The Greatest Western Writers Of The 21st Century
The Kerrigans risked everything to stake a claim under a big Texas sky. Now one brave woman is fighting to keep that home, against hard weather, harder luck, and the West's most dangerous men.
A Ranch Divided. . .
After a long hard journey up the Chisholm Trail, Kate Kerrigan is in Dodge City, facing a mystery of murder. A cowboy she hired, a man with a notorious past, has been accused of killing a prostitute and sentenced to hang. Kate still trusts Hank Lowry. And when a hired killer comes after her, she knows she has struck a nerve. Someone has framed Hank for murderin order to cover up a more sinister and deadly crime spawned in the musty backrooms of the Kansas boomtown . . .
Back in west Texas, the Kerrigan ranch is under siege. A wagon train full of gravely ill travelers has come on to the parched Kerrigan range, being led by a man on a secret mission. With Kate's son Quinn manning the home front, one wrong step could be fatal when the shooting suddenly starts . . .
About the Author
William W. Johnstone is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of over 300 books, including the popular Ashes, Mountain Man, and Last Gunfighter series. Visit his website at www.williamjohnstone.net.
Being the all-round 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. Bill, as he preferred to be called, 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 hardand learned. "Every day with Bill was an adventure story in itself. Bill taught me all he could about the art of storytelling and creating believable characters. '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.'" The Loner marked the debut of Tennessee-based J.A. Johnstone as a solo author.
Read an Excerpt
The Kerrigans a Texas Dynasty Journey into Violence
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
"She ran me off her property, darned redheaded Irish witch." Ezra Raven stared hard at his segundo, a tall lean man with ice in his eyes named Poke Hylle. "I want that Kerrigan land, Poke. I want every last blade of grass. You understand?"
"I know what you want, boss," Hylle said. He studied the amber whiskey in his glass as though it had become the most interesting thing in the room. "But wantin' and gettin' are two different things."
"You scared of Frank Cobb, that hardcase segundo of hers? I've heard a lot of men are."
"Should I be scared of him?" Hylle asked.
"He's a gun from way back. Mighty sudden on the draw and shoot."
Hylle's grin was slow and easy, a man relaxed. "Yeah, he scares me. But that don't mean I'm afraid to brace him."
"You can shade him. You're good with a gun your own self, Poke, maybe the best I've ever known," Raven said. "Hell, you gunned Bingley Abbott that time. He was the Wichita draw fighter all the folks were talking about."
"Bing was fast, but he wasn't a patch on Frank Cobb," Hylle said. "Now that's a natural fact."
"All right, then, forget Cobb for now. There's got to be a better way than an all-out range war." Raven stepped to the ranch house window and stared out at the cloud of drifting dust where the hands were branding calves. "I offered Kate Kerrigan twice what her ranch is worth, but she turned me down flat. How do you deal with a woman like that?"
"Carefully." Hylle smiled. "I'm told she bites."
"Like a cougar. Shoved a scattergun into my face and told me to git. Me, Ezra Raven, who could buy and sell her and all she owns." The big man slammed a fist into his open palm. "Damn, I need that land. I want to be big, Poke, the biggest man around. That's just how I am, how I've always been, and I ain't about to change."
The door opened and a tall, slender Pima woman stepped noiselessly across the floor and placed a white pill and a glass of water on Raven's desk.
"Damn, is it that time again?"
"Take," the woman said. "It is time." She wore a plain, slim-fitting calico dress that revealed the swell of her breast and hips. A bright blue ribbon tied back her glossy black hair, and on her left wrist she wore a wide bracelet of hammered silver. She was thirty-five years old. Raven had rescued her from a brothel in Dallas, and he didn't know her Indian name, if she had one. He called her Dora only because it pleased him to do so.
Raven picked up the pill and glared at it. "The useless quack says this will help my heart. I think the damned thing is sugar rolled into a ball."
Hylle waved an idle hand. "Man's got to follow the doctor's orders, boss."
Raven shrugged, swallowed the medication with a gulp of water, and handed the glass back to the Pima woman. "Beat it, Dora. White men are talking here."
The woman bowed her head and left.
"Poke, like I said, I don't want to take on a range war. It's a messy business. Nine times out of ten the law gets involved and next thing you know, you're knee-deep in Texas Rangers."
Hylle nodded. "Here's a story you'll find interesting, boss. I recollect one time in Galveston I heard a mariner talk about how he was first mate on a freighter sailing between Shanghai and Singapore in the South China Sea. Well, sir, during a watch he saw two ironclads get into a shooting scrape. He said both ships were big as islands and they had massive cannons in dozens of gun turrets. Both ships pounded at each other for the best part of three hours. In the end neither ironclad got sunk, but both were torn apart by shells and finally they listed away from each other, each of them trailing smoke. Nobody won that fight, but both ships paid a steep price." He swallowed the last of his whiskey. "A range war is like that, boss. Ranchers trade gunfire, hired guns and punchers die, but in the end, nobody wins."
