Johnstone Country. The Good Die Young. The Bad Die Younger.
From the bestselling masters of western fiction comes two tough frontier detectives who solve the bloodiest crimes with bravado, brains, and bullets blazing …
HOMICIDE ON THE RANGE
A killer is on the loose in the Arizona Territory. One by one, Tonto Basin ranchers are being murdered for their livestock—and the Cattle Raisers Association has hired two range detectives to catch the culprit. From the looks of them, Stovepipe Stewart and Wilbur Coleman are just another pair of high plains drifters. But with their razor-sharp detective skills and rare talent for trouble, they’re the last remaining hope for one young cowboy who’s been arrested for the murders. Stovepipe and Wilbur believe the boy is innocent. In short order the trail of clues leads to a secret canyon hideout, and the duo find themselves in the middle of an all-out range war—with the dirtiest gang of cutthroats, thieves, and outlaws the West has ever known …
There’s just one mystery left to solve: How will they get out of this alive?
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
The rider who brought his horse to a stop at the edge of a pine-covered bluff so he could look out over the verdant Tonto Basin country was young, with clean-cut features and dark hair under a thumbed-back Stetson. He sat his saddle with the easy grace of a born horseman, but a certain tenseness gripped him as well, a readiness for trouble.
Lord knew he had ridden into plenty of it here in this corner of Arizona Territory.
The basin rolled away to the northeast. On the far side of it was a dark line marking the Mogollon Rim. The country below the rim was good rangeland for the most part, although in some areas the grass was a little sparse. There were a number of successful ranches in the basin, including the Box D, the spread Dan Hartford rode for.
He was on Box D range now and was supposed to be looking for some cattle that might have strayed in this direction. The herd was bunched in the higher pastures, but for some reason a few cows always got it into their heads to drift back down to the lower reaches of the basin where they had spent the winter.
Dan's eyes searched the landscape below him but didn't spot any of the stock he was looking for. He stiffened in his saddle and turned his horse as he heard hoofbeats approaching from behind him.
A rider emerged from the pines and headed for the edge of the rocky bluff. Dan recognized her instantly. She sat a saddle with the ease and grace of a Western gal, born and bred. Her long brown hair was pulled into a ponytail that hung down her back. She wore a soft flannel shirt, a split riding skirt, and a flat-crowned black hat with a cord pulled snug under her chin.
A sheath strapped to the young woman's saddle carried a short-barreled Winchester carbine. It had been a good while since there had been any Indian trouble around here, but there were always four-legged varmints to think about — and plenty of two-legged ones as well.
The young woman rode up to Dan and reined in. He gave her a curt nod and said, "Mrs. Dempsey."
"Hello, Mr. Hartford," the wife of his employer said, her voice cool but not unfriendly. "What are you doing up here this morning?"
"Looking for stray stock, as usual."
"Have you found any?"
"Not yet. The day's young, though."
Dan heard other horses moving through the trees. Three men rode into view and came straight toward Dan and Mrs. Dempsey.
The rider in the lead had a crisp, military bearing, an impression that his neatly trimmed gray mustache reinforced. His clothes weren't fancy, but they were functional and of high quality, from the boots to the gray Stetson that matched his hair and mustache.
The other two men were clearly ranch hands, one of them lean and middle-aged, the other younger and burlier, with a thatch of blond hair under his sweat-stained hat. His face was either flushed or had a permanent sunburn.
The leader of the group said to the young woman in an annoyed voice, "You shouldn't have galloped off from us like that, Laura. You know there's no telling what you might run into out here."
"I didn't run into anything except Mr. Hartford," Laura Dempsey said. "I don't think he represents any sort of threat, Abel."
Dempsey grunted and seemed unconvinced of that. He said, "What are you doing over here, Hartford?"
Dan was getting a little tired of people asking him that question, but he said, "Just looking for some cows that might have strayed down from the higher pastures."
