Been thinking about Wicked Wednesday lately. Well, maybe about wickedness in general. I’ve been working on my WIP, which doesn’t seem to move along in the same manner as a manuscript does for James Reasoner, for instance, or for Bob Randisi. But I plug on, and eventually the MSs get finished. Problem is, the bad guys are not too upfront about it, nor to they go blazing out in a flame of glory (or was that gory?). Still, someone made off with Real Lee (Gabriel Winston Lee, if you think the moniker doesn’t sound quite right), marshal of Payson.
Real Lee’s deputy, an eighteen-year-old youngster named Lightning of God Brewster, is left to take care of the town. Many think he can’t, a few think he can. Still, someone has made off with Real Lee, so Lightning needs to find him.
King Elliott’s the bad guy, but not the gunman. He’s got money, and he thinks it allows him to do anything to get power. As it says in the Writer’s Digest Book, Characters and Viewpoint (Orson Scott Card), If you want to bring the point home, “focus on a ‘bad guy’ who thinks of himself as a good guy.”
Elliott’s bringing a lot of money to Payson, but he thinks his way is the only way, and he hires real bad men to make things happen.
I went back to an old favorite author of mine, Cliff Huffaker. I’ve got some Pocket Books of his that cost me $1.25 back in the day, and I thought I’d take a look at the bad guys in some of his books.
Remember the movie? It starred Glen Ford and Jack Lemmon. Lemmon played the hero, if there is a hero in Cowboy. He wanted to be a cowman, and when Tom Reese, the legendary cowman, came to Chicago, Lemmon’s character—Frank Harris—caught him down on his luck and lent him $3,800 to get back in the game. With the loan, Harris bought a partnership in Reece’s cattle drive business.
Next morning, Reece tries to give Harris his money back. Harris won’t take it. So he’s on his way to Texas with Reece to get more cattle. The book is about Harris’s road to becoming a cowman. Every tough spot teaches him something else. And often the toughness comes from Tom Reese. But Reese doesn’t think he’s being mean to Harris, he thinks he’s making a cowman out of him.
They bought a herd in Mexico and one of the cowboys got to drinking in a cantina with a good chance of getting in a knife fight. Harris gets ready to ride to the cowboy’s rescue. Here’s the scene.
“Well, I’m leaving!” Frank faced the other men. “If Charley has any friends in this outfit they’ll come with me. Otherwise I’ll go back alone!”
“Nobody’s goin’ anyplace,” Reece repeated, his voice dangerously low.
“I am.” Frank turned his back on Reece and walked quickly toward his horse.
“Harris!” Reece said angrily. When Frank didn’t stop, the cowman reached down and grabbed a crowbar from near the chuckwagon. He threw it and the spinning iron bar hummed across the camp and slammed into the back of Frank’s knees. Before Frank could get up, Reece was on him.
Needless to say, Harris didn’t go help the cowboy Charley (don’t know why I feel for that cowboy), and he boiled at the tough lessons Reece taught him. Down the road a ways, out of Mexico and into Texas, Indians show up. Harris is out with a bunch of cows, between the main herd and the Indians. Reece decides to stampede the cattle into the Indians, which works, but gets Harris upset. Reece gets shot in the leg, and Harris, as partner, takes over.
Problem is, the herd is scattered and the men must round them up. Harris goes 72 hours without sleep. He pistol-whips a wayward cowboy. Reece calls him over.
From where he sat in a folding chair with his leg propped on a log before him, Reece said, “Come here, Harris.”
Standing before him, Frank said, “What you want?”
“Better slack off. Boys are getting’ mean.”
“I’ll slack off. The roundup’s finished as of this afternoon. Only got eight steers today. Not worthwhile to go on any more.”
“How many you figure got lost?”
“Better than three hundred.”
Reece shook his head. “A lot of cows.”
“Yeah. Too bad. Too bad for you, that is.”
“What about you?”
Harris shrugged. “We found all my cows. Turned out all the ones that ran off were yours.”
“Oh?” Reece frowned up at Frank. “That’s very interesting. How did you go about separating mine from yours?”
“Easy. I used a crowbar.”
Harris and Reece, of course, settle their differences and become true partners in the end.
Badge for a Gunfighter
Cash Jefferson takes on the job of sheriff at Yellowrock at the behest of Whitey Hall. Here’s how.
“The men you’ve killed so far have been gunfighters themselves. Our of curiosity, if the bet was, say, shooting a man in the back, would you take it?”
Cash grinned. “Just simpler to win. I don’t reckon the other fellow’s much happier one way or the other. Forward or backward, he’s just as dead.” He poured another drink. “Want a refill?”
“Yes.” Whitey watched as the steady, bronzed hand poured a second tumbler of gold-brown liquid. “I like to see a man who hates people. That’s a man you can count on.”
“Why, I don’t hate anybody in the whole wide world, Whitey. I just don’t give a damn about them. Let’s cut out all this palaver. What’s the deal?”
“I’m figuring on making you sheriff of Yellowrock.”
Cash gagged slightly on his whiskey and put the glass down sharply. “You’ve got a sense of humor after all,” he said, and coughed.
“Nothing funny about it. I’d like to have Duke in the job, but everyone knows he’s my man. I imported you because no one knows you around here. You can take over, and the town will be tickled pink. But you’ll enforce the laws the way I want them enforced and you’ll gun anyone I want you to gun—and always perfectly legally.
