Bounty hunter Luke Jensen has always relied on his guns, his brains, and his guts to bring in the deadliest outlaws in the West. But when a family needs his help, he’ll have to use something else: his heart . . .
BLOOD IS THICKER THAN SLAUGHTER
Luke Jensen has seen some sorry looking bounties in his time, but this one takes the cake. A wanted poster is offering a reward of one dollar and forty-two cents—plus one busted harmonica—to capture Three-Fingered Jack McKinney. Turns out, McKinney’s twelve-year-old son Aaron wants revenge on his daddy for abandoning him and his mom. The reward is all the money Aaron can scrape together. Luke can’t say no to the poor boy—or his beautiful mother—so he agrees to go after McKinney and his bank-robbing gang.
Good deeds, however, are like good intentions—the road to hell is paved with them. And when Aaron McKinney decides to tag along, it puts Luke in the middle of a father-and-son reunion that’s life-or-death, blood-for-blood, and kill-or-be-killed. . . .
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
Luke Jensen froze with the glass of whiskey halfway to his lips as he heard the metallic ratcheting of a gun being cocked above and behind him. He glanced at the nervous-looking bartender and asked quietly, "He's on the balcony, isn't he?"
The man's lips were tight. His double chin bounced a little as he gave a short nod.
"I'd get down, if I were you," Luke advised, then he dropped the whiskey and threw himself to the side as a gun roared.
The deafening blast filled the saloon. From the corner of his eye Luke saw a bullet gouge out a piece of the hardwood bar and send splinters flying.
By the time he hit the sawdust-littered floor a split second later, his long-barreled Remingtons filled both hands. The guns roared and bucked as he triggered them. The .44 slugs smashed into the chest of the man standing on the balcony and rocked him back a step before he stumbled forward against the railing.
Luke recognized the man who had just tried to kill him. His name was Son Barton, a West Virginia mountaineer who had fled his home state because he had a habit of shooting people who annoyed him. He had headed west, fallen in with several other killers and outlaws, and ridden the dark trails for the past few years. Luke had tracked the gang to this Arizona Territory settlement and intended to collect the rewards on them.
The wanted posters said DEAD OR ALIVE, but it looked like Son Barton was going to be dead because life was fading fast in his eyes. The gun he had fired at Luke slipped from nerveless fingers and fell to the saloon floor. As Barton tipped forward over the railing and followed, he turned over once in the air and landed on his back with a resounding thud. He gurgled once but didn't move and didn't make any more sounds after that, either.
Still holding the Remingtons, Luke put a hand on the floor, pushed himself to one knee, and tried not to groan from the effort. These days, he felt every one of his years. He stood the rest of the way up and glanced out the window.
The four horses he'd been looking for were tied up at the hitch rail outside. Barton's three friends were still unaccounted for.
The bartender poked his bald head up enough to gaze wide-eyed over the hardwood. The few men who had been drinking in the saloon had stampeded out as soon as the shooting started.
Luke said, "The other three upstairs, too?"
The bartender shook his head. "Just two of 'em. Only got three girls workin' for me. The fourth man said he was goin' over to the store to pick up some supplies."
Since the settlement was small that man was bound to have heard the shots. He'd be heading to the saloon to see what had happened, but it would take him a while get there, so Luke didn't worry about him for the time being. The other two upstairs concerned him more. And with good reason.
A man burst through the door of the room where he'd been frolicking with one of the soiled doves and began spraying lead from a Winchester as fast as he could swing the barrel back and forth and work the rifle's lever.
The bartender ducked again.
Luke dived forward and slid through beery sawdust underneath a table. Bullets whapped against the wood above him. His head and shoulders emerged from the other side. He tipped the Remingtons up and fired two more shots. One missed, but the other caught the rifleman in the throat and jerked his head back as it bored on up into his brain. Blood shot out a good three feet from the wound as he went over backward.
The rifleman's frenzied firing had served as a distraction, Luke realized. The third member of the gang had made it almost all the way down the stairs while Luke had been dealing with the rifleman. And this hombre held a shotgun. He leveled it and squeezed off one barrel as Luke desperately tried to roll aside.