"And then the law comes in and cleans up what's left," Raven said.
"That's about the size of it," Hylle said.
"I don't want that kind of fight. Them ironclads could have avoided a battle and sailed away with their colors flying. Firing on each other was a grandstand play and stupid."
Hylle rose from his chair, stepped to the decanters, and poured himself another drink. He took his seat again and said, "Boss, maybe there is another way."
"Let's hear it," Raven said. "But no more about heathen seas and ironclads. Damn it, man, you're making me seasick."
Hylle smiled. "From what I've seen of the Kerrigan place it's a hardscrabble outfit and Kate has to count every dime to keep it going. Am I right about that?"
"You're right. The KK Ranch is held together with baling wire and Irish pride. She's building a house that isn't much bigger than her cabin. She's using scrap lumber and the first good wind that comes along will blow it all over creation." Raven lifted his chin and scratched his stubbly throat. "Yeah, I'd say Kate Kerrigan's broke or damned near it."
"So answer me this, boss. What happens if her herd doesn't go up the trail next month?"
A light glittered in Raven's black eyes. "She'd be ruined."
"And eager to sell for any price," Hylle said.
Raven thought that through for a few moments then said, "How do we play it, Poke? Remember them damned ironclads of yours that tore one another apart."
"No range war. Boss, we do it with masked men — night riders. We scatter the Kerrigan herd, gun a few waddies if we must, but leave no evidence that can be tied to you and the Rafter-R. Stop her roundup and the woman is out of business." Hylle smiled. "Pity though. She's real pretty."
"So are dollars and cents, Poke. The Kerrigan range represents money in my pocket." Raven was a big, rawboned man, and his rugged face was bisected by a great cavalry mustache and chin beard. He lit a cigar and said behind a blue cloud of smoke, "We wait until the branding is done and then we strike at the Kerrigan herds, scatter them to hell and gone before Kate can start the gather. Can we depend on the punchers?"
Hylle nodded. "They ride for the brand, boss."
"Good. A two-hundred-dollar bonus to every man once the job is done and I own the Kerrigan range." Raven slapped his hands together. "Do you think it can work?"
"No question about that. No cattle drive to Dodge, no money for the KK."
"Hell, now I feel better about things, Poke. It's like you're a preacher and I just seen the light. How about another drink?"
Hylle grinned. "Don't mind if I do, boss. We'll drink to the ruin of the KK and the end of pretty Mrs. Kerrigan's stay in West Texas."CHAPTER 2
Kate Kerrigan stood on her hearthstone and watched the rider. He was still a distance off and held his horse to a walk. The weight of the Remington .41 revolver in the pocket of her dress gave her a measure of reassurance. The little rimfire was a belly gun to be sure, but effective if she could get close enough.
That Kate could stand on her hearthstone and see the man at a distance was not surprising since her new home was still only a frame and a somewhat rickety one at that. She'd scolded the construction foreman, but Black Barrie Delaney, captain of the brig Octopus, had assured her that he had inspected the work and the basic structure was sound. As she often did, Kate recalled their last conversation with distaste.
* * *
"I did not bring, all the way from Connemara, mind you, a slab of green marble for your hearthstone, Kate, only to have your new house fall about your ears." Delaney wore a blue coat with brass buttons. Thrust into the red sash around his waist were two revolvers of the largest kind and a murderous bowie knife.
"Barrie Delaney, I'll never know why I let a pirate rogue like you talk me into building my house," Kate said. "Why, 'tis well-known that you should have been hanged at Execution Dock in London town years ago."
"Ah, Her Majesty Queen Victoria's mercy knows no bounds and she saw fit to spare a poor Irish sailorman like me."
"More fool her," Kate said. "You've sent many a lively lad to Davy Jones's locker and a goodly woman or two if the truth be known. Well, here's a word to the wise, Barrie Delaney, fix this house to my liking or I'll hang you myself or my name is not Kate Kerrigan."
Delaney, a stocky man with a brown beard and quick black eyes full of deviltry that reflected the countless mortal sins he'd committed in his fifty-eight years of life, gave a little bow. "Kate, I swear on my sainted mother's grave that I will build you a fine house, a dwelling fit for an Irish princess."
"Fit for me and my family will be quite good enough," Kate said.
* * *
Kate shook her head at the memory. As she watched the rider draw closer, she pushed on the support stud next to her. It seemed that the whole structure swayed and she made a mental note to hang Black Barrie Delaney at the first convenient opportunity.
