National bestselling author William W. Johnstone and Fred Austin write about the wild American West as if they dodged every bullet ever fired in those bygone times—and the legendary Frank Morgan, the Last Gunfighter, is one of their deadliest, most unstoppable heroes . . .
Bullets Are His Business
For Frank Morgan, a reunion with his estranged son brings back bittersweet memories of another time and place. Conrad Morgan is an Eastern businessman trying to build a railroad through an untamed corner of New Mexico Territory. Even though Frank has revenge-hungry killers on his trail, his kin needs him now. So with a gun-toting, hard-loving beauty named Rebel by their side, father and son ride straight into a pitched battle with hired killers and furious Apache warriors. It’s a firestorm more treacherous and evil than Frank Morgan has ever faced. Because a criminal mastermind is in the middle of it, waiting for a chance kill two Morgans for the price of one . . .
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The Last Gunfighter: Savage Country
By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2006 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Frank Morgan heard laughter as he strode into the lobby of the Grand Central Hotel in El Paso, Texas. Ugly laughter, the sort that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. It came from the barroom to his right.
Frank ignored the sound as best he could, and continued on across the lobby toward the desk. Whatever was going on in the hotel bar, it was none of his affair. He had come to El Paso on business of his own.
The clerk at the desk greeted Frank by saying, "Yes, sir, may I help you?" His manner was polite, even though Frank was dressed in worn range clothes that still carried the dust of the trail and had a pair of saddlebags slung over his left shoulder. In a bustling frontier city like El Paso, a man who looked like that might be a saddle tramp with barely a penny to his name — or he might be an important businessman with millions of dollars in the bank.
As a matter of fact, Frank came closer to fitting the second description, although he wasn't sure if his business interests were actually worth a million dollars or not. He left such details to his lawyers in Denver and San Francisco. But he wasn't hurting for money, that much was certain.
He rested his left hand on the desk and said, "You should have a reservation for me. Name's Frank Morgan."
The clerk's eyes widened a little as they went to the Colt. 45 Peacemaker with walnut grips holstered on Frank's right hip. He knew the name, all right. More than likely, he had seen it in some of the dime novels that had been written about the man known as The Drifter. Most of them were unmitigated trash made up by Eastern scribblers, but they contained enough kernels of truth so that Frank's reputation as a gunfighter had spread far and wide.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Morgan," the clerk said hastily. "We have your room all ready for you, one of the finest in the hotel. If you'll just sign in ..."
Another burst of laughter came from the nearby barroom as the clerk turned the book around for Frank to sign. Frank glanced in that direction, then picked up the pen from the inkwell and signed his name. He left the space for his home address blank. It had been a long time since he'd had one of those that meant anything.
He had spent the past few months in South Texas, far down the valley of the Rio Grande, waiting there for winter to be over and enjoying the company of an intelligent, attractive woman at the same time. As pleasant as that interval had been, with the coming of spring he had begun to grow restless, and the arrival of a telegram from Conrad Browning asking Frank to meet him in El Paso had been all he needed to prompt him to move on. He had put some supplies on a packhorse, kissed a regretful Roanne Williamson good-bye, and ridden northwest on Stormy, the big Appaloosa, trailed by the big cur known only as Dog.
"Thank you, Mr. Morgan," the clerk said. "If you have a buggy or some other vehicle you'd like to put in our barn ..."
"Nope, just a saddle mount and a packhorse, and I already left them at a livery stable down the street, along with my dog. Fella named Gomez runs it, I think."
"Oh, yes," the clerk said. "Pablo Gomez. A good man. He'll take good care of your animals."
"That's what I thought from the looks of the place," Frank said. He frowned as laughter exploded again in the bar. "What's going on in there?"
The clerk shook his head. "I'm afraid I wouldn't know, sir."
Frank shrugged, telling himself again that it was none of his business. The clerk plucked a key off a rack on the wall behind the desk and started to give it to Frank. Another moment and Frank would have taken the key, gone up to his room, and forgotten all about the hyenas in the barroom.
If only a voice hadn't suddenly called out desperately, painfully, "No! Please, don't! Please ..."
Frank's face hardened. Somebody was in trouble in there, and whether it was any of his business or not, he wasn't the sort of man to turn his back on folks who needed help.
"Hang onto that key," he said to the clerk. "I'll be back in a minute or two."
A couple of lithe steps brought him to the arched entrance of the barroom. Although it was the afternoon of a bright spring day outside, the windowless barroom was shadowy, lit only by a couple of oil lamps in the form of chandeliers. The L-shaped bar was to Frank's left, with tables in front of him and booths along the wall to his right. A nervous-looking bartender stood behind the bar. There were only three other men in the place. Two of them had the third man bent backward over the table in one of the booths. One of them had a hand planted in the middle of the third man's chest, holding him down, while a bowie knife glinted in the other hand.
"I'll hold him while you take his pants off," the knife-wielder said to his companion. "I bet he'll sing real pretty once we carve on him some."
