Johnstone. Keeping the west wild.
FATE BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER.
IT MAY ALSO SEND THEM STRAIGHT TO HELL.
Alone, these justice fighters are dangerous enough. Together they’re a wild bunch known as the Jackals. Now, national bestselling authors William W. and J.A. Johnstone are turning them loose . . .
With Apaches on the prod, ex-cavalry sergeant Sean Keegan, bounty hunter Jed Breen, and ex-Texas Ranger Matt McCulloch take shelter in a West Texas way station—along with a hot-as-a-pistol female bound for the gallows, a spiteful newspaper editor, and a coward with $50,000 who promises them five grand if they’ll deliver his blood-soaked stash to his wife.
Turns out, Indians might be the least of the problems for the trio, soon to be known as the Jackals. The loot’s stolen property of the vengeful Hawkin gang, and these prairie rats are merciless, stone-cold killers. And the brother of the man the woman killed wants to butcher her himself rather than watch her swing. McCulloch, Keegan, and Breen are ready for a showdown—but the Jackals may not live to spend that $5,000.
Live Free. Read Hard.
About the Author
William W. Johnstone is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over 300 books, including the series THE MOUNTAIN MAN; PREACHER, THE FIRST MOUNTAIN MAN; MACCALLISTER; LUKE JENSEN, BOUNTY HUNTER; FLINTLOCK; THOSE JENSEN BOYS; THE FRONTIERSMAN; SAVAGE TEXAS; THE KERRIGANS; and WILL TANNER: DEPUTY U.S. MARSHAL. His thrillers include BLACK FRIDAY, TYRANNY, STAND YOUR GROUND, and THE DOOMSDAY BUNKER. Visit his website at www.williamjohnstone.net or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
"Begging the lieutenant's pardon, sir, but, if you were to ask me, sir, that's not a trail I'd be inclined to follow."
Sergeant Sean Keegan, Eighth United States Cavalry, stood beside his dun gelding, tightening the cinch of the McClellan saddle, and sprayed a pebble with tobacco juice. He knew the lieutenant, proud little peacock that he was, kept watching and waiting for Keegan to look up before he began ridiculing the sergeant in front of the men.
Keegan let him wait.
Eventually, though, Sean Keegan did look up, and even pushed up the brim of his slouch hat so Second Lieutenant Erastus Gibbons of Hartford, Connecticut, fresh out of West Point, could see exactly what Keegan thought of the fool.
"Did Captain Percival put you in charge of this patrol, Sergeant?"
"No," Keegan said, and wiped his mouth when he added, "Sir." He thought, But he should have.
"And Sergeant" — Lieutenant Gibbons seemed to like this — "in what year were you graduated from the United States Military Academy?" It made him feel important. Made the kid with acne covering his face think that he was a real man. A soldier, even.
"Never went. Never even got to New York state." Keegan tugged on the butt of the Springfield rifle in the scabbard, just to make sure he would be able to pull it out cleanly and quickly. They'd have need of it in a few minutes if he couldn't talk some sense into the green pup.
"That's what I thought," the lieutenant said.
Keegan gathered the reins to his dun. "And when was it, sir, that you got your sheepskin from West Point?" The eight troopers, all about as young and as inexperienced as the lieutenant, laughed, which made the lieutenant's face turn as bright as the scarlet neckerchief he wore around his fancy blue blouse.
"Quiet in the ranks!"
As Gibbons, who had been at Fort Spalding all of four months, took time to bark commands and insults at his enlisted men, Sergeant Keegan climbed into his saddle and lowered the brim of his hat.
The hat, he guessed, was likely older than Erastus Gibbons.
When he had talked himself into even a deeper red face, the kid sucked in a deep breath, and turned his wrath again on the sergeant. "Do you remember our orders, Sergeant?"
"So do I, Sergeant. Captain Percival said if we were to come across tracks that we suspected belonged to hostile Apaches, we were to pursue — and engage — unless the tracks led to the international border. Is that your understanding of my, no our, orders, Sergeant?"
"Have we crossed the Rio Grande, Sergeant?"
"And what do you make of those tracks?" Gibbons pointed at the ground.
"Unshod ponies. Four. Heading into that canyon."
"Unshod. What does that lead you to believe, Sergeant?"
"Likely Apaches, Lieutenant."
"So why should not we, numbering ten men, pursue, as we have been ordered, four, four stinking, uncivilized, fool Apache bucks?"
If the Good Lord showed any mercy, Keegan thought, He would let Erastus Gibbons drop dead of a stroke or heart failure right now.
