When innocent people are threatened, Preacher punishes the guilty, dispensing his own brand of justice—one bullet at a time . . .
JOHNSTONE COUNTRY. WHERE EVIL DWELLS . . . AND JUSTICE AWAITS.
In a North American British province, a group of Norweigan settlers have carved a life for themselves in a lakeshore village called Skarkavik. Hunters and fishermen, they raise their families in peace under the natural cover of the surrounding forest.
Decker Galloway believes the land’s natural resources are being wasted on the few when so many have a greater need. Having made his fortune logging the wilderness of the eastern provinces, he wants to turn his axes and saws loose on the untouched western region. And no villagers are going to stand in his way.
But then there’s Preacher. He doesn’t mind standing in Galloway’s way.
Together, Preacher and his friend, the warrior Tall Dog, will remind the Norwegians of their Viking ancestry and declare war on Galloway’s gang of murderous gunslingers—with Preacher leading the charge.
Live Free. Read Hard.
Release date: December 26, 2023
Publisher: Pinnacle Books
Print pages: 336
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Preacher's Bloody Rampage
William W. Johnstone
The big wagon, loaded heavily with barrels, rumbled past. The team of massive draft horses never slowed as the driver slapped their rumps with the reins.
“Watch where you’re goin’, you blasted red heathen!” the man yelled at the tall, buckskin-clad youngster standing beside Preacher. The young man had gotten distracted by his crowded surroundings and strayed too far into the street.
“If this is civilization, I’m not sure I like it,” he said as he watched the wagon careen on down the cobblestones. “It is too dangerous here.”
Preacher laughed and slapped him on the back. “Civilization ain’t that much worse than the frontier, Tall Dog. It’s just got a different set of dangers to look out for, that’s all.”
The young man called Tall Dog asked, “What was in those barrels the wagon was carrying?”
“Not much tellin’. Beer, whiskey, sugar, flour, gunpowder. . . could’ve been just about anything you can fit in a barrel. It don’t matter. If those horses had knocked you down, chances are they’d have trampled you to death before the wagon ever ran over you.”
Tall Dog gave the mountain man a solemn nod. “Then you’ve saved my life yet again. I will never be able to repay all the debts I owe you, Preacher.”
“Don’t be so sure about that. You’ve pulled my fat outta the fire more’n once, remember?”
Tall Dog nodded. They set off along the street once more, trailed by a big, shaggy cur that appeared to be as much wolf as dog.
The two of them made a pretty impressive pair. Tall, broad-shouldered, and muscular, Preacher was in his forties but looked younger.
Years in the mountains had left him with a deeply tanned face that didn’t really show his age. Only scattered strands of silver threaded through his thick dark hair, mustache, and beard.
The broad leather belt around his waist supported a pair of holstered Colt Patersons, the newfangled repeating revolvers that had been given to Preacher a while back by a company of rangers down in Texas. He also carried a sheathed hunting knife and had a tomahawk tucked behind the belt.
Tall Dog towered over Preacher by several inches but was built whipcord lean. The reddish tint to his skin testified to his Crow heritage, but the dark blond hair, shaved on the sides and left long on top to work into a braid that hung down his back, revealed the other side of his lineage.
His father was Olaf Gunnarson, a Norwegian who had immigrated to America and become a fur trapper and mountain man. Once in the mountains, Gunnarson had met, fallen in love with, and married a young Crow woman who had seen quite a bit of the western half of the continent during her various captivities and wanderings.
The Maker of All Things Above had blessed their union with only one child, a boy who had grown tall and strapping and strong. Olaf had called him Bjorn, but he usually went by his Crow name, Tall Dog.
Today he was armed with a couple of flintlock pistols and, in a scabbard that hung down his back from a strap around his shoulder, a Spanish conquistador’s sword with a curved hilt around the handle. His mother had picked up the weapon, an Espada ancha, during her travels as a young woman down in the Southwest.
During the year since their first meeting, Preacher and Tall Dog had become staunch friends and shared several adventures. They had worked together during the fur trapping season and amassed one of the best loads of pelts Preacher had taken in quite a while.
Now they were in St. Louis. That load of pelts was sold and had been stored in a fur trader’s warehouse, and Preacher had money in his pocket.
