Johnstone Country. Frontier Spirit Lives Here.
Life is hard on the American frontier. Justice is even harder. But when it comes to revenge, no man can escape the righteous wrath of a wronged bounty hunter. Especially when his name is Flintlock . . .
VENGEANCE IS COMING.
Flintlock takes no pleasure in killing. But when his pal O’Hara gets bullwhipped by a trio of lowdown prairie rats, Flintlock finds sanctuary for his wounded friend at the cabin of a kindly miner and his lovely daughter. Flintlock heads out to hunt down some food. But there’s more than just deer lurking in these woods. A bloodthirsty band of eight savage raiders—led by a half-mad gunslinger called The Old Man of the Mountain—wage a full-scale attack on the miner’s cabin. By the time Flintlock returns, O’Hara’s been beaten, the miner’s been shot, and the daughter’s been kidnapped . . .
It gets worse. The Old Man plans to make the young beauty his bride. But Flintlock has a plan, too. It’s not just a rescue mission. It’s a vengeance ride—leading to one bloody showdown that’ll go down in history . . .
About the Author
William W. Johnstone is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over 300 books, including the series THE MOUNTAIN MAN; PREACHER, THE FIRST MOUNTAIN MAN; MACCALLISTER; LUKE JENSEN, BOUNTY HUNTER; FLINTLOCK; THOSE JENSEN BOYS; THE FRONTIERSMAN; SAVAGE TEXAS; THE KERRIGANS; and WILL TANNER: DEPUTY U.S. MARSHAL. His thrillers include BLACK FRIDAY, TYRANNY, STAND YOUR GROUND, and THE DOOMSDAY BUNKER. Visit his website at www.williamjohnstone.net or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
"Yup, Lefty Kelly was a high-strung feller to be sure, but a couple of barrels of buckshot to the belly calmed him down right quick."
"He's as dead as hell in a preacher's backyard," Sam Flintlock said, his eyes moving to the corpse slung across the back of a mustang horse. "A man can't get much calmer than that."
"And you just said a natural fact, mister. I'd say truer words were never spoke," the old man said. "A dead man sure don't feel any excitement. Well, Lefty Kelly's outlaw days are over and the news will come as a relief to the honest citizens of the Arizona Territory and a warning to them as ain't honest."
Fat black flies buzzed around the dead man's head as Flintlock said, "Are you the one cut his suspenders?"
"Yes, I did. Lefty was a fugitive from justice and he paid the price, poor feller." The man leaned forward in the saddle and extended his hand. "Name's Ebenezer Stone, originally out of the Texas Llano River country, but now I reside right here in the Territory. As you might have guessed, I'm an officer of the law, at least some of the time."
"I'm Sam Flintlock." He took the man's hand. "And this here is O'Hara, who rides with me."
Stone gave O'Hara a long look. "Half-breed, ain't you sonny?"
"Seems about right."
"Seen that right off. I'd say your ma was Apache and with a name like O'Hara your pa was an Irishman."
"So I'm told," O'Hara said, his face stiff.
Stone nodded, his long, white hair moving across his broadclothed shoulders in thin strands. "I got an eye for these things," he said. "Knew you was a breed and I said so, didn't I?" He looked at Flintlock. "And I've heard of you. Heard about that tattoo on your throat. And mighty unusual it is, I must say."
"It's a thunderbird and it goes back a ways. Barnabas, my old grandpappy, had an Assiniboine woman put it there when I was a younker. He figured it was a fine way for a man to make his mark, folks would remember him, or so he said." Flintlock shrugged. "I was raised rough."
"And folks remember you favorably, I trust." Stone smiled. "That was the marshal in me talking, Mr. Flintlock. Feller who wears a star takes stock o' men like you who were raised rough."
"Well, lawman, so you know, here's how I stack up. I'm pegged in place by differing opinions. Some say pretty bad things about me. I've been called out for a mean bounty hunter, gunman, outlaw when it suits me and a wild man who's never chosen to live within the sound of church bells. All that is true, of course. But when you flip the coin you'll find that I have never betrayed a friend or turned my back on a crying child. I don't abuse dogs, horses, or women and when all the talking is done and guns are drawn, I never show yellow." Flintlock grinned. "At least I haven't so far."
