National bestselling Western authors William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone return with another breakneck, trigger-happy historical western featuring the redoubtable saloon ranger Ben Savage.
JOHNSTONE COUNTRY. ALL SHOTS ON THE HOUSE.
Running a small town saloon is no easy task, even for a former Texas Ranger like Ben Savage. A lot of men get mean after a few shots of hooch. Some get violent. Others get revenge—bloody, bloody revenge . . .
There’s a new stranger in town, and he goes by the name of Lucas Blaine. Some folks say he’s the fastest gun in the West. But Ben Savage don’t put much stock in what folks say—until the killing starts. So far, Blaine has his sights set on just one target: a pretty widow who’s staying with the wife of a Baptist preacher. No one knows what the connection is between the two, but the local sheriff isn’t taking any chances. In the past, he’s relied on Ben Savage to help keep Wolf Creek from becoming target practice for gunslingers. But this time, a woman is involved. And the gunslinger’s about to turn Wolf Creek into a slaughterhouse . . .
Live Free. Read Hard.
Release date: October 25, 2022
Publisher: Pinnacle Books
Print pages: 304
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Slaughter at Wolf Creek
William W. Johnstone
“It don’t look like much of a town,” Jack Ramsey felt inspired to comment. “I don’t see but two saloons.”
“Yonder’s the bank,” Shorty Cobb said. “At least they got one.” He paused a few moments, then said, “They’ve got a jail, too. So I reckon that means they’ve got a sheriff.”
“Nice lookin’ hotel,” Paul Porter commented, “fancy name, too—River House Hotel, right across the street from the church.”
“Well, let’s look it over,” Reese said and nudged his horse with his heels. “Then we’ll get us something to drink and maybe some dinner.” They continued on up the street past the Golden Rail Saloon.
“Maybe I’ll just wait right here for you,” Hutch joked as they looked it over. “You fellers oughta be able to go see the dad-blamed bank without me.” It was the kind of remark expected from Hutch.
“This’un comin’ up next looks more like the one they built for you, Hutch,” Shorty said. “The Lost Coyote, they’ve probably been waitin’ for you to show up.”
“Well, I don’t wanna disappoint ’em,” Hutch shot back. “If I don’t get a drink of likker pretty soon, I think I might throw a fit.”
“If you do,” Shorty said, “we’ll handle it the same way Porter took care of that ol’ hound dog that used to follow him around when it took a fit.” His remark brought a chuckle from the gang.
“I’ll even do the job for ya, Hutch,” Paul Porter cracked. “It wouldn’t be as hard for me to do it as it was when I put that ol’ hound dog down.”
Everyone laughed but Reese, and that was only because his mind was concentrating on the bank as they slow-walked their horses past it. A simple white frame building, it appeared to be an easy nut to crack. From the look of it, he doubted it had a safe with a time lock. By the same token, he would be surprised if the bank kept a great amount of cash on hand. But, while the payday might not be great, it was better than nothing, and the risk involved was minimal. So far, he liked what he had seen. He had never heard of Buzzard’s Bluff before they rode in today. He and his gang just happened upon it while following a trail north along the Navasota River. His intention had been to follow it until they reached Wolf Creek, then he was going to head east to Madisonville to spend the night. He figured the fact that he had never heard of Buzzard’s Bluff was likely because it was a young town. And if they had a sheriff, he was not likely a highly qualified one, and probably had no help in enforcing the law. When he conveyed those thoughts to Paul Porter, Porter was not sure he agreed with him.
“Look at the buildings on this street,” Porter said. “Do they look like new buildings to you?” He didn’t wait for Reese’s answer. “We just ain’t ever heard nothin’ about a place named Buzzard’s Bluff ’cause we ain’t ever operated in this part of Texas. I don’t know about you, but I expect it’s been eight or ten years since I rode up the Navasota River past Navasota. I just wonder if the bank has change for a dollar. Might not be worth foolin’ with.”
