"The twists and turns will keep you flipping

 

                 the pages ... the story grips and doesn't

   

                                          let go." 

 

                                          --Horror Novel Reviews

 

"Imaginative, immersive and captivating ... a story with a unique mix of adventure, gore and complex characters that you will want to read again and again."

 

                            --Cover2Cover 

 

"This is a strong piece of horror that incorporates a decent amount of gore, but pulls on the reins before things become overwhelming ... When all is said and done, this is one book I suggest you make some time for. Read it ... relish it. The Hand of Osiris is a quality piece of fiction."

 

                              - -Horror Novel Reviews 

   

"There are loud, miserable, dark characters in this “Weird West” novel, but the fun is in the frontier grittiness that Cavallo provides. Lots of harrowing descriptions of an evil West – and the morally and spiritually empty places there. A very mean wild west."

 

                                --True Review

 

"Despite the desert heat, this story was extremely chilling! The characters are vividly brought to life, and the action, intrigue and unexpected twists are a dark delight."

 

                                  --Crowgrrl's Entertainment Source

 

"...a towering feat of imagination...it never loses sight of a tight narrative and drive, coupled with a steady pace of action and suspense...Cavallo has a strong command of language and his descriptive powers are first rate."

 

                                    --Zatoichi 007

 

"This book is, in a word, cool ... I was on a horse-back ride I didn't want to end ... find out the magic of THE HAND OF OSIRIS, and get lost in a western town in a way you never have before.

 

 

                                     --Tara, Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

PART I

 

TEXAS MANHUNTER

 

                                                                                      1.

 

 

Ravenswood, Pecos County, Texas

October, 1879

 

Jedediah Sykes tasted steel. And gunpowder.

 

Again.

 

He let his lips settle on the barrel of his 1851 Navy Revolver. His tongue cradled the grooved underside of the pistol. The front-end weight of the gun rested in his mouth. It was more comfortable that way.

 

He gripped the ivory-handle in his left hand. The hammer was already drawn back. Sykes balanced the butt end with one hand as he slipped his finger around the trigger. He felt the resistance, gave it a gentle squeeze, but not enough to do the deed. Not yet. The pistol was an extension of him. The thirty-six caliber was never far from his side. He trusted it. It was reliable. Dependable. The Colt wouldn't fire unless he squeezed that trigger, with just the precise amount of pressure.

 

The steel that had saved his life—prolonged his life—almost a dozen times was a fraction of an inch from ending it.

Sykes kept his finger on the trigger. He let the barrel slide a touch further into his mouth. He tasted a little more of the poisonous sulfur. He was there. A heartbeat away. All he needed was an ounce or two more, just the slightest degree of pressure.

 

Just a little more.

 

                                                                                              2.

 

 

The first thing Sykes felt when he woke up was the revolver.

 

Heavy and cold. Just as usual.

 

It was still in his hand, resting across his lap. After so many nights passed out with a gun in his hand, his arm had learned to do that. Though half-asleep, he was rigid and upright, as though posed for a ferrotype.

The picture of a man who’d seen his best days gone.

 

His drink-swollen gut bulged out of a shirt that hadn’t fit in years, un-tucked from a pair of dirty black trousers. Long, ragged hair hung over his ears and the back of his neck, sun-bleached and fading to gray. Balding on top, any youthful thoughts of vanity had faded away long ago—a bartender had once described him to an inquiring posse as Ben Franklin with a droopy moustache and a permanent scowl.

 

The flavor of metal lingered on his tongue. It spread to the roof of his mouth. Saliva mixed with gunpowder and steel residue. That tincture used to sicken him in the mornings. Not anymore. Not after so many nights that ended the same way.

 

He wasn’t quite awake yet. His eyelids slouched. They closed down and drew back with every jerky motion of his head; rolling back to hit the cushion of the chair behind, then drooping forward until his chin bounced against his chest.

 

Sunlight filtered through the slow waltz of dust and the yellow-stained curtain sheers. Every capillary in his eyes tingled; a thousand pinpricks that radiated across his throbbing head.

