Hello everyone! Thanks for tuning into my stop on the Escapist Book Tour of Where Blood Runs Gold by A.C. Cross. I’m so excited to be part of this tour and can’t wait to share this with you! Below, you will find information about the book and author, along with an excerpt from the novel itself and an opportunity to win a signed copy of your own.
Where Blood Runs Gold by A.C. Cross
Genre: Weird Western
Intended Age Group: Adult
Sheriff Errol Thorpe’s life is chaotic, brutal, and above all, solitary. After an unimaginable loss years ago, all he feels is the compulsion to seek vengeance. But when a vulnerable family arrives in town, facing an ugly future, he is pulled headfirst into a web of violence, secrets, and things he never imagined. In search of truth and answers, Thorpe finds himself battling deadly flesh-eating Dust, acidic golden blood, and the political designs of powerful people – all the while learning how to be a person again. When Dust rises in San Dios, people hide indoors. When Sheriff Thorpe arrives, people run.
SomIron Man (Black Sabbath) • Gold (Spandau Ballet) • Blood On My Name (The Brothers Bright)
The door to the Oasis Saloon in Santiago creaked as a large figure wrapped in greasy black fabric smeared with gray pushed it open. The music stopped briefly but resumed as the figure pulled off its mask–an intimidating black expanse with red glass covering the eyes. The figure was a man: tall, broad, and severe. His beard, brown with white streaks, covered his jaw, but anyone looking could just barely see the edges of a deep, red scar peeking out from beneath. His hair was long and similarly brown and white but tied up so he could wear the mask. By looks alone, Sheriff Errol Thorpe was not a man to trifle with. By reputation, doing so would be suicidal. He sighed as he took off the mask, then felt his chest hitch. He coughed once, hard, and it made his bones ache. Well, shitfire.
Behind the bar, a heavy-set bartender with a small pair of eyeglasses perched on his nose rummaged around for something unseen. As the bearded man stripped off the suit, tossed it in the corner, and sat down on the stool, the bartender peered up at him and yelped.
“Sheriff Thorpe! Didn’t expect to see you back so soon!”
“Evenin’, Cory. Storm picked up while I was out,” Thorpe growled, “Barely had enough time to throw on my suit, but the fuckin’ Elder Boys got away ‘cause of it.”
He coughed and his green eyes watered with the effort. The bartender, Cory, frowned.
“That cough ain’t sounding so good, Sheriff.”
“The usual then?”
Cory nodded and pulled out a small bottle and emptied it into a glass. The liquid was thick and greenish and extremely unappetizing, but Thorpe knocked it back without complaint. As soon as it entered his body, he could feel the tendrils of dust pull away from his lungs and his chest open up. He finished the liquid and breathed out a sigh of relief. A swirl of gray and red dust poured out from his mouth and evaporated into the air. Thorpe smiled.
“Now, that’s much better. Much obliged, Cory.”
“’Course, Sheriff! Now, I gotta tell you that getting that green stuff for you is becoming mighty tricky now that Harlan moved back into Prudence Valley. He’s put a limit on what gets through without his say-so. Sooner than later, I may have to charge you. Business is business, you know.”
Thorpe nodded in understanding. As he looked around the bar, he saw most of the regulars. Ol’ Barclay, the only person in town too drunk to give a damn about the Dust. Jed and John Purcell, the twins from the ranch to the south. Pastor Fletcher, who had his arm around the shoulder of Lindsy, one of the newer ‘working girls’ in town. Thorpe made a mental note to have a private talk with the good reverend about the value of chastity or, for fuck’s sake, at least discretion. Hell, even Max Brecht was here, and that cranky old bastard didn’t usually leave the stables unless he was forced.
In the corner, though, there sat a few people that Thorpe didn’t recognize. He saw the woman first. Blonde hair stuffed under a green-blue bonnet. Her dress and shawl were mismatched shades of blue, but she wore heavy-looking brown boots. He couldn’t see her face yet and he turned his attention to the two children sitting by her. To her right sat a little girl, probably seven or eight, in a pink dress. She was drawing something on a sheet of a paper and staring intently at it. Thorpe smiled a little. She reminded him of what Sofie looked like back then. He winced and forced down the unwanted pulsing in his heart. Best not to think about that till the storm died down. Next to the little girl slouched a young man who looked to be about thirteen or so. He had long, stringy black hair and a sullen expression. Nobody could see his eyes due to his hat being tilted down and his brown shirt and black pants were tinged brownish-red. Thorpe suspected they were a family, most likely.
