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Destiny of Eagles
By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2004 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
It had been three years since Falcon MacCallister stumbled across the settlers' wagon. The buzzards were still circling when the big man on a tall black horse came on the scene from the south.
One man lay on his blankets, his head back, his throat cut, a pool of coagulated blood around him. Owen Blanchard looked like he had gone down fighting; he had three bullet holes in his gut. There were three females, one adult and two girls, ages twelve and thirteen. The young ages not withstanding, all three had been raped before they were murdered.
Dismounting and brushing his long, wheat-colored hair back from his blue-steel eyes, he read the sign as clearly as if a newspaper reporter had witnessed the event and wrote the story. He found the family's name, Blanchard, in a trampled Bible, picked up a piece of a map, saw a few scraps of paper and a woman's locket. Immigrants from the East, the little family had started west to get a piece of the American dream.
What angered Falcon more than anything was the realization that this was not the work of Indians, defending their land. The Blanchards were killed by their own kind in some sort of savage blood lust.
Falcon buried what was left of them, then stood over the rough grave, bowed his head, and said a little prayer over them.
"Lord, in case you're paying any attention now to what you let happen here, these were the Blanchard family, from east of Neosho. I don't know anything to say about them, good or bad, except they didn't deserve this."
They didn't deserve it, his deep grief echoed, any more than his wife, Marie Gentle Breeze, deserved what happened to her back then. But then, things happen all the time that folks don't deserve.
In that moment, Falcon MacCallister felt an anger deeper than any he had known in a long time. "I couldn't do anything about you, Marie," he continued aloud, raising his eyes toward the sky, where his beloved wife now dwelt among the spirits. "Lord," he growled, "there's a limit to what any man can tolerate, and I believe I just found it. Help me if you want to, or not if you don't care, but I guess I have to go after those men. Somebody else tracked down those savages who should have been mine, but there's another score here to settle and there's nobody else here right now. Just me. Amen."
That had set Falcon on a personal quest for revenge, a quest that didn't end until a gut shot shattered his ribs and nearly killed him. But during his quest, he uncovered a land-fraud scheme that extended all the way back to Washington, D.C., at the highest echelons of government. Head of the scheme was Asa Parker, said by many to be the fastest and deadliest gunfighter in the West. It was Asa Parker's men ... he called them his vigilantes ... who were responsible for the massacre of the Blanchard family.
Falcon finally caught up with Parker in the little town of Paradise, caught him in the middle of a stolen herd of horses.
* * *
For a big man, Asa Parker was quick. Elusive and cunning, he moved among the milling horses, and it was all Falcon could do to keep track of where he was.
But when the horses were bunched in the middle of town, then set off with some shots in the air, only dust remained to hide a man.
Holding Diablo on a tight lead, Falcon had backed off around the corner of the hotel. But when the thunder of the stampede had passed, he dropped the reins and stepped out into the street. There was no need to shout orders, and no one to shout them to. The Mason boys knew what to do, and they were doing it.
While Jude headed off to knock down the fences at the livery and corrals, Jubal prowled the edges of the town, looking for snipers. He had already found one, and the man lay sprawled under the rickety water tank. Now Jubal was hunting for more of them, keeping pace from building to building, setting fire to everything that would burn.
Fading babble, punctuated by shouts, dimmed as the various noncombatant residents of Paradise fled for their lives.
Falcon strode the firelit street, his hunter's eyes cutting this way and that. The street was a littered shadowy clearing where the dust still swirled on the breezes like mist on a pond. From knee-level down, it was hard to see anything.
Down the street Jubal yelled a warning and Falcon ducked, feeling a jab of lingering pain from his wound as his .44 came up. It bucked once, licking at the gloom with a fiery tongue, and a man pitched headfirst from the roof of the old trading post.
Falcon was past the big wagon when some impulse made him turn and duck. A bullet sang past his ear.
There in the street, rising out of the settling dust, was a man as big as Falcon himself ... a man with a spitting gun in his hand.
Falcon dodged, tumbled, and rolled, and the pain in his middle was a living thing. But there was no giving there, no feeling of things tearing loose. It was only pain. Two more bullets kicked up dirt beside him as he rolled again, coming up on his elbows to return fire.
The specter in the dust dodged wildly, and ran. In an instant he was out of sight beyond the wagon.
Falcon came to his feet, advancing. A broken-down trough hid the underside of the wagon, and he started around it, then doubled back and went the other way.
Asa Parker was waiting for him, crouched in shadows behind a tall wheel. He held a ready .45 and leaned outward, ready to shoot the instant Falcon cleared the water trough.
Falcon circled around the lashed-up tongue and stepped past the iron tire of the off fore-wheel.
"Time's up," Parker," he said levelly.
