William Johnstone single-handedly shaped the landscape of frontier fiction with his classic Mountain Man series. Now he returns to the West with a gritty, realistic tale of blood struggles, revenge, and honor—the saga of a man whose legend would spread across a brave new land.
In California, Frank Morgan nearly found a home. But now he's pulled up stakes and hit the road again, aiming to reach the high desert of Arizona. For Frank, the plan changes when he steps into a saloon in a dusty boomtown called Los Angeles. That’s where he learns that his nemesis, Val Dooley, has found a new business: the selling of young women into prostitution, with the victims as young as twelve years old, and the survivors ending up drugged and beaten. Frank wastes no time tracking his enemy, traveling from California to New Mexico and West Texas. What he doesn’t know is that Val Dooley has been waiting for him all along: for one last chance to bring the last gunfighter down—in a hail of lead . . .
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The Last Gunfighter: Rescue
By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2003 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Frank rode into Los Angeles and stabled his horses at the best livery in town, telling the stable man to rub them down, wash them, and feed them hay and oats. Dog, the big cur, would stay in the stall with the Appaloosa, Stormy.
Frank walked to a nearby café and got a sack of scraps for Dog. That done, he got a room, a nice hotel, then dropped off his suit and some shirts at Wo Fong's Laundry, then headed for the nearest barbershop for a long, hot soapy bath and a haircut and shave.
A couple of hours later, feeling and smelling a damn sight better, Frank, dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and red kerchief, and with his boots polished, stepped out onto the boardwalk and looked around him at the rapidly growing town.
Frank had been told by a proud desk clerk that the population of the town was about fifteen thousand, and when the railroad arrived in a few years, that would more than double, maybe even triple.
Frank whistled and shook his head. "That's too many folks for this cowboy," he told the clerk.
Frank was a cowboy, and a damn good one. He'd started off as a cowhand in Texas. Then he'd been forced into a fight when just a boy and killed a man. The dead man's brothers came after him. Frank killed all four of them. His reputation as a fast gun grew and spread rapidly. He was still in his teens when the Civil War split the country. Four years later, at war's end, Frank was a captain of Confederate cavalry. Rather than turn in his weapons, Frank headed west to become a part of the untamed frontier. In Colorado, he married a beautiful young lady, but the girl's father broke it up. It was years later that Frank learned he had a son. But the boy didn't much care for his father, so Frank left it at that and drifted. That's how he got his nickname: the Drifter.
He became a legend: Frank Morgan, the fastest and deadliest gunfighter west of the Mississippi River.
Frank asked directions to the nearest bank, and after talking with a teller there for a moment, was shown into a private office for a meeting with the bank's president.
"Are you really Frank Morgan?" the bank executive asked.
Frank smiled and laid an oilskin pouch on the desk. "It's all in there."
The executive opened the pouch and studied the contents carefully for a few moments. He smiled and nodded his head. "A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Morgan. I guess the stories are true about your being a wealthy man."
"My ex-wife left me some stock in various companies. The stock has increased in value somewhat."
"Somewhat?" the bank man said, arching an eyebrow and smiling. "That is an understatement, Mr. Morgan."
"I guess it is."
"Do you know how much you are worth?"
"I have a general idea. I have people who take care of that for me."
"Yes," the banker said dryly. "The most prestigious law firms in San Francisco and Denver." He sighed. "What can I do for you, sir?"
Frank pushed a piece of paper across the desk. "I want a couple of bank drafts in those amounts and a thousand dollars in cash."
The banker glanced at the amounts written on the paper. "That will be no problem at all."
"I'll pick them up sometime tomorrow."
"At your convenience, sir. Mr. Morgan?"
Frank looked at him.
"May I say something of a personal nature?"
"Your son, Conrad Browning, is becoming quite the entrepreneur. He's branching out in all directions. Were you aware of that?"
"No," Frank said. "My son does not much care for me. We are not close and never correspond."
"I see. I heard as much. I'm sorry."
