Johnstone Country. Where the Sun Never Sets on Justice.
Keeper of the peace, enforcer of the law, Buck Trammel has faced every kind of killer, outlaw, and prairie rat that’s crawled from the depraved depths of America’s western frontier—with a quick draw and a clean conscience . . .
“King” Charles Hagen is dead. The empire he carved out of Blackstone, Wyoming, by hook and by crook now lies in the hands of his children. Caleb Hagen has long stood in his father’s shadow, ambitiously plotting, and ready to stake his claim. Young and impetuous BartHagen plans to expand the family legacy across the nation. Debora Hagen’s ruthless nature believes the time has come for a queen to reign over the Hagen kingdom.
Only Adam, their estranged brother, has a different plan. His vengeance against their father requires him to tear down everything “King” Hagen ever built, even if that means shedding family blood. But none of the siblings reckoned that bloodthirsty crime honcho Lucien Clay was prepared to send a murderous pack of gunslingers against them all for control of the territory.
Blackstone has been ruled by lawlessness long enough. The town is Buck Trammel’s jurisdiciton. And he will protect it as judge, jury, and executioner . . .
Live Free. Read Hard.
Release date: April 26, 2022
Publisher: Pinnacle Books
Print pages: 336
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The Fires of Blackstone
William W. Johnstone
“Yeah.” Sheriff Buck Trammel set his coffee mug on his desk and got to his feet. “It certainly does.” Unlike some residents, he found the new sound of a train whistle echoing throughout town to be charming. But he knew this particular whistle was more than just a train engine letting off steam. It was a warning that trouble was coming to Blackstone.
“Guess I’d better go down to the station to meet it.” He took his Peacemaker from his desk and tucked it into the holster under his left arm. It had been a long time since he’d been a Pinkerton, but he’d never gotten comfortable with wearing a gun on his hip. “Head off whatever trouble I can.” He was still getting used to the idea that Blackstone had a train station.
Adam Hagen had built a railroad spur north from the main line in Laramie so he could take his wood from the mill and his cattle to market in the city. The short line ran on a regular schedule and at his convenience. A trip that used to take half a day now took about thirty minutes. Unfortunately, the train not only served to take goods and people down to Laramie, but to also bring them up to Blackstone. Hence the reason for Trammel’s concern.
The sheriff looked at the rifles in the rack by the jailhouse door but decided against taking one. It might put people on more of an edge than they already were. He figured his size and the Peacemaker would serve as suitable deterrents.
Hawkeye asked, “Want me to go with you?”
Trammel shook his head as he pulled on his hat. “Best if you stay here for the time being. But get ready to come running if you hear any trouble from the station.”
If Hawkeye was disappointed, he hid it well. He took down the double-barreled shotgun from the rack and began feeding shells into the tubes. “I’ll be here if you need me.”
Trammel bent his head as he stepped out of the jail and onto the boardwalk. “You always are.”
At six-seven and two hundred and forty solid pounds, Steven “Buck” Trammel was always conscious of his size. He’d never quite gotten used to the attention he drew whenever people saw him for the first time. Lately, he drew more odd looks than normal for there were a lot of new people in Blackstone. The railroad spur Adam Hagen had built as soon as he had gained control of the Hagen empire had brought them. The building boom he had started meant they’d stayed.
The new Hagen wood mill was almost done and a new street full of houses for the workers was almost finished. The tents the workers had been sleeping in for the past three months would soon be a thing of the past and, Trammel hoped, the disorder they’d brought would go with them. In his experience, a man tended to simmer down once he had a fixed roof over his head. It made him more appreciative of being out of the rain.
Trammel stood aside on the boardwalk as a group of ladies marched past him on the way to the new church Hagen had built at the end of Main Street. The gesture had been a small part of his plan to wipe every trace of his father from the town and remake Blackstone in his own image.
Trammel figured Adam would have to build a church twice the size of Notre Dame if he were looking to atone for all the sins he had committed in his life.
King Charles Hagen was dead. Long live King Adam Hagen.
“Good morning, Sheriff!” came a familiar voice from the balcony of the new hotel across Main Street.
