Ain’t too many jails that’ll hold Smoke Jensen . . .
On the Western frontier there’s no lawman more feared and respected than U.S. Marshal Bill Tilghman. But when Tilghman arrests the Mountain Man for a brutal murder he sure didn’t commit, Smoke knows he’s going to have to bust out of Tilghman’s jail, and find out the truth. But there are two things Smoke never counted on: saving Marshall Bill Tilghman’s life—and fighting him again.
Live Free. Read Hard.
About the Author
Being the all-around assistant, typist, researcher, and fact checker to one of the most popular western authors of all time, J.A. Johnstone learned from the master, Uncle William W. Johnstone.
He began tutoring J.A. at an early age. After-school hours were often spent retyping manuscripts or researching his massive American Western History library as well as the more modern wars and conflicts. J.A. worked hard—and learned.
“Every day with Bill was an adventure story in itself. Bill taught me all he could about the art of storytelling. ‘Keep the historical facts accurate,’ he would say. ‘Remember the readers, and as your grandfather once told me, I am telling you now: be the best J.A. Johnstone you can be.’”
Read an Excerpt
Smoke Jensen buttoned up his buckskin shirt and walked into the kitchen where his wife, Sally, was bent over putting biscuits in the oven. He stepped up behind her and hugged her.
"You shouldn't do that to a man fixing to leave town for a few weeks," he said, his voice husky with desire.
Sally grinned as she leaned back against him. "Why, do what, Mr. Jensen, sir?"
He gave her an extra squeeze. "You know what, you tease."
She turned, placing her arms around his neck. "Do you really have to go, Smoke? Our herd is doing fine without those bulls you want to get."
He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat at the kitchen table, eyeing her with one eyebrow raised. "Sweetheart, it was your idea in the first place to cross our shorthorns with the Santa Gertrudis from Texas. You having second thoughts now?"
She shook her head as she poured herself a cup and sat across the table from him. "Yes, it was my idea, but I just hate the idea of you traveling all that way right now, just after that mess with Jim Slaughter was cleared up. "
He grinned. "You think the old man's too old for the trip?"
She shook her head, eyeing the scar on his neck from the bullet wound he'd received in the shoot-out in Big Rock. "No, but you're just now getting over being shot, and knowing you, it might just happen again on your trip."
"Now what makes you say that? After all, I'll have Cal and Pearlie with me to keep me out of trouble."
"A lot of good that'll do. When the three of you go off on a trip together, it always seems to lead to gunplay."
"But, Sally, we really need those bulls. I know the herd is all right as it is, but if we get some of those Santa Gertrudis bulls from Richard King on the King Ranch down in Texas, it'll almost double the amount of meat on our shorthorn crosses, and make them more resistant to both drought and cold weather."
Sally finished her coffee, got up from the table, and broke three eggs into a cast-iron skillet and began to scramble them, looking over her shoulder at Smoke as she worked. "I know it'll be better, but I hate to see you go that far to get them."
"It won't be so bad. Cal and Pearlie and I'll take the train to Fort Worth and buy some horses there to ride the rest of the way. Heck, most of the trip'll be fun."
She smirked. "Yeah, I know your idea of fun. You and the boys will play poker all the way down there and you'll win their wages for the next year, and then turn around and give them back."
Smoke grinned. "You're probably right, but it will be a lesson they need to learn. Don't play cards with money you can't afford to lose."
She laughed and handed him his plate of scrambled eggs and bacon. "Here, tinhorn," she said, "start on these while I get your biscuits out of the oven."
Smoke noticed a plate of dough on the counter formed into the shape of bear sign, Sally's famous doughnuts. "What's that I see on the counter?" he asked.
Sally laughed. "You don't think you're going to get Pearlie and Cal out of town without an ample supply of bear sign to take along, do you?"
"Hell, to take enough to last Pearlie until he gets back, we'll have to pack a steamer trunk full!"
A knock came at the door and Cal and Pearlie walked in. Pearlie, a tall, lanky, cowboy with mustache and sun-wrinkled face and sparkling sky-blue eyes, tipped his hat back. "Did I hear something about bear sign?"
Sally held her hand up. "Uh-uh, Pearlie. You stay away from that dough at least until it's baked!"
Pearlie nodded and sat next to Smoke, leaning over as he smelled Smoke's breakfast. "Hmmm, that sure smells good, Miss Sally."
