Johnstone Country. Shoot Straight or Die. Scottish cattleman Duff MacCallister staked a claim for his life in America—and reserves a righteous anger for those who break the law in this smoking six-gun shootout from National Bestselling Authors William W. and J.A. Johnstone . . . Thanks to a new line, the railroad has come to Chugwater, Wyoming, bridging the gap between the small town and the larger city of Cheyenne. Now Duff MacCallister can transport his 250 Black Angus cattle herd with ease by Iron Horse instead of enduring a two-day traildrive. But the day after depositing $15,000 in his Cheyenne account, Duff learns that bank president Jeremy Brinks embezzled every cent—totalling $65,000—and then guilt-ridden, committed suicide. Jeremy wasn’t just Duff’s banker, but his longtime friend. The widow Brinks doesn’t believe her husband was a thief or that he killed himself. Duff agrees. And after getting an appointment as Territorial Marshal, he’s aiming his barrel at putting every double-crossing lawman, red-handed outlaw, and corrupt businessmen he can rustle up behind bars—or six feet under . . . Live Free. Read Hard.
Release date: May 25, 2021
Publisher: Pinnacle Books
Print pages: 304
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William W. Johnstone
Elmer, who was his foreman, came riding over to him. “You ain’t moved in so long, I didn’t know but what you was a statue someone put up here,” he teased.
“Sure now, ’n what would be the need of my moving when there’s a good man handling things?” Duff asked.
Elmer smiled. “I’m a good man all right, ’n I’m glad you could see it.”
“I was talking about Wang.”
“Wang Chow? Why, that heathen wouldn’t know the difference betwixt a cow ’n goat iffen I wasn’t here to tell him.”
Duff knew that Elmer calling the Chinaman a heathen was all in jest, for though he often used that sobriquet when referring to Wang Chow, the two men were actually very close friends.
“Perhaps Wang is a good man because you made him a good man,” Duff suggested.
“Yeah, now, that’s the truth of it,” Elmer replied.
“What’s the count?” Duff asked.
“We’ve got four hunnert ’n twenty rounded up so far,” Elmer said. “I cipher that out to figure we’ll need eighty more before we have the full gather. We’ll have ’em all in before dark, so’s we can leave first thing tomorrah mornin’.”
“I’ve scheduled two special trains with fifteen cattle cars each, for the shipping of the cattle. One will be here at eleven, and the other at twelve. You’ll have to see to the loading. The lass ’n I will be for taking the ten o’clock passenger train so we’ll be in Cheyenne before the cattle arrive.”
“So, Miss Meagan is goin’ with you, is she?”
“Aye, ’tis a trip she’s been looking forward to.”
Elmer chuckled. “No more ’n you, I’m bettin’.”
“Sure ’n ’tis a smart fellow you are,” Duff replied with a laugh.
“Well, don’t you be worryin’ none ’bout them cows, on account of me ’n Wang will get the trains loaded,” Elmer said.
The cabin had been abandoned when the four men found it, and it showed the disrepair from being a long time empty, with broken windows and missing doors. The only improvement they had made was to get the stove back in working order.
Bart Jenkins used his hat to protect his hand as he lifted the coffeepot off that same stove and poured coffee into his tin cup. There were three others around the stove. Moe Conyers, a cowboy who had been fired from the last three ranches where he had worked. Slim Gardner, whose honest work had been minimal, from teamster to mopping the floors in a saloon. The third was a black man, and nobody knew much about his background, nor did they even know his name. He identified himself as Black Liberty, but Jenkins was almost certain that wasn’t his real name.
“How much money are we talking about?” Slim asked.
“It’s hard to tell,” Bart said. “It’s a bank. How much money is in a bank?”
“I don’t know,” Moe said. “I ain’t never robbed me no bank before. I mean, you can get yourself shot holdin’ up a bank.”
“You won’t be holdin’ up the bank,” Bart said. “Neither you, nor Black Lib.”
“What? Why not? You ain’t leavin’ us out, are you?”
