JOHNSTONE COUNTRY. WHERE DEATH RIDES FASTER THAN THE WIND.
For the greatest trapper in the country, there’s no place like the Rocky Mountains. Preacher and his son Hawk are riding the High Lonesome when the clear mountain air is split by a girl’s savage screams. A gang of ruthless trappers has kidnapped a Crow woman, but before they escape with her, Preacher and Hawk burst out of the tree line, guns spitting fire. They drive the trappers off, only to find that she’s not Crow, but white. Caroline has been raised by the Crow since childhood, the only people she’s ever known. To get her home, Preacher and Hawk will have to blast their way off this mountain, gunning down kill-crazy trappers and merciless Blackfeet warriors. Because it’s never really quiet on the western front.
The First Mountain Man
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 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.’”
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Preacher dropped to one knee, cocked the two flintlock pistols as he raised them, and then pulled the triggers.
The weapons bucked in his hands as they went off with a deafening double boom. Preacher always loaded plenty of powder and two heavy lead balls in each pistol. The powerful recoil would have broken the wrists of some fellas, but not the rangy, beard-stubbled mountain man. His muscles were more than a match for it.
Four attackers charged toward Preacher. In most fights, four-against-one odds would have been overwhelming. But this was not like any other fight, since Preacher was part of it.
Two unshaven, buckskin-clad men jerked back a little as pistol balls slammed into them. Preacher had hit both of them in the chest. Their momentum carried them forward, but their legs got tangled up and they fell. They were out of the fight now, nothing more than bleeding, dying heaps.
That still left two enemies for Preacher to deal with. One of them, a towering, broad-shouldered brute, lunged ahead of his companion. Preacher tossed the empty pistols aside, grabbed the tomahawk from behind his wide leather belt, and uncoiled from his kneeling position. The tomahawk flashed upward and caught the man under the chin, inflicting a hideous wound that sprayed blood in Preacher's face. The man's shoulder hit him anyway and drove him off his feet.
Preacher twisted desperately to avoid having the man's body fall on him and pin him to the ground. He didn't quite make it. The man landed on his left arm and left leg. Preacher needed a second to pull free.
Not wanting to give him that second, the remaining man from the quartet of would-be killers skidded to a halt, brought his rifle to his shoulder, and fired almost instantly.
Preacher threw himself to the left as much as he could, rolling halfway onto the man with the ruined face, who was shaking in his death throes with half his face cut off. The rifle ball hummed past Preacher's head and smacked into the ground, throwing up dirt and pine needles. Preacher put the hand holding the tomahawk on the dying man's back and used it to lever himself over. As he rolled and came up, he threw the tomahawk.
The remaining attacker was trying desperately to reload his rifle since he'd missed his first shot. He had luck on his side. Just as the tomahawk turned over in its spinning flight and was about to split his skull open, the rifle's barrel struck the weapon and knocked it off its path. The tomahawk went over his shoulder and past his head, but the impact also jolted the rifle out of his hands.
That didn't really matter. Preacher wouldn't have given him time to finish reloading, anyway.
The mountain man sprang to his feet and charged. The man yanked a knife from a sheath at his waist and slashed frantically at Preacher, who ducked under the blade and reached up with his left hand to grab the man's wrist. He wrenched at it and bones snapped. The man gave a shrill cry of pain as he dropped the knife.
The next second, Preacher's right fist crashed into the man's jaw with the force of a piledriver. The man went down hard, but as he landed on the ground, he used his other hand to fumble out and cock a pistol at his belt.
Preacher grabbed the barrel and shoved it up and back just as the man's finger jerked the trigger. The man's eyes had barely widened in horror before the lead ball smashed into his cheek and bored on into his brain. Preacher let go of the gun and straightened to look around and see how the rest of the fight was going.
Eight men had attacked Preacher and his companions as they got ready to break camp on the fine spring morning. They must have known who Preacher was, because four of them — fully half their force — had concentrated on the mountain man, leaving the odds even for the remaining members of Preacher's party.
That was a mistake, of course, but no matter what else the men might have done, this attack wasn't going to work out well for them. Hawk That Soars, the young, half-white, half-Absaroka warrior who was Preacher's son, had inherited some of the legendary mountain man's fighting ability, so he was quick to take on two of the enemy and give a good account of himself. He had downed one of them with a pistol shot and struggled hand-to-hand with the other, the early morning sun flashing on the knife blades they sought to plant in each other's bodies.
Unfortunately, Charlie Todd and Aaron Buckley, two young men from Virginia who had a couple of seasons of trapping behind them, weren't the tough, experienced battlers that Preacher and Hawk were. Their rifle shots had gone wild, and they'd been forced to dive behind a log for cover.
The remaining two attackers were circling that log in an effort to get clear shots at Charlie and Aaron.
The final member of Preacher's group, an elderly Absaroka named White Buffalo, stood off to one side, jumping up and down and screeching imprecations at the attackers, but that was about all he was good for.
