New York Times bestselling author William W. Johnstone continues his masterful storytelling with The Last Gunfighter—a boldly authentic series of the wild American west . . .
Frank Morgan rides with a brace of six guns, a reputation for knowing how to use them, and a private score he’s vowed to settle. Known on the frontier as the Drifter, Morgan has come to Colorado in pursuit of the hombres who killed the only woman he ever loved. But two vicious outlaw gangs are running roughshod over the territory in a stampede of murder, robbery, and rape. And now they’ve made an enemy of Frank Morgan—taking his own son hostage. Suddenly, one against one hundred makes for even odds. Because Frank Morgan is a man who has forgotten how to fear—and he’s getting more dangerous every day . . .
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The Last Gunfighter: Reprisal
By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2000 William W Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Frank Morgan drifted into Denver and checked into a hotel, signing the register F. Morgan. The desk clerk never so much as raised an eyebrow.
Frank had dropped out of sight after leaving the mining town now officially renamed Crossing. The town would slowly fade into oblivion, and shortly after the turn of the century would cease to exist.
But Denver was booming and would continue to grow.
Frank had himself a bath and haircut and shave, and bought some new clothes, including a new hip-length jacket, for the nights were turning colder as late fall began settling over the high country.
Frank found a small cafe and ordered coffee as he looked over the rather sparse offerings on the menu, finally waving the tired-looking waitress over and ordering the special.
"It ain't nothin' special," she told him. "But it'll fill you up."
"That's what I need, ma'am," Frank replied. "For I'm sure tired of eating my own cooking."
"Been on the trail long?"
"Long enough so that it took two fills in the bathhouse to get the fleas off me."
She laughed at that. "I'll get your food right out to you."
Frank sipped his coffee while waiting for his food. His weeks on the lonesome had been quiet ones, with no trouble, and that was the way he liked it. But no trouble for Frank Morgan was about to come to an end. He had gotten a line on the newly formed gangs of Ned Pine and Victor Vanbergen, and it was not a pretty picture the people he had talked with had painted in his mind.
Ned and Vic and their gangs had been reported raiding all over the West during their careers that spanned about eight or ten years, but mostly in a three-state area: Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. They were cold-blooded killers, the last of the big outlaw gangs still working as the West was slowly settling down. It was still wild and woolly and full of fleas, but very slowly civilization was tightening its grip.
But their fatal mistake was in killing the only woman Frank had ever loved: Vivian Browning. For that, the Pine and Vanbergen gangs would pay the price ... every damned one of them, right down to the last man.
It had gotten back to Frank that the gang members all boasted and laughed about the killing of Vivian as if it were a big joke. Whenever Frank allowed himself to think about that, it filled him with a terrible deadly coldness. When he finished with the gang, none would be alive to laugh at anything else. He struggled to push those thoughts from him, and succeeded only with an effort.
The waitress placed his food in front of him, refilled his coffee cup, and left him alone. Frank dug in. The food was not fancy, but it was good and filling, and the bread was fresh-baked and hot.
He cleaned his plate and waved at the waitress for more coffee. Then he rolled a cigarette and sat for a time, staring out the window at the goings-on in the busy street and on the boardwalk.
Denver was a fast-growing city, too damn big for Frank's liking. Too many laws and rules. Why, a man couldn't even tote a gun around in Denver ... not legally anyway. But regardless of what the law stated, Frank carried a short-barreled .45 in a shoulder rig, hidden under his coat. He suspected that he was not alone in carrying a concealed weapon.
Frank finished his coffee, left a tip on the table for the pleasant and very attentive waitress, paid his bill at the counter, and exited the cafe. There was a cold wind blowing, a reminder that winter was just around the corner.
Frank stood for a time on the boardwalk, checking things out before he started walking. Frank Morgan, a man whom the press had recently begun calling The Drifter, was one of the few fast guns still alive in the West. There were others certainly: Smoke Jensen, Louis Longmont ... but that was about it. All the rest were either dead or retired, but there were others just as fast, or faster, who had not yet made a name for themselves. It was those that Frank had to watch out for, for those who fancied themselves gunslicks were hunting a name, and they were ruthless and persistent in hunting down and bracing the few really fast guns still alive.
Frank had a job to do, and he was single-minded about it. He didn't have either the time or the inclination to deal with some trouble-hunting punk.
Frank Morgan was a shade over six feet tall. He was broad-shouldered and lean-hipped, a very muscular man. He was in his mid-forties, and had carried the title of gunfighter ever since he was fifteen years old and forced into a gunfight with an older man down in Texas. Frank had killed the man, and several years later had been forced into a wild gunfight with the man's brothers. Frank had killed them all.
