Johnstone Country. Where others fear to tread.
Descended from Scottish Highlanders and blood kin to Falcon and Jamie Ian, Duff MaCallister forged a bold new life on the American frontier. But he will always stay true to his clan’s fighting spirit—when it comes to justice . . .
THE STALKING DEATH
There’s something rotten in Wyoming, and it’s not just the smell of cow pies—the first whiff is coming off the Laramie County Cattlemen. Right off the bat, Duff notices something odd: no small-time ranchers allowed. It’s big-leaguers only. And none are bigger than Brad Houser, owner of the sprawling Twin Peaks ranch. He’s up in arms over the small-timers claiming the unbranded mavericks who escape their herds. Which is perfectly legal. No brand, free cow.
Houser has a plan to stop these former cowboys from taking their runaways. For $1000, Houser will make the small ranchers go away—six feet under. That makes Duff MacCallister madder than a wet hen . . . and his guns will do the screaming.
About the Author
J. A. Johnstone is a Tennessee-based novelist.
P. J. Ochlan, an Audie Award-winning and multiple AudioFile Earphones Award-winning narrator, has recorded hundreds of audiobooks. His acting career spans more than thirty years and has also included Broadway, the New York Shakespeare Festival, critically acclaimed feature films, and regular roles in television series.
Read an Excerpt
Wynton Miller was a fastidious dresser and a man who took pride in his personal appearance. Whereas other men who drifted sought out a saloon as soon as they entered a new town, Miller sought a bath, and if he needed a haircut or a shave, he tended to that as well. His speech was that of an educated man and in every way he presented himself as a professional.
His profession was killing. Wynton Miller was very good with a gun, some said that he was the best there was, and for three years he capitalized on that by putting his skill out for hire. Nobody knew exactly how many men he had killed; some said it was as high as twenty.
Miller made good money by selling his gun because he was seldom hired unless the one who needed killing was, in his own right, a skilled shootist. In many cases his victims were officers of the law who had gotten in the way of whatever evil schemes Miller's employers had in mind.
Then the time came when Miller was no more. Had he been killed? Had he taken his money and gone east? Had he gone to Europe? Where was he?
The law was after him, but they had always been unsuccessful in their search. Those who lived on the opposite side of the law, men who for one reason or another might have need for Wynton Miller's service, had always been able to find him. But even they had no idea of what had become of him.
Wynton Miller disappeared from sight, but not from legend.
Valley of the Chug, Wyoming
Although men of action who were respected by Duff MacCallister, men such as his cousin Falcon MacCallister and his friends Smoke and Matt Jensen had told him that "making the first shot count" is more important than speed, Duff felt that the time had come for him to increase his skill in the use of the pistol. There was no marksmanship instruction necessary — Duff already had the reputation of being a marksman without peer, having demonstrated that on many previous occasions.
"But it has been an observation o' mine that the rapid extraction of a pistol from its holster is a necessary skill that is nearly equal with the accuracy of shooting," Duff explained to his friend Elmer.
"You may be right," Elmer agreed. "I've seen you drive a nail into a post from a hundred feet away, 'n I ain't never seen no one else who could shoot nowhere as good as you can. But if you could draw faster, why, there wouldn't be nobody who could ever come close to you."
"Would you be for havin' any idea how I might acquire such a skill?"
"I guess you could just practice a lot 'n ..." Elmer started, then he stopped and smiled. "Wang," he said.
For just a moment, Duff was surprised by the suggestion, then he smiled and nodded.
"Aye, 'tis a good suggestion, Elmer. I believe Wang would be a very good person to teach such a skill."
Some might have thought it strange that Wang Chow, who had never fired a pistol in his life, could be helpful in assisting Duff MacCallister further develop his skills with a pistol, but both Elmer and Duff knew that Wang would be ideal for what Duff needed. That was because they were both aware of Wang's unique background as a Shaolin priest and a man of incredible skill in the martial arts.
Wang revenged the death of his family back in China by killing the fifteen men involved. Upon hearing about the carnage caused by Wang, the Changlin Temple expelled him from their order, and the Empress Dowager Ci'an issued a decree ordering his death. Disguised, Wang left China with a group of laborers who were coming to America to work on the railroad.
