The latest action-packed installment in bestselling Western authors William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone Jackals Morgan family Western series
WHERE MEN LIVE BY THEIR WITS—OR DIE BY THEIR IGNORANCE.
The President has come to Deadwood—and his enemies have come out of the woodwork—in an action-packed tale of vengeance and justice from national bestselling authors William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone.
A HAIL OF BULLETS TO THE CHIEF
Deadwood, South Dakota. Miners flock there seeking fortunes, while cardsharps, bandits, and businessmen seek to deprive those who strike gold by means fair and foul. Legendary former lawman Seth Bullock plans to keep the peace by any means necessary—especially when his good friend, President Theodore Roosevelt, is expected in town to celebrate the anniversary of Deadwood’s founding.
Delayed in Washington, the President has sent his wife and children to the boomtown ahead of his arrival. But Ambrose Neill, a former New York City policeman jailed by Roosevelt for corruption, has kidnapped the President’s daughter. Backed by a gang of trigger-happy outlaws and supported by a ruthless senator, Neill plans to politically control the Commander-in-Chief before slaughtering him.
But what Neill and his cohorts don’t realize is that Roosevelt has gathered a deadly posse of rough riders including Bullock—and the legendary father-son gunfighters Frank and Conrad Morgan—who are more likely to bring the gang to justice dead than alive . . .
Live Free. Read Hard.
Release date: October 25, 2022
Publisher: Pinnacle Books
Print pages: 304
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Black Hills Blood Hunt
William W. Johnstone
Conrad Morgan brought the big wagon to a stop in front of Goldstein’s Mercantile. In his broad-brimmed Stetson, sheepskin jacket, and denim trousers tucked into high-topped boots, with several days’ worth of sandy beard stubble on his face, Conrad looked like a teamster, and acted like one, too, in the experienced way in which he handled the reins hitched to the six mules pulling the wagon.
Nobody would have guessed by looking at him that this tall, well-built young man was one of the wealthiest individuals in the whole country.
That was the truth of the matter, though. Conrad Morgan was the managing partner of the Browning Holdings, one of the largest conglomerations of companies in the nation, if not the world. Conrad had inherited his share of the vast, sprawling enterprise, which had interests in banking, railroads, shipping, steel, mining, manufacturing, and newspapers, from his mother, the late Vivian Browning.
Growing up, Conrad had used the name of his stepfather, Charles Browning, and hadn’t met his actual father until he was almost a man. As a youngster who had been raised in the lap of luxury, it was no surprise that Conrad had turned out to be spoiled, pampered, catered to, arrogant, and an all-around horse’s behind.
It had taken several encounters with real hardship and danger, plus meeting his real father, the famous gunfighter Frank Morgan, for Conrad to start the painful process of growing up. Frank had saved Conrad’s life on more than one occasion, but still father and son had been estranged for several years before Conrad came to understand Frank, respect him, and eventually love him, to the point where he began using the Morgan name himself.
Tragedy had tempered Conrad’s steely inner core even more. For several years, he had lived the life of a drifting gunfighter himself, putting all the riches behind him, honing his existence down to life and death on the frontier, which, while fading, could still be plenty wild from time to time.
That part of Conrad’s life had come to an end, and he had put aside his guns to return to the business world, to take over the running of the giant operation his mother bequeathed to him. He owned half of it . . . and Frank Morgan owned the other half, although Frank wanted nothing to do with board rooms and financial statements.
Even so, circumstances sometimes compelled Conrad to buckle on a gunbelt and demonstrate the blinding speed with a Colt he had inherited from his father.
In recent months, he had shifted his base of operations here to Big Rock, adjacent to the valley where several gold mines belonging to the Browning Holdings were in operation. Conrad liked this frontier settlement and enjoyed supervising the mines. He had very capable subordinates in offices back in Denver and San Francisco running everything else, so for the time being, he was a mining man, willing to swing a pickax or a sledgehammer or wield a shovel or drive a wagon into town to pick up supplies, as he was doing today.
He had another reason for staying in Big Rock, and as he looped the reins around the wagon’s brake lever, he looked up and down the street, searching for her.
Denise Nicole Jensen, the young lady’s name was. Better known as Denny to most folks except her mother Sally. Her father was Kirby “Smoke” Jensen, owner of the highly successful Sugarloaf Ranch. In his earlier years, Smoke had had quite a reputation as an adventurer and gunfighter. Most folks figured he was the fastest man with a gun who had ever lived.