“They’re all worth foolin’ with,” Reese replied, “’specially if there ain’t much risk in it.”
When they reached the stable at the top of the street, Reese said, “There was a dinin’ room beside that hotel. They oughta still be open for dinner right now. You wanna ride back down there and get somethin’ to eat?”
“Won’t likely be able to get a drink of likker in there,” Hutch replied.
“The food might be better’n what we’d get in a saloon,” Jack Ramsey said. “You never know what you’re gonna get in a saloon.”
“Yeah, but if you drink enough before you start eatin’, you don’t care that much,” Hutch insisted.
“Damn it, Hutch,” Ramsey replied, “sounds like you’re wantin’ to start your drinkin’ a might early. We ain’t et no dinner yet and we’ve still got a good piece of ridin’ to do before we get to Madisonville.”
Reese interrupted their argument. “I’m thinkin’ it don’t make no sense to ride all the way over to Madisonville when we got a town right here. We might as well stay here tonight.”
“Well, that sure makes sense to me,” Shorty declared. “How ’bout it, Reese? You thinkin’ about makin’ camp by the river, or stayin’ in the hotel?”
“I’m thinkin’ I’d like to find out a little bit more about that bank,” Reese answered. “We mighta just rode into this town outta blind luck. I’d like to find out if it’s as easy as it looks. So, I favor gittin’ a room in the hotel and leavin’ our horses at that stable tonight. We can check out both saloons tonight, and we oughta get a look at the sheriff. If everything looks all right, we can hit that bank in the mornin’.” He was already speculating that it would be pretty difficult for the sheriff to mount a posse to go after five outlaws. He would know more about the town after an evening at the saloons.
“I reckon that decides it then,” Ramsey said. “Let’s go ahead and see if we can get some rooms, and then we’ll eat in the dinin’ room. I expect we oughta do that first before we take our horses to the stable, in case the dinin’ room’s fixin’ to close.”
“I think I feel a fit comin’ on,” Hutch complained. Reese always talked in terms of what he, personally, was going to do, but it was just his way. There was no questioning his authority. He was the boss, and what he decided to do, every one of the other four followed suit. “I reckon I can hold that fit off a little while longer,” Hutch declared when he realized no one was paying any attention to his remarks. With the decision made, they turned their horses around and rode back to the River House and dismounted.
Rob Parker, the hotel desk clerk, looked up in surprise when the five men walked into the lobby. “Can I help you gentlemen?”
“Maybe you can,” Reese Salter answered. “That is, if you’ve got some vacant beds at a reasonable rate. My men and I could use a night sleepin’ on a bed for a change, a good meal, and a quiet place to get a drink of whiskey. Can you fix us up with that?”
“Yes, sir, I think I can,” Rob replied. “Just for the one night?” Reese said that it was, so Rob said, “I can give you a room rate of a dollar a night, and there’s one double bed in each room, but it depends on how many you intend to sleep to a bed.”
“That seems reasonable enough,” Reese said. “We’ll take three rooms.” He figured the other four men could sleep double and he’d take a room alone. “That’s three dollars, right?”
Rob hesitated a moment before replying. “Well, there’s usually an extra charge of twenty-five cents for each additional person in the room, but we’ve got plenty of empty rooms right now. So three dollars for one night will be all right.” He turned the register around for Reese to sign. “You can sign for your party of five, if you like, Mister . . .”
“Hey, Reese,” Hutch interrupted. “Ask him if the dinin’ room is still open for dinner.”
Reese turned to give Hutch a look of disgust for yelling out his name before he turned back to the desk clerk. “Smith,” he answered Rob’s question, “Reese Smith. Is the dinin’ room still open?”
Rob took the three dollars Reese handed him and said, “Yes, sir, Mr. Smith, they don’t close for another hour. Like most hotels, we ask that you not wear your guns in the dining room. If you don’t want to leave them in your room, there’s a table in the dining room where you can leave your weapons while you eat.” He reached in the cabinet on the wall behind him and took out three keys and handed them to Reese. “They’re the first three rooms at the top of the stairs,” Rob said.
