From America's greatest storytellers comes the first in an explosive series featuring a new hero of the Old Westin an epic fight for justice that begins as so many legends do: in a hailstorm of bullets…
Will Tanner: U.S. Deputy Marshal
After spending most of his young life driving cattle from Texas to Nevada, Will Tanner is ready to wash the trail dust from his throat. Maybe it was fate that brought him to the Morning Glory Saloon on the border of Indian Territoryor just plain bad luckbecause no sooner does he sit down than three rough-looking characters walk into the bar with vengeance in their eyes, guns at their sides…and fingers on their triggers. The trio's target is the famous U.S. Deputy Marshal Dove who arrested one of their kinand who's sitting in the bar near Will Tanner. Seeing that Dove is facing losing odds, Will Tanner makes a decision that changes his life forever. He draws, takes aim, and saves the deputy's life. Tanner has himself a new job, a badge, and enough grit to make him a legend on the American frontier.
About the Author
William W. Johnstone is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of over 220 books, including Preacher, The Last Mountain Man, Maccallister, Eagles, A Town Called Fury, Savage Texas, Matt Jensen, The Last Mountain Man; The Family Jensen, Flintlock, and Those Jensen Boys! and the stand-alone thrillers Vengeance is Mine, Invasion USA, Border War, Remember the Alamo, The Blood of Patriots, Home Invasion, Tyranny and the upcoming Black Friday. Visit his website at www.williamjohnstone.net or by email 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 hardand 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
Will Tanner U.S. Deputy Marshal
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
"You're just lookin' for trouble, Boss," Shorty Watts cautioned as Jim Hightower put his boot in the stirrup. "You better let Will take the starch outta that one."
"You just hold on to his ears till I get in the saddle," Hightower replied confidently. He knew Shorty might be right. He was getting too old to try to break the really rank ones, and this horse must have been gelded much too late because there was still a helluva lot of stallion in him. He was a handsome devil, though, a blue roan, about fifteen hands high, and Jim couldn't help admiring him. But so far, no one had been able to saddle-break him, and Jim thought it would be the perfect way to cap off his farewell to the cattle business. He decided he could use one more good ride on a bucking horse before he retired to the rocking chair.
Walking out of the barn, Will Tanner called out, "Hey, Boss, why don't you let me ride that one? Shorty's right, he's got a mean streak in him." The horse did have a mean streak, and it had been at least a couple of years since Hightower had decided his bones were getting too brittle to dust his britches on the hard ground of the corral. Will was usually the man to break the ill-tempered horses, but he hadn't gotten around to this one.
"Too late," Hightower said as he settled his weight in the saddle. "I'm already on him. Let him go, Shorty." Shorty shook his head, concerned, but he released the roan and backed away. The horse remained motionless, surprising all three of them. "Well, I'll be ..." Hightower started. "I believe he's just a big bluff."
"Watch him, Boss," Will warned when the roan's ears pricked up and he raised his tail, even though there was no other indication that he was going to move away from the rail. The words had no sooner left his lips when the horse exploded. Bucking stiff-legged, it slammed Hightower against the corral rails repeatedly before rearing back so violently that it seemed about to fall on its back. His leg already shattered by the corral rails, Hightower tried to hold on to the saddle horn, but the horse bucked so violently he was thrown to the ground, landing hard on his back. Still bucking insanely, the horse reared up over the stricken man and came down fiercely with his front hooves on Hightower's chest, crushing the life out of him.
Will was quick to climb over the rails, but it was too late to help his boss. It had happened so suddenly, and the horse almost seemed intent on killing the man. Shorty managed to back the horse away to the other side of the corral, where it stood calmly with no sign of violence other than the wild look in its eye and the flared nostrils. Will knelt beside the broken body of the man he had known as a father figure since he was a boy. Looking at him lying there in the dust of the corral, his eyes flickering like a candle about to go out, and blood trickling from the corner of his mouth, Will wanted to cry out in anguish. Devastated by his inability to help, as he witnessed the last feeble gasps of breath leaving the dying man, he said his silent farewell to a man he loved and respected.
