The Greatest Western Writer Of The 21st Century
With his monumental Mountain Man and Eagles series, William W. Johnstone has become America’s most popular Western writer. Now, with J.A. Johnstone, he unleashes the Sidewinders, two honest Texas cowboys with an uncanny knack for lighting wildfires everywhere they go…
Home Sweet Deadly Home
If there’s anything better than coming home to Texas, it’s getting paid to do it. For Scratch Morton and Bo Creel, always on the hunt for funds, the job is taking three vicious criminals from Arkansas to Tyler, Texas for trial. Little do they know that one of the criminals, the one that’s a beautiful woman, is the most dangerous of all. Soon the journey home turns into a race for buried treasure, a shoot-out, and another double cross—until Scratch and Bo are making one last mad, bullet-sprayed dash through the land of their birth… or the land of their death…
Scratch Morton peered up at the gallows and said, “I’d just as soon go somewheres else, Bo. This place surely does give me the fantods.”
“You don’t have anything to worry about,” Bo Creel told his old friend, “if you haven’t done anything to give Judge Parker cause to order you hanged.”
Scratch frowned and shook his head. “I dunno. They don’t call that fella the Hangin’ Judge for no reason. He can come up with cause if he wants to.”
Bo laughed and said, “Come on. We don’t have any business with the judge, hanging or otherwise.”
The gallows they’d been looking at was no ordinary affair. It stood off to one side of the big, redbrick federal courthouse in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and had eight trapdoors built into it. When huge crowds gathered on the broad courthouse lawn to watch convicted criminals put to death, it was quite a spectacle at times. It wasn’t that unusual to see eight men kicking out their lives at once at the end of those hang ropes.
As Scratch had said, Judge Isaac Parker wasn’t known as the Hanging Judge for no reason.
The Texans continued strolling past the courthouse. It was a crisp, cold, late winter day, and large white clouds floated in the deep blue sky above Fort Smith. Off to their right, bluffs dropped steeply to the Arkansas River where it curved past the city, forming the border between Arkansas and Indian Territory.
Bo and Scratch had been to Fort Smith before— they had been almost everywhere west of the Mississippi in their decades of wandering—but it had been a while, and after stabling their horses, they had decided to stroll around town and have a look at the place to see how much it had changed.
They probably should have started somewhere besides the courthouse and its adjacent gallows, Bo mused. His old friend Scratch was generally a lawabiding sort, as was Bo himself, but they had wound up on the wrong side of iron bars a few times in their adventurous lives, albeit briefly and usually because of some sort of mistake.
Both men were about the same height. Age had turned Scratch’s hair pure silver and put streaks of gray in Bo’s dark brown hair, but the years hadn’t bent their rugged bodies. Bo was dressed in a sober black suit and hat that made him look a little like a hellfireandbrimstone preacher, while Scratch was the dandy of the pair in hightopped boots, whipcord trousers, a fringed buckskin jacket over a white shirt, and a creamcolored Stetson with a fancy band.
Scratch’s fondness for the flashy extended to his guns, a pair of longbarreled, ivoryhandled Remington revolvers that rode comfortably in cutdown holsters. Bo, on the other hand, as befitted the conservative nature of the rest of his attire, carried a single Colt .45 with plain walnut grips.
The similarity between them was that both Texans were fast on the draw and deadly accurate with their shots when they had to be, although they preferred to avoid trouble if that was at all possible.
Trouble usually had other ideas where they were concerned, though.
In fact, one ruckus or another had been dogging their heels ever since they had met as boys in Texas, during the infamous Runaway Scrape when the Mexican dictator Santa Anna and his army chased the rebellious Texicans almost clear to Louisiana. However, General Sam Houston had known what he was doing all along, and when the time finally came to make a stand, the Texicans lit into Santa Anna’s men in the grassy, bayoubordered fields near San Jacinto and won independence for their land and people.
Despite their youth at the time, Bo and Scratch had been smackdab in the middle of that epic battle, and each had saved the other’s life that day. That was the first time, but hardly the last.
They probably would have been fast friends for life anyway, even if they had settled down to lives as farmers and ranchers as they had intended. But Fate, in the form of a fever, had come along and taken Bo’s wife and children from him after several years of that peaceful existence, and rather than stay where those bitter memories would have haunted him, he rode away and set out on the drift.
He hadn’t gone alone. Scratch had ridden with him, and the two of them had seldom been apart for very long since. They had wandered all over the frontier, taking jobs as ranch hands or shotgun guards or scouts when they needed to. Bo was a more than fair hand with a deck of cards and kept money in their pockets most of the time just by sitting in a poker game now and then. His preacherlike appearance didn’t hurt. Because of it, folks tended to underestimate his pokerplaying ability.
As they passed some steps leading down to the courthouse basement, Scratch shivered, but not from the chilly temperature.
“Hell on the Border,” he said. “I’ve heard about that jail Parker’s got down there in the basement. Sounds like a doggone dungeon if you ask me.”
“I’d just as soon not find out firsthand,” Bo said.
The creaking of wagon wheels made him look to his right. A wagon with an enclosed back was approaching along the drive that ran in front of the courthouse. One man perched on the high driver’s seat, handling the reins hitched to the fourhorse team. He wasn’t all that big, but he had broad shoulders, a prominent nose, and a drooping black mustache. He looked plenty tough and was well armed with two pistols worn buttforward and an old Henry rifle laying on the wagon seat next to him.
Pinned to the man’s coat was a deputy U.S. marshal’s badge, Bo noted.
He and Scratch walked on past the entrance to the jail as the wagon rolled up behind them. The deputy hollered at his team as he hauled back on the reins and brought the vehicle to a halt. Bo glanced curiously over his shoulder and saw the lawman climbing down from the seat.
The deputy was probably either delivering or picking up some prisoners, Bo thought. Either way, it was none of his or Scratch’s business. He heard a lock rattle, then the deputy called out, “All right, climb down outta there, you—”
That was as far as he got before he let out a startled yell. A second later, a gun went off with a boom that rolled across the broad courthouse lawn.
“What in tarnation?!” Scratch exclaimed as he whirled around.
Somehow, Bo wasn’t surprised that trouble had erupted right behind their backs.