Stone said, "Jibes with what I was told, some good, some bad. I heard tell that you're riding all over the frontier trying to find your long-lost ma. Am I right or am I wrong?"
"You got it right."
"And I heard you're a fair to middling gunhand and that you have a reputation as a bounty hunter who always gets his man."
"For me, bounty hunting is only a sometimes thing. On any given day, it kinda depends on which side of the law I happen to be on."
"And what side are you on today?" Stone touched the brim of his battered black top hat. "If'n you don't mind me asking."
"The side that wonders why you gunned the feller behind you, hanging belly-down across a mustang hoss."
"His name's Lefty Kelly, or did I tell you that already?"
"You told me that already," Flintlock said.
"Well, since explanations seem to be in order, I'm not a federal marshal or a county marshal, just the city marshal of a town to the northwest of here they call Dexter, after the tinpan who founded the place. There was a gold mine there once, but it played out after a year or two and the town played out with it. Now there's only about a hundred people left and a few of them are sickly. Long story short, Kelly robbed the Dexter bank and rode off with all the money, a grand total of a hundred and seventy-three dollars and eighteen cents, and a ham sandwich, the bank president's lunch."
"And you went after him for that?" Flintlock said. "Less than two hundred dollars."
Stone shrugged. "The bank president is also the mayor and he set store by that sandwich. I had my orders."
"So, the bottom line is that you gunned the poor son of a bitch over a ham sandwich."
"Yeah, I did, but it didn't need to be that way. Mistakes were made. I told you he was a mighty skittish feller and prone to errors in judgment."
"What kind of mistakes, and who made them?" This from O'Hara, whose sour expression made it clear that he didn't much like lawmen in general and this one in particular.
Stone scratched his stubbly chin. "Well, sonny, seems like Lefty Kelly made all of them."
"Tell us. What were they?"
"Injun, are you suspicioning me? You think I murdered him?"
"You could say that. You told us that you're a lawman but you're dressed up like an undertaker and I don't see a badge."
"Listen, sonny, a town with less than two hundred dollars in the bank don't give out silver badges. But in the eyes of the Arizona Territory I'm a sworn peace officer, lay to that. Hell, son, you're giving me sass and making the same mistakes Kelly did."
"O'Hara, let the man talk," Flintlock said. "He's a half Indian and he don't know any better. But, Stone, if you did murder that man we'll take you back to Dexter. Recently O'Hara and me have fallen on hard times and there might be a reward for bringing you in."
"And good luck trying to collect it. Anyhoo, the Injun is right. I dress the way I do because I'm the town undertaker and man and boy I've always been an undertaker," Stone said. "I only act as city marshal. It's what you might call an honorary post and that means it's unpaid except for a per diem allowance for feeding prisoners and the like. Only I never have no prisoners."
"So, Kelly robbed the bank and you were acting as honorary, unpaid city marshal when you went after him," Flintlock said. "At least that's what you're telling us. Then what happened, since me and O'Hara are chasing a reward, like?"
"Well, sir, Lefty rode a few miles out of town and then camped in the pines, bold as you please, on account of how he figured nobody in Dexter would have the sand to come after him. Fact is, he was bilin' coffee when I came up on him in my capacity of officer of the law. 'Howdy,' says I. 'A fine day, huh?' Well, he didn't answer and it was shortly thereafter that the mistakes I was talking about earlier began to be made."
"Kelly's mistakes? Or yours?"
"His. I don't make no mistakes. Leastways, in my undertaking career I never planted anybody by mistake. Anyhoo, it seems that Kelly took me for a preacher or maybe a drummer, I don't know. But what he said was clear enough. 'Ride on,' he says. 'There's nothing here for you.' Says I, 'Smelled your coffee.' Says he, 'Beat it. I only got enough for myself.' Well, that was downright unsociable and it was Kelly's first mistake. His second was that he'd taken off his gunbelt and holstered revolver and laid them by his side previous."
Stone looked at O'Hara and then Flintlock. "Are you gents catching my drift?"
"So far," Flintlock said. "Get on with your story. It seems plausible enough so far, him not willing to share his coffee, an' all."
"Yeah, that was downright mean, and bad manners to boot. Somebody didn't raise that boy right, if you ask me. Well, I'm advanced in years, but lucky for me I'm quick," Stone said. "An undertaker has to be quick ... box 'em and bury 'em afore they stink, you understand?"
