THE GREATEST WESTERN WRITERS OF THE 21ST CENTURY
New York Times bestselling author William W. Johnstone continues his masterful western storytelling tradition with The Last Gunfighter—a boldly authentic series of the American West . . .
Frank Morgan has drifted down to Idaho after a wild range war in Montana, and his fame as a gunfighter is traveling fast and far ahead of him. With his face on the covers of newspapers and dozens of dime novels, he’s got nowhere left to hide. Because gunning down a legend like Frank has become more than an obsession to some men—it’s a high stakes sport. Now, bankrolled by rich and powerful men from the East, a dozen highly-skilled killers have finally gotten what they wanted: the elusive Frank Morgan in their sights. But Morgan is deadliest when he’s cornered—and he’ll be damned if he dies for any man’s greed.
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The Last Gunfighter: Showdown
By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2002 William W Johnstone
All rights reserved.
The town had grown quite a bit — it had been no more than a wide spot in the road the last time Frank Morgan had ridden through. About ten years back, he thought with a smile. He didn't remember the name of the town.
Still not much to it, Frank thought, looking down at the buildings from a hill. But maybe there's a barbershop with a bathhouse. Hard winter was fast approaching, and Frank was out of supplies and needed a bath, a rest, and a meal he didn't have to fix himself. He looked down at Dog, sitting a few yards away.
"And you need a good scrubbing too, Dog," he told the cur.
Dog wagged his tail without much enthusiasm at the mention of the word "scrubbing."
A few weeks had passed without incident since Frank left the valley of contention and the twin towns of Heaven and Hell. But peaceful times were coming to a close, and events were now in motion that would forever change the life of the gunfighter known as The Drifter.
They were events that Frank could not alter even had he known about them. Events that had taken place in a private men's club in New York City; a club to which only the very wealthy could belong.
Frank had intended to head southwest when he left the valley, but instead he headed northwest. Why, he didn't know; he just did. He rode slowly toward the town, passing a weather-beaten sign that read: SOUTH RAVEN.
Frank shook his head at the name. "I wonder where North Raven is."
It took Frank about a minute to ride the entire length of the town, passing a general store, a saloon, a leather and gun shop, a barbershop/bathhouse /undertaker's combination, a small cafe, a stage office/telegraph office, and several other stores, and finally reining up in front of the livery stable.
Frank swung wearily down from the saddle. An old man walked out of the shadows of the livery, sized up Frank for a few seconds, and said, "Howdy, boy. You look plumb tuckered out."
"I am," Frank replied.
"Come a ways, have you?"
"A good piece, for a fact. Did I miss the hotel coming in?"
The old man chuckled. "Ain't nairy. But they's rooms for hire over the saloon."
"Where's North Raven?"
"You're funny, boy, you know that? There ain't no North Raven. Never has been. Town is named for the local doctor. He's from the South. That's how the town got its name."
"What part of the South?"
"Alabama. Raven was a doctor in the Confederate Army. I think he was a colonel."
"There were a lot of them, for a fact."
"You was a Rebel?"
"I was on the other side. That make a difference to you?"
"Not a bit. War's over."
"We'll get along then. I hate a sore loser. You want me to take care of your horse?"
"And my dog. I'll stable them and feed them."
"You don't think I can do that?"
"I don't want you kicked or bitten."
"I'll shore keep that in mind. Them animals got names?"
"Horse and Dog."
The liveryman smiled. "That ain't very original."
"It suits them."
"I reckon so. You look sort of familiar to me, boy. You been here 'fore?"
"Can't say I have. But I appreciate you calling me 'boy.'"
"I'm older than dirt, boy. Everybody's younger than me." He stared hard at Frank for a few seconds. "I've seen you 'fore. I know I have. It'll come to me."
"Let me know when it does. Is there anyone in town who does laundry?"
"The Widder Barlow. The barber'll get your stuff to her."
"All right. My gear will be safe here?"
"Shore will. I got a room with a lock on the door.
