Johnstone Justice. What America Needs Now.
A TRAIN RIDE TO HELL
When Smoke Jensen sees a gang of outlaws holding up a stagecoach, his gunfighter instincts take over and he storms in with guns blazing. He kills one of the gunmen, the rest scatter like the rats they are. Another notch on the sharpshooter’s weathered grip. But the dead man is the brother of the notorious outlaw Gabe Briggs, and Briggs will want revenge . . .
Tired of the savagery of the lawless countryside, Smoke’s wife Sally heads back east for a spell, only to find the big city choking in filth, violence, and corruption. Before Sally can head back home, though, she’s snatched right off the street.
When Smoke gets word that Sally’s been kidnapped, he hops the first train east. But Gabe Briggs and his ruthless bandof bad men are along for the ride. Unless Smoke can punch their ticket to hell first, they’ll blow this train sky high . . .
About the Author
William W. Johnstone is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of over 300 books, including PREACHER, THE LAST MOUNTAIN MAN, LUKE JENSEN BOUNTY HUNTER, FLINTLOCK, SAVAGE TEXAS, MATT JENSEN, THE LAST MOUNTAIN MAN; THE FAMILY JENSEN, SIDEWINDERS, and SHAWN O’BRIEN TOWN TAMER . His thrillers include Phoenix Rising, , Home Invasion, The Blood of Patriots, The Bleeding Edge, Suicide Mission. Tyranny, Black Friday and The Doomsday Bunker. Visit his website at www.williamjohnstone.net or email him at email@example.com.
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
Salcedo, Wyoming Territory
The hooves of Smoke Jensen's horse Seven made a dry clatter on the rocks as Smoke made a rather steep descent down from a seldom-used trail. Seeing the road below, he felt a sense of relief. "There it is, Seven, there's the road. Taking the cutoff wasn't all that good an idea. I was beginning to think we never would see that road again."
"No, I wasn't lost. You know I don't get lost. I just get a little disoriented every now and then."
Seven whickered again.
"Ah, so now you're making fun of me, are you?"
On long rides, Smoke often talked to his horse because he wanted to hear a voice, even if it was his own. Talking to his horse seemed a step above talking to himself.
Smoke dismounted and reached up to squeeze Seven's ear. Seven dipped his head in appreciation of the gesture.
"Yeah, I know you like this. Tell you what. Why don't I walk the rest of the way down this hill? That way you won't have to be working as hard. And when we get on the road, we'll have a little breather."
Before they reached the road, Seven suddenly let out an anxious whinny, and using his head, pushed Smoke aside so violently that he fell painfully onto the rocks.
"What was that all about?" Smoke said angrily.
Seven whinnied again and began backing away, lifting his forelegs high and bobbing his head up and down.
Smoke saw the rattler, coiled and bobbing its head, ready to strike. He drew his pistol and fired. There was a mist of blood where the snake's head had been, the head now at least five feet away from the reptile's still coiled and decapitated body.
"Are you all right?" Smoke asked anxiously as he began examining Seven's forelegs and feet. He found no indication that the snake had bitten him. He wrapped his arms around Seven's neck. "Good boy. Oh, wait. I know what you really want."
Again, he began squeezing Seven's ear. "Well, as much as you like this, we can't hang around here all day. We need to get going."
Smoke led Seven on down the rocky incline, then just before he reached the road, his foot slipped off a rock, and he felt the heel of his boot break off. "Damn," he said, picking up the heel. "Don't worry. I'm not going to remount right away, but probably a little earlier than I previously intended."
He limped along for at least two more miles. When he was certain Seven was well rested, he swung back into the saddle. "All right, boy. Let's go." He started Seven forward at a trot that was comfortable for both of them.
"We'll be coming into Salcedo soon. Tell me, Seven, do you think this bustling community will have a shoe store?"
Seven dipped his head.
"Oh, yeah, you would say that. You always are the optimist."
Salcedo was the result of what had once been a trading post, then a saloon, then a couple houses and a general store until, gradually, it became a town along the banks of the Platte River. The river was not navigable for steamboats, and even flatboats had a difficult time because of the shallowness of the water and the many sandbars and rocks along the route.
