Mark Adam Thomas


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Return to Turtle Cove

This Kestrel Creed story was my 2013 NaNoWriMo project. Recently finished the final draft.

Famous Australian stockman and adventurer Kestrel Creed, along with his lovely protégé and ward Nika Silbersichel, have just six days to stop a fugitive killer from committing an act so heinous that if he succeeds, the whole of the Western United States may well face a devastation more horrendous than that caused by the Great War.


CHAPTER ONE

Fight - April 23rd 1934


Nika winced as Creed hurtled through the air. The table he crashed onto splintered, scattering shot glasses, playing cards and chips in all directions.

A slice shy of six feet, Kestrel Creed was sturdy, and he’d shrugged off worse. Still, the hulking, wild-eyed brute had lifted her mentor like he was no more than a rag-doll and flung him across the taproom. Nika swallowed her heart again, remembering to breathe.

Creed rose, brows narrowed. The weathered edges of his eyes intensified his granite stare. A feral sneer revealed slightly crooked, tobacco-tarnished teeth. Barely panting, he righted his wide-brimmed akubra and squared himself.

His cocked head and grimace brought a smile to Nika’s lips. An onlooker might mistake that curled lip, the shake of his head, and the frustrated roll of his eyes for irritation at his opponent, but Nika had known the man since she was a kid. No, he’d caught the tinny rag tune blaring out of the wireless behind the bar of Reingold’s First and Last Chance Saloon. The song, a peppy, lovey-dovey ‘uke’ number, was the type of tune that put Creed’s ‘teeth on edge,’ as he was fond of saying. His face said it all: An unpleasant song for an unpleasant task.

He tugged the tails of his bush shirt and tossed Nika a pained, lopsided smirk. No fear shone there, only steely determination tinged with anger.

“C’mon, pally,” Creed taunted, his Aussie accent molasses-thick. “Apologize to Miss Silbersichel. We can end this blue like right gentlemen.”

It was Nika’s turn to roll her eyes. Creed and his colorful turns of phrase. Half the time she had no idea what he was saying. Yet despite his direct words, she recognized that rare, hungry look. His fierce bearing betrayed him; her guardian was lathered and spoiling for this fight. She sighed. He’d been so good lately; hadn’t gotten into a scuffle in a fortnight or more. But he had the itch. Why on earth, she wondered, couldn’t he have scratched it with someone… smaller? 

“Knock his block off, Kule,” someone shouted. “Bust him good!”

‘What a jerk!’ Nika wished to yell.

Creed bobbed and weaved with excellent skill as he went at the bully. Annoying as his penchant for violence might be, Nika found herself caught up in the thrill of the scrap. Again.

He dodged under a powerful sweep of the big man’s pulpy mitt, and like quicksilver he hammered three powerful blows into Kule’s stomach, then deftly ducked out of the hulk’s reach before he responded. Those hearty jabs landed solidly, but were as ill-effective as if they’d struck a side of beef on a butcher’s hook.

Gawkers huddled in corners, behind tables, and along the walls, shouting and otherwise behaving obnoxiously. Whenever the tide of melee came near, they scrambled for cover. A few nosy nincompoops peered through the old-timey bat wing doors. Others outside gawked through the filthy bay windows, hands cupped at temples against the glare from the harsh afternoon sun. Nika had sensibly partitioned herself behind the much more substantial oaken bar.

Kule snorted and sleeved sweat off his brow. He twisted up his smile, leering at Nika, running a fat tongue along his upper lip like some glistening pink slug–as if to say he’d be with her as soon as he finished off Kes. She cringed, ducking a little lower behind her hooch-pungent cover.

At first she’d blamed herself for this mess. She’d given the large man a friendly smile when he’d pushed through those bat-wings. But upon spotting her, a grotesque smile festooned his vile mug, and his lusty ogle chilled her to the bone.

“Did your mother teach you no manners, mister?” Nika asked, to which the fellow seemed compelled to address. “Well ain’t you a tasty–,” the reprobate began. But Creed interrupted. With his fist across Kule’s jaw.

Of course.

Such disrespect to her person set Creed off like a match to dynamite. It didn’t matter that the town of Burning Bush, New Mexico called their resident hot-head ‘The Mighty Monster, Killer Kule’, or that he was a stocky bull of a man, every inch of seven feet tall and half again as wide. No, Nika’s guardian and mentor was a step above the rest.

Her heart had leapt to her throat in terror at the bully’s rudeness, but it now remained there in excitement over Creed’s valiant act of chivalry. That, of course, and anxiousness for his safety.