If he expected Asa Parker to react suddenly, he was disappointed. The big outlaw didn't even move for a moment. Then he raised himself slowly. His hands went up, and his .45 dropped to the ground.
He turned slowly. "I guess you got me, MacCallister," he said. "I'll come along peaceably."
Falcon stared at the outlaw for a moment, then lowered his gun as though accepting his surrender.
Parker's eyes glittered in the gloom. Slowly, he lowered his hands and extended his right hand as though to shake it. The flicker of motion at his sleeve was almost undetectable.
Falcon's .44 roared once, then again. Both shots took Asa Parker front and center, forming two dark little holes that could have hidden behind a playing card.
The outlaw stood for a second, weaving on braced feet, then fell facedown in the dust. In his outflung right hand was a nasty-looking little .41 derringer, exposed as his dead fingers uncurled from it.
* * *
The Blanchard family was avenged, but even with Asa Parker and the outlaws who had worked with him rotting in their graves, Falcon still did not know peace. For three years after his run-in with Asa Parker, Falcon lay low while he nursed his wounds, both physical — he still had twinges of pain from the bullet Billy Challis had put in him — and emotional. Marie Gentle Breeze had been dead for several years now, but sometimes he could hear her laughter in the still wind that was her namesake. And at night, wrapped up in his bedroll out on the plains, he could feel her warm body next to his.
Falcon hung up his guns and lived a quiet life, fully intending to spend the rest of his days quietly enjoying the fortune in gold that his father had left him. The first thing he did was go to New York. His brother and sister, the twins Andrew and Rosanna MacCallister, were performing in a Broadway play. He could remember, before the war, how they would entertain, not just the family, but all the people of MacCallister Valley.
Everyone said they were good enough to be professionals, but no one really believed the twins would actually follow through with their ambition. After all, MacCallister Valley was a long way from New York.
But follow up they did, and Falcon went to New York to see them for the first time in many years.
Falcon MacCallister was not a man who was easily impressed, but it was hard not to be awed by New York. The streets were crowded with a steady-moving stream of conveyances of all kinds, from wagons to carriages to horse-drawn omnibuses. In addition, trains moved back and forth through the city, sometimes on elevated rails, sometimes on the ground.
"What do you think of our city, little brother?" Rosanna asked.
"I'll be honest with you," Falcon said. "I don't like it."
"You don't like it?" Andrew replied. "How can anyone not like New York? Why, this is the most exciting city in the whole world."
"MacCallister is too crowded for me," Falcon said. "And New York is much worse than MacCallister."
Rosanna and Andrew laughed.
"Andrew, were you and I ever such country bumpkins?" she asked.
"Surely not," Andrew said. He smiled at Falcon. "But country bumpkin or not, I can't tell you how happy we are to see you."
Again, Andrew and Rosanna embraced Falcon.
Falcon didn't say it out loud, but just as they wondered how he could be such a bumpkin, he wondered how they could be such dandies. If he hadn't known for a fact that they were his blood kin, no one would have been able to convince him of it.
* * *
He looked at the theater marquee.
THE POWER AND THE PRIDE
A Drama in Three Acts
ANDREW AND ROSANNA MacCALLISTER
In a rare
There was quite a line waiting for tickets. Andrew had told Falcon that he didn't have to stand in line, that he could just come right inside the doors, show his letter of introduction, and he would be taken right to his seat.
Following his brother's instructions, Falcon opened the door, but was approached by a stern-faced man in uniform.
"Get back in line, you!" he said.
"But I've got ..." Falcon started to say, holding up his letter.
"I don't care what you have," the uniformed man said.
"You must return to the line."
Not wanting to cause any trouble, Falcon returned to the line, where he waited patiently.
A carriage stopped and three young women got out, then joined the line behind him. They were speaking excitedly about the play, and during the course of the conversation, he realized that they were college students.
When he reached the box office, he showed the letter to the ticket agent. The agent looked at it. Then his eyes grew wide and he looked up at Falcon.
"You are Mr. MacCallister?" he asked. "You are the brother of the MacCallisters?"
"My goodness, sir, there was no need for you to stand in line. The private box is yours, please, go in."
"Thank you," Falcon said. He'd started to turn away when he heard the ticket agent tell the three young women behind him that there no more seats available.
"Oh, but I must see it," one of the girls said. "I love Andrew and Rosanna MacCallister. Can't we be allowed to come in and stand in the back?"
"I'm sorry, that isn't possible."
Falcon stepped back to the ticket window. "Excuse me," he said. "Did you say I have a private box all to myself?"
"How many seats are in that box?"
"There are six, I believe, Mr. MacCallister."
"MacCallister?" one of the young women said with a gasp. "Is your name MacCallister?"
