Book Promo Feature – The Return of Frank Graben by Van Holt

Indie Book Promo is happy to welcome Van Holt to the blog! He’s here to share about his latest book, The Return of Frank Graben. If this this book sounds like something that you would be interested in reading, please find buy links below.

 

Frank Graben cover finalTHE RETURN OF FRANK GRABEN

Frank Graben rode into the remote mountain-walled basin looking for peace and quiet. Whitey Barlow, the cattle baron who had taken over the basin, told him to get out. The old tyrant sent one of his riders to warn everyone in the small isolate town of Hackamore to sell the stranger nothing and do no business of any kind with him. And he told Graben to stay out of Hackamore before he even got there.

 

The townspeople needed the big rancher’s business more than they needed the few dollars a hard-eyed gunfighter was likely to spend in their town before he drifted on. So they told Graben they didn’t want his kind in their town. But they didn’t know the kind of man Frank Graben was, and by the time they found out it was too late. He was shot from ambush and believed to be dead. But he got away and returned months later to get even.

 

WARNING: Reading a Van Holt western may make you want to get on a horse and hunt some bad guys down in the Old West. Of course, the easiest and most enjoyable way to do it is vicariously—by reading another Van Holt western.

 

Van Holt writes westerns the way they were meant to be written.

 The Return of Frank Graben can be found:

AmazonUS  |  AmazonUK  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Three Knolls

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Bio: Van Holt wrote his first western when he was in high school and sent it to a literary agent, who soon returned it, saying it was too long but he would try to sell it if Holt would cut out 16,000 words. Young Holt couldn’t bear to cut out any of his perfect western, so he threw it away and started writing another one.

A draft notice interrupted his plans to become the next Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour. A tour of duty as an MP stationed in South Korea was pretty much the usual MP stuff except for the time he nabbed a North Korean spy and had to talk the dimwitted desk sergeant out of letting the guy go. A briefcase stuffed with drawings of U.S. aircraft and the like only caused the overstuffed lifer behind the counter to rub his fat face, blink his bewildered eyes, and start eating a big candybar to console himself. Imagine Van Holt’s surprise a few days later when he heard that same dumb sergeant telling a group of new admirers how he himselfhad caught the famous spy one day when he was on his way to the mess hall.

Holt says there hasn’t been too much excitement since he got out of the army, unless you count the time he was attacked by two mean young punks and shotone of them in the big toe. Holt believes what we need is punk control, not gun control.

After traveling all over the West and Southwest in an aging Pontiac, Van Holt got tired of traveling the day he rolled into Tucson and he has been there ever since, still dreaming of becoming the next Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour when he grows up. Or maybe the next great mystery writer. He likes to write mysteries when he’s not too busy writing westerns or eating Twinkies.

  Van Holt can be found:

 Amazon Author Page   *   FB page

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Excerpt from
The Return of Frank Graben
by Van Holt

Molly Wilkins saw him shortly after sunrise that morning, sitting his blue roan on the barren rocky slope above the Wilkins shack. A tall man in black, with a bleak weathered face and cold gray eyes narrowed to glittering slits.

The girl ran screaming to the shack. “He’s come back! It’s Frank Graben! He’s come back!”

Her fat stolid mother was cooking breakfast at the fireplace. “Hush, girl. Don’t talk nonsense. Frank Graben is dead.”

“It’s him, I tell you!” the excited girl cried. “Look up there on that ridge!”

Mrs. Wilkins looked out the window. “There’s no one up there. You only thought you saw someone. Now wash your hands and help me get breakfast ready.”

Homer Wilkins sat up on the plank bed, yawning and rubbing his eyes. “What’s all the fuss about? Can’t a man get no sleep around here?”

His wife shot him a hard look. “It’s time you was up and doin’ anyway, Homer Wilkins. What’s to become of us the good Lord only knows.”

Homer Wilkins sat on the edge of the bed in his patched overalls and faded red underwear. “Now don’t you set in on me again, Hettie,” he said placidly, while he contemplated a big toe that protruded from a hole in his sock. “You know how my back hurts from sleepin’ on that hard bed.”

“Pa, I saw Frank Graben up on the ridge,” Molly said.

“Hush, girl,” Mrs. Wilkins said. “You know Frank Graben is dead.”

“I tell you it was him!” the girl insisted. “Or his ghost!”

“Don’t talk foolishness. I’ve told you time and again—”

“Hold on, Hettie,” Wilkins said, and looked at his daughter. “We don’t know for a fact he’s dead. Ain’t nobody seen his body. The man you saw, Molly—what kind of horse was he ridin’?”

“That blue roan! And it was Frank Graben! I know it was him!”