A sign at the town limits, exaggerting somewhat, stated
Smoke had been to Rawlins and was on his way back to his Sugarloaf ranch when he broke the heel. He found a boot and shoe store on Main Street, and the cobbler said that he could fix the boot. As Smoke stood at the window of the shoe repair shop, his attention was drawn to a stagecoach parked at the depot just across the street.
"Swan, Mule Gap, and Douglas!" the driver shouted. "If you're goin' to Swan, Mule Gap, or Douglas, get aboard now!"
Five passengers responded to the driver's call — two men, and a woman with two children. The coach had a shotgun guard, and as soon as he was in position, the driver popped his whip, the six horses strained in their harness, and the coach pulled away.
"Your boot is ready," George Friegh, the shoemaker, said as he stepped up beside Smoke watching the coach leave. "It's carryin' five thousand dollars in cash money."
"You mean that's common knowledge?" Smoke replied. "I thought stagecoach companies didn't want it known when they were carrying a sizeable cash shipment."
"Yeah, most of the time they do try 'n keep it quiet. But you can't do that with Emile Taylor."
"Who is Emile Taylor?" Smoke asked.
"Taylor's the shotgun guard. He's an old soldier, and like a lot of old soldiers, he's a drinkin' man. I heard him carryin' on last night while he was getting' hisself snockered at the Trail's End."
The Trail's End was the only saloon in Salcedo.
"He started talkin' about the money shipment they're takin' down to Douglas. Five thousand dollars he said it was."
"He told you that?"
"Not just me. Hell, mister, he was talkin' loud enough that ever'one in the saloon heard him."
Smoke examined the boot, then paid for the work. "You did a good job," he said, slipping the boot back on. "I'd better be getting back on the road."
Five miles south of Salcedo on the Douglas Pike
Four men were waiting on the side of the road, their horses ground hobbled behind them.
"You're sure it's carryin' five thousand dollars?" one of them asked.
"Yeah, I'm sure. I heard the shotgun guard braggin' about it."
"The reason I ask if you're sure is the last time we held up a stage we didn't get nothin' but thirty-seven dollars, 'n that's what we got from the passengers. Hell, you could get shot holdin' up a stage, and thirty-seven dollars ain't worth it."
"This here stagecoach has five thousand dollars. You can trust me on this."
"Here it comes," one of the other men said as the coach crested the hill and came into view.
"All right. You three get mounted and get your guns out. Gabe, you hold my horse. I'll have 'em throw the money bag down to me. Get your hoods on," he added as he pulled a hood down over his own head.
Smoke heard the unmistakable sound of a gunshot in the distance before him. There was only one shot, and it could have been a hunter, but he didn't think so. There was a sharp flatness to the sound — more like that of a pistol rather than a rifle. He wondered about it, but there was only one shot, and it could have been anything, so he didn't give it that much of a thought.
When he reached the top of the hill he saw the stagecoach stopped on the road in front of him. It was the same stagecoach he had watched leave Salcedo, and the passengers, including the woman and children, were standing outside the coach with their hands up. The driver had his hands up as well. For just a second he wondered about the shotgun guard, then he saw a body lying in the road beside the front wheel of the coach.
Four armed men, all but one mounted, were all wearing hoods that covered their faces. There was no doubt that Smoke had come upon a robbery.
Pulling his pistol, he urged Seven into a gallop and quickly closed the distance between himself and the stagecoach robbers. "Drop your guns!" he shouted.
"What the hell?" one of the robbers yelled, and all four of them shot at Smoke.
Smoke shot back, and the dismounted robber went down. There was another exchange of gunfire, and one of the mounted robbers went down as well.
"Let's get out of here!" one of the two remaining robbers shouted, and they galloped off.
Smoke reached the coach then dismounted to check on the two fallen robbers to make certain they presented no further danger to the coach. They didn't. Both were dead.
A quick examination of the shotgun guard determined that he, too, was dead.
"Mister, I don't know who you are," the driver said, "but you sure come along in time to save our bacon."
