National bestselling author William W. Johnstone is the premier chronicler of rough-and tumble American West—and of the kind of iron-willed men who defined a nation. This gritty, action-packed new adventure in the Last Gunfighter series captures the fury of a Texas range war . . .
LIVE BY THE GUN . . . DIE BY THE GUN
When iron clears leather, anything can happen. In Frank Morgan's case, a sudden duel with an assassin has left an innocent woman with a bullet in her back—and a friendship between Frank and a young Texas Ranger in tatters. Wanting to make up for his part in the tragedy, Frank rides to central Texas to help Ranger Tyler Beaumont put down the so-called Fence-Cutting War. But as big ranchers battle small ones, an outlaw gang has hellish plans of its own. Now, as an innocent town is threatened with annihilation, Frank must make his final stand on a hot Sunday in Texas—when the dying will say their final prayers . . .
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The Last Gunfighter: Violent Sunday
By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2005 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Frank Morgan liked Waco. As he rode into the Texas town, following the gentle curves of the Brazos River, he hoped nobody tried to kill him while he was here.
That was always a nagging worry when a fella was one of the dying breed known as gunfighters.
The hooves of the big Appaloosa called Stormy clopped on the planks of the suspension bridge that spanned the Brazos. The river was wide and deep here, at least compared to the way it looked a hundred miles or so upstream in Parker and Palo Pinto Counties, Frank's old stomping grounds when he had been a boy.
Seemed like a hundred years ago, he thought, instead of only thirty-five or forty. He had spent some time in Parker County a few months earlier, and everything had changed since he was a young man. At least it appeared that way to him, although he knew that the biggest change during those years had been within himself. The relatively carefree young man he had been was long gone, replaced by the wary loner that some people called the Drifter.
For a while there, he hadn't been alone. He had married a woman, a good, beautiful woman. But Dixie was gone, murdered by a son of a bitch who ultimately had met justice at Frank Morgan's hand.
Unfortunately, meting out justice hadn't brought Dixie back.
Frank had made a friend during his crusade of vengeance, though, a young Texas Ranger named Tyler Beaumont. Beaumont was still up in Weatherford, doing his Rangering from there these days while he courted Victoria Monfore.
Frank thought about Victoria as he rode along a wide street paved with cobblestones. He still didn't know if Victoria was really his daughter. Mercy Monfore, her mother, had refused to say, and Frank wasn't going to push the question. All that really mattered, he supposed, was that Victoria was a beautiful, intelligent young woman, and she seemed to be as fond of Tyler Beaumont as he was of her. Frank was glad for his friend, and glad for Victoria, too.
"We'll find a stable and a place to stay in a few minutes," he said to Dog, the big cur that padded along beside Stormy. A man never had two more faithful companions than those two. Frank, Dog, and Stormy had been together for quite some time.
Frank moved his left shoulder around and went on. "I want to find a drugstore and get some liniment for this shoulder, first."
A couple of mornings earlier, he had gotten up with some sore, stiff muscles that twinged every time he moved his left arm too much. He figured he had slept on it wrong. The age he was getting to be, it didn't take much to make his muscles ache. He didn't have any sort of medication for it in his saddlebags, and Waco was the first real town he had come to in his wanderings since then. He had followed the Brazos from Parker County and thought he might drift with it all the way on down to the Gulf Coast.
Waco had grown a lot from the little settlement that had centered around a river ferry when it was founded. Some of the streets were paved, gaslights sat on top of poles on nearly every block of downtown, and there were quite a few businesses housed in brick buildings that rose three or four stories above the street. Frank wouldn't have been surprised if some of the places even had those new-fangled telephones installed.
He reined to a halt in front of a building with a sign on it that read MORRISON'S OLD CORNER DRUG STORE. He ought to be able to get something for his shoulder there, he thought as he swung down from the saddle. He looped Stormy's reins over a hitch rail and told Dog to stay put. The big cur sat down on the boardwalk in front of the drugstore. The people who walked along there gave him a wide berth, but Dog ignored them as being beneath his dignity.
