Outlaws have taken Frank Morgan's son, and with all the good gunfighting men either dead or dying, Morgan knows he'll be riding after the kidnappers alone. But just as he gets close to the men he's hunting, he comes upon a ghost town nestled into the Rocky Mountain valley. For Morgan, the mystery of what happened to the town--and of the deadly spirit that haunts it--has to take second fiddle to what's brought him this far. Determined to free his son, he'll lure his enemies to this godforsaken place, where amidst the ghosts, the gunfighters, and the gunsmoke, he'll make sure the killing is real.
Frank Morgan rode into Glenwood Springs in Colorado Territory late in the afternoon, following the trail of Victor Vanbergen and Ned Pine, the outlaw leaders who had held his son, Conrad, for ransom. Conrad was safe now, after Frank's deadly encounter with two outlaw gangs. He'd left a trail of blood and graves in his wake to free his boy, but the business wasn't finished until Vanbergen and Pine paid for their mistake.
Frank had given up his old ways, the gunfighting trade, years earlier, but when his boy was taken prisoner by Pine and Vanbergen, he had opened an old trunk he kept under his bed and cleaned both of his pistols. There were some things even a peace-loving man couldn't tolerate.
He stopped his horse at a weed-choked cemetery near the edge of town when he saw an old man standing near the wrought-iron fence around the grave markers. Frank's brown dog growled. The old fellow turned around and gave him a look.
"Howdy," Frank said. He silenced Dog with a sharp whistle.
The man nodded. "You're a stranger to these parts," he said. "I reckon you came to see the famous Doc Holliday."
"That's not why I'm here," Frank replied. "I've heard about Holliday and the OK Corral shootings down in Tombstone. I didn't know he was here in Glenwood Springs."
"He came here to die. He's got consumption."
"I didn't know," Frank told him.
"We've got us a sanitarium in town. Lots of folks used to come here to take them hot mineral baths. Makes 'em live longer, or so I hear. This place is nearly a ghost town now.
"Holliday's almost dead, but he gets visitors from time to time who want to see what he looks like. There was this story in the Glenwood Springs Herald about how Doc Holliday used to be a dentist. He had this unusual sign above his office. I seen a tintype of it."
"What did the sign say that was so interesting?" Frank wanted to know.
The old man frowned. "It went somethin' like this, that if satisfaction with my dental work ain't given, your money will be given back."
Frank chuckled, then got back to the business at hand. "I'm looking for a couple of men who passed this way. They had some other men with them. One's name is Ned Pine, and the other is Victor Vanbergen."
"Hell, stranger, damn near everybody in these parts knows Ned Pine. He's a killer, wanted by the law. Are you some kind of lawman?"
"You're sure packin' a lot of iron on that horse. A rifle an' a shotgun."
Frank ignored the remark. He also carried a pistol under his coat that the man apparently hadn't noticed. "Have you seen Pine around this town lately?"
"No, sir, I sure ain't."
Frank was distracted when he saw a figure in the shadows of a tree at the back of the cemetery. "Who is that?" he asked as he opened his coat for a better reach toward his gun if the need arose.
"Who are you talkin' about, mister?" the old man asked when he stared across the fence.
"That man. . . he looks like an Indian." Frank pointed to the back of the cemetery. Dog growled again, fur rigid on his back.
"There ain't nobody there."
Frank saw the figure move away from the back fence of the graveyard. "There he goes now, the fella with long hair dressed in a buckskin shirt. He's walking into that stand of pines behind the fence."
"You must be plumb blind, stranger. There ain't nobody near them trees."
"He's gone now," Frank muttered. "I don't suppose it matters who he was."
The old man turned away. "There's some who claim they can see the Old Ones. The Ones Who Came Before, they call 'em. The Anasazi Injuns used to live here. . . they got mud houses up in the mountains, only they all died off a long time ago. Some folks claim they can see 'em near this buryin' place every now an' then, only they ain't real, like ghosts or somethin'. Most folks in town don't pay no attention to it."
"But I did see someone. . . he was dressed like an Indian," Frank said. "My dog saw him too."
"Look, mister, there ain't nothin' wrong with my eyes an' I damn sure didn't see nobody where you was pointin'. Maybe you oughta get yourself a pair of spectacles."
"I can see well enough."
Frank reined his horse toward Glenwood Springs. He was a shade over six feet tall, broad-shouldered and lean-hipped, a very muscular man. He was in his mid-forties, and had carried the doubtful brand of a gunfighter ever since he was fifteen years old and was forced into a gunfight with an older man down in Texas.
Frank had killed the man, and several years later he had been forced into a gunfight with the man's brothers.
He had killed them all with deadly precision.
His reputation as a gunfighter had been etched in stone from that day forward. That was many, many years in the past, many gunfights ago.
The number of dead men Frank left behind him could not equal that of Smoke Jensen and a few others -- nor did Frank want it to -- but nonetheless that number was staggeringly high. He didn't count the dead any longer. Frank had not started a single one of those gunfights, but he had finished them all.
