New York Times bestselling author William W. Johnstone continues his masterful storytelling with The Last Gunfighter—a boldly authentic series about lawmen, outlaws, and the innocents caught in between.
The Valley of the Shadow
Outlaws have taken Frank Logan’s son, and with all the good gunfighting men either dead or dying, Logan knows he’ll be riding after the kidnappers alone. But just as he gets close to the men he’s hunting, he comes upon a ghost town nestled into a Rocky Mountain valley. For Logan, the mystery of what happened to the town—and of a deadly spirit that haunts it—has to take second fiddle to what’s brought him this far. Determined to free his son, he’ll lure his enemies to this godforsaken place, where amidst the ghosts, the gunfighters, and the gunsmoke, he’ll make sure the killing is real.
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The Last Gunfighter: Ghost Valley
By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2001 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Frank Morgan rode into Glenwood Springs in Colorado Territory late in the afternoon, following the trail of Victor Vanbergen and Ned Pine, the outlaw leaders who had held his son, Conrad, for ransom. Conrad was safe now, after Frank's deadly encounter with two outlaw gangs. He'd left a trail of blood and graves in his wake to free his boy, but the business wasn't finished until Vanbergen and Pine paid for their mistake.
Frank had given up his old ways, the gunfighting trade, years earlier, but when his boy was taken prisoner by Pine and Vanbergen, he had opened an old trunk he kept under his bed and cleaned both of his pistols. There were some things even a peace-loving man couldn't tolerate.
He stopped his horse at a weed-choked cemetery near the edge of town when he saw an old man standing near the wrought-iron fence around the grave markers. Frank's brown dog growled. The old fellow turned around and gave him a look.
"Howdy," Frank said. He silenced Dog with a sharp whistle.
The man nodded. "You're a stranger to these parts," he said. "I reckon you came to see the famous Doc Holliday."
"That's not why I'm here," Frank replied. "I've heard about Holliday and the OK Corral shootings down in Tombstone. I didn't know he was here in Glenwood Springs."
"He came here to die. He's got consumption."
"I didn't know," Frank told him.
"We've got us a sanitarium in town. Lots of folks used to come here to take them hot mineral baths. Makes 'em live longer, or so I hear. This place is nearly a ghost town now.
"Holliday's almost dead, but he gets visitors from time to time who want to see what he looks like. There was this story in the Glenwood Springs Herald about how Doc Holliday used to be a dentist. He had this unusual sign above his office. I seen a tintype of it."
"What did the sign say that was so interesting?" Frank wanted to know.
The old man frowned. "It went somethin' like this, that if satisfaction with my dental work ain't given, your money will be given back."
Frank chuckled, then got back to the business at hand. "I'm looking for a couple of men who passed this way. They had some other men with them. One's name is Ned Pine, and the other is Victor Vanbergen."
"Hell, stranger, damn near everybody in these parts knows Ned Pine. He's a killer, wanted by the law. Are you some kind of lawman?"
"You're sure packin' a lot of iron on that horse. A rifle an' a shotgun."
Frank ignored the remark. He also carried a pistol under his coat that the man apparently hadn't noticed. "Have you seen Pine around this town lately?"
"No, sir, I sure ain't."
Frank was distracted when he saw a figure in the shadows of a tree at the back of the cemetery. "Who is that?" he asked as he opened his coat for a better reach toward his gun if the need arose.
"Who are you talkin' about, mister?" the old man asked when he stared across the fence.
"That man ... he looks like an Indian." Frank pointed to the back of the cemetery. Dog growled again, fur rigid on his back.
"There ain't nobody there."
Frank saw the figure move away from the back fence of the graveyard. "There he goes now, the fella with long hair dressed in a buckskin shirt. He's walking into that stand of pines behind the fence."
"You must be plumb blind, stranger. There ain't nobody near them trees."
"He's gone now," Frank muttered. "I don't suppose it matters who he was."
The old man turned away. "There's some who claim they can see the Old Ones. The Ones Who Came Before, they call 'em. The Anasazi Injuns used to live here ... they got mud houses up in the mountains, only they all died off a long time ago. Some folks claim they can see 'em near this buryin' place every now an' then, only they ain't real, like ghosts or somethin'. Most folks in town don't pay no attention to it."
"But I did see someone ... he was dressed like an Indian," Frank said. "My dog saw him too."
"Look, mister, there ain't nothin' wrong with my eyes an' I damn sure didn't see nobody where you was pointin'. Maybe you oughta get yourself a pair of spectacles."
"I can see well enough."
Frank reined his horse toward Glenwood Springs. He was a shade over six feet tall, broad-shouldered and lean-hipped, a very muscular man. He was in his mid-forties, and had carried the doubtful brand of a gunfighter ever since he was fifteen years old and was forced into a gunfight with an older man down in Texas.
Frank had killed the man, and several years later he had been forced into a gunfight with the man's brothers.
He had killed them all with deadly precision.
His reputation as a gunfighter had been etched in stone from that day forward. That was many, many years in the past, many gunfights ago.