She shook her head. "You and Cal get yourselves some coffee while I scramble up another batch of hens' eggs and bacon."
Almost before the words were out of her mouth, Pearlie, a noted food-hound, had his hat off and was straddling a chair at the table. Cal, younger and a tad more polite, said, "Thank you, Miss Sally," before he removed his hat and took a seat.
As the boys dug into the food, Smoke leaned back and thought about how they'd both come to work for him and Sally, and how they'd since become almost part of the family ...
* * *
Calvin Woods, going on nineteen years old now, had been just fourteen when Smoke and Sally took him in as a hired hand. It was during the spring branding, and Sally was on her way back from Big Rock to the Sugarloaf. The buckboard was piled high with supplies because branding hundreds of calves makes for hungry punchers.
As Sally slowed the team to make a bend in the trail, a rail-thin young man stepped from the bushes at the side of the road with a pistol in his hand.
"Hold it right there, miss."
Applying the brake with her right foot, Sally slipped her hand under a pile of gingham cloth on the seat. She grasped the handle of her short-barreled Colt .44 and eared back the hammer, letting the sound of the horses' hooves and the squealing of the brake pad on the wheel mask the sound. "What can I do for you, young man?" she asked, her voice firm and without fear. She knew she could draw and drill the young highwayman before he could raise his pistol to fire.
"Well, uh, you can throw some of those beans and a cut of that fatback over here, and maybe a portion of that Arbuckle's coffee too."
Sally's eyebrows rose. "Don't you want my money?"
The boy frowned and shook his head. "Why, no, ma'am. I ain't no thief, I'm just hungry."
"And if I don't give you my food, are you going to shoot me with that big Navy Colt?"
He hesitated a moment, then grinned ruefully. "No, ma'am, I guess not." He twirled the pistol around his finger and slipped it into his belt, turned, and began to walk down the road toward Big Rock.
Sally watched the youngster amble off, noting his tattered shirt, dirty pants with holes in the knees and torn pockets, and boots that looked as if they had been salvaged from a garbage dump. "Young man," she called, "come back here, please."
He turned, a smirk on his face, spreading his hands. "Look, lady, you don't have to worry. I don't even have any bullets." With a lightning-fast move he drew the gun from his pants, aimed away from Sally, and pulled the trigger. There was a click but no explosion as the hammer fell on an empty cylinder.
Sally smiled. "Oh, I'm not worried." In a movement every bit as fast as his, she whipped her .44 out and fired, clipping a pine cone from a branch, causing it to fall and bounce off his head.
The boy's knees buckled and he ducked, saying, "Jimminy Christmas!"
Mimicking him, Sally twirled her Colt and stuck it in the waistband of her britches. "What's your name, boy?"
The boy blushed and looked down at his feet. "Calvin, ma'am, Calvin Woods."
She leaned forward, elbows on knees, and stared into the boy's eyes. "Calvin, no one has to go hungry in this country, not if they're willing to work."
He looked up at her through narrowed eyes, as if he found life a little different than she'd described it.
"If you're willing to put in an honest day's work, I'll see that you get an honest day's pay, and all the food you can eat."
Calvin stood a little straighter, shoulders back and head held high. "Ma'am, I've got to be straight with you. I ain't no experienced cowhand. I come from a hardscrabble farm and we only had us one milk cow and a couple of goats and chickens, and lots of dirt that weren't worth nothing for growin' things. My ma and pa and me never had nothin', but we never begged and we never stooped to takin' handouts."
Sally thought, I like this boy. Proud, and not willing to take charity if he can help it. "Calvin, if you're willing to work, and don't mind getting your hands dirty and your muscles sore, I've got some hands that'll have you punching beeves like you were born to it in no time at all."
A smile lit up his face, making him seem even younger than his years. "Even if I don't have no saddle, nor a horse to put it on?"
She laughed out loud. "Yes. We've got plenty of ponies and saddles." She glanced down at his raggedy boots. "We can probably even round up some boots and spurs that'll fit you."
He walked over and jumped in the back of the buckboard. "Ma'am, I don't know who you are, but you just hired you the hardest workin' hand you've ever seen."
Back at the Sugarloaf, she sent him in to Cookie and told him to eat his fill. When Smoke and the other punchers rode into the cabin yard at the end of the day, she introduced Calvin around. As Cal was shaking hands with the men, Smoke looked over at her and winked. He knew she could never resist a stray dog or cat, and her heart was as large as the Big Lonesome itself.
