Raised in the wild. Armed to the teeth. Sam Flintlock is no ordinary bounty hunter. But sometimes even a man who sets traps for a living can step right into one. Sometimes the hunter becomes the hunted—in the ultimate kill-or-be-killed showdown from bestselling authors William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone . . .
ONE WEEK IN HELL
After crossing the dry Arizona desert—and missing six meals in a row—Sam Flintlock is flat-out desperate. For food. For work. For lodgings. Luckily he finds all three in the high timber country east of the Mogollon River. A very young and pretty heiress, Lucy Cullen, has an unusual proposition for the bounty hunter. She will pay him cold, hard cash to spend one full week in the gothic mansion of her murdered uncle. What’s the catch? The place is haunted . . .
Flintlock ain’t afraid of the dead. It’s the living he’s more worried about—namely Hogan Forde, the murderous Texas gunslinger who just happens to be skulking around town. Toss in a few unfriendly locals and a missing treasure map, and you’ve got all the makings of a pretty terrifying campfire story. The difference is, these restless spirits are very much among the living, and they’ve got Flintlock slated for his own afterlife . . .
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
In a raging thunderstorm any shelter is welcome, and the cabin set among the foothills was a pleasing sight to Sam Flintlock. He said as much to O'Hara, his half-breed sidekick, who agreed that the place fit the bill.
But the bullet that kicked up a startled V of dirt a foot ahead of Flintlock's horse was less than welcoming, and the racketing roar of a heavy rifle was warning enough to stay the hell away.
Flintlock drew rein, waited until lightning scrawled across the sky like the signature of a demented god and thunder boomed over the blunt peaks of the Carrizo Mountains to the west, and then said to O'Hara, "Do you think that bullet was meant to scare us?" The breed looked around him, at an empty, untamed landscape and said, "I reckon so. There's nobody else in sight but us two."
Rain ticked off the brim of Flintlock's hat and ran down the front of his slicker. "That there shot didn't come from a friendly party," he said.
O'Hara said, "Sam, I'm always amazed at your grasp of the obvious." Then, "I guess we should try and find a place out of the rain to make camp."
"We got no coffee, no grub and I'm too damned wet for a cold camp," Flintlock said.
"So what do we do?" O'Hara said, his eyes scanning the cabin. "The traveling preacher we met told me there's a stage station to the north of us at Rock Creek on the old Oregon Trail."
"You mean the feller with the one arm?" Flintlock said.
"The very same. He said he lost that arm at Chancellorsville and maybe he did."
"How far?" Flintlock said.
"How far what?" O'Hara said.
"Damn it, you can be annoying by times, Injun," Flintlock said, scowling. "How long away is the stage station?"
"It's a few years since I've been this far west, but I reckon we're about four miles south of the trail, maybe less."
"And then when we get there we have to hunt around for a stage stop in a wall-to-wall downpour," Flintlock said.
O'Hara nodded. "Yeah, there's always that."
"Well, we got a cabin right in front of us with smoke coming out the chimney and I'm sure I can smell coffee on the wind. I say we" — a thunderclap that shook the ground obliterated Flintlock's words — "and we'll be made right welcome."
"I missed that," O'Hara said. "What did you say?"
Flintlock shook his head and rain cascaded from his hat brim. "You don't pay attention — that's always been your trouble, O'Hara, you just don't listen. I said we'll ride on in a-grinnin', like we're visiting kinfolk. Nobody's gonna gun grinning kinfolk, especially in a thunderstorm."
"We ain't grinning kinfolk and he'll know it," O'Hara said. "Try it and we're dead men."
"Trust me, O'Hara."
"Remember all the times I've trusted you before?"
"And you're still alive, ain't you? Anyways, this time will be different."
Flintlock kneed his horse forward and again a bullet kicked up dirt a couple of feet ahead of him and put an exclamation point at the end of the warning to steer clear. A cloud of gray gunsmoke drifted from the cabin's cracked open door and Flintlock caught the glint of a rifle barrel. He felt the burn of O'Hara's hostile gaze and said, "If the party in the cabin wanted to kill us he'd have done it by now. We can ride in real slow, a-grinnin' like a bushel basket of possum heads, and we'll be just fine."
