From acclaimed storytellers William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone, who brought us The Brothers O'Brien, comes an explosive new series featuring the gunslinging O'Brien who brought peace, law, and order to the American frontier. . .one bullet at a time.
A Man Who Tamed The West—One Town At A Time
Unlike his brothers Jacob, Sam and Patrick, Shawn O'Brien isn't content to settle down on the family ranch in New Mexico territory. With his razor-sharp eye, lightning-fast draw, and burning thirst for justice, Shawn is carving out a reputation of his own. As a town tamer he takes the most dangerous, lawless towns in the West and makes them safe for decent men, women, and children. When a stagecoach accident leaves Shawn stranded in Holy Rood, Utah, it doesn't take long to realize he's landed in one ornery circle of hell. Ruled by a cruel and cunning crook-turned-merciless dictator named Hank Cobb, Holy Rood is about as unholy a place as any on the frontier. Anyone who breaks Cobb's rules is severely punished. Anyone who defies Cobb's hooded henchmen dies by rope, stake, or guillotine.
But Shawn O'Brien isn't just anyone. He's the town tamer. And this time, he's going to paint the town red. . .
About the Author
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
Hours of jolting, swaying misery ended suddenly as the stage came to a harness-jangling halt. It remained still until the following dust cloud caught up and covered the four passengers inside with a coat of fine, mustard-colored grit.
The driver climbed down, stepped to the window and stuck his shaggy head inside. A patch made from a scrap of tanned leather covered his right eye.
"Town coming up, folks, but this stage don't stop there," the man said. "Fact is no stage stops there. We go on through Holy Rood at a gallop, so hold on tight an' say your prayers if you got 'em."
Shawn O'Brien had been lost in thought, deep in heartbreaks of the past, but now he stirred himself enough to say, "Why is that? Why all the hurry?"
"Because Holy Rood is a downright dangerous place to be, young feller," the driver said. "Especially if you got a sin to hide."
"Hell, we've all got a sin to hide," a passenger said.
He was a pleasant-faced man who wore the broadcloth finery and string tie of the frontier gambler, his black frockcoat now a uniform tan from trail dust.
"Then repent for yer sins an' hold on like I told you," the driver said. "This here stage is barrelin' through that damned town like a deadheading express."
"Oh, dear," said a small man with the timid, downtrodden look of a henpecked husband. "When we left Silver Reef, Wells Fargo didn't inform me that my life would be in such peril."
"Hell, they never do." The driver grinned. "Holy Rood ain't on the map as far as Wells Fargo is concerned."
The gambler grinned at the little man. "What sin are you hiding, mister?" The humor reached his eyes. "Looking at you, I'd say whiskey and women are your downfall."
"Good heavens no," the man said. "My lady wife would never allow it. She bade me promise on our wedding eve that my lips would ne'er touch ardent spirits nor my loins join in unholy union with those of another woman." The little man seemed to shrink into his seat. "She's a stern, unbending woman, my wife, much given to the virtues of Holy Scripture and liberal doses of prune juice."
"Then I guess you've nothing to fear," the gambler said. "Hell, man, you're a shining example to all of us."
His eyes moved to the girl sitting next to the little man. She'd seemed pretty in the Silver Reef boomtown, but hours in the stage had taken its toll. Now she looked weary, hot and uncomfortable and smelled musky of perspiration and stale perfume.
"What about you, missy?" the gambler said. "You got a little sin to confess?"
A hot breeze gusted through the stage window, carrying dust and a faint odor of sage and mesquite.
"I don't think that's an appropriate question to ask a lady," Shawn O'Brien said. "I reckon you should guard your tongue, mister."
The gambler had to crane his head to look at Shawn. And when he did, he wished he hadn't.
The young man's handsome, well-bred face bore a mild, almost amused expression, but the gambler read a hundred different kinds of hell in his blue eyes. He'd seen eyes like that before across a lot of card tables, the I- don't-give-a-damn look of the seasoned gunfighter.
By the nature of his profession the gambler was a cautious man and he tacked on to a more favorable course.
