JOHNSTONE COUNTRY. WHERE IT’S NEVER QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT.
Springfield Model 1880. Trapdoor rifle with bayonet. Vengeance optional.
With a handful of murderous rogues, Captain Jed Foster has run off with four wagons containing new Springfield rifles, bayonets, and ammunition meant to resupply the troops at Fort Bowie in Arizona Territory. Foster plans to sell the weapons to the highest bidder—whether it’s Apaches, Mexican revolutionaries, or Confederate veterans who still dream of destroying the Union. But that’s the least of Foster’s problems . . .
His junior officer, Lieutenant Grat Holden, is coming after him. With the help of an ornery ex-sergeant known as “Hard Rock” Masterson and fiery guerilla fighter Soledad, the young lieutenant will face off with war chiefs, banditos, and cutthroat outlaws. That’s just for starters. Then he’s got to take down a man who has enough guns for a small army . . .
Live Free. Read Hard.
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.30(d)|
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.’”
Read an Excerpt
The last thing Second Lieutenant Grat Holden wanted to see was the dust he just spotted. It drifted in the cloudless sky beyond the "Two Heads," the outcropping of rocks that topped the Dos Cabezas, which was how the mountains got their name. He had seen dust earlier, too, on the other side of the trail and had shrugged that off as a dust devil. Now, he unfastened the flap that protected the Schofield .45-caliber revolver on his left hip.
Hooves beat toward him. Sergeant Byron Lusk reined in his dun gelding and turned his head to water a rock with tobacco juice. "Beggin' yer pardon, suh, but —"
"I see it, Sergeant," Holden said.
"Figured you would, sir. Almost didn't even ride up to tell you."
"Be glad you did, Sergeant. I don't see everything."
"Like that, suh?"
Holden followed the gray-haired sergeant's crooked finger, which pointed southeast, toward the pass they found themselves bound to pass in a few minutes. The lieutenant, however, saw only Arizona rocks, Arizona sky, and felt the Arizona heat. He was soaked with sweat beneath his dark tunic, but it wasn't just the heat that caused him to sweat.
"What was it, Sergeant?" Holden asked.
"Looked like the sun reflectin' off somethin'. Rifle. Knife. Pretty brass concha." He chuckled. "Maybe gold. Wouldn't that be somethin'?"
Pulling the reins up on his bay gelding, Holden raised his right hand and heard the command called out from the first wagon behind him down to the fourth. As soon as the horse stopped, he turned to his saddlebags and found the pair of binoculars, which he brought to his face after pushing up the brim of his battered slouch hat and studied the trail, the hills above the trail, and the split between the "Two Heads."
"More dust, suh," Lusk said.
Without lowering the binoculars, Holden asked, "Where?"
"On the trail. Somewhere between the hills."
The lieutenant swept another look through his glasses, but, seeing nothing, lowered them in his left hand and studied the road before him. "On the trail?"
"Yes, suh. But if it's a rider, he ain't come out yet."
"Unless he's riding toward Dos Cabezas, Apache Pass, or Fort Bowie," Holden said. Dos Cabezas wasn't much of a town to be riding to at a pace fast enough to raise dust seen by the naked eye from that distance.
"He ain't, suh." Lusk pointed to the road. "Rained yesterday. Good soaker."
Holden nodded. "I know, Sergeant. No tracks. Maybe he sees our dust, though."
More tobacco juice splattered the road. Sergeant Lusk wiped his mustache, beard, and lips with the brown-stained end of one of his gauntlets. "We are close to Bowie, suh."
"Close to Apache country, too, Sergeant."
The noncommissioned officer chuckled. "Hell, suh, we're surrounded by Apache country."
Holden looked back at his command. He was twenty-seven years old. The men behind him made him feel ancient. Five years out of West Point, five years in Arizona Territory, and he was a battle-hardened veteran of the frontier. The men he commanded, with the exception of his sergeant, were as new as what they were hauling in four government freight wagons.
Brand-spanking new Springfield trapdoor rifles, fresh from the armory in Springfield, Massachusetts. Crates of them, not to mention the new triangular bayonets that could be affixed underneath the barrel and enough .45-70-caliber cartridges to start a war. The Army didn't need to start another war. They had a good one going on with the Apaches. Sometimes, Holden thought the Apaches might win.
