Johnstone Justice. Made in America.
A fur trapper by trade, Preacher can smell a bad deal from any direction no matter how well it’s disguised. It wasn’t always that way—he’s got the scars to prove it. Now he’s ready to pass on his deadly survival skills to a boy named Hawk, who just might be his son . . .
Preacher and Hawk ride out of the Rockies and into St. Louis, loaded with furs. It’s Hawk’s first trip to civilization and the moment he lays eyes on young Chessie Dayton he’s lost in more ways than one. When Chessie unwisely signs on for a gold-hungry expedition into the lawless mountains, Hawk convinces Preacher to trail the outfit because they’re all headed straight to the sacred Indian grounds known as the Black Hills—a land of no return. To come out of it alive a lot of people will have to die. And Preacher’s going to need a heap of bullets for this journey into hell . . .
About the Author
William W. Johnstone is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over 300 books, including the series THE MOUNTAIN MAN; PREACHER, THE FIRST MOUNTAIN MAN; MACCALLISTER; LUKE JENSEN, BOUNTY HUNTER; FLINTLOCK; THOSE JENSEN BOYS; THE FRONTIERSMAN; SAVAGE TEXAS; THE KERRIGANS; and WILL TANNER: DEPUTY U.S. MARSHAL. His thrillers include BLACK FRIDAY, TYRANNY, STAND YOUR GROUND, and THE DOOMSDAY BUNKER. Visit his website at www.williamjohnstone.net or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
A rifle ball hummed past Preacher's head, missing him by a foot. At the same time he heard the boom of the shot from the top of a wooded hill fifty yards away. He kicked his feet free of the stirrups and dived out of the saddle.
Even before he hit the ground, he yelled to Hawk, "Get down!"
His half-Absaroka son had the same sort of hair-trigger, lightning-fast reflexes Preacher did. He leaped from his pony and landed beside the trail just a split second after the mountain man did. A second shot from the hilltop kicked up dust at Hawk's side as he rolled.
Preacher had already come up on one knee. His long-barreled flintlock rifle was in his hand when he launched off the rangy gray stallion's back. Now, as he spotted a spurt of powder smoke at the top of the hill where the ambushers lurked, he brought the rifle to his shoulder in one smooth motion, earing back the hammer as he did so.
The weapon kicked hard against his shoulder as he fired.
Instinctively, he had aimed just above the gush of dark gray smoke. Without waiting to see the result of his shot, he powered to his feet and raced toward a shallow gully ten yards away. It wouldn't offer much protection, but it was better than nothing.
As he ran, he felt as much as heard another rifle ball pass close to his ear, disturbing the air. Those fellas up there on the hill weren't bad shots.
But anybody who had in mind ambushing him had ought to be a damned good shot, because trying to kill Preacher but leaving him alive was a hell of a bad mistake.
Before this ruckus was over, he intended to show those varmints just how bad a mistake it was.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Hawk sprinting into a clump of scrubby trees. That was the closest cover to the youngster. Hawk had his rifle, too, and as Preacher dived into the gully, he wasn't surprised to hear the long gun roar.
He rolled onto his side so he could get to his shot pouch and powder horn. Reloading wasn't easy without exposing himself to more gunfire from the hilltop, but this wasn't the first tight spot Preacher had been in.
When he had the flintlock loaded, primed, and ready to go, he wriggled like a snake to his left. The gully ran for twenty yards in that direction before it petered out. Preacher didn't want to stick his head up in the same place where he had gone to ground. He wanted the ambushers to have to watch for him.
That way, maybe they'd be looking somewhere else when he made his next move.
No more shots rang out while Preacher was crawling along the shallow depression in the earth. He didn't believe for a second that the men on the hill had given up, though. They were just waiting for him to show himself.
Over in the trees, Hawk fired again. A rifle blast answered him immediately. Preacher took that as a good time to make his play. He lifted himself onto his knees and spotted a flicker of movement in the trees atop the hill. More than likely, somebody up there was trying to reload.