The way the kid's face beamed, there had to be a fair to middling chance that would happen, but the lieutenant caught his breath, uncorked his canteen, and drank greedily. His face began to lose its color, and Keegan began to think that nobody lives forever, and that he had lived a hell of a life, but getting eight kids killed alongside him wouldn't make him proud when he had to face St. Peter, or more than likely, Old Beelzebub or Satan himself. He didn't care one way or the other about Erastus Gibbons's fate. The punk had become tiresome, a boil Sean Keegan couldn't lance.
"Orders say pursue, Lieutenant," Keegan pointed out. "I'm all for pursuing. Just not following ... into there." He nodded at the canyon's entrance.
"Sergeant, you disgust me."
Still, Keegan tried again. "Four Apaches can do a world of hurt, sir. Especially in that canyon."
The kid shook his head. "All right, Sergeant. What would you have in mind?"
Keegan pointed at the tracks. "Those Apaches didn't hide their trail. Tracks lead right into that canyon, and this canyon twists and turns about a mile and a quarter till it opens up. They could be hiding anywhere in those rocks, waiting to pick us off."
"Or they could be riding hard to Mexico."
Keegan shook his head. "If they wanted to be in Mexico in a hurry, they wouldn't ride through this death trap."
"You haven't told me what you have in mind, Sergeant."
Keegan pointed. "Leave Trooper Ulfsson here with the horses in the shade. He don't speak enough English, I don't speak no Swede, and his face is blistered already. Leaving him here might keep him from dying of sunstroke. The rest of us climb up to the top. I work my way ahead, and when I spot where those bucks are laying in wait, I fetch you boys. We ambush the ambushers."
The lieutenant shielded his eyes as he examined the mesa then swallowed while still looking at the top. "How long would it take us to climb up there, Sergeant?"
Fifteen minutes if I was alone, Keegan thought, but answered, "Us? Forty minutes."
"The other side isn't as high, Sergeant," Gibbons said. "Why not try that side?"
"Because the Apaches will be on this side. And they'll see us up yonder."
The young whippersnapper shook his head. "How do you know which side the Apaches are on, Sergeant? If they're even up there."
"Because you're shielding your eyes from the sun, Lieutenant. And once we start throwing lead at those bucks, they'll be shielding their eyes to try to spot us."
The kid looked away, wet his lips, and stared hard at the tracks and the entrance to the canyon. "And what if we find no Apaches?"
Keegan shrugged. "Then we've rested our horses, gotten a good stretch of our legs, Ulfsson ain't dead, and you get to write me up in your report to Captain Percival that I'm a fool."
"And the Apaches?"
Keegan shrugged again. "We'll fight them another day." If I prayed, would that change the punk's mind?
No, no, that wouldn't do. If Sean Keegan prayed, God himself would drop dead of a heart attack — and that would be another black mark in the book on Sean Keegan.
The kid pulled down the chinstrap on his kepi, and Sean Keegan knew the boy had made up his mind.
"Sergeant, there's no glory to be found ambushing four Apache renegades. More important, I don't think those savages are waiting for us. We're going through that canyon, Sergeant. Follow those tracks, and catch the Apaches wherever they might be."
"You're in command, Lieutenant." Keegan pulled the trapdoor Springfield from the scabbard and braced the carbine's stock against his thigh.
"I gave no order to draw your long gun, Sergeant." The boy's face was brightening again. "Return that weapon, soldier!"
Keenan sprayed the ground with tobacco juice, then hawked up the quid, and spit it out, too. "I don't reckon I'll do that, bub." He was done showing respect to this know-it-all who was about to get killed some young boys who might've made decent soldiers.
The punk stuck his finger, hidden underneath that fine deerskin gauntlet, at Keegan. "You better put that Springfield away, Sergeant. Or when we reach Fort Spalding, I'll have you up on charges of disobeying a direct order."
"If we reach Fort Spalding, boy." Keegan looked behind him. "And I suggest you gents follow my advice and get your carbines at the ready. You'll have need of them soon enough."
A few Adam's apples bobbed, and some of the green pups even glanced down at their Army-issued. 45-70 weapons. But none dared disobey the lieutenant. Not that Sean Keegan could blame them. He slightly recalled what it was like to be a young soldier after he had joined the Second Michigan in '61. Thinking that you had to do everything a fool officer told you to do. Not knowing any better. But Keegan had learned. Maybe some of these boys would live long enough to learn, too.
"You'll wind up a buck private, Keegan, and in the guardhouse for a month."