He figured on spending some of it at Red Mike’s.
No trip to St. Louis was complete without a visit to the tavern not far from the riverfront. Preacher had been stopping in there for years, every time he was in town, for a few drinks, some chin-wagging with the burly Irishman who ran the place, and occasionally some companionship from one of the buxom wenches who served drinks.
If Tall Dog was going to live the life of a mountain man, going to Red Mike’s was a vital part of his education.
The youngster seemed to be having second thoughts about it. He said, “Perhaps it might be better if I went back to the stable where we left our horses and gear.”
“Don’t you want to see Red Mike’s for yourself, after hearin’ me talk about the place?”
“Is it noisy and crowded and smells bad like the rest of this city?”
“Well . . .” Preacher grinned. “Some might say that’s a pretty fittin’ description.”
“You go ahead, Preacher,” Tall Dog said. “I will await your return at the stable.”
Preacher wasn’t going to argue with him, although to be honest, he was a little disappointed. He’d wanted to see what sort of reaction Tall Dog would provoke from the other customers in the tavern.
After all, it wasn’t every day a fella laid eyes on a half-Viking, half-Crow warrior carrying around a conquistador’s sword.
But the decision was Tall Dog’s to make, so Preacher was about to say that he’d see him back at the stable when Tall Dog suddenly stood up a little straighter and frowned. That made him tower over his surroundings even more than before.
“Something wrong?” Preacher asked.
“That woman. I have never seen anyone such as her before.”
Preacher looked where Tall Dog was looking, across the street to where a young woman was hurrying along. She wore a gray dress and a dark blue cloak with the hood thrown back to reveal tumbling waves of auburn hair.
From this distance and angle, Preacher couldn’t see her eyes, but he was willing to bet that they were green and that she had a scattering of freckles across her face. He knew an Irish colleen when he saw one.
“Do you know her?” Tall Dog asked.
“You reckon I know everybody in St. Louis? I never saw her before, but I agree, she’s mighty easy on the eyes.”
“Her hair . . . it’s so bright. Like the late afternoon, when the sun is low and the air begins to thicken with the approach of dusk.”
“You know where she’s going?”
Tall Dog’s gaze snapped around to Preacher. “Of course not. Do you?”
“Not for sure, but I can tell she’s an Irish lass, so she’s probably on her way to Red Mike’s.”
She might not be headed anywhere near the tavern, Preacher thought, but Tall Dog didn’t know that.
“Perhaps I should go there after all.”
“Maybe you should. And even if that gal ain’t there, some other good-lookin’ wenches will be.”
Tall Dog shook his head. “None to compare with that one.” He looked over the heads of the crowd in the busy street and went on with a note of alarm entering his voice, “I don’t see her anymore.”
“Let’s see if we can find her.”
Tall Dog didn’t say anything else about skipping Red Mike’s. He strode along beside Preacher with a determined expression on his face.
The auburn-haired girl had disappeared into the throng of people. Preacher and Tall Dog didn’t spot her again as they made their way toward Red Mike’s.
Preacher honestly believed that they might find her at the tavern, but if they didn’t, that would be all right. Looking for her was just an excuse to get Tall Dog to come along without being stubborn about it.
After leaving Dog outside with a command from Preacher to stay, they paused just inside the tavern’s doorway. Tall Dog looked around, his keen eyes searching intently for the object of his interest.
“I do not see her, Preacher.”
“The place is pretty busy. Maybe you just didn’t notice her. Come on over to the bar with me. We’ll ask Mike if she’s been here.”
Several customers called out Preacher’s name by way of greeting. He grinned and nodded to them.
“It seems as if everyone here knows who you are,” Tall Dog commented.
“Well, I been comin’ here a long time, and sometimes you just want to be—”
Preacher stopped short as a young woman hurried up to him. The neckline of the dress she wore scooped low enough to reveal generous portions of her creamy, ample breasts.
Blond curls tumbled around her face to her shoulders, which were also left partially bare by the garment. She carried a currently empty round tray in her left hand.
“Preacher!” she said. She reached up, wrapped both arms around his neck, and pulled his face down to hers. Her lips pressed against his in a long, urgent kiss.
Whoops of approval erupted from some of the men in the tavern.