Preacher put a stop to that by drilling the son of a buck. A rifle flew in the air and a man rolled out of the trees, thrashing and kicking. That commotion lasted only a couple of seconds before he went still ... the stillness of death.
That luckless fella wasn't the only one. Preacher saw a motionless leg sticking out from some brush. That was the area where he had placed his first shot, he recalled. From the looks of that leg, he had scored with that one, too.
Were there any more would-be killers up there? No one shot at Preacher as he ducked down again. The mountain man reloaded once more, then called to Hawk, "You see any more of 'em movin' around up there, boy?"
"No," Hawk replied. Preacher recalled too late that he didn't much cotton to being called "boy." But he was near twenty years younger than Preacher and his son, to boot, so that was what he was going to be called from time to time.
"Well, lay low for a spell longer just in case they're playin' possum."
Now that Preacher had a chance to look around, he saw that his horse, the latest in a series of similar animals he called only Horse, had trotted off down the trail with Hawk's mount and the pack mule they had loaded down with beaver pelts. The big wolflike cur known as Dog was with them, standing guard, although that wasn't really necessary. If anybody other than Preacher or Hawk tried to corral him, Horse would kick them to pieces. But Horse and Dog were fast friends, and Dog wouldn't desert his trail partner unless ordered to do so.
That was what Preacher did now, whistling to get Dog's attention and then motioning for the cur to hunt. Dog took off like a gray streak, circling to get around behind the hill. He knew as well as Preacher did where the threat lay.
Preacher and Hawk stayed under cover for several minutes. Then Dog emerged from the trees on the hilltop and sat down with his pink tongue lolling out of his mouth. Preacher knew that meant no more danger lurked up there. He had bet his life on Dog's abilities too many times in the past to doubt them now.
"It's all right," he called to Hawk. "Let's go take a look at those skunks."
"Why?" Hawk asked as he stepped out of the trees. "They will not be anyone I know. I have never been in ... what would you say? These parts? I have never been in these parts before."
"Well, they might be somebody I know," Preacher said. "I've made a few enemies in my time, you know."
Hawk snorted as if to say that was quite an understatement.
"What about the horses?" he asked.
"Horse ain't goin' anywhere without me and Dog, and that pony of yours will stay with him. So will the mule."
Taking his usual long-legged strides, Preacher started toward the hill.
As he walked, he looked around for any other signs of impending trouble. The grassy landscape was wide open and apparently empty. Two hundred yards to the south, the Missouri River flowed eastward, flanked by plains and stretches of low, rolling hills. Preacher didn't see any birds or small animals moving around. The earlier gunfire had spooked them, and it would be a few more minutes before they resumed their normal routine. The animals were more wary than Preacher, probably because they didn't carry guns and couldn't fight back like the mountain man could.
"Since you ain't gonna recognize either of those carcasses, as you pointed out your own self, you keep an eye out while I check 'em."
Hawk responded with a curt nod. Preacher left him gazing around narrow-eyed and strode up the hill.
The man who had fallen down the slope and wound up in the open lay on his back. His left arm was flung straight out. His right was at his side, and the fingers of that hand were still dug into the dirt from the spasms that had shaken him as he died. He wore buckskin trousers, a rough homespun shirt, and high-topped moccasins. His hair was long and greasy, his lean cheeks and jaw covered with dark stubble. There were thousands of men on the frontier who didn't look significantly different.
What set him apart was the big, bloody hole in his right side. Preacher could tell from the location of the wound that the ball had bored on into the man's lungs and torn them apart, so he had spent a few agonizing moments drowning in his own blood. Not as bad as being gut-shot, but still a rough way to go.
Remembering how close a couple of those shots had come to his head, and how the ambushers had almost killed his son, too, Preacher wasn't inclined to feel much sympathy for the dead man. As far as he could recall, he had never seen the fellow before.
