In this gripping thriller, America’s greatest Western storytellers take you inside the dangerous world of an undercover agent—and the deadliest jail in America . . .
Hank Fallon knows what it’s like to rot behind bars. To wallow in the filth of a rat-infested cell. To smell the pent-up rage of cutthroat killers and thieves. Fallon earned his freedom the hard way. He saved the lives of four guards, got released early, and became a detective. Then he went undercover, infiltrated a prison gang plotting to bust out—and barely made it out alive. Now they’re sending him back. Behind the iron. Straight to hell . . .
This time, it’s the ninth circle known as Missouri State Penitentiary. His mission: get inside the infirmary, look for a pregnant inmate named Jess Harper, and find out where her bank-robbing boyfriend hid the stolen cash. Problem is: a rebellion is brewing among the prisoners. Their rage is burning out of control. An all-out savage riot is about to explode. And Fallon’s head is on the chopping block . . .
Live Free. Read Hard.
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
The little man in the extremely large — and very brown — office opened a drawer. He pulled out a file.
"This," the small man said, "might interest you."
What interested Harry Fallon right then was this thought about killing the man, and the little man's son, in the Chicago office, but Fallon didn't. Fallon would have to get past the other men outside the office doors, and out of Chicago. And then what? Besides, Harry Fallon still needed that pathetic, tiny man.
"It's right up your line of work, Fallon," the small man with the big head and big ideas said. "I've found your niche."
Fallon walked back to the large desk and the small man.
"And what," Fallon said, "is my niche?"
The small man grinned over his foul-smelling cigar. "Going to prison. And getting out."
Harry Fallon felt older than his thirty-three years.
With a heavy sigh, Fallon found the chair in front of the sprawling desk and sat. Grinning, the small man held the folder of papers in his little left hand.
The small man slid the folder across the massive desk.
Fallon opened the folder.
"Tired?" the small man asked.
Fallon felt no need to answer. Tired? Who wouldn't be exhausted? Just a short time ago, Harry Fallon had been at the Illinois State Penitentiary in Joliet, saving the lives of a few guards during a bloody riot, and that act of bravery, kindness, humanity — just a spur-of-the-moment decision, truthfully — had led to a parole for Harry Fallon, former deputy United States marshal for Judge Isaac Parker's court in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Fallon had been given a job at Werner's Wheelwright in Chicago and a place to live at Missus Ketchum's Boarding House near Lake Michigan. And then this small man had changed Fallon's life.
The small man was Sean MacGregor, president of this American Detective Agency, a man with dead, green eyes, and thinning orange hair streaked with silver. Sean MacGregor had a job he wanted Harry Fallon to handle, just a minor little bit of work. All Fallon had to do was break his parole — but MacGregor could make sure the authorities thought the ex-convict was living up to his agreement with the state of Illinois and the solicitor for the United States court. Go to Arizona Territory. Get arrested and sentenced to prison at Yuma Territorial Prison, also known as The Hellhole. Somehow make friends with Monk Quinn, a notorious felon and murderer who, six years earlier, had robbed a Southern Pacific train of some $200,000 in gold bullion. Escape from The Hellhole with Quinn. Cross the border into Mexico. And bring back Quinn, and any of his associates, dead or alive — preferably dead — and return the gold. So that Sean MacGregor and his American Detective Agency could reap the glory and the rewards.
Somehow, Fallon had managed to do most of that, although the gold bullion wound up being recovered by MacGregor's rival, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.
Somehow, Harry Fallon had managed to live through it all. When he had left Chicago for Arizona Territory he was an inch over six feet tall and weighed ten pounds shy of two hundred. Big man. Leathery. Rock hard. You had to be big and tough to get out of Joliet in one piece. After that short while in Arizona and Mexico, Fallon had returned with a few more scars, some premature gray hair in his brown hair, and about twenty pounds lighter. It had not been the easiest assignment in Fallon's life — and Harry Fallon had pulled some rough jobs riding for Judge Parker all those years ago. His eyes remained brown. His eyes rarely missed anything.
