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Homebound Justice

“In his mind, Sawyer saw the moment as either justice or death. There were no other options.”

Sawyer Davis thought he could leave the horrors of the war behind and start fresh as a peaceful farmer. But when he returns home to find his family murdered and their land in ruins, his world shatters. Determined to avenge their deaths, he embarks on a relentless quest for justice, fueled by his solemn vow to never wield a gun again.

Along the way, he crosses paths with a fierce and capable woman who is also fleeing from a dangerous gang. Together, they forge an unlikely alliance and confront a conspiracy that reaches higher than they ever imagined. With bullets flying and their lives on the line, Sawyer must rediscover the warrior within to honor his family’s memory and bring down the ruthless forces that threaten their land.

Follow Zachary McCrae’s exciting new tale of justice in the West, inspired by Zane Grey’s spiritedness and C. J Petit’s fast-paced narration.

Written by:

Western Historical Adventure Author

4.4/5

4.4/5 (298 ratings)

Prologue

December 1864

Near Vicksburg, Mississippi

 

Wisps of fog shrouded the trees along the valley’s rim. A bone-chilling wind blew over two men, huddled behind a large boulder. With his growling belly pressed to the damp ground, Sawyer Davis shivered and tugged the collar of his woolen Union frock coat up around his neck.

A tall, tanned man, he struggled to make himself as small as possible to the eyes of any Rebs lurking in the misty fog. Taunting, the wind teased through his short, dark hair and tugged at the kepi cap on his head. Wet mud seeped through his uniform, freezing his reflexes. Sawyer’s hands trembled as he clenched the Springfield Rifle with a shaky grip. His breath came in short shivering gasps as his blue eyes peered through the trees, alert for the enemy’s uniform.

Beside him, his best friend, Fred, shivered. Teeth chattering, he tried to speak. “You doin’ okay, Saw?” At Sawyer’s nod, Fred grinned through a three-days’ growth of beard and whispered, “I’d sure enough do anything for a bite of hardtack about now. My belly’s pressed clear to my backbone.”

Sawyer nodded, unable to answer through the tense tightness in his throat. Fear was a palatable taste in his mouth. How he despised this! Hiding, waiting to kill another man. A man who wanted to go home to his family and farm as much as he did. Why am I here? he asked himself for the hundredth time. Why did I let Fred talk me into joining up?

A bird called from the sentinel treeseerie and echoing in the dense fog. Sawyer held his breath and gripped the rifle with white knuckles. Bird or enemy signal? “See anything?”

“Maybe over behind that big maple,” Fred whispered. “If he makes a move, I’ll get him.”

After a few tense minutes, a mockingbird called and flew up from a branch. Both men released a pent-up breath. Just a bird this time.

They lay there, starving, soaked to the skin, until Fred chuckled. “Know what this puts me in mind of?”

Sawyer grinned. “Yup.”

They shared a smile, remembering their first battle as new recruits with the 97th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. The first sound of an explosion had sent Fred diving for cover, and Sawyer had been kind enough not to mention the state of his pants afterward. At least, not often.

They’d laughed about it later, but Sawyer knew fear could do that. He hadn’t wet himself, but he’d felt the same terror since Tuesday, when they’d gotten lost from their unit while trying to outrun a group of Confederates. Three days of wandering through the woods, nothing to eat but the bark they carved from slippery elm trees. Three long days of avoiding Rebel scouts and trying to make their way back to safety. It felt like eternity.

“There,” Fred hissed.

Startled, Sawyer glanced up as a young boy wearing a rumpled uniform crept from behind an oak. He hasn’t seen us yet. Maybe we can . . .

Fred stood, hollered, and charged toward the man Springfield rifle raised to shoot. The Reb’s brown eyes widened in panic, but like a practiced soldier he swung his Enfield rifle up and pointed it straight at Fred. His hands trembled, but his eyes were steady. Clumsy-footed from hours in the cold, Fred stumbled and lost his steady grip on the rifle. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The Reb fired at 300 yards. Close enough that Sawyer heard the whining hiss of the Minie ball as it sailed from the gun’s barrel and followed a straight path to Fred’s chest.