"Yes," Falcon said. "And if you are interested, I would like to invite you and your two friends to join me in the box."
"Oh! Oh, how wonderful of you to ask! Yes, of course we would love to join you. That is ... if you are serious."
"I'm serious," Falcon said. "What man would not want three pretty girls to join him?"
"Thank you," the girl replied. "But biologically speaking, we aren't girls. We are of the age to be considered women."
Falcon chuckled. "Of course you are," he said.
"I am Anna Heckemeyer of Medora, Dakota Territory," the young woman said. "These are my two friends, Miss Gail Thorndyke of New York, and Miss Emma Lou Patterson of Richmond, Virginia."
Shortly after Falcon and his young guests reached the box, the gaslights in the theater were dimmed, the lights on the stage came up, and the curtain opened. Rosanna was standing at center stage, reading what appeared to be a letter. The audience applauded.
After a moment of silent reading, she thrust the letter down by her side with her left hand, while with her right, she pinched the bridge of her nose.
"Oh, what terrible news to bring me! I have word of the death of my betrothed. I feel as if my heart has been ripped from my body!"
The audience reacted with an audible "Ohhh."
Andrew came in, and again, the audience applauded. Andrew was in the costume of an army officer.
"Claire, my sister. I have come to you with terrible news! My friend, your beloved Filbert, was slain upon the field of battle."
Falcon watched the entire play, more engrossed by the reaction of his guests, and of the audience, than he was by the play itself. He was no drama critic, but it seemed to him like all the lines were delivered too loudly, and with something of a forced emotion. The last lines were the most overemoted of all.
"I shall find comfort in the knowledge that honor brings both the power ..." Rosanna said.
"And the pride!" Andrew finished.
As they finished their lines, both faced the audience, and Rosanna curtsied as Andrew gave a sweeping bow. The curtain fell to a thunderous applause.
"Oh," Anna Heckemeyer said, clasping her hands over her heart. "Oh, that was the most wonderful thing I ever saw." She turned to Falcon. "Thank you, sir, for you generous hospitality."
"You are welcome," Falcon replied.
Falcon enjoyed being able to share his box with the young women, and afterward he enjoyed introducing them to his famous brother and sister.
Both Andrew and Rosanna were used to the accolades of adoring fans, and they were warm and cordial to the three young women, entertaining them with humorous stories. Falcon, who was inexperienced with the fawning expressions of fans, sat quietly in the corner of the reception room until the theater managers told the girls they must leave.
"Wait just a few minutes until we are out of makeup and costume, Falcon," Andrew said to Falcon. "Then we will take you out to dine at Delmonico's. I assure you, there is nothing back home that can compare with this."
Delmonico's was a fine restaurant and Falcon ate well. But it didn't take long for him to realize that New York just didn't agree with him, and though Andrew and Rosanna begged him to stay longer, he left after another week, promising to return someday soon. Even as he was giving the promise, though, he doubted that he would ever keep it, and he knew that his brother and sister didn't expect him to keep it either.
Returning to Colorado, Falcon tried to settle down, but the restless discontent that had driven him for many years did not go away.
Then one day, out of the blue, Falcon got a letter from a man he hadn't seen or heard from in a long time.
Dear Falcon MacCallister,
My name is Billy Puckett. I don't know if you remember me. Back in '52, I was attacked by some Indians who didn't take too kindly to my trapping in their hunting ground. They killed my horse and left me with a couple of arrows sticking out of my gut. Your pa found me up in the mountains, more dead than alive. He brought me back down to MacCallister Valley, where your ma nursed me back to health.
You were the youngest of all the MacCallister children as I recall, probably no older than eleven or twelve at the time. Even then I knew that someday you would make a name for yourself.
I've heard a lot about your exploits over the years, such as how you tamed Asa Parker, Billy Challis, and that lot of outlaws. But the only thing I've been hearing recently is lot of rumors, some of which are just too wild to believe. Those rumors have caused me to start worrying some about you, though.
One reason I worry is because I am a sheriff now, and from time to time over the years I remember seeing dodgers come across my desk with your name on them. In every case the wanted posters were pulled back, but there is always the possibility that someone might not get the word. And when there is a reward of five thousand dollars, dead or alive, it wouldn't take much for someone to ambush you.
I know your pa used to get his mail at general delivery in MacCallister, so I am hoping that you do as well. If you are still alive, and if you do get this letter, I would like to invite you to come up to Belfield, Dakota Territory, for a visit. I'm going on to seventy years old now, and I think it's about time I got something off my chest.
Falcon decided to throw the letter away without even answering it, so he wadded it up and started to toss it into a wastebasket.
Excerpted from Destiny of Eagles by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 2004 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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