Trammel stepped out from beneath the overhang and into the thoroughfare. The new Phoenix Hotel loomed larger than its predecessor, the Clifford, which had been burned in the riot the previous year. A few modest buildings had to be torn down for the Phoenix, but those inconvenienced by the construction were moved to newer, larger homes in the bargain. They had offered little complaint. Adam was a lot of things, but he knew how to treat people when he wanted something from them.
Trammel pegged the Phoenix as being more than twice the size of its predecessor. It sported a proper gaming area that rivaled even the finest gambling houses in New Orleans. Dozens of well-appointed rooms were said to put some of the nicest hotels in New York to shame. Hagen had even gone as far as to bring a chef all the way from Paris to make sure every meal was an occasion. Guests flocked to Blackstone from far and wide to see what all the fuss was about.
The large porch on the first floor featured plenty of rocking chairs where guests could lounge while they took in the bustling new Main Street. A grand balcony on the second floor served as Hagen’s favorite perch from where he could see all his large inheritance had given him. He was building a town that might one day be worthy to become the capital of the territory.
“Nice to see you, Buck.” Hagen toasted him with a cup of coffee. “You’re looking well this morning.”
Even from that distance, Trammel could see the china’s intricate pattern sported a deep red design matching the fiery theme of the Phoenix Hotel.
He certainly did not feel well. Dr. Moore had pulled four bullets out of his left side after the riot. The wounds still ached whenever it was about to rain. Out of politeness, he answered, “You’re looking prosperous yourself for a man with a price on his head.”
Hagen threw back his head and laughed. “People have been trying to kill me for years, Buck, yet here I am.”
Indeed, here he is, Trammel thought, but Hagen had certainly changed over the years. In the morning light, the sheriff could see the entrepreneur had aged quite a bit since they’d first met in Wichita. His fair hair had begun to turn white in places, though Trammel knew he was just past thirty. Hagen kept his beard trimmed and close to his smooth skin. He looked leaner than he used to, and his light eyes were set deeper than they used to be. Harder, too.
And since King Charles’s suspicious death, Adam had changed his clothes to a more somber tone. Loud brocade vests had given way to darker colors more befitting a man of property and stature.
Hagen’s smile held as he asked Trammel, “I take it you’re heading over to the train station?”
“Somebody’s got to go. Want to head off any trouble before it starts.”
“No need,” Hagen said. “Ben London and his constables are already there. They’ll see to it nothing happens. Let them do their job. It’s what I pay them for.”
Trammel had been against the creation of a town constabulary when Hagen had first raised the matter at a town council meeting, but none of the elders saw fit to oppose him given that Blackstone was his town. The group quickly became known as Hagen’s Constables. Their blue tunics and brass badges made them easy to spot. They existed to serve Hagen’s interests, which were not always aligned with those of the town.
Trammel and Hawkeye were still the only official law existing in Blackstone, a fact of which the sheriff had to remind Hagen many times.
Standing in the middle of Main Street, Trammel saw no benefit to continuing that old argument, especially now that the second train whistle was much closer than the first. “Enjoy your coffee, Adam. I’ve got work to do.”
“Be sure to give my regards to my family when you see them,” Hagen called after him. “We’re not exactly on speaking terms these days.”
Trammel couldn’t blame them. After all, Adam Hagen had killed their father.
The walk to the new train station at the east end of Main Street took longer than it used to. Even Trammel was impressed by all the changes made in a short amount of time. When he had first come to Blackstone, the place had been little more than a cow town. A place where miners and cattlemen who didn’t work for the mighty Blackstone ranch came to find some hint of civilization. The town had been laid out as an E back then, with three avenues shooting off from Main Street.
Since the demise of King Charles, Adam had gone on a building spree of epic proportions. Doubled in length, Main Street featured two general stores besides the old Robertson’s place, whose owner had sold out months ago and moved to Colorado. Several claims offices catered to the miners. Three banks and just as many hotels were new.
Those who couldn’t afford the opulence of the Phoenix could find clean, comfortable rooms at the Occidental, the East Sider, and the Knickerbocker.
Saloons still dominated Main Street, though drunkards had ceased to wander the town per Hagen’s orders. The Pot of Gold Saloon still catered to the opium trade, but the Chinese who peddled dragon smoke had taken down their canvas tents in favor of a building that fit in with the rest of the town. Hagen had also made sure a better job of keeping customers inside was done until they were sober enough to walk around on their own steam.
