his room, Beck applied a new bandage to his shoulder. The bleeding had stopped, and it didn’t seem to be as bad as he feared, but it was hurting a little more than before. He began practicing his draw while looking in the mirror. He let his arm fall to his side. He then tried to draw as fast as he could. As he drew the gun out of the holster, the grimace on his face told him he wasn’t ready for a fight anytime soon. He was definitely slower. He kept practicing his draw over and over again. The results were the same. He wasn’t slow, and he’d still be able to outdraw most men that he’d come across, but he wasn’t the Matt Beck that he and everyone else knew. A few tenths of a second slower is all it takes to determine life and death. He now knew if he engaged in a gunfight with a man who was good with a gun, he would lose for sure.

Within a half hour, the buzz of Matt Beck being in town, had reached almost everybody. People at Kaley’s were hardly able to eat; as they were too busy discussing Beck’s past killings.

“I’ve heard he once killed two men before they even got their guns out of their holsters,” one man said. Another chimed in, “I heard he killed a man just by staring at him. Dropped dead out of fear.”

The saloon was filled with second hand stories of what Beck was like, and the men he’d gunned down. The prevailing thought was that he was just plain evil. If the devil could take form, and personally take a man back to the depths of Hell, surely that form was filled by Matt Beck.

“He’d probably shoot his own mother for a hundred dollars,” one drinker said. Another at the bar mentioned, “I saw him shoot down a man in Tucson. He begged and pleaded for his life, and Beck just stared at him. It was a cold, evil stare. Just like the devil had possessed him. Shot him right through the heart. He’s just plain mean.”

“I bet you could take him, Jared,” someone shouted. “You’re damn right I could take him. I’d be mighty interested to find out if he lives up to that reputation of his. I bet he ain’t even half as fast as folks say. Maybe it’s time somebody put that assassin in his place.”

“You’re pretty quick with that gun, Jared, but Matt Beck....I dunno.”

“Who’s Matt Beck?! He’s just a man. He lives and dies, and bleeds just like you or me! There ain’t nothin special about him. I’d love to be the one to say that I finished off Matt Beck. I say I can take him.”

While the saloon and restaurant were running rampant with stories about Beck, the town’s most prominent citizens and businessmen were gathering to find out what they should do.

“What do you plan to do about this, sheriff?,” the mayor asked.

“And just what is it that you want me to do?”

The Mayor thought for a minute about what he wanted. He was a heavyset man, of below-average height; a corrupt man who’d do anything to make himself more wealthy, or more powerful.

“Well...get rid of him. Run him out of town, or lock him up.”

“I can’t run him out of town. He’s not wanted for anything. And I don’t think he’s the kind who you can just throw out of a town. If we try that, there’s gonna be a fight for sure.”

“Who do you suppose he’s after, sheriff?”

“Could be anybody, Mayor. Or, he could just be passing through.”

“Do you really believe that, sheriff?” the storekeeper asked.

“Doesn’t matter what I believe. Nobody knows, and nobody’s gonna know just by us standing around talking about it. We’ll all find out by tomorrow.”

“What do you think, Doc?” the storekeeper asked. “You might have your hands full in the next few days if Beck stays around.”

“I haven’t really thought about it too much. We can’t get inside his head and predict what he’ll do. He’s just a man though. I’m sure he can’t be as cold and evil as everyone says he is.”

“You don’t read papers too much, do you Doc?” Hague asked. “Believe me, he’d kill you just as sure as you’re standing there. He wouldn’t hesitate, blink, or have second thoughts. You’d be dead within three seconds, and it wouldn’t bother him one bit. I’ve got reports from lawmen all over Arizona saying the same thing. He’s a vicious, cold blooded killer.”

They were all wondering why he was in town. Surely, he must be in town to kill somebody. A man of his reputation doesn’t just pass through every day. But who could it be? Who would have such an enemy that they’d hire Mat Beck to dispose of them? One thing was for sure, everybody was eager to find out. But not too eager, as it could easily be any one of them. From his hotel room window, Beck could see some type of gathering by the sheriff’s office. He also had a good view of the saloon, Kaley’s, and even the church. He could see most of the street from there. The commotion on the street was nothing new to him. He’d seen it a dozen times before.

“Let’s see...looks like the town’s important folk are talkin’ with the sheriff. Probably a bunch of cowards in that restaurant having trouble keeping their food down just thinkin of me. Let’s not forget the saloon, where there’s probably at least one fool who thinks I probably don’t live up to my reputation and he can take me,” he said talking to himself. “Hmmmm...I’m surprised the preacher ain’t standing out in front of the church hollerin’ about how the devil’s rode into town. Well...I reckon it’s begun. Time to lead the lambs to slaughter.”



Professional Reviews

5 Star Western
"Most westerns have a common theme, good guy, bad guy, cute girl, and lots of cattle and horses. Rye's is a little different and has a nice twist throughout. I read a lot of westerns and feel I am qualified to state that this is definitely a good read, and must read if you like westerns and even if you don't!"

Dona, Mexico


Breenibooks Review
The genre of Westerns seems to be slowly riding off into the sunset. Westerns had their heyday during the mid twentieth century when Louis Lamour’s novels were bestsellers, and everyone watched soon to be classic shows like Gunsmoke and The Rifleman. John Wayne also rained supreme at the box office. Unfortunately, few Westerns appear on bookshelves today. Personally, I enjoy a good Western. That’s the main reason I wanted to read Rye James’s novel The Assassin. It is a great addition an old genre.

The title refers to protagonist Matt Beck’s profession. He is a professional gunslinger. Interestingly, he always kills his victims in self-defense. Beck has his own code for living; it’s his way of coping with his unusual career. The reader’s first glimpse of Beck’s cold nature occurs in the opening scene of the novel when he deals with one of his victims. The man begs for his life, but killing him is just part of the job for Beck. Such a cold man might seem like an unsympathetic protagonist, but Beck is utterly fascinating.

There is an element of mystery in The Assassin. When Beck rides into Galena, Arizona, his reason is unclear. It is a rainy night, so he could simply be seeking shelter. Of course, that is not the reason for Beck’s stop in Galena. He has a job in town. That means someone has to die. The question that hangs throughout most of the novel surrounds his victim. Beck doesn’t reveal the identity of his target until near the end of the novel. James does a great job of building the suspense around Beck’s target. There are several possible victims, and Beck never tips his hand. The most important part of his job is the mind game that comes before the gunfight.

The plot is actually deceptively simple. Beck has a job to complete in Galena. Someone has paid him to kill someone, but no one knows the intended victim’s identity. Beck doesn’t even know who paid him to do this job until the end of the novel. The identity of Beck’s employer provides another element of suspense. In fact, this provides one of the best plot twists in the entire novel. As Beck lingers in Galena, the residents wonder and worry about his intended target. An interesting subplot develops when the mayor hires another gunfighter to kill Beck. The resolution of the situation is reminiscent of an episode of Maverick. The final shootout is thrilling and action-packed. Even though the plot is fairly simple, James has done an excellent job of building and maintaining suspense throughout the novel.

The characters in The Assassin are intriguing. Matt Beck is much more than a gunfighter; he is a very complex character. The potential victims are equally intriguing. Everyone seems to have something to hide in Galena, particularly among the town’s elite. Galena is a town where corruption suns rampant, so it is hard to guess who is most likely to be the target. When Beck does finally reveal his target, it doesn’t come as a shock. The reason for the job is much more surprising.

The Assassin feels like an old-fashioned Western. It has a solid plot and fascinating characters. Rye James is clearly a fan of the classic Westerns. In The Assassin, he tips his hat to this great American genre.



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