Kate's daughters Ivy and Shannon, growing like weeds, stepped out of the cabin, butterfly nets in hand, and she ordered them back inside.
Ivy, twelve years old and sassy, frowned. "Why?"
Her mother said, "Because I said so. Now, inside with you. There's a stranger coming."
"Ma, is it an Indian?" Shannon asked.
"No, probably just a passing rider, but I want to talk with him alone."
The girls reluctantly stepped back into the cabin and Kate once more directed her attention to the stranger. He was close enough that she saw he was dressed in the garb of a frontier gambler and he rode a big American stud, a tall sorrel that must have cost him a thousand dollars and probably more.
The rider drew rein ten yards from where Kate stood and she saw that his black frockcoat, once of the finest quality, was frayed and worn, and a rent on the right sleeve above the elbow had been neatly sewn. His boots and saddle had been bought years before in a big city with fancy prices and the ivory-handled Colt and carved gun belt around his waist would cost the average cowpuncher a year's wages. He seemed like a man who'd known a life and times far removed from poverty-stricken West Texas. His practiced ease around women was evident in the way he swept off his hat and made a little bow from the saddle.
"Ma'am." The man said only that. His voice was a rich baritone voice and his smile revealed good teeth.
"My name is Kate Kerrigan. I own this land. What can I do for you?"
"Just passing through, ma'am." He'd opened his frilled white shirt at the neck and beads of sweat showed on his forehead. "I' d like to water my horse if I may. We've come a fair piece in recent days, he and I."
Kate saw no threat in the man's blue eyes, but there was much life and the living of it behind them. His experiences, whatever they were, had left shadows.
"Then you're both welcome to water," Kate said. "The well is over there in front of the cabin and there's a dipper."
The man touched his hat. "Obliged, ma'am." He kneed his horse forward. His roweled spurs were silver, filigreed with gold scrolls and arabesques.
Kate fancied they were such as knights in shining armor wore in the children's picture books.
The rider swung out of the saddle, loosened the girth, and filled a bucket for his horse. Only when the sorrel had drank its fill did he drink himself, his restless, searching eyes never still above the tin rim of the dipper. Finally he removed his coat, splashed water onto his face, and then ran a comb through his thick auburn hair. He donned his hat and coat again, tightened the saddle girth, and smiled at Kate. "Thank you kindly, ma'am. I'm much obliged."
To the Irish, hospitality comes as naturally as breathing and Kate Kerrigan couldn't let the man go without making a small effort. "I have coffee in the pot if you'd like some."
To her surprise, the man didn't answer right away. Usually men jumped at the chance to drink coffee with her and she felt a little tweak of chagrin. The man was tall and wide-shouldered. As he studied his back trail, there was a tenseness about him, not fear but rather an air of careful calculation, like a man on the scout figuring his odds. Finally he appeared to relax. "Coffee sounds real good to me, ma'am."
"Would you like to come into the house?" Kate said. "Unlike this one, it has a roof and four walls."
The man shook his head. "No, ma'am. Seems like you've got a real nice sitting place under the oak tree. I'll take a chair and you can tell your girls they can come out now."
"You saw ... I mean all that way?" Kate said.
"I'm a far-seeing man, ma'am. I don't miss much."
Kate smiled. "Yes. Something tells me you don't."
After studying the cabin, the smokehouse, the barn and other outbuildings, the man said, "I reckon your menfolk are out on the range, this time of year. Branding to be done and the like." He saw the question on Kate's face and waved a hand in the direction of the cabin. "The roof's been repaired and done well, all the buildings are built solid and maintained. That means strong men with calloused hands. Your ranch isn't a two by twice outfit, Mrs. Kerrigan. It's a place that's put down deep roots and speaks of men with sand who will stick."
"And a woman who will stick," Kate said.
"I have no doubt about that, ma'am. Your husband must be real proud of you."
"My husband is dead. He died in the war." Kate smiled. "Now let me get the coffee."
As Kate walked away, the man said after her, "Name's Hank Lowery, ma'am. I think you should know that."
She turned. "Did you think your name would make me change my mind about the coffee?"
"Hank Lowery is a handle some people have a problem with, Mrs. Kerrigan. They rassle with it for a spell and either run me out of town or want to take my picture with the mayor. Either way, they fear me."
Kate said, "Now I remember. I once heard my segundo mention you to my sons. A lot of unarmed men were killed in some kind of fierce battle, wasn't it?"
"The newspapers called it the Longdale Massacre, but it was a gunfight, not a massacre. The men were armed."
"We will not talk of it," Kate said. "You will drink your coffee, Mr. Lowery, and we will not talk a word of it. Does that set well with you?"
Lowery nodded. "Just thought you should know, ma'am."
"Well, now you've told me. Do you take milk and sugar in your coffee? No matter, I'll bring them anyway."