Back at Fort Bowie, Colonel Carlton Smythe didn't think much of sending experimental Springfield rifles to be tested by troops, most still wet behind the ears, against veteran Apache guerrillas. Nor did Colonel Smythe like rifles. The cavalry used shorter carbines, easier to maneuver on horseback. And he despised bayonets. Shoot, Holden hadn't even seen one saber carried by an officer in that desert country except during parades.
So Colonel Smythe had sent Lieutenant Holden to Fort Lowell in Tucson to fetch the weapons, the ammunition, and some new green troops, and bring them back to Fort Bowie.
Rubbing the beard stubble on his cheeks and jaw, Holden tried to figure out his best course. Make it through the little pass, and they would be a few miles from the village of Dos Cabezas. Another twenty-five miles, through Apache Pass, and they would be home safe at Fort Bowie.
It was just getting there ... alive ... that troubled him.
"You know what the colonel says." Sergeant Lusk shifted his chaw to another cheek.
"Yeah." Holden leaned back in the saddle. "But he hasn't fired a Springfield or any rifle in the five years I've been here. He leaves that to his junior officers and their men. He hasn't led anything but Fourth of July parades and courts-martial."
"That's one reason I like you, suh. You speak your mind. You tell the truth. And you fight, suh. You fight alongside the rest of us. I figure you ain't no officer at all."
That led Holden to grin ... till the sergeant said, "Just gettin' kilt over weapons that might not be worth spit ... I dunno, suh."
"Want to leave the wagons behind?"
"No. Don't reckon we should do that, suh."
Again, Holden looked back. He had eight troopers on four wagons. Ten men.
"Maybe the Apaches heard the same Colonel Smythe heard, suh. That these weapons ain't worth spit."
Holden shook his head. "I've seen Apaches armed with a blunderbuss that likely hadn't been fired since the Revolution. I've seen them throw rocks. And, begging the colonel's pardon, I don't think the Springfield Armory would send us a rifle that will blow up in our faces. Might not be better than what we have now, but an Apache or some Mexican bandit would likely sell his soul to have one. Especially as many as we're carrying."
"Lieutenant!" Sergeant Lusk pointed to the opening of the passage.
A rider came loping out. He was raising a lot of dust.CHAPTER 2
Holden let out a curse, wheeled his horse around, and loped back to the first wagon where he barked orders at the two blond-headed troopers, one pudgy, the other weighing about as much as a cholla cactus.
The troopers — he couldn't remember their names — stared at him blankly.
"Ich verstehe nicht."
The other said, "Ich Rann Sie nicht verstehen."
Then both said, shrugging, "Nein."
Holden cursed the two Germans probably just off the boat. He cursed the recruiters who sent those two pilgrims to Arizona. He cursed his father for sending him to the United States Military Academy, and he cursed his commanding officer. Then he yelled at the two men, both Americans, in the next wagon.
"Set the brakes to the wagon and crawl into the back. Cock your weapons and wait for me. But if somebody shoots me off my horse, do your best to stay alive. And pass the word down!"
It was a silly order. He'd shouted so loud the men in the last wagon understood, and maybe even the two Germans got an idea about what he wanted because both took their Springfield carbines.
Those were 1873 trapdoor models with twenty-two-inch barrels, and they fired the same caliber as the ones in the crates they had been hauling for close to a hundred miles. He doubted if the recruits with him had fired a weapon since Jefferson Barracks, and if shooting started ... God help the mules pulling our freight.
The bay gelding carried Holden back to Sergeant Lusk, who had brought up his Springfield, also a carbine, and rested the butt against his right thigh while keeping the reins in his left hand.
Holden reined up and studied the dust and the rider. "Still just one?"
"Yes, suh. Ain't slowed down."
"Watch the hills, Sergeant, especially where you saw dust earlier."
"You are somethin' cautious, Lieutenant."
Holden grinned. "I'm alive, Byron. I'm alive."
He found the binoculars again, and brought them to his face. It took him just moments to find the rider and bring him and the horse into focus. What he first saw, at least clearly, were the spurs. Brass. Army-issue. On black boots, also provided by Uncle Sam. He saw blue pants.
