The Greatest Western Writer Of The 21st Century
On the rolling Missouri River a riverboat of fur traders, a U.S. Senator and Prussian royalty are all heading to the Yellowstone from St. Louis. Preacher's onboard because the nation's fate depends on the passengers landing safe and sound. But it won't be easy. Two beautiful women make a play for Preacher. So does a killer. So does a band of river pirates. No sooner does Preacher beat back these threats than the riverboat lands in the middle of a blood-soaked Indian ambushwith a Prussian nobleman and his family taken hostage. Preacher has no choice but to go off in pursuit, even with a traitor trying to slaughter him. Someone wants to start a war and change the course of American history. Only a lone mountain man and the ambush of bullets he wields with deadly, unerring force stands in the way. . .
About the Author
William W. Johnstone is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of over 300 books, including Preacher, The Last Mountain Man, Luke Jensen Bounty Hunter, Flintlock, Savage Texas, Matt Jensen, The Last Mountain Man; The Family Jensen, Sidewinders, and Shawn O'Brien Town Tamer . His thrillers include Phoenix Rising, Home Invasion, The Blood of Patriots, The Bleeding Edge, and Suicide Mission. Visit his website at www.williamjohnstone.net or by email 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
The First Mountain Man
By William W. Johnstone, J.A. JOHNSTONE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
One of these days he was going to just stop coming to St. Louis, Preacher told himself as he looked down the barrel of the flintlock pistol the angry black-bearded man was pointing at him. It seemed like trouble was always waiting for him every time he set foot in civilization.
Preacher dived forward as smoke and flame spouted from the pistol. The heavy lead ball hummed through the space where his chest had been a split second earlier.
Preacher landed on a shoulder and rolled over with the lithe, athletic grace of a younger man. Preacher was approaching middle age but didn't look or act like it. The life he had lived since leaving his family's farm and heading for the frontier more than two decades earlier had kept him young.
As he let the momentum of the somersault carry him back up onto his feet, he considered snatching his heavy hunting knife from the fringed and beaded sheath at his waist and plunging it into the gunman's chest.
Hell, the varmint deserved it, Preacher thought. He'd pulled a gun, after all.
But while killing this idiot wouldn't make Preacher lose a minute's sleep, dealing with the law afterward would be an annoyance. The authorities had started to frown on wanton slaughter, even in raucous riverfront taverns like Red Mike's.
So Preacher left the knife where it was, balled his right fist, put the considerable power of his body behind it, and broke the stupid son of a bitch's jaw with one punch instead.
Like a fool, the man had been trying to reload his pistol when he didn't have nearly enough time to accomplish that task before Preacher hit him. When the mountain man's punch exploded against his jaw, the impact drove him into the bar with bone-crunching force. The man's arms flew wide. The empty pistol slipped from his fingers, flew across the room, and smashed into the face of a burly keelboat man.
The redheaded whore who had started the whole ruckus by screaming in pain when the black-bearded man grabbed her by the hair and jerked her up against him now threw her arms around Preacher's neck.
"You saved me from that brute!" she gushed. She came up on her toes and planted her painted mouth on Preacher's mouth.
Preacher didn't have any objections to kissing a whore, but he knew better than to close his eyes while he was doing it, too. Because of that, he saw the keelboat man leap up from the table, blood running like twin rivers from his busted nose, and charge across the room like a maddened bull.
Clearly, the fella didn't care whose fault it was that he'd gotten walloped in the snoot. The black-bearded man had collapsed in a moaning heap at the foot of the bar, so the river man headed for the combatant who was still on his feet to take out his rage.
Preacher thought about shoving the whore at the man to trip him—after all, she'd had a hand in this mess—but that wouldn't be the chivalrous thing to do and Preacher still tried on occasion to be a gentleman.
So he took hold of the redhead under the arms, picked her up, and swung her out of the way.
"Better scoot, darlin'," he advised her with a pat on her attractive rump.
Then he turned back to the keelboat man, whose lumbering charge was practically shaking the puncheon floor under Preacher's boots by now.
Preacher lifted a foot and the fella's groin ran right into it at top speed. The shriek he let out was pretty high-pitched for somebody who was almost as wide as he was tall and all muscle. He doubled over, curling around the agony he felt, and barreled into Preacher like somebody had bowled him in a game of ninepins.
As he fell, Preacher thought again that he really ought to stay away from St. Louis in the future. There were other places to sell his furs now.
Then he was down on the sawdust-littered tavern floor and several of the keelboat man's friends came at him like a herd of stampeding buffalo.
"Get him!" one of those men cried.
"Stomp him!" another yelled.
Somebody crashed into the group from the side and with widespread arms swept the two leaders off their feet. That gave Preacher time to get his hands and knees under him and surge up to his feet once more.
He snatched a bucket of beer from a nearby table and waded into the remaining three men, swinging the bucket like a medieval flail. Two of them went down almost immediately, but the third man landed a punch to the side of Preacher's head that made the mountain man's ears ring. Working on keelboats gave a fella plenty of muscles.
