I’m offering chapter five as a free chapter because it stands by itself, gives you an idea of Nora’s character and her growing plight of being hunted because she’s famous and a “man-killer.”
The first few months after the Butch Wheeler battle was hard. Nora had no idea feelings could run so deep as she read the mail addressed to Nora Hawks, Cryer’s Run, New Mexico Territory, and later simply Nora Hawks, Angel of Vengeance, Hawkstown.
Some were letters of love and praise, mainly from educated women in New England who commended her for standing up for herself and all women. Others were the most hateful letters, saying they hoped she died in a gutter like the whore that she was, and that no woman had a right to kill a man, and that she would spend eternity in Hell.
After a few months, she just stopped reading them. They were letters written to a being the newspapers had created.
Few people outside the area understood she was just a woman, a human, trying to cope with what had been done to her and what she had done. She clung to the few things that gave meaning to her life – her garden, cooking, Peter, Moonlight and Lenore, who had indeed found her way back to the cabin and made Nora cry with quiet joy. She’d found a good brand of Philadelphia whiskey that she ordered by the case and that comforted her at night.
It took her three months to heal. By then, Jimmy had come into her life. Juanita’s was going strong and the preacher had appeared as if by magic.
But her first glimpse of her future came from a boy.
Nora picked up the breakfast dishes, took them outside and washed them in a tub. Peter dried them. “I’m going into town for some cloth. I . . . need to make something.” She saw Peter’s suspicious look and smiled. “You need a new shirt. The one you’re wearing is as ragged as your mind.”
His mustache lifted with the smile. “Not sure what that means except prob’ly I need a new mind, too.”
“Want to go with me?” She asked, handing him the last tin plate.
He shook his head. “No. I better git some chores done here.” He looked out over part of his 200 acre ranch. It was small but supported them, and that’s all he ever wanted after he retired as one of the West’s best bounty hunters. At least he planned on supporting himself quietly until Nora rode into his life demanding that he teach her how to kill.
They were in love as much as a tired bounty hunter and a weary man killer woman can be. They never talked about it but implicitly agreed that they needed each other.
Nora dismounted from Moonlight, a gift from Peter. She and the large, black stallion almost immediately bonded and learned from each other. She read the horse’s moods and he knew hers. He responded to her slightest movement, from a touch of her heel on his ribs to the slightest neck reign or shift in the saddle. Peter had seen trick riders before but he’d never seen a person and horse become one being when they were together like these two. It was inspiring and a little spooky.
She dropped the reins over the hitch post and patted his neck. “I’ll be back.” He bobbed his head downward and nickered softly in answer.
“Good day, Miss Nora.” D.C. Cummings was a large, rotund man with a round face, whose light red hair and beard were giving way to a gentle gray.
“Good day, Mr. Cummings. How are you?”
He smiled, his hands on the counter. “I’m well, thank you. It’s a beautiful day.” The town had a love affair with Nora Hawkes. It wouldn’t exist today without her. She had killed the men who had killed its men. She forced the bank to return their land which is why accountant Allen Goldman, a skinny man with little black eyes and big ears hated her. His contention was that the land was in Parker’s name and should go to his heirs if he had any. But the town council overrode him.
“And how is Peter?”
“He’s fine. Wanted to stay on the ranch to do chores.”
David looked out the window at the sunny May morning. “Fine day for it.”
Nora found the cotton she was looking for. “Yes, it is. I’ll take two yards of this.”
Nora paid Cummings for the material and stepped out of the general store onto the wooden walk. Her custom steel toed shoes that helped save her in her final fight with Butch clunked on the hardwood sidewalk.
“Might you be Miss Nora Hawkes?”
She looked up to see a lean, blond-haired kid, maybe 17-years-old, standing in the dusty street, facing her.
“Yes,” she said, noting his slow, easy drawl. She held her cloth close to her. “And who do I have the pleasure of –?”
“Gary Smith of Atlanta, Georgia, Ma’am. It is a pleasure to meet you.” Nora nodded with a polite smile. “Miss Hawkes, I have to tell you that I have come here to kill you fair and square in a gunfight.”
Her smile faded. The young man realized the cover artists had gotten her large brown eyes just right as she studied him in anticipation and sorrow. She was beautiful, he thought.
“Why do you want to do that?”
“Because you’re a killer of men, ma’am.”
She cocked her head slightly. “Where did you get that idea?”
He reached carefully into his back pocket and pulled out a dime novel showing a picture of her with a rifle and pistol, standing over a dead man and looking at the viewer as if daring him to challenge her. It was the first she’d seen it.
She shook her head. “It’s a story, Mr. Smith.”
The young man nodded. “Yes, ma’am, and a good one. I have read it numerous times.”
“It’s made up, Mr. Smith.”
Gary Smith looked puzzled a moment. “No. It ain’t made up. It’s in this magazine. It’s you. It’s printed and it’s real and I feel it’s my duty to have a showdown with you and kill you fair and square.”
Nora looked at him and thought of his mother, wondering if she knew he had made the journey to New Mexico to play out a dream of killing a woman he read about in a dime novel. “Why do you want to kill me fair and square, Mr. Smith?”
