Selling his gun to the highest bidder, sharpshooter Monte Carson rode side by side with Big Jim Slaughter, the most feared hombre in Wyoming Territory. But when Monte decided to reform his ways and give back $50,000 in stolen army payroll, he made an enemy in Slaughter and a friend in mountain man Smoke Jensen. Now, an enraged Slaughter wants his money, and if he doesn’t get it, he’s going to kill Monte’s wife, his hostage in an outlaw paradise called Jackson Hole, Wyoming. For Smoke, there’s no choice but to come down off the mountain and ride straight into the Hole, where he and Slaughter will go head to head in a fiery clash of courage, fury, and guns.
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Heart of the Mountain Man
By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2001 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Smoke Jensen came fully awake, his heart hammering as he sat up straight in the bed, his hand automatically reaching for the Colt .44 that was never very far from his grasp.
Sally opened her eyes, blinked twice, and asked in a sleepy voice, "What is it, darling?"
Smoke shook his head, forgetting for the moment she couldn't see him in the darkness. "I don't know," he answered, the hairs on the back of his neck stirring at some as yet unexplained noise or movement.
He turned his head toward the window, where a light breeze was billowing the curtains, bringing into the room the sweet scent of mountain laurel and pine needles along with a hint of ozone that foretold of fall showers on the way.
Sally glanced at the glint of moonlight on the barrel of Smoke's gun and sat up herself, reaching for the Colt Navy. 36-caliber pistol on the table next to her side of the bed.
"Something wrong, dear?" she asked.
Smoke slipped out of bed and pulled on his buckskin trousers, which he'd flung over the back of a chair the night before. "I'll let you know in a minute, sweetheart. Go back to sleep."
"Not on your life, Smoke. I've learned never to ignore your instincts." She threw the covers back and grabbed a robe from the foot of the bed. "If something woke you up, then I'm going to go with you to find out what it is."
She could see his teeth gleaming in the semidarkness as he grinned at her. "Well, there's no need for both of us to lose sleep. Why don't you check it out and I'll go back to bed?"
She put her hands on his shoulders, turned him around, and pushed him toward the door. "I'll be right behind you."
"So that's the way it is, huh?" he whispered over his shoulder. "I take all the risks and you stay safe behind me."
"That's why God gave you such big shoulders, dear, so I could hide behind them," she answered with a chuckle.
Smoke snorted. "That'll be the day."
They walked through the darkness of the cabin and stepped to the back door. Smoke eased it open, eared back the hammer on his Colt, and stepped outside. Sally followed him out the door and stepped to his side, her Colt Navy held in front of her.
The night was typical for early fall in the high lonesome of the Rocky Mountains where they had their ranch, Sugarloaf. The sky was crystal clear with millions of stars shining down like diamonds on a field of black velvet. The moon, though not full, shone with brilliance through the thin air, illuminating the area around the cabin with a ghostly yellow light. Lightning danced in dark, roiling clouds over distant mountaintops and the faint sounds of thunder could be heard.
Smoke's eyes stopped their movement and he pointed to the hitching post off to the side. "There's a horse," he said.
Sally followed his gesture and could see a solitary horse standing next to the hitching post, its head down as it calmly munched on nearby grass. Its reins were hanging loose, as if it'd wandered to the post by itself.
"It's wearing a saddle so there must be a rider somewhere close by," Sally whispered back.
Smoke reached inside the cabin and grabbed his Greener ten-gauge short-barreled express gun off a rack next to the door. He stuck his Colt in his waistband and held the Greener in both hands as he stepped off the porch and approached the riderless horse.
"Be careful, Smoke, there may be more than one of them out there," Sally called softly, her eyes flicking back and forth as she tried to cover his back. Since Smoke had once been a notorious gunfighter, she knew there was always the possibility of men tracking him down, looking to get revenge for some perceived wrong Smoke had done them.
"There's something familiar about this horse," Smoke said, a puzzled expression on his face as he turned back to look at Sally. "I've seen that blaze on his forehead before."
Sally took a closer look at the horse and realized she knew who its owner was. "Wait a minute, Smoke," she said, putting her hand on the barrel of the shotgun and pushing it toward the ground. "I think that's Monte Carson's horse."
Smoke walked over to the horse and examined the saddle. "You're right, Sally. It is Monte's mount."
Monte Carson was the sheriff at Big Rock, Colorado, the closest town to the Jensen ranch, and a dear friend of Smoke and Sally.
When Sally got to Smoke's side, she noticed the look on his face. "What's wrong, Smoke? You look like you've seen a ghost."
He pointed at the side of the saddle. The leather was covered with a large stain, looking almost black in the moonlight, that ran down the sides of the saddle onto the fender skirts of the stirrups. Smoke put his finger on the stain and held it under his nose. The coppery scent brought back unpleasant memories of times he'd been shot. "It's blood. Something bad's happened to Monte."
He eased the hammers down on the shotgun and laid the barrel on his shoulder as he looked around, searching for his friend in the semidarkness. "I guess I'd better get some of the hands up and we'll do a search. If this blood's his, he's injured pretty bad. It won't do to leave him out here too long."
Sally pulled her robe close around her against the chill of the mountain air. "I'll get some water on the stove to boil and have my medical kit handy."
Smoke nodded his approval. "Put some coffee on too, please. We're gonna need it if we spend too much time out here in the cold."
Sally walked back toward their cabin and Smoke proceeded to the bunkhouse across the wide yard. He opened the door and moved to the wood stove in the corner, which was still warm from the evening before. He lit a lantern on a shelf and picked up a coffeepot and banged it on the stove a couple of times.
His foreman, Pearlie, sat up in his bed, yawning and rubbing sleepy eyes, a puzzled expression on his wrinkled, sunburned face. "Pearlie, get everybody up!" Smoke said. "Sheriff Monte Carson's horse showed up here covered with blood. I think Monte may be out there in the night bleeding to death. We need to find him."
Pearlie scrambled out of bed, clapping his hands and shouting, "Off yore butts an' on yore feet! We got work to do and we got to do it fast!"
The cowboys, most of whom knew Monte and liked him, didn't argue. They swung out of their beds and began to pull their clothes on.
"Sally'll have coffee ready over at the cabin. Report there when you're finished dressing," Smoke said as he left the bunkhouse.
By the time Pearlie had the hands gathered outside the cabin, Sally had biscuits and sausage patties cooked along with a large pot of fresh coffee.
Pearlie, a renowned chowhound, made sure he was at the front of the line for food. "Havin' some of your fresh-cooked biscuits and sausage almost makes gettin' up at this ungodly hour worth it, Miss Sally," he said, as he grabbed a handful of the sausage and biscuit sandwiches.
Cal Woods, Pearlie's best friend and unofficial son to Smoke and Sally, spoke up from behind the foreman. "Hey, go easy there, Pearlie. Anybody'd think you ain't eaten for days the way you grabbin' those sinkers."
Pearlie puffed out his chest. "The man who has to do most of the work gets the most food, Cal, my boy. That's the way it's always been and that's the way it always will be."
"Huh," Cal snorted through his nose. "The only time you move faster'n molasses in January is when you're rushing toward a mess tent."
Pearlie shook his head. "Boys! You just don't understand the difficulty being in charge of a bunch of lazy galoots like you causes a man. Why, I get plumb wore out just thinkin' on ways to get you to earn your salary."
He paused to stuff another sandwich into his mouth as Smoke stepped up on the porch to address the group of men.
"Boys, we need to get moving. Monte is out there, so let's go find him." He glanced at Pearlie. "Pearlie, you organize the men to cover all the territory between here and the gate to the road to Big Rock. If we don't find him there, we'll move on down toward the town."
"Yes, sir, Smoke," Pearlie said, and he turned and began giving orders to the men on where to search.
Sally put a hand on Smoke's arm. "Perhaps we ought to send someone to Big Rock to fetch Doc Spalding."
Smoke nodded. "Cal, hold on a minute. I want you to saddle up and ride as fast as you can to Big Rock and get Doc out here. And tell him to bring what he needs for a bullet wound."
Cal nodded once and sprinted toward the barn to get his mount.
* * *
It took the men less than thirty minutes to find the wounded Monte Carson and carry him to Smoke's cabin.
"Put him on the bed," Sally said.
She tore open his shirt and looked at his wounds. She glanced up at Smoke. "Looks like he's been hit twice, once just below the left shoulder and once in the chest."
"Is it in his lung?" Smoke asked.
She shook her head. "I don't think so. He doesn't have any bloody froth on his lips and he seems to be breathing all right."
As Sally took cloths and dipped them in hot water and began to wash his wounds, Smoke bent over the bed, his lips close to Monte's ear.
"Monte, can you hear me?"
Monte's eyes flickered and opened, his lips curling in a half smile. "Of course I can hear you, Smoke. I've been shot, but I ain't deaf."
Smoke grinned. It was a good sign his friend could still joke in spite of having two bullets in him. "Who did this to you, pal, and why?"
Monte's eyes moved to look at Sally, then back to Smoke. "Big Jim Slaughter and his men."
"I thought Slaughter was up around Wyoming, near the hole-in-the-wall area."
Monte nodded, then groaned with the pain the movement caused. "He was. He decided to pay me a visit and talk over some old times."
Smoke pursed his lips. He hadn't been aware that Monte used to ride with Slaughter, who was one of the most vicious and bloodthirsty killers still roaming the countryside. Before he could ask any more questions, the door opened and Doc Cotton Spalding walked in, followed by Cal.
Sally stepped back from Monte's side and she and the doc began to discuss his wounds and what to do next.
Smoke grabbed Cal by the arm and led him out to the kitchen. "Let's let the doc do his work in peace, Cal."
Smoke went out on the porch and told the men waiting there he thought Monte was going to be all right and they could go back to bed if they wanted.
Pearlie laid his hand on the butt of his Colt pistol. "Who did this to him, Smoke? Me and the boys'd like to have a talk with them galoots."
Smoke held up his hands. "There'll be plenty of time for that later, Pearlie. Soon as we find out what's going on, we'll do whatever is necessary to help Monte."
Pearlie scratched his chin, a glint in his eye. "Any of Miss Sally's sausage and biscuits left?"
Smoke laughed, "Cal, go in and get that platter and hand 'em out before Pearlie faints from hunger."
"Man ain't allowed hisself to get hungry in ten year at least," Cal muttered as he went back inside the cabin.CHAPTER 2
Monte had just finished the lunch of beef broth Sally had prepared for him when Smoke sat down next to his bed. "Hey, partner," Smoke said, "you ready to tell me what happened last night?"
Monte's face changed and he got a faraway look in his eyes as he glanced out the window. Smoke followed his look, observing the distant mountaintops already covered with snow down to the tree line, the bright yellow leaves on the grove of aspen just down from the cabin, and the deep green of the evergreens mixed with the reds and yellows of maple trees on the mountainsides. Fall was as beautiful as ever in the high lonesome of the Rocky Mountains, but Smoke knew Monte wasn't seeing the scenery so much as he was looking into his past.
He and Monte Carson had become very good friends over the past few years. Monte had once been a well-known gunfighter, though he had never ridden the owl-hoot trail. Or so Smoke believed.
A local rancher, with plans to take over the county, had hired Monte to be the sheriff in Fontana, a town just down the road from Smoke's Sugarloaf spread. Monte went along with the man's plans for a while, till he couldn't stomach the rapings and killings any longer. He put his foot down and let it be known that Fontana was going to be run in a law-abiding manner from then on.
The rancher, Tilden Franklin, sent a bunch of riders in to teach the upstart sheriff a lesson. The men killed Monte's two deputies and seriously wounded him, taking over the town. In retaliation, Smoke founded the town of Big Rock, and he and his band of aging gunfighters cleaned house in Fontana.
When the fracas was over, Smoke offered the job of sheriff in Big Rock to Monte. He married a grass widow and settled into the job like he was born to it. Neither Smoke nor the citizens of Big Rock ever had cause to regret his taking the job.
When Monte didn't speak, Smoke leaned back and crossed his arms, signaling he was there until he got some answers. "Why don't you start by telling me how you know Big Jim Slaughter?"
After he picked up a glass of fresh milk from the tray and took a deep draft, Monte began talking, still without meeting Smoke's eyes.
"It was a lot of years ago, Smoke, when I was still in my teens and thought I was a big man with a gun. It was just after the big war, when the country was still wild and gangs were on the prowl everywhere. Slaughter's bunch, Slaughter's Marauders, invited me in when I didn't have a whole lot of other choices. All the men were back from the war and there just wasn't much honest work to be found. Anyway, I began to ride with 'em, doin' little jobs at first, stealing a few horses or cattle or boosting a wagonload of freight here and there. Then, Slaughter decided to hit it big in one job. He found out from a drunken sergeant in a bar that an Army payroll was coming in on a train in a few days. After he got all the details, he planned out how to rob the train."
"How many men did he have riding with him at the time?" Smoke asked.
"'Bout ten or so, countin' me. Well, we pried up some tracks and hid nearby. When the engine ran off the rails, we spurred our hosses and charged that old train like Pickett did in the war. We managed to get the payroll out of the boxcar pretty quick, and then Slaughter had me put the money in my saddlebags. He'd divide it up later, he said. We rode off free and clear. Only, somehow an Army patrol managed to catch up with us."
"What did you do?"
Monte grinned, his eyes looking inward as he remembered the day. "Slaughter told me to git the hell outta there. He said we'd all meet up in two weeks down at Del Rio, and split up the money and head on down into Mexico. Then we all rode off in different directions with the blue-bellies coming on like dogs on a coon's trail."
"Did you meet up later?"
Monte shook his head. "No. I waited around Del Rio for almost three weeks, spending most of my time in bars and cantinas, drinking myself to sleep every night. You see, Smoke, I'd never done anything that serious before. Now I knew that I'd never be able to stay in the country, not with the whole government after me. I didn't much like the idea of spendin' the rest of my life tryin' to learn to speak Mexican."
"What did you do when Slaughter didn't show up?"
"I heard from some men in a bar that he'd been shot and killed and his band of Marauders was broken up and scattered across the whole territory, so I packed the money in my saddlebags and headed north. I drifted for a while, but never spent any of the money. Finally, I came to work for Tilden Franklin and ended up with you offerin' me the job as sheriff in Big Rock."
"So you still have the money?"
Monte wagged his head. "You remember, after you offered me the job, I told you I'd need a week or so to think it over?"
"Well, during that week, I rode over to the U.S. marshal's office in Denver and traded that money in for a pardon for the robbery. The government was right proud to get the money back, and they knew Slaughter had been behind the whole thing, so they let the little fish, me, go. That way I was free to take the job you'd offered with a clear conscience and not have to live my life lookin' back over my shoulder at my back trail."
Smoke nodded. "And then you met Mary."
Monte smiled for the first time since Smoke came into the room. "Yeah, Mary saved me, Smoke. She showed me what life is all about. Fallin' in love with her and marryin' her was the rightest thing I've ever done in my life."
Excerpted from Heart of the Mountain Man by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 2001 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
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