The horse was steel dust. He saw the beaded gauntlets gripping the rein, the posture that told him the rider had likely been born in the saddle. The saddle seemed to be a McClellan. By then Holden's heartbeat had steadied and his lungs had stopped heaving. He still sweated. He figured he would always sweat. But he was about to think that he had worked his men up, his horse up, and himself up for nothing.
The binoculars raised, and he saw the rider's face. The damned prankster seemed to be smiling, and his eyes, though squinting from the pounding in the saddle and the wind and the dust, might have been staring all the way across the remaining three hundred yards at Lieutenant Grat Holden. Laughing.
"Sergeant Lusk." Holden lowered the binoculars and shook his head.
Lusk turned toward him.
"Have the men stand down," Holden said. "It's the captain."
The noncommissioned officer stood in his stirrups and trained his bare eyes on the approaching galloper.
"You sure, Lieutenant?"
"What's Captain Foster doin', suh, ridin' a horse like that?"
"Other than acting like one son of a bitch, Sergeant, I don't have a clue. But I'm sure he'll tell us directly."
* * *
Captain Jed Foster's cackles could be heard over the pounding of the steel dust's hooves. An expert rider, Foster pulled on the reins and the gelding slid to a stop in front of Holden and Lusk. By the time the dust cloud had settled, Foster was removing his buckskin gauntlets and shoving them into the deep pockets of his golden buckskin jacket with fringes longer than eight inches on the sleeves.
"Hello, Mr. Holden." Jed Foster was forty years old, and after close to twenty years in the service — the first four with the Seventh Michigan Cavalry during the War of the Rebellion, and the last decade and a half in the regular Army — he looked no older than Holden. Foster had a golden mustache with the ends twisted, a pointed goatee, and hair that fell to his shoulders.
"Captain," Holden said, offering a salute that was not returned, "you're looking a lot like Custer today, sir."
"I sure hope not." Foster pulled at the stampede string securing his white hat dangling on his back and set the hat on his curly blond hair. "He is dead, you know, Mr. Holden. I'm very much alive."
"Yes, sir." Holden had to smile. Very much alive described Jed Foster to a T. Tall, muscular, athletic, Foster was the envy of practically every junior officer at Fort Bowie ... and quite a few of the married officers looked upon the dashing figure with a good amount of jealousy. He could waltz. He could do everything from the French contra dance to the mazurka or the galop or the quadrille.
Holden noticed the bedroll and grip strapped behind Foster's saddle.
"Are you going somewhere, Captain?"
"Taking a leave, Mr. Foster. The Army owes me six months. They're giving me one."
"Where to, sir ... if I may ask?"
"I think Mexico, Mr. Holden. There's nothing like celebrating Independence Day on the Fourth of July in Mexico."
"I don't believe Mexico celebrates our independence, Captain."
Mexico. Jed Foster belonged in a place like San Francisco or New Orleans. Maybe the new mining metropolis just south of there called Tombstone. Chicago, New York, Boston, Charleston, or even Washington City.
"Then I'll celebrate her. By myself if I have to."
"Why Mexico, sir?"
Foster grinned. He had perfect teeth, too, and dark blue eyes. "Mr. Holden, have you ever heard of tequila and señoritas?"
"I have met tequila on two occasions and have conceded that he is the better man."
Foster laughed his thick laugh, shook his head, and beat the dust off his clothes. "And what about señoritas?"
"I don't get out of Bowie much, sir."
"You were just in Tucson."
"Only saw Fort Lowell, sir."
Foster's tongue clucked. "One day, Grat, you and I will need to take us a trip. I can show you some fine places. Let you grow up some."
"Thank you, sir."
Foster looked at the wagons, the men, and then turned around in his saddle to stare at the road to Fort Bowie.
"You nervous, Lieutenant?"
"Want some company?"
"You have Mexico, sir."
"Well, the canyon you cut through is shady, and it is a trifle warm today. And my horse here"— he patted the neck —"seems a bit winded. I could at least get you to the other side of the canyon. Maybe even all the way to Dos Cabezas. There's a saloon there. You can reacquaint yourself with your old nemesis, tequila."