It was one year later when Duff MacCallister saw Wang for the first time. Wang was sitting on a horse, his hands were tied behind his back, and a noose was around his neck. He was about to be lynched for driving a surrey with a white woman sitting on the seat beside him.
Believing this to be unjust, Duff pulled his pistol and approached the lynch party.
"Who the hell are you?" one of the men asked.
"I would like to talk to your prisoner."
"What do you mean you want to talk to him? This here ain't none of your business."
Duff pointed his pistol at the men, then he turned to the Chinese man who was sitting quietly in the saddle, awaiting his fate.
"Do you speak English?" Duff asked.
"I speak English."
"What is your name?"
"I am Wang Chow."
"Wang, it seems like every Chinaman I've ever known is a good cook. Are you a good cook?"
"Here! What the hell is all this?" the man holding the rope asked. "We're about to hang this son of a bitch, and you want to know if he is a good cook?"
"Please, don't interrupt my interview with this man."
Duff cocked the pistol and pointed it straight at the man's head. "I asked you, nicely, not to interrupt my interview."
The man put both hands up, palms facing out, fingers spread wide. "All right, all right, I ain't a-stoppin' you. Go ahead and talk to him."
"Mr. Wang, I am thinking about hiring a cook. Are you a good cook?"
"I am very sorry, but I am not a good cook," Wang admitted.
"I admire your courage and your honesty. All you would have to say is that you are a good cook, and that would save you from being hanged. So, let me ask you this. If I hired you as my cook, would you be willing to learn?"
"Yes, I will learn to be a very good cook."
"Mr. Wang, my name is MacCallister. Duff MacCallister. And you are hired."
Duff turned to the man who had been the spokesman for the group. "As you can see I do have a vested interest in the fate of this gentleman, since he is now one of my employees. And I would be very disturbed if someone tried to do something such as ... well, let's just say, hang him. Now untie his hands."
"The hell we will!" one of the three men shouted and, jerking his gun from his holster, he snapped a shot toward Duff and missed. Duff returned fire, and didn't miss.
"You can either untie Mr. Wang now, or I will kill both of you and untie him myself."
"Untie him, Floyd, untie him!" one of the two remaining men shouted in fear.
"That will not be necessary," Wang said, bringing both hands around front to show that they weren't tied.
From that moment on, Wang had been a loyal and valued friend and employee, utilizing his martial arts skills reluctantly, but willingly when needed in defense of Duff or Elmer.
* * *
"I do not know how to draw a gun, and I have never shot one," Wang said when Duff approached him with the request that Wang help him learn a fast draw.
"That is nae a problem," Duff said. "I know how to draw a gun, and I know how to shoot it. What I need to know is how to do so quite rapidly. That means I must know how to move my hands very quickly, 'n, Wang, m' friend, never in my life have I seen anyone who could move their hands more quickly than you. That speed of the hand is the skill I wish to learn. Do you think you can teach me?"
"Yes," Wang said. "I can teach you."
For the next several days, Wang devised drills that would increase Duff's hand speed. One such drill, that he had learned while in the Shaolin Temple of Changlin, was to hold a coin in the palm of his hand and have Duff snatch the coin before he could close his hand.
Duff's first several tries were painfully slow.
"Do not think, here," Wang said, putting his finger to Duff's head. "Think here." He put his finger to Duff's hand.
"'N would you be for telling me, lad, how 'tis that the hand, that has no brain, can be thinking, now?"
"If you think in your head first, the head must then tell the hand that it is to move. It is not until then that the hand moves. But if you let the hand move without being told to do so by the head, the hand will move much faster."
"Here now, 'n how can such a thing be?"
Wang put the coin in the palm of Duff's hand.
"I will not reach for the coin until you start to close your hand," Wang said.
"That is nae possible. You dinnae begin to close your hand until after you saw me start to reach, but still I could nae grab the coin. And now you say you will nae try for the coin until after you see me start to close my hand?"
Duff smiled. "All right, my friend, I hate to do this to you but 'twill be good for m' soul to see someone else fail after I have failed so many times."
