All posts by George

Kid Gloves

All eyes were on The Kid as he strode into the packed saloon, his pearl-handled Colt revolvers holstered tightly around his waist.

He waited patiently before gently nudging his way in, avoiding rubbing shoulders with the crowd lining the bar.

“A ginger beer,” he said to the bartender, pausing before adding a final “please”.

“A what?” said the bartender, his ogre-like frame bulging under his oversized wardrobe.

“A ginger beer, please,” said The Kid, sliding a shiny twenty-five cent piece across the massive bar.

The Kid’s request brought a round of jeers and stares from the regulars.

“And a straw,” he added. “A clean straw.”

Turning around he sidestepped through the mob to a small table in the far corner of the saloon. Pulling out a chair, he brushed it off and sat down, methodically wiping his hands together before slowly extracting each finger from the calfskin gloves.

Towering over his domain, the bartender glowered at the coin before pulling it into his big mitt. Grabbing a bottle of warm ginger beer from a wooden crate under the bar, he squeezed the coin between the lumpy thumb and forefinger of his other large paw and snapped the cork from the dark brown bottle, launching it on a near-lethal trajectory across the saloon. Shoving a straw into the bottle he lumbered over to The Kid and set it down hard on the table, raising a small circular dent in the soft pine as the ginger beer spilled over the top, covering his viselike grip with the sticky liquid.

“Here’s your ginger beer,” he said, his deep voice curling past his bared teeth.

The Kid regarded the bottle before looking up at the furrow canyoning across the bartender’s brow.

Reaching down, The Kid undid the three brass buttons of his deerskin vest, revealing a Derringer pistol partially concealed in the ruffles of his cotton shirt. Slowly he extracted a white linen handkerchief, laying it neatly on the table beside his gloves. Reaching across and pulling the wash cloth off the bartender’s belt he carefully released the bottle from the big man’s grip then wiped down the table and bottle.

Methodically unfolding the handkerchief he wiped his hands and the bottle top, raised the straw to his lips and took a long sip.

“New in town?” asked the bartender.

“First time here,” said The Kid. “I have business with the bank.”

“Gotta name?”

“My friends call me Jerome, Jerome Manning. But most people call me The Kid. Kid Gloves to be precise.”

A smirk emerged across the bartender’s greasy complexion.

“Jerome? What the hell kinda name is Jerome?” he said as The Kid placed the small pistol and a large silver dollar on the table.

“The kind of name that demands respect,” said The Kid, quickly tossing the coin in the air and squeezing off a shot that reverberated throughout the saloon as the coin landed back on the table, a hole perfectly centred in its face.

Before anyone could move The Kid was on his feet, aiming his Colt revolvers at the mob.

“This place is a mess,” said The Kid, pointing one gun at a drunk slumped over a nearby table to emphasize his point. “This whole town is a mess.”

“Says who?” said one of the cowboys, two days stubble creeping up his leathery tobacco stained face, his chaps torn and ragged from weeks on the trail. Pulling his six-gun and aiming it at The Kid, he was unaware of the wide-eyed stares of the others who now recognized the young gun-slinger with the taste for ginger beer.

“I wouldn’t say that if I were you,” his partner said under his breath, giving the other cowboy a wide berth.

The Kid regarded the wrangler with the unkempt greasy hair hanging down to his shoulders and imagined the pungent odor of the man’s sweat adding to the stink permeating the saloon.

“Says me,” said The Kid as he fired both handguns, knocking the gun out of the cowboy’s hand and sending his hat flying.

The smell of gunpowder bit into the rancid air as the man stumbled backwards, falling in a heap on a large card table, catapulting poker chips, cards and cold hard cash onto the floorboards.

“Great,” said The Kid, as the wrangler struggled to get up, knocking over several other tables and adding to the layer of detritus on the floor. “More mess.”

Finally stumbling to his feet, the wrangler’s heavy breathing could be heard throughout the large room, competing only with the synchronized reverberations of a timepiece above the bar that showed precisely three o’clock.

“It’s three o’clock, on a Monday no less,” said The Kid, “and you men are drinking and carrying on as if it was Friday night. How come you aren’t working?”

Silence prevailed until The Kid realized his guns were still drawn.

“How come you aren’t at work?” The Kid repeated, his voice rising as he holstered the Colts.

“We was finished early,” said a young cowboy. “Rode all weekend and just made town this morning. Brought in a thousand head.”

“You were finished early,” said The Kid.

“Yes, we was.”

“No, you were, not you was. Oh, forget it,” said The Kid, reluctant to engage in what he knew from experience would be a lost cause.

Leaving the ginger beer on the table, The Kid strode confidently out of the saloon, pausing on the walkway to peruse the rest of Main Street.

In the bank across the road, someone was about to place a “Closed” sign in the window.

Chapter 2

Wiping his sleeves and pant legs The Kid stepped off the wooden walkway and headed across the street, opening the bank door just as the teller was about to push the latch shut.