"Remember our little agreement, Fallon," Sean MacGregor said in his thick Scottish accent.
You didn't forget a little agreement like that.
The little man reminded Fallon, one more damned time. "You want the man who framed you? You want the man who's responsible for the death of your family? You want that ... you do this job for me." He put the big cigar between his thin lips. "Savvy?"
The American Detective Agency's offices could be found on the top floor of the building in Chicago. Harry Fallon didn't know exactly what part of Chicago. He had scarcely had time to even see much of the city — just the depot and Lake Michigan (and the American Detective Agency's offices, of course) before he had been waylaid and brought to see the small little man in the massive but Spartan office of brown paneling, brown rugs, brown tables, and brown filing cabinets, with one window where the brown drapes were pulled tightly shut.
There was some color to MacGregor's office, of course. The lamp on his desk and the others on the walls had green domes. And the ashtray on MacGregor's desk was silver. The color of the folder was tan, which Fallon figured was as close to brown or green as MacGregor could find.
Fallon looked at the top sheet of paper. His stomach and intestines twisted into knots, but he showed no emotion. He merely wet his lips and turned to the next page. "You're sending me back," Fallon said dryly.
"Closer to home," MacGregor said. "Your old home. It's not like I'm returning you to Joliet to finish the rest of your sentence. Which I could do." He blew a thick cloud of smoke toward the ceiling, leaned back in his green leather chair, and chuckled. "I could even have you killed. I've had lots of people killed. And nobody would mourn the loss of a rogue deputy marshal, a paroled convict. Would they?"
No, Fallon thought sadly. The two people who would have mourned Harry Fallon were dead and buried. His wife and daughter. Murdered. While Harry Fallon was sweating and hardening behind the walls of Joliet.
"Dan," MacGregor called out to his larger, more handsome son. "Fetch Marshal Fallon a slice of cherry pie, would you?"
"Yes, sir," MacGregor's son said. Fallon kept looking at the pages. He heard the door open, saw some light filter into the dark brown room, before the door shut out the light and the fresh air. He went through the third sheet of paper and read the final page.
Carefully, he gathered the papers, tapped them on the big desk until they were even, and laid them back inside the folder, which he closed and left on the desk.
"Jefferson City," Fallon said.
"You've been there, I assume," MacGregor said.
"Just in passing."
"Well, you lived through Joliet and you survived Yuma. How hard could a little prison in a backwoods state like Missouri be compared to those two pens?"
Fallon stared. "The chances of someone recognizing me as a lawman or even a convict in Yuma were remote," he said. "But someone did recognize me in The Hellhole. Even though I'd never been in Arizona Territory till you sent me."
He tapped the folder. "I rode for Judge Parker's court in Arkansas and the Indian Nations. Missouri's just north of Arkansas. I arrested quite a few men who hailed from Missouri. I was born in Missouri. There's a pretty good chance that someone locked up there will know me."
"So what?" The small man dropped the cigar in the ashtray. "You're not the first badge-wearer to find himself behind bars. You can even use your own name this time. I don't think any warden or guard in Missouri will have enough brains or investigating skills to figure out that you're supposed to be on parole in the state of Illinois. And even if they do, they wouldn't be likely to give up a warm body and ship you back here to finish the completion of your original sentence. Be yourself, just another jailbird doing time."
The door opened. Light reappeared. The door shut. Darkness prevailed except for the lamps on the sprawling desk and the match that Sean MacGregor struck to light another one of his cheap, repugnant cigars.
Dan MacGregor slid a plate in front of Fallon.
"You like cherry pie?" Sean MacGregor said over his cigar.
"I prefer pecan," said Fallon, who hadn't tasted any dessert in years.
"Thaddeus Gripewater likes cherry pie," Dan MacGregor said. He spoke, unlike his father, without a trace of the Scottish Highlands. In the short time Fallon had met up with the MacGregors, he found few similarities between the two men.
Except this: A man would be wise not to trust either one of them. Fallon did not even think father and son trusted one another.
