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A heavy, booming thunder rolled over the breaks, and gray veils of rain hung down from ominous, black clouds that crowded the hills. Though it had not yet reached him, the storm was moving quickly, and Smoke Jensen took a poncho from his saddlebag and slipped it on to be prepared for the impending downpour.
Smoke was on his way to Denver, and he was butt-sore from riding. Looking to hunker down from the approaching storm, he saw the little town of Willow Creek rising before him. The town had no more than half-a-dozen commercial buildings, and about three dozen houses.
Smoke leaned forward and patted his horse on the neck.
"What do you say that we find us a place to ride this storm out?" Smoke asked his horse. Often on long, lonely rides, Smoke wanted to hear a human voice, even if it was his own. Talking to his horse provided him with an excuse for talking aloud, without really talking to himself.
"A livery for you, and maybe supper and a beer for me," he continued in his one-sided conversation.
The first few drops of rain had just started when Smoke rode in through the big open door of the Jim Bob Corral. His nostrils were assailed with the pungent but familiar smell of hay, horseflesh, and horse manure. To a city person the odor might be unpleasant, but to Smoke, the aroma was almost comforting. Smoke took off his poncho and rolled it up. He had just finished tying it back onto his saddle when a boy of about sixteen appeared, having come from somewhere deep in the shadows of the barn.
"You wantin' to board your horse here, mister?" the boy asked.
"Yes," Smoke answered. "Find a dry place for him, rub him down, and give him oats." Smoke gave the boy a dollar.
"How long?" the boy asked.
"Then it's only a quarter," the boy said. "I'll get your change."
"You keep the change," Smoke said. "Just take extra care of my horse."
A broad smile spread across the boy's face. "Mister, the folks stayin' over to the Dunn Hotel won't be gettin' no better treatment than this here horse."
"I appreciate that," Smoke said.
Smoke looked across the street at the saloon.
"Do they serve food in the saloon?" he asked.
"Yes, sir, and it's good food too," the boy said. "My ma cooks there."
Smoke smiled. "Then I know I will enjoy it."
The rain was coming down pretty steadily now as Smoke hurried across the street for the saloon. Stepping inside, he took off his hat, then poured water from the crown as he looked around. For a town so small, the saloon was surprisingly full. It even had a piano, at which a piano player was grinding away in the back.
More than half the patrons in the saloon turned to look at him, and as they realized he was not a local, even more turned to see who the stranger was in their midst.
The barkeep moved toward him when Smoke stepped up to the bar.
"Hope you ain't put out none by ever'one lookin' at you, but we don't get a lot of visitors here, especially on a night like this."
"A night like this is what drove me here," Smoke replied.
The bartender chuckled. "Yes, sir, I see what you mean. What's your pleasure?"
"I'd like a beer."
"Yes, sir, one beer comin' up."
A moment later, the bartender put a mug of golden beer with a frothy head in front of Smoke. Smoke blew off some of the head, then took a long swallow. After a full day of riding, the beer tasted very good to him and he took another deep drink before he turned his back to the bar to have a look around the place that called itself The Gilded Lily.
A card game was going on in the corner and Smoke watched it for a few minutes while he drank his beer.
Smoke's peripheral vision caught someone coming in through the back door, and turning, he saw a tall, broad-shouldered man, wearing a badge. Because he had just come in from the rain, water was dripping from the lawman's sweeping mustache.
"I'm lookin' for a man named Emerson Pardeen," the man said.
One of the cardplayers stood up slowly, then turned to face the man with the badge.
"I'm Emerson Pardeen. Who the hell are you?"
"The name is Buck Wheeler. Marshal Buck Wheeler," he added, coming down hard on the word "Marshal."
"Yeah? Well, what do you want with me?"
"I'm taking you back to Dodge City to stand trial for the murder of Jason Tibbs."
"Dodge City is in Kansas, this is Colorado. You got no jurisdiction here."
"Maybe I should've told you I'm a United States marshal," Wheeler added. "I've got jurisdiction everywhere."