His reputation as a gunfighter was set in stone on that day.
That was many years and many, many gunfights ago. Frank's number of dead men left behind him could not equal that of Smoke Jensen — nor did he want it to — but nonetheless, his numbers were staggeringly high. Frank had not started a single one of those fights, but he had finished them all.
Frank had married here in Denver, a lovely girl named Vivian, but her father, a wealthy man, hated Frank and framed him for a crime he didn't commit, then said he would not pursue it if Frank would leave and never see Vivian again. Frank had no choice; he pulled out, 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 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 a few months back that Frank discovered the young man was his own son.
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 and get back together, Vivian was dead — killed by the Pine and Vanbergen gangs.
Frank swore to track down and destroy the gangs.
Even if it took him the rest of his life.
Frank walked slowly back to his hotel, and in the lobby paused to buy a newspaper before going to his room. He had not read a newspaper in several months and was hungry for news.
But there wasn't a whole lot going on, according to this newspaper.
This paper was endorsing Benjamin Harrison for President. The election was going to be held in a few weeks. Frank didn't think he would vote. He wasn't at all sure he could vote, since he didn't have a permanent address ... although he didn't think that made much difference, since a great many politicians stressed the theme "Vote early and often."
There was something going on about Chinese laborers in America. Something called the Scott Act. Frank wasn't sure what all that was about either.
Harrison said that if elected President he would open that part of Indian Territory known as Oklahoma for settlement and that United States land laws would be in force.
Frank folded the newspaper and laid it aside. There had been no mention of the Pine and Vanbergen gangs, and that was all Frank was interested in. But one news item had caught his attention: a gold strike in an area west and slightly north of Denver. A big gold strike. Frank decided to ride in that direction in a couple of days; check it out.
He heard the rumble of thunder and glanced out the window. The first few splatterings of raindrops pocked the window that faced the street. Frank always enjoyed sleeping in a real bed when it rained. It was comforting to him, always lulling him into a gentle sleep. It had been several months since he'd slept in a real bed with a roof over his head.
He made sure the door was securely locked — as secure as it could be with a skeleton key — and just to be extra safe, he wedged a chair under the doorknob.
Frank tugged off his boots and placed them by the bed. He stretched out, head on the pillow, and closed his eyes. It was not yet cold enough to build a fire in the small stove, but with the unpredictability of the high country weather this time of the year, it might be, later on in the night.
The rain did not lull Frank into a peaceful, dreamless sleep. His sleep brought a jumble of unpleasant dreams.
He dreamt of many of the men who had faced his gun and died for their folly. There was that kid in Kansas in that little no-name town right after the war. Billy something or another, 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 his hand.
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, 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, the man was gut-shot, writhing in pain and dying in the street. Frank turned away, mounted up, and rode out of town.
Then the dream about the father and his sons came to haunt him again. 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 general store/trading post/saloon. The young man had a bad mouth and an evil temper. He braced Frank and Frank tried to ignore him, but the punk kept pushing and pushing, and finally he put hands on Frank.
Frank didn't like for people to put hands on him. He flattened the young man with a big hard right fist and left him addled on the floor.
Someone yelled for Frank to watch out. Frank turned, his .45 leaping into his hand. The punk had leveled a .44 at him, hammer back.
Frank shot him right between the eyes and made a big mess on the floor behind the young man's head.
The young man's father and his other two sons caught up with Frank on the trail about a week later.
The father and his 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 man as best he could, buried the other two, and pulled out. There was nothing else he could do.
He dreamed of 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 thought Frank had committed the atrocity. That was a very ugly scene, involving a hanging rope ... until Frank filled both hands with Colts and made a believer out of the sheriff and what remained of his posse after the very sudden, explosive, and bloody shootout. Frank carefully avoided the northwestern part of Arizona for several years after that.
Frank fought himself out of sleep and the exhausting dreams, and sat on the edge of the bed for a moment, gathering his thoughts. He hated it when those dreams entered his sleep, and often wondered just what they meant ... or if they meant anything at all.
He had slept fitfully for several hours. It was full dark. Frank popped a match into fire and lit the lamp by the side of the bed. He pulled on his boots, filled the water basin, and washed the sleep out of his eyes. He buttoned up his shirt, slipped into his shoulder-holster rig, and pulled on his coat. He needed several cups of good strong coffee. Maybe that would put him into a better frame of mind. Maybe he could find a friendly poker game. Frank occasionally enjoyed a low-stakes game of cards with players who knew how and when to bet and when to toss it in, and didn't lose control of their tempers when they lost.
