I’ve been working on the next Jackson Speed book, in which our cowardly hero flees the war in Mexico and travels into Indian Territory before catching a case of gold fever and heading to California in the Gold Rush.
If you’ve followed the novels, you’ll know that this goes backwards in the chronology of his life (the most recent book saw him in Gettysburg, some 14 years after the Gold Rush) and picks up where the first Jackson Speed book left off.
I’m extraordinarily pleased with the way this book starts out. The opening chapter was a lot of fun for me to write. The first chapter came in around 5,000 words, but I thought it might be fun to post the first few paragraphs (835 words) from the novel. Really, I’m at rough-draft stage in the writing, so these 835 words are still subject to change.
If you’re a fan of Ol’ Speedy (or even if you’re not), I’d welcome any praise these 835 words might elicit. If you think it’s complete trash, you can feel free to keep your damn fool opinions to yourself.
So here they are, the opening paragraphs to Jackson Speed in the Rush:
Back in the ’70s and ’80s – even into the ’90s – whenever I visited my California mines to see how much my foremen were stealing from me, the old miners still talked about Joaquin Murieta. They employed his legend to scare small children and coerce pretty girls to sit up close to them in the wagons. I’ve even heard that there are writers penning poetry about him, and that Joaquin Murieta has become a folk hero for some Californians.
Well, Yellowbird’s mythology not withstanding, I can tell ye Joaquin Murieta was full to the brim with evil, and I don’t know what poor bastard donated his head to Harry Love’s jar of alcohol, but it weren’t the real Murieta. Yellowbird, who was my cousin by marriage, never even met the real Joaquin Murieta.
I’ve no doubt that a dozen or more banditos invoked the name of the hated Joaquin in the early days of the Gold Rush. Back in ’48 and ’49, miners all up and down the North Fork feared that name more than they feared any other thing, for Joaquin had made a general nuisance of hisself, causing all sorts of trouble and murder.
For a time, miners and shop keepers and virgin maidens – what few there were – were safe in their camps, shops and beds, for Joaquin Murieta no longer marauded.
But in the early ’50s he showed back up, holding up stores, killing miners, robbing Forty-Niners of the measly quantities of dust and the tiny nuggets they worked months to accumulate, and forcing himself upon helpless womenfolk. But that Joaquin – or, perhaps more appropriately, those Joaquins, were never the real one. Why, if the tales could be believed, Joaquin Murieta was holding up a store in San Francisco in the morning and by midday he was up in the Sierra Nevada raiding mining camps, and by dark he was below Los Angeles raping farmers’ daughters. Not even Joaquin Murieta was capable of such daily journeys, but a dozen or so banditos looking to hide their own identity and at the same time paralyze their victims with fear, well, they might be expected to borrow the man’s legend.
But having known a fair few number of California banditos, maybe even some of whom took on the name Joaquin Murieta, I can say with absolute certainty, when it came to pure cold-blooded evil, not a man among ’em could stand in the same company as the real Joaquin Murieta. It’s a fact that I’ve known murderers who would cut your throat for no reason other than they had not yet killed a man all week and it was already Tuesday. I rode for a bit with Billy the Kid. I’ve been hunted by the entirety of the Third Corps of the Army of the Potomac, sent to do me in by none less than Devil Dan Sickles, but I’ve never known a man so filled with joy by doing evil as Joaquin Murieta. If he knew that they’d made him a romantic robber, he’d cut off the fingers of the poor fools who penned such nonsense and laugh with glee as he force-fed those fingers to the authors. There can be no truth in these fables that Joaquin’s bloodlust was the result of cruel treatment to him and the murder of the girl he loved, for that man was evil from the word go, and he never had it in him to love another thing. It weren’t revenge the man sought, but only vicious murder.
No, by 1850, the real Joaquin Murieta was at the bottom of a cliff where I’d left him with two of the fingers of one of his henchmen, and good riddance to him and them.
Perhaps it was the only time in my entire life where danger bared its vicious fangs and rather than flee or hide, I stood like a man and faced it. And I’ll say this, too: – Of all the things I’ve done in my life, fair and foul, there’s not much I’m more proud about in my old age than putting two balls of lead in that bastard’s gut and one in his eye.
It’s a good story, but to explain it fully, I have to start on a lonely river in what is now Oklahoma but was then Indian Territory. I came to the Indian Territory in the early fall of 1847, having fled the war in Mexico. I was out of my way, for a strange wanderlust had erupted in me. But if I’d returned home as I’d initially planned, the course of my life would have been forever altered. And while I’ve had many an opportunity to regret my decisions, as I look back now on the totality of the thing, I can’t say that I’m too sorry for the way it all went. The truth is, the wanderlust that set me north rather than east is what made me a rich man, so I’ll be damned if it was all bad.