"The cafe serve good food?"
"Best in town," the liveryman said with a wide smile.
"It's the only cafe in town," Frank reminded him.
"That's why it's the best!"
Frank smiled and led Horse into the big barn, Dog following along. Dog would stay in the stall with Horse. Frank left his saddle in the storeroom and walked across the street to the barbershop. He arranged for the washerwoman to launder his trail-worn clothes, and then took a long soapy bath in a tub of hot water. He dressed in his last clean set of long-handle underwear and clean but slightly wrinkled jeans and shirt, and then got a shave and a haircut. He stepped out onto the boardwalk smelling and feeling a lot better, and walked over to the cafe for some lunch.
"Beef stew, hot bread, and apple pie," the waitress told him. "It's all we got, but it's good and there's plenty of it."
"Sounds good to me," Frank told her. "And keep my coffee cup filled, please."
Frank ate two full bowls of the very good stew and drank several cups of coffee before his hunger was appeased. He walked across the street and signed for a room, then went into the bar for another cup of coffee and to listen to the local gossip, if any. The patrons fell silent when he entered, everyone giving him the once-over. Frank ignored them, took a table in the rear of the room, and ordered a pot of coffee.
"I know who you are," a man said from across the room. Frank sipped his coffee and offered no reply to the statement.
"What are you talkin' about, Ned?" another patron asked.
"The gunfighter who just walked in," Ned said.
"Frank Morgan! Here in South Raven? You're crazy, Ned."
"That's him what just walked in, Mark," Ned stated. "Sittin' over yonder drinkin' coffee."
Frank took another sip of the strong coffee and remained silent.
"Is that true, mister?" Mark asked. "Are you Frank Morgan?"
"Yes," Frank said quietly.
"Oh, my God!" another patron blurted out as the front door opened, letting in a burst of cool air. "He's here to kill someone."
"I don't think so," the old liveryman said, stepping into the saloon. "Seems like a right nice feller to me." He walked to the bar and ordered a beer. "Your name come to me, Mr. Morgan. I knowed it would."
Frank lifted his coffee cup in acknowledgment.
"I seen Doc Raven right after you stored your stuff. Told him 'bout you. I reckon he'll be along any time now."
"Why are you here in our town, Frank Morgan?" another bar patron asked.
"To spend a couple of days resting my horse," Frank said. "To eat a meal I didn't cook and to get my clothes washed. Is that all right with you men?"
"Shore suits me," the liveryman said.
"You're not lookin' to kill no one?" Mark asked.
"By God, it is you," a man said, stepping into the saloon from a side door. "I thought Old Bob was seeing things."
"Told you it was him, Doc," the liveryman said. "Dr. Raven, Mr. Morgan."
Frank nodded at the man. "Do I know you?"
"No," the doctor replied. "But I've seen your picture dozens of times and read a couple of books about you."
"Don't believe everything you read," Frank told him. "According to those books I've killed about a thousand white men, been wounded fifty times, been in gunfights all over the world, and been received in royal courts and knighted by kings and queens."
The doctor laughed. "And you're still a young man."
"I'm forty-five, Doc. And feel every year of it."
Dr. Raven walked over and sat down at the table with Frank. "Coffee," he called to the barkeep. He looked at Frank. "You're very relaxed, Mr. Morgan."
"The name is Frank, Doc. And why shouldn't I be relaxed?"
"You're not aware of what's been planned back East?"
"No. Something that concerns me?"
"I would certainly say so. It's been in the works for ... I'd guess six months, at least. Probably longer than that. You're about to become the prey in what some are calling the ultimate hunt."
Frank's eyes narrowed for a few seconds; that was the only betrayal of his inner emotions. "You want to explain that? And also, how did you find out about it?"
"I have a doctor friend in New York City. We went to college together; graduated just in time to serve in opposing sides during the Northern Aggression Against the South. He wrote me months ago asking if I knew you. Of course, I told him I didn't. In his next letter, which was not long in coming, he told me about a group of wealthy sportsmen who had each put up thousands of dollars for this hunt. To be blunt, the money goes to the man who kills you."