"Yeah? Well, Mr. United States Marshal Buck Wheeler, I ain't goin' back to Dodge City with you," Pardeen said.
"Oh, you're going back all right," Wheeler said. "Either sitting in your saddle, or belly-down over it."
Realizing that a gunfight was very likely, the others who had been sitting at the table jumped up and moved out of the way, a couple of them moving so quickly that their chairs fell over.
The marshal pulled his gun and pointed it at Pardeen. "Now, shuck out of that gunbelt, slow and easy-like," he ordered.
Pardeen shook his head. "No, I don't think so. I think maybe I'm just goin' to call you on this one."
"Whatever you say, Pardeen. Whatever you say," the marshal replied.
Smoke, like the others, was watching the drama unfold, when he heard a soft squeaking sound as if weight were being put down on a loose board. The sound caused him to look up toward the top of the stairs. When he did so, he saw a man standing there, aiming a shotgun at the back of the marshal.
"Marshal, there's a gun at your back!" Smoke shouted. Concurrent with Smoke's warning, the man wielding the shotgun turned it toward Smoke.
"You sorry son of a bitch!" he shouted.
Smoke had no choice then. He dropped his beer and pulled his pistol, firing just as the man at the top of the stairs squeezed his own trigger. The shotgun boomed loudly. The heavy charge of buckshot tore a large hole in the top and side of the bar, right where Smoke had been standing. Some of the shot hit the whiskey bottles in front of the mirror, and one of the nude statues behind the bar. Like shrapnel from an exploding bomb, pieces of glass flew everywhere. The mirror fell except for a few jagged shards, which hung in place where the mirror had been, reflecting distorted images of the dramatic scene playing out before it.
Smoke's single shot had not missed, and the man with the shotgun dropped his weapon. His eyes rolled up in his head and he fell, twisting around so that he slid down the stairs on his back and headfirst, following his clattering shotgun to the ground floor. The wielder of the shotgun lay at the foot of the stairs, with his head on the floor and his legs splayed apart stretching back up the bottom four steps. His sightless eyes were open and staring up toward the ceiling.
The sound of the two gunshots had riveted everyone's attention on that exchange, and while their attention was diverted from him, Pardeen took the opportunity to go for his own gun. Suddenly, the saloon was filled with the roar of another gunshot as Pardeen fired at the marshal who had confronted him.
Marshal Wheeler had made the fatal mistake of being diverted by the gunplay between Smoke and the shotgun shooter. Pardeen's bullet struck the marshal in the forehead and the impact of it knocked him back on a nearby table. The marshal lay belly-up on the table with his head hanging down on the far side while blood dripped from the hole in his forehead to form a puddle below him. His gun fell from his lifeless hand and clattered to the floor. Pardeen then swung his pistol toward Smoke.
"Mister, this isn't my fight," Smoke said. "We can end it here and now." Smoke put his pistol back in its holster.
As he realized that he now had the advantage, a big smile spread across Pardeen's face. "Oh, it's goin' to end all right," Pardeen said. "'Cause I aim to end it right now." Pardeen cocked his pistol.
Those who were looking on in morbid fascination were surprised by what happened next, because even as Pardeen was cocking his pistol, Smoke drew and fired. His bullet caught Pardeen in the center of his chest and Pardeen went down. He sat up, then clutched his hand over the wound as blood spilled between his fingers.
"How the hell did you do that?" he asked. He coughed once-then he fell back dead.
"What's goin' on in here?" a voice asked. "What's all the shootin'?"
When Smoke turned toward the sound of the voice, he saw a man dripping water onto the floor as he stood just inside the open door. Because the man was standing in the shadows, Smoke couldn't quite make out his features.
"Step into the light so I can see you," Smoke said.
"Mister, do you know who you are talking to?" the man in the door asked.
Smoke pulled the hammer back, and his pistol made a deadly metallic click as the sear engaged the cylinder. "Doesn't much matter who I'm talking to. In about one second you'll be dead if you don't step into the light."
