Drum roll please…
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present a sneak peek at the next installment of the Lone Wolf Howls series. It begins, predictably enough, with Ace getting himself into trouble yet again. (Trouble does seem to follow him, doesn’t it?)
The story picks up a few days after The Black Pearl Treasure leaves off. I’m revising the tale now and it should be out in January…
As Coyote and I ride down the street, I’m thinking that San Diego doesn’t look like such a bad town. I’ve only passed one saloon so far and I didn’t hear any gunshots coming from it at all. They even have a brick building, a hotel, and it’s two stories tall. The people I pass don’t reach for their guns—shoot, some of them aren’t even carrying guns—and one lady stepping out of a carriage nods when I tip my hat to her.
Unfortunately, that nod turns into a look of fear when my long black hair, which I’d tucked up under my hat before entering town—I don’t look so Apache that way—falls out. But she doesn’t scream or anything so it all works out okay.
All in all, I have a good feeling about San Diego. Once I find someone to buy these black pearls Beckwourth gave me, I’ll have money again. Maybe I’ll stick around for a few days, sleep in a bed and eat someone else’s cooking. Buy some new duds. Mine are looking a little tattered after all I’ve been through lately.
“I have a feeling our luck’s about to turn,” I tell Coyote.
He turns his head and eyes me.
“I know that look,” I tell him. “But it’s different this time.”
I know why he’s skeptical. My luck’s been bad ever since Boyce shot that marshal and I got blamed for it. Since then it’s been nothing but people chasing me, shooting at me, trying to hang me. Hell, I even got staked to an anthill. For no good reason.
“I’m due for some good luck, you wait and see.” This time Coyote completely ignores me. It’s a sad day when a man’s horse loses faith in him.
I see a man looking at me strangely and I decide to stop talking to Coyote until after we leave town. Best not to draw any more attention to myself than I have to. Attention is something I don’t need. I’m a wanted man in Arizona. I’m actually wanted in Colorado too. Probably Texas also.
Things better turn around for me. I’m running out of places to go.
San Diego’s the biggest town I’ve ever been in. A lot bigger than Phoenix or Tucson, which I guess isn’t saying much. Surely there’s someone here who wants these black pearls.
There better be. I’m way past ready to get shut of them.
Truth is, the pearls are giving me bad dreams. In my dreams I’m on that rotted Spanish ship again and there’s terrible things coming out of the shadows to get me. It doesn’t matter how many of them I gun down, they just keep coming. There’s someone laughing in the background the whole time too. It’s not what you’d call a pleasant experience.
At least I think it’s the pearls giving me the bad dreams. I sure hope so. Last night I thrashed around in my sleep so much I rolled into a cholla cactus. I’m still picking spines out of my behind.
Over the tops of the buildings I can see a handful of what looks like tall trees with no leaves on them. It takes me a minute to realize those must be masts, which means the harbor is over there. I’ve never seen the ocean before. I’ll have to go take a look at it before I leave town.
I see a livery down a side street and mosey on over that way. There’s a wooden corral, a small barn, and a long, low building with a hand-lettered sign on the side that says “Offise”. I put Coyote in the corral and strip off his saddle and bridle. He glares at me when I close the gate.
“I know you don’t like being locked up like this, Coyote, but we’re in town now and I don’t think people want you wandering around getting into whatever you feel like.” Coyote has been known to raid gardens. He also likes to pick fights with other horses, especially if they’re taller than he is. Which is pretty much most of them.
“You want your hay and oats, don’t you? You’re not getting them if you’re not in the corral.”
He lays his ears back.
“Don’t get all snarky on me. It is how it is, and that’s all there is to it.”
I head over to the office hoping no one else shows up to stable their horse while I’m gone. With Coyote in a mood like this, there’s no telling what will happen. I don’t need some hombre hot for shooting me because Coyote walloped his favorite stud.