“No,” Bart answered. “I’ve got a job for both of you. Black, they’s a saloon in Hillsdale called the Hog Waller in the town, ’n right acrost the street from it is Sikes Hardware Store. They’s a bench in front of that store, ’n that’s where I’m goin’ to want you to be, ’cause you can tie your horse off right there. Don’t worry none ’bout bein’ colored. They’s two, maybe three families of colored people in town, so nobody will pay you no never mind. You sit there while Moe goes into the saloon.
“Moe, what you’re goin’ to do when you go into the saloon is commence a-shootin’ up the place, but you better watch out for the bartender on account of he’s likely to have him a shotgun under the bar.
“Don’t stay long enough for anyone to shoot back, then you run outta the saloon, climb up on your horse, ’n ride outta town, headin’ north. They’s only the sheriff ’n one deputy in town. Soon as they hear the shootin’, they’ll more ’n likely come a-runnin’ after you.
“Black, soon as you see the two lawmen chasin’ after Moe, you get on your horse ’n chase after them. Moe, after you’ve come out of town a little ways, find yourself a rock to get behind, ’n wait for ’em. With Black comin’ up behind ’em, you’ll have the sheriff ’n his deputy caught betwixt the two of you ’n you can ambush ’em. Oughta take no more ’n you two to shoot the sheriff ’n his deputy. While you two is takin’ care o’ them, me ’n Slim will ride in ’n rob the bank. Won’t have no problem with it, cause the sheriff and deputy will more ’n likely be dead by then. Ever’one else will still be thinkin’ ’bout the shootin’ that happened in the saloon.
“We’ll meet back at the cabin, but ride aroun’ a lot so’s to throw anyone that might be a-chasin’ you off track. Don’t be a-leadin’ ’em to the cabin. That way we’ll always have a place to hide out,” Bart said.
“What time we goin’ to do this tomorrah?” Moe asked.
“Right after noon. That way there’ll be some customers in the saloon, but not likely so many as to cause you any problems when you commence to shootin’ the place up.”
“Damn if that ain’t about the best damned idee I’ve ever heard,” Moe said.
Biff Johnson, owner and proprietor of the Fiddler’s Green Saloon, was opening a little earlier than he did on most days. He had told Duff he would be there when they came into town this morning. As he reached for the coffeepot, he knocked something from the shelf, and reaching down, he retrieved the pennant. Holding the pennant in his hand for a moment, as if studying it. It was a symbol of his past, a thirty-three inch by twenty-seven inch, swallow-tailed flag of the kind that had been handstitched by New York City seamstresses during the Civil War. It featured a field of thirteen red and white alternating stripes and a blue canton with thirty-five stenciled gilt stars, forming a circle within a circle, plus four more stars, one in each corner of the canton.
As the former Sergeant Major Benjamin Franklin Johnson held the flag, Custer’s last battle came to him with a clarity and intensity as great as it was on the day it happened.
Custer had already detached Benteen’s Battalion, as well as the trains, then he continued north, along with Reno’s Battalion. When they reached the South Fork of the Little Bighorn River, he held up his hand and stopped the column. “Major Reno!”
Reno came to the front, saluted, and reported to Custer.
“Major, I want you to take your three companies across the river and attack the village from the south. Maintain pressure against them. I will go a little farther north, cross the river, and attack from the other side.” Custer smiled. “This way we will have the devils between us.”
“Sir, do you think it is wise to split your command?” Reno asked.
“Major, you will do as I have ordered,” Custer said firmly.
“Yes, sir,” Reno said with a salute then rode to the back of the column to give orders to his battalion.
“Sergeant Major Johnson!” Custer called after Reno left.
“Yes, sir?” Biff answered.
“I want you to detach yourself from Captain Keogh, and go with Major Reno.”
“But, sir, I would rather be with my own troops.”
“I know you would, Sergeant Major, and I would rather have you with us, but Reno is untried. I would feel better knowing that you were with him.”
“Yes, sir,” Biff replied, the disappointment obvious in his voice.
Custer continued toward the village, while Reno, as ordered, pressed against the bottom end of the village where the Hunkpapa Lakota were located.
After his first engagement with the Indians, Reno dismounted his men and had them form a skirmish line.
“Sir, the colonel ordered us to attack the village,” Biff said. “We aren’t attacking, we’re defending. We’re cavalry, sir, we should stay mounted.”
