JOHNSTONE COUNTRY. WHERE DEATH RIDES FASTER THAN THE WIND.
A blazing new series takes you back to the lawless frontier where every stagecoach was a moving target. Where every passenger needed protection. And where every hired gun who rides along better be fast on the draw—or be dead on arrival . . .
If anyone knows the road to purgatory, it’s Red Ryan. As a stagecoach guard, he’s faced holdups, ambushes, and all-out attacks from every kill-crazy outlaw, Indian, and prairie rat. But even he’s a bit reluctant to take on his next job: riding shotgun with his driver Buttons Muldoon on a stage bound from Fort Concho, Texas, to Fort Bliss. Word has it, the Apaches are on the warpath. They’re being led by the vicious war chief Ilesh, which means “Lord of the Earth.” And this lord means business, as in slaughtering every Texan from here to El Paso. Red wants to postpone the stage. But an army major’s beautiful but stubborn wife insists they leave—or she’ll go it alone. So Red has no choice . . .
Thus begins a nightmare journey into 400 miles of harsh, unforgiving terrain, blood-drunk killers, and one scheming devil who plans to paint the town of El Paso red—starting with Red’s blood . . .
Live Free. Read Hard.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
"Ryan! Red Ryan, I'm calling you out! Damn your eyes, fill your hand, and get down here!
"Red, do you hear that?"
"Yeah, I hear that. Ignore him, Dolly, and he'll go away," Ryan said. "Now, where were we?"
The naked woman in the bed smiled. "I was asking if you love me, Red."
"Love you? I sure do, and that's a natural fact."
"Do you tell the other girls that you love them?"
"Nah, Dolly, I just tell it to you."
"Patsy Prentice says that every time you're in town you talk all kinds of pretties to her. You never talk pretties to me."
"Yeah, I do, all the time. Hell, Dolly, you're as pretty as a speckled pup under a wagon. When I first rode into Cassidy Crossing and saw you standing on the balcony with the other ladies that time, I thought, 'Well, Red, she's the only gal for you an' no mistake.'"
"That time? Red, it was only yesterday."
"Times flies when you're having fun, don't it? Now, come closer and give me some more of that good ol' Texas lovin' ..."
"Ryan! Are you coming down or do I have to come up there after you?" The man's voice from the street, strident and angry. "I aim to shoot you down like a dog, Ryan, and be damned to ye."
"Go away!" Red called. "At the moment, I'm real busy!"
"Come down here, Ryan!"
"Give me ten minutes, you damned nuisance, whoever you are. You should be hung for disturbing a man."
"Get down here now, damn you!" The bullet that crashed through the bedroom window added the exclamation point to the end of that sentence.
"That's it, I'm out of here!" Dolly said. "Everybody told me you were a crazy man, Red Ryan, and you are."
The girl rolled off the bed, gathered up her frillies, and then stood at the door, staring expectantly at Red. Even when she frowned as she was doing now, he had to admit that she was a real purty little gal. "In my wallet," he said.
Dolly grabbed the wallet from the dresser and took out some bills. "There's only three dollars here."
"And you're most welcome to it, l'il darlin'," Ryan said.
"That's all?" Dolly said. "That's all the money you have?"
"It's all I got, and when three dollars is all a man has, he's giving you his entire fortune."
"You damned cheapskate, Red Ryan," Dolly said. "Who's going to pay for the window?"
"I'll talk to Dark Alley Jim, tell him I'll pay him for the window next time I'm in town." Ryan ducked as a bullet shattered another pane. "Uh-oh, make that two windows."
Now there was a deal of shouting and screaming in the upstairs rooms of the Golden Garter Saloon & Sporting House, and the proprietor, Dark Alley Jim Mortimer, loudly demanded to know who was trying to murder his whores.
Dolly Barnes opened the bedroom door and yelled, "Jim, it's Red Ryan. He's been called out."
"Ryan, you damned troublemaker, git away from here and deal with this afore my place is all shot to pieces," Mortimer hollered. Then the man himself burst through the door, saw Ryan struggling into his long johns, and said, motioning with a Greener 10-gauge for emphasis, "Git out there on the street and don't come back here ever again."
"I thought you were my good friend, Jim," Ryan said.
"I've shot good friends afore," Mortimer said. "And you're not my friend, good or any other kind."
Ryan pulled on his boots, slammed a derby hat on his unruly mane of red hair, and slid his Colt from the holster, leaving his own Greener shotgun in a corner. Scatterguns always meant a killing, and he was hopeful that this situation could be resolved by prudent words rather than buckshot.