Conrad wasn’t sure about that. He figured his own father might be just a hair faster . . .
But nobody knew for sure and nobody ever would, because Smoke Jensen and Frank Morgan were friends and had never drawn on each other, even in fun or the spirit of competition. Some things just weren’t done.
Denny, like Conrad, had inherited her father’s speed and accuracy with a gun. She wasn’t just fast for a girl. She was fast. Conrad had seen her in action and knew that. They were well-matched, both of them just a notch below their famous fathers when it came to gun-speed.
Conrad figured they were pretty well-matched in other ways, too.
“Looking for Denny?”
The question came from the mercantile’s high front porch that also served as a loading dock. Leo Goldstein, the proprietor, had emerged from the store and stood there with an affable smile on his face and his hands tucked into the pockets of the canvas apron he wore.
“What?” Conrad said. “No. No, I was just, uh . . .” His voice trailed off as he grinned and shook his head. “Shoot, you caught me, Leo. I don’t reckon you know if she happens to be in town today, do you?”
Leo shook his head and said, “I haven’t seen her, or anybody else from the Sugarloaf. But that doesn’t mean she’s not around. I’ve been inside most of the day.” He came closer to the edge of the porch. “Are you here for supplies?”
“Then you’re bound to have a list. Give it to me, and I’ll see that everything’s taken care of.” Leo chuckled. “That way, you can go down to Longmont’s, have a cup of coffee, and ask Louis if he knows whether or not Denny is in town.”
Conrad reached inside his sheepskin jacket, which felt good on a cool day at high elevations like this, and stood up on the driver’s box to reach across the gap between wagon and porch and hand it to the storekeeper.
“I’m obliged to you, Leo. You’ll add it to my bill?”
Conrad smiled. “I’m good for it.”
“Yes, I know.” Leo started to turn back toward the store’s entrance, then paused to add, “Oh, I almost forgot. Somebody’s looking for you.”
“Who might that be?”
“Eddie from the Western Union office. He came by earlier and asked if I thought you might be in today. I told him I didn’t have any idea.”
Conrad frowned slightly. “Did he say he has a telegram for me?”
“He didn’t say, but he acted like it was important. Said he needed to see you personally.”
Conrad scraped his right thumbnail against the stubble on his jaw, frowned slightly, and said, “I wonder what that’s all about.”
“You can go down to the depot and ask him.”
Conrad glanced toward the train station at the far end of town. The Western Union office was located inside the big, impressive, redbrick building.
Longmont’s Restaurant lay in the other direction, and its proprietor, the gambler and former gunman named Louis Longmont, was one of Smoke Jensen’s best friends. As Leo had indicated, Louis was the most likely to know if Denny or any of the other Jensens were in Big Rock today.
“Whatever it is, I reckon it can wait a spell,” Conrad decided. He put a hand on the edge of the wagon seat and jumped lithely to the ground on the side away from the mercantile’s porch. “I’ll take a walk down there before I come back here.”
“Suit yourself,” Leo said. With a wave of the list Conrad had given him, he went back into the store.
Louis Longmont’s establishment wasn’t exactly a saloon, but it served the best whiskey in town. It wasn’t a gambling hall, either, but high stakes poker games weren’t uncommon. It was a restaurant, according to the sign outside, and the finest steaks between Kansas City and San Francisco could be found there.
So could Louis Longmont himself, most of the time. He was sitting at a large table in the rear, sipping from a cup of coffee and reading a leather-bound book propped open in his lap. He wore a dark suit with a fancy vest, a snowy white shirt, and a silk cravat with a jeweled stickpin in it. His salt-and-pepper hair and neatly trimmed mustache testified to his late middle age, but he still possessed the vital air of a younger man.
Smoke Jensen was much the same, Conrad reflected as he approached the table where Longmont sat: getting on in years, but you’d hardly know it from the way he looked and acted.
Longmont glanced up, then looked again and smiled as he recognized Conrad. “Ah, Mr. Morgan,” he said. “Good morning. It is still morning, isn’t it?”
“For a while yet,” Conrad agreed.
Longmont gestured at one of the empty chairs. “Please, sit down and join me. Would you care for some coffee? Something to eat?”
“Just coffee would be fine,” Conrad said as he took a seat.
Longmont signaled to a waiter, who hurried off to fetch the coffee, then asked Conrad, “What brings you to Big Rock today? Developments in the gold mining business?”