Jim Hightower had taken in a fatherless boy, the son of a drunken whore, and taught him how to work with cattle and horses. He seemed to delight in the boy's natural ability to ride and rope. And when Will developed into the kind of man a father could be proud of, Jim made him his foreman. This was in spite of the fact that he was younger than most of the men who worked for him. The decision proved to be a wise one, for there was never any doubt among the men concerning Will's qualifications. He was just as proficient in handling an unruly cowhand as he was a bad-tempered horse. But now, on this tragic day, he was as gentle as if working with a newborn foal when he carefully lifted Jim's body up in his arms.
"Go on up to the house and tell Miss Jean," Will said to Shorty. "Tell her that I'm bringin' Boss."
"Is he dead?" Shorty asked anxiously as he hustled to open the corral gate. Will nodded solemnly. "My Lord ..." Shorty declared, at a loss for words. "I swear ..." He stood there and held the gate for Will. Then he closed it again and hurried up ahead of him to the house to alert Jim's wife.
Jean Hightower, affectionately known to the men of the J-Bar-J as Miss Jean, was not the typical pioneering woman often found standing shoulder to shoulder with her trailblazing husband. In fact, Miss Jean was a rather fragile woman, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister in a little town east of Fort Smith, Arkansas. As Will expected, she almost collapsed when told of her husband's tragic death. She was fortunate to have the support of her longtime cook and housekeeper, Sally Evening Star, an Osage woman. Sally helped her clean Jim's body and lay him out in the bedroom in his one suit coat. Miss Jean would sit with her husband's body all night, saying her farewells before he was buried in the morning.
Will was grieving privately for the loss of the man who had given him a life, but he was angry, too. He found it difficult to understand how Jim Hightower's life could be snuffed out so suddenly, and at a time like this, when the man was retiring. Jim was planning to take Jean back close to her people in Arkansas. Most of the cattle had been sold. There was only a skeleton crew left to take care of the ranch — Shorty, Cal, Slim, and himself. There were no buyers for the small ranch there in northeast Texas, so Boss had planned to leave it to Will. And now Will wasn't sure he wanted it. He didn't even know if he wanted to stay in the cattle business or just sign on with another rancher. He had lost his desire for it. And he was angry, damned angry, because he had been really happy that Boss could retire while he was still young enough to enjoy it. He had to try to ride that one devil horse, he thought.
* * *
After Will and Shorty did all they could for their grieving mistress, they returned to the barn. "Whaddaya want me to do about that horse?" Shorty asked as they approached the corral. The roan was still standing where Shorty had tied it. "Want me to pull the saddle off?"
Will took a long, hard look at the horse before answering. "No, you go find Cal and Slim and a couple of shovels. Miss Jean said she wants Boss buried over near the creek, close to those willows where that bench is. I'll take care of the horse."
When Shorty went inside the barn, Will went to the corral gate. He stood looking at the big blue roan for a long moment, then he opened the gate and went into the corral. He walked purposefully toward the horse, looking it in the eye as he untied the reins from the rail. The roan did not resist when Will led him away from the side of the corral. "Now, you evil son of a bitch, I wanna see if you're really a killer," he said, and stepped up in the stirrup. Just as before, the roan made no move when Will settled down in the saddle. Then, also as before, the horse exploded suddenly, but this time the rider was not taken by surprise. Around and around the corral they went, the roan bucking and rearing as if to fall over on its back, then landing stiff-legged to buck again. Time and again, it tried to pin Will against the side rails of the corral, only to have Will pull his foot from the stirrup and raise his leg, further frustrating the belligerent beast.
Hearing the pounding hooves and the horse's squeals, Shorty ran to the barn door to observe the contest between man and horse. "My Lord," he muttered as he watched the battle of wills on display, neither man nor horse willing to yield. He was certain that he was witness to a ride like he had never seen before, or was likely to see in the future. Will drove the horse relentlessly on until it began to take pauses between its violent attempts to throw the demon on its back. But Will would not let him rest. Shorty stood spellbound, holding a shovel in each hand, for a solid three-quarters of an hour before the final surrender, when the roan stood defeated, its head and tail drooping. Will kicked his heels into the roan's sides, forcing it to a slow trot around the corral. Then he reined the horse to a stop and dismounted. He was not satisfied that the horse was really broken, however, sensing an evil streak that was inborn.
