Winner of the 2018 Spur Award for Best Paperback Western
From acclaimed storyteller Charles G. West comes a thrilling new chapter in the saga of John Hawk, an army scout with a tracker’s eye, a cowboy’s grit—and his own brand of justice . . .
Three desperate women. One deranged killer. No way in hell is John Hawk going to sit back and let the innocent get slaughtered. He first meets the three lovely ladies as they’re fleeing in a wagon—alone—through Blackfoot country. What’s their rush? They’re being pursued by a wanted outlaw who wants them dead. Their only chance is to reach the Last Chance Saloon in Helena—and John Hawk is their last hope…
Hawk can track down a low-life like nobody’s business. But this time he has to stay two steps ahead, keeping the ladies safe and sound until they get to the saloon. There’s just one problem: the outlaw got there first. He’s the notorious Zach Dubose. He’s waiting for Hawk and his girls. And he’s ordering them a round vengeance with a bullet chaser—and death on arrival . . .
“Rarely has an author painted the great American West in strokes so bold, vivid, and true.”
About the Author
Charles G. West is the author of more than forty action-packed westerns. He currently resides in Ocala, Florida, with his wife, Ronda. Visit him at charlesgwest.com.
Read an Excerpt
I've done a lot of damn fool things in my life, he thought as he turned the big buckskin's head toward the mouth of the canyon. But this one might be the dumbest. He had been tracking the Blackfoot hunting party for the better part of the morning, hoping they would lead him to Walking Owl's village. A party of eight, the Blackfoot hunters knew he was tracking them and had known for at least three miles. He was sure of this because he had come upon a spot at the foot of a mesa where their hoofprints told him they had stopped. A single set of tracks led up the mesa, telling him that one of them climbed up to look over their back trail. From that point on, there was no effort on their part to hide their trail. It was his guess that they must have sighted him, and since he was alone, they decided to purposefully lead him into an ambush. And looking at this canyon now, it looked like the perfect place.
Five days ago, he had left Fort Ellis on a special assignment for Major Brisbin. The major charged him with the responsibility for persuading old Walking Owl to bring his people to the reservation. He had been picked for this unusual task for an army scout because Brisbin knew of his close relation with the Blackfoot village, even though it had been three years since he had lived with them. He had returned to the village only once to hunt with his friend Bloody Hand, and that was almost a year ago. At that time, the Blackfeet were at peace with the government and the government was content to let them live as they had always lived, free to move about the northern Montana Territory. The army had enough trouble on their hands trying to protect the settlers along the Yellowstone River from raids by the Sioux and Cheyenne without adding responsibility for the various Blackfoot bands. Since the battle at Wounded Knee, the threat had been greatly reduced, although there were still renegade bands of Sioux and Cheyenne refusing to go to the reservation. So now, more of the government's attention was turning toward the other tribes, the Blackfeet among them. Aware of this change in attitude, the Blackfoot bands had pushed farther into the Rocky Mountains with an eye toward avoiding army patrols.
The sharp cry of a hawk brought his mind back to the business at hand and the narrow canyon before him. Steep slopes on either side, thick with fir trees, gave it a dark sense of warning. And although he paused to consider the wisdom of following the trail, he knew that his chances of picking it up on the far side of the two mountains were not very good if he circled around them. What the hell ... he decided and gave Rascal a gentle nudge with his heels.
Passing the mouth of the canyon, he found himself following an old game trail that led between the two mountains. Ahead of him, some twenty-five yards, the trail took a sharp turn around an outcropping of rock. That would be my guess, he thought, right past that rock. For, if the Indians were thinking like he figured, they would take the first opportune place they came to. By now, they were certain to be curious enough to learn why they were being followed by a single white man. He reached down and drew the Winchester 73 from his saddle sling and proceeded toward the turn in the trail. Just before reaching the rocks, he took his rifle in both hands and held it straight up over his head. It was a gesture that held no meaning that he knew of. He hoped only that the Blackfoot warriors he suspected were already watching his every move would take it as a sign of peace. At least it should tell them that he knew they were waiting in ambush and maybe they might be curious enough to hear him out. And maybe I ain't as smart as I think I am, and they're way up ahead, still following this game trail. The thought had no sooner occurred when he heard the sound of horses' hooves coming down from the trees behind him. Rascal whinnied a greeting to the horses. He could only assume his peaceful-like approach had at least bought him some time and maybe a chance to talk.
Without looking behind him, and still with his rifle held over his head, he continued on to the rocky outcropping, aware of the horses pacing steadily at his back. As he expected, the rest of the hunting party was waiting for him when he rode around the rocks. Astride a spotted gray pony, a lean warrior with hair black as night, tied in two long braids, sat facing him in the middle of the trail. Like his fellow hunters on either side of the narrow trail, he held a rifle leveled at the white intruder. Saying nothing, he waited for the white scout to speak.
"I come in peace to talk to Chief Walking Owl. I am a friend of the Blackfoot."
