Johnstone Country. Frontier Spirit Lives Here.
Meet Hunter Buchanon, a towering mountain of a man who learned how to track prey in Georgia, kill in the Civil War, and prospect in the Black Hills of Dakota. Now he’s trying to live a peaceful gun-free life—but fate has other plans for him . . .
A MAN AND HIS COYOTE
When Hunter Buchanon rescued a wounded coyote pup—and named him Bobby Lee—he had no idea the cute little varmint would grow up to be such a loyal companion. Coyotes aren’t known to be man’s best friend. Most of them are as fierce and wild as the Black Hills they roam. But Bobby Lee is different. When Hunter is ambushed on the road, Bobby Lee leaps to his defense. And when the attacker tries to shoot Bobby Lee, Hunter returns the favor by hitting the man with a rock. By the time the smoke clears, the coyote-loving ex-Confederate is covered in blood—and the other guy’s got a knife in his chest. Now Hunter has to explain it all to the local sheriff. Which is going to be tough. Because the man he just killed is the sheriff’s deputy . . .
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
As the supply wagon rocked and clattered along the old army road west of Tigerville, Dakota Territory, Hunter Buchanon heard the light thumps of four padded feet and looked into the buttes to his left to see a coyote leap from a trough between two bluffs and onto the chalky slope above the trail.
The brush wolf lifted its long, pointed nose and launched a chortling, yammering wail toward the brassy afternoon sky, causing Hunter to set his jaws against the tooth-gnashing din.
Hunter drew back on the reins of the stout Missouri mule in the traces. As the wagon lurched to a grinding halt, he frowned up at the nettled coyote.
"What is it, Bobby Lee?"
As if in reply, the beast turned to Hunter and mewled, yipped, and lifted each front foot in turn, fidgeting his distress. Hunter had adopted the coyote two years ago, when he'd found it injured up in the hills above his family's horse ranch just west of where Hunter was now.
The pup had survived an attack by some raptor — an owl or a hawk, likely — but just barely. The pup, while only a few weeks old, had appeared to be on its own. Hunter had suspected its mother — possibly the rest of its family, as well — had been shot by ranchers.
He had taken the pup home and nursed it back to health, feeding it bits of rabbit and squirrel meat and dribbling goat's milk into its mouth from a sponge, and here it still was after two years, close by its savior's side, though Hunter had assured the friendly but wily beast it was free to venture back into the wild, its true home, whenever it pleased.
Hunter wished he'd learned the coyote's language over their months together, but while they communicated after a fashion, there was much that was mysterious about Bobby Lee. However, the apprehensive cast to the coyote's gaze could not be mistaken. Trouble was afoot.
As if to validate Hunter's suspicion, something made the air shiver.
A veteran of the War Between the States on the Confederate side of that bloody conflagration, Hunter Buchanon was all too familiar with the spine- shriveling, mind-numbing sound of a deadheading bullet. The slug kicked up dirt and gravel just inches from the troubled coyote, which squealed and ran.
An eyeblink later, the rifle's ripping report sounded from a butte over the trail to Hunter's right.
The ex-Confederate cursed and hurled himself off the wagon seat — all two-hundred-plus pounds and six-feet-four inches of the twenty-six-year-old man. He rolled fleetly off a shoulder and hurled himself into the brush along the trail just as the mule, braying wildly, took off running straight up the trail, dragging the wagon along behind it. Dust from the buckboard's churning wheels swept over Hunter, offering him fleeting cover.
He scrambled out of the brush and scampered straight up the bluff Bobby Lee had been perched on.
More bullets chewed into the bluff around his hammering boots, the rifle cracking angrily behind him. Breathing hard, Hunter lunged quickly, cursing under his breath. Though a big man, he was nearly as fleet-footed as he'd been when as a young Rebel soldier he'd run hog-wild behind Union lines, assassinating federal officers with a bowie knife or his Whitworth rifled musket with a Davidson scope, and blowing up supply lines — quick and wily as a Georgia mountain panther.