To the girl, he said, "The gentleman is correct, of course. I'm sorry if I said anything to offend you, ma'am. That was far from my intention."
The girl had a beautiful smile, white teeth in a pink mouth. "No offense taken," she said. "You asked a most singular question, sir, and my answer to it is that I cuss sometimes."
"I rather fancy that any cuss from lips as sweet as yours must be mild indeed," Shawn said.
"Well, I do say hell and damn when the occasion demands it," the girl said.
"And I say a hell of a lot worse than that, young lady," the stage driver said. "And you'll probably hear it when we hit the main street through Holy Rood. So hang on, everybody, and let's git this here rig rolling."
He rubbed a gnarled hand across his mouth. "You see a poor soul with his head on the chopping block, don't look no further, huh? It ain't a sight fer good Christian folks."
Without another word the driver disappeared and the stage creaked and lurched as he climbed into the box. A whip cracked and the six-mule team shambled into motion.
The whip snapped again and the mules took the hint and stretched into a gallop.
"What did he mean about a poor soul's head on a chopping block?" the little man said. "That was a most distressing thing to hear."
His voice hiccupped with every jolt of the stage and his knuckles were white on the carpetbag he held on his lap.
"I wouldn't worry about it," the gambler said. "Stage drivers are like ferrymen, crazy as bullbats. I ain't never met a sane one yet."
"It was a strange thing to say, all the same," Shawn said.
"I'll allow you that, mister," the gambler said. "'Twas a strange thing to say. ..."
A couple of minutes later it was the girl who first saw them ... the yellowed skulls that grinned atop tall, timber posts bordering both sides of the wagon road.
The girl opened her mouth to say something, but the words bunched up in her throat and wouldn't come.
The timid little man spoke for her.
"My God, what kind of town is this?" he said, his voice breaking. "It's signposted by the devil himself."
Shawn stuck his head out the window.
Skull after skull flashed past, most yellow, a few still red and raw, a macabre march of the mutilated dead.
The driver stood in the box, his whip cracking over the backs of the straining mules, and the stage rocked and pitched like a barque in a storm.
Shawn tried to count the skulls, but soon gave up. There were just too many of them.
Gunshots slammed beside him and the girl let out a high-pitched shriek of surprise and fear.
The gambler leaned out the window and cut loose with a short-barreled Colt. After the hammer clicked on the empty chamber, he sat back in the seat and said, "That isn't decent, the skulls of dead men lining the road. I tried to shoot some of them off."
"Hit any?" Shawn said.
"Not a one."
Above the rumble of the wheels and the pound of the mules' hooves, the driver yelled, "Town comin' up! Hang on, folks!"
Shawn looked out the window again. A dozen yards in front of him a large, painted sign read:
WELCOME TO HOLY ROOD A Blessed Place
Come Worship with Us
Then the stage hammered into the town's main drag, its attendant dust cloud rolling along behind, trying desperately to catch up.
Shawn was aware of a wide street lined on both sides with timber buildings, all of them painted white, and the strange fact that there was not a soul around.
Then disaster struck ... an unforeseen incident that would soon plunge Shawn O'Brien and the other passengers into a living nightmare.CHAPTER 2
As the thundering stage took Holy Rood's main street at a gallop, the cussing driver stood in the box and frantically cracked his snaking whip, urging the mules to go faster ... and faster. ...
The town's buildings flickered past like runaway slides at a demented magic lantern show ... and then catastrophe.
Fleeing a butcher, the big meat hog that charged out of an alley weighed a little over three hundred pounds. It was solid enough and fast enough to slam into the left lead mule with the force of an out-of-control freight train.
The mule went down, screaming, like a puppet that just had its strings cut. Panicked, the rest of the team swerved to their right. Too late! The following mules crashed into the downed animal and then hit the ground in a tangle of kicking legs and jangling traces.
Rocking violently, the stage couldn't right itself, tipped over on two wheels and then crashed onto its side.
The driver was thrown clear, but his neck broke when the back of his head slammed into the boardwalk. He died within seconds, soundlessly and without movement.
But the scene inside the stage was as chaotic as the tangle of kicking, screaming mules.
