THE GREATEST WESTERN WRITERS OF THE 21ST CENTURY
ON THE RUN FROM THE LAW
Kate Coldane has sweated blood for this saloon, and she won’t let it go down without a fight. Silas Atwood may be the richest rancher in Hudspeth County, but that doesn’t give him the right to push her around. When Atwood sends one of his goons to cause trouble at her watering hole, Kate’s son Rusty guns him down. It may have been self defense, but Atwood is the law, and that means Rusty has to run.
THE LAW’S GOT NOTHING ON JUSTICE
Rusty flees to the home of his uncle, Pearlie, who straps on his six-gun, intending to return to Hudspeth County and clear his nephew’s name. But Smoke Jensen, the mountain man, won’t let his friend ride into certain death. With a handful of brave souls, Smoke storms the town, ready to wage war against more than two dozen of Atwood’s blood hungry killers. Drunk with power and afraid of no man, Silas Atwood believes Smoke Jensen can be stopped with brute force alone.
Problem is, Silas Atwood doesn’t know Smoke Jensen . . .
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
Brutal Night of the Mountain Man
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
El Paso County, Texas
The Eagle Shire Ranch was second in size only to the King Ranch in Southwest Texas. Silas Atwood, owner of Eagle Shire, had been ruthless in building his ranch. He began the process by buying, from the bank, the mortgage paper on many of the smaller adjacent ranches. If a blizzard or drought or some other calamity would happen to cause the smaller ranchers to miss payments, Atwood was merciless in foreclosing on them immediately. In this way he continued to expand his already large holdings.
Bo Willis, Tony Clinton, Abe Creech, and Danny Reed rode for Atwood, though they couldn't exactly be called cowboys since their positions for the ranch called for a set of skills that were different from those required by working cowboys. Atwood called such men his "special cadre." At the moment, Willis and the others were at Glen Creek, a year-round stream that supplied water for this part of the county. They were near the spillway where, even now, water was pooling into a widening lake behind gate number one. Closing the gate stopped the creek from flowing onto the Double Nickel Ranch. A medium-size ranch, the Double Nickel had, so far, managed to survive blizzards and droughts.
Bo Willis took a leak against an ocotillo cactus, aiming at a sunning frog as he did so. He laughed when the creature, caught in the stream, hopped away. Buttoning his pants, he walked back over to the others.
"See anything yet?" Willis asked.
Clinton spit a wad of tobacco before he answered. "Nope," he said. "I'm not sure anyone will be here."
"Oh, someone will be here all right. Either Dumey or some of his men," Willis said. "They're goin' to want to know what happened to the stream."
Reed laughed. "When they find out, I don't reckon Dumey is goin' to be all that happy about it."
"Yeah, well he can bitch all he wants, Mr. Atwood has a court order allowin' us to close the gate, so there's nothing he can do about it. Nothing legal, that is. That means that if he, or any of his men, show up, it can only be to cause us trouble. And remember, when they do arrive, they will be trespassing, which means we have every right to shoot them down."
"Hey, Bo," Creech said. "Looks like we've got company comin'."
Creech pointed out three riders.
"All right, you fellas stay out of sight," Willis said. "Have your rifles loaded and ready. When I give the signal, shoot 'em."
"Shoot at them?" Reed asked.
"No, shoot them," Willis said. "You got a problem with that? 'Cause if you do, it may just be that you'll need to find another place to work."
"No, I ain't got no problem with that," Reed insisted. "I just wanted to be sure that's what Mr. Atwood wanted, is all."
"He give us fifty dollars apiece to come out here 'n do just that," Willis said. "I don't intend to go back 'n tell 'im the job didn't get done. So if you ain't got it in you, just go on back now, 'n I'll take your fifty dollars."
"Like hell you will," Reed said. "You just give me the word, then step out of the way so they don't none of them fall on you."
Clinton and Creech laughed at Reed's comment.
"Go on, then, 'n get out of sight," Willis ordered.