"I'll get a pick and help you dig that grave," Will said as he walked past Shorty. "We'll let that devil horse rest for a spell, then one of you take him for a little ride to make sure he's fully broke."
By the time the three men had dug Jim's grave, the blue roan had had plenty of time to become rested, so Slim volunteered to try him out. Will's instincts had been right about the horse, however, and when Slim got on him, the horse repeated his attempts to maim his rider. Slim escaped the fate that had befallen Jim simply because, like Will had, he managed to get his leg out of the way before it was shattered. He could not prevent being thrown, however, and barely escaped being trampled by the belligerent horse's hooves. Rolling over and over, he scrambled to his feet and went over the side of the corral just before being bitten.
"That damn horse is a man-killer," Slim gasped breathlessly. "He's out to do you in, and that's a fact."
"I'm afraid you're right," Will said. He thought about it for a long moment before deciding what needed to be done in regard to the wrathful beast. It was a hard decision, but he finally went inside the corral and approached the leery horse. It backed away, rearing up on its hind legs, its front hooves pawing the air as if daring the man. When it dropped its hooves to the ground again, Will grabbed the reins. Holding the bridle, he forced the roan's head down, so he could look him in the eye. "Go back to hell where you came from," he said. "You killed a good man today." Then he drew the .44 he wore and put a bullet in the horse's brain. Stepping back to keep the horse from falling on him, he turned and walked back to the gate.
Slim was still standing, speechless, when Will came out of the corral. In over four years riding for the J-Bar-J, he had always known the young foreman to be kindhearted when it came to horses. Fair and even-tempered as a rule, Will Tanner could be riled over some things after all — if they were important to him. Slim learned that today.
"You or Cal hitch up a team and drag that damn carcass outta the corral. I'm gonna ride in to Sulphur Springs and see if I can get the preacher to come out and give Boss a proper funeral in the morning."
* * *
Jim Hightower was buried before noon the next day. Thanks to Will's diligent efforts the night before, Sam Harvey, barber and undertaker, drove a wagon carrying a pine box and the Reverend Edward Garrett out to the J-Bar-J. With Will's help, Harvey placed Jim's body in the simple coffin. Before he nailed the lid on, Miss Jean came in and said one final good-bye to the man she had been married to for thirty-one years. She placed a scented linen handkerchief in Jim's cold hand. "So that something of me will always be with him," she said tearfully. Acting as pallbearers, Will, Slim, Cal, and Shorty carried the coffin out to the willows by the creek, and Reverend Garrett delivered a fine eulogy, considering the deceased had never set foot in his church. Will compensated Sam Harvey for the pine box, but Sam said there was no charge for the four-mile trip from town to deliver it. Reverend Garrett graciously accepted a donation to his church. When it was all done, Will had spent fourteen dollars of the money he had saved up over the last few years. He didn't begrudge the expense and felt good about spending the money.
After the eulogy that turned into a sermon, Jim was lowered to his eternal rest on two lengths of ropes held by the pallbearers. Miss Jean expressed her appreciation to the reverend and Sam Harvey for making the eight-mile round-trip, and to all the cowhands involved. After the funeral party was fed one of Sally Evening Star's beef stew dinners, and the wagon departed for town, Miss Jean pulled Will aside. She wanted to thank him for his thoughtfulness in arranging a real funeral for her husband. "I know Jim appreciates it," she said. "You know you've always been someone very special to Jim and me, and I'm just sorry that we didn't have something to leave you besides this ranch. I do have a little bit saved back, though, and I want to give you money for what you've spent for the funeral. I know it cost you a lot to get them to come out here, all the way from town."