As the stage filled with dust, Shawn was thrown on top of the gambler and the timid man was lost under a flurry of the girl's white petticoats.
"Hell, mister, you're crushing me to death," the gambler said, gasping for breath. "Git off me!"
"Sorry," Shawn said. "I'm going to move and get the door open."
"Then move carefully, for God's sake," the gambler said. "I'm dying here."
"I'll try," Shawn said.
The girl had managed to squirm into a sitting position on the little man's chest, and he wailed in protest.
"Are you all right?" Shawn said to her. "No broken bones?"
The girl nodded. "I don't think so."
"I can't breathe," the little man wailed. "I'm getting crushed to death. Oh, my poor wife."
"Hold on. I'll get you out of there," Shawn said.
But before he could make a move, the stage door was thrown open and a man's head appeared.
"Is anybody hurt?" he said.
"I don't think so," Shawn said.
"Then praise the Lord," the man said. "His sweet mercy has spared you."
A moment later two sets of hands reached into the stage and Shawn said, "Get the girl first."
"Grab my hands, young woman," the rescuer said.
The girl was hauled out and then the little man, who staggered a little and declared that this entire experience was an "outrage," and that Wells Fargo and this benighted town would "pay for his terrible injuries."
"I need to stand on you," Shawn said to the gambler. "I'll try not to step on your face."
"Just ... do it," the gambler growled, his distorted cheek jammed against the other door. "And be damned to ye for weighing more than my ex-mother-in-law."
Using the gambler as a step, Shawn clambered though the open door and onto the street. The gambler got out a few moments later, bleeding from a cut on his forehead, his eyes blazing and some sharp words for Shawn on the tip of his tongue.
But then, like the intended target of his wrath, he could only stand openmouthed and silent, stunned by what he saw. ...
Five men wearing monkish black robes and flat-brimmed, low-crowned hats of the same color, stood around the stage. All wore belted Colts and carried Winchesters. Nowhere was a smile to be seen.
Shawn pegged them as hard cases in monks' clothing, and a couple of them had the look and arrogant attitude of Texan hired guns.
A couple of shots rang out as someone killed the injured mules, and then one of the five men spoke. He had ice-blue eyes and a black, spade- shaped beard.
"Your driver is dead," he said. "You will stay here in town until your fate is decided."
"Now see here," the little passenger said, puffing up a little. "My name is Ernest J. Pettwood the Third and I'm a senior representative of the Miles and Anderson Ladies Corset Company of St. Louis. I demand that you arrange transportation to my original destination. And I mean — instanter!"
The bearded man stared at Pettwood as though he was a slimy thing that had just crawled out from under a rock.
His face like stone, he raised his rifle and shot the little drummer in the chest.
Pettwood staggered back and fell on his butt. He glanced down at the scarlet flower blossoming on his chest with a mix of surprise and shock, then keeled over onto his side and lay still.
The girl ran to the dead man and took his head in her arms. Her hands bloodstained, she glared at the drummer's killer and said, "You damned animal!"
"Anybody else got a demand they want solved 'instanter'?" the bearded man asked.
"Damn you for a murdering rogue," Shawn said. "I'll see you hang for this."
He took a step toward the bearded man, then stopped as four rifles rattled as they swung in his direction.
"His was an obscene profession," the bearded man said. "Such as he can't be allowed to live and pollute the very air we breathe in this fair town."
"I've seen you before, mister," Shawn said, his anger barely under control. "I can't remember where, but I'll swear it was on a wanted poster."
The man made no answer, but he turned to one of the others with him.
"Brother Melchizedeck, search the men for firearms," he said.
The gambler opened his coat with his left hand. "Take it," he said. "In the shoulder holster."
Brother Melchizedeck took the gambler's Colt, then said to Shawn, "Where is your gun?"
"I don't have one," Shawn said.
"Search him, brother," the bearded man said. "He has a dishonest face and a mocker's tongue."
Shawn opened his coat and the man named Melchizedeck patted him down. "He has no gun, Brother Uzziah."
The bearded man nodded. Then, to the gambler he said, "By what name do you call yourself?"