Flintlock said, "So, you're quick. How quick?"
"Quick enough that it was only the matter of a moment to slide my shotgun from the boot under my knee and point the muzzles at Lefty's middle. 'On your feet,' I said. 'And no fancy moves.' But alas ..."
"Alas, what?" Flintlock said.
"Alas, Lefty made yet another, and this time fatal, mistake. He underestimated my skill with a shotgun and my resolve to bring him and his ilk to justice. With one bound, he grabbed his revolver and was on his feet. Then, uttering a vile profanity, he readied himself to shoot. But I was resolute and felt no fear. I let him have both barrels of the Greener in the belly and a great cloud of blood erupted around him and he fell dead on the ground. I broke open the shotgun and I'll always remember taking out those two, bright red, smoking shells." Stone shook his head. "I recall thinking how little lead it takes to kill a man and take away his past, present and future."
"Two barrels of buckshot in the gut will just about do it every time," Flintlock said. "Where's the money you recovered from Kelly?"
"Right here." Stone reached into his coat pocket and produced a small canvas sack that bore the legend DEXTER BANK & TRUST. "It's all here," he said, jingling the coins in the bag. "And the bank makes a profit of three cents, the money that was in Kelly's pocket."
Speaking to O'Hara, Flintlock said, "I tend to believe him. He even speaks like a lawman."
"Yeah, he's telling the truth," O'Hara said. "The Kelly feller was too slow on the draw and shoot and that done for him." He glared at Stone. "Had it been me, your scattergun would've never cleared the boot."
"I take it that you've no intention of robbing the Dexter bank?" Stone said.
"No," O'Hara said. "Not much profit in it, even with the dead man's three cents."
"Then we'll never find out if my scattergun would or would not have cleared leather, will we?" Stone said. He gathered up the reins of his rawboned nag and the mustang's lead rope. "It's been a pleasure talking with you gents, but now will you give me the road?"
Flintlock drew his horse aside to let Stone and the dead man pass. But the marshal drew rein and said, "You boys headed west?"
"Seems like," Flintlock said.
"Then I got a warning for you."
"We know it's mighty rough country between here and the Painted Desert. Is that what you were going to tell us?"
Stone shook his head. "No. Anybody with half a brain already knows that. My warning is about a man, well, maybe he's a man, maybe he's something else. But he's pure pizen, and that's my warning."
"We've bumped into outlaws before," Flintlock said. "Most of them were friends of mine."
"The Old Man of the Mountain is nobody's friend. He's at war with the world and everybody in it," Stone said.
O'Hara's face changed from studied disinterest to shock. "He rides a tall black horse and carries terrible weapons, two Colt revolvers and a Winchester rifle that cause death and destruction wherever he goes. The Old Man of the Mountain can command the thunder to roar and the lightning to strike and he sits on a throne made of black iron, surrounded by the skulls of his enemies. He is very old, older than the rivers and the mountains."
"Ye don't say? Then you know more about him than I do," Stone said.
"The Apache knew and feared him," O'Hara said. "The Old Man once made war on the Mescalero and killed many people."
"Well, I don't know about all that," Stone said. "But I can tell you that just about every stage holdup, train robbery and busted bank in this part of the Territory and West Texas can be laid at the Old Man's feet, to say nothing of scores of rapes and murders. Five years ago, in the spring of '81, a cavalry major by the name of Obadiah Sutherland resupplied his men in Dexter and then led forty troopers west into the Balakai Mesa country where the Old Man is supposed to be holed up. He promised the townfolks he'd bring back the outlaw's head on the point of his saber. But it was the major's head that came back, dumped on the mayor's doorstep by a galloper in the wee hours of the morning. Nothing more was heard of the troopers, as I recollect, all of them young, lively lads."
"Thanks for the warning," Flintlock said. "But last I heard my ma is headed west and I aim to find her. The Old Man of the Mountain won't stop me."
Stone shrugged, a dismissive gesture. "Your funeral." He kicked his horse forward. "Well, good luck to you both."
Flintlock said, "Yeah, thanks, Stone. And good luck to you, too."
"O'Hara, I don't see any need for a scout," Sam Flintlock said. "Set and have a cup of coffee. We'll spread our blankets here tonight and head out at first light."
