America’s greatest western storytellers begin the explosive new legend of Will Tanner, a U.S. deputy marshal who will risk everything to save a friend, and bring two desperados to justice . . .
The train grinds to a halt somewhere in the Indian Nations, and the bandits get onboard. They take everything on the train worth stealing and gun down a guard to make their escape—just another notch on the belt for Ben Trout and Zack Larsen, two of the most savage killers in the west. U.S. Deputy Marshal Ed Pine follows them to Muskogee. There the trail runs cold, and Ed Pine diappears. To save his friend, Deputy Will Tanner rides for Muskogee, where justice extends only as far as the range of a Colt .45.
Tanner earned his badge in a blistering gunfight, when he got the drop on a trio of killers and saved the life of another fellow marshal. Now, he’ll have to be just as quick—and just as deadly. To bring in Trout and Larsen, Tanner must set his badge aside, and resort to the law of the gun.
About the Author
Being the all-around assistant, typist, researcher, and fact checker to one of the most popular western authors of all time, J.A. Johnstone learned from the master, Uncle William W. Johnstone.
He began tutoring J.A. at an early age. After-school hours were often spent retyping manuscripts or researching his massive American Western history library as well as the more modern wars and conflicts. J.A. worked hard—and learned.
“Every day with Bill was an adventure story in itself. Bill taught me all he could about the art of storytelling. ‘Keep the historical facts accurate,’ he would say. ‘Remember the readers, and as your grandfather once told me, I am telling you now: be the best J.A. Johnstone you can be.’”
Read an Excerpt
A Stranger in Town
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Deputy Marshal Ed Pine rode into the tiny settlement gathered around the railroad at Muskogee in Indian Territory early in the afternoon. Without stopping, he rode straight through on his way to Creek policeman Sam Black Crow's cabin three quarters of a mile west of town. The diminutive Creek woman hoeing weeds in the garden next to the house paused to watch his arrival. When she recognized the deputy, she walked out of the garden to greet him. "Deputy Pine," she called out.
"Clara," Ed Pine replied. "I reckon Sam ain't here," he surmised upon seeing the empty corral by the barn. "I saw the padlock on his office, so I didn't bother to stop in town."
"Sam go to Tahlequah this morning," Clara said. "Big fight, one man die. He go to help Cherokee police."
"Well, I'm sorry I missed him," Pine said. He had counted on some help from Sam, since the Creek policeman had sent the telegram reporting the train robbery at the Muskogee station. He had assumed that Sam would expect a deputy in no more than two days' time from Fort Smith. "If he gets back anytime soon, you can tell him that I'm here to see if I can pick up the trail of those men who robbed the train."
"I tell," Clara said.
Clara offered to fix some food for him, but he declined, thanking her for the offer before turning the sorrel back toward town. He would have to find out anything he could in town, and the first place he decided to try was Luther Brady's Trading Post. Sam Black Crow had said in his wire that he suspected the robbery was done by Ben Trout and Brock Larsen, a couple of outlaws from Kansas. Brady's was the hangout familiar to all the outlaws in the territory, and would likely be the one place they might have shown up.
* * *
"Well, if it ain't Marshal Ed Pine," Luther Brady slurred when the deputy marshal appeared in his doorway. He made no effort to hide the contempt in his greeting. "If you're lookin' to buy a drink of likker, you're outta luck. You bein' a lawman, you oughta know I don't sell no spirits. It's against the law."
Accustomed to Brady's sarcasm, Ed didn't respond until after he looked over the cramped room, paying particular attention to the only customers in the store, two men seated at a small table beside the stove. "I expect the two gents sittin' at the table are drinkin' coffee outta those cups, right?"
"Dagnabbit, Pine," Brady complained, "I ain't sellin' whiskey to no Injuns. You got no call to come down here hasslin' me over a drink between friends."
