Bad Men Beware
What started as a routine hunt and grab—putting outlaw Thorp McCluskey on a train to Cheyenne and prison—has just gone straight to hell for bounty hunter Luke Jensen. First came the beautiful prostitute who pointed her alluring attentions in Luke’s direction. Then came a man who fought by Luke’s side in the war—but the war is over and friendships can turn deadly. Luke gets bushwacked, his prisoner is gone, and so is a fortune in gold.
Now Luke is riding back into the Wyoming wilderness to hunt down McCluskey and his woman to finish what he started. But he’ll have to fight a solitary war, survive murderous betrayal, and face down his most bloodthirsty enemy of all . . .
Praise for the novels of William W. Johnstone
“[A] rousing, two-fisted saga of the growing American frontier.”—Publishers Weekly on Eyes of Eagles
“There’s plenty of gunplay and fast-paced action.”—Curled Up with a Good Book on Dead Before Sundown
About the Author
Being the all-around assistant, typist, researcher, and fact checker to one of the most popular western authors of all time, J.A. Johnstone learned from the master, Uncle William W. Johnstone.
He began tutoring J.A. at an early age. After-school hours were often spent retyping manuscripts or researching his massive American Western History library as well as the more modern wars and conflicts. J.A. worked hard—and learned.
“Every day with Bill was an adventure story in itself. Bill taught me all he could about the art of storytelling. ‘Keep the historical facts accurate,’ he would say. ‘Remember the readers, and as your grandfather once told me, I am telling you now: be the best J.A. Johnstone you can be.’”
Read an Excerpt
Luke Jensen, Bounty Hunter Bad Men Die
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Luke Jensen curled the fingers of his right hand around the butt of the Remington revolver holstered on his left hip in a cross-draw rig. He pressed his back against the faded wallpaper in the hotel corridor, eased closer to the door at his left, and listened intently.
Snores came from inside the room. The sound of them put a faint smile on his rugged, deeply tanned face. He was a tall, rangy man dressed in black from head to foot, although the trail dust that had settled on him during the past week had given his hat, shirt, trousers, and boots a grayish tinge.
He had spent that week tracking down Frank McCluskey, the outlaw who snored peacefully on the other side of the door, blissfully unaware that his freedom and his life as a lawless desperado were about to be over. Luke had finally caught up to him in the little settlement called Rimrock, in Wyoming Territory.
Poised to pull the Remington, lift his foot, and drive his heel against the door next to the knob, Luke could see his plan playing out in his head, plain as day. When the door crashed open, he would rush in and wallop the startled McCluskey before the outlaw knew what was going on.
Before he could put the plan into operation, he heard footsteps down at the other end of the hall where the stairs from the first floor reached a landing. Someone was climbing those stairs—and singing softly. He couldn't make out the words, but he could tell the voice belonged to a woman.
He bit back a curse and took his hand off his gun. Even though he intended to take McCluskey by surprise and capture him without any shooting, he couldn't guarantee it would go smoothly. He couldn't risk lead flying around with an innocent bystander in the corridor, especially a woman.
Early in his career as a bounty hunter, he might not have worried much about anybody else being hurt, as long as he captured the fugitive he was after and collected the reward. Age had softened him a little, he supposed, as had being reunited with his brother Smoke after many years apart.
Now and then, Luke worried about that. A man in his line of work, tracking the most dangerous outlaws west of the Mississippi, couldn't afford to get soft.
It was a good way to wind up dead in a hurry.
He turned toward the landing as the woman reached it. He figured he could amble down the corridor as if he were a guest leaving one of the other rooms, give her a pleasant nod as they passed, and let her go into her own room. Then he could return to McCluskey's door and resume his plan.
The woman stopped singing to herself as she started along the hallway and saw Luke coming toward her. She was a short woman with brassy blond hair and a voluptuous figure in a dark blue dress made to show it off. She looked at Luke with frank, open appraisal and smiled as if she liked what she saw.