“I’m sorry but we’re closing early,” she said, as The Kid brushed past, momentarily captivated by the fragrance of lavender perfume.

“Sorry ma’am,” he said, bowing slightly to the pretty young woman. “I didn’t mean to barge in like that but I have an appointment with the manager.”

“Well, you’ll have to come back tomorrow,” said the teller, nodding toward the door.

“I do apologize,” said The Kid, reaching for the woman’s hand and looking sorrowfully in her eyes. “But I must see him today.”

“Oh very well,” she said, “follow me.”

The teller led The Kid to an office in back and knocked before showing him in.

“A gentleman to see you sir.”

The weasel-faced bank manager sat hunched at his desk, crushing his pencil into a stack of accounts. Sweat beaded down his forehead and neck, staining the dust-encrusted collar of his white long-sleeve shirt.

The Kid’s entrance brought him to his feet as he quickly sized up the well-dressed cowboy as a potential new client.

“Welcome to Poverty, and to First Bank,” he said to The Kid, the words oozing out through his yellowing teeth in a slow southern drawl, trying his best to make the town’s name sound less disheartening by accentuating the “o” and barely enunciating the last syllable.

“The name’s Penny, Silas Penny” he said, waiting for The Kid’s response before extending a hand. “Interesting name for a banker, don’t you think?” he snickered.

Ignoring the comment as well as the offered hand, The Kid slid past the bank manager and settled into the leather-seated armchair in front of his desk.

“I’m interested in making a deposit,” said The Kid, as the bank manager walked behind his desk. “A substantial deposit,” he added.

“Well that’s what we’re here for,” said the banker.

The Kid raised a hand and continued.

“A substantial deposit, if you can meet my terms,” said The Kid, staring coldly into the bankers dour eyes.

“Your terms?” said Silas.

“Yes,” said the Kid. “I need some proof that our money will be safe in this town. Safe in your safe, to be exact. You see, me and my gang don’t just leave our money anywhere, especially not with the name your “free banks” are getting around the state.”

“Your gang?” said the banker, sidling over to the window and surveying the empty street.

“Yes, my gang. They’re probably an hour or two behind me.”

“How substantial a deposit are we talking, Mister?”

“Manning,” said The Kid. “Jerome Manning. I’m talking several thousand dollars Silas. Ten thousand to be exact. But before my men hand over that amount of gold, I’ve got two thousand dollars of your own bank’s notes that I want to cash out as a show of good faith on the bank’s part. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumours that people don’t think your notes are worth anything.”

The banker sat down at his desk.

“Cash back?” he said as he scratched his balding head.

“That’s right,” said The Kid. “We deposited some of our gold at one of your other branches and we’re prepared to deposit another ten thousand dollars’ worth here. That’s a lot of money. But before we do, I need proof that your notes are worth more than the paper they’re written on.”

“But I don’t know anything about the notes you got from the other branch. They could be just paper.”

“It’s all just paper,” said The Kid. “Filthy stuff really. Still, we’re willing to trust your bank with our hard earned gold in exchange for your demonstration of good faith. Two thousand dollars, that’s twenty percent up front, in case you were wondering.”

“I know how much it is,” said Silas.

“Well then, that’s a good thing,” said The Kid. “Cause in no time, you’ll have turned two thousand dollars into ten thousand, and made yourself five times richer than you are right now.”

Silas could see the logic of The Kid’s argument but he also knew that many of the notes issued by the free banks that were popping up all over the country were not backed by state bonds, as required by law. Still, he was part of the free bank system and understood its frailties, but more importantly, didn’t want The Kid to take his business to another town.

“When do you need the cash?” said Silas, taking a sheet of paper from his desk drawer.

“Right away,” said The Kid, pulling a gold-plated timepiece from his vest pocket. “My men have been instructed not to deposit our gold until you’ve cashed out our notes.”

“Very well,” said Silas. He scratched the details on the paper and called to the young teller, who appeared instantly in his doorway as if on cue, modestly dressed in a cheap knock-off of the latest fashion inching its way across the country from the suave boutiques of San Francisco.

“Miss Tilley,” he said, waving her in and handing her the note. “Please process this for Mister Manning.”

“Certainly,” said the teller, eyeing the amount with some hesitation.

“This is what it’s come to,” said the banker, after the teller left to process the order. “Since the gold rush we haven’t been able to hire men tellers. With cattle increasing in price again, even the men too lazy to go after the gold are busy on the drives.”

“Yes, I met some of them earlier,” said The Kid, pulling on his gloves before extending a hand to the bank manager. “I’ll take the money to the hotel and be back with my men within the hour. Thank you for your cooperation.”

With that The Kid made his way to the teller’s window, signed for the cash, tipped his hat to the teller and strolled out of the bank.

Silas Penney watched as The Kid walked across the street, unhitched a horse from the rail in front of the saloon and led it towards the hotel at the far end of town. Glancing in the opposite direction, the bank manager’s attention was drawn to a cloud of dust on the distant horizon.