Frank glanced at the bartender. "Aren't you going to do something about this?"
Beads of sweat glistened on the man's high forehead. "Reckon I ought to go for the law?"
"Likely it'll be too late by the time they got here," Frank said.
"You don't know those Callahan b-boys," the bartender stammered in a half whisper. "They're c-crazy!"
Frank might not know the Callahans, but he had a feeling he was about to make their acquaintance. He stepped closer to the booth where the two men were tormenting the third one and said sharply, "Hey!"
One of the Callahans had the hapless prisoner's trousers halfway off. He stopped what he was doing and straightened, turning toward Frank. The one with the knife kept the man pinned down, but he turned to look over his shoulder at Frank.
"Move on, mister," he growled. "This ain't got nothin' to do with you."
"Yeah!" the other one said. "Get the hell outta here, if you know what's good for you!"
They were cut from the same cloth, with coarse, beard-stubbled, ratlike features. More than that, there was a family resemblance, and Frank felt confident they were brothers. The one with the knife appeared to be a little older.
A faint smile touched the grim line that was Frank's mouth. "That's the problem," he said. "I've always had a hard time doing what was good for me."
"Well, you better do it now," the one with the knife threatened, "or we'll slice off your cojones too!"
"What about him?" Frank asked in a deceptively mild tone as he nodded toward the man bent over the table. "What did he do to make you want to mutilate him?"
"Do? He didn't do anything! He was just here."
"So you decided to torture and probably kill a man simply for the fun of it?"
"Why the hell not?" the younger Callahan brother demanded. "If you're mean enough and strong enough, you can do anything you want in this world, and there ain't nobody meaner and stronger than us!"
"That's where you're wrong," Frank said.
"You bastard! I'll learn you —" The younger brother's hand dived toward the gun on his hip.
Frank waited until the man's hand had closed around the butt of the revolver before he drew and fired in one smooth motion that was almost too fast for the eye to see. The Peacemaker bucked against his palm as it drove its leaden messenger of death deep into the man's chest. The impact threw him back against the partition between booths. He bounced off and let go of his half-drawn gun. It slipped out of the holster and thudded to the floor. The mortally wounded man pressed a hand to his chest. Blood welled between his fingers, but not much. His heart had already been stilled by Frank's bullet.
"Simon!" the man croaked. Then he fell to his knees and pitched forward on his face. His legs kicked a couple of times before he lay still.
The man with the knife hadn't moved. His name was Simon, Frank guessed. He stared at Frank, who still held the Colt level and steady, for a few seconds before he asked, "Who in blazes are you, mister? I never saw a draw like that before."
"Name's Frank Morgan."
"Some call me that," Frank admitted.
Simon Callahan swallowed hard. "I ain't gonna draw on you, Morgan. I wouldn't have a chance. No more than my brother Jud did."
"Put the knife away and let that man up, and there won't be a need for any more shooting."
"Yeah. Yeah, sure." Callahan took a step back away from the table. He slid the bowie into a beaded sheath on his left hip. "You didn't have to kill him. He wasn't near as fast as you."
"Fast enough so that there was no time to get fancy," Frank said. He motioned with the barrel of the Peacemaker. "Take his body and get out."
Callahan bent to hoist his brother's limp form. He got his arms under his brother's arms from behind and began dragging the corpse toward the lobby of the hotel. Jud's boot heels made scraping sounds on the floor.
"This ain't over," Simon Callahan said. "I ain't about to forget this, Morgan."
"Your choice," Frank said. "But the smart thing to do would be to bury your brother and ride on out of El Paso."
Simon's face contorted in a grimace of hatred. "Reckon I have a hard time doin' what's good for me too."
With that, he dragged his brother's body out of the Grand Central Hotel, past the horrified gaze of the desk clerk and a couple of other people who had come into the lobby.
Frank holstered his gun and turned toward the man who had been the object of the Callahan brothers' cruelty. He had straightened up and was trying to pull his clothes back into a semblance of order. He was thin and well dressed, from the look of him a gambler maybe. El Paso had plenty of them.
"Thank you," the man said as he picked up a black hat that had fallen off and settled it on his sleek black hair. "I ... I think those lunatics would have killed me if you hadn't come along to stop them, Mr. ... Morgan, was it?"
The man held out a hand with long, slender fingers, another sign of a man who made his living with the pasteboards. "Jonas Wade."
Frank shook with him. "Was that really all there was to it, just sheer meanness on their part?"
"I assure you it was. I was just sitting there, playing solitaire" — Jonas motioned to a nearby table where a deck of cards was already laid out in a hand of solitaire — "when they came in and looked around and then set upon me, taunting me and trying to goad me into fighting with them. When I refused, they ... they said I was a coward and that I didn't have any need for my ... for my ..." A shudder ran through him as he contemplated what the Callahan brothers had been planning to do to him.
"Well, it's over now," Frank said. "I don't reckon the one that's left will bother you again."