* * *
"Is the sponge cake to your liking, Mr. Lowery?" Kate asked.
The man nudged a crumb into his mouth with a little finger. "It's very good. I've never had sponge cake before, and seldom any other kind of cake, come to that."
"I'm told that sponge cake is Queen Victoria's favorite, one with a cream and strawberry jam filling just like mine."
Lowery smiled. "You're a good cook, Mrs. Kerrigan."
"No I'm not. I'm a terrible cook. I can't even boil an egg. The only thing I can make without ruining it is sponge cake."
"Then I'm honored," Lowery said. "This cake is indeed your masterpiece."
"Thank you, Mr. Lowery. You are most gracious. Ah, here are the girls at last, and Jazmin Salas is with them. She's the one who cooks for the Kerrigan ranch and her husband Marco is my blacksmith."
Kate made the introductions.
Aware of her twelve-year-old blooming girlhood, Ivy played the sophisticated lady and shook Lowery's hand, but seven-year-old Shannon was predictably shy and buried her face in her mother's skirt.
"Beautiful children, Mrs. Kerrigan," Lowery said. "They do you proud."
Jazmin's gaze lingered on the man's holstered Colt, fine clothes, and the silver ring on the little finger of his left hand. She guessed that Mr. Lowery had never done a day's hard work in his life. Although she had heard of such men, they were as alien to her as the strange little Chinamen who toiled on the railroads.
"Is the gentleman staying for supper, Mrs. Kerrigan? If he is I'll set an extra place at table."
Lowery read the signs. "There's no need. I should be riding on."
"Of course you'll stay for supper, Mr. Lowery," Kate said, recovering from her indecision. "I will not allow a man to leave my home hungry." To lift the mood, she added, "We're having chicken and dumplings. Is that to your taste?"
"If it's as good as the sponge cake then it most certainly is."
"Better," Kate said. "Jazmin is a wonderful cook."
"Will we eat in the dining room ... again?" Jazmin said.
"Of course. Where else would we eat?"
Jazmin's eyes lifted to the table and chairs set up within the wobbly frame of the new house. "Yes, ma'am. Let's hope the weather holds and there is no wind."
If Hank Lowery was amused, he had the good manners not to let it show.CHAPTER 3
Kate Kerrigan's menfolk rode in just as day shaded into night and Jazmin lit the candles on the dining room table. The men waved to Kate as they rode to the bunkhouse to wash off the trail dust. By the time Frank Cobb, her sons Trace and Quinn, Moses Rice, and eight punchers she'd hired for the gather and drive up the Chisholm had finished with the roller towel it was black. Moses changed it in a hurry, fearing Kate's wrath because he hadn't done it earlier.
The hired hands ate in the bunkhouse, but Kate and her children considered Moses Rice family, even though he was a black man. He sat at the dining room table, as did Frank Cobb. The tension between Frank and Hank Lowery was immediate and obvious. As a guest, Lowery sat on Kate's right side and Frank opposite him. In the flickering candlelight, the two men's eyes clashed, challenged, and held. Trace Kerrigan, seventeen years old that spring and used to being around rough men, dropped his hand to the Winchester he'd propped against his chair. He would not allow gunplay at the table and certainly not with his mother in the line of fire.
Lowery broke the silence and talked into an atmosphere as fragile as a glass rod. "Howdy, Frank. It's been a while."
"Seems like," Frank said.
"You don't want me here, do you?" Lowery said.
"No, I don't."
"I stayed for the chicken and dumplings," Lowery said. "No other reason."
"Yes, there is another reason," Kate said. "Frank, I asked Mr. Lowery to have supper with us. The decision was mine."
"Was that before or after he told you about Longdale, Kate?" Frank's voice was tight, thin, and menacing. "Ask Lowery about Levi Fry ... or did he already boast of it?"
"Why don't you ask me, Frank?" Lowery said.
"Damn you, I will. Tell me why, when the old man was down on his hands and knees and coughing up black blood, did you put a bullet in his head?"
"Whoever told you that is a damn liar," Lowery said. "And you were a damn fool to listen to him."
"I won't let you play Kate for a fool!" Frank's chair tipped over as he jumped to his feet, his hand dropping for a gun.
Two things happened quickly. The first was the clack-clack of the lever of Trace's Winchester.
The second was Kate's shout of, "Enough!"
Excerpted from The Kerrigans a Texas Dynasty Journey into Violence by William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone. Copyright © 2016 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.
Table of Contents
BOOK ONE - Death in Dodge,
BOOK TWO - Gunfight at Eagle Pass,
BOOK THREE - Sacrifice,
THE GREATEST WESTERN WRITERS OF THE 21ST CENTURY,
J. A. Johnstone on William W. Johnstone "Print the Legend",