Clinton, Creech, and Reed got out of sight behind an outcropping of rocks. Willis walked out to the middle of the road and stood, waiting until the three riders came close enough for him to identify them. One of them was Gus Dumey, son of the owner of the Double Nickel. The other two were Paul Burke, who was the foreman of the Double Nickel, and a man named Poke, who was one of the Double Nickel riders. Poke was the only name Willis knew him by.
"That's far enough!" Willis called out, holding his hand up to stop the riders. "You three men are trespassing on Eagle Shire Ranch property."
"Is that you, Willis?" Burke asked.
"Yeah. What are you three doin' here, Burke?"
"Our crick has run dry," Burke said. "We're tryin' to find out why."
"It's run dry 'cause we closed the gate," Willis said.
"What?" Dumey shouted. "Why the hell did Atwood do that?"
"It ain't Mr. Atwood's doin'," Willis replied. "Judge Boykin ordered it shut down so as to divert some water to the other ranches because of the drought."
"There aren't any other ranches serviced by Glen Creek except Eagle Shire and the Double Nickel," Dumey said angrily. "And there isn't a drought."
"Well, then, if their ain't no drought, you got no need for the crik, do you?" Willis said with a smug smile.
Dumey started toward the gate.
"Where do you think you're a-goin'?" Willis asked.
"I aim to open that gate," Dumey replied.
Willis looked toward the concealed men and nodded. Shots rang out and Dumey, Burke, and Poke all three went down as a cloud of gunsmoke drifted up over the rocks.
Clinton and the others came out then. "Dead?" Clinton asked.
"Yeah," Willis replied.
"Let's get 'em throwed over their saddles, then take 'em into Marshal Witherspoon. Mr. Atwood wants this done all legal-like."
Big Rock, Colorado
Smoke Jensen and Cal Wood were standing in the crowd of some fifty or so spectators, watching the horseshoe-pitching contest. They were here to support their friend Pearlie, who was representing Big Rock in the Eagle County championship match. Pearlie was defending his position as county champion, but he was facing stiff competition this time from Jim Wyatt, who represented Red Cliff.
The two men were tied, and Wyatt, who was up, held the shoe under his chin, studied the pit at the far end, then made his toss. His shoe hit the stake and lay there, in contact with the stake.
"Good toss, Wyatt," someone called.
"Yeah? Watch this one."
Wyatt threw his second shoe. There was a loud clang as the horseshoe hit the iron stake, then fell. The judge made a quick examination of the shoe, then called back, "The ends are all the way through. It's a ringer."
"That gives Wyatt twenty-one points, Pearlie," someone shouted. "Looks to me like you ain't a-goin' to be the horseshoe-throwin' champion of Eagle County no more."
The man who called out was Beans Evans, one of the wagon drivers for Big Rock Freighters.
"Don't count 'im out yet, Beans," Cal said. "He's got two more throws."
"He ain't hit a ringer in the last ten tosses," Beans replied. "He ain't likely to do it now."
Pearlie threw the shoe. It hit the stake and then whirled around. Pearlie held his breath until it dropped.
"It spun off," Wyatt said.
"No, it didn't," the judge replied, examining the shoe. "Mr. Wyatt's ringer is canceled, and there is zero score for either man."
"You're at nineteen points, Pearlie. Another ringer is all you need."
"I bet you five dollars he don't get it," Beans said.
"Now, Beans, I know you don't really want to bet that much," Smoke said. "Suppose we just bet a beer on it."
Beans laughed. "Yeah," he said. "I was gettin' a little carried away there, wasn't I? All right, I'll bet you a beer."
Sally Jensen was sitting on Eagle Watch, the high escarpment that guarded the north end of the ranch. She had found this place shortly after she and Smoke were married, and she came here quite often to enjoy the view. From here she could see the house, a large two-story edifice, white, with a porch that ran all the way across the front. It had turrets at each of the front corners, the windows of which now shined gold in the reflected sunlight. Also in the compound were several other structures, including the bunkhouse, cook's shack, cowboy dining hall, barn, granary, and other outbuildings.