Wang bent his arm at the elbow and held the palm of his hand toward Duff with the fingers extended forward, clawlike.
Duff waited for a couple of seconds, then he snapped his fingers closed around the coin. Wang didn't move until Duff started to close his hand. Wang's hand returned, with his own fist closed.
"Ha!" Duff said. "Dinnae get the coin, did you? Well, don't feel bad about it. You gave yourself an impossible task."
"Return the coin to me," Wang said.
"Aye, 'twill be a pleasure." Triumphantly, Duff opened the hand that had held the coin.
The hand was empty.
"What?" he shouted in shock.
Wang opened his hand to show the coin.
"How did you do that?"
"I let the hand think," Wang replied.
* * *
One month later, after going through a series of drills, Duff was able to snatch the coin from Wang's hand, ten times out of ten, not beginning his own move until Wang started to close his fist around the coin he was holding.
It took but a week to apply that newly acquired skill to drawing a pistol, doing it so fast that to the observer the actual draw couldn't even be seen.
"Duff," Elmer said after watching Duff draw with lightning speed and shoot with unerring accuracy, "You are twice as fast as the fastest man I have ever seen. 'N I've seen the best. No," he added with a smile. "I am seeing the best."
Under a leaden gray sky and swollen clouds, the stagecoach rolled westward, the passengers inside cushioned from the imperfections in the road by the thoroughbraces that absorbed the shocks. They were passing between thickets of brush, mixed with sumac and spruce. Occasionally a deer or a coyote would come to the edge of the road to watch them pass.
Thunder muttered sullenly above the rolling hills, and lightning played across the sky.
"Hope that lightnin' don't get too close," the man riding alongside the driver said.
"Afeared of lightnin', are you?" the driver asked. He had identified himself as G. F. Guy, and the man riding beside him was a passenger who had volunteered to ride up top, because the coach was full.
"Damn right I am," the passenger replied, punctuating his comment with a spit that squirted brown tobacco juice over the spinning front wheel. "Some years ago when I was helpin' to bring a herd up from Texas, I seen a feller that got hit by lightnin' oncet. It knocked 'im right off his horse. Kilt 'im, too."
"Yeah, well, it seems off a ways, so I don't reckon we'll have any problems with it," Guy said, holding the six-horse team to a steady trot.
* * *
Duff MacCallister and Wang Chow were two of six people who were inside the coach. Duff was by the window, Wang was in the middle, and a whiskey drummer was on the other side of Wang. Across from Duff was an attractive young mother with two children, a boy of about twelve and a girl of about ten.
Duff and Wang were returning to Chugwater, Wyoming, from Bordeaux, Wyoming, where Duff had bought a new saddle for his horse, and Wang purchased a set of knives for the kitchen at Sky Meadow. The saddle and knives were on top of the coach.
The whiskey drummer had been talking ceaselessly about places he had been and things he had done.
"I saw Wynton Miller once," he said. "Yes, sir, it was in the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas. Chalk Beeson, he owns the Long Branch, you know, is a good customer of mine. Anyhow, I was in the Long Branch when Wynton Miller came in.
"'Angus Quince?' he calls. Angus Quince was a bounty hunter and real good with a gun, so a bunch of outlaws got together and hired Miller to go after him.
"'Yeah, I'm Angus Quince,' a man says from the other end of the bar.
"Miller, now, he was dressed all in black, with a real low-crown black hat that had a silver band around it. I remember that silver band.
"'I'm Wynton Miller,' he says. 'And I have been hired by a group of men who find your profession as a bounty hunter to be abhorrent to them. They have asked me to put an end to it.'
"'Wynton Miller, you say,' Quince says back to him. 'Well, now, there's quite a reward out for you.'
"'You'll never collect one dollar of it,' Miller says.
"And with that, Quince went for his gun, drawing it quick as lightning, but Miller was even faster, 'n when the smoke cleared, Quince was lyin' dead on the floor of the Long Branch."
"Sir, I wish you wouldn't tell such horrible stories in front of the children," the woman passenger said.
"That's all right, Mama," the boy said with a big smile. "I think it was a real excitin' story."