As he continued walking toward the station, Trammel was happy to see the shingle of Dr. Emily Downs hanging beneath that of Dr. Jacob Moore outside a two-story building. The two physicians tended to the needs of the growing town and were busier tending to colds and the flu than broken bones and gunshots.
He hoped nothing would happen at the train station to change that.
The train station on the far eastern side of the town was a small but ornate affair. Hagen had designed it with intricate wooden fixtures that gave it an elegant look. It also featured a telegraph office. The telegraph lines had followed the tracks, making it easier for Blackstone to communicate with Laramie and the rest of the country.
Modernity had its privileges.
Waiting outside the station, wagons and carriages of every sort were ready to take the arrivals or goods to their destinations.
As he waited for the train to pull into the station, Trammel looked toward the large stockyard built at the far end of the tracks for easy loading and unloading of livestock, but he was less concerned about any four-legged passengers the train might be bringing to town. It was the two-legged variety that worried him.
As it came to a halt, the locomotive emitted a large plume of steam from its great smokestack. Black porters jumped from the passenger cars and placed step stools on the ground to help passengers looking to get off at Blackstone.
Trammel walked to the end of the train where he saw the two private Hagen family cars. Their own footmen were already off the train and loading the luggage of their employers onto a waiting wagon.
Caleb Hagen was the leader of the family and looked it. He was approaching fifty and, although he had been born and raised at the family ranch in Blackstone, he could have been mistaken for a New York banker. His face had some of his late father’s sharp features, but too many steak dinners and black cigars and made him thick around the middle. His dark suit had been tailored to hide his girth, but as Trammel had learned, clothes could only hide a man’s true nature for so long. He had once handled the Hagen empire’s investments and had been proud of his accomplishments until Adam inherited it all and replaced him.
Bartholomew Hagen was shorter than his brother and, if the paintings Trammel had seen at the Hagen ranch house were to be believed, favored his mother. A capable looking man who lacked his brother’s height and frame, the second son had been placed in charge of the family’s mining interests by King Charles himself. From what Trammel had heard, he had done more than a fair job of making the family even richer than they already were.
Like her brother, Debora Hagen Forrester favored her mother’s portrait except for her eyes. There she resembled King Charles, right down to the cold, casual glare. Not even the parasol or the fashionable pink hat she sported could soften her look.
Her husband, Ambrose Forrester, was at her side. He had a habit of constantly running his hand through his hair to ensure it remained in place. The fop came from the powerful Forrester family of Colorado, which counted several relatives in state houses throughout the West and one in the US Senate. Other than an impressive last name, Trammel found him entirely forgettable.
Elena Hagen Wain was the baby of the family and Adam’s favorite sister. She had married a Philadelphia lawyer who Adam claimed was well on his way to being named partner in the family firm.
Where her brothers and sister were severe, Elena was gentle. Her golden hair and porcelain skin made her look like Adam’s twin, though she was much younger. Trammel wondered if her siblings had told her Adam was not really their brother or if they had been uncharacteristically kind enough to hide that fact from her.
However, if there was one trait the Hagen clan lacked, it was kindness.
The family did their best to ignore Trammel as he ambled over to them where they had clustered together on the platform outside their train cars.
“Welcome back to Blackstone,” he told them.
Caleb chewed on a black cigar and scowled up at him as if he was a beggar. Bart and Debora made half attempts at smiles, but nothing more.
Elena waved and smiled. “Morning, Buck. Nice to see you again.” She had still been living with her father when Trammel had brought Adam back to Blackstone. She had been a charming young woman then and he was glad some things had not changed.
Trammel touched the brim of his hat. “Nice to be seen, Elena. Hope your trip up here was a pleasant one.”
Caleb took the black cigar from his mouth as he strode between Trammel and the rest of his family. “I suppose Adam sent you here to spy on us?”
Trammel had not been expecting a handshake. “Your brother and I have an arrangement, Caleb. He doesn’t tell me what to do so I don’t have to defy him. Makes it easier to keep the peace that way.”