“When you get your own command, Sergeant Major, you can make the decisions,” Reno replied in a high-pitched, frightened voice. “But you aren’t in command, are you? I am. Now form a skirmish line like I told you to.”
“We won’t be able to sustain a skirmish line,” Biff said.
“Do as I tell you, Sergeant Major!” Reno ordered.
The result of Reno’s incompetent leadership was exactly as Biff had predicted. Because Reno’s troops lost their mobility, the Indians were able to maneuver around the skirmish line. What was supposed to be an attack became first a defense line, then, as Reno couldn’t hold it, he ordered his men to fall back toward the river, where their defense was even less effective. As the fighting intensified, he lost his nerve and ordered a retreat.
Reno completely abandoned his men, thinking only of his own safety. Instead of an orderly retreat, it became a rout. Many of his men did not make it across the river, where Biff, Lieutenant Tom Weir, and a couple of the other officers finally managed to establish a defense.
When Benteen arrived, Biff thought their units would merge then move forward to relieve the pressure on Custer. There, he saw the body of First Sergeant Frank Varden, Biff’s closest friend in the regiment, and he felt a particular loss seeing Frank lying among the many wounded and dead. Biff dismounted and kneeled next to his friend.
“Biff, when me ’n you get out of the army, what do you say we open us up a saloon?”
“Sounds good to me,” Biff replied. “What’ll we call it? Johnson and Varden?”
“Nah, we’ll give it a good name. We’ll call it Fiddler’s Green.”
“My friend,” Biff said quietly. “You’re at Fiddler’s Green now. Save a place for me. I’ll be along one of these days.”
As he turned over First Sergeant Varden’s body, he found a guidon Varden had tucked into his shirt.
“This guidon,” Biff said quietly in the saloon, looking at the one he was holding in his hand. As he put the swallow-tailed flag back in its place, the memories of that battle faded away, sight and sound, tone and tint.
He had opened his saloon and, as Varden had suggested, he called it Fiddler’s Green. Cavalry legend has it that anyone who has ever served as a cavalryman will, after they die, stop by Fiddler’s Green—a shady glen where the grass is good and a nearby stream of cool water provides for the horses. There, cavalrymen from all wars and generations will drink beer, chew tobacco, smoke their pipes, and visit. They will regale one another with tales of derring-do until that last syllable of recorded time, at which moment they will bid each other a last good-bye before departing for their final and eternal destination.
The front door opened and four people walked in—Duff, Meagan Parker, Elmer, and Wang.
“You mean the sheriff ain’t closed this place as a health hazard yet?” Elmer called out.
“I’ve got my rats and roaches trained,” Biff replied. “They run away and hide anytime a sheriff’s deputy comes in here.”
“Now, you see there, Wang? If roaches can be taught, why I bet even you could larn somethin’,” Elmer teased.
“If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself,” Wang replied.
“That’s one o’ them things that heathen feller, Confusion, is always sayin’ ain’t it?”
“Confucius,” Wang corrected.
“Well, hell, ain’t that what I done just said?”
Meagan laughed. “Elmer, I suggest that you stop now before you get yourself in any deeper.”
“Yeah, well, I was goin’ to stop anyhow. I thought we come in here for a drink.
“Use my table,” Biff invited.
Duff, Meagan, Elmer, and Wang sat at Biff’s private table having a drink. There had been a time when a few of the customers had questioned Wang Chow’s right to be in Fiddler’s Green, but Biff had let them know, in no uncertain terms, that Wang would always be welcome. And because Fiddler’s Green was a particularly nice saloon, no stigma was ever attached to a woman being there. Meagan felt quite comfortable in the environment.
“Listen, if you happen to see one of them silver hatbands, I’d like you to buy it for me,” Elmer said. “I can give you some money for it now, or you can just tell me how much it costs, ’n I’ll pay you when you get back. I think one o’ them silver hatbands would make me look just real elegant.”
“Elegant, you say. Aren’t you displaying a bit of vanity there, Elmer?” Meagan asked, a little laugh showing that she was teasing.
