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DAKOTA AMBUSHMatt Jensen, The Last Mountain Man
By William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2011 William W. Johnstone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhen Matt Jensen rode into Swan, Wyoming, few who knew him would have recognized him. He had a heavy beard, his hair was uncommonly long, and he looked every bit the part of a man who had not been under a roof for two months. Eight weeks earlier, he had said good-bye to Smoke Jensen back at Fort Collins, Colorado, arranging to meet him here in Swan on this date. Not since then had Matt seen civilization, having spent the entire two months in the mountains prospecting for gold.
The success of Matt's two months of isolation was now manifested by a canvas bag he had hanging from the saddle horn. The bag was full of color-showing ore. Prospecting wasn't new to Matt; he had learned the trade under the tutelage of his mentor, Smoke Jensen, so he knew the color in the ore was genuine. But exactly how successful he had been would depend upon the assayer's report.
Swan was a flyblown little settlement, not served by any railroad, though there was stagecoach service to Rawlings, where one could connect with the Union Pacific. The town had a single street that was lined on both sides by unpainted, ripsawed, false-fronted buildings. It could have been any of several hundred towns in a dozen Western states. As Matt rode down the street, a couple of scantily dressed soiled doves stood on a balcony and called down to him.
"Hey, cowboy, you're new to town, ain't you?" one of them shouted.
"You gotta be new 'cause I don't know you," the other one added. "And I reckon I know just about ever' man in town if you get my drift," she added in a ribald tone of voice.
Matt smiled, nodded, and touched the brim of his hat by way of returning their greeting.
"Come on up and keep us company. We'll give you a good welcome," the first one shouted down to him.
"Ladies, until I get a bath, I'm not even fit company for my horse," Matt called up to the two women as he rode underneath the overhanging balcony where the two women were standing.
The second soiled dove pinched her nose and, exaggerating, made a waving motion with her hand. "Oh, honey, you've got that right," she teased.
Laughing, Matt rode on down the street until he reached a small building at the far end. A sign in front of the building read J.C. MONTGOMERY, ASSAYER.
Matt swung down from his saddle and tied his horse off at the hitching rail. Hefting the canvas bag over one shoulder, he stepped inside, where he was greeted by a small, thin man.
"Can I help you?" the little man asked.
"Are you the assayer?"
Matt laid the canvas bag on the counter, then took out a handful of rocks and lay them alongside the bag.
"I need you to take a look at this," Matt said.
Montgomery chuckled. "You want me to tell you if it is gold or pyrite, right?"
"No, mister," Matt said. "I know it is gold. All I want you to do is tell me how much money all this is worth."
The assayer picked up a couple of rocks and looked at them casually, before putting them back down. Then, taking a second look at one of them, he picked it up again, and this time he examined it through a magnifying glass.
"What do you think?" Matt asked.
"You're right," Montgomery said. "It is gold."
"You have any idea as to the value?"
"Do all the rocks have this much color?"
"I wouldn't have bothered carrying them in if they didn't," Matt replied.
"Well, then, I would say you have two or three hundred dollars here. In fact, I'll give you three hundred dollars for the entire bag right now."
Matt put the rocks back in the bag. "Would you now?"
"In cash," Montgomery said.
"You always cheat your customers like that?" Matt asked.
"What are you talking about?"
"What I have here is worth two thousand dollars if it is worth a cent," he said. "Thank you, Mr. Montgomery, but I believe I'll take my business somewhere else."
"I'm the only assayer in town."
"Perhaps. But Swan isn't the only town," Matt said as he left the office.
Just up the street from the assayer's office, Matt saw a sign that read HAIRCUTS, SHAVES, BATHS.
"Tell you what, Spirit, you've had to put up with my stink long enough," Matt said, speaking to his horse. "I think I'll go get myself cleaned up before I go looking for Smoke."
Dismounting in front of the building, Matt lifted his bag of ore from the horse, then went inside. Fifteen minutes later, he was sitting in a tub of warm water, scrubbing himself with a big piece of lye soap.
"Don't know if there is enough lye soap in all of Wyoming to get that carcass clean," a voice teased.
"Smoke!" Matt said, a big smile spreading across his face. He started to stand.
"No, no need to stand," Smoke said, holding his hand out, palm forward, to stop him. "You think I want to see that?"
Matt laughed. "How did you know I was in here?" "We did say we were going to meet in Swan today, didn't we?"
"I saw Spirit tied up out front. Did you think I wouldn't recognize him? He used to be my horse, remember?"
"I remember," Matt said.
"How did you do?" Smoke asked.
"See that bag there? It's full of ore. At least two thousand dollars worth, I would guess."
Smoke whistled. "That is good," he said.
"Tell you what, I'll be finished here in a bit. What do you say we go get us a beer? I haven't had a beer in two months."