“Hardly,” Conrad replied with a chuckle. “No, I’m afraid I’m on a totally mundane errand. I came to pick up a load of supplies from Leo Goldstein.”
“Ah. Well, the world isn’t all drama and high adventure. Those mundane errands, as you call them, have to be taken care of, too. They keep the world turning, after all.”
The waiter brought the cup of coffee and placed it in front of Conrad, who nodded his thanks. He sipped the strong black brew and nodded again, this time in approval.
Longmont placed a ribbon bookmark in the volume he’d been reading and set it aside. He looked at Conrad and said, “I imagine you were hoping you’d run into someone else in town today.”
“Is it that obvious?”
“The way you feel about Denny? Yes, I’m afraid so, my friend. I think you’d be a good opponent in a poker game and could keep your emotions hidden there, but when it comes to a certain young woman . . . Let’s just say you don’t exactly have a poker face.”
“No point in beating around the bush, then,” Conrad said. “Have you seen her?”
“Not today,” Longmont replied with a shake of his head. “None of the Jensens, in fact, or any of their crew from the Sugarloaf. I suspect they can all be found on the ranch today.”
“Well, I don’t really have time to go all the way out there . . .”
Longmont leaned forward slightly in his chair, looking more interested. “Is there some specific reason you’re looking for Denny, other than just wanting to see her?”
“Isn’t that enough?”
“Of course it is.”
Conrad took another sip of the coffee and said, “No, I don’t have any particular reason. I’ve just been pretty busy with the mines lately, and I realized it’s been more than a week since I’ve talked to her. That’s why I volunteered to come in and pick up the supplies. I knew there was a good chance she wouldn’t be here in town . . . but there was a chance she might be.”
“And we don’t win any bets we don’t make to start with.” Longmont nodded. “I understand the feeling.”
Conrad lifted the cup and smiled. “But I get a mighty fine cup of coffee out of the deal, and some pleasant conversation, so I reckon I’ve still come out ahead.”
He spent another half-hour in the restaurant, making small talk and catching up on the latest gossip in Big Rock with Longmont. When it came to actually knowing what was going on in a town, no newspaper reporter was ever as well-informed as the man who ran the place where the citizens came to eat and drink. Longmont was a skilled raconteur, too.
But Conrad still had to deal with whatever it was the manager of the Western Union office wanted with him, he recalled, so he drained the last of the coffee from his cup and said, “I suppose I’d better be going.”
He reached for his pocket to get out a coin to pay for the coffee, but Longmont stopped him in mid-gesture with a wave of the hand.
“The coffee is on me, of course. Any friend of Smoke’s . . . and in due time, you may be more than that.”
“I’m his friend, that’s for sure,” Conrad said with a nod. “He’s a fine man. The second finest I know.”
“The first being your father, of course.”
Longmont leaned back in his chair and said, “I crossed trails with Frank a few times, you know.”
“Yes, he’s mentioned that.”
“Thankfully, we were always on the same side.” Longmont smiled. “I’d hate to have to choose between going up against Smoke Jensen or Frank Morgan. I think I know how either encounter would end . . . and it wouldn’t be well for me.”
“Then it’s a good thing that won’t ever happen.”
“Indeed it will not.” Longmont’s eyes twinkled as he added, “If I do happen to see Denny, should I tell her that you were asking after her?”
“Sure,” Conrad said as he got to his feet. “Why not?”
He left the restaurant and headed toward the other end of town, where the railroad station was located. When he entered the depot’s lobby, the Western Union office was to his right. He glanced that direction, then let his gaze take in the rest of the big room, just out of habit. The perilous life he had led under the gunfighter alias Kid Morgan had ingrained in him the habit of always checking out his surroundings, every time he went into a place.
The ticket windows, station manager’s office, and freight office were to the left. The area straight ahead of Conrad had a number of wooden benches arranged in it, where passengers could sit and wait for their trains to arrive. The doors out to the platform were also straight ahead, on the far side of the benches. Conrad didn’t check the schedule board by the ticket windows, but he could tell that no trains were due to roll in any time soon because the benches were empty.
In fact, the only people he saw were four men standing outside the open door of the freight office. He didn’t recognize any of them, but he couldn’t really get a good look at them because their hats were pulled down so that the brims partially shielded their faces.
Conrad turned and took a step toward the Western Union office, then stopped abruptly. With a frown, he looked toward the other side of the lobby again. Nothing unusual seemed to be going on, so why had instinct suddenly raised the hair on the back of his neck?