O'Hara glanced at a turbulent sky as black as mortal sin and said, "Whoever he is, he ain't going to invite us in for cake and ice cream and that's a natural fact."
Rain driven by a gusting north wind drummed on the shoulders of Flintlock's slicker and his wet horse tossed its weary head and made the bit chime. "We'll give it another try," he said.
"Suppose he shoots again?" O'Hara said.
Flintlock's eyes narrowed. "Well, then he'll make me good and mad and I'll go in there a-hollering and a-shooting."
O'Hara grimaced. "Hell, Sam, he'll blow you right off that buckskin before you even cover half the distance."
"Maybe he's been trying to hit us and missed every time. Ever think of that?" "No, I never thought of that. I've thought of other things but that never crossed my mind."
Flintlock kneed his buckskin forward. "Let's go, O'Hara. The coffee is bilin' in the pot and maybe there's a stack of bear sign cooling on the plate."
"And maybe pigs will fly," O'Hara said.
Thunder crashed and lightning scraped across the sky but there were no more shots.
"Only a pair of damn fools would ignore two warning shots from a Sharps fifty," the man on the cabin porch said. He was a scrawny, tough-looking old coot, the white stubble on his right cheek parted by a wicked knife scar. The muzzle of his rifle was pointed right at Flintlock. "Did Nathan Poteet send ye?" he said.
"Never heard of the man, and you're less than hospitable, old-timer," Flintlock said. "In fact you're one unfriendly cuss."
"Man and boy, I never was a friendly cuss," the old man said. His Sharps didn't waver. "State your name and your intentions."
"My only intention is to come in out of the rain. My name is Sam Flintlock. There are them who know it and others who fear it."
"Big talk, mister." The old-timer cradled his rifle, reached into the pocket of his vest and produced a pair of pince-nez spectacles that he clamped onto the bridge of his nose. He craned his head forward and stared at Flintlock for a long time and then said, "Ach, I ken ye fine. You're old Barnabas Feeney's grandson, a right homely kid turned into a homelier man. You still got the thunderbird on your throat?" "It's there," Flintlock said. Rain lashed at him and lightning gleamed on the shoulders of his slicker but the oldster was a talking man and didn't seem to be in a hurry.
"I mind the time back in '42 me an' Barnabas an' Kit Carson joined John C. Fremont's expedition to survey the Platte and the Sweetwater as far as the South Pass. That was the time Barnabas fought a mounted rifle duel with Black Faced Dave Cosgrove over an Arapaho woman. Dave got a bullet into Barnabas but he cussed off the wound, rode straight at Dave and shot him in the belly. Dave hollered in pain and said he was done but Barnabas drew his pistol and put a bullet in his head. Well, sir, Dave lingered for a while but his brains were running out of his skull so he didnae last long." The old man cackled. "But after all that, the Arapaho woman spread her blankets next to a Yankee surveyor and Barnabas lost out. He was all for killing the surveyor, mind, but Fremont brandished a horse pistol and said he needed all his surveyors alive. And that was the end of that. He was a rum one, was ol' Barnabas."
The old man lowered his rifle and said, "My name is Jamie MacDonald, Scotland born and bred as ye probably can tell. There's a barn around the back where you can put up your horses. There's hay but if you want oats it will cost you fifty cents an animal, so think carefully on that. And be careful of my mule, she does not care for strangers."
"Your ankle is bruised but it's not broke," MacDonald said. "She kicked you, you say?" Irritated but mindful of the weather outside, Sam Flintlock bit back a sharp retort and said, "Yeah, that's what I say, damn mule kicked me, all right."
"Well, let that be a lesson to ye, never get behind a cantankerous mule," MacDonald said. "Now ye'll be wanting coffee, you and the Hindoo?"
"His name is O'Hara and he's half Irish," Flintlock said. "But as far as I know, when it comes to religion he's all Indian."
"Ah, weel, the Scots and Irish are brothers under the skin separated by differing views of Christianity, so you're welcome to my home, Mr. O'Hara."
"That's most gracious of you," O'Hara said. Flintlock gave the old man a sidelong look, surprised at his politeness.