Holden's head shook good-naturedly.
"Well ... let's just say that I might not make it to Mexico. Dos Cabezas might do me fine. I'll ride along with you, Lieutenant, if you have no objections."
"I always enjoy your company, sir."
"Very good." Foster raised his hand and turned his horse. "Forward, yo-oo."CHAPTER 3
The wagons creaked, groaned, and the wheels sank in the sand. The new recruits weren't exactly experienced muleskinners, either.
Jed Foster shook his head and found a cigar in the inside pocket of his buckskin jacket. He bit off the end, spit, and shoved the cigar into his mouth, fished a match from another jacket pocket, and struck it on the butt of the Winchester rifle sticking out from the scabbard that faced toward the horse's neck ... unlike the scabbards on most Army saddles.
"Eight men? That all you got?"
Holden shrugged. "All they sent us."
"The old man was expecting twenty." Foster laughed and slapped his thigh. "So was I."
"You know this man's Army, sir."
"Yeah." The cigar came out, and Foster spit to the side. "All too well I know this man's Army." With bitterness he rarely showed, he pitched the barely smoked cigar into the sand. For a few yards, he said nothing, but finally turned in the saddle and looked at the wagons behind him.
"Two Huns, I take it," Foster said. "Some farm boys. A city slicker. One boy who must've lied about his age. And another who must be older than I am. Plus one swarthy gent who'll desert the first time he gets. Bet he joined up to avoid some law."
The canyon drew nearer.
Foster studied the north wall. Holden looked at the south side. Sergeant Lusk had dropped back about twenty yards behind the last wagon.
When they dipped into the canyon, the air immediately turned cooler.
"Let me ask you something, Mr. Holden," Foster said. "Why do you do it?"
"Soldier in this man's Army. I know what a first lieutenant makes."
"I don't." Holden laughed and lowered his shoulder to show off the straps. "I'm still a second lieutenant."
"Well, let me assure you, Grat, that you won't get rich on a captain's salary, either."
Holden laughed, but shook his head, and replied in all seriousness, "I don't do this for the money."
"For the glory then? Custer got glory. He also got butchered, got his command killed. And I don't see a whole lot of glory coming to anybody in this godforsaken hellhole."
"How about for pride?" Holden said.
The captain turned, stared, grinned, and tugged on his goatee. "Pride. Now there's something a man can hang his hat on."
"I'm serious, Captain. Pride in what I do. What we do. What I can do." He hooked his thumb at the wagons. "Those eight new recruits. I'd love the chance to shape them into soldiers. I think I can do it. They're young. But I've been with them for a hundred miles. They're game. And, no disrespect intended, sir, but I don't think that dark-skinned one will run. He's game as a bantam. He'll stick with us because he gave his word."
The white hat got pushed back. Foster leaned back, looked the men and the wagons over, and said, "But what if they're all dead before we reach Dos Cabezas?"
Holden didn't answer ... but he stared at his senior officer with a bit of uneasiness. Then Foster reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a bottle.
Maybe, Holden told himself, that explained it.
Foster bit the cork, pulled it out with his teeth, and took a swig. He took another swig from the bottle and corked it. "How much do you think those rifles and ammunition would bring?" He took another pull from the bottle.
"How much money could you get?"
"I don't understand, sir."
Foster laughed and held out the bottle toward Holden, who shook his head.
"It's not tequila, Grat. Rye. Not the best I've had, but you can't find the best in southern Arizona."
"You're on leave, sir. I'm on duty."
Foster cackled and shifted the bottle to his left hand. "How much money would they bring, if we were to sell them?"
Holden smiled, but he also brushed his hand casually across the flap of the holster. He had not refastened it. Maybe his nervousness before Captain Foster showed up had some founding to it. Maybe Foster, drunk as he appeared, wasn't the hero the lieutenant had thought.
He made himself answer. "If the colonel is right, Captain, the weapons aren't worth the time and manpower it took to get them from Fort Lowell to here."
"Depends on the buyer, I guess. Ain't that the case!" Foster reined in. "Hold up, Grat. No sense in both of us getting shot off our horses."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Springfield 1880"
Copyright © 2018 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.
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