The one lying in the brush under the trees at the top of the hill was stockier and had a short, rust-colored beard. Preacher's swiftly fired shot had caught him just below that beard, shattering his breastbone and probably severing his spine, too. He was dead as could be, like his partner.
But unlike the other man, Preacher had a feeling he had seen this one before. He couldn't say where or when, nor could he put a name to the round face, but maybe it would come to him later. St. Louis was a big town, one of the biggest Preacher had ever seen, and he had been there plenty of times over the years. Chances were he had run into Redbeard there.
Now that he had confirmed the two men were dead and no longer a threat, he looked around to see if they'd had any companions. His keen eyes picked up footprints left by both men, but no others. Preacher crossed the hilltop and found two horses tied to saplings on the opposite slope. He pulled the reins loose and led the animals back over the crest. Hawk stood at the bottom of the hill, peering around alertly.
Preacher took a good look at his son as he approached the young man. Hawk That Soars. That was what his mother had named him. She was called Bird in a Tree, a beautiful young Absaroka woman Preacher had spent a winter with, two decades earlier. Hawk was the result of the time Preacher and Birdie had shared, and even though Preacher had been unaware of the boy's existence until recently, he felt a surge of pride when he regarded his offspring.
With Preacher's own dark coloring, he hadn't passed along much to Hawk to signify that he was half-white. Most folks would take the young man for pure-blood Absaroka. He was a little taller than most warriors from that tribe, a little more leanly built. His long hair was the same raven black as his mother's had been.
One thing he had inherited from Preacher was fighting ability. They made a formidable pair. Months earlier, to avenge a massacre that had left Hawk and the old man called White Buffalo the only survivors from their band, father and son had gone to war against the Blackfeet — and the killing hadn't stopped until nearly all the warriors in that particular bunch were dead.
Since then, they had been trapping beaver with White Buffalo and a pair of novice frontiersmen, Charlie Todd and Aaron Buckley, they had met during the clash with the Blackfeet. During that time, Todd and Buckley had acquired the seasoning they needed to be able to survive on their own, and they had decided to stay in the mountains instead of returning to St. Louis with the load of pelts. Preacher, Hawk, and White Buffalo would take the furs back to sell. Todd and Buckley had shares coming from that sale, and Preacher would see to it that they got them when he and Hawk made it back to the Rocky Mountains.
White Buffalo had surprised them by choosing to remain with a band of Crow they had befriended while they were trapping. Cousins to the Absaroka, the Crow had always gotten along well with Preacher and most white men. They had welcomed Preacher, Hawk, and White Buffalo to their village ... and White Buffalo had felt so welcome he had married a young widow.
Preacher had warned the old-timer that the difference in age between him and his wife might cause trouble in the sleeping robes, but White Buffalo had informed him haughtily, "If she dies from exhaustion, I will find another widow to marry."
You couldn't argue with a fella like that. Preacher and Hawk had agreed to pick him up on their way back to the mountains, if he was still alive and kicking, and if he wanted to go.
That left just the two of them to transport the pelts downriver to St. Louis. Preacher figured they were now within two days' travel of that city on the big river, and so far they hadn't had any trouble.
Hawk heard Preacher coming and turned to watch him descend the rest of the way.
"Two men," Hawk said as he looked at the horses Preacher led. "Both dead."
"Old enemies of yours?"
Preacher shook his head.
"Nope. One of them sort of looked familiar, like maybe I'd seen him in a tavern in the past year or two, but the other fella I didn't know from Adam."
"Then why did they try to kill us?"
Preacher pointed at the heavily laden pack mule standing with Horse and Hawk's pony and said, "Those pelts will fetch a nice price. Some men ask themselves why should they go all that way to the mountains, endure the hardships, and risk life and limb when they can wait around here and jump the fellas on their way back to St. Louis. I can't get my brain to come around to that way of thinkin'— if you want something, it's best just to go ahead and work for it, I say — but there are plenty of folks who feel different."