The younger man repeated the name: "Thaddeus Gripewater."
Fallon turned to look at the younger man. There had been no mention of any Thaddeus Gripewater in the four pages Fallon had just finished reading.
"Prison doctor at Jefferson City," Dan MacGregor explained casually but informatively. "You manage to get him a cherry pie, and he'll be putty in your hands, do anything for you, even get you to help him out in the prison."
He found the spoon and cut into the pie. He brought up some of the pie and smelled it.
"It's not poison, Fallon," Sean MacGregor said.
"There is some gin in it, though," Dan MacGregor said. "Thaddeus Gripewater likes gin, too. Probably better than cherry pie. You use gin to make your pie, and you'll rule the infirmary ward at Jefferson City."
After all those years in prison, Fallon found sweets unpalatable, and he didn't trust himself with alcohol, even if it had likely burned off while baking. He set the spoon on the side of the plate. "Thaddeus," he said. "Gripewater."
"It's his real name," Sean MacGregor said. "As far as we've been able to ascertain."
"His parents should be the ones in prison," Dan MacGregor said.
"So I'm supposed to get gin and cherries in prison and somehow bake the good doctor a pie, and get it from my cell — I assume I'll be a prisoner, again, right?"
"Well," Dan MacGregor said, "it never occurred to us to try to get you in as a guard." He smiled.
"They don't hire parole violators or disgraced federal lawmen," the elder MacGregor said. He did not smile.
Harry Fallon did not smile, either. He glanced at the plate and realized why Dan MacGregor had brought a spoon, and not a fork, with the dessert. A man who had spent ten years in Joliet could use a fork like an Indian could use a knife. Fallon envisioned the fork being pulled out of Sean MacGregor's neck, with blood spraying the dark room from the dying man's jugular vein, then slamming the fork between Dan MacGregor's ribs and into his heart.
"You still owe me something for the Yuma job," Fallon said.
"I told you already," Sean MacGregor said. "I didn't collect enough money, thanks to those damned Pinkertons. And whoever tipped them off that we had the gold bullion." He stared hard at Fallon, but Fallon gave nothing away. "Your payment is that I don't send you back to Joliet ..."
Fallon finished the sentence. Hell, he had heard it enough: "... or another facility for completion of my original sentence."
The small man flicked ash from his cigar and smiled. "That's right."
"It's not enough," Fallon said.
"Dan will tell you something on your way to the train depot," Sean MacGregor said. "When you're finished with this assignment, we'll get you out of Jefferson City and get you across the border and back to your lovely boardinghouse near Lake Michigan. It's beautiful in the fall. Colder than a witch's teat, but beautiful. You should be back by October."
"Cold will feel mighty good, Fallon," the small man said, "after spending a few months in hell."
"Finish your pie."
"The cherries are too tart. I'll find a better recipe."
"You won't find it at Missus Ketchum's Boarding House," Sean MacGregor said. "Her meals are like sawdust."
"I wouldn't know," Fallon said. Which was true. He had yet to see the place where the warden at the Illinois State Penitentiary thought he was living. Likewise, he had yet to meet his alleged employer, Werner. Fallon didn't even know the wheelwright's first name.
"Dan will fill you in on the particulars," Sean MacGregor said as he set the foul cigar on the gaudy ashtray. "Do we have an agreement?"
"It depends on what Dan tells me," Fallon said.
"Fair enough. Aaron Holderman will be delighted to escort you to Joliet ..."
Aaron Holderman worked for the American Detective Agency, but Fallon had known him in Arkansas and the Indian Nations, where he had run whiskey to the Indians, drunk what he couldn't sell, and used his fists on men, women, and children. He had spent time in Joliet, in Cañon City, Colorado; in Angola, Louisiana. He was exactly the kind of investigator a corrupt operation like the American Detective Agency needed.
"Yeah," Fallon said, "for violation of my parole, to finish the completion of my original sentence."