That was odd. Families usually stayed here, but new ones didn’t usually arrive. No reason to. This far out from Prima City, wasn’t much to see or talk about. Aside from the Quarry, but that meant something else.
Thorpe’s eyes flicked to the left. Leaning against the piano, trying to remain hidden, was Merl Cinder. Tall, wiry, and fidgety, Merl’s few strands of white hair dangled from beneath his dented black hat. There was no mistaking him, especially not with that pistol swinging off his hip. One of Hoss Elder’s boys, Merl was particularly skilled at capturing innocents and smuggling them out past The Boundary, to the mines where they were ‘allowed’ to work for pennies. Just enough to skirt slaving laws. Lousy bastards. Last time they met, Thorpe had beaten him half to death and told Merl that if he saw him in Promise County again, he would finish what he started.
“Cory,” Thorpe said quietly, “who’s them over there?”
“Yes. The family.”
“Oh, y’ know, Sheriff, I don’t know much ‘bout–”
Cory sighed and leaned in.
“Came with Merl last night. He said they was travelin’ east to Unity to see about some work for the young ‘un there. Said he was doin’ a good deed for a needy family.”
“Did he now?”
“Sure did. Thing is, they was coming from the east. Makes no reasonable sense that they’d be headed right back, does it?”
“No, it don’t. How ‘bout you take five an’ take a piss or somethin’? Go ahead an’ tell the others to go an’ do the same.”
“Sheriff–” Cory said, fidgeting as he stood. Thorpe simply held up a hand to stop him.
“I ain’t askin’, Cory. Scoot.”
Knowing better than to argue, Cory rang a bell. Everyone that was a regular knew what that bell meant: time to skedaddle for a few minutes. Sheriff was about to do some business. Without a word, everyone but the family, Merl, and Thorpe trotted through a side door into another room. Thorpe heard Cory lock the door behind him and nodded. They had gone quicker than usual this time, which was good. To be fair, they had been getting enough practice. It had been a bumper crop of assholes coming through Santiago lately.
Slowly, Thorpe stood up and walked across the room. The thump of his boots echoed in the now mostly-empty saloon as he made his way over to the family and Merl, who had now stopped leaning against the piano and was glancing nervously at the family. As he walked, Thorpe grabbed an abandoned shot of bourbon from a table, kicked it back, and tossed it aside. The glass clanked against the floor but did not break. It did, however, startle the family and drew everyone’s attention. Merl saw Thorpe and the Sheriff watched his face turn nearly the color of his hair. He was scared. Good.
“Evenin’ all. Name’s Errol Thorpe, sheriff of this fine town. What brings y’all this way on such a Dusty night?”
The woman, who had turned to look at Thorpe, tried to speak, but Merl placed a hand on her back in a gentle but a clear warning to be quiet. Her blue eyes were watery and scared and she looked tired. Merl spoke up, his voice taking on a fake friendly quality. Thorpe hated it.
“Well, hello there, Sheriff! Now, Miss Bellamy and her lovely family and I were just–”
“I ain’t asked you, Merl, so shut yer damn mouth. I asked the lady.”
“Well, maybe she don’t want to talk to you, Sheriff. You think of that?”
Merl took a step forward, placing himself between the woman and Thorpe. The look on his face was smugger and more amused than he had any right to be.
“Ain’t gonna tell you again, Merl.”
“Y’know, they’s all very tired so why don’t you just let us scoot on outta here and leave you to–”
“Yeah, that ain’t gonna happen.”
Thorpe’s hand drifted to his right hip. Merl’s mouth twitched, just once. He knew what was there.
“Now, see here, Sheriff, I got a right to be here with my family. You interferin’ in our private lives is harassing us!”