The Blackfoot warrior, obviously the leader of the hunting party, said nothing for a few moments while he studied the white man wearing a deerskin shirt and a hat with one feather stuck in the hatband. "You are the one called Hawk," he finally declared. "You ride with the soldiers."
"That's true," Hawk replied. "But there are no soldiers with me now. I came alone to talk with my friend Walkin' Owl. I came alone so that the Blackfeet would know I didn't come to fight. The Blackfoot are my friends."
"I think you are a fool," the warrior said. "The white man is no longer a friend of the Blackfoot. You want us to ride to your reservation and give up our way of life, the life of our fathers and their fathers before them, to sit around and wait for the white man to feed us. Why should we listen to what you have to say? These mountains, these streams, the grass, and the buffalo, they were all here long before the first white man set foot on this land. Now the white man comes and says, 'This all belongs to me.' The land belongs to no man, and Na'pi brought the Blackfoot here to live in peace. You were a fool to come here. Look around you. You can see that Walking Owl is not here."
Hawk didn't have to look around him to know there were two warriors behind him with weapons aimed at his back, just as there were three rifles and three bows leveled at him in front. He lowered his rifle very slowly until it was aimed directly at the warrior facing him. "I think you can tell me where to find Walking Owl's village and then I will leave you."
"I think we can just shoot you and there will be one less white man in our territory," the warrior said, drawing grunts of approval from the other hunters.
"That's true," Hawk replied. "But there would also be one less Blackfoot in the territory."
The warrior's stern countenance was betrayed by the beginnings of a sly smile, aware as he was of the Winchester aimed straight at his gut. Even the slightest reflex of his finger would send a bullet to kill him. He had heard of this man, Hawk, from friends who followed old Walking Owl, so he did not doubt his word. "You are a scout for the soldiers. Why should I tell you where Walking Owl is camped? You will lead the soldiers against his people."
"If you have heard of me, then you know there is iron in my words and that I have never fought against my friends the Blackfoot. I give you my word that I will not lead the soldiers against Walking Owl's camp. I only come to talk with him and visit some friends that I have not seen for a long time. My fight is with the Sioux and the Cheyenne, the same as you." He paused and waited while the Indian thought it over. "What are you called?" Hawk asked after a long moment.
"I am Black Bear," he answered, then turned to talk with the warrior closest to him. "What he says is true. He is a friend of Bloody Hand." After a few words with the other Indian that were too quiet for Hawk to hear, Black Bear turned back to him and said, "We think you do not lie. You may go in peace. I do not know if Walking Owl is still there, but when we last saw him, he was camped on Sun River, north of the big river."
"I thank you for your help in finding my old friends," Hawk said, and turned away, his rifle back in the saddle sling now. "Good huntin'," he called back as he headed toward the mouth of the canyon, aware of a slight twitching between his shoulder blades. It took only one of the eight hunters to disagree with Black Bear's decision.
Clear of the canyon, he turned the buckskin gelding toward the northeast, intent upon striking the Sun River, a smaller river that emptied into the Missouri, the big river Black Bear referred to, near a place called Great Falls. Had he not lived in Walking Owl's village, he might have been at a loss as to where on Sun River the old chief might be. But since he knew of several campsites that had been used before, he concentrated his search on that section of the river. It would be two days, however, before he came upon the tipis of Walking Owl's camp, settled on a wide, grassy expanse where the river doubled back to form the shape of a horseshoe.
* * *
River Song, Walking Owl's wife, stood upright to ease the stiffness in her back after filling her water skin at the edge of the river. A lone rider approaching along the western bank of the river caught her eye, and she squinted in an effort to identify him. He was not close enough yet for her aging eyes to tell for sure, but there was something familiar about the way he sat his horse. A few minutes more and her face broke out in a delighted smile. "Hawk," she murmured to herself. It had been almost a year since she had seen that imposing figure on the big buckskin horse. She turned at once to alert the others in the village. Within a few minutes' time, a small gathering of people came down to the water's edge to greet one who had once lived with them. Following right behind them, old Walking Owl hurried to see his young friend, a wide smile parting his wrinkled face.
Hawk waved to the reception waiting for him when still fifty yards away, pleased to see he was still welcomed as a friend. As he approached them, he scanned the faces, hoping to see Bloody Hand, but his friend was not among them. He crossed the river and dismounted to greet the gathering of smiling faces, obviously delighted to see him. "Hawk," Walking Owl exclaimed as he made his way through the pocket of mostly women and older men. "It has been a long time."
"Yes, it has," Hawk said. "I have been scoutin' for the army — against the Lakotas," he hastened to add. He looked around him. "I was hopin' to see Bloody Hand. Where is he?"
"Bloody Hand has gone to the north with the rest of the young men," Walking Owl answered. "They have heard that the white father in Washington wants to send all of the Blackfoot people to live on the reservation and they are not willing to go." The smile faded from his face for a moment and he said, "When I saw you, I thought you had come to tell us we must go. Is that why you have come?"