He'd been in his early teens back then, still wet behind the ears, but he'd become a backwoods warrior legend of sorts — as revered and idolized by his fellow Confederates as he was feared and hated by the Bluebellies.
Those days were over now. And while he might have still been fleet enough to scamper up the butte ahead of the bushwhacker's bullets, and scramble behind a tombstone-size boulder as another bullet smashed into it with a screeching whine, he had no gun on his hip to reach for. Even if the mule, old Titus, hadn't lit out with the wagon, there was no rifle or shotgun in it. The only knife he had on him was a folding barlow knife. He could feel the solid lump of the jackknife now in the right pocket of his buckskin trousers.
The barlow felt supremely small and inadequate as another bullet screeched in from the butte on the opposite side of the trail and smacked the face of the boulder.
The rifle's hammering wail echoed shrilly.
"Law, law!" Hunter muttered. "That fella's really out to trim my wick!"
He jerked his head down as yet another bullet came screeching in and smashed the face of the boulder with another hammering crash.
"Hey, you with the rifle!" Hunter shouted. "Why don't you put the long gun down so we can talk this out like grown-ups?"
The shooter replied by hurling another bullet against Hunter's rock.
Hunter cursed to himself, then shouted, "Is that a definite no or a maybe?"
Again, the shooter replied in the only language he cared to communicate in.
"All right, then," Hunter said under his breath. "Have it your way!"
He waited for another bullet to smash against his covering rock, then heaved himself to his feet and dashed straight up the butte. He covered the fifteen feet in three long strides, crouched forward, keeping his head down, trying to make himself as small as possible.
He hurled himself up and over the butte's crest as a slug tore hotly along his right side, tracing the natural furrow between two ribs.
Hunter hit the butte's opposite slope and rolled halfway to the bottom. When he finally broke his fall, he winced against the burn in his side and lifted his left arm to see the tear in his linsey-woolsey tunic.
He jerked up the garment, exposing his washboard belly and slab-like chest as well as the thin line of blood the bullet had drawn across his side, about halfway between his shoulder and waist. Not a wound, just a graze hardly deep enough to bleed, but it ached like six bee stings.
"Son of Satan!" Hunter exclaimed. "What in the hell is this fella's problem?"
Was he after the mule? The wagon? Possibly the ale Hunter was hauling to town to sell in several Tigerville saloons? His father, Angus Buchanon, was a brewmaster, using old Buchanon family recipes his own father had carried over from Scotland to concoct a dark, creamy ale that was much favored by the miners, prospectors, and cowhands in and around this neck of the Black Hills.
Something told Hunter the shooter wasn't after any of those things. Just a sense he had. The man seemed so damn determined to kill him that maybe that was all he wanted.
Time to find out.
He knew a rare but vexing regret that he wasn't armed. He knew he should keep at least a six-shooter in the wagon. This was wild country, after all. Populated by men nearly as dangerous as the wildcats and grizzlies that stalked these pine-clad hills, elk parks, and beaver meadows east of the Rockies.
But he'd had his fill of guns and knives ... of killing ... during the war. Just looking at a pistol or a rifle or even a skinning knife conjured bloody memories. After Appomattox, he'd sworn that he would never again raise a gun or a knife against another human being. Not carrying a weapon when he wasn't hunting was his way of trimming his chances of having to break that promise to himself.
So far, he'd made good on that promise.
So far ...
Reacting more than thinking about the situation, a trait that had held him in good stead during the war, Hunter heaved himself to his feet and took long, lunging, sliding strides to the bottom of the butte, loosing small landslides in his wake.
He followed a crease between buttes back to the west. When he figured he'd run a good fifty yards, he made a hard left turn between another pair of low buttes.
This route took him back to the trail, which he crossed at a sharp curve shaded by cottonwoods. Pushing through low cottonwood branches, he hightailed it into another crease between the chalky bluffs on the shooter's side of the trail.
He climbed the shoulder of another low butte and paused in the shade of a lightning-topped pine.
