Read an Excerpt
Bloodshed of Eagles
By William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2009 William W. Johnstone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJune 25, 1927 MacCallister, Colorado
Falcon MacCallister had met Zane Grey two years earlier when the author attended a banquet given by the Governor honoring Falcon as "A true treasure of the state of Colorado; a man whose exploits and heroic deeds will echo down through the corridors of time."
At that banquet, Zane Grey asked Falcon if he could interview him, to write a story about him. As nicely as he could, Falcon said no. He could still remember the many awful "dime novels" that had been written about him and other notables back in the days when Falcon was most active. All were highly exaggerated tales of derring-do, and the truth was, had any of the pulp writers of the day stopped to do some research, they would have discovered that Falcon's actual exploits exceeded anything the writers ever portrayed.
It was because of those books that Falcon had turned Zane Grey down. Later, however, as Falcon read some of Zane Grey's books, he realized that the author was not of the "penny dreadful" ilk. On the contrary, Zane Grey's books rang true with a respect for people and Western life, as well as wonderful descriptions of the beauty of the country. Falcon became an immediate fan of his writing, and that was why,when the author contacted Falcon by telephone three days ago requesting permission to call on him, Falcon agreed.
"Big Grandpa, do you really know Zane Grey?" Falcon's great-granddaughter asked. The young girl was actually named Rosanna, after her great-great-aunt, but everyone called her Rosie. "He's very famous. He's a writer like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald."
Falcon looked over at the young girl who had been named after his sister.
"Zane Grey is fine, but aren't you a little young to be reading Hemingway and Fitzgerald?"
"I'm sixteen," the girl insisted. "That's not too young."
Falcon thought back to his own youth, and how many sixteen-year-olds he had known who were on their own, some of whom had fought in the Civil War at that age.
"I guess it's not too young at that, darlin'," Falcon said.
Rosie stepped up to the window and looked outside. "Oh, here comes a car. I'll bet that's him!" she said excitedly.
Falcon walked out onto the front porch of his Colorado home, then stood there as the big green Packard sedan glided in stately fashion around the curved brick driveway. Zane Grey stepped out of the car and smiled up at Falcon.
"Mr. MacCallister, thank you for agreeing to see me," the author said.
"It is my pleasure, Mr. Grey. My first impression of you was wrong," Falcon replied. "I've read some of your books, and I have enjoyed them very much."
"Well, I thank you," Grey said. "All of my Western heroes are fictional, but praise coming from an authentic Western hero like you is flattering indeed."
"Would you like some coffee? It used to be that when a man visited your camp, you'd offer him coffee from the pot hanging over your fire. There is nothing better than coffee brewed over an open fire, but I'm afraid you are going to have to deal with coffee brewed in an electric pot."
"The price of modern living," Zane Grey replied. He looked back toward the car. "I have someone with me. It's an old friend of yours."
"By all means, invite him in as well," Falcon said. "It isn't a him, it's a her."
Falcon looked surprised. "And you say she is an old friend of mine?"
"Come, we'll help her out of the car," Zane Grey said.
Falcon followed the author back to the car, then stood to one side as Grey opened the door and stuck his hand in to help his passenger exit.
The small, gray-haired woman stepped out of the car, adjusted her hat, and looked at Falcon.
"Hello, Colonel MacCallister," she said. "It has been a very long time."
"Libbie Custer," Falcon said, gasping in surprise.
"Big Grandpa, I baked some cookies this morning as soon as I learned that Mr. Grey was coming," Rosie said after they all moved inside. "Would you like me to serve them?"
"Mr. Grey, Mrs. Custer, this is my great-granddaughter, Rosanna," Falcon said.
"What a lovely thing you are," Libbie said.
"Thank you," Rosie said, blushing at the compliment.
"Rosanna, is it?"
"Yes, ma'am. Well, that's my real name, but everyone calls me Rosie ... I'm named after my great-great-aunt. She was a famous actress," Rosanna said.
"Oh, indeed she was," Libbie said. "Autie and I saw her and her brother on stage in New York. And they even came to Ft. Lincoln to perform for us there ... You look just like her, by the way."
Rosie frowned. "She is very old."
Libbie laughed. "I mean you look just like her when she was very young and very beautiful."
"Oh," Rosie said.
"Some cookies would be nice, darlin'," Falcon said.
"All right Big Grandpa, I'll go get them," Rosie said, starting back to the kitchen.
Falcon, Zane Grey, and Libbie Custer were sitting in the parlor. This was the same house that Falcon's father, Jamie, had lived in-it was the same house where his mother had died, shot down on the front porch. And the room that Falcon was using as a parlor had been used for the same purpose when his parents lived here.
There were some major changes, of course. Instead of candles and kerosene lanterns, the parlor, indeed the entire house, was now illuminated by electricity. Some of the furnishings were the same-a rocking chair and a couple of armchairs, for example. The rug on the hardwood floor was the same also, but the sofa was new, and the record player and radio were also new. A telephone hung on the wall near the door.