Luke knew good and well that he wasn't what anybody would consider handsome. His face was craggy and the thin dark mustache didn't do anything to relieve the natural grimness of his mouth. But for some reason most women seemed to find him attractive, and he knew that, too. He returned the smile and reached up to touch a finger to the brim of his flat-crowned black hat.
"Good morning," the woman said.
"Ma'am," Luke greeted her politely. He didn't pause but moved to the side to go around her.
"I don't recall seeing you around. Are you staying here in the hotel?"
"That's right," he lied. He kept moving, not wanting to stand in the hallway and have a conversation with her. She needed to just go on into her room, close the door, and let him get on with his business.
"My name's Delia Bradley."
"Luke Smith," he said, giving her the false name he used sometimes. "If you'll excuse me ..."
"Oh, of course." She waved a hand with long fingernails painted red to match her lips. Rings adorned several of her fingers, as well. She definitely had a flashy look about her, and Luke wondered if she might be a soiled dove visiting someone in the hotel.
He had just stepped past her when that thought went through his mind, followed immediately by the possibility that she might be headed to McCluskey's room. He couldn't help but glance back over his shoulder and saw her taking an over/under derringer out of the little bag she held. Her flirtatious smile had disappeared, but she was still baring her teeth at him in a hate-filled grimace.
Luke lashed out with his left hand as she jerked the derringer up. Grabbing her wrist, he thrust it toward the ceiling as she pulled the trigger, firing the upper barrel. The gun made a little popping sound as it went off, no louder than a man clapping his hands.
At the same time, he struck with his right fist, clipping her on the chin with a short, swift blow. His hand wasn't clenched tight, so he didn't do any real damage, but the punch was enough to stun her. He wrenched the derringer out of her hand as she sagged toward him.
He caught her under the arms to keep her from thudding to the floor and realized she was shamming. She lifted her knee toward his groin in a vicious strike.
He twisted to the side and took the blow on his thigh, where it was still painful but not incapacitating. "Damn it. Settle down!"
Not much chance of that, he realized as she opened her mouth and screamed, "Frank! Frank, get out of here!" She started fighting like a wildcat, clawing at Luke's face with her free hand and trying to gouge his eyes out with those long fingernails.
Anger welled up inside him. He hit her again, still pulling his punch, but not as much. The blow drove her head to the side and caused her eyes to roll up in their sockets. She couldn't fake that reaction. Her knees buckled, and Luke let her fall.
McCluskey might have slept through that derringer going off, but Luke knew the outlaw must have heard the blonde's warning scream. He bounded past her, drawing both Remingtons, and paused just long enough to lift his foot and kick the door open.
He dived to the floor, twisting so that he landed on his belly with both guns up. Shots roared inside the room, coming so close together they sounded like one thunderous blast. Bullets whipped through the air a couple feet above Luke's head and punched through the wall on the other side of the corridor.
He hoped nobody was in that room.
McCluskey crouched beside the bed, gun in hand, wearing only the bottom half of a pair of long red underwear. He was medium height, a little stocky but powerfully built in the arms and shoulders. He had close-cropped dark hair on a squarish head and a slab-like jaw usually thrust out belligerently. That was certainly the case as the hammer of his gun fell on an empty chamber.
He had emptied the revolver without doing a damn bit of good. That was all right with Luke. He didn't have any qualms about shooting an unarmed man who had just tried to kill him—especially when the reward on McCluskey was good dead or alive.
Luke triggered both Remingtons, but McCluskey was fast as he flung himself onto the bed. He had to be to have stayed alive as long as he had. Luke's bullets narrowly missed. Rolling off the mattress's other side, McCluskey came up and plunged toward the room's lone window.
Luke surged to his feet and was drawing a bead on the fleeing owlhoot when something landed on his back. The impact made him stumble forward a couple steps.
"I've got him, Frank!" the blonde screeched in Luke's ear. "Get away while you can!"
