Young Matt Bodine and Sam Two Wolves became blood brothers on the day the rancher’s son saved the halfbreed’s life, forging a bond no one could ever break. As years passed, a legend grew of the breed and the white man who rode together—and pulled iron faster than anyone in the West…
Sweet Apple, Texas, is the deadliest town west of the Mississippi—where getting killed is as easy as ordering a beer. Which is why East Coast big shot Cornelius Standish sends his lily-livered nephew, Seymour, to Sweet Apple. With Seymour out of the way, Cornelius will own the company that rightfully belongs to his nephew.
His plan backfires, though, when Seymour is dubbed “The Most Cowardly Man in the West” by a newspaper and the hardcases of Sweet Apple are too proud to kill him. Soon Seymour thinks he’s bulletproof—until an outlaw gang, some Mexican revolutionaries, a train full of army rifles and a team of hired gunfighters all head to Sweet Apple at the same time. Now, Seymour and his border town are sure to get blown off the map. But blood brothers Matt Bodine and Sam Two Wolves are about to get there first—and they’re setting off some fireworks of their own…
Live Free. Read Hard.
About the Author
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
If not for the big man with the long nose, Matt Bodine and Sam Two Wolves wouldn't have gotten into trouble in Buckskin, a growing settlement on the stagecoach route that angled across the Texas Panhandle toward New Mexico Territory.
Or maybe they would have. Trouble seemed to follow them around, after all.
The two young drifters were in a saloon called the Red Queen, named for the card that had won the place for its current owner when he'd drawn it in a high- stakes poker game in Tascosa. That had filled out the royal flush he'd been trying for, and the deed for this saloon in Buckskin was part of the pot he'd raked in. At that time it had borne the unimaginative name Clancy's. The gambler, Thad Milton, had changed it after riding into Buckskin, taking a look at his newly acquired property, and deciding that it was time for him to settle down and become a saloon keeper.
Milton had improved the place quite a bit during his ownership, and as a result the Red Queen did more business than any of the other two dozen or so saloons in Buckskin. The bar was crowded when Matt and Sam came in that evening, but they found places for themselves at the hardwood and ordered beers from the bald, aproned drink juggler.
Both young men were big enough to attract some attention. Tall, broad- shouldered, lean-hipped, they had the look of natural-born fighting men.
Matt wore a blue bib-front shirt and a black Stetson tipped back casually on his dark brown hair. Twin Colts with smooth walnut grips rode in hand-tooled holsters attached to the gunbelt around his hips. His blue eyes usually had a mild look about them, but they could turn to flinty chips of ice when he was angry.
Sam sported a soft buckskin shirt — without all the fancy fringe that dudes tended to favor — and a flat-crowned brown hat the color of snuff. His hair was black as a raven's wing, and that, along with the faintly reddish hue of his skin and the slightly prominent cheekbones, testified to his Cheyenne heritage. His father had been Medicine Horse, a wise leader of his people who had been sent East as a young man to obtain a white man's education. While at school, Medicine Horse had met, fallen in love with, and married a young white woman, who had become Sam's mother a few years later.
Sam August Webster Two Wolves had followed in his father's educational footsteps, attending an Eastern college. Matt Bodine's education had been more of the frontier sort and had included a great deal of life experience to go along with a certain amount of book learnin'. The two young men had been mostly inseparable friends since childhood. Matt, the son of a rancher who still owned one of the largest spreads in Montana, had been welcomed into the Cheyenne tribe as Sam's blood brother. They were Onihomahan — Brothers of the Wolf.
Brothers in their restless nature, too. Each owned a ranch of his own in Montana — smaller than the holdings of the elder Bodine but still sizable and plenty lucrative — and they could have settled down on those spreads any time they wanted to.
For the past several years, though, they had left the ranches in the hands of tough, competent foreman and crews and had indulged their wanderlust, traveling from one end of the West to the other and back several times. They were men who had been to see the elephant ... but still they wanted to see more.