"The name is Jensen. Smoke Jensen. Are all of you all right? Was anyone hurt?"
"We're fine, Mr. Jensen, thanks to you," the woman passenger said.
From the Douglas Budget:
Smoke Jensen is best known as the owner of Sugarloaf, a successful ranch near Big Rock, Colorado. He is also well-known as a paladin, a man whose skillful employment of a pistol has, on many occasions, defended the endangered from harm being visited upon them by evil-doers.
Such was the case a few days ago when fate, in the form of the fortuitous arrival of Mr. Jensen, foiled an attempted stagecoach robbery, and perhaps saved the lives of the driver and passengers. The incident occurred on Douglas Pike Road, some five miles south of Salcedo, and five miles north of Mule Gap.
Although Mr. Jensen called out to the road agents, offering them the opportunity to drop their guns, the four outlaws refused to do so, choosing instead to engage Jensen in a gunfight. This was a fatal decision for Lucas Monroe and Asa Briggs, both of whom were killed in the ensuing gunplay. Two of the men, already mounted, were able to escape.
Although the bandits were wearing hoods during the entire exchange, it is widely believed that one of the men who got away was Gabe Briggs, as he and his brother, Asa, like the James and Dalton brothers, rode the outlaw trail together.
Wiregrass Ranch, adjacent to Sugarloaf
Wiregrass Ranch had once belonged to Ned and Molly Condon. When they were murdered, Sam Condon, Ned's brother, came west from St. Louis. Sam had been a successful lawyer in that city, and everyone had thought he was coming to arrange for the sale of the ranch. Instead, he'd decided to stay, and he brought his wife, Sara Sue, and their then twelve-year-old son Thad with him. Both adjusted to their new surroundings quickly and easily. Thad not only adjusted, he thrived in the new environment.
Sam had made the conscious decision to sell off all the cattle Ned had owned and replaced them with two highly regarded registered Hereford bulls and ten registered Hereford cows. Within two years he had a herd of fifty, composed of ten bulls and forty cows.
Keeping his herd small, he was able to keep down expenses by having no permanent cowboys. Although not yet fourteen, Thad had become a very good hand.
Sam Condon's approach to ranching paid off well, and he earned a rather substantial income by selling registered cattle, both bulls and cows, to ranchers who wanted to improve their stock.
Sam and Sara Sue were celebrating their seventeenth wedding anniversary, and they had invited Smoke and Sally, their neighbors from the adjacent ranch, to have a celebratory dinner with them.
"Chicken and dumplin's, Missouri style," Sara Sue said.
"Oh, you don't have to educate me, Sara Sue," Smoke said as his hostess spooned the pastry onto his plate. "It's been a while, but I'm a Missouri boy, too."
"Well, I'm from the Northeast, but I've learned to enjoy chicken and dumplings as well," Sally said. "Smoke loves them so, that I had to learn how to make the flat dumplings."
"She learned how to make them all right," Smoke said. "She just hasn't learned how to say dumplin's, without adding that last g," he teased.
The others laughed.
"Mr. Jensen, I read about you in the paper," Thad said.
"Yes, sir. I read how you stopped a stagecoach holdup, 'n how you kilt two men."
"Thad," Sam said. "That's hardly a subject fit for discussion over the dinner table."
"But that is what you done, ain't it? You kilt two men?"
"That's what you did, isn't it?" Sara Sue said, correcting Thad's grammar.
"See, Pa, even Ma is talking about it," Thad said.
The others at the table laughed.
"I'll tell you what," Sam said. "We'll talk about it after dinner. That is, if Smoke is amenable to it."
"Amenable. Oh, a good lawyer's word," Sally said with a smile.
After dinner, Smoke, Sam, and Thad sat out on the front porch while Sally helped Sara Sue clean up from the meal. In the west, Red Table Mountain was living up to its name by glowing red in the setting sun.
"The newspaper said that one of the men who got away was Gabe Briggs," Sam said.
"He probably was, but they never removed their masks, so there is no way of knowing," Smoke replied.
"Would you have recognized him if he hadn't been wearing a mask?"