"I hope you're right, Gibbons. Means I won't be dead."
The kid turned around, angry, and raised his right hand. "Follow me! Follow me!" He rode, ramrod straight — Keegan would give the kid that much — into the canyon.
He let the other soldiers pass him, felt their stares, but he did not look them in the eye. Didn't want to remember what they looked like, for one reason. And he waited till the blond-headed, sunburned pup of a Swede, Trooper Ulfsson, passed by at the rear. Only then did Keegan nudge his dun.
"Hey," Keegan called out, dropping his reins over the horse's neck, and holding out his right hand. "I'll take the lead rope to the pack mule, sonny."
The Swede stared at him blankly.
"The rope, boy. The rope." He gestured again, and finally, just grabbed hold of the lead rope and waited till the raw recruit understood. "You'll need both hands soon enough, Ulfsson," Keegan said.
The boy likely only understood his name.
The Swede rode ahead, pulled up even with another soldier whose name Keegan could not remember.
Column of twos. Riding to their deaths.
Keegan sighed and rode behind them, pulling the mule along. Yeah, Ulfsson would have need of two hands in a short while, but that's not why Keegan wanted to pull the mule. The mule carried the kegs of water. It also carried ammunition.
They'd have need of both shortly.
* * *
Most of the troopers looked up as soon as they entered Dead Man's Canyon, but had to duck their heads, pull down their hat brims, or raise a gauntlet-covered hand to see. Keegan did not bother looking for Apaches. He knew he would never be able to see the butchers. He studied the terrain on the ground. Always looking for a place where he and anyone who lived through the first volley could take cover.
Two hundred yards into Dead Man's Canyon, Keegan figured, They'll hit us now.
Only they didn't, and Keegan gave a begrudging nod of respect. Smart Apaches. Don't hit us where we figure you will. Make us sweat a little more.
The first shot knocked Ulfsson out of the saddle. The second punched another hole in Keegan's hat, which did not fall off. A long time ago, he had learned to wear a hat that fit tight and snug.
He quickly lost track of the other shots, too busy shoving the carbine back into the scabbard, gathering the reins he had draped and cramming those into his mouth. He reached out as he passed the body of the Swede, somehow managing to snag the reins to that horse before it bolted away.
He saw Ulfsson and frowned. At least the boy wasn't suffering from sunstroke anymore.
Keegan pulled hard on the lead rope, spurred the dun harder, and grabbed the reins with his left hand. "To those rocks!" he yelled. "To those rocks!"
The Apaches had picked a good spot. No place for the soldiers to hide on the western edge. Just some rocks and a clump of juniper on the east.
One of the troopers didn't make it. Keegan saw the dust fly from the back of his blue blouse, saw the kid's arms fly out, and watched him topple onto the ground. Keegan cursed. There was no way anybody was going to catch up to his spooked gelding. The little gray kept galloping down the canyon.
Somehow, the other six troopers made it to what would have to serve as cover. Keegan credited that to the Apaches. They might have been younger than the kids wearing the blue of the United States Army. Of course, shooting downhill took a bit of knowledge. Mainly, Keegan figured, the Indians didn't want to kill the horses.
He saw Lieutenant Erastus Gibbons, trying to unpin his left leg from underneath his dead brown gelding. The boy was screaming as the rest of his command thundered past him. Keegan didn't stop, either, until he was behind the rocks. There, he quickly but deftly wrapped the reins to his dun around a juniper branch, and securely tied the lead rope around the tree's trunk, pulling the mule up short.
Next, Keegan started yelling at the frightened troopers. "Baker!" At least, he thought that was the boy's name. "Holster that six-shooter, kid. You need both hands. You're holding the horses. All but mine and the mule. They're not going anywhere. You kids, you can't shoot a carbine and hold your horse. One at a time, take your horses to Baker over yonder.
"You, you blasted fool, holster that pistol, son. Those Apaches aren't in range for a short gun. Do it.
"You. Get your horse over there to Baker. Pronto.
"Baker, don't you fret. These horses were sold to the Army four years back. These are Matt McCulloch horses. As good as the Army ever got, back in the day."
A bullet clipped a branch.
"But they will skedaddle if you don't keep a good hold on the reins. Whatever you do, don't let go of those reins, bub."
The boy held two horses, and Keegan was running ahead, keeping low, making himself as small of a target as he could, nodding at the next soldier to take his horse to Baker.
After sliding to a stop, Keegan peered over the boulder. Lieutenant Gibbons had managed to get his leg from underneath the dead horse, but was huddling close to the horse. Bullets slammed into the animal. Each shot made the kid cringe and cry out in terror.