He looked at her as if disappointed with her question. “So they’ll write about me. Put me in a book and on the cover. The cover will show me standing over the most famous woman in America. You’ll be dead, of course. They’ll write books about me and everyone will know my name.”
Nora shifted her package. “I don’t have a gun, Mr. Smith.”
The teenager looked confused, then angry. “Don’t have a–” He glanced around. “That’s a lie!” He looked at her, trying to see what was hidden behind her package. “You’re the most famous man-killer in the West.” He shook his head. “You – you have to have a gun.”
“I don’t. It’s the truth. Now, please. Go back to Atlanta, Georgia. Go home.”
“I ain’t going back home.” The boy’s face hardened into a grin. “I can kill you anyway. Nobody would believe you didn’t have a gun. I shot you in the street in the Wild West, in New Mexico Territory. The book writers will come–”
His gaze shifted from Nora to something behind her. His bravado melted. “What the –”
“It’s made up,” Cummings said. “Miss Hawks explained to you that it’s made up.” He cocked the double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun that he quietly and firmly aimed at the young man. “You see the cloth she’s holding?” Gary Smith said nothing. “You blind, son?” The shotgun didn’t waver. Gary Smith noticed this and shook his head. “No, sir.”
“She has cloth. She sews. Do you understand?’
The kid looked puzzled. “She’s Nora –”
“She sews, son. That makes her a seamstress.”
“It’s okay, Mr. Cummings. Thank you for your assistance.” She didn’t take her eyes off the kid. A small crowd had gathered on the sidewalks. Nora laid her bundle on the sidewalk. She stepped over to Moonlight and lifted the holster off the saddle horn.
The young man watched her, growing nervous. He took a deep breath to calm down as she put the belt around her hips and buckled it. The ease with which she did it, without taking her eyes off him, was unnerving. “Now, where would you like to do this, Gary. May I call you Gary?”
He swallowed and nodded.
“Are you parents still living?” She asked gently.
He nodded hesitantly. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good. Do you have an address in your saddle bags?”
“Address?” He asked weakly, puzzled.
“A home address, “Nora said. “Where we can send your body, along with a letter of condolence to your parents.”
Gary’s face was suddenly pale. He stared at her, slightly shaking at her confidence and lost in the large brown eyes. He couldn’t reconcile the beautiful woman he was staring at with the cold fear that was slowly paralyzing him.
He started to shake his head, then nodded.
She nodded once, “Good.” Then she yelled, “DRAW!” Gary Smith froze as Nora’s arm moved like fluid, in an instant bringing up the gun that was aimed directly at his face. She was so steady she could have been a statue. There was an achingly long moment until Nora broke the silence: “Mr. Cummings, please tell young Gary what to do.”
The store owner smiled grimly. “Drop the book, son.” Gary dropped it. “Now, pretend you’re handling a new born baby as you take that pistol out of your holster and lay it carefully at your feet. Do it now,” he said with a quiet fatherly firmness. “Carefully.”
Gary looked at Cummings, then at Nora who hadn’t moved. He pulled out his pistol, laying it on the dirt with care that was almost painful to watch.
“Please step back, Gary,” Nora said, motioning with her pistol. He took two steps backward. Nora lowered her pistol and seemingly without looking fired a shot into the book, ripping a hole to the right of her image. “Now you may pick it up.”
Trying to swallow with a parched throat, he leaned down and picked up the book, stared at the bullet hole, then at her.
“Go back East, Gary. You can tell your friends and family that you met Nora Hawks. I hope you tell them I was civil and gave you a keepsake.” He stood, frozen. “Will you do that, Gary?” She asked gently.
He nodded and whispered, “Yes, ma’am.” He was cold and shaking. “Thank you, Miss Hawks,” he managed to croak out.
“You’re welcome, Gary,” she said gently without smiling. “Goodbye.”
Cummings nodded his head toward a gray Appaloosa. “That one’s yours.”
Gary nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Up in the saddle real careful. Ride straight and slow.” He nodded up the street and Gary turned to see the sidewalks lined with men and women. “That’s a collection of irritated people.” The young man backed toward his horse. “If you come back, they will probably lynch you. It’s a slow, wretched, and very humiliating death.”
Gary nodded. “My sincere apologies,” he said, reaching up slowly to tip his hat in respect.
He lifted his foot into the stirrup and swung up carefully, knowing the shotgun was following him. He laid the rein against the horse’s neck and rode at a walk down the silent street, past the business owners, each of whom held some kind of weapon. He held the reins outwards in plain sight and looked straight ahead.
In one short hour he’d lost his gun, his pride and his claim to immortality.
But he kept his life.
“Thank you, Mr. Cummings,” Nora said.
He shook his head. “Don’t ever feel compelled to thank me or anyone else who lives here.” He lowered his gun. “I’m sorry this has to dog you like it does. Being a hero has trapped you.”
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I didn’t want to be a hero and I will not be in a trap.”
Cummings nodded, understanding, and clicked the gun’s safety. He stepped back into the comfortable surroundings of his store. Nora tied her package on the saddle, mounted and trotted down Main Street. The folks who had lined it a few minutes before had disappeared. The street was sunny, dusty and empty.