Table of Contents
THE HIGH LONESOME
Smoke rode deeper into the mountains, memories of the old mountain man called Preacher all around him. Ol’ Preacher had talked about this country and took Smoke through it when Smoke was a young boy. It seemed to Smoke that his friend and mentor was still guiding him on.
Smoke had crossed the Salt River Range and was not far from where the mountain man, William Sublette, had reached a particularly beautiful and lonesome place and named it Jackson Hole, after another mountain man, David Jackson. Preacher had told Smoke that was back in ’29, long before the damn settlers started coming in and civilizing everything they touched.
Smoke frowned and turned in his saddle. He was going to test those men following him. He was going to give them a taste of what was in store for them if they persisted in hunting him clear up into northwest Wyoming, where peaks pushed two-and-a-half miles into the sky—and one misstep meant death.
Here in the hole is where he’d find out if those on his backtrail really meant to kill him. For if that was true, he would surely leave them to be buried among the aspen, Englemann spruce, Douglas fir and lodgepole pine-in a land where the mountain men of old had joined the wolves in their howling, lending their voices to the ever-sighing winds of the High Lonesome.
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This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, (living or dead), events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Dedicated to L.J. and Kat Martin
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Copyright © 1991 by William W. Johnstone
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I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll make an exception.
The young man had been eyeballing the quiet stranger for several minutes. The young man stood at the bar, sipping whiskey. The quiet stranger sat at a table, his back to a wall, slowly eating his supper and sipping coffee. The young man couldn’t understand why the stranger didn’t take offense to his staring; couldn’t understand why the tough-looking stranger wearing two guns didn’t reply to his silent insults.
He just sat there, eating his supper and drinking coffee.
The young man concluded the stranger was yellow.
“Kid,” the barkeep finally said, “I’d leave that man alone. He’s got bad stamped all over him.”
“You know him?”
“Nope. But I know the type. Leave him be.”
“He don’t look like nothin’ special to me.”
“Your funeral,” the barkeep said, and moved to the other end of the bar.
Jack Lynch looked at the barkeep and snorted in disgust. Jack had four notches cut into his gun and was considered by some-in this part of the country-to be very quick on the shoot. He was considered by others to be a loud-mouthed punk who was going to drag iron on the wrong man one day.
That day had come.
Late winter in Utah. The stoves in the saloon glowed red and the winds were cold as they buffeted the building. Four men sat playing a quiet game of penny-ante poker, a few others stood at the long bar, talking and sipping beer or whiskey or, in a couple of cases, both. A gambler sat alone at another table, playing a game of solitaire, waiting for a sucker to come in. One man was passed out, his head on the table, snoring softly.
And the stranger sat alone, finishing his supper.
Jack Lynch turned and put his back to the bar. Now he openly stared at the stranger, a sneer on his face. “You don’t have much to say, do you, mister?” he called.
The stranger did not look up. He poured another cup of coffee from the pot and sugared it, slowly stirring the strong brew. Then he started in on his fresh-baked dried apple pie. It had been a long day and he wanted no more than to eat his meal in peace and get a good night’s sleep at the small hotel in this Northern Utah town, not many miles from the Wyoming border.
But if this loud-mouth kept pushing him ...
“Hey! I asked you a question, man,” Jack raised his voice.
The stranger chewed his pie, swallowed, and took a sip of coffee. He lifted his eyes to the loud-mouth. The stranger’s eyes were brown and cold-looking, no emotion in them. His shoulders were wide and his arms heavily muscled, his wrists thick. His hands were big and flat-knuckled, scarred from many fights. He was a ruggedly handsome man, well over six feet tall. He wore two guns, one tied low on his right side, the other worn high and butt forward on his left side. A long-bladed knife was in a sheath behind his right-hand gun.
“Since the question was probably very forgettable, I’ve already forgotten it,” the stranger said in a soft voice. “Is it worth repeating?”
“Huh?” Jack said.
“See? You’ve already forgotten it. So how important can it be?” The stranger returned to his pie and coffee.
The gambler smiled. He thought he knew the stranger’s name. And if he was correct, this loud-mouth was standing very close to death.
“I don’t think I like you very much,” Jack said.
“You’re at the end of a very long list,” the stranger replied. He tapped the coffee pot and looked at the barkeep. “It’s empty. Would you bring another pot, please?”
“My, don’t he talk po-lite, though?” Jack sneered the words. “Like a sissy.”
“Jack,” one of the card players said. “Why don’t you shut your damn mouth and leave the man alone? He ain’t bothered no one.”
“You want to make me?” Jack challenged the man. “Come on. Make me shut up.”
“Oh, go to hell, Jack,” another card player said.
Another pot of coffee was placed on the stranger’s table and the barkeep backed quickly away. The stranger poured and sugared and stirred and then carefully rolled a cigarette, lighting up.
“My name’s Jack Lynch,” the young man called to the stranger.
“Everybody should know their name.”
The card players laughed at that. The gambler smiled and riffled the cards.
“What do you mean by that?” Jack asked.
“Boy,” the stranger said, “do you push all strangers like the way you’re proddin’ me?”
“Just the ones who think they’re tough. I usually prove they ain’t.”
“And how do you do that, Jack?”
“By stretchin’ ’em out on the floor!”
“Did you ever stop to think that one of these days it might well be you that’s stretched out on the floor?”
“That don’t ever enter my mind,” Jack said.
“You think you’re the man who can do that?”
“Yes,” the stranger said softly.
Jack flushed deeply, the color rising to his cheeks. The only reason he hadn’t called them old coots at the card table out after they laughed at him was that none of them was wearing a gun. “Stand up!” Jack shouted.