Red stepped to the window, flung it open, and yelled, "I'm coming down!" He caught a brief glance of an angry but respectable-looking gent in the street who held a revolver in each hand.
Dressed only in hat, boots, and fire-engine red underwear, Ryan brushed past Mortimer and thumped down the stairs and onto the porch that ran the length of the building.
The respectable-looking gent was obviously not in the mood for words, prudent or otherwise, and he didn't waste any time in palaver. He cut loose with both six-guns, and Ryan ducked as bullets crashed into the door and the woodwork around it, and one round, better aimed than the others, drilled a neat hole through the crown of his derby.
"Well, the hell with this," Red said.
He thumbed off a shot, and the respectable-looking man clutched his right shoulder, dropped his guns, and howled, "Damn! He's shot me!"
Ryan stepped off the porch into the street, his Colt hanging by his side, and said, "What the hell did you expect me to do? Mister, with all that shooting you did, you could've plugged Dolly Barnes, the best value-for-money whore this side of the Concho River."
"I was trying to kill you, not a lady," the respectable-looking man said. His face was ashen, and he was in obvious pain, grimacing under his mustache.
"Why? I never seen you before in my life," Red said.
"You're Red Ryan, ain't you?" the man said.
A crowd had gathered and looked on Ryan with hostile eyes, seeing a known rowdy who'd just drilled a respectable-looking gent in a frock coat and morning top hat.
"Yup, that's my name," Ryan said.
"You ride shotgun for the Patterson and Son stage?"
"I have that honor, at least some of the time."
"Then you're the one that killed my young brother."
Amid cries of "Shame!" and "Disgraceful" and "String him up," from one half-drunk, banty rooster who'd just stumbled out of the saloon and had no idea what the hell was going on. Ryan said, "When was this, and who was your brother?" And then, voicing his growing irritation, "As of right now, I'm starting to regret not putting another bullet into you, mister."
"There speaks a born killer," a man wearing a storekeeper apron said.
"String him up," the banty rooster said.
"Here comes the doctor," a woman said.
Dr. Miles Davis, short and stocky with gray hair and a melancholy face, helped the wounded man out of his coat and then stared hard at the bloodstained shoulder.
"My brother's name was Lou Richards, and you gunned him five miles east of El Paso, not three weeks ago," the respectable man said. He winced as the doctor worked his arm up and down, testing his shoulder.
"I remember that. Your brother Lou Richards was a road agent," Ryan said. "He tried to hold up my stage, him and Banjo Bob Kidd. I knew Kidd from a couple of years back when he was a younker. He was still carrying the buckshot in his ass he got from my Greener when he tried to rob a Butterfield I was guarding. He was lucky that day. I wasn't aiming for his ass."
"It's only a scratch," Dr. Davis said, "Mister ..."
"Richards, Hugh Richards."
"Well, Mr. Richards, you're burned up some, but no bones broken." He looked at Ryan, not liking what he saw, and then back to the wounded man. "Here, take your coat. Come to my office later, and I'll give you a salve for the bullet burn ... if you're still aboveground."
"Listen to me, Richards, you damned fool. Yeah, I killed Banjo Bob on that El Paso run three weeks ago," Ryan said. "But I didn't kill Lou."
"For shame," a woman in the crowd said.
"Then who did?" Archie Richards said, grimacing as his wound pained him.
"Dallas Stoudenmire did. That's who," Red said. "Only a halfwit like Lou would try to steal a gold watch from an almighty dangerous gunfighter like Dallas."
"How did it happen?" Richards said. If he was skeptical he didn't let it show.
"How did it happen? I'll tell you how it happened," Ryan said. "As it came down, Stoudenmire was one of my passengers, and after the holdup, Lou said to him, 'Gimme your wallet, watch, and chain.' Dallas said, 'Try and take them and damn you fer a common thief.' Then Lou said, 'Your funeral, Mary Ann' and he brought up his Colt. But quick as greased lightning Dallas drew two revolvers and put four bullets into Lou. Now, Lou was hit hard, but he managed to put one round into our near-side wheeler horse. Buttons Muldoon, my driver, was sure cut up about losing that two-hundred-dollar hoss, and he would have shot Lou all over again if he hadn't already been dead."
"You swear all that on the Bible," Richards said.
"I don't have a Bible, but I give you my word for it," Red said.
"Then considering how it happened, it seems like I owe you an apology, mister," Richards said. He seemed crestfallen and out of sorts from the pain in his shoulder and from shooting at the wrong man.