The fella standing near them at the bar in the Red Queen had a nose almost long enough to qualify as an elephant's trunk, Matt thought. He'd been brought up to be polite so he tried not to stare, but it was difficult. He wasn't sure he had ever seen an hombre with such an enormous snout.
Sam nudged him in the side with an elbow. "Yes, it's a prominent proboscis," he said as he leaned closer to Matt. "But you're being rude, brother."
"Yeah, I know," Matt muttered. He focused his attention on the beer in his mug. Folks couldn't help how they looked, and they hadn't ought to be the object of unwanted attention just because the Good Lord had blessed them with an abundance of whatever the hell it was Sam had called it.
Besides, in addition to the big nose, the man also had long, brawny arms and huge shoulders bulging with muscle. The rest of his face was craggy and weathered by the elements. A thick black mustache drooped over his lips. He wore a slouch hat and a shaggy buffalo coat, and had tossed back several shots of whiskey in the time Matt and Sam had been in the saloon. What Matt had overheard of the man's loud-voiced conversation told Matt that he was a hide hunter. That was a rugged breed of men, to be sure.
And a touchy breed, too. Matt hadn't looked away quite quick enough. The man turned his head and directed a dark, murderous glare in Matt's direction.
"You lookin' at me, mister?" he demanded in a rumbling voice like the sound of a buffalo stampede in the distance. "See somethin' funny, do you?"
"Not at all, friend." Matt could be a mite proddy himself at times, but he wasn't looking for trouble. He remembered something in the Bible about how a soft answer turneth away wrath. He hoped the Good Book would prove to be right in this case.
The buffalo hunter shouldered aside the man next to him and took a stride that put him right in Matt's face, close enough for Matt to smell the reek of the raw whiskey on the man's breath.
Close enough that Matt had a moment's worry about that spear of a nose poking one of his eyes out.
"I think you were starin' at me. I don't like it when folks stare at me. When they do that they start laughin' at me, too."
Matt shook his head. "I got no reason to laugh at you, mister."
"No? What about my nose? Don't you think my nose is funny-lookin'?"
As a matter of fact Matt thought the hombre's nose was a mite funny-looking, but he wasn't going to say that. Instead he said, "Listen, I'm not looking for any trouble —"
"Well, then, you shouldn't go around starin' at folks like some sort o' damn half-wit!"
Matt was starting to get annoyed now himself. He ignored the warning look that Sam threw at him and said, "If I offended you, mister, it wasn't my intention. Now why don't you let my friend and me get back to our beers?"
The man glanced past Matt at Sam, and his face darkened even more with barely suppressed rage. "By God, that fella with you ain't another half-wit! He's a half-breed! His sort shouldn't even be in a saloon, let alone drinkin' with white men!"
Matt had started to pick up his mug. Now he set it back on the bar without taking another drink and said in a quiet, dangerous voice, "You'd better move along, mister. Just because I said we weren't lookin' for trouble doesn't mean we'll stand for any bullying."
The buffalo hunter sneered. "Mighty big talk for a man who spends his time with a filthy redskin."
A bearded man in greasy, beaded buckskins came up behind the buffalo hunter and tugged on the sleeve of the shaggy coat. "Better let it go, Buckner," the man warned. "I recognize that hombre. He's Matt Bodine."
Buckner drew in a sharp, deep breath — and with a nose like his that accounted for quite a bit of air. Obviously, he knew the name of Matt Bodine. Most folks on the frontier did. Matt had a reputation for being mighty fast and accurate with those Colts of his. Some said that the only man slicker on the draw than Matt was Smoke Jensen ... and others claimed that Bodine could even give Smoke a run for his money when it came to gun-handling.
Buckner's dander was up, though, and he was too proud to back down, no matter who he was facing. He scowled and said, "I ain't no gunfighter, Bodine. But if you ain't yellow, you'll step outside in the street with me and we can settle this the way real men do ... with our fists."