“My brother,” the banker spat. He looked like he wanted to say more but caught himself. “What are you doing here, then?”
“Making sure your visit starts off on the right foot.” Trammel inclined his head to the six men in blue tunics standing next to the station building. “I don’t want anyone to make you feel unwelcome.”
Caleb looked over at the six constables gathered nearby. “They look more like common thugs to me.”
Trammel could not argue with him there. They were all like him, former saloon bouncers who had somehow managed to get badges pinned on their chests. Every one of the ten constables on Hagen’s payroll had the same look—tall, broad, and mean. They made no effort to hide it.
Big Ben London was the biggest and meanest looking of the bunch. About Trammel’s size, the silent Negro looked at the Hagens with cold indifference.
“I’m not with them and they’re not with me,” Trammel reminded Caleb. “They won’t give you any trouble while I’m around.”
“No need,” Caleb said. “We can take care of ourselves against their kind.”
Trammel looked at Caleb’s belly and thought otherwise. “Well, with me around, you won’t have to.”
“That’s what’s always fascinated me about you, Trammel.” Caleb pointed at him with the unlit cigar. “You despise Adam every bit as the rest of us, yet you always somehow find a way to save his life.”
“Just doing my job.”
Caleb went on. “You should’ve let that crowd rip him to pieces last year, but you didn’t. Hell, you almost got yourself killed in the process. You’re not a stupid man. That’s plain for anyone with two eyes to see. Why not just sit back and let nature take its course?”
“On account of I’m not paid to let nature have its way, Caleb. I’m paid to keep the peace in town and that’s what I’m going to keep on doing until they take this star from me. That’s part of the reason why I came over to see you folks. I’d like to know what you’re doing back here.”
Caleb sneered. “So, you are scouting for Adam after all.”
Trammel shook his head. “You know I’m not. Your troubles with him over your father’s estate are your business so long as it stays peaceful. We’ve had our fair share of trouble in this town, and it’s up to me to make sure things don’t get out of hand.”
Caleb opened his coat. “I’m not armed, Sheriff.”
“Men like you never do your own fighting. I’ve seen some rough characters milling around town over the past couple of days. Over at the Knickerbocker and the Occidental. I figure they’re yours.”
Caleb shrugged. “And what if they are? What concern is it of yours?”
“None, so long as they don’t step out of line.”
“Does the same go for Adam’s so-called constables?”
“There are only two sworn lawmen in Blackstone, Caleb. Me and Hawkeye. The constables have authority only on Hagen land and, last I checked, Blackstone is public property. They step out of line? They get stepped on same as everyone else.”
Caleb Hagen took his time looking the sheriff up and down. “Is that so?”
Trammel let him look. “It surely is.”
Caleb popped his cigar in his mouth and looked away. “You’ve got nothing to worry about from me or my family, Trammel. We’re as peaceful as Pascal lambs. For now, our fight is in the courts.”
“Glad to hear it.” Trammel meant it. “Just make sure it stays there . . . and that your men stay out of trouble while they’re here in town.”
Caleb nodded toward the constables. “And them?”
“I’ll be watching them like I’m watching you. They bother you or your people, you let me know.”
Caleb did not look convinced, but he did not look like he wanted an argument, either. “We’ll leave it at that, then. Nice seeing you again, Steven.”
“Caleb.” Trammel touched the brim of his hat then stood aside as he watched the family take their time loading themselves into the coaches lined up to take them to the Hagen ranch house up the hill from town.
As the family boarded the carriages, the five constables in town milled around close by but did not say a word. Only Caleb antagonized them by staring at Big Ben as they pulled away.
Trammel stayed on the platform as he watched the servants and a porter load the family’s luggage—trunks and chests and boxes of all manner of size and description—onto flatbed wagons. He figured they would be staying at the house for the foreseeable future, which would only make his job even harder.
With the family gone, Big Ben slowly walked back toward town hall. The remaining five constables grew bolder around the staff.
“Would you just look at all that finery,” the one named Jesse said to the others. “Why I’d bet everything I’ve ever owned in the world would just about fit into one of them hat boxes they’ve got there.”
Rand, the second oldest man in the group, added, “Sure must be nice to have money. Look at all the pretty servants they got, too.”
