Trek of the Mountain Man [Mountain Man Novel]
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by William W. Johnstone
Category: Historical Fiction
Description: It didn't matter that the warrant was years old, or that Smoke Jensen had been cleared of all charges. A Texas bounty hunter named Bill Pike believed he could still collect a $10,000 reward for killing Jensen--and he intended to do just that. But when Pike and his men came calling, Jensen was nowhere to be found. So they took the next best thing--Smoke's woman--left behind a ransom note, and headed up into the Rocky Mountains. Now, Smoke is going after a gang of vicious shootists. With time running out, and Sally's life hanging in the balance, he is returning to the high country where he came of age and built his legend. But this time, the mountain man won't come back down until he's stopped a bounty hunter bearing a worthless piece of paper and a mother lode of greed. It's kill or be killed, and Smoke Jensen intends to be the last man standing, no matter how many people--or guns--he has to face....
eBook Publisher: E-Reads, 2004
eBookwise Release Date: April 2004
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [279 KB]
Reading time: 192-269 min.
William Pike, known to one and all as Bill, stood up in his stirrups and stretched his neck and back, groaning with pleasure as the knots and kinks in his muscles relaxed. It had been a long ride from Corpus Christi, Texas, to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
He sat back against the cantle of his saddle and turned to look at the nine men riding with him. They were a disreputable and dangerous-looking lot. Most had beards, some grown to cover knife or bullet scars, others just worn because of the lack of hot water while riding the owlhoot trail.
Pike and his men thought of themselves as Regulators—a fancy term for bounty hunters that shot first and asked questions later. They were fresh from the infamous Nueces Strip, a corridor of land stretching from Corpus Christi down to the Mexican border. They'd made a good living there, killing or capturing the Mexican bandidos who came up from Mexico looking for easy pickings among the many settlers coming to the area from the East. That had all come to a grinding halt when the Texas Rangers sent in a man named McNally and a corps of other Rangers every bit as tough and ruthless as Pike and his Regulators. Suddenly, the pickings were as slim as the twelve-inch stiletto Pike carried in his boot. The bandidos began to shy away from the area, and the other robbers and rapists and footpads were of such a small danger they carried very low prices on their heads.
Looking for a new territory to ply their trade, Pike and his men had ridden to Utah, home of many outlaws trying to hide from John Law. There he'd come upon what he thought to be a golden opportunity—a wanted poster offering a king's ransom for one man, a man who lived in Colorado.
Pike turned his glance from his men to stare down the ridge on which he'd stopped his mount.
"Hey, Bill," Rufus Gordon called from the rear of the line of men.
"Yeah, Rufe, whatta ya want?" Pike answered without looking back.
"You said once we got to Colorado, you'd tell us why you brung us here. How about it?"
Pike nodded. He guessed it was about time to let the men in on it. He reached inside his coat and pulled out a yellowed, wrinkled paper. He unfolded it and held it up for the men to see. "This here wanted poster is gonna make us rich, boys," he said, his grin exposing blackened, crooked teeth under his handlebar mustache.
"What's it say, Bill?" Gordon asked. "I can't read it from back here."
Hank Snow, a stone killer who was himself wanted for murder and rape in three states, laughed out loud. "Hell, Rufe, you couldn't read it if'n it were in your hands."
He was referring to the fact that Rufus Gordon carried a sawed-off ten-gauge shotgun in a holster on his hip instead of a pistol because he was so nearsighted he couldn't see anyone more than a few feet away from him.
"That's a lie an' you know it, Hank," Gordon replied. "I can read as good as you any day."
"That's not sayin' much," Blackie Johnson sneered. "Hank never learned to read neither."
Pike cleared his throat to get his men's attention. "Well, here's what this poster says, boys." He read aloud:
DEAD OR ALIVE
THE OUTLAW AND MURDERER
KIRBY "SMOKE" JENSEN
Contact the Sheriff at Bury, Idaho
"Ten thousand greenbacks, boys," Pike continued. "That's nothing to sneeze at."
"Hell," Gordon said, counting on his fingers, "that's . . . uh . . . exactly how much is that for each of us, Bill?"
"That is one thousand dollars apiece, gentlemen," Bill answered. Hank Snow shifted the chaw of tobacco from one cheek to the other, leaned over, and spat a stream of brown juice at a horned toad sitting on a rock watching the men. "That's if none of us gets killed 'fore we collect it," Snow said around the tobacco. "More if a couple of us catch a lead pill."