Smoke shook his head. "No, I don't think I would have. I've heard of the Briggs Brothers, but then, who in this part of the country hasn't? But I've never seen either of them before that little fracas on the road."
"But he did see you," Sam said.
"Doesn't that worry you a little? I mean, he knows what you look like, but you don't know what he looks like. If he is bent upon revenging his brother you could be in serious danger."
"I appreciate your concern," Smoke said, "but my life has been such that I have made as many enemies as I have friends. I never know when some unknown enemy is going to call me out or, even worse, try and shoot me from ambush. I've lived with that for many years. Gabe Briggs will be just one more."
"How many men have you kilt, Mr. Jensen?" Thad asked.
"Thad! That's not a question you should ever ask anyone!" Sam scolded.
"I'm sorry," Thad said contritely. "I didn't mean it in a bad way. I think Mr. Jensen is a hero."
Smoke chuckled softly. "I'm not a hero, Thad, but I have always tried to do the right thing. I'm not proud of the number of men I've killed. No one should ever kill someone as a matter of pride. But I will tell you this. I've never killed anyone who wasn't trying to kill me."
New York, New York
In operations such as gambling, prostitution, protection, and robbery, the Irish Assembly and the Five Points Gang had been competitors for the last three years. For a while they had been able to establish individual territories, and thus avoid any direct confrontation, but over the last couple months, the Irish Assembly had been expanding the area of their franchise and they and the Five Points Gang had renewed their hostilities.
It had come to a head two days ago when a member of the Five Points Gang was killed by the Irish Assembly.
Both gangs were currently gathered under the Second Street El. They had started their confrontation by shouting insults at each other, but the insults had grown sharper until a shot was fired.
For fifteen minutes guns blazed and bullets flew as merchants and citizens along Second Street stayed inside to avoid being shot. When it was over, the Five Points gang hauled away their dead and wounded, and the Irish Assembly did the same.
"Three killed," Gallagher said. "We lost three good men!"
"So did the Five Points Gang," Kelly said.
"Aye, well, they can afford it, for 'tis a lot more people they have than we do. Would someone be for tellin' me what good did it do?"
"Here now, Ian, you wouldn't be for lettin' them be runnin' over us, would you?" Kelly asked.
"Gallagher's right. I think the time has come for us to change," one of the others said.
"And give up ever'thing we've built up?" Ian asked.
"We've built nothing 'n if we don't change, we'll be for losin' it all."
"In what way would you be for changing? I'm asking that," Gallagher said.
"I'd say come to an accommodation with the Five Points gang," Kelly said.
"You'd be for givin' up to 'em?"
"Aye. Let's face facts. 'Tis time to realize that we can't beat them. The only thing we can do is find some way to work with them."
"You're sure you want to do this now?" Pearlie asked.
"Yes," Thad said.
"Maybe we ought to ask your mama before you do something like this."
"No, Pearlie, don't do that. She would just say no." Smoke had recently bought five new, unbroken horses. Pearlie and Cal always broke the new horses, and so far Cal had broken two, and Pearlie two. There was one horse remaining, and Thad, who had come over to Sugarloaf Ranch with his parents, had left them visiting with Smoke and Sally while he went out to watch. It was just before Pearlie was about to mount the horse that Thad had asked to be allowed to do it.
"I'm thirteen years old. I'm not a baby."
"All right," Pearlie said. "I guess this is as good a time as any to learn."
"What do I do?"
"Keep a hard seat and keep your heels down. Watch his ears. That'll help tell you when it's coming. Keep his head up. As long as his head is up, he can't do all that much."
Pearlie pointed to a loop. "Put your right hand in here and grab a fistful of mane with your left hand. And don't be afraid to haul back on the mane. That'll let 'im know who is in control."
"All right," Thad said somewhat tentatively.
"You gettin' a little nervous? You want to back out? Nobody is goin' to say anything to you if you do back out. Ridin' a buckin' horse is not an easy thing to do." Pearlie chuckled. "And there's most that'll tell you, it's not exactly a smart thing to do, either."
Excerpted from "Venom of the Mountain Man"
Copyright © 2017 J. A. Johnstone.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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