"Maybe not, but I don't intend to give him a chance." Jonas smiled ruefully. "I believe I'll fold my tent and steal away like an Arab in the night. My stay in El Paso has been profitable, but let's face it — there are other places where a man can play cards."
Frank couldn't argue with that. He gave Jonas a nod as the gambler gathered up his cards and left the barroom. Frank couldn't quite comprehend just yelling for help and not fighting back when threatened with trouble, but he supposed some folks were like that. He was glad he had stepped in to help Jonas, whether the gambler had really deserved it or not.
His contempt was reserved more for the bartender who had stood by, apparently intending to do nothing while the Callahans had their sadistic fun. He turned toward the man and asked scathingly, "What the hell's wrong with you, mister? Don't you have a shotgun or at least a bung-starter under the bar in case of trouble?"
The bartender took out a bandanna and mopped his damp forehead. "We don't have trouble in here," he said defensively. "This is a civilized place."
"Better stop letting folks come in then. Human beings aren't naturally civilized. Sometimes they have to have it forced on them."
The clerk had come out from behind his desk and now stood in the arched opening between the lobby and the barroom. He said, "I'm sorry for the disturbance, Mr. Morgan. Thank you for stepping in when you did. Otherwise, things might have gotten, well, awful."
Frank nodded. "Sorry about the blood on the floor."
"It could have been a lot worse."
"I reckon I'll take that key now."
"Of course. If you'll come with me ..."
Frank followed the clerk to the desk. Once again the clerk took a key from the rack, and once again he was about to hand it to Frank when he was interrupted, this time by one of the men who had come into the lobby while Simon Callahan was dragging out the body of his brother.
"Well, I see that some things never change," the man said from behind Frank.
The voice was familiar. Frank turned slowly and found himself looking into the eyes of Conrad Browning, the man who had asked him to come here to El Paso.
Conrad Browning ... who was also Frank Morgan's son.CHAPTER 2
A smile spread slowly across Frank's face. "Conrad," he said. "It's been a while. You've changed."
"You haven't," Conrad snapped.
Frank shrugged. "I reckon I'm a little older, a little grayer. But you ... you're a grown man now."
It had been several years since Frank had seen the son he hadn't even known that he had for most of Conrad's life. He had missed out on so much, just as he hadn't been able to be a part of Victoria Monfore's life while she was growing up. At least he knew for sure that Conrad was his son, while there was still a little uncertainty as to whether or not Victoria was his daughter.
The last time Frank had seen Conrad hadn't been under the best of circumstances. Conrad had been a youngster then, with one year of college behind him. He had been kidnapped, not once but twice, by a gang of vicious outlaws led by Ned Pine and Victor Vanbergen. The same bunch of desperadoes had been responsible for the death of Vivian Browning, Frank's former wife and Conrad's mother. Frank had been able to rescue Conrad and wipe out most of the gang. Pine and Vanbergen were both dead, although ironically not by Frank's hand. Conrad had gone east to finish his education at Harvard and to tend to the wide-ranging business interests inherited from his mother, the same business interests that had made Frank Morgan a rich man because Vivian had left a percentage to him too.
Frank hadn't seen Conrad since that time, and they had been in touch only sporadically. Nearly everything was handled by Frank's lawyers and the attorneys who worked for Conrad. To put it bluntly, Conrad didn't like Frank and a part of him still blamed The Drifter for his mother's death. Conrad regarded as his real father the man Vivian married after her short-lived marriage to Frank had been annulled by her father.
Frank wished that things were different between him and Conrad, but wishing never brought a man much. Conrad had chosen to go his own way, and Frank had had no choice but to let him.
Now they were face-to-face again, and it was Conrad's doing. That had to give Frank at least a little hope for a reconciliation.
Conrad had filled out some. He wasn't a college boy anymore, but rather a young man in the prime of life, wearing an expensive suit and a fine hat. He had even cultivated a closely clipped mustache. He wore his sandy hair long, over his ears. Frank supposed that was not only to be fashionable, but also to cover up Conrad's disfigured left ear, the top of which had been cruelly sliced off by one of the outlaws while he was their prisoner.
"I need to talk to you," he said coolly to Frank. He gestured toward the barroom and went on. "Why don't we go in there? I'm sure the smell of freshly burned gunpowder won't bother you."
Frank's jaw tightened a little. That last comment hadn't been necessary. It was starting to look as if Conrad wasn't interested in being friends, let alone having a real father-and-son relationship with Frank after all.
If that was the case, then so be it. Frank said, "Sure. I'll buy you a drink."
They went into the barroom and sat down at a table well away from the spot where Jud Callahan had died. Without asking what Conrad wanted, Frank called over to the bartender to bring them each a beer.
"Excuse me," Conrad said. "I'd rather have a cognac. With water on the side."
Frank shrugged. He didn't care what Conrad drank. "Your letter caught up to me while I was down in South Texas," he said. "I'm glad I was able to get out here to El Paso while you're still here."
Excerpted from The Last Gunfighter: Savage Country by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 2006 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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