The number of dead men Frank left behind him could not equal that of Smoke Jensen and a few others — nor did Frank want it to — but nonetheless that number was staggeringly high. He didn't count the dead any longer. Frank had not started a single one of those gunfights, but he had finished them all.
Frank had married in Denver, a lovely girl named Vivian, but her father, a wealthy man, hated Frank. He framed him for a crime he did not commit, then said he would not pursue it if Frank would leave and never see Vivian again.
Frank had no choice; he pulled out of Denver and didn't see or hear from Vivian for years. Her father had the marriage annulled.
Vivian remarried and took over her father's many businesses after his death, and she became one of the wealthiest women in America. Vivian's husband had died a few years back. She had a son, Conrad, and it was not until years later that Frank learned the young man was his own.
It came as quite a shock.
Frank had drifted into a mining town in northern New Mexico and discovered that Vivian was there, overseeing a huge mining operation. But a few weeks later, after Frank and Vivian had begun to pick up the pieces of their lives and get back together, Vivian was killed and their son was kidnapped by the Ned Pine and Victor Vanbergen gangs.
Frank swore to track them all down and kill them, even if it took him the rest of his life.
He dreamt of the men who had faced his guns in the past and died for their folly ... there was that kid in Kansas in that little no-name town right after the war. Billy something-or-other, about eighteen or so. Frank had tried to warn the kid off, had done his best to walk away from him, but Billy had insisted on forcing Frank's hand in a deadly duel.
Billy died on the dirty floor of the saloon that night. He hadn't even cleared leather before Frank's bullet tore into his heart.
There was that older man in Arizona Territory, one afternoon years ago, who called Frank out into the street in the mistaken belief that Frank had killed his brother.
Frank repeatedly told the man he'd never heard of the man's brother and to go away and leave him alone, but the man persisted, cursing Frank and calling him yellow.
Seconds later the man went for his gun, and in a single heartbeat was gut-shot, writhing in pain and dying in the street.
Frank turned away, mounted up, and rode out of town at a jog trot.
Then there was the fight with the father and his sons to haunt him. Frank had stopped off in a small blot on the map in the panhandle of Texas for supplies.
There was a liquored-up young man in the store/trading post/saloon. The young man had a bad mouth and an evil temper that fateful day.
He kept bothering Frank, who just tried to ignore him, but the punk kept pushing and pushing, and he finally made the fatal mistake of putting his hands on Frank.
Frank didn't like people to put hands on him. He flattened the young man with a big hard right fist and left him on the floor.
Someone yelled for Frank to watch out. Frank turned, his .45 ready in his hand. The punk had leveled a .44 at him with the hammer trimmed back.
Frank shot him right between the eyes and made a big mess on the floor, a bloody mess.
The young man's father and his other two sons caught up with Frank on the trail about a week later.
The father and sons didn't believe in much conversation. They opened fire on Frank as soon as they got within range.
Frank headed for an upthrusting of rocks and brush, and an all-day battle ensued. The father and one of his sons were killed, the remaining son badly wounded.
Frank patched up the wounded boy as best he could, buried the two others, and pulled out.
There wasn't much else he could do.
He remembered the time he found a family butchered by Indians. Frank was prowling through the ruins of the cabin when a small posse from a nearby town rode up, and in their ugly rage they thought Frank had committed the atrocity. That was a very ugly scene, involving a hanging rope ... until Frank filled both hands with Colts.
He made a believer out of the sheriff and what remained of his posse before the affair was over — a bloody shootout and a pile of corpses.
Frank made it a habit to avoid Arizona Territory for several years after that. He knew there would be a price on his head in Arizona.
He rode into Glenwood Springs now, and halted his horse in front of the town's only hotel, Gold Miner's Lodge. He pulled off his hat and ran fingers through dark brown hair peppered with gray, making a mental note to buy a comb or a brush. Then he popped the cover on his pocket watch and checked the time. It was past four o'clock.
He glanced at his image in the hotel's front window after he swung down from the saddle.
"You're too old for this kind of life," he muttered, tying off his horse, wishing for the comforts of a soft bed and a decent meal after so many days on the trail.
But his advancing age would do nothing to turn him away from a rendezvous with Ned Pine and Victor Vanbergen. All he had to do was find them, make them pay in blood for what they had done to his son and wife.
He needed to find a place to stable his horse after he hired a room for the night. Then a hot bath, a shave, and a haircut before inquiring about the best beefsteak in town.
He made himself a promise as he climbed the steps leading to the hotel. After he found Pine and Vanbergen he would put his guns away for good.
"Hey, mister," a voice called from the hotel veranda.
Every muscle in Frank's body tensed — he made ready to claw iron.
An old man was sitting on a bench whittling on a stick. "Are you Frank Morgan the gunslinger?"
"My name's Frank Morgan," he said.
"Thought I recognized you. Are you out to kill somebody in this ol' ghost town? Ain't many of us to choose from."
Frank wagged his head. "Just looking for a clean room, a hot bath, and something decent to eat."
