Read an Excerpt
Pride of Eagles
By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2006 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Distorted by shimmering heat waves, the town of Picacho, Arizona Territory, lay baking in the sun as Falcon rode into town. To the side of one of the houses, a woman was washing clothes while two children played on the ground beside her. A dog walked up for a closer examination of Falcon, but it was too hot for him to offer any challenge, so he turned and withdrew to the shade of the building.
Picacho was built along the Southern Pacific Railroad, the steel ribbons that gave it life. In fact, it was the railroad that brought Falcon to Picacho. He was coming back from his silver mine, located in the Cabibi Mountains, near Oro Blanco. He had bought the mine from Doc Holliday, but his friend had neglected to tell him that, in order to make the mine productive, he would have to deal with some hostile Apache Indians.
He took care of that, and was now on his way back to his home in MacCallister Valley, Colorado. He was in Picacho because it was the nearest place he could catch a train.
The largest structure in town had a big picture of a golden mug of beer painted on the false front of the building. Alongside the mug of beer, in large red letters, outlined in black, was the name of the saloon: THE BROWN DIRT COWBOY.
Dismounting in front of the saloon, Falcon tied his horse off at the hitching rail, then stepped up on the porch to go inside. If anyone happened to be looking in this direction at that point in time, they would have seen a big man, standing a little over six feet tall. His shoulders were wide and muscular and his waist was flat. Pale blue eyes stared out from a chiseled face. He had wheat-colored hair, which he wore short and neat. He was wearing a long-sleeved red shirt, a buckskin vest, and Levi's jeans, which were tucked into long black boots.
Falcon had been thinking about a cold beer for the last two days, and he could almost taste it now as he pushed his way through the batwing doors.
Hanging gourds of evaporating water made the interior of the saloon at least ten degrees cooler than it was outside. It was dark in the saloon, so dark that Falcon had to stand for a moment until his eyes adjusted to the lack of light.
He took out a long, thin cheroot and lit it by striking a match on the handle of his Colt .44. He took a few puffs, then squinting his eyes through the cloud of smoke, surveyed the saloon he had just entered. The bar was made of unfinished, wide-plank boards, with an attached ledge at the bottom to be used as a foot rail. There was no mirror behind the bar, but there was a shelf with an assortment of liquor bottles. A bartender with pomade-slick hair and a waxed mustache was standing behind the bar with his arms folded across his chest.
Over the last few years Falcon could almost define his life by places like this: flyblown towns, crude saloons, and green whiskey. Although he could easily afford the high life, Falcon had been wandering around ever since his wife, Marie Gentle Breeze, herself an Indian, had been killed by Indians. Sometimes the cold sweats and killing rages still plagued him, but for the most part now, he was able to put that behind him.
Falcon stepped up to the bar.
"What can I do you for?" the bartender asked.
"Is your beer cold?"
"Colder than a mountain stream," he answered.
"All right, I'll take a glass," Falcon said.
The bartender drew the beer and put it front of Falcon. "Just passing through, are you?" the bartender asked.
"Yes," Falcon replied without elaborating. He picked up the mug and took a long drink before he turned to look around the place. Although it was mid-afternoon, the saloon was nearly full, the customers drawn by the fact that this was the coolest building in town.
As he stood at the bar, a tall, broad-shouldered, bearded man stepped in through the back door. At first Falcon wondered why he had come through the back door; then he saw that a star was barely showing from beneath the vest he was wearing. The sheriff pointed a gun toward one of the tables.
"I just got a telegram about you, Kofax," the lawman said. "You should'a had better sense than to come back to a town where ever'one knows you."
"Let it be, Calhoun," Kofax replied. "I ain't staying here long. I'm just waitin' around for the train to take me out of here."
The sheriff shook his head. "I don't think so. You won't be catchin' the train today," he said. "You're goin' to jail."
Kofax stood up slowly, and stepped away from the table.
"Well, now, you're plannin' on takin' me there all by yourself, are you, Calhoun?" Kofax asked.
The quiet calm of the barroom grew tense, and most of the other patrons in the bar stood up and moved to both sides of the room, giving the sheriff and Kofax a lot of room.
Only Falcon didn't move. He stayed by the bar, sipping his beer and watching the drama play out before him.
"You can make this a lot easier by dropping your gun belt," the sheriff said.
Kofax chuckled, but there was no humor in his laugh. "Well, now, you see, there you go. I don't plan to make it easy for you," he said.
"Shuck out of that gun belt like I told you, slow and easy," the sheriff ordered.
Falcon saw something then that the sheriff either didn't see, or didn't notice. Kofax's eyes flicked upward for an instant, then back down toward the sheriff. Kofax smiled, almost confidently, at the sheriff.
"Sorry, Calhoun, but like I said, I don't plan to make this easy for you."
Curious as to why Kofax wasn't more nervous, Falcon glanced up and saw a man standing at the top of the stairs. The man was aiming a pistol at the sheriff's back. That was what Kofax had seen when he cut his eyes upward, and that was what was giving him such supreme confidence.
