Published: December 2020
He was hired to kill her, but he’s not alone. Will he risk his life to save her instead?
Sara grew up on the Erie Canal with Jeremiah Streeter, owner of Streeter’s Ark, and Sam, the Ark’s bully. She never cared about who her parents were or where she came from, not until their helmsman is murdered and they hire a replacement.
Wolfe McKay and his partner have another job to do…kill the leader of the Canaller’s Coalition and his crew, then collect their bounty from the railroad magnate who hired them. But Wolfe soon discovers this job is far more complicated.
As Streeter’s Ark travels from Albany to Buffalo, Wolfe’s purpose takes a drastic turn when he and the crew find themselves the target of a deadly plot and a race against time to stop it.
A beautiful mule driver, the champion fighter who raised her, a half-breed Indian without a heart and an easy-going cowboy team up to track down outlaws and notoriously become known as Streeter’s Gang. This is their beginning…
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Hudson Valley, 1852
Horace Vanderbrook sat at his desk with his green eyes planted on the door. At fifty-two years old, he was by far the wealthiest financier in the country. He thrived on a challenge and adored the kill. He had no patience for ignorance or drollery, felt no sympathy for the underdog, and never allowed any margin of error from anyone, not even himself. In all his life, he had made only one mistake. And it was that which had come back to haunt him now.
The butler announced the arrival of his guests and when they entered his study, Horace caught a frown. Both men looked more like desperados than professional gunmen. They wore buckskin pants, tall leather boots, and openly carried pistols about their waist. The blonde was medium built and covered with dirt from head to toe. The other stood over a foot taller with black hair and cold blue eyes. A half-breed, he surmised disdainfully.
“I’m Cole Anderson and this here’s my partner, Wolfe McKay,” the blonde man said as he slapped his gallon hat against his leg to get rid of the dust. “Rodman assured us if we came straight away, you’d make it worth our while.”
Horace remained silent. He wasn’t at all impressed with these men. This matter was an extremely delicate matter that needed to be handled both quickly and quietly, and they hardly seemed the type of men who would be discreet. And yet, he trusted Gunther Rodman. “You both come highly recommended for your efficiency as well as your discretion. This matter demands complete confidentiality.”
Cole glanced over at his partner. “That’s why we’re here.”
He wasn’t convinced, but he offered them a seat and folded his hands in front of him. “I will come right to the point. Jeremiah Streeter is the leader of the canal coalition. He owns a two-bit freighter called Streeter’s Ark and for the past year, he and his crew have used every devious tactic to destroy my railroad business. I want them stopped. Permanently. I am willing to pay you five hundred dollars for your trouble.”
Cole burst out laughing. “Hell, the only thing we’ll do for that pocket change is look for them in the nearest tavern.”
He stiffened. “What’s your price?”
“That depends.” Cole slid back in his seat and crossed his boots on top of his desk. “We usually charge a thousand bucks a head. That’s when we’re told their identity and location. Otherwise, we’ve got to tack on food and lodging expenses. We also need to know the details of their crime.”
“The details?” he asked indignantly. “I thought money was your only incentive.”
“You thought wrong,” Wolfe stated, still leaning against the doorway.
Horace shot to his feet. “For starters, they put three of my best railroad bosses in the hospital. They’ve disassembled portions of my tracks, threatened my workers and awaiting passengers, contaminated coal bins, and continually petition the State against my efforts for expansion.”
“Has the law been involved?” Cole asked.
“I reported a few of the incidences to local Marshalls, but they said they couldn’t find sufficient proof against them.”
Wolfe stepped forward. “Then how do you know they’re responsible?”
Horace glanced down at the small wood carving on his desk. He didn’t want to tell them the rest. He didn’t even want to think about it. But his sister was right in that he had no other recourse. Confiding in the law would merely re-open an investigation that needed to remain buried. If word got out, it would cause a huge public scandal, one that would ruin his business as well as their family’s reputation.
And the last thing he wanted was for the past to be stirred up.
“A blackmail note was delivered to me the other day, which adds extortion to their list of crimes,” he finally replied.
“What did it say?” Cole asked, but Horace continued staring at the wooden horse on his desk and remained silent. “Sir, what did the note say?”
“He claims to have proof that I sunk a riverboat killing twelve passengers and crew. He’s referring to an accident that happened nearly twenty years ago. That bastard is deliberately dredging up the past in another demented plot to stall my railway expansion and I’ll be damned if I let him drag my good family name through the mud.”
“What are his demands?”
“They want twenty thousand dollars placed on a freighter called the Jaybird at the canal docks in Albany two weeks from tomorrow. That’s when Streeter is scheduled to return to Albany, again proving he’s behind this.” Horace finally snapped out of his trance and looked up at them. “I want Streeter stopped. I want him and his damn crew dead and buried by this time next week. I’ll pay you ten thousand dollars for the lot. One thousand now for expenses and the rest will be delivered to you when the job is complete.”
Cole jumped to his feet. “Consider it done!”