Matt was ready to do just that, but Sam put a hand on his shoulder. "Forget it," Sam advised. "It's not worth the time and trouble. Anyway, you don't want to get your knuckles bruised up on this fellow. His head's probably as hard as a rock."
Matt returned Buckner's glare for a second longer, then shrugged and turned away. "Yeah, you're probably right," he said as he reached for his beer again. "It ain't worth it."
Buckner's eyes widened and bulged out until it seemed like they would pop right out of their sockets. "By God, I'll put up with a lot of things —"
Somehow Matt doubted that.
"— but bein' ignored ain't one of 'em!" Buckner grabbed Matt's shoulder and jerked the younger man around to face him again.
That was it. Buckner had pushed things too far by laying hands on him. Matt's shoulders bunched and his right fist shot forward, burying itself to the wrist in Buckner's ample gut. The punch hadn't traveled very far, but packed an incredible amount of power.
Buckner turned a little pale under his sunburn and bent forward, but he didn't double over or take a step backward. Instead he roared in fury and swung a huge fist. The blow would have knocked Matt's head right off his shoulders if it had connected, but Matt ducked under it and bored in, hooking a left and a right to Buckner's already tender belly.
A wild exhilaration filled Matt and sent a battle song humming through his veins. Instead of the cool, icy-nerved, deadly calm that descended on him during gunfights, fisticuffs brought out the brawler in him. There was nothing like a good slugfest.
And that was what broke out swiftly inside the Red Queen. Bellowing in pain and rage, Buckner shook off the effects of Matt's punches and took some more lumbering swipes of his own. He was slow but massively strong, and Matt couldn't avoid all the punches. One of them landed on his breastbone and slammed him against the bar. His lips drew away from his teeth in a grimace as the edge of the hardwood dug painfully into his back. Buckner raised a fist high. It was poised to come down in a shattering, skull-crushing, sledgehammer of a blow.
Before that blow could fall, Sam's fist practically exploded in Buckner's face, landing right on the nose that had started this ruckus. Buckner screamed in pain as blood spurted. Sam was prone to trying to avoid trouble, much more so than Matt, but when his blood brother was threatened, that reluctance went out the window. Sam walloped the buffalo hunter on the nose, and then followed it up with a stinging left cross to the man's heavy jaw.
"Hey, they're gangin' up on Buckner!" The outraged shout came from the man who had warned Buckner to back off a few moments earlier. He had been afraid of Matt's guns.
But now all bets were off. The man in the beaded buckskins tackled Sam, driving him backward for several staggering steps before both men lost their balance and came crashing down on one of the tables where a poker game had been going on. The table's legs snapped and it collapsed, sending cards and the money that had been piled in the center of the green felt flying everywhere.
"You son of a bitch!" one of the cardplayers howled. "I was gonna win that hand!" He reached down, grabbed the man who had tackled Sam, hauled him to his feet, and punched him in the face.
Matt had straightened and set himself while that was going on. He ducked under another wild, looping punch from Buckner, and then peppered the buffalo hunter with a couple of jabs to the face. Both blows landed solidly and bent Buckner's already injured nose even further out of shape. Buckner staggered back, clapping both hands to his face.
He had quite a few friends in the saloon. A man yelled, "Get those bastards!" and the crowd surged forward, surrounding Matt and Sam.
They weren't fighting on their own, however. As fists flew and furniture broke and bottles shattered, it became obvious that the Red Queen's battling patrons were split into two roughly equal factions. On one side were the buffalo hunters, on the other the cowboys who worked on the spreads that had been established here in the Panhandle in the past few years as the vast herds of buffalo finally began to dwindle. Their dislike for each other was mutual.
The few townies in the place pretty much stayed out of it. Some of them slunk toward the doors, hoping to get outside before the violence drew them in.
