The Time of the Preacher by Rick Fontes

thetieofthepreacherTHE TIME OF THE PREACHER is a western. But it is unlike any western you have ever read. The story opens in Denver. Colorado, in 1899. The four main characters are introduced and then each of their life stories are told in flashback. Once all of the characters have been developed they are brought together again and their interaction begins.

The Preacher, Brian McFee, starts out in Dublin, Ireland, where as a young boy he is kidnapped at dockside in the harbor and pressed into service as a cabin boy. He comes to age at sea and his life changes when, during the American Civil War, he is engaged in smuggling cotton past the Union naval blockade, is captured, mistaken for a rebel and placed in a Yankee POW camp. During his time in the prison camp McFee meets and befriends a guard, Charles ‘Stony’ Stoneham.

When McFee is released at the war’s end and he and Stony decide to travel together and seek their fortune in the west. Unable to find their rainbow’s end in legitimate pursuits they become outlaws. McFee and Stony are captured by the law and sent to prison in the New Mexico territory. While working as a chaplain’s assistant McFee has a conversion, is given a pardon and leaves the prison to become a circuit riding minister. Stony, having had no such change of heart, is left to languish in jail and to harbor a growing hatred for his former partner. As the years go by McFee settles into the solitary life of riding the roads, bringing The Word to the miners, ranchers and far flung settlers. But it is obvious that his greatest challenge, the person he most needs to save is himself.

After years of hard labor Stony manages to escape. He soon forms another gang and returns to his former outlaw life. All thoughts of seeking revenge against McFee are pushed to the back of his mind and allowed to fester there. Given the divergent paths they have taken it is unlikely they will ever meet again. Then comes the fateful night in Denver. A chance encounter in a saloon and Stony becomes aware that McFee is alive and near at hand.

McFee, for his part, does not see Stony and is unaware of his presence. Stony and his gang have stolen a herd of horses which needs to be moved the following day. He decides that the job is too important to risk by having a confrontation with McFee and chooses instead to bide his time a bit longer. The other two main players are Johnny Galena and Salome Madden. Johnny, young enough to be Stony’s son, has become his right hand man. Salome is Johnny’s girlfriend and works as a saloon girl. What started out as a hot romance has cooled. Johnny is abusive to Salome, she wants a way out and sees it in McFee. While the gang is away the preacher prepares to ride out on his circuit. Salome convinces him to take her along.

After years of living like a monk, McFee is so smitten with the much younger girl that he marries her. Not able to have a wife along with him as a circuit rider McFee requests and is given a church to pastor. He and Salome leave Colorado and move to the small mining town of Blue Rock, Montana. It is in Blue Rock, in the year of 1901, that the four come together again and Stony and McFee have their ultimate showdown. When the smoke clears McFee rides on alone. The preacher has fallen into the depths of desolation and despair and just when all seems the darkest, he comes upon the ultimate solution to his life long quest for peace.