When Smoke Jensen is summoned to a small Texas town under siege by a scourge of kill-crazy bandits, volunteers line up to take out the Mountain Man. Being Smoke Jensen, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
A gunshot wound has robbed Audubon, Texas, of its top lawman at the worst possible time. Clete Lanagan and his band of outlaws have hatched a scheme to plunder the town bank of a small fortune in railroad money. When the acting sheriff, Dalton Conyers—half-brother of Smoke’s niece Rebecca—is unable to raise a posse to hunt down Lanagan’s gang, he calls on Smoke for help.
But with so much cash at stake, Lanagan won’t go down without a fight. With a bounty on his head, Smoke finds himself marked for death by a legendary gunslinger, a wrathful ranch hand bent on revenge for his brother’s death, and an army of trigger-happy recruits with nothing to lose but their lives.
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
Four years later, Sugarloaf Ranch
Smoke Jensen, the owner of Sugarloaf Ranch, stood out on the front porch, one hand leaning against one of the porch rails, and the other hand holding a cup of coffee. Smoke was a big man, over six feet tall, and with a spread of shoulders that could just about cover an axe handle. He had hair the color of ripened wheat, though not much of it could seen at the moment since it was covered with a low-crowned, brown hat.
To the east, the sun had not yet crested Casteel Ridge, but it had pushed the early morning darkness away. Pearlie, Smoke's ranch foreman, came toward him.
"Good mornin', Pearlie."
"Mornin', Smoke. We picked up six cows overnight."
"Herefords, they were easy enough to pick out. According to the brand, they belong to Mr. Greene. I'll get one of the hands to take the cows back."
"I thought you had a full day planned for all the hands," Smoke said.
"Yeah I do, we're re-fencing some of the south quarter. There's gaps all along the fence. More 'n likely that's how these cows got through.
"You keep the men working," Smoke said. "I'll take the cows back."
"You sure you want to do that? It'll take up half your mornin', over there and back," Pearlie said,
"I don't mind. Sally has some books she wants to take over to Tyrone's daughter, so this will give me a chance to do it.
"I'll get the cows gathered up for you," Pearlie offered.
Diamond T Ranch
"Tamara, go out to the barn and tell your father to come to breakfast," Edna said.
"Yes, Mama," Tamara replied. Tamara was a very pretty fourteen-year-old girl, a good student who had it in mind to be a schoolteacher.
"What on earth would make you want to be a schoolteacher?" one of her classmates had asked. "Why, schoolteachers can never get married."
"Yes, they can," Tamara had answered. "Miz Sally used to be a schoolteacher, and now she is married to Mr. Smoke Jensen. I want to be just like her ... she's the smartest person I've ever met."
That conversation had taken place on the last day of school. Now, even though school was out for the summer, Tamara continued to study, reading books that their neighbor Sally Jensen had provided.
"Papa? Papa, are you out here?" Tamara called, carrying out her mother's bidding.
"I'm in the barn, darlin'," a man's voice answered. Tamara's father, Tyrone Greene, appeared in the barn door.
"Mama says to wash up, and come to breakfast."
"Your mother told me to wash up?" Tyrone asked, a grin spreading across his face.
"No, Papa, I'm saying that. You've been working in the barn where there are all kinds of dirty things. Wouldn't you want to clean up?"
Tyrone laughed. "For you, I'll clean up."
As father and daughter walked back to the house, they saw a strange horse out front.
"Who's here?" Tyrone asked. "Whose horse is that?
"I don't know," Tamara replied. "It wasn't there when I came to get you."
"It looks like we may have company for breakfast. I hope your mama made enough."
"She always makes enough biscuits and bacon, you know that. All she'll have to do is fry a couple more eggs," Tamara said.
"Well, let's go see who it is, shall we?"
Tyrone and Tamara stepped up onto the porch, then Tyrone opened the door.
"Tell me, Mrs. Greene, what vagabond have you agreed to feed this morning? I hope you have enough ..."