Pine slowly shook his head and gave Brady a wry smile. "I swear, Brady, I could almost believe you, except for the fact you ain't got no friends. But I didn't ride all the way over here from Fort Smith to catch you sellin' illegal whiskey." He walked on over to the counter and laid his Winchester rifle on it while still keeping an eye on the two at the table. He had already decided they were of no concern to him, but long years wearing a badge had taught him not to be careless in the Nations. "Now pour me a shot of the same coffee those fellows are drinkin'," he said. "I had a dusty ride and I could use something to cut that dust."
Brady reached under the counter and pulled out a whiskey bottle and a couple of shot glasses. "I'll have one with you," he declared. "This is my own private stock. Like I said, I don't sell no whiskey."
"Course you don't," Pine said. "You're just offerin' me a drink, right? No charge, 'cause that'd be against the law."
"Right," Brady replied, obviously perturbed.
Pine watched while Brady poured the whiskey. Pine tossed it down. Then he said, "Ugh, that's awful stuff. Wish I had a barrel of it."
"What are you doin' in these parts?" Brady finally asked.
"Whaddaya think?" Pine replied dryly.
"Train robbery at Muskogee station," Brady said, not really needing any time to think about it.
"That's right," Pine said. "Two fellows robbed the Katy, right in the station, and we've got witnesses that said it was Ben Trout and Brock Larsen, down from Kansas."
"You don't say?" Brady replied. "Ben and Brock, huh? If that don't beat all ... all the way from Kansas. I don't recollect seein' them boys around here."
Pine responded with a tired shake of his head. "I swear, Brady, as many lies as you've told in your life, looks like you'd be better at it by now. I got a witness that said he saw 'em walkin' in your front door the day before the train got robbed."
It was a lie, but it served its purpose, for Brady scowled painfully and replied reluctantly. "Well, that ain't exactly true," he said. "It was two days before they held up the train — I mean, it was two days before the train was robbed. I don't have no idea who done the job."
"Right," Pine responded. "Two days before, so I reckon they might notta been in town when the Katy was robbed, right?" There was little doubt in his mind that the holdup was the work of the two notorious outlaws, now that he had confirmation that they had been there. Trout and Larsen had robbed trains down in Texas and had stayed one step ahead of the Texas Rangers. It figured that they had deemed it better for their health to take their business to Oklahoma Indian Territory and closer to Kansas. It was important to know if they had worked alone or had some more men with them, so Pine lied again. "This witness said they had several men with 'em."
"Your witness musta been drunk," Brady said. "Wasn't nobody with Ben and Brock."
"Is that a fact?" Pine replied. "And they were just passin' through? Don't expect they told you where they were headin'?"
"Nope," Brady answered smugly, "and I didn't ask 'em."
Pine picked up his rifle. "Well, you've been more help than you know. Thanks for the drink." He turned and headed for the door, certain now that he would be dealing with only the two outlaws, and feeling no need for a posse to chase them. Still, he would have deputized Sam Black Crow to help him, if Sam had not ridden up to Tahlequah. The problem to be solved first was to find out which way the outlaws went after they robbed the train. He figured it could be any direction but east. That left a hell of a lot of territory to search and amounted to a waste of time unless he could pick up their trail. The Texas Rangers had not been able to catch up with Trout and Larsen, and now it was time to see if he would have better luck.
Outside Brady's Trading Post, Pine stood for a moment, looking up and down the one deserted street of the tiny settlement. After a moment, he decided to go talk to the stationmaster in hopes he had not been too frightened during the robbery to remember which way the train robbers had fled. He led his horse down the short street to the railroad tracks and the stationmaster's shack.
"Are you a deputy marshal?" Elmore Wiggins asked when the tall, rail-thin lawman came up to his window. When Pine said that he was, Wiggins asked, "It's a little bit late to show up looking for those bandits, ain't it?"
"Maybe," Pine allowed. "Depends on what you can tell me to help me out."