Preacher figured Hawk stood the best chance of defeating his own opponent, so he ran toward the log where Charlie and Aaron had taken cover, leaped into the air, pushed off the thick log with one foot, and flew toward the two men stalking them. Jumping off the log in that way had given Preacher some height, so the men had to jerk their rifle barrels up at an angle as they both instinctively fired at him.
One shot came close enough that Preacher felt the ball's heat next to his cheek, but the other went way wide and high. He snapped a kick at the man on his right, catching him on the jaw with his moccasin-shod heel and sending him flying backward. Preacher grabbed the other man and dragged him down. They sprawled on the ground, but Preacher recovered first. He snatched his own knife from its sheath, raised it, and brought it down, burying the blade in the man's chest. He pulled it free, let his momentum carry him over in a roll, and surged back to his feet with a lithe vitality belying the fact that he had spent more than two decades on the frontier.
Hawk was rising from the body of his opponent, wiping his knife's bloody blade on the man's buckskin shirt as he rose. He and Preacher quickly circulated among the sprawled figures littering the campsite to make sure they were all dead.
They were, except for the man Preacher had just kicked in the face. His jaw was broken. He made agonized, incomprehensible noises as the upper half of his body twisted and jerked on the ground. His bleating took on a frantic, terrified note when Hawk grabbed his hair, jerked his head up, and got ready to cut his throat.
"Hold on there," Preacher said to his son.
Hawk looked up with a surprised frown on his face. "They attacked us," he said in excellent English. "Now that they are defeated, they have no right to expect that we would let them live."
"Go ahead and kill him," White Buffalo urged. "Never let an enemy live to fight another day if it is in your power to take his life."
Aaron and Charlie didn't say anything, but both young men looked pale and shaken by their close brush with death. They had come to the mountains as complete greenhorns, and even though they had gained some experience and seasoning, civilization hadn't rubbed off them completely yet.
"Wait just a dang minute." Preacher hunkered on his heels in front of the man with the broken jaw.
Hawk remained behind the man, ready to let his knife drink deep of the prisoner's blood.
At first glance, Preacher had thought all eight attackers were white, but he saw he'd been wrong. This one came from south of the border, or at least had a lot of Spanish blood in him. "Habla Inglis?"
The man made more choked, meaningless sounds as blood trickled from the corners of his mouth.
"Can't make out what you're sayin', hombre," Preacher said. "Just nod if you understand what I'm sayin'."
The man nodded, although the motion must have hurt like blazes. He whimpered.
"Good," Preacher said. "Listen to me, now. Ol' Hawk there's got his self a powerful hankerin' to cut your throat, and if I think you're lyin' to me, even for a second, I'm gonna go ahead and let him. Sabe?"
The man nodded again. Tears ran down his cheeks, either from pain, fear, or both.
"You and these other fellas" — Preacher waved a hand to indicate the dead men — "are you the only ones in your bunch?"
The man didn't respond instantly. Even under the circumstances, evidently he had to think for a couple of seconds as he tried to decide if he wanted to cooperate. Then, slowly and carefully so as to diminish the pain, he shook his head.
"How many?" Preacher asked.
Propped up the way he was against Hawk's kneeling leg, the man was able to lift both trembling hands. He opened and closed them three times.
"Thirty in addition to you fellas?"
Another slow shake of the head.
"So, thirty countin' you, which means there's twenty-two left somewhere."
The man nodded.
"Why'd you jump us like this?"
The man pointed a shaking finger at the pile of bundled and tied pelts to one side of the camp. Preacher and his companions had made a good haul already, and the season still had a long time to run.
"You were gonna steal our furs?" Preacher said. "You're just a bunch o' no-account thieves?"
The man closed his eyes, nodded, and whimpered.
"Well, I can't say as I'm surprised," Preacher mused. He waved a hand at the wild, majestic Rocky Mountains rising around them and went on. "There are millions of beaver in these streams. Plenty to go around. If a fella's willin' to work hard and don't mind runnin' a few risks now and then, there just ain't no way he can fail to be successful out here. But I reckon there's always gonna be a certain amount of lowlifes who want somebody else to do all the work and run all the risks while they sit back and reap the rewards. Takes a mighty sorry varmint to do that, if you ask me."
"Can I get this over with now?" Hawk asked.
"Not just yet." Preacher looked intently at the prisoner again. "Which way is your bunch's camp?"
Again the man hesitated. Preacher raised his eyes to Hawk, and the prisoner realized Preacher was about to nod, a signal to go ahead and cut his throat. He raised his arm quickly and pointed to the north.
"We could have backtracked and found them," White Buffalo said. "No sign can escape the keen eyes of White Buffalo."
Stocky, brown-bearded Charlie Todd said, "Wait a minute. We're going to try to find the rest of the group this man came from?"
"That's right," Preacher said.
"Why in the world would we do that?" Aaron Buckley wanted to know. Clean-shaven, taller and slimmer than his best friend Charlie, he had black, curly hair.