The impact as the shot hit his body, the thump as Fred recoiled, and the clatter of his rifle falling to the boulder would all follow Sawyer forever. Sawyer needed no time to think or react. Rising from behind the boulder, he swung the Springfield up and shot the Reb through the forehead.

Blood spurted and splashed onto the leaves, as the Reb let out one anguished cry and dropped, face forward. Heart thumping, Sawyer waited to make sure other Rebs didn’t follow before he ran to Fred’s side.

“Fred!” No need to ask how he was. Blood seeped through the chest of the blue woolen jacket and Fred’s leprechaun green eyes rolled back in his head. As Sawyer knelt beside his friend, Fred’s eyes fluttered, and he tried for a smile but grimaced instead. The Reb’s aim had been fatal.

“Don’t look like I’m gonna make it through the war after all,” he said, coughing.

“I’ll find a medic, you’ll make it.” Sawyer cradled Fred’s head on his lap. “Our unit must be nearby.”

“No,” Fred managed. “I think I’m done for this time.” With a surprisingly strong grip, he clutched Sawyer’s arm. “P-promise me.”

“Anything.”

“Ma… take care of Ma…”

“I promise. She will never have a care.”

Fred’s eyes clouded over as he stared up at Sawyer’s face. “Sure was lookin’ forward to havin’ some steak again. S-s-sorry…”

A second later his head rolled back into Sawyer’s arm.

“Fred!”

Months later

Outside Stevensville, Montana Territory

Sawyer rested on a log, back to a tree. A squirrel dropped from a branch chattering. With his reflexes still fine-tuned from the war, Sawyer tensed and grabbed for the rifle he no longer carried. If I never touch another rifle again, it will be too soon. He ached for the peaceful, predictable life he’d known before the war.

Despite his craving to walk those last miles as fast as he could. In his heavy, worn boots, his feet ached fiercely. This short rest wasn’t a choice but a necessity. He lifted his threadbare canteen, took a refreshing drink of cool water, and poured a cooling stream over his tousled dark hair. After a bit, he shouldered his haversack and allowed a small smile to cross his lips.

Another few miles and he’d be home. Ma and Pa were long buried, but Luke and Gloria would be there. Was Gloria still as sweet as ever with those dark curls and brown eyes? Had Luke found help to harvest those forty-five acres of corn they’d planted before the war?

They will never know the horrors I’ve seen, Sawyer thought. Never.

Another weary, foot-sore mile before Sawyer reached the crossroads. He looked down the dirt road toward Fred’s home, his joy dimmed by the thought of the dreadful news he must tell Linda. Soon. he knew he couldn’t wait another second to feast his eyes on his sweet siblings and step through the whitewashed door of home.

The dirt path toward the farmhouse meandered through a small wood of crabapple and maple, hiding the house from sight. Sawyer hurried around that last bend, his eyes eager and his grin stretching from ear to ear. Home!

Home? His eyes saw what his mind could not imagine. Even now a faint whiff of charred wood wafted on the air as his incredulous eyes stared at the burnt ruins of the farm. The only thing standing in place was the rock fireplace. Sawyer could remember well how he, Luke and Pa had carted rocks from all over the land to build that fireplace.

The barn and outbuildings were likewise burnt ruins, and all the fencing lay in jagged splinters on the ground. The cattle would have been sold the previous fall; Luke had written him how much they’d made from the sale. But there should have been horses, chickens, the milk cow, even Gloria’s puppy. The silence was as deep as a grave, the place a lifeless ruin.

“Luke! Gloria!”

No answer.

Half out of his mind, imagining the worst, he screamed again, “Luke! Gloria!” Other horrors he’d seen rushed into his mind, men screaming in pain, whining of Minie balls, the explosions of cannon fire and terrified whinnying of horses. Fred, dying, the blood seeping through his coat. “P-promise me.”

“No!”

Chapter One

“No!”

The word echoed off the walls as Sawyer jerked upright, tangled in his sheet, a cold fist closing over his heart. His breath came in raw, aching bursts from a tight throat. A quick glance at the window told him dawn was still a few hours away. It didn’t matter. He knew from past nightmares there’d be no more sleep that night.