This time the man moved as ordered. Doing so enabled Smoke to see the badge on the man's shirt, and he let the hammer down on his pistol, then dropped it back into his holster.
"Sorry, Sheriff," Smoke said. "I didn't know you were the law."
"What happened here?"
"I'll tell you what happened," one of the other card-players said.
"Who are you?"
"The name is Corbett." Corbett pointed to Smoke. "This here fella just kilt three men. He kilt the marshal, Eddie Phillips, and Emerson Pardeen."
The sheriff made a grunting sound. "Now you tell me, Corbett, just why would this fella kill the marshal and Pardeen? Marshal Wheeler stopped by my office not ten minutes ago to tell me he was here to arrest Pardeen, so I know it isn't very likely that Marshal Wheeler and Pardeen would be on the same side in this fracas."
"Hell, Sheriff, I don't know why he done it. Maybe you need to ask him."
"All right, I'll ask him," the sheriff said. "Did you kill all three of these men, mister?"
"No. I only killed two of them," Smoke replied.
Inexplicably, the sheriff chuckled. "I see. You just killed two of them. So that makes you what? One-third innocent?"
"One-hundred-percent innocent," Smoke replied. "I only killed the ones who were trying to kill me. And in my book that is self-defense."
"He's lyin', Sheriff," Corbett said. "He kilt Phillips and Pardeen in cold blood."
"Oh, so now you are saying he only killed two of them?"
"In cold blood, yes," Corbett said.
"Corbett is the one who is lyin', Sheriff," the bartender said. "This fella is telling the truth. Eddie Phillips shot first. He was standin' up there at the head of the stairs holdin' a scattergun pointed at the marshal's back. This fella shouted a warnin' to the marshal, and Phillips turned the gun on him. Take a look at the bar here, and you'll see what I'm talkin' about. Hell, it was a wonder I wasn't kilt my ownself. Then Pardeen kilt Marshal Wheeler and swung his gun around toward this fella, tellin' him he was fixin' to kill him too. And what happened then, you ain't goin' to believe."
"Try me," the sheriff said.
"Well, sir, this here fella had already put his gun away. Pardeen had the drop on him, and was pullin' back the hammer when this fella drew and shot him. Damn'dest thing I ever seen."
The sheriff stroked his chin as he looked at Smoke. "Is what he saying true?"
Smoke nodded. "It's like the barkeep said. Pardeen was about to shoot me."
"Pardeen wasn't about to shoot him," Corbett said. "He was just goin' to hold him for killin' Phillips and the marshal."
"Yeah, Pardeen was goin' to hold him until you got here," Corbett said.
Several in the saloon laughed then.
"Tell you what, Sheriff. You arrest him, I'll testify against him at his trial."
"Corbett," the sheriff said. "I'm not aware that there is any paper out on you, but that might be because I haven't looked hard enough."
Corbett's eyes narrowed. "You ain't goin' to find any paper on me, Sheriff. The one you should arrest is this fella."
The sheriff looked around the saloon at the other patrons, who were still watching the drama.
"Anyone in here back up what Corbett is saying?" the sheriff asked.
Several responded at once.
"He ain't tellin' it the way I seen it," one of the other customers said. "I seen it the same way the bartender told it."
"That's the way it looked to me, too," another said.
"Yeah, ever' word the bartender said is the gospel."
The sheriff held up his hand. "So what I'm hearin' is, nobody backs up Corbett's version of the story?"
Everyone was quiet, and the sheriff looked at Corbett. "Looks like a clear case of self-defense to me," he said.
Corbett looked at Smoke. "Pardeen was my friend," he said. "I don't like the way you shot him down like that. Maybe I'll just settle the score myself."
"No!" the sheriff said. "There's been enough killin' for one night."
"What's your name, mister?" Corbett asked.
"Jensen. Kirby Jensen. But most folks just call me Smoke."
There was a collective gasp from everyone in the saloon.
"Smoke Jensen," one unidentified speaker said. "No wonder he could do what he done. Ain't nobody nowhere no faster'n Smoke Jensen."