"Sounds good to me. I'll go get us a table, and I'll even let you buy it, seein' as you had such a good outing," Smoke said.
A few minutes after Smoke left, Matt was out of the tub, had his shirt and trousers on, and had just strapped on his gun belt when three men burst unexpectedly into the room. All three had pistols in their hands.
"We'll take that bag of ore, mister," one of them shouted.
"Who are you?" Matt asked.
"We're the folks you're goin' to give that bag of ore to," one of the three said, and they all laughed.
While the three men were laughing, Matt was drawing his pistol, and while they were reacting to him drawing his pistol, Matt was shooting.
The pistol shots sounded exceptionally loud in the closed room as Matt and the three men exchanged gunfire. When the shooting stopped, Matt had not a scratch, but the three would-be robbers lay dead on the floor.
Matt was still examining the bodies when four more men came bursting into the room. This time, three of them were carrying sawed-off shotguns. They were also wearing badges.
The fourth man with them was the assayer.
"There he is, Sheriff! He is the one who stole the bag of ore!" Montgomery shouted, pointing at Matt.
"What?" Matt asked. "What are you talking about?
I didn't steal any ore from you!"
"He come into the office a little while ago," Montgomery said. "He had a bag of worthless rocks, usin' it as a way getting my attention. While I was looking at his rocks, he stole a bag of genuine ore. I didn't have no choice but to send my brother and two cousins to get the ore back. Didn't know it would come to this, though."
Montgomery looked down at the three dead bodies, then shook his head sadly. "If I had known they was goin' to be murdered like this, I never would'a sent 'em over here. A bag plumb full of gold nuggets isn't worth getting three good men killed."
"Come along, mister," the sheriff said, waving his shotgun menacingly at Matt. "You are about to learn that folks don't come into my town to steal and murder and get away with it."
"Sheriff, this man is lying," Matt said. "I brought some ore in for him to assay, he tried to cheat me out of it, so I told him I would go somewhere else. You think I would stop to take a bath if I stole anything in this town?"
"I don't know what you would do, mister," the sheriff said. "But the thing is, I know Montgomery and I don't know you. So I reckon we'll let the judge sort it all out."
Matt looked at the three shotguns that were leveled at him. He was holding a pistol and he had a notion, but declined. He might be able to kill the sheriff and both his deputies before they realized what was happening, but then, he might not either. They were carrying shotguns, which gave them an advantage. It would also mean killing innocent men, and he couldn't bring himself to do that.
Matt turned the pistol around and handed it, handle first, to the sheriff.
"You are making a mistake, Sheriff," Matt said.
"You let me worry about that."
Montgomery reached for the sack of gold ore.
"Leave it," the sheriff said.
"Why should I leave it, Sheriff? This is the selfsame sack of ore he stole."
"Leave it," the sheriff said again. "We'll let the judge decide whether or not that gold ore is yours."
Montgomery glared at the sheriff, then looked over at Matt. "I'll be standin' in the crowd watchin' you hang," Montgomery said.
"Let's go, mister," the sheriff said to Matt with a wave of his shotgun. "I got a nice jail cell for you until the judge gets here."
Matt had been in jail for three days awaiting the arrival of the circuit judge so he could be tried. Smoke was just outside his cell, visiting with him.
"I shouldn't have left you," Smoke said.
"Why not? If you had stayed, you would be in jail with me right now," Matt said. "What good would that do?"
"I guess you have a point. I couldn't help you any if I were in there with you. At least, by being out here, if you can't convince the judge that you are innocent, I'll take matters into my own hands. I'll get you out of here, no matter what I have to do."
Matt was about to answer when he looked up to see the sheriff coming into the jailhouse, leading Montgomery. Montgomery was in shackles.
"What is it?" Matt asked. "What is going on?"
"You're free to go," the sheriff said as he opened the door to the cell. "Mr. Montgomery here will be taking your place."
"Sheriff, I have to hand it to you for doing your job," Matt said. "You've had a good three days of investigating."
"It wasn't me," the sheriff said. "It was John Bryce."
"John Bryce," the sheriff repeated. "Mr. Bryce is a newspaper writer for the Swan Journal, and he has been doing some, he calls it, investigative journalism. Here, read this," he said, handing Matt a newspaper.
An Innocent Man in Jail!
J. A. Montgomery a Crook Should Be Called to Account
We are under obligation to report to the public in general and to Sheriff Daniels in particular, the criminal activities of J. A. Montgomery, who has set himself up in Swan as an assayer. Montgomery is no such thing. Although he has hanging on the wall of his office a degree from Colorado School of Mines, this newspaper is in receipt of a letter from that institution claiming that no such person as J. A. Montgomery graduated, nor was ever a student there.