Frank put his left hand on the small of his back and stretched before he went into the store. He was a tall man, with the broad shoulders and lean hips of a natural-born horseman. A while back he had been severely wounded and had lost a lot of weight, but his frame had just about filled back out to its normal, muscular proportions. He wore jeans and a faded blue work shirt. Thick, graying dark hair hung out from under his brown Stetson. It would have been easy to take him for a roaming cowboy.
Except for the well-worn walnut grips of the Colt Peacemaker that rode in a black holster on his right hip, and the way his big right hand never strayed far from the butt of that gun ...
He went into the drugstore, which was the usual narrow, crowded frontier apothecary shop with a counter in the back where all sorts of nostrums and tonics and other patent medicines were sold. A counter on the right-hand wall served as a soda fountain, and as Frank saw that, a thirst gripped him. It was mid-afternoon, and the sun outside was hot. A cool soda would go down good right about now, he thought.
First, though, he walked back to the rear counter and said to the druggist, "Got anything for a sore shoulder?"
"Sure do, mister," the man replied. "Some of my own concoction. I call it Dr. Alderton's Muscle Cream. It'll loosen you right up."
"You're a doctor, are you?"
The young man grinned. "Well, not really, but some people call me Doc. That's close enough, isn't it?"
"Close enough for me, as long as that medicine of yours works. I'll take a jar."
The druggist got the medication down from a shelf behind him. "Anything else I can do for you?"
Frank looked around at the soda fountain. "I could use a nice cool drink."
"Coming right up," Doc Alderton said as he walked around behind the soda fountain. "You know, most fellas who come in from the trail head straight to one of the saloons. They'd rather have beer or whiskey than a phosphate."
"I don't have anything against beer and whiskey," Frank said as he faced Alderton across the polished hardwood counter and let his left hand rest on top of it. "Sometimes, though, especially when it's hot, a man needs something else to cut the dust."
"You'll like this," the druggist said as he took down a clean glass from a shelf, pulled a lever to squirt some dark syrup in it, and then filled the glass the rest of the way with carbonated water from another spout. He handed it to Frank. "Try that."
Frank took a sip of the cool beverage and nodded appreciatively. It tasted like fruit, but he couldn't put his finger on just what kind of fruit. A blend of several different ones, he thought.
"Mighty tasty. Another of your concoctions?"
"As a matter of fact, it is," Alderton responded with a proud smile.
"What do you call it?"
"Well, it doesn't really have a name yet. Folks have started calling it a Waco, after the town, but my boss Mr. Morrison says it needs a better name than that."
Frank took a longer swallow and then licked his lips. "Whatever you call it, it's good."
Alderton looked pleased as punch at the praise, but the smile suddenly vanished from his face as the little bell over the door jingled and he glanced in that direction. A worried frown appeared on his features as well.
Up until now, Frank had been the only customer in the drugstore. He supposed the middle of the afternoon like this was a slack time for business. But since Alderton didn't look pleased by the arrival of another potential customer, Frank thought it might be wise to see who had just come in.
He didn't like what he saw.
He supposed that in the back of his mind, he had been expecting something like this. No matter where he rode, his reputation followed him. And to a certain type of man, that reputation was a siren song, an irresistible challenge that must be answered.
The newcomer was young, not much more than twenty. Dark hair curled out from under his battered hat. He wore patched and faded range clothes, but the gun belt around his hips was new and well cared for. So was the Colt that rode in the tied-down holster. The handle of the gun had pearl grips that seemed to sparkle and shine even in the relatively dim light of the drugstore.
"Frank Morgan," the young man said. His voice had a hushed, almost reverent tone to it. "I thought it was you, but I couldn't hardly believe it. Folks were sayin' you was dead until you turned up in Weatherford a while back."
"I'm not dead," Frank said calmly.
"Jonah, we don't want any trouble in here," Alderton put in. "Why don't you go on about your business?"