The buckshot hit the floor, except for one piece that plucked at Luke's shirtsleeve. He wasn't hurt, though, and as he came up on a knee again, he thrust the Remingtons out in front of him and triggered them.
The shotgunner jerked. Luke bit back a curse as he saw that his aim had been a little off. He'd hit the varmint in the left arm and left shoulder. He might bleed to death eventually, but he was still on his feet and still had hold of that scattergun.
Luke jammed the revolvers back into their holsters and grabbed hold of another table. As he swung it up, the wounded outlaw fired the shotgun's second barrel. Luke felt the table shiver as the charge struck it. Then he lunged forward and shoved the table out in front of him. It hit the shotgunner and knocked him back against the wall behind him.
Luke rammed the table into the man twice more, then, panting from the effort, shoved it aside and drew one of the Remingtons, even though the outlaw wasn't a threat any longer. He had dropped the shotgun, which was empty, and slumped to the bottom of the stairs, stunned. Luke twirled the Remington around and rapped the butt against the outlaw's head, knocking him out cold. No point in taking any chances.
Outside, a swift rataplan of hoofbeats sounded in the street. Luke hurried to the entrance and shoved the batwings aside. Only three horses stood at the hitch rail. The fourth one was making tracks out of town with a cloud of dust curling up from its hooves. The rider leaned forward over the animal's neck and frantically swatted his hat against its rump to urge it on to greater speed.
"Well, hell," Luke said.
The bartender stuck his head up again. "Is ... is it over?"
"Yeah. The fourth one lit a shuck, and I don't feel like chasing after him. Reckon I'll have to be satisfied with the three I got ... for now." Luke started reloading the Remingtons, keeping an eye on the man he had knocked out. "You have any law in this town?"
The bartender stood up. "Got a marshal. A deputy sheriff from Singletary, the county seat, swings by now and then, but you can't ever tell when he's gonna come through."
"Well ... a smokehouse where Marshal Hennessy locks up fellas when he has to."
Luke pouched the iron he'd been reloading and took out the other revolver. "I suppose a telegraph office would be too much to hope for."
"I'm afraid so. The railroad didn't come through here, so we never got a telegraph line. Summerville is just a sleepy little place, mister."
"That's the name of this town?"
"Yes, sir. Summerville, Arizona Territory."
Footsteps sounded on the boardwalk. A middle-aged, leathery-faced gent peered over the batwings and asked, "What in blazes is goin' on in there, Doolittle? Sounded like a damn war broke out."
The bartender waved a pudgy hand at Luke. "This fella came in and was about to have a drink when some of my other customers started shootin' at him."
The newcomer pushed the batwings aside and took a step into the room, revealing the lawman's star pinned to his vest.
Luke holstered the second Remington. "You'll take note of how this gentleman phrased that comment, Marshal. All three of those men shot at me first. That makes this a clear-cut case of self-defense."
The bartender, Doolittle, nodded, making his double chin wobble again.
"I take it they had a good reason for trying to ventilate you?" the marshal asked.
"They considered it a good reason. They knew I've been tracking them and planned to collect the rewards that have been posted for them."
Marshal Hennessy's lips tightened. "Bounty hunter, eh?"
"That's right." Luke gestured toward the body lying on its back. "That's Son Barton. The one over there at the bottom of the stairs is Jimmy McCaskill. He's just knocked out. You'll find another dead one up on the balcony, but I don't know which one he is. Didn't get a good enough look at him, and I didn't see the fourth man, the one who got away, at all. But Barton and McCaskill ran with Ed Logan and Deuce Roebuck, so I'm sure the dead man will turn out to be one of them."
As if he hadn't heard what Luke was saying, Marshal Hennessy said, "I don't like bounty hunters."
Luke sighed. "Most lawmen don't. I understand that, Marshal. But we do serve a useful function, you know."
"Yeah, so do buzzards, but that don't mean I got to cozy up to 'em."
"I'll be satisfied if you'll just agree to lock my prisoner up for the night. I'll have him out of your hair tomorrow morning. We'll ride up to the county seat where I can turn him over to the sheriff there."