When Preacher finally broke the kiss and lifted his head, he saw that Tall Dog was staring at him with one eyebrow cocked quizzically.
“Um, this here is Molly,” Preacher said. “And dang it, girl, I’ve told you before, I’m old enough to be your pa.”
Molly still had her arms around his neck and her body pressed close to his. She grinned and said, “Yeah, but you ain’t my pa.”
Abruptly, her forehead creased in a frown as she went on, “You aren’t my pa, are you, Preacher? I mean, you’ve been coming to St. Louis for a long time, and my ma worked in a place like this . . .” The frown went away and the grin came back. “Oh, well, I don’t care. I’m just glad to see you again, Preacher.”
“Yeah, I, uh, got that idea.” Preacher nodded toward his companion. “Molly, this here is Tall Dog, a good friend o’ mine.”
Molly finally let go of Preacher and boldly surveyed Tall Dog from head to foot. Judging by her expression, she liked what she saw.
“I don’t reckon I’ve ever seen an Indian like you before,” she said.
“That’s because he’s half Norwegian.”
Tall Dog said, “Have you seen a young woman with hair like the late afternoon sun? She was wearing a gray dress and a blue cloak and was headed in this direction.”
The frown reappeared on Molly’s face. “Don’t you know better than to ask a girl about some other girl?”
“He’s lived in the mountains all his life, with his ma’s people,” Preacher said.
Molly let out a disgusted snort. “That’s no excuse. Would he ask some Indian girl if she’d seen some other Indian girl?”
“I doubt that it would cause offense if I did . . .” Tall Dog said with a tentative note in his voice.
“Oh, I’ll bet it would. You’d probably just be too thick-headed to see it, you big—”
From behind the bar, the burly, mustachioed Red Mike called, “If you’re through welcomin’ Preacher and his friend, Molly, I’ve got drinks here that need to be delivered.”
“I have to get back to work,” the blonde said, “so I suppose I’ll just have to forgive you, Tall Dog. That was what Preacher called you, isn’t it?”
She came up on her toes, kissed him on the mouth, and then twirled around to head for the bar and pick up those drinks.
Tall Dog gazed after her with a somewhat stunned expression on his face. After a moment, he said, “Does she always act like that?”
“Fussin’ at you one second and kissin’ you the next?” Preacher laughed. “You really don’t know much about gals, do you?”
“I still say it is different back home.”
“I ain’t gonna waste time arguin’ with you. Come on, let’s talk to Mike.”
On the way to the bar, Preacher paused a few times to greet old friends, although thankfully none of the whiskery, buckskin-clad frontiersmen planted kisses on him as Molly had.
Red Mike’s customers were split about evenly between fur trappers who were just visiting St. Louis but spent most of their time in the mountains or out on the plains and rivermen who lived in town and worked on the docks or the vessels that plied up and down the Mississippi.
Preacher got along all right with the rivermen, for the most part, but he didn’t feel the same kinship with them that he did with other mountain men.
The fur business was in a serious decline. Preacher knew that within a few years it would be difficult for a man to make a living by trapping.
He wasn’t sure what he’d do then, but his wants had always been simple and he’d never had any desire to be rich.
The river, on the other hand, would always be there and would always need men to work on and along it.
Not Preacher, though. He couldn’t stand being tied down even that much.
“Howdy, boys,” Red Mike said as Preacher and Tall Dog reached the bar. “Who’s your friend, Preacher?”
“This is Tall Dog. We’ve been trailin’ together for a spell. His ma’s a Crow, and his pa’s a fella named Olaf Gunnarson who came over here from Norway.”
Mike nodded and said, “I thought you had a bit of a Scandihoovian look about you, son.” The tavernkeeper smiled. “I reckon your ancestors and mine fought each other tooth and nail about a thousand years ago, but you’re sure as blazes welcome here in my tavern today.”
Mike extended a big paw across the bar, and the two men shook. Tall Dog said, “I’ve heard stories from my father about the days when the Vikings went to war against the Irish. Those were epic battles.”
“Aye, so they say. Those days are long past. What can I get you, fellows?”
“Beer for the both of us,” Preacher said, “but I’ll have a shot o’ whiskey with mine.”
Mike hesitated and looked at Tall Dog. “No offense, lad, but I know that some members of your blessed mother’s tribe have a difficult time with spiritous drinks.”