“I didn’t see anyone,” Mrs. Wilkins said. “Molly’s got too much imagination, like I’ve said before.”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Homer Wilkins said, pulling on his boots. “I’m goin’ to town.”

“Any excuse not to do no work around here,” Mrs. Wilkins said bitterly.

 

It was midmorning when Frank Graben rode down Hackamore’s short dusty street, which at this hour was deserted. The whole town looked deserted. He studied the frame and adobe buildings with sharp gray eyes as he rode past. At the lower end of the street he reined in before the livery stable. As he swung down a stout, potbellied man came out and watched him with silent hostility.

Graben gave the man a cold glance. “You don’t seem too surprised to see me.”

“I figgered you’d be back,” Barney Ludlow said in a harsh, bitter tone. “It ain’t easy to kill a disease.”

“You better keep that in mind,” Graben said as he slung his saddlebags and blanket roll over his shoulder.

“Don’t think it’s over,” Ludlow warned him. “You can’t kill a man like Whitey Barlow and get away with it. The Star hands will be comin’ after you with a rope.”

“They’ll need more than a rope,” Frank Graben said in a quiet, grim tone, and walked up the street to the hotel.

The man behind the desk had seen him ride past the hotel and had time to compose himself. Yet his pale face glistened with sweat, and reminded Graben of a tree from which the bark had just been stripped. Sam Dauber kept his eyes lowered and remained silent as he pushed the register toward the tall man in black and watched him sign his name.

Graben laid the pen down and glanced at Dauber’s sweaty face. “Things have sure changed,” he observed, with his dark brows slightly raised and his gray eyes still narrowed to cold slits.

Dauber still did not say anything and did not look at him. He just handed Graben a key with the room number written on the attached tag.

Graben carried his blanket roll and saddlebags up to his room on the second floor. It was the same room he had had before, overlooking the narrow street. There was an iron bedstead with a lumpy mattress and clean sheets, a bureau with a mirror, a chest of drawers with a pitcher of water and a basin on top. Graben lowered his stuff to the floor, glanced through the window at the street, then took off his hat and washed his face and hands. Drying on a threadbare towel, he glanced at himself in the mirror and sighed.

He was not quite twenty-eight, but his bleak weathered face looked closer to thirty-five. There were permanent squint wrinkles around the hooded gray eyes—eyes so cold that few people could meet them without flinching. It would still have been a remarkably handsome face if he had smiled. But he never did, except in a wry, mocking way. The hair alone did not displease him. It was dark brown hair with a slight wave and reddish-copper glints.

He knocked the dust from his flat-crowned black hat and put it back on. Then he drew the double-action .41 Colt from his waistband, spun the cylinder and checked the loads. Tucking the gun back in his waistband, he opened the door and went down the stairs, a tall lean man, as graceful on his feet as he was in the saddle.

He gave Sam Dauber a narrow glance as he passed the desk but Dauber was careful not to look at him, lest Graben see the dislike and resentment in his dull eyes. Outside, Graben tramped along the boardwalk and pushed in through the swing doors of the Last Chance Saloon. There was no one in the saloon except for the man behind the bar. Without waiting to be asked, the man set out a bottle and a glass. His face had the same wooden expression, the same look of dull hostility and resentment Graben had seen on the faces of Sam Dauber and Barney Ludlow.

Graben poured himself a drink, lit a thin black cigar and looked at the saloonkeeper through slitted eyes. “Things have sure changed,” he said.

Max Rumford slowly raised his bloodshot eyes and looked at Graben with hatred. He looked like a red-eyed bull getting set to charge, but he only said softly, “Maybe not as much as you think.”

A horse trotted long the street, saddle leather creaked and a moment later a swarthy man with a dirty brown mustache pushed in through the batwing doors. His sleepy dark eyes widened in surprise when he saw Graben. Then the mustache curved away from yellow teeth in a cheerful grin. “Hello, Frank,” Lum Mulock said as he stepped up to the bar. “I heard you was dead.”

“Oh?” Graben said coolly. “Where did you hear that?”

Mulock grinned and scratched his dimpled chin. “I heard it somewheres.” He glanced at the birdshead Colt in Graben’s waistband. “Where are them Russian pistols you had, Frank?”

“As you may recall, I hardly ever wear them.”

Mulock was grinning at him out of the corners of his eyes. “Seems like I saw somebody else wearin’ them.”

“If you see him wearing them again,” Graben said, “tell him to get ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“A hotter climate,” Graben said.

Lum Mulock’s eyes brightened with interest. He tasted his drink and smacked his lips with relish. “Rube and the boys will be real pleased to hear you’re back,” he said. “Things have been a lot more peaceful around here since you killed Whitey Barlow.”

“Except for one thing,” Graben said. “I didn’t kill him.”

