Authors: William W. Johnstone
William W. Johnstone
with J. A. Johnstone
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Luke Jensen pressed his back to the wall of the corridor beside the hotel room door and raised the long-barreled Remington revolver in his right hand until it was beside his head. He waited patiently, a tall, rangy, muscular man with a rough-hewn face and a neatly trimmed mustache that matched the dark, slightly curly hair under the thumbed-back black hat.
Any minute now, the springs on the bed inside that room would start to squeal, and Luke would know that it was time to kick the door open and throw down on Mordecai Kroll. It was a shame to interrupt a man's sporting fun with a particularly good-looking redheaded dove, but Luke would make an exception for Mordecai Kroll.
He would take any advantage he could get over a cold-blooded, rattlesnake-mean killer like Kroll.
There were bad men . . . and then there were men like Rudolph and Mordecai Kroll. If there was a state or territory west of the Mississippi where they weren't wanted by the law, Luke wasn't aware of it. He had seen reward dodgers issued on them from Texas to Montana, from Missouri to California.
Their list of crimes was as long as the list of places offering bounties on them. Murder, rape, robbery, arson, kidnapping, extortion, assault, horse theft, cattle rustling . . . Come up with a violent crime and chances were the Kroll brothers had committed it at one time or another.
At some point they had probably pried the gold fillings out of a dead man's teeth.
As a result, if Luke could bring in Mordecai Kroll, dead or alive, he stood to earn the biggest payday of his career as a bounty hunter. The rewards for Mordecai added up to more than ten thousand dollars. The only way Luke could ever top that would be to corral Mordecai's older brother, Rudolph, who had even bigger bounties on his head.
Of course, if he could get both of them, Luke thought, he would collect enough to give up his dangerous profession. He could afford to buy himself a cattle ranch somewhere, like the Sugarloaf spread owned by his brother Smoke.
But he couldn't buy the goodwill and the friendship that Smoke had earned, nor did Luke know of any store where he could waltz in and buy himself a smart, beautiful wife like Sally Jensen.
No, he was just a bounty hunter, and while he might aspire to more, it was doubtful that he would ever achieve it, especially considering the fact that he wasn't as young as he used to be.
Since that was the case, he would concentrate on doing his job he told himself, instead of standing in the dim, dusty second-floor hallway of a rundown hotel in a little town in Arizona and daydreaming about what might have been. He stood a little straighter as he heard the bedsprings squeak on the other side of the door.
“Get on with it, Mordecai,” Luke muttered to himself. “She's a whore. She's not expecting flowers and poetry.”
He'd been coming out of an eatery a short time earlier when he spotted Mordecai Kroll emerging from a saloon across the street arm in arm with a rather buxom redhead. The young woman had a shawl around her shoulders against the evening chill, but it didn't do much to conceal the ample bosom that threatened to escape from the low-cut neckline of her dress. She still had her looks, which meant she hadn't been working as a soiled dove for very long.
Mordecai appeared to be half-drunk. He stumbled a little as the two of them moved along the boardwalk, but the redhead didn't let him fall. Both of them seemed to find his rotgut-induced clumsiness hilarious.
Luke had moved quickly into the shadows of the alley next to the cafÃ© and studied the two people on the other side of the street, just to make sure he really saw what he thought he was seeing. He'd heard rumors that the Kroll gang had been spotted in this corner of northeastern Arizona, not far from the border with New Mexico Territory, and he had drifted in this direction to have a look around.
It was hard to believe he'd be lucky enough to run smack-dab into Mordecai Kroll like this. Even more astounding was the fact that big brother, Rudolph, and the rest of the gang didn't appear to be anywhere around.
Mordecai must have slipped off without telling the others, Luke thought as he studied the outlaw. He had seen countless posters with a variety of drawings of Mordecai Kroll on them, and the man with the redheaded whore matched up with those likenesses. He had the same angular features, the same bushy eyebrows, the same shock of fair hair, the same lanky build.
That was Mordecai Kroll, all right, Luke had decided. No doubt about it.
He followed them to the Sullivan House, which was a pretty fancy name for a second-rate hotel. Through the front window, which fortunately wasn't as grimy as it might have been, he had seen the clerk behind the desk take a key from the pegboard on the wall and hand it to Mordecai. Luke's keen eyes had no problem reading the number 14 printed on the slip of paper tacked to the wall under the peg where the clerk had gotten the key.
From there it was simple to slip in the rear entrance and go up the back stairs. He found Room 14 about halfway along the corridor with a threadbare carpet runner, faded wallpaper, and a lamp burning dimly on a table at the far end. The hallway was deserted except for Luke.
While he stood there waiting, he heard laughter and voices from inside the room. A man and a woman, and both sounded like they'd been drinking. That confirmed he had the right room. He slipped one of the Remingtons he wore in cross-draw rigs from its holster and waited.
The doorknob of another room clicked as it was turned. The door opened and a man stepped out into the hall. It happened too quickly for Luke to hide, and there was no place to conceal himself in this corridor anyway.
The man stopped short and his eyes got big with fear. He was tall and skinny, with a prominent Adam's apple. He wore a tweed suit and a derby. The clothes had seen better days. Luke pegged the man for a drummer of some sort.
Carefully, Luke lifted his left hand and pressed the index finger to his lips in a signal for silence. The man took in the bounty hunter's rugged face, the dusty black shirt and trousers, the pair of revolvers. He swallowed hard, which caused his Adam's apple to bob up and down. Then he backed into his room and gingerly closed the door behind him.
Smart man, Luke thought. Whatever was about to happen, that hombre didn't want any part of it.
Luke hoped no bullets punched through the thin walls between rooms. He would do his best not to fire a shot, but that really might be too much to hope for.
The bed noises from inside the room got louder. Luke got ready to make his move. He planned to kick the door open and rush in. If Mordecai was on top, it ought to be a simple matter to wallop him over the head with the Remington and knock him out. If he wasn't on top, that would complicate things. He might be able to reach for a gun before Luke could stop him.
Luke was counting on the booze to slow down Mordecai's reactions long enough for him to get the redhead out of the way. Then he and Mordecai would just have to take their chances against each other.
A thought flashed through his mind as he stepped away from the wall, drew his other Remington, and turned toward the door. With a quarry like Mordecai Kroll, some bounty hunters would start shooting as soon as they kicked in the door. If some of the bullets wound up in the whore, that was just too bad. They could always claim that Mordecai shot her, and chances were that nobody would question the claim.
Luke had never been that sort of man. He hadn't lived a blameless life, not by a long shot, but he liked to think there was a core of decency in him, instilled there by the sheer fact that he was a Jensen, even though for a long time he hadn't used the name and had called himself Luke Smith instead.
He had thought that he had good reasons for doing that. It had taken meeting his long-lost brother Smoke to show him that he was wrong. Now he was proudly once again a Jensen and would remain so.
He lifted his right foot and drove the heel of his boot against the door right beside the knob, as hard as he could. The jamb splintered under the impact and the door sprang open.
Luke leaped through the doorway with both revolvers thrust out in front of him. Either Mordecai or the redhead had lit the lamp on the small dressing table, so a yellow glow filled the room and revealed that the bed was . . .
But the redhead stood beside it, still fully dressed, bent over with both hands resting on the mattress. She appeared to be frozen in that position with a look of terror on her face, and in that frozen instant of time, Luke realized why.
She had bounced the bed up and down and made it sound like both occupants of the room were romping on it, but that wasn't the case. In fact, Mordecai Kroll was all the way on the other side of the room, holding a shotgun that he pointed at Luke.
Flame erupted from both barrels as Mordecai triggered them.