Frank had married in Denver, a lovely girl named Vivian, but her father, a wealthy man, hated Frank. He framed him for a crime he did not commit, then said he would not pursue it if Frank would leave and never see Vivian again.
Frank had no choice; he pulled out of Denver and didn't see or hear from Vivian for years. Her father had the marriage annulled.
Vivian remarried and took over her father's many businesses after his death, and she became one of the wealthiest women in America. Vivian's husband had died a few years back. She had a son, Conrad, and it was not until years later that Frank learned the young man was his own.
It came as quite a shock.
Frank had drifted into a mining town in northern New Mexico and discovered that Vivian was there, overseeing a huge mining operation. But a few weeks later, after Frank and Vivian had begun to pick up the pieces of their lives and get back together, Vivian was killed and their son was kidnapped by the Ned Pine and Victor Vanbergen gangs.
Frank swore to track them all down and kill them, even if it took him the rest of his life.
He dreamt of the men who had faced his guns in the past and died for their folly. . . there was that kid in Kansas in that little no-name town right after the war. Billy something-or-other, about eighteen or so. Frank had tried to warn the kid off, had done his best to walk away from him, but Billy had insisted on forcing Frank's hand in a deadly duel.
Billy died on the dirty floor of the saloon that night. He hadn't even cleared leather before Frank's bullet tore into his heart.
There was that older man in Arizona Territory, one afternoon years ago, who called Frank out into the street in the mistaken belief that Frank had killed his brother.
Frank repeatedly told the man he'd never heard of the man's brother and to go away and leave him alone, but the man persisted, cursing Frank and calling him yellow.
Seconds later the man went for his gun, and in a single heartbeat was gut-shot, writhing in pain and dying in the street.
Frank turned away, mounted up, and rode out of town at a jog trot.
Then there was the fight with the father and his sons to haunt him. Frank had stopped off in a small blot on the map in the panhandle of Texas for supplies.
There was a liquored-up young man in the store/trading post/ saloon. The young man had a bad mouth and an evil temper that fateful day.
He kept bothering Frank, who just tried to ignore him, but the punk kept pushing and pushing, and he finally made the fatal mistake of putting his hands on Frank.
Frank didn't like people to put hands on him. He flattened the young man with a big hard right fist and left him on the floor.
Someone yelled for Frank to watch out. Frank turned, his .45 ready in his hand. The punk had leveled a .44 at him with the hammer trimmed back.
Frank shot him right between the eyes and made a big mess on the floor, a bloody mess.
The young man's father and his other two sons caught up with Frank on the trail about a week later.
The father and sons didn't believe in much conversation. They opened fire on Frank as soon as they got within range.
Frank headed for an upthrusting of rocks and brush, and an all-day battle ensued. The father and one of his sons were killed, the remaining son badly wounded. Frank patched up the wounded boy as best he could, buried the two others, and pulled out.
There wasn't much else he could do.
He remembered the time he found a family butchered by Indians. Frank was prowling through the ruins of the cabin when a small posse from a nearby town rode up, and in their ugly rage they thought Frank had committed the atrocity. That was a very ugly scene, involving a hanging rope. . . until Frank filled both hands with Colts.
He made a believer out of the sheriff and what remained of his posse before the affair was over -- a bloody shootout and a pile of corpses.
Frank made it a habit to avoid Arizona Territory for several years after that. He knew there would be a price on his head in Arizona.
He rode into Glenwood Springs now, and halted his horse in front of the town's only hotel, Gold Miner's Lodge. He pulled off his hat and ran fingers through dark brown hair peppered with gray, making a mental note to buy a comb or a brush. Then he popped the cover on his pocket watch and checked the time. It was past four o'clock.
He glanced at his image in the hotel's front window after he swung down from the saddle.
"You're too old for this kind of life," he muttered, tying off his horse, wishing for the comforts of a soft bed and a decent meal after so many days on the trail.
But his advancing age would do nothing to turn him away from a rendezvous with Ned Pine and Victor Vanbergen. All he had to do was find them, make them pay in blood for what they had done to his son and wife.
He needed to find a place to stable his horse after he hired a room for the night. Then a hot bath, a shave, and a haircut before inquiring about the best beefsteak in town.
He made himself a promise as he climbed the steps leading to the hotel. After he found Pine and Vanbergen he would put his guns away for good.
"Hey, mister," a voice called from the hotel veranda.
Every muscle in Frank's body tensed -- he made ready to claw iron.
An old man was sitting on a bench whittling on a stick. "Are you Frank Morgan the gunslinger?"
"My name's Frank Morgan," he said. "Thought I recognized you. Are you out to kill somebody in this ol' ghost town? Ain't many of us to choose from."
Frank wagged his head. "Just looking for a clean room, a hot bath, and something decent to eat."
He went inside before there was a chance for more conversation about his past, a past he wanted to forget.
Copyright © 2001 by William W. Johnstone