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Invitation to a Hanging

Book #1 of Widowmaker
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The first in a white-knuckled western series from the author of the acclaimed Gunsmith series, following a legendary gunfighter taking on the darkest and bloodiest jobs across the West.

John Locke has been a lawman, a bounty hunter, and a gun-for-hire, but now he’s embarked on a new chapter in his life, taking on odd and dangerous jobs that are really only suited to a man of his reputation.

His first new assignment brings him to Lincoln, New Mexico, to serve as a bastonero (like the Master of Ceremonies) to the hanging of a man known for being a vicious killer, Ignacio Delgado. He spends most of his time in the beginning fending off Delgado’s men, who regard the condemned man as part saint, part Robin Hood, and a soon-to-be martyr. But as time passes, Locke’s respect for Delgado grows, and he learns that the sheriff has his own reasons for wanting the man dead. What ensues is High Noon meets High Plains Drifter in a shoot-em-up showdown.

Invitation to a Hanging ONE
Fredericksburg, Texas

1886

John Locke did not ride into Fredericksburg, Texas, undetected.

“That’s him,” Gordon Vestal said to his partner, Ed Hansen. “That’s the Widowmaker.”

The two men were standing in front of the general store they owned together.

“I thought the Widowmaker was the gun?” Hansen asked.

Vestal waved a hand and said, “The man, the gun, what’s the difference. The point is he’s the man we need to keep the lid on this town.”

“I hope you’re right.”

John Locke rode by them, a very tall man who sat his horse with a ramrod back. He was wearing a black, flat-brimmed Stetson without adornment, a blue shirt with a red bandana tied around his neck, black leather vest, and black trousers. He must have been wearing a gun but they couldn’t see it as his left side was to them, and he was probably right-handed. His profile looked as if it had been chiseled from stone. The only indications that he was human were the sweat stains that the August heat had caused beneath his arms.

Vestal looked at Hansen and said, “Of course I’m right. Remember, this is the man who predicted the O.K. Corral. If Tombstone had been able to hold onto him as marshal that never would have happened.”

“I heard they fired him.”

“He walked away,” Vestal said, “when they wouldn’t back him.”

“Not what I heard.”

“What’s it matter, Ed?” Vestal asked. “We sent for him and he’s here. That’s what’s important.”

They watched as Locke rode past them without a glance and continued on to the end of town where the livery stable was located.

“He looks old,” Hansen said.

“Fifty,” Vestal said, “maybe. After the life he’s lead, that’s a testament to the kind of man he is.”

“What’s he been doing since he left Tombstone?”

“Laying low, I heard,” Vestal said. “Some said he got real disillusioned by that whole experience. It was the only time he ever wore a badge.”

“Maybe he ain’t got it in him anymore,” Hansen said. “What do we do then, d’you suppose, if I’m right?”

“I don’t know,” Vestal said. “Cross that bridge when we come to it, I guess. But right now let’s get the others. This is it. We got to make a good enough offer so he takes the job.”

“That’s your part in all this,” Ed Hansen said. “You’re the man with the golden tongue, Gordy.”

“Well,” Vestal said, “I guess we’re about to find out just how golden my tongue is.”

Robert J. Randisi is the creator and author of The Gunsmith, the popular Western series with more than 250 novels, written under the pen name J.R. Roberts. Western novels that have appeared under his own name are The Ham Reporter, The Ghost with Blue Eyes, Legend, and more. He has also edited the Western anthologies White Hats, Black Hats, and Boot Hill.

More books from this author: Robert J. Randisi

More books in this series: Widowmaker