"You owe me more than an apology," Red Ryan said. "Call it five dollars for the three panes of glass you broke and three for the services of Dolly Barnes that I paid for but didn't get. That's eight dollars, and I'll forget about the ten cents for the bullet you forced me to shoot at you."
Richards's face stiffened. "You're a hard man, Red Ryan."
"No, pardner, not hard, just broke, and I don't much feel like telling Dark Alley Jim Mortimer that I can't pay for his broken windows. He has a quick temper and a quicker draw to go with it."
Richards reached into his coat pocket and produced his wallet. "There's a ten, Ryan. We'll call it quits."
"Much obliged," Red said. "Now go see Doc Davis and get that shoulder fixed. And pick up your pistol, and don't ever think of throwing down on a man again. Gunfighting sure ain't one of your hidden talents."
* * *
"There's no change back, Red," Dark Alley Jim Mortimer said. "You scared the hell out of my whores and ruined this morning's business. Besides that, one of them bullets went through your wall into the next room and burned across Deacon Elijah Dogmersfield's bare ass. Now he says it's a sign from God that he should quit consorting with fallen women and tread the path of righteousness alongside his three-hundred-pound wife."
"Sorry to hear that," Ryan said. "Seems that everybody is getting burned with bullets this morning."
"You're sorry? Think how sorry I'll be if Deacon Dogmersfield spreads the word that a sporting man can get shot at the Golden Garter and I lose the gospel-grinder trade. This is a serious concern to me, Red."
"Sorry about that too, Jim," Red said, trying his best to look penitent.
Mortimer sighed and said, "All right, here's the way I see it, Red. Loss of the services of four scared whores ... twenty-five dollars. Loss of revenue obtained from champagne sales to the clients of those four whores ... twenty-five dollars. Add that up and it comes to fifty dollars."
"And I'll pay you the very next time I'm in town," Ryan said, blinking.
"Figured you'd say that, Red." Jim Mortimer's smile was not pleasant. "That's why I'm holding your shotgun, cartridge belt and holster, your fancy buckskin shirt, and your pants hostage until the debt is paid in full."
Red Ryan was shocked. "Now just hold on there, Jim, you can't do that."
"Yes, I can."
"I can't face the world in my underwear."
"Get used to it," Mortimer said.
* * *
Sick at heart, Red Ryan sat on the porch step outside the Golden Garter, his head in his hands, wondering how a morning that had begun so full of promise, so full of the fair Dolly Barnes, could have turned to such complete ... horse dung.
A shadow fell over Ryan, dark as his mood, and he looked up and saw the large form of his driver, Patrick "Buttons" Muldoon.
"Taking in some sun, Red?" Buttons said.
Ryan shook his head. "Ran into some trouble this morning."
"What was it this time? Fist or gun?"
"Gun. Feller by the name of Richards called me out, the brother of the road agent Dallas Stoudenmire gunned that time on the El Paso run."
"Hell, Red, why blame you? You didn't do it. The only feller you shot all day long was Banjo Bob Kidd. Seen that my ownself."
"Well, we got it sorted out in the end," Ryan said.
"You plug the Richards feller?"
"Scratched his shoulder. He's over at Doc Davis's place getting a plaster."
"Where are your duds?"
"Jim Mortimer is holding them hostage, says I owe him fifty dollars because Richards shot up the place, scared his whores, and shot Deacon Dogmersfield up the ass."
"And you don't have fifty dollars."
"What you see, is what I got."
"You're a sorry sight, Red, and no mistake. I'll talk to Dark Alley Jim," Buttons said.
The stage driver stood only five-foot-six, but he was as wide as he was tall, and a lifetime of rasslin' half-broke horse teams had given him tremendously strong arms. And he had a volcanic temper that showed itself now and then. And now was one of those times.
Muldoon stomped into the Golden Garter, and a few moments later Red Ryan heard bottles smash and furniture splinter ... and a few moments after that, Dark Alley Jim crashed through the front window of the saloon, landed in a heap, groaned, and lay still. Red stood ... in time to see an almost naked Dolly Barnes sail through the now destroyed window, but her landing was softer because she fell on top of her unconscious boss.
Muldoon, dressed in a blue sailor coat decorated with two rows of silver buttons that gave him his name, reappeared, Ryan's Greener under his arm, gun leather and duds thrown over his shoulder.
"Jim says you don't owe him a damned thing and I got your three dollars back from the whore he said you was with this morning since services were not rendered," he said. "Now get dressed and saddle your hoss. Did you remember we got a stage to pick up in Fort Concho?"