Now was bluebell season, and at her insistence some of the meadow was left free of any livestock so she could enjoy the tulip-shaped blooms and their rich color from deep blue, to almost purple. Although Sally had grown up in New England, she was now living the life of her dreams; married to the man she loved.
Smoke Jensen's reputation reached far beyond the Colorado state lines, far beyond the West. He was someone whose reputation as a rancher, and as a courageous champion of others, was the stuff of heroes, and indeed, there had already been many books written about him.
Even as such thoughts played across her mind, she looked down onto Jensen Pike and smiled at the sight of three approaching riders. They were, she knew, Smoke, Pearlie, and Cal. Pearlie and Cal were their two top ranch hands, but they were much more than that. The two young men had been with them for a long time, having come to the ranch when they were relatively young. As a result, Smoke and Sally looked at them more as if they were members of the family than just employees.
Sally mounted her horse, then rode back down the trail to meet them, arriving back at the house at about the same time Smoke, Pearlie, and Cal did.
"I made some bear sign," Sally said. "I figured they would be good as consolation in case you lost, or as a celebration in case you won. Which was it?"
Pearlie reached down into his saddlebag, then, with a big smile, pulled out a brass cup.
"We'll be celebratin'," he said, holding the cup up so she could see it.
"My," Sally replied. "I do believe that one is even prettier than the other three."
"It is, isn't it?"
"They all look just alike," Cal said.
Smoke laughed. "I believe you have just been subjected to a bit of Sally's sarcasm."
Eagle Shire Ranch, El Paso County
There were two separate bunkhouses on the Eagle Shire Ranch. The larger of the two bunkhouses was for the men who were actually cowboys, men who rode the range, kept the fences repaired, pulled cattle out of mud holes, and maintained the wagons and equipment. The smaller bunkhouse was for Silas Atwood's cadre of gunmen. It was because Silas Atwood was so successful that he justified the presence of his own personal army of gunmen. He suggested that a man of his wealth and prominence was always in danger of being attacked.
The working cowboys weren't jealous of the special cadre. In fact, honestly they gave the gunmen little thought.
"They have their job, we have ours," is the way Miner Cobb, the foreman of the ranch, explained it. Because of the decreasing number of area ranches, the working cowboys of Eagle Shire were just thankful for the job.
Steady employment was not the norm for the cowboys working at any of the few remaining ranches. It was not only that none of the other ranchers had the economic clout as Silas Atwood, it was that many of the smaller ranches that had started the year under the ownership of one man had changed hands when they found the challenge of trying to survive in the shadow of a huge ranch, like the Eagle Shire, to be more difficult than they could handle.
Some sold out to Atwood on his first offer. They were the lucky ones. Those who insisted that they could survive sometimes found that their source of water was compromised, or mysterious fires burned away their grass. Also, because Atwood owned so much land, he had the smaller ranches blocked so that passage in and out of town was possible only by paying high toll fees. Most gave up, and abandoned their ranches with only what they could carry with them.
It wasn't just the ranchers who were having to deal with Atwood, several of the businessmen of the town of Etholen found their livelihood threatened as well.
"Do you know anything about the old feudal system of England?" Atwood once asked. "Men who owned large areas of land, and who controlled the village, became members of the peerage. We don't have peerage here, but I intend to have as much power as any duke in the realm."
Atwood already controlled the law in Etholen, not only the marshal and his deputy but the city council and the circuit judge as well. It was Atwood's control of the law that allowed him to bring in the bodies of Gus Dumey, Paul Burke, and Poke without having to face any consequences.