"When these fellas don't come back, the rest of the bunch will come lookin' for them. Chances are, we'll have to deal with 'em sooner or later, so it might as well be on our own terms. Anyway, they're thieves and killers, and if we don't stop 'em, there ain't no tellin' how many innocent trappers they'll rob and murder before they're through." Preacher shook his head. "Comes to that, there ain't no tellin' how many they've already killed, and I can't abide lettin' 'em get away with that."
"Well, I suppose I can see your point," Charlie said with some reluctance. "We're going to be outnumbered more than four to one, though."
Aaron chuckled. "You're forgetting that when it comes to a fight, Preacher and Hawk count for more than ordinary fellows like us."
"That's true," Charlie admitted.
Preacher turned his attention back to the prisoner. He lifted his knife, a move that made the man's eyes widen in terror.
Preacher lowered the blade, rested the tip against the man's left thigh, and pushed. The razor-sharp knife cut through the man's buckskin trousers and went a couple of inches into his leg. The man didn't try to jerk away. Didn't react at all, in fact.
"You didn't feel that, did you?" Preacher asked. "Hawk, let loose of his hair so he can look down here."
Hawk released his grip. The man bent his head forward enough to see Preacher's knife in his leg. He made mewling sounds of horror.
"I thought the way you was holdin' your legs meant that you couldn't move 'em. You can't, can you?"
The man's chest rose and fell frenziedly, but his legs didn't budge.
"Yep, when I kicked you and knocked you over, you busted somethin' in your back when you fell," Preacher went on. "You won't ever walk again. We can leave you alive here, but I reckon that ain't somethin' I'd want if I was in your place. I'd rather get it over with quick-like."
The man closed his eyes. More tears ran down his cheeks. He nodded. Sounds came from him. Preacher could tell he was trying to form words — curses, maybe, or prayers — but his broken jaw wouldn't let him. He kept his eyes closed, so he didn't see it when Preacher stood up and nodded to Hawk.
They finished breaking camp and departed not long after that, heading north and leaving eight dead men behind them.CHAPTER 2
Jefferson Scarrow lifted his head and listened. He thought he heard faint reports of gunfire drifting in from a good distance away to the south, but in the mountains, being sure of such a thing was difficult. The steep slopes and the narrow, wooded valleys played tricks with sound.
If he was right, though, quite a bit of shooting was going on. The thought of that put a faint smile on the man's slightly lantern-jawed face. His men would return later in the morning bearing a good load of pelts ... if all went according to plan.
Scarrow knelt beside the fire and poured himself another cup of coffee. Men went busily about their tasks around him, but he didn't pay much attention to the bustle of activity. He was thinking about money, and when such thoughts occupied Jefferson Scarrow's head, not much room remained for anything else.
"Damn it, Jeff. The fellas are gettin' impatient. They can understand you wantin' first crack at that squaw, but you ain't lettin' anybody else enjoy her nor havin' sport with her yourself."
The gravelly voice broke into Scarrow's mental ciphering. He had been trying to add up how much money they would make by selling all the pelts they planned to gather this season, once they got back to St. Louis. As the enticing figures evaporated from Scarrow's brain, he turned his head to glare up at his unofficial second in command, Hogarth Plumlee.
With a name like Hogarth, folks just naturally called him Hog, and in one of life's appropriate coincidences, the name suited him. He was short and broad and pink-skinned — he had never tanned despite years of being outdoors — and his large, tipped-up nose resembled a snout. Also like a hog, Plumlee would eat anything put before him, and a thick layer of dirt caked his clothes and his body. Bristly, rust-colored hair stuck out from under the broad-brimmed felt hat he wore.
Scarrow straightened to his full height, nearly a head taller than Plumlee. His voice held just a hint of a British accent these days, since he had jumped ship in Boston more than ten years earlier and had been in America ever since.
"There's one squaw and thirty of us. We either all take turns, in which case she gets worn out and probably dies within a day or two ... or we all leave her alone and suffer our deprivation equally. That's only fair, Hog."
In the two years Scarrow had known him, Plumlee had never shown any signs of disliking the name Hog. He just shrugged. "When you say it, it makes sense, Jeff. It always does, no matter what. But good common sense don't have nothin' to do with the gnawin' a fella feels in his guts when he looks at a gal like that Injun."
Plumlee was right about that. The young Indian woman who had stumbled into their camp two nights earlier was very attractive. Not just attractive for a squaw, either. Matched up against the women back in St. Louis or even farther east, she still would have been pretty enough to take a man's breath away.
She had been running away from something or someone. That was obvious. But as she stopped short and looked around at the circle of roughly dressed, hard-bitten men made to look even more harsh by the garish wash of firelight, she must have realized her situation wasn't going to be any better. She'd tried to turn and flee, but one of the group, a young man called Clete, had been too fast for her. He'd lunged and caught her with both arms around her waist. She kicked her legs and cried out as he swung her off her feet, but she was no match for his strength.
"Hey, fellas!" he had shouted with a big grin on his face. "Look what I found!"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The First Mountain Man Preacher's Rage"
Copyright © 2019 J. A. Johnstone.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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