If he had learned anything from the years spent wandering lonely, dangerous trails, it was to trust what his gut told him. He put his hands in the pockets of his sheepskin jacket and strolled, apparently aimlessly, toward the freight office.
One of the men waiting just outside the door stiffened at Conrad’s approach. Conrad took note of that reaction. He kept his face bland and expressionless and changed his angle a little to make it look more like he was heading for the ticket windows.
The man who had tensed relaxed again.
Well, that was interesting. Something was going on in there, and the men standing around the door, blocking the view, didn’t want anybody butting in.
So that was exactly what Conrad intended to do.
Again, he changed course, striding directly toward the freight office now. The man who had reacted before saw that and spoke a low-voiced word to one of his companions. They turned to face squarely toward Conrad, and when he was about ten feet away, one of them held out a hand toward him and said, “Sorry, mister, the freight office is closed right now.”
“But I just need to see the man in charge for a minute—” Conrad began.
Then a short, sharp cry came from inside the room, cut off almost instantly by the meaty thud of a fist against flesh. Conrad had slowed down, but when he heard that, he sped up again, striding determinedly toward the men blocking his path.
“That tears it!” the second man exclaimed. He clawed at the gun holstered on his hip, and his companion did the same. Both revolvers flashed into view and lifted toward Conrad.
But before the guns could come level, Conrad had pulled both hands from his jacket pockets. Each hand held a. 41 caliber Remington Double Derringer. He wasn’t wearing a gun belt today, but before leaving the mine, he had tucked one of the derringers into a pocket and then decided that he ought to take another one with him, just to keep things balanced properly.
Conrad held off for a second, long enough to give the men an opportunity to realize they had been beaten to the draw and give up on trying to kill him.
When they didn’t and the revolvers continued rising, Conrad squeezed the triggers. Both derringers went off with loud pops, the reports blending together and sounding like one.
At this range, the derringers were fairly accurate, and the. 41 caliber slugs packed enough punch to knock both men back a step as the shots hit home. Their weapons sagged, unfired. One man clapped his free hand to his chest and reeled against the wall beside the freight office door. Bright blood welled between his spread fingers as he slid down into a sitting position.
The other man’s legs buckled and he fell to his knees, then pitched forward on his face.
While that was going on, the remaining two men yelled curses and dived through the open door into the office. One of them kicked it shut behind him. Shots crashed inside the room. Bullets smacked through the closed door, aimed in Conrad’s general direction.
He had already shifted swiftly to his right, however, so the shots missed him. He heard the slugs thud into the wall on the far side of the lobby. Thank goodness the room hadn’t been crowded with would-be passengers waiting for a train, he thought as he knelt behind one of the empty benches.
“I don’t know what’s going on in there, but you fellows might as well give up,” he called through the door. “There’s no way out of there.”
Actually, that wasn’t true. There was a large storage room on the other side of the office, and a door from it opened onto the platform. But the gunmen might not know that. Conrad hoped that was the case, which might prompt the men to surrender.
Giving up didn’t seem to be what they had in mind. A harsh voice shouted, “Back off, mister! You better let us out of here, or we’ll kill these two clerks!”
Conrad made a face. He had interrupted some sort of robbery, he guessed, and the thieves didn’t want to be captured. Well, that came as no surprise.
He tucked the derringers back in his jacket pockets and then moved forward quickly and quietly to scoop up the two Colts that the dead men had dropped. The station manager was approaching, an apprehensive look on his face. Conrad waved him back, out of the line of fire in case the trapped men sent more shots through the door.
Conrad retreated behind the closest bench, where the station manager joined him.
“I imagine somebody’s already reported the shots to Monte Carson,” Conrad said to the man, “but just in case, you’d better send somebody down to the sheriff’s office.”
The station manager nodded. “What are you going to do?”
“Can you use a gun?”
“If I have to,” the manager responded grimly.
Conrad pressed one of the Colts into his hand. “Stay here and keep them bottled up. I’ll go out to the platform and try to get the drop on them from the storage room.”
“Good luck, Mr. Morgan.”
“We’ll all need it, including those two hostages in there.”
With that said, Conrad moved in a quick, crouching walk toward the door to the platform. When he stepped out, he looked around and saw that it was empty. That was good. Still no innocent bystanders to be endangered if gunplay erupted out here.