A man comes out the door of the office. His face is leathery and seamed by the sun and the years. His hair is pure white and hangs down to his shoulders. Strangely, he’s not wearing a hat. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the years since I left Pa-Gotzin-Kay, the Apache stronghold where I grew up, it’s that in the white man world, every man wears a hat. I’m not sure why, but that’s how it is. I’ve known men who’d sooner go outside buck naked than without their hat.
The old codger spits on the ground, takes a glance at me, then looks over at Coyote.
“I’ll tell you straight off that I won’t give you much for that ugly hoss you’re riding, mister,” he says, spitting again. “Got a couple of goats and swaybacked donkey, but that’s as high as I go.”
Coyote puts his head over the corral fence and fixes the old man with a hard look. I give him a hard look too. While it’s true that Coyote is ugly—he’s a dirty yellow color, with a jug head and crazy eyes—that doesn’t mean I stand by and let people bad mouth him. He ignores both of us and bites off another plug of tobacco.
“I’ll have you know that horse isn’t for sale,” I say. “Not for all the tea in China.” I don’t know much about tea and less about China, but I heard the saying somewhere and it seems to fit here.
The old codger peers up at me with his beady little eyes and his mouth turns down. “Well, they ain’t no need to go and get your dander up. I was only commentin’.”
I fish some coins out of my pocket and drop them in his hand. “Can you put him up for the night? I want some oats for him too.”
He squints at the coins and rubs one between his thumb and finger like he’s trying to make sure it’s real. “It’s an extra two bits for the oats.” I drop another coin in his hand. “Ayuh, that’ll do,” he allows. He jabs a thumb over his shoulder. “You can drop your rigging on any empty saddle tree you find in there. It’ll be there in the morning when you come for it.”
He starts for the barn, but I stop him. “Is there a goldsmith or a jeweler or something in this town?”
He picks a piece of tobacco out of his teeth while he considers my words. “Feller down the way who sells rings and necklaces and such,” he says finally, looking at whatever he picked out of his teeth. He flicks it away and looks back at me. “You in the market for a wedding ring? Looking to marry that horse of yours?” He chuckles a bit at his joke. It’s a dry, rasping sound like he swallowed a handful of gravel and never spit it back up.
“I don’t expect it matters to you why I’m looking for him,” I reply. “You want to tell me where he is?”
“He’s at the end of the street down by the docks.” He shakes his head. “You sure are touchy for a young feller.”
I walk down to the docks. The ships don’t look any better up close. From what I understand you can get on one and sail clean around the world if you want to. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to. As I see it, any place you can’t get to on a horse isn’t worth going to in the first place.
A couple of seagulls fly overhead, squawking at each other. There’s a sailor working on the side of one of the ships, chipping away at some stuff growing on the hull. Two other sailors are rolling a barrel of something toward one of the docks and arguing while they go. A man in a fancy hat stands on the deck of one of the ships, peering through his looking glass out to sea.
The building at the end of the street is painted blue. There’s a sign hanging out front with a picture of a necklace on it. The sun’s almost down so I hope it’s still open. I’d like to get shut of these pearls as quick as I can.
I get almost to the shop when this boy pops up about out of nowhere and starts tagging along. “You going to the jewelry shop, mister?” he asks. He’s not wearing a shirt and he’s barefoot. He’s probably about ten.
“Buying or selling?”
I look down at him. “You ask a lot of questions.”
“That’s how you learn things, isn’t it?”
“Why do you care what I’m doing?”
“I think you’re selling.” He looks me up and down. “You don’t have enough money to buy anything he’s got for sale in there.”
“Then you didn’t need to ask me, did you?”
“You’ll get cheated,” he says confidently. “You got no idea what you’re carrying is worth.”
He’s got me there. I really don’t have any idea what the black pearls are worth. I know they’re rare, but that’s about it. I also know what they’re worth to me, which is just on the south side of nothing.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” I say to the boy.
“I warned you,” he says. “Don’t say I didn’t.” He runs off.
I open the door and walk into the shop. The door has a glass window set into it and a lacy curtain. A little bell tinkles when I open the door. Glass cases line two walls, jewelry sparkling within them. Behind a desk in the back of the room is a man in a brown suit. He’s sporting a thick, walrus mustache and an extra chin. He’s bent over something, looking at it with a magnifying glass. I walk over to him.