The boy went to say something, but Merl shot him a look. The youth slumped back in his chair, unwilling to talk. Thorpe motioned to him.
“Seems to me yer ‘family’ got somethin’ to say ‘bout that, Merl. Why ain’t you lettin’ the boy talk?”
“Boy’s got a mouth on him, Sheriff. Had to give him a few whippins to get him to behave, but I learned him enough, now he knows his place.”
“I don’t know that any man got a right to hit a kid ain’t his. You married this lady?”
“Well…no, not yet. But we’re gonna! Just as soon as we get to Prima City.”
Thorpe didn’t bother asking why they were coming from Prima City if they were headed right back that way. He knew it would just be more hot-buttered lies.
“Why wait? We got a perfectly fine reverend right here in the next room. We could make things all official for you and get y’all on yer way in the morning.”
The woman stared at Thorpe with panic in her eyes. Without looking at her, he gently raised a hand to signal that he understood. Merl was stammering now, clearly unsure of what to say.
“Now that ain’t necessary, Sheriff. Our love can wait another day or two! She always said she wanted a nice purty wedding in a big ol’ church in the city. Ain’t that right, dear?”
Merl swung his hand back and she shifted out of the way. She nodded slightly and Merl smiled.
“See? All’s right in the world! Now, why don’t I buy you a drink and you let my family get back to restin’ here?”
Thorpe nodded and was about to leave when the boy stood up and screamed.
“Don’t leave, mister! He took us from our home and is gonna make us mine for him!”
Merl turned around with fire in his eyes.
“Boy, don’t you go spreadin’ lies about your elders or I’ll–”
He did not get a chance to finish that sentence. Thorpe threw a big arm around Merl’s neck and locked in tight. The man started to gasp and flail, but Thorpe held on until he went limp. Satisfied that he was unconscious, Thorpe let Merl drop to the ground with a thump.
“Quick, go get the rope behind the bar an’ give it to me,” he ordered the boy, who ran and grabbed it as fast as he could. Working quickly, Thorpe tied Merl’s hands, and dragged him to a closet. Without a moment of concern for Merl’s wellbeing, Thorpe shoved the man in, shut the door, and locked it.
As soon as the lock clicked, the woman burst into tears and hugged her children. Thorpe walked over to the door that the townsfolk had gone through and banged three times. That was the signal that everything was okay. The door unlocked, and everyone filed back into the bar, albeit cautiously. There was always the very real chance that someone was hurt, so it paid to be careful. Charl Hartwood remarked that not a single glass or table had been broken, which was strange as something breaking was typically the case in ‘Sheriff Moments’.
“Merl’s in the closet,” Thorpe said to the group, “Leave him there overnight. It’ll do him some good. I’ll come get him in the morning. Meanwhile, put the three of them up fer the night. I’ll pay.”
“No,” the woman said, standing up, “You’ve already done more than enough, Sheriff. I can pay for our rooms.”
“No need, ma’am,” Thorpe said, “We gotta be hospitable now that you ain’t under the thumb of that jackass. Uh, pardon the language.”
“Please, I insist. It’s the least I can do, knowing what’s coming.”
“An’ what’s that, ma’am?”
The woman drew herself up to her full height and removed her bonnet. Heavy blonde hair spilled out over his shoulders and everyone in the bar recognized her.
“Sheriff, my name is Laura Bellamy and my father, such as he is, is Governor Hiram Sweetwater.”
Great. Governor Sweetwater was the most powerful man in the state, legally-speaking, and was notorious for enforcing his will whenever and wherever he pleased. Having his daughter in town didn’t bode well.
Laura continued, “He was there when my family was taken. He signed the order. He will hear that we did not make it past the Boundary. He will come looking for me, as will whoever was supposed to receive us at the behest of Merl. Sheriff, unless my family and I leave this instant, your little town will become a bloodbath within the week.”
Thorpe looked at her and motioned for a whiskey.
“Well then,” he said before he took the shot, “you an’ me best start talkin’.”
A half-hour later, Thorpe’s head was pounding, and he wasn’t sure there was enough whiskey in the world, much less the bar, to cure it. Laura had cried off and on throughout what she told him, but she made it through and even ordered a beer when she was finished. To Thorpe’s surprise, she necked it, set it down, and ordered another. He waited for her to slow down, and then spoke.