Smiling to himself, he regarded his reflection in the window as Miss Tilley reappeared in his doorway. “That was a substantial amount of money to withdraw at one time,” she said, her voice seeming to seek the manager’s assurance she’d done the right thing as she swished her hands down her bosom and over her thighs, flattening the ruffles of the sequined dress against her body.

“Not to worry Miss Tilley,” said the bank manager, following the flow of her delicate hands. “This will be remembered as the day the town’s fortunes changed,” he said with a smile. “And Silas Penney will be remembered as the man who put Poverty on the road to recovery.”

Wood Buffalo and Jasper Wild Win Gold Medals at 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards

Wood Buffalo and Jasper Wild, the second and third novels, respectively, in the Dyed In The Green fiction series about Canada’s national parks, each won Gold Medals in the 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards.

The Independent Publisher Book Awards honour the year’s best independently published titles from North America, Europe, New Zealand and Australia.

Wood Buffalo won the top regional award for Fiction in Western Canada while Jasper Wild garnered top spot for best Book Cover Design in the Fiction category. Book covers for the series have been done by Portland, Oregon artist Dan Stiles.

Set in the largest national park in Canada and the second largest in the world, Wood Buffalo is the story of a battle to save the park’s bison herd from a proposed slaughter. Based on the real-life battle in the late 1980’s that almost saw the pro-slaughter forces win the day, Wood Buffalo is a mystery-suspense that will immerse readers in the dramatic landscapes of northern Canada.

In Jasper Wild, the series’ main characters are faced with trying to stop a politically connected foreign mining magnate from building a backcountry lodge in Jasper National Park’s iconic wilderness.

Both books follow on the heels of the series’ title book, Dyed In The Green, set in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia.

This is the first fiction series about Canada’s national parks and profiles the challenges facing these iconic special places and the people trying to protect them.

The Independent Publisher Book Awards will be presented to medalists on May 29th at the Copacabana Times Square in New York City.

The Boys On The Bus

Last night, we were watching the Western Hockey League’s Victoria Royals get shellacked by the Tri-City Americans in their first quarter-finals game when the first dribbles of information showed up on my son’s cell phone, something about an accident involving the Broncos – the Swift Current Broncos I assumed, another WHL team vying for a semi-final berth in the playoffs. Sliding the phone away our attention turned back to the game, a 7-0 drubbing that had sucked the air out of the fans in the Save-On Foods Memorial Centre, reminding us that life can be one-sided sometimes.

After the game, driving my son to the basement apartment he shared with a buddy from high school and his former girlfriend, talking hockey and college and summer work, we drove without the radio on, cell phones tucked away. I dropped him off, said goodnight and reminded him to come for breakfast on Sunday.

My wife and daughter were just coming back from walking the dog when I entered the house. They mentioned an accident and we began searching the news on my laptop. Instantly we knew something really serious had taken place, not with the Swift Current Broncos, but the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, a team of 16 to 21 year old boys and young men from the small Prairie town of 6,000.

Although details were scant, it was obvious from the silence that a tragedy was unfolding on an April night in the Prairies.

Immediately I thought of friends with a kid playing junior hockey and scanned the Humbodlt Broncos roster on their website to see if I recognized a familiar name, relieved that I didn’t, but cognizant of the fact many other families would.

Morning would bring a rude awakening.

Fifteen dead.

Fourteen more physically injured, three critically.

Untold numbers devastated by the news of injured and lost loved ones, friends, family, acquaintances, the threads of connectivity weaving their way to every part of the country, indeed the world.

The Times Of Israel was reporting on the story in the morning.

As was the New York Times and many other news services.

In countries where war and mass killings numb the population, news of a tragic accident in Canada, was making the front page.

As it was in Canada as well, but with a wholly different meaning.

A small community, in fact many small communities, towns and cities, indeed the entire province of Saskatchewan and the country itself, was in shock, and grieving.

The details are still scant, but we know enough.

Young people and road trips, whether for sport or other purposes, are a fact of life not only in Canada, but presumably around much of the world.

I’d venture to say hockey roadtrips are far and away the most common in this country, bound as we are for more than eight months most years to a game that is our game, a point of pride for most Canadians, especially the hundreds of thousands of boys and girls, young men and women, and oldtimers, who play the game, and the millions more who watch it.

It is a big part of the glue that binds us together, as teams, as communities, as a country.

It pulls us together when we win.

It keeps us together when we lose.

And when we lose big time, when a tragic accident takes away loved ones and cuts us to the bone, hockey wraps its arms around us and draws us close, reminding us that above all else, that while life and love rule, it is the things we live for and love that make it all worthwhile.

This morning, it’s hard to see the words through the veil of tears.

My heart goes out to the Humboldt Broncos, to the kids from the Prairies who make up the team, to the coaches and support staff, to all the families and friends affected by this devastating tragedy.

#HumboldtStrong

It’s A Mystery Podcast

If you want to find out about the background behind my Dyed In The Green series about Canada’s national parks, check out Alexandra Amor’s It’s A Mystery Podcast.

Enjoy!