The only official in town that Atwood did not control was Mayor Joe Cravens. But he intended to take care of that in the next election.CHAPTER 2
The most popular saloon in town was the Pretty Girl and Happy Cowboy Saloon. If he could gain control of that saloon, Atwood felt that it would give him influence over much of the rest of the town. The Pretty Girl and Happy Cowboy Saloon was enjoying a peaceful Saturday afternoon. There was a friendly card game going on at one of the tables, and the teases, touches, and flirtatious laughter of the girls who gave the saloon its name were in play all through the room. The owner of the saloon, Kate Abernathy, was sitting at a table with Mayor Joe Cravens and Allen Blanton, the editor and publisher of the Etholen Standard.
Rusty Abernathy, Kate's son, was playing the piano, his music adding to the ambience of afternoon. Unlike the pianos in most saloons, this wasn't an upright this was a Steinway Grand Piano, and, unlike most saloon piano players, Rusty had natural talent, great skill, and classical training. It was relatively rare when he played classical music, but even when he played the saloon classic songs, such as "The Old Chisholm Trail," "The Cowboy's Lament," or "I Ride an Old Paint," he offered a melodic poignancy that made the musical experience in the Pretty Girl and Happy Cowboy to be quite unique.
"Atwood said that young Dumey, Burke, and Poke came out there to tear down the gate, and when they were challenged, they opened fire," Mayor Cravens said. "They said they were killed in self-defense."
"You don't believe that, do you, Joe?" Blanton asked.
"Not for a minute. But Witherspoon believed it. And so did Judge Boykin, so that's the end of it."
"I don't think that Witherspoon or Boykin believe it any more than we do. They're both in Atwood's pocket. You know that," Blanton said.
"Yes, well, it doesn't matter whether Boykin absolved Willis and the others out of belief or graft, he's made his ruling, and there's nothing we can do about it."
"You're the mayor," Kate said.
"I can't do a thing without the backing of the city council, and Atwood controls them as much as he does Witherspoon and Boykin."
"Maybe you can't do anything, but I've got the newspaper and freedom of the press," Blanton said. "And I intend to use it."
"You're a good man, Allen," Mayor Cravens said.
"Thank you. And, speaking of the paper, I've got some advertising copy I have to set, so, if you two will excuse me."
"I'll come with you," Mayor Cravens said.
The two men stood, then turned toward Kate. "Kate, my dear," Cravens said, taking her hand and lifting it to his lips. "It has been a pleasure visiting with you. You are like a long, cool drink of water in the midst of a blazing desert."
"Damn!" Blanton said. "And here I am supposed to be the one with a facility for words."
Kate laughed. "You gentlemen make my day."
* * *
Silas Atwood never went anywhere without at least two of his gunmen. Tonight, when he rode into town, he took Jeb Calley and Tony Clinton with him. He never hired anyone unless he knew quite a bit about them. Calley had deserted the army and robbed a stagecoach up in Wyoming, before drifting down to Texas. Clinton was wanted for murder back in Arkansas. The fact that Atwood knew so much about the men he hired for his special cadre helped him exercise control over them.
Kate saw Atwood and his two men come into her saloon, and she braced herself because she knew that Atwood was going to come to her table to talk to her. She also knew what he was going to talk about, because the subject came up every time Atwood came in. The Pretty Girl and Happy Cowboy Saloon was more than a mere saloon. It was almost like a country club, so that even women of the town could come in without being scandalized. The Pretty Girls of the saloon were just that, pretty girls who acted as hostesses and who provided the cowboy customers with what, for most of them, was their only opportunity to ever have a pleasant conversation with a woman.
Because of the popularity of the Pretty Girl and Happy Cowboy Saloon, Atwood had made it a point to try to buy it. He wanted to control the entire town, and it was his belief that control of the Pretty Girl and Happy Cowboy would give him enough of a presence, and influence over the town, that he would be able to realize his ambition.
As she expected, Atwood, leaving his two bodyguards standing at the bar, came over to Kate's table.
"You may as well sell out to me, Kate," Atwood said. "You must know that no decent woman would ever own a saloon. I have made you a very generous offer."
Excerpted from Brutal Night of the Mountain Man by William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone. Copyright © 2016 J. A. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
great book to read.