Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Work in Progress: The Express Agent

I don’t think it’s possible to be named Spurlock and not be a fan of westerns. So surely if a writer is named Spurlock, one must write westerns.

I’ve had one western story published, “Pretty Polly,” which appeared in the Express Westerns anthology Where Legends Ride. (It’s also available as an eBook version at Amazon and Smashwords.

The following excerpt is a chapter from a novel-length work currently titled The Express Agent. The primary character, Phineas Hinge, is a troubled fellow, still unrecovered from the mud, blood, and chaos he experienced in the War Between the States. But the following chapter looks at a secondary character whose plot line intercepts that of Hinge’s during the course of the narrative. Without further ado, I leave the following prose to tell its tale . . .
The Express Agent

A cane-bottom mule-ear chair stood in front of the Barlowe Beverage Emporium, and sitting in the chair in the shade on the board walk as the noon hour approached was a bald man fanning his face with his sugarloaf hat.

To say he was bald didn’t mean he had no hair atop his head but had hair growing around his ears or the back of his head, or that he had just a bald spot at the crown of his head or merely a very high hairline. He was absolutely, truly bald.

There was not a single hair on his head. He had no mustache, no beard. Not even eyebrows.

Just eyelashes. Otherwise, nothing.

Some boys had been playing and raising dust clouds in the street. They had taken turns cocking a surreptitious look at the stranger fanning his Stetson. Finally they paused in their play. Apparently their curiosity had reached a point for all three to overcome their reticence, for they strolled over to stand before the man and his hat. The dust they had kicked up settled around them, leaving the boys and their clothes the same color as the street, as if they were creatures that had raised themselves up from the dirt on which the several buildings of the surrounding town stood.

The bolder of the boys said, “Mister, you ain’t got no hair.”

The man barked a laugh. “I bet your ma is proud of your fine powers of observation.”

“She never said.”

“What did I hear you younguns saying about a wolf?”

A second boy spoke up: “We said the last one who touched the hitching post, the curly wolf would get ‘im.”

“You boys ever see a curly wolf?”

They all shook their heads.The third boy said, “My pa says if I sass my ma, the curly wolf will get me.”

“He’s prolly right, and you might find that curly wolf is closer than you think.”

The first child asked, “You ever seen a curly wolf, mister?”

The stranger leaned back and smiled. “Boys, the curly wolf is the fiercest and wiliest of wolves. If you see one you’ll never see another thing. It’ll tear up a grizzly bear for play and chase wild Indians for exercise. And that’s before breakfast when it’s in a good mood.”

The man chuckled and the boys laughed.

“Boys, you ever heard of that outlaw, Curly Wolfe?”

The bold boy jumped in the air. “My pa, he said Curly Wolfe is the worstest bad man around. He shoots people and robs people and burns down barns and burns down whole towns just ‘cause he’s mean and hates folks that are settled down and livin’ their own lives and mindin’ their own business and tryin’ to just get along.”

The man chuckled again and nodded. “Sounds like you heard of him, then. Must be a bad character.”

The youngsters all nodded.

The stranger stopped fanning his hat and stared at the boys. “Did I tell you I’ve seen Curly Wolfe?”

All the boys opened their mouths. Their eyes widened, and they shook their heads as one.

“He’s a bad character, you got all that right, so I wasn’t too close. I hid behind a barn and peeked around a corner. You know how a porkypine gets all bristly when his quills go up to stick a nosey dog?” None of the boys had ever seen a porcupine, but that hardly mattered.

“Old Curly Wolfe was bristly, too, with his hair bristlin’ out all over his head, his hat could hardly stay on, and his beard was pointing out in all directions so I could barely see his face. And he bristled with arms, too, like an army’s worth of deadly weapons carried by one man. There was a Spencer rifle and a sawed-off shotgun, and he had a six shooter with walnut grips he polished with the hot blood of the men he killed. And there was a butcher knife stuck in his boot. And that’s just what I could see before he rode off.”

The boys were mesmerized and stood still as statues.

The man pulled out a watch and checked the time. “Younguns, it’s five minutes till twelve. You better run on home for dinner.” The boys continued staring at him. He waved his hat at them. “Go on, scat.” They took off, leaving a cloud of settling dust.

A second man joined the storyteller. He had a broad body atop long legs. His wrists stuck out beyond his shirt cuffs, so he wore a jacket big enough for his trunk and rolled its cuffs back  to hide the shirt’s shortcomings. “Recruiting?”

“Welcome Mr. Grove. Just passing time to help ignore the heat.”

Abner Grove gestured with his chin. “You got something on your head there.”

The man in the chair rubbed the back of his right hand over his forehead. “Probably ink from the newspaper wadded in my hatband.” He fiddled inside the Stetson a moment, then placed the hat on his head. “Ready?”

Grove nodded. His companion stood, adjusted his clothing. They both stepped into the street, strode across and down the block to the Emerson & Howell Banking Co. In passing, Grove patted the flank of one of two horses he’d tied to the hitching rail before walking over to the Barlowe Beverage Emporium. He pushed the red-painted door open just as a teller was turning the window sign to Closed for the noon hour. One of the bank officers stepped forward as the bald man closed the door behind him. The bank officer, dressed in black over a starched white shirt, said in an apologetic tone, “Gentlemen—”

Grove spat and drew his gun. “Gentlemen hell.”

The starched officer raised his hands and backed away. His eyes were as large as those of the kids in the street hearing about outlaws.

The bald man drew his revolver and pointed it at the teller by the window. It was stifling in the bank, but everyone here was going to sweat a little more. He doffed his hat. “Kindly leave the sign turned to Closed. Thank you. Now step over here by the counter. My name is Curly Wolfe, and we’re here to rob this bank.”



  1. I like it - though I'd recommend getting rid of the author intrusion 'To say he was bald...'

  2. I like it, too, especially the back and forth with the kids, from being a nice guy to the bad-ass Curly Wolfe.

  3. Good chapter. It makes me want to read more. I agree with Nik, "to say he was bald etc." slows the story down.

  4. Interesting. I don't mind author intrusion as long as it's infrequent. It could be argued that it's the author's style and we all need a unique voice. Personally, I find a lot of long sentences can slow a story.