"Them the same grounds you used this morning that you'd used the previous night?" O'Hara said.
"Yeah, but they'll still bile up strong enough after two, three hours on the fire."
"That's what you said this morning."
"So how was the coffee?"
"O'Hara, there are times when you can be a right fussy man. Strange, that. I mean, you being half Apache, an' all."
"What's being half Indian got to do with it?"
"Nothing. But it's just strange."
"Geronimo liked his coffee. You ever hear that?"
"No, I never did."
"Arbuckle, biled up with honey when he could get it. He was much addicted to it."
"Didn't sweeten him none," Flintlock said.
O'Hara led his horse from the moonlit ponderosas where there were patches of graze. "I aim to ride west for a spell, take a look-see."
"The undertaker feller got you spooked, huh? All that talk about the Old Man of the Mountain and them soldier boys."
"No, I'm not spooked, I just don't want any unpleasant surprises come morning," O'Hara said.
Flintlock took the bubbling coffeepot off the coals. "I'll let it stand for a spell, settle the grounds." He looked up at O'Hara, who'd swung into the saddle. "Know what I think? My guess is that them soldiers weren't bushwhacked by the Old Man of the Mountain. I reckon they bumped into bronco Apaches and got themselves massacreed."
"Why would the Apaches return his head?"
"Indians take on some mighty strange notions. Maybe they did it just to be sociable. Who knows?"
"Enjoy your coffee, Sam," O'Hara said. "If I'm not back by first light get the hell out of here."
"Can't do that. I'll come looking for you."
"As the undertaker lawman said to us ... it's your funeral."
O'Hara swung his horse away and rode into the blue twilight of the fading day. Flintlock sat among the pines and watched him go, worry nagging at him.
There was just no telling what trouble O'Hara might get himself into when he wasn't supervised.
* * *
Sam Flintlock rubbed his hands together in delight. His coffee was starting to smell almost good. But then the rubbing slowed to a halt ... it wasn't his coffee he smelled, it was wicked old Barnabas, Sam's dead grandfather. The old mountain man stood at the edge of the pines watching him, a smoking tin cup in his hand.
"Hot as hell, bitter enough to curdle a pig and as black as mortal sin, the way I like it, boy," Barnabas said. "I'd give you some, Sam'l, if I wasn't such a selfish son of a bitch."
"I thought I'd gotten rid of you," Flintlock said. "You haven't showed up in months."
Barnabas sipped from his cup, steam rising, obscuring his bearded face. Only his green eyes were visible "Well, let me tell you ... there was a big tidal wave in the South Seas, an' all kinds of people drowned and there was a lot of cannibals to be welcomed. You-know-who had a hell of a time getting them settled down, had to teach them that they can't take bites out of the other guests. I mean, we got full-time demons to do that sort of thing."
Flintlock sighed. "What do you want, Barnabas?"
"Well, first off to remind you that you're an idiot. And secondly to warn you that your redskin friend is riding into a heap of trouble. No, don't get up. It will be full dark soon and you'll never find him."
"Is it the Old Man of the Mountain?"
"The Old Man of the Mountain. We were warned to stay clear of him."
"Why? Speak up, boy. Cat got your tongue?"
"Because he's a rapist and a murderer and a vicious outlaw."
Barnabas shrugged, an irritating habit he'd picked up from the emperor Napoleon. "The Old Man sounds like a fine fellow to me. No, it's not him."
"Glad to hear that," Flintlock said.
"Maybe you shouldn't be. But I guess you'll find out soon enough."
"What's going to happen with O'Hara? Barnabas, tell me."
The old mountain man made a childish face. "No, I won't. And you can't make me." Then, "I see you still got the Hawken."
"It's the only thing you ever gave me." Flintlock touched the thunderbird tattoo on his throat. "Well, apart from this."
"Still holding a grudge because I didn't give you my name, huh, Sam'l? Find your ma and get your own handle."
"That's why I'm here in the Arizona Territory. You know that. And you could make it easier for me. Tell me where Ma is."
"I don't know where she is."
"I thought you knew everything, past, present and future."
"This is good coffee," Barnabas said, drinking from his cup.
Excerpted from "Flintlock Pitchfork Pass"
Copyright © 2018 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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