The sign by the roadside read, La Vida, 5 miles. It was etched in black
onto a dry and brittle wooden post, and it had a pointer that very much
looked like a large finger heading east. As he stared hard at the sign,
Tylor McBain, retired US Marshal, wondered just how much “life”
there actually was in La Vida, and he hoped it was enough to include a
skilled blacksmith. He’d certainly never heard of the town, nor seen
its name printed on any map, but with his horse having slipped a shoe
and now developing a rather noticeable limp, he knew he had no choice
but to check it out.
As he ambled his way down the road, the warm autumn sun beating down
upon his back, he contemplated this sudden change in plans. He’d been
hoping to reach Fort Griffin, Texas, by the end of the week; now, with
the delay, he realized it might be another two or three weeks before he
got there. Silently, he prayed that the town’s mayor would hold the
job for him until he arrived. From the way the man had written, excited
to hear of Tylor’s retirement and eager to do the legendary ex-lawman
a favor, he’d seemed like he would. To make double sure of the deal,
Tylor had written him back from Denver and clearly stated he’d be
arriving in but a few weeks; yet here he was over a month later, held up
in northern New Mexico and long overdue.
It was another couple of hours before he had his first glimpse of the
town. Even from far back in a nearby meadow, he could make out several
large, wooden buildings, and he began to feel a glimmer of hope. As he
drew even closer, he spotted fine one- and two-story homes, their
clapboards painted in various colors, along a tree-lined avenue, and a
small but rather dignified-looking hotel. The town wasn’t huge, but it
was big enough to probably have a saloon or two, a bathhouse, and a
blacksmith. Right now, he wanted all three, and he began to pick up the
As he reached the heart of the town, his enthusiasm suddenly waned.
There was something…odd about the place. The main thoroughfare, a
long, dusty road that stretched all the way to the outer limits, was
strangely deserted. Not a single person walked the street or the wooden
walkways that lined it, and there wasn’t a horse hitched to a post nor
a wagon or buggy in sight. His eyes scanning every building, every
porch, every side street he passed, he had the distinct feeling he was
in a ghost town. Yet there had to be people here. In the open windows of
many homes, he noted pretty gingham curtains fluttering in the breeze,
and almost every building seemed to have had a recent coat of fresh
paint applied to it. He even smelled the aromas of food drifting from
farther off, like freshly baked bread and roasting meat, and it made his
stomach rumble. Sure that he would find someone who could help him if he
only looked, he hitched his horse to a post and continued in a cautious,
but determined, fashion.
Just as Tylor reached the corner of yet another side street, he was
startled by the lone figure of an old woman, her head covered by a black
woolen shawl, as she came tearing around it. She collided with his solid
form and emitted a gasp, then, as he caught her by the arms to steady
her, began to struggle frantically to get away from him.
“Muevese, señor! Muevese!” He only looked at her, confused.
“Please leave! Let me go and run away!” When Tylor still held her
fast, afraid he’d somehow frightened her into thinking he was a
danger, she added, “They’re coming! They’re coming, and they’ll
kill you!” She spun her head around and pointed back down the street
from whence she’d come. There was such terror on her wrinkled face, he
immediately looked, and was stunned to see three mounted horsemen, the
bottoms of their faces covered by red cloths, come racing right toward
them. The woman screamed, and this time when she struggled, he let her
go. As she dashed away, he held his ground and stared at the oncoming
It took but a second for him to realize they had no intention of slowing
down, and that one of them had even drawn his pistol and seemed ready to
fire at him. In an eyeblink, Tylor’s hand whipped to the leather
holster looped around his hips, and he had his own pistol, a gleaming
silver Peace Maker, raised and ready.
It all happened so suddenly; the horseman with the gun fired just as he
volleyed back. A plume of dust exploded at his feet as his attacker’s
bullet hit the ground, and then the man who’d fired it went flying off
his horse. His two companions, startled that one of their own had been
hit, suddenly jerked their mounts to a halt. A few yards from where
Tylor stood, they stared back to where their companion had fallen before
one of them whipped his head around to face him.
“You son of a bitch!” he snarled, his voice muffled beneath the
cloth. “Who do you think you are?”
“Not a dead man,” Tylor returned, his voice steady, his dark eyes
hard. His whole body was still tense and ready. “I’m not about to
let someone I don’t know, and who doesn’t know me, run me down or
fill me full of lead for no good reason.”
“You just made the biggest mistake of your life. Nobody does this to
us,” the man hissed, and Tylor could almost feel the rage emanating
from him. He realized then that it might very well have been true that
no one had ever challenged this man, or his gang, in such a way before.
“Do you know who you’re dealing with?”
“No, and I don’t care. Scum doesn’t need a name as far as I’m
This statement seemed to send the rider into a new, uncontrollable rage,
for he suddenly yanked up his pistol and would’ve fired had his
companion, a much bigger and perhaps even older man, not reached out and
seized his wrist.
“No!” His gruff voice held the tone of authority. His eyes were
dispassionate. “You’ll be dead before you touch that trigger.”
When the other gunman still held his piece aloft, as if unable to put it
down, he added, “Not now; not today.” The implication that there’d
be another time hung heavy in the air.
Tylor watched as the enraged man slowly holstered his piece and spun his
horse around to go pick up his fallen companion. Before the other rider
would join him, he eyed Tylor steadily.
“I don’t suppose you’d be the kind of man to shoot me in the back,
once I turn around.”
“That would depend on whether or not you deserve shooting, wouldn’t
it?” Tylor’s gaze was just as scrutinizing as he recalled the look
of terror on the old woman’s face. What, exactly, had these riders
done? It wasn’t anything good, of that he was more than sure.
Instead of answering, the man simply looked him over. Like him, Tylor
was tall, with a muscular, formidable build, and a gleam in his eyes
that spoke of experience and confidence. There was also integrity there;
even with the distance between them, the man could sense it. That seemed
to make him decide. Without another word, he reined his horse around,
and both riders tore off back down the street. Behind them, they took
the body of their companion, slumped over the saddle of his horse.
Once they’d disappeared, Tylor lowered his pistol and took a deep
breath. There was a slight tremor in his hand as he did so. The anxiety
and the anticipation of a fight, which had been coursing through his
veins but seconds ago, had kept him steady, kept him from showing any
fear. Now, as it began to wane, he felt nearly weak—and relieved. That
feeling always came when he was still alive.
Slowly, he walked forward. When he emerged on the other end of the
street, just beyond two brick warehouses, his face registered first
shock, then horror.
There had been a shoot-out here; that was obvious. Bullets had shattered
several storefront windows and splintered the wood of buildings. A wagon
lay on its side; the horse it was hitched to was dead. In the middle of
the dusty road, a man lay face down, a rust-colored blossom staining the
dirt beneath him. Cautiously, Tylor looked around, just to be sure,
before he approached. Kneeling, he turned the man around and heard him
groan. He could barely open his eyes as he reached up and weakly
clutched at Tylor’s black vest.
“Please. Please, help us.”
And that was when the people started to come out. Slowly, one by one,
they slipped from hiding places behind buildings, within alleyways, and
even from under wooden porches. As he looked around, he saw doors open
up, and women, men, and children step forth. From a store, a man in a
striped apron peered out at him, his nearly bald head shining with a
layer of sweat. On everyone’s face was the haunted look of fear.
Bewildered, Tylor stared back at them, then at the man on the ground. He
asked himself, What the devil is going on here?
Excerpted from "La Vida" by Kate Cortez. Copyright © 2014 by Kate Cortez. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.