"I call myself by the name my parents gave me. What misbegotten son of a whore gave you yours?"
"You wear the garb of a professional cardplayer, and are thus already suspect," Uzziah said. "Best you keep a civil tongue in your head."
"Or what? You'll murder me like you did the drummer?" the gambler said, anger flaring his cheeks.
"I must tell you that I believe that your fate may already be sealed," Uzziah said. "Look to the church and tell me what you see?"
The gambler eyes shifted to the steepled church at the end of the street. Even at a distance the preacher could be heard roaring at the faithful inside.
"Damn you, it's a gallows," the gambler said. "What kind of people puts an obscenity like that at the door of a church?"
The man called Uzziah smiled without humor. "It's a guillotine," he said. He tucked the butt of his rifle under his arm and bladed his right hand into the open palm of his left. "It removes the heads of the sinful and dispatches them to hell. 'Instanter,' as the drummer said."
"Mister," the gambler said, "you're a sick man and this is a sick town."
"No, it's a peaceful town, and prosperous," Uzziah said.
A dust devil reeled in the street, then collapsed in a yellow cloud.
"He's not a sick man, he's a hired gun and a woman killer," Shawn said. He stared at Uzziah, a hard blue light in his eyes, "As I recollect, his name is Sheldon Shannon from down Nogales way with time out for a five-year spell in Yuma. I reckon he was spawned with a price on his head. A far piece off your home range, aren't you, Shel? I never knew you to operate north of the Red."
"And who might you be?" Shannon said. "Or do you know?"
"Name's Shawn O'Brien from the Glorieta Mesa country in the New Mexico Territory."
Recognition dawned in Shannon's eyes. "Your pa's the bull o' the woods down that way an' you got a brother, Jacob. Big man, plays the piano real good."
"My father, Colonel Shamus O'Brien, is the biggest rancher in the territory," Shawn said, his face stiff. "As for my brother, Jake, he plays the piano among other things."
"He's a rum one, all right, is Jacob," Shannon said. "I was there the night he killed Everett Wilson down Austin way. You heard of him?"
"Yes. I've heard of him."
"Wilson was no bargain."
"So Jake told me."
"Judging by your kin, I reckon you're gun slick, O'Brien. Strange thing in a man who doesn't carry a pistol."
"You should be in Yuma, Shel. But I don't see you carrying chains."
Shannon nodded. "You have a quick wit, O'Brien. Well, I don't know how long you'll live, but you call me Shel Shannon just one more time and your life ends right here."
"So what do I call you, besides son-of-a —"
"You call me Brother Uzziah. Get it right next time, O'Brien, or I'll kill you."
"What do we do with them?" Brother Melchizedeck said.
His eyes still burning into Shawn's face like branding irons, Shannon said, "Take O'Brien and the gambler to the prison. They'll be put to the question later."
"And the girl?"
"The hotel. Once the church service is over two holy and righteous women of the town will examine her for the witch's mark."
"Brother Uzziah, look!" one of the other men yelled. He pointed to a rock ridge above the town where a man sat a white horse in front of a stand of aspen.
Shannon scanned the ridge, then screamed, "Damn him! Damn him to hell!"
He threw his Winchester to his shoulder and levered off several shots at the rider on the ridge. The man didn't flinch.
"Is it him?" Shannon yelled, lowering the rifle. "Is it the shifter?"
"It's him all right," Melchizedeck said, a strange, stricken fear in his eyes. "It's Jasper Wolfden as ever was. He's come back from the grave." Then, "My God, Uzziah, look at that!"
The rider leaned from the saddle and hefted a long pole that seemed heavy for him because of the human head stuck on the axe-shaved point.
"Who is it?" Shannon shrieked. "Damn you, whose head is that?"
"It's Mordecai," a young, towheaded brother said.
"Are you sure?" Shannon said, his voice ragged with near hysteria. "Damn you, are you sure?"
"Yes, it's Brother Mordecai. I can make out the black powder burn over his left eye."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Shawn O'Brien, Town Tamer"
Copyright © 2014 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.
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