“That a fact?” Mulock’s grin got even broader, showing his meaty red lips as well as his crooked yellow teeth. “Wonder why ever’body around here thinks it was you.”

“I guess somebody put the idea in their heads,” Graben said, watching Mulock with cold narrow eyes.

Mulock wiped his mouth with the back of a dirty brown hand. “It was a easy idea for them to believe,” he said. “Ever’body knows how you and old Whitey hated each other at first sight.”

That, Graben had to admit, was not so far from the truth, and he found himself thinking about that cold windy day five months before when he had first seen Whitey Barlow.

Graben had stopped at a waterhole in what seemed to him the middle of nowhere, over near the eastern edge of that vast desert plain surrounded by barren gray mountains. It had been days since he had passed a town or even a house, and he had not known there was a ranch anywhere around, although there were some old cow tracks near the waterhole. Then the five riders had come up out of an arroyo two hundred yards away and cantered toward him in a cloud of dust. They must have spotted him at a distance and waited for him in the arroyo, or he would have seen them or their dust earlier. That thought made him uneasy and he was not reassured by the rapid, businesslike manner of their approach.

Yet he took his time about filling his canteen and hanging it back on the saddle horn. Then he stood beside his horse and his slitted gray eyes watched the group as they charged up and halted, looking them over with a cool reserve.

The man in the lead was a white-haired man in his late forties or early fifties, a tall gaunt man with icy blue eyes and a face tanned to old leather. The rider beside him was just as tall, and more strongly built. He had dark eyes and a strong face covered with black beard, and he was a good twenty years younger than the white-haired man.

It was the white-haired man who asked in a sharp, rude tone, “What are you doing here?”

“Watering my horse,” Graben said.

“This is my water,” the white-haired man said. “Move along.”

Graben did not like the man’s tone or his manner. “This your land?” he asked.

The white-haired man blinked once, as if surprised by the question. There was the slightest hesitation before he replied. “As far as you’re concerned, it is.”

“Not good enough,” Graben said. “Unless you can show me a deed to this land, you can go to hell.”

The black-bearded fellow’s dark eyes hardened with a look of anger. “Mister, this here’s Star range,” he snapped.

“I’ll do the talking, Graf,” Whitey Barlow said, his eyes still on Graben. “You’ve got a lot to learn about this country, mister.”

“I know all about this country,” Graben said flatly as he stepped into the saddle, never taking his narrow eyes off the five men. “And I know all about men like you. You probably don’t even own the ground you roost on, yet you think you’ve got some God-given right to all the range you may ever want or need and nobody else can ride across it without your permission. Well, I’ll repeat what I said a minute ago. You can go to hell.” He deliberately ran his cool eyes over all five of them and added, “You can all go to hell for all I care.”

Graf’s chest tightened with anger, and his hand started toward his gun.

“If you touch that gun I’ll kill you,” Graben said in a soft, deadly tone. “And then I’ll kill Whitey.”

“Hold it, Graf,” Whitey said harshly, his pale eyes glowing with anger. “I know how to handle men like him.” Then he spoke directly to Graben. “Mister, I advise you to turn around and head back the way you came. What lies between these mountains is all Star range, and you won’t find no welcome in my town. I’ll make sure of that.”

“Oh, you own the town too?” Graben said dryly.

After a moment the man slowly nodded. “You’ll think I do, if you try to go there. You’ll think I own the town and everybody in it.”

With that he reined his horse around and rode back the way he had come, and Graf and the others reluctantly followed, looking back over their shoulders at Graben.

Watching them ride off, Graben had seriously considered following Whitey Barlow’s advice and heading back over the mountains the way he had come. He knew that would be the smart thing to do. But there was nothing back that way worth going back to, and it was not in him to run from trouble.

After about a minute he had ridden on in exactly the same direction he had intended to go all along, which was almost in the same direction that the Star men had gone. And as he walked and trotted his horse out across that mountain-rimmed desert plain, he watched those five men draw slowly away from him, heading northwest. But after a while one of them left the others and headed straight west, and somehow Frank Graben knew that one was on his way to the town Whitey had mentioned.

On the outskirts of the town, several hours later, Graben met the rider heading back the way he had come. They met and passed without speaking, the Star hand scowling darkly, Graben watching him with cool eyes, deliberately turning his head to watch the man ride off and to let him know he did not trust him behind his back—a deliberate insult that was not missed by the Star hand glaring around to watch him also.

Then the blue roan was walking along the dusty street, and Graben turned his attention to the silent, deserted-looking town. When he reined in before the stable and started to dismount, Barney Ludlow came out, looked him over with hard eyes and spoke in a harsh flat tone that might have been borrowed from Whitey Barlow himself.

“Keep moving. I don’t want your business.”

Graben relaxed in the saddle and watched the short, potbellied man in silence for a moment. Then he asked, “Do you own this place, or does that rancher?”