Reese held onto the keys until they went back outside to get their saddlebags to take up to the rooms. Then he put one of the keys in his pocket and casually tossed the other two at the four of them. Like schoolboys, Hutch, Shorty, and Porter scrambled for the keys as if it was a competition. Jack Ramsey, the oldest of the five men, refused to participate in the contest. He was fortunate in that Porter caught one of the keys, so he picked Jack to share his room. Unfortunately for Shorty, Hutch caught the other key. “Looks like it’s you and me in my room,” Hutch said with a grin.
“I’ll be damned,” Shorty replied. “I’ll go back in there and give that feller another dollar for my own room. I remember that night in Sherman when you threw up all that whiskey in the bed and you was so drunk you didn’t know the door was open on your other end, too.”
“That was just on account of some bad likker they sold us at that saloon,” Hutch insisted. “You know it’s bad likker when it gets your bowels in an uproar.”
“It didn’t affect nobody else that way,” Shorty replied.
Reese shook his head impatiently. “You can sleep in my room, Shorty,” he said.
“’Preciate it, Reese,” Shorty stated sincerely.
They took their saddlebags and rifles up to the rooms, then went back downstairs to the dining room where they were met at the door by Lacy James, the manager. Taking one look at the five rough-looking individuals, Lacy began her speech about the dining room’s policy on firearms, but Reese interrupted. “We know,” he said and unbuckled his gun belt. The other four men followed suit. “Fellow at the hotel told us you wouldn’t feed us if we didn’t take ’em off.”
“He said you had to start doin’ that ’cause the food was so bad that folks was shootin’ at the cook,” Hutch remarked. “Is there any truth to that?”
His comment caused Lacy to chuckle. Concerned at first sight of the rough-looking crew of strangers, she decided they only looked like trouble. “I’ll tell Myrtle what you said. I’m sure she’ll take extra care when she loads your plate.” She led them to the big table in the center of the room. “You fellows might have a little more room here. Everybody drinkin’ coffee?” Everybody was, so she said, “Cindy will be taking care of you. I’ll go help her get some coffee out here.”
“I’m mighty glad Cindy’s gonna take care of us,” Hutch responded as Lacy started toward the kitchen. “Maybe we’d better eat something first, though.” Lacy pretended she didn’t hear him. His companions had long since acquired the habit of ignoring the constant drivel that came out of his mouth, so his effort passed without a comment.
“I’ll help you take five coffees out,” Lacy said to Cindy when she went into the kitchen. “I think those boys would be better off eating dinner at The Golden Rail.”
“Who are they?” Cindy asked and walked to the door to take a look at them.
“I don’t know,” Lacy answered. “They look like typical saddle tramps. I’m glad Mack is still eating his dinner.”
“Well, I hope they don’t cause any trouble,” Cindy said, “since there’s five of ’em.”
“Oh, I doubt they’ll cause any trouble,” Lacy said then, aware that she had caused Cindy some concern. “They just looked like they’d be more at home in the saloon. We’ll serve ’em up some good food and get ’em outta here real quick.”
The two women took the coffee out and placed it on the table. “We’re serving beef stew and cornbread for dinner today,” Cindy told them. “If you don’t want that, we can give you some biscuits and ham.” She looked around the group and all opted for the beef stew. “Myrtle makes pretty good beef stew,” she continued. “You can ask the sheriff what he thinks of it.” Her remark was met with questioning looks from all five. She nodded toward the kitchen door and the man getting up from the small table next to it.
With a pretty good idea why Cindy had made the unusual statement, Mack Bragg got up from the table, even though he had planned to sit there for another cup of coffee. He walked over to the big table. “Howdy, boys. What brings you fellows into our little town?”