“Hold on…” Wolfe said as he reached over and picked up the wooden horse to examine it. “We need to see the note.”
Horace snatched the carving out of his hand, reached into his top drawer, and handed him the note. “Do you want the job or not?”
After Wolfe read it, he nodded in agreement.
Horace tossed the bag of currency to Cole. “Contact Gunther Rodman when you’re finished. He’ll pay you the rest.”
Outside, Cole mounted his horse and hooted, “Now this is what I call easy money! Let’s get ourselves a room and have a night on the town.”
Wolfe stood there, still contemplating the conversation. “I don’t like it. He’s not telling us the whole story.”
“Aw, Wolfe, can’t we just take things at face value for once? Vanderbrook is damn sure Streeter’s behind this and I got a hankering to have some fun tonight.”
“First, we’re heading to Fultonville,” Wolfe told him.
“Fultonville? What for?”
“After we inquire about Streeter’s Ark, we’re going to ask around to see if anyone remembers a woman by the name of Molly O’Brian.”
Cole frowned. “Who the hell is she?”
“Her name and hometown were inscribed on that wooden carving. And there were several others displayed on the corner shelf.”
Cole shook his head. “Why the hell are you always trying to dig deeper?”
“Fultonville’s a small canal town. Why would a wealthy railroad baron have a dozen wood carvings on display by a canal girl and then pay to have the canal leader killed? Not having all the facts just complicates things.”
Cole followed Wolfe down the drive. “Well, I think you’re the only one complicating things.”
The two men reached the small town of Fultonville by dark. After tying their horses to a hitching post, they stopped at the Inn for a couple of rooms and a drink. There were only a few patrons inside the tavern. Cole, being the more social one, struck up a conversation with the barkeep. He told a few fibs about how he was looking for work on the canal. Pretty soon, Zach was buying them a round of drinks and giving them a wealth of information.
First, they learned that Jeremiah Streeter was the one to talk to about a job on the canal and that his boat passed through town the day before making its way to Buffalo. Next, they heard all about Streeter’s bully who had been a champion fighter in his day and wasn’t to be reckoned with. Lastly, they discovered that Zach had lived in this town his whole life, sixty-two years, so he knew everybody.
Wolfe nudged Cole, urging him to pry more information out of Zach. Cole thought for a second, then grinned. “I used to have kin living in these parts, Zach. I don’t know much about them, except that Ma talked all the time about her cousin, Molly O’Brian.”
Zach leaned against the bar. “That would be Patsy’s family. He died of the fever years ago and left his wife, Maureen, and his daughter, Molly, behind.”
“Do they still live around here? I’d sure like to meet them.” When the barkeep fell silent, Wolfe nudged Cole again. “I’d be obliged to know where I could find them, Zach. Ma thought the world of Molly and now that my folks are gone, they’d be the only kin I got left.”
“We all thought the world of her, too,” Zach said mindfully. “Molly was a tiny thing with bright red hair, freckles and the sweetest face. I owned the general store back then and once a week she came to visit. I got a real kick out of her. They didn’t have much money and the minute my back was turned her fingers dove straight into the licorice jar. I let her get away with it, too. Figured she earned that bit of pleasure.” His smile left him. “But she married that fella from downriver and that was the beginning of the end.”
“What happened to her?” Cole asked.
Zach poured himself a jigger of whiskey, obviously choked-up, then came around the bar and sat down next to Cole. “I loved that little girl like she was my own, but she was canal-bred and he was a rich fop. The two just don’t mix, not in my lifetime. Maureen told me that Molly was being snubbed by her sister-in-law and all those other socialites and having a rough time of it. She was on her way up here to visit her Ma when the riverboat went down just north of Albany in Saratoga County. She and her baby drowned. Everybody on the boat died.”
“That’s a real sad story,” Cole said. “How’d the boat sink?”
“No one knows for sure. They said the larboard boiler must’ve exploded and it was ruled it an accident, but there were a lot of rumors flitting around and people pointing fingers.”
“Do you think it was done on purpose?” Cole asked.
“I’d bet my life on it. It’s rare for a boiler to explode and sink a boat in seconds without any survivors. But that was a long time ago.”
“When did it happen?”
Zach let out a heavy sigh. “Nineteen years ago this past May. Molly’s babe was just a month old. Maureen died a year later from pneumonia…and heartache, I expect. Now, all I’ve got left are precious memories and Molly’s carvings.” He pointed toward the small display behind the bar. “That little darlin’ could whittle with the best of them and she always won first prize. She sure loved horses….”
“I hear a packet called the Jaybird needs a deckhand,” Wolfe mentioned, breaking the silence. “Has it been through here lately?”
Zach tore his eyes away from the display and went back behind the bar. “Never heard of it.”
About the Author
Gail Meath composes historical romance novels that grip your heart and imagination. With a refreshing and captivating writing-style, she creates amazing characters who instantly draw you into their world and keep you wanting more, long after the ending. And with her love of historical research, she paints the perfect ambiance to sweep you back in time.