Smoke walked up to Cal and cleared his throat. "Son, I hear you drew down on my wife."
Cal gulped. "Yessir, Mr. Jensen. I did." He squared his shoulders and looked Smoke in the eye, not flinching, though he was obviously frightened of the tall man with the incredibly wide shoulders standing before him.
Smoke smiled and clapped the boy on the back. "Just wanted you to know you stared death in the eye, boy. Not many galoots are still walking upright who ever pulled a gun on Sally. She's a better shot than any man I've ever seen except me, and sometimes I wonder about me."
The boy laughed with relief as Smoke turned and called out, "Pearlie, get your lazy butt over here."
A tall, lanky cowboy ambled over to Smoke and Cal, munching on a biscuit stuffed with roast beef. His face was lined with wrinkles and tanned a dark brown from hours under the sun, but his eyes were sky-blue and twinkled with good-natured humor.
"Yessir, Boss," he mumbled around a mouthful of food.
Smoke put his hand on Pearlie's shoulder. "Cal, this here chow-hound is Pearlie. He eats more'n any two hands, and he's never been known to do a lick of work he could get out of, but he knows beeves and horses as well as any puncher I have. I want you to follow him around and let him teach you what you need to know."
Cal nodded. "Yes, sir, Mr. Smoke."
"Now let me see that iron you have in your pants."
Cal pulled the ancient Navy Colt and handed it to Smoke. When Smoke opened the loading gate, the rusted cylinder fell to the ground, causing Pearlie and Smoke to laugh and Cal's face to flame red. "This is the piece you pulled on Sally?" Smoke asked.
The boy nodded, looking at the ground.
Pearlie shook his head. "Cal, you're one lucky pup. Hell, if 'n you'd tried to fire that thing, it'd've blown your hand clean off."
Smoke inclined his head toward the bunkhouse. "Pearlie, take Cal over to the tack house and get him fixed up with what he needs, including a gun belt and a Colt that won't fall apart the first time he pulls it. You might also help pick him out a shavetail to ride. I'll expect him to start earning his keep tomorrow."
"Yes, sir, Smoke." Pearlie put his arm around Cal's shoulders and led him off toward the bunkhouse. "Now the first thing you gotta learn, Cal, is how to get on Cookie's good side. A puncher rides on his belly, and it 'pears to me that you need some fattin' up 'fore you can begin to punch cows."
Pearlie had come to work for Smoke in as roundabout a way as Cal had. He was hiring his gun out to Tilden Franklin in Fontana when Franklin went crazy and tried to take over Sugarloaf, Smoke and Sally's spread. After Franklin's men raped and killed a young girl in the fracas, Pearlie sided with Smoke and the aging gunfighters he had called in to help put an end to Franklin's reign of terror.
Pearlie was now honorary foreman of Smoke's ranch though he was only a shade over twenty years old himself. Boys grew to be men early in the mountains of Colorado.
* * *
Smoke's thoughts were interrupted when Pearlie stuffed the last of his bacon and eggs into his mouth and washed it down with a giant drink of coffee. "Ah, that's 'bout the best food I ever ate, Miss Sally."
He paused and glanced at the dough sitting on the counter. "Uh, any idea when those bear sign gonna be ready?"
Sally laughed and pointed at the front door. "You men go on out on the porch and have your cigarettes and I'll let you know."
The three men settled on wooden chairs on the porch and all rolled cigarettes to have with their final cups of coffee.
"When you figgerin' on headin' down Texas way, Smoke?" Pearlie asked.
Smoke glanced at the sky, which was the clear, bright blue of a spring morning. The temperature was still in the low fifties, but it promised to be a beautiful day. "I suspect most of the snow'll be out of the passes by now, so the train shouldn't have any problem making it to Texas. How about we get packed and try to get off tomorrow on the afternoon train?"
"Sounds good to me," Cal said, his face brightening at the prospect of travel to far-off places.
Pearlie nodded. "That'll do."
"You got the boys ready for the spring calving and branding?" Smoke asked.
"Yep. An' the foreman over at Johnny North's has said he'll keep a close watch on the place while we're gone and be sure and help if Miss Sally needs anything."
Smoke flipped his butt over the railing into the dirt. "Good, then it's settled. We'll take the buckboard into town in the morning so Sally can get some last-minute shopping done, and then we'll take off."