And it looked like that was about to happen, because the door to the storage room suddenly burst open and one of the men Conrad had seen in the lobby charged out, shoving a frightened-looking young man in front of him. That was one of the freight clerks, Conrad realized.
He had to hold his fire because the hostage was in the way, but the would-be robber didn’t have that problem. He cursed as he spotted Conrad and then the gun in his hand spouted flame. Conrad dived to the platform as bullets sizzled through the air above him.
The clerk might have been scared, but he wasn’t lacking for sand. He stopped short, half turned, and rammed his elbow into his captor’s chest. That knocked the robber back a step and gave Conrad an opening. Lying on his belly, Conrad angled the gun in his hand up and squeezed the trigger. The Colt roared and bucked, and the outlaw doubled over as the bullet punched into his stomach.
But there were still two members of the gang in this fight, emerging from the station hot on the heels of the man Conrad had just shot. One of them fired a round into the clerk who had dared to put up a fight, knocking the young man spinning off his feet.
The other gunman sprayed lead toward Conrad and forced him to roll desperately toward the tracks to avoid the shots. Bullets chewed splinters from the planks of the platform and flung them through the air. Several of them stung Conrad’s face.
A rifle cracked somewhere beyond the men who were trying to escape. The one firing at Conrad cried out in pain and stumbled forward. He dropped his gun as he collapsed.
That left only the man who had brutally gunned down the clerk. He leaped from the edge of the platform, landed awkwardly, and tried to run across the two sets of railroad tracks. His ragged gait told Conrad that he had hurt himself somehow in the jump. Conrad surged up and went after him, stopping at the edge and aiming his gun at the man’s back.
“Hold it right there!” Conrad ordered. “Drop your gun. It’s over, and you can’t get away.”
The man stopped, but he didn’t drop his gun. Instead, he stood there for a long moment, then drew in a deep breath and said clearly enough for Conrad to understand the words, “Damned if I’m gonna hang.”
That sentiment was enough to warn Conrad. He was ready when the man tried to swing around suddenly and fire. The gun Conrad was using blasted first. The bullet ripped through the outlaw’s torso and dropped him to the gravel of the roadbed on the far side of the tracks.
“Why didn’t he just give up?” a familiar voice asked. “He had to know he couldn’t beat you and it was over.”
Conrad watched the fallen man until he was confident the robber really was dead, then turned to look along the platform at Denny Jensen, who walked toward him with a Winchester carbine in her right hand, holding it so the barrel canted back over her right shoulder. He knew without having to ask that she had fired the shot from the other end of the platform that had dropped one of the gunmen.
And even under the less-than-ideal circumstances, Conrad was struck by just what a beautiful young woman Denny was, tall and shapely, with the curves of her body displayed to their advantage in denim trousers and a man’s checked flannel shirt with a brown vest over it. A brown Stetson was thumbed back on the tumbling waves of Denny’s blond hair.
The station manager rushed out of the building and hurried to kneel beside the clerk who had been shot. The young man was sitting up and grimacing, holding his left shoulder. It looked like the bullet had gone clean through him, and while the wound was bloody, it might not be fatal.
Conrad didn’t see the second clerk. He motioned to Denny and started toward the door into the storage room.
“Stay behind me,” he told her. “There might be another one.”
“You don’t really think I’ll hide behind you, do you?”
“No, but I had to say it. Just be careful.”
They went through the storage room with its stacks of crates and piles of canvas bags, holding their guns ready for instant action if need be. No one was lurking in the room, however, and the only person in the freight office beyond was the second clerk, who was lying on the floor in a still-spreading pool of blood with his throat cut.
Conrad sighed at the sight of the body and said, “I suppose that’s why the last man wasn’t in any mood to surrender. He knew he’d hang for murder if he did.”
“I suppose it was quicker, going the way he did,” Denny said. She shook her head as she looked at the dead man. “Poor Jonas.”
Conrad nodded toward the big safe in the corner. “They must have cut this fellow’s throat to try to get the other one to open the safe. I don’t know what’s in there that they were so eager to get their hands on, but I don’t suppose it really matters. This man died for it.”
“So did those others.”
“Yes, but they were outlaws and killers. That doesn’t hardly count.”
Denny smiled thinly. “I can’t argue with you there.”
By the time they returned to the platform, Dr. Enoch Steward was there, tending to the wounded clerk, and so was Sheriff Monte Carson, holding a shotgun that he wouldn’t need now.
“Hello, Conrad,” he sai. . .
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