“Not hiring,” he says without looking up. Up close I can see that he hasn’t got enough hair to cover the whole top of his head, but that hasn’t stopped him from trying. He’s brushed everything up from the sides and greased it down pretty solid. I reckon he could come through a tornado without any of that hair moving.
“I’m not looking for a job,” I say.
The man sets the glass down, rests his thick hands on his desk, and looks up at me. “No offense, stranger, but I don’t believe you can afford what we’re selling here.”
That strikes me as odd. I look around the shop. There’s no one else here but us two. I look back at the man. “You said ‘we.’”
“Seems strange is all, saying we when it’s just you. You have a partner somewhere?”
“Is there a point to this?” he asks. “I’m a busy man.”
“Then let’s do this fast. I got things to do too.”
He raises an eyebrow as if he finds the idea of me having things to do questionable. “As I said before, I don’t believe you have enough money to shop here.”
This man is starting to get under my skin. “Mister, you don’t know what I have or don’t have,” I say. “Besides, I’m not here to buy. I’m here to sell.”
His eyes tighten a little. “It is doubtful you have anything to sell which we would be interested in purchasing. If you’ve picked up some gold nuggets somewhere, you’ll want to take them to the assay office.”
“You did it again, talked about yourself like you were two people.”
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” he says.
“Got it right that time at least.”
He stands up. “I bid you good day, sir.”
“But you haven’t seen what I have to sell.”
“This is a respectable establishment. We don’t traffic in stolen goods.”
That does it. Now he’s gone and got me all riled up. I lean into him and in a low voice I say, “So you’re calling me a thief.”
He takes a step back in alarm and waves his pudgy hands. “Now, now. Not in so many words.”
“Thief is only one word.”
His eyes fall to my twin Colt .45s, which he can see now that I’ve pulled my duster back. He licks his lips. “The sheriff here is a personal friend. If you harm me, it will not go well for you.”
“I have no cause to harm you unless you give me one. I’m here to sell something and that’s all. I was told you were the man to talk to in this town. Now are you or aren’t you?”
He sighs and rubs his forehead like I’m giving him a headache. I know he’s giving me one. “Let’s see it already.” He folds his hands over his belly. His tone says he already knows he won’t like what I have.
I pull out the leather pouch from the inside pocket of my duster, untie the drawstring and dump the pearls on the counter.
His eyes get real round. “What the…? Are those real?”
I shrug. “You tell me.”
He reaches into the pocket on his vest and pulls out a little round thing with a glass lens in it. He puts it to his eye, pulls the lamp on the desk closer, and picks up one of the pearls. He looks at it for a minute or so, turning it this way and that, and whistles.
“Black pearls,” he says. “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen them.”
“So they’re something you want to buy?”
He takes out the eye piece. “Where did you get these?”
“A friend gave them to me.” Which is true. Beckwourth did give them to me. I leave out the parts about the skeletons and the ghost ship. I’m pretty sure that would only complicate things.
“A friend,” he says skeptically.
He taps the desk, thinking. “Is your friend here in town with you?”
“Nope. He went home.” Also true.
He comes to a decision then and his suspicion and hostility slide off him like oil off a skunk. He swaps them out for a big, greasy smile that I don’t trust at all. If a snake could smile, this is exactly how it would look.
“It seems I have misjudged you, my friend, and I want to apologize for that. Of course I wish to buy your pearls.” He gestures toward a door at the back of the shop.
“Why don’t you come into the back? We’ll sit down. Get comfortable. I don’t like dickering on my feet and my mouth is uncommonly dry. I could use a little toot to wet my whistle. What about you?”
I’m not sure what he’s talking about. I don’t see a whistle anywhere and I’m not sure what a toot is, but I follow him when he picks up the lantern and heads into the back.
In the back room there’s a table and a couple of chairs. Against one wall is a sideboard with several bottles of liquor and glasses on it. There’s a safe in the corner, the door closed.