"All I can tell you is two men popped up from behind my shack when the train pulled to a stop. One of 'em stuck a gun in my back and marched me to the cab of the engine and kept me and the engineer at gunpoint while the other one went through the passenger car robbing the passengers. Then he hollered for the guard inside the mail car to open up, or he was gonna shoot the conductor and the engineer. Then when the guard opened the door, he shot him down — just because he didn't do it fast enough."
"Did you see which way they headed outta town?" Pine asked.
"Hell no," Wiggins said. "They made me and the engineer and the conductor get in the mail car. Then they shut us in and took off. There weren't no way I could tell which way they went."
"I saw which way they rode outta town."
Pine heard the voice behind him and turned to find a short, broad-shouldered man approaching from the forge across the street. "My name's Tom Shepherd," the husky man said. "I own the blacksmith shop. I saw them two fellers ride out from the railroad tracks and hightail it on the road to Okmulkee. It didn't occur to me that they mighta just robbed the train."
"Okmulkee, huh?" Pine responded, thinking about the odds of tracking the outlaws on a common wagon road. "And that was two days ago," he pondered aloud.
"I'm thinkin' you might be able to track 'em, anyway," Shepherd continued. "I put new shoes on both of their ridin' horses the day before. They had a packhorse, but it didn't need shoein'. Them new shoes oughta cut a right sharp track, though."
"Might at that," Pine said. "Much obliged. "I'll go have a look right now."
There were several roads out of Muskogee. Some were little more than Indian trails, with the main wagon road running north and south along the railroad tracks. Between the general store and the stables, however, a narrow road headed due west, which led to Okmulkee if a man followed it for close to forty miles. Pine had ridden it a couple of times before, and as he stood there holding the sorrel's reins, he gazed down the trail before him, trying to think of any potential spots where the outlaws might have it in mind to hole up. He couldn't recall any, so he had to conclude the men he chased had just been intent upon heading into the wilds of Indian Territory, with no particular destination in mind. Steeling himself for a long scouting trip, he wished he had brought a wagon, a cook, and a posseman to use as a home base. "But I didn't," he sighed aloud, "so I'd better get to it. They're just gettin' farther away while I'm standin' here."
When he examined the dry ground, he found that the blacksmith had been correct in assuming there would be clear tracks to follow. There were a great many other tracks going in both directions on the road, but none that looked to be recent. So the tracks left by the two newly shod horses were clearly distinguishable from the others. At least it would give him a start. He climbed into the saddle and started out on what he anticipated to be a long search. For a moment he considered wiring his boss that he would likely be gone awhile, then decided against it.
* * *
After keeping a careful eye on the narrow wagon track for the first couple of miles, alert for any signs indicating the outlaws had departed the road, Pine picked up the pace. It appeared they were intent upon heading for Okmulkee. So he held the sorrel to a comfortable lope, stopping every mile or so to make sure he could still find the distinct hoofprints. The outlaws had continued on the road for what he estimated to be about fifteen miles before he realized that the tracks had disappeared. He dismounted to take a closer look to be sure. They had left the road somewhere behind him and he had missed it. Figuring they had evidently decided to rest their horses at that point, he turned back and led his horses while he searched for their tracks. There was a narrow stream some fifty yards behind, so he felt sure that might have been the spot where they left the road. It was the only stream he had crossed since leaving Muskogee. His hunch proved to be right, for he found a hoofprint at the edge of the stream, a sign that the outlaws had sought to disguise their trail by riding up the stream. It had been an unnecessary precaution, he thought, for there had been no one to give chase until now, and he was a hell of a long way behind.
After following the stream for several hundred yards over a rolling, treeless prairie, he came to a wooded area and the remains of a campfire in the center. That being as good a spot as any to rest his horses, he decided to stop there as well. There was no real urgency in his quest to catch up with Larsen and Trout. He was following a trail that was over two days old, so he had no notion of overtaking them until they decided to stop for a while longer than an overnight camp.