He went inside before there was a chance for more conversation about his past, a past he wanted to forget.CHAPTER 2
Frank couldn't help recalling his last run-in with Vanbergen and Ned Pine, and how close he had come to putting both of them in an early grave.
* * *
Two hours of following Ned and his men through dense forests along a winding road had put an edge on Frank's nerves. The pair of gunmen at the rear had fallen back about a hundred yards, and they seemed to be talking softly to each other. Frank wondered about them, why they were dropping farther back. Were they planning to run out on Ned?
"Time I made my move," Frank said, tying off his horses in a pine grove. On foot, he approached a turn in the road where the two outlaws would be out of Ned's line of vision for a short time.
He was taking a huge risk ... that gunshots might force Ned to shoot Conrad. But the boy was lashed over his saddle and by all appearances, he was unconscious ... perhaps even dead. It was a gamble worth taking.
Frank slipped up to a thick ponderosa trunk where the road made a bend. He opened his coat and swept his coattails behind the butts of his twin Peacemakers.
When the distance was right, he stepped out from behind the tree to face the gunmen.
"Howdy, boys," he said, bracing himself for what he knew would follow. "You've got two choices. Toss your guns down and ride back wherever you came from, or go for those pistols. It don't make a damn bit of difference to me either way. I'd just as soon kill you as allow you to ride off."
"Morgan!" one of the riders spat.
"You've got my name right."
Before another word was said, the second outlaw clawed for his six-shooter. Frank jerked his right-hand Colt and fired into the gunman's chest.
The man was knocked backward out of his saddle when his horse spooked at the sound of gunfire, tossing its rider over the cantle of his saddle into the snow as the sorrel gelding ran off into the trees.
But it was the second man Frank was aiming at now, as the fool made his own play.
Frank fired a second shot. His bullet struck the outlaw in the head, twisting it sideways on his neck as he slumped over his horse's withers. But when the bay wheeled to get away from the loud noise, the gunman toppled to the ground. Blood spread over the snow beneath his head.
The bay galloped off, trailing its reins.
Frank walked over to both men. One was dead, and the other was dying.
With no time to waste, Frank took off at a run to collect his saddle horse to go after Ned Pine. The only thing that mattered now was saving Conrad's life ... if the boy wasn't already dead, or seriously injured.
* * *
Pine heard Frank's horse galloping toward him from the rear and he looked over his shoulder, reaching inside his coat for his pistol. Frank had to make a dangerous shot at long range before Ned put a bullet in Conrad.
Frank aimed and fired, knowing it would take a stroke of luck to hit Pine. But the fates were with Frank when the horse Conrad was riding tried to shy away, breaking its reins, dashing off into the trees with the boy roped to the seat of its saddle.
Frank knew he had missed Pine, even though the bullet had been close. Pine spurred his horse, firing three shots over his shoulder as he galloped off in another direction, continuing northward.
Frank understood what he had to do. Finding out about his son's condition was more important than chasing down a ruthless outlaw. There would be plenty of time for that later, after he got Conrad to safety.
"We'll meet again somewhere, Pine," he growled as he reined into the trees to follow Conrad's horse.
Moments later, he found his son and the horse. Jumping down from the saddle, he ran over to his son.
"Are you okay, Conrad?"
Conrad blinked. "My head hurts. One of them hit me." Then he gave Frank a cold stare. "What are you doing here? Why did you come?"
"I came to get you back," Frank replied as he began unfastening the lariat rope holding Conrad across the saddle. He pulled out his knife and cut the ropes binding Conrad's wrists and ankles.
Conrad slid to the ground on uncertain legs, requiring a moment to gain his balance. "How come you were never there when I was growing up, Frank Morgan?" he asked, a deep scowl on his face. "I wish the hell you'd never come here."
"It's a long story. I'm surprised your mother didn't tell you more about it. It had to do with her father. And I was framed for something I didn't do."
"Save your words," Conrad said, rubbing his sore wrists. "I don't ever want to see you again the rest of my life. You mean nothing to me."
Frank's heart sank, but he knew he'd done the only thing he could.
He was distracted by the sounds of horses coming down a hill above the road. Frank reached for a pistol, then recognized Tin Pan and his mule, although someone else, a man in a derby hat, was riding with him.
Tin Pan and the stranger rode up.
"Nice shootin', Morgan," Tin Pan said. "We saw it from up that slope when you gunned down those two toughs. Couldn't get down in time to help you, although it didn't appear you needed any help."
"I saw the whole thing," the stranger said. "You're every bit as fast as they say you are. You killed two men, and you made it look easy."
Tin Pan chuckled, giving Conrad a looking over before he spoke. "This here's Mr. Louis Pettigrew from the Boston Globe, Morgan. He came all the way to Colorado Territory to get an interview with you."
"You picked a helluva bad time, Mr. Pettigrew," Frank said quickly. "Right now, I'm taking my son back to Durango. He's been through a rough time and he may need to see a doctor. He has a gash on top of his head."
Excerpted from The Last Gunfighter: Ghost Valley by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 2001 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This story gives insight into Frank Morgan's Attempt to save his son and reconnect with him.