"They'll find the range soon enough," Keegan said, more to himself. He looked at the redheaded kid with a face covered with freckles next to him. "Boy, where in blazes is your carbine?"
Tears welled in the boy's eyes. He made a vague gesture to Baker and the horses. "In the ... holder ... on my ... stallion," he managed to choke out.
"It ain't a holder, kid. It's a scabbard. And it ain't a stallion, either, but a gelding."
"What's a gelding, sir?" the teenager asked.
Keegan shook his head, but somehow he smiled. "An unfortunate stallion, boy. And I ain't no sir. Here." He shoved his own Springfield into the redhead's trembling hands. "Don't blow your fool head off by accident. And don't blow mine off, either."
He fumbled with the flap on his holster and drew the Remington. "All right. I'm going out yonder to fetch the lieutenant. Soon as I light out, you start shooting up ... that ... ridge. Not at me. You won't hit a cursed thing, but you might keep those Apaches' heads down till I'm back."
He checked the loads of his Remington, drew in a deep breath, and let it out. "You got your cartridge boxes handy?" Not waiting for an answer, he rose. "Here." He handed the Remington to the kid. "This won't do me no good. All right. I'll see you when I see you."
He started running, moving this way, then that, hearing the weapons opening up, ricochets whining off rocks. Keegan couldn't tell who all was shooting, but he felt no bullets coming near him. For the first twenty yards.
Then one clipped his empty holster.
He dived the last few feet, slamming into the dead horse's bloody neck. Keegan rolled over, noticed his sleeve. And brushed off the blood from the bullet-riddled animal. Erastus Gibbons stared at him with sand covering his face and his trousers darkened by urine.
"Th-they," the kid stammered. "They ... they ... k-k-killed my horse."
"You killed your horse, sonny," Keegan said. "Shot him in the head when you pulled your short gun."
A bullet zipped past Keegan's ear.
"Boy, we stay here, we'll be deader than your horse, and those bucks will start filling our carcasses with lead. Get up, Gibbons. We're rejoining what's left of your command."
Rolling over, Keegan grabbed the lieutenant's left arm in a vise-like grip. Then he was standing, jerking Gibbons to his feet as another bullet slammed into the dirt a few feet away. "Run."
Keegan did not release his hold, nor did he run in that zigzag fashion, fearing that would just trip Gibbons and bring them both to the ground. He ran, hoping that the fool West Pointer would somehow keep his feet. The soldiers in the rocks fired, reloaded, fired. Keegan's ears rang from the relentless explosions.
They reached the rocky fortress, and he flung the lieutenant into the dirt, toward the horses, before he slid to a stop, rolled over, and came up alongside the redhead.
"All right, boys," Keegan said as another Springfield roared. "Hold your fire! Stop wasting lead! All right. Reload your carbines, but don't cock them till I tell you to. There's no sense in blowing your pard's head off or blowing your own head off." He didn't know how much longer he could keep talking. His throat was parched.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Jackals"
Copyright © 2019 J. A. 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
Wel written a superb read
Three justice fighters work very hard, singularly and then together when it comes to a hair-raising opportunity. The three include an ex-Texas Ranger, Matt McCulloch, bounty hunter Jed Breen and an ex-cavalry sergeant Sean Keegan. The three definitely make an unlikely trio, but the danger they face is real, so they must work together. Facing Apaches and a spiteful group of bandits led by Jake Hawkin are keeping them busy. Lots of shooting going on. After all, it is the Old West. After taking shelter in a stagecoach station, one of the people they run into is a man with $50,000 cash he had in his possession. The man offers the Jackals $5,000 cash if they will deliver the bundle to his wife. The aforementioned Hawkin gang just might be more dangerous to the Jackals than the Apaches. The $50,000 was their stolen cash. They will mow down anyone in their path to get their money back. Will the three men live long enough to claim the reward? The danger is ever present as it seems the small group are on their own without any help from other sources. This is my first ever western fiction read. The story was full of action and it put in mind the many westerns I watched while I was growing up. It was a terrific story, very descriptive and well-told, and I eagerly turned pages with bated breath to see if they would survive and end up with the reward. Although I have never read anything by William W. Johnstone, I admit to being thoroughly impressed that he has penned over 300 books. J A. Johnstone is the nephew of the prolific author. They have co-authored several books together. I look forward to my next adventure by this pair. Many thanks to Kensington Books and to NetGalley for this ARC to review in exchange for my honest opinion.