“My father has also told me stories about the mead halls and the prodigious amounts of mead my ancestors could consume. I believe I will be all right to have one mug of beer.”
“Comin’ right up, then,” Mike said as he reached under the bar for a pair of pewter beer steins. He filled them from a keg, set them on the bar in front of Preacher and Tall Dog, and then snagged a bottle of whiskey and an empty glass from a shelf.
Preacher and Tall Dog took hold of the steins and lifted them, but before they could drink, a harsh male voice spoke behind them.
“What the hell is this, Mike?” the man demanded. “Since when do you allow filthy, heathen redskins to drink in your tavern?”
Preacher stopped with his beer stein halfway to his lips. He looked over his shoulder and saw a big, broad-shouldered man standing behind him and Tall Dog.
Preacher could tell by the rough work clothes that the man labored on the docks. He glared at Tall Dog with intense dislike on his beard-stubbled face. Thick black hair fell down over his low brow.
“Back off there, Dechert,” Mike said. “I’ll be havin’ no trouble in here, you know that.”
“If you don’t want trouble, you shouldn’t let savages in here.”
“Take it easy, friend,” Preacher said. His words were civil enough, but his voice held a hard edge.
The riverman called Dechert turned the glare on him. “I know who you are. You don’t scare me, Preacher.”
“Not tryin’ to scare anybody, just don’t want to ruin a peaceful visit to my favorite tavern.”
“It’s my favorite tavern, too, or at least it was until it started stinkin’ of Injun.”
Tall Dog had been looking over his shoulder at the stranger, too, but now he pointedly turned back to the bar in a dismissive gesture.
“I would like to ask you a question,” he said to Mike. “We are looking for a young woman—”
Dechert said, “Keep your dirty redskin hands off the gals around here, you damn—”
As he spoke, he grabbed Tall Dog’s shoulder. Dechert was pretty big, but he had to reach up to do that.
Preacher didn’t wait any longer in the hope that trouble could be averted. It was too late for that now.
He crashed the beer stein in his hand against the left side of Dechert’s head.
The stunning blow was enough to drive the riverman to his knees. Preacher dropped the beer stein and pivoted to throw a left-hand punch into Dechert’s face.
The clout drove the man over backward and left him sprawled senseless on the tavern’s sawdust-littered floor. A couple of men sitting at a nearby table had had to jump up and back to keep him from crashing into them.
“Blast it, Preacher!” Red Mike burst out. “Why’d you—”
“Didn’t figure you’d want one of your customers gutted right here in the tavern,” Preacher interrupted to say. “That’s what would’ve happened mighty quick-like if he’d kept on tryin’ to manhandle Tall Dog.”
With a solemn nod, Tall Dog said, “I would have been forced to defend myself.”
“Well, it ain’t over yet. Look out!”
Preacher heeded Mike’s warning and jerked his head around in time to see a flung chair sailing through the air at him. He didn’t have time to duck, so he threw an arm up and deflected the chair so that it clattered against the bar.
However, that wasn’t the end of it. Four men who had been sitting at a table had surged to their feet. One of them had thrown the chair. Since their clothing marked them as rivermen, too, Preacher assumed they were Dechert’s friends.
One of them confirmed that by shouting, “We can’t let him get away with what he did to Otto! Get the cowardly schwein!”
They charged at Preacher and Tall Dog. A few men who happened to be in the way scrambled to get clear.
Red Mike yelled curses and told the men to stop, but they ignored him. Preacher and Tall Dog turned to meet the charge.
Tall Dog reached up and closed his hand around the grips of the sheathed sword on his back, but Preacher snapped, “Leave that blade where it is. We don’t want to kill these idiots.”
Tall Dog glanced at him, shrugged, and let go of the sword.
The way the attackers were clumped together, Preacher and Tall Dog couldn’t separate them and tackle two apiece. They all came together in a knot of slugging, flailing fists.
Preacher didn’t bother much with trying to fend off any blows. He just absorbed the punishment and dished out some in return.
The battle continued in that furious fashion for a moment, until one of the rivermen worked his way around behind Tall Dog and jumped on his back. He wrapped his arms around Tall Dog’s neck and his legs around the warrior’s waist and yelled, “I got him! I got him!”