He had to find something to do, for he certainly wasn't sleepy.
He ran his fingers through his thick dark-brown hair — peppered with some gray — and made a mental note to buy a comb or a brush when the stores opened in the morning. Then he popped the cover on his pocket watch and checked the time. Nine o'clock. He had sure slept more than a few hours. He stood looking at his image in the slightly warped mirror and grimaced, thinking it was going to be a long night. He automatically checked his short-barreled .45 and shoved it back into leather, then slipped the chair from under the doorknob, unlocked the door, and stepped out into the hall.
He checked the hotel dining room. Closed. He stepped out onto the boardwalk and into the cold night air.
"Morgan," the voice called out of the darkness from his right.
"That's me," Frank said.
"I don't mean no harm," the voice said. "So don't get nervous and haul no iron."
"The ante's done went up on your head, Morgan. Somebody really wants to see you dead. They's ten thousand dollars to the man who kills you."
"Interesting. Who's putting up the money?"
"Somebody from back East is what I hear. Boston, I think. Some lawyer feller."
"That's him! Yeah."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"You done me a favor once. Long time ago."
"Yeah. I was drunk and mouthy and real pushy. You didn't kill me. You just walked away and let me live. I ain't never forgot that."
"I appreciate it, friend."
"Forget it. I'm gone, Morgan. Watch your back."
"I'll do that."
The unknown man walked away, his boots clumping on the boardwalk.
Frank stood in the cold wind for a moment. Ten thousand dollars was a lot of money. And it would bring out any number of man-hunters.
"Wonderful," he muttered. "That's all I need."
A policeman walked by and gave Frank the once-over. Frank stared right back, as was his habit. The policeman stopped and looked squarely at Frank.
"Something on your mind, officer?" Frank asked.
"You look familiar to me, that's all. You ever been in Denver before?"
"Not since it got this big."
The officer smiled. "It has grown, hasn't it?"
"It's a regular city."
"On my way into the mountains to the strike. Probably pull out in the morning."
"Way I hear it, it's a big one. I've heard of nuggets big as your fist found up there." The officer smiled. "Course, now, I haven't seen any of those. Well, good luck to you." The policeman touched his hat. "Take it easy."
"Thank you. I will."
Frank wandered for a couple of blocks until coming to a saloon. The batwings were pulled back and the front door was closed to keep out the cold wind. Frank stepped inside and stood for a moment, eyeballing the scene. A few men stood at the long bar, drinking alone. About half the tables were filled. Frank walked to the bar and ordered a whiskey. No one paid him more than a cursory glance.
Frank lingered over his drink for a time. He was not much of a drinking man, but did occasionally enjoy a whiskey. The talk was about the recent strike up in the mountains, and if one were to believe even half of what was being said, it was indeed a very big strike.
Frank perked up and listened more carefully when someone said, "And wouldn't you know it? Henson Enterprises has staked out half of the area, and already they own the biggest and best-producing mine."
"Is that squirt kid who lived here in town for a time running it? The one who took over the company after his mother was killed down in New Mexico?"
"You bet he is. Cocky little bastard too."
Conrad Browning. Frank's son.
Conrad had escorted his mother's body back East, then returned to the West to oversee the company's business, even though he had told Frank he hated the West and would never return. How interesting.
"You know what? I hear tell that snooty kid is really Frank Morgan's son."
"Are you serious? The gunslick Morgan?"
"That's what I keep hearin'."
"Well, roll me in buffalo crap and call me stinky. How in the hell did something like that happen?"
"Beats me. But that's the talk goin' around."
"You believe it?"
"I kinda do. After hearing 'bout what happened down at that little town in New Mexico ..."
Frank stopped listening and stared down into the amber liquid in his shot glass. So Conrad was running the show in the mountains. Seeing him again should be interesting, since the young man did not much like Frank ... and that was being kind, considering Conrad's real feelings toward his biological father.
Excerpted from The Last Gunfighter: Reprisal by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 2000 William W 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I would love to write a review WHEN I receive my book. I have even tried to obtain this book locally. As I said, will write review when I receive book. Thank You Ben Talton
I have just finish reading The last gunfighter: Reprisal. I really enjoyed it. The is the second one of this series and I can hardly wait for more. It is good to know that Johnstone is still writeing series. I have enjoyed reading his book for many years. Thank You.