"No need to be. He has his life, I have mine."
"Mr. Morgan, forgive me for becoming personal, but I have to ask: What kind of life do you have?"
"What do you mean?"
"You drift, sir. You don't have a home ... that I am aware of. You just, well, wander."
Frank smiled. "I enjoy wandering, seeing the country. I've done it for years." Frank pushed back his chair and stood up. "I'll pick up the bank drafts tomorrow. Thank you, sir." He walked out of the office.
"Excuse me, Mr. Spencer," a man said from the open doorway, seconds after Frank had exited.
"Was that Frank Morgan the gunfighter?"
"Yes, it was."
"What did he want, a loan?"
Spencer laughed and shook his head. "Not hardly, Blanchard. He was arranging for some bank drafts."
"And you honored the request?"
Spencer waved the man to a chair. "Blanchard, you're fresh from the East, new to the West, so learn this now: Don't judge a man by the clothes he wears or the rumors you might have heard about him. Frank Morgan is a very wealthy man. He owns stock in factories, gold mines, railroads, and numerous other businesses."
"I didn't know, sir."
"Now you do. Close the door on your way out."
* * *
Frank walked down the street until he came to a saloon. But the place was filled with fancy men in suits and high collars and polished shoes. Not a pair of boots in the place. Frank walked on until he found a cantina on a side street. He stepped inside and stood for a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the sudden dimness. When he started his walk to a table in the rear of the cantina, the patrons fell silent. Frank didn't fool himself; everyone in the place knew who he was. Every eye was on him. Only when he was seated did the buzz of conversation resume.
A man came to his table and said, "Señor?"
"Beer," Frank said. "And something to eat."
"Beans and tortillas?"
"That'll be fine."
Frank sat sipping his cool beer, waiting for his food to arrive. He was conscious of the furtive glances he received from many of the men in the saloon. It didn't bother him. He was used to it. He was also sure that sooner or later, someone in the place would approach him. Hopefully, for conversation and not gunplay.
Frank had eaten only a few bites of food when he heard a chair being pushed back not far from where he was seated. Boots clumped across the floor and the man stopped in front of Frank's table.
"You're Frank Morgan, ain't you?" The question was tossed at him.
"You got a lot of nerve, showin' your face around here."
"Why is that?"
"You kilt my brother, that's why!"
Frank sighed and laid down his spoon. "What was your brother's name?"
"I never heard of him. Now go away."
"You kilt him, damn you!"
Just one time, Frank thought. If I could spend a few days in some town without being confronted by someone ... "Where am I supposed to have done this?" Frank asked.
"Texas. Early last year. Down along the border."
"Sorry, friend," Frank told him. "But it wasn't me."
"The hell you say! I was told it was you. I been lookin' for you ever since. Now stand up and settle this."
"It wasn't me," Frank insisted.
"You done turned yeller, Morgan. Git up, damn you!"
Frank shoved the table hard, the corner of it catching the man in the belly. The irate stranger grunted and doubled over, all the air driven out of him. Frank shoved the table again, and the man sat down hard on the floor. Frank rose quickly, jerked the man's pistol from his belt, and tossed it on the table, then sat back down.
"Hell," a man said. "I was wantin' to see Morgan in some gun action."
Frank ignored him. The man Frank had put on the barroom floor was helped to his feet and led off, cussing Frank as he went.
"Thought I might finally get to see the famous Frank Morgan in action," a man said from the open doorway of the cantina.
Frank looked up as a deputy stepped inside and walked to the bar.
"Beer," the deputy told the bartender. He turned around to look at Frank. "I was sorta lookin' forward to arrestin' you, Morgan."
"On what charge?"
The deputy smiled. "Oh, I 'spect I could think of somethin'."
Frank returned to his beans and tortillas without replying.
The deputy walked over and sat down at the table.
"Please have a seat," Frank said very sarcastically.
The sarcasm was lost on the deputy. "Thanks, Morgan."
"What do you want, Deputy?"