"I told Dan to do that, Mr. Dempsey," the older of the two cowhands said. "Figured I could spare him from any other chores this mornin'."
Dempsey nodded and said, "All right, then, that's fine. You know I trust your judgment, Lew. That's why you're my foreman." The rancher looked at Dan and made a brusque motion with his head. "Get on with your work, Hartford."
"Sure, boss," Dan said, even though the words tasted a little bitter in his mouth. He lifted his reins and nudged his horse into motion toward the head of the trail that led down into the basin.
He heard Dempsey say behind him, "Come along, Laura, and don't run off like that again. I know you're young and impulsive, but you're too reckless. You're going to ride right into trouble one of these days."
"I'm sure I won't as long as I have you around to look after me, Abel," Laura said.
Dan looked back to see her turning her horse and falling in alongside her husband as Dempsey rode away. Lew Martin, who ramrodded the Box D for Dempsey, and the stocky cowboy, Jube Connolly, followed them back into the trees.
They had been quick to ask him what he was doing, thought Dan, but none of them had offered any explanations for their presence here. Of course, that wasn't surprising. This was Dempsey's range, and he had a right to go wherever he wanted. And as a rich man, he wasn't in the habit of explaining himself to any of the hombres who worked for him.
As a rich man's wife, Laura was the same way, Dan supposed. Martin and Connolly were employees, and it wasn't their place to speak up.
Dan told himself to concentrate on the chore that had brought him to this part of the ranch and not waste time brooding over situations he couldn't do anything about.
He had been riding through the basin for another fifteen minutes or so, still without spotting any strays, when he heard hoofbeats drumming rapidly behind him. He reined in and turned his horse, moving his hand to the well-worn butt of the gun on his hip as he did so.
Even though this was a basin, the elevation was still high enough that the air didn't get as hot as it did farther south, closer to the border, but the day was still warm enough that no Westerner worth his salt would run a horse that hard unless there was a good reason.
Dan spotted the rider and recognized him, but that didn't make him relax. If anything, the tension inside him increased. He didn't particularly like Jube Connolly, and since Jube had been with Dempsey, Laura, and Lew Martin just a short time earlier, his presence here made Dan think something might have happened to one of those three.
"Something wrong, Jube?" Dan called to the florid-faced puncher as Connolly reined in.
"The boss sent me to talk to you," Connolly replied. He swung down from the saddle and added, "Light down from that horse."
A puzzled frown creased Dan's face, but he did as Connolly said. As he stood there holding his mount's reins, he asked, "When you say the boss, do you mean Lew or Mr. Dempsey?"
"Mr. Dempsey," Connolly replied. He moved closer. "He's got a message he wants me to give you."
Dan was more confused than ever. He said, "What sort of message?"
"This," Connolly said.
He uncorked a sudden punch that took Dan by surprise. Connolly's blocky fist crashed into Dan's jaw and sent him reeling back as his hat flew off his head. He lost his balance and sat down hard, thankfully not landing on any of the cactus plants that were scattered around here.
He was stunned, and pain from the blow filled his head, but he was able to exclaim, "What the hell!"
Instinctively, his hand went to his gun again. Connolly rushed him, and just as Dan cleared leather, the toe of Connolly's boot smacked into the wrist of his gun hand. The revolver went flying from Dan's fingers and landed in the dirt several yards away.
"Damn it! Jube, what — "
Connolly reached down, grabbed hold of Dan's shirt, and hauled him to his feet. Connolly's fist sunk into his gut. Dan doubled over as sickness filled his belly.
"Mr. Dempsey don't like you hangin' around his wife," Connolly said. "It ain't fittin' for the two of you to be out here alone together, talkin'."
Dan was able to straighten up some as he pressed his hands to his aching belly. He said angrily, "It wasn't my idea! I was just doing my job when she rode up. And talking is all we were doing. Not much of that, either. She'd been there less than a minute when the rest of you rode up."