Hawk grunted. "Thieves. Lower than carrion."
"Well, that's all they're good for now."
Hawk nodded toward the horses and asked, "What are you going to do with them?"
"Take them with us, I reckon. We can sell them in St. Louis."
"If those men have friends, they may recognize the animals and guess that we killed the men who rode them."
Preacher blew out a contemptuous breath.
"Anybody who'd be friends with the likes of those ambushers don't worry me overmuch."
"And what about the dead men themselves?"
"Buzzards got to eat, too," Preacher said, "and so do the worms."
Preacher's estimate was correct. Two more days on the trail found them approaching St. Louis. Above the point where the Missouri River flowed into the Mississippi, he and Hawk crossed the Big Muddy on a ferry run by a Frenchman named Louinet, a descendant of one of the trappers who had first come down the Father of Waters from Canada to this region a hundred years earlier.
Preacher saw the wiry, balding man eyeing the two extra horses and said, "Found these animals runnin' loose a couple days ago, back upstream. You have any idea who they might belong to?"
Louinet shook his head. "Non. Since you found them, I assume they are now yours."
"Reckon so. I just figured I'd get 'em back to whoever rightfully owned 'em, if I could."
"If those animals were running loose with saddles on them, then the men who rode them almost certainly have no further need for them."
"You're probably right about that," Preacher said with a grim smile.
He wasn't worried about who the two ambushers had been, but if Louinet had been able to give him some names, it might have helped him watch out for any friends or relatives of the dead men. But if they came after him and Hawk, so be it. They had only defended themselves and hadn't done anything wrong. Preacher was the sort who dealt with problems when they arose and didn't waste a second of time fretting about the future. It had a habit of taking care of itself.
That attitude was entirely different from being careless, though. Nobody could accuse Preacher of that, either.
Once they were on the other side of the river, Preacher and Hawk rode on, with Hawk leading the string that consisted of the pack mule and the extra mounts. They didn't reach St. Louis until dusk, and as they spotted the lights of the town, Hawk exclaimed softly in surprise and said, "They must have many campfires in this village called St. Louis."
"Those ain't campfires," Preacher said. "They're lights shinin' through windows. Lamps and lanterns and candles. You'll see when we get there."
"Windows, like in the trading posts where we stopped from time to time?"
"Sort of, but a lot of these have glass in 'em." Hawk just shook his head in bafflement, so Preacher went on, "You'll see soon enough, when we get there."
More than likely, window glass wouldn't be the only thing Preacher would have to explain to his son before this visit was over. This was Hawk's first taste of so-called civilization, which held a lot of mysteries for someone accustomed to a simpler, more elemental life.
As they rode into the settlement sprawled along the west bank of the Mississippi, Hawk gazed in wonder at the buildings looming in the gathering shadows. He wrinkled his nose and said, "Ugh. It stinks."
"You're smellin' the docks and the area along the river," Preacher said. "It's a mite aromatic, all right. There are a lot of warehouses along there full of pelts, and not everybody's as careful about cleanin' and dryin' 'em as we are. They start to rot. Then you've got spoiled food and spilled beer and lots of folks who ain't exactly as fresh as daisies. It all mixes together until you get the smell you're expe-riencin' now."
Hawk shook his head. "The high country is better."
"You won't get any argument from me about that, boy ... but this is where the money is."
"This thing you call money is worthless."
"Oh, it has its uses, as long as you don't get too attached to it. Your people trade with each other, and it's sort of the same thing."
"We trade things people can use," Hawk said. "It is not the same thing at all."
"Just keep your eyes open," Preacher said. "You'll learn."
And the youngster probably would learn some things he'd just as soon he hadn't, the mountain man thought.
Excerpted from "Preacher's Kill: The First Mountain Man"
Copyright © 2018 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.