One of the men Preacher had knocked down grabbed his leg and twisted. Preacher yelled more in annoyance than in pain and tried to kick the man free. The one who was still on his feet took advantage of the distraction and hammered a punch to Preacher's solar plexus that knocked the air out of his lungs.
Then he tackled Preacher around the waist and dragged him to the floor.
Preacher wound up wrestling with all three of them as he rolled around in the sawdust. A pungent blend of spilled beer, vomit, unwashed flesh, and horse dung assaulted his nostrils. He clamped a hand around the throat of one opponent and banged his head against the puncheons hard enough to make the man's eyes roll back in their sockets. He was out of the fight after that.
Another man looped an arm around Preacher's neck from behind and squeezed. The man's forearm was like an iron bar. Preacher was still mostly out of breath, and as long as the man was choking him like that, he couldn't get any air in.
Everything started to go hazy around him, and Preacher knew it wasn't just from all the pipe smoke that hung in the air inside Red Mike's.
He felt the hot breath of the man who was choking him against the back of his neck. That meant his face was right handy. Preacher drove his head back as hard as he could. His skull was thick enough that the fella's nose had no chance against it. Cartilage crunched and blood spurted under the impact.
That loosened the man's grip enough for Preacher to gulp down a breath, but the man was stubborn and didn't let go. Instead he stood up and hauled Preacher with him.
Upright again, Preacher spotted the fella who had pitched in to help him. He was part of a tangled mass of flailing fists and kicking feet a few yards away. The rest of the tavern's patrons had grabbed their drinks and their serving wenches and gotten out of the way, clearing a space in front of the bar for the battles.
"Hang on to him, Rory! We'll teach him he can't treat us that way!"
The shout came from the other keelboat man still on his feet. As his friend kept up the pressure on Preacher's throat, he closed in with his knobby, malletlike fists poised to hand the mountain man a beating.
As the man rushed in, Preacher grabbed the arm across his throat with both hands, pulled his feet off the floor, lifted his knees, and then lashed out with both legs. His boot heels caught the man in the chest with such force that he was knocked back a dozen feet before he landed on top of one of Red Mike's rough-hewn tables and lay there with his arms and legs splayed out.
Preacher got his feet on the floor again and drove hard with them, forcing the man who held him backward. Preacher always knew where he was and what was around him. His long, dangerous life had ingrained that habit in him. Just as he expected, after a couple of steps the small of the man's back struck the edge of the bar. This time it was enough to make him let go completely.
Preacher lifted an elbow up and back. It caught the man on the jaw and snapped his head around. Preacher pivoted, took hold of the front of the man's linsey-woolsey shirt, and forced him up and over the bar. A shove sent him sprawling behind it.
The man who'd helped Preacher had his hands full with his two opponents. One man had him down on the floor choking him while the other man tried to kick him and stomp him in the head. Preacher laced his fingers, stepped up, and swung his clubbed hands against the back of the second man's neck. It was a devastating blow that dropped the man like a poleaxed steer.
With the odds even now, Preacher's ally was able to cup his hands and slap them over the ears of the man choking him, causing that varmint to turn loose and howl in pain. Freed, the man bucked up from the floor and swung a right and a left that had his opponent rolling across the puncheons. The man landed with both knees in his belly and sledged two more punches down into his face.
That ended the fight.
The brawny Irishman behind the bar, the tavern's namesake, said in a tone of utter disgust, "Preacher, does this have to happen every time you come in here?"
Preacher had picked up the broad-brimmed, round-crowned, gray felt hat that had been knocked off his head early in the fracas. As he punched it back into its usual shape, he grinned at the proprietor and said, "Appears that it does, Mike."
Red Mike grunted, reached down to take hold of the man Preacher had shoved behind the bar, and heaved his senseless form back over the hardwood. The man thudded onto the floor in front of the bar.
As Mike dusted his hands off, he said, "Well, I happen to know those spalpeens just got paid, so I'll collect from 'em for the damages, and maybe a little extra for the annoyance. Why don't the two of you move on so they won't try to start another brouhaha when they wake up?"
"You're chasin' off customers?" Preacher asked, astonished. He clapped his hat on his head.
Red Mike grimaced and said, "I prefer to think of it as limitin' the potential damage to me place."
Preacher chuckled and turned to the man who had pitched in on his side. He intended to offer to buy the fella a drink in some other tavern—there were plenty of them along the river—when he realized that he knew this man.
"Simon Russell!" Preacher said. "What are you doin' here?"
"Actually, I'm looking for you, Preacher," the man said. "I want to offer you a job."CHAPTER 2
"It never turns out well when I work for wages," Preacher said a bit later as he lifted a pewter mug of beer. "I'm a trapper. I work for myself."
"I know that," Simon Russell said. "I also know there's no finer fighting man anywhere west of the Mississippi."
They were in a somewhat more upscale drinking establishment now. The mighty river was several blocks away. The whores who worked here dressed a bit more discreetly and weren't as brazen in their behavior. The floor still had sawdust on it, but it was swept out and replaced more often.