Barney Ludlow’s eyes were mean, his voice as harsh as before. “Whitey Barlow is a good friend of mine,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the Star Ranch there wouldn’t be a town here. And you’ll find everybody in Hackamore feels the same way I do.”

After a moment Graben silently turned his horse and rode back along the street to see if that was true. At the only restaurant he reined in, dismounted, tied his horse and went inside. Behind the counter stood a gray-haired woman with a wrinkled face who might have been Whitey Barlow’s sister. Graben sat down at a table and said, “Get anything to eat around here?”

She looked at him with hard eyes and asked, “You the one had that run-in with Whitey Barlow?”

Graben silently nodded, his eyes cold.

“Then you better keep moving,” the woman said. “We don’t want your kind around here.”

Graben thought about that for a moment. “My kind?”

“You know what I mean,” the woman said, looking out the window at the empty street as if she expected to see Whitey Barlow and his men riding into town.

“I’m not sure I do,” Graben said. “Maybe you’d better tell me.”

The woman looked at him with scorn. Then, without another words, she went into the kitchen in back and slammed the door. Graben sat there for a few minutes, but somehow he knew that he could wait there forever and the woman would not come back out until he left. So he got up and went back out to his horse. He untied the horse and led him across the dusty street to the hotel, while Sam Dauber watched apprehensively through the window. The hotel man’s face was drenched with sweat by the time Graben opened the door and entered the lobby.

Dauber was already shaking his head, a scared but stubborn look in his eyes, as Graben approached the desk. “I’m sorry, mister,” he said in an unsteady voice, “but we ain’t got no rooms for rent.”

Showing no surprise, Graben thumbed his hat back on his head. “What about something to eat, then?” he asked.

Again the man shook his head, almost desperately. He took out a handkerchief and mopped his face. “It’s too late for lunch and we don’t serve supper till six.” He fumbled for his watch and looked at it. “That’s nearly four hours from now.”

“I guess I’ll just have to come back then,” Graben said dryly.

“It won’t do no good,” Dauber said. “We only serve our guests and regulars who eat here all the time. It’s a hotel policy.”

For a time Graben regarded the man in silence, and Dauber could not meet his cold gray eyes. Then Graben turned away and went out to the veranda and sat down in one of the chairs, his weathered face blank as he looked along the deserted street. He was trying to decide what to do.

For some time now there had been a feeling in his gut that he was going to die. He did not know how or when, but instead of going away as expected, the feeling had got worse until he could no longer ignore it. He had started being more careful, had even gone out of his way on several occasions to avoid trouble. And he had come here, to this remote place, looking for peace. Instead of finding it, he had just found more trouble.

He knew what he should do. He should ride on. He also knew he would not do it. Not now. He couldn’t, being the kind of man he was. Whitey Barlow and the people of this town had made that impossible.

He glanced at the blue roan standing at the rail. Though tired from long travel, the gelding had his head raised, his bright dark eyes watching Graben expectantly. When Graben left the horse tied at a hitchrail it usually meant that he would be riding on in a few minutes. Otherwise he would put the horse in the nearest stable or corral and see that he was properly cared for.

Graben got to his feet, stepped off the porch, untied the horse and led him down the street to the Last Chance Saloon.

The red-faced, heavyset bartender with gray hair curling about his ears watched through bloodshot eyes as Graben came in through the swing doors.

Graben dug a coin out of his pocket and laid it on the bar. “Whiskey,” he said.

The saloonkeeper smiled a tiny humorless smile. “Fresh out,” he said.

Graben glanced at the bottles lined up on the back bar. Then, silently, he drew the birdshead Colt from his waistband and placed it on the bar near the saloonkeeper.

Max Rumford’s bloodshot eyes rested on the gun for a long moment. “That thing supposed to scare me?” he asked.

“Did I hear you say you were fresh out of whiskey?”

Rumford nodded. “That’s right.”

“Well, if you ain’t you soon will be,” Graben said quietly, and lifting the gun he calmly and unhurriedly shattered four of the full bottles on the back bar. Then, while the whiskey still ran off the back bar and dripped to the floor, he looked at the red-eyed saloonkeeper and said, “One left.”

Rumford did not move for a long moment. It seemed that he had even quit breathing. The bloodshot eyes watched Graben with hatred. Then he slowly took a bottle and a glass from the back bar and poured Graben a drink. He silently watched him drink the whiskey and made no move to pick up the coin.

Leaving the coin on the bar, Graben thrust his gun back into his waistband and said, “You can charge the damage to Whitey Barlow.” Then he went out and Rumford’s bloodshot eyes followed him like red bullets.

 

The preceding was from the gritty western novel
The Return of Frank Graben

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