Murder Manhattan Style by Warren Bull



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In this short story collection, Warren Bull takes his readers across the American landscape with stories of justice and injustice, truth and speculation, and humor and noir.

The Manhattan in the title sometimes refers to the suave part of New York and sometimes to its prairie twin in Kansas.

The stories are equally diverse. Bull writes tales of children outwitting their elders in the name of what's right in turbulent Bleeding Kansas; of card sharks, clever dames and tough guys out on the town in the flush days of post-World War II; of an anguished husband and another furious father thwarted while seeking revenge; and a crime writer who really can't handle rejection.

A blend of history, language, pathos and fine wit.

Excerpt:

The Kansas Territory, Miller Farm, April 28, 1858

When the two riders appeared out of nowhere, I knew they came to kill my pa. I’d seen smoldering, burned-out farmhouses. I’d heard women cry and pray in church because riders had appeared during the night and called their husbands out to answer the question—Are you for or against slavery? The wrong answer or even a slow answer meant that the men were taken away and never seen again.

My pa was against slavery. When anybody asked, he made no bones about it. He didn’t preach about it. He didn’t ride with the Jayhawkers. According to my pa, violence was just as wrong when we did it as when they did it. That didn’t matter to these men. These men and others like them had turned the territory into “Bleeding Kansas.”

I didn’t recognize the riders. One was tall, thin and clean-shaven. The other was stout and bearded. They rode as quietly as ghosts, careful to blend in with the lay of the land. They stopped outside our farmhouse and looked down at me like hawks looking at a prairie dog. I knew I didn’t look like much, being just twelve and small enough to pass for ten. They looked tough enough to take on a hundredfold of me.

“We’d like to speak with your father,” said the tall one.

I swallowed and answered, “He’s not here right now.” I was glad to be speaking the truth. I think the man would have known if I lied. Earlier this morning a man on a lathered bay mare rushed to the house to tell my pa something. They spoke briefly. Then my pa saddled his long-legged roan and insisted that the man switch his tack to our gray stallion that could run all day. They put the bay in the barn. After a few words with my stepmother, Sarah, they left.

“When will he be back?” the shorter man asked.

“He didn’t say,” I answered.

As if there wasn’t already enough trouble, my stepsister, Amy, came running up just then. Her dress was wet and dirty below the knees. Her hair was full of briars. I could tell that she’d been playing by Wildcat Creek. She was not supposed to, but I knew this wasn’t the time to quarrel. She wouldn’t listen, anyway. Even though she was a year younger than me, she was my height. She could run faster, fight harder, and shoot straighter than I could. Earlier that morning we each took four shots with a Sharps rifle at a target twenty-five paces away. Amy fired faster than I did and she hit with all her shots. I missed twice.

“Are you two here alone?” asked the tall man.

“Pa left,” said Amy. “Then a neighbor came by to fetch Ma. He said his wife was feeling poorly.”

The stout man chuckled, but he didn’t sound friendly. “Two children left alone in these troubled times?”

The tall man answered, “Why not? It would be a poor excuse for a man who would bother a woman or a child.”

“My name is Joshua,” I said, belatedly remembering my manners. No matter who these men were, I had been taught to be polite. “This is my stepsister, Amy. I’m sorry that my pa and my stepmother are away. If you’d care to tell us who you are, we’ll be certain to tell Pa that you stopped by.”

“You can call me Mr. Anders,” said the tall man. “You can call him Mr. Bleak. Maybe we’ll keep you company until your pa comes back.”

“Would you like us to water and feed your horses and turn them into the corral?” asked Amy.

“Thank you, Amy,” said Anders, “but we’re used to caring for our own animals. I think we’ll put them in the barn to get them out of the sun.”

Amy gave me a sharp look. She might not have been the girl I would have chosen for a sister, but nobody ever said she was stupid. If the horses were left in the corral, my pa could tell long before he came to the house that strangers were here. With the horses in the barn, he would have no way of knowing. Anders and Bleak led their horses toward the barn, and we followed. Amy turned her back to the men and put her right hand over her heart with her fingers together pointing down. She moved her hand up and down from her wrist.

Silently I thanked my pa for teaching us Indian sign language. I saw the men were not looking at me. I clasped my hands together over my chest like two men shaking hands. Then, using my right hand, I pressed my index finger against my thumb and flicked the finger forward. Amy signed, “Trouble.” I signed, “Agree” and “Talk.”

Amy darted ahead of the men into the barn. She pulled a bucket from a peg on the wall.

“We’ll get water,” she said.

We walked toward the well, with Amy carrying the bucket. I looked back. The men stopped outside the barn. The tall man waved at me and I waved back.

“They’re here after Pa,” said Amy.

“I think so, too.”

“We have to do something,” said Amy.

“But what?”

“When we get to the well, I’ll run,” said Amy. “I’m fast.”

“Not as fast as a man on horseback.”

“Then we’ll both run. They’ll chase you, and I can make it to the hideout.”

I answered, “If you do, you’ll be stuck there. If you leave, they’ll see you. You can’t warn Pa from there.”

We reached the well and, to my relief, Amy did not run. We lowered the bucket. I felt like my stomach was sinking with it. My legs felt wobbly.

Amy said, “From here, I can get into the house and load a rifle before they catch me.”

“Then you’ll have one rifle against two. If you shoot one man, the other will shoot you. That won’t help Pa.”

We hauled up the bucket.

  • Published by: Untreed Reads


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