Hennessy rasped his fingers over his beard-stubbled chin, then nodded. "All right, I suppose I can do that. You're responsible for feedin' the varmint, though. I'm not gonna ask the town to stand the cost of that."
"Fair enough." Luke went over to McCaskill, bent and took hold of his collar, and started dragging his senseless form toward the door. "Lead the way, Marshal."
Hennessy did, trudging along Summerville's only street until he came to a small but sturdy-looking smokehouse. Brackets had been attached on either side of the door, and a thick beam rested in them. He struggled to lift it, saying, "I keep telling the town council ... uh ... they oughta build me a real jail ... but they say the town can't afford it."
Luke let go of McCaskill's collar and reached to help the marshal. "I don't imagine you have much call for one."
"Nope. I have to throw a liquored-up cowpoke in here every once in a while, but that's about it."
Luke motioned for Hennessy to step aside. He took hold of the beam and lifted it out of the brackets. When he started to lean it against the smokehouse wall, he spotted McCaskill trying to crawl away. The outlaw had regained consciousness. Luke wondered how long he'd been shamming.
McCaskill must have thought he could crawl off for a few yards, then leap to his feet and make a dash for his horse. He tried to jump up, but Luke tossed the beam and it caught the outlaw across the back. The weight was enough to knock McCaskill facedown on the street and brought a groan from him.
Luke planted a booted foot on McCaskill's head and said, "You're a determined one, aren't you? I suppose I can see why, since you're bound to hang. But you're starting to annoy me, Jimmy." He drew one of his Remingtons. "It would be a lot easier just to haul your carcass to the county seat."
"Here now," Marshal Hennessy blustered. "Gunning a man when he's trying to shoot you is one thing, but that'd be pure murder, mister."
"Don't worry. I'm a patient man ... within reason." Luke stepped back and kept McCaskill covered while the outlaw climbed to his feet and stumbled into the smokehouse. Luke replaced the beam, effectively locking him in.
Now that he had a thick door between him and Luke's guns, McCaskill regained some of his bravado. "You're gonna be sorry, you damn bounty hunter. Deuce is gonna get me outta here, and we'll see to it that you die slow and painful."
"Deuce Roebuck, you mean?" Luke said. "I hate to break it to you, Jimmy, but the last I saw of Deuce, he was fogging it out of here and never looked back. I expect he's at least five miles away by now. By nightfall, he'll have gone twenty miles and completely forgotten about you."
"You just wait and see," McCaskill said, but his voice had a quaver in it that revealed his confidence was slipping.
Luke turned back to the marshal. "Do you have an undertaker here in town?"
"Yeah, but I didn't figure you wanted to have those other two buried. Don't you have to take them to the county seat, too, to collect the bounties on them?"
"Yes, but I thought maybe he could clean them up a little. Blood attracts flies, you know."
Hennessy pursed his lips. "He'll do it ... but he'll charge you for it."
"If it makes the ride a little more pleasant, it'll probably be worth it." Luke paused. "Of course, I suppose I could just cut their heads off and throw them in a gunnysack ..."CHAPTER 2
Summerville's undertaker was a tall, cadaverous man who introduced himself to Luke as Clifford Ferguson. Luke had wondered sometimes why undertakers all seemed to be either thin to the point of gauntness and dour or fat and jolly. He hardly ever ran into one of normal size, with a normal demeanor. He supposed the most likely explanation was that some men who dealt with death all the time lost their appetite, while others coped with the strains of their grim profession by embracing the pleasures of life, including plenty of good food.
Ferguson agreed to clean up the bodies of Son Barton and Ed Logan. A search of their saddlebags turned up a spare shirt and trousers for each man, so Ferguson would dress them in those duds and burn the blood-soaked clothes. He named a price of two dollars per corpse for the service.
Luke handed over a five-dollar gold piece he had also found in one of the saddlebags and got a silver dollar in change.
"I ain't sure I ever saw a bounty hunter quite so picky about the carcasses he hauled in to collect the blood money on 'em," Marshal Hennessy commented as he and Luke stood on the boardwalk in front of the saloon watching Ferguson and his stocky Mexican assistant load the bodies onto a wagon.