“Well, here’s the thing, Miss Meagan. If I don’t brag on myself, who will? You know Duff ain’t goin’ to do it, ’n the heathen here, why he don’t even know what braggin’ is.”
Meagan laughed. “You do have a point. I’ll look for it, for you, Elmer. I’m going to be doing quite a bit of shopping for my store.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Elmer said.
“What about you, Wang? What could we be getting for you from the big city?” Duff asked.
“I want nothing.”
“How long do you think you’ll be gone?” Biff asked.
“Two or three days,” Duff said. “You heard the lass. She wants to tarry a bit, ’n I’ll be there with her until she’s done.”
“There’s no need for you to stay with me, Duff. I can get home by myself,” Meagan said.
“Ha, you don’t understand, Miss Meagan. He ain’t worried none ’bout you gettin’ back by your ownself. He’s worried ’bout him gettin’ back by his ownself,” Elmer said, and the others laughed.
Meagan glanced toward the clock. “The train is due within the next half hour. Don’t you think it might be a good idea to go down to the depot now?”
“Aye,” Duff replied. “I’ll be for wantin’ to check on the cattle one more time before we leave, so now’s a good time to do it.”
“Have a good trip, and don’t be doing anything I wouldn’t do,” Biff said as they stood from the table to leave.
“Damn, Biff, you’ve just told ’em they can do anything they want to do, ’cause just what is it that you wouldn’t do?” Elmer teased.
At that same moment, one mile west of Chugwater, Lou Martell, a man of some disrepute, and three others, just as disreputable, were breaking camp.
“You sure this fella we’re lookin’ for is in Chugwater?” Deekus Carlotti asked.
“I read about ’im in a newspaper that picked up a story from the Chugwater Defender. It said a Chinaman named Wang Chow worked for a rancher here, by the name of Duff MacCallister. ’N this Chinaman come from China, so you know it’s the selfsame one.”
Carlotti laughed. “Well hell, don’t all Chinamen come from China?”
“Did you come from Italy?” Martell asked.
“What? No, I was borned in Arkansas.”
“Yeah? Well most of the Chinamans here was borned here, too. But this here Wang Chow was borned in China, ’n he kilt some important people there. Now China has put out a reward of a hunnert thousand dollars to anyone who can bring him in, or kill ’im.”
“Hey, Martell, if we capture this Chinaman, we won’t have to be a-takin’ ’im all the way back to China, will we?”
“No, they’s these fellas in San Francisco called the Dongs, or somethin’ like that. If we can get ’im to them Dongs . . .”
“I think it is Tong,” Gabe Kellis said.
“Yeah, the Tong. Anyway, all we got to do is prove to the Tong that he’s been kilt. We can do that by takin’ his head back to ’em, ’n when we do that, they’ll give us twenty-five thousand dollars,” Martell said.
“Wait, I thought you said this here Chinaman was worth a hunnert thousand dollars.” The protest came from a man named Emmet Willard.
“It’s only a hunnert thousand dollars if we take his head all the way to China,” Martell replied. “Do you really want to do that? Anyhow, when’s the last time you ever had twenty-five thousand dollars?”
“I ain’t never had me no twenty-five thousand dollars.”
“Well, all we got to do to get it is kill us a Chinaman. ’N just how hard do you think that will be?”
“Here’s what I’m worried about, though,” Carlotti said. “If we just up ’n kill ’im, what about the sheriff? Ain’t we liable to have to deal with him on account of we murdered someone?”
“We don’t need to be a-worryin’ none ’bout no sheriff,” Martell said. He held up a piece of paper. “This here paper is a reward from China. All we have to do is show the sheriff this paper.”
“How’s the sheriff goin’ to read it, if it’s in Chinese?” Carlotti asked.
“It’s in Chinese ’n it’s also in American,” Martell said.
Kellis laughed. “There ain’t no such thing as an American language.”
“What the hell do you think we’re talkin’ in now, if it ain’t American?” Martell asked.
“English,” Kellis said. “We’re talkin’ English.”
“Hmm. I allus thought that was the same thing,” Martell said. “All right, boys, put out the fire. We’re a-fixin’ to go into town, ’n make us a lot o’ money.”