“The job pays one-fifty a month. I’ll match it with one-fifty on my own payroll. The job pays two dollars a head for any cowboys or miners you jail in the line of duty. Just to encourage you to look like a conscientious officer, I’ll match that money, too. We want you making plenty of arrests. But make sure you don’t bother me or my men or anyone who’s spending his pay in one of my places. And, from time to time, you’ll get a bonus for special jobs.”
“What sort of special jobs?”
Whitey leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. “Remember the three men who were here when you came in? They did a little extra work for me today. So they’ve got a thousand dollars to split up between them.”
“For that kind of money I’m your sheriff. What job did they do?”
“Fine. You’re one of us.”
So we’ve got a hero who’s playing a bad man. Not in the undercover sort of way, but in a way that in the final analysis does not match his character. Whitey’s methods gradually get under Cash’s skin, and he makes a turn.
“I heard what you did for Virginia today,” Cash said. “Always admired a man who’d tackle somebody Ben’s size.”
“That little incident wasn’t all it took to turn you around. There was a lot of thinking building up to that” Williams coughed and spit blood. “Believe me, the town will be behind you. You’ll have all the help you’ll need cleaning up.”
“I’m not looking for help.”
“But Hall’s got a fair-sized army behind him.” Williams chocked and more blood trailed from his lips.
“He’s got plenty of errand boys around town. But only four dangerous men. Garf and Saul, and Ben and Duke.”
“That makes five with Whitey himself. You tackle them alone and you’re a dead man.”
“That’s the way it’s got to be.”
Williams noticed Cash’s arm for the first time. The shirt was torn, the arm bleeding. “You’re hurt.”
“Not much. Not nearly as much as you are after playing sheriff at Clymer’s today.”
“I played sheriff because we didn’t have one in town. I’ll never try a stunt like that again—now that we have got a sheriff.”
That scene comes about 80% toward the end of the book, and the final standoff between the reformed gunfighter sheriff and Whitey Hall’s minions comes in the last few pages, and a young boy saves his bacon on the next to the last page.
Clair Huffaker’s books are slim. A hundred fifty pages or so. No space for unnecessary words, and he doesn’t use any. Other than his name, there is hardly any description of Whitey Hall. Here’s the only description we get of this bad man:
At the ornate desk in the center of room sat a blond man with hard brown eyes and a scar that ran along his cheek and up to the bottom of his right ear. This, Cash knew, was Whitey Hall.
There’s an old saw: Actions speak louder than words. Huffaker’s baddies can be spotted by what they do.
One of the plotting tools listed by David Farland in his book Million Dollar Outlines is the Time Bomb. Farland says: A time bomb is really just a time limit, a deadline, by which some action in a story must fail or succeed.
And farther on down the page, he says: Whatever your time bomb, make sure that the time limit seems realistic, that it puts extreme stress on the characters, and that the consequences of failing to meet the deadline are devastating.
Guns of Rio Conchos
In Huffaker’s Guns of Rio Conchos, there’s a time bomb. Here’s where it is set. First Riot Holiday gets an arrow in the chest.
At the edge of the plateau he ran almost head on into one of the Indians on patrol. The brave had heard him coming in the dark and was waiting, almost invisible in the deep shadows of a huge rock. Riot saw a flick of movement and felt a savage pain in his chest, although he heard no shot. He raised his revolver and fired twice into the shadows, and heard the sound of a body thudding to the ground. Then he was free and galloping over a smooth gentle rise. The only trouble was that his head felt hollow, and he was very tired . . . .
Later, after he’s found by a rancher:
Closing his eyes, Riot drifted out into space, and when he came back to the solid world once more there was an elderly tight-faced soldier standing a
“Mister Holiday. I’m Dr. Gates, Army surgeon from Fort Davis.”
Mildly surprised at his own clarity of mind, Riot said, “What happened to Dr. White?”
“He’s been and gone. Thaddeus McCallister rode to the fort to bring me over here. Mr. Holiday, you’re in trouble. No point beating around the bush.”
Gates nodded. “You’ve got a steel arrowhead lodge next to your aorta—the large trunk artery directly above your heart. As I say, the arrowhead is steel, and it comes to a fairly sharp point. At least we can assume that. The arrow entered your chest, glancing slightly off one rib and entering deeply. Right now it’s located above the right ventricle.” He hesitated and rubbed his jaw, avoiding Riot’s eyes. “Reason I’m explaining all this is because . . . and operation to remove that arrowhead would be impossible.”
“Mir. Holiday, both Dr. White and I are veterans of the Civil War. We’ve each seen cases to one degree or another similar to yours. We are in agreement. Any attempt to remove the piece of steel would be fatal to you. You should be dead right now, by all rights. Moreover that steel will not remain where it is. It will move within you. And since it seems to be pointing toward the aorta, it will eventually pierce that vessel. Muscular exertion could cause it to move; so could a sharp blow above the arrowhead. The amount of time you have left is partly up to you. Dr. White and I agree—as a rough estimate—that if you don’t strain yourself too much, you should with luck, live about six months.
The time bomb is set. And the wicked one is the steel arrowhead next to his heart. For the next six months, we follow Riot through violent times. You see, he doesn’t care. He’s about to die anyway. But he doesn’t. And I’m not going to tell you what happens. But really, that steel arrowhead raises its painful head at the most importune times.
I’d picked The War Wagon from my Huffaker collection, too. But word count tells me I should put it off until another day. Have a great Wednesday, and may it be truly wicked to you.