"I beg your pardon, ma'am," the drummer said, lifting his hat briefly.
"Where is Wynton Miller now?" the boy asked.
"Nobody knows," the drummer replied. "He hasn't been heard from in three or four years. Most people think he is dead."
"Is it going to rain, Mama?" the little girl asked.
"It certainly looks like it," the attractive young mother replied, thankful that the subject had been changed.
"We'll get wet."
"No, we won't," the little boy said. "We can close the curtain 'n the rain can't get in."
"What if the other people won't close their curtain?"
"Sure, 'n if it starts to rain, I'll be for closing my curtain, too, so you'll not be getting wet," Duff said.
"You talk funny," the little girl said.
"Emma Lou, that's a terrible thing for you to say!" Emma Lou's mother scolded.
"There is no harm done, ma'am. 'Tis sure I am that the Scottish brogue that rolls off m' tongue, sounds a bit queer to the wee lass."
"I didn't mean bad funny," Emma Lou said, trying to make amends.
"'N it wasn't bad the way I took it," Duff said.
"We're going to see Gramma," the little girl said. "She lives in Chugwater."
"Does she now? Chugwater is a mighty foine place, with many good people. If your nana lives there then she must be a good person, too, especially to have a pretty wee lass like you as a granddaughter."
"Do you like pie?" Emma Lou asked.
"Aye, pie is one of my favorite things."
"What kind do you like best?"
"Oh, cherry, I think. 'N what would be your favorite?"
"I like anything my gramma makes. She has a store in Chugwater where she makes pies."
"Tell me, lass, your nana wouldn't be Mrs. Vi Winslow, now, would she?"
"You know my mother?" the woman asked, surprised by Duff's comment.
"Aye, but then Mrs. Winslow's pies are so good that everyone knows her."
Suddenly there was the sound of gunfire outside, and the coach came to a quick stop.
"Oh! What's happening?" the woman asked.
Someone's head appeared in the window of the coach. The face was covered with a hood. "Everybody out," he ordered, brandishing a pistol. He jerked the door open and Duff and the others had to step outside. In addition to the man who had ordered the coach emptied, there were two more masked men, both of whom were mounted. And like the man on the ground, they held pistols.
"Now, you, driver, throw down the bank pouch," the man on the ground ordered.
"What makes you think we're carrying a bank pouch?" the driver replied.
"I ain't a-tellin' you again. Throw that bank pouch down."
"And I told you, we ain't carryin' a bank pouch," G. F. Guy insisted.
Without so much as another word, the outlaw shot the old cowhand who had been riding beside the driver. Hit in the head, the man tumbled across the wheel, falling to the ground. It took but one glance to know that he was dead.
"Maybe you'll listen to me now."
"Mister, you done kilt a innocent man there for no good reason," the driver replied, the fear in his voice evident. "I told you, we ain't a-carryin' nothin' of any value."
The masked man turned his pistol toward Wang.
"No, don't shoot the Chinaman," one of the mounted robbers said. "There don't nobody give a damn if a Chinaman gets kilt. Grab the little girl. If he don't throw the pouch down, kill her. 'N if that don't work, we'll kill the boy."
"No! Take me instead!" Emma Lou's mother shouted.
As the coach robber on the ground reached toward Emma Lou, neither he, nor either of the riders, noticed the almost imperceptible nod between Duff and Wang. Then, moving so quickly that it was done before any of the three outlaws realized what was happening, Wang brought the knife edge of his hand against the back of the outlaw's neck, and he went down. Even as the outlaw was going down, Duff drew his pistol.
"What the hell? Kill 'em! Kill 'em all!" one of the two mounted outlaws shouted.
The two men raised their guns, but neither of them got so much as a single shot off. Duff fired twice, and the saddles of both horses were emptied.
Emma Lou had rushed to her mother's side and wrapped her arms around her. Her brother, rather than being frightened, clapped his hands in glee.
"You killed both of them!" he said. "They sure made a mistake tryin' to steal from us, didn't they?"
Excerpted from "MacCallister The Stalking Death"
Copyright © 2018 J. A. Johnstone.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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