"No." MacGregor picked up his cigar. "You will face a new judge. The Almighty. Holderman will just be sending your dead body back to confirm that it is indeed Harry Fallon."CHAPTER 2
Out in the hallway, Dan MacGregor waited for a few other operatives of the American Detective Agency to head into other rooms. When the hallway was empty, he turned to Fallon and said, "The warden's name is Harold Underwood. He's the only one who should know you're working for us. You'll want to keep it that way. If an inmate finds out you're a detective, you're dead."
Fallon waited. "Is that it?"
The tall, handsome man glanced at Aaron Holderman before his eyes fell back onto Fallon. "No. There's another reason we picked you for this job."
Fallon let out a chuckle that held no humor. "I thought it was because I know how to rot behind bars."
"Mr. MacGregor's a man of his word," Aaron Holderman said. "He said he'd help you find out who killed your family, who framed you, and got you sent to Joliet. You listen to him. He'll help you out."
Now Fallon turned to the brute wearing the bowler. The city hat was brown, as was the big man's ill-fitting suit. He probably wore brown to please the corrupt president of the American Detective Agency. The suit did not fit Holderman well, but even Chicago's best tailor would find it hard to outfit this mass of muscles.
Fallon studied Holderman, his mustache and beard, too brown it seemed to Fallon. The monster likely dyed his hair with shoe polish. The brass shield on his chest that identified him as a private detective was tarnished. The bulge underneath his left shoulder indicated a revolver. A Chicago billy club protruded from his brown boot. It would be hard for Holderman to run with a nightstick in his left boot. From the size of Holderman, though, it would be hard for him to run anyway.
Dan MacGregor, on the other hand, looked like he could run alongside a thoroughbred for six furlongs.
You're thinking of trying to escape, Fallon thought. Stop it. You've a job to do. Just remember this is all for Renee. For Rachel. For justice.
No, he was fooling himself. Ten years inside Joliet had changed him. He no longer wore a badge. Even the American Detective Agency had not pinned a shield on him. He was just being used. But Fallon kept figuring a way that he could use Sean MacGregor and his minions. But not for justice.
"What's the reason?" Fallon asked MacGregor.
"I'll tell you," the young detective said, "when I'm sure the walls aren't listening."
Doors opened down the hallway, and voices became louder. Fallon could hear the footsteps behind him.
"All right," Fallon said.
MacGregor pointed. "Let's go."
They walked to the elevator. Aaron Holderman rang the button, and two awkwardly quiet minutes later the carriage arrived, the door opened, and the elderly black man said, "Headin' down, folks. Climb in."
Holderman moved in first, and Fallon started but felt something pull on the back of his vest.
"After you, Christina," Dan MacGregor said pleasantly, and gave a tall, attractive blonde woman his most handsome smile.
"Thank you, Dan," she said, and studied Fallon. "Who's your friend?"
"A lawman from way back," MacGregor said. "Working on a case with us."
She was already in the elevator. So were two other men. MacGregor let the last man, a thin man with huge spectacles, step inside, too, before he smiled at the black elevator man.
"You look crowded enough, Carlton," MacGregor told the black man. "And Holderman weighs more than three men and takes up the space of four. Run these good people down and come back up for us, will you?"
"Aaron," MacGregor called out to the big detective. "Go on. Meet us at the depot. Make sure everything's ready."
"Just do it," MacGregor said as the door closed.
He turned toward Fallon but said nothing until the creaking and clanging of the elevator revealed that it was at least two stories below them.
"There's one thing my father did not tell me to tell you, Hank," the handsome man said.
Hank, Fallon thought. It's Hank now. Only my friends call me Hank.
"Just one?" Fallon shot back.
MacGregor let out a genuine laugh. "One that I'm willing to share."
"Judge Parker sentenced you to fifteen years," MacGregor said.
Still, Fallon waited. He could hear the elevator begin its ascent to the top floor of the brownstone building.
"Parker was a federal judge." MacGregor's face showed no emotion. "So why were you sent to the Illinois State Penitentiary in Joliet and not the Detroit House of Corrections? Ever consider that?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Behind The Iron"
Copyright © 2018 J. A. Johnstone.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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