“So, just to make sure I got this right. You got forced to get married an’ had the boy with one of yer daddy’s business partners. Well, the old man up an’ dies an’ leaves you a widow at twenty-five. You go out on yer own an’ fall in love with a rustler–”
“Right. Rancher, my mistake. Fall in love with a rancher an’ run off with him. Get hitched, have the girl. Life’s all sunshine and rainbows. But yer Daddy don’t like that an’ hunted across the great state of San Dios to find you. He caught up to you in Silida, shot yer rancher husband, an’ sold the remainin’ three of you off to the Elder Boys for mining ‘work’. That’s what brought you here. I got the right of it?”
“You do indeed, Sheriff,” she said.
He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his hands over his face.
“Shit on fire. Alright. Well, good news is we got three, four days…hell, maybe even a week to get some kinda plan together. Ain’t nobody coming fer you right now.”
“What?” she asked, confused, “How can you possibly be so sure? If I had to hazard a guess, I would imagine word has already gotten back to my father and he’s sending a posse here to fetch me immediately!”
“Nah. Ain’t happenin’ right now. Yer safe. Well, safe as safe can be, I s’pose.”
She stood up, indignant.
“Your arrogance offends me, Sheriff! You do not know my father as I do! He will stop at nothing to enforce his will. They are coming for me, whether you choose to believe it or not.”
Thorpe sighed. He didn’t want to have this talk again, especially given that she clearly didn’t understand the situation, but he didn’t have much of a choice, it seemed.
“You said that you an’ the family ranched near Silida, yeah?”
“Silida’s ‘bout a day an’ a half southwest of Prima City. You got trees there. Grass. Water. Maybe a little bit of sand. Right?”
“I know what the region looks like, sir.”
“My point, Ms. Bellamy, is that you ain’t seen Dust before.”
“Are you quite mad?” she asked, even more annoyed now, “Of course I’ve seen dust! It gets all over the clothes and boots and makes an awful mess of things! Why, it takes an entire afternoon simply to wipe all the dust from the furniture at home. I know what dust is, Sheriff.”
“I must say, Sheriff Thorpe, that I am getting quite tired of your insinuations about my intelligence or understanding of the world around us! To imply that I don’t even know what dust is goes beyond–”
Thorpe stood up, grabbed her arm, and pulled her to the door. Her protestations rang out across the room, but he ignored them. With a heavy shove, he knocked the door open and pointed outside.
“No, Ms. Bellamy. That is Dust.”
Even through the swiftly-gathering darkness, Laura could see what Thorpe meant. What looked like a moving, opaque wall of slick, gray stone undulated and pulsed in the street, sliding back and forth, sticking to everything it touched. Thorpe grabbed a nearby empty bottle and tossed it into the gray mass. The bottle stuck to the Dust, as if adhered by spilled tar, not moving through what seemed to be feet of heavy gray, then shattered into a thousand pieces and was swept away. With a grunt, Thorpe grabbed the door and heaved it shut with a slam.
“What…what…” Laura tried to say, but her voice failed her. Thorpe sniffed and ordered another round for the two of them.
“Like I said, ma’am. I meant no disrespect to you, honest, but you ain’t seen Dust. You ain’t seen what it does to people. You ain’t seen how it eats an’ sticks an’ spreads. When I say nobody’s comin’ for yer family for a few days, I mean it. Ain’t nobody gettin’ through that mess. Nobody worth a damn’s even gonna try.”
“But…what is it?”
About the Author:
A.C. Cross is a doctor, but not the kind that you want treating you for kidney stones or pneumonia or anything. That’d likely make your situation much worse.
He (currently) lives in the Great White North of the United States as a bearded, single man.
He’s a lover of words, many of which you have just read in this very book.
He’s an admitted scotch whisky and beer snob and his liver would not argue with him.
He has written four books now, including this one, but the other three (in the Roboverse) are funny and not nearly as sweary or violent.
You can find more about him as well as some neat little free stories at www.aaronccross.com
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