"It's summer, and Singletary is half a day's ride away," Luke said. "I actually considered asking Mr. Ferguson to go ahead and embalm them, just to cut down on the stink, but I decided that would be too much of an expense. The bounty on the three I'm taking in only adds up to eighteen hundred dollars, eight hundred for Barton and five hundred apiece on the other two, and they had less than twenty dollars between them in their saddlebags. They went through the loot from their recent jobs quickly."
"Eighteen hunnerd bucks is a damn fine chunk of money." Hennessy added sourly, "The town only pays me sixty dollars a month, plus half the fines I collect. That's better than cowboying, but not by much."
"In that case, Marshal, let me buy you a drink," Luke suggested.
Hennessy shook his head. "My stomach won't take whiskey no more. They call it rotgut, and it surely lived up to its name." He inclined his head toward a small frame building diagonally across the street and went on. "I've got a pot of coffee on the stove in the office, though, if you're of a mind."
"Thank you, Marshal. That sounds good."
The coffee probably wasn't good — Luke had come across very few local lawmen who could brew a decent cup — but he didn't figure it would hurt anything to accept Hennessy's invitation. The likelihood that he would ever pass through Summerville again was small. He couldn't rule it out, though, and being on good terms with the local star packer sometimes came in handy.
They walked across to the marshal's office. The coffee actually wasn't as bad as Luke expected, although it would be a stretch to call it good. He thumbed back the black hat on his head and perched a hip on the corner of Hennessy's paper-littered desk while the marshal sagged into an old swivel chair behind it.
"Jensen," Hennessy said musingly. "I reckon you get asked all the time if you're related to Smoke Jensen, the famous gunfighter they write all those dime novels about."
"From time to time," Luke admitted.
"Well ... are you?"
"As a matter of fact," Luke said, "Smoke is my brother."
It was true. For many years, his younger brother Kirby — known far and wide as Smoke — had believed that Luke was dead, killed in the Civil War. In reality, violent and tragic circumstances had led to Luke carving out a new life for himself after the war, with a new name as well. Only in recent years had he gone back to using the name Jensen, but he kept the profession he had chosen — bounty hunting.
Hennessy stared at him for a couple of seconds, then said, "You're joshin' me."
Luke shrugged. "It's the truth, Marshal. I haven't seen Smoke for a while. Mostly he goes his way and I go mine. He has a successful ranch over in Colorado to look after, you know."
"And you're just a driftin' bounty killer."
"We each have our own destiny. Some philosophers believe that our fates are locked into place before we're even born."
"Well, I don't know about that. Seems to me that a fella's always got the choice of takin' a different trail if he wants to."
"It's certainly nice to think so." Luke took another sip of coffee and looked idly at the papers scattered across Hennessy's desk. Most of them were reward posters. "You get these dodgers when the stagecoach brings the mail?"
"Yep. Sheriff Collins sends 'em to me."
Luke moved some of the papers around and then tapped a finger against one of them. "There's the reward poster for Son Barton. It's possible the posters for the other three are somewhere in here, too."
Hennessy frowned. "What are you gettin' at, Jensen? You think I should've known those boys were in town and tried to arrest 'em myself? I know Summerville ain't a very big place, but I can't keep track of every long rider who drifts in and then back out again."
Luke had a feeling the marshal didn't want to know when outlaws were in his town. That would mean going out of his way to risk his life for a salary that certainly wasn't exorbitant. As long as visitors to Summerville didn't cause any trouble, Hennessy was perfectly content to let them go on their way.
Luke couldn't blame him for that. "That's perfectly understandable, Marshal."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Luke Jensen Bounty Hunter Burning Daylight"
Copyright © 2019 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Bounty hunter Luke Jensen is smart, strong and compassionate despite his occasional bout of grumpiness. Red headed, stubborn Aaron is twelve years old going on forty and the best part of the story for me. The story takes us to the Arizonan badlands and some of the nastiest outlaws in the west. This book is filled with action and adventure and a good old time. This book is part of a series but can be read standalone.