Simon Russell wore a brown tweed suit instead of the greasy buckskins he'd sported when Preacher first met him in the mountains ten years earlier. They had seen each other at a number of rendezvous since then and had always gotten along well. Preacher considered the man a friend, although he wasn't nearly as close to Russell as he was to, say, Audie and Nighthawk.
A thatch of lank blond hair topped Russell's squarish head. His clean-shaven face bore the permanent tan of a man who had spent most of his life outdoors, like Preacher. They weren't really that different, Preacher mused, although obviously Russell had taken to civilization better than Preacher ever would.
"I heard you were in town and figured I might catch up to you at Red Mike's," Russell went on. "I wasn't surprised to find you in the middle of a brawl, either. Seems like you get mixed up in one every time you set foot in there. What started it?"
Preacher set his mug back on the table after taking a long swallow of beer.
"Oh, a fella was mistreatin' a woman."
"A whore, you mean. I doubt if a respectable woman has ever set foot in Red Mike's."
"She was still a woman," Preacher snapped. His first real love had been a whore, and he had never forgotten Jenny.
"I didn't mean any offense," Russell said. "I know how quick you are to jump into a fracas any time you think somebody is being wronged."
Preacher just shrugged and didn't say anything.
"Or when the odds just aren't fair."
"I already thanked you for pitchin' in," Preacher said, "and I paid for that beer you're drinkin', even though anybody could tell by lookin' at the two of us that you got a heap more money in your pockets than I do."
"Sorry. I didn't mean for it to come out that way."
Preacher wasn't convinced of that, but he let it go. He sighed and asked, "What is it you want me to do, anyway?"
Russell didn't answer the question directly. Instead he said, "You know I work for the American Fur Company now, don't you?"
"I might've heard somethin' about it," Preacher replied with a slow nod.
The American Fur Company was the oldest and largest fur trading company in the United States. Founded by John Jacob Astor, the market it provided for beaver pelts had probably done more to promote the exploration of the continent's western half than anything else, no matter what the historians might say about Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and the Louisiana Purchase. Knowledge for its own sake was all well and good, but throw in the promise of some profit and a lot more people were likely to sit up and take notice.
"The company has started sending riverboats up the Missouri to the mouth of the Yellowstone so our men can buy furs directly from the trappers up there," Russell continued. "The Yellowstone is as far as they can navigate."
"I heard about that, too. Can't say as I really cotton to the idea."
"Why not?" Russell asked with a frown.
"Riverboats are smelly, smoky contraptions, and they make a hell of a racket," Preacher said. "You've been all over that country out there, Simon, just like I have. You've seen how quiet and peaceful it is. You send riverboats up the Missouri, you're just gonna scare all the wildlife, and you're liable to spook the Indians, too."
Russell leaned forward and said, "Actually, that's exactly why I wanted to talk to you, Preacher. The last few times a boat has gone upriver, it's run into problems. Some have been attacked by Indians, and some have been waylaid by river pirates."
"Pirates," Preacher repeated. "Like the Harpe brothers over on the Ohio?" He had heard plenty of stories about those bloodthirsty criminal siblings known as Big Harpe and Little Harpe.
Preacher shook his head.
"I don't recollect hearin' anything about pirates on the Missouri," he told his old friend.
"That's because there was never enough traffic upriver to make it worth their while ... until now. The company has had boats attacked on the way up, while they were carrying the money to buy furs, and they've been attacked on the way back down and had a whole boatload of plews stolen. Of course the Indians aren't interested in stealing money or furs. They just want to kill the crews and set the boats on fire so they won't come up the river again."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Preacher said. "I can make a guess what this is leadin' up to. You're in charge of one of these riverboats, and you want me to come along."
Russell clenched his right hand into a fist and lightly thumped it on the table.
"That's exactly what I want," he said. "You're friends with a lot of the tribes out there, and the ones that aren't your friends are afraid of you."
"I don't reckon I'd go so far as to say that."
"I would," Russell declared. "They don't call you Ghost Killer for no reason."
Preacher inclined his head in acknowledgment of that point. In the past he had made war against the Blackfeet, the Absaroka, the Arikaras, and several of the other tribes.
The Blackfeet especially hated him. Russell was right about them fearing him, too. More than once he had crept into an enemy camp under cover of darkness with no one seeing or hearing him, slit the throats of several warriors, and departed just as stealthily, so the deaths weren't discovered until morning. It was a very effective way to demoralize an enemy.
It also made legends grow up around him, which wasn't something that Preacher necessarily wanted, although he had been known to take advantage of the fact.
"And if we run into any of those pirates," Russell went on, "there's nobody I'd rather have around to help me run them off than you. Anyway, if word was to get around that Preacher was on that boat, they might decide to leave it alone."
You're countin' an awful lot on my reputation," he said.
"Well, of course I am. You're the most famous mountain man since Colter and Bridger."
Excerpted from Preacher's Slaughter by William W. Johnstone, J.A. JOHNSTONE. Copyright © 2015 J. A. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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