* * *
Red Ryan and Buttons Muldoon rode out of town, dodging rocks thrown by four highly irritated whores led by Dolly Barnes who yelled at Red that he was dirty, no-good, low down ...
Ryan agreed with what the women called him, but the dirty part hurt.
He and Buttons reached Fort Concho three days later.CHAPTER 2
Throughout its twenty-two-year history, construction never ended at Fort Concho, and the day Red Ryan and Buttons Muldoon rode in under a black, growling sky, the post consisted of forty buildings on forty acres surrounded by a vast wilderness of flat, treeless prairie. The buffalo soldiers of the 10th Cavalry occupied the fort, commanded by Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson, a stern man who'd never recovered from his grief over the death of his twelve-year-old daughter, who'd died in an upstairs bedroom of one of the houses at the post.
Red and Buttons rode past the sutler's store, the bakery, and the blacksmith's shop to the sandstone headquarters building. A Patterson & Son stage was parked a distance away, brought there by a relief driver a few days before.
Muldoon stopped to inspect the coach and Ryan swung from the saddle and looped his horse to the hitch rail. He looked around at the scouts coming and going across the parade ground, recognizing big Tam McLeod, who'd scouted for Grierson during the colonel's successful 1880 campaign against Victorio that had ended the Apache threat to West Texas.
"Tam!" Red yelled, waving.
The big man stopped, turned, and looked at Ryan and shook his head. "Hell, I heard you was dead!" he hollered. "And buried."
"Not yet," Ryan called back. "I'm still aboveground."
"I see you got a bullet hole in that fancy hat of your'n," McLeod said.
"Long story," Red said.
The scout, looking more Indian than white man in greasy buckskins and feathered hat, walked up to Red and said, "All right, I got two versions of the happy story of your demise. One is that a jealous husband caught you in bed with his wife and shot you through and through with a pepperbox pistol. The second was that you was hung for a hoss thief in El Paso a year ago by Dallas Stoudenmire. Now which one o' them is true?"
"Neither, Tam, since I'm still alive and kicking."
"Well, that's surely a sore disappointment. Ain't it?"
Ryan watched an eight-man patrol commanded by a boy second lieutenant ride out, their accoutrements jingling, a Pima wearing the blue headband of an army scout ahead of them.
"What's going on, Tam?" Red said. He and the scout went back a ways, and his smile showed that he held no ill will in regard to the big man's chagrin that he was still breathing.
"The Apaches are out. The colonel is bringing in the settlers, them that will come anyway."
"I thought Victorio's death had ended all that warpath stuff."
"And you're not alone, so did a lot of people. For the past two months, there's been a heap of coming and going around the Mescalero wickiups and then a couple of weeks ago about twenty young Chiricahua loiterers left the San Carlos and were welcomed by the Mescalero with open arms."
"How many hostiles are we talking about, Tam?"
"Counting both Mescalero and Chiricahua, about fifty, all of them young bucks, and they're already playing hob. So far, they've murdered twenty-seven Americans, settlers, miners, army supply train escorts and the like, and that number is likely to grow before the army catches up with them."
"Who is leading the broncos? Old Nana? Or is Loco still alive?"
"Yeah, Loco is still alive, but him and Nana are in Mexico where the pickings are easy, and they ain't likely to raid north of the Rio Grande again. This present bunch is led by a young war chief who calls himself Ilesh. In Apache that means Lord of the Earth. From what the Pima scouts tell me, Victorio's spirit came to Ilesh in a great dream and promised him that if he led the united Apache tribes in battle they'd drive out the white man and become lords of the earth." McLeod shook his head and then spat a stream of tobacco juice onto the sand. "It's a bad business, Red."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Riding Shotgun"
Copyright © 2019 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
Having read Burnt Offering, one of my favourites, I decided to check out what other books Johnston has published which seems to be a long list of Westerns. As this book was on offer from NetGalley, I thought I take a dive into the world of the cowboy opera. Westerns are not my strong point and have never really read this subgenre of fiction as I normally do not enjoy the genre when it is on film or as a television series but I found this book to be quite entertaining and kept me involved through its entirety. The characters are well developed and although there seems to be some dialogue that would fit well within a John Wayne film, it seems to fit in well with the over all context of the novel. It is an adventure story that keeps the reader involved and I was pleasantly surprised by the overall enjoyment of the book It looks like Johnston has adapted this genre and as he has written more within this genre than his previous horror entries, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it went beyond my expectations. Exciting, non stop action and great character development kept me involved until the very end. Overall, it made me interested in the Western as a whole and made me want to read more. Fun book that delivers on all aspects.