Reese answered him. “Howdy, Sheriff. I saw you sittin’ by yourself back in the corner, but I didn’t notice the badge till you got up. We’re just passin’ through on our way to Waco. We decided Buzzard’s Bluff looks like a nice little town, so we decided to sleep in the hotel tonight and get a couple of good meals, and maybe visit the saloon tonight. Which one do you recommend?”
“Depends on what you’re looking for,” Mack told him. “They’re both good saloons. The Golden Rail is a little noisier, and the Lost Coyote caters more toward the local folks. They’re both run by honest men.” He paused and glanced at Lacy. “I should say honest men and woman. Anyway, I hope you have a nice peaceful evenin’, and Cindy’s right, the food here is mighty good.”
“Why, thank you very much, Sheriff,” Reese said. “That’s right hospitable of you. We plan to have a good time tonight, but we ain’t here to cause anybody any trouble. Ain’t none of us figurin’ on seein’ the inside of your jail tonight.”
Mack chuckled. “I’m glad to hear that,” he said. “I druther not work tonight, myself. Enjoy your dinner.” He turned and walked to the outside entrance with Lacy and stopped by the door. “You want me to hang around till they’re finished?” He asked, speaking softly.
“I really don’t think that’s necessary,” Lacy replied. “I think we were just over-reacting, judging a book by its cover, I guess.”
“Well, you know I ain’t very far away,” Mack said. “If you step outside the door and holler, I might hear you down at the jail,” he joked. “I’ll be outside on the street,” he said.
Lacy was right in her assessment of the five strangers. They had no intention of causing any trouble in her dining room. They were noisy, but not raucous, content to enjoy a good meal. When they finished, they paid up and complimented the cook. Even Cindy was comfortable with their behavior. Outside, they climbed on their horses and rode up to the stable and left their horses with Henry Barnes for the night. “Which one of them saloons you wanna try first?” Hutch asked.
“Might as well try the first one from here,” Shorty said. “The one they named after you, Hutch, the Lost Coyote. That all right with the rest of ya?” he asked, but he was looking at Reese for his okay.
“Don’t make no difference,” Reese said. “Might as well hit the first one we come to.”
It was a typically slow day in the Lost Coyote. The small group of regulars who usually ate dinner at the saloon had all finished a plate of Annie Grey’s sliced ham with red beans and rice and returned to their regular activities. Only Tuck Tucker and Ham Greeley had remained to have an after-dinner drink. They stood at the end of the bar talking to Tiny Davis, the bartender, and watching Clarice and Ruby help Annie pick up the dinner dishes and clean the tables. “Where’s Ben and Rachel?” Tuck asked, since it was customary to see one, or both, of them in the saloon.
“Rachel took Ben back to the office after dinner,” Tiny said. “She’s tryin’ to show him how to do the books, in case she gets sick or something.” He chuckled then said, “Ben told her she ain’t allowed to get sick. He don’t like bookwork.”
“Hell,” Tuck declared. “There ain’t nothin’ to learn. I just keep track of my costs and expenses for the harness shop in my head. I don’t keep no books.”
“Everybody ain’t got the head for figures like you do, Tuck,” Ham commented and winked at Tiny. “You oughta know that.”
The little red-haired man drew himself up to his full sixty-one-and-a-half inches. “You might think you’re japin’ me,” he said, “but I have found that to be a fact.”
“Seems like if you’ve got such a sharp brain, I wouldn’t win so much offa you when we play them two-handed poker games,” Ham taunted.
“Shoot,” Tuck replied. “If I didn’t let you win a few hands, you’d quit playing with me. Ain’t that right, Tiny?” Tiny didn’t reply. He winked at Clarice instead, knowing she heard Tuck’s remark as she and Ruby walked past the bar on their way upstairs after helping Annie. When business was slow, as it was today, the two women usually went to their rooms to rest up for the busy time after supper. They had no sooner disappeared at the top of the steps when Tuck said, “Looks like business is pickin’ up, Tiny.” Tiny turned to look toward the front door to see what Tuck was referring to. Two men, strangers to him, pushed through the batwing doors, followed by three more a moment later.