As Duff, Meagan, Elmer, and Wang walked toward the depot, they could smell the closely packed cattle from Sky Meadow and hear the almost human bawling cries they were making because the change in their environment made them anxious. Five hundred head of Black Angus cattle had been crowded into the loading pens at the Chugwater Depot.
Duff had sold the cattle to a Kansas City cattle broker, who would take delivery of and pay for them in Cheyenne. The recently built railroad from Ft. Laramie to Cheyenne took its route took through Chugwater. What used to be a two-day hard drive of the cattle had been reduced to a little more than two hours.
The railroad would have put a caboose on one of the leased trains, and he and Meagan could have ridden for no additional cost had he wanted, but he’d passed on the offer. He wanted to be in Cheyenne before the leased trains arrived so he could see to their distribution there. He wasn’t worried about leaving the cattle behind. Elmer and Wang, two of his best men and closest friends, were remaining. Duff was confident they would see to the shipment of the cattle.
“Elmer, as soon as you get the beasties loaded, you and Wang can be for taking a little time off while Meagan and I see to the business in Cheyenne.”
“Now, just what do you think me ’n this heathen can find to do while you two is gone?” Elmer asked.
“Well, I don’t know what you two might find to do, but perhaps Vi Winslow and Mae Lin would have a suggestion,” Duff replied with a smile.
“Oh, yeah. I forgot about them,” Elmer said.
“Elmer, you wouldn’t want me to tell Vi that you had forgotten about her, would you?” Meagan teased.
“No, now, there ain’t no call for you to go ’n do nothin’ like that,” Elmer protested. “She might not never let me have no more o’ them pies she bakes.”
Vi Winslow owned Vi’s Pies, a small, but one of the more successful businesses in Chugwater. She was an attractive widow in her early forties who had shown an interest in Elmer, and that interest was reciprocated.
“Train comes.” Wang didn’t engage in banter, not because he was aloof, but because English was a second language to him.
“What train? I don’t hear no train,” Elmer challenged.
“Train comes,” Wang repeated. “Look.” He pointed north.
There, barely discernable, was a thin ribbon of smoke.
“Oh, yeah. Well sure. I mean if you’re talkin’ about that train, now that you mention it, I see it, too,” Elmer replied. “I just didn’t know which train you were talking about.”
Half an hour later, with good-byes said and final instructions given, Duff and Meagan boarded the train, then took a seat in the day coach, all they would require for a trip less than two hours.
Meagan wasn’t traveling with Duff only because they were friends, though indeed their relationship was quite close. Like Elmer, she was a partner in ownership of the cattle that were being sold, so even if their personal relationship hadn’t been close, she had every right to represent her interest.
“Duff, do you think Elmer and Vi will ever get married?”
Duff chuckled. “I’d not be for knowin’ that, lass, and you have to admit that Elmer is a cantankerous old chancer.”
“’N here you are speakin’ with a wee bit o’ the unfathomable Scottish talk. What would chancer be?” Meagan asked, perfectly mimicking Duff’s Scottish brogue.
“Bha mi a ’smaoineachadh gu robh thu ag ionnsachadh a’ chànain,” Duff said in Scottish-Gaelic.
“Tha mi ag ionnsachadh a ’chànain,” Meagan said, getting exactly the roll and lilt in her response. Then she repeated in English, “I am learning the language.”
Duff laughed. “Sure now lass, ’n your words make me think I’m back in the heather again. Chancer means that Elmer has a wee bit o’ the chicanery about him. But even so, ’tis a good man he is.”
“You’re lucky, no, we’re lucky to have two such”—she paused, searching for the right word—“remarkable men as friends.”
“Aye, lass, we are indeed.”
Shortly after the train left the station, Duff thought about the woman sitting beside him. Back in Scotland there had been Skye McGregor, the woman he had planned to marry. But on the very day before they were to wed, she was murdered by a dishonest sheriff, and that had caused Duff to seek revenge. His success in exacting vengeance forced him to leave Scotland, thus accounting for his presence in America.
He’d thought he would never meet another woman to fill his heart as Skye had done, but to his surprise, Meagan had done just that. Feeling her so close and breathing in her perfume, he could almost believe she was the only woman he had ever felt that way about.
After Elme. . .
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