Tall Dog reached back with both hands, grabbed the man’s ears, and twisted them as he bent forward at the waist. The man howled in pain and his arms and legs loosened.
Quick as a flash, Tall Dog shifted his grip and caught hold of the man under the arms. With a powerful heave, he sent the man flying over his head to crash into another of the attackers.
A few feet away, Preacher caught one of his opponents with a straight, hard right to the face and felt the satisfying crunch as the man’s nose flattened under the impact. Hot blood spurted across the mountain man’s knuckles. The man reeled back, clutching his nose and groaning as crimson streamed from it.
That exchange gave the other riverman just enough time to set himself and hammer a punch into Preacher’s midsection. Preacher’s belly was ridged with muscle and hard as a washboard, but the man who hit him was large and powerfully built. The blow was enough to drive Preacher back against the bar.
With little room to maneuver, Preacher wasn’t able to avoid the man’s lunge. The punch also knocked most of the breath out of him, so he didn’t react quite as quickly as he normally would have.
As a result, the riverman was able to clamp both hands around Preacher’s neck and bend him back even more. He aimed a knee at Preacher’s groin in a vicious thrust.
Preacher expected that and twisted the lower half of his body just in time to avoid the worst of it. The riverman’s knee caught him on the thigh. That made Preacher’s leg go numb for a moment, but the choking hands held him up so he didn’t collapse.
Bright red rockets began to go off behind Preacher’s eyes. He knew the lack of air would make him lose consciousness in another minute or so, and that would end the fight.
Even though his muscles didn’t want to obey his commands, he brought his arms up and hacked down with the edges of both hands, driving them against the spots where his opponent’s shoulders met his neck.
That paralyzing double blow made the man let go of Preacher’s neck. He stumbled as he tried to stay on his feet. Preacher lifted a right uppercut from his knees.
It landed under the man’s chin. His feet came off the floor, his legs flew up, and he slammed down on his back. Blood leaked from his mouth. Preacher spotted something lying in the sawdust next to the man that might be the bitten-off tip of his tongue.
Keep your tongue behind your teeth during a fight. That could be a painful lesson to learn, Preacher thought as he leaned on the bar and tried to catch his breath.
All four of their attackers were down, either unconscious or bloody and moaning. Dechert, who had started the fight by harassing Tall Dog, still lay senseless in a puddle of spilled beer. But at least it was over.
Then Preacher realized that wasn’t the case at all. Half a dozen more rivermen were on their feet and advancing deliberately toward the bar. Three of them held large knives, while the other three gripped makeshift clubs that were actually chair legs wrenched free.
Preacher glanced at a nearby table where several frontiersmen sat. He knew one of them and asked, “You boys plan on takin’ cards in this game, Cullers?”
The man grinned back at him. “Why would we do that?” he wanted to know. “We’re havin’ too much fun watchin’ you hand these river rats their needin’s!”
“These men are armed, Preacher,” Tall Dog said. He reached up, closed his hand around the sword again, and cocked an eyebrow.
“Go ahead,” Preacher said.
Steel whispered against leather as Tall Dog drew the Espada ancha.
The sight of the sword’s broad blade made the gang of rivermen hesitate for a second. The weapon gave Tall Dog greater reach . . . but there were six of them.
Besides, they had made it obvious to everyone in the tavern that they were entering the fray. They couldn’t back down now, not without injuring their pride.
With sudden, harsh yells, they charged the tall warrior.
Preacher stepped back, figuring he might as well watch the show, too.
The man with the longest club leaped over a fallen combatant and reached Tall Dog first. He gripped the bludgeon in both hands and swung it with speed and power.
Tall Dog swatted it aside with a flick of the blade that seemed effortless. He could have back-handed the sword across the man’s throat and opened it up with the razor-keen edge, but instead, he slapped the flat of the blade against the man’s head.
That made the man stumble, fall, and pitch forward to ram his head against the bar. He dropped senseless to the floor.
Tall Dog shifted to the side so he wouldn’t trip over the man he’d just put out of the fight. Again, he didn’t seem to hurry, but he was standing there in one place and then he wasn’t, in less than the blink of an eye.
That caused the man who tried to rip him open wi. . .
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