"Are you the Smoke Jensen from over by Big Rock?" the sheriff asked. "That Smoke Jensen?"
"I have a ranch just outside Big Rock, yes," Smoke replied. He knew that the sheriff was trying to determine if he was the Smoke Jensen, but humility prevented him from elaborating.
"I'll be damned," the sheriff said. "What are you doing in Willow Creek?"
"I'm just passing through, on my way to Denver," Smoke said.
The sheriff looked over at Corbett, who had also recognized the name.
"Corbett, you still want to settle accounts with this fella?"
Corbett stroked his chin nervously. "Uh, no, Sheriff, it's like you said, there's been enough killin' for one night."
Corbett pointed at Smoke. "But I think maybe you ought to know that Pardeen has a brother named Quince. He ain't goin' to like it that you kilt Emerson, and one of these days you'n him are goin' to run across each other." Corbett smiled, a dry, humorless smile. "And when you two do run into each other, well, I would like to be there to see it."
"That wouldn't be a threat now, would it, Corbett?" the sheriff asked.
"No threat," Corbett said. "Just a friendly warnin', so to speak."
"There ain't nothin' about you friendly," the sheriff said. "If I was you, Corbett, I'd leave town right now."
"In case you ain't noticed, Sheriff, there's a storm goin' on out there," Corbett said.
"Because I'm going to go back to my office and look for a dodger on you," the sheriff continued, as if he had not even heard Corbett. "And if I can't find one, I may just come back and arrest you anyway."
Corbett glared at Smoke and the sheriff for a moment longer. Then he picked up his hat and started toward the door. "I'll be goin' now."
"Wait!" the sheriff called after him.
Corbett stopped and looked back.
"What about your pards?" The sheriff asked, pointing at Pardeen and Phillips.
"What about 'em?" Corbett replied.
"Are you just goin' to walk out and leave them layin' here? Aren't you going to wait until the undertaker comes so you can make burial arrangements?" the sheriff asked.
"Hell, they ain't either one of 'em my kin. That means they ain't my responsibility," Corbett said. "Just put 'em anywhere."
"I see. Friendship don't mean that much to you, does it?" the sheriff asked.
"They was my friends when they was alive. They're dead," Corbett said as if, somehow, that justified his indifference to them. He pushed through the batwing doors and walked out into the pouring rain.
"Are you planning on staying in town for long, Mr. Jensen?" the sheriff asked.
"The name's Smoke, Sheriff," Smoke said in a friendly tone. "I had only planned to stay the night, just long enough to ride out the storm. But I reckon I can stay a bit longer if you think that's necessary."
The sheriff looked at the bodies still lying on the saloon floor. "No," he said, shaking his head. "There are enough witnesses here to verify what happened. I see no need for getting a judge to come this far just for an inquest that we know how it's going to turn out."
"If you do need me for anything, just get in touch with Sheriff Carson in Big Rock."
"I'm sure there won't be a need for that," the sheriff replied. "Oh, but Smoke, there's one thing Corbett said that you should take to heart."
"Quince Pardeen. Do you know him?"
Smoke shook his head. "I've heard his name, but I can't say that I know him."
"He's good with a gun, but that ain't the thing that makes him so dangerous. What makes him dangerous is the fact that he is a killer, and he don't particular care how he kills. You look out for him."
"I will, Sheriff," Smoke replied. "And thanks for the warning."
Excerpted from RAMPAGE OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN by William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone Copyright © 2007 by William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission.
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.
Posted April 28, 2014
Res.1. Map and Rules
Res.5. Pack fox den
Res.6. Healer den.
Res.7. Leader Den
Res.8. Hunter fox den
Res.9. Guard Fox den
Res.10. Forest and River and border
1. No being a baby. If you're a baby Queen can kick you out if you make her angry.
2. No godmodding, even in battle. Not even with pizzaz.
3. No battling The Raiders or our people.
Posted June 29, 2011
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Posted March 29, 2009
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Posted December 28, 2011
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Posted January 7, 2011
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Posted June 17, 2013
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