The smile left Tyrone's face to be replaced by an expression of fear and horror. There was a man standing next to his wife, with an evil grin on his face and a pistol in his hand. He was holding the pistol to Edna's temple. The uninvited visitor was a big man with a bald head, a protruding brow, and practically no neck. It was someone that Tyrone knew well.
"Hello, Greene," the man said.
"Cutter MacMurtry, what are doing here? I thought you ..."
"You thought I'd been hung? Well, they was plannin' on doin' that, but me 'n my brother thought it might be a good idea to leave Texas, before it was that they could ever actual get around to a-doin' it," MacMurtry said.
Tyrone looked around. "Is Hatchett here with you?"
"I don't rightly know where he is now. We sort of separated oncet we come to Colorado." MacMurtry grinned again. "I see that you have yourself a nice little ranch. How'd you get it?"
"I bought it."
"You was one of Colonel Conyers' top hands, 'n I've heard he paid some of you a lot better 'n he paid me 'n a lot of the other workin' hands. But I don't figure that even the Colonel paid enough for you to buy a ranch like this. Where'd you get the money?"
Tyrone didn't answer.
"How much of a reward did you collect for turning me in? Five thousand dollars, is what I heard. Yes, sir, five thousand dollars would be enough money to buy yourself a real nice little ranch. So, you come up here from Texas 'n used that five thousand dollars of blood money to do just that, didn't you?"
Tyrone still didn't answer.
"Fact is, I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't still have some o' that money here, in the house."
"I don't keep money in the house," Tyrone said. "I have very little money anyway, as I have everything invested in this ranch."
"Well then, in that case I'll have to find some other way of gettin' back at you, won't I?"
MacMurtry turned his pistol toward the rancher and pulled the trigger. Tyrone grunted once, put his hand over the bullet hole, then collapsed
"Tyrone!" Edna yelled in horror. "You have killed him!"
"Don't worry, I'll send you to join him," MacMurtry said, and putting the pistol back up to her temple again, he pulled the trigger a second time. Blood, brain tissue, and skull fragments blew out of the exit wound in Edna's head as she went down.
Tamara had watched the whole thing in a state of shock. She had wanted to beg him not to shoot her mother or father, but she was totally unable to make a sound.
"Well, now, you warn't much more 'n a little girl the last time I seen you. You've growed up some, 'n ain't you a purty thing, though?" MacMurtry said. He put his pistol back in his holster and started toward her. "You been made a woman yet?" he asked.
Tamara's eyes got wider in terror.
"You know what I think? I think you ain't never had no man before. This is your lucky day, girlie. I'm goin' to show you what it's all about."
MacMurtry reached up to put his hand on the collar of her dress, then jerked it down. The dress parted, exposing more of her.
"Yes, ma'am, you're goin' to enjoy this," MacMurtry said. "Though prob'ly not as much as I am."
* * *
Just over an hour later Smoke Jensen was driving six Hereford cows in the direction of Tyrone Greene's ranch. Smoke was a rancher and it wasn't unusual to see him driving cattle, but it was unusual to see him driving Herefords, since he was now running only Angus cattle on Sugarloaf Ranch.
The cows he was pushing all had the Diamond T brand, indicating that they had, somehow, strayed over onto Smoke's ranch from his neighbor, Tyrone Greene. Greene had only lived in the area for a little over a year, having come up from Texas to buy the ranch when it came available. Greene had worked for Big Ben Conyers, one of the largest and most successful ranchers in Texas. And it was through Colonel Conyers' connection with Smoke that Greene was able to locate a ranch that he could afford. Tyrone and his wife Edna had become very good friends of Smoke and Sally, and Sally had all but adopted their precocious fourteen-year-old daughter.
When Smoke reached the Diamond T, he saw a gathering of cattle, and he shouted at the cows he was herding.
"Here now, go join your friends!" he called out to them, and with shouts, whistles, and vigorous waving of his hat, he pushed the wayward cows back toward the others.