"Falcon, Mrs. Custer told me something that I had never heard before," Zane Grey said. "She told me that you were with her husband when he was killed."
"I wasn't with him at the exact time he was killed," Falcon said. "I was with Benteen and Reno when the general was killed."
"Falcon, anyone who had anything at all to do with that last scout has written a book or an article about their experiences-some have done quite well and made a good deal of money out of it. Why haven't I heard this about you before?" "Because my being there was an accident of sorts,"
Falcon said. "A lot of good men gave their last full measure of devotion on that day. I've never felt it was right to detract from their honor by interjecting myself."
"And I have respected you for that," Libbie said.
"As you know, it has been fifty-one years today since that terrible event. I wonder, Falcon, would you share the story with me now?" Grey asked.
"So you can write a book about it?" Falcon replied.
"I would love to write about it," Grey said.
Falcon shook his head. "In that case, no. I won't share my story with you."
Zane Grey sighed, then picked up his coffee cup and took a swallow. At that moment, Rosie came back into the room carrying a tray of cookies. She offered them to Libbie first.
"Oh, thank you," Libbie said, smiling at the young girl "Oh, these look simply heavenly. And you baked them yourself?"
"You are not only a beautiful young lady, you are also very clever," Libbie said.
Rosie served Grey and her great-grandfather as well; then she withdrew from the room. Zane Grey had not spoken since Falcon told him he would not share his story.
"All right," Grey said. "I will make a deal with you."
"What kind of deal?"
"If you tell me your story, I won't write it."
Falcon chuckled. "Well, if you don't write it, what good will it do for you to hear the story?"
"I am more than a writer, Falcon. I am also a hunter, fisherman, explorer, and even an archaeologist of sorts." Zane Grey laughed. "As well as a dentist and one-time baseball player, though at neither of them did I enjoy much success. But mostly, I am a man with a consuming curiosity. And it is that curiosity that has allowed me to realize what accomplishments I have achieved. So I am appealing to you to please satisfy that curiosity for me. Tell me the story. I swear to you, I will not write it."
Falcon looked over at Libbie.
"It's your call, Mrs. Custer."
Libbie put her cup down. "Falcon," she said. "In the years since my Autie was killed, I have written books and articles, I have lectured, I have granted interviews, and I have answered letters-all designed to tell the truth about what happened. Of late, there have been articles printed which would disparage my husband's good name. You are a man of honor and integrity-anything you might say to add to the story could only help to promote my cause.
"I not only approve of you telling the story, I am asking you to please do so."
"It's been over fifty years," Falcon said. "And I've never told this story to anyone before. I'm not sure I can do it justice."
"Big Grandpa, I've heard a lot of your stories. You tell wonderful stories," Rosie said. "You can do it justice."
The others laughed at the young girl, who, after having served the cookies, had come back into the room and was now sitting quietly over in the corner.
"There you go, Falcon, validation from an unimpeachable source," Zane Grey said.
"I warn you, it is a long story."
The author laughed. "I'm a novelist, Falcon, I deal in long stories. Please, go ahead."
Falcon finished his coffee, then put the cup down. "The year 1876 was what historians will call an eventful year," he began. "In Philadelphia, they celebrated our country's centennial. Colorado became a state, they invented the telephone, and at a lonely place in Montana, General Custer and two hundred sixty-five brave men were killed.
"But in order to tell my role in all this, I suppose I need to go back six months earlier, and start with an attempted stagecoach robbery."
Chapter TwoSeptember 1, 1875 Pagosa Springs Road, Colorado Territory
Jim Garon was thin, with obsidian eyes and a hawklike nose. He stepped up onto the rise and looked back down the road. The coach was just starting up the long incline and the horses were straining in the harness. He could hear the driver whistling and calling to the team, and he could hear the squeak and rattle of the coach.
"Andy? Poke? You boys ready?" Garon called. "It's comin' up the grade now."
"So what, it'll be five, maybe ten minutes afore it makes it up here," Andy said. Andy Parker came up to stand beside Garon and look back down the hill toward the coach.
"Yeah, well, I want us all to be in position when it gets here," Garon said. "The coach will stop as soon as it reaches the top, in order to give the horses a blow and let the passengers get out and walk around."
"How much money is the stage carryin', do you think?" Poke Waggoner asked, coming up to join the other two.
"Poke, you've asked that question a dozen times," Garon said. "I don't know how much it's carryin'. Let me ask you a question. How much money are you carryin' right now?"
"I ain't got much more'n a dollar," Poke said.
"Well, there you go. I'm pretty sure the coach is carryin' more than a dollar," Garon said.
The driver's whistle sounded much louder now, and looking back, Garon was surprised to see how far up the hill the coach had come.