"You out of town."
"I'll be leaving about midday tomorrow."
"You'll leave when I tell you to leave, and I'm tellin' you to leave right now."
Frank knew a roust when he heard one, and he didn't like to be rousted. "Deputy, you go right straight to hell," Frank said softly, so only the deputy could hear.
The deputy flushed. "No one talks to me like that."
"I just did. Now why don't you drag your butt out of that chair and leave, so I can finish my meal in peace?"
"When I get you in jail, I'm going to teach you a lesson. You're under arrest, Morgan!" the deputy hissed at him.
"Try to take me in," Frank tossed back at him.
For a moment, Frank thought the bigmouthed deputy was going to try him. But the wind suddenly left the man and he slumped in his chair. "You bastard!" he said to Frank in a very low voice. "I'll see you again. Bet on that. No man talks to Vince Barlow like that."
"Hang up that badge, Vince. If you don't, it's going to get you killed. You've got the wrong attitude to wear it."
"I don't need any advice from you, Morgan." Vince pushed back his chair and stomped out of the cantina.
Frank finished his beans and tortillas, then signaled for a refill. While he waited for his second helping, he sipped his beer. He was just finishing his second plate of beans and sopping up the juice with a tortilla when a big man with a star on his vest strolled in. He asked the bartender something. The barkeep pointed at Frank, and the lawman nodded and headed toward Frank's table.
Frank sighed and waited.
"Frank Morgan?" the man asked.
"I'm Sheriff Keal. Mind if I sit down?"
"Not at all, Sheriff. I was about to order a pot of coffee. Want some?"
"Sounds good." Keal motioned for the barkeep to bring them both coffee.
The bartender nodded and in a couple of minutes, set cups and a fresh pot of coffee on the table. Keal sugared his coffee, tasted it, and smiled. "I do like a good cup of coffee. Morgan, I spoke with Spencer over at the bank. He told me you were in town. I always wanted to meet you."
"Well, thank you, Sheriff. I was thinking you were here because of your deputy."
"Which one? No, let me guess. Barlow? Has he been in here?"
Frank told him what had transpired between the two.
"That dumb, hammerheaded peckerwood!" Sheriff Keal said. "He had no call to speak to you that way. I'll talk to him. Or fire him. I think I'll fire him. He's not working out."
"Wait until I leave town, please. I don't want to have to face the man in a shoot-out."
Sheriff Keal smiled. "No. I don't want to have to bury the fool."
"I would appreciate that."
"You in town long?"
"Leaving tomorrow. Early afternoon probably."
"I'll wait until you're gone before I fire him."
Sheriff Keal fiddled with his nearly empty cup for a few seconds. He looked up and met Frank's eyes. "Morgan, I've known some bad ol' boys in my time. I've marshaled in some tough towns. But if just half the things I've heard about you are true ... you've got to be one randy gunslinger."
Frank chuckled. "Believe about one tenth of what you hear about me, Sheriff."
"You pretty well destroyed the Dooley gang here in California."
"But I didn't get Val."
"He's operating in Texas and New Mexico. Down along the Mex border."
"So I heard."
"And from here, you're heading where, Morgan?"
Frank smiled at that. "New Mexico. But I'm looking for land, not Val Dooley."
"But if you run into him?"
"I'll finish what I started."
"Good luck." The sheriff pushed back his chair and stood up. "He's up to his old tricks, Frank: kidnapping women and selling them into prostitution. Young boys too. Val Dooley is one sorry son of a bitch."
"I know that only too well, Sheriff."
"When you find him, put one bullet into him from me."
"I'll try, Sheriff."
"Good hunting, Frank Morgan." Sheriff Keal turned and walked away.
Frank rolled a cigarette and refilled his coffee cup. "This time, I'll get you, Dooley," he muttered. "If you get in my way, I'll kill you."CHAPTER 2
From long habit, Frank checked his back trail often. It didn't take him long to pick up on the man who was following him. He didn't know if it was the cowboy who claimed Frank had killed his brother, or Deputy Barlow, or who. But he got tired of it very quickly.