"Hank, the poster's fer one man, not a whole gang," Gordon argued. "How's one man gonna stand up to us, the meanest, baddest gents west of the Pecos?"
Snow looked at Gordon and spat again, his eyes as black as the beard on his cheeks. "Yore forgittin' somethin', Rufe," he said in a low voice. "Ten grand on one man's head must mean he ain't no pilgrim hisself." He turned his gaze to Pike. "What'd this hombre do to make hisself so valuable, Bill?"
"Yeah," Gordon added, "what did the sheriff up there tell ya?"
"I didn't exactly talk to the sheriff, boys," Pike said.
"I didn't want nobody else to know we was after this Jensen feller. I got my information, along with this wanted poster, from a miner I met in a saloon up in Utah."
"Well," Snow said, "we're waitin'."
"This miner said he was in Bury, Idaho Territory, a few years back when some gents named Stratton, Potter, an' Richards rode into town with a gang of outlaws. He said there were 'bout twenty or so of 'em all told. A little later, this Jensen, along with a bunch of old mountain men, surrounded the town and told all of the miners and townsfolk to get outta town. They'd come for the gang."
"What'd the gang do to get Jensen an' the mountain men all riled up?" Blackie asked.
Pike grinned. "Nothin' much. Just killed Jensen's wife an' baby boy, an' stole all the gold he'd spent a year minin'."
"So Jensen an' his gang rode into town an' shot up the other feller's gang?" Snow asked.
Pike shook his head. "Nope. The old miner said all of the folks in town gathered on the ridges overlooking Bury and sat an' watched as Jensen rode into town alone to face down the gang."
"You mean one man went up against over twenty outlaws by hisself?" Gordon asked.
Pike nodded. "Yep. The miner says it was like a war down there, an' when it was over, Smoke Jensen was the last man standing."
"Jesus," Gordon said. "I can see why he's worth ten thousand dollars."
Pike scowled. "I didn't say it was gonna be easy, boys. But a thousand dollars apiece is more'n we made in a year down on the Nueces Strip."
"You're forgettin' one thing, Bill," Snow said. "How the hell are we gonna find one man in these mountains?"
Pike grinned and pointed over his shoulder down the ridge. "Easy. That there's Smoke Jensen's ranch, the Sugarloaf. I hear he's given up his guns and turned into a peaceable gentleman rancher. I figger we'll ride in and surround the place. Kill any son of a bitch that makes a move toward a gun. This poster says he's wanted dead or alive, so it's just as easy, maybe easier, to kill the bastard."
Blackie Johnson cleared his throat. "Uh, Bill. That there wanted poster don't say nothin' 'bout no ranch hands being wanted dead or alive."
Hank Snow laughed and slapped his thigh. "Hell, Blackie," he called as he punched brass into his six-gun. "You weren't so particular who you killed down Corpus way last year."
"That was different," Blackie growled back at Snow. "Them was Mexicans up from Mexico, an' you know a Mexican's just a little better'n an Injun."
"Don't worry about it, Blackie," Bill Pike said. "We won't kill nobody unless they draw down on us first."
His men began loading their shotguns and rifles while they looked down on the Sugarloaf, thinking this was going to be the easiest money they'd ever earned.
"He'll most likely have a woman with him, so we'll take her too an' have some fun with her tonight," Pike said.
When Blackie started to speak, Pike held up his hand. "Now, go easy Blackie. We won't kill her, just work her a little bit to have us some fun."
Blackie scowled but held his tongue, not wanting to be labeled a sissy by these tough men. He remembered how Whitey Jenkins had been brutally beaten down near Harlingen when he'd objected to Hank raping a young girl in her teens who they'd come upon on the road back to Corpus Christi.
Hank had cut the girl up pretty bad, and then he'd beaten Jenkins within an inch of his life. None of the men had stood up for Jenkins, with most saying he'd deserved what he got for being such a sissy about what Hank had done. Blackie didn't intend to make the same mistake.
Once the men were ready, Pike held up his hand and yelled, "Let's ride, boys!"
The ten men, loaded for bear, spurred their mounts down the ridge toward Smoke Jensen's ranch. As they rode, holding out six-shooters, rifles, and shotguns, Pike grinned as he thought about how they were going to kill Jensen and all his hands and take his woman for their pleasure. . . .
Copyright © 2002 by William W. Johnstone