The youngster called Jonah gestured toward Frank with his left hand. "Morgan here is my business. I been waitin' for a chance like this. Beginnin' to think it'd never come to me."
Frank looked back at Alderton and inclined his head toward the young man. "I reckon he's a bit of a troublemaker?"
"He fancies himself a fast gun," Alderton said grimly.
"Fancies himself?" Jonah repeated in a loud, indignant voice. "Listen, you snake-oil peddler, I am a fast gun! Faster than anybody in Waco, that's for damned sure, and that includes this old man here."
Again Jonah waved his left hand toward Frank, but the gesture was loaded with contempt this time.
Frank sighed. "I reckon you want to pull iron and kill me, don't you?"
"It's the only way," Jonah said solemnly. The contempt he had summoned up a moment earlier vanished, and for a second he sounded almost respectful again as he added, "I'm sorry it's got to be this way, Morgan."
"It doesn't. You can let me finish my drink and let me go on my way. That way you get to live, and I don't have to kill you."
"You're mighty confident, Morgan. Some'd say arrogant."
That just showed how young and inexperienced Jonah really was. A gunfighter had to have supreme confidence in his abilities. Any man who lived by the gun, by the speed of his draw and the accuracy of his eye, knew that someday he would meet a better man and his light would be snuffed out. Acknowledging that was just being reasonable.
But not today. Never today. And if a gunfighter didn't believe that with all his heart, he was doomed. The day he lost his confidence was the day he died. Plain and simple.
Frank suddenly felt more tired than ever. He said to Jonah, "If you're bound and determined to go through with this, I'll oblige you. I'd appreciate it, though, if you'd give me a minute to finish my drink."
Jonah shrugged. "Sure. I don't see that it matters."
"Thanks," Frank said, and meant it. He turned back to the soda fountain counter and lifted the glass. Taking his time, he drained the rest of the cool, dark liquid from it. When he set the empty glass on the counter, he nodded to Alderton. "Mighty refreshing."
Then he swung around to face Jonah again and said, "You've got it to do, son. Hook and draw."
The young man's hand stabbed toward the butt of his gun.
Frank waited a tick of time, and still Jonah's iron was only half out of leather by the time Frank's Colt was leveled. Flame lanced from the barrel of the Peacemaker as it roared. The bullet took Jonah in the chest and smashed him back against the door behind him. The glass in the door didn't break, which surprised Frank a little.
Jonah tried to finish his draw, but the gun slipped from his fingers and thudded to the floor. He grabbed the doorknob to hold himself up as he pressed his other hand to his chest. Blood seeped between his splayed fingers. "My God," he croaked. "My God."
"I hope you're making your peace with Him and not just cussing," Frank said.
Jonah swayed. His grip on the doorknob slipped, and a second later he crashed face-first to the floor.
Frank walked over to him. A kick sent the fallen gun sliding across the planks until it was well out of reach. Frank reached down, checked for a pulse in Jonah's neck. Finding none, he straightened.
Then and only then did he holster his own Colt.
"You're really Frank Morgan?" Alderton asked from behind the soda fountain.
Without looking at the druggist, Frank nodded.
"I've heard of you. There are books about you. We even have some of them here in the store."
Frank didn't look around for them. He had seen plenty of the yellow-backed dime novels featuring a gunfighter named Frank Morgan. That was about the only connection they had with reality. Everything else in them was dreamed up by a pack of anonymous scribblers who had nothing better to do than tell whoppers for money.
"I suppose Waco is civilized enough now so that that shot will bring the law on the run," he commented.
"Yes, I imagine the law will be here shortly."
Frank gave a little shake of his head. He remembered when Waco had been such a wild place it was known as Six-Shooter Junction, and nobody would have paid much attention to a single gunshot.
The youngster called Jonah had tried to recapture a little of that wildness, and all it had gotten him was dead. Bad luck had followed him.