"The authorities haven't stepped in to stop this ... nonsense?"
"Obviously not. The so-called sportsmen are on their way west as we speak."
"The West is a big place, Doc. How do they propose to find me?"
"I understand the group has hired private detectives to do just that."
Frank hottened up his coffee and sugared it. "Doc, this is the damnest thing I ever heard of. Hell, it's illegal."
"Of course, it is. But you're a known gunfighter. In the minds of many people, the world would be a better place without you in it."
Frank sighed heavily. "This is going to bring out every two-bit gunslinger west of the Mississippi."
"Well, we have a couple of gunfighters right here in this community. They'll be in town later on today, you can bet on that."
"You know that for sure?"
"It's Friday, Frank. And they always come in for drinks on Friday."
"They occasionally hire on to some ranch, when they're not stealing cattle or horses."
"I'm surprised anyone will hire them."
"Oh, they're careful not to steal from any of the ranchers in this area. But they've already heard about the other money being offered for your head."
"Sounds like everyone in the West has heard of that," Frank said sourly. Then he took a sip of coffee and smiled. "But no one's collected it yet."
"Obviously," Doc Raven replied. "But don't sell these two men short, Frank. I'm told they're fast, and good shots to boot."
"The worst age. They're full of piss and vinegar and think they're ten feet tall and bullet-proof."
"That's an interesting way of putting it, but accurate, I would say."
"Doc, if I could have one wish granted me by the Almighty, it would be that I could live out the rest of my years in peace and never have another gunfight. And that's the God's truth."
Doc Raven stared into Frank's pale eyes for a few seconds. He took in the dark brown hair, peppered with gray. The thick wrists and big hands. "I believe that, Frank. But it doesn't change anything."
"No, it doesn't. Doc, do you have a marshal here?"
Doc Raven smiled. "No. We had one, but he died several years ago. Not much goes on here, Frank. It's a very peaceful town."
"If you want it to remain peaceful, then I'd better move on, Doc."
"Nonsense. You're welcome to stay here for as long as you like."
"The mayor and town council might have something to say about that."
"I'm the mayor, Frank. And we don't have a town council."
"Interesting. How about a bank?"
"A small one, located in the stage office."
"Do you own it too?"
Raven laughed. "As a matter of fact I do. Would you like to open an account?"
"Not really. I have ample funds with me."
The doctor pushed back his chair and stood up. "Enjoy your stay in South Raven, Frank. I've got to see about a patient. We'll visit again soon."
The doctor walked out of the saloon and into the crisp fall air of Southern Idaho. Frank poured another cup of coffee and rolled a cigarette.
Old Bob, the liveryman, came over to Frank's table, a beer mug in his hand, and sat down. "The doc tell you about the Olsen boys?"
"The horse thieves?"
Bob laughed. "That's them. They're cousins, and worthless. But both of them pretty good with a pistol."
"Maybe I can avoid them."
"Doubtful, Mr. Morgan. Them two is lookin' for a reputation."
A man turned away from the front window of the saloon. "Here comes Brooks and Martin. They're reinin' up now. Oh, Lordy, the lead is goin' to fly for sure."
"The Olsen boys?" Frank asked.
"That's them," Bob said.
The front door open and two young men swaggered in, both of them wearing tied-down pistols.
Bob pushed his chair to one side, giving Frank a clear field of fire. Frank sipped his coffee and waited.CHAPTER 2
Frank remained seated at the table as the front door was opened and two young men walked into the saloon, both of them all full of confidence and false toughness. Frank had seen their type many times before. Bullies, for the most part, and to Frank, very unimpressive. Frank could tell by the way they walked both were primed and cocked for trouble.
Brooks and Martin strolled over to the bar and ordered whiskey, then turned and gave the patrons a once-over. Both their gazes settled on Frank.