On one knee, taking slow deep breaths, his broad, muscular chest rising and falling deeply, his mind worked calmly. The shock and fear he'd known when he'd heard the rifle's first crack had dwindled. The old natural instincts and battle-tested abilities moved to the forefront of his warrior's mind.
He had no weapons. No traditional weapons, that was. But he had an enemy who apparently wanted him dead. His own mind recoiled at the notion of killing, but there was no point in denying the fact that whoever was out to kill him needed to be rendered unable to do so.
Hunter picked out a rock that fit easily into the palm of his right hand. Working the rock around in his hand like a lump of clay, he scanned the high crest of a bluff just ahead and above him on his right. That was the highest point of ground anywhere around. It likely gave a clear view of the old army trail. It was probably from that high point that the bushwhacker had hurled his lead.
Hunter tossed the rock up and caught it, steeling his resolve, then moved quickly down the slope. He was trying to work around behind the ambusher when he spied movement out the corner of his left eye.
Stopping, crouching, he swung his head around to see a man — a man-shaped shadow, rather — walk out from the butte's far end, directly below the high, stony, pine-peppered ridge from which the bushwhacker had probably fired at Hunter. The man, carrying a rifle in both hands across his chest, dropped down below a hump of grassy ground and disappeared from Hunter's view.
Hunter sprang forward, running across the face of the steep bluff, about ten yards up from the bottom. There was a slight ridge at the end of the bluff, and Hunter stayed behind it, running almost silently on the balls of his worn, mule-eared boots into which the tops of his buckskin trousers were tucked.
He gained the base of the slight ridge, slowly climbed.
Near the top, he got down on one knee, swept a lock of his long, thick blond hair back from his eyes, and cast his blue-eyed gaze into the hollow below. His belly tightened; his heart quickened.
The man was there. A big, bearded man with a battered brown hat. He was hunkered down behind a low, flat-topped boulder, a grimy red bandanna ruffling in the slight breeze. He cradled a Winchester repeating rifle in his thick arms tufted with thick, black curls. The stout limbs strained the sleeves of his red-and-black-checked shirt beneath a worn deerskin vest.
Hunter couldn't see his face. The man's head was turned slightly away. He was looking in the direction of the trail, searching for his quarry. There was a wary set to his head and shoulders.
The man knew who he'd been shooting at. He was aware he'd made a grave mistake by not sending those first shots home. He knew that a Buchanon would not tuck his tail and run. At least, not run away. Armed or unarmed, having sworn off killing or not, a Buchanon would run toward trouble.
If one of Hunter's brothers — the younger Tye or the older Shep, or even their one-armed father, old Angus — were in Hunter's position now, this man would already be dead. None of them subscribed to Hunter's pacifism. Of course, neither Tye nor Shep had fought in the war. Old Angus had fought in the Georgia state militia, and he'd lost an arm for his trouble. Still, the old mossy horn wouldn't give up his rifle until they rolled him into his cold, black grave.
Hunter rose a little higher on his knees. He raised his right arm, adjusting the rock in his fingers, preparing for the throw. His gut tightened again, and he drew his head down sharply. The man had turned toward him.
Had he heard him? Smelled him? Sensed he was here?
Hunter lifted his head again slowly, until his eyes cleared the top of his covering ridge. The man's face was turned slightly toward Hunter, looking off toward Hunter's left. Hunter still couldn't get a good look at him. The man's hat brim shaded his face. If Hunter jerked his head and shoulders up to throw the rock, the man would see him and likely shoot before Hunter could make the toss.
The familiar patter of four padded feet sounded.
The man turned his head sharply back to his right, away from Hunter.
Bobby Lee leaped onto a low boulder down the slope below the shooter. The coyote lifted its long, pointed snout and sent a screeching din rising toward the brassy summer sky.
"Why, you mangy bag o' fleas!" the bushwhacker raked out through gritted teeth.
He raised the Winchester to his shoulder, aiming toward the yammering coyote.
Hunter raised his head and shoulders above the ridge, drew his arm back, and thrust it forward, throwing the rock as hard as he could.CHAPTER 2
Hunter's aim was true, as it should be after all his years of killing squirrels, gophers, rabbits, and sometimes even turkeys with everything from rocks to spare bullets. A Buchanon was nothing if not thrifty.