 

And he had to piss.

 

It could wait. It could all wait. Just a few more minutes. Everything ached. His head. His chest. Even his goddamn balls itched. The longer he could stay there, lost in the fog between daylight and dreams, the less time he’d spend awake. The less time he’d spend really hurting.

 

His gut growled. Acid and Kentucky bourbon gurgled up a slow, stuttered burp. A wet fart followed. The acrid stink was what finally shook him out of the last throes of sleep.

 

That, and the rapid-fire bang-bang-bang on the other side of his hotel room door.

 

“Sykes!” a voice echoed. “Get the fuck out here!”

 

The oak planks muted the shouting, but Sykes already knew who was on the other side. When he shifted in his chair the coins jingled in his left pocket, money he’d all-but stolen from Turner Staplehurst a few hours before.

 

Turner “the Butcher” Staplehurst.

 

Sykes didn’t get up. He farted again. In a few seconds, even the dim-witted Yankee would realize the door was unlocked, and they’d be staring each other down again.

 

Last night all over. Only this time without the cards, the poker table or the whiskey clouding their eyes.

 

Sykes lay still. He farted again. Any second now… BAM! Staplehurst burst into the room spinning a web of profanity, attracting the attention of the other guests at Horace McCann’s Inn & Saloon.

 

Mr. McCann himself, and despite his cane and Fredericksburg-earned limp, had taken up position beside the Butcher on the second floor landing. His calm demeanor was no match for Staplehurst’s temper, not now at Sykes’s door, nor the night before during the men’s dispute over cards.

 

Drool glistened across Staplehurst’s rakish goatee. He hadn’t slept well or bothered to clean up, and his hair was matted in the shape of the bowler hat he’d worn the night before. As soon as he got into Sykes’s room he renewed his diatribe.

 

“You took my money, you fucking snake!” he shouted, spitting flecks of saliva. “You hear me! I want my fucking money and I want it now!”

 

Sykes swallowed. He cleared his throat and raised his eyes. He said nothing.

 

Horace McCann hobbled behind Staplehurst. He reached up with his knotted cane in a further attempt to bring the temperature down from a boil.

 

“Now I’ve told you before, Mr. Staplehurst. This man here’s not the one you should hold to account for the loss of your funds last evening,” he began. “Not unless he put that pistol of his to your head and used the power of coercion to put those last six shots of whiskey into your belly.”

 

Staplehurst remained unreceptive.

 

“I told you to stay outta this, McCann. This motherless asshole raised the ante to everything in my hand the moment he saw that the drink had got the best of me. Fair play my ass!”

 

Staplehurst’s forward progress had stopped with the entry of McCann, a nattily-dressed man in a frock coat who retained the pork-chop sideburns he’d grown in Ambrose Burnside’s Ninth Corps.

 

“No matter,” McCann replied. “You take that risk when you sit down at the poker table. You’d have done the same, if your places were switched. I’ve seen it myself in case you’re of a mind to try telling me otherwise.”

 

Staplehurst only listened for a moment, before he pushed the saloon owner’s cane aside and pointed his dirty finger toward Sykes.

 

“You fucking swine!” Staplehurst continued. “I told you, I want my money back!”

 

Sykes didn’t move. His eyes had narrowed. They were deadlocked on Staplehurst’s.

 

His reply was short.

 

“No.”

 

The simple refusal only incensed the northerner more. Staplehurst swore again, cursing someone’s mother and offending his own marginal faith with a slur against the Virgin. His right hand drifted toward the revolver at his belt…

 

Sykes didn’t move. Or say another word.

 

Staplehurst snarled. His fingers tensed. His eyes narrowed—

 

Quick as a rattler, Sykes lifted his arm and fired. One motion. Two shots.

 

Staplehurst lurched as the first ball tore through his right eye. It drilled a path into his frontal lobe, exiting out of the back of his head in a red-gray geyser of skull splinters and slime.

 

The second round pounded his chest. Shards of broken sternum tore into his lungs as scalding lead ripped open his aorta.

 

Staplehurst was dead before his back hit the floorboards.