Title: MONTANA MAN
Author: DeAnn Smallwood
Ben rose from the river, and like a dog, shook the water from his eyes. This was his third bath since he’d left Yuma Territorial Prison, and still the stench lived in his nostrils. Immersing his pain-wracked body, he reveled in the clear, cold water of the lazy moving Colorado.
Four years. Four years chained to stone floors and walls in a dark, crowded cell where daytime temperatures rose past 110 degrees. The prison, more aptly called ‘Hell Hole’, lived up to its name. He’d gone in a boy—he’d come out a man. Four years paying for a crime he didn’t commit.
Wisteria pulled on the wagon reins, her heart racing. On the rocky bank, lying on one, outstretched arm, fingers trailing in the river, was the body of a man. She jumped down from the wagon and with trepidation tried to move him, begging him to assist her.
“Can’t,” he muttered.
“Mister, I don’t know who you are, but ‘can’t’ isn’t working. Let me tell you a couple cant’s-I can’t lift you and I can’t leave you here to die.”
Ben rose from the river and like a dog, shook the water from his eyes. Drops glistened on his blue-black hair, ran down his chest, and over his thin ribs. He grabbed a handful of sand and feebly scrubbed himself in an effort to wash away the prison stink. This was his third bath since he’d left Yuma Territorial Prison and still the stench lived in his nostrils. Immersing his pain wracked body, he reveled in the clear, cold water of the lazy moving Colorado. Was it his imagination, or did the water touch his feverish skin only to evaporate and rise like steam?
Four years. Four years chained to stone floors and walls, in a dark crowded cell where daytime temperatures rose past 110. The prison, more aptly called ‘Hell Hole’, lived up to its name. He’d gone in a boy; he’d come out a man. Four years paying for a crime he didn’t commit. Now, he was a taciturn, bitter soul, turned inward. Turned inward out of self-preservation, through repeated trips to the Dark Cell.
Ben fingered the raw wounds circling both wrists. He’d learned early on not to fight against the iron cuffs even when, out of perverse pleasure at inflicting pain, the guards tightened them until men fainted. He’d fainted, but he’d never begged. Not once. The last week of incarceration, he’d not only been punished unfairly by being denied food, he’d spent days and nights in leg irons so tight they’d cut grooves into his skin. His jailers laughed and bragged that Ben would carry Yuma Prison like a brand, for the rest of his life.
He glanced down at his ankles, at the wide band of oozing sores. They were infected. He blinked hazily. A raging fever grew, bent on consuming him.
A tremor rushed through him, the water cold, the memory bitter. He didn’t want to remember, but there it was, so fresh in his mind, as raw as his wrists and ankles. Four years past but still so fresh. His mind’s eye easily visualized the bar and the green boy, shot glass in hand.
He’d been drinking, but he wasn’t drunk. Ben was proud of holding his liquor. That’s what he’d told his new friends as they slapped him on the back and called for yet another round. In retrospect, he should have seen they weren’t matching him drink for drink. But, between them and the beautiful Rosita, he’d only focused on proving he was a man—downing every shot.
Held up by a ‘friend’ on either side, Ben staggered along as they left the noisy saloon and crossed the dirt street to the newly built bank. Whispering, they told him they were headed inside to play a prank on a friend, a bank teller. He’d giggled and put a finger to his lips and spit out a loud, “Shhh.” He was to wait there, and, to help make the prank more realistic, he was to take his gun out of his holster and wave it threateningly at anyone who came close. Thrilled to be part of the game, he readily agreed.
He stood alone and weaving in the street, brandishing his gun. Then a crowd gathered, hurling threats at him. A shot rang out from inside the bank. Several mounted horses burst from the building’s backside and warning shots were fired into the crowd. People ran for cover as men, their faces hidden behind bandanas, bent over horses and rode hell bent for leather out of town. They left behind an empty safe, a teller screaming, “Robbery”, and a drunken boy, grin still pasted to his face as he waved an empty pistol.
Men knocked him to the ground, his gun skittering across the packed dirt. Hands grabbed him and, before he could offer resistance, he was trussed up like a Christmas turkey. He laid there, hands bound to his legs, face in the dirt. That’s when the first kick came, followed by brutal laughter and a voice Ben would never forget.
“Hang him high and save us the trouble waiting for the circuit judge. We’re damned lucky he didn’t shoot an innocent person. Bank robber—that’s what he is. I’ll personally string the rope.” The words were accompanied by another kick hard against his ribs.
I live in Colorado with my husband and my two Yorkie kid dogs: Stormy, four pounds, and Eli, six pounds. I’m a native of Colorado, but have lived several years in Wyoming and Montana. I draw from these beautiful states for most of my books. My Western Historical Romances are: Montana Star, Sapphire Blue, Unconquerable Callie, Wyoming Heather, One Shingle To Hang, and of course my most recent, Montana Man. Tears In The Wind is a contemporary romance. Then I changed genres from my beloved romances and wrote, under the pen name of D. M. Woods, my first suspense/thriller: Death Crosses The Finish Line. The second book in this ‘death’ series, Death Is A Habit, came out January 8, 2014. I am currently working on the third book in the ‘death’ series, Death Walks C Dock as well as another historical western. I mean it when I say my greatest pleasure next to writing is having my books read and enjoyed. There are many more stories just waiting to be written. I hope you enjoy Montana Man as much as I enjoyed writing it. You’ll find some familiar characters you came to know and love in my book: Montana Star.