The rock thumped sharply off his stalker's head.
The man yowled and fell forward, cursing and rolling down the grassy slope toward where Bobby Lee danced in zany, manic circles atop his boulder. Hunter leaped to his feet and ran. He jumped the boulder behind which his stalker had been crouching, and continued down toward where the man was still rolling, flattening grass and plowing through a chokecherry thicket.
The man rolled out the other side of the thicket and came to rest at the slope's bottom, about ten feet from where Bobby Lee stood atop the boulder, glaring down at the bushwhacker, baring his fangs and growling. The man had lost both his hat and his rifle during his fall, but now as he pushed onto his hands and knees, shaking his head, his thick, curly hair flying, he slid his right hand back for the Colt .44 still holstered on his right thigh.
From behind the man, Hunter grabbed the gun, ripping free the keeper thong from over the hammer and jerking the weapon from its holster.
"Hey!" the man said, turning his head to peer behind him.
Hunter recognized that broad, bearded face and the cow-stupid, glaring eyes reflecting the afternoon sunlight. Also reflecting the sun was the five-pointed badge pinned to the man's brush-scarred vest.
"Chaney?" Hunter said, tossing the man's gun away. "What in blazes —?"
But then Deputy Sheriff Luke Chaney was suddenly on his feet, moving fast for a big man with a considerable paunch and broad, fleshy hips. Dust and dead grass coating him, he wheeled to face the taller ex-Confederate. From somewhere he'd produced a Green River knife; he clenched its hide-wrapped handle tightly in his right hand as he stood, crouching, a menacing grin curling his thick, wet lips inside his dusty, curly, dark-brown beard.
The Green River's steel blade glinted in the afternoon sunshine.
"Come on, Buchanon," Chaney said, lunging toward Hunter. "They say you Reb devils got some fight in you — even if you don't wear a gun!"
He slashed the Green River knife from right to left and would have laid open Hunter's belly if Hunter hadn't leaped back. The Green River's razor-edged blade had come within an inch or even less of doing just that. The knowledge caused a burn of rage to rise up from the base of the ex-Confederate's back, spreading across his shoulders and blazing in his clean-shaven cheeks.
Hunter faced his opponent, crouching, arms spread, ready to parry Chaney's next assault. "What the hell's this about, Chaney? What's your beef with me?"
Chaney curled his mouth in a sneering grin, then lunged, slashing with the knife. Overconfidence was the man's Achilles' heel. He'd just retreated from another attempt at eviscerating Hunter when Hunter sprang forward, kicking upward with his left boot, the toe of which smashed against the underside of Chaney's right hand.
There was the dull snap of breaking bone.
Taken by surprise, Chaney gave a hard, indignant grunt. The knife flew out of his hand, arcing sharply up, flashing in the sunlight before landing not far from where Bobby Lee now sat on the boulder, watching the fight with a devilish glint in his long, yellow eyes, a low whine of apprehension issuing from deep in his chest.
Chaney grabbed his wrist and bellowed, "Damn you, Reb devil — you broke my wrist!"
He stood there, knees buckling, crouched over his injured hand, as Hunter walked wide around him and scooped the knife up out of the tawny grass. He brushed off the knife and started to turn, saying, "Now suppose you tell me what — "
He stopped when he saw Chaney coming toward him like a bull out of a chute, head down, eyes glinting malevolently, a sinister smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Hunter stepped to one side. Chaney plowed into Hunter's right chest and shoulder, gave a yelp, and stumbled away.
Bobby Lee lifted his head and sent a warbling cry careening skyward.
Dazed by Chaney's assault, Hunter swung around toward where Chaney stood six feet away, his back to Hunter. The deputy sheriff was leaning forward as though he were looking for something on the ground. Hunter looked at his own right hand.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Black Hills"
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
The storyline has changed to much don’t sound like William W.Johnstone any more , Getting to far away from his style.
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