That much talking exhausted him, as bad as he felt at the moment. He stood there gasping for breath while Connolly leered at him.
"Mr. Dempsey saw the way you was lookin' at her. You can't blame him for gettin' a mite hot under the collar. Fella his age, married to a gal as young and easy on the eyes as Mrs. Dempsey, he's gotta be worried all the time about no-account saddle tramps sniffin' around her, makin' eyes at her — "
"I wasn't doing any of that!" Dan protested. "And I'm not a damned saddle tramp, either."
"No? You was ridin' the grub line, that's for sure, when you drifted in and talked Lew into hirin' you. I thought it was a bad idea then, and I still do. I don't trust you, Hartford. Might be a good idea for you to just draw your time and ride on. Then you wouldn't be tempted to bother Mrs. Dempsey again."
"I wasn't —" Dan stopped short and glared at Connolly. He said through clenched teeth, "You can go back to Mr. Dempsey and tell him I'm not going anywhere, Jube. Or you can just go to hell. I don't care."
That leering grin spread even wider across Connolly's beefy face. He balled his hands into fists and stepped closer as he said, "I was hopin' you'd take more convincin' —"
Dan didn't let him get any farther than that. The young cowboy lowered his head and launched himself into a diving tackle.CHAPTER 2
The counterattack seemed to surprise Connolly as much as Dan had been surprised by that sucker punch. Dan rammed a shoulder into the bigger man's solar plexus and pushed hard with his legs, forcing Connolly backward. Even though Connolly outweighed him, Dan was muscular and possessed plenty of wiry strength. He drove Connolly off his feet.
Dan landed on top of him and hooked a right and a left into Connolly's midsection. Connolly might look a little soft, but he wasn't. Hitting him in the belly was like punching a side of beef. He didn't even grunt in pain.
Instead he grabbed Dan's bib-front shirt and slung him off. Dan rolled over a couple of times before he came to a stop on his stomach. He looked up to see Connolly scrambling to his feet.
"This ain't just a chore for the boss anymore," Connolly said. "I'm gonna stomp the guts outta you and enjoy it!"
He charged like a maddened bull. Desperately, Dan flung himself out of the way as Connolly's boots pounded the ground where he had been a heartbeat earlier. Dan rolled again, came up and wrapped both arms around one of Connolly's legs, and heaved. Once again the big man came crashing to earth.
This time when Dan went after him, he swung his fists at Connolly's face. He connected with the cowboy's squarish jaw and rocked Connolly's head to the side. That seemed to have a little more effect than punching him in the belly, but not much. Connolly roared and lashed out with an arm. It slammed into Dan's chest and knocked him away.
Both men made it to their feet at the same time. Connolly fumbled at the holster on his hip, but it was empty, the gun he normally carried there having fallen out during the fracas. Dan thought about making a diving leap for his gun, but Connolly didn't give him time. The big man charged again, windmilling punches.
Dan was quick enough to block most of the blows, but a few of them got through and jolted him to his core. At the same time, Connolly was attacking, not trying to defend himself, so Dan was able to land some punches of his own, mostly jabs that landed cleanly on his opponent's face. Connolly's head rocked back with each punch. Blood began trailing from his nostrils as his nose swelled.
More blood spurted when Dan smashed a hard left to Connolly's mouth. Connolly bellowed in pain and rage and renewed his attack, flailing even more wildly than before. He was big and strong and could take a lot of punishment, but he was stupid, thought Dan. Connolly was out of control now, and he proved it with another ill-advised charge.
Dan ducked out of the way, thrust out his leg, and swept Connolly's legs from under him. Connolly pitched forward and yelled as he realized he was about to land face-first in a clump of cactus. He got his hands down enough to partially catch himself, but dozens of the wicked spines lanced into his palms and some stuck in his face despite his best efforts.
Connolly bucked and twisted away from the cactus. His bellows turned into screams as he writhed on the ground. Dan almost felt sorry for the brute — almost.