Reese paused a few seconds to look the room over. Seeing no one in the saloon but the two men talking to the bartender, he walked over to the bar. “Howdy,” he called out as he approached. “Looks to me like you could use some business.”
“You got that right,” Tiny answered him. “Whaddaya gonna have?”
“Me and my boys have been ridin’ for a long time without hittin’ a town,” Reese replied. “So we’re in need of some genuine rye whiskey.”
“I can fix you right up,” Tiny said. “You want it at the bar, or at a table?”
“We’re gonna need a full bottle,” Reese answered, “so we’ll sit down.” He looked around to find his men had already selected a table. Tiny reached under the bar and took out an unopened bottle of rye whiskey. He held it up for Reese to see. “Yeah, that looks like the real stuff,” he said. So, Tiny opened the bottle and handed it to him. Then he picked up five glasses and followed Reese over to the table.
“You fellows ever been to Buzzard’s Bluff before?” Tiny asked. “I know you ain’t ever been in here before.”
“Never even knew there was a town called Buzzard’s Bluff,” Jack answered him.
“That’s right,” Reese said, “we’re just here for the night. Then we’ll be on our way to Waco in the mornin’.”
“What you goin’ to Waco for?” Tuck asked, as was his custom.
“To mind our own business,” Hutch said.
“Don’t pay him no mind,” Reese was quick to say. “He’s always japin’. We’re going up there to talk to a feller that needs a crew to move a herd of cattle.”
“So you’re cowhands,” Tiny said. “We get some fellows from the Double-D in here right regular. You know any of them boys?”
“Can’t say as I do,” Reese replied, trying to switch Tiny to some other subject. He saw his opportunity when the door in the back of the saloon opened, and Rachel walked in. “Well, now,” he remarked, “the scenery’s gittin’ better in here for a fact. Does she work here?”
“She’s the owner,” Tiny said, then corrected himself. “I mean she’s half-owner.”
“Her and her husband own it?” Reese asked, still eyeing Rachel openly.
“Nah,” Tiny told him, “Rachel ain’t married. She’s in a partnership with Ben Savage, and they make a mighty good team.”
“Is that a fact?” He looked back toward the bar where Tuck had returned, and he and Ham were apparently arguing over something. “One of them two?” Reese asked.
“Lord, no,” Tiny replied, chuckling. “Her partner’s a retired Texas Ranger. Funny coincidence, the original owner was a retired Texas Ranger, and Rachel managed the saloon for him, fellow by the name of Jim Vickers, but she weren’t a partner. Vickers died and left this saloon to Ben Savage. So, Ben retired and went into the saloon business. But he said Rachel was doin’ the job of runnin’ this saloon, so he made her his partner.”
“That’s a mighty interesting story,” Reese said. He looked behind him at Jack Ramsey, who was leaning in toward him and Tiny. “Are you hearin’ any of this?”
“I sure am,” Jack answered and nodded to Tiny. “Mighty interestin’, I don’t reckon you get robbed very often, do ya?”
Tiny laughed and shook his head.
“Does—what’d you say his name is—Savage? Does he ever come into the saloon?” Reese asked.
“Sure,” Tiny replied, “every day. He’s here now in the office. He don’t usually stay in the office much, so he’ll most likely be in here before long.” He turned then to see Jim Bowden coming in the front door. “I expect I’d best get back to the bar,” Tiny said, but paused when Hutch asked a question.
“Why do they call you Tiny?” Hutch joked and stood up beside the huge bartender and waited for the laugh.
Tiny looked down at the smaller man and replied, “Danged if I know,” he said. “My name’s Gerald.” He went back to the bar then to greet the blacksmith. “Howdy, Jim, you drinkin’?”