Seeing the concern in the old man's face, Hawk could not help a feeling of guilt for the mission he had been given by Major Brisbin. He had been sent specifically to persuade Walking Owl to bring his people onto the reservation. He could not, in good conscience, however, tell the old chief that his people would be well taken care of by the government. The few times he had been to a reservation, he had seen no sign of prosperity for the Indian. He had accepted the assignment because he wanted Walking Owl to receive an accurate picture of reservation life. Answering Walking Owl's question, he confessed, "I was sent here to persuade you that life would be much better for your people if you will lead them to the reservation. But I feel in my heart that your young men were right in leaving this territory and I wish the rest of your village had gone with them."
"We talked about it," Walking Owl said. "But we decided that the older people would slow the young ones down, so we did not go with them. We decided we would not go to the reservation, either. There are still some of us who can hunt, so we will do the best we can."
"The farther north you go, the better off you'll be," Hawk advised. "The army has all it can do to fight the Sioux and, right now, they don't have enough troops to mount a large-scale campaign against the Blackfoot. I think you're doin' the right thing."
"My heart is glad to hear you say that," Walking Owl said. "Come now and we will smoke a pipe while the women cook something for us to eat."
"I brought some things with me, gifts from the army," Hawk replied, and nodded toward his packhorse. "They sent you some flour, some coffee, sugar, and some salt pork. I was also lucky enough to run up on half a dozen deer waterin' at the river this mornin'. I managed to get a shot at one, so the women can cook that if you want." His proposal was met with eager smiles from those close enough to have heard. It told him what he had already suspected — the village was short of food. They were sorely missing the young men who had done most of the hunting, and it appeared that the older hunters had not had much luck. He thought about what he had told Major Brisbin before he left, that he would most likely spend some days in the village. When he said it, he was thinking that he would spend the extra days with his friend Bloody Hand, maybe riding up into the mountains to hunt again. Finding the village without the young men, however, he decided he should take the time to hunt on his own to help a little.
* * *
The deer Hawk had killed provided enough meat for the whole camp to enjoy one big feast, since their size had been so severely reduced. While they ate, Hawk proposed a hunting party to the mountains to the west, recalling a valley where he and Bloody Hand had almost always found game. Two Toes, one of the ablest of the men still in camp, volunteered to go with him, so they planned to leave the next morning.
When morning came, Hawk left River Song's tipi at sunup to find Two Toes already waiting, his pony ready and two extra packhorses standing by. He may be old, Hawk thought, but he ain't lazy. He felt a little guilty that Two Toes had to wait for him. He responded to Two Toes's smile of greeting with a guilty grin and declared, "Looks like you're rarin' to go!" He whistled for Rascal, and the buckskin came immediately to be saddled. By the time he was ready to go, they were sent off with the well wishes of the women already tending their breakfast fires.
A good part of the first day was spent making the thirty-five-mile ride to reach the mountains. Once they gained the foothills, it was another five or six miles to the valley Hawk remembered. He found Two Toes an easy companion to ride with, very seldom speaking, and then only when absolutely necessary. The thing that was disconcerting about the Indian, and caused Hawk to wonder, was the almost constant smile on his face. But he was always a step ahead on any chore, eager to do his part before Hawk might have to tell him to. He was armed with a Spencer cavalry carbine, but his supply of cartridges was limited. Consequently, he was reluctant to shoot if he didn't have a sure target. Hawk thought that was a sensible policy, even if cartridges were plentiful.
Hawk had deer in mind when they had started out, but there was no sign of deer on their way to the mountains, and none when they reached the narrow valley he had counted on. The valley had not lost its promise of luck for the hunter, though. For after making camp, they awoke the following morning to discover a small herd of approximately two hundred buffalo passing through the valley on their way to the grassy plains beyond. It was one hell of a stroke of luck, as far as Hawk was concerned, but a sign from Na'pi in Two Toes's eyes. He was convinced from that point on that the man with the feather in his hatband had big medicine.
Having had no thoughts that they would be killing buffalo, the two hunters had not brought any hides to disguise themselves while approaching the slowly moving herd. But disguises proved to be unnecessary. After tying the horses in the trees at the foot of the mountain, they advanced on hands and knees upon the moving mass of meat. When within range, Hawk brought the first cow down with one shot behind the animal's left front leg. They crawled closer to the herd then and used the carcass of the cow as a shooting platform. From that position, they methodically brought one beast after another down until satisfied they had as many as their horses could carry. There was no need to hurry their shots because they knew the buffalo were accustomed to hearing thunder, so the sound of the rifles did not cause them to stampede. The animals were also accustomed to seeing other buffalo collapse from sickness or accident, so again there was no inclination to panic when one dropped.
After the buffalo passed on through, Hawk and Two Toes prepared to go to work butchering the meat. It was at this point that the usually smiling and silent Blackfoot made a statement that Hawk agreed with. "Make mistake not bringing women."
Excerpted from "No Justice in Hell"
Copyright © 2018 Charles G. West.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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