She went after his eyes again, reaching around with both hands as she wrapped her legs around his torso and clung to him like a tick. Her fingernails raked stingingly across his cheek, dangerously close to his right eye. He flung himself back and forth violently as he tried to throw her off, but she hung on to him for dear life.
McCluskey could have made it through the window then if he had tried, but he thought it was too good an opportunity to rid himself of one of the bounty hunters on his trail. He dropped the gun he had emptied and snatched up a bowie knife lying on the little table next to the bed. As he shouted a curse, he lunged toward Luke and thrust the heavy blade at his chest.
McCluskey's impulsive attack had brought him within reach. Luke knocked the bowie aside with the Remington he held in his left hand and struck out with the right-hand revolver, slamming it into McCluskey's head. A blow like that could crack a man's skull and kill him, but just then Luke didn't care about that. He didn't want McCluskey trying to swipe that bowie at him in a nasty backhand.
McCluskey went down hard. Luke figured he would be out for several minutes—but he had thought that about Delia, too, and she had recovered her wits quicker than he'd expected. He needed to deal with her while he had the chance.
She had knocked his hat off when she jumped on him. He hunched his shoulders and lowered his head to make it harder for her to claw at his face, then holstered his right-hand gun and reached back to grab her. He felt fabric and closed his fingers on it. As he bent forward at the waist, he hauled hard on her dress and heaved her up and over his head, creating a ripping sound as cloth and stitches gave.
Delia cried out as she flew through the air. With a flash of creamy skin, she landed on the bed and bounced.
Luke was a little surprised to see that she had come right out of the torn dress and lay there clad only in a thin chemise that didn't leave much of her lush figure to the imagination. He still held the dress.
She came up off the bed spitting with fury. He threw the dress over her head, blinding her temporarily, then wrapped his right arm around her and pinned her arms to her sides as he lifted her off her feet. All she could do was scream muffled curses and kick her feet. Her heels banged against his shins, but he did his best to ignore that as he tried to figure out what to do with her.
He was saved from having to ponder that for very long by the arrival of a gray-haired, middle-aged man who appeared in the room's open doorway holding a shotgun. He had a lawman's badge pinned to his vest, and as he leveled the Greener at Luke he barked a command. "Throw that gun on the bed, mister, right now!"
"Take it easy, Marshal," Luke said as he tossed the Remington in his left hand onto the bed. No man in his right mind put up much of an argument when he found himself staring down the twin barrels of a shotgun. "This isn't what it looks like."
"I don't know what you think it looks like, mister. I was told that all hell was breakin' loose up here, and that's sure as blazes how it appears to me!"CHAPTER 2
Normally, Luke checked in with the local star-packer whenever he arrived in a new town. It was just a reasonable precaution. Some lawmen got proddy when they found out that a bounty hunter was operating in their jurisdiction. Others were relieved that a dangerous outlaw was about to be taken into custody and would offer to help.
Luke hadn't done that because the first man he'd asked about McCluskey, the elderly hostler at the livery stable where he'd left his dun, had pointed him to the hotel and said that a man matching the outlaw's description was staying there. Luke had decided to look into that before paying a visit to the local law.
With the inducement of a five-dollar gold piece, the desk clerk had confirmed that a man who looked like McCluskey was upstairs in Room Seven. The name he'd signed to the register was Pete Yarnell, an alias McCluskey had used in the past.
"He's still upstairs, too," the clerk had said. "Reckon he's sleeping late this morning. From what I heard, he had quite a bit to drink last night at the Powder River Saloon. The night clerk told me he came in drunk as a skunk."
A hungover outlaw was usually a little slower in his reactions and therefore easier to corral. With that opportunity staring him in the face, Luke hadn't been about to waste it by taking the time to hunt up the marshal. He'd gone upstairs, ready to bust into Room Seven and capture Frank McCluskey.
As the shotgun-wielding marshal had put it, all hell had broken loose.
