”I saw her face. She came out through the door, and she dropped the shotgun and just stood there, and i could see where I shot her in the chest. She just stood there staring at me, just staring at me, as if she didn’t know what to do, whether to scream or fall down or cry. She just stood there, this little six-year-old girl in a gingham dress and brown hair and a pretty little face, and then she just fell down, and I couldn’t even go near her for a while. I should have, should have run over to see if she was really dead, but I couldn’t, I couldn’t move.”
Leo Guild, bounty hunter, has a ghost that will never leave him alone. He reacted and a little girl died. Her parents had left her at home with a shotgun because they had been having trouble with a sneak thief. Nobody could anticipate this turn of events, but I will say I grew up with shotguns and I’ve never met a six-year-old girl that could handle a shotgun. It baffles the mind what they thought that little girl could do to scare off a grown man even with a shotgun.
Leo Guild was cleared of all charges, but as we know even when you do the “right thing” guilt is still a many splendored thing. It colors everything you do and you’re amazed when you realize you just went several minutes without thinking about it.
Guild lands in Danton, South Dakota with a low level criminal he releases to the local sheriff who turns out to be an old buddy of his Cornell Baines. Now Baines isn’t the same man he remembers. He is under the thumb of the local big shot banker Frank Cord and back in the day Baines was always his own man. He is older now and frightened about losing his job. It happens to all of us. Even the prospect of FINDING a new job is daunting once you reach a certain age. It is easy to justify to yourself a little dodgy business if it means keeping a good job.
Now Frank Cord is living the high life. He likes gambling, but unfortunately he isn’t very good at it, He likes hookers, but unfortunately he isn’t very good at hiding that fact After all this is a small town and he has a wife, a good wife, who would rather he came home. His father is a legend in that town who spent his whole life building up a financial empire. Frank isn’t exactly a chip off the old block. He is on course to destroy everything that his father built, but also what everyone else built as well.
I should cut the bastard some slack because he read Robert Louis Stevenson, but I just can’t.”Cord sat there, and now an image of a magazine cover painting came to him. There was a palm tree and an ocean and a sailboat bending in the wind. The painting was an illustration for a story by Robert Louis Stevenson. Cord had read it when he was ten.He had never forgotten it, never given up the dream of that palm tree and that ocean and that sailboat.”
A gambler dies in jail under suspicious circumstances and Guild finds himself drawn into an investigation he has no stake in. Well except for Annie. ”Guild pulled her so close their faces were almost touching. He tried to deny what he felt in that instant but he couldn’t Unable to stop himself he put his lips to hers very gently. She still tasted of the blueberry wine. He touched her golden hair and it was if his fingers ignited. He had been so lonely so long and now she was here, and it was both the most wonderful and the most terrible thing that had ever happened to him.”
Well maybe it is the blueberry wine talking, but just the day before she was with Earle the gambler that was murdered in his cell and now she is knocking boots with Guild. Things move fast in the west.
Bodies pile up like cord wood and more than one person wants to add Frank to the pile. I think Edward Gorman was making a conscious effort to try and beat the corpse total in Red Harvest
. Even the sassy editor of the local newspaper Ruby Gillespie gets in on the action. ”When they reached the deputy, Annie looked down at the thick red blood pulsing from the man’s chest and said, ‘Boy Ruby, you sure got him.’
Ruby said, ‘I don’t think I want to look at him. He might have kind eyes or something, and then I’d feel like hell.’”Edward “Body Count” Gorman
The writing is sparse and definitely reminded me more of a hardboiled mystery novel than it did of Westerns I’ve read in the past. Most of the talking is done with flying bullets. Bad people are really bad and good people are more gray than white. Gorman has a shattered, flawed hero in Leo Guild that could use some fleshing out. Overall I kind of enjoyed it. Publisher’s like short westerns and certainly things felt a little rushed for Gorman to tie everything up in just 174 pages.