"Stop squirming around, Jube," he said. "I'll help you. Lord knows, you don't deserve it after the way you sucker-punched me like that, but —"
Connolly interrupted by spewing curses at him. As the profanity became even more vile, Dan turned away and scooped up his fallen gun. A quick glance down the barrel told him it wasn't fouled. He swung back toward Connolly, raised the gun, and eared back the hammer.
The metallic ratcheting of a gun being cocked was enough to shut up most men, no matter how they were carrying on. It worked on Connolly, who fell silent and lay there glaring up at Dan. His face and hands were already swelling from the cactus needles embedded in them.
"Just settle down," Dan told him. "I'll get those needles out of you, but you've got to give me your word this fight is over."
"I'll kill you," Connolly grated. "You don't know how bad an enemy you made today, Hartford."
"This is ridiculous," Dan snapped. "You attacked me for no reason. I didn't do a damned thing to act improperly toward Mrs. Dempsey. She's the boss's wife, for God's sake! You think I'd risk my job that way?"
Connolly didn't answer. Instead he started cursing again. Dan blew out his breath in an exasperated sigh and shook his head.
"All right, I'll just ride away and leave you like this," he said. "How about that?"
"No! ... Damn it, all right. I won't try anything else."
"Do I need to bend a gun barrel over your head to make sure of that?"
Connolly shook his head, grimacing because evidently that made his face hurt even more.
"No. Just get the blasted things outta me."
Dan holstered his gun and said, "Sit up where I can reach you."
He hunkered on his heels in front of Connolly, off to the side a little so it would be more difficult for the man to attack him if Connolly changed his mind. Dan was alert for trouble, but Connolly didn't do anything except cuss a blue streak as Dan plucked the cactus needles from his cheeks, chin, and forehead. Connolly couldn't very well throw any punches when his hands looked like pincushions.
"You look a little like a porcupine," Dan said with a wry smile.
"Shut up and get on with it," Connolly growled.
When Dan had all the spines out of the burly puncher's face, he straightened to his feet and backed off.
"You can pull the ones out of your hands yourself," he said. "Use your teeth if you have to. Just be careful you don't get any stuck in your tongue."
"That'll take a long time," Connolly protested.
"Yeah, I know, and I plan to be a long way from here by the time you finish. Don't try and jump me when we're both back in the bunkhouse tonight, either."
"You're gonna be sorry you ever met me, mister."
"I already am," Dan said.
He picked up his hat, slapped it against his thigh to knock some of the dust off it, and swung up into the saddle. He turned his horse and rode off, leaving Jube Connolly sitting there carefully picking cactus needles out of his palms.
Anger and disgust filled Dan, and a good chunk of those emotions was directed at himself. He was mad at Abel Dempsey for sending Connolly to give him a thrashing, and he was mad at Connolly for following that order so eagerly. But a lot of the trouble was his own fault because he should have known better than to come here to the Tonto Basin, to the Box D, where Abel Dempsey lived with his beautiful young wife.
Dan shoved those thoughts out of his head. Despite everything that had happened, he still had work to do, so he set about scouring the rangeland for those strays.
He found the wandering cattle, but working alone, it took him most of the day to do it. It was late afternoon before he was satisfied he had located all the missing stock and started driving the jag back toward the higher pastures.
His muscles were stiff and sore from the fight with Connolly, and his belly growled. He'd had a couple of biscuits left over from breakfast wrapped up in a cloth in one of his saddlebags, along with some jerky, so he'd made a midday meal out of that and washed it down with water from his canteen. He was looking forward to getting back to the bunkhouse and putting himself on the outside of some real grub as well as a few cups of coffee.
When Dan reached the higher pastures, he turned the cattle over to Hamp Jones and Charley Bartlett, the cowboys who were staying in the line shack up here.
"Don't lose 'em this time," Dan told them with a smile that took any sting out of the words.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Range Detectives"
Copyright © 2016 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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