“Luke. Gloria.” He spoke their names out loud, still shuddering from the horror of the dream. “I’m so sorry.”

Drawing a deep breath, Sawyer dragged himself out of bed, yanked on a pair of brown pants, and ran a hand through his tousled hair. There was no sense reliving the dream now that he was awake, but Sawyer couldn’t help it.

His mind could not stop remembering no matter how hard he tried. He saw himself traveling home from the War, finding the homestead burnt and his siblings missing. He’d run to Linda, of course, his nearest neighbor and Fred’s Ma.

“Sawyer Davis!” Linda had run out of the small log cabin to meet him, arms wide, green shawl flapping like bird wings at her side. A smile of total joy shone on her leathery cheeks. Words bounced and tripped over each other as she tried to express herself. “You’ve come home! How I’ve prayed and prayed you’d come home! Where’s Fred? He’s all right, isn’t he? Where’s that scallywag of mine hiding?”

“I’m sorry” he’d said, knowing as he watched her face crumple how it broke her heart. In the next few minutes, he felt his own heart shatter at Linda’s news. “Luke? Gloria? Are they here? I came by the ranch and it’s–”

Linda took his arms and squeezed them. “I’m sorry, too, Sawyer. Luke and Gloria are dead.”

Even though he didn’t want it, Sawyer stoked up the fire in his potbelly stove and put on a pot of coffee. While the water heated in the tin coffee pot, he went to the bedroom and opened a drawer in the dresser. A velvet case held the two most precious things he owned: the daguerreotypes of Luke and Gloria they’d sent him while he’d been away in the War. It wasn’t often he could stand the pain of seeing their faces again. His sweet sister, just shy of fifteen and already catching the eye of the town boys.

The photo showed no color, but Sawyer could picture her dark curls tumbled around her dimpled cheeks, those brown eyes sparkling with joy. Luke looked stern as a preacher, lips pressed tight as he stared into the camera. The photographer hadn’t caught the quirky wink of mischief in his brother’s eye. A piece of tintype could never capture Luke’s steady hand with cattle or the seventeen-year-old’s reliable and thrifty ways.

“I sure can’t believe they’re gone, God.” Sawyer spoke out loud. Living alone on his secluded ranch, he seldom saw another person for months at a time. Even though he had doubts about God, he found talking to the Almighty sometimes helped put his own thoughts in order. “Pa always said you had reasons for everything, so I reckon I’ve got to trust ‘em.”

Pouring himself a cup of coffee, Sawyer eased open the cabin door and went out into the chill morning. Standing on the porch, he looked off to the East as the first pinkish ribbons of light colored the horizon. A cool wind blew over his strong, tanned arms, but he didn’t mind. Later today, the sun would blaze into another scorcher.

“Got to thank you, God, for letting Pa find all that gold back in ’52. And for keeping Pa and the gold safe from all the bandits and lawlessness out there in the Sierra Nevadas. It’s sure enough been a blessing for me and Miz Linda. I reckon you knew what you were doing when you guided Pa to hide that gold and keep it safe.”

Only he and Luke had known where Pa buried all those fine gold nuggets and dust. Too many times gold turned men’s hearts black with greed. “Use it wisely, boys,” Pa had warned on his deathbed so many years ago. “Be good stewards and not spendthrifts. It will last your lifetimes and beyond.” Sawyer tried never to take that blessed fortune for granted.

A rooster crowed as the sun crested over the horizon. Light spread across the miles of grass to touch the forms of hundreds of cattle grazing breakfast. Cattle bought with Pa’s hidden stash of gold. Sawyer took a sip of tepid coffee, then tossed the rest out into the dusty yard. “Been a year since I’ve been to Montana,” Sawyer said more to himself than God. “Reckon it’s time to go back for a visit. Linda might need more money.”

As he watched the sun come up, Sawyer planned in his mind. He would ride over to his neighbor, Kye Jones, this morning and ask him to keep an eye on the ranch. Kye had been the first friend Sawyer made when he’d settled in Texas, and he was still the only person Sawyer talked to regularly.