"No, ma'am," he insisted. "It didn't cost nothin' at all. The preacher don't charge, and that coffin was one Sam had already made. They were glad to do it for Boss 'cause he was such a fine, upstandin' man, they said."
She smiled gently, obviously pleased by the sentiment. "Will," she said, "you're a man any father would be proud to call his son — and such a splendid liar."
* * *
The next couple of days were sad and worrisome days for Miss Jean as she went through the process of closing out her life on the J-Bar-J. In preparation to leave for Arkansas, Jim had already closed out their bank account and settled up with anyone he owed in Sulphur Springs. So she was left with the question of how best to go to her family's home, now that her husband was no longer there to take her. It was possible to go by train, but it would require a long, roundabout journey to make railroad connections. And it would also mean she could not take most of the possessions she had planned to carry by wagon. She was spared the sorrow of leaving her precious keepsakes when Will told her that he would take her to Arkansas. It was what she had counted on, but she still questioned his decision. "Won't you be needed here at the ranch?" she asked.
"No, ma'am, not really," he said. "Shorty and the others can handle everything here. There aren't but a handful of cattle left to worry about, and the horses. They don't need me."
So it was settled, then. The wagon was packed with the sentimental keepsakes Miss Jean was fond of, as well as the cooking supplies needed for a trip that Will figured to take close to three weeks. Planning to keep one of the team of horses to use as a packhorse on his return trip, he put a pack saddle rig in the back of the wagon. When all was ready, the party prepared to depart early one June morning. Will had planned to drive the wagon, but Sally Evening Star insisted that she knew how to drive a team of horses. That was good news to Will, because he preferred to ride his buckskin gelding instead of sitting on a wagon seat for three weeks. It also meant a little more room in the wagon. The three remaining cowhands stood by to wish the travelers a safe journey, each one stepping forward to shake Miss Jean's hand. "We'll make sure Boss's grave don't grow up in weeds," Cal assured her.
"I know you will," she said. "Jim was always talking about how pleased he was to have you boys working for him."
"What about you?" Shorty asked Will after he helped Miss Jean up on the wagon. "The ranch belongs to you now. Anythin' you want done while you're gone?"
"You know what needs to be done," Will said. "Just take care of things like you usually do. The ranch is yours till I get back. Run it like I ain't comin' back." It was not an idle suggestion, because he had given the possibility serious thought. "In fact," he said, the idea suddenly striking him, "I'm making you my partner, if you want it. Half owner, whaddaya say?"
Totally flabbergasted, Shorty blurted, "Hell, yes, I want it!" He immediately offered his hand to shake on it. "What about Cal and Slim?"
"I'll tell 'em," Will said. The two hands were good men, but Shorty had been working the J-Bar-J since Will was a boy, and he was the most capable to run the ranch. Will led his horse over to Slim and Cal and told them that they were working for Shorty now. They had already assumed as much. That done, he stepped up into the saddle. "Let's go to Arkansas, ladies," he sang out, and started out to the northeast, toward the Red River.
* * *
The journey that Will had figured to take three weeks stretched into a month, because of a spell of bad weather that delayed them and forced a detour miles out of their way to find a ferry crossing. The two weary women gratefully rolled into Fort Smith on the Fourth of July amid that city's celebration of the holiday. Miss Jean had planned to stay one night in a hotel to give herself the opportunity to recover from the grueling trek through Oklahoma Indian Territory. Because of the celebrations, however, she was unable to find accommodations in the better hotels. So she decided to push on to camp overnight east of town. They found a camping spot by a creek where she could bathe and freshen up before meeting her brother and sister-in-law at the family farm near a little junction called Ward's Corner, named for her father, Henry C. Ward.
Excerpted from Will Tanner U.S. Deputy Marshal by William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone. Copyright © 2016 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
I had had high hopes for this book but it took me three times to finally finish it. The premise was OK and it could have been a great book; but, the author made the deputy marshals bumbling idiots. Between the improper English – I know they may not have spoken well and many did not have much education; however, it grated on my nerves. If this had been a TV movie I would have switched channels. I will not be purchasing future books in this series.
first book in a new series, this was a great read from start to finish.