The old liveryman, Bob, moved further away from Frank's table.
"You somebody important?" Brooks called to Frank.
"Are you speaking to me?" Frank asked.
"Yeah. Who are you?"
"A man enjoying a pot of good coffee. Does that bother you? Not that it's any of your business," Frank added.
The pair of trouble-hunters both stiffened at that, Martin saying, "We might decide to make it our business."
"Why?" Frank asked.
"Huh?" Brooks blurted.
Frank smiled tightly, his eyes never leaving the pair. "I said, why?"
Brooks and Martin exchanged glances. " 'Cause we wants to know who you is, that's why!" Martin spoke.
"The name is Frank. And I assure you, any pleasure in this meeting is all yours. Now leave me alone." Frank had taken an immediate dislike to Brooks and Martin. Frank had never liked bullies, and that dislike had heightened over the years.
"You got a real smart-alecky mouth, you know that?" Brooks said.
"You have my totally insincere apologies."
The bartender smiled at that.
"I don't think I like you," Martin said.
"It's a free country," Frank replied. "Like or dislike whoever you choose. Now, if you have nothing else to contribute to this small exchange, shut up."
"Huh?" Brooks asked.
"I said shut up!"
"Who the hell do you think you is?" Martin shouted.
"A man who is rapidly losing patience with a couple of pushy loudmouths."
"You think you somebody special or somethin'?" Brooks yelled.
Frank smiled and said nothing.
"I'll tell you who he is," a saloon loafer said. "He's Frank Morgan."
Brooks and Martin stood silent for a few seconds as that statement sank in. Brooks was the first to speak. "You lie! That ain't Frank Morgan. Cain't be."
"Well, it damn shore is him," Bob said.
"Frank Morgan's an old man," Martin said. "That feller sittin' yonder ain't old enough to be him."
"'Sides," Brooks added, "what would Frank Morgan be doin' in a dump like South Raven?"
"Resting and having a cup of coffee," Frank said. "And minding my own business. Why don't you two shut the hell up, try minding your own business, and leave me alone?"
That shut the cousins up for a moment. They looked at one another. Martin opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, then said, "You cain't talk to me like that, mister, whoever you are. Why ... I've called men out for less than that."
Not to be undone, Brooks said, "Yeah. Me too."
"Go away," Frank told the pair, a note of weariness in his voice. "I didn't come here looking for trouble."
"Well, now," Martin said. "That's some better. Now you're bein' smart, mister. Nobody with any sense wants to tangle with us."
"I'm sure," Frank replied. "Now go away."
"Maybe we don't want to go away," Brooks said. "Maybe we want to stay and have a drink."
"Then, damnit, drink!" Frank said, raising his voice. "But do it quietly."
"What if we want to talk?" Martin asked, a smirk on his face. "That allowed?"
Frank slowly pushed back his chair and stood up. He was growing very weary of the Olsen boys, and wanted nothing more than to get away from the pair before the situation deteriorated into gunplay.
Martin and Brooks tensed, their hands dropping close to the butts of their guns.
Frank kept his hand away from his .45. "I'll be leaving now."
"Maybe we want you to stay and talk to us," Brooks said. "I mean, you're such a famous person and all that."
"Yeah," Martin said. "It ain't often we get to talk with someone like you. Maybe you can show us how fast you are, Mr. Has-Been. How about it?"
"I really don't think you boys want me to do that," Frank said softly.
"Oh, but we do, Mr. Famous Gunfighter," Brooks said. "As a matter of fact, we insist on it."
The cousins began to giggle like a couple of schoolgirls.
Frank stepped away from the table, his hand dropping to the butt of his pistol. From long experience, he knew the situation was very close to a showdown. He didn't like it, didn't want it, but there it was.
"All right, boys," Frank said. "Here it is. I'm going to walk out that front door. You want to slap iron, do it. Do it right now, or shut your damned mouths."
Excerpted from The Last Gunfighter: Showdown by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 2002 William W Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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