Just as death seemed to follow the man called the Drifter.CHAPTER 2
Tyler Beaumont's heart pounded heavily in his chest. He had never been so scared in all his borned days. And he had faced the notorious slaver and killer Ephraim Swan up in No Man's Land.
Victoria Monfore tilted her beautiful face up to his and said, "What was it you wanted to ask me, Tyler?"
Beaumont tried not to gulp. He felt like the swing on the front porch of the Monfore home had suddenly turned into a bucking bronco and was threatening to pitch him into the air. His stomach was all tied up in knots, too, just like he was on the back of a sunfishing horse. He uttered a silent prayer that he could get through this before he threw up all over Victoria's shiny-buttoned shoes.
Texas Rangers were supposed to be fearless, he reminded himself. Charge hell with a bucket of water and all that. The badge on his chest, a star in a circle carved out of a Mexican five-peso piece, meant something, dad-gum it!
That proud Ranger heritage wasn't helping him a whole heap at the moment, however.
"Well?" Victoria said. "Cat got your tongue, Tyler?"
She was playing with him, he told himself. She knew good and well what all his hemming and hawing had been leading up to. But she had a mischievous streak in her, and she was enjoying his discomfort.
It was a beautiful Texas summer night, warm without being too oppressively humid. A honeysuckle bush grew at the end of the porch, and its sweet fragrance filled the air. A couple of night birds sang in the oak trees in the yard. You could look for a year and not find a more perfect evening for what Beaumont had in mind.
So why couldn't he just go ahead and spit it out before the damned ring burned a hole in his pocket?
"Really, Tyler," Victoria said as the smile disappeared from her face and was replaced by a solemn expression, "if you have something to say to me, you should just go ahead and say it. It's all right, really."
Beaumont took a deep breath and blurted out, "Victoria, will you marry me?" Then, before she could reply, he went on. "Oh, Lord, I'm sorry. I did it all wrong, didn't I? I'm so blamed stupid —" He slipped off the swing and went to one knee in front of her. As he caught hold of her hands, he hurried on. "Victoria, will you do me the honor — I'd be the luckiest man in the world if you said — I mean —" He gulped. He couldn't help it. Trying again, he said, "Victoria, will you make me the happiest man in the world by doing me the honor of becoming my wife?" The words all came out of him in a rush.
She smiled down at him, squeezed his hands, and said softly, "Tyler, I would have said yes if you'd stopped after asking me the first time."
His eyes widened and he started to let out a whoop of joy, but then he stopped suddenly as something occurred to him. "You said you would have said yes. Does that mean you won't say yes now?"
She shook her head. "No."
"By that, do you mean —"
She slipped her hands out of his and laid them gently on either side of his face as she leaned down toward him. "I mean yes, I'll marry you," she whispered, and then she kissed him.
It was a good thing his mouth was occupied right then and for a while afterward, or else he probably would have whooped and disturbed some of the neighbors. Some folks hereabouts still went to bed with the chickens.
* * *
Later, after he had put the ring on her finger and they had admired it for a while as they sat on the swing, Victoria said, "Have you asked my father's permission yet?"
Beaumont scratched his head. "Well, no, now that you mention it, I haven't. I reckon I probably should have done that first."
"Yes, he's rather an old-fashioned man. Go talk to him now, and he won't have to know you've already asked me."
"Lordy, what if he says no?" Beaumont asked, his eyes widening in horror at the thought.
Victoria laughed softly. "He won't. I can practically guarantee it."
She gave him a little shove on the arm. "Go on. You can do it. He won't bite you."
Beaumont wasn't so sure about that. Judge Isaiah Monfore had a pretty fearsome reputation. That reputation had grown even more when he had survived being kidnapped and tortured by some of his political enemies.
Excerpted from The Last Gunfighter: Violent Sunday by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 2005 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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The Drifter, Frank Morgan, once again discovers that you can't hide from your reputation. In spite of the hardships and pain he also learns that some things never change,like, friendships and love.