Struggling to hang on to the squirming Delia, Luke said, "Marshal, my name is Luke Jensen. That fella there on the floor is Frank McCluskey. I reckon you've got at least one wanted poster on him in your office, and probably more than that. He's wanted in Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Dakota Territories for holding up banks and stagecoaches, rustling cattle, and gunning down at least five men."
"Sounds like a real sidewinder," the lawman said as a frown creased his forehead. "If you know all that, I suppose you must be either a bounty hunter or a deputy U.S. marshal—and I've got a hunch Uncle Sam wouldn't hire anybody as scruffy-looking as you."
Under other circumstances, Luke might have taken offense at that comment. It was true that he was a little dusty and trail-worn at the moment, but several times a year he enjoyed visiting San Francisco, dressing well, and patronizing the city's finest restaurants and clubs. Although he was largely self-educated, he was also a very well-read man and could discuss Plutarch, Hawthorne, and von Clausewitz with equal ease.
But there was no way the marshal could know any of that. Luke shrugged. "That's right. I'm a bounty hunter, and I'd be much obliged to you, Marshal, if you'd let me lock up McCluskey in your jail."
That prompted a fresh round of squealing, cussing, and fighting from Delia, and despite the lawman's grim demeanor, a smile tugged at his mouth for a second under his bushy gray mustache. "What've you got there, Jensen?"
"A wildcat," Luke said dryly. "She says her name is Delia Bradley. Do you know her?"
"Yeah. She's a soiled dove, works over at the Powder River Saloon. She seems a mite put out with you."
"I believe she's smitten with McCluskey here. She tried to take a shot at me with a derringer and did her best to warn him to get away."
The marshal nodded. "All right. Why don't you put her down? I don't figure she'll try anything else."
Luke wasn't so sure about that, but he pulled the dress off Delia's head and set her feet back on the floor.
She clenched her fists and pounded them against his chest. "Marshal, arrest this man! He attacked me. You can see for yourself that he ripped the dress right off me!"
"That's not exactly the way it—" Luke grabbed her around the waist from behind as she lunged toward the bed and made a grab for the gun he had tossed there at the marshal's command. He swung her away from the bed.
She started kicking and flailing again.
On the floor, McCluskey groaned and moved around a little as he began to regain consciousness.
"Blast it. Quit that!" Luke told Delia. "I'm going to pitch you out that window if you don't stop fighting."
"Here now!" the marshal exclaimed. "Nobody's pitching anybody out any windows. But I will lock you up if you keep raising a ruckus, Delia."
The threat seemed to get through to her. She stopped struggling and said coldly to Luke, "Quit pawing me, mister. I get paid any time a man wants to do that."
Luke set her down where he would be between her and the bed where the Remington lay. He said to the lawman, "Is it all right if I get my gun again, Marshal?"
"Yeah, go ahead," the middle-aged man told him. "I reckon I've got the straight of things now. You say that fella's name is Frank McCluskey?"
"That's right," Luke said as he picked up the iron and pouched it.
"I've heard of him, all right." The marshal moved farther into the room and stepped aside to clear the doorway. "Delia, put your dress on and get out of here."
"But it's torn!" she objected.
"It'll hold together enough to cover you so you'll be decent." The marshal paused, then added, "As decent as you ever are, I should say."
Delia sniffed disdainfully, picked up the dress, and pulled it over her head. It was ripped down the back but covered the front of her well enough.
Luke had an objection of his own. "Wait a minute. She tried to help McCluskey escape. That's against the law."
"Yeah, but he didn't escape, and I can tell you right now, our justice of the peace will just throw out any charge you try to press against her."
"That's right," she said, smirking. "Charlie's not going to put me in jail."
Luke bit back a curse. The fact that Delia referred to the justice of the peace as Charlie indicated that he was probably one of her regular customers. He wouldn't likely want her locked up.
As long as she stayed out of his way, Luke supposed he didn't care what happened to her. He nodded his head toward the door. "All right. Get out."
Excerpted from Luke Jensen, Bounty Hunter Bad Men Die by William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone. Copyright © 2015 J. A. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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