The three men Trammel assumed were footmen stopped loading for a moment before resuming their task. The black porter never stopped.
“Looks like one of them didn’t like us calling him pretty, Rand,” said the one called Eddie. “We’re gonna have to keep our eyes on him.”
The man called Smith cackled. “Be careful, Eddie. He might throw his hanky at you.”
The five of them laughed, with the one called Red adding, “Now you’ve gone and done it, boys. They look like they’re just about ready to cry.”
The three servants stopped loading the wagon and squared up to the constables.
Trammel decided to step in between them before things got out of hand. “That’s enough, boys. Let them work and be on your way.”
The constables stopped laughing as Jesse took a step toward Trammel. “This here is Hagen property. We don’t have to do a—”
Trammel decked him with a short, left hook to the jaw. He was out cold before he hit the ground.
The four remaining constables took a step backward. Only Rand found the courage to speak. “What’d you go and do that for?”
Trammel looked down at Jesse. “That man’s drunk.”
“Drunk?” Red repeated. “Why it ain’t even noon yet. He hasn’t touched a drop in two whole days.”
“He has to be drunk to step up to me like that.” Trammel looked at Red. “You drunk, too?”
Red held up his hands and backed farther away. “I’m sober as a judge.”
“Good. You boys had best pick up your friend here and get him off the street before I run the whole lot of you in for loitering.” Trammel dug the tip of his boot under Jesse’s shoulder and turned him over in the dirt. “Get going.”
Rand told Smith and Eddie to pick up their fallen comrade and carry him away. Red went with them, leaving Rand to bring up the rear. And he was in no hurry to move.
Trammel closed the few feet between them. “Get moving or I won’t be as gentle with you.”
Rand kept his hands raised as he backed up another step. “I’m moving, Sheriff. I’m moving. For now. But there’s gonna come a time real soon when I won’t have to move until I’m good and ready. None of us will. And that time’s coming sooner than you think.”
“But today’s not the day.” Trammel kicked dirt in his direction. “Now get like I told you.”
Rand smirked as he slowly backed away until he turned and joined the other constables.
Two of the footmen went back to loading the wagon. One of them caught Trammel’s eye. “We could’ve handled them fellas on our own, Marshal.”
Trammel heard a bit of Ireland in his voice. “It’s Sheriff and while I’m around, I’ll do the handling. Get back to work.” Although the constables were gone, he waited until the luggage was loaded up and on its way to the house.
No sense courting trouble as he knew there was more to come.
“I’d like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to see me, Mr. Clay,” said Bernard Wain, a lawyer from Philadelphia.
“So do it,” Lucien Clay replied.
The younger man appeared stuck for an answer. “Do what?”
“Thank me.” Clay smiled, thinking the richer they are, the dumber they are. “You said you’d like to thank me for taking time out of my schedule to meet you. I said you should do so.”
Wain laughed, though it was clear he still did not understand what Clay meant. “Thank you.”
“That’s the spirit. Isn’t it funny the way people talk these days? You say you’d like to thank me when all you had to do was cut to the core of it and thank me. English is a strange language, but it’s the only one I know so I guess I’m stuck with it.”
Clay watched the lawyer as he sipped whiskey Clay had personally poured from his private stock. He could remember a time when he’d enjoyed receiving visitors, especially high-born visitors who’d come to him hat in hand, but that had been in the time he thought of as Before. Before Buck Trammel had shattered his jaw with a single punch, causing him months of ceaseless pain and agony. Before the headaches set in and blurred his vision. Before the jaw healed crooked, ruining his face and marring his speech.
He had gone to Colorado to see a specialist who’d told him the blow seemed to have caused some damage to his brain. The same punch had also cracked his skull. At least it explained the pain and the blurry vision. The doctor said the only way for it to heal properly was to break his jaw again so it could be reset. It would require more weeks of bedrest. More endless soups and broths that had turned him into little more than the skeleton he’d become.
He thanked whatever gods existed for laudanum, the only thing that worked to dull the pain in his jaw, but not the damage to his ego. Only Trammel’s corpse could cure that particular ailment.
Spending six weeks away from town was impossible. The buzzards had already begun to ci. . .
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