DANCING WITH DEAD MEN is the milestone 300th novel from legendary New York Times bestselling author James Reasoner. Part Western, part historical novel, part psychological thriller, it's packed with stirring action and compelling characterization. DANCING WITH DEAD MEN is a masterful tale by one of the top storytellers of our time!
Never before published, full-length 64,000 word novel.
Well, shucks. That sales copy makes me blush a mite. Now let me tell you the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say.
About 25 years ago when I was working for Book Creations Inc., I was one of the regular stable of authors turning out novels for their series Stagecoach Station, which was published by Bantam under the house-name Hank Mitchum. All the books used a place name as their title. I wrote books called PECOS, PANHANDLE, DEATH VALLEY, etc. As usual when working on a series, Livia and I came up with more ideas than I ever got around to using. She gave me the title HOT SPRINGS and the basics of a plot, which I expanded into a pretty detailed outline that I sent to BCI. But for one reason or another (the editor probably switched me to another series, but I don't really recall), it never got scheduled as a Stagecoach Station book, and then that series ended.
So the outline sat in our files, retitled DANCING WITH DEAD MEN because we thought that one of these days one of us would write it as a stand-alone Western novel. The file was written on a Laser computer and stored on one of those big floppy disks. At some point Livia converted a lot of those files, and a copy of it was sitting on the flash drive that was in her purse on January 29, 2008, when a wildfire burned down our house and studio. Because of that, the outline was one of the things we didn't lose.
So as I was coming up on my 300th novel, I started casting around for something good to write. My 100th and 200th novels were both house-name Westerns. I wanted #300 to be something under my name. I considered a number of different projects but finally decided I ought to finally take a crack at DANCING WITH DEAD MEN. After all, it had been waiting longer than anything else.
And now it's available at Amazon and Smashwords and in the works at Barnes & Noble, a brand-new novel that only took me 25 years to write! I think it turned out to be a good book, and I'm proud to have it be my 300th novel. I don't normally post samples, but here's the opening:
Christmas Eve, 1873
The killing had stopped for the holidays. For months the two rival mining syndicates, the Rimfire on one side and the Aldena on the other, had been battling, each side blaming the other – correctly, as it happened – for the rash of robberies, sabotage, and outright murder that had plagued the area around Aspen Creek, Montana Territory.
But tonight, the night before the holiest day of the year, hostilities had ceased. For one night, the war over the gold fields had been put aside, and everyone from the area, townspeople, miners, and ranchers alike, had come together in the Aspen Creek town hall for the annual Christmas dance. The weather had even cooperated. It was cold, but not too cold for late December in Montana Territory, and only a light dusting of snow lay on the ground.
Inside the town hall, the air was hot and stifling. The heat came from the pot-bellied stoves in the corners and also from the several hundred people who had crowded into the building for the festivities.
Logan Handley didn't care much for the heat. A few beads of sweat had popped out on his forehead. He had been sick with a fever recently, and even though he seemed to be over it, he didn't feel like he had recovered completely.
A tall, lean man with close-cropped sandy hair, Logan was better dressed than most of the men in the hall. His frock coat, vest, and string tie would have been fashionable even back east. His lone concessions to Western fashion were the high-topped black boots he wore and the flat-crowned black hat with a silver band that hung on one of the hat trees near the hall's entrance.
He paused at the table on one side of the crowded room to pick up a cup of punch. Before the night was over, somebody would spike that punch, more than likely, but for now it was innocent enough, and Logan enjoyed the cool sweetness as he took a sip.
"Well, lookee there. Standin' around and drinkin' punch like he ain't a cold-blooded killer."
Logan had a pretty good idea who had spoken, but he looked around to be sure. He nodded to the stocky, walrus-mustached man and said, "Merry Christmas, Marshal."
"Maybe it will be, if you hired guns'll behave yourselves," Marshal Floyd Mahaffey said. The badge he wore as city marshal of Aspen Creek gleamed on the lapel of his brown tweed suit coat.
Logan had the cup of punch in his right hand, a cautious habit since he was left-handed. He moved his left hand in a graceful gesture and said, "Do you see me wearing a gun?"
"Not right now," Mahaffey admitted. "I'll bet it's out there in one of the baskets, though."
Well, that much was true, thought Logan. He had unbuckled the black leather shell belt and attached holster with its new .45 caliber Colt Single Action Army revolver and left them in one of the baskets that had been set out on chairs in the foyer. A couple of the marshal's deputies, each armed with a shotgun, stood beside those baskets and made sure that every man who came into the town hall deposited his weapons in one of them before entering. Those guns could only be reclaimed when a fellow left the dance.
The deputies weren't exactly diligent in their duty, though. Logan had a .41 caliber over-and-under derringer in his vest pocket, and he would have bet good money it wasn't the only hide-out gun in the hall tonight.
But as long as nobody used any of those hidden weapons, things would remain peaceful. The musicians sawed on their fiddles, people danced and sang Christmas carols and drank punch, young men and women flirted with each other, kids ran around and got underfoot. Everything was as normal as it could be, and that was a refreshing change for Logan.
For men such as him, normal was lonely trails, smoky saloons, squalid cribs . . . and unmarked, unmourned graves.
"John Purcell appears to be havin' a good time tonight," Mahaffey went on. His dislike for gunmen meant it cost him an obvious effort to be civil to the likes of Logan Handley, but he made that effort.
Logan nodded as his eyes sought out Purcell. The local superintendent of the Rimfire Mining Syndicate – and as such, Logan's employer – was dancing with his wife Bedelia. Over on the other side of the room, Clete Barrows, who ran the Aldena, danced with his wife. The two bitter enemies determinedly ignored each other while at the same time making sure as much space as possible separated them. That was wise, Logan thought. An accidental bump on the dance floor might shatter the fragile holiday truce.
"John deserves to have a good time," Logan said. "All that mischief by the Aldena has put a lot of pressure on him. Rimfire's owners don't care what obstacles he has to overcome. All that matters to them is production."
Mahaffey let out a disgusted snort. "Don't talk to me about what Barrows' men have been doin'. You Rimfire men have been makin' life hell for his operation, too. If there was room in the town cemetery, I'd say all of you oughta just go ahead and kill each other and be done with it."
Logan smiled faintly and took another sip of the punch. "It's Christmas Eve, Marshal. No killing tonight."
Mahaffey made another disgusted noise, shook his head, and started to turn away. He paused to look back at Logan and said, "I don't see your pard Meadows here."
Logan stiffened. He said, "Jim Meadows is no pard of mine. You know that."
Mahaffey shrugged. "He may work for Barrows while you work for Purcell, but you and him are the same stripe, I'm thinkin'."
The lawman's stumpy legs carried him into the crowd. Logan looked down into the red liquid remaining in his cup and frowned. He didn't like being told that he was the same sort as Jim Meadows, but he supposed it was true, at least in a basic sense. Both of them hired out their guns to whoever offered the biggest payoff.
And they had never been too careful about picking sides, either. There was no moral high ground to claim in this dispute between the Rimfire and the Aldena. It had been the same in other places, other times, when disputes boiled over into gunplay and bloodshed. There had even been a few instances when Logan and Jim Meadows had found themselves riding for the same side.
Logan wanted to call Mahaffey back and insist to the marshal that he and Meadows were different, that Meadows was a snake-blooded killer while he, Logan, at least had a few scruples.
But he couldn't, not really.