Matt and Sam were trapped in the middle of that whirlwind of fists and feet and flying chairs. As they stood in front of the bar, they put their backs together and lashed out with punch after punch, decking everyone who came at them. A few feet away several cowboys had jumped on Buckner and tried to bring the massive buffalo hunter to the floor. Buckner shook them off like a bear shaking off a pack of curs. He swung his tree-trunk-like arms and mowed down his opponents. Then he picked up one of the overturned tables and charged forward with a roar, knocking down men and scattering them like ninepins. Blood still streamed from his nose.
Matt saw that from the corner of his eye as he continued to fight, and while he still didn't like Buckner, he couldn't help but feel a little grudging admiration for the buffalo hunter. Buckner was one hell of a fighting man. "Pure pizen," as some might put it.
The epic struggle inside the Red Queen might have continued until the saloon was completely reduced to a shambles, but the unexpected roar of a shotgun brought the battle to a screeching halt. Men froze with fists lifted to strike blows that never fell. Heads turned toward the doorway, where a man in a white shirt, black vest, black hat, and string tie had pushed through the batwings to discharge one barrel of a Greener into the ceiling. He lowered the weapon so that it covered the brawlers and shouted, "The next man who throws a punch gets blown in half!"
The light from the chandeliers that hung from the saloon's ceiling glinted on the badge pinned to the newcomer's chest.
Into the silence that had fallen, the lawman barked, "Now, by God, I want an honest answer to this question. Who started this damned ruckus?"
Every eye in the place, other than their own, turned to look at Matt Bodine and Sam Two Wolves.CHAPTER 2
"Wait just a damned minute!" Matt protested. "We didn't start this. He did!" He pointed at Buckner.
"You threw the first punch, Bodine," the buffalo hunter rumbled.
"Only because you grabbed me, you lummox!"
"Bodine!" The sharp exclamation came from the shotgun-toting star-packer. "Not Matt Bodine?"
Matt hesitated, but only for a second. He wasn't going to deny who he was. "That's right," he said in a defiant tone of voice.
The sheriff or marshal or whatever he was swung the Greener so that the twin barrels pointed directly at Matt and Sam. Everybody around them scattered to get out of the line of fire. Nobody wanted anything to do with those charges of double-aught buck.
"Drop your guns," the lawman grated.
Matt glanced over at his blood brother. While they had been known to bend the law from time to time in their adventurous wandering, neither of them made a habit of drawing on badge-toters. They weren't owlhoots. They were just ... rambunctious.
With a sigh, Matt reached for the buckle of his gunbelt. "All right, Sheriff, but you're makin' a mistake here. Sam and I ain't to blame for this."
"It's Marshal," the lawman snapped as Matt and Sam unbuckled their gun rigs and placed them on the bar. "Marshal Harlan Stryker." With self-confidence bordering on arrogance, he added, "And I don't make mistakes. That's why Buckskin is a peaceable town. At least it was until you two hellions rode in. It will be again with the two of you safely behind bars."
Sam nodded toward Buckner. "The least you could do is arrest him, too. He was involved every bit as much as we were. More, actually, since we tried to convince him that we weren't looking for trouble."
Buckner pressed a hand against his broad chest and looked as innocent as a huge, burly, battle-scarred buffalo hunter could look. "That's a lie, Marshal. Them two come in here and started makin' fun o' my nose. Ain't my fault it's so long. I inherited it from my pa. His nose was even longer."
Matt didn't see how that could be possible, and Buckner's innocent, offended tone got on his nerves. "Hell, break out the violins! Next thing you know, you'll be traipsin' off through the daisies with Little Nell!"
Buckner squinted and balled up his fists. "Why, you —"
"That's enough," Marshal Stryker said, breaking in. "You're not fooling me, Buckner. You've caused plenty of trouble in the past and we both know it. But Bodine and Two Wolves have a reputation as real hell-raisers. You're just an amateur. So I'm going to give you a break this time and not lock you up."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Texas Gundown"
Copyright © 2008 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews