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THE FAMILY JENSEN The Violent Land
By William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2012 William W. Johnstone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe seven men rode into Big Rock, Colorado, a few minutes before noon. Nobody in the bustling little cow town paid much attention to them. Everyone went on about his own business, even when the men reined their horses to a halt and dismounted in front of the bank.
Clete Murdock was their leader, a craggy-faced man with graying red hair who over the past ten years had robbed banks in five states and a couple of territories. He had killed enough men that he'd lost track of the number, especially if you threw Indians and Mexicans into the count.
His younger brothers Tom and Grant rode with him. Tom was a slightly younger version of Clete, but Grant was the baby of the family, a freckle-faced youngster in his twenties who wanted more than anything else in the world to be a desperado like his brothers.
Until a year or so earlier he had lived on the family farm in Kansas with their parents. But illness had struck down both of the elder Murdocks in the span of a few days, so Grant had set out to find his black-sheep brothers and throw in with them.
Ed Garvey was about as broad as he was tall, with a bristling black spade beard. He wasn't much good with a handgun. That was why he carried a sawed-off shotgun under his coat. As long as his partners in crime gave him plenty of room, he was a valuable ally. They were careful not to get in his line of fire when he pulled out that street sweeper.
The tall, skinny towhead with the eye that sometimes drifted off crazily was Chick Bowman. The loco eye gave him the look of somebody who might not be right in the head, but in reality Chick was fairly smart for an outlaw who'd had very little schooling in his life.
The one who wasn't all there was Denny McCoy, who followed Chick around like a devoted pup. Denny was big and barrel-chested, and he had accidentally killed two whores by fondling their necks with such enthusiasm that they couldn't breathe anymore. Chick had gotten Denny out of both of those scrapes without getting either of them lynched.
The member of the gang who had been with Clete the longest was a Crow who called himself Otter. He had worked as a scout for the army, but after coming too damned close to being with Custer when old Yellow Hair went traipsing up the Little Big Horn to his death, Otter had decided that the military life wasn't for him. He knew Clete, who had been a sergeant before deserting, and had looked him up. Clete's prejudice against redskins didn't extend to Otter, the only man he knew who took more pure pleasure in killing than he did.
As the group tied up their horses at the hitch rack in front of the bank, Otter moved closer to Clete and said quietly, "Lawman."
Clete followed the direction the Crow's eyes were indicating and saw a burly, middle-aged man moving along the boardwalk several buildings away.
"Yeah, I see him," Clete said. "His name's Monte Carson. Used to have sort of a name as a fast gun, but he's been totin' a badge here for several years and people have pretty much forgotten about him. I wouldn't underestimate him, but I don't reckon he poses much of a problem for us, either."
"Anything goes wrong, I'll kill him first," Otter said.
Clete nodded in agreement. Otter would stay with the horses and watch the street. If shots erupted in the bank, the Crow would lift his rifle and drill Sheriff Monte Carson immediately, so he couldn't interfere with the gang's getaway.
Otherwise, Otter would wait until the other outlaws left the bank, and if anyone tried to follow them and raise a ruckus, then he would kill Carson.
Either way, there was a very good chance the sheriff would die in the next few minutes.
Clete glanced at everyone else and got nods of readiness from all of them except Denny, who just did what Chick told him to, anyway. The six of them stepped up onto the boardwalk and moved toward the bank's double doors.
Otter's head turned slowly as his gaze roamed from one end of the street to the other. This town had been peaceful for too long, he thought wryly. If that hadn't been the case, someone surely would have noticed the seven human wolves who had ridden in together, not even trying to mask their intentions as they closed in on the bank.
Otter frowned slightly as he thought about the name of the town. Big Rock ... There was something familiar about that. He knew he had heard of the place for some reason. But he couldn't put his finger on exactly what it was.
It didn't matter, anyway. After today Big Rock would be famous because the Murdock gang had cleaned out the bank and killed a few of the citizens.
A broad-shouldered, sandy-haired man in range clothes rode past on a big gray stallion. Otter noticed the horse—a fine one, indeed—but paid little attention to the rider, even when the man reined in and spoke to the sheriff. Otter couldn't hear the conversation between Carson and the broad-shouldered man.
He didn't think any more about it, convinced of its utter unimportance.
* * *
"Matt and Preacher are coming here?" Sheriff Monte Carson asked with a grin.
"That's right," Smoke Jensen said as he rested his hands on his saddlehorn and leaned forward to ease his muscles after the ride into Big Rock from his ranch, Sugarloaf. "In fact, they should be riding in today, according to the letter I got from Matt."
"I'll be glad to see 'em again," Monte said. "Good Lord, Preacher must be a hundred years old by now!"
"He's not quite that long in the tooth yet, and he never has looked or acted as old as he is. I reckon he'll slow down one of these days, but the last time I saw him he seemed as spry as ever."
Sometimes it seemed to Smoke that he had known the old mountain man called Preacher his entire life. It was hard to remember that he had been sixteen years old when he and his pa first ran into Preacher, not long after the Civil War. Preacher had been lean, leathery, and white-haired even then, and he hadn't seemed to age a day in the years since.
It was Preacher who had first called him Smoke, after seeing young Kirby Jensen handle a gun. So fast that the sight of his draw was as elusive as smoke, Preacher claimed. The young man's hand was empty, and then there was a gun in it spitting fire and lead, and there seemed to be no step in-between. Preacher had predicted then that Smoke would become one of the fastest men with a gun the frontier had ever known, and he was right.
But Smoke was one of the few men who had overcome his reputation as a gunfighter and built a respectable life for himself. Marrying the beautiful schoolteacher Sally Reynolds, whom he had met while he was living the life of a wanted outlaw under the name Buck West, probably had a lot to do with that. So had establishing the fine spread known as Sugarloaf and settling down to become a cattleman.
Despite that, trouble still had away of finding Smoke. He had to use his gun more often than he liked. But he hadn't been raised to run away from a challenge, and anybody who thought that Smoke Jensen wasn't dangerous anymore would be in for an abrupt awakening if they threatened him or those he loved.
An abrupt and usually fatal awakening.
Preacher wasn't the only visitor headed for Big Rock. He and Matt Jensen had agreed to meet in Denver and come on to the settlement together. In the same way that Preacher was Smoke's adopted father, Matt was his adopted brother, although there was nothing official about it in either case. Smoke had taken Matt under his wing when the youngster was still a boy, the only survivor from a family murdered by outlaws, and with Preacher's help had raised him into a fine young man who took the Jensen name when he set out on his own.
Although still relatively young in years, Matt had gained a wealth of experience, both while he was still with Smoke and afterward. He had already drifted over much of the frontier and had worked as a deputy, a shotgun guard, and a scout. He had tangled with outlaws, renegade Indians, and bad men of every stripe.
Twice in the fairly recent past, Smoke, Matt, and Preacher had been forced by circumstances to team up to defeat the schemes of a group of crooked politicians and businessmen that had formed out of the ashes of the old Indian Ring. This new Indian Ring was just as vicious as the original, maybe even more so, and even though they seemed to be licking their wounds after those defeats, Smoke had a hunch they would try something else again, sooner or later.
He hoped they wouldn't interfere with this visit from Preacher and Matt. It would be nice to get together with his family without a bunch of gunplay and danger.
Those thoughts were going through Smoke's mind as he realized that Monte Carson had asked him a question. He gave a little shake of his head and said, "What was that, Monte?"
"I just asked what time Matt and Preacher are supposed to get here," the sheriff said.
"I don't know for sure. They're riding in, and I figure they'll be moseying along. Preacher doesn't get in a hurry unless there's a good reason to. I thought I'd go over to the café, get something to eat, then find something to occupy my time while I'm waiting for them."
"Come on by the office," he said. "We'll have us a game of dominoes."
Smoke was just about to accept that invitation when gunshots suddenly erupted somewhere down the street.
Chapter TwoThere were several customers in the bank when Clete and his men walked in, but they didn't appear to be the sort to give problems. The men looked like storekeepers, and a woman stood at one of the teller's windows, too, probably some clerk's wife depositing butter and egg money.
The two tellers were the usual: pale, weak hombres not suited for doing a real man's work, or anything else. At a desk off to one side sat the bank president, fat and pompous in a suit that wasn't quite big enough for him.
Clete hated all of them, just by looking at them. They were sheep, and he was a wolf. They deserved to have their money taken away from them, to his way of thinking.
And their lives, too, if they got in his way.
The banker glanced up from his desk as the men entered the bank, then looked again with his eyes widening in shock and fear as he obviously realized what they were and what was about to happen. He started to get to his feet, but Clete already had his gun out and pointed it at the man.
"Stay right where you are, mister," Clete ordered. "We're just here for the money, not to kill anybody."
What he left unsaid was that he and the others wouldn't hesitate to kill anybody who interfered with them getting that money.
The other five men spread out and closed in around the customers. Ed Garvey swung his sawed-off toward the tellers, both of whom raised their hands in meek, fearful surrender.
Clete raised his voice and said, "Everybody just take it easy. No trouble here, no trouble. We just want the money. Tellers, clean out your drawers. Put everything in the sack."
With practiced efficiency, Tom Murdock had taken a canvas bag from under his coat. He shouldered aside the townie at one of the windows and thrust the bag across the counter toward the stunned teller.
"In the sack," Tom snarled at the teller, who swallowed hard and started plucking bills from his cash drawer and stuffing them into the bag.
Denny approached the female customer, who was fairly young and pretty. She was pale and trembling at the moment. She tried to shrink away from Denny as he stepped up to her, but she had her back against the counter and there was no place for her to go.
"Pretty," Denny said. His gun was in his right hand, but his left was free. He raised it and started to take hold of her neck. There was nothing he liked better than caressing a pretty woman's neck.
Chick said, "Not now, Denny, we ain't got time for that."
"Pretty!" Denny insisted, as if that explained everything.
"I know that, but—"
The woman screamed as Denny's hand was about to close around her throat.
Chick exclaimed, "Dadgum it, Denny!"
And on the other side of the counter, the teller shouted, "Leave her alone, damn you!"
His hand dropped below the counter, and when it came up, there was a Colt Lightning in it. The teller jerked the trigger three times fast, and the double-action revolver sent all three .41 caliber rounds crashing into Denny's face. The bullets turned the big man's features into a hideous red smear as his head rocked back.
"Denny!" Chick cried. Enraged, he started firing. His bullets sprayed the woman and the teller, knocking them both off their feet as blood welled from their wounds.
"Son of a bitch!" Clete bellowed. "Tom, grab all the money you can!" He turned back to the bank president, who had started impulsively to his feet, and shot the man in the belly.
Grant looked around wildly, unsure what to do. He had taken part in several robberies with his brothers, but none of them had gone this bad, this quickly. None of the gang had even been wounded in those jobs, let alone killed. Denny wasn't dead yet—he had fallen to the floor, where he was thrashing around—but he couldn't last long, shot in the head like that.
The other teller had thrown himself on the floor and lay there behind the counter with his arms held protectively over his head, as if that would stop a bullet. Tom Murdock didn't take the time to shoot him. Instead, as Tom leaned over the counter, he reached into the cash drawer and grabbed as many greenbacks as he could, stuffing them into the canvas sack. They would get something out of this foul-up, by God!
But who could have predicted that that meek little teller would try to turn into Wild Bill Hickok? The fella must have been sweet on the woman, and all he had thought about was protecting her from Denny.
The air inside the bank was thick with gunsmoke now. The sharp tang of it stung Clete's nose as he swung toward the doors.
"Let's go, let's go!" he called. He was confident that Otter would be covering their retreat.
"But Denny—" Chick began.
"He's done for!" Clete yelled. "Come on!"
The five men charged out through the double doors, guns up and ready for trouble.
They weren't ready for what they got.
Reacting instantly, Smoke twisted in the saddle to search for the source of the shots. They were coming from the direction of the bank, and as Smoke spotted the seven horses tied at the hitch rack in front of that establishment, his mind leaped to the conclusion that the bank was being robbed.
The sight of a stranger, a tall, lean Indian in a black hat, standing next to those horses was more evidence supporting that theory.
The fact that the Indian jerked a rifle to his shoulder and pointed it at Monte Carson confirmed the hunch.
That lookout was aiming at the wrong man. He should have paid more attention to the hombre on the big gray stallion. Smoke's Colt appeared in his hand as if by magic, and two shots blasted from it so close together they sounded like one.
Even though Smoke was firing from the hip and the distance was fairly long for a handgun, his almost supernatural abilities sent both slugs hammering into the Indian's chest. The rifle in the Indian's hands went off as his finger jerked involuntarily on the trigger, but the barrel was already pointing harmlessly at the sky as he toppled backwards against one of the horses.
The animal shied and bumped into the other horses, and they got skittish, too. All seven mounts started jerking at their reins, trying to get loose and bolt.
Monte drew his gun and broke into a run toward the bank, but instead of dismounting Smoke heeled his horse into motion. The stallion pounded down the street. Smoke arrived in front of the bank just as several men burst out through the doors.
Excerpted from THE FAMILY JENSEN The Violent Land by William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone Copyright © 2012 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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