Further investigation has disclosed that Montgomery is wanted by the sheriff of Madison County, Montana, where, also fraudulently passing himself off as an assayer, he murdered and robbed a prospector. The circumstances of that event are so similar to the recent event between J. A. Montgomery, his brother Clyde, and two cousins, Drake and Birch, and a recent visitor to our town, Matt Jensen, that this newspaper believes Mr. Jensen, who is currently incarcerated, is innocent.
Should Matt Jensen be any longer detained, it would be a gross miscarriage of justice. Subjecting the county to a trial to establish his innocence would be a waste of time and taxpayers' money. The writer of this piece, John Bryce, is willing to stake his reputation upon the accuracy of this report, and urges Sheriff Daniels to act quickly to correct this error.
"After the paper come out, I sent a telegram to the sheriff of Madison County, Montana, and he answered that Montgomery was wanted for murder, just like the newspaper article said. Then I went over to talk to Montgomery and found that he was tryin' to leave town."
"So I am free to go?" Matt asked.
"Yes, sir, you are free as a bird."
"Is this fella, John Bryce, in town?" Matt asked.
"Yes, sir, he's over to the newspaper office right now," Sheriff Daniels said.
"I think I'll go look him up right now."
"Do you own this paper?" Matt asked when he and Smoke found John Bryce hard at work in the newspaper office.
"Oh, heavens, no, it takes a lot of money to own and operate your own newspaper," John said. "I just work here for Mr. Peabody as one of his journalists. Someday I expect to own my own paper, though," he said.
Matt, who had had the ore returned to him, reached down into his canvas bag and pulled out four good-sized rocks. "Here," Matt said, handing the rocks to the newspaper man. "Cash these in and you may have your paper sooner than you realize. And if there is ever anything I can do for you, just let me know."
"Bless you, Mr. Jensen," John said, accepting the gold with a broad smile. "I'll never forget you for this."
Chapter TwoFullerton, Dakota Territory, twelve years later
A brick had been thrown through the front window, and great jagged spears of the glass reached out from all corners of the frame. Two months earlier, John Bryce had paid a professional painter to come over from Bismarck to paint:
John Bryce—Publisher Millie Bryce—Office Manager
The letters were broad and black, outlined in white and gold. That sign, once a source of pride, was now no more than a few remaining letters on the remaining shards of glass.
LLE ON F DER J y lisher
Not one letter of Millie's name remained.
At the moment, John was standing just inside the office of the Fullerton Defender, surveying the damage. The perpetrators had done more than just break his front window; they had also trashed the office. His arm was around his wife, and he held her close to him as she sobbed quietly. Type had been scattered about the room, newsprint had been ripped and spread around, the Washington Hand Press, which John used to put out his weekly paper, was lying on its side.
They had come to the newspaper office directly from their breakfast table, having been told of the break-in by City Marshal Tipton. More than a dozen citizens of the town had already been drawn to the scene of the crime by the time John and Millie arrived, and they were standing in a little cluster out on the boardwalk, just in front of the building.
The perpetrators had left a note:
Don't be writting no more bad artacles about Lord Denbigh or we will kum back and do more damige to you nex time.
"Who would do such a thing?" Millie asked between sobs.
"It's fairly apparent, isn't it?" John replied. "Denbigh did it."
"We don't know that," Marshal Tipton said.
"The note doesn't suggest that to you, Marshal?" John asked.
"Just the opposite," Tipton said. "Denbigh is an educated man. Now, I'm not as smart as you are, but even I know how to spell the words come and damage."
"I don't mean Denbigh did it himself," John said. "I mean he had it done."
"Or maybe there are just some people in town who got upset with you because you've been coming down pretty hard on Denbigh in your stories. And Denbigh has done a lot of good for this town."
"Really? What good has he done?"
"Let's just say that he does a lot of business with the town."
"Yes, by allowing only the businesses he wants to stay, and squeezing out the others. He's killing this town, Marshal Tipton. And the people in town know it, only they are too frightened to do anything about it."
"So you plan to mount a one-person campaign do you, Bryce?"
"If I am the only one willing to do anything about it, then yes, I will mount a one-person campaign."
"Uh-huh," Tipton said, stroking his jaw as he surveyed the shambles of the newspaper office. "And look what it got you."
"It has set me back a bit, I'll admit," John said. "But it won't stop me. It'll take me a day to clean up. I'll have the paper out this Thursday, just as I do every Thursday."
"I'll help you pick up all the type, Mr. Bryce," a young boy of about twelve said.
"Thank you, Kenny."
"I can go get Jimmy to help too, if you want me to."
"That would be nice," John said. He turned toward the group of people who were still standing just outside the office, and seeing Ernie Westpheling, called out to him.
Excerpted from DAKOTA AMBUSH by William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone Copyright © 2011 by William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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