Having come this far, Smoke decided to drop in and visit with Tyrone for a few minutes. He didn't want to stay too long, because if he did, Edna would insist that he remain for lunch, and he didn't want to impose, because he knew they were still on a tight budget until he got his ranch fully operational.
He also didn't want to take too much of Tyone's time, since he had no hands, and had to run the ranch all by himself. He was a good rancher, though. He knew cattle and horses, and because he had been a blacksmith, mechanic, and all around handyman for the Colonel, so he knew what it took to be successful. He also knew the value of hard work, and Smoke knew that if success depended upon hard work, Tyrone would succeed.
As he approached the house, though, he heard a cow bawling from the barn, and it was a bawl he recognized. The cow needed to be milked. That was odd. It wasn't like Edna or even Tamara to go this late into the day without milking the cow.
Now, what had been the pleasant anticipation of a visit with good friends changed to apprehension. Smoke had a very powerful feeling that something was amiss, and, dismounting, he pulled his pistol, stepped quietly up onto the porch, then, deciding against knocking, he pushed the door open and stepped into the house.
Had he gone a step farther, he would have tripped over Tyrone's body. Across the room, near the table, still set for breakfast, he saw Edna; she, too, was lying on the floor with her head in a pool of blood.
Then he saw Tamara. Tamara was sitting on the floor, leaning back against the wall. She was staring at Smoke through eyes that were open wide, but she made no sound. There were bruises on her face and her shoulders. Smoke could see the bruises on her shoulders, because they were bare. And the shoulders were bare, because Tamara was naked, preserving what modesty she had by holding what was left of her torn dress over her.
"Tamara, who did this?" Smoke asked.
Tamara didn't respond.
Smoke, realizing that he was still holding his gun, slipped it back in its holster.
"It's all right, sweetheart, nobody is going to hurt you again."
Tamara gave no sign that she had even heard him speak.
"I'm going to take you home," Smoke said.
* * *
Just over half an hour later, Sally was standing out on the porch when she saw Smoke riding up the long approach from Eagle Road to the compound of houses and ancillary buildings that made up Sugarloaf Ranch headquarters. Her smile changed to confusion, then to concern as she saw that he was cradling someone in front of him.
"Smoke! Who is that? What has happened?"
"It's Tamara, Sally. Tyrone and Edna have been murdered. Tamara has been raped. I ... uh ... didn't think it would be right for me to dress her, so I just wrapped her in a bedsheet."
"Oh, bless her heart!" Sally said. "Bring that child into the house!"
"I'm going in town to see Sheriff Carson, and I'll get Tyrone and Edna ..." Smoke started to say "bodies" but thinking of Tamara, he changed his comment to "taken care of."
"I'm going to get this child cleaned up," Sally said.
"Don't worry, Smoke, I'll send some people out there to pick up Mr. and Mrs. Greene," the undertaker said. "And I'll take care of them. The little girl need not worry about that."
"Oh, and Gene, there's quite a bit of blood out there, could you ..."
"I'll get that taken care of as well," Gene promised.
"Does the girl know who did it?" Sheriff Carson asked, as the undertaker left the sheriff's office to take care of the situation. "Has she given you any hints?"
Smoke shook his head. "So far she hasn't said a word."
"Was she ... uh ... what I mean is, do you think she was?" Sheriff Carson paused in mid-question, unable to go any further.
"If you are asking if she was raped, I'm sure she was," Smoke replied.
Sheriff Carson shook his head, sadly. "We've got to find out who did this, Smoke. Any son of a bitch who would do something like kill her mama and papa right in front of her eyes, then rape a young girl like that, doesn't deserve to live. I'm going to take an intense, personal pleasure in seeing that rope put around his neck. In fact, I'll do it myself."
Another person came into the sheriff's office then, and looking up, Smoke saw his foreman, Pearlie.
"Sally wants you to come home, Smoke," Pearlie said. "Tamara is talking now."