“I’m over here, ya lumbering bastard.” Creed hopped, one foot to the other, with uncharacteristic taunting buffoonery. His adversary merely grunted–not big on vocabulary, this one–then rushed Creed, surprisingly agile for so large a man.

“Kill the Limey,” barked a genius who’d lost a pile of cabbage to Creed at poker.

“He’s Australian, you dope,” she admonished.

Everyone present was caught up in the ruckus, a few favoring Creed, most hooraying for the local. Some didn’t care who won, as long as somebody got a good what-for.

Creed dodged the big man’s rush. Taunting again, he sidestepped yet another onslaught. Nika saw what he was about. He was using Kule’s bulk and size against him. “A big fella’s got nothing but big on his side,” Creed had lectured her during their sparring lessons. “Keep away, play duck-and-dodge, and you’ll wear the bloke down.”

“But whatever you do…” Nika whispered to herself, repeating Creed’s instructions, “by God don’t let him get close to you.”

“Shake a leg, mate,” Creed heckled, scrambling behind an overturned table. “What’re ya waiting for?” 

Kule sneered and bellowed in frustration. He lurched again, but Creed was no longer there, having adroitly leapt, grabbing hold of the big brass chandelier.

“Stand yer ground and fight like a man,” one onlooker yelled, shaking his fist at Creed.

“Stop pussyfooting around,” and, “Face him!” complained more twits. Nika’d like to see any of them stand toe to toe with that King Kong of a man.

Gripping the chandelier tightly, Creed heaved and swung back, then pushed himself off the far wall. He swooped in, planting both boots squarely into Kule’s jaw. The man stumbled back and went head-over-teakettle onto a caddywhompus chair, shattering it to kindling. Nika’s cheeks tightened.

“Yes!” she blurted, admittedly caught up in the excitement. “Show him what-for, Kes.” She giggled. She was her father’s daughter, no denying it.

As Creed rushed forth, no doubt to monopolize the advantage. His square jaw met with a table leg that came out of nowhere, gripped in the powerful mitt of his opponent. Nika blinked, open-mouthed as Creed stumbled and slammed against the back wall of the saloon. Kule seized the moment, regaining his feet. Nika gulped.

The big ogre rose, make-shift cudgel in hand, then went straight for Creed. That club was larger than a Louisville Slugger, but in Kule’s pulpy grip, it better resembled an English Bobby’s billy-club.

Nika’s eyes shot back to Creed.

“No,” she said, barely a whisper.

Creed’s normally sharp and piercing eyes were distant. Unfocused. He blinked, shook his head, and did it again. The fog hadn’t cleared from the first blow, and now Kule was on him again. The big man was going to kill him, Nika was sure of it.

“Creed!” Nika called out the warning while she fumbled at her ankle holster to draw out her Colt pistol.

“Kes. Mind the club! Look up!” But it was too late.

The Mighty Monster, Killer Kule was about to prove his moniker. He pumped his ham-hock arm roof-ward and brought the table leg crashing down onto Creed’s temple. The resounding ker-rack of the blow silenced the crowd. Only Nika’s solitary shriek lanced through the acrid air of the saloon. Her entire body trembled for fear of what the brute had done to Creed. To Kes. Her longtime friend, protector, mentor…

Tear-hazed, her eyes fixed on Kule’s broad sweat-stained shirt-back as he slowly rose. A rumble, like thunder, echoed through the now silent room. The sound, she realized, was his deep-throated chuckle. Nika redoubled her efforts to limber loose the Colt. Her stomach flared, almost as if… She ignored the sensation. Her quavering fingers failed to release that frustrating buckle. Why couldn’t Creed have let her wear a belt holster? Or an under-arm sling? But no, he’d told her it would draw less attention strapped beneath her skirts.

Having finished taking out her protector, Killer Kule wheeled to face Nika. The table-leg cudgel clattered to the floor and he regarded her with another dangerous, lascivious leer. He grunted, revealing an ivory smile–now stained pink with blood. The buzz from her talent was palpable, a thousand bees in her stomach.

“Kule,” a voice from behind the bar squawked. “You’ve had your fun–“

“Oh, the fun’s just ‘bout to start.” The look he gave Reingold froze Nika’s blood.

“Umm… okay… yessir,” the proprietor quavered. “I… I understand… no trouble. Umm… none at all…” Then, to Nika’s astonishment, he added, “Can you at least… take it… umm, her… upstairs?”

Kule grunted, “git,” and the fellow whimpered and darted out the door–nearly bowling over several gawkers.

Icy spikes of fear ran up Nika’s spine. And then the buckle at her ankle finally popped free. Her every muscle bristled with tension as she leveled her Colt Ace at the ferocious maniac.

 

All images and content copyright © 2011-2020 ~ Mark Adam Thomas