"And now I'll get the coffee and later I'll boil us up a mess of porridge, or as some say, oatmeal," MacDonald said.
Flintlock and O'Hara exchanged horrified glances and the old mountain man laughed. "I always say that to my guests just to see their faces. You need not be alarmed. I've got a nice beef stew on the stove that will stick to your skinny ribs."
The old man cackled and busied himself with the coffee, and Flintlock looked around him. The cabin was small but the wood floor was meticulously swept and MacDonald's few sticks of furniture glowed from polish and much elbow grease. A fire burned in the stone fireplace and above the mantel was a painting of a self-assured young man wearing armor, a blue sash over his shoulder, and a fancy powdered wig.
"That's Prince Charles Edward Stuart, known to Scots the world over as Bonnie Prince Charlie," MacDonald said, seeing Flintlock's interest in the painting. "He should have been the king of Britain but his cause was lost." The old man shook his gray head. "He risked all on one final battle against the English, was defeated and had to flee Scotland, never to return. Forty-two years later he died in exile in Rome, of the drink, they said." MacDonald raised his cup to the portrait. "To you, my prince, and a tragic but noble figure you were."
MacDonald took a chair beside the fire opposite Flintlock. O'Hara, as was his habit when no other chairs were available, sat cross-legged on the floor.
"So, young Sam, tell me how Barnabas fares? Does his shadow still fall on the earth?" "No, he's dead," Flintlock said. "Well, more or less."
MacDonald looked puzzled but he never asked the question framed on his face because from outside in the rain a man's voice called out, "MacDonald! Jamie MacDonald! Show yourself and make an accounting."
The old man rose to his feet, grabbed his Sharps from the gun rack beside the mantel and yelled, "Nathan Poteet, is that you?"
An answer from outside, "You know it's me, old man. You've had your week to decide if a map is worth dying for. Speak up now. What conclusion have you reached?"
MacDonald stepped to the door and yelled, "Poteet, there is no buried gold. There never was any buried gold. Mechan Cully died penniless. All he had left was the big house. He drank and gambled away the rest and there are some say he lay in sin with fallen women."
"Get out here, old man," Poteet said. "My talking is done."
To emphasize that statement a bullet shattered through one of the top panes of the cabin window, hit Bonnie Prince Charlie and sent him crashing to the hearth, and then thudded into the far wall, splintering timber.
"Damn ye for a scoundrel, Poteet, you broke my window and shot my bonnie prince," MacDonald said. "And twice damned to ye for a rogue!" The old man flung the door open and Flintlock yelled, "No!"
Jamie MacDonald angrily stomped onto his porch, raised his rifle and was immediately hit by a volley of bullets that punched great holes in his thin frame. Flintlock heard a thud as the old man fell, and he pulled his Colt from the waistband.
"Easy," O'Hara whispered. He stared through the open door. "I see six but there could be more."
"You, in the cabin!" This from Poteet.
"What do you want?" Flintlock said.
"Step outside and identify yourselves. My quarrel is not with you."
"Damn you, you murdered the old man," Flintlock said.
"He had been notified," Poteet said. "Come out now or we'll shoot the cabin down about your ears."
O'Hara hollered, "We're coming out!" Then, "For God's sake put the gun away, Sam. There's too many of them and I think I see Hogan Lord out there."
"You're seeing things. Hogan never leaves the Brazos River country," Flintlock said. "It isn't him."
"Even if it isn't him, there's still too many guns out there," O'Hara said.
He stepped out the door into teeming rain that hissed like an angry dragon. Reluctantly, Flintlock shoved his revolver back into the waistband and followed.
Six men wearing yellow rain slickers sat their horses in the downpour, Winchesters at their shoulders. Flintlock saw no friendly faces but then one of the gunmen lowered his rifle and said, "Hell, it's Sam Flintlock. I'd recognize that beak of a nose and sour disposition anywhere."
Flintlock now remembered the face and a shooting scrape from a few years before. "Howdy, Hogan," he said. "It's been a while."
"Four years to be exact," Lord said. Rain dripped from his hat brim. "That time we both went after the same mark. Remember?"