* * *
"How is she?" Smoke asked half an hour later when he stepped into the foyer of his house. He looked through the door into the living room. There, he saw Tamara sitting on the sofa wearing one of Sally's dresses. The expression on her face had changed from a blank stare to great sadness.
"She has come out of her shock," Sally said, having met him in the foyer.
"Has she said anything?"
"We've talked a little, nothing substantive, but she is coherent. And of course, she is aware of what happened, not only to her parents, but the ordeal she went through as well."
"Does she know who did it?"
"She says that she does, but she didn't tell me. She wants to talk to you."
Because the conversation between Smoke and Sally had taken place in the entry foyer, and was quiet, Tamara couldn't overhear it. Smoke nodded at Sally, then stepped into the living room. When Tamara looked up at him, he could see that her eyes were brimming with tears, and there were tear tracks down her cheeks.
"Hello, Tamara," Smoke said quietly.
"Cutter MacMurtry," Tamara said.
"Cutter MacMurtry is the name of the man who did this?"
"How do you know that was his name?"
"Because I remember Mr. MacMurtry. He used to work for Colonel Conyers, same as Papa. But he killed some people and Papa found out about it, and Papa took him to the sheriff. Papa got a reward for it, and that's how he had enough money to buy the ranch."
"So, you knew him in Texas. Have you seen him up here? Before this morning, I mean."
"No sir. This morning is the first time I've seen him since we moved."
Smoke reached out to put his hand on Tamara's cheek.
"Thank you, sweetheart. You have been a big help."CHAPTER 2
The funerals of Tyrone and Edna Greene were held two days later. The event was referred to as "funerals" though in fact it was one joint remembrance for both of them, with the closed caskets of both decedents in the chancel of the church. The funeral was conducted by Father William Sharkey of the Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, and with every pew filled; extra chairs were put in the transepts and along the walls on both sides of the nave. The back doors were open so that the overflow could stand in the narthex.
Except for the Denver and Pacific Railroad Depot, the Rocky Mountain stagecoach office, the Big Rock Hotel, and the post office, every other building in town was closed for the service.
When the church service was over, both coffins were placed in the hearse, then taken down Center Street for interment in the Garden of Memories Cemetery.
The canopy that was erected for the "family" next to the side-by-side graves, had only one actual family member, and that was Tamara. There were, however, four other people under the canopy with her, they being Smoke and Sally, and, at Tamara's invitation, Pearlie and Cal.
Tamara sat there, wearing a black dress and a black veil, clutching her hands together, feeling upon her finger the wedding ring that was her mother's.
Father Sharkey intoned the graveside prayers, then invited Tamara to drop a handful of dirt onto each casket, but she declined. When the service was completed, a funeral reception was held in Lamberts' Restaurant. Because Lamberts' advertised themselves as the home of the "throwed rolls" the normal atmosphere was one of fun and gaiety. Today, though, it was a very respectful event, and everyone came up to Tamara to pass on their condolences.
"Thank you for standing in the receiving line with me today," Tamara said to Sally that afternoon as they returned to Sugarloaf Ranch in the surrey.
* * *
Tamara had been with Smoke and Sally for three weeks now, and though the vivaciousness that was once such a part of her had not yet returned, she was communicative and helpful, insisting on "paying for her keep" by helping with the house chores.
In the meantime Smoke found a buyer for the Diamond T ranch, including all livestock. He got a good price for it, and was able to deposit a little over twelve thousand dollars into Tamara's account.
"When you are old enough, you'll have that money to pay for your education so you can become a schoolteacher," Sally told her.
"If I still have the money then," Tamara replied. "I'll have to have something to live on between now and then."
"Oh, I think that won't be a problem," Sally said.
* * *
"Smoke, what are we going to do with Tamara?" Sally asked one afternoon when Tamara had gone for a ride. "She has no relatives; she is all alone in the world.
"We could always take her in, and let her live with us," Smoke replied. "Permanently, I mean."
Excerpted from "Torture of the Mountain Man"
Copyright © 2018 J. A. 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.
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