Frank reined up, got his field glasses from the saddlebags, and began studying the still-distant figure. After a few moments, the image became clearer and Frank could make out some of the man's features. He didn't know who it was; had never seen the man before. But the man was definitely following him. Frank decided to wait for him. He got his rifle from the saddle boot and waited.
When the man got within a dozen yards from him, Frank stood up and the man reined up.
"I don't mean you no harm, Morgan," the man said. "I just want to talk."
"You must have seen me back in town. Why didn't you talk then?"
"Couldn't. Too risky."
"You want to explain that?"
"I was once a friend of Val Dooley. That tell you anything?"
"Maybe. Go on."
"Can I dismount?"
The man swung down from the saddle and looked around. "They's a spot of shade over yonder. Want to talk there?"
"Lead the way."
The men squatted down in the shade and the stranger looked at Dog, sitting close by. "That dog's got a mean look in his eye. Do he bite?"
"He's been known to. What's on your mind?"
"You lookin' for Val?"
"Not really. But his name keeps getting tossed at me."
"I grew up with Val. We was neighbors back when we was boys. Then we become men and both of us hit the hoot-owl trail. But Val was too randy for me and I broke away from him. I'd run into him ever now and then and we'd talk. Val always seemed to have lots of money and he'd give me some; kept wantin' me to rejoin up with his gang. I never did. Then he told me 'bout six months ago he was gettin' tarred of California and was thinkin' 'bout headin' down to New Mexico-Arizona way. Had him a plan to kidnap women and sell them into whorin'. Then you showed up and Val had to hit the trail a bit sooner than he wanted to. You really busted up his gang, Morgan."
Frank nodded his head and waited for the man to continue.
"And you can bet he knows you was in Los Angeles and knows you done left. He knew it hours ago."
"Telegraph wires, Morgan. You know they's strung all over the West now."
"He hasn't had time to set all that up. I just ran him out about a month ago," Frank said dubiously.
"It was already in place. Outlaw by the name of Mason come up with the idea and set it up some months ago."
"What happened to him?"
"Val had him kilt and took over his gang. Val's a mean one, Morgan. And he's a planner and a schemer too. He plans to become king of the outlaws someday. And the way he's a-goin', looks like he might make it."
"And you're going to join him?"
The stranger shook his head. "Hell, no, Morgan. Not me. I'm headin' for San Diego. Get me an honest job and try to find me a good woman to marry up with. I just wanted to warn you 'bout Val."
"And I thank you for that."
"Don't think nothin' 'bout it. Val's crazy, Morgan. And he's killin'mean. He's done brought grief to a lot of people. He's got to be stopped. I figure you're the man to stop him. That is, if he don't kill you."
"A lot of people have tried that, stranger. What is your name?"
"I ain't a-tellin' you. Val might capture you and torture it out of you. Then he'd come after me. And he likes to torture people. I'm tellin' you, the man is crazy."
"I've had a number of people tell me that."
"Well, you can add me to the list. And I know firsthand. I've seen some of the things he done. Made me puke. I hope you kill the son of a bitch. If any man on this earth needs killin', it's Val Dooley." The stranger stood up. "You be careful, Morgan. I'm tellin' you, Val knows you're on the way." Without another word, the man turned and walked to his horse. He mounted up and rode off toward the south.
Frank didn't know whether to believe the man or not, but he wasn't going to take any chances. He mounted up and headed out, this time more to the east than to the south. Val Dooley could be somebody else's worry for now. Right now, Frank wanted to get into Northern New Mexico and check out some land. He would follow the stage road east into Arizona and then cut some north to Wickenburg. Frank loved the northern parts of Arizona and New Mexico, and had always thought that someday he'd like to settle there. Maybe this trip would be the one that would hold him in one place. He hoped so.
Excerpted from The Last Gunfighter: Rescue by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 2003 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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