"Yeah, I remember. His name was Link Liddell and we caught up with him in Ciudad Juárez down Chihuahua way. He was wanted for rape and murder and you scattered his brains all over the front door of the church of Christ the Redeemer. As I recollect the priest got real mad over that."
As always Lord's smile was wide but without warmth. "That town was a dung heap."
Flintlock nodded. "So was Link Liddell. Sorry I didn't stick around to share the reward with you, Hogan. I took one look at the money and decided that three thousand pesos just wasn't enough for two people. Doesn't go very far, like."
"If I'd found you that day, Sam, I would've gunned you," Lord said.
"You were always too quick to go to the gun, Hogan. I always considered it a character flaw in you," Flintlock said, staring at the gunman, thinking about things.
Could Hogan Lord shade me on the draw and shoot? Damn right he could and on my best day.
"Well, now that we're all reacquainted, tell us what you're doing here, Flintlock," Poteet said. "Be honest and straight up, like a white man."
"What I'm not doing here is murdering old men," Flintlock said.
"Self-defense, Sam," Lord said. "McDonald was fixing to cut loose with the Sharps. Mr. Poteet here was in fear for his life."
"It took six of you to kill one old man?" Flintlock said.
Poteet shrugged. "That's the way his hand played out." He looked past Lord to the other riders. "All right, boys, go earn your day's pay."
Now that his quick anger had subsided and he no longer saw through a red haze, Flintlock realized that the four men who'd climbed out of the saddle and stepped onto the porch were of a different stripe than Poteet and Lord. Low-browed and coarse, these were common thugs, dark-alley specialists, skull-and-boot fighters more at home with a sap, billy club, brass knuckles or a knife than a Colt. All four wore plug hats and the townsman's lace-up boots and when they talked to one another their accents were not of the West but of the rank, violent slums of the big northern cities. They were trash, but hideously dangerous and they'd attack in packs.
"Tear the cabin apart, boys," Poteet said. "If the map's in there find it." He stared at Flintlock, his eyes hard as stone. "You thinking of taking cards in this game?"
"I reckon not," Flintlock said. "I know when I'm facing a stacked deck."
"You, breed?" Poteet said as crashing, smashing and splintering sounds came from the cabin.
"I'm not the law," O'Hara said. "I've got no call to be involved."
"Wise man," Poteet said, dismissing O'Hara with a disdainful glance reserved for anyone not of the white race.
Poteet and Lord sat their saddles for the best part of an hour while the cabin was wrecked. They ignored the torrential rain as though it was a matter of no consequence.
Finally, one of the thugs stepped out the door onto the porch and said, "It ain't there, Mr. Poteet."
Poteet didn't hide his disappointment. "You sure?"
"Look for yourself, we tore the place apart. Two hundred dollars in a cigar box but no map." The thug shook his head. "It just ain't there."
Poteet, a big man whose claim to handsomeness was sabotaged by the cruel hardness of his mouth and his dead gray eyes, said, "Dave, you and the others share the two hundred among you, a bonus for getting wet."
"Obliged to you for that, Mr. Poteet," the scarred bruiser named Dave said. Then, as the others three joined him, "You want us to ride to Mansion Creek with you?"
Hogan Lord answered that question. "No. You four got too many wanted dodgers on your back trail and you could be recognized. And that goes for you too, Nathan. Stay close to town and I'll send for you when I need you."
"Need him for what, Hogan?" Flintlock said. "Does he have more old men to kill?" Poteet's face hardened into hewn rock. "Take my advice, don't push it, Flintlock," he said.
"Listen to the man, Sam," Lord said. "Mr. Poteet will take only so much."
"And then I get the urge to kill somebody," Poteet said. "Keep that in mind."
"Sam, let it go," O'Hara said, his voice urgent. "This isn't the time or place."
"Listen to the breed, Sam," Lord said. "If you stop in Mansion Creek look me up. I'll buy you a drink."
"Poteet, you didn't put the crawl on me," Flintlock said. "What's your opinion on that? Sum it up, now."
"We broke even, Flintlock," Poteet said. "That's my opinion."
"Sam, you can live with that," O'Hara said.
Flintlock nodded. "So be it." But there was a rage in him that scalded like acid.
Excerpted from "Flintlock Hell's Gate"
Copyright © 2017 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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