“Please, sit down,” he says.
The chair is upholstered in pink fabric and padded. “What’s your offer?” I ask him.
“First, I must apologize for my earlier rudeness.”
“It also occurs to me that we have not been properly introduced. I’d like to remedy that. My name is Pierre LaChance.” He holds his hand out to me.
Reluctantly, I take it. It’s soft and moist. I wipe my hand on my pants once I get it back. “Ace.”
“That’s it? No last name?”
“Ace Lone Wolf.” Lone Wolf isn’t really my last name. It’s something I added on after leaving home. People seem to want me to have more than one name for some reason.
“If I may venture, you are an Indian, are you not? One of the local tribes I suppose?”
“No.” The truth is I’m half Apache, but I see no reason to tell him that.
He waits to see if I will say more. When I don’t, he gets up and goes to the sideboard. “Let us have a drink before we begin,” he says. “A drink to a profitable business association. Perhaps some friendly conversation as well?”
I sit back in the chair and cross my arms. “Let’s just get this over with. I’m not in the habit of chewing the fat with people who call me a thief.”
“Yes, yes, I can understand that,” he says placidly, completely unperturbed by my words or angry tone. “But surely you will join me in a small glass of sherry before we start. Clearly you have come far and you must be thoroughly dried out.”
He picks up a bottle and pours two glasses of some yellowish liquid. He comes back to the table and sits down, then pushes one glass over to me.
I eye the glass suspiciously. “What is it?”
“Sherry. The very finest quality. One of the sea captains I am acquainted with brings it to me.”
I’ve never heard of sherry, but I am thirsty. However, I’m not a fool. I push the glass back and take his before he can pick it up.
He smiles. “Not the trusting sort, are you?”
“People aren’t always what they seem.”
He raises his glass and takes a sip. “Here’s to the black pearls.”
Once he takes a drink, I have some of mine. It’s not bad, if a bit too sweet for me.
He pours the pearls out of the bag and holds one up. “Beautiful,” he sighs. “Before I make you an offer, I want to look over them individually. Make sure they are all as flawless as the one I saw before. You understand, of course?”
I shrug and take another drink of the sherry.
“I’ll need better light.” He opens the cabinet underneath the sideboard and opens it. “I purchased these when last I was in India,” he says, taking out an odd-looking thing and bringing it over to the table.
Despite myself, I’m curious. I’ve never seen anything like it. It looks almost like squat pitchers, with a curved handle on one side and a spout on the other. It appears to be made of brass. “What is it?” I ask.
“It’s a lamp,” he says. He takes a packet of matches from his pocket.
“Not like any lamp I’ve ever seen.”
“Yes, well, they do things differently in India.” He strikes a match and holds it to the spout. “You’re not an actual Indian, you know that?”
The lamp smells odd. It has a heavy, cloying scent unlike anything I’ve ever smelled. It also doesn’t put out very much light. I look over at him. “What’s that you said?”
“You’re not really an Indian. I know. I’ve been to India. I’ve tried to tell people, to correct their errors, but they insist on calling your people Indians.” He holds his hands up in defeat. “What is one to do? Ignorance is a heavy stone to move.”
“Can we get down to business here?” I say. My head feels kind of funny. I rub my eyes. I notice that he’s smiling. His teeth look very yellow. He pulls a large kerchief from his pocket and holds it over his face.
“What’s going on?” I demand, rising from my chair.
“Only a few more seconds.” His voice is muffled by the kerchief. “Try not to get too excited. It won’t hurt.”
I stagger back from the table and knock over my chair. Everything is swimming before my eyes. “What did you do to me?” I pull one of my guns and point it at him, but there’s something wrong with my muscles. The barrel of the gun is wandering all over the place and I can’t feel my hand.
“Here, let me take that before someone gets hurt.” He looms up before me and takes hold of my gun. I try to pull it away, but my arm betrays me and a second later my legs do too. I slump to the floor.
“There, there,” he says, patting the top of my head as the lights go out for me.