"Sheriff, look out!" Falcon shouted.
"Stay out of this, you son of a bitch!" the man at the top of the stairs shouted. He turned his pistol toward Falcon.
Falcon dropped his beer and pulled his own pistol, firing just as the man at the top of the stairs fired. The shooter's bullet missed Falcon and hit a whiskey bottle that was sitting on the bar. The impact sent a shower of whiskey and splinters of glass.
Falcon's shot caught the shooter in the chest, and he dropped his pistol and clasped his hand over the entry wound, then looked down at himself as blood began to spill between his fingers. The shooter's eyes rolled up in his head and he tumbled forward, sliding down the stairs, following his clattering pistol all the way down. He lay motionless at the bottom, his head and shoulders on the floor, his legs still on the steps.
Although the sound of the two gunshots had riveted everyone's attention, the situation between Kofax and the sheriff continued to play out, and almost before the sound of the first two gunshots had faded, two more shots rang out. The sheriff's bullet struck Kofax in the neck, forcing him back against the cold, wood-burning stove, causing him to hit it with such impact that he knocked it over, pulling down half the flue pipe.
As the smoke from four gunshots drifted through the saloon, only the sheriff and Falcon, of the four original participants, were still standing. Both were holding smoking pistols in their hands, and they looked at each other warily.
"I thank you for taking a hand in this, mister," the sheriff said. "Most folks would have stayed on the sidelines."
"Yeah, well, I didn't really have that much choice in the matter," Falcon said.
The sheriff chuckled and nodded. "I guess you didn't at that," he said. He put his pistol away.
Falcon reholstered his own gun.
"Can I buy you a drink?" the sheriff asked.
Falcon looked pointedly at his beer mug, which now lay empty on the floor where he had dropped it when the shooting began.
"I guess I could use a new one at that," Falcon said.
"Two beers," the sheriff said.
The barkeep, who had dived to the floor behind the bar when the shooting started, now stood up, drew two beers, and put them on the bar.
"Thanks," Falcon said, taking a swallow of his beer.
"The name is Calhoun," the sheriff said as he lifted his own beer to his lips. "Titus Calhoun."
"Glad to meet you, Sheriff. I'm Falcon MacCallister."
Upon hearing Falcon's name, Sheriff Calhoun coughed and sprayed beer. Slamming his beer down on the bar, he reached for his pistol, only to find his holster was empty.
"Are you looking for this?" Falcon asked, holding the sheriff's pistol.
Seeing that Falcon had his gun, the sheriff put his hands up.
"Put your hands down, Sheriff," Falcon said. He put the pistol back in the sheriff's holster. "Whatever you think you might have on me, it's wrong. I'm not wanted anywhere."
"I ... I reckon, under the circumstances, I've got no cause not to believe you," the sheriff said.
"Good. Now, maybe you can tell me about these two men we just had a run-in with."
"That one's Rollie Kofax," Sheriff Calhoun said, nodding toward the one he had shot. He looked over toward the stairs where the other man lay, half on the stairs and half off. "The one you shot was Willy Cardis. I just got word today that they was the ones that held up a stagecoach last week, over near Perdition. There was three of'em, but Gilly Cardis got hisself caught."
"Gilly Caris? You mean the two brothers' names were Willy and Gilly?" Falcon asked.
Sheriff Calhoun nodded. "They was twins," he said. "And I don't expect Gilly's goin' to be none too happy to hear that his brother got shot. I'd say it's a good thing he's in jail right now; otherwise, you'd probably wind up havin' another gunfight on your hands."
"Yeah," Falcon said drolly. "Seems like just about everyone I've ever run across had a brother somewhere. And those brothers all want to make things square."
"What are you doin' in Picacho, Mr. MacCallister? That is ... if you don't mind my askin'."
"I don't mind at all," Falcon said. "I have some property down around Oro Blanco, I was just down seeing to it."
Sheriff Calhoun shook his head and clucked quietly. "That's not a place that's too healthy to be right now. What with the Indian problem and all."
Falcon finished his beer. "Let me buy this round," he said. "That is, if you'd care for another."
"Don't mind if I do," Calhoun said.
"There's no Indian trouble now," Falcon said. "I had a nice meeting with Keytano and ..."
Calhoun snapped his fingers and smiled broadly. "I know where I heard your name now," he said. "You and Mickey Free brought in Naiche a few years back, didn't you?"
"And Keytano? You had a ... I believe you called it a nice meeting ... with Keytano?"
"Yes," Falcon said.
Calhoun chuckled, and shook his head. "Only someone like you could call a meeting with Keytano nice."
"Keytano is a good man," Falcon said. "He's a man of honor, and I like men of honor."
Falcon finished his second beer, then set the empty mug down. He glanced toward the two dead men, who had been dragged to the back of the room and covered with a tarpaulin.
"I don't have to stick around for any kind of an inquest, do I?" he asked.
Calhoun shook his head. "No, but I'm sure there's a reward for Cardis. If you wait around a couple of days, I can get it approved and get the money to you."