The outlaws' tracks out of the camp were easily seen. They led out toward a low range of hills a couple of miles away, so after Pine's horses were rested and watered, he set out in that direction. As he approached the hills, he noticed a gulch that appeared to cut right through the tallest section. Apparently the outlaws had noticed it, too, for their trail veered off and headed for it. When he entered into the shadows of the narrow gulch, he was reminded that he was running out of daylight and would need to find a place to camp before much longer. This chase might last for a week or two, he thought, his last thought before he felt the impact of the bullet that slammed into his chest. He grabbed the saddle horn in an effort to keep from falling, but the second shot, near his collarbone, knocked him from the saddle and landed him hard on the ground. A hundred thoughts whirled around his head during the few seconds he lay there unable to move. He had ridden blindly into an ambush with no sense that he was anywhere close to the men he chased. He was badly hurt, he figured, because he could not feel his body, and he was helpless to defend himself. Unable to make his hand move to pull his Colt from the holster, he knew he was done for.
* * *
"Watch him, Brock," Ben Trout warned his partner as Brock rode down from the slope and pulled his horse up beside the body lying still on the ground. "He might be playin' possum."
"He ain't playin' no possum with that shot I put dead center his chest," Brock said, keeping a steady eye on the body while his partner rode up beside him.
"How do you know that was your shot?" Ben demanded. "I'm thinkin' that was my shot, 'cause I had a bead on him and fired while you was still waitin' for him to get closer."
"The hell you say," Brock fired back. "You shot too damn quick. You hit him, but it was my shot that knocked him outta the saddle."
"Ain't no sense in arguin' about it," Ben insisted as he stepped down to look the man over. "Let's see if he's carryin' any money on him." He started riffling through Pine's pockets. "Look here!" he suddenly called out when he pulled Pine's jacket aside to reveal a badge. "He's a damn lawman — one of them marshals outta Fort Smith, I'll bet!"
"Lemme see," Brock said, and stepped down to take a look for himself. Seeing that it was, in fact, a U.S. Deputy Marshal's badge, he automatically looked back over the way Pine had ridden to make sure there was no one behind him. "How the hell did he get on our trail so quick?" They had been in no particular hurry once they had fled the town of Muskogee, thinking there was no danger of anyone in the small settlement coming after them. After all, they figured, they had robbed no one in town. Their business had been with the railroad. When Ben had spotted a lone rider from the top of the hill, approaching the gulch, they had assumed it was an outlaw looking to cut himself in on their successful robbery.
"We'll see about that," Trout had said. "We'll settle his bacon right quick, and pick up a couple of horses for our trouble."
"I reckon we shoulda kept goin' instead of layin' around here," Brock fretted.
"Maybe," Trout replied. "But right now it looks like this wasn't bad luck at all." He paused to chuckle. "Except for him. And it looks like he's all by his lonesome. If he ain't, he wouldn't be leadin' a packhorse. He'd have a wagon somewhere with his supplies and most likely a posseman or two. He oughta got shot, ridin' out here in Injun Territory by hisself. This is outlaw territory. A lawman signs his own death warrant when he sticks his nose west of the railroad."
"There's liable to be another'n when this one don't come home," Brock said.
"I expect there might," Ben allowed. "So I reckon it don't make no sense to hang around this little creek any longer, even though it'll most likely be a while before they send another marshal to look for this one. We'll be long gone up at Buzzard's Roost by then."
"I hope them cabins are still standin'," Brock said, thinking about the cluster of log cabins built by outlaws on the run from Kansas, Colorado, and Texas over the years. Starting with a single cabin built by Kansas stagecoach bandit Elmer Sartain in a secluded valley near the Cimarron River, the camp had grown to three such rough abodes. At different times, the little outlaw community had been the temporary home to any number of bank robbers, rustlers, murderers, and thieves. To date no lawman had ventured there, probably because it was in the middle of nowhere and hard to find. Buzzard's Roost was Ben's name for the hideout, because he could never remember the man's name who created it.
Excerpted from A Stranger in Town by William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone. Copyright © 2016 J. A. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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