"I thought you said it was goin' to take ten minutes or so," Garon said.
"I figured it would," Andy replied.
"Well, it didn't. So I suggest we get back out of the way now and just wait."
There were six passengers in the coach: a mother and two children, one of which was a babe in arms, the other a rather rambunctious four-year-old; a doctor who was gray-haired and overweight; a lawyer who was impressed with his own importance; and Falcon MacCallister.
Falcon was riding next to the window, and as the stage made a turn on one of the cutbacks, he saw a couple of men at the top of the long rise. He would not have paid that much attention to them, except for the fact that they were obviously trying to stay out of sight.
Falcon opened the door.
"Look here, what are you doing?" the lawyer asked.
"I'm going up top," Falcon replied without any further explanation.
The driver was whistling and calling to his team, and the shotgun guard was rolling a cigarette, so neither of them noticed Falcon as he reached the top of the coach, then came up behind them.
"There are some men up ahead," Falcon said.
Because they didn't know he was there, both were startled and they jumped. The guard spilled all the tobacco from his roll.
"Damn, Falcon don't do that!" the shotgun guard said. "Look at all that terbacky you made me lose." "Sorry, Ben, I just thought I would warn you," Falcon said.
"What do you mean there are some men up ahead? Arnie Sessions, the driver, asked. "How many? What do they want?
"I saw at least two," Falcon replied. "And since they were trying to stay out of sight, I expect that whatever they want is not good."
"You got 'ny ideas?" Sessions asked.
"Yes. When we make the next cutback, stop and let your passengers out. You'll be out of sight then, so they won't see what we are doing and won't get suspicious. Then, when we get up there, we'll be ready for them."
"Sounds like a good idee," Sessions said. "There's a second scattergun down here at my feet. You want it?"
"No, keep it ready for yourself. I prefer the pistol."
When the coach reached the next cutback, it stopped, and Falcon jumped down, then opened the door.
"Folks, we need you to all get out here," he said.
"What? Why, this is preposterous!" the lawyer said. "Why should we get out?"
"Because there are some men up at the top of this grade, and I have a hunch they aren't there just to wave at us as we go by," Falcon said. "I believe you will be safer if you wait down here."
"You are going to put us out just on some hunch? Well, sir, I shall need more than that before I am put afoot."
"Mr. MacCallister is right," the driver called down. "If there's nothing to it, I'll come back for you. But if them fellas up there have somthin' planned for us, well, I'd feel just a heap better iffen none of you was in the line of fire, so to speak. Especially with the little ones."
"I think the driver is right," the doctor said.
"I think this is unconscionable," the lawyer said. "And if you force us to leave this coach, I guarantee you, the stagecoach company shall hear of it."
"Mr. Gilmore, I know you are an important lawyer and all," Ben Carney said. "But we're doin' this for your own good."
"That's all right, Mr. Carney. Mr. Gilmore can stay in the coach with us, if he wishes," Falcon said to the shotgun guard. "After all, there may be shooting, and if there is we could well use another gun."
"What do you mean there may be shooting?" Gilmore asked. "What are you talking about? I'm not going to get into any shooting battle," the lawyer said.
"No, I think Mr. MacCallister is right. You can stay in the coach, Mr. Gilmore. The more guns we have, the better our chances will be," Sessions said.
The lawyer climbed out of the stage. "No, now that I think of it, I believe someone should stay here and keep an eye on the woman and children," Gilmore said.
"Good idea," Falcon said.
With all the passengers disembarked, the driver started his team again and the coach resumed its long pull up the grade. Falcon sat on top of the coach just behind Sessions and Carney, but just before the coach reached the top, he touched the driver on the shoulder.
"I'm going to jump down here," he said. "I'll see you at the top."
"Right," Sessions said. "Ben, you do have that thing loaded, don't you?"
"Loaded and ready to go," Carney replied, shifting the shotgun.
The horses strained in their harness as they pulled the coach up the last one hundred yards.
"Andy, Poke, get ready!" Garon called out. "The coach is just about here, no more than another minute or so!"
As the coach reached the top of the grade, the three road agents jumped out with their guns drawn.
"Hold it right there!" Garon called, pointing his pistol at the driver and guard. "Driver, are you carrying an express box?"
"Nothin' here but a mailbag," Sessions replied.
"I don't believe you. If you ain't carryin' a strongbox, why do you have a shotgun guard ridin' with you?"
"It's just somethin' the company makes us do," the driver said. "But there ain't no strongbox, and if you don't believe it, you can climb up here and see for yourself," the driver replied.
"All right, throw the mailbag down. And you folks inside the coach, come out!" Garon shouted. "I want all the passengers outside now. Come on, let's see what you have."
Excerpted from Bloodshed of Eagles by William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone Copyright © 2009 by William W. Johnstone. 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 by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.