Sawyer had known from the beginning he could trust Kye. Trusting other people came hard, especially after all he’d seen in the war. Kye put him in mind of Fred, even though the color of their skin was different. That first difficult week in Texas, Kye had ridden up, dismounted from his horse, and said, “I’m your neighbor. Come to help anyway you say.” Even though Sawyer hadn’t asked or wanted help, he couldn’t deny it had been a blessing to have Kye help him dig a well and build a cabin.

If Sawyer had done anything worth doing in the war, it had been helping free people like Kye, he thought as he went to get dressed. I’m glad he escaped the South during the war. Other folks in town might discount a black man as low-account and even untrustworthy, but Sawyer had only respect for Kye.

The rest of the day went as he’d planned. Kye promised to keep watch over the ranch until Sawyer returned. Sawyer packed a satchel, rode into Abilene, boarded his horse at the livery, and bought a ticket on the stage. He had over twelve hundred miles to go over rough, pockmarked roads. To help pass the time, he brought out a small leather notebook he kept for the ranch accounts. The front pages were filled with figures and reminders, but the back served as the space for more personal thoughts.

No guns.

Sawyer didn’t know how to write many words. There hadn’t been much time for schooling in his youth. He could put words together in his head, but laying them out in pen and ink was a problem. The letters looked like black ants crawling on the page.

No guns. Sawyer wanted to write more words but would suffice. I won’t ever point another gun at a human as long as I live. When he shut his eyes, he could see that Minie ball whining through the air to pierce Fred’s chest, the blossoming of the bloody circle as it widened across his blue coat and seeped into the fabric. He remembered the young Reb boy, maybe Luke’s age, face down on the muddy ground. Dead. By my hand. Never again.

***

Stevensville, Montana Territory

“Sawyer Davis!” Linda glanced up from weeding her vegetable garden as he rode up on a Morgan horse from the Livery. She spilled a wicker basket of radishes, pushing back wisps of reddish gray hair from a flushed face. “I can’t say how glad I am to see you.”

He jumped from the saddle and went to give her a hug. Linda had often said how she was his Ma now and he felt compelled to show her the affection Fred should have given. “I told you I’d come back in a year. It’s near about that time.”

Linda gave him a fierce hug back. “You did for sure. An’ I must have felt in my bones you’d be coming in today. Made a dried apple pie for you. I recalled how you and Fred could gobble my pies like you hadn’t ate a bite for days.”

Sawyer smiled at the memory, but his heart saddened at the gleam of tears in Linda’s weary green eyes. So much like Fred.

“Got another reason I’m glad you come, but here, let me get these grubby hands clean before I show you. Go put your horse up. Got me two hired hands—Jeremiah and Matt—they should be in soon from checkin’ on the fence. Danged cow broke through and smashed my petunia bed.”

After Sawyer had stabled the horse, met the hired hands and been given a grand tour of all the improvements Linda had made on her farm, they sat down to supper. Linda made all his

favorites, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and fresh-picked peas. To his surprise, he ate heartily, something he didn’t do much of at home. Food had lost its taste since the war.

They feasted on dried apple pie, catching up on all the news from each state. Linda looked him over with maternal concern. “Are you content, Sawyer, out there in Texas?”

He shrugged. “Got a good ranch. It’s quiet and peaceful. Got a steady neighbor, Kye Jones. He’s watching my ranch while I’m here.”

“Not much of a life though, is it?”

“Suits me fine.”

“I just worry,” she said, reaching across the table to pat his cheek. “But I’m glad you come now. Something strange happened.” Linda stood, walking to a wooden pie cupboard where she pulled out a letter from behind a milk glass platter. “Found this on the porch a few mornings ago. It had your name on it, so I didn’t open it.”

He reached for the white vellum envelope and could make out his name in print. Another word below it was written in cursive. “What’s this say?”

“Urgent.” Linda said. “I ain’t much for reading neither but I asked Matt. Smart as a whip, that boy. He said it’s a word that means right away. I thought about opening it, but then figured if someone knew you were comin’ I’d wait. One thing I thought—it looks like a woman or a girl’s handwriting.”

“A girl?” None of the girls in town had ever known him enough to write. None but–

Is it possible?

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