“Tiny,” Jim acknowledged, and nodded to Rachel who had stopped to visit with Tuck and Ham at the end of the bar. “I wasn’t gonna, but I think I could use a little shot of corn whiskey. Maybe it’d help those soup beans I filled my belly with at dinner settle down some. I brought Ben’s horse, in case he wants to see if those new shoes are gonna be all right.” He looked around the room then, and seeing no sign of Ben, he said, “If Ben ain’t here, I’ll just take his horse back to the stable.”
“Well, he was here,” Tiny said, “unless he went out the back door.” He turned his head toward the end of the bar. “Rachel, is Ben still here? Jim brought his horse.”
“Yes, he’s in the office. I’ll get him, Jim.” She went back out the door and returned in a few moments with Ben following.
“Hey, Jim,” Ben greeted him, “you didn’t have to bring Cousin down here. You coulda just left him with Henry at the stable.”
“Weren’t no trouble,” Jim replied. “Gave me an excuse to get a drink of likker.”
“I’m sure the shoes are fine, just like they were last time,” Ben said. “I can tell right away if Cousin likes ’em. Finish your drink and we’ll take a look at ’em.” He turned to address the five strangers gathered around one of the tables sharing a bottle of rye whiskey. “Welcome to Lost Coyote. Is Tiny takin’ care of you fellows all right?”
For once, Hutch had nothing to say. In fact, all five of the outlaws had listened with great interest when Tiny was relating the history of the Lost Coyote. Expecting a tired old man who had at one time been a Texas Ranger, they were all surprised when the formidable figure of Ben Savage walked up to their table. He was definitely not a tired old man. Since Reese was the undisputed leader of the gang, the other four let him do the talking. “Yes, sir, we’re enjoyin’ a little drink here. Tiny was tellin’ us that you and the lady own this place. ’Preciate the welcome.”
Since no one seemed anxious to make more conversation, Ben headed toward the front door. “Come on, Jim, and we’ll see how Cousin likes his new shoes.” Jim tossed his whiskey down and followed after him. Outside, Ben spent a couple of minutes stroking the big dun gelding’s face and neck before he took a look at both front hooves. “Looks fine like it always does,” he said. Then he untied the reins from the hitching rail and leaped up on Cousin’s back. “Seems like a few years ago it was a lot easier to jump on a horse’s back.”
Jim chuckled. “Maybe I shoulda gone to the stable and put your saddle on him.”
“Wait right here and I’ll be back to settle up with what I owe ya,” Ben said. Then he wheeled Cousin away from the rail and started out toward the south end of the street at a fast lope. When he got to the hotel, he wheeled Cousin around again and galloped back, passing the saloon and stopping at the stable, where he jumped off and turned the horse over to Henry Barnes. “I expect I’d better give him a little exercise,” he told Henry. “I’ll take him for a ride tomorrow.” He had been concerned about the condition of the dun’s hooves, so he had let Cousin go barefoot for a couple of months. And when he and Henry inspected the gelding’s hooves, they seemed to have gotten healthier, and some of the hoof loss had been recovered.
When he walked back to the Lost Coyote, he found Jim Bowden still standing out front. “Cousin said he likes ’em just fine, but he’s gonna miss goin’ barefoot.” He reached in his pocket and counted out the price of the shoeing and handed it to Jim.
“I owe you for a drink,” Jim said.
“That was included in the cost,” Ben said. “Actually, I figured it was worth two drinks. Come on back inside and get the other one.”
“Thanks, I don’t mind if I do,” Jim said, and they went back inside. Ben went behind the bar and poured another drink of corn whiskey for Jim.
The party of five got up from the table and Reese paid Tiny for the bottle of rye. “I’ll take the rest back to the hotel,” Reese said. “We thought when we sat down we’d finish the whole bottle and order another one, but I reckon we ain’t the drinkers we thought we were.” He smiled at Ben, who was standing beside Tiny. “I don’t k. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...