"Do you have a volunteer fire department in town?" Falcon asked.
"Yes," Calhoun replied, puzzled as to why Falcon would ask about that.
"Give any reward money I might have to the volunteer fire department," he said. "I've never known one anywhere that couldn't use a little extra money."
The sheriff nodded. "You're right about that, Mr. MacCallister, and I'll do that for you," he said. "Speaking for the town, I'll tell you that we are grateful."
Falcon stuck out his hand for a handshake. "I need to get down to the depot to make arrangements to catch the train," he said. "Maybe I'll see you again sometime."
"It would be my pleasure," Sheriff Calhoun said.
"Who is that fella MacCallister anyway, Sheriff?" the bartender asked when Falcon left the saloon.
"He is the kind of man people tell tall stories about, Sam," Sheriff Calhoun replied. "Only in Falcon MacCallister's case, they're all true."
* * *
When Falcon arrived in MacCallister the next afternoon, he stopped by the post office to pick up his mail. One of his letters was from his brother, Andrew, in New York, asking him again why he didn't just cash in everything and come to New York.
Falcon chuckled as he read the letter. He knew it was more than just brotherly love that made Andrew invite him. Despite his footloose life, Falcon was the wealthiest of all his siblings.
The other letter was from Conrad Kohrs.
Falcon held the letter for a moment or two before he opened it, wondering what the wealthiest cattle baron in America wanted with him.CHAPTER 2
A rat, its beady eyes alert for danger, darted out from one of the warehouses onto the dank boards of the pier. Finding a piece of sodden bread, it picked up its prize, then darted back to the safety of its hole. Falcon MacCallister stood on the same pier, looking out over San Francisco Bay. He pulled the collar of his coat up against the damp chill air as he listened to a bell buoy clanging out in the harbor, its syncopated ringing notes measuring the passage of night. From somewhere close by a bosun's pipe sounded a shipboard signal, incomprehensible to landlubbers but fully understood by the ship's crew.
Gossamer tendrils of fog lifted up from the water and swirled around the pilings and piers so that the steel girders and wire cables of the dock's loading cranes became ethereal tracings. Long gray fingers of vapor had San Francisco trapped in its grasp.
There was no breeze.
The gaslights of the streetlamps were dimmed and all sound was deadened by the heavy blanket. There was a dreamlike quality to the scene that made it hard to distinguish fantasy from reality. Figures moved along the streets and sidewalks, but they were no more than apparitions gliding through the fog, appearing then disappearing as if summoned and dismissed by some prankish wizard.
Falcon was in San Francisco to take delivery of a horse for Conrad Kohrs. But it wasn't just any horse; it was a very special horse, bred by King Abdul Aziz of Arabia.
"A king's horse have I bought and for it a king's ransom have I paid," Kohrs said in the letter he had sent to Falcon.
Kohrs chose Falcon as his emissary, not only because the well-known cattle baron was Falcon's friend, but also because he knew Falcon would be coming to Montana to attend the Montana Stockgrowers' Association meeting.
The horse had been brought to America on board the Sea Dancer, a tall ship that plied the Pacific Ocean. Because of the value of the horse, it was shipped under special circumstances, not sharing a stall with other horses, but enjoying a private suite, constantly looked after by its own groomsmen.
Falcon had made arrangements to take delivery of the horse even before dawn because he intended to put it on the morning train.
The Sea Dancer lay at anchor alongside pier number seven, flaunting its half-naked dancing-girl figurehead, the long, sleek, gold-gilded black hull glistening in its own running lights. Someone was standing on the dock alongside the ship as Falcon approached. The man was wearing a dark peacoat and a billed cap. The sleeves of the coat, as well as the bill of the cap, were decorated with gold braid.
"Captain MacTavish?" Falcon asked.
"Aye, Captain Sean MacTavish at your service," the sailor answered. "And you would be Falcon MacCallister, I take it?"
"Well, 'tis a fine horse my old friend Connie is getting," Captain MacTavish said.
Falcon chuckled. "Connie?"
"Aye, it was Connie we called him when he sailed with us," MacTavish said. "I was a midshipman when first we met." MacTavish chuckled. "Connie and I went ashore in Calais. Ahh, the French girls. We were just boys, mind you, but we'd been around the world a time or two, so we were pretty worldly for our age. But it turns out the captain didn't think so. We got a caning we did, the both of us."
MacTavish paused before he spoke again. "But the French girls ... ah ... the French girls. I tell you true, 'tis three canings I would have taken for the lessons those French girls taught us." The captain turned toward the ship.
"Mr. Peabody!" he called.
"Aye, Cap'n," a voice returned from the deck.
"Land His Highness."
"Aye, aye, sir."
MacTavish turned back to Falcon. "I don't know what Connie will call the horse, but we've been calling him His Highness, for true it is that he lived better than anyone did on the voyage, myself included."
A wide gangplank was lowered from the side of the ship; then a sailor came down the plank, leading the horse. Falcon walked over to examine the animal when it reached the dock.
Excerpted from Pride of Eagles by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 2006 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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