Pearlie's nose twitched. "You boys smell anything?" he asked.
Smoke sniffed the air and grinned. "Why I do believe that first batch of bear sign smells like it's about ready."
Cal jumped to his feet and started toward the kitchen, but Pearlie grabbed the back of his belt and jerked him back down. "Don't you know better'n to try an' eat 'fore your betters, boy?" he asked as he sprinted toward the cabin door.
"Take it easy, Cal," Smoke said as he got slowly to his feet. "There'll be plenty to go around."
Cal's face fell. "Not if 'n Pearlie gets there first. That boy can eat his weight in bear sign!"CHAPTER 2
The next morning Smoke, along with Sally and Cal and Pearlie, loaded up the buckboard and headed for Big Rock. Smoke and Sally rode up top, with Cal and Pearlie and their luggage in the back of the wagon.
As they entered the town, Sheriff Monte Carson was standing in the door to his office, drinking coffee from a tin cup and puffing on his battered corncob pipe.
Smoke slowed the buckboard and pulled it to the side of the street in front of Monte's office. After he helped Sally down, she said she would be in Ed and Peg Jackson's general store, picking out the provisions she would need while the men were away on their trip to Texas. She gave a small smile. "Why don't you boys go on over to Longmont's and tell your friends good-bye while I'm shopping, Smoke?"
After she left, Monte gave her an approving look. "You got a good woman there, Smoke. One who knows when to step back an' let her man be with his friends."
Smoke nodded. "I know it, Monte. And I'd appreciate it if you and Mary could drop in on her every once in a while when I'm out of town."
"No problem, Smoke," the sheriff answered.
Pearlie shuffled his feet impatiently. "We gonna go on over to Longmont's, Smoke?" he asked.
Monte cocked an eye at Smoke's foreman. "You must be 'bout starved, Pearlie, since you probably ain't had nothin' to eat since you left the Sugarloaf this mornin'."
Pearlie rubbed his stomach. "Well, now that you mention it, Monte, I could use a bite or two."
"Damn, Pearlie, it ain't been more'n two hours since you ate last," Cal said as the men walked toward Longmont's Saloon down the street.
Pearlie put his arm over Cal's shoulder, speaking in a fatherly tone even though he wasn't more than a couple of years older than the boy. "Cal, like I done tole you, ya' gotta eat ever' chance ya get, 'cause you never know when the next opportunity for grub is gonna present itself."
Smoke led the way through the batwings of Louis Longmont's saloon and, as was his habit from years of having men on his trail, immediately stepped to the side of the door and waited for his eyes to adjust to the gloom of the room before he walked further.
Louis Longmont was, as usual, sitting at his private table in a corner of the saloon, drinking coffee laced with chicory and smoking a long, black cigar.
When he saw Smoke and the others, he grinned and waved them over, calling out to a young, black waiter to come to the table.
After the men sat down, Louis glanced at the waiter. "Johnny, I'm sure these men have all had breakfast already, but that lanky one there on the end has never been known to take a seat in this establishment without ordering some nourishment."
Smoke grinned. "You're right, Louis. We'll all have some of Andre's wonderful coffee, but I'm sure Pearlie will want something extra."
"Just a light snack, to get me through till the train leaves, Louis. How about some flapjacks with blueberry syrup and half a pound of bacon on the side?"
"I see that you're moving very well, Pearlie," Louis said. "I guess that wound you suffered during our excitement last month has healed properly."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Justice of the Mountain Man"
Copyright © 2006 Kensington Publishing Corp..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is one of the more disappointing Western Novels I¿ve read in a long time. I¿ve learned to live with the fact that most novels of this type are directed at lower reading levels, but this is the first time I¿ve really felt insulted. The monologue is truly imagination-impaired and lacks the vocabulary required to produce a viable novel of this genera. Identical or nearly identical descriptive phrases are reused to excess. Everything from the terms for referencing a six-gun to the basic elements of human expression. One of the endearments of this type of text is the rich use of authentic era and regional colloquialisms. This story seems to grab onto one Western-Like term for each situation, thought or object and applies it with little or no variation. The characters are fairly well done, but the environment in which the story plays